Continuing Tales

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 15 of 21

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Inevitable Change

Darcy's mouth went dry, as if filled with ashes. There was a buzzing in his ears and he went numb, so he was not able to discern his cousin's rather stiff, "Good work there, man," and congratulatory slap on the shoulder, nor did he hear Georgiana's gasps and coos of surprise. He dared not glance away from his enormously pregnant wife, so he did not see Elizabeth's pale face. He vaguely felt, rather than heard, Mr. Gardiner's appeal to him.

"Mr. Darcy, I believe we should get your wife indoors immediately, out of the heat. What a journey she must've had." As the eldest of the party, he summoned the plantation servants to assist the lady with her bags and trunks. Mr. Gardiner then turned back to the young man, and gently prodded him into action. "You would accompany her to your chambers, Mr. Darcy, so she may refresh herself?"

"Wha-? Um, yes, to my chambers. The servants may settle her there. I…I will attend to her shortly." He abruptly left the gateway and headed to the stables. Col. Fitzwilliam turned to stop Darcy but Mr. Gardiner stepped toward him.

"Col. Fitzwilliam – may I suggest you allow him some time alone? As a father, I know all too well the impact of such a blow. We men do not cope well with the debilitation of our wives, even under these most happy of circumstances." The colonel nodded his assent, and offered his arm to Caroline, who gratefully accepted it. Even though quite limp from the rough travel and the humidity, she still bore herself regally, and threw a glare at Elizabeth as she passed.

Darcy rode furiously out of the plantation toward the jungle path he and Elizabeth had ridden just a few days earlier. He threw himself off his horse and stomped through the brush to their secret place. Pacing at the water's edge, he muttered prayers and curses and vitriol to the air about him. "God above, how could this happen? We've had relations less than a half-dozen times. How could she be pregnant?" And he thought briefly it was not his, but immediately tossed aside the idea, knowing Caroline would do nothing to jeopardize her marriage to him. "God almighty, I've ruined everything. A child! What must Elizabeth think?" Elizabeth's good opinion of him would be altered forever. She would see him as he was – an animal, filled with an animal's lust, speaking to her of vows of a pure love while impregnating this woman whose name he couldn't bear to speak aloud. What a hypocrite he was! Where was his pride now?

Elizabeth, in the meanwhile, sat quietly in the parlor, listening to Caroline's tale – how she had decided to surprise Darcy with a visit, knowing he would suffer so without her company, but not knowing the real surprise would be her present indelicate condition. "Had I known, you must realize, I would've stayed put in Derbyshire for my confinement. But, such is the way of young lovers, always blinded to the obvious, for the sake of filling each other's needs." Georgiana listened attentively, nodding vaguely at Caroline's declarations, thinking that her brother's needs seemed quite fulfilled without Caroline's presence. He had laughed and smiled more in the past weeks than she had seen since last Christmas, when they were all together at Pemberley.

After a time, as the heat of the day increased, Mrs. Darcy was taken to Mr. Darcy's room for a cooling bath and a rest. Georgiana sought out Col. Fitzwilliam, as she was want to do when her brother was in an upset. Mr. Gardiner begged his forgiveness to the group, but had to attend to business regarding Elizabeth's allowance – an investment had been found, and he was ready to act upon it on Lizzy's behalf. With everyone occupied, Elizabeth slipped out of the house and drove her horse to where she knew she would find Darcy.

She found him there, sitting on a fallen log near the pool, shirt unbuttoned and cravat in disarray, elbows upon knees. He gazed blindly across the water, like a man thirsting for a drink, but too weak to get up and get it. Upon hearing her approach, he leapt to his feet and bowed – but did not raise up. "Elizabeth…Elizabeth…" his voice choked. "Forgive me!"

"No, no, William – forgive you? For what?" She cocked her head, and bent close to him so as to see his downcast eyes. "For – performing your - matrimonial duty? I did not expect that you would remain celibate for me, even if it was your intention. William, you ask too much of yourself, I think. There is nothing to forgive."

Breathing heavily, he fell to his knees, and grasped her palms, kissing his gratitude. "You are so good, Elizabeth. You have such goodness in you." And he was sobbing, and she began to cry as well, and embraced him by the shoulders, pressing his head to her breast.

"I am not good, not good as you would say…I love you William, and I do not wish you to hurt on my behalf. We have constructed a paradise here made of nothing but twigs and paper, as we did while we were together at Pemberley, and none of it could stand for long. It is over, now, you must see that." Still they embraced, neither of them wanting to break the bond. She clung to him, running her fingers through his hair, tears falling unheeded upon his head. She leaned over and kissed his curls. He murmured her name, using the familiar, "Lizzy…Lizzy…Lizzy…my love." He trailed kisses across her belly and midriff, and rose to cover her face and neck with more. She whimpered her pain and ecstacy, losing her balance, only to be caught more firmly in his embrace and she lifted her lips to his, for one last, long taste.

They parted reluctantly, and stood silently, both with closed eyes. Elizabeth's skin was afire for the want of more of him, but she stood like stone, warding off the desire. Darcy too, had to collect himself, and the cool winds of reality blew into his heart. This was their last moment together as anything other than acquaintances, and it weighed heavily upon them both.

"William, you must go to her. She is the mother of your child."

"I do not love her…" he began to protest.

"Yes, but you will love your child. I have known what it is to lose a parent's love, to even doubt that their love ever existed. Do not judge this innocent life so cruelly! Promise me that, William? Love your child with all your heart and soul, and you shall endure the rest. Promise me that!"

With one last kiss upon her forehead, Darcy agreed, "I promise. With all my heart."

They timed their departure so that none at the plantation would suspect they'd met clandestinely. Elizabeth arrived at the house and retreated to her room, with Ashwini following closely behind. She could not explain the tear stains upon her face nor the wrinkles and smudges upon her gown where Darcy had clung to her; it did not matter, for Ashwini would not ask for an explanation. Elizabeth sat upon the bed, unable to move. Ashwini instinctually knew to seat herself quietly beside the young woman, and Elizabeth, having no Jane to comfort her in her hour of distress, dropped her head into Ashwini's lap with a sob. No words were spoken between the two women; none were needed. Ashwini stroked Elizabeth's hair, allowing her to cry as long and as hard as she wished.

The following days at the house were filled first with latent hostility and then a weary tolerance. Darcy looked to Elizabeth when he dared, but that was the only acknowledgement she received from him. He spent some energy on repairing the rift between himself and his wife. He and Caroline would occasionally sit quietly together on the veranda, or silently walking the grounds. Little was discussed between the Darcys, other than the details for Caroline's laying-in. Darcy had inquired about how it was that Caroline could fund her voyage to India, and, much to his dismay, learned that his Aunt Catherine had provided the means. He brewed silently, imagining what outrageous stories Caroline would've told to entice the old woman to support her; he quivered with anger to think what Lady Catherine's previous interferences in his life, and the Bennetts' life, had wrought. It of course meant he was indebted to Lady Catherine – a letter to his steward would take care of the monetary expenses, but it would be months before all would be settled. He kept his mouth shut, though, recalling his promise to Elizabeth. He would tolerate what he would have to for the sake of this innocent child.

Caroline had become increasingly taciturn in the late stages of her pregnancy. Mainly, she was content knowing that Darcy was spending his time with her rather than the Bennet girl, so there was little to be said. However, she became more contemplative as she grew more uncomfortable in her condition. She was not one to recognize fear as a feeling she'd experienced in her life, but as her girth grew rounder and rounder, she was increasingly aware that sooner or later, like it or not, one way or another, this baby would come out of her. She found it vexing that now, when she needed her sister as a source of comfort more than ever, Louisa was a world away. She would think to herself, "Never mind – women bear children all the time, even in this godforsaken country." In truth, her heart was not nearly as stoic.

Elizabeth had resolved her heart and soul would best be healed by pursuing honest work. Too long had she been idle, pursuing her own pleasures in this country, rather than embracing the opportunity to learn more about its people. With Ashwini's help, she took on the charitable duties of the plantation, visiting the village each morning, distributing food baskets to the poor destitutes of the streets. "Why are they not supported?" she asked Ashwini. "They are untouchables, Miss Bennett. We cannot help them, they must help themselves." Elizabeth did not understand this, but perhaps it was not to be understood; as a foreigner in the country, Elizabeth herself was considered untouchable. It was only fate and fortune that permitted her to be waited upon hand and foot by the plantation servants. Elizabeth found it particularly hard to part from the little beggar children she came across; how could they be termed, "untouchable" – they were so precious!

Word came one morning that Captain Danbury was returning to the plantation. When he arrived, he was introduced to the expanded group of guests, and then explained the purpose for his return. He'd received reports of tiger attacks near the upper ridge of his estate, and so he made the journey from the hill country to arrange a hunting party. All abled body men would be solicited, for hunting tiger was a dangerous and sometimes deadly business. Col. Fitzwilliam was eager to assist, as he found the sport to be a satisfying challenge for his skills. Mr. Gardiner and Darcy also agreed to the task, as they felt indebted to their generous and amiable host.

"Do not mistake it – it is a dangerous sport. I have seen a tiger rip out the heart of a man before my very eyes," related the Captain to his visitors. The men had gathered earlier to make the arrangements for the shooting, and now were enjoying their evening meal. They would set out the next morning to track the animal.

Upon hearing her husband's decision to join the party, Caroline Darcy retreated to her room, escorted by Darcy. Away from the group, the underlying tension between them at last bubbled to the surface. "You are determined to abandon this marriage, aren't you – one way or another? I come all this way, bearing you this miraculous news, and what do you do? Find the first opportunity to run away again! Or are you pining for your lost love? Has my presence inconvenienced you and your little country lass? Does your heart break so for your precious Elizabeth that you would throw your life away with this lunacy?

Darcy had to restrain himself at the mention of Elizabeth's name. Through clenched teeth, he rounded on her. "Do not ever speak to me of her! Do not ever say her name in my presence, do you understand? God almighty, woman, I asked for none of this," he declared, gesturing vaguely at her in her advanced condition. "But I assure you, my plan is to return from this hunt, and then attend the birth of my child!" He paused, allowing his anger to dissipate, and then he continued. "Caroline, there is no point in battling anymore. You have won the war. Let me do this thing, to honor our host, and let it be done."

Not content with his platitudes, she hissed, "I will be left in a house full of women with no one to protect me. You run away from me – from your commitment to me – at every turn. You speak of honor! I know you do not love me, but I would think you would at least be a man of honor and do what is correct!" Man of honor. All his life, he had so desired to be known as just that – an honorable man. Elizabeth had called him ungentlemanly over a year ago, when he had pompously declared his feelings for her. Now, this woman whom he despised, laid the very same claims at his feet. He was no further along the path. Everything he touched was mud. The best he could do was what Elizabeth had made him pledge – love his child and endure the rest. He gave his wife one last look, murmured, "My apologies," with a bow, and left the room.

He returned to the great room to see Georgiana and Elizabeth sitting quietly, their eyes filled with trepidation as they heard the tales related by the captain. Darcy was not immune to the effect Danbury's stories had on them. At one point, he approached the ladies.

"Georgiana – Eliz…Miss Elizabeth," he bowed. "You must not think that we are in such great danger. Many, many men will be gathered for tomorrow's shoot. We shall go out through the jungle, find the beast and come back within a day or two. There is no need to distress yourselves on our account." He paused, and chanced a lingering look at Elizabeth. "Do not worry. We will return soon." Georgiana's gaze had drifted toward the colonel, who was so filled with enthusiasm for the hunt. She murmured her thanks to her brother for his reassurances, and then begged to retreat to her room for the rest of the evening.

"Miss Elizabeth, it looks as though you may be our only supplier of entertainment this evening – all the other women have retired," commented Col. Fitzwilliam, with a smile. "Would you be so kind to indulge us?"

Elizabeth smiled wearily at the Colonel and said, "Colonel, you have me wedged in a corner, do you not? I can hardly refuse if there is no one else willing to take on the task."

She situated herself at the small spinet, and began to play a simple, plaintive song. The lyrics were taken from an Indian poet of some renown in the countryside, the words filled with longing and regret, with partings and endings.

I see the soft wings of the clouds on the river,

And jewelled with raindrops the mango-leaves quiver,

And tender boughs flower on the plain...

But what is their beauty to me…

Beauty of blossom and shower…

That brings not my lover again?

(-Sarojini Naidu)

Ashwini had taught her the lyric, and Elizabeth had committed it to memory almost immediately. Upon completion, the room was still and melancholy. "I am sorry, gentlemen, but I am afraid that I cannot be called upon to sing again tonight. I believe I shall retire."

With a brief curtsey, she left the room. Darcy, moved despite himself, started to go after her, but the Colonel drew him aside. "Darcy – save your tracking skills for the morrow."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Darcy growled.

"Don't think I can't see what she means to you. You still love the girl, do you not?"

"What matter is it of yours, Robert?"

"None, but…it is interesting to imagine what might have happened if her benefactor had surfaced before you were found with Caroline."

"Her fortunes meant nothing to me. Perhaps you are seeking a moneyed bride, Robert, but as for me – you know I would have had her despite her fortunes and connections. I should not have accepted her refusal, Robert. I should not have given up."

"It was an impossible match, man." He laughed bitterly. "God only knows, I am a well-versed study in the academics of the ill-conceived pairing."

"My advice to you, Robert – love is all. Fortune and status is meaningless if there is no love. Find love, Robert, and you will have passed the test."

The men were up early, before sunrise, to inspect the train of camp paraphernalia and guns they were transporting to the ridge. Georgiana and Elizabeth had also risen early, dressed and toileted as quickly as possible, in order to bid them farewell. Caroline remained in her room, refusing to come down. Darcy turned to Georgiana, and embraced her. "Tell Caroline…tell Caroline…" he murmured in her ear. "Tell Caroline I shall return. Tell her to take care." He then bowed to Elizabeth, his eyes filled with feeling. "Miss Elizabeth. You must not worry. We will return before long, you shall see." And they mounted their horses, turning away from the house and village, to the wilds surrounding them.

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 15 of 21

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