Continuing Tales

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 16 of 21

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Inevitable Change

The days following the men's departure were long and tedious. Georgiana and Elizabeth were inseparable, as Caroline had retired to the master suite for her laying in. There was little to do but ride, or walk, to the edge of the jungle, but the ladies dare not venture further for fear of attack by the lone tiger. Elizabeth, not one to sit idle, chose to use the time to illustrate her travel journal with watercolors of the flora and fauna of the area. Georgie spent some time in correspondence with her relations back at home.

By the third night, a huge full moon hung in the sky, and Elizabeth was just drifting asleep when a timid knock came at her door. Ashwini had come to rouse her mistress – Miss Caroline was in labor, and refused the help of the local midwife. "I do not think this is a wise decision, Miss Elizabeth – Miss Caroline has not yet had one babe yet, and she will need the help."

Elizabeth agreed, and decided she had best talk to Caroline face-to-face before calling for the midwife alone. Her proposal was met with great disdain. "An Indian midwife? For the future master of Pemberley? I think not! I shall not be needing help – for you see, Gertrude is here – she can help. I tolerate the pains quite well."

In truth, Caroline did look fully at ease sitting in the oversized feather bed. But, Elizabeth thought, she is early in the labor. Elizabeth had seen some of the animals give birth on the Bennet farm, and she was well aware that many, many unusual things could happen when a mother gave birth. Still, given her strained relationship to Caroline, she was reluctant to insist that a midwife come in. Instead, she wished Caroline well, and retreated to her bedroom to sleep. When it is morning, thought Elizabeth, she may need further assistance, so I will rest now.

Dawn light pooled on the wood floors of her room, as Elizabeth slowly roused the next day. The stillness of the morning was broken by the sound of running footsteps – the housemaids were running to and fro, and Elizabeth wondered what the trouble was – she remembered just as a piercing scream cut the air.

Throwing on a day dress and stepping into slippers, Elizabeth hurried down the hall to the master bedroom, where Caroline was evidently still in labor – and not at all tolerating the pain any longer. Georgiana was already up and dressed, and pacing in front of the closed door. She rushed to Elizabeth's arms, sobbing in distress. "She is in great discomfort, Elizabeth – do you hear? And she refuses help! She will not even allow me in the room! If only my brother were here! What are we to do?"

Ashwini, who had been doing her best to comfort the distraught Georgie, pulled Elizabeth aside with a gesture. "Miss Georgiana tells the truth; your friend is in a very bad way. Her maid has stepped out, just once during the night, and informed us that her mistress is very, very bad, very ill, and will not see anyone. Miss Elizabeth, I have seen this before in other women – she is very frightened, and will refuse to birth the child. Both she and the child are in danger unless something is done."

Elizabeth stared silently for a moment at Ashwini, then Georgiana. She would have to go to Caroline's bedside and try to comfort her. That would be all. She squeezed Ashwini's hand in thanks, and then embraced Georgiana. "Georgie, have some tea sent up – set yourself here at the door in a chair, so you may rest. I can see that you are quite upset, and your brother would not wish it to be so. Everything will be alright. I will go into her. She is frightened, is all. Now, stop your crying." Elizabeth smiled wanly at the girl, sighed deeply, licked her lips then entered the room.

Caroline was no longer sitting up in the great bed, but now huddled in a ball towards its foot. In a dark corner, Elizabeth could see Gertrude, the maid Caroline had brought from London – her eyes were wide with fear, a twisted, mottled hanky in her hands. Upon spying Elizabeth, Gertrude approached and spoke in a hushed voice. "Thank goodness you've come, ma'am. She will not let me near her, and I do not know what to do for her. I do not think the baby is right – she pains so much, but then the babe never comes. I do not know what to make of it."

"I see. I see," Elizabeth replied thoughtfully. "You've done what you could. Now we must fetch the midwife, whether Mrs. Darcy wishes it or not – go tell Ashwini to fetch her." Alone with Caroline in the room, Elizabeth hesitated only a moment. Caroline's whimpers drew her to the bed.

"Caroline – Caroline, it is I, Elizabeth," she murmured quietly. "I have come to help you, if I can. And we have summoned the midwife." Elizabeth knelt at the bed to see Caroline's partially closed eyes.

"No, no – not you…" Caroline mewled, but then a pain seized her, and built in her until she could not resist its effects – she screamed. Elizabeth grabbed her hand and clutched it tightly.

"You may squeeze my hand when the pain becomes bad, Caroline – squeeze it till it breaks, if you must."

"I am being punished. I am being punished. I want to go home to London…" She turned her sweaty face toward Elizabeth and began to cry. "I want to go home. Take me home, now. The baby does not want to be born in this godforsaken country."

Elizabeth wiped the hair out of Caroline's face and shushed her. "Caroline, we cannot get you home in time, but Mr. Darcy will take you back when the time comes." She looked about the room for a bowl of water and a rag, and found nothing but a half-filled bottle of laudanum.

"Mr. Darcy! Where is he now? Shooting tigers, and I'm left with his whore!" Caroline choked back a sob. "But I am no better, am I?"

Elizabeth's anger at the insult dissipated with Caroline's question. "What do you mean," Elizabeth whispered.

Caroline turned her head to the windows, so as not to see Elizabeth's face. "I went into his room at Pemberley. I laid back the covers, and kissed him and tricked him into thinking – he wanted you, he thought I was you – and they found us. I won him, then, but never really had him." She turned a ghastly pale face to Elizabeth. "He was meant for you all along, but I stole him from you. And now I am being punished."

"No, Caroline, you are not being punished. You are having a baby – you are having his baby. There is no greater prize than that." Another pain shot through Caroline's frail body. She gripped Elizabeth's hand tightly and moaned. Elizabeth's gaze fell across the swollen abdomen to the twisted bed clothing wrapped about Caroline's flailing legs; she had not seen the bloody mess at first, but now had a clear vision of it. Was that normal? She did not know. It seemed like an awful lot of blood.

"Oh, god!" Caroline cried out. "Oh, god, why? What am I to do? I shall die and be damned if I have this baby!"

Elizabeth caught Caroline's face between her hands. "No. No. You shall have this baby. You shall not be damned. This baby will save you and your soul. Listen to me, Caroline, whatever has happened, it is done. All that matters is that you bring this life to the world – do you understand?" Caroline's head rolled to one side, half unconscious. Elizabeth looked about the room, hoping to see the door creak open, and the midwife appear.

Elizabeth called for cool water and cloths, and began to bathe Caroline's drenched skin. The heat of the day was building outside the walls of the house. In the distance, foxes were yipping and a mule brayed. Caroline had little else to say in her pain-dowsed state; it was evident Gertrude had dispensed some of the laudanum earlier. Out of exhaustion or because of the drug, Caroline fell in and out of consciousness through the ever-more frequent labor pains.

At last, a quiet knock and then the door opened. The midwife arrived and set her medicines about. She opened the windows of the room to let in fresh air, then lit incense sticks for a peace-filled birth. Caroline roused long enough to insist that Elizabeth stay with her for the examination. It was as all had suspected. "The baby is not positioned correctly, which is why she struggles so. She must push it out now, or else all will be lost."

Elizabeth positioned herself behind Caroline, cradling Caroline's slack body, while the midwife spread Caroline's legs. As the pains came, the midwife yelled, "Bear down, bear down, bear down," while Elizabeth murmured the same in Caroline's ear, like a prayer. "Bear down, bear down, bear down."

One push, then another and another. Caroline summoned all the strength she had left to do the work. At one point, she turned her face toward Elizabeth. "You are good to help me, Elizabeth. You are good. I wished my sister were here, but you came instead. I am glad for it."

"You must not think of that now, Caroline," Elizabeth murmured, her eyes filling with tears. "You must bring forth this baby!"

Another effort, and another. Eventually, midwife could reach into the birth canal to access the baby's hip, and then a foot. The midwife applied an ointment around Caroline's opening womb. "This will numb the pain, but it will not stop it from hurting later, I'm afraid. You must push in earnest, now, my dear."

Pushing, pushing, pushing. The midwife, now hard at work arranging the baby's body for delivery – one last push, Caroline screaming in the effort and in feeling the fire as the baby's shoulders passed through – one and then the other. It was done.

"A baby girl! Healthy, and strong!" the midwife exclaimed, and Elizabeth looked over Caroline's head to see the red arms and legs and dark curly hair. Caroline, however, had closed her eyes. "Ah, mother needs to rest now…take the baby and wash her, and wrap her, while I clean the mistress. Have the girls fetch fresh clothing and water."

"You have done it, Caroline," whispered Elizabeth. After assuring herself that Caroline was still breathing steadily, but obviously exhausted, Elizabeth slowly lowered Caroline's body to the mattress and placed her head upon the pillow. She then set about doing all that the midwife ordered. She wiped each finger and toe, and the baby's eyes and face, then rolled a linen about her tightly. Holding Darcy's daughter in her arms, she walked out into the hallway, to be rushed by Georgiana and Ashwini.

"It's a girl!" She announced happily. Georgiana embraced Elizabeth and the baby. Ashwini peeked quietly at the infant's face. "The midwife is tending to Caroline. She needs linens and water. Ashwini, can you get some of the maids to attend to it? I think I shall need you to arrange for a wet nurse for the baby right away. Mrs. Darcy shall need a long recuperation period."

With a sign, Ashwini set the servants to their tasks. Then the three women and the baby girl walked out to the house courtyard. The sun was shimmering in a late afternoon sky; Elizabeth was grateful to be out of the close bedroom, breathing fresh air. The splash of the courtyard fountain, the small breeze that rustled the trees about them – every sight and sound seemed clearer to Elizabeth than before. Being part of the baby's birth invigorated her – holding this little life in her hands was profoundly moving.

Just as she turned to inquire Ashwini about finding a nurse, the earth pitched beneath them. The tremor was strong enough to knock them to the ground – Elizabeth barely managed to turn her body to protect the infant from the fall. The rumbling continued for a few minutes, and there was nothing but the sound of tree limbs breaking and falling, and rocks tumbling one atop the other. When the earthquake stopped, Elizabeth raised her head from the ground and peered through the dust that had fallen from the house.

She looked about at her companions, who were also shifting their bodies to look up in the still aftermath. The women breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that they had survived the quake, but then Georgiana swiveled her head toward the house.

The common areas of the captain's house stood in tact, with nary a discernible crack in the walls or foundation. The back wing, where the main and guest bedrooms were locate, was a heap of rubble. In the moment it took to see the destruction, a sudden collective moan came up from all around.

"Caroline! Caroline is in there!" Georgie exclaimed. "We must get help – she's – she's buried in there!" The women scrambled to their feet. Some of the servants who'd been in the kitchen or the front rooms that were untouched came forward. The few male servants who had not gone on the tiger hunt ran from the stables and storehouses to the house and stared, open-mouthed at the devastation.

The captain's steward had also come forward, a gash bleeding above his eye. He gazed about at the ruins, and quickly assessed what had to be done. If there were any survivors, then they would have to be pulled from the rubble immediately. He set the men upon the task of moving the stones and beams away. He then ordered the women to gather what linens and mats they could to set up a recuperation area for those persons who were injured.

Georgiana and Elizabeth had been stationed in the front parlor, tending to the wounded. Elizabeth had bound the baby to her using a large cloth. Ashwini, in the meanwhile, had gone to the village to see the extent of damage there, and to retrieve a nurse for the infant. "The poor thing will go hungry, if we are to wait too long – it is best I go now, before dark." Elizabeth agreed, and then set about the task of ripping sheets and tablecloths for bandages.

The area of the building that contained the master bedroom was reached within a few hours. The men, working in the night by torchlight, retrieved the bodies of the maid, Gertrude, and the midwife. Caroline's lifeless body was then pulled from the wreckage, and laid in the courtyard with the rest.

Georgiana and Elizabeth was summoned immediately by the steward. The two women stepped quietly to the place where Caroline lay, and knelt beside her, tears streaming down her face. There was a peacefulness in her countenance that made Elizabeth wonder if she'd been blissfully asleep when the catastrophe hit. She hoped so. Georgiana and Elizabeth remained kneeling in prayer for a while, until they felt that they could no longer be spared from their work.

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 16 of 21

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