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Tapestry of Lives, Chapter 65

June 11, 2015 04:08PM

by Jean M.

Chapter 65. The Son She Always Wanted.

Mr. and Mrs. Darcy left for Hertfordshire on the day after Georgiana’s wedding. Fitzwilliam commented only half jokingly that the trip would help distract him from thinking too much on his baby sister’s activities now that she was a married woman, but he could feel Elizabeth’s worry grow with every mile they progressed.

The Darcys brought a second carriage so that young Master Bennet and his nursemaid might ride with the servants when his parents desired privacy (and quiet). Although Lizzy wished for her parents to meet their grandson, she had spent enough time with the Gardiner children to know that traveling with a baby was not the easiest of enterprises. Though lacking in experience, Darcy was clever, and by the end of the first day he had come to recognize his wife’s wisdom, as well as why, of their little family of three, the smallest member had the largest trunk.

The Darcys arrived at Longbourn in late afternoon of the third day. Davey Hill was there immediately and seemed to be expecting them, so moments after Elizabeth and Darcy stepped down from the carriage, it was moving again, rolling around to the back entrance to unload the trunks.

Hearing the sound of voices, Lizzy took her son from his nurse and led her husband around to the side garden. All five Gardiner children were there and little John Thomas Bingley appeared to be fascinated by their play from his place on a shaded blanket. Elizabeth was happy to see her cousins, but soon shooed them back to their hoops and balls with a promise to tell them a story later, her attention drawn by the group of very serious adults gathered in the copse.

“Darcy! Elizabeth! Thank heavens, you have come!” Bingley was the first to hail them and his words sounded ominous to the couple.

While they all exchanged greetings and the Gardiners admired young Ben for the first time, Lizzy noticed that Jane appeared particularly upset, clinging to her sister without uttering a word.

Although Lizzy dearly wished for a bath and clean set of clothes, she did not want to enter the house without knowing the state of affairs. “Well then, what has happened? Did the specialist come to see Mama? Where is my father?”

Characteristically, it was Mr. Gardiner who answered. “Yes, Dr. Grant came this morning; he seems to be an exceptionally knowledgeable and patient gentleman—thank you for seeing to that, Mr. Darcy.”

Once that gentleman had accepted his appreciation, Gardiner continued, “He spent nearly an hour with my sister, and then another with Mrs. Hill, who appears to have provided an excellent summary of Fanny’s symptoms despite the patient’s protests.” Edward shut his eyes for a moment and sighed before turning back to the new arrivals. “In short, he says that Mr. Jones was quite correct in his diagnosis and that, given the size of the tumor and the rate of growth suggested by Mrs. Hill’s observations, he is surprised that Fanny is still alive. He does not believe she will last more than a fortnight.”

Jane burst into uncontrolled sobs and was drawn into Bingley’s embrace.

“Where is she? And where is my father?” questioned Elizabeth, leaning against her husband and feeling his arm pull her close.

“Your mother is in a great deal of pain,” responded Mrs. Gardiner this time. “She is in good spirits, though, as she still believes herself to be with child.” She sighed. “Your father is taking it very hard, I’m afraid. He could not speak a word for a full ten minutes, and then demanded if the doctor was quite certain of the diagnosis. Upon receiving an adamant response, he verily pushed us all out of his study and locked the door. About two hours ago, Kitty came down to say that her father had sent the two girls away while he sat with Fanny. As best we can tell, he is still with her.”

“Catherine has not had an easy time of it, I fear,” added Mr. Gardiner. “She and Lydia are up in their old rooms, resting.” At Elizabeth’s curious look, he explained, “As I understand it, one of Lydia’s friends was traveling with her family to London at the end of term and were kind enough to see your sister to Longbourn. She arrived not more than a fortnight ago.”

After a few moments spent digesting the information, Elizabeth gritted her teeth and forced herself to face the situation. “Well, Mr. Darcy and I need to wash up and change, and then I would like to introduce my son to his grandparents.”

Jane looked as if she might follow her sister, but Bingley tightened his arms around her and whispered something until she closed her eyes again.

Elizabeth could not recall Longbourn ever being so quiet, but she still smiled to see Mrs. Hill waiting for them at the front door. “Oh, Miss Lizzy—it’s good you’ve come. And you as well, Mr. Darcy, sir.”

“Hill, this is my son, Master Bennet Darcy.”

“Oh, isn’t he just a dear! And just look at him watching me—he’s an old soul, mark my words!”

Mrs. Hill was slightly embarrassed to show the Darcys into Elizabeth and Jane’s old rooms, but as she explained, it was the last unoccupied suite in the house. “I hope this will do, Miss… Mrs. Darcy—there now, I’ll get it right one of these days. I’ve put the Gardiners and the Bingleys in the two guest suites, and with Miss Lydia and Miss Kitty back in their rooms, there’s only those two single bed chambers on either end of the hall, and I didn’t think you’d be wanting those.”

“This will do just fine, Mrs. Hill,” Elizabeth assured her, though to herself, she wondered how she would feel sleeping with her husband in her girlhood room. “And if we could have some water to wash off the dust, it would be wonderful. It need not be hot—the weather is so warm that cool water would be lovely.”

“Oh yes, I daresay old Mabberley has already brought it up for the both of you. See—your maid and valet look to have your things all set out… and the nursery’s all scrubbed up—Miss Annie and young Master Bingley are there already, each with a nurse of their own, so there’ll be no problem looking after young Master Darcy, here. Well then—I’ll just be seeing about dinner. Don’t you worry about a thing but your mother, Miss Lizzy. It’s good you’ve come home.”

Elizabeth watched the dear housekeeper bustle down the hall to the servants’ stairs before turning back to her husband and sighing.

“How are you, really?” asked Darcy.

Lizzy smiled wanly. “Well enough, for now.” She took a deep breath and continued, “This first time, I would like to take Ben in to see my mother alone, if you don’t mind. If she is still abed, then she probably hasn’t dressed or had her hair done and she would be utterly mortified to have you see her so. While I do that, will you talk to my uncle and find out if they know anything else?”

Judging that in this situation, Elizabeth knew best, Fitzwilliam agreed, and, after one last kiss, the couple went to their separate dressing rooms.

Tilly was ready and had her mistress washed and changed so quickly that it was barely half an hour later before Mrs. Darcy found herself in the hall outside her mother’s apartment, holding her son and watching her husband disappear down the stairs. She was just reaching to knock when the door opened to show Mrs. Hill with a tray.

“You go right in, Miss Lizzy. Your father’s sitting with her and they know you’re coming. I haven’t given the mistress her laudanum, so she’s in a bit of pain, but she… well, you’ll see. You go on in, dear.”

Mrs. Bennet looked just as Elizabeth had pictured, sitting up in her bed against a pile of ruffled pillows, wearing her lace cap and a pink shawl. Her embroidery basket was on the table beside her, and a crochet hook with a half-finished baby bootie was stuck into a ball of yarn. Her expression was happy to the point of defiance, although her daughter could easily make out the signs of illness lurking behind it, and the bulge in her mother’s abdomen could not be missed. In that instant, Elizabeth understood perfectly why her father had chosen to allow his wife to retain her fantasy; to do otherwise would have been a cruelty.

“Is that Mrs. Darcy? Come in, come in—and you have brought the boy! Oh—bring him here so that I can see him! Your dear husband isn’t behind you, is he? I am not dressed yet. Oh, my dear, dear Lizzy—a baby boy! Oh, my nerves! Mr. Darcy must be so pleased!”

Elizabeth came to sit on the edge of the bed and held the babe where her mother might best look at him. “Hello Mama, Papa. May I introduce Master Bennet Darcy to you? We call him Ben…”

“Mr. Bennet Darcy, how well that sounds! Does it not, Thomas? Bennet Darcy… oh, what a serious expression he has, just like his father. Well, you will make sure he laughs, won’t you, Lizzy?”

With a catch in her throat, Elizabeth promised to do so very earnestly, and proceeded to answer all her mother’s questions with no hint of impatience.

Eventually, Mrs. Bennet paused long enough for her husband to say quietly, “Welcome home, Lizzy… we are glad to see you… both of you.”

For the first time, Elizabeth turned toward the chair where her father sat, and really looked at him. She was shocked to see how he appeared to have aged a decade since last she saw him. However, all she could think to say was, “Thank you, Papa.”

Fortunately, Mrs. Bennet had begun sorting through her basket, pulling out any number of beautifully embroidered baby clothes until she found what she wanted. “Here! Most of what I’ve been making are for newborns, of course,” she smiled proudly at Lizzy, resting her hand on her own swollen belly, “but I knew I made a few that turned out larger.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Elizabeth saw her father glance at her with alarm, but she accepted the gift from her mother with every appearance of gratitude and no comment on the implication. “Thank you, Mama. The embroidery is beautiful.”

Mrs. Bennet accepted the comment breezily. “Well, I suppose you have a fine French modista making young Bennet’s clothes, but I daresay a lifetime of experience counts for something.”

“Oh Mama,” said Lizzy, reaching out to press her mother’s hand. “The gown is truly beautiful. I would save it for a special occasion, but Ben grows so fast that I fear I should put him in it today, lest he be too big for it by tomorrow!”

“Well then,” said Mrs. Bennet, affecting a careless manner, though Elizabeth could tell how pleased she was.

They talked a little longer, until Elizabeth could see that her mother was tiring. After a few minutes, she used the excuse of Ben’s fussing to take her leave.

“Oh, yes—you had best take him to his nurse. You did bring a nurse for him, didn’t you, Lizzy?” Once her daughter had assured her that the Darcys had indeed brought a servant to look after the baby, Mrs. Bennet relaxed back into her pillows. “Well, that’s alright, then. I need to rest a bit this afternoon, but I’ll see you at dinner, Lizzy. Tell Hill not to bother me until I send for her.”

“Yes, Mama; I’ll tell Mrs. Hill. Rest well,” offered Elizabeth and kissed her mother’s forehead.

Bennet’s nurse was waiting in the hall and Mrs. Darcy gratefully handed over the babe to be changed and put down for a nap. “I expect that we will bring all the children down to the drawing room before dinner; let’s put Master Bennet in this gown—his grandmama made it.”

“Oh, yes ma’am! It’s beautiful, if you don’t mind my saying, ma’am.”

Elizabeth smiled a little sadly in agreement, for her mother had always had a fine hand with a needle.

Before she went to find her husband, she paused to tap lightly on the door to Catherine and Lydia’s suite. Hearing a low murmur, she cracked the door and was glad to find the pair awake.

“Lizzy! You have come!” exclaimed Kitty, jumping up to hug her sister. Lydia held back until Elizabeth held out a hand for her and then she joined the other two, giving and receiving comfort. “Thank you so much for writing to the Gardiners, Lizzy… I had no idea what to do… Mama was saying such strange things, but Papa only said I should not worry about it…”

“Dear Kitty… I imagine it has been very hard for you.”

“I wrote to Aaron, but he is so busy working on his father’s estate that I did not want to worry him over much...”

“Lizzy, what is going to happen to Mama?” asked Lydia, direct as ever, even if her tone was rather more polite.

Elizabeth sighed and drew the girls over to sit on the bed. “What do you know?”

“Mama says that she is pregnant and we are to have a baby brother,” answered Kitty in an uncertain tone.

“Which is totally ridiculous because she is ancient… I mean, she's a grandmother, for heaven’s sake!” exclaimed Lydia. “But when I asked Jane, all she would say was that everything was fine, and that the doctor would come and tell us everything is all right. But the doctor came this morning and when I asked her again, she had that look in her eye, like when the horse kicked Mary’s cat and wouldn’t wake up.”

Elizabeth was glad that she had come alone to talk to the girls. “Mama is very sick,” she agreed. “The doctor says that there is a cancer growing in her stomach—that is why her belly is so swollen.”

“But she isn’t pregnant,” repeated Kitty.

“No, she isn’t,” agreed Lizzy with equal solemnity.

“Is she going to die?” asked Lydia bluntly.

Elizabeth reached out to take both her sisters’ hands. “Yes, I’m afraid so… and probably sooner rather than later. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but we must prepare ourselves.”

Kitty stared at her wide-eyed for a moment before bursting into tears. The three clung to one another and Lizzy and Lydia cried a little as well. It was some time before they quieted, and then the younger girls had more questions which Elizabeth answered as best she could. When they finally fell silent, Lizzy checked her watch and noted that it was nearly time to dress for dinner. “Mama looked to be in some pain, but she assured me she would come down for dinner. Let us all put on pretty dresses and happy expressions and enjoy being together. Can you do that for her? ”

Once Kitty and Lydia had both agreed, Elizabeth gave them each a last hug and then went to find her husband.

She discovered Mr. Darcy in the drawing room, sitting across a chessboard from her Uncle Gardiner. Neither appeared to be much involved in the game, however, and rose from their chairs the instant that she appeared in the doorway.

“How are you?”

“Did you see your mother? You were upstairs for a long time…”

Elizabeth smiled wanly and stepped into her husband’s arms. “I took Ben to meet Mama and Papa—it went very well, I think—but as I was coming back, I stopped to see Kitty and Lydia and we talked for a time.”

“Ah,” said Mr. Gardiner, looking a little guilty. “Maddy and I were going to talk to the girls. We were just discussing how best to approach it with Jane and Bingley when your carriage arrived, and then I suppose we let ourselves get distracted.

Lizzy remained with her cheek pressed against her husband’s chest, taking comfort from the steady thump of his heart. “I told them the truth—they are both strong girls. Kitty was very upset, but I think she was also relieved, in some ways, to finally know the facts. And Lydia certainly suspected it, probably because the change in Mama is so striking to one who has been away from Longbourn as she has.”

“Mmm… yes, I am afraid that Lydia did not take well to Jane’s attempts to soothe her.”

“Where is Jane?” asked Elizabeth curiously.

Darcy answered, “Bingley took her up to their rooms to rest.”

Elizabeth tilted her head back so that she might see his face. “She isn’t taking this very well, is she?” Rather than wait for an answer she already knew, Lizzy sighed. “Well, we should probably follow their lead and go dress for dinner. Mama insisted that she would be down, and the girls and I have agreed that it shall be a cheerful, happy evening. I thought that all the children could come down to the drawing room before we go in, Uncle?”

Mr. Gardiner nodded in approval. “An very good notion, Lizzy. With any luck, their good humor shall carry us through the meal, as well.”

It turned out to be an excellent idea, for the Gardiner children were a happy lot and truly glad to see their grandparents and cousins. Jane sat with John Thomas in her arms, which seemed to lesson her disquiet; it certainly pleased Mrs. Bennet to look upon such a pretty picture. Longbourn’s mistress might not have been so pleased when Mrs. Darcy sat down on the rug so that her son might demonstrate his newest accomplishment of rolling over, but as the whole room turned to praise the baby and then admire his grandmother’s handwork on his gown, Fanny could not bring herself to admonish her daughter more than once.

Catherine had taken charge of little Annie Gardiner while Lydia looked on doubtfully, prompting Mrs. Bennet to exclaim, “Oh! My dear Lydia—now that you are home, we must go shopping! There is an assembly at Meryton next month, and I am sure that there will be ever so many handsome young gentlemen for you to dance with! Now that Kitty is engaged, it is your turn, my dearest girl!”

After a reassuring look from Elizabeth, Lydia did her best to agree with her mother with most of her usual exuberance, and then encouraged Mrs. Bennet to tell them more about the recent happenings in the neighborhood.

Any who had known Miss Lydia Bennet before she had been sent to school would have been surprised to see her less than enthusiastic over attending a dance, but the more sensible members of her family were very pleased by the changes she exhibited. Though Lydia would never lose her native exuberance (and indeed, none of them truly wished her to do so), it was now expressed in a more proper manner, and that shade of vulgarity that had so often colored her ways in the past had been mostly eliminated. She would never be a great reader, but Lydia’s mind had been broadened through exposure to girls from a wide range of backgrounds and, by hearing tales of their experiences, the youngest Miss Bennet had gained a great deal more sense herself.

The happy mood continued even after the children were herded upstairs by their maids and the adults passed into the dining room. Elizabeth kept her mother well-entertained for a time with stories of Miss Darcy’s wedding, and never hesitated when Mrs. Bennet inquired if the Duke of Grafton might have any more unmarried sons, with a pointed look toward Lydia.

To her mother’s great fascination, Mrs. Darcy told the story of poor Lord Granville Somerset, second son of a Duke and a wealthy gentleman in his own right. The gentleman had been engaged four years prior to a young lady with a fine dowry and excellent connections… and who, only a week before the wedding, had run away with one of her father’s stablemen. “The last anyone heard, they had married in Scotland and then taken a ship to Nova Scotia,” she finished with a flourish.

While Mrs. Bennet and the other ladies gushed over the poor gentleman and his broken heart, Mr. Darcy received his wife’s wink with a subtle eye roll. Both Darcys had noticed Lord Granville’s interest in the widowed Lady Lucy Wallace during the wedding festivities, and Elizabeth was fairly certain that Richard’s sister was not at all indifferent to his admiration.

When Elizabeth had finished describing the wedding breakfast and paused to drink some wine, it was Mr. Bingley who next gained the company’s attention. “Though it is a bit early to make an announcement, Jane and I wanted to tell you all… while we are all gathered together… that we expect… that is, well, we think Jane is expecting again… she has not felt the quickening yet, but we are fairly certain… it probably won’t be until January or February, but we wanted all of you to know.” Bingley’s speech finally stumbled to a stop and he managed not to look toward his mother-in-law, but no one noticed because they were all exclaiming over Jane and calling out their congratulations to the couple.

Mrs. Bingley looked like herself for the first time since arriving at Longbourn, glowing with serene happiness and smiling shyly at her husband.

The evening ended not long after a toast had been drunk; the Darcys admitted that their trip had left them exhausted and everyone else recognized that their hostess was looking increasingly pained. Any tears that were shed while they bid one another good night were attributed to the family’s happy reunion.

Having gone to the nursery to check on young Ben, the Darcys paused in the doorway to see Mrs. Bennet on her way to her apartment, leaning heavily on her husband’s arm.

Elizabeth’s sobs held off only as long as it took to shut the door to her bedchamber and step into Fitzwilliam’s embrace.

The next morning, the Darcys rose early and left for a walk before the rest of the house had stirred, although Elizabeth was amused to catch sight of Lydia’s bonnet bobbing along a distant path heading toward Oakham Mount. Although she had fallen asleep with tears on her cheeks, Lizzy found it hard not to be cheerful on such a fine morning. Glad to see her spirits rising, Darcy was careful to keep their conversation on light and happy topics.

Lydia and the Darcys did not see one another until they all arrived at the front door together. The three stood on the front steps to enjoy a few more minutes of the morning sunshine and Lizzy was just asking about her sister’s walk when the door opened behind them. Turning, one look at Mrs. Hill’s stricken face told the story.

“Miss Lizzy? The mistress always likes me to bring her tea about now, but she won’t wake. I shook her a little, but… well, and your father’s asleep in his chair by her bed, and I didn’t want to wake him… Oh Miss Lizzy…”

Elizabeth hugged the old housekeeper and it was only a moment before she felt Lydia join them. Vaguely, she heard Mr. Darcy call one of their footmen and send him off to retrieve the doctor from the inn at Meryton. Not for the first time, she thanked the heavens for the steady man whom she had married.

After a time, it was decided that the ladies would go to their mother’s apartment and undertake the unhappy task of waking their father, if he had not already done so by himself. Darcy agreed to stay near the front door to meet the doctor when he arrived. With a thankful look, Lizzy turned and, arm-in-arm with Lydia, started up the stairs.

Mrs. Bennet looked very peaceful, tucked under the bedclothes with her hands clasped at her breast and a small smile softening her mouth. Her pale skin was cool to the touch, however, and neither sister could detect any sign of life.

Lizzy knelt by her father and took his hand, wishing that she had something better to offer the haggard man. Though he had been deep asleep, Mr. Bennet’s eyes showed his understanding almost instantly, flicking from his wife to Elizabeth and back again. He remained still for a minute, but then squeezed his daughter’s hand and rose stiffly from his chair. Thomas stood at his wife’s bedside for a long time, head bowed, before finally smoothing her hair and kissing her forehead. He rested his hand briefly on Lydia’s shoulder before nodding jerkily at Lizzy and leaving the room, all without saying a word.

Elizabeth took her father’s chair and the sisters remained where they were, keeping a silent vigil, disturbed only when Mrs. Gardiner joined them and then, later, Jane and Kitty. It was an hour before Dr. Grant arrived but his verdict was of no great surprise. “She passed in the night, around one or two o’clock in the morning, if I had to guess. By the look of her, she went peacefully, which is a blessing given the pain some have to endure toward the end.”

The next few days passed in a haze for Elizabeth. She recalled holding her sisters as they cried, and later, sobbing alone in her husband’s embrace. At some point, the Phillipses were sent for and, while Mrs. Gardiner did her best to soothe that woman’s wild sobs over her sister’s dead body, Mr. Phillips quietly sat down with Darcy and Gardiner to begin sorting through the business associated with death.

Later, Lizzy would learn that Mr. Darcy had sent Tilly in a carriage to London almost immediately after Mrs. Hill delivered her news. At the time, all she knew was that she suddenly had mourning clothes to put on, and there was a seamstress to make gowns for her sisters from the bolts of black bombazine that had appeared along with the black crepe to cover the windows and hang on the house’s façade.

In death, Longbourn kept to the old ways. Mrs. Hill and the old cook washed their late mistress and sewed her shroud. Mr. Anderson, the best carpenter in Meryton, built the coffin from wood of a great elm that had blown over at Longbourn during the previous winter. When Mr. Bennet was brought by his brother-in-laws to inspect it, the very wood seemed to mock him, for he had set aside those boards with the expectation that they would remain unused until some distant time in the future, and then for himself, not his lively young wife.

The Bennet sisters had reserved the final night’s vigil as their own, and, though the drawing room might have been draped in black, it was brightly lit with a dozen good candles brought up from Derwent House. Once the rest of the house had gone to bed, the young ladies gathered around their mother’s casket with their sewing baskets and set to work.

When the mourners next saw Mrs. Bennet, they were amazed, for her shroud had been quite transformed with embroidery, ribbons, and lace, as if it was the finest ball gown; those who looked closely could even see the toes of pink dancing slippers peeking out from beneath her skirt. She held a bouquet of summer flowers in a rainbow of colors cut from her own garden, and a long braid of daisies and rosemary had been cunningly stitched to the white crepe ruffle around the rim of the coffin.

Mr. Bennet was so shocked by his wife’s appearance that his face turned grey and he was forced to sit on the front pew for ten minutes entire before he could make a sound. When he could speak at last, he thanked his girls with an earnestness that few had ever heard from him.

The bells were rung before and after the service, and the vicar’s sermon reflected a lifetime’s knowledge of the deceased. Mr. Bennet stood with his daughters while his wife’s coffin was born into a full church by her two brothers, Gardiner and Phillips, and her two sons-in-law, Darcy and Bingley. Determining the final pair of pall bearers had caused some consternation among her kin, but finally Mr. Bennet had decided that it was only right for the duty to go to Mr. Wright, as Fanny’s future son-in-law, and Sir Richard Fitzwilliam, standing for Longbourn’s young heir.

Mr. Gardiner had looked uncertain at this last nomination until Mrs. Phillips commented bluntly, “Well, the only thing my sister liked better than a juicy bit of gossip was something to fuss at, and she surely did enjoy fussing about the Collinses and Fitzwilliams.”

Thanks to the servants that their neighbors sent over to help, all of Longbourn’s silver was polished to a fine gleam and an abundance of food and drink was prepared in time for the mourners’ return from the church. Charlotte excused herself immediately and set off for the kitchen to check on the last details; Elizabeth found herself glad to let her old friend assume the responsibility. Instead of worrying about the household, Mrs. Darcy drew her sisters upstairs to their mother’s old bedchamber; the four looked like a flock of blackbirds roosting in an otherwise cheerful room.

“I still say that we should have gone to the graveyard to see the end of it,” sighed Lydia as she dropped into a chair by the window with just a bit of a flounce.

“Lydia—such a thing is not done! Surely you know that by now,” responded Jane tiredly.

“Lydia,” interjected Elizabeth when it appeared that her youngest sister was prepared to argue the point. “Perhaps we should think of what our mother would have wanted, rather than ourselves, hmmm?”

“Mama would have been mortified,” admitted her youngest sister with only a small pout. Then she brightened; “Unless there was a single man of large fortune likely to be there; then she would have coached me on how to swoon in just such a way to make him catch me… and nurse me back to health… and fall madly in love with me… and we would marry and live happily ever after!” She demonstrated her best swoon from her seat in the chair.

Lydia’s comment was so very true that not even Mrs. Bingley could think of how to argue. After a long moment of silence, Elizabeth began to laugh, followed by her younger sisters and eventually even Jane.

After a time, they began to talk again, more easily now. “It seems wrong that Mary is not here,” said Jane softly. “I know she could not very well fly back from Africa, and the funeral could not be delayed, but…”

“I am going to draw a picture of Mama in her coffin, with all the lace and ribbons and flowers, so that Mary can see how pretty she looked,” offered Kitty earnestly. “She looked happy and… and peaceful. Not at all like those dreadful corpses you read about in novels.”

Mrs. Darcy managed to hold her tongue and not laugh aloud.

“In our next letter to Mary, we must be sure to include which psalm the vicar read… and which hymns we sang,” commented Jane rather absently.

“Mr. Darcy is having the hair we cut made into broaches for each of us. I shall find out if we can safely send it in a parcel to Africa, or if it would be better to save it until the Tuckers return to England,” offered Lizzy.

She waved off their thanks, saying that they would do better to direct their appreciation to her husband. “He told me that he remembered Lady Catherine de Bourgh saying that every lady should have at least one good piece of mourning jewelry. Her advice proves useful at the oddest of times,” she mused for a moment until the others began giggling.

“Come, then—a last hug and then, once more into the breach, dear friends,” responded Lizzy, gathering her sisters around her.

“Does everyone have at least one dry handkerchief?” asked Jane worriedly.

“Has anyone seen my sketchbook?” added Kitty.

“Didn’t Mr. Sanderson look handsome in his blue coat?” piped Lydia, whereupon they all began giggling again.

Once they had recovered a proper solemnity, the sisters descended to the drawing room to check the arrangements and greet the visitors. It was not long before the gentlemen returned from the internment, and with their arrival, it seemed as all the county’s population had descended on Longbourn to offer their sympathy.

The gathering was so well-attended that they finally opened the doors of the drawing room so that the crowd might spill outside. Some might have considered it irreverent for a wake to be held in the deceased’s garden on a beautiful sunny afternoon, but as more than one visitor commented, only a person who had not really known Fanny Bennet would think such a thing.

After a time, Elizabeth noticed that her father remained absent, although Mr. Gardener assured her that his brother-in-law had returned with them from the cemetery. Unsurprisingly, she tracked him to his study. He sat at his desk but, instead of a book, he was holding one of Kitty’s drawings.

“Papa?” called Elizabeth when it became obvious that he had not noticed her knock.

He glanced up and blinked a few times as if coming out of a trance. “Of course, come in, Lizzy. Come in, but shut the door, please.”

He stared at her for a minute as if searching out traces of familiar features. “Your mother was not the most educated of women, but she had so much energy about her… can you feel it? Can you feel how cold Longbourn has become? It has lost its heart.”

He wiped some tears away roughly and set the paper down on the desk where Elizabeth could see that it was a simple charcoal sketch capturing her mother in the happiest of moods, her face wreathed in smiles and eyes crinkled with laughter.

“I ought to have had her portrait painted when we were first married… I meant to, but the money always seemed to be needed for something else… and I knew it would have to be a very talented artist to capture that look in her eyes.” Thomas pulled out his handkerchief and blew his nose loudly. “Now, I find that all I had to do was give her daughter some paper and a little encouragement. It seems so obvious, now that I think on it. She loved you girls with all her heart, you know. Oh, my poor, dear Fanny.”

Lizzy comforted her father as best she could, until finally his great racking sobs subsided. “Come, Papa…” Lizzy led him over to a window where he could see the Bennet girls and their guests gathered in the garden. “See Lydia? She already has Jane smiling again. And Kitty is looking at Mr. Wright as if he could hang the moon. That was Mama’s gift to us—her joy and her zest for life. She lives on in all of her daughters, just as you live on in all of them,” she said, pointing to where Collin, John Thomas, and Bennet were playing on a blanket.

Mrs. Darcy was rather proud of herself for composing such an uplifting speech until her father commented, “Lizzy, your son is eating grass.”

“Well, I’ve always had a preference for gentleman farmers.”

Mr. Bennet could not help but chuckle a little over that pert reply, and so, when she took his arm and pulled him toward the door, he did not resist. “Come Papa, my mother would not have wanted you to hide away in your book room when there are so many guests at Longbourn.”

Tapestry of Lives, Chapter 65

Jean M.June 11, 2015 04:08PM

Re: Tapestry of Lives, Chapter 65

RoxeyJune 15, 2015 04:39AM

Lovely chapter! Adorable story! (nfm)

InesJune 13, 2015 09:56PM

Re: Tapestry of Lives, Chapter 65

Lucy J.June 13, 2015 04:41AM

Re: Tapestry of Lives, Chapter 65

LucieJune 13, 2015 02:47AM

Re: Tapestry of Lives, Chapter 65

ShannaGJune 13, 2015 01:50AM

Re: Tapestry of Lives, Chapter 65

TeresaCJune 12, 2015 09:45AM

Re: Tapestry of Lives, Chapter 65

TobeJune 12, 2015 09:41AM

This is one of the best chapters I have read on this website

Elizabeth A.June 12, 2015 08:15AM

Re: This is one of the best chapters I have read on this website

Jean M.June 19, 2015 06:38PM

Re: Tapestry of Lives, Chapter 65

LisetteJune 11, 2015 10:29PM

Re: Tapestry of Lives, Chapter 65

Linnea EileenJune 11, 2015 04:47PM


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