Breathless

Speechless is written entirely from Darcy’s point of view, leaving Elizabeth’s thoughts a mystery for the reader to infer from her words and deeds. The reader is not alone! There is one part of the story in particular in which even Darcy wants, desperately, to know what is happening in Elizabeth’s part of the world. If you ever wondered too, here’s your chance to find out.

Waiting in Wretched Suspense For News

“He ought probably to have stayed abed, but he could no longer bear the unceasing whir of his thoughts as he envisaged, over and again, Elizabeth’s surprise when Bingley arrived at her door. Would she be grateful for news? Would she be unwelcoming? Would she even still be there? Thoughts of it consumed him. He had slept, bathed, shaved, eaten, and slept again, all with limited relief from the torment of suspense, before getting dressed and coming downstairs to seek a more effective distraction. He wished now that he had not, for it had in no way diminished his desperate wish to know all that was being said and felt at one particular address in Gracechurch Street.” 

Mr Darcy, Speechless by Jessie Lewis

Elizabeth awoke with hands upon her arms and candlelight filling her vision. She could not catch her breath—a sensation that had become all too familiar of late. 

“Lizzy, ’tis only a bad dream—wake up!”

“I am awake,” she mumbled through lips still numbed by sleep. 

The hands released her, and she felt her aunt Gardiner perch on the edge of the bed. The candle was placed on the dresser, removing the glare from her eyes, and revealing her uncle’s deeply troubled visage. 

She groaned and rolled her face into the pillow. “I am sorry I woke you.”

“Hush now, my girl. We are only worried about you,” Mr Gardiner replied in his deep, steady voice. Not the voice she yearned to hear but comforting, nevertheless. 

The slight quiver of the mattress alerted Elizabeth to some silent communication between her aunt and uncle and then one of them left, closing the door behind them. She peeked at her aunt. “You should go too. The children will have you up before dawn.”

Mrs Gardiner shook her head and smoothed Elizabeth’s hair with the flat of her hand. “What did you dream about this time?”

With a sigh, Elizabeth unfurled herself and sat up. “I dreamt I was asleep in that tiny space again. I kept bashing my head every time I tried to get to him. Then, when I got out, I was freezing cold and lost in the snow—and I could not find him.” 

Her breaths came faster, and the hairs on her nape stood on end. “I dreamt he died.” A whimper of anguish escaped her. She pressed her fingertips to her breastbone. “It hurts in here whenever I think of him lying there.”

“Then try not to,” Mrs Gardiner whispered.

“I cannot think of anything else. I just want to know if he is alive. I could stand it if he hated me, if only I knew he were alive to do it.”

Her aunt smiled pityingly. “Oh Lizzy, we would have heard if he had died. A man of Mr Darcy’s consequence does not pass away without people hearing of it.”

Elizabeth knew this was what everybody had been tiptoeing about, attempting not to say to her for the past two days. She comprehended their reluctance. If Darcy was not dead, or at least gravely ill, then he was alive and simply refusing to acknowledge her. And that would only confirm that she had, as she feared, ruined all her chances of happiness with her stupid accusations. 

“Lizzy, calm yourself. You are breathing too fast again.”

Elizabeth nodded and forced herself to take several deep breaths. It was an affliction that had plagued her since early on in Darcy’s recovery. It had been difficult to watch him struggle to fill his lungs—heart-breaking on occasions. She had often found herself breathing in time with him, matching his shallow respirations with her own, holding her breath in wretched suspense whenever he could not catch his, and gasping with relief whenever he managed a grating inhalation. Being reunited with her relations in London had not alleviated the condition; her breathing had proved as erratic without him as it had been with him—and grew considerably worse whenever her thoughts returned to the night he collapsed. 

She spoke hastily to fend off her rising panic. “You must think I am being very foolish.”

“I most certainly do not. You have had a terrible experience. Nobody could begrudge you a few night terrors.” 

Elizabeth shook her head emphatically. Terrible things had happened, it was true, yet in other ways, the past week had been the most astonishing, edifying, and intimately pleasurable few days of her life. The cause of her distress was not the time she had spent marooned with Darcy at the inn; it was coming away from there without him. 

“It was not a terrible experience. Notwithstanding poor Mr Perkins, my week was…I have never been so…” She was racked by one sob then determinedly held her breath until she could speak calmly again. “He never once complained, you know. I cannot imagine the pain he must have been in, but he never mentioned it. He never said he was frightened, never lost his temper. The only thing he ever objected to was when he thought I had not taken enough care of myself.” 

She brought her knees up to her chest and hugged them. “I have never felt so appreciated—and I do not mean because I was helping him. I mean because he valued my opinions and my feelings. He cared what I thought and what I did. He worried about me when I was not with him. I have never felt so important to anyone—not anyone so wholly unconnected to me, anyway.” 

She squeezed her knees more tightly, though it did not ease the ache in her breast. She had never missed anyone with such intensity in her life, not even her sister Jane. It was as though something inside her had been cut out. The hollowness was unbearable. As was the recollection of how she had repaid Darcy for his solicitude. 

“And I have never been so unkind to someone so undeserving of it. If he is ignoring me, it is my fault. I was hateful to him.”

“Come now, I shall have none of that,” Mrs Gardiner replied tersely. “Mr Darcy cannot possibly think ill of you. Whatever you may have said to him in the heat of the moment, you still saved his life.”

Elizabeth could not evade the memory this time. It slammed into her mind, winding her as she felt again all the anguish of watching Darcy fall. She had tried to catch him but had not had the strength. He was such a tall man, and he had toppled straight, like a felled tree, and hit his head so hard on the floor she feared he had cracked his skull. The wound beneath his bandages had begun bleeding freely again, and he had lain completely motionless, barely breathing at all. She had thought he was going to die. She had felt like she might too, so intense was the panic that gripped her as she begged him not to.

“I think you ought to go home.” 

Her aunt barely whispered it, but it was enough to pull Elizabeth out of her nightmarish remembrances and hurl her into an even greater welter of alarm. “I cannot! Please do not make me!”

“I fear you will not begin to feel better until you are away from here and these awful memories.”

“But I shall hear any news sooner if I remain close.”

“Lizzy, I understand that you weathered a difficult ordeal together, but you are wretched, and getting no better that I can see. Is this Mr Darcy really more important than your peace of mind?”

“He is my peace of mind, Aunt. He is the best man I have ever known.”

Mrs Gardiner said nothing. Her opinion of Darcy was difficult to gauge. She had lived for some years near his home in Derbyshire and claimed to have heard it said then that he was proud. She had also heard Wickham’s lies about him when she was at Longbourn at Christmas. She had since heard Elizabeth’s assurances that they were lies, though she had not been told the whole truth, for that was not Elizabeth’s secret to reveal. All of that might have been overlooked, however, had not Mr Gardiner been treated so appallingly when he called at Darcy House on Tuesday. 

Inconsolable with worry and desperate for news, Elizabeth had begged her uncle to make enquiries. He had called there and been informed that Darcy was receiving attention from an eminent physician and therefore neither Elizabeth nor any of her relations ought to concern themselves further with his recovery. Then somebody purporting to be Darcy’s aunt had attempted to give Mr Gardiner a vast sum of money to ensure he and his niece stayed away. Her uncle had been and was still incensed. 

She had not the wit at present to convince him Darcy was not similarly conceited. She had used to think he was, until he opened his soul to her this week, and she discovered nothing existed therein but goodness. Now, though Darcy might well wish that she would stay away, she knew without a doubt that he would not condone his aunt’s behaviour. Understanding that only tormented her more, for if he had not prevented his relations from behaving thus, did that mean he was yet too unwell to know about it—or worse?

“A few more days, I beg you,” she whispered. “I just need to know.”

“Very well,” her aunt conceded unhappily. “Your father will not be happy about the delay, but I shall ask your uncle to think of something to placate him.”

Elizabeth thanked her profusely then settled back onto her pillows and pretended to go back to sleep so her aunt would leave, after which she lay awake for an age. 

Her hours of sleep had lost all sense of rhythm while she was nursing Darcy. Her makeshift bed at the inn had been incommodious and hard, but in any case, she had preferred to sit in a chair and watch him to make sure he did not stop breathing. She had done so at first simply because it was what anyone would have done—he was another human, and she did not want him to die. 

As the days had gone by, she had watched because his countenance had become fascinating to her. Awake, his eyes were always searching, his smile always reluctant, his brow almost always creased in thought. In repose, when his features were not racked with pain and he was not staring at her inscrutably, the lines of his face were more open. He was handsome—discomposingly so—but she saw more than beauty when she watched him; she saw strength. His was a powerful and dignified presence even when wounded and asleep, and she had not been able to—had not wished to—stop looking.

He had told her, at the height of his delirium, that she had utterly bewitched him. She had no idea whether that were true, but if she had, then he had certainly returned the favour. 

By the end of the week, she had begun watching him in a perpetual state of anxiety, terrified there would be nothing she could do were his next breath his last. He was so very ill that his every twitch had drawn her from her chair to check his pulse. Slumber had become a distant memory. As she lay in her bed at her aunt’s house, staring at the ceiling, she wondered whether she had forgotten how to sleep. Or whether, perhaps, she would never be able to rest properly again until she could be sure that, wherever Darcy was, he was still breathing.  

She must have slept eventually because she did not see the sun rise. It was high in the sky before she became aware of the world once again. She dressed with the maid’s help and, refusing a tray of breakfast, left to find her aunt and cousins in the parlour. Three of the four children squealed with delight when she entered. The eldest boy, Martin, did not look up from the sketch he was drawing, but Elizabeth found his attitude, tongue caught between his teeth as he concentrated, so endearing that she quite forgave him.  

“Good morning. How are you feeling?” Mrs Gardiner enquired.

She smiled noncommittally. “I hope you are not too tired.”

“I have four children, Lizzy. Tiredness is a way of life. Should you like some tea? The water is piping hot still.”

Elizabeth accepted a cup and sat in a chair near the pianoforte to listen to her cousins practise. Mrs Gardiner did not press her for an answer to her question, and they settled into a gentle conversation, stopping occasionally to direct the young girls in their playing. Darcy was never far from Elizabeth’s thoughts, but she could feign composure more easily when she was surrounded by such tranquillity. 

It was blasted when Martin finished his sketch and came, all proud anticipation, to present it to her. She looked at it and gasped sharply. He had drawn a picture of a person in a skirt—her, she presumed—holding what might have been a bandage. A man lay supine at her feet, his chest, neck, and head covered in blood. Her cousin had used a red crayon for that part; there was a web of scarlet scribbles etched across the sprawled stick figure. He had not drawn it correctly. There had been far more blood covering Darcy. Elizabeth’s hands began to tremble.

“Whatever is the matter?” Her aunt came to peer at what her son had drawn. She gave a cry of dismay. “Oh, Martin! How could you? You thoughtless boy!”

Martin began to cry. “It is Cousin Lizzy, nursing the poorly man, Mama.”

“Pray do not scold him. He meant no harm,” Elizabeth murmured. She said nothing more because awful memories were filling her head, stealing all her words. 

“Susan, quickly, ring the bell for Nanny,” she heard her aunt say. “Martin, cease making that racket. Go and put your crayons away this instant.”

Elizabeth did not wish to cause her family any more worry; she would not cry. But neither could she breathe properly. Again. 

“What can I do to help?” Mrs Gardiner enquired quietly but urgently.

“Nothing. I shall be well in a moment. It is just—” 

“The blood, I know. I am sorry, Lizzy. Martin is at that age—fascinated by gore.”

“It was not the blood. I am not faint of heart. It is only that I cannot forget him lying there. I keep seeing him fall.” And she kept replaying, over and again, what had happened moments before, when, despite being desperately unwell and on the brink of collapse, Darcy had insisted on correcting her misapprehensions about Wickham. The necessity of his warning shamed her deeply; the revelations contained therein had shocked her beyond measure. 

She wished she had been able to apologise to Darcy for the things of which she had accused him. She wished there had been time to explain that she had not truly meant any of it—that she had only been exhausted, cold, and so very afraid of losing him. But there had not been time for any of that. He had fallen to the floor and bled, just like in Martin’s picture, and now she might never have the chance to tell him that she was deeply, irrevocably in love with him. 

She had no power to stem the tears that began to fall. Seeing her cry made Martin begin again and his sisters join in. The door opened and Nanny arrived, but Mrs Gardiner’s instructions for her to take the children to the nursery was curtailed by the housekeeper, who apologised for interrupting, but said that a gentleman was there to see them on business that could not be delayed. 

Elizabeth’s ears were ringing. The sketch in her hand was taunting her to look at it. Her aunt was saying something about sending the gentleman up if it was urgent. Martin continued to cry, one of the girls closed the pianoforte over-loudly, making all the strings resonate discordantly, Nanny berated them both loudly. Then, without warning, everyone but her aunt was gone, and Mr Bingley was there. Elizabeth had no idea why, but the likelihood that it was because he had news about Darcy made her feel faint. 

“Mr Bingley,” she said breathlessly. “This is a surprise.”

He smiled. It was not an easy smile. “I beg you would forgive the unannounced visit.”

Elizabeth assured him he was welcome and introduced her aunt. She clutched her hands together as she spoke to disguise their shaking. 

Mrs Gardiner gestured for them all to sit. “I am afraid, sir, if it is my eldest niece you have come to see, you are not in luck. Jane is not here.” 

Mr Bingley’s disappointment was unmistakable and gave Elizabeth heart enough to set her own troubles aside for a moment. “She will be exceedingly sorry to have missed you, sir. She called on your sister while she was in town, and I know she was hoping Miss Bingley would return the call—perhaps with her brother? Only she was called away when I—” She stopped speaking when her voice hitched, her troubles never forgotten for long. 

Mrs Gardiner reached to squeeze her hand as she explained to Mr Bingley that Jane had returned to Longbourn as soon as she heard of Elizabeth’s disappearance. “May I presume that you know what recently befell Lizzy and Mr Darcy?”

He nodded gravely. “You may, madam. Indeed, that is why I am here. I have come directly from Darcy House. I am delighted to be able to report that Darcy regained consciousness this morning. He is going to be well.”

The room swung wildly around Elizabeth. A noise escaped her that was not dissimilar to some of those Darcy had made in the deepest throes of suffocation. She grabbed her aunt’s arm to stop herself reeling.  

“Good Lord, Miss Bennet!” Mr Bingley exclaimed.

“Lizzy, breathe, for heaven’s sake,” cried her aunt.

She was breathing—or sobbing, or laughing, she was not sure which. A flood of emotion too powerful to name was rushing through her veins, and every gasping breath she took was forced immediately back out again in wild, panting relief. She heard her aunt apologise for her and explain that she had been excessively worried. 

Mr Bingley—Jane’s wonderful, kind-hearted Mr Bingley—seated himself beside her and spoke in the gentlest of tones. “There is absolutely nothing for which to apologise. We have all been excessively worried, and with good cause. I share your relief, but I assure you, Darcy is well. Indeed, given the nature of the message I have been asked to deliver, I must say your response is rather heartening.”

Elizabeth waited, hope flaring. 

“I am here at Darcy’s most particular request. He learnt, upon waking, of the rather disgraceful way some of his relations treated you while he was out of action. You know what a curmudgeon he can be—you can imagine his displeasure.”

She gave a small, surprised laugh and nodded. Oh, how she treasured Mr Bingley for giving her a sliver of good cheer! How she wished he would return with those happy manners to Jane and make her so cheerful all the time!

“He has asked me to convey his sincerest apologies,” Mr Bingley continued. “He promises to call the very moment his strength is sufficiently returned. Indeed, he would have come today had he been able. Nevertheless, he was most anxious that you should not wait to hear his apology.”

Elizabeth nodded again, still somewhat breathless. Darcy had renounced his family’s behaviour, and he was alive. She told herself these two things would be enough to sustain her. “I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for agreeing to be his messenger. I have been imagining the worst. Pray, is he very weak?”

“Compared to his usual vim and vigour, yes, he has taken rather a knock. But I do not need to tell you that, do I? I understand you are disagreeably acquainted with the severity of his injury.”

“I saw it, yes. Has it been stitched do you know?”

“I suppose it must have been. I confess I did not ask.”

“Can he talk?”

“Regrettably not, though the physician hopes he might recover his voice in time.”

“I see. Can he nod or shake his head?”

“I do not recall, if I am honest.”

“What about his breathing?”

Mr Bingley grimaced uncertainly. “Well, I am fairly sure he was doing it.”

“What about swallowing? Can he do that?”

“Upon my word! I cannot have paid any attention to him at all, for I have no answers for you. He looked pale, tired, and bit on the thin side, and his neck was bandaged of course. But he was upright, on his own pins, and as intent on telling everyone what to do as ever, so well on the way to being his old self again. I should say the thing troubling him the most was his excessive concern for you.”

Elizabeth gasped slightly—a noise as full of doubt as it was of hope. 

Mr Bingley regarded her shrewdly. “What do you say to coming with me to see him?”

“What?”

“Come with me now to Darcy House. I cannot answer any of your questions, and Darcy is champing at the bit to see you, so why not come and ask him directly.”

“Would—would he welcome a visit, do you think?”

“My dear Miss Bennet, it took me, his sister, both his cousins, his manservant, his physician, a slashed neck, and a belly full of laudanum to prevent him from coming here. I believe I can say with a good degree of certainty that he would be very well pleased were you to go to him.”

She let out another shaky laugh, this one borne of the profoundest relief. So far from despising her, Darcy wished to see her! She allowed herself to hope, for the very first time, that his ardent declaration had not been delirious ramblings. And that made her need to go to him with an urgency that leant her voice a decidedly overwrought timbre when she turned to Mrs Gardiner and asked, “Aunt? Will you go with me? Please. So I may see that he is well.”

Mrs Gardiner looked excessively uncomfortable, her lips pursed and her colour heightened, but after a pause that felt like an age to Elizabeth, she nodded her consent. “Very well. If Mr Bingley is certain we shall be welcome. I am not convinced it is wise, but I know you will not rest until you have been. Though you should know that if this does not go well, I shall insist upon you returning home immediately.”

Elizabeth agreed and was promptly overcome with a wave of apprehension for all the things that could transpire that would make her aunt consider the visit had not gone well. It passed quickly. Whatever might happen in a Mayfair drawing room, she was assured she and Darcy had survived worse. 

She straightened her shoulders. “I should be very grateful if you would take me to him, Mr Bingley. And then, I should be very grateful if you would visit my sister. If it is not too much trouble.”

He beamed at her. “No trouble at all, Miss Bennet. Let us get you delivered to Darcy with all haste, then. For I have a visit to Hertfordshire to arrange.”

It felt to Elizabeth as though she held her breath the entire way to Darcy House. She was not alarmed. She knew she would be able to breathe when she saw him again.

9 comments

    • Thank you Johan! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It always bugged me as much as Darcy what Elizabeth must have been going through while she waited for news. So I had to write it!

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      • I’m so glad you did. I read the book several times now and it’s great to know Elizabeth’s thoughts while she is waiting for news on Darcy’s condition. It fits seamlessly in the story, almost like a missing chapter from the book. And as always it’s beautifully written. I really enjoy these blog posts with additional story content. Thank you for sharing this. I hope you will never stop writing.

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  1. Absolutely brilliant. Loved it. Speechless is still my favourite JAFF and I loved seeing Lizzy’s pov and her recollections of falling in love with Darcy during their time at the inn. Wonderful.

    Thank you for this surprise extra Christmas present!

    (The proof reader in me wants to just mention you need to change ‘breath’ to ‘breathe’ in the last sentence.)

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  2. I loved speechless and I love this vignette more because you’ve managed to pack an entire novel’s worth of emotions in these few words. I loved the connection between Darcy and Elizabeth in speechless, how she is able to understand him without words and after reading this I had to go back and read their meeting because I felt as impatient as Elizabeth to see Darcy and this scene perfectly melded with that. Kudos.

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    • Thank you, Debra! Speechless is quite an emotional journey for ODC and I loved writing Darcy’s thoughts—particularly when he believed he knew what Elizabeth was thinking but we the reader knew he was oh so wrong! 😆 But it was lovely to be able to write a little of Elizabeth’s perspective on the whole escapade. They’re such a fun and passionate pair of characters to write!

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