This Friday’s post is the last vignette for our Summer Holiday Event. Spend a magical morning in paradise with Darcy and Elizabeth in Suzan Lauder’s “Becalmed.”
The heat seemed interminable and certainly made it impossible to sleep. Elizabeth Darcy lay heavily atop the bed linens, hanging over the side of the narrow bed, wishing a breath of wind to come through the open porthole next to the berth.
At Pemberley on a warm summer’s night, she expected the air to be still. Was there not usually a breeze on the sea? Not this night, and not for the last three days. They were becalmed, unmoving. Drat. She would be exhausted come morning, but there was nothing for it. Somehow her husband was sleeping, his steady breath indicating he had managed what seemed out of her reach.
Trying to minimize her tossing and turning and sighing so she would not disrupt his slumber was a difficult task. No position seemed comfortable, and either her skin was hot from the position on the bed linens or hot from the warm night air that clung to every surface.
The dawn was coming now, the sun’s warmth glowing into the room. There was no use trying to force herself to sleep now. Maybe she could obtain a bit of a reprieve with a walk on deck. The morning air would be cooler out of doors than within the stifling cabin. Considering whether to wake Fitzwilliam, she decided against it. No reason for him to have less sleep as a result of her insomnia.
She found a little water in the ewer and splashed it on her face. It was a relief that was short-lived. Although it cleaned off the perspiration that caused her discomfort, it made the rest of her body crave a cool bath.
Not meaning to bother Cauvin, her lady’s maid, she slipped quietly into the lightest of her summer costumes. The dress was slightly shorter than she would wear at Pemberley, a veritable cross between a sea bathing costume and a summer dress; it featured a bib front to make it easy for her to dress alone. If there were a breath of wind, it would permeate the fine muslin and cool her damp body. However, as she was tightening the stays over her feather-light chemise, her husband’s sleepy-eyed visage indicated that he, too, was awake. When he rose to stand alongside the berths, he had to stoop a bit. His tall form leaning against a post in only his drawers enticed her, yet the pervasive heat ensured that the last thing either wished was the physical closeness that marital pleasures entailed.
“Join me on a walk?” she asked.
“Of course. Do you mind if I eschew my coat since it is so early?” She had to take pity on him. Even with the lightest, finest wool, gentlemen’s clothing was too heavy for the tropics.
“No, and also leave your waistcoat and stockings behind. The sailors do.” She was beyond being shocked at their bare feet as well, but Fitzwilliam was fastidious, and he would wear slippers.
“It is quite early; you may choose to do the same.”
She waved her hand towards the higher hem of her skirt. “I must wear stockings. With this length of gown, I shall draw enough attention as it is.”
Moments later, he followed her up the stairs and over to the ship’s rail. The closest thing to a breath of wind was when the boat moved slightly side-to-side. She knew from earlier experience on the ship that she did not get seasick with any amount of rocking, which was a blessing. However, a part of her yearned for the similar sensations and lack of her courses that she knew came with being with child. Soon enough it would happen for her and Fitzwilliam. Worry would not make it occur.
She opened her fan and waved it in front of her face. Thankfully, it brought a slight reprieve from the itchy, salty dampness on her skin.
They were quiet for a while as they watched the sunrise, inches from each other yet not touching.
She squinted and raised her hand to look into the distance. The water was endless, yet they often were met by other boats on their way here and there. All had been friendly thus far. A few days ago, they had passed some islands that were indicative they were getting close to their destination.
“Weather notwithstanding, I am glad you suggested traveling at this time of year. It is a welcome distraction.” She glanced up at him, and his brow was furrowed.
“There was some strategy required to plan a trip around the war ships and profiteers. But why would you wish such a distraction?”
“So I would not grieve the memories of one year ago.”
“Was it not a year ago we met again at Pemberley? We began to understand each other better, and I was able to show you how I had taken your admonitions to heart.”
“You are correct, but more exactly, it is the anniversary of my learning through Jane’s letter of Wickham and Lydia’s elopement.”
“I thought you preferred to dwell only on the pleasurable aspects of the past.”
“I try, but sometimes I consider that time and wonder what would have happened if things had changed just a little.”
“For example?” he asked.
“I do not know why I told you of their shame when you came to visit me at the inn. In retrospect, I could have driven you away for good.”
“But you did not,” Fitzwilliam said. “I was far too smitten to care about them. I was concerned about how the news affected you.”
“And somehow, in my distress, I must have sensed that. I trusted you enough with their secret. Of course, I never expected to see you again, but at that time, it felt right to share my secret with you. It eased my worry. Clearly you had become important to me, and my trust in you was heightened.”
“I wished to hold you, to comfort you, but it was not my right.”
“Indeed. My foolish response to your proposal and my incorrect assumptions that led to that refusal are to blame. Had I accepted you—”
“You could not have at that time,” Fitzwilliam cut in. “I was unkind in the phrasing of my addresses even though I believed my honesty would elucidate you on my struggles to the point that you would understand the intensity of my passion. Had I acted in a more gentlemanlike manner, I still doubt that you would have accepted me. I had too many offenses to speak for.”
“You could not have known that. You were protecting Georgiana, and Jane hides her heart.”
Fitzwilliam’s lips tilted up on one side into a crooked smile. “A material change in beliefs from my own wife!”
“But the prescient point is that the events surrounding their elopement separated us for months.”
“Ah, and then neither of us were certain of the other, so I was afraid to be bold in my addresses.”
“That evening at Longbourn! I purposely served the coffee because I knew it was your preference, yet our conversation was stilted and irregular. You would think we had just met rather than had so many emotional conversations and opportunities to show our feelings.”
“You cannot mention such conversations and feelings without it bringing up those older memories you just spoke of—my assurance that you were expecting my proposal at Hunsford.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “I did not understand my own feelings then. From early on, I had sought your approbation, thinking it was just to boost my own pride. But in retrospect, I believe my attraction to you frightened me, and I fought it.”
“So I did not have to work so hard practising my improved attitude towards others? My pride was not so very terrible after all?”
She gave him a little push on the shoulder. “That is not what I said. You were abominable in Meryton. You were so above everyone else, it was amazing you did not float away.”
A bark of laughter escaped her husband’s lips. “I wish I could float in the air now. Mayhap it would cool me a little to be above the water.”
He withdrew his handkerchief and wiped his brow. He was unshaven, and she supposed that ritual, once McDowell attended him, would help improve the sense of his face being sticky. Out of pity, she turned her fan on his face. He closed his eyes and tipped his head back ever so slightly, a gentle appearance of improved contentment crossing his handsome features. All too soon, she missed its breeze on her own face; she moved closer to him and adjusted the way she waved the fan so both could benefit from the slight movement of air.
A pair of young midshipmen with ropes tied around them hit the water with a shout. Once they were towed back aboard, another pair of young fellows took their place. The joyful noise of the young men made her smile at Fitzwilliam.
“Would you like to try to swim?” her husband asked. “I know you learned as a girl.”
Her head snapped in his direction. “You do?”
“Lydia says all sorts of things when she rattles on. I believe she is nervous around me, and that is the reason she cannot hold her tongue. She seems to think that telling tales about your childhood will please me, which is not far wrong.”
“You are probably right.” She sighed. “It would be refreshing to bathe in the sea; however, I do not think this situation is suitable.”
“We can tie a rope to you if you like. Your gown and stockings will prevent any stings from the Portuguese man-o’-war.”
She shook her head and stated the obvious, which seemed to elude her husband. “But my wet clothing would cling to my form far too closely for the eyes of anyone but my husband.”
“We could ask the sailors to take to the other side of the ship for a short time.”
“No, but I thank you. It would be just my luck to attract a shark.”
“It is just as well. A salty bath only leaves an itch on the skin once it dries. I am certain that once we are near our destination, the servants will be readying baths for us. That is an event to anticipate.”
She smiled at him. It was indeed a pleasant thought to slip her body into a tub of water as soon as possible.
They were silent for a time, watching the young fellows—boys, really—enjoying themselves by raising buckets of water and throwing them at the ones who were too timid to swim.
“It is a pity we are so close yet unable to complete our journey,” she said, referring to their earlier sighting of islands that surrounded their destination.
The boat dipped a little once again, and a couple of the sails shifted their shape. The warm puff that resulted was enough to make her legs less heated for a brief moment. “What is that? Close your fan.” She obeyed. Her wrist was beginning to tire. But what was he about? He wet his finger and held it in the air. “Yes, there is a breeze!”
Fitzwilliam hailed a passing sailor. “You there. Do we have wind?”
“Yessir, Mr. Darcy. We expected it due to the sky at dawn. With any luck, it’ll pipe up by noon, and we’ll be able to sail again.”
“Hooray!” Fitzwilliam grasped Elizabeth about her waist and spun her around. “Your adventure will continue, my dear wife!”
“I do believe that we shall look back on this episode and refer to it as part of our adventure.”
“Stagnant air and oppressive heat?”
“Remember what we were just talking about?” she asked. “Those were not happy times when they occurred, yet we now look back on them for what they were—milestones on the journey towards our happiness as a married couple. I would wager that this will be a story we shall tell others in the future.”
His head tilted slightly in a crooked nod. “You may just be correct. But for now, I am content to look forward to later in the day when we are moving once again.”
“What are your intentions once we arrive?” she asked him.
“I do not intend to deal with estate business the first few days. Instead, I wish to show you the beauties of the tropics. The unusual flora and fauna will amaze you.”
“But you have not been here since you were boy. Would it not have changed a great deal?”
“Indeed. Emancipation is nearly complete on the other estates, so we are no longer the only ones with apprentice labour. But I expect the wildness of the plants that grow naturally will mean they still try to take over, so there is always work available. It is a difficult existence in the Caribbean but a beautiful one all the same.”
“Thank you for bringing me along and making it a sort of wedding trip.”
“I could not do without you for such a long trip, and I know you are not the sort of woman to shrink from such an experience. Indeed, it was your spirit that made me love you first.”
“I—spirited? You must have decided that before I rejected you so soundly.”
“Your walk to Netherfield after the rain.”
“I am afraid it is the truth.”
“Ha! And I was certain you were appalled at the state of my skirts.”
“Oh, Miss Bingley was. She could not stop talking of it as if somehow it would be her task to clean your petticoats!”
“I like the new shorter gowns for that reason.” She glanced at her own dress.
“They will be of benefit during the heavy rains.”
“It rains a lot?”
“Only for a few minutes in the middle of the day. Then it is hot and clear. You will love it.”
She already did. Life aboard a sailing ship in close confined quarters with her husband was an adventure enough. She could imagine many of the strange animals she had seen only in the Menagerie, and the trees and flowers from the travel books’ drawings only hinted of what Fitzwilliam assured her was a wondrous sight to behold.
A new puff of wind made its way through the light fabric of her gown at the same moment a large sail became curved at its base. The huge piece of cloth flexed and shuddered, but for the most part, it billowed out in the wind. The other sails followed and they began to move slowly through the sea towards their destination.
They would spend a year in paradise then return home to Pemberley. It all seemed so magical, so unusual; it was hard to fully imagine it. But with her loving husband guiding her, her sense of adventure would be cloaked in safety and excitement all tied up in one lovely package, his gift to her for no other reason than that he wanted to share new memories of this unusual place with her. And was that not the purpose of a good marriage—to create unique memories?
Isn’t it great to read about the love shared between Darcy and Elizabeth? One can never get enough of their witty exchanges and loving relationship. Thank you, Suzan Lauder, for sharing this vignette about a morning on a sailing vessel. Imagining the year ahead in Paradise sounds like another good story! Are you up for it?
Remember to leave your comments below for a chance to win a Meryton Press eBook. The giveaway will end a week from today, the 9th of August at midnight. If you have missed any of the posts, go back to each Friday’s stop and leave a comment. Your comments will not show up immediately, but once approved, they will be visible.
We hope you have enjoyed spending part of your Fridays with Darcy and Elizabeth on their various summer holidays. We have enjoyed sharing them with you. Thank you for stopping by, reading and commenting. Thank you to each of the authors for writing such lovely snippets.
Books by Suzan Lauder: