My first association with ravens was the immortal poem, “The Raven,” by American gothic horror writer Edgar Allan Poe. “The Raven,” originally published in 1845, presents the bird as a symbol of death, loss, and ultimately, evil. But tales involving ravens have been told in many ancient cultures. In Greek mythology, the god Apollo sent a white raven to guard his lover, Coronis. When the raven brought news of Coronis’s infidelity, an enraged Apollo scorched the raven’s plumage black, and all ravens thereafter were cursed with black feathers. With such fanciful tales associated with ravens, I thought it would be fun to have ODC encounter them. Their first meeting is based upon an incident that involved my husband, crows, and me. (Crows and ravens belong to the family known as corvids.)
October 13, 1813
“Do you realize what day this is?”
Drawn from the splendid array of autumnal colours surrounding her, Elizabeth met the gaze of her walking companion and husband of ten months, Fitzwilliam Darcy. She canted her head, as if giving his question consideration. “Ah, yes. A year ago today was the Battle of Queenston Heights, a successful campaign against America’s attempt to invade Upper Canada.” She turned from him, compressing her lips to fend off a smile.
“I am pleased to know your patriotic spirit is alive and well, but I had an altogether different significant event in mind.”
Despite her efforts, a giggle escaped her.
His lowered brows resumed their normal position; a wide smile overspread his handsome countenance. “I knew it; you were teasing me.”
She chuckled. “My long-suffering husband. What did you ever do to deserve such an irreverent wife?” She took several sobering breaths. “My memory is distinct of that astounding day one year ago when I learned that, despite all that had occurred, you still wished to marry me.”
“I loved you so much then that hearing you speak of your changed feelings towards me brought me unrivalled happiness—or so I thought at the time. I am still happier now to be your husband. My life with you has surpassed my expectations and dreams.”
Words did not often fail her, but her emotional reaction to his statement thwarted her efforts to form an appropriate response. Instead, she squeezed the hand intertwined with hers. Finally, she said, “You could not have said anything to please me more. I should think my husband’s contentment is my finest achievement as a wife.”
“Indeed, you may rejoice in your success.”
A small dark mass flew within a few feet of them.
“Oh!” Elizabeth made a sudden halt, forcing her husband to do the same.
Fitzwilliam expelled a harsh breath. “A raven! That was odd. Why did it come so close?”
The large, black bird flew in an arc to come by them again, just as close, this time crying out as it went. “Caw, Caw, Caw, Caw, Caw!”
Elizabeth leaned her upper body back in a rigid pose, her eyes following the raven’s repeating flight pattern. “That is no ordinary bird call. The creature is agitated.” The raven flew off to the right towards a thicket of trees. Upon landing on a branch, it turned to them, repeating its cry. She walked towards it, tugging her husband’s hand. “It seems to want us to follow. Let us go.”
With a quick nod, Fitzwilliam assented. They trailed the raven as it went from tree to tree, waiting for them to catch up, and giving an occasional cry as if to hurry them. After thirty or so yards, the raven stopped upon a wide bush, five feet tall.
Another, smaller raven was perched upon it. While flapping its wings, it gave out weak cries, its head lowered in a depiction of dejection. As they neared, it became evident the bird’s leg was caught. An opaque string or wire was wrapped around the leg, attaching it to the bush. Spots of blood covered the bird’s foot—no doubt from its attempts to free itself.
Her stomach twisted. “We must help it.” Releasing Fitzwilliam’s hand, she moved closer to the birds and used a low voice. “It is well. We will not hurt you.”
In two strides, Fitzwilliam was ahead of her, his extended arm preventing her forward movement. “Do not get too close. Ravens have been known to attack people. Any animal in distress might lash out.”
His anxiety for her welfare was obvious from his tone. She did not protest though her every instinct told her the birds would not harm her.
Fitzwilliam pulled from his coat a small folding penknife, a prized possession received from his father on his twelfth birthday, and opened the blade. The mother-of-pearl haft bore several scratches from years of use, but it was still a thing of beauty. How her husband’s eyes sparkled with delight the first time he showed it to her! Fitzwilliam was never without it.
He neared the ravens in a slow, deliberate manner, showing them the knife and repeating, “Easy, easy now.”
With a hand pressed to her mouth, Elizabeth held her breath.
Her husband made a swift slash. Not a second passed before the former captive raven took flight, landing between the parting branches of a nearby tree.
“You did it! Thank goodness.” The larger raven cawed several times before following the other raven to land nearby. She narrowed her eyes. What occupied them? The faintest of bird-like cries emanated from the tree. “Oh—they have a nest! It seems so late in the year for babies.”
Fitzwilliam tucked his penknife away. “Yes, it does, but ravens are peculiar birds.”
“Yes, quite peculiar.” Elizabeth untied her bonnet and removed it. Standing before her husband, she gave him a lingering kiss. After a time, she pulled her lips from his, slipped her arms around him, and rested her head against the collar of his frock coat. She indulged in a deep inhale of the heady, masculine scent that was unique to him. “You were wonderful. The family of ravens is reunited.”
His arms enclosed around her, his hands exploring her back with soothing strokes. “I did not do much. However, if you choose to think me wonderful, I shall not stop you.”
October 15, 1813
At the welcome sight of the trail’s summit, Darcy dug his handkerchief from his coat pocket and pressed it to his temples. His wife, serene and beautiful, her eyes brilliant and vivid, took in their surroundings with the avidity of a naturalist. Ten months of marriage had not lessened her ability to draw his focus.
He voiced a familiar thought. “It is still amazing to me how you take these hills with such ease. The entire back of my shirt is plastered to my skin while you are neither breathing hard nor perspiring.”
Elizabeth displayed her enigmatic smile, so-named by him for the accompanying mysterious arch of her eyebrow; it never failed to stir his blood. “As you well know, I am doing both, I merely do not choose to make such a production of it.”
“Oh yes, that is me—ever trying to draw attention to myself.” Her laughter, a melodious, rich sound, was his reward for that little jest. A warmth unrelated to his physical efforts spread through him. Few things gave him more pleasure than making his wife laugh.
He and Elizabeth took seats upon a rock ideally situated and shaped to act as a makeshift bench. They spoke of inconsequential things: tonight’s dinner menu, the two foals that were born that summer, and Georgiana’s most recent music acquisitions. Before his marriage, walking had not been a frequent pastime. Riding, fencing, and pugilism had been his activities of choice, but he delighted in these walks with Elizabeth. His wife loved every stream, hill, and tree on this estate just as he did. Moreover, she belonged at Pemberley no less than he.
“…it is a concerto by John Field that Georgiana plays masterfully, but that should provide a great challenge to—” Elizabeth stood and took a step closer to the precipice not ten feet ahead. Thankfully, she went no further. She pointed in the distance. “Over there. I believe it is a raven.”
A raven was headed towards them—a large one. It flew closer and circled above them before landing not two feet from Elizabeth. It dropped a small, brown object at her feet—a mouse, limp and lifeless. The crow tilted its head. “Caw, caw!”
She gasped, turning to gaze at him. “Do you suppose…?”
“I believe you have been presented with a gift.”
“It ought to have gone to you; you freed its mate!”
“Yes, but you are my mate, and you were not uninvolved.”
Crouching down, Elizabeth peered at the dead creature before lifting her gaze to the raven. “It is a fine mouse. I thank you for the gesture, but I cannot accept it.”
Darcy opened his mouth to protest, but closed it. If his adorable imp of a wife wished to attempt to communicate with a raven, who was he to stop her?
With a heaving breath, she used two fingers to gently lift the mouse and set it down closer to the raven. “There. Take it back to your nest. You must ensure your babies are well fed.” Her hand fluttered at the bird. “Go on, take it.”
Darcy cleared his throat. He was prepared to say, Well, you gave it a good try, when the raven bobbed his head, snatched the mouse with its beak, and flew off.
She inhaled sharply. “He seemed to understand me.”
“Indeed. It did seem so.” His eyes tracked the bird until it flew out of sight.
October 22, 1813
Elizabeth took a dramatic pause to eat a mouthful of chicken and follow it with a sip of ale. As her husband looked on with a glint of amusement in his eyes and a slight upturn to his lips, Elizabeth regaled her sister with their experiences with the ravens. “Every morning this week, we have seen one of the ravens on our walks. It seems one must stay to guard the nest. Most often, we see the male, but the female has visited us twice. The birds circle around us and caw a happy greeting, and we wave at them. I have dubbed the pair Rollo and Rachel.
During Elizabeth’s recital of the events, Georgiana snuck glances at Fitzwilliam, as if seeking his confirmation of her narrative. Georgiana’s brows drew together. “It is an astonishing tale, and I admire your desire to help an animal in need, but I could not have done the same in your place.” Her sister shuddered. “Ravens are such dirty, ugly creatures. I should not wish to get near one—much less touch a dead mouse!”
She shrugged. “They are not the prettiest of birds, but like foxes, butterflies, and pheasants, ravens have a place and a purpose. Nevertheless, handling the poor mouse was not pleasant. I often lament having to wear gloves, but I was never more grateful for them than at that moment.”
October 29, 1813
An early morning downpour cancelled their usual walk, but Darcy’s suggestion of a stroll through the house was accepted with enthusiasm. Elizabeth proposed they start at the attic and work their way down.
As they climbed the final set of stairs, Elizabeth’s countenance reflected a radiant felicity. “As we go through the rooms, I wish to hear of the mischief you made in each one during your youth.”
“You make a large assumption. I hate to disappoint you, but I was a well-behaved child.”
She released a theatrical sigh. “What a pity! I shall settle for any remembrances then—perhaps hiding places you once used for hide-and-seek?”
As it happened, his wife’s suggestion inspired a host of memories that descended upon him as they moved through the house, so he had no shortage of anecdotes to feed her curiosity as they walked. They were partway through the third floor when Elizabeth’s mood altered. Her questions came fewer and farther between, her pace slowed, and her smiles seemed forced.
Then he fixed upon it: a sheen of glistening moisture above her brow. He swallowed. “Elizabeth, wait.” He pressed the back of his hand to her forehead. Her skin was afire! “You are burning with fever! Why did you not tell me?”
Creases formed between her brows; her hand lifted to her forehead. “I—I cannot be sick. I am never sick.” Even as she spoke, she swayed on her feet.
Darcy scooped her up in his arms, ignoring her weak, mumbled protests. “You need to be in bed.” To a passing maid, he yelled, “Go now. Find Mrs. Reynolds. Tell her to send someone for the apothecary, and that I need her in the mistress’s suite. Hurry!”
“Yes, sir!” The young maid turned and ran down the hall towards the stairs.
“I am sorry to have caused such a fuss.”
“Hush, my love. You are ill. Anyone can get ill, even you.”
Her lips curved, forming a weak smile. “It seems so.”
Elizabeth smiled her thanks as Fitzwilliam placed another cooling, damp cloth upon her forehead. He took such tender care of her! He had changed her into a nightdress, took her hair down and brushed it, and coaxed her to drink a cup of Mrs. Reynolds’s special tea, a concoction of herbs—the housekeeper’s cure for ague. Elizabeth had never been so weak before; it was as if her body was not her own!
Poor Mr. Hunt had been forced to examine her while enduring unrelenting scrutiny and countless questions from Fitzwilliam. Her husband’s concern for her was evident in the way he paced with his brow fraught with lines, his mouth drawn into a grim line. Her resentment of this illness was for Fitzwilliam’s sake more than any other reason.
Mr. Hunt’s worst moment came when he admitted that his best treatment against a dangerously high fever, white willow bark, was unavailable. He had used the last of his supply last week, and the vendor who supplied him was also out of it. The apothecary explained that many of the white willow trees had been afflicted with a disease that caused galls to form on the bark, rendering it unusable. In the face of Fitzwilliam’s thinly veiled rage, Mr. Hunt agreed to send his assistant out at once to the nearest southern county where the trees were known to thrive.
As time wore on, she tried in vain to talk Fitzwilliam into going about his business. There was no need for him to remain with her to watch her sleep, which was what she did most of the time. But he maintained he would rather stay. To appease Fitzwilliam, she drank much more of the teas recommended by Mrs. Reynolds and Mr. Hunt than she desired.
October 31, 1813
For two days, Elizabeth had suffered fevers alternating with chills. Today, the fever was back and it seemed to be worse than ever before. She awoke from another sleep, blinking until she could focus upon the mantle clock: half past noon. She was alone, which was odd. Fitzwilliam left her for short periods to meet with his steward or see to his personal needs, but he always left a maid with her.
Her gaze flitted to the windowsill. “Rollo, you found me. I am afraid walking out of doors is beyond me at the moment.”
“I know. My voice sounds awful—so weak and hoarse. I hope your family is well.” As another wave of fatigue overtook her, Elizabeth closed her eyes. Moments later, her eyes flew open. A piercing high-pitched shriek shattered the peace. She winced a second later as a glass pitcher crashed to the floor, splintering into a multitude of fragments.
“Dear Lord!” Millie, the maid, crossed herself and pointed a trembling finger at Rollo. “No, it can’t be. You’ll not take ’er, I tell you! I’ll drive you out first!” She ran to the fireplace and grabbed a poker.
Elizabeth raised herself upon her forearms and spoke with as much force as she could muster. “Millie, no! I command you to stop!”
For a moment, it seemed the maid had not heard, but she halted ten feet from the raven. “But, ma’am, ’e’s evil—an omen of death!” Millie gasped and raised a hand to her chest as footsteps sounded behind her.
Elizabeth exhaled in a huff and collapsed back against her pillow. “Fitzwilliam, thank goodness!”
Her husband gave her a searching gaze before addressing the servant. “Millie, put the poker away and clean up this glass before someone gets hurt.”
“But…I mean, yes, sir.”
Fitzwilliam strode to her side and took her hand. “Are you well?”
“I am fine. Rollo came to visit and scared Millie.”
“I see.” He glanced towards the window and waved. “Greetings, Rollo.” The raven bobbed his head and flew away.
“Fitzwilliam, will you ensure that all of the servants are instructed not to harm the ravens?
“Yes, I promise I will.”
“Thank you.” Thus assured, she allowed her heavy lids to close.
When Elizabeth’s eyes fluttered open. Fitzwilliam lay beside her. Based upon the slow, steady rhythm of his breathing, he was at last asleep. Mrs. Reynolds sat in the chair he had used these past two days. Until now, their combined pleas for Fitzwilliam to get some rest had been ignored. The dear man must have succumbed to exhaustion!
The elderly lady perked up in her chair. “Ma’am, are you able to take any food?”
She coughed to clear her throat. “I think not. I shall try to drink tea.”
Mrs. Reynolds poured her a cup.
“Caw, caw!” Rollo was back, perched upon the windowsill.
She waved at the bird. “Rollo, please be quiet. My husband needs to sleep.”
The raven did not cry out again, but pounded his beak insistently upon the windowsill.
“The servants were admonished to leave the ravens be, ma’am, but some remain determined to blame your sickness upon them.” The housekeeper rose and strode towards the window. “I shan’t harm the creature, but I’ll shut the window so the bird won’t disturb the master.” Her hands lifted to the window and froze. Rollo flew off. The housekeeper took a gasping breath. “I don’t believe it!” Mrs. Reynolds gathered a handful of items from the sill and brought it before Elizabeth with her hand open to reveal greyish strips of a rough material.
“What is it?”
“White willow bark—the very thing Mr. Hunt sent his assistant across the country to find!” Mrs. Reynolds rang the servant’s bell. ”It will be prepared in a tea for you at once!”
Darcy startled awake, his heart racing. Elizabeth! Images of her—weak, delirious with fever—haunted his sleep. He whispered, “Elizabeth.”
A hand brushed the hair away from his eyes. In the flickering candlelight, his wife was a gossamer vision of loveliness, propped up with pillows, a favourite novel in her lap. “I am glad you slept, my love. You needed it.”
His eyes skimmed the room; they were alone. “But you—you are better?” He took in her bright eyes, robust complexion, and beaming smile as he entwined his hand with hers.
“I am much better. Rollo brought another gift. I found the second one more appetizing than the first.”
Darcy’s turbulent breathing calmed as he raised himself to sit beside her. He would ask his minx of a wife to explain herself later; his profound state of relief rendered speech superfluous. For now, he would luxuriate in her nearness and ideate a silent prayer of thanks.
What do you think of “The Pemberley Ravens?” Have you heard similar stories about ravens? I have read of them gifting and have always thought it was quite fascinating. They are truly interesting birds. Thank you, Kelly, for sharing your story with us.
The giveaway will end on Saturday, November 2nd. Winners will be announced soon after. The last post, Thursday, October 31st, will be a special spoof. To be entered in the giveaway, leave your thoughts in the comments below. Comment at each post to add to your chances of winning. The comments do not show up immediately but should be visible soon after posting. Giveaway prizes will be announced later.
Death Takes a Holiday at Pemberley
“Mr. Darcy’s Perfect Match” & “Accusing Mr. Darcy”