By the following Friday evening, the house was in an uproar, or at least what passed for an uproar in the normally sedate Darcy home. Everyone, it seemed, was preparing to go somewhere.
Rose and Georgiana were leaving Sunday for a week in The Hamptons. William had originally planned to accompany them, but now that he was scheduled to leave for San Francisco in less than a week, they would be going alone.
As soon as he had announced his intention to spend the fall months in San Francisco, Mrs. Reynolds had swung into action, making plans of her own. She was to fly out on Monday morning in order to make preparations for his arrival, and she would be staying for at least a week to, as she phrased it, “help him get settled.”
He would be living in a penthouse owned by Richard’s parents. When they had moved from San Francisco to New York, the Fitzwilliams had decided not to sell their former home, located in the fashionable Nob Hill district. They used it occasionally when they traveled west to visit friends, but it sat unoccupied much of the time.
William’s assurances that he could handle things himself had been summarily dismissed by Mrs. Reynolds. “You don’t know the first thing about hiring help, and you’re going to need a housekeeper,” she had retorted. William had flatly refused to even consider having live-in help, but they had agreed that Mrs. Reynolds would hire a part-time housekeeper who would work a few hours each afternoon, leaving as soon as dinner was prepared. He had further insisted that the housekeeper be given weekends off; he could dine in restaurants on those days.
The rest of his plans were going well. He had completed his master class at Juilliard, receiving excellent feedback, and had tentatively agreed to teach again in the spring. Dr. Rosemont had referred him to a medical school friend, a noted cardiologist in the Bay Area. His first appointment in San Francisco was scheduled for the Monday after his arrival.
He and Sonya had worked hard over the past week to finalize plans for the young composers’ scholarship competition. They had also organized other business related to the foundation in order to ensure that things would run smoothly in his absence. He had even made the supreme sacrifice of learning to use email in order to simplify communication.
“Otherwise, I know what’ll happen,” she had grumbled. “You’ll constantly be calling me at two in the morning, because it’s only eleven o’clock your time and you’ve just thought of something important. This way, you can email me your important thought and I can get a decent night’s sleep.”
William was the not-so-proud owner of a laptop computer that Sonya assured him was “the latest and greatest.” She had subjected him to a computer boot camp of sorts over the past week. His first email message, typed at a glacial pace, had gone to Charles Bingley, who had responded with alacrity and astonishment, both at the fact that William had “finally joined the information age” and at the news of his upcoming stay in California.
Even his body was finally cooperating. His blood pressure was close to normal, and although exertion could still leave him breathless and dizzy, these occasions were becoming less frequent. In response to his carefully offhand inquiry earlier that week, Dr. Rosemont had lifted the ban on sexual activity. “Just start slowly, okay?” she had said. “It wouldn’t do to have you expire on your first weekend in San Francisco, in the midst of some sort of marathon session.” William, in a sarcastic tone, had assured her that she had nothing to worry about.
There was, though, one cloud on the horizon: Georgiana. She opposed his plan to spend time in California, and continued to object even after Rose was reconciled to the idea. William promised to fly her out for a visit and to come home occasionally; however, she seemed to view his departure as a form of abandonment. He had traveled extensively for nearly her entire life, but perhaps she was feeling more possessive now because of his recent illness. Or perhaps, as Sonya had suggested, she was just being a typical 15-year-old, disapproving of everything her elders did. William wasn’t sure, and Georgiana wouldn’t discuss it. Trying to draw her out, he took her out to dinner one evening, to a concert another night, and on two shopping trips, but her mood continued to be sullen and uncommunicative.
Rose Darcy checked the clock again. Only five minutes had passed since she had checked it last; it was nearly one o’clock in the morning. She sat on the edge of the bed, noting the shadowy silhouette of her luggage. She and Georgiana were to depart after church and brunch for a friend’s estate in East Hampton. That was no doubt why she was restless. Starting tomorrow, her family would be separated for a long time.
Clad in slippers and a thin bathrobe over her nightgown, she walked gingerly from her bedroom to the sitting room she shared with Georgiana, feeling her way in the darkness. When she reached the sitting room, she turned on a lamp. Nearly everything in Rose’s sitting room had a history. Old family portraits in ornate frames graced the walls, and the rugs and furniture were all relics of an earlier time. Here, more than anywhere else in the house, Rose indulged her passion for the family’s history and traditions.
But it was not the historic portraits that caught her attention now. She picked up a framed photograph from an end table. It was a photo of William and his mother on the beach at Pemberley. Four-year-old William, looking somber and frail, was wrapped in Anna’s tight embrace.
Rose remembered this time with painful clarity. At age three, he had nearly died from complications following his surgery, and his recovery had been slow and fraught with setbacks. Sharing the frightening experience had forged a bond between Rose and her daughter-in-law, despite Rose’s initial reservations about her son’s choice of wife. Together they had watched over the boy they adored until eventually their fear of losing him had begun to recede—or at least Rose’s fear had receded. Anna had never gotten over it.
The past two months had resurrected the memories and the fear. Rose had lost both her husband and her son to sudden heart attacks. Since William’s hospitalization, she had been haunted by thoughts of losing him as well. She had gone about her business, meeting her various obligations with an air of calm control even while William was in the hospital; however, she had done so at a cost that her friends and family would never know. Many a night she had awakened, trembling and drenched in perspiration, from a nightmare in which William died in the park before the ambulance arrived, or in which she received a middle-of-the-night phone call from an unknown doctor, announcing that her grandson was dead. But each morning she assumed her mantle of composure, doing her duty and living up to expectations. It was the only way she knew how to live.
And now he would be thousands of miles away. William was frequently absent from the house on performing trips, but rarely for more than a few days at a time. This time, he would be gone for months. She wouldn’t hear the faint sounds of the piano during his long, frequent practice sessions, or see him sitting across the dinner table, smiling at something Georgiana had said. She wouldn’t hear his footsteps on the marble stairs or his deep voice echoing through the house. And she knew that she would spend the next few months discovering a hundred other ways in which his absence left a blank in her life.
It had not escaped her notice that William’s dark mood had cleared now that he was bound for California. Perhaps it was simply the promise of a change of scene, but there was another likely explanation. Elizabeth Bennet was in San Francisco, and Rose was convinced that the young woman was more important to her grandson than he would admit. She had chosen to keep silent and to trust William’s judgment for the present, but she remained wary.
She left the sitting room and slowly descended the stairs to the third floor, gripping the handrail tightly. William often stayed up late, and she felt the need to see him. When she reached the third floor, she saw a weak shaft of light shining into the hall from his sitting room, the door slightly ajar. She knocked softly, but there was no answer. Nudging the door open, she peeked into the room and saw William asleep in his armchair, a book on his lap.
Rose tiptoed to his side, her eyes locked on him. “Sleep well, my dear boy,” she whispered, reaching out with trembling fingers to smooth his hair. She stood beside his chair, absorbing every detail of his face. Then, with a soft sigh, she left the room as quietly as she had entered, carefully shutting the door behind her.
The following Wednesday evening, William and Allen sat together in the kitchen eating dinner. Each evening, Serena had offered to set a place for William in the dining room, but he considered it ridiculous to stand on ceremony when he and Allen were the only people in the house. Serena had gone home a short time ago after warming a casserole Mrs. Reynolds had left in the freezer and preparing a salad to accompany it.
The men were mostly silent as they ate, the awkwardness of this unfamiliar dining arrangement combining with the natural reserve they shared to create a conversational vacuum.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Allen said, breaking the silence.
William looked up from his plate expectantly.
“I was in your bedroom the other day, repairing the balcony door that kept sticking.”
“Oh, yes, I noticed that it was working better now. Thank you.”
“I saw the orchid on your night table.”
William glanced at him, surprised. “What about it?”
“Do you want me to return it to the greenhouse while you’re gone? I can care for it in either place, but if it were in the greenhouse it would do better.”
“That won’t be necessary. I’m taking it to California.” The orchid had become too precious to William to leave behind.
“Then I should pack it up for you so it’ll travel well. It would be a shame if it got damaged again.”
“Again?” William frowned, confused. “What do you mean?”
“It wasn’t from Ms. Bennet,” William said, wondering where Allen had gotten that idea. “It was a gift from Caroline Bingley.”
Allen set down his fork. “No, sir, that’s impossible. It’s the same orchid I took to Miss Bennet the day after she had dinner here.”
William froze, staring at Allen. “But … that orchid was taller. And it was in a different pot. It’s just the same type of orchid, that’s all.”
“No, sir, it’s the same plant. It seems to have lost the end of its stem, so it’s smaller now. As for the pot, I thought something decorative would be nice for Miss Bennet, so I re-potted it before I delivered it to her.”
“And you’re absolutely certain about this?” William swallowed hard, his mouth suddenly dry.
“Yes, sir. I assumed that she gave it to you when she visited you in the hospital.”
“What are you talking about? Elizabeth didn’t visit me in the hospital.”
Allen’s face was a mask of confusion. “She didn’t? That’s strange. When I saw her leaving the hospital, I naturally assumed—”
“You saw her leaving the hospital? When?”
“It was the same day Miss Bingley was there.”
“The day of my procedure?”
“I think so. I had some errands to run for my wife that morning. I finally made it to the hospital around eleven, I suppose. As I came up the sidewalk, I saw Miss Bennet outside lugging a suitcase, trying to get a cab. She was on her way to the airport. I offered to drive her, but she said, no, a cab would be fine, and in truth I couldn’t spare the time to drive all the way out there and back. So I helped her hail a cab.”
“You’re sure Elizabeth was at the hospital to see me?”
Allen hesitated. “I’m not sure of it, but why else would she have been there on that day, when she was leaving New York?”
William couldn’t think of another reason. “And you’re sure the orchid is the one you took to her?”
“I know every plant in that greenhouse, and I recognize the pot. I’m sorry, sir. If I’d realized that you didn’t know, of course I would have told you.”
“I understand. If you’ll excuse me ….”
William rose from the table, unable to sit still any longer. He trotted up the steps, his breathing somewhat labored by the time he reached the third-floor landing, and strode into his bedroom. He lifted the orchid from the table and inspected it closely, noting the broken stem.
The vivid dream about Elizabeth in the hospital that day must have been true, at least, some of it. She had come to see him, but he had been asleep. And that meant—
What did it mean? She hadn’t left a note. She hadn’t followed up with a phone call. Why would she have left the orchid and then departed without a word? Was she trying to erase him from her life? But then, why bring the orchid to the hospital? She could have left it at the house, or even given it away.
He yanked open the door to his balcony and stepped outside into the darkness, barely noticing the light rain that gradually soaked his clothes. As his mind grew calmer, he saw that there was only one option. He would have to ask Elizabeth for answers—if she would speak to him.
William slept not at all on this, his final night in New York. He lay awake until dawn, thinking of the orchid, Elizabeth, and what might await him in San Francisco.