On a Monday morning in late July, William closed his book and checked his watch. It was almost time to go.
“The usual,” unfortunately, was herbal tea and not the fragrant espresso that made his nose tingle on every visit. Eliminating caffeine from his diet hadn’t been easy, but Dr. Rosemont had been emphatic. It seemed sacrilegious to order decaf espresso, so he had forced himself to develop a taste for herbal tea.
He had often been on the verge of asking Charles for Jane’s phone number in San Francisco, only to remind himself that Elizabeth didn’t want to talk to him. Last week he had resorted to calling Catherine de Bourgh under the guise of discussing his foundation’s support of the conservatory for the coming school year. When that business was concluded, he had casually asked about his true interest.
“Elizabeth Bennet is teaching for you now, isn’t she?”
“The young woman for whom you purchased a job? She started a few weeks ago.”
“I see,” he replied, his tone carefully bland. “And how is she doing so far?”
“I am too busy to track the daily movements of a junior member of the faculty, particularly one I didn’t wish to hire in the first place. But I have heard one or two reports that her work in the summer program is adequate.” In other words, she was doing a wonderful job, but Catherine couldn’t bear to admit it.
In addition to frequenting the café, he had developed a fondness for the townhouse’s roof garden. Mrs. Reynolds had commented on it, and he had attributed his preference to the recuperative powers of fresh air and sunshine. So far, no one had thought to ask why, in that case, he didn’t prefer the plush, cushioned chairs on the private balcony adjacent to his bedroom.
It was time to leave for his appointment; Allen would be waiting outside. He stood up, steadying himself against a touch of light-headedness, and retrieved his book from the table. With a nod to the barista on his way past the counter, he exited to the street.
Half an hour later, he sat in Dr. Rosemont’s waiting room, struggling to concentrate on his book. Over the past month, he had become intimately familiar with this room: the furniture, the selection of current and not-so-current magazines, and the flow of patients into the exam area and back out past the billing clerk.
Dr. Rosemont’s nurse appeared in the doorway. “Mr. Darcy?” He closed his book and followed her to the examination room.
“I hope they took good care of you while I was on vacation,” she said, smiling at him.
“Where did you go?”
“Montauk, for a week. My in-laws have a place a few blocks from the beach.”
William perched on the exam table with a casual air born of much experience, and they fell silent as the nurse checked his blood pressure. “How is it?” he asked.
“It’s gone up since last Thursday. The doctor may want to re-check it when she comes in.” The nurse made a notation on his chart. “You know the drill.”
He eased himself off the table, rolling his eyes. “I think she makes me undress just to torture me.”
“She’ll be right in; you can ask her about it,” the nurse replied, smiling. She shut the door, leaving William alone.
A current of resentment stirred in him as he unbuttoned his shirt. He was tired of sitting on the exam table nearly naked and shivering, goosebumps covering his arms. He was tired of feeling listless and dizzy, and of becoming breathless from climbing the two flights of steps to his rooms at the townhouse. He was tired of having his chest hair yanked out every time EKG leads were peeled off his body.
But above all, he was tired of being poked and prodded like an overgrown science experiment. Pulse, blood pressure, temperature, heart rhythms … the list went on and on. A month had passed since his release from the hospital, but his frequent appointments with Dr. Rosemont had kept him in the uncomfortable grip of modern medicine.
He was equally tired of being constantly watched at home. Mrs. Reynolds scrutinized his every move: what he ate, how much he slept, whether or not he had taken his medication, even whether he took the stairs or the elevator. And it wasn’t just Mrs. Reynolds. Gran was taking an increased interest in how he spent his time, and Georgie had begun to visit him in his sitting room on a regular basis. He suspected Mrs. Reynolds of recruiting his sister as a spy. Sonya tried to be subtle, but he was often aware of her watchful gaze turning in his direction. Even Richard had gotten into the act, finding transparent excuses to stop by at least once a day for a chat that always seemed to gravitate to his health.
William often thought of a cartoon he had once seen. The first frame showed a fish seemingly hidden among lush greenery, while the second pulled back to show the fish entirely exposed through the glass walls of a fishbowl.
Dr. Rosemont knocked and then entered the room. “Hello, William. How are you feeling today?”
“I’d feel a lot better if you didn’t keep making me take off my clothes and sit around here freezing to death,” he grumbled.
“How else am I supposed to get pictures of you to sell to the tabloids? Smile for the camera, by the way; it’s hidden in that wall.”
“I knew it. Raising money to put your daughter through med school?”
“I’m glad you understand,” she retorted, grinning. “Seriously, how are you feeling?”
He sighed. “About the same.”
“Still suffering shortness of breath? Dizzy spells?”
“Some of each.”
She continued to question him while she examined him; he could have asked the questions himself, in perfect sequence, by now. Finally, she was finished. She stood looking at his chart, frowning.
Unnerved by her silence, he asked the question at the forefront of his thoughts. “We agreed that I’d take a month off and rest. As of today, that month is over. When can I go back to work?”
Dr. Rosemont shook her head slowly. “You aren’t showing much improvement so far. In fact, your blood pressure has gone up. And the echocardiogram we did last week didn’t show any change in your left ventricle issue either.”
“Why is my blood pressure still high? Shouldn’t it have gone down after you installed the stent?”
“That’s always our hope, and the stent appears to be doing its job. But sometimes high blood pressure persists after the constriction is repaired. You’re still taking your medication?”
“Of course. If I didn’t take it on my own, Mrs. Reynolds would force-feed it to me.” He sighed. “Look, we need to figure out how to get me back on the road. I have a full schedule of concert dates coming up, and I need more energy so I can be at my best.”
“I understand you went to Washington last weekend, against my advice.”
“Yes,” he said in a low voice, his eyes on the floor. He had insisted on keeping his engagement for a concert at Wolf Trap the previous weekend, not allowing the opposition of Dr. Rosemont and every member of his family to sway him.
“How did things go?”
“Fine,” he answered, still staring at the floor.
“William, I was curious, so I checked the reviews.”
He winced. The reviewers had been, at best, polite. But one reviewer had commented that, while William’s technique was as flawless as ever, the electricity he usually generated was conspicuous in its absence, resulting in an unexciting performance. No, be honest. He didn’t say “unexciting.” He said “dull.”
“And your housekeeper called me this morning.”
This wasn’t the first time Mrs. Reynolds had informed Dr. Rosemont of developments related to his health. William clenched his jaw. “It’s like living with the CIA.”
“When your health problems started last spring, you ignored the symptoms and made yourself sicker as a result. I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but I can’t really blame your family for keeping a close eye on you now.”
“You mean keeping me under constant surveillance,” he grumbled.
“Mrs. Reynolds told me how exhausted you were when you got home from Washington.”
“All right, yes, I admit it. The trip took a lot out of me, and my performance wasn’t my best. That’s why I need to build up my energy level.”
“William, that weekend was too much for you, and it was just a train trip and a single concert.” She shook her head, her expression grim. “How are you going to handle a more typical weekend, when you have to fly somewhere, often across multiple time zones, and perform three or four times within a few days?”
“So what are you suggesting?”
“You need to take a longer break.”
“I can’t do that.”
“You can, and you must,” she said firmly, emphasizing every word. “You told me a month ago that you’d make your health a priority. Talk is cheap. Prove it.”
He stared at her, words failing him.
“I don’t have a magic wand I can wave to cure you,” she continued. “It’s going to take time. But if you take your health seriously now, maybe we can get you well along the road to recovery before long.”
“You don’t understand,” he said, finding his voice at last. “Any more cancellations, and my reputation will suffer.”
“If you go back to work too soon, a year from now you may still be in the same shape you’re in now, or worse. Lackluster performances won’t help your reputation either.”
“But—” He ran a hand through his hair, frantically searching for a compromise. “I suppose I could take a few more weeks off, if you really think it’s necessary.”
“That’s not enough.”
“But in September I’m booked every weekend and some weeknights as well, mostly for season-opener galas where tickets cost in the hundreds of dollars. I can’t back out of those.”
“You’re not going to heal in just a few weeks. You need rest, a regular schedule of sleep and light exercise, a healthy diet, and continued monitoring of your cardiovascular system. None of that is going to happen if you’re flying all over the world.”
William was cornered and he knew it. His sub-par performance in Washington had been humiliating. He sat up straight, squaring his shoulders. “All right. I’ll discuss this with Richard and Sonya and see what, if anything, we can rearrange. That’s all I’m promising for now. How long a break would you suggest?”
“Ideally, six months.”
He stared at her, horrified. “That’s out of the question.”
“I was expecting you to say that. All right, then, let’s start with three months. If you’re doing well, you could keep a few concert dates in November and gradually work your way up to a full schedule.”
“And you’re absolutely certain this is necessary.”
“If we don’t do this, you may have a heart attack or a stroke on an airplane some day, and by the time they can land it’ll be too late to save you.”
William closed his eyes and took a long, slow breath. “I’ll see what I can do. Now, can I get dressed and get out of here?”
“Absolutely. This is your health we’re talking about, and maybe your life. The concert dates are meaningless compared to that.”
William looked from Richard, who had just spoken, to Sonya. She nodded. “Of course. There’s not even a question.”
The idea of canceling three months of performances, especially the high-profile galas in September and early October, horrified William. In addition to all of the other nightmarish aspects of his situation, his illness had already been mentioned in the New York Times, and also in the Boston papers after he had missed the performance at Tanglewood. There would be more unwanted publicity now.
“When you call to cancel, tell them as little as possible. The details of my health are nobody’s business but ours. We could just say that I’m suffering from exhaustion and my doctor says that I need a rest.”
“Terrible idea,” Richard shot back. “People assume that ‘exhaustion’ is a cover for a stint in rehab. Besides, what’s wrong with telling the truth?”
“You know the answer to that,” Sonya said. “William’s worried about his privacy.”
“There’s nothing shameful about a heart problem,” Richard replied.
“That’s not the point. He doesn’t want people in the music world gossiping about his health.”
“Do I even need to be here for this conversation?” William asked. “You seem to be doing fine without me.”
“Sorry, boss,” Sonya said with a grin. “Didn’t mean to put words in your mouth. But I know how you feel about this stuff.”
William nodded. “I especially don’t want people to hear the story of my tragic childhood surgery. I can see the headline now: ‘Young Prodigy Overcame Near-Death Experience to Become Musical Legend.’” He shuddered.
“Fine. We leave out specifics and talk about an unspecified heart problem that’s being treated,” Richard said. “That’s what we’ve been doing so far.”
“Good,” William answered. “The less said, the better.”
“Then we’re in agreement that Sonya and I should cancel everything through the end of October?” Richard looked to William for confirmation, his eyebrows raised.
The decision couldn’t be put off any longer. William closed his eyes, wishing he could wake up back in February or March so that he could relive the past months and correct all his mistakes. He would see the doctor before things got so bad, and he would do everything right with Elizabeth. At times he missed her so much that it became a physical ache in his body. Now, facing this unpleasant decision, was one of those times.
Richard and Sonya were awaiting instructions. “Yes,” William said quietly. “Cancel them and convey my deepest apologies. And offer to reschedule at whatever fee reduction you think is appropriate.”
He stood up, overwhelmed by fatigue. “I’ll be in my sitting room if you need me. I’m going to rest for a while.”
Richard paused outside the door to the third-floor sitting room, shaking his head at the music playing inside. The women were right; William was wallowing in sad Sinatra ballads. The current selection was one of the most depressing songs ever written, “Only the Lonely.”1 Juggling a bottle of scotch and two glasses, Richard thumped on the door.
After a lengthy pause, the music stopped and the door opened. Richard saw his cousin almost every day, but he studied him now with fresh eyes. More than two weeks had passed since they had agreed to the three-month performing hiatus, and the time had taken a severe toll. He looked gaunt and pale, his shoulders were slumped, and his eyes were empty. Richard was glad the women had talked him into doing this; William was drowning in plain sight.
“Hey, there, Will,” he said with false cheer. “Mrs. R. said you were in here.”
“What do you want?”
Richard inclined his head toward the bottle of scotch in his hand. “I thought maybe you could use some company and a little liquid refreshment.”
William stepped aside, his face expressionless, and allowed Richard to enter. The room was dimly lit by a single lamp; the only other illumination came from the faint glow of a streetlight filtering in through the windows.
Richard set the bottle and glasses on a nearby table and poured a glass for each of them.
“Did you clear this with Mrs. Reynolds?” William asked, holding the glass up to the dim light and inspecting the amber liquid. “I’m sure there’s some reason why I’m not supposed to drink it.” His voice was heavy with sarcasm.
“We won’t tell her. This is Dr. Richard’s patented prescription for what ails you.” Richard sat down opposite William.
William took a sip. “Not too bad.”
“Not too bad? That’s the best you can do? This is a rare vintage of Macallan, aged for 50 years, bottled in 1987, and I won’t even tell you what I paid for it.”2 Richard raised his glass reverently to his lips.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to be unappreciative.”
“You know, just because you’re a fan of sissy-boy Kool-Aid like Chardonnay and Cabernet doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a real man’s drink once in a while.”
William snorted but made no other reply. The cousins sipped their drinks, both staring into the empty fireplace, the silence around them growing oppressive.
“So, how’s it going?” Richard asked.
William shrugged. “Roughly the same as when you asked me this morning.”
“I mean in a larger sense. All this hanging around the house can’t be easy. How are you holding up?”
Richard sighed. “Damn it, Will, you’re not fine, and everybody knows it. Do you think we’re blind?”
“What I think is that everyone should mind their own business. Or am I causing some sort of inconvenience by being underfoot all the time?”
“That’s not what I’m talking about, and you know it.”
“Is there some problem with the way I’m spending my time? I’m doing my best to be at least marginally useful.”
“You’re doing a lot more than that.” Richard was impressed with the projects William had undertaken to fill the time during his forced sabbatical. He was to teach a master class at Juilliard next week, he was developing a scholarship program for young composers through the Darcy Arts Trust, and he played the piano for hours every day, expanding his repertoire into new areas. Yet he did it all mechanically, listlessly.
“Then what’s the problem?” William snapped. “Did Mrs. Reynolds send you up here because I didn’t finish my vegetables at dinner? Is Gran upset because I was too tired to attend the Trumbulls’ dinner party last night? Or is Georgie still in a panic because I was ten minutes later than usual getting back from my walk this morning?”
“Okay, yes, they asked me to come up here and talk to you. But they were right. You haven’t been yourself lately.”
“I haven’t been myself,” William repeated, his voice tinged with bitterness. “And none of you can think of any possible explanation.”
“Of course we can. And we want to help.”
“And so, what, you’ve come to tell me to buck up and be a brave soldier? I’m doing my best, Richard. I wonder how well you’d do if you had your entire life taken away from you.”
Richard had never seen William like this, not even after his mother’s death. He grasped for the right words, but came up empty.
William hunched over, dangling his glass from one hand, and stared at the floor. “For openers, I’m useless. What good is a concert pianist who can’t play at concerts?”
“That’s temporary. Once you get better, you can go back to the way things were before.”
“You mean if I get better.” William took a large gulp of scotch.
“Whoa, there, drink that stuff slowly. Show some respect for its age.”
“You’re absolutely right. Didn’t you say it was aged for 50 years? That’s longer than I’ll probably live.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I could drop dead of a heart attack tomorrow.”
Richard didn’t like where the discussion was headed. “That’s awfully pessimistic. Besides, any of us could die tomorrow.”
“But for most people it’s an abstract idea, like getting struck by lightning or hit by a bus. For me, it’s like having a bomb ticking in my chest.”
“I thought you were doing better, that your blood pressure was finally going down.”
William shrugged. “In case you haven’t noticed, the men in our family don’t live to a ripe old age. My father, our grandfather and great-grandfather, one of our great-uncles … all dead of heart attacks in their 40s.”
“If you’re trying to convince me to update my will, you’re doing a good job. But let’s try to be optimistic. Uncle Edmund and Grandfather didn’t know they had bad hearts until it was too late. You’ve had a warning and you’re getting medical care. That’s sure to make a difference.”
“And in the meantime, yeah, you’ve had an interruption in your career. That would be hard on anyone, and I know how much performing means to you. But you’re still doing plenty of things you can be proud of. You just can’t be jetting all over the world for a little while.”
“Precisely. I’m a prisoner in my own house.” William set his empty glass on the table and began to pick invisible lint from his shirtsleeve.
“The warden and the guards are ever vigilant, aren’t they?”
William’s head fell back against his chair and he stared at the ceiling. “What I eat and drink, where I go, what I do … nothing is too trivial to be noted and commented on.”
“I’m sorry, Will. If I had my own apartment, I’d invite you to stay with me for a while, but I don’t think things would be that much better at home, with Mom there.”
Richard refilled their glasses, and again they fell silent. Finally, William spoke. “I know I’m not easy to be around these days. Or maybe I should say I’m even more difficult than usual. But in the past two months I’ve lost almost everything that mattered to me.”
“Oh, crap, you’re going to force me to get maudlin here.” Richard emitted a theatrical sigh, smirking, but then his smile softened. “You know there are a lot of people who care about you, right? Starting with me?”
“Yes. And I know I’m lucky that you haven’t all given up on me.”
“Of course we haven’t given up on you, old man. And we never will. Every woman in this house thinks you hung the moon. That’s why they’re smothering you with attention. They’re helping the best way they know how.”
“I know,” William said. “They mean well.”
“And as for me—damn, I wasn’t kidding when I said things were getting maudlin. When Mom and Dad and I first moved to New York, you were kind of a pest, like an annoying little brother. But I’ve gotten used to having you around. My life wouldn’t be the same without you.”
William smiled faintly. “You’re a good friend to me, Richard. You always have been.”
“Okay, enough sentimental drivel. Tell me what you’ve lost, besides a few months of audience accolades and a bunch of time spent in airports?”
William looked away, heaving a loud sigh. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Yeah, I think it does.”
“Drop it, Richard.”
“I heard what you were listening to. Sinatra singing weepy ballads? What’s that about?”
“I’m just listening to some of Mamma’s favorite albums. Don’t read anything into it.”
Richard’s confidence in a suspicion Sonya had mentioned was strengthened by William’s defensive attitude. “How is Elizabeth Bennet doing? Is she enjoying being back in the Bay Area?”
“I don’t know. We haven’t spoken since she left town.”
“I thought you two had gotten close.”
“We’re not in touch any more.” William’s tone made it clear that further probes would be fruitless, but it also suggested that Sonya had been correct.
“Okay, I get the hint. Changing the subject. What can I do to help you right now?”
“Could you explore getting me some local performances? Just some low-key events, no stress. I’m going stir-crazy in this house.”
“I’ll be happy to look into it, but you know, there’s another option.”
“Why don’t we go to Pemberley? With you temporarily out of commission, I don’t have much to do either. And remember, I set a personal goal to get you laid down there.”
“Have sex. Doctor’s orders.
“Seriously? No wonder you’re so depressed.”
William set down his glass, a reluctant grin on his face. “You’d never be able to handle that restriction, would you?”
“Not a chance. They’d find me in the morning, cold and dead, but I’d be the happiest-looking corpse they’d ever seen.”
William chuckled. “I can see the headlines now. ‘Infamous New York Playboy Killed in Action, Two Blondes Claim Responsibility.’”
Richard laughed heartily. It was good to see William smiling. “So how long is your sadistic doctor going to enforce such draconian measures?”
William shrugged, and Richard saw his expression grow more somber. “I was supposed to abstain at least till my blood pressure was close to normal. I’m not quite there yet but it’s getting close. I just haven’t bothered to ask. It doesn’t matter much that I feel like a eunuch; there isn’t exactly a line forming outside my bedroom door.”
“Well, if you’re in the mood and the doc says you’re good to go, you know I can find—”
“Thanks, but no thanks.”
“I knew you’d say that. Anyway, about Pemberley. Let’s go there for a week or two. And if the doc insists on keeping you in a chastity belt, I’ll make the supreme sacrifice and score enough for both of us.”
William smiled, but then Richard watched the animation drain from his face. “I forgot. I’m not allowed to go to Pemberley. The doctor wants me—how did she put it—near a major medical center.”
Richard grimaced. “Damn.” He thought for a moment, and was seized by inspiration. “Then why don’t you go somewhere else? I think you need to get away from here for a while.”
“I wish I could, but Dr. Rosemont says I need regular monitoring.”
“Yeah, but the doc doesn’t have to do it herself, does she? Couldn’t she refer you to someone at a major medical center, like she said? I’m not talking about going away for a weekend, or even a week. I mean a longer trip, maybe a month. She’d let you do that, wouldn’t she?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.”
“What about going to LA? You could hang out with your pal Chuckles.”
William’s eyes held a gleam of interest that hadn’t been there for weeks. “I’d like to see Charles. He’s been trying to get out here for another visit but his father’s been keeping him too busy.”
“Plus, California is just the place for some major R&R. Get yourself a cool convertible and cruise the freeways. Rent a house at the beach. Spend your days working on your tan and ogling women in bikinis … or better yet, coax them out of their bikinis, once the doc gives you the all-clear.”
William nodded. He was sitting up straighter in his chair now. “This is a good idea. I’ll talk to Dr. Rosemont tomorrow, and if she says yes, I’ll give Charles a call.”
“Of course, you should be prepared for opposition.”
“Every female in this house. They’re going to hate the idea.”
“I don’t care. I’m going to lose my mind if I have to stay here till the end of October.”
“Well, for what it’s worth, I’ll tell them it was my idea. Maybe they’ll turn their wrath on me instead of you.” Richard stood up. “Gotta go; late date. I bet she could dig up a friend who’d love to help you rebel against the abstinence restriction. Shall I call her and see?” He didn’t expect William to agree, but made the offer all the same.
William shook his head. “Thanks, but I’m going to make it an early night. Have fun.”
“Want to go out to dinner tomorrow? You could eat whatever you want without the Food Police looking over your shoulder.”
“I wish,” William sighed. “Don’t you remember? Command performance at the house.”
Richard groaned. “Oh, God, the dinner with Catherine de Bourgh. I’d forgotten. Thanks for ruining my good mood.”
“You’re not going to try to get out of it, are you?”
“I wouldn’t dare,” Richard replied with a rueful grin. “Once Gran finds out I’m conspiring to send you out of town, I’ll be in more than enough trouble. Okay, then, old man. See you tomorrow night.”
William rose from his chair. “Thanks for stopping by. And don’t forget your scotch.” He reached for the bottle.
Richard shook his head, waving his hand in a dismissive gesture. “I’ll leave it here. I bet we’ll be in the mood to finish it tomorrow night, after the Dinner Party From Hell.”
William stood at his sitting room window, watching Richard emerge from the house. California. Some time on his own, visiting with Charles. He just needed to convince Dr. Rosemont to refer him to a doctor in Los Angeles, and then he and Sonya could start making the arrangements.
It was not lost on William that Los Angeles was only a short plane ride from San Francisco. The unfortunate irony was that, had Charles reconciled with Jane, their connection would have offered him a way to re-establish contact with Elizabeth. But perhaps he could still find some reason to visit … and to offer an overdue apology.
Later, as he prepared for bed, his gaze fell on the orchid sitting on his night table. Lizzy’s orchid. That wasn’t literally true—it was the one Caroline had brought to the hospital—but the orchid was inextricably linked to Elizabeth in his mind. For this reason, it occupied a place of honor in his bedroom; it was the last thing he saw each night, and the first each morning. He got into bed, his eyes on the fragile blooms. Good night, Lizzy. I love you.
He turned off the light and, for the first time in many weeks, drifted quietly to sleep.
1 “Only the Lonely,” sung by Frank Sinatra on Only the Lonely, Capitol Records, © 1957. Available on Amazon and iTunes Store. Hear on Spotify. Hear on Youtube (includes the absurdly depressing lyrics). William does tend to wallow when he’s unhappy, doesn’t he?
2 If Richard won’t tell, I will. I’m not sure what the price for one bottle of 50-year Macallan would have been in 2001, but in 2020 I saw it listed online for anywhere from $35,000 to $89,000.