Posted on: 2011-04-17
Fitzwilliam Darcy galloped toward Pemberley. His horse was lathered and weary, but he continued in his haste. His excitement far outweighed any apprehension he felt. Pulling up the reins outside the entrance, he saw his guests walking toward him in the foyer. As a servant took the mount to the stable, Fitzwilliam smiled broadly.
The Bingleys were always a welcome addition to the family, and especially now that it had been several weeks since any of the Darcys had the pleasure of their company.
"Bingley!" he cried, coming forward to shake hands with his best friend before turning to the man's sister. "And Miss Bingley!" His smile grew wider and he took the lady's hands in his own. "I have been bereft of your company for far too long."
Miss Bingley, a quiet, demure young woman, blushed under his scrutiny.
At that moment, Mrs. Darcy descended the front steps from the house. Darcy's attention was distracted from the lovely young lady at his side to the woman who now approached them. He dropped Miss Bingley's hand and sighed to himself, as the feeling of deep regret over his choice of wife once again invaded his mind.
"Ah, my love," Elizabeth said lovingly. She linked her arm through his and led him inside. "Our guests have been telling us of the fine time they had in London. Miss Bingley was just recounting a charming anecdote of how she met her new friend. Tell him, Miss Bingley."
Caroline blushed at being the center of attention as they all entered the front parlor to the refreshments arranged by the Mistress of Pemberley. Seating herself on the settee nearest her brother, she offered, "I had taken a stroll with my good friend, Miss Woodhouse, to one of the little book shops on the avenue when we literally ran into one who claimed an acquaintance with Mrs. Darcy."
"Oh?" Mr. Darcy was all attention, not just because Miss Bingley was speaking, but because he was curious as to this acquaintance of his wife's.
"It was Mr. Wickham," Caroline softly replied.
"I did not quite hear that."
"I said, it was Mr. Wickham," she said more forcefully.
Darcy frowned. After an aborted attempt to run off with Miss Lydia Bennet last summer, the man had gone underground. For him to surface suddenly in London was intolerable.
"He took them to Gunter's," Elizabeth accused, reminding Darcy that he had not taken her to the confectioner's shop when they had last been in town.
"Did he leave you to pay your own shot?" Darcy said with a sneer, ignoring his wife.
Just then Miss Darcy bounded into the room crying, "Miss Bingley, what a pleasure it is to see you again. It has been far too long." By the end of her speech, the ladies were embracing. After releasing her friend, Miss Darcy looked to Mr. Bingley and said coldly, "Mr. Bingley," dropping a slight curtsey.
Observing the awkwardness of the situation, Mr. Darcy returned to the conversation with Miss Bingley. "What confections did you sample while you were there, Miss Bingley?"
Miss Bingley smiled. "Mr. Gunter had just gotten a shipment of sugar cane from his cousin's plantation. He educated us on the particulars of processing the plant into raw sugar, and he gave me a stalk of cane to sample."
"Yes? Will you share some with us, Caroline?" asked Jane.
"Unfortunately, I have no more. Although I assure you it was quite a long stalk. I enjoyed the whole of it myself."
"Oh, my," said Elizabeth, drool running out the corner of her mouth, offering them all more tea to take her mind off the fact that she most likely would never have such a pleasure. "Now that you are returned from your tour of the Lakes, are you back to Netherfield soon?"
Her seemingly innocent query had not fooled Darcy; he knew from experience that she wondered just how long they were to have houseguests.
Bingley, always oblivious to the subtle insult, did his best to answer. "Our time is not fixed at present. Darcy sent word that we would be welcomed for several weeks at least."
All eyes were drawn to the Master of Pemberley.
"Mr. Darcy enjoys performing for others," Elizabeth said sarcastically. "But we all including Georgiana and Jane are glad you are here."
Actually, Georgiana despised Charles because he had led Jane on and led her to believe that he cared for her, before dropping the acquaintance and attempting to stick his interest with herself.
Of course, Georgiana Darcy would never dream of lowering herself to marry the likes of Charles Bingley. His sister was adequate as a friend, but to consider marriage to such a man was quite out of the question. She was always very attentive to the instruction of her Aunt Catherine with regard to matrimonial matters. It was bad enough that her brother had married beneath him and that her new sister had invited her equally unworthy elder sister to stay with them obviously with the hope of casting her into the paths of other rich men of her brother's acquaintance. The only benefit of having Jane at Pemberley was that she would serve as a distraction for Mr. Bingley. She could only hope the gentleman would forget his vain ambition of marrying her. Georgiana vowed she would not succumb to the same weakness that had overtaken her brother!
"Yes, I enjoy company," Darcy confessed. Elizabeth shook her head, knowing he only said that to spite her. But she did not wish Mr. Bingley to think ill of her. Or Jane. It was her fondest wish that Bingley might reconsider Jane. That would get her sister off her hands.
"As do I," Jane agreed, batting her eyelids at Charles.
Elizabeth could have sworn she heard Caroline Bingley mutter, "I enjoy being in your company, Fitzy."
She cleared her throat and said, "Miss Bingley, let me entreat you to take a turn about our lake. I assure you it is so refreshing after staying inside for so long in one attitude."
"Why, thank you, Mrs. Darcy," Caroline responded. The two ladies exited the house and started down the sloping lawn toward the pond. Unbeknownst to them, Darcy who suspected his wife might have nefarious intentions followed them.
Elizabeth looked around wildly for a means of distracting Caroline.
"Look at that flock of ducks, Carrie," she said, pointing. When she turned, Elizabeth shoved her as hard as she could toward the lake.
"Help, oh, help!" cried Caroline as she tumbled into the water.
"Caroline! Dearest!" shouted Darcy, tearing at his cravat and removing his shoes. He dove in after her.
"Can you not swim?" Elizabeth asked with an innocent air even as her husband came out of the pond with Caroline in his arms.
"You know she cannot!" Darcy exclaimed.
"I do?" Elizabeth ran off so she could not see her spouse make a cake of himself over Caroline. She went to the stables, because the grooms Darcy employed were all hot, even if the horses were not. Only there were no grooms in sight. Just Bingley.
"Why, Mrs. Darcy, fancy to find you taken with horseback riding. I rather thought you much afraid of the huge beasts." He took her hand to his lips as she arched her brow and smiled, following him further into the presently unoccupied stables.
Pushing her against the wall of the last stall, his lips came down on hers, their passions flaring for a moment's release. "I take it Darcy remains ignorant of his ignorance of being cuckolded?"
Elizabeth took his head in her hands, kissing him again, afraid that she would never have the pleasure of his company once he left Pemberley. "Yes, he is such a dolt. Would that you had had the 10,000 a year instead of him, my mother would not have insisted I marry him, and we could have been happily situated."
Another kiss was all they allowed themselves before they parted, both breathless, but resigned to keep up the ruse. Elizabeth knew once her sister married Bingley it would be that much easier to maintain the affair. Jane certainly would never suspect as if she could satisfy Bingley's irrepressible passions. Too bad she was stuck in her own marriage with Darcy. Not only did she have him to put up with, she had to deal with his annoying sister as well. She began to wonder to herself how much longer it might be for the arsenic to start taking effect.
Meanwhile, back at the pond, Darcy set Caroline back on her feet. "Are you well?" he asked. "Is there anything I can get you for your present relief? A glass of wine, perhaps?"
"Oh, no, Fitzy. All I need is you." She pulled his head down to hers and kissed him fervently.
"Let's get you out of this wet gown," he said, admiring how it clung to her form.
"Yes, please," she said, waggling her eyebrows.
As they approached the mansion, Jane peered out of the window and groaned. "Oh, no" she said to herself. "Lizzy has been at it again! Should I warn poor Georgiana?"
She rushed out of the parlor and down the stairs in time to meet Caroline and Darcy at the door. "Oh, dear Caroline, you will get chilled unless we get you changed. Let me help you."
"Well, I "
Darcy frowned, but saw no other means of getting his Caroline above stairs and out of sight of the servants. He supposed that would have to wait for later. Perhaps Elizabeth would be so kind as to toss her in the pond again before bedtime. Then he could put his plan into effect while his wife was off amusing herself with Bingley.
Yes, he knew all about that, knew how Bingley had thrown over Jane for Georgiana in order to get closer to Elizabeth. Perhaps now that Jane also was in residence, he would leave Darcy's sister alone. If Bingley wanted to carry on with Mrs. Darcy, he would rather his friend double cross his sister-in-law and not his sister. Darcy had no problem betraying his wife with Bingley's sister.
After shuttling Caroline off with a capable maid servant, Jane returned to the parlor. She was surprised to see Mr. Hurst standing in the room. She immediately threw herself into his arms crying, "Oh my darling!" They shared a long, intimate kiss, grasping at each other with all the passion of lovers kept apart by the cutting whim of fate. When she stopped to catch her breath she gasped, "What . . . are you . . . doing here?"
"We were delayed at Bromley," he said. "Then Louisa remembered to mention Lady Catherine's name at the Bell, and they attended us posthaste."
"Well, I am glad you are here at last," she sighed. They heard someone approaching and separated to a respectable distance.
"Hurst!" Mr. Wickham shouted, throwing open the parlor door. He strode across the room, stripped the glove off his hand, and slapped Mr. Hurst across the face with it. "I challenge you to a duel! I must have satisfaction!"
"What .?" Spluttered Hurst.
"The baby is yours! It has your paunchy belly and ruddy complexion! I demand that you come outside and face me like a man!"
"Whose baby is it?" asked Mr. Hurst.
"My darling Mrs. Younge told me all about your sordid affair. You scoundrel. And under my roof!"
"What are you doing shacking up with Mrs. Younge?"
"Well," said Wickham, "You know I must marry an heiress. How else am I to support Mrs. Younge and the baby? Your baby!"
"My dear Mr. Wickham," said Hurst, "I am afraid you have been misinformed. Darcy is the father of Mrs. Younge's child."
Wickham gnashed his teeth and uttered, "Darcy!" with bitterness. "I knew the child could not have gotten those luscious curls from you, Hurst!"
"Did I hear my name?" asked Darcy from the doorway.
Wickham strode across the room, put the glove back on his hand, stripped it off again, and slapped Mr. Darcy across the face with it. "I challenge you to a duel! I must have satisfaction!"
"I knew this day would come," sighed Darcy. "Very well, shall we make it pistols out on the lawn?"
They agreed and went outside. Mr. Bingley supplied each gentleman with his weapon. They stood back to back as all the guests and residents of Pemberley gathered to watch. A hush fell over the crowd as the two duelers each walked ten slow paces from each other. Georgiana twisted the linen handkerchief in her hand, watching her older brother and former lover coming to blows. Elizabeth crossed her fingers and silently willed Mr. Wickham's bullet to fly straight and true. She was so bored with this marriage and just wanted to get her share of the fortune and run off with Bingley.
Then the two men turned and fired at each other. Darcy's bullet just zinged past Wickham's hair, singing his coif a bit, but Wickham's bullet found its mark in Darcy's chest.
"Oh! He got me!" Darcy exclaimed, clutching his chest. The pistol in his hand tumbled to the ground. The wounded man stumbled three steps to his left, fell to his knees, and said, "Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?" before pitching headfirst into the grass.
Caroline rushed to Mr. Darcy. "Oh, please don't die! I love you!" she cried, cradling his head in her lap.
"No, no, no!" screamed Elizabeth. "He was my third true love! He can't be dead!" She collapsed at his side, sobbing and beating her breast.
Wickham raised an arm in triumph. Before he could say a word, however, his face froze in an expression of shock and he fell to the ground. The guests all looked around and saw a sniper on the hill behind them.
"Stop!" cried Bingley. The men ran toward the figure who hurried away in retreat but was no match for Mr. Hurst, who had been a champion sprinter when he attended Eton.
"Aha!" shouted Mr. Hurst as he pulled the black hood from the sniper's head.
"Lydia Bennet!" the crowd proclaimed in unison.
"George Wickham deserved to die after what he did to me," she snarled.
"Wait a second," Elizabeth interrupted. "Lydia wasn't upset when Mr. Wickham jilted her. She moved on to Chamberlayne. She said it was fun trading hair and clothes secrets with him." She marched to where Mr. Hurst held the Lydia imposter by the arm. "Let's see who our sniper really is," she said as she pulled the tight rubber mask from the woman's head.
"Emma Woodhouse!" the crowd proclaimed in unison.
"That's right, it's me," said Emma. "I had plans for Mr. Gunter, the confectioner, but Wickham ruined them. I wanted him to marry poor Miss Smith, but after Wickham waltzed Miss Bingley in to him, and he shared his sugar cane with her, I could not drive thoughts of her out of his head. I knew I had to destroy Mr. Wickham before he got in my way again!" She glared at Elizabeth. "I had plans! Plans for all of you! I alone knew the perfect matches for you all. I even drew up charts and schematics when I was in London last season! But you ruined my plans. You all did, with your undercover affairs. And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for you meddling kids!"
"Meddling," exclaimed Elizabeth, "is that what they're calling it these days? Well, I can assure you, there is quite as much of that going on in the country as in town."