Author’s Disclaimer: I have borrowed some words from the original novel, and may have adapted a few lines here and there from the '95 adaptation--though it may or may not be the same characters saying them. I have also borrowed the odd line from the classic movie, The Princess Bride.
Posted on 2011-04-23
George Wickham knew his time was near. He had rung up debts of honour and other kinds at an alarming rate, even for him, and admitted to himself that he had gotten reckless after Darcy had left the area. Thus, he made a plan, and set it into motion one night.
Unfortunately, that night, his boarding mate, who customarily slept like a piece of wood, gasped as one who has been awoken in the middle of the night to find someone else in the room.
"Wickham?" He heard the rustle of covers as Denny likely sat up.
"Shush. Do not sound the alarm," he whispered. "I am off to meet…a lady."
"Now?" Denny yawned. "What time is it?"
"Too late for the likes of you, you lobcock!"
"I cannot cover for your carousing forever," his friend grumbled and rolled over, pulling the coverlet back over himself. "It is too much, Wickham."
"I make you this promise: it will not be for very much longer."
When Denny began to breathe slowly and evenly again, Wickham silently pulled out the table drawer where his friend kept his billfold and removed the money. He put it into his own pocket and walked quickly, but quietly, over to the window of the room they shared, opened it, and slid out.
It was only two o'clock, but--mercifully, for it was very cold despite the layers he had worn--the sky was clear and the moon was full. There had been neither rain nor snow for days. He skirted the edges of farmers' fields, ready to run into the forest at any sign of someone following him, unlikely though it was. He was certain no one had seen him depart, and felt he could safely stop at an inn for some breakfast by a fire, and perhaps catch the stage the rest of the way to London.
Jane Bennet was entirely downcast after her disillusionment as to Miss Bingley's friendship, and no less by the abandonment by that lady's brother. The excellent company of her aunt, uncle and cousins notwithstanding, she could no longer bear to be in town with her disappointment. She began to think of nothing but to be home again with Lizzy, and begged to be sent back after she had passed only four weeks in London.
At first it seemed as though her efforts were in vain; her uncle could not be spared from his business, nor her aunt from her children, to take her. Thus Jane had begged them to send her home by the mail, accompanied by a servant. It was by no means a lengthy journey into Hertfordshire, and could be accomplished in less than half a day.
Still, they could not be easy about it--important though it was to her happiness--and wished to defer the issue to her father by writing; but Jane pleaded to be let go, as a letter to Mr. Bennet, the most dilatory of correspondents, could delay her trip by days, if not weeks. Her aunt and uncle, knowing their brother as they did, could offer no contradiction to this fact, and at last assented on the condition that she travel with a maid and a manservant, and no less. Jane had no objections, and was set to travel early the next day with her companions. She packed only a carpet bag with her necessities, and left her trunk behind to be returned at a later date.
The mail coach took on four passengers; Jane and her party numbered three. A nervous-looking young solicitor, who said his name was Mr. Brown, joined them at the last moment before the coach was to leave. He said he was on his way to visit his uncle in Meryton.
"Oh! Mr. Goulding," Jane cried when she was told the name of his uncle. "We are well acquainted with the Gouldings, and dine with them often. They are very kind."
"I am glad to hear they are well thought of among their neighbours," Mr. Brown said. "I have never before met them in my life."
He went on to explain that his mother had married a man with a small estate in one of the northern counties, and neither their family nor the Gouldings found the distance easy. They had corresponded through letters, but that was all. It was not until he had finished his studies at Cambridge and travelled to London in search of employment that he found he had the opportunity to make a visit.
"I hope very much you enjoy your stay in Hertfordshire," Jane said warmly, and he thanked her. He inquired about the neighbourhood, and she began to speak very happily of the people and the assemblies.
A sudden jolt threw Jane against Molly, the maid who sat beside her. Robbie, her uncle's manservant, was likewise thrown against Mr. Brown across from them and then fell hard to the floor on his knees. The carriage came to a skidding halt amidst the shouts of the men outside.
As the passengers righted themselves, one of the outriders yanked open the door. "Axle broke," he said after he had ascertained that his cargo and passengers were quite well. "We will have to have the coach fixed. There is an inn not half a mile from here. You can take shelter there until such time as we are ready to carry on."
It was lucky the day was only cold and foggy, and not wet. Still, the passengers found themselves very grateful when they were welcomed into the inn's public room with hot drinks and a place to sit by the fire.
As soon as Robbie had secured them a place beside the fire, he left Jane and Molly to themselves, promising to keep on top of the situation with the coach and report back when he heard anything new. He had seen an old friend across the room, and wished to sup with him.
Mr. Brown sat with them and ordered them some soup, and he and Jane talked companionably once more while Molly gnawed on a piece of day-old bread that had been brought to them in the meantime.
When the soup came, they were grateful, for it was nice and hot and warmed their insides, though the flavour, or lack thereof, left something to be desired. Weary, cold, and hungry as they were, they would not complain, and all ate very quickly.
Mr. Brown finished his soup first, and made his excuses to go and refresh himself. Jane nodded and lifted another spoonful to her mouth as he went off.
A rough-looking labourer stumbled on his way past their table, and knocked into Molly's arm which rested on top, putting her bowl of soup over into her lap.
"Oh, dear, Molly!" Jane exclaimed. "Go and get yourself cleaned up before it soaks completely through--Robbie is just over there, and Mr. Brown should return in but a moment; do not worry for me."
"Thank ye, ma'am," the maid curtsied and hurried off to the kitchen in search of a rag and some wash water.
The voice had been familiar, and Wickham was able to put a face to it as soon as the maid had removed herself. It belonged to Miss Jane Bennet, and he could do naught but wonder at her being at this inn on this morning. He had hoped to get away to London without being seen; her presence complicated things, and he could only hope that she would not take notice of him. He pulled his collar up and his hat down, and sunk lower in his seat.
A clatter of hoofbeats was heard in the yard and he looked out the window by which he was seated to see a gaggle of red-coated militia officers, led by Chamberlayne, dismounting.
The windows were thin, and Chamberlayne had all the subtlety of a goose. Wickham heard him call noisily to a group of boys and men hanging about the stables, "Hallo, there! We are looking for one George Wickham, lately of--"
He swore an oath under his breath. It seemed Denny had sounded an alarm, after all--likely after he found his billfold missing. He had underestimated Denny's growing impatience with him, and now the militia were after him. If he did not escape, he would surely be hanged at worst; sent to King's Bench at best. He needed somewhere to hide, and quickly. His gaze fell upon Miss Bennet, peacefully finishing her soup; she had not heard Chamberlayne's shouting from her place by the crackling fire. They would not be looking for him with a female relative--he made a snap decision, stood, and, being sure to keep his back to the window, walked over to her, removed his hat, put on his most charming smile and cried with feigned surprise, "Miss Bennet!"
She looked up and, spotting him, smiled. She was radiant even in the dingy light of the inn, and if she had been half as lively as her sisters Elizabeth or Lydia, he might have considered persuading her to go with him. As it was, she would have to be a momentary distraction.
"Why, Mr. Wickham!" she exclaimed in her soft voice. "How strange I should meet you here at this early hour! I am returning to Longbourn from my uncle's in London."
He matched her quiet tones so as not to alert their fellow patrons to their conversation. "And I am to London on business once more, so we shall not travel together, but I am pleased to meet you, Miss Bennet! I was just about to take a short turn outside, and would love a companion if you feel you are up for it. I visited at Longbourn only yesterday," he lied when he saw her hesitate and look over her shoulder in search of her maid, "and I can acquaint you with the latest news from there."
He could see her brighten at the thought of news from home, and stole a quick glance out the window. The officers were still speaking with the men gathered outside, no doubt describing him, but soon enough, they would come in. He looked back at Miss Bennet, who still seemed uncertain. He smiled disarmingly again. "We shall first ask the innkeeper to tell your maid to meet us outside when she returns, if we have not come back before she does. Well, what do you say?"
With Mr. Wickham smiling at her so encouragingly, Jane agreed, and he held out his hand to help her rise. She glanced over at Robbie, who was engaged in lively conversation with his friend, and she was loath to interrupt him, so she did not.
But, as she was about to follow Mr. Wickham from the room, she was struck by uneasiness. She looked back; Mr. Brown had returned to the table and was watching with an intense expression, but made not a move to come after her. It now occurred to her that she should really have stayed until Molly came back.
"Mr. Wickham," she began, ceasing to follow. "I must beg to return to the table and wait for my companion."
Wickham's face darkened as he looked over his shoulder. "You will do no such thing. You have seen me, and I cannot have you telling them I was here."
A chill washed over Jane. "I beg your pardon? Tell whom?"
He grabbed her by the arm and began to pull her across the room, his fingers digging hard into her forearm.
"Mr. Wickham!" she cried, but he ignored her. She looked wildly about, but none of the other patrons seemed to wish to catch her eye.
At last, she spotted a man sitting in the darkest corner of the public room. He wore regimentals, and slowly put down his ale as he appeared to watch them pass. She could not speak, for fear of tipping off her captor--who had not noticed the man--and making a scene, but put all the fear she felt into her expression. She could only hope he might see it and understand. Surely a soldier must come to a lady's aid when no one else would? Then she recalled that Mr. Wickham himself was in the militia, and choked back a sob.
Wickham tossed the innkeeper a handful of coins, said his name was Bennet, and demanded to know which upstairs room was available for him and his 'sister,' who had become very ill. The round little man squatted to pick the coins up off the floor, and his greedy little paw reached for a sovereign that had rolled over next to Jane's slipper as he spoke the words, "Last on the right, govn'r."
The man licked a little gob of spittle off his lips, and Jane began to shake as Wickham yanked her toward the stairs. She looked frantically behind her, but no one followed. The soldier did not care to come to her aid. Another sob escaped and, blinded by tears, she tripped on the first stair.
"Get up," Wickham hissed and jerked her to her feet. "Quickly."
"Mr. Wickham, please," she whimpered. "Do not do this!"
The command came like a slap, and she stumbled after him up the stairs. They had nearly reached the top when Wickham stopped suddenly and tried to back up, pushing Jane sideways against the wall. From her position, she was able to see the tip of a sabre pressing against his throat.
"Wickham," the man behind the blade growled, and Wickham quailed.
With a start, she recognized the soldier from the tavern--how had he gotten upstairs ahead of them?
"Release the lady," the soldier ordered. When Wickham failed to do so, or even to speak, he continued, "I heard you were in a militia--should you not be with the militia? --No?" The man cocked his head. "I suspect you have your reasons. Debts, perhaps? A by-blow or two? No matter--you know I have three excellent reasons for killing you, so you will have to offer me four as to why I should not. I suggest you do so now."
Wickham's lips flapped uselessly, and Jane could feel his palm and fingertips begin to sweat through the sleeve of her pelisse. Her own heart was beating so fast, she thought it might burst right out of her chest.
Wickham finally found his voice. "Sure--surely you would not spill blood in front of a lady."
"Oh, now you wish to treat her as a lady?" The officer--for Jane could now see his uniform closer--narrowed his eyes and pressed his lips together. "You are right, though, I do not desire to make a scene--for her sake, and not yours. I suggest you run past me and take the servants' stairs in the back, as I did. There are some officers in the front yard looking for you."
In his panic, Wickham did not question the source of the statement and ran in the direction the officer had come, taking the servants' stairs as directed.
Jane exhaled a huge breath and collapsed back against the wall.
A few moments later, they heard a faint shouting; the officer had all the appearance of chagrin. "Yoicks! I am afraid, for Mr. Wickham's sake, that I forgot I had told them he would come out the entrance to the servants' stairs."
Shyly, Jane smiled at him as much as she was able under the circumstances. "Sir, I cannot begin to thank you--"
He held up a hand. "If you thank me, know that I did it as much for myself as I did it for you."
"You seemed…familiar with Mr. …Wickham?
"Let us just say that I know whenever Wickham is involved with a gentle young lady, there is trouble." His eyes darkened.
"I am sorry," was all Jane could say.
"Do not be. He was stopped in time."
They were silent long enough for Jane to become aware of their surroundings.
"How long have we been up here?" she cried, her heart beginning to pound again.
The officer caught her concern and grimaced. "Long enough."
"Long enough for what?"
He made no reply, but offered her his arm, and slowly they took the steps together one at a time. "Hold your head high," he commanded gently. "We have done nothing wrong."
"Would that that would matter!"
Jane stopped short at the bottom of the stairs. Mr. Brown was no longer sitting at the table by the fire where they had left him, but had put on his greatcoat and was exiting through the front door toward a stagecoach.
Posted on 2011-04-26
"Mr. Brown!" Jane gasped.
Her new companion looked at her, concerned.
"That young man--he is heading to my village!" she began to gulp back sobs. "He will tell everyone. I am ruined--my sisters! No one will ever marry us--we will all starve in the hedgerows, just as Mama always feared!"
The officer only raised an eyebrow. "Your mother is prone to such nervous complaints?"
"I have four sisters and no brothers--our estate is entailed away from the female line to a distant cousin."
"A pity. I wonder that a family with an estate under entail would have five daughters and not five sons. How terribly unfashionable!"
Her eyes flashed. "Sir! Do not think I am ungrateful for what you have done for me, because I am not, but for you to now disparage my family--"
"Shush. I do not mean a word I say; I am only trying to provoke you. If you are angry, you are not crying."
"I beg your pardon?" Jane blinked. "You prefer me to be angry with you?"
He shrugged. "If you are angry, you are, at the least, able to yell at me. If you are crying, you cannot even talk--at least not intelligibly so--and talk we must. Let us see if a private parlour is now available. I was not able to procure one earlier for my breakfast--there must have been a surfeit of viscounts," he waved a hand airily. When he saw her hesitate, he added in a wry tone, "You need not fear for your reputation." She scowled at him, and he grinned in return.
"You there!" he called to a maid passing the entrance to the hall. "Is there a private parlour available now?"
"Yes, sir. One, sir."
"I wish to have it." He tossed her a coin, which she caught, and began to follow her down the hall with Jane by his side.
The innkeeper sneered at Jane as they passed. "And who be this, now? Yer 'uncle?'"
"I certainly hope not," the officer said dryly, silencing their host with a glare. "I ought not have to remind you that paying customers must not be insulted."
"This be a respectable inn," the man mumbled.
"And we are the only respectable ones in it," was the officer's icy reply. He handed the innkeeper a sovereign. "I trust that will assure you of our respectability?"
Jane did not look back at the innkeeper as she was led away, nor did she look at her companion. However, as soon as they were through the door and he had shut it, she turned on him. "You mock my pain! Never do it again."
He did not step back, but looked down at her without tilting his head. "Life is pain, but I would never mock yours. Surely your straits are not as dire as you make them out."
"Oh, and tell me, who will marry me now?"
"I will marry you."
Jane's eyes widened. She could see he had surprised even himself with his words, but he set his jaw in determination and smiled at her.
"I will marry you. You need not fear."
"But why would you? We have only just met, and under the most unusual of circumstances. What if we should not suit?"
"You are a curious creature," he tilted his head, "suddenly worrying about whether we should suit over your reputation."
"I--I should not like to make you unhappy."
"And what about yourself?"
"It is my misfortune; you ought not to have to suffer for it."
"You rank me above your own family?"
"Not precisely…but I find I am unable to give you pain in order to lessen theirs."
"Intriguing. I suppose I am the same way, for I am not in the habit of making young ladies unhappy--unlike our friend Mr. Wickham."
Jane stiffened and sucked in a breath.
"He still distresses you. Do not let him. That man deserves to be treated like mud on your shoe."
All that Jane had experienced that morning came flooding over her, and she began to weep. This time, instead of making provoking comments, he gently put his arms around her and allowed her to cry.
She was a little shocked, and knew it was highly improper, but found she was too exhausted to care. When she was finished, he released her and handed her his handkerchief to dry her face.
"Come." He held out his hand and guided her over to one of the chairs. "I am not a rich man," he said when he sat down next to her, still holding her hand. "I am but a second son of an earl--but that is still richer than many."
Jane's head was still whirling. "My dowry is but a thousand pounds. I cannot let you do this, sir! You sacrifice too much; you would grow to resent me and your noble offer."
"I see," he said gravely. "And have you any other…options?"
When Jane looked at him uncertainly, he asked, "Are there any other gentlemen aspiring to your hand?"
"I had hoped--" she sighed and cast her eyes away. "--that is, my mother had thought a young man promising. But I have it on good authority that I--that we--were misled, and he is not to return."
"Then he is a fool," he said sharply. More softly, he added, "I thank you for all your honesty."
"I could offer you no less, given what you have proposed to do. It would not be right."
After a moment's pause, he said, "You are not a woman of the first circles. And it appears that is a very good thing."
Jane stared at her slippers, and when he did not further explain, she looked up at him.
He smiled wistfully. "I have just begun to think that marrying you would be less of a noble thing, and more that nearly all the advantages are on my side. And that, I think, is why I must marry you…if you will have me."
"Sir," she lowered her lashes and removed her hand from his, clasping her fingers together in her lap, "I beg you to withdraw your offer. Surely your family could only despise such a hasty match with a woman of no fortune or connections such as myself."
"Allow me to worry about my family, thank you. But what of your family?"
Her eyes filled wish fresh tears, and she swiped them away. "I shall seek employment," she raised her chin. "Become a companion. If you are so eager to be of service to me, you might assist me in that regard."
"I might," he said lightly as he stood and began to pace. He shook his head. "No. It will not work. There is still the matter of your reputation."
She turned her head away. "It is most unfair!"
"Indeed it is. And you would, no doubt, think it most unfair that I am unable to see you in tears if it lies within my power to prevent it. But so it is. Indeed, I am afraid you must marry me."
She looked up at him again, and sniffed.
He stretched out his hand once more. "Will you do me the honour?"
"Yes," she heard herself say, and he bent over to bring her hand to his lips.
He laughed suddenly against her hand and straightened. "What is your name?"
She blushed. "Jane Bennet of Longbourn."
"Jane Bennet. Well, Miss Jane Bennet of Longbourn--" he removed his hat and bowed deeply "--I am Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam of Matlock."
"I think we ought to travel back to London at once," Colonel Fitzwilliam declared, sitting down once more. "If your friend Mr. Brown does decide to titter with the old ladies, it may be best if you are not there to hear it."
Jane bit her lip. "But will not that appear worse?"
"When you are married to the son of an earl, all will soon be forgotten," he said wryly.
"But will it not appear as though you were the one who attempted to compromise me?"
He smiled at her. "I never thought I should want a stupid wife."
She was taken aback. "I am not stupid!"
"Precisely, my dear. You are, thus far, agreeing with my ideal."
She paused. "Your ideal did not ever include a dowry? Is that very sensible?"
He laughed. "You wound me," he laid a hand to his chest, "but you are correct. It was not until you told me you had none that I realized I did not care. We will not have an extravagant existence, you and me. I shall have to work, and likewise our children when they are grown. You shall have to manage our household very carefully, but," he squinted an eye in a perusal of her face, "I have no fears as to that, for you seem perfectly sensible when you are not in tears."
"You take delight in vexing me, sir!" she said, a little crossly.
To her surprise, he smiled, and reached out to tap her on the nose. "And you have just discovered that you enjoy it. It makes you bolder."
She realized, to her annoyance, that he was right.
"Returning to your lack of stupidity…Mr. Brown…did you introduce him to our friend Mr. Wickham?"
Jane thought back, and shuddered at the recall of the latter, who had once had goodness in all his looks. How could they have been so deceived in him? "No, I did not. Mr. Wickham did not appear until after Mr. Brown had left the table. Though he saw him lead me off," she remembered.
"Hmm," Colonel Fitzwilliam grunted. "I concur with my earlier statement; we ought to return to London at once." He rose immediately.
Jane looked up at him. "At once?"
He smiled. "Yes. The more time we spend at this inn, the more chances someone else you know may see you, and the less chance we have at making it seem that you never left London. Did your family know you were to return today?"
She shook her head.
"Excellent. Their genuine surprise and absolute denial will be more believable." He settled his hat on his head. "I have my horse, as I was returning from business in Bedfordshire. I shall engage places for you and your servant--servants?--on the mail and ride behind it." When she looked horrified, he asked, confused, "You would prefer the stage?"
When she explained the reason for her current distaste of the mail as mode of transportation, he bowed. "I should still think the mail preferable, but as you wish." He offered her his arm, and she took it.
Upon leaving the parlour and walking down the corridor, they came upon a distraught Molly gesturing to a bewildered Robbie. Her relief at seeing Jane was palpable. Robbie, meanwhile, took the officer's measure and found himself standing down at the returned gaze of that gentleman.
Jane said that a certain event had occurred and they would all be returning to Gracechurch Street at once with Colonel Fitzwilliam. The maid and manservant looked uncertain, but as they were told they would be returning home and that when all was explained--though they knew not what "all" was--they would not lose their employment, they could do naught but go along.
The Gardiners were flummoxed when their dinner was interrupted by the niece they had sent on her way home early that morning--and with a redcoat in tow, no less. Mr. Gardiner rose immediately and demanded an explanation, to which the redcoat stepped forward and was introduced by his niece. Colonel Fitzwilliam, as he was now known to them, requested a private word, and Robbie and Molly were excused. The colonel was desirous of Mrs. Gardiner and Jane remaining, and his wish was granted.
The colonel took a deep breath and related all that had transpired at the coaching inn. Mrs. Gardiner gasped and reached out to hold her niece's hand when Mr. Wickham's role in Jane's return to London was revealed, and Mr. Gardiner turned red. Jane smiled tremulously at them. "I am fine," she said, "because of Colonel Fitzwilliam."
The Gardiners expressed further concern when they heard of Mr. Brown travelling to Meryton after witnessing the whole event.
"This is why we thought it best that Miss Bennet returned to London, so that the Bennets will know nothing of her being anywhere but here. While I would hope that Miss Bennet's good character, which must be known around Meryton, would generate some disbelief as to what Mr. Brown could say, we cannot count on that," Colonel Fitzwilliam said. He sought Jane's eyes before he continued, "Thus, we feel we ought to write to announce our engagement at once."
"Engagement!" Jane's uncle and aunt cried together.
Mr. Gardiner's eyebrows rose when the colonel confirmed his offer to marry Jane. "Are you certain this is the wisest course of action?" he looked between his niece and the officer.
"I feel it is the only one," the colonel replied. "Mr. Brown may be in Meryton this very moment, describing in minute detail how Jane--that is, Miss Bennet," a slight flush appeared high on his cheek, "went up the stairs with a gentleman. It will not matter that she was deceived and then taken forcibly--he will not know it, or perhaps he will not care, and neither will the tabbies of Meryton, I would imagine."
Silence descended upon the room for several moments.
"Well," Jane's uncle said, slapping himself on the knee as he rose, "I should like a moment alone with my wife and niece. If you do not mind, Colonel, you may wait in my study down the hall. Feel yourself at liberty to pour yourself a drink."
With a quick and reassuring smile to Jane, Colonel Fitzwilliam bowed and exited the room.
When the door was shut, Mr. Gardiner began to pace the width of the room. "These were not the kind of circumstances under which I should have liked you to be married, Jane," he sighed. "Nor, I expect, your father."
"Nor I, Uncle," Jane said, "but we--that is, the colonel and I--have discussed it, and there seems no other way."
Her uncle stopped pacing and raised a brow. "And what of his situation, what of his character? Do you know anything about them?"
"He is the second son of an earl, and unlikely to inherit, so he will have to continue to work--but he is able to promise me a comfortable existence. As to his character, I feel that the fact that he came to my aid when no one else would speaks for itself."
"Hmm," he pursed his lips.
"We have discussed my situation as well," Jane added, "and that did not deter him."
Mr. Gardiner glanced at his wife, who tilted her head back and forth, and looked back to Jane. "Do you think you have even a chance at happiness with him?"
"I do," Jane said boldly, even surprising herself.
"Well, then," her uncle rocked on his heels. "I suppose I must write to your father."
"Oh, let me write," she pleaded. "I must own to my share of culpability in this. I ought not have even risen from the table with Mr. Wickham. I realized it two moments too late."
Mrs. Gardiner put and arm around her. "You are too good, and too trusting, dear Jane. No one can blame you. Not a one of us thought Mr. Wickham capable of something like this."
Jane nodded once, slowly, and looked to her uncle. "Will you not let me write to Papa, though?"
"I will," he said, "but I shall write a note as well."
He excused himself to continue the conversation with their guest in the study, and Mrs. Gardiner rang for some writing materials.
While they waited for them to be brought, she asked, "Jane, what about Mr. Bingley?"
Jane blinked. "I do not believe I have thought of him once since this all happened."
"Very good," said Mrs. Gardiner, quite satisfied.
Posted on 2011-04-30
Mr. Gardiner had learned that Colonel Fitzwilliam planned to purchase a license rather than having the banns read out. They both agreed it best that, for reasons of lessening the potential for gossip, or at least delaying it--being that the colonel was the son of an earl--they marry from the Gardiners' home parish of St. Peter's upon Cornhill, where Jane had resided for four weeks, rather than the colonel's parish in London, which would be a far more public affair.
The Bennets, if asked, would know nothing about any gossip, and would be able to insist that Mr. Brown must be mistaken about the identity of the young woman, as Jane was in London; they would also shortly be able to reveal the engagement of their eldest daughter to the second son of the Earl of Matlock. That, as well as sending the news via the regular post as opposed to a tell-tale express, would dispel any rumours about Jane's attempted elopement--as that was the most likely magnitude the rumours could reach--with a man who had subsequently been arrested for heavy debts (which the town would no doubt recognize as Mr. Wickham).
Discussion then turned to the settlements. Shortly after Jane had first gone to London with the Gardiners, after a conversation with Mrs. Bennet and a subsequent bottle of port, Mr. Bennet had written a note to his brother to the effect that "should Jane find herself a young man in London who would take her for but £50 a year, he was disposed to allow him the power to settle the whole affair on his behalf."
It was all very orderly and clear, but, knowing his brother not to have intended the privilege entirely seriously--however it may appear to a reader not knowing Mr. Bennet--the note Mr. Gardiner included with Jane's was to the effect that, while the wedding would go forward regardless, if Mr. Bennet wished to settle everything himself, all he needed to do was reply by express; otherwise, Mr. Gardiner would proceed with having Haggerston, his attorney, prepare the settlements, allowing Jane her equal share of Mrs. Bennet's portion and any little money the colonel could settle on her.
For his part, Colonel Fitzwilliam was not easy with allowing Mr. Gardiner to bear the expense of having the papers drawn up, but Mr. Gardiner insisted, feeling partially responsible for allowing Jane to take the mail coach in the first place. He preferred that the money the colonel would have used on the solicitor be used toward his niece, and the colonel could not argue with him there.
Mr. Gardiner had some concerns about Jane's reception by the colonel's family, as did the colonel himself, he admitted.
"I am close enough with my younger sister--she will adore Jane, I am certain--but not my elder brother. He, I am told, was unpleasant even as a baby, and takes very much after my father. My mother," he sighed, "my mother, I believe, will welcome Jane with open arms behind closed doors, but she suffers very much under my father's thumb, and he is only concerned with wealth and connections. He can cut off my allowance, perhaps, which may make things difficult for a time if it occurs, but he cannot take away the money I will receive from my mother on her passing--which, I hope, will be a long time off. And if I should be killed in action--God forbid--Jane will be taken care of from the income from my few investments and the income from some farmland I own in Derbyshire. It will not be an extravagant life for us, but we shall be comfortable and happy enough."
"And where shall you live?" said Mr. Gardiner.
The colonel blinked and acknowledged he had not yet thought that far ahead--at present, his regiment was on leave, and he was staying in his parents' townhouse, though they were not presently in London. He promised, however, to arrange for their own lodgings in town as early as possible. If Jane preferred to live in the country, there was a large cottage in his small cache of land which was currently sitting empty and only wanted for a few repairs.
Jane's uncle pursed his lips. "Are you certain you can give up a life of luxury for my niece?"
The colonel conceded there would be a transition, but reminded him that there was little luxury on the battlefield. "Jane will not give me any cause to repine. It is inconceivable!"
Mr. Gardiner had to be satisfied with such a forceful answer. By the end of their conversation, he was disposed to like the colonel: he admired his honesty and forthrightness about matters, and he began to believe that he was just the kind of man who would suit Jane. He was very well-mannered and good-humoured, and his teasing temperament was much like Lizzy's and their father's, though tempered with a respect for Jane quite unlike her father's disrespect for her mother. Like Jane, he was firm when he believed himself to be right, but was not unreasonable when others sought to have their say.
The colonel, however, was thankfully much wiser to the ways of the world. Despite Jane's having her eyes rudely opened by Mr. Wickham, her uncle was sure that her gentle, trusting nature would heal eventually, and he was certain the colonel would not allow her to be taken advantage of again if it was in his power to prevent it.
While his niece's outer and inner beauty had certainly attracted the colonel immediately, her strength of feeling and composure would serve them both well--to comfort and reassure him (and herself) when he was away and when they were reunited at home. And though Mr. Gardiner doubted the son of an earl's ability to completely, or at least easily, retrench for his beautiful bride, he knew that Jane would be able to keep him in line, for, unlike her mother, imprudence in money matters she could not abide in herself.
Shrewdly, he began to think the marriage not such a very bad idea after all.
When she had not received a response from her father after three days, Jane began to worry that the mail system had become unreliable--after all, Lizzy had not sent a letter in response to the letter she had posted not long before she tried to leave London; and had not all this happened because of a broken-down mail coach? But after three more days of anxiety, this letter arrived from Elizabeth:
My dearest Jane will, I am sure, forgive me for the tardiness of my reply, as it could not be helped. I know you wished to hear from me very soon, but Mama has caught a cold and fears she will not live to see any of us married. Her illness, of course, is hardly so grave; still, she has been above stairs these four days, and I have been downstairs ensuring that the house will not fall down around our heads, and upstairs trying to assure Mama that I am capable of the task. Even now, I cannot be long, for I am being called for as I write. She wishes you were here, but would not have you anywhere but London.
Papa wishes me to write that it is best you have been crossed in love, for he says that, next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed in love now and then, and often is at least once before she is married. He approves most wholeheartedly that you have been tempted to think of duplicity, and welcomes you to the rest of your life. I will say no such thing; I know it makes you unhappy to think of anyone unkindly, so I had better not repeat to you my opinion of Miss Bingley, or of any other of her party, particularly now that you have banished every painful thought of the matter. I need not wish joy for you, for I have confidence you will find it; you are not made for unhappiness.
As to other matters, I am loath to give you distress, but in light of your newfound insight into the true nature of humanity, perhaps this will not come as such a surprise. The news of Mr. Wickham's arrest at the Wicked Fox not twelve miles out of town has reached us in Meryton. I do not believe I have ever heard anything so shocking! Debts--unpaid accounts with nearly all the tradesmen in Meryton, and debts of honour among his friends and fellow soldiers! I have spent the past two days trying to comfort poor Lydia and Kitty, for they are inconsolable. I myself can scarce believe it--there was such goodness in all his looks. You will, no doubt, urge me to review my opinion of a certain disagreeable gentleman, which has been affected by Mr. Wickham's account of their dealings, and will only say that I promise to consider the matter at my earliest convenience.
At your insistence, I will still go to visit our friends at Hunsford, but look forward to seeing you, dearest sister, along the way. I regret that I might not be with you longer, but I am at the disposal of Sir William and Maria.
Jane was not entirely surprised her father had left to Elizabeth the task of writing, though she was a little wounded, and more than a little puzzled by the lack of overt references to her marriage. But she thought it not impossible that her mother had been insisting on seeing all the post to London, and was upset by the news that she was marrying Colonel Fitzwilliam and not Mr. Bingley, leaving Lizzy to disguise her and her father's well-wishes as best she could. Therefore, she would have to be satisfied with what she had.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was then announced, and she put the letter aside with a welcoming smile.
In the three weeks since the licence was posted in St. Peter's upon Cornhill, the colonel visited every day at Gracechurch Street. Some days, he brought a gift--such as a small flower, or book of poetry to read--other days, only his ease of conversation and happy manners. How he could make her laugh with the turn of a phrase, and the little twinkle in his dark eyes! The Gardiner children had taken shine to him immediately, and as he played with them, she blushed with visions of a happy future with their own children someday.
It occurred to Jane that she had only once thought of Mr. Bingley, and that was only to think that she never thought of him anymore.
Thus, when three days before they were to be married, Colonel Fitzwilliam looked into her eyes, told her he loved her, and gently pressed his lips against hers, Jane responded with all her heart.
Colonel Fitzwilliam went to visit his younger sister, who was all of eighteen years, who was presently staying at their aunt's house in Grosvenor Square.
"Oh, Dickie! Is it not the most romantic thing ever?" Rosalind exclaimed when her brother had told her of his forthcoming nuptials to a girl he had daringly rescued from a dashing villain.
"I have not been 'Dickie' for years, Rosie," he scowled. "And you must not tell a soul. Promise me. I have written to Mama and Father, but…"
"They will not approve?" she clapped her hands together.
Fitzwilliam rolled his eyes. "Very likely not--what novels have you been reading now, that you delight in this?--she has very little dowry, and some connections in trade--though they are exceptionally well-mannered and fashionable--and if I find it does not signify for me, I do not see why it ought to for anyone else."
"Is she beautiful? She must be beautiful."
"She is very beautiful," he sighed, "and sweet and gentle and kind. She is everything I only realized when I met her that I had been needing all my life."
He glared at her. "Stuff 'Dickie!'"
Mr. Bennet had long fallen out of favour with the rector of Longbourn parish, though Mr. Mortimer never showed any sign of disrespect to his benefactor. While not guilty of any specific vice, Mr. Bennet did often make sport of his wife and younger daughters--whose behaviour he could not be bothered to check--and this set up the back of his upright parson.
Thus, when Mr. Mortimer received a letter from a Mr. Kenworthy, rector of St. Peter's upon Cornhill in London, to confirm the age of one Miss Jane Bennet and of her marriageability to the Honourable Richard Fitzwilliam, he neglected to consult his benefactor and promptly took leave to visit his aunt in Bedfordshire after posting his response--namely, that there were no impediments.
On the letter to her father, Jane had written the direction very ill, and when the letter finally arrived in Mr. Bennet's hands, before he could even wonder at it, Mrs. Bennet had burst into his study with news of the latest scandal--that Mr. Wickham had been arrested for serious debts, and that Lydia and Kitty were heartbroken. While this was the most interesting gossip he had heard in weeks, it still did not fail to put him to sleep after five minutes. Forgotten, the letter fluttered from his hand as he snored, and lodged under his chair, where it lay for more than two full weeks until he suddenly remembered its existence and bade a maid to search for it.
Colonel Fitzwilliam, anticipating opposition from his family, was careful to have Mr. Kenworthy of St. Peter's write his friend Mr. Sexsmith of Matlock parish. He anticipated no problems when he also wrote Mr. Sexsmith to ask him to keep all knowledge of his marriage to himself and would explain all later once he was wed.
As to his parents--for his brother he did not deign to inform directly--he had taken care to delay posting his letter for as long as possible without overtly appearing to be discourteous. They would still have had plenty of time to travel to London upon receipt of his letter, had it gone in the usual fashion--namely, directly to the recipient. However, the colonel had strangely forgotten that his father's gout had worsened and that his parents had taken up residence in Bath, and when the letter was finally forwarded from Matlock to their lodgings in Pulteney Street, several curious blots in his usually impeccable handwriting had made nearly illegible the name of the bride and had obscured the date and location of the wedding.
And so, the Honourable Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam of Matlock, Derbyshire, and Miss Jane Bennet of Longbourn, Hertfordshire, lately of Gracechurch Street, London, did marry quietly at nine o'clock in the morning on the 28th of February, the year of our Lord 1812, at St. Peter's upon Cornhill, as witnessed by Edward and Marianne Gardiner.
Posted on 2011-05-04
Mr. Bennet could not believe his eyes. His eldest, married? And to a man wholly unknown to him--or to her?
He called his second eldest daughter to his study. "Jane has written a letter, and enclosed a note for you, Lizzy. It arrived nearly a full three weeks ago, and I have only just found it again now. Please read it here--I have not yet told your mother."
Elizabeth tilted her head curiously, her eyes aglow--but her father's expression remained inscrutable. Could Jane have met Mr. Bingley? Was all happiness restored between them? She curled her feet up underneath her in the chair and unfolded the letter her father had handed her. A few moments later, the letter dropped to her lap.
"Married? To a Colonel Fitzwilliam? Who is he, and what has happened to Mr. Bingley?"
"I hardly know. Not four weeks ago, she was pining for Mr. Bingley, and now, not a mention of him! Is she out of her senses, to be marrying this man?" Mr. Bennet gestured to his letter. "All she writes is that he is good and kind, and most truly a gentleman. That is Jane describing half of England--and the rest of us know what that half of England is really like!"
"I cannot recall her ever writing about a Colonel Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth frowned. "I hope she has not accepted him out of disappointment--their courtship must have been very fast. It is not at all like Jane! Has she told you anything more?"
Her father shook his head. "She mentions not the circumstances of their meeting, other than to warn that if we should hear any gossip, not to listen to it until she has come to explain all. This is what concerns me. But they promise to visit as soon as they are able after the wedding, so I expect them any day now, perhaps even tomorrow. The wedding was yesterday." He removed his spectacles and rubbed his face wearily. "What am I to tell your mother? What gossip does Jane think might surround this marriage here? If there is nothing, your mother will create it all on her own!" He sighed. "I must wait. I must wait until Jane--Mrs. Fitzwilliam, now--and her husband arrive, and hope your mother thinks it is all a very fine joke! If she does not, at least I can count on your sisters."
Elizabeth looked to the window and said nothing for a long moment.
"I had been growing worried when she did not write, but thought my aunt and uncle must have been keeping her busy. She must have been worried that we did not reply to her letter. She must now have some concern for her reception here."
Mr. Bennet shrugged his brow. "Well, I will receive her--I have no known reason not to. My brother has written a note to accompany Jane's letter as well, and he says nothing but that the marriage will happen, and that he will act for me unless he hears otherwise. He added that he has no complaints whatsoever about the man, and thinks they may even suit rather well."
A furrow appeared in Elizabeth's forehead. "But what about Mr. Bingley?"
Her father blinked. "Until this very moment, I had seen little resemblance between you and your mother."
She frowned at him.
"It seems," her father continued, "that Mr. Bingley is quite forgot--and perhaps we ought to be thankful for that, at least."
"I am not so sure," sighed Elizabeth, hugging her knees up against her.
The Gardiners held an intimate wedding breakfast for the joyous couple immediately after the wedding, with only a few friends from the neighbourhood. Soon after the celebration, Colonel and Mrs. Fitzwilliam departed in a hired carriage for the house of a cousin of the colonel's. Fitzwilliam had chosen not to inform him of his nuptials earlier, not because he believed himself capable of being talked out of it, but because he did not wish his cousin to make the attempt, lest it test their relationship. His cousin had recently prided himself on separating a friend from a lady of a most unsuitable family, and while the colonel had no problem with his wife's relatives in trade--for they were quite fashionable and genteel--he did not know how his cousin would feel about them. He told his wife nothing of his reasons for waiting to tell his cousin about her, and she appeared to think nothing of it, so neither did he.
"I say," Fitzwilliam said as he rubbed his thumb across the back of Jane's hand after, in the privacy of the carriage, he had expressed himself for quite some time as a young man who is violently in love ought to do, "I cannot wait to see the look on Darcy's face when I tell him such a beautiful woman has condescended to marry me--and has even professed some fondness toward me." He leaned toward her again, but did not receive the reaction he had expected.
"Darcy?" said Jane sharply.
"Yes, Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, Derbyshire." When his wife paled, he was quick to ask, "I now recall he was recently in Hertfordshire. Jane, he was not the gentleman who--"
"No, not at all," said she, now blushing. "But my sister disliked him most violently."
Fitzwilliam let out a laugh mixed with relief. "This is a story I must hear!"
"There is something I ought to tell you, though," Jane began quietly, staring at their entwined hands.
She shook her head.
"Then it must wait until after," he said as the coach slowed and then halted, "for we have arrived."
He bounded out of the carriage as soon as the door had been opened, and reached back in to help Jane out. She came out slowly, and took his arm as he led her to the door. When the butler answered, Fitzwilliam inquired after the master of the house.
"Is Darcy in his study?"
"Yes, Colonel Fitzwilliam, but--"
"Brilliant. We will announce ourselves, Fletcher."
"Very well, sir, but--"
His sentence was never finished, as Fitzwilliam led Jane off down a corridor to the left. They stopped in front of a large oak door, and he bade her to wait in the hall until he called for her. She acquiesced; he knocked and was granted entry.
Fitzwilliam's pace slackened as he spied Darcy was not alone--his friend Mr. Bingley was there, and they had been drinking. He greeted them both, and said, "A bit early for all that, is it not?" He glanced at the nearly empty decanter. "What if I had brought a lady with me?"
"We are not that far gone yet, Fitz," said his host. "We are still presentable."
"Excellent--because there is someone I should like to present you to."
He called out, and Jane walked tentatively into the room. She went white as Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley leapt to their feet.
"Miss Bennet!" they cried together.
"She is Miss Bennet no longer," Fitzwilliam beamed. "Darcy, Bingley--I should like you to meet Mrs. Fitzwilliam!"
Bingley blanched, and took several moments to recover, but he was the first to speak. "I congratulate you, Colonel and--Mrs. Fitzwilliam."
Upon receiving their gratitude, he turned to his host. "Darcy, I beg you would excuse me. I'm afraid I am still--feeling out of sorts."
"Er--yes, I am sorry that my port would have such an effect on you," Darcy hedged.
"Fitzwilliam…Miss--Mrs. Fitzwilliam," Bingley bowed stiffly. "I wish…you every possible happiness. Good day."
Once he had left the room, Darcy turned to his cousins. "May I offer my congratulations as well? I must say, this is a surprising turn of events; I was not aware that we had this acquaintance in common, Mrs. Fitzwilliam."
Jane shared a glance with her husband, and Darcy caught it.
"May I speak to my cousin alone a minute, Mrs. Fitzwilliam? There is a small sitting room two doors down," he said. "I shall have some tea brought to you."
"Thank you," said Jane, with a quick smile to her husband. As she was closing the door behind her, it was suddenly pulled out of her hand and Fitzwilliam came through it swiftly.
"You forgot something," he said. He kissed her soundly, grinned at her, and returned to the study as quickly as he had exited it, shutting the door behind him. A blushing but smiling Jane turned around and, to her surprise, found a red-faced Mr. Bingley standing not seven feet behind her.
That gentleman stammered a response, and they each looked away from the other. They stood silently for a moment before Mr. Bingley spoke tentatively, and drew Jane's attention back.
"Darcy and my sisters thought you did not care for me. You did not show any such feeling, they said. I knew myself not to be impartial--as I was wishing for your affection--so I believed them. It appears they were right. I am glad to know it."
Jane took a deep breath. "They were not right. I did…care…for you, Mr. Bingley. I told you as much as I was able. Had I done more, I would have been censured for it. It was in your power to ask, not mine."
Mr. Bingley raised his eyes. "You cared for me? You would have married me, had I asked, for myself and no other consideration?"
"I would have, then. But then you left, and I followed--foolishly, it seems, for I found your sister in raptures over you with Miss Darcy, and no longer wishing to continue the connection with me."
He was taken aback. "You followed me? --to London?"
"Saw Caroline? She said I was with Miss Darcy?"
"Well, I was not! And I would have come to you, had I known," he said bitterly. "I could not have stayed away."
"But you could stay away from Hertfordshire," Jane said, watching his face, "and did, leaving me with my disappointment."
"But I thought--" he hung his head miserably. "I am sorry. Can you ever forgive me?"
"I have already forgiven you. It is all in the past."
"But now it is too late," Mr. Bingley glared darkly at the closed study door a moment. "You are married."
"I am married," Jane nodded, "and happily, at that. Richard--Colonel Fitzwilliam--pursued me, courted me, loved me, and thought it worth the risk to ask, though he was uncertain of my feelings--he earned my affection, and was granted his reward. You would do well to keep that in mind for the future." At the stricken look on his face, she softened a little. "I wish you every happiness, Mr. Bingley. One day you will find it--of that I am certain. But it will not be with me."
She held out her hand, and he took it--bowed over it, turned, and walked down the hall.
Darcy paced the width of the study, stopping every ten paces to run a hand through his hair, and then came at his cousin very agitatedly.
"How came you to be married to Miss Jane Bennet?"
"Wickham," Fitzwilliam began.
"Wickham! Have you lost your senses?" Darcy cried. "You know that wastrel rake is not a clergyman!"
"I did not say Wickham married us," Fitzwilliam stared hard at his cousin. "Why ever were you and Bingley drinking so much in the afternoon, anyway?"
"Ladies," Darcy stood and walked over to the window. "Trouble. Not I," he clarified a little too quickly, with a glance over his shoulder. "Bingley was the friend I mentioned recently from whom I separated a most unsuitable girl, and I rejoiced in my success. To my observation, she appeared to enjoy his attentions, but I could not see any deep feeling. He, however, has not been quick to get over her as he usually is with his loves. And I felt some guilt over a little deception I had to perform to keep from learning she was in town, for it would only give him pain." He threw up a hand and turned back to his cousin with a shake of his head. "This, I cannot imagine what it will do to him."
Fitzwilliam was watching his face carefully. "May I know who was the lady?"
Darcy returned his gaze searchingly. "I imagine you begin to suspect already. Your…wife."
"My wife," Fitzwilliam repeated. "My 'most unsuitable' wife?"
"Indeed. No dowry to speak of, poor connections, and most of all the vulgarity of her family--whom, I presume, you have yet to meet."
"It is true that I have yet to meet her family, but from what she has said, for all their faults, she loves them. Who am I to judge? Aunt Catherine, as you know--"
"Will disapprove most heartily."
"Any little regard I ever had for her opinion will be lost if she expresses one iota of distaste for Jane. And, lest you disparage my wife, she told me of her dowry and connections before she agreed to marry me. She was quite against it at first, but I finally convinced her."
"You convinced her to marry you? Why on earth--"
"She had reservations. She might be unhappy, but she could not make me so. She thought to become a companion."
"I meant why on earth would you even attempt to convince her to marry you! A companion?" Darcy shook his head. "Perhaps you had better start at the beginning."
"I could not let Wickham nearly--or in this case, ruin--another girl's life." Fitzwilliam recounted what had occurred in the inn between Wickham and Miss Bennet, and his conversation with Miss Bennet afterward.
"I love her, Darcy, and I think I may have the moment I laid eyes on her," he said softly. "But it was her regard for my welfare, and not her own, when she first refused my proposal that sealed it."
Darcy sat in his chair, staring at his desktop and, rubbing his lips with his fist for a long time. "I wish you joy," he finally said. "I trust you are soon going to Hertfordshire?"
Fitzwilliam nodded in the affirmative.
"Might I accompany you?"
A furrow appeared in Fitzwilliam's brow. "It is not as though I need you to perform introductions, Darcy."
"Nevertheless, I should like to go. We can take my carriage, saving you the need to hire one."
"Very well," he said slowly, "and thank you. We go tomorrow, if it is convenient for you. Rosalind is also joining us."
Darcy nodded once, distractedly, and the matter was settled.
Posted on 2011-05-07
There was a commotion in the house at Longbourn when a fine carriage drew up into the yard and a gentleman stepped down. Kitty and Lydia had been watching from the window with great curiosity, and Mrs. Bennet demanded to know who it was.
"La!'' replied Kitty, "it looks just like Mr. Darcy. That tall, proud man."
"Good gracious! Mr. Darcy! Well, any friend of Mr. Bingley's will always be welcome here, to be sure; but else I must say that I hate the very sight of him," she sniffed from her chair. "Unless he has brought Mr. Bingley back to us!"
Elizabeth had always been certain that Mr. Darcy had a hand in separating Mr. Bingley from Jane, and had tried to attribute Mr. Wickham's debts to an attempt by Mr. Darcy to slander Mr. Wickham's name, but she could find no one who could say anything but that Wickham had created them himself. Finally her good sense had to allow that such a dishonourable man as Mr. Wickham might not have been truthful about how Mr. Darcy had treated him.
This reassessment of Mr. Darcy's character made her wish to be at the very least civil to him, if not to know him more in order to understand him a better; and as she was greatly surprised by this visit, and could not but wonder at the reason, she found herself very anxious for him to come inside.
That was, until Mr. Darcy extended a hand to someone inside the carriage, and assisted a pretty and vibrant young woman out. Elizabeth could not understand the strange sinking of her heart as the girl stepped down, nor the twist of her stomach as she smiled up at him. She was not sickly and cross--the kind of wife she had previously imagined for him--she appeared well-bred, well-connected and rich, and he seemed comfortable with her.
"A young lady?" Mrs. Bennet cried in response to her youngest daughters' narrative. "Is Mr. Bingley not with them?"
Her mother's exclamation brought Elizabeth's attention back to the carriage. Another gentleman, about thirty, was now stepping down.
"Who is that?" cried Lydia.
Her mother looked sharply toward the window, but restrained herself from rising. "Mr. Bingley? Is it Mr. Bingley?" Her hand caught at her chest.
"No, Mama, it is a gentleman I have never seen before." Another form appeared at the entrance to the carriage, causing Kitty to squeal. "Jane! It is Jane! What is she doing with Mr. Darcy and that other fellow?"
Elizabeth's attention turned now to her sister, who was smiling very happily at her husband. Never once had she seen Jane look at Mr. Bingley so adoringly, nor appear so radiant when she spoke of him. He was not as handsome as his friend, but he had pleasant features and a good nose, and dark brown eyes which lit afire when he grinned at Jane. Elizabeth, though she had been disposed to think ill of him, found herself reversing her opinion. Perhaps that was what love looked like when it was knowingly requited and nourished. If Jane was happy, how could she not be?
Her eyes drifted back to Mr. Darcy, and she started when she found he was staring straight at her. Flushing quickly, she yanked Kitty's sleeve and pulled her away from the window, hissing at Lydia to do the same. Her sisters protested, but acquiesced when their mother echoed the order and they took their seats to await their guests.
The door opened, and they all nearly jumped; but it was only Mr. Bennet, come to meet his daughter's husband (though only he and Lizzy were aware of his existence). He smirked and took a seat by the door, to Mrs. Bennet's annoyance, for then he would be first to greet them.
Finally, the knock they were waiting for came, and Hill announced with a queer expression on her face, "Colonel and Mrs. Fitzwilliam, Lady Rosalind Fitzwilliam, Mr. Darcy."
A silence came over the room. Mrs. Bennet, about to greet her dearest daughter and guests, looked around. Once she had numbered the names announced and counted the people presented and realized what had occurred to the rest of the room moments before, she, too, was shocked into silence. Jane--married! And not to Mr. Bingley--but a redcoat, and a colonel at that!
Mr. Bennet could almost see the workings of his wife's mind, trying to divine her new son's income. While Mr. Gardiner's note had mentioned that it was acceptable, it was surely not at the levels of Mr. Bingley, so she would be disappointed in that. Then again, Colonel Fitzwilliam was the son of a peer--which, he surmised, his wife had still not discerned--and his wife always had held a certain fondness for a redcoat.
Mrs. Bennet's eyes widened when she recalled Lady Rosalind Fitzwilliam--she must be the colonel's sister--which would make him the son of at least an earl!
When her husband saw the gleam in her eye, he took pity on the rest of the room and stepped forward. Mr. Darcy, he greeted cursorily, and then he clasped his eldest daughter's hands.
"Mrs. Fitzwilliam…I have been looking forward to making your and your husband's acquaintance for almost a full day now!"
A puzzled furrow appeared on Jane's brow, but her father turned swiftly to the gentleman beside her. "Jane, will you not introduce me to my new son?"
She blushed. "Papa, this is Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam of Matlock, Derbyshire, and his sister, Lady Rosalind Fitzwilliam. Richard, Rosalind, my father, Mr. Thomas Bennet."
Everyone clamoured to be introduced then, and Colonel Fitzwilliam forbore his first meeting with his new family with ease and excellent manners. Lady Rosalind was wreathed in smiles to see her brother so warmly welcomed, but Mr. Darcy was a little more staid. He stood in the corner and watched the proceedings in thoughtful silence.
Mr. Bennet was eager to get his eldest daughter and her husband alone in order to hear the circumstances of their marriage, and when he saw his wife preparing to ring for tea, he announced, "Jane, Fitzwilliam, why do we not retire to my study? I believe we must discuss what arrangements have been made."
Mrs. Bennet appeared far more interested in this than in serving tea, but when her husband indicated that she would take good care of their guests while he was out of the room, she was defeated.
As soon as they had shut the door on the drawing room, Mr. Bennet said, "Now, Colonel and Mrs. Fitzwilliam, there is a story I am owed, and I wish to collect it." He turned on his heel and went toward his study, leaving Jane and her husband to follow.
Mr. Bennet pulled a piece of paper out from his desk drawer and displayed it to them. "I have only just read your letter yesterday, Jane, and thus have had little time to wonder what gossip could possibly surround your marriage, and from what source you expected it to come?"
"Only yesterday! Papa!" she exclaimed, and exchanged a glance with Colonel Fitzwilliam. "But did not Lizzy reply to my letter?"
"She did not, for she did not have the chance. I only introduced the letter to her shortly after I had seen it." He coughed. "I must beg your pardon, for it was misplaced these three weeks."
Jane sighed. "Oh, Papa! And here I thought your silence was approval, or at the least acknowledgement." She bit her lip nervously. "You do approve of my husband, do you not?"
Mr. Bennet's eyes slid over to that gentleman. "I suppose that depends on the circumstances of your marriage," he said, speaking to Jane, but locking eyes with the colonel. "Of all my daughters' marriages, Jane, yours was the last I expected to have potential scandal attached to it--save for Mary's, of course."
"Has a Mr. Brown not come to Meryton?" Jane pressed. "He was to visit the Gouldings."
Her father nodded impatiently. "Yes, there is a Mr. Brown presently at Haye-Park. But what does he have to do with it?"
"Then he has said nothing? You were not aware that we were at the Wicked Fox nearly a month ago?"
"The Wicked Fox!" Mr. Bennet cried. His lips pressed together in a thin line as Jane and the colonel related how she had come to be at the coaching inn, and what had occurred there and after.
He removed his spectacles and rubbed his forehead. "I am grieved, indeed. Grieved--shocked--that such a thing could happen to you, Jane. If it were not for Fitzwilliam…" He did not finish his sentence, but reached for her free hand--for her husband was holding one--and held it across the desk. "How could my brother have allowed you to go alone?"
"You must not blame Uncle Gardiner," Jane pleaded. "I should have gone nearly straight to Meryton--it was only that the coach broke down that we were forced to stay at the inn for any length of time, and I so badly wanted to come home. I had the maid and manservant with me; it was only circumstances that separated us."
Mr. Bennet frowned, but there was a knock at the door, and, upon being summoned to enter, Mr. Darcy appeared in the doorway, with Elizabeth nearly beside him.
"Forgive me for interrupting," said Mr. Darcy, turning his hat over in his hand, "but you must allow me to own to my share of culpability in all of this."
"Your share!" Elizabeth cried, but he did not look at her and took a step forward.
"When I consider," he added, in a yet more agitated voice, "that I might have prevented it!--I, who knew what Mr. Wickham was. Had I but explained some part of it only! Had his character been known, this could not have happened. But it is all, all too late now."
"But what has Mr. Wickham to do with the marriage?" said Elizabeth from near the door, for she had come inside and closed it behind them.
"Everything," Jane said. "For without him, Richard's and my hands would not have been forced, and neither would we have met."
She was obliged then to tell the story once more. Elizabeth was properly distressed at all the appropriate parts, as her father had been, and Jane tried to play down the terror she had felt for her sister's benefit, but Elizabeth was too clever by half, and Jane knew that she had imagined all that Jane had felt. When her tale was completed, her sister said,
"I do not understand! But Mr. Brown said not a word--we did not know you had even met!"
Mr. Bennet threw up his hands. "You need not have married!" he offered brightly.
Upon seeing Jane's now downcast eyes, Richard touched her hand, and she looked to him after a moment. He leaned over and whispered in her ear, "I have no regrets. None." Searching her eyes, he said, "--Do you?"
Now smiling radiantly, she shook her head; he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it.
Mr. Bennet coughed, breaking them out of each other's gaze. "Well, if our business here has concluded, and I trust it has--unless you have more secrets to tell me--then I suppose we ought to rejoin the others, lest they decide they must join the party in here. I shall never have any peace if they discover the fun to be had in my study."
As the gentleman rose and led the way, Elizabeth pulled Jane back so they could whisper together.
"I was very wrong about Mr. Wickham," she said, "very wrong, and I must admit it." She glanced at Mr. Darcy's back and cast her eyes away quickly. "Is that the only reason why Mr. Darcy accompanied you to Hertfordshire--to offer his apologies for not notifying us as to Mr. Wickham's character?"
"Richard said he insisted upon coming with us. I can only assume that was why."
That name induced in Elizabeth a remembrance of Jane's new status, and after a moment, she said, "I cannot believe you are married, and I was not there for you. And soon you shall go away, and what will I do without my dearest Jane to comfort me?"
Tears appeared in Jane's eyes. "Oh, how I wished you could be with me then! I needed you."
"You have your husband now," Elizabeth reminded her as he glanced back at them. "He seems to care for you a great deal."
"I believe he does." She smiled at him fondly, and, after a moment, grasped her sister's hand and said, "We are staying in Meryton for several days, and then we shall return to London while we work out some further arrangements. You are still to Hunsford in a few days?"
"Yes," Elizabeth sighed. "Mr. Collins writes often to apprise us of the latest news from Kent, and Papa insists upon reading every one of those letters aloud--of course not one of his letters goes astray. But I must say, if his sermons are anything like his epistles, I shall greatly enjoy my time there." She rolled her eyes and grinned.
"I shall miss you, Lizzy. But we shall be faithful correspondents."
"Indeed we shall."
There was no need for correspondence yet, however, as the Fitzwilliams and Mr. Darcy were, as expected, invited to dinner and offered rooms for the duration of their stay in Hertfordshire. Mr. Bennet had quietly asked Hill to prepare for some very special guests--a surprise for the mistress--the day before, so there was only a small scramble by the upstairs maids to make ready chambers for Mr. Darcy and Lady Rosalind. The rest of the house prepared for the onslaught of visitors that were sure to come on the morrow.
Posted on 2011-05-10
By the next morning, it was all over Meryton and the surrounding villages that Miss Jane Bennet had married the second son of the Earl of Matlock. It had been widely regarded as inevitable that Jane would make a good match; everyone knew that she could not have been so beautiful for nothing; and where else but London could she have found it after Mr. Bingley had gone away?
Among the callers who came to congratulate them that day were Mrs. Goulding and her husband's nephew, a Mr. Brown. Jane could not help her swift intake of breath upon seeing that gentleman again, but he acted as though he did not recognize her and bowed properly when they were introduced. Puzzled, she went along with it and accepted his felicitations on her marriage. She found he examined her face longer than her other sisters, and he regarded her husband with much the same scrutiny.
After they had all taken their seats, Mrs. Bennet said, with a sly look toward Mr. Brown, "Elizabeth, would you please serve the tea?"
Her eldest unmarried daughter clicked her jaw and said, "Coming, Mama!" And with a wry look toward her elder sister and new brother, she did.
Mr. Darcy, she did not glance at until she was pouring the tea. He was staring at her again, and she was quickly scolded by her mother when she nearly spilled. Elizabeth could not fathom why his presence made her so agitated, nor why Lady Rosalind's bubbly laughter and proximity to him so disconcerted her.
Elizabeth served Lady Rosalind first, then Mrs. Goulding, Jane, and Colonel Fitzwilliam. When it came to Mr. Darcy, she curtsied and departed so swiftly he barely had the cup and saucer secure in his hands. He appeared puzzled, but continued to say little, and was generally ignored by anyone who was not his cousin. Thus, no one noticed that his eyes were frequently on her.
Mr. Brown had not taken his eyes off Lady Rosalind, even when Elizabeth was trying to give him his tea, greatly frustrating Mrs. Bennet, and she soon turned her eyes to her eldest daughter, who was rather successfully married.
Jane soon became uncomfortable. "Richard, Mama will not stop watching us, and I must talk to Mr. Brown. I must know why he did not say anything."
He nodded, and immediately went in her mother's direction. "Ah, Mrs. Bennet! I have yet to tell you about my family's estate in Derbyshire--the chimney piece alone cost £800!"
"Why, that is like the chimney piece of Rosings Park! Mr. Collins ensured we were well-informed about that great estate; Matlock must be quite the same as it!"
He frowned suddenly. "Forgive me, madam, did I say £800? I meant £1,000!"
With her mother sitting in rapt attention to what were almost certainly her husband's exaggerations, Jane took her opportunity and went to stand by the window next to Mr. Brown, under the pretext of looking outside.
She spoke while still facing the window, looking at him out of the corner of her eye. "Mr. Brown--I must ask. The inn--you have not told anyone you saw me, nor what happened--"
He shook his head and spoke in a low tone. "I thought it best to wait and see if you said anything. I did not wish to cause you further trouble, particularly when I was so uncertain of the circumstances."
"Oh. But--" She cast her eyes down. "When you left so quickly, we thought--"
"I did not leave quickly. After the arrest of the…gentleman…outside, a stage arrived, and I went out to inquire if they had room for your party and myself, anticipating you would wish to make a quick exit. But when I came back inside, you were nowhere in sight. I dared not ask around, for fear of calling attention to the fact that your whereabouts were in question. I had no choice but to leave for that same reason, but believed you were in good hands." He nodded towards Colonel Fitzwilliam.
She blinked. "Oh!"
"As to what happened, why should I have said anything? You did nothing wrong. I could see your uncertainty about leaving with Mr., er. W.," he glanced around at the rest of the room to ensure they were not being overheard, "I had recognized him from my days at Cambridge; I knew he was not the sort to treat ladies kindly."
"But you knew, and you did not come to my aid?" Jane cried in an undertone.
"Oh," he blinked. "I did not realize you would see it that way--I had seen the colonel very determinedly go out the back to meet you and Mr. W, and thought I had better stay put in case Mr. W reversed his steps. You were safe either way." He suddenly looked very nervous. "Would you have preferred that I had come to your aid?"
"Not at all," Jane smiled softly with a gleam in her eye as she looked over at her husband, who was still regaling her mother with tales of Matlock. He caught her eye and returned her smile in his easy way, and her heart soared. "No, I am very happy with the way things have turned out."
Jane had delighted in the idea of a cottage in the country, and her husband was wont to grant her wish. While she tended her little garden, he grew more involved in his nearby farmland, acquired more, and quit the army to pursue it. Eventually a small manor house nearby came up for sale due to the owner's heavy gambling debts, and Richard was able to secure the capital to purchase it.
The earl had been livid over his son's marriage, and thought Jane the worst sort of adventuress. He ranted and stormed and assured them he would not give them any money. But Jane, secure in Richard's love and the knowledge of his happiness with her, did not burst into tears as her new father had expected. She was calm, and when he had finally blustered himself out, she helped him to a chair and fetched him a glass of wine. With further intervention from his wife--who had, as Richard predicted, welcomed Jane with open arms, he was eventually won over, and did not cut off Richard's allowance--which was enhanced as soon as the first grandchild came along. Richard's elder brother snorted at any bit of news relating to his younger brother and his wife; this never changed, and he was always ignored.
Lady Catherine was seriously displeased by Richard's choice of bride--if not more so by the fact that she was not allowed to give her opinion on the matter. She came all the way to Derbyshire to have her say, but was cut off by her nephew every time she opened her mouth and finally left, even more displeased. Fitzwilliam did not miss his Easter visits--as in, he no longer went, but did not repine. He was amused when he heard his cousin Anne had eloped with her doctor while her mother was away, and mildly concerned when Lady Catherine nearly had apoplexy when she found out--luckily, her new son had been present at the time. Lady Catherine decided then that she could not spare the good doctor, and insisted that Dr. and Mrs. Radway live with her at Rosings. They quietly declined the honour, but, in a compromise, elected to live in the dower house close by.
Elizabeth had desired to be the maiden aunt who taught Jane's ten children to embroider cushions and play their instruments very ill, but the latter part of her plan was thwarted by Jane's having not ten children, but only five daughters (despite her mother's insistence that she must not) and, finally, a son; the former part of her plan was thwarted by Mr. Darcy. When Elizabeth accompanied Sir William and Maria into Kent to visit Charlotte, he was there visiting his aunt, and she was thrown much into his company--particularly when she began meeting him seemingly at random on paths in the park. They discovered that, despite their different temperaments, they had much in common--such as the reason behind his constant staring and her recent agitation around him. Thus, two months after her sister had wed his cousin, Elizabeth married Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Collins had waxed eloquent in epistolary form on the occasions of the births of each of Jane's daughters, but only found it in himself to give the most cursory of felicitations when her son was finally born--something her mother had failed to do, as he kindly pointed out. It was a cruel thing for him to comment on, as he was only the heir of Longbourn, but for Mrs. Bennet's failure to have a son, but also a peculiar one, for in a strange twist of fate, he and Charlotte had had five daughters, and only five daughters.
Mary Bennet was at the travelling library in Meryton when she reached for the same book of sermons as her uncle Philips's law clerk. They were wed three months later.
Kitty was walking the paths of Pemberley when she tripped and fell right at the feet of a clergyman visiting from the next town. He scolded her for her irreverence; she defended herself fervently; he was attracted to her flashing eyes and she to his contrite smile; they apologized, and married two months later. (Mrs. Bennet delighted in the fact that Mr. Darcy was throwing her daughters into the paths of other rich men.)
Lydia married Lieutenant Denny a month after that, when Colonel Forster caught her visiting Denny before he was dressed. She was distraught at being the last to be married, for, except for being the tallest, her precedence was the lowest of all her sisters in all possible respects. Denny rolled his eyes in unison with Mr. Bennet. Still, Lydia and Denny ended up with ten children, and had not a single maiden aunt to tend to them.
Mrs. Bennet was overjoyed. "Five daughters married! Oh, Mr. Bennet--God has been very good to us."
"Indeed," he rolled his eyes. "Now who am I to talk to? Him, I suppose--I must give him credit for his good sense."
Lady Rosalind Fitzwilliam clearly did not marry Mr. Darcy, as Elizabeth had once supposed she might. She married Mr. Brown, solicitor and third son of a baronet, after a courtship of six months, delighting at the anxiety it caused her parents--mostly her father--but theirs was a true affection, and they were very happy together.
In accordance with Jane's prediction, Mr. Bingley did find happiness, once he had recovered from his disappointment in himself and in his sisters. He met in London a very accomplished young lady named Miss Morton, who threw over the son of a wealthy widow in order to have his charming and amiable self. She came with £30,000 from an excellent family, and Miss Bingley was ecstatic; however, unfortunately for Miss Bingley, for some reason her new sister never took a liking to her, and she was only afforded the barest of courtesies. Mrs. Hurst was likewise barely tolerated, and Mr. Bingley hid a smile whenever his wife put either of his sisters in their place.
Mr. Wickham was hanged for his offences, which, because of the earlier actions of Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Brown, did not include the attempted abduction of Miss Jane Bennet. Upon hearing the news, Mrs. Gardiner remarked that she was only sorry to think so ill of a young man from Derbyshire. Jane was distressed by the whole ordeal, once again remembering the experience and, as her uncle had foreseen, finding it hard to believe someone could be so very wicked. Her husband comforted her as best he knew how.
When, after celebrating a blissful forty years together, Richard teasingly asked Jane if she ever regretted her decision to marry him, she said with a twinkle in her eye, "I suppose that far worse fates could have befallen us."The End