Beginning, Section II
Posted on 2013-03-20
The day of the Ball arrived, and spirits at Longbourn ran high. Mr. Bennet was forced, at breakfast, to comment that the giggles of his two youngest daughters were driving him to distraction. He even made several cutting remarks about their status as the silliest girls in the country without dampening their hilarity in the slightest. Only when he observed that even his sensible Elizabeth seemed lost in daydreams did he cease his teasing. If Lizzy could be so affected by the prospect of a ball, it was little wonder that her sisters should be unbearable.
As the evening drew near, the girls held many whispered consultations. Far from the usual discussions of dress and hair, these conversations solidified their plans for the evening.
"Mr. Bingley is sure to secure you for the first, Jane," Lydia said confidently as Kitty placed flowers in her younger sister's curls. They had dismissed the maid, assuring her that they would have far more fun dressing each other.
"It will perhaps be best not to discuss Batman and Robin with him so soon, though," Elizabeth said. "Since he is also certain to ask you for a later dance, you can ask to take the air and question him then."
"What of Mr. Darcy?" Jane asked.
"Well, he's sure to ask Lizzy, but I doubt he'll ask more than once."
Elizabeth bristled at first, but then admitted that Mr. Darcy's cautious nature was likely to keep him from asking the same woman twice in an evening, whatever his feelings might be. "I will take care to have the first dance secured, then. I am sure Lt. Denny or Saunderson will oblige me."
"We'll talk again at supper," Lydia concluded. "If you haven't found out anything, Mary will sing and I will make good my escape."
"There isn't much for me to do," Kitty pouted.
"Certainly there is. You must flirt with the officers," Elizabeth told her.
All of the young ladies stared at her as if she had suggested that Kitty climb upon the table and dance a jig.
"It is the only thing to do," Elizabeth insisted. "If Lydia is to get away, Kitty must monopolize the officers' attention."
Kitty smiled and Lydia frowned, but could not bring herself to renounce her own more adventurous part.
"We all have our parts then," Elizabeth sighed. "We had best set about disgracing ourselves in the eyes of our neighbors."
Mr. Bingley had indeed secured the first dance with Jane, and Elizabeth, who had with regret delicately avoided Mr. Darcy until solicited by Lt. Gregory, had at least the pleasure of watching Jane's progress down the dance. Mr. Darcy had instead offered for Miss Bingley, and while Elizabeth was pleased that that lady should be so singled out at her own ball, she could not help but feel a bit envious.
The second dance brought no Mr. Darcy to her side, and Elizabeth went down that dance somewhat annoyed that she must wait yet longer to speak with him. She saw that Kitty was fulfilling her part with vigor and determination, and held a crowd of officers in her thrall as she flirted with more subtlety and delicacy than Lydia had ever shown. Elizabeth smiled to herself as she realized that Lydia would be miffed when Kitty's new popularity became known.
The third dance passed with still no Mr. Darcy, and when the fourth began, Elizabeth actually declined an invitation, declaring herself tired. He must approach her now, if he ever meant to do so.
Within minutes of the dance beginning, she heard her name called and looked up to meet Mr. Darcy's unreadable gaze.
"Miss Elizabeth, if you are not otherwise engaged, might I request the honor of your hand for this set?"
Ire rose within her at his studied indifference, and she replied with a little more asperity than she had planned, or than was perhaps wise considering her mission.
"The set has formed, sir, and at any rate I am fatigued. I planned to sit down for this set."
"Will you allow me to join you? Perhaps I may fetch you something?"
She almost declined, but recalled her plan in time. "A glass of punch, perhaps." He walked away, and Elizabeth had just time to decide on her course of action before he had returned.
"Forgive me, but I feel a bit faint. Would you escort me outside for some air?"
Mr. Darcy looked faintly amused, but offered his arm and walked with her onto the terrace.
Once they were there, Elizabeth found she did not know where to begin. "Mr. Bingley will be pleased with the success of his ball."
"Everyone must have come. Even most of the militia is here."
He was silent.
"I do not see your cousin here tonight."
"He is very busy preparing for their Majesties' arrival, and wished to rest tonight instead of reveling."
"I imagine that you wish you could take his place."
"Do you? I find nothing to complain of in my present position."
Elizabeth blushed, and said nothing more.
"I hope you are enjoying the evening, Miss Elizabeth, despite the heat."
"Oh, yes, certainly." She turned to face him suddenly and said, "I confess myself surprised that so many people have left the safety of their homes this night. Certainly they might feel more comfortable at home, considering the wild stories flying about."
"I notice fear of the masked individuals running about did not deter you."
"Of course not. You might not know that I have met both Batman and Robin. I am not afraid of them."
"Aren't you? Perhaps you should be. They might be dangerous."
"Do you think so? Is it the habit of dangerous men to save young women from rainstorms, or to kindly advise them that all is safe and well? These must be particularly cunning men."
"They might be dangerous in other ways. The Batman at least is a dark character, a man with many secrets and shadows."
"You speak as if you know him intimately."
"I do, in a manner of speaking."
"And what manner might that be?"
He paused. "I have…I have seen him before in other places. Our paths have had occasion to cross."
"Perhaps it is not a coincidence. I, for one, find the fact that you both arrived in Meryton around the same time fascinating."
Mr. Darcy's eyes widened, but before he could answer her, the door was thrown open and Lydia's flushed face appeared at the doorway. "La! What do you do out here, Lizzy? You are missing all the fun!" Her eyes lit upon Mr. Darcy and they widened as if seeing him for the first time. "Oh! Hello, Mr. Darcy."
She was answered with only a stiff bow.
"The supper dance is coming up and Saunderson is looking for you. Do hurry up!" Lydia disappeared back into the ballroom. Mr. Darcy offered his arm to Elizabeth, and she took it without thinking. No more passed between them, but Elizabeth felt more certain than ever that she and her sisters were correct.
When supper was announced, Elizabeth entered the room with Lt. Saunderson, but her eye was irresistibly drawn to Mr. Darcy, who had not danced the supper dance and stood near the back of the room alone. He met her gaze and held it; blushing, Elizabeth looked away in time to be seated next to her mother.
After supper, singing was talked of, and Mary rose with great alacrity and approached the pianoforte. She took a great deal of time arranging her music upon the instrument, breathed deeply, and paused to direct the smallest of smiles at her sisters. The ponderous chords of Handel sounded through the room, and Mary began to sing.
Elizabeth was forced to place her handkerchief to her lips to choke back her laugh, and she cautiously looked around to meet Jane's eyes, which were round as saucers. Elizabeth looked around again, searching for Lydia and Kitty, but when she found Lydia, her sister frowned and motioned for her.
Rising, Elizabeth took her cup with her under pretense of needing more punch. Lydia met her at the bowl, and then grasped her hand and ducked behind a potted plant.
"I have been trying all night to get away, but I simply cannot. Denny and the others will not leave me alone!" she exclaimed with a scowl.
"Kitty has been holding court all evening," Elizabeth said with a puzzled frown.
"She has done very well, but Denny seems fixed on me. I cannot understand his game." Lydia paused and then sighed. "I don't suppose you wheedled a confession out of Mr. Darcy."
"I was on the point of doing so when you interrupted," Elizabeth pointed out rather peevishly.
"Well, Saunderson was looking for you, and it wouldn't have done for him to find you standing on the balcony, gazing soulfully into Mr. Darcy's eyes," Lydia teased. "There is nothing for it. You will have to take my place."
"Go!" Lydia ducked out from behind the plant and nearly ran headlong into Lt. Denny. Giggling, she snatched the sword from his side and danced off through the supper room, pursued by him and the various officers who had materialized near him. Elizabeth slipped unnoticed from behind the plant and hurried out of the room.
The sounds of the supper room faded quickly as Elizabeth hurried toward the library. She could hear no sounds of pursuit, so she concluded that nobody had noticed her disappearance yet. When she reached the doors of the library, she took a deep breath before opening them and stepping inside.
The darkness surprised her; somehow she had expected the candles to be lit. Luckily a shaft of moonlight illuminated the room sufficiently for her to look about. She approached the fireplace and examined the shelves. The titles of the books made her chuckle; Mr. Bingley could not have assembled a duller or less fashionable collection of books if he had tried. A volume of The Country Housewife's Family Companion caught her eye. What possible use could any of the Bingleys have for this book? She reached out to pull it from the shelf, but it would not come free; instead, the book tilted toward her as if on a hinge.
Elizabeth jumped back as with a slight creak the fireplace - indeed, the entire wall and bookcase attached to it - swung forward and revealed a great opening with a wooden spiral staircase. She stepped forward and cautiously made her way down the staircase, convinced as she descended that it had been built recently.
The staircase descended down, down, down until the wooden walls about it changed to earth, and then to stone. After what seemed an interminable amount of time, the walls swooped away, out and down to form a huge cavern, which glistened with trickling water. Torches flickered on the walls, and when Elizabeth's eyes had adjusted to the low light she saw two desks in the center of the room. Wooden boards had been erected as makeshift walls, with newspapers and various other documents pasted to them. Two large wardrobes stood at the far end, and next to them was another large bureau.
Elizabeth approached the bureau first and cautiously opened it. She stared in disbelief at the number of weapons that met her eyes. Crossbows, dueling pistols, a grappling hook that looked as if it was meant to be shot from a rifle, and a number of strange, sharp metal objects fashioned in the shape of a bat. She plucked one from its resting place, turning it carefully in her hands.
With a deep, shaking breath, Elizabeth replaced the metal bat and approached one of the wardrobes. Throwing open the doors, she saw the black garb, flowing cape, and pointy-eared hood of the Batman.
Posted on 2013-03-24
"I ought to have known that you would find this place."
Mr. Darcy's voice startled her, and she whirled about. He smiled rather sadly at her as he approached.
"I am sorry," Elizabeth stammered. "I - I ought to have…"
"Do not apologize. Your curiosity was awakened and, quite naturally, you sought to appease it."
"You are not quite as mysterious as you wish to be. My sisters deduced that you were the Batman before I did."
"Your sisters?" Mr. Darcy frowned. "Do you mean to tell me that display upstairs…?"
"Orchestrated purely for the sake of diversion."
"Your sisters are very convincing performers."
Elizabeth smiled. "Indeed they are. I believe that we have all underestimated them."
"One has a tendency to do so with younger siblings." A shadow crossed Mr. Darcy's face, but it was wiped quickly away.
"Why do you do these things?" Elizabeth reached out and fingered the material of the cape. "Do you not trust our government? Our constables, our militia?"
"The government does its best, but it is a collection of the wealthiest men in the country. They are disconnected from the problems of the majority. They can do nothing to protect their citizens on a daily basis." Mr. Darcy approached the boards and touched the newspapers. "As for the constables and the militia, something has been happening. Officers have gone missing, and others have been talking strangely, as if in code. I was only recently able to determine what might be happening."
Darcy turned to face her. "We believe a revolt is brewing."
"We?" Elizabeth shook her head. "Forgive me. You mean Mr. Bingley, of course."
"Yes. When last he visited me at Pemberley he discovered my - er - secret, much in the same way you have done. You must know enough of Bingley by now to know of his impetuosity and loyalty. He insisted on joining me."
"What do you mean by a revolt?"
"I mean the most serious of crimes: treason. The officers I have managed to pin down have rambled about a new king, a fearsome man who calls himself the King of Cats. He has been recruiting for months."
"Do you think he has come here?"
"I am almost certain of it."
"But why would he care about a small militia in such an insignificant town?"
"Do you not remember that a great honor will soon be conferred on this insignificant town?"
Elizabeth gasped. "Do you mean…an assassination?"
"I do. Bingley and I have been investigating their possible methods. They certainly would not be so bold as to shoot their Majesties in the middle of the review. Perhaps a kidnapping…"
Her hand flying to her mouth, Elizabeth grew very pale. Darcy rushed to her side and helped her to a chair at one of the desks. "The night after my aunt Phillips's party," she told him shakily, "we had an incident. The coach was…taken. We were not sure what was happening, but then…a woman saved us."
"A woman?" Darcy sat near her and looked at her intensely. "Who was it?"
"I haven't the faintest idea. She was very odd - very angry. She called herself a Catwoman."
"I have heard whispers of a Catwoman but I have never seen her myself."
"That is not why I told you about this. Do you think that it could have been a sort of rehearsal?"
Darcy stood and walked to the boards again, studying the papers. "It must have been. But who is doing it?"
"My sisters and I can…"
"No!" Darcy interrupted.
"Kitty and Lydia have many friends amongst the officers," Elizabeth argued. "We can gather intelligence."
"I will not have you - or your family - placed in any more danger, Miss Elizabeth. Bingley and I are quite adept at gathering information."
"We can be subtler than you can. A smile from a pleasant person can go much further than a threat from a man in a mask."
"Elizabeth, listen to me." Darcy walked toward her very deliberately. "I have no right to forbid you anything, but if I had…I could not bear to have you in harm's way. These men are not gentlemen, and if they were to discover your intentions, they would show no mercy. I have had other, more experienced informants on the trail of this villain for months. Many of them have disappeared. If anything were to happen to you - or any of your family - I would never forgive myself."
Elizabeth found that she could not argue with Mr. Darcy when he stood so close and looked into her eyes with such intensity. "Very well," she whispered. "But you must promise," she added in stronger tones, "to tell me what is happening. I could not rest if I did not know whether you - and Mr. Bingley - were safe."
"As you wish."
Footsteps sounded on the stairs behind them, and Mr. Darcy turned quickly, instinctively hiding Elizabeth from view. Mr. Bingley came round the corner. "The two of you might consider rejoining us," he said breathlessly. "I can only avoid Caroline's questions about your whereabouts for so long, Darcy."
"Certainly. Miss Elizabeth, you ought to return with Bingley."
Elizabeth nodded and joined Bingley on the staircase, while Mr. Darcy followed at a distance. If anyone had noticed that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy had disappeared at the same time and had been gone for several minutes, they thought no more of it as she entered the room with Mr. Bingley, who laughed that he had found her in the library, engrossed in a book. The other guests were so amused that Mr. Darcy's reappearance was barely noticed at all.
Elizabeth shared her discoveries with her sisters as soon as they had returned home. Lydia's outrage over Mr. Darcy's edict was only to be imagined, but Jane calmed her with her own gentle good sense. The ladies went to bed elated with their own penetration and success, but still perplexed over the identity of the mysterious Catwoman.
In the deepest dark of night, a window slid silently open. A shadowy figure approached the bed and pressed a handkerchief over the face of the slumbering young woman. She moved slightly and then lay still. The motionless bundle was carefully passed out of the window to the figures without, who placed it in a waiting carriage. The carriage rolled away slowly and almost without sound.
Posted on 2013-03-27
Elizabeth awoke suddenly to the sound of her mother's screams. Without stopping for her dressing gown, Elizabeth raced down the hallway to find Jane, Mary, Lydia and her parents in the bedroom shared by Lydia and Kitty. Mrs. Bennet was in a chair, fanning herself and weeping, and Mr. Bennet looked as if he'd been turned to stone.
"What is it? What has happened?" Elizabeth gasped, but even as she spoke she could see. Her third sister's bed was empty.
"Kitty has run away!" cried Mrs. Bennet. "She has left us forever! What are we to do?"
"Mama, be reasonable," Jane soothed. "Perhaps she has gone for a morning walk."
"Without her boots?" Mary murmured, inspecting the closet.
"All of her clothes are here," Elizabeth said, joining her sister. "What could have happened? Where can she be?"
Elizabeth met her sisters' eyes and knew at once that they all agreed. Elizabeth dashed for her coat, tossed her boots unlaced on her feet, and was out the door and running across the fields before anyone could say her nay. Her thoughts pounded through her head as quickly as her feet on the ground. What motive could they have for taking Kitty? Would these - people - harm her, perhaps kill her? There was no pain or fatigue now; she could think of nothing but reaching Mr. Darcy.
"Elizabeth!" Vaguely Elizabeth wondered when Mr. Darcy had begun calling her by her given name. She slowed to a walk as Darcy reined in his horse and leaped off the saddle. "What do you do out here so early? What…" His eyes widened as he took in her appearance. He crossed the distance between them in two strides and grasped her by the arms. "What is it? What has happened?"
"Kitty," Elizabeth gasped. "She is gone. She has been taken."
Darcy's hands fell to his sides. "Go back. I would accompany you, but no time must be lost. I will find her."
"I want to help you."
"Your sister is already in danger. I will do all in my power to bring her back to you safely. If I had to worry about your safety as well, I would not be able to work effectively. You can help me most by staying at home and staying safe."
Elizabeth nodded mutely and watched as Darcy remounted his horse. He looked down at her and said, "I will return her to you. I promise." Elizabeth turned and walked back to Longbourn.
"I will tell you nothing," snarled the young man. He was tied to a chair placed in the only corner of light in the cave.
The Batman paced the perimeter of the light. "You might just as well help us," he growled. "Your master will assume that you have. He will not ask questions."
Robin stood to one side of the prisoner, leaning on his staff and smiling rather wickedly. "My friend has much more patience than I," he said cheerfully. "I would have given you a whack or two, but he is reining me in."
"You may whack all you wish," the prisoner groaned. "I am dead already."
"Oh," moaned a deep, feline voice from the shadows, "not quite yet. What fun would that be?"
The Catwoman stalked into the circle of light.
"You must be the Catwoman we've heard so much about," Robin said conversationally.
"And you must be the enormous intellect behind this pathetic attempt at interrogation," Catwoman snapped.
"I'm afraid I can't take the credit. This is his idea." Robin indicated the Batman.
"Ah." Catwoman glanced at him briefly and then turned to the bound captive. She ran one clawed finger lightly across the man's face. "Good morning, handsome," she purred. "What brings you here?"
The man gaped at her. "You! Impossible!"
"Implausible, perhaps," the Catwoman crooned, "but demonstrably not impossible."
"We took you! How did you escape?" The man screamed as she pressed her claws further into his flesh.
"What are you talking about?" the Catwoman hissed.
"While you were sleeping! We came and took you. You should not be here!"
The Catwoman bared her teeth and growled. "I never sleep. Whom did you take?" When the man did not answer her, she dug her claws into his shoulder. "Whom?"
The man screamed again. "The girl was doing her utmost to get information from us. She calls herself 'Kitty'! What were we to think?"
"Idiot!" the Catwoman snapped. She stood and faced Batman and Robin. "I know where she is. Follow me."
She turned toward the stairs, but the Batman reached out and took her arm. "How do we know that we can trust you?"
The Catwoman hissed her impatience. "You have no choice. You do not know how to enter the Cat King's headquarters, and I do. It might all be a trap or it might not. What other option do you have if you wish to rescue the girl?"
The Batman dropped her arm. She turned on her heel and marched up the stairs, the two men at her heels. Not a word was spoken until they had crossed the lawns of Netherfield and entered the woods.
"The King of Cats has been recruiting militia officers for months," the Catwoman said. "I have been following him closely for nigh on a year, and he has grown strong enough to lead a revolt. But that is not what he wishes."
"What is it that he wants?" Robin asked.
"A revolt would mean making enemies of many people. He means to stage a revolt: disgruntled soldiers will kidnap the King and Queen and the Prince Regent, and he will pursue and apprehend the men, but he will, most tragically, be too late to save their Majesties. He is confident that his heroic actions will gain him the throne."
"How do you know all this?" the Batman demanded.
"He told me, of course. Here." The trio had reached the outskirts of Meryton. The hour was early yet, and no one stirred in the streets. Nevertheless they were careful to remain concealed behind houses and shops. The barracks were silent as Catwoman led the two men to the tree and opened the secret door.
Posted on 2013-04-01
The Batman and Robin descended the stairs noiselessly, entering the cavernous audience hall with caution. The panthers still sat chained, but the throne was empty. Without a word, the two men separated and stalked the perimeter of the room. There was but one door to the right of the throne, and Robin had just reached it when a roar of rage echoed through the chamber. The door burst open and a badly beaten man stumbled into the great room. The King of Cats stalked after him, picked him up by the throat, and shook him.
"You wretched imbecile! That girl the Catwoman? She has not ceased crying since the moment she woke up! The Catwoman is fierce! She is magnificent! And she is still at large!"
"Forgive me! Forgive me, your majesty," whimpered the unfortunate man. "I will not fail you again."
"No," the Cat King growled softly. "No, you will not." He dropped the man on the floor before the throne. "Samer. Satya. Attack!"
The panthers crouched and lashed their tails - they sprang - only to cry in pain as an arrow lodged itself firmly in each panther's shoulder. The King of Cats whirled around to come face to face with the Batman.
"Ah!" he said, but he got no further as the Batman laid him out flat on the floor.
"Get the girl," the Batman instructed Robin, who immediately rushed through the door. Cries of surprise echoed down the corridor, followed by heavy thumps as Robin's staff was finally made useful. Robin returned in short order with Kitty Bennet, whose eyes were wide with terror.
"Oh, thank God!" she cried when she saw the Batman. "I so hoped you would come for me!"
"Take her home," the Batman said, his eyes on the Cat King, who had not yet risen from the floor.
Robin and Kitty hurried up the stairs and into the night. The Batman turned his full attention on his enemy, who had finally opened his eyes and was getting to his feet.
"There was no need for such heroics," the Cat King said calmly. "The girl was not my target; she would have been returned safely to her home, once I had dealt with this." He prodded the man on the floor, who had fainted dead away.
"It is over," the Batman replied. "You will come with me to the village gaol, where you will be held until more permanent arrangements can be made for you."
The King of Cats sneered and reached for the saber at his side; the Batman drew his own sword. With a snarl the Cat King lunged at the Batman, and though the Batman was skilled, his opponent's wrath lent him new strength. He soon drove the Batman back, and with a feral smile drew back his arm to deliver a felling blow, when a small dagger flew through the air and lodged itself in his leg.
Both men whirled around to see the Catwoman, her whip at the ready. Forgetting both the Batman and the dagger, the King launched himself at this new opponent, who dodged his blows with skill and speed. Sensing that she could dodge far longer than he could fight, the Cat King hesitated. With a gleam in her eyes, she raised her whip, but he struck suddenly, slashing her side open. She dropped to her knees, breathless, and the Cat King stood over her. He made no move to finish her.
"You ought to have joined me," he said softly. "There is yet time. Say you will be mine, and we will rule England together."
The Catwoman smiled. "I'd rather die," she said.
The King of Cats shrugged. "So be it." He moved to strike, but was suddenly lifted from behind; the Batman lifted the man above his head and threw him to the ground. The Cat King struggled to his feet with a groan, but the Batman reached him and, grasping him by the throat, slammed against the unforgiving cavern wall.
The click of a cocked pistol drew both men's eyes to the Catwoman, who stood against a wall, one hand at her side and the other trained quite steadily at the King's head. Her eyes flickered at the Batman.
"Move," she growled.
"I cannot. If you kill him you will be no better than him."
"I do not care," she replied. "He has killed me; I at least have the opportunity of revenge."
"You are not killed. We can heal your wounds."
"Nothing can heal my wounds." Her voice broke. "Betrayal of the worst kind - cruelty - manipulation - he is guilty of it all! He is the worst kind of man!"
"You know him."
"As do you."
Darcy stared at her. "What has he done to you?"
"That was not his first such offer." Catwoman breathed deeply and winced. "He approached me last summer - in the guise of a darling friend, a devoted and dependable confidant - the love of my life. I had never known he felt so for me - I was flattered, overwhelmed. He wanted to marry me, but insisted we elope. I couldn't understand it - he had always been close with - with my guardian."
She drew another breath. "I refused. He became angry. He ranted, railed, threatened us both. He would have me, he said, whether I came willingly or not, but then…"
"Go on," the Batman prompted her.
"It does not matter. Move. Let me finish him. He deserves no mercy, no leniency."
A deep chuckle rose from the throat of the King, who was still held against the wall. "Dear me," he purred. "I would never have guessed it - never. You have come a long way, little Georgiana."
The Catwoman stared at both men bleakly, and then she slowly reached up to remove her mask. A dark tumble of short curls rioted about her head. Her icy eyes penetrated the Batman's own disbelieving gaze.
"Yes. It is I, Brother."
"Brother?" crowed the King of Cats. "Darcy! Upon my word! Never in my wildest dreams…"
His words were cut off as Darcy's hands closed about his throat.
"I let you go once, Wickham, but I will not do so again."
The King grinned.
Georgiana called, "Wickham is nothing but a pawn, a spineless fool. Spies had seen you on your way to Ramsgate, and he was called there to face your anger. He," she snapped viciously, "could not risk your finding out - he threatened us - and you - with death if we breathed a word."
Darcy's grip had slackened in his astonishment, and the King of Cats twisted away, laughing. "We might as well complete the family reunion, eh?" Reaching up, he removed his mask to reveal the good-natured, laughing countenance of Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam.
Posted on 2013-04-03
Darcy, his face white with shock, staggered back at the sight of his cousin. Fitzwilliam's eyes glittered with malicious laughter and his smile gleamed ferociously.
"Fitzwilliam - how could you…"
"I have grown tired of playing second fiddle, Cousin," he growled. "Second to my father, the illustrious Earl. Second to my brother, the Viscount. Second even to you, favored suitor of Anne de Bourgh and most beloved of brothers. I have never been anything. Well now - now I am something. I will be first, first above them all!"
The shot rang out, and Fitzwilliam at first did not seem to notice that he had been hit. He advanced toward Darcy, his eyes blazing, but dropped to his knees after two steps, and then finally fell to the floor. Darcy stood frozen, staring at his cousin and erstwhile friend, scarcely crediting the evidence of his senses.
Georgiana's labored breathing drew him to her side. He tore off his cape and wrapped it about her. "We must get you home," he said gruffly.
"No," she gasped. "I am finished."
"You are not wounded so badly," Darcy said desperately. "You will heal. You will heal."
"Even if you could heal my body, dear Brother, you could not heal my heart. He destroyed me. He has won."
"He will only win if you allow him to," Darcy insisted. He reached to lift her from the floor.
"If you touch me again," Georgiana growled, "I will shoot you." She cocked her pistol again and aimed it at his heart.
Darcy froze, agony etched into his face. "You would never hurt me, Georgie. You know you never would."
She searched his face with cold, empty eyes. "You are right," she whispered. "I never would." She turned the pistol and pointed it at her own breast. Darcy had time for little more than a shout of panic before she had pulled the trigger.
For an untold length of time, Darcy knelt in the dim light of the chamber, the echo of the final shot still ringing off the walls, the blood of the fallen darkening the floor.
Elizabeth descended the spiral staircase into the cave beneath Netherfield. The boards and wardrobes were empty, the maps rolled neatly on the table. In the middle of the room stood Darcy, placing the Batman's garb in a box.
"How is Kitty?" he asked before she could say a word.
"She has recovered from her fright, though she vows she will never flirt with an officer again."
"Do your parents know all that has happened?"
"Oh, certainly not. That is, they know about the King of Cats, Batman, Robin, and the Catwoman, but they do not know who all of you are."
"They will probably guess when I leave and the Batman disappears."
"Ah, but Mr. Bingley will be here, and Robin will not, and everyone knows Robin does not stir a step without Batman. I think your identity is safe."
He said nothing.
"Mr. Bingley said you were leaving," she said quietly, "but I did not quite believe him." Mr. Darcy made no answer.
"I must go, Elizabeth, and meet with my family to tell them of - of the death of my sister and cousin. The colonel died in heroic defense of my sister when she was beset by highwaymen; she did not survive the robbery."
"What of the other officers?"
"Their leader is dead and they have been turned over to Colonel Forster for court-martial. Wickham has fled, but I think we have nothing to fear from him. He is not a leader, but a follower."
"So you plan to leave."
"Will you come back?"
"I daresay I will. I have promised Bingley to stand up with him when he marries your sister."
"You could give up the Batman," Elizabeth said rather desperately. "Mr. Bingley has given up Robin easily enough. The ills of the country are not your sole responsibility. Let others carry the burden for a while."
"You are correct. I cannot make everything right. However..." he sighed. "England may not need the Batman, but I am afraid I do. Perhaps one day…"
"I will wait," Elizabeth said firmly. "When you have finished…"
"You will not wait. That time may never come. You will be happy and prosperous without me, Elizabeth. I insist upon it."
She was silent.
He approached her, taking her chin in his hand. "Promise me, Elizabeth."
Smiling, she said, "I will make no promise of the kind, but you must not torture yourself. It is my choice."
He did not return her smile. Silently he turned from her and vanished up the staircase. Elizabeth stayed behind for a few moments, hoping he might return. When he did not, she walked back up to the house. Mr. Bingley met her in the library.
"He is gone, I suppose," she said with an attempt at a smile.
"Yes. Just now."
Elizabeth pressed the book back into its place above the mantelpiece. The door closed with a dull finality.
"He will return, Elizabeth."
"I know."The End