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Sam Wilkens had already read the letter from Mrs. Driscoll two times over but he began to read it yet again. No part of him was willing to believe that Fanny was dead. He stared out of the window of his chamber for a quarter of an hour considering what action to take. In the end, there was no question of what he would do next.
St. James Place, London
Elizabeth gathered her bonnet and gloves as she waited for Mary Bennet to come downstairs from the guest quarters. She had asked the young woman to spend the night with her in consideration of how overwrought Mary had become upon hearing her step-sister's true history. The Darcy coach would now take her back to the Gardiners' home on Gracechurch Street. Elizabeth herself was intending to walk across St. James Place to her grandfather's house. Her cousin Georgiana and Lady Sarah along with Mrs. Annesley had already left the house since they had previously made plans to meet Jane Appleton there at eleven.
When Mary appeared, Elizabeth helped her out to the carriage and whispered a few words of encouragement to her. She stood as the coach departed and then crossed into the small park. Within a few minutes, Mr. Hodges was opening the door to the house for her.
"Lady Elizabeth," Hodges said with a small bow. "You will find the other young ladies in the sun room. I will have refreshments brought in shortly."
"Thank you, Mr. Hodges," Elizabeth replied with a smile. "Has Miss Appleton arrived as well?"
"Yes, my lady. Her brother escorted her here and then went upon his way. She is with Lady Sarah and Miss Darcy."
"Is my grandfather downstairs?"
"His Grace had an unanticipated appointment outside of the house this morning, Lady Elizabeth. However, he asked that I tell you that he expected to return by noon."
Elizabeth nodded and then went in search of her cousin and friends. She found them giggling over something as she entered the sun room and rolled her eyes in mock exasperation.
"Georgiana, what family secrets are you revealing now?" she laughed.
"None, Elizabeth. Mrs. Annesley will not permit it," Georgiana responded with a mock pout.
"Thank you once again, Mrs. Annesley." In truth, both she and her cousin Darcy were quite grateful to the other woman's forbearance. She had helped relieve them of a number of practical concerns and had done so without complaint.
The refreshments soon arrived and while the servants poured out tea, Elizabeth told the others that her grandfather had gone out but had promised to return before long. The Duke was aware that they were visiting his home in order to show him the map folio that the Appletons had purchased for their father. A quarter of an hour later, the ladies were engaged in a discussion about drawing, something neither Elizabeth nor Jane did, when Mr. Norris suddenly appeared and approached Lady Elizabeth. After listening to him, she stood up and asked the others to excuse her for a few minutes. She then quickly followed him out of the room.
Her cousin Darcy was waiting for her in the entrance hall. Elizabeth was alarmed to see him as he had told her that he would be meeting with his attorney for the better part of the day, at the other man's offices.
"William, what is it?" she asked.
Darcy moved quickly to her side and spoke softly to her.
"Lizzy, your mother is at my house. She appeared a few minutes ago and insisted upon seeing you. I told her that you were here and she asked that I come and fetch you immediately."
"But what of our visit to my grandfather?" Elizabeth asked. " I had specifically asked Miss Appleton here so she could show him the map that she purchased for her father."
"I will escort you to Darcy House, then will return to facilitate the visit with the Duke. Will that suffice?" Darcy asked.
Elizabeth agreed to her cousin's suggestion and allowed him to escort her out of the house. Once they were out of earshot of anyone, she asked him if he knew why the Duchess had come to see her.
"How did she seem, William? Was she upset? Did she appear to have been harmed in some way?"
"Other than being very insistent, she gave no indication of why she wished to see you," Darcy replied. "In fact, I would say that she appeared less tentative than I have seen her in years. She did say that Farrington was to be away for a few days. He left early this morning with one of his man servants. Perhaps she felt this gave her an ample opportunity to tell you about the portrait."
Aware that his cousin was gripping his right arm rather determinedly, Darcy covered her hand with his free one. "Elizabeth," he murmured,"she is here to tell you something. It may be about the portraits or something else. You will need to hear her, whatever it is. I do not think that it can be worse than we already have learned."
They soon arrived at the house. Darcy escorted Elizabeth within and then took her to his study where he had asked that the Duchess await her daughter's return. He gave Elizabeth a nod and a firm smile and then left her facing the closed door. She steadied herself and then with a light knock on the door, entered the room.
Maria Farrington was on her feet staring at a small landscape painting on the wall of Darcy's study when Elizabeth entered. She turned around and regarded her daughter.
"Thank you for returning, Elizabeth." The Duchess motioned for her to sit on the room's small sofa and took a seat across from her.
"Has your aunt or uncle told you about my discovery concerning your father's pocket watch?" she asked.
"Then I will not repeat that story to you again, at least not right now. I would speak to you of something that occurred six years before your father was killed."
Elizabeth nodded to her mother but had no sense of what she wanted to tell her. She was not in the least prepared for what would follow.
"When Lord Dayton entered the cottage, I did not follow him. He then reappeared and asked if I planned to join him in eating lunch. He made it seem as if it was the most natural thing in the world for us to do.
"All thought of any impropriety left my head. I joined him in the lodge which consisted of only one room. There was a table and chairs on one side where he had arranged some food. On the other side of the room, there was a bed. It should have occurred to me sooner that the linens looked fresh, strange for an unused cottage."
Elizabeth's head began to pound. The thought of where this story was likely going to end was causing her to become nauseous.
"Matthew had brought wine with him and poured a glass for me. We ate quietly. I asked after his father, whom I had heard had been in ill health. After ten minutes or so, we finished our meal and he stood up, I thought to leave. I arose and started walking to the door when he caught me by the shoulder.
"He turned me around and before I knew it, he kissed me. I was at that moment too shocked to even react and he kissed me a second time. God forgive me, I made no effort to stop him at first and I believe that I responded to him, if only for the briefest of time. I do not know if it was the wine, my anger with your father or Farrington's undeniable appeal. It was likely all three.
"I then realized what was happening and pulled away from him. I made to leave and he took hold of my hand, gently pulling me towards the other part of the room. I tried to get free of him but he would not let me go. I told him that I had no wish to lay with him as a woman does with her husband, that I loved your father but he ignored me.
"It was almost as if he was in a trance. He kept murmuring to me that I should have always been his but in a way, it was as if he barely knew I was there. And God forgive me, I did not try to fight him off. Perhaps if I had scratched him or done something to cause him to realize more forcefully that I did not wish to be with him, he would have come to his senses. But I did not know what to do. It was soon over and I left as soon as I could get free of him. I did not see him again until five years after your father died, when he came to me and proposed marriage.
"Your father returned two days later. He was full of apologies and desperate to make amends with me as I was with him. We had some of our happiest days together that summer. A few months later, I realized that I was with child and Johanna was born not long after the New Year."
Maria Farrington finally stopped speaking and suddenly smiled. "On our trip to Rosings that year," she said, "when Catherine began to criticize me for not having produced an heir, your father dressed her down with such ferocity that the subject was never mentioned again, at least not when we were in the room."
The Duchess looked at her daughter who sat staring at her, with tears flowing from her eyes. "But mama," she whispered, "how could you have married him, after what he did to you?"
"Matthew came to Fairview five years after your father died and asked for my hand. I later learned that he had intended to use blackmail should I have refused him at the time, but that proved unnecessary."
"But, why? I do not understand you!" Elizabeth cried.
"Marriage to Matthew Farrington was what I deserved for what I did. I placed only one condition upon him, that I would not share his bed. That was a punishment that even I could not pronounce upon myself."
"And he has honored that promise?" Elizabeth asked, despite the impropriety of the question. "Is that why you had no more children?"
"It was of no hardship for him. He viewed me as a prize not as a loving wife and he had no desire for children. And I did not deserve more. I hardly deserved the two of you after what I let happen."
Elizabeth rushed to her mother's side and embraced her. "You did not cause or invite what Farrington did to you. You most certainly were not the cause of what happened to us or to our father. It was not your doing."
The Countess did not appear to have heard her daughter.
"In some part of me, I think that I always suspected that Matthew had your father murdered. I now know that to be the truth. Had it not been for that day in April, none of this would have happened. When I think of what you must have suffered with that undeserving family, it breaks my heart. At least Jane was raised by people who loved her."
Elizabeth was about to again take exception with her mother's interpretation of the events when she suddenly realized what she had said.
"Jane? Do you not mean Johanna, mama?" she asked.
The Duchess turned to her youngest daughter and observed her for a moment. "I had assumed that you suspected it as well," she said. When Elizabeth failed to reply, she continued, "I was referring to Miss Appleton. Although I am not sure how it can be proved, I think it is very likely that she is your sister."
Darcy had been at Wiltingham's house for about ten minutes when the Duke returned. Nesbitt greeted his guests then asked after his granddaughter.
"She is still at my home," Darcy replied. Keeping his voice as even as possible, he told the Duke about the unexpected arrival of Maria Farrington.
"Do you expect them to attend us here?"
"I am not certain."
The ladies were beginning to feel somewhat awkward with the circumstances - Elizabeth had effectively been their hostess for the visit -- when Georgiana remembered to mention Jane Appleton's map purchase to the Duke.
"Your Grace, I believe that Lady Elizabeth told you about the folio of maps that Miss Appleton has got as a present for her father," she said. "She has brought it with her to learn your opinion of it."
"I would be pleased to see it," Nesbitt said.
Jane picked up the small book from the sofa and handed it to the Duke. He walked over to the window to look at it in brighter light. After several minutes, he pronounced it to be a fine acquisition and handed it to Darcy for his appraisal.
The younger man indicated his approval and asked Miss Appleton where she had bought the volume.
"My brother and I found it at a bookseller's stall near Westminster Abbey."
Darcy could not resist a quick glance at the Duke. The maps were of excellent quality and based on the title page, were clearly a part of a set. He suspected that the work was probably liberated from someone's ignored library by an opportunistic servant and sold for considerably less than it would fetch in a legal sale. He decided that Jane had no need of that opinion, however.
"His Grace and I both share an interest in antique maps, although he has a much finer collection than I do," Darcy observed.
"Oh, yes," his sister agreed. "Elizabeth has mentioned her admiration for a particular map embellished with a serpent."
Darcy felt somewhat awkward at his sister's response although he realized that she did not know that the volume to which she referred was rarely shown to guests. He was thus surprised when the Duke invited his company upstairs to view the atlas on display in his private study.
A few minutes later, the ladies were in the study mostly gathered around and admiring the beauty of Blaeu's Le Grand Atlas. Georgiana's eye however was caught by the portrait of the Duke the portrait of the Duke and his own mother, the woman who so resembled Elizabeth Fitzwilliam. Darcy walked over to join her.
"It is a remarkable resemblance, is it not Georgiana?" he asked.
"Truly. It looks like it is a painting of Elizabeth herself," she replied. She studied the image for a few more moments and then laughed, pointing at the Duke himself. "Look, William. His Grace had a toy cow just like the one that Miss Appleton has from when she was found!"
The Duke of Wiltingham was soon standing next to them. "What do you mean, Miss Darcy?" he said with a frown.
"Your Grace, I do not know if you are aware that Jane Appleton is adopted?" Georgiana asked. "She still has a old wooden cow which she had with her when she found. She is very fond of it and even brought it to London with her. I saw it just the other day."
Georgiana smiled at the Duke. "Do you still have yours, sir?" she asked.
"No, my dear. I no longer have it. I gave it to my granddaughter Johanna when she was two or three years old after she found it in an old toy chest in the Fairview nursery."
As Georgiana returned to her friends, Nesbitt looked at Darcy sharply. "William, what do you know of this young woman?" he demanded.
"They are friends of Charles Bingley, from Essex. They are guests of his at Grosvenor Place. I have heard that she was a foundling, but not much more than that. Lizzy knows more to the story, I am certain."
"Has my daughter met her?"
"Yes, I believe that she has, both at the opera and also at my house."
"William, I must see this toy cow. We will escort Miss Appleton to your friend's house. I am certain that your sister's companion can return them safely to Darcy House."
Within ten minutes, the parties were departing the Duke's home. The young ladies and Mrs. Annesley went on foot across the square while Nesbitt ordered his carriage to take Miss Appleton home, accompanied by himself and Mr. Darcy. When they arrived at Bingley's house, they discovered that her brother John was in but both Charles and Miss Bingley were still out.
Wiltingham asked Mr. Appleton if he might humor him with a few odd questions and at the same time, asked Miss Appleton if she would be kind enough to retrieve her childhood toy from her chamber.
As soon as she left the room, John Appleton demanded to know what the Duke was about. He was very protective of his younger sister and the other man's rank notwithstanding, he was unwilling to allow any sort of interrogation of her.
"I mean no disrespect," Arthur Nesbitt said. "However, I do not know if you are aware that both of my granddaughters disappeared in the spring of 1794 when the older was five and the younger three. We have recently been united with Elizabeth Fitzwilliam, whom we now know was held in a house in Hertfordshire for a time before she was placed with a family in the same county. William tells me that your sister was also a foundling."
"Actually sir, we have just learned some additional if anecdotal information from Lizzy's step-sister, Mary Bennet," Darcy said. "The Bennets showed up in London just yesterday, in search of Elizabeth. This Mary Bennet, who is just a few months younger than Lizzy, distinctly remembers her telling a story of she and her sister Johanna being taken from their father by two strangers. They then traveled by coach for some distance.
"When they stopped for a meal, Lizzy tried to run away. While they were chasing her, Johanna apparently escaped from the carriage. It appears that she got away since when the story was next picked up by Arnold Phillips, he was aware of only one little girl."
John Appleton looked at the two men in shock. "My sister Jane was brought to us by a local tradesman who found her asleep in his wagon after he had made several stops at towns in Hertfordshire. He had no idea of where she had come from. We lived in Buntingford at the time. We made various inquiries but never found a report of a missing child in the area."
"They were taken from Nottinghamshire," Nesbitt said. "Their father was murdered at the same time."
"Did she have anything else with her besides the toy?" Darcy asked.
"She was wearing a dirty but finely made dress. My late mother insisted on laundering and keeping it," Appleton replied. "I assume that my father still has it."
After a moment, Appleton looked at the Duke of Wiltingham. "Sir, I should add one more thing. When Jane was brought to us, she told us that her name was Joanna. Because my dear mother's name was Joan, we thought that it would be easier to change her name to Jane.
A few moments later, Jane Appleton knocked on the door of Charles Bingley's study, carrying her small toy cow. She shyly handed it to the Duke who immediately took it to the window and examined it closely. They watched him look about the window and then run his fingers along the top of the lower window. He rubbed the dust that he found there over the interior of the figurine's rear right leg. When he returned to them, he showed them the underside of the toy, upon which two small carved initials were clearly viewable, an A and a N.
"My dear Miss Appleton," the Duke of Wiltingham said. "There is more for us to learn, but I believe that you are my granddaughter, Lady Johanna Fitzwilliam, Elizabeth's older sister. I gave you this toy when you were three years old. It was my favorite as a child and the initials that I carved into it as a boy of eight still appear."
Jane Appleton looked at her brother, at Mr. Darcy and at the Peer claiming to be her grandfather. Before she was able to get a hold of herself, she fainted.
Georgiana, Lady Sarah and Mrs. Annesley arrived back at Darcy House and promptly went in search of Elizabeth. They found her in Darcy's study along with the Duchess of Montesford, still engaged in an earnest conversation. Realizing the time, Elizabeth apologized to her cousin for not having returned to her grandfather's house.
"That is quite alright," Georgiana replied. "His Grace was kind enough to examine Miss Appleton's purchase and then brought us all upstairs to see his famous atlas."
"Where are William and Jane now?" Elizabeth asked.
"Oh, a curious thing happened. I mentioned to William that Miss Appleton had a toy cow very similar to the one in the Duke's portrait with his mother. The next thing that I knew, the Duke and William were escorting Jane to Grosvenor Square to look at her toy and the rest of us were walking home!"
Georgiana had barely finished her reply when the Duchess took her leave, followed by Elizabeth. As soon as they were alone in the Montesford carriage, Lady Farrington looked at her daughter and said the one thing that she would have given her life to avoid.
"Elizabeth, as much as it pains me to say this to you, there is a chance that Johanna is only your half-sister. Matthew might well be her father. The timing being as it was, I have no way of knowing. I wonder if it would be better for Jane if she were to return to her life in Hockley ignorant of all of this."
"No word shall ever pass from me to anyone else of anything that you have told me today. I only know one thing for certain, mama. You are my mother. You are Johanna's mother. My father is dead and Johanna's father is either dead or dead to her. In addition to you, we have a grandfather and aunts, uncles and cousins all of whom care for us. It is more than most people are fortunate enough to have. If Jane is indeed Johanna, no matter how much the Appletons loved her, it is not the same as your own blood. "
When the Duchess of Montesford and Lady Elizabeth arrived at the Grosvenor address, they soon realized that that Lady Farrington's hesitancy concerning Jane Appleton had all been for naught. Based upon the exclamations emanating from the floor above, the knowledge had now been generally discovered. Elizabeth took her of her mother's arm and the two of them walked slowly up the stairs to join the rest of their family.
After Elizabeth and Maria Farrington had entered Mr. Bingley's study, the information about the toy in Jane's possession was quickly relayed to them. While the Duchess remained somewhat formal, Elizabeth rushed to Jane and caught her in a tight embrace. "I knew that something caused me to have such affinity with you," Lizzy whispered. "I am so glad to know to what it actually is due."
Jane said nothing but tears flowed from her eyes. The gentlemen were discussing the need for John Appleton to return to Hockley to bring his father and Jane's childhood dress back to London, when the door to Bingley's study was suddenly thrown open. Jane looked up with enthusiasm hoping to see Charles Bingley but it turned out to be Miss Bingley and Louisa Hurst.
Miss Bingley quickly looked around the room and seeing her brother absent, began to wonder whom it was who had so liberally passed out his brandy and port.
"Where is Charles?" she asked Mr. Darcy.
"I have no idea, Miss Bingley. I have not seen him this day. His Grace and I brought Miss Appleton home from the Duke's house, since we had some matters to discuss with both Jane and her brother John."
As Darcy spoke, Carolyn noticed that John Appleton was pouring himself a refill of brandy. She turned to Mrs. Hurst. "Sister," she began. "I am not familiar with guests who are casual acquaintances taking such liberalities with their host's good will, are you ?"
"Indeed not, sister," Louisa said, with a pointed stare at Appleton. "And I would have thought that the son of a parson would have no taste for drink."
"She confuses him with her husband," Elizabeth muttered to her cousin who swallowed his smirk at a glare from his great uncle.
"We thank you for your hospitality, Miss Bingley," John Appleton said evenly. "We will however be leaving today, I to Hockley to fetch my father back to London. Jane will be staying his Grace."
Caroline Bingley suddenly realized that there was a peer of the realm in her brother's small study but she could not fathom why. She was about to demand to be told what was going on when the Duke of Wiltingham provided the answer.
"Should Mr. Bingley wish to visit with Jane, or rather I should say, with Lady Johanna Fitzwilliam, he would be very welcome to do so at either my home or Darcy House. And now madame, you must excuse us as we proceed to a family reunion eighteen years in the waiting,"
With that, the Duke of Wiltingham walked out of the room, with his daughter on his arm, followed by Darcy escorting his two Fitzwilliam cousins. The door to the Bingley study remained ajar long enough for passing servants to view their mistresses with their mouths agape in a position more suitable to catching flies than to exhibiting good graces.
Arthur Nesbitt decided to return the group to his home after offering John Appleton the use of one of his coaches for his travel to Hockley when he was ready to depart. Darcy joined Elizabeth and her mother in the Montesford carriage while Jane, clutching her small cow, boarded the Wiltingham coach.
Darcy noticed the small smile on his cousin's face and raised his eyebrow at her. She smiled more widely at him and then said, "Mama and William, I suspect that the news of Johanna's recovery will be spread around town like a wild fire."
"How so?" the Duchess asked.
"She means the Bingley sisters, madame. After trying their best to insult Miss Appleton for several weeks, they will no doubt be eager to spread the story that the granddaughter of a Duke was their house guest."
"Does their brother have an interest in Johanna?" her Grace asked. "I hope that he is of a greater constancy than the two of them."
"Bingley is my closest friend," Darcy replied. "He is a very good man. His attentions to Miss Appleton after all began when he thought that she was the daughter of a cleric."
"I believe that Jane admires him quite a bit. We were teasing each other about such things a few days ago and that was my conclusion."
"What or perhaps should I ask whom was she teasing you about, Elizabeth?" the Duchess asked. She laughed softly as her daughter fumbled about for a reply and finally, after developing a fine blush on her features, said nothing at all. The Duchess looked across the carriage at her other passenger who, as he stared out of the window, appeared to have acquired some color of his own.
Posted on Sunday, 30 December 2007
Matthew Farrington and Michael Jones walked out of the Hancock Inn each in a foul mood. To the ire of both they had not found Sam Wilkens within; moreover Jones was starting to worry that his position with the Duke was no longer secure. By sheer luck, while attending the burial service for Fanny Burnwell, Farrington had overheard the gossiping cook from the Edderley household tell his own butler the tale of her having been a go-between for Fanny and her longtime beau. She had expressed great sadness at having had the duty of informing him that Fanny was gone, in a letter sent to him. As soon as the services were over, the Duke had dispatched Jones to the local mail office where he had learned the address on Mrs. Driscoll's letter. The two of them had immediately left for Bristol.
Farrington knew that Wilkens was no fool but even he was surprised that the man had continued to cover his tracks so effectively. He and Jones decided to travel to the docks to make some inquiries but he believed that he was likely already gone. That would leave Wilkens as the only survivor of that day in 1794, other than himself and Michael Jones and of course, Elizabeth Fitzwilliam. The other accomplices were all dead, some for years and most at the hands of Mr. Jones.
Two hours later, two other men walked out of the Brewster Inn and prepared to return to London. Unlike Michael Jones, the two associates of Edward Fitzwilliam had been able to gather intelligence on where Sam Wilkens had been going after his recent departure from Kent. Their uniforms from His Majesty's Service had perhaps made them seem more trustworthy. Whatever the case they had soon determined that he had traveled to Bristol, from where he and a friend would book passage to the West Indies. However, according to the innkeeper, no one had met Wilkens at his establishment and after a stay of several days, the man had abruptly paid his bill and left that same morning without any word of his plans.
Charles Bingley wasted no time presenting himself at the Duke of Wiltingham's house as early as he thought was acceptable earning himself a bit of a stare from Mr. Hodges. The butler did however escort him to the breakfast room where Arthur Nesbitt was happily hosting his daughter and both of his granddaughters. Elizabeth had decided to spend the night at her grandfather's with her new sister. They all stood when Bingley entered and for a moment, the young man was tongue-tied. For one matter, based on his sister's garbled recitations he was not actually certain as to what had occurred in his home on the prior day. He gratefully slipped into the chair that Nesbitt directed him to and hoped that someone would explain to him what had come to pass.
"Bingley, I assume that you have heard our news?" the Duke asked.
"Your Grace, I have heard that something happened yesterday, but it is not clear to me exactly what that was," Bingley replied as he grew a little red.
"Ah. Well your sisters did seem a bit overcome by the events," Nesbitt laughed. "The news is that we have determined that Miss Appleton is actually our other missing child, Johanna Fitzwilliam."
As the Duke and the Duchess watched Bingley's reaction closely, Charles turned to Jane with a wide smile.
"Miss Appleton, this is such wonderful news. You have found your real family after all of these years!" he exclaimed. "But what of John and Reverend George? They must have taken this news quite hard, to now be losing you." "Not that it is not a great miracle, of course," he added.
Jane was already quite flushed to the amusement of her sister.
"Thank you for your good wishes, Mr. Bingley. I have hardly started to understand what has happened," she replied. "John is even now bringing our father, Reverend Appleton here so he may discuss the news in person. He will also fetch some additional belongings of mine from when I was found."
"May I asked how this information was discovered?" Bingley said.
"By this, Mr. Bingley," the Duke said, pointing to a old wooden cow that now sat in front of him. This was my toy as a young boy and I gave it to Johanna when she was a youngster. It still bears my initials."
"My mother also believed she recognized her," Elizabeth added quietly. "And fortunately, my cousin Georgiana noticed that the Duke was holding a toy in a portrait of himself as a child which was very similar to Jane's cow, which happily had traveled with her to London."
Jane blushed even more furiously with that and gave her sister a swift glare. He must think me me a childish goose, she fretted.
Charles Bingley had picked up the cow and was looking at the carved initials pointed out by Wiltingham. Apropos to nothing, he remarked that he had owned a wooden sheep as a child which he carried with him everywhere until it was deliberately broken by Caroline. Jane looked relieved and Elizabeth muttered under her breath, "thank God that Lord Andrew is not present."
Bingley was confused by the laughter that rang out but being a good humored man, joined in. The Duke caught his daughter's eye and nodded very slightly, to which she responded by a dip of her head. Whatever the faults of the man's sisters, they would not stand in the way of his interest in Johanna, which already appeared to be great indeed. With that, Nesbitt invited Charles Bingley to join them for dinner at Matlock House later that evening, where the Fitzwilliams and they hoped, the Appletons would be joining them.
At first light on Thursday, the Duchess had sent a note to her personal maid, instructing her to pack several trunks of her clothing as well as Dora's own belongings, to be picked up by the Duke's carriage at noon. Soon after Bingley departed, Dora and the clothing arrived and Elizabeth and Jane went to their mother's chambers to help her unpack. Dora also informed the Duchess that they had received word that her husband was not expected to return to London until Saturday. He had left shortly after their housekeeper's funeral and she already had anticipated him to be away for several days. Her decision to speak to Elizabeth and seek security at her father's home had in part been inspired by that absence.
The Duchess had noted that Jane's size and build were similar to hers and suggested that she wear one of her gowns to dinner at the Fitzwilliams. When Elizabeth observed that they had selected a pink gown, she excused herself for a moment and stepped out into the hall. Catching the attention of a passing footman, she asked him to bring a message to Mr. Hodges. The footman was somewhat confused that it contained only one word but did as he was instructed. Elizabeth returned to her mother's room controlling her giggles.
Once the gown decisions were made - Elizabeth intended to return to Darcy House by mid-afternoon in order to dress -- the three women settled into the Duchess's sitting room. She looked around it and smiled somewhat sadly but made no comment about it. Instead, she asked Jane about her stepmother, Joan Appleton.
"She was very kind to me, ma'am. They had always wanted more children," Jane replied. "She was several years younger than my father but died unexpectedly in her sleep when I was thirteen. It was very difficult on all of us at first."
"Did you go on parish visits?" Elizabeth asked.
"I did but never alone. My parents were somewhat cautious about me."
"How did you meet Mr. Bingley?" the Duchess asked.
That topic caused Jane to smile. "He and his sisters were visiting a mutual friend of my brother's in Essex, in Rochford. We met at a dinner party and then again at an assembly in Hockley. He eventually invited us to visit him here in London. He introduced us to Elizabeth and the Darcys."
"He has been William's closest friend for several years," Elizabeth said. "I would think that speaks very well of him."
"Yes, my dear. I believe that William mentioned that to me."
"Mr. Bingley speaks very highly of Mr. Darcy as well," Jane added.
"I think that we have ascertained that they are two fine young men who think well of each other," Maria Farrington said with a smile. "I think that they also think very well of the two of you."
"Oh, mama," one daughter protested as the other asked, "do you really think so?"
"Jane, of course Mr. Bingley admires you," Elizabeth said, shaking her head. "If he had called here any earlier today, he would have brought in the milk."
The Duchess laughed. "And what about William, Elizabeth?"
"William has been very kind to me, mama. But I believe he would be so to any family member under the circumstances."
"Oh, Lizzy, you would not find him looking at your cousin de Bourgh the way that he looks at you!"
The tables now turned, Jane took her revenge. "Elizabeth,' she said, "I know of an even better authority on Mr. Darcy's opinion of you!"
"Yes, Jane?" Elizabeth actually sounded a bit peevish with her sister.
"Why, Miss Bingley, of course. You are fortunate that she is not descended from Medusa for you would surely be a column at Grosvenor Square by now had that been the case."
Even Elizabeth eventually had to laugh at that.
As Elizabeth walked to her chambers at Darcy House an hour later, she encountered her cousin Darcy coming out of his own with a sheet of correspondence in his hand.
"This may well shock you, Lizzy," he said. "The Parkers have actually returned to town. They will send for Lady Sarah tomorrow."
"I have to say, William that their attentions to her seem somewhat lacking to me," she replied softly. "When I took the position as governess to her, I had no idea that they traveled so extensively. Sarah is a fine young lady but I imagine that she would wish to see her mother more often."
"Lady Parker is a somewhat self-involved woman," Darcy said.
"I could not imagine leaving my own children for such a period of time," Elizabeth said.
"I do not imagine that you will," Darcy smiled. "Have you returned to dress for dinner?"
"Yes. Jane and my mother are staying at the Duke's house. Mama is providing Jane with a gown and I did my duty and provided my grandfather with a hint about its color."
Darcy laughed. "Excellent. I am sure she will be happily surprised. I will see you shortly. I must respond to the Parkers and find the girls and tell them the news."
With a bow to his cousin, Darcy headed towards the staircase.
A spirit of almost dizzying delight had taken over Lady Susan as she waited for her company to arrive. She had been stunned by the note which she had received from the Duke of Wiltingham. With all of the excitement surrounding Elizabeth's discovery, it had not occurred to her to consider Miss Appleton's equally unusual childhood.
The first guest to arrive was Charles Bingley. Lord Andrew suppressed a laugh as he offered the young man a glass of wine. His enthusiasm was palpable. Darcy and Elizabeth arrived next; Georgiana did not accompany them, opting with their blessing to spend her last evening with her friend.
"Bingley, I did not realize that you would be here," Darcy said.
"Forgive me, William. Grandfather invited him this morning but I neglected to tell you," Elizabeth replied.
The three of them spoke companionably until the next guests arrived, who were John and the Reverend Appleton. Lord Andrew quickly approached them.
"Welcome to my home, sir," the Earl said to George Appleton. "I know that you are here under what must be quite astonishing circumstances to you."
"Thank you, Lord Matlock. I have had the length of the trip to try to absorb what John told me but I admit that I still am stunned by it," Reverend Appleton replied. As Lady Susan joined them, he continued. "I feel the deepest regret that we did not search more vigorously for Jane's family."
"Sir, please do not berate yourself," Susan said. "The only persons to blame are those who originally perpetrated the crime."
The gentleman bowed. "Thank you, Lady Matlock." He turned to his son. "John, perhaps you can give the clothing to the Countess."
Lady Susan took the small package from the Appletons and stepped away with it, heading to her husband's study. She knew that she should likely wait for the Duke and Maria Farrington to arrive, but she could not resist opening it directly. A few seconds after she entered the room, she looked up to see Elizabeth joining her.
"Do you recognize the dress, Lady Susan?" she asked.
The Countess of Matlock was holding a small green dress that had small ducks embroidered on its hem. She started to cry.
"Oh Lizzy," she said, "I made this dress for her. I gave it to her that year at Easter, to amuse her during the visit. Actually neither the Duke nor Maria ever saw it."
The sounds coming from down the hall heralded the arrival of more company. Lady Susan asked Elizabeth to go ahead without her. To Elizabeth's surprise, the Gardiners and Mary Bennet had just appeared.
"Aunt, uncle! And Mary. I am very happy to see you."
"I am glad to see you as well, Elizabeth," her uncle replied. "I think that Lord Andrew may have invited us tonight to reassure the Appletons that they will not be banished from Jane's life."
Finally, Arthur Nesbitt, the Duchess of Montesford and Jane made their appearance as the clock struck seven. As she moved forward to greet her, Elizabeth happily noted that her sister wore a pink shaded pearl pendant on a fine gold chain. The Duke was introduced to the Reverend Appleton and the two men stepped away for a private conversation. In the meanwhile, the Matlocks eagerly greeted the young lady now known to them as their niece.
"Where is Colonel Fitzwilliam this evening?" Jane asked.
"Edward had something to attend to, unfortunately. He sends his regrets but I am certain that we will see him on the weekend."
Charles Bingley came over to join them and Lady Susan excused herself in order to speak to the Duchess.
"Maria, they brought the dress," she whispered. "I recognized it immediately for I actually made it for her that spring. Come, it is in Andrew's study."
When Lady Susan handed her the dress, Maria Farrington started to cry. She thought back to those days and how much her sister had doted on her little girls. She ran her finger around one of the embroidered ducks.
"So many years, Susan. So many lost years," she said.
"The girls are home again. It is over, Maria. We can all start over."
The Countess of Matlock would later recall those words on more than one occasion.
After attending church services, Reverend Appleton and his son had departed for Hockley. The weekend had been a bittersweet one for them. Despite their happiness for Jane and the assurances of all concerned, they realized that their own family had changed forever.
After seeing them off, Arthur Nesbitt, his daughter and granddaughters as well as Darcy, Charles Bingley and Edward Fitzwilliam stood outside of his home enjoying the spring air. The Colonel had returned the day before to report that the search for Sam Wilkens appeared to have reached a dead end. His men had been unable to trace Wilkens' movements after he left his lodgings in Bristol. They had also turned up no evidence that he had sailed for the Americas, at least not from the nearby port.
The Duchess tried to conceal her unease as she made conversation with Jane and Bingley. Her husband had likely returned to London on the prior day and she imagined that he would soon appear to demand that she return to his home. Although she was made hopeful by the support of her father, the fierceness of her husband's will could not easily be disregarded by her.
As if she had deliberately conjured up a specter, the quiet of St. James Square was suddenly broken by the clattering of horses' hooves as the Montesford carriage entered the street. The coach had barely drawn to a stop when Matthew Farrington jumped out of it. He was soon standing in front of his wife.
"You can imagine my surprise when I returned home last night to learn that not only was my wife not within but also that several trunks of her belongings and her maid had been removed from my house. Madame, what is going on here?" he demanded.
The Duchess instinctively recoiled from him but was defiant in her response.
"I have asked my father for sanctuary. I will no longer live with you, knowing what I do now."
The calmness of Farrington's voice defied the emotion that was taking control of him.
"You are my wife. You will return home with me now."
The Duke of Wiltingham then stepped in between the couple.
"She will do no such thing, Montesford. She has come home to live with myself and her daughters. And by God if she desires it, I will do everything in my power to obtain a divorce for her."
"A divorce?" Farrington said incredulously. "Have you finally reached your dotage? This will not stand."
Suddenly, Montesford stopped speaking and glanced at the others as if he was noticing them for the first time. "Her daughters," he repeated slowly. He looked at the two young women. "So you have concluded that Miss Appleton is Johanna."
Jane stepped back from the Duke's appraising gaze and was shocked when he began to laugh. "I had always wondered about it, you know. I.."
Whatever he intended to say next was lost in the ensuing commotion as a man on horseback raced into the yard in front of the Nesbitt home and before anyone could react, drew out a pistol and shot Matthew Farrington in the head.
"Why did you have to kill her?" Sam Wilkens asked as he stared down at the body of the Duke of Montesford. "We were set to leave for the Indies. We would not have troubled you." Then he looked towards Maria Farrington.
"He murdered him, you know. He murdered them all."
Suddenly another shot rang out even as Colonel Fitzwilliam was moving to unseat Wilkens from his horse. Michael Jones had emerged from the Farrington carriage. His first shot having gone wide, Jones was withdrawing a second pistol when an armed member of the Nesbitt household emerged and shot him in the shoulder. Two footmen ran out of the house and were in the process of wrestling him to the ground, when a scream cut the air.
"It is my mother," Elizabeth cried out. "He has shot my mother."
Jones' shot had missed Sam Wilkens but had hit the Duchess of Montesford.
Edward Fitzwilliam handed off Wilkens to two more footmen and rushed to Maria Farrington, followed by Darcy and Arthur Nesbitt. She appeared to have already lost consciousness. The Colonel quickly determined that she was bleeding from the vicinity of her groin and without hesitation, gathered the fabric in the area and pressed tightly against it.
"Bingley, help us get her into the house," he shouted. "Hodges, send for Theodore Curtis, at Brunswick Square."
The four men carried the Duchess into the house and into a small parlor adjoining the entrance hall. They had just laid her upon a sofa when her father staggered back and fell onto a chair. Darcy called for the butler to assist his master and then turned to his cousin, who had carefully lifted up skirt of the Duchess's dress.
"How bad is it, Edward?" he murmured.
"I think he hit the main artery at the top of her leg," the Colonel said quietly as he all the while maintained pressure on the wound. "I do not know if we can stop the bleeding."
The wait for the surgeon appeared interminable. When he arrived, he quickly gave orders to the butler and the housekeeper and began to prepare his instruments. The activity in the room suddenly stirred the Duchess who had not opened her eyes since she was shot. Focusing on the people around her, she saw her nephews with Charles Bingley standing helplessly a few feet behind them.
"William, Mr. Bingley," she called out. "My daughters are in love with you, you must know. Take good care with them." Then she weakly nodded at Darcy.
"William," the Duchess whispered as he moved closer in an effort to hear her. "I made Elizabeth promise to keep a secret for me but I was wrong to do so. I fear that she will not be able to bear it alone. Tell her that she must share it with you."
She closed her eyes again as the surgeon urged them all from the room. They retreated to the drawing room, where they found Elizabeth and Jane and their grandfather. The Wiltingham physician had also arrived and was attending to Arthur Nesbitt.
Before anyone could ask, Darcy simply said, "the surgeon is with her. We do not know."
Several hours later, a weary Theodore Curtis entered the drawing room and sat down opposite of the Duke of Wiltingham.
"Your Grace," he began, "the bullet damaged the femoral artery in your daughter's abdomen. I repaired what damage I could see but I do not know if I found it all. Even if I did, the blood loss is excessive. All we can do now is wait."
Maria Farrington, Duchess of Montesford, died four hours later.
The events in St. James Square resulted in the appearance of the Bow Street commander along with several of his men. They removed the body of Matthew Farrington from where it lay sprawled in the street. Michael Jones had been taken into the cellar of the Nesbitt house and eventually had been seen by the surgeon. His wound, which likely had stopped him from shooting anyone else, was judged superficial and he was taken away by the detectives. So was Samuel Wilkens, who had shown no resistance at all after murdering the Duke of Montesford.
The Earl and Countess of Matlock had rushed to Wiltingham's house to join a family already in shock. Arthur Nesbitt's physician did not believe him to be in immediate peril but had advised that he limit his activities for the next few days. He had also prescribed a restorative tea. Now, the man sat silently in his drawing room as the Matlocks kept watch over him.
Jane Appleton was in her own way the most affected. Having just received the gift of her real mother, she could not comprehend that she had already lost her. Charles Bingley sat next to her on a sofa and boldly but gently held her hand, whispering to her and occasionally offering her a handkerchief, which she automatically returned after each use.
Darcy and Elizabeth stood at the window overlooking the house's garden. Somewhat impulsively, he asked her if she wished to step outside while the sun was still aloft. She agreed and after they ascertained that no one else wished to join them, they walked downstairs and then into the garden.
The garden contained a small fountain embellished with a prancing faun. The couple took their seats on a bench near the fountain and for a few moments, silently watched the flow of the water.
Finally, Elizabeth spoke. "She was so very tormented, William. I think back to the elegy that she sang when we dined at their home. She craved absolution but did not feel that she deserved it."
"Did she blame herself for what happened in 1794? How can that be?" he asked.
"Yes, she did. She believed herself guilty of that and more." With that she fell silent.
Darcy thought back to what the Duchess had said to him that morning.
"Elizabeth," he began. "Before the surgeon arrived to attend to your mother, she spoke to Charles and myself about you and Jane and then to me alone. She told me that she had given you a secret too weighty for you to bear alone and she asked, nay she practically ordered that you share it with me."
Elizabeth looked at him in surprise. "Did she say what it concerned?"
"No, she did not. While I sense that this is not the time for us to speak of it or of other things for that matter, I wanted you to know that when you are ready I will hear whatever you need to tell me. And you may be certain that I will keep yours and your mother's confidence."
"I thank you, sir," she said softly. "You may depend that I will rely upon your kindness."
They sat together quietly as the sun set behind them.
The next day was filled with the necessary rituals that keep grief from becoming an overwhelming force. Appropriate clothes needed to be ordered for Jane and Elizabeth, although Elizabeth had already dressed in a gown which she had from her mourning for her step-father. Servants had started dressing the house for the mourning period. The two girls spent some time with their grandfather in the room where the body of their mother had been laid out. To Elizabeth's eye, she looked strikingly at peace in death.
After a few minutes, she kissed her grandfather on the forehead and left the room. She went downstairs to find her Aunt Fitzwilliam in the dining parlor who sat at the table absently stirring a cup of tea with a spoon.
"Elizabeth, dear," Lady Susan said. "I came to see if I could be of any assistance."
"Thank you, Lady Susan. We have already seen to our clothing, at least some of it. My Aunt Gardiner was kind enough to bring Marta here this morning and she took measurements for Jane."
"Will the Gardiners visit later?" Lady Susan asked.
"I think so but they also received some surprising news last night, from Deal. The husband of Mrs. Bennet's sister, Arnold Phillips was found dead in jail last weekend. As you recall, he was arrested through the efforts of my cousin Edward for his role in my kidnapping."
"My goodness. Did they say what happened?"
"Not at any great length. The report came from Mrs. Phillips however, who is admittedly a rather stupid woman."
"Why did it take so long to notify them of the death?" Lady Susan asked.
Elizabeth shook her head in exasperation. "Mrs. Phillips forgot that the Bennets had traveled to London not to Hertfordshire. She sent the express to Longbourn. Of course, no one in the neighborhood knew where the Bennets had gone."
"So the Gardiners will travel to Deal?"
"I believe that my Uncle Gardiner will escort the Bennets there. He is in the unenviable position of being the only male of age in the family."
Lady Susan returned the conversation to their own loss. "Has the Duke made any decision about the burial?" she asked.
"We talked about it briefly. I think he is inclined to bury her at Claresfont, if that is acceptable to you and Lord Andrew."
"Of course it is. She should be with your father."
"What will become of Montesford?" Elizabeth asked after awhile.
"I imagine that his solicitor and household will arrange for his burial, probably at his estate in Nottinghamshire. There will likely be some involvement for you in your mother's affairs but we will allow the attorneys handle that."
Their conversation was eventually interrupted by the arrival of the first condolence callers. The day moved slowly on.
Subsequent to the funeral of Maria Farrington, the family remained together at the Matlock estate for several weeks. Elizabeth found distraction in wandering the house and grounds once again, searching for the briefest spark of a memory of her times there. Jane sometimes joined her although not with much enthusiasm. Mr. Bingley had traveled to Nottinghamshire as well and Elizabeth believed that her sister derived great comfort from his presence although neither chose to speak of it. The family had also been joined by Margaret Gardiner, who had decided to forgo Arnold Phillips' funeral in an effort to be of use to Elizabeth. Absent however were Lady Catherine and Anne de Bourgh who had sent no response to the express delivered to Rosings.
After a month had passed since the deaths in St. James Square, a representative of the Crown Prosecutor in London named Saunders arrived at Claresfont, to discuss the upcoming trials of Samuel Wilkens and Michael Jones. Wilkens had also given them a detailed description of the events of 1794. To his knowledge all of the original conspirators except for himself and Jones were now dead. The authorities had prepared a copy of his confession for the Duke who met with the man along with Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"Mr. Jones has continued to deny his involvement in the death of the Earl of Matlock and has similarly denied any knowledge of the death of Fanny Burnwell," Saunders said. "We presently intend to try him for both your daughter's murder as well as that of James Fitzwilliam."
"Will we need to appear as witnesses?" Arthur Nesbitt asked.
"It would be useful if one of you appeared," Saunders advised them. "Your man Hodges will testify but he did not actually see Jones fire his weapon. He only saw the Duchess collapse."
"I will do it," the Duke of Wiltingham said. "I have need to return to London to meet with Farrington's attorneys and review Maria's will."
"I will accompany you if you wish," Colonel Fitzwilliam said. "I must report to my post under any circumstances."
"Sir," Darcy began. "I would wish to be there as well if it would be helpful."
"It is not necessary, William," Nesbitt replied. "You will do greater good here, I believe."
"Your Grace, there is another matter I must discuss with you," Saunders interjected at that point. "Sam Wilkens has confessed to numerous capital crimes. There is the question of his sentence. It will automatically be death but given the complicated circumstances of the events, we wished to solicit your opinion on this."
The Duke looked at him for a long while.
"The villain here has already met his fate as far as I am concerned. I cannot dismiss the fact that Wilkens did not follow his orders concerning the fate of the girls. There will be no satisfaction for me in seeing the man hanged. However, I would defer to the opinion of the Earl of Matlock for it was his brother who was murdered."
A few hours later, Saunders left Claresfont after having made general plans to meet with the Duke upon the latter's return to London. He also carried with him the family's consensus that Samuel Wilkins should be transported to Botany Bay rather than be executed.
Both Elizabeth and Jane expressed their desire to accompany their grandfather back to town but their requests were firmly denied.
"I believe that it will be better for you both to remain in the country," he said. "When this business is done with, we can travel to Fairview together later in the summer."
Arthur Nesbitt returned to London a fortnight later. The evening before he left, he sought out Darcy whom he found alone, reading in the Claresfont library.
"William, may I have a word with you?" he asked.
Darcy looked up and laid aside his book.
"Of course, your Grace."
The older man sat down.
"It is about Lizzy that I wish to speak," the Duke began. "There is something amiss with her. She tries to display her natural good humor within the limits of the present circumstances but there have been several times when I have found her looking very distraught. I think that it goes beyond the tragedy that we have sustained. I have encouraged her to speak of it to me but she will not."
"I believe that I have seen some of those same moments," Darcy said quietly.
"I do not think that staying at Claresfont is helping her. For one thing, Jane's overflowing emotions are too disconcerting to her. I do not mean to be cruel in this view but I do not think that Elizabeth can see to her own feelings while she tries to both understand and minister to her sister."
"What would you have me do, sir?" Darcy asked.
"I want you to take her to Pemberley."
Darcy looked at his great uncle with surprise as Nesbitt continued. "Your sister and her companion would also do well to get back to their routine. And, I have already spoken to Mrs. Gardiner. She is willing to accompany Elizabeth to your home and can remain there for several more weeks."
When Darcy did not reply, the Duke of Wiltingham smiled at him.
"William, I have no doubt that the two of you have formed an attachment to one another in your own clever ways. Elizabeth has perhaps been less obvious in her displays but she is dealing at the same time with the profound upheaval in her life. Even if I am incorrect, which I do not believe to be the case, it would be very beneficial for her to have some time to herself. Please, do this for me."
Thus a week after Arthur Nesbitt returned to London, Elizabeth and her aunt Gardiner along with Georgiana Darcy and Mrs. Annesley were in the Darcy carriage traveling through Derbyshire. Mr. Darcy himself had gone ahead to oversee the preparations for his new visitors.
A very small part of Mrs. Gardiner's willingness to accompany her niece to Pemberley was her own familiarity with the area: prior to her marriage she had spent several years in the town of Lambton, which was not five miles from the estate. She thus spent a portion of the trip speaking to Miss Darcy and Mrs. Annesley of her recollections. Georgiana was particularly delighted to learn that once or twice during Mrs. Gardiner's girlhood, she had caught a glimpse of the young lady's mother as the Darcy carriage traveled through the town. Elizabeth added little to the conversation but smiled warmly at her aunt's stories.
The coach was already on the estate's main road when it came to a sudden stop. They had arrived at a clearing that overlooked the great house. Elizabeth glanced out of the window and without realizing it, gasped. Pemberley was a handsome stone building that stood in a shallow valley below them; it worked in remarkable harmony with nature. A stream ran some yards in front and the woods reappeared at a pleasing distance to the rear: the grounds though orderly did not shout of artifice. Elizabeth thought that it was the most beautiful place that she had ever seen.
She looked at Georgiana and saw a happy smile on the girl's face.
"Do you like the house, Lizzy? This is the best view of it in the park."
Georgiana's enthusiasm made Elizabeth temporarily forget her troubles.
"I believe that I have never seen a more beautiful place," she replied earnestly. "You must always long to return here."
"Yes. Town has its virtues but I am always homesick for Pemberley. William of course spends at least half of the year here and usually returns once or twice during the season for some matter or another."
The carriage began to move again as Georgiana pointed out various aspects of the estate to Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner. Before long, they were in the courtyard in front of the house, where its owner was already waiting.
As the coach stopped, Darcy stepped forward to help the women disembark. He kissed his sister on the cheek and greeted both Mrs. Annesley and Mrs. Gardiner with great civility. Elizabeth was the last to step out. After he had seen her safely to the ground, he bowed over her hand and favored it with a gentle kiss.
"Welcome to Pemberley, cousin."
In September 1813, the Reverend George Appleton traveled to Staffordshire to joyfully officiate at the marriage of his step-daughter Lady Johanna Fitzwilliam to Charles Bingley as well as that of Lady Elizabeth Fitzwilliam to Fitzwilliam Darcy. As Arthur Nesbitt escorted his granddaughters down the aisle of Fairview's exquisite Gothic chapel, he could not help but think of their father and mother. He believed that James would have approved of the young men: he already knew that Maria had done so.
Bingley's sisters appeared in all of their finery and offered expressions of joy which may have been partially sincere, since they had traded their animosity towards the preacher's daughter for the satisfaction of claiming a familiar relationship to a duke and an earl. Miss Bingley took particular comfort in the presence at Fairview of Malcolm Fitzwilliam, the Viscount Lindsey, despite being offered no encouragement from the man himself.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner arrived at Fairview with their four lively children and Miss Mary Bennet who now resided with them in London. Mr. William Collins and his wife had finally taken possession of Longbourn in the New Year. With great expressions of self-pity, Mrs. Bennet had sought refuge in Deal at the home of her widowed sister Phillips. Her two younger daughters accompanied her but her eldest gratefully accepted a place in her uncle's home. Elizabeth Fitzwilliam Darcy would be a frequent topic of conversation in the Phillips-Bennet household. Mrs. Bennet would go to her grave several decades hence still lamenting the lack of solicitude towards her by her former step-daughter.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her daughter did not acknowledge their invitation to the Fitzwilliam sisters' weddings. After several attempts to heal the breach with his sister, Lord Andrew Fitzwilliam abandoned his efforts after she refused to receive him when he called upon her at Rosings. Ultimately, the cessation of all intercourse with the de Bourghs gave the Fitzwilliams little cause to repine.
The whims of fate had caused Matthew Farrington to predecease his wife by some hours, leaving her daughters with the ownership of his Greenwood estate. Neither woman had any desire to reside there and an eligible buyer was eventually sought for both that house and the one in town. The combination of Maria Farrington's original settlement from her marriage to James Fitzwilliam and the one from Montesford left her daughters with incomes that exceeded that of one of their husbands and came close to that of the other.
Mr. and Mrs. Bingley resided at Fairview only until they were able to purchase an estate in Derbyshire at an equal distance to Fairview, Claresfont and Pemberley. Thus to the delight of all, the newly joined couples and the restored Nesbitt and Fitzwilliam families found themselves within a day's travel from one another. By some unspoken accord, they spent their time together dwelling not on the troubles of the past but on the promise of the future. They each looked forward to the days to come with hope and pleasure.