Posted on: 2011-07-10
"Mama, there is a fine carriage coming up the drive. Could it be Jane and Lizzy returned?" asked Mary.
Mrs. Bennet rose and rushed over to the window. It was a fine, large carriage indeed. She tried to recall what Mr. Darcy's carriage looked like but could only remember Mr. Bingley's. Ah, Mr. Bingley. If Jane and Lizzy were in the company of Mr. Darcy's sister and had become good friends with her, then that could only signify that Jane and Mr. Bingley had reconciled. Jane had mentioned nothing of it in her letters; but, she imagined her most beautiful daughter was just being modest. Well, there was no call for modesty; everyone would know eventually that they are resuming their courtship so why should she not let it slip early.
Mrs. Bennet rushed outside to greet her daughters and their guest. Mr. Bennet and Mary joined her at a more sedate pace. Therefore, all three Bennets were able to share their surprise when the carriage door opened and Mr. Darcy himself stepped out.
Darcy exited the carriage and turned to help down first Georgiana, then Jane, and finally Elizabeth. As Elizabeth stepped down, she squeezed William's hand in an offer of comfort. She could tell that he was nervous about speaking with her father. She had warned him earlier that Mr. Bennet might require confirmation from her that her feelings had changed. In the past, she held nothing back from her father regarding the "disagreeable" Mr. Darcy; therefore, he could have no way of knowing that her opinion was now altered.
Jane and Elizabeth came forward and hugged their mother and sister then kissed their father's cheek.
"It is good to finally have you home, my Lizzy. Can I talk you out of this trip to the Lakes that your aunt and uncle have planned?" asked Mr. Bennet.
"I have missed you, Papa. Yet, I will go on my trip and write to you often. Now let us greet our guests," replied Elizabeth.
"Papa, Mama, Mary, you remember Mr. Darcy," stated Elizabeth.
Mrs. Bennet and Mary curtsied while Mr. Bennet and Mr. Darcy bowed to each other.
"Mr. Bennet, Mrs. Bennet, Miss Mary, may I introduce my sister, Miss Georgiana Darcy?"
Mrs. Bennet stepped forward and curtsied. "Miss Darcy, welcome to Longbourn. I hope that you will feel at home during your visit. If there is anything you need or desire, just inform me and we will try to accommodate you."
Georgiana blushed. She wondered if Mrs. Bennet was of the impression that she was a spoiled debutant. She did not want Elizabeth's family to think ill of her or her brother so she stepped closer to Mrs. Bennet and took her hands and replied, "Mrs. Bennet, I am honored to be a guest in your home. I am sure that there is nothing needed to make me feel more welcome than what you have already provided."
It was Mrs. Bennet's turn to blush. Mr. Wickham had made mention that Miss Darcy was a proud, disagreeable young woman taking much after her brother. She saw nothing of that in the person standing before her. Perhaps Mr. Wickham had not seen Miss Darcy in a long while and was unaware of her change in demeanor. Well, regardless of anyone else's estimation, she liked this young girl.
"Shall we go inside and have some tea? I am sure that the ladies would like a few moments to refresh themselves," suggested Mr. Bennet.
The ladies made their way to the door with Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bennet behind them. Darcy knew this was the best time to request his meeting.
"Mr. Bennet, before we join the ladies, I was wondering if you could spare a moment for a private conversation," he asked nervously.
Mr. Bennet was surprised for the third time by this young man. The first was upon learning that the proud man would allow his sister to visit a family that he had shown disdain for just last fall; the second was that he took the time from his schedule to accompany his sister, Jane and Lizzy from London; and the third was that he would desire to say anything at all during this visit, much less in private.
"If you wish. Perhaps we will adjourn to my study for some coffee."
The two men entered the house and made their way to Mr. Bennet's sanctuary. He stopped Hill and requested coffee be served before walking in, taking a seat behind his desk and observing the man wondering around his domain looking at his book titles.
"Are you an avid reader, Mr. Darcy?" Mr. Bennet inquired.
Mr. Darcy replied, "Very much so. I have a decent library at Darcy House in town; but the one at Pemberley has been built over generations. Therefore, it is very large and contains many rare and first edition texts. Perhaps you will come and see it one day. I think you would appreciate the range of subject matter it contains."
Mr. Bennet was surprised yet again. He sat deliberating what could have come over the normally stoic Mr. Darcy when their coffee was delivered. After each man was served and was seated, Mr. Bennet inquired, "So, Mr. Darcy, what is it that you wish to speak to me about?"
"I seek your blessing to court your daughter, Miss Elizabeth," said Darcy in a rush.
Mr. Bennet was thankful that he was not sipping his coffee at that moment for he was sure he would have choked to death. How could this be possible? Lizzy hated this man. "Mr. Darcy," he managed to choke out, "have you spoken to my daughter regarding your wish to court her?"
"I have and my suit was accepted. I sought permission from Mr. Gardiner in your absence and was granted such until I could speak with you directly," replied Mr. Darcy.
"I see," remarked Mr. Bennet, "No, actually, I do not see. I realize that Lizzy has been gone for a long while; but I do know that when she left here she did not care for you at all. How is it that a couple of weeks in London have changed her mind?"
"I developed feelings for Miss Elizabeth before leaving here last November. She had been mislead about certain things in my past and did not care for me at all; unfortunately, I was not aware that she held me in such disdain. I went to Kent for my annual visit to my aunt and was surprised to find Miss Elizabeth visiting Mrs. Collins. I made my feelings known to her while there and she informed me, in no uncertain terms, just what she thought of my declaration. We argued and I learned why she despised me so. Before I left Kent, the misunderstandings between us were resolved; but, I had much to think on regarding my character. I was not happy with a lot of what I saw through her eyes and was resolved to change."
"I had just returned to London from assisting a friend at his estate, when I discovered that my cousin, who had met Miss Elizabeth in Kent, was hosting Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth and Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner at the theater and using my box. I was determined to prove myself to her, so I attended as well. We spent much time in each other's company after that night and I was able to win her affections. I cherish her and will do everything in my power to make her happy," concluded Mr. Darcy.
"You say she had been mislead about things in your past. Are you saying that Mr. Wickham's account is a falsehood?" questioned Mr. Bennet.
"I am. He asked for compensation in lieu of the living my father willed to him; which he was granted. He is a manipulator and a reprobate. He is not to be trusted."
Mr. Bennet considered the man in front of him. "So Mr. Wickham is not to be trusted. Why have the merchants in Meryton not been warned of this fact? Did you not think them important enough to be told of the dangers he poses?"
"As soon as I was made aware of Mr. Wickham's presence in the community, I sent for an associate to keep a watch on him. His commanding officer has been told of his character and my associate is watching his accounts. Should he incur more than a specified amount of credit, I have instructed my man to warn the merchant and guarantee payment only up to a certain amount. It will be up to the merchant whether or not he wishes to exceed that limit."
Mr. Bennet sighed. "That seems fair I suppose. Well, Mr. Darcy, there is nothing I have against you that would give me reason to withhold my consent to your suit. I reserve the right; however, to withdraw my consent should my daughter give a different accounting."
"I thank you, Mr. Bennet."
"Will you be remaining in Hertfordshire?"
"I am to return to London today. I have business I need to conclude and hope to return in ten to twelve days. I currently own the lease of Netherfield and I am in the process of buying it out right; so, Georgiana and I will be staying there when I return. I will be leaving my carriage housed in the Netherfield stables for use by the ladies should they need it. Word may be sent by Georgiana's maid to have it readied at any time," Mr. Darcy answered.
"Well, it seems all is settled then. Let us rejoin the ladies and make the announcement," said Mr. Bennet.
"Mama, where are Kitty and Lydia?" asked Jane.
Mrs. Bennet finished laying out the tea and replied, "They have gone into Meryton to have luncheon with your Aunt Phillips and some of the officers. I told them not to remain long for you would be returning; but, we did not expect you so soon."
"We went to the docks early this morning to farewell my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. He has been sent to Portugal at the special request of Wellington," explained Georgiana.
"A Colonel! How impressive! Is he very handsome? Is he married?" inquired Mrs. Bennet.
"MAMA!" exclaimed Elizabeth.
Georgiana just laughed. "No, he is not married; and, yes, he is very handsome. Unfortunately he is the second son to my uncle so he must marry with fortune in mind. Otherwise I think he would be perfect for Jane."
"GEORGIANA!" exclaimed Jane, this time.
Elizabeth and Georgiana broke into peals of laughter. Jane blushed furiously while Mrs. Bennet just shook her head and Mary looked at her eldest sister curiously.
"I am afraid, Miss Darcy, that Jane is already spoken for," replied Mrs. Bennet in a conspiratorial tone.
"Mama, you know that is not true. I have an understanding with no one," was Jane's rather sad reply.
Mrs. Bennet thought her gloomy demeanor was due to her spat with Mr. Bingley and answered, "Perhaps not at this moment; but, I am sure it will not be long. Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy are very good friends. I am sure you saw him while in London."
"We did see him, Mama, at the theater. He was there with his sister and was escorting a lady friend, Miss Thornton," Elizabeth informed her mother while trying to relieve Jane.
Mrs. Bennet sniffed. "Well, I am sure the lady was simply a friend of Miss Bingley. It signifies nothing."
"Mama, Mr. Bingley and I may be friends one day but nothing more. Please, do not get your hopes up or begin making assumptions that will never come to pass."
"They are not assumptions, they are fact. It is clear that you still love him; for a Mother can tell when her daughter has a broken heart. I am sure it is only a matter of time before he comes to his senses and realizes there is no lady more beautiful than you," assured Mrs. Bennet.
Jane was getting angry with her mother. Would she never listen? Perhaps she rattled on because her "most beautiful daughter" never stood her ground before, always giving in to preserve the peace. Well, no more.
"Mama, listen to me," said Jane in a stern voice. "I will not now nor will I ever marry Mr. Bingley. Should he come this morning and beg; I would refuse him. That is the fact you need to understand and I will not tolerate your speculations any longer."
Mrs. Bennet was taken aback. She had never heard Jane speak in such a manner to anyone, especially her.
"Jane, what has gotten into you? Talking so disrespectful to your Mother," reprimanded Mrs. Bennet.
Jane did feel guilty for being so rude to her mother; but it was hard to cope with all of this when she wanted to do nothing more than retire to her room and sob until the pain in her chest eased.
"I am sorry for being harsh. I just need you to understand how serious I am. I will not marry Mr. Bingley."
Mrs. Bennet gave a disgusted snort. "You have spent too much time with Lizzy. If you two girls go around giving up every eligible man that comes your way, you will both end up old maids. I still cannot understand how Lizzy could turn down the proposal of a man so worthy of her."
Darcy sucked in a deep breath. He and Mr. Bennet had just walked into the parlor when he heard Mrs. Bennet's last remark. He knew he should not be upset. He had told his family about his failed proposal; but, he was mortified that Mrs. Bennet might know about it.
While Mrs. Bennet prattled on, the four other ladies in the room noticed the entrance of the gentlemen and three of them noticed the color drain from Darcy's face at her last comment. Elizabeth understood what he was thinking. She realized it was a little hypocritical of him to care that her family knew of his proposal when he had told his family without asking her first. Yet, she understood too that he was close to his family in a way she would never be to hers.
"Mama, you know very well that Mr. Collins and I would have never suited. Had I agreed to be his wife I would have runaway or killed him within the month," responded Elizabeth, putting the stress on Mr. Collins name.
"Who is Mr. Collins?" asked Georgiana, curious about this other man.
"He is our cousin who is to inherit Longbourn. He is also the parson to your aunt, Lady Catherine," Mary answered in a surprisingly shy voice.
"That is right. William said you were in Kent visiting Mrs. Collins when he arrived at Rosings."
"Mrs. Collins is a good friend of Miss Elizabeth's from here in Hertfordshire. Perhaps you will meet her parents and her siblings while you are visiting," came Mr. Darcy's reply as he recovered from his shock that Mr. Collins dared ask Elizabeth to be his wife.
Mr. Bennet took a seat. He was anxious to get back to the peace of his study and to speak with his daughter about the happenings while she was away.
"Mrs. Bennet, Mary, since I am sure everyone else in the room is aware of my announcement, let me inform you that Mr. Darcy has asked to court our Lizzy and I have consented."
Mrs. Bennet sat in stunned silence. Mary rose and walked over and hugged her sister, "I am happy for you Lizzy."
"Thank you, Mary. That means a great deal to me," Elizabeth replied.
Mary looked at the man who had secretly fascinated, yet intimidated her since they first met. "I wish you much success and happiness in your suit, Mr. Darcy."
Darcy smiled at the girl he had hardly noticed when he was in Hertfordshire prior, "Thank you Miss Mary. I shall do my best to make your sister very happy."
Mary smiled back at him. She thought him very handsome when he wasn't being so stern and brooding.
"Mrs. Bennet, do you have nothing to say to your daughter?" Mr. Bennet asked; amused at her silence.
"I…I…I…," Mrs. Bennet stopped and took a deep breath, "I congratulate you both." She then stood and left the room.
Everyone watched her leave with astonishment. They had anticipated great effusions and lots of noise; her quiet reaction was disturbing.
"Papa, what do you suppose is wrong? Is she not happy for me?" inquired Elizabeth.
"To be honest, I have no idea. I have not seen her react so since early in our marriage. I am sure she is just overcome with relief to have a daughter being courted. Give her some time and she will come around," was Mr. Bennet's response.
Darcy knew that Elizabeth and Jane did not accept their father's explanation. He felt that Elizabeth needed to speak privately with both her parents; so, he decided to depart. He hated leaving her. How he wished he could just take her off to Pemberley and never let her go.
"I am afraid that I must depart. I have to go to Netherfield to secure the carriage and make preparations for my return. I will not make it back to London before nightfall if I do not get started."
"Promise to be careful, Brother, and send word that you are back in London safely," pleaded Georgiana.
"I promise." Darcy rose and hugged his sister and kissed her forehead."You promise me that you will behave and give the Bennets no problems."
Georgiana giggled, "I promise."
"I will see you out, Mr. Darcy," said Elizabeth.
Jane stood, "Have a safe trip Mr. Darcy. We will look forward to seeing you again soon."
"Thank you Miss Bennet, I have already been enlisted to bring correspondence from Miss Jamison with me when I return."
Jane laughed. How she would miss her friend. She could use Cassie's shoulder to cry on right now.
Mr. Bennet rose and offered Mr. Darcy his hand. "Have a safe journey. I look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks. Perhaps I can talk you into a game or two of chess."
"I would like that, Sir."
Elizabeth walked outside to the carriage with Mr. Darcy. He reached inside, pulled out a book and handed it to her.
"There is a letter inside. I hope that it will suffice until I am able to return."
"Is there no chance you might return sooner," inquired Elizabeth a little apprehensively.
Darcy grinned. He was glad she would miss him.
"I will try to finish my work as soon as is feasible. However, I want to make sure that I complete everything so that I may have less to worry with when you come to Pemberley. I want to spend as much time as possible with you."
Elizabeth sighed and Darcy grinned wider.
"Would you stop smirking at my distress," demanded Elizabeth.
Darcy laughed. "I am not "smirking at your distress", Dearest. I shall miss you very much and I am glad that you feel the same."
Darcy took one of her hands in his and ran the back of his other hand down her cheek.
"I love you, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth reached up and touched his lips with the tips of her fingers.
"I love you, too. Be safe, William."
Darcy could not help himself. He reached up, turned her hand over and kissed her palm. He pressed her hand against his cheek for a moment then swiftly let it go and entered the carriage.
Elizabeth watched as he rode away. When she turned back toward the house, she spotted her mother watching from an upstairs window. Then she was gone.
Richard fell exhaustedly onto his cot. This trip would not be one of leisure as he had hoped; but one of training and planning. He was traveling with a regiment that he had just completed training outside of London and was given orders to continue their exercises on board. When they were not training, the soldiers were required to assist the ship's crew while he spent time with their commanding officer going over battle plans and strategies.
He was glad that the activity would keep his mind occupied and off Jane; but, he had much to think on and would not be able to do so while commanding. He reached over and pulled the book Jane had given him out of his knapsack. He flipped through the pages and found nothing. Perplexed he began examining the book more closely. He noted that the front cover was much thinner than the back; so he felt along the seam and found the opening where she had slipped a letter inside. He pulled it out and read:
I am glad that you opened up to me in your last letter. I can do or say nothing to make things easier for you; but, I hope telling someone relieved a bit of your pain. Just allow me to tell you my perspective.
You were in the heat of battle and came upon someone with a gun pointed at one of your men with the clear intention of killing him. You shot in defense; it is as simple as that. I do not pretend to know or understand the motivations of that young woman; but I do know that you would have given her protection and help if she had asked for it. You have imagined this tragic tale for her; but even you cannot know her story. She could just as easily have been the mistress of one of the enemy soldiers at the camp you were about to attack. Your guilt is leading you to make her a tragic victim; but I feel that you are the victim in this situation. That is just my opinion.
You were worried that I might think differently of you; but I do not. If anything, I respect you even more. You hold the lives of so many men in your hand, how could I not be proud of you for saving them any way necessary? It is easy to sit at home thinking of the glory of war but to hear your accounting made me realize how brutal it is. I cannot lie; I am so very worried about your safety.
In your letter you were comparing your behavior to that of Mr. Bingley. There is no comparison. Mr. Bingley did treat me unfairly; but, I treated him wrong, too. I was in love with the dream of being in love and not with him. Had he returned to Hertfordshire and proposed, I would have consented. He and I might have led a contented life. I would have made every effort to be a good wife and I think he would have tried to be a good husband. I would have never gone to London, met Cassie, or found the woman inside me that I want to be and hopefully am becoming. I have changed; and this woman could never be happy being merely content.
You have always been honest about your situation and have given me no false hopes. I may have created a few on my own; but, that was not of your doing. I cannot help wanting to be at your side; regardless of what role I am playing in your life. You mentioned feeling a bond that betrayed rationality; I feel it, too. I can only say that it must be fated; for meeting you has changed me irrevocably.
You said that you wanted me to move on and find love; that is what I wish for you. You more than deserve a good wife, you need one. You need someone you can talk with about your pain and sorrow, share your joys with, and tease in that irritatingly endearing manner you have. You need that house full of children to play with and teach to ride their first ponies. You need boys to take fishing and little girls to put in your lap and read to until they fall asleep. You need to sleep peacefully in the comforting arms of a woman who adores you.
You are taking this time to decide whether or not you will be returning to England. I have some decisions to make in my life, as well. I plan on giving serious thought to my future while we are traveling this summer and hope to have made a decision by the time we return to London for Cassie's wedding. I hope that you are able to be there.
I must go now for we will be leaving early to see you off. I hope that the others sleep on the way to Longbourn for I fear I will fall apart watching you board the ship that is taking you away.
As I said, you may write to me through Cassie if you wish. I will always be a friend to you regardless of where the future takes us.
With great affection…. Jane
Richard knew. He could try to deny it. He could say it was not possible. He could try to ignore it; but, he knew. He was in love with Miss Jane Bennet.
Elizabeth left her father's study and went to join Mary and Georgiana out in the garden. She was anxious to read William's letter; but decided to wait until she retired for bed. It would be the last in a long while so she wanted to savor it.
She was, also, concerned about Jane. Her sister had pleaded fatigue and a headache when asked if she would like to show Georgiana the gardens. She had looked tired and pale; but, Jane had not been herself since the party last evening. She would have to talk privately with Jane and her mother later this evening.
She was glad to see Mary and Georgiana in animated conversation. It was unusual to find Mary animated about anything at all. She knew that her younger sister had a passion for music and theology but those two subjects were just of a passing interest to her. Perhaps she should have shown more interest so that Mary would not feel so alone. She had Jane and Kitty had Lydia; that left Mary on her own most of the time. Why had she never noticed this before?
Elizabeth approached the two girls and asked, "Are you two having a nice stroll?"
"Oh yes Lizzy! Georgiana knows so much about music and has been taught by music masters. She promised to help me with my fingering and teach me to read the more difficult movements that I have been struggling with," was Mary's enthusiastic reply.
"It shall be ever so much fun. I have always had to learn and now I can teach. Perhaps we will even learn a duet to play together," remarked Georgiana.
Elizabeth looked from one young girl to the other and remarked, "Something Jane told me recently has just struck home and I would like to share it with the two of you. Is that alright?"
Both girls looked at Elizabeth as if she was the guardian of all that was wise and nodded their heads. Elizabeth chuckled inwardly at the serious expressions they both wore but put on a serious face to appease them.
"Jane changed a lot while I was away in Kent. I asked her about it when I returned to London and she told me that it was due to having a friend close in age to spend time with; one who is not a sister. It brought out her self-confidence and helped her mature in a way that being isolated here would never have allowed. I had always had Charlotte but Jane had never had anyone other than her sisters. Perhaps this friendship between the two of you will help you both grow and mature in a like manner," concluded Elizabeth.
Both girls looked at each other and smiled. Neither had ever really had a best friend and the thought appealed to them both. Mary realized that she was two years older than Georgiana; but even with her limited experiences, Georgiana was more socially mature than she. Georgiana knew that Mary was two years older than she; but, she could never relate to the giggly girls her age who only thought of boys. Both girls thought the other would complement them perfectly.
"I would like that very much," Mary spoke.
"As would I," replied Georgiana.
Both girls squealed and hugged. A lifetime friendship was born in that single moment.
The three set off walking again. The two young girls changed from music to literature. Elizabeth walked behind and listened. She was surprised to hear of the books Mary had read. She had never seen her sister with anything other than religious texts. She sighed to herself. Perhaps it is because she never looked to see anything more than what she expected to see. Did she really even know her sisters or herself?
Georgiana was telling Mary about the religious texts that were written by her cousin, Stewart Darcy, when she came to an abrupt halt. She turned to Elizabeth and inquired, "Do you think that your father would allow Mary to come to Pemberley with William and me? She could stay with us while you are on holiday with the Gardiners and ride back to London with us for Cassie's wedding. Then William and I can escort the three of you back here to Longbourn."
"Oh Lizzy, will you talk to him? I have never even been to London before. I would love it so very much," begged Mary.
"I will not talk to him for you Mary; but I will talk to him with you. If you wish to prove to our father that you are mature enough to travel such a great distance, the best way to start would be to talk with him about it. You are becoming a young woman and must learn to stand on your own. So how about we invade is study after dinner?"
Mary hugged her sister fiercely. "Thank you Lizzy. This means so much to me."
Elizabeth was touched by her sister's unusual display. "Perhaps we should head back to the house; I believe that I hear Lydia's laughter coming down the front drive."
As the three ladies rounded the corner, they came face to face with Captain Denny and Mr. Wickham.
Georgiana gasped. She knew that it was likely the two of them would meet. She just did not think it would be so soon. She felt Lizzy and Mary come and stand on both sides of her and each take an arm. She realized then that she was no longer the innocent, lonely, friendless child he had manipulated and she was not scared of him; she was angry.
"Lizzy!" Lydia exclaimed. "I am so glad you are home."
Kitty came and hugged her sister but Lydia just took her hands.
"You shall never guess our news. Someone standing on this very drive is free again. Can you guess who?" Lydia queried.
Elizabeth had already heard that Mary King was taken away by her uncle and the engagement with Mr. Wickham was dissolved. She knew that this was the work of Mr. Darcy's associate who was watching Wickham and she silently applauded Miss King's escape.
"Lydia, Kitty, might I introduce you to our guest. Georgiana, these are my two youngest sisters, Miss Catherine and Miss Lydia Bennet. Kitty, Lydia, this is Mr. Darcy's sister, Miss Georgiana Darcy."
The girls curtsied to each other. "La, we must introduce you to the officers. This is Captain Denny and this is Mr. Wickham; but, you know Mr. Wickham of course. I had forgotten," laughed Lydia.
"Captain Denny, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance," acknowledged Georgiana.
"The pleasure is all mine, Miss Darcy," replied Captain Denny.
"And do I not warrant a greeting, Georgie?" said Mr. Wickham in a self-assured voice.
Georgiana turned sharply and glared at the man she once thought herself in love with.
Mr. Wickham was taken aback for a moment. He had never seen the timid Miss Darcy look so fierce. However, he had no doubt he could charm her again now that she was away from her brother. He would have to simply arrange a story about how Mr. Darcy threatened him into saying the things he did while at Ramsgate. Yes, that would work very well indeed.
"You, Mr. Wickham, do not have leave to address me so informally; nor do you warrant my notice for you are no better than the mud on my boots," declared Georgiana becoming angrier with each smug word out of the vile man's mouth.
Kitty and Lydia gasped. Lydia went to Mr. Wickham's rescue. "Don't talk to him that way. Your brother has obviously poisoned you against Mr. Wickham but he was the one injured by your brother's cruel actions."
Georgiana saw Wickham turn and give Lydia an arrogant wink making her giggle.
"Miss Lydia, you are quite mistaken. Perhaps Mr. Wickham has forgotten to mention that he refused the living that he claims was stolen from him. Did he also forget to mention that he was paid £3000 by my brother in lieu of said living? Did he tell you that my brother paid for the funeral of Mr. Wickham's mother out of the goodness of his heart? Did he not tell you how my brother has paid Mr. Wickham's debts and bailed him out of trouble many times in the last few years? Lastly, has he not told you how he tried to convince an innocent fifteen year old girl into believing that he loved her in order to rob her of her dowry?" finished Georgiana.
"Now Georgie," started Wickham, but stopped at Georgiana's raised hand about to strike him. "Forgive me," he said putting up his hands in supplication, "Miss Darcy, I know that you love and trust your brother but he has misled you. He threatened to have me jailed if I did not go along with his plan to separate us at Ramsgate. All the things that I said were words he dictated to me. I love you and have since I first saw you again. You must believe me," finished Wickham, sure of his ability to sway the young, foolish girl.
Georgiana looked at Wickham and gave him a timid smile. He knew then that he had succeeded. He reached out to take the girl's hand and was surprised by a slap across the face. Kitty and Lydia gasped while Elizabeth and Mary tried to stifle their laughter.
It was Georgiana's turn to look smug. "You obviously think I am the naïve child I was before; but you are wrong. You will never deceive me again for I know what you are."
Wickham was enraged. How dare that doxy strike him. He reached out to grab her and teach her a lesson in respect; but, he was subdued by Denny.
"I think it is time we go, Wickham," was his associate's reply.
Wickham threw off Denny's hold and turned to leave. He stopped and looked back at Georgiana then stalked back towards her. Elizabeth saw the rage in the man's eyes and stood in front of her friend. She had allowed Georgiana her say to the man; but, she would not allow her to come to harm.
Just as Wickham was about to push Elizabeth aside, Denny caught him again, "I said it was time we leave, Wickham."
Mr. Wickham might have tried again had Mr. Bennet not been made aware of the situation by a terrified Kitty who had slipped away during the first confrontation; and chose that moment to approach.
"Is there a problem here, Mr. Wickham?" he asked.
Wickham looked over to Mr. Bennet and turned to leave the property; but not before sending Elizabeth and Georgiana a look to send chills down their spines.
"Everyone inside now, girls," Mr. Bennet ordered.
Once they were all gathered inside the front parlor, Mr. Bennet announced, "Until the regiment leaves for Brighton, none of you are to walk beyond the property boundary without an escort. If you need to go into Meryton, you will take our or Miss Darcy's carriage and be escorted by a footman and driver. Lydia, Kitty, you are not to associate with any of the officers from this point forward. Do I make myself clear?"
Kitty had been frightened enough that she automatically nodded her head. Lydia was another matter.
"But Papa, that is not fair. Mr. Wickham might not be as nice as I thought but Captain Denny and the others have done nothing wrong. Why can we not visit with them?" Lydia whined.
"If Captain Denny or any of the officers wish for you company, they may visit you here under my or your mother's supervision. Mr. Wickham, however, is banned from the grounds and you are never to associate with him," Mr. Bennet compromised.
Lydia was not completely satisfied; but did not try to press since he had agreed to allow visits from the officers at Longbourn.
Jane was awakened by someone shaking her shoulder. She assumed it to be Lizzy so she was surprise to open her eyes and see Mary sitting on the edge of her bed.
"Jane, it is almost time to prepare for dinner. Are you well?" Mary inquired.
Jane sat up and rubbed a hand over her tired eyes. She had been unable to hold in her emotions earlier so she retired to her room and cried herself to sleep. She felt slightly better but the emptiness was still there and she imagined it would always be.
"I am better, Mary. Thank you."
Mary got up and started to walk toward the door. She hesitated then came back and sat down again beside her eldest sister.
"I know that I am not Lizzy and have very little experience in the world, or anything really; but, I am observant and I know that you are troubled. I do not, however, believe it is Mr. Bingley that has broken your heart. It is alright if you do not want to talk about it; but, I wanted you to know that you can. I will not tell anyone."
Jane looked at her sister and wondered how she had overlooked Mary for so long. She had been so wrapped up in her imaginary world where all was peaceful that she had missed out on the reality around her. She surprised Mary by reaching out and pulling her into a tight embrace.
"I have learned, Mary, that there are some situations in life that you cannot control or change no matter how hard your heart wishes for it. It saddens me, that is all. I do appreciate your concern and I promise to talk should I find more to say," answered Jane.
Mary smiled at her sister then left her to dress for dinner.
Dinner was a rather unusual affair. Lydia was her normal exuberant self and wanted to gossip about all she and Kitty had heard at their Aunt Phillip's house earlier that day; only there was no one listening to her. Kitty was still unsettled from the earlier events and preferred to talk quietly with Georgiana and Mary. Mrs. Bennet was saying very little to anyone, still. Even Jane was oddly quiet. Elizabeth and her father looked on the family and wondered what had changed them so much in the space of a day.
After dinner, as promised, Elizabeth went with Mary to her father's study. They knocked softly and were bid to enter.
Elizabeth gave Mary a gentle nudge toward their father's desk.
"Papa, may I ask you something?" she requested.
"Of course, my dear. Why don't the two of you sit."
Elizabeth and Mary sat down and Elizabeth gave her sister an encouraging nod.
"Papa, Miss Darcy and I have enjoyed each other's company a great deal today. We have many things in common, such as music and literature, and have much conversation."
Mr. Bennet smiled. Unlike the others in his family, he knew Mary's passion for reading extended beyond the religious texts she favored. He had just never found a way to relate to his middle daughter. She very rarely spoke to him; so, he was glad to see her here this evening.
"I am glad you are enjoying your guest," he replied.
Mary took in a deep breath and continued, "You see, Georgiana has a cousin who has written several texts. I have read one that Mr. Kimble loaned me; but there are more and I would very much like to read them all. So, she asked me if I would like to come to Pemberley with her and Mr. Darcy. I could return to London with Aunt and Uncle Gardiner and then home with Lizzy and Jane. I would enjoy it so much. Georgiana said her cousin has taken orders in Chatsworth and that they may even be able to have him over for dinner one night. I could ask him to expound on his views of Divine Grace. He touched on them in the text I read and they were so enlightening. It would be a great learning experience for me, Papa."
Mr. Bennet looked at his daughter. That speech had to be the most she had spoken to him in years. He had always been impressed by her intelligence but was unsure how to deal with her timidity. Perhaps this had provided an opening for him.
"I will agree to allow you to go on one condition, Mary. I wish for you to write down the name of the text you read and I will see if I can borrow it from Mr. Kimble myself. If I am able to procure it, I want you to be open to discussing it with me. I shall summon you once I have had the chance to read the book and make my own decisions regarding it. In the meantime, you may write down the points that most interested you; then we will compare what subjects we were both intrigued by. Fair enough?" asked Mr. Bennet.
Mary broke out into a huge grin. "Yes Papa. Thank you so very much."
"Very well, the two of you head off to visit with your guest," dismissed Mr. Bennet.
Mary got up and excitedly left the room to find Georgiana. Elizabeth came around the desk and hugged her father.
"Thank you, Papa. That meant the world to her," said Elizabeth.
Mr. Bennet smiled at his favorite, "Off with you now, my dear. As all my intelligent daughters are leaving me in a few weeks, I must become accustom to the silence of my study."
Elizabeth laughed at her father's dramatics and went in search of her mother.
Mrs. Bennet was sitting in the corner of the parlor doing some needlework and talking with Jane. Elizabeth approached and her mother fell silent. She and her mother had never understood one another; but, on no occasion had she seen her mother act this way.
"Mama, may I speak with you?" Elizabeth inquired.
"I am busy right now Lizzy, perhaps I could find some time tomorrow. You should see to your guest," was the reply she received.
Elizabeth huffed. This would not do. She was not going to spend the next two weeks wondering what she had done to offend her mother.
"Mama, it is apparent that I have offended you in some way. I will not retire until I know what it is that I have done and try to make recompense for my actions," demanded Elizabeth.
"You always do have to have your own way, do you not Miss Lizzy? It matters not what I want, what I have planned for, only that you have everything," came Mrs. Bennet's angry response.
Sensing that words were going to be spoken of a personal nature, Jane got up and ushered the other girls out of the parlor and up the stairs. Lydia, of course, was protesting the entire way; for she thought things were just getting interesting.
"What do you mean, Mama? Are you angry that I turned down Mr. Collins but have agreed to a courtship with Mr. Darcy? Do you not realize that Mr. Darcy will take care of us all should something happen to Papa? I thought your greatest fear was that we would be thrown out in the hedgerows without a protector," Elizabeth replied, trying to keep calm.
Mrs. Bennet surged from her chair. "You selfish girl! You turned down Mr. Collins so you can flaunt yourself to Mr. Darcy. Well, you have him now, do you not? Now you will have jewels and carriages and pin money to spare. You will go to lavish parties and balls and mix with those who are way above you. You will come to visit and stay at the grandest house in the neighborhood. I imagine you are very proud of yourself; but what of poor Jane, hmm? Look what you have done to her; and without shame, I might add."
"Jane?" asked Elizabeth. "What exactly have I done to Jane?"
"She is the eldest and the most beautiful. She is the one that should be courted by a rich, handsome man. It is her right, not yours. I had high hopes with Mr. Bingley for she seemed to like him very well; but, Mr. Darcy took Netherfield from him and you took Mr. Darcy. Now look at Jane. She is dejected and broken hearted; yet, you have not even noticed. You … the sister that claims to care for her so much. You wallow in the glory of your conquest and leave her to find a substitute and be miserable, just like me!" exclaimed Mrs. Bennet before bursting out into sobs.
Elizabeth stood staring at her mother. She was not sure if she should be insulted or feel guilty.
"Leave us, Lizzy." came Mr. Bennet's soft voice. He had been drawn to the parlor at the sound of raised voices and heard his wife's last comment.
Elizabeth took one last look at her mother then turned and left the room.
Mr. Bennet went to his wife and led her back to a chair. He handed her his handkerchief to dry her eyes with and went over to pour her a glass of wine. He pulled a chair up in front of her and handed her the wine, hoping it would calm her nerves.
Once she had composed herself, he took the glass from her and set it on the table. He then took her hand in his and asked, "Are you truly miserable, Fanny?"
Mrs. Bennet could not look at her husband. In all the years they had been married, he had never asked about her feelings. He was tender to her in their private moments and inquired after her health if she seemed off; but, he never sat and just talked to her.
"How am I supposed to feel, Thomas? You have resented me from the day we married for forcing you into a life you did not want. You never seek me out unless you have a household matter to inform me of or unless you wish to come to me when you retire for the night. You openly mock me and laugh at me with our neighbors and our daughters without thought to my feelings. So why do you even bother to care now?"
"It is not you I resented, it was the responsibility of being a husband, a father, and estate owner. I never wanted any of this. I am not so blind to my own faults that I thought I was successful in any of those endeavors; yet, I thought things were good. The estate puts a roof over our heads, our daughters are all healthy, and I thought you content," stated Mr. Bennet.
"For many years I thought I was. I had the girls to look after so I kept busy; but, they are all almost grown now. I have begun to realize that when they all marry; I will be all alone." Mrs. Bennet got up and walked to the window and peered out into the blackness. "Lizzy reminds me so much of your brother. She is full of wit and passion; yet, undeniably head-strong and stubborn. I was not in love with Grayson; but I did like him very much and I believe he liked me, too. I just did not fit into his plans. We would often sit out in the garden at my parents' home and he would talk to me about a variety of things. I understood little of what he was discussing; but, he cared only that I listened and I cared only that he was there with me."
Mrs. Bennet stopped a moment and dabbed at her eyes.
"Jane reminds me so much of the girl I use to be. She is so sweet and trusting and so very beautiful. My mother use to tell me that my beauty would get me ahead in life; and I believed her. I want for Jane what I did not have. I want her to have security in her future and companionship in her mate. I want her to have a husband who looks at her the way Mr. Darcy looks at Lizzy," Mrs. Bennet confessed.
"Is that why you are so hard on Lizzy, because she reminds you of Grayson?" asked Mr. Bennet.
Mrs. Bennet walked across the room before looking her husband in the eyes and answering, "No, I admire that about her. I am hard on Lizzy because she easily obtained the one thing I desire but shall never have… your love."
She then turned and walked out the door.
Elizabeth walked upstairs and found her sisters scattered. Mary was in with Georgiana making plans for her visit to Pemberley, Lydia was in her room tearing apart one of Kitty's bonnets so she could retrim it to match her lavender dress, and Kitty was sitting on Jane's bed conversing quietly with her.
She needed to talk to Jane; but she would wait until tomorrow. Right now she needed William. Since he was in London, she would have to settle for reading his letter.
She prepared herself for bed then sat down by the window with a candle to read.
My Precious Elizabeth,
I write this in sorrow for I know that when you read it we shall be separated. Yet, I only have to conjure the image of your smiling face to fill my heart once more.
It is hard for me to believe that you will soon come to Pemberley. You do not know how often I have dreamed of seeing you walk the grounds of my home. I can picture you stopping to examine the different types of flowers, to toss a rock in the stream, or to sit down beneath one of the great oaks to read.
I can picture you sitting out on grass with our children. You would ask young Will to make sure his baby brother doesn't get too close to the pond while I rescue our daughter's doll from the dog. Then I would lay down with my head in your lap and let you run your fingers through my hair while the children all nap on the blanket beside us.
I can image us all going skating on the frozen pond during winter. When the snow falls, I will take you out in the sled. We can cuddle under the rug and sip on chocolate while we view the vastness of white covering the Pemberley grounds.
At Christmas, I shall hang mistletoe all over the house so that I may kiss you often. There shall not be a mistletoe berry left by the end of the season. We shall decorate with holly and ivy and invite all our friends and family to join us. There will be nuts, apples and mince pies for the children and a Yule log on the fire. We shall hold a ball for all our neighbors then another small one for the servants. Then, when we are alone, I will give you my gift and dance with you to the tune of my father's amboyna snuff box.
Every Christmas shall be special for I will have been given the most precious gift of all, you as my wife. Everyone calls Georgiana the Darcy Princess, so you shall be the Darcy Queen. You shall rule over our home and our grounds; but, most especially, you shall rule over my heart.
I have spent many letters telling you about me and my family; so I thought you deserved a proper love letter. I hope I have done it justice for there are no words to adequately describe the depth of my love for you.
I assume that you have few living family members since Mr. Collins is to inherit Longbourn. Would you tell me about any that are living? Also, what is this dispute I have heard Mr. Collins mention between his father and yours?
I will miss you, my Darling.
With much love…. William
Elizabeth hugged the letter to her chest. She had needed his loving words this night. How she missed him already. She would never last until he returned.
She was still sitting in this same attitude when she heard a knock on her door. Assuming it was Jane or Georgiana, she slid her letter under the pillow of the window seat.
"Lizzy? Are you abed?"
Elizabeth was surprised to see her mother enter her room. She did not think her mother had visited her room since she was sixteen and had taken ill just before her birthday.
"I am up, Mama. Please, come in."
Mrs. Bennet came the rest of the way into her daughter's room. She saw Elizabeth sitting by the window and felt a great shame come over her for her actions earlier. She walked over and sat down beside Elizabeth and took one of her hands into her own.
"Lizzy, I am sorry for my behavior. I am not angry with you and I did not mean what I said. Could you forgive me?"
Elizabeth reached over and hugged her mother.
"Of course, Mama. I just do not understand why you are upset with me."
"I am not upset with you. I am very happy for you. Mr. Darcy appears to harbor tender feelings for you and I am sure he will be a loving suitor. Should he propose, I can image he will be a loving husband, as well. You have done very good Lizzy."
Elizabeth debated and decided to take advantage of her mother's confiding mood.
"May I ask you something personal?"
"I suppose. However, I cannot guarantee you an answer," was her mother's reply.
Elizabeth smiled. That answer was reminiscent of her uncle. Perhaps she did once have a character similar to his.
"When you said those things about Jane, was it because of what happened with you and my Uncle Grayson?"
"Ah, I see that my brother has told you the history behind your father and I getting married. I should have known you would ask for you were always such an inquisitive child. As I told your father earlier, you remind me so much of Grayson. He was always lively and witty but passionate about his beliefs. He honestly believed that he was destined to change the world. Perhaps he has changed the small part of the world he lives in, wherever that might be."
"Do you think that he still lives then?" Elizabeth asked.
"I imagine so. He was only two years older than your father so it is a possibility."
"Did you love him?"
Mrs. Bennet stopped a moment. She had never been very good with words; but she wanted to say this right, "I did not love him but I would have, given time. I had grown very fond of him in the weeks we were engaged. All the other gentlemen I knew and danced with made me feel beautiful, but Grayson made me feel special. When I talked, he listened and he never mocked me. If I said something out of place, he took the time to explain to me what I said wrong. I have never been of great intelligence but he did not mind that. He enjoyed explaining things and teaching me new words and treating me to new experiences. It was many years before I could understand and accept why he did not take me with him when he left."
"I am glad he did not; for I would not have you as my mother. But, why do you think he left before the wedding instead of after?"
Mrs. Bennet patted her daughter's hand, "He left before because he did care. Had he stayed, I would have been forced to leave with him. I would have never seen my family or friends again and would have had to face the dangers of traveling to a strange country. I believe he thought I would be happier here without him."
"Are you truly miserable like you said?"
"Not so very much. I am just lonely when you girls are away and I know that one day you will leave and never return. Your father has his business and his books; but, you girls are all I have ever had."
Elizabeth hugged her mother once again.
"Should Mr. Darcy and I marry, we will make sure you are never lonely. His family is so very nice, I am sure you will love them all. Besides, having five girls denotes that you will have a multitude of grandchildren to help with," smiled Elizabeth remembering Darcy's letter.
Mrs. Bennet leaned over and kissed her daughter's cheek.
"I shall retire now. Goodnight Lizzy and I truly am very happy for you."
As she got to the door, she was stopped by Elizabeth.
"Mama, I want you to know that Jane is not broken hearted over Mr. Bingley. We did see him at the theater and he did ask for Jane's permission to call on her. Jane refused him. She said that he was not the right man for her. So you do not have to worry about her."
Mrs. Bennet studied the floor for a moment before looking up to Elizabeth.
"If it is not Mr. Bingley, then it is another. I know my eldest daughter well for she is so much like me. She suffers greatly over someone. Mark my words."
Mrs. Bennet left the room and a puzzled Elizabeth. Her mother seemed so sure that Jane was in love. If it was not Mr. Bingley, then there could only be one other. Jane must be in love with Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"Oh no, he has gone away to war. Poor Jane, her sorrow must be great. How could I have been so blind?"
Posted on: 2011-07-19
The next morning was a busy one at the Longbourn breakfast table. Jane and Lydia both received letters while Mrs. Bennet and Georgiana both received visitors.
Mrs. Phillips had heard from one of the Longbourn servants that Mr. Darcy's sister was a guest there. She came immediately to chastise her sister for not sending word of this by Kitty and Lydia when they visited her the day before. Mrs. Phillips was her happiest when she was the first with the latest town news. Mrs. Bennet, having recovered her spirits, sat sharing the latest gossip with her sister when Georgiana was informed that a Mr. Carson was asking to see her.
"Mr. Carson is my brother's steward at Netherfield," Georgiana informed Mr. Bennet. "Please excuse me a moment."
Georgiana entered the parlor and greeted the man waiting for her. She did not know the Young Carson very well. He had been away at school most of the time she was growing up. She recalled him coming to the main house with his father on a few occasions but those were distant memories.
"Mr. Carson, it is a pleasure to see you again. Are you enjoying your position at Netherfield?"
"Good morning Miss Darcy. Thank you, yes, I enjoy it here in Hertfordshire very much. I am sorry to intrude so early; but an alarming report reached me late last night and I wanted to come as soon as possible to speak with you," the young man answered.
"It's not William, is it? Did he not reach London safely?" asked Georgiana becoming anxious.
"No, I mean I assume that Mr. Darcy is well and will be sending you word of his arrival today. The report I received was in regards to you. I was told that you had a confrontation with Mr. Wickham yesterday and that he threatened you. I promised Mr. Darcy to keep an eye and ear out for trouble from that man so I wanted to confirm my facts before sending him an express."
"Must you? He will only worry and things were handled here. Captain Denny subdued Mr. Wickham and Mr. Bennet stepped in to make sure nothing happened. He has even put extra safety measures in place until the regiment leaves for Brighton," pleaded Georgiana.
"I am sorry Miss Darcy; but, I have my orders. I am sure you would not wish for me to lose my position by keeping this from your brother."
Georgiana sighed, "No, I would not want that to happen. Just, please, let him know that everything is being handled so there is no need to worry."
"I will do that. Now, are you sure you are fine? He did not physically harm you in any way?"
"No, Mr. Carson. I did slap him; but he did not touch me. Everything is fine."
Mr. Carson was relieved. "Thank you, Miss Darcy. I will reassure Mr. Darcy of that fact. Now, I must go and will let you finish your breakfast. I appreciate you seeing me and hope that you will inform me if there is anything you need."
Just as Georgiana was about to answer, Mr. Bennet walked in.
"Excuse me, Miss Darcy. I do not wish to intrude but I wanted to make sure everything was alright."
"Thank you Mr. Bennet. May I introduce you to Netherfield's steward, Mr. Carson? Mr. Carson, this is my host, Mr. Bennet."
"It is a pleasure, Mr. Carson," greeted Mr. Bennet.
"The pleasure is mine, Mr. Bennet. Forgive me for intruding on your meal but I needed to clarify a few details regarding the incident with Mr. Wickham before I make my report to Mr. Darcy."
"Heard about that did you? News does travel fast. Be sure to reassure Mr. Darcy that Wickham has been banned from the property and the girls will not be leaving the boundary of Longbourn without proper escort," said Mr. Bennet.
"I shall do that. Thank you again and I will leave you now. Good day Miss Darcy."
Mr. Bennet and Georgiana returned to the breakfast table to find a very excited Lydia.
"Papa, please say you will let me go. I shall die for sure if you do not let me. Jane, Lizzy and even Mary are going to be traveling this summer so it would be terribly unfair if you do not allow me to, as well."
"Perhaps you should start by telling me exactly where and with whom you wish to travel," replied Mr. Bennet.
"Mrs. Forster has asked me to come to Brighton as her particular friend. Is that not exciting? Colonel Forster is going to be taking a house for us. There shall be balls and parties every night and we shall go sea bathing and shopping during the day. It shall be so very exciting and you must allow me to go. You just must," came Lydia's excited chatter.
Mr. Bennet looked around the table at his family. Jane, Lizzy and Georgiana all looked worried; Mary looked perplexed; Kitty was in tears since she was not asked to go as well; Mrs. Bennet was looking excitedly between her youngest daughter and him; and Mrs. Phillips was looking smug at having some new gossip to tell once she returned home.
Mr. Bennet returned his eyes to his wife. He had lain awake many hours last night thinking upon her words. He would like to be able to say he loved his wife, but it just was not so. However, he did have a tender regard for her. She had been a very good wife and mother all these years; even though he had not been a very good husband.
"I think it is a fine idea," came his reply.
"PAPA! You cannot be serious," was Elizabeth's response.
Mr. Bennet smiled at his favorite daughter. "Yes, Lizzy, I am very serious. You, Jane and Mary will all be traveling this summer; so I think it only fair that I take your mother and sisters on holiday."
Mrs. Bennet and Kitty both squealed. "Are you serious Mr. Bennet? We are all going to Brighton?"
"Yes, my Dear, we are all going to Brighton. I will make the arrangements this afternoon and we will leave once Jane and Lizzy have left for the Lake District."
"But Papa," interjected Lydia, "Mrs. Forster will be leaving next week. Can I not stay with them until you arrive?"
"No, Lydia. Colonel Forster is a busy man and his wife is hardly an appropriate chaperone. You will travel with us or you can stay home. It is your choice."
Lydia was, once again, not satisfied but relented. At least he had not completely refused to allow her to go. She and Kitty left the table to plan their packing.
Jane excused herself to go and read the letter she received this morning from Cassie while Elizabeth asked her father's permission for her and Mary to take Georgiana into Meryton. Mr. Bennet agreed as long as they took the safety precautions he had demanded the day prior. The girls offered to give Mrs. Phillips and ride back to town; so they all set off together.
Mrs. Bennet got up from the table and walked over to her husband.
"Thank you, Thomas." She leaned down and kissed him fondly.
As she turned to leave the room, he pulled her back and gave her a hug.
"You are welcome, Fanny."
The ladies had sent for Georgiana's carriage. Georgiana had suggested it and Elizabeth remarked that her aunt would be ecstatic at being seen arriving home in such fine equipage. Therefore it was settled.
As they waited on the front drive for its arrival, they saw the approach of an officer on horseback. Fearing it might be Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth suggested that everyone return to the house.
"That is not Mr. Wickham, Lizzy. It looks to be Captain Denny," Mary observed.
As the rider got closer, Elizabeth could see that Mary was right.
"Good morning ladies, did I catch you before your walk to Meryton?" asked the Captain.
"Actually, we are waiting on Miss Darcy's carriage. What brings you out this morning?" Elizabeth inquired.
"I wanted to come by and apologize to Miss Darcy. My associate was very rude yesterday and out of control. I felt the need to report the incident to Colonel Forster and he made sure that Wickham was reprimanded. I understand that it does not excuse his behavior but, hopefully, it will make him think twice about repeating it."
"Thank you, Captain Denny. However, you have nothing to apologize for. Mr. Wickham is responsible for his own misbehavior and you should not have to make his amends," answered Georgiana.
"Thank you, Miss Darcy. I also wanted you to know that I was not aware of his past behavior. We were friends in school and he always seemed sincere. I knew that he was a bit wild in his behavior; but so are many young gentlemen so I did not pay it much mind. However, there are lines that gentlemen do not cross and he leapt beyond them yesterday. Therefore, I have severed our friendship and will no longer recommend him to those I associate with," confirmed Denny.
"I wish that I could say that I am sorry you lost your friend; but, I feel you are probably better off. Mr. Wickham invites trouble and I am afraid he might have tried to put it off on you or drug you down with him," Georgiana replied.
"It was very kind of you to come, Captain. I hope you know that we do not hold your behavior in the same light as Mr. Wickham," Elizabeth added.
"Thank you, Miss Elizabeth. I do believe that your carriage is coming; so I should excuse myself. Will your younger sisters be joining you this morning?"
"I do not believe so. They are preparing to go on holiday later this month," answered Mary.
"They are leaving town?" asked the Captain in a rather startled voice.
"Yes," replied Mrs. Phillips, happy to have something to contribute. "They are all going to Brighton."
Elizabeth could tell that Captain Denny was trying not to smile but failing miserably. She wondered if the handsome officer fancied one of her sisters. He seemed too sensible to fall for a loud, flirtatious girl who should still be in the schoolroom; so, she assumed it must be Kitty.
The Captain made his farewells and the ladies set off to town.
Jane sat up in her room smiling at the letter written by her friend.
My dear Jane,
I am writing this the day prior to your departure. I hope that you receive it soon after your return home for I am sure you will be downhearted. I wish that I could go to the docks with you in the morning; but, I am sure the party will last until the early morning.
When you think of Richard leaving, I hope you will also remember that he will be coming home. I know that you scoff at me for believing the two of you will be together one day; but I am very good at reading these things. He loves you, I am sure of that. You love him, too; though you refuse to admit it. Neither of you will settle for anyone else. I know the both of you that well.
Well, on to other things so I might try to lift your spirits. I am so looking forward to the party tonight. Wesley came by this morning to give me a gift and I cannot wait to show it to you. It is the most beautiful ruby pendant. It will match the jewels I will be wearing perfectly. He is so thoughtful; I wish we were getting married sooner. I cannot wait to be his wife.
You will have to write me very soon and tell me what you think of my family. I believe that you will like them all. I cannot wait to hear what you have to say about my Aunt Helen and Uncle Edwin. Aunt Helen is very sweet and unassuming and she will love you. Uncle Edwin seems intimidating but he is a sweetheart when you get to know him. William is much like him in both looks and character. I cannot wait for Elizabeth's reaction to him.
Well, my mother is having an attack of nerves over the last minute preparations; so I will go calm her.
Just know that I am not so far away and will be there in a matter of hours should you say you need me.
Your incorrigible friend… Cassie
Jane could not help but smile at her friends words. What she would have missed had she not met this extraordinary lady.
The ladies had a successful trip to town. Georgiana was able to procure a beautiful shawl to give to Mrs. Annesley when she arrived at Netherfield; Mary found music for a duet; and Elizabeth picked up a journal to record her trip to the Lake District.
When they arrived back at Longbourn, Elizabeth thought it was time she spoke with Jane. She found her sister cutting flowers in the back garden.
"Jane, I wish you had gone with us to Meryton. We had a very nice time."
"I was glad to just relax. We have been gone so long that it was nice to enjoy sitting at home," replied Jane.
"Something interesting happened this morning. Captain Denny came by to apologize to Georgiana for Wickham's behavior. It was mentioned to him that our younger sisters will be going to Brighton on holiday and he seemed extremely pleased. I think he might fancy Kitty," Elizabeth speculated.
Jane smiled. "I am sure that he does. Kitty came to me last night asking my opinion on how to tell if a gentleman is interested in you or not. It seems that the good Captain makes his preference known at times and seems almost avoidant at times. I asked her to think about what is different in the times he seems distant. She came to me this morning and said that the only difference is Lydia's presence. I told her that she might want to try spending time developing her own interests and not spend all her time following her younger sister; then perhaps he might be more comfortable approaching her."
"What interests do you think she could concentrate on? I have never really seen Kitty interested in anything expect officers," replied Elizabeth.
"I suggested she try her hand at drawing," answered Jane. "She has beautiful penmanship and is always making flower borders on the edges of her letters."
Elizabeth exhaled. "I would not have thought of that. You are a much better sister than I am. Did you know that Mary reads biographies and histories?"
"I did not. That is certainly a surprise."
Elizabeth began picking the petals off a rose. "Sometimes I think I do not even know my sisters. I see them all in the context I expect and not how they are."
"Sometimes we forget to look at those we see every day. Therefore we do not notice that they have changed since the last time we truly saw them," was Jane's wise reply.
"Jane, can I ask you something very personal?" Elizabeth inquired tentatively.
"Yes, Lizzy. If there is something you wish to know, I will do my best to reply."
Elizabeth could not think of a delicate way to put it, so she just asked bluntly, "Are you in love with Colonel Fitzwilliam."
Jane looked at her sister. She knew she would not be able to hide her feelings for very long; so, she decided to just be honest.
"Oh Jane. I suspected but Williams said he did not think there was anything between the two of you so I put it out of my mind. Why did you not tell me?"
"Just now was the first time I have admitted it to anyone, including myself. I have been attracted to him since the first time we met; but, it was watching him walk away that made me realize just how deep my feelings go," sniffed Jane trying not to cry.
Elizabeth came over and hugged her sister. "I am so sorry. Do you know how he feels? When did all this happen and how?"
"I know that he cares for me; but, I do not know to what extent. I really could not say a specific "when" for it seems as if I have loved him my entire life. As to how, it was just a mutual bond. We enjoy being together, talking, laughing, sharing, or just walking. It does not matter. I cannot explain it but he makes me feel different than any gentleman I have ever known."
Elizabeth thought about the conversation with her mother the previous evening and unconsciously added, "The others made you feel beautiful; but he makes you feel special."
Jane smiled. "Precisely. See, you do know your sisters."
"How are you coping with it all?"
"As well as I can. He is gone and may not come back for months or years. When he does, he will need to marry a woman with a substantial dowry, which I do not have. So, I will move on. I am thinking about becoming a ladies companion," Jane confided.
"Jane! You cannot be serious!" exclaimed Elizabeth, "You have always wanted to marry and have children. You cannot give up that dream. There will be another."
"Lizzy, there will be no other."
"There may be; and, even if there is not, you will not need to seek employment. If you do not want to stay here; you will come and live with us should I marry Mr. Darcy."
"I could not do that. Colonel Fitzwilliam is Mr. Darcy's family. Should he marry, I can imagine he will visit the two of you often with his wife and children. I want him to find a woman to love and who will love him back; but, I could not stand to see them together. It would be asking too much."
"Then we will think of another way. Promise me you will not go looking for positions. Promise me you will at least give other men a chance."
"Very well, Lizzy. I shall give it one more year; but, no more. I will not stay here forever. I must do something with my life or else I will lose my sanity," remarked Jane.
"Fair enough. Now, let us go inside and start working with Kitty. We only have a couple of weeks before she is on her own with Captain Denny," laughed Elizabeth.
The following day brought a surprise visitor to Longbourn.
"Mama, look!" exclaimed Kitty. "That is the fanciest carriage I have ever seen."
"What is it Georgiana?" asked Mary.
"That is my Aunt Catherine's carriage. Where is Lizzy?"
"She is upstairs with Jane. I will go get her," volunteered Lydia.
"LIZZY!" bellowed Lydia running up the stairs. "GEORGIANA'S AUNT IS HERE."
Elizabeth heard her sister, as did half of Hertfordshire. She came out to see what the commotion was all about. She wondered if Lady Matlock had come to visit Georgiana for some reason. She hoped there was no bad news about the Colonel.
"I am coming Lydia. Please, do not yell. It is not ladylike," scolded Elizabeth.
Elizabeth and her sisters walked into the parlor just prior to Lady Catherine barging in while refusing to wait to be announced.
Lady Catherine came to an abrupt halt. "Georgiana! What in heaven's name are you doing here?"
Georgiana moved forward and kissed her aunt's cheek.
"I am here visiting Aunt. Let me introduce you. Mrs. Bennet, Miss Bennet, Miss Mary, Miss Catherine and Miss Lydia, this is my aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Aunt Catherine, I am sure you remember Miss Elizabeth."
All the Bennet ladies curtsied while Lady Catherine sneered.
"I am here to speak with Miss Elizabeth privately. While I do so, Georgiana, you will go immediately and pack your things for you are coming to Rosings with me."
Georgiana gasped. Elizabeth stepped forward, "Lady Catherine, I will be honored to speak with you out in the garden. However, Georgiana is a guest here and will not be leaving unless her brother authorizes her removal."
Lady Catherine's face turned red at being talked to in such a manner.
"I am Georgiana's aunt and you are no one to her. She will do as I say and that is final. Now, let us view this garden of yours so that I might have my say to you."
"As I said, I will be honored to speak with you but Georgiana goes nowhere without her brother's consent. If you wish to travel to London and have him come to retrieve her, you have my blessing; otherwise, she stays here. Mary, take Georgiana upstairs to her room. Kitty, please inform Papa of our guest. Now, Lady Catherine, let us go out to the garden."
Lady Catherine was livid; but she was determined to carry her point before she departed. She stormed out of the house and into the garden with a slightly amused Elizabeth behind her. She barely gave Elizabeth time to catch up before she turned on her.
"You, Miss Elizabeth, may think you have the upper hand in this situation; but you do not. I have heard reports of a most alarming nature and I have come here put things to right. Tell me now, are you or are you not engaged to my nephew, Mr. Darcy?"
Elizabeth looked calmly at the elder woman and replied, "I am not."
Lady Catherine heaved a sigh and replied almost unconsciously, "Then it is not too late."
"Tell me, Miss Elizabeth, what is your relationship to my nephew?"
Elizabeth smiled a sweet, loving smile and answered, "We are courting, Lady Catherine."
Lady Catherine scoffed, "Not any longer! I will see that put to an end. Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter and he will hold to his duty and marry her. You are no one to our family and will remain so. I suggest that you stop this ridiculous charade and content yourself with someone of your own sphere."
"Mr. Darcy is of my "sphere"," Elizabeth was beginning to become irritated. "He is a gentleman and I am a gentleman's daughter. He is not engaged to your daughter or else he would not be courting me. Furthermore, Lord and Lady Matlock would not have condoned our courtship, when I met them in London, if Mr. Darcy was already engaged."
"You have met my brother? It is of no consequence. The engagement of Anne to Mr. Darcy is one that was agreed upon when they were still in the cradle. His mother and I willed it to be so and it shall."
"You are mistaken, Lady Catherine. However, this is a conversation you should be having with your nephew and not me."
"My nephew has been enchanted by your wiles and cannot be reasoned with. I came here hoping you would be more sensible. I demand you end this courtship with him now. Should you do so, I will compensate you for any damage that may be done to you or your family's reputation."
"I am afraid that I must ask you to leave, my Lady," came the angry voice of Mr. Bennet.
"Who are you and do you not know who I am? I will not be disrespected in such a manner," was Lady Catherine's response.
"I am Elizabeth's father and I know exactly who you are. I would be glad to welcome any relation of Mr. Darcy's to our home; but, I will not tolerate blatant disrespect to my daughter or any of my family."
"This will not be borne. I can ruin you. I can ruin all of you. I insist that you put a stop to this farce of a courtship at once."
"Again, Lady Catherine, I must insist you leave. Should you refuse to do so again, I will have you thrown forcefully from the property. Regardless of whom you think you are, Mr. Darcy will not tolerate you publically slandering the woman he loves nor her family. Should you attempt to do so; I am afraid that it is you who will be ruined," replied Mr. Bennet.
Lady Catherine began stomping off toward her carriage and yelling behind her, "This is not over. I will see that your name is never spoken of in polite society. Just you wait."
She was then in her carriage and gone before Elizabeth could believe any of it had actually happened.
"Well, my Lizzy, you are certainly connecting yourself with an interesting family. Are you sure that this is the path you wish to take?"
"Mr. Darcy's family is not all like her. Lady Catherine is one of a kind, actually. The rest of his family is very nice. They were all very accepting of Jane and me. I will be very happy to be connected to such a family, honestly."
Mr. Bennet sighed, "Very well. Let us get on back to the house. I am afraid that Miss Darcy equates her aunt with that of a fire-breathing dragon. I would not want her to believe that you have been devoured."
The two of them laughed; then Mr. Bennet added, "I will be writing to Mr. Darcy about the visit of his aunt and the altercation between his sister and Mr. Wickham."
"Must you, Papa?"
"Yes. I would wish the same, were the tables turned."
"I suppose you are right," admitted Elizabeth.
Fortunately for all at Longbourn, the rest of the week was quiet and peaceful. The ladies did encounter Mr. Wickham once more before the regiment left town; but, he stayed on the other side of the road and did not approach them.
Between the time of Mr. Darcy's departure from and arrival to Hertfordshire, many letters passed between Longbourn and London. Jane and Cassie wrote every other day; while Georgiana received a letter from her brother daily. The letter often included references to pass along to Elizabeth. Georgiana wrote to her brother faithfully as both Jane and Elizabeth wrote often to their aunt. Mrs. Gardiner provided information about Mr. Darcy dining with them twice and them dining at Darcy House once. They had also formed a friendship with Mr. and Mrs. Martin Jamison and had been in their company often.
The day was overcast and gloomy but Elizabeth thought it was the most beautiful day ever for Mr. Darcy would be coming this morning. He had arrived at Netherfield last evening but it was close to dark so he sent a note that he would come this morning. Elizabeth and Georgiana had begun a vigil near the window waiting for the first sight of him.
"There he is!" Georgiana exclaimed. "Who is that with him?"
Jane's heart leapt. She knew it was too soon for Richard to be back, but she could not help her reaction. She went to the window and looked out at the approaching riders only to be disappointed when she saw the man with Mr. Darcy.
"That is Mr. Daniel Rhea. He is the brother of Mrs. Linley that lives on the other side of Meryton and is a good friend to Mrs. Martin Jamison, the Colonel's aunt," Jane informed the others.
"That is right. I have met Mr. Rhea before but it was many years back," Georgiana remembered.
"He is certainly a handsome man," replied Kitty. She and Lydia had joined the group at the window.
"He would be more handsome if he wore a red coat; or perhaps a blue one would look better with his coloring," added Lydia.
The ladies moved from the window as the gentlemen were announced.
"Brother!" Georgiana wanted very much to go and hug her brother but she restrained herself due to the presence of Mr. Rhea.
Darcy smiled to himself. He could see that Georgiana was trying hard to be grown up and not run to him as she use to; but, he was not ready for her to be so grown yet. He walked over and engulfed her in a big hug.
"I have missed you," he told her then stepped back.
While Mr. Darcy was greeting his sister, Jane walked up and spoke with their other guest.
"Mr. Rhea, it is good to see you again. I had heard that you were visiting Meryton but have not had the pleasure of seeing you."
"Thank you Miss Bennet, I have been much occupied during my visit thus far. I was hoping for an assembly so that I might have the honor of dancing with you once again; but, my plans were foiled. I am honored to get a chance to visit with you and your family now, however."
Elizabeth heard his comment and tried to remember Mr. Rhea from past assemblies. She vaguely recalled his presence at the first assembly she attended. He had been in town visiting his sister and was much sought after by the ladies until it was discovered that he was engaged to a young woman in London.
Mr. Darcy introduced Mr. Rhea to the remainder of the ladies and they all sat down to tea. Elizabeth was having a very hard time keeping her eyes off Darcy as he was having the same trouble with her. It seemed to Elizabeth that Mr. Darcy had gotten even more handsome while he was away these two weeks. So handsome that she almost sighed just looking at him.
"Miss Elizabeth, you look especially lovely today," he said almost breathlessly.
"Thank you, Mr. Darcy. You are looking very handsome, as well. I assume that your business in London was successful," responded Elizabeth.
"It was. I am now the owner of Netherfield."
In a low voice she replied, "I am glad you are back."
Resisting the urge to reach for her hand, he responded in a low voice to her, "I have missed you so very much."
The two smiled at each other and began to converse with Georgiana and Mary about their upcoming trip to Pemberley.
Mrs. Bennet had been unusually quiet. She had noticed Jane jump when it was mentioned that Mr. Darcy was not alone on his approach to Longbourn. That verified that Jane's heart belonged to someone connected to Mr. Darcy. If Elizabeth was correct and it was not Mr. Bingley then she was at a loss to understand who it could be. She had questioned Jane, Elizabeth and Miss Darcy about the time they were all in London together hoping to get a clue. The only men mentioned were relations of this Miss Jamison that Jane and Elizabeth had met at the engagement party and this Colonel Fitzwilliam that Lizzy had met in Kent.
Mrs. Bennet remembered very little about Mr. Rhea from his previous visit to Hertfordshire for he was not eligible for any of her daughters so he did not take up much of her time. He knew Jane previously and he was obviously friends with Mr. Darcy. She wondered if he might now be a widower and the man Jane was attached to.
"Mr. Rhea, if I recall correctly, you were engaged when you were with us many years ago; so, I assume that you are married now. I would like to inquire as to the health of Mrs. Rhea," Mrs. Bennet spoke, hoping to get a confirmation of his marital status.
Daniel smiled. It had been his ability to avoid that very question that had given him the anonymity he needed to watch over Mr. Wickham for his friend, Darcy. He knew that, were it to get out that he was not attached, he would be the talk of the town. However, his duty was complete and he thought Miss Bennet had grown even more beautiful and sweet so he wanted her to know he was available.
"There is no Mrs. Rhea, Mrs. Bennet. I was engaged previously but she developed affections for a Duke while I was away. I released her from our engagement on my return to London and they married soon after." He did not add that his former intended and her husband were now reported to be miserable with one another. He, also, did not add that he was secretly glad of that fact for he had truly held his former fiancé in great affection.
The huge smile on her face did not correspond with her words when Mrs. Bennet replied, "I am so very sorry to hear that. You must not fret for there are many very sweet and beautiful ladies that would be honored by your suit."
Mr. Rhea smiled back. He had seen Miss Bennet while in town but had not approached her. His sister had heard from her former school friend that Miss Bennet and her sister had been in London and was acquainted with Darcy and Fitzwilliam. He asked Darcy about her and was told that she had no attachments to his knowledge; so he asked to accompany him on his visit to Longbourn.
Conversation continued as the younger girls asked Mr. Rhea all about London. Mrs. Bennet noticed Jane was sitting quietly and unable to speak due to the intrusion of Kitty and Lydia; so, she decided to help out her daughter.
"Mr. Rhea, it is such a beautiful day that I am sure you would love to see the gardens. Jane, Lizzy, why do you not show the gentlemen the roses while the rest of us prepare luncheon. You will stay and join us, will you not?"
Darcy looked out at the grey sky threating rain but refused to give up a chance to spend some private time with Elizabeth, "We would be honored, Mrs. Bennet," answered Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth and Jane gathered their gloves and bonnets and met the gentlemen outside. Elizabeth, wanting to spend some private time with William, was glad her mother had suggested the garden. She knew that she could count on Jane to divert Mr. Rhea while she spoke to Mr. Darcy.
Darcy and Elizabeth set out at a rather fast pace while Jane and Mr. Rhea walked in a rather sedate manner, stopping often to view the variety of flowers.
As soon as she knew they were alone, Elizabeth looked up at William and said, "I cannot believe that you are finally here. I have missed you."
"I have missed you, as well," replied Darcy smiling down at the woman he adored.
Elizabeth stopped, reached into her pocket and withdrew a letter. Darcy could not help the huge grin that came across his face.
"I was afraid that you would stop writing to me now that we have made our intentions public."
Elizabeth laughed, "I am afraid that you have ingrained in me a habit that can no longer be broken. I find it much easier to write things down for I know that I will not be interrupted."
"I feel that way, too. I hope that we shall always be thus." Darcy hesitated then asked, "Would you meet me tomorrow? I will be waiting outside the gate early. I want to speak with you privately and there is not enough time to do so now."
"I would very much like that."
Elizabeth and William began speaking of the many things that had occupied their weeks apart and each anticipating the morning when they would be truly alone.
Jane walked along with Mr. Rhea and enjoyed his company. She found him to be intelligent, kind, and interesting. He was knowledgeable about all kinds of plants and trees and confessed it was a hobby of his. They spoke of his home in London and his estate in Chatsworth. Before either knew it, they had made their way around the garden and were fast approaching the house once again. Mr. Rhea knew that he had to take a chance and speak to Jane about his feelings now or he might not have another chance.
"Miss Bennet, please forgive me if I seem too bold; but, I must tell you how much I enjoy your company. I liked you the first time we met and I have thought of you often since returning to Hertfordshire. I was hoping that you would give me your consent to call upon you so that we might come to know one another better."
Jane sighed and looked away. She liked this man but knew that she could feel nothing more for him.
"Mr. Rhea, I do like you and hope that we might become friends; but, I have to be honest and tell you that my heart belongs to another."
"My apologies, Miss Bennet; I was not aware that you had an understanding with someone else. I asked Darcy and he was not aware of any attachment. I would not have broached the subject had I been aware."
Jane smiled. "It is alright Mr. Rhea; I do not have an understanding with anyone. I just did not want to mislead you. I care for someone; but I am not sure that he and I will ever have the opportunity to be more than friends."
"Then, perhaps, all is not lost. Should we end up friends, I would be happy; but, I would like the chance to win your affections."
Jane laughed at the hopeful expression he wore. "I am sorry Mr. Rhea, but my heart is not fickle. However, I would very much enjoy your friendship."
Daniel sighed. Why was it that the ladies he felt would make an excellent partner always seemed to have feelings for another. Sometimes he wondered if he would be a bachelor forever.
The afternoon was spent in companionable conversation. Darcy often found himself watching Mrs. Bennet. He knew she had been upset when his and Elizabeth's courtship was announced; so, he wondered what had transpired after he left. He was surprised to find her much more tolerable than he had in the past. She was still loud and overbearing; but, there was something different about her. Oh well, he would think upon it later. Perhaps Elizabeth's letter would provide him with some insight.
Not wanting to be separated from her new friend, Georgiana had asked to remain at Longbourn. Darcy had agreed to allow her one more night but insisted that she come to Netherfield the next day, as Mrs. Annesley would be arriving and it was time she began her studies once more. As a compromise, he invited Mary to come to Netherfield to stay with them. Therefore, Darcy was able to go directly to the study upon returning to the estate and read Elizabeth's letter without interruption.
I am sure that once I have placed this letter in your hands, I will already have told you how much I have missed you. However, it cannot be stressed enough so I will say it again: I have missed you terribly.
I have read and reread your letter and it only gets better. Your descriptions of our future have touched my heart so dearly. I cannot tell you how much I needed those words the first time I read them. It was just after you left and I had a confrontation with my mother. It ended badly and I needed your comfort. I cannot imagine how I would have survived had I not found the solace of your words.
I know that you are curious about the reaction of my mother to our courtship so I will tell you. She was happy for us; but, she was upset. I have told you about the situation regarding her marriage to my father. I am afraid that she was jealous of your obvious affection for me and was feeling a little upset at the thought of all her girls getting married and leaving her alone. We are all she has had all these years and she was afraid of being lonely once we are gone. I assured her that we would make sure that she is never lonely.
I felt so bad for her William. I cannot imagine living my life with a husband who mocks you and having all your children leave you alone with no one but him for company. My father is taking her and my youngest sisters to Brighton on holiday. I hope that is a sign that he will try harder. However, I fear that he might try for a while then revert to his old ways. I am afraid that will hurt my mother more than not giving any effort at all.
You asked about my living family. You know the family I have on my mother's side. My Uncle Gardiner and Aunt Phillips are the only living family my mother has in close proximity. I do have some cousins that live near Bath; but, I have only met them once before and did not like them very much.
My Grandfather Bennet had a brother and a sister. My great-uncle had three daughters and one son. The youngest two were twin girls and they, as well as their mother, died during child birth. The oldest girl eloped with a sea captain after her father refused to give his consent to the marriage. My father said that she has not been heard from since leaving on her wedding trip.
My great-uncle and his son were both killed in a fire when Lydia was about two. I have a few memories of them coming to Longbourn and I liked them very much. My cousin would have inherited and I would have been happy for him. However, with their deaths, the inheritance moved over to my great-aunts only son, Mr. Collins.
The feud between my father and the elder Mr. Collins began at this time. After my eldest Bennet cousin died, the elder Mr. Collins decided to take an interest in Longbourn; as it would now go to his son. He began criticizing my father for his management of the estate and even went so far as to hire a steward of his own and send him to Longbourn. My father had the steward removed from the property and banned the Collins family from the grounds. After that, no words were spoken between the two families until the younger Mr. Collins made contact this past year.
My Grandmother Bennet was one of seven children from the Weymouth area. All her relations still live in that area; so I have not met many of them. My father use to receive regular letters from some of my cousins; however, not being a very good correspondent, he has lost touch with most of them.
After seeing you around your family, it made me wish I knew mine better. You seem to get along so well and I have never seen you as relaxed as you were at the engagement party. I hope that we will always allow our children to know their extended family and spend as much time as possible with them.
How many children do you wish to have? I can imagine you would be an excellent father. I can only imagine having to scold you for spoiling them too much.
William, since returning home I have discovered so much about myself and my sisters. I thought myself so astute and congratulated myself on being able to discern the character of others with ease. Yet, I found that I did not even know my own sisters.
I discovered that Mary likes to read many things other than religious texts. Though theology is her preference and passion, she has a lot of varied interests that I was not even remotely aware of. I then learn that Kitty has a natural talent at drawing. I had just told your Aunt Catherine that none of my sister's draw as I had not even noticed the pictures sketched on every letter Kitty writes. Most shocking of all, I was made aware that my eldest sister is in love with your cousin.
I do not want to betray Jane's confidence; but, I will not keep secrets from you and I am sure she understands that. It came out when my mother insisted that Jane was broken hearted. I had suspected that they might like one another but I had never dreamed that her feelings had gone so deep. I asked her if she knew how the Colonel felt about her and she said that she knew he cared but not the extent to which that affection went. She understands that he will marry with fortune in mind and was considering becoming a lady's companion. I talked her into waiting a year before deciding her life and she agreed. She swears she will never love another and will not live with us for she could not stand to see him married to another. What shall I do?
I also wanted to say that I hope Lady Catherine learns to accept our relationship. I know that my father was to write to you about the confrontation with her. I do not want to be the cause of a split in your family.
I shall go now and hope to dream of you when I close my eyes.
I love you very much.
Yours always… Elizabeth
Miss Bennet in love with Richard? This was a shock for him; but a good one. Perhaps Richard felt the same and would accept his offer so that he might marry her. He really liked Miss Bennet and would be happy for his cousin to have such a wife.
Darcy was more confident than ever in his plan. He could not wait until the morning to speak to Elizabeth. He must, also, apologize for his aunt's behavior. He had been so glad to see Elizabeth again that he did not do so earlier.
Elizabeth arose early and dressed carefully. She grabbed two muffins from the kitchen and left through the side door. When she exited the gate, she saw Mr. Darcy already there waiting on her.
"Good morning William."
Darcy smiled. "Good Morning Elizabeth. Would you prefer to walk or ride?" Darcy asked while indicating his horse tied to a branch nearby.
"I think I would prefer to walk. Will your horse be alright here or should we take him with us?"
"I will take him a ways with us, then tie him up where he will be safe. I do not anticipate much foot traffic this early in the morning."
The two set off on their walk and Elizabeth offered Darcy one of the muffins she had snatched. They walked in companionable silence while they ate and just enjoyed being together. When there were about half way to Oakham Mount, Darcy tied off his horse and continued on.
Once they had reached the top, Darcy took off his greatcoat and laid it on the ground underneath a large Oak. Elizabeth sat down with her back to the tree looking out over the vast farmland of Hertfordshire. Darcy surprised her when he sat down opposite, facing her.
He took her hands in his and kissed the back of each before saying, "Elizabeth, I have missed you so very much while we were separated. I am not sure how I will be able to survive the five weeks you will be traveling."
"I understand and I feel the same. It will be harder actually; for I will not have Georgiana with me to read letters from you. That, at least, brought me comfort," Elizabeth replied.
"Elizabeth, I love you and I have promised to give you time; but, that promise is impossible for me to keep. I cannot bear to let you leave knowing that I will not hear from you for over a month. Please, say you will accept my hand and allow me to petition your father's consent to write to you while you are on holiday," implored William.
Elizabeth looked into his earnest eyes. She knew that she loved him and that she wanted to marry him; she had just wanted more time to get to know one another. Yet, she understood his pain at their separation. She had felt lost without him and she had only come to terms with her feelings recently. She knew that he had loved her for months and could imagine his agony was great.
"William, I love you and would be honored to be your wife."
Darcy's smile was huge and his eyes became suspiciously glassy as he said, "My Lizzy," then bent down to brush his lips softly across hers once, twice, and a third time before resting his forehead against hers.
"You have made me the happiest man alive."
Elizabeth had no words to offer. The feel of his thumb caressing circles over the back of her hand, the intoxicating smell of him so close to her, the look in his eyes, and the taste of his mouth against hers had overwhelmed all her senses. Tears began to slip down her cheeks, startling Darcy.
"Elizabeth, I am sorry. I did not mean to overstep. Please do not cry."
Elizabeth, still unable to form words, reached up and put her index finger over his lips to quiet him. She took several deep breaths in order to calm herself enough to answer.
"You did not overstep, William. I just never dreamed… I mean I never knew… it's just that … "Elizabeth stopped and tried to gather her thoughts before continuing, "I was simply overwhelmed. I have dreamed of kissing you; but, I could never have imagined the way it made me feel."
Darcy reached up and cupped her face in his hand. He ran his thumb over her cheek as he remembered the words Mr. Gardiner had spoken to him when he had asked permission to court Elizabeth: "…courtship rules are put in place to protect the lady and allow her time to come to an understanding of newly awakened emotions." He understood that now. Elizabeth had no experience with men and these feelings he was awakening in her would be overwhelming. His passionate love for Elizabeth made him unable to think rationally at times; so he thought of his sister instead.
He imagined that Georgiana would be just as overwhelmed as Elizabeth in this situation, if not more, and he would want her treated with respect and gentleness. So he kissed Elizabeth's forehead and said, "I understand that the feelings you are experiencing are new and maybe a little frightening. Just know that I will never hurt you and you can talk to me about what you feel any time you wish."
Elizabeth smiled at him. He could have said nothing else that would have given her such comfort. She placed her hands on each side of his face and hesitantly moved until her lips touched his. Darcy restrained himself and let her go at her own pace. When she pulled back from him; her face was radiant.
"Thank you William. You have made me so very happy."
The happy couple returned to Longbourn without pretense. Mr. Bennet was immediately applied to and granted consent to the marriage and to correspondence. His one demand was that the engagement be of six months duration. Darcy, wanting their first Christmas to be spent at Pemberley surrounded by friends and family, talked him down to four months. This would give them some time alone prior to guests arriving for the holiday.
Mrs. Bennet did not let them down this time. Her exclamations could be heard throughout the county. She kept the young couple busy over the next week paying calls and discussing wedding plans.
Congratulations poured in from most of Darcy's close family. Lady Catherine did not write to him but did make her displeasure known to the Earl. He was informed by her that, since Darcy had lost his sanity, it would be up to Richard to take his place and marry Anne. She said that she should have insisted on Richard in the first place; for he needed Anne's money and estate and understood duty. The Early thought it a good idea but would have to discuss it with his son first. He would send him a letter immediately. Perhaps this would bring him home.
Posted on: 2011-07-30
Wickham was looking for a game of cards. His funds were beginning to run out and he needed to pad his pockets. He had perfected the art of cheating at cards and rarely ever got caught anymore. Moreover, this was his first opportunity to escape camp. He had been put on extra duty as punishment for his outburst at Longbourn.
He avoided the more reputable haunts visited by his comrades and chose a seedy looking place off the beaten path. His experience taught him that the less educated the man, the easier he was to fool. However, he was astonished to find some of the most well educated men sitting at the table across the room.
Wickham had intended to leave quickly. He had no wish to involve himself with the upper class, much less those of the name Darcy; but he heard his name called out by Anthony Darcy and had to acknowledge him.
"Darcy, I must say that I am truly shocked to find you here."
"I might say the same about you; however, I am not shocked at all to find you in such a place," laughed Anthony Darcy before continuing. "I assume you remember my son, Jonathan Darcy?" at Wickham's nod, Anthony turned to the other man at the table. "This is my cousin and closest friend, the elder Jonathan Darcy."
Wickham was uncomfortable. The elder Jonathan Darcy had not stopped staring at him since he first approached the table. The man had a cruel look about him and a smirk on his face that seemed to say he was privy to information that Wickham was not. Wickham did not trust him; not at all.
The men offered Wickham a drink and he accepted. At first, the conversation was about horses, races, and women. Yet, as the booze began to flow, the conversation turned more personal. Anthony and the younger Jonathan Darcy began to lament the loss of their estate, Dunworth, to George Darcy and their outrage at the refusal of Fitzwilliam Darcy to correct that error. The elder Jonathan Darcy added his disgust of George Darcy for having refused to aid him financially when in need, trying to take his wife from him, and throwing him from Pemberley property and banning him forever. He mentioned his anger toward the current owner of that property for continuing that ban. What he did not mention was his outrage that both Darcy's knew of his son and had kept it secret from him. Had he not snuck back on Pemberley property many years ago to "pay a visit" to Mrs. Wickham, he might still be ignorant of that fact.
"What do you mean when you say he tried to take your wife from you?" asked Wickham, wondering if his suspicions of George Darcy's unfaithfulness were true.
"My wife required regular reminders of where her place was in our home, if you understand my meaning. George Darcy did not like my methods of controlling my wife. Then, I made the acquaintance of the wife of one of Pemberley's staff and was enjoying myself with her quite often when George found out and forced me to leave Pemberley. Upon our departure, he offered my wife refuge and protection within the walls of Pemberley. She knew that I would find a way to get at her there, so she turned him down; but, I never forgot the slight. How dare he throw me from the property where my own father grew up and try to take what is lawfully mine. Just because he preferred to allow his wife the upper hand over him gave him no right to try and tell me how to run my own house and family," concluded the elder Jonathan.
"I understand that you are not immune to the propensity of that branch of Darcy's taking what is legally yours," commented the younger Jonathan Darcy to Wickham. "My connections in London said that you were left a living that was refused to be given by the current owner of Pemberley.
Wickham never gave up an opportunity to tell his sad tale. "It was more than just a living I was cheated out of, it was Pemberley that was taken from me."
"Pemberley? What do you mean?" inquired the elder Jonathan Darcy.
"You see, just prior to my mother's death, she informed me that I am not a Wickham; but a Darcy. George Darcy did not acknowledge me as his son but Pemberley should have been mine. I never truly thought I could obtain Pemberley legally; but I used my mother's dying declaration and my obvious resemblance to George Darcy and filed suit anyway to try and force Fitzwilliam Darcy to acknowledge me as the son of his father. Instead, he somehow fabricated legal documentation that "proved" that I was not his brother. I was never allowed to see this documentation; therefore, I can only conclude that it never existed. I, later, came up with the perfect plan in order to force Darcy to admit our blood status: I proposed to his young sister. I knew that he would have to admit to me that we could not legally marry for we were brother and sister; but, he simply turned her against me without admitting anything. Therefore, Darcy has taken my living, my estate, my name, my family, my place in society and my fortune from me."
"You believe George Darcy to be your father? Did your mother name him personally?" inquired the elder Jonathan Darcy with a hint of amusement in his tone.
"Who else? I know of no other Darcy it could possibly be. My mother was shunned to a cottage at the edge of the property, by Anne Darcy no doubt; but, I was George Darcy's godson. He cared for me, provided me with all the necessities a man of distinction would need, provided for me financially and gave me a gentleman's education. Why would he do these things if he was not my father?"
"Why indeed?" asked the elder Jonathan Darcy.
"What do you plan on doing now?" inquired Anthony Darcy.
"There is nothing to do. I met up with Georgiana again recently and thought I could ingratiate myself with her; but she had turned completely against me. I would enjoy knocking Fitzwilliam Darcy off his Pemberley throne but I see no way to do this," answered Wickham.
"Did you know that he is now engaged?" questioned the elder Jonathan.
"ENGAGED! I have heard no such report," responded Wickham.
"It had not been announced to the general public upon our arrival here; but, announcements did go out to family. It seems he has proposed to a woman from a small town he visited recently. A Miss Elizabeth Bennet, do you know her?"
Wickham's eyes widen. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth? He had not seen that coming. He answered the elder Jonathan thus, "I do know her and must confess that I would have never thought of an understanding between the two. Miss Elizabeth is intelligent, pretty, outspoken, and enjoys the out of doors. Yet, she has no fortune or connections. Her mother's family is in trade. Her father is a gentleman but his estate is entailed and barely provides a living. I cannot imagine the high and mighty Fitzwilliam Darcy connecting himself with such a family. I fancied her a bit myself while in Hertfordshire but knew that she could never give me what I needed."
"Interesting," commented Anthony. "If she is poor and unconnected, then he must love her. If she is all that you say, then she deserves better. Perhaps we might work on her and convince her of his unsuitablility. Losing her might teach him a lesson in taking what does not belong to you."
"It would not work. I have already tried that and thought I had succeeded in turning her against him before there was ever any feeling between them. If it did not work then, it will not work now," stated Wickham.
The younger Jonathan smiled and said, "Then perhaps we should make marriage to her impossible for him. He is a proud man. He might overlook fortune and connections for he does not need them; but he could never overlook scandal. He has a young sister to think of."
"And just how do you propose that we create such a scandal?" asked Wickham.
"I understand that she has four sisters, is this correct?"
"Yes, but the eldest Miss Bennet is a paragon of virtue and the middle Bennet daughter, Mary, is an expert on theology. The other two are senseless and silly but they are never far enough from Longbourn to trifle with," confirmed Wickham.
Anthony Darcy interjected," What if I told you that the two youngest Bennet sisters were here at this very moment?"
"That is not possible. I would have heard of it."
"You have been on restricted duty. They have only arrived this morning but your friend, Captain Denny, has already paid them a call. Did he not tell you?"
Wickham fumed. He regretted his fall-out with Denny because the man was his unknowing informant of everything going on outside camp. Now he was reduced to the gossip of a few of the younger officers. He was sure that they would know of the Miss Bennets and would have mentioned them being in town. It was clear to him now that he had to get away from here. This was not the life he was born to. He should not have to work for his living like a common man. He was a Darcy! However, unlike a cunning Darcy, he never thought to ask how these three men knew so much about the Bennets and about his comings and goings.
"What do you suggest we do?" he asked the men assembled.
They had been waiting on him to ask that very question. They had arrived in town with prior knowledge of all that had transpired in Hertfordshire between Wickham and Georgiana and Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Wickham was being watched at all times by the elder Jonathan Darcy. He hoped Wickham might acquire an estate of significant fortune from George Darcy; instead he got nothing but a paltry living. He had promised Wickham's mother not to inform her son that he was his father; but he never said that he would not lead his son to that conclusion; if there was something in it for him. However, it was working to their advantage at the moment for him to assume that George Darcy was his father. He would allow him to think it so; for now.
Everyone was asleep except Elizabeth. She was too excited to sleep for she would be seeing William tomorrow. It had been five long weeks and they would be traveling to Pemberley in the morning. Since her eyes refused to close, she decided to look back over the letters he had sent her while she traveled.
She read passages from them all, reminding herself how very close they had grown even though they had been parted.
"…You asked me what to do about your sister and my cousin and I must give you warning. My uncle has informed me that Lady Catherine wants Richard to marry Anne, since I refuse to do so. Rosings would be a good estate for Richard if he could tolerate Lady Catherine. He still could accept my offer of Netherfield; so, we will just have to wait and see.
As far as your sister becoming a companion, we will find another way. If she does not want to live with us, we will make sure she is able to be independent. Perhaps she would agree to live with the Gardiners if we made sure that she was not wholly reliant on them financially. Daniel Rhea seems to like her very much; maybe she will discover that a life of companionship with him is better than being alone. I am sure they could at least be friends in marriage."
"…How many children do I want? Though it is not entirely up to us to decide, I would wish for maybe five or six. I cannot express to you how much it means to me to know that the mother of my children will take an active role in their lives. So many society women see their children only an hour a day at the most. I want our house to be a home to them. I want them to feel they are able to come to us with their problems, no matter how big or how small. Just never allow Richard to tell them stories of the pranks we pulled as a child."
"…I miss you so very much. I try to stay busy so that time will pass by more quickly. I dream about you being here with me. Will that time never arrive?"
"…Georgiana and Mary are having a wonderful time together. I must say, I am enjoying having her here, too. Since she has become more comfortable around me, I find that she is very interesting company and I am glad to have her as Georgiana's friend. She is very intelligent and we have had numerous debates over various subjects. Mrs. Annesley has included her in Georgiana's studies and has nothing but good things to say."
"…My aunt and uncle had dinner with us last night and stayed until this morning. They both liked Mary very much and send you their greetings. Once the girls had retired, I spoke to them both about Richard and Jane. Neither was very surprised to hear that they have feelings for each other. It seems that it was made obvious at Cassie's engagement party. I must have been the only one blind to the entire situation.
I told my uncle of the offer I made Richard before he left. He was hopeful that Richard would choose Netherfield; but he would not retract his support of Rosing either. He would prefer his son marry for love; but, he just wants him out of the military and home safe regardless of the path he chooses."
"…My cousin, Stewart, and Mr. Rhea joined us for dinner tonight. Did I ever mention that Daniel is the one who provided the living for Stewart? Mary and Stewart seemed to get along very well. They talked of his writing and of theology for most of the night. I do believe there were times they would get so caught up in their conversation that they would forget others were in the room. It was amusing to watch. I can only imagine others feel that way when you are in the same room with me. Daniel asked after Jane. He sends his regards."
"…I am afraid that your last letter gave Georgiana and Mary quite a fright. Your re-telling of Mrs. Bennet's description of sea bathing had me laughing so hard that I was in tears. Our sisters thought something bad had happened and it was several minutes before I could catch my breath long enough to explain that all was well."
"…I received word from Richard today. He had arrived in Lisbon but had not spoken to Wellington before sending off his note; so he still does not know if his resignation will be accepted. However, he did tell me that he plans to tender it. He did not say that he wanted to accept my offer. I do not imagine my uncle's letter had reached him at that point; so he was still unaware of the offer of Rosings made by my Aunt Catherine.
Georgiana heard from Anne yesterday. She wrote that Lady Catherine assured her that Richard would marry her. Anne feels that, if Richard fails to do so, she will never have the opportunity to wed; for no one but family will tolerate her mother. I always assumed that Anne had no wish to marry; but, I was wrong. She wrote that she looks forward to being a wife. I never gave much thought to how lonely it must be to have only her mother and the woman her mother pays as regular companions. At least she has the sensible Mrs. Collins to speak with on occasion. If Richard marries Jane, what are we going to do about Anne?"
"…Only one more week and you will be here. How will I survive? I am so happy that you will be here with me. I have a special surprise for you. Your idea of introducing Anne and Mr. Rhea was a good one; but, I know him well enough to discern he will not put up with my aunt. He has his own estate and lands so he does not need Rosings or Anne's money.
Stewart has visited several times over the last few weeks. I do believe that he comes to see Mary rather than me."
"…I received a letter from Charles today. It seems that Miss Bingley made the mistake of confiding her troubles to Miss Thornton; who turned around and told all of London that the Bingleys were going back into trade. As expected, they have been shunned by all but their true friends and Miss Bingley's prospects in relation to the ton have narrowed to the desperate. She is being called upon by two gentlemen, one is the wastrel third son of a Baron and the other is a young, respectable businessman. Charles fears she will accept the Baron's son only to end up destitute; but, he is allowing her to make her own decision."
Darcy stood by the window looking out over the drive. He would have a fair warning of Elizabeth's approach; for the gatehouse would raise the flag signaling guests arriving. It would take approximately ten minutes for them to reach the house after they enter the gate. The park was maintained so that there was always a clear view of the gatehouse flag from his study window. He wondered if sheer will alone could raise that flag.
When he finally saw the flag reaching its apex, he wanted to run down the drive and meet the carriage on foot. He controlled his urge and went to find his sister and Mary. He located the girls in the music room practicing a duet they had picked out to entertain their guests. Together the three of them went out and waited for the carriage to arrive.
Elizabeth was in shock. She had heard of Mr. Darcy's wealth from others and was aware of his owning several estates; but to see Pemberley made just how wealthy he was a reality to her.
"Aunt Mattie, what have I gotten myself into? I cannot manage an estate that size," declared Elizabeth with a hint of panic in her voice.
"Lizzy, you will do fine. Just remember that there will be many more servants here to assist you. You will have a housekeeper who, I imagine, has been taking care of most all the household expenses since there is no Mistress at this time and you can rely on your Mr. Darcy, as well. He will help you with anything you are not familiar with."
"I do not want to disappoint him."
Mr. Gardiner answered, "You will only disappoint him if you fail to acknowledge your fears to him. Tell him how you feel and discuss it together. It will make you feel better and will make him feel needed. I guarantee you that."
Mrs. Gardiner smiled at her husband and patted him on the knee. She recalled several arguments during the early part of their marriage that resulted from wanting to live up to the image of someone else. They finally decided that their failures would be their own and a learning experience. They now hoped to pass this wisdom on to their favorite nieces.
Elizabeth saw Darcy standing on the steps to Pemberley. She could not believe that they were together again. She could barely wait for the door to the carriage to be opened before she was ready to be out and in his company.
Darcy could barely believe it, she was here. He opened the carriage door as soon as it came to a stop. Elizabeth stepped forward first and he reached for her hand. After he helped her down he raised her hand to his lips for a gentle kiss.
"Elizabeth, welcome to Pemberley."
Mr. Gardiner stepped down next so that he might help his wife and other niece out of the carriage. He had to smile at the young couple and their obliviousness to everyone else. He then smiled at Georgiana and Mary who were giggling at the couple before they came down to greet the Gardiners and Jane.
"Aunt, Uncle, Jane, I am so glad you are here," replied Mary as she hugged each one.
"Welcome to Pemberley. We are so glad to have you here," announced Georgiana while receiving a hug from Jane and Mrs. Gardiner and a tender pat on the cheek from Mr. Gardiner.
Clearing her throat rather loudly, Georgiana continued in a loud voice, "I am sure my brother welcomes you, as well."
Darcy looked over to his sister with Jane and the Gardiners and blushed. He walked over to greet the rest of his guests while Mary and Georgiana greeted Elizabeth.
"Mr. Gardiner, Mrs. Gardiner, Jane, welcome to Pemberley. I hope you will feel at home here. Please feel free to come and go as you wish; for we will hold to no schedule. There are horses and carriages at your disposal as you need them and just ask any of the staff if there is anything you require that is not readily available," stated the Master of Pemberley.
"Thank you Mr. Darcy, we appreciate your hospitality," replied Mr. Gardiner.
"Now let us get you into the house and out of the sun."
The group made their way into the foyer of the house where a servant waited to take their hats and gloves.
Georgiana stepped up and inquired, "Your rooms are ready and waiting. Would you prefer to rest now or come into the parlor for tea?"
Mrs. Gardiner admitted that she needed to rest so she and Mr. Gardiner retired to their rooms until supper. Jane and Elizabeth asked for a moment to refresh themselves then would come to the parlor for tea. Georgiana took Elizabeth to her room while Mary showed Jane to hers. They met back up in the hallway and proceeded to the parlor. Elizabeth was thankful that they were not abandoned for she feared she would never find her way in such a large house.
Darcy paced the parlor impatiently. He wanted a few moments alone with Elizabeth to welcome her properly. He hoped that she would be up for a tour of the house after dinner; but he wanted to spend a few minutes alone with her now.
The ladies entered the room and saw that tea had already been delivered. Georgiana and Mary began serving while Jane looked around at the décor.
Elizabeth made her way over to the window where William stood.
"I am so glad to finally be here. I have missed you very much," admitted Elizabeth.
"I cannot express how wonderful it is to have you here. I have been lost without you. Let us have tea with our sisters; then take a walk in the garden. I need to spend some time alone with you. Are you too tired for a short walk?"
"After being cooped up in a carriage for hours? Do you know me at all?" Elizabeth laughed.
The couple made their way over to the others and took a seat. Darcy had barely sat down before jumping back up and asking to be excused for a moment.
"What was that all about?" questioned Mary.
"I am not quite sure," answered Elizabeth.
Darcy returned in only a matter of minutes with several letters in hand.
"Please forgive me; but I thought the two of you might wish to have your correspondence as soon as you arrived. It appears that Mrs. Collins anticipated your arrival, Elizabeth. There is also a letter for you from Lady Matlock. Jane, Cassie has sent you two letters and you have one from Mrs. Bennet."
"Thank you William," replied Jane to her soon-to-be brother.
Elizabeth was curious as to what Lady Matlock had to say; but she decided to put off reading the letter until later. Right now she just wanted to spend time with William.
Jane was equally curious as to the contents of Cassie's letters. One seemed especially thick and the other appeared to be a single sheet. Why would she send two to wait here?
The group enjoyed their tea while Mary and Georgiana filled them in on what they had been doing over the summer. In turn, Elizabeth and Jane gave descriptions of some of their favorite sights on their trip. When everyone had their fill, Darcy asked Elizabeth to walk with him. Sensing that their company would not be appreciated, Georgiana and Mary excused themselves to the music room to practice while Jane removed to her room to rest and read her letters.
Jane chose the thinner letter first.
My dear Jane,
I was visiting Amelia today when word was received that Richard has arrived safely in Portugal. I am sure that William has informed you of this; but, I wanted to make sure you knew. It seems that the missive to his brother was delayed somehow and two letters arrived at once.
The second letter stated that he had spoken with Wellington and his request for resignation has been denied. Do not fret though; for he said that a compromise has been reached. He did not have the full details but promised his brother that he would write as soon as he was more informed.
Everything will work out, my dear friend. I just feel it. Please do not worry for him.
Your friend… Cassie
Jane reached up and swiped a tear from her cheek. She did not know how Cassie could be so optimistic. If Richard were to stay overseas, he would be in danger and there would be no way that he would take Netherfield. Elizabeth had told her of Lady Catherine's offer of marriage to her daughter. Jane knew it was a good offer for him and knew that he would be sensible to accept it. Either way, they would not be together.
Jane opened the second letter and a packet fell into her lap. A third letter from Cassie? She left the packet in her lap and read the attached note.
I cannot believe it. As soon as I had walked downstairs to have your other letter delivered, I was told that a letter had arrived for me from my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. My mother and father were very curious as to what he had to say; but, I excused myself to read in private. I am glad I did so for he had enclosed this letter for you.
I knew that he would write. I told you that he loves you.
Write to me as soon as you can and tell me all!
With profuse excitement… Cassie
Jane could not believe it. He had written to her. She picked up the letter and looked at it. Part of her was anxious enough to rip it open; yet, another part was terrified that it would contain information she did not want to know. She took several calming breaths, slit the seal, and began to read.
The crossing was long and tedious; but, rather uneventful. I spent the journey in training and planning sessions with very little time to myself. I started many letters to you during that time; but, ended up abandoning the attempt due to interruptions and rough seas. I sent word to Andrew about my safe arrival with directions to inform Cassie. I knew that she would send word to you.
I have read your letter many times and I want you to know how much your support has helped me with my guilt and grief. You will never know how much I value your opinion and how it has helped ease the pain to just share what happened with you. I am forever grateful.
Several things have happened in the time we have been in port. I applied to Wellington for a full resignation and was turned down; but he is willing to offer a compromise. He stated that they could not spare my talents at this point of the war. He asked me why I wanted to leave the service and we talked about many things. I admire and respect him as a commander and, also, as a friend. We are still working out the details of my new duty; but it is clear that the position will be stationed in London. I, however, cannot say when I will be returning.
I also received two informative letters. First, was a letter from my father. It appears that my aunt, Lady Catherine has decided that I should marry her daughter. Should I do so, I would receive Rosings, Primrose House in London, and Anne's dowry of £50,000. We could reside in London while I carried out my duty and then move to Rosings when my retirement is finally accepted.
Anne is frail but not weak. She could provide me with children; though not the houseful I wish. She is sheltered and timid; but intelligent. I cannot say that I hold any attraction for her; but I do like her in general. Many a marriage was built on less. I tell you all of this because I must be forthright with you about my life and my options.
The second letter I received was from Darcy announcing his engagement. In his letter he mentioned that Miss Elizabeth was concerned about you. He said that you told your sister that you are considering becoming a Lady's Companion. Why would you even consider such a thing? That is not a life for you. Please, promise me that you will never consider this again. Please?
Darcy also mentioned that Daniel Rhea seemed rather sweet on you. I have known Daniel since we were children. He is a good man. I had actually hoped he would marry Sophia at one time. It was not to be, however; and she found herself a very good husband.
As much as I like Rhea, I find that my blood boils at the thought of him smiling at you. I am jealous that he gets to walk with you, dine with you, and spend time talking with you. To be honest, I punched a hole in the wall of my room upon reading that the two of you were much together before leaving Hertfordshire and that he plans to see you again when you reach Derbyshire. Please do not fear that I am a violent man. I would never hurt you; but I do have a passionate nature and you must know this about me.
I told you that I wish for you to find someone who will love you the way you deserve and I am sure that Daniel Rhea would be the perfect man to share your life with. However, expressing those feelings and facing the reality that they might come true are two completely different things.
I must be the worst of men for I cannot make you any promises; but, I cannot stand the thought of you with another. Just reading your name close to his was enough to set me off. I have never been overly possessive or prone to jealousy. I have no idea what has come over me.
There is something I must tell you. Leaving you standing on the docks was pure torture for me. Seeing the pain in your eyes was almost more than I could bear. When I read your letter, it pulled at my heart. I tried hard to read your feelings in-between the words that you wrote. You wrote that you had given yourself hope, that you could not help wanting to be by my side, and that you felt this bond between us, too. What does all that mean? I belive I know; but I want to hear the words from you.
I am a weak man when it comes to you. I refuse to make promises, yet I treat you as an intended; I have not the ability to distance myself when there is little hope; and I cannot stop myself from writing these words: I love you.
Please forgive me.
Forever yours in my heart… Richard
Jane found herself crying and smiling. He loved her. But how could they be together if he was not able to resign from his duty?
Elizabeth and Darcy made their way around the gardens in companionable silence. Both were just happy to be together again. They took a turn on the path and came to a large oak tree with a stone bench underneath. Darcy helped Elizabeth seat herself then sat next to her. He glanced around to make sure none of his servants were about before leaning down and kissing her tenderly.
"I have missed you so much, My Dear," he said earnestly.
"I have missed you terribly, as well."
"Ten weeks is too far from now. I want to wed you tonight in Pemberley Chapel and never let you out of my sight again," sighed Darcy.
Elizabeth laughed. "I am afraid Sir, you would get very tired of me if I were "never" out of your sight."
Darcy grinned back at her, "I could never tire of looking at you, My Sweet."
They sat a few moments in peaceful quite just embracing each other before Darcy spoke.
"After dinner, I would like to take you and your family on a tour of the house. Would you like that?"
"I would like that very much. It is such a beautiful place."
"Do you think you will be happy here, Elizabeth? You can, of course, change the décor in any room you choose."
Elizabeth turned slightly so that she was facing her betrothed and replied, "William, I find this place to be extremely beautiful. It is elegant without being pretentious. However, it is so very large that I fear I will not be capable of running it the way you wish."
Darcy could see the fear and understood it well. He had the same fears when he took over running the estate upon his father's passing.
"I felt the same way after my father died. I did not know how I would manage such a large place and all the other responsibilities and properties that come with it; so, I went to my Uncle Edwin for advice. He told me to just prioritize everything and allow only the biggest concerns to come across my desk. He said the key to being a successful landowner without giving up every moment of your day was to hire people you can trust to work for you. I have very capable stewards at every property and equally capable head butlers and head housekeepers that keep everything running smoothly.
Once a week, I get a report from each of the three regarding the lands, tenants and household. I handle tenant disputes personally but allow my steward to take on day to day minor squabbles. I, of course, hear about them in his report and intervene if I feel another direction needs to be taken; but, he very rarely handles things any differently than I would. Every morning, I go over the accounts for Pemberley and Darcy House as they are occupied most. Once a week I go over the accounts for Dunworth and Netherfield. I look over my investments, the anticipated expenses for the upcoming week, and handle correspondence. This usually allows me to have my evenings free.
I am sure that you will find your way, just as I did. You will devise your own system of tackling the household concerns here and at the other estates. Fortunately, you have Mrs. Reynolds to help you here and she has been taking care of the Mistress Duties for years now. She can give you advice on the other properties since she receives regular reports from the housekeepers at each. She has been my rock and I know that she will be thrilled to relinquish some of her responsibilities and teach you what she knows.
Also, Elizabeth, you can always come to me. If you need anything or just want to discuss a problem about the staff. Whatever is your concern is my concern. Never feel like something is too small to discuss. If it bothers you, then it will bother me.
Elizabeth smiled and leaned up to give him a gentle kiss.
"Thank you William. I feel much better now."
After dinner, Darcy began a tour of the house for all his guests. Elizabeth loved roaming the portrait gallery. She had imagined what William's parents might look like; but, now she could see. It really was remarkable how much Georgiana favored her father. Unfortunately, knowing the family history as she did, she could easily see a Darcy resemblance in Mr. Wickham. He especially favored William's grandfather. She imagined that no one noticed this as much since William favored the Fitzwilliams rather than the Darcys.
The library had to be Elizabeth's favorite room. She had never seen such a large private collection of books. There were so many she had never even heard of and some that she had longed to read. She thought about her father and knew that he could spend the rest of his life happily locked away in here. She was glad that William was not turned that way.
Once the tour was complete, everyone started walking towards the parlor but Darcy came to a stop at the stairs.
"Mr. Gardiner, perhaps you would join me in my study for a game of chess. Georgiana would like to take the ladies up to view the Mistress Chambers."
"I would be delighted," was Mr. Gardiner's reply.
"William, we can wait and view them another time. There is no need to see the entire house today," replied Elizabeth, reluctant to be parted from him.
Darcy smiled, "Ah, but then you would miss your surprise and I am afraid that Georgiana and Mary could not take the suspense another day."
Georgiana and Mary laughed. Mary replied, "Us? Lizzy I promise you that William has been more excited than a child with a new toy."
Darcy looked at Mary in mock surprise then laughed. "Your sister is correct. I do not think I could wait another day, or hour, either."
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner looked on with smiles. They already knew of the surprise and had helped with it; but they were astonished to see Mary teasing Mr. Darcy. She was normally very reserved around others. It was obvious to them that Georgiana was being a very good role model for her.
The gentlemen made their way to the study while the ladies went to the family wing. Georgiana insisted that Elizabeth wait out in the hall while she, Mary, Jane and Mrs. Gardiner went into the room to "prepare the surprise." After a couple of minutes, Elizabeth heard Georgiana call for her to enter.
Elizabeth opened the door and lost her breath. Though it was much larger and more elegant than the room at the Gardiner's house, the wallpaper, coloring, and feeling was the same. It was like walking in a field of spring flowers under a blue sky. Elizabeth covered her mouth and tears sprang to her eyes. She could not believe that William had done this for her. She could not believe that he remember how she loved the room on Gracechurch Street so very much. If Elizabeth could take her eyes from her surroundings, she would have seen tears in the eyes of all the ladies watching her.
Georgiana paid close attention to Elizabeth's reaction. William had wanted to present the room to her but knew that it was a breach in propriety that her aunt and uncle would not allow. So he implored her to note every detail and share it with him later. She wished he could see her now; for her countenance was pure bliss. Georgiana knew that there was no possible way Elizabeth could ever doubt her brother's love and devotion now.
Elizabeth walked around examining everything. She ran her fingertips lightly over the vanity table. Laid out on top was silver brush and mirror set monogrammed with the initials ERD. She made her way to the window and looked out over a private garden filled with wildflowers, roses, and lavender.
She opened the first door she came to and found an enormous dressing room. She did not know if she and her sisters combined owned enough dresses to fill the huge closet. There was a screen to one side and behind it a copper tub for bathing. Along the wall was a shelf full of plush drying cloths and bath scents.
She came back into the room and walked to the other door. Upon opening it she walked into a sitting room. The colors were more muted but still elegant. The furniture was styled for comfort and there were several books on the side table next to the sofa. She noticed a side board containing wine and brandy and realized that this must be a shared sitting room between the Master and Mistress suits. She looked to the other end of the room and there was another door like hers that she imagined led to William's room. She blushed at the thought of why the rooms were connected. To her left was a door that most likely led to the hallway.
She walked over to the books and leafed through the titles. One was the book she had first used to conceal her first letter to him. She could not help but smile at the realization of how far they had come since that first letter.
She turned and saw that she was being observed by the other ladies. She knew that they were expecting some kind of response from her; but, there were no words to convey how much this meant to her. So, to the dismay of the others, she simply excused herself and left through the hallway door.
"I thought she liked it. What went wrong?" asked Georgiana.
Mrs. Gardiner smiled at the three young ladies. "Nothing went wrong. Everything was very right."
"I do not understand, Aunt," remarked Jane.
"Has nothing ever touched your heart so deeply that you could not find words to do your feelings justice?"
Jane thought back to Richard's declaration and realized that she could never explain to anyone how much that meant to her regardless of the situation they found themselves in. She imagined that Elizabeth saw much more in the room Mr. Darcy had recreated for her, she imaged it signified his deep affection.
"I understand," answered Jane.
Georgiana and Mary were both still confused but imagined it was one of those things that they would understand in time.
Elizabeth made her way down to Darcy's study. She knocked tentatively and was bid entrance. William and her uncle were seated near the window and appeared to be discussing the best fishing spots in Derbyshire. She moved over to stand near the table and could see that William was anxious to speak with her.
"Uncle, could I have a moment to speak with William privately?"
Mr. Gardiner, aware of the surprise, capitulated. "You may have five minutes and the door remains open. I will expect you in the parlor at that time," informed Mr. Gardiner.
As soon as her uncle had exited the room, Elizabeth turned to Darcy. He had stood upon her approach and was looking at her intently.
Elizabeth did not give him time to speak further. She placed her hands at the back of his head and neck and kissed him fervently. When they parted, Darcy could not decide if he was startled or thrilled. All their kisses to this point had been tender and sweet. This one was anything but.
Elizabeth looked up into his eyes and said, "Thank you. I love you so very much and thank God that you are part of my life."
Darcy leaned down and gave her a gentle kiss before pulling her into a strong embrace.
"I love you so very much. I would turn the world upside down to make you happy."
After everyone had retired for the night, Elizabeth pulled out the letter from Lady Matlock and read:
Dear Miss Bennet,
I understand that you will be visiting Pemberley soon; so, I decided to leave a letter here for you. My husband and I stopped by and had dinner with William, Georgiana, and Miss Mary. I must say that your sister is a very sweet girl. She seems intelligent and holds a very capable conversation for a girl her age. She and Georgiana entertained us with a duet and I am told that her playing has improved greatly. She was quite accomplished.
My purpose in writing is to apologize for Lady Catherine's behavior. I hope that her actions will not cause your family to believe that all of William's relations are against your engagement. I wanted you to know that Edwin and I will be proud to call you our niece.
I hope your travels are safe and joyous. Enjoy Pemberley and thank you for bringing happiness to William and Georgiana.
Lady Helen Fitzwilliam, Countess of Matlock
Elizabeth smiled. She really did like William's family.
Three days passed in the same fashion: the Gardiners spent time visiting with friends while Elizabeth and Jane spent time exploring Pemberley and Lambton. On the third night, the group was joined for dinner by Darcy's cousin Stewart. Jane and Elizabeth were amused at how much time and effort Mary put into dressing for dinner that night.
"So Stewart, will you be staying a few days with us?" questioned Darcy. He had asked his cousin to come and visit a few days so that the Gardiners might have the opportunity to get to know him better. He recognized the attraction between his cousin and Mary and thought it a good idea for Stewart to get to know Mary's family.
"I will be staying tonight and tomorrow night; but then I must away to London," he answered. "Mr. McElroy has an errand for me to complete."
Stewart turned to Jane, Elizabeth and the Gardiners to explain. "Mr. McElroy is the current holder of the living I am to take over. Daniel thought it best that I spend a few months under his tutelage before he completely resigns. This is my first parish and there is so much more to learn than what we were taught in school. I am thankful to have a wise benefactor who is willing to spend the extra to ensure the congregation is in capable hands."
"We were able to be introduced to Mr. Rhea in Hertfordshire before we left on holiday. He seemed to be a very nice chap," responded Mr. Gardiner.
"Daniel is one of the best men of my acquaintance," responded Darcy. "His estate is not far from here and he is well liked by his staff and the community as a whole."
Mrs. Gardiner noticed Jane blushing slightly and pondered if Mr. Rhea was getting through to her niece. She had noticed Mr. Rhea paying Jane particular attention while in Hertfordshire. She did not understand why Jane did not encourage the man. He obviously had feelings for her and he was a good match. She wondered if Jane was still broken-hearted over Mr. Bingley. Jane swore it was not so; but, something was troubling her niece. She decided to test the waters a bit.
"I am surprised that Mr. Rhea is not married. He seems such a delightful and caring young man."
"Too true," answered Stewart. "He has a big heart and will make some young woman a very good husband one day. I just pray that she realizes how lucky she is. He had hoped to accompany me on this visit; but was called away to London on business. He asked me to extend his greetings to each of you and to tell you that he hopes to be back in time to pay you a call here at Pemberley. If not, he will remain in London until you arrive there so that he might have the opportunity to see you again."
Jane blushed deeper and Elizabeth could sense her sister's discomfort; so, she changed the subject. She began asking Stewart about his writing. This started a debate between Stewart, Mary, Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Darcy. Jane reached over and squeezed Elizabeth's hand.
"Thank you" Jane whispered.
Elizabeth smiled and began talking with her sister, aunt and Georgiana.
The next day, the Gardiners put off visiting to spend time with the Pemberley party. It was agreed that the men would go fishing while the ladies picnicked on the grounds; but, Mr. Darcy had something to show Mrs. Gardiner first. So, he arranged for the ladies to travel in the barouche while the gentlemen rode along on horseback and headed off into the grounds of Pemberley.
They rode for some five miles before coming to the top of a rise. Mr. Darcy signaled for the driver and the other men to halt. The gentlemen dismounted and he helped the ladies down. He asked the driver and the accompanying footman to see to the horses and he led the group to a trail among the trees.
They had not walked very far before coming out on the other side of the small wooded area. When they stepped through the last of the trees, everyone stood in amazement. The rise descended from here and there was a large creek running at the bottom. To the right, the rise curved and a small waterfall cascaded down into the creek. On the other side of the creek was another rise full of wildflowers of varying colors. It was the most beautiful sight Elizabeth had ever seen.
Mr. Darcy allowed everyone time to view the spectacular scenery. Regardless of the number of times he came here, it still held him in awe. Once he was sure everyone had taken it all in, he suggested they follow him on the edge of the woods. They walked just a little ways further toward the waterfall and came to a clearing in the wooded area. Inside the clearing was a small cabin that appeared to be well maintained. He motioned for everyone to join him while he removed a key from his pocket and unlocked the cabin door.
Inside, the cabin proved to be larger than it appeared on the outside. The rear of the dwelling extended back into the woods giving the rear rooms almost complete darkness. The cabin's entrance opened into a moderate sized sitting room with a large fireplace. To the left was a small dining area with a large window with a beautiful view of the waterfall.
The rear contained one large and one smaller bedroom furnished in a rustic yet elegant style. Each room had a fireplace and the larger room had a dressing area with a copper tub. The bedrooms each had a side window but very little light came in as they were shaded by the surrounding woods. Elizabeth imagined that they would be in complete darkness at night, unable to get any moonlight beyond the canopy of the trees.
There was a door off the dining area that lead to a long narrow room that was almost completely walled with windows looking out at the waterfall in the front and the wooded areas to the side. There was a solid wall at the end that contained a fireplace and there were sofas and stuffed chairs situated nearby. Close to the front was a table that contained supplies for drawing and painting and there was an easel in the corner.
"This place is beautiful, Mr. Darcy. I have never heard of its existence before," commented Mrs. Gardiner.
"My father built this as a gift for my mother on their fifth wedding anniversary. Its existence is known by only a few trusted servants and close family. My mother loved to draw and paint and my father loved being surrounded by the beauty of nature. This cabin was the one place their normally separate lives seemed to merge," admitted Darcy.
Elizabeth came to stand at his side and placed a comforting hand on his arm. She could tell that this place was special. It was most likely the only place he had spent time with his parents together.
"There is something here I wanted to show you, Mrs. Gardiner," said Darcy walking towards the art supplies. He opened the table drawer and took out several sketch pads. He indicated that everyone should move to the other end of the room and make themselves comfortable in the seating area.
He placed himself in a chair next to the sofa end where Mrs. Gardiner sat and began flipping through the first sketch book. He then handed the book to her.
Mrs. Gardiner gasped, "That is my father." Everyone crowded around and behind her to view the book. It was a drawing of a man standing outside a book shop cleaning the windows. He appeared to be happy, judging by the smile on his face, and was very handsome. Tears sprang to her eyes for Mrs. Gardiner did not have any miniatures or paintings of her parents. It was the first time she had seen his image in years.
"He was a handsome man, Aunt Mattie," spoke Mary.
"That he was and so very kind," she replied.
Mr. Darcy flipped through the other sketch book and handed it over to Mrs. Gardiner. This drawing was of a young girl, most likely in her early teens. She was seated on the bench outside the book shop with her legs stretched out in front of her and appeared to be admiring her shoes.
Mrs. Gardiner laughed. "I remember this. We had just returned home from London. While we were there, my father bought me my first pair of shoes with heels. I wore them to have dinner with the Gardiners and Edward commented on how pretty he thought them to be. Once we returned home, I sat outside my father's shop admiring the shoes and recalling his words. I do believe that this was the first time I truly felt grown-up."
Elizabeth smiled. "How is it that your mother captured these images, William? I thought that she never visited the book shop."
"I cannot really say. Though she did not visit the book shop, she did go to the milliners nearby. She, also, attended many charity meetings in Lambton. There was usually a sketch pad kept in the carriage; for she loved to draw nature scenes to and from London. Perhaps she drew these images while sitting in the carriage during her visits to town. There are other drawings of Lambton; but just these two of the book shop. I remembered these pictures after we first discovered your father owned the bookstore, Mrs. Gardiner. I thought it might be you and your father but I was not sure."
"Thank you Mr. Darcy. I cannot tell you how much it means to me seeing these images," she replied.
"I am glad you think so. I sent word to my steward here at Pemberley some time ago and asked that an artist be commissioned to recreate both of them as a gift for you. The copies have been framed and are at Pemberley now. I could have shown those to you; but I wanted you to see the originals."
Mr. Gardiner extended his hand to Mr. Darcy. "Sir, my wife and I cannot thank you enough for your kindness."
"Think nothing of it. I am simply repaying the kindness the both of you have shown to me. I could never have completed Elizabeth's surprise should you not have provided me with the wallpaper."
He then looked to Elizabeth and said, "I will be cleaning out this cabin soon and preparing it for use by the new Mrs. Darcy; but, I wanted you to see it first as it was originally kept."
Elizabeth teared-up and replied, "William, please do not do so for me. I will be happy to enjoy it as it is."
"No, Elizabeth. My mother would not want me to retain this place as a shrine to her. She would want me to share it with you. I will be giving the art supplies and sketches to Georgiana; with the exception of a couple that I will be having framed. Everything else will be stripped and taken out. Once we are married, I wish for you to help me decorate it again. I want us to do this together."
Everyone in the room smiled at the intimacy of his request. Not caring that her family were looking on, Elizabeth went to is side and kissed his cheek. "Thank you, William."h
The group decided that they were hungry and parted the quaint cottage to make their way to the spot they had picked out for their picnic and fishing excursion. They had just descended the rise when they spotted a rider hurrying towards them.
"It looks 'ta be Goodson, Sir," stated the driver.
Mr. Darcy spurred his horse on to meet the man.
"Goodson, what has happened?" questioned Darcy.
"Tis an express for Mr. Gardiner, Sir. Rider said it was right important and wouldn't leave until he gets an answer."
Mr. Darcy took the missive and thanked his footman for bringing it out to him. He then turned and approached the waiting group.
"It is an express for you Mr. Gardiner. The rider awaits your reply at Pemberley."
Mr. Gardiner took the letter and opened it. All the color drained from his face and he appeared to have aged ten years in just a couple of minutes.
"Edward, what is it? What has happened?" his wife asked frantically.
"It is from Thomas. He needs me in London immediately. It appears that our Lydia has run off with Mr. Wickham."
Posted on: 2011-08-04
At Mr. Gardiner's suggestion, the group returned to the main house before he gave the details received in his missive from Mr. Bennet. He wanted to get a reply off as soon as possible that he would be returning to London the next morning.
Stewart Darcy was as a loss as to what he should do. He recognized that this was a family matter and he should leave; but, he was compelled to help in any way possible so that it might relieve some of Mary's pain and humiliation. He was beginning to have strong feelings for the middle Bennet daughter. Never before had he met a lady who understood his thoughts and feelings or shared his passion for theology. Mary not only comprehended, she was intelligent enough to argue her opinions with him. He knew that he would never meet anyone like her again.
He recognized well the stigma that could stain an entire family from the sin of just one. However, he did not agree that a family should suffer the transgressions of one. He knew that if he stood firm beside Mary, he might lose his position; however, if he left, he would lose the most precious gift God had ever sent his way. If he only knew for sure how she felt, his decision would be an easy one for he had prayed about the entire situation and believed in his heart he knew where he needed to be.
He decided that the best way to handle the circumstances was to allow Mary to dictate what was to follow. He approached her where she sat next to her aunt trying to offer comfort while they waited for Mr. Gardiner to return from writing his reply.
"Miss Mary, might I have a word?"
Mary looked up at him desolately. "Of course."
The two walked to the end of the room and stood next to the window. Mary refused to look at him. He could see the pain she was bravely trying to contain. He had started to speak but she forged in ahead of him.
"Mr. Darcy, I am sure that you wish to be far away from here. Please, do not feel as if you are required by duty to stay. I only ask that you keep what you heard here today to yourself so that there might be a little hope that my family can salvage something of our reputation."
Dropping all pretenses, Stewart demanded forcefully, "Mary, look at me." He heard her gasp but knew that he had surprised her enough that she lowered her walls slightly. He began speaking quickly to try and reach her before she was able to rebuild the wall between them; shielding herself from the hurt she imagined was coming.
"Mary, I do not want to leave here. I do not want to leave you. Over the weeks you have been here, I have come to know and treasure you. I understand that this is not the proper time for declarations; but, it is important that I know how you feel about me. There are decisions that will need to be made more quickly now than anticipated and I cannot make those decisions based on my feelings alone. I believe I know how you feel; but, I must be sure."
Mary looked into his eyes. She realized that he was facing the precarious choice of choosing her and possibly losing his living. She did not want him to give up his life for her. She could not live with herself if she took his dreams away from him. He was a good man and the community needed him as their vicar.
"Stewart, I will not lie to you. I have come to have strong feelings for you. I never dreamed I would ever find someone who makes me feel the way that you do. I am not sure if it is love; but, my entire being feels lighter when I know that you are coming to visit. Saying that, I must ask you to leave."
"Leave!? Mary, why?"
"Because your parish needs you. How can they entrust their greatest fears, their darkest sins to a man who has willingly stood by someone who is tainted by association? You must leave here and distance yourself from me and my family. God has called you to a purpose and I will not let my family take that from you."
Despite her words, Stewart smiled. "Mary, I had prayed silently over this situation while riding back to the main house. I felt in my heart that, should you love me, my place was here with you. The fact that you would put my well-being ahead of your own desires proves to me that your heart is more engaged than you realize. God sent you to me, I do not doubt that. We both must trust Him to sort out the rest; but, now it is time to prove my devotion to you. I am going to London with you tomorrow."
"Stewart…" Mary began in a pleading voice.
"No Mary. I will not be moved. The decision is made and feels right to me. This is the path God has chosen for me and I will walk it gladly if it leads me to you."
The other ladies in the room tried to surreptitiously watch the goings on near the window. They could not hear the low conversation but could see the animated looks passing back and forth between the young couple. They all feared that what happed with their youngest, silliest sister would effectively put an end to the budding romance forming between their sister and Mr. Darcy's cousin.
The couple's conversation and the ladies' spying came to an abrupt halt with the entrance of Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Darcy. Everyone gathered around as Mr. Gardiner wearily took a seat. William took a place on the arm of the chair Elizabeth was occupying and took her hand in his. Mary rejoined Georgiana on the sofa across from Jane and Mrs. Gardiner and Stewart came and stood behind Mary.
"Uncle," began Jane. "Please, tell us exactly what happened."
"The letter said that Thomas was aware of Mr. Wickham's presence; but that the man had kept a good distance away from him and his family. A few weeks after their arrival, he made the acquaintance of three men…." here Mr. Gardiner stopped and looked at Mr. Darcy who gave a brief nod. "As, I was saying, Thomas made the acquaintance of three men named Darcy." Everyone gasped; but, only Elizabeth and Jane comprehended what had not yet been said. They both looked to William and he only nodded his head and squeezed Elizabeth's hand a little harder. He could not look them in the eye.
"Knowing that these men were family to our Mr. Darcy here, he began meeting them for conversation and chess at a local club the eldest, a Jonathan Darcy, had purchased a membership into. In doing so, he was leaving Mrs. Bennet in charge of their two daughters."
"It appears that Kitty was much admired by one of the officers there and my sister was spending much of her time promoting that attachment and leaving Lydia to visit with Mrs. Forster. It was from one of these visits that Lydia never returned."
"Mr. Bennet met with Colonel Forster and he was certain that Lydia never made it to their house; for he had been working from his home office the entire day. Wanting to keep things as quiet as possible, he went to his wife and inquired about Lydia without telling her that she was missing. Mrs. Forster had expected Lydia to visit but said that she must have been detained by family for she had never come. He knew then that his wife had no knowledge of Lydia's whereabouts. They were about to launch a search when Colonel Forster was summed by one of his officers and made aware that Mr. Wickham had deserted.
With the help of one other trusted officer, they were able to piece together that Wickham had left town earlier in the day via coach and horses that he had paid cash for. The man who sold them said he saw no one with him at that time; but, he had seen Wickham conversing with a lady later that morning. He did not get a good look at the lady and could not say for certain if it was Lydia after being given her description.
Thomas had immediately silenced his wife and had intended to send her home to Longbourn. However, it was decided that it would look odd for them to be returning without Lydia; so, he has taken them all to London. Colonel Forster told his wife that a family emergency called the Bennets away to town so everyone in Brighton now believes this to be so."
Elizabeth asked, "Did Lydia not leave any type of note?"
Mr. Gardiner answered, "None was mentioned by your father. It was as if she just disappeared. However, it is too much of a coincidence in timing to not believe that she is with Mr. Wickham."
Mr. Darcy stood and began to pace. He then turned to the group with a look of detachment set in place and said, "There are some facts that I must share with you before we begin our preparations to journey to London. The three men Mr. Bennet met were in fact part of my family. The eldest, Jonathan Darcy, is my second cousin. He was most likely accompanied by his closest friend and my uncle, Anthony Darcy, along with Anthony's son, Jonathan. I am ashamed to call these men family. Each one of them held a grievance against my father and subsequently against me. Dunworth Estate was once owned by Anthony Darcy. He lost the entire estate in a card game and my father bought it back and kept it as an inheritance for a second son. My uncle demanded his home be returned; but, my father denied this request as did I at a later time. Dunworth has been in the Darcy family for generations and neither of us wanted to see it gambled away again.
The elder Jonathan Darcy was my father's first cousin. He is a cruel man who treated his wife poorly and took advantage of my father's good nature. He was banned from Pemeberley before I was born and I have never personally met him. I did receive correspondence from him after my father's death asking to come to Pemberley to discuss a matter of import. I denied him access to the grounds and told him in a return letter that the matter he wished to discuss was closed. I thought at the time that was the best decision to make. Now I am not so sure."
Stewart, aware of some but not all of the family history, asked, "What was it that he wanted to discuss? He was banned due to his behavior from what I have heard my father tell. Did he wish to tell you that he had reformed?"
Darcy walked to the window to gather his thoughts, and then turned back to the group assembled. He respected and cared for every person in this room. The Gardiners had become like family to him, Mary had wormed her way into his heart during her stay at Pemberley, Jane was someone he had learned to respect and admire, Georgiana was precious to him as always, Stewart had become even closer to him over the summer, and then his Elizabeth was everything that mattered in the world to him. If he could not trust these people with his secrets, then there was no one he could turn to. Elizabeth and Jane were already aware, so it was time the others knew.
"The elder Jonathan Darcy was banned from Pemberley because he was found to be having an affair with the wife of one of Pemberley's most trusted and admired staff. My father forbade him to return; but the damage was already done. The woman was to have my cousin's child. My father paid her for her silence in respect to his trusted servant and friend. In compensation for the life he would be denied by taking another man's name, my father agreed to be the godfather and benefactor to this child. You know the man by the name George Wickham."
Everyone gasped, save Elizabeth and Jane. Stewart unconsciously leaned heavily on the back of the sofa and Mary, just as unconsciously reached her hand back and covered his. Mr. Darcy gave everyone time to take in this new information before continuing.
"Mrs. Wickham continued to live on Pemberley property after her husband passed and her son left. When my father died, I received the letter from Jonathan Darcy asking to be allowed to call on Mrs. Wickham at her home. He said that regardless of what my father might have told me, he held great affection for the lady. I thought it best that this liaison never take place. I wrote and told him to stay away from Pemberley and from Mrs. Wickham. I, also, visited Mrs. Wickham and told her that she was allowed to stay on the grounds only as long as she had no contact with Jonathan Darcy. I fear now that my warning was not headed. I believe that Jonathan Darcy knows Wickham is his son and, along with the two other Darcys, are using him to get back at me."
Georgiana tried to take this all in but was still confused. "I do not understand. If they are trying to get back at you, then why take Miss Lydia. Are they trying to hurt you through Lizzy?"
Elizabeth reached over in a surprisingly calm manner, despite the fact that she was falling apart inside, and took hold of Georgiana's hand. "Georgiana, if it is found out by others that my sister left with Mr. Wickham but is not married to him; it will create a scandal that will prevent William and me from being able to marry."
Georgiana pulled her hand from Elizabeth and stood up, rushing over to her brother. "That is not so, tell her William. Nothing can stop the two of you from being able to marry."
William took his sister into a fierce embrace but refused to answer her plea. To be honest, he had no idea what the future was to hold now. It was his responsibility to care for Georgiana and ensure that she has the opportunity to make and eligible match; but that would not happen if he is tainted by association. Yet, he could not live without Elizabeth in his life. He could not imagine anything more important than being with her. He could not think of the future right now, he could only focus on the present.
"We must go to London and find them. The man who sold Wickham the carriage was sure he saw that carriage headed out of town in the direction of London. Mr. Bennet was able to trace Wickham as far as the outskirts of London based on stops he took; but the trail ended when he entered the city. No one knows Wickham better than I, so it will be up to me to find him."
The group then disbursed in order to prepare to depart early the next morning. Mr. Gardiner had suggested that the ladies remain behind; but they had all refused. So, it was decided at supper that night that the two Darcy cousins would leave early by horseback in order to make better time. Mr. Gardiner would await and ride alongside the carriage that would convey the ladies. Mr. Gardiner had wanted to go with William but had been convinced to remain behind due to his wife's condition. It was felt that she would be more at ease if he was near her and they did not want to compromise her health with any more stress than she had already endured.
It was agreed that everyone would meet up at Darcy house once Mr. Gardiner arrived and had time to speak to Mr. Bennet. William hoped to have some information on Wickham's whereabouts prior to the meeting. He had sent a hired man to go to Brighton and check into the dealings of his relations. He was sure they were connected to this situation in some capacity.
Darcy and Stewart arrived at Darcy House at the point of exhaustion. They had taken advantage of the clear moonlight and rode through the night in order to make better time. The thoughts of each were split between eating, bathing, then sleeping and the ladies making the journey behind them. Therefore, both men were beyond shocked when they entered the house only to be greeted by another cousin.
"RICHARD!" exclaimed Darcy.
Not caring that he was covered in road dust, William embraced his cousin in a strong hug. He was glad to see his cousin safely back in London and equally glad that he was there at this time. The cousins had a standing agreement that Darcy House was open to Richard whether or not the master himself was in residence. When the Fitzwilliams were in town, Richard would spend most of his time with them. When they left for the country, he would move to Darcy House.
Richard just laughed at his normally stoic cousin. He was happy to see him, too.
"It is good to see you, too, Will. But, what are you doing here? I was told that you were at Pemberley hosting the Gardiners and the Bennet sisters. I have actually just finished a note telling you of my arrival and was getting ready to send it off."
As he was speaking, Richard moved over to the other occupant in the foyer and offered his hand to Stewart Darcy.
"Stewart, I guess it is good to see you as well."
"Glad to see you back on English soil Richard. London is too quiet when you are gone," teased the friends.
"Now, will someone tell me what has the two of you back in London while such beautiful ladies reside in Derbyshire?" inquired Richard with a growing feeling of unease.
William answered, "Give us just a few minutes to change and arrange for some food. We will meet you in my study in half an hour. There is much we need to discuss."
The two weary travellers started toward the stairs but were stopped by Richards's heartfelt plea.
"Just tell me now that the Miss Bennets are safe and I will give you all the time you need to rest."
"Jane is fine, Richard; but Lydia is not. We will tell you all once we have changed."
Richard nodded and headed to the study to await his cousin. He breathed a sigh of relief knowing that Jane was not injured or ill; but concerned over what had befallen her youngest sister.
Darcy and Stewart joined Richard in the study even though both wanted to collapse in bed. Darcy asked that a light meal be prepared and waiting for them there. Richard waited anxiously by while the two gentlemen finished their meal. He was somewhat mollified knowing that Jane was safe; but if something had happened to her sister then he knew she was suffering.
Darcy could see that Richard was impatient for an explanation so he did not make him wait past getting some nourishment ingested.
"Now Richard, I am sure you are ready to hear what has transpired."
Darcy explained everything they knew to that point. He informed his cousin that he wanted to get a jump on the hunt for Wickham so he and Stewart rode ahead of the rest of the group. Richard could tell that something was bothering his cousin about that situation, beyond the obvious.
"What aren't you saying Will? I can tell there is something more," stated Richard.
Darcy got up and started pacing. "It is only a feeling. Nothing definite."
Stewart and Richard looked to one another. They both knew that Darcy had good instincts and they trusted in them.
"Tell us Will, what is it that has you uneasy?" Stewart asked.
"It is something Elizabeth wrote to me. When she was trying to explain how each of her family members deal with the stress at home in different ways, she said that even Lydia loved them all regardless of her selfish nature. From what I have learned of the girl, I do believe that. That makes me wonder why she did not leave a note. If she left with Wickham willingly, it is my belief that she thought he was going to marry her. I do not think she would risk the reputation of her sisters on a fling; not to mention that she would not settle for less than marriage for herself. Yet, if she thought he was going to marry her, then she would definitely leave a note just so she could hold it over her sisters that she was to be married before any of the others. That is just the type of person she is. Therefore, logic would dictate that she did not leave willingly with Wickham. Does that even make sense?"
Richard thought a few minutes on what Darcy had said.
"It makes perfect sense to me. I do not know Miss Lydia but I trust in your intuition. So, we must assume that she was either taken against her will or somehow coerced into going along. Is there anything Wickham, your uncle or your cousins might hold over the Bennet family that could be used to lure the girl away?" Richard questioned.
"Lydia was witness to the confrontation between Wickham and Georgiana that I wrote to you about. I do not think that he could have lured her into a carriage unless he was able to gain her trust or provide proof of what he claimed. I, also, do not think he forced her into the carriage or there would have been witnesses to the incident. According to Mr. Bennet's letter, the distance from the Inn and Mrs. Forster residence is short and usually bustling with people. That is why Mrs. Bennet allowed her to go alone."
"Who is aware of this situation?" asked Richard.
"Only her family, Colonel Forster, Captain Denny and the three of us; and those responsible, of course. Colonel Forster was instrumental in keeping the disappearance quite once it was discovered that Wickham was missing, as well."
"Do you think that was wise? What if her disappearance had nothing to do with Wickham or our disreputable family?" questioned Stewart.
"I honestly feel that they are all in it together somehow. Why else would they befriend someone like Mr. Bennet? He does not enjoy cards nor does he gamble. He has little money and no connections. They are not ones to spend hours reading; so, it was not for his conversation. They were simply distracting him. That is the only purpose I can come up with."
The three gentlemen talked for a little longer then decided to retire for the night. Darcy and Stewart had not slept more than a few hours since they left Pemberley and needed to rest so they would be at their best come morning. Richard promised Darcy that he would give him a full accounting of his agreement with Wellington at some point the next day; but, all efforts needed to be put towards recovering Miss Lydia first.
Darcy and Stewart retired while Richard stayed in the study for a few more hours. He stood by the window looking out at the deserted street below. Most everyone was at a party or had not returned from their summer in the country. His thoughts turned to Jane. He imagined that she was both terrified for and angry at her sister. He wondered if she was concerned about how this possible scandal would sway his decision. He had much to think on this night.
The next morning the three men rushed through breakfast and began their search. They started with Wickham's known cohorts. Darcy spread the word that a reward would be given to anyone with actual knowledge of where Wickham could be found. They crossed paths several times with military officials who were also hunting Wickham due to his desertion. Colonel Fitzwilliam was able to use his rank and influence to obtain what information the military had gathered. Unfortunately it was not much more than they already had.
It took most of the day, but they were finally able to locate someone who was willing to give them the last known address of Mrs. Young. It was related that the former companion was running a boarding house for visiting tradesmen. It was in a part of town that was neither disreputable nor fashionable. They approached the house with caution. Due to the business conducted there, the house contained several entrances to allow easy access and privacy to the renters. They decided that Richard would guard the back and right side, Stewart would guard the front and left side, and Darcy would approach and make contact.
Darcy rapped on the door and it was opened by a skeleton of a woman acting as maid, he presumed. He wondered when the woman last ate. He hoped she was not required to do much lifting for he was afraid her fragile body would not take the pressure.
"I am here to see Mrs. Young. Is she home?" Darcy purposely did not give his card. He was sure that the woman would run if she knew he was looking for her.
"Who may I say is calling, Sir?"
"Just tell her an old friend is here," he answered.
The maid was gone only minutes when Mrs. Young walked hurriedly into the parlor. It was obvious that she was expecting him to be someone else. He wondered if that someone was Wickham. He watched as her faced turned pale and she looked as if she was going to faint.
"Mrs. Young, I am here on business. Is there somewhere we can talk in private?"
The woman motioned toward a door at the other end of the parlor. It must lead to a room that acts as her office, he thought. He walked into the room without waiting for her to follow; but keeping her in his sight just the same.
Mrs. Young finally gathered her courage and entered the room being sure to leave the door open. She did not trust this man not to become violent. He had always frightened her regardless of George's assurances that he would never hit a woman.
"How may I help you, Mr. Darcy?" she asked in as calm a voice as she could muster.
"I believe you know exactly how you may help me. So, let's not play games. Where are Wickham and the girl?" he demanded.
"I do not know where George is and I do not know of any lady he might be with. I am sure there are too many to name."
"Do not play games with me unless you wish to be bested. Wickham is a deserter. He is being hunted down by the militia and my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, happens to be right outside. One word from me and he will take you in as an accomplice." Darcy could see the woman grow even paler and start to sweat. "Now, I will ask you one more time, where are Wickham and the girl?"
"I swear I don't know where George is. He sent an express here a fortnight back asking me to come to Brighton and told me it would be worth the trouble. When I arrived, he put me in a carriage and took me into a nice neighborhood and we sat watching the Inn for over an hour. During that time he paid me a large sum of money and swore there would be more coming.
Then this young girl exited the Inn and started walking down the street. He got out and told me to approach the girl and tell her that her sister was in trouble and needed her immediately. He gave me a garnet cross to show the girl, as proof that I knew her sister. Once the girl was in the carriage, we turned around and picked him up again. The girl tried to scream but he covered her mouth. Then he forced her to drink something that made her sleep.
After that, we returned to London. He kept the girl drugged the entire journey; then, once we reached the city, he demanded that I keep her locked up here until he returned. He told me that the girl had run away from her family with an officer and that her father was a very wealthy man that paid him to return her to London."
"So, the girl is here?" Darcy asked, internally breathing a sigh of relief.
"She was; but she escaped. George left the bottle he was dosing her with and told me to keep her sedated. I did at first but I got busy with renters and missed her dose today. She must have awaked enough to crawl out the window because, when I went up to check on her, she was gone. The door was locked so she had to have gone through the window."
"Tell me how long she has been gone?" he commanded.
"At least four hours. I thought that you were George bringing her back. Her father is going to be upset that we lost her."
"Madame, I believe you know very well that this girl was not a runaway. However, I know her father very well and will ask him not to press charges at this time, as long as you continue to cooperate. Should Wickham come back here, you will detain him in any way possible and send word to me immediately. Is that perfectly clear?"
"Yes, perfectly," she replied in a very shaky voice.
Darcy exited the house and signaled the other two men to join him in the nondescript carriage he had rented to try and conceal his identity. On the way back to Darcy House, William had the driver make a pass down Gracechurch Street. He knew that Lydia had never been to London; but thought she would try to find her way to her relations house if possible. Darcy scanned the street but saw no sign of her. He thought of stopping to inform Mr. Bennet of the latest; but, decided it would be best to have the gentleman come to Darcy House instead. That way, William could keep an eye on him. He feared that Mr. Bennet would comb the streets of London after dark searching for his daughter and meet his own end.
The carriage pulled up and the gentlemen started piling out. They were met on the front steps by a very agitated Miller.
"What has happened Miller?" Darcy inquired.
"Sir, there are three gentlemen here to see you. They claim to be your relations and refused to come back. I have put them in the blue parlor and have a footman posted inside the room and outside the door watching them. Also, a young footman had delivered a note for you from Mr. Rhea. The young man insists that this be put in your hand the moment you arrive and said he is to wait for your instructions."
"Thank you Miller. Would you inform the guests that I will be with them shortly?"
Darcy motioned for his two cousins to follow him into his study. He wondered how Daniel knew he was back in town and what was so very important. He had used Daniel to keep an eye on Wickham in Hertfordshire and thought he might have information on him here in London.
The gentlemen were seated and Darcy opened the missive.
Due to the circumstances I am now privy to, I am hoping my footman will find you in London. If not, I will be sending word to Pemberley. I was walking through Hyde Park earlier when I came upon Miss Lydia Bennet. She was lost and confused and appeared to be very ill. She was unable to tell me what had happened to her; but, the one word that did register with me was "Wickham".
I did not know what to do so I took her to my townhouse. I sent a footman to fetch the doctor and another to bring Sophia and Exeter to the house. I knew of no other female still in town that I could trust; and I did not want to risk Miss Lydia's reputation by keeping her at the home of a bachelor without a chaperone.
The doctor is in with her and Sophia now. Please come as soon as possible with her sisters.
Your Friend… Daniel Rhea
Darcy laid the letter down on his desk and rested his head in his hands. She was safe. Darcy was a bit surprised at how relieved he was for Lydia and not just Elizabeth. The young girl was a touch silly and wild but he had come to care for her more than he realized.
"What is it Will?" asked Richard.
"Lydia is safe. Daniel found her in Hyde Park earlier and has taken her to his home. She was confused; so he called for a doctor thinking she was ill. However, I believe she was still suffering under the effects of the drugs she was given. He sent for Sophia and Exeter to ensure propriety was not breached. He has asked me to come and to bring her sisters."
"What are you going to do now?" inquired Stewart.
"I am going to dash off a quick note to Daniel and one requesting Mr. Bennet come to Darcy House so that we might go to Daniel's together. Then I am going to face my relations and I have not decided what I will do about those three."
Darcy quickly sent off the two letters then gathered his strength to face his relations. He asked his two cousins to accompany him to act as witnesses and to keep him from killing them should he not be able to hold his temper. They had hurt Lydia, his soon-to-be sister. He would not allow them to hurt his family again.
The three men walked into the parlor to face the three men already sitting inside. Darcy recognized his Uncle Anthony and his cousin Jonathan; but the other man's face was new to him. The Darcy resemblance was unmistakable so he knew it had to be the elder Jonathan Darcy, Wickham's father.
"Gentleman, and I use that term loosely, what are you doing in my home?" began Darcy, refusing to play any polite games.
Anthony stood up and asked, "What? No hug for your Uncle? We have not seen each other in ages."
"You have exactly two minutes to get to the point before I have you thrown out; so, I suggest you stop with the pretenses and start talking."
The elder Jonathan Darcy laughed. "Well, well, well. From what everyone in the family said of you cousin, I thought you were soft. It appears that you have more of a backbone than others realize. Makes me proud that you are a Darcy."
"I wish I could return the sentiment," countered Darcy.
The younger Jonathan stepped in to try and gain the upper hand again. "Who are they?" he asked, pointing to Richard and Stewart.
Stewart answered up, "I am Stewart Darcy, son of Nathaniel. This is William's cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam. He is the son of Lord Edwin Fitzwilliam, Earl of Matlock."
Anthony looked at the Colonel with a little trepidation in his eyes. He thought that the Colonel was overseas. He knew about Richard and recognized him to be the dangerous one. That is why he waited for the opportune moment when Richard was out of the country to execute this plan.
Anthony replied to Stewart, "So you are Nate's boy. Too bad I never got the chance to meet you or your brother. It seems your father does not wish for my company."
"Let's stop with the introductions and chit-chat. What do you want?"
The elder Jonathan got up with a smirk on his face and moved to within just a few feet of Darcy. He looked the younger man right in the eye and said, "We want what is ours."
Darcy did not back down, he moved a foot closer to the man and kept eye contact. "I have nothing of yours to give you."
"Is that so?" his cousin replied. "I beg to differ."
"I will ask you only one more time, what do you want?" came Darcy's stern voice.
"Anthony and Jonathan want the deed to Dunworth. I want £50,000 and the legal document signed by my son's mother forbidding her to tell me about him," snarled Jonathan Darcy.
"Uncle Anthony has already asked for Dunworth and been denied. You will not get a dime from me and you already know about Wickham so what does it matter if you have the legal document or not?"
"I will have my money so that my son and I can live the life that was denied us. I will have the document so that I can prove to him that I, not George Darcy, am his true father. Anthony and Jon will have their home back because you have no other choice but to give it to them," Jonathan replied.
"Is that so? Just what makes you think that I have no other choice?"
Jonathan gave Darcy an evil grin before answering, "Because we hold your future in our hands. The little Miss you are here searching for is being held somewhere you will never find her. If you fail to give us what we want, not only will you never see her again, rumors will spread that she chose to run off with a soldier then left him to sell herself as a mistress, mine to be exact."
Darcy, Richard and Stewart all began laughing. This threw Jonathan off. He knew he had Fitzwilliam Darcy backed into a corner that he could not escape from. What could they be laughing at?
"You find your ruined future, your inability to marry the woman you love to be funny?"
"No," replied Darcy. "What I find funny is your stupidity. First, you entrusted the girl to Wickham who was so eager to go out and spend the money you gave him that he left the girl in the care of a woman who let her escape."
Darcy watched as the faces of all three men began to pale.
"Second, you had the brass to abduct and drug my soon-to-be sister and then come here and expect me to feel sorry for your losses.
Lastly, you confessed to kidnapping and blackmail in front of two witnesses, one of whom is the son of an Earl, an officer in His Majesties Service, and a good friend of Wellington."
Darcy knew he had them now but he wanted to put an end to this once and for all. "Let's be clear about one thing, I have nothing that belongs to you. Dunworth was purchased by my father from the man who held the deed after Uncle Anthony lost it in a card game. I offered him the chance to prove to me that he had reformed. I offered to let him live at Dunworth and work the estate until I was sure that it would be maintained; but he turned down that offer. As for you, my father owed you nothing. You lost your fortune in drinking and gambling. I understand you live off a very generous interest from a trust my great grandfather put aside in case your father lost everything. You should be able to survive quiet comfortably on what you draw each month. As far as the legal document, it stays with me. However, should Wickham doubt your word, I will be glad to show it to him. He only has to come ask me. Considering he is being hunted down as a deserter, I doubt that will ever come to pass."
Darcy waited a moment to let his words sink in; and then continued.
"Now, let us talk about the future. Here is what I have to offer you. I will sign over the deed to the house in Bath to Uncle Anthony. For you, Jonathan, I will ask my cousin nicely if he can smooth over the desertion charge your son if facing. In return, there will be no further contact made by any of you with me, my family, or any of the family of my fiancé. Do we have a deal?"
The elder Jonathan looked daggers at Darcy. "Get the charges against my son dropped. Provide him with a signed acknowledgement from you that I am his father. Sign over the deed to the house in Bath to Anthony. Lastly, sign a legal agreement that you will never press charges against any of the FOUR of us for taking the girl. Do these things and you will never see or hear from us again."
"Agreed," snarled Darcy back at him. "Everything will be prepared and ready for you at my solicitors on Friday. Now, GET OUT OF MY HOUSE."
Miller walked in and informed Darcy that Mr. Bennet had arrived moments ago and was awaiting him in the green parlor. Darcy sighed. He was going on very little sleep and it had been an exhausting day. He wished he could rest his head on Elizabeth's lap and just take a short nap. However, he knew that they needed to go and check on Lydia.
The three gentlemen walked into the parlor. Darcy went immediately and shook Mr. Bennet's hand.
"Mr. Bennet, may I introduce you to two of my cousins, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam and Mr. Stewart Darcy."
Both men shook Mr. Bennet's hand somewhat nervously. This man was the father of their beloved Bennet sisters. Yet, he did not know either of them or how they felt about his daughters.
"You said in your note that you have information about Lydia. Please, do not keep me in suspense," pleaded Mr. Bennet.
Darcy felt really bad for the older gentleman. He seemed so very frail in this moment. He imagined that a sense of guilt plagued the man's normal unruffled demeanor.
"Lydia is safe at the home of my friend, Daniel Rhea. I believe you met him while he visited Hertfordshire."
"I do not understand. How did she end up with Mr. Rhea? I thought she had run off with Wickham."
Darcy gave Mr. Bennet a summary of what happened to his daughter. Then he suggested that they go and check on her. Miller had already prepared the carriage so it was only minutes before the four gentlemen were off.
Once they neared Seren House, Mr. Rhea's London Home, Richard began to get agitated. He really liked Daniel; but, his jealousy was not completely under control. He had yet to see Jane or receive a reply to his letter. He spilled his emotions on paper for her to read and ne needed to know for sure how she felt. He wanted to tell her about Wellington's compromise and ask her opinion on how he should proceed. He would just have to keep telling himself that Daniel is not the villain.
The sound of Mr. Bennet's voice broke Richard's self berating thoughts.
"Perhaps I should have sent word to my wife and daughter before we came. I am sure they will want to be here as soon as possible."
"I think it would be best if we talk to the doctor first regarding her condition. She might be well enough to remove her to the Gardiners this evening," answered Darcy.
"Do you think the others will arrive today?" asked Stewart.
Darcy looked at the Colonel from the corner of his eye and noticed that Stewart's question had captured his cousin's attention. "I am not sure. It will all depend on Mrs. Gardiner. They did not want to overtax her by traveling too far between rest stops. I imagine they will either be arriving shortly or will have stopped for the night and be here in the morning."
"How were my girls when you left them, Mr. Darcy?"
"They were all holding up brilliantly, Mr. Bennet. I have come to enjoy Mary's company over the last weeks and Jane is still the thread that holds everything together when the world starts falling apart. I would tell you of Elizabeth; but, you would never get me to stop talking."
Mr. Bennet laughed. He would have never guessed that Mr. Darcy had a sense of humor.
Once they reached the house, the men stepped down and sought entrance. Daniel came out into the foyer to greet them.
"Gentlemen, I have been awaiting your arrival. The doctor has finished his examination and Miss Lydia will be fine. Sophia is with her now and she is sleeping. I asked him to wait for you and he is having a bite to eat now with Exeter. Would you like to talk to him before seeing your daughter?" Daniel asked.
"That would be preferable. Thank you, Mr. Rhea."
"William, Stewart so good to see you. Richard, I did not know you had returned. Good to have you back. Now, let us go into the parlor and I will send for Exeter and the doctor."
The three men greeted their host and made their way into the parlor. Richard immediately went to the window to catch his breath. He found himself biting his tongue to keep from demanding Daniel keep his eyes and his hands off his Jane.
It was only a moment before Sophia's husband and the doctor joined the others. Introductions were made and the doctor sat down to give the young girl's father his diagnosis. He had not gotten his first word out before they heard the bell. Daniel excused himself for a moment and was surprised to find Mr. Gardiner, Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and Miss Georgiana Darcy standing in his foyer.
Daniel approached the newcomers. "Please come in. Mr. Gardiner, Ladies, it is good to see you again."
The ladies curtsied and Mr. Gardiner bowed.
"Mr. Rhea, we were told that my father was summoned to Darcy House and is now here. May we see him?" asked Jane.
"Of course, he is in here." Daniel held out his arm to escort Jane into the room and Mr. Gardiner did the same for Elizabeth and Georgiana. Jane's only thought was to reach her father and find out what had been discovered and why he was here. She walked into the room with her hand touching Daniel's arm only to find the room filled with gentlemen. Her heart stopped when she saw the man in uniform standing by the window. He was nearly concealed by a potted plant but had stepped out when they had entered the room. He was looking straight at her with a murderous look on his face; then he stepped back, hidden from view once again.
Jane's instinct was to run to Richard and throw her arms around him; but, her father saved her from humiliating herself by coming and engulfing her and Elizabeth in a hug. Jane's attention was drawn to her father and she noticed how very tired he looked.
Elizabeth moved back and asked, "Papa, why are you here? Has there been some development?"
"Yes. Lydia is here and she is safe. I was just about to hear from the doctor on her condition. She is sleeping now and someone named Sophia is watching over her at the moment. Come and sit so that we can hear what the doctor says then go and see her."
Mr. Bennet reached over and shook Mr. Gardiner's hand as Jane and Elizabeth moved further into the room. Then, completely out of character for him, he hugged Georgiana tightly. "It is good to see you, too, my dear."
Georgiana smiled. She was relieved that Lydia had been found and she felt sorry for Mr. Bennet. Regardless of his wayward attitude, he was a nice man. "I am very happy that Lydia has been found."
"Thank you," Mr. Bennet replied before turning to walk back and finally speak with the doctor.
Elizabeth had immediately gone to Darcy. He kissed her hand and asked how they knew where to come. She explained that they had dropped Mrs. Gardiner and Mary off at the Gardiner's home. When they were told that Mr. Bennet had been summoned to Darcy House, they immediately left to join him. However, when they reached Darcy House, Miller told Georgiana that the entire party had just left for Seren House moments before they arrived.
Jane moved into the room and greeted Stewart and Jason and was introduced to the doctor. She was about to make her way over to Richard who was still standing by the window when she heard Georgiana's excited voice. "RICHARD!"
Georgiana did what Jane wanted to do; she ran to her cousin threw her arms about him. He gathered her into his strong embrace and kissed the top of her head. "I have missed you, Sweeting."
Georgiana could not stop smiling. She leaned up and gave him a kiss on the cheek and answered, "I have missed you, too. I am so glad you are here."
Richard had covertly watched Jane and Elizabeth approach as he was greeting Georgiana. He looked up at them and could not tell what Jane was feeling. It was as if her emotions were all jumbled.
Elizabeth spoke first, "Colonel, it is so good to have you home. We have missed your company."
"Miss Elizabeth, let me give you my congratulations on your engagement. I am thrilled to welcome you to the family and, since we are to be cousins, you must call me Richard."
"Then you must call me Elizabeth, or Lizzy, like the rest of my family."
Richard then turned to Jane. "Miss Bennet, it is a pleasant surprise to see you this evening. You are looking quite beautiful, as usual." He could not stop his voice from cracking as he was overwhelmed with emotions.
"I was not aware that you had returned. I cannot express my relief that you are home and safe. You look well. You did not suffer any injuries?" Jane was having a hard time not touching him or breaking down and confessing her love for him in front of everyone in the room.
He was about to answer when Mr. Gardiner approached. "Well, God bless. It is good to have you back Colonel."
The two men shook hands and Richard replied, "I am glad to be back, Mr. Gardiner."
Mr. Bennet cleared his throat loudly. "Would everyone please have a seat so I might hear the report from the doctor?"
Jane and Elizabeth felt a little guilty for putting other thoughts ahead of their sister. They were still not aware that Lydia did not run off with Wickham; so, once they knew she was fine, they were still angry with her.
The doctor told Mr. Bennet that Lydia was fine physically. She had been given large doses of laudanum over a period of days to keep her sedated and it would take some time for the drug to work its way out of her body.
When this was said, Elizabeth interrupted. "Drugged. I do not understand. Why was she drugged?"
Darcy answered, "She did not leave Brighton willingly. She was abducted and held captive until this morning when she escaped through a window. I will explain everything once the doctor has finished his report."
The doctor continued and informed them that Lydia had been deprived of food and drink during her drug induced stupor; so she was weak. He recommended a week of bed rest and a slow introduction to food. He suggested starting her with broth and weak tea; then gradually working her back to more solid foods.
"When can we take her home?" questioned Mr. Bennet.
The doctor looked at the girl's father with sadness in his eyes. "I would not recommend moving her this full week. Though her body will recover quickly, her mind will take a bit longer. She has been through a very frightening experience and no longer feels safe. I used a calming technique with her that I learned from an old healer where I grounded her with the things surrounding her. This made her feel protected in the space she was occupying and those around her. Doing so allowed her to relax and fall into a healing sleep. I fear that moving her from that comforting space too soon might set back her recovery."
Daniel spoke up, "Mr. Bennet, you and your family are welcome to stay here as long as necessary. I would be honored to help out in any way I can."
"Thank you, Mr. Rhea. You have been most kind," was Mr. Bennet's answer. He was too full of guilt to elaborate so Jane answered for the family.
"Your offer is truly very kind. My family and I graciously accept."
"THE HELL YOU DO!"
Everyone gasped and turned to Richard. The man at the center of their attention was flustered. He had not meant to allow that comment to come out but he would lose his sanity knowing his Jane was under the same roof with a man who was clearly infatuated with her.
Not knowing what else to do he simply said "Pardon me" and left the room. Darcy moved to follow; but Jane put her hand on his arm to stay him.
"I believe it best if I speak with him." She then turned to the others who were still in shock and excused herself.
Once Jane had left to find Richard, the other occupants of the parlor sat in awkward silence. The doctor, having finished his report, informed the group that he would be checking back on his patient the next day and then departed.
Daniel turned to Darcy and asked, "Have I done something to offend Richard? He has seemed perturbed with me since he arrived and now he does not seem to trust me to host the Bennets."
Darcy looked to Elizabeth and then to Mr. Bennet, unsure of what he should reveal. Lord Exeter sat grinning over all that was happening. He had always been on the receiving end of Richard's teasing; therefore, he was enjoying the Colonel's jealous rant tremendously. Seeing that Darcy was going to pick and choose his words carefully and limit his amusement, he stepped in.
"Daniel, you committed the grievous sin of making doe eyes at the woman he is in love with."
Five different reactions happened instantaneously following Exeter's remark.
Elizabeth gasped; Darcy gave an exasperated sigh; Daniel sat back in his chair and said "Oh my"; Mr. Bennet jumped up and shouted "What!?"; and Jason laughed hysterically.
Darcy reached over and slapped Jason on the back of the head. "Would you stop that laughing? This is not funny. Mr. Bennet, please sit and let us explain."
Elizabeth informed her father of how she had met the Colonel in Kent and about the numerous times they were together in London. She told her father that Richard and Jane had developed feelings for one another but his situation was such that an offer of marriage was all but impossible.
Daniel sat in contemplation. Jane had been upfront with him about her having feelings for someone else; it was just hard to contemplate that the man was someone he called friend. He examined his feelings and realized that he was not overly upset at this new development. He did like Jane; but, he was not in love with her. The more he thought on it, the more he recognized that the two were perfect for each other. He knew he could be happy for them.
Mr. Bennet excused himself to go and find his eldest daughter so that he might finally be able to see his youngest. He had a terrible headache and he did not think he would find any respite the rest of this night.
Darcy turned to Daniel and Jason, the latter of which was still sporting a stupid grin.
"Daniel, are you well?"
"Yes, quite well actually. I consider Richard a good friend and I will be happy for him if he can find a way to make a life with Miss Bennet. I think they will complement each other and I am sure they will find much happiness."
Elizabeth smiled at Mr. Rhea then turned to Darcy. "Now will you tell me what happened with my sister so that I might go and check on her?"
Darcy gave Elizabeth a quick summary of the events that had transpired and promised her a full accounting on the morrow. Too much had happened this night and he felt a headache coming on. It seemed that was a common theme for the night.
Jason showed Elizabeth to her sister's room so that he might retrieve his wife and tell her all that she had missed while upstairs.
With the help of Mr. Rhea's butler, Jane found Richard in the billiards room. He was sitting in a chair, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. He heard her approach and thought it was Darcy coming to berate him.
"Spare me, Cousin. There is little you can say that will make me feel any more foolish than what I do at this moment."
"I am not your Cousin; but, I am still debating on whether or not you are a fool."
Richard's head jerked up at the sound of Jane's voice. He immediately stood and unconsciously assumed the stance of a soldier; then he softened when he looked her in the eyes. He did not know whether to demand she hear him out or just take her in his arms and hold her until she listened.
His need to touch her won out and Jane was wrapped in his embrace before she knew what was happening. She stiffened at first due to the surprise but soon relaxed and let the bliss take over. She wrapped her arms around his waist and laid her head on his chest. This felt right. For a few moments neither spoke. Richard laid his head down upon the top of hers and she listened to his heart beating while enjoying his warmth.
Richard pulled away slightly so he could look at Jane. "I am so sorry. I really did not mean to say anything out loud. Seeing you walk in on his arm when I wanted so much to be by your side was almost more than I could stand; but, knowing you would be in the same house with him and me not here broke me. Please tell me you will go to your Uncle's house. I will come and get you every morning and bring you here to visit. Just please do not stay."
Jane took her right hand and placed it on his cheek just as she had dreamed of doing for weeks. "Richard, you cannot ask that of me. I am not sure yet what happened to Lydia but it is clear that she was not a willing participant. I doubted her and I have to make that up to her in some way. I will not desert her now."
"You will not be deserting her. Your family will be here in the evenings and early morning and you will be here most of the day. She will understand."
"What will she understand? What could I possibly tell her was my reason for leaving?"
"You can tell her that your aunt needs your assistant due to her delicate condition."
Jane pulled away from him and walked to the other side of the room. She needed distance so she could think straight. She was frustrated with him; but mostly with herself. She had told him she could be just his friend if that was her only option; but, she knew in this moment what Cassie had told her all along, that was not possible. It was not possible for her and it was not possible for him. She understood how he felt about Mr. Rhea for she would not be able to watch him with another lady without falling apart.
Richard waited patiently for her to respond; but he was not prepared for what she said next.
"We cannot go on this way. Neither of us can look upon the other as just a friend; the bond pulling us together is just too strong. As we cannot be anything more, I think it would be best if we no longer have contact with each other. I realize that there will be times that being in the same room together is unavoidable; but, we can limit our interactions as much as possible," Jane finished while tears began to fall.
Richard could not believe what he was hearing. Somewhere deep inside he knew that she was speaking out of her pain; but his mind would only register the hurt he felt at her words.
"So that is it then. Your suggestion is to just walk away," he said in a voice barely above a whisper.
"It is for the best," replied Jane as the tears turned into sobs and she ran for the door.
Richard caught her before she could leave the room and pulled her into his arms. This only made her cry harder. He tried to sooth her by rubbing her back and whispering in her ear that everything would work out in time. He begged her to not cry and hear him out. Finally, she calmed.
He took out his handkerchief and wiped away her tears, then led her over to a chair. Once she was seated, he knelt down beside her and took her hands in his. "Jane, I agree that we cannot be friends; but, neither can we live without the other. Wellington has stationed me in London and has asked me to give him one more year of service. The position will be as an advisor to the War Office and a field trainer. It will keep me too busy to be able to run Netherfield and I cannot ask Will to hold the estate for me. He must plan for its use so that it can be profitable for his future child."
Jane looked down at their intertwined hands lying in her lap. "What will you do when the year is complete?"
"I am not sure. I can retire or continue on in an advisory capacity. Wellington assured me that, should I continue to give him my strategic insight, I will not have to return to battle unless it is my choice. All I know is that living without you is not possible."
Once again, Jane cupped his face. "But what of your situation. I still have nothing to offer."
"You have everything I need. I only ask that you think hard upon this for life will change from what you are used to; from what we are both use to. I will still refuse to take from my family to support myself; so, we will have to budget. I do have some investments and, acting on some good advice, I plan to make a few more in the coming weeks. If they pay off, we will no longer have to worry over finances. I am also going to speak to my father. He has offered me assistance in the past and I have refused it. However, I have decided to take half of what he offered me before; but not for myself. I will take that money only on the condition that it go to you. The money will not be touched. It will be set aside and allowed to draw interest so that you and our children will be cared for if something should befall me. Then, if possible, I will pay him back with interest. Do you think you could live the life of a soldier's wife?"
Jane could not help but laugh. The happiness was just bubbling out of her. "I could live as a street pauper as long as you are there with me. I love you, Richard."
"As I love you, my sweet Jane."
Richard leaned up and placed a tender kiss upon her lips. He leaned in to steal another when he heard the "Ahem" coming from the doorway. Neither he nor Jane jumped or tried to hide what they were sharing. They silently vowed never to hide their love again.
Posted on: 2011-08-08
Elizabeth stood and stretched. "I think we should stop there for tonight."
"But Mama, you cannot stop now," pleaded Danielle Darcy Edwards.
"Darling, your father, brothers, and your husband will be home soon and I imagine all six of them will be ready for a hot bath and a hot meal. Not to mention that we have been at this for hours and you need to rest. If you think Mark is anxious about your condition; you should hear your father when we are alone. He oscillates from threatening to kill your husband for putting you in danger to grinning foolishly at the thought of being a grandfather. We all appreciate that you want to chronicle our family history for your first child; but it does not have to be done all in one day. None of us would want you to overtax yourself."
"Just how am I to rest when I have so many questions running through my mind? If you want to protect your first grandchild; then you should put my questions to rest so that my body can do the same," stated Danielle with a sly grin.
"That is not fair," Elizabeth laughed; proud of her only daughter's intelligence and shrewdness.
Danielle laughed also. "Please, Mama, just a few questions."
"Very well," Elizabeth sighed and retook the seat she had just vacated.
"I do not understand why Papa just let his uncle and cousins go. Not only that; but giving them some of what they wanted even though he already knew Aunt Lydia was safely away from them."
Elizabeth smiled as she thought back to that time. "I did not understand it completely at first; but your father is wiser than the both of us. Not only would bringing charges hurt his own name and reputation as it was three Darcy men behind this; but, he understood that his uncle and cousins would not stop harassing him until they felt they had "won" some kind of victory over him. So, he let them. He gave his uncle the house in bath and gave his cousin the proof he wanted that George was he son. He agreed to have Richard help get the desertion charges dropped because he was afraid that Lydia and Georgiana's reputations would be ruined if George was put in jail. Your father felt, at the time, that the only thing keeping him silent about the Ramsgate incident was a legal contract of privacy. If he was already in jail, he would not care about breaking that contract. Everyone got some of what they wanted and that gave your father peace of mind."
"But why was Jonathan Darcy so insistent in proving that George was his son? He had apparently known for a while and done nothing about it."
"We asked that same question," replied Elizabeth. "Your father assumed it was because he had no children of his own and, as he got older, he wanted someone who would care for him in his old age. It was only after the man he sent to Brighton to investigate his relatives returned, that we discovered the trust that was providing Jonathan Darcy a living had a stipulation on it. Should Jonathan produce a son, the son could take control of the entire trust once he reached the age of thirty. George was older than your father, and I believe he was to turn thirty within a year of this time. Jonathan wanted to ingratiate himself with his son so that he could gain control of all the money in the trust and not have to live on interest alone. He was too arrogant to realize how that plan might backfire on him."
"So tell me, how long did it take Aunt Lydia to recover from her ordeal; and was it during her stay at Seren House that Uncle Daniel fell in love with her?"
"The whole family stayed at Seren House for two weeks before we could talk her into returning to Longbourn. It took at least a year before I would say she was truly recovered; however, she was changed forever. Fortunately, the changes were almost all for the better.
As far as when your Uncle Daniel fell in love with her, you have to recall that she was not yet sixteen when she was abducted. Daniel saw her as a child; but, Lydia saw him as her protector from that time on and was resolute that they would marry.
Your grandfather and your uncle had much in common and became fast friends. Therefore, Daniel was often at Longbourn and my father, mother, brother and sister even visited his estate on occasion. Lydia was a little intimidated by the size of his estate so she came here to Pemberley and asked me to help her learn how to manage a large estate and town home. She also asked me to help her learn how to fit in with society. She was determined not to embarrass Daniel in front of his friends.
She and Daniel were often thrown together when he came to visit your father or in Chatsworth when she would go and visit your Aunt Mary and Uncle Stewart; yet, he gave no indication that he thought of her in any way other than as a close acquaintance.
When Lydia turned twenty, your grandmother threw her youngest daughter a grand dinner. Lydia was so excited and spent the entire day running back and forth to the window watching for Daniel to arrive. When it was almost time to go into dinner, she gave up on him coming and her disappointment was great. However, just as everyone was being seated at the table; he was announced. He apologized to my parents and to Lydia for being late and gave the excuse that he had to wait on her present to be delivered before he could leave. He came to the table and knelt down beside her and presented Lydia with a small box. She could barely contain her tears when she opened it and found a beautiful ring inside. Daniel told her how much he admired her strength in overcoming her ordeal and how proud he was of the work she had been doing to learn how to run a household and improve her mind and character. He told her that he had noticed her blossom from a pretty young girl into a beautiful woman and he had come to love her dearly. Then he asked her to be his wife right in front of all her friends and family. There was not a dry eye in the room; but, your father will deny he shed a tear if you ask him," finished Elizabeth with a laugh.
Danielle sighed, "How very romantic. I hope this child is a girl so she will appreciate these stories"
Elizabeth laughed. "I am sure a boy will appreciate them just as much, he will just not admit it."
"Speaking of boys, were Grandfather and Grandmother shocked when they returned from London to discover that Grandmother had gotten with child while at Brighton?"
"Shocked was too mild a word for it," laughed Elizabeth. "I believe everyone was beyond shocked. My father had a fit of nerves to rival that of my mother at the thought of raising another girl. It was a good thing that fate brought them a son or I do believe my father would have locked himself away in his library forever."
Danielle continued. "Now, I must know how Cousin Anne came to be married to Charles."
"That was a surprise to us all," admitted Elizabeth. "You see, your cousin was not at all like you know her today. Her mother had kept her practically sequestered at Rosings and never allowed her to socialize with anyone beyond family and a few neighbors. Therefore, the only men that Anne had ever come in contact with on a regular basis were Richard and your father. It was only natural that she became infatuated with them.
She was timid and delicate with very few talents to promote herself. Her mother insisted she was sick and never allowed her to develop an interest in anything beyond reading and viewing nature as she took her daily drive in her phaeton. So, she was afraid that, with little to offer and a mother such as hers, she would never marry unless one of her cousins was made to do so out of duty.
Your great-aunt was furious when your father announced his engagement to me; however, she was apoplectic when she found out that Richard was to marry Jane. Richard had been her second and last choice for Anne to marry. Your cousin was equally distraught. She thought, in her limited understanding, that she was in love with the two of her cousins and they had both deserted her to a life of loneliness. Lady Catherine put Anne in a carriage and made the trip to London to show her two nephews just what sorrow they had wrought.
They came to Darcy House to confront both men; but Richard was at the training fields outside of London. Therefore, your father was the sole target for Lady Catherine that day. As it happened, Charles was there when the two ladies arrived. He had returned to London so that he might stand up with your father at our wedding. Your father invited him to stay at Darcy House since his sisters were still upset with him over his decision to manage his factories.
When Lady Catherine arrived, William had just told Charles about Jane and Richard's engagement. Charles excused himself from the study to give your father privacy to talk to his aunt; but, was still confused about his feelings over what he had just learned regarding your Aunt Jane. He planned to go for a walk in the park across the street but was delayed by the sound of weeping coming from the parlor.
He entered the parlor to find your cousin crying and desolate. Not wanting to leave her alone in this state, Charles called for a tea tray to be sent and asked for a room to be prepared so that she might rest. The two sat and talked over tea until Anne's room was ready. Anne, being so sheltered, did not understand that she was not supposed to share her feelings so openly with a man she had just met; so she told him everything she was feeling. Charles, unaware of her lack of awareness, appreciated her open and forthright manner and this encouraged him to open up about his disappointment.
When Lady Catherine had spoken her peace, she returned to the parlor to retrieve her daughter only to be informed by Charles that Anne was resting upstairs and was not to be disturbed. Your great-aunt would have none of that and started for the stairs; but, Charles blocked her way and threatened to throw her out should she try to take her daughter before she had time to recover her strength. Your father just stood back and watched the entire scene with a bit of amusement.
As it turned out, Lady Catherine left for Primrose House and made it known that she would be returning the following morning to retrieve her daughter and that she would not be denied. Georgiana, who was at the Gardiner's house, was sent for since Anne was a single woman in residence. The following morning, Anne did leave Darcy House; but, she did not leave London. She stayed at Primrose against her mother's wishes and began to get to know the Bennets and the Gardiners.
Charles paid calls to her often to make sure she was recovering from her disappointment. She liked the care and concern Charles was showing her and he liked her forthright manner. He once said that he never had the intelligence to understand women so it was refreshing to find one that just told him outright what she was thinking and feeling. It was only a matter of months before he proposed and was immediately accepted. Anne's mother would not have her daughter marry a "tradesman" so Charles agreed to give up the factories and take over the running of Rosings. This seemed to suit everyone as Lady Catherine had a son-in-law that wanted to please her and provide her with grandchildren and Caroline was welcomed back into the society she had missed."
"What happened to Caroline Bingley? I never knew Charles even had a sister other than Lousia."
"You know her as Caroline Brightmon. She married the third son of a Baron who, as predicted, ran through her dowry within two years. Once the money was gone, Caroline came to Charles and expected him to take care of her. He sat down with his sister and her husband and explained that he would provide them with a modest place to live and pay for a few servants; but, everything would stay in his name and they would learn how to manage on a budget. They both readily agreed.
It was about six months after Charles moved them into a nice townhome that he paid them a surprise call. He walked in to find the modest home redecorated in an opulent style that would rival Rosings. When he confronted them, he found out that Caroline had been using his name to furnish the house and replenish her wardrobe. She was completely unrepentant and even demanded that it was his fault she was penniless and he should pay for whatever she needed to live the life to which she was entitled.
Charles cut her off completely. He gave them the townhome so that she would not be homeless; but he went merchant to merchant and paid the bills she had run up while informing the owners that his sister was to never be allowed credit in his name again. This, of course, made her a laughing stock among the ton and she never forgave him. He went to Lousia and Gerald and told them that he would cut them too should he find out that they in any way aided Caroline or her husband. Lousia was smart enough to know where she should plant her loyalties.
Caroline is still about; but, I understand that she and her husband live off the charity of his brother who keeps the purse strings pulled tight."
Danielle thought on this a moment then stated, "I guess I should feel guilty for not feeling sorry for Mrs. Brightmon; but, she had the opportunity to improve her condition. So tell me, if Charles was running Rosings, how was he instrumental in setting Uncle Richard up in his horse farm? I have heard Uncle Richard make that remark several times."
"Well, once Charles took over Rosings, he became aware of the problem facing many landowners and tradesmen alike: lack of suitable work horses at an affordable price. He had asked your Uncle Richard to help him find some decent, reasonably priced horses that he could depend on to be able to handle the work load of his tenant farmers and both were surprised at the difficulty of the task.
It was then the Charles remarked to your Uncle that he should retire from the military and raise work horses instead of Thoroughbreds. The idea stuck and Richard decided to make it a reality. When not in London, he had been helping your grandfather improve Longbourn for my brother to inherit; so your uncle talked it over with your grandfather. Richard had been rather successful in his investments but was unsure about risking what he had gained on starting such a business; for he had one child and another on the way that he had to support. My father suggested that they go into the venture as partners. This would provide both with a possible income without as much risk to either. Then your father stepped in and provided Netherfield as his buy-in to the investment. As you know, that investment paid off for all."
Danielle laughed, "So it did. They did not even have to hire much help for Uncle Richard and Aunt Jane produced enough hands to run the place with their children alone."
Elizabeth smiled. "Well your uncle always said he wanted to fill his house to the rafters with children and he did almost accomplish that with his eight boys and three girls.
Now, are you satisfied enough to rest?"
"Almost," replied Danielle. "First I must know how Papa and George came to be such close friends after all they went through and how George came to be married to Georgiana."
"Your father and I had been married for a little over three years and had invited all our family to spend Christmas at Pemberley. On Christmas Day, we received a visitor who insisted that he needed to speak with the both of us that same day. Your father was rather upset that someone would seek an audience on this special day but the man said he was a vicar and that it was important.
When we entered the study, we found a frail, elderly man awaiting us. It was a wonder that the man had survived the journey in the snow for he did not look to be in the best of health; but he appeared to be determined. Introductions were made and we discovered that his name was Mr. Martin Hudson and he was a retired vicar from a small community outside of Kent.
Mr. Hudson told us that a little over a year prior; a man named George Wickham had purchased a small estate neighboring his cottage. He went over to meet his new neighbor and found George to be a broken man without hope or direction. He made it his mission to befriend him and help him recover from whatever it was that troubled him so.
He said that, over time, George began to open up about his past life. He told Mr. Hudson that he had spent most of his life living in bitterness and jealousy and had thrown away the opportunity to know what it means to be part of a family. He confessed all to the man and said that his life was a waste. Mr. Hudson informed George that he still had the chance to change the direction of his life; but, that he would have to make amends for the wrongs he had done in the past before he could move on with his future. Mr. Hudson felt that Christmas Day was the perfect day to seek forgiveness for the wrongs he had committed.
George and Mr. Hudson had traveled to Lambton and were staying at the Inn. George did not want to come to Pemberley himself because he felt that your father had the right to deny his request to talk and he did not want to cause a scene on Christmas. At first, your father said he would not go to the Inn that day; that Wickham would have to wait until he was ready to talk. However, I could see the hope flickering in the eyes of the elder man and asked your father to embrace the spirit of the day by making the trip and hearing George out. Not being able to deny me anything I sincerely asked of him, he reluctantly agreed.
So the two of us made excuses to our family and set off for the Inn. When we entered the room and saw George for the first time in years, we were both speechless. We were expecting to see the same young, arrogant, manipulating man we had always known; but, we came face to face with an older, humble man that could only be described as broken. We stayed for several hours as he and your father talked.
George told us of the first time he realized that Mr. Wickham was not his father. He said that he had gone to Lambton with George Darcy and the elder Mr. Wickham and had gotten permission to go to the sweet shop while they conducted their business across the street. While in the sweet shop, a man sitting at the table next to his asked him his name and where he was from. He told him his name was George Wickham and that he lived at Pemberley with his father who was across the street. He pointed out the window to three men grouped together having a discussion. He said the man looked and said that it was obvious which was his father from the resemblance between the two; but picked George Darcy not Mr. Wickham from the group.
Once they returned to Pemberley, George went straight to the Portrait Gallery and began looking closely at the pictures of the Darcy family. He saw then what he had never noticed before; he looked like a Darcy. He went immediately to his mother and demanded that she tell him the truth; to admit who his father was. He said that his mother simply replied that she could not tell him that her husband was not his father and to never ask her that question again. He was old enough to understand that his mother did not say Wickham was his father; only that she could not tell him that he was not.
He stated that over the next few months, he began watching George Darcy closely and realized that the man loved him and treated him the same as a father would a son. Yet, it wasn't until he went off to school that he truly accepted who and what he thought he was. He was introduced to several boys at school who were the illegitimate sons of members of the peerage. In comparing their life and his, it was obvious to him that he was receiving the same treatment; only, unlike them, he was not told why. He said that he could have accepted his fate at that time; but, was angry that everyone felt he needed to be kept a secret from society when the other boys seem to be accepted regardless of being born on the wrong side of the blanket.
What happened on his first day back at Pemberley is what sealed his bitterness and jealousy for years to come. When he arrived back at the estate from school, he went immediately to confront George Darcy about his parentage but was told that the Master and the young Master were out on the grounds. He then went to the stables to await their return and fell asleep lying against some hay stacked by the entrance. He awoke to the sounds of men talking and opened his eyes to the sight of George Darcy with his arm around your father's shoulders as they walked toward the main house. George said that Mr. Darcy stopped and turned your father towards him and patted him on the shoulder and told him how proud he was to have such a son. From that time on, George felt inadequate to your father and this allowed his anger to develop into bitterness and hatred.
George did everything he could from that moment on to win George Darcy's affection and show his hatred to William. He played the dutiful Godson while at Pemberley and an absolute reprobate when alone with the man he thought was his brother. At the reading of Mr. Darcy's will, George was sure that he would finally be acknowledged as the man's son; even though he knew he would not be eligible to inherit Pemberley. Yet, he was denied once again. He made it his mission from that time forward to demean your father and he tried to find ways to make him pay for being granted the acknowledgement that he had been denied. As I told you, he even tried to force a confession from your father by convincing Georgiana to elope with him. He said that his mother's deathbed confession was the first real proof he had of his parentage; but it was not enough. He needed William's confession.
George said that he might have continued in that same frame of mind his entire life had he not been made aware that his father was actually Jonathan Darcy. He said that Jonathan Darcy had provided him with the name of a friend and told him to wait for him at that man's home after he had abducted Lydia and brought her to London. He said that Jonathan showed up and took him to the pub for drinks. While there, he showed him the official letter declaring his resignation from the militia had been accepted; thus clearing him of desertion charges. George assumed at that time that their plan had been successful and asked if the other document he had requested had been obtained. You see, George had demanded, for his part in the scheme, that he be cleared of desertion charges and provided with money and proof of who his father really was. Jonathan Darcy then pulled out the other document and slid it across the table. George opened it with excitement, expecting to finally have proof that he was George Darcy's son. He was to be disappointed.
George read your father's sworn account of the circumstances of his conception and the testimony that Mrs. Wickham had signed a privacy contract in exchange for money. It was noted that the contract would remain in your father's possession but would be available for viewing by Wickham at the Darcy solicitor's office that next month complete should he desire to read it personally. Then at the very bottom of the document, he finally read the name of his real father: Jonathan Albert Darcy. He said that he looked up at the man sitting across from him, and in that moment, saw himself years from now.
He told us that over the next few weeks, Jonathan Darcy spent a great deal of time expounding on his hatred of George Darcy for keeping his son from him and how they would make up for lost time now that all was revealed. Yet, there were pieces to this puzzle that George could not place. It was not until Jonathan took him to the solicitor's office that maintained control of his trust, that Wickham understood his "father's" motivation. He understood that it was never about being reunited with his son, it was always about gaining control of the trust money. He knew that Jonathan Darcy believed that he could play on his desire to have the father he had always been denied in order to control him and, by association, the money. However, there was a fatal flaw in Jonathan's plan; George Wickham had never been denied a father, he had only failed to appreciate fully the one he had.
George recognized that Mr. Wickham had loved him as his own son; despite who his father was and the betrayal of his mother. George had been blind to that love in his later years, once the bitterness had set in; but it was there until the day Mr. Wickham died. He had also been honestly loved by his Godfather; regardless of the circumstances that forced him into that position. He had even been loved by William, the young boy who called him friend, until he let his jealousy ruin the bond they had developed in childhood. He knew in that moment that he had been given every opportunity to be a son, a godson, a trusted friend as close as a brother; but he had thrown it all away.
George said that he left the solicitor's office after signing the documents that gave him control of the trust. He told Jonathan Darcy that he would give him the same opportunity that he was given years before. He then gave his father £3000 and told him to use it more wisely than he had. Jonathan was furious but had no legal recourse against his son. He took his money and left London.
George said that he wondered around for the better part of a year trying to figure out what to do with his life. With the hatred gone from his heart, he no longer felt pleasure in drinking, gaming and women. He simply felt lost. It was then that he met a man named Bryan McCreeley who invited him to come stay with him and his family at their estate between London and Kent. He said that they never talked about personal matters; but the man kept him busy and that kept his mind off his problems. The man put George to work helping run the estate and showing him all that was involved in making an estate profitable. After a year, he suggested that George find an estate of his own and helped him locate the one he now calls home.
It was at this time that he met the vicar, Mr. Hudson, who listened to him without judgment. Mr. Hudson had shown him that, regardless of the improvements he had made in his character, he would never be whole until he made right the past hurts he had inflicted. Therefore, with tears streaming down his face, George asked humbly and sincerely for forgiveness from your father for all the hurt he had caused him. Your father was unable to stop his own tears from falling as he took George's proffered hand and pulled him into a healing hug.
Before we left, George asked if we would speak to Lydia and Georgiana for him. He wanted to make amends with both of them, as well; but, would not approach either of them without prior consent. Lydia and Georgiana agreed to see him the next day with William and Daniel present. They both gave him their forgiveness; though Lydia could never fully give him her trust. That is why we always make sure that she is seated away from him at the table and never left alone with him in any room."
"I had always wondered about that. George is so sweet and kind but Aunt Lydia never looks him in the eyes. I never understood why until now. It has been years, so I guess she will never come to see him the way that the rest of us do; not that I can honestly blame her. I just feel bad for George. He is really a good man," commented Danielle.
"That he is," answered Elizabeth. "He and your father spent much time repairing their relationship and George was often at Darcy House when we were in London. He accompanied us to different balls and parties; but, only danced with a few select ladies. He started to remind me more and more of your father with his silent stance on the sidelines" Elizabeth laughed. "He always danced with me and he always danced with Georgiana.
It became apparent to William and me that the two of them were comfortable with one another. They developed a strong friendship that turned into love and he finally got up the nerve to propose. I will never forget your father telling me of the day he came to him to ask for Georgiana's hand. He said that George told him that he had always wanted to be a Darcy and then found out that he was. But that he was proud to wear the name Wickham; for his true father was the best man he had ever known. He then told William that he wanted to share the name Wickham with Georgiana. Your father took George's hand and told him that they would finally be brothers in truth and that he was proud to call him such.They have been close as brothers ever since that day.
Now will you go and take a nap until dinner?"
Danielle gave her mother a sigh before replying, "If I must. Just promise me that we will talk more tomorrow. I still have questions about Aunt Kitty and her heroic Captain Denny."
Elizabeth gave an exasperated laugh, "Danielle, go rest. As I said, we do not have to chronicle the entire family history in only one sitting. We still have three months before you are due and I think we can cover things at a moderate pace between now and then."
After her daughter finally went to lie down, Elizabeth stood and walked over to the window to look out over the grounds she had come to love so dearly. It was hard for her to believe how quickly time had passed. While retelling the story of how she and William had come to be married, it was as if she had just lived it weeks, not years, before.
It was thus that William found her when he entered their shared sitting room. He walked up to his wife and slid his arms around her waist and pulled her back into his chest before dusting light kisses over her ear and neck.
"What has you so contemplative this evening, My Dear?" he asked.
Elizabeth sighed and melted back into her husband. Even after all these years, he made her heart beat a little faster with every touch. "Your daughter is incorrigible. She had me sitting for hours telling her our history. I guess it is the first time in ages that I have really looked back and remembered everything just as it happened."
"Did you show her our letters?" William asked.
Elizabeth blushed, "No. I know that we talked about it; but, I still think they are too personal to show her right now. The ones we wrote after we were married are especially too personal and intimate. I would not be able to look her in the eyes again if she read some of the things I wrote to you."
Darcy laughed. "I guess you are right. Mark and I were talking earlier about the baby coming and I realized something. You are still younger than your mother was when Michael was born. What do you think of us trying for another?" William asked as he laid his hand across her stomach.
Elizabeth grinned. "We are fixing to become grandparents and our youngest will be going off to school in a few months. Are you sure that you want to start all over with another child?"
William had begun nibbling on her ear once again as he whispered his reply, "We can always try and see what happens."
Elizabeth squealed and ran off towards her bedchamber with her husband in pursuit.
That night after everyone had retired, Elizabeth laid her head on her husband's chest and asked, "William, if you could say that we have taught our children one important lesson about life, what would you say that lesson was?"
William ran his fingers up and down his wife's arm in a light caress while he thought. Then he answered, "I would have to say that we taught them that there is nothing more powerful or important as the truth."