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Walk With me - Chapters 22 & 23

June 11, 2015 12:11AM
These are the final chapters. I will be posting the Epilogue on Saturday smiling smiley

Chapter 22 - Plans & More Courtin’

The engagement having been made public, attention must then be directed to those practical matters of great import which precede a marriage: the date of the wedding must be canvassed, wedding clothes purchased, settlement papers drawn up and, to Mrs. Bennet’s delight, neighbours given the opportunity to express their pleasure for her great, good fortune in having two daughters so advantageously married.

The date of the wedding was quickly resolved and, to Mrs. Bennet’s dismay, the two couples agreed upon a joint wedding. If Mrs. Bennet was unhappy at losing the prospect of organizing two grand weddings which would amaze all of her neighbours, Mr. Bennet was not unhappy to be inflicted with all of the noise and turmoil of only half that number. However much distress Mrs. Bennet suffered in this regard, she was pleased and appeased that it was not to take place until mid-August or two months hence.

Elizabeth found the discussion of the marriage settlement much more disturbing. Darcy had sent the papers to Mr. Bennet who had then sought her Uncle Gardiner’s advice. She had known that Darcy was a wealthy man but the extent of that wealth, when expressed on paper, had almost overwhelmed her. Then she had to absorb the amounts that he was proposing to settle on her in terms of an annual income – what her mother called her ‘pin money’ – and those amounts which would secure her future should he predecease her. That thought alone had discomposed her for several minutes. Her embarrassment with his generosity was equalled only by her distress at contemplating his death and both were severe. She strove to mask both although she questioned the effectiveness of her efforts when he smiled and shook his head at her. She thought the settlement to have covered all the necessary items in greater detail than she had anticipated. If her father and uncle were satisfied, so would she be.

Nevertheless, afterwards Darcy invited her to walk with him in the garden and almost as soon as they were able to speak privately he said, “Our discussion has unsettled you?”

His small play on words drew a smile from her.

“Not at all, Sir! I have simply quite settled it in my mind to ensure that you survive for a very long time!” she protested.

“Elizabeth, I know that… I could see that you were disturbed. Will you not tell me why you were distressed? And please, trust me that I will not be unhappy at anything you say.”

“You can promise that, sir?” she teased.

“Well, at least not too unhappy and for a very short time.” He responded with a matching smile.

“I simply find myself embarrassed at bringing so little to the settlement and at your generosity. I had not…I knew that you were rich. I had been aware of your ten thousand a year. If I had not, my mother would surely have dealt with my ignorance most satisfactorily. It had never been real, you see, and not really a factor in my thoughts. I knew you could provide for me and our children and I thought little more of the matter. But you have settled so much on me, and my allowance! How will I ever use it all? Do I need it?”

Darcy let the following silence persist for a minute or two before answering, “That is one of the reasons I have come to love you so much. To be valued as Fitzwilliam Darcy instead of for my income or Pemberley is…well I do not have the words to express how much I value your approbation and respect.” He cleared his throat which had become suspiciously husky before continuing, “However, there are some very practical reasons for what has been settled on you. The first, and most important, is for my peace of mind.”

“How is that a practical reason, William?” Elizabeth’s interruption was accompanied by a quizzical glance up at him.

“Very simple, my dear. I would forever be worried about your well-being, your safety, your…well suffice it to say that I will rest more easily knowing that, should I be taken from you unexpectedly, you would be well cared for. I would not have you placed in a position where you wanted for anything.”

“William, dearest, you know that in such circumstances, I would be lacking that which is most precious.”

Darcy felt himself unable to continue this line of conversation and determinedly returned to the topic at hand.

“The other reasons are equally practical, I assure you. You will find that the demands placed on you as my wife will require an expansion of your wardrobe. I am not inclined much towards society but we will have to be more engaged than I have been in the past; we will have to entertain and be entertained. My friends, my family and even society in general, will wish to meet Mrs. Darcy. You will charm them I know but your task will be eased if they see you appropriately dressed. Besides, there are some family jewels that you should wear and while you would wear them with distinction even in the simplest and plainest gown, I daresay I will have trouble with my composure seeing you dressed in a most beautiful gown and adorned by the jewels.”

“I see, so I am to dress to discompose you, sir?” she gave him a mock frown, “I find that idea rather…interesting.”

Darcy cleared his throat once more, “Yes, well…” he laughed, “I am discomposed now…I almost dread my condition when…I fear I shall become a veritable fool.”

Elizabeth made no effort to mask her grin but chose not to tease him further. He, after casting a glance at her, returned to their initial subject, his countenance more serious than previous and his voice taking on a slightly fierce tone.

“The last reason is that this is what my station in life demands of my wife or, perhaps better said, that society expects my wife to have. I will not let anyone think less of you or that I do not value you highly which they would most assuredly think, if I did otherwise. In truth, Elizabeth, that I have provided so well for you is a testament to society of how much you mean to me. This I will tell you now. To the extent that it is within my power, you shall never have cause to doubt that I will do whatever is necessary to protect you and our family.”

Elizabeth found herself bereft of words, stopped and placing a hand on his chest, placed the gentlest of kisses on his cheek. Her intent to step back and resume her place by his side was prevented as she suddenly found herself being most firmly embraced by Darcy. Resting her face against his chest some minutes later, she realized how enjoyable and comforting it was; however, her pleasure was all too soon ended, by a distinct cough sounding behind her and Darcy’s arms had relinquished their hold in response. Her father’s voice was redolent with amusement as he gently chastised them both.

“Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy…I would ask you to observe the proprieties. Mrs. Bennet’s nerves could not withstand the sight. I fear she might insist on your being married immediately.”

Elizabeth could not resist teasing her father, although her blushes were obvious to both men, “You leave me with an easy choice, Papa. To distress my mother and wed quite soon; or not, and suffer her attentions until I am wed in August!”

Both men began to chuckle although Mr. Bennet, mindful of the rather hopeful look in Darcy’s eye, quickly shook his head. “It will not do, Lizzy, delightful as the thought may be for you both and, indeed, for myself. So please, humour your old father and avoid a repetition of such…activities.”

Later that evening Darcy approached her with a proposal that had won her immediate support – not least because it would remove her and Jane from the tumult of her mother’s wedding plans. He had proposed that she and Jane, in company with her mother, travel to London for two weeks to buy their wedding clothes and then – after Mrs. Bennet returned to Longbourn to organize the wedding – the two betrothed couples in company with Georgiana and the Gardiner family would travel to Pemberley for three weeks returning to Longbourn a fortnight before the wedding. The Gardiners had intended to tour the lakes that summer, although the exigencies of Mr. Gardiner’s business had shortened the amount of time they could spend travelling and they had, as a result, thought to limit themselves to touring Derbyshire and visiting Mrs. Gardiner’s acquaintances in Lambton where she had lived until her marriage about ten or twelve years previous.

Bingley's and Jane's support was quickly sought and received, Mr. Bennet applied for his consent, which was given most reluctantly since he could not be pleased to lose his two most sensible daughters so early. Only murmurings from Elizabeth about Gretna Green wrung a final consent from him and he insisted that his daughters would have to be responsible for informing Mrs. Bennet of their plans. A rapid exchange of letters with the Gardiners settled the matter to everyone’s satisfaction except Mrs. Bennet who, upon being told of the plan, was most unhappy and only reconciled to the loss of her daughters by a fortnight in London purchasing wedding clothes.

The trip to London was shortly undertaken with the greatest expediency. Mr. Bennet had been applied to, and had granted, sufficient funds for a substantial enhancement of the wardrobes of both Jane and Elizabeth. Their suitors, well aware of the demands to be placed upon their betrothed when introduced to London society, had insisted upon, and allowed to have their way to Mrs. Bennet’s great delight, a further enhancement of those wardrobes. Thus it was that the two young ladies accompanied by their mother, Mrs. Gardiner and frequently by Miss Darcy assaulted the milliners, drapers, cobblers and other such shops as provide those garments and accessories so essential for the proper appearance of a young lady when being introduced into society.

Suffice it to say that Mrs. Bennet’s pleasure in the shopping experience was only exceeded on one occasion – that being the day those same daughters were finally wed. The patience and good natures of both her eldest daughters were sorely tried by the experience, not least because almost every purchase involved a battle with their mother over the proper amount and type of lace and trimmings that must be embodied in each dress. They, with the support and guidance of their aunt and Miss Darcy, were able to dissuade their mother from the fullest expression of that lady’s preferences but she could not be overruled altogether and finally Elizabeth had to be consoled by her aunt’s advice.

“Lizzy, remember that lace can be removed. Once you are married, you may do as you wish with the dresses.”

The fortnight was not spent wholly in visiting the shops and Darcy and Bingley, although not allowed to claim much of their betrothed’s attention for the first week – the ladies being too engaged in shopping in the day and rather too tired by the evening for much more than a quiet hour or so in their company – did assert a claim for the following week. Walks in Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, a visit to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and an art exhibit were arranged and enjoyed by the two couples. Evenings saw them dining with the Gardiners, Darcys or Bingleys. Their most public outing involved a trip to the theatre and, for Elizabeth, the occasion was not dissimilar to that earlier event during their courtship. While no public announcement of their engagement had been promulgated, the news had been most gleefully made known by Mrs. Bennet during her shopping efforts. From the shops to a more general dissemination was but a short and quick step and their passage from the entrance of the theatre to the Darcy box was made torturous by the frequent impingement of those wishing to be introduced to the future Mrs. Darcy and, although less frequently, to the future Mrs. Bingley.

While society did on occasion intrude, such impositions were rarely discomfiting nor did they detract from the pleasure of the outing. The dinner at the Bingley home, with Miss Bingley acting as hostess with all of her most charming insincerities displayed, allowed Miss Bennet the opportunity to assess the furnishings of her future London residence. If the fixtures and furnishings were rather too ornate for her liking she hid it well, simply resolving that, once married, changes could be made as necessary. Her mother’s suggestions and directives were received complacently and, since they were not too dissimilar in substance from those of Miss Bingley as reflected in the existing furnishings, were received with the fullest intent of being ignored. None of this showed on her countenance and neither Mrs. Bennet nor Miss Bingley were aware of Miss Bennet’s inclinations; only Elizabeth, with whom Jane confided, and Mrs. Gardiner, from an appreciation of her niece’s preferences, had an idea about her thoughts and intentions. Only in the Mistress’ chambers was the touch of Miss Bingley absent. There Miss Bennet, although listening to her mother’s directives, was clear in her instructions to the housekeeper. Such changes as were necessary, and not a few were, as the rooms had not been used for over ten years, reflected Miss Bennet’s preferences, and Miss Bennet’s preferences only – to her mother’s considerable annoyance.

Elizabeth had visited Darcy House often during the early days of her courtship and had found little that required change and those too few and too minor to need immediate attention. The Mistress’ chambers were, on the other hand, quite dated, not having been changed for more than twenty years. Knowing her mother’s proclivities, Elizabeth allowed her mother to view them and dispense such advice as she believed important, nodding politely all the while; however, a separate, later viewing in company with only Mrs. Gardiner and the housekeeper was undertaken and those changes deemed necessary were identified. Since the wedding was not to take place until August, sufficient time existed to carry out the modifications required.

Perhaps the meeting most fraught with tension for Elizabeth was her introduction to Darcy’s noble relations. She had, of course, already met Colonel Fitzwilliam and his amiability and gentleman-like manners had won her regard from their first meeting. She could but hope that his parents and siblings were equally amiable, although from the little that Darcy had revealed, this wish was not likely to be fully granted. Unwilling to face them without further knowledge, she posed her concerns to Darcy and begged that he be more forthcoming. With some reluctance, he complied.

“I am sure you have noticed my…hesitancy in answering your questions. The truth of the matter is that I am close only to Richard of my Fitzwilliam relations. My uncle, the Earl, and his wife are too much like my Aunt Catherine for my comfort; they are, I admit, not as overbearing as Aunt Catherine, nor are they as…as…blind to realities. But they are conscious of rank, not altogether welcoming to those of inferior station and apt to be almost as condescending as Aunt Catherine. It was always a marvel to me that Richard is so sensible and amiable – he is also not altogether happy with his parents’ manners but, for the most part, his duties allow him separation and the ability to overlook their behaviour.” He paused for several moments before pressing on, “I believe Richard’s army career has much to do with it. He once said he had met too many decent, honourable men who held no rank to wish to attach too much importance to rank and station. If I remember correctly, his words were, ‘I find it impossible to stand beside a man, born to a farmer’s croft, who is prepared to die so that his friends might live, to attach much importance to the gift of birthright that belongs to a noble.’

“I like your cousin a great deal.”

Darcy gazed out of the window but looked at her out of the corner of his eye, “I suspect that if his circumstances had been better, he might have pursued you very strongly. I have never seen him as much interested in a young woman.”

Elizabeth knew he was seeking her assurances and was not reluctant to provide them. “His circumstances were not different, he made no effort to gain my affections and any pleasure that I took in his company was simply that provided by an amiable gentleman.” She thought for a few moments before saying, “I believe you once claimed him to be as close as a brother to you. That is what he is to me as well – a brother.” She grinned at him once more, “I have always wanted a brother and you have now gifted me with an exemplary one. Thank you!”

Reassured, he returned her smile, “I accept your thanks.”

Elizabeth was not content to let the matter rest and returned to her original concerns, “I remember, when your Aunt Catherine…called upon me, your saying that your uncle knew better than to order you.”

Darcy did not object to the change of topic and rejoined, “Yes, he has, on occasion attempted to impose his wishes on me. He and the Countess have applied to me more than once to marry someone they believe suitable. I met, and dismissed, all of their…candidates. The matter was quite an issue until I finally made it clear that I would wed as I chose and that I would not accept their importuning and that I would demand that any woman I did choose be accepted by the family.” He grinned slightly at her, “You can imagine how well that was received; nevertheless, the prospect of an estrangement in the family was not something they wished to occur. They will accept you, Elizabeth. Of that and my love, you may be assured.”

Elizabeth smiled wistfully, “It is to be a publicly polite, privately cold relationship then?”

Darcy could only acknowledge her words with a nod of the head and was forced to be content with stating, “They will be polite in public and in private. You may be assured of that. I will permit no disrespect.”

The fearful event took place the day before they were to return to Longbourn. The Earl bore a marked resemblance to his sister, Lady Catherine, and his wife was a thin, stiff-featured woman a few years younger than her husband. Mrs. Bennet, whose exuberance and volubility would not endear themselves to the Earl or his wife, was convinced by the Gardiners to remain at Gracechurch Street that evening – reluctantly on her part since the prospect of a daughter attached to a titled family was one that she had previously never thought possible. As a consequence, the dinner was a small affair encompassing only Darcy and his sister, the Earl and his wife, Elizabeth and Jane and Bingley. The Colonel, who had hoped to attend, was required by his duties to absent himself; and, since, those duties involved the capture of Wickham, no one was prepared to complain about his nonappearance.

Elizabeth having found herself sitting at Darcy’s right hand, with the Earl beside her and the Countess across the table, soon felt all the discomfit of her position. She remembered her initial reaction to Lady Catherine. She had felt no awe when introduced to that lady and, indeed, had quickly come to view her with amusement. Part of that reaction she knew was due to the knowledge that Lady Catherine was of little significance in her life and could not materially affect her future. She owed nothing to her other than the civility she bestowed on almost all her acquaintances. The situation, she told herself, was not much different with respect to the Earl and his wife except that they were a part of her soon-to-be family and, for her future husband’s sake, she must attempt to ensure that relations between them remained civil. She had expected to be the object of many questions and was not disappointed.

Her introduction to them and the conversation that preceded their removal to the dining room was all that was civil and trivial. The manners of both Earl and Countess were polite, albeit somewhat distant and stiff. She hoped that, when seated at the table, they would relax and be more conversational. In this she was somewhat disappointed. The Countess initiated the conversation.

“Your sister is quite beautiful, Miss Elizabeth. I understand you have three more sisters at home.”

“I do, your ladyship.”

“My sister, Lady Catherine, tells me that they are all out and that your family never had a governess.”

Darcy felt compelled to intercede, “Mr. Bennet’s estate is not a large one, Aunt, and the cost of a governess might well have been onerous. Besides, Mr. Bennet is quite a clever gentleman and his daughters never wanted for such masters or education as they wished for.”

Elizabeth smiled at him, “True, Mr. Darcy although I admit to a wish that my father had borne the expense.” She looked at the Countess, “as for being out. It is true; while I might have wished that my youngest sisters had not been allowed the privilege, it would have been hard in our country setting, to deny them the pleasure and, as I told Lady Catherine, it would hardly have promoted sisterly affection between us.” Elizabeth wondered what else Lady Catherine had imparted to her brother and could only believe with great confidence, that nothing kind or reasonable had been contained in the letter.

Neither the Earl nor the Countess appeared to take much pleasure from this information and shortly began to question her further and she felt the impertinence of their efforts and was about to respond in kind when Darcy intervened and murmured so as to prevent his voice carrying the length of the table.

“Aunt, uncle, I suggest you desist in these questions. I fear you have taken too much heed of Lady Catherine’s complaints which, as you are both aware, stem mainly from her displeasure that I have refused to marry Cousin Anne.” He glanced at them both before speaking in more normal tones, “Now, Elizabeth and I were fortunate enough to attend a recent performance ….”

His relations allowed the introduction of a safe topic of conversation and gradually the mood at their end of the table eased and conversation meandered its way through plays, books, theatre and other such topics. The Countess and Earl both appeared to relax slightly and the latter, who spent much of his time at his country estate, began to discuss some of the problems he had recently encountered there and, while the Countess suggested that such topics were best reserved for when the gentlemen were enjoying their port after the meal, a question or two by Elizabeth kept his attention on the matter. Perhaps surprised that a woman would be interested in the topics, he was initially reluctant to discuss the particulars of the matter but close questioning made him forget his reservations and he began to expound in more detail. The Countess, perhaps piqued that her admonitions had been ignored, had several times begun to mention names of those prominent in her circle and, on each occasion, Darcy or Elizabeth, led the conversation back to topics that all could share. Finally the Countess directed her attentions towards Jane and Bingley and began an interrogation about Hertfordshire. Elizabeth was too tightly focused on listening to Darcy and his uncle that she had little attention to spare for the conversation being between the Countess and her sister and Bingley. She could only believe that they had acquitted themselves well – perhaps Jane’s innate goodness and gentility had won the Countess’ approbation - since her manner towards Elizabeth seemed to have softened when the ladies removed to the drawing room after the meal.

The remainder of the evening passed quietly and, if not one of the most enjoyable of her life to date, Elizabeth felt satisfied that she had done nothing to earn the disapprobation of her betrothed’s closest relations. In fact, she rather thought she saw a slight smile of approval on the Countess’ face when Elizabeth and Georgiana performed a duet that they had been practising. That Georgiana approved of her brother’s choice for a wife, was comfortable in her presence and that Elizabeth was treating her with obvious respect and kindness must be discernible to even the most obtuse observer, and the Countess was not blinded so by prejudice.

As Darcy was to relate to Elizabeth the next morning as they were carried back to Longbourn, “My aunt and uncle are not disposed to give any more heed to Lady Catherine’s objections. I will not pretend that they are overjoyed at my choice, Elizabeth. They are not. But they are also, neither of them, inclined to object either and they were more favourably impressed by you than they had anticipated.” At her raised eyebrow, he chuckled, “I am sure that their opinion will continue to improve as they come to know you better. My uncle was rather astounded in regards to your interest in estate issues. My aunt does not discuss such matters with him at all.”

Elizabeth glanced at her sister and mother but both had drifted off to sleep under the motion of the carriage and it was almost as though she and Darcy were totally alone. “I hope you will not follow his example, William.”

“I have no intention of doing so. I would not waste your intelligence so – and it would indeed be a waste.”

“Tis a very pretty compliment, sir, but you must know that…” another glance at her mother assured her that she remained asleep, “I have not been trained to the duties involved in being mistress of such a large estate as Pemberley is purported to be.”

“No, I am aware of that, Elizabeth. It is of no significance. Pemberley and Darcy House have been without a Mistress for many, many years – since my mother died. They have functioned quite well nevertheless. I have every confidence that with the help of Mrs. Reynolds, who has held the position of housekeeper at Pemberley for more than twenty years, you will be quite able to assume the responsibilities”

His attention seemed to wander for a few seconds before he resumed, “You will make mistakes. I certainly did after I took over as Master from my father. But they will not be of lasting import and correctible. I have no worries, no concerns, in this regard.”

Further conversation was prevented as Jane was roused from sleep when the carriage stopped to change horses and allow its passengers to refresh themselves. Within thirty minutes the carriage was once more rolling towards Longbourn and Elizabeth found herself napping for much of the remaining distance.


Chapter 23 - A Good Time Had By All

They had been at Pemberley for over a week now and only another week remained before they must return to Longbourn and their wedding. Pemberley was all and more than she had expected and Elizabeth found herself eagerly awaiting the day when she would sit as Mrs. Darcy and Mistress of Pemberley. If there was one cloud to mar the days that had passed, it was that Darcy himself had been so engaged with estate business as to allow him little time to share with her. This, he had promised, would soon change and by ensuring that his business was undertaken now, he was ensuring his leisure after their marriage. For, as he promised, their first month of married life would be devoted to her.

Darcy was sitting at the table enjoying his breakfast when Elizabeth came downstairs to join him and they were joined shortly thereafter by Georgiana, Bingley and Jane. The Gardiners had already breakfasted and were outside walking and playing with their children. As the five young people discussed their plans for the day, Mr. Reynolds entered with the day’s post; prominent amongst which was a very thick letter that was laid beside Darcy.

Identifying the handwriting as that of Colonel Fitzwilliam – which he made known to the others – he begged their leave – which was granted - to open it directly and did so. That the letter contained important news was readily apparent from both the concentration and seriousness of his mien as he read and, when he finished, he was importuned by Elizabeth to share the news. After a few moments he chose to pass the letter to Elizabeth saying, “I believe you should read this – perhaps aloud to everyone.”

“Netherfield Hall
Hertfordshire

Dear Couz,

I must impart some important news, which I am sure you assumed from the thickness of the letter. I do not know if it is good or bad news since I accept that your feelings toward George Wickham are much more ambivalent than mine. For myself, I take great satisfaction and feel no regrets. The man has been a boil for years and lancing it gives me a definite measure of satisfaction.

To put it bluntly, Wickham has been captured and awaits a court-martial which I believe will take place within a matter of a fortnight or so. But, I am putting the cart before the horse – although I did so as to insure your relief as soon as was possible.

The tale is rather simple although not without being fraught with a significant degree of frustration on my part. As you know, we have been searching an increasing area in the neighbourhood around Longbourn as we progressed. We knew Wickham to be in the area but found few indications of his presence. Our searches did turn up a few vacant cottages in somewhat obscure corners and several showed signs of recent, albeit temporary, occupation but nothing that tied such to Wickham directly. It was not until we approached the River Stort, which borders Hertfordshire and Essex, that we began finding more traces of Wickham – at least, we believed them to be so anyway.

I do not know if you are familiar with the River Stort – I was not until recently and now know it better than I could wish – but it is quite a popular fishing spot and fishing cabins dot both sides of the river along certain stretches. We began to inspect each cabin on the Hertfordshire side and, although there were signs that many cabins had been used, it was not clear that they were used by anyone other than fishermen. In fact, we encountered numerous fishing parties during our efforts and, when questioned, none could say with any certainty that someone answering to Wickham’s description had been observed. We searched thus for over a week with no success.

It was a matter of fortunate circumstance that led to our success. I had resolved to shift our efforts to the other side of the river when I happened to encounter young Robert Goulding at a dinner hosted by his family. I had not planned to attend but, frustrated by our lack of success, I resolved to seek some company to distract my thoughts. Besides, Miss Goulding is rather charming. I could wish she had a more substantial dowry. Ha! I can see you now shaking your head. Your lovely Miss Elizabeth is right in the generalities when she noted that I need a wife with a decent dowry. In the particulars, I believe her to be wrong. Fifty thousand pounds is much more than I require but twenty might serve me well! Alas Miss Goulding’s portion falls much too short.

I am allowing myself to be diverted. Goulding asked how our searches are progressing and was as unhappy as I about our lack of success. Apparently many young women are finding the restrictions placed on their freedoms, by the threat of Wickham, to be unwelcome and are making their unhappiness known. Goulding’s pleas for more effort on our part were joking but tinged with sincerity. When I described our efforts and where we had been searching, he thought that Wickham could easily be hiding along the river and asked if we had searched the woods fringing the river, stating that a number of cabins were secluded in those woods. This was a surprise to me and shows, upon reflection, that I should have included someone more knowledgeable about the area in our searches. I had assumed that the squad assigned to the search had become quite familiar with the area during the time they were quartered there. Such a stupid mistake.

Anyway, young Goulding offered to show us the cabins on the following day and so it was that we ventured out with him as our guide. It took us an hour or two to reach the woods which abut the river for almost a half mile and are almost as deep. We had not attempted to search them since the trails seemed sparse and we had not known of the presence of cabins. Goulding did not reveal why they had been built in such secluded spots but I suspect the owners did not have fishing rights to the river. In any event, he showed us several trails that led to a number of cabins and it was the third that we visited which provided a hope of success. We did not find Wickham but we did find clear evidence of his presence - including his uniform – and it appeared that he had used the cabin recently. We decided to hide two men close enough to the cabin to see if he returned. We changed the men every six hours, keeping ourselves to the cabin owned by the Gouldings, which is but a twenty minute ride distant. Three days later, we were successful as one of the men came to tell us that Wickham had returned to the cabin very late that night.

Unfortunately, we could not move through the path to the cabin until first light the next morning and, since it appears that several of the men assigned to me were born with two left feet, our progress was not as quiet as I could have wished. Wickham must have heard us because he made a bolt for the river. He appears to have secreted a boat on the shore and was in midstream when we reached the river. One of my men fired a warning shot which, I believe, must have frightened Wickham, because he fired back wounding Lieutenant Sanderson. Two of my men returned his fire and Wickham was wounded twice and knocked out of the boat. I must say I was impressed with their marksmanship. He was not an easy target. Goulding, who is quite familiar with the river, went in and managed to save him although I am not altogether convinced it was worth the effort or risk. Anyway, his wounds proved none too serious and won’t save him from a court martial.

By the way, Sanderson was wounded in the leg but the bone was not broken and the surgeon expects him to heal nicely. It was an incredibly stupid thing for Wickham to do, although I suspect he was only trying to discourage us and had not aimed at Sanderson in particular. It could have been worse. He could have hit me! Ha!

Anyway his actions have worsened the case against him and I doubt he can escape the noose. If he had simply surrendered, I suspect he might have gotten off with an assignment to the regulars fighting in Spain, or transportation. But wounding an officer – that will count very heavily against him.

I plan, at Colonel Forster’s request, to escort Wickham, wounds and all, to Brighton tomorrow to face his court martial. He should be fit to be tried in a fortnight or so. I also met with the Bennet family to inform them of the particulars of Wickham’s arrest and likely outcome. Mr. Bennet was, as I am sure you can appreciate, much relieved at the news and expressed his appreciation for all our efforts. His daughters also appeared very relieved although Miss Lydia seemed somewhat disconsolate – does she still harbour a fancy for Wickham do you think? If so, I am sure that Mr. Bennet is doubly relieved since she is just the type that Wickham enjoyed preying on – young and foolish!

Unfortunately, I must remain in London until the court martial is concluded. I will, however, keep you fully abreast of any further developments. Give my best to all your guests. I am sure they will be most relieved at the news I have imparted.

Yours,
Richard Fitzwilliam”


Silence reigned for a full minute before Mr. Gardiner broke it by saying, “I cannot grieve his possible fate too much. I do not know what he could have done but I am sure it would bode poorly for our family.”

Elizabeth first thought was for Darcy. He was, even for him, uncommonly quiet and, in a moment of inspiration, she realized that this news engendered mixed feelings in him; she resolved to speak of it with him as soon as an opportunity presented. Since he appeared to have little appetite and she herself had finished eating, she induced him to walk with her and, by her manner, indicated to the others that she wished for some privacy. To allay any fears of her uncle about propriety, she directed Darcy’s footsteps towards the formal garden behind the house. As soon as they were assured of privacy, she began thus, "This news has discomposed you greatly. Will you not speak to me about it?”

Darcy led her towards a bench and, after seating her, sat himself beside her, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees. She had rarely seen him perturbed but waited for him to speak, knowing he would do so when he was ready. Several minutes passed until he finally sat upright: “You know much of my history with Wickham, do you not?” she assented and he continued, “We were boys together. For many years, he was the closest thing I had to a brother. I was perhaps closer to him as a child than I was to Richard….I cannot help but feel that loss. George betrayed me, he betrayed Georgiana and he even betrayed my father - although he never knew of it; and yet….I cannot wish his death.” He rubbed his eyes, “I had thought – expected – that he would be punished by transportation. That would have satisfied my desire for revenge – and lest you think poorly of me, I admit such a desire is most unchristian – but I feel it nonetheless and will make no apology for it.”

“I would neither expect nor ask that of you! Your anger and disgust, I can easily understand …understand and share, in fact. When I think of his actions towards Georgiana, I am filled with such disgust as to amaze me. I should never wish to feel so about another being.”

Darcy gave her a small smile and placed her hand between his own, “It is good to talk of him with you.”

Elizabeth encouraged him to stand and begin to stroll the garden path arm-in-arm with her and then prompted him to remember those happier times with Wickham. Their return to the house some hours later saw them not happier but more content and at peace with the life and fate of George Wickham. His miniature was removed from the mantelpiece where it had sat from the time of Darcy's father. And with its removal, the last vestiges of Wickham were removed from Pemberley; they would have no cause to speak his name in the future. As Darcy finally said, "He had so much given to him, so many opportunities but he could only see the pleasures of a gentleman's life, he saw or would not see any of its responsibilities. He had no concern for the welfare of anyone other than himself."

The remainder of their stay at Pemberley passed much as the first part although the press of business no longer weighed on Darcy as it had. He and Elizabeth were able to enjoy daily walks of some duration, suitably chaperoned of course, in the process of which their knowledge and comfort with the other improved. Their other guests could not be ignored and Elizabeth, Jane and Mrs. Gardiner enjoyed travelling to Lambton to visit acquaintances of Mrs. Gardiner. That those people would become acquainted with the future Mrs. Darcy was an additional benefit and before they had returned to Longbourn the reports of her kindness and friendliness had been spread widely. The gentlemen were equally well amused and, to the delight of Mr. Gardiner, he was encouraged to exploit the streams of Pemberley to such an extent that the fish population had been seriously compromised although Pemberley's cook was more than eager to add the product of his efforts to their dinners. Between fishing, shooting and riding the gentlemen had no shortage of activities to engage their attentions.

A week after receiving the news of Wickham’s capture, the Pemberley party made the trip back to Longbourn and a fortnight later….well, suffice it to be known that Elizabeth and Jane Bennet wed Fitzwilliam Darcy and Charles Bingley respectively, as planned, in a double wedding in August. What is there to say about the ceremony itself that has not been said countless times before? Every wedding is unique to the couple being married. For Elizabeth the only part she carried away to treasure was the exchange of vows. To hear the man she was to call husband for the remainder of her life say, with more tenderness and assurance than she had ever previously heard him express, “I, Fitzwilliam, take thee Elizabeth, to my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.”

When the Reverend took Darcy’s right hand, giving it to Elizabeth to hold in hers, she could not tear her eyes away from Darcy's as she repeated: “I, Elizabeth, take thee Fitzwilliam, to my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.”
She never felt more right, more certain of her decision than at that moment. Darcy was to reveal afterwards that, for him, as moving as the exchange of vows had been, he remembered most the feeling of joy when he placed the ring on her finger and pledged, “With this ring, I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

It was, as he admitted later, the happiest and most frightening moment of his life. He had been almost overwhelmed when he had to take on responsibility for Pemberley and his sister after his father's death but now the well-being and happiness of one he loved more than anyone had been placed in his hands. As he murmured to her as they drove away from the church, "This is my private pledge to you, Elizabeth. You shall never have cause to doubt my love and respect for you, and our children, all the days of my life."

"Nor shall you ever have cause to doubt mine, my love!"

Mrs. Bennet’s effusions of happiness that followed the ceremony would not have been restrained if not for the preceding fortnight in which her two eldest daughters were paraded once more throughout the neighbourhood to the point of exhaustion for all three of them and the neighbours upon whom they had been forced. If the truth were known, Mrs. Bennet required a whole month’s quietude to recover from her endeavours to the pleasure of her remaining daughters and her husband.

The newly wedded couples were understandably eager to depart after the ceremony and, while required to attend the wedding breakfast where, once more Mrs. Bennet’s preparations were extensive, exhaustive and excessive, they could not be persuaded to remain more than an hour before summoning their carriages and taking their leave. The Darcys were bound for Pemberley - a trip to The Peaks for a month's wedding tour had been considered but discarded in favour of a month's solitude at Pemberley; while Mr. and Mrs. Bingley had chosen to travel to Scarborough and Yorkshire, there to visit Mr. Bingley's relatives for a month and then to return to Pemberley for a month. Both couples would then voyage to Town to take part in the fall season. And on this cheerful note we will take our leave of the happy couples - our story done, our tale told.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Walk With me - Chapters 22 & 23

PeterJune 11, 2015 12:11AM

Re: Walk With me - Chapters 22 & 23

Shannon KJune 13, 2015 10:49PM

Re: Walk With me - Chapters 22 & 23

PeterJune 14, 2015 02:57AM

Re: Walk With me - Chapters 22 & 23

terrycgJune 11, 2015 06:39PM

A lovely story. Thank you! nfm

KarenteaJune 11, 2015 05:26PM

Re: Walk With me - Chapters 22 & 23

ShannaGJune 11, 2015 04:59PM

Re: Walk With me - Chapters 22 & 23

PeterJune 11, 2015 05:15PM

Re: Walk With me - Chapters 22 & 23

Lucy J.June 11, 2015 06:35AM



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