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Action Lizzy and the Four Thieves Chapter 50

July 14, 2023 12:42PM
Chapter 50

Three weeks felt like it had raced by. Lizzy sat at the dressing table with the maid who was putting the finishing touches to her hair. Darcy had visited her father yesterday and the settlement papers were all signed. She had given Darcy a simple note for her father which had said:

‘I haven't changed my mind.’

She had visited Mr Gardiner’s home to announce it to her mother, as Mrs Bennet had come to town with Jane and Kitty to shop for Jane’s trousseau and wedding dress. There were no words to express Mrs Bennet’s excitement that she could now organise the weddings of two daughters. She was so excited that it had removed her vexation over the fact that Mr Bingley's cousin had chosen to enter a courtship with Mrs Long’s niece, rather than one of her daughters (despite the fact that the other Mr Bingley could not get to know the Bennet ladies whilst they were in mourning).

Tonight, the Earl and Countess were hosting a dinner to announce the engagement to the family and their closest twenty friends. If it were during the Season, they would have hosted a ball, but as so many of their friends were still at their country homes, including the Countess’s brothers, a dinner seemed more appropriate for the smaller number of families.

Lizzy had expressed her concerns over her mother with the Countess, and she had been placed strategically between Richard and an old family friend who would most likely be distracted by Jane, who would sit on his other side.

Mr Gardiner seemed to be doing better. The announcement of the engagement had brought a genuine smile to his face. He was actively engaging more with his family and children, even if quieter then before. The regular visits from Mr Edwards, along with chess games with the Earl seemed to be helping him.

Lizzy went to wait with the Countess for the arrival of their guests. Darcy, Georgiana and Bingley arrived first, soon followed by the Gardiner carriage. Besides the family members, Darcy had invited three of his friends and their wives, and the Countess had invited her better friends, some of the young ladies who had developed friendships with Lizzy, and one known gossip.

Lizzy had initially questioned the inclusion of Lady Tatterfield, however the Countess had explained her reasoning. “It is far better she is invited and told at the dinner rather than her finding out from the announcement in the paper tomorrow. If she feels slighted, she will be more critical and may be inclined to spread negative commentary on you. Now she will feel included and respected and is more inclined to think well of you.”a

The Earl made the announcement at the start of the dinner and all toasted to the good fortune of the happy couple. Mrs Bennet was in a good mood and happy to receive compliments on the beauty and good breeding of her daughters. The Countess’s masterful placement of dinner companions ensured the dinner went well and Mrs Bennet was entertained mostly by Richard. At the end of the dinner, Lizzy nodded her grateful thanks to her future cousin.

The next day the gossip columns reported the news, but as the engagement of Darcy and Lizzy was a guaranteed event, it had more to say on the Bennet sisters. Both Lady Fitzwilliam and Mrs Bennet were exceedingly happy with the commentary.

‘Last night the expected engagement of Mr D of Derbyshire to Miss B of Hertfordshire was announced at a magnificent dinner hosted by Lady Fitzwilliam. Miss B’s family was in attendance, and Miss B is not alone in beauty. Her elder sister is a stunning, classical beauty and is one to watch out over the coming Season. Unfortunately for the bachelors of London, she too is lately engaged. This was also our first sight of the younger Miss B, famous for saving her sister from kidnapping, was also in attendance with a bubbly personality. We will be certain to keep an eye on them during the Season.'

With Lizzy’s engagement now formal, she now got to join Jane in the whirlwind of dress fittings and the purchase of a trousseau, along with keeping up engagements with the Countess. Jane had joined Lizzy and the Countess on outings, which had garnered a mention in the gossip columns. Then it had been Kitty’s turn, which had caused so much attention that both Lizzy and Kitty had been summoned to St James' palace to meet Princess Elizabeth, whom had become fascinated by the story of the highwaymen and their capture.

In her final week in London, she spoke with Mary whilst taking the children for a walk in the local park. “I can't quite put a finger on it, but my visits with the Countess have changed. We now seem to be calling on more distant acquaintances, all whom are Duchesses.”

“Is it because now that your engagement is formalised, she wants you to be accepted by the highest levels of society?” asked Mary.

Lizzy shrugged. “It’s possible but I feel she has another motive. I guess it will reveal itself eventually. I shall not trouble myself over it any further."

Later that same afternoon, she visited the Lady Sophia, Duchess of_____. The conversation was the normal Ton conversation, until the Countess changed the topic, and it suddenly dawned on Lizzy why she was being dragged around on these visits.

“How is the Sheriff? I heard he had suffered apoplexy?”

“Recovering and stable, though he will never be the same. Who can say how much longer he has?” answered the Duchess, sipping her tea.

“Is he still capable of performing his role as Sheriff?”

“We can hardly take the appointment off him. It would not be right,” answered the Duchess.

“But do you have any options for who might take over if the worst eventuated?” asked the Countess whilst sipping her tea.

“In truth, we've not thought about it, but I suppose we should,” said the Duchess, indicating that she was bored with the conversation and changing the topic.

The Countess let the conversation move onto other gossip about people Lizzy had never heard of, but she feigned interest and worked hard at not yawning. She knew that she would have a part to play in the conversation later and was interested to watch how the Countess would move the conversation onto Richard.

The Countess mentioned that she had heard that some Lord had come off his horse and had broken his arm in the fall, providing the perfect opportunity for Lizzy to enter the conversation. “Elizabeth, dear, you must know how that feels after you broke your arm after that attack by the highwaymen.”

“I imagine it was considerably worse what young Miss Bennet experienced to Lord Sommerton. That was self-inflicted and he got help immediately. Miss Bennet here had to run for her life with a broken arm.”

“Oh, yes your Grace, and don't forget the leg wound that was bleeding profusely. I really don't know what would have happened to me if not for Colonel Fitzwilliam leading the search party.”

“Oh,” said the Duchess with interest, “but the gossip papers said it was Mr Darcy that rescued you.”

“Though I love my betrothed dearly, do not think me blind. William dear would never have found me if Colonel Fitzwilliam hadn't led the search party. It is a little unjust that there has been no mention at all of Colonel Fitzwilliam. Did you know he was instrumental in the investigation, helping out Sheriff Riley? He was the one who came up with the plan that lured the thieves into the trap at Matlock.”

“Hmm, yes, it appears that your son, Eleanor, is missing some of the credit owing to him,“ said the Duchess.

Their visit did not last much longer. As the carriage set off, Lizzy turned to the Countess. “My Lady, you could have informed me of your true intent with this visit, and the others. I see now that you are trying to secure a Sheriff’s title for Richard.”

“You played your part admirably without needing to be told. Are you upset at my ulterior motive?”

“No, but you could have trusted me. Richard will be my family soon enough. I think highly of him and I want him to be happy. I would have had more time to prepare an appropriate sales pitch for your son.”

They travelled in silence for awhile. Eventually Lizzy asked the question that had been on her mind. “You have been so supportive of my match with your nephew when there is no reason for you to do so. A shorter visit, a dinner and an invite to your box would have been more than sufficient. Your nephew could have married far better and you have not blinked at this match - your support of my family and myself has not wavered. Why?”

“I disagree that my nephew could have married better. He is like his father, once his mind is set it would be impossible to change. If he was convinced to not marry you, he would have been miserable for years. True, in wealth and social standing he could have done better, but for a wife and mother and for a woman who could act as mistress to Pemberley, he could not do better. I want what is best for Fitzwilliam and I do not want the family estranged.”

“And the rest of the reason?” asked Lizzy, sensing more.

“Have you ever had to deal with men who assume you are an idiot because you are female? Those who talk down to you even though you know yourself to have the superior intellect?”

Thinking of her cousin, Mr Collins, Lizzy replied, “Yes.”

“Did you ever want to go to university?”

“I'm a woman. It isn’t permitted.”

“And is it not permitted because you don't consider yourself to be a clever as men are? Did you think it would be to difficult?” prompted the Countess.

“Hardly,“ scoffed Lizzy.

“Is it fair that men inherit property? That they inherit titles?” There was an air of anger and pent up resentment in the Countess. Lizzy sat quietly as the Countess did not appear to require an answer.

“My brothers are both idiots, and neither should be allowed to hold a wallet, let alone manage an estate or vote in parliament. I saw my brothers fight from a young age and I could not believe that men like them should ever be trusted to make any form of sensible decision. My opinion never changed as they grew up- neither became any more sensible.”

“I watched them enter university; for them to spend most of their time drinking, gambling and whoring. I was the one who either edited or completely wrote their assignments. I've no idea how they passed their exams, or how much they bribed their lecturers to give them a passing grade. I'm certain they learnt nothing from it. And now, my eldest brother inherited my father's title and his seat in parliament where he hasn't a clue what he is voting for or the consequences of his vote. It’s even lucky that he is sober enough to get to parliament to vote. And yet, for the mere fact he is a Lord, everyone is expected to treat him like he is their better.”

“No, it is not fair,” agreed Lizzy, not keen to interrupt the Countess’s rant.

“That should be my seat, I who could do it the justice it deserves! My brother thinks he's entitled just because he's male without actually deserving it with any effort or consideration!” The Countess was silent as she regained her composure, years of pent up anger having now burst out.

“If we want to be allowed to study at university, or inherit and control our own destinies, how do we change affairs as they currently stand?” asked Lizzy.

“And that is why I like you. We must challenge their beliefs. Men like to think women weak. Women are told acting weak is attractive, so we do so. You ran and outsmarted those highwaymen whilst critically injured. You stood up to them in court. You have shown that women can be strong. Likewise, men expect women to not be interested in affairs of state or serious issues they reserve for themselves. You do not pretend to be stupid. Nothing will change unless we make them change. Men will not think differently unless they are provided evidence to do so. Women will not behave differently without role models to follow and lead the way.”

“And I fall into that plan?”

“I like to promote and advance the interests of those intelligent women who would challenge the current status quo. Your marriage to my nephew shows that intelligent and strong women should be rewarded and advanced in society. It might be years before women are allowed in university, or get to vote or control their lives, but it must start with some of us ready to advance the cause and start building an army of supporters. Miss Bennet, will you join me in this endeavour?”

Lizzy smiled. “It would be my absolute pleasure.“

Action Lizzy and the Four Thieves Chapter 50

Anne VJuly 14, 2023 12:42PM

Re: Action Lizzy and the Four Thieves Chapter 50

cfwJuly 14, 2023 11:39PM

Re: Action Lizzy and the Four Thieves Chapter 50

Anne VJuly 14, 2023 11:17PM

Re: Action Lizzy and the Four Thieves Chapter 50

Maria Teresa CJuly 14, 2023 10:58PM


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