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Chapter Sixteen

In a moment, Robert was back on his feet with Georgiana in his arms. Instinctively, his mouth met hers as some of their pent-up passion was finally, finally, released. It was nothing like the first time he had kissed her; this time, they knew there would be a lifetime of repeat performances to enjoy.

The emotions that cascaded over Georgiana nearly overwhelmed her. As Robert’s lips left her mouth to blaze a trail over her cheeks, he felt her trembling.

“What is it, my love?”

“You cannot know what I suffered these past six months. I believed that I had lost the very thing most precious to me, and I would spend a lifetime regretting you.”

“Had you no faith in me?”

“I had no faith in myself. Because of my… my folly, I knew you were lost to me. I broke my own heart, Robert.”

“I will help you mend it,” he whispered.

They came to the point where they knew they must stop. Breaking their kiss was excruciating and took all his self-control. Georgiana had little left herself and was relieved that he did.

“Come, let us walk further,” he said, as he led them away from the bench. “There are many things we must come to an agreement about before I speak to your brother. He is sure to ask some very pointed questions, and I want to meet them with answers.” Georgiana nodded in concurrence.

“First, where you would like to be married? It matters not to me; my only requirement is that you are the bride. Would you prefer to be married from Pemberley, or in Town? We could wed in Hertfordshire, if you so desire.”

“I have planned weddings for Derbyshire and London, so Hertfordshire does have its appeal, in a morbid sense. I would prefer, nonetheless, to marry from Pemberley.”

“Very well, Pemberley it shall be.”

Georgiana smiled. “You have become very tractable.”

“Not at all. When it comes to love, I know what I want. Next item: when? I could leave in the morning and ride to London via Longbourn and obtain a special license. We could be married within a week.”

Georgiana laughed. “Decisive and completely lacking in patience. I was thinking six months, in early December.”

Robert blanched. “If that is you wish…”

“No, you silly man! I am not getting any younger and I do not desire a long engagement. I think a month should suffice. It will allow the banns to be cried and you will not have to return to Longbourn any earlier than originally planned. Our families will have enough time to make preparations to travel here for our wedding. There is also Elizabeth’s condition to consider. William would be quite properly vexed with me if he thought she was over-exerting herself. A short betrothal necessitates a small and simple wedding.”

“You do not wish to be married by a special license?”

“After my earlier opinions of my own importance, marrying in the same way as most people in the parish do would be a reminder of what I had to overcome. Most of all, I do not wish to be parted from you.”

“You could come with me to Town. Your brother can provide the appropriate chaperone. Are there not items a woman wishes to purchase before she weds?”

“I have already acquired most of those things, because of… What I still wish to procure, I can order or obtain in Lambton. I have no desire to travel to London at this time.”

“Then, pending the consent of your brother, we shall marry in one month. Where shall we spend our honeymoon? I believe my father can do without me for quite some time. Would you like to travel to the Continent?”

“Robert, I would like to stay closer to home. What think you of the Lakes? I have not visited there since I was a girl.”

“If your choice is the Lakes, then to the Lakes we shall go. I will make enquiries as soon as possible. Leave the wedding night to me. I would like to surprise you.”

“Not at Pemberley?”

“I love Pemberley, and I love my family, but I do not wish to be under Pemberley’s roof with our family in residence on our wedding night. It will be my gift to you and I will brook no opposition. Now we need to consider where we shall live.”

“Must we? We have spent most of the afternoon talking.”

“Yes, we must. I have a duty – I wish I could think of another way to put it – a duty to my father to aid in the oversight of Longbourn. We need not spend all our time in Hertfordshire, but we will, by necessity, reside there for the majority of the year. I am hesitant to bring you into Longbourn itself. My mother can be… my mother, and although I love her dearly, I would wish for more privacy. Bingley is ready to begin his search for his own estate, and I could inquire about letting Netherfield; on the other hand, it is much larger than Longbourn and I prefer to spare you the discomfort of living in a smaller house when I become master of my ancestral estate. I have heard that the Gouldings were quitting Haye Park. That would be acceptable, as would Purvis Lodge, though my mother always complains about the attics there.”

Georgiana was incredulous. How could he consider such an extravagant expenditure? Her dowry would permit them to live comfortably, but she worried that his concept of a suitable establishment was beyond their means.

“Robert, I appreciate your desire to provide us with a comfortable situation, but can we afford any of those places? I am fully willing to live with your family at Longbourn. My dowry is generous and the interest would supplement whatever allowance your father gave us, but I am not certain even that would be enough.”

“It is my desire that your dowry and the yearly returns be set aside for you and our children.”

Georgiana’s puzzlement grew. “Then how on earth can we afford such an establishment?”

Now it was Robert’s turn to be mystified, until it dawned on him that she still did not know of the family’s wealth.

“I see that there is more about me that you do not know, and I suppose I should not be surprised. Georgiana, how well do you remember Charles Bingley’s late father?”

“Very well, indeed. He and my father were good friends, as well as business partners. He was often a guest at Pemberley. Mr. Bingley was an excellent man.”

“I agree, I always held him in high esteem.”

“But what does the father of your friend have to do with this?”

“My father knew him as well.” Georgiana stared at him in confusion. “Georgiana, my father was a business partner of Archibald Bingley’s, just as your father was.”

“He was?”

“Yes, and he remains as Charles Bingley’s business associate today.”

“But that means…”

“That my father is a very wealthy man. He also maintains other business ventures in London with my Uncle Gardiner.”

“Oh! You once told me that your family would be provided for. I never suspected. And I abused your lack of wealth so abominably.”

“I never took the trouble to correct you, although I suspect it would have made little difference. I still lack the social connections you once deemed so essential – other than your brother, that is.” Robert teased.

“Then we can afford our own household?”

“Yes, my love, we can. You shall be mistress over your own house, unless, that is, you prefer to live at Longbourn directly.”

“I would rather have time alone with you first, if you are giving me such an option.”

“Of course, why else would I offer?”

“Then I desire our privacy. You decide where we shall live, as you know the neighbourhood better than I. But wait… William knew?”

Robert laughed. “Yes. When it came time to sign the wedding settlement for Elizabeth he was quite astonished, or so my father says.”

“It must have been as great a shock to him then as it is to me now.”

“Undoubtedly. Where we will live is the last item I thought we needed to discuss before I face your brother. Is there anything additional you wish to talk about?”

“I do not understand why your father chose to live so far beneath him.”

“He values his privacy and he feared fortune hunters.”

“Still, he could have materially harmed his children’s ability to make good marriages.”

“Perhaps, but we may never know. My father has told me that he will not ‘hide’ in Hertfordshire any longer once Mary turns twenty, if she has not found a husband by then.”

They were almost back at the house. Unwilling to release her just yet, Robert pulled Georgiana into a secluded area.

“I adore you,” he said breathlessly, as he once again claimed her lips.

~~~>~

Darcy was only slightly surprised when Robert came into his study.

“I would like a word with you, Darcy.”

“Of course, please sit. Would you like something to drink?”

“No, thank you, and I had rather stand if you do not mind.”

Robert’s demeanour led Darcy to speculate on the nature of the upcoming conversation.

“Darcy, I have come to ask for your consent and your blessing to marry Miss Darcy. This afternoon, I presented my suit and she accepted me.”

“This time.”

“What? How did you…Yes, she has at last agreed to become my wife.”

“Relax, my friend. I was only confirming certain speculations about last fall. You must know there are questions I must ask before I can grant my blessing.”

Robert nodded.

“It is useless to ask if you are able to support her. I have particular knowledge of your family’s financial position that makes the question irrelevant. So I shall not ask it.

“I should ask if your affections have been of long duration, but I saw the way you got on together in Hertfordshire, and you have all but admitted that she refused you once before. Georgiana was betrothed on the last occasion that you saw each other, so I must deduce that you cared enough for her to first ask for her hand before my own marriage six months ago.

“I could ask if you took advantage of her distress after the ‘situation’ with Drury to gain her consent. However, you were invited to Pemberley long before she severed ties with that man and I know my wife informed you of it at her earliest opportunity. You could have come earlier and you did not, and your behaviour since your arrival in Derbyshire has been above reproach. So I must conclude that you have acted as a gentleman.

“I may wonder about your apparent lack of useful connections, but then I would be insulting my wife and my own self, so that will not do.” Darcy smiled at his attempt at self-deprecating humour.

“Thus, I can think of no question but one. Do you love her?”

“I do, beyond all reason.”

“And will you give me your word that you will cherish and protect her always and in all ways? She has travelled a long and painful road to come to accept you.”

“You have my word, and my hand, that I will do so.”

“You do not need my consent. She is, obviously, of age. But I wish to speak with Georgiana before I grant my blessing.”

“She is waiting in the music room. I will send her to you.”

Robert quickly brought Georgiana to her brother.

“Please wait outside the room, Bennet.” Once Robert left, Darcy sat next to his sister. “Dearest, indulge me. I must ask you a few questions.”

“William, I know that you must.”

“Last time, you informed me of your engagement, but you did not ask for my blessing.”

“No, I did not.”

“Yet this time you do.”

“Robert insisted, and I never questioned him.”

Darcy smiled.

“Are you certain in this, Georgiana? Do you love him? Is this truly the desire of your heart?”

“Yes, William. I have loved him for many months and have long desired to be his wife.”

“How long?”

“Since November.”

“Yet you accepted another man.”

“William, it is not as simple as that. In my mind, he was lost to me. And you know full well why I accepted Henry.”

“Unfortunately, I believe I do. But now you are willing to accept a man who is, in the eyes of society, your social inferior?”

Georgiana looked away as the shame rolled over her.

“In those things that really matter, he is my superior. Please, William. I love Robert with all my heart. He is willing to forgive my many blunders and I have finally come to terms with my former officious and offensive opinions. I can be happy as Georgiana Bennet; I will be happy as Georgiana Bennet. All I lack is your blessing.”

Darcy smiled, and walked to the door.

“Come in, Bennet. I would like to talk with both of you.”

Robert stood behind Georgiana, possessively placing his hands on her shoulders, and waited for Darcy to speak.

“You have graciously asked for my blessing on your marriage, and I joyfully give it to you both. Bennet, you are to become my brother all over again and I cannot imagine a finer man to be husband to my beloved sister. You shall always be welcome at Pemberley. I wish you every happiness and my greatest hope is that you will find the same joy and contentment in your marriage as I have found in mine.”

“Thank you, Brother, that is my hope as well. I would not be here with Robert today if you and Elizabeth had not, so patiently and graciously, taught me the supremacy of love.”

“My sins were not so great?”

“They were mine, William. Mine alone.”

~~~>~

The joyful announcement was duly made, and all the inhabitants of the house were relieved to see that Georgiana Darcy was, at last, happy. Letters were dispatched to all the family, and soon Pemberley would become crowded with Bennet and Darcy relations.

The joy below stairs was just as great. Pemberley’s staff was devoted and loyal, and many had spent their lives serving the family. They had silently watch the grief and sadness of their Miss Darcy and had hoped one day she would find peace. And to their great delight, the man who brought her happiness was none other than the brother of their beloved new mistress!

~~~>~

One Week Later, London

Lady Allenby received her old friend in the drawing room. Lady Catherine was obviously agitated, and her old friend wondered what had caused her irritation this time.

“Catherine, I had not heard you were in Town.”

“I had not planned to come until I received a most astonishing letter from my niece, Georgiana.” Lady Allenby blanched. “Margaret, I know how disappointed you were when she rejected Henry, but now she has gone too far. My brother tells me I should rejoice in her happiness, but I can do no such thing. It is insupportable!”

“Catherine, of what are you speaking?”

“My niece, my foolish, head-strong niece, has attached herself to that whore’s brother!”

Lady Allenby was able to glean from her ally’s recitation that Georgiana had accepted an offer of marriage from Robert Bennet. There was no one else Lady Catherine could be referring to. After all her planning and scheming, after sacrificing George Wickham, she had failed.

“Georgiana is engaged to a Bennet? Is that what you are trying to say?”

“Yes! Of all the inferior gentlemen! I shall never be able to show my face in London after this becomes common knowledge.”

“Catherine, you overstate the situation. If they do wed, they will know better than to come to Town and expect to be noticed. You must overcome your reservations. You have Anne’s future to consider.”

“Yes, my dearest Anne. She has never recovered from the disappointment of losing Darcy.”

Lady Allenby was highly doubtful. Anne, despite all their efforts, had never been even slightly interested in that potential match.

“Now that Georgiana has ruined herself, Margaret, perhaps Anne would be the perfect choice for Henry? Rosings Park is quite a prise and she is the granddaughter of an earl as well.”

“Catherine, I do not believe Henry would suit your Anne. I also know that he has begun to court Miss Stallworth.”

It was one of the few times in her life that Lady Allenby acted in the true spirit of friendship. She would not wish her son on the daughter of her old friend. Not only was Anne too nice a woman to have such a fate thrust upon her, Lady Allenby could not risk her oldest ally uncovering her son’s reprehensible habits, as Lady Catherine most surely would if Henry were to marry Anne. Thus, even her most selfless act had, at its core, a most selfish motive.

~~~>~

Pemberley

As Darcy and Elizabeth prepared for bed on the evening of Robert and Georgiana’s announcement, Darcy had one last burden on his heart.

“Elizabeth, I have been thinking.”

”About Robert and Georgiana?”

“Yes and no. When I considered all that they suffered, and how much our marriage played a role in their journey back to each other, others came to mind as well.”

“Who?”

“Lady Allenby and George Wickham.”

Elizabeth immediately tensed.

“Elizabeth, I know there was an expectation that I would seek some kind of retribution from the lady. When we were at Longbourn, your father gave me much to consider. He suggested that the best manifestation of justice would be for Georgiana to break her engagement with Lord Drury. He was only partially correct. The supreme justice is that Georgiana and Robert are to wed in spite of Lady Allenby’s machinations, and that you and I were given the gift of our marriage and our love for each other. Is that not justice enough?”

“I… never considered it thus. What you say has merit and as we know, you are never wrong.” Darcy raised a bemused but sceptical eyebrow. “I must think on this before I can pronounce myself in agreement.”

“Thank you, but it still leaves the subject of George Wickham. I know it still pains you for me to mention the man. He knows that what he did was wrong and he has confessed his contrition. I believe him to be sincere, and his subsequent actions have only confirmed this. Neither of us can forget what he tried to do to you, or why, but it is my conviction that we must both find it within ourselves to forgive him.”

Elizabeth was silent. Her expectant state made her emotions more unstable than ever and soon she began to weep. Darcy enfolded her in his embrace.

“I know this is a hard thing that I ask of you. He hurt you deeply. But I also know that if you harbour the hurt in your heart, it will fester and turn to resentment and hatred. Wickham is not worth that kind of heartache, Elizabeth. There is something I did not tell you before that may help. As I said, when we met he was repentant, but he also did not believe he was worthy to ask me, or you, for forgiveness. He will always live with the guilt. That is his portion.

“Please, we will never put this behind us until we can forgive him, and her, for their trespasses against us. I am trying to forgive them. Will you try as well?”

Elizabeth looked up at him, her cheeks moist with tears. “I will try,” she whispered, “for you.”

“For us, and for our child.”

“Hold me.”

“Always.”

Epilogue

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven… A time to rend, and a time to sow; a time to keep silent, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate” Ecclesiastes 3:1,7-8a KJV

On a clear July day in Derbyshire, Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley became the wife of Robert Bennet of Longbourn. The ceremony was simple, with those friends and family members who loved the couple best in attendance. Pemberley was nearly bursting at the seams, if such a thing was possible for so great a house, with guests who had come from all over England. The only family member not present was Lady Catherine de Bourgh; her daughter, however, asserting a stubborn defiance too rarely aroused, had insisted that, with or without her mother, she was going to her cousin’s wedding.

When the banns had first been read, the Pemberley parishioners were astonished. No Darcy in memory had taken such a humble step. Scepticism and disbelief were soon put to rest with the news, quickly spread by the Pemberley servants, of the engaged couple’s felicity. Although there was never any doubt that the banns would encounter no opposition, this was a Darcy marrying after all, Georgiana was nevertheless relieved when they passed without challenge.

With Darcy’s assistance, Robert had secured a secluded cottage on the road to the Lakes. After a splendid dinner, the newlyweds were left in privacy.

“We are alone, my love. The servants will not return until morning. Come with me.” Georgiana nodded shyly. Robert raised her hand to his lips. “You need not be afraid of me.”

“I know.”

“Come.”

He led her to their bridal chamber; he had no intention of leaving her tonight. Robert closed the door and turned to look at his wife. A variety of emotions played across her face: shyness, a hint of fear, hope; but most of all, love.

She saw the love, passion, and concern in his eyes and was calmed. Her hand moved slightly, beckoning him towards her, and he crossed the room in an instant, his eyes never leaving hers. His lips brushed hers gently, once, twice, thrice, as they slowly wound their arms around each other; slowly their kisses lengthened and deepened.

Georgiana was first to pull back. She wanted to look at her husband to assure herself that she was not dreaming. Convinced he was really there, and she was truly his, she smiled.

“You are not an illusion, this is not a dream.”

“No, my love. It is the fulfilment of our dreams. You are mine at last, and I will never let you go.”

No more words were necessary.

That night Robert loved his wife the way he did everything: Completely.

~~~>~

One year later, Robert was holding his three-month-old son, Thomas Darcy Bennet, as he opened the letter from his brother Darcy.


To my Brother Bennet,

After the deaths of Lady Drury and then Lord Drury, I realized that I was still in possession of the two letters Wickham sent to me. I give them now to you, to do with as you wish. I never gave them to Georgiana, as it seemed senseless after she broke with Drury. Some things are better left unsaid. However, given the rumours surrounding his death, I thought it fitting that you should have them. Georgiana is your wife now; you will know what is best for the both of you.

The death of Lady Drury (née Stallworth) and that of her unborn child are a tragedy, even more so given the circumstances of her husband’s death. The murder of Lord Drury is, unsurprisingly, creating a sensation. Fitzwilliam tells me that the word around Town is that Sir Alfred Cox discovered Drury in an indecent state with his only son and heir, and flew into such a rage that Drury never had a chance to dress before Sir Alfred was upon him. I cannot mourn his passing. Drury was a wicked man and the world is a better place without him. My only regret is that the deed was done at too great a cost; Sir Alfred, a good man, will have to forfeit his own life.

Our little William continues to grow and Elizabeth laughs each time he makes a face that she swears is a perfect imitation of his father. Let us hope that in every other way he takes more after his mother!

We look forward to seeing you at the end of the month. Give my love to my sister and tell her that Beth is plotting all sorts of mischief, and that my wife continues to encourage such disgraceful behaviour. Life with Elizabeth is never dull.

F. Darcy.

Robert broke the seal on the paper enclosing the two letters. He slowly read each of them and then stood up, with Thomas asleep in his arms, and walked to the fireplace. He struck a match and set the two letters ablaze, reducing them to ashes. Darcy was right; some things were better left in the past.

~~~>~

With Georgiana and Robert’s announcement, it often fell upon Mary and Richard to play chaperone. Whilst that may seem a bit extreme for a couple as mature as Robert and Georgiana, some of society’s dictates still had to be obeyed, especially when those affected see the wisdom of such ways. Richard, no longer obliged to forsake other women for Georgiana’s sake, found himself intrigued by the youngest Bennet daughter. Mary, although possessing neither Elizabeth’s wit nor Jane’s beauty, was an attractive and pleasant young woman in her own right.

Richard, observing the contentment of his cousins with Miss Bennet’s siblings, began to speculate if his own happiness could be found in a match with the remaining sister. Shortly after the wedding, Richard spied Mary walking alone in Pemberley’s gardens.

“Miss Bennet!”

“Colonel Fitzwilliam! I did not expect to meet with anyone today.”

“May I walk with you?”

“It would be a pleasure, sir. I am looking forward to returning to Longbourn, but I will miss these lovely gardens.”

“The Darcys have long prided themselves on their gardens, all the park really.”

“It is a beautiful estate.”

“Yes… Miss Bennet, may I speak freely?”

Mary looked at him warily, but replied, “You may, sir.”

“Miss Bennet, as you have said, you return to Hertfordshire soon. I would like permission to call on you there.”

“My family would be delighted to see you, Colonel.”

“As much as I respect your parents, I would come to see you, Miss Bennet.”

Mary was afraid his thoughts might be leading in this direction. A quick look around revealed a secluded nook. She directed him there.

“Colonel, before I answer you, I have a very bold and most improper request.”

“How may I be of service?”

“Please kiss me, Colonel.”

“What?”

“You heard me, kiss me.”

As a man trained to follow orders, he followed this one with alacrity. When he drew his head away, Mary sighed and opened her eyes.

“Did you feel that?”

“Feel what, Miss Bennet?”

“That is the point sir, you felt nothing. And for all the novelty of the act, neither did I.”

“I do not understand.”

“Colonel, the point, to be blunt, is that neither of us felt anything. I have seen my sisters and brother happily married to those they truly love. Elizabeth always said that nothing but the deepest love could induce her into matrimony. That is not quite what happened, but matrimony did induce her to find her deepest love. I desire that kind of love, too, from the man I marry. I do not believe you are that man, Colonel. And you, sir, deserve the same from your wife. I do no believe I am that woman.”

Richard had to smile at the young woman standing in front of him. She was right, and they both knew it. He extended his arm to her again.

“Shall we continue our walk, Miss Bennet?”

“Lead on, Colonel Fitzwilliam.”

Richard had much to think about after his conversation with Mary. He knew he had been mistaken once again on matters of his heart; it had not been touched. Thank God, Miss Bennet realized it!

It was time to leave Pemberley to Darcy. Richard knew his presence was no longer needed. He would return to Matlock.

His parents welcomed their son. It was good to have him back with them. Lady Matlock, though, noticed a melancholy about him and was determined to discover its source. Finding him alone one day, not long after he had returned, she engaged him in conversation, slowly bringing it round to suit her ends.

“Richard, you seem unhappy,” she finally said.

He looked at her in surprise, then resigned himself to the inevitable.

“I suppose I am.”

“What troubles you?”

“Mother, I am one and thirty years old. What do you think troubles me?”

“You desire what any good man desires – a wife and a family. That is not so surprising,” she stated matter of factly.

“It is a surprise to me.”

Lady Matlock shook her head. “You are more like your cousin Georgiana than you realize. You, too, have spent your life trying to fulfil your duty to your family. Your duty to your own heart always came second. Now that your responsibilities at Pemberley are drawing to a close, the very thing you repressed all these years has finally surfaced. There is no shame admitting you are lonely, Richard.”

“Wise Mother, what am I to do?”

“Live and find your love, Richard. You may be in you thirties, Son, but you have never looked for a wife. It is time to start looking.”

“But is there a woman waiting for me? Someone I can respect, admire and even love, like you love Father and Elizabeth loves Darcy? Is there such a woman for me?”

“I cannot answer that. But you will never know for certain, unless you look for yourself.”

“Thank you, Mother. I will. I will look for her.”

And eventually, he found her.

Mary returned to Longbourn, and for two years enjoyed the confined society of the country. She and Georgiana, despite the difference in their ages, became as close as sisters could be. Mary relished becoming an aunt and spent as much time with her brother’s son as her father and mother would allow. Two years after her first London ball, she returned to Town, ready to face society. Mary had many admirers that first year, but none caught her fancy. The following year, during the first ball of her second season, one man did. He was neither tall and dashing like her brother Darcy, nor affable and open like her brother Bingley. He was, however, perfect for her. And when he kissed her, she most definitely felt something.

Not long after the deaths of Lady and Lord Drury, the younger brother of Lord Allenby returned from Spain. General Andrews was a man of principles, and thus had been estranged from his brother – whose string of mistresses rivalled any peer in the land – and his brother’s calculating wife. Within a year, to Lady Allenby’s utter horror, her husband’s years of excess finally caught up with him, and he followed his son to the grave. The new Earl and Countess of Allenby, whilst polite, made little effort to befriend the previous Earl’s widow. All that remained to her was a house in Town that her father had given her and the money she had brought into her marriage. She was never poor, but the days of her influence in society were over.

Perhaps the greatest misery inflicted on the dowager Lady Allenby came in the year 1820. The new Viscount Drury, Geoffrey Andrews, stood in anticipation as Miss Elizabeth Darcy walked down the aisle of Pemberley’s chapel to become his wife. Geoffrey, like his father and unlike his late uncle and cousin, was a good and honourable man, who, after overcoming Darcy’s initial scepticism, had been granted permission to court the lone remaining unmarried Darcy sibling. Beth had grown into womanhood with her view of the marital state formed from the examples of her brother and sister. She was determined to marry a man whom she could respect and love, and in her Geoffrey, she found him. The couple never visited his Aunt Margaret, and when his father passed away a few years later, little Beth Darcy became Countess of Allenby, the position all had thought her elder sister would someday occupy.

At the end of Lady Margaret Andrew’s life, only Lady Catherine de Bourgh sought her out. Two women, two allies, two widows, two forgotten ladies.

Charles and Jane Bingley lived at Netherfield for a year and a half. At the end of Bingley’s second lease, he and Jane moved into Burton Hall, the estate he bought just east of Doncaster. Elizabeth and Jane were overjoyed to be within a day’s travelling distance of each other. The Bingleys were blessed with three wonderful children, two sons and a daughter, who was her father’s pride and joy.

Caroline Bingley, having finally accepted that Darcy and Pemberley were lost to her, soon set her sights on a titled young man of considerable wealth and property. Not long afterward, Jane found her crying. Upon learning of the man’s cruel and callous dismissal of Caroline, Jane took advantage of her sister’s momentary vulnerability to make Caroline understand that she would never find a husband, much less one who would hold her in esteem, if she did not amend her ways. Caroline would always struggle to control her more selfish urges, but she did manage to secure the affections of an honourable and amiable gentleman of acceptable fortune who, amazingly, loved her despite her faults. Thus was Caroline spared the destiny of Lady Allenby, doomed to spend her life in bitter regret over the loss of a Darcy and of Pemberley.

After her visit to Lady Allenby, Lady Catherine knew she needed to introduce Anne into society. Anne de Bourgh’s dowry and legacy made her a very attractive potential bride, and she had many suitors. But Anne had other ideas. She had, for many years, held a tender regard for the heir to the estate next to Rosings. When young Michael Wise, fresh from his tour, came to call on his neighbour Lady Catherine, he discovered that the young, shy girl with whom he had grown up had become a lovely young woman who soon captured his heart and his hand.

George Wickham served his country with honour and distinction. He survived the Peninsular Campaigns, but on the great and terrible day that was Waterloo, he was gravely wounded. Darcy had kept apprised of his whereabouts; his family’s connections ensured that he always knew where Wickham was and how he fared. When Darcy learned of his boyhood companion’s condition, he saw to it that the now Colonel Wickham received the best care available. When the Colonel recovered, Darcy told Elizabeth all he had done. Together, they decided that there was only one way to show their pardon.

A shocked George Wickham received a letter from Darcy’s solicitor that offered him a small property in the West Indies. The only conditions were that he never use slave labour and that its name never be changed. The name was Venia *

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet lived alone in Longbourn for many years after Mary left. Their children and grandchildren were frequent guests, but the couple relished the quiet of their last years together. Many may have questioned the depth of emotion Thomas Bennet felt for his Fanny, but when she died, his grief and loneliness were so great that he did not survive her by a year.

And so, shortly after his thirty-fifth birthday, Robert Bennet came to live again at Longbourn, this time as its master. He brought his wife and children to his inheritance, no longer entailed, but full of love and laughter. He and Georgiana had argued which number of children was best; she said three, he said four. Their dispute was settled when their last child, a girl, joined her two brothers and two sisters before they claimed Longbourn as their own.

~~~>~

On the night of 6 December 1816, Fitzwilliam Darcy carried his lovely wife of five years, Elizabeth, into her chambers. They had come to establish a happy rhythm: At Pemberley they stayed in his room, in Town they stayed in hers. He sat her at her dressing table and let down her hair, then brushed it with long and loving strokes the way he knew she liked. When he finished, he picked her up and carried her to the bed. They leisurely helped each other undress, and then climbed under the covers. They were in no hurry, determined to enjoy their time together. Their two sons and daughter were asleep in the nursery, and they strongly suspected that a fourth child was on the way.

“My dearest Elizabeth, I can hardly believe it has been five years since we married. It seems a lifetime ago that I brought you here.”

“Hmm, and I did not then have the foresight to invite you to my bed at first. I wasted seven nights.”

“I still ended up in your bed each night.”

“Pity I did not know you were there.”

“I think, deep within you, you did.”

“If I had been sensible I would have wanted you deep within me.”

“Woman, if you keep provoking me with such words you will find me so.”

“That is the point of this, William dear.”

“A temptress and a seductress!” he accused mockingly. Then his tone changed. “I never suspected I was marrying a woman who would so capture my soul and make me her prisoner.”

“You were never my captive. You were my salvation.”

Darcy looked deep into his wife’s eyes, his heart overflowing with love for her.

“No, Elizabeth. We were each other’s destiny.”

Finis

* Latin word meaning: grace, indulgence, favour, pardon, forgiveness.

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