TSSAW Chapters 31-36

Chapter 31

The moment had come. Finally, after all of the months of repressed desire, it was time. Darcy continued, “I promised you at the beginning that I would stop and ask you if you wished for me to proceed. Do you wish it, Elizabeth?”

Darcy held his breath, waiting, dreading her reply. After what seemed an eternity, Elizabeth looked up. Expecting to see scorn in her eyes, he was taken back by the look of deep affection they contained. “Please, I do wish it.”

Overcome, Darcy rushed to where she sat and dropped down on his knee before her. Taking her right hand in his, he began.

“Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth, the way you have borne the ramblings of this lovesick fool brings joy to my heart. I told you that you are unlike any woman I have ever known. You forced me to look deep within, to consider the man that I thought myself to be. What I saw there saddened me and I determined to become the man that you could respect and hopefully, one day, love. I do not care any longer about connections, about fortunes, about the approval of the Ton. I cannot see my future without you by my side. I love you. Deeply. Passionately. I will never be complete without you. Elizabeth, will you honor me and become my wife?”

Overcome, joy lit up her face. She reached her right hand and gently ran her fingers down along his jaw line. Darcy leaned his head into her simple caress.

“Yes, Mr. Darcy, I will be your wife.”

“Call me Fitzwilliam, Elizabeth.”

“Fitzwilliam,” she smiled.

Darcy rose and sat next to Elizabeth taking her in his arms. Their lips met in a tender first kiss, forever sealing their future.

<<>>

After a few minutes so agreeably engaged, Darcy began to chuckle.

“Do my affections amuse you, Fitzwilliam?” she teased.

“Umm, I like to hear you say my name.“ and he kissed her again.

“Then what is it that diverts you so?”

“I just realized that with your sister’s marriage to Bingley your connections have improved dramatically! I had no reason to count that against you, dearest Elizabeth.”

That was followed by another kiss.

“I also realized that by marrying you I could grant Miss Bingley’s fondest wish by becoming brother to her ‘dear Charles’” Darcy responded roguishly.

“Fitzwilliam Darcy! How dare you bring that woman’s name up on this happiest of days!”

“You are happy then?”

“Could I kiss you that way if I were not?”

Darcy was silent.

“Fitzwilliam, I have something I need to tell you.”

“Yes.”

“I love you, Fitzwilliam. I have loved you for a long time, I believe, though I have only just recently allowed myself to accept it. But I have always understood my situation. I would never have presumed that a man like you would lower himself to choose a woman like me. I scarcely ever allowed myself to dare to hope for your notice.”

“Elizabeth, listen to me. Never, ever, think like that again! I am a gentleman; you are a gentleman’s daughter. We are equals. Indeed, in many ways I am not your equal. I have money enough for both of us. Your mother was a little low estimating my annual income, my dear. What I do need is a woman who will stand beside me, inspire me, challenge me, love me, and bear my children. You, Elizabeth, are all I need in a wife. Tell me again you love me. It is all I need.”

“I love you with all my heart, Fitzwilliam.”

It was a while before any more words were necessary.

“Elizabeth?”

“Hmm?”

“As much as I would like to shout it from the hilltops, I do not think we should say anything about our engagement at present. I am afraid of what Lady Catherine might do. She seems to like you now but surely that will change when she hears we are to marry. Besides, I do need to procure your father’s permission first.”

“I do not think THAT will be a problem, Fitzwilliam! But I agree with you about Lady Catherine. It is a shame, because in my own way, I like her too. Besides, I think Colonel Fitzwilliam would hate to see such discord at this delicate time.” They shared a knowing smile.

“I believe you are right. Perhaps I could provide a nudge.”

“A nudge? How would you do that? I have a difficult time picturing you as a matchmaker!”

“With your permission, I will tell him of our engagement and suggest, as Georgiana did to me this morning, that one wedding tends to lead to another.”

Elizabeth burst out laughing. “What would you do without your sister, Fitzwilliam? You may tell her as well. I doubt you would be able to keep it from her in any case. I will not tell anyone at the Parsonage though.”

“You are right, Georgiana will be full of questions when I see her later. I think you are wise not taking Mrs. Collins in your confidence. I am sure Georgiana will want to see you tomorrow. Where shall I tell her you will meet her?”

“At the temple. It is nearly time for lunch, though. We must be getting back. I do love you so.”

“And I you. When may I see you again?”

“I like to take short walk before breakfast if the weather permits.”

“Then I shall pray for sunny skies! Good day, Elizabeth.”

“Yes, a very good day, Fitzwilliam.”

“Until tomorrow.”

With one last kiss the couple went in opposite directions on the path, Darcy to the unavoidable conference with Lady Catherine, Elizabeth to the confines of Hunsford Parsonage.

<<>>

Darcy made his way back to Rosings. His heart was overflowing with joy, yet he knew that he must put his famous Darcy mask on before he went inside. It took all of his 28 years worth of self-control to keep from smiling.

He made his way back to Georgiana’s room. Inside he would find a very curious sister and he pondered whether to toy with her or not. Realizing the futility of such an exercise in his present state, Darcy knocked on her door and quietly identified himself.

“Please come in, Fitzwilliam.”

Darcy quickly entered and closed the door.

“Fitzwilliam, come sit on the bed and talk with me.”

He did as she bid.

“Brother, I beg you, do not keep me in suspense. Did you ask her?”

“Ask who what?”

Georgiana hit her brother playfully on the arm.

“You did, did you not”?

He simply nodded.

“And what did she say?”

“Would you like an exact quote?” he said in a serious tone.

“Well…YES!”

“She said, ‘Yes, Mr. Darcy, I will be your wife.’”

At this, Georgiana threw herself at her brother and gave him the happiest hug she had ever dared.

“I take it that this unusually ardent display of affection means you approve?”

“Oh brother, sometimes you are impossible. Of course I approve! Why do you think I have been playing matchmaker between the two of you since November?”

“Ah ha! So you finally admit it! I could be angry with you if I were not so in love with Elizabeth. Now then, tell me truly, how are you feeling?”

“I would be feeling better with your news alone. I have always wanted a sister! But I started to feel better 20 minutes ago. My headache is still present, but it too is getting better. I think I should stay in my room for now, but I hope to be able to come down to dinner. I must say I am surprised Aunt Catherine has not visited me.”

At this Darcy smiled sadly.

“You know how many times I have told you that I would do anything for you? Well, this morning I think I finally reached my limit.”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“Lady Catherine accosted me right after I left you. In order to keep her away I referred to “our dear Anne” and somewhat implied that you could be another daughter in the future.”

“You did not!”

“Yes, dearest, I did. I am not afraid to allow Lady Catherine to remain under the delusion that Anne and I would marry. Anne and I have spoken of this many times and we agree it is for the best even though neither of us has ever wanted to marry the other.”

“Because Anne prefers another cousin.”

“Yes, and this is why we must keep news of my engagement from becoming known. Things are at a delicate stage right now and it is best to let the storm brew a bit longer.”

“I agree, Fitzwilliam. Will you tell Richard? He has not much time left.”

“As a matter of fact I will. Lady Catherine and I are going to be holed up in the study this afternoon. I am going to suggest that Richard take Anne for a drive… and to suggest that one marriage leads to another.”

The siblings shared their amusement and soon Darcy left his sister to prepare for lunch.

<<>>

Fortunately, Darcy was able to find the Colonel in his room before heading down to lunch. With great joy he relayed his news and his plans for suggesting the ride in the curricle.

“Is there any reason you wish me to take Anne out, Darcy?” he eyed his cousin suspiciously.

“Why would you say that Fitzwilliam?”

“Hhmm?”

“Richard, we leave the day after tomorrow. How many more chances are you going to get?”

“She may not want me, Fitz.”

“Hhmm. The only way to find out is to ask. I doubt you will be disappointed.”

“You seem very sure of yourself!”

“Richard, for once in your life, trust me on this!”

“Hmph!”

“Let us go down to lunch”

<<>>

Lady Catherine was pleased with the diligent care of Darcy for Anne in suggesting the afternoon ride. Anne acquiesced with little outward signs of pleasure.

The Colonel saw this and felt a loss of confidence, but his years of army training came to the rescue and his happy manners reappeared.

Once they were safely away from Rosings, Anne let down her guard and began to smile.

“Oh good, I was beginning to worry about you, Anne.”

“Whatever for, Richard?”

“You appeared as though you did not wish to be here, but were instead resigned to your fate.”

“Richard, have you not learned anything from your time here? I put on a mask around my mother, just like William. It is my way of coping with her. Georgiana and William know the truth, and so do your parents I might add.”

“They do?”

“Yes, they do. Now let us enjoy the time we have together today. You will leave the day after tomorrow,” she added sadly.

‘Yes we do,’ he said to himself.

They rode along in silence for a few minutes.

“I shall miss you, Richard.”

The Colonel looked over towards Anne but she would not look at him. Skillfully he led the curricle to the side of the path and halted.

“What did you say, Anne?”

Still she would not look at him.

“Anne, please, say it again.”

Finally, she turned to look at him and he saw the tears running down her cheeks.

“I shall miss you, Richard,” she whispered.

The colonel gently wound his arms around her and pulled her to himself.

“Anne, I am so sorry. Until this year I never took the time to try and know you. Imagine my surprise when I discovered an intelligent, wonderful woman bursting to get out. Anne, let me take you away from here. I know that I have always said I needed to marry a woman of fortune. I know that if you accept me your mother may try to disinherit you. I do not care if you have Rosings or not. All I want is you… Anne, sweet, wonderful Anne, will you marry me?”

“Oh, yes!”

“I love you, Anne.”

“I love you, Richard.”

Timidly the Colonel leaned down to kiss his new bride-to-be. One swift, gentle, kiss led to another and before he realized what was happening Anne had deepened the kiss and began to kiss him back with unrestrained passion.

Suddenly amused, the Colonel pulled back and looked at his beloved. “My love, you surprise me. What else have you been hiding?”

Cheekily she grinned back. “That is for me to know, and for you to find out.”

“I look forward to it!”

The couple spent more time ‘getting to know each other better’ before they grudgingly admitted they should return to Rosings. Anne soon discovered the news of Darcy and Elizabeth’s engagement.

“Are you pleased, Anne?”

“Most definitely. They will do very well together. I am glad William was able to get past his pride to see what a prize Elizabeth Bennet is.”

“We, for obvious reasons, need to keep this from your mother. And while I am on the subject, I think I should wait to talk to your mother about us as well. With your permission, I should like to talk with my father first. I am not marrying you for your money but I do not want to do something rash and lose it if a better way can be found. Rosings should be yours, Anne.”

“I know” she sighed, “and I think that is a very good plan. When you have talked with him and have decided on a course of action, have your mother write to me. Mother does not bother with her letters to me. I think it the only safe way to proceed.”

“You are right, as usually, as I am beginning to see. Darcy is going to ask me about today. May I tell him?”

“Of course! I think we are going to need his help in the long run anyway. But enough about our family, tell me how you came to love me, Richard!”

He laughed and began his tale, much to the delight of his lady until they were once again back at the house slipping into their accustomed roles, playing their parts to perfection, each knowing that this necessity would soon be a thing of the past.

Chapter 32

Darcy did not have an opportunity to talk with either of his cousins before dinner. However, one look at them convinced both him and Georgiana that something momentous had occurred. There was nothing one could put one’s finger on; they just looked…finally…at peace. After the meal, when the ladies and gentlemen separated, Darcy lost no time inquiring after their ride.

“So, Fitzwilliam, by the look on your face I must assume you and Anne had an enjoyable ride?”

“Yes, Darcy. We were most agreeably engaged!”

Darcy raised an eyebrow to this veiled statement. “And what kept you so agreeably engaged, Fitzwilliam?” Darcy continued.

“We were taking the time to more intimately acquaint ourselves, Darcy!” deciding to have a little more fun at his cousin’s expense he continued. “I would hazard a guess that you were doing the same ‘acquainting’ with your Miss Bennet today yourself.” Darcy managed to blush at such a statement. Finally the Colonel decided to have pity on his cousin. “Anne has consented to marry me, Darcy.”

“That is wonderful news! I wish you both a happy life together. When do you plan to inform Lady Catherine of this?” Darcy asked, hoping that it would not be before they departed in two days.

“Anne and I agreed not to tell her yet. I will go to my father and ask his opinion on how to proceed. I do not wish to deny Anne her rightful inheritance if we can help it. Perhaps we will wait until after you wed. Aunt Catherine might be more disposed to approve of the match then.”

“It is wise to speak with the Earl first, Fitzwilliam. Aunt Catherine still fears him and he might be able to talk some reason into her. Please be assured that I will help you in any way that I am able. You may even share my wedding with me, that is if Elizabeth consents.”

“Thank you Darcy. That is a very gracious offer though I have come to expect no less of you cousin. I would be honored to share a wedding day with you, if the ladies would consent. I will suggest this to my father. But do you wish Aunt Catherine to be at your wedding? When she learns who will be your bride she will be most put out!”

“I am not afraid of our Aunt. But let us assume nothing until you have spoken to your father, Fitzwilliam. He may very well have another, better course of action for you to follow.” Darcy finished and then suggested it was time to rejoin the ladies.

The rest of the evening was unremarkable in everything but for the slight smile that often graced Anne’s face as she looked upon her intended, when she knew her mother was not looking. When it was time to retire, Georgiana walked with Anne to her rooms for a more private interview. When they were finally alone, Anne was able to tell Georgiana of the events of the day. Anne’s happiness overflowed when she moved to discuss Darcy’s engagement as well.

“Miss Elizabeth will be the sister you have always wanted, Georgiana. I am so very happy for you and your brother and for Miss Elizabeth. She will make William a fine wife!”

“Thank you Anne. I believe you will be just as happy with Richard.”

<<>>

Back at the parsonage, Charlotte noticed Elizabeth’s high spirits but attributed it to the news of Jane’s engagement. While she suspected Darcy’s attraction to her friend, she had no idea that they had even met today. Elizabeth was uneasy concealing the news from her friend. But she recognized the prudence of the course of action she and Darcy had chosen. There would be a time for sharing such news later. For now, she was content to keep her secret from the Hunsford party. After supper she excused herself to write two letters, one to her father and one to Jane. She wished to have them ready to give to Darcy to take with him to Longbourn. She knew he would waste little time gaining her father’s consent and blessing and she wished to convey to her beloved father her joy at the match. Once her father had consented, there was nothing to keep from Jane. She also asked Jane to convey the news to Mary, but asked that it go no further. Elizabeth knew she should be the one to inform her mother. Whatever she had said to Lizzy in the past, all was sure to be forgotten in the light of the match. Elizabeth also felt guilty asking anyone else to have to suffer through her mother’s first reaction to the news.

<<>>

Darcy was waiting for Elizabeth the next morning on the path just out of sight of the parsonage. Having visited Rosings every year of his life, he was quite knowledgeable of the many hidden areas in the park. Afraid of any chance of observation, Darcy gallantly leaned over Elizabeth’s hand to bestow a gentle kiss. Not releasing it, he tucked it in his arm and began leading her down the path. Soon he struck out on another less conspicuous path that quickly led them into a secluded area. Once safely out of view, Darcy took Elizabeth in arms and began, once again, to worship her with his kiss.

“And good morning to you, Fitzwilliam!” Elizabeth said once he finally broke off their kiss. “I was wondering where you were taking me. You seem to have an intimate knowledge of Rosings Park!”

“You noticed! I missed you last night. This next week will be excruciating without you, Elizabeth!” Darcy took the opportunity to reinforce his statement with another kiss.

“What are your plans after you leave tomorrow, Fitzwilliam? As you know, I will be remaining here for one more week before I return to London. I will stay that night with the Gardiners and return to Longbourn the next day.”

“Bingley has invited Georgiana and me back to Netherfield. Would you wish for me to stay in Town and take you back to Longbourn or do you wish me to go to see your father before you return?”

“I am of two minds. The sooner you obtain my father’s consent, the sooner we may begin to enjoy the benefits of a public engagement.”

Darcy stopped her from finishing her thoughts with another kiss. “I do not believe that is an acceptable benefit to a public engagement, sir!” Elizabeth weekly protested.

“Ah, but it is a private one!” Darcy replied rakishly and kissed her again.

Elizabeth grudgingly pushed him away. “You did not let me finish! Now then, where was I? Oh yes, I also would like to be at home when he grants his consent. I would want to be able to assuage any doubts he may harbor over the steadfastness of my affections.”

“Then we will wait. I do have some other good news. Richard has proposed and Anne has accepted. Only Georgiana and I, and now you, know of this. Richard wishes to speak to his father before approaching Lady Catherine.”

“I agree now that you should wait to go to Netherfield. It seems I have written these letters in vain.” Elizabeth showed Darcy the two letters she carried with her. “I prepared these for you to take to Papa and Jane if you were to travel to Longbourn before I left Kent.” Elizabeth explained. “Will you tell Lord and Lady Matlock of our engagement?”

“Yes I will, Elizabeth. Do not concern yourself over their approval. They almost ordered me to pursue you! But I do believe our engagement will have an influence on what the Earl recommends. I should also tell you now that I have offered to share our wedding with Richard and Anne if they desired. I told Richard that it was, of course, dependant on your approval first.”

“I can see the prudence of such a action but I was meditating on the possibility of be married with Jane and Mr. Bingley.”

“I had not considered that but I would certainly be happy to share my wedding with my best friend, and your sister. We could become brothers and sisters together!”

“And possibly cousins?”

“A triple wedding?” Darcy cried.

“Let us not jump to any conclusions until you have spoken to your uncle and I have spoken with Jane.” Elizabeth stopped and smiled, “She will indeed be quite surprised!”

“I hope she will be happy for you.”

“Of that I can assure you. Jane spoke to me of you before the Netherfield Ball. She asked me then if I would accept your attentions if you offered them. At that time I could not give her an answer.”

“When did you change your mind?” Darcy was very curious to hear her answer.

Elizabeth blushed at the memory. “After our first dance at the Ball.”

“What a fool I have been! We could be married by now, Elizabeth, if I had not been too proud to act on my impulses! Please forgive me, Elizabeth!”

“There is nothing to forgive, Fitzwilliam. Do you not recall that I knew I was below your notice? What stroke of good fortune allowed me to find a man who cared for me more than the potential scorn of society?” Darcy answered her with another kiss. This one lasted longer though. He needed to have more of her and she was willing to give it to him. At last he realized the danger of his passions and broke away first.

“I believe I should allow you to return to the parsonage for your breakfast. I will see to it that Georgiana is ready on time for your walk. Would you mind if, by chance, Anne, Fitzwilliam and I met up with you as well. There is much we should discuss while we have the opportunity to do so.”

“I would not refuse any chance to be in your company, Fitzwilliam.” Darcy was very pleased to hear her say that and gave her one last kiss before they immerged from their concealment.

Once again Darcy bowed over her hand and gave it a loving kiss. “Until later then, my lady!” And off he strode.

<<>>

Elizabeth and Georgiana were admiring the view from the top of the hill when they heard a team of horses coming up the path. Georgiana was in high spirits over her happiness at the prospect of gaining a sister in Elizabeth. The two had spoken of nothing else since they had left Rosings. As soon as they were safe from any prying eyes, Georgiana had not been able to control herself any longer and had pulled Elizabeth into an embrace. Now that they were about to be joined by her brother and cousins, Georgiana shifted the conversation to her cousins’ engagement.

“I am so happy for Anne, Elizabeth. I do hope Uncle Hugh will be able to find a solution for her and Richard. Aunt Catherine will be furious when she finds out about you and my brother. I shudder to think what she will do when she hears about her own daughter willfully defying her.”

“I believe that is the reason Fitzwilliam asked to join us today. Our fortunes are all interconnected in this matter and it is wise that we are in agreement on how best to proceed.”

Soon the horses came into view, pulling a large curricle with Darcy at the reins. Once they were stopped, the Colonel leapt down to help Anne. Elizabeth offered her congratulations to the couple whilst Darcy saw to the horses. Anne and the Colonel were just as delighted to return their congratulations to Elizabeth.

When Darcy finally joined the party he was carrying a hamper full of refreshments.

“I believe you shall prove yourself a thoughtful husband, Fitzwilliam.” Elizabeth teased.

“I shall endeavor to prove it to you every day of my life, Elizabeth,” Darcy replied, losing himself in Elizabeth’s eyes.

“Enough of that, you two, we have much to discuss!” The Colonel mirthfully admonished.

Recovering first, Elizabeth started. “I would like to start by saying that Fitzwilliam and I have talked and I have agreed that if it is your wish, we would be happy to share our wedding with you, Colonel and Miss de Bourgh.”

“Miss Bennet, we are to be cousins. Will you not call me Anne?”

“And you must call me Richard!” The Colonel echoed.

“I would be delighted as long as you will call me Elizabeth.”

“Now that is all settled. I would like to discuss what we should do during this next week. Anne, Elizabeth will remain at Rosings for one more week. We have decided that no one, other than those present, shall know of either engagement for the time being,” said Darcy.

“I also believe that we should revert to our formal address when in company, Anne. It will be less to explain.” Elizabeth offered.

“I agree with you, Elizabeth. There is no need to give rise to any suspicions.”

The Colonel was next to speak. “I shall speak to my parents tomorrow evening after we have arrived in London. Darcy, do you wish to be present at that meeting?”

“Yes, Fitzwilliam. I also believe I should inform your father of my engagement first.”

“I agree, Darcy. Anne, as soon as I have news, I will have my mother write to you as we have agreed. Georgiana, Darcy, please do not mention anything Lady Catherine might grow suspicious over in any letters to Anne. Elizabeth, would you consent to act as a courier if my parents feel it wise not to chance a letter?”

“Of course, Richard. Only remember that I will remain in Kent for only one more week. After that, you will have to find another means of communication.”

“We will cross that bridge when we come to it. So, are we all in agreement?” Darcy asked. “Good, then shall we see what cook sent in the hamper?”

They enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine, talking comfortably until it was time to return. Darcy asked the Colonel to drive Anne back to Rosings so that he could accompany Georgiana and Elizabeth on their walk back. Grateful for the time alone with Anne, the Colonel joyfully agreed. Darcy was pleased to walk between the two women he adored.

“Do you still approve of your new sister Georgiana?” Darcy teased.

“Fitzwilliam, honestly! What shall I do with you! Elizabeth, you must promise me to use your arts and allurements to entrap this man into a more dignified treatment of me!”

Elizabeth laughed at Georgiana’s speech. She was so pleased at the easy teasing the two siblings now engaged in. Gone was the melancholy young woman she had met last summer. And gone too was the distant man Fitzwilliam Darcy had become during her stay in London. Elizabeth thought with pleasure of the intimate family party the three of them would make back at Pemberley.

Pemberley! ‘Oh my, I completely forgot about Pemberley. How shall I ever be a worthy mistress of such a place!’

Darcy perceived the change in manner of his beloved Elizabeth. “Whatever is the matter, Elizabeth?” he asked full of concern.

“Until this moment I had not thought of the many responsibilities attendant upon becoming Mrs. Darcy.” Elizabeth admitted.

Before Darcy could respond, Georgiana replied, “Elizabeth, do not make yourself uneasy. I have never met another woman more perfectly suited to be Fitzwilliam’s wife than you. I am confident that, once you have learned them, you will be able to manage all of your duties associated with your position as if you had been doing them all of your life. Mrs. Reynolds and Mrs. Thomas will be of great help whilst you are settling yourself in. They both are very fond of you.”

Elizabeth was silent for a few moments until she looked at Georgiana. “Thank you, Georgiana. I do not know what came over me, but your words were what I most needed to hear.” She then turned her head towards Darcy. “I will do my utmost to make you proud of me, Fitzwilliam.”

“You will never disappoint me, Elizabeth.” Darcy reassured her as they made their way back to Rosings.

That evening, Darcy, Georgiana and the Colonel called at the parsonage to take their leave. Next morning after breakfast, they departed for London, with a promise to Anne to send news as soon as they could.

<<>>

Darcy decided to leave Georgiana at Darcy house whilst he accompanied Fitzwilliam to his parents’ home. Lord and Lady Matlock would be pleased with his news. After refreshing himself, Darcy had his carriage pick up Fitzwilliam on his way to Afton House. The two were immediately shown into the parlor where the Earl and his wife awaited them.

The colonel greeted his parents first. Darcy patiently waited until he had the attention of them both.

“Uncle, Aunt, I have some news for you. Miss Elizabeth Bennet has consented to be my wife.”

Lady Matlock burst out in a smile and began offering her sincere congratulations. “Oh William! I am so happy for you. Miss Bennet is a fine woman. You two will do very well together! Georgiana must be ecstatic!”

“Yes she is, Aunt!” Darcy chuckled. “She has been trying to matchmake between us for many months now. Fortunately, she was successful, though her intentional efforts had little to do with the match. That honor, goes to you and Uncle Hugh. I cannot thank you enough for your letter. It relieved the one impediment left for me to seek Elizabeth’s hand. Though I am ashamed that such a letter was needed in the first place.”

“Do not be too hard on yourself, William. The important point is that you are engaged. And it is about time! Perhaps Richard here will finally decide being a bachelor is no way to spend the rest of his life.” The Earl finished his speech and turned to look at his younger son. He was shocked to see him blush. “Ehm, Richard, is there something you wish to tell your mother and me?”

“Father, mother, since Darcy here was no longer available as a marriage prospect to Anne, I decided to fill in to bridge the gap. Anne has accepted me.”

“You were right, Helen!”

“Excuse me, I believe I just informed you that I am to marry Anne!” The Colonel protested.

“Yes, son, we know and we are very, very happy for you.” Lady Fitzwilliam replied

“Then what was father talking about?”

“Your mother had long argued that your Aunt Catherine had fixed upon the wrong cousin. You were always the one best suited for Anne, Richard. I am very happy for you both!”

“Father, the reason we both came to you tonight is that we need your advice. I do not wish to endanger Anne’s inheritance. However, we are still prepared to marry even if Anne were to be disinherited.”

“I believe I may be of great service to you son. I have never told any of the rest of the family, but your Uncle, Sir Lewis, had another will drawn up before he died and placed into safekeeping. His solicitor and I are the only ones who know of its existence. It was not to go into effect unless I, or my heir, delivered a letter to the solicitor informing him that the conditions had been met for its being revealed and enforced. Only that letter would trigger the events.”

The three other occupants of the room were stunned.

<<>>

“Despite what you may have heard, Sir Lewis doted on Anne. He loved her dearly and was very despondent at the thought of not seeing her grow into womanhood. He was also very concerned over the treatment she would receive from her mother if he were not there to oversee her up bringing. By the time Anne was six months old, Catherine had already began to intimate that she would be the perfect bride for Darcy and had begun to pressure Lady Anne into accepting this. Your mother, Darcy, of course would never agree to such a thing but Sir Lewis was worried about Anne’s future. He had a new will drawn up that he never told Catherine about. He came to me and informed me of its existence and its rather unusual terms. It would not be valid unless I, or my heir, triggered it.”

“What must you do to have to trigger it father?” the Colonel asked.

“Sir Lewis was concerned that Anne would be forced to marry against her wishes or that Catherine would seek to revoke Anne’s inheritance as delineated in the existing will. If I learned that this was to occur. I was to present his letter to the solicitor and the new will would be revealed. There are some very interesting terms in this document. As you are to marry Anne, Richard, and you are also somewhat involved, William, I shall relate them to you. First, if Anne were coerced into marrying you, William, Rosings would revert to a distant branch of Sir Lewis’ family. Lady Catherine would be left with only the house in town and whatever was left of her original dowry. Anne would receive only a dowry of £ 5,000.” Darcy was shocked. He was sure that Lady Catherine would be indignant if this ever happened. “The second term was that if Anne were coerced into marrying anyone other than Darcy, She would receive a dowry of £ 30,000 and Catherine would again receive the house in town and the remainder of her dowry. The Estate would be placed in trust, only to be given to Anne’s heirs, if she had any. If not, then the estate would devolve to you, Richard, or to your heir. If Richard had no heirs then it would devolve to the heir of you, William.” This time both Darcy and the Colonel were stunned. “And the third term: if Anne married without her mother’s consent or blessing but with mine, Anne would receive her dowry of £ 30,000 as well as a yearly allowance of £ 1,000. Catherine would still be allowed to live at Rosings but the house in town would immediately be Anne’s. Also, Rosings would be placed in trust, with the current living Earl of Matlock as trustee, until Catherine passed away. Finally, if Anne were to be married without either of our consent or blessings, she would receive her dowry alone and not inherit Rosings until after Catherine had passed.”

Even Lady Fitzwilliam was shocked! Sir Lewis would have his last revenge on his shrewish wife from far beyond the grave.

“Now then, I think we should decide how best to proceed.” Lord Matlock added.

<<>>

An hour later, Darcy was able to return home. They had weighed many options, but had opted for a course of action that would be predicated by Lady Catherine’s response to the announcement of Darcy’s engagement. It was decided that after Darcy had gained Mr. Bennet’s approval, he would travel back to London. From London, Lord Matlock would accompany Darcy to Rosings. After Darcy informed his Aunt of his betrothal, Lord Matlock would intervene as necessary. If Lady Catherine took the news as poorly as anticipated, they would leave immediately and begin the second phase of their plan. Under no circumstances was Lady Catherine to find out about the engagement of Anne and the Colonel. In the unlikely event of Lady Catherine intercepting Anne’s correspondence, it was decided to write Elizabeth immediately with the news and ask her to convey it personally, along with a note from Richard, to Anne. They would use Georgiana’s correspondence as the means of delivering it.

Before he had left however, Lady Helena arrived home from an evening of cards at a friend’s home. Darcy was very happy to see his cousin again.

“William, it has been a long time since I have seen you. It seems we keep missing each other. How long will you be in town this time.”

“Helena! It has indeed been many months. I am afraid I have had to suffer your brother in your place! I will be leaving for Hertfordshire next week. My friend Charles Bingley is newly engaged and has asked Georgiana and me to keep him company whilst his sister is in Lincoln.”

“From what my mother has told me, Georgiana will be most anxious to be in the vicinity of her dear friend again.”

“That she will be. You must excuse me, Helena; I need to return home now. Please come and call on us. I am positive Georgiana will wish to see you.”

“Tell her I will come on Saturday.”

“Very good! Uncle, Aunt, Helena, Richard” Darcy bowed and left.

Lady Helena was very intrigued by the far away look in her cousin’s eyes and the smile that crossed his face when Miss Bennet was spoken of. Unable to resist, she asked, “Have you given William the ‘Fitzwilliam Family Talk’ Father?”

“Why do you ask?”

“My cousin had the look of a lovesick man a moment ago. If he is as smitten as he appears, I would hope he does not allow his overdeveloped sense of duty to deny him happiness. You seem to approve of her. Any lack of connections or dowry should be of little consequence to a man like him.”

“I am happy to hear you say that, Helena. I would not worry about your cousin. He will make a prudent choice,” Lady Matlock replied cryptically.

“He is engaged,” Lady Helena stated as a matter of fact.

“Yes, but you must keep this information to yourself for the time being. He has yet to gain Miss Bennet’s father’s consent. That should be accomplished by next week’s end. Until then, we must keep his secret.” Lady Matlock replied.

“Because of Aunt Catherine?” Lady Helena asked.

“Yes, I will accompany William to speak to her after he has gained consent, but before it is announced in the papers.” Lord Matlock informed his daughter.

“I would love to be a fly on the wall at Rosings that day. Lady Catherine will not be pleased! Poor Anne!”

“We will do all that we can for Anne. Do not be surprised if she comes to visit us, alone.”

Back home, Darcy informed his sister of the discussions and the decisions that were agreed upon. Georgiana was happy to be of service and went to write a short cover letter to Elizabeth. Darcy wrote his own letter informing her of his plans. His cousins would bring over his one page letter in the morning. All that was left to do was wait.

Chapter 33

Elizabeth called on Anne whenever the opportunity afforded itself. Both found solace in each other away from their intendeds. Around Elizabeth, Anne was at last able to completely let down her mask and Elizabeth anticipated many years of delightful friendship with her soon-to-be cousin. When Elizabeth finally received her letter from Georgiana and Darcy, she wasted no time in delivering the news to Anne.

“It seems as though you should expect a visit from Lord Matlock and my Fitzwilliam next week, Anne. Unfortunately, I believe Lady Catherine will not take too kindly to this news.” Elizabeth paused, “I will miss your mother, Anne. She certainly has a way with people!”

Anne was amused by Elizabeth’s choice of words. “I am very sorry my situation took up most of the space in your first letter from your intended, Elizabeth.”

“Under the circumstances, I understand. However, I shall soon see Fitzwilliam and I am sure he will be most diligent in atoning for this offense.” Elizabeth said with a twinkle in her eye. “Again, I must tell you that Fitzwilliam and I are willing to assist you in any manner we may. You will always be welcome in our home. And considering the size of Pemberley, I dare say you could get lost and no one would realize you were missing!”

“Thank you, Elizabeth. Your friendship has come to mean a great deal to me.”

When Elizabeth finally returned to the Parsonage, Anne at last was able to read her letter.

Dearest Anne,

No doubt Darcy has related the particulars of our conversation this evening with my parents. I must say mother and father were quite pleased with my announcement. It was a shock then when my father related the contents of the new, previously unknown will of Sir Lewis. I was a boy when he died but I do remember him doting on you. I am very relieved he had the foresight to protect you from your mother from beyond the grave.

After Darcy left, my father and I had a long discussion…

… I do need to ask you this though, my love. Do you have a strong desire to be married from Rosings? We could be married from Matlock, London, or even Hertfordshire if you wish to be married with Darcy. It matters not to me as long as you are my bride.

I also do not know of your feelings regarding the presence of your mother if she does not approve of the match. I, and my father, am very concerned that she would attempt to disrupt the wedding if she knew we were to wed without her consent. This is indeed an argument for marrying with Darcy, since the rest of the family is sure to be in attendance.

Please tell me of your thoughts. Send a note back with Elizabeth. Once she is gone, I do not know how we will safely communicate but be assure that I will not rest until a solution is reached. I will come for you!

We will tell no one of our engagement until my father deems it best. It grieves me that this is so, but we are doing this all for you.

With all my heart,
Richard

Anne took the note and placed it in the one secure place she had, her diary.

<<>>

Bingley was pleased finally to get another moment alone with Jane. After all of the excitement of their engagement announcement, they scarcely had any moments alone. Curiously to him, it was Mary that had provided this opportunity. He would not waste it.

“Jane, darling. I have something for you.”

“What is it?”

“Come here beside me and see.” Bingley waited for Jane to seat herself. “When I was in London I went looking for a memento of our engagement. I hope you like it.”

Bingley then handed Jane a velvet box. Jane gasped as she opened the lid to reveal the exquisite pearl necklace.

“Charles… I am speechless.”

“I have long imagined you wearing a string of pearls. I purposed to find just the right necklace for you. Will you put it on for me?”

Jane nodded and lifted the necklace out of the box. She ran her fingers over the luscious orbs, feeling their unmistakable texture. Turning slightly, she motioned for Bingley to assist her in fastening the clasp. Jane trembled slightly as Bingley’s fingers brushed along her neck. When she turned to face him his eyes were full of admiration and he slipped off the settee and onto his knee in front over her.

“My God, they look more beautiful on you than I imagined. Promise me you will wear this on our wedding day.”

Jane tenderly stroked his face with her hand. “As you wish.”

<<>>

Finally, the day had come for Elizabeth to depart from Kent. Maria would remain for another month, so Elizabeth would not have to bear the discomfort of meeting with the Darcys in London in Maria’s presence.

Charlotte was already in the room when Elizabeth came down for breakfast. Charlotte had noticed a change in her friend since she had come to Hunsford. She had her suspicions but would never ask unless Elizabeth brought the subject up.

“Thank you, Charlotte, for inviting me to be your guest so soon after your marriage. I must admit that I did not know what to expect, but you have surprised me.”

“I am perfectly content in my situation, Elizabeth. This may not have been the situation of your choice, but it is a good one for me.”

“I have always realized that, Charlotte. I am only relieved that you have not found it to be disappointing. You will be well taken care of, Charlotte, whether you wish it or not!”

“Thank you, Elizabeth. You are certainly welcome to come again any time, though perhaps next time you will be stay at Rosings?”

“Why do you say that?” Elizabeth managed to say without betraying any unease at the question.

“Lady Catherine and Miss de Bourgh both seem quite taken with you—perhaps one of them will be the one extending the invitation,” Charlotte answered.

Elizabeth chuckled, “I sincerely doubt Lady Catherine would ever lower herself to invite someone of such low social standing as me to stay at Rosings. Anne might be permitted to invite me, but we shall see.” Once again Elizabeth was very pleased with the way she had been able to skirt the truth in such a manner as to not lie directly to Charlotte. She still wished to unburden her heart to her old friend but that was impossible at present. Too much was at stake!

Charlotte was disappointed Elizabeth did not provide an opening for further questioning on her relationship with the Darcys, or Anne de Bourgh for that matter. She sighed to herself, knowing that, because of her marriage to Mr. Collins, Elizabeth was unable to confide in her as she once did. It was just another of the many small things she had to forsake when she wed. Charlotte had anticipated many changes but this was the one that saddened her the most. At least her relationship with Maria had not suffered as much. Sisterly bonds were another matter altogether!

Elizabeth knew she could not escape Hunsford without being subjected to the pompous effusions of her cousin, Mr. Collins. When her things were all stored on her uncle’s coach that would take her back to London, Mr. Collins chose that moment to offer her his solemn compliments. He thanked her for providing companionship to his ‘Dear Charlotte’ the last four weeks. He was equally magnanimous in wishing her equal felicity in marriage and he would not let her depart without soliciting words of thanks for his honored Patroness. When he finally allowed the door to be closed, Elizabeth sat back, gave the servant girl she was traveling with a wry smile, and began counting the hours before she would see her beloved Darcy again.

<<>>

Elizabeth was not surprised to see the Darcy carriage in front of the Gardiners’ home when she arrived. Propriety demanded that they show no overt displays of affection, but Darcy and Elizabeth could not help but gaze lovingly at each other. Mrs. Gardiner was very quick to pick up on such things and looked upon Elizabeth with the question upon her face. Elizabeth noticed her Aunt’s visage and gave Darcy a look the conveyed the unspoken question. When he smiled and nodded his head Elizabeth addressed her Uncle and Aunt.

“Aunt, you were very astute in your comments last Christmas. Neither Jane nor I will call Longbourn home for very much longer. Mr. Darcy asked for my hand in marriage in Kent and I have accepted him. His main purpose for removing to Netherfield is to gain Papa’s consent.”

Mrs. Gardiner moved to embrace her niece. “I am so very happy for you, Lizzy. You are positively radiant in your joy.” She turned to Darcy, who was receiving his congratulations from her husband. “Mr. Darcy, I wish you the same joy you have so obviously given to my niece. May you live long and happily together.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Gardiner, and you, Mr. Gardiner. I believe I speak for Elizabeth in saying that you will always be welcome in our home. I could think of no better people to be privileged to call my family.”

Much later, after all had had their share of the delightful conversation, Darcy left for home promising to come for Elizabeth at ten o’clock the following morning. If all went well, by that time the next evening they would officially be engaged!

<<>>

Georgiana was just as excited to see Elizabeth that next morning as Darcy. She was very put out that her brother had gone to the Gardiners the day before and had not invited her. “I did not wish to share Elizabeth with you, for once!” Darcy teased.

Georgiana was slightly mollified but that was soon forgotten as they were led inside the house to wait whilst Elizabeth’s things were added to their luggage.

“I cannot believe it has only been one week Elizabeth! I have missed your company, as has my brother,” Georgiana added playfully.

“Which of you missed me more?” Elizabeth challenged.

“I have!” Darcy said leaving no room for discussion. Elizabeth looked upon him in amusement. It was gratifying to see him so at ease in the home of her relatives. At least here he could be free to be himself.

When they were ready to leave, Darcy allowed the others to precede him as he led Elizabeth to the coach. He took advantage of the moment and gave her a quick kiss when everyone had their backs turned. Smiling contentedly, he handed Elizabeth, then Georgiana into the coach. At last the coach pulled into the street and Darcy was finally alone again with the two women he loved more than anything.

“Do you recall the last time we left the Gardiners together in this carriage?” Georgiana asked. Both Elizabeth and Darcy smiled shyly. “Neither of you would look at each other. I noticed your discomfort then. If you, brother, had acted on your feelings then we would be returning to Hertfordshire with you two already married!”

“Georgiana!” Darcy and Elizabeth cried in unison. Surprised by this, they both gave into a laugh.

“Georgiana dear, you are right. But it was not yet time for us. For every thing there is a season.” Darcy continued.

“You certainly had a long season for being a proud man too encumbered by an overdeveloped sense of duty to acknowledge the woman before you who would make you the perfect wife.” Both Darcy and Elizabeth blushed at this bold pronouncement. “But I shall take pity on you both. Once we are out of town, you must switch places with me, Fitzwilliam.” Both blushed again but did not offer any protestations to her suggestion, each delighted at the turn in her playful impertinence.

Georgiana smiled as she watched her brother and Elizabeth dozing across from her. She had seen the sheepish looks on their faces when she had first switched places with her brother. It was actually quite amusing watching them try to not appear to be touching on purpose. Eventually Darcy gave up when Elizabeth yawned and reach around her with his arm to pull her against his side to relax. Now they were both asleep, and with innocent little smiles of contentment upon their faces.

When the driver informed Georgiana that they were approaching Meryton, Georgiana reluctantly awakened the pair and again switched places with her brother. They deserved better than to have the whispers started before Elizabeth had even set foot across the threshold of her home.

It had been decided to stop at Longbourn first. Elizabeth was anxious to see her family again, especially her father. Elizabeth also knew that the best way to see Darcy and Georgiana again quickly was to have her mother offer the dinner invitation that was sure to come if the Darcys were there when she came home. Elizabeth was pleased to be proven correct when Mrs. Bennet did, indeed, offer an invitation to dine that night in gratitude for bringing Elizabeth home from London. Bingley had already been asked to dine at Longbourn that evening. Darcy was very pleased with these developments. After dinner he would then have the perfect opportunity to speak with Mr. Bennet. However, first he must acquaint Bingley with his news. He owed much to his friend and he did not deserve to be kept in the dark any longer. Especially since he might be involved in the intrigue with Anne and Fitzwilliam that was sure to follow.

When they arrived at Netherfield, Darcy escorted Georgiana to her rooms and sought out his host. Darcy found him in the library, a most appropriate location for his discussion.

“Bingley, do you remember the last time we met in this room?”

“Yes, I do Darcy. It was the night of the Ball. In some ways it was the best and the worst night of my life.”

“I, too, have very vivid memories of that night.” Bingley was intrigued by this comment. “Charles, do you remember the question that you asked me that night. I never answered it.”

“I am not sure that I do, would you like to refresh my memory?” Bingley lied. He knew exactly what Darcy was talking about, but wanted to know what his answer was. The use of his Christian name made him know that it was something very important.

“You asked me if I would have wanted my father to reject my mother if she had not been Lady Anne Fitzwilliam? What if she had been the daughter of some lower born gentleman like Mr. Bennet? Would I have had him walk away from the love of his life over money or an overbearing sister-in-law? You also said that you would not let any of that stand in the way of spending the rest of your life with the woman you love! You were prepared to follow your heart. I was not.”

Bingley debated whether or not to remain silent. Finally he said, “Do you have an answer for me now? Have you changed your opinion?”

“Yes, Charles, I have. I was forced to take a long, hard look at myself and the convictions I was taught. I concluded that you were right, and I was envious of you.”

“What do you plan to do about it William?”

Darcy smiled, “Nothing!”

“But you just said.”

“Do not distress yourself Charles! I answered in such a manner because I have already made my choice. We are to be brothers Charles!”

Now Bingley was very distressed. “When did you have the opportunity to speak with Caro…”

Bingley was unable to finish the word before Darcy slapped him on the back and said, “No, no, no Charles, wrong sister. I am engaged to Elizabeth!”

After digesting the import of his words, Bingley broke into a huge grin. “Do not ever do that to me again, Darcy! Congratulations, I wondered if you would ever realize how perfect Miss Elizabeth is for you.”

“Unfortunately, it took me long enough. Will you be able to tolerate me as a brother?”

“Most assuredly!”

Darcy then told the story of his time in London and Kent. Bingley was fascinated by the journey his friend had undertaken. When Darcy reached the point of his cousins’ engagement, Bingley was intrigued. He knew Darcy must have a very good reason for relating this if the engagement was, for now, a secret one.

“Charles, Elizabeth expressed a desire to be wed with her sister. I have no objections to such a plan and would be honored if you would consider allowing us to do so.”

“I would be honored as well my friend, but I must speak to Jane before I would consent, though I doubt she would object.”

“Before you do, I must also bring up the subject of my two cousins again. We have offered to share our wedding day with them as well, if that is the best course of action to see them wed with the minimum of strife. I am of the opinion that it will, indeed, be the situation. It would allow all of our family the opportunity to be at their wedding, save Lady Catherine. I will know more after my Uncle and I travel to Kent.”

“Again, I must speak to Jane first, but I have no objections. All families have their sources of regret Darcy. Mine just does not possess a title.”

“Thank you Bingley. Now, please tell me about Caroline. It is clear to me that she has greatly offended you.” Darcy asked, voice full of compassion.

“You do not know the half of it.”

Bingley then told Darcy of his dealings with Caroline. Darcy realized that his friend was greatly distressed over the entire matter and did his best to offer words of consolation. At last Darcy left to ready himself for dinner. Soon Darcy, Georgiana and Bingley were back at Longbourn.

<<>>

Back at Longbourn, Elizabeth had asked Jane to visit her in her room after she greeted the rest of the family. Mary, as much as she wanted to be included, knew that her two eldest held a very special bond and needed their time alone. Elizabeth, sensing Mary’s disappointment, put her hand on Mary’s shoulder and told her she would find her for a walk as soon as she was finished. Mary nodded her head appreciatively and smiled as Jane and Elizabeth walked up the stairs.

“Tell me everything, Jane!” Elizabeth said as she closed her door. The two sat on the bed, as they had done for many years, as Jane told Elizabeth all that had happened since Bingley had returned.

“Has Mary been a helpful chaperone, Jane?”

“Lizzy, what did you tell Mary? She has been, well, I would have never thought she would give us so much privacy.”

“I gave Mary a few suggestions, and told her we would repay the favor when her time came,” Elizabeth admitted.

“Then I do not wish to know what you told her, but thank you. Now, tell me about Hunsford.”

Elizabeth had been debating how to tell her sister her news. She would not be able to hide such a thing from her once Darcy was there.

“Jane, do you remember when you asked me if I would be willing to accept the attentions of Mr. Darcy if he offered them?” Jane nodded, wondering where this was headed. “I knew the night of the Netherfield Ball that I would welcome them. In many ways my time in London was very taxing, knowing I was below the notice of such a man.” Jane patted her sister’s hand in comfort and support. “He and I made the effort to not be left alone together. What I did not know was that he was just as attracted to me as I was to him.”

“And you know this now, Lizzy?” Jane smiled. There was only one way her sister could be in possession of such knowledge.

“I can see you have found me out, Jane. He made me an offer of marriage in Kent and I have, most joyfully, accepted! Are you satisfied with such a brother-in-law, Jane?” By this time Jane had thrown her arms around Elizabeth, tears of happiness running down her cheeks.

“Oh, Lizzy, I knew you two would suit. I am so happy for your both. He is Charles’ best friend after all. Charles will be as pleased as I am. Now then, sister, you have much to tell.” So Elizabeth began to tell the story. When she related how Darcy had quoted the sonnet to her Jane could not help sigh, “How romantic!” before Elizabeth continued. Like Darcy, Elizabeth also told her sister about Darcy’s cousins. Jane was full of compassion for the two.

“Jane, I would like to ask you to consider something. Would you be willing to share a wedding day with Fitzwilliam and me? Before you answer there is more to the matter to consider. We have offered to share the event with Anne and Richard as well. It would be very convenient to do so since their family would all be gathered for our wedding as well. So, would you be content with a double, or even triple wedding?”

“I would be honored to share my wedding day with you, and Miss de Bourgh and Colonel Fitzwilliam if necessary. I must first speak with Charles, though I doubt he would have any objections.”

“You truly are the best of sisters, Jane! Not many women would be content to share their wedding day with an impertinent younger sister and a total stranger!”

They continued their conversation until Elizabeth told Jane she needed to find Mary. Elizabeth went downstairs and found Mary practicing on the pianoforte. Elizabeth waited patiently for her to finish and then startled her by saying, “That was beautifully done, Mary.”

“Thank you, Elizabeth, I did not hear you approach.”

“I did not wish to interrupt you, Mary. You appeared lost in the music. Would you care for a walk in the gardens?”

“Of course! Let us go now.”

Elizabeth led Mary into the more secluded part of the garden before beginning to talk of more substantial subjects.

“Mary, I wanted you to know that I am to be married.”

“To Mr. Darcy?”

“Most observant as always! That is why I am telling you this now. Yes, Fitzwilliam will speak to Papa this evening.”

“Oh, Elizabeth, I am so very happy for you. Miss Darcy must be thrilled as well.”

“That is putting it mildly. The only thing, which I will regret, is being so far removed from you and Jane. You must promise to come and visit me in Derbyshire!”

“You may count on it. Now, tell me everything!” Mary asked full of excitement.

Elizabeth told her the story of their courtship, if that was what it could be called. When she finished, Mary had a dreamy look on her face.

“How so very romantic. Shakespeare, the bench his father had made for his mother, you will be one happy woman, Elizabeth. Have you discussed a date?”

“We have discussed being married with Jane and Mr. Bingley in July. It is only two and a half months away, but this way Jane and I will be able to combine forces against Mama! But we await their decision.”

“That seems to me to be a wise course of action. I will help in whatever means that I can. I have turned into a very accomplished chaperone!” Mary added mischievously.

“And for that Jane is most thankful. I would appreciate your extending the same courtesy to me!”

“For all that you have done for me, Elizabeth, you may count on that as well. Just remember to have pity on me when it is my turn.”

“Never fear! And anticipate an invitation to you and your intended to Pemberley if ever the need should arise!”

The two spent an enjoyable time talking until it was time to return to the house to prepare for their dinner guests.

Chapter 34

When Darcy arrived with Bingley and Georgiana, he tried very hard not to gaze at Elizabeth. He would swear she grew more beautiful each time she came into his presence. Elizabeth was struggling herself to assume an attitude of common indifference to Darcy. She was failing spectacularly, though only Jane, Mary, and her father noticed. In order to hide her emotions, Elizabeth focused her attention on Bingley to offer her congratulations and to tease him on the rapidity of the conclusion of his courtship of her sister.

Dinner that evening was an elegant affair. Whatever could be said of Mrs. Bennet, she could never be faulted for the quality of her table. Mr. Bennet spent the meal being amused by his second daughter. Something was clearly afoot and he doubted he would have long to wait to find out what it was. When it was time for the customary separation of the ladies and gentlemen after dinner, Mr. Bennet asked the men to join him in the study.

As the ladies rose to leave for the drawing room Bingley asked, “Mr. Bennet, if you do not object, I would like to have a private word with Jane and Miss Elizabeth first. That is, if you would allow me to do so, Mrs. Bennet.”

“Of course, Mr. Bingley. Take as long as you have need. Come Mary, Kitty, Lydia. Let us join Miss Darcy in the drawing room,” Mrs. Bennet commanded.

After Mr. Bennet showed Darcy into his study, he poured them both a glass of port. Darcy, not wanting to waste the opportunity Bingley had given him, was very direct in his comments to Elizabeth’s father.

“Mr. Bennet, I have come to ask for the hand of your daughter, Miss Elizabeth, in marriage.”

“Indeed, you come directly to your point, sir. Have you decided to skip the courting stage?”

“It is not necessary. We have had ample opportunity to become acquainted with each other. Both here in Hertfordshire and in Town and in Kent.”

“Why should I grant my consent? Have you asked her?”

“Yes, I have, and she has accepted me. You should grant us your consent because I respect, admire, and deeply love your daughter and she loves, admires and respects me in return.”

“You make no mention of your wealth, Mr. Darcy.”

“Mr. Bennet, you of all people should know your daughter well enough to realize that my wealth would not influence her decision. Miss Elizabeth would never marry a man she did not love and respect. That is why she refused Mr. Collins.”

“You know about that now, do you? Point taken, Mr. Darcy. I know you speak the truth about Elizabeth’s affections. They were on display tonight for anyone to see, if they had been paying attention. Very well, Mr. Darcy, you have my consent and blessing. I suspected from the first time we met that you would be perfect for Lizzy. I am glad you found each other. I will rest easier knowing that she will be so well loved and taken care of.”

“Thank you, sir! I promise to always love and cherish Elizabeth.” Darcy finally allowed himself a smile.

“I suppose we should discuss the marriage settlement now.”

“Mr. Bennet, whilst I was waiting in London for Elizabeth to return from Kent I took the opportunity to meet with my solicitor and have a preliminary document drawn up.” Darcy removed a set of papers from his coat and handed them to Mr. Bennet. “If anything does not meet with your satisfaction, I will have it amended at once.”

Mr. Bennet quickly read through the documents, his amazement growing. “Only a very foolish man would dare ask you for any more. You are being very generous and I believe the extent of your wealth has been underestimated. I see that you will need additional information from me and I will endeavor to provide that to you in the morning. Enough of this talk about settlements, have you a date in mind for the wedding?”

“Elizabeth expressed a desire to marry the same day as Bingley and Miss Bennet. I dare say that they are discussing that now. Would you consent to such a scheme, Mr. Bennet?”

“I would be a fool to object, Mr. Darcy! How could I reject the possibility of only having to listen to my wife plan for one wedding day instead of two! I think it a marvelous idea!”

“Before we agree, Mr. Bennet, I need to advise you of a potential complication.”

Darcy began to tell his future father-in-law of the situation regarding his cousins and his Aunt. Bingley entered the study during this time, but remained silent until Darcy was finished.

“Darcy, Mr. Bennet. Jane and Miss Elizabeth and I have just finished discussing the situation. Jane and I would be honored to share the wedding day with Darcy and Miss Elizabeth… as well as with Miss de Bourgh and Colonel Fitzwilliam. Lord and Lady Matlock have been as second parents to Darcy and Miss Darcy and I know Darcy considers Colonel Fitzwilliam to be the brother he never had,” Bingley finished.

“Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, you must do what is best. I will not object to a double, or triple wedding for that matter. I am certain that when my wife learns that she will be planning a wedding that includes the son of an Earl and the granddaughter of an earl that she will be overjoyed! Let us tarry no longer and return to the ladies to make our announcement. Are you certain you are prepared, Mr. Darcy?”

A resolute “Yes” confirmed Darcy’s intent.

<<>>

When the gentlemen entered the room, Bingley went to sit beside Jane and Darcy remained standing next to Mr. Bennet. Mr. Bennet discreetly motioned for Elizabeth to come and join them. After smiling at his daughter, Mr. Bennet asked for everyone’s attention.

“I have a little announcement to make. Mr. Darcy has asked for the hand of Elizabeth in marriage and I have given them my consent and blessings. You will now have your two eldest daughters given away in marriage, Mrs. Bennet.”

For one of the few times in her life, Frances Bennet was too stunned to speak. She had hoped Miss Darcy would be able to throw Elizabeth into the notice of other men, but she had never dared hope that Mr. Darcy would be that man! Oh the jewels, carriages and pin money that Elizabeth would have! Finally, the enormity of it all came washing over her and Frances Bennet did what any other insensible woman would do. She fainted.

In the confusion that followed Mrs. Bennet’s fainting fit, the reaction of the only other two people in the room who did not have a prior knowledge of the engagement went overlooked. Kitty was in too much awe of Mr. Darcy to say anything. She was shocked, but pleased that Elizabeth had found a husband. Lydia’s reaction could not be any more different. She had long been jealous of Elizabeth and the favor their father had shown to her. Lydia also had many dreams of being the first sister married. Now there would be at least two married before her. In truth, she was quite vexed and determined to go and visit with Mrs. Forster the first thing in the morning. Harriet Forster always knew how to lift her spirits.

Before he left that evening, Darcy asked for another private word with Mr. Bennet.

“Mr. Bennet, the situation with my cousins and Aunt Catherine demand an immediate return to town. My sister’s companion will be joining us at Netherfield next week; she is visiting her grandson now. However, she will not be here before this trip. Would you allow Georgiana to stay here at Longbourn whilst I am away? It would not be proper for her to stay at Netherfield in my absence.”

“Of course she may stay. I dare say she will find things much more, er… lively at Longbourn than what she may be accustomed to.”

“Thank you sir. I do not anticipate being gone longer than three days. However, I may be delayed depending on my Aunt’s reaction. As soon as she has been informed, I will send announcements to the appropriate newspapers.”

“When will you depart?”

“In the morning. The sooner I leave, the sooner this may be resolved and I may see Elizabeth again.”

“Do not tarry too long, Mr. Darcy. You will cede too many decisions about your wedding if you do, if I know my wife!”

Darcy made sure he had an opportunity to have a quiet word with Elizabeth before they left. “As we discussed earlier, I will go to London tomorrow. Do not look so downcast, Elizabeth. The sooner I go, the sooner I shall be able to return to you. I will not leave again without you!”

Comforted by his words, Elizabeth eyed him mischievously, “What will you do when my mother decides to take Jane and me to London to shop for our trousseaus?”

“I will ride to London with you and insist you stay at Darcy House.”

“Nay sir, the next time I stay in Darcy House it will be as its mistress!”

“As you wish, I would never seek to deny you any pleasure.”

“I am counting on that, Fitzwilliam,” Elizabeth replied in a surprisingly seductive voice.

It suddenly occurred to Darcy that Elizabeth had the full reign of her father’s library and he wondered at its breadth of subjects. He would have to give it a more thorough perusal when he returned.

<<>>

Darcy’s carriage left Netherfield just after first light. Darcy had sent his Uncle an express the night before apprising him of the situation and warning him of his intended journey the next morning. When they arrived in London, Darcy ordered his carriage to proceed directly to Afton House. The Earl was not surprised to see his nephew so early.

“Darcy, you made good time! Come inside and have something to eat. We can discuss our options over a meal.”

“Thank you Uncle Hugh. As you can see, I came straight to your home from Hertfordshire.”

When Darcy was finally seated at the table, he told his Uncle of the previous day’s events in more detail than was possible in the express. “Do you agree then, Uncle Hugh, that we should travel to Rosings this afternoon to speak with Aunt Catherine? Considering the ties between Hertfordshire and Hunsford, I believe haste is prudent.”

“I am in agreement, William. I will order my carriage ready to depart in an hour. Your horses have had enough for one day. I will go inform your Aunt of our intentions and return.”

An hour later, Darcy and Lord Matlock were on the road to Kent. They again discussed all that had happened over the past two weeks and agreed on how the meeting with Lady Catherine would be handled. They arrived late in the afternoon. Lady Catherine was at first puzzled about the unexpected visitors, but then became agitated with the hope that Darcy was finally ready to offer for Anne.

“Catherine,” Hugh Fitzwilliam began, “Darcy has asked me to accompany him here today to discuss his marriage.”

“It is about time you have come to ask me for Anne’s hand, William. I had begun to despair of it.”

“Aunt Catherine, you mistake my Uncle’s meaning. I have not come to ask for you consent to marry Anne, but rather to announce my engagement.”

“I do not understand you, William. I thought you would seek my consent to marry Anne rather than declaring that you will do so without any consideration of me as her mother!”

“No, Aunt, again you mistake my meaning. I am not marrying Anne. I have never desired it. She has never desired it. I am to marry another.”

“Who, do I know this woman?”

“Yes, you do. I am engaged to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. We will be married in July.”

“Miss Elizabeth Bennet? How dare she! She has obviously used her situation as Georgiana’s intimate friend to ensnare you, Darcy! Hugh, how can you stand here and let him do this? You are head of this family. Can you not talk some sense into the boy?”

“Lady Catherine, I am not a boy and I will not have you speak of my fiancée that way. I am my own master and I am beholden to no one. I came here as a courtesy to you and this is how I am treated? You will…”

Lord Matlock interrupted his nephew. “Darcy, that is enough. Will you please excuse your Aunt and me and wait in the library.”

“Yes, my lord. Lady Catherine.” Darcy bowed and left the two siblings alone.

Lord Matlock waited until they were completely alone. “Catherine, you had better be very careful as to how you proceed.”

“I do not need you to tell me what I may and may not do, Hugh!”

“I must disagree. I am the head of this family! If you will not respect that, then I have nothing further to say. However, before you burn all of your bridges you will hear me out. As Darcy has said, he is his own master and can make his own decisions. He does not need your permission, or mine, to marry.”

“But that woman is beneath him. She was fine as a companion for Georgiana or Anne. But mistress of Pemberley? Come now Hugh, we both know she has no dowry or family connections. She will be a degradation to us all. You must try and talk some sense into Darcy before it is too late.”

Lord Matlock had to smile at his sister’s last comment. “My dear Catherine, have you not considered that perhaps maybe I already have.” Lady Catherine reacted as though she had been slapped.

“Whatever do you mean, Hugh?”

“When William was here at Easter I received a letter from Richard confirming my suspicions about William’s attachment to Miss Bennet. I responded with a letter of my own to Darcy in which I gave him my blessing to pursue the desire of his heart. He had put duty before happiness for far too long.”

“How could you?”

“Take a long look at yourself, Catherine. I would not wish any of my family to become what you have become. Love is a necessary component to a happy marriage.”

“Love, what a plebian concept, Hugh!”

“There is more to happiness than wealth and connections.”

“Nothing is more important than wealth and connections when making a match in our circle, Hugh!”

“That is why so many are so unhappy. No, Catherine, I will not condone such thinking. It is obvious that you will not be happy for your sister’s son. Unless you change your mind, you are not welcome in my home, or at the wedding. However, I will not allow your house to slight Darcy. Therefore, I will expect Anne to come to us, as planned, next month and she will accompany us to the wedding. If she is not at Matlock, as planned, in four weeks then I will personally come and escort her myself. You cannot deny her coming. She is of age and has the freedom to leave here whenever she wants.

“If Anne dares defy me, she will rue the day she does.”

“Be very careful, Catherine. I will do everything in my power to protect Anne, since her father is not here to do so.”

“You cannot frighten me, Hugh. What can you do to stop me?”

“More than you know, Catherine. It is obvious that neither William nor myself are welcome here tonight. We will not impose upon you. Goodbye, Catherine. I expect to see Anne in a month.”

Lord Matlock went to collect Darcy and leave. He was pleased to find Anne in the library waiting for him. “Oh, Uncle Hugh!”

Anne threw herself into her Uncle’s arms and began to cry tears that had needed to be shed for a long time. “Hush, Anne. It will all turn out well. I promise. I have told your mother that you will be coming to us at Matlock as planned. I also told her you would be coming with us to Darcy’s wedding, even if she were not welcome. I would like to take you with me right now, but I need you to stay and judge your mother’s acceptance of Darcy’s engagement. Based on your observations, we will know what to do next. But if it becomes too unbearable for you, send word and I will come for you.”

“Thank you, Uncle,” Anne said drying he tears. “Thank you for everything.”

Darcy and his Uncle soon left for London again. It was quite late when they arrived back at Afton House where Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam was waiting impatiently for them.

“How did your discussion with Lady Catherine turn out?”

“As badly as we feared, son,” The Earl answered. “Do not worry, Richard. I will not leave Anne alone if Catherine becomes vindictive. Anne will come on her planned visit to Matlock and you will be able to see her there. But for now it is imperative she remains at Rosings. Only she can decide how to proceed and she needs to know her mother’s mind on the matter. She cannot make such a judgment without firsthand knowledge of the situation.”

“You are correct, father, as usual. I will wait and prepare as we have planned.”

“Good! Richard, please trust me. All will be well.”

“I have no choice but to trust you, father. So, Darcy, how go the wedding plans?”

The gentleman spent an hour in conversation before Darcy left to return home. He planned on leaving for Netherfield after church the next morning. He missed Elizabeth and renewed his vow to not leave her again before the wedding.

<<>>

Back in Hertfordshire, Lydia set off for Meryton directly after breakfast. She was sure a visit with Mrs. Forster would cheer her lagging spirits. Unfortunately, the only new information to be had was the posting of the order to move the regiment to Brighten for the summer. Lydia could not imagine anything worse than the removal of the regiment. Her disappointment was short-lived however, because of the invitation Mrs. Forster extended to her dear friend Lydia.

“The Colonel and I discussed this quite at length last night. He will take a house for us in Brighton and you are invited to join me as my particular friend. We shall have such a merry time. There will be all manner of parties and balls to amuse us. I do so hope you father will allow you to come,” Mrs. Forster effused.

“He will not stop me. I will not be able to stay the entirety of the summer, though. Both Jane and Lizzy will be married in July and I am certain Papa will insist I come home for the wedding. I shall not mind too much for Mama is sure to buy us new gowns for the occasion.”

“You sister Elizabeth is engaged? To whom?”

“Lizzy somehow managed to capture that rich Mr. Darcy. Now Mama will not stop talking of how rich Jane and Lizzy will be. It is rather annoying, but I hope that it will mean invitations to come with them to town for the season. Lizzy will then be able to buy me all manner of lovely new gowns and introduce Kitty and me to many rich men. Unfortunately, I do not believe that there will be many officers among them. I so do like a man in a red coat!” Lydia responded dreamily.

Mrs. Bennet was in raptures over Lydia’s invitation until she realized her absence would come as the wedding was being planned. She was ecstatic over the prospect of arranging a double wedding for her two daughters’ rich suitors. Jane and Elizabeth had announced their intentions to share their wedding day last night after Elizabeth announced her engagement. A date of July 11th had been agreed upon earlier, when Jane had become engaged and the rector of Longbourn church had confirmed it that morning. This left just over two months to prepare, but Mrs. Bennet was confident enough in her own organizing abilities to not be overly bothered with the short engagement. The sooner her two daughters were settled, the sooner her future would be secured.

When Lydia applied to her father for permission to go to Brighton, he was at first loath to grant it. However, upon reconsideration, the prospect of a Lydia-free home during the hectic next two months held an irresistible charm. When he announced his consent at dinner that evening Lydia was all in raptures. Mr. Bennet was surprised though, by his three middle daughter’s reactions. Elizabeth did not seem very happy with this news. He could tell by the look on her face that she would be visiting him later in the evening. Mary, normally indifferent to such matters was likewise distressed. Kitty, the one he expected to be distressed, instead appeared relieved. This was most puzzling. Jane, of course, was her normal serene self.

After dinner, Elizabeth left Georgiana in the company of Kitty and took Mary with her to see their father. “Papa,” Elizabeth began, “Mary and I are both concerned about your allowing Lydia to accompany Mrs. Forster to Brighton.”

“I would have thought you would appreciate the opportunity to plan your wedding in peace, Elizabeth.”

“While the idea of not having to listen to Lydia’s silly opinions on every detail is very appealing, I cannot think but that it is a mistake to allow her to go. Mrs. Forster is very young herself and I have great concerns over her ability to properly chaperone Lydia. I fear she would return with her character fixed as a flirt of the worst kind who will only make herself and her family appear ridiculous.”

“What is your opinion, Mary?” her father asked.

“I agree with Elizabeth. Since the regiment arrived she has grown even more untamed, if it were possible.”

“I understand your concern girls, but at Brighton she will be of less importance and hopefully she will learn of her own insignificance. Fortunately, she is too poor to be the prey of any fortune hunter. I believe it will all turn out well. She may go for six weeks so she is home in time for your wedding, Elizabeth. Unless you do not wish her here, then I will let her stay the whole summer.”

“Very well, Papa. I can see your mind is made up on the matter. But do not forget that Lydia will soon have two very wealthy connections. You must warn Colonel Forster to keep a close eye on her,” Elizabeth replied.

“You have a very worthy point, Elizabeth. I will speak pointedly to the Colonel before she leaves.”

“Thank you, Papa.”

Elizabeth and Mary were still uneasy after they left their father, but there was nothing more they could do. Hopefully, as their father had said, it would all turn out well. They took that thought back with them into the drawing room and back to Georgiana.

Chapter 35

Elizabeth was pleased and Georgiana disappointed, to see Darcy back in Hertfordshire late the next afternoon. Georgiana had greatly enjoyed her one night at Longbourn and was disappointed to leave so soon. She had been invited to the eldest girls nightly chat the evening before.

“So, Georgiana, when did you first think your brother would be so perfect for me?” Elizabeth asked as the four ladies sat in their nightgowns in Jane’s room.

“The second day you were at Pemberley.”

“Really!”

“Yes. I do not know how best to explain this, Elizabeth, but it seemed as if you belonged at Pemberley from the moment I began to know you. Seeing you leave was one of the most heartbreaking things I have experienced, for I knew not if you would ever return.”

All four of them were affected by this speech. Mary was the first to speak. “Miss Darcy, please tell us more about Pemberley. I have gleaned as much as I can from Elizabeth’s recollections but I know you can tell us so much more.”

“I will, but only if you will call me Georgiana, as your sisters already do.”

“Of course, and you must call me Mary for we soon will be sisters!”

Georgiana laughed, “I have always wanted a sister, it appears that now I will have five!”

Georgiana proceeded to answer all of their questions. Elizabeth was fascinated with all she was learning about her soon-to-be new home.

“Elizabeth, the only person to whom I am afraid to tell the news of your engagement is little Nicolas Clark. He will be quite angry with my brother for taking you off the marriage market,” Georgiana teased as they were leaving to go to their rooms to sleep. In all seriousness, you and your sisters will greatly miss these times together at night. They will soon be over.”

“Yes, it is the one thing I find difficult to be giving up to be married. But it was bound to happen someday. Jane is much too good to have ended up an old maid. I, on the other hand, always felt that I would be very fortunate to find a man who would love me enough to take me for a mere £ 50 a year and not be out of his wits!” Elizabeth said with her eyebrow raised.

With such happy recollections of the evening before, Georgiana was ecstatic with the offer to remain one more night at Longbourn. Elizabeth was curious to discover the results of Darcy’s meeting with Lady Catherine.

“How did Lady Catherine take our news, Fitzwilliam?” Elizabeth asked Darcy when they had some privacy.

“As well as I expected.”

“That poorly then?”

“Yes. It was not easy to leave Anne in such a difficult situation, but it had to be done for now. I do not believe Lady Catherine will be attending our wedding.” Darcy then gave Elizabeth all of the particulars of the meeting as well as the reasoning behind the decision to leave Anne in Kent.

“Do you believe we will have a triple wedding?”

“If my Aunt’s reaction is any indication, yes.”

“I do not believe we should tell anyone, especially my mother, about this. Only Jane, Mr. Bingley, Georgiana, my father and possibly Mary should be told. The less who know, the more likely we will be able to keep it secret.”

“I agree. I shall speak about it with Bingley tonight and your father tomorrow. But enough about that. Did you miss me Elizabeth?”

If they had been alone, Elizabeth would have kissed him soundly. As it was, they were not, so she had to settle for a smoldering look instead. Darcy was delighted to see such passion in her eyes.

The week passed by quickly with a succession of visits to the entire surrounding neighborhood broadcasting Elizabeth’s good fortune. On Friday evening, the officers gathered one last time at Longbourn before they departed for Brighton. Lydia returned to Meryton with the Forsters so that they would be able to leave early the next morning. Her mother was the only person truly sad to see her go. Elizabeth and Mary were still worried about her, but had resigned themselves to their father’s decision. Kitty, of all people, was pleased to be rid of her sister’s presence. When Elizabeth asked her about her mood, Kitty was only too willing to explain.

“All Lydia ever talks about is officers, officers and more officers. Whilst I do prefer a man in a red coat, that is not the only kind of man in the world. You and Jane have made fine matches with men who have no need to wear red. And since Mary decided to abandon her sermon books and began to spend more of her time with you, she has been content. You treat her as an equal, Lydia takes me for granted.”

With this last statement Kitty began to cry. Once again, one of her younger sisters had surprised Elizabeth. She led her out of the drawing room and into the hall for some privacy. Darcy was about to follow until Elizabeth caught his eye and silently implored him not to. Once in the hall, Elizabeth guided Kitty into the dining room for the added privacy. She held her sister for the longest time as the tears washed over Kitty’s face. Finally, after some ten minutes of uncontrollable sobbing, Kitty began to regain her composure. Elizabeth stroked her hair, much as she used to do when Kitty was a very little girl, and spoke soothingly to her. At last Kitty was able to speak.

“Lizzy, I am so sorry. I do not know what came over me.”

“You are feeling lonely.”

“How do you know that?”

Elizabeth gave her a wry smile. “Kitty, a great many things have changed at Longbourn these past six months. We all have changed, even you. Before, you had Lydia as your ally against Jane and me. When Mary sought us out, you became out numbered three to two. Lydia is too selfish to care about your feelings and you felt as an outsider amongst your other sisters. Am I correct, Kitty?”

“Yes, you are. Though I have not taken the time to consider the motivations for my feelings before now.”

“Kitty, come join your sisters tonight in Jane’s room.”

“Truly? I would be welcome?”

Elizabeth put her hand on Kitty’s knee, “Why would you not be, Catherine?”

Kitty smiled at the use of her given name. Usually, its use was reserved for a very vexed parent in addressing her. But somehow Elizabeth’s use of it now made her feel more… like a lady.

Elizabeth continued. “Go and wash your face and come and rejoin us. It should be much quieter now that Lydia and the officers are gone.”

“I will join you shortly. Thank you, Elizabeth.”

“You are welcome, Catherine.”

Darcy was quick to gain Elizabeth’s attention when she returned. “I believe you are beginning to work your magic on another sister, Elizabeth. Was Miss Kitty very distressed?”

“Miss Catherine, Fitzwilliam. Yes, she was, but I believe it will all turn out well now. Perhaps Lydia’s removal to Brighton will be of a benefit to Catherine after all. Lydia cannot get much worse, but Catherine will become much better if Jane, Mary and I have anything to say about it!”

“That is another example of why I love you and how much of a fool I was to ever doubt you, Elizabeth. Every day you prove that I am the one who is not worthy.”

When Kitty returned, Mr. Bennet immediately noticed the change in address by Elizabeth and Darcy. As astute as he had become in recognizing Elizabeth’s methods in dealing with Mary, he quickly picked up on this new development with Kitty.

“Catherine, my child, would you please come here?” he asked gently.

“Yes, Papa?” said the startled Kitty.

“I was interested in knowing what you proposed to do with your time now that your younger sister and the regiment will no longer be in Meryton.”

“I had not considered it, father,” she replied truthfully.

“Well then, perhaps you will come and see me in my study tomorrow morning after breakfast. I would like that very much, Catherine.”

Amazed, Kitty replied quietly, “So would I, Papa.”

Mr. Bennet gave her an affectionate smile and left to go speak with Darcy and Elizabeth. Elizabeth beamed at her father and gave him a kiss on his cheek, whispering, “Thank you” as she did.

<<>>

Later that night, Kitty shyly knocked on the door of Jane’s room. Instead of bidding her to open the door, Jane came and opened it herself. Mary and Elizabeth were already there and they looked at their younger sister with affection. Jane grabbed her hand and led her to the bed to sit next to her. No one spoke, but all eyes were looking on Kitty with amusement. When Kitty could no longer take the silence, she asked what she most longed to hear.

“I have long wondered what you talk about at night.”

Elizabeth laughed and said, “Many things, Catherine, but never about red coats!”

“Thank goodness!” Kitty replied and the awkwardness she had felt began fading away. Elizabeth brought up the subject of names.

“Kitty, we have always called you Kitty, but for some reason tonight, I sensed Catherine to be more appropriate. How would you have us address you?”

“I must confess I believe I desire a change. Would you please address me as Catherine?”

“Oh yes, Catherine. I would be pleased to do so. You have such a lovely name.” Jane replied in her gentle manner. Mary nodded and Elizabeth smiled in her encouraging way. The four sisters spent the remainder of the evening discussing the events of the day.

<<>>

The next week saw Longbourn fall into a familiar pattern. The mornings were reserved for planning the wedding. Elizabeth and Mary had to adjust their scheduled outings to before breakfast. This limited the extent of their ramblings, but they were happy to sacrifice that for the continuation of their fellowship. Jane spent that time with Kitty, who was now being called Catherine by everyone except her mother. Mr. Bennet was delighted by Kitty’s improved manners in the short time Lydia had been gone. After breakfast, he more often than not, asked both Mary and Kitty to attend him in his study. He decided to begin reading a novel with the two girls and chose, much to their surprise, the latest by Mrs. Radcliffe.

The party from Netherfield arrived before lunch and Elizabeth and Jane would inform them of the progress made that day in the wedding preparations. After lunch everyone was free to do as they chose. Often Elizabeth would take Georgiana out for another walk as Darcy would retreat into Mr. Bennet’s study to work or to spend time getting to know his future father-in-law better. Darcy quickly learned from whom Elizabeth had acquired her wit.

Darcy, Bingley and Georgiana often stayed through dinner into the early evening. The only exceptions were the nights when they dined in other houses in the neighborhood and on Sundays. Sundays were the days reserved for Bingley to host them at Netherfield. He took great pleasure in anticipating Jane assuming the role as hostess and mistress of that house.

<<>>

Several days after Mrs. Annesley arrived at Netherfield, she requested an interview with Darcy. “Mr. Darcy, I wish to speak with you about the future of my position.”

“Mrs. Annesley, rest assured that I am very content with the service you are providing my sister.”

“Thank you, Mr. Darcy, but the fact is that you will be married soon and the new Mrs. Darcy will be a wonderful sister and companion for Miss Darcy. You will not be needing my services any longer.”

“But we do not wish for you to leave us.”

“Mr. Darcy, you know, as I clearly stated when you hired me, that I do not need this position. I was seeking a way to be useful after my daughter had married and settled. To own the truth, I felt as though I was intruding in her life and I wished for a change. However, now that little Henry is five months old, Rachel finds that she would like my help. I have decided to accept her invitation to come and live with her family. I have given this much thought and I believe the ideal time for this transition would be after your wedding. Miss Darcy is to go to Matlock with her Aunt and Uncle. I will remove myself to London and the Glasses at that time.”

“I see that I will not be able to change your mind on this matter and I agree with the wisdom of your choice. Elizabeth will indeed be a fine guide for Georgiana. Very well, it shall be as you propose. If ever I may be of any assistance to you, please do not hesitate to ask. Georgiana and I will never forget the service you have rendered to both of us. May God bless you, Mrs. Annesley. But please tell me, do you wish to be the one to inform Georgiana of your decision?”

“Yes, I believe such news should come from me.”

Georgiana was understandably distressed at the news, but she soon became sensible to the logic of Mrs. Annesley’s choice. She determined to enjoy the last weeks of her presence. Many, many things were going to change when Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth married. This was just but one of them.

<<>>

It was approaching the end of May and plans were being made for Elizabeth and Jane to travel to London to purchase their trousseaus. Darcy insisted that he and Georgiana would accompany them to town. Bingley quickly voiced his desire to be in Town at that time as well. Elizabeth and Jane would stay with the Gardiners and Mrs. Gardiner would help them with their purchases whilst Mrs. Bennet would stay in Hertfordshire to continue the wedding plans. Elizabeth was of two minds on the matter. She was very relieved that she and Jane would not have to fight against her mother’s idea of fashion. Mrs. Gardiner had already proven she was of similar tastes as her two nieces. However, Elizabeth was mortified to consider all of the changes her mother could wreak in the wedding plans with Jane, Bingley, Darcy and her away from Longbourn at this time. Only after her father spoke to her was she persuaded to continue with the set arrangements.

“Lizzy, it is my decision to keep your mother here at Longbourn.”

“But why, Papa?”

“I have two reasons. First, I wish for you and Jane to enjoy your time in London. This will be the last time you two will have this opportunity before you marry and assume your new responsibilities. Second, I am afraid your mother will be unable to contain herself and overspend on your wedding clothes allowance. Your Aunt would never do such a thing. In the end I am only thinking about the money I shall save.”

“Papa!”

“Run along now, Elizabeth. My mind is made up, it shall not be moved. I will stay with Kitty, I mean Catherine, Mary, and your mother whilst you and Jane travel to London. Let me do this for you, child.”

“Thank you, father.”

<<>>

Anne de Bourgh had spent a very lonely month alone with her mother at Rosings. Lady Catherine had been in a foul mood ever since she had learned of Darcy’s engagement and of her brother’s support of the match. After a sullen few weeks, Lady Catherine began making plans.

“Anne, I am taking you to London. You shall visit the finest modistes and will be in possession of an entirely new wardrobe as soon as possible. If Darcy will not have you, then we shall show him that you can do much better than a simple farmer with no title! I shall see you wed to an earl at least! I suppose I will have to let you go to Matlock, though. When you return I will see that a suitable match is in the works. Never fear, Anne, you shall be married before the end of the year if I have my way.”

Anne was mortified. She now knew her mother would not be amicable to a marriage with Richard. With a heavy heart she sat down to write her Aunt of her mother’s plans. A wedding in Hertfordshire looked more and more like a certainty. With such emotions surging over her, Anne wept for the loss of the dream of being married from her own home.

<<>>

As Jane and Elizabeth were making their final preparations to leave for London, Mary received another letter from Mrs. Gardiner. She rushed to find Jane and Elizabeth who were walking together in the garden.

“The Gardiners have invited me to go on a tour of the Lakes with them this summer! They propose leaving two days after you wedding. I thought the invitation would never come, but then Aunt Gardiner did inform me that it would.”

“That is wonderful news, Mary, though I think Papa will be loath to let you leave him alone with Mama and Catherine.” Elizabeth replies sagely. “Then again, Catherine is no longer the Kitty she once was. Perhaps that will be enough for him.”

Mr. Bennet was reluctant to part with Mary so soon after he would lose Jane and Elizabeth, but he was sensible to realities of Mary’s situation. To deny her such a journey after the last six months would indeed be cruel and heartless. She, too, would someday leave his house and this was a good as time as any to start accustoming himself to the idea. Before long, he knew he would find himself alone again with just his wife, as he had once been 23 years before. So much had happened since then; perhaps this was a chance to begin again.

<<>>

Bright and early on the first Monday of June, the Darcy carriage pulled in front of Longbourn to collect the eldest Miss Bennets. Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley were in the carriage awaiting their traveling companions. Darcy and Bingley were riding their horses abreast. Most of Jane and Elizabeth’s things had been collected the night before, so that there was only a minimum number of items to be loaded and soon they were off on the road to Town.

Georgiana was disappointed Jane and Elizabeth were not to be staying at Darcy House, but she understood Elizabeth’s motives. Georgiana thought it romantic that Elizabeth refused to return again to stay as a guest. The staff already loved their soon-to-be new mistress and could not wait to welcome her as such. As it was, Georgiana would be spending much of the next two weeks in Elizabeth’s and Jane’s company. Each had many, many things to buy. Darcy had already talked to his sister about her role in the shopping excursions. When Georgiana saw Elizabeth admiring something, but refusing to buy it because of the cost, Georgiana was to make a note of it and inform her brother. She had a very sneaking suspicion that most of those items would find their way into Elizabeth possession.

Bingley, meanwhile, had the same sort of discussion with Louisa in their exchange of letters. He had long since forgiven her for her role in the affair with Caroline and had come to feel protectiveness over her now that she was with child. Despite her condition, Louisa insisted she was still able to accompany her soon-to-be sister-in-law on her shopping excursions. She too, would make note of the items Jane admired but refused to buy for lack of funds. Bingley would be doing much as Darcy would, though not to the same extent, as he was still feeling the financial ramifications of the November fire. All the same, Jane would be very, very surprised.

Jane, Elizabeth, Georgiana, Louisa and Mrs. Gardiner thus spent four lovely days preparing Jane’s and Elizabeth’s trousseaus. That Friday evening the Darcys, Hursts and Bingley were invited to dine at Gracechurch Street. In the middle of the meal they were startled when Mr. Bennet was announced. One look at his brother’s troubled countenance was enough to excuse Mr. Gardiner to take Mr. Bennet to the study. Ten minutes later, a visibly shaken Mr. Gardiner returned and asked Darcy and Bingley to join him in his study. Elizabeth looked at her sister and Aunt with concern. What on earth had happened?

Chapter 36

By the time they reached Mr. Gardiner’s study, Darcy and Bingley both were very concerned. Mr. Bennet looked as if he had aged since they had last seen him but five days before.

“Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley. Undoubtedly you must be wondering the reason for my presence here tonight. Just this afternoon I received an express from Colonel Forster in Brighton.” Darcy’s sense of unease heightened. What had Lydia Bennet done? “My youngest daughter, Lydia, has eloped, has left her friends and thrown herself into the power of a Mr. Wickham.” Darcy bristled at the mention of that name. “They were traced as far as London but no further. They have not gone on to Gretna Greene.”

Mr. Bennet fell silent. He knew what he must now do but was having trouble saying the words. At last he resumed. “As the situation now stands, I am honor bound to release you from your obligations to my family. I do not need to consult my daughters on this. They would be in full agreement with me, no matter how much it would pain them. I will not have you share in our pain and disgrace.” Unable to bear any more, Mr. Bennet rose to leave the room before the tears that were threatening would be shed. He had not taken more than three steps when he felt a strong hand grab his arm. He turned to see Darcy staring intently into his eyes with Bingley rising to follow.

“I will not relent Mr. Bennet. I will marry Elizabeth. I have given her my pledge and you have given me your consent,” Darcy said in a low voice. “I will not allow George Wickham to triumph over me again!”

Mr. Bennet was astonished at the ferocity in Darcy’s voice. Clearly the two men had a history together and he doubted there was much good to tell.

Bingley, not wishing to be outdone by his friend added, “I WILL marry Jane, Mr. Bennet. I am not afraid or ashamed of my choice now, nor do I ever intend to be in the future. What can we do to help?”

“We must speak to my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, as soon as possible. He knows all about Wickham and he will be an invaluable help. You must tell us every thing you know, Mr. Bennet. If I know Wickham, he will want to be found. We must be prepared before we met him to ensure he marries Miss Lydia on our terms,” Darcy continued.

Mr. Bennet stared at the two gentlemen before him. He was, to put it mildly, very relieved at the constancy of their love for his daughters. He wasted no time in sharing the entire content of the express. He had sent an express back to Colonel Forster asking him to meet him the next morning at Gracechurch Street. It was agreed that they should all meet again in the morning. But first, they needed to inform the rest of the party of the contents of the express. Bingley assured the other men that the Hursts would not betray their secret and could be trusted with the truth. Darcy was concerned for his sister, but realized that this was an opportunity for her to put the past with Wickham behind her. She would be distressed, but somehow he knew she would be more concerned about Elizabeth and her sisters than herself.

The men all returned to the dining room. Darcy, Bingley and Mr. Gardiner sat down and each took the hand of his beloved, as Mr. Bennet remained standing to address the party.

“I have just finished informing the gentlemen of the contents of an express I received just this afternoon. Lydia has left Brighton with an Officer named George Wickham.” Elizabeth, Jane and Georgiana all gasped. “They have been traced to London but no further. Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley have offered their assistance in finding the wayward couple and bringing about the marriage. We will keep you informed of our progress. For now, let us pray that we find them quickly.” Mr. Bennet turned to his daughters and their fiancées. “Would you please rejoin me in the study?”

The four arose and followed him back into the study. When the door was shut, Mr. Bennet took the hand of each daughter. “Do not despair, we will find them. Your future husbands will have it no other way,” and then Mr. Bennet left, the four of them stunned that he would do so.

Elizabeth began to sob and Darcy moved to comfort her. At first she resisted, but Darcy insisted and she allowed him to hold her in his arms. At last able to speak and she pushed herself out of his embrace. Brokenhearted she tearfully spoke.

“In light of the events of the evening, I feel honor bound to release you from our engagement.”

Darcy took her forcible into his embrace again and said, “No, Elizabeth. We will marry on July 11th as we planned. Please trust me and let me do this for you.” Then, before she could protest, he kissed her deeply and passionately. Elizabeth responded just as passionately, her heart overflowing with relief. Surely this was the best man she had ever known.

If Elizabeth had enough sense at the moment to be mortified at her behavior, she need not have worried. Much the same scene was being played out between Jane and Bingley. Jane too had offered to end the engagement, but Bingley would have none of it. And while Darcy and Elizabeth were occupied, so too were Bingley and Jane. The four of them gradually became aware of their situation at roughly the same time. They smiled sheepishly at the other couple and Elizabeth said, “We will tell no one if you promise the same.”

“I do not think any of us has any other option,” Bingley replied.

After Jane and Elizabeth helped each other with their appearance, they rejoined the rest of the party. Mr. Bennet gave them a wry smile and raised his eyebrows as they regained their seats. Darcy finally recalled his sister’s presence and was relieved to see the determined look on her face. He could tell what she was thinking; this was a time to be strong for Elizabeth. He was filled with pride for his much grown up younger sister. She had come so far in the last ten months and they owed much of it to the remarkable woman he was to marry.

<<>>

Darcy was surprised to see his cousin waiting for him when they returned to Darcy House.

“Fitzwilliam, just the man I need to see. I was going to send a servant to fetch you as soon as I got home.”

“Darcy, I have urgent news about Wickham. I think we will finally have our revenge. He has deserted, run away with some young thing to London.”

“Yes, I know.”

“But how?”

“That young lady you were referring to is Elizabeth’s younger sister.”

“That certainly changes the situation. Do you think he chose her because of you?”

“Yes, I do. I am also certain that he found her more than willing.”

“What will you do now?”

“If you are asking me if I still plan on marrying Elizabeth, then the answer is yes, I am. We are also going to find Wickham and make him marry Miss Lydia. I cannot think of a more appropriate punishment than to shackle him with Lydia Bennet as a wife.”

Darcy’s smile surprised his cousin. “And how are you going to ensure that he does not leave her, Darcy?”

“You let me worry about that. I plan on making it impossible for Wickham to run out on his bride. Now, I can use your assistance in other areas if my plans are to come to fruition. I need you to travel to Brighton to gain Colonel Williams’ assistance. I also need you to enquire about buying a certain commission I have in mind.”

“I am at your service. Colonel Williams will be livid that any of his officers have acted in such a deplorable manner. I am certain we may count on his full assistance. He will have taken this very personally.”

After detailing his plans to his cousin, Darcy summoned his most trusted servant to his study. “Jones, I have a very important errand for you in the morning. I need you to travel to Surrey to investigate a matter for me. I want you to discover any debts that have been incurred by George Wickham. You are to take this letter with you and give it to his creditors. In the letter I am offering to assume all of Mr. Wickham’s debts. Please bring back a detailed listing of all such debts. On Monday I will instruct my banker to pay them all. Please assure the merchants that they should have their money by Tuesday. That should insure their prompt cooperation.”

“Very good sir, I will leave first thing in the morning.”

“One more thing, Jones. Tell no one here the nature of you business.”

“As you wish, Mr. Darcy.”

Before Darcy retired for the evening, he checked on his sister.

“You received quite a shock this evening. Are you well?”

“Thank you, I am well. What will you do about Wickham, Fitzwilliam?”

“I will find him, make him marry, and send him away. Does this distress you?”

“No, I am only concerned for Elizabeth, Jane, Mary and Catherine.”

Darcy smiled, “It speaks well of you, sister. You have grown much in this last year. I am very proud of you, Georgiana.”

“Thank you, Fitzwilliam. That is a good pride and not the insufferable Darcy pride you speak of?”

Darcy smiled at her impertinence. “Sometimes I wonder at the influence of Elizabeth over you. Perhaps I should have a word with her.”

“Only if you promise to encourage her to never change.”

Darcy and Georgiana smiled at each other and Darcy left for his own chambers.

<<>>

Mr. Bennet was surprised to see Darcy in such a good mood when he arrived the next morning. Mr. Bennet had not slept well and he was a bit annoyed at the younger man’s good humor.

“You appear to be in an exceptionally good mood this morning considering the circumstances,” Mr. Bennet shot out.

Darcy, sensing the older gentleman’s frustration, sought to appease him. “Mr. Bennet, please do not feel that I am insensitive to the anguish you now find yourself in. I am very angry with George Wickham. However, I have reason to believe that all will turn out well. But perhaps it would be wise to inform you of that gentleman’s association with my family.”

Darcy proceeded to inform Mr. Bennet his entire history with Wickham, including Ramsgate. When he was finished, Mr. Bennet was amazed.

“You said you informed Elizabeth of this back in November?”

“Yes, because of her close acquaintance with my sister, she needed to know.”

“And you arranged for Mr. Wickham’s transfer?”

“Yes, it was the best solution to the situation. If I had known he was to be at Brighton, I would have warned you not to send Miss Lydia. I am certain he pursued her because of me. For that I am sorry.”

“It is not your fault, sir. I can see no flaws in your motives and actions. You sought to protect your sister from potential ruin. How then do you propose to deal with Wickham and still safeguard your sister and my daughter?”

“With the one thing Wickham understands, money!”

“Mr. Darcy, I cannot allow you to pay off the scoundrel. He will demand more than I can, in good conscience, ask you to pay out.”

“You underestimate the cards we hold. He will more than agree to our terms before we are done.”

“What part would you have me play, Mr. Darcy?”

“I must speak with Bingley before I give you a final answer, but I would ask that you enter into an engagement to provide for Lydia £100 per annum as well as assure her of her equal share of the sum of the money secured for your children upon your and your wife’s decease.”

“So little, Mr. Darcy?”

“Bingley and I will see to it that they will have more to live on, with sufficient attachments that will ensure Wickham’s good behavior. And you should not plan on seeing your daughter for many years after her marriage. They will be sent to some place far enough away to guarantee they will not return to wreak havoc on our lives anytime soon.”

“Fanny will miss Lydia most terribly, but I must say I am warming to the idea of sending Lydia away to gain some maturity and sense.”

“Then let us hope that will be accomplished!”

<<>>

Bingley joined them not long after. Darcy took his friend aside to gain his cooperation in the payoff of George Wickham. Darcy would be the one to lay out the principle sum but Bingley was more than willing to match Mr. Bennet’s yearly sum and to pledge his portion of the tiered payment Darcy was proposing. Colonel Forster arrived a half hour later and he and Mr. Gardiner joined the conference.

The Colonel briefed the men on the events leading up to the elopement. “After your warning, Mr. Bennet, I kept a diligent watch over Miss Lydia. She was never allowed out of the house by herself and was made to always keep within my sight whilst at balls and parties. Unfortunately, this was not enough to protect her. I am mortified that this could have happened and I apologize for failing to protect your daughter, Mr. Bennet.”

“There is no need, sir. I fear the same would have happened if I were there. Lydia is a head-strong, silly girl and was ready to throw herself at the first man who courted her.”

“Colonel Forster,” Darcy asked, “have you been in contact with Colonel Williams over the affair?”

“Yes, I have. He is as chagrinned as I am. I hope you catch Wickham and give Williams ten minutes alone with the cad.”

“I had thought much along the same lines. Never fear, sir, he shall be dealt with. Do you know if he left any debts in Brighton?”

“Most assuredly. Both with tradesmen and debts of honor! I made several inquiries before I left. Lieutenant Denny was quite helpful. It seems Wickham owes him a great deal of money.”

“Excellent! If you would speak to Denny when you return, I would like a listing of those debts.”

“Anything I can do to help, sir”

After Colonel Forster left, Darcy began detailing his plans. Mr. Bennet was impressed. Darcy left little to chance and once Colonel Fitzwilliam returned and Wickham was found, it would not be long before there was a wedding.

<<>>

Darcy was most pleased to see Elizabeth after meeting with the gentlemen in the study. Elizabeth still seemed out of sorts from digesting all that had occurred in the past twenty-four hours. Darcy suggested a walk and Bingley was quick to ask Jane as well. They walked down to the nearest park at which point the two couples split off in different directions. Darcy wasted no time in reassuring Elizabeth of his love and commitment to her.

“Please trust me, Elizabeth, all will turn out well. Your sister will soon be found and they will be made to marry if, in fact, they already have not.”

“How can you be so certain?”

Darcy looked roguishly at her. “I am Fitzwilliam Darcy, Master of Pemberley and of a reported £10,000 a year. I always get what I want.”

“Always?”

“Thank God, yes. For I would be lost without you, Elizabeth,” Darcy said as her took her gloved hand and raised it to his lips for the most seductive of kisses. Elizabeth shivered and Darcy looked upon her with his intense gaze, pleased to be able to elicit such reactions in her.

That afternoon, Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived in London accompanied by Colonel Williams. They met with Darcy, this time at Gracechurch Street.

“If you find the scoundrel, I would like ten minutes alone with him!” Colonel Williams spat out.

“I am in complete sympathy, Colonel. Did you bring his list of debts and the extra men?”

“Yes, I did. Though I am very interested in your plan.”

“Could you confirm the penalty for desertion, Colonel Williams?”

The Colonel confirmed what Darcy already knew and was very impressed on how Darcy planned on using this. Colonel Williams would enjoy the part he had to play. Wickham had embarrassed him and he was delighted to see that the wastrel get his comeuppance.

Darcy began to make inquiries amongst Wickham’s known acquaintances in town. He was not surprised to learn that he had turned to his old friend, Mrs. Younge, for help. She was not, however, forthcoming with any information. Darcy was forced to bribe the woman who was willing to ruin his sister. But at last the location of the missing couple was ascertained. Darcy sent servants to verify the location. Once he was certain they were there, he set sentries on them to see that they did not slip away before Darcy was ready for his move. Finally, on Monday morning Darcy was in possession of all that he needed. He set off to pick up his cousin and Colonel Williams and his men. Bingley would see to purchasing the special license and Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner would arrange for the parson to perform the ceremony. Colonel Fitzwilliam had already arranged for Wickham’s new commission. All that was left to be done was to confront the couple.

Lydia was the first to alert Wickham of the impending doom. She was sitting next to the window when suddenly she exclaimed, “La, that is Mr. Darcy with your commanding officer? Whatever can they be doing here?”

Wickham was unsurprised to see Darcy, but the presence of Colonel Williams unnerved him. He briefly contemplated fleeing but realized the futility of such an action. Darcy was coming prepared; undoubtedly they had been watched. Flight was impossible. Wickham poured himself a brandy to calm his nerves before his guests arrived.

Darcy knocked on the door of the room. The accommodations were even worse than he imagined. He could not tell Elizabeth the conditions he found her sister in.

“Well, well, well! If it isn’t my old friend Darcy. Come in. I see you have been so kind to ensure my commanding officer was able to find me. I was unsure if he would be able to decipher my directions.”

Darcy addressed Lydia, “Miss Bennet, your family is very worried about you. There is a carriage waiting a short distance from here. Let me escort you to it so you may return to your family.

“I want to stay with George. We are to be married!”

“Yes, Miss Lydia, you are indeed to be married. But your family desires you to be married from one of their homes. Besides, if you do not return to Gracechurch Street, how will you ever buy your wedding clothes? Mrs. Gardiner is ready to take you shopping as soon as you return.”

Lydia was still doubtful, but Wickham knew she needed to leave so that they could get down to business. This was the reason why he seduced her in the first place.

“Lydia, my love. Darcy is right. Please let him send you to Gracechurch Street and I will call on you tonight. Right Darcy?”

“Mr. Wickham will see you tonight. I give you my word.” Darcy confirmed.

With this last little bit of reassurance, Lydia was finally convinced to leave. Darcy nodded to the Colonel on his way out.

Ten minutes later, Darcy returned from seeing off Lydia with Colonel Fitzwilliam in tow. He had been waiting patiently with the carriage. They had decided not to risk panicking Wickham with his presence when the first contact was made. They entered the room to find Colonel Williams calmly sitting in a chair and Wickham lying doubled up on the floor.

“Do not worry. I took special pains not to damage his face. We would not wish his appearance marred for his wedding, would we?” Williams said answering their unspoken question. “Thank you for the promised ten minutes, Darcy. I am much obliged. Get him up on the chair.” Colonel Fitzwilliam ordered the two soldiers that had been waiting outside of the room.

Once Wickham was seated, Darcy began. “George, old boy, I cannot tell you how satisfying it is for Richard and me to finally see you get what is coming to you. You must know that I hold all the cards so I am warning you to be reasonable. I intend to see you and your bride comfortably provided for. All you need to do is act the gentleman you have always pretended to be and you will never be poor for the rest of your life.”

Wickham looked up, eyes full of fear and hope. “I am listening.”

“Since you have chosen Miss Lydia Bennet to warm your bed. You shall marry her, tomorrow.”

Wickham blanched at the rapidity of his fate.

“Upon you marriage you will receive a commission in the regular Army and will be posted to Fort York, in Canada. You will remain there for the next five years. You must live on your army pay and the yearly allowance you shall receive from Mr. Bennet, Mr. Bingley and myself. We will each give you £100. If you should have any children, I will increase my portion by another £25 per child. In addition to this, I will immediately settle a sum of £3,000 on Miss Lydia in such a way that she will have complete control over the money. For the first five years, all interest will be reinvested into principle. At the end of five years you will be given the option of returning to England or staying in Canada. If you should chose to return to England, I will see to your family’s passage but that is all. If you decide to remain in Canada, you will be given a final settlement of an additional £1,000 once again completely under the control of your wife. You will continue to receive your yearly allowance for as long as you wife or your children live. However, if it ever comes to light that you have mistreated or abandoned her, I will have you brought back to England and thrown into debtors prison until you can repay these.” Darcy threw out the letters proving Darcy had assumed all of his debts in Brighton and in Surrey.

“So, George, are you ready to be married tomorrow or do you want to go to prison. Once you have served out your term for desertion, you will be sent to debtor’s prison. It is your choice. Or maybe I should just let Richard run you through. It is certainly the cheapest option for me. With four impeccable witnesses that saw you lunge at him with a knife, he will never even set foot in a courtroom.”

“Which church am I to be married from Darcy?”

“Do not trouble yourself on such trivial matters. Colonel Williams and his men will be sure to have you there on time. I will settle up your account and make sure you are presentable to you fiancé this evening. Gentleman, escort the lieutenant to the coach.”

The two soldiers roughly escorted Wickham out of the room. Darcy and the two colonels stayed behind. Darcy poured them all a drink. “To Miss Lydia Bennet, may she make George Wickham’s life a living hell!”

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