TSSAW Chapters 37-39 & Epilogue

Chapter 37

Lydia arrived in the carriage at her Uncle’s house in Gracechurch Street. She swept into the foyer without a care in the world. No remorse could be seen over the difficult situation in which she had placed her family. Lydia did not see she had done anything terribly wrong. She would be married soon enough to her beloved George. She had no cause to repine. Her Aunt took one look at her and knew any attempts at impressing upon Lydia the gravity of her impropriety would be fruitless. Mrs. Gardiner also knew that she would not have to deal with her wayward niece for long. By dinnertime tomorrow she should be married and making plans to relocate across the Atlantic.

“Aunt Gardiner, it is good to see you. I am to be married! La, I am the youngest and I shall be the first of all my sisters! Mr. Darcy sent me to you as soon as could be. He said we would be going shopping. Let me just see to my things in my room and I will be ready shortly.”

Mrs. Gardiner had nary a chance to speak a word before Lydia bounded up the stairs to her room. ‘So much for a lecture!’ she sighed.

Lydia was back downstairs before long, eager to begin her shopping. While waiting for her Aunt, she noticed that Jane and Elizabeth were in the drawing room. “Jane, Lizzy, what are you doing here?”

“If you recall, we are to be married next month. We came to town to shop for our wedding clothes, or did you not bother to read my letter,” came Elizabeth’s curt reply.

“Oh yes, now I do recall you mentioning that. I have just been so busy with my dear Wickham that I forgot. Aunt Gardiner and I are going shopping… did you know that I am to be wed?”

“Yes, Lydia, we are well informed about your situation,” was all Elizabeth trusted herself to say.

Fortunately, Mrs. Gardiner chose that moment to appear. She came not a moment too soon. Elizabeth was seriously contemplating strangling her foolish youngest sister. She was sure that the only reason she had been able to refrain so far was Jane’s calming influence beside her.

When Lydia and their Aunt had departed, Elizabeth turned to her sister. “Jane, I am thinking some very ungenerous thoughts at the moment.”

“For once, Elizabeth, I do not blame you in the slightest.”

After seeing Colonel Williams back to his lodgings, Darcy headed back to Darcy House. He could think of nothing but a bath to wash away the filth of the morning’s dealings. Properly cleaned and attired, he made his way to Gracechurch Street and Elizabeth.

“I see that neither of you ladies is occupied by shopping today,” Darcy said as he was shown into the drawing room.

“Our Aunt is otherwise engaged with Lydia at present,” Elizabeth replied as Darcy leaned over her hand to bestow a kiss.

“Have either your father or your uncle returned?”

“No, but they told us not to expect them until later in the afternoon. Please tell us about finding Lydia,” Elizabeth urged.

“Suffice it to say that they were found and if all goes well they will be married tomorrow and on their way to Mr. Wickham’s new post within the next two weeks. Only your sister’s shopping is delaying their departure.”

Elizabeth noted his evasive answer to her question. Clearly he did not wish to speak of the events of the morning. Whether he found the whole experience loathsome or he was trying to protect her she did not know, but she was inclined to let him have his way, for now.

Darcy stayed until Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner returned. Bingley sent word that the license had been procured and the other gentlemen confirmed that the parson had been engaged. Lydia and Wickham would be safely married tomorrow morning. All were relieved at the news. Darcy felt guilty about bringing up the next subject.

“I was forced to make a promise to Miss Lydia to guarantee her removal to Gracechurch Street.” All eyes were on Darcy now. “When she expressed her desire to stay with Wickham, I was forced to promise that he would visit her here this evening. I am very sorry to impose so on you, Mr. Gardiner, but I saw no other option to ensure her cooperation.”

“I am not distressed, Mr. Darcy. After all that you have done for our family, I think I can tolerate his presence in my home for one evening,” Mr. Gardiner offered graciously.

“You will further understand that I believe it imprudent for me to be here this evening.”

“We understand completely,” Mr. Gardiner answered

Jane, who knew little of the gentlemen’s plans, petitioned for an overview of them.

“The wedding will take place tomorrow at eleven o’clock and I assume that Miss Lydia will ask one of you to be her bridesmaid.” Elizabeth looked at Jane, knowing Lydia would ask her oldest sister. “After the wedding, Mr. Bingley will host a wedding breakfast. He wished to have some role to play and knew that I would not allow the groom into my home. I have arranged suitable lodgings for the Wickhams until their ship leaves next week.”

“Ship?” Jane interrupted Darcy.

“As part of the arrangements for the wedding, Mr. Wickham was purchased a commission in the Army and has been assigned to Fort York in Canada.” Jane gasped at the news. “They will spend the next five years there.”

“Does Lydia know of this?” Elizabeth asked.

“She will tonight. Mrs. Gardiner knows and will see that she purchases the appropriate clothing for her new home.” Darcy replied. “Mr. Wickham will be required to report to duty here in town Wednesday. His new commission carries with it harsh penalties if he does not.” No one in the room missed the import of these words. “However, he will be allowed to travel to Hertfordshire for three days before their ship leaves. Mr. Bennet has agreed that they should go to Longbourn for Mrs. Bennet’s sake. Five years is a long time, and they may choose not to return to England at the end of them.”

Right then, Elizabeth was not sure if she was saddened or relieved to hear her sister would be an ocean away. She believed she would be content if she never saw Wickham again. That man had caused too much pain to the people she held most dear. Any relief from him would always be most welcome.

Darcy continued, “I will take my leave now and come first thing in the morning with the final settlement papers. Elizabeth, would you accompany me to my carriage?” Mr. Bennet nodded his ascent.

Before she knew what he was about, Darcy pulled Elizabeth into an alcove and kissed her thoroughly. “That was to fortify me for the day ahead. I do not wish to face the next 24 hours without first tasting the pleasure you bestow on me.”

<<>>

Lydia Bennet made a beautiful bride. Despite a decided lack of decorum and common sense, she was a beautiful young woman. How the years in the wilds of Canada would treat her was anyone’s guess. Elizabeth was correct in assuming Jane would be the bridesmaid. She was relieved to have been passed over for the honor. Darcy himself stood up with Wickham. He wanted to make sure nothing would go wrong at this late stage. He would put nothing past his boyhood playmate. After the wedding was over, and the bride and groom had signed the registry, Darcy saw to it that Wickham signed the settlement papers before they left the church. Thus, when Mr. & Mrs. George Wickham first stepped out into the sunshine as man and wife, their fates had been sealed. In ten days time they would sail away from England, possibly forever.

At the wedding breakfast, Darcy approached Elizabeth and Jane as they stood away from the rest of the party.

“You have not had much chance to shop these past two days. I have spoken to your father and he agrees with me that you should prolong your stay in London for a few more days. Georgiana and Mrs. Hurst are still willing to escort you around to the various shops when Mrs. Gardiner is occupied with Mrs. Wickham.” Darcy had a difficult time speaking Lydia’s new name without disdain. “I, of course, will remain in London as long as you do and will personally escort you back to Longbourn.”

“It appears as though you have the situation well in hand, Fitzwilliam,” Elizabeth teased.

“I look forward to many years of arranging for you comfort and safety, my dear.” Turning to address Jane directly, Darcy said, “How do you like your future home, Miss Bennet?”

“It is a lovely home, and not too far from yours, Mr. Darcy.”

“For my horses’ sakes, I am grateful. I believe the future Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Bingley will spend much time traveling between the two residences.”

“While their husbands are traveling in the opposite direction?” Jane asked.

It took Darcy a moment to realize that he was being teased by Jane. As comprehension dawned he could not resist responding. “Elizabeth, I believe you are more like your sister than I ever realized. Bingley truly will be a fortunate man!”

“Did you think me lacking, sir?” Jane continued.

“A gentleman would never admit to believing a lady lacking in anything, Miss Bennet. It is hazardous to their well-being!” Elizabeth was delighted in the exchange between Darcy and Jane. Darcy still had much to learn about her family. Perhaps when he knew them better, he would understand her even more.

<<>>

Colonel Fitzwilliam attended the wedding of Lydia Bennet and George Wickham. He had to see for himself the cur getting married. Revenge had been long in coming, but it had been sweet. As soon has the happy couple were officially wed, the Colonel hastened back to his parents’ home.

“It is done.” Colonel Fitzwilliam announced to his parents. They had been informed of the circumstances of the wedding. Darcy felt his Uncle needed to know the truth in the event things did not go as planned. Lord Matlock was impressed by the rapidity and thoroughness of Darcy’s preparations. But this was not surprising; Lord and Lady Matlock knew Darcy to be a man of action rather than words. Once he decided on a course, he worked to its conclusion with a single-mindedness that was, at times, startling. This was one of the reasons they so highly approved of Miss Bennet. She would not back down to Darcy when she knew she was in the right and she had the perfect personality to pull him out of despair whenever things would not go as planned.

“I told you one day he would make a mistake. He thought he had found a gold mine in Lydia Bennet. That she is not. Perhaps a coal mine, though. She will be the means of making sure they have enough to live on comfortably, as long as he behaves himself and they do not live extravagantly.” Lord Matlock said smugly.

“Where they are going, so long as he keeps away from debts of honor, they should finish his five years with money in the bank. There is not much to spend money on there,” the Colonel answered.

“Never underestimate the power of a woman to overspend her allowance, son.”

“Hugh!”

“You are one of the exceptions, my dear. A more economical wife I could not wish for!”

Their son smiled at his parents’ loving banter. He could never remember a time when they did not tease each other. He knew he was privileged to grow up in such an affectionate home.

“Richard, Anne is in Town,” Lady Matlock said suddenly changing the subject.

“What?”

“My dear sister-in-law decided to bring Anne to Town to go shopping. She is planning on throwing Anne into society after she returns from visiting us at Matlock. She has vowed to Anne that she will be engaged to at least an Earl before the year is out.”

The Colonel felt as though he had been punched. It was apparent, by his Aunt’s actions, that he would never be accepted as an eligible suitor for Anne. Lord Matlock looked upon his son sympathetically. It was time to make his offer.

“Richard, do not despair. You and Anne will be wed. Do you still wish to follow through with the plans to marry in Hertfordshire? You could marry at Matlock, or even here in town.”

“No father, we will marry in Hertfordshire if it is still agreeable with the others. If Anne cannot be married from her home, she should at least be able to marry in front of the rest of her family. If we do not marry with Darcy, we will have to wait too long before another wedding can be quietly arranged and the family gathered. Should we tell my sisters and brother?”

“Yes, son,” Lady Matlock answered. “Let them share in your joy and not be shocked when they see you standing up in the front of the church. They would be hurt if they felt you could not trust them.”

“You are correct, as usual, Mother. Very well, we will tell them before you leave for Matlock. I will need to stay in London for now. First to keep an eye on Wickham, second, to arrange selling my commission. With the terms of Uncle Lewis’ new will, Anne does not need to be married to a soldier. I will remain in the Army until after the wedding. I do not wish to raise any undue suspicions beforehand.”

“Richard,” Lord Matlock began, “I have another offer for you to consider. You and Anne will have the house in town, but that will not prepare you for running Rosings once Catherine is gone. My steward at Greenebrooke has written to inform me that he is ready to retire. He has offered to stay for the remainder of the year to train someone to take his place. If you wish it, you may take possession of Greenebrooke after you are married. Mr. Phelps is a competent man who will teach you well. The house there is not large, but it is comfortable and in no need of repairs. It would be a wonderful place for you to begin your life with Anne. Lancashire is far away from Kent. At an income of £2,000 per anum, Greenebrooke is large enough for you to be indoctrinated, but small enough to not overwhelm. You do not need to give me your answer today. Think about it. Anne will come next Monday and we will not depart until Wednesday. That should give the two of you a chance to discuss it between yourselves.”

“I do not know what to say Father, I am speechless.”

Lord Matlock walked over and put his hand on his son’s shoulder. “When we advised you children to look to your heart to marry, Greenebrooke was always in the back of our minds. Let us do this for you, if it is what you want. Your brother knows of this offer. I am sorry to have shared your news without your knowledge, but it was necessary that he be in agreement in the event that something unfortunate happened to me. He is in complete support of this course of action, Richard.”

“Thank you, Father, I would never have dreamed you would offer me such an opportunity. I must first speak with Anne. If she is in agreement, we will go to Greenebrooke. It is a lovely estate, Father; I always wondered why you kept it. Now I know.”

It had been a quiet morning in Mrs. Blackwell’s home. Her niece had taken to spending the morning pouring over the latest newspapers from London. She vividly recalled her response to the letter from Bingley announcing his engagement. Caroline had grown red with anger upon hearing the news and had stormed out of the house. Her mood had only slightly recovered when she returned hours later. When Mrs. Blackwell had inquired after where she had been, Caroline responded with a sullen look and retired to her room for the night.

All of the sudden, Mrs. Blackwell heard a, “This cannot be!” shouted out by her niece. With a sense of foreboding, Mrs. Blackwell followed the source of the outburst and found Caroline pacing, her lips pursed in a straight line, her anger obvious. When Caroline realized she was no longer alone, she threw the paper at he Aunt.

“Do you see that? That notice in the middle of the page! That little… country… chit has stolen my man! My Mr. Darcy! How dare she! I am of a mind to leave here at once and… and go directly to Darcy to show him what a mistake he is making. Or, should I say, to see how that… Eliza Bennet has entrapped him!”

“Caroline Bingley, you will do no such thing! You are a fool to have thought Darcy would ever have offered to you. Charles has told me how for years you have chased after Darcy and how, for years, he has rebuffed all of your allusions. You must face the facts, Caroline. Darcy will marry Miss Elizabeth Bennet and there is nothing you can do to stop it. I suggest you get used to the idea. For your own good!”

Caroline stared at her Aunt, horrified at the truth before her. Without a word she stormed out of the room, left the house and she did not return until it was nearly dark, her anger only slightly abated. For two days she did not leave her room. Finally, on the third day she re-appeared.

“Are you now reconciled to the situation, Caroline?”

“I do not wish to speak of it, Aunt.”

“Very well, Caroline. But sooner or later you will need to stand up to the facts and behave like a lady.”

“I resent the fact that you do not believe me capable of proper behavior, Aunt.”

“Until you show me otherwise, Caroline, I shall maintain my doubts.”

<<>>

On Saturday, Mr. Bennet escorted the newly married couple back to Hertfordshire. He had rather preferred to stay in London; Mr. Darcy had proven to be in possession of a most excellent Library. (He had accompanied Elizabeth on a visit to her future home on Thursday.) Mr. Bennet was loath to leave his wife alone with Lydia and her husband. He was sure she would give her favorite all of the money in the house if he did not go to Longbourn. Lydia had not changed. When they arrived home and Mrs. Bennet, Mary and Catherine greeted them, Lydia could not help saying how proud she was to bring home such a handsome husband. As they began walking into the house and Mary and Catherine fell in behind their parents, Lydia stopped her two sisters and reminded them that she now went before them, for she was a married woman. Mary and Catherine were mortified at such offensive treatment. Lydia was correct, but she could have used more tact in claiming her rights. Silently Mary thanked the Lord that they would be at Longbourn but three days!

At dinner, Lydia continued her insensitivity by failing to notice the amendment of her sister’s name. Mary and Mr. Bennet called Catherine by her Christian name but Lydia took no heed. Even Wickham had the good manners to address his new sister as Miss Catherine. Lydia was Lydia still.

Mrs. Bennet took great pride in introducing her new son-in-law that next morning in church. Miraculously, no word of the circumstances of Lydia’s marriage had leaked out. All that was known was that Lydia had eloped with the handsome young officer. No one suspected the length of time between the elopement and marriage. At least they had escaped that portion of the scandal. Lydia had been threatened with the loss of her inheritance if she breathed a single word of it to anyone. By some miracle, she actually was able to comprehend the magnitude of the threat and kept this sordid detail to herself.

Monday, after lunch, Mr. Bennet escorted the couple back to London. He was in no mood to take any unnecessary risks. He need not have worried. Wickham preferred a respectable life to a life constantly on the run, worrying every day about just staying alive. Now, if there was a way he could make his wife behave more quietly, life would be bearable, he hoped.

After depositing the couple at their lodgings, Mr. Bennet joined his other daughters at his brother’s home. He was not surprised to find Bingley and Darcy there. That evening, Darcy asked Mr. Bennet to join with him and Bingley in a private conference. The men settled into Mr. Gardiner’s study with their glasses of port.

“I see that you have a preference for port, Mr. Bennet,” Darcy remarked. “I do not believe I have ever seen you with any other drink in your hand away from the dinner table.”

“A fine glass of port is one of life’s treasures. While other men have their variety of drinks, I prefer to stay with my first love.” Darcy could not help but smile at the older gentleman. “What would you speak to me and Mr. Bingley of, sir?”

“I have further news from my cousins. My Aunt Catherine has decreed a new wardrobe for my cousin Anne in order to secure an earl for a husband. Richard and Anne would like to marry with us in Hertfordshire.”

“Jane and I still are firm in our acceptance of this Darcy. We are willing to share a wedding day if you still are.”

“The final decision is yours, Mr. Bennet. Bingley and I will abide by whatever it is,” Darcy finished.

Mr. Bennet looked at the two men before him. Their selflessness shamed him. He had been a selfish creature all of his life. He was raised with good principles but when left alone to follow them, he did not. He neglected those put under his care. Only by the grace of God did four of his daughters escape ruin from such an under-supervised upbringing.

“I am amazed at the course of action you have chosen and the honor and respect you show Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss de Bourgh. If you choose such a wedding, then such a wedding it shall be. I must say, my wife shall go distracted at the memory of it.”

“Thank you, Mr. Bennet. I have conferred with Lord Matlock and Colonel Fitzwilliam and we are all in agreement that no one other than those who are already aware of the secret should know. Lady Catherine cannot stop the wedding, but she could disrupt it.” Darcy hesitated to add, “This means that Mrs. Bennet should not be told.”

Mr. Bennet considered feigning outrage but decided that it would not be in good taste. “I am in full agreement, Mr. Darcy. But I do not think Longbourn will be big enough to host such a wedding breakfast. Mr. Bingley, I anticipate my wife asking that it be held at Netherfield. Would that be agreeable to you?”

“I had thought much in the same way. Jane and I have discussed this as well and we both agree that this is a sensible course of action.” Bingley replied.

“Good, good. That is one more item that my wife will be made busy with instead of bothering me in my study. I only hope you know what you are getting yourself into, Mr. Bingley.” Mr. Bennet gave him as wry smile.

<<>>

Thursday saw the whole family that was in London bid farewell to the Wickhams as they boarded the coach that would take them to Southampton where the ship that would take them to Canada awaited. Colonel Fitzwilliam rode his horse along side the coach. It was too near the end to grow careless. Once Wickham and Lydia were on the ship, everyone would finally breathe easier.

That afternoon, Jane and Elizabeth attended their final fittings. There was little left to do the next day, but for them to shop for a special gift for their fiancés. Jane found a lovely stickpin but Elizabeth had another type of gift in mind. She had asked her Uncle Gardiner to make some inquiries for her. When the particular item was found, she had asked for it to be put aside for her. They stopped and collected it on the way home.

“Are you going to tell me what you bought, Lizzy?” Jane asked after they were home.

“No, this is between Fitzwilliam and me.”

“But you helped me pick out Charles’ gift,” Elizabeth laughed at her sister’s whiny tone.

“You have not tried that tone of voice for many years, Jane. I suggest you save it for someone who will be influenced by it!”

“Very well, though you take great delight in vexing me!” Jane said in her best imitation of her mother.

Monday morning, the party returned to Hertfordshire. Jane, Elizabeth, Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley shared one carriage, the gentleman another. It had been an interesting time in London and the wedding was just over a month away.

Chapter 38

Lady Catherine de Bourgh was not happy. She had come to London to purchase a new wardrobe for her daughter Anne as the first step in the process of giving her away in marriage. Anne was less than enthusiastic about the entire process.

“I would think you would be more enthusiastic about shopping, Anne.”

Anne would have been if she had not had to chafe under her mother’s ideas of fashion. Every time the modiste would show them the latest, most elegant designs, Lady Catherine would scoff at the ‘brazen impropriety’ of the gowns. In truth, they were no more daring than the ones her mother had worn in the portraits taken in her youth. The selection of each new gown turned into a slow torture, almost a battle of wills. The gowns that were finally settled upon were lovely, but a compromise nevertheless.

It was time to take Anne to her brother’s house. Hugh Fitzwilliam was still not back in Lady Catherine’s good graces. He had supported Darcy and ruined all of her many years of planning. It was insupportable! To add to the indignity of it all, she had no choice but to allow Anne to go to Matlock and worse, to Darcy’s wedding. It was most vexing indeed!

<<>>

All of Matlock house was relieved when Lady Catherine finally took her leave. The general feeling of ill will and malice that accompanied her visit pervaded every room she visited. Anne sighed in visible relief when the front door closed signaling her mother’s exit.

“Aunt Helen, you have no idea how difficult this last month had been.”

“You are safe now, Anne. The next time you face your mother, you will be a married woman with a home of your own.”

“Where is Richard?”

“Ah, now we come to the important point. He had his duties to attend to today. He will dine with us this evening.”

Lady Helena came into the room. “Anne, it is good to see you!”

“Helena, I owe my presence here to your kind invitation.”

“Nonsense, Anne, we all know you are here for Richard!”

“You know of our engagement?” Anne was pleased but fearful at the same moment.

“Do not fear, Anne,” Lady Matlock said reassuringly. “Richard and Hugh agreed that all of his siblings should be given the news. They all know what is at stake and have agreed to silence on the subject. Catherine shall hear nothing from them.”

“Thank you, Aunt Helen, that puts my mind at ease. I was at a loss how I could ever conceal such a thing from Helena when we would be in such close company this next month.”

“Our first order of business is to visit all of the modiste shops you have been to so that you may order any changes to the new gowns your mother has ordered for you.”

“But Aunt, if mother finds out she will be angry enough to come to Matlock!”

“Never fear Anne, her imperious manners have offended every shop keeper she has ever dealt with. Your dressmakers will take great delight in the subterfuge.” Lady Matlock was amused by the sly smile on her niece’s face after her pronouncement.

Helena exclaimed, “Well, Anne, mother. If we are to undo all of the havoc Lady Catherine has wrought, we should depart with all due haste.”

“I do believe I shall enjoy my visits to the modistes this time round. Quite a contrast to the first visits, I am sure!”

<<>>

After two very full days in London, the Earl of Matlock took his family back to Matlock. The Colonel could not immediately join his family and his beloved. He had much to do and needed to make a visit to Hertfordshire to confer with Darcy. When he was convinced that all of the wedding details were to his satisfaction, Colonel Fitzwilliam was finally able to make his way to Matlock.

“Anne, darling, did you miss me?”

“Not in the slightest. I have been much too busy to pine for the likes of you.”

“Woman! Come here and let me show you what you have been missing.”

After such demonstration as was agreeable, they were finally ready to discuss more material matters.

“Has my father spoken to you of Greenebrooke?”

“Yes, he has. What is your opinion?”

“I was overwhelmed when he offered. Greenebrooke is a beautiful estate, not too large, but a very peaceful and comfortable place to live. I would be perfectly content to live there. But what you want is more important to me. If you choose, we can stay in town or find a small place to live elsewhere. Lancashire is a long way from Kent.”

“It matters not where we live. But I sense you will be happier in Lancashire. It will prepare you to run Rosings one day.”

“Then it is settled. We will go to Greenebrooke.”

“Should we tell your father?”

“Later.”

Much later, they joined Lord and Lady Matlock to discuss the next several weeks. They would leave for Hertfordshire a week before the wedding. The Colonel would continue on to London to purchase a license and to finish his paperwork to resign his commission. He would also sign the settlements that the de Bourgh family solicitor had prepared as pertaining to the new will of Sir Lewis. He should be ready to join his family at Netherfield two days before the wedding.

<<>>

Life at Netherfield and Longbourn settled into a rhythm much as it had been before the shopping trip to London and Lydia’s situation. The mornings were reserved for wedding planning and the afternoons were for the lovers. Elizabeth felt the added burden of making time for both of her younger sisters as well as Georgiana. She was also very aware that her time with Jane was short as well. Fortunately, Darcy was not as demanding as he otherwise could have been. He was completely cognizant of the fact that soon he would not have to share Elizabeth with anyone, except Georgiana of course. He could wait. He was content to allow his future bride to enjoy her last, hectic days in her father’s house.

One morning before breakfast, Elizabeth and Mary were out on their normal walk. That day they took the path that led next to the wood where Elizabeth had hid from Mr. Perkins all those years ago.

“I am relieved that I shall never have to scale another tree to avoid an unwelcome suitor, Mary. But do keep it in mind if Mama ever places you in an awkward situation such as the one I was in.”

“I am not in as much practice in the skill of scaling trees as you were. But I shall remember it if I am ever in a desperate situation. It is not the most ladylike thing to do.”

“Ah, Mary! A truly accomplished woman possesses skills never talked of but always assumed!” Both ladies laughed over this comment.

“Elizabeth, are you at all nervous about getting married?”

“To own the truth? Yes, very much so. My life is about to change completely. I will be responsible for the running of two houses. It is a daunting challenge for any woman, especially one raised as we were. I will be meeting so many new and important people. I do not wish to disappoint my husband in any way.”

“I doubt Mr. Darcy would ever be disappointed in you. He is clearly enraptured with you.” Elizabeth blushed at this statement. “Do you fear becoming his wife and the duties that entails?” Mary asked cautiously. Both knew the meaning behind her question.

Elizabeth pondered the best way to delicately answer this question. “Mary, has Mama ever spoken to you about the marital duties of a wife?” Mary shook her head no. “But you seem to have an idea what they entail.” Mary nodded in affirmative. “How much of Papa’s library have you explored?”

“Not the area you are suggesting.”

“Never mind. I cannot believe something that God created for procreation would be so pleasurable for the man and so distasteful for the wife. I do not fear it, Mary.” Elizabeth saw her sister was satisfied with her answer.

‘Indeed, I look forward to that with eager anticipation!’

“Are you looking forward to touring the Lakes with Aunt and Uncle Gardiner?”

“Oh yes. I was thrilled when they informed me of their plans and asked me to go.”

“I envy you, Mary, I have always wanted to see the Lakes.”

“Somehow I believe your new husband will see that wish comes true, Elizabeth. You will be a very happy woman, I think.”

<<>>

Georgiana called on Longbourn as frequently as her brother would allow. Mrs. Annesley was filling her final days as Georgiana’s companion with the final courses of study they had decided on. Georgiana was overjoyed when Elizabeth suggested they take a turn in the garden.

“How are your studies coming Georgiana?”

“I am nearly finished with the course of study Mrs. Annesley had mapped out.”

“She will be leaving you soon.”

“Yes, and I shall miss her. But she is looking forward to being with her family again. And I shall have you to watch over me. What more could I ask for?”

“I never had the opportunity to ask you last autumn how your “life” study had progressed.”

“We did leave in a rush. Very well, since you asked. I determined that each home is its own unique situation. The choices and preferences and personalities of its inhabitants determine how each is run. What will work for one family will not work for another. Only a great fool will try to fit her home into preconceived notions of domestic felicity.”

“I do believe you are ready to be mistress of your own household. There is nothing left for you to learn from me.”

<<>>

Another afternoon, Elizabeth had the occasion of spending a few hours in the stillroom with Catherine.

“Catherine, would you like to come to town with Mr. Darcy and me this winter. Georgiana will be out and we will be much in society.”

“Truly, Elizabeth? Will Papa let me go?”

“Yes, we have already received his permission. I did not want to ask and then have him deny your participation.”

“Of course I want to go to Town! Who would not? A season in London!”

Elizabeth was delighted in her sister’s enthusiasm. “Papa has promised to send money for some additions to your wardrobe. But Fitzwilliam and I would have seen to it if he had not. Indeed, with Georgiana as a guide, I am certain that we would be exceeding your allowance by the end of the first day of shopping!”

“Thank you so very much, Lizzy! I cannot believe I am going to London! Maria Lucas will be so jealous!”

Elizabeth did not wish to buy her sister’s affection, but she felt this was something that was within her power to effect after so many years of neglect. And while her duties as mistress of Darcy House would occupy her time, she anticipated many hours in the company of her sister.

Jane and Elizabeth assisted each other in packing up their belonging in preparation for removing to their husbands’ homes. They spent many hours together, in each other’s rooms, reminiscing as they sorted through twenty-plus years of possessions.

“Do you remember when we made these handkerchiefs, Jane? I believe I was nine at the time.”

“How could I forget? You were so proud of yourself and showed them to every person who came to call for a week.”

“I cannot look upon it now without abhorrence. What dreadful work!”

“Lizzy, you were but nine years old at the time.”

“Yes, but it still is dreadful.”

“True.”

Elizabeth threw her sister a look of mock affront; to which Jane responded by ignoring her. Elizabeth retaliated by turning to a serious subject.

“Is Miss Bingley coming to the wedding, Jane?”

“Yes. At first Charles was adamant about refusing to invite her. He is still deeply hurt by her actions. By I prevailed upon him to change his mind. I reasoned with him that he would always regret not extending the invitation. He loves both of his sisters and it pains me to see them estranged.”

“When will she arrive?”

“She will be coming with her Aunt Blackwell the day before the wedding. Mrs. Blackwell thought it best to do so. Netherfield will be full of guests she did not wish to burden the staff exceedingly.”

“She sounds like a very reasonable woman, Jane. Is Mrs. Hurst well?”

“Charles says that she has written often and that she is well. The baby does not seem to have an adverse effect on her health. They will come two days before the wedding to give Louisa a chance to rest and recover from her journey.”

“I cannot believe we are soon to leave this place, Jane. Oh how I shall miss you.”

“And I you, but we will write to each other and see each other in town.”

“Yes, but it will not be the same. Derbyshire is so very far away.”

“Perhaps Charles and I will move closer some day. He only leases Netherfield after all.”

“Then I shall make it my priority to see that Fitzwilliam finds you an estate near to us. He can refuse me nothing. This is but a trifle to the Master of Pemberley!”

<<>>

So the weeks passed by, more quickly than they should, and too soon the wedding week was upon Longbourn. Darcy prevailed upon Elizabeth to walk toward Meryton with him.

“Elizabeth, we have not discussed where we shall go after the wedding.”

“I assumed you would tell me when you were ready. Though the thought of waiting to be surprised has its merits.”

“I would not suspend any pleasure of yours. However, you should know that we will spend the wedding night and the first two weeks in London. As much as I would love to take you to Italy for our honeymoon, it will have to wait. I have been absent too long from Pemberley. We must return.”

”I fully understand. Though Pemberley is not without its charms and I long to explore the grounds I did not have the pleasure of seeing last summer.”

“I look forward to showing them to you myself. There are many secluded areas that escape the uninitiated.”

“And what will I find in such places, sir?”

“Since you like surprises so much, I shall wait to show you.”

Elizabeth had a pretty fair idea as to what he was alluding. She decided it would be wise to change the subject.

“Fitzwilliam, why does everyone but Georgiana call you William?”

“The answer is simple. Only a Darcy has ever called me Fitzwilliam. My parents called me that and so does Georgiana.”

“But I am not yet a Darcy.”

“You became a Darcy the first time you set foot at Pemberley, Elizabeth. Our wedding is just a formality as far as that is concerned. Pemberley has needed a Mistress for many years now. I believe Pemberley knew you were the one and inspired Georgiana to seek your company. How else can you explain her actions?”

Darcy stopped then, checked to see if they were alone, and kissed Elizabeth till both of their gazes were drunk with passion.

“I need you, Georgiana needs you, and Pemberley needs you. Never forget that dearest, loveliest, Elizabeth.”

<<>>

Saturday evening, the Netherfield Party, including the Matlocks and Anne, was invited to Longbourn for dinner. Mrs. Bennet was so in awe of her guests that she did a remarkable impression of a sensible woman. Elizabeth prayed it would last until Friday.

After dinner, the gentleman retired to Mr. Bennet’s study. Lord Matlock had taken a liking to Mr. Bennet and could see where Elizabeth had gotten her wit. He could also see that Mr. Bennet had a plan to disconcert the two young men in his company. He decided to let the master of the house alone in his mischief.

“Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, seeing as you are to marry my two eldest daughters in a mere five days time, I was wondering if you had any questions for me. Seeing that both of your honored fathers have past from this earth, I felt it incumbent upon me to offer you my services. After all, I did have five daughters. I’m sure between Lord Matlock and myself we could answer just about any question.”

‘So this is his game. Look at them squirm!’ thought Lord Matlock.

“You see sir, I do not, I mean I have no need. I thank you for your offer but I believe I have been given enough knowledge of this area to be confident in my abilities to… ah… Well, thank you, sir.”

“Come, come, Mr. Darcy. Do you not have any questions for me? No newly married man knows everything about being a husband. I am sure you have questions about…making your food preferences known.”

Lord Matlock almost choked on his sip of port when Mr. Bennet finished his last statement.

“If either of you wish to speak with me regarding any private question you may have, you know where to find me. But I do have something else I wish to discuss with you. Have you considered the amount of correspondence that will be traveling between Hertfordshire and Pemberley once our families are united? I am positively convinced Mrs. Bennet will not cease to harp and nag me for more money for the post. Therefore, I have a more economical solution in mind.” Mr. Bennet paused for effect, “Pigeons.”

“I beg your pardon?” Bingley voiced before Darcy had the opportunity.

“Pigeons, Mr. Bingley. I have been researching the subject. Pigeons have been used for centuries to carry messages and I thought we could invest in pigeons to use as couriers. I have always wanted a pigeon named Freddie. What do you say Darcy? A pigeon would be far less expensive than an express to warn you of an impending visit by Mrs. Bennet.”

Fortunately, Darcy had learned enough from Elizabeth to realize when Mr. Bennet was teasing. Poor Bingley had not. “I shall have my steward investigate the matter further. If he thinks it a good plan I will have the necessary trainer hired. Bingley here can keep the pigeons at Netherfield so that Mrs. Bennet would not be tempted to use them constantly. What say you, Bingley?”

It wasn’t until Darcy looked upon him that Bingley knew he had been had. Lord Matlock could no longer conceal his mirth and the gentleman shared a leisurely glass of port until it was time to rejoin the ladies.

It was finally the day before the wedding. The Colonel, soon to be just the Honorable Mr. Richard Fitzwilliam, had arrived the day before. It was time for the rehearsal and only those who had parts in the wedding were allowed to attend. At first Mrs. Bennet was very vexed at the idea, but Bingley had manufactured an excuse that required her presence at Netherfield regarding the wedding breakfast to placate her. Thus only the three couples, Mr. Bennet and Lord Matlock were present with the rector of Longbourn.

As the rehearsal concluded, the rector asked, “Is every one clear as to their roles and the timing of the ceremony?”

Darcy was the only one with a question, “When do I get to kiss my bride?”

Mr. Bennet was most pleased!

<<>>

That night the Bennet sisters gathered for one last time. They were each very subdued when they entered Jane’s room. Elizabeth, to no one’s surprise, was the first to recover. “You must promise us to wait at least a week before you claim our rooms, Mary and Catherine.”

“Indeed, two weeks would be more proper!” Jane corrected.

“But I will be gone with the Gardiners in three days,” Mary cried. “You may not claim Jane’s room whilst I am away, Catherine.”

“And if I do?”

“I shall tell Papa I caught you reading Shakespeare!”

“That is not fair! I would never hear the end of it!”

The rest of the evening was spent in like conversation until their mother came and bid them to return to their rooms lest they not get a good night’s sleep. Elizabeth tarried after her two younger sisters had left.

“Tomorrow we will be in our new beds, Jane. Are you anxious?”

“Yes and no, Lizzy. I do not think it will be as horrid as we have been led to believe.”

“Have you spoken with Mama?”

“Yes. I was quite… surprised.”

“As was I.”

“For the final time, good night Elizabeth Bennet.”

“Good night to you, Jane Bennet.”

<<>>

Anne and Georgiana arose early to go to Longbourn to help the brides make ready. Georgiana had actually come to help Anne, but only Elizabeth and Jane knew that. Mrs. Bennet remarked on the gown Anne had brought to change into. “If I did not know better, Miss de Bourgh, I would say you were getting married today as well.”

As the three brides were preparing at Longbourn, a large carriage drew up in front of Netherfield.

“Where is my brother? I demand to see Lord Matlock at once!”

“Catherine, what are you doing here? You declined the invitation to come to the wedding.”

“I will speak to you in private!”

After they were alone in the library Lord Matlock spoke again. “Why are you here Catherine? Have you come to disrupt Darcy’s wedding?”

“I am here because I know Anne is marrying Richard today.”

“Who told you that?”

“I did.” They turned to see Lady Matlock, who had just entered into the library unannounced.

“But why, Helen?”

“Because Anne deserved the chance to have her mother present at her wedding and Catherine deserved, well maybe not, deserved the chance to see her only child wed. I wrote her a letter last week to inform her, but asked that she not come until today.”

“I will not allow you to disrupt the wedding. Anne is of age. Sir Lewis left another will to insure she was provided for and I have seen that this will has come to light.”

“I know, Hugh. Now, I wish to speak to Richard. My continuing presence will be left entirely up to him.”

Lord Matlock was extremely distrustful of his sister and equally vexed at his wife. However, he did not see any other solution, so he summoned his son to the library. When he arrived, Lady Catherine said imperiously, “Leave us alone!”

Lady Matlock led her incredulous husband from the room.

“How could you Helen? What have you done?”

“Let us await the result of their conference before we discuss this any further.”

Inside, Lady Catherine turned on her nephew. “I received a report on your engagement to my daughter Anne from your mother. I was shocked by the contents of her letter, the likes of which I have never received. I have one question for you and then I shall go. Do you love Anne?”

Of all the things he imagined his Aunt saying to him, this was the furthest from his mind.

“I would marry Anne if she had not a farthing to her name. Yes, I love your daughter.”

Lady Catherine’s features softened and she said the most amazing five words Richard Fitzwilliam had ever heard her say.

“Then you have my blessing.” Lady Catherine dropped her head and began to walk out of the room.

“Wait! Where are you going?”

“Back to Rosings.”

“Will you not come to see us wed?”

Lady Catherine looked on with amazement. “I did not think I would be welcome.”

“I would be honored if you would attend.”

“Then I will come. May I see Anne first?”

“She is not here. She traveled to Longbourn to prepare with Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth. Let us surprise her.”

“Very well. We should speak to your parents now.”

Hugh Fitzwilliam was astounded to see his sister smiling on his son’s arm as they immerged from the room.

“Thank you, Helen, I do not know if I can ever repay you.”

“I did nothing that did not need to be done. You were the one who had to come to a decision, Catherine.”

“One I would not have made without your help.”

“What was in your letter, Helen?” Lord Matlock could not imagine what his wife could say that would work so much change.

“My version of the Fitzwilliam family talk.”

Chapter 39

Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. A general gasp went up in Longbourn church when Lord Matlock, with Anne on his arm, followed Mr. Bennet and his two eldest daughters into the church. How Mrs. Bennet kept from fainting was proclaimed a miracle far and wide. Anne, in turn, was nearly overcome when she spotted her mother smiling, SMILING at her, seated next to Lady Matlock.

When the service was complete and the three couples waited outside to receive their well-wishers, Anne nearly flew into her mother’s arms.

“I am sorry, Anne. I wish you and Richard joy. Come and visit me at Rosings when you are ready. We have much to discuss, but this is neither the time nor the place. This is your special day to enjoy.”

The wedding breakfast went off with nary a problem. Miss Bingley managed to keep from offending her brother or his bride, but struggled with her civility when she greeted the new Mrs. Darcy. Instead of causing a scene, she excused herself. Bingley was saddened, but hoped this was a first step in reconciliation. Mrs. Blackwell was not as confident as her nephew.

Soon, three carriages were on their separate ways to London. The Bingleys had left Netherfield to their guests and were looking forward to the peace and quiet an empty house in Town would afford them.

Safely alone in their carriage, Darcy moved to sit next to his brand new wife. “Elizabeth Darcy, I like the sound of that,” he whispered into her ear.

“It will take some getting used to, but it brings me great pleasure as well.”

“May I kiss the bride, Mrs. Darcy?”

“I do not believe her husband would mind.”

As pleasurable as both found the exercise to be, they both knew that it would be many hours before they would arrive in London. Reluctantly, they stopped their ministrations and settled for nestling into each other’s arms. Elizabeth recalled the parcel in her bag.

“Fitzwilliam, I have something I wish to give you.”

“What is it?”

“It is something I picked up for you in London when Jane and I were there shopping for our trousseaus.”

She handed him the wrapped parcel. Darcy eagerly unwrapped the paper to discover a beautifully bound copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Inside he found an embroidered bookmark opening the volume to Sonnet No. 116.

“I hope you approve?”

“How could I not dearest, loveliest, Elizabeth.”

<<>>

As planned, the Darcys stayed in London for just over two weeks before heading to Derbyshire. Once again, Elizabeth was mesmerized by the view as they approached the great house.

“Welcome home, Mrs. Darcy.” Darcy said as he handed her down from the carriage. Mrs. Reynolds had assembled the entire staff to greet their new mistress. Many remembered Elizabeth from her previous visits and were very pleased to welcome her as the new mistress. After the introductions were made, Darcy slowly led his bride to the great library.

“Do you know what day it is Elizabeth?”

“The 30th of July.”

“Do you remember the significance of that date?” Elizabeth was puzzled. “Perhaps this will refresh your memory.”

Darcy opened the door to the library. As Elizabeth walked in, comprehension dawned.

“I believe you know these people. Or does Mrs. Darcy need introductions?”

Inside sat Georgiana, Mary and Mr. & Mrs. Gardiner. “I could think of no more appropriate manner to bring you back where you belong than to have the three people most responsible for you being here awaiting us.”

“But, you are supposed to be touring the Lakes?”

Mrs. Gardiner hugged her shocked niece and said, “My dear, when Mr. Darcy wrote us asking us to come, we decided to alter our arrangements.”

Georgiana embraced her dear sister. “Welcome home, Elizabeth Darcy!”

Epilogue

As the years went by, the three couples alternated hosting the other two on the occasion of their anniversary. The Fitzwilliams, despite their reconciliation with Lady Catherine, lived for several years at Greenebrooke. In that time, Richard Fitzwilliam became an accomplished manager and when the time came for him and his bride to move into Rosings, he was more than ready for the challenge. The great estate flourished under his stewardship.

Within a year of their marriage, the Bingleys purchased an estate in a neighboring county to Pemberley to fulfill the dearest wish of the sisters, as they were not more than thirty miles apart.

Georgiana and Elizabeth became as close as sisters could ever be. Elizabeth guided the young woman into adulthood with her unique brand of wit and charm. They grew to love each other so dearly that when the time came for Georgiana to marry, she wept, not over leaving Pemberley, but from being separated from Elizabeth.

The Darcys lived and flourished at Pemberley, Elizabeth presenting an heir to her beloved husband not more than a year after their marriage. Bennet Charles Darcy was the pride and joy of his grandparents.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Bennet did not live to see another of her grandchildren born. One day she complained of her nerves, fainted, and never revived.

Mr. Bennet was often drawn to the north to visit his daughters. He loved to arrive unannounced at Pemberley and Darcy wondered if investing in some pigeons was not such a bad idea after all.

Lady Catherine continued to astonish her family by healing the breach with Darcy. Elizabeth became, by far, her favorite niece and Lady Catherine delighted in her visits to Pemberley. On one such visit, four years into the marriage, Mr. Bennet made one of his unexpected appearances. Lady Catherine took a liking to his wicked sense of the absurd and to the surprise and delight of all their family, they fell in love and were married within three months.

When word of the attack on Fort York reached England in the summer of 1813, Elizabeth feared the worst. However, Lydia and her husband were safe. He surprised himself by remaining cool under fire and was promoted for his leadership and heroism.

Louisa Hurst presented her husband with an heir in November of 1811. Mr. Hurst continued the tradition of giving the first born Hurst son a name beginning with the letter H. Louisa remained blissfully ignorant of her husband’s mischief until after Hubert Ulysses Hurst was christened. In her indignation, she carried her point by obtaining his leave to allow her to choose the name of their next child. Fifteen months later Dorothea Ursula Hurst made her presence known to the world.

And what of Caroline Bingley? She did not return to Lincoln with her Aunt after her brother’s marriage. Instead, she went to live with another lady friend in London. She never was completely reconciled with her family and eventually settled for a marriage of convenience to a notorious London rake who admired her sharp tongue and her willingness to overlook his succession of mistresses.

Georgiana, Mary and Catherine all determined to follow their sisters’ example and marry for love. Eventually, they all did. But that… is another story.

The End. Truly!