… “And what has been done, what has been attempted, to recover her?”
“My father is gone to London, and Jane has written to beg my uncle’s immediate assistance; and we shall be off, I hope, in half an hour. But nothing can be done – I know very well that nothing can be done. How is such a man to be worked on? How are they even to be discovered? I have not the smallest hope.”
Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 46
Saturday, August 8, 1812
The rest of the house had gone to bed hours ago. Soon the sky would lighten, and then he could be on his way to London.
Darcy’s first impulse upon leaving a miserable Miss Bennet alone at the inn in Lambton was to rush to Pemberley and have his carriage readied for immediate departure for London. He was half-way home when he realized he needed to wait until morning; he had no desire to overtake Miss Bennet and the Gardiners as they traveled south. The last thing Darcy needed was to have to explain his errand to the beautiful woman he loved more now than the day she told him he was the last man on earth she wished to marry.
A delay of less than a day would not matter. It would also give his men time to properly prepare both themselves and his best conveyance for the hurried journey to Town.
All these thoughts swirled through his mind as he stood alone in the Pemberley portrait gallery. In his hand he held the letter that was the reason his steward had requested his earlier presence at the Darcy estate. By now, Darcy knew its contents by heart. He wondered if Elizabeth Bennet knew the contents of the letter he wrote her after Hunsford by heart now too. She certainly met him with a different reception than the last time they were face-to-face. Here at Pemberley, he almost believed that she had forgiven him his mistakes in their earlier encounters. He had striven to show her he had taken her reproofs to heart. The message he now held had given him even more incentive to do so.
It also afforded him one more reason to go to London and find Wickham and Lydia Bennet. One week ago, he would have claimed he was duty-bound to right a wrong. One week ago, he would have done just for her. Now, he would find George Wickham and see him married to Lydia for them.
Darcy stared at the dark spot looming above him on the wall. He could just make out the features that had become familiar over the years – one of his many ancestors and a former Master of Pemberley. As he stood and lifted the candle tree so he could see it one last time before he returned to his chambers to prepare for his departure, he was struck by a different familiarity in the visage. With a renewed sense of the rightness of his cause, he squared his shoulders, determined to succeed. It was at that moment that he wondered if he should have followed his first impulse and left the day before.
Friday, April 17, 1812
Colonel Andrew Fitzwilliam bounded up the steps of Darcy House. He hoped he would find his cousin in a better mood than when they had parted after their arrival from Kent. Their annual pilgrimage to Rosings never left either of them in a particularly good mood, but this time Darcy was downright bearish.
The butler directed him to the master’s study, and sure enough, the man was there, reading a piece of correspondence. Without ceremony, the colonel dropped into a chair opposite his distracted cousin. Darcy did little more than grunt to acknowledge his guest.
“I say, Darcy. That must a fascinating letter you are reading.”
“It is from Lady Catherine.”
“Already summoning you back to claim dear cousin Anne?”
That earned a snort. “No. Well, yes, but nothing outside of her normal hints. I am afraid it concerns some rather morbid news. It appears our aunt will need a new parson.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam sat up on the pronouncement. “What has happened?”
“Here,” he handed him the missive, “read it yourself.”
You will not fail to comprehend my utter dismay over an event so unexpected and inconvenient. At least it has occurred after your departure. Or should I say, because of it.
On the morning of your departure, my parson apparently spied your carriage departing from Rosings. In his fervor to condole with me on your absence, he hastened to present himself. Alas, the fool was in such a rush and so excited that he brought on a breathing fit.
Really, he should have known better. I had told Mr. Collins numerous times after watching him struggle to regain his breath, that he should be more sedate in his comings and goings. It is quite annoying to listen to such panting. In any case, this difficulty in catching his breath was greater than any before, and the man turned a horrible shade of red in my presence before I sent him to lie down. The next thing I knew, Renton told me that Mr. Collins had fainted, and that they could not revive to man. A doctor had been sent for but had not arrived in time to resuscitate him.
Mrs. Collins came and saw to the removal of her husband’s body. The funeral was yesterday. Mrs. Collins’ father and Miss Bennet’s father both came from Hertfordshire for the interment. They will stay long enough to oversee Mrs. Collins’ removal back to her parents.
Now I must begin the task of choosing another person to fill the Hunsford pulpit. The curate from the adjoining parish will see to the services in the meantime.
Your assistance in the matter would be most appreciated. Anne, too, could use the comfort of your presence at this time. This has been quite a shock to my daughter, and she would feel better if you were by her side. I will have your rooms prepared. Since you have only just left, they will be ready for your immediate occupancy by the time you receive this letter. I will expect you in two days.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Colonel Fitzwilliam whistled. “Are you going?”
“Of course not. I have other business that is far more important. She is using this as excuse to have me return. Lady Catherine picked Mr. Collins herself, she can do the same for the next appointee to Hunsford.”
“But the lovely Miss Bennet will still be there. Surely, that is compensation enough for the old dragon’s prattling.”
The colonel was surprised at the look of anger that briefly swept across his cousin’s face. It was gone as quickly as it came, but it had been there.
“I am not going back there now. I have too many other responsibilities that leave me no time to cow-tow to Lady Catherine’s unreasonable assumptions and demands.”
Fitzwilliam could see Darcy was in a snit. He if persisted, the man would grow sullen and resentful. Years of experience had taught him that. It was time to let the subject drop.
“I doubt you would see the Hunsford party, other than a short call to offer your condolences. You are right. Better to stay in Town and enjoy the amusements only London can offer. And on that note, let us partake of some now. I came to ask you to join me at Angelo’s. I suspect you might feel better channeling your aggression elsewhere other than our demure aunt.”
That earned Fitzwilliam another snort. A ghost of a smile settled on Darcy.
“A morning spent humiliating you has its merits.”
“Care to place a wager on your boast?”
“I only place bets where there is sport. Besting your sorry hide is a given.”
“I really could use the blunt.”
“You cannot afford to loose it, either. Come, let us go before I change my mind about taking your money.”
Friday, April 31, 1812
George Bennet sat alone in his bookroom. He and Elizabeth had arrived home only hours before. No sooner had he stepped out of his carriage than his wife of twenty-three years began her interrogation on the state of Longbourn – or more precisely, the future of Longbourn. Mr. Bennet had not the stomach for her conjectures or her disregard for the widow his cousin had left behind. He handed Lizzy down from their conveyance and walked into the house, ignoring Mrs. Bennet’s questions and instead declaring that he was tired, wanted to wash the dust off his person, and did not wish to be disturbed until morning.
Sitting on the table was the uneaten meal his housekeeper had brought to him hours earlier. He had no appetite; his mind was too burdened to eat. What would become Longbourn now? The Reverend William Collins was the last known of his heirs. He would have to ask his brother Philips what would happen if no other heir could be found. Might the estate even devolve to the Crown? The only thing Mr. Bennet did know was that a thorough search would have to undertaken soon. It was another expense to pay, yet one he could ill-afford to eschew, else, what would be come of his family when he finally departed this earth? There had to be someone – somewhere.
Sir William had come to Longbourn before breakfast three weeks prior. An express had arrived at Lucas Lodge the previous evening announcing the demise of Sir William’s new son-in-law. To say Mr. Bennet was shocked would not do justice to what that gentleman experienced. He remembered the way his cousin struggled to keep up with his daughters when they walked to Meryton, but had only thought it showed a lack of consistent exertion. From what Sir William and related, Collins had shown signs of breathing troubles since his marriage – according to the letters Charlotte had sent to her mother. The young bride had even encouraged her spouse to spend time in his garden for the beneficial exercise she noted he derived from tending it.
The two neighbors left for Kent an hour later. Sir William decided to leave his wife at home to prepare for Charlotte. With Maria Lucas and Elizabeth already in residence in Hunsford, Mrs. Collins was not in want of female compassion. Mr. Bennet would travel with Sir William as Mr. Collins’ relative. After all, someone should represent the family, even if the departed was a virtual stranger. Besides, he missed Elizabeth and was anxious to bring his daughter home.
Sir William spoke little on the journey other than when they discussed what would become of poor Charlotte. Of course, that would all depend on what they discovered when they arrived in Kent. Delicate questions would need to be asked – by both gentlemen.
Charlotte Collins, Maria Lucas and Elizabeth Bennet were all very much relieved to see the familiar carriage pull up to the parsonage. Sir William exited first and engulfed his eldest daughter in a protective embrace. Mr. Bennet followed him, but merely took his daughter’s arm in his and watched the bittersweet reunion unfold before him.
“I am glad you were here to offer comfort to your friend, Lizzy,” Mr. Bennet whispered in his favorite’s ear, “but it cannot have been a pleasant experience for you.”
“No, but as you said, I am glad I was able to come to Charlotte’s aid.”
“How does Mrs. Collins?”
Elizabeth looked at her friend and then started to walk, pulling her father along with her into the house. When they were beyond being overheard, she spoke.
“I am very surprised by Charlotte’s reaction. She was hysterical when she learned Mr. Collins had lost consciousness and then stopped breathing. It was horrifying news to receive to be sure, but I never thought Charlotte that attached to our cousin. She herself had told me she was never very romantic, but she has been in or near tears since her husband passed.”
“It had to be quite a shock.”
“It was, but to be so affected. I would never have expected it from Charlotte.”
“Tell me, daughter, did she say anything to you?”
Mr. Bennet was trying to be tactful; he should have known better with his second born. “I only wonder if Mrs. Collins has fallen with child, Lizzy.”
“Oh,” Elizabeth blushed, “I had not considered that possibility. It certainly would be unexpected. Poor Charlotte.”
“Do not be so quick to think she would not welcome such a circumstance.”
It took a few moments, but comprehension finally dawned on Elizabeth. “With Mr. Collins dead, the entail would pass onto his son, if he had one?”
“Yes, and if Mrs. Collins is carrying the heir to Longbourn, then her future is secure. If not, then I must find another.” Mr. Bennet sighed wearily. “I know it sounds all so coldhearted, but I have my estate to worry about.”
Elizabeth touched her father’s sleeve. “I understand.” And then, “Her severe reaction to Mr. Collins’ death makes you suspect that she is expecting?”
“Yes, your mother always became emotional when she was in such a state.” Elizabeth looked at her father incredulously. “I mean, she was more emotional than normal. And that is saying a great deal about what I lived through waiting for each of you girls.” Mr. Bennet wanted to be done with that topic, and so asked, “Has you friend confided in you?”
“No,” Elizabeth said quietly, “she has not.”
“Did anything else seem different from the friend you knew in Hertfordshire?” Mr. Bennet pressed.
“She has eaten less, especially in the morning. The last week or so she only had tea and toast at breakfast. I remember because I teased her about it, and she just shook her head. But thinking back on it, she did not seem well.”
“Well, I will leave the difficult questioning to Sir William and his daughter. He can ask her himself.”
“Will Charlotte come to live at Longbourn if she is expecting?”
“No, Sir William and I agreed that she should return to Lucas Lodge regardless. If she is with my cousin’s child, we will wait to see if it is a boy. If so, then she will come to Longbourn to raise him, at least when she is ready. I should be the one to bear the expense to raising my successor.”
Elizabeth saw the reasonableness of the decisions. They had Charlotte’s best interests in mind with this plan. If she were with child and came to live at Longbourn but then delivered a girl, Mrs. Bennet would insist Charlotte be sent back to her parents. However, if she had a boy, then it was prudent that Charlotte assume her place in the household to raise the boy under Mr. Bennet’s care. She would, after all, be the next mistress of Longbourn in the event of Mr. Bennet’s demise. The Bennet women would be at the mercy of Charlotte’s good will then. If she was not with child, then it was all moot. She would be back under the protection of her father. Mr. Collins might have left her something to live on, but it could not have been that much. He was a parson.
The rest of the time in Kent played out as could be expected. Charlotte confided to her very embarrassed father that she believed she might be with child. Nothing had occurred to change her beliefs. They finished packing up the meager amount of possessions Charlotte owned from her marriage. The rest belonged to the parsonage. The funeral and interment took place the same day, and once the men returned, there was little left to do but finish inventorying the contents of the house and make Charlotte’s farewells to Kent for good.
Monday, May 3, 1812
Longbourn had not always existed as it was now, a minor estate in an area resplendent with minor estates. Once it encompassed almost triple the amount of land and the manor house itself was the most modern, if not the largest, in the area. Twice the number of tenants had provided monthly rents. Longbourn’s fall had happened in a matter of a few years, and all because of one wastrel son.
The diminishment took place two centuries before our story began. The current master of Longbourn oft reflected that it was not so uncommon now that a man could ruin his family by reckless behavior and foolish debts bought at the gaming tables. No, it was not exactly uncommon then, but news of another ancient family brought low and forced to marry new money to salvage their estate was a regular occurrence. Mr. Bennet’s ancestor was ahead of his times in that regard. It was not an honor warranting celebration.
During the reign of Charles II, the master of Longbourn, Jonathon Bennet, had the unpleasant surprise of finding the representative of a wealthy Shropshire landowner at his door. He was presented with irrefutable evidence that his eldest son and heir, Marcus, had aquired a staggering debt, one greater than all the money they held and would earn for many, many years. Worse yet, he had offered Longbourn as collateral. With his signature on the promissory note, his son had placed the family on the precipice of financial calamity.
To escape debtor’s prison, Jonathon was forced to sell a portion of the estate lands to cover the debt. Marcus was immediately disinherited and sent away in shame. What remained of Longbourn was soon after irrevocably entailed to prevent any further disaster. The estate would support the family in a lifestyle closely resembling what they had enjoyed before. However, a great distaste for London society was born – a distaste that was passed from father to son since that awful time.
Along with the diminution of Longbourn came a new curse. Before then, there had always been an abundance of sons born to the lords of the manor. An entail would easily be fulfilled, reasoned Jonathon Bennet. Yet in the generations that followed, rarely was more than one son born to each master, and several of those male children did not survive childhood. There were not many “spares” that lived to bear children of their own.
Mr. George Bennet, current master of Longbourn, had been an only child himself, his father an only son. Mr. Collins was related through a great uncle. That great uncle was the exception, a second-born Bennet son who lived to adulthood. He had married into a little bit wealth and taken his wife’s family name in exchange. Indeed, part of the disagreement between Mr. Bennet and Mr. Collins’ father had been that man’s unwillingness to agree to reclaim the name of Bennet, should he inherit Longbourn.
And so Mr. Bennet found himself at the Meryton offices of his brother-in-law, Mr. Philips. He had with him the Bennet family Bible as well as all the papers he could find pertaining to the entail of the estate. Brother Philips had agreed to help search for the heir-presumptive of Longbourn, and Mr. Bennet hoped that the answer would come from the items he had with him, though he strongly suspected that the family Bible would be of the greatest use. Other than the register of the Longbourn Church, it contained a list of births, marriages and deaths for many generations of Bennets. It was also one of the family’s most valuable possessions, being a very early edition of the Authorized Version, printed by Cambridge in 1629. Mr. Bennet had painstakingly reproduced all the details from the pages secreted away in the old book onto several sheets of new paper to leave with Mr. Philips. He had brought the originals for comparison and verification before inquiries were sent. It would not do for a simple copying error to waste time and money in the search for an heir.
Mr. Bennet did not have to wait long; the gentlemen had work to do. The hunt for the next heir officially began.
Upon her return home from Kent, Elizabeth found little pleasure in her renewed acquaintance with the members of the militia still quartered in Meryton. The letter Mr. Darcy had given her, however injudicous it had been for him to write, had opened her eyes to the real character of one particular officer. Mr. Wickham had charmed everyone with his pleasing manners, but Elizabeth now knew that the man lacked honor. In fact, he was as black-hearted a villain as any maiden could fear to meet in the novels she was so fond of reading.
She dreaded the first evening she would spend in his company. Fortunately, their first meeting was a large gathering. Safety could often be found in numbers. However, Elizabeth’s hope that Wickham would leave her alone was quickly dashed.
“I heard of the premature demise of your cousin. I offer you my sincerest condolences,” he began.
“I thank you, but it is his wife that is the one most affected by the tragedy.”
“Yes, quite. Mrs. Collins returned to her family?”
“Where else was she to go?” Elizabeth answered, struggling to keep the peevishness she felt out of her voice. The last thing she needed was the cur to pursue Charlotte, though Elizabeth would confide her knowledge of his true nature should he decide that becoming stepfather to the heir of Longbourn was a desirable goal. Not that she thought Charlotte would be enticed by his pretty words. There was an advantage not to be a romantic; she would not settle for so uncertain a man in an uncertain future. Elizabeth took comfort in that and the fact that the militia would soon be gone. Charlotte would remain safely at home in her deep mourning until then.
In a desire to get rid of Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth introduced the subject of Mr. Darcy and his cousin.
“I met again with Mr. Darcy while in Kent.”
“How is my old playmate? I daresay he enjoyed the attentions of his future bride and her mother,” he laughed.
“Lady Catherine certainly made her preference known. Poor Colonel Fitzwilliam, to be treated so differently by his aunt than she did her other nephew. I assume you also know the Colonel from your association with Pemberley?”
Elizabeth was pleased to see the signs of distress cross over the blaggard’s face in place of his earlier smirk, but he recovered soon enough. “Yes, I do. Colonel Fitzwilliam is an amiable gentleman. His manners differ from his cousin, though.”
“Yes, true, but I do think that Mr. Darcy improves upon further acquaintance.” Elizabeth’s voice was even and cool. Would the man ever take a hint?
“Oh? One hopes this will lead to a reformation in his character. I would hate that another would be treated as I was,” he said, trying in vain to recover lost ground.
“I doubt he would dare treat another as he did you. With any luck he has learned his lesson. Aye, sir?”
“Yes. Well, I am thankful you have returned to Hertfordshire to brighten the sometimes dull drawing rooms. But I shall not monopolize your attention any longer. Other gentlemen here could use a dose of your liveliness. Good evening, Miss Bennet.” With that Mr. Wickham finally beat a hasty retreat. For Elizabeth, it was long overdue.
It would be an interminable several weeks before the regiment left for their summer encampment.
Charlotte Collins felt the baby quicken the same week Lydia left for Brighton with the Forsters. Mrs. Forster had invited her to travel with them as her particular friend. Mr. Bennet had consented, despite Elizabeth’s pleas that he keep his youngest daughter home.
“I understand your concerns, but with the unknown conveyance of the estate, Lydia – w well, all you girls really – need to be introduced to marriageable men. and I could not hope to do so at such little expense to the family. We need to start economizing somehow, and this seems like a godsend.”
“But I am worried that something will befall her, Papa. She is too young to even be out in society let alone looking for a husband,” Elizabeth pleaded.
“Your mother would disagree.” He stopped and sighed, knowing Elizabeth was right but lacking the will to oppose his wife. His decree to cut their expenditures had not been taken well. “Colonel Forster is a reasonable man. He will keep her in check and guard her reputation. But if it will make you feel better, I will speak to him again about ensuring her safety.”
Elizabeth was not happy, but she knew it was the best she could hope for. Besides the lessening of the expenses, she did not believe her father had the courage to face a united Lydia and her mother if he reversed his decision. For that. Elizabeth could hardly blame him. The two would make life miserable for everyone if they did not get their way.
Despite her unease about Lydia, Elizabeth had the pleasure of anticipating a trip to the Lakes with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. Elizabeth would travel with them while Jane remained with their cousins at Longbourn. The children did not often have the opportunity to spend much time in the country, and Jane was a loving companion to them.
Elizabeth’s exuberance was dampened by the receipt of a letter curtailing the extent of the trip. Mr. Gardiner’s business did not allow him enough time off to take them to the Lakes. They would have to settle for the beauties of Derbyshire.
The mention of Derbyshire brought to mind one man she knew resided there. She wondered if he hated her now. Surely he must. What man could not after so cruel a refusal? Not only that, her defense of Mr. Wickham that day still mortified her. She was wrong to believe one man because the other had bruised her vanity. However, despite her error in trusting in Mr. Wickham’s lies, she would not regret declining Mr. Darcy’s offer. She need only think his the hurtful words he spoke in his declaration – and of her dearest Jane – to know she was ultimately in the right. Yet, with the disposition of Longbourn now in doubt, Elizabeth questioned if she had done a very, very foolish thing in refusing him. For the sake of her family she should not have. She hoped she would never come to regret it.
The search for Mr. Bennet’s heir was not going well. So far, the previous five generations had not yielded one additional heir. Only Mr. Collins had come from that issue, and he was dead. There remained only one male in the family line who might still provide a candidate – the youngest Bennet son from the time of the entailment. Longbourn was left to the second-born son of Jonathon Bennet, George. But there had been a third son, Henry, who had married a woman of wealth a few years before the downfall of Marcus Bennet. The only problem was there no record of what had become of Henry. The name of his bride had been obliterated in the family records.
Mr. Bennet did know one thing: The place where Henry had married was located in Derbyshire, and it began with the letter K. The name remained a mystery, as was the reason why had the documents been altered?
“There cannot be that many places that begin with K in that county,” Mr. Bennet told his brother-in-law.
“I have looked at the maps and have noted eleven places, though I think we can safely rule out the five where there are two words in the name. It is fairly obvious when you look at the original record that the parish church where the wedding took place was only one word.”
Mr. Bennet nodded his agreement.
“However,” Mr. Philips continued, “if my man does not find the marriage entry in those six communities, he will search the other five.”
“Let us hope he finds my ancestor as economically as possible.”
“And that Henry Bennet has a direct male heir descendant,” the attorney added sagely.
“Yes, that too.”
If he did not, then Mr. Bennet did not know what he would do.
The man born Henry Nathaniel Bennet had been married for three wonderful years when word came to Derbyshire of his brother Marcus’ folly. Henry could not say that he was surprised his sibling had run up debts, but the amount of them was staggering. Their father had written his youngest son explaining the situation and asking for help. As much as Henry wanted to offer hope to his family, he doubted he could. His hands were tied by his new family, his new wife’s family.
When he pursued the lovely woman he now called his wife, he knew he faced a difficult battle. Not only would he have to win her favor, he would need to convince her father he was worthy to become his son. For the woman Henry wanted was the last surviving child of a wealthy Derbyshire dynasty. Out of eight children, only she remained. The last outbreak of the plague had claimed her two remaining brothers, and whoever won her hand, would win great wealth and a huge estate.
The stakes were high, and Henry was not the most eligible suitor, but he was the suitor whom Georgiana chose. His family was affluent enough to be respectable, and he was willing to take his bride’s family name when he married. He had done so willingly, and the Bennets did not begrudge him the change. Her father accepted his daughter’s decision for a husband, but Henry always felt he needed to prove himself.
Thus when the news of the crisis came from Longbourn, Henry had a fairly good idea what his father-in-law’s reaction would be.
“How on earth could your father allow this to happen?” Georgiana’s father cried. Henry had found him alone in his study and told him of the contents of his letter.
“My father was unaware of what Marcus was doing,” Henry replied.
“Nevertheless, he was the one who should have known your eldest brother is an imbecile. Had he come for Georgiana’s hand instead of you, I would have kicked him out myself!”
“Alas, he did not and I did.” Henry knew his next words would be thrown back in his face, but he had to try this one time. “What should I tell my father? Will you help me help them?”
The elder man starred at him incredulously, then roared, “I will not sacrifice the future of my family for the comfort of your own! Bennets got themselves into this dilemma, and by God, they will get themselves out. And since you no longer bear that name, your responsibility to it is gone.
“And while we are on the subject of that family, I strongly suggest that you sever all ties with Longbourn. They are too far beneath you now.”
Henry felt as though he had been struck in his abdomen.
“I will consider your advice, sir.” Henry bit back the bile rising in his throat. His father-in-law pretended not to notice his obvious distress. Instead he pushed the point.
“And Henry, remember, your generous allowance and even your continued residence here are at my pleasure. While Georgiana and her children will always have their home at in this house, their father may not. It all depends on how he shows where his loyalties lie. Have I made myself clear?”
Henry stood, trembling. “Completely, sir. If you will excuse me, I have a very … delicate letter to write.”
He retired to his chambers and took up his quill, trying to keep the tears rolling down his cheeks from splashing on the parchment.
Other than cursory announcements of the birth of his children, it was the last letter he ever wrote to his Bennet family. No help, financial or social, would come from him.
While Lydia’s departure for Brighton was all that Elizabeth feared it would be, her own removal from Longbourn in the company of the Gardiners was everything she hoped. Lydia crowed while Kitty had cried when the youngest Bennet left to join Mrs. Forster for their journey to the seaside. The whole household felt the upset for several days following her removal from Longbourn. Elizabeth bore it well enough, for it meant that the regiment was gone forever, and no more would she have to tolerate the presence of Mr. Wickham. The shock of learning that man’s unsavory character had progressed to a loathing of his falseness and insincerity and she had had difficulty remaining civil when she was forced to be in company with him.
Once Longbourn had regained some semblance of peace, Elizabeth began her preparations for her journey. Even the curbing of its extent could not depress her for long. Her traveling partners were as agreeable as she could want. The only one missing was Jane, but she was needed to stay with their cousins. And so, in complete contrast to the removal of Lydia, for Kitty respected her older sister enough not to be jealous, Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle waved goodbye and set off on the road towards Oxford. The wonders of Blenheim, Warwick, Kenelworth, and Birmingham would delight them as they made their way to Derbyshire and the splendors of Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale, and the Peak. At last they would arrive at a small Derbyshire village named Lambton, where they would stop to spend a few days before a more expeditious journey back to Hertfordshire.
Steadily, the carriage brought them closer and closer to their destination hidden in the hills of Derbyshire. Little could any of them guess that their lives, as they knew them, were about to change.
After a note arrived at Longbourn asking for a meeting at his earliest convenience, George Bennet wasted no time leaving to call on Mr. Philips. There was a level of excitement and anticipation gripping him as he rode towards Meryton. He just knew today was the day he would finally learn who would be his heir – excepting Charlotte Collins’ unborn child, of course.
When Mr. Bennet took a seat in Mr. Philips’ personal office, that man got up and walked over to the sideboard. Wordlessly, he took up the decanter and poured two tumblers nearly full of amber liquid. He passed one to his guest, who raised his eyebrows inquisitively while his host sat down with the other and took a drink.
“We found him,” Philip said after he swallowed a second mouthful of alcohol.
“As I surmised,” Mr. Bennet replied more calmly than he felt.
The attorney tilted his head. “You are never going to believe who it is.”
“Oh? Do I know this man?” This was a surprise.
“I cannot say you know him, but you have met him. Here, in Hertfordshire, last year.”
Several possibilities entered Mr. Bennet mind, each more fantastical. Mr. Philips slid a stack of papers over to him and sat back to wait. Mr. Bennet’s heart raced as he read the family name Henry Bennet had claimed – Darcy.
“I took the liberty of preparing a draft of the letter you should send Mr. Darcy. It is the last paper on the bottom. Read it when you have recovered from the shock, and let me know what changes you wish to make, or if you intend to send it yourself instead of under the aegis of this firm.”
Mr. Bennet shook his head as if to clear it and quickly worked his way through the documents in his hands. He then read Mr. Philips’ missive.
“It is a good letter, and considering the legalities involved, I think it should come from this office. However, I would like to include a short note of my own to be delivered with the rest.”
“Very well. Will you write it now or have it sent over later? I will complete mine and have a courier leave tomorrow, if that meets with your approval?”
“Yes, that is a good plan. I will return to Longbourn to compose my missive and have a servant bring it to you tonight.”
“This is good news, George. You do know that?”
“I have an heir, if that is what you mean.”
“He is wealthy with an estate of his own. If something should happen to you, he will not be in a hurry to evict your widow and daughters. And he did dance with Lizzy at the Netherfield Ball. She was the only local girl he stood up with. That must portend to some sort of approval.”
“So much so that he left immediately after and has not been seen nor heard from since.”
Mr. Philips did what he could to encourage his brother-in-law. “My man investigating the matter told me he is held in high esteem in Derbyshire. The vicar at Kymton was all praise for his benevolence to the poor. I think Summers was rather taken aback by it at first, based on his reputation here, but was not one to dismiss the testimony of a clergyman, or the other people he met. At least, let the man defend himself. He may surprise you.”
Mr. Bennet took another sip of his drink. “For my family’s sake, let us hope so.”