This post will put the tale on the same time table as the posts on DarcyandLizzy.com.  After this, I will be posting the chapters on Wednesdays and Sundays.  Hope you enjoy.

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Chapter 3

            Bingley sat in stunned silence.  “Who was the survivor?” He choked out the words.

            “Jane.  She is at my home.  She has a bullet near her spine, causing her paralysis in her legs.  She has endured two bouts of fevers, and suffers from melancholy.”

            “Good God, this cannot be.” Bingley felt tears welling up in his eyes.  His Jane, his angel, forced to endure so much tragedy.

            “Lizzy took employment, as she wished to assist in paying for the upkeep for her sisters.  I am not a wealthy man, Mr Bingley, but I tried desperately to make Elizabeth see that it was unnecessary for her to work.  It is my fault, I should have demanded her to abandon her desire to work.  She is now paying the price from my foolishness.”

            “It is difficult for me to realize that the battered young lady is truly Miss Elizabeth.  But I am certain you wish to see her for yourself.  If you wish, I will take you to her immediately.”

            Mr Gardiner nodded his head.  “Can you tell me whose home she is to be found?”

            “My friend, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy.”

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            Georgiana was preparing to visit her guest when she heard voices in the foyer.  Stepping to the top of the staircase, she was able to recognize Mr Bingley and another man.  “Mr Bingley, please, come up. I was just about to visit Miss Benson.”

            “Miss Darcy, may I introduce you to Mr Gardiner.  Mr Gardiner, this is my friend’s sister, Miss Georgiana Darcy.  Georgiana, it happens that Mr Gardiner is the uncle of the young lady I brought here.  I was misinformed as to her name.  Her name is not Benson, it is Bennet, Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”

            Georgiana gasped at hearing this name.  “Not Miss Elizabeth which my brother wrote of when he visited you at Netherfield?”

            “The very one.  The story as to how she came to be employed as a companion is a long and painful one, though I will say her family suffered a tragedy of monumental proportions.”

            “Brother will be devastated to learn of her injuries.” Georgiana stated.  From her brother’s letters, while he was at Netherfield, she was certain he was half in love with the young lady.

            “Miss Darcy, I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude for your kindness to my niece.  Our family has been concerned for her, as we had received no word of her for a week.  When I read in the papers of the rumors surrounding Armstrong, I was certain it was Lizzy the article spoke of.”

            “Please, Mr Gardiner, come up and see your niece.  She is improving every day. Her left eye is open just a sliver now.”

            Mr Gardiner followed Bingley up the stairs and down the hall. As they reached the door to Elizabeth’s room, Bingley took hold of Mr Gardiner’s arm.  “I feel I must warn you.  Though I am familiar with Miss Elizabeth, I was unable to recognize her.”

            “I am prepared.”

            The men entered the bedchamber and stepped closer to the bed.  Mr Gardiner gasped, and his stomach nearly expelled its contents.  This could not be his niece.  Not Lizzy, the young lady who was filled with life and energy.  This young lady appeared to be lifeless.  Suddenly, she moved, her left eye opening slightly.  She reached out her left hand, begging for him to move to her.  Indeed, it was his Lizzy.

            “My dear girl, we have been so worried about you.  I am so sorry, I should have protected you from such a monster.  I should have insisted you not take employment.  Can you ever forgive me for not protecting you?”

            Elizabeth grasped his hand, squeezing it repeatedly.

            “When will the physician return?” Mr Gardiner inquired. “I wish to learn when we can move my niece to our home.”

            “Mr Gardiner, I do not see the need to move her at this time.” Bingley stated.  “I realize you wish to have her with your family, but moving her at this time might be unwise.  I am sure Miss Darcy agrees with me.”

            “Oh, yes.  And my brother would also agree.  We have ample space for her to recover, and the physician comes every day to check her progress.  There is no reason to move her from here.” Georgiana pleaded.  She would send an express to her brother as soon as Bingley and Mr Gardiner left. 

            “We shall see what the physician has to say about the matter.  I will abide by his decision.  And I wish to have the physician’s bill sent to my home.  And any other expenses you have incurred in your care of my niece.”

            “Nonsense, Mr Gardiner.  There is no need of that.  I hired the physician, and I will cover the cost.  And I am certain Darcy will say the same.  Consider it in memory of Mr and Mrs Bennet and Miss Lydia.  Our way of paying tribute to them.”

            Georgiana’s eyes grew wide.  “Brother spoke of Mr and Mrs Bennet.  Have they perished?”

            “Yes, Miss Darcy.  Unfortunately, there was an incident.  But let us not discuss that at this moment.” Mr Gardiner’s eyes pleaded for a change in topics.

            “Miss Elizabeth is improving, are you not, Miss Elizabeth?  She and I worked out a method for her to somewhat speak to me.  If I ask her a question, she squeezes my hand once for yes and twice for no.  With her right hand bandaged, she has not been able to write, though she has tried a little today. And she cannot speak with her jaw and throat injuries.  And now she is able to see a little bit.  The swelling is diminished and the bruising is starting to change colors.  Much improvement, is it not, Miss Elizabeth?”

            Elizabeth gave her uncle’s hand a single squeeze.  He gave her a painful smile.  If this is improvement, I would have fainted at the sight of her after the attack occurred.  “Lizzy, I wish to speak with the physician when he arrives.  I wish to know when we will be able to take you home.”

            He felt her hand squeezing his, over and over.  “What is wrong, Lizzy? Do you not wish to return home?”

            Again, he felt her squeezing his hand.  “Calm yourself, my dear girl.  There is no need to fear. Once you are home, your aunt and I will see to your care.”

            Elizabeth motioned to Georgiana.  Holding her hand out to her new friend, she made her desire known.  “Only this morning has she been able to write a little, though it is somewhat difficult to read, as she is forced to be left handed out of necessity.  Georgiana quickly brought writing supplies to the bedside.

            Scratching out letters, Elizabeth wrote: RUINED.

            “How could you be ruined, Lizzy?  You were beaten by your employer.  How would that ruin you?”

            Georgiana looked up at Mr Gardiner, her eyes filled with tears.  “We spoke of this earlier.  She will not believe me that the scoundrel did not…”

            Mr Gardiner was devastated.  It was what he had feared for his niece.  “Did he…?”

            “No, Mr Gardiner, she still is virtuous.  If Mr Bingley had not acted the way he did, I can most assuredly tell you the blackguard would have succeeded.” The voice of a man, entering the room, announced.

            “Mr Gardiner, may I introduce you to our physician, Mr Johnston.  Mr Johnston, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s uncle, Mr Edward Gardiner.”

            “Sir, it is a pleasure to know the young lady has family.” Mr Johnston stated as he shook Mr Gardiner’s hand.”

            “I am grateful for your care of my niece.  Might I ask as to my niece’s injuries?”  The men stepped outside the room to speak privately.

            “A broken jaw, possible broken cheekbone on the right side, which explains the left side healing quicker.  Her right hand was swollen, and, at first I feared it was broken.  But it seems to be more of a strain than broken.  Her neck, as you can see, has finger impressions where the scoundrel wrapped them around her throat to control her.  She has scratches on her chest, cuts on her face and right arm, and bruises all over her face and body.”

            “How long will she be bedridden?” Mr Gardiner inquired.

            “I would recommend she remain so until her swelling is lessened.  Perhaps another week.   Where do you live, Mr Gardiner?”

            “I have a house on Gracechurch Street.  We took my four nieces in after their parents died, the eldest was crippled in the event which took her parents and youngest sister’s life.” Mr Gardiner was obviously weary from his burden.

            “Mr Gardiner, do you have room for Miss, you said Bennet, not Benson, correct?”

            “Yes, her name is Bennet.  We can make room for Lizzy, it will be snug, especially as I would not wish her elder sister to fret from seeing Lizzy in this condition.   They have always been close, and share a room.  But there is a store room on the main level we could convert into a bedchamber for Lizzy.”

            “Mr Gardiner, I believe I speak for my friend, Mr Darcy, in offering for your niece to remain here as long as is needed.” Mr Bingley stated.  “She is no burden, and is being well looked after.”

            “I do not wish to impose upon your friend any more than is necessary.  I am grateful for the generosity, but I am certain Lizzy would be more comfortable at home.”

            “As I was entering the room, had Miss Bennet shown concern that she was ruined by this situation?” Mr Johnston asked.

            “She wrote the word ruined on a sheet of paper.” Mr Gardiner replied.  “But she was not violated, you said so.”

            “But in proper society, she would be decidedly ruined.  And with Mr Armstrong’s words of the incident consisting of Miss Bennet flirting with him, teasing him until he could not withstand her arts and allurements.  He will also try to claim her injuries sustained from an accident, and that Mr Bingley was jealous, desiring Miss Bennet for himself.  The only ones who can verify the condition Mr Bingley found your niece in are in the employ of Mr Armstrong.  If we brought charges against the man, but you can be assured, he will fight the charges and violate her with words.”

            “Good God.  Is it wise to bring the charges?  Should we have find another way to find justice?” Mr Gardiner was shaken.

            “It is up the magistrate to determine.  He and the constable were here, and they were both appalled at the sight of your niece the day after her attack.  The magistrate may wish to make an example of Armstrong.  The magistrate is Lord Bentley, and he does not approve of the mistreatment of young ladies, especially gently born young ladies, such as you niece.” Mr Johnston stated.  “The look on his face when he viewed Miss Bennet the day after the assault…well, let me just say, he will most likely wish to hang Armstrong by his private parts, before he is castrated and drawn and quartered.  And, to be honest, I would most likely be beside Lord Bentley in seeing the sentence carried out.  Armstrong deserves all that he is given, though our society usually blames the innocent young ladies for what happens to them.”

            “But my niece cannot remain here, especially once Mr Darcy returns.  I must find somewhere for her to go.  Somewhere she can recover in peace and quiet, without judgment being placed on her.”

            “Mr Gardiner, it will be several days before your niece will be able to taken the simplest carriage ride, let alone any distance.” Mr Johnston declared.  “And we should not treat her as if she needs to be hidden from decent society. She did nothing to bring dishonor on her.”

            “I have a suggestion, Mr Gardiner.” Bingley offered.  “My aunt has a small townhouse which she normally leases out.  It has been empty now for two months and she begged me to have it renovated and prepared for leasing use.  She will not arrive for another six months, so the townhouse will be empty.  I am willing to hire staff to run the day to day needs, as well as someone to watch over Miss Elizabeth.  Mr Johnston would still be able to tend to her, and everyone could visit her as they were able.”

            “And we should ensure there is protection, security measures to keep her safe from Armstrong if he were to learn where she was.” Mr Gardiner was adamant.  If he knew she were here, I would not put it past him to force his way in here and cause Lizzy more harm.  Removing her from Mr Darcy’s home is for his own sister’s safety as well as Lizzy’s.”

            “It is agreed, then?” Bingley asked, looking at both of the men.  Mr Johnston and Mr Gardiner nodded their heads.

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            “I do not know how I will be able to explain this to Jane, she will be quite upset.” Mrs Gardiner stated as she wiped the tears from her eyes.  “I am not sure I like this situation.  Why can we not bring Lizzy here?  We can make the room for her and it will be easier on her sisters as well.”

            “My dear Helen, this entire situation is delicate.  Though the papers have not given Lizzy’s name in connection to this vicious attack, I doubt it will be long before Armstrong makes her identity well known.  Once her identity is made known, her reputation will be ruined, as will the reputation of all of our family.  Jane, Kitty and Mary will suffer from the repercussions from the situation.  Our own children will be injured as well.  And, what would you do if Armstrong or men he could hire were to force their way into the house to intimidate or harm Lizzy further?  The townhouse Mr Bingley has suggested can be protected with guards.”

            “It sounds as if Lizzy will be a prisoner, unable to be with those who love her or to be able to freely go about her life, for fear of retribution from this evil man.”  Mrs Gardiner was furious at the treatment her niece had received.  “This entire event is horrible.  How such a man can behave so is beyond me.”

            “Unfortunately, society turns a blind eye most of the time.  But, it has the potential of turning into quite the scandal.  As Mr Bingley suggested to me, as I was leaving, my business could suffer if Armstrong wishes to blacken Lizzy’s reputation and harm her family in the process. The further we can distance ourselves from her in appearance, the less damage can be done.”

            “I would like nothing better than to take a branding iron to the likes of that scoundrel.  This entire situation, I just do not like it one bit.”

            “Now, now, Helen, calm yourself.  Mr Johnston is seeing to Lizzy’s care, Miss Darcy has become friends with our dear girl, and she is well hidden for the moment.  Once this is all over, and Jane is stronger, perhaps you and the girls could take a holiday to the sea.  The sea air and waters would be beneficial to our dear nieces after all they have been through.”

            “That would be pleasant, Edward.  If we can survive the next months, then a holiday would be appreciated by all of us.”

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            An express arrived from London for Darcy.  His uncle was beside himself at the news of Mr Armstrong’s misdeeds, as Lord Matlock declared it.

           

Fitzwilliam,

        It appears our friend, Armstrong, could not behave himself and has become embroiled in scandal.  What are we to do?  I have already invested heavily with his venture and would lose far more than I could afford if the entire incident is not hushed quickly.  Damn Armstrong, coming on too strong with his daughter’s companion, these things happen but it should be handled discreetly.  The chit most likely led him on, wishing to earn more money.

        Your arrival in Town cannot be soon enough.  I am in desperate need of your advice on how we can come out of this matter unscathed.  Send word as to when you will be here.

Your uncle,

Henry Fitzwilliam, Lord Matlock

 

            Darcy shook his head.  This sort of scandal happens frequently amongst the wealthy, but once written in the papers, would take on a life of its own.  Picking up his pen, he dipped it into the ink well and wrote a letter to his uncle, stating he would leave for London the following day.  The journey from Pemberley to London took regularly took two full days, so he informed his uncle he would call on him at Matlock House on Friday.

            Once the express rider was off with his reply, Darcy thought back on his sister’s letter.  Could the two incidents be one in the same?  Could the young lady, Miss Benson, Bingley rescued be the young lady Armstrong injured?  The last he heard from his sister was that the young lady’s family had been located and arrangements were being made to move here from Darcy House.  Bingley had business dealings with Armstrong, though he had begun to invest less with the man over the past two years.  It was due to an uneasy feeling Darcy had from watching Bingley withdraw from Armstrong which prompted him to pursue a meeting with Edward Gardiner.  From what reports had come to Darcy of Mr Gardiner, he felt sure that the man was honorable and respectable in his private and in his professional life. Well, I had best get some sleep.  I will know more of what is happening in a few days, and there is nothing I can do until then.     

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