Colonel Fitzwilliam entered his father’s study the following day.
“Richard, I thought you were to stay at Darcy House. Is Darcy not returning today?” Lord Matlock frowned.
“He will arrive later today. I wished to discuss this situation with Armstrong. I have met the young lady he assaulted.”
Lord Matlock stood quickly. “Can she be bought off to remain silent? Perhaps I could convince Darcy to pay her, as he has far greater access to funds than I do.”
“You would be fortunate if Darcy does not wish to call out Armstrong himself. The young lady is known to Darcy, and, if I am not mistaken, he is partial to her.”
“Dear God, how can this be? I thought the young lady was a paid lady’s companion. Darcy would never develop feelings for such a young lady.”
Richard shook his head. “The young lady is the daughter of a country gentleman, though the sudden death of her parents left her in a position of needing to find employment. And I must tell you, Father, I have seen the young lady myself. The attack against her was a fortnight ago, but the injuries were still quite visible on her face and neck. I was appalled to see such damage inflicted on a young lady.”
“Armstrong will be the ruin of us. He is still bragging.”
“Good God, Father, if Darcy hears of this, he will certainly demand a chance to avenge the young lady’s honor.” Richard made his way to the sideboard to pour a drink. “We must find a way to rid ourselves from Armstrong, or run the risk of being ruined beside him.”
~~ ** ~~
Timberlake House was a lonely, nearly empty townhouse, which was in the need of much improvements. Elizabeth walked about the house, looking in each room. She had slept fitfully after arriving at the house, nervous of what danger might be lurking in the shadows of the unfamiliar house. Having overheard Mr Johnston and her uncle speaking with Mr Bingley, Elizabeth knew enough to know Mr Armstrong was still a threat to her. And he was a powerful man, with many connections.
Even knowing there were guards watching over the house and protecting her, she was uncomfortable. Other than the nurse, whom she had only met two days before, everyone at Timberlake House were strangers. Normally, Elizabeth would have had no difficulties, as she had an easy nature which welcomed strangers. Since Mr Armstrong beat her, Elizabeth had become reclusive, not wishing anyone to be close to her. Her ability to trust was sorely tested, and that left her uncomfortable.
Though she was still in pain and weak, Elizabeth was able to be free of her bed for periods throughout the day. Used to spending as much time as possible outdoors, walking or reading a book under a tree, being forced to remain indoors and confined was quickly aggravating to her. The library at Timberlake House was sparse, which was another source of frustration. Elizabeth was not certain she would be able to endure being captive in the townhouse for long.
~~ ** ~~
“Cousin, welcome to your house.” Richard smiled as Darcy entered the foyer. “Good to see you.”
“Nice to see you have made yourself at home. Do I have any brandy or port left?” Darcy smiled as he embraced his cousin. “It is good to see you survived your latest battle. How long will you be in England?”
Richard had only recently returned from the battlefields of France. “I am on leave until March, after that, who knows. I am supposed to instruct new recruits, but if they have need of me elsewhere, I go.”
“I wish we could find a way to keep you in England. Every time you are dispatched into battle, I fear it will be your last.” Darcy had always been close to his cousin, being closer than Richard was to his own brother.
“Brother!” Cried Georgiana as she hurried down the final steps and ran into her brother’s open arms.
“Georgiana, it is good to see you, my little pipsqueak. Have you been behaving?”
“She has, indeed.” Richard replied.
“So how is your guest? Miss Benson, is her name, is it not?”
“William, we had best go to your study to discuss her.” Georgiana decided it would be best to be behind closed doors when he was told. She had a notion that her brother would not react well to the news of Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Darcy nodded his head and led the way to his study. Once inside, he shut the door. He noticed Richard had gone to the sideboard and poured to glasses of port, placing one on Darcy’s desk.
“What is wrong? Has Miss Benson perished under our roof?”
Georgiana looked nervously at her cousin, then turned her attention back to her brother. “No, she is alive. Will, we learned that her name was not Miss Benson.”
“Then what is her name?”
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
Before another word was said, Darcy turned to leave the room. “Where is she?”
“Darcy, she is no longer here. We moved her last night to Bingley’s aunt’s house. I assisted in guarding her until she was safely inside the house.”
“Elizabeth was beaten? But you said she was an orphan. She has parents, I met them.” Darcy’s eyes pleaded with his sister to tell him he had heard her wrong.
“Will, you had best take a seat. The tale is long.”
Georgiana explained to her brother the horrifying news of the murders of Mr and Mrs Bennet and Lydia, and Jane’s injury. The news was shocking, and, as he listened to his sister, Darcy could not help but feel the pain Elizabeth must have endured. Knowing how close she was to her father, and the devotion to her beloved sister, Darcy was certain Elizabeth was devastated.
“She was employed as a companion? Why would she seek employment?”
“Her uncle told Mr Bingley and me that Miss Elizabeth wished to help pay for the doctor for Miss Bennet, and the upkeep for her other two sisters. Mr Gardiner tried to talk Lizzy from seeking employment, but, he said, she was determined.”
Ignoring the intimate name his sister used to refer to Elizabeth, Darcy was confused by the other name. “Mr Gardiner? Mr Edward Gardiner, from Cheapside?”
“Yes, he is Lizzy’s uncle.”
“I was to meet with him in a fortnight, to discuss business. I had no idea that he was related to the Bennets.”
“Mr Gardiner is a kind and good man. Mr Bingley is planning to invest in some ventures with him. They have become good friends through all of this.”
“How is Bingley handling the situation with Miss Bennet’s injury? He thought himself to be in love with her.” Darcy looked at his sister.
“It pains him. He has sent Mr Johnston to tend to Miss Bennet. The bullet is believed to be too close to her spine. If they were to operate, there is a chance it would kill her. Whenever her uncle speaks of her, Mr Bingley has tears well up in his eyes.”
“He still cares for her. Of all the young ladies Bingley has thought himself to be in love, Miss Bennet was truly the one to capture his heart.” Darcy picked up the glass from his desk and gulped it down. “Bingley knows the Bennet family, we spent many hours in their company while we were at Netherfield. How is it he did not realize it was Miss Elizabeth?”
Georgiana looked towards her cousin. They both knew the time had come, and they would be causing Darcy pain with what he was about to learn.
“Will, I wrote to you of her injuries. She was battered beyond recognition. It was more than a week before she could open both of her eyes, due to the swelling. And she could not speak, her throat was injured and her jaw broken. Her right hand was injured as well.”
“Cousin, I have to admit, seeing the young lady last night, I am not surprised Bingley would not have recognized her just after it happened. It has been a fortnight since the beating, and she is still bearing the evidence of what happened to her. I was furious at the scoundrel, and I had not known her before yesterday.”
“Who did this? Was it Armstrong?” Darcy demanded, fury building inside him.
Richard nodded his head. “I have already informed Father of my opinion of the man. If it were not for my brother’s gambling debts, I would tell my father to ignore what we have invested with Armstrong and take the loss. But Father runs the risk of losing Matlock if he were to do so. Armstrong has many supporters, though, he is still new money and not of the gentry.”
“And what does Armstrong have to say for himself?” Darcy asked as he walked to the sideboard, refilling his glass.
“Lord Bentley is the magistrate, and he confronted Armstrong. The scoundrel denied any knowledge of the situation, claiming Miss Elizabeth fell down some stairs and was informing him of her injuries, when Mr Bingley entered and came to a wrong conclusion.”
Richard continued. “Though he denied assaulting her to Lord Bentley, Armstrong is bragging at his club, claiming the liberties he had taken, though, in truth, he did not.”
“I will kill him.” Darcy spat as he stood and began to walk towards the door.
“Will, you cannot kill him. I know you care for Miss Elizabeth, but you will do no good if you were killed or sent to prison for killing him. Miss Elizabeth needs all of us to be strong for her, she needs you to be strong for her.”
“Her health and her reputation is in tatters, someone must avenge her. Her father is dead, and she has no brothers. I must call out that scoundrel and make him pay for his insults.” Darcy clearly had tears welling in his eyes.
“Darce, you will do no go in calling him out. It will only bring more attention to the situation. As it is, Miss Elizabeth is still in danger from Armstrong. We need you to be strong. We need you to be thinking clearly rather than running off, halfcocked.”
The tears escaped Darcy’s eyes and flowed down his cheeks. “What danger? What is Armstrong doing?”
“He has begun to search for Miss Elizabeth. I believe he plans to make certain that she does not talk to anyone. Bingley overheard some whispers at the club, and we received a message from Mr Gardiner stating there are men watching his home and business. I believe this house is being watched as well. Bingley has been here daily, so it would be easy enough to assume he brought Miss Elizabeth here. Last night, when we moved Miss Elizabeth, I made certain we were not followed, and we drove in a manner which would disguise where we were heading. Bingley came to me for recommendations for guards, and I gave him a list of former soldiers I know personally. So she has guards at the house, a nurse, cook, maids. She is protected and well looked after. Bingley and Mr Gardiner will have to stay away from the house, so they will not be followed. Georgiana and I can visit, as it is near Georgiana’s favorite modiste. We can slip out the back of the modiste’s shop and make our way to the townhouse without being seen.”
“I will give your father all the financial assistance I can, if he refuses to do any further business with Armstrong. I wish to ruin Armstrong publically and financially.” Darcy said as he walked to a nearby window, staring out at nothing in particular.
“We will speak with Father later today. The main problem will be curtailing my brother’s gambling. The markers Father has had to cover are substantial, and yet, Anthony continues to build up more.”
“Then we will speak to Anthony as well. And I will pay for additional guards for Miss Elizabeth. How will Johnston be able to check on Miss Elizabeth? If someone has been watching this house, they will know he has been treating her. Would they not follow him?”
“We thought of that, so we hired a nurse to see to her needs. If there is any problem, we will sneak Mr Johnston to the townhouse, which should not be difficult, as he is on the move constantly each day.” Georgiana announced.
“Thank you, Georgiana. Thank you for seeing to Miss Elizabeth. She is deserving of your kindness.”
“I know, Brother. Your letters from Netherfield were enough to make me realize that you hold her with tender regard.”
“I have been so confused of the feelings I have for her. I knew I could never marry her, for she was a country miss, with no dowry or connections. But she has touched my heart in a way no one else has.”
“She will need your support as she recovers, Cousin. From what I have heard of her, and now, learning that she has garnered your affection, I find myself thinking highly of the young lady.” Richard said, clapping a hand on Darcy’s shoulder.
“If only I could find a way to…”
“To what, Brother?”
“Forgive me, I was just thinking out loud. It was nothing.”
Georgiana looked at Richard, both realizing that Darcy cared deeply for Elizabeth Bennet.
~~ ** ~~
“Aunt Helen, why has Lizzy not come to visit? She promised she would do so faithfully, and yet, it has been more than two weeks since she has been here. Something has happened and I wish for you to tell me what it is.”
Mrs Gardiner had tried desperately to keep her eldest niece from worrying over her beloved sister. But the time had come and Jane deserved to know the truth.
“Jane, Lizzy had to leave her position, as Mr Armstrong… he beat her terribly. I have not seen her, but your uncle has. She is healing, but Mr Armstrong has also damaged her reputation. She was adamant that she not be brought here, as she was afraid of bringing harm to you and your sisters.”
“I care not for my reputation, but do care for my sister’s wellbeing. Please, Aunt Helen, I wish to see Lizzy.” Jane began to weep. “I cannot lose Lizzy. After everything else, I cannot lose Lizzy.”
“Jane, Jane…do not make yourself so upset. Lizzy does not wish you to cause harm to your own health over her. She would be quite put out with us both if you were to take ill. She is worried for your health.”
“Please, can you send a message to Lizzy for me? If I tell you what to write, could you write a letter to her?”
“I am sure Lizzy would be pleased to hear from you.” Mrs Gardiner reached out to gently move a wayward strand of hair from Jane’s forehead. “How are you today? You seem to be getting stronger. Your uncle suggested that in a month or so, we could take a holiday to the sea. Would that not be wonderful?”
“It would, especially if Lizzy can join us.”
“I hope she will be able as well.”
Jane looked directly in her aunt’s eyes. “Is there more for you to tell me? Is there another reason Lizzy is not here?”
Mrs Gardiner looked away for a moment. Only when she felt her niece’s frail hand touch her arm, could she find the courage to tell her the rest. “Mr Armstrong is attempting to find your sister. She is the only one who can attest to the truth of the situation, and could cause him humiliation if she proved him to be a liar. He has proven he is the sort who would have no problem with harming her further. There have been men watching Mr Bingley, your uncle and our house.”
“Mr Bingley? What does he have to do with all of this?”
“He was the one who interfered with Mr Armstrong beating Lizzy, and he took her to Mr Darcy’s house. Mr Darcy’s sister was in residence, so it was proper for her to have a young lady in the house. Mr Bingley’s sisters were away, and it would have been improper for him to take Lizzy to his home.”
“Mr Bingley saved Lizzy.” Jane’s eyes welled up with tears. “I will always hold him dear in my heart for such bravery.”
“Jane, I must tell you, when Mr Bingley first rescued Lizzy, her injuries were such that he did not recognize her. When he learned who she was, his heart was heavy with despair. He has called here, and it was he who sent Mr Johnston to tend you. I believe he wishes to renew his acquaintance with you. He asks after you each time we see him, and he inquires if you are in need of anything or if there is anything that would bring you pleasure.”
Jane turned her head to look away from her aunt. “You must tell him the truth, Aunt Helen. I will never be whole again. I will be crippled for the rest of my life. I cannot even be a proper wife. He needs someone who can bear him an heir and a spare, not a broken shell of a woman.”
“You are not a broken shell of a woman, Jane Bennet. And it is time you realize how much life you still have. You are still weak, which is something Mr Johnston insists on correcting. You will be getting out of bed each day, and even take in some fresh air when the weather is nice. You will be dining with the rest of the family. I do not wish to be harsh on you, but it is for your own good. If you cannot do this for yourself, then do it for Lizzy. Lizzy would be heartbroken if you were to give up and die. So be strong for your beloved sister.”
“I cannot, Aunt Helen. I should have died in the carriage with the others. It is far too much to ask of me.”
“As I said, Lizzy would be devastated to lose you. Be strong, Jane. Show your sister that you are strong. With all she has endured of late, it would be a terrible blow to her to lose you. You have tonight to your room, but tomorrow, we will begin your new routine. Our footman will carry you downstairs in the morning. There are some exercises Mr Johnston wishes you to do each day, as they will assist your body in becoming stronger. I love you very much, Jane. I am not prepared to lose you either.”
~~ ** ~~
“Lord Matlock to see you, Sir.” The butler announced at the door of Mr Armstrong’s study.
“Ah, yes, show him in.” The butler stepped back, motioning for Lord Matlock to enter. “Matlock, a pleasure to see you. I was planning to send my card to you to set an appointment. You must have read my mind.”
“I…well…I thought I should come in person to speak with you. I am afraid I will be having no further business with you.” Lord Matlock stated nervously.
“No further dealings? Why ever not? You came to me, in dire need of funds. I gave you assistance and now you wish no further dealings? What has happened?”
“This mess with the girl, your daughter’s companion. It is quite a scandal, and I do not wish to have it spill over to my family. The talk about Town is dreadful, some of the scandalous things that are being said are, I pray, far from the truth.”
“What, that the harlot threw herself at me? That she came on to me, and we were mutually enjoying the other’s favors, when that whelp, Bingley, forced his way in?”
“The rumors claim that you beat her terribly.” Lord Matlock was finding the conversation difficult.
“I did not harm her, though, in the heat of passion I did grasp her roughly. I might have left some bruising, though she was not complaining. Bingley must have been the one to beat her. I dare say he was jealous. He must have known her and was half in love with her. Finding her giving herself to another man must have pushed him over the edge and he retaliated against her.” Mr Armstrong had been a consummate liar, for he had to cover his many indiscretions over the years. “When the young lady was forced from my office, by Mr Bingley, he was quite rough with her. But she was unharmed while she was in my presence.”
“I have known Bingley for some years now, and I find it difficult to believe him capable to behave in such a manner. He is close friends with my nephew and my younger son. I believe it is best if we severed our business with each other, and I will be on my way.”
“No, Lord Matlock, our business is not over. Were you aware that your first born son is in debt to me for the sum of twenty thousand pounds? I hold a promissory note with his signature. He is a terrible gambler. Of course, at my tables the house always wins. Do you have the funds to pay off his debts? If you do not, then we will do even more business. As your younger son and nephew are such close friends with Bingley, you will learn where they are hiding the little whore. She needs to disappear before she causes me any further problems. If you learn where she is, and assist me in gaining access to her, I will cancel your eldest son’s debt to me.”
“I can be no party to the girl’s death. I will find a way to get the money, but I cannot betray Richard and Darcy in such a manner. Please do not ask it of me.” Lord Matlock pleaded.
“If you do not do as I ask, I will have your heir thrown into debtor’s prison. How would you like that? Or I could have him killed. The location of my establishment is not friendliest neighborhood. An accident could easily be arranged for him.” A sneer graced Armstrong’s expression.
Lord Matlock knew he had no other option. He would be forced to aid Armstrong in locating the young lady.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Elizabeth peered out the upstairs window, keeping the sheer curtain between her and the glass. Colonel Fitzwilliam had requested she not be seen through any of the windows, as the men searching for her might realize who she was. Having to hide was difficult, and it was driving her to distraction. It had been a week since she had arrived at the townhouse and she had no visitors. Her nurse was pleased with her improvement, as the bruises were finally disappearing. Her right cheek was still tender, and her jaw still required another month to fully heal, but her throat was improving and she could whisper slightly.
With nothing to read, no stitching to bide her time with, and no conversation, Elizabeth became melancholy. How she wished she could escape the dreariness which threatened to consume her completely. She missed her family, especially Jane, and wished to hear news of her.
And Elizabeth thought often of Mr Darcy. Colonel Fitzwilliam had made her ponder what she knew of Mr Darcy. Could she have misjudged his behavior? She thought back on the first time she met Mr Darcy. They were at the Meryton Assembly. Mr Bingley had arrived at Netherfield Park earlier in the week, and was pleased to attend the assembly. His friend was most definitely not in good humor. Mr Darcy had lurked about the outer edges of the room, never once dancing with any of the young ladies of the neighborhood.
At one point that night, Mr Bingley approached his friend. “Darcy, come man, I must have you dance. You cannot stand around all night, when there are so many pretty young ladies to dance with.”
“Bingley, I am not in any mood to dance. Besides, I know no one here. You had best return to your partner and enjoy her smiles.”
Turning towards Jane, Mr Bingley smiled. “She is an angel, is she not? I could have her introduce you to one of her sisters. Then you could dance with one. Why, there is one of her sisters sitting down. She is rather pretty.”
Darcy did not turn his head to even glance at whom Bingley referred. “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me. You are dancing with the only young lady whom I could declare pretty. As to her sister, I am not of a mood to pay consequence to a young lady whom other men have slighted. Now leave me be.”
Was this the moment when Elizabeth had formed her opinion of Mr Darcy? Had she held his words against him, holding a grudge for his stating that she was not handsome enough to tempt him? Thinking back of her first impression as her eyes took in the appearance of Mr Darcy as he entered the room at the assembly, she had found him to be an attractive young man. His dark, curly hair and his smoldering eyes drew her attention immediately. He was tall and seemed to be well built, not too thin or too heavy. But after hearing his words, her opinion had soured.
Colonel Fitzwilliam had known Mr Darcy all his life. He had asked if Mr Darcy had tried to blend in with the furnishings, and, as she thought about it, he had. Had his cousin been correct in his interpretation of Mr Darcy? Was the proud and uncivil man she thought him to be only a protective mask he donned due to his extreme shyness?
And what of Mr Wickham? His tale of woe at the hands of Mr Darcy made the Master of Pemberley to be a villain. But Colonel Fitzwilliam stated he had no good words for Wickham. Thinking back, Elizabeth did find it odd that Wickham had told her his story when they first met. It was improper to be so familiar after only a few hours of acquaintance, but Elizabeth had not thought so at the time. Was I looking for fault in Mr Darcy? Was my vanity so injured by his words at the assembly that I wished to find a reason to dislike him?
All of her life, Elizabeth had heard her mother’s words of Jane being the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood. No matter how hard Elizabeth tried to please her mother, Fanny Bennet had always found fault with her second daughter’s appearance. Had her mother’s words planted a seed of doubt in Elizabeth’s mind, making Elizabeth feel as if no one would ever find her beautiful?
There was a knock on the door to the sitting room, and one of the guards stepped to the doorway. “Miss, there are visitors to see you. Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss Darcy wish a moment of your time.”
Elizabeth nodded her head, motioning for them to come to the sitting room. Georgiana made her way across the room to embrace her friend. “Lizzy, you are looking so much better. I am pleased to see you. Richard and I have come to visit and to bring you some gifts.”
Looking surprised, Elizabeth stepped over to Richard and curtsied. She then went to a nearby desk and retrieved writing supplies. “Pleasure to have you here. Have been so lonely.”
“I was certain you would be.” Georgiana said, placing a hand gently on her friend’s arm. “Now, we were certain that, if there was a library, it was not well stocked. Mr Bingley is not as devoted a reader as you and my brother, so we decided to bring you some books to read. We will bring more to you later. I have also put together some cloth, silks, and needles for you to do some stitching. Your uncle said you enjoy doing stitch work.”
Elizabeth nodded her head, so grateful for her treasures. Georgiana continued, thrilled with the sparkle which had grown in Elizabeth’s eyes. “Here is a letter from your aunt, and she says there is one from your sister, Jane, included. And Richard suggested something special for you, as you have not been able to eat. He spoke with our cook, and she sent along a bottle of apricot nectar and some applesauce, which you will be able to enjoy without too much trouble. She made it for me when I was a baby and had no teeth.”
“I am so grateful to you both for your gifts.” Elizabeth wrote. “They will be treasured.”
“My brother suggested the books, as he was familiar with your tastes. He stated he noticed your preference to poetry, and Shakespeare.”
“Mr Darcy suggested these books?” Elizabeth was surprised. “He is in Town?”
“He arrived the day after you were moved here.” Richard replied to her written questions. “And he was quite distressed upon learning of your situation. He has spoken with Bingley and your uncle on the matter. If need be, Darcy has suggested we move you to Pemberley, to keep you safe.”
“His estate? Why would Mr Darcy wish to aid me?”
“Miss Elizabeth, you must know, my cousin thinks highly of you. As I told you, the night I brought you here, William does not share his feelings with many. He is extremely shy and awkward with people he does not know.”
“Lizzy, Richard is telling you the truth. My brother has a difficult time expressing his true feelings except when he is with those he is familiar with. I am certain he has caused many people to think him proud and uncaring, but William is a kind and compassionate person. And I agree with Richard, my brother thinks very highly of you. I have never had my brother write to me of any other young lady of his acquaintance, as he did when he stayed at Netherfield. You are very important to William.”
“I am surprised. He always looked at me as if disapproving.”
Georgiana laughed. “He was wearing his mask. Richard and I have teased him for years, telling him people would believe he is always ill humored and disapproving.”
The conversation went on for another half hour, and then, her guests departed. They had used the modiste’s shop as their way of losing the man who were following them, making the man believe they were in one of private rooms in the back of the shop.
Once they had left, Elizabeth took out the letters from her aunt and sister. From the letters, she learned of the new routine which had been instituted for Jane, and her reluctance in participating in it. Jane was still suffering from the melancholy which had followed the fateful evening she was injured, and it did not take much for her to sink into a dark mood. Elizabeth was pleased to see her aunt and uncle were doing all they could to make Jane’s life better. It also pleased her to learn of Mr Bingley’s interest in his angel. Though Jane had refused to see him, Mr Bingley continued to persist in his quest to spend time with her.
Saying a silent prayer, Elizabeth hoped that her dearest sister could find happiness after all she had suffered. Though she tried desperately to hide the truth from their aunt and uncle, Elizabeth knew Jane had nightmares from the night the carriage was attacked. One night, she woke up in a cold sweat, gasping for air. She described the highwaymen, and the details of the shooting. “Why did I survive, Lizzy? Why was I saved and the others were not? Lydia was so young, so full of life. Why did she have to die? Our parents, why were they killed? I cannot find any good in anything now. Everything causes me pain. I see our young cousins and think of Lydia when she was that young. I hear Kitty’s cough and remember Mamma telling her to stop as it vexing on her nerves. I hear Uncle in the hallway, and think of Papa going to his study. They are gone, Lizzy, and I remain. But I am not really here. Can you not see? I am only a shell of what was Jane Bennet. I cannot feel my legs, I have wounds from the shooting and the carriage overturning. I will never be able to marry, have children. All I will ever be is a bother to those who loved Jane Bennet. It would have been better for everyone if I had died with the others. I do not wish to be such a burden.”
“Jane, you are here, with us, for a reason. We are all given trials, it is what we learn from these trials which makes us what we are. Jane, you have always been the positive one, looking for the good in others. Do not give up hope on life. You should never have had to endure the torment you did, but you survived for a reason. Do not give up, my dear sister. I would be lost without you.”
Elizabeth was pleased to know her aunt and uncle were not allowing Jane to give up on life. And she also was pleased with Bingley. Though Jane was adamant that she could never marry, Elizabeth wished for someone who would love her beloved sister, even with her disability.
Picking up the book of poetry from the table, something fell from the inside cover of the book. It was a letter in an unfamiliar handwriting. She broke the seal and opened the letter.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet,
Be not alarmed, no one knows I have placed this letter in the book I gave my sister to bring to you. Though it is highly improper for me to write to you, I felt it important to do so.
When I learned what had happened, I was distraught. Learning of the tragedy your family suffered, I grieve for you and your loved ones. I know Mr Bingley was shocked, and he plans to do whatever he can for your family, especially Miss Bennet. I also learned of your having been sent from Longbourn before the services for your parents and youngest sister were even conducted. Mr Gardiner received word from Miss Charlotte Lucas that she was able to gather locks of hair from your parents and Miss Lydia. It is my intention to contact Miss Lucas, and have mourning rings made for you and your remaining sisters in remembrance of Miss Lydia, and lockets made in memory of your parents. Though these cannot replace your family members, I pray these will bring you and your sisters some comfort.
Your uncle told me of a letter he received from Sir William, regarding his eldest daughter’s engagement. It appears that many of your former neighbors were quite disgusted with Mr Collins’ treatment of you and your sisters, none more so than Sir William, who gave his daughter his blessing to bid Mr Collins farewell. She is to travel soon to Bath, to visit her aunt.
I would also like to take this chance to tell you how truly pained I was to learn what had befallen you. Miss Elizabeth, I must admit that my first thoughts were to call Armstrong out for what he did. Do not fret, my sister and Colonel Fitzwilliam showed me the lack of logic in such behavior. But I am determined to do whatever I can to protect you and your family. The scoundrel will never lay another finger on you, not while I draw breath.
It is my hope that you are recovering, and will soon be yourself again. My respect for my dear friend, Bingley, has increased since learning of his bravery in rescuing you and his efforts in continuing to protect you and your family. I have added my own resources to this cause. And if the blackguard should find where you are hidden, we will remove you from Town, to my estate. You will be safe there.
You are the bravest young lady I have ever known. You have my deepest respect and regard. If there is anything you need for your comfort or your safety, you need only ask. Do not fear for your loved ones, for we have guards watching over your family. There are men stationed at your uncle’s warehouse and home, and someone is with Mr Gardiner wherever he goes.
Take care of yourself, and we will soon have you returned to your family.
Tears welled in Elizabeth’s eyes as she read the letter once, and then again. So many thoughts ran through her mind. Can this be the same man I knew when he visited Netherfield? Could what Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam be correct in their views of Mr Darcy? Why is he doing all of this, protecting me and my family? Why would he even consider challenging Mr Armstrong to a duel? Mr Darcy was not related to the Bennet family, why would he risk himself to avenge her?
The past days, Elizabeth had had plenty time to think of the events which had taken place. She had not even had proper time to mourn her parents and youngest sister, and then the assault from her employer. Anger built inside her towards the men who had taken so much away from her. The highwaymen who killed her loved ones and left her dearest sister crippled. Mr Armstrong who had nearly killed her, and now, kept her from being with her family. She was denied the comfort and compassion she would have received from her aunt and uncle, her remaining sisters, and even her young cousins. Men such as Mr Armstrong and those who killed her family were takers, with no regards to anyone else.
Her mind wandered back to the letter from Mr Darcy. Here is fine example of a man who is giving and kind. I was such a fool to think him so arrogant and too proud to lower himself to associate with those beneath him. Oh, Lizzy, you have always prided yourself on being a good judge of character. You have much to learn. So very much to learn.
~~ ** ~~
Slamming a hand on the desk in front of him, Armstrong shouted for his footman to enter. “I have been waiting for news from Lord Matlock. As soon as he arrives, show him to my study.”
“Y…Y…Yes S…Sir.” The young man stuttered. If he had not been desperate for a job, he would have left the employ of the Armstrong family long before.
As the footman left the study, Lucy Armstrong entered her father’s study. “Father, I have heard the most distressing news. While I was at Miss Fairchild’s today, her mother was speaking of Miss Elizabeth, saying she was beaten severely by you. I told her that it was untrue, that Miss Elizabeth left our home after she attempted to seduce you. But Mrs Fairchild said she heard the news from Mr Bingley himself. She stated that Mr Bingley interrupted you beating Miss Elizabeth, and that you were beating her due to her refusing you. It distressed me so much, I came directly home. How can they spread such lies about you? It is not fair that our good name is made to suffer while Miss Elizabeth is thought to be innocent.”
“Dear girl, such things happen in life. I wish it was different, but my salvation is that you believe me and Miss Elizabeth was unable to cause you any harm. It is my belief Mr Bingley was jealous, wishing to have Miss Elizabeth for himself. When he saw that she had tried to seduce me, he must have lost control of himself and beat her. That is the only way I can imagine that she was injured.” Armstrong wrapped his arms about his daughter.
“But, Father, the worst of it is that Mr Fairchild told his wife that he overheard you at the club, bragging of how you had…had…oh, Father, why are they telling such lies? You would never brag of behaving so poorly. It is all lies.”
“I cannot imagine why the Fairchild family has turned against us. We have been friends in the past. Why, you and Miss Fairchild practically grew up together. My poor, dear girl. I will speak with Mr Fairchild, and correct this misunderstanding. Have no fear, my girl. Perhaps you should take a holiday. You have been asking to journey to Sussex to visit your aunt. This might be the perfect time to do just that.”
“I could not leave you alone, with all that is being said about you. I must remain here, at your side. If I were to leave, people would believe that the lies are true and I was ashamed of you.”
“You are too good to me, Lucy. I do not deserve your kindness.” Armstrong placed a kiss on his daughter’s forehead. “Now, I am waiting for Lord Matlock, as we have business to conduct. Tonight, I will take you to the theater. When people see we are not hiding, they will believe in the truth of the situation soon enough.”
“I look forward to spending time with you, Father.” Lucy made her way to the door, as Lord Matlock arrived.
“Come in Lord Matlock, Father is waiting for you.” She said as she stepped past him.
Once the door was closed, Lord Matlock stepped closer to the desk. “I am afraid I have not had any success in learning the whereabouts of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. My son has said nothing, and my nephew has been quiet as well. Bingley is hard to find at the moment, as it appears he is spending time working with a Mr Gardiner.”
“Mr Gardiner is the uncle of Miss Elizabeth. He lives in Cheapside, on Gracechurch Street, and has a warehouse a block away. Dangerous location, many things can happen in that neighborhood.”
“What do you mean?” Lord Matlock was nervous.
“I believe an accident may happen to either Mr Bingley or Mr Gardiner. Or, perhaps, Mrs Gardiner and her children will meet with an accident. One may never know what could happen in such a location.” Armstrong had no emotion as he spoke. “If her family is under attack, it would be natural for Miss Elizabeth to wish to reveal herself to protect them.”
“Sir, it is terrible enough to think of causing harm to a young lady, but to harm her loved ones, especially children, to draw her out, I think you ask far too much of me. I am doing all I can to find Miss Elizabeth, I never agreed to bring harm to anyone.”
“You will do as I tell you, if you wish to protect your heir. If you do not do as I instruct, you will be left with only the spare. Do you understand me?” Armstrong leaned forward, placing his hands on his desk as he raised himself up. “I am through waiting around. My daughter was humiliated today when she heard disparaging comments made against me. Whether or not they are true matters not. I will not have my daughter humiliated. Miss Elizabeth Bennet must be dealt quickly, and done so in a manner which will exonerate me from these allegations.”
“It will take me at least a week to learn more. I promise you, I will learn all I can to find Miss Bennet, if you give me another week.”
“I will give you until Friday, four days from now. If you do not return here with the information I require by then, you will feel my wrath.”
Lord Matlock swallowed hard. “You have my word, I will learn of her location by Friday. There will be no need for your wrath.”
“Very well. Now, leave me.”
Not wishing to remain any longer in Armstrong’s presence, Lord Matlock quickly left the study as well as the Armstrong house. He signaled his driver to take him home and settled into the comfortable seat of his carriage. “What have I gotten myself into? And just what am I to do about it?”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~