A knock on his study door drew Lord Matlock’s attention. “Enter” he called out.
“Sir, there is a constable here to speak with you.”
Lord Matlock’s brow furrowed as he wondered what would bring a constable to his door. “Show him in.”
Once inside the study, the constable introduced himself as Mr Bowen.
“What can I do for you, Mr Bowen?”
“Lord Matlock, there is no easy way to tell you this, but I am here to inform you that your son, Anthony Fitzwilliam, was found dead. He was in a rough neighborhood, on Lower Bay Street. There are many gambling dens and houses of ill repute in that area. It appeared he had been robbed and beaten to death.”
Finding it too difficult to speak, Lord Matlock sat still, unmoving. Mr Bowen was just about to call for assistance, when Lord Matlock finally uttered words. “My son and heir was murdered. Where is his body?”
“I had his body taken to Milton’s. You can make whatever arrangements you wish with Mr Milton. We will be looking into the matter, as it is a murder, but I must tell you, the chances of finding the killer are slim.”
“Enough. I have heard enough. Please leave me to my mourning.” Lord Matlock dismissed the constable.
When the door closed, Lord Matlock moved to the sideboard and poured himself a glass of port. Throwing back the drink in one shot, he poured a second glass. “Damn you Armstrong. Damn to you and your harlot. You murdered my heir over some whore you could not control. Bingley, you will pay for your role in my son’s murder. Why could you not have just left Armstrong alone with the chit? Your interference has cost me my first born. Damn you to hell. And I am sure that Darcy and Richard are involved in this betrayal as well. Richard most likely thinks he will inherit his brother’s title and wealth. Ha. There is no wealth left. There is nothing left now but your brother’s lifeless corpse. And it is on your head as well.” Draining his second and third glass of port, Lord Matlock turned and heaved the empty glass at the fireplace, shattering the glass against the stone façade.
~~ ** ~~
The neighborhood surrounding the townhouse belonging to Bingley’s aunt began to come alive. The sounds of the fight the night before had most of the neighbors hiding in their homes, too afraid to venture out. Seeing the damaged townhouse, in the light of day, spoke volumes of the violence.
Windows were shattered, doors were splintered to gain entrance. There was blood in many areas of the first level of the house, and in the garden area behind it. Furnishings were damaged, tables smashed and chairs over turned. It was clear to everyone that someone had desperately wanted something inside the townhouse.
Lord Bentley and Mr Hawkins walked through the townhouse with Colonel Fitzwilliam. Darcy and Bingley had remained at Darcy House, both wishing to remain close to their ladies.
“We forced our way in the front door, and the intruders had nearly made it to the staircase. With our arrival, they were forced back. If we had been even a few moments later, they would have reached Miss Elizabeth and the other women.” Richard declared. “One of our guards was killed, two were injured. We were fortunate there were not more, as they were highly outnumbered. Armstrong brought a small army of his men.”
“This is outrageous.” Lord Bentley exclaimed. “The amount of damage speaks of how many men were in here, fighting each other. I agree, Richard, it was a small army. The desperation to reach Miss Elizabeth is clear. It is a miracle they were not able to achieve their goal.” Turning towards the constable, Lord Bentley inquired. “Have either of the men taken into custody spoken?”
“No, your lordship, though the one works at the docks, in one of the gambling establishments owned by Armstrong. It is not enough to prove Armstrong’s involvement, but it leans towards the conclusion.”
Another man arrived, stepping to Lord Bentley’s side and spoke softly. Lord Bentley’s face paled. He turned his eyes to Colonel Fitzwilliam. “Richard, my footman has just informed me that your brother has been found, murdered.”
“Armstrong made good on his threats.” Richard said as his hand combed through his hair. “Good God, Darcy and I were sure he had threatened Father. Anthony’s gambling has led to some major debts to Armstrong. He was sending us a message and punishing Father. Blast it all, what a horrid mess. Father must be beside himself.”
“You should go to him, Richard. He will need you now more than ever.”
The colonel shook his head. “No, Father will not wish to see me. He will hold Anthony’s death against me, and against Darcy. We argued recently over the situation with Armstrong. Father made it clear that we were not welcome if we did not assist Armstrong, and hand over Miss Elizabeth to him.”
“But you are Lord Matlock’s son. He will need you now.”
“He will despise me now. It would shock me if he has not already sent for his solicitor to have me disowned completely. No, with my brother’s death, I am no longer welcome in the family.”
“I have seen enough here. Let us make our way to Darcy House.” Lord Bentley suggested.
~~ ** ~~
Arriving at his cousin’s home, Colonel Fitzwilliam discovered two messages for him. The first was from his mother, informing him of his brother’s death and begging him to come to their home as soon as he could. The second message was from his father. It confirmed what Richard knew his father would say.
Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam.
You are hereby informed of the death of your brother, Anthony, my sole heir. He was murdered, and I am certain you know why.
I have informed my staff that you and your cousins are not welcome in my homes. You have been disinherited and I refuse to have any further contact with you. Darcy made his choice, to choose a harlot over family, so he may live the rest of his days with no notice from me, your mother, or even my sister, Lady Catherine.
Please pass along this information to your cousins. This is the final contact I intend to have with any of you.
Lord Matlock, Henry Fitzwilliam
“Richard, you are returned.” Darcy said as he came down the stairs. “Mr Jarvis stated there were messages delivered for you, from Matlock House.”
“I just read them. You should read this one from your uncle.” Richard handed the letter from his father to Darcy. Darcy’s jaw nearly struck the floor at Lord Matlock’s words.
Looking at his cousin, Darcy could not find the words to apologize to him. After several moments, Darcy was finally able to speak. “Forgive me, Richard. I should never have gotten you involved in this situation.”
“You did nothing to drag me into this mess. I volunteered my assistance, especially after meeting Miss Elizabeth. Anthony was the one gambling, destroying his inheritance and dragging our father down with him. Armstrong was the one who committed the wrongs which have brought so much pain. Miss Elizabeth is an innocent young lady and deserves my protection over my brother. Anthony is responsible for his own death, he made the choice to continue to go to Armstrong’s establishments. I had no intention to sacrifice the life of an innocent young lady, just so my brother could continue his desolate way of living. I am a colonel in his majesty’s service. To turn my back on Miss Elizabeth would be tantamount to my allowing the French to invade England. Even now, after learning of my brother’s death, I cannot imagine having done any different than we did. The people we are protecting are decent, kind, and worthy of my protection.”
“You have been disinherited. You should be the next in line to the title and property.”
Richard laughed bitterly. “There is nothing left, Darce. My brother has destroyed the estate and the family holdings. I am not losing anything. My mother wishes me to come to her, but she will have to accept her husband’s dictates. You and Georgiana have always been dear to me. I do not regret my decision. I have never understood Anthony, you know that. You have always been closer to me, more of a brother to me.”
Clapping a hand on his cousin’s shoulder, Darcy nodded. “You have always been a man of honor, Richard. Far more than the earl and viscount. I am proud to have you as my family, as I have always thought of you as a brother, rather than a cousin.”
Richard nodded his head. “We should speak to Georgiana and inform the others as well. How do you think Miss Elizabeth will react to the news?”
“She will most likely blame herself, though it is not her fault.” Darcy replied.
~~ ** ~~
The Gardiners and Bennets were gathered in the drawing room with Bingley and Georgiana when Colonel Fitzwilliam and Darcy entered the room. Georgiana could sense immediately that something had happened. She crossed the room and wrapped her arms around her brother. “What is wrong?”
“Everyone, we have some news to share with all of you. We received news that Colonel Fitzwilliam’s brother, Anthony, was found murdered.”
Gasps could be heard throughout the room. Elizabeth shook her head and stood, walking towards the door of the drawing room. Darcy took hold of her arm, attempting to stop her. She flinched involuntarily from the grip of his hand. Though it was not painful, the memories of another man’s vise like grip made her recoil. “My fault.” She stated through her clenched jaw. “No more deaths.”
“You cannot believe that turning yourself over to Armstrong will protect anyone. Besides, Anthony’s death was not your fault. He was a gambler, frequenting Armstrong’s establishment. He owed the monster a very steep amount, enough to ruin Lord Matlock and force him to sell his property or allow his heir to be placed in debtor’s prison. No matter what happened with you, Anthony caused his own demise.”
“William is correct, Miss Elizabeth. My father knew of the danger of allowing my brother to continue his carefree lifestyle, gambling away the bulk of the family investments. If my father does not lose Matlock, I will be amazed.”
“When are you going to see your parents, Richard?” Georgiana asked. “William and I should go with you.”
“We are not welcome at Matlock House, Georgiana.” Colonel Fitzwilliam replied. “Due to my not siding with my father and brother, I have been officially disowned. I would not be allowed to enter the townhouse. Hopefully, my mother will send my belongings here.”
Tears were flowing from Elizabeth’s eyes. Shaking her head, she pulled free from Darcy and ran from the room. Georgiana held her brother in place. “She needs some time, William. Last night was horrifying, and now this. She is frightened. I should not tell you, but it is best I do. Elizabeth has nightmares, of being in Armstrong’s study, of the beating, and even of what could have happened. Allow her some time to gather her thoughts.”
“We need to keep watch, so she does not do anything foolish. Elizabeth is the sort who would sacrifice herself rather than allow anyone else to be harmed.” Darcy said, as he wrapped his arms around his sister.
Mrs Gardiner rose from her chair. “I will see to Lizzy.”
~~ ** ~~
Not waiting to knock on the door of her niece’s room, Mrs Gardiner entered to find her niece lying across her bed. She walked to the bed and sat down beside Elizabeth’s form. Patting her niece on the back, Mrs Gardiner said not a word until Elizabeth had cried herself dry.
“Lizzy, you are not to blame. Mr Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam do not blame you for the death of the colonel’s brother. The man led a life which placed himself in jeopardy, visiting such establishments, and behaving recklessly. You uncle told me that most gambling establishments are in unsavory areas of Town, and there are many people who would rob and kill a young man of wealth. We have no certainty that Mr Armstrong was involved in the matter at all. Though we all believe he was, there is no proof. It could be a coincidence that it happened.”
“So tired of living like this.” Elizabeth felt some pain as she spoke through her teeth. She was clinching her jaw tightly.
“Like what?” Mrs Gardiner asked.
“Fear, danger everywhere. All because of me. Mr Armstrong is evil. He will not stop. Who will he harm next?”
“We are not willing to hand you over to him. All that stands against evil triumphing is good people doing what is right and just. We are now all together, in this lovely house, and safe. I know how frightened we have all been for you, and now we are together. Jane is improving, and she is finally allowing herself to enjoy Mr Bingley’s attentions. Mary and Kitty are well, and both are pleased to be here with you. Mr Darcy has a garden in the back of the house, which is safe and secure, where we can enjoy the fresh air and sunshine each day. And there is a wonderful library with so many books, which will keep you satisfied. Georgiana and Mary have already discussed music with each other. It is also my belief that Colonel Fitzwilliam will need all of us to be his family now. He did not approve of his brother’s behavior, but it was still his brother. With his father disowning him, it is important he knows that we all care about him and accept him as a part of our family.”
“What will happen?”
“I am not sure, my dear Lizzy. We will take each day as it comes. All I know for certain is, we are here, together, and you had a guardian angel watching over you last night. How else would word have come, alerting the men to come to rescue you, and send word for us to move in the middle of the night? Someone sent an angel to watch over all of us. Now, go into your dressing room and wash your face. Your eyes are swollen and red from crying. It is nearly time for luncheon, so we will return to the rest of our extended family.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. She went to the dressing room, wetting the corner of a towel in the cool water from the pitcher. Dabbing the cool, wet cloth on her eyes, she felt the puffiness receding.
Looking into the peer glass, Elizabeth noticed some of her hair had come from under her wrappings holding her jaw in place. There were still a few weeks until she was free from the bandaging, but she was more than ready for the strips of cloth to be gone. Carefully, she unwound her head, tossing the cloth on the vanity table. She moved her jaw slightly, finding the pain to be tolerable.
Leaving the bandages on the vanity, Elizabeth pulled her hair back and pinned it into a simple bun at the back of her head. Running her fingers down her gown, she brushed away some of the wrinkles from when she was lying on the bed.
Entering the bedchambers, Elizabeth surprised her aunt. “Lizzy, you are supposed to leave the bandages on for at least another fortnight, if not three weeks.”
“No more. I am tired of them. My jaw is tender, but not as bad as it was.”
“If you injure yourself further, you will have no one but yourself to blame.” Mrs Gardiner said as she walked over to her niece, wrapping her in a motherly embrace. “I love you, Elizabeth. All of us care deeply for you. We would all be distraught if we lost you. Keep that in mind, and do not ever speak of sacrificing yourself to Mr Armstrong. That sort of man would kill you, and then punish the rest of us to set an example.”
“I love you, Aunt Helen. Thank you, so much. To be honest, so much has happened in such a short time. I miss Mamma and Papa, and Lydia too. I am pleased to see Jane improving, though I wish she had never been made to suffer. And then I was beaten, and forced to stay away from all of you for weeks.”
“I will be here for you, always and forever. You have not had a chance to truly mourn your parents and Lydia. With your removal before their funeral, and the care you gave Jane, you had no time to mourn properly. Then you took employment, and could not grieve when with Miss Armstrong. Remember, your parents are with you, in your heart and your memories. Draw from their strength and the love they shared with you.”
Elizabeth nodded her head against her aunt’s shoulder. “I know, Aunt Helen. But I must also separate myself from the family soon. I will not allow the taint of impropriety which I must now bear to touch your family or my sisters. I cannot allow all of you to be ruined alongside of me.”
“I know society deems you as ruined, but I do not agree with how society thinks. You did nothing wrong. You were defending yourself. If you had not, and had allowed him to behave in a vile way towards you, I would have been very disappointed in you. But your courage rose and fought valiantly.”
“Why is it that society overlooks the behavior of the men in perpetrating such acts, yet scorn the ladies who are the victims? It is not fair.”
“My dear Lizzy, I have often wondered that same question. You have no notion of how many times I wish I had a red hot poker to teach some men a very long lasting lesson.”
Elizabeth’s eyes lowered towards her hands, wringing in front of her. “Aunt, I dream of what happened. Some nights, I wake with a start, soaked with perspiration, full of fear and anxiety. When Mr Darcy took hold of my arm, my first thought was to strike him to release his grasp on my arm, afraid of being beaten. I know Mr Darcy would not strike me, but my first reaction was fear of being struck.
“It is not uncommon, Elizabeth. You are still recovering from something which was vicious and violent. There is nothing wrong with your body and mind returning to that survival instinct which part of you. Perhaps you should speak with Mr Darcy, explain to him why you tensed when he took hold of your arm.”
“I cannot imagine speaking of such to him.” Elizabeth blushed.
Mrs Gardiner smiled. “Lizzy, the man cares for you. And I am certain he would do anything for you, even listen to your concerns and fears. Do not hold them inside you, letting them fester. By giving voice to your feelings, and moving forward with life, you take away any power Mr Armstrong has over you. What is your favorite saying? Remember the past only as it brings you pleasure. Do not give that beast any further hold of you, Lizzy. Speak with Mr Darcy.”
“I will think on your suggestion, Aunt Helen. I cannot promise any more than that.” Elizabeth gave a weak smile to her aunt.
~~ ** ~~
Armstrong was furious. He had received confirmation that the Gardiners and their nieces were all securely established inside Darcy House. With Darcy’s security measures, Armstrong knew the townhouse would be a veritable fortress. The death of Anthony Fitzwilliam had not caused Colonel Fitzwilliam and Darcy to abandon their defense of Elizabeth Bennet, in fact, their efforts appeared to have increased. It became public knowledge, within days of the murder, that Lord Matlock had disowned his younger son and nephew. The funeral for his heir was held in private, with only a few close friends allowed.
Since the funeral, Lord Matlock had isolated himself in his townhouse. Word from his staff claimed that the earl was well into his cups most of the time. Lady Matlock had fled to return to their estate, wishing to be alone, as she was angry with her husband for his behavior. She had had Richard’s belongings packed up and sent to Darcy House, disobeying her husband’s demand to burn everything which had been Richard’s.
Nearly a month had gone by and Armstrong was no closer to a resolution to the matter. Whenever he was in public, there were whispers and fingers pointed in his direction. Armstrong was strong enough to endure such behavior, but his daughter was being ignored and even shunned. Lucy was dear to him, and he would protect her in any way possible. Each day which went by with his daughter being treated as a leper, the angrier Armstrong grew.
I will no longer be satisfied with punishing Elizabeth Bennet, I must punish Bingley as well. If he had refrained from forcing his way into my study, removing Elizabeth Bennet from my grasp, there would have been no problems. But now, now I am a laughing stock. My daughter is being punished due to her former companion’s behavior. The whore should have just submitted to me. It is all her fault. And she must be using her charms and allurement to make Fitzwilliam and Darcy defend her so, forgetting their family obligations. They must have been gifted with her delights to be so enamored.
Gardiner, he is nobody of importance. He is an insect, needing to be squashed. His family would have been simple enough to deal with, if not for the aid of Darcy and his cousin. Now, with them all concentrated in one location, how am I to exact my revenge? I must have my revenge.
~~ ** ~~
Each day that went by, Bingley was able to spend more time with Jane. She had finally accepted the measures Mr Johnston had insisted on to improve her health and make her stronger. Realizing that Bingley truly had feelings for her, feelings which looked past her disability, improved her outlook on life.
After breaking their fast each morning, with the rest of their party, Bingley would push Jane in a wheeled chair around the gardens, when the weather permitted. It was clear they cared for each other, and Darcy realized he was wrong to have been part of separating them when Bingley was at Netherfield.
Elizabeth spent many hours reading in the library or the music room. The temptation of Darcy House’s library was far too great for her to withstand, and she enjoyed the vast selection that was now available to her. She was also pleased to spend time with Darcy, as he devoted many hours a day with her.
One of day, towards the end of the first week, Darcy took Elizabeth on a tour of the house. On the main level were mostly the public rooms, the ballroom, a formal dining room, a breakfast room, the kitchen, a drawing room which was far too formal for Darcy’s tastes, as he preferred the comfort of the second floor drawing room. The first floor was furnished more ornate, and Darcy spoke of his desire to have the rooms renovated one day soon.
“I prefer how Pemberley feels now, after I had it remodeled. The public rooms there were decorated similar to these, due to my mother’s tastes. These chairs are so uncomfortable, there is no point in sitting on them.”
Elizabeth was surprised with his declaration, though it brought a smile to her face. When they reached the second floor, the more personal touch of the master was clear to see. The chairs in the drawing room and music room were quality, but far more comfortable, amply padded and no sharp edges. These rooms called out a welcome to those who entered. There was a family wing located on the north wing of the townhouse’s second floor. Not far away was the library, a large portion of the second floor. Off to the south of the library was the Master’s study. Near the music room was the Mistress’ study. Most of the third floor was guest rooms and the nursery. Along the hall near the library were family portraits hanging on the walls.
It was clear to see where Darcy had garnered his looks from. He appeared to be as tall of his father had been, with curly black hair and dark, piercing eyes. With the same chin and nose, the same shape of his face, Elizabeth was certain it would have been difficult to know which if they had placed the painting of Gerald Darcy side by side with one of Fitzwilliam Darcy at the same age. The portrait showed his father with a cold expression on his face, making him seem proud and heartless. Moving forward to the portrait of Darcy’s mother, Elizabeth was surprised to see a similar look upon her expression. How could these people appear to be so heartless, when their so is just the opposite? Of course Mr Darcy gives all the appearance of cruelty and pride, yet shows such a different side in private. I am pleased to see how wrong I was with regards to him, but, now, my heart breaks for how sad his childhood must have been.
“You certainly look like your father. Was he as tall as you?” Elizabeth asked, turning her eyes to look at his expression.
“We may look alike, but that is all we have in common. Fortunately, Georgiana and I are nothing like either of our parents. We were blessed to have our housekeeper at Pemberley, Mrs Reynolds, and Mrs Jarvis, here at Darcy House. They were good to Georgiana and me, and gave us proper morals. My cousin, Richard, spent a great deal of time with us as well. Between the three of us, we decided what was right and wrong.”
“You were not close to your parents?” Elizabeth glanced back towards the portraits of Gerald and Anne Darcy.
“My mother was the life of the party. She did not approve of my father, as her father arranged the marriage, as a way to improve the coffers of Matlock. I am surprised they ever had children, as they were rarely ever in the same county as the other, let alone in the same house or rooms. Mother despised me, for my appearance being so close to my father’s. It was rare for her to speak to me, and the older I became, the less she would even look at me.”
“Forgive me, Mr Darcy, for bringing up such a painful subject.” Elizabeth placed a hand gently on his arm.
Clasping a hand over top of hers, Darcy smiled. “It is nothing for you to apologize for. You did nothing wrong. In our circle of society, it is not uncommon for marriages to be a business rather than for love. My father was fond of women, and he spent much of his time with his many mistresses. Georgiana and I have two sisters and a brother, all natural children of my father. You know one of them.”
Elizabeth gasped. “Mr Wickham?”
Darcy looked up at his father’s portrait and nodded his head. “The girls were discarded, as my father did not care for daughters. But George Wickham, there he found his soul mate. Wickham was just as deprived as our father. Even after I gave him his inheritance, he wished for more. Though he is three years my junior, Wickham felt he should have inherited Pemberley rather than me. He even made an attempt to steal Georgiana’s dowry, when she was only four and ten. Knowing he is my brother is difficult, for he is evil. Due to his actions, I have been forced to cover his debts, many times, and even found homes for those children he has fathered.”
“Mr Darcy, I must beg your forgiveness, for believing his lies. I accepted his words against you. Now I can see how foolish I was.” Elizabeth attempted to pull her hand free.
“Miss Elizabeth, please, do not fret. His easy ways have taken many people in, making them believe him. Because of his ways, merchants do not hesitate to grant his credit, only to discover later that he has left them on the hook for the funds. It is the reason he has been able to convince many young maiden to forfeit her virtue to him.”
“I am glad I have been able to learn the truth about you, Mr Darcy. You are truly the best of men.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
The days of thinking of Elizabeth being far from appropriate for to marry were long gone. In a heartbeat, Darcy went from knowing he could never marry her, to wishing to marry her every hour of the day. Knowing his family had been involved in any way with Armstrong had opened Darcy’s eyes dramatically as to the sort of people who were considered the upper crust of society. He could not imagine Mr Bennet or the other members of Meryton’s neighborhood to behave as Lord Matlock and Anthony Fitzwilliam. To think, his own uncle and cousin could condone Armstrong’s behavior because of money, was appalling.
Realizing the truth, Darcy had tossed all thought from his mind of whether Elizabeth had the appropriate connections or dowry. Coming to know the Gardiners, he respected them far more than his uncle. And Lady Matlock could not influence her husband, forcing her to withdraw from her remaining son.
Since coming to the realization that he could not survive without Elizabeth in his life, Darcy had found a peace and calm that he had never known before. He knew he was in love with her, and the feeling filled him completely.
In the month since the daring rescue, bringing the inhabitants to Darcy House, Darcy had begun a courtship of sorts. He realized how little Elizabeth knew of him, his sister and Richard had informed him how surprised she was to learn he cared for her. Each day, they would discuss opinions of books, music, philosophy, and more. They challenged each other to chess games, and Darcy would sit in the music room, captivated by the sound of her voice as she sang for him. Darcy was thrilled to be in his private world, secure and protected, with the people he cared the most about. But he knew it would not last forever, for Darcy was certain Armstrong was plotting his next course of action.
Finally, one day, Elizabeth opened her heart enough to trust him with the nightmares and the daytime fears which had continued to course through her. As she spoke, Darcy had a difficult time not leaving the house to track down Armstrong and throttle the man. Only the thought of what would happen to those he loved if he were to behave so, kept him from acting upon his impulse. By the end of her explaining all to him, Darcy had wrapped his arm gently about her, holding her to his side as they say on the sofa together. “On my word as a gentleman, I will do all that is within my power to protect you. And, as a man in love, I promise you that nothing has diminished my love for you. In fact, my love has grown in leaps and bounds.”
Taking the handkerchief he offered her, Elizabeth dried her tears. Here is a true gentleman, a man of honor and one to be respected. And, he is one deserving of being truly loved.
~~ ** ~~
Caroline Bingley had received a letter from a friend of hers, Miss Cartwright. As Miss Cartwright had been in Town, and Caroline was in Scarborough with her sister, the news in the letter was a shock to Miss Bingley.
Learning her brother was involved in some sort of scandal with a paid companion of Mr Armstrong was horrifying, as Caroline had been desperately trying to find a way to impress Mr Darcy. She was certain she would be the next Mistress of Pemberley, and it would ruin all her plans if Darcy learned of Charles’ activities.
Making arrangements, Caroline prepared to travel to London to resolve the situation. She had already saved him from making the foolish choice of marrying Jane Bennet, and she would save him from an even worse situation with a servant girl. And, while she was in Town, she would also speak with Darcy, to reassure him and beg him not to abandon Charles.
Louisa Hurst and her husband, Gilbert, would remain in Scarborough, as Louisa was ill. She had recently learned she was with child, and her morning sickness was extreme. Caroline was pleased to be away from her ailing sister, no matter what the problem in Town was.
~~ ** ~~
Lord Matlock was in a stupor when his butler announced someone had requested an audience with him. “I do not wish to see anyone. Tell them to go away.”
The door was pushed further open, slamming against the wall behind it. “You will see me, Lord Matlock.” Armstrong stormed into the room.
The butler quickly closed the door and retreated from his employer’s meeting. Lord Matlock was difficult enough to endure since his son’s murder, but Armstrong’s reputation was well known, and he was clearly angry.
“What do you think you are doing, forcing your way into my home? We have nothing more to discuss, as my son’s debts are paid in blood. I wish no further dealings with the likes of you.”
“You have another son, who can be made to pay for your failure to aid me.” Armstrong stated as if he were discussing the weather rather murder. “And your wife could also be held accountable. Would you wish to see further death?”
“I have disowned my younger son, and cut ties with my nephew and niece. My wife has left for our estate, as she does not wish to reside with me. So, all that is left is me. And if you kill me, it will not matter. I will be with my heir.” Lord Matlock threw back another glass of port, before refilling the glass.
“You are a fool, Matlock. I have no intention to kill you, though I can ruin you completely. I need you to assist me, as I need access to Darcy House. You know the interior of the house, and can give me details. I need to get my hands on the whore and that tradesman’s son, and the sooner the better. My wounds are now healed from the last attempt, and I am ready to make those who have thwarted me to pay for the pain I have endured.”
“You were there, at the townhouse? I thought you would have sent your men there, not gone yourself.” Lord Matlock looked at the man before him carefully.
“Of course I was there. Every army requires a general, and that is what I am to my men. Your younger son’s battle skills would be impressive, if he had not shot me in the shoulder. I lost several good men in the attempt. We must find a way to enter Darcy’s townhouse and achieve our goals.”
“You should give up your delusions of getting your hands on the trollop. Darcy House is a fortress. My brother in law had improvements made to make it secure, and, after his death, my nephew made it even more so. You will never gain access, no matter what you try. The only way inside is if you are invited, and you will never be invited.”
“But you would be allowed to enter. Perhaps you can claim a desire to reunite with your family. You could then find a way of allowing the rest of my men to enter. Your younger son and nephew would welcome your attempt at a reconciliation.” Armstrong stated.
“I have no desire to be involved any further in your plans. I wish to live out the remainder of my days alone. Be off, I do not wish to be bothered any further.” Lord Matlock drained his glass again.
Armstrong leaned over the desk which was between the two men, placing his hands upon the papers on top of it. “You will do as I say, do you hear me? I am not giving you a choice in the matter. You will comply, and that is all there is to it.”
“There is nothing you can do to me, Armstrong. I refuse to assist you. I despise you as much as I do Elizabeth Bennet. She is just as responsible for what happened to my son, and I wish you both would go somewhere and die.”
“Then do as I say and I will put an end to her. Once she is dead, I will leave you to your mourning.” Armstrong attempted to find some reason for Lord Matlock to comply.
“I will think on your request. But do not expect the answer you wish. I cannot guarantee you will like my answer.”
~~ ** ~~
The attic was filled with many trunks and cases, all covered in a thick layer of dust. “Mrs Jarvis said that the trunks we I wished to locate should be along the wall, over here.” Darcy motioned his hand to the left side of the room.
“Mr Darcy, there is no need to disturb your mother’s belongings. I have enough gowns for the time being. Besides, I am still supposed to be in full mourning.”
“Due to the situation, it would be difficult to have you go to a modiste to have a fitting. You only have three gowns, and they are well worn. You need some other items to wear. As Mrs Jarvis noticed, you are of similar stature as my mother. The gowns in the trunks up here have been languishing here, doing no good. My mother was fond of obtaining new gowns, and had quite a selection to choose from. Even if you only find a handful of gowns that would fit your tastes, it will give some life to these gowns rather than leaving them useless. Mrs Jarvis has spoken to Lilly, the house seamstress, and she will make any alterations which are needed.”
“You are far too kind to me, Mr Darcy.” Elizabeth said, her cheeks brightening. “I will be careful with your mother’s gowns, as I would not wish to mar them.”
“Have no fear, Miss Elizabeth. They are gowns, not treasured memories.”
“Forgive me, Mr Darcy, I did not wish to bring up painful memories.”
Darcy smiled. “You have not, my dear Elizabeth.”
Hearing her gasp, Darcy turned his attention towards her. “Forgive me, Miss Elizabeth. I forget myself at times.”
“I am just unaccustomed to such informality. I…I do…like hearing you…speak my name. It makes me feel as if I am wrapped in warm sunlight on a spring day. Comforting.”
Darcy was certain she felt the same as he did. Taking hold of her hands in his own, kneeling before her. “Miss Elizabeth Bennet, please allow me to tell you how ardently I love and admire you. I have thought long and hard on this matter, and my heart is captivated by you. Your wit, beauty, charm, all combine into an amazing lady. Would you do me the very great honor of consenting to be my wife?”
Her heart was captured by the man before her, though her mind warred against such a match. “Mr Darcy, you must know the truth. I am ruined, in the eyes of society. It would not be fitting for you to have such a wife. Mrs Darcy should be a lady of society, with no taint connected. Not only am I ruined, I have no dowry or connections to bring to a marriage.”
“What do I have need of a dowry? I am one of the richest men in England. Your connections to Mr Gardiner are fabulous, as he is a highly intelligent businessman. I am looking forward to doing business with him. As for your being ruined, in my eyes, you are not ruined at all. Anyone who believes you to be ruined is a fool, you were rescued from a vicious attack.”
“You do not know, cannot know, the extent of his intensions. I am humiliated just thinking of what he wished to do.” Elizabeth attempted to turn, as if to leave the attic, but Darcy would have none of it.
“I know what his intentions were, dearest Elizabeth. But he did not succeed in his plan. For that, I will be eternally grateful to Bingley. If it were not for his intervention, I would have most certainly had to call out Armstrong. What he did to you, my blood still boils at the thought of what he put you through. And you fought him valiantly. The injuries you endured spoke of how valiantly you fought him, or he would not have lost control of himself as he was beating you.”
“Mr Darcy, it is not proper to speak of such things. I know you do not care what would be said. But think of what your sister would be forced to endure. Miss Darcy is not even out is society. What are her chances of a good match if she is tainted by having the likes of me as a sister? As it is, my own sisters are most likely to suffer. I must leave them, soon, and never return.”
“Never, Elizabeth. I will not allow you to leave them forever. If you insist on leaving, I will go wherever you go. Losing you would be the same as cutting out my heart and tossing it into the rubbish. My sister is not fond of society, and she has dreaded her coming out. She is only five and ten. Her coming out can be delayed for three or four years. By then, there will be many more scandals come and go, replacing any gossip which might arise from this mess. And I am certain your sisters would agree that they prefer to have you with them. They have all been so worried for you. Having you returned to them has been a blessing, not a detriment, to them. Did you not see the look on their faces when they were reunited with you? Do you not remember how pleased they were when Mr Johnston determined that your jaw appeared to have not been broken after all? They were so relieved and overjoyed. As were your aunt and uncle. And your cousins dearly love you.”
Pulling Elizabeth into his embrace, he noted little resistance from her. Finally, she gave in, feeling loved by the man holding her secure in his arms. “Yes.”
“What did you say?” Darcy smiled, having heard her, yet wishing to hear it repeated.
“I said yes, Mr Darcy. Yes.” Elizabeth giggled. “Yes, I love you, and yes I will marry you.”
“Then there is to be a change. My betrothed is not to refer to me as Mr Darcy, unless she is angry with me. And, at this moment, you had best not be angry with me.” Darcy placed a kiss on the top of her hair. “I love you Elizabeth. And I thank God each and every day for his rescuing you. I know I would not have been able to survive if you had died. We will grow old together, with a house filled with children and grandchildren. You must promise me at least fifty years of marriage, though I pray for many more years than a mere fifty.”
“I promise you eternity, Mr…William. No matter how long we have here, we will have eternity together after death. It would be wonderful to watch our future children and grandchildren. We need at least ten children.” Elizabeth smiled. “One has to be a son, the image of his father.”
“Only if there is a daughter who is a miniature of you, my love. I wish to witness your childhood through our daughter.” Darcy leaned his cheek against her head. “Would they find us if we just stayed here, in the attic? Having you in my arms, feeling your heart beating next to mine, I do not wish to return to the world downstairs.”
“Unfortunately, I believe Mrs Jarvis would send searchers to find us. But they will not think us missing for a little while.” Elizabeth giggled.
“Promise me we will marry soon. I can send word to my solicitor to procure a special license, we can marry here, at the townhouse. There is no need for people outside our group to attend.”
“You wish to marry while we are being pursued by Mr Armstrong? Would it not be better to wait, and have a proper wedding? There would be less gossip.”
“I care not of the gossips. You are far more important to me, and having you as my wife is the most important thing in my life. Please, do not make me wait. Besides, my marriage to you will protect you, perhaps even giving Armstrong cause to reconsider his desire to harm you.”
The pleading in his voice was like a child wishing for an extra dessert, causing Elizabeth to laugh. “Very well, William. I will not make you wait.”
~~ ** ~~
“Miss Bingley, we were not expecting your arrival.” Mr Fawkes stated as he held the door to Bingley’s townhouse open for his master’s sister.
“I have urgent business with my brother and came unexpectedly. Is he in his study?”
“No, Miss. He has been staying at Darcy House for a while now. We have strict orders to refuse anyone access to this house, as there has been some danger brewing. I am certain your brother would wish for you to return to your sister’s home, as staying in Town is not safe at the moment.”
“Mr Fawkes, I am not accustomed to the staff telling me where I shall stay. And what is this danger you speak of? Does it involve my brother’s poor judgment in his dealings with a young lady? I received word that he has been involved with a paid companion, is this danger involving her? Has her father or brothers turned violent?” Miss Bingley bombarded the butler with question after question.
“Miss Bingley, obviously, I am not privy to all your brother’s dealings, but what I know of the matter is that your brother saved the young lady from being beaten to death. The man who committed the crime is a vile man, and your brother acted honorably. He did not bring the injured young lady here, as it would have been improper.”
“Do not tell me my brother was foolish enough to take her to Darcy House. Good Lord, will my brother be the ruin of our family? What would Mr Darcy think of our family now?”
“It was Mr Darcy who requested your brother to move to Darcy House, for his own safety. It is my understanding that the young lady is known to Mr Darcy, and he is doing all he can to assist in the matter.”
“Known to Mr Darcy? How can that be? She is a paid companion, not a young lady of society.” Caroline turned to walk back out the door, prepared to make her way to Darcy House and retrieve her brother. A thought suddenly came to her mind. Good Lord, could this young lady be Mr Darcy’s mistress? Is that why he is protecting my brother after his intervention with her employer? Had the employer discovered her true profession and beat her for the ruin she brought to his daughter’s reputation?
Once returned to her carriage, she was quickly transported to Darcy House.
Mr Jarvis stepped outside the front door of Darcy House, just as Miss Bingley stepped down from the carriage. “Forgive me, Miss Bingley, but I was not notified of your coming. The staff is under orders not to allow anyone inside without direct permission from the Master.”
“Your master will allow me, as we are friends.” Caroline insisted. In her mind, she was seething at the butler’s treatment of her and she was determined to make him pay when she became the Mistress.
“Again, Miss Bingley, I beg you to forgive me, but Mr Darcy’s orders are to be strictly obeyed. With the problems of late, the Master insists on adherence to his orders.”
“I demand you to step aside and allow me inside. I must speak with my brother immediately. His butler informed me that my brother is staying here.”
“Mr Bingley is in residence, but, without Mr Darcy’s permission, I cannot allow you inside the house.” Jarvis had never liked Caroline Bingley, as she always appeared to be placing value on each of the furnishings inside the house and looked about the rooms as if determining how she would redecorate.
“Send for my brother this moment. You are humiliating me, treating me as if I were some street urchin rather than a lady of society and a close friend of the Master of this house. This is not to be tolerated. I will see you lose your position for your actions.” Caroline fumed.
“Madam, if you would return to your carriage, I will go inside and find your brother to come out to you.” Jarvis made his way back inside the townhouse, closing and locking the door securely behind him.
Caroline refused to return to her carriage. After a moment of standing on the front steps, she attempted to open the front door, finding it securely shut and locked. This did nothing to calm her nerves. Every moment which passed increased her fury tenfold.
When the door opened again, Charles Bingley was standing before his sister. “Caroline, what has happened to bring you here?”
“Charles, move aside so I may enter the townhouse. I am humiliated enough, I do not wish for everyone to hear my discussion with you.”
“Of course, come.” Charles looked about at the few people who were walking nearby. Once the door was closed behind her, Charles began questioning her. “Is something wrong with Louisa or Hurst? Why are you here?”
“I am here to save our family from ruin, Charles. I received a letter telling me of your scandalous behavior here, in Town, and knew it was up to me to come and rescue you. I only wish you had not dragged Mr Darcy into your mess. We can only pray that he forgives you and he does give us the cut direct.” Caroline glared at her brother.
“Caroline, you have not been told the entire tale of what has happened, and I beg you to listen to it before passing judgment against me.”
“How can I not pass judgment, when you are linked in a liaison with some lady’s companion? You are said to have set her up as your mistress. And you brought her here, to Darcy House, to recover after her employer assaulted her when he learned of the disgrace she had brought to his daughter.”
“How dare you speak of my betrothed in such a manner?” Darcy bellowed as he entered the foyer. “You enter my home, howling so loud that everyone can hear you, and disparage the lady I am engaged to. This is not to be tolerated.”
“Mr Darcy, forgive me. I do not understand. How can you be engaged to a paid lady’s companion? You are to marry your cousin, or someone of high society, not a servant.” Caroline was flustered.
“The young lady in question fell on hard times since our previous acquaintance. She is the daughter of a gentleman, forced to find employment after the tragic deaths of her parents. Had I known of their deaths, I would have gone to her immediately, and she would have never needed to find employment. As to your brother’s involvement, he rescued her from being beaten by her employer. The reason for the beating was that she refused to submit to her employer’s desires for her. Had Charles not interfered when he did, the man would have killed my beloved.”
“Who is this lady? I have heard nothing of anyone from society dying suddenly?”
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I believe you are acquainted with the young lady. Her parents became victims of a band of highwaymen, as did her youngest sister. Miss Bennet was injured as well, though she survived.”
“BENNET!” Screeched Caroline Bingley. “You cannot be serious, Mr Darcy. This is a cruel joke to play on me. For many years, I have done everything possible to prove to you how perfect I would be as Mistress of Pemberley. I was certain you would one day realize how accomplished and beautiful I am, how intelligent I am on the ways of society and how to run a house as grand as yours. But, instead, you select Miss Eliza Bennet? The country chit from a country estate that no one has ever heard of before? And she brings shame to everyone by being involved in a scandal? No, Mr Darcy, it would be highly improper for you to act in such a manner. Your family will never agree to such a marriage. You will be ostracized by your friends and family.”
“I have done everything in my power, other than strike you to beat the truth into you, to prove to you that I have no desire to marry you, Miss Bingley.” Darcy stood straight and tall, looking down at the woman before him. “I am in love with Miss Elizabeth, and have been given the honor of becoming her betrothed. The only family who matters to me is my sister and my cousin, the colonel. Miss Elizabeth’s remaining sisters and their Gardiner relations are far more important to me than Lady Catherine or Lord Matlock. I could never love you, Miss Bingley, and have no desire to marry without true love and devotion.”
“Her relations?” Miss Bingley did not know when to keep her comments to herself. “Please do not tell me you are speaking of her relations in trade?”
“Caroline, our family is rooted in trade. That is where our fortune came from. I will not tolerate any further display of superiority on your part. You are far beneath the Gardiners and Bennets in your behavior.” Bingley stood tall and proud against his sister for the first time in many years. Turning his attention to his friend, he was concerned. “Darcy, what are we to do with my sister? If we turn her out of the house, there is a chance she will be harmed as a way to get to me.”
Darcy was furious at the thought of having to subject his betrothed and her family to Miss Bingley staying in the townhouse. But he would not endanger her life, she was Charles’ sister. “Very well, she may stay in the west wing of the third floor, at the end of the hall, until we can find a way to move her safely from Town.”
“Why would I be in any danger?” Caroline demanded.
“That is a long story, Caroline. I will take you to the rooms you will use and inform you of what has happened.” Bingley took hold of his sister’s arm and tugged her along behind Mrs Jarvis, who was leading the way.