This is the first 2 chapters of my newest story.
It was three in the afternoon, when Fitzwilliam Darcy went to the docks to determine if there was any news on the arrival of a ship from Belgium. He had been waiting for four days, expecting the ship to arrive, and each day returned to his room at the inn, no news to be had. He was eager to leave Dover, but he could not leave until the ship arrived.
Two years had passed since he had seen his dearest cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam. Richard had been fighting in France, a decorated officer in His Majesty’s Army, and had not been able to return to his family in England.
Not only was there problems with the war with France, there was a personal war being raged amongst the Fitzwilliam family. Richard was the second born son and fourth born child of the Earl of Matlock. Unlike many other young men of his position, Richard had earned each and every promotion he was given, rather than allow his father to purchase him a commission. Everything Richard had done in his life, he downplayed his connection to his family, wishing to be accepted for who he was rather than who his family was.
Not long after leaving England, Richard found himself in Belgium, assisting in liberating it from France’s control. It was when he arrived in Brussels that his life changed forever. He met a young lady there and fell madly in love with her.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet was the daughter of a professor from the university. Robert Bennet was an Englishman who moved to Brussels to attend classes, and stayed in Belgium after receiving his degree. He taught English literature at the university, loving the culture. He met and married Miss Aristella Hedstrom, the daughter of a wealthy land owner, and a year later, they were thrilled to learn their family was increasing. Sadly, Aristella died from a fever shortly after the birth of their only child, Elizabeth. Also being the only grandchild of the Hedstrom fortune, Elizabeth was doted on all of her life.
When the war came to Belgium, Elizabeth and her father did what they could to aid their friends and family, whether the need was for food or medical care, or for protection from French soldiers, the Bennets had no difficulty in doing their all.
When Elizabeth was assisting in the makeshift hospital, outside Brussels, she was asked to tend to a soldier’s cut hand. When she entered the tent where he was awaiting care, Elizabeth was surprised to see the soldier was from England, and that he was quite handsome. As she tended the cut, cleaning it, stitching the wound, and bandaging his hand, Elizabeth could not help but admire the gentleman before her. He had a sense of humor and a kindness about him, which Elizabeth felt drawn to.
And Richard Fitzwilliam felt the same when he looked into the eyes of his nurse, with the dark brown orbs containing golden flecks in them, which danced in the light. At nine and twenty, Richard had not thought of settling down, as he was set to be a soldier for the rest of his life. After meeting Elizabeth Bennet, his thoughts changed dramatically. He wished to marry, to love the young lady before him, to cherish her throughout his life. Without informing his family, Richard married Elizabeth Bennet a fortnight after they met.
When word reached England, Lord and Lady Matlock were furious. Having never met the young lady, nor heard much of her, they were certain that she was a fortune hunter who was in search of a wealthy Englishman to help her escape the war. And they were determined to not allow Elizabeth acceptance in their family.
Growing up in Derbyshire, Richard spent many weeks at Darcy’s family estate of Pemberley. Matlock and Pemberley were only half a day’s journey from each other, with allowed the boys to be close. Richard’s elder brother, James, was nearly ten when Richard was born, so the brothers were not close. Between the two brothers in birth were two sisters. Martha and Agatha were closer in age to Richard, as their parents had endured several miscarriages between James and Martha, leaving a seven year gap between them. After Martha came Agatha a year later, and finally, Richard rounded out the family. Darcy had been an only child until he turned twelve, when his mother gave birth to Darcy’s sister, Georgiana. There had only been a year between Darcy and Richard in age, making Darcy a surrogate little brother for Richard.
The Fitzwilliam family was extremely oriented around society and what was expected of them, being amongst the peerage. Having their son marry a foreigner was bad enough, but someone who was untitled and unknown was not to be tolerated. Her father being a professor did not impress the Fitzwilliam family either. When Richard received letters from his family, threatening to disown him if he did not cast off the hussy he had married, he decided his love for Elizabeth was far more important to him than society. Richard also decided to keep the information that his wife was worth more than sixty thousand pound, and owned property in Belgium, Germany, Scotland, and England. If his family could not come to know her before passing judgment, Richard was determined to allow them to make fools of themselves.
Darcy remembered the letters he had received from his cousin over the past two years. The love Richard held for his bride was clear, and Darcy was certain that Elizabeth loved his cousin, though Darcy was waiting to meet her before defending her to the family.
While Richard was on the battlefield, his new family was being dealt a harsh blow. An Englishman who was escaping from France had taken refuge at the university, with the assistance of Robert Bennet. Mr Bennet had known the Englishman, Mr Langdon, since his childhood, as Langdon was from Hertfordshire, where the Bennet family hailed from. French soldiers found Langdon, taking him into custody as a traitor to France. In the process, Robert Bennet was mortally wounded.
Nearly a month went by before Richard could return to Brussels. By then, Mr Bennet had been buried and Elizabeth was forced to flee to Antwerp. Richard found his wife in a small house near the north side of the city. Being near a port, Elizabeth could escape easily if need be. For nearly two months, Richard remained with his wife. She had been extremely melancholy after witnessing her father’s death, and only escaped death herself by her grandfather’s former business partner coming to her rescue.
Richard did all he could to comfort his wife. They took long walks, read together, talked about the past and the plans they each had for the future. Elizabeth knew of an estate near the estate of her father’s brother. Mr Thomas Bennet was the eldest brother, and had inherited their family estate of Longbourn. Not far from Longbourn was an estate which was for sale. Thomas Bennet had suggested that Robert purchase the estate and settle in England, with all the hostilities in France and Belgium. Elizabeth felt it would be the perfect place for her and Richard to settle down and start a family. The estate was named The Willows. They read the letters from Thomas Bennet, describing the house and the property. There were weeping willow trees along the west side of the park, forming a path which led to a nearby pond. There were flower gardens, as well as a conservatory, and the estate brought in an annual income of three thousand pounds, with its tenants. After making the decision, Elizabeth and Richard sent a letter to Thomas Bennet to purchase the estate for them. Mr Hedstrom had set up banking in England when his granddaughter was born, knowing the insecurity of Europe being what it was, he was certain a time might come that Elizabeth would need to flee Belgium. So Elizabeth gave her uncle permission to access her account to make the purchase. She also asked Thomas to begin searching for horses to breed, as Elizabeth knew her husband would be pleased to spend the rest of his life breeding the best horses in England.
Richard had written to Darcy, telling him more of Elizabeth than he had his parents or siblings. Something inside of him trusted Darcy far more than he did the others in the family. His letters spoke of the future he wished to share with his wife and the many children he wished to have. Darcy smiled at the simplicity Richard wished to live, after years of serving his country, fighting in battle after battle.
Then came the most painful letter Darcy had ever received. Elizabeth Fitzwilliam wrote to her husband’s cousin to inform him that Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam had been killed in the line of duty. He had been wounded severely, and insisted he be taken to his wife in Antwerp. As there was nothing more the physicians could do for him, he was loaded on a wagon and transported as quickly as possible to Antwerp. Two days after his arrival at his wife’s home, Richard died with his wife’s arms wrapped around him. Elizabeth requested Darcy’s assistance, as she was bringing Richard’s body to England. It was her desire to have him buried at The Willows, so he would always be with her. Her letter stated she would be arriving at Dover, but she was not certain as to the date.
Darcy made his way to Dover quickly, wishing to assist his cousin’s beloved widow as a final gift to Richard. And then Darcy had to wait, and wait. He prayed the ship would arrive soon, as Darcy’s nerves were on edge.
Upon receiving the letter from Elizabeth, Darcy wrote to his aunt and uncle, informing Lord and Lady Matlock of their son’s death. They were at their estate in Derbyshire, while Darcy had been in London when he received the news. Fortunately, Darcy arrived in Dover before the letter arrived at Matlock. An express arrived at the inn, declaring the Matlocks were sending servants to retrieve their son’s body and deliver it to their family estate. Though he was loyal to his family, Darcy felt his loyalty to Richard and his widow was far stronger.
The sooner the ship arrived and Richard could be transported to The Willows, the better. As Darcy finished partaking in a light meal, a young lad came into the inn’s dining room. He had been sent to notify Darcy of the ship’s arrival. Darcy paid the boy some coins as he stood and made his way out of the dining room.
At the desk where the innkeeper sat, Darcy informed the man he would be leaving soon, asking for word to be sent to his valet to pack his belongings and ask for the wagon he had hired to be hitched up and sent to the docks.
Darcy arrived at the docks just as the ship was tied off and the gangplank was put in place. Watching the people exiting the ship, it was not difficult to recognize Mrs Elizabeth Fitzwilliam. She was just as his cousin described her, handsome, small built, beautiful dark curls attempting to escape the bonnet she wore. Fatigue was clear in her expression. Though he wished to remain at the inn for the night, to allow her to rest, Darcy knew it would be a huge risk.
“Mrs Fitzwilliam, though I wish it had been under different circumstances, I am pleased to finally meet you.” Darcy stated as he bowed to her.
“Mr Darcy? I hope you have not been too inconvenienced in waiting for us.” Elizabeth said softly, a tear forming in the corner of her eye. Turning her head, she watched as a large wooden box was brought from the hold and carried reverently to the dock.
Darcy walked over to the men, instructing them to load the box on the wagon, which had just arrived. Placing a hand gently on the top of the box, Darcy said a silent prayer for his cousin, as well as a promise to protect his wife as best he could.
“Mrs Fitzwilliam, my carriage is over here. Please, come with me.” Darcy stated as he returned to Elizabeth. “I am afraid it is necessary for us to leave Dover as soon as possible.”
A frown stole over Elizabeth’s face. “What has happened?” she asked.
“Richard’s parents sent an express to me here, stating their intentions in coming here to retrieve his remains to be buried at Matlock. I do not agree with their decision, as it is your right to make the choice of where your husband is to rest, so I have taken the liberty to arrange for us to leave as soon as your trunks are loaded. We will journey to Hertfordshire, to your estate. From what Richard wrote to me, I can imagine the estate would be a far better place for him to be laid to rest.”
“He told me to trust you, Mr Darcy. Please do not abuse Richard’s faith in you, for I dearly need to be able to trust you.” Elizabeth declared, her strength was wavering.
“You have my word, Mrs Fitzwilliam, I will do all I can to protect you from Richard’s family. They may be my relations, but I was only close to Richard.” Darcy stated, as they neared the carriage. Assisting Elizabeth to enter, Darcy followed after her, taking the seat across from her. “Forgive me for not arranging for a chaperone. I pray you feel safe enough to know I will not bring you harm. You are a widow, and the widow of my cousin. There is no reason for anyone to question our traveling together.”
“After traveling through battle torn areas with no chaperones, I believe I can journey across England in a carriage with none but you, Mr Darcy. Richard always said I could trust you. I see no reason to doubt his word.”
“Have you had anything to eat? I secured a basket of food and drink for our journey.” Darcy motioned to the basket near his feet.
“The ship has my stomach unsettled, Mr Darcy. I appreciate your kindness, but I doubt I could eat anything at the moment.”
“Well, if you need anything, all you need do is ask. I know your father’s family is from England, and live in the neighborhood of the estate you are moving to. Is there any family on your mother’s side?”
“My grandfather died when I was ten. My mother was an only child, and she died shortly after I was born. Other than my aunt and uncle, and their children, I have no other family.”
“You do indeed have family, as you are my cousin. And my sister, Georgiana, will be glad to include you as family. So, see, you are not alone.” Darcy smiled slightly, attempting to put Elizabeth at ease.
“I am grateful. Is your sister in London or at your estate?” Elizabeth asked. “If I remember correctly, your estate is Pembery?
“Pemberley. It is in Derbyshire. Georgiana is in Town, as she is studying with her music master until next week. She has been working hard on her studies, so I was thinking of giving her a treat. Georgiana has always wished to have a holiday by the sea, so I have been thinking of allowing her to journey to Ramsgate with her companion. I have some business in Town to attend to, but there is no reason Georgiana cannot have some enjoyment.”
“What a devoted elder brother. I have always wished for a brother or a sister. Being an only child could be lonely at times.”
“As I was twelve when my sister was born, I can remember how lonely it was with no siblings. Though I had Richard as a substitute sibling.” Darcy looked out the window of the carriage as they rolled along. Some of his childhood memories came to mind, the games they played, and the times they spent talking of the future.
The carriage was quiet for some time, as Elizabeth allowed Darcy to dwell on his memories. She knew the two men had been close, and she was grateful for Darcy’s kindness to her. The only thing Elizabeth feared was allowing Darcy to know her secret.
Shortly before Richard had returned to battle and was wounded, Elizabeth was certain she was increasing. All the signs were present suggesting she was with child. Richard had been thrilled with the news, praying for a house full of children after he resigned his commission and they settled into their estate.
When Richard was dying, he told his wife of his fears for her safety. He knew his family well enough to be sure that they would try to control her life, including taking the child from her and refuse to allow her contact. Richard did not wish his child to be raised at Matlock, having to obey society rules.
“Lizzy, my love…do not let my parents know…do not let them…raise our child. They do not deserve…our child. Please…my love…protect our babe.”
“Of course, Richard. I do not wish for them to have contact with our child. This is your babe, created from your love of me. I will protect our babe with my life.”
Richard lifted a hand to stroke his wife’s tear streaked cheek. “I do love you…my Lizzy. I hope that you are…carrying my daughter. A sweet girl…with her mother’s…chocolate curls and sparkling eyes… And she has to have…your pert nose. You have…a cute nose.”
“Richard, I do not know how I will go on without you. I love you so very much. I am so grateful you love me, and married me.”
“My Lizzy…my love… My lizzzzz…” And a moment later, Richard Fitzwilliam was gone. The man she loved, the father of her unborn child, was gone forever from their lives. And she would do everything to protect her babe from Richard’s family. But did that include the man who was doing what he could to protect her from the Fitzwilliam family? Could she trust him to keep her secret?
Soon, Elizabeth drifted off to sleep, as the carriage took them to her new home.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Waking with a start, Elizabeth looked around the interior of the carriage. Darcy was dozing on the other side, with his head against the window. Looking down, Elizabeth realized there was a blanket draped over her and another one folded up and placed under her head, which was leaning against the back of the seat.
Moving slightly, she made a bit of noise accidently. Darcy instantly sat straight up. “Ah, Mrs Fitzwilliam, you are awake. How are you?”
“I am well, Mr Darcy. Where are we?”
“We have been on the road for nearly five hours. You must have been exhausted. Would you like something to drink or eat?”
Elizabeth smiled. “Perhaps something to drink. How long will the trip take?”
“We should arrive late this evening. At the last stop where we changed horses, I took the liberty of sending an express to your uncle, informing him of your impending arrival. I asked if he would meet us at your new house.”
“I cannot thank you enough, Mr Darcy. I can understand why Richard had such high regards for you.”
Darcy smiled. “I appreciate your words. Richard was my closest friend and relation. And I am certain he would not approve of his widow referring to me as Mr Darcy. My sister and Richard have always referred to me as William.”
“Very well, cousin, but you must refer to me as either Elizabeth or Lizzy.”
“I am honored to do so. Now, have you met your uncle before?”
Elizabeth smiled. “Once, when I was very young. He reminded me so much of my father, it took me a moment to remember that they were brothers. Uncle Thomas brought his eldest daughter with him. She is a year older than I, and the sweetest natured girl she was. Her name is Jane. Father said that we were two sides of a coin, Jane sweet and light, while I was impertinent and dark. Jane is blonde with pale blue eyes. Quite a contrast with my dark hair and eyes.”
Darcy chuckled. “I am pleased you will be living near your relations. Please know that you are always welcome to stay with Georgiana and myself, either in London or at Pemberley.”
“Thank you, William. At the moment, I wish to settle in my new home and revive myself. The journey, after losing Richard, has taken a toll on my energy.” Elizabeth yawned. “Forgive me, as you can see, I am still sleepy.”
~~ ** ~~
It was long after dark when the carriage arrived in the sleepy village of Meryton. Stopping at the inn, the groomsmen entered to inquire directions to The Willows. Within minutes, they returned to the carriage and relayed the information to the driver. Less than ten minutes had elapsed when the carriage arrived in front of a lovely estate house. From the exterior and in the dark, there was not much to see. Once inside, Elizabeth instantly felt as if she were home. There was a warmth about the house, with the comfortable furnishings and an atmosphere which welcomed her inside.
Darcy instructed his men on bringing forward the trunks and taking them where Elizabeth requested. The housekeeper, Mrs Blaine, and her husband, who was the butler, stood back and directed the men to place the trunks on the second floor, in the sitting room near the Mistress’ chambers. Everything could be sorted through the following days.
Greeting the new arrivals, Mr Bennet embraced his niece. “Lizzy, my dear girl, you have no notion as to how good it is to have you here. I have been so concerned for your safety.”
“It feels good to be here, Uncle Thomas.” Elizabeth spoke just barely above a whisper, into her uncle’s shoulder. “Uncle Thomas, may I introduce you to Richard’s cousin, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy. Mr Darcy, this is my father’s brother, Mr Thomas Bennet.”
“I am grateful for your assistance, Mr Darcy. I wish I had been able to travel to Dover to bring Lizzy here. It has been nerve wracking waiting for her arrival.”
“I can understand. We left Dover as soon as we had everything loaded from the ship, as I had received word from my aunt and uncle stating their intent on sending someone to Dover to recover Richard’s body. It is my belief that Richard should be here, with his wife. So I was quite nervous while waiting for the ship to arrive, praying we would be long gone before anyone came from Matlock.” Darcy declared his feelings towards his relations with this announcement.
“I know Lizzy will be comforted with Richard’s resting place being here.” Mr Bennet nodded as he spoke. “The only regret I have is not meeting the young man who won my niece’s heart. From the letters I received from Robert and Lizzy, your cousin was quite a wonderful man.”
“He was indeed.”
Elizabeth turned to Mrs Blaine. Do we have rooms available for Mr Darcy to use? He will be with us for a few days, will you not, Mr Darcy?”
Smiling, Darcy nodded. “Yes, I told my sister I would not be back to Town until Monday, so I am available to assist you for the next five days.”
Mr Bennet suggested everyone take the rest of the evening to make themselves comfortable and get a good night’s sleep. “Tomorrow, we will have a small service for your husband, as I have already spoken with the parson. He stated he would come at ten in the morning. There is a pleasant spot near the pond, under one of the larger willow trees, which I thought would be the perfect resting place for Richard.”
“Thank you, Uncle. Did you hire some men to have the grave dug?”
“I did. It will be ready to receive your beloved. I have also ordered a stone to be engraved, and it should be delivered next week. Though it is proper for only the men to attend any funeral services, since it will only be family, I see no difficulty in you attending. Jane has also stated a desire to be here for you. My son is away at school, or he would be here. So it would only be Mr Darcy, myself, Jane and you.” Mr Bennet stated to his niece. “And I have made an appointment for you to see the dressmaker on Thursday. I know you have not had time to order any gowns made in black, for your mourning, so I made the arrangements.”
“You have thought of everything, Uncle Thomas. How is Aunt Fanny?”
“She has been ill, as she has a weak heart. Learning of all that happened in Belgium has been difficult for her, as she was quite fond of your father. And Fanny was looking forward to meeting your husband. I know she is pleased to have you here, nearby. She has always thought you needed a mother figure in your life, so prepare yourself for her constant advice.”
“I look forward to it.” Elizabeth caught herself yawning.
“Mrs Blaine, is there something for Mrs Fitzwilliam to eat? She has had an upset stomach since the ship and has had very little to eat all day.” Darcy asked the housekeeper.
“I have some broth I can heat up, and some fresh bread that just came out of the oven an hour ago. And I can make you some chamomile and peppermint tea. I know it has always worked wonders for me when I am out of sorts.” Mrs Blaine said kindly. “Now, why not follow me up to the rooms we have prepared. I will have the maid, Lucy, attend you while I speak to Cook. Mr Darcy, I am sure you have not had much to eat either. Would you like a tray sent up to you? There is some cold ham and some nice cheese which you might enjoy.”
“That would be wonderful, Mrs Blaine. And some hot water to wash up with. The road was quite dusty.”
“Mr Bennet suggested we have the water heating just after he arrived, so the hot water can be brought up immediately. And I see you have your own valet. Good, good. Mrs Fitzwilliam, we were not certain if you had your own maid, so Lucy can assist you until you decide if you wish for someone else.”
“I would be grateful to Lucy for her help. My maid did not wish to leave her home country, so she remained in Antwerp. I had planned on engaging a new maid when I arrived, so you are one step ahead of me.” Elizabeth chuckled. Mrs Blaine opened a door and showed her into the Mistress’ chambers.
Elizabeth had never seen a more perfectly situated room in her life. The soft pastel colors and the lush materials made the room feel as if she were outside on a beautiful spring day. With the pale blue ceiling and the mint green floor, she felt as if she were walking in a park rather than a bedchamber. The bed coverings were cream colored with tiny yellow flowers on the fabric.
“Your cousin chose the colors for the room.” Mr Bennet announced. “Jane remembered your preference for yellow flowers and your long walks in the park. She was hoping you would like her choices.”
“It is so comfortable, Uncle. I cannot wait to tell Jane how much I love her choices.” Elizabeth squeezed her uncle’s hand.
“Well, my dear girl, I will return to my home and allow you to get some rest. I will see you in the morning.” Thomas Bennet turned towards Darcy, who was standing in the hallway, waiting to be shown to his rooms. “After the service, if you do not mind, we can sit down with Lizzy and go over her financial affairs, as well as the running of the estate. I am sure she will be grateful for any assistance you might have to offer.”
“It would be an honor to assist my cousin.” Darcy turned his eyes to meet Elizabeth’s. “I will be in my rooms, Elizabeth. I pray you sleep well.”
“Thank you, Mr…William.” Elizabeth stammered, her emotions finally overwhelming her. “I could not have managed so much without you and my uncle.”
“I am certain that he is just as pleased to be of service as I am. Good night.” Darcy said as he bowed over Elizabeth’s hand, clasped in his.
~~ ** ~~
The parson, Mr Wiggins, arrived at nine thirty the following morning. He wished to speak with Elizabeth before conducting the brief, graveside service for Richard Fitzwilliam.
“Mrs Fitzwilliam, it is an honor to meet you, as your uncle and cousin have told me so much about you.” Mr Wiggins exclaimed. “Miss Bennet is thrilled to have you living so close, as are all of the Bennets. I was deeply sorrowful to learn of the deaths of your father and your husband. It is my understanding that your husband was in the army.”
“Yes, he was a decorated colonel, having received commendations for his skills in battle. We were looking forward to his resigning his commission, though it was not soon enough. His loss is deeply felt.” Elizabeth dabbed the corner of her eyes with her handkerchief.
“Well, we will do what we can to aid you in moving forward. I am sure your husband would approve of your building a new life here.” Mr Wiggins said, a sad smile on his face.
“Mr Wiggins, this is my husband’s cousin, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, of Pemberley, in Derbyshire. Mr Darcy, this is the parson, Mr Wiggins.”
“Such an honor to meet you, Mr Darcy. I have heard of your family, as my sister in law is from Lambton. She has spoken of her family’s respect for Pemberley many times.”
“Thank you for your kind words, Mr Wiggins. Now, there will only be four of us at the service. Mr Bennet and his eldest daughter will be arriving soon, and myself and Mrs Fitzwilliam will be the other two.”
“L…l…ladies attending a funeral service?” Mr Wiggins acted quite scandalized.
“Indeed. As there is only Mr Bennet and myself as the men, and the death was some time ago, Mr Bennet and I felt it only fitting for Mrs Fitzwilliam to be able to bid her husband farewell in this manner. Miss Bennet is coming to give her cousin support in this trying time.”
“Very well, though it is highly improper.” Mr Wiggins reminded them. “It is fitting for a colonel in His Majesty’s Army to be given a grander farewell than only two men, though. Yes, I will agree with you that the young ladies should attend this once.”
~~ ** ~~
Mr Wiggins carried on for what seemed like an eternity to the four grieving people. Elizabeth stood still, as if made of stone, as she watched her husband’s remains being lowered into the ground. After the service was concluded, she remained standing watch, as the workers filled in the hole with the dirt which they had piled nearby.
Once the grave was filled in, Elizabeth began to lose control of her emotions. Weeping uncontrollably, Elizabeth sank to the ground beside the fresh grave. “Richard, how am I to do this alone? How am I to carry on? I feel so empty without you.” She sobbed.
Jane came forward, wrapping her arms around her beloved cousin. “Lizzy, we should go inside the house. You need some nourishment. It would do you no good to become ill.”
“Jane, nothing seems to matter anymore. I feel so hollow without him.”
“Remember, Richard is watching over you. Would he approve of your falling apart? Would he approve of you giving up on life?”
Elizabeth’s hand lowered, coming to rest on her belly. Knowing what was hidden inside her, Elizabeth shook her head. “No, Richard would be telling me to pick myself up and continue forward. There is so much in the world, and he would wish me to live my life fully.”
“Then let us move inside and take care of you. Mrs Blaine stated there would be some refreshments ready when we returned to the house.” Jane assisted her cousin to stand.
“Jane, you are far too good to me. What did I ever do to deserve such a cousin as you?”
“You were born a part of the Bennet family. We are a strong family, and you had best not forget that.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Thank you, Jane. I needed to be reminded. If I become melancholy, promise me that you will continue to remind me how wonderful it is to be a Bennet.”
“Of course.” Jane placed a kiss on her cousin’s cheek. “I am the sister you never had, and sisters look after each other. So, let us go inside.”
~~ ** ~~
After having a bite to eat, Mr Bennet sat down with Elizabeth to explain her situation. “Lizzy, as you are a widow, you do not require a man to sign documents for you, though I am more than willing to assist you in any business you need to do. Fanny’s brother is a business man in London, and he can be trusted with investments. Her sister’s husband is a solicitor in Meryton, and he can be trusted as well. Mr Phillips handles all of my legal dealings.”
“Thank you, Uncle. I know there are many unscrupulous men out there who would take advantage of a young lady with wealth and no father, brother or husband.”
Mr Bennet nodded his head. “That is why I make you the promise to assist you as best I can. You are my niece, my brother’s only child. I cannot stand by and not do my best to aid you.”
“And you have my word, as well, Elizabeth.” Darcy expressed. “You were dear to my cousin, and he was like a brother to me. I could not allow anyone to bring you harm.”
“I appreciate your kindness, both of you. I feel safer knowing I have you both to turn to if need be.” Elizabeth gave each a warm smile.
Mr Bennet continued. “The estate cost you fifteen thousand to purchase. The owner was asking for higher, but there were some repairs which needed to be done and he did not wish to do them himself. So he gave us a lower price, and I have already seen to the repairs. The furniture is older, but still in good condition. You can replace items as you wish, and redecorate as desired. The tenant homes are in good condition, though some attention should be paid to some new farming techniques, to improve the yields. There are five horses in the stables, which I purchased for you, for breeding. This was done before Richard’s death, if you wish to sell them, we can do so with ease. I took the liberty of ordering a new carriage for you. It should arrive within a fortnight. Until then, there is an older one in the carriage house that will suffice.”
Darcy was impressed with Mr Bennet’s attention to details. He was quite content with Elizabeth living so close to a caring relation who would assist her so well.
“I took the liberty of investing some of your funds with Edward Gardiner, Fanny’s brother. I believe you will be pleased with the returns you will receive from him. Your grandfather left you quite comfortable. The sum you originally told me is only the beginning. The incomes from the properties he left you continue to flow into the bank account. When I went to London, I learned that you have nearly eighty thousand in your account. That is after purchasing The Willows and the horses, so I invested ten thousand with Edward. The incomes from the properties you own bring in roughly seven thousand per annum, added to this estate of three thousand. You are quite wealthy, my dear girl, and will be able to live your life as you wish. As I am well aware of your enjoyment of reading, I took the liberty of setting up an account with the book shop in Meryton, though we may need to journey into London to properly stock your shelves with books. That is one of the only flaws in this grand house.” Mr Bennet chuckled.
“Papa stated it was an inherited appetite for the written word.” Elizabeth laughed. “I understand your study is packed with books.”
“Yes, both Robert and I inherited the…appetite, as you call it. Our father was quite an enthusiast when it came to books, as was his father. My poor book room is overflowing. Robert would have been thrilled with the improvements I made over the years.”
“I will see what books the shop has in Meryton, and what they can order for me. It would be pleasing to be surrounded by books. I was able to bring some of Papa’s favorites, though I had to leave many in Brussels, when I left there. As you can tell, from the many trunks I brought, I brought as much as I could with me. Fortunately, our house there was not too large, or we would have required a fleet of wagons to haul everything here.”
Mr Bennet smiled. Hearing his niece’s humor brought back memories of his brother. How pleasing it would be to have such a sweet reminder of Robert so near, he thought. “Would you like to take a tour of the house? It is quite nice, if I do say so myself. There are twelve guest rooms on the second and third floors, formal dining room and ballroom on the main floor, four apartments in the family wing, a music room, the library, this study, a drawing room and several sitting rooms. The conservatory has been untouched for some time, so it will require some tending. The gardener died a year ago and had not been replaced. We can interview potential candidates next week, if you like. There is an orangery situated past the barn and stables. Your household staff includes the Blaines, three maids, a cook, two footmen, and a scullery maid. I might suggest some additional staff, now that the house is to be lived in. The kitchen could use some improvements, as nothing has been done to update it in years. Besides the library, I believe it is the first priority in renovating.”
“My goodness, Uncle, your attention to details is much like Papa’s. He always kept me in awe of the details he thought of.”
“That is high praise, indeed, Lizzy. Your father was an intelligent man, and I was always impressed with his preparedness. Now, shall we stroll through your home or take a walk outside?”
“As I am still adjusting from the journey, perhaps we should stay indoors. My stomach is still somewhat queasy.”
Darcy was concerned. “Should we send for the physician? You may have developed some sort of illness before leaving Belgium.”
“No, that will not be necessary. I have never been fond of ships, journeying on water has always upset my stomach for days. Papa and I traveled to Italy one year, and it took many weeks before I could eat properly. After that trip, we decided to refrain from any journeys which involved ships.” Elizabeth smiled, praying that the men would accept this answer. Once Darcy left, Elizabeth would tell her uncle. She was still quite nervous of Richard’s parents and siblings learning of her true condition. After Darcy was gone, Elizabeth planned to hire a few men to guard her home from the Fitzwilliams.
“Very well, Elizabeth, but I still suggest you have the physician attend you, so that he can become accustomed to you.” Darcy replied, anxious over his cousin’s well-being.
“I will, William, have no fear. Other than my aversion to water travel, I am normally quite healthy and sturdy. Papa used to refer to me as a mountain goat, for I love to traipse about the countryside, especially up hills and normally less traveled paths. In no time at all, I will be quite well versed in every path in the neighborhood.”
Mr Bennet was pleased to see one of Richard’s relations treating Elizabeth with kindness and care. He had heard of the Fitzwilliam family, as the Earl was quite outspoken in his beliefs. Lady Matlock was one of the leaders in society, and she was not a lady to cross if one wished to gain access to the best functions in Town.