Darcy had come to enjoy his time at The Willows, understanding what had attracted Richard to Elizabeth. She was intelligent, kind, a bit mischievous, and very attractive. They had many discussions on literature, current events in the world, and more.
He had decided to know Elizabeth better, wishing to introduce her to Georgiana. Darcy was certain that his shy young sister would blossom in the gentle care of Elizabeth Fitzwilliam.
Preparing to take his leave of the neighborhood, Darcy thanked his hostess one last time. “Elizabeth, I cannot express how much I have enjoyed my time here. Though I wish it had been under better circumstances, I will never regret knowing you better. My cousin was a fortunate man, for though the time you were together was of short duration, you made him happier than he had ever been in his life. I pray you will keep in touch with me, and I look forward to introducing you to my sister.”
“Thank you William. I look forward to meeting Miss Darcy. I understand Richard was one of her guardians. As I would have also been one of her guardians, had Richard survived, I wish to know her better.” Elizabeth smiled. “You are both welcome here whenever you wish to visit. And I cannot thank you enough for your assistance this week. Everything you have done for me has been highly appreciated.”
“Seeing as this is not far from the main roads we journey on when traveling to and from Pemberley and London, I can anticipate our stopping in frequently.” Darcy stated, bringing Elizabeth’s hand to his lips. “It is a pleasure to count you as a member of our family. Be safe, and if you have need of us, send word.”
“I will. Safe journey, and give your sister my love.”
With that, Darcy entered his carriage, leaving The Willows, as he returned to London.
~~ ** ~~
“William, you are home.” Georgiana cried out as she raced into his arms. “I have missed you terribly.”
“I can see.” Darcy chuckled. “How are your lessons going?”
“Very well, though I am dying to hear the news of Richard’s wife. What is she like? Did you approve of her?”
“My goodness, little sprite. I have not seen you so excited in such a long time. Yes, I approve of Elizabeth, which is what she prefers us to call her. Richard’s letters described her perfectly. I can understand what drew him to her. We have a standing invitation to visit her new home any time we choose. Her estate is called The Willows, and it is a beautiful place. We were able to lay Richard to rest there, under a willow tree, beside a pond.”
“He would have like that.” Georgiana said, as she wiped a tear from her eyes. Looking down at her hands, Darcy could see something was bothering her.
“What is wrong, little sprite?”
“Lord and Lady Matlock were here two days ago. They are furious. They had sent a wagon to retrieve Richard’s remains from Dover, as they insisted that he should be buried at Matlock. When the wagon arrived, you and E..Elizabeth had already left Dover. I did not know where the estate was located, where you were taking her to, and they were angered at me, accusing me of hiding the truth from them. Lord Matlock stated they were hiring someone to investigate where Elizabeth was to live. Oh, William, they were so cruel with the words they used to describe her. They claim Elizabeth is a fortune hunter and only married Richard due to his position in society and what fortune Elizabeth would have believed Richard to have had. The solicitor has already been contacted to seize Richard’s bank account and the property he inherited from his grandmother.”
“What fools they are. Elizabeth has no need of Richard’s paltry account or his grandmother’s estate. She is richer than Lord and Lady Matlock, as her grandfather was extremely wealthy and Elizabeth was his only heir. She owns several pieces of property in several countries, and her bank account is extremely well off. No, there is nothing the Fitzwilliam family has that Elizabeth would have need of. Her annual income from her properties is near what I receive from Pemberley.”
“How wonderful.” Georgiana said as she found her smile once more. “After our aunt and uncle left, I was quite concerned with Elizabeth’s well-being.”
“Have no fear, dearest. And Elizabeth has her father’s brother to watch over her as well. I have also pledged my support in assisting her in whatever she might need.”
“Then I, too, will do what I can to aid her. I cannot wait to meet her. Why are Lord and Lady Matlock behaving in such a manner? Can they not be grateful that their son found such a wonderful lady to love?”
“In our society, love does not often have anything to do with marriages. Lady Matlock had her heart set on Richard marrying Francesca Harrington. Miss Harrington has a considerable dowry, and is well connected. For Richard to disobey her wishes, Lady Matlock is furious.”
“But he married someone who was wealthy. Can they not be pleased for that, at least?”
Darcy shook his head. “The Fitzwilliam family have no knowledge of Elizabeth’s wealth or heritage. She was born in Belgium, her mother was Belgium, and no one in England has ever heard of Elizabeth. Even though her father was born the second son of a country gentleman, the Bennets were not known in upper society.”
“Such foolishness, if you ask me?” Georgiana said as she shook her head.
“I know Richard would be proud of you for your decision to accept Elizabeth with such ease. As he loved us, and loved Elizabeth, it is only right that we welcome her to our small family. Though legally, Elizabeth cannot be your guardian in Richard’s place, I am sure she will gladly fill the role unofficially.”
Georgiana’s eyes grew round with joy. “Oh, William, yes. I would like very much to have a lady I can speak with. I know you and Richard did all you could to watch over me, it would be wonderful to have the opinions of a lady, such as you have described Elizabeth.”
“I look forward to the two of you meeting, little sprite. Perhaps, when we leave for Pemberley, we could stop at The Willows for a visit.”
Nodding her head enthusiastically, Georgiana was pleased with her brother’s suggestion.
~~ ** ~~
A commotion in the foyer of his home brought Darcy from his study, where he was attending to business.
“I will see my nephew immediately. Step out of my way, I know Darcy is here.” Lord Matlock shouted to the butler of Darcy House.
“Uncle, I will ask you to refrain from treating my staff so poorly. They are doing their duty, as I have instructed them. Now, if you can lower your voice and join me in my study, we can speak.”
Lord Matlock’s temper was not soothed, though he did what his nephew commanded. Once the door of the study was shut, he turned on his nephew with a vengeance. “Where is my son’s body? I sent you word of our intent to have him buried in the family plot at Matlock, yet you disappeared before my wagon arrived. I demand to know where you took Richard’s remains.”
“As his wife was Richard’s next of kin, it was her decision to make, as to where he was to rest for eternity. I have Richard’s will. He sent it to me shortly after his marriage, after your decision to refuse to acknowledge his choice of wife. It is all legal, and binding. Elizabeth Bennet Fitzwilliam has the right to decide where Richard was to be buried, and she took him to the estate they were going to live in after he resigned his commission. The battle which took his life was to be his last battle. They were planning to settle in England and live their life peacefully.”
“I demand you tell me where the estate is. I am going to have the solicitors serve papers to this chit, and remove my son’s remains from her lands. Some pathetic piece of property in some backwater neighborhood. My son will be given the proper grave he deserves.”
“You know nothing about the young lady your son married, and yet, you are going to such measures to belittle her. It is unfathomable, the lengths you will go to are ridiculous. Mrs Fitzwilliam has no desire to touch Richard’s inheritance or his savings. She does not need them. All the discussion you and my aunt have had, disparaging your daughter in law, and you have completely overlooked the truth of the matter. Elizabeth Bennet Fitzwilliam is an heiress. Her grandfather was a wealthy land owner. She was his only heir. She owns property in several countries, and, with the income from the estate she purchased for them to live at, her income per annum is close to mine from Pemberley.”
“The funds became Richard’s when they married, so, now, they should come to the family. She has no right to the money.” Lord Matlock decided.
“If you attempt to cause her any further harm, you will have me to contend with, Uncle. I will stand beside her, as I promised Richard and I promised Elizabeth. The papers Richard sent me are legal and binding. His marriage contract specifically stated that he did not have claim to her inheritance from her grandfather. You cannot touch the money. Leave her be, and allow her to grieve her loss in peace.”
“I will speak with the solicitor on the matter. Being from Belgium, I am certain the contract was not binding.”
Darcy was growing weary of the battle. “If it was not binding, then you are claiming she was not married to Richard. If they were not legally wed, then you have no claims on her inheritance from her own family. Uncle, accept the fact that it is over. Let go of your anger and hatred. Richard was happily married to Elizabeth for nearly two years. She brought him so much joy, can you not, at least, appreciate her for that?”
“She stole my son from our family. The harlot, she was searching for a way to come to England and latched her foreign arts and allurements onto Richard, giving her the right to come here.”
“Uncle, Elizabeth’s father was from England. His family is still in England. She had no need of anyone to help her come to England, as she is part British. Will you not take the opportunity to at least meet her, see for yourself who she is, and then, allow her to live in peace?”
“Your aunt is furious. She is certain that the hussy will attempt to force her way into society, using our name to better herself.” Lord Matlock stated, his anger still clear in his voice.
“From what I know of her, Elizabeth is not one to enjoy society. She prefers the simple life of the country. Other than being a Fitzwilliam, by marriage, I cannot imagine her ever using her name to better herself. She has no need, as I told you.”
Lord Matlock could not tolerate the conversation any further. “I will speak with the solicitors. Your aunt and I still demand Richard be returned to us. And we will confront this upstart chit soon enough.”
“As I said, Uncle, do so at your own peril. I am not joking when I say I will do my utmost to protect my cousin’s widow. She is deserving of our respect, and she has already earned mine.”
“It is clear that you are under her influence. Just like Richard, your head is turned by a pretty face and a comely figure.”
“Out of my house!” Darcy bellowed as he stood. “I have had enough of your foolishness. Until you can behave properly towards your daughter in law, you are forbidden access in any of my homes. Now leave my home!”
Fury was visible on Lord Matlock’s face. “Do not make such a foolish mistake, William. A piece of fluff is not worth throwing your family away. Think on that before you take this too far.”
~~ ** ~~
Sitting in the drawing room of her home, Elizabeth was enjoying a visit from her uncle. “Uncle Thomas, I remember Papa telling me that story. He said that his fish was far larger than yours though.”
“Robert always claimed such, but it was truly mine which was the larger one. Our father found our constant teasing to be humorous.” Mr Bennet took a sip of his tea. “How are you settling in? Have you had many visits from the neighbors?”
“Indeed, I have. Sir William and Lady Lucas, along with their eldest daughter, Charlotte, have come by, and invited me to attend a dinner next week. Mr and Mrs Phillips have come by as well. Mrs Long and her niece were here just yesterday. There have been a few others, but there were just too many names to remember them all.”
“Fanny wishes to have a dinner party to welcome you to the neighborhood. She suggested Friday night, if you are not already engaged.”
“Friday would be fine. Please tell my aunt I am grateful and will enjoy such an evening.”
Mr Bennet nodded his head. “How are you feeling? I have heard that Mr Herbert, the physician, has been to visit.”
“I am well, Uncle. My condition is of a temporary nature, and is not uncommon for ladies.” Elizabeth hinted around the topic.
“Lizzy, are you increasing?” Mr Bennet came right to the point.
Elizabeth looked down at her hands, nodding nervously. “I am, Uncle.”
“And you are afraid of what Richard’s family will do if they learn the truth?”
Again, Elizabeth nodded.
“Did your husband know of your condition before his death?”
Looking up, Elizabeth felt the tears flowing down her cheeks. “He did. We spoke of it not long before he went to the battle where he was wounded. His final words were of the babe, he wished for a daughter who looks like me. It is heartbreaking, knowing he will never be able to hold his child, kiss their brow, or read them a nursery tale. Our child will never know how loving and sweet natured Richard was. And yes, I am frightened as to what Lord and Lady Matlock will do if they learn I am carrying their grandchild. They will stop at nothing to take the child from me, I am certain of it.”
“Have no fear, Lizzy. I will not allow Lord and Lady Matlock, or any member of the Fitzwilliam family, to cause you any harm. Your child will always be a welcome part of our family. I know Jane will be pleased, as will Mary. She has been so thrilled with visiting you, and I must thank you for treating Mary so kindly. Being such a quiet girl, Mary is often forgotten in our household.”
“Mary is a good girl. She informed me that Jacob will be returning home in a fortnight, on holiday from the university. He will be graduating from school in a few months, will he not?”
“Yes, he will. With the war on the continent, we have discouraged his taking a grand tour. Jacob does not mind, as he wishes to return to Longbourn. He has been learning some new farming techniques, and is excited to implement them.”
“Well tell him he is welcome to make improvements to my lands as well, if he so wishes.” Elizabeth chuckled. “And from what Jane has told me, Jacob is also looking forward to renewing his acquaintance with one of our neighbors. Miss Lucas, from what I have heard.”
Mr Bennet laughed. “Yes, Jacob’s appreciation for Miss Lucas has never been a well-kept secret. I would not be surprised to see them betrothed before he returns to finish his final months at university.”
“From what I have seen of her, Miss Lucas is a charming young lady. I quite liked her.”
“She is slightly older than Jacob, but then again, my son is an old soul. They will make a perfect couple. Charlotte is a kind lady, compassionate and down to earth. I have promised Jacob that when he chose to marry, he could have the dower’s house until after my death. Fanny and I lived there until my father’s death. It is pleasant to have some privacy.”
Elizabeth blushed at the thoughts of her married life which flowed through her mind. It was a blessing to have a private section of her father’s house to spend time alone with her husband, yet close to her father when Richard had to return to his unit.
“Lizzy, are you certain that you are well? Did Mr Herbert give you any instructions?”
“Do not fret, Uncle. I am well. He suggested an herbal remedy for when the queasiness was worse, and it has helped tremendously. Mrs Blaine has already contacted the local midwife, and she will come to see me next week. I have already begun sewing some items for the babe, though my stitching is not nearly as fine as Mary’s. She is showing me some new stitches, which have made improvements.”
“Have you informed Mr Darcy?”
Turning her head away, Elizabeth looked out the window. “No. I have been at odds as to whether or not to inform him. Part of me says I am being foolish, that I can trust William with the news. But then, I am frightened of Lord and Lady Matlock learning the news. I received news from London, just yesterday. From their family’s solicitor. They are still demanding Richard’s remains be transported to Matlock. And they want to lay claim to my inheritance from my grandfather. Their claim is that it should have been part of my marriage contract with Richard.”
“It was my understanding that Richard insisted it remain yours, and that he had no claims to the money or the property.” Mr Bennet said, concern etched upon his brow.
“My husband took many steps to protect me from his family, as he knew all too well what they were like. William also wrote to inform me of his break with his aunt and uncle, Richard’s parents, until they could act civilly and accept me as their son’s widow. I never wished to be such a thorn in the side of so many people, especially drawing out the hatred of my husband’s own parents. I have yet to even meet them, and they have such horrid opinions of me.”
“Well, they are fools, Lizzy. Have no fear. I do suggest that you speak to Mr Darcy though, explain to him your condition. Do not fret his reaction, he will stand by you.”
“He and Georgiana are planning to come in September. They were first going to spend a month in Ramsgate. William’s close friend, a Mr Bingley, is taking the lease on Netherfield Park, and will be moving there the first of September, and he invited William and Georgiana to stay with him. William stated they will split their time in the neighborhood between the two estates.” Elizabeth was excited to have the Darcys come for a visit. She looked forward to finally meeting Georgiana. “Perhaps I can speak with them when they are here.”
“By then, I have a feeling that your condition will be obvious.” Mr Bennet chuckled. “When will the babe make an appearance?”
“Mr Herbert believed my delivery should be near the first week of November.” Elizabeth laid her hand on the slight bulge which was already formed in her midsection.
“Wonderful. Well, then it is time to begin decorating the nursery. Fanny will have many suggestions, once you inform her of your condition.”
“Something tells me that my child will have you and my aunt as substitute grandparents. It pleases me to no end, as you will love my child as my father would have. Of that, I have no doubt.”
“You may count that as a certainty, Lizzy. I will look forward to spoiling any child of yours.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Darcy was pleased to see his sister enjoying their stay at Ramsgate. She spent hours at the beach, sketching the views of the ocean and the landscape. Though originally Darcy had planned to send his sister with her companion, Mrs Younge, he decided to take the time from his work and enjoy the holiday as well. Mrs Younge appeared to be disappointed by the news, and she seemed uncomfortable when Darcy was in her presence.
Trying to shake off the uneasy feeling Darcy was having, with regards to Mrs Younge, he decided to take a stroll along the shops near the beach. Seeing the book shop, Darcy smiled. His thoughts instantly turned to Elizabeth, and her lack of books in her new library. Perhaps I could find some tomes to add to her shelves. Georgiana and I could gift them to Elizabeth when we visit her.
The shop was well stocked, and Darcy lost himself amongst the rows of shelves. Not only did he find some treasures to present to Elizabeth, he found some new editions for his own shelves. He then walked to the confectionary shop next door. Knowing his sister’s partiality to sweet meats, Darcy had a difficult time choosing from the many selections offered. After much debate, a large box was made up of many of his sister’s favorites, giving her a sample of each item.
The next shop held sheet music, which Darcy purchased two new pieces for Georgiana, and a few pieces for Elizabeth to have for her music room. Once he finished his purchases there, as Georgiana’s birthday was in September, Darcy decided to purchase her a piece of jewelry for her sixteenth celebration.
Glancing over the selection at the jewelry shop, Darcy selected a beautiful strand of perfectly matched pearls. Elegant, yet perfect for the young girl to wear at many future events.
Having all his purchases sent to the house they were leasing for the month, Darcy turned towards the beach, planning to surprise his sister by joining her while she sketched. He would then take her to the nearby tea shop for refreshments.
Stepping in to the beach, Darcy saw from a distance what he thought was his sister and her companion, sitting under the shade of a parasol, some distance away. He turned his attention to a boat skimming along the surface of the water, gracefully floating by. Returning his attention to his sister’s location, Darcy was surprised to see a young man was standing near his sister, offering his arm to her. Darcy quickened his step, coming closer and closer to Georgiana. “There you are, Georgiana. I came in search of you.”
“William, I am pleased you are here. Look at who I have found on the beach. I was surprised to find him here, of all places.” Georgiana took hold of her brother’s arm, pulling him towards the man who had his back turned towards them. Finally, the man turned around, facing them.
“George Wickham! What do you think you are doing, approaching my sister in such a manner?”
Georgiana was surprised at her brother’s anger. “What is wrong, William? Are you not pleased to see your old friend? He was telling me stories yesterday, of when you were boys.”
“Yesterday? How long has this man been inflicting his presence upon you?” Darcy growled.
“Three days, William. We were planning to surprise you tomorrow. Mr Wickham thought it would be enjoyable to have us all meet for dinner at the inn where he is staying.” Georgiana was becoming frightened at her brother’s intensity. She had never seen him behave in such a manner.
“Georgiana, please gather your belongings and return to the house with Mrs Younge. I need to speak with my…old friend.”
“Yes, William.” Georgiana said as she began gathering her belongings. Mrs Younge was nervously assisting, until they were able to leave the beach.
When Georgiana and Mrs Younge were far enough away, Darcy returned his attention to Wickham. “How dare you impose yourself upon my sister? I know you well enough, you are scheming something.”
“I only wished to become reacquainted with Miss Darcy. It has been many years since I last saw her and she has grown into a remarkable young lady.”
“Leave my sister be, Wickham. You ever come near her again, and I will see that you suffer.”
“I am shocked that you mistrust my intentions, Darcy. Can I not find pleasure in the company of a young lady whom I have known since birth?” Wickham was sly, and had always been able to weasel his way out of trouble.
“Your intentions are not so pure, I am certain of that.” Darcy hissed through his teeth. “You were attempting to find a way to obtain money from my sister or myself. I know you well enough to have no doubt of it.”
“If I am down on my luck for funds, it is due to you, old friend. You are the one who refused to give me the inheritance your father left me.” Wickham’s eyes flared with anger. He had always been jealous of Fitzwilliam Darcy, heir to Pemberley and the Darcy fortune. “Your father was my godfather, and he promised to see to my future. My father may have only been the steward of Pemberley, but he was well respected. That is why your father saw to my education and said he would provide for me in his will.”
“He did provide for you, with the living at Kympton. You refused the living, as you claimed you preferred to study law rather than take orders. You received compensation for the living, three thousand pounds, plus the one thousand which he bequeathed you. How is it that you have nothing left of your inheritance? A wise man would have invested the funds or allowed the interest to accrue in the bank. You could have lived comfortably on the income from the funds.”
“I had expenses which depleted my capital. Now, there is nothing left. I am certain your father would have preferred me to have a larger inheritance, as he often spoke of my being more of a son to him than you. All I want is what is owed me.” Wickham said, walking towards Darcy until he stood inches from his foe.
“You are not entitled to more, as you were not related to my father. You are the son of my father’s steward, nothing more. And you will keep away from my sister.” Darcy took advantage of the fact that he was slightly taller than his advisory. “If I ever learn of you speaking to Georgiana again, I will make certain you end up regretting it.”
“Your sister will not believe the lies you will tell her of me. She only knows me as a kind and caring friend from her childhood. I spent many hours at the house, reading to her and making her laugh.”
“I promise you, Wickham, do not come near my sister again.” With that, Darcy turned and marched towards the house. He had a feeling that Wickham’s sudden appearance was not a coincidence, and he planned to learn more of why the man was in Ramsgate.
~~ ** ~~
When Darcy arrived at the house, he found his sister in the sitting room, tears streaming from her eyes. “Little sprite, where is your companion?”
“I do not know. She may be in her bedchambers, as she stated that she was not feeling well.” Georgiana sobbed. “Forgive me, Brother, I did not know I was doing something wrong.”
“I know, dear heart. Wickham used your gentle heart and kind ways to impose himself on you. Forgive me for being so angry at the beach, my anger took control of my mind and I saw red. Wickham is an evil man, Georgiana. He is not the sort you should associate with, especially as he cannot be trusted. Since our father’s death, Wickham has wasted his inheritance from Father. He received a thousand pounds and an additional three thousand in lieu of the living at Kympton. After he went through his inheritance, Wickham returned to me, asking for more funds. I refused him, and he has become quite angry with me. The last time I heard from him, he swore he would find a way to make me suffer if I did not give him the funds he required.”
“Can you tell me why you feel he is so evil?” Georgiana turned her red rimmed eyes to her brother.
“It is not appropriate for a gently bred young lady to hear of such behavior. Please, do not ask me to give you details. All I will say is that Wickham has stolen, not only money and items he can sell for funds, but stolen the virtue of more than a few young ladies. Do not ever trust him again.”
“Very well, Brother. I wish I had never caused you such pain.” Georgiana’s eyes filled with tears once again.
“Calm yourself, little sprite. All will be well. Now, go wash your face. Perhaps we should journey to Hertfordshire a few weeks early. I will speak with Mrs Younge on the matter.”
“I would like meeting Elizabeth sooner. Perhaps I could sketch her gardens.”
“She would enjoy that, I am sure.”
~~ ** ~~
Darcy knocked on the door of the rooms his sister’s companion was using. When there was no response, Darcy knocked again. Still, there was no response. The housekeeper was coming down the hall, and Darcy asked her to open the door, making sure that Mrs Younge was well.
“Mr Darcy, there is no one in the rooms.” She stated as she returned to the hallway. “And the room is in shambles. I was in there just this morning, and the room was neat as a pin. Now, it looks as if someone gathered Mrs Younge’s belongings in a rush.”
Darcy pushed the door open wider. Seeing drawers left partially open and the bedding partially removed, as if someone was retrieving something from under the mattress, Darcy was certain that Mrs Younge had fled the house. The obvious conclusion, in Darcy’s mind, was Mrs Younge had been in collusion with Wickham. It explained why she was not pleased with Darcy joining his sister for the trip, and why she was constantly nervous when he was around. Has she encouraged my sister to spend time with Wickham, hoping to compromise Georgiana and forcing a marriage between them? Was Wickham attempting to gain Georgiana’s dowry?
Returning to his sister, he informed her of Mrs Younge’s disappearance. “Did Mrs Younge seem to encourage you to be friends with Wickham?”
Georgiana thought for a few moments. “Yes. She seemed to know him, stating that he was a fine, upstanding young man. She also stated that it would be proper for us to walk along the beach, even when she sat on one of the benches and we walked some distance from her.”
“That explains what Wickham was planning.” Darcy said, mostly to himself.
“What do you mean?” Georgiana was confused.
“Wickham is in desperate need of funds. He even said so after you left us on the beach. It is my belief that Wickham and Mrs Younge planned for you to meet him, and they were planning to somehow bring about a marriage between you and Wickham. Your dowry of thirty thousand would then be available for Wickham to use.”
Georgiana gasped. She had never before thought of anyone behaving in such a manner. “How can anyone be so cruel? I trusted Mrs Younge, how could she treat me with such disregard?”
“Little sprite, I know you have never been faced with such conspiracy, but I would not be surprised to learn that Mrs Younge and Wickham are… involved with each other.”
“Do you mean they are lovers?” Georgiana was shocked.
Darcy nodded his head. “Forgive me, Georgiana, I would do anything to protect you from such wickedness, but it cannot be helped.” He gathered his sister into his embrace, gently rocking back and forth, as he had always done when she needed comforting. “Perhaps it is best we leave tomorrow for The Willows. I will send Elizabeth an express, informing her of the change in plans. She told me that we are welcome any time, so there should be no problem with us arriving ahead of schedule.”
~~ ** ~~
The harvest would begin in just a few short weeks, and Elizabeth was excited to see how the estate would handle the activity. Mr Bennet had described what would happen throughout the estate, and he made the suggestion of starting the tradition of having some sort of harvest festivities to celebrate. In hearing of celebrations which had taken place in years past, Elizabeth agreed it would be well worth the efforts to thank her tenants and staff for their hard work. It was decided to be a combination of Longbourn and The Willows, hosted at Willows due to the size of the space that would be needed.
With Elizabeth’s condition well known amongst her family, Mrs Bennet, Jane and Mary insisted on assisting with the preparations. There would be a ball, and a large feast for everyone to enjoy. There would be gifts, small tokens of appreciation, for everyone, as well as boxes of food staples for each family. The ladies had begun stitching items which would be given out. Cloth dolls would be made for all the young girls, handkerchiefs stitched appropriately for the ladies and men, and bags which would contain marbles for the young boys. Each family would receive some meat, flour, sugar, coffee, tea, salt, and a sack of penny candy, as well as some coins as a bonus to the hard working people who made the two estates what they were.
The festivities would be held on the first Friday of October. Elizabeth knew she would not be able to dance at the event, as she was already growing quite rounded and knew she would continue to grow larger. Most days, she would find herself requiring rest in the afternoons, which the midwife assured her was normal. Fortunately, her stomach had calmed and she was now able to eat normally.
The family spent many days and evenings together, with either Elizabeth making her way to Longbourn, or the Bennets visiting Willows. Within the first fortnight of Elizabeth living at her new home, rooms were kept ready for Mary and Jane, allowing the Bennet sisters to stay as often as they liked. The youngest two daughters of the Bennet family, Kitty and Lydia, were much younger than their siblings, only eleven and ten, respectfully. Elizabeth promised them there would be times they would be allowed to stay overnight at Willows, when they were older. Lydia complained the loudest at this decision, stating it was not fair since she had no control over being born so much later than her sisters and brother. This brought a smile to Elizabeth’s face, enjoying her young cousins as she thought she would have sister, if she had been blessed.
“Mrs Fitzwilliam, you have two expresses which arrived while you were out for your walk. One is from London, and the other from Ramsgate.” Mr Blaine was a kind and devoted butler, respecting his new Mistress and all she had endured. Holding out the silver salver, the expresses laid on it, Mr Blaine smiled as Elizabeth took them.
“The only people I know in Ramsgate is the Darcys, but I cannot understand why they would be sending me an express.” Looking at the other express, Elizabeth gave a shudder. Another letter from Lord Matlock’s solicitor. More venom from Richard’s family, more demands or her to give them everything she had. “I will read the one from Ramsgate first, as I am certain my in laws have nothing polite to say to me.”
“Very good, Mrs Fitzwilliam. And my wife asked me to relay the message that Cook is preparing to bake some of your favorite biscuits this afternoon. So the house will smell delicious as they are baking.”
“They both know I will end up in the kitchen, sampling every batch that comes out of the oven.” Elizabeth laughed as she turned and walked down the hall to her study. Taking a seat behind her desk, Elizabeth broke the seal on the letter from Ramsgate and began to read.
As something has occurred during our visit to Ramsgate, something which has created an uncomfortable situation, we are leaving here sooner than expected. You have stated many times that we are always welcome, and I pray you will not be offended by our arriving a fortnight before expected. I will explain everything to you when we arrive, and I know Georgiana is thrilled to come to Willows and meet you sooner than thought.
We are leaving shortly after I send this express to you, so we should arrive within a few hours of your receiving it. Forgive me for any difficulties which might arise from our early arrival.
Elizabeth’s hand went directly to her swollen belly. She had delayed informing her husband’s cousins of the babe, afraid that somehow, word would get back to Lord and Lady Matlock. But, as large as she had become, there would be no hiding the truth from the Darcys when they arrived.
After ringing for Mrs Blaine, Elizabeth sat back down at her desk, fingering the other letter. It was not long before the housekeeper arrived at the study. “You rang, Mistress?”
“Yes, Mrs Blaine. I received word from Mr Darcy. He and his sister will be arriving sooner than expected. They will be here today, though I am not sure as to when. Would you see that rooms are prepared for them?”
“Of course.” Mrs Blaine replied. “The rooms Mr Darcy used when he stayed here before are ready, as are the rooms across the hall. The rooms across the hall would be perfect for a young lady, as there are roses on the papers on the wall.”
“Thank you, Mrs Blaine. You always have the perfect suggestions.” Elizabeth smiled. “And I feel you should know, the Darcys are not yet aware of my increasing. I do not know how they will respond to the news.”
“From what I have seen of Mr Darcy, I have no doubts that he will support you, Mistress. He seems to be very kind and caring.”
“When they arrive, I will greet them in the green drawing room. It would not look proper for me to greet them outside, shocking them with my rotund body.”
Mrs Blaine chuckled. “The babe is growing quite large. Of course, you are small framed, which can only make your appearance look larger than it truly is.”
“I like your way of thinking, Mrs Blaine. I am not as round as the barn, I forgot to continue growing height wise.”
“I can only agree, Mistress. Oh, and Cook says the first batch of biscuits will be out of the oven in a few minutes. She will be awaiting her favorite taste tester in the kitchen.”
“What a wonderful lady. If I were a betting person, I would put money on her having a mug of cider already waiting for me.”
Mrs Blaine nodded her head. “She is prepared for you.”
“Well, I must not keep Cook waiting.” Elizabeth decided, leaving the letter from London on her desk.