Chapter 7

            The Matlock carriage arrived in Meryton in the early afternoon, two days after Elizabeth had given birth to the twins.  Lord and Lady Matlock had not learned of the births, nor had they been told of their nephew’s marriage to Elizabeth.  Stopping at the inn, a groomsman entered the inn to ask directions to the estate.

            Unfortunately, Lord Matlock’s informant had given him incorrect information.  Rather than stating Elizabeth’s estate being The Willows, Lord Matlock was told the estate of Longbourn.  When the carriage arrived at Longbourn, Lord Matlock sneered at the view of the house.  Though well kept, Longbourn was smaller than Willows, and quite a bit older.  From the exterior, the view was deceiving.  Mr Bennet’s ancestors had been fond of utilizing the earth to keep the temperature inside of a more stable nature.  The cellar was actually the second floor which was underground of the house, with the family bedchambers being located on the first level underground.  The level was not completely underground, as it had windows at ground level which allowed sunlight in.  The main floor held the common rooms, and only the guest rooms and a few other rooms were located on the upper level.  The attic was small, and hardly used. 

            The exterior of the house was covered in ivy, blending the building in with the trees and grounds surrounding it.  Lord Matlock’s view gave him the opinion that Elizabeth was living in a cave, barbaric and unfit for his grandchild to be raised in.  This will be easier than I thought.  There should be no problem showing the chit to be unfit and unable to provide for the child.

            The groomsman knocked on the door of Longbourn, and was greeted by the butler, Mr Hill.

            “Sir, Lord and Lady Matlock are here to see Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”

            Mr Hill was confused.  “Forgive me, but there is no Miss Elizabeth Bennet living here.  This is the home of Mister Thomas Bennet, his wife, Mrs Fanny Bennet, and their five children. None of the children are named Elizabeth.  If you would wait a moment, I will inform my master of their arrival.”

            Confused, the groomsman returned to the carriage.  “Lord Matlock, this is the home of a Mr Thomas Bennet.  The butler says there is no one by the name Elizabeth living here.  He went to fetch his master.”

            “They are covering for her, I am sure.” Lord Matlock fumed. “She is here.”

            The front door of the house opened again, and Mr Bennet stepped outside.  Walking at a sedate pace, he approached the carriage.

            “Forgive me, you are Lord and Lady Matlock?  I cannot say it is a pleasure to meet you, after what I have heard from my niece.  My name is Thomas Bennet.  This is my home, Longbourn.  Elizabeth is the daughter of my brother.  She does not live here, as she owns the estate of The Willows.  It is only a few miles from here, and I am willing to escort you there.  If you would be kind enough to wait, while my horse is made ready, we will be on our way.”

            “Very well.” Lord Matlock stated, turning his face away from the man standing beside the carriage.

            “And, just so you are aware, my niece is no longer a Miss, nor does she go by Bennet.  If she were still a Miss Bennet, you would not be trespassing on our homes, as she would not be your daughter in law.” Thomas Bennet turned and walked to the young man leading his horse towards him.

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            Darcy had received an urgent message from Mr Bennet, warning him of the arrival of Lord and Lady Matlock in the neighborhood.  Mr Bennet would be escorting them to Willows, and he had sent for Mr Phillips to come as well.

            Well, here is the moment we have been waiting for.  I should have Mrs Blaine keep Georgiana upstairs, so she does not encounter Lord and Lady Matlock.

            After sending the housekeeper to locate his sister, Darcy stepped out the front door, just as the Matlock carriage arrived.

            Lord Matlock stepped out, walking forward towards the house, while the groomsman handed Lady Matlock down.  Seeing Darcy exiting the house, Lord Matlock was displeased.

            “Darcy, what are you doing here?” Lord Matlock scowled.

            “Why would I not be here, Lord Matlock?  My sister and I had planned to visit Elizabeth for months now.  We are pleased to be here, especially after recent events.”

            Frowning, Lady Matlock walked closer to her nephew.  “What events are you speaking of?  You realize that it is highly improper for you to be staying in the home of an unwed woman of questionable morals.  Lady Catherine will be quite upset when she learns the news, as you should be at Rosings, properly courting your cousin, Anne.”

            “Why would I court Anne?  I have made it clear to all of you that I had no desire to marry her.  Not only that, but it would be highly improper to court any woman, since I have recently married.”

            “YOU HAVE WHAT?” Lord Matlock roared.  “We have received no word of any attachment, nor of any plans to marry.  You cannot be married, the family has not approved.”

            “I am married, and am now a father.  Elizabeth and I were married, and she has given birth.  The children are Darcys, not Fitzwilliams, therefore, you have no claims on them.”

            “Children?” James Fitzwilliam, Viscount Langston, asked.

            “Yes, Elizabeth gave birth to twins.  A son and a daughter.  Both are doing well, even though they were born earlier than expected, thanks to the undue pressure your parents have been placing on Elizabeth.  The threats to have her declared unfit, so they could take her babe from her sent Elizabeth into her labors.  But I will not allow you to cause her any further aggravation.”

            “You cannot possibly be married to her.” Lord Matlock stated.  “It is not legal.”

            “You claimed that of Elizabeth’s marriage to Richard.”

            “We never saw any proof of their marriage.” Lady Matlock stated, her nose stuck in the air.

            Mr Bennet stepped to Darcy’s side.  “There are several copies of the marriage contract and certificate for your younger son’s marriage to my niece.  Our family solicitor has seen the documents filed in the proper courts, as your own solicitor should have informed you.  In the documents, your son refused to claim Elizabeth’s inheritance, making sure that legally, Elizabeth retained her fortune.”

            “I have copies of the paperwork, as well.” Darcy announced.  “Richard was sure that you would do all you could to harm Elizabeth, especially if something happened to him.  I made him the promise to stand by her and protect her, if the time ever came.  I would also like to make mention of the fact that on one hand, you claim that Elizabeth was not legally married to Richard, but on the other hand, you demand to have access to her inheritance from her grandfather and the children.  Do you not see that if you claim the marriage was not valid, then there is no claim to the inheritance which belongs to Elizabeth?  And I have not mentioned the fact that if they were not married, you could not possibly claim the children to be your grandchildren.  What would society say to that?”

            “The children are Richard’s, therefore they should be raised by us.” Lady Matlock declared.  “They should be taught their proper place in society.”

            “I am afraid, legally, the children are Darcys.” Came the voice of Mr Phillips, who had just arrived at Willows.  “Mr and Mrs Darcy were married before the births, and Mr Darcy has signed papers claiming the children as his.”

            “You would make these children your heir?” James asked, surprised at his cousin’s decision.

            “Of course I would, and have.  Master Richard Thomas William Darcy is the future heir of Pemberley.  I have no doubts that he will be just as caring and devoted to Pemberley as his namesake was.”

            “The child is not of your issue.” Lord Matlock hissed.

            “Whether or not either of the children are my issue is of no consequences. I am declared them to be mine, and they were born after my marriage.  Therefore, they are my children.  My son and my daughter.  You have no claim to either of them.  Now, I insist you leave our home.”

            “How dare you disrespect our family in such a manner?” Lord Matlock was furious.  “Your mother must be turning in her grave.”

            “No, my mother would be proud of me, standing by what is right.  Elizabeth has never caused you any harm, yet, you have done everything in your power to bring harm to her.  It is over.  You will leave my wife alone.”

            Martha Fitzwilliam Winston moved forward.  She had not approved of her parents’ treatment of her brother’s wife, and had only come with them in hopes to meet the young lady who had won Richard’s heart.

            “William, might I meet your wife?  It has been my desire to know her better.” Martha spoke softly.

            “Martha, you will return to the carriage, immediately.” Lady Matlock declared.

            “No, Mother, I will not.” Martha faced her mother.  “Unlike you, I have had hopes of knowing Elizabeth better.  Richard loved her.  I know you do not approve, but it was his choice to make.  He wrote to me.  He told me of meeting her, the love he felt for her.  It is not right, how you have treated her.”

            “You will do as you are told and return to the carriage, this very moment.” Lord Matlock turned his anger on his daughter.  “If you disobey me, you will find yourself shunned by the family.  Your husband will be angry if you were to cause such a breach in the family.”

            “My husband could care less what happens.  As long as he has the funds to gamble and pay for his whores at the brothels, nothing else matters.  His own father has considered changing his will, leaving the estate and fortune for our children rather than my husband.”

            “How dare you behave so improperly?” Lady Matlock took hold of her daughter’s arm.  “You are a disgrace to us, and now you cause further shame upon our family by your behavior.  Think of the family, what you owe us.  Have you no honor?”

            “Because of you, Richard had to stay away from the family.  Did you know that he had planned to return to England?  He wrote to me, telling me of his plans to move here with Elizabeth.  Because of your disapproval, he never returned home when he was granted leave.  He remained in Belgium, with the woman he loved and you hated.  I will never see my brother again, because of your hatred.  But I refuse to allow you to keep me from seeing the woman who brought Richard joy.  And I refuse to not meet the children he created with Elizabeth.  They are my family.  They deserve to be loved, like their father deserved your love.  He was not some sort of prize to place on the mantelpiece.  He was your son.  Your flesh and blood.”

            “Enough of this sentimental hogwash.” Lord Matlock stated.  “Children should be seen, not heard.  Children should respect their elders, doing what is right and proper.  You owe us respect for bringing you into the world and the life you have been given.  It is time you remember what is owed to the family.”

            “Martha, if you wish to remain here, I would be happy to introduce you to Elizabeth and our children.  And I will see that you are taken back to London, when you are ready.” Darcy stated, moving closer to his cousin.

            James watched what was happening between his relations.  He was torn between siding with his sister, all the while wishing to protect his parents and defend their way of life.  All of his life, James had been brought up to be the next Earl, and what came with that responsibility. Many times in his childhood, James envied his sisters and his brother, wishing he had the same freedoms they seemed to have.

            “Martha, think of your children.” James said in little more than a whisper.  “Do not give our parents reason to punish your children.”

            “You have yet to marry, James.  I know it is due to Mother’s attitude.  You have loved Miss Laura Jenson for many years, but Mother would never approve of her being the next Lady Matlock.  So you have kept your feelings from our parents, allowing Mother to force you to dance with every eligible young lady there is.”

            “I am doing what is expected of me, Mart. I am the next earl.  There are more demands on me than there ever was on the rest of you.  Yes, I admit to being in love with Miss Jenson.  And I know she loves me in return.  But it cannot be.  I understand I can never marry her.  I owe it to the family to marry someone who will bring a fortune and connections to the family.”

            “Richard married a lady of fortune, but she was not good enough for Mother and Father.  All because her mother was not British.  I overheard them discussing it.  Due to Elizabeth’s mother being from Belgium, our parents found her to be unworthy of marrying Richard.  No other reason, only her mother being born in another country.  Her family was extremely wealthy, and Elizabeth is worth far more than our entire family.  Her grandfather was a powerful landowner.  And her father was from right here, in England.  Mr Bennet is Elizabeth’s uncle, the Bennets are from this neighborhood for generations.  But they were not peers, so they did not matter to our parents.”

            “Mart, please, we need to return to Town with our parents.”

            Lady Matlock had already begun to walk to the awaiting carriage.  Lord Matlock was continuing to argue, this time turning his venom towards Mr Phillips, as the solicitor spoke rationally of the law.

            Darcy finally broke into the conversation. “Lord Matlock, I suggest you leave my home.  I told you before that I would not allow you at any of my homes, and you have defied me by coming here.  As you did not know it was my home, I will give you a warning.  Stay away from here.  You should also be aware that I have already sent the notice of my marriage to Town, and it should have been printed in the papers this very morning.  Obviously you left your townhouse before reading the paper.  I also announced the birth of Richard and Ari, my children.”

            “You have not heard the last of this, Darcy.  And I am certain that Catherine will have something to say when she learns the news.” Lord Matlock stomped towards the carriage, preparing to join his wife.  “James, Martha, we are leaving. Come now.”

            “Martha, please, come with us.  You can defy our parents another time.  Now is not the time.”

            “No, James, it is past time to stand up for what is right.  Go, I know why you must.”

            James finally gave up his attempts to persuade his sister. Leaning in to her, he gave her a kiss on the cheek.  Unbeknownst to their parents, James whispered into his sister’s ear.  “Give the babies a kiss for me.  I look forward to the day I can meet them.”

            “I will, James.  Look to your heart.  Do not allow our parents and their antiquated views to destroy your life.”

            Giving her a barely visible nod, James returned to the carriage, just before Lord Matlock signaled his driver to drive on.

            Martha watched the carriage drive away, tears streaming down her cheeks.  “It has been a long time in coming.” She declared, as Darcy walked up beside her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders.

            “Martha, do you think your children will be safe in Town?”

            She laughed.  “William, I had a feeling I would finally stand up to my parents when we came here.  I sent my children to their grandfather’s estate in Sussex.  Lord and Lady Matlock will not go near my father in law.  They would never do battle with the duke.”

            “Ah, Martha, you have thought of everything.”

            “I pray you will not find my presence unwanted.” Martha looked at her younger cousin.

            “You are very welcome, Martha.  Please, come inside.  I cannot wait to witness your meeting the babies.”

            Martha stood still for a moment.  “William, would you first take me to my brother’s grave?  I wish to pay my respects to Richard.”

            Darcy nodded his head.  “Come with me.” He stated, holding out his arm to her.

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            After leading his cousin to her brother’s grave, Darcy walked back towards the house.  He could tell that she wished some time alone, as there was much going through her mind.  Darcy realized the agonizing step Martha had made in defying her parents. Fortunately, her parents would not treat her as they did her younger brother.  Her marriage had been arranged, and the association with the duke was one Lord and Lady Matlock had coveted.

            Stepping inside the rear entrance into the dining room, Darcy found Mr Bennet and Mr Phillips sitting down to a cup of tea and some fresh biscuits.

            “Ah, there is my new nephew.  How are you fairing?” Mr Bennet inquired, a smile gracing his lips.

            “I am well.  And I am grateful for you both, coming to my aid as you did.  You have done so much for Elizabeth and our family.  You have also given Richard the respect he deserved, without even meeting him.  His own family could not treat him so, yet you have.”

            “There was never any question as to respecting Richard.” Mr Bennet stated.  “He had the respect of my brother and my niece, I needed no more to convince me.”

            “And if my brother in law found the young man to be of good character, I do as well.” Mr Phillips concurred.  “I hate when the peerage deems what is acceptable and what is not.  Such fools, throwing away their children and grandchildren whom are not behaving as the parents see fit.”

            “It makes me grateful that my parents were married for love.” Darcy said.  “My mother’s sister has long claimed that there was an arrangement for me to marry her daughter, who was named for my mother.  What my aunt does not know is that my mother told me, on her death bed, that there was no arrangement and I should marry as I desired.  I have never been fond of my cousin, Anne de Bourgh.”

            “How could anyone find her appealing?” Martha said as she entered through the exterior door.  “Anne is just like her mother, and I cannot stand to be in the same room as either of them for more than five minutes.  After that, I wish to strangle them.”

            “Martha, may I introduce Mr Thomas Bennet and Mr Augustus Phillips.  Gentlemen, this is my cousin, Mrs Martha Winston.”

            “Mrs Winston, it is a pleasure to meet you.  I am certain my niece will be pleased to meet you as well.” Mr Bennet exclaimed.

            “I have looked forward to meeting her since my brother first wrote to me of her.  William, do you think she will be up to a visit?”

            “Come, let me take you upstairs.” Darcy took hold of her arm, leading her into the hall.

            As they reached the doorway, Martha turned her attention back to the other men.  “I am pleased to have met you both.  And I look forward to seeing more of you in the future.”

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            Walking carefully into the bedchamber, Darcy approached Elizabeth’s bed to determine if she was awake.  The infants were in the next room, being tended by the wet nurse and their nursemaid.  Lucy was seated in a chair in the corner of the Mistress’ bedchamber, ready to assist Elizabeth with any possible request.

            As Darcy was nearing the bed, Elizabeth’s eyes opened slightly.  “William, you are here.”

            “I am, Elizabeth.  And I brought a visitor I think you will be excited to meet.  My cousin, Martha, would like to meet you, if you are willing.”

            “Richard’s sister, Martha?  She wishes to meet me?”

            “Martha is unlike her parents, and less than two hours ago, she stood her ground with them, out front of our home.”

            Elizabeth’s eyes opened wider.  “Truly?”

            Darcy nodded his head.

            “Yes, I would like to meet her.”

            Martha entered the room cautiously.  Seeing the pale and delicate looking lady lying on the bed, she was afraid for Elizabeth’s health.  Turning her attention to Darcy, it was clear to see his concern as well.  “Martha, this is my wife, Elizabeth.  You will know her better as your sister in law, Mrs Richard Fitzwilliam.”

            “Mrs Darcy, I am thrilled to finally meet you.  And I wish to offer my well wishes on your marriage to my cousin.  He has been sought by every eligible young lady in England, for many years.”

            “Forgive me for not receiving you more appropriately.  The birth of the twins has left me with less energy than normal.” Elizabeth announced to Richard’s elder sister.  “And please, you must call me Elizabeth.”

            “Then you must call me Martha.  Now, I will leave you to rest.  Your husband has given me permission to stay for a few days, so I hope to see you again, while I am here.”

            “You are welcome any time.  William, make sure she sees the children.  They are beautiful.” Elizabeth’s eyes were closing.

            Darcy bent over and placed a kiss on her hair.  “I will, Lizzy.  Rest now, and I will bring the children in to you in a little while.”

                                    ~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~

 

Chapter 8

            “Wills, you must tell me.  Is she going to recover?” Martha pleaded as they stepped into the hall.  “She looks so frail.”

            “The letter from your parents’ solicitor pushed her over the edge.  The strain caused her labors to begin early.  The delivery was long, and very difficult.  From what the midwife told me, there was a tear in the sack which had held Ari.  It detached somehow, I do not understand.  There was so much blood lost, it was amazing that she survived at all.  We have been watching her for signs of fever, and so far, have been fortunate.  But the extensive loss of blood has left her weak.  It will take time, though we are hopeful, she will recover.”

            “She might not be able to have further children, am I correct?”

            Darcy nodded his head.

            “You are an amazing man, Fitzwilliam Darcy.  And I know that my brother is watching over you, smiling.” Martha reached one of her hands up to cup Darcy’s cheek.  “Now, lead me to the babies.  I cannot wait to see them.”

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            When Elizabeth’s eyes opened again, she was pleased to see Darcy sitting in the chair, beside the bed, having a chat with her son.  “When you are older, I will teach you and your sister to ride horses.  There is a sweet natured pony at Pemberley which you can start with, though Sandy is getting up there in years.  I may have to purchase two new ponies by then.  We will spend lots of time, taking in the natural beauty of Pemberley, and here as well.  I am sure your Mamma will wish to visit here often.  You have cousins living here, and it is a beautiful estate.  And your father is here.  I will be your Papa, and Richard will be your father.   He will always be watching over you, so we must do all we can to make him proud.  You will not have to find a profession, as you will take over our estates when you are older.  And your sister will be a fine young lady, though we may find her a challenge.”

            “And why would Ari be a challenge?” Elizabeth inquired with a chuckle.

            “If she is anything at all like I have heard of her Mamma, she will be a challenge.” Darcy replied.  “Ari is on the bed beside you.”

            “And how is Richard doing?  Is he ready for his first riding lesson?”

            “No, but he did inquire as to where the library was.  He plans to spend many hours in that room.” Darcy laughed.

            “Are they healthy?” Elizabeth asked as she peeked at her daughter.  Ari’s eyes were open, giving the small child an appearance of taking in everything around her, studying all she saw. 

            “They are perfect.  Mr Herbert has examined them, and declared them to be thriving.  They have a hardy appetite, so we may need to hire a second wet nurse soon.”

            “I had planned to nurse the baby myself.  I wish I had been able to provide such care for them.”

            “Elizabeth, there is no reason to be upset.  You created these two little people.  That is a miracle all of itself.  Now, I have spoken with Georgiana.  We will plan on remaining here for as long as you need to recover.  Mr Herbert says that in a few weeks, you should be strong enough to take some fresh air.  And you are not to over work yourself.  Rest as often as your body tells you.  If you feel fatigued, sleep.  And we will start bringing you some more food.  You should be able to start taking some soft foods, Mr Herbert stated we should avoid spices and anything which would upset your stomach.”

            “Why do I feel so weak?  I know it was a difficult delivery, and near the end, I heard the concern in everyone’s voices.  But what happened?”

            Darcy looked down at the blanket covering Ari’s body.  “We are not certain, but something detached when Ari was born.  There was a lot of blood, from what they told me.  You nearly bled to death.” His voice was barely audible as the last words were spoken.

            Tears welled up in Elizabeth’s eyes.  “Then it is even more important that we married.  If I had died…the children…”

            “There is no need to fret, Elizabeth.  The children are safe, and you will recover.  Now, would you like to trade children?  I have not had a chat with Ari yet, and Richard wishes to see his Mamma.”

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            “Why has there been no word on when Mr Darcy will arrive?” Caroline Bingley said in a huff, as she sat down at the table to break her fast.

            “I told you, Darcy was to be at Ramsgate for another fortnight.  Then he would be traveling to his cousin’s estate, which is near here.  I believe the estate is called The Willows. He and Georgiana were planning to stay there some of their time in the neighborhood.”

            “His cousin?  The viscount?  I thought his estate was in Kent, near their aunt, Lady Catherine.”

            “Not the viscount.  I have never met this cousin.  She was married to the viscount’s younger brother, the Colonel.”

            Caroline nearly choked on her tea.  “SHE?  The Colonel’s widow?  Oh, no, Mr Darcy cannot stay in her house, it would not be proper.  She is a widow, which makes her an eligible lady.  People would believe they had an understanding or something.  No, Mr Darcy must stay here at Netherfield.  It is for the sake of his reputation that you must speak to him on the matter.”

            “Caroline, I am sure Darcy is intelligent enough to know what is proper and what is not.  His sister will be with him, as will her companion.” Bingley spread butter on the slice of bread he had picked up.  “For now, we will meet our neighbors.  I hear there is to be an assembly next week.  Will that not be pleasant?”

            Miss Bingley was frustrated with her brother’s refusal to aid her secure Darcy’s hand.  Perhaps it is time to force Mr Darcy to compromise me.  Then Charles would have no option but to demand Mr Darcy marry me.

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            Having been unsuccessful in obtaining Georgiana Darcy’s dowry, Wickham was in Town, hiding from his creditors.  He despised Darcy, blaming the man for everything that had ever gone wrong in his life. 

            When Wickham was only ten years old, he overheard his mother telling her sister that she had had an affair, resulting in Wickham’s birth.  Her husband was a good man, but he did not aspire to greater wealth, as she did.  And she claimed the man who fathered her son was quite wealthy.

            To Wickham’s way of thinking, the only wealthy man his mother could have had an affair with was Gerald Darcy, the current Master of Pemberley’s father.  The late Mr Darcy had always been generous to Wickham, purchasing gifts for the boy, paying for him to have a gentleman’s education.  Gerald Darcy was even Wickham’s godfather. 

            If only he could have rid himself of Fitzwilliam Darcy, he was certain Gerald would step forward to claim him as a son.  There had been several times, while the boys were still young, when Darcy’s life had been endangered. Though nothing could ever be proved, Anne Darcy was certain Wickham was behind her son’s injuries.  After Anne’s death, which was unexpected, Wickham grew closer to Gerald.  So wrapped in his grief over his beloved wife’s death, Gerald could not look at his own children without seeing their mother, so he turned to the charming manners of Wickham.

            This only served to confirm Wickham’s suspicions, at least in his mind.  Little did he know who his true father was.

            Taking a drink of his glass of ale, Wickham was surprised when a well-dressed man pulled up a chair to his table and sat down.  “Mr Wickham, I have come here to assist you with your current financial situation.”

            “I do not know you.” Wickham said as he took another sip.  “What business is my finances to you?”

            “My employer wishes to compensate you for your losses, on the condition that you perform a task.  It is our opinion that you will find the task enjoyable, as it will be inflicting harm to your old friend, Mr Darcy.”

            Wickham’s attention was peaked.  “And just what is this task I will be required to perform?”

            “You will need to find a reason to take up residence in the village of Meryton, in Hertfordshire.  Mr Darcy is currently staying there, with his new wife.”

            “Darcy has married?” Wickham was surprised.

            “Just recently.  It was only announced this morning in the papers.”

            “And what will I be doing in Meryton?”

            “You will be finding the documents needed to have Darcy’s marriage declared void. When you have succeeded, you will be paid the sum of twenty thousand pounds.  Is that agreeable to you?”

            “And just how am I to blend into the neighborhood?” Wickham was intrigued.

            “There is a militia unit recently moved to the village.  Here is the commission we purchased for you.”

            “Very well.” Wickham stated as he downed the remains of his drink. “I will leave for Meryton on the morrow.”

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            “Caroline, oh sister, you have to read the article in the paper.” Louisa said as she entered the sitting room where her sister was to be found.

            “What are you going on about?  I do not wish to read about happenings in Town, when we are forced to endure this dreadful country existence.”

            “Oh, but you will wish to read this.  There is an announcement in the paper about Mr Darcy.”

            Caroline reached out and snatched the paper from her sister’s hands.  “No, it cannot be.  This is horrible.  His family will never approve, I am sure it will be dissolved before the week is out.”

            Bingley had just entered the room, and was quite curious as to his sisters’ discussion. “What will be dissolved?  What has happened?”

            Louisa smiled.  She had always believed her sister thought too high of herself, aspiring to an unobtainable goal.  “Your friend, Mr Darcy, is now a married man.”

            “No, I cannot believe it.  He never said a word.  Perhaps it is a misprint.” Bingley said as he walked closer to Caroline.

            “It has to be.  I am certain Mr Darcy will be furious when he learns of it.  He will demand a retraction be printed immediately.” Caroline huffed. Her brother took the paper from her and began reading.

            “Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, in Derbyshire, is pleased to announce his recent marriage to Elizabeth Bennet Fitzwilliam, widow of his late cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam.  The service was held at their estate of The Willows, in Hertfordshire.  The Darcys were then pleased to announce the birth of twins, Master Richard Darcy and Miss Aristella Darcy, born shortly after their parents’ wedding.” Bingley read aloud, shocked at such a development.  “He never said a word of this.  First married, and then he is a father of twins.  Such a surprise, indeed.  But this tells us he is here, in the neighborhood.  The Willows is the estate he and Miss Darcy were to visit while they were here.”

            “We must visit immediately.  He may not be aware of the slanderous article, and will, of course, need to confront the matter quickly.” Caroline declared.

            “I will pay a visit to The Willows.  I know you will insist on my inviting them to Netherfield, they will most likely decline.  Having just delivered twins, Mrs Darcy will be in no position to leave the house.”

            “Charles, you are so thick.  This cannot be true.  It is a falsehood and needs to be addressed quickly, to protect Mr Darcy’s reputation.”

            “It is time you put your dreams of becoming Mrs Darcy on the shelf.  You have never tempted Darcy, and, after all the years he has known you, has shown no interest in you.  Give it up, Caroline. You were never going to be Mrs Darcy.”

            “How dare you treat me so?  You are my brother.  You should be protecting me, assisting me in making the best possible match.  I would have thought you would be pleased to have Mr Darcy as a brother, if he married me.”

            Bingley stood and started walking towards the door.  “I will be pleased for my friend’s happiness.  And I am quite certain, his happiness would never be achieved being married to you.”

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            “Bingley, how good it is to see you.” Darcy exclaimed as he moved towards his friend, extending his hand.  “So much has been happening, I forgot when you were to arrive.”

            “I have heard of your recent activities.  I wish you joy.” Bingley said as he shook Darcy’s hand. 

            “How did you come to hear?” Darcy was puzzled for a moment, before he remembered he had sent the information to be printed in the papers.

            “My sister was furious when she read the paper.  She swears that it is all false, and that you will demand a retraction as soon as you learn of it.  You know how Caroline is.”

            Darcy chuckled.  “Even being married cannot protect me from her scheming.”

            “Well, but you are married.  Please, tell me how this all came about.”

            The men took their seats and Darcy recounted what had led to his marriage to his cousin’s widow.  “I will not allow Lord and Lady Matlock to take Elizabeth’s children from her.  Richard is not here to protect his family, so I will.  She is a good woman, and she deserves to be happy.  Elizabeth is intelligent, she has already proven to be quite capable in running an estate.  You see about you her excellent work of being Mistress.”

            “And the children?  I doubt very much if you fathered children without already being married to the mother.” Bingley attempted to be as delicate as possible.

            “They are Richard’s by blood, but mine by choice.  I have given them my name and will raise them as if they were of my seed.  I could love them no more if they had been.  Wait until you meet them.  Young Richard has a cheerful disposition, and he appears to always have a smile on his lips.  He rarely cries at all.  Miss Aristella has already learned to wrap me around her little fingers, she has quite a sparkle in her eyes.  And she has the most adorable chocolate curls.  I have never seen an infant with so many curls on her head.”

            Bingley laughed.  “I would have never thought the great Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley to be so easily won over by mere babes.  You have a content look about you, it is a pleasure to witness.”

            “I am content.  And once Elizabeth has recovered, I will be able to breathe again.  She is finally able to take a little more nourishment, and is awake a little longer each time.  But it has only been a week since the birth.  The physician says it could take a few months for her to fully recover her strength.”

            “My goodness.  Such an ordeal.  At least she has you to look after her.  Now, I know it is ridiculous, but my sister insists I invite you to dine with us tomorrow evening.  I told her that it would be foolish to ask you, when you are newly married and with newborn children, but Caroline could not be dissuaded.  She foolishly thinks you and Miss Darcy will attend, leaving your wife at home as she is recovering from the birth.”

            “We have been refusing any invitations, Miss Bingley must understand such.”

            Bingley shook his head.  “It is Caroline we are speaking of.  She will never be rational when it comes to you, Darce.”

            Darcy nodded.  “Then thank her for the invitation, but we must decline it for now.  Tell her we look forward to a future date when my wife is well enough to attend with us.”

            “I will inform her, but do not think for one moment that my sister will not harp at you until she succeeds.”

            “Come, Bingley, let us go for a ride about the neighborhood.  I would like to show you some of the highlights.”

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            Wickham looked around the sleepy village of Meryton.  Well, it could be far worse, I guess.

            Having read the request of his employer, Wickham knew what was expected of him.  He was to locate the papers needed to destroy Darcy’s marriage.  Once he succeeded, and Darcy was removed from the skirt who had finally ensnared him, the real fun would begin.  Darcy was intended to marry Miss Anne de Bourgh, and a more wretched wife could not be imagined.  Yes, it would be a living hell that was for certain.  The skirt was hiding from a wealthy family.  Wickham did not know the particulars, but her newborn children were a part of the peerage, and the family demanded the infants turned over to them.  That it would also bring pain to Darcy was an added bonus.  As a last resort, Wickham’s employer insisted that the chit be eliminated.  Though he dislike the thought of killing a lady, for the price he was to be paid, Wickham was not unwilling to provide the service.

            Walking about Meryton with his new friend, Mr Denny, Wickham strutted about in his new red uniform.  For some reason, young ladies were fond of men in uniforms, and with Wickham’s natural charms and good looks, he was making more than one female head turn in his direction.

            First, Wickham had to learn who was important in the neighborhood.  His first day in the village gave him great insight in this, as he was amongst a group of officers who were invited to the home of Mrs Phillips, for an evening of cards and entertainment.  Mrs Phillips was one of the biggest gossips in the neighborhood, and it did not take much to start her talking.  And once started, it was nearly impossible to stop her.

            From Mrs Phillips, Wickham learned of the Bennet family of Longbourn. Mrs Bennet was the sister of Mrs Phillips, so the elder, sillier sister had much knowledge of her younger sister’s family.  “Oh, my, Fanny was much like me when she was a girl, but once she caught the eye of Thomas Bennet, she was determined to become a perfect lady, and now she is the Mistress of Longbourn.  And her eldest daughter, Jane, will make some fortunate young man a fine wife.  She is all that is charming.  Just as pretty as Fanny was when she was a girl.”  Mrs Phillips took a moment to sip her tea before continuing.  “Now Fanny’s marriage put me in the way of young men who were quite eligible.  I had quite a fancy for a young man in a red coat when I was younger, but my sister showed me that I should aim higher.  And now look at me, the wife of an important solicitor.  My husband is quite important in the neighborhood, as he is hired by everyone needing legal advice.  Mr Phillips is highly sought after for his knowledge, I can guarantee you.”

            “So your husband has been of aid to your sister’s family, I would assume.  Did not their niece arrive in the neighborhood a few months ago?  I heard tell that she was having some difficulties.”

            “Well, not to speak of such matters, as they should be kept in the family, but indeed, Elizabeth had quite a mess to contend with.  If it were not for my husband, I am sure she would be in quite a pickle right now.”

            “She must appreciate your husband tremendously.” Wickham smiled, realizing he was gleaning the information with great ease.

            “And to show her appreciation, her new husband is now relying on my husband’s services.  A man such as Mr Darcy will make my husband popular amongst the ton.  That will be quite a coup for us.”

            “Indeed.  I am sure that in no time at all, you will be living in a fine townhouse in Town, possibly in the Mayfair district.”

            “Oh, that would be quite nice.  Can you imagine parties we would be invited to?  We could entertain the cream of society in our home.”

            Wickham was certain they would be able to find the documents his employer desired in the Mr Phillips’ office.  He would have to use his skills at lock picking to search the office one evening soon.  The next week he was scheduled to guard detail, all night long, with two other soldiers.  There would be no possibility of sneaking away for any length of time with them near him all night.

            Now, in the light of day, he could learn more details of the town, the position of the office off the main street, and the habits of the citizens of the village.  Once he was comfortable with the surroundings, he would make his move.  Hopefully, within a fortnight, I will be free to live my life as I wish, with a nice fat bank account and Darcy miserable.

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            James Fitzwilliam had returned to his family’s estate in Derbyshire.  He preferred spending his time at the estate rather than in Town, as he deplored society, much as his cousin, Darcy.  Riding out on the land suited him far better than being forced to attend dinners and balls, as his parents attempted to find the perfect young lady to be his wife.  Or, should he say, the perfect business arrangement.  For that was what Lord and Lady Matlock were attempting to accomplish.  Affection did not matter to them.  But James had seen the results of such marriages, time and again. 

            Though his sister, Martha, was unhappy in her marriage, she was pleased with her children.  And her in laws were kind to her and the children. Martha was able to spend time in the country, at her father in law’s estate.  There, she was free to live her life as she liked, rather than being forced to meet the demands of their parents.

            Unfortunately, James’ other sister endured a completely different sort of life.  Agatha was the younger sister, only a year older than Richard.  Aggie was a sweet natured girl, very pretty, and thought well of the world.  She never could have conceived of anyone being purposely cruel, especially in a marriage.  As with Martha, Aggie’s marriage was arranged with the eldest son of an earl.  Unfortunately, when her husband’s father died, shortly after their wedding, Lord Alginon Farnsworth took on a different personality.  He was violent, striking Aggie frequently if he was displeased. Unfortunately, he was almost constantly displeased. 

            Two years into their marriage, Aggie finally conceived their first child.  When she was near full term, Lord Farnsworth flew into a terrible rage over his mistress having left him for a wealthier man.  Aggie paid the price for the other woman’s desertion.  She was beaten so severely, she lost the babe she was carrying and nearly died.  The babe was a son, which would have been Lord Farnsworth’s heir.  After the loss, Lord Farnsworth refused to have relations with his wife, feeling as if she had failed him.

            Due to her husband’s insistence on their being in Town constantly, giving him access to the brothels, Aggie was forced to be in the company of her parents regularly.  And constantly, she was harped at on every aspect of her life.  Aggie had become a shell of the young girl she had been before her coming out.  James hardly recognized his younger sister.

            When he heard of Richard’s decision to marry a young lady for love, James was jealous.  Everything about Richard’s marriage was against their parents’ expectations.  His wife was foreign born, an unknown in society, bringing no contacts to the marriage, at least not in the opinion of Lord and Lady Matlock.  Though it was later learned that the young lady was quite wealthy, by then, his parents had set their sights against her.  There would never be anything Richard’s wife did which would garner the approval of Henry and Rebecca Fitzwilliam.

            The news of Richard’s death had been devastating.  Since then, it appeared that Lord and Lady Matlock would do everything in their power to punish the only daughter in law they had.  They blamed her for Richard dying, for his body being taken to be buried away from Matlock.  And now, getting their hands on their grandchildren was the greatest priority in their lives.

            Looking over the land, so many memories came to mind of his brother.  Richard was so much younger, but James was fond of him.  The only problem was Lord Matlock insisted James start learning the estate as a child.  And when Richard was old enough to ride out with James, their father refused to allow it, stating Richard had no need to learn such things.

            If only Richard had chosen a different sort of life.  But then…he would not have been Richard.

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