New story.  Will be posting on Wednesdays and Sundays.  

 

Chapter 1

            Elizabeth Bennet was enjoying a leisurely stroll through Hyde Park.  The past month had been unbearable at her father’s estate, Longbourn in Hertfordshire.  Finally, her father stood his ground with her mother and allowed Elizabeth to take a holiday in London, at the home of her aunt and uncle.  Mr and Mrs Gardiner were fond of Elizabeth, and they enjoyed having her visit them.  But this visit was different for their niece, as she had much to think about. 

            Being the second born of five daughters of a country gentleman of small wealth, Elizabeth’s selections for marriage were slim.  But she was determined to marry for love, rather than for the security of a home.  To her way of thinking, marriage was not a business partnership, it was a joining of two hearts.

            This way of thinking caused her mother no little grief.  Rather than settling for whomever her mother wished, Elizabeth refused to accept an offer from her father’s cousin.  The man was the heir to Longbourn, as the estate was entailed away from the female line.  When the man, Mr William Collins, arrived at Longbourn to choose a potential wife from his fair cousins, Mrs Bennet had led Mr Collins to believe that Elizabeth’s twin sister, Jane, was to be soon attached to a neighbor.  Mrs Bennet then steered Mr Collins towards her least favorite daughter, Elizabeth.

            She was an intelligent young lady, well read and informed in many areas young ladies were usually ignorant in.  Elizabeth was able to assist her father in keeping the books for the estate, speak with tenants on new techniques in farming, and more.  But it was her caring and kind nature which was her real asset.

            So when Mr Collins, a bumbling clergyman who thought highly of himself and was a bootlicker to his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, of Rosings Park, arrived at Longbourn, Elizabeth was not impressed with the man.  When her mother began pairing Elizabeth with the foolish toad of a man, Elizabeth knew she had to stand her ground and refuse any attempt to marry her off to the man.  Mrs Bennet was not pleased, for if Mr Bennet was to die, Mr Collins would inherit the estate and could toss her and her daughters from their home immediately.

            Mrs Bennet pleaded with her husband to force Elizabeth to accept Mr Collins, but Mr Bennet was not prepared to take such a stand.  Elizabeth had always been his favorite child, and he could not tolerate the thought of her being married to such a man.

            This decision caused Mrs Bennet to moan daily of her nerves and the loss of a husband for one of her daughters, as Mr Collins had left Longbourn within moments of being given Mr Bennet’s opinion of forcing Elizabeth to marry him.  He then asked for the hand of one of the Bennets’ neighbors, Miss Charlotte Lucas.

            Learning of Charlotte’s acceptance of the offer, and that Charlotte would be the next mistress of Longbourn, Mrs Bennet unleashed her fury on Elizabeth.  Spending many hours each day to ridicule and chastise Elizabeth for her failure to secure the futures of all the Bennet ladies, it did not take long before Longbourn was far too hostile for Elizabeth to remain there.

            Mr and Mrs Gardiner had always been disgusted with Mrs Bennet’s behavior towards Elizabeth, as the lady had always been harsh on Elizabeth.  Mr Edward Gardiner was appalled by his sister’s behavior, for he was taken with Elizabeth.  The Gardiner children had always held Elizabeth as their favorite cousin, for she spent many hours reading to the children or making up stories, adding funny voices to the characters and even making puppets for some of the stories.

            The morning Elizabeth planned to make her way to visit Hyde Park, she had received two letters from her home.  The first letter was from her father, suggesting that Elizabeth should take a holiday elsewhere, for Mrs Bennet was plotting a way to secure a husband for Elizabeth.  Due to her anger, Mrs Bennet did not care who the man was.  It was clear to Mr Bennet that his wife would stop at nothing to torture his beloved Elizabeth.  If she were not in Longbourn or even in Town, Mrs Bennet could not locate her, therefore the arrangement for a marriage could not come to be.

            The second letter was from her mother.  Fanny Bennet was not waiting for long to arrange a marriage, this time choosing a man who was known to treat his wife harshly, for he had already been married twice and both of his wives had died from maltreatment.  The entire neighborhood knew of the situation, but there was no proof in the allegation, so the man was treated with caution.  Mrs Bennet was pleased to see the man come to Longbourn, his desire was to make a match with the fiery Miss Elizabeth. 

            But Elizabeth refused to consider returning to Longbourn, and she would not allow her mother to force her to marry someone she did not love. Perhaps her father was correct, it was time for her to make a trip somewhere. 

            Fortunately, Mr and Mrs Gardiner were already planning a holiday away from Town.  They had decided to journey north, to the Peaks, and spending some time in Lambton, where Mrs Gardiner had lived as a child.  Mr Gardiner was in the middle of a business deal, and once it was accomplished, the family was intent on making the journey. 

            There was a bit of urgency in Mr Bennet’s letter that made Mr Gardiner uncomfortable.  He wondered if it would be best for him to send his wife, children and Elizabeth on ahead, meeting them in Lambton, and from there, visiting the other sights.

            Elizabeth was reviewing all her uncle had stated that morning when she heard a scuffle on the path ahead of her.  There were two men who appeared to be beating on a gentleman.  Elizabeth’s first thought was that the men were attempting to rob the gentleman, so she began shouting for assistance.  Picking up a broken off tree branch from the ground, Elizabeth rushed forward, striking the two men with her weapon.  One of the men took the branch from her hands and was attempting to use it on her, when sounds of other people coming towards them forced the culprits to flee the area.

            The victim of the attack had fallen to the ground, and appeared to be injured.  When Elizabeth rolled the man over, she gasped at the sight before her.  The gentleman was known to her, as he had been visiting the estate near her father’s.  Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy had a cut above his left eye and bruising beginning to show on his left cheek.  He was slowly returning to his senses, as he had been quite rattled by the force of the assault. 

            “Mr Darcy, are you well?  We should take you to your home, and send for a physician to tend you.” Elizabeth said as she attempted to sit him upright.

            “I am well enough, Miss.  You have no need to fret over me.” It was clear that he was embarrassed by what had happened, and was so distracted that he had not noticed who his rescuer was.  When he finally turned his gaze upon her, Darcy was surprised to learn who was kneeling beside him.  “Miss Elizabeth, what are you doing here?”

            “I am afraid that is a question for another time, Mr Darcy.  You are bleeding and require some attention.  You would not wish to have the wound become infected, would you?” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a handkerchief, placing it over the cut.

            “My home is just across the street.  I am well enough to make my way there.” Darcy made an effort to stand up on his own, only to fall back to the ground.

            “Mr Darcy, allow me to go to your house and ask for a footman to come assist you.”

            “There is no need, Miss Elizabeth.  I am certain I can make it there on my own.” Darcy was able to get to his feet, though he was having difficulty in walking.  After two steps, and Darcy nearly falling to the ground, Elizabeth quickly wrapped his arm around her shoulder while she placed one of her arms around his waist, allowing Darcy to lean against her small frame for assistance.

            Reaching the steps to the front door of Darcy’s townhouse, Elizabeth called out for the butler to open the door.  Mr Jarvis, the Darcy House butler, opened the front door.  “Mr Darcy, what has happened, Sir?”

            “Mr Darcy was attacked in the park, and requires tending.” Elizabeth stated.  Mr Jarvis moved to Darcy’s other side, giving his master the stability to make his way up the stairs.  Once they were inside, Mr Jarvis called out for two footmen to come, tasking them with seeing Mr Darcy up the stairs and to his rooms.

            Seeing that Darcy was in good hands, Elizabeth turned to leave.  Mr Jarvis called out to her to stay.  “Miss, I do not know if you are aware of the gentleman you have just assisted, but he is the best of men.  I am grateful for your service, as are all who are employed by the Darcy family.  Might I have your name and where you live, in case my master inquires?”

            “Mr Darcy knows me, though I will tell you my name.  I am Miss Elizabeth Bennet, formerly of Longbourn, in Hertfordshire.  Currently, I am residing in Cheapside, though I will be leaving soon.  There is no reason your master would require knowing more of me, for I assure you that Mr Darcy does not like me.”

            “Madam, I am certain you are wrong.  Mr Darcy is the kindest young man I have ever met.  And I know enough of him to know he will wish to thank you for your kindness today.  Might I tell him where you will be found?  Where in Cheapside will you be staying?”

            “I am staying at the house of my uncle, who is in trade.  Forgive me, but I must return before my aunt becomes worried for me.”  Elizabeth turned and walked out the door and down the stairs.  Her emotions were in turmoil, for she did not know what to believe.  The man she knew when he was staying at Netherfield Park, the estate which was next to her father’s estate, which was leased by Mr Darcy’s closest friend, Mr Charles Bingley, was nothing like the man described by the butler.

            She hurried her steps, as the walk was long and Elizabeth was in such a state of confusion.  The butler spoke of a kind and caring Darcy, but that did not match with the dark and brooding Darcy who had visited her family’s neighborhood.

            With each step which took her further from his townhouse, Elizabeth was dissecting the memories of each encounter she had had with the Master of Pemberley.

            All of her memories were of a man who looked upon her as if to find fault in everything she said and did.  The man watched her from across the room, each time they were together.  He never spoke, he always stared at her.  It was unnerving. 

            From her encounters with Darcy, she was certain he would never lower himself to contact her, no matter what she had done for him.  And staying at her uncle’s home, in Cheapside, would only give him reason to disdain her further.

            I am pleased I could come to his assistance, for those men might have killed him.  But Mr Darcy has always looked down upon me.  Look at the night we first met.  When Mr Bingley offered to introduce his friend to me, so Mr Darcy could ask me to dance, Mr Darcy refused.  He stated clearly that I was not handsome enough to tempt him and that he did not dance with young ladies who were slighted by other men.  Did that not tell everyone what he thought of her?  Did his glares from across the room not speak of his dislike of me?

            Elizabeth continued to mull the words of the butler over and over in her mind.  Of course a servant would not wish to lose his position, so he would not speak ill of his master.  So Elizabeth concluded that was the reason for Darcy’s glaring at her.  He was looking for each and every fault in her which made her not handsome enough to tempt him, and finding reasons for other men to slight her.

            Finally reaching her uncle’s home, Elizabeth was exhausted from not only the walk, but the mental taxing she was putting her mind through was tiring.

            “Lizzy, I am so pleased you have returned.  I was beginning to worry.” Mrs Gardiner declared as her niece entered the parlor. 

            “I am well, Aunt Helen.  I lost track of time while at Hyde Park.” Elizabeth smiled, leaning over to place a kiss on her favorite aunt’s cheek. 

            “Well, while you were gone, an express arrived from your father.  He sent one to your uncle as well.  I have a feeling we will be leaving sooner than expected.”

            Elizabeth took hold of the message her aunt held out to her. Breaking the seal, Elizabeth began to read her father’s words.

           

            My Dear Lizzy,

          Your mother is threatening to come to Town to retrieve you if I do not send for you immediately. I have sent word to your uncle as well, and I have sent him the funds to send you from Town immediately.  Your aunt and cousins can follow you if they need the extra time, but it is vital you leave immediately.  I cannot promise your mother’s compliance with my dictate, you know how she is. I am doing my best, but you must hurry, Lizzy.

          Do not post any letters to me from wherever you are going.  I do not wish your mother to learn where you are.  Please be careful and safe.  Jane sends her love as well, and says she wishes she could be with you, for your mother is making life unbearable here.  I intend to put my foot down with her, but it is my own failings which has led us to this situation.  I should have been stronger with her from the start.

          Forgive me, Lizzy, for my foolishness.  Know that I love you and miss you, as there is not two words of sense spoken in this house since you left.

          With love,

          Your father, Thomas Bennet

 

            It was frustrating, throughout the years, that her mother’s behavior had gone unchecked.  Mr Bennet had preferred to retreat to his book room and isolation rather than standing firm against her mother’s vulgar ways and the manner of behavior of her youngest sister, who was known to be the worst flirt in the neighborhood.  Jane and Elizabeth had endured whispered disapproval from their neighbors over their mother and sister.  Even words of disapproval were issued concerning their father, for he rarely ever came out of his book room.

            And now, Elizabeth was forced to flee to keep her mother from forcing a marriage to a man who was known to be violent, just so her mother could feel secured with the man’s wealth when the day came that Mr Bennet died.  Mr Leland was nearly forty years old, and cruel.  His previous wives had rarely been seen in public, and it was believed it was due to their appearance being flawed by wounds inflicted by their husband.

            “Lizzy, what does your father say?”

            “Mamma is determined to marry me off to Mr Leland.  She is threatening to come to Town to force me.  Papa says I need to leave here immediately, before Mamma can come.” Elizabeth looked at her aunt, with tears welling in her eyes.  “Aunt Helen, why is Mamma so cruel to me?  Why is she determined to punish me?”

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

 

Chapter 2

            Helen Gardiner was aware of the situation which caused Fanny Bennet to detest Elizabeth.  Fanny had always been high strung and flirtatious.  She set her sights to marrying a gentleman.  Despising her roots as the daughter of a country solicitor, Fanny Gardiner was determined she would not accept the hand of any man who did not have an estate.  At an assembly in Meryton, Fanny met Thomas Bennet.  Having set her cap on him, Fanny set out to entice him into marriage. 

            Mr Edward Gardiner learned later, from his father on his deathbed, that Thomas Bennet had been in love with a young lady with ties to royalty, a young lady named Constance Elisabetta, the niece of Charles, Duke of Brunswick and Princess Augusta of Great Britain, and cousin of Caroline, Princess of Brunswick.  Constance and Thomas had met in Town, when both were visiting family. 

            Fanny did not care that Thomas had given his heart to another, and she did everything she could to make him notice her.  It was not until she staged a compromising situation did she succeed in her goal.  It would come to be the worst mistake of her life, and would lead to many years of bitterness.  Constance was devastated to see her beloved be forced to marry another.  Thomas was angry at being forced to marry Fanny, and she was too foolish to realize, at the time, what she had done.

            It was not long into their marriage when the Bennets learned of their family increasing.  What no one knew was the fact that Mr Bennet would have two children born close together rather than one.  He learned Constance gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, who looked identical to her mother and that his beloved Constance had perished just days after the birth.  Mrs Bennet was near her delivery, and Mr Bennet decided perpetrate a lie. 

            The daughter of Constance was kept hidden from Mrs Bennet until the birth of Fanny’s babe.  Constance’s daughter had been small, and could easily be passed off as a newborn.  Mrs Bennet was in severe pain during the birth, and the midwife gave the lady some laudanum to ease the pain, so Mrs Bennet was not aware until later what her husband had done. 

            Only two people, aside from Thomas Bennet, knew what happened that day, until nearly a year later, when Mrs Bennet finally forced the truth from her husband.  She could tell her husband held Elizabeth with more regard than he did Jane.  After a bitter argument, Mr Bennet admitted that Elizabeth was the daughter of his beloved Constance, the woman he was forced to give up, due to Fanny’s behavior. 

            Thomas was bitter with his wife, and told her in no uncertain terms how he disliked her.  He blamed her for ruining his happiness, trapping him while knowing he did not wish to marry her.  Fanny had known Thomas was in love with someone in Town, but that did not matter to her. 

            “I have never loved you, and I admit to you now that two days before I married you, I laid with Constance.  I wished for one last night of love, before being forced to share a bed with someone I did not even like, all to procreate an heir.  Constance held my heart, and still does. But she is dead, after giving me the greatest gift, a living proof of our love.”

            “And you made me believe she was my child.” Fanny was furious.  “I will never refer to her as my daughter again.  She is your natural child, but I will not care for her.”

            “If you know what is good for you, you will make certain you treat her as if she were your flesh and blood.  If you do not, I will force you to live with your parents.  I have the right to bar you from my home.  Or I will move to London, taking my daughters with me.  You will be left with nothing, and I will publically claim you as a harlot who compromised yourself, yet making it appear that I could not keep my hands off you.”

            “You know you wanted me, it was you who behaved inappropriately.” Fanny shouted at Thomas.  “You and your whore’s child, making people believe she was mine.  It is not right.  I cannot tolerate that child in my house any longer.”

            “Then I will have your trunks packed.  You have your choice, you may stay with your sister or your brother.  Which do you wish to take you in?”

            “Jane and I…”

            “No, Fanny, I told you. You will not take Jane from me.  Jane and Elizabeth are my girls, and they will go nowhere without me.  Now, where do you wish to go?”

            Fanny decided to stay with her sister, though Mrs Phillips was far from discrete.  She immediately sent an express to their brother, who was building his import business in Town.  Edward took the time to visit Longbourn, and learned the truth of his sister’s behavior.  Meeting the two girls, Mr Gardiner could not withhold his love for either of the girls.  Jane was fair haired with crystal blue eyes.  Elizabeth was her opposite, with dark curls and brown eyes.  But each of the girls had a birthmark behind their left ear, a birthmark in the shape of a small red heart.  They were Thomas Bennet’s daughters, and he would not give either up.

            Knowing the truth of the situation, Edward spoke with his sister.  “Fanny, you knew Bennet did not love you, and that his heart belonged to another.  But you insisted on making him your husband, no matter what you did.  It was wrong, Fanny.  You took something from Bennet which was not yours to take.  My suggestion is to accept the situation you have made for yourself and accept Elizabeth as your child.  She is a good girl, and very loveable.  Can you not be her mother?”

            “I cannot stand the sight of her.  Her mother took something which was mine, just before my wedding.”

            “Fanny, have you never thought of what you took from Elizabeth’s mother, by compromising Bennet and demanding he marry you.  You knew he did not love you.  Can you not accept the situation?  Elizabeth’s mother is dead, she will not burden you any further.  Do not blame the child for what happened, for she did not create any of the situation.”

            “But she is a constant reminder of my husband having been with another woman.  It is not right.  The child should be sent away from here.  She is a curse on my marriage.”

            Mr Gardiner shook his head.  He knew his sister would never change her mind, but he prayed her fury would dissipate with time.  “It is within your power to make your life happy or sad.  You may not like what the child represents, but you made your bed, it is time for you to lay on it.  I will stand behind Bennet on this matter, so, if you wish to return to your home and live with your own child and your husband, you had best live with your own actions.”

            After a week of staying at her sister’s home, Fanny Bennet returned to her home, and decided to try to be pleasant to her husband’s love child, even though it was a constant thorn in her side.  As the child grew, and was a constant reminder to Mr Bennet of Constance, the thorn festered until nothing Elizabeth could do would satisfy Mrs Bennet.

            Over the years, Mrs Bennet had three further babes born dead, two daughters and a son, until finally, she was able to give birth to her final child, Lydia.  She poured all her love and devotion into Lydia, spoiling the girl as she felt Mr Bennet did for Elizabeth.  It was no surprise that Lydia was growing into an uncontrollable young lady, who did whatever she wished, not caring how it injured anyone else.

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            Elizabeth’s belongings were quickly packed in her trunks and she was taken to catch the post carriage headed north.  Once Elizabeth arrived in the village of Lambton, where Mrs Gardiner had grown up and still had friends, she was to visit a Mrs Lackney who owned the dress shop. Mrs Lackney would allow Elizabeth to stay with her until the Gardiners arrived a week later.

            Arriving at the post station just before the carriage was to leave, Mr Gardiner paid her fare and handed his niece a small bundle.  “Your aunt packed some refreshments for you, and the other item is from your father.  We will see you in a week.  Be safe and careful.”

            “I will, Uncle.  Thank you for all of your kindness to me.  I look forward to seeing you when you arrive.” Elizabeth stated as she turned to enter the carriage.

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            Once on the road, Elizabeth opened the bundle her uncle had handed her.  Inside were some of her favorite biscuits, a hunk of cheese, a flask of drink, and a pouch.  Inside the pouch were coins, which Elizabeth quickly hid in her pocket.  Beside her on the seat was one of the maids from the Gardiner home, who was remain with Elizabeth until the Gardiners arrived in Lambton. The maid, Lucy, was a quiet girl of seven and ten years, and she was quite devoted to the Gardiner family.  That devotion extended to Elizabeth, as the niece of the family was always pleasant and kind.

            Lucy was learning to read, and she appreciated the generosity of Elizabeth to teach her.  During the long ride, Elizabeth encouraged the young maid, teaching her from some of the children’s books Mr Gardiner had allowed Lucy take with her.

            The first night of their journey found the two staying in a posting inn.  They decided to share a room, as Elizabeth would not hear of Lucy staying in servant quarters, while Elizabeth was comfortable in a large bed upstairs.  Though Lucy attempted to explain she could not possibly share the bed with her employer’s niece, Elizabeth would not accept her reasoning.  “Lucy, I am used to sharing a bed with my sister, Jane.  If I can survive her kicking me in the middle of the night, I can tolerate you.  Unless you are going to tell me you turn into a vicious animal and will devour me while I sleep.”

            Lucy laughed. “Miss Elizabeth, I can assure you I am not a vicious animal, coming out at night, to devour young maidens as they sleep.  It would not be proper for me to sleep in the room with you.  There are servants’ quarters below the stairs, and I am certain they will be more than adequate.”

            “We will save funds then, by only requiring one room. See, you would be doing my aunt and uncle a further service by sharing the room with me.”

            “Very well, Miss Elizabeth.  I give up.  You are too fierce to argue with.” Lucy held her side from laughing so hard.  “I will send down for some dinner to be brought up on trays.  The men in the dining room did not appear to be too friendly.”

            “Another reason for you to remain here, with me.  I would not rest properly if left on my own.” Elizabeth smiled.  “I would be constantly nervous for your safety as well as my own.”

                                    ~~ ** ~~

            Darcy woke two days after being attacked in Hyde Park.  When she learned of her brother being assaulted, Georgiana Darcy became quite hysterical and insisted on their family physician be sent for immediately. The cut above his eye required stitching, and his eye was swollen from being punched.  The physician decided it would be best for Darcy to rest for a day or two, so he left a bottle of laudanum for the gentleman’s valet to give Darcy doses as needed.

            Groggy, Darcy attempted to put the pieces of his memory together.  He was certain he had imagined seeing Elizabeth Bennet after being assaulted in the park, for there would be no reason for the young lady to be in Town.  He had dreamed of her so often since leaving Netherfield Park, the estate Charles Bingley had leased, which was next to the Bennet family’s estate of Longbourn.  The young lady had captured his mind and heart, and it was difficult not to think of her constantly.  Every young lady he met, he compared to her.  Every conversation on books or music, reminded him of conversations he had with her.  No matter how hard he tried, Elizabeth Bennet was always with him.

            Hearing his valet, Fletcher, enter the room, Darcy turned his head towards the man.  “Fletcher, what time is it?”

            “It is just after sunrise, Sir. I must say, it is a pleasure to see you awake and somewhat normal.”

            “Somewhat normal?” Darcy gave his valet a curious glance.

            “You have had a difficult few days, Sir.  The swelling around your eye has gone down, and the stitches above your eye will be removed in another week, otherwise, you do not look quite as bad as you could have.”

            “I cannot recall all that happened.  Would you fill me in on what you know?”

            Fletcher nodded.  “You were assaulted by two men while you were in the park.  We have been told that a young lady came to your rescue, wielding a downed branch as you would have a sword.  Once she chased the men away, she assisted you home.  Her handkerchief has been laundered, and was given to me.  I was planning to inquire as to what you wished to be done with it.”

            “Do you know who the young lady was?  Did you hear her name?”

            “Mr Jarvis spoke with her.  From what he said, the lady is known to you.  She informed she was formerly from Hertfordshire.”

            “Formerly?  Fletcher, send for Jarvis immediately and bring the handkerchief to me.” Darcy was preparing to get out of his bed.

            “Sir, I will do as you bid, if you would refrain from standing.  You had a head injury, and it is best for you to remain in bed until the physician returns to examine you this morning.”

            Feeling dizzy, Darcy determined it was best to heed Fletcher’s advice.  “Perhaps you are correct.  While I do as you suggest, would you call for Mr Jarvis and retrieve the handkerchief?”

            “I will, Sir.” Fletcher moved towards the door leading to the dressing chamber, pulling the cord in the room to send for someone for the butler. 

            Mr Jarvis arrived shortly after, and was shown into Darcy’s bedchamber.  “Master William, Mr Fletcher sent word you wish to speak with me.”

            “I do.  The young lady who assisted me home from the park, what was her name?”

            Jarvis looked at Fletcher, both of whom were concerned with Darcy’s agitation.  “She said she was known to you, a Miss Elizabeth Bennet.  She also stated she was formerly from Hertfordshire, but was currently staying in Cheapside at her uncle’s home.”

            “She said formerly?  Why would she state formerly?  Good God, had something happened to her father?  Is she now destitute?  I need to locate her, offer her whatever aid I can.” It was obvious to his servants he was speaking to himself rather than to them.  Finally, he looked up to Mr Jarvis.  “Did she say where in Cheapside?  Or did she give you her uncle’s name?”

            “The young lady was not willing to give more information, as she stated her uncle was in trade, and would be beneath you to acknowledge.  I made every attempt to convince her otherwise, but she refused to divulge any further information.  As she walked away, I noticed that she did not return to the park or make her way to a carriage, so I sent Robert, the young footman, to follow her.  He informed me he followed her all the way to Gracechurch Street, and the home he saw her enter was the home of Mr Edward Gardiner.”

            Gardiner…Gardiner…yes, that name I familiar.  I believe I remember Mrs Bennet stating her maiden name was Gardiner.  And when Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst were speaking of the Bennet relations in Cheapside, did they not say the uncle was an importer?

            “Mr Jarvis, would your have Robert come up here?  I wish to ask him a few questions.” Darcy announced.

            “Very good, Sir.  He went out to visit his mother, as she is ill and today is his day off.  As soon as he returns, I will have him come up.”

            Frustrated, Darcy could only nod his head.  “Fletcher, I wish to dress.  I cannot remain in bed all day.”

            “Sir, I am loathed to argue with you, but your sister has issued threats that if I were to allow you to rise from the bed before the physician declares it safe, she will tack my hide to the wall.”

            “Then send word to the physician to come immediately.  And have my sister come as well.  I will not have her giving my staff orders.”

            Fletcher left the room, sending word as he was directed.  He then made himself scarce, hidden away in the dressing chamber.  Knowing the mood Darcy was in, Fletcher did not wish to be anywhere near the bedchamber when Georgiana Darcy and her brother quarreled.  The Darcy family were known to be extremely stubborn and hard-headed when they wish to be.

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            The second day of travel for Elizabeth and Lucy was suddenly interrupted when they heard gun fire sound out, and men shouting.  The carriage came to an abrupt stop, flinging the young ladies across the interior of the carriage, into the elderly lady who was traveling with them.

            The door was yanked open, and two men were shouting at the ladies to exit the carriage quickly.  When they did not move fast enough, one of the men reached inside and roughly pulled Lucy out, pushing her to the dirt of the road.  Elizabeth jumped out, moving to the young maid’s side.

            “Leave her alone.” One of the men growled at her.  “Stand up next to the carriage, and hold your hands where I can see them.”

            “I am making sure this young lady is unharmed.  Robbing us is one thing, you do not wish to add injuring a lady to your charges.” Elizabeth glared at the man who was speaking.

            “It does not matter, ‘cause she is of no matter to us.” The man said in return.  “The boss man he wants what you have whichins worth anyting.”

            One of the men held a rifle aimed at the driver, while another man had begun to roughly search the trunks stored on the carriage.  The man who had been talking walked over to Elizabeth, pulling her away from Lucy.  “What valuables do a lady like you have?  I believe I will take this little pretty.” He tore her garnet cross from around her neck, breaking the chain.  The necklace had been a gift to her from her father when she turned ten years old.  He had claimed it to be a family heirloom, though her mother stated she had never seen the necklace before.  It was Elizabeth’s favorite piece of jewelry, and she wore it nearly every day.

            “Please, the necklace is not worth much.  It is sentimental, only paste.”

            “Well, well, only paste.  The fancy ones wear paste, passin’ everthin’ as real.  No wonder they have money.”

            The man who had been searching the trunks walked over to where Elizabeth was standing.  Suddenly, Elizabeth felt the sting of the man’s hand striking her cheek.  “Keep your mouth shut.  We do not want to hear no lady’s false words.  Ladies lie.”

            “What you find in them trunks?” The man with the rifle asked.

            “Nothin.  Artie was wrong.  There is no pouch of coins.  Unless one of the ladies has it on her.”

            Elizabeth gasped.  There had been a man riding with them until the last stop, when he stated he was meeting someone there.  He had been riding in the carriage since Town, and would have seen Elizabeth place the pouch of coins in her pocket.  Naturally, he would have assumed she would store it in her trunk after spending the night at the inn.

            “Ah, I believe we know who the lady be.  Missy, you had best give us the pouch.  If you do not, I will search you, by tearing off you’s pretty frock.”

            “I have a few coins my uncle gave me to pay for food and lodging during the trip.  Only a few coins.  I will gladly give them to you.” Elizabeth reached into the pocket on her gown.  Pulling out the coins, she handed them to the man who seemed to be in charge.  “This is all I have.  Please, take the coins and leave us be.”

            “There is not enough here for nuffin.” The first man said, anger in his voice.  “Artie said there was good pickins on this one.  What we gonna do?”

            The man with the rifle looked at the man in charge.  “We can take them two young’uns, sell them on the coast.  They be pretty enuff.”

            “You’s got the right of it, Ray.  That dark haired one is feisty too.  The men on the islands like feisty.  They pay extra for her.”

            Lucy began crying.  The elderly lady, Mrs Johnson, leaned over and tried to soothe the young maid, but she was slapped and forced to return to the carriage.  The men pulled Elizabeth and Lucy towards the nearby horses, and dragged them on top. The man with the rifle fired his weapon into the air, shouting at the driver to drive on.

            The carriage left in a rush, leaving a trail of dust in its wake.

                                                ~~ ** ~~

            Darcy was given approval to be out of his bed, though the physician suggested he take his time before resuming his regular duties.  But Darcy was in no mood to remain idle.  He had not dreamed Elizabeth Bennet at the park, and she had rescued him.  Darcy knew he needed to see her, to thank her, and to learn why she was no longer residing at Longbourn.  As soon as Robert returned, and gave Darcy the address of the Gardiner home, Darcy was calling for his carriage to be readied.

            Georgiana refused to allow her brother to leave on his own, so she quickly prepared to leave with him.  Not only was she concerned with his health, she recognized the name Elizabeth Bennet from the letters Darcy had written her while he visited Bingley.  As her brother rarely spoke of any young lady, to have him mention Miss Elizabeth in many of his letters told Georgiana that the lady was important to Darcy.

            During the ride to Gracechurch Street, Georgiana paid close attention to her brother’s behavior.  He stared out the window, though she was certain he saw nothing of the scenery. In his hand was what appeared to be a lady’s handkerchief, which he wrapped around his fingers.  “William, are you well?”

            It took Darcy a moment to be able to respond.  “Forgive me, Georgiana, I am just confused as to what has happened.  From what Miss Elizabeth told Mr Jarvis, she no longer resides at Longbourn.  But why?  Has her father perished and she has become homeless?  Her father’s estate is entailed to a distant cousin.  You met him when we were at Rosings, visiting Aunt Catherine.”

            “Oh, my.  Though I do not wish to think ill of someone, he struck me as quite…unique.”

            Darcy laughed.  “He is extremely unique.  I believe that is the reason he fits well with Aunt Catherine.  I am certain he would evict the Bennet ladies from their home, if their father died.  If she is in need of assistance, I mean to ensure she receives it.”

            “From what you have told me of Miss Elizabeth, I am looking forward to meeting her.  Your stories of her interactions with Miss Bingley always made me laugh.”

            “She is an incredible young lady.  I am certain you will find her to be one of the best ladies in England, handsome, kind, caring, intelligent, all wrapped up with a perfect smile, sparkling eyes and dark brown curls which bounce when she moves.”

            “William, are you in love with Miss Elizabeth?”

            Darcy continued to stare out the window, and was silent for several moments before responding.  “I know I should not be, but I cannot stop myself.  She is not wealthy, nor does she have connections, so our family will never approve of an attachment with her.  But my heart cannot forget her.”

            “You should forget of what other would think of her, and act on your heart.  Love is so more important than wealth, we have seen so many in society who cannot tolerate their spouse for more than a few moments at a time.  I could not tolerate your being in such a relationship.”

            “If her father has died, if she is homeless and without any means of support, her circumstances are even worse.  What would it do to your chances of marrying well, if I was to marry someone such as her?”

            “Do you love her?” Georgiana had a stern look on her face.  When he finally nodded his head, she smiled.  “If I wish to marry for love, then it will not matter who my brother is married to.  Any man who does not understand what a love match is, he is not the sort of man I wish to marry.”

            “How did you become so wise?” Darcy turned his attention back to his sister.  “What happened to my baby sister?”

            “I am growing up, with a loving and understanding elder brother to watch over me.”

            The carriage came to a stop, and the footman came around to open the door.  Once Darcy and Georgiana stepped out, they made their way up the stairs to a fairly respectable townhouse.  Handing the housekeeper his card, Darcy asked to speak with Mr or Mrs Gardiner.

            The Darcys were shown into the parlor, and were soon joined by Mrs Gardiner.  “Good morning.  I am Mrs Gardiner.  How may I be of assistance?”

            “Mrs Gardiner, I am Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley.  This is my sister, Miss Georgiana Darcy.  We have come here to speak with your niece, Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”

            “Oh, my.  Lizzy is not here.  She left recently.”

            “May I be so bold as to ask where she went to?  I ask because I am concerned for her.”

            Mrs Gardiner frowned.  “Why would you be concerned for Lizzy?”

            “Two days ago, Miss Elizabeth was visiting Hyde Park.  She came to my rescue, when two men assaulted me and attempted to rob me.  As you can see, I was injured, and only today have been allowed out of my bed.  When I learned it was Miss Elizabeth who had come to my aid, I spoke to my butler.  He stated that your niece declared she was formerly of Longbourn.  Has something happened with Mr Bennet?  Has he perished?”

            “No, Mr Darcy, Mr Bennet is in good health.  But there is a situation which has developed which forced Elizabeth to come here.  Mr Bennet’s cousin, who is the heir to the estate, proposed to Lizzy.  To Mrs Bennet’s vexation, Lizzy refused Mr Collins.”

            “I would hope so, for the man is a buffoon.” Mr Darcy declared.

            “Though he is, Lizzy’s refusal infuriated my husband’s sister.  She has now determined to marry Lizzy to a neighbor who has a comfortable living, though he is older than Mr Bennet and has buried two wives under suspicious natures.  Lizzy and my husband received expresses from Mr Bennet, urging Lizzy to leave Town quickly, as Mrs Bennet is planning to come here and fetch my poor niece.”

            “Good God.” Darcy exclaimed.  “Forgive me, Mrs Gardiner.  I should not speak so abominably.  Can you tell me where Miss Elizabeth has gone?”

            “I am originally from Lambton, and we were planning to journey there in a week.  I sent her ahead, by post.  Do not fret, one of our maids went with Lizzy, and my niece is a sensible young lady.”

            “Might I ask where Miss Elizabeth is to stay, as I wish to speak with her?”

            “She will be staying with a friend of mine who owns a dress shop in Lambton.”

            Georgiana perked up.  “Mrs Lackney?” She asked.

            Mrs Gardiner smiled.  “Indeed.  Mrs Lackney has been my friend since childhood, and we have kept in touch over the years.”

            “She has always been kind to me.” Georgiana smiled.  “Your niece will be well looked after with Mrs Lackney.”

            “I believe my sister and I may be leaving Town soon, perhaps even tomorrow.  I have long wished to return to Derbyshire.” Darcy stated, though he was fooling no one in the room.  Georgiana and Mrs Gardiner were certain he wished to make the journey to see Elizabeth.

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