Hearing the commotion in the lobby, Mr Bennet and the Gardiners saw the men coming inside the inn, carrying some people, and escorting a pair of Negro girls who appeared to be younger than Mr Bennet’s “twin” daughters.
Suddenly, Mrs Gardiner recognized Darcy being carried by his cousin. “Mr Darcy, oh, Mr Darcy. Has he been injured?” She pleaded with the colonel.
“He was shot. We have sent someone for a physician.” Richard stated, looking at the trio who had come from the dining room. “How do you know Darcy?”
“I am Mrs Gardiner. I am the aunt of Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
A frail voice was heard from behind Richard. “Aunt Helen.”
Richard turned to allow Elizabeth’s family to see her, being carried inside the inn by one of the men. Seeing the amount of blood on her clothing struck terror in the hearts of her family.
Mrs Gardiner moved towards the man carrying Elizabeth. “How badly was she injured?”
“A cut on her shoulder. We did not take much time to inspect it, as we wished to remove everyone from the location we was at. She has lost blood and I think that be why she is weak.”
“Lizzy, we are here for you. Your uncle and your father are here. We will see you recovered soon enough. Let us take you to our rooms.” Mrs Gardiner led the way for the man to carry Elizabeth up the stairs. Richard carried Darcy to the room down the hall, which Darcy had been using since their arrival in Liverpool.
Mr Bennet and Mr Gardiner went to the Gardiner’s rooms, leaving Mrs Gardiner to assist her niece. Lucy and the sisters were taken to another guest room, and tea was requested for them. The innkeeper and his wife were kept busy over the next few hours, as requests were made of hot water, toweling, bedding, rooms, food, drinks, and more were requested for many of the guests of their establishment. Knowing the importance of the Darcy name, the innkeeper was willing to do whatever was needed to be of assistance to the guests. No request was denied, and the inn was soon filled to capacity with Darcy’s party and the Bennet/Gardiner party.
The physician arrived and was shown to Darcy’s room first. The wound Darcy received was not nearly as bad as it had first appeared, having passed clear through Darcy’s shoulder. Once cleaned up, and stitched closed, the physician gave the Master of Pemberley a dose of laudanum and insisted rest was the best treatment for the young man. If Darcy did not take a fever, he would be able to travel within a fortnight.
Entering the room which had been for Mr Bennet, the physician inspected Elizabeth’s wound. “Well, it is somewhat deep, but not too deep. You have done a good job cleaning it up. And you used some spirits on the wound itself. Good, good. It will help against infection. From what I was told, I doubt the knife was very clean. I will stitch the wound and give you some herbs to assist with keeping down a fever. When she wakes, we will need to see if there is any damage to her nerves or muscles. Otherwise, the greatest concern is for infection. She has lost much blood, so she will be weak for a while. A fever could be dangerous.”
When his patients were both tended and fast asleep, the physician left the inn, stating he would return the following day to check on them.
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth woke late in the night. She was in pain, and very sleepy, yet she was attempting to discover where she was.
“Lizzy, my dearest girl, go back to sleep.” Elizabeth heard her father say.
“Papa, I have had the strangest nightmare. Did I cry out and disturb you?”
Mr Bennet shook his head as he knelt beside the bed where his daughter lay. “No, my dearest, we are in Liverpool. You were injured tonight, and the physician has tended your wounds. We can speak more in the morning, for you need to sleep.”
“Liverpool? What are we doing in Liverpool?” Elizabeth’s eyes grew round as she looked about the room. “Are you telling me that it was not a nightmare?”
“If you mean you were truly kidnapped and escaped the villains, you were living a nightmare rather than sleeping through one.”
“But, in my dream, Mr Darcy was there.”
“He is in his room, down the hall.” Mr Bennet said as his hand caressed his daughter’s hair back from her face.
Elizabeth was wide awake. “Mr Darcy, the gentleman from Derbyshire, the one who visited with Mr Bingley at Netherfield. You are telling me Mr Darcy is, in fact, here?”
“Yes, Lizzy. Mr Darcy learned of your being kidnapped and had come after you. It is due to him and his cousin that you were rescued tonight. They discovered where you were and arrived in time to keep you from the hands of the scoundrels who were attempting to recapture you.”
“But why? Why would Mr Darcy go to so much trouble? He does not even like me. Did he feel he owed me after I assisted him in Hyde Park?”
“I do not know what you are speaking of.” Mr Bennet was frowning. “All I know is Mr Darcy came to your uncle’s home and spoke with your aunt. He then left London and arrived in Derbyshire, at his estate. When he learned from your aunt’s friend of the robbery and kidnapping from the post carriage, Mr Darcy and his cousin, who is a colonel in the regulars, set out to find you.”
“Mr Darcy has never looked upon me without showing his dislike of me. Why would he go to such trouble?”
“Your aunt does not believe he dislikes you, even after I told her of his saying you were not handsome enough to tempt him. Helen is certain that you are mistaken by his words. But we have plenty of time to discuss the matter tomorrow. You need to sleep, so you can heal.”
Elizabeth’s eyes were beginning to sag and she was having a difficult time keeping a clear thought in her mind. She fell asleep, holding her father’s hand, with a smile on her face.
~~ ** ~~
“We will need to stay here tonight, Mrs Bennet. The carriage wheel needs to be repaired and they said it would take some time before it is ready. At least this is a comfortable inn.” Mr Leland stated. He was beginning to think the trip was more than he had bargained for. The only reason he had gone to such extremes was the fact that Elizabeth Bennet was one of the prettiest young ladies he had ever met, and he wished to have her decorate his arm.
“Well, if there is nothing which can be done, I guess we will have to stay here. Are there rooms enough for all of us? Lydia and Jane can share a room if necessary.”
Mr Leland was aware that Mrs Bennet expected him to pay for their lodgings, as she had with their meals and all the other expenses which had been incurred. He continued to remind himself that the reward from having to endure the likes of Fanny Bennet was the delicious morsel her daughter was. He had gone to sleep many a night, with visions of what he would do to Elizabeth Bennet, after she was his wife.
“There are only two rooms available, Mrs Bennet. You will be required to share with your daughters.”
“Well, that is not to be tolerated. An important man, such as yourself, should be treated better. You should complain.”
“I have, Mrs Bennet, and they told me there is nothing they can do about the situation. The only alternative is if you wish to sleep in the stables, with the horses.”
“Mr Leland, how unkind of you to even jest in such a manner.” Mrs Bennet became irritated. “Well, if there is no alternative, then we will have to make due. We will require extra bedding, for Jane to sleep on the floor.”
He turned away from Mrs Bennet as he rolled his eyes. Once Elizabeth and I are married, I will insist she have nothing to do with her mother. I will not have that hag in my home. Nor will I have that youngest daughter, she is just like her mother.
~~ ** ~~
As sunlight began to pour into his room, Darcy woke with a start. “Elizabeth. Where is she?”
“Wills, calm yourself. Miss Elizabeth is in her father’s room, down the hall.”
“Was she injured? Is she well?”
Richard knew his cousin to be much like a dog with a bone when he put his mind to it. “She was injured, but the physician has been here to tend both of you. I spoke with her father only a few moments ago. Mr Bennet stated his daughter woke a few times during the night, though she slept most of the time. And she has taken some broth and tea this morning.”
“How severe is her wound?”
“She was cut, at the top of her shoulder. The main worry is the blade was most likely filthy and could lead to infection. The other concern is if there was damage to the muscles and nerves. The physician will be here soon to see how you are both doing, and he will know more than I do.”
“If necessary, send to Town for the best surgeon for her. I insist she have the best care possible.” Darcy was still agitated.
“If there is a need, the physician will tell us. And if he does, I will do as you command. We will see that Miss Elizabeth has all the care she needs. Now, I will send for a tray to be brought up for you. Do you wish broth, or some eggs and bread?”
“Eggs and bread would be preferable. And a cup of coffee, if possible.”
“It is possible, as I have already enjoyed a cup this morning.” Richard smiled. “I will send an express to Pemberley today, informing Georgiana that we have recovered Miss Elizabeth to her family, and that we will need to remain here for a short duration for her to recover. It will do no good for your sister to fret and worry over your injury, so I will leave it for you to tell her when you return to Pemberley.”
Darcy nodded his head. “Georgiana would be distraught if she learned of my injury. I do not wish to cause her trouble for such a minor inconvenience.”
“A minor inconvenience? You were shot, and you call it a minor inconvenience? Thank the heavens it was a clean wound, which went clean through your shoulder.”
“It is minor, in comparison. The bullet did not strike any vital portion of my body, so that is a blessing.” Darcy huffed. He did not like to be the center of attention, no matter who he was with.
“I am grateful for the miracle we were granted.” Richard stated, picking up his coffee cup and taking a sip of the cooling liquid. “I believe I need another cup of coffee, as this cup is in need of freshening up.”
“Then go and order the tray and your coffee.” Darcy ordered his cousin.
“That will not be necessary. I do not plan on leaving you alone, for I know you too well. You will attempt to leave your bed, which will only lead to your opening your wound and bleeding all over the place. No, you will remain in bed and I will step into the hall, were one of your men is waiting for me to assign him a task.”
Darcy was mildly disappointed. He knew his cousin was correct, his wound required his resting. Re-opening the wound could cause more problems than he wished to contend with.
~~ ** ~~
Leaving his daughter in the care of his sister in law, Mr Bennet stepped down the hall to check on Mr Darcy’s condition. Richard answered the door, and, as his cousin was awake, Mr Bennet was invited inside.
“Well, Mr Darcy, I never expected to see you again, and yet, I am beholding to you for all that you have done.”
Darcy shook his head. “You owe me nothing, Mr Bennet.”
“But you have gone out of your way to search for my daughter, endangering your own welfare to recover her. To be honest, I am confused as to why you would go to such lengths to do so much, especially after you declared my daughter to be tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt you into dancing at the assembly last autumn.”
Turning a crimson red, Darcy was embarrassed. “You know of my foolish words? Does Miss Elizabeth know of what I said?”
“It was Lizzy who heard you.” Mr Bennet was surprised to see the young man blush. “Why would it matter to you what was heard? You made no attempt to enjoy our neighborhood, and it was clear to see you disliked those who live there. My daughter is shocked at your behavior, for she believes you have never looked upon her without finding fault.”
“Mr Bennet, I have never looked at your daughter to find fault. On the contrary, I could not help but admire her. She is unlike any young lady I have ever met.” Darcy looked away for a moment. “Bingley was provoking me to dance, when I was in a foul mood. I had received a letter from my sister and I would have preferred to have remained at Netherfield rather than attend the assembly.”
Richard smiled. “Mr Bennet, did my cousin seem proud and arrogant? Did he keep his distance from everyone, attempting to blend in with the walls?”
Mr Bennet chuckled. “That would be a fitting description.”
“Then allow me to set the record straight. My cousin is extremely shy. His sister and I tease him that he wears a mask of indifference when he is forced into situations which make him uncomfortable.” Richard said with a smile. “He has been like that since he was a child, and we have never been able to change him.”
“So, after hearing your cousin’s description, am I to assume you care for my Lizzy?” Mr Bennet decided to tease the young man before him.
“It would be fair to say I care for Miss Elizabeth. And it would also be fair to say that she is the most handsome lady of my acquaintance. I have struggled with my feelings for her, as we come from such different stations in life. But, all that matters to me is that she is such an amazing young lady.”
“I must admit that I am amazed to hear this, Mr Darcy. Are you certain you feel this way? My daughter is under the impression that you feel obligated after her coming to your aid at Hyde Park. I am not certain what happened at Hyde Park, but are the feelings you claim stemming from some sense of appreciation towards her?”
Darcy shook his head. “No, Mr Bennet, my feelings are the same as they were when I visited Netherfield. At the time I was visiting my friend, I was not willing to accept my feelings and allow them to blossom. My sister and Richard have told me to grab hold of my chance for happiness, and not let go. They support my decision to court your daughter, with the hopes she will make me the happiest of men by accepting me to be her husband.”
“Mr Bennet, I have a question to ask you. My cousin believes I am incorrect, but I have seen the emblem many times.” Richard began.
“Richard, now is not the time.”
“Yes, it is. I am curious, Wills.”
Mr Bennet frowned, unsure what the men were speaking of. Finally, Richard asked his question.
“The garnet cross which was stolen from your daughter was recovered. On the back of the setting is an emblem. Was the cross a gift to your family?”
Turning quite pale, Mr Bennet was forced to sit down quickly. “You know the emblem?”
“I have been on the royal escort detail many times. The emblem is from the family of the Duke of Brunswick. Did you do some service to the family? Was the cross a gift of appreciation?”
Darcy could see the elder gentleman was shocked. “Mr Bennet, can my cousin bring you some sort of relief for your current condition? A glass of port, perhaps?”
“No, no, I will be fine. Forgive me, there are very few people who know of the situation, and I have kept my secret for many years.”
“You do not need to elaborate on the matter, Mr Bennet. It was wrong of me to ask you.” Richard apologized.
“No, perhaps it is time others know of the situation. I will ask you to keep secret what I am about to tell you. Lizzy does not know the truth.”
Richard glanced at his cousin, and then back to Mr Bennet. “You have my word, as a trusted colonel in His Majesty’s army, not a word of this will be spoken of without your permission.”
“And I can promise you to keep what you tell us a secret.” Darcy agreed.
“Elizabeth is my natural daughter, but she is not the daughter of my wife. Nor is she a twin with Jane. They were born a few days apart. Elizabeth’s mother was the niece of the Duke of Brunswick and Princess Augusta. She was cousin to Princess Caroline. I was deeply in love with Constance, Elizabeth’s mother. But before I could gain approval to marry Constance, Fanny Gardiner caused a situation which forced me into marrying her. You can ask Mr Gardiner, he will testify to the situation. Constance and I had anticipated our marriage, which did not come to be. I learned of Elizabeth’s birth and her mother’s death, when Elizabeth was brought to me. Fanny was expecting Jane, and I was able to convince the world that the girls are twins. They are both my daughters, and there are some similarities. Unfortunately, Fanny was far from pleased with the situation.”
“It was clear that Mrs Bennet was not fond of Miss Elizabeth.” Darcy stated, thinking back on all he had witnessed from his visit to their neighborhood.
“That is a huge understatement, Mr Darcy. My wife despises Lizzy. She will do anything possible to be rid of my beloved daughter. And that includes trying to marry her off to a man who is not worthy of Lizzy’s smiles, let alone her hand in marriage.”
“Has anything official been settled?” Darcy ask, his concern clearly etched on his expression.
“No, but I would not be surprised to have my wife arrive here with a man who is interested in marrying my Lizzy. It is one of the reasons I sent Elizabeth to the Gardiners, and then insisted she leave London as quickly as she did. I would not put it past Fanny to set up another compromise, with Elizabeth being the one ruined in the process.”
Darcy thought for a few moments. “When your daughter and I are able, I suggest we travel to my estate. Once there, you can spend time with Miss Elizabeth, as you must wish to explain this news to her, before someone else does. If Mrs Bennet is willing to compromise Elizabeth to force her into a marriage, she would have no difficulties in telling her the truth of her parentage.”
“You are correct. All the way here, I went over and over how I should handle the situation. It is time Lizzy knows the truth. She deserves to know her mother’s family, and to be presented. Constance was a delightful lady, and her family has been holding many items for Elizabeth. Constance’s sister is still alive, and she lives in Scotland. She has longed to see Lizzy, and share her memories with my daughter.”
Richard looked at Darcy, seeing the determination in the set of his brow. “I agree, when Wills and Miss Elizabeth are able to travel, we should remove to Pemberley. If you wish to keep your wife and the suitor for Miss Elizabeth at bay, it is a perfect location. And it would be an ideal setting for Miss Elizabeth’s aunt to visit and make her acquaintance. The Gardiners are welcome there, as I am certain my cousin would tell you, if he were not in such deep thought at the moment.”
“Yes, yes, forgive me, Mr Bennet. My sister was already instructed to have the Gardiners stay at Pemberley, should they have traveled to Lambton rather than here. You and your daughters are welcome, and we can keep Mrs Bennet and any other…unwanted people from all of you.”
“It is a generous offer, Mr Darcy. I will speak with Lizzy and the Gardiners. If we were to accept, would you make me a promise?”
Darcy nodded his head. “If it is within my ability to do so.”
“Elizabeth will be shocked from learning of her true mother. I ask that you give her time to come to terms with what she learns, before you make any attempt to court her.”
“I can accept that condition, Mr Bennet. I make you the promise to give Miss Elizabeth all the time she needs accept what she is to learn. If she believes me to dislike her, perhaps seeing me at my home will be an easier way to come to know me for who I am, not the mask she has seen.”
Mr Bennet agreed. “You are correct. Allow her to see true Mr Darcy of Pemberley. I believe it is time we all acted as the people we truly are. And that includes my daughter being the beloved daughter of Constance, rather than the despised daughter of Fanny.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
“I insist on speaking with my husband immediately.” Mrs Bennet declared to the innkeeper. “I have journeyed a great distance, and I demand on speaking with Mr Bennet this very moment. There is a wedding to arrange, and not a moment to delay.”
Mr Gardiner had been in the dining room when he heard his sister’s screeching voice. He quickly made his way into the lobby of the inn. “Fanny, what are you doing here?”
“Mr Leland is here to marry Elizabeth, so, of course, her sisters and I have come with him. You would not expect me to leave my daughter to marry without me.”
“Fanny, please, keep your voice down. It would be best if you join me in the dining room. Thomas is upstairs with Elizabeth, as she is injured. The physician is with them, so you will have to wait for them to finish before you can speak to him.”
“I should go up to the room, as I must insist the physician do all that is necessary for Elizabeth to marry Mr Leland today. He has even purchased a special license to marry her. Is that not wonderful?”
“There will be no wedding today, nor for some time to come. Elizabeth has been injured, and will require time to recover. And, according to what Thomas has told me, he did not approve a marriage to Mr Leland.”
“Oh, Mr Bennet is being silly. Mr Leland is a fine catch for Elizabeth.” Mrs Bennet took hold of Mr Leland’s arm. “He has a fine estate, nearly as fine as Longbourn. And he is wealthy. Quite a fine arrangement for someone like Elizabeth.”
Mr Gardiner was in no mood to deal with his sister’s foolishness. “Mr Leland, I am certain the inn is filled, as our party has taken up most of the rooms. You might wish to find one of the inns which is not filled, to find a room for yourself. My sister and nieces will remain here, with our family. I am certain Jane will wish to be by her sister’s side.”
Mrs Bennet was not taking chances. “I am certain there will be room for Mr Leland to remain here, especially as he will wish to be near his bride.”
A voice bellowed out from the bottom of the stairs. “THERE WILL BE NO MARRIAGE BETWEEN ELIZABETH AND MR LELAND! I have told you multiple times that you will not win this argument and I mean it. You forced me into a marriage I did not wish, and have made me miserable for all these years. I will not allow you to do anything to destroy Elizabeth’s life.” Mr Bennet was furious. After twenty two years of enduring a loveless marriage to a woman he could not tolerate, the Master of Longbourn erupted with the force of a volcano.
“Mr Bennet, please, keep your voice down.” Mrs Bennet attempted to calm the situation. “We can speak in your room.”
“Elizabeth is resting in my room. I will not allow you to disturb her. Mr Leland, I am afraid you will be denied my daughter’s hand, and, if you were to ask for Jane’s, I would deny you as well. You have a reputation of being violent. My daughters are precious to me, and I will not allow them to be forced into a marriage to someone who will mistreat them.”
“I have never mistreated a lady, Sir. I resent you for such an accusation.”
“Mr Leland, it matters not to me if you resent my words. I have it on good authority that you are abusive, and have been so with your previous wives. Mrs Long is still convinced her cousin did not die from falling down the flight of stairs, as you claimed.”
Mr Leland was furious. “I will not stand here and be maligned by the likes of you. Everyone knows you were a fool to be trapped into marrying this viper. It is shocking you have not learned of her own secrets, as most of the neighborhood is aware of her liaisons.”
Mrs Bennet was shocked. “How dare you malign my good name? I will not tolerate such lies being said about me.” She turned and walked into the dining room, leaving a stunned group of people in the lobby.
Lydia looked at everyone curiously. “You did not know? Good God, I saw her with Mr Jameson and again with Mr Banks. What a good laugh this is.”
~~ ** ~~
After taking his wife into the dining room, which was quickly vacated by the men who had traveled with Darcy and Richard, allowing Mr and Mrs Bennet, Mr Gardiner, Mr Leland, Jane and Lydia to have the room. Lydia was still chuckling over her father’s ignorance of the situation, for Lydia had known for some time. Jane was pale from learning of her mother’s behavior, and Mr Bennet was quick to move to her side, aiding her to a nearby chair.
Turning his attention to Mr Leland, Mr Bennet stood tall and proud. “What happens between my wife and myself is our matter, not yours. You will never be a member of my family, therefore, you are not required to remain here. If I were you, I would make myself scarce.”
“I have paid good money to bring your wife and daughters here, and paid for a special license. I will not leave here without my bride.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam had heard the uproar and slipped inside the dining room. “Sir, I believe Mr Bennet has given you his answer with regards to your desire to marry his daughter. It will not come to be, and you had best leave this establishment.”
“And who are you to make such decisions?” Mr Leland turned his ire towards the unknown man.
“I am Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, and I will warn you, as a friend of Mr and Mrs Gardiner, and Mr Bennet and his daughter, I will not allow you to force your presence upon them any longer. If you are not willing to go on your own, I am more than happy to assist you on your way.”
“You do not scare me.” Mr Leland stated. “I will not be tossed away like a crust of moldy bread. I have invested time and money into securing the hand of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and I will have her as my wife.”
“I beg to differ, Mr Leland.” Richard announced, his hand on the hilt of his sword to further his determination. “Mr Bennet has made his point clear, and I will support his decision. If that requires me to remove you from this inn, I will do so.”
Mr Leland looked between everyone gathered in the room. Finally, disgusted and frustrated, Mr Leland gathered his belongings, which had been brought inside the lobby, and departed Liverpool. He was determined to ruin the Bennet family as soon as he arrived home. Everyone in the neighborhood would soon learn of Fanny Bennet’s infidelity.
With Mr Leland gone, Mr Bennet turned on his wife. “I may not be the best spouse, but, since our marriage, I have never dishonored my wedding vows. You forced me into this sham of a marriage, so you have no one but yourself to blame if you are unhappy.”
“You have treated me poorly, Mr Bennet, and I wished for comfort, even if I was required to look elsewhere. I will not accept any blame, you have been a horrible husband, always looking towards your precious Elizabeth, ignoring my beloved Lydia. You even prefer Elizabeth to Jane, who is the sweetest natured person in the world.”
“This is not the time or place to have this discussion, Fanny.” Mr Gardiner hissed at his sister. “You and Lydia will take the room Helen and I have been using. We will take the sitting room which is attached to Thomas’ bedchamber. Jane, I assume you will wish to spend time with Lizzy.”
Jane was still shocked by all which had happened. “Y…y…yes, Uncle. May I go up to her now?”
Mr Bennet nodded his head. “Of course, my dear girl. I am certain Lizzy will be pleased to see you.” He placed a kiss on his daughter’s forehead. “I will take you up to see her.”
“I demand to see Elizabeth, for I insist we settle this matter of her marriage.” Mrs Bennet made to follow her husband.
“Elizabeth has been through an ordeal, and I will not have you disturbing her.” Mr Bennet glared at his wife. “You will not speak to her, enter the same room as her, write to her, or give anyone a message to Elizabeth from you. Do you hear me? You have given me the perfect excuse to divorce you. Do you wish to have your reputation destroyed? Do you wish to see your name trampled in the mud? I will not protect you. Whatever you shame you bring down on your shoulders is yours to deal with. I have no shame in the situation, as I made every attempt prevent our marriage. It was not until you tore your gown’s bodice and conveniently had your sister come in the room with your father, making it appear I had tried to take advantage of you, when I felt trapped. Your father was pleased to be rid of you, as he told me later. He knew what you had done, but he was more concerned with being shod of you than worrying of your reputation. Mr Gardiner even told me that if it would not have affected your brother’s reputation, he would have told you were a fool and to accept any consequences for your behavior.”
“My father would not have spoken in such a manner.” Mrs Bennet said, her nose pointed upwards. “Father loved me dearly.”
Mr Gardiner was amazed at how foolish his sister was. “Fanny, our father may have loved you, but he wished to have you out of our house, for he tried for many years to make you control yourself. But you would never behave, and you encouraged our sister to be just as silly as you.”
Jane was sitting in a chair near the side of the room. She knew her mother was a foolish and irresponsible person, and the years had not improved her behavior. Often times Jane found herself embarrassed by her mother’s behavior. Finally, Jane jumped up from her chair and dashed outside the inn. The disgrace was far too overpowering to her.
Only a few moments later, Mr Bennet stepped outside to find his daughter. He wrapped her in his arms, pulling her to his chest, allowing her to sob freely. One of his hands reached up to caress her blonde hair, as he had done when she was a child. “Let your tears flow, my dear girl. Let all the pain flow out on the tears. All will be well.”
Jane wept for some time before she was able to calm. “Papa, I never knew how difficult your life has been. You did not deserve her cruelty. And now, now I learn of how she purposely compromised you, forcing you into a marriage you never wished for, and has been unfaithful to you. I cannot bear to be near her.”
“You will not be forced to be in the same room with her. My dear girl, allow me to take you up to the room to see Lizzy. She will be pleased to see you.”
“Was she injured terribly? Will she recover?” Jane pleaded with her father to tell her all would be well.
“We are watching for signs of fever, but so far she is well enough. And, as usual, she is restless. You know your sister, she does not take well to being forced to remain in bed, no matter how ill she might be.”
Jane smiled and gave a small chuckle. “Even when she was ill as a child, she wished to be out of bed as soon as she thought she was well.”
“And you would always make her see sense to follow the directions of the physician. You have always been able to soothe Lizzy and make her feel better.”
“Let us go to my sister. I long to see her.”
~~ ** ~~
Mr and Mrs Gardiner kept Mrs Bennet and her precious Lydia in the room they had been utilizing, both of them attempting to persuade Mrs Bennet to see reason. Mrs Gardiner was appalled to learn of her sister in law’s behavior, for even though Helen Gardiner had little respect for her husband’s sister, she never dreamed that the foolish woman would risk everything by having relations with other men. It was more than she could have imagined.
Finally, realizing Fanny was not capable of understanding her own foolishness, Mr Gardiner made a decision. “Fanny, I will speak with Mr Bennet later, but I believe he will no longer be willing to live in the same house as you. As I am the head of the Gardiner family, it will be up to me to determine where you will reside. We have a cousin in Sussex, she lives alone on a small property, and I received word from her not long ago of how she wished for someone to keep her company. You and Lydia will be sent to live there, and your pen money will be given to our cousin for your keep.”
“I will not move to Sussex.” Fanny’s face distorted with fury. “I am the Mistress of Longbourn, and I will not be discarded by my husband. I will not be forced from my home.”
“You will do as I say, or I will support Thomas if he wishes to divorce you. I will make certain you do as you are told, or you will be left with nothing. If Thomas divorces you, you will be forced to find employment to support yourself. Is that what you wish? You will receive no pen money, not support from Thomas or myself.”
Mrs Bennet’s eyes grew round. “You would abandon your sister? I helped Mother raise you. How could you abandon me?”
“You leave me no alternative. My family will not suffer for your foolishness. I will not take food from my wife and children, just because you cannot behave yourself.”
“This is not to be borne. I am being treated so very ill by all of you. Oh, my nerves. All of this treatment is due to his daughter. If it were not for her, none of this would be happening. She should not have been born, let alone be raised by me. I never wished for her to be with us.”
Lydia’s eyes grew wide. She had heard her mother hint at one of the children not being hers, but Lydia had never really given it another thought. With Jane and Elizabeth being twins, it could not be them she was speaking of. And Lydia was certain that she was her mother’s child. But here was her mother speaking of it again.
“Mamma, what are you saying?”
“Fanny, you know you are to keep quiet.” Mrs Gardiner hissed through her teeth.
“What is the point in keeping the secret? I despise that girl, and everything she represents. She is not my child, why should I care any longer who knows?” Mrs Bennet turned from her brother and his wife, looking directly at her beloved daughter. “Elizabeth is your half-sister. Your father share the bed of some tramp, and, when the tramp died, your father forced me to pretend the mongrel child was mine. She was born a few days before Jane.”
“This is outrageous.” Shouted Mr Gardiner. “Thomas is within his rights to through you to the curb immediately. For you to speak so, after all you have done, is unforgiveable. You will be leaving here immediately, and for our cousin’s home. I will see that your belongings are sent to you after Thomas and the girls return home.”
“I will not leave my mother.” Lydia declared. “I do not wish to live with my father and sisters, especially now, learning Elizabeth is the natural child of some whore.”
Mrs Gardiner reached out her hand, smacking Lydia across the face. “Elizabeth’s mother was not a whore. If you must know the truth, Elizabeth’s mother was a relation of Princess Caroline. The woman was your father’s true love, and she should have been his wife. They anticipated their vows, but planned to marry. It was your mother who caused the problems, and it was your mother who acted the part of a whore, forcing herself upon your father in a way which would force a marriage.”
“Elizabeth is of royal blood?” Mrs Bennet asked. “Then she should have an inheritance, a large dowry and such. I am certain it would be enough to take care of my girls. Why did Mr Bennet not inform me of this? Of course, she should reward me for being good to her all these years. She can introduce Lydia and Jane to fine men for them to marry. It is her duty as their sister to assist them in finding proper matches for them.”
“Fanny, this is ludicrous. You dislike the girl, despise her tremendously, do everything you can to bring her pain, and then expect her to instantly do what you see as her duty by finding rich men to marry, all because you learned she is of royal blood. Now you wish to see what you can claim for yourself because of her heritage.” Mr Gardiner was furious, his face turning a brilliant shade of red. His wife moved to calm him, as she feared for his health.
“Had I known of her lineage before, I would have been nicer to her. Of course she will be able to repay every kindness I have ever shown her. And Jane and Lydia are her sisters, of course she will wish to do what she can for them.” Mrs Bennet folded her arms across her chest in an act which resembled a petulant child. “I allowed Elizabeth to think of me as her mother, made certain that she was fed and had clothes, and kept her true birth secret from the neighborhood. I deserve some compensation for such generosity. I know others who would have refused to have her in their home, had the situation been theirs to bear.”
Mrs Gardiner stood between her husband and his sister, glaring angrily at the latter. “You are ridiculous, and do not deserve such kindness from the girl you treated so cruelly. I agree with my husband’s decision that you be taken to Sussex to live. Or, perhaps we can find you employment somewhere, in one of the poorest section of London. There are probably places, right here in Liverpool, where you can find employment as a shop clerk. You would not be able to afford to live the same sort of life as before, but you could put a roof over your head and food on the table.”
Having finished her words, Mrs Gardiner took hold of her husband’s hand and tugged him towards the door of the room. Once out of the room, Mrs Gardiner led her husband to the nearby sitting room. There, they were able to embrace and release all the tension which had built inside them.
~~ ** ~~
For nearly two hours, Mr Bennet explained to his beloved daughter of her heritage, of her mother, and of the deep love he held for Constance. Many tears were shed between both father and daughter. In the end, Elizabeth was able to realize the truth as to why Mrs Bennet had always disliked her. Mr Bennet left his daughter momentarily, returning with Jane at his side. Jane was then informed as to the truth of her birth, and that the sisters were half-sisters, rather than twins. Of course, Jane cared not at all. To her, Elizabeth would always be her dearest sister and closest friend.
Mr Bennet decided to leave the sisters to speak as he dealt with his wife and youngest daughter. He found Mr and Mrs Gardiner, who informed him of Fanny’s behavior and what they suggested should be done with her. Learning of Mrs Bennet’s decision that she should be repaid for her “kindness” to Elizabeth caused Mr Bennet to become repulsed. Never would he had called his wife’s behavior to be a kindness. He agreed with the Gardiners decision. They would make Mrs Bennet realize that she had two choices, either she went to live with her cousin in Sussex, and receive her allowance, or she would face her husband refusing to give her an allowance or provide her a home. He would never allow her to live at Longbourn again, nor would he tolerate her behavior again.
Taking a deep breath, Mr Bennet opened the door to the room which his wife would be staying the night in. Mr and Mrs Gardiner followed behind him, showing their support to his decision.
“Fanny, I will not mix words with you. You have two options for your future, as you will never be permitted to live at Longbourn again. The first choice is that you move to Sussex, to live with your cousin. I would send your allowance to your cousin, to cover the cost of your living there. The other choice is you find employment and housing for yourself somewhere, such as here at Liverpool. If you choose the second option, I will give you ten pounds and no more. Afterwards, you will receive nothing from me again.”
“How can you be so cruel to me, Mr Bennet? I have taken your bastard child as my own for all these years, and now you toss me to the side, as if I were rubbish. It is not fair. You owe me so much for taking in your daughter, as I gave her everything my own daughters have had.”
“Everything but affection. The most important thing, which Lizzy always craved, was to be loved. And all you could give her was your hatred. No more, Mrs Bennet. Lizzy knows the truth now, and I care not what others think. Jane has also accepted the truth, as Jane has always loved her sister. You will not be reimbursed for your cruelty to Elizabeth. And you most certainly will not be reimbursed for your cruelty for separating me from my dearest love, the woman who should have been my wife. As far as I am concerned, you no longer are a part of my life.” Mr Bennet turned his head towards his youngest daughter. “And you will not be left to your mother’s foolishness. It is time you were taken in hand and taught how to be a decent person.”
“I will not live with you.” Lydia shouted. “I will live with Mamma, as she loves me and you do not.”
“Your mother will not be able to take care of herself, let alone you. I will not pay an allowance for her to take you with her. As you are my daughter, I have say in where you will live. And I have decided you require school to teach you properly.”
“I will run away from any school you put me in.” Lydia became defiant.
“And if you run away, then I will have you dragged back to school, by the ear if need be. I can also hire someone to be with you constantly, to ensure you attend school and to do as the instructors tell you.”
“Mr Bennet, you cannot take my dear girl from me. It would not be fair for you to take my home and my daughters from me. Please, you must be fair to Lydia. You cannot imagine what such separation from her mother would do. It would be too difficult for her. Jane is grown and would survive it, but not my dearest Lydia, who is still so young.”
“I will hear no more on this matter. You need to make your decision, so I can make arrangements. Will you be moving to Sussex or will you be finding occupation?”
Fear was beginning to take hold of Mrs Bennet’s mind. What was she to do? She could not turn to the men she had been bedding, for they had no money to keep her, and they were living in the vicinity of Longbourn. “I cannot live with my cousin. She is far too strict in her ways. I would be miserable.”
“Then you choose to find employment? Very well. I will see that you have the ten pounds and papers will be prepared, stating clearly that you will receive no further assistance or funding.”
Fanny Bennet turned her attention to her brother, her eyes pleading. “Brother, you would not allow my husband to treat me in such a manner. Please, tell me that you will protect me.”
“No, Fanny. You had your choice. You have chosen not to move to Sussex, so you must now find employment.” Mr Gardiner stated. “Now, I will begin to make inquiries for employment for you. We will most likely be staying here for a few days, no more than a week. Do you wish to live in Liverpool or London? And, mind you, if you choose London, it will not be in a fashionable section of Town. It would, most likely, not even be in as nice a neighborhood as where we live. You will need to learn to live within your means. We will not be giving you any assistance.”
Finally, Mrs Bennet realized she had no way of convincing her brother or her husband of changing their minds. She even thought to pretend to take ill, though the men were adamant on their decision. “I would prefer to live in London.” She said, her nose pointing upwards, as she attempted to keep some dignity.
“Very well, I will send expresses to a few people I know who might be in need of a clerk or maid.”
“MAID? You think I would clean someone’s home? Do you think I would lower myself in such a manner? I have been the Mistress of Longbourn, one of the larger estates in the neighborhood of Meryton. And now, you believe I will lower myself to take such occupation?”
“If you wish to survive, Fanny, you will. You are no longer the pampered daughter of a country solicitor, nor are you the wife of a country squire. You are now a woman who needs to work to support yourself. I will hear no more of this. Tomorrow, you will be put on a post carriage for Town and that is all to be said.”