Margaret spent the following two days mainly with Elizabeth, telling her niece stories of Constance and their childhood. Elizabeth relished in these stories, enjoying each and every one of them. But it was when she saw the paintings of her mother that made Constance a real person to her.
Tears streamed as Elizabeth reached out her fingers, lightly brushing the paint on the canvas. For the first time in her life, Elizabeth felt a connect to her mother. It was at that moment that Elizabeth knew that she had always felt no bond with Fanny, as if a part of her had always known the truth of their relationship. “My mother was beautiful. And, from all that Papa and you have told me, she was kind and caring.” Elizabeth stated to her aunt. “I wish I could have had some time with her.”
“We have all wished for you would have had time with her, Lizzy. It broke my heart to hold you in my arms, knowing Constance would never be able to do so. She loved you dearly. Every day, she sang to you, while you were inside her. She would rub her hands over her belly and hum, or sing, saying you could hear her. And every day, she would read to you. She was of the opinion that you were going to be born with a book in your hands, reading from the first moment of life.”
Elizabeth smiled at such an image of her mother. Seeing the paintings, Elizabeth was better able to imagine her mother reading a book, curled up on a sofa, with her feet pulled up so her dress hem covered them. She could picture her mother playing the pianoforte, singing. And Elizabeth could almost feel the touch of her mother’s fingers caressing over her belly, where Elizabeth was growing inside.
Margaret had encouraged her brother to write down his memories of their sister, and he had sent the pages to her just the year before. Their cousin, Princess Augusta, had also written down memories of Constance, and she had sent them to Margaret to present to Elizabeth one day. Seeing the look on Elizabeth’s face when she read the treasured pages, Margaret was grateful she had thought to have her relations write the memories down.
~~ ** ~~
Caroline Bingley was determined to find a way of sending Elizabeth Bennet from Pemberley. Now that the country chit was being accepted as a member of royalty, Mr Darcy would find it easier to accept the nobody from Hertfordshire as someone he could align himself with.
Charles had insisted he would take Caroline to Town and leave her there alone, if she did not behave herself. Louisa was attempting to behave as Charles and Hurst demanded, but she was seething with fury at the treatment. Louisa knew the benefits of her sister marrying the likes of Fitzwilliam Darcy, but she did not wish to cause her own husband to take out his anger for her disobeying his orders.
So Louisa made it clear to Caroline that she would only help her sister in secret. But what could she do? Cause a compromise? Send information to Town which would discredit Elizabeth Bennet? Caroline had to determine some way of eliminating her rival. She was certain that, once Elizabeth was out of the way, Darcy would ask for Caroline’s hand. Then she would be Mistress of Pemberley. The first thing she would do was to improve the decorations of both the houses, at Pemberley and Darcy House in London. The second was to find a good boarding school to send Georgiana, giving Caroline more privacy with her husband. She was determined to become with child within the first months of her marriage, giving Darcy an heir within the first year of their marriage. Then their marriage would be secure.
At least that is what Caroline Bingley had convinced herself. She was fully delusional in her beliefs.
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth had left her rooms to practice on the pianoforte in the music room. Seeing this as her opportunity to search Elizabeth’s rooms for some information she could use to ruin the country nobody, Caroline made her way into the bedchamber. As she began rummaging through the drawers, Caroline heard a low, menacing growl from behind her. Turning around, she spied the dog she had seen at Elizabeth’s side the day the Bingleys’ party arrived.
“What are you doing in here?” Caroline could not hide her distaste for the animal. “You belong outside, with the other mutts.”
Sadie moved towards Caroline, her fur standing on end and bearing her teeth. Her growl was low, but it was clear she did not approve of this woman in Elizabeth’s rooms.
“Go away, you mangy animal. You do not belong in such a fine house. You should be outside, in the barn. Now go. Or I will inform Mr Darcy and he will have you removed. Perhaps he will go so far as to have you put down. Who knows what sort of diseases you carry?”
Sadie slowly moved to circle the person she deemed dangerous. The dog was devoted to Elizabeth, and would protect the young lady, even if it meant her death.
Finally realizing that the dog meant business, Caroline Bingley made the wisest decision in her life…she moved slowly and cautiously to the door and removed herself from her nemesis’ rooms.
~~ ** ~~
“Mr Darcy, I must have a word with you.” Caroline said as encountered him downstairs.
Frustrated, for he wished to be in the music room and Caroline was preventing him, Darcy turned his attention to her. “What is it Miss Bingley?”
“There is a scraggly mutt roaming the house. It growled at me, and approached me as if it was planning to attack. It is a miracle I was able to escape being injured by that beast.”
A frown was on Darcy’s brow. He was certain that the dog was Sadie, and that the dog was inside Elizabeth’s rooms. He wondered how the dog had managed to leave the bedchamber, as she normally waited for Elizabeth in the room. Other than going for walks in the park or being at Elizabeth’s side, Sadie was rarely seen elsewhere.
“And where is the dog now? I will see that the dog is secured.”
“Oh, well, I, um…I happened to be near Miss Eliza’s rooms and was able to contain the dog inside there. Perhaps you should have it put down, as its behavior made it appear that it might be rabid.”
Darcy was not fooled. It was obvious to him that Caroline had entered Elizabeth’s chambers and Sadie was protecting the rooms for her “mistress”. “I will see to the dog, though there is no need to have the dog put down. She is loyal to Miss Elizabeth, and was most likely protecting the area near her quarters.”
“But…but I could have been injured, or even killed, but that animal.” Caroline attempted to garner some sympathy.
“Sadie would not harm you, I am certain of it. She is a gentle dog.”
“Then she must be rabid, for her to change her nature so drastically.”
“Miss Bingley, I suggest you go to your rooms and rest. Your sister might require your company later.” Darcy said as he headed towards the music room.
~~ ** ~~
When Elizabeth, Darcy and Georgiana entered Elizabeth’s bedchamber, they found Sadie laying on the rug before the fireplace. She saw who had entered and ran to Elizabeth, nudging her hand to pet the dog.
“Well, Sadie, I have to thank you for keeping Miss Bingley from disturbing my rooms too much. What a good girl you are.” Elizabeth said as she knelt down and wrapped an arm about the dog. “I will speak to Cook about a bone for you to chew on, since you were denied chewing on one of Miss Bingley’s.”
Darcy chuckled. “Good girl, Sadie. You did a great job.” He reached his hand over and scratched Sadie behind the ears. “And to think, Miss Bingley declared Sadie to be rabid and in need of being put down.”
Georgiana gasped. “We must keep Sadie away from her, or Miss Bingley might take it in her mind to carry out such a plan.”
“Do not fret, Georgiana.” Elizabeth stated. “Sadie is safe with me, and the staff here all know her. I cannot imagine Miss Bingley being much of a marksman with firearms.”
“Indeed, not.” Darcy responded. “She cannot stand the sight of blood either. When Charles fell a few years ago, and cut his forehead, Miss Bingley fainted from the sight of all the blood running down his face.”
~~ ** ~~
Mr Gardiner arrived at Longbourn, bringing with him his children. The Darcys were pleased to welcome the children, as were the Bennets. Mr Bingley found it pleasing, as the children were thrilled with Colonel Fitzwilliam and begged the seasoned officer for stories. This gave Bingley more time with Jane, time he desperately needed in order to convince the young lady of his heart’s desire.
Margaret and her children prepared to return home the week after the Gardiner family arrived, though they enjoyed the young ones very much. With her two youngest nearing adulthood, Margaret missed having small children in her home.
The only people at Pemberley who did not enjoy the Gardiner children were Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst. The sound of the children laughing and playing was grating on Caroline’s nerves, and she constantly spoke of her displeasure with them. “How long are we to endure the noise of these children?” She asked nearly daily. “They are making such a mess in your home, Mr Darcy. I am certain they will break some precious family heirloom or some expensive piece of furniture. It would be better if they were kept in the nursery, with servants to watch over them.”
“The children are not causing any problems, Miss Bingley. Even Mrs Reynolds told me of how much enjoyment the staff is having with the sound of the children in the house.” Georgiana stated in defense.
“My dear girl, you cannot understand how inappropriate it is for children to behave so. It is obvious that they are the children of someone in trade, for someone of our society would never allow their children to behave in such a manner.” Caroline stuck her nose up as she attempted to be superior.
“Our parents enjoyed having Georgiana and myself, along with our cousins, free to be where we wished in the house. Our mother was not fond of keeping children locked away in the nursery.” Mr Darcy had stated in a cold voice. “And, when I am fortunate enough to become a parent, I will follow their example.”
Caroline realized too late that she should have kept her comments to herself. She had no escape from her harsh words, and they made her appear heartless and cruel. She was aggravated that she was unable to convince Darcy and Georgiana that the Bennets and Gardiners were inappropriate to socialize with.
~~ ** ~~
The following morning, Elizabeth and Sadie went for their usual early morning walk. It did not come as a surprise that Darcy soon joined them, as he had been out for his custom morning ride on his favorite horse.
“You have chosen a different path today, Lady Elizabeth.” Darcy stated as he dismounted his horse. He had come to call her by her title shortly after Lady Margaret had arrived. Elizabeth found it humorous to hear herself referred to in such a manner.
“Sadie and I decided the view from this prospect to be breathtaking this morning. How could we not come here?”
“It is one of my favorite places to take in the sunrise, as the sun brings everything alive in its light. But I should warn you, there are two areas over there, near the bottom of the mountain, where you should refrain from wandering. There are some underground caverns and there have been sink holes in the area. We lost a horse and rider in the area two years ago, as they fell to their deaths.”
“How dreadful. My aunt commented on a location near Lambton where her cousin fell from the dirt giving away under her feet as she was picking berries. Fortunately, her cousin did not fall far and only sustained minor injuries.”
“I remember the girl falling. It was when I was a young lad, perhaps nine. The girl was several years older than me. My father sent some food to her family after the incident. Father stated it was a miracle she was not injured worse. I had no notion that the girl was related to your aunt. Mrs Gardiner is cousin to Emmy Barnard, nee Jolston. Interesting. Mrs Barnard was the cousin of Mrs Reynolds’ late husband. If memory serves me correctly, Mrs Barnard and her son moved to Yorkshire to live, after her husband died.”
Elizabeth was amazed with Darcy’s memory, especially since the Jolston and the Barnard families did not work for Pemberley. “Do you remember everyone who has lived in this area?” She teased.
“Most. I am the master of this estate, and therefore, I am responsible to all those who live and work here. Many of my servants and tenants have family in the nearby villages. So I am familiar with most of the families in Lambton, Kympton, and a few other nearby villages.” Darcy smiled.
Seeing the dimple shining on his cheeks, Elizabeth was caught dumbstruck. Determined to move into a safer conversation, she inquired of the dangerous areas at Pemberley.
“Do you see the large pine tree with the piece of faded fabric tied about the trunk?” Elizabeth nodded her head to his question. “If you follow the stones which have been placed in a pattern from that tree, it surrounds the most dangerous area. But I would suggest you use caution anywhere in that area.”
“Do you hear Mr Darcy’s words, Miss Sadie? You are not to go near that area, for I could not tolerate your being injured.” Elizabeth scratched the dog’s favorite spot, just behind her ears. Sadie leaned into Elizabeth’s thigh, resting her head on the young lady’s knee.
Darcy chuckled. “Well, I believe she will agree with you as long as you keep giving her such attention.”
~~ ** ~~
The day after arriving at Pemberley, Mr Gardiner requested a chance to speak privately with Mr Bennet. “Thomas, I must speak with you of Fanny. She thought I would allow her to stay at my home, and was furious when I refused to do so. Fanny then stated she would make the journey to Longbourn, as you are not currently in residence.”
“You explained her options and the choice she made.” Mr Bennet stated. Why can she not understand that she has done this to herself?”
“My sister is not one to think of consequences for her actions. But I told her that she would be tossed from Longbourn if she tried to enter it.” Mr Gardiner then turned his head and looked away from Mr Bennet. “Just before I left to journey here, I discovered the employment my sister has found.”
Mr Bennet shook his head. After learning of his wife’s extramarital affairs, he should not be shocked to learn anything of Fanny. “As you are clearly ashamed of it, I can only guess that Fanny has taken employment using her arts and allurements. I must admit that she is attractive, and she has always kept her appearance up. She just was not attractive enough to me to desire her. The few times we were together, I was usually intoxicated or my body just took control of me. It was never from desiring her.”
“Well, she seems to be making ample funds to support herself. And…”
“Lydia has run away from the school to be with her mother.”
Mr Gardiner nodded his head. “I was not surprised to learn the girl was living with Fanny. I do not approve of her living in a house of ill repute, but there was nothing I could do to stop her. No matter how hard I tried, she would not return to the school. It was clear to see that she would have only run away as soon as I left. Nothing short of shackling her to the classroom would have kept Lydia there.”
“To be honest, Gardiner, if I were to learn that Lydia was not my child, I would not be shocked. Fanny never loved Jane as dearly as she did Lydia. Perhaps it is due to Fanny loving Lydia’s father. Unfortunately, the girl behaves more and more like her mother. Very well, I will wash my hands of both of them. And I will make sure that I change my will as soon as possible, cutting both Fanny and Lydia. If necessary, I will file for a divorce.”
“Divorces are difficult to achieve, and are expensive. Will you disinherit Lydia?”
Mr Bennet picked up a glass of port he had poured and took a sip. “Yes, I believe I shall. I will not allow Lydia and Fanny to cause Jane and Elizabeth any harm, even by association.”
~~ ** ~~
Margaret prepared to leave for her home in Scotland. “My husband will be returning home soon from the sea, and I look forward to telling him of what has happened. He will be anxious to meet you too, Lizzy.”
“Does he travel often?” Elizabeth asked. As her aunt had rarely discussed her marriage, Elizabeth did not wish to push the matter.
“He is gone most of the time. I used to tease him that I knew when he was home, as I would learn I was with child after he returned to the sea. Then, after Robbie, I could have no more children. But I still enjoy what time I have with my husband. We have near two months a year together, before he begins sailing again. He usually comes home when the weather is cold, and we snuggle into our home for weeks on end.”
Robbie chuckled. “Where we live, winters are brutal, so there are weeks we do not get out of the house. You learn to accept it after a few years, and now I look forward to spending time at home with no company. I almost become disappointed when there is a mild winter.”
“Well, I look forward to meeting my uncle as well. If he is anything like Uncle Edward, it will be a blessing to have him in my life.” Elizabeth stated. For her, it was more difficult for her to realize that the Gardiners were not really her relations. Helen and Edward Gardiner had informed Elizabeth that they did not feel different towards her, they thought of her as their niece and always would. Having known the secret of Elizabeth’s birth for years, it was clear that they had not changed towards her due to the nature of her birth.”
~~ ** ~~
Margaret and her children left Pemberley, leaving behind them a weeping Elizabeth. In the short time they had spent together, Elizabeth had developed a deep bond with her mother’s relations. They promised to write often, and that Elizabeth would make the journey to Scotland in the year to come.
Mr Bennet placed a kiss on Margaret’s cheek as he bid her goodbye. “Constance would be pleased to know how close you and Lizzy have become. I cannot thank you enough for all you have done for my dear girl.”
“Our dear girl, Thomas. Lizzy carries my sister’s blood in her. And I am certain that Constance is in heaven, crying tears of joy, as she watches us.” Margaret tenderly touched Mr Bennet’s cheek with her fingertips. “She is an amazing young lady. It pleases me that I will now be able to be a part of her life. And, if I am not mistaken, I believe there will be a wedding in the near future, and I will be acquiring a new nephew.”
Mr Bennet glanced over to where Darcy stood by, watching the farewells. “He is worthy of her. And he loves her dearly, as he should.”
“Keep well, Thomas. I hope you will continue to write to me. I enjoy hearing from you.”
“I will do so.” Mr Bennet said, as he handed Margaret into the carriage. “Safe journey to you all.”
~~ ** ~~
Mr Hurst was healing, and the physician declared the need for only another week before he could be moved. Hurst was pleased with removing his wife and her sister from Pemberley, as he was angry with Caroline’s continued behavior towards the Bennet and Gardiner families. He could understand why Bingley was reluctant to leave, as he was still attempting to secure the hand of Miss Jane Bennet.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was enjoying the rivalry for Jane’s attention. Though he was only a second born son of an earl, he had been frugal with his money and his grandmother on his mother’s side had left a piece of property to Richard. He could easily resign his commission and live comfortably, on the small estate and his savings.
Richard was shocked at Bingley’s abandonment of Jane Bennet, and considered the man a fool. Though Jane was reserved and quiet, not flirting and attempting to draw attention to herself, Richard could easily determine that she was shy. Perhaps it was all the years of being around William and Georgiana, which taught Richard how to decipher people better than Bingley could. He would have thought Bingley would have learned by being close friends with Darcy, but Richard was not willing to bow out of the race to win the hand of the fair maiden.
Bingley was becoming frustrated. Every time he prepared to woo Jane with a ride about the estate or some time alone, Richard seemed to beat him to the draw. Rising earlier than usual one morning, Bingley hoped to be in the breakfast room when Jane entered with her sister, allowing Bingley a chance to speak with Jane. Unfortunately, Richard and Jane had gone out riding that morning and did not return until after breakfast, as they had taken a basket to enjoy on their excursion.
When Bingley attempted to arrange a meeting with Jane in the conservatory, Richard was already there with Jane, discussing the flowers they both preferred. Richard had discovered Jane’s love of using flowers and herbs to make bath waters and lotions, and he discussed with her his mother’s love of unique flowers from all over the world.
Nearing the end of his patience, Bingley finally approached Jane and asked to speak with her.
The two stepped into the library to speak. “Miss Bennet, I have been trying for days to have some time alone to speak with you. I have wished to ask you if you would be willing to enter into a courtship with me.”
Jane was not surprised by his request. “Mr Bingley, I have had fond feelings for you since we were all in Hertfordshire. My concern of entering into a courtship, or any sort of arrangement, with you is how easily you were persuaded to walk away from me. You left Hertfordshire without even a farewell. What would you have done had you not come across me visiting Pemberley? Would you have returned to Netherfield, or would you have continued to live your life around the lies your sister has spoken? I realize that your sister preferred a better arrangement, one with wealth and connections, but it was your right to decide for yourself who you wished to marry.”
“And it is you, Miss Bennet, who captured my heart and you who holds it in your hands at this very moment. I was wrong to listen to Caroline. You have no way of knowing just how I suffered every day since we parted at Netherfield. My greatest hope and prayer is that you will forgive me, and allow me to make amends to you, and to devote the rest of my life loving you and making you happy.”
“I have changed since you were at Netherfield. The pain I suffered has made me weary of freely offering my heart to just anyone. I will make certain that my heart is never trampled on as it was by you and your sister. You made the decision to go against your heart and what you knew to be true. How can I guarantee you will not abandon me again, next time your sister decides I am unworthy?”
“Are you refusing me?” Bingley asked. “Have you an understanding with Colonel Fitzwilliam?”
Jane shook her head. “We are dear friends, and I care for him dearly, but we have no understanding. I have only known him a short time, and I have learned not to easily trust young men. I am aware of the Colonel’s regard for me, but I need more time to know exactly what I want in my life. I have spoken of the situation with Colonel Fitzwilliam, and he is understanding of my wishes.”
“Please, Miss Bennet, tell me now if I have even the slightest chance of winning your heart. If you cannot see a future with me, please tell me now, and I will leave here immediately.” Bingley pleaded with her.
“Mr Bingley, I do care for you, as I was unable to completely cut you from my heart when you abandoned me in Hertfordshire. It is the matter of being able to trust you that causes me to hesitate. How can I willingly trust my heart in your hands? Your own sister has made her feelings clear, and she will never stand by allow you to marry me. She will do all in her power to condemn a union between us.”
“I will not allow my sister to take you from me, never again. Caroline is old enough to be on her own. An establishment can be formed for her to be on her own. She can purchase a place to live in Town, or she can live with our aunt in Scarborough. But Caroline will not be welcome in my home, from this day forward.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Jane went to the music room to find her sister. “Lizzy, I need to speak with you. I am so confused.”
“Let us go to my rooms.” Elizabeth said, taking Jane by the hand and leading her down the hall. Once behind the door of her bedchamber, Elizabeth asked, “What is causing you so much pain, my dearest sister?”
“Oh, Lizzy, Mr Bingley and I just spoke. I knew this day would come, but I had hoped it would have been easier to cope with. What am I to do?”
Elizabeth smiled. “Are you still in love with him? Or have you decided it is not worth dealing with his sisters?”
“You know me too well, Lizzy. I can cope with Mrs Hurst. She is pleasant to deal with in comparison to her sister. We both know that Caroline Bingley will not tolerate her brother marrying the likes of me. Even with my sister having royal blood lines, the likes of Miss Bingley will never consider them to be of proper connections.”
“But, perhaps Mr Bingley would be willing to break off connection with his sister. If he were willing, would you be agreeable to a relation with him?”
“I still care for him, dearly. But I am afraid to allow him to become too close. Can I overcome my fears or is it better to look elsewhere for my prince charming?”
Elizabeth laughed. “Well, if you are looking for a prince, it is a good thing your sister is related to princes. What do you feel towards Colonel Fitzwilliam? You seem to enjoy your time with him.”
“The colonel is amiable and kind, intelligent and has a similar sense of humor as you. In fact, Colonel Fitzwilliam reminds me of you in many ways. And, though I love you dearly, do I wish my husband to be a copy of you? Oh, I do not know what to do.”
“Should we send for Aunt Helen to join us? Perhaps she will have some insight we are overlooking.” Elizabeth asked her sister.
“Please, as I need assistance.”
~~ ** ~~
“Wills, I need to speak with you. I have a dilemma and require advice.” Richard said as he entered his cousin’s study.
“Please, Richard, have a seat. I have a meeting in an hour with my steward, but I am free until then.” Darcy motioned his hand towards one of the chairs before his desk.
Darcy stood and made his way to the sideboard, pouring two glasses of port. He handed one of the glasses to his cousin, then took the other with him as he returned to his chair. “Now, what is the subject you wish to discuss?”
“As you are most likely aware, I have been spending a lot of time with Miss Jane Bennet. I have come to admire her and, yet, am unsure of where I wish the relationship to lead me.”
“I was surprised when you began spending so much time together. You have always kept your heart locked away. What has brought on this change?”
Richard took a long sip of his drink. “Perhaps I am tired of war and the violence I have been faced with for so many years. I wish to have some peace and find a good woman to settle down with.”
Nodding his head, Darcy could see where the discussion was heading. “And you find Jane Bennet to be someone you could settle down with?”
“That is the problem. I find her to be pleasant, kind, loyal to those she loves, but she is incredibly shy and does not share her feelings readily. Though I am good at determining the feelings of others, I have suddenly realized that Jane Bennet is so very similar in personality to you. Perhaps that is what has drawn me to her, but do I wish to have a wife who is similar to you? No offense, cousin, but I do not think I would be happy with such a wife.”
“Then it is time for you to look elsewhere. Allow Bingley the chance to court her. I believe they will make a good couple.” Darcy said.
“My very thought, Wills. But I do not wish to injure Miss Jane by not offering for her. I pray I have not given her expectations that an offer was coming.”
“Do not fear, Richard. If I am correct, Jane Bennet is going through the same situation with her feelings towards you. So, shall we play a game in the billiards room, before we prepare for dinner?”
~~ ** ~~
Mr Bennet stepped in the hall from his daughter’s bedchamber. “Ah, Mr Bingley. I was just coming to find you.”
“Mr Bennet, is something wrong? Is there something I can do for you?”
“A moment of your time, if you do not mind. If you would be so kind as to join me in this sitting room here. It is attached to rooms my daughters are staying in.”
Bingley was nervous as he stepped inside. Finding Jane Bennet standing before the sofa did nothing to calm him.
“Mr Bingley, my daughter and I have had a chat about you, and she wished to speak with you again. You recently requested the opportunity to court Jane. Are you still interested in a courtship?”
Bingley looked at Jane quickly, before returning his attention to her father. “Indeed, Sir. I know that I am deeply in love with Miss Jane and it would be my greatest joy to have her become my wife. I know she fears my inconsistency from the past, but I am willing to do whatever she asks to prove myself faithful and steadfast.”
“Are you concerned with the behavior of your sister, Miss Bingley?” Mr Bennet asked.
“I am, Sir. As a matter of fact, I spoke with my brother, Mr Hurst, just an hour ago. He and I agreed that it is time for Caroline to have her own home. Hurst is not particularly anxious to have Caroline live with him and my sister, Louisa. My sister has enough to purchase a small home in Town or elsewhere, though I am determined to ensure it not be close to wherever I am living. And I will make certain that my sister knows she will not be welcome in my home. Her behavior towards others, especially those in your family, will not be tolerated.”
Jane looked at her father, giving him a slight nod of her head. Mr Bennet returned his attention to Bingley. “Then, my daughter is waiting for you to speak with her. I will give you some privacy, though I will be in the hall, just outside the door.”
Bingley was shocked at this turn of events. As soon as Mr Bennet was outside the door, Bingley dropped to his knees before Jane. “Miss Bennet, I vow to make you happy for the rest of your life. I know that I love you and that I was a fool to have let you go as I did. It will never happen again. Would you do me the great honor of accepting my hand in marriage?”
Jane chuckled. “I thought you wished to court me?”
“I did, but I realized there is no need on my part to court you. I know what I want and I do not wish to take a chance of losing you.”
“Very well. I would ask for a two month engagement though. I know you will require time to establish your sister in her own home and decide on where you will live, whether at Netherfield or some other estate.” Jane stated clearly.
Bingley took hold of her hand, bringing it to his lips. He kissed it over and over, declaring how happy she had made him. Mr Bennet returned to the room and Bingley quickly asked for permission to marry Jane. Laughing at the young man who held Jane’s heart, Mr Bennet gave his approval.
~~ ** ~~
“How dare they treat me so?” Caroline screamed as she threw the pillow from her bed, knocking over the vase of flowers on the bedside table. “They cannot be rid of me so easily. I will not go. What will they do, drag me to the carriage, kicking and screaming, in front of Mr Darcy’s staff?”
She picked up a hairbrush from the table and threw it across the room, breaking the looking glass. “Charles and Hurst are fools if they think they will treat me in such a manner. I will not tolerate it. Set up a house of my own. As if I am some old maid to be put upon a shelf and forgotten about. A spinster to ridicule and belittle. Oh, no, I will not tolerate such ill treatment.”
The door from the hall opened and Louisa Hurst slipped in the room. “Caroline, you must control yourself. I could hear you down the hall.”
“And why did you not defend me? Why would you allow your husband and our brother to treat me in such a manner? You are my elder sister, and you promised Mother, on her deathbed, that you would protect me.”
“Caroline, how am I supposed to protect you from your own foolishness? You have refused to accept that our brother is in love with Jane Bennet. You treat her and her family poorly. Of course Charles will defend her over you. If you would only try to make some sort of kind gesture, treat Jane as I have since we have been here, perhaps Charles and Gilbert would take it into consideration.”
“I am supposed to fawn over that country nobody, pretend that she is someone of importance? It would make me ill to even contemplate such actions.”
“But Sister, you must realize when to declare defeat. It will do you no good to fight against Charles and Gilbert. Though I have always wished to see you settled here as Mrs Darcy, you have forced our brother to send you away. Now you will have no way to spend time with Mr Darcy and allow him to appreciate you. How will you ever capture him as a husband?”
“I will remain here. I will not allow Charles and your husband to send me away. I am not a spinster, and they had best be prepared to accept that fact. Mr Darcy will ask for my hand, I am sure of it. Time is all that is needed.”
“What will you do? He spends so much time with Miss Elizabeth…I mean Lady Elizabeth.”
“She is no lady, Louisa. She is a bastard of some distant relations to royalty. And her father is nobody of importance. I need to remove her from the estate, so I have time to impress upon Mr Darcy how much better suited I am to be Mistress of Pemberley.”
“There is no way to have her removed. Mr Darcy is fond of her and has issued an open invitation to the Bennet family to remain here. I cannot imagine him sending them away.”
Caroline had a gleam of evil in her eyes. “But I can see that she leaves, whether of her own accord or by mine.”
~~ ** ~~
The following morning, Caroline feigned a headache and stayed in bed. Bingley demanded her to prepare to leave, as he was not believing her tale of woe, but Louisa came to her sister’s rescue.
“Charles, how can you be so heartless? Can you not see how much pain our sister is in after the manner you have treated her? You were cruel to tell her that you no longer wish for her to live with you. You as much as declared her on the shelf. No man will look at her to marry, not when her own brother has given up hope. Without your assistance, she will never be invited to gatherings where she will meet men. And what does your decision do to her chance with Mr Darcy? You know she has had her heart set on marrying him. It is too cruel to take her away from him.”
“Louisa, Darcy has never had any inclination towards Caroline. He has told me so himself. He will never offer for her, and, even if she were to force him into a compromising situation, I would not force my friend to marry Caroline. I know where his heart lies, and it is not with our sister.”
Louisa had to think fast. “But Charles, do you not wish to see her happily married? She would be considered a spinster, put out to pasture, if you refused to allow her to live with you. It is your duty, as her brother, to do what you can to improve her position. Our parents would be turning in their graves if they knew how you plan to toss Caroline aside, just to have your own happiness. I know it is due to Miss Jane Bennet that you are forsaking our sister. You wish to have your own happiness, so you abandon our dear sister for your own pleasure. It is too cruel of Miss Bennet to insist on your abandonment of Caroline. You would be wise to rid yourself of her and find someone more agreeable, someone more worthy of your hand.”
Bingley shook his head. “Oh, no. I will not tolerate any further discouragement from you or Caroline, especially when it comes to Miss Jane Bennet. I have asked for her hand and she has made me the happiest of men. You and our sister have made your opinion of my choice of brides clear. But she makes me happy and I love her dearly. So you and Caroline will have to accept my decision.”
“Can you not see that you are making our sister ill?” Louisa begged him. “Allow her the chance to come to terms with your choice, rather than forcing her away immediately. It is heartless and cruel of you to expect her to leave today. She needs to rest and recover her strength.”
“Louisa, we were not invited to visit here in the first place. Then Hurst broke his leg, so we required time for him to heal. I will not force Darcy to play host to us any longer. Hurst is able to travel now, and it is time for Caroline to live her own life. So, the sooner we journey to Town and find Caroline her own home, the better.”
Louisa was frustrated. She had never seen her brother so determined. “At least allow her a few days to adjust to the idea. You cannot expect her to have so much change happen overnight. Please, Charles, I am certain that Mr Darcy would allow us to remain here a few more nights.”
“You and I are both aware that Caroline is not ill. She is attempting to force her way in remaining here. I will send for the physician. If he states that there is something wrong with Caroline, then I will speak with Darcy. But if she is not truly ill, I will have her loaded on a carriage and on her way to Town before her trunks are even packed.”
~~ ** ~~
Charles returned to his sisters when the physician arrived. He escorted the physician, Mr Abernathy, to Caroline’s room and stayed to hear the verdict. It was not what he had expected.
“Mr Bingley, your sister appears to be suffering from a fever. It is not terribly high, but traveling would worsen it. With her headache and the fever, I would recommend she remain in bed for at least a week.”
Though he was suspicious, Bingley agreed to speak with Darcy on extending their stay. He was certain that his sisters were up to something, but he was unsure what they had done.
Had he been in the room with his sisters before Mr Abernathy arrived, he would have known they had found a way to make Caroline’s temperature rise, without her being truly ill. But he had to accept the physician’s declaration and would need to remain at Pemberley.
After the physician and Charles left the bedchamber, the sisters began their scheming.
~~ ** ~~
Caroline was not naïve in the ways of getting a man to do her bidding. She had been having a liaison with one of the postilions who worked on the Bingley carriage, and had the young man wrapped around her little finger. The young man was sneaked into Caroline’s rooms that afternoon, so she could convince him to do her bidding.
“Raymond, I am in desperate need of your assistance. If you do not assist me, my brother will be casting me off in a house of my own, in Town. If that happens, I will never be able to be with you again.”
“What can I do to assist you, Miss Bingley? I am unable to dissuade your brother’s decision?” The young man stated as he dropped to his knees before her, taking her hands in his own and placing kisses on them. “I will do whatever I can to continue seeing you.”
“If I were to marry Mr Darcy, it would be a marriage of convenience. Mr Darcy would allow me to continue my relations with you, as he will have a mistress to keep him occupied. But I must remain here, at Pemberley. And I must be rid of Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
“Are you speaking of Lady Elizabeth? We have heard the Pemberley staff speaking of her.”
Caroline pushed the young man away from her. “She is no more a lady than I am the Queen. She is a royal bastard, not worthy of being treated any better than a scullery maid. It is that whore that is causing Mr Darcy from asking for my hand. If it were not for her, our future would be settled here at Pemberley. Would you not enjoy remaining here? I would have Charles leave you with us to tend my personal carriage, as I am certain Mr Darcy would wish to purchase a new carriage for my particular use. Can you not see that Miss Bennet is causing all the difficulties I am facing?”
“But what can be done to change this?” Raymond pleaded. “Should I begin to spread lies about her, embarrass her until she fleas from the neighborhood?”
“No, for Mr Darcy’s sympathies would wish to protect her. And his staff would not tolerate such behavior. We need to rid ourselves of Miss Bennet permanently. And I have just the plan. But I will need you to assist me.” Caroline reached down to the young man’s chin, pulling it up as she lowered her lips to meet his. Several breathless moments later, Raymond was unable to think properly. “Will you do what is needed to guarantee our future together?”
“Of course, my dearest Miss Bingley. I would do anything for you.”
~~ ** ~~
The following morning, Elizabeth rose at her usual time and prepared for her morning stroll in the park. She found it highly unusual that Sadie was not in the room, but figured that she would find her beloved canine friend in the park. Taking her usual treats with her, Elizabeth began to walk.
After an hour of walking, and sitting at her usual resting spot where she and Sadie would normally relax and enjoy their treats, Elizabeth was growing concerned for the dog. Since she had first met the sweet natured collie, not a morning had passed without the two of them spending the morning together.
Elizabeth began walking again, this time she began calling out to Sadie to join her. Suddenly, she heard the whimpering of an injured dog. She knew, instantly, that it was Sadie. Elizabeth continued to call to the dog as she hurried in her search. Finally, she found Sadie, lying on her side on the ground near the base of hill. She could not imagine what had happened to her devoted friend, and rushed forward to the dog. “Sadie, what has happened? How did you injure yourself?”
The dog looked at her, as if fearful, and gave one painful bark, as if in warning. Too late, Elizabeth ran forward into an area which had been marked off as dangerous. The earth began to give way beneath her feet and Elizabeth plunged into complete darkness.