Bingley refused to bid his sisters farewell, and he did not wish to watch out the window as the carriages pulled away from the front of the house. To his way of thinking, it was best to be done with Caroline and Louisa. The only thing he had left to do was to see that their weekly deliveries were paid for, once Hurst made the arrangements and had the information for Bingley to set up the regular payments to the shop.
The man was still fuming from the behavior of his two sisters. How could they behave in such a manner? Was it not bad enough how they separated me from Jane when they insisted on leaving Netherfield? Was it not bad enough that they kept the knowledge of Jane’s regard from me? Then they plot to have her sister killed. Good God, how can they possibly be related to me? To wish someone dead is terrible, but then to wish to profit from the death in the hopes that Caroline would win Darcy’s hand. Dear God in heaven, how can they be my sisters? They are deluded and cruel.
I am shocked that Jane would still wish to marry me. Her beloved sister was harmed, and could have died, due to my sisters’ plot. It amazes me that Mr Bennet has not called off the wedding, and called for my immediate removal from the neighborhood. Or he might wish to call me out for all my family has done to his. If he did, I would put up no resistance. I deserve to be killed. What a pathetic excuse I am for a man. Perhaps I deserve to be sent off to some isolated and remote location to spend the rest of my life. Jane does not deserve such a wretched fool for a husband. She deserves to be treated like the treasure she is. And how can I even face Darcy? He is in love with Lady Elizabeth, and he nearly lost her, due to my sisters. I should have removed Caroline and Louisa to Town, immediately after Hurst’s accident. I could have returned without my sisters. Why did I not remove them?
It was because I was jealous of Colonel Fitzwilliam’s attention towards Jane. Now, due to my jealousy, my sisters are guilty of conspiring to murder Lady Elizabeth, and my dearest Jane pains for her injured sister. And Darcy is beside himself with worry for Lady Elizabeth’s well-being. I pray that Lady Elizabeth will recover quickly. She does not deserve to be in pain, especially at the hands of my miserable sisters.
Perhaps it would be best for me to leave here immediately. Go to Town, stay there until Hurst returns. Then I could take a trip somewhere, disappear somewhere in the world. I should allow Jane to find someone who will bring her happiness as well as love. She deserves more than what little I can give to her.
A knock on his bedchamber door returned him to the world. “Enter.” He called out.
The door opened and in came Darcy and Mr Bennet. They were aware of his drinking heavily the night before, and both of the men assumed Bingley would be blaming himself for what had happened.
Darcy spoke first. “Bingley, you have not come down to dine with us. What is the problem? You did not send for a tray either, so I am concerned.”
“I was contemplating my future. At the moment, I cannot determine what will happen, as I cannot see a future for myself.” Bingley said bitterly.
“Does that mean you no longer wish to marry my daughter?” Mr Bennet asked.
“Jane deserves far more than me. She deserves someone who does not have sisters who attempt to kill her own sister. She deserves to be cherished by a real man, not a weak willed simpleton who cannot protect her from his relations.”
“When are you going to learn that you are not your sisters, Bingley? You did not assist them in their plot. And when you discovered their ploy, you refused to accept their excuses. If not for you, we might not have found Lady Elizabeth in time.” Darcy said, taking a deep breath. His body tremored at the thought of Elizabeth dying. “We were able to find Lady Elizabeth and rescue her, due to you persistence with getting to the truth.”
“How is Lady Elizabeth? What did Mr Abernathy say of her condition?”
“She has a concussion, and a bump on the back of her head. It was not a severe injury, but we will have to keep a close watch over her. There are bruises and scrapes, including bruised ribs, and a severely sprained ankle.” Mr Bennet stated. “We are very fortunate.”
“She was also exposed to the storm, so we need to keep watch for any illness she might take. Fortunately, she is a strong and healthy lady. The warm bath and the warmed bricks placed to keep a chill away in her bed seem to have been helpful so far. And Mr Abernathy prescribed a tonic to assist Lady Elizabeth’s natural strength against illness.” Darcy further explained.
“How can you both stand there and not hate me? My sisters were behind this assault against Lady Elizabeth. Both of you should hate me for having brought them here. Even after Hurst’s accident, I should have removed my sisters from this estate. I should have taken them to Town and left them there. But I was too selfish and Lady Elizabeth has suffered for it.”
“That is more than enough of your wallowing in self-pity, Bingley.” Darcy announced. “Now, do you still love Miss Jane? Do you still wish to marry her?”
“You know I do. I love her more than I can say.”
Mr Bennet walked towards Bingley, placing a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Then you will marry Jane and live your lives in the future, not in the past. Take this example from one who knows what living in the past can do to you. I wallowed in self-pity over my lost love, Elizabeth’s mother. I allowed my pity to fester and cause me to give up hope on my family, not wishing to be a part of a family that did not include Constance. I allowed Fanny too much control and then blamed her for the way things turned out. But I was to blame for how things turned out. I should have stood my ground and declared my love for Constance, stating I could not marry Fanny, no matter what she had done to secure me. I should have been a better father to my children, not hidden away in my study. I know I could have been a better husband, even though I deplored all that Fanny represented. I still could have treated her kinder. Perhaps she could have come to be a friend, as I know I could never have loved her. But I could have been a friend to her. No, Mr Bingley, I have lived with far too many mistakes and frustrations from the past, and allowed them full rein over my life. When we found Lizzy in Liverpool, I vowed, then and there, I would never dwell on what could have been. I wish to live for the future.”
“Will Jane still accept me?” Bingley asked, his eyes pleading with Mr Bennet.
“I spoke with her this morning. Having been in the room when you discovered the truth from Miss Bingley, Jane knows that you are not responsible for what happened to Lizzy. She does not blame you. As a matter of fact, she is grateful for your having gotten the truth from your sisters and the young man. It was due to your assistance that we were able to rescue Lizzy. And she is proud of you for the manner in which the punishment is being handled. Jane could not have stood by and watched your sisters be put on trial and possibly be executed. Due to Lizzy being a member of royalty, even as minor as her relationship is, your sisters faced possible execution for their behavior. Jane is proud of you for standing your ground and refusing to accept Miss Bingley’s behavior. It is her belief that you can both move forward. Without your sisters to cause you harm, you and Jane can live a good and happy life, filled with love.”
“I have been praying for just such a life. I have feared what all of you would think of me, whether you would understand that I am not my sisters.”
Darcy chuckled. “Bingley, you are the complete opposite of your sisters. No one could ever consider you to be anything remotely similar to Miss Bingley or Mrs Hurst. If you had ever been like them, I would not be your friend.”
“And I doubt my daughter would have given you a second glance, if you were like those harpies. Fortunately, for all of us, you are a kind and caring man. Now, are you to be my son in law?” Mr Bennet smiled.
“If Jane will still have me, I will be honored to be your son in law.”
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth woke with a start, as she moved her foot and pain shot through her. “Oh, my, what have I done?”
“Lizzy, how are you feeling?” Jane’s sweet voice could be heard by her sister.
Opening her eyes, she looked at Jane. “What did I do to myself? I ache all over, and my foot feels as if someone is sticking sharp, hot needles into it. And I must ask who has been beating on my head with sticks. Goodness, did I fall under a carriage or trampled by horses?”
“No horses or carriages, but yes, you did fall. Down into a hole in the ground. We are grateful it was not as severe as we first thought. You could have been killed.”
Elizabeth sat up suddenly, realizing too late that it was not a wise move. “Sadie…Sadie was injured. Where is she? Is she alive?”
Hearing her name come from Elizabeth’s lips, the dog whined from the bedding which had been made for Sadie next to Elizabeth’s bed. As Elizabeth lowered her head back to the pillow, her hand draped over the edge of the bed to pet the top of Sadie’s head. “Jane, how is Sadie? Was she badly injured?”
“A broken leg and some cuts and scrapes. Mr Abernathy said he is not an animal physician, but he is confident that Sadie will recover. That dog is devoted to you, Lizzy. She crawled out for the men to find her and cried out to them to bring them to you. Mr Darcy made certain that she was brought to the house on the wagon which brought you here. One of the footmen carried Sadie upstairs and made the bed for her which is now beside your bed. Sadie is being well looked after, and she is keeping watch over you, my dearest sister.”
“She is dear to me. I cannot explain it, but she is the closest confidante I could ever imagine. I can tell her everything, and she just listens and gives me her love. There have been things I did not know how to discuss with you or Papa, but Sadie has allowed me to work through all of my concerns and thoughts.” Elizabeth said as she scratched behind Sadie’s ears. Just the thought of the dog being there, the feel of her fur as Elizabeth’s fingers roamed through it, brought a peace of mind which was beyond description.
“Well, she is special to me for taking such wonderful care of my most beloved sister. I will always be grateful to Miss Sadie.” Jane smiled. “Shall I send for a tray for you? Mr Abernathy insisted that you must take some nourishment. He does not wish to see you take ill from lack of proper care.”
“And we would not wish to tarnish Mr Darcy’s spectacular reputation by my becoming ill in his fine home.” Elizabeth chuckled. “The poor man, he is most likely regretting inviting us to stay in his home.”
“Oh, I am most certain that he is not regretting your being here, for the man is so in love with you, he would be insane with worry for you if you were anywhere else.”
Elizabeth’s eyes grew wide. “Do you truly believe Mr Darcy has feelings for me? Especially after all he has learned about our family?”
“Indeed I do. I should not have listened, but I could not help myself. I overheard Mr Darcy speaking with Papa. Mr Darcy plans to ask for your hand.” Jane said, keeping watch over her sister’s reaction. “And what would your reaction be if he were to ask you to marry him?”
“I must admit that I have come to know him better since we have been here. He is not the same as the man we met in Hertfordshire. It is easy to see the true man, as he is quite at ease here. And his tenants and staff clearly respect and care for him and Georgiana. Mr Darcy has been all that is kind and caring to us.”
“And what do you think of him? Do you like him?”
Elizabeth thought for a moment. “I do find him handsome, and he is quite intelligent. I enjoy speaking with him, and debating subjects. We have similar tastes in many regards. And, Oh Jane, when I am near him, I have experienced times that my heart seemed to race. Is this what it feels like to be in love?”
Jane smiled. “I believe it is what it feels like for you to be in love. For myself, my heart seems to flutter like it is filled with butterflies. It is a wonderful feeling.”
“I can believe that, as it seems so pleasant when I am with him. And when he touches me, it sends shivers down my spine.” Elizabeth said as she thought of the times she had been in Darcy’s presence of late.
“You would have been red as the Christmas gown Aunt Helen has when you learn that Mr Darcy would allow none of his staff to carry you into the house yesterday. He did so himself. And Colonel Fitzwilliam told me that it was Mr Darcy who went into the cavern to recover you. The colonel was the second one down the hole, and it was Mr Darcy who pushed the stone from on top of you.”
Elizabeth blushed scarlet at the news. “I am pleased I was unaware of the situation.”
Mr Bennet knocked on the door as he opened it. “Good morning, my dear girls. How are you this morning?” He walked over and sat down on the side of the bed.
“I will recover, Papa.” Elizabeth said with a smile. “Sore and exhausted, but I will be well soon enough.”
“I am pleased to hear this, for you have given me enough worries for the rest of my life. You must behave yourself as to refrain from any further worries.” Mr Bennet leaned over and placed a kiss on his daughter’s forehead.
“From now on, Jane is responsible for giving you all future worries.” Elizabeth chuckled.
“If Jane were to bring any worries to me, my heart would most likely stop completely. Jane has been the perfect daughter all of her life. That is why the two of you are such a good match. You are the rebel and mischievous imp, while Jane is my good girl who never brings me a moment’s unrest.”
“Well, after the aches and pains I am feeling today, I make you the promise that I will behave myself for some time to come.” Elizabeth said. “Would one of you tell me exactly what happened?”
Mr Bennet decided to be the one to explain the situation and the conspiracy of the Bingley sisters. He told in detail of the plot, of the young postilion who was seduced by Miss Bingley to do her bidding, how he abducted Sadie and harmed her, placing her where Elizabeth would find her and fall through the earth into a cavern.
Darcy had ridden out to the location at first light and discovered the area had been tampered with. Not only had Raymond removed the markers warning people of the dangers, it appeared he had taken a long spear-like object, using it to poke the ground to find the weakest location, before planting the dog to lure Elizabeth. The spear had been located in some nearby bushes.
“Mr Darcy is glad the young man had already departed Pemberley with Mr Hurst and Colonel Fitzwilliam, for he would have strangled the postilion with his bare hands if he had laid eyes on him.” Mr Bennet stated.
“I cannot believe someone could be so cruel.” Jane said with a small sob. “Not only to lure a young lady into a dangerous location, but to purposely find the most dangerous location and make it worse. I am so grateful for God watching over Lizzy.”
“To think that someone had so much hate welled up inside of them that they would wish me dead, it is difficult to fathom.” Elizabeth declared. She tried to sit up, restless with laying down, only to discover the pain which reminded her of the injuries she had sustained.
“Now, you are to remain laying down, resting.” Mr Bennet stated, placing a hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “If you do not obey, I will ask Mr Darcy for some rope to tie you to this bed for your own sake. You are injured and need time for your body to heal.”
As the pain stole what energy she had, Elizabeth was quickly convinced to remain where she was. “Yes, Papa. I will behave myself.”
Jane requested a tray be prepared for Elizabeth, with some broth, fruit, toast, and tea. To the surprise of the Bennet family, when the tray arrived, it was brought to the room by none other than Fitzwilliam Darcy.
“I heard that Lady Elizabeth had awaken, and I wished to check on her progress. Please forgive me for intruding, but I have been desperate to see for myself that you are better than when you were brought to the house yesterday.” Darcy said, his eyes fixed on the view of Elizabeth’s face.
“I have heard that I owe you for my rescue, Mr Darcy. Jane was telling me that it was you who went down into the hole to bring me back to safety.” Elizabeth said with a smile, though her cheeks turned a brilliant shade of red. “I am grateful for your kindness, Mr Darcy, and grateful that you were not harmed in the process.”
“Lady Elizabeth, I could do nothing different. If I had remained up on top, I would have gone mad with the need to see you safe.”
“Mr Darcy, I believe Jane and I need to discuss something down the hall. Would you be kind enough to keep Elizabeth company until our return?” Mr Bennet asked, surprising his daughters. “The maid will be in the corner of the room, if you should require any assistance.”
“It would be my honor to keep Lady Elizabeth company. Take whatever time you need.” Darcy stated, a smile gracing his face, making his dimples show. The sight was enduring and set Elizabeth’s heart to racing.
Darcy took the chair beside the bed and smiled at the chance he was give. “Lady Elizabeth, I was praying for a few moments to speak with you.”
“We have spoken often, Mr Darcy. What is it you wish to speak of?”
“I was wondering if you would allow me to court you. I know, from your father, that you have mistaken my interest in you, and wish to show you who I truly am.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Mr Darcy, I am grateful for your interest. I wonder though, how is it you have decided to you wish to court me. According to your words, the night we met, I was not handsome enough to temp you.”
“How I wish those words had never been spoken. Lady Elizabeth, forgive my foolishness. In truth, I had received a letter from my aunt, Lady Catherine, just a few hours before the Assembly, and I was still quite bitter. Bingley was driving me to distraction with his insistence that I dance, and, to be honest, I never even looked in the direction Bingley pointed. After I learned it was you to whom he indicated, I felt the fool. It has been a long time now that I have determined you to be the handsomest lady of my acquaintance.”
He heard a small gasp from Elizabeth. “You are not only beautiful, you are intelligent, kind, caring, and devoted. The way you cared for Miss Jane when she fell ill at Netherfield, and even cared for the servant who was abducted with you, show your nature. I thoroughly enjoy debating with you, as you speak your views rather than defer to my opinion. Most ladies would accept the man’s view, but I love that you stand by your beliefs. And your views are not based solely on emotions, but on rational information you have garnered from reading and learning.”
Elizabeth’s eyes glistened with tears. She was overwhelmed by his words. “Mr Darcy, for so long, I thought you looked upon me only to find disapproval. Perhaps I believed the worst of you due to your harsh words at the Assembly. I must admit, I have seen a very different man since being here. You are relaxed and kind. Seeing the interactions with your servants, and the devotion they have for you, has greatly improved my opinion of you. Such devotion is earned, and it is clear that you treat your servants and tenants with respect.”
“I was raised to respect those who work for us, as they are the ones make my life what it is. If not for the tenants, there would be no income from the land. If not for the servants, my comforts would not be what they are. Mrs Reynolds has been like a mother to Georgiana and myself since our mother died. My steward has given me sound advice and watches over all on the estate. How can I expect them to do their work if I do not treat them fairly? If they do not have comfortable homes, food on their table, medical care when needed, and a reasonable income from their work, how can I expect them to do said work?”
“I know that is not a common belief in society. It speaks highly of your nature.” Elizabeth said, a shy smile on her lips. “And the way you care for your sister, taking on so much responsibility when you were so young. It speaks highly of your nature and upbringing.”
“I will thank you for my parents. They were good people who taught me well. I am grateful for all they taught me.” Darcy looked down at his hands.
“It is clear that you still miss them.”
“I do. Mother and Father were the best of parents. Their love and caring was obvious in all they did. And the lessons they taught me has made me the man I am now.”
Elizabeth thought for a moment. She had come to find Darcy attractive, and felt she had come to know him better. “Mr Darcy, I do not find the need for a courtship.” She said. Noticing his instant disappointment, she continued. “As a courtship is a step to further a relationship towards a marriage, so the couple can know one another better. If they already know one another, why not move past this step?”
Darcy’s eyes grew wide, praying he understood her meaning. “Lady Elizabeth, am I presuming too much? Am I wrong in presuming that you would make me the happiest of men, by accepting my hand in marriage?”
“You are not presuming too much, though I have yet to hear a proposal.”
Taking Elizabeth’s hand in his own, he placed a gentle kiss on the back of it. “Lady Elizabeth Bennet, would you do me the extreme honor of accepting me to be your loving husband?”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Jane could not help but smile as she watched Bingley pacing about the room. His frustration was so great that it was difficult for him to speak without his words being jumbled.
“Charles, please, come and sit with me. I wish for us to speak.” She said, patting the empty cushion next to her on the sofa.
Bingley moved to the sofa, but knelt before Jane instead of sitting next to her. “Miss Jane, please, I beg of you, forgive me for what has happened.”
“Charles, you are not your sisters. You did not assist them in bringing harm to my sister. And, when it was discovered, you were the one who did not believe your sisters and insisted they were involved in my sister’s disappearance. Due to you, Elizabeth was recovered quickly, and brought here to be tended. Had she been in that wet hole much longer, I am certain she would have taken a fever.”
“I should have done more to stop my sisters. Rather than ignoring them, I should have been more involved in what they were doing. They should have been removed from Pemberley sooner. I could have taken them to Town, and then returned to be with you. But I was so worried.”
“Worried? Why were you worried?” Jane asked.
“I was afraid that, if I were to leave Pemberley while Colonel Fitzwilliam was here, you would choose him for a husband.”
Jane laughed. “Charles, I like Colonel Fitzwilliam, and consider him a friend. But I do not love him. He has different dreams for the future, ones that I do not wish for myself. I plan to marry for love, not to better my circumstances.”
“And do you, love me?” Bingley asked, praying to hear her answer in the positive.
“I would not be here, speaking with you, if I did not. I do not approve of how your sisters have behaved, and I find their actions to be unforgiveable, but it does not take away the fact that my heart belongs to you. Many may think me foolish, as Colonel Fitzwilliam is the son of an Earl, and has his own land. But those things do not matter to my heart. I would not be happy married to Colonel Fitzwilliam.”
“I find you to be a foolish woman, Jane Bennet. You are a fool to love me as you do.” Bingley said as he brought Jane’s hand back to his lips, pressing kiss after kiss into the palm of her hand. “And I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you are such a fool. My fool.”
“We must discuss your sisters and the situation.”
Bingley nodded his head. “Go on, my dear.”
“They are never welcome in our home. No matter what happens, I will not have them in my home.”
“They will spend the rest of their lives in Scotland, as Hurst and I have made the arrangements. Once the payments for their supplies is settled, the solicitors and the bank can handle the payments. I have told them I will not be writing to them, and that I do not wish to hear from them.”
“And if, by chance, they write to you, what will you do?”
Bingley looked down at his hands, intertwined with Jane’s. “I will not open any letters from them. They will go directly into the fire. Once all the paperwork is through, I am completely rid of them. To my way of thinking, I will be an only child.”
Jane reached out a hand and caressed the side of his face. Fat tears began to overflow from Bingley’s eyes as the pain from the past days took hold of him.
Bingley’s head lowered, until it was on Jane’s lap. Tears flowed freely as Bingley let them rid him of the shame and fears he had felt. “I do not deserve you, Jane. Not after all that has happened. But I count myself fortunate to have your heart. I could not live if I thought I had lost you forever. You are the other half of my heart, and I would be empty without you.”
Over and over, Jane’s hand flowed over his hair. “Charles, we all make mistakes. It is what we learn from our mistakes that makes us who we are. If you did nothing to correct the mistakes, then I would have no alternative but to break our betrothal. You have learned what your sisters are truly capable of, and you are making the appropriate steps to be rid of their horrid behavior from your life. I love you more for having gone through this. Suffering is a part of life. Allow it to aid you in growing wiser and stronger.”
“Thank you, my dearest love. I will make you proud, I promise you will not regret your decision.” Bingley said, wiping his eyes. Lifting his head, Bingley looked at his fiancé. “I am truly the most fortunate man in the world. I love you Jane Bennet. And I always will.”
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth rested the remainder of the day, after informing her father she had accepted Darcy’s proposal. Sadie had climbed up on the bed beside Elizabeth, and the two slept peacefully, with Elizabeth’s fingers buried in the dog’s beautiful, long fur of tan, cream and black. When Mrs Reynolds came to check on Elizabeth, she smiled at the sight before her. Both of the patients had their injured leg positioned for protection, but their bodies snuggled together, bringing each other comfort.
The men had left Elizabeth to sleep, while they went to Darcy’s study to discuss details of the marriage contract.
Unknown to any of the ladies in his family, Mr Bennet had a bank account for Elizabeth, which had been set up by Constance, before her death. Her sister had seen to it that the account was available, in case Mr Bennet had needed anything for Elizabeth, but he had never touched a penny. In the account was more than forty thousand pounds. He had always planned on the funds being his daughter’s dowry.
Darcy was determined to settle forty thousand on Elizabeth, even before he knew she had any money saved for her. Learning the sum was so high, he spoke his mind to Mr Bennet.
“Sir, I wish to speak with Lady Elizabeth on the matter, but I do not see the need for her to have the entire sum settled upon her for a dowry. As you know, I am financially sound and my annual income is far higher than was estimated when I was in Hertfordshire. I believe I heard tell that I had ten thousand per annum. In truth, it is more than double that. The estate produces at least ten thousand per annum, but I am invested in many other areas. Not to mention the other properties I own. If your daughter does not mind, I would suggest dividing the savings between Lady Elizabeth and Miss Jane. The added funds would be of benefit to the Bingleys, allowing them a better start in their life. Bingley’s wealth is comfortable, but having a twenty thousand pound dowry added would be a blessing.”
“That is quite generous of you, Darcy. I have no doubt Lizzy would wish to give the money to her beloved sister. Though they are half-sisters, they were brought up as twins, and they love each other as such. Lizzy would do everything she could for Jane. We may have to speak with Lady Margaret, as the funds came from her family’s trust for Constance, but I do not see any harm in dividing the wealth.”
“Then, after we speak with Lady Elizabeth, if she approves, we can write to her aunt.”
Mr Bennet smiled. “As you are engaged to my daughter, you are within your rights to refer to her as Elizabeth, or Lizzy. You do not have to be so formal any longer, as to call her by her title.”
“It is difficult to believe she has agreed to be my wife. I have dreamed of this moment for so many months now, to have her truly agree to marry me seems as if I am still in my dreams.”
“A most beautiful dream, indeed. It pleases me to know my Lizzy will have the love match I wished to have had with her mother. And Jane will also have a love match. I could not be happier for them. They were both witness to the terrible marriage I had with Fanny, and neither of the girls wished to have such.” Mr Bennet wiped a tear which had escaped his eye.
“They are amazing young ladies, Mr Bennet. It is clear that you love them, and they love you. Nothing Mrs Bennet did could change that fact, or perhaps, it is due to her behavior they grew as strong as they have.”
Mr Bennet nodded his head in agreement. “They have always been loved, by me, by the Gardiners, and most of the people who have known them. Only Fanny could not love Elizabeth, and look at where her hatred has gotten her. Well, no more thinking of the past. We have a bright future ahead of us and I look forward to visiting your home many times in the years to come.”
Darcy laughed openly. “You are glad to visit my library and enjoy my stock of fine brandy.”
“Ah, yes, and I believe you should have a bed moved in the library. It would make my stay with you more comfortable if I did not have to go down the hall at the end of the day.” Mr Bennet smirked. “I grow tired of sleeping on your sofa.”
~~ ** ~~
After receiving Elizabeth’s enthusiastic approval to share her wealth with her dear sister, a letter was sent to Scotland to her aunt, announcing her engagement and asking approval to divide her inheritance.
“Lizzy, the funds were left for you by your mother. I have no rights to them.” Jane argued. “I do not need a dowry. Charles wishes to marry me, even without a dowry.”
“My you are my sister. We share the same father, and we have shared a life together. I beg of you, Jane, allow me to share this gift with you. My mother would have approved, I am certain of it. From what Papa and Aunt Maggie have told me of her, I know my mother would have loved you. Your happiness is important to me, and giving you half of my money would make you happy, I know it will.”
“Lady Elizabeth, as Jane told you, I asked for her hand when she had no dowry. I love her, and we will be well off enough without the dowry.” Bingley stated. “I appreciate the offer, but we will be comfortable.”
Elizabeth was frustrated. “My dearest sister, you must take the gift I am offering. If you do not, I will…I will…oh, I do not know yet, but I will think of something. Something ridiculous, that will make you regret not taking the money.”
Jane laughed at her sister’s silliness. “But Lizzy, it is your inheritance. I could not possibly take your inheritance from you. It is a gift from your mother.”
“And you are a gift from my father. It is natural to combine the two. Please, Jane, please take this gift. I beg you.” Elizabeth took hold of her sister’s hands as she pleaded.
After several moments of listening to her sister’s constant pleas, Jane could not hold out any longer. “Very well, I will do as you ask. But I will only accept ten thousand. We could take the other ten thousand and put it to good use.”
Elizabeth’s eyes grew as she thought of potential recipients for donations. After her experience in Liverpool, she would be pleased to be able to thank those who had come to her aid, with no thought of financial gain for themselves.
“Then it is settled. Unless there is any problem from stipulations as to how the inheritance is used, we will donate ten thousand pounds to charity. Perhaps we can begin a foundation in my mother’s name. In Liverpool.”
Darcy knew where her thoughts had turned. “You wish to assist Mr Miller and the Walker sisters in their efforts of freeing those who have been sold into slavery?”
Elizabeth nodded her head. “After all they did, I feel it would be a proper way of repaying them, as well as honor my mother. Perhaps a house where freed slaves could receive care until they could find employment and places to live. It could be Constance’s House.”
Mr Bennet nodded his head. “It would be a fitting way to honor your mother, Lizzy. And I have something I wish to suggest. Now that Lizzy will be marrying Mr Darcy, and will move here, and with Fanny and Lydia no longer living at Longbourn, I wish to invite Jane and Mr Bingley to reside at Longbourn with me. I will set aside some funds each year, and when I die, the money will come to you to purchase your own estate. Perhaps, by then, there will be an estate near Pemberley for you to purchase.”
Darcy smiled as he realized his future father was aware of Bingley searching Derbyshire for property he could purchase. “Bingley, I think you would learn from working beside Mr Bennet, seeing how to run a smaller estate. Then, it will not be so overwhelming when you purchase a larger estate later.”
Jane and Bingley looked at each other. Bingley was surprised, as Jane had, just recently, discussed their living at Longbourn. He knew it would make her happy, and he was well aware of how much he had to learn of being the master of an estate. It did not seem as daunting an experience as he thought of accepting Mr Bennet’s offer. “I believe my betrothed would be pleased by my words, as I will accept your offer, Mr Bennet.”
“Oh, yes, Charles. I wish to be of assistance to Papa and it would be a better way of learning what is needed to run an estate.” Jane declared, joyfully.
Darcy called for his best champagne and glasses. “This is a night for celebration.”
~~ ** ~~
The Gardiners were ready to leave for their home, which was a sad time indeed. The children were not wishing to leave their favorite cousins, Mrs Gardiner knew she would miss Elizabeth and Jane immensely, and Mr Gardiner stated he would miss the fishing opportunities he had enjoyed, though it was well known that he would miss his nieces very much.
It was decided that the weddings would be held in a joint ceremony at Longbourn, in one month. This would allow Elizabeth more time to recover from her fall, as her ankle was still tender.
And it would allow the young ladies to shop in London for their trousseaus. They had received a letter from Margaret stating there was no stipulations on the inheritance, and she felt Constance would have approved of Elizabeth’s decision. Margaret also sent her approval of her niece’s choice of husband. She would be in attendance for the weddings, as would her entire family.
A letter arrived from Elizabeth’s uncle, Albert, who planned to make the journey to Longbourn for the wedding.
A letter of congratulations was received from the palace, from Queen Charlotte. She had also decided to hire an artist to take Elizabeth’s likeness on canvas. She requested the artist make several copies of the portrait, as it would be a wedding gift to the couple, as well as an addition to the family portraits hung in the house in Brunswick. Mr Bennet and Margaret each wished to have smaller copies of the portrait for their own homes. Elizabeth was surprised by the gift from the queen. She felt a sense of acceptance by the family she had known for such a short time.
Lord and Lady Matlock had sent word from Town that they expected the couple to attend a ball they were giving in Darcy and Elizabeth’s honor, just a few days prior to the wedding. Lady Matlock was well known in society, and she planned to pave the way for her future niece to be accepted. Knowing his aunt and uncle supported his decision was a great relief to Darcy. He knew his aunt, Lady Catherine, would not approve of his bride, so having Lord and Lady Matlock’s support was a blessing in his eyes.
Princess Augusta sent a letter and a gift to Elizabeth, in honor of her engagement. She had commissioned a necklace and earbobs made of sapphires and diamonds. Sapphires were the color of Constance’s eyes, and Princess Augusta had the most exquisite set made. The center stone was sapphire, cut in the shape of a heart. The silver setting was made to look as if the diamonds were flower petals, with smaller sapphires in the center of each cluster of petals. The flowers grew smaller as they moved upwards, until they were extremely small upon reaching the back of her neck, near the clasp. Elizabeth was elated with the gifts she had received, and she was extremely grateful for the acceptance and love which was being freely given to her.
~~ ** ~~
Mr Hurst returned to Pemberley two days before the party was to remove to London. He had made all the arrangements and had the information needed for the solicitors to take charge of Caroline’s dowry and the settlement for Louisa, and pay their bills.
He stated that the trip was eventful, with Caroline protesting every mile of the journey. She had even tried to escape twice. But she soon discovered it was foolishness.
The estate had a small cottage which was where the sisters would live. There was a barn with a cow and several hens, so they would have fresh milk and eggs. The maid who was hired had a husband who would tend the animals, chop firewood, and see to repairs needed about the place. The disgraced postilion would serve as footman and assist the maid in cleaning. The cook was a widowed woman, with no family. Her main stipulation was that each month, a delivery of books and sewing supplies be sent. With those items, she could endure the cruelty of the sisters.
The staff were also informed to send word immediately if the sisters made any attempt to escape the estate. Mr and Mrs Holton, the maid and her husband, laughed when they received the order.
Mr Holton had lived in the area all of his life. “No one ever escapes this land. And I do not see the likes of those ladies walking such a distance or attempting to ride the cow. But if they make such an attempt, I will see word be sent.”
With the staff hired, deliveries of supplies ordered on a weekly basis, and the trio of criminals deposited in their private jail, Hurst bid farewell to his wife for the last time and left her.
“I was surprised that Louisa did not complain during the entire trip. She hardly said two words. But the pot was brewing, and I am willing to take bets that there was a fight shortly after I left them.” Hurst reported to his brother in law.
“Where do you plan to go?” Bingley asked.
“To Town. I wish for some culture and entertainment to cleanse my mind of those foul sisters of yours.”
“Then you should stay with me at the townhouse. After my betrothed and her sister have done some shopping, and we enjoy some entertainment, we will be making the journey to Longbourn, to prepare for the wedding.”
Mr Bennet spoke. “Indeed, Mr Hurst, you must join us at Longbourn as well. There is plenty of room there, as I have sent word to my housekeeper to prepare all the room.”
“Thank you, Mr Bennet. Perhaps I shall.”