Since I took a break from posting during the holidays, I will be posting twice this week. Hope you enjoy.

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Chapter 5

“Lizzy, your aunt sent something for you to eat.  She says you have not been eating properly, so please, take the time to do so.  We worry about your health.”

Elizabeth was saddened to know she was causing her loved ones further fears.  She had felt guilty for all that they had been through for her, including the breech in the family.  In her mind, it was all her fault that her father had died, not the Gardiners.

“Forgive me Uncle, I have not felt up to eating of late.  I will try to do better.”

“Lizzy, my dear girl, you do not have to do better for me.  You must do so for yourself.  Do you believe your father would wish to see you in such a manner?  He loved you, as we do.  I know it has been a full year now, and that you still struggle with the loss.  But it is time to move forward.  Thomas Bennet would not have approved of wallowing in self-pity.  It is time you show the world that you are just as strong as he was.”

Elizabeth nodded her head before returning her gaze to the papers on her desk.  “Charles sent you a letter of introduction for his friend to come see you.  The gentleman wishes to invest and Charles told him that investing with you would be the wisest decision.” She handed her uncle the letter.  “The man’s name sounds familiar, though I cannot place it.”

“I have never heard of him, but that does not matter.  I will send a message to him asking for a meeting to be arranged.” Mr Gardiner leaned over and placed a kiss on his niece’s hair.  “And Benjamin told me that you promised to read to him when you are home tonight.  I was to remind you for him.”

A soft chuckle escaped from Elizabeth.  “He has already reminded me three times since I made the promise last night.”

“He is persistent, and knows what he wants.  When I am old and grey, I believe he will be more than capable to take over the business.”

“Indeed.  Why, he might even be able to take over next year, after he turns seven.” Elizabeth teased.  “He has even decided that he will marry Miss Alice Frost when he turns eight.  Benjamin insisted on waiting until then to marry.”

“That is my son for you.  At least he has good taste in young ladies.” Mr Gardiner stated as he laughed.

~~ ** ~~

Fitzwilliam Darcy arrived at Gardiner’s Imports at the appointed time for his meeting.  He was not sure about doing business with someone who was located in Cheapside, but he knew his friend would not put him in danger.  He exited his carriage and entered the warehouse, looking all about.

“Scues me Sir, might I be of service?” A young man asked.

“I have a meeting with Mr Gardiner.  My name is Mr Darcy.”

“Mr Gardiner is talkin’ to the foreman, but you can go to his office.  Up them there stairs, and the first door on the right.  I will let him know you be there.”

Darcy walked to the staircase, and began to climb them.  From the stairs, Darcy was able to see further in the warehouse.  It was clean, orderly, and well stocked, from what he could see.  Turning his attention back towards the office, he soon had his hand on the doorknob and was entering the room.  He was not prepared to find anyone in the room, let alone a young lady.

“Forgive me, I was told to come up here to wait for Mr Gardiner.” Darcy said nervously.  “Perhaps I should return downstairs.”

Elizabeth had barely looked up from her ledgers.  “You may have a seat.  My uncle will be only a few moments, as he needed to speak to the foreman.  He had special instructions for the delivery of some item due to arrive today.”

“Thank you.  I am grateful for your kindness.”

“No need to thank me.  It is common curtesy.  There is no reason you cannot remain here until my uncle returns.  Elizabeth said, continuing her work.

“Might I be so bold as to ask your name?” Darcy asked.

“I am Miss Elizabeth Bennet.  My uncle is Mr Edward Gardiner.”  Just then, Elizabeth’s eyes grew round as she looked at the gentleman before her.  “You…you…why are you here?”

Darcy frowned.  “Do I know you?”

Hearing a noise from behind him, Darcy turned to see an older man entering the room.  “Ah, Mr Darcy, I presume.”

“Indeed.  You are Mr Gardiner?”

“I am.  And I see you have already met my niece.”

Darcy glanced back at Elizabeth.  “We have just met, though it seems your niece is familiar with me.”

“Lizzy, are you well?” Mr Gardiner asked, seeing the look of dismay she wore.

“He…he…he was the one.”

Darcy’s brow furrowed.  “I am the one?  The one, what?”

Suddenly, Mr Gardiner realized what his niece was speaking of.  “Mr Darcy, forgive me, but were you in a carriage accident a little over a year ago?  It was during a severe storm and happened outside Ramsgate.”

This surprised Darcy.  He had kept most of the story from society, as the entire incident and what happened afterwards was part of the darkest time in Darcy’s life.

“How…how would you know of that?”

Mr Gardiner stepped to his niece’s side.  “My niece survived the other carriage that was involved.  She spent the first days after the accident tending you, despite her own injuries.”

“I do not remember anyone, outside my cousin who was with me when I woke.  I was told that I had been unconscious for nearly a week.”

“Your head injury was grievous, but you also had a fever building.” Elizabeth said.  “And you had lost a vast amount of blood from the cut on your forehead.  I can see the scar from here.”

“Why is it I have never heard of you before this moment?  You were not at the inn when I woke, nor have I heard your names before.” Darcy was attempting to persuade himself that this was a mistake.

“My niece was injured, and her father perished in the accident.  And there was an… incident at the inn, my niece was embarrassed and wished to leave immediately after we arrived.”

“What sort of incident?  I know nothing of an incident involving you.”

Elizabeth looked down at her hands.  “I had injured my leg in the accident.  Due to the injury, for me to tend you, I had to sit on the bed beside you.  There were only the innkeeper, his wife and son to manage everything.  I felt it was my duty to assist in some way.  While Mrs Carridan fixed meals and cleaned, her husband and son had to care for the animals and see that their property was kept functioning.  Where I could not walk, it was easier for me to sit with you, tending your needs.  Thus, when your cousin arrived, he mistook me for a fortune hunter, and he let me know his feelings clearly.”

“What did he say?” Darcy was confused.  He had no memory of anyone other than his cousin and a nurse that had been hired to see to his care.

Elizabeth’s cheeks turned a vivid shade of red.  “I cannot say, Sir, for it was nothing a proper young lady would do.”

A knot in his throat made it difficult for Darcy to swallow.  He knew his cousin could be harsh, but to speak rudely to a young lady would be quite unusual.

Mr Gardiner could sense the discomfort in the room and wished to calm the situation.  “Well, it is a blessing that both of you survived the accident.  Only one other survived, the Bennets’ driver.  So the three of you still alive is a miracle.”

“Your father lost his life in the accident?” Darcy asked.

Tears were welling in her eyes as the memory of the accident and the days after flashed before her eyes.  “Yes, my father, Mr Thomas Bennet of Longbourn, in Hertfordshire.”

Elizabeth’s eyes continued to look down, so she was unable to witness the pain which was etched in Darcy’s eyes.

“I lost my father several years ago, so I can imagine the pain you must have suffered.  And to be injured as well, with no aid to care for you, it must have been a difficult time for you.  Please accept my apologies on behalf of my cousin.  I am certain that his emotions overcame his rational thoughts.  He is a colonel in the regulars, and is prone to jump feet first into a situation and apologize later.  With your departure, he did not have a chance to apologize to you.”

Elizabeth nodded slightly.  “Uncle, perhaps it would be best if I were to return to the house.  You and Mr Darcy have business to discuss and I would not wish to interrupt.”

“Lizzy, you do not need to leave.  I am sure that Mr Darcy is a sensible man.  He is, after all, the best friend of your new brother.” Mr Gardiner replied.

“Yes, Miss Elizabeth, I would like it very much if you were to remain.  From what Bingley has said, you are as well versed as Mr Gardiner.”

Elizabeth finally looked up, taking in the measure of the man before her.   After several moments, she decided to stay for the meeting.

For nearly an hour, Mr Gardiner described the workings of the investment which Bingley had spoken of to his friend.  Though Darcy tried hard to concentrate, his eyes continued to stray back to the young lady before him.

“Mr Darcy, might I offer you some refreshments?  I have some brandy which I just received, and it is one of the finest I have ever sampled.  Or Lizzy has some tea brewing, I am sure.”

“As it is still early in the day, tea would be welcome.  If it is not too much trouble.” Darcy added.

“No trouble at all, Sir.” Elizabeth said as she stood from her chair.  It was only then that Darcy notice her difficulty.  Elizabeth took hold of a cane in each hand.  Darcy’s eyes went round as he witnessed Elizabeth making her way across the room.

“Please, Miss Elizabeth, there is no need to put yourself out for me.  It is not necessary.”

Elizabeth looked at Mr Darcy, then noticed he was staring at her canes.  Embarrassed, Elizabeth looked down.  “It is no trouble, Mr Darcy.  I do so every day for my uncle.”

She closed the door behind her as she made her way to the area which was used as a makeshift kitchen inside the warehouse.  If he only knew how I came to need these canes to aid me in walking.

~~ **  ~~

“Mr Gardiner, forgive me for asking, but was your niece born lame?”

“No, she received the injury during the accident.” Mr Gardiner stated.  “She should have remained in bed until the bone knit, but she did not.”

Darcy frowned.  “Why would she not do as was best for her health?”

“My niece put the needs of the others at the inn above her own.  She was in severe pain, both from her leg being broken and from the loss of her beloved father.  If she had remained in bed, I believe the melancholy would have overwhelmed her.  Instead of staying in her bed, Elizabeth tended you.”

“Her leg was broken in the accident?  She stated it was only injured.”

Mr Gardiner took his glasses from his face and placed them on the desk.  “Mr Darcy, my niece has endured much since that day.  Not only did she lose her father, her leg was broken.  Because of her moving about, especially the journey in our carriage to return here, the bone was unable to mend properly.  Instead, she is in pain daily.  But Lizzy will not take any medication to ease the pain.  And she is adamant that we not coddle her.  She walks here from our house, and walks home each night.  Lizzy even refused to take the room we were planning to use for her on the main floor of our house.  It was a sitting room, and my wife thought it would be better for Lizzy.  But Lizzy would not have it.  She climbs the stairs to sleep in the room we had used for guests.”

“Good God, is there no way to convince her to be practical?  It is not a sin to acknowledge pain.” Darcy was shocked.

“Lizzy will not hear of it.  You see, after I left her at our home, with my wife, I took Thomas Bennet’s body to Longbourn.  My sister, Lizzy’s mother, began spouting nonsense, claiming it was mine and Lizzy’s fault for the accident, for she declared that we forced Thomas to make the journey.  Since the day that Lizzy left her home with her father, she has not been allowed to return to her family home.  And her mother has refused to allow contact between Lizzy and her sisters.  Fortunately, the eldest, Jane, has been able to see Lizzy when the Bingleys are in Town.”

Darcy shook his head.  He had had a difficult time during the past year, but to be refused the love and comfort of one’s own mother and siblings must have been unbearable.  “Mr Gardiner, if there is anything I can do to be of assistance to your niece, you need only ask.”

“If you know of anyone who requires a nanny or governess, who would treat Lizzy properly, we would appreciate a recommendation.  I do not like having to subject Lizzy to this environment, day in and day out.  It is not fitting for a young lady who was gently bred.”

“I might have a situation that would be perfect.  Allow me to make some inquiries and get back to you.” Darcy stated, just as Elizabeth returned.  He was amazed to see her carrying a tray which had been especially made to attach to her canes, allowing her to combine the two tasks.

“Please, allow me to assist you, Miss Elizabeth.” Darcy said as he stood.

“I need no assistance, Mr Darcy.  As you can see, I am perfectly capable of handling the tray on my own.”

“Very well, though I wish for you to know that you do not have to prove yourself to me.  I believe there is no sin in asking for help when needed.”

Elizabeth flushed red.  “It is my responsibility to take care of myself.  My father is gone, and my uncle has enough burden with his own family.  I insist on doing what I can to lessen the load from my uncle’s shoulders.”

Darcy looked towards Mr Gardiner and could tell by the man’s expression that he did not see his niece as a burden.  “Miss Elizabeth, I would appreciate your allowing me to assist you.” He said as he took hold of the tray, lifting it from her canes and placing it on the desk where Mr Gardiner motioned.

~~ ** ~~

On the way to his townhouse, Darcy reflected on his day.  Learning all that Elizabeth Bennet had lost due to the events surrounding the carriage accident, Darcy could relate with the pain he suffered from then.

Darcy was told that he had been unconscious for nearly a week, and had suffered from a fever the entire time.  His cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam, was at his side when Darcy finally returned to the land of the living.  Two days after he woke, Darcy and Richard made the journey to Town, to Darcy House.

During the journey is when Darcy learned of his sister’s fate.  He openly wept upon learning his sister’s condition.  “William, I do not know how she will be when we arrive.  When I left, she was lying on the bed, curled up like a babe, and unresponsive.  She has not uttered a word since I found her.”

“I wish Wickham was found, for I would dearly love to run him through with my blade.” Darcy said, as he stared out the window.  “To think my father thought so highly of his godson.  I wonder what my father would think of him now.”

“All we can do now is to care for Georgiana.  She needs us more than ever.  If you were to kill Wickham, you would most likely end up in prison or hang for it.  What good would that do for her?”

Darcy angrily wiped the tears from his cheeks.  “At least that blackguard would never be able to harm another lady.”

“I have it on good authority that he has left England.  He and Mrs Younge were said to have boarded a ship to the continent.” Richard said.  “If he ever returns to England, we will see that he is dealt with.”

Seeing his sister in such a state was heartbreaking to Darcy.  He had always been close to Georgiana, being more of a father figure to her than her big brother.

For months, Georgiana remained in this state.  Her brother and cousin hired the best nurses and staff to tend to Georgiana’s needs, but there was no change in her behavior.

It was soon discovered that George Wickham had left behind another surprise for Darcy.  Georgiana’s body began changing, making it clear that she was increasing.  Her body began wasting away from her mind shutting down.  Nearly eight and a half months after the carriage accident, Fitzwilliam Darcy became the guardian of a set of twin girls.  Holding them in his arms, tears of joy and pain flowed from the corners of his eyes.  The girls were perfect copies of their mother, blonde ringlets and piercing blue eyes, the shape of their features, all reminded Darcy of his beloved sister.

Two days after the twins were born, Georgiana Darcy passed away in her sleep.  Her body had been weak, but it lasted long enough for the babies to be given to her brother.  Darcy had his sister’s body taken to his estate, burying her next to their parents in the Darcy family cemetery.  As the remains of his sister were lowered into the ground, Darcy made her a promise.  Her daughters would be loved and cared for all of their lives.  He would see that they were always tended and cherished as he had done for Georgiana.

Darcy knew the girls would not be accepted in society, as his sister had been ruined by Wickham.  But he could not bring himself to part from them.  With his parents and Georgiana gone, the twins were all that was left of his family.

Entering the nursery, Darcy walked over to the crib where the girls slept together.  He had named them Emelia Anne and Edith Rose, each of the girls given names of their great grandmothers.  They were sweet natured children, never giving their nursemaids any problems.

One of the nursemaids had recently tendered her resignation, as she planned to move in with her parents who were elderly and in poor health.  All the way to Darcy House, the great man pondered a decision.

Mrs Duncan, the housekeeper, entered the room.  “Master William, I received word that you wished to speak with me.”

“Yes, Mrs Duncan. Have you found a new nursemaid to replace Bettina?”

“No, Sir, I was planning to hold interviews later this week.  Between the time Bettina leaves and we hire someone new, Sally will be able to care for the girls.  They are so small at the moment they are not as difficult to handle. In a few months though they will be keeping their nursemaids plenty busy.”

“I may have someone to take the position.  She is the niece of the man I met with today.  She has a bad leg, but that should not prevent her from her duties.”

“A crippled girl, Master William?  Is that wise?  There are so many young ladies who are fit and sound.”

“This young lady was injured during the carriage accident last year.” Darcy said as he continued to watch his nieces.  “She lost her father, and needs a situation which will be kind to her.  I believe she will give proper care to the girls.”

Mrs Duncan was surprised, as her master rarely spoke of the carriage accident.  “Forgive me, I did not mean to cause you pain.  I know that time was difficult for you and your sister.”  She had been the housekeeper for many years, so she well knew what had happened.  Mrs Duncan had seen to Georgiana Darcy’s care personally, along with two other maids and two nurses.  The sweet girl was so thin and her body ravaged by Georgiana’s malady and then carrying the twins.  Many long hours she witnessed Darcy sitting beside his sister’s bed, reading to her as he held her hand.  It had been the prayer of all the Darcy House and Pemberley servants that Georgiana would recover, but very few held out hope.

“I believe there was a reason for my meeting Miss Elizabeth.  We both have healing to do.  I am certain that she will be a diligent worker and take care of the girls, along with Sally.”

Mrs Duncan nodded her head.  “When should we expect her?”

“I will send a message to her uncle, inviting him and Miss Elizabeth to come here tomorrow.” Darcy noticed little Emily squirming, her little eyes opening slightly.  “I will make the offer to Miss Elizabeth then, and she can meet the girls.”

“Very good, Master William.  Will there be anything else?”

“Has Richard come by today?”

“Your cousin is in his rooms.  He returned from visiting his mother an hour ago.”

Darcy nodded.  “I will speak with him later.  For now, Miss Emmy is requiring my attention.” He picked up his niece, carrying her over to the rocking chair he frequently used.  Once situated in the chair, he lifted the book from the nearby table.  “Shall we continue the story we were ready, Emmy?”

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

Chapter 6

“Lizzy, we received an invitation to meet with Mr Darcy at his townhouse tomorrow at eleven.  I sent a reply accepting the invitation.”

“Uncle, there is no reason Mr Darcy would wish for me to be present.  He will only wish to speak with you on the investments.” Elizabeth said as she hobbled along beside her uncle on their way home.

Mr Gardiner shook his head. “No, Lizzy, the invitation specifically invited both of us.  Mr Darcy wishes for you to attend with me.”

“I do not know why he would wish to have me there.” A frown developed on her brow.

“I am not sure, but he is a good man.  Charles would never have directed him to do business with me if he were not. So you had best be prepared to join me tomorrow.  Wear your nice gown, the green one.”

~~ ** ~~

“Richard, there you are.” Darcy said as he found his cousin in the game room.

“I did not know you were looking for me.” Richard Fitzwilliam said as he struck the pool ball with stick.

“Well, I wish to have a conversation with you, for I learned some information today that you neglected to share with me.”

Richard frowned.  “I do not know of what you are speaking.”

“Would you join me in my study?  It believe it would be easier to have a discussion there, over a glass of brandy.”

“Very well, Cousin, lead on.”

Once they were settled in the study, each with a glass of fine brandy, Darcy began.  “You never told me of the people who were in the other carriage involved in the accident last year.  Why is it you did not?”

Richard thought about the previous year.  So many things had happened, with rescuing Georgiana, finding Darcy and seeing to his and Georgiana’s health, the twins’ birth and their mother’s death.  “With you and Georgiana requiring care, it must have slipped my mind.  There was a young lady, she had been injured.  I believe it was her leg, broken, if memory is correct.”

“Miss Elizabeth Bennet.  And yes, she had a broken leg.” Darcy took another sip of his brandy.  “I learned today of your accusations that the young lady was attempting to compromise me.”

Having been in the middle of taking a drink, Richard suddenly began to choke.  After a few moments, with his cousin clapping him on the back, Richard was finally able to speak.

“I remember her lying on the bed, beside you, when I entered the room.  The door was standing wide open, for everyone to see her behavior.”

Darcy looked at his cousin for a moment before speaking.  “It was due to her broken leg that she lying on the bed rather than sit in a chair.  And the reason she was in my room was she was tending me, due to the fever and my injury.”

“I know, as the innkeeper and his wife informed me of the information.  But I had my hands full with seeing to your needs.  By the time I went to apologize, her relations had arrived and taken her away.  The innkeeper said they did not know where she was from, somewhere pass London.”

“Hertfordshire.”

“How is it that you are now aware of the situation?” Richard asked.

“I met the young lady today.  And I learned of the events which happened due to the accident.”

Richard became defensive.  “Is she attempting to benefit from the accident?  Is she demanding some sort of compensation for her care?”

Darcy shook his head.  “No, on the contrary, she does not expect any assistance from anyone.  Did you know her father died in the accident?”

Seeing Richard nod his head, Darcy continued.  “Her leg did not have a chance to heal properly, and she still has pain, and requires canes to aid her.  She also lost her home and family, as her mother blames her for her father’s death.  Because of mother’s foolishness, she is not permitted to have contact with her sisters.  The father’s estate was entailed away from the female line, so a distant cousin took possession of it, leaving the mother and four sisters living in a small cottage, with very little funds to pay for their needs.  The eldest sister is the one who is now Charles Bingley’s wife.”

“Bingley married a young lady so far beneath him?”

“Have a heart, Richard, the family was nearly destroyed from the father’s death in the accident.  And I have met her.  It is a love match, of that I am certain.  Mrs Bingley is a good natured lady, very pretty, and devoted to her husband.  Due to her marriage, she is also able to have contact with her sister, Miss Elizabeth.  Bingley has done some investing with the uncle, Mr Gardiner.  He and his family have taken Miss Elizabeth in, and she has been assisting at his warehouse.  Mr Gardiner said that it was not necessary, though his niece insists on paying her way.  Mr Gardiner also asked to inform him if I hear of a position as governess position come open.”

“You are thinking of the twins?  Would you have a crippled woman taking care of them?” Richard asked.  “Remember, you made me joint guardian of the babes.”

“I was indeed thinking of the girls.  We are in need of another to tend them, and it would be perfect to be able to give Miss Elizabeth a comfortable situation.”

“But she is crippled.  How can she do the duties that would be required of her?”

Darcy chuckled.  “I watched her carry a tray which was filled with refreshments for her uncle and myself. She had the tray made to fit over her canes, so she was able to carry it. When I offered to assist her, she refused.  Her uncle stated that she is adamant about doing things for herself.  I have no reason to fear that she can handle the girls.”

Richard contemplated the situation. “I am not certain we should risk having her care for the girls.  They are only babes, what if she were to drop one of them?  They could be injured or even killed.”

“Unfortunately, that could happen with anyone.  I heard that Lady Farnsworth’s grandson slipped out of his nursemaid’s arms, striking his head on a table, causing a gash which bled all over Lady Farnsworth’s gown.  And there was nothing crippled about the nursemaid, it was an accident.  I believe Miss Elizabeth will be able to take care of the children, as she is diligent and determined.  She is also intelligent, which is an added bonus to the girls as they grow up.  The girls will have a difficult enough time in society, they will need all the assistance they can get.  If they are taught by a gently born lady, so much the better.”

“I will withhold my objections until I see for myself that she can handle the twins.  After I see proof that she is capable, I will give my approval.” Richard said as he stood to take his leave of the room.  “I will see you at dinner.”

~~ ** ~~

The butler knocked on Darcy’s office door.  “Enter.” Darcy called out.

“Sir, there is a Mr Gardiner and Miss Elizabeth Bennet here to see you.” Ashton stated.

“Yes, send them in.” Darcy replied.  Standing, Darcy walked around the desk to greet his guests.  He shook hands with Mr Gardiner and bowed to Elizabeth.  “Thank you both for coming.  I have some business to discuss with you.”

“I must say that I was surprised to receive your invitation, especially your requesting my niece to come with me.” Mr Gardiner replied.

“If you do not mind, I wish to explain to you why I was on the road, leaving Ramsgate, the day of the accident.”

“By all means, you are welcome to speak.”

“Miss Elizabeth, while you and your father were making the journey to holiday with your loved ones, I had just left the house I had leased for my sister, Miss Georgiana Darcy.  When I arrived there, I learned that my sister had left earlier that day, with her companion and a man.  The man was someone who had once been a boyhood friend of mine, though as he grew up, he became someone I would never approve of being near my sister.  He is a scoundrel, leaving debts of honor and ruining young ladies wherever he goes.  Knowing he was with my sister made my leaving to follow after them imperative.”

“After I regained consciousness, I learned from my cousin that the blackguard had held Georgiana hostage.  Not being able to locate me, he went to my cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, who was Georgiana’s other guardian.  Richard paid the ransom, but Georgiana had been terribly abused in the care of her companion and Mr Wickham.  It was later discovered that the pair had been intimately known to each other before the woman became my sister’s companion.  Georgiana was unresponsive, curled up in her bed, unable to speak, for months after the incident.  Unfortunately, we discovered that she was also with child.  After the carriage accident, I never heard my sister say another word, nor did she acknowledge my being near her.  When her eyes were open, they stared off at nothing. Nothing the physicians suggested was of use.  Shortly after she gave birth to twin daughters, my beautiful sister died.  She was only fifteen years of age.”

Elizabeth gasped at the tale which was being told her.  It was unfathomable to learn of such evil, especially having been born a gentlewoman.

Darcy’s eyes looked at her, attempting to discover if she was appalled at the situation, and if so, if her heart would have sympathy for innocent babes.

“I have been told by many that I should have sent my sister away while she was with child, and that I should find homes for her daughters.  But I cannot.  My parents died when I was young, and Georgiana was the only family I had left.  Now that she is gone, her daughters are all that is left of my family.  It was not her fault that the blackguard forced himself on her, nor is it to be blamed upon her daughters.  The girls did not ask to have a father who was a scoundrel, it is just what it is.”

“This is quite a tale, Mr Darcy.” Elizabeth said.  “And it pleases me to know that you hold no ill will towards the babes.  I have never understood the habit of those who blame babies and children who were born of such an unfortunate situation.  Their births were not evil, as God sees them born with a clean slate, starting fresh and new.”

“I am grateful for your understanding, Miss Elizabeth.  Your uncle asked me yesterday if I would keep you in mind if I heard of a position of nanny or governess would come available.  As one of the nursemaids who tends the girls has left to care for her ailing parents permanently, I wondered if you would be interested in the position.  You are welcome to meet the girls, see the nursery, before you make a decision.”

Mr Gardiner knew what his niece would say, from the moment of hearing Mr Darcy’s story.  And he was pleased.  He knew Elizabeth had a caring heart, and that she adored children, having witnessed her with his own children for years.

“If it is not too much to ask, Mr Darcy, I would like to meet the babes and see where my niece would be working, if she takes the position.” Mr Gardiner smiled to himself.

Elizabeth still had not said a word, so Darcy stood as he spoke.  “Please, come with me.  The girls should be awake right now.”

The trio took the stairs slowly.  “I know there are quite a few stairs, Miss Elizabeth, but in the back of the house we have a lift that is on a crank system. Rather than walking up and down the stairs, you can enter a box which is connected to ropes and pulleys.  Depending on which way you turn the crank, you can either go up or down.  It is quite useful.  We have one installed at my estate home of Pemberley.  We use it if items are too awkward or too heavy for the men to take up or down the stairs.  If you wish to use it, you are welcome to do so.  It is not far from the nursery.”

“We will see, Mr Darcy. I am able to make my way up and down stairs at my uncle’s home and at the warehouse.”

“I am well aware of your desire to do what you can.  I am only offering to a way to make things simpler for you, if you desire.  If you are not overtaxed from having to go up and down stairs often, it will allow you to be able to enjoy your time with the children.”

Elizabeth bit back a retort, realizing that the gentleman was being kind, not patronizing or showing sympathy for her.  “I thank you for your kindness, Mr Darcy.”

~~ ** ~~

Mrs Duncan was in the nursery, holding one of the baby girls, when Darcy ushered Elizabeth and Mr Gardiner into the room.  “Ah, Mrs Duncan, I see we find Emmy awake.”

“Indeed, Sir.  Both Emmy and Edith are awake and are excited to meet your guests.”

Darcy walked over to Sally and accepted the infant she held in her arms.  “Miss Elizabeth Bennet, this is my niece, Miss Edith Rose Darcy.  My housekeeper, Mrs Duncan, is holding my other niece, Miss Emelia Anne Darcy.  This is the other nursemaid, Sally Johnson.  Sally has been tending the twins by herself for a few days, after the other nursemaid left.”

Elizabeth took a step closer towards the housekeeper. Handing her canes to her uncle, Elizabeth reached out to accept the infant into her arms.  “Hello, Miss Emelia.  Did I hear your uncle refer to you as Emmy?”

Darcy smiled.  “I did.  Emmy and Edith is what we call them.”

Elizabeth placed a kiss on the top of the baby’s head.  “Miss Emmy, you are such a precious little bundle.  You and your sister have such lovely curls.  They remind me of my own sister.  Her name is Jane, and she has the same color of hair, like wheat in sunshine.”

“Just like their mother.” Mrs Duncan stated.  “There is a portrait in the gallery, when you wish to see Miss Darcy’s likeness.”

“That would be nice.  And, when the girls are older, they will wish to know what she looked like.” Elizabeth could not take her eyes from the sweet baby before her.

Mr Gardiner smiled and leaned closer to Darcy.  “I believe my niece has accepted the position.  And I know Lizzy well enough to know that you will not regret your decision.”

Darcy nodded.  He could see the instant bond which had developed between his niece and Elizabeth.  It impressed Darcy as she moved to Edith, showing the same care and devotion towards her as she had with Emmy.

“Well, Miss Elizabeth, do you think you would be interested in the position?” Darcy asked.

Without turning her gaze from the infants, Elizabeth replied.  “I am very interested in the position, Mr Darcy.”

~~ ** ~~

After Elizabeth was finally coaxed away from the babies, she followed Darcy and her uncle into a room down the hall from the nursery.  Darcy spoke to his guests. “This will be your room, Miss Elizabeth.  Sally’s room is on the other side of the nursery.  This door opens into the classroom, which is attached to the nursery.  If you wish, you may leave the door open at night so that you may hear the girls if they wake.  According to Mrs Duncan, the girls are starting to sleep longer at night.  Their wet nurses have a room across the hall.  The classroom also doubles as the dining room for the children, when they are older.”

“I have never had such a large room to myself.  And the quality, I feel as if I am a princess in a castle.” Elizabeth chuckled.

“There is a closet over here, and this door leads to the servants’ staircase.  Near the staircase, you will find the lift.  We have servants who will come each morning to build your fire, and they will bring heated water for your bath.  You will not be expected to do such chores, as your main concentration is to see to my nieces.”

“Of course, Mr Darcy.  I appreciate the luxury that is provided.  It is very thoughtful of you.”

“The pay is thirty pounds per annum.  You will also be provided an allowance to purchase clothing and boots as needed.  If there is anything that is needed for Emmy and Edith, speak with Mrs Duncan and it will be provided.  You will have one day a week to yourself.  Speak with Sally to determine which day you will take off.  You will also be given two weeks of leave each year.  Meals will be provided for you, as will any necessities you need.  And we have an account at Brookshire’s bookshop, so that you may purchase items you feel would be beneficial towards teaching the girls.”

“Mr Darcy, this is far too generous.” Mr Gardiner stated.

“It is the same as Sally receives.  I wish to know that the servants to take care of our family are treated fairly.  I cannot expect our servants to be loyal and hardworking if they are treated poorly.”

“A good philosophy,” Mr Gardiner agreed.  “I approve.  My staff and servants appreciate the way I take care of them, and they are loyal to me in return.”

~~ ** ~~

Mr Gardiner arrived home to find his eldest niece visiting with his wife.  “Jane, it is a pleasure to have you here.  I thought you were coming to Town next week.”  He embraced his niece, placing a kiss on her cheek.

“I could no longer tolerate Mamma and Lydia, so Charles was kind enough to bring me to Town sooner.  We had a difficult time convincing Mamma that she could not join us here.  She thought we should bring her and my sisters to purchase new gowns for them.”

“Well, I am glad you were able to escape her.  And I have news to share with you.”

Jane smiled.  “Shall we wait for Lizzy to join us?  Is she at the warehouse?”

“You sister has found employment.  She has spoken with me of her desire to find a position, as she claims to be a burden to us.  She is not a burden, though I understand her need to be independent.  But finding a position which would be good for her was difficult.  Fortunately, your husband sent his friend to speak to me of investing.”

“Mr Darcy?” Jane sounded surprised.  “What does Mr Darcy have to do with this?”

“He needed a nanny for his nieces.  He has hired Lizzy to care for the babies.”

Jane’s expression darkened.  “Lizzy cannot take the position.  It would be too difficult for her.”

“Far from it, Jane.  It is the perfect situation for your sister.  And Mr Darcy is a kind man, who will not take advantage of Lizzy.”

“But the children, they are tainted.  What happened to Mr Darcy’s sister was sad, but the children are part of that man.  Everyone knows about the situation, and Charles has told me of Mr Darcy’s family insisting he send the children away.  If Lizzy were to tend the children, the taint will spread to her.  It could even cause my younger sisters difficulties.  When Mamma hears of this, she will have a fit unlike any other.”  Jane was near tears as she spoke.

“Jane, Mr Darcy’s nieces are his only family.  It is not fair to him or to the babes to blame them for what happened to Miss Darcy.  Her virtue was taken from her, not given away in foolishness.  The poor girl was betrayed by her companion and someone she thought of as a friend of her family.  I have met the children.  You should have seen your sister light up as she looked at them.”

Jane stood up, her hands on her hips.  “Are you telling me that my sister is at Darcy House, with those children?”

“Indeed.  She is pleased with the position.  And I will not have you dousing her enthusiasm with foolishness.” Mr Gardiner announced.

With that, Jane bid her aunt and uncle farewell and left their house.  Jane was determined that she would make her sister see the foolishness in her decision.

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