Chapter 9

Lady Matlock was sitting calmly in the chair before the desk of Jonathon Pendleton, the Duke of Pennington, as the man looked over the papers in his hands.

“Whatever possessed you to behave in such a manner, Lady Matlock?  To openly admit that you planned to kidnap Mr Darcy’s nieces and give them to your husband’s sister, you have sealed your own fate.”

“My nephew is destroying our family with those infants.  His sister was ruined, and should have been cast off, for the sake of the family.  But Fitzwilliam Darcy determined that he would keep his sister with him, even after it was determined that she was with child.  It was a blessing that Georgiana died after giving birth, but it would have been better if the babes had not survived.  Lady Catherine has a particular investment in the matter, as she is not only family, her daughter and Darcy were arranged since birth to wed.”

“Then why did Lady Catherine not come to speak with your nephew?  Why is it you took the matters into your own hands?”

“I…I…did not stop to think after arguing with my nephew and his cousin.  I just reacted and did what I thought was the correct path.”

“Your nephew’s cousin?  Are you speaking of Richard Fitzwilliam, your second born son?”

“I have only one child, as the man you speak of is no longer a part of my life.  He has been disowned.”

The Duke was not surprised with the results of the rift in the family.  Richard Fitzwilliam was determined to be his own man, regardless of what his family felt.  When Richard was younger, he did not do as most second born sons and purchase his rank.  Richard started as a sergeant and earned each advancement he was given.  Now a colonel, it spoke volumes of the sort of man he was.  The Duke had heard that Colonel Fitzwilliam’s men all respected him, and would follow the young man anywhere.

“Lady Matlock, due to the nature of the crimes against you, and the fact that you admit to doing said crimes, it is my judgment that you be fined one thousand pounds, and are warned to keep away from your nephew, his homes, his staff, and especially his nieces.”

“One thousand pounds? That is ridiculous.  One thousand pounds to protect my family from destruction.  I will not pay it.” Lady Matlock snorted as she sat up straight and tall.

“Then you will be incarcerated for six months in the prison for women.  Those are your choices.”

Lady Matlock gasped.  “I am a member of the peerage, and you would force me to pay a thousand pounds or spend time in prison?  This is ridiculous.  My husband will not stand still for this insult.”

“Lord Matlock had best stand for it or he will find charges brought against him.  I will not allow a member of the peerage to behave in such a manner.  It was bad enough that you injured one of Darcy’s servants, but compound that with attempting to kidnap infants, these are crimes.  You committed criminal acts and now will pay the price.  If the young lady you struck had behaved as you did, you would be screaming for justice.  Believe it or not, Lady Matlock, she and the infants have the right for justice as well.”

Crossing her arms across her chest, Lady Matlock attempted to control her anger.  She had to make the Duke believe she would change her ways, all the while she would be plotting with her husband and his sister on how to rid their family of unwanted children.

~~ ** ~~

Caroline Bingley arrived at her brother’s townhouse in Town, much to his surprise.  “Caroline, you were not expected until the end of summer.  Where is Louisa and Hurst?”

“They are at his family’s estate.  I cannot abide spending time with his family, they are always so rude to me.” Caroline stated.  “Besides, I needed to come to Town to order some new gowns made, and visit with friends.”

“We have discussed your allowance, Caroline.  You do not have anything left of your monthly allotment to cover new gowns and I am not paying for any more.  You were to remain with our sister and her husband, as I am tired of paying for all the expenses you insist on charging to me.  I will not bend, I am standing by what I told you.”

“But Charles, how am I to be fit for society if you do not indulge me?  I cannot be seen in the gowns from last Season.  And if I am not seen, how will I ever find a husband?  You do wish to see me married well, do you not?”

“After three Seasons, I have no expectations of you ever finding a husband.  It is about time that you realize that you will not marry someone with a title or of the first circle.”

“There is always one man you can aid me in marrying, if you would only make an effort.  And with his unfortunate situation, he would most likely be pleased to have the support and kindness I could offer him.” Caroline attempted to plead with her brother.

Bingley shook his head.  “You had best wipe that notion from your mind.  Darcy told me years ago that he had no intention of ever marrying you and not to even attempt to push you towards him.  Even if you were to attempt a compromise, Darcy would never offer for you.”

This caused Caroline to gasp.  “Well, the mighty have fallen, now that society has turned its back on Mr High and Mighty Darcy.  He should have sent his sister to Scotland to his estate there, but he refused.  And now, I hear that he is raising her bastards in his home.”

“I do not wish to hear any comments with regards to what happened to Miss Darcy or of her children.  I cannot tolerate any further disdain for an innocent young girl who was violated and has died, and I most assuredly will not listen to more hateful words against two innocent babes. Darcy wishes to be raise the girls as his family, and there is nothing more to be said about the matter.” Bingley said in a tone which spoke of his unusual frustration.  “You will remain here for only a few days.  Jane and I will be returning to Netherfield on Friday.  You may journey there with us or you may return to our sister.  But you will not be allowed to remain here.”

~~ ** ~~

“Mother, when will Darcy come here to ask for my hand?  It has been frustrating me for months now.  I am tired of waiting for him.” Anne de Bourgh exclaimed as she flopped into a chair next to her mother’s.

“Anne, sit up straight.  A lady never slouches.  If you cannot behave properly, Darcy will not do his duty to you.”

“Ladylike behavior did not protect his sister from ruining our lives.  If it were not for Georgiana, I would have been married to Darcy a year ago, I am certain.  But she had to go to Ramsgate and be ruined.  And I would have thought Aunt Rebecca would have sent those bastards of Georgiana’s so they could be given away.  The sooner they are out of the way, the better.”

“Rebecca was to send the infants, but I received a letter from my brother, informing me that she was caught, due to a servant at Darcy House refusing to obey her demands.  And if that was not bad enough, the constable and the magistrate were called in to investigate.”

Anne was appalled.  “When I am Mistress of the house, you had best bet that servant will be out the door, and with no references either.  Disobeying a direct order from a member of the peerage, what will the world come to if servants do not know their place?”

“Now dearest, do not make yourself ill.  You know what happens when you become upset.” Lady Catherine attempted to calm her daughter.  “I will make the journey to Town in a few weeks, and I will make certain that all is handled properly.”

“Well, if you are going to Town, I shall go as well.  It is my right, as the future Mistress of Darcy House and Pemberley to inspect the houses and rid them of unwelcome servants.”

“We must use caution, my pet.  After your aunt’s botched attempt, your cousins will be on guard for any problems.  We will need to research the matter and use cunning to succeed.”

“Very well, Mother.  But I will have my way.”

~~ ** ~~

By the time Elizabeth took her day off to visit her aunt and uncle in Cheapside, her injuries were nearly healed.  Even so, her relations knew of the incident, as Darcy had personally gone to Mr Gardiner’s office to inform him.

“Lizzy, I must say, I am of mixed emotions over what happened.” Mrs Gardiner stated as she handed Elizabeth a cup of tea.  “I am proud of you for standing your ground and protecting the babe, but I am also frightened for you.  You could have been seriously injured by that woman.”

“Do not fret, Aunt Helen.  I am well.  And I would take worse injuries if it meant protecting Emmy and Edith from the likes of Lady Matlock.  Mr Darcy and his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, are so attentive to the girls, it is clear that they love the children as much as they did Miss Darcy.”

“They are unique in their behavior, I must say.  To keep not only Miss Darcy with them, but the infants after her death, speaks highly of the kind hearts the men have.” Mrs Gardiner took a sip of her tea.  “Your uncle speaks highly of Mr Darcy.  In the short time that he has known the gentleman, your uncle has come to respect him.”

“Aunt, your voice is telling me there is something else weighing on your mind.  Is something wrong?” Elizabeth asked.

“I did not wish to trouble you, Lizzy, not after all you have been through.”

Elizabeth placed a hand on her aunt’s arm, gently squeezing.  “Please, tell me what is troubling you, so that I might be of assistance.”

“It is your sister.  Jane was furious when she learned of your taking the position with the babes.  She feels that you will ruin the family by being involved with the taint with which the children will labeled.”

“How could Jane be so heartless?  Such thinking is so unlike her.  Before Papa’s death, she would no sooner condemn innocent babes than she would commit murder.”

Mrs Gardiner patted her niece’s hand.  “Lizzy, your sister has had to endure your mother and younger sisters this past year.  You and your father were not there to take the majority of Fanny’s disdain.  Jane never had to take all the venom your mother had to spew until after your father’s death, and I believe it is overwhelming to her.”

“But it is so unlike Jane to behave in such a manner.  Could a year of living with Mamma, with Papa and me there, really have caused such a change in my sister?”

“Unfortunately, it is possible.  Remember, your mother’s anger and hatred was mostly doled out to you.  Jane usually comforted you after your mother ranted her disapproval to you.  And your father was usually able to keep Fanny in line when he was alive.  Now she runs freely, doing as she pleases.  Before Jane married, Fanny did nothing to make their home life better.  From what I have heard from Mr Phillips, she laid about all day in her bed or on the sofa, bemoaning the tragedy which had befallen her.  Jane could not make Lydia behave, as Lydia was spoiled by your mother.  So it was left in Jane’s hands to do the work at the cottage.  And whenever Jane attempted to be frugal and save money, your mother would waste it on frivolous items which she or Lydia wished for.  Mr Phillips said that he had been told by Mary that Jane would sometimes go without food to make it stretch further for the rest of them, when Fanny would spend money on ribbons and such.  The wedding gown that Jane wore was the one Mrs Phillips wore twenty years ago.  None of Jane’s gowns were in suitable condition, nor could any of them be mended to be better.  It was not until after she married that Jane was able to purchase new clothing.  And then, Fanny insisted that new gowns be ordered for Lydia and herself.  She did not care about the other girls, only herself and her beloved Lydia.  Jane was said to be extremely upset with all that happened, though she could not speak of the situation with anyone.  Even now, with your mother and younger sisters living at Netherfield, Jane cannot even assert herself as the Mistress of the estate.  Fanny is insisting how things will be.”

“Jane should have set her foot down with Mamma.  She has always allowed others to rule over her.”

“The only area in her life she has control over is with you, Lizzy.  She controls when she is able to see you and write to you.  So she feels that she has the right to control your life.  Our Jane of two years ago is no longer.  That Jane was destroyed with your father’s death and your injury.  And this Jane wants desperately to have some sort of control over something in her life.” Mrs Gardiner stated.  “I feel sorry for Jane.  And if you rebel from her, refusing to do as she says, it will be the shattering point for Jane.  I believe that your sister will throw everything in her life away when you refuse to leave Darcy House and the children.”

~~ ** ~~

As Elizabeth arrived at Darcy House, she noticed a young lady of perhaps mid-twenties, knocking on the front door.  Having never seen the young lady before, Elizabeth was unsure who she was.

The butler opened the door, admitting the lady and Elizabeth inside.  The lady glared at Elizabeth, making it clear that she was not pleased with the arrival of another lady.

“Miss Elizabeth, the master stated that Miss Emmy is running a slight fever.  He has sent for Mr Foster to come check on her.”

“Thank you.  I will go up to see how she is.” Elizabeth said as she headed for the stairs.

“And just who is she?” The lady asked.  “Who is she to wander about Darcy House unescorted?”

“Miss Elizabeth is one of the nursemaids for the twins.  She lives here, near the nursery.”

Caroline Bingley was seething.  This would not do, to have a young lady living in the house, within such close proximity to Mr Darcy.  She would find a way to change the situation.  But then again, once the children were gone, Caroline was certain there would be no further problems.

“I am here to see Mr Darcy, on a matter of importance.”

“I am afraid that Mr Darcy is extremely busy today, as he has meetings all day.  If you wish to leave your card, I will see the master receives it.”

“Do you not recognize me?  Do you not realize who I am?  I am sister to his dearest friend.  You would lose your position if Mr Darcy were to learn how you have treated me.”

“Forgive me, Madame, but I am under orders that Mr Darcy gave me himself.  I cannot disobey my master’s instructions.  Now, if you wish to leave your card, I will see that he receives it when he is finished with his meetings.” The butler was pleased to be performing this duty, for he knew that his master disliked Caroline Bingley and would not wish to have to endure her visit.

Fuming, Caroline reached into her reticule and pulled out one of her cards, handing it roughly to the butler.  She then turned and marched down the steps and into her awaiting carriage.

~~ ** ~~

Elizabeth was sitting in the rocking chair in the nursery, holding Emmy in her arms.  “Miss Emmy, you have had a difficult day today.  The physician says that it is nothing more than a simple cold.  Your poor nose is all stuffy.  Sally will bring the hot water to us, so we can use some steam to clear your nose.”  She placed a kiss on the top of the girl’s golden curls.  “Now, while we wait, shall I tell you a story?  Perhaps one about a princess who found her prince had been turned into a frog.”

As she told the story, the babe calmed in Elizabeth’s arms, gently being stroked by her nursemaid’s hand.  Before long, Emmy’s eyes were closed and the girl was fast asleep.  Elizabeth continued to rock in the chair, holding her charge to her chest.

Before Sally returned with the hot water, Darcy happened to come to the nursery to check on his niece.  Seeing Elizabeth in the chair, her eyes closed, her hand stroking little Emmy’s back, as Elizabeth spoke softly of a princess.  The sight made Darcy smile.  He knew, the moment he laid eyes on Elizabeth Bennet, she was special.  He knew that there was a unique quality about her that was unlike any he had found before.

But he also knew she was still wounded, as was he.  What each lost after the accident was tremendous.  All he wished was to see Elizabeth Bennet find happiness.  Darcy was sure that he could never find happiness, not after all he had lost, but he held out hope for Elizabeth.  And if the twins were able to bring life to Elizabeth, so much the better.  He could see the love that was building between the girls and Elizabeth.  They would need as much love and caring as they could muster in their lives.

Elizabeth must have sensed his presence, as her eyes opened and she turned to look at him.  “Mr Darcy, forgive me.  Emmy has been a little restless, due to her nose being stuffy.  I finally got her to sleep, so I decided to remain here, letting her rest, rather than moving her and possibly waking her.”

“No need to apologize.  I was pleased to see her so comfortable.  Sally said that she was a little fussy and unable to rest properly.”

“At this angle, she is able to breathe better.  In her bed, she is unable to breathe as easy, which means her body cannot rest.  My aunt always does this when my cousins are ill.  She claims that the children also feel comfortable being keep snuggled, makes them feel secure when they are ill.  When you were a child, did you ever take ill?”

“I did.  As a matter of fact, I had a severe case of influenza which kept me in my bed for almost a month.  And I can remember my mother holding me in her arms, rocking in the very chair you are sitting in.”

Elizabeth smiled.  “And how did it make you feel?”

“As if all would be right as rain.  I was sure that nothing bad could ever happen if Mother held me close in her embrace.” Darcy gave a smile in return.  “Since my sister cannot be here to give her daughters the same comfort, I am pleased the girls have you in which to turn.”

“They are such sweet girls.  Your sister must have been just like them.”

Darcy’s eyes began to swim in unshed tears.  “Georgiana was a dear girl.  I loved her from the day our mother placed her in my arms.  She told me that it was my duty to protect my sister every day of my life.”

“Mr Darcy, you cannot wrap a person up in swaddling like you would an infant.  Your sister was a young lady, on the verge of entering society.  It was only natural to allow her to spread her wings.  How could you know that there was such evil lurking?  Unfortunately, fate decided on a different course.  But you were not left alone.  You were given two very precious gifts to protect and nurture.”

“Thank you, Miss Elizabeth.  With so many people telling me that I am a fool to keep the girls with me, it is a pleasure to have someone agree with my decision to raise them.” Darcy wiped the tears from his eyes.

“Do not give those people the time of day, Mr Darcy.  You have a heart of gold and the girls are better for having you love them.  It pleases me that someone of your position would turn away from society to protect the innocent.”

“Well, Miss Elizabeth, I will leave you and my niece to relax.  When she wakes, would you send word?  I wish to spend some time with her.”

Elizabeth nodded her head.  “Of course, Mr Darcy.”

~~ ** ~~

“We will be leaving in the morning, Caroline.  Are you traveling with Jane and me, or are you returning to stay with the Hursts?” Bingley asked his sister.

“I thought you were to be here for a few more days.  Why are you suddenly leaving tomorrow?”

“Because I have matters to tend to and my wife wishes to return to the country.  She is not pleased with being in Town.”

“But I have yet to visit with any of my friends.  I was expecting a message from Clare Burningham, as she was not home when I visited today.  I dearly miss her and wished to spend some time with her before leaving Town.”

Bingley was in no mood for his sister’s behavior.  He was still having a difficult time accepting his wife’s behavior and wished for some peace.  “Tomorrow, you will be leaving Town.  It is up to you to decide which direction you will be traveling.  I wish to know within an hour, or I will decide for you.”

As she watched her brother march from the room, Caroline Bingley was shocked with his behavior.  He had always been easy to manipulate, but after marrying beneath himself, as his sisters believed, had made obvious changes in his personality.

If only I could see Mr Darcy.  I need to speak with him.  Once he hears from me, I am certain he will wish for me to remain in Town, to be at his side.  He requires a hostess for his home, and I am the perfect person to fill the position.  After a while of seeing me fulfill the role, it will become a natural conclusion to make me the Mistress of his homes.

But how am I to see him?  His butler refused to allow me inside Darcy House, so how am I to meet with him?

Wait, I could send him a message, claiming a problem with Charles, which require his assistance as soon as possible.  He would come to help my brother, as Charles is one of his only friends left after his sister’s ruin.  Yes, that is what I will do.  I will send a message with a servant, with the directions that the message has to be given to Mr Darcy himself and immediately.  Then, when Darcy comes, I will be able to speak with him of my being of service as his hostess.  What can I say in the message?

A wicked smile crept on to Caroline Bingley’s lips.

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

Chapter 10

“Darcy, is something wrong?” Bingley asked when he met his friend outside Darcy House.

“I was just coming to your townhouse, as I received an urgent message that you had been in an accident.  It was signed Mrs Bingley, though I could have sworn that it looked like your sister’s handwriting.”

“My wife is the last person who would reach out to you at the moment, and we both know my sister still believes she has a chance to marry you.”  Bingley’s rage was building.  “When I arrive home, I will pack her off to our Aunt Gladys, who lives in Scarborough.  She will never be allowed in my home again.”

Darcy frowned at his friend’s first comment.  “Why would your wife be the last person to contact me?”

“That is what I came here to discuss with you.  Jane is furious that her sister is now in your employ, as Jane is certain that it will be the ruination of her entire family.  I told Jane that nothing would happen, and that she was simply exaggerating the situation.  To be honest, I have never seen my wife in such a state.  I was certain that she would come here and try to convince her sister to leave.”

“I pray that she is unsuccessful, as Miss Elizabeth is fast becoming indispensable to us.  The girls are quickly accepting her, and she has a gentle way about her that soothes them.  And I must admit that I am grateful that she took the position.” Darcy stated.

“It pleases me to hear this news.  After the way their mother and younger sisters treated Lizzy, it amazes me that she is still as strong as she is.  When you told me of offering her the position, I was pleased.  It will be good for Lizzy to feel needed and wanted.”

“So, how much longer are you planning to remain in Town?”

Bingley shook his head.  “I am leaving tomorrow for Netherfield, taking my wife and sister.  From there, my sister will be shipped to the north.  Now, if only I could send my mother in law and Jane’s sisters with Caroline, my life would be much calmer.”

~~ ** ~~

Slamming the door behind him as he entered the drawing room, Charles Bingley finally let his anger free reign.  “Caroline, you will be going to our aunt’s home to live.  I have already sent word to my solicitor to send your dowry and all your bills to our aunt.  She will have to set up your finances there, and take out whatever for your room and board.”

“Charles, what are you going on about?  I was planning to journey with you if my friend did not ask me to stay with her.”

“Your plan failed, Caroline.  I met Darcy as he was leaving his house.  He knows you sent the message and that there is nothing wrong with me.  As a matter of fact, being rid of you is going to make my life much better.” Bingley said.

Jane Bingley was sitting on the sofa, and had been stitching on a handkerchief when her husband entered the room.  “What is going on?  What does Mr Darcy have to do with your behavior?”

“My dear sister has been attempting to make a fool of herself.  She believes Darcy will marry her and make her the Mistress of Pemberley and Darcy House.  So she sent a letter to him stating I had been in an accident, saying that Darcy was needed urgently.  She signed it with your name, though Darcy was sure it was Caroline’s handwriting.”

“How dare you, Caroline?  That man is not welcome in my home, and you would invite him, using my name?  Mr Darcy is a ruined man, and he is attempting to ruin my family by having my sister tend for his sister’s natural children.  Your brother will not stand up to the man and remove my sister, but I am the Mistress of the house.  Mr Darcy is not welcome here or at Netherfield.”

“And now it is my turn to speak on the matter, my dear wife.” Bingley faced Jane, fury spewing forth from him.

“There is nothing more to be said.  He kept his sister with him after she was lost to all polite society.  And when she died, leaving behind the evidence of her ruination, he kept those…children.  Society will not accept such behavior, nor shall I.  And, if my sister refuses to leave his employ, I will turn my back on Elizabeth.  She will not destroy my family, especially when it comes to my younger sisters.  They must be able to find good matches.”

Bingley nodded his head.  “I completely agree.  I wish for your sisters to find husbands, and hopefully theirs will be love matches, unlike ours.  You made your feelings clear, I was a convenient match which allowed you to provide for your mother and sisters.  I was a fool to believe you cared for me.  As to your mother, I have sent a letter to your uncle, Mr Phillips.  He should have found alternative housing for your mother to rule over.  She will no longer take charge of Netherfield.  And she will only be allowed to visit Netherfield when she is invited.  When the lease is up on Netherfield, I will not be renewing it.  You are welcome to remain with your mother in Meryton or move with me.  But I tell you this. Your mother and youngest three sisters will not be welcome to live with us after the establishment is made for them in Meryton.”

Caroline was shocked at her brother’s behavior, and sneered at Jane Bingley.  She had disliked her sister in law, and had hoped to have Charles married to someone of higher society, thus paving her way with the likes of Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Turning to look back on his sister, Bingley was appalled at the look she gave Jane.  “You had best stop thinking about my wife and worry about your own situation, Caroline.  You have lied and manipulated long enough.  But you will no longer be my problem.  If our aunt cannot make you change your ways, I am certain her brother, our uncle, can.  Now, both of you had best see to your packing, as we leave at sunrise.  Once at Netherfield, we will send the servant’s carriage on with you, Caroline, to Scarborough.”

Bingley then turned and walked from the room.  He felt lighter than he could ever remember.  I should speak my mind more often, if this is the results.

~~ ** ~~

Darcy returned to the nursery, after receiving a message from Elizabeth.  Entering the room, he found Elizabeth singing to Emmy, holding the infant’s hands and clapping them together to the beat of the song.  Again, Darcy’s heart was warmed.  How quickly Elizabeth had won her way into his heart was amazing to him.  Her smile, the twinkle in her eyes, the curls which escaped their pins at the back of her neck and bounced about.  A desire to play with one of the curls made his fingers twitch.  Good God, I cannot be thinking like this.  She is a servant in my home.  I could not ruin her life.  Much as I might wish to have more with Miss Elizabeth, she is the daughter of a gentleman.  Marrying someone who is a leper in society will do her no good.  And we cannot lose her, Emmy and Edith would be lost without her.  No, I must curb my desire for her.

“Look, Emmy.  Your uncle has come to see you.” Elizabeth said, breaking the thoughts running through Darcy’s mind.

“How is my dear girl?  Did her nap help her feel better?” Darcy asked as he moved towards his niece, lifting her from Elizabeth’s outstretched arms. He placed a kiss on Emmy’s cheek, before holding her close to his chest.  “She seems to be breathing easier.”

“We gave her a steam treatment, used some of the medicine Mr Foster left for her, and she has had a warm bath.  We just finished dressing her for your visit.”

“Miss Elizabeth and Sally have been taking good care of you, Dearest.  I am pleased to see you improved.  Shall we read a story?” Darcy took the seat that Elizabeth had vacated, settling down with his niece seated on his lap.  “Where is Edith?  My lap has enough room for both of the girls at once.”

“Sally has Edith in the next room, giving her a bath.  They should be finished soon.” Elizabeth said as she made herself busy picking up items which had been left after treating Emmy with steam and giving her medicine.  Elizabeth found herself glancing over at the gentleman sitting and rocking his niece.  He was tall and handsome, his eyes were like deep blue pools, filled with devotion.  It was rare, but she had seen him smile at the twins, revealing dimples that Elizabeth was certain few knew he possessed.  Her heart continued to race whenever he was close.

I must learn to control my emotions.  It is not proper to have these thoughts. Not only is he a gentleman, he is my employer.  I would be tossed out with no reference if he knew what I had thought of him.  It does not matter that I have seen him dressed in less.  And I must stop dreaming of him, of touching his muscular chest, of the patch of dark brown hair on his chest.  Stop it now, Lizzy, before he realizes what you are thinking.  My cheeks feel so warm, I am certain that I am beet red.

“Mr Darcy, I am going to take the laundry down for the maids.  I will be back shortly.” Elizabeth said, her back to him so that he would not see her flushed face.

“That is their duty, Miss Elizabeth.  You should not have to carry bundles down the stairs to them.  You could fall on the stairs and cause yourself an injury.” Darcy was concerned.  He not only did not wish for her to jeopardize her safety, he especially did not wish her to leave the room.  It was his greatest joy to sit in his mother’s rocking chair, holding his beautiful nieces, with Elizabeth nearby.  Her love filled the room with the most incredible warmth, a warmth he had never known before.  And it was a love of which he could not get enough.

“I wish to make things easier for them, as they have been busy with the monthly cleaning of the guest rooms.  It is no trouble for me to take these items down.”  Elizabeth continued to keep her back to him.

Looking down at his niece, Darcy thought he saw a sparkle in Emmy’s eyes.  A sparkle which convinced him to speak.  “Miss Elizabeth, I was planning to have my dinner in my study tonight, though I am in desperate need for someone to speak with rather than going over figures and read reports on investments.  Would you approve if I had dinner sent up for both of us, and we could eat in the next room?  From what I know of you, you are well read and know many of the current state of the world.”

Elizabeth chuckled.  “Very well, Mr Darcy, I would be willing to join you.  After I have taken these items downstairs for the laundry maids.”

Darcy smiled and shook his head.  He knew that they had come to a compromise, and he would accept her terms.

~~ ** ~~

“Welcome home, Jane.” Mrs Bennet declared.  “And you are just in time to enjoy the dinner party I have arranged for tonight.  The militia have visited frequently, and your sisters have so enjoyed meeting the young men, so I decided to have a dinner party.”

“Mamma, you are not the Mistress of the estate, and I would thank you to stop acting as if you were.” Jane hissed.

“But you are so young, Jane.  You have had no experience in hosting parties and the like.  Of course you would need me to show you how to perform your duties.  And what better way than to have a dinner party?”

Bingley approached his mother in law.  “This will be the last dinner party, or any other sort of gathering, that you do in my home, Mrs Bennet.”

“Wh…wha…what are you saying, Mr Bingley?  Am I to watch my daughter fail to perform her duties as hostess?  Watch her fail to do her duty to you, making you the laughing stock of the neighborhood?  It would be an embarrassment to me to have our neighbors think her so improperly trained.” Mrs Bennet said.

“No, Mrs Bennet, your daughter will not fail to perform adequately, I am certain.  You, on the other hand, have usurped her position long enough.  Therefore, you will be moving to a house in Meryton.  We stopped by your brother in law’s office as we passed through Meryton.  He has found a splendid place for you and I have purchased it for you.  It has been cleaned and prepared for you to move there tomorrow.  Now, I must see to my sister’s journey to Scarborough.  I will see you in an hour.”

Bingley left the room, making his way to his study.  Mrs Bennet stood in stunned silence for a few moments before beginning her tirade.  “Well, I never.  To think I was pleased with your match, Jane.  Now he sees fit to cast me off as if I were rubbish.  You see how he treats your family?  Mark my words, if he would so willingly abandon your family, he will soon be abusing you.  Have you not done your wifely duties to his satisfaction?  Have you not allowed him his pleasures in the marriage bed?  If he is not satisfied, he will take up a mistress and abandon you all together.”

“Mamma, enough of this discussion.  I will not speak of it with you, and especially in front of the servants and my sisters.  You must abide by what my husband says, and he does not wish for you to do as you please when you are not the Mistress of the house.  Please see to your packing after the dinner party tonight.  Your move to the new house will begin tomorrow.” With that, Jane marched out of the room to her own suite.  Once inside, Jane flung herself on her bed and began to sob.

Papa, I have done all I could to protect the family.  Why am I being so ill treated by all?  My husband is furious with me, Mamma is attempting to command my home, and my sisters refuse to behave themselves, especially Elizabeth.  What am I to do? I sacrificed in marrying for the benefit of my family, was that not enough?  What more am I to give up for them?

Jane continued to sob until she fell asleep, exhausted from her self-pity.

~~ ** ~~

The guests began to arrive at Netherfield, a larger number of guests than either of the Bingleys had imagined.  It was not long before they found themselves the minority in a sea of red uniforms.

In the midst of the sea was Mrs Bennet, as if she were the queen, holding court.  As Jane moved towards her mother, she could hear her chattering with one of the officers.

“Oh, Mr Wickham, you are such a flatterer.  If I did not know better, I would believe you are flirting with me.”

“As lovely as you are, Mrs Bennet, how could a man not wish to better know you?  And I have heard that you set a fine table as well, so I look forward to this evening.”  Wickham leaned over Mrs Bennet’s hand and placed a kiss on the back of it.

“You are so kind, Sir.  Now, you must meet my youngest daughter.  She was visiting with a friend when we were introduced.  Lydia, dearest girl, come and meet Lieutenant Wickham.  He has recently joined the militia and tonight is his first in Meryton.  Does he not look fine in his regimentals?”

Lydia raked her eyes eagerly over the man before her.  It was clear from the cut of his clothes that he was well formed, tall and thin, just the sort to which Lydia found herself attracted.  His sandy brown hair and green eyes accented his handsome face.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr Wickham.  I would like to hear more about you.” Lydia spoke, as her eyes stated her desire to know more than what could be learned in a drawing room.

“Lydia, it is nearly time for us to eat.” Jane said as she neared her sister.  “We should all make our way to the dining room.”  Jane was appalled with her sister’s behavior.  She was certain that a talk with her mother would be necessary after the dinner.  If something was not done to check Lydia’s behavior, it would not be long before her youngest sister caused some sort of scandal.

“La, Jane, allow me to introduce you to Lieutenant Wickham.  Mr Wickham, this is my eldest sister, Mrs Jane Bingley.”  Lydia had grabbed hold of Wickham’s arm possessively.

“Mr Wickham, it is a pleasure to welcome you to my home.  Might I inquire as to where you are from?”

Wickham smiled.  He was certain he was safe from anyone discovering the truth about him.  “I hail from Derbyshire, Mrs Bingley.  I lived there most of my life, until I was forced to find employment elsewhere.”

Jane looked at the young man curiously.  “And why would you be forced to find employment elsewhere, Mr Wickham?”

“Ah, Mrs Bingley, mine is but a said tale, at the hands of a wealthy tyrant who denied my future as a clergyman.  I was promised a very valuable living by the tyrant’s father, but bitter jealousy over the kindness the father had for me led the tyrant to ruin my future.”  Wickham gave a sad smile which he had used for many years.  “So now, I must find a new path for my life.”

“It is a shame, Mr Wickham.  I have come to discover that many of the wealthy do as they wish, with no care for how it will affect others.” Jane said, her mind on her husband’s friend.

“You speak as if you have experienced harm at the hands of one such person.” Wickham was certain that he had found a new target.  He had set his sights on the youngest sister, as she was a silly girl and would be easily manipulated into believing him.  But the eldest sister was stunningly beautiful.  He would have no qualms with having a dalliance with her, and perhaps, he could profit financially from it.

“Unfortunately, I am experiencing such a matter with my husband’s best friend.  But that is not a matter for you to worry over.  Now, shall we all move to the dining room?” Jane placed a false smile on her lips as she addressed her mother’s guests.

Upon entering the dining room, Jane’s night went from bad to worse, as she discovered her mother had taken possession of the seat which was normally for the Mistress of Netherfield.  Jane was sure that it was her mother’s way of paying her back for not standing up for the elder lady with Bingley.  If she was to be punished by being moved from Netherfield, she would make her daughter well aware of her displeasure.

Rather than make a fuss, Jane took a seat between Wickham and Lieutenant Denny.  Lydia was seated on the other side of Wickham, while Kitty was on the other side of Denny.  While Denny was satisfied with the chatter of Kitty Bennet, Wickham was quickly attempting to discourage the youngest Bennet sister, as he wished to cultivate a closer relationship with her eldest sister.

“So, Mrs Bingley, have you ever been to Derbyshire?”

“No, I have not.  I rarely traveled before my father’s death, and since my wedding, I have only gone to Town a few times.  My husband has been to Derbyshire, as his closest friend is from there.  But I have no desire to visit that man’s estate, so I do not see myself visiting Derbyshire.”

“You sound as if you dislike your husband’s friend.  What could possibly be the reason?” Wickham asked.

“The man is a disgrace to all good and decent people.  But I do not wish to discuss the matter at a dinner party.  It is not a fit topic of discussion.”

Wickham smiled inwardly.  “Well, as I know many of the grand families in Derbyshire, if there is ever anything I can do to be of assistance to you, you need only ask.”

“Thank you, Mr Wickham.  You are quite the gentleman.” Jane said, giving him a smile.

~~ ** ~~

A month had passed since the first night Darcy shared dinner with Elizabeth in the nursery’s dining area.  And each night since, they had dined together.

Darcy discovered his enjoyment of discussing topics most women would have no notion of, and was thrilled that he could ask Elizabeth’s opinion, only to have her give an honest opinion rather than respond as she thought he would approve.  It was refreshing.

All of his life, everyone of society had attempted to appease him.  All the young ladies who had been introduced to him were simpering fools who only wished to marry him for his wealth and status.  None saw him for the young man he was, a young man with opinions which could be wrong, but no one willing to stand up to him. That was, until now.  Now there was Elizabeth Bennet.  And her fire brought Darcy to life.

“Miss Elizabeth, I noticed that you are walking easier these days.  I noticed that you had refrained from using your canes in the nursery, as there was furniture you could use to assist you, but you seem to be in less pain when you walk.” Darcy said at dinner one night.

“You are correct, Sir.  I had not realized until Mrs Duncan made a comment to me.  She was amazed at how well I was moving about.  It came to me that perhaps I only needed to have purpose in my life to overcome my pain.  I am busy with the girls most of my day, so there is little time for me to feel sorry for myself.  Perhaps that was the root of the pain.  I was feeling pity for all that I had lost, not looking at how much I still had to give.  Emmy and Edith have reminded me that I am very much alive and had much to give.”

“Indeed, you do.  I do not know how we survived without you.  The change in the entire house is clearly felt.  It is as if a sadness has been lifted.” Darcy smiled.  He offered Elizabeth some more bread, as he was aware she was fond of the sweet bread his cook made.

“Mr Darcy, if you keep plying me with all this delicious food, I will not be able to walk due to my becoming far too round.  You will only need to roll me about.” Elizabeth laughed.

Seeing the twinkle of life in her eyes, dancing about, made Darcy smile.  Just like his dimples, the twinkle in her eyes had rarely been seen in the past year.  It thrilled him to know he had part of bringing it back into her life.

“I received a letter from Pemberley this morning.  There is need for me to return there, to see to the planting.  As I remained here last year, it is important for me to be on hand this year.  There are changes that we wish to make to the rotation of crops, as was described in Havershed’s book.  So I was thinking that we should plan to leave Town next Monday.  It is a three day journey to Pemberley, though only a half day on the last.  Do you think the twins will be able to withstand such an arduous journey?”

“I am certain they will become restless at some point, but they will survive.  Between Sally and myself, we should be able to manage keeping them occupied.”

“And you must not forget that Uncle William will desire spending time with them.  I will make certain that we have some books for me to read to them.”

Elizabeth smiled.  “Very well, Sir, we will be off to Pemberley on Monday.”

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