“Mrs Bingley, what a pleasure to see you in Meryton today. How is everyone at Netherfield?” Wickham asked, giving her a sweet smile.
“It has been quiet since my mother and sisters moved into their new home. I was purchasing a gift for my mother, as tomorrow is her birthday.”
“You are a very kind and caring daughter, doting on your mother as you do. What sort of gift do you propose to choose?”
“I had not decided. She loves the shawls that Mrs Wallace makes, as they are some of the finest in the county. But I had also thought of purchasing a new bonnet for her. And she so admired the dressing table at Mr Graham’s shop, as the wood is carved so masterfully.” Jane said as she glanced about the mercantile. “There are so many items to choose from.”
“Might I be of assistance? Having spent much time of late with your family, I might have a different perspective.”
“That would be wonderful, Mr Wickham, though I am sure you have more important matters to which to attend.” Jane said, all the while hoping that he would not leave her.
“There is nothing more important than honoring one’s parents, especially their mother. You obviously love your mother dearly.” Wickham said. “You allowed her and your sisters to live with you and your husband since your wedding, and have now assisted your husband in purchasing a new home for your mother’s comfort.”
“Mamma would not see it that way, as she is certain that we have cast her off.” Jane replied, remembering her mother’s words on the day she was forced to move to her new home. “She would rather have stayed at Netherfield.”
“But there can only be one Mistress of the estate, and you have earned the title through your marriage. Your mother had her own home, she should understand how you must feel.”
“My grandmother died before my mother and father married, so there was never a problem when Mamma took over as Mistress. And being forced from her home after my father’s death took a toll on her.”
Wickham nodded his head. “How is your husband adjusting to your family moving to Meryton? Has he found any new friends?”
Jane was startled at this question. “Why would you ask such?”
“I remembered that at the dinner party you commented on your husband’s friend being unsuitable. I was curious as to how he has dealt with the friend, and if he was settling in to the neighborhood. If he is settling in, then he will soon have new friends and it will be easier for you to keep him away from the unsuitable man.”
“Yes, well, I wish we could sever the connection. Just yesterday my husband received a letter from the man, announcing that he was returning to his country home. It is in Derbyshire. Is that not where you said you were from?”
“I am indeed. One of the most wonderful places in all of England, if you ask me. Which estate is this man from?”
“Pemberley, I think that is the name of the estate.”
Wickham paled at the name. “The Darcy estate. Your husband is friends with Fitzwilliam Darcy?”
Jane nodded her head.
“What could Mr Darcy have done to become such a plague on society? If I remember correctly, all of society had wished to capture him. He was one of the most sought after bachelors in the land.”
“Not any longer.” Jane gave a slight chuckle. “If he had married before the scandal, his wife would have forbidden him to behave as he has, I am sure.”
“I cannot imagine Darcy being involved in a scandal. I have known him all my life. What is he supposed to have done?”
Jane looked about to see if anyone was near enough to hear what she said. “Mr Darcy’s sister was violated by a man, well over a year ago. Rather than casting her off, sending her to Scotland or somewhere, he kept her at his townhouse in London. My husband says that the man who violated her caused her mind to become addled, for she was never the same again. But Mr Darcy continued to keep her at his house. Even after they learned that she was with child, she remained in her brother’s home.”
“She had a child then? What has become of Miss Darcy and the babe?” Wickham was certain that it was his child.
“She had twin girls. Then, just a day or so afterwards, Miss Darcy died. Mr Darcy now keeps the babes in his home, rather than send them to an orphanage or paying someone to adopt them. All polite society has abandoned him, saying that he is not fit to be near the ladies, as the taint of his sister’s ruination is upon him. And now…oh, Mr Wickham, now my sister, Elizabeth, is working for Mr Darcy. She is a nursemaid for those children. It will be the ruination of my family if anyone was to learn of the situation. My husband refuses to acknowledge a problem, and will not speak with my sister. Neither will my Uncle and Aunt Gardiner. I do not know what to do.”
Wickham’s mind was contemplating all the possibilities. “Well, Mrs Bingley, I can understand why you are concerned. If you wish, I would be willing to do what I can to assist you in making your sister see the truth of the matter. On my next day off, I would be willing to make the journey to Town for you, take a message to her. I know where the Darcy townhouse is located.”
“No, that would do no good. The message my husband received stated they were traveling to Pemberley. They should have arrived, from what Charles told me.” Jane sighed. “I am grateful for your kindness and understanding. It is a blessing to have someone to speak with, someone who realizes the truth of the situation. Being able to speak with you has lifted my spirits.”
“I am forever at your service, Mrs Bingley. We must protect your family at all costs. Please, if you determine a manner in which I might be of use, send word to me immediately. I do know the Darcy estate well, and perhaps I would be able to come to your aid.” Wickham said as he prepared to take his leave.
Jane blushed. “I thank you, Mr Wickham. You are truly a gentleman.”
~~ ** ~~
Darcy was pleased to see Elizabeth’s reaction to her first view of Pemberley. She had gasped, staring out at the perfect blend of nature and manmade. “This is your home?” Elizabeth asked.
“Mr Darcy, I cannot imagine a reason to ever leave this piece of heaven. If I were you, it would have been difficult to convince me to go anywhere else.”
Darcy laughed. “It was difficult, especially when I was a child. My parents would plan trips to many places, but I never wished to go. I could not imagine anywhere being nearly as beautiful as Pemberley.”
“And your cousin said that he spent much of his childhood here with you. The two of you must have been extremely close.”
“We always have been. He was the older brother I never had. Most of the scrapes I got into during my youth were due to Richard. But he was also there to get me out of trouble.”
“You miss him already, do you not?” Elizabeth noticed Darcy’s eyes beginning to pool.
“Since I lost my sister, I fear losing Richard. Though he is my cousin, I do not think of him as such. He has been a part of my life since I can remember. He is the only one left of my family. The only one who can share memories of my parents and Georgiana, as family can. He shared guardianship of Georgiana with me.”
“And now he shares the guardianship of the twins. He is a good man. Will he join you here?”
Darcy nodded his head. “When he is on leave, he will come to Pemberley. It will be a few months, but he stated he would be here before the summer was over. I believe he will miss seeing the girls as much as when they were at Darcy House.”
“It is a joy to see men who are not afraid to go against the norm. From what I have seen, most men of society do not spend much time with their infants.” Elizabeth said.
“Richard and I have always been thought of as strange by those in society. But neither of us have cared what others think.”
The carriage came to a stop in front of the grand house. There were several members of the staff waiting for the Master to arrive. The first to approach Darcy was Mrs Reynolds, the housekeeper. She had been with the Darcy family since Fitzwilliam was a small boy of four years.
“Master William, let me see those little angels.” She announced, looking from Darcy to Elizabeth, as each were carrying one of the twins. “Oh, they are the spitting image of their dear mother. They are so beautiful, so precious.”
Mrs Reynolds took Emmy from Darcy’s arms, as Elizabeth chuckled. It was plain that this woman was one who was not intimidated by the Master. “They are just as dear as Mrs Duncan described.” Mrs Reynolds said as she placed a kiss on Emmy’s hair. “It will be a pleasure to have little ones in the house again.”
The housekeeper stepped over to Elizabeth, taking in the view of the other babe. “They are identical. Which one is which?”
“You are holding Emmy, and this is Edith.” Elizabeth replied.
“Mrs Reynolds, you are familiar with Sally from her work as my sister’s maid. This is Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and together with Sally, they are the nursemaids for the twins. Miss Elizabeth, this is Mrs Reynolds, who has been like a second mother to myself, Georgiana, and Richard. She has ruled Pemberley house with a firm hand, keeping it running smoothly since my mother passed.”
Elizabeth smiled. “It is a pleasure to meet you Mrs Reynolds. I have heard many wonderful things about you from Mrs Duncan.”
“Mrs Duncan speaks highly of you, Miss Elizabeth. It is a pleasure to meet you. Now, let me show you to the nursery, and then you can refresh before I show you about the house.” Mrs Reynolds said as she began to walk towards the main staircase. Suddenly, the housekeeper stopped and turned about. “Forgive me, Miss Elizabeth, do you require assistance with the stairs? Should Sally or I carry the babe for you?”
“I am fine, Mrs Reynolds. I can manage the stairs, even while carrying one of the girls.” Elizabeth said, showing no signs of offense.
Darcy walked up behind her, scooping his niece in his arms. “She is very capable, Mrs Reynolds, though my arms are feeling empty since you stole my niece from my arms.”
The group made their way up the stairs and down the hall, until they came to the nursery. Darcy began explaining the wing which made up what was called the nursery. “My grandparents had the entire wing devoted to the care of their children. My father was one of six children, and only one sister is still alive. She lives in Canada. The wing includes the sleeping quarters for the children, rooms for their attendants, and even a room in which the wet nurse will reside. There is also a playroom and a classroom, and finally, a dining area. There are three private chambers for dressing and bathing, and a small library with children’s books. Sally and Miss Elizabeth, you will each have your own bedchamber. If there is any changes you wish made to the rooms, please speak with Mrs Reynolds.”
“We have furniture, which is not currently being used, stored in the attic, so there would be no problem in exchanging the items which are currently in the rooms. We have cleaned the rooms, though the rooms have not been used since Miss Georgiana…”
Seeing the ache the housekeeper felt at the loss of the girl she had a hand in raising, Darcy took over the sentence. “Since my sister was a child. It is a pleasant section of the house, with excellent views of the lake and woods. And there is a balcony which is large enough to hold a picnic on when the girls are a little older. My sister enjoyed spending time on the balcony.”
“I am sure that at least one of her daughters will enjoy spending time there as well.” Elizabeth said. Entering the wing, Mrs Reynolds began showing each of the rooms to the young ladies.
“Sally, as you have worked for the Darcys the longest, it should be you who chooses first on the bedchambers.” Elizabeth stated to the other young lady.
Sally was grateful for her friend’s kindness. “I will take this room, as I know your favorite color is green. The room over there is a lovely shade of green, so I am certain you will be fond of it.”
Elizabeth blushed. “It is very thoughtful of you, Sally. The blue room is nice as well.”
“Then it is good that I love blue.” Sally laughed.
Mrs Reynolds was pleased to see the two young ladies were friendly with each other. It spoke well to how they would be with the children. “Now, you must tell me how you are able to tell which of the girls is which? They look identical to me.”
Sally smiled. “They are almost identical. Lizzy and I have discovered several differences, but the quickest way is to look behind their left ears. Emmy has a small birthmark behind her left ear, and Edith does not.”
“That will indeed make it easier to know which is which.” Mrs Reynolds said as she looked at the babe she held. “They are so like their mother, such a pretty little girl she was. And sweet natured.” Tears began to overflow and streak down the housekeeper’s cheeks. Fortunately, Mr Darcy had stepped into the hall to inform the footmen as to where the luggage was to be taken.
“I understand how you feel, Mrs Reynolds.” Sally stated, wiping at her own eyes. “It was a blessing that we were given her beautiful babes to cherish as we did Miss Georgiana. I am glad you did not see what had become of her after…you know. Remember the girl that you knew all her life.”
“I will, Sally. It must pain you to remember the past year. If you ever wish to speak, you are welcome to do so with me.” Mrs Reynolds said.
Elizabeth began walking about the nursery. “This is an excellent room. So bright and cheery.”
“It could use some sprucing up, but it was always a pleasant room. Mrs Darcy wished for her children to have a joyful area, as she stated children should be treated as the blessings they are. She also claimed that the happy surroundings allowed children to be creative and use their minds freely.”
“I believe that is true.” Elizabeth smiled.
“I noticed that you are using only one cane. Mrs Duncan wrote that you used two canes when you were first employed.” Mrs Reynolds was curious.
“Perhaps it is due to the children, or the exercise that I get, but I find my leg is not as painful as it was. When in the nursery at Darcy House, I came to be able to not use my canes, as I was able to hold on to items when needed. My aunt believes I will continue to improve, if I put my mind to it. I do not know if I hold to her opinion, but it is a true pleasure to not have the constant pain.”
“Well, let us hope your aunt is correct.” Mrs Reynolds said as she looked at Elizabeth. “Now, you take some time to settle in your rooms. I will have trays sent up with some refreshments. The twins will be safe with me for a while.”
Both of the nursemaids laughed as they made their way to their rooms.
~~ ** ~~
George Wickham was working on his plans. The babes were his ticket to wealth. But how was he to claim them? He knew that Darcy and Richard would just as soon kill him as to allow him any contact to Georgiana’s children. Hearing that Georgiana was dead only increased Wickham’s fear of their retaliation for what he did to her. Her children were his, and that meant that he should have rights to their inheritance. Georgiana had a dowry of thirty thousand pounds. Wickham thought that it was only fitting that Darcy should turn over the dowry, and in return, Wickham would sign over his parental rights to the babes. Now all he needed was the perfect plan.
Learning from Jane Bingley that Darcy had removed the children to Pemberley would make things difficult. He knew the estate well, but he was also well known by those who lived and worked in the area. Most would not have forgotten him from his years of living there.
Wickham knew he would have to find someone who would be willing to assist him, even if the person was unaware of the plan. And he would need someone to assist him with the funding to be able to see the plan succeed. Knowing two people who had the financial ability to do so, Wickham penned letters.
~~ ** ~~
“Anne, I believe we should take a trip to Town. Your uncle wrote to me, and he wishes to speak with me in person. Your aunt cannot leave Town at the moment, due to some legal matters. While we are there, we will be able to order your trousseau.”
“Will we see Darcy?” Anne asked eagerly. “Has a date been set for the wedding?”
“No, we will not see your cousin. He has removed to Pemberley. I am certain he will soon come around to our way to thinking. We only need to remove those offspring of his ruined sister.”
Anne was pleased to hear her mother’s words. Ever since she could remember, her mother had promised Darcy would marry his mother’s namesake. And all the years, Anne dreamed of how perfect her life would be. After all, Darcy was a handsome man, one of the wealthiest in England, with the largest estate in Derbyshire. She pictured herself dressed in the finest fashions available, riding in the best carriages, visiting the premier locations and events, all while clinging to the arm of her husband. Every lady of the ton would envy her. Every man would be in love with her. After all, Anne had grown up hearing her mother describe her as one of the most beautiful young ladies of England, and that she would be the most talented and accomplished young lady, if it had not been for her frail health.
But Anne was certain that her health would greatly improve after she was married. She was sure that she would be able to give her husband the heir that he required, and many more children.
“I will purchase the finest wardrobe, and make sure that the gowns are made to capture my future husband’s attention. Oh, yes, he will not be able to resist me.” Anne said. “And, if necessary, I will be sure to arrange a compromise to force him to finally do his duty to me. Fitzwilliam Darcy, we will be married before the year is done.”
~~ ** ~~
“I do not know how we will come up with the money to pay the fine.” Lord Matlock declared. “We are in desperate shape financially. Catherine promised her support if we assisted in convincing Darcy to marry Anne. I am praying she will come to our aid. With you forced to remain in Town until the fine is paid, we can do nothing towards helping Catherine until we come up with the finances.”
“It is her fault I have to pay the fines in the first place. She demanded those brats be sent to her so she could dispose of them.” Lady Matlock pouted. “And if you and your heir would stay away from the gambling halls and the whores, we would have funds.”
“And your spending sprees to redecorate the houses or purchase a new wardrobe every two months has added to our coffers?? You have just as expensive vices as our son and me, so stop pointing your fingers.”
“Henry, it is not fair. The Darcy coffers are overflowing. With Georgiana gone, Darcy has her dowry, on top of the rest of his fortune. We are his family, he must be made to see that he should share with the rest of us. Anne will convince him, once they are married, but in the meantime, we are desperate. And Richard, he will do all in his power keep Darcy’s funds for himself. We should have done as Catherine said when he was born, and send him to her. He would have been a different and more appreciative person had she raised him. It is clear that we were not tough enough on him.”
Lord Matlock nodded his head. “It is difficult to believe, as he was constantly in trouble when he was at home. I believe the problem was my younger sister. Richard spent far too much time at Pemberley, and my sister Anne spoiled him far too much. If she were not already dead, I would give her a piece of my mind.”
“Anne was not the only one who was soft on Richard. Gerald Darcy was lenient as well. Why, he rarely ever reprimanded the boys when they got into trouble. And look at what Gerald did with his will. Naming his son and Richard as guardians over Georgiana. If it were not for them, the family would not be in such a turmoil. Georgiana should have been sent to Catherine or us to be raised properly.” Lady Matlock huffed.
“Well, the fool did not, and it is all on him for the destruction of our family. Catherine’s message said to expect her and Anne tomorrow, so we will find a way to resolve our problems.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Darcy took morning walks rather than riding his horse, as had been his usual routine for many years. The reason was simple. Elizabeth Bennet was not fond of horse riding. She had been frightened of them for years, and preferred to avoid them when possible. So Elizabeth walked most mornings, just after sunrise. Fortunately, her strength in her leg improved each and every day, along with her belief in herself and the caring of others.
This gave Darcy the time he had wished for, time to know the young lady who had captured his heart. For he had finally admitted to himself that he was falling in love with Elizabeth Bennet.
Darcy took her to all of his favorite locations on the estate, to the hills which looked out over the valley, the small lake, to the isolated area of river which cut through the stones of the hills. That was his favorite location to think, the isolation from the world, combined with the beauty of nature. For those areas too far for Elizabeth to walk, a curricle was used to make the journey easier.
His only regret is that his life was one of ostracisms from society, a leper to the proper world. He could not bear to harm her reputation. But he also could not bear to be away from her. Since meeting her, Darcy’s life had lightened, and he found himself smiling more than he had since the tragic day of the accident. He finally found joy in his life.
The fact that Elizabeth loved his nieces was an added bonus to him. With so many people looking down on the girls, due to their father’s despicable behavior, seeing the love she gave the twins was a blessing. And her tenderness was genuine, not just to garner kindness from him.
They had been at Pemberley for a fortnight, when the girls were nearing their sixth month of life. They were growing rapidly, and learning new things. Edith was smiling and cooing with everyone. She seemed to be the sweeter natured of the two girls. Emmy was rolling over and attempting to learn how to crawl. She would be more adventurous, it seemed. And Emmy had the same Darcy dimple when she smiled, which was different from her twin.
Both of the girls could sit up on their own, and loved to clap their hands together. And they had inherited their mother’s love of music. Whenever Elizabeth would play the pianoforte for them, the girls would become animated.
On one of their visits to Darcy’s favorite spot, he helped Elizabeth to sit on a large stone near the edge of the rushing water. He spoke of his joy in watching his nieces. “My sister loved playing the pianoforte. She was quite talented, though she was extremely shy. It was rare to convince her to play for anyone other than Richard and myself, as she was certain others would dislike her talents. It makes me sad that more people did not have the chance to hear her perform.”
“Mrs Reynolds told me how she would stop working and sneak into the music room to listen to Miss Darcy play.” Elizabeth said as she was walking with Darcy. “She said that Miss Darcy was extremely talented, especially for one so young.”
Darcy picked up a small stone and tossed it into the water. “It breaks my heart that the twins will never know their mother. Georgiana was so young when our mother died, she had no memories of her. My sister often said that it was the one regret she had, not knowing our mother. And now the same has happened with her and her children.” Darcy said as he looked about the land that he so loved.
“But her children are blessed to have you and Colonel Fitzwilliam to share memories with them. And Mrs Reynolds, who was like a second mother to your sister. Even Sally has stories she can tell the twins of Miss Darcy. They will love her through those memories. You have portraits of Miss Darcy, so they will be able to see what she looked like. These are treasures they will appreciate when they are older.”
Darcy smiled. “I cannot thank you enough, Miss Elizabeth. You are like a ray of sunshine which has brightened our lives.” He turned and looked into Elizabeth’s eyes.
Blushing profusely, Elizabeth was flustered. “It pleases me that I am able to be of assistance. The girls are so sweet and adorable, they have me wrapped around their little fingers. After all the rejection I have had to contend with since my father’s death, it is a miracle to feel so welcomed and wanted. The twins seem pleased when I walk into the room, and everyone here and at Darcy House have been kind and caring to me.”
“They are not the only ones who are pleased to see you when you enter the room.” Darcy said. He stopped tossing pebbles into the water and turned his attention to Elizabeth. Picking up one of her hands, he looked into her eyes as he finally opened his heart. “Miss Elizabeth, I must speak. In vain, I have struggled. It will not do. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I love and admire you. I had thought to keep these feelings to myself, as I felt that it was too great a burden to place on you, seeing as I am look down upon by society. It would not be fair to expect you to accept the disdain for my choice in keeping my sister’s orphaned children with me. But I am a selfish person. I crave the way you make me feel, and I do not wish to ever be apart from you.”
Darcy knelt before her. “Miss Elizabeth Bennet, would you do me the very great honor of marrying me?”
Tears welled in Elizabeth’s eyes, overflowing down her cheek as she smiled. “I am a selfish person too, Mr Darcy, for I cannot imagine ever wishing to be parted from you. I have no need for society. I only have need of the love I have found with you.” She placed a hand gently on the side of Darcy’s cheek. “Yes, I will marry you.”
Darcy turned his face to place a kiss in the palm of her hand. “Elizabeth, you have given me the greatest gift.” As he stood, he wrapped his arms about her, pulling her to his chest. The couple stood in silence, clinging to one another.
Pulling back enough to see her face, Darcy lowered until his lips met with hers. A tender kiss was shared between the newly forged couple.
When they began to walk again, Darcy held her hand against his arm. “Shall I send word to your uncle for permission to marry you?”
“I will turn twenty one next month. Though I am certain of my uncle’s approval, we could simply wait until then to announce our engagement.” Elizabeth said. “I do not wish for my mother to learn of our engagement.”
Darcy knew that her mother had disowned Elizabeth, though he never knew why. “Will you speak with me of what happened between you and your family?”
Leading Elizabeth to a nearby fallen tree, Darcy took a seat next to her on the tree trunk.
“My mother never cared for me. I was a disappointment to her from the start. She had Jane, her most beautiful and charming girl, so I was supposed to be the heir. Being born a girl rather than the son who would inherit the estate and protect the family from the entail, I was not welcomed by my mother. Our housekeeper, Mrs Hill, had given birth to Matthew a month before my birth. When I was found to be a girl, my mother withdrew from me, even refusing to nurse me, so Mrs Hill became my mother of sorts. Perhaps that is why Matthew and I were always so close, as we had the bond of sharing his mother. Mamma was cruel to me as I grew up. She showed her preference of all of my sisters, and this worsened when my father showed me favoritism. She could not tolerate anyone caring for me or being kind. I was not the son she wanted, so I was nothing. Worse than nothing, I was the center of all her anger and frustration. It mattered not that the three births after mine were all daughters, it was my fault for not being born a son.”
“Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth, your mother is a fool. To refuse to love her own child is ridiculous. And after your father’s death, she became worse?”
“She cut all ties between myself and my sisters. And she refused to speak with the Gardiners, as she held her brother and me responsible for my father’s death. Only since Jane’s marriage to Mr Bingley, have I had any communication with my eldest sister. The younger sisters were not close to me before, so they were not heartbroken when Mamma insisted they never speak to me again.”
“I received a letter from Bingley. He asked me to begin searching for an estate for him to purchase near here.” Darcy stated. “Would that be a wonderful situation? You would be near your eldest sister.”
“But they would bring Mamma and our sisters, so I would not be allowed to visit their home.”
Darcy smiled. “Actually, Bingley purchased a house in Meryton for your mother and younger sisters. He was ready to have them out of his home.”
“I am not surprised. Poor Mr Bingley. He has endured much for being married to my sister. That must be the reason they left Town without Jane coming to visit me or Aunt Helen. We thought it was unusual for her to not take her leave of us. And I have yet to receive any letters from Jane, even though I gave her the directions to send mail to Pemberley. I wonder what has happened that she would not write.”
“I am not sure, though I am sure there is no problem. Bingley would have informed me if there was something wrong with Jane or your family. He knows you are here, as do the Gardiners.”
~~ ** ~~
Unbeknownst to his wife or family, Bingley was intercepting Jane’s letters that she was writing to her sister. He had opened the first letter he took from the salver to be posted, and after reading the scathing remarks from his wife’s hand, he felt justified in protecting his sister in law from the pain Jane was attempting to dole out.
After Elizabeth had been at Pemberley for a fortnight, Bingley began confiscating the letters she wrote to her elder sister. He was certain that her letters would include questions as to why Jane had not written, and he did not wish for his wife to learn the truth. Not yet. Not until he was ready for the truth to come out.
Charles Bingley had taken some time to assess his life. Learning the truth about the woman he loved was heartbreaking. And the added burden of seeing to her mother and youngest three sisters also injured Bingley’s self-worth. He had believed Jane’s words and actions, he believed that she cared for him, as he did for her. But hearing his wife’s own words woke him from his delusion. He had finally learned to harden his heart against those who would use him for their gain.
Receiving yet another letter from his mother in law, complaining of their home in Meryton, Bingley took the letter directly to the fireplace, watching the parchment burn to ash. He was finished with listening to Mrs Bennet’s wishes and demands.
As his relationship with his wife had not improved since their return from Town, Bingley was close to giving up hope of any improvement ever happening. Though painful, Bingley was determined to leave his wife behind when he found a new estate and moved. He would settle some money on her and she would be able to survive, living with her relations. Though he knew it to be cruel, he did not wish to live with Jane, knowing that any feelings she held for him were false.
And Charles Bingley was through with lies and liars. He had dealt with his sisters all of his life, and he would be damned if he would allow his wife to ruin the rest of his years. He would lead a separate life from her. The only thing he was waiting for was to find an estate to purchase.
~~ ** ~~
“Mrs Bingley, it is a pleasure to see you today. It has been a week since the last time we spoke.” Wickham said with a smile. “How are your dear mother and sweet sisters?”
“They are settling in to their new home. It is not as spacious as Netherfield, but I believe it is comfortable enough for their needs. Especially since it appears there will be a betrothal coming soon for my sister Mary.”
“I had not heard. Who is the fortunate young man?” Wickham felt his body writhing inside at the thought of someone having to bed the middle Bennet sister. She was fond of quoting scriptures constantly. As for looks, Mary Bennet was not nearly as pretty as her sisters.
“She has been receiving calls from my uncle’s new clerk, Mr Abernathy. From what my aunt told us, Mr Abernathy is smitten with Mary and feels she would make him a proper wife. Mary does not expect to find a love match, she only wishes to have a good home with a husband who treats her with respect.”
“Well, I hope that the match suits both of their needs. And how is your sister that is away? The one who is working for your husband’s friend.”
Jane sighed. “I have not received word from her. No replies to any of my letters. It is unbelievable that she would ignore my counsel to abandon her position and return to Town. But I have no alternative but to continue to advise her to do so.”
“Perhaps it will become necessary for you to make the journey to speak in person with your sister.”
“I have thought of that, as it would be easy enough to convince my husband to take me to his friend’s estate. But I thought I should wait. My husband is busy learning about Netherfield, the planting and such. I would not wish to disturb him. Perhaps in a month or two.”
Wickham was frustrated, as he knew the militia would be leaving Meryton within the month. “Well, if you wish to go before then, and require an escort, I would be pleased to be of service. I must be on my way, Mrs Bingley. Please pass along my best wishes to your mother and sisters. It is my greatest wish to be in their company soon.”
~~ ** ~~
“It is not wise to attempt to see our nephew while he is at Pemberley.” Lord Matlock said to his sister. “If you make the journey, he will most likely have you ejected from the estate. What good would that do us?”
“Well, what do you suggest we do? I will not have this matter continue. My daughter is ready to take her rightful place as Mistress of Pemberley, and it is time Fitzwilliam Darcy did his duty to Anne.” Lady Catherine de Bourgh huffed.
“You are a fool to continue presuming that Darcy will marry Anne.” Lady Matlock said. “He has told you many times that he would not marry her. You must find a way to force the matter, rather than continue to speak to him.”
“And I should follow the advice from someone who has been found guilty of crimes? Good God, Rebecca, how foolish must you be to behave in a manner which costs you and your family considerably? It is always best to hire someone to get their hands dirty, not attempt to do the deed yourself. How is a gently bred Countess to know how to behave in such a situation? No, you must hire someone who has had experience. Now, I have someone in mind, someone who would get the job done nicely.” Lady Catherine said, brushing her hands along her skirts, as if to smooth the fabric. “Then we will find a means of his compromising Anne. And I wish to have everything accomplished within the month.”
“Who do you intend on hiring?” Lord Matlock asked. “How much will it cost? You know that Matlock is struggling to survive. As it is, we cannot afford to pay the thousand pounds that is due for my wife’s fines. If we cannot come up with the funds by next week, Rebecca will be forced to spend time in a jail cell.”
“As much as I would enjoy seeing you locked away for your stupidity, Rebecca, I will not allow the family to be disgraced any further than it already has been. I will speak to my banker tomorrow to acquire the funds. Now, Henry, I require writing supplies so that I might send off for the person who will assist us in removing those…those…brats from our nephew. If I can send the letter out today, we should have a reply by the end of the week.” Lady Catherine said, her nose held high. “In the meantime, Rebecca, I will require your assistance in finding the best modiste to dress Anne in the finest gowns available. She will need to have her trousseau prepared for her wedding.”
~~ ** ~~
“Mrs Reynolds, I have an announcement to make.” Darcy declared as he entered his housekeeper’s office. “I have asked for Miss Elizabeth’s hand, and she has made me the happiest of men by accepting me.”
“Master William, this is such pleasant news.” Mrs Reynolds said as she stood. She was not surprised at the news, for she had noticed the way the couple responded to each other. “I have come to respect Miss Elizabeth. She is a fine young lady.”
“Thank you, Mrs Reynolds. We wish to keep the news private for the time being. I have written to her uncle to inform him and ask for his permission, and we would not wish for my relations to learn of our plans. After what my aunt did in Town, attempting abduct the girls and assaulting Miss Elizabeth, I would not wish to have another confrontation with Lord and Lady Matlock. And Lady Catherine would do all in her power to see the wedding not take place, as she still believes that I will marry my cousin, Anne.”
“It pleases me to see that you will be marrying for affection, Master William. Your parents would be pleased, of that I am certain. Now, I will have the Mistress’ chambers cleaned and aired out. Then Miss Elizabeth can see what changes she would like to have made to the suite. And we will need to find her a proper lady’s maid. Have you decided when you would like to marry?”
“I am going to Lambton today to speak with Mr Quigley. He has handled many legal issues for me in the past, and I am certain he can handle the wedding contract and procure a special license for us to marry whenever we wish. It is my hope that it will be within a fortnight. After all that has happened in the last year and a half, I wish to move forward and enjoy the future.” Darcy said, his eyes staring out the window behind the housekeeper, a smile lightening his features.
“And…what of the twins?” Mrs Reynolds asked nervously.
“We spoke of the girls. It is our intention to legally adopt the girls as our own. Elizabeth loves the girls as much as I do, and she said there is no reason for her not to be their mother legally. She also stated that the girls would know who their birth mother was. Elizabeth feels it is important for them to know that Georgiana would have loved them, had she survived, and that they are of Darcy blood.”
Mrs Reynolds pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at her eyes. “It pleases me to know that Miss Elizabeth has such devotion to the twins. Your dear sister, God bless her, was such a dear girl. She was so young when she was taken from all of us.”
“Can you imagine the sort of mother she would have been to the girls, if she had survived?” Darcy said, turning his tear filled eyes towards the woman who help raise him and his sister.
“I can. With her gentle heart, she would have been a loving and caring mother. And your parents, they would have been the doting grandparents. Lady Anne especially, as she adored children. Your family would be proud of your decisions, and how you have protected your family. It has shown how strong you are, not giving in to the desires of society and your other relations.”
Darcy nodded his head. “The decision was not difficult, but dealing with all the anger and hatred towards two innocent babes. How can people be so cruel to those who have had no choice in the matter? Emmy and Edith are innocent babes. It is not their fault that their father a scoundrel of the worst kind. How can they be held to blame for his behavior?”
“Society is cruel. They blame the children for the fact that their father is horrible, as if they inherited his nature. They blame you for accepting the children and having accepted your sister. To society, it would have been better to wash your hands of the entire situation. No feelings matter, your love for your dear sister should not have made a difference. But you went against society’s rules. You made the decision to live as you wished, allowing your emotions to rule your choice, rather than living as society dictates.” Mrs Reynolds had walked around her desk to wrap her arms around the young man she had influenced throughout his life. “I know that it has been difficult, but you have made me very proud.”
“Your words mean the world to me, Mrs Reynolds. And I am pleased to know you approve of my betrothed.”
“Well, you had best leave me to do my work. I will need to make lists so that I can keep track of what needs doing before you wed. And we will have to make an appointment with the dressmaker in Lambton. She is very skilled and will be able to fashion your betrothed with a fine wardrobe.”
“Yes, yes, all the items that a young lady who is about to wed will need. Spare no expense, I wish the best for my dear Elizabeth.” Darcy chuckled as he left the office.
Once he was gone, Mrs Reynolds smiled. “Lady Anne, you and your husband would be so pleased with your boy. He has turned out to be quite a young man.”