Chapter 13

“I am planning to make a business trip to the north.” Charles Bingley announced to his wife over breakfast.  “If you wish, you may stay in Meryton with your mother, but she is not to stay here.  I made myself clear when I had her and your sisters moved to their home, and will not go back on my decision.”

“You are cruel to Mamma.  She has had a difficult time adjusting to her home.” Jane said.  “Why can I not travel with you?  If you are traveling north, perhaps you can take me to Pemberley, so I might visit with my sister.  It has been ever so long since I have seen or heard from her, and I would enjoy spending some time with her.”

“You would love spending time convincing her to give up her position and leave Pemberley.  Do not for a moment think that I have forgotten your words.  It amazes me that you would step one foot on Pemberley, after the way you spoke of my friend and his family.  So, in answer to your question, no, you will not be making the trip with me.  As for our marriage, you made it quite clear that it is a sham, a marriage of convenience.  There is no need to pretend otherwise.”

“Charles, I was angry at my sister when I said those foolish words.  I do care deeply for you.”

“But you do not love me.  You used me to save your mother and sisters from destitution.  I understand, and accept the fact.  The fact I cannot accept is that you lied to me, telling me how much you loved me dearly, when you only cared for me.  Had you been honest from the start, things would now be different.” Bingley rose from his seat and quickly left the room.

“We will see where I go, Mr Bingley.  I have other means of transportation to go to my sister.”

~~ ** ~~

Mrs Gardiner had just come downstairs from putting her youngest child down for a nap, when her husband came looking for her.  “Helen, you will never believe what I received today.”

“Well, then, you had best tell me so that I can believe.” Mrs Gardiner chuckled.

“I received a letter from Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy today, a letter asking my permission to marry our dear Lizzy.  And to ensure that I knew of its authenticity, Lizzy included a letter.  She is thrilled and very much in love with Mr Darcy.”

“I had a notion it would not take long after they left Town.”  Mrs Gardiner smiled.  “How could she not fall in love with him when seeing him at his wonderful estate?  We knew before they left that there were tender feelings developing between them, and Lizzy loves the girls dearly.  She will see they are treasured always.”

“As they should be.  According to the letters, the couple plan to adopt the children as their own.”

“Goodness.  Jane will be furious when she learns the news. We had best ensure that she does not learn of the news until after the wedding is over and done.”  Mrs Gardiner was concerned.

“Would you like to journey to Pemberley, to be there for the wedding?  I cannot take the time from my work, but there is no reason Lizzy cannot have you at her side as she takes this important step.”

Mrs Gardiner’s smile spoke volumes.  “You read my mind, Edward.  I would love to be at our dear girl’s side.  But I will stay in Lambton.  It would be far too presumptuous of me to think of staying at Pemberley.”

“You have been officially invited, as was I.  Mr Darcy has stated his desire to see his betrothed happy, and he knows how much a visit from you would please her.  And you could take the children.  Then you could introduce our children to your friends in Lambton when you visit them.”

“I am blessed to have such a loving husband.” Mrs Gardiner said as she placed a kiss on her husband’s cheek.  “You are so very kind to me.”

“As you are to me, my dearest love.”

~~ ** ~~

Bingley had arrived, unannounced, at Pemberley.  He was shown to Darcy’s study, where Elizabeth and Darcy were discussing the plans for the following day.

“Charles, it is a pleasure to see you.  I take it that you received my letter concerning the two estates which were for sale.” Darcy said as he walked across the room, his hand extended to his friend.

Taking the proffered hand, Bingley shook it.  “I did indeed.  I am grateful for your assistance in the matter.  The sooner I find a new place, the better.”

Elizabeth was nervous.  “And what does my sister think of the move?  You will not bring my mother and sisters with you to live, will you?”

“Forgive me, Lizzy, I forgot you were here.  No, there is no possibility of my bringing your mother and younger sisters with me. To be honest, I doubt that Jane will be making the move.”

“What has happened?” Elizabeth was concerned.

“Lizzy, I have to admit to you that your sister and I have…separated for the time being.  It became clear to me that she has lied to me the entire of our courtship and marriage.  She did not truly love me, as she professed, and only used me to protect Mrs Bennet, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia.  Had she been honest with me, we might have been able to work through everything, but the lies she has told me have crushed all tender feelings I once had for her.  She is not the Jane I thought I married.”

Tears welled up in Elizabeth’s eyes at the news of her once dearest sister.  “I had a notion that something was wrong.  I have had no word from her for weeks.”

“And for that, I must beg your forgiveness again.  Your sister’s letters have been angry and bitter, and I have seen to their destruction.  Jane’s hurtful words had no need to be delivered to you, as you have had your share of pain since your father’s death.  For your sister to insist on you forsaking my friend’s nieces, it is unforgiveable.  You supported Jane with funds when you worked at the warehouse for your uncle, did what you could to assist in the care of your mother, even when she disowned you.  Yes, your uncle informed me of all you did for your family.  Due to your care and loyalty to those who could not bother themselves to care for you, I felt you did not deserve to be ill-treated.”

“Why would Jane be so bitter over my tending the children? Mr Darcy is your close friend, how could she object to my working for him?” Elizabeth said, a tear streaming down her face.  Darcy stepped to her side and wrapped his arm about her waist, pulling her to his chest.

“Do not fret, my dear.  We will continue as we have been.  You knew that your sister was upset, your aunt informed you of Jane’s opinion.”

“Yes, but to know she is so bitter, over the girls, is painful.”

Bingley noted the intimate what the pair were behaving.  “Excuse me, but am I missing something?”

Darcy looked at his friend.  “Goodness, I forgot.  Everyone at Pemberley is aware of our betrothal.  We are to marry tomorrow.”

“My Aunt Helen is here, with my cousins, for the wedding.  Uncle Edward could not attend due to work, though he has written his approval.” Elizabeth smiled at her intended.

“This is wonderful news.” Bingley said as he moved to shake his friend’s hand and embrace his sister in law.  “I could not be happier for you both.  And the girls, you will be a family?”

“Of course.  Emmy and Edith will grow up with Elizabeth and myself as their parents.  They adore their soon to be mother, Edith has already said Mama.”

“Wonderful.  I pray that I do not assume too much if I remain here for the wedding.  I was planning to check the estates you wrote me of, so was expecting to be in the neighborhood for a week or two.”

“Mr Bingley, you are always welcome.  I may not be the Mistress of Pemberley until tomorrow, but I feel my husband will agree with me.” Elizabeth chuckled.

Leaning over, Darcy placed a kiss on his wife’s forehead.  “Of course, my love.  Bingley, my soon to be wife speaks the truth.  You will always be welcome here at Pemberley.  And since Richard cannot leave his duties to the army until next week, you can stand up with me.  Mrs Gardiner is to be Elizabeth’s witness.  We had been trying to decide who to have for my witness, so your arrival is perfect.”

“I will do my duty to you, my friend.  And, if you would like, I can perform double duty, and escort your bride to you.  Is the wedding to be at the chapel?”

“It is.  A small event, with only a handful of people.  Mrs Reynolds, my butler Mr Barnes, Mr Quigley, who is the solicitor from Lambton, Mrs Gardiner, and now you.  Would you wish for Bingley to act in your uncle’s stead?  Since legally, Charles is your brother, he can even sign the settlement papers, rather than our sending them to Town for your uncle to sign.”

Elizabeth smiled.  “Mr Bingley, I would be honored for you to perform the duties of my male relations.”

~~ ** ~~

One more week and I will be able to leave here.  I despise being in Town this time of year.  The air is dirty, and the heat makes everything miserable.  One more week and I will be on my way to Pemberley.  I cannot wait to wish my cousin and his bride well.

Darcy is truly blessed.  After attending the latest dinner I was invited to, I am ready to find a young lady like Miss Elizabeth.  Perhaps it is time that I paid a call on the Widow Jackson.  She has always struck my fancy.  I should pay a call on her in Lambton while I am in the neighborhood.  I have the savings I put aside, and Darcy stated I could have the small estate his aunt gave him when she went to Canada.  It is not grand, but it is enough for me.

A young man stepped to the opening of Colonel Fitzwilliam’s tent.  “Sir, there is a gentleman here to speak with you.”

“Who is the gentleman?” the Colonel asked.

“He claims to be your father, Sir.”

Richard cringed.  “Send him in.”

Lord Matlock was revolted when he entered the tent.  “This is where you live?  It is disgusting.  Filthy and despicable.  How can they make an earl’s son live in such a manner?”

“I thought I was disowned, so what does it matter?  Besides, do you think that war is fought properly, according to the practices of the ton?”

“The least they could do is give you a room inside a building, rather than a tent.  And just because I was angry with you over the ordeal with your mother, does not mean you are no longer my son.” Lord Matlock huffed.

“What do you want, Lord Matlock? I have rather a busy day ahead of me.” Richard said, ignoring his father’s comment.

“My sister is in Town and would like you to come to dinner tonight.”

“Since when has Lady Catherine de Bourgh ever wished for my company?  Never mind, it matters not.  I have dinner plans for tonight.”

Lord Matlock had expected his son’s refusal.  “Your aunt wishes to see you, as she has matters of a financial end to discuss.  What she has planned would free you from having to go to war again, allowing you to retire immediately.”

“And what would I have to do to earn such kindness from her?” Richard knew what was coming next.  “Let me think…oh, I know.  She wishes for me to convince Darcy to give up his desire to keep the twins with him and for him to marry Anne immediately.”

“Son, can you not see the benefits that would be achieved by all if you were to aid your aunt?  And all she wishes is for you to take the children.  Your cousin will not allow anyone else to raise those offspring of his sister’s.  But you are one of their guardians, so Darcy would be more willing to accept you raising them.  And Catherine is willing to give you forty thousand pounds in exchange for your assistance in this matter.  That would set you up comfortably in a small estate of your own.”  Lord Matlock was pleading with his son.

Richard walked across the tent, picking up his hat.  “I will consider the matter and send word of my decision later today.  Now, I have troops waiting for me to conduct training.  Good day, Lord Matlock.”

After his father left the tent, Richard shook his head. Forty thousand pounds!  Lady Catherine was desperate to have her daughter married to Darcy.

~~ ** ~~

The happiest day in the life of Fitzwilliam Darcy was the day he married Elizabeth Bennet Darcy.  The weather in Derbyshire must have wished to celebrate with the couple, as it was a beautiful, sunny day, with a perfect temperature. With the small collection of friends and family, the couple were joined in holy matrimony.

The couple had decided to remain at Pemberley, rather than take a wedding journey.  They wished to enjoy the time together, as they were to be afforded privacy for a week, though everyone knew they would visit with the twins each day.

Though Bingley remained in the area, he spent most of his time viewing the estates in the area which were for sale, along with the assistance of the Pemberley steward, Mr Alexander.  Fortunately, Bingley had learned enough from his time at Netherfield, he was able to find the best situation for his needs.  The estate was Cutherford Hall, ten miles to the east of Pemberley.  It had a small house, but there was room for expansion.  As Bingley had no intention of bringing his family or his wife’s family, he liked the idea of a cozy, smaller home.  Though, to be fair, his idea of a cozy, smaller house was still larger than the home he had purchased for Mrs Bennet.

Cutherford Hall had an annual income of three thousand pounds, and was perfect for Bingley’s needs.  He was especially pleased with the orangery and greenhouses, which would allow him to enjoy his passion for horticulture all year round.  It had been one of the reasons he had looked at Netherfield, due to the mild weather they had in comparison to the north.

So, while his friend and sister in law were beginning a new life together, Charles Bingley signed the papers to take start his new life as a member of the landed gentry.

~~ ** ~~

“I learned that your sister has an appointment with the dressmaker tomorrow.” Wickham stated to Jane.  “It is best that we remain in Lambton and you speak with your sister when she is here.  Darcy will not be pleased if you upset her when she is on his property.”

“You are correct.  And, if necessary, we can remove Lizzy from here.  We would not be able to remove her from Pemberley, as Mr Darcy is most likely protective of her.” Jane stated.  She had decided to be mercenary if needed to remove her sister from the taint of the Darcy family.

Wickham had not informed Jane of her sister’s marriage to Darcy.  He thought she would give up on her plan to see her, which would ruin his plans.  Not only was Elizabeth going to be at the dressmaker, she was bringing the twins to be fit for new clothing.  Wickham knew he would never have a better chance at claiming his children, and thereby claiming the fortune he so desired.

“We have rooms here at the inn, so there is no need to worry.  And, as Darcy and I had a falling out several years ago, it would be best if you referred to me as George rather Mr Wickham.  I would not wish for your plans to be ruined by someone informing Darcy that I was in the neighborhood.”

Jane was confused for a moment.  “I believe you told me you were close friends with Mr Darcy in the past.  Did you have a falling out due to his sister’s ruination?”

“Yes, it was.  And I was extremely harsh on the matter, which made Darcy furious.” Wickham replied, knowing that it was the truth.  He knew that Darcy would be furious with him after what Wickham had done to Georgiana.

“Well, you were in the right to do so.  How he expects anyone to treat him any better than they do is beyond my thinking.  It is disgraceful, the way he flaunts his situation.” Jane sniffed.  “What time is my sister’s appointment tomorrow?”

“At eleven tomorrow morning.”

~~ ** ~~

“Good morning, my dear.” Darcy said as he wrapped his arms around his wife.  He had just entered the breakfast room where his wife was filling a plate from the sideboard.  They had been married a week, and had rarely left each other’s side.  “Are you certain that you need to make the journey to the dressmaker today?  I have to meet with my steward and Bingley this morning, before Bingley meets with the solicitor in Lambton.”

“Then you will be occupied and will not miss your favorite ladies.” Elizabeth smiled as she kissed her husband’s cheek.  “We will not be gone long.  Besides, the twins are growing so quickly, it is necessary for us to purchase some new gowns for them.”

“Their gowns should have very long hems on them, so they can be let out every week, as they seem to be growing faster than the crops.” Darcy said.  “It amazes me how quickly they are growing.”

“The first year of life is startling.  I remember watching my cousins as babes, and by their first birthday, they had changed from babies to little people.  The twins are over six months old, can you imagine what the next six months will bring in their appearances?”

“Can they not remain infants for a few years?  It does not feel as if we have had a chance to thoroughly enjoy them at this stage.”

Elizabeth laughed.  “I will leave it to you to ask the girls to remain as they are for a few years.  I doubt they will cooperate with you.”

“I have no doubt, though I would like them to obey this request.” Darcy chuckled.  “Perhaps if I use my Master of Pemberley voice rather than my Uncle William voice.”

“Forgive me, my dear husband, but I doubt you could use your Master of Pemberley voice with Emmy and Edith for more than a moment, before you are Uncle William once again.” Elizabeth was chuckling at her husband’s raised eyebrow as he looked at her.

“Well, you had best return before tea time, for I will be expecting time with you and our girls.  I expect to hear all about your outing.”

Elizabeth could not thank her lucky stars for the blessing she had been given.  The man she was married to was the most caring and devoted man she had ever known, and he dearly loved her.  Never, in all of her life, had Elizabeth felt so loved.

~~ ** ~~

The carriage arrived at Mrs Bronson’s Dress Shop just before eleven, and the footman handed Elizabeth and Sally down, each of the ladies holding one of the twins.  The foursome entered the shop, only to find that Mrs Bronson and her assistant were not alone.

“Jane, what are you doing here?” Elizabeth exclaimed.  “I had no idea that you were in the neighborhood.”

“I am not surprised, as you have been ignoring my letters.  So these are the children you prefer over your flesh and blood?  They are the ones who you are more for than the ruination of your family?”

“Jane, I will not have an argument with you. Besides, I am married now.  I married Mr Darcy last week.”

Jane was furious.  “How could you marry him?  He is ruined to all polite society.  How could you do this to your family?”

“I married for love, Jane.  Something you did not do, according to your husband.” Elizabeth’s temper flared.  “Your husband and our aunt attended my wedding, and our uncle would have if he could have gotten away from work.  He sent his written approval for the wedding, and Charles signed the papers for the settlement.  I do have some family members who care about me and my happiness.”

Elizabeth did not react quick enough to avoid being struck by her sister’s hand.  Her cheek stung from the contact, and left her shocked.

“Mrs Darcy, I will take the girls to the carriage.” Sally said as she attempted to remove Emmy from Elizabeth’s arms.

Just then, George Wickham stepped from behind the curtain which hung in the doorway of the dressing room, a gun in one hand and a knife in the other.

“The children will go nowhere.” He declared.

“George, it would be best if the children were removed from the situation while I speak with my sister.” Jane said, not looking at him.

Elizabeth gasped at the sight of the man wielding weapons.  “Who is this man?  You are quite familiar with him, using his given name. And why is he holding weapons?”

Jane turned her head towards Wickham.  “What is happening here?  We have no need for weapons.”

“Indeed we do, as my plans are different from yours.” Wickham replied.

“Who is this man?” Elizabeth demanded.

“This is Lieutenant George Wickham, of the militia which is stationed at Meryton.  He is a close friend of our family and knew how distraught I was, so he offered his assistance.”

“Wickham?” Elizabeth asked, certain she had heard his name before.

“Yes, George Wickham.”

Elizabeth heard a soft sob come from Sally. Seeing the fear in the nursemaid’s eyes, the truth began to settle in place for the new Mistress of Pemberley.

“You are the one who ruined my husband’s sister.  You are the one who raped an innocent girl of fifteen, which destroyed her life.” Elizabeth stated to Wickham.

The man sneered at her.  “I am.  Which makes me the father of those two girls.  And I will be taking them with me.”  He stepped closer to the group of women.

“What are you talking about?” Jane was clueless as to what was happening.  “George, what are you saying?”

“I needed a way to come here to claim my children.  As I had no funds to pay for the journey, I had to find someone who would pay my way.  You were the perfect solution, wishing to confront your sister, who was taking care of my daughters.  And now, since she is Mrs Darcy, I believe she should also come with me.  Her husband will pay dearly to have her returned to him.”

Jane was confused.  “We never spoke of taking my sister for ransom.  I have plenty of money, I need none from the likes of Mr Darcy.  And what are you saying about the children being yours?”

“Jane, listen to me.  This man, this friend of yours, is the man who raped Miss Georgiana Darcy.  He kidnapped her for ransom, the day of the accident that Papa and I were in.  Mr Darcy was in the other carriage, rushing to find his sister after learning she was missing from the house they had leased for her in Ramsgate.  This man is the one responsible for Miss Darcy’s death, and the father of the twins.”

“This cannot be true.  George is the kindest of men, an officer in the militia.  Lizzy, you cannot be correct.” Jane could hardly comprehend what she was being told.  “He is friends with Mamma and our sisters, especially Lydia.  She adores George.”

“One of many, Mrs Bingley.” Wickham boasted.  “And another who has pleasured me.”

Jane gasped.  “My sister has…has…, no, it cannot be possible.  None of this is true.  This is a nightmare, nothing more.  I will wake to find this all a nightmare.”

“You foolish, foolish being.” Elizabeth said as she turned, attempting to shield Emmy from Wickham. As she moved, Wickham stepped closer, though his movement was halted by Jane stepping between her sister and Wickham.

Elizabeth saw a chance to protect the twins, she thrust Emmy into Sally’s arms, beside Edith, and spoke quickly.  “Run, now.”

Sally’s eyes were wide open, though she obeyed her mistress.  As she ran from the shop, Sally heard a shot ring out.

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

Chapter 14

Everything happened quickly.  Sally was able to flee from the shop, finding the carriage still sitting in front.  Seeing Sally’s tears and her expression, the footman rushed to her aid.

“We must take the girls from here.  It is too dangerous for them to be here.  Wickham is in there.”

Almost everyone who lived at Pemberley knew who George Wickham was.  He had grown up at the estate, so many knew him from first-hand experience.  The rest knew him from the tale of what happened to Georgiana Darcy.  It was no great secret amongst those loyal and dedicated to the Darcy family.  The man was responsible for the ruination of a most beloved young lady, and he was despised for his actions.

The footman, Fred, ushered Sally into the carriage.  Shouting up to the driver, Fred took control of the situation.  “Jennings, take the carriage to Pemberley immediately.  Tell Mr Darcy what has happened.  I will stay with Mrs Darcy.”

Jennings snapped the reins, and the horses leapt forward.  As they rushed away, carrying the precious cargo inside the carriage, Wickham was at the door of the shop.  He growled at having lost his chance to sell his children to their uncle, but he still had Elizabeth.  He would make the best of the situation.

Pointing his knife at Fred, Wickham threatened.  “Stay back.  I done killed me two already today, I would not hesitate kill you.”

“Where is Mrs Darcy?  Is she alive?”

“She is no good to me dead.  Darcy will pay handsomely for his lovely wife.” Wickham said, still holding the knife menacingly towards Fred.

“Who is dead?” The footman asked.

“One of them is the lady who owned this shop.  The other, well, she is still breathing, but not for long.”

People were beginning to come, having heard the sound of the gun firing and shouting.  One of those was Charles Bingley, who had just ridden to Lambton to collect papers from the solicitor, so he could show them to his friend.  Bingley had seen the Darcy carriage rapidly leave from down the street, and the lone footman standing in the street, speaking to someone inside the shop.

Bingley hurried over to the footman.  “What is happening?”

“Mrs Darcy is inside the shop.  Sally and the twins fled, saying that George Wickham was inside.  He is an evil man, and he one who caused all the pain with Miss Darcy.”

“George Wickham…why does that name sound familiar?”

“Probably the Master has told you of the man harming Miss Darcy.”

“No, it is something more recent.  Good God, he was in Meryton.  He was in the militia there.  What is he doing here?”

“I do not know, but I would wager it is to cause trouble for the Master and Mistress.  That be why the Mistress sent Sally out with the girls.  The wee ones be the offspring of that scoundrel.” Fred answered.

“Darcy is at the house, he needs to be notified.” Bingley stated the obvious.

“Jennings will get there before we can.  He will see the Master is informed.”

~~ ** ~~

Tears were overflowing as Elizabeth held her sister close to her.  “My dear Jane, what has happened to bring us to this?” Elizabeth held a piece of fabric to her sister’s wound.  “You cannot leave me, Jane.  We must work all of our misunderstandings out, and that may take some time.” She gave a weak smile to her elder sister.

Jane coughed.  “Unfortunately, we will not have the time.  I believe I will soon be with Papa.  If only I deserved your forgiveness before I leave you.”

“No, dearest, you cannot leave me.  You deserve more than you were given, with all that you endured after Papa’s death.  I know our mother was demanding and frustrating for you.  She made your life difficult, I understand.” Elizabeth wiped at the tears which had begun to drip on her sister.

“I was so jealous of you, Lizzy.  You were loved by our aunt and uncle.  You were given a comfortable home, plenty of food and new clothes when needed. Seeing you so well taken care of and loved was like a knife stabbing in my heart.” Jane coughed again, multiple times. “You did not need me any longer, as you had our aunt and uncle to fill your life and be there for you.  Even though you were injured, and were in constant pain, I envied you.  I wanted to be you.”

“You would not have been happy in my life.  I felt so isolated and empty.  Papa was gone, my leg was injured and painful, and I could have no contact with my relations.  Mamma’s words, in the letter she wrote to me, cut me to my core.  I found no comfort from our aunt and uncle, as it was as if I did not believe I deserved love.”

“But now…now…you have found love?”

“I have, Jane.  William is the kindest and most devoted husband I could ever have imagined.  And the girls, they are the sweetest babes.  They have a sparkle of life which thrills me to witness.  William and I are planning to adopt them.”

“I will never…have…children.” Jane’s coughing grew worse.  Blood began to trickle from the corners of her mouth.

“Jane, oh my dear sister, you must live.  We must put this foolishness behind us and be close again.”

“It is not…not…meant to…be.  I love…you…Lizzy.  I…always…” With those words, Jane Bingley said no more.  Tears freely flowed from Elizabeth, mixing with the blood on Jane’s still face.

Wickham grabbed Elizabeth.  “We are leaving.  Though you were not my intended target, my employer will wish you to be dealt with more than my daughters.”

“Do not touch me.” Elizabeth said, attempting to break free of his grasp.

Wickham took the knife and held it to Elizabeth’s neck.  “Give me a reason to slice you and leave you beside your sister.  I will be paid by my employer for ridding the world of you.  She has other plans for Darcy, another who was intended to wed my old friend.”

Elizabeth knew she was no match for the man’s strength.  Reluctantly, she complied with his request and they moved to the rear of the shop, leaving out the rear entrance door, and quickly mounted the horse Wickham had waiting nearby.

~~ ** ~~

“MR DARCY…MR DARCY, COME QUICK.” Mrs Reynolds shouted for her employer.

Since his housekeeper was not one for raising her voice unless it was an emergency, Darcy knew something was amiss.  He hurried from his study to the main entrance door

“Master William, the carriage is coming towards the house far quicker than usual.  From the way it is being driven, one would think the hounds of Hell were on their tail.”

Darcy stepped outside the house, watching as the carriage grew closer. He was able to hear Jennings shouting from the driver’s seat.

“Mr Darcy, your wife…she is in trouble.”

As soon as the carriage came to a stop, Darcy was at the door of the carriage, pulling it open.  Finding only Sally and the twins, fear gripped his heart.  “Where is my wife?  What happened?”

“Mr W…W…Wickham…he was at the shop.  With a lady…a lady who knew Mrs Darcy.  Mrs Darcy…told me to leave…told me to take…the girls.  Fred said to come…he is still there…we heard shot…so scared.” Sally was sobbing, her fear for Mistress great.

Darcy called for a horse to be readied immediately, and he was soon on the road, riding as fast as he could, with several of his men following him.

Riding straight to the dress shop, Darcy nearly leapt from his horse.  He threw the reins of the horse to one of the men from Pemberley, as he took long strides to come to Bingley’s side.

“What is happening?” Darcy demanded of Fred.

“Mrs Darcy and her sister be inside with Wickham.  Wickham says he killed two people, and he not be worried of killin’ another.  When Sally come a runnin’ out, I put her and the babes in the carriage and told Jennings to take her to Pemberley.  We heard a shot…but not if anyone be hurt.  It be quiet for a bit now, but we worried he would harm the Mistress if we went near.”  Fred answered.

Bingley looked at Darcy.  “I believe it is Jane who is in there with Lizzy.  It appears she came to Lambton with Wickham, to speak with her sister.  I did not put together that Wickham was the one…the one who…”

“Where did Jane come to meet Wickham?” Darcy could not fathom how his wife’s sister had met with the likes of Wickham, as all reports from the detectives had claimed Wickham to have fled England after what he did to Georgiana.

“In Meryton.  Wickham was in the militia stationed there.  He knew how to tell my wife what she wished to hear, including speaking ill of you.  I had not realized how far it had gone.  Evidently he was sympathetic to Jane and offered to escort her here, when I refused.” Bingley shook his head.  “Forgive me, Darcy.”

“You had no reason to know all of Wickham’s deeds.  I did not wish to discuss it, as I believed we would never see him again, and I wished to protect the girls.”

“So he is…the father…?”

“He raped my sister, destroyed her, and it led to her death.  He may have planted his seed in my sister, but he will never be a father to Emmy and Edith.” Darcy walked closer to the front of the shop.  “Wickham…Wickham…, come out so we can speak.”

Silence hung in the air.  “Wickham, it is me you wish to speak to, come to the door so we can talk.”

Still silence came from the shop.  Darcy moved closer to the front door, until he was close enough to see inside the front window.  He found Jane Bingley lying on the floor, unmoving, and no one else.

The Master of Pemberley motioned to the other men to surround the building, as he moved to open the door.  Carefully, with a gun in hand, Darcy slinked around the doorframe and entered the shop.  Searching inside, the only people found were Mrs Bronson and Jane Bingley, both were deceased. Two of the men who had made their way around to the back entrance entered the building.

“Mr Darcy, it looks as if there was a horse tied back here.  One of the boys by the stables said he saw a man ride off with a lady on the horse with him.”

“He took my wife?  Wickham has my wife?”

“We think so.” Fred entered after the other men.  “I just learned they rode north out of Lambton.”

Darcy quickly made to leave the shop, stopping as he realized his friend was kneeling beside the lifeless remains of the woman he had once believed himself to be in love with.

“Bingley, stay here and take care of your wife.  I will go after my wife.”

Bingley stood, shaking his head.  “Elizabeth is my sister, I will search for her.  There is nothing I can do for my wife.”

Darcy looked at Fred.  “See that Mrs Bingley is taken to Pemberley, and that Mrs Bronson’s family is notified.  Inform the constable of what has happened.”

Fred nodded his head.  He would see his Master’s wishes carried out.

~~ ** ~~

“Where are we going?” Elizabeth asked, attempting to discover what Wickham had planned.

“My employer has a home north of here.  She leased it for me to bring my daughters to after I acquired them.  She will be waiting for me.”

“Who is your employer?  Why would she want the girls?”

Wickham laughed.  “She wishes the girls removed from Darcy’s life.  As long as they are at Pemberley, Darcy’s name is in tatters.  My employer needs his name cleared, so that he will be accepted in Society again.  And, as I told you, she has other plans for him, a different lady to marry.  You will need to disappear for her plan to succeed.”

“Where is this house?  Is it far from here?” Elizabeth attempted to learn as much as possible from her abductor.

“It will take us the better part of a day to arrive there, as we need to distract your husband from the correct path we take.  I have a friend who will be waiting ahead of us.  He will aid in making it appear we took a different road.  Darcy will be unable to find you, of that you can be sure.”

Elizabeth grew nervous.  Having witnessed the man murder her sister, and knowing what he had done to Georgiana Darcy, she was frightened.  Knowing the girls had gotten away safely from the villain was the one point of which Elizabeth was grateful.  Now, if I can keep William from being harmed, so much the better.

~~ ** ~~

The sky was beginning to darken, as the sun was nearly set, when Elizabeth and Wickham arrived at the small cottage located far from the main road.  As Wickham dismounted, Elizabeth saw a chance to escape.  She kicked him as he was nearly on the ground, striking a sensitive area on a man.  He grasped himself and grabbed hold of Elizabeth’s skirt, attempting to keep her with him.  She attempted to kick him again, only she could not move her leg enough to exact any pain.  They continued to struggle, their voices carrying as Wickham shouted for aid, while Elizabeth desperately fought to free herself.

Finally, Elizabeth was able to loosen Wickham’s hold on her body, and he was falling backward from the horse, tearing her the fabric of her skirt as he headed for the ground.  Not caring about the gown, Elizabeth grabbed the reins and began to turn the horse’s head away from the house, when a shot rang out.  She felt something strike her shoulder, as searing pain coursed through her body.  The force of the impact propelled her from the saddle, landing her on the ground.

Someone came from the house, shouting at Wickham.  “You fool, what do you think you are doing?  Who is this woman?  Where are the children?”

“It could not be helped, the children escaped in the arms of their nursemaid.  But I know you will wish to deal with this woman, as she is the new Mrs Darcy.  She and Darcy were married a week ago.”

“NO!  This is not possible.  He is to marry me.  Who is this woman?  Why would he marry her?  There has been no word, nothing said, of his marrying anyone.”

“She was Elizabeth Bennet, formerly of Longbourn, in Hertfordshire.  They married in a private service at Pemberley.  She happens to be fond of my children, which would, of course, attract Darcy to her.”

“Bennet…why is that name familiar?”

“Her sister is Jane Bennet, who married Bingley.  Or I should say, was Jane Bingley, as Bingley is now free from his wedding bonds.”

“How so?”

“Mrs Bingley stepped between myself and her sister as I fired my gun.  She is dead.”

Wickham had moved slowly to where Elizabeth laid in the dirt, blood flowing from her shoulder.  “This one is still alive.  Too bad, she would have been better off if she had died like her sister.”

“Drag her inside.  Then hide your horse around back.  We do not want anyone searching for her to find this mess.”

Standing at a bit of an angle, and still holding his injured manhood, Wickham slowly reached for Elizabeth’s arm and began dragging her towards the house.  The pain coursing through her made Elizabeth scream, until, unable to withstand the noise, Wickham smacked her hard across the face, dazing the young Mistress of Pemberley into silence.

Once inside the cottage, Wickham dumped Elizabeth unceremoniously on the floor.

Elizabeth was nearly unconscious when the woman, attached to the voice she had heard outside, came into view.  She leaned over the injured lady, using the tip of her shoe to roll Elizabeth on her back.

With a weak voice, Elizabeth asked, “Who…who are you?”

“I am the next Mrs Fitzwilliam Darcy, Mistress of Pemberley.  All I need to do is eliminate you and those brats, and Fitzwilliam will be ready to marry me.”

“He would never marry anyone like you.” Elizabeth whispered, thinking she had only said the words in her head, as she drifted off into oblivion.

“Of course he would marry me.  I am his perfect match, and will make him proud to have me as his wife.  It is too bad that you will not be around to that I am correct, as you must be eliminated.”

“I told you that I have no desire to kill a woman, as I told you before.  Nor will I kill my children.  Ship them off somewhere they will never be found is one thing, killing is another.” Wickham said as he sat gingerly on a nearby chair.

“But that was before we learned Darcy had married.  If she is missing, he cannot remarry.  She has to be dead.”

“Then you will have to do the deed yourself.”

“If you do not do as I tell you, you will receive none of the money I promised.  You have failed to do as you promised, as you did not bring the children.  Now you refuse to dispose of this woman.  What good are you?”

“I am a man who will not kill a woman or a baby.  I have some scruples.”

“I am surprised to hear such news, Wickham.  You have no scruples with stealing, with ruining young ladies, and cheating people, but you have scruples over killing.  How many of the young ladies you have ruined have died from childbirth?  Miss Darcy is one, how many others?  You are guilty of killing Miss Darcy.  You raped her, left her with child, and then she died after giving birth.  You are responsible for her death.”

“You paid me to ruin her, so you are just as guilty of killing her.” Wickham shouted.  “I would not have done so if you had not hired me to kidnap her and ruin her.  Why would you do so, as you wished to marry her brother?”

“I thought he would be like any other man, and ship her off to Scotland or somewhere, far away.  With his sister out of his life, he would wish to marry right away, to protect his name.”

“You obviously did not know him well enough.” Wickham chided.  “Then again, how many men would have kept his ruined sister at home, even after she was shown to be carrying a babe from the…situation?”

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