Darcy and Bingley rode north, trailing after Wickham and his hostage. The men from Pemberley who were with them all knew that the Master would move heaven and earth to recover his wife. They all prayed for Mrs Darcy to be alive and unharmed, though they all feared what Wickham would do to her. Knowing the sort of man he was did nothing to quash those fears.
Darcy’s mind continued to chastise himself for not insisting on going with his wife to the dress shop. Had he accompanied her, he would have been able to protect her from Wickham. At least, that is what he believed. The image of Jane Bingley, dead on the floor, made Darcy ill. The thought of Wickham raping Georgiana also was also on Darcy’s mind.
“If it is the last thing I do, I will put an end to that scoundrel. He will not harm another, not as long as I draw breath.” Darcy spoke to himself. “And if he has harmed my wife, I will rip him apart with my bare hands.”
Bingley’s mind was torn between finding Elizabeth, praying for her safety, and the numbness which was overwhelming him. A numbness from realizing that his own wife, the woman who had convinced him of her love for him, the woman he had given his heart to, was gone forever. Though he was angry at Jane for her deceit, he could not completely shut his heart to her. He had been unable to turn off the love he had for her, no matter what she had done. And now, she was dead. Killed by a man who had tricked her. Killed by the man she thought was good and decent, only to discover that he was the reason behind Darcy’s family being ruined. Rather than trust in the good and caring man who was her husband’s closest friend, Jane had put her faith in the man who was known to be a rake and scoundrel, ruining many young ladies over the years. If it had not been so heartbreaking, Bingley would have thought it humorous.
But Jane was dead, realizing too late that she was a complete fool for her actions over the past months. And her once beloved sister would pay for Jane’s foolishness and misplaced trust.
The search party continued northbound, tracking the trail they believed to be Wickham’s. When they came to a fork in the road, they were confused as to which direction to go. From the appearance, they would have believed that the horse in question traveled on the west road, as the east road appeared clear of markings. Something inside Darcy told him that what they saw was staged.
“The east road looks too clean, as if someone has deliberately cleared it to throw us off their track. I believe Wickham went on the east road.” Darcy said. “He may have had an accomplice waiting to assist him. Wickham had planned to abduct the twins, not my wife. So he would have still needed to journey somewhere, and would have had a plan.”
“Should we split up and half of us go each direction?” Bingley asked.
“No, I am certain they went on the east road. I do not wish to split our numbers, as we may need everyone when we find Wickham.” Darcy replied.
The men road on, following the east road. Not far from the fork, the familiar hooves markings in the dirt reappeared. Darcy was pleased to know he had not been fooled.
They stopped at each lane or trail which splintered off from the road, having one of the men ride on the trail for a short distance to confirm Wickham had not taken that direction. It was a long and frustrating duty, but necessary to ensure that there was not further attempts to deceive them.
Finally, as darkness was overtaking the area, they found the trail which Wickham had taken. Quietly as possible, the men moved along the trail using caution. They did not want Wickham to be aware they were nearby.
Finding a cottage at the end of the trail, the men left the horses with one of the Pemberley grooms, who was with the party. The men moved closer to the building, noting smoke coming from the chimney. Someone was inside, Darcy whispered. All they needed to know was how many people, and if his wife was there.
Raymond and Frank, both footmen for Pemberley, volunteered to make their way to the cottage to ascertain the needed information. They moved with stealth, clearly honed by years of being invisible to all until they were needed.
The men were able to sneak to the building, unseen by those inside the small house. They could hear the loud voices of a man and a woman coming from inside, though the woman’s voice did not sound like their Mistress. The pair were arguing, and it was clear that the woman was the one in charge.
“You are a fool, Wickham. Now what are we going to do? How are we going to get our hands on those filthy creatures?”
“They are children, my children to be exact. I will find a way to remove them from Darcy’s care. If it was not for his wife, I would have been able to claim them today.”
“Do not call her that. I am to be Darcy’s wife, not this nobody. He will quickly realize that I am the best person to be his wife, to bring him back into Society. Fitzwilliam Darcy should be one of the leaders of Society.”
“I could not care if he marries you or not. I need the money you owe me. And do not forget the rest of the funds you were to bring me on the continent. You still owe me from before.”
“You received funds from Colonel Fitzwilliam. Do not act surprised, I know that you ransomed that simpering girl for part of her dowry.”
“I only received a few hundred pounds, not even half of what you promised me. If you do not pay, I will tell Darcy it was you all along.”
“He will not believe you. Darcy believes me to be a proper lady. A proper lady would never have a girl of fifteen ruined on purpose. Well, then again, there are those in Society who would act in such a manner. Or even compromise themselves to achieve their goal.” The men heard the woman laugh.
Revolted by what they had heard, the men made their way back to Darcy and Bingley.
“There appears to be a lady with Wickham, besides Mrs Darcy. We didna see the Mistress, but the way them two is talking, Mrs Darcy is in there.”
“You say there is a woman in there? Who could she be?” Darcy asked.
“Don’ know, but we heard her say she be da one to hire Wickham to do…what he did…what he did to Miss Darcy.” Frank said, his head shaking with disbelief that anyone could be so cruel.
Darcy’s stomach was churning, and he could feel bile rising in his throat. “What else did they say?”
“The woman, she thinks you will marry her, after da babes is gone. She says you be not like others. Others would have rid themselves of a ruined sister and her lil ones. That be why she hired Wickham, so she could be rid of Miss Darcy and you’d need a missus to make you proper.” Raymond said. “And she be laughin’. Nothin’ to laugh bout, ruin a sweet girl like Miss Darcy.”
“We need to move closer to the house. Was there anyone else inside or nearby?” Bingley asked.
“No. There be a curricle and three horses tied up out back. Two horses for the curricle, the other be Wickham’s.” Frank replied.
“Very well. We will have four of you men around back. Make sure that Wickham and the lady do not come out or get hold of the horses. The rest of us will go in the front door.” Darcy said. “Each of you have a pair of guns, be ready to use them. Wickham will not hesitate. He has killed two ladies today, so he knows he will hang for his offenses. The woman has to know that she will be found just as guilty, so she also has little to lose. The only person in that building I am concerned with coming out alive is my wife.”
All of the men nodded in agreement. They moved forward, taking positions around the front entrance and at the back, near the horses. Darcy heard the pair inside still arguing, though he was amazed to hear the voice of the lady.
Finally, Darcy gave the signal and three men burst into the cottage through the front door. Wickham cursed and the woman screeched with the intrusion.
“What is going on here?” Darcy demanded, holding his gun aimed at Wickham’s heart.
“Darcy, how good it is to see you, old friend. What is the reason for pointing a gun at me?” Wickham said, sneering at his childhood friend.
“I wonder, Wickham. Be grateful I did not come in shooting.”
Wickham gave a wicked laugh. “Oh, but then you might have shot your dear little wife.” He motioned his eyes towards the form lying on the floor at the woman’s feet.
“Is she alive?” Darcy asked, his temper flaring at the thought of his beloved wife lying so still and lifeless.
“She is, though I am not certain how long she will be so. She requires a surgeon. And for the record, I did not shoot her.” Wickham replied.
“Miss Bingley, you shot my wife?”
“Mr Darcy, I do not know of what this man is speaking. I happened to be here, waiting for a friend of mine to meet me here. I was to make the journey to Town with Miss Clarice Townsend. This cottage belongs to her uncle.” Miss Bingley began making excuses.
“Enough of your excuses, Caroline.” Bingley said as he stepped from behind his friend so that his sister could see him.
“Charles, what are you doing here? I thought you were at Netherfield.”
“I do not believe you, Caroline. You hired Wickham to abduct Darcy’s nieces. In the process, Wickham has killed two people, including my wife.”
Caroline Bingley had a difficult time keeping the pleasure of the news from exhibiting on her face. “Oh, my poor brother. You must be terribly distraught.”
“You can pretend all you wish, but we know the truth.” Darcy stated. “Including the fact that you hired Wickham to violate my sister, after he took her from Ramsgate. You hated my sister so much, that you would destroy her life to become Mistress of Pemberley?”
“You would never have allowed her to be placed in a boarding school, so I had to do something. Georgiana was going to tell you that I had lied to her. She misunderstood what happened with Theresa McGovern at the Fillmore’s ball. If she told you what happened, you would refuse to ever see me again. I could not allow that, as I know that I am your perfect match.” Caroline was desperate.
“You are the last woman in the world I could be prevailed upon to marry.” Darcy stated. “You purposely ruin my sister, leading to her death? Then you attempt to abduct my nieces, only to take my wife instead. What could motivate me to marry someone who has destroyed my life?”
Caroline looked down at the figure lying on the floor, bleeding from the wound she had caused. A knife on the table behind her was quickly grabbed as Caroline threw herself on her knees as she grasped Elizabeth’s hair, pulling the injured woman to her. “You have great motivation, Mr Darcy. If you do not wish to have this chit die, you will do as I say.”
Darcy began to move forward, only to stop when he saw the knife Caroline held at Elizabeth’s throat. “Please, Miss Bingley, do not harm her.”
“See, I told you that you would have great motivation. I wish my curricle readied and brought around front. Wickham and I will be leaving with this Bennet sister. If you follow us, you will regret it.”
“I cannot allow you to leave with my wife. From the looks of it, she is injured and requires a physician.” Darcy pleaded. “If you leave her with me, I give you my word that no one will follow you.”
“Ha, like we can trust you, Darcy.” Wickham snorted. “We would be dead as soon as we left the house.”
“I give you my word, my men will not harm you. You may leave without fear. All I wish is to see my wife safe.”
“Why her?” Caroline’s eyes grew round. “What is so grand about her that you would wish her to be your wife? She is nobody of importance. You could have had everything with me as your wife. Society would have welcomed you back with open arms.”
“But I do not welcome Society back in my life. My home at Pemberley is all I need. The natural beauty and comfort it brings me is more than I have ever received from Society. My family is more important to me than the false friendships of the ton. You are the one who craves those connections, not me.”
“Without you, I can never hope to take my rightful place in the ton. But you will not share your name with me. You destroy my hopes and dreams, so why should I allow you to have yours?”
Caroline moved her hand, preparing to plunge the knife into Elizabeth. Wickham could see that he was losing ground and needed to do something to save his own life. “Miss Bingley, stop. I believe Darcy when he says that he will let us leave, unharmed. If you kill that chit, we are both dead. Why do we not take Darcy instead of her? She will be a nuisance to us, with her wound. Darcy will protect us from harm until we arrive at our destination.”
For once in his life, Darcy was grateful to Wickham. “Yes, yes, I will go with you, to guarantee your safety. We can go to Town, and I can give you funds, so you will be able to go wherever you wish. Just leave Elizabeth with your brother. He does not wish harm to come to you. If Elizabeth recovers, then there would be nothing to fear from the law. If she dies, from not receiving medical care, you could lose your life. I do not wish to see you suffer. And Wickham was correct, you cannot journey with Elizabeth in the condition she is in. It is a far better plan to take me.”
Looking down at the woman she held in her hands, Caroline’s attention was distracted. One of Darcy’s men, Robby, saw an opportunity, and lunged forward, throwing himself between the knife and Elizabeth, pushing her body away from her attacker. Caroline began screaming, being deprived of her prey. She brought the knife down on the man’s back twice before anyone else could get close enough to stop her. While the men were busy with Caroline, Robby, and Elizabeth, Wickham saw his chance to escape, and fled out the door.
Bingley shouted for someone to go after Wickham, but Darcy stopped them. “We must take care of matters here first. I have to get Elizabeth to a physician immediately.”
Suddenly, a shot was heard from outside the building. The shouts of several men made it clear that Wickham was being dealt with by his men who were stationed near the curricle and horses.
Caroline was kicking and screaming, attempting to claw the faces of the men who had subdued her. Bingley looked around the house, including the bedroom area, where he located a sheet which he tore into strips which could be used to bind his sister’s hands.
While Bingley was seeing to his sister, Darcy was inspecting his wife’s wound. There was a trickle of blood which flowed from the wound. Darcy took his handkerchief from his coat pocket and placed it over the wound. Seeing his friend tearing the sheet, Darcy asked Bingley to tear some to make bandaging for his wife’s wound.
Frank came inside the house, having been at the rear of the house when Darcy and Bingley entered the building. When his employer looked up, Frank nodded his head once to the man. “Have no fear, Wickham can do no more harm. He wou’d not stop and tried to get to da horses. I stopped him right good.” He looked down at the gun in his hand.
“Thank you, Frank. Please, bring around the curricle. I need to get my wife home.”
“It is dark outside, Mr Darcy. Would it not be better if we wait until the morning?”
“My wife is in need of a surgeon. I cannot wait.” Darcy declared.
A sudden moment in his arms alerted him that his wife was waking. “Lizzy, Lizzy, my love. Can you hear me?”
“Yes, William. Where are we?” She replied in a weak voice.
“In a cottage. It is far from Pemberley, and the journey will be dangerous, as it is now dark outside.”
Elizabeth shook her head slightly. “Then we should remain here. It would be safer.”
“Dearest, you need to be tended by the surgeon. I do not wish to delay the care you need.” Darcy could feel the unshed tears welling in his eyes. “We will arrive home, the journey will only take a bit longer.”
“No, I will be fine. Just sleepy. Not ready for a ride.”
“Darcy, perhaps she is correct. There is a bed in the room at the end of the hall. She could rest there. One of the men can bring some water in, and you can clean the wound.” Bingley attempted to calm his friend. “She has no fever as yet, and if you clean the wound now, there will be less chance of her taking one. We can set out at sunrise, it would be safer. The trail we followed would not be safe for you to drive the curricle at night.”
Bingley had the other men secure his sister, as he was beyond furious with her and wished to strangle her. While they tied her hands and feet, and gagged her screeching mouth, Bingley searched the house. “Darcy, we are in luck. There is a bottle of whiskey. There is not much, but it will be good to clean Elizabeth’s wound. And there are towels, and even some soap. We can heat some water on the fire, there is a pot here that will be perfect for the task.”
“Good, good. Can you see to the preparations? I will take my wife in the other room to remove part of her gown, so I can tend her better.”
Bingley nodded his head. Biting back a chuckle as he watched the men unceremoniously dump Caroline on the floor, who was still ranting behind the gag, Bingley started giving directions to the men.
“I found some food items in the cupboards. It appears whoever owns the house has been here recently.” Bingley stated. “Unfortunately, I have no idea how to cook anything.”
Frank came forward, taking items from Bingley’s hands. “I was taught some cookin’ by me Ma. It wont be fancy, but it ‘ill be better than nuffin.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
“Mrs Reynolds, what is going on here?” Richard Fitzwilliam asked as he entered Pemberley. “I was told that someone has abducted Mrs Darcy, and they tried to take the twins. What is happening? Where is my cousin?”
“Colonel, we were not expecting you for another two days. The twins are safe, they are upstairs with Sally and Martha. Your cousin is searching for the Mistress. It has been terrible, Colonel. George Wickham was the scoundrel. He killed Mrs Bronson, the dressmaker, and even killed Mrs Bingley. She was the Mistress’ sister. We have received no word from the men, and I am beside myself with fear.” The housekeeper reached in her pocket for a handkerchief, though, before she could extract it, Richard had one in his outstretched hand for her.
“I am certain my cousin will be well, and he will find his wife, or move heaven and earth to locate her. Are the twins well? Were they harmed?”
“No, they were not harmed. Mrs Darcy had Sally remove them from the shop before Mr Wickham could put a finger on either of those precious angels.”
Richard was shocked. “We can all guess why he would do such a thing, as he would want to bleed Darcy for money. I am surprised that Wickham is in England, as he left the country after he received the funds I gave him so I could find Georgiana. The detective we hired confirmed he had sailed to Amsterdam.”
“Why would he return to cause the Master more pain?” Mrs Reynolds began to sob. “I pray the Mistress is unharmed and all will return home soon.”
“As do I, Mrs Reynolds. As do I.”
~~ ** ~~
The journey to Pemberley was taken as carefully as possible, with Elizabeth being placed in the curricle and padded with the blankets and pillows taken from the cottage. Darcy had instructed Bingley to leave a message explaining what had happened, and that the items would be replaced, so the owner would not be worried.
Darcy drove the curricle, constantly checking on his wife’s condition. Though weak, Elizabeth smiled at him, telling him often that she was well. It was obvious to everyone that she was not well, but it gave her husband the reassurance that he needed. He attempted to find the smoothest route to take, not wishing to cause her any undo pain.
Bingley had seen his sister placed on horseback, still bound and gagged, draped over the saddle in the same manner Wickham’s body was placed. Knowing his sister would be furious as to the unladylike manner she was being treated was an added bonus to Bingley. His fury had not dissipated overnight. The once amiable young man was intent on disowning his sister and allowing her to reap what she had sown. There would be no attempt by him to protect her from the punishment, even knowing that she would likely hang for her crimes.
Several hours passed by before the group arrived at Pemberley’s grand house.
Fortunately, Frank had ridden ahead and informed the housekeeper of what had happened. The physician, Mr York, was sent for and had arrived shortly before the group.
As Darcy pulled the curricle to a stop, a crowd formed around the conveyance.
“Master William, we have Mr York here.” Mrs Reynolds announced. “The constable has been sent for, and the magistrate. We have the Mistress’ rooms prepared for her. Water is heating and food is ready for everyone in the dining room.”
The footmen and stable hands looked at each other in shock. Darcy was too concerned with his wife to notice, though Bingley did. “Men, after all that you have done, it is the very least we can give you as payment for your loyalty. Please, the food is in the dining room, and I beg you to help yourselves. Eat until your bellies are full, after my cooking last night, you deserve the best Pemberley has to offer you.”
The men handed off their horses and reluctantly entered the house, following one of the maids who was directing them to the dining room.
Bingley had his sister carried inside the house and placed on the sofa in the drawing room. She was angry, shouting muffled obscenities at the men and her brother. Stepping over to her, Bingley removed the gag from her mouth.
“So help me, Charles, I will see you pay for the way you have treated me. You allowed those men to put their filthy hands on me, tie me up and throw me on the floor. And the journey here, oh, mark my words, you will pay for such disrespect.”
“I was planning to ask if you wished for a drink or something to eat, but, if you are going to berate me, I will replace the gag and leave you here while I have some of the food.”
“You would not dare leave me here, trussed up like an animal. I am a lady, and demand to be treated as such.”
“You, Caroline, are a criminal. You are going to pay for your actions. If you do not wish to comply with me, then I wash my hands of you now and forever. As it is, I plan to send for the solicitor from Town, and have all your funds held and you be disowned. If our sister and her husband wish to keep you in their family, I will disown them as well. No one else is responsible for your situation, you did it to yourself by committing the horrid crimes.”
“I was protecting our family, making our mother and father proud, by raising us up the ladder of Society. By my being Mrs Darcy, the Bingleys would be moving in the first circles. I did this for all of us. You cannot abandon me for trying to make your life better. And Louisa, she settled for Gilbert Hurst, when she could have had so much more. He is so low in society, he is barely higher than a tradesman.”
“Caroline, our family was in trade. Our father was a tradesman. You never seem to remember where our wealth came from. We were not born to the upper circle of Society. But you could never be happy with that fact.” Bingley ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. “You are the daughter of a wealthy tradesman. Gilbert Hurst was a step up for the Bingley family. Our children will be able to better themselves further. But any children I am fortunate to father will be proud of their heritage.”
“Our father wished for us to go as far in Society as possible. Mother wished to see us married to titled peers. Though Mr Darcy was not titled, I am certain our parents would have approved of his position and power.”
“You reached far too high, Caroline, and you will pay the price for your insatiable greed for power and position. I will send an express to our sister to inform her of your foolishness. The magistrate will determine what to do with you when he arrives.”
Ignoring her continued cries for him to release her, Bingley turned and walked from the room, making his way to the dining room to partake in the meal which had been laid out for them.
~~ ** ~~
“The wound was cleaned well, and the bullet went through without causing too much damage.” Mr York announced to everyone in Elizabeth’s room. “I would hazard that it bled much, which explains your fatigue.”
Elizabeth was unsure, as she had slept much of the time. Darcy smiled at his wife. “There was a substantial pool of blood on the floor where she had been placed after the shooting. The wound bled some over the night, but minimal.”
“Well, it will take a few weeks before you are up to your usual strength, and I do not want you lifting anything with your left arm for at least a month. And I mean that. Darcy, you will make certain she adheres to that order, will you not? I know the twins are going to want to be held and reassured, but they can be brought to the bed, and kept on your wife’s right side. And you do the lifting for her.”
Seeing the way the doctor instructed her husband brought a smile to Elizabeth’s lips. It was clear that he, too, was a close friend of Darcy’s, to be allowed to speak in such a manner to the Master of Pemberley.
“You have my word as a gentleman, and as her loving husband. If she does not obey, I will tie her arm to her body so she cannot use it.”
Mr York laughed. “For the two weeks, I suggest a sling, to relieve some of the stress on the muscles. At first, I believe the pain will remind her to behave. Later, if she does not, you have my permission to tie her arm to her body. Now, I will allow you to rest. Would you take some laudanum for the pain?”
“Perhaps a little bit.” Elizabeth said. She did not wish to take much, as she remembered the way she felt taking the medication after she broke her leg.
“I will put a bit in with the herbal tonic I wish you to take. It should assist in keeping a fever at bay.” Mr York said as he poured out the fluid in a spoon, holding it to Elizabeth’s lips. “And I will have Mrs Reynolds use poultices to reduce any swelling and fever. There does not seem to be a need for me to stay here, but if she worsens or develops a fever, send for me. And see that she takes some nourishment often, as she will need to build up her strength.”
“Thank you, Mr York.” Darcy said as he shook the physician’s hand.
“I am glad to be of service, Darcy. Especially when it is not as severe as I thought it would be when I came here. Mrs Darcy, do take care of yourself and I will see you tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Sir. Though this is not the way I wish to meet you, I am grateful for all you have done.” Elizabeth reached out her right arm, taking hold of the physician’s hand and giving it a light squeeze.
Mrs Reynolds was relieved. “Mr York, I will walk you out. When I return, I will bring you some eggs and bread, Mrs Darcy. And some tea. Is there anything else I can bring you?”
“That should do well for a start, Mrs Reynolds. But if you would make sure my husband has something to eat, I would be grateful. He had none of the food last night.”
Darcy gave a slight laugh. “Bingley cooked the food, I am surprised we did not have more patients for Mr York.”
~~ ** ~~
Richard Fitzwilliam had a plan. The funds that his aunt had offered was far too grand an opportunity to pass up. It would allow him to leave his military duties for good, and give him a chance at a real home of his own. He would find a way to take the twins from Pemberley, so he could prove to his aunt they were with him.
Darcy came downstairs to break his fast two days after his return to Pemberley, after recovering his wife. “Richard, please forgive me for not having been down before now. I have been consumed with seeing to Elizabeth’s needs and making sure that she was recovering.”
“How is my new cousin?” Richard inquired, sipping on the cup of coffee while Darcy filled his plate.
“Much improved. She still has pain, but there has been only a slight fever. Mr York is with her at the moment, and both of them insisted I take a few moments away from the room. Mr York declared I was to break my fast down here or I would not be allowed to return to my wife’s room the rest of the day.”
Richard laughed. “I am pleased to hear she was not harmed worse than she was. It amazed me that Caroline Bingley and Wickham had colluded to commit such crimes.”
Bingley entered the room. “I have known my sister is far from sweet and kind, but I now know that she is pure evil. It is good that she is gone, for I was tempted to strangle her.”
“Where is she? I have been so concerned with Elizabeth that I had not even thought of your sister.” Darcy was curious.
“The magistrate had her transported to Derby, to be held in the gaol there, until she is tried for her crimes. Lord Everett asked if I planned to testify on behalf of Caroline, and I responded I would only testify as to her actions and what she told us. That would be against Caroline’s best interests, but she brought it on herself.”
“Are you certain you can abandon her to her fate?” Richard asked. “She is your sister, after all.”
“And if it were your sister, who led to the death of Miss Darcy, not to mention the deaths of Mrs Bronson, my wife, and wounded Elizabeth, planning to kill her, would you be pleading for her to be saved? She planned to rid Darcy of his nieces, and knowing what I do now, the girls would most likely been killed or live in desolation. You have seen your mother punished for her attempt to kidnap the girls, what if she had done worse?”
Richard thought for a few moments before he spoke. “It is difficult to accept. But we are different types of people, Bingley. I have killed in service to my country. It makes me see things different from those who have never had to take a life. By refusing to speak for your sister, the likelihood of her being executed are high. You have always been amiable and carefree. Will your sister’s death cause you pain?”
“My sister died at least two years ago. The woman who committed these crimes was not my sister. The Caroline Bingley I grew up with died when she decided to plot the ruination and deaths of others.” Bingley replied, his voice holding a strength neither of his friends had heard before. “I loved my sisters when I was a boy. But I will not stand by and allow Caroline to cause further harm to others. She is unrepentant for her crimes. She would do more harm in her attempts to achieve her goal.”
Darcy looked at his friend and reached over to place a hand on Bingley’s arm. “And I will stand by you, my friend. No matter what you need, I will be here for you.”
~~ ** ~~
Bingley and Richard left for London the following morning, taking the twins with them. Richard had convinced his cousin that the girls would be safe with him, and they would stay at Bingley’s townhouse, where Richard’s parents and their aunt could not get to them. Sally and another maid, Maggie, traveled with the group, so they could tend the girls.
Richard had explained to Darcy that he was resigning his commission and taking his cousin up on his offer of assistance in establishing himself. This was what Darcy had wished for, as each time Richard was sent into battle, Darcy feared he would never see his cousin again.
Bingley was making the journey to London to deal with the solicitor concerning his sister. The trial of Caroline Bingley was to begin the following week, and everyone was certain of the outcome. According to their father’s will, if either of his sisters were to disgrace the family, their funds could be taken away from them and the offender disowned.
Before they left Pemberley, the body of Jane Bennet Bingley was laid to rest in the family cemetery of the great estate. Though Jane had become a stranger to her beloved sister since their father’s death, Elizabeth chose to remember the past as it brought her pleasure. Jane had been her dearest sister in their youth, and the memories of their life together were the ones Elizabeth held close to her heart.
The plan for Bingley was to handle matters with the solicitor, then return to Pemberley. He would stop at Netherfield on his way back, so he could take a few days closing up the house, having his possessions packed and shipped north to his new home. And he planned to speak with Mr Phillips with regards to Mrs Bennet and her three youngest daughters.
Being generous, Bingley would place five thousand pounds in an account at the bank for the remaining Bennet ladies. He felt it would be more than enough for them to be able to live off the interest of the sum. And then he would wash his hands of the neighborhood and those living there. Mrs Bennet and her daughters could learn to survive without any further connection to him.
Richard had planned to remain in Town for a fortnight, allowing Darcy and Elizabeth some time alone. After all that had happened, and not having had a proper honeymoon, Richard declared to his cousins that it was only fitting that they have some time without having to worry over the children. Darcy had asked his cousin to make some purchases for him in the London shops, including items for the girls. Laughing, Richard clapped his hand on his cousin’s shoulder.
“William, it will be my pleasure to spend your money.”
~~ ** ~~
Once the group left for Town, Elizabeth and Darcy relaxed in her bedchamber. “I do not plan to leave this room for a fortnight. I wish to remain with you, taking care of you, while you recover.”
“William, it is not necessary. You will grow tired of the dullness.”
“No, my dearest love, I look forward to the peace and quiet that we will finally be able to enjoy. We have had little time for ourselves. I am pleased that Richard offered to take the girls for a fortnight. Your aunt was kind in watching over them while she was here, but I still felt the need to check on them as we usually do. It will be nice to have some time alone. Richard will protect them as we would.”
“It will be nice to have you all to myself.” Elizabeth said as she snuggled into his embrace.
“Rest, my dearest love. When you wake, we will have something to eat and then I will read to you.”
~~ ** ~~
Mrs Bennet sat in her parlor, listening to her brother in law speak. “Mr Bingley sent me an express. It is my sad duty to inform you that your eldest daughter, Jane, has died.”
The lady sat still, unable to speak, for nearly half an hour. Finally she found her tongue. “What happened to my beautiful girl? Did she become ill?”
“She went north to speak with her husband and with Elizabeth. Mr Bingley was staying at Mr Darcy’s estate. Lieutenant Wickham had escorted Jane, and, it was discovered, he had nefarious intentions for the journey. Wickham shot Jane, killing her.”
Tears were flowing as Mrs Bennet began to wail. “It is all Elizabeth’s fault. If it were not for that ungrateful girl, my Jane would never have gone there. Jane would still be alive. It is not fair. Jane was always so beautiful, so sweet natured. Why could it not have been Elizabeth who was killed? No one would miss her.”
“I have listened to you long enough, Fanny.” Mr Phillips stated. “Elizabeth did nothing to incur your wrath. She was born a girl, but all five of your children were born girls. Why is it you have always hated the poor girl? What could she have done different the night of the carriage accident? How could she have prevented Thomas’ death? You put all your anger into hating your daughter, and all your reasons were ridiculous. It is time you let the anger and hatred go.”
“She must have lured Jane there, for Jane had been forbidden to speak with Elizabeth. Jane would never have gone against my wishes. When will my daughter be brought here? She should be buried next to her father. When will Mr Bingley bring his beloved wife home?”
“Jane’s body was buried at Pemberley. She will not be brought to Hertfordshire. Mr Bingley will arrive in a few days to conclude his business in the neighborhood. Once Netherfield is closed up and his belongings sent to his new home, he has business with me. That business includes provisions for yourself and your younger daughters. He will settle an amount on you. It will then be your duty to see that you, Mary, Kitty and Lydia learn to economize so that you will be able to live within your means.”
“My eldest daughter has been murdered and you speak of economizing our expenses? We must purchase the finest gowns in black for our mourning.”
“You will have gowns made in black, though they will not be in the finest fabrics to be had. If you do not approve of my decision, then we will have some of your gowns dyed black.” Mr Phillips stood his ground. “I will not give you extra funds to allow you to be frivolous. My wife and I have kept within a budget for many years, and we will be happy to teach you how to live within your means.”
“This is not fair.” Lydia cried out from her chair across the room. “Mr Bingley was supposed to see to our comfort for years. Now you say that we are forbidden to have new gowns that are amongst the finest to be had in Meryton. What good is Mr Bingley, if he cannot live up to his promises?”
“Mr Bingley has done his duty to your family since his marriage. When you could not respect Jane as the Mistress of his home, and you spent money as if you were the wealthiest people in all of England. He has purchased a home for you and will settle money on you, allowing you to live respectfully for many years.”
Suddenly, Mrs Bennet grasped at her chest, before collapsing to the floor. The physician was sent for, though it was too late. Mrs Bennet had suffered a severe bout of apoplexy and died before the physician could arrive.