I am going to take a two week break from posting and then will start a new story.

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Chapter 17

“Lord and Lady Matlock, Colonel Fitzwilliam to see you.” The butler of Matlock House announced to his employers in the breakfast room.  Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her daughter were also present.

“Show Richard in.” Lord Matlock stated.

A few minutes later, Richard Fitzwilliam entered the room, wearing civilian clothing.  Lady Matlock smiled.  For her son to be so dressed was a sign he had resigned from the army.  And that could only mean that he had removed the Darcy twins from Pemberley.

“Richard, it is a pleasure to see you here.” Lady Matlock stated, looking much like the cat who had lapped up a saucer of cream.

“I have come to inform you of my accomplishment.  I have removed Georgiana’s daughters from Darcy, and they are with me in Town.  Now I request my reward for doing as you demanded.”

Lady Catherine was not convinced.  “Where are the children?  I will not pay the funds if you cannot prove to me that you have them.”

Richard turned towards the butler and requested his companions to be shown to the breakfast room.  Soon, Sally and Maggie entered, each carrying one of the girls.  A man entered behind them.

“I took the liberty of having our solicitor attend us, so that he can finalize all the details and I can receive my funds.  I have an estate I wish to purchase, and must hurry so that I do not lose the opportunity.  Since I have resigned my commission, I wish to begin my new life.”

Standing, Lady Catherine walked over to the two nursemaids.  “So, these are the two children who caused so much trouble for our family.  There is no mistaken their parentage, they look just like Georgiana did at that age.  Very well, Mr Hobbs, I promised my nephew, Richard Fitzwilliam, the sum of forty thousand pounds for removing these children from Darcy’s home.  He has fulfilled his end of the bargain, so I will live up to mine.  You have paperwork, I assume?”

“Yes, your Ladyship.  Mr Fitzwilliam gave me the particulars, so I drew up the papers and accessed your bank account to withdraw the funds.  If you would sign here.” The solicitor motioned to the line where Lady Catherine was to place her signature.  “And Lord Matlock, if you would be kind enough to sign as a witness.”

Once the papers had been signed and sanded, Mr Hobbs placed them back in his satchel.  He then pulled out a bag, handing it to Richard.  “Mr Fitzwilliam, it is a pleasure doing business with you.” He winked as he turned and left the room.

Hobbs had never been fond of Lord and Lady Matlock, nor was he fond of Lady Catherine.  He disliked their ways, their pompous manners, when Richard’s parents were dirt poor and unable to pay their bills.  Both of the men believed that Lord and Lady Matlock were hoping their son would come to their aid, paying off many of their debts.  But Richard had another plan.

Having sent Sally and Maggie to the carriage with Hobbs as their escort, Richard decided it was time to tell his family the truth.

“There is news I must impart to you before I leave.  First, Darcy is well aware of what is happening here today.  He allowed me to bring the girls to Town so that I might convince you that I plan to keep them.  In truth, I only plan to have them for a fortnight, doing some shopping and giving my cousin a much needed holiday.  You never stipulated that I had to keep the girls for the remainder of their lives, you only stated that I was to remove the girls from Darcy and Pemberley.  And now, for the reason I gave my cousin a much deserved holiday is that he is spending the time, alone with his wife.  My cousin was married nearly a fortnight ago to the former Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”

“NO! It is not possible.” Anne screamed.  “How could my betrothed behave in such a manner?”

“He was never your betrothed, Anne.  Your mother lied to you, our aunt never planned with your mother for the union.  Darcy is his own man, and he has the right to choose who he marries.  He decided Elizabeth was the perfect woman for him.  And I am warning you all, here and now, that no harm had best befall my new cousin, or I will seek revenge on all of you.  William and Elizabeth deserve the time together and I stand by them.”

Anne was furious.  “Mother, you must do something to stop this.”

“The only thing we can do is have the marriage annulled, but I am sure that your cousins have seen fit to protect themselves from such.” Lady Catherine spat the words.  “We have been outwitted by Darcy and Richard.”

“You cannot just allow them to get away with this behavior.  There must be something we can do to change the situation.” Anne began pacing about the room.  “I will have those children kept here, until Darcy comes and promises to divorce that chit.  Tell their nursemaids to return with them this instant.”

Anne began to move towards the door of the breakfast room, but her cousin was quicker.  “You will do no such thing, Anne.  There have been two attempts to abduct my wards, and there will be no future attempts.  Lady Matlock can attest to her punishment for her attempt, and the second attempt led to the deaths of three people, and possibly a fourth.  Have no doubts, Anne, I will see that Emmy and Edith are protected.  Anyone who attempts to bring harm to them will suffer from my wrath.  Do I make myself clear?”

“Who…who died?” Lady Matlock asked nervously.

“The dressmaker in Lambton and Mrs Jane Bingley were killed by George Wickham.  Wickham was killed as he attempted to flee capture, and the woman who hired him was apprehended.  She will stand trial and most likely be hanged for her part in the crimes.  You were fortunate, Mother.  Your life was spared.”

Lady Matlock gulped at the realization of what could have happened if she had been successful in removing the twins from Darcy House.  She hung her head in shame.

“I bid you all farewell.  I do not wish to see any of you again, and you will not be welcome in my home.  As I said, I will protect the girls with everything I have, so do not attempt to harm them or abduct them.  Leave my cousin alone, and allow him to enjoy the happiness he has found with his wife.  They love Emmy and Edith, and have no desire to be a part of Society.  You may never have known true happiness, but that does not give you the right to steal it from others.  Good day to you all.”  Richard turned on his heels and made his way from his family’s home for the last time.

Once outside, Richard shook all over, as if shedding the past from his life.  He opened the door of the carriage to find Bingley sitting with the nursemaids and the twins, a handgun resting in his lap, under a cloth.

“All is well, Bingley.  We may return to your townhouse now.” Richard stated.

Bingley let out the breath he had been holding.  “Thank the heavens.  We deserve to celebrate tonight.  Perhaps the girls could have their first taste of my cook’s best pudding.”

Richard smiled.  “That would be a pleasant way to end today.”

~~ ** ~~

Lady Catherine was furious.  Her nephews had outwitted her.  She had not expected Richard’s treachery, for she was certain that she had purchased his loyalty.  But he had weaseled the funds from her and not done as she wished.  Realizing that she had not been careful with her words, she cursed her own foolishness.

Having paced in her bedchamber for nearly an hour, Lady Catherine was brought out of her thoughts by a knock on the door.  Without waiting for the grand lady to answer, the door opened and in rushed Anne.

“Mother, you have been hiding long enough.  You must come down to discuss our plans.  Aunt and Uncle are waiting for you in the drawing room.”

“What is there to discuss?  Richard used my own words against me to acquire the funds I had promised.  Darcy is married.  How can we change these facts without any of us dying?”

“Do not be ridiculous.” Anne huffed.  “Richard would never hold to such a threat.  Especially if it were one of his parents.”

“He had his own mother arrested for attempting to abduct those children.  What makes you believe he would do nothing worse?” Lady Catherine asked.  “I will not jeopardize your welfare for the sake of ridding ourselves of those bastard children.”

“I demand we do something.  Darcy is to be my husband, not the husband of some nobody.  You have told me all my life that I am to marry him.  Now I am just to accept what I am told and go on with my life?  How will I find a husband?  You never allowed me to have masters to instruct me on the pianoforte or singing, I cannot stitch a piece of fabric or draw anything that is recognizable.  The only books I have been allowed to read were ones of your choosing.  This all boils down to my having no accomplishments worthy of winning a husband.”

“You have time to learn.  You are only twenty five years old.  There is time.”

“But I do not have time.  I am nearly on the shelf, and in a few more years, I will be too old to have children of my own.  It is all your fault, Mother.  You promised me a husband and a future as the Mistress of Pemberley, saying that I needed nothing more, as I was already promised in marriage.  I remember your clearly stating that accomplishments were meant for young ladies who had no prospects and needed to attract gentlemen.”

“I did all that I could, Anne.  Your cousin betrayed both of us.  I was certain that he would honor our family’s wishes.  But I cannot think of how to change the situation.”

The elderly woman walked towards the window, looking out at the park across the street from her brother’s townhouse.  It was a sunny day, mocking the feelings she was experiencing.

“Mother, if you do not do all in your power to secure my marriage to Darcy, I will…I will…I will have you removed to the dower house immediately.  You will no longer be allowed to run Rosings.  It is my estate, left to me by Father.”

“Anne, there is nothing more that can be done, nothing that would not endanger our lives.  We will find another husband for you.”

“NO…NO…NO!  I will marry Darcy.  I insist on marrying him.” Anne said as she grabbed hold of her mother’s arm, tugging on it to pull the lady around to look at the daughter.

Anne raised her hand to smack her mother, but Lady Catherine blocked the strike, moving back a step as her daughter moved forward.  Unfortunately for Anne, she tripped over a wrinkle in the rug, and with her mother’s movement, there was nothing to stop Anne’s momentum. She crashed into the window, her body carrying her through the broken glass and tumbling through the air, landing, with a thud, on the ground below.

“ANNE!”

~~ ** ~~

A message was delivered from Matlock House to Darcy’s townhouse to Bingley’s by one of the Matlock servants.  Lord Matlock had believed his son would be using Darcy House when he sent word.

Richard,

I am writing to inform you that your cousin, Anne, has had a terrible accident. After you took your leave of us, Anne was furious.  She argued with her mother in Catherine’s bedchamber, and as Anne approached to strike her mother, she tripped over the rug, and fell forward, going through the window.  Anne was found on the ground below, and brought inside.

The surgeon has declared that Anne’s life in delicate at the moment.  If your cousin survives, she will be crippled, as there is damage to her back.  Anne has no feeling in her arms or legs.  There is little hope that she will survive, as the surgeon says there are possibly internal injuries as well.

Though Anne is delirious, we have kept one of the family at her side constantly, in case she should recognize us.  Catherine is beside herself with grief and holds herself responsible for her daughter’s condition.  I know that you are not on good terms with your aunt or with Anne, but I plead with you to return to Matlock House, to stand vigil for Anne.

Your father,

Henry Fitzwilliam

Richard folded the message and placed it in his coat pocket.  Turning to the servant, he shook his head.  “Tell Lord Matlock, I will not be returning to his home.  I will be here for another week and a half, so he can send messages if my cousin’s condition deteriorates.  Otherwise, I do not expect any further messages.”

The servant knew Richard, and was fond of him. Not having a high opinion of Lord and Lady Matlock, and having no liking of the de Bourghs, the servant understood the former Colonel’s sentiments.

After the servant left Bingley’s townhouse, Richard poured himself a glass of port.  Bingley entered the drawing room as Richard downed the drink quickly.

“Is all well, Richard?”

“My father sent word that he wishes for my return, as my cousin, Anne, has taken a fall through a window, and is in grave condition.”

“Good God, what terrible news.” Bingley was shocked.  “Are you going to Matlock House?”

“No.  I do not belong there.  Lady Catherine would not wish for me to be there, and if my cousin were to recover, she would be furious with me.  There is no reason for me to stand vigil over her, we have never been close.  And I stand by Darcy, and will not betray him or the girls to go to Anne’s bedside and wish all to be well with her.  She made her choices, and she will have to accept the consequences of her choice and her actions.  According to my father, Anne was attempting to strike her mother, tripped and fell through the window.  If Anne survives, she will be completely paralyzed.” Richard poured himself another drink, offering to pour one for his host.

“Should we send word to Pemberley?” Bingley asked.

“No.  Let William and Elizabeth enjoy their time alone. They have time to deal with this issue later.  Besides, there is nothing they can do for Anne, or the family, so they should remain at Pemberley.”

~~ ** ~~

“Good morning, my love.” Darcy placed a kiss on his wife’s lips.  “What shall we do today?”

“I wish to leave this room.  I am so bored staying here, in bed.”

“I thank you for the compliment.” Darcy chuckled.

“Oh, William, you know what I mean.  I have no complaints where you are concerned.  You, my dearest husband, have been the kindest, most attentive man, and I am grateful for your devotion.  I am the most fortunate of women, having married for love.”

“As I am the most fortunate of men.  I love you, my beautiful Lizzy.” Darcy kissed her again, this time, deepening the passion which was building.  After several breathless moments, the couple separated slightly.  “My love, you have been the greatest temptation to me.  I have held myself under control, as you are recovering.  But it makes me desire you more.  I cannot wait until you are recovered and I can make love to you, over and over.  You will be pleased to remain in your bed then.”

A smile came over Elizabeth’s expression.  “I will indeed.  Now, other than spending my time kissing my beloved husband, what will we do today?”

“Well, dearest, how would you like to have your kind husband carry you down to the library, and we can read or have a game of chess?”

Elizabeth’s eyes grew large with joy.  “Yes, oh yes, I would approve of such an adventure.”

~~ ** ~~

Bingley and Richard stopped at Mr Phillips’ law office before they made their way to Netherfield.

“Well, as I said, my wife’s sister died suddenly, after hearing of her eldest daughter’s death.  A bout of apoplexy, she was gone before they sent for Mr Jones.”

“And what of her younger daughters?  What has become of Mary, Kitty and Lydia?”

“Mary had wed my clerk two days before Mrs Bennet’s death.  If you approve, I would like the newlyweds to take possession of the house you purchased for the family.  With the house, they will take guardianship of Kitty and Lydia.  It will be a bit of a struggle financially, but my clerk is a hard working young man.  I am certain that he will be able to meet the demands of the family.  And between him and my niece, they will be able to curb Lydia’s foolishness.  Kitty is a follower, and all she needs is a good example.”

“I was planning to settle five thousand pounds on the family.  With the interest from the settlement, and the income of your clerk, the family should be comfortable.  And the house is theirs, I wish for them to keep it.  Are there papers you wish for me to sign?”

“Yes, I have them prepared, on the chance that you would be willing.  As for the funds, my brother in law, Mr Gardiner, would be best at investing the money.” Mr Phillips said.

The men continued to discuss the matter of the youngest Bennet sisters, before Mr Phillips asked the most difficult question of Bingley.  “So, can you tell me how my eldest niece died?  Your letter stated something about Lieutenant Wickham being involved.”

“He was the one who killed Jane, shooting her when she stepped between him and Elizabeth.  Mr Wickham was attempting to abduct the twin nieces of Mr Darcy.”

“Jane saved her sister’s life?  I must admit, after the way Jane has behaved this year, I am shocked at her protecting Lizzy.”

Richard nodded his head.  “Elizabeth is surprised as well.  She said that Mrs Bingley was angry with her for becoming involved with, and then marrying, my cousin.  But then again, Mrs Bingley was shocked to learn who Wickham truly was.”

Mr Phillips frowned.  “Who was Mr Wickham?”

“He was the man who was hired to ruin Miss Georgiana Darcy, my cousin.  He was the father of the twin daughters my cousin gave birth to before her death.” Richard explained.

“He was hired to ruin Miss Darcy?” Mr Phillips was shocked.  “Who would hire someone to commit such crimes?  What could be their reasoning?”

Bingley looked down at his hands, clasped in front of him. “My sister, Caroline, was the demented person.  She knew Darcy was close to his sister, and she wanted Miss Darcy out of the way. With her ruined and in disgrace, Caroline thought Darcy would send his sister away.  He would then require a lady to marry to rebuild his status in Society.  When that failed, Caroline hired Wickham again, this time demanding he remove the twins from Darcy, believing Darcy would then be free to marry her.”

“Good God.  What is going to happen?”

“My sister has stood trial, and was found guilty of her crimes.  Caroline pays for her crimes tomorrow morning.” Bingley replied.  “Wickham was killed as he tried to escape capture.”

Mr Phillips was flabbergasted at the news.  “Forgive me, Mr Bingley, I am sorry for the troubles your family is suffering.  You have endured far more than anyone should.”

“It is done, and now I am moving forward.  It broke my heart to learn of Jane’s marrying me for my wealth rather than for love.  I wish it could have been different, I loved Jane.  But now she is gone.  I am keeping my promise to care for her family, and then I am moving forward with my life.  You are looking at the new owner of Cutherford Hall.  It is located in Staffordshire, near Derbyshire.  I will be living only thirty miles from the Darcys.”

“Congratulations on your new home.  Though I am sad to see you leave our neighborhood, I can understand your decision to live elsewhere.  So you are closing Netherfield?”

“Richard and I are planning to stay there for a few days, until all can be packed and shipped to my new home.  Then we will return to Pemberley, to visit the Darcys.”

“I was saddened to hear Lizzy was injured, but it pleases me that she will be fine and is happily settled in her marriage.  I look forward to meeting her husband one day soon.”

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

Chapter 18

“Welcome back, welcome back.” Darcy declared to his friend and his cousin.  He took Emmy in one arm while Edith was placed in his other arm.  Darcy placed a kiss on each of his nieces’ cheeks.  “We have missed having you girls here.  Have you behaved yourselves for Cousin Richard and Mr Bingley?”

“You realize, technically, I am related to you through your wife.” Bingley stated.  “I would prefer the girls know me as Uncle Charles.”  He smiled as he looked at the two miniatures of their mother.

“They were remarkably well behaved, even during the long ride.  Uncle Charles was instrumental in keeping the girls smiling.” Richard announced with a smile.

“As if you were the somber one.” Bingley said as he punched Richard in the shoulder.  “I have a feeling you will have a difficult time with the girls, as Cousin Richard has indulged them constantly.”

“Well, it does not matter to me.  I am pleased to have them home again, and I am sure that Elizabeth will say the same.  She has missed reading to them before they go to bed each night, and cuddling with them each morning.”

“How is your dear wife?  Is she recovering as the physician said she would?”  Richard asked.

“She is recovering very well.  It has been difficult for her to remain still, but I finally made some changes so she was able to leave her bedchambers.  I carried her down the hall to the library, which made her relax.  At the moment, she is relaxing on the sofa in our private sitting room.  I am certain she is wishing to see both of you.”

Bingley was nervous.  He had not informed Darcy of Mrs Bennet’s death, and he knew that he would have to speak with Elizabeth.  “Darcy, there is something important we have to tell Elizabeth.”

Creases formed between Darcy’s brows. “What has happened?”

“Elizabeth’s mother has died.  She had an attack of apoplexy that took her life before Mr Jones could be summoned.”

Darcy held the girls a little closer.  He knew that Elizabeth had never been close to her mother, but it would still be difficult to accept that she now had lost her father, her favorite sister, and her mother.  “Let us spend time enjoying the twins and speaking of good things before we discuss anything sad.”

Both of the men agreed.

~~ ** ~~

“There are my sweet girls.” Elizabeth cried out as Darcy entered the room with their nieces.  “I have missed both of you so much.”

“And we have missed you as well, Cousin.” Richard said with a smile.  “Bingley, I believe, from the welcome we received from Darcy, and now his charming wife, we are not as important as these two little blonde imps.”

Elizabeth laughed. “Oh, Richard, you are important.  It is just that you are not as cute as our fairy princesses.  You do not have the little blonde ringlets or chubby little cheeks which cry out to be kissed.”

“I beg to differ, Elizabeth.” Bingley said as he placed an arm around Richard’s shoulder.  His hand went up to take hold of Richard’s chin.  “Look at this adorable face.  He is a war hero, and now a landed gentleman.  What lady would not wish to kiss this face?”

“So you have resigned your commission and purchased an estate?” Elizabeth asked, her eyes sparkled with joy.

“Yes, I did.  I am now Mr Richard Fitzwilliam of Willow Hollow, Derbyshire.”

“And I am the proud owner of Cutherford Hall.” Bingley stated.

“We need to celebrate.” Elizabeth declared.  “William, ring for Mrs Reynolds to have something brought up.  And have her bring some of the biscuits the cook made this morning.  The girls will enjoy them.”

~~ ** ~~

The twins were becoming sleepy, after the journey, the excitement of being home, and their tummies full, so after their loved ones gave each a kiss, the girls were taken to their cribs.

Once the girls were gone, there was much to be discussed amongst the adults.

“So you took the girls inside Matlock House?” Darcy asked.  “I am surprised you were able to remove them without a battle on your hands.”

“That is why I had the girls removed to the carriage before I had the papers signed and the funds in my hand.  With Charles in the carriage, and armed, I felt they were well protected.”

“I may not be as good with a blade as the two of you, but my marksmanship was always top notch.” Charles was proud of his ability.  “No one was getting their hands on Emmy and Edith.”

“The driver was instructed to drive off if anyone other than myself came out the door, after the girls were returned to the carriage.”

“I knew you would protect them, or I never would have allowed you to take them without me.” Darcy stated.

“Our plan worked.  Aunt Catherine and my parents had no notion of what we were plotting.  The papers were signed, Hobbs handed over the funds, and then I lowered the boom on our family members.  It was such a pleasure to inform them of the loophole they had left, believing that I could be bought so easily.” Richard was chuckling.  “I shall never forget the look on their faces when I broke the news to them.  Anne was livid, yelling at her mother.”

“How was Anne, before you left Town?” Elizabeth asked.  Richard had sent word from Town of Anne’s fall.

Richard shook his head.  “She is alive, but only existing.  The surgeon says that she will never regain the use of her limbs, and with her melancholy, he does not give her long to live.  Lady Catherine is said to be a shell of her former self, as if she has lost her mind completely.  The servant I spoke with says that Lady Catherine walks about the house at all hours of the day and night, crying for Anne, saying that her daughter is lost and she needs help to find her little girl.  Only when one of the servants handed Lady Catherine a doll, did our aunt calm down.  Now she carries the doll everywhere, calling it Anne and acting as if it is her daughter.”

“It is a devastating turn of events, but they brought it on themselves.  Lady Catherine always indulged Anne, giving her everything, and making promises to our cousin that she would have all she wanted. When it is a gown or ribbons or even a pony, it is not such a big deal.  But when it is the life of another human, promising to marry and spend the rest of their days with Anne, there is no excuse for such behavior.” Darcy said as he held on to his wife’s hand, squeezing it lightly.

Bingley nodded his head.  “I agree, Darcy.  My sister was spoiled by our parents, and my mother told Caroline over and over again that whatever Caroline wanted, she would have.  Though my parents never promised her you would be her husband, as your aunt did with your cousin, they are just as responsible as your aunt for all that has happened.”

Richard poured himself another glass of port.  “Mrs Reynolds gave you a letter when we first arrived.  Was it about Miss Bingley?”

“It was from our sister, Louisa.  She and her husband went to Derby just before…” Bingley wiped a tear before it could roll down his cheek.  “Louisa had prayed our sister would be repentant for her crimes, and that Caroline would have been sorrowful for her behavior.  Instead, Louisa says that Caroline blamed me and her for not assisting her in marrying Darcy.  She claimed that if we had helped her, everything would have been perfect and she would not have found it necessary to behave as she did.  The solicitor who defended Caroline told Louisa that it was the same throughout the trial.  Poor Louisa, she was devastated by our sister’s attitude.  Louisa stayed at the inn while Hurst was on hand when Caroline was led to the gallows.  Though he never cared for Caroline, he told Louisa that witnessing the sentence being carried out was the most difficult moment of his life.”

“What became of Caroline’s remains?” Elizabeth asked.

“Hurst paid to have them taken to Scarborough, to be buried next to our parents.” Bingley accepted a refilled glass from Richard.  “Louisa wishes to return to Hurst’s family estate.  She needs to find some peace.  I can understand such a need, as I do as well.  I look forward to the future, with my new home that has no memories of the past two years connected to it.”

Darcy was still holding on to his wife’s hand.  “Lizzy, when your mother learned of Jane’s death, she had an attack of apoplexy.  It was a severe attack. They sent for Mr Jones, but she died before he could arrive.”

Elizabeth was shocked at the news.  She sat, silent and still, for several moments before she spoke again.

“As you have each stated about your family members who have brought sorrows upon themselves, we should include my mother in that category.  Mamma never could accept what she was given and learn to appreciate what she had.  She hated me for being a girl, was furious with my father for not giving her a son and for not saving more money for her and my sisters on which to survive after his death.  She even blamed my uncle and me for Papa’s death.  Because of her anger and hatred, Jane believed she had only one way to make our mother happy, and that was marrying for convenience and wealth. Mamma had no one to blame but herself for how Jane ended up, as her actions caused the change in Jane.  The only question I have now is for my younger sisters.  What will happen to them now?”

“I have spoken with both of your uncles, Elizabeth.” Bingley answered her.  “I have invested five thousand pounds with Mr Gardiner on behalf of your sisters.  Mary is married now, just a few days before your mother’s death.  She married your Uncle Phillips’ clerk.  From what we were told, he is a good man, and will protect the younger girls.  Perhaps he will be able to correct the silliness of Lydia, though I would not place a wager on anyone being able to tame her.  The house I purchased for your mother, in Meryton, will be given to Mary and her husband, and Kitty and Lydia will live there as well.”

“Thank you, Charles.  You have been generous, even after all you went through with my family.  William, would you object to our investing some funds for my younger sisters?  Uncle Edward would be able to say the interest from the investment was greater than expected, so they have no way of knowing the funds are from us.”

Darcy nodded his head.  “Of course, my dear.  I will send an express to Mr Gardiner tomorrow.”

~~ ** ~~

For the following fortnight, the Darcys enjoyed the companionship of the two gentlemen. Then the men prepared to move into their new homes.  Though they would be missed at Pemberley, the estates of Willow Hollow and Cutherford Hall were less than half a days journey from each other.

The twins continued to grow and learn new achievements.  Edith learned to walk first, though, when Emmy learned to walk, it was more of a run.  She rarely ever slowed down.

Elizabeth healed completely, and spent many hours each day with the two little sprites who had given her back her life.  In the months since she had first met the girls, Elizabeth slowly came to a point that she no longer needed any assistance walking, as the pain she had felt constantly after the carriage accident had eventually disappeared.  It was her belief that all the negative feelings she held inside her, from losing her beloved father, to her mother’s hatred and anger, losing the ability to be with her dearest sister, had combined to make her turn against her own body.  Though she knew that she was not responsible for her father’s death, and had endured years of her mother’s behavior, in her heart and soul, Elizabeth was punishing herself.

Each morning, when the weather allowed, Elizabeth and Darcy would take Emmy and Edith on walks about the estate.  The girls were as fond of the outdoors as were the couple they had begun to call Mamma and Papa.

At least once each fortnight, Richard and Bingley would join the Darcy family.  Depending on the weather, the family would take picnics or take the children for horse rides.  For the first time in a long time, all four adults felt they were feeling whole and loved.  Society may condemn them for the life they chose, but none of them regretted their lives for a moment.

Richard had begun a courtship with the Widow Jackson.  Millie Jackson had been married to one of the lieutenants who had served under Richard while they were fighting in France.  Lieutenant Jackson had died from his wounds, and Richard had been tasked to deliver the news to Millie, along with several other women.

Since Mrs Bronson’s death, Millie had begun a dress shop out of her father’s dry goods store, allowing her to assist her aging father and sew.  She had been out of her mourning for her late husband for over a year, and wishing to move forward in her life.

Coming from a family who were comfortable, though not wealthy, Millie had no difficulties in working hard to care for her family.  Three months after moving to his new estate, Richard Fitzwilliam proposed to Millie Jackson, and was joyfully accepted.  Elizabeth was thrilled to welcome another lady into their family, and the two became dear friends.

~~ ** ~~

Just days before Richard and Millie’s wedding, Elizabeth began feeling exhausted.  She required more sleep each day, and was having difficulties keeping her food down, as her stomach was queasy every morning.  Not wishing to disturb her husband, and thinking she had some sort of illness that would pass, Elizabeth attempted to make light of the situation.

As she was assisting Millie with the final fitting of Millie’s wedding gown, Elizabeth became light headed.

“Elizabeth, you must take care.  You are quite pale today, and you appear to be sleepy.”

“Oh, Millie, it is nothing.  Just a trifling cold or something.  It will pass, soon enough.” Elizabeth replied, feeling her stomach beginning to churn.

“You must take care Lizzy. I cannot have you ill at my wedding.  I would have to ask Hazel Morton to stand in your place if you were ill, and I do not wish to do so.  She is my second cousin and has spent her life telling me how fortunate she has always been.”  The two ladies giggled.

“There is no reason for you to entertain having to have your cousin fill in for me.  I am fine, truly I am.” Elizabeth stood, preparing to pin a piece of lace to the gown.  The room suddenly began to move around her, and Elizabeth swayed.  Without any chance of declaring the situation to her friend, Elizabeth collapsed to the floor.

~~ ** ~~

“Mr York, please tell me my wife will be well.  I cannot think of living my life without her.”

The physician smiled.  “Calm yourself, Darcy.  Mrs Darcy will be well.  She needs to eat more, as she informed me that she has had problems taking nourishment of late.  The smell of certain foods makes her stomach ill.  I suggested she speak with the cook and have some bland foods that are to your wife’s preference be served.”

“And my wife will be well?  All she requires is some bland food?  Why would she have collapsed as she did?”

“Darcy, your wife has a condition.  It is a temporary condition, and if she takes the precautions I have told her, she will be fine.”

Darcy paled.  “A condition?  What sort of condition?  What is needed to ensure she survives?”

“My friend, the condition is one that happens frequently with married ladies.  She is increasing.  With proper rest, eating more food, your wife should have no difficulties.”

The pale complexion of Darcy’s face became ghost like. “No, I cannot lose Elizabeth.  I lost my sister after giving birth, I cannot lose my wife as well.”

Mr York suddenly realized what the younger man was feeling.  “My friend, your sister’s confinement, the entire term of her being with child, Miss Darcy was emotionally devastated with what had happened to her. Her mind did nothing to keep her body strong.  People can give up on living, and that is what your sister did.  Your wife, on the other hand, is healthy and strong, and has a vibrant thirst for life.  She will be fine, I am certain.  Her family has a long history of no problems bearing children.  Mrs Darcy is one of five children birthed by Mrs Bennet, with no difficulties.”

“But she collapsed.  That is not a good sign.”

“As I said, she collapsed due to lack of food, due to her queasy stomach.  It is not uncommon for ladies to be ill, especially in the morning, early in the process.  This is the body’s way of adjusting to the changes taking place.  There is a new life, a new person, growing inside your wife.  A new life formed from your love.  Do not fret over her, your wife is a remarkable lady, and she is very pleased with the news.”

“Elizabeth is pleased with her condition?” Darcy asked, still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that his wife was with child.

“Very much so.” Mr York placed a hand on the younger man’s shoulder.  “Cheer up, my friend.  Your wife is carrying your future.  Now, I suggest you calm yourself before you enter your wife’s room.  I will not have you quash her excitement with your needless worries.”

Darcy nodded his head.  “Thank you, York.  I appreciate your guidance and care.”

~~ ** ~~

At first, when Darcy entered the room, he thought Elizabeth to be asleep.  She turned her head towards her husband. Lifting her hand, she reached out to take his hand.

“Did Mr York tell you the news?” She asked, smiling like he had never seen her do before.

“He did.  Are you well?  I am so worried for you.”

“William, you have nothing to fear.  I am not Georgiana.”

Darcy was shocked at her words.  “How did you…?”

“It is not a great leap to know you would be worried over my being with child, not after your sister’s death after giving birth to Emmy and Edith.  But Georgiana was dying from the day that Wickham stole her virtue.  From what I have been told, Georgiana was only a shell of the girl she had been before.  In my opinion, it was as if her body held on long enough to give you a piece of her, so you would not be alone.  The Lord knew you loved your sister, and what happened to her was horrible.  But out of the terrible situation came the beauty of those two beautiful baby girls.  Others may wonder why you decided to keep the girls with you, rather than follow what Society dictates which would have you send them away, but I know you well enough.  You needed someone in your life to love.  We had not met, your parents and sister were gone, and you needed so much to have someone to hold in your arms and love. And through them, we became a family.  Now we will have another child to love.  Hopefully, over the years, we will have more.  You have the largest heart I have ever known, and it was empty for so long.  We will fill your heart with so much love, you will never be alone again.”

Darcy wrapped his arms around his wife, pulling her to his chest. “I love you so much, my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.”

“And I do you, my handsome, loving husband.”

~~ ** ~~

Richard Fitzwilliam and Millie Jackson were wed in a small ceremony in the chapel of Pemberley.  The couple was pleased that Mr and Mrs Darcy were able to stand as their witnesses.

Richard’s eyes twinkled with delight as he took his vows, as his life had changed drastically in the few months since he resigned his commission.  Though he had very little contact with his parents and elder brother, Richard was pleased at how his life was turning out.  He was marrying a lady with whom he had fallen in love, and who loved him in return.  He had a home of his own, and would never have to go to war again.  And he hoped that one day, he would have children to love and fill his days.

Millie was beautiful in the gown of cream, with pink and red satin roses sewn on the neckline.  Her blonde hair was piled high on her head, with satin roses pinned in amongst the curls.  She was the picture of happiness, a woman in love with the man she was marrying.  Her father walked her down the aisle of the chapel, and placed her hand in that of Richard Fitzwilliam.  “Love her always.” The elder man charged his soon to be new son.

“I will, Sir.  You may count on me.”

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

Chapter 19

Emmy Darcy made her way into her father’s study.  “Papa, Mamma asked for you to come to the drawing room.  Uncle Charles and Aunt Clarice will arrive any moment.”

“Yes, my dear girl.  Tell your mother I will be there in a moment.”

“Papa, we are all well aware of your moments turning into hours.  Come now, with me.”

Darcy smiled.  “Very well, dearest.”

He took hold of his daughter’s hand and placed it gently on his arm.  “How is Mr Armitage today?  Did he not pay a call on you earlier?”

Emmy turned her eyes up at her father’s face, a look of surprise written on her expression.  “How did you know?”

“There is very little that happens here at Pemberley of which I do not know.  Besides, he has called on you five times in the last fortnight.”

A chuckle was heard from the young lady.  “Yes, Papa, he has.  I expect he will come to speak with you soon.”

“And will that make you happy, my girl?  Do you love him?”

Emmy nodded her head.  “Yes, Papa, I love him dearly.  He is all that a young man should be.”

“When will he take over Mr York’s practice?”

“In a month.  Mr York is utilizing Mr Armitage’s vast knowledge to set up the hospital in Lambton.  Once the hospital is finished, Mr York will spend more time there, while Mr Armitage will see patients outside the hospital.”

Darcy nodded his head.  “Your young man is intelligent, and is a forward thinking man.  I am pleased to see the improvements in medicine he has brought to the neighborhood.”

“Mr Armitage was pleased to see Mr York was the sort to discourage old practices, such as leeches and bleedings.”

As the pair entered the drawing room, he heard a group of people cry out, “SURPRISE.”

Looking about the room, his eyes locked on those of his beloved wife.  They had been married for twenty years, and he had learned to love her more each and every day.

“What is happening?” He asked.

“You have been so busy of late, that you have forgotten your own birthday, Papa.” Edith said as she walked across the room and embraced her father.

“My birthday?  Is it truly my birthday?”

“Yes, Papa, it is.” Bennet Richard Darcy said as he stepped to his father.  He was the heir to Pemberley, the first of six children with which Elizabeth gifted her husband.

Each of the children stepped forward, in order of their age, oldest to youngest.  After Bennet came Helen Jane, Georgiana Anne, Charles Edward, William Gerald, and the baby of the family, five year old Thomas James.

When the children were finished welcoming their father to his birthday party, Elizabeth stepped forward.  Placing a chaste kiss on her husband’s lips, she whispered, “The children have been planning the party for a month.  They are so excited, especially since you did not catch on to their surprise.”

“I have been so caught up with work that I have forgotten everything else.  Forgive me, my love, for neglecting you.”

Receiving another kiss from his wife, she replied. “I have not been neglected, especially just last night.”

Darcy’s cheeks turned red, as he hoped his children had not overheard their parents’ conversation.

Next to wish him joy was his cousin.  Richard Fitzwilliam gave his cousin a manly hug.  “Happy birthday, old man.”

“You are older than I am, Richard.”

“Yes, so I am well versed as to who is an old man.  And you are, Cousin.” Richard laughed.

“It is good to see you, Richard.  How are you fairing?  Your arm is recovered, I see.”

“Yes, well that stallion has been a challenge, and one of the only horses to ever throw me, but he is incredible.  I am planning to breed him with the mare I purchased last year.”

“I want to place an order for a foal from the pair.” Darcy stated.

“For that, you will have to speak with Richard Jr.  He is beginning to assist me with the horse breeding, and has claimed the first foal from them.”

“Well then I wish for the second.” Darcy laughed.

Richard and Millie had been blessed with three sons, all of whom were much like their father in stature and personality. Poor Millie was forever enduring snakes, frogs, insects and a menagerie of animals her sons brought in the house.

“We are charged with wishing you a happy birthday from Gerald.  He had exams this week at school, so he was not able to make the journey back.”

“How is his schooling coming?”

“He has developed a taste for agriculture, so his science classes are his favorite.”

“Then he will be able to teach you all the new methods of planting and improving your estate’s yield.”

“And when he is done at Willow Hollow, Gerald can come here to advise you.  Of course, I am sure there will be no hardship on his part, seeing as he has long been in love with Georgiana.”

“Not until she is officially out next year.  Though we do not hold to a debut in London Society, we do set an age when the girls are considered old enough to accept young men who call on them.  And for Georgiana, it is next year, when she is sixteen.”

“It does not seem possible that our children are as old as they are.  The twins are almost twenty one.  Where has the time gone?” Richard asked.

“I am not sure, but I wish it would slow down some.  Emmy is likely to soon be engaged.  Edith is to marry in a month.  Ben has spoken to me of his desire to court Miss Farris.  They are all rushing off into their new lives, rushing to be adults and have families of their own.”

“At least we have wives we love, so even with the children grown and moving on, we have someone at home to care for us.” Richard smiled as he looked about the room.

Bingley approached the cousins, the men he called his best friends.  “Happy Birthday Darcy.  You do not look a day over thirty.”

“Bingley, you look cheerful, as always.  How are you today?”

“I am wonderful, my friend.  Clarice informed me just this morning that she felt the quickening.  Our fourth child is well on its way.”

Bingley had married Clarice Pendleton, niece of Jonathon Pendleton, the Duke of Pennington, two years after Jane Bingley had died.  By then, he had doubled the size of his estate and was becoming well known as a member of the landed gentry.  Their first child, William Richard, was the heir to the Duke, as the Duke’s son had died two years previously, and William was the next in line.  After William, the Bingleys had two daughters, Elizabeth Rose and Martha Anne.  Elizabeth, or Eliza as she was called, was smitten with Richard Jr and he was quite taken with her in return.  Everyone in the family had expected them to marry since they were young, as the two had always been close.

“Are you hoping for a boy this time?” Richard asked.

“I will take whatever the good Lord sees fit to give me, but a son to inherit my estate would be nice.  William will have his hands full with the dukedom and the estate with which it comes.”

“You can always leave the estate for your girls.  There is no entail, and you can always split the estate into sections.”

“We will see what happens.  Clarice has some property in Scotland that was left to her by her mother’s father.  If we have three daughters, we can split Cutherford in half and, with the Scotland estate, each would inherit a property.  I am still hoping for a son though.”

The men stood together for some time, discussing many topics which revolved around their families.

In the past twenty years, many things had changed.  Mrs Gardiner had moved to Pemberley, after her husband died just five years past. Their eldest son had taken over the family business, and moved into the house near the warehouse in Cheapside.  The young man had learned well from his father, and was now exceeding his father’s income from the investments.

The Gardiner children had flourished, each marrying for love and had wonderful homes.  Mrs Gardiner was a grandmother, and doted on her grandchildren whenever she had the chance.  The Darcys enjoyed having their beloved aunt living with them, and welcomed her family to visit Pemberley whenever they wished.  The invitation was accepted often and the families all felt at home at the grand estate.

On the other side, Lord and Lady Matlock were never allowed to visit Pemberley or Darcy House.  Lord Matlock pleaded with his second son for the rift between them to be repaired, but Richard ignored the pleas.  Matlock suffered from the gambling debts of the eldest Fitzwilliam son, and it became necessary to sell the estate.  Lord and Lady Matlock remained in Town at Matlock House, while their son took control of Rosings.

Lady Catherine never regained her senses, and had to be placed in an asylum two years after her daughter’s accident.  Five years later, Lady Catherine died in her sleep, having been abandoned to the asylum staff, as no one from her family ever visited.

Anne de Bourgh lived for ten years, surprising everyone in the family.  Though she was alive, she was a quadriplegic and remained in her bed constantly.  She was a bitter woman, spewing her anger and frustration with anyone who entered her bedchambers.  Needless to say, it did not take long at being abused by Anne’s verbal attacks, before no one visited Anne.  Only those who were paid to tend her came in the bedchambers, and they frequently were replaced when one servant after another left for friendlier employment.

With Lady Catherine and Anne incapable of running Rosings Park, Lord Matlock took control of the estate and the wealth his sister had amassed.  Even that was not enough to save the estate of Matlock, as his heir spent much of the de Bourgh fortune behind his father’s back.  By the time Lord Matlock realized what was happening, it was too late.  The fortune was gone, and so, too, was his ancestral home.

The Darcys were rarely in Town.  They were not fond of Society, and chose the comfort of their estate to that which Town had to offer.  But once a year, the family would journey to Town, usually in late fall, to take in some shopping and some entertainment at the theater or a concert.  The townhouse was commonly used by many in the family, including Richard and Millie and their boys.  Bingley decided to sell his townhouse, as he did not require one after his marriage.  The Duke of Pennington had a grand townhouse in Town, and it would be Bingley’s son’s home when he inherited from Clarice’s uncle.  Her uncle was always pleased to have the Bingley family stay with him when they came to Town.

As for the remaining Bennet sisters, Mary and her husband were well suited for each other.  Mr Poe, Mary’s husband, became a partner with Mr Phillips, and when the elder man died, Mr Poe took over the practice.  Mrs Phillips moved in with the Poe family, which included two children.  Though Mary held the belief that Darcy and Elizabeth should have sent the twins to live elsewhere, as their births had been outside of wedlock, Mary did not despise the children as Jane had.  Mary was friendly whenever she saw the Darcy family, which was rare.

Kitty Bennet reached out to her sister Elizabeth, only months after their mother passed away.  Kitty had always been afraid of incurring their mother’s wrath if she had been closer to her second eldest sister, so Kitty allowed hostility their mother held to come between them.  Kitty had decided that she wished for a better life than following her younger sister’s example.  The second to the youngest of the Bennet sisters requested to visit Pemberley, and once she was there, became close to Elizabeth and the Darcy family.   Kitty married the son of Pemberley’s steward, who was training to take over for his father.  They lived in a cottage on Pemberley’s land, and Kitty spent her spare time teaching reading, writing and arithmetic to the tenant children of the estate.   Their daughter was nearly twelve and she spoke often of her desire to one day become a nurse.

As for the youngest Bennet sister, Lydia surprised everyone.  She was wild, especially in the year that she should have been in deep mourning for her mother.  Lydia was constantly flirting with any young man she saw, and made a fool of herself.  After Kitty left for Pemberley, and then announced her decision to remain with Elizabeth’s family, Lydia disappeared for a few days.  No one ever discovered where she had gone, or what she had done.  A week after her return, the militia returned to Meryton, after being gone for the summer at Brighton.  With the return of the militia came the return of Lieutenant Denny, who had become Captain Denny.  Denny asked Lydia for her hand in marriage, and the young lady accepted.  She became an upstanding woman, having learned to control her silliness and outrageous behavior.  Lydia gave her husband three children, two sons and a daughter.  All were loved and were taught proper behavior by their mother.  Though she did not know her second sister well, having always believed Mrs Bennet’s foolishness, Lydia did make an effort to know Elizabeth.  Though they did not spend much time together, as the Denny family moved about frequently, Lydia and Elizabeth corresponded often.

~~ ** ~~

The next day, Mr Armitage arrived to call on Emmy Darcy.  “How was your father’s party?  Did you surprise him?”

“We did.  Papa was thrilled with the entire day.  We had all his favorite foods served throughout the day, played games, put on a show for him, and more.  Mamma even had a fireworks display for Papa last night.”

“I saw them from a distance as I arrived at Lambton.  It was exciting.”

“I wish you could have been here for the day.  Papa and I spoke of you.”

Mr Armitage was surprised.  “And just what did you and your father have to say about me?”

“He asked if you were going to talk with him anytime soon.”

“And your reply was…?”

Emmy smiled.  “I told him I was certain that you would be speaking with him soon, and that I would be pleased to accept your attention.”

The edges of Armitage’s lips curled up.  “You welcome my attentions, Miss Darcy?”

“Indeed, Mr Armitage.  You are everything of which I could ever dream.”

Mr Armitage knelt before Emmy, holding her hands in his own.  “In vain, I have struggled.  I must speak my mind.  I love…love…love you.  You are my heart and soul, my other half.  Would you do me the honor of making me the happiest of men, by accepting my hand in marriage?”

A tear began to trickle down from the corner of Emmy’s eye as she nodded her head, unable to find her voice.  Mr Armitage stood quickly, gathering Emmy into his embrace.  “Dearest, loveliest Emmy, I will love you always.”

~~ ** ~~

Darcy welcomed Mr Armitage into his study.  “I had a feeling I would be seeing you today, Sir.”

The men shook hands.  “Yes, I returned home last night.  I am sure that Miss Darcy, Miss Emmy Darcy that is, told you I had made a trip to Town to place an order for supplies my uncle will need for the new hospital.  He is grateful for the generous donation you made to the project.  It will be a modern, well-equipped hospital.”

“I have no doubts.  Mr York told me all of your plans.  The neighborhood will be well taken care of by you and your uncle.  York is very proud of you and your accomplishments.  No uncle could be prouder.”

Armitage smiled.  “I beg to differ.  I believe you are as proud of Miss Emmy and Miss Edith as my uncle is of me, if not prouder.  You took them in as your own, adopted them, and loved them dearly.  Never once have you treated them as the children your sister, born out of wedlock.  My uncle has told me of all Society has said of you over the years, and you ignored them.  I find that I must thank you for standing your ground, and keeping the sisters with you.  If you had not, it is most likely I would never have met Miss Emmy and would not be here, now, asking for your permission to marry her.”

“You love her, despite her origins?” Darcy asked, watching the young man’s behavior.

“Indeed.  It matters not from where she came.  In truth, her mother was your sister, her great grandfather was an earl. And what happened to her mother, at the hands of that scoundrel, was not Miss Emmy’s or Miss Edith’s blame.  They, and your sister, should not share in the scorn of society, as they have.  I know that it was the reason you hired masters to come to Pemberley to instruct all of your children, as you wished for them a better life than one of bitterness from people of no consequence to yourselves.”

“Do you know who fathered Emmy and Edith?”

Mr Armitage nodded his head.  “Miss Emmy told me that it was the son of your father’s steward, a George Wickham.  She also told me that he had been hired to ruin your sister, and later to abduct the twins.”

“Emmy must think highly of you to disclose all of our family’s history.”

“She said that she did not wish for me to enter into any sort of relationship without my knowing the truth.  It was her fear that I might come to regret my choice, if something were to be said by someone in Society.  To be honest, I care nothing about Society.  All I have ever wished for is a loving wife, children, and being able to tend to my patients to the best of my abilities.  And Miss Emmy is the young lady who has taken hold of my heart.  Anyone who is an important part of my life will see Miss Emmy for who she is, not her origins.  Besides, there have been far greater exploits in high society that outweigh the significance of Miss Emmy and Miss Edith’s births.”

Darcy was surprised, but asked about the exploits of which the young man spoke.

“Lord Densmore caught his wife in a tryst with Lord Whitcomb.  Walked into his wife’s bedchambers and found the two in her bed.  With Lady Densmore being in a family way, it calls into question whose child it is.  Being their first child, it could be Lord Densmore’s heir.  The talk is that his lordship is planning to ask for a divorce and rid himself of the woman, and Lord Whitcomb is supposed to marry Miss Florence Holden.  The wedding may be cancelled, as her father is furious.  So, you see, your nieces are quite ordinary in comparison, when compared with the scandal level of this adventure.”

Darcy chuckled.  “Another reason I dislike being with those who think themselves above everyone else.”

“I agree with you.  Might I ask you, how everything came about?  Miss Emmy has told me what she knows, but she was not sure about where you were when Wickham had her mother.  She thought you were in an accident, but that is all she knew.”

“Very well.  We have been open with all of our children, including Emmy and Edith.  We want them all to know that we love them, and that we do not think of the girls as any sort of shame.  The story all begins with my sister, Georgiana, staying at a house we had leased in Ramsgate.  I arrived, unexpectedly, to find my sister and her companion had left, with none other than George Wickham.  As I raced back to Town to find my sister and rescue her, I was in an accident.  A terrible storm had begun just before I left Ramsgate, and it led to my carriage striking the carriage of my wife and her father, who were on their way to holiday with the Gardiner family.  So you see, much of this tale begins on the road to Ramsgate.”

THE END

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