Chapter 5

When the ladies arrived at Darcy House, a letter was waiting for Elizabeth.  “Would you ladies excuse me for a few moments, so I may read the letter?”

“Of course, my dear girl.  Take all the time you need.  Georgianna will see to refreshments.” Rebecca stated with a smile

Elizabeth stepped across the hall, to the breakfast room.  Breaking the seal, she opened the letter to read.

My Dear Lizzy,

I have spoken with William, and there needs to be some changes made.  William wishes to have the wedding moved to the day he arrives at Darcy House after his graduation.  I know this moves the plans ahead six weeks, and I beg your forgiveness for the change.  I have sent a letter to Longbourn, informing your father of the need to change the preparations your mother has planned.

William also wishes for the wedding to be simple with family only.  We will hold the wedding at Darcy House, in the ballroom.  I have sent a letter to Mrs Murphy to see to anything you need to accomplish the decorations and prepare a wedding breakfast.  Your family are invited to stay with us at Darcy House, if they choose.  And the Gardiners will be invited to the wedding.

The other change is that William would prefer living at the dowager house rather than the main house.  He said that he would understand if you prefer living at the main house, and it is your choice as to where you wish to live.

I am sorry, my dear girl, as I know you understand what I am telling you.  I do not wish to bring you any heartache, but my son is being difficult.  I will explain more when I see you.  William only needs time to settle in his new position, as he will need to spend time learning about running the estate and the breeding of the horses.  There will be many items keeping him busy for some time, and he is still wishing the freedom which is common for most young men at this stage of life.

Have no fear, Lizzy.  I will remain here, with William, until his graduation.  If there is anything you or Georgianna requires, feel free to act as the Mistress of Darcy House and Pemberley.  If there is anything you cannot handle on your own, speak with Lady Matlock or send word to me at the Rose Inn near Cambridge.

Your soon to be father,

G.Darcy

Elizabeth could feel tears beginning to well up in her eyes.  It was clear that Fitzwilliam was not pleased with having to marry her, and that he did not wish to live with her after the wedding.  They would have a marriage of convenience, not one of love, as she had one time believed.  Everything she had dreamed of for her future vanished as if in a puff of smoke.

Taking a deep breath, Elizabeth wiped her eyes with a handkerchief she pulled from her pocket.  She would not cry.  If Fitzwilliam Darcy wished to have a loveless marriage, she would see that it was the sort of life she would give him.

Returning to the drawing room, Elizabeth handed the letter to Lady Matlock.

“Georgiana, your father wrote that the wedding is to be moved forward six weeks.  William wishes the wedding to take place in a fortnight, when he arrives here after graduation.  Your father will remain at Cambridge until graduation.”

Lady Matlock had read the letter, coming to the same conclusion as had Elizabeth.  Rebecca Fitzwilliam had prayed for her nephew’s marriage to be one of love and companionship.  She was nearly as broken hearted as Elizabeth to learn of Fitzwilliam’s demands.

Pasting a smile on her face, Rebecca attempted to make the young ladies smile.  “Georgianna, your father has authorized Elizabeth to spend whatever is needed to see the preparations are made for the wedding.  I believe we need to help her spend your brother’s money, as I am certain it will come from William’s allowance.  We will need to have the modiste rush the gowns we ordered, and a wedding breakfast will need to be prepared.  And we need to have Mrs Murphy prepare rooms for the Bennets to stay here, rather than at the Gardiner home.  We have many things to see to, and a short time.  Let us begin a list of everything.”

~~ ** ~~

“I do not know what you are complaining about, Darce.” George Wickham said as he slapped his childhood friend on the back.  “I have seen your intended, and with a figure like hers, you would be a happy man.  If you do not wish to find pleasure in her ample curves, I would be honored to do so for you.”

“Shut your mouth!” Fitzwilliam said as he fought to keep from punching Wickham.  “Whether I am happy with the situation or not, you will not lay a finger on Miss Elizabeth.  She will be a member of the Darcy family, not one of the serving girls you are constantly bedding.  You will do nothing to harm her.”

“I was talking of pleasuring her, not harming her.” Wickham said with a smirk.

Fitzwilliam charged at the man he had come to despise, preparing to beat him for all the insults Wickham had perpetrated.  Richard Fitzwilliam entered the room, just in time to grab hold of his cousin.

“Wickham, what have you done now?”

“Nothing, yet.  I was just telling your hot headed cousin that if he has no intention of bedding his betrothed, I would be more than happy to do so for him.  You have seen her, Richard.  She is a tasty morsel.”

Fitzwilliam attempted to break free of his cousin’s grasp.  “Let me teach this rubbish a lesson, Richard.”

“No, William, I will not.  You are graduating in a little over a week.  Do you wish to throw it all away and be sent down from school for fighting?  Wickham is not worth the trouble.”

“I will not have him speak of a young lady in such a disgusting manner.”

Wickham laughed.  “Just a few moments ago, you were telling me that you had no intention on having a true marriage.  You do not plan to take your husbandly rights, so why are you troubled?  You can visit the courtesans all you wish, and I will make certain that your wife does not complain.”

“You scoundrel, you have no right to be anywhere near any decent young lady.  You are a rake, leaving ruined girls everywhere in have been.  What would you do if my father were to learn the truth and he cut off any support for you?  His appreciation for all your father has done will only get you so far.  Father would not appreciate your proclivities.

“I would tell your father that you are envious of all the young ladies wishing to be with me, so you are making up stories.”

“And what if I were to show him the proof of all your conquests?” Fitzwilliam responded.  “I have kept a list of all the young ladies you have ruined, and who’s families have come to me for recompense due to my father sponsoring your education.  I have tried to keep the information from Father, as I know he would be angry.  And I know you are returning to Pemberley, after graduation, to train with your father to become a steward.”

“I have no desire to become a steward.” Wickham replied.  “I plan to speak with your father about his sponsoring me in some other profession.”

“Not if I have anything to say about it.”

Richard was tired of trying to keep the two men apart.  “Wickham, why do you not leave?  I wish to speak with my cousin.”

Laughing, Wickham gathered his coat and hat, and left the rooms he shared with Fitzwilliam.

Once Wickham was gone, Richard released his hold on his cousin.  “William, I do not understand why you would allow Wickham to bother you so much.  As he said, you do not intend to have relations with your betrothed.  You told me as much yesterday.”

“That man is the worst scoundrel.  You have no idea how much I have paid to keep people quiet.  I do not wish for Father to know how disgraceful his god son is.” Fitzwilliam began pacing about the room.  “As my father has always been fond of my betrothed, he would not wish for her to be ruined by that blackguard.”

“There is more to this than just not wishing your father to be upset.  Are you finally ready to admit that you do have feelings for Elizabeth?”

Fitzwilliam turned towards his cousin, fury visible in his expression.  “How dare you make such a statement?  You know I have no desire to marry Miss Elizabeth Bennet. It is my father’s decision that I marry her.”

“I know you better than anyone else. Tell me the truth.  You have been thinking of Elizabeth.  I am your roommate.  I know that you have dreamed of her, as you have said her name in your sleep many nights.”

Though he wished he could hide the truth, Fitzwilliam knew Richard was likely telling the truth.  Over the past year, he had been frequently dreaming of the beautiful young lady in which his childhood friend had become.  And the dreams had become extremely erotic over the past fortnight.  Fitzwilliam had even considered joining his cousin visiting the courtesan house near the university.

“It does not matter if I dreamed of her.   I will not take her as a husband takes his wife.”

“Have you ever thought of talking with your intended?  Tell her what you are feeling?”

Fitzwilliam shook his head.  “How do you speak to someone about why you choose not to share a marital bed with them?  I would be mortified, and I am certain she would be extremely embarrassed.”

Richard was frustrated with his cousin.  Though he was born only six months prior to his cousin, but Richard felt he was years older than Fitzwilliam.  “I think you are being a fool, but only you can discuss the matter with your betrothed.  And, if I were you, I would speak with your father about Wickham’s behavior.  If you do not, any females at Pemberley could be at risk of being ruined.”

Turning to leave their shared rooms, Richard stopped just before reaching the door.  “William, I beg you to take the time to speak with Elizabeth about your feelings.  I know you were devastated when your mother died.  And I know you truly do not hate Georgianna, you are using it as an excuse to keep your sister from becoming close to you.”

“Go on, Richard.  Go pester someone else.”

~~ ** ~~

Richard sat down at the table, across from his uncle.

“Thank you, Richard, for dining with me.  I know William wants nothing to do with me at the moment, but I did not wish to eat alone.”

“Uncle Gerald, it is always a pleasure to dine with you, especially when you are paying the bill.”

Gerald laughed.  “You definitely have your father’s sense of humor.  How have exams been?”

“Let us speak of pleasant topics, not exams.” Richard said, lifting the glass of port to his lips.  “Excellent refreshments, Uncle.  What should we order to eat?”

Once the food they ordered arrived, and the men had shared a few more general topics, Richard decided to begin the conversation he was sure his uncle wished for the most.

“So the wedding is to happen as soon as we arrive in Town?”

“Yes.  I received a letter from your mother, stating she was assisting Lizzy in the preparations.”

“Ah, Mother will be pleased to be assist.  She has been dreaming of my sister’s wedding for years.” Richard smiled.  “Though it will be small, and not the grand, Society wedding, I am certain that Mother will leave nothing undone.”

“And Lizzy’s mother will arrive three days before the wedding, so she will wish to take part of some of the preparations.” Gerald stated.  “I must remember to give my staff a bonus in their pay.”

“I am sure you wish to know my view on your son’s decision for the marriage.

“Richard, you are the closest to him.  You know William better than anyone else.  What do you think will happen?”

“I was sure he would eventually lower his guard and allow Elizabeth inside his heart, but after this afternoon, I am completely certain it will not be long before he accepts her whole heartedly.”

Gerald frowned.  “What happened this afternoon?”

Richard thought for a moment.  “Uncle, first let me tell you that George Wickham is not what he portrays to you.  He is a cad, a rake, a gambler, a wastrel.  The man has caused William much suffering while here at university.  Your son did not wish you to be harmed by the debts Wickham has amassed, both from gambling and from paying off families who have had daughters and sisters ruined by the scoundrel.  Wickham has, at least, two children.”

Gerald nodded his head.  He had heard rumors of his god son’s behavior, though he wished the young man had grown out of his foolishness by obtaining an education.  “I have heard of his proclivities, especially the gambling and of two maids he had dallied with.  Mrs Reynolds has been informed to instruct the household staff that George is not to be trusted, and that any of the female staff who allow him any favor, they will be released from service, without reference.”

“I am glad you know of his true behavior.”

“But what does that have to do with William today?”

A smile grew on Richard’s lips.  “I entered our rooms today to find William and Wickham arguing, to the point that William was prepared to attack your god son and pummel him.  Wickham was taunting William, saying that if William was unwilling to see to his husbandly rights to bed his wife, Wickham was more than willing to pleasure Elizabeth.  He made many comments with regards to Elizabeth’s figure and assets, and what a delicious morsel she would be of which to take a taste.  That was what set William into a fury.  After Wickham left, I was able to prod William further.  He cares for her, Uncle.  I am certain of William’s love for Elizabeth.  But he is afraid of losing her.  He is afraid that, if he allows Elizabeth inside his heart, if she were to die, he would be destroyed.”

“I thought so.  When he wrote, wishing to change the arrangement so he could marry your cousin, Anne, I was certain my son was afraid to open his heart.”

“We also spoke of his feelings towards Georgianna.  He has finally admitted that Georgianna did not kill Aunt Anne.  But he is frightened to allow her close to him.  When Aunt Anne died, William closed off his heart and does not wish to allow anyone close.”

“What do you think will happen after the wedding?” Gerald asked.

“It may take a little while, but I am certain Elizabeth will be able to find a way into his heart.  Once inside his heart, I doubt William will continue to refuse the love she has to offer him.  You were correct to refuse to change the arrangement.  If William had married our cousin, Anne, he would continue in his refusal to allow love into his life.  It would lead to a miserable life for him.”

“I am certain of that, for he has never even liked being around Anne de Bourgh.  It is for that reason we made the arrangement for William to marry Elizabeth.” Gerald took a drink before continuing.  “I will send Lizzy a letter, informing her of what I have learned.  She must be prepared to fight for the man she has cared for all of her life.  The first weeks might be difficult and painful, but I know that Lizzy has always cared for William, loved him deeply.”

“It pleases me that you had the strength to stand your grounds with William.  And I will enjoy watching the couple as they work through everything”

~~ ** ~~

“Bingley, can you believe we are graduating in a few days?” Fitzwilliam asked his friend.  “Are you ready to become a gentleman with an estate?”

“I am ready to be finished with school, though I must admit to being somewhat frightened by the daunting task before me.  Your father has been generous with his time, speaking with me of some of the more important duties I will be responsible for when I take over the lease.  Fortunately, as I am only leasing the property, it is ultimately the landlord’s responsibility.  And I am grateful that your father has already spoken with your cousin, Mr Bennet, who is the neighbor of Netherfield. Mr Bennet has agreed to be available if I have questions.”

“He is extremely intelligent.  Wait until you see his study.  The man is nearly as addicted as I am to reading.  We used to tease him that, when he visited Pemberley or our townhouse, he would spend his entire visit in the library.”

Bingley laughed.  “Well, I might be in trouble, as I have heard that Netherfield does not have a grand library.”

“Keep your liquor cabinet and cigars stocked, and I am certain you will have no difficulties in persuading Mr Bennet to visit you.”  Fitzwilliam said with a smile.  “You are coming to Town before making the journey to Netherfield?   You are planning to be at my wedding?”

“I thought you were not to marry for another two months.  I cannot remain in Town for that long.”

Fitzwilliam shook his head.  “I insisted on moving the wedding date forward.  We will wed the morning after my father and I arrive in Town.”

“My goodness, I did not think you were excited to marry.  Why on earth would move it up rather than delay the event?”

“I…I…would rather not discuss the matter at the moment.  Suffice it to say, my wedding is scheduled to occur on the day after our graduation, and I hope you will be in attendance.”

With a nod, Bingley agreed.  “It will be my honor, William.  Now, I must deal with sending word for Netherfield to be prepared for my arrival.  I will leave my sisters and Hurst in Town for a month.  Then I will return to Town and escort them to the estate.”

“That will give you time to learn your way around the neighborhood before your sisters arrive.  It has been a few years since I have been at in the area, but the nearby village of Meryton is a pleasant place.  There was a number of fine shops and the service was quality.” Fitzwilliam stated.  “And, what you cannot find there, you will be able to come to Town to acquire.”

“I look forward to checking out the neighborhood.  Well, I must finish my paper for Professor Moreland.  I must make certain I graduate first.”

“You had best make certain that you make it legible, as I am well aware of your handwriting, and it is difficult make out most of the time.  If you wish to graduate, you had best not try Professor Moreland’s patience.”

Bingley laughed.  “I was tempted to hire someone to do the actual writing.  But I did not want the professor to think I cheated when he saw no blotches or scribbling.”

“You have a good point.  I will see you tomorrow.”

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

Chapter 6

“My goodness, the townhouse nearly shines.” Mrs Bennet said, as she entered Darcy House, along with the rest of her family.  “The servants have spent many hours making everything sparkle.

“Just wait until you see the ballroom.” Elizabeth said as she embraced her parents.  “Lady Matlock has been seeing to the decorations for the ceremony.  Though it is a small gathering, Lady Matlock wished to make it the most perfect setting.”

“And spending William’s money to punish him for making us rush everything.” Lady Matlock said as she joined the group.  “Fanny, it has been too long since we were last together.  It is good to see you.”

“Rebecca, it is a joy to see you.  How are your children? The middle one is graduating with William, is he not?”

“He is.  In a way, I wish he was not.  He will be joining the army after the first of the year.  I am afraid I will not sleep if he is sent to war.”

“I am grateful that Gerald will inherit, so he will not need to take a profession.  We will keep Richard in our prayers.” Mrs Bennet said, patting Lady Matlock’s hand, which the Mistress of Longbourn was holding.

Elizabeth had her arms around her brother, hugging him close in her embrace.

“Lizzy, stop. There are others in the room.  You are being silly.” Gerald Bennet said.  He was at the stage of youth where girls and emotions were icky and not to be borne.

“Forgive me, Ger.  I forgot that you dislike having your sisters show our devotion of you.” Elizabeth laughed.  “We should all make our way to the drawing room.  Georgianna is there, and we have refreshments for everyone.  Then I will show you to your rooms.”

Everyone was grateful for the refreshments which the Darcy House cook had prepared for them.  The staff was planning to prepare many of Elizabeth’s favorite dishes over the next few days, and the wedding breakfast would be a combination of Elizabeth’s and Fitzwilliam’s favorite foods.

“Georgianna, it is good to see you.” Mr Bennet said as he embraced his young cousin.  “I swear you have grown a foot since the last time I saw you.”

“Mr Bennet, it was only a fortnight ago that I saw you, so I doubt very much if I have grown a foot.” Georgianna laughed.  “Perhaps you have shrunk a foot.” She teased.

“Oh, goodness, you have been spending too much time with Lizzy, you are beginning to tease me as she does.”

“I am pleased to have Lizzy with us, and I plan to continue learning from her.” Georgianna said, placing her hands on her hips as she spoke.  The stance was so like Elizabeth’s when she had been that age, and Mr Bennet could not help but sigh.  He wondered to himself how time could have gone by so quickly.

~~ ** ~~

“I do not care, Louisa.  After the graduation, Charles will be arriving with the Darcys.  Fitzwilliam’s wedding is not for another two months, which allows me time to prove that I am the best choice to be his bride, not that country chit.  Two months will be plenty of time to promote myself to him.”

“But the arrangement has been in place for many years.  Fitzwilliam has known you for the past four years, why would he suddenly, just before his wedding, change his mind and go against his father’s wishes?”

“That is it, Louisa, it was his father’s wishes that Fitzwilliam marry this distant cousin.  The closer it comes to the actual wedding, the more Fitzwilliam will realize how miserable he will be with that nobody.  That is when I will make him see that I am the best choice for him.”

“Caroline, I believe you are fooling yourself.  To break off an arrangement such as he has is scandalous, and there could be gossip, even legal repercussions.  The young lady could sue for the breach of promise.”

“Her family could not afford the sort of solicitors the Darcy family could hire.  They can throw a few hundred pounds at the family and they would be more than compensated. I am certain they are so poor, a few hundred pounds would be more than they have seen in many years together.”

“I would not be certain, Caroline.  If I am not mistaken, the Bennets are one of the most respected horse breeders in England.  They have quite a reputation.  So I doubt they are as poor as you are thinking.”

“Just you wait and see, Louisa.  Mark my words, I will be Mrs Fitzwilliam Darcy before the year is over.”

~~ ** ~~

“Mother, when are we going to journey to Pemberley?  I am certain Fitzwilliam will wish to go there after graduation.” Anne de Bourgh was in a huff.  “We need to arrive there soon, before that chit, Elizabeth Bennet, has a chance to convince him to go through with the arranged marriage.”

“We will be fine, Anne.  I have it on good authority that the Bennet girl is visiting London, most likely at the home of her mother’s brother and his family, in Cheapside.  You and I know there is no possible reason for Fitzwilliam to visit Cheapside.  And, as you said, Fitzwilliam will wish to return to Pemberley after graduation.  He graduates in two days, and I have made arrangements for us to leave Rosings in a week.  That will allow him to settle in before we arrive.”

“But I wish to be there when he arrives.  What if something happens between the time he arrives and our arrival?  Anything could happen, Mother.  If that Bennet girl were to make the journey before us, she could convince Fitzwilliam to honor the agreement.  I will not stand for anyone else being the next Mrs Darcy, Mistress of Pemberley.”

“Anne, my precious, calm yourself.  You will see, all will be well.  Do not upset yourself, as you do not wish to become ill.”

The spoiled young lady would not allow her mother to placate her.  “Mother, I insist you make the arrangements for us to journey sooner.  I will be at Pemberley before Fitzwilliam arrives.”

Anne began coughing, which she knew would spur her mother into action.  Whenever Lady Catherine seemed to be dragging her feet against her daughter’s demands, Anne would work herself up to a coughing fit or find some sort of way to tug on her mother’s heart strings, as Lady Catherine was over indulgent when she believed her daughter’s very life depended upon her getting what she wished.

“Please, Anne, you must relax.  I will not have you become ill, we would not be able to make the journey at all, if you are ill.”

Realizing she had overplayed her hand, Anne replied.  “A glass of water is all I need at the moment.  But I insist we leave in the next two days, so we can arrive as soon as, or before Fitzwilliam does.”

“Very well, my dearest girl.  I will see to the arrangements, if you promise me that you will go to your rooms and rest.”

Anne agreed with her mother, as it would allow her time to work on her plan to convince her cousin to marry her instead of Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

~~ ** ~~

It was late in the evening when Gerald Darcy arrived home at Darcy House, his son, nephew, and Bingley in tow. They had encountered difficulties with their carriage and had to spend time in dining room of an inn while the carriage was repaired.

It did not surprise them that most everyone was asleep, with the only exception being Thomas Bennet.

“Thomas, you should be in bed.” Gerald declared.

“I thought it wise that someone be awake to be certain you all arrived safe and sound.  We expected you to arrive much earlier.”

“One of the wheels broke and had to be replaced.  It took far longer than we expected, and we were beginning to wonder if we were going to have to postpone the wedding for a day.”

Mr Bennet laughed.  “I am pleased that you were not forced to commit such a horrendous act, for I would have had to inform all the ladies in our families.  I would have feared for my own safety in such a situation.”

Gerald smiled, as he patted his life-long friend and cousin on the back.  “You would have locked yourself in the library, with my books and port, and waited for our arrival.”

“You know me too well, Gerald.”  Mr Bennet turned to the young men.  “William, it is good to see you.  Lizzy has already turned in for the night, so you will see her in the morning.  The clergyman will be here at nine thirty, and the service will begin at ten.”

“Thank you, Mr Bennet.  I appreciate your dedication to overseeing the plans while my father was at Cambridge.”

“The ladies did all the work, all I did was nod at appropriate times and leave them to their tasks.  Now this young man cannot be Richard Fitzwilliam.  I have not seen you for two, perhaps three years.  You have grown tremendously in that time.”

Richard nodded his head.  “It is a pleasure to see you again, Mr Bennet.  My parents, are they expecting me to make my way to Matlock House?”

“No, when they left, they said to tell you that a room has been prepared for you for tonight, and they will bring some fresh clothing in the morning.  And this must be Mr Bingley, the young man you told me about.”

Taking the proffered hand and shaking it, Bingley smiled.  “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr Bennet.  I am grateful for your willingness to assist me, while I learn to be an estate owner.  Mr Darcy has spoken highly of your intelligence and the new methods you have employed on your estate to better your crop returns.”

“Reading as much as I do has given me an advantage over many gentlemen.  And you are always welcome to call on my family.  My daughter, Lizzy, is extremely knowledgeable at estate running, not to mention that she is one of the best horse breeders there is in Hertfordshire.” Mr Bennet sang his daughter’s praises.

~~ ** ~~

Fitzwilliam Darcy woke early the following morning.  Though saying he woke implies he slept.  The young man had very little rest, as he tossed and turned throughout the night.  Dreams of the girl he had stolen a kiss from when she was only seven.  Dreams of the girl who used to climb trees with him.  Dreams of sitting at his favorite spot on the hilltop, looking at the river flowing down below.

Then the dreams turned to the young lady who had argued with him less than a year previously.  He knew he was wrong in the manner with which he treated her.  He missed his dearest friend terribly, yet, to let her inside his heart would leave him open for heartache.  His mother’s death had taught him how painful it was to lose someone dear to him.

But the young lady was correct when she shouted at him.  He was behaving arrogantly, with no regards as to the effect his behavior had on others.  He did not like being mean to Elizabeth, but he did not know how to allow her near him and protect his heart from pain.

Elizabeth had grown to be a beautiful young lady.  Wickham’s parting words as they left their rooms at Cambridge returned in Fitzwilliam’s dream.  “She is quite fetching, with her luscious curves which would make any man to harden at the sight of her.  Whoever the man is to bed that woman is a very lucky man.  And if you choose to leave her untouched, I will make sure she is brought to her raptures and screams with pleasure.”

Fitzwilliam refused to think of George Wickham ever placing a hand on Elizabeth.  As she had been created by God for Fitzwilliam.  The young heir to Pemberley was certain that Elizabeth Bennet had been brought to life to marry him.  But could he live if something were to happen to her?

Andrews, Fitzwilliam’s valet, entered the room, finding his charge awake.  “Good morning Sir.  I have sent for bath water to be drawn, and have your best set of clothes prepared for the day.  Would you care for a tray to be sent up to break your fast?”

“Yes, I would appreciate some strong coffee.”

The valet bit the inside of his lower lip to keep himself from smiling.  It was clear that the young man had not slept, as the bedding was wadded into a messy ball of fabric.  “And would you care for something to settle your stomach?  I know many bridegrooms who cannot eat before the ceremony, only to become ill later in the day.  My own brother nearly fainted during the service due to lack of food.”

Fitzwilliam thought for a moment before answering.  “Perhaps it would be best.  Something bland and light, for I doubt my stomach could handle much.”

“Very good, Sir.  I will inform you when the bath is ready.”

After his man left the room, Fitzwilliam walked over to the window, looking out at the view of the park across the street.  There was very little movement, as it was still quite early.  He wondered what Elizabeth was doing, whether she was awake and preparing for the day.  His memory told him that she had always been an early riser, and usually went for walks before breaking her fast, when she was in the country.  I wonder what she does when in the city.  It has been a long time since I even thought about her habits.  Am I being a fool to follow Father’s demands?  Would it be better to leave Elizabeth to find someone to love her?

A growl rumbled deep inside his chest. No, I could not stand to see another man with his hands on her body.  I could not tolerate knowing that another man was receiving her sweet kisses, or that her heart belonged to someone else.

Andrews coughed from behind Fitzwilliam, alerting the younger man that the bath was ready for him.

“After your bath, you will have time to have your breakfast, before you are shaved and dressed.  By then, the clergyman will have arrived.”

“My thanks, Andrews.  You have always kept me on time.”

~~ ** ~~

Elizabeth Bennet was nervous, more nervous than she had ever been.  She was to become a wife to a man she hardly knew any longer.  When the arrangement was made, and even for some time afterwards, Elizabeth was pleased with knowing the man she would one day marry was her dearest friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy.  Even after his mother died, and he shut Elizabeth out of his life, she could not find it in herself to be angry with him.  She would remind herself over and over that she would be deeply saddened to lose her father, and even her mother, so it was only right to respect William’s pain.

But, as the years rolled past, and William refused to spend time with her or even treat her in the manner he had always done, Elizabeth had had enough.  When she received the letter from Gerald Darcy, just days ago from Cambridge, Elizabeth was devastated at the thought of a loveless marriage.  How could her beloved friend have become so hard hearted?  Why could he not return to the boy she remembered?

Soon there was a light rap on the door from her dressing chamber.  The girl who had been hired to be her lady’s maid poked her head into Elizabeth’s bedchamber.  “Pardon me, Miss, your bath is ready for you.”

“Thank you Hannah.” She said as she walked across the room.  Within the hour, she had bathed, her hair was washed and rinsed with lavender water, and then had been dried.  Her maid was in the midst of pinning Elizabeth’s curly, dark chocolate locks into an intricate design on top of her head, allowing a few curls to hang down in the back, bouncing about at her neck.  To match the necklace and earbobs that Gerald Darcy had given Elizabeth, Thomas Bennet gifted his beloved second daughter a set of pearl hair pins and two hair combs with pearls in a floral design.

Then Hannah assisted her mistress into her gown.  The modiste had been kind at the change in which gown was to be for the wedding, as Elizabeth decided to wear the cream gown with maroon ribbons rather than the yellow. She remembered the discussion she had with Lady Matlock just the day before.

“Since the ball was for our engagement, it will no longer be, so I will wear the cream gown for the wedding.  I had planned to wear it to the ball, as it shows my figure to its best.  Perhaps I had a wicked desire to make all the men at the ball envious of William.” Elizabeth had said to Lady Matlock.

“My dear girl, you are beautiful.  William will open his eyes and realize the truth soon enough.  Once you are married and he is near you day in and day out, the ice around his heart will melt away and he will remember how dear you have always been to him.”

“I pray, Aunt Rebecca.  Every day, I pray that William will realize that the anger is doing nothing for him and that he would release all the pain and anger, allowing love to return to his life.  But what if it never happens?  What if he continues, like he has, for years to come?  I do not know that I can withstand such heartache.”

“I will tell you a secret, but you must promise not to say a word.” Seeing Elizabeth’s head nod, Lady Matlock continued. “I received a letter from Richard.  It is his belief that William is simply afraid of opening his heart, afraid that he will be hurt again, like he was when his mother died.  But once he allows you to touch his heart, allows your love to warm his soul, William will be the same young man he was before Anne’s death.”

“I hope Richard is correct.  I miss my best friend.”

~~ ** ~~

Across Town, Mrs Williams was preparing to leave her cousin.  “Harriet, I must return to my employer.  Please send me word, let me know how you are doing, so I may inform my mother.  I know she is concerned for you.”

“Your employer, does he have any positions available for someone with my background?” Mrs Younge asked.

“As I said before, I will speak with him, and send word to you either way.  He may know of someone else hiring, if there are no positions with him.”

“My thanks, Barbara.  I look forward to speaking with you again.”

As Mrs Younge opened the door for her cousin to take her leave, a young man was preparing to knock.

“Mr Wickham, what are you doing here?  I thought you were still at school.” Mrs Younge was pleased to see the young man.

“Graduation was yesterday.  I am preparing to head north, but could not leave without stopping by to visit the widow of my old friend.” Wickham said as he bowed over Mrs Younge’s hand, of which he had taken hold.

“Mr Wickham, might I introduce my cousin, Mrs Barbara Williams.  Mrs Williams, this is a dear friend of my late husband’s, Mr George Wickham.”

“Your name sounds familiar, Sir, though I do not know where from.  Oh, well, Harriet, I must be off.  I will write to you soon.”

“Thank you, Barbara.  Take care.”

~~ ** ~~

Mr Bennet could not believe his eyes when he saw the beautiful young lady before him.  Where did the little girl disappear to?  Was it not just yesterday when I bounced her on my knee, telling her stories of knights and dragons?  Was it not just last week when she fell out of the tree and broke her arm?  Where has the time gone?

“Papa, are you well?” Elizabeth asked, the look in her father’s eyes held a touch of melancholy.

“I am well, my dear girl.  Just wondering when you suddenly grew up into such a beautiful young lady?  I am not ready to have my baby girl be someone’s wife.  You are making me feel much older than I am.”  He said with a smile, placing his palm gently on her cheek.  “I am so proud of you, Lizzy.  You have always been my inspiration, guiding me to be a better parent.  Because of you, I did not sit back and hide in my bookroom, I worked hard to make a better life for your mother, you and your siblings.  Now the estate is something to be proud of, and earning far more than it ever has before. One day, your brother will be proud to inherit Longbourn.”

“I know he will.  And I am proud of your hard work, Papa.  You have taught us all the value of an honest day’s work, being kind to those who support the estate, for they are the ones who take care of us.  I plan to continue visiting tenants, only at Pemberley instead of Longbourn.  The tenants of Pemberley have been bereft of a woman’s touch in seeing to their needs.  It is my deepest wish to be able to live up to Lady Anne’s legacy.”

“Live up to your own abilities, and the people will love you.  Do not attempt to be anyone but yourself.” Mr Bennet gently embraced his daughter.  After placing a kiss on her forehead, he stepped back.  “Well, it is high time we take you downstairs.  The future is waiting for you, my dearest Lizzy.”

~~ ** ~~

The door to the ballroom opened, permitting Elizabeth to enter the room on the arm of her father.  Jane had entered the room before her, walking towards the makeshift altar.  A gasp escaped Fitzwilliam’s lips as he stared at the young lady.

Dear God, can that truly be Elizabeth?  Can she have turned into the most beautiful lady I have ever seen?  And she is to be my wife, the woman with whom I am to live the rest of my life?  I have missed my dearest friend, my beloved Lizzy.  Is she still the same girl inside this beautiful goddess?  Would she ever forgive me for how I have treated her?  Do I want to discover if she would?

Mr Bennet placed his daughter’s hand into the outstretched hand of Fitzwilliam Darcy.  The younger man could not take his eyes from staring at Elizabeth.

Mr Hilden, the clergyman, began.  “Who gives this bride to be married?”

With a sigh, Mr Bennet declared. “I do.”  Then Mr Bennet took his seat next to his wife.

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