Elizabeth was shown across the hall, where a bath was drawn for her and preparations were made for her to be seen by Mr Grant. Mrs Reynolds went into the Mistress’ dressing room, which had been left alone after the death of Lady Anne Darcy, and the housekeeper removed the coverings from the line of clothes hanging along the one wall. Lady Anne had been a petite lady, built much like the new Mrs Darcy, so Mrs Reynolds decided to use some of the clothing which had been unused for many years.
Finding a night shift and dressing gown, she took the items across the hall to the rooms Elizabeth would be using for the time being. She entered as two maids were assisting Elizabeth into the bathing tub.
“Mistress, I have some clothing for you. They may not fit perfect, but they will do until we can have more made for you.”
“Where did you find clothes for me?”
“You are near the same size of the former Mistress. Her clothes have been stored in the Mistress’ dressing chamber, protected from dust. I believe Lady Anne would be pleased to have her new daughter make use of the clothes for the time being. I will bring some of her dresses and gowns over tomorrow. Until then, I have brought undergarments and night shift, and a dressing gown. With your ankle, you will not be able to walk for some time.”
“After if bathe, I wish to speak with you as to the situation here… forgive me, I cannot remember your name.”
The housekeeper smiled. “Mrs Reynolds, Mistress. I am the housekeeper. You need not worry about the situation, the staff will take care of all the people who are here, and we will not allow them to disturb your rest.”
“Mrs Reynolds, I appreciate your kindness, but I am not the sort of person who can sit back and not be involved. I wish to know how many people we have taken in, how many are injured, what condition their home is in, if they are going to need clothing or other items. We will need to send to Town for supplies, the sooner the better, since it will take a week round trip. It would be good to send riders north, to Derby and to Matlock, to see if they were harmed by the quake. If not, perhaps we can find some temporary relief for food supplies and some clothes and bedding. I know that this is a large estate, and the house is large, but it is not often that you have had to house and feed so many for days on end. Once we have addressed the basic needs, then we can assess their future needs.”
The housekeeper had not expected such a knowledgeable young lady. “Very well, Mistress. If you wish, after the physician examines your ankle, we can dress you in a simple day dress, and have you carried downstairs. We can have the head of each family speak with us, informing us of their situation. Then we can better determine what will be needed from Town. We have enough food for a few days, even with as many people as are here. That will allow us to bring in more food from nearby counties, and from the north. Your husband will need to send word to Matlock, to his aunt and uncle, informing them of Mr Darcy’s death. At the same time, we can find out if there is damage in the area Matlock, and what supplies can be brought here from their mercantile.”
“That would be wonderful. After I wash my hair, and plait it, then I can dress.”
“And then the physician is to examine your ankle.” Mrs Reynolds reminded the young lady.
“Very well, then the physician will examine my ankle. Do you know where my aunt is at the moment?”
“She is with her mother and father. I had them placed down the hall, in guest rooms. They are related to the new Mistress of Pemberley, so I thought it was fitting for them to be guests.”
“Thank you, Mrs Reynolds. When you see my aunt, will you ask her to join me? I wish to speak with her.”
“I will, Mistress. Now, allow Susie and Lily to assist you in washing. I will have some tea brought up for you.” The housekeeper said as she turned and left the room.
Once in the hall, the elder woman smiled. “Mr Darcy, you chose a good wife for your son.”
~~ ** ~~
“William…what will we do?” Georgiana asked as she wiped the tears from her cheeks.
“I do not know. I will need to send word to Uncle Henry. He will wish to come, if Matlock is not damaged as well.” Darcy stated. “You should go to your rooms for now. I will see to the arrangements for Father. Mrs Annesley, would you see to my sister?”
The governess moved forward, wrapping her arms around her young ward. “Come, Miss Darcy. You will need your rest for the days to come. There will be much going on in the next days.”
Georgiana reluctantly left her father’s chambers, looking back at her brother and the earthly remains of her cherished father. “I love you, Father.” She said as she left the room.
Darcy wiped the tears from his eyes. “Father, I do not know what to do. So many will be turning to me for guidance, but what do I do first? There is much to do, and winter is fast approaching. And I now have a wife that I barely know and a grieving sister of whom to care for her needs.”
Mrs Reynolds knocked on the door of the Master’s bedchamber. She entered the room after hearing Darcy call out to come. “Master William, I thought I would tell you that I took some of the clothes from the Mistress’ dressing room to the new Mistress, as she had nothing to wear. I pray you do not take offence to my presumption that you would approve.”
“No, Mrs Reynolds. I was going to suggest just such a thing, as Miss Eliz…Elizabeth reminds me of my mother in build.”
“The new Mistress is bathing at the moment, then Mr Grant will examine her injury. Once he is done, she wishes to be taken to the ballroom, so that she might learn what each of the families will be needing in the days to come. She has made suggestions of sending to Town for supplies, and to send to Derby and Matlock, to see if food can be acquired from there.”
“She thought of all this on her own? She is so young, how would she know how to run a household, let alone during such a devastation?”
The housekeeper smiled. “Age does not always give one wisdom. Some are born with common sense and goodness. I believe your wife has those in abundance.”
“I do not know why Father insisted on our marrying. We did not know Miss Eliz…Elizabeth more than the time we were trapped.”
“If I might be so bold, I believe your father knew that he was not long for this world. Perhaps he saw your wife for who she is, deep inside, and knew she would be perfect to help you through the difficult times that lay ahead.”
Fitzwilliam gave a soft chuckle. “You have been like a mother to Georgiana and me, Mrs Reynolds. I appreciate you more tonight, than I have in all the years past. Will you stand behind your new Mistress?”
“Indeed, Master William, I will.
~~ ** ~~
“Lizzy, my dear girl, how are you?” Mrs Gardiner asked, as she entered her niece’s rooms.
Mr Grant was just finishing his examination. “Your niece has a badly sprained ankle, a few minor abrasions and bruises, but otherwise, is in good condition. I have instructed her that she is not to attempt walking on that ankle for at least a fortnight, and we will see how it is healing at that point.”
“Aunt, this is Mr Grant. Mr Grant, my aunt, Mrs Helen Gardiner.”
“I remember Mrs Gardiner from her years as Helen Thompson.” The physician replied. “It is a pleasure to see you again, though I would have preferred it not be during such an event.”
“How is your wife, Mr Grant?”
“Fortunately, she was visiting her sister in Town. She will not be happy when she returns to find our home damaged.”
Elizabeth drew in a breath to steady her nerves before speaking. “Mr Grant, I am going to make a list of all the needs our guests have, so that we might begin to prepare for everyone. If you have medical supplies, instruments, or personal items you require, please make a list and give it to myself or Mrs Reynolds. We will address everyone’s immediate needs of clothing, food, medicine, some toys for the children. Then we will turn our attention towards housing.”
A knock was heard on the door, and Mrs Gardiner opened it to allow the guest to enter, as Mr Grant spoke.
“Mrs Darcy, you are newly married, injured, and young. You should not worry over the rebuilding of homes, we will find a way to repair Lambton.”
“But my wife is correct, we will assist in the rebuilding. She has a keen mind, Mr Grant. While we were in the basement of the mercantile, she debated with my father over the merits of a new method of crop rotation. Mrs Darcy is intelligent on many issues.” Darcy declared.
“Mr Darcy, are you well?” Elizabeth asked.
“Elizabeth, you are my wife. It is proper for you to call me by my name. As for your question, I am well. It is you who is injured. Mr Grant, how is my wife?”
“She cannot walk on her ankle for at least a fortnight. Other than the sprain, she has minor scrapes and bumps.”
“Thank you for tending her. Would you be able to check on her daily?”
The physician chuckled. “As I will be staying here for the time being, it shall be no difficulty to keep an eye on her.”
“Now, Elizabeth, Mrs Reynolds informed me of your plan to learn the needs of each family staying with us. Though you should remain in bed and rest, one thing I have learned in the short time we have known each other is that you will not be swayed from your purpose. So I thought to join you. Together, we can share the work and ease the burden of the other. If you address the personal needs, clothing and the likes, I will discuss the housing needs. Does that meet with your approval?”
Elizabeth was pleased. “Yes, W…William. And I thank you for not insisting on my remaining in bed. It would ease my mind to be doing something to assist everyone.”
“Shall we go downstairs?”
She nodded her head, and he scooped her into his arms, carrying her from the room. Once the young couple was out of the room, Mr Grant looked at Mrs Gardiner. “You have an amazing niece, Mrs Gardiner. For someone so young to take on such a task, without being asked to do so, is incredible.”
“Lizzy has always been an incredible young lady. She has learned from her father about running an estate, and has been educated as if she were a son. I believe she will be a good Mistress for Pemberley.”
~~ ** ~~
It was nearing dawn when an exhausted Elizabeth finally gave in and conceded to being taken to her bedchamber to sleep. Darcy had been at her side the entire time, both drinking coffee to keep them awake, as they interviewed one family after another.
Elizabeth gathered information as to the family’s clothing needs, sizes, children ages, any medical needs, and the skills of the wife and older children. Her husband learned of the condition of each house or cottage, the livestock the tenants had, the skills of each man and older sons.
Elizabeth’s lists were given to Mrs Reynolds, who would tally up clothing needs to be ordered. The housekeeper had been working on lists of her own during the night, one list of items to be ordered from Town, the other list would be procured from Derby or Matlock, or one of the other areas closer to Pemberley, for immediate needs.
A rider was sent off with the list for Town, with orders to go to Mr Gardiner to handle the procurement of the items. Mrs Gardiner had written a letter to her husband, explaining the situation in Derbyshire, and of his niece’s marriage. She was certain that he would be arriving with the supplies from Town. Mrs Gardiner also suggested that he stop at Longbourn to speak personally with Elizabeth’s father. The development of his beloved daughter’s unusual wedding was something Mrs Gardiner thought should be announced in person, not in a letter.
Darcy’s letter to his aunt and uncle was sent off with another rider, along with the list of the more urgent needs, such as food and medical supplies. This rider was also given a leather bag of coins to make whatever purchases needed.
After speaking with Mr Horton, it was decided to wait for a service to be held for Gerald Darcy, until word from Matlock was received. Darcy was certain his uncle would come immediately, if possible. With the colder weather, there was no rush to have the service, so it could wait for family to arrive.
Darcy sank into his bed, his eyes closing as his head touched the pillow. The last thought he had was of the young lady in the room next to his, the young lady who was now his wife. A smile crept on his lips as he thought of how pretty he thought her.
~~ ** ~~
The rider arrived at Matlock shortly before noon. When the butler opened the door of the grand house at Matlock estate, the young man begged to be shown to Lord Matlock. “It is urgent…from Pemberley.”
The butler led the way to his Master’s study. Being beckoned to enter, after he knocked on the door, the butler announced the rider. “Lord Matlock, there is a rider here with an urgent message from Pemberley.”
Lord Matlock asked his butler to locate his wife and both of his sons, and send them to the study. He took the letter from the young man and began reading.
“Good God, is this true? I knew that there had been some rumbles, but did not expect things to be this bad. Gerald is dead? Good God. So much destruction, injured people, Lambton destroyed.” Suddenly he read the part of the letter where Darcy informed him of his marriage. “What was Gerald thinking? He insisted his son marry a complete stranger?”
The young rider had been up most of the night, and in his exhausted state, did not curb his words. “Forgive me, your lordship, but the new Mistress has already won many hearts at the estate. Though she was injured, she spent all last night speaking with the tenants and people from Lambton who were homeless. She made lists of what was needed for each family, and has already sent to Town for more supplies. The Mistress could have stayed in her room and rested, but she did not, as she insisted in doing what she could for everyone.”
The defense of the new Mistress was heard by Lady Matlock as she entered the room. “What is happening?”
Lord Matlock handed the letter to his wife, just as his younger son, Richard, entered the room. Richard read the letter over his mother’s shoulder. “We must go there, immediately.” He exclaimed.
Richard’s older brother, Geoffrey, entered the room. “Where are we going? What is happening?”
“Earthquake, Pemberley.” Richard said as he pulled the letter from his mother’s hands and placed it in his brother’s. Then Richard walked to the door, where the butler was still waiting. “Have my batman pack my bags. I will leave within the hour. Have my horse readied.”
Geoffrey had finished the letter and spoke. “I will go to Matlock and purchase all the food and clothing I can find. Millers just got a delivery in a few days ago, so his shop should be well stocked. I will see that a couple of wagons are hitched and ready. Do you wish for me to have the carriage prepared?”
Lord Matlock nodded his head. “I will have your valet pack a trunk for you. Once we are ready, your mother and I will head for Pemberley. You follow with the wagons of supplies. Let Millers know that there will most likely be work for able body men in the next few weeks, and have him order lumber. We will require lots of lumber with so many homes and businesses to rebuild.”
Geoffrey nodded and left as quickly as his brother had.
“Our niece and nephew, the poor dears. To lose their beloved father, and have all this devastation during their time of grief. And what was Gerald thinking? Forcing William into a marriage. Catherine will be furious, as she still believes that William and her Anne are engaged.” Lady Matlock said, as her husband gathered her in his arms.
“Well, it is done, my dearest. When we arrive, we will speak with William, and if he is displeased with the situation, we will assist him in having it annulled. Otherwise, we will respect the decision and support the couple through their rocky beginning.”
“I will see to our trunks being packed. It will be a difficult time.”
“It will, I am sure. But let us be on our way. There is much to do and a short time to do it if we wish to arrive before midnight.”
~~ ** ~~
Richard rode his stallion hard, arriving at Pemberley, along with his batman, before it was dark. He strode into the front door, after throwing the rein of his horse to his batman, Wilkens.
“Lewis, where is my cousin?” He asked as he entered the door.
The elder butler smiled. “Welcome, Captain. Your cousin is in the ballroom.”
Richard nodded and asked that Wilkens be shown rooms. “My parents and brother will be arriving later, I came on horseback. My brother is securing supplies, so he will require assistance in unloading wagons, upon his arrival.”
“Very good, Sir. I will make certain that someone is on hand, no matter the hour.”
Entering the ballroom, Richard was reminded of a battlefield, after the battle had ended. There were people lying on bedding on the floor, injured people, people tending them, children herded into the corner of the room. Sitting at a table in the center of the north wall was Fitzwilliam Darcy and a young lady, with Mrs Reynolds standing nearby. As he approached, he heard the young lady speaking to the housekeeper.
“Mrs Jordan’s babe is due in a few weeks. Mr Grant does not wish her to over tax herself, so we need one of the other ladies to help with the Jordan children. We have a set of clothes for each of the children, so we will need to have them changed and their current clothing washed. Their father is with the other men, checking the cottages for damage. The oldest Matthews boy has a nasty cough, and Mr Grant has prescribed a remedy for the boy. He wishes to assist with his father, but we need to keep him resting and indoors. His sister is watching over their little brother. She is attempting to be brave, but the loss of her mother is great. My aunt knew Mrs Matthews, and she said she would check on young Sarah as much as she can.”
“Yes, Mistress. And Mr Thompson just returned with a wagon load of supplies that were recovered from the remains of the mercantile. There is food, some clothes, soap, and more.”
“What a blessing. Make sure we keep a tally of the items so that we can reimburse Mr Thompson for them.”
Mrs Reynolds nodded her head. She noticed Richard, and nudged Darcy. “Sir, your cousin has arrived”
“Richard.” Darcy exclaimed as he hurried to his cousin, giving him a manly embrace. “I am glad to see you.”
“I read your letter to Father. Wild horses couldn’t keep me from coming.” Richard declared. “How are you? Georgiana? Are you well?”
“Uninjured, but still in a state of shock. There has not been a lot of time to think of what the future holds, only the immediate needs of everyone and the repairs that need to be done quickly, before snow sets in the area.”
“Father and Mother will most likely arrive next, followed by Geoffrey. He was going to Millers store to purchase whatever supplies he could.What needs to be done first?”
“First, allow me to introduce you to the newest member of the family. Elizabeth, this is my cousin, Captain Richard Fitzwilliam, of the regulars. Recently recovered from his injuries in France, on the battlefield, he stands before us a bona fide hero. Richard, this is my wife, Mrs Elizabeth Darcy, nee Bennet.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Captain. I am only sorry it has to be under such circumstances.” She said from her seat. “Forgive me for not standing, but I injured my foot and have been instructed not to stand.”
“And it has been a hard won battle to keep her from standing, believe me.” Darcy said with a smile. “My wife has refused to remain upstairs resting, and she has forgotten at times that she is injured, attempting to rise from her chair to go to the aid of others.”
“Mrs Darcy, it is a pleasure to meet you as well. I am grateful my cousin has had someone at his side as he has dealt with matters.” Richard bowed over Elizabeth’s hand, which he held in his own.
“Perhaps you would care to freshen up a bit, Richard. And see Georgiana. My wife and I will be finished here in an hour, then we can meet upstairs, in my sitting room.”
“I will see you both in an hour.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Lord and Lady Matlock arrived at Pemberley a little over two hours after their son. By that time, Elizabeth had been moved upstairs, in the sitting room connected to her bedchamber, where she went over her lists. Darcy and Richard had met in Darcy’s sitting room, discussing all that had occurred since the earthquake.
When his parents arrived, Richard whispered in his mother’s ear. “Wait until you meet her…you will be shocked.”
Knowing her son was warning her to not jump to conclusions over her nephew’s marriage, Lady Matlock instead turned her attention to the boy she thought of as one of her own sons.
“William, my dear boy. Are you well?”
“As well as can be expected, Aunt Rebecca. It has been a challenge, but there is far too much to keep me busy.”
“And where is Georgiana? My poor girl must be devastated.”
“Mrs Annesley has been keeping her busy. Georgiana realized that so many were in need, and has been sewing clothing for children. Her governess says it has been beneficial for Georgiana to have something constructive to do at the moment.” Darcy said with some pride for his very young sister.
Lord Matlock was pleased as well. “So, tell me how bad is everything?”
Darcy explained that two of the houses in Lambton could be made inhabitable within the week, the condition of each of the shops and other houses, the tenant cottages, and last, the repairs that would be needed at Pemberley itself. His men had already repaired the damage to the stables, giving the horses protection for the elements.
“And what of the people? How many were injured in the quake?” Lady Matlock asked.
“You will have to ask my wife for the particulars, as she has been handling all the personal needs of everyone. If memory serves me, we had three deaths, and fourteen people who were injured and are being treated by Mr Grant.”
“And how are you handling your father’s demand for you to marry?” Lord Matlock asked.
Darcy looked away for a moment before speaking. “At first, I was angered at Father for forcing the situation. I could not understand him, as we could easily explain the facts of being trapped due to the earthquake. He continued to claim that Elizabeth’s reputation was ruined from being with us, and it was crucial that we wed to protect her. He died, just as we were declared wed. Now, I am grateful, as I am not certain how I would have handled the past day and night if she had not been at my side. Father must have realized her inner strength, and knew we would be well matched. Elizabeth is unlike any other lady I have ever met.”
“I wish to meet this young lady.” Lady Matlock stated. “I will not make up my mind on supporting her joining our family until after I meet her.”
~~ ** ~~
“Enter.” Elizabeth called out to the sound of a knock on the door.
“Elizabeth, do you mind if I introduce you to my aunt and uncle?” Darcy asked as he peeked his head inside the door.
“I do not mind. Please, come in.” Elizabeth was nervous, but she knew she must make a good impression of her husband’s family.
The couple followed Darcy into the room. “Elizabeth, this is my uncle, Henry Fitzwilliam, Lord Matlock, the Earl of Matlock, and my aunt, Rebecca Fitzwilliam, Lady Matlock, the Countess of Matlock. Aunt Rebecca, Uncle Henry, this is my wife, Mrs Elizabeth Darcy, nee Bennet.”
Elizabeth paled. “Forgive me, Countess, your lordship. I cannot stand to greet you properly. William…you did not…why did you not tell me your uncle and aunt are an earl and countess? I had no notion, oh, please, forgive me.”
It was the first time since meeting Elizabeth that she appeared flustered. Darcy went to her side and took her hand. “Forgive me, Elizabeth. The thought of their titles escaped my mind. In the desire to have them here, I did not think of having the Earl and Countess here, just my uncle and aunt.”
“Mrs Darcy, please do not make yourself uneasy. After all that has been happening here, the last thing you need to worry about is impressing us.” Lady Matlock stated, noticing that the young lady was wearing what appeared to be one of Lady Anne’s dresses.
“Elizabeth’s belongings have yet to be recovered from the debris of Thompson’s home. Fortunately, she is nearly the same size as Mother was, and Mrs Reynolds thought it would be appropriate to utilize some of the clothes that have been in the dressing room, unused for years.” Darcy defended his wife’s appearance.
“It fits as if the dress were made for you. It is as though my sister is welcoming you, even in all the chaos.” Lord Matlock declared. He could see the difference in his nephew and it was obvious the young lady was not a fortune hunter. Seeing all the lists on the table, he glanced at what was written. “You have been busy, Mrs Darcy. Would it not be easier to leave these tasks for Mrs Reynolds and the staff?”
“I assisted my father in the care of the tenants at our home. I am not afraid of a little work, Lord Matlock. And if I were to lounge about while others are busy, I would be unhappy with myself. It is my preference to keep busy and productive.”
“When she is not reading.” Darcy teased, surprising his relations. “As you see, she will fit in with our family, as one of her favorite rooms in the house is the library.”
Lord Matlock chuckled. “I can see why you would capture the attention of Gerald Darcy. So, you love to read?”
Darcy was pleased to see that his wife had an area of conversation which she would be able to stand her ground. “She is well read, and was able to hold her own debating with Father. It was interesting to watch, to be honest.”
Elizabeth blushed. “My father is very fond of the written word, and he has always allowed me access to his library. My sisters will tell you that I am Papa’s favorite, and he has always indulged my thirst for knowledge.”
~~ ** ~~
The following days, the Fitzwilliam family watched carefully as the new Mistress of Pemberley as she cared for the estate, the people who had come to be under her care, and her new family. Meals were prepared three times a day for the people from Lambton and the tenants, the staff and all involved in the work.
The service was held for Gerald Darcy, and his remains were laid to rest in the family crypt, next to his beloved Anne. Besides the family, men from Lambton and the neighborhood attended. Lady Matlock stood beside her new niece as they saw to the refreshments served after the funeral was over.
The Fitzwilliams were pleased to witness the compassion Elizabeth showed her husband and his sister. She had asked Darcy to sit beside her on the settee, where she held his hand, caressing and squeezing it, as she spoke gently to him. “Your father loved you, it was easy to see when you were together. Everyone speaks so kindly of him, and how you are so much like him. What a wonderful legacy for you to have for the future.”
“I am afraid of letting him down. There is so much to still be done, he must be disappointed in me.”
“No, William, I am certain that he is proud of you. You have done very little for yourself, seeing to the needs of your staff and tenants, not to mention the villagers from Lambton. You did not have to see to the rebuilding of their homes and businesses, but you have. It will cost you tremendously, but it was the right thing to do. I know that I am proud of you.”
“You are stuck with me, you poor thing. Of course you would try to bolster me up.”
“Fitzwilliam Darcy, you are just as stuck with me as I am with you. We are making the best of what life has given us. It was not my plan to marry, especially at my age, but now I wish to move forward. Remember the past only as it brings you pleasure. And I am grateful that you are the sort of man I wished to marry, caring, compassionate, intelligent, and have a sense of humor.”
Darcy smiled. “Thank you, Elizabeth. I am grateful for you as well. My father had good taste in ladies.”
~~ ** ~~
Mr Bennet called for his trunk packed. Mr Gardiner had arrived at Longbourn, leaving his children in the care of Mrs Bennet and Mary, while Jane would be traveling with her uncle to Pemberley.
Hearing the news of the earthquake, and that his beloved daughter having to marry in haste, was shocking to the Master of Longbourn. “What was Thompson thinking, accepting a marriage for my daughter? This is not to be borne. I will have the marriage annulled, as I did not give my approval. And Lizzy is injured, so she must have been out of her mind to marry without my even being consulted. She must have been forced to do as she was told, for she would not have consented otherwise.”
“Thomas, her reputation was ruined. She had been trapped in the basement with two unmarried men, in a torn gown, for over six hours. The gentleman insisted his son marry her, to protect her reputation. From what Helen says, the young man is caring and has been everything proper with Lizzy. Please, Thomas, calm yourself.”
“I will not be able to calm until I have Lizzy, safe and sound, and home where she belongs.”
The trio were soon on their way, with their carriage followed by four wagons, loaded with supplies piled high.
The journey was long, as there was damage to parts of the road from the earthquake. Trees overturned, large gaps in the ground, all of which had to be addressed before the vehicles could move forward. Fortunately, Gardiner had brought several men from his warehouse to protect the wagons, and they were able to manage the problems.
Finally, the wagon train arrived at Pemberley. The men and Jane were welcomed to the house by Mrs Gardiner, though her brother in law treated her coldly.
“Where is my daughter?” He demanded.
“Lizzy is in the ballroom, speaking with the families who have been displaced. You would be proud of her. She has stepped up and taken charge of seeing the villagers and tenants are fed and clothed, and that there medical needs are met. Watching her, it is difficult to believe she is only sixteen.”
“But she is sixteen, and unable to make the decision to marry on her own. Your father did not have the authority to make such a decision, so I will be applying for an annulment after I have her safe and sound at home.”
Mr Gardiner suggested they take the conversation inside, and Mrs Gardiner led them into a sitting room near the front entrance.
“Thomas, it was for the best. Everyone knew Lizzy was trapped with Mr Darcy and his son, and when Lizzy was pulled from the basement, she was wearing Master Fitzwilliam’s coat, as her dress was torn to the point that the bodice hung down and her under garments were in tatters. You should be grateful that Mr Darcy insisted his son marry Lizzy. It protected your entire family from being ruined.”
“My daughter is coming home with me. This shame of a marriage will be annulled and she will get on with her life. I insist you show me to her immediately. Jane and I will collect her and begin the journey to Longbourn.” Mr Bennet said.
“First off, it is far too late in the day to begin such a journey. As the inn at Lambton was destroyed in the earthquake, you will have to remain here for the night. Secondly, you have not even bothered to ask of your daughter’s health. She was injured, as I am certain you were told. And thirdly, I suggest you speak with Lizzy before making any decisions about an annulment or taking her to Longbourn. She does have a say in what is to come of her life.” Mrs Gardiner was furious with her brother in law. “Now, I will take you to see your daughter.”
She led Mr Bennet and Jane through the house, past all of the people moving about the house. Mrs Reynolds approached the group as she came from the dining room.
“Mrs Gardiner, there is fresh food ready, if you wish to have some sent up to your mother. I will take a tray up, if you are busy.”
“Mrs Reynolds, this is my niece, Miss Jane Bennet, and her father, Mr Thomas Bennet, and my husband, Mr Edward Gardiner. Jane, Thomas, Edward, this is the housekeeper of Pemberley, Mrs Reynolds. I was taking them to see Elizabeth. Is she still in the ballroom?”
“She is. Would you let her and Master William know that I will have trays taken to their sitting rooms when they are ready to eat.”
When they arrived at the door of the ballroom, Mrs Gardiner stopped them and pointed towards Elizabeth. She was sitting on a settee, which had been brought in for her comfort. There were several ladies listening to her directions on a task she wished accomplished. One of the elder ladies curtsied before Elizabeth.
“Mistress, the Lord blessed us the day you married Mr Darcy. You are a true wonder. Thank you for all your kindness.”
“Mrs Billings, you are doing so much to help all your neighbors. It is you who is truly kind.” Elizabeth said, taking hold of the woman’s hand and giving it a light squeeze.
Mr Bennet was shocked at his daughter’s behavior. He had watched her caring ways with the tenants of Longbourn, but he was not seeing his little girl who was kind. He was seeing a young lady, responsible and in charge. He was seeing the Mistress of the house, and Mr Bennet was not ready to accept that this was his daughter.
Looking at the movement at the door, Elizabeth saw her family. “Papa, Jane. Please, come. Uncle Edward, you are here.”
It was clear that she wished to run to her family, and only her foot touching the floor and the surge of pain it gave her, kept her seated.
Jane rushed forward to her sister, wrapping her in her arms. “Lizzy, I have been so worried. Uncle told us of the earthquake, and that you fell through the floor of the mercantile, as the building collapsed around you. I am so grateful you were not hurt worse. How is your ankle? Are you in pain?”
“I will be well, Jane. It as a frightening time, one I will never forget. But I am much better. Another week and the physician says I can begin to walk, with a cane, until it is fully healed.”
“My poor sister. I am pleased it was not worse.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. “There were deaths, and far worse injuries sustained. I am grateful for such a minor trifle.” She looked at her father, who had yet to enter the room. “Papa, will you not come to me?”
“Lizzy, I believe it would be better if we were to go somewhere we can have a discussion. There is much to talk about before we leave.”
“Leave? What are you saying?”
“I do not wish to discuss it with all these strangers. Let us go somewhere private.”
“Excuse me sir, but Elizabeth cannot walk at the moment. I would gladly take her up to her sitting room.” Darcy said as he stepped towards his wife’s father.
“Thomas Bennet, this is Fitzwilliam Darcy, your son in law. Mr Darcy, this is Mr Thomas Bennet of Longbourn.”
Mr Bennet refused the hand Darcy held out in welcome. “We will speak in my daughter’s sitting room.”
~~ ** ~~
Darcy placed his wife on the couch in her sitting room, taking the seat next to her. It was clear that her father was unhappy, and Darcy wished to give her the same support that she had shown him through his loss.
“Sir, this may be your home, but the girl beside you is my daughter. I did not authorize the marriage between you and she is not of age. Therefore, I am applying for an annulment as soon as I have my daughter home, where she belongs.”
“Forgive me, Mr Bennet, but your daughter is my wife. You were not here, and Mr Thompson was acting in good faith, as she was under his protection at the time. We would have waited for you to come, but my father was adamant that the wedding take place immediately. He died just as we were pronounced wed. It grieves me that you are displeased, but we have done what we could to make the situation a positive one.”
“She is a child…a child. You wish to be married to a young girl? You should marry someone closer to your own age.”
“There are only four years between us. And your daughter is a young lady, not a child. She is also the Mistress of this house, and you will treat her with the respect that position demands.” Darcy said as he stood his full height. “I may be twenty, but I will not allow you to enter my home and speak to me and my wife in such a manner.”
“Then I will collect my daughter and leave your home. I will have our solicitor send you the paperwork after the annulment is finalized.”
Elizabeth could see her father’s fury, and understood that he felt robbed of his right to give her away to a man he had given his blessing. But her father was treating her as if she were a child. And Elizabeth was not going to stand for anyone belittling her, not after the week she had endured.
“I am afraid that an annulment will be impossible, Papa.”
“It is not impossible. I will have to speak with your uncle, to find out who I need to contact to make the application to, but we will be able to finalize it in a short time, I am certain.”
Elizabeth looked at her father, her chin held high. “I am afraid it will not be possible, as the marriage has been consummated.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~