Chapter 11
Lady Catherine knew that there was only one way she could foil the plans of her nephew to marry Elizabeth Bennet, and he was currently in her bedchamber, waiting for Lady Catherine to return.  They had spoken earlier in the day of the possibility of having to eliminate the young lady, but how to do so without anyone realizing what had truly happened?  How could they see to the young lady’s demise, yet not make it appear to be murder?  The pair would discuss it in more detail after she returned from dining with her nephew.
The great lady’s entrance to her bedchamber told her servant that the dinner had not gone well.  “You are no closer to securing your nephew’s marriage to Miss de Bourgh?”
“Even further.  My nephew is now claiming to have compromised that little hussy, and her father claims he witnessed the compromise.  According to the men, they will discuss terms of a wedding settlement tomorrow morning.  So we will need to see that the little harlot dies tonight.  I will not have her marry my nephew.  I will have her dead.”
The two discussed the matter for two hours, and finally, Lady Catherine had an idea.  “Smother her.  If she dies from being unable to breathe, that will look as if she succumbed to her condition.  There will be no evidence, such as when you botched the attempt to poison her.  So tonight, after everyone is asleep, you will lead me through the hidden passageway, into the bedchamber where the chit is to be found.  I wish to see for myself that she is dead.”
“Very well, my lady.”
~~ ** ~~
The passageway was cold and dark.  The footman had made his way through the area, he was able to navigate the dark areas with ease.  But this time was different, he was leading Lady Catherine, and she was stumbling frequently.  Fortunately, the lady kept her words quiet, as they came as mumbles that were hardly audible.  As they neared the stretch that would lead directly to the room in which Elizabeth Bennet was sleeping, the footman turned to his employer.
Whispering, so only Lady Catherine could hear, the footman spoke.  “Are you certain you wish to continue?  It is slightly more difficult the rest of the way.  You will not be able to make any sound, as it would alert people to our presence.  There might be a maid in the room with the young lady, most likely anyone in the room would be asleep.”
“I will be quiet.  I want to ensure that the harlot is gone for good.  Now, lead on.  We must hurry, as we need to be back in my rooms before dawn breaks.  I wish to be found there, with you, when my nephew comes to accuse me of his little chit’s death.”
Knowing he had no one to blame but himself, for choosing the life he had and lowering himself to bed such a disgusting woman, he also knew there were far worst ways to earn the funds he desired.  His mother wished to purchase the inn at which she had worked for years, and he would make sure that his mother was able to achieve her goal.  All of his life, the young man knew his mother sacrificed and worked hard to give him a good life.  It was his turn to do whatever he could to provide for her.
The pair continued towards the secret door, and once there, the footman carefully opened the door into the dressing chamber.  Lady Catherine was impressed with the passageway, which few seemed to know existed, and wondered if there were such passageways at Rosings.
They moved further inside the apartment, until Lady Catherine took her place at the foot of the bed, so she could watch her servant rid her life of the young lady who had entrapped her nephew.
As the footman reached over to take hold of one of the pillows, a hand came out of the darkness and grabbed hold of the footman’s, stilling his progression.  The hand came from under the coverlet, yet it was too large and too strong to have belonged to Elizabeth Bennet. 
The sound of a match striking was heard from across the room, and the lit match was used to light a candle near the main door of the bedchamber.  In the light, the face of Thomas Bennet was illuminated.
As Mr Bennet came into view, the coverlet was moved, to reveal Fitzwilliam Darcy, who had been hidden in the bedding, beside Elizabeth Bennet.  The men knew something was going to happen, and they were ready to catch the deadly pair in the act, so there would be no difficulties in bringing justice.
“Good evening, Aunt Catherine.  Pray, tell, what is so important that required your being here at such an hour?”
“What are you doing in this room?  Have you no decency? You are in the bed of a hussy, and you ask why I am here?  This is the young lady you demand be your wife, a woman who would allow you to sleep in her bed before marriage?  Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?  It is obvious that I will need to remove Georgiana from your guardianship.  She will require a proper guardian, instructing her in the proper behavior.”
Darcy removed himself from the bed, leaving Elizabeth, who was wide awake, against the pillows that would have been used to snuff out her life, if Lady Catherine had had her way.
“I knew you would try something, Aunt Catherine.  That is why Mr Bennet and I stayed in this room.  We decided to be here, to catch you in the act.  You would have continued your attacks if we had moved Elizabeth to another room, so we needed to witness your attempt to harm my betrothed.”  The word rolled off his tongue sweetly.  Betrothed. A small smile bubbled to the surface.
“I wished to see this chit, who has made you forget what you owe your family.  This is the first I have seen of her.” Lady Catherine attempted to justify her presence.
“So you sneak in here, in the middle of the night, in the dark, with your footman.”  Mr Bennet said, as he approached his daughter’s bed.  “I can understand your reasoning, as it sounds so completely legitimate.”
“I do not owe you any explanation, as you are no one of importance.” Lady Catherine turned her attention towards Mr Bennet.  Even in the semi-dark room, the fury in the elder lady’s eyes was pronounced.  “It is your fault we are even here.  If you had only taught your daughter to behave properly, and to not reach for unobtainable desires, she would not have trapped my nephew and turned him against his family.  I blame you for my daughter’s broken heart, as you could not control your family.  You should be ashamed.”
Mr Bennet broke into fits of laughter.  “Ashamed of my family?  Well, let me see…no one in my family has attempted to murder anyone or paid someone to commit murder.  My daughters are all kind and good natured girls, even if they are some of the silliest young ladies to be found.  Even my wife, who would do most anything to secure marriages for our daughters, would not stoop so low as to murder someone.  No, I believe I am proud of my family, not ashamed.”
“I had nothing to do with any murders, it was this man who committed them.  I did not tell him to do anything, it is all his doing.” Lady Catherine pointed her finger at her footman.
  The young man had had enough.  After two years of service for the old woman, enduring what no one should ever have to endure, doing whatever she commanded of him, he snapped.  It was obvious that they were caught.  “You fraud, you heartless, self-righteous old bat.  I have been at your beck and call, doing what you demanded, and this is the thanks I am to receive?  Your putting all the blame on me?  You do not even know my name, though I have told you time and time again.”
“Your name is Jacob.  See, you lie.”
“My name is Jerome Bittle.  Jerome, not Jacob.  I finally grew tired of attempting to correct you, but you have never made an attempt to remember my name.  All I have ever been was a tool, a nameless tool, for you to do as you please.” The footman spat his words at Lady Catherine.  Turning towards Darcy and Mr Bennet, the man continued to speak.  “Lady Catherine has had me here to keep watch over you, Mr Darcy.  I was to send her news of what was happening, as she had journeyed to be closer to the area, to be nearer to you, just in case she needed to come and whisk you away.”
“You ingrate…” Lady Catherine growled, as she lunged at him, her hands reaching for his throat.
Jerome turned and reached out his hands, in an attempt to reach hers, only to have Darcy step between the two of them, while Mr Bennet came up from behind Lady Catherine.
The woman was furious that Mr Bennet had placed his hands on her.  Even though he was a gentleman, he was far beneath her, in her opinion, and therefore had no right to touch her.  “Take your hands from me immediately.  I will not tolerate it for a moment longer.” Lady Catherine threatened.  “If you do not, I will have charges brought against you for assaulting a lady.  Do you hear what I just said?”
“Lady Catherine, I would love to witness you explaining to a magistrate that I was assaulting you by holding you, in an effort to keep you from harming the man you had hired to murder people, including my daughter.  As the magistrate for this neighborhood, I would find the matter extremely comical.”
“You are harming me, and I am not going to tolerate it any longer.” She claimed, lifting her foot and attempting to kick Mr Bennet in the shins.
“Darcy, perhaps it would be best if you took hold of your aunt.  I doubt that Mr Bittle will be any problem, as it is in his best interest to behave himself.  If he does, I will speak on his behalf.” Mr Bennet stated for all to hear.
Jerome nodded his head.  “I was only doing as I was paid to do, so I could help me mum.  She took care of me, and I only wished to do the same for her.  If you promise to protect her, I be doin’ what you wish.”
“Traitor…murderer…turncoat…it is all your fault that we were caught.  If you had done the job properly, it would have been over days ago and I would not have had to come here.  You foolish man, you have ruined everything.”  Lady Catherine cried out in anger.
Elizabeth had reached over and pulled the tassel, which was connected to a bell in the servants’ dining room.  Unknown to Lady Catherine and her servant, Mr Phillips, Mr Bingley, and Sir William were in the servants’ dining room, waiting for the signal.  As Darcy took hold of his aunt, the other three men entered the room.
“Ah, gentlemen, welcome.” Mr Bennet stated.  “We caught two in our trap tonight.  One is extremely compliant, while the other is being rather a pain in the arse.  But Darcy is tolerating her, and we will await his decision as to her fate.  Mr Bittle has admitted to being paid to do Lady Catherine’s dirty work.  So long as his mother is protected, he will cooperate fully.  For his compliance, I suggest that he face transportation, rather than hanging, for his crimes.”
Mr Phillips turned his eyes towards Sir William.  “As we have already discussed the fact that you are still acting as magistrate for this matter, you have the decision on what will happen to this man.”
Sir William walked closer to the footman.  “Sir, are you admitting to being involved with the happenings here over the past days?”
“If you are speaking of the murders of Mr Collins and Mr Wickham, and the poisoning of this young miss, I admit to doing these crimes on behalf of my employer, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  I was paid to do her bidding.  She also sent me word of her offer to Mr Collins to pay him to marry the young miss, as it was plain to see Mr Darcy had feelings for her.  It be Lady Catherine’s wish to be rid of the young miss.  That is why we are here, she wished to watch me kill the young lady.”
All of the men turned their eyes towards Lady Catherine.  Darcy felt his anger growing and knew it was not safe for him to continue holding his aunt.  “Bingley, take hold of Lady Catherine.  If she remains within my grasp, I will strangle her.”
Having never heard such anger in her nephew’s voice, Lady Catherine became quiet and calm.  She knew it would be dangerous to provoke her nephew, as he was much like his father.  And when Gerald Darcy had been severely angered, it was wise to steer clear of him. 
Darcy stepped closer to the window, looking out at the dark covering the land.  He could not speak, his anger was so great that he could not say all that he felt.  It was difficult for him to control himself when he was so emotional.  His father had taught him that it was better to distance himself, focus on other aspects, than to unleash the fury on others, no matter how much they deserved to be thrashed.    He had no desire for Elizabeth to witness his darker side.
“Remove Lady Catherine to a room that can be secured.  And have two footmen stand guard over the room.”
Bingley nodded his head, and he led Lady Catherine from the room, with Mr Phillips following.  Sir William and Mr Bennet moved closer to Jerome.
“As acting magistrate for this neighborhood, I am having you placed into custody.” Sir William declared.  “I will send word to Town, inquiring as to the next ship that will be transporting prisoners.  Mr Bennet’s opinion on the matter is sound, and, due to your cooperation, I will follow his recommendation for transportation.  I would also be willing to have a letter delivered to your mother, explaining why you are leaving England.”
“If you would allow me, I would like to write to me mum.  It would ease her mind if it came from me.  You can read the letter, I will not write against any of you.” Jerome said.  He knew that his best odds of having any sort of life would be to do as the men told him.  All Lady Catherine could now offer him for his loyalty was death at the end of a rope.
Darcy turned around, walking to the man who had caused so many problems.  “I cannot abide by your actions, following the directions that my aunt gave you.  It nearly cost the life of a young lady I respect and love.  But you are assisting us in dealing with my aunt, and have cooperated.  I will make this offer to you.  To keep all of this from becoming public fodder, as it would, if you and my aunt were tried for the murders and conspiracy, I will purchase tickets for you and your mother to sail from England, never to return.  And I will give you one hundred pounds to begin a new life in Canada, if that is your preference.  It will be up to my uncle to determine what my aunt’s punishment will be.”
Jerome was shocked, as were the others in the room.  The offer was extremely generous, considering all the man had done.  “I cannot believe you would be kind enough to do such, for someone who nearly killed Miss Bennet.”
“It is to protect her and her family from the scandal that would come if there were a trial.  Mr Bennet and Sir William are willing to have you transported, I am certain the men will agree with me on this.” Darcy said, turning his head to view the two men.  Mr Bennet nodded his head, seeing the wisdom of Darcy’s words.
Sir William Lucas was frowning slightly.  “It is difficult to think that this man, who has caused so much grief by his actions, and who nearly took Miss Elizabeth from all of us, will be given a chance to begin anew.”
Mr Bennet turned to his neighbor.  “Lucas, it is my daughter who was the most affected.  But we must look at what has happened.  First, Elizabeth was attacked by Mr Collins.  The swelling and bruising is just now beginning to recede.  There are some who know what happened, but it is still contained.  Call it one blessing of the storm, those who know about what happened were stranded here.  Then there was the attempt to kill her with the poison.  If these things were known, Lizzy’s reputation, and the reputations of all of my daughters would be called into question.  My cousin’s behavior was disgraceful, and would cause difficulties for my daughters.  No, I agree with Darcy.  It is better to have this man and his mother move to the Americas and begin fresh.”
“I swear, you will never have a problem with me.” Jerome said.  “Me mum and me, we will never return to England.  You will never hear from us again.  I only wish to care for me mum.”
Sir William thought about the matter for a few more moments.  “If you ever return to England, you will face charges.  Do I make myself clear?”
“Indeed, sir.  Thank you, sir.”
“Then you will write to your mother and a date will be fixed for your departure.” Darcy stated. 
Mr Bennet and Sir William led Jerome from the room, leaving Elizabeth and Darcy alone, though the door was standing open.
“This is not how I wished to begin our life together, Miss Elizabeth.”
“I must say that I was shocked when my father informed me of the decision.  I had no notion to marry at this time, especially to you.  Forgive me, that may have sounded harsh, but I truly do not know you.  I pray you will understand my confusion.”
“I do, Miss Elizabeth.  Though we must wed soon, I wish for you to know that I plan on courting you.  A little different from most marriages, I know, but I believe you deserve to be courted and allowed to know who you are marrying.” Darcy said, his eyes soft and full of love for the young lady who had stolen his heart.  “And I wish to know more about you.  Until a week ago, I was determined to put my feelings for you aside.  You are unlike any other lady I have ever met.  And I have lived my life in privilege, allowed to think meanly of those who were beneath me in status and wealth.  Because of you, I have learned that none of that matters.  What truly matters is what is in your heart.  And my heart says that it will never survive without you.”
“Thank you, Mr Darcy.” Elizabeth had been looking in Darcy’s eyes as he spoke.  His words were true, he was speaking what he believed.  “I look forward to knowing you better.”
“There will be plenty of time to discuss this later.  You need to rest, as you still have recovering to do.  Now, rest.  Your sister will most likely join you soon.”
~~ ** ~~
The next time Elizabeth woke, Jane was at her side.  “Good morning, Lizzy.  I was told you had a very busy night.”
Elizabeth chuckled lightly.  “Indeed.  I not only became engaged, I had my betrothed in my bed, and had an attempt on my life.  Yes, I agree with you, it was a very busy night.”
Jane smiled.  “I was so upset with Papa for leaving you in this room, when they thought someone would make an attempt on your life.  I tried to talk him into moving you to my room, but he refused.”
“They felt that if I were in another room, Lady Catherine’s servant could harm me and they would not have been able to stop him.  They were not sure how he got into my room, so they did not wish to risk his being able to get to me in another room, while they were waiting for him in this room.  Come to find out, Mr Darcy and Papa were wise.  The servant had found a series of unknown passageways that led to many of the guest rooms.  I do not know for certain, but the passageways could have led to your rooms as well.  I would not have wished to place you in danger, and you would have been, if you had been alone with me.”
“Lizzy, it frightens me still that you came so close to being killed, not once, but several times.  How do we know they will not try again?”
“Do not fret, Jane.  The man was caught, and he admitted his crimes to our father and Mr Darcy, also to Sir William.  The only threat is from Lady Catherine, who hired the man.  Mr Darcy has sent a message to his uncle, Lady Catherine’s brother.  It will be a few days before we are able to learn his decision for her fate, but Mr Darcy says that he will protect me from his aunt.”
Jane looked at her sister, watching her closely as she asked the most important question.  “And what do you think of Mr Darcy?  Will you be happy, being married to him?”
Elizabeth took several minutes to think of her answer before speaking.  “It is true that, at one time, I did not like him as much as I do now.  But I have had much to think it over, and find that he is not improperly proud.  He is shy and, after he apologized for the comments made at the Assembly, I truly cannot find fault with him.  He is intelligent, well educated, wishes to improve his mind by way of extensive reading.  Mr Darcy is kind, caring, and devoted.  And he is extremely protective.  An added benefit is that he is also extremely handsome.”
“Lizzy, I cannot believe I have heard you say such a kindness towards Mr Darcy.” Jane teased.  “He is quite handsome, though dark.  You know I have always preferred men with lighter colored hair.”
“Such as Mr Bingley?  I know you like the reddish color of his hair.” Elizabeth was rewarded with seeing her eldest sister turn a brilliant shade of red.  “And you seem to prefer his amiable and friendly personality, rather than the quiet and reserved Mr Darcy.”
“Then it is a good thing that Mr Darcy is to be your husband.” Jane replied.
“And I am certain that you will one day marry my husband’s closest friend.  Will that not be wonderful?  Our husbands will already be friends.”
“Do not count your chicks before they hatch, Lizzy.  We will wait and see if Mr Bingley proposes to me.  If his sisters have their way, he will never approach the subject.  They have no desire to see him married to a country gentleman’s daughter, with no dowry to speak of, and no connections that will bring something to the marriage.”
“My goodness, Jane, I believe that is the most unkind thing I have ever heard you say.” Elizabeth stated.  She was growing fatigued from their discussion.
“Lizzy, you rest some more.  I know Mr Darcy will visit you this afternoon, and you will wish to be rested for his visit.”
A smile grew on Elizabeth’s lips.  “Yes, I wish to be at my best when he arrives.”  Elizabeth soon drifted off to sleep.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~

Chapter 12
Over the following days, the Bennets had remained at Netherfield, as Mr Bennet wished to ensure his continued participation in decisions being made, not to mention, he wished to make certain that Elizabeth was on the mend before she was moved. 
It was expected to take at least a week before word would arrive from Matlock.  Therefore, all were shocked to find Lord Matlock arriving at Netherfield two days after a message had been sent to him.
“Uncle, I thought you were in Derbyshire.  How did you come so quickly?  We just sent a rider with a message two days ago.” Darcy inquired, shaking the hand of his mother’s brother.
“I know nothing of a message from you, and you know how much your aunt loves to shop for gifts for the holidays.  We were not scheduled to leave Town for another fortnight.”
Darcy frowned.  “Then how did you come to be here?”
“I received an urgent message from your cousin, Anne.  She was concerned about her mother’s behavior.  Anne was worried that Catherine was planning to come here, to cause you trouble.” Lord Matlock declared.  “Is Catherine here?”
“Unfortunately, she is.  She and her servant have caused a lot of trouble for all of us, including murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy.”
Lord Matlock shook his head.  “Catherine, Catherine, how can you be so foolish?  Anne was sure that something was going on, as she found one of her mother’s letters from her parson.  It seemed he was in the neighborhood, near here, and Catherine had been insisting he secure the hand of one of his cousins.  She even offered to pay him to do so.  Anne knew you were here, and not knowing where her mother was, as Catherine told Anne that she was coming to Town, on business, your cousin became concerned.  As Catherine could not be found in Town, it was assumed that she had come here.  It pains me to learn that I was correct.”
“Shall we go to the sitting room attached to my bedchambers?  There is much to discuss, and I can have refreshments brought up.  I fear that it would be better to deal with your sister before your taking time to clean up and rest, as Lady Catherine has been in an uproar at being kept locked in one of the rooms which she cannot escape.  When she is not yelling, she has been breaking anything she can.”
~~ ** ~~
Later that day, the door was unlocked and opened to the room being occupied by Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  Her brother, Lord Matlock, Henry Fitzwilliam, entered the room.
“It is about time you arrived, Henry.  We will need to send to Town for the physician to come examine our nephew.  He has lost his mind, and is bound for Bedlam.  I will need to take over running Pemberley, as there is no possibility he will ever be able to run an estate again.  Anne is old enough to take over Rosings.  Fortunately, I can move to Pemberley, and oversee Georgiana’s care as well.  If we delay her coming out for two years, I should have enough time to correct any damage done by her brother.  Heaven help us, what was Gerald Darcy thinking when he made Fitzwilliam and Richard guardians over Georgiana?  Those two know nothing about the proper way to raise a girl.  It is not too late, I pray.”
“Catherine, sit down.  We need to speak.” Lord Matlock said, attempting to keep his voice neutral.
“We have plenty of time to speak, after you send the message for the physician.  It will take some time for the man to arrive here, not to mention, making arrangements for a place at the asylum for Fitzwilliam.  And transportation for him.  It would be best if he were given some laudanum, to keep him sedated.  And we will require some strong men to make certain that he does not attempt to flee from us.”
“Enough, Catherine.  The only person heading for an asylum is you.”
Lady Catherine’s eyes lit with fire.  “What do you mean by such a statement?  There is nothing wrong with me.”
“Nothing wrong with you?  You have had our nephew followed and watched for the past two years, attempted to pay your parson to marry his cousin due to your belief that William had developed feelings for her, then had your servant murder the parson, and attempt to put the blame upon the young lady.  You even went so far as to have your servant conspire with George Wickham, having him give statements against the lady.  Then Wickham was murdered by your servant.  Oh, and let us not forget your man’s attempt to poison Miss Elizabeth, and the two of you making a second attempt on her life on the night that you were caught.  Forgive me, Catherine, but I believe that, in comparison to our nephew, you have lost your mind completely.  William is not in need of a physician, though we have sent for one to come examine you.”
“This is preposterous.” Lady Catherine spouted.  “Do I need to have you placed in an asylum as well?  You cannot believe Fitzwilliam’s nonsense.  He is deranged, Henry.  You must see the truth.  It is time that he is placed somewhere he will be safe and unable to do anyone else harm.  Why, he even had plans to marry some country chit from this neighborhood, leaving my daughter jilted.  That should show you how far he has slipped in his insanity.”
“You have been told, for many years now, that Anne and William did not wish to be married to each other.  They will not be married, and that is the end of that discussion.  As for William marrying Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I see no difficulties that cannot be managed.  She is a gentleman’s daughter, and he is a gentleman.  Though her mother comes from trade, there are far worse situations throughout the ton.  Now, I am going to make you this offer.  If you will admit that you are wrong, and that you cannot control the lives of William or Anne, or Georgiana’s, I will see to having you moved to the family estate in Scotland.  You can live out your days in solitary peace.  But if you decide to continue in the manner you have been, dictating the lives of everyone else I will see you locked away in an asylum.”
“Henry Albert Fitzwilliam, our father would be ashamed of your behavior.  I am your sister, the first born child in our family.  I deserve being treated with respect.  Our father would be turning over in his grave to see you behaving so horribly to me.  Allowing our nephew to ruin our family, you should be ashamed.” Lady Catherine was stamping her walking stick against the ground as she spoke, attempting to prove her point with each strike.
“Very well, Catherine, you have made the decision simple.  I will have the physician make arrangements for you to be taken to an asylum.  I will remain here until all the arrangements are made and you have been removed from the neighborhood.  And I will send word to your daughter that she is now in control of Rosings.” Lord Matlock turned away from his sister, walking to the door.  “I wish it had not come to this, Catherine, but I will not allow you to ruin our family any further.”
~~ ** ~~
The physician arrived, and the decision was made.  Since Lady Catherine showed no signs of repenting her actions, and there was fear that she would cause harm to others, she would be placed, involuntarily, in an asylum that was located in Kent.  It would be close enough for Anne to visit her mother, if she wished.  Though it was a painful decision for Lord Matlock to make, he knew that the health and safety of his entire family was at stake, and he was the head of the family.
While the plans were being made for Lady Catherine’s journey to the asylum, Darcy was spending as much time with his betrothed.  The couple had determined to marry the following week, with a common license from the parson at Longbourn.  Elizabeth was growing stronger each day, and, by the time Lord Matlock prepared to leave with his sister, Elizabeth was able to spend some time each day in her sitting room.
At first, Elizabeth was concerned for her appearance.  Her bruising was beginning to fade, appearing in shades of green and yellow as it was healing.  The swelling was completely faded before the wedding, and Darcy insisted that he did not care what gown she wore, as he knew he would not even notice, once he looked into her eyes.  This caused Elizabeth to blush deeply.
“Elizabeth, after we are wed, we can travel to Town, if you wish, for the remaining days of the year.  We can order your trousseau be made there.”
A longing came over Elizabeth’s expression.  It would be her first holiday season without her family, alone with this man, in Town.  How was she to make such a drastic change in her life?
Darcy could see that she was troubled, and could guess at the cause.  “What would you think of inviting your family to stay with us in Town for Christmas?  We could take a week to be alone, to come to know each other better, and you to learn how to find your way around our townhouse and then your family could come.  There is plenty of room, and we can invite your aunt and uncle from Town to dine with us and spend Christmas day with us.  Perhaps even take in an evening at the theater or a concert.  Would you like for me to make such arrangements?”
A tear welled in the corner of her eye.  “I would like that very much.  How did you know what I was thinking?”
“I remembered the look when I saw myself in the mirror, shortly before my first holiday without my father.  It was only me and a very young Georgiana.  So it was simple enough to deduce that you would wish to spend your holidays with your family, rather than be taken away from them to spend the holiday alone with me, in Town.”
Elizabeth smiled.  “I am truly blessed.  What did I do to deserve you?”
“You are the true blessing.  You have given me a chance to finally live.”
~~ ** ~~
The Bennet family had returned to Longbourn a few days before the wedding of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy.  After dining one evening, Mr Bennet remembered he had left his book in his bedchambers.  He walked up the stairs to retrieve the book, then returned to his study.
As he entered the door of his study, he was shocked at the sight before him.  Mrs Bennet was sitting on the sofa, a book in her hand, reading.  Beside her was Kitty, and she too had a book in hand, her attention completely consumed by the words.  Lydia was lying on her stomach on the floor, in a most unladylike manner, with a novel held in her hands.  The youngest Bennet was giggling at something she had just read.
“What is happening here?” Mr Bennet inquired.  “Why are you all here?”
“We had finished our books while at Netherfield.” Mrs Bennet stated.  “So we needed some others to keep us entertained.  Lizzy suggested several titles we might each find intriguing.”
“Well, I am just not accustomed to any of you entering this room, let alone enjoying being here.”  Mr Bennet was slightly annoyed that the ladies of his family had suddenly attached themselves to his private sanctuary.  He had long allowed Elizabeth free access to his study, but this was going further than he could easily understand.  “If you are all planning to remain in my study, perhaps I will take up the drawing room as my comfort area for reading.”
“There is just something about this room that makes reading more enjoyable.” Kitty stated.  “The smell of the books is delightful in a way I never expected.”
“Please, Papa, might we remain here to read.  Mamma will not allow me to be on the floor in the drawing room.  She says it is unladylike.” Lydia added.
Mr Bennet was not pleased with the invasion of his privacy, but he sat down, behind his desk, and opened his book.  Soon, he forgot about his wife and daughters, losing himself in his own world.  Over the days to come, it would be common to find the family spending their evenings in such a manner, with Mary and Jane joining.
~~ ** ~~
The morning of Elizabeth’s wedding to Fitzwilliam Darcy began with a light snowfall.  Not a terrible storm, as the one they had been forced to endure, but a dusting of powdery snow to make the world fresh and clean.  Elizabeth smiled, feeling the world was telling her that the day would begin new and fresh, just as the pure snow that sparkled in the sunlight. 
Mrs Bennet was in a state of nerves, wishing to make certain that the wedding preparations were all they could be, with the constraints on the amount of time she had to prepare.  She felt they should wait for at least four or five months, so a wedding fit for a man of Darcy’s station could be held.  The dear woman could not understand that her soon to be son was not fond of the glamor of the ton.
The couple insisted on a simple wedding, with only family and a few close friends.  The wedding breakfast would also be simple, nothing elaborate, much to Mrs Bennet’s chagrin.  Then the couple would be off to Town. 
The Bennets would follow to London on the Monday prior to Christmas.  They would remain in Town for a fortnight, spending some of the time with Mrs Bennet’s brother and his family.  Mr and Mrs Gardiner had always been fond of Elizabeth, and looked forward to knowing her new husband.  After the new year had begun, Mrs Bennet would finally be blessed in planning the wedding she wished for her daughters, as Jane Bennet had become engaged to Charles Bingley.  As both Jane and her intended were amiable, they agreed to allow Mrs Bennet free reign on the wedding preparations.  Elizabeth was pleased with her sister’s betrothal, as she knew how much Jane loved Bingley.
When Mr Bennet entered the chapel with his most beloved daughter on his arm, leading her to the man whose heart now belonged to her, Mr Darcy was true to his word.  If anyone had inquired as to the color of her gown or the adornments in her hair, Darcy would have been unable to inform them.  For when his eyes met hers, he saw nothing else.  The sparkle and life that he found there warmed his heart, making him feel complete.  He finally came to understand his parents’ marriage, and the emptiness with which his father had struggled after his mother died.  Darcy prayed he would never know the pain his father suffered, as he wished to spend eternity with his beloved Elizabeth.
The vows were exchanged, and soon enough, Darcy was staring into the eyes of the new Mistress of Pemberley and Darcy House.  Mrs Elizabeth Darcy.  He could not imagine a better sounding name for her.
After spending as little time as possible at the breakfast, the couple made their excuses to leave.  Jane and Elizabeth embraced, both having tears streaming from their eyes.
“We will see each other soon, Lizzy.  And we will enjoy your returning to Netherfield, after the holidays are over.  I do not know how I would be able to cope with all the preparations if you were not here.”
“Do not fret, Jane.  All will be well.  I will assist you in having the wedding you desire, not just what Mamma wishes you to have.”
As the two sisters bid farewell to each other, Bingley and Darcy watched their ladies.  Bingley reached over, patting his friend on the shoulder.  “It will not be long until you will be my brother.  I am grateful we have found sisters who will make us both very happy.”
“You will be staying with us when in Town, will you not?  There is no reason for you to remain at Hurst’s townhouse alone.” Darcy knew his friend had sent his sister to visit relations in the north, and had no plans to accept Caroline in his home in the future.
“I would be pleased, Darcy.  I am not certain when Louisa and Hurst will return, as they planned to visit Hurst’s family at their estate.  So I would have been alone in that big house.” Bingley smiled.
“That is unnecessary, especially since you will be with us most of your time.  I will see that rooms are prepared for you at Darcy House.  Though I will tell you that the rooms will be in a different wing from Miss Jane’s rooms.” Darcy’s eyebrow raised as he gave Bingley a slight glare.  “She is my sister now, and I will not have you misbehave yourself.”
Bingley’s cheeks turned red.  “I…I…I…esteem her…”
Darcy began laughing.  “I was teasing you, old friend.  I trust you with my sister, for you know what will happen if you do not treat her properly.”
His friend shook his head.  “I say, Darcy, your wife has made some changes in your personality already.  You are far more jovial than I have ever known you to be.”
“And I am enjoying myself immensely.” Darcy said.  “We will look forward to your arrival at the same time as the Bennets.”
~~ ** ~~
Darcy and Elizabeth were soon on their way to London, and to the beginning of their life together.  They found comfort in each other, in a way they had never known before. 
When they arrived in Town, it was late afternoon.  The butler opened the door for his Master and new Mistress. 
“Thank you, Jefferson, it is good to see you.” Darcy’s excitement to show off his bride was visible.  “Is your wife nearby?”
“Of course I am, Sir.” Mrs Jefferson declared, coming from a nearby room.  “Just making sure that all is ready for your arrival.”
Elizabeth could see the affection the elder housekeeper held for the Master.  It pleased her to see that the staff cared for her husband.
“Mrs Jefferson, it is my honor to introduce you to my wife, Mrs Elizabeth Darcy.  Elizabeth, Mrs Jefferson has been the housekeeper here since before my birth.  If there is anything you wish to know about Darcy House, she will be the best resource.  And her husband, here, has been at his post for nearly as long.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr and Mrs Jefferson.  Mr Darcy has spoken of you with great respect.  I know I will require your patience as I learn my duties.  My father’s estate and home were not so grand as my husband’s, and I do not wish to fail Mr Darcy.”
“You could never fail me, Elizabeth.” Darcy stated, lifting his wife’s hand to his lips.  “And you only need take on the duties you wish.  Mrs Jefferson has been overseeing the running of the house since my mother’s death.”
Seeing the joy in their master’s expression brought pleasure to the longtime servants.  They had long feared the sort of lady that would become the next Mrs Darcy, especially when they saw such young ladies as Miss Bingley attempting to capture Darcy for a husband.
“Anything we can do to be of assistance, Mrs Darcy, you only need ask.” Mrs Jefferson replied.  “Now, I have requested light refreshments to be brought up to the sitting room attached to the Master and Mistress suites.  And baths can be drawn quickly, if you wish.  Dinner will be served at eight.”
“A bath would be delightful, Mrs Jefferson.  And I am certain that the refreshments will be appreciated, as my husband and I had a difficult time concentrating on the food my mother served this morning.” Elizabeth admitted.  “I must admit, I feel comfortable already in Darcy House.  It is not at all what I expected.  The furnishings are much like my husband, refined and elegant, yet comfortable and sturdy.”  Elizabeth’s cheeks suddenly reddened when she realized that her words could be misconstrued. 
“I have always believed the Darcys to have good taste, Madame, and the Master choosing you for his bride shows he has inherited his father’s quality.”  Mrs Jefferson said as she patted Elizabeth’s hand.  “Master William, do you wish to show your wife her rooms or should I do so?”
Darcy smiled.  “I will avail myself to be her tour guide, thank you very much.  Come, Elizabeth, let us go upstairs.”
~~ ** ~~
The couple spent their first week alone at Darcy House, with only a few servants seeing them outside of their rooms.  Elizabeth was pleased to learn that the man she married was the kindest and best of men, and that his love for her was true.
The day before her family was to arrive at Darcy House, Darcy and Elizabeth were cuddled on the sofa in the library of their home.  Darcy lifted his wife’s hand, placing kisses on each of her fingers.  “Who would have believed that I would have found the perfect match for me in the neighborhood of Meryton?  To think, I have the unofficial trial of Miss Elizabeth Bennet to thank for your remaining at Netherfield, allowing me to know you better.  I would never have had you suffer as you did, but it allowed me to show you who I truly am.”
“And I am grateful that there was no need for an official trial for me.  An angel was watching over me, blessing my life with you.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
      THE END  

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