Elizabeth was staring out the window of her bedchamber, her mind filled with the two letters she held in her hand. She knew it was foolish not to open them, but they were the last words she would ever receive from him. If she did not open them, did not read them, perhaps he would miraculously return to her.
Tears were streaming down her cheeks as she heard a soft tapping on the door of her room. Before she could answer, the door opened, just enough to allow Jane to poke her head inside. “Lizzy, I was becoming concerned. Are you well?”
“As well as can be, Jane. My heart is torn in pieces. I want so to read William’s words, but I am not certain I can accept the pain that will come. These were the last letters he wrote to me. The last words he had to say to me. Oh, Jane, I wish he were here to tell me the words. I wish to have him in my arms, holding him tightly in my embrace. I do not want his written words, I want him.”
“I understand, Lizzy. You have suffered so much. But these letters will tell you of his love for you. William loved you dearly, and it will continue to cause you pain to keep the letters sealed and unread. Treasure his words to you. They are a keepsake you will have the rest of your life.”
“If I open them, it is done, and he is gone forever. If I do not read them, perhaps he will return to me. I demand him to tell me, in person, the words he placed in these letters. I do not wish to read the words, I wish to hear them from his lips.”
“It will never happen, Lizzy. You need to accept the truth and move forward. William would not wish for your pain to continue for the rest of your life. He would wish for you to live for both of you. That is why he left you the care of his home and his sister, so you can live on for him, as well as yourself. Lizzy, please, read the letters and then come take a walk with Georgiana and me. It is a beautiful day outside, and we wish to enjoy the gardens.”
The door closed, leaving Elizabeth alone, with the letters still in her hand. Nearly half of an hour went by before Elizabeth finally broke the seal on the first letter.
My Dearest Love,
How I miss you. Every moment is painful, as I am waiting for the ship to be prepared, leaving me unable to continue to Ireland, yet I cannot return to you. I love you, my dearest girl. You are so dear to me.
With so much time on my hands, I have been making plans. As soon as we are wed, I wish to leave Georgiana in the care of either your eldest sister or my aunt and uncle, allowing us to have time alone. My sister is enjoying her time with you while I am being deprived, so it is only fair that I have time alone with you. I do not wish to travel anymore, after I return from Ireland. I thought of a grand wedding tour, but, for now, I wish to have you at Pemberley, hidden away in our suite. Yes, I am a selfish creature, but I wish to make love to you, over and over, with nothing to stand in our way.
I wrote a letter to Mrs Reynolds, to have her prepare your rooms at Pemberley. The Mistress apartment has not been updated since my mother died, so it is outdated. It would be my pleasure to have you correspond with Mrs Reynolds and discuss any changes you wish made. Whatever you wish, you need only tell her. The same goes for the Mistress apartment at Darcy House. The housekeeper there is Mrs Davis, and she will be thrilled to assist you. Both of the ladies have been waiting for me to find the perfect young lady to bring home. They will love you, and the way you make me smile.
I am sure that my aunt, Lady Catherine, will come to Hertfordshire. She is adamant that Georgiana cannot be raised properly by two young men, such as Richard and me. But now, Georgiana has you as a sister, to assist her in preparing for the future. It is my prayer that we will not have to face my sister’s coming out for at least two years, as I am not ready for my sister to be old enough to marry. Do I sound like a fool? She is supposed to be a little girl, with her hair in braids, for many years to come. I am certain she was only born a year ago, as that is what it feels like for me.
If you receive word of a conflict between Mr Jacobs and Mr Turnwright, they have been arguing over an issue with a property line. A storm caused some damage to the river which flows between their farms, and caused a pond to form on Mr Jacobs’ farm. The water Mr Turnwright used to water his garden and take care of his livestock had dwindled to nearly nothing. But Mr Jacobs refuses to allow his neighbor to access the pond for water. From what I have been told, by the steward, Mr Foxfire, the problem is escalating and may require assistance. If I have not returned, please use your best judgment to resolve the matter.
As I am frustrated, waiting for the ship to be ready, I took a stroll down the business district yesterday, finding myself in a bookshop. I know, shocking that I would enter a bookshop. I can hear your chuckle. Almost as shocking as finding you in a bookshop. And yes, I purchased a book. I will not tell you the title, as it will be a surprise for when I return. I thought about purchasing you some lace and ribbon while I am in Ireland, but I am certain that is not what you will desire brought to you.
My dearest, loveliest Elizabeth, I wish I was with you rather than writing to you. My cousin should be here, waiting to take the ship to his parents. But there is no point in being frustrated with either of my cousins. Richard is in France, and I pray he is safe. And his brother did not ask to be in an accident. I cannot wait to introduce you to Richard. He has been like a brother to me. And I am certain that Aunt Rebecca will love you, as you make me so happy. Every time I think of you, I discover I have a huge grin on my face. And, since I am always thinking of you, the grin is constantly visible. Aunt Rebecca will be amazed at the change that has come over me. All due to you, my love. All due to your being my betrothed. We will have such a wonderful life together, loving each other, sharing the good times and the bad. I cannot wait to see you large with child, my child, in your belly. And to hold our children, what a delight that will be. I want to have a dozen children. And at least one of them has to be a daughter with your chocolate curls and brown eyes that sparkle as if there is gold sprinkled in them. I want to know what sort of child you were, how you became the bewitching woman you are to me.
I had best end this letter, for I wish for it to go out in the mail today. Remember that you are always in my heart and that I love you, more than life itself. I will return to you, as soon as possible.
Love, always and forever, your betrothed,
My dearest Elizabeth,
I must hurry, for we set sail within the hour. I wish to tell you how much I love you, and will always love you. You are all that is beautiful and good in my life. God brought a precious gift to me, and I will treasure you always.
Give Georgiana a kiss for me, and tell her I am proud of her. I knew you would be the perfect sister for her. I expect her to continue practicing the pianoforte each day, and keep up on her lessons. If she does as she is supposed to, I will bring her back something special from Ireland.
My next letter will be from the home my aunt and uncle have leased. I pray that Uncle Henry will be on the road to recovery by the time I arrive, and that it has all been for naught. Then I can return to you quickly.
Remember I love you and miss you terribly. Keep me in your prayers, and I will do the same for you.
Your bewitched betrothed,
Elizabeth folded the letters carefully, placing them on the top of her small desk. She then walked to her bed, lying down on top of the counterpane. Then the sobbing began. Sometime later, Jane found her sister had fallen asleep, the streaks from her tears still visible on Elizabeth’s cheeks. Jane removed herself from the bedchamber, leaving her sister to rest.
~~ ** ~~
The week which followed was one of learning for Elizabeth, Georgiana, and Richard. They spent as much time together as possible, discussing the future. The decision had been made to make the journey to Pemberley the following week, in an attempt to begin the process of normalizing their lives. A letter had arrived from the steward of Pemberley, requesting assistance in dealing with several matters which were of great importance.
Though it was a difficult decision, Elizabeth was determined to fulfill Darcy’s request of her. She would travel to Pemberley, stay with Georgiana. Mrs Bennet had been relentless with her demands that Elizabeth marry Mr Collins, leaving the second eldest Bennet daughter wishing for time away from her mother.
When Richard had returned from Netherfield, after confronting his aunt, he informed Mr Bennet of Mrs Bennet’s communication with Mr Collins. When the Master of Longbourn confronted his wife, she admitted to her having written to Mr Collins and begging him to marry Elizabeth, to save their family.
“Mr Bennet, what will become of us if you died tomorrow? Mr Bingley would not be able to take care of all of us, especially with Elizabeth being ruined by her foolishness over the attempt to marry a man who was already betrothed to another lady. If we do not secure a husband for Elizabeth immediately, and move her far away from here, our entire family will suffer for her impertinent behavior. To think she was worthy of securing a man such as Mr Darcy. She was only fit to be his sister’s companion, not his wife.”
“How dare you speak of our daughter in such a manner? Lizzy was engaged to marry Mr Darcy. He has not been dead a month and you are trying to pair her off with one of the most ridiculous men in all of England.”
“It is not as if she was married. If she had been, it would be a completely different matter. But gossip is spreading. Everyone knows about Lady Catherine’s claims, and that any papers that were signed will be challenged by Mr Darcy’s family. Lizzy will be left penniless and in disgrace. We must have her married quickly and moved from the neighborhood.” Mrs Bennet was flustered.
“My daughter is not marrying Mr Collins, or anyone else, for that matter. She will not be forced to marry against her wishes. She deserves a chance to mourn the loss of the man she loved. That is all there is to the matter.”
Mrs Bennet continued her attempts to convince her husband to see her view, but he would not give in to her. But when the woman heard her daughter was to travel to Pemberley, she was pleased.
~~ ** ~~
“Caroline, I have already told you, the colonel and Miss Darcy are leaving the neighborhood next week. I spoke with them while I was visiting Longbourn.” Bingley stated.
“But, they cannot leave. I was planning to have a dinner in their honor, perhaps a ball.”
“That would be highly improper, Caroline. After all, they are in mourning. It is best if you allowed them to choose what they wish to do. There will be many changes in the coming months, so I can understand their desire to return to Pemberley.”
“Oh, Charles, I know you will be desperately lonely without Miss Darcy here. You cannot hide your affection for her. I am your sister, and it is clear to me that you are in love with the young lady. It is not proper to discuss the future, with her brother so recently deceased, but if she is to leave the neighborhood, I know your heart will break.”
Bingley was shocked at his sister’s statements. “Where did you come up with such a notion, Caroline? I am in love with Miss Jane Bennet, not Miss Darcy. Miss Darcy is like a much younger sister to me, and far too young to think of marrying at this time, even if I thought of her in such a way. No, I have already spoken with Miss Bennet, and we have been keeping the news private until after the first half mourning is over. After all, Darcy was to be Jane’s brother. The Bennets are mourning his loss as much as the rest of us.”
“Miss Eliza would never have been Mrs Darcy, I am certain. Not only was his family against the engagement, but I am certain that Mr Darcy would have come to his senses, after he was away from her arts and allurements for some time. The trip would have been beneficial, if he had not lost his life.”
Charles Bingley could not believe his sister’s words. She is as heartless and conniving as Colonel Fitzwilliam stated. How could she be so cold? Perhaps it is time to have Hurst take both of my sisters to the north, to visit our aunt. Caroline could stand to have our aunt put her in her place. “Caroline, I know you are upset with the loss of Mr Darcy, as you will no longer be able to use his name to gain access to the soirées and dances, as you have in the past. I will not allow you to garner Miss Darcy’s friendship to further your goals. It has just crossed my mind that you and Louisa have been here, in Hertfordshire for some time, and you must wish to do some traveling. Our aunt would be willing to have you visit her in Scarborough.”
Caroline Bingley gasped. “Charles, how could you be so heartless? I would never use my friendship with Miss Darcy for my own advancement in society. I only wish to aid her, as her brother would have wanted. Our families have been close for some time now, it is only right for us to be supportive to Miss Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam in their time of sorrow.”
“I plan on remaining here, but I feel it would be best if you were to make the journey north.” Bingley was standing strong against his sister’s attempt to manipulate him.
“I wish to visit with Miss Darcy, before any decision is made. You know how dear she is to me. To leave without speaking to her would be rude and hurtful.”
Bingley thought for a moment. “Very well, we will take the carriage to Longbourn in the morning. After you visit with Miss Darcy, we will return here, and your trunks will be loaded for the journey to Scarborough.”
~~ ** ~~
The following morning found Caroline Bingley fawning over Georgiana. “I wish you were still at Netherfield, so I could ensure you are well and receiving proper care.”
“You do not need to worry, Miss Bingley. I am in the best care possible, between my cousin and Elizabeth.”
“Miss Darcy, I must inform you of a most disturbing matter. I could not leave the neighborhood until I had warned you.”
Georgiana’s eyes widened. “Of what could you be speaking, Miss Bingley?”
“Do you know a man by the name of George Wickham?”
The girl nodded her head. This brought joy to the older lady, though she hid her reaction. “I have heard rumors of him, of why he is in Hertfordshire.”
“I was told that Mr Wickham was in the militia. Lizzy told me of her having spoken with him.” Georgiana was curious.
“Well, if anyone knows of Mr Wickham’s comings and goings, it would be Miss Eliza. She was caught in a most compromising situation with the man. And my maid overheard the talk at Netherfield, which was explicit about their relationship.”
“No, it could not possibly be, as Lizzy was to marry my brother.” Georgiana became defensive.
“But it is true, Miss Darcy. You cannot trust her, as she is not a proper young lady. If your brother had known the truth, he would never have trusted her with your care. Perhaps it would be wise for me to speak with Colonel Fitzwilliam.”
“I…I…guess it would be wise. I do not believe Lizzy would behave in such a manner. She loves…loved my brother. Fitzwilliam would never have trusted her so much if he had any doubts.”
Miss Bingley leaned closer. “But there are young ladies that know how to make men forget about all common sense. I believe that is what happened with your brother. Why else would he have chosen someone who was so far beneath the Darcys and Fitzwilliams?”
Georgiana did not wish to believe Miss Bingley’s words. She was confident that it would all be proven to be a lie, as the girl remembered Wickham not being the most honest of men. When she was a child, before her father’s death, Georgiana had been extremely shy. One day, George Wickham was found in her father’s study, going through the desk. When he was caught, he stated that Fitzwilliam had asked him to find a paper that had been in the desk. Georgiana knew that the young man was lying, as she had overheard her brother refuse to assist Wickham with a plot to abscond with money which Gerald Darcy had been known to keep in the desk. Georgiana knew she should have spoken up, told her father and brother the truth, but a week after the incident, Gerald Darcy died from a bout of apoplexy.
“Well, you should speak with my cousin, for he is far more experienced in dealing with Mr Wickham. If you will excuse me, I would like to rest for a bit. I have a bit of a headache.” Georgiana quickly left the room, leaving a startled Richard Fitzwilliam to contend with Caroline Bingley.
“Forgive me, Miss Bingley, was Georgiana well?” He asked, his brows creased with his frown.
“She stated she had a slight headache, though I believe it was the news I had to share with her that has caused her distress.”
Richard’s frown grew. “And what is it you told my cousin?”
“I wish I did not have to impart such distressing news, Colonel, but there are rumors going around about Miss Eliza. It appears that she was deceiving your cousin, and was in a secret romance with Mr Wickham. I believe you are aware of the man I speak of.”
“And where did you hear such rumors? I have not seen Miss Elizabeth near George Wickham.”
“I was approached by Mrs Younge, Miss Darcy’s former companion. The lady informed me of seeing Miss Eliza meeting clandestinely with Mr Wickham. It is my belief that Miss Eliza terminated the companion’s employment, so Miss Darcy would not learn of the situation. Mrs Younge stated that the interlude was extremely inappropriate, going so far as to state it was not the manner a maiden woman of virtue, as Miss Eliza is purported to be, should behave.”
“I find it highly skeptical that the news comes from Mrs Younge, after she has been sacked for failing to perform her duties. According to what I have learned, reading the letters Darcy wrote to his betrothed, Mrs Younge was attempting to discredit Miss Elizabeth, even during her employment with the Darcys. But I do not appreciate the fact the woman is spreading such vicious lies about my family. Do you know where she is residing? Perhaps I should have a chat with her.”
“Colonel, Mrs Younge is a kind and caring lady. After she was sacked, she remained in the neighborhood, as she feared for Miss Darcy. She is not wealthy, but she has paid for a room at the inn, to be on hand to be of assistance to Miss Darcy, should the truth be learned about Miss Eliza.” Caroline prayed that the information was enough to discourage him from seeking out Mrs Younge.
“I do not believe what is being said, as I am convinced that Miss Elizabeth loved my cousin. She is devastated by his loss.”
Caroline placed a hand gently on the arm of Richard Fitzwilliam, causing him to be cautious. “I beg only that you tread lightly when dealing with the country nobody. I would not wish for her to ruin your family.”
Richard pulled his arm from the fortune hunter’s grasp. “I thank you for your caution, Miss Bingley. I will keep a close eye on the matter.”
~~ ** ~~
As soon as she returned to Netherfield, Caroline penned a message to Mrs Younge.
I am not certain that Miss Darcy or her cousin believe what I told them. They are planning to leave for Pemberley within the week. We need to find a way to keep them here, so we can persuade them that Miss Eliza is in league with Wickham. It may come down to him having to compromise her in a public manner. But we will not be able to do so, if they leave the neighborhood. Please tell Wickham that I will have my maid bring the funds to pay him for his service, if he finds a way to keep them here. Damage the carriage, cause some sort of accident, whatever it takes.
Mrs Younge smiled as she read the message. “Well, Wickham will enjoy such an opportunity. Perhaps Miss Elizabeth Bennet should have an accident on one of her long walks.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
The sun was just rising, when Elizabeth woke and carefully removed from the bed. She did not wish to disturb Georgiana, who was not an early riser. Quietly, she dressed and left the bedchambers, making her way down the stairs to the kitchen.
“Good morning, Mrs Paddington. The buns look exceptionally delicious this morning.” Elizabeth said to the Longbourn cook.
“Good morning, Miss Lizzy. Off on one of your walks again?”
“It is such a fine morning, I wish to take in the wonders of the neighborhood, before I leave with Miss Darcy.”
“You will be missed, when you are away. You are so timely every morning, I could almost set my clock by you. Here are two buns to give you some nourishment on your journey.” The elder lady chuckled.
“Thank you.” Elizabeth replied, smiling as she leaned forward to place a kiss on the woman’s cheek. “And I will miss your scrumptious food while I am away. I am certain that Pemberley’s cook could never make food as wonderful as you.”
“Oh, go on now. I need to get my work done before the family wakes.” Mrs Paddington said as she scooted Elizabeth from the room.
Mr Bennet was walking towards his study when he saw his daughter making her way from the kitchen. “Lizzy, off to Oakham Mount again?”
“Of course, Papa. You know it is my favorite place in all of Hertfordshire.” Elizabeth stepped up on her toes to reach her father’s cheek, placing a kiss there. “I shall return before everyone is ready to break their fast.”
“Very well. Please be careful.”
“I will, Papa.”
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth was nearing the base of the trail which would lead her up to Oakham Mount. She loved the view from the top, as she could see for miles around. On clear days, she could see Lucas Lodge in one direction, and Netherfield in another. And she could see the outskirts of Meryton. This had been her life, her neighborhood, for as long as she could remember. There was comfort in the familiarity.
All of the changes that were coming had Elizabeth nervous. She knew that things would have changed when she married, but then she would have had William at her side to distract her from any fears. And he would have shown her all of his favorite locations at Pemberley.
Now, the thought of being at his beloved estate was painful. His desire was for her to live there, even if he was unable to be there with her. But she wondered if he would be willing to be there, if their situation was reversed. Would he have wished to live at Longbourn, if Elizabeth was dead? Would he be able to accept the constant painful reminders of the loss, or would he go elsewhere, in an attempt to bury the memories?
Nearly at the top of the incline, Elizabeth suddenly felt her foot snag on something, and she fell backwards, tumbling all the way down the trail, striking every rock and branch along the way. Finally, she came to a stop at the bottom of the trail. Elizabeth attempted to push herself up from the ground, only to cry out in pain. She felt a stabbing pain in her left leg, a pain so severe, she lost consciousness.
~~ ** ~~
“Good morning, Jane. How are you this morning?” Mr Bennet stated, as he entered the dining room to partake in the food which Mrs Paddington had prepared. “Did you see Lizzy upstairs?”
“I did not, Papa. I assumed she was out for a walk.”
“I have a feeling that something is not right. I know some of the men in the neighborhood were planning to do some hunting this morning, and they were to be in the area of Oakham Mount. Your sister promised she would return before we broke our fast, so I expected her to be here by now.”
“Should we go looking for her?” Jane asked, concerned for her sister.
“I will ask Mr Hill and Colonel Fitzwilliam to join me. Most likely she is on her way home, having forgotten the time. But I would rather be safe than sorry.”
Jane nodded her head. “Should I come with you?”
“No, you remain here and keep your mother and sisters occupied. Miss Darcy will be concerned for Lizzy, so I ask that you keep her from worrying.”
~~ ** ~~
The men returned to the main house of Longbourn within half of an hour, with Colonel Fitzwilliam carrying an unconscious Elizabeth in his arms. Mr Bennet led the way in the house, up the stairs and into his most cherished daughter’s room. Having heard the commotion, when the men entered the house, Jane came hurrying into her sister’s bedchambers.
“Lizzy, what happened?”
“We found her at the bottom of Oakham Mount.” Mr Bennet stated. “It appears she slipped and fell, rolling down the trail.”
Mrs Hill entered the room, carrying a bucket of water and some clean clothes. “You gentlemen should remove yourselves from the room. Miss Jane and I will tend Miss Lizzy.”
“I will send for Mr Jones.” Mr Bennet replied. He made his way out of the room, finding Mr Hill waiting in the hall.
“Mr Bennet, I sent Gabriel to fetch the apothecary.” The butler said.
“Thank you, Hill. I am concerned about her leg. We might need to send for a physician from Town.”
Richard was closing the door, giving the ladies privacy to prepare Elizabeth to be tended. “I can send for our family’s physician. Mr Burnside has taken care of the Darcy and Fitzwilliam families for many years.”
“If you think he would be willing to come, please send for him.”
Richard nodded his head and went to pen a message. Jane opened the door, stepping outside the room to speak with her father.
“Lizzy’s leg is broken. A piece of the bone has cut the skin and is poking out. She has some scratches and scrapes, and will most likely have bruises all over. Mrs Hill is already cleaning any wounds and applying balm to them. But we are afraid of moving the leg. Mr Jones might be able to set it properly.”
“The colonel is preparing an express to send to Town for their physician. Until we know if he can come, Mr Jones will have to do the best he can.” Mr Bennet said. “Has Lizzy regain consciousness?”
“No. I believe she is in much pain, so it may be a blessing to her to not be awake.” Jane replied. She heard Georgiana coming up the stairs.
“I was just told that Lizzy was injured.” The young lady said. “Will she be well?”
“It appears she broke her leg and has tumbled down the side of Oakham Mount.” Mr Bennet answered the girl as gently as he could. “We do not know of any other injuries, though she is not going to be pleased to be forced to remain in bed for some weeks to come.”
“Dear me. Can I do anything to be of assistance to Lizzy?” Georgiana asked.
“At the moment, there is nothing you can do. We are waiting for the apothecary to tend the injury, and your cousin is sending a request for your family physician to come.”
“Mr Burnside is an excellent physician. Brother has always held the man in great respect.” Georgiana said, then suddenly realized what she said. “My brother had great respect for Mr Burnside.”
“Miss Darcy, I understood your words. There is no need to correct yourself. Mr Darcy’s loss is still difficult to accept, for all of us. It is to be expected that we forget that he is gone from our lives.” Mr Bennet placed his arm around the girl’s shoulders. “But know that you will always be a part of our family.”
“Th…thank you, Mr Bennet. When you told me of Lizzy’s injury, the first thing I thought of was William would want to know. But he must already know, as he is watching over us from heaven.”
“Why do you not go with Mary? The two of you can practice the pianoforte while we wait for word.” Mr Bennet suggested.
“Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help Lizzy.”
The gentleman smiled. “I will keep you updated throughout the day.”
~~ ** ~~
“William…please William…hold me. Make the pain go away.” Elizabeth mumbled. She had become agitated as she began to wake.
Hearing her sister pleading for her deceased betrothed, Jane had to wipe tears from her own eyes. “Lizzy, you are in your room at Longbourn. You had a fall.”
“I want William to hold me. Please, bring William to me.”
“Lizzy, you know I cannot bring William. William is gone.”
“No, I need him. Please, find William. The pain is terrible. I need his strength.” Elizabeth was crying, though she had yet to open her eyes.
A knock on the door came just before Mr Bennet opened it slightly, announcing the apothecary had arrived.
“Come in, Papa. Lizzy is beginning to wake.” Jane announced, as she attempted to keep her sister from thrashing about. “She is in considerable pain, and she is crying for William.”
Mr Jones followed Mr Bennet into the room. He came alongside the bed, as Mrs Hill pulled back the covers. Mr Bennet gasped at the look of his daughter’s leg.
“I will do what I can to set the bone, but it will require a surgeon to do the specialty repair that will be needed. Miss Elizabeth will be in considerable pain for some time.” Mr Jones said, as he peered at the leg. He then placed a hand on her forehead. “She is already beginning to warm. A fever will be dangerous, so we will need to work diligently to keep it from becoming severe.”
Jane wiped at the tears forming in her eyes. Mr Bennet stood behind his eldest daughter, placing his hands on her shoulders. “Whatever is needed, we will see that it is done.”
“And you stated that a physician from Town was sent for?” Seeing a nod from Mr Bennet, Mr Jones continued. “Good, good. Let us begin by having everything that comes in contact with Miss Elizabeth, especially her leg, be clean. Mrs Hill, please see that a basin, soap, clean towels, and hot water is brought up, and placed by the door to this room. We need to do everything possible to keep infection under control. Once we have all washed our hands, we will set the bone. It will be painful for her, I warn you all that she will be in great pain. Once we have the bone set, we will cover the wound. I do not wish to stitch the wound, as the physician will need to check for any pieces of bone that are loose, and make sure all is well, before sewing the wound shut.”
“Should I have the other men come, to assist you in setting the leg?” Mr Bennet inquired.
“Yes. Perhaps three or four strong men would be preferable. I would like to keep her as still as possible while the bone is set.”
Mrs Hill left the room, gathering the supplies Mr Jones had desired, including having a small table moved into the bedchamber, for the washing station.
Once all was ready, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Bingley, who had just arrived, and Mr Hill joined Mr Bennet in holding Elizabeth to the bed, as Mr Jones pulled the young lady’s left leg, prompting the bone back into place. Elizabeth cried out, screaming from the pain, until she passed out. Bandaging was lightly placed over the wound, after Mr Jones examined it and made certain the wound was cleaned.
~~ ** ~~
After hearing Elizabeth’s screams of agony, Georgiana was in a fit of nerves. When her cousin came down the stairs, seeing that his young ward was frightened for the lady who was the closest she had ever had to being a sister, Richard decided that a walk outside would do Georgiana some good.
The pair walked towards Oakham Mount, as Georgiana had walked there many times with Elizabeth. She had been surprised to learn that her friend had tripped over something and fallen down, as she had never seen anything on the trail which would cause such a problem.
As the cousins neared the top of the trail, Colonel Fitzwilliam noticed a piece of cord, which was attached to the base of a tree. The other end of the cord was frayed, as if it had been broken. Looking at the trees on the opposite side of the trail from the one with the cord tied, he found a piece of cord attached to the base of another tree. From the appearance, someone had set the cord to trip anyone walking on the path.
Having witnessed Elizabeth’s fast pace when she is walking, Richard could surmise that she was walking with determination to reach the top, and her ankle struck the cord, causing her to trip. In the process, the cord broke. Elizabeth had then rolled downhill, coming to a stop at the bottom, where she had been found.
“Someone deliberately set a trap to cause harm.” Richard declared, pointing out the damaged cord to his cousin. “I do not know if it was meant for Elizabeth, but it was meant to cause harm to someone.”
“Poor Lizzy. She could have been killed in such a fall.” Georgiana said, tears welling in her eyes. How could anyone be so heartless?”
“I do not know, but I plan to do some investigating.”
~~ ** ~~
Hearing the carriage arriving in the front of the main house of Netherfield, Caroline Bingley went to see who was coming to see her. She had received word from Mrs Younge, stating that Wickham had a plan to keep Miss Darcy and her guardians in the neighborhood, but gave no details of what the man planned.
The carriage was her brother’s, and he came hurrying inside the house.
“Charles, what is wrong? You are in such a state. Have you and Miss Bennet had a quarrel?”
“I was unable to spend time with her, as Miss Bennet was tending her sister. Miss Elizabeth had a terrible accident, and has broken her leg. They are waiting for the surgeon to arrive from Town.”
“Goodness, how terrible. But Miss Eliza is a hearty country lass, she will recover soon enough. Is Miss Darcy well? Was she with Miss Eliza?”
“No, she was still sleeping when Miss Elizabeth left for her walk. The troubling part is that this was no accident. Someone tied a thin rope to trees on either side of the path. It was meant to cause someone to trip and fall.”
“Dear me. How fortunate that Miss Darcy was not with Miss Eliza. I dread knowing how easily it could have been our dear friend, instead of the country nobody.”
“Caroline, how could you speak so of Miss Elizabeth? She is a fine young lady, and nearly Miss Darcy’s sister in law.”
“But she is not Miss Darcy’s sister in law, she is nothing more than a paid companion. Miss Eliza is guardian of our dear friend, only due to Mr Darcy not knowing the truth of his betrothed’s betrayal.”
Charles Bingley was shocked at his sister’s words. “Of what are you speaking? Miss Elizabeth has done nothing to betray Darcy, or his sister.”
“She has been seen in a compromising manner with Mr Darcy’s childhood friend, George Wickham. It is clear that the two were attempting to gain funds from Mr Darcy, using him to further their future together.”
“I cannot believe your words. Caroline, this is the most ludicrous thing you have ever spoken. Elizabeth Bennet was in love with my friend. She is still mourning his loss, very deeply. You might not believe my words, but I have it on the highest authority, Miss Jane Bennet. The two sisters are close, very close. Miss Bennet has spoken of her sister’s deep sense of loss and despair after learning of Darcy’s death. And Miss Darcy has come to rely on Miss Elizabeth. How can you be so cruel to the young ladies?”
“There are witnesses to Miss Eliza’s deception, Charles.” Caroline was determined to make her point. “Mrs Younge came to me, after having witnessed Miss Eliza and Mr Wickham in an intimate embrace, at the inn, no less.”
“And you believe all that Mrs Younge tells you? The woman was let go from her position.” Bingley replied. “I cannot believe what you are saying. And, if you do not keep such nonsense to yourself, I will have you packed off immediately. Do you understand me? Not another word of this, and you had better hope that Miss Elizabeth’s reputation is not tarnished from these lies.”
“You are under the power of those Bennets, and it will come to ruin our family.” Caroline picked up a porcelain figurine and threw it at her brother. “I will not stand by and allow you to ruin our family.”
“Do not force me to cut ties with you, Caroline.” Bingley had never been so angry. “Go to your rooms and remain there, until I send for you.”
~~ ** ~~
Richard Fitzwilliam knew something was wrong with the situation. Between Caroline Bingley’s words against Elizabeth, the accident, and discovering the accident was not really an accident, Richard was concerned for the safety of his cousin, and the woman who nearly became his cousin.
Sitting in Mr Bennet’s study, with the Master of Longbourn and the physician who had arrived the prior evening, Richard was listening to all that was being said.
“Miss Elizabeth’s fever is still a concern, so is the redness around the wound. I have suggested poultices that will help draw the infection from the leg, which should aid in reducing the fever. But it will likely be days before we know if she will recover. The bone did not fragment, so Mr Jones did a good job of setting the leg. But there was some plant and dirt in the wound, most likely from the fall and rolling down the hill.” Mr Burnside stated. “You said that she is normally quite healthy and vital. I am pleased, as it will work for her recovery. The main concern is her crying out for Mr Darcy. His death might conflict with her desire to live.”
“My thoughts as well.” Mr Bennet said, as he offered to refill the glass the physician had been sipping port from.
Mr Burnside shook his head. “I feel it is important that we give her reason to live. You said that Miss Darcy has become attached to Miss Elizabeth. Would she be willing to sit with her, talk with her encouragingly?”
“I am certain Georgiana would be willing.” Richard stated. “She is devastated over her friend’s accident, and she has asked several times if she could visit Miss Elizabeth.”
“Very well, let us have Miss Darcy and Miss Bennet spend as much time as possible with Miss Elizabeth. They need to speak with her, encourage her to get well, discuss the future.”
Mr Bennet could feel tears welling in his eyes. “I still cannot imagine why someone would set the trap as they did. Were they intending to injure my daughter, or was it a prank which went terribly wrong?”
“I plan to investigate the matter further.” Richard announced. “And I believe I have an idea of just who would have been involved.”