Chapter 9
“What a fool! The bloody idiot has ruined everything.” Caroline began throwing things about her chambers.  Learning of Elizabeth Bennet’s accident, she instantly knew that Wickham had been involved.  “What good is it to have Eliza Bennet in her bedchambers?  How can we convince everyone that she is having an illicit affair with Wickham, or have him compromise her, if she is hidden away in her bedchambers?  And Miss Darcy is likely to spend time with her friend, which will interfere with Charles being able to spend time with her.  This is a complete fiasco.”
A soft knock was heard at the door, just as it opened for her sister to enter.  “Caroline, what is wrong?  I can hear you ranting, clear down the hall.”
“That fool, Wickham, has botched everything.  He caused Miss Eliza to have an accident, but she is injured and it ruins all our plans.”
“But it keeps them in the neighborhood, and that is what you wished.” Louisa Hurst said.
“You are just as foolish as Wickham and his whore, Mrs Younge.  How are we to have time with Georgiana Darcy, so Charles can see that she would be the perfect wife for him?  How can I have time to work my charms on Colonel Fitzwilliam?  I will be forced to visit that disgusting family’s home, for they will not come to Netherfield.  And how is Wickham to compromise Miss Eliza, so we can be rid of her?”
“I do not understand why you do not put your efforts to finding a husband, and forget this scheme.  Charles is in love with Miss Bennet.  There is no way around it.  Our brother does not think of Miss Darcy as a potential mate, he sees her as a younger sister.”
“If you will not assist me, then stay out of my way, Louisa.  Do not cause me to retaliate against you.”
Fear made Louisa still.  She knew her sister’s vindictive nature intimately, and had the scars to remind her constantly.
~~ ** ~~
Wickham kept hidden.  He had feigned illness, to keep from performing his militia duties, allowing him to remain in the room he shared with three other officers, in the makeshift lodging. 
Mrs Younge had informed him of the scathing message she had received from Caroline Bingley, filled with her fury with Elizabeth Bennet’s injury, and threats of not paying the pair for their contribution.
Wickham thought the cord would simply trip the young lady, and she would suffer only minor injuries.  When he arrived at Longbourn, with several other officers, to pay a call on the Bennet family, he learned the severity of Elizabeth Bennet’s health.
Lydia Bennet had informed the officers that her sister had a badly broken leg, and that the bone had sliced through the skin.  There was fear that she would take a fever, and that she was unconscious from a head injury.  Though Lydia loved her sister, she was unhappy that the accident had curtailed her ability to go to a dinner at Lucas Lodge, as Mrs Bennet deemed it inappropriate for them to attend, while Elizabeth was unwell.
He later heard that a physician had arrived from Town, and was tending the second Bennet daughter.  The news was received that Elizabeth had taken a fever, and that she was not improving. 
Wickham had also heard that Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam had been asking questions.  Wickham knew, from past experience, that Richard Fitzwilliam was not a man with which to cross, as his fighting abilities were infamous.  The colonel was also known for his abilities with a sword and had won competitions for his shooting skills.  No, Wickham had no desire to cross paths with Richard Fitzwilliam.
“Hey, Wickham, are you awake?” Captain Denny asked as he entered the room.  “Colonel Forrester sent me to check on you.  He says that if you are still ill, he was sending for the apothecary.”
“There is no need for the apothecary.  I will be well soon enough.” Wickham stated.  “Just a bit of a stomach ailment.”
“Well, he said to tell you that if you are not recovered by tomorrow, he is sending for the apothecary to tend you.  So you had best decide if you are well enough to stand watch tomorrow, and take part in drills.”
“Thank you, Denny, I appreciate your warning.  So what are you and the officers planning to do today?  Going to visit some pretty little pieces of fluff?”
“We have been invited to Mrs Phillips’ home this evening.  Cards and food, you know how she loves to entertain us in her home.”
“Too bad I will not be able to attend.  Please inform me of anything interesting she has to tell.  I wonder how her niece is fairing.”
Denny shook his head.  “From what we have learned, she is no better.  The fever has a strong grip on the girl.  Tis sad, as she is quite a looker.  Hopefully, she will survive.”
            ~~ ** ~~
“Miss Bingley, it is an honor to welcome you to our home.” Mrs Bennet declared. “We have not had the pleasure of having you visit, though your brother has been a frequent visitor.”
“Yes, well, I have been extremely busy.  I have been practicing my watercolors, as I wish to make a painting of Netherfield for my aunt and uncle to see.  They live in the north, in Scarborough.”
Bingley was surprised at his sister’s declaration.  He had yet to see her utilizing the supplies she insisted she required.  “How is Miss Elizabeth today, Mrs Bennet?  Has she improved?”
Mrs Bennet wiped at her eyes, though there was no trace of tears to be seen.  “No, Mr Bingley, there has been no improvement.  We are all in such a state, not knowing what will happen to my daughter.”
“The poor girl.  And the physician is the best to be found?” Miss Bingley asked.  “I am certain my brother would be willing to send for our physician.”
“Mr Burnside is the physician for the Darcy and Fitzwilliam families.” Bingley replied to his sister.  “He is one of the most knowledgeable men of medicine to be found.”
Mrs Bennet nodded her head.  “Colonel Fitzwilliam has been generous in bringing the physician to tend my Lizzy.  But they fear that she is devastated after losing Mr Darcy, and she has no desire to fight for her life.”
“My friend would not wish for her to give up on life.  He wished for her and his sister to share Pemberley, and for Miss Elizabeth to assist Miss Darcy as she prepares for her debut in society.” Bingley stated.
Caroline Bingley announced her feelings on the subject. “Well, I am more than willing to step in and assist Miss Darcy in such matters. It would be better for someone with my tastes and refinement to prepare a young lady for her coming out, not someone who has lived her entire life in some quaint little country hamlet.”                                                        
“It will be up to Colonel Fitzwilliam to decide who aids his young cousin, if Miss Elizabeth does not recover.  I pray that it does not come down to a need to have anyone else take Miss Elizabeth’s place.  And I am certain that Lady Matlock would have say on her niece’s coming out.”
“Miss Darcy is quite the favorite of my brother’s.” Caroline said to Mrs Bennet.  “He could not choose a better lady from such an influential family.”
Bingley choked on the sip of tea he had just taken.  “Caroline, you are well aware that I care for Miss Darcy as if she were a much younger sister to me.  She is still a child, not ready to think of a courtship with any man. I have made my preferences well known, Sister.”
Mrs Bennet had a worried look upon her brow.  She could not lose a potential suitor for Jane.  “Let me send for the maid to have my dear Jane join us.  She was telling me earlier, just how much she missed visiting with you, Mr Bingley.  Perhaps you can take a stroll around our gardens, as I am certain Jane could use some fresh air.”
Caroline knew she had to remove her brother quickly.  “I am quite fatigue, Charles.  I would like to return to Netherfield, so I might rest.”
“You may take the carriage, and I will rely on the generosity of our neighbors to make my way home.  If all else fails, I am willing to walk back to Netherfield.”
“But Charles, I believe Louisa needed to have a discussion with you.  She informed me, before we left, that she had something important that she must speak with you as soon as we returned.”
“I doubt it cannot wait a few more hours.  I saw Louisa, just before we left, and she said nothing about needing to speak with me.  It will be fine, Caroline.  Take the carriage and return to Netherfield, so you may rest.”
Knowing she had no alternative, Caroline made her farewells and left Longbourn.  As soon as the carriage was far enough away from the house, the lady began ranting against the Bennet family.  By the time she arrived at the main house of Netherfield, she had worked herself into quite a snit.  Caroline entered the parlor, where Louisa and Gilbert Hurst were relaxing.  She picked up a large, expensive vase and threw it as she let out a shrill scream.
“Caroline, what is wrong?” her elder sister asked.
“Those Bennets are ruining everything.  I must make Charles see them for the ridiculous fools they are, and how they will be the ruin of him of all of us.  He would be much better off marrying Miss Darcy.  The wealth and position in society, the estates, of which he would be master.  Why would he be foolish enough to throw all that away from a dowerless country chit?”
“Because your brother loves Miss Bennet.” Mr Hurst spoke.  It was rare the man spoke, as living with Caroline’s influence had worn the man to the point of constant inebriation and over indulgence of food.  But he had heard enough of his sister in law’s foolishness.  “I am pleased to see Charles stand up for his heart, rather than giving in to your plotting.  Miss Bennet will be a good match for your brother, and, with her status as a gentlewoman, Charles will be marrying above you, just as Louisa did.  You may not approve of me or Miss Bennet, but, by society’s ranking, we are above the children of a tradesman.  Now, Louisa, I believe I would enjoy taking a walk in the gardens, with my delightful wife.”
A blush tinted Louisa Hurst’s cheeks.  “Why, yes, Mr Hurst, I believe a stroll with my husband would be pleasant.  The groundskeeper was saying that there were some exceptional blossoms in the north end of the gardens.”
As the Hursts left on their walk, they could hear the sound of breaking glass and ceramic.  They knew there would be a need to replace many items at Netherfield.
~~ ** ~~
More than a week had past, and Elizabeth was no closer to recovering.  Her fever raged on, and the physician did not know how much longer the young lady would be able to survive.
Late one night, the fever became higher than it had been.  Mr Burnside suggested the family prepare for the worst.
Jane and Georgiana sat on either side of the bed, taking turns speaking to Elizabeth, as they wiped her down with the coldest water they could find. 
Tears were freely flowing from the two young ladies, both who loved Elizabeth dearly.  Neither could imagine a world without Elizabeth, she was too dear to them.
Midnight had come and gone, and as the clock in Mr Bennet’s study chimed in the fourth hour of the morning, there was a knock on the front door. Mrs Hill’s husband, who was Mr Bennet’s valet, opened the door, nearly fainting at the sight before him. 
A short time later, the visitor was shown into the bedchambers of Elizabeth Bennet.  He went to the side of the bed, taking hold of Elizabeth’s moist hand, feeling the fever that was burning inside her.
“My dearest, please, you must fight your way back to me.” He stated, placing a kiss on the back of her hand.  “I am here with you, Lizzy.  Please, stay with me.”
Elizabeth was delirious from the fever, though she recognized the voice.  “I want to be with you.  I want to leave this world, and return to your embrace.”
“Then you must recover, Lizzy.  You cannot leave this world, for I could not bear to be without you.” He took the cloth from Georgiana’s hand, dipping it into the water, before wiping Elizabeth’s face with the coolness.  “Fight for me, Lizzy.  Please, my dearest love.  Come back to me, Lizzy.”
“William, you are in heaven. I wish to join you in heaven.”
“No, my love, I am here, on earth.  I am alive.  Please, Lizzy, you must live.  Do not leave me, not after all I had to do to return to you.”
Elizabeth’s eyes fluttered open slightly.  “William…you are here? But…they said…”
“Reports of my death were premature.”  Darcy kissed his betrothed on the back of her hand.  “I am deeply aghast at what you must have suffered, with the false news of my having died.  We will discuss it all later, when you have recovered.  Please, my dearest love, you have to recover.  Fight this fever.  I will remain at your side, until you recover.”
“My William…my dearest William…I have missed you…so dearly missed…”
“As I have you, my love. But let us not think of the pain any longer.  We must get you feeling better, so we can marry.  You promised we would marry as soon as I returned.  I am holding you to your promise.”
Georgiana had been unable to contain her tears, tears of joy for the return of her beloved brother, tears from the pain of having thought him dead, and tears of fear for her dearest friend and future sister. She took the cloth from her brother’s hand, refreshing it in the cool water, then handed it back to him, while squeezing his hand.
“Lizzy, you must recover.  William is here, he has truly returned to us.  Please Lizzy.  You are to marry, as soon as you recover.  As I wish to finally call you my sister, I beg you to recover quickly.”
Darcy smiled at his sister, as he reached over and caressed the side of her face with one of his hands.  “Yes, and I have quite the tale to tell, so you must recover, so I might tell you all that happened.”
The trio of care givers were rewarded, when near noon that day, Elizabeth’s fever finally broke.  She would survive. Weak from the days of fever and the injury to her leg and head, Elizabeth had a long road ahead of her, but Mr Burnside predicted a full recover for the young lady.
~~** ~~
Colonel Fitzwilliam was waiting outside Elizabeth’s bedchambers, having received word that his cousin had returned from the dead.  It was nearly four in the afternoon when Fitzwilliam Darcy stepped outside the room, only to have his cousin grab hold of him, pulling him into a bear hug.
“DO NOT EVER SCARE US AGAIN!” Richard declared, picking his cousin up while holding him close.  “I have aged twenty years since learning of the shipwreck.  And the thought of having to face running your estates, without your guidance, was overwhelming.”
“Forgive me, Richard.  I had no intention of causing any of you such heartache, believe me.  But I have promised to wait for the telling of the tale, until my betrothed has recovered.  Perhaps she will be well enough tomorrow.  She is no longer giving up on life.  Her sister says it is a remarkable change in the few hours I have been here.”
“I can understand.  She truly loves you, and was devastated, as we all were.  Mother has been blaming herself for your being on the ship in the first place.”
“Your father, how is he?”
Richard smiled.  “He has recovered.  They will be making the journey to England in another week.  They were waiting to hear where we would be, before deciding to go to Matlock or Town.  After Miss Elizabeth’s fall, I sent word that it would be necessary for us to remain here.”
“How did Elizabeth fall?  All I was told was that she broke her leg, and that it became infected, leading to the fever.  What happened?”
“Someone rigged cord between two trees, across a path, near the top of Oakham Mount.  It is said to be Miss Elizabeth’s favorite walking path.  She must have snagged her foot on the cord, tripping her, and she tumbled down the hillside.”
“Good God.” Darcy said, his hand reaching his hair, the fingers combing through.  “So someone intended her to become injured?”
“It appears so. And it was near the top of the Mount, so she tumbled quite a distance.” Richard said.
“She could have been killed.  Why would someone do such a thing to her?  Elizabeth could not have made such an enemy.”
“I have some ideas, which I had planned to speak with Mr Bennet about yesterday, but then Miss Elizabeth’s fever spiked and I did not feel it was the proper time to discuss the matter.”
“Elizabeth is resting, so let us speak with Mr Bennet.”
The two men made their way to Mr Bennet’s study, just in time to meet Bingley, who had just finished with a private meeting with his beloved’s father.
“Darcy, it is so good to see you.” Bingley embraced his dearest friend.  “I could not fully accept you being dead, and I am pleased to see that the rumor is untrue.”
“As am I, Bingley.  It is good to be here again.  But, before you ask, I promised my betrothed that I would tell her the tale of my journey, and I will not tell any of you, until she is recovered enough for us to gather in her room, so she hear the adventure.  Believe me, it was not something I wish to repeat, ever.”
Richard placed a hand on his cousin’s shoulder, and another on Bingley’s.  “Gentlemen, let us enjoy a glass of Mr Bennet’s delightful port.  We have some serious matters to discuss.”
Mr Bennet laughed.  “Thank you for offering my refreshments, Colonel.  I suppose you would like some biscuits to enjoy, as our cook has some that are fresh from the oven.”
“I am rather famished, and biscuits sound delightful.” Darcy exclaimed, taking a seat, as his future father in law poured glasses of port of all.
“So, Colonel, yesterday you stated that you had some news to discuss.  What did you learn?”
“I spoke with the owner of the mercantile, and he stated the cord did come from his shop.  He had ordered it in specifically for the militia, as Colonel Forrester had requested his preference of the cord.  It is lighter weight, and used by the regular army frequently.  We have used it for many purposes in battlefields.”
“So it was sold to the militia. That does not narrow the potential perpetrators down much.” Mr Bennet stated.
“It was picked up from the store by Lieutenant George Wickham.” Richard watched his cousin carefully when stating the name.
Darcy’s eyes rounded.  “Wickham is here?  When did he arrive?”
“From what I understand, not long after Mrs Younge was sacked. The two of them are most likely working together.”
Bingley’s eyes grew round.  “I have a feeling that my sister might be involved as well.  She has been spreading a tale of Miss Elizabeth in a compromising situation with Wickham.  Caroline stated she heard of Miss Elizabeth having a secret relationship with the man, trying to extort funds from the Darcy family.”
“Elizabeth would never betray me, especially with someone like Wickham.” Darcy stated.  “They were attempting to ruin my betrothed, but why?  What good would it do them?”
“My sister wishes to be Mistress of Pemberley.  You know she has attempted to garner your attention for years.  She wanted to worm her way in Miss Darcy’s confidence, so she could manipulate your sister.”
“Miss Bingley approached me with her tale as well.” Richard announced.  “It was as if she was attempting to garner my good graces.”
“She must have believed that, with Darcy gone, she would have to maneuver the colonel and Miss Darcy, to be able to live the life she wished.” Mr Bennet suggested.  “As the colonel would be in charge of the estates, Miss Bingley must have felt it was the closest she would be to becoming Mistress of Pemberley.”
“But Elizabeth would have had the title, granted to her legally.  How could Miss Bingley hope that what I bequeathed to my betrothed would be taken away from Elizabeth?” Darcy
“Caroline is desperate, Darcy.  She wants the connections she can obtain with connections to your family.  But I find it difficult to believe that she would purposely harm anyone.  Miss Elizabeth could have died.  Even the fever nearly killed her.”
“I do not wish to believe that your sister would be so desperate as to believe she could achieve her desires by eliminating Elizabeth.  But, if she is working with Wickham and Mrs Younge, then she shares any blame for what they have done.” Richard responded. 
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~

Chapter 10
“Oh, my, one daughter engaged to marry Mr Bingley, and another to marry Mr Darcy.  And Mr Darcy has returned from the dead.  My nerves are in such a flutter at the thought of how rich my girls will be.” Fanny Bennet had just ordered refreshments for her sister, who had come to visit and learn of the newest gossip.  Word had reached her ears that Fitzwilliam Darcy was at Longbourn, and Mrs Phillips had to find out the truth.
“And has Mr Darcy spoken of the shipwreck?  Where has he been the past few weeks?”
“He has been busy with Lizzy, helping to break her fever, so no one has really spoken of the shipwreck.  I am certain all will be explained soon.”
“Mrs Long told me that she heard Mr Darcy had really gone to Wales, to visit his mistress.  Supposedly, he had no knowledge of the reports of his death, as they were hidden away in a cottage, away from everyone.”
“Oh, phoo. Who could believe a word from Mrs Long?  She is envious, as her two nieces could never make such wonderful matches.  And, with Lizzy and Jane marrying rich men, they will be able to introduce their younger sisters to other wealthy men.”
“Aunt Phillips, it is a pleasure to see you.” Jane said, as she entered the parlor.  “I hope all is well with you and Uncle.”
“It is all well, my dear girl.  And I must wish you joy on the news of your engagement.  My husband said that he is to meet with your father and your betrothed tomorrow.”
“I have been preoccupied with tending Lizzy, so I know not of their plans.” Jane replied.  “If that is what you were told, I am certain it must be their plans.”
“And how is Lizzy?”
Jane’s face showed the first signs of contentment since entering the room.  “She is much improved.  The fever has remained controlled, and she is awake.  We have just now finished assisting her to partake in some nourishment.”
Mrs Phillips smiled.  “I am pleased to hear of her improved health.  It was dreadful to think we might lose her.”
“It was, indeed.  If you do not mind, Mamma, Papa has asked that you join us in Lizzy’s room.  Mr Darcy wishes to tell us about his accident, and it would be simpler to have him explain it once, rather than multiple times.”
“Oh, why yes, I wish to hear the news.  Sister, if you would be so kind as to excuse me.”
“Of course, Fanny.  I will come around tomorrow, to make certain my niece continues to improve.”  Though curious to learn what had happened, Mrs Phillips knew she could find no way to justify her being in the room to hear the tale.  She left Longbourn, determined to return as early as possible the following day.
~~ ** ~~
“The tale begins with leaving on the ship for Ireland.” Darcy spoke.  “We left early in the day, but that night was the longest of my life.  A storm began brewing in the late afternoon, and, by dinner time, it was full of fury.  The ship began breaking apart.  The captain and first mate were killed when the rigging broke free and struck them.  It is my understanding that none of the crew survived.  As the ship began to sink, I grabbed hold of a piece of the deck, and the wood helped me keep afloat. 
The storm continued throughout the night, with strong winds and blinding rain.  All I could do was hold on tight to the wood, and pray to find land.  The following day, after the sun broke through the clouds, I was able to see land in the distance.  My body ached from being thrashed about, and I was fatigued.  So very fatigued.  I was unsure if I could remain holding on to the wood, as the land was far from where I was.
Fortune was watching over me, as I drifted closer and closer, finally washing up on the shore.  I had drifted to the Isle of Man.  I am not certain how long I laid on the shore, as I drifted in and out of consciousness.  Then I remember hearing voices of a man and a woman.  They were speaking a different language, and I could not understand them. The next thing I remember was waking in their home.  The couple lived near the shore, in a small cottage.  I was fortunate enough that they took me in, as I took a fever and was delirious for nearly a week. 
The couple were Bridgit and Robert McGinty.  They lived on the west side of the Isle of Man, in a remote area. Though others in their area had begun to speak English, the McGintys still spoke Manx.  It took us a while to learn to communicate.  Once I was well, they introduced me to a neighbor, Mr Wallace.  He spoke English and Manx.  Through him, I learned we were in the area of Niarbyl Bay, and the nearest town was Peel. 
Though I promised I would see them repaid as soon as I returned to England, the families were not wealthy, and none of them could afford the price of sailing on one of the boats coming to and from England.  I had to work for several of the families, and I earned my way to Douglas, which is where ships for England come.  Working at the docks, I was able to purchase my return to my homeland.
Knowing that my family was most likely in belief of my having perished, I decided to come to Longbourn quickly, in hopes that Elizabeth and Georgiana would still be here.  I had no notion of Richard having been sent home to recover from his wounds in the battlefield, so I felt the young ladies would have remained here, rather than make the journey to Pemberley.”
“You had quite an adventure, Cousin. It is a miracle that you survived.” Richard said.
Darcy was holding one of Elizabeth’s hands, and brought it to his lips.  Looking deep into the warmth of her chocolate colored eyes, he could see the sparkle coming back them.  He was pleased, as he saw it as a good sign.  “If it were not for this young lady, I do not know if I would have survived.  She gave me the strength, the purpose to keep fighting.  Each wave which bounced me about, I could hear Elizabeth’s voice in my head, begging me to be strong and to return to her.  How could I deny her?  I knew I had to find my way back to my beloved.”
“I am pleased you listened to me.” Elizabeth replied, a smile formed on her lips.  “And make certain that, in the future, you remember to listen to me.”
“Always, my dearest love.  Always.”
Georgiana was thrilled to see the depth of love that her brother and Elizabeth shared.  Never having witnessed such devotion before, Georgiana determined that she wanted the same in her own life.  She would never settle for a marriage of convenience, as many of the ton had. Miss Georgiana Darcy wished for a true and lasting love.
Seeing the way Elizabeth looked at Darcy, Richard erased all doubts he had held about the young lady.  It was clear to anyone with half a heart to see the love and devotion Elizabeth held for his cousin.  And, after the discussion with the other men, Richard decided he would do more investigating on the troublesome rumors.
~~ ** ~~
“Mr Darcy is alive?” Caroline was in shock.  “He has returned to me, I am certain he must have held on to the memory of me to help him survive.”
Louisa Hurst could not believe her sister’s foolishness.  “Caroline, he does not feel for you in such a way.  When will you learn?”
“I know that Mr Darcy cares for me.  Perhaps, while he was away, he realized that he had been foolish to become engaged to Eliza Bennet.  He will ask for my forgiveness and ask me to wait for him, so he can unencumber himself from his engagement with her.  And I will agree, as it will be my pleasure to be his wife.”
“You cannot believe such, Sister.  Has Mr Darcy made any effort to visit here?  Has he sent word to you in some manner, which leads you to believe your feelings are returned?”
“You know he cannot send word, it would be against propriety.  And it would cause problems, with his relations staying at Longbourn.  Once he convinces Miss Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam to join him here, all will be as I said.  He is a gentleman, and it would be cruel of him to abandon Eliza on her deathbed.  But he will do so, once she is on the mend.”
Louisa could not believe her sister’s delusions.  She was extremely concerned, and decided to have a discussion with her husband later, when she could speak with him in private.  “Well, until that happens, we will have to continue on as normal.  We should plan a dinner to celebrate Mr Darcy’s safe return.”
“Oh, indeed.  And Eliza will not be able to attend, as her health would not allow.  That will be the perfect setting for Mr Darcy to speak with me, to tell me of his desire to have me for his wife.”  Caroline pulled a flower from a nearby vase, twirling the flower between her fingers, as she admired the spinning petals.  “I must begin to make plans.  We shall have the dinner next week.  And I should send to Town for some of our friends, as Mr Darcy will wish for higher quality people with whom to dine.”
Giving in to her sister’s delusions, Louisa agreed.
~~ ** ~~
Captain Denny entered the room where Wickham was reclining on his cot.  “Have you heard the news?  Your childhood friend has returned from the dead.”
Wickham’s eyes flew open and he sat straight up.  “What are you talking about?”
“Darcy, from Derbyshire, he has returned.  He did not die, as was believed.  I do not know the particulars, but I heard he is at Longbourn, with the Bennet family.  That is great news, is it not?  You have a chance to petition him to give you the legacy that was promised to you, by his father.”
“Yes…you are correct.  The living, the parish that was to be mine.  I can only pray that his heart has softened from his experience, and that he will grant the living to me.  His father’s fondest wish was for me to tend the flock of Kympton’s parish.”
“It would be the perfect time to approach him, as he must feel blessed by God for having survived the shipwreck.  Such a miracle can change even the hardest of hearts.”
“I had best prepare for my shift on watch.” Wickham said, reaching for his red coat as he stood.
“Enjoy your shift.  I am off duty for the next two days, and intend on sleeping as much as possible.” Denny stated, as he sat down on his cot, reaching to take off his boots.  “Tomorrow, if you have time, we should take a walk to Longbourn, to pay a call on the family.  They say that Miss Elizabeth is even recovering, as her fever has finally broken.  The Bennet family must be thrilled with all the blessings.”
“Yes…yes, tomorrow.  Have a good rest, Denny.” Wickham hurried out the door.  He would have to speak with Mrs Younge about the news.  They must find a way to vacate the neighborhood, before their paths crossed with Darcy’s.
~~ ** ~~
“Mrs Younge, I am pleased you were able to join me so quickly.  I have need of your assistance once again.”
“Your last message insinuated we would not be paid for the work we have already performed for you.” Mrs Younge stated.  She was still stinging from Miss Bingley’s hateful missive from a fortnight previous.
Caroline waved her hand about, as if swatting at flies.  “I will make sure you are compensated for that and this new work.”
“In advance.” The woman said.  “Mr Wickham will do nothing to assist if not paid up front.”
“Very well.  I will have to find a way to obtain the funds, up front, but it will be worth any hassles.”
“Do you not have access to your funds?”
A look of disdain came over Caroline’s features.  “How can you expect me to deal with something as mundane as cash?  I charge everything to our family’s accounts and my brother sees to the payments.”
Mrs Younge had a difficult time not rolling her eyes in disgust.  If only the lady knew what common folk did, she would not take things for granted.  “Well, I doubt that your brother would pay such a bill, if we were to submit one.  You will require the funds before Mr Wickham will perform any tasks for you.”
“You have made yourself clear, Mrs Younge.  Remember, you need me, more than I need you.  I can hire other people to assist me.  You have few resources to bring you income.”
“Of course, Miss Bingley.  Forgive a widow for not remembering her place.  But I know Mr Wickham well, and I can tell you, he was furious with you.  I will not attempt to speak with him, on your behalf, if you do not have coin in hand to give him.”
“Come see me tomorrow.  I will have coin to cover the previous by then.  Hopefully, I will have the remainder within the week.” Caroline ignored the former companion’s insult.  Of course Caroline was aware that there was more between Wickham and Mrs Younge.  She had expected that they were lovers.  Part of her was envious, as Wickham was a fine figure of a man.  When she first learned of Darcy’s ship sinking, Caroline had tried to find a way of using Wickham to gain Georgiana’s inheritance, and taking Caroline as his mistress.  She could see herself entertaining the handsome young man far sooner than her other alternative, Colonel Fitzwilliam.  Though the colonel was far from being ugly, he had scars from battles which were not attractive to Caroline.  One was a nasty looking scar from his eyebrow, which extended upwards, into his hairline.  He combed his hair in a manner to cover most of the scar, but it was visible, and caused Caroline repulsion.
But Caroline realized that she could not control Wickham, and she had determined to travel the path of least complications, as it would have been simpler to pull the wool over the eyes of Colonel Fitzwilliam. 
“When I have paid you, I wish to see Miss Eliza Bennet come to an end.  Mr Darcy’s return has given me hope that he will see the error of his decision to offer for her, and he will make me an offer.  But we need Miss Eliza out of the way.”
“But she is unable to remove from her room, according to what I have heard.  With her injuries, she has been bedridden, and will remain so for some time to come.”
“I am certain that Mr Wickham has ways of taking care of the situation.  Either a late night visit to the young lady, or perhaps something can be added to her tea.  With Mr Wickham’s vast knowledge of the seedier side of life, I am certain her can come up with some method of ridding us of the chit.”
Mrs Younge was nervous.  With Darcy returned, and staying at Longbourn, Wickham would be nervous about venturing into the lion’s den, especially to eliminate the lion’s chosen mate.  But they needed the money, and needed it soon.  Wickham needed to leave the neighborhood, and, to do so, required funds.
“I will discuss the matter with Wickham.  And I will be here tomorrow, at two.”
Caroline nodded her head.  “Very good.  Now, you must leave, before my brother returns and finds you here.”
~~ ** ~~
“You realize that, as an unmarried man, your spending time in my daughter’s bedchamber is highly improper.” Mr Bennet teased Darcy.  “I suspect I will be forced to bring out my hunting rifle to ensure my daughter’s reputation is not sullied.”
“Perhaps we should send for the parson immediately.  I have a marriage license, which will allow us to marry whenever we wish.” Darcy said, smiling proudly. 
Mr Bennet chuckled.  “I was thinking, if Lizzy continues to improve, as she has the past two days, we could arrange for the two of you to marry in the next day or two.  Would that meet with your satisfaction?  After all, it would bring great comfort to Lizzy, and to yourself, I presume.”
“Indeed, it would.  After all we have been through, I do not wish for many more days to go by before we are officially married.  In my heart, we have been married since the day she accepted me, but I would wish to make it official.”
“Your aunt was furious when she learned that you had signed papers, giving Elizabeth the authority to act in your stead.  In essence, you had made Lizzy your wife by signing those papers.  Now, we need only to make it legal in the eyes of God.”
“Then tomorrow.  I wish to marry your daughter tomorrow.  Would the parson be willing?”
Mr Bennet smiled.  “He is quite fond of Lizzy, and he was broken hearted for her when we received word of the shipwreck.  I am certain that he would be very willing to come tomorrow to perform the ceremony.”
“It would be best to have only family.  Nothing elaborate.”
“Ah, I believe it should be you who informs my wife of such news.  She will be displeased to learn that she cannot plan an elaborate celebration of her daughter’s marriage.  My wife believes a proper wedding cannot be done without at least six months of planning, yards and yards of lace and ribbons, flowers of every sort, and the grandest wedding breakfast, with at least six courses served.”
Darcy cringed.  “Though I do not wish to disappoint your wife, my idea of the perfect wedding includes only one important detail, and that is my choice of bride.  As long as I have Elizabeth to be my wife, nothing else matters.”
“Well, I believe I will leave you to speak to Mrs Bennet and Elizabeth.  I will go to speak with Mr Forbes at the parsonage.  I will see you at tea time.”
~~ ** ~~
“Mr Bennet, I cannot arrange a proper wedding for our daughter overnight.  It is not to be born. Lizzy is marrying Mr Darcy, and a man of his status in society expects to have a proper celebration.” Mrs Bennet bemoaned.
“But Mr Darcy has already explained to you that he did not wish for such, did he not?  All he desires is a simple wedding with only family in attendance.  As Lizzy is unable to come downstairs, it would not be proper to have everyone in Meryton come through our daughter’s bedchambers.  Perhaps we can have a dinner for them, after Lizzy is recovered.”
“If it were not for Mr Darcy’s fortune, and the prospects of him placing our other daughters in the path of wealthy men, I would wash my hands of him.  But he does seem to love our Lizzy, and it pleases me that he does still wish to marry her.”
“I have also promised him that we would keep the news of the wedding a secret for a week.  He does not wish to entertain everyone who wishes to pay a call upon him and Lizzy to wish them joy.  You are not to speak the news, not even to your sister or Lady Lucas, until I give you permission.”
Mrs Bennet was not pleased.  “This is not to be born. How can you ask me not to say a word to anyone?  It is not right.  One of the happiest days of my life, and I am not allowed to speak of it, even to my dear sister.”
“You will do as I have said, or run the risk of offending Mr Darcy.  Remember, when I am gone, you will be reliant on his generosity to see you have a roof over your head and food on the table.  That should be ample reason to keep control of your tongue.” Mr Bennet gave his wife a look which caused the Mistress of Longbourn to cringe.
“Very well.  As much as I disapprove, I will do as you say.  But I insist that we have flowers in Lizzy’s room, and she must wear something more appropriate than her night shift.”
“That I will leave to you to discuss with our daughter.  Perhaps you and Jane can be of assistance to Lizzy in dressing and having her hair styled.  With her being able to sit up now, it should be easier for you to make her fit to be a bride.”
Mrs Bennet went from her husband’s study, up the stairs and into her second daughter’s bedchambers.  Finding Darcy and his sister sitting with Elizabeth, she asked if she could have a few moments alone with her daughter.
Darcy was nervous at first, but decided not to upset the woman who was soon to be his mother in law. “Come, Georgiana, as I wish to speak with you on a matter of importance.”
Once they had closed the door, Mrs Bennet took a seat in the chair next to Elizabeth’s bed.  “Oh, Lizzy, you vex me.  My poor nerves are all a flutter.  To think, I am not given proper time to plan this wedding, let alone, speak of it to even my sister.  Your father has informed me that I am to keep quiet until he gives me permission.”
“Mamma, we only wish to have some time to ourselves.  Between the shipwreck and my accident, we have suffered through so much.  We will not be able to travel for at least another month, so having a week of privacy is the best we can hope for at the moment.” Elizabeth pleaded with her mother for understanding.  “And, after nearly losing him, I do not wish to wait any longer to become his wife.”
“Well, I do not approve of all of this, but I have no choice in the matter.” Mrs Bennet huffed.
“Did Papa tell you that William is planning to purchase a cottage in Meryton?  He stated his plans to purchase one that would be comfortable for you and my sisters, when Papa is gone.  Would that not bring you comfort, knowing you will not be thrown to the hedgerows?”  Elizabeth knew that her mother’s worst fear was losing her home and having to rely on her relations for a place to live.
“A cottage?  Did you say he would purchase a cottage, one that would be mine?”
“Yes, indeed.  He asked Papa, and learned there were two in the village that might suit.  Next week, William and Papa will look at the cottages, and see which would be better.  For now, the cottage would be rented, and the funds would be deposited in an account.  The funds would be for you and my sisters, when the time comes for you to have to move to the cottage.  Will that not be grand, to have the extra funds to add to your settlement?”
Mrs Bennet could not believe her ears.  “Truly?  Mr Darcy would be so kind to us?”
“Of course he will, Mamma.  Tomorrow, you will be his mother in law. He wishes for you to be comfortable in your future. And he knows you would prefer to remain in the neighborhood, as your sister and friends are all here.”
“Well, your betrothed is one of the most generous of men.  I guess we will be forgiven for not having a large wedding celebration.  And, once you are recovered, we can have a dinner to celebrate with the neighbors.”
Elizabeth bit her bottom lip between her teeth, to keep the smile threatening to burst out on her face.  “I am certain that all will be understood by our neighbors.  I am certain we can host a wonderful dinner for everyone, once I am able to come downstairs.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~