The following day began with Mrs Bennet scurrying about, wishing to make as many final touches as she was allowed, for she could not imagine some frills for her daughter’s wedding. Even if Elizabeth was not her favorite, she insisted that some special touches to make the ceremony special.
Mrs Hill and Jane assisted carefully bathing Elizabeth and washing her hair. As they waited for her hair to dry, Mrs Bennet held out gowns for Elizabeth to choose from.
“Mamma, I cannot be dressed in an evening gown, while in bed.”
“You cannot be married, wearing a night shift. You must look your best.”
“A simple morning gown will be best, Mamma. I would feel foolish in an evening gown.” Elizabeth’s cheeks were red from the aggravation her mother.
“Mamma, I believe the yellow muslin with the flowers on the bodice would be the perfect gown for Lizzy. It is her favorite, and looks so well on her. And we can place flowers in her hair. She will look beautiful.” Jane added her opinion, hoping to calm the tension in the air.
“Very well. It is her best day gown. Now, how should her hair be done?”
Mrs Hill decided to see what she could do to assist. “Mrs Bennet, I have the curling irons heating, and pins all ready. But we do not have any flowers to place in Miss Lizzy’s hair. Perhaps you could see what is available in the conservatory, as your selection would be more appropriate, as your taste is far more refined than mine.”
“Of course it is, as I am mistress of this house.” Turning towards her daughters, Mrs Bennet spoke. “I will not be long. And I will see that there are flowers brought up to decorate the room.”
When they heard the sound of Mrs Bennet’s feet on the stairs, Elizabeth and Jane let out a sigh of relief. Elizabeth looked at the housekeeper. “Mrs Hill, you are a blessing. Thank you for thinking of a way to remove Mamma without a fuss.”
“She means well, Miss Lizzy. But I know that she can be difficult. I wish for your wedding day to be pleasant, not vexing.”
Elizabeth took hold of the lady’s arm, pulling her into her embrace. “Thank you, Mrs Hill. I am grateful for all you have done for us.”
When released from the embrace, Mrs Hill stepped back. She raised her hand to cup Elizabeth’s cheek, lovingly. “Miss Elizabeth Bennet, you and Miss Jane are like my own children. I could not imagine being prouder of you both. Soon, Miss Jane will be married as well. You are young ladies, no longer children. Mr Hill and I are so pleased you are both loved by the men you are to marry. We could not ask for better men for you.”
~~ ** ~~
Richard Fitzwilliam was having a difficult time keeping from laughing at his cousin. “Darcy, for someone who has been the master of several estates, personally oversees to the running of Pemberley, has stood your ground with many men of business, and even faced our aunt, you look like a school boy pacing before exams.”
“In a short time, I will be married.” Darcy said, as he continued to pace about the room. “Elizabeth will be my wife, and I will be the happiest man in the world. I just wish it was over, as you know I do not wish for all the pomp and glory, even within my own family.”
“Calm yourself, William. You have nothing to worry over. You are alive, healthy, returned to us, and your betrothed is recovering. A short time with all of us present will be nothing in comparison to the joy you will have in being married to Miss Elizabeth.”
“It would be better if we could have gone to the parson with just a couple witnesses, and be done with the formality. Elizabeth is my wife, in my heart. We only require the parson to make it legal in the eyes of God.” Darcy’s pacing increased.
“You are going to wear out the rug, Cousin. Stop your pacing.”
“What is the delay? I just want to get the business done and over.”
Richard let out a loud laugh. “It will not be much longer, and then you will have the rest of your life to spend with your dear wife. If you are this nervous now, I can imagine what you will be like when your wife is giving birth to your children.”
“Oh, do not make me think of such things.” Darcy stated, his misery acute. “I will not be able to… to… until Elizabeth recovers. The thought of having to wait has caused me much pain and discomfort.”
“You are a sad case indeed.” Richard said, clapping his hand down on his cousin’s shoulder. “Now, let us share a toast to your impending delight, as I am certain that, once you lay eyes upon your beloved, you will forget all else in the world.”
Darcy accepted the glass of port that his cousin had poured for him. In one gulp, he downed the amber fluid and handed the glass back to Richard.
“I will not be accused of getting you intoxicated on your wedding day.” Richard laughed. “When your heir is born, perhaps, but not today.”
Mr Bennet knocked on the door of his study, just before opening it enough to poke his head inside the room. “The ladies are ready for us, gentlemen. Unless you prefer to wait, and we can postpone the wedding.”
The look of horror on Darcy’s face made Mr Bennet and Richard begin laughing. “Well, then, let us join the ladies and make this marriage legal.”
~~ ** ~~
An hour later, Darcy closed the door to his wife’s bedchambers. Their family had taken their leave of the couple, and trays of food would be sent up for them to dine in private.
“I can now be in your bedchambers without needing a chaperone.” Darcy said, as he returned to his wife’s side. “I am pleased to have time with you, with no one else in the room.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “I thought you were going to threaten everyone if they did not leave. Mamma was scandalized at your telling her you wished time alone with me. She is reluctant to spend time alone with Papa, unless it is deemed necessary. So, you wishing to be with me, just talking and being together, is highly unusual to her way of thinking.”
“Then she had just learn to accept my desire to spend time with you. We have so much to discuss, plans to make for the future.” Darcy stated. Discarding his coat and short coat, he placed them across the back of a nearby chair. He then sat on the edge of her bed, pulling off his boots. Once he was had divested himself of his boots, he stretched out on the bed, beside his wife. He lifted her hand in his own, placing a gentle kiss on its back.
Elizabeth reached a hand over to move a wayward curl from his forehead. “I cannot tell you how dear you are to me, William. When I received the letter from your aunt, telling of the ship being lost, it felt as if my heart stopped.”
“I wish there had been a way to let you know I was alive, and where I was. Each day, I labored to gain the much needed funds to return to you. The cost of sending a letter, especially an express, was dear, and I had no resources to accomplish the task. I came from Isle of Man as soon as I had earned enough for the passage.”
“Tell me about your experience. I wish to know more about what you had to endure.”
“Mr and Mrs McGinty were kind people. They were elderly, and had never had children. Their farm was somewhat isolated, and they raised sheep. I assisted in tending the sheep, and chopping firewood for them. Mr Wallace, their neighbor, required some assistance as well, as he lived alone and was in his late sixties. Between them, they were able to scrape together enough to pay for my transportation to Douglas. Once there, I worked at the docks for passage to England.”
“What were the McGintys like?”
“Mr McGinty was a jovial, good natured man. Sort of like Bingley, only older and a little wiser. He always wore a smile on his face, and was kind. He loaned me some of his own clothing, as mine were damaged in the shipwreck. They were not wealthy, but they shared what they had with me. Mrs McGinty was an excellent cook, and spent many hours each day tending her home. They did not have servants, and had been struggling to keep their farm. For all their kindness and care, I have hired a young man to live with them, to assist them with the work. He is being paid by me, and I sent funds for his keep.”
“You are a kind man, Fitzwilliam Darcy. Your care of others is one of the many things I love about you.” Elizabeth said, placing a kiss on his cheek. “If it were not for your kindness, we would most likely never have met, as you came to Netherfield to assist Mr Bingley.”
“It was the greatest decision I ever made.” Darcy said, placing a kiss on his wife’s forehead. “I believe I should find a way to repay Bingley for asking for my aid.”
Elizabeth smiled. “You can give him your blessing of his becoming our brother. He will make Jane very happy, as long as he continues to stand firm against his sister’s nonsense.”
“Ah, some things will never change. Caroline Bingley will never be pleased, especially when she learns of our marriage.”
“We must thank Mr Bingley for promising to keep the news from his sister for the week. He will be have no peace, as I am certain Miss Bingley will wish to see you, now that you have returned from the dead. She has never given up hope of having you as her husband.”
“I have tried to tell her, time and again, that there would never be an alliance between us, even if she were to stand before me wearing not a stitch, and all of London was witness. She could never make me happy, and I am certain that I am the last man who could make her truly happy. Caroline Bingley is like so many others, interested in my wealth and connections, what I can give her in possessions and property. There is no real desire towards being with me, only that I was not some fat, old man who she would find revolting to bed. I would be a possession to her, nothing more.”
“And now, you are mine. What will happen when your aunt, Lady Catherine, learns the news?”
“Dearest, we were just married a short time ago. The last thing I wish to think of today is my aunt. She will not be pleased, but I do not care. My aunt and uncle, Lord and Lady Matlock, will be pleased to meet you. They have always supported my decision to marry for love.”
“And do you love me?” Elizabeth teased.
“How do I love thee, let me count the ways…”
~~ ** ~~
Caroline Bingley was not pleased with the news that any dinner held for Darcy’s return would have to be postponed until after Elizabeth Bennet had recovered. Her plans were not being followed, and she was more determined than ever to eliminate the country nobody from existence. To her way of thinking, the chit was doing all she could to hold on to Darcy, even feigning illness to keep him close to her.
Though she detested having to visit Longbourn, she insisted on her sister and brother in law taking her to visit the Bennet family, in the hopes of having time to speak with Darcy. When they arrived at Longbourn, she was not surprised to find her brother sitting in the corner of the parlor, in private discussion with Jane Bennet.
“Welcome, Miss Bingley. Mr and Mrs Hurst, it is a pleasure to have you visit.” Mrs Bennet declared. “Please, come in and take a seat. I will send for refreshments.”
“We could not delay visiting, since Mr Darcy has been rescued and returned to our company. I must say, I am surprised that you have had enough room in your home, as it is not as large as Netherfield. You must be quite overwhelmed with all the guests.”
“Actually, it has not been a bother. Colonel Fitzwilliam has been staying in the cottage that is usually for the dower, and we have plenty of guest rooms to give our guests comfort. We may not be as grand as Netherfield, but we are comfortable. My Jane has been kind enough to allow Miss Darcy to use her room, as Elizabeth cannot share with the girl, with her injury.”
“Ah, yes, how is the poor dear? I assume that Mr Darcy is spending time with her, as is fitting for one who is betrothed.” Caroline’s distaste could be detected as she said the words.
Mrs Bennet nodded her head. “Mr Darcy is quite attentive to Lizzy. He sees that all she needs is provided. He even sent for a new bed to be delivered for Lizzy, giving her comfort as she is confined to bed while she heals. And he had a wheeled chair delivered just yesterday. Lizzy is not strong enough to use the chair, but she will be soon enough, and it will bring her great joy to be able to take in the gardens.”
“Mr Darcy is all that is politeness.” Caroline wished she could ignore propriety and demand to see Darcy. “Is there a chance we can visit Mr Darcy… and Miss Elizabeth? We wish to ensure us that both have truly been returned to us, as it was feared that both were lost to the world.”
“I…I am sorry. Today is not a good day for you to visit. Perhaps next week, when Lizzy is stronger. She is improving, but it is better if she is limited on the number of visitors.” Mrs Bennet faltered slightly, making certain she did not break her word to keep the wedding a secret. “But I can tell Lizzy that you inquired after her and Mr Darcy. He had plans to rest, as he has been through quite an ordeal, and he is still recovering from the shipwreck.”
Louisa could see her sister was growing angry with being denied a chance to speak with Darcy. She knew her sister’s delusions were absurd, Darcy had no intention of breaking his engagement to Elizabeth, especially to make an offer to Caroline. But there was nothing anyone said that would convince Caroline Bingley that she was wrong. “Indeed, poor Mr Darcy has been through a terrible ordeal. And then having to wait to learn of Miss Elizabeth’s condition, well, it is to be expected that he is exhausted.”
The look Caroline gave her sister should have caused Mrs Hurst’s hair to burst into flames. “But we are his closest friends, and he must be wishing to see us, as much as we wish to see him.”
Jane had overheard the conversation, and thought to come to her mother’s aid. “Mr Darcy has had much to contend with. Between his accident, all he went through to return to England, my sister’s fever and broken leg, not to mention the legal aspect of returning from being thought dead, he has had little time to rest. The physician stated that he was concerned for Mr Darcy, insisting that he rest for several days, allowing his body to adjust properly. You would not wish for Mr Darcy to take ill from not resting, as the physician insisted?”
“Of course we would not wish for Mr Darcy to take ill. I…We have just wished to see him and welcome him back. We were extremely distraught when we thought he had died. You can understand how dear he is to us, as he is Charles’ closest friend.”
“Indeed. I am certain that Mr Darcy is grateful for your concern and he will be available to visit with you on another day, after he has complied with Mr Burnside, as he has been Mr Darcy’s physician all of his life. Who would know the gentleman better than Mr Burnside?”
After a few more moments, Caroline decided it was time to take her leave of Longbourn. She was unhappy with the outcome, as she was certain Darcy would have wished to speak with her, if not for the meddling Bennets.
When she sat on the bench of their carriage, Caroline looked across at her sister. “I will need to use the carriage to go to Meryton. I wish to do some shopping, as it would be pleasant to be able to purchase gifts for Miss Darcy and her brother.”
“Is that for what you needed to borrow funds? You know you can charge items to Netherfield, and Charles will see that the bill is paid.”
“I do not wish to go through Charles. I wish to pay for the items myself. It will make the gifts more personal. How would it look if he saw I was purchasing a gift for Mr Darcy? Charles would be upset. But I feel compelled to find something for him, to assure him of my continued regard for him.”
“Caroline, you are foolish. Mr Darcy does not return your regard, and he would be vexed to receive a personal gift from you. Do not place yourself in such a position.” Louisa wished her husband would voice his opinion as well, but Gilbert Hurst remained silent, acting as if he had fallen asleep as soon as he sat on the carriage seat.
“Will you give me the funds or not?”
Knowing that nothing would change her sister’s mind, Louisa decided to save herself the aggravation of further arguing. “I have funds at Netherfield. You will need to see that they are returned to me soon.”
~~ ** ~~
To keep from anyone seeing her, Caroline entered the mercantile as if to make purchases. She inquired as to a rear entrance to the shop, claiming to the proprietor that she did not wish to contend with the militia men who, she claimed, had spoken rudely. The shopkeeper, Mr Martin, offered to have words with the men, but Caroline declined, pleading that she was to meet her carriage in front of the inn, as she planned to take refreshments after shopping. Mr Martin led the way to the back of the shop, opening the rear door, ensuring that there was no one in the alley which ran behind the shop.
“Please return when you are feeling better, Miss Bingley. You are always welcome in my shop. And inform your brother, if there is any further difficulties, I will speak with Colonel Forrester myself, on your behalf. The men should behave in a respectful manner, not treat a lady of high standing as they would a barmaid.”
“Thank you, Mr Martin. I will make sure my brother is aware of your generosity.” Caroline slipped out of the door and quickly made her way to the inn, making certain that no one saw her enter. She knew that Mrs Younge’s room was the third door on the left, on the second floor. Waiting for the innkeeper to step in the back room, Caroline hurried up the stairs.
The door opened after Caroline knocked once. She entered quickly, and Mrs Younge closed the door behind her.
“Did you bring the money?” Mrs Younge asked sharply.
“I did. I was able to acquire what I owed from previously, and half of what I offered for this job. I will have the rest of the funds later tonight. My brother will give me the coins I require to finish paying you. Meet me at the in the servant hall near my suite, at Netherfield, after midnight. The job will need to be done quickly, either tonight or tomorrow, at the latest.”
Wickham stepped out from behind the dressing screen in the corner of the room. “Very well, Miss Bingley. And do you wish for the young lady to be ruined, so Darcy will abandon her, or a more permanent resolution?”
“A permanent resolution, Mr Wickham. A decisively permanent resolution.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
“Charles?” Caroline inquired, as she peeked inside his study.
Bingley inwardly groaned. The last thing he wished for was another confrontation with his sister. She had made her opinion clear, as she more than made herself clear on her displeasure when he had arrived home. Caroline had been quite vocal in her desire to visit with Mr Darcy, and the abominable behavior of the Bennet family for keeping Darcy from seeing his friends.
“Yes, Caroline. What can I do for you?”
His sister entered the room, closing the door behind her. “Charles, I wondered if I could obtain some money from you. I wish to purchase some items in Meryton, some of which are gifts, and do not wish to have the bills sent to you”
“Gifts? Who are you preparing to purchase gifts for?” Bingley was perplexed. His sister had always purchased everything she desired, having the bills sent to him.
“Dear brother, do not forget that your birthday is coming up soon, and I do not wish to have you receive a bill that tells you what I purchased as your gift.”
“Why have you changed your ways? I have received the bills in the past, and you did not seem concerned.”
Caroline knew she had to be clever to fool her brother. “But I wish to change, and be more mature. You have taken care of me since Father died, and I wish show you my appreciation.” Her gaze lowered, in an attempt to appear demure. “And I wish for you to know that I realize I was foolishly cruel to you earlier. You did not deserve such treatment, and I am ashamed of how I behaved.”
Bingley stared at his sister for several moments. Finally, wishing more than truly believing, he decided to believe his sister. “Very well, Caroline. And how much do you require?”
“Perhaps you can give me my allowance for this month. I might decide to purchase something for Louisa, as I have also been cruel to her. There is need to make amends to her.”
He pulled out the lower desk drawer, and took out a metal box. The key was removed from the pocket of his short coat. Bingley opened the box, removing the required amount of coins and paper money.
“Here Caroline. This is one month’s allowance. Now, if you do not mind, I have much work with which to contend. I received an express from our uncle regarding to the mills. It may require my journeying to Scarborough in the near future.”
“Miss Bennet would be disappointed to have you leave, though you must do as you can to assist our relations.”
“Yes, and it would be disappointing to me to be away from Jane. And, so you are aware, we have set a date to wed. It will be in two months’ time, on the twentieth.”
Caroline Bingley needed to bite her tongue to keep from speaking her mind on her brother’s wedding. A quick retreat was the only way to refrain from venting her feelings, ruining all the attempts to fool her brother.
~~ ** ~~
George Wickham had met with Mrs Younge, after she returned from Netherfield. Finding that Caroline Bingley had come through with the funds she had promised, plans were made.
“I will steal my way inside Longbourn, and make my way up the stairs to Miss Elizabeth’s room. Her silly younger sisters have told me which room was the young lady’s, so it will not be difficult. With the health issues, it would not be surprising for her to perish in her sleep. A pillow over her face will suffocate her, and after I arrange things, it will appear she stopped breathing in her sleep.”
“From what I have heard, she is still weak, so she will not have the strength to fight you. The chit deserves what she gets, after how she treated me.” Mrs Younge could not keep the bitterness from her voice.
“After I finish the job, I will return to collect you, and we will be on our way to the continent. I cannot leave here soon enough.” Wickham said, placing a rough kiss on her lips. “Knowing I am taking Darcy’s beloved from him is delicious revenge. I would have enjoyed stealing his little sister, for she is worth thirty thousand, but this will be just as satisfying. Taking away his chance at happiness is delightful.”
“Then go, and be quick about the work. I wish to leave here soon.”
~~ ** ~~
The window into the parlor was easily opened, as the latch on it was broken. This delighted Wickham, as he did not wish to cause damage that would be suspicious.
The house was quiet and dark. Wickham crept through the parlor and to the stairs, being careful where he stepped, not making any sound. He found the door to Elizabeth’s room, and tip toed inside, carefully closing the door behind him. The only light in the room was from the fireplace, which the fire was dying. He thought the situation ironic, Elizabeth’s fire and the fire in the fireplace would die together.
As he approached the bed, he was shocked to see that Elizabeth was not alone. Lying on the bed beside her, with one arm draped over her torso, was none other than Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Wickham could not believe his eyes. His old friend was in the bed of his betrothed. How unlike the Master of Pemberley to go against propriety, putting his betrothed’s reputation in jeopardy.
Then a new plan grew in Wickham’s mind. His hatred of Darcy overwhelmed him, as he blamed Darcy for his current situation. If only Darcy had been generous, as his father had been, Wickham would not have debts which insisted he keep moving about, to keep from the hands of his creditors. Gerald Darcy had always been kind, giving Wickham funds whenever the young man required assistance. But Gerald did not know the real Wickham. He did not know the debauchery and gambling in which Wickham had been involved. But Fitzwilliam Darcy was well aware of his childhood friend’s rakish behavior.
He wished to extract further pain from Darcy. Elizabeth Bennet’s death would be painful, but to kill her while Darcy was at her side, failing to protect her, was delicious revenge. Now he wished to make Elizabeth’s death obvious and deliberate. But how to do so without waking Darcy?
Wickham looked about the room, finding a food tray on the small table near the door. On the tray was a sharp knife. A smile of true evil was gracing Wickham’s lips as he lifted the knife in his hand.
Walking carefully across the room, Wickham came to the edge of the bed, preparing to thrust the knife into Elizabeth’s chest. He held his free hand to place over her mouth, to keep her from crying out and alerting Darcy. Just as his hand held the knife in the air, preparing to bring it down, he saw Darcy move. The hand came down, the knife aimed at plunging into Elizabeth’s heart, when Darcy woke, his hand reaching out to protect his wife.
“Wickham!” Darcy was shocked, the knife missing its intended victim, slicing into Darcy’s left forearm.
“You should not have returned from the dead, Darcy. You should not have been in the bedchambers of your betrothed. And you certainly should not have woke. Now you will have to die.”
Darcy had pulled himself up from the bed, making every effort to protect his wife. “Stay away from my wife.”
“She is not your wife, old friend. She is your betrothed. Did you receive a head injury in the shipwreck?”
“Not that it is your right to know, we were married in private.” Darcy was now between Wickham and Elizabeth, as she began to wake.
“Then this would be even sweeter revenge.” Wickham sneered. “Taking your beloved from you will bring you the pain you deserve.”
“Why would you do such? Why would you kill my wife?”
“For many reasons, my old friend. You deserve to suffer, as I have suffered.”
Darcy kept himself between Wickham and Elizabeth, praying he could keep her safe. “Wickham, your suffering was at your own hand. I did nothing to cause you pain.”
“You did nothing, which caused me pain. Your father gave me funds when I required, but you refuse to assist me. Why could you not be as generous as your father? Because of your refusal, I am hunted by the men I owe. There are men who wish to cause me harm, due to my inability to repay them. But you will not assist me. I was your father’s godson. How he must be disappointed in you for the treatment you have bestowed on me.”
“If my father knew what sort of reprobate you turned into, he would have left you to get out of your messes on your own.” Darcy stated. He was furious with the young man he had one time called friend. “How will my death aid you? You will not have access to my accounts.”
“I will have a chance to plead with your sister. She will remember my kindness, from when she was a child. I spent many hours amusing her. In her distraught time, losing both her brother and his wife, she will require someone to make her smile, someone to bring her joy and think of the good times over the years. And she will wish to take care of my needs in return.”
“Richard would never allow her to associate with you. You realize that if I am dead, he is her guardian. He would protect Georgiana from you.”
“He can have an accident as well. Georgiana would be left alone, and will be grateful for my attention. She will likely wish to marry me, giving me control of Pemberley.”
“My sister will never marry the likes of you, George. It is time you faced the truth. You are a rake, a wastrel, and a completely worthless human. You deserve what you have, as you have squandered everything you were ever given. The young ladies you have ruined, the merchants you have cheated, you deserve to be caught and punished, even if it means you pay with your life.” Darcy nearly growled as he spoke.
Elizabeth had edged herself towards the other side of the bed, knowing she kept a knife hidden behind the bedside table. Her uncle had given Jane and Elizabeth each a knife, with a hand carved wooden handle, when they were younger. He explained to them that one night, when he was a boy, someone had broken into the home of a friend’s, to steal items, and entered his friend’s sister’s room. Fortunately, the friend had come to his sister’s rescue, but the two boys had decided to make certain their sisters and any ladies in their family know how to protect themselves in such a situation. Elizabeth pulled the knife from the sheath that had been wedged in a hidden slot on the table, careful that Wickham could not see what she was doing.
The two men continued their banter, with Wickham clearly thinking he held the upper hand. Their voices had been low, as neither wished to wake the household. With the knife in hand, Elizabeth carefully scooted closer to Darcy’s back. She gently placed one hand on his back, alerting him that she was awake and near him. When Darcy reached back his hand, in an attempt to reassure her, he felt her place the knife handle in his hand. He was now armed, and would be able to defend them. He had been using the book he had been reading earlier as a shield to protect himself from each slash Wickham had attempted. Darcy kept his hand behind him for another moment, waiting for Wickham to lunge at him again.
With the next lunge, Darcy struck Wickham’s hand, which held the knife, with the book, as he brought his hand with the knife from behind him. In the struggle, the knife ended up planted in Wickham’s chest.
The man dropped to his knees, shocked that his old friend had found the courage to stand against him. He pulled the knife from his chest, looking at the weapon lying in his palm. With a stunned look, he glared at Darcy. “I cannot believe you stabbed me. After all these years of being afraid of me, you actually did something.”
Blood was flowing from the wound in Wickham’s chest, and the man was frozen in place, too shocked to accept the truth. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Wickham collapsed to the floor, having taken his final breath.
“William, please, tell me you are unharmed.” Elizabeth cried from her bed. “Please, William, are you well?”
“I am well, dearest. Calm yourself, all is well.”
“I cannot believe Wickham attacked us. Why would he do so?” Elizabeth said, attempting to hold back her tears.
“He has always been jealous of my being born a Darcy, as he wished to have the wealth to allow him to live a life of leisure and decadence.” Darcy replied. “But he is gone, and will never harm either of us again.”
“Why would he break into the house to attack us?”
Darcy had come to a conclusion as to why his childhood friend had committed the crimes. “He did not know I was in the room, my love. He thought he would find you, alone.”
Elizabeth’s eyes grew round, as realization came to her. “Mr Wickham came to kill me?”
“We have not told you, but Richard discovered a piece of cord attached to two trees, across the path to Oakham Mount. It was what caused you to fall, and nearly killed you. He was praying to remove any obstacles to his having a chance at Georgiana. Now that I have returned, he would wish to bring pain to me.”
Elizabeth could no longer control her sobs from escaping. “I knew, the first time I met him, there was something evil about that man. He has proven that truth. But what of Mrs Younge? It is she, I am certain of it, who Mr Wickham. All due to my having fired her.”
“We will discuss it further, but allow me to wake your father and send for Richard to join us. We need to remove Wickham from the house, before your mother and sisters wake.”
Darcy made his way down the hall, knocking lightly on Mr Bennet’s door. The elder man answered, wearing his nightshirt and a sleepy look on his face.
“William, what is the meaning of this? Is something wrong with Lizzy?”
“Not really, though it would be best discussed in her room. We were visited by an intruder. I believe it was the person who caused her broken leg, as he was hell bent to cause her harm.”
Mr Bennet became alarmed. He quickly took hold of his dressing gown, pulling it on as he exited his room. Darcy opened the door to Elizabeth’s room, allowing his father in law to enter first.
“Good God, what has happened? Is that not the lieutenant from the militia?”
“Wickham. He entered the room, with the intent to murder Elizabeth. He did not know I was in the room, until he came towards the bed. From what he said, he desired bringing me pain, by taking the woman I love from me.”
Darcy had walked to the bed, sitting down so that he could envelop his wife in his embrace. Elizabeth was sitting up, tears streaming freely down her cheeks.
“Lizzy, you are unharmed?” Mr Bennet asked, the anguish of watching his beloved daughter was difficult to bear.
“I am unharmed, Papa. And, thanks to Uncle Gardiner, William was not harmed worse. But William’s arm is bleeding, and needs to be tended.”
Darcy placed a kiss on her hair. “Do not fret. It is just a trifling scratch.”
“How did your uncle protect William?” Mr Bennet was curious.
“Remember his gifts to Jane and me, the ones that you thought foolish?”
Mr Bennet took a moment, realizing what she spoke of, as he looked at Wickham’s body. Seeing the knife on the floor beside the body, he recognized the knife that Mr Gardiner had given his daughter several years previously. “Remind me to thank Edward, the next time I write to him. And I should request knives for Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. Tonight has proved to me that my girls deserve to be protected better.”
The gentleman stepped from the room, walking downstairs to the servants’ quarters. He knocked on the door of the rooms used by Mr and Mrs Hill, requesting Mr Hill’s assistance.
“Hill, will you send to the stable to have a couple of the young men come, quietly, as we do not wish to wake the household. We had an intruder tonight, and he made an attempt on my Lizzy’s life.”
Mrs Hill gasped from behind her husband. “Is Miss Lizzy well? Was she injured?”
“Fortunately, her husband was at her side. It was Lieutenant Wickham, from the militia. We need to remove his body from Lizzy’s bedchambers, and send to Colonel Forrester to come. And someone should go to the dower cottage and wake Colonel Fitzwilliam. But we must not wake the house, as Mrs Bennet would have a fit of the vapors immediately.”
“I will dress and go to the stables.” Mr Hill stated. “And I believe Mr Burnside is at the cottage, as he decided to take a few days before returning to Town. Should I have him tend Miss Lizzy?”
“I believe Darcy will require attention, as he has a cut on his arm. We will need some bandages, water, and whatever else would be required by the physician.” Mr Bennet replied. “We were fortunate, the wound was minor.”
~~ ** ~~
Mrs Younge was waiting at the trees which were two miles from the main house at Longbourn. Wickham had been gone for some time, and she was becoming concerned. As the sky began to lighten, and the sun began to peek above the ground, Mrs Younge knew that something had gone wrong.
She wondered what could have happened, as she knew Wickham to be capable of maneuvering quietly, as he had been doing so for many years to meet with her. And she was certain that Wickham would not leave without her, as she held the money. The thought of his having been captured had been dismissed, but higher the sun rose, the more she returned to the possibility.
Finally, she moved closer to the house. She could see men moving about, which caused Mrs Younge to become nervous. Her thoughts turned to Wickham being trapped in the house, with all the men who were awake.
Then she saw the men carrying a board with something on top, covered in with a cloth. As she watched the men moving towards the stables, something slipped from under the cloth. It was then that she saw the arm of her lover, with blood on the hand and sleeve, dangling from the board.
“NO!” Mrs Younge cried out, forgetting all else. She ran across the grounds, straight towards the men. One of the men coming out of the stable hurried forward, catching Mrs Younge by the arms, refusing to allow her any closer to the men with the board.
“Let me go…George, I am here, my love…let me go to him…he needs me.” She struggled to free herself from the man, to no use. He held her tightly, ordering another man to fetch Mr Bennet and Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Mrs Younge ignored all else, as she thought only of Wickham. Though deep inside her, she knew he was dead, her heart refused to accept the truth. She had loved him for years, and he was now gone, forever leaving her to fend for herself. Part of her wished she had died with him.
Colonel Fitzwilliam came out of the house, quickly followed by Mr Bennet. “Mrs Younge, we wondered if you were involved in the scheme of Wickham’s.”
“I do not know what you speak of, Colonel. I had come to speak with Mr Darcy, with the hopes of regaining my position as his sister’s companion. I… I just met Mr Wickham the other day, in Meryton. Seeing him carried from the house, it shocked me terribly.”
“Mrs Younge, it will do you no good to deny knowing Wickham. We had already surmised you to be Wickham’s lover.” Richard stated.
“How dare you make such an accusation? I am a lady, a widow of a sailor. It is not proper for a lady to entertain men in such a manner.”
“Enough, Mrs Younge. You could no more make a proper companion for Georgiana than a harlot would. I only wish we had known the truth before we had hired you. Elizabeth was correct in dismissing you from the position.”
“You…you…” Mrs Younge lunged at Richard, her fists balled up as she began beating at his chest. “That chit ruined everything. I pray that Wickham killed her. She deserves to die, for all she has done to us. She is not what she appears, as I am certain she has fooled all of you into believing her to be innocent.”
Richard took hold of Mrs Younge’s hands, keeping her from further striking him. “You are fortunate that I have never struck a woman, for, at this moment, I wish to strike you repeatedly. Wickham meant to murder my cousin, and you knew.”
“He did not intend to murder your cousin.”
“Elizabeth and Darcy were married yesterday, so Elizabeth is now my cousin. Fortunately, Wickham did not know of the marriage, or he would have realized that Darcy was in the same room as his bride.”
“No, it cannot be. Miss B…” Mrs Younge realized her blunder, though not soon enough.
“Miss B? Are you speaking of Miss Bingley?”
Mrs Younge stuck her nose high, pretending she did not know of what he was speaking.
“It appears that the conspiracy grows larger.” Richard stated. Turning to the men who had come closer to see what was happening. “Joseph, I need you to go to Netherfield, ask Mr Bingley to come quickly. Do not tell him what has happened, as I do not wish for his sister to learn we are on to her participation. And, Jeffers, lock this vile creature in a room and guard that she cannot get out. We will need to send for the constable.”
“Very good, Colonel. I will send one of the lads to fetch Mr Belkins.” Jeffers moved closer, taking hold of Mrs Younge’s arm, pulling her towards the stable. There was a room to one end of the stables, where extra saddles and rugs were kept, and the stable hand shoved the former companion inside, locking the door behind her.
Oh, nicely played out. So glad for Uncle Gardiner’s wise preventive measures. Now how to handle Caroline? I can see her going totally berserk. Thanks for this very satisfying chapter.