The week was long and filled with danger. Each day, the men took turns driving the teams of horses, leaving one man to rest. Near the end of the week, Klarissa decided to take a turn at the reins.
“Mother, it is inappropriate for a countess to be driving a team of horses, like a farmer’s wife.” Richard was shocked.
“Richard, I am your mother, Mistress of your father’s homes, and can plan an elaborate dinner party or ball for the ton. But I am also a woman who grew up with three brothers, and I wished to be included in their activities. If I can handle the horses which pulled the curricle, I have no doubts I can control these beasts. So take your place on the wagon or walk beside, but I am taking a turn.”
Knowing when to argue with his mother, and when to give in to her decision, Richard knew this was a case of the latter. Shaking his head in disbelief, he took his place on the wagon, just behind the driver’s bench. It gave him some comfort that, if needed, he would be able to assist his mother.
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth had taken a liking to the child who had been abandoned to her care. She found it soothing to have someone to love, someone who, like her, was a stranger to everyone else traveling in their group. Lady Matlock had her son and nephew, Trich and Emily were there with their family, and Erik and Margit had their family. Though Elizabeth felt blessed to have been included with these people, she shared no past with them. Little Thomas was the same, which brought a feeling of his being a kindred spirit with her.
She thought about what would happen when she arrived home. Fanny Bennet would be livid and distraught. It was almost a certainty that she would blame Elizabeth for Alex’s death. Only the previous year, when Alex took a chill while outside on a walk with Elizabeth, Fanny threatened her second born daughter.
“If anything happens to Alex, if we are forced to leave our home after your father is in his grave, so help me, Elizabeth, you will be dead to me. I refuse to think of having a daughter who cares not for her family. Do you understand me?”
“Mamma, we were taking a walk. There was no indication there would be rain. Alex is usually healthy; I am certain he will recover.”
“You enjoy vexing me. I know you are determined to do anything to cause me vexation. My nerves…my poor nerves. I pray that my darling son survives your foolishness. Always traipsing about, walking all over the neighborhood. It will be the end of us. The end, you hear.”
Elizabeth walked to her brother’s rooms, finding Jane with him. “How is Alex?”
“He has a fever. Mr Jones came to check on him, and left some medicine for him. Mr Jones does not feel the fever is dire, as long as we keep it from raising higher. But you know Mamma. She begged Papa to send to Town for a physician, as she felt an apothecary could not know enough to tend the heir to Longbourn.”
“Did Papa send for a physician?” Elizabeth was shocked.
“No, he felt that Mr Jones was appropriate, as the fever is not severe. He has faith in Mr Jones, as Papa has known the man for many years.”
“Allow me to take over, so you can go to your room and rest. You were awake most of the night.”
Jane chuckled lightly. “You only know I was awake due to your being awake. Should we find Mary, and have her sit with Alex so that we can both rest?”
Elizabeth agreed. As she exited the bedchambers of her brother, Elizabeth looked around, trying to find her sister. Hearing the sound of the pianoforte being played, it was no great challenge for Elizabeth to know where her sister could be found. With the music playing, and Mrs Bennet wailing, the desire to remove herself from the house played against Elizabeth’s need for sleep. It was sleep which won, as she stumbled down the stairs.
“Of what are you thinking, Elizabeth?” Darcy’s voice pulled her from her woolgathering.
“I was thinking of my mother, and how she is likely to treat me upon our arrival in England.”
Darcy frowned. Looking ahead, he kept watch over the team of horses of which he was driving. “Will your mother not be pleased that you have survived?”
“No. My mother is not pleased with me; she never has been. I am my father’s favorite, while Jane was a favorite of Mamma’s. And, of course, Mamma has always held Alex dear to her heart. Now, with Alex gone, I have no delusions that Mamma will blame me for Alex’s death. I wish that we could have changed places, as it would not have caused as much pain if I was the one who had been killed. It may be best that I never return home, and allow my family to believe I died as well.”
“Elizabeth, please do not speak such words. What happened was terrible, but I am sure there would be just as much pain if you were lost to your family.”
She lifted Thomas to her face, placing a kiss on his forehead. Tears were wet upon her cheeks, as they flowed down, dripping on Thomas’ clothing. “William, my mother would disagree with you. She will force my father to expel me from our home. My best hope is that my aunt and uncle, who live in Town, will allow me to live with them. At least until I can secure employment as a governess or companion.”
“No, you will not be forced to find employment. You will come to Pemberley, my father’s estate. My sister, Georgiana, would be pleased to meet you, and we have plenty room. There is no need for you to be without those who care for you.”
A small gasp escaped her as she pondered his words. “Forgive me, William, it is only for our safety that your aunt deemed it necessary to pretend we are related. You owe me no such loyalty, once we leave the continent. It is me who owes you for all you have done to protect me. You have protected me, fed and sheltered me, seeing to my needs. But I was forced upon you in Vienna, and you have every right to be rid of me once we are in England.”
Darcy reined in the horses, bringing them to a halt. The other wagons continued to roll forward, leaving them behind.
“Elizabeth Bennet, can you not see that I have feelings for you? Can you not understand that all I have done for you is from my heart, not from duty? You are unlike all other ladies I have known. Intelligent, courageous, and able to make your own decisions, rather than accepting mine or others to rule over your opinions. It is poor timing, I know. You are in mourning for your brother, and we are fleeing for our lives. But I cannot allow another moment to pass before telling you how much I have come to love and admire you. I would find myself the most fortunate of men, if you would do me the honor of marrying me.”
Elizabeth was shocked. She had feelings developing for the handsome young man from Derbyshire. He was shy, she had discovered that quality quickly. When he was uncomfortable, a look came over his face. It reminded her of someone donning a mask. Cold, unyielding, his mask of indifference had made her watch him closely.
Did she care for him enough, enough to make such a leap as to become engaged to him? She knew him to be generous, caring, even loving. Would this be enough? Would she be happy spending the rest of her life with the man? The silence between them was causing Darcy to become concerned.
Finally, Elizabeth looked up into the eyes of the young man who had just offered for her hand. There, in his brilliant blue eyes, she found her answer. “Yes, William. I will marry you.”
Pride made Darcy’s chest puff out. He would have his Elizabeth. She would be his wife, to love and cherish for the rest of his life. Calling out to the wagons ahead to stop, Darcy quickly jumped from his seat and gathered Elizabeth in his arms, not caring a bit for the child in her arms. “You have made me the happiest of men, Elizabeth. My Elizabeth. You will love Pemberley. It has many paths to wander about, and the library, oh the library, I may have difficulties in removing you from the library once you have seen the collection of books. It is one of the largest private libraries in all England.”
The other wagons had returned to learn what was delaying Darcy’s wagon. “William, is something wrong?” Richard asked.
“Wrong? How can being accepted by a most wonderful woman be wrong? Elizabeth has agreed to be my wife.” He placed a kiss on her forehead.
Klarissa smiled. “I knew you would be smart enough to make such a decision. Congratulations. Elizabeth, I am so pleased to know you will be a part of our family.”
“I am pleased for your news, but we need to keep moving.” Erik stated. “We can celebrate when we camp for the night.”
Richard nodded his head in agreement. “Come, let us continue our journey. And welcome, Elizabeth. You will make a wonderful addition to our family.”
~~ ** ~~
Mr Thomas Bennet was seated in his favorite chair near the fireplace, in his study at Longbourn. He had always enjoyed spending his days at leisure, in his study, with a good book and a glass of port. It pleased him to have a quiet home, as his wife and daughters were off visiting Fanny’s sister in Meryton.
A knock on his study door broke in attention to his book. “Enter.” He called out.
The door opened to allow the housekeeper to step inside. “There is an express for you, Mr Bennet. The rider said he was told there was no need to wait for a reply.”
Mr Bennet nodded his head as he took the missive. The handwriting was familiar, belonging to his wife’s younger brother, Edward Gardiner, who lived in Town.
Breaking the seal, Thomas Bennet read the words.
I just received word from one of my suppliers, announcing that the French have attacked Vienna. I know that Alex and Lizzy are visiting my brother, so I thought I should inform you of the possibility that they have been captured or injured. From what I was able to learn, it was a quick attack, surprising most. My supplier came from Spain. He learned of the attack from a man who escaped through Elbe. It was his information that most who were attempting to escape were headed towards the Danube River, which would put them in harm’s way, as the French have a strong hold in the area of Prussia and Germany.
I will keep you updated on any news that I receive. According to my supplier, it has been nearly three weeks since the attack began. There has been no news from my brother, though I pray they are all safe.
Helen and I will continue to pray for my brother and your children to be safe and on their way to England. Please inform us if you receive word from them.
Mr Bennet was dumbstruck. His heart clutched in his chest, as the thought of losing his beloved daughter and his heir was painful. He called out to his housekeeper to come, as he felt his strength beginning to wane.
Mrs Hill entered the room, seeing her master’s face becoming pale. “Mr Bennet, what is wrong? What has happened?”
“My children…my Lizzy…Alex…my children…” as Mr Bennet slouched in his chair, unable to speak any more.
Mrs Hill called for her husband, who was Mr Bennet’s valet and acted as butler. “What has happened?”
“I believe he has had an attack of apoplexy. He had just read the express that I brought him.” Mrs Hill spied the message, which had fallen to the floor.
Her husband picked up the parchment, reading over what Mr Gardiner had announced. “Good God, Miss Lizzy and Master Alex are in danger. There has been an attack on Vienna, by the French. No wonder Mr Bennet had an attack, the news is horrible.”
Tears were welling in Mrs Hill’s eyes. She and her husband were fond of the Bennet children, but mostly fond of the eldest three. Mrs Bennet had a habit of indulging the twins with whatever they desired, and completely ignored Mary, being the middle daughter.
“You should send for the apothecary.” Mrs Hill stated. “And have one of the stable hands come to assist you in taking Mr Bennet to his bed.”
Mr Hill nodded his head. “After Mr Jones determines what is wrong, we should send word to Mr Gardiner.”
“Indeed, for Mrs Bennet will be overcome with vapors when she hears such news.”
~~ ** ~~
Gerald Darcy was in his study of his townhouse in London when the footman announced a visitor. Lord Matlock, Henry Fitzwilliam, entered the room.
“Henry, what the devil are you doing here? I thought you were at your estate.”
“Matlock is running well, so I thought I would come to Town. The estate is somewhat lonely with Klarissa away.”
“Part of me wishes I had taken Georgiana and joined your wife and our boys on the journey. I have never been to Vienna, and have desired to visit the city.”
“Then why did you stay?” Lord Matlock inquired.
“I had several meetings that could not wait, one of which is this morning. I have someone coming here shortly, to discuss a business opportunity.”
“Anything in which I would be interested? You know I am always looking for a good investment.”
Gerald Darcy smiled. “Well, I suggest you remain for the meeting. I am certain that you will be welcome.”
“Who is the man you are to meet?”
“Mr Edward Gardiner, of Gardiner Imports. He is expanding his business, and is looking for partners to assist with the finances. From what I have learned, Mr Gardiner is well known to have the Midas touch when it comes to business opportunities. He has made quite a fortune of his own, and is even interested in purchasing some land of his own. His wife was from Lambton. Do you remember Mr Linton, the physician?” Seeing his brother in law nod his head, Gerald continued. “Mr Gardiner’s wife is the former Miss Helen Linton. She assisted Anne through Georgiana’s birth, coming with her father and mother, who was the midwife. I remember the kindness that Mrs Gardiner gave my dear wife.”
“If only Anne had more time with her family.” Lord Matlock glanced down at the glass he had received from Gerald, filled with brandy. “My sister deserved to have had time with her daughter, with all of you. William was old enough to remember her, though just barely. I miss Anne so much. If only it had been Catherine instead.”
“I agree with you whole heartedly on that sentiment.” Gerald said, taking a sip of his own glass.
A knock was heard and Mr Darcy begged the person to enter. The footman announced Edward Gardiner’s arrival.
Gerald and Lord Matlock stood, welcoming Mr Gardiner to the study.
“Forgive me, Mr Darcy, I was not certain that I would be able to make the appointment today, as we received some terrible news.”
“What has happened?” Gerald inquired.
“We learned that the French have attacked Vienna. I have a brother living there, and my sister’s son and one of her daughters is visiting the city. I fear for their safety.”
Gerald’s ears perked up as he turned his view to his brother in law. “Vienna? Are you certain that it was Vienna?”
“Indeed, I was told by a reliable source. He learned from someone who had escaped south, through Elbe. According to the man with which I spoke, most people were attempting to escape to the north, by way of the Danube.”
Lord Matlock leaned forward, resting his forehead in his hands. “No, no, it cannot be true. We were told it was safe.”
Mr Gardiner looked at the earl. “Is something wrong?”
Gerald spoke. “My son journeyed to Vienna with Lord Matlock’s wife and second son. The boys had finished with the university, and we decided to give them a grand tour.”
“My wife’s family is from Vienna, Mr Gardiner. We were worried about them making the journey, though we were told several times that there was nothing to fear at the time. I need to send for my eldest son… we should hire someone to verify the truth and send assistance to bring them home.”
“If you send someone, can you keep watch for my niece and nephew? Alexander and Elizabeth Bennet. My nephew recently graduated from university, so he is the same age as your sons. My niece is eight and ten.” Mr Gardiner became hopeful for the first time since he had learned of the danger to his family.
“Of course.” Gerald stated. “Would you mind if we reschedule our meeting, as we wish to learn more of the situation?”
“I see no difficultly in rescheduling. If you would send word to me of when you are available, I will make sure I am available to meet with you.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
After what seemed like a year of travel, the wagon train approached the outskirts of Hannover.
Erik had taken the lead, as he was familiar with the area. “We will head towards my brother’s home, as his wife’s family still live there. They will assist us, I am sure. My brother told me that we would always be welcome to come to them for refuge.”
“You lead on. We will do as you suggest.” Richard said from his wagon. Darcy was driving the third wagon, while Trich was resting. The children were restless, having been kept to the wagons most of the time. Even the adults were exhausted by the journey.
“When we reach my brother’s home, we will need to be careful. It is possible that his home is being watched by soldiers. We will not be able to stay long, as there will be dangers for their family if we are discovered for what we are.”
Elizabeth had been sleeping, while Lady Matlock was watching over little Thomas. The bond that had built between Elizabeth and the boy was strong, and Lady Matlock had allowed her natural instincts to act as a grandmother to surface. Thomas was a dear boy, and Klarissa was certain of the suffering of the mother who sacrificed by giving him to someone who stood a better chance to protect him. Emily was tending to her babe when she noticed what appeared to be riders coming from behind the wagons.
“Trich, look…someone is coming.”
Her husband lifted his head, shading his eyes to give him a better view. “Soldiers…it is soldiers…”
Everyone was awake and nervous as they watched the troop of calvary approach them. Erik was the first to have contact with soldiers.
Speaking in broken French, Erik answered their questions, explaining that they were a family who were moving to Hannover to take care of a family farm nearby. The soldier who made it clear that he was the leader, urged his horse closer to the wagons. “You are family? One family? None of you look related.”
“My wife, her grandmother, our children, my cousins, my aunt. We need to work together, as we have lost much to illness. Working together, we will be able to feed our family.” Erik declared. “Our family came north, from Coburg. There was an epidemic last month. We lost many in the family. My uncle, other cousins, my father and mother. Many were lost.”
“And you are all to live together?” the officer was skeptical.
“Our uncle, his sons died in an accident. He needs assistance. He has a large house, plenty big for all of us. My wife, she will take work as seamstress. My cousin, she will work at the mercantile. All is arranged. Uncle has a large barn; we will make into living areas.”
“We need your wagons and horses for the army.” One of the soldiers stated. “We will take them, and you walk.”
“Please, we have small children and my wife’s mother, she is weak. They cannot walk so far.”
“You will give us the wagons and horses, or we will teach you a lesson. We will start with your wife.” The officer moved closer to the wagon Erik was driving.
“Please, I beg of you. Leave us two wagons. We can make do with two wagons. I ask for our women and children.” Erik pleaded.
A cold hard smack across his face was his answer. Margit cried out, wishing to move to her husband. Only his hand held out stopped her. Erik looked into his wife’s eyes, willing her to calm.
“Sir, I beg of you, we cannot continue on by foot. The distance is too great. Please, can you allow us one of the wagons? Just one of the wagons, with a team of horses. The strong ones can walk, while the weaker ones will be able to ride. Please, I beg you.” Erik pleaded, standing tall in front of the officer who struck him.
“We could kill you all, and take the wagons.”
“Indeed, you could. But showing us compassion will be better for all. You would wish cooperation from the citizens in this neighborhood. If you show us kindness, we can sing your praises to everyone. It will show everyone that you are willing to be generous rather than cruel.”
One of the lower ranked officers moved forward, coming alongside the senior officer. After several moments of whispering behind their hands, the two men came to an agreement.
“One wagon and horses. Everyone off the other two wagons. Quickly…quickly… or we will make you move faster.” The officer declared. To make his point, he took his crop and swung it, striking Darcy on his cheek. Elizabeth cried out, frightened by what she was witnessing, especially as it was Darcy who was injured. Everyone moved, as quick as possible, placing the women and children on the wagon that Erik was driving. Richard took the seat next to Erik, as he stayed alert to the soldiers.
“You, you look strong. We need workers for the army. You would do nicely to do hauling of supplies.” The officer was looking at Richard.
Klarissa spoke. “He is my son, Sir. And he is deaf. He cannot hear you, and would not be able to understand you. The fever, it left him in such a sad way. Please, my husband is gone, and my sons have promised we will stay together.” Pointing at Darcy, she continued. “My other son, he has a weak heart. He looks strong, but cannot work hard. He takes care of the animals, he and his wife, and their babe. Take the wagons, but leave our family together. I beg of you.”
Real tears were streaming from Klarissa’s eyes, dripping off her jaw. Elizabeth took hold of Darcy’s arm, holding him tightly to her, while she held Thomas in her other arm. She prayed that the soldiers would forget about the people and would take only the two wagons with only the horses that were attached to them.
Several moments passed before the officer in charge moved forward. “Leave now, before I change my mind. Go, or I will take the men and all the wagons and horses.”
Darcy sat on the very end of the wagon, with Trich beside him, both dangling their legs off the wagon. The soldiers took possession of the other wagons and headed them in a different direction. Once they were far enough away from the soldiers, everyone was able to breathe again.
Richard looked at his mother. “You were quite clever, old girl. What made you think of such a rouse?”
“I had to come up with some reason why you would not be a good servant for them. To look at you, there is no obvious defect. But hearing would be a distinct problem. And a weak heart, which could cause someone to die if overworked, was another difficulty.”
“I am proud to call you my mother.” Richard declared, a smile on his face. “It is one story I will have to write down, for I will need to share this with any children I am blessed with.”
~~ ** ~~
The lone wagon finally arrived at Erik’s relations. The family quickly took them in their house, hiding the wagon and horses as quick as possible. Erik’s sister in law’s father was concerned.
“Since your brothers left, we have had soldiers coming here regularly to see if they can find him here. They believe we are hiding them.”
“We did not know. Will you be in danger having us here?” Erik asked nervously.
“Perhaps. They will wish to take you men, to work for them. And the horses will be taken immediately. We have had no horses to work the farms for over a month.”
“Can you find assistance for us to reach the coast? We are heading for England.”
The elder man looked Erik over. “I am surprised to see you abandoning your homeland.”
“I will not fight for the French, nor will I allow them to kill me in front of my wife and children. Word reached our neighborhood that my brother had fled from French troops. We were in danger if we remained.”
“You are much like your brother. We have had no word from him or our daughter. We pray every day to have word that they are safe and have found peace wherever in their new home.”
“We will leave as soon as possible. Can you assist us in purchasing more supplies? The soldiers we dealt with took our other wagons and horses. The poor beasts we have left are exhausted.”
“The horses will have to make do for now, as I can assure you there are none available that the French forces have not taken by force. Perhaps a day of rest will allow them to recover enough to continue the journey. Supplies, I am not sure. I will send word to my son, have him come to dine with us. He would be able to tell us the best alternatives for you to continue your journey.”
“Many thanks, Abel. We will never forget your kindness.”
~~ ** ~~
When Abel’s son, Rainhardt, arrived, it was learned that the young man was in contact with a network of people who assisted others to escape from Napoleon’s forces.
“When I received my father’s message, I sent word to some men who assisted my sister and your brother.” Rainhardt announced to Erik. “I asked them to join us after dinner. They will have the best information on making the journey. I wish we could convince my parents to leave. It will be safer for our family to be away from here.”
“Your mother will never leave here. Her parents are buried near the farm, she will never go to live in another country.” Abel replied. “And I will never leave your mother.”
“It is not safe. The French soldiers are aware that our sister and her husband escaped. How many times have the soldiers come to search your home for them? They purposely steal items from you, or break items they do not wish to steal. It is a miracle they have not done worse to you. Mr Hoffman was beaten near death after his son escaped.”
“They will not harm me. As long as we do not give them any cause, they will leave us be.”
Rainhardt shook his head. He knew his father would continue to live his life as though all was normal. The soldiers were causing so much trouble, looting, taking anything they wished, even burning down homes and barns. A butcher who had been in their neighborhood for more than twenty years, had recently been ruined when the soldiers took all of his meat from the shop, then set fire to the shop. The only reason for the destruction was that his nephew, who had worked at the shop, had left with Erik’s brother.
The dinner was a simple repast, with stew, bread, and cheese. Lady Matlock laughed to herself when she thought about her waist line. She knew she had added several inches to her girth over the past years, but this trip had gone a long way in slimming her down. She would have to refrain from over indulgence when they returned to England.
When the men arrived, it was discovered that they were planning to assist a small group of Hannover soldiers through their network of safe homes, taking them to Emden. The coastal city was a part of Holland, and was friendly with England. Once there, it would be simple enough to find a ship sailing to England. The men stated that it would take a week for them to make the journey, as they could only travel certain roads, at certain times. They had soldiers at checkpoints who were loyal to Hannover and their people.
“Will you have money or items that you can exchange for services of those who place themselves in danger to aid you?” one of the men asked the group.
Lady Matlock looked at Darcy, nodding her head slightly. Darcy spoke for his relations. “We have the funds to pay for all of us to make the journey. If what we have is not enough, we can get more when we are in friendly territory.”
“It will be dangerous, with such a large group. The women will be in the most danger, as the soldiers are fond of enjoying our local ladies. Many young lady has been ruined in just a year’s time. Do not let me frighten you ladies, but you must be aware of what might happen.”
“Have no fear for us.” Lady Matlock stated, her chin held high. “We will do as we are told, so we are not captured by Napoleon’s minions.”
“Then we will leave tomorrow evening. You will need to keep yourself out of sight during the day, and keep as quiet as possible, as you do not wish to drawn attention to your being here.”
“What about the horses and wagon?” Erik inquired.
“We will take them with us tonight. They will be valuable to us.”
Darcy and Richard looked from Erik and Trich to the other men. Losing their last method of transportation was difficult, not knowing these other men could guarantee their safety. Finally, Lady Matlock spoke. “We are placing our very lives in your hands, gentlemen. If the horses and wagon can benefit you in your work, they are yours.”
“You have our word, we will do all we can to take you to safety. We may have to take you in smaller groups, as it is less likely to be caught. Are you willing to split into smaller groups?”
All of the adults nodded their heads. One of the men came up with a idea. “Perhaps we could take the children with one or two of the ladies with us. If we are questioned, we could claim that we were taking the children to the orphanage in Nienburg. Everyone is aware the orphanages here are filled, and there has been a new one established in Nienburg. We could take them on the wagon, make it appear we had been hired to transport them to the new building.”
The idea was sound, though it was it was difficult for the two mothers to imagine trusting their children into the care of these unknown men. It was decided that Hilda, Elizabeth and Klarissa would be the females to ride with the children, as the children would not be likely to refer to them as their mothers. The probability of the children slipping up with their mothers was high. The children referring to Hilda as Oma, or grandmother, would be a term of endearment that was frequent used towards an elderly woman, whether or not she was a grandmother.
So it was decided, and plans were made for the following day. The women would instruct the older children in the morning, teaching them how they should behave if need came.
Though they felt safe in the attic of Able’s home, it was still difficult to sleep, knowing what faced them on the morrow.