Chapter 9
The men arrived in the middle of the afternoon the following day.  They had decided it would be best to move the children, Hilda, Elizabeth and Klarissa while there was still light outside.  All of the men and the other ladies would have to be taken after dark. 
The men who would take the first load were a pair of brothers named Jorn and Werner.  Klarissa smiled.  “How appropriate that we rest our safety in brothers whose names mean vigilant watchman and defending warrior.  I feel safer already.”
This made the brothers smile.  Jorn spoke.  “Our mother said there was a reason we were names such, and we should always watch over and protect those in need.  You are most certainly in need.”
“I am Klarissa, and this is my daughter, Elizabeth.  We will be taking charge of the children.”
“We have a sister named Ellyzabeth.  It means God’s oath.  She will be meeting us at our first stop.  Her husband is joining us as well, as the two of them will aid you to the second stop.” Werner said.  “We should load everyone quickly, and make a show of thanking Abel for assisting the orphanage.  This will assist in protecting the family from nosey neighbors.”
The ladies rounded up all of the children, and led them outside to the wagon.  Klarissa and Jorn made a show of thanking Abel, shaking his hand as they spoke.
“The orphanage is grateful for your kindness.  With so many children coming there, we had nowhere to house them overnight.  The journey to Nienburg will be better, now that the children have had a good meal and rest.” Klarissa stated fluently.  No one would ever guess that she had lived in England for the last thirty years of her life, speaking little of her native language.
“Always a pleasure to assist the children.” Abel said.  “My wife will miss the children, as she is quite fond of little ones.  It is sad that so many have been left without family to love them.”
“We will send word if we require your assistance again.  If you wish, we would always welcome your visiting us in Nienburg.  The new orphanage will need people willing to comfort the children.” Klarissa stated.  In doing so, she left the opening for a plausible reason Abel and his wife would leave their home without speculation from neighbors.
Abel nodded his head.  “Perhaps we will.  If my wife is willing.”
“You are always welcome.”
With that, Klarissa joined Elizabeth, Hilda, and the children on the bed of the wagon.  As they pulled away, Klarissa began singing a children’s song, encouraging the elder children to join her.  Elizabeth held Thomas in one arm, and Gretchen in her other, while Klarissa sat like a mother bird with her wings spread out, tucking the other children in protectively, while Hilda sat holding the hand of Liam, her eldest grandson.  His father had instructed the boy to keep a watch over his grandmother and siblings, and Liam intended to be the man of the group.
The wagon was stopped several times, soldiers wishing to know to where the wagon was traveling.  One officer felt the children should be made to walk, as the officer wished to commandeer the wagon.  It took some quick thinking on Jorn’s part to dissuade the man.
“We have infants and an elderly woman who is like a grandmother to the children.  If we were to walk to Nienburg, it would surely take her life.  The children have lost so much, please do not take away a kind woman who has opened her heart to them.”  As the officer was about to argue, a superior officer approached.
“What is happening?” the man asked.
“They do not need the wagon and horses, and we need them to move the supplies to the troops to the south. The children can walk the distance to the orphanage.” The first officer stated, certain his superior would approve of his decision.
Jorn directed his attention to the new officer.  “We are on our way to Nienburg, to the new orphanage.  These children, including infants, have lost their homes and families, and now are being moved to another orphanage, because of the ones here in Hannover being filled.  We were hired to take them and these ladies, who have volunteered to care for the children, to their new home.  The one lady is elderly, and she is too weak to walk such a distance.  The children call her Oma, as she has become a grandmother to all of them.  Please, I beg of you, do not take away our transportation.  It would be as if you killed her before their eyes.
Wishing to do his part to protect his family, Liam, began crying.  “Not Oma, please, not Oma.  She is a good lady. She cannot walk far.  Please, Oma cares for us.”  He had pinched himself hard, in effort to bring tears to his eyes.
The superior officer looked over the wagon bed, taking in all the children.  “Go then, we will allow you to keep your wagon and horses.”
“Did you not hear my orders?” the officer barked at his junior officer’s reluctance. 
“Y…yes sir.” The junior officer looked at Jorn and sneered.  “As he said, go on.  But if I see you again, the wagon and the horses are mine.”
Jorn nodded his head and motioned to his brother to start the horses moving.  Once they were far enough from the officers, Hilda leaned over and placed a kiss on her great grandson’s head.  “Liam, you did a good deed.  Your parents will be proud of your actions.”
“I was told to protect you and the other children, I was only doing as my father told me.” Liam said, trying not to show his pride in his performance.
Elizabeth smiled and Klarissa nodded her head.  “Your parents will be proud of your acting.  You made the men see you as children, not just a wagon they could confiscate.  Your young voice, crying out to protect your grandmother, saved us all from losing our transportation.”
The words from Klarissa made the young boy realize how valuable he had been.  This brought him to sit a little prouder and squeeze his grandmother’s hand. 
~~ ** ~~
The group came to a farm house that was five miles south of Nienburg.  There, the ladies were welcomed to bring the children inside the small house, where Ellyzabeth and her husband, Garon, were waiting for them.  Jorn and Werner would remain at their farm, working for the couple, while Ellyzabeth and Garon took the group to the next stop. 
While they were at the farm, they would be fed and rest until the other members of their group arrived in the morning.   Liam made his siblings mind their manners, thanking their hosts for their kindness.  Hilda was proud of her great grandchildren, as they were being strong in the face of all the terror around them. 
The children slept soundly, with the farm being quiet and calm.  The ladies spoke with the family, as Werner and his sister detailed the rest of the journey, where they would stop, what precautions had been taken, what potential threats could still be before them.  Though they were far from being free from danger, Elizabeth and Klarissa felt there was light at the end of the tunnel.  They would be to Emden and on a ship, bound for home, in less than a fortnight.  And Elizabeth would be with William, as they prepared for a future life together.  As she drifted off to sleep, Elizabeth wondered if Alex would have liked Fitzwilliam Darcy, and if he would have approved of her engagement to the man.  It was not official, as William had not been given permission by Mr Bennet, but Elizabeth was certain that her father would approve of the young man to whom his treasured daughter had given her heart.
~~ ** ~~
The following day, near midmorning, the remaining members arrived, usually in small groups of three or four people.  There had been six men and women who had served as escorts. They quickly ate the food that was given them, and were on their way back to Hannover.  There were more people in need of their services.
As soon as Darcy spied Elizabeth, he gathered her in his arms.  “Thank heavens you are safe.” He whispered in her ear.  “I have been worried about you since you left Abel’s home.”
“We are all safe.  We had very little trouble, and our guides were masterful at speaking to the soldiers.”
“You were stopped?” Darcy pulled back slightly, looking her over, as if to make certain she had no visible injuries. 
Elizabeth smiled.  “As you can see, I am unharmed.  As are the rest of our group.  Liam should be commended for his performance when we needed to tug on the hearts of an officer.”
“There were no real difficulties, William, and I am well.  Thank you for taking the time to notice.” Klarissa said with a chuckle.
“Forgive me, my thoughts were carried away with all sorts of possibilities.  It was the longest day and night of my life.  I am pleased that all of you are safe, and unharmed.” Darcy gave his aunt a peck on the cheek.  “And thank you for watching over my dearest girl.”
“You are very welcome, my dear William.  She has taken very good care of the children.  And I must admit, she is a pleasure to be with.”
Darcy smiled.  “I had no doubts at all.  But I am relieved to finally have her with me once again.”
Everyone was inside the farm house, making for a tight squeeze. 
Garon discussed the next segment of their journey, before the new arrivals were shown upstairs, to the attic, where Ellyzabeth had laid out blankets and pillows for everyone to rest.  They would wait until the sun was down before she and her husband would lead the group further towards their goal. 
“We will take you as far as Vechta.  There are three men there who will take you on to Cloppenburg.  From there, you will go to Papenburg.  The men at Papenburg will take you to Emden.” Garon explained to the adults.  “We have made this journey many times, assisting many to escape Napoleon.  The men we will pass you to are very good.  Kyland, Barret, and Leonard.”
Klarissa laughed.  “I am beginning to think that you have all taken new names to fit your assistance in this system.”
When everyone looked at her with curiosity, she explained.  “I have always enjoyed learning the meaning behind names.  Kyland stands for bull, Barret for being brave as a bear.  Leonard is lion-hearted.  And Garon, your name stands for guards.  You all live up to your names, with courage and wisdom.”
Ellyzabeth smiled.  “My brothers were telling us that you commented on their names.  I am not familiar with your name though.  For what does Klarissa stand?”
Klarissa looked at her son and nephew.  “Well, to be honest, my full name is Klara Marissa, but I shortened it when I moved to England.”
“Ah, Klara means bright and famous.” Ellyzabeth stated.  “You are bright, in personality and of mind, and I have no doubts that you are quite famous in England.”
Richard was dumbstruck, never knowing his mother’s name was different from what she had been called all of his life.  “She is very famous, and valued as a dear friend to many.”
“She is respected for her generosity and kindness.” Darcy added.  “And I know her opinions and advice is often sought out by others.”
Klarissa was beginning to blush.  “Well, enough of this foolishness.  We should all rest, so we will be ready to begin again tonight.”
~~ ** ~~
The remainder of their journey went without much difficulty.  There were a few times they encountered people, but the further north they got, the less influence the French army had on the area.  When they arrived in Emden, everyone took a deep sigh of relief.  The two men and a woman who had arrived in Emden with them were Ingel, Jesaja, and Leyna.  Again, Lady Matlock smiled at their names.  “Your parents named you well.  Ingel means angel, and Leyna is little angel.  And Jesaja means God will help.  We cannot thank you enough for your care of us.  All of you who are aiding others in such a manner, taking dangerous risks on behalf of others you do not know, you have been a gift from God in our time of need.”
Richard and Darcy reached into their pockets to retrieve the funds they still had.  Taking the coins from Darcy, Richard handed the stack to the trio.  “With this, and the wagon and horses, you should be able to assist more people.”
Looking at the amount they had been given, the trio were amazed.  They had guessed that some of the people were well to do, but not so rich as to afford such a generous donation.  Jesaja thanked Richard, nodding to Darcy as well.  Turning towards the rest of the group, he spoke. 
“With these funds, we will be able to assist many more people.  So many of the people we have helped have very little left, having had to leave their homes and businesses behind.  This is a blessing to all of them.  You have the gratitude of many people.”
“We did not tell anyone outside our group, for fear of what could happen if it were learned, but my mother is Lady Matlock, Countess of Matlock.  I am the younger son of the Earl of Matlock, Henry Fitzwilliam.  My cousin, Fitzwilliam Darcy, is heir to the largest estate in Derbyshire.  When we arrive in England, we will send you more aid.  Give us the name and location of someone here, in Emden, we can contact to give you further funds and other resources.”
Leyna had tears streaming down her cheeks.  “You cannot know how grateful you have made us.  I will be staying here, with my sister, in the bakery near the docks.  We will go there, to give you a meal before you board the ship.  While we are at the bakery, Ingel will find which ship will be leaving today.”
Lady Matlock nodded her head.  As they arrived at the bakery, Elizabeth realized she still had some of the funds her brother had given her as pin money.  Elizabeth had hidden the coins in her boot, so they would not be as noticeable.  Sitting down at a table, Elizabeth took a quick look to ensure no one was watching.  Quickly, she slipped off her boot and retrieved the coins.  Before she could do anything else, Elizabeth noticed that her betrothed was watching her.  His eyes were focused on her small, delicate foot.  It surprised him to see such a delicate part of a young woman who had shown such strength and courage.
“Elizabeth,” Darcy said, coming to sit beside her.  “I know we have not discussed much beyond arriving in England.  It would be proper for me to speak with your father, as you are no yet of age.  But we are not in England.  And by all rights, I have compromised you multiple times.  It would be proper, if we were to wed here, in Emden, before we stepped foot on the boat.  Your reputation would be protected, and we would not need to separate when we arrive in England.”
Elizabeth stared into his blue eyes, sparkling with the love she knew he held for her.  She did not wish to be disrespectful to her parents, especially to her father.  They would have a difficult time as it was, when they learned of Alex’s death.  Would it add to their grief to learn that Elizabeth had married without approval?  She understood his view, and having to separate from him would be far too painful to endure.  The longer she looked at him, the more she agreed with him.  Finally, she said the words.  “Yes, William, let us marry here, today.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~

Chapter 10
“England.”  The word caressed Elizabeth’s lips as she spied the shores of her homeland, from the deck of a merchant ship.  Darcy stood beside her, holding her hand in his.  Bringing her hand to his lips, he placed a gentle kiss. 
“Home.” He replied.
“A new home for me.” Elizabeth stated, looking into the gaze of her new husband.  “So many changes in so short a time.”
“Your family will be joyous that you have returned.  How could they not?  It was a miracle that you have come through the trials we faced.  Many would have collapsed under such strain.”
“My mother will likely not agree with your view.  I dread facing her.  I dread…I can see the look my father will have when he learns that his first born and heir is dead.  The pain that he will suffer tears at my heart.” Elizabeth turned into her husband’s embrace, her face resting on his strong chest.  “What will we do with Thomas?” 
“I was thinking that we would take him to Pemberley.  We can accept him as our ward, or find one of the families in the neighborhood who will take him, raise him to be a fine young man.”
“It is difficult to think he would not be with us every day.  Please, can we keep him with us?  I am aware that there will likely be talk, with him so young, and us away from England.”
“But Thomas was born prior to our even leaving British soil.  No one can claim him as being your natural child, and most definitely not our child.” Darcy stated, holding her close.
“Facts such as those do not matter when there is a juicy bit of gossip to spread.”  Elizabeth sighed.  “Where should we go first?”
“We arrive in London, so perhaps, to my family’s townhouse.  We can send word to your aunt and uncle, inviting them to visit.  It would be best if we got proper rest and a good meal, before set out for Longbourn.”
Elizabeth nodded her head.  In her mind, there was also a natural hesitancy about the coming night.  As it had her first night of marriage while on board the sea, they had decided to wait to consummate their wedding.  Darcy did not wish for their first night together to be in such a manner. “I feel as if I could sleep for a fortnight.”
“I have no doubts, as I feel the same.  And you have no fear that I will demand anything more from you tonight. We both have recovering to do, and I insist on you taking care of yourself.”
The activity was lively, as they approached the docks of London.  Lady Matlock and Richard embraced, tears freely flowing from the eyes of both. 
Lady Matlock turned towards the others in their group.  Addressing all of them, she spoke.  “Now, keep close when we disembark.  We will find transportation to take us to Matlock house.  There, you will be able to take baths, eat as much as you desire, and sleep in comfortable beds.  And once we are well rested, we will speak with my husband and William’s father.  Between the two estates, I am certain we will be able to work and housing for everyone.”
Erik and Margit held their children close, as Liam held his Oma’s hand.  She had surprised everyone with her strength and courage, especially after Liam’s performance with the soldiers.  Hilda told her granddaughter that if a lad of ten years could stand strong and protect his loved ones, she could do no less.
For Trich and Emily, there was a sense of peace.  Emily was returning home, and she had family living Leicester.  She would be able to see them for the first time in six years, and introduce her children to their relations.  Trich was grateful for working on the ship on the Danube, as it had brought so many new possibilities to his family. 
Once the ship was secured at the docks, the passengers began to depart.  Lady Matlock was surprised to hear her name called out from the crowd on shore.
“Lady Matlock, Master Richard, Master Darcy, welcome back.” A young man came forward.  He was recognized as one of the footmen from Matlock House.
“James, what are you doing here?” Lady Matlock asked in surprise.
“Your husband has me coming daily to check for any ships from the continent.  He and Mr Darcy have been quite worried about you, since word arrived of the attack on Vienna.  I dare say they will be quite relieved to have you returned.”
“They had word of the attack on Vienna?” Darcy was somewhat surprised.  He wondered how word had arrived before they had.
“Yes, a tradesman they were doing business with had learned from one of his suppliers of the French army invading.  From what I understand, the supplier had made the journey south from Vienna, through Italy and then on the ocean.”
“James, we will need several carriages to take us to the townhouse.” Lady Matlock advised.  “We have grown in numbers on our journey, and these fine people have made it possible for us to return.  And my nephew has brought home a bride.”
The footman was shocked at the information.  Though his Mistress and her relations were poorly dressed, he recognized the other members of their group to be of the working class.  But his Mistress had commanded him, and James went in search for carriages to convey them to their destination.
Everyone was loaded in the carriages, and what little belongings remained with them were secured on top of the carriages.  Relaxing on the seat, beside her son, Lady Matlock gave a deep sigh.  They were home. 
“I want the staff to fill the bathing tub with hot water, and keep the hot water at the ready to replenish when the water in the tub cools.  I plan to soak there for at least half a day.”
Richard laughed.  “I plan to have cook fix a huge meal.  I might even be kind enough to share a bit of the food with others.”
“Father will be pleased to see us returned.  It would not surprise me if he held a grand dinner for all of us within the next day or two.” Darcy stated.
“We will need to make the journey to Hertfordshire soon.  I do not wish for my family to be frightened while waiting for word.  If news of the attack has reached London, I am certain my father has heard of it from the papers or from my uncle, who lives in London.”
“Perhaps tomorrow, if we are able, we can make the journey.” Darcy smiled at his wife, giving her hand a squeeze. 
“My uncle should go with us to Longbourn.  My parents will need his guidance, after they learn the news.”
“I will invite him to come with us. Do not fret. You are not alone.”
~~ ** ~~
James had sent a runner with a message to Matlock House, informing Lord Matlock of great news, so it was of no surprise that the earl and Gerald Darcy were coming out the door of the townhouse before the door of the carriage could even be opened.  The men were surprised to see two more carriages following the one containing their relations, though they paid no mind to them, once they caught sight of their loved ones.
Darcy waited for his cousin to exit the carriage and hand his mother down.  As soon as he stepped out, his father was quick to move towards him.  William held up his hand stopping his father for a moment, as William turned and handed Elizabeth down.  Gerald Darcy was shocked.
“Father, I wish to introduce you to my wife.  Mrs Elizabeth Darcy, nee Bennet, this is my father, Mr Gerald Darcy.  We were married, just before leaving Emden.”
Gerald was stunned.  He had never imagined his son to be impulsive, especially when it came to deciding to wed.  Had a fortune hunter trapped his son into a marriage?  Lady Matlock had seen the look in her brother in law’s eyes, and smiled.
“Gerald, there is nothing to fear.  Elizabeth is a fine young gentlelady, and I approved the marriage.  Though technically, Elizabeth had been compromised throughout our journey, they married for love.”
“Indeed, Father, Elizabeth is all that is good.  I am certain you will approve of her, once you know her.”
Elizabeth blushed at the statements being made about her.  Gerald moved to stand in front of the young lady, looking deep into her eyes, as if searching her very soul for the truth of her.  “Welcome, Mrs Darcy.  It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“I wish we had had some way to notify you, but we decided, just this morning, that we did not wish to be apart.  Not after all we have been through.  It is understandable that you would hold reservations about our marrying, under such circumstances.” Elizabeth said, before glancing up at her husband.
The single movement, the look in her eyes, as well as the look William wore, and Gerald was certain that what he had been told was the truth.
“Come, all of you, inside.  There is much to discuss, but it would be best to do so inside.” Lord Matlock declared.  “I have already informed the staff to prepare refreshments and heat water for baths, as I am certain you desire both.”
“Husband, there are more than just us to come inside.” Lady Matlock announced, motioning her head towards the group that had formed behind her.  “These people have been invited to be our guests at our home and Darcy House.”
Gerald and Lord Matlock were surprised, though accepted Lady Matlock’s information and welcomed everyone inside.  William went over to Margit, who was holding Thomas, and relieved the lady of the young boy.  This caused his father’s brow to lift in curiosity.  It was clear to see the elder Darcy was expecting a detailed explanation from his son.
Watching his son closely, it was plan to see that William was comfortable carrying the infant, and the child seemed at ease with William.  What was the story?  Was the reason for the hurried wedding on the continent to cover an affair his son had while still in the university?  Could this young lady have traveled to the continent to meet his son, to make their relationship appear legitimate?
Suddenly, Gerald stopped.  “What did you say is your family name?”
“Bennet.  I was Elizabeth Bennet, of Longbourn, in Hertfordshire.”
“Your uncle, is Edward Gardiner your uncle?”
Elizabeth’s eyes grew wide.  “He is.  He is my mother’s brother.  Do you know him?”
“I do.  It was through him that I learned of the invasion of Vienna.  Mr Gardiner asked me to keep a watch for you and your brother.” Gerald turned towards the two unknown men in their group.
Elizabeth faltered, choking on her words.  William looked at his father.  “Elizabeth’s brother was killed in Vienna.  He was shot as we were boarding a boat.  His body fell into the Danube river.”
Gerald could not miss the tenderness his son showed his bride, wrapping her in his embrace.  The pain was obvious, and the grief was fresh for the young lady. 
While they were fleeing for their lives, Elizabeth had placed her overwhelming loss on hold.  Now, being in England, safe from the dangers of a warzone, the pain came crashing down on her shoulders.  Quickly, her simple tears turned into sobs, as her thin body was wracked with grief. 
“Can you send word to her uncle, invite him to join us?” William inquired.  “There is much to discuss, before we journey to Longbourn.”
“I received a message yesterday that Mr Gardiner was going to Hertfordshire and would be gone for some time.  We were supposed to meet next week, so he wished to inform me that he would be unable to make the meeting.”
This news frightened Elizabeth.  “William, we must make the journey immediately.  Something must be wrong, for Uncle to leave London.  He rarely leaves his business affairs to journey to visit, only at holidays.”
“Father, could we use the Darcy carriage?  We may be a few days in Hertfordshire.”
“Of course, of course.  Why do we not make our way to Darcy House and order the carriage readied.  And you can freshen up before we make the trip.”
“We?” William looked at his father. 
“As it involves a member of my family, I intend to join you.  And I wish to know more about your trip, and more about my new daughter.”
William turned to his aunt.  “Will you be able to care for our guests in our absence? I feel guilty asking you to shoulder the burden.”
“Tis no burden, William.  We will take care of everything here, you see to your bride.” Lady Matlock stepped to the couple, placing her hands on either side of Elizabeth’s face.  “If we need to come to Hertfordshire, you need only send word.  You have been my daughter for the past weeks, it does not end now that we are safely returned home.”
“Thank you, Aunt.” Elizabeth replied, allowing the motherly warmth of Lady Matlock’s kiss on her forehead to envelop her.
“Do you wish for us to keep Thomas here?”
Elizabeth was unsure as to what they should do with the child.  Thomas had bonded with them, having been with either Elizabeth or William since he had been hoisted into the wagon.  “He is good with you and Emily.  But he is to be our ward, should we not have him with us?  I do not wish to cause him pain for being away from us.”
“Thomas was blessed when he was entrusted into your care.  He knows you love him.  I am certain we can manage for a few days, and if it is too difficult, we will bring him to Hertfordshire.” Lady Matlock promised.
~~ ** ~~
The journey was long in Elizabeth’s opinion.  The day had been filled with so many changes, and still more were to come.  She knew they would arrive at Longbourn near nightfall, but she could not help the time.  She was certain that something terrible had happened, for her uncle would not have gone to Longbourn unless something had important had happened.  Elizabeth could only pray that it was not something terrible.
William and Gerald spoke freely, as the son enlightened his father of all they had endured to return home to England.  Gerald was amazed that his son had arrived unharmed, as he could have just as easily been killed as Alex had been.  His heart went out to his new daughter, hearing all they had been through, and Elizabeth without anyone she knew before Vienna.  The gentleman’s respect grew in leaps and bounds for the young lady.
“Mrs Darcy, you have my sincere condolences on your loss.  I am grateful that my son and our relations were there, to be of assistance to you.”
“Please, Mr Darcy, I beg of you to call me Elizabeth, or, as my family does, Lizzy.”
“Then you must call me Gerald, or Father.  I will do whatever I can to smooth things over with your family.  Perhaps we can have a ceremony on English soil, so that both of our families can be witness.  That should appease your parents, should it not?”
“The loss of my brother will cause them far too much pain to consider a wedding.  We will be in full mourning for six months, then half morning.” Elizabeth replied.  “I knew that we would have to wait for a year before marrying, if we had waited until we arrived here only betrothed.  It may sound selfish, but I have come to love and depend on your son.  I cannot imagine having to be apart from him for a year.”
“I am sorry you had to make such a difficult decision.  It must have been painful.  But I can understand your reasoning.  Seeing you with my son, it is clear to see that you both love each other.  We will weather this together, for you are a Darcy now.”
The carriage was beginning to slow down, and Elizabeth glanced out the window.  She knew they were approaching the main house of her father’s home.  The thought of seeing her father was soothing to her soul.
As the carriage came to a stop, one of the windows showed a curtain that had just been moved.  Elizabeth knew instantly that it would be her younger sisters or their mother, peeking to see who was coming. 
William stepped down from the carriage, handing down his wife.  She was dressed in a gown that had been one of William’s mother’s, as all Elizabeth had with her was what was on her back and one other battered, tattered gown from the journey.  Fortunately, she was nearly the same measurements as her deceased mother in law.  Her hands instantly moved to smooth out any potential creases from the journey, though William could see that she was attempting to find something constructive to do with her hands. 
Gently, he placed her hand on his arm and led her to the door.  Before anyone could knock, the door opened.  Mr Hill, the Bennet family butler and valet for her father, opened the door.  He was amazed to see the young lady he had known all of her life.  Mr Hill and his wife, who was the housekeeper, had been with Longbourn since before Elizabeth was born.
“Miss Lizzy, you have returned.” The man said, emotion bubbling up in his words.  “We had thought… oh, but that is not important.  Is Master Alex with you?  Is he in Town?”
The tears were already pooling in Elizabeth’s eyes.  Realizing his wife was having difficulty, William spoke.  “Unfortunately, he was unable to return to England.  But we should speak of this inside.”
“Forgive me, please.” Mr Hill could not keep his eyes from the young lady before him.  “My wife will be overjoyed to see you returned, Miss Lizzy.  You have been sorely missed.  We feared you had been killed in Vienna.”
Elizabeth understood the sentiment behind the beloved servant’s words.  She and Alex, along with Jane, had been the favorites of the staff and tenants.
The trio entered the house and were shown into the parlor.  Jane was the first to realize that her treasured sister had returned home.  Jane stood and ran across the room, wrapping Elizabeth in her arms.  Darcy knew, from his wife’s words, that Jane was her closest friend and cherished sister, so he was not put out when she all but dismissed him from Elizabeth’s side.
“Lizzy, oh Lizzy.  We have feared you lost forever.  You have returned.  Oh, Lizzy.  I have missed you terribly.  But you are here, and safe.”
When the pair were finally beginning to move apart so they could look at one another, they could hear hurried footsteps on the stairs. In a moment, Mrs Bennet had joined the group, having rapidly descended from her bedchamber.  “Lizzy, you are alive.  Oh, goodness, we are saved. We are saved.  You were not killed, as we feared.  Oh, but where is Alex?  I wish to see my son.”
“Mamma, please, allow me to speak.”
“But he must be here, if you are here.  Where is my dear boy?”
“Mamma, I need to tell you…”
Mrs Bennet’s eyes turned cold.  “No, no no no.  I will not hear you say it.  You are here, so your brother must have returned home as well.  I demand to see him immediately.”
“Please, Mamma, I must tell you…”
They heard footsteps coming down the hall and Elizabeth turned to see her uncle entering the parlor.  “Uncle, we were told you were here.”
Mr Gardiner was shocked to see his niece with the Darcys.  “Dearest Lizzy, you have been restored to our family.  Alex, is he here as well?”
When Gardiner looked at the men who had arrived with his niece, Gerald Darcy gave a slight shake of his head. 
Mrs Bennet’s fury grew.  “You are to blame.  You should never have gone with Alex.  If he had not had you of which to care, he would be here.  But you begged to go, and your father was always foolish about allowing you whatever you wished.  Now what will happen?  We will be thrown from our home.  It is terrible, just terrible.  And it is all your fault, Elizabeth.” With that, Mrs Bennet’s hand flew quickly, striking her second eldest daughter across the face.
William quickly moved to place himself between his wife and her mother.  Over his shoulder, William shouted.  “How dare you?  Madam, I now warn you, never strike my wife again.”
These words caused silence to overtake the room, an eerie silence which was unheard of at Longbourn.
Mr Gardiner looked between the other men and his niece.  Gerald decided to speak, praying his son would not strike his mother in law. 
“It seems that our two families met as they were all attempting to escape Vienna.  Your niece and nephew were boarding the ship that they were going to take on the Danube, in hopes of escaping the invading army.  Unfortunately, a bullet struck you nephew, and he was killed.  His body fell into the river, nearly taking Elizabeth with him.  This is my son, Fitzwilliam.  He was there, with Lady Matlock and her son.  The young men saved Elizabeth from toppling into the water.  She has been with them ever since.  And they married just before returning to England, with my sister in law’s blessing.”
“Uncle, why are you here, at Longbourn?” Elizabeth asked.  There was a red mark on her cheek, where her mother had struck her.
“Lizzy, perhaps it would be best if you took a seat.  I see there is much we all need to speak about.” Mr Gardiner stated, motioning towards the sofa that would allow William and Elizabeth to sit together.  “Lizzy, your aunt is here as well, though she and Mary went to Meryton to see your Aunt Phillips.”
As the couple moved towards the sofa, Mrs Bennet was furious.  “If Alex is not here, then I want her out of my home.  It is still my home, even though Mr Bennet’s cousin has informed us he will take possession immediately.”
Those words struck horror in Elizabeth’s heart.  “There would be no need for Papa’s cousin to come immediately.  Papa does not require his assistance.”
“Lizzy, please, take a seat.” Mr Gardiner stated softly.
Jane knew her sister would suffer significantly.  “Lizzy, it would be best to sit on the sofa.  Please.”
“NO…NO…Papa, Papa…” Elizabeth began to break free from her husband and head for the door.  She would go to his study, where he preferred to be, reading a book.  Before she could reach the parlor door, Mr Gardiner had taken ahold of her by the arm. 
“Lizzy, my dear girl, your father…”
That was the last Elizabeth heard, as her world turned black and she collapsed.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~