Chapter 17

The following week was hectic.  Elizabeth had a slight fever which grew and reduced, then grew again.  The wound appeared to be healing, and each time the fever grew, measures were taken immediately to keep it from growing worse.

Darcy was consumed with remaining at the side of his betrothed.  He received daily reports about the search for the shooter, but nothing appeared to be determined on the case.

Inside the shack Wickham had been using, the searchers discovered empty liquor bottles, and some clothing that had been left behind.  As dust had not begun to settle on the bottles, it was obvious that someone had been using the shack recently.  Mr Martins had two men hidden near the shack, watching it in case the shooter had been staying there and might return. Unfortunately, no one had returned.

Wickham had moved to a different location.  Having grown up at Pemberley, and his father’s knowledge due to his being the steward, Wickham knew the estate and its neighbors.  After shooting Elizabeth Bennet, Wickham decided to move to a small hunting shack on the estate to the north of Pemberley. The Randolphs were rarely in residence, and it had been years since there had been anything such as a hunt, so Wickham felt safe to hide in the shack.

At the beginning of the second week after the shooting, Darcy received word that there was something suspicious at Willow Woods, the Randolphs’ estate.  Several people had noticed smoke coming from the direction of the hunting cabin, though no one had lived there for some time.  Having cleared all of tenants and staff of Pemberley, and finding someone had been in the shack on Pemberley grounds, it made sense that the suspected shooter might have moved to Willow Woods to escape detection.  The weather had become cold at night, which would explain why the person was using a fire, when they had not used one on previous nights.

Reluctantly, Darcy left Elizabeth’s side, preparing to join the men in investigating the hunting cabin at Willow Woods.  Placing a kiss on her forehead, Darcy told Elizabeth he would return as soon as possible.

“William, please, do not allow your anger to rule your actions.  Be wise and cautious.”

“Of course, my love.  Have no fear.  Now that I have found my heart’s other half, I am in no hurry to be taken from you.  You rest, as I intend to have you dine with us this evening.”

“I will remain in bed, though I am certain I will be unable to rest until you return, unharmed.” Elizabeth’s eyes filled with unshed tears of the dread she felt.  “If the person fears your retribution, they may be very dangerous.”

“Have no fear, my dearest.  I will return shortly.”

Darcy nodded to Jane as he made his way towards the door of Elizabeth’s room.  “Make sure she rests. There is nothing to fear.”

Jane nodded her head.  “I will, though I agree, use caution, William.”

~~ ** ~~

The men surrounded the hunting cabin, moving quickly and quietly towards the building.  Smoke was still coming from the chimney, as a fire was still burning in the hearth.

Darcy motioned for the men to move closer, and he reached the area near the window to the right side of the entrance door of the cabin.  One of the footmen who had come with their master carefully peered into the window, searching for someone inside.  When no one was in view, the footman passed word to the others.  There were two areas which were not easily viewed from the window, so those were the locations the men would concentrate attention upon entering the cabin.

On directions of Darcy, the men forced their way into the cabin, splintering the door and windows in their way.  Once inside, they discovered no one in the cabin.  “They must have gone for supplies or fire wood.” Darcy suggested.  “With the fire still burning, and the looks of the room, I believe they could not have left long ago.”

“We should post men to watch the cabin.”  Mr Martins stated.

“First we should make it appear that we have left the area.  Then send men to take positions to watch over the area.  I want this person captured, not killed, as I wish to know the reason the shot was fired.  Was it an accident, or was the shot meant to harm myself or my cousins?”

Mr Martins nodded his head in agreement.  “We will discover the truth.  Have no fear.”

~~ ** ~~

Another week passed, and the shooter still had not been found.  Darcy was aggravated, and it was clear to him that the person responsible for shooting Elizabeth had good knowledge of the neighborhood.  And he grew concerned that the shooting had been deliberate.  His thoughts returned, time and again, to his cousin, Anne, and her threats.  But Darcy was certain that Anne would have no means to commit such a crime. Would Anne have hired someone to carry out her threats?

Elizabeth was growing stronger every day, yet Darcy had requested she remain inside the manor house.  This was not a request that was easily obeyed, as Elizabeth craved the natural beauty of Pemberley’s grounds.

Mrs Reynolds entered the sitting room where the two Bennet sisters and Darcy were enjoying their tea.  “Mr Darcy, the post arrived, and the young man stated that this letter had gotten wet before arriving in Lambton.  The writing was difficult to make out, and Mr Walsh decided he had to open it to discover for whom the letter was meant.  The lad promised his employer did not read past the greeting, and seeing it was to Mr Darcy, it was brought immediately. “

“I have faith in Mr Walsh, he has been post master for most of my life.”  Opening the letter, Darcy chuckled.  “Most likely, even if there had been no water damage, it would have been difficult to read the directions.  The letter is from Bingley, and he is well known for not having the best writing skills.  He makes reading his letters a challenge.”

Elizabeth and Jane chuckled at the disclosure, as they waited for their cousin to read the missive.

“It appears we are to have guests soon.  In fact, it appears the Bingleys and Hursts are to arrive tomorrow.  Well, it is good that Mr Walsh opened the letter to discover it was for me, or we would have been completely taken by surprise.”

“Do your friends frequently visit unexpectedly?” Elizabeth asked.

“No, usually the majority of my friends give me plenty notice.  Bingley is the sort to forget to write until the last moment.  But Charles is a good man, and the best friend I could desire, so I allow him latitude.”

Having been the housekeeper for many years, and handled previous visits from the Bingleys, Mrs Reynolds was already planning for their arrival.  “If it pleases, we can put Mr Bingley in his regular room.  Miss Bingley will have to stay on the third floor, as will the Hursts, as the rooms they usually use are being freshened up with new paper and paint.”

“Very good, then put Miss Bingley in the blue room on the third floor and the Hursts in the suite near the blue room.”  Darcy decided.  “I am certain we will hear of Miss Bingley’s disappointment in being placed so far from the family wing, but it will give me some peace of mind.”

When he looked at his cousins, Darcy realized he had said too much.  “Forgive me, but when I was at Netherfield with Bingley and his family, I woke several times to the sound of my doorknob turning.  Fortunately, I sleep with my bedroom door locked.  Once, my valet found Miss Bingley attempting to enter my rooms through the sitting room attached to it.  She claimed that she wished to be certain that I was comfortable and was being well attended.”

“She purposely attempted to trap you into a marriage of convenience?” Elizabeth was not completely ignorant to the ways of some to ensnare a husband.  Fortunately, she had never been such a female.

Darcy was blushing.  “Caroline Bingley is determined to be a part of higher society.  In her opinion, she would be the perfect wife and Mistress of Pemberley. Unfortunately, she is not the only female who has made such attempts.  It is mercenary, though common practice in our world.”

Jane shook her head.  “I find it deplorable that young ladies become so desperate that they behave in such a manner.  A young lady’s only true value is her virtue.  Poor Mr Bingley, to have his sister behave in such a manner.  He must be terribly frustrated with her.”

“He is, though he knows not what to do with her.  Bingley prays that one day, his sister will realize her mistake and correct herself.  But we doubt that will ever happen.  Of course, never before have I been an engaged man.  It will be interesting to see how Miss Caroline Bingley accepts the news of our betrothal.” Darcy wore a sly grin as he spoke.

~~ ** ~~

The carriage arrived, bringing the Bingleys and Hursts to Pemberley.  As soon as Caroline was standing on the drive in front of the manor house, she began her plotting.  The lady knew that it was imperative she strike quickly, before she lost her only chance to capture Fitzwilliam Darcy as her husband.

Seeing the Master of Pemberley walking towards her brother to welcome his friend, Caroline made her way quickly to intercept the gentleman.  “Mr Darcy, what a pleasure to being with you once again.  And especially here, at Pemberley.  Your estate has to be the grandest in all of England.”

“I believe it is one of the most comfortable, as my family has always preferred comfort to ornate.  My aunt, Lady Catherine, prefers her home to shimmer and shine with gaudiness.  My mother refused to follow her sister’s example, though Lady Catherine insisted for years she do so.”

“It is far grander than Netherfield, that is certain.  My goodness, remaining there would have driven me to distraction.  We would have had to spend a fortune to bring that estate to being even remotely close to being acceptable by the standards of the ton.”

Ignoring the sister, Darcy stepped closer to Charles Bingley.  “Good to see you, my friend.  We only learned of your coming yesterday, as the letter you sent had become wet and your chicken scratch handwriting was made even more difficult to read.”

“Forgive us, as I did not wait for a response from you.” Bingley’s cheeks turned red.  “I thought it would be acceptable, as Hurst is to take my sisters on to Scarborough tomorrow.”

“But Charles, Louisa is extremely fatigued from the journey. It would be best if we remained for a few days, to allow her to recover her strength.” Caroline stated, batting her eyelashes and simpering.  “Mr Darcy will have no objections, I am sure.”

“We have plans for tomorrow, and I will not reschedule, as the plans are for my cousins.” Darcy declared, setting down his iron will when it came to Caroline Bingley.  “And, after all we have endured, I will not submit my relations to any disruptions.”

“I am certain that Miss Bennet and Miss Eliza will rejoice in having us stay with you, as we became such dear friends when at Netherfield.  And dear Georgiana, is she here as well?”

“My sister is in Scotland.  My cousin and my betrothed are in the drawing room.  As my betrothed was recently injured, I will insist that you do nothing to cause her difficulty.”

Caroline nearly tripped over her own tongue.  “Your be…betrothed?  I had not heard of an engagement.  Is Miss de Bourgh here then?”

“I am not marrying Miss de Bourgh.  My cousin, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, has agreed to become my wife.”

“MISS ELIZA?” Caroline nearly screamed.  “You are betrothed to that silly chit?”

“Indeed, and extremely pleased at being so engaged.  Elizabeth has been dear to me for many years, but our reunion has allowed me to realize that she will be the perfect wife for me, as well as the best Mistress that Pemberley has ever had.”

“Surely you are not comparing your cousin to the excellence of your mother, when she was the Mistress of Pemberley.  Why, I have heard many stories of her abilities when she was alive.  Miss Eliza could not come nearly as perfect as Lady Anne was.”

“Having had the privilege of knowing both of the ladies, I believe I am the only one here, at this moment, who is able to judge the truth in that statement.” Darcy said.  “Ah, Mrs Reynolds, would you please see the Bingleys and Hursts to their rooms?”

“Of course, Master William.” The housekeeper was well aware of the coming reaction from the woman before her.

“We are not to stay in our usual rooms?” Caroline pouted.

“As there is some changes being made in the decor of those rooms, you and the Hursts will need to stay on the third floor.  Bingley, your usual rooms are available for your use.” Darcy had to bite his tongue to keep from allowing a smile to creep on his lips.

Miss Bingley opened and closed her mouth several times before she could speak.  “The rooms my brother uses are near the family wing. Is there no rooms near his for us to use?  The last time we were here, the rooms next to Charles were available, as were the ones near your sister’s.”

“They were unused at that time, though now they are in use.  My cousins are staying in the rooms in the family wing.  I am having a suite of rooms redecorated for Miss Bennet, so she has more comfort.”

“Miss Bennet?  You are having rooms done for her comfort?  What of your friends, friends who have been at your side for many years?” Caroline allowed her anger overwhelm her mind, as her tongue lost all control.

“Caroline, that is quite enough.” Bingley hissed at his sister.  He took hold of her arm and led her up the stairs, following Mrs Reynolds to the rooms his sister would occupy.

Releasing his hold only when they were inside the room, Bingley was furious.  “Caroline, you will be leaving in the morning with Hurst and Louisa.  You will remain in Scarborough, with our aunt, for the foreseeable future.  I will not allow you to ruin my friendship with Darcy or his cousins.”

“You plan to further your relations with Miss Bennet?  We have spoken of this, you will ruin all of us in pursuing that country chit.  What will come of my chances of making a good match?  If you send me away, how can I prove myself to Mr Darcy?  I am the perfect woman to be his wife and Mistress of his homes.  Please, Charles, you must not send me away.”

“No, Sister.  No more.  I insist you remain in your room until you leave, in the morning.  When asked, I will inform our host that you are suffering a headache and thought rest would be beneficial to you.  If I see you outside of this room before morning, you will be forced to leave immediately, and find somewhere else to sleep.”

“Charles, please.  You are my brother, and should wish the best for me.  How can sending me to our aunt be the best for me?  How am I to impress Mr Darcy of my qualities?  Do you not wish to have me wed your dearest friend?”

“No, I do not wish for such a union, as I know how miserable you would make my friend.  You are impossible, Caroline.  Nothing is good enough for you.  And I am well aware that you do not wish to marry Darcy because you love him.  You only wish to marry him for his connections and his wealth.  Enough is enough.  I have told you before, Darcy will not marry you, no matter what you might think.  He has told me several times, and it is time to accept the truth.  Even if you were caught stark as the day you were born, in Darcy’s bed, with a hundred witnesses, I would not force my friend to marry you.  He deserves someone who will love him, someone who will share his life, not covet material items.  Now, remain in your room for the evening.  I will see that a tray is sent up to you.”

Once her brother had left her alone, Caroline fumed.  How could he treat her with such disregard?  She was certain that Louisa would be of no assistance, as she was more concerned with her growing waistline and becoming a mother.  So Caroline was determined to find a way to remain at Pemberley until she could find a way to marry Fitzwilliam Darcy.

~~ ** ~~

“Mother, what are you doing?  Uncle stated we were to remain in the dower house, and not to enter the manor house.” Mary Bennet stated.  “If you do not obey his decision, we are certain to lose our uncle’s generosity.”

“Generosity?  You believe being forced to live in such a cramped cottage, with no carriage and only two servants to aid us, being generosity?” Mrs Bennet replied.  “Mrs Hill is in Meryton, and her husband is busy with the steward.  This is my opportunity to search for the money that was hidden in the house.”

Mary shook her head.  “Mother, we are not certain that Father hid money in the house.”

“I am certain he did.  He did not trust banks to safeguard his funds, so he must have hidden the funds somewhere in this house.  And he spent most of his time in the study, so it is logical that he would have hidden it in there.” Fanny Bennet was searching the book shelves, pulling books out and shaking them, attempting to loosen any paper from between the pages.

“Mother, if our uncle were to discover the you going through the house, he could have you removed from the estate.  You would not wish to have no home, would you?”

“If only that chit had done her duty and married Mr Collins.  He was supposed to compromise her, but he could not do something so simple.”

This news surprised Mrs Bennet’s eldest daughter.  “You knew Mr Collins went to Netherfield in the middle of the night?”

“I overheard you speaking with Mr Collins.  Mother, you must not anger our uncle or my sisters.  And, if Mr Darcy learns you are raiding the manor house, he will take measures to have you removed from the estate.  Then where will we be?”

“Mr Darcy…what good has anyone from that family done?  They have been the bane of my existence.  All because of the first Mrs Bennet, my husband could not love me or you girls.  The only children Thomas Bennet could enjoy were his first two daughters.  He did nothing to protect us, who are just as much his family as Jane and Elizabeth.  They inherited everything of value, and even obtained this estate after Mr Collins made a mess of everything.  My sister even told me that she heard Mr Collins is locked away in an asylum, so he cannot even live the life he had before coming to Longbourn.  All due to your half sisters, who are of Darcy blood.  Those girls are now wealthy and own land.  And we are left beggars in the hedgerow.”

“We are not in the hedgerow, nor are we beggars.  There are things we can do to better our lives.  The garden near the cottage is large enough to provide us with plenty food for next year.  We will need to be frugal in our spending, and plan for the future.  And Lydia needs to be checked, as her flirting will bring nothing but troubles.”

Mrs Bennet found a small purse, hidden behind some books on the top shelf of the case behind the desk.  Opening it, she found it was nearly filled with coins.  “Here we are, I knew Mr Bennet kept funds in the study.  There should be enough for us to purchase new gowns for Lydia.  If any of you girls can secure a good match, it is Lydia, with her liveliness and pretty looks.”

Mary knew that her mother would hear no more of her complaints.  Shaking her head, the middle of Thomas Bennet’s daughters decided she would have to find another way to curb her mother’s behavior.

~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~






Chapter 18

“What do you mean, my sister is still in her bed?” Charles Bingley demanded of the maid.  “Inform her that if she remains there a moment longer, I will come in and drag her out of the bed and plop her in the carriage.”

“She is feverish, Mr Bingley.  I could see the beads of water on her skin.”

“And it is likely just that, water that she applied to her face.  My sister is talented at deception.  Tell her what I just told you, and be quick about it.”

The Hursts made their way to meet with Bingley, noticing their brother was agitated.  “Charles, are you well?  You appear quite flushed.” Louisa was concerned.  She was well aware of the agitation their sister could cause, and was certain that Caroline was up to something which was causing their brother frustration.

“Caroline is claiming to be feverish.  I doubt she is ill, she just does not wish to leave Pemberley.”

Hurst glanced out the window near the entrance door.  “We may be delayed in leaving, if the storm brewing decides to unleash.  From what my valet has stated, it is supposed to be a strong storm.  Chatham has had a way of predicting storms accurately, as the weather affects his joints.”

At that moment, a loud clap of thunder decided to punctuate Hurst’s statement.  Charles Bingley could not help but look down in resignation.  “I will insist that Caroline remains in her rooms until the storm relents and you are able to take my sisters north, Hurst.  If she is supposedly too ill to leave, she is too ill to visit with anyone.  She will not cause my friend any discomfort by imposing her fawning over him.”

“Of course, Brother.” Louisa said, turning her attention to her husband.  “I will go up and check on my sister, see if she requires a physician.”

Hurst followed his wife up the flight of stairs. He planned to keep a close watch over his wife and her sister.

~~ ** ~~

Elizabeth was nearly healed, though Darcy continued to fuss over her.  Having spent years of independence, it was difficult for her to accept his hovering over her shoulder, constantly attempting to do things for his betrothed.  Finally, having had enough, Elizabeth’s frustration got the better of her tongue.

“William, enough is enough.  I will not stand for being coddled.  As you can see, I am well and do not require your constant attention.  You must have work to do in your study.  I recommend you see to your work and leave me in peace.”

Darcy was shocked with the words from the woman he loved.  “Forgive me, Madame, I had no intention of annoying you.  My only desire was to see to your comfort.”

“I am quite comfortable, Sir.  I have all that I can desire and wish only for some peace and quiet.” Elizabeth replied, feeling terrible for speaking so to her betrothed, though the sense of being overwhelmed out ruled what guilt she was feeling.

“Very well.  I will impose upon you no further.” Darcy turned and marched from the room, closing the door behind him in rather a forceful manner.

Once alone, Elizabeth felt as if she were acting like a child.  She had not wished to be harsh on her cousin and betrothed.  The reason she lashed out with her words was that he was there, convenient, accessible.  Having lived all her life beside Elizabeth, Jane knew when to remove from her dearest sister, giving her the privacy she required.  Darcy had yet to learn the many facets of his beloved.

Elizabeth decided she needed some fresh air and to enjoy some nature.  When she was living at Longbourn, it was simple enough to take a walk in nature, enjoying the trails that had been like old friends to keep her company.  But she had been cooped up in the manor house of Pemberley since she was wounded.  Walking to the window, the young lady was frustrated further to see that nature would not cooperate with her, as the storm was raging outside.

The next best thing would be to walk in the conservatory.  The flowers and the freshness of the conservatory would calm her desire for a walk in the outdoors.

Dressing in a simple day gown, Elizabeth slipped on her slippers and wrapped a shawl about her shoulders.  She was ready to enjoy the splendor that was housed within the glass room.

~~ ** ~~

Wickham had been moving from one place to another since shooting Elizabeth Bennet.  He only remained in one place for two nights in a row, no more.  Knowing the neighborhood from his days living at Pemberley, he was familiar with the places to hide one’s self.

The previous two nights he had been holed up in a cave, one that was hidden from the world for many years.  As a youth, Wickham had discovered the cave, and never shared the location with anyone.  The trees that blocked the entrance to his hiding place were dense.  Only one who was familiar with the area would know what was hidden behind the leaves and branches.  Being hidden in the cave allowed Wickham to stay warmer than he had been.  In the cabins, he had been unable to have a fire, as he was certain that Darcy would have men watching the neighborhood.

Now there was a storm, rain pouring down while the wind whipped through the area.  And, unfortunately for Wickham, the wind knew no mercy, as it blew in the cave, chilling him to the bone.

Wickham decided to move up his plans.  He was familiar with the manor house, and knew all the ways to enter undetected.  In his youth, he would enter the house and find items to steal, so he would have the funds he required to live the life he felt he deserved.

Knowing Darcy’s habits made it easy for him to determine his brother in law was likely in his study, which was located in the north wing of the house.  If careful, Wickham could enter the conservatory, which was located on the south side of the manor.  He could enjoy the warmth and remain dry in there for a few hours, possibly even longer.  And, if luck held, he could raid the larder for some provisions.

~~ ** ~~

A female cautiously made her way from the servant’s hallway and down the stairs, hoping to make her way past the footmen who were stationed outside her rooms.  She was furious with her brother for treating her in such a manner, attempting to keep her from spending time with Mr Darcy.  It is almost as if Charles does not wish for an understanding between his best friend and me.  Well, when I am Mistress of this fine estate, he will not receive invitations to stay with us.  Of course, it will take some time to make the changes in the decor of the house, as Mr Darcy may have taste and sophistication, being of such noble stock, his taste in decorating are quite plain.  I would be embarrassed to have anyone from the ton see my home in such a state.

Caroline Bingley made her way to the bottom of the servants’ staircase, and was preparing to walk towards the hallway which would lead her to Darcy’s study, when she heard the sound of someone coming down the stairs behind her.  Turning to her right, she opened the door and entered the conservatory, hiding behind a table filled with many plants.

From her hiding place, Caroline watched as the door of the conservatory opened once more.  This time, Elizabeth Bennet entered the room, and began strolling about the glass room.  Elizabeth’s hand would reach over, fingering leaves of certain plants, sniffing the blossoms of others.  Seeing the one woman who stood in her path to happiness, Caroline decided it was the perfect time to confront the interloper.

“Ah, Miss Eliza, I am surprised that you have not worn out your welcome with Mr Darcy.  With his ties to the highest circles of society, he must be weary of your low born manners and behavior.  I was told that you were injured in some sort of foolishness while riding a horse.”

Elizabeth turned towards the voice.  “Miss Bingley, I did not know you were here.”

“Of course I am here, as it is to be my future home.  Once Mr Darcy and I wed, you will never be welcome here, family relations or not.  And neither will your sister be invited to any of our homes.  Your mother may have been a Darcy, but she was foolish enough to marry a country nobody, someone who could barely be considered a gentleman.”

“Miss Bingley, I did not know that you and my cousin were betrothed.  May I be the first to wish you joy?” Elizabeth gave her enemy a smile, irritating the pompous woman.

“Ours is of a peculiar nature.  He has been prepared to make his offer, until your father, Mr Darcy’s uncle, passed.  It would be improper to make such plans for our happiness while Mr Darcy is in mourning.  Once the proper time has passed, an announcement will be posted in the London papers and the banns will be called.  Perhaps Mr Darcy will follow the trend in society of purchasing a special license.  That would make all of the others who wished to secure him, green with envy.  I must make a suggestion to him in that regard.”

Elizabeth decided to walk away from the delusional woman.  She knew that Caroline Bingley would never be married to Darcy, as he had declared his disgust with his friend’s sister.  The Master of Pemberley would never invite Miss Bingley to his home if not for her brother.  Charles was well aware that his sister had no hope of such an arrangement, but Caroline refused to accept the truth.

As Elizabeth leaned over to savor the scent of a lavender colored rose, she suddenly heard a loud gasp from the direction where Caroline had been standing.

“So, you are the woman who has stolen Darcy’s heart.” Wickham stated from behind Caroline.  One of his arms had wrapped around her waist, while the other held a knife at her throat.  “I could have sworn that old Fitzy was interested in his dear cousin, as I was informed by another cousin of his.  And my wife was certain that her brother was enamored with the country nobody.  No matter…I will take care of both of you, just to ensure the deed is done properly.  I am certain that Miss de Bourgh will pay extra since I am having to eliminate two of you.”

Looking about, hoping to find something on hand to use against the man who was set on eliminating the two ladies, Elizabeth was only able to spy a piece of a metal rod, on the table in front of her, hidden under some of the foliage.  She could use it to strike the culprit, though she was also certain that he would kill Caroline before Elizabeth could reach the pair.

“Mr Darcy will pay handsomely for my safe return.” Caroline pleaded.  “I am certain it would be worth your time to ransom me.  And my brother, Charles Bingley, is here.  He would pay for my being delivered to him safely.”

“Why are you here, Mr Wickham?  I thought you were to make the journey north, to live in Scotland with your wife?” Elizabeth attempted to distract the man.

“My wife…oh, yes, my darling wife.  What use is that chit, as she has not a coin to her name until she comes of age.  And she expected me to wait around with her, in poverty.  No, I decided to find a different way to achieve my goal, and extract justice against Darcy for his ill treatment of me.” Wickham leaned forward, his breath was warm on Caroline’s neck, making her shudder.

“You…you…are married to Mr Darcy’s sister?” Caroline was confused.  “I thought…I was told…she went to be with her aunt and uncle.”

“We stole away, right under your nose, and made our way to Gretna Green.”  Wickham moved closer, allowing his lips to lightly touch the skin behind Caroline’s ear.  “But your darling Fitz saw to cheat us from dear Georgie’s dowry.  How am I to care for my wife, in the manner in which she is accustomed, without her dowry?  It is too absurd.  So I now must find another method of providing for my wife.”

“Miss de Bourgh is paying you?” Elizabeth asked, in an attempt to distract Wickham from Miss Bingley.

“Why yes, she is paying me a tidy sum to eliminate you from her path to Fitz’s heart.  But she was mistaken in believing that you, Miss Elizabeth, were the one in her way.  How fortunate it is that I have uncovered the truth.  So I will see that my employer is pleased, by removing both of you.”

Caroline feared for her life.  “You had best start with this whore, as she is my betrothed’s mistress.  If you remove her from my fiance’s life, I will see that you are rewarded handsomely.”

“But you would still be in Miss de Bourgh’s way, and she would not tolerate such.  Forgive me, Miss, but it needs to be both of you.”

With Wickham’s attention back on Caroline Bingley, Elizabeth was able to glance towards the door which lead to the main section of the house.  She saw someone moving near the door, so Elizabeth decided to take a chance to alert others of the situation.  Picking up a clay pot from the table, she tossed it with force, sending it through the glass panes of the door, shattering the glass.

Wickham was shocked, his hand, which held the knife, moving slightly away from Miss Bingley.  Caroline quickly leaned forward, biting the hand that held the knife.  The scoundrel let our a roar of anger, followed by a struggle that left Elizabeth free to scream for help.  A footman had been passing by when the pot shattered the glass pane, and was quick to shout for assistance, as he moved to enter the conservatory.

With the footman now coming to the aid of the ladies, Wickham’s anger grew.  How could these two ladies cause him so much trouble?  He would not be thwarted from his goal, he would finish the two of them and leave Derbyshire, to collect the funds that Anne de Bourgh owed him.  The money would purchase his escape from England, and set him on a path of life for which he had longed.

Caroline Bingley was wild in her fury with Wickham, and was determined to gain her freedom.  It should have been Elizabeth Bennet who should have been held at knife point.  Her thoughts were of Wickham’s knife finding its way into her foe, all the while, she was clawing the man’s face.

The sound of footsteps approaching could be heard, and one of the footmen was attempting to pull Miss Bingley from Wickham.  As her arms became pinned, Wickham saw his chance and plunged his knife into her chest.  “I pray this wounds your dearest betrothed to watch you die.” He spat out the words, as another footman lunged at Wickham, knocking him to the ground, the knife still embedded in Caroline’s body.

Elizabeth ran to where Caroline’s form laid still.  Only the slightest of breaths could be detected, coming from the injured woman.  Blood was pooling beside her body, spreading out across the floor.  She pulled the knife from Caroline, tossing it to the floor.  Then Elizabeth placed her hand on the wound, while she attempted to tear some of the lady’s petticoat to make a bandage.  Knowing her actions were futile, as the amount of blood pooling was far too great for anyone to ever survive such a loss, Elizabeth continued her actions, praying for a miracle to save the young lady.

“Lizzy, oh, Lizzy, are you injured?” A voice asked, sounding so far away, rather than next to her.  Hands reached out and took hold of her, attempting to pull her away from Miss Bingley.

“No, no, please, we must tend Miss Bingley.” Elizabeth pleaded, attempting to escape the grasp pulling her back.  “Please, send for the physician, we need to stop the blood coming from the wound.”

“Lizzy, please my love, come with me.  It is too late, Miss Bingley is gone.” The voice continued to speak, though Elizabeth could not understand who was speaking to her.

“No, she cannot be gone, she is here, beside me.  We need a physician to tend her injury.  Please, send for help.”

Finally, Elizabeth was turned around, pulled into the loving embrace of her beloved William.  Her small frame was racked with sobs, as reality was finally seeping into her mind.  Caroline was dead, her life had flowed from her body along with the blood.  The wound was mortal, there was nothing to be done for the woman.

As the footmen were attempting to lift Wickham, with his arms positioned behind his back, the man made a daring dive, knocking the footmen off balance.  The scoundrel reached out his hand and grasped the knife from the floor, and moved like a wild animal, coming in for the kill of its prey.  Darcy saw the knife coming towards him and Elizabeth, just as the sound of a gun exploding reached his ears.  The knife stopped in mid air, as the owner of the hand holding it stopped.  The look upon Wickham’s face was one of disbelief, as he had not contemplated on being shot.  The knife dropped to the floor once again, as Wickham slowly slumped.  Darcy turned to see his butler holding the gun, still aimed towards Wickham.

Wickham glared at Darcy, fury growing as his life was ebbing from him.  “I should have known…this one…you have always wanted…her.”

Darcy was revolted at what was happening.  He responded to his childhood friend. “I have loved Lizzy for many years.  She is to be my wife, and there is nothing you can do to change that fact.”

“Should have…killed her…” he said, as his eyes began to glass over.  The final expression George Wickham’s face would wear showed his contempt for everyone.

Darcy pulled Elizabeth with him towards the hall outside the conservatory, as others hurried towards them.  Bingley came rushing towards the couple, with Jane following close behind.

“What has happened?” Bingley asked his friend.  “We heard someone shouting for assistance.”

“I do not know the entire situation, but your sister and Wickham were in the conservatory with Lizzy.  I am sorry, Bingley, but your sister…Miss Bingley…she is…”

Rather than waiting to hear more from Darcy, Bingley moved towards the broken door of the conservatory.  He could see his sister’s body, prone on the floor, blood surrounding her.  The shock of the situation was overwhelming the young man.  Bingley dropped to his knees next to his sister, lifting one of her lifeless hands in his own.

“Caroline, why were you down here?  I had forbidden you from leaving your room, why were you down here?” Tears were streaming down his cheeks.

Jane came to stand behind him, placing her hand lovingly on his shoulder.  “Mr Bingley, you have my deepest sympathy.  Perhaps we should speak with my sister, to learn what happened.”

“Where is your sister?  Where is Darcy?  I demand to know what has happened here, why my sister is dead.” The harshness of his voice was startling to Jane Bennet.

“William took my sister to his study.  We can speak to her there.” Jane declared.  “I am certain Lizzy will be able to answer all your questions.”

Bingley was torn between learning what had happened and leaving his sister’s side.  Finally, the need to hear what had transpired won out and he made his way to Darcy’s study, ignoring Jane as he hurried his steps.

~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~