Her eyes began to flutter, causing the gentleman’s heart to beat again. It had been three days since Elizabeth was stabbed, and she had been unconscious most of the time. The morning after the stabbing, she had developed a fever, and the physician worked diligently to control the fever. When she was slightly awake, it was in feverish dreams that were compounded by the laudanum that had been given her for the pain.
The physician had been prepared when the carriage came to a halt outside his office. The officer, Lieutenant Decker, had found the location of the physician and gone back to lead the carriage. Mr Duncan, the physician, was an elderly man, was in his house. A widower, the man lived alone except his housekeeper, a man servant and a maid, which left two guest rooms he could use when necessary. Darcy had barely left Elizabeth’s side, even when he was told that it was not proper for him to be in her bedchambers.
The fluttering of her eyes led to Elizabeth opening them completely. “Where…”
“Stay still, Miss Elizabeth.” Darcy said, placing a hand gently on her shoulder, keeping her from rising.
“You would not wish to break open the stitches the physician worked hard putting in to close your wound.”
“Mr…Mr Darcy? What?”
“You were injured by Wickham. He stabbed you in the abdomen. We brought you to Luton to be tended by the physician. Mr Duncan said that you were fortunate. No vital organs were cut. The worst was the fever you developed. Thank the heavens the fever broke in the middle of the night.”
“Why are you here?” Elizabeth looked at the man, confused by such a break in propriety.
“I could not leave you to the hands of strangers. In the time I have known you, I have come to admire you greatly. Your beauty, your intelligence, your kindness, and your delightful sense of humor; all combine to make you one of the most amazing ladies I have ever met. Not long after meeting you I came to know that there would never be another lady such as you.”
“But…we have spent so little time together. How do you know anything about me?” Elizabeth said, after taking a long sip of the cool water from the glass Darcy held to her lips.
“We have spent more time together than you would understand at the moment. I will explain all to you later, after you recover. But I must speak now, and tell you how ardently I admire and love you. Would you do me the honor of accepting my hand in marriage? Please tell me you will make me the happiest of men and accept.”
Elizabeth looked into the eyes of the man seated in the chair beside her bed. He had taken hold of her hand as he spoke, placing a gentle kiss on the back of it when he finished speaking. There was something in his eyes that was more familiar than she had noticed before. In the blue crystals that made his eyes piercing to her very soul, she knew that there was more to their story than she was aware. Why did he remind her of Georgiana when they had taken their walks?
“Though I am not certain why I feel as I do, I will accept your hand, Mr Darcy.”
The smile that overtook Darcy’s expression was dazzling, showing that the man had dimples on his cheeks. It warmed Elizabeth’s heart greatly, making her comfortable with her decision.
Then reality settled in. Elizabeth’s eyes began to flood with tears. “Oh, but I cannot accept. My father has promised my hand to his cousin.”
Darcy would never allow such to happen. “Do you love your father’s cousin? Do you wish to marry him?”
“I have never met the man, but I do not wish to marry him. Something deep in my heart tells me that he is not the sort of man to which I would ever wish to marry.”
“And when do you come of age?” Darcy inquired.
“On my last birthday, during the summer.” Elizabeth gave him the answer he wished for more than anything.
“Then you are free to wed as you desire. If you wish to marry your father’s heir, you may do so. But if you wish to marry me, your wish will be granted.”
“My parents will be furious with me. How would we ever explain this situation?”
Placing his hand on Elizabeth’s forehead, he swept a lock of hair to behind her ear. “My dear lady, your reputation is ruined. All I need say is that we were alone in your bedchambers and if they do not allow us to marry, I will spread word through their neighborhood. Or, we could simply wed by license before leaving Luton. There is a bishop near here that is willing to marry us, for the few coins needed to purchase a license.”
“For the sake of my sisters, it would be wiser to do the second choice.” Elizabeth said, with a light laugh. The laugh did not last long, as it brought pain to her wound. “But does my father know where I am? He has not come here?”
Seeing a pain in her expression, and guessing it was due to the failure of her beloved parent to be with her while she recovered, Darcy attempted to soften the news. “Your sister is still at Netherfield. She decided it was best, claiming a relapse causing her to have to remain, covering your absence. Everyone would naturally assume you were at your sister’s side, tending to her. The apothecary, Mr Jones, is assisting her in the deception. Miss Bingley and the Hursts left Netherfield, deciding to go to London rather than remain in a house with someone who was contagious. Mrs Nichols has also been helpful in the hiding the truth. It appears that your father’s cousin arrived at Longbourn before he was expected, and he has been making a pest of himself to everyone in the area. Mrs Nichols has refused to allow him to enter Netherfield, claiming the need to contain Miss Bennet’s illness. Your mother has been sending messages for you to return home, and that she would send Mary to tend your sister, but Mr Jones declared it impossible for you to return to your home until the illness was gone.”
“Poor Jane. All those lies, and she cannot tolerate telling lies.” Elizabeth felt guilty.
“I have a confession to make. You are aware that your father’s cousin is known to my sister and me. I could not imagine you ever forced to marry such a man. If necessary, I was prepared to take you to Gretna Green, so that there would be no possibility of your father demanding you marry the fool. But your being of age negates that journey.”
Elizabeth could see the truth of his words in his eyes. This was a man who would love and care for her, who would see to her needs over the convenience of his own. Her parents only thought of themselves. Mr Bennet would not be bothered to do more to protect his wife and family for when he was gone, leaving it to the daughter he had trained as he would have a son. Mrs Bennet could not fathom having to give up her home when she became a widow. She would never take the position of dower, as that would mean her least favorite daughter would be the mistress of the house. That would diminish Mrs Bennet’s role in the neighborhood, and Elizabeth was certain her mother would never tolerate such to happen.
No, she was well aware that neither of her parents had her best interest in mind. But Jane did. Jane was doing all she could to protect her and keep Elizabeth from the repugnant Mr Collins. Though the thought of marrying without her beloved sister being at her side, Elizabeth knew that the best thing would be to marry immediately. And hopefully, Jane would be marrying Mr Bingley. He was such a kind man and deeply in love with her most cherished sister, so Elizabeth was hopeful that he would soon become her brother. With Darcy and Bingley being such close friends, it would be perfect for the sisters to see each other frequently.
“Mr…William, I believe you are correct. When would you wish to wed? I will require a gown to wear, as mine must be ruined.” Elizabeth smiled. “I do not think being wed in a nightshift would be appropriate.”
“Though I believe the bishop to be a modern thinking man, a nightshift would likely push him past his acceptance. I have already spoken to my sister. She is nearly your size, only a slight bit taller than you. So, she went to do some shopping. We all required some items, as none of us came with belongings. Even if we were not to wed, you would require clothes.”
“You think of everything, Sir.”
Darcy placed another kiss on her hand. “And what do you prefer me to call you? Elizabeth seems formal, and I do not wish to call you Beth. I knew a girl named Beth and she was a nasty child.”
“Lizzy is what my family has called me most of my life. I prefer it to Eliza, as Miss Bingley has called me.”
Moving closer, Darcy leaned close enough to place his lips on hers. Giving her a light kiss, he whispered.
“Lizzy, my Lizzy.”
A second kiss followed, though it was not as gentle and only stopped when the jostling caused pain to Elizabeth’s wound.
“Perhaps we can marry today, then rest tomorrow. Then we can return to Netherfield the following day.”
“And what of Colonel Forester and his men?”
“They took Mrs Younge to the magistrate. When they return to Meryton, the men will not discuss any of what happened. And after all they did for my family, I have rewarded them enough that they will not speak of the matter. The men would not wish to have to return the funds I gave them. Wickham owed each of the men from gambling and borrowing from them. Having the coins is more valuable than discussing what happened.”
“You think of everything, William.”
“As you left me with nothing to occupy my time, I had to do something.” Darcy placed another gentle kiss on her lips. “Now, I suggest you rest some more. I wish my bride to be at her best when she agrees to be my wife.”
“Only if you rest as well. You cannot hide the fact that you are exhausted.”
The words warmed his heart. She could see him in ways no other ever had. Their life together would be a loving one. Darcy could not believe how fortunate he had become in such a short time. He hoped that the rest of his life would be just as happy.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Mr Bennet was sitting in his study when Mrs Hill knocked on the door.
“Enter.” He called out.
“Sir, a message just arrived from Netherfield.”
The gentleman took the folded parchment from the housekeeper, then asked her where his cousin was.
“He has taken a walk to Meryton. He wished to learn more of the village and the people there. Mr Collins said that he was certain they could all benefit from his expert advice, as he had learned much from his time at Hunsford. You know how he speaks of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. To your cousin, she is the queen and everything she says should be taken as the word of the Lord.”
“My sympathies to all in Meryton, but I am grateful for the reprieve. He has spent far too much time in here, instructing me on everything. You would think that he had spent his life running an estate.”
“Begging your pardon, but he has even informed me of the proper way to fold the table linens. According to Mr Collins, Lady Catherine would have fired me for the method I have used for the last twenty years.”
Mr Bennet chuckled. “Well, Mrs Hill, you are safe in the fact that you work for my family. You will always be welcome here.”
The housekeeper left the room, closing the door behind her. Breaking the seal, Mr Bennet read the message.
I am writing to you regarding your daughter. The matter is of extreme importance. If possible, your presence at Netherfield would be appreciated. I will be available all day.
“How interesting. I was under the impression Mr Bingley was the gentleman who was planning to ask for Jane’s hand. Well, either would be a good match for my eldest. And Mrs Bennet will be thrilled, as Mr Darcy is far richer than Mr Bingley.”
Placing the missive in his coat pocket, Mr Bennet rose from his chair and prepared to leave. After collecting his great coat and hat, the master of Longbourn informed Mrs Hill where he would be going.
“Do you require the carriage, Sir?”
“No, no, it is a fine day. I will make the journey on foot, as the walk would do me good.”
When he arrived at the neighboring estate, Mr Bennet was shown to the sitting room where he discovered not his first born, but his second eldest daughter seated next to Mr Darcy. Jane was seated across the room, Mr Bingley standing nearby.
When Mr Bingley spied the father of his beloved, he welcomed the man. “It is a pleasure to have you join us, Mr Bennet.”
“I would have come sooner, but was told that my eldest was contagious. From the look of her, she is recovered.”
“Indeed, Miss Bennet is fully recovered.”
“Mr Darcy, I was under the impression that you wished to speak with me about my daughter. As Elizabeth is betrothed to my cousin, I assumed you wished to speak to me of Jane.”
Darcy had stood, holding Elizabeth’s hand all the while. “No, Mr Bennet. It is your daughter, Elizabeth, of whom I wished to discuss. Please, if you would take a seat.”
Mr Bennet was not pleased with how things were looking. Knowing that Lizzy was old enough to decide of who she married made the elder man fear that she would be ruining his plans for her to take over the running of Longbourn.
“Lizzy, what is happening? You should not be encouraging Mr Darcy to behave in such a manner. Your betrothed will be very disappointed by your behavior.”
“I have never accepted a betrothal with your cousin, Papa. I have not even met the man. But I know enough of him to know I could never be happy as his wife.”
“I made the arrangements for you to marry Mr Collins. He may be a fool, but you will find a way to manage him. And you will have Longbourn when I am gone.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No, Papa, I cannot marry Mr Collins.”
“And why do you believe you can go against my wishes?”
“Because I married Mr Darcy.”
Elizabeth said as she looked up at the man who was standing beside the sofa upon which she sat.
Furious, Mr Bennet wished to take hold of his daughters and take them from this house. How could they have disobeyed him in such a manner? Did he really know either of them? Jane had evidently lied to cover for her sister. But she was not married, and would be made to return to Longbourn with him that day. If she thought she was doing her sister a favor, she would regret the decision when it was Jane, rather than Elizabeth, who married Mr Collins.
Seeing her father’s penetrating glare aimed at Jane, Elizabeth stood. “You will not blame Jane, Papa. She did nothing for which to be punished.”
“Jane must have lied when she declared herself unable to return to Longbourn and that she was contagious. And Mr Jones must have lied to us as well. He will answer for his part in this matter. Where were you married? Not here in the village. No one here would have allowed it to happen without my approval.”
It was Darcy who answered him. “We were married by license by the bishop in Luton. And, before you ask, it was several days ago and the marriage cannot be annulled. Elizabeth is my wife, and if you cannot accept her decision, then you will not be welcome at our homes.”
“So, you married a rich man. Your mother will be pleased. Of all my daughters, you Lizzy, were the one I never would have thought to wed for wealth.”
“You will not disrespect my wife, Mr Bennet.” Darcy’s ire was rising. He would permit the gentleman his anger towards himself, but not at Elizabeth.
“She is my daughter.” Mr Bennet growled.
“A daughter you did not appreciate. You would have her marry that fool, Collins, so you would secure your wife and other daughters when you were dead. Far easier for you than to work towards putting aside the funds to give Mrs Bennet and any unmarried daughters a living.”
“And what do you know of the situation? How are you sure that my daughter would not have preferred Mr Collins? She has not met the man.”
A laugh escaped Elizabeth. “I have heard enough of the man to know he is a fool. And I have learned that you cannot tolerate the man, as he has spent hours in your study.”
“One never knows. You might have come to accept him.” Bennet was disgusted. The truth was a bitter and he detested bitterness.
“If you believe such, you are a greater fool than Mr Collins.” Elizabeth replied. “There is no possibility that I could have come to enjoy such a marriage. He is the parson of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, my husband’s aunt. William has met Mr Collins, he knows what the man is like.”
Mr Bennet stood straighter. “You will no longer be welcome at Longbourn. As you decided your own path, against what I had arranged for you, you will not require your family in your life. I will have Hill pack your belongings and send them. Jane, you will be coming home with me. If Lizzy will not marry Mr Collins, you will. Perhaps you will regret your decision to assist your sister in her disobedience.”
“No.” Jane said, remaining seated.
“What do you mean, no?”
“As I said, no. I will not be leaving here, and I will not marry Mr Collins.”
“That is enough. You are not married, and are still under my protection. You will marry Mr Collins, as you are told.”
Jane looked her father in the eyes. There was a determination that Mr Bennet had never credited to his eldest daughter, as she had always been agreeable.
“Forgive me, Papa, but I will not marry Mr Collins. I am betrothed to Mr Bingley.” Jane announced, keeping her expression as if carved in stone.
“Mr Bingley has not requested my permission, therefore you are not engaged to him. Come, you will not remain here.”
“NO! I will not return to Longbourn. You have no care for our future, for our happiness, only for what is easiest and will take care of Mamma and our sisters. It is not our responsibility, you are the husband and father who is responsible for their futures.” Jane stood with her hands balled on her hips.
“Jane is welcome to live with William and I until she weds Mr Bingley.”
Elizabeth informed her father, as she walked to her sister’s side, wrapping her arm around Jane’s shoulders.
“This is not to be tolerated. I forbid you to marry Mr Bingley. You will be the compensation to Mr Collins for his being denied what was his. If Lady Catherine is so particular, she will not approve of your marriage to her nephew, and someone of her wealth and standing has the means to have a marriage undone.”
“There will be no divorce, nor an annulment. Elizabeth and I are married, nothing will ever change that fact. My aunt may not approve of my marriage, but she can either accept my wife or, like you, be unwelcome in my homes.” Darcy and Bingley had taken positions next to their ladies. “And Miss Bennet is welcome to live with us until she marries. As both of the ladies are of age, there is nothing you can do to force them against their wishes.”
“I will have all of your belongings removed from my home as well.” Mr Bennet said as he glared at his eldest daughter. “From this day forward, I no longer have daughters named Jane or Elizabeth. You are dead to me, and no one at Longbourn is ever to communicate with you.”
With his final words, Mr Bennet turned and stomped from the room, out the front door, and all the way home to Longbourn. Later it was learned that he marched into his study, demanded all of Jane’s and Elizabeth’s belongings sent to Netherfield, before slamming the door and remaining there for three days, shouting “Go away!” to anyone who dared to knock.
Once their father was gone, Jane and Elizabeth turned to each other, holding tightly to each other. Though they were saddened over the decision of their father, and would miss their family, both of them were relieved with not having to endure Mr Collins.
The decision was made that they would wait until the trunks arrived with Jane and Elizabeth’s belongings, then they would all leave for Pemberley. They only waited for a few hours before Mr Hill delivered the trunks.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~