Hi there. I am finally getting my rear in gear and posting once again. The last few years have been crazy, and sort of overwhelming. But back to playing with our beloved characters.

blurb: Elizabeth Fitzwilliam is the second born daughter of the second son of the Earl of Matlock. On their way to a family gathering at Pemberley, robbers attack the Fitzwilliam carriage, causing a wreck. The last thing she remembered of the accident was hands reaching inside the damaged carriage, pulling belongings from her family members. Elizabeth wakes in Pemberley, a week later, to discover her parents and sister were killed in the accident. She is left permanently disabled. But her dearest cousin, Fitzwilliam Darcy, is at her side. The young cousins come to terms with their attraction to each other, though suddenly pieces of her family’s belongings were recovered in a pawn shop in London, owned by Mr Gardiner.  The family joins William as he comes to Netherfield Park to visit his friend, Charles Bingley. Bingley’s sister wants to destroy the betrothal, as she desires to become the future mistress of Pemberley. Memories that had been suppressed from the accident surface in Elizabeth’s mind as she works towards preparing for her marriage to William. Was there another reason for the accident, other than just a robbery? Was her family murdered? And why does she feel something evil looming close by?

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Chapter 1

   Elizabeth Fitzwilliam was the second daughter of Edwin Fitzwilliam, who was the second son of the Earl of Matlock. Edwin was married to Ethel and the couple adored both of their daughters. Jane was the eldest, with blonde hair and green eyes. She was beautiful, sweet natured, and kind. Elizabeth was the opposite of her sister, with dark hair and chocolate brown eyes that sparkled with mischief.  Though she was beautiful in her own way, Elizabeth was the curious sister, and frequently gave their nanny many headaches.

   The sisters were the dearest of friends, and Jane was often the calming factor that her younger sister required to keep from danger. 

   Their family had been happy, living at their estate of Wilton Hall, which was located in the county of Staffordshire. They were expecting another addition to the family in a few months, as Mrs Fitzwilliam was expecting her third child. The hope was for a son to inherit the estate, though, as it was not entailed, the Fitzwilliam daughters could be the heirs.

   Edwin Fitzwilliam was one of four children born to the third Earl of Matlock, two sons and two daughters.  The eldest of the children was Catherine.  She was infuriated that she could not inherit the earldom, as it could only be inherited by the male line of the family.  

   Catherine had married Sir Lewis de Bourgh, a baronet.  Theirs was a marriage of convenience, as Catherine had spent seven seasons in an attempt to find a wealthy and titled man to marry.  When her father saw that there was no hope, he arranged the marriage to the baronet.  The couple had one daughter, named Anne.

   The second born of the family was Henry, the heir of the Matlock estate and the earldom.  He and his wife, Rebecca, had three children, all boys.  There was Malcolm, Richard, and Frederick.  Malcolm was the heir, and he thought himself far superior to his siblings.  Richard and Frederick had yet to decide what they would be when they were grown, though it was certain that Richard would most likely join the army.  Frederick was thought likely to take orders, as he was fond of all things religious.

   Edwin was the third child, followed many years later by the youngest of the Fitzwilliam children, Anne.  Anne was a sweet and good natured young lady, marrying Gerald Darcy for love. The couple had been blessed with a son the first year of their marriage, followed by several miscarriages over the years after the birth of Fitzwilliam Gerald Darcy, whom the family referred to as William. The boy was shy and reserved, though he was caring and devoted to those he considered to be family and close friends.

   The earl and his wife, Lord Patrick and Lady Elizabeth Fitzwilliam, lived at their estate in the county Derbyshire, with Henry and Rebecca residing in a different wing of the grand house with their children.

   Each year, the family would gather at one of the estates, Elizabeth was pleased that they would be gathering at Pemberley, which was the Darcy estate in Derbyshire. The twelve-year-old girl was fond of the trails that Pemberley offered, allowing the girl a chance to escape into the woods and enjoy nature.  Many times, she would take a book with her, usually one she had found in the vast library of the house.  Though her father’s home had a fairly large library, it was nothing in comparison to the one at Pemberley, which the Darcy family had accumulated over many generations.

   As the family began the journey to Pemberley, Edwin and Jane soon found themselves dozing on one bench of the carriage, leaving Ethel and Elizabeth to pass the time.

   “Mamma, is it true that Anne and William are to marry?”

   Ethel was surprised.  She was aware of her husband’s elder sister’s desire to make such a match for her daughter, claiming that the match was destined.  Lady Catherine had tried everything she could to convince her sister, but Lady Anne Darcy would not tolerate her sister’s attempts to control all their lives.    

   “Where did you hear such news?”

   “Anne wrote to Jane, informing her that this was the year that Aunt Catherine would announce the betrothal.  Jane believes our cousin was warning her that William was spoken for, and a pretty face would not sway him to forget his duty.”

   “Your aunt has been unhappy in her own life, even before Sir Lewis died, and she wishes to ensure everyone else is just as unhappy. Lady Anne has no intention of having her son married to her namesake, unless William has given his heart to your cousin Anne.  I do not believe William would be so foolish, he has never seemed happy when in Anne’s presence, always wishing to leave the room as soon as possible.”

   “Usually with Richard.  They are more like brothers than Richard is with Malcolm and Frederick.”

   “Indeed. Richard brings out the best in William, and William calms the more reckless side of Richard.  They are fine young men.” Ethel Fitzwilliam said.  She was aware of her younger daughter’s closeness to the heir of Pemberley.  William had always been kind to Elizabeth, spending time with her, especially discussing books and what William had been studying at the university.

   As mother and daughter spoke, there was a jolt in the movement of the carriage, as the horses were urged to move faster.  Suddenly there were voices shouting to the driver to stop, and the sound of horses moving quickly from behind.

   Edwin woke, moving to the window next to Jane and glancing out. “Highwaymen.  Ethel, keep the girls down as low as you can.  Hopefully John can urge the horses enough to out run the men.”

   The couple knew it was not likely, yet they did not wish to frighten their daughters.

   The carriage began rocking from side to side, speeding faster and faster, until there was a final jolt, and the carriage was rolling free from the horses.  At the speed, there was nothing that could control the conveyance.  When one of the wheels struck a large rock, the carriage was forced from its path, causing it to sway, until it finally tipped over, rolling several times down the side of the hill before it came to a sudden stop. 

   Elizabeth was vaguely aware of someone pulling the door of the overturned carriage open. She heard voices, though did not recognize any of them. Her eyes were closing of their own will, she could feel herself losing consciousness. The last thing she remembered was hands pushing and tugging on her body, which was partially covered by her mother. Then all went black.

            ~~ ** ~~

   A sudden awareness caused Elizabeth to sit upright. She looked around the room, attempting to discover where she was.

   “Lizzy, you must be still.  If you move about, you will cause yourself more harm.”

   Elizabeth recognized the voice.  But how could that be, as her cousin was not with them in the carriage.  What had happened?

   “William, where are we?”

   “We are at Pemberley.  Mother had you placed in the family wing.” William said, placing a hand gently on her shoulder, keeping her in the bed.  “You must not try to rise from the bed.  Your injuries are severe.”

   Even before his words, Elizabeth had found pain searing through her body.  She allowed her cousin to lower her back on the bed.  “Where is my mother?  Would you tell her I wish to see her?”

   One look was all that was needed to know something was extremely wrong.  “William, where is my mother? My father and Jane, where are they?”

   “I wish I had an easier way to tell you Lizzy, but your parents and Jane did not survive the accident. The driver and the postilion were also killed.  Your survival was a miracle.  As it is, you have been unconscious for almost a week.”

   Tears were flowing as Elizabeth took in her cousin’s words.  Everyone she had been with on the journey were gone. Her mother and father, her dear sister, even the babe her mother was carrying.  Her entire family was gone, and she had not been able to even say her farewells to them.  After a week, surely, they had already been buried.  

   There was a knock on the door of the bedchamber, followed by Lady Anne peeking into the room. Seeing her niece was awake, she quickly made her way to Elizabeth’s bedside.  

   “Lizzy, my dear girl, I am thrilled to see your eyes open.  William, call for the physician.  I wish him to examine Lizzy immediately.”

   William nodded his head and rose from his seat on the side of the bed.  As he left the room, he turned back to look at his cousin.  It had been difficult to see the pain she was enduring. 

   “Aunt Anne, is it true?  My parents and Jane, are they truly gone?”

   Lady Anne nodded her head as her tears were streaming down her cheeks. As she pulled a handkerchief from her pocket, Lady Anne attempted to comfort her niece.  “You are alive, and I am certain that your parents will be grateful for the blessing.  They had so many plans for your future. To know you survived would be a relief to them.”

   “But they are gone, what would it matter to them if I were to survive? They had plans for Jane’s future as well. None of those plans will ever come to be now.”

   Anger was to be expected.  Anger against the loss she had suffered, against the situation which had taken her loved ones from her, and anger that she had survived without her family.

   Mr Thompson entered the room, followed by William.  “I hear our patient has awaken.  I am pleased to hear this news.”

   “Lizzy, this is Mr Thompson, the physician who has come from Derby.  He and Mr Lawson, the physician at Lambton, have been seeing to your care.” Lady Anne explained to her niece. 

   “Miss Fitzwilliam, how are you fairing? How much pain are you in?”

   “My head and legs are the worst, as is my stomach.  My entire body aches though.” Elizabeth replied.

   “After what you have been through, I would be shocked if you did not have severe pain throughout your entire body.  Now, has anyone explained your condition to you?”

   “No, all I have learned has been of my family’s deaths and that I have been here for a week.”

   “You broke both of your legs and had a large bump on your forehead. Also, there was a piece of wood that had impaled your abdomen. We had to remove the wood and attempted to repair your broken legs. The injuries were severe.  It will be some time before we know if you will be able to stand, as the bones were badly damaged.”

   Elizabeth looked from the physician to her aunt, then to her cousin.  In their eyes she found the truth.  She could be a cripple for the rest of her life. Why did they save her life?  In her opinion, they should have allowed her to die with the rest of her family.

   “I can feel my legs, feel the pain that is there.  Are you telling me I will never be able to walk on my own again?”

   “It is possible, yet it is just as likely that you will make a full recovery.  As I said, it will take time for us to know how much damage was done.  Would you allow me to examine the wounds, to see how you are healing?”

   A nod of the head was all she could do to respond.

   Over the following hour, Mr Thompson examined the young lady with her aunt in the room.  William had left the room, giving the necessary privacy to his cousin.  As soon as the examination was concluded, William returned to the room, desiring to know what the physician had determined.

   “The incisions are healing as we would desire.  I will instruct the nurses as to the continuation of the treatments.  The forehead swelling has diminished, and the bruising is even beginning to turn colors.  I would recommend broth and tea for the next day or two, then we can begin adding other foods if she is able to tolerate. Miss Fitzwilliam, I believe your headaches will diminish over the next weeks, though you must remain lying down in the bed.  If you are elevated, you will likely experience dizziness and experience more pain.”

   Elizabeth stated her agreement to what she was told, her tears were still flowing over all that she had been told that day.

   As the physician prepared to leave the room, he requested a moment with Lady Anne in the hallway.

   Once the door was closed behind them, Mr Thompson informed her ladyship that he was concerned for her niece’s health.  “As you can imagine, Miss Fitzwilliam will suffer from melancholia. It is to be expected, though she will need assistance to keep her from giving up on life.  When she is improved, I suggest a wheeled chair that can assist her in moving about, including outside.  From what you have said, your niece is fond of nature.  It would be best to keep her spirits up. Anything you can do to improve her outlook would be necessary.”

   “We will do whatever Lizzy needs.  She is a dear girl, and we love her very much.”

   “Very good.  I believe I will remain for another week, and if Miss Fitzwilliam continues to recover, Mr Lawson will be more than capable of tending to her care.  If there are any problems, Mr Lawson can contact me.”

   “Thank you, Mr Thompson.  Your expertise has been a blessing for us.  We loss my brother, his wife and their eldest daughter.  I do not know what we would have done if we had lost Lizzy as well.”

   The physician nodded his head and made his way down the hall, to his rooms.

   Returning to the bedchamber of her niece, Lady Anne noticed her son’s concerned look.  Elizabeth had closed her eyes, but her relations knew her well, and they knew she was not sleeping.

   Lady Anne placed a gentle kiss on her niece’s cheek.  “I will have Mrs Brown send up some beef broth and tea.  Would you prefer the tea have mint?”

   A slight smile graced Elizabeth’s lip.  Without opening her eyes, Elizabeth whispered her affirmation.  “Thank you, Aunt Anne.”

   Leaving Elizabeth in the care of the nurse and overseen by William, Lady Anne made her way down the stairs.  It was late in the day, with supper approaching, and all the family had gathered in the drawing room.

   Lady Anne walked over to her husband, taking hold of his hand.  “Lizzy is awake.”

   “How is she?” Gerald Darcy inquired.

   “In pain, both of body and spirit.  William informed Lizzy of her losses.  Mr Thompson has examined her, and there are things we should do to assist her recovery.”

   Lord and Lady Matlock moved to their daughter’s side.  “Whatever is needed, we wish to do what we can for Lizzy.” Lord Matlock declared.  

   “Thank you, Father.  She will need all of us to get through the weeks ahead.  We still do not know if she will fully recover the use of her legs.”

   Lady Catherine de Bourgh stood and spoke her disapproval.  “Anne, it is not right for your son to be in the sick room of our niece.  You must speak with him and forbid him to attend Elizabeth as he has been.”

   “I will not.  William cares for Lizzy, and he is old enough to make such decisions for himself.  He is doing what he can to assist his cousin, and you have no right to make decisions for him.”

   “I most certainly do have the right, not only as his aunt, but as the mother of his future wife.  It is unseemly for him to be in the bedchambers of a young lady, even if it is his cousin.  What if rumors were to spread?  It would cause harm to my dear daughter’s future.”

   “Catherine, you know the truth, there is no arrangement between William and Anne.  I have told you many times that there is no arrangement, and I wish for my son to have a love match, such as I have been blessed to have.”

   “Love matches are for fools.  And yes, sister, I believe you to be a fool.  Your husband is wealthy, one of the wealthiest in the country, yet he has no title.  You are the daughter of an earl, and as such, should have married a man with a title.  Choosing your husband as you did has only caused harm to our family.”

   Lord Matlock was appalled at his eldest daughter’s remarks.  “I am pleased that Anne and Gerald found each other.  Their marriage is one to be emulated, whether or not there is a title.  No better man could there be than Gerald Darcy.  And their son has their blessing to marry for love, not some marriage to someone he cannot love or respect.”

   “Why would Fitzwilliam not love and respect me?” Young Anne de Bourgh demanded.  “I am beautiful and an heiress.  Rosings Park is not as big as Pemberley, but it is a fine estate and when added to Pemberley, will make us quite powerful.”

   Henry Fitzwilliam stood beside his father.  “You have been told many times that William cares for you, but only as a cousin.  He will not marry you; he has already declared he will not.”

   “What, does he intend to marry Elizabeth?  I could see him wishing to have Jane as his wife, as she was quite beautiful. But Elizabeth, she is nothing in comparison to Jane or me.  And now she will be a cripple. Who would wish to have a crippled and plain girl for a wife?”

   His granddaughter’s words made Lord Matlock’s blood boil.  He had always regarded Anne to be a spoiled, spiteful girl, but now it was clear that she would be just as unlikeable as her mother.  Lady Catherine had been just as critical of others, expecting only the best for her life.  No one could ever change her mind, which was one reason she could not find anyone to marry her until Lewis de Bourgh had offered.  Only his title had made her agree to the marriage.  And now her daughter was just as willful as Catherine.

   “As the head of the family, I am telling you that William will not be marrying you.  He does not love you and has the freedom to choose who he wishes to be his wife.  Do you understand me, Anne? I will not say it again, as I consider this conversation to put an end to your notions that he will be your husband.”

   Anne was fuming inside yet controlled her appearance.  “Yes, Grandfather.  I will not speak of it again.”

   Lady Catherine was just as angry as her daughter, though she decided it was not the time to argue with her father.  She would have to devise a way to force a marriage between her daughter and her nephew.  If all else failed, there was always ways to have Anne compromise the young man.  One way or another, Fitzwilliam Darcy would be her daughter’s future husband.

Chapter 2

            It had been five years since the fatal carriage accident which took the lives of Elizabeth’s family and left her permanently disabled.  Unfortunately, her legs had not recovered the strength needed to stand for long or walk for more than a few steps, leaving the young lady at the mercy of using a wheeled chair to move about.  That required help of someone else to move the chair, making her solitary journeys in nature impossible. 

            Most of the time, a servant would assist Elizabeth move about, unless William was home from university.  There had been a footman, Robbins, assigned to be at the young lady’s beck and call.  When he was home, William spent many hours with his cousin, discussing what he had learned in his classes and the latest books that each had been reading. When he graduated from the university, he could not wait to return to Pemberley, forgoing a grand tour of the continent to return to his family.

            Lady Anne and Gerald had kept Elizabeth at Pemberley, giving her the comfort of familiarity and loving support as she adjusted to the life that had changed for her.  It was obvious to the couple that their son had powerful feelings for his cousin, even before the carriage accident.  As they had always loved Elizabeth, the Darcys felt no reserve in their son’s closeness with their niece.

            In the time since the robbery, nothing had come of the investigation Lord Matlock and his son had begun.  The items stolen from the trunks and from the bodies of Edwin, Ethel, and Jane never surfaced. There was no information found about the men. 

            Since the day of Lord Matlock giving his granddaughter Anne a piece of his mind, the young lady had become impossible to tolerate.  She made her anger known, and she held many in her family responsible for her fury. The top of her list was Elizabeth. Anne held Elizabeth’s survival as the reason for her rebuke.  If Elizabeth had perished along with her sister, Anne felt she would have had no difficulty in securing Fitzwilliam Darcy as her husband. Everyone loved Elizabeth and saw to her needs, ignoring Anne’s desires.

            All of Anne’s life, her mother had been adamant that she deserved only the best in life. And the mother and daughter had agreed. In marriage, the heir to Pemberley was the best.  Anne determined that she would have her way, no matter what it took.

            Lord Matlock had suffered from health problems shortly after his youngest granddaughter’s seven and ten birthday.  The physicians he had seen had all agreed. The earl of Matlock had a weak heart.  He turned over many of the duties to his son, spending as much time as possible with his family at the Matlock estate. 

Wishing to spend as much time with the beloved patriarch of the family, the Darcys and Lizzy came to Matlock to stay indefinitely. This pleased Lord Matlock, as he loved to watch his children and grandchildren as they went about their daily plans. The men enjoyed fishing and hunting, riding about the estate to attend to the duties, and debating the news from the London papers when they arrived.  The females were busy each day with practicing music, painting china, and sewing many items.  There were always needs of the tenants, some clothes for the children of the tenants and staff for whom the Fitzwilliam family appreciated for all they did for the estate.  And the ladies enjoyed sewing new clothes for the children and making special gifts for the holidays.

            One evening, Lord Matlock had awakened to find Lizzy sitting on the side of his bed. After assisting her grandfather partake from a cool glass of water, Lizzy took a cloth and wiped his brow.  “Grandmamma went to sleep in her room, as she did not wish to disturb your rest.”

            “I miss when she is not next to me.  She has been the most important part of my life.  One day, you will know how it is to marry the love of your life.”

            “What man would desire a cripple for a wife?” Lizzy replied.  “I will spend my life with my family, watching my cousins marry.  Perhaps I will teach their children how to play the pianoforte very ill.”

            “No, my dear girl, you were born to have the love of a man.  There is a young man deeply in love with you.  He only needs to realize that you love him in return.”

            “Grandfather, you are speaking nonsense.  There can be no young man is in love with me.  The only young men I spend time with are my cousins and the servants.  Are you telling me that a servant is in love with me?”

            “You are well aware of whom I speak.  You only lack the confidence to tell him of your own feelings.  I insist you tell William the truth.”

            Tears welled in Lizzy’s eyes.  “I could not, Grandfather.  It would condemn him to living a pathetic life with a cripple.  And that is what William would do, as he would see it as his duty to take care of me, as my cousin would find no one else to take such a pitiful bride.”

            “What happened to you was a tragedy, but it is what you do with what life has given you that makes you the young lady you should be.  It is the beauty and strength inside that defines who you are.”

            Lizzy wiped the tears that were wetting her cheeks.  “Jane should have been the one to survive.  She was the better one, prettier and sweeter.”

            “If the Lord wished for Jane to have survived and taken you, he would have done so that day.  You, Elizabeth, survived.  You have a destiny, at William’s side. Never forget my words, Lizzy.  Just as I love your grandmother, my beloved Elizabeth, William loves you.”

            “Rest, Grandfather.  There will be time to speak when you are stronger.”

            “No, dearest.  I have no more time in this world.  My only regret is that I can no longer hold my beloved in my arms.  Heed my words, Lizzy.  Do not allow time to pass you by.” The old earl closed his eyes, and a smile graced his lips.  “Your father is coming to escort me to heaven.  Such a dutiful son, he did not wish for me to make the journey alone.”

            Lizzy watched as her cherished grandfather’s breathing became shallow, and finally, there were no further breaths taken.  All the while, the smile never left the earl’s lips.

                                                            ~~ ** ~~

An hour passed before Lady Anne came to check on her father and her niece.  She found Lizzy weeping, holding to the hand of her grandfather. Lady Anne spent a few moments before sending servants to wake the rest of the family with the news of Lord Matlock’s death.

Many would miss the earl, as he had been a fair and caring man, highly respected by his peers and those of the working class alike.

           Losing her grandfather struck Lizzy hard.  Losing her parents and her sister was difficult, yet she could not say her farewells to them, as she had been unconscious.  Seeing her grandfather made his death real and difficult for her.

            With the death of the earl, Lizzy’s concern turned to her grandmother.  The couple’s marriage had lasted for over fifty years, through all the good times and the bad.  Lady Matlock had always commented that she could not remember a time before she married.

            As Elizabeth was her grandmother’s namesake, she felt a close bond with the lady.  The family had always referred to the younger Elizabeth as Lizzy, while referring to the elder as Lady Elizabeth, Mamma, or Grandmamma. The relationship between the pair was another thorn in the side of Anne de Bourgh.  Lady Elizabeth had doted on her namesake, and Anne resented her grandmother’s choice, as Anne was the eldest of the granddaughters.  By Anne’s way of thinking, she should have been her grandmother’s favorite.  As children, Anne would often blame Jane and Lizzy for things they had not done, attempting to ruin them in Lady Elizabeth’s eyes.  Unfortunately for Anne, it did not change the elderly woman’s view of Jane and Lizzy.  Lady Elizabeth knew how her eldest granddaughter behaved and she refused to accept the lies Anne declared.

            Lady Catherine arrived the day before her father’s funeral, bringing her daughter with her.  Anne de Bourgh wore the finest silk gown in royal blue. Knowing that the family would be in mourning did not matter to Anne, she would not wear black as it did not look good on her.  And she refused to appear anything but her very best.

            William and Richard had gone to Pemberley to oversee some work being done on several tenant homes, thus they were not present when their grandfather passed.  They were to return from Pemberley the evening prior to the funeral, to bid their farewells to their grandfather.  Malcolm was already at Matlock, assisting his father, and Frederick would arrive from university sometime that day. The service filled chapel at Matlock with men who had come from near and far to pay their respects to the gentleman and his family.  After the funeral, the men would arrive at the manor house for refreshments.

            The morning of the funeral, there was only one person with whom William wished to speak.  He could not see her the night before, as she had gone to bed before Richard and he had arrived.

            He found her in her favorite room at Matlock, the sitting room that connected the master and mistress suites.  Lizzy had always enjoyed sitting in the room with her grandparents, many times learning from Lady Elizabeth on how to run a household or playing chess with her grandfather.  After the accident, Lizzy had found a connection with her grandparents that had soothed her grief.

            Lizzy was working on a handkerchief, stitching flowers along the borders.  “Your needlework has improved this last year.  Grandmother has been an excellent teacher.”

            “She has.  I am grateful for all that she has taught me.” Lizzy said as she kept her eyes focused on her work.  She could not look up at her cousin, as the young lady knew she could not control the tears that were stinging her eyes.

            “How are you, Lizzy?  Today must be difficult for you.  I know you and Grandfather were close.  Mother informed me you were at his side when he died.”

            “Yes, I was with him.  He reminded me of my father, they were so alike.  But I am glad that he did not suffer.  Grandfather spoke of my father, that Papa was waiting to welcome him to heaven.  Seeing the smile that graced his lips brought me comfort.  It appeared as if he had met someone he loved, and his spirit left with them.”

            “Most likely your parents were there, waiting for him.  He missed Uncle Edwin very much, and it would have given Grandfather great pleasure to reunite with him.”

            Lizzy smiled at the image of her father and grandfather embracing upon seeing one another.  She knew in her heart that William was correct.

            “Did you have any of the food that cook made?  Would you like me to fetch a plate for you?” William inquired.

            “I am fine, William.  Mrs Poulson sent something up for me.”

            “You did not wish to greet those who came to pay their respects?”

            Lizzy shook her head.  “No, it would be too difficult for me.  I will remain here, for when Grandmamma returns.  She will desire some company, some normalcy.  We have spent many evenings here, in this room. Grandmamma would be pleased to have some simplicity, as we usually do when in this room.”

            “And how are you, Lizzy?  Truly Lizzy, are you well?” William sat on a chair was near his cousin.  Reaching out, he took hold of one of her hands, bringing them to his lips, one at a time.  “I am concerned for you.”

            Those words broke the dam and tears flowed down Lizzy’s cheeks.  William reached to his cousin, pulling her into his embrace.  He allowed her to sob, releasing all the pain she had held inside.  As Lizzy sobbed, William whispered to her that all would be well.  Lady Anne came to speak with her niece and found the pair in each other’s arms.  She was aware of her son’s affection for his cousin, but she was not sure if Lizzy realized her feelings for William.  Not wishing to disturb them, Lady Anne silently stepped back to the hallway, closing the door quietly.  They deserved to have the privacy, if only for a moment.

            Several hours later, Lady Elizabeth entered her rooms to find William and Lizzy asleep on the sofa, with William’s arms protectively around his cousin, her head resting on his chest.  Lady Elizabeth smiled.  She had long held the hope that William and Lizzy would realize their love of one another, as her ladyship had watched the pair as they grew closer and closer.  Even her husband could see how close his grandchildren had become, and he spoke of them often with his wife.  The late earl had hoped that the pair would one day marry, as he felt they deserved the happiness of a love match.

            Realizing that time was growing late, and dinner would soon be announced, Lady Elizabeth made her presence known to the young couple.  Lady Elizabeth had stepped back into her bedchamber and called out to her namesake.

            “Lizzy, are you here, dear?”

            A drowsy Lizzy stirred slightly, causing William to open his eyes.  Though he was comfortable with Lizzy resting against him, he knew they should not be seen in such a position.

            “Lizzy, my dear, you must wake.” William said as he patted her on the back.  

            Lizzy slowly lifted her head, the fog of sleep still surrounding her.  “Forgive me, William. I did not sleep well last night. Forgive me for falling asleep on you.”

            William smiled.  “You have done nothing for which to be forgiven, Lizzy.  You needed rest, and I am pleased to bring you comfort.”

            “Lizzy, there you are.” Lady Elizabeth said as she stepped in the room from her bedchambers.  “William, I am pleased you came found our dear girl.  I have been worried about her, as she has not rested or eaten much since your grandfather’s death. You must assist me in seeing that Lizzy takes care of herself.”

            “Of course, Grandmother.  I would be a poor cousin if I were to allow Lizzy to suffer.” William said, knowing he would always look after his dearest cousin. The young man knew in his heart that he would never find another lady who would be as dear to him as Lizzy, for in his mind, she was the perfect woman.

            “How late is it, Grandmother?”

            “It is time to prepare for dinner.  William, would you be a dear and assist Lizzy to her rooms so she could dress for dinner?”

            “It would be my honor.  Lizzy, shall I help you into your chair or would you prefer I carry you?”

            Lizzy’s cheeks turned red.  “The chair, William. There is no need for you to carry me everywhere.”

            “I have no objections to carrying you everywhere you wish to go. Besides, you are as light as a feather, so there is no difficulty in such a task.”

            William lifted her from the sofa and placed her in the wheeled chair, then pushed the chair down the hall to Lizzy’s bedchamber.  He announced her entrance for her maid’s sake, and the girl came hurrying into the room from the dressing room.

            “Miss Lizzy, I have pressed your gown. You said you wished to wear the yellow gown, I believe.”

            Lizzy nodded her head.  “Thank you, Lucy.  William, thank you for your kindness in bringing me to my room.  I will see you later.”

            “Of course, my dear cousin.” William said as he bent over her hand, then gave the back of the hand a gentle kiss.

            When William left the room, Lizzy began her preparations. Lucy was young, though she was strong enough to assist her mistress to stand long enough to be dressed.  This was painful, as Lizzy’s legs remained a constant reminder of what the young lady had endured.

            After the accident, the physicians had determined that there may have been pieces of bone that had broken off and were moving around inside her limbs.  The damaged bones were not strong, and the young lady could only stand for a few moments and take a few steps on good days.  There had been talk of amputation, but Lizzy refused to think of such.  She stated that she preferred to live as she was rather than lose her legs.  Lizzy had hopes that one day there would be a physician who could help her.

            Once she had dressed and her hair beautifully coiffed, the maid pushed Lizzy in her chair to the door of her rooms.  When Lucy opened the door, she found William waiting in the hall, as expected.

            “Ah, there she is.” William smiled.  “Thank you, Lucy.  I can assist my cousin from here.”

            The maid smiled.  She knew how dear the young man was to her mistress, and his caring nature had endured him to the maid.

            “I thank you, sir.  The footmen are usually at the top of the stairs to assist with taking the chair down.”

            “That is fine.  I will carry my cousin down, and the footmen can bring the chair.”

            “If you keep this up, Robbins will have no work to do.  You love being the gallant night in shining armor, William.” Lizzy laughed. “What ever you do, no jousting with Richard.”

            “Did I hear my name called?” Richard said as he stepped in the hall from his rooms.  Seeing his cousins, Richard smiled.  “Ah, there is our Princess Lizzy. I have seen little of you since our arrival.”

            “She has better taste than to imbibe and playing billiards.”

            Richard laughed. “I am certain she would enjoy such activities.  What say you, Lizzy?”

            “It sounds dull.  Making balls strike each other to make them drop in holes sounds horribly boring.”

            “Compared to reading some book on poetry?” Richard responded.

            “Poetry is food for the soul.” Lizzy chuckled.

            “You and our cousin here share such foolish thoughts.  Did you know he carries a book of sonnets in his coat pocket?” Richard asked.

            Lizzy turned in her chair, looking at her cherished cousin.  “Truly, William?  That shows what I have known all along.”

            William was curious. “What does that prove?”

            “That you are one of best men in all of England.”

            Her words brought a smile to William’s lips, a smile which made his dimples show.  The view made William even handsomer than usual, and Lizzy had always been fond of seeing him in such a fashion.

            When William scooped her into his arms to carry her down the stairs, Lizzy could feel something different in the way she looked at her cousin. She had realized how much she loved him, loved him more than just a cousin.  Lizzy knew she loved him as one would love a husband.