Chapter 11

            Caroline had waited patiently for the house to settle and the occupants to be in their beds long enough to be sleeping. Sneaking quietly from her rooms, she made her way into the servant’s corridor in the guest wing.  She had discovered which door led into William’s bedchambers and carefully opened the door. Quietly, she entered the room. Seeing the dark head poking out from under the bedding, Caroline was certain the gentleman was asleep.

            Dropping her dressing gown, Caroline slipped her naked body under the bedding. Soon she was curled behind the warm body, draping an arm over it.

            Suddenly, the body turned. “Miss Bingley, what in heaven’s name are you doing in my bed?”

            Lizzy found it difficult not to laugh at the expression on Miss Bingley’s face.

            “What are you doing in this bed? This is Mr Darcy’s bedchamber.”

            “That is even worse, as why would you come to my fiancé’s bedchambers and climb in his bed, without a stitch of clothes?” Lizzy stared at the red-haired hussy while pulling out a bell, which Lizzy began ringing loudly.

            The door to the adjoining room opened, and three people entered the room. Fitzwilliam Darcy and his parents came to foot of the bed.

            “My love, you were correct. She could not resist making a fool of herself.” William gave his betrothed a grateful smile.

            “Miss Bingley, what are you doing in this bed?” Lady Anne’s eyebrow raised as she spoke. Glancing at the floor beside the bed, her ladyship discovered the dressing gown. “Am I to assume you are wearing nothing?”

            “Mr Darcy… he invited me…he wished to…he wished to have me join him.”

            “I would never wish for you to be in my bed. There is only one woman I want beside me at all times, and I am marrying her. Lizzy is worth a thousand trollops such as you. When we heard the bell, we sent a servant to wake your brother. It is up to him to decide your fate.” William stated disgustedly.

            A knock on the door from the hall announced Bingley’s arrival. Gerald opened the door and welcomed the young man.

            “So, my sister made a fool of herself.”

            “Indeed. Note the abandoned dressing gown on the floor.” William said.

            It mortified Caroline for so many people to be in the room, and she was wearing nothing. She could not escape from the room, wearing nothing but shame. What was she to do?

            “Charles, these people have taken advantage of me. You must send them away immediately.”

            “The only one being sent away will be you, Caroline. You will be packed off to London, then onto the ship for the continent. If you do not marry Viscount Taaffe, our family will abandon you, cut from all polite society. I knew you to be foolish, though this exceeds what I had even thought possible. If you remain in England, everyone you know will cut you.”

            “That is not fair, Charles. I wish to marry a man who has wealth and connections. Franz has neither.”

            “You had best come to terms with the fact that he is your future. As you have a difficult not overspending your allowance, you would be wise to learn how to economize. There will be no extra paid to cover your overspending.”

            “Can we not speak of this once I am away from this room? There is much of which to speak, and we should have Louisa and Hurst give their opinion.”

            Charles turned to his guests. “If you would be so kind as to step in the next room, I will see my sister returned to her bedchamber. Have no fear, I will have her guarded for the remaining time Caroline is in this house.”

            “Of course, Bingley.” William said, stepping closer to the side of the bed where Lizzy had scooted to the edge. He assisted Lizzy in standing before he scooped her into his arms. “I am grateful you are unharmed, my love.”

            Caroline could not control her anger. She rose from the bed, forgetting her situation. “What is so wonderful about her? She is a cripple, no one of consequences. You could have me as your wife. I would be the perfect mistress of your home. We would be the talk of society and everyone would beg for us to attend their events each season. You must see that I would be better than this chit as your wife.”

            Without turning towards Caroline, William responded. “You are not fit to be my wife. Lizzy is the kindest young lady I know. Her knowledge makes her fit to aid me as my wife, to decide for our home, the people who work for us and the tenants who work the land. Lizzy is the love of my life. You see marriage as a business deal. I wish for a marriage like my parents’, filled with love and admiration. Everything about you makes me ill.  No, Miss Bingley, I want nothing to do with you ever again. You will not be welcome at any of our homes, even if your brother is a guest. Even if you had crawled into my bed, I would never have made an offer to you. Lizzy is superior to you in every way. Farewell, Miss Bingley. My family will never acknowledge you again.”

            William carried Lizzy to her room, placing her on her bed. Without thinking, the gentleman moved to the other side of the bed and climbed on top. Moving to Lizzy’s side, William snuggled up next to her, draping an arm over to hold her close to his chest.

            “My love, I only wish to remain here to watch over you. We are betrothed, and you have my word that nothing untoward will happen. While Miss Bingley is in this house, even under guard, I will not rest properly.”

            “You have my trust, William. Fear not, all will be well.” Lizzy placed a hand on his chest. “I am grateful that our plan worked. The surprised look on Miss Bingley’s face was priceless. There were enough witnesses to what she did. She will be ruined if we speak of her behavior.”

            “Let us speak no more of Miss Bingley. My only thoughts are for you. You are well, are you not? I worried for your safety, if that harpy had harmed you…”

            “Shhh, no more talk of her. I am unharmed, Now we can move forward.”

            “I am grateful Bingley agreed with us remaining here while they sew your trousseau. Have you decided where to have the wedding?”

            “It would best be at Pemberley. Then we are free of unwanted guests when we are at Wilton Hall.” Lizzy giggled lightly.

            “Unwanted guests? I must remember to inform Mother you referred to her and Father as unwanted guests.”

            “Do you want to have your parents in the same house with us after we wed? If so, it may be wise for me to rethink this marriage.”

            “No, my love, I do not want anyone, friend or foe, to be underfoot when we arrive at Wilton. Will you write to Mr Lawrence to have the house prepared?”

            “To him and to Mrs Carlton. I do not believe using my suite of rooms from my maidenhood would be an appropriate start for our marriage. Mrs Carlton will see to Mamma’s and Papa’s belongings removed from the master and mistress suites. She could place their items in one of the other rooms, and we could sort through everything when we are there. I will want to save some of their belongings, and some from Jane. Then we can donate some items, and we can place others in trunks for storage. As much as I feel my family’s presence in our home, we must move forward with life.”

            William understood the momentous decision his betrothed was making. She had never desired to put the possessions of her late family anywhere other than where those she loved had left them. 

            “If you would rather wait to go through the rooms after we are there, I will be at your side. We can use one of the other suites of rooms.”

            “No, it is best to have Mrs Carlton clear the rooms. If left for me, the task would never happen. I would find something that reminded me of my parents and it would thwart all work. If Mrs Carlton clears the rooms, we can enjoy our privacy and work on sorting the items at our leisure. The rooms need airing out and a good cleaning.”

            “It will be my pleasure to be at your command, my dearest love. Will we have the rooms refreshed?”

            Lizzy nodded her head. “I believe we should use the master’s suite and have the mistress’ rooms painted and furniture exchanged for pieces I prefer. Once completed with the mistress’ rooms, we can move into those rooms while the master’s rooms are refreshed.”

            “It will be our home, fresh for us. Your parents would approve.”

            “I pray they do. They are likely thrilled that you will be my husband. The last thing I discussed with Mamma was a letter that Anne sent to Jane, attempting to frighten my sister from even looking at you.”

            “Jane was a pretty young lady, but she could not hold a candle to you. You are beauty and intelligence combined. Your sister could not hold a candle to you, my dearest, loveliest Lizzy.”

            Lizzy smiled. Placing a kiss on the tip of his nose, Lizzy took pleasure in seeing him blush. “You speak the sweetest words, Will. I do not know that I believe you, though it is pleasant to hear them.”

            “Would I lie to you? You have wounded me, Lizzy. I demand satisfaction.” William announced as he tickled her rib cage. The pair laughed openly as they continued their game.

            Down the hall, Bingley was giving orders to his footmen to keep watch over his sister, ensuring she remained in her bedchamber until he returned to release her for her journey back to London.

            Once securing his sister, Bingley knocked on the door of the suite of rooms used by Louisa and Hurst. They were not shocked to learn of Caroline’s behavior, the desperation that she had for marrying Darcy was obvious.  Louisa had a hard time keeping from laughing at the thought of her sister crawling into the bed with Lizzy in it rather than Darcy. She hoped Caroline would learn her lesson from this foolishness, though none truly believed Caroline would ever learn from her mistakes.

            “I do not wish to make the journey to Austria.” Louisa announced. “We have not told you, Charles, but you will be an uncle next year. Just the thought of sailing to the continent makes me ill. Besides, it is time Caroline accepted the truth. For years, I have desired a life with my husband, and not have my sister always with me.  We cannot even visit Gilbert’s family when Caroline is with us, as she infuriates his mother.”

            Gilbert Hurst laughed. “Louisa, I have been waiting for years for you to realize Caroline is a thorn in your side. You have made me the happiest of men tonight.”

            Louisa blushed.

            Bingley explained his plans for the following afternoon, after their aunt arrived. The entire family would confront Caroline on a united front. Then everyone returned to their beds, as they would require clear heads to deal with her.

Chapter 12

            He made his way to the innkeeper, who sat behind the counter. “Is there a letter for me?” the man inquired.

            The innkeeper nodded his head. “Just arrived.” He stated as he turned to the box behind him, pulling out a letter and handing it to the man. “Will you be staying here much longer?”

            “I will know after I read this letter.”

            “Of course. My wife has a mutton stew planned for dinner tonight. Will you be dining in your room or in the dining room?”

            “Tonight, I will take my meal in the dining room.”

            “Very good.”

            The man made his way up the stairs and down the hall, entering his room. Only then did he break the seal on the letter and open it.

She is in Hertfordshire. Near Meryton. Staying at Netherfield Park. Finish what begun years ago, or I will see you punished for failing me.

            “Looks like I will make my way to Hertfordshire soon. But I will need to devise a plan before journeying there. Once there, I will need to remain hidden, as I do not wish those who know me to see me.”

            Taking out a piece of parchment and writing supplies, the man wrote a letter, addressing it to a man in London. He hoped his friend could accompany him to Hertfordshire.

                                                            ~~ ** ~~

            The Darcys and Fitzwilliams remained in their wing of Netherfield until after Bingley came to inform them of his sister’s removal from his home.

            “Caroline could not understand why I was furious with her. She stated repeatedly that her actions were for the best for our family. If she married you, we would be brothers. That was her key point. Her fury grew when she was told they would send her to the continent alone, as Louisa and Hurst will remain here. The notion never crossed her mind that she would be alone. Our parents spoiled Caroline, giving in to her every demand. My aunt could not make Caroline see reason.”

            “Forgive me, Mr Bingley, but your sister did this all on her own. Refusing to accept the truth and only thinking of her own desires is selfish. I am grateful that we stopped her before she could cause harm to my grandchildren.” Lady Elizabeth stated.

            “I would never have forced a marriage between Caroline and my friend. Darcy has been too good to me over the years, and I could not repay his kindness with misery. For that is all my sister would have brought him, misery.”

            “Your sister will never be happy.” Lizzy suggested. “Unless she had been born into the royal family, it would never satisfy Miss Bingley. She believes herself to be superior to everyone.”

            “She will soon be on the continent and married to Viscount Taaffe. I am grateful for all of you being so gracious after Caroline’s foolishness. Though I am furious with her, she is my sister. I will always care about her, just not approve of her behavior.”

            “Your aunt has arrived? Does she require rest before we meet her?” Lady Anne asked.

            “She is well and looks forward to meeting all of you. Aunt Agatha is speaking with Mrs Norris and Louisa. If you are willing, my aunt has stated a late tea would be pleasant, in the drawing room.”

            “We would be pleased to join your family.” Lady Elizabeth said. “Now, since Miss Bingley has left, we are free to leave our rooms.”

            Bingley was ashamed. “I wish there was a way to make up for the inconvenience my sister has caused.”

            Lady Anne reached out a hand, placing it gently on his arm. “Mr Bingley, there is no need to fret. We understand, as my sister is difficult, and we have had words over the years. I rarely see her and ignore most of what she writes to me.”

            “Your sister has not had the years of believing she is superior to everyone that my daughter has. Catherine is difficult on a good day.” Lady Elizabeth chuckled.

            “I have spoken with my aunt of your staying here a fortnight longer than expected, and she is pleased to have time to know you all better.” Bingley replied. “Aunt Agatha thought we should invite the Bennets to dine with us by the end of the week.”

            “It would be a pleasure to see the Bennets again. They seem to be a good people.” Lady Anne declared, knowing that Bingley had one particular Bennet on his mind.                  

            The glazed look worn by their host confirmed the mistress of Pemberley’s belief.

            Later, Bingley introduced his aunt to his guests. She impressed the Darcys and Fitzwilliams, as she was nothing like her niece. Miss Agatha Bingley was accustomed to work, as she kept a small house and only one servant.

            Agatha Bingley had been furious when she learned of her niece’s behavior the previous night, and she was not afraid to speak her mind to Caroline.

            “What could you have been thinking? Your parents taught you better manners than you have displayed, yet will disgrace yourself by climbing into a bed of which you believed was a gentleman’s. Even worse, you wore not a stitch of clothes.”

            “You do not understand. I am the perfect match for Mr Darcy. Charles and Louisa will not assist me in proving to the gentleman that I would be a better mistress of his home than his cousin ever could.”

            “No, you do not understand, Caroline. Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy has no desire to marry you. With all your claims of superiority, you behaved no better than a harlot, willing to use your body to claim a reward. You are engaged to marry a viscount, yet you behave in such a manner that any honorable man would find repulsive. From what your brother has told me of his friend, Mr Darcy is an honorable man. He is in love with Miss Fitzwilliam, not with you. Not everyone marries for wealth and connections, some people wed for love.”

            “What would you know of love or marriage? You are a spinster. I would rather die than to become a spinster.” Caroline shouted.

            Agatha leaned closer to her niece, a menacing look taking hold. “I know enough to know I would never lower myself to act like a whore. You might not know, but I was engaged when I was younger. My betrothed was a wonderful young man who I loved dearly. He went to sea on a ship bound to India, and the ship was lost in a storm. There were no survivors. I lost the love of my life. As I became financially secure along with my brothers, I decided I did not wish for another man to take Robert’s place in my heart. So, do not tell me I know nothing about love or marriage. You are the one who knows nothing about loving a man.”

            Caroline had slunk back in her chair to distance herself from her aunt as the elder woman spoke. She had never cared about her aunt, as Caroline’s mother had always declared Agatha to be a disgrace to the family for not marrying.

            “I deserve to marry well. Mother always told me I would marry a man of wealth and connection, taking my place in society.”

            “Then marry the viscount. You would also gain a title.”

            “Charles told you of the viscount’s lack of a fortune. Taaffe would use my dowry to better his life.” Caroline’s bitterness was obvious.

            “Why is that any worse than you wishing to better your life by using him? There are many men who marry for wealth and connections. Second sons do it all the time. Why would you disregard a gentleman on the simple basis that he needs funds? Do you know how many in the gentry have debts that they cannot cover? How many dukes, earls, viscounts, and country squires are in debts, many from years of living indulgently, gambling and spending time with whores.”

            “The Darcys are wealthy, and they well connected to society.”

            Agatha shook her head. “From what Charles has told me, the Darcys and Fitzwilliams are not fond of society. Rather than visiting the modiste of choice by the ton, they wish to remain here while the local dressmaker creates Miss Fitzwilliam’s trousseau. They do not prefer London and all society’s events. No, they wish for a calm life in the country. Their homes prefer comfort over appearance, from what your brother has stated. You would never be happy in such a marriage.”

            “My husband could remain at his estate while I visited London. With the name Darcy, I could attend any of society’s events.”

            “Do you not see that you could do the same with the viscount? Marry him, live in London if you wish.”

            “We could not afford a home in London. Charles and Louisa have declared I am no longer welcome in any of their homes, so I could not stay with them.”

            “Do you blame them? After all you have done, can you not understand why they would wash their hands of you? We should punish such disgraceful behavior.”

            Caroline struggled against the tears stinging her eyes. “If I were to marry Taaffe, it would force me to remain in Austria, at his estate. Me, Caroline Bingley, forced to be mistress of a country estate, one that is smaller than Netherfield. No, I cannot accept such a fate for myself.”

            “If you do not, you will live the life you despise in me. It will force you to make your own establishment, and it will not be in the finest neighborhoods of London. No one will invite you to the grand events you wish to attend and would lack in the number of servants you will have in your home. No carriage, no shopping for the latest fashions. You will need to conserve your money for your food and care of your home. Which would be better, living comfortably at an estate in Austria with a husband and future children, or live alone in a small home in London?”

            Caroline’s defiance gave way. “I will move to Austria.”