I just finished writing the end of this story. We are about half way there in posting.
Maggie was watching as Elizabeth stood near the window of the parlor, staring out as if she was in a world of her own.
“Lizzy, what is on your mind?”
“Forgive me, Mamma, did you say something?” Elizabeth had turned not having heard what she had been asked.
“I asked what is on your mind. Are you well?”
Lizzy smiled. “Yes, I am well. I was just thinking of today’s events. Had I been just a few minutes later, the fire could have destroyed the entire house.”
“Fortunately, you were in time. Mr Darcy was kind in all his assistance. He seems to be a unique gentleman.” Maggie could see the feelings coursing through her daughter, a new experience for the strong willed Elizabeth.
“Unlike any other.” Elizabeth did not realize her thought had escaped her lips.
“What was that, Lizzy?”
Shocked from her woolgathering, Elizabeth knew she had to hide her feelings towards the young, handsome gentleman. “I was just thinking of how quickly we were able to arrive.”
“You actually road on a horse? I wish I had seen this amazing event.” Maggie smiled as her daughter looked out the window.
“Oh, well, it happened so quickly and the next moment we had arrived at the house. My feet were back on the ground before I knew what was happening.”
“You must have felt secure in Mr Darcy’s arms. The horse was huge. When your father told me what happened, I could not believe you had ridden on a horse. Perhaps you will be comfortable enough to allow your father to train you to ride on your own.”
Elizabeth’s eyes opened wide and round. “I could never ride on a horse alone. It was an emergency and… and Mr Darcy had lifted me up before I could think to struggle against his actions. Once we were able to contain the situation and all of you were removed to safety, then I thought about what had happened. His action protected you, Papa, my brothers and sisters, and all the servants. Mr Darcy deserves my praises, not my foolish frustrations.”
“Lizzy, do you find Mr Darcy attractive?”
“Mamma, how could I? I barely know Mr Darcy. His opinion is different from most people we know, so I approve of his kindness to our family. Even when he learned the truth of our family from Sir William, Mr Darcy did not turn his back on us. He told me that there is a family who are tenants of his estate who are from the Caribbean. The family has been accepted by all at the estate, which is unique. Even seeing the flames and smoke from the parlor, Mr Darcy did not hesitate in rushing inside to take command of the situation.”
“It appears you have been giving a good deal of thought to Mr Darcy.”
A blush grew on Elizabeth’s cheeks. “Forgive me, Mamma. I am being foolish. Perhaps it is his acceptance of our family that has made me think fondly of him, but I realize the truth is Mr Darcy comes from a different level of society than our family. Even if I were to wish for a friendship with him, he could never see me as anything more than an acquaintance.”
Maggie shook her head. “My dear girl, you are a beautiful young lady. Any gentleman who sees what we do is a most fortunate of men.”
“Mamma, you know as well as I do that someone like Mr Darcy cannot marry someone like me.”
“Just why would you think of something so foolish?” Maggie placed her hand gently under Elizabeth’s chin and lifted, so her daughter was looking at her rather than her feet.
“Mr Darcy comes from a wealthy family from the ton. They are part of the upper circles of society. Why would they allow him to have any sort of alliance with our family? No, as soon as he leaves here, he will forget us. We will mean nothing to him.”
From the door, a man’s voice was heard. “My dear Lizzy, you must not become as bitter with people as your foolish father. I have allowed you to believe no one will accept us, yet never allowed you to realize there are good people who would not judge our family. Mr Darcy’s family, for the most part, would be accepting. In speaking with the young man, he informed me who his father was. Gerald Darcy was known at Cambridge for his kindness to everyone, no matter who they were. Learning he is your young man’s father gives me faith in the gentleman.”
“He is not my young man, Papa.”
“I would not be so certain, my dear girl. As a man, I can see when another man has tender feelings for a young lady.”
Seeing that Elizabeth would not accept her father’s words, Maggie decided to change the topic. “What do you know of Mr Darcy’s father?”
Mr Bennet walked to the window and watched as the wind moved around one of the tree branches. After several moments, he made his way back to his ladies. “I have not spoken of this to Mr Darcy. There was an event which occurred during my third year at Cambridge. One of the boys in the class before me had returned from his summer holiday with a new servant. A slave. It was not a common situation, and there were many who found the practice of owning another human to be revolting. The man never treated the slave as if he were a human, though I must say most people would not treat an animal the way the young man did his servant. After classes one day, word spread that the young man, Frederick, had been beating the slave for spilling some of Frederick’s favorite port. Everyone hurried to where Frederick was shouting and striking the servant, over and over. The poor man was on the ground, his clothing torn, while Frederick was using a horse whip to strike him. Blood was visible on the man’s clothing, which only angered Frederick further, as he claimed the servant’s blood had peppered Frederick’s coat.”
The ladies were horrified.
“Gerald Darcy, your friend’s father, stepped forward, taking hold of Frederick’s arm and spun him around. Frederick was furious and lifted his hand to slap Gerald, only to have another student step between them. The student received the strike meant for Gerald. I learned today that the student later became Gerald’s brother in law, as Gerald married his younger sister. The student was to become Lord Henry Fitzwilliam. Lord Henry was not one to lower himself, as he was the son and heir of the earl of Matlock. But he would not allow Frederick to behave so abominably. Mr Darcy informed me today that his father passed several years ago, which is sad. The gentleman was kind and caring to those beneath him.”
“What became of the slave?” Elizabeth inquired.
“The school spoke with Frederick’s father. Due to the behavior, Cambridge expelled Frederick for fighting. His father was humiliated. He sold the servant to another family, who gave the servant his freedom.”
“They purchased the man, then set him free? That is unheard of to spend such a sum only to turn the man free. Who would be so generous?”
Mr Bennet smiled. “My uncle’s father. The servant, Wilson, was his loyal valet until Wilson died years later. Mr O’Brien had strong values on how to treat humans. It is no surprise that he would pass on the same values to his sons.”
“Aunt Edith never spoke of the event. I never met my grandfather. What was he like?” Maggie was amazed.
“Angus O’Brien was a quiet man, from what I remember. He was a large man, tall and sturdy. He never sat about and have servants care for everything. Angus was the sort to work alongside his staff and tenants. Everyone who met him respected him.”
“I can remember Aunt Edith telling me about meeting him for the first time. He made every attempt be serious and stern, with his three sons at home for the first time in a year. The eldest son, Jacob and his wife Jennifer were there, with their newborn son. Jennifer was acting as the mistress of the house, since Angus’ wife had died. She had to leave the room to deal with a problem in the kitchen, and the sons all left to discuss issues of the estate. Only Edith, the baby, and Angus were in the room. Edith thought Angus was cold and distant, so different from her Donald. When the housekeeper came to ask Edith to join Jennifer, Edith departed the room. Only steps outside the room, she could hear sounds coming from Angus. He was entertaining the babe with funny noises and silly expressions. His grandson was cooing, enjoying Angus’ behavior. That was when Edith knew Angus was pretending to be stern and cold. She loved him as her future father in law.”
“Aunt Edith enjoyed teasing her father in law. She never allowed him to fool anyone, as she knew he was one of the kindest and most loving men she knew. After her own Donald, that is. Of course, he was much like his father.” Bennet chuckled.
“From everything I have heard of Grandfather, I wish I had met him. Uncle Donald received word of his father’s death when I was only a year old. My father learned from Uncle Donald.” Maggie had not thought of her grandfather in many years.
“It is pleasing to know that your father’s family was accepting of people who were different. I think he would be proud of his family. Your parents and brother, your marriage to Papa and my siblings.” Elizabeth looked down as her thoughts were clear to her parents.
Maggie took hold of Elizabeth’s hand, giving it a light squeeze. “What I know of my grandfather, it is my belief that he would have included you and Jane amongst his great grandchildren. Blood does not make a family whole. It is the love and caring that is shared that makes family.”
Before he could step down from his horse, Darcy heard Caroline Bingley’s voice crying out his name as she hurried down the steps of the manor house.
“Miss Bingley, there is no need to cause such an uproar.” Darcy was displeased with his friend’s sister. Even more frustrating was that the woman was still at Netherfield, when she was supposed to have left that morning.
“Mr Darcy, we have been beside ourselves with fear. When you did not appear to break your fast, I demanded Charles check on you. My brother did not seem to care that his dearest friend was missing.”
“Caroline, I informed you that Darcy had sent word of where he could be found. If you had left when you were supposed to, it would not have mattered to you.”
“Leave while your dearest friend was being put upon by those wretched people who live in that estate? How could you ask such of me? You should have gone there and rescued Mr Darcy, as he would have for you.” Caroline attempted to latch on to Darcy’s arm, though the gentleman moved to avoid her.
“There was nothing to fear, Miss Bingley. As I wrote in the note to your brother, I was assisting the Bennet family, as someone set a fire in their house.”
“Serves them right, attempting to force their unnatural ways on innocent people of the area. From what I have been told, Mrs Bennet is from the Caribbean and practices voodoo. Most likely she put some sort of spell on Mr Bennet, tricking him into marrying her.”
Darcy’s glare would have silenced anyone else. “How dare you make such an accusation against the Bennet family? You have no right to spew your ridiculous notions. The Bennets are decent people who have been treated poorly simply for Mrs Bennet’s skin color. Her father was a British citizen, the second son of a country squire. By all rights, with her father, uncles, grandfather all a part of the landed gentry, and she is married to a gentleman, by all rights, Mrs Bennet is a gentlewoman. That places her higher than you in society.”
“But who was her mother? From what I have been told, her mother was a slave. She was not even fit to be a servant.”
“That is where you are mistaken. Mrs Bennet’s mother was kidnapped from her homeland, taken to the island to be sold into slavery. When Mrs Bennet’s father purchased the estate where they met, he freed all the slaves who lived there. As did his brother who purchased another estate nearby. Mrs Bennet’s uncle, Mr Donald O’Brien, was married to Mr Bennet’s aunt.”
“Still, she is penniless and only married Mr Bennet to be taken care of by a gentleman, so she would not be forced to work.” Caroline was spouting all the foolishness she had learned from her maid.
“Shows how little you know, Miss Bingley. From what I learned today, from Mr Bennet, his wife is wealthy by her own rights. The late Mrs O’Brien divided her fortune between her nephew and her husband’s niece. The current Mrs Bennet had assisted in the care of Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth, who were the daughters of Mr Bennet’s first wife. She died in childbirth.”
“See, the woman used her voodoo to place a spell on the woman whom she planned to usurp. It is best that we leave immediately. Charles, you need to return to London, as it is not safe to remain here.”
“Caroline, I am remaining here at Netherfield. You, on the other hand will be making the journey to our aunt’s home in Scarborough. Now that you have seen for yourself that Darcy is safe, you will be leaving immediately.” Bingley stood up against his sister for what was one of the first times.
“We cannot possibly leave today. It is too late to make the first inn. Besides, you cannot remain here without us.” Caroline spoke to her brother as if he were a small child.
“You are not in charge of my decisions, Caroline. Your trunks are loaded and the carriage has been waiting for you to enter. Louisa, Hurst, the carriage awaits you.” Bingley called out to his eldest sister and her husband.
The Hursts found the situation to be awkward. It was highly unique to see Bingley stand his ground against Caroline, yet they were aware that the journey to deliver their sister would be miserable. Whenever Caroline Bingley did not get her way, she unleashed her anger on her siblings. To see Charles not give in to his sister was a miracle.
“I will not leave, as I have already informed you. If you would step out of the way, I wish to rest. This morning has caused me so much anguish as to cause me a headache.” Caroline attempted to push past her brother, to no avail.
The next thing Miss Bingley knew, two footmen stepped to either of her sides, taking ahold of her arms, and lifted her from the ground. The footmen then walked to the carriage, plopping her inside on one of the benches. Once she had recovered from the shock, the language which escaped her lips was enough to make a courtesan blush. The Hursts entered the carriage hesitantly, and were soon making the journey from the drive in front of the manor house.
“Perhaps I should have given Louisa and Hurst some cotton for their ears. The torture they will endure will be extreme.” Bingley stated.
“Charles Bingley, I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of you. After watching your sister take advantage of you all these years, I had feared you ever standing on your own.”
Bingley’s chest puffed up with the compliment. “Now, tell me what happened at Longbourn. Was anyone injured?”
“Fortunately, the only one injured was the second son of Mr Bennet. He had taken his younger brother and sister outside while we inspected the damage to the house. Someone was in hiding and took a shot at the younger children and their brother stepped in a manner to protect them. His wound is not serious, thank the Lord. The damage to the house was not as bad as it could have been, thanks to Miss Elizabeth. She had been on top of a hill on her father’s property and saw the smoke coming from her home. My horse gave us the advantage of arriving at the manor house before the flames grew worse. While I worked with servants to put out the fire, Miss Elizabeth went to locate each of her family members were safe. Another five minutes and everything would have been far worse, and most likely would have taken lives of the family and their servants.”
“Thank God you were there to aid the Bennets. The thought of Miss Bennet being harmed, I could not imagine anything worse.” Bingley shook his head as he spoke.
“I thought to take a bath to get the smell of the fire from my person.”
“Of course. Would you like a tray of food and drink brought to you while you wait for the water to be heated?”
Darcy smiled at his friend. “Thank you, Bingley. I will accept your offer. Now, if you will excuse me.”
“Will you be visiting Longbourn later today?” Bingley looked hopeful.
“It is my plan. I would like to see how the room appears after the servants removed the damaged areas.”
“Then I will plan to accompany you.” Bingley turned to walk away, then thought of something else he wished to know.”
“Miss Bennet’s stepmother is dark skinned?”
“Her mother is from a black mother and white father. Her skin is darker than ours, though not as dark as her mother’s family who had been taken as slaves. Miss Bennet’s brothers and youngest sister are a quarter black and three quarters white, and, to be honest, looked as if they had spent more time outdoors and became tanned.”
“What do I say to them?”
Darcy frowned. “To Mrs Bennet and the children?”
His friend nodded his head.
“Bingley, they are British, they speak the same language we do, they are educated. You speak to them as you would anyone else here in England. The children were born and raised at their father’s estate. Mrs Bennet’s father was British, and she was taught as if she were a gentlewoman. Just because they have darker skin does not mean they are savages or animals.”
“Forgive me, Darce, I have never been around anyone of dark skin.”
“Next time you visit me at Pemberley, you should meet the Cooper family. After meeting them, you will realize that they are people, just like you and me. They do not deserve to be treated as they have been, as they are simply humans like you and I. All they want is the same as you do; to be loved, cared for, have a comfortable home, food on the table, family about them. Is that only available to those of us who have light skin color? There are many who consider them to be like livestock.”
“I am sorry, my friend. I am being foolish.”
“Do you remember hearing of the Zong massacre? The captain and crew murdered most of the slaves for no purpose other than they could collect insurance they had taken out on the slaves. The claims of not enough water were nonsense. It was proven that they had water and had gone past several places they could have stopped for more water. But the slaves they were hauling were worth more dead from the insurance. At least that is what those in charge believed. When the truth came out, everything changed.”
“To think of those poor people being tossed into the ocean to die is devastating. I can remember my sisters speaking of it once, and Caroline was vulgar in her words. No one deserves to be murdered.”
“If I were you, I would suggest keeping your mind open when you meet the Bennet family. Treat them as you would anyone else.”
Bingley nodded his head. “You have my word.”