Chapter 15

            Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam was well known and respected amongst the men of the 7th Dragoons, better known as The Princess Royal Dragoon guards, named such for Princess Charlotte. Though he was the second son of an earl, Richard Fitzwilliam had earned his promotions by his actions.

            Having recently returned from the continent, after suffering a wound which could have claimed his life if not treated properly, Richard was becoming restless staying at his parents’ townhouse in London. He longed to be in the country, with the ability to ride across the land on his stallion. The colonel was forbidden to mount his horse until his wound healed, as he was reminded daily by his mother. His father constantly suggested Richard visit their club, though Richard did not find enjoyment with all of his father’s friends.

            A letter arrived from his cousin. Darcy was visiting an estate leased by Bingley. What a perfect way to spend his time. Richard quickly decided that he would make the journey to Netherfield Park and spend time with his cousin. The two were more than cousins, their relationship was closer than Richard shared with his brother. It would be a balm to aid in Richard’s recovery to have a change of location, and Bingley’s estate was only four hours away by carriage.

            As Richard went in search of his parents, he overheard the loud and painful voice of his aunt. Shudders coursed through him.

            “Henry, you must do something immediately. Darcy is making a fool of himself and I will not have it. You should make the journey with me to this estate his friend has leased, make him return to London immediately. We should post the announcement of Darcy and Anne’s engagement in the papers. That would set things in motion, bring Darcy to his senses. He must do his duty to the family.”

            “Catherine, I have no sway over our nephew. If he chooses to visit his friend in the country, so be it.”

            “It is not to be borne. Our nephew is to marry Anne. We need to pressure him into doing so immediately. The longer we wait, the greater the chance he will be foolish. Obviously, this female in Hertfordshire has placed a spell on him. Most likely some sort of voodoo spell that she learned from her mother.”

            “You cannot be serious, Catherine. Our sister denied ever making such an arrangement with you. Anne wished for her son to have a loving and caring marriage, much like she and Gerald had.  She wished the same for Georgiana as well. Your daughter and William have made their opinion known on the subject. Neither wishes to be married to the other. I will not force either into a situation to which neither desires.”

            “You will stand in my way in this matter? You will be responsible for my daughter’s life being destroyed because of some chit with a reputation? The chit has been raised with all sorts of evil ways, including witchcraft. How can you not be concerned for our nephew? What will come of him if it is discovered that he is involved with such a family? Do you not see the damage it will cause our family? Georgiana’s chances of making a good match will be nonexistent if her brother is known to cavort with such people.”

            “How is it you know so much about the family with whom you claim William is involved?” Lord Matlock tried to determine the behavior of his sister. There was something the woman was not saying.

            “The Bennets of Longbourn are wicked people. They are attempting to steal the inheritance of my curate. To think, they are attempting to claim a darkie can inherit an estate in England. What they do in the islands is one thing, but coming here, expecting to be able to inherit, it is irregular and should not be allowed.  You are a member of the House of Lords. You should ensure that such unnatural things are not allowed to happen.”

            “Is the woman a slave? Is she owned by this Mr Bennet?”

            “No…why would that matter?”

            Lord Matlock shook his head. “Is this Bennet married to the woman you claim to be using voodoo? Are the children born from a marriage?”

            “How can it be legal for a heathen to marry a gentleman? Any children from such a union should be illegitimate. My curate deserves to inherit his family lands, not some beast of a child born from such disgusting and improper marriage.”

            “Times are changing, Catherine. The laws are changing in concerns to slavery. They are people, not animals. You must accept the changes and move forward, not hold to antiquated beliefs that the color of one’s skin makes the person either superior or unworthy of notice.”

            “What of our cousin? He has slaves. Remember when he visited years ago, and told us all the stories of their barbaric ways? The behavior is not human, it is not even animal. They behave as the demons they are.”

            “That is quite enough. I will have no more of this nonsense. Catherine, it is time that you return to your home and care for your daughter. Leave William alone to find who he cares for and wishes to marry. Your wishes for him to marry Anne will not come to be. Accept the truth and get on with life.”

            “If you will not assist me, I know how to act. You will rue the day that you refused to protect our family. Mark my words, Henry, you will rue the day.”

            Lady Catherine rose from her seat and marched out the door. Fortunately she had sent word to the townhouse that was part of her late husband’s properties. Lord Matlock knew he would have been frustrated if he had to contend with his sister and his wife in the same room, let alone staying under the same roof.

            Shortly after Lady Catherine left Matlock House, Richard entered the room. Lord Matlock gave his younger son a brief smile.  “You just missed your aunt’s visit.”

            “I heard her sweet voice and listened from the other side of the door. How are you? Any wounds from the arrows she flung in your direction?”

            Lord Matlock gave a slight chuckle.  “I believe physical arrows would be less painful that the verbal ones my sister flings. There are times I wonder if my parents hid some flaw in Catherine, perhaps she was dropped on her head as a babe. It baffles me that we were born of the same parents and raised similarly.”

            Richard chuckled.  “For many years, William and I wondered if Aunt Catherine had been a foundling that our grandparents took in. William swore that he overheard Aunt Catherine claiming to have been taken by gypsies when she was a child.”

            “If she had been taken by gypsies, it is obvious that they returned her because she was too difficult for them.”

            Both of the men laughed at that thought.

            “I had received word from William inviting me to visit Netherfield Park, the property being leased by Mr Bingley. It would be a pleasant diversion as I continue to recover from my injury.”

            “Indeed, go and spend time with your cousin. Leave me alone in the wilds of London with your wicked aunt at large.” Lord Matlock acted in a theatrical manner, making the two men burst into laughter.

            “All I can tell you, Father, is to keep your sword handy in case Aunt Catherine returns.”

            “Tell your cousin to use caution. If my sister uses all of her resources, she will stop at nothing to cause him problems.”

            Richard nodded his head. “If my cousin has found a young lady worthy of his attention, I will do all that I can to assist him. Aunt Catherine does not frighten me.”

            “I will be here for another fortnight before taking your mother to Ramsgate for a holiday. Georgiana is supposed to join us, though I believe she would prefer to join her brother.”

            “As I am her co guardian, perhaps it is time to exert my authority and take her with me to Netherfield.”

            “Really, Richard?” Came a soft voice from behind him. “Will you take me with you? I wish to see my brother, especially after…”

            Seeing Georgiana catch herself in what she was saying. Richard was curious as to what his young cousin was concealing. “Especially after what?”

            Looking down at the floor beneath her feet, Georgiana knew she was caught. “I wish to meet the young lady of whom William has written me. In all the letters I have received from William, he has never spoken of a lady as he does a Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn. He wrote to me two days in a row and each letter spoke of Miss Elizabeth.”

            The men looked at each other with great curiosity. Finally, Richard spoke. “Well, it seems that we both should meet this young lady who has captured your brother’s attention. I will apply to the general for leave so we might leave. As soon as he approves my leave, we can plan our assault on Netherfield Park.”

            A small squeal was heard coming from Georgiana. She rushed forward, hugging her cousin. “Thank you, Richard. Thank you so very much. I will be ready when you wish to leave.”

            The youngest Darcy rushed from the room, her excitement was hard for her to contain.

            “I would wager a bet that Georgiana could outrun any horse to get to Netherfield. That young lady is so excited, she would stop for nothing to get to her brother.”

            Richard chuckled. “She has never seen her brother in love. Neither have I, for that matter. It shall be interesting to witness.”

            “If only the lady was one of the ton. I cannot imagine what a country squire’s daughter can do for your cousin.” Lord Matlock shook his head.

            “Even if she was a scullery maid, if she truly brought William happiness and love, I will support him. You know, as well as I do, that Fitzwilliam Darcy does not care at all about society. Do not attempt to place your values on William.”

            “You are correct. Well, you had best be off to speak with the general. Otherwise, Georgiana might lose patience and speak to the man herself.”

Chapter 16

            “Good morning, Miss Elizabeth. It is a pleasure to see you again this morning.”

            Elizabeth gave a slight chuckle. “Mr Darcy, you have met me here every morning in nearly a fortnight.”

            “Indeed. It is my hope that you will accept me calling on you at your home.”

            “You and Mr Bingley visit us nearly every day, staying most days from morning until after dining with us. The only way you could call on me more is if you were to move into Longbourn.” Elizabeth’s eyebrow rose in a challenging manner.

            “If only I could find a reason for such, as Mr Bingley received word that his sisters are returning today from London.” A shudder coursed through his body.

            “Are Mr Bingley’s sisters so terrible?”

            Mr Darcy leaned against a nearby tree, “Ah, yes, you have yet to meet Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst. They are best taken in small doses. I pray that they keep to their promise to their brother and only remain in the area for a day, two at most.”

            “Do you believe they will prevent your friend from spending time with my sister?” Elizabeth asked curiously.

            “You can expect them to do just that. Before they left, Miss Bingley attempted to convince her brother to leave Netherfield. She told him all sorts of lies, wishing to encourage Bingley and myself in leaving.”

            “How terrible. As amiable as Mr Bingley is, it is difficult to imagine anyone related to him as being harsh and cruel.”

            “It is my belief that all the amiability in their family was given to Bingley and his sisters received none.”

            His statement brought forth a laugh from Elizabeth. The sound was music to his ears, pure and enchanting.

            “I should be returning to the dowager house. With all that has happened, Mamma and Papa are concerned with our safety.”

            Darcy had a peculiar look on his face. He was hiding something, Elizabeth was certain.

            “What do you know that I do not, Mr Darcy?”

            “Last week, I spoke with your father about your safety. Though you are on your father’s lands, and you have walked these paths since you were a child, after your brother’s injury and the fire, I share your parents’ concerns.”

            “What have you done, Mr Darcy?”

            “I…well…your father and I agreed on a manner to keep you safe.”

            “And…”

            “Your father accepted the use of two of my men. My father died due to an attack on his carriage. Afterwards, I hired several men that had served with my cousin in the Regulars. At least four of them travel with me. As your routine is to come here, the men are positioned along the path.”

            Elizabeth was shocked. “I have not seen anyone.”

            “You are not supposed to see them. We were only wishing to protect you.” Darcy looked down at his feet. “If anything was to happen to you, I cannot imagine my life without you.”

            His words shocked Elizabeth. She knew her heart was already attached to the gentleman, but to learn he was taking steps to protect her, it was overwhelming.

            “Mr Darcy, I am grateful for the care you have shown my family. Though I do not wish to have someone following me about on my rambles, I understand why Papa would accept such an offer. My only question is why you would wish to protect me.”

            Darcy looked up, his eyes searching hers. The flecks of gold in her brown eyes made them sparkle. He could lose himself in the depths of her eyes and never regret a moment.

            “Miss Elizabeth, though our acquaintance is of short duration, I must admit that I have come to respect you. You are unlike any other lady I have met. Most are only interested in fashions, gossip, and trying to find a husband who is wealthy. In all our talks, you have proven to be a highly educated young lady who has no difficulty in debating your opinion. Do you know how refreshing it is? You are a breath of fresh air. If you would approve, I wish to speak with your father in regards to a courtship.”

            Elizabeth could not believe what she was hearing. “Mr Darcy, you know full well of our family’s situation. Your family would never allow you to be involved with the likes of us.”

            “Miss Elizabeth, there are only a few members of my family that I care for their opinion. My sister, my cousin who is a colonel in the regulars, and to a lesser extent, my aunt and uncle. My sister, Georgiana, and my cousin, Richard, will be pleased to know you and your family. Remember, my sister has known the Coopers all her life. Richard has been many places and met people from many cultures. He is very open minded when it comes to people.”

            Tears were welling up in Elizabeth’s eyes. Could he be telling her the truth? Could he truly not care what others would think? It was all too good to be true.

            Seeing the tears threatening to overflow from her eyes, Darcy reached out a hand, gently caressing her cheek. “It would be my greatest pleasure to one day call you my wife. You have no way of knowing how perfect and amazing you are to me.”

            “No other man has ever thought me to be.”

            “For that, I am grateful. Their loss is my extreme gain. Please, Miss Elizabeth, allow me to prove to you the constancy of my feelings for you. Allow me to win your heart and your hand.”

            Her battle to keep the tears at bay was lost. As the tears flowed openly down her cheeks, she searched his eyes. In the depths of his brilliant blue orbs, Elizabeth could see the truth in his words. With the truth, came the truth of her own, that her heart had prayed for such a man.

            As a smile grew, Elizabeth nodded her head.  “Yes, Mr Darcy. I wish to know you better and would accept a courtship with you.”

            Darcy’s smile matched the one that graced her lips.

            “Miss Elizabeth, you will not regret your decision. You have my word; I will do everything possible to bring you as much joy as you have given me. It is my greatest hope that one day, you will accept my hand. Now that I have found you, my heart cannot imagine not having you in my life.”

            Though he desperately wished to claim her lips with his own, Darcy refrained. One day, hopefully soon, I will have the honor and privilege to enjoy tasting those lips. I must be patient, though it will not be easy. The only prayer I have is that the courtship will be of short duration, and an even shorter betrothal. If not, I may be driven to abducting Elizabeth and taking her to Gretna Green.

            If Darcy knew what Elizabeth’s thoughts were at that moment, he would have captured her lips until she was dizzy with pleasure. As he was staring at her luscious lips, Elizabeth’s heart was wishing for her first kiss as well.

             How I wish to know what it is like to be kissed. Having seeing one of the tenants kissing his wife when they thought no one was looking, I have always wondered how they breathed as they enjoyed taking such a pleasure. One day, I pray to be loved so soundly. Can falling in love be so simple? Or am I simply dreaming?

            “Should I speak with your father? Do you think he will approve of me to court you?”

            Returning to the man before her from the images in her mind, Elizabeth nodded her head. “Papa finds you a good man. I am certain he will approve.”

            “If he does not, I warn you, I am not beneath running away with you to Scotland.” Darcy’s voice was low and deep.

            A shiver of excitement coursed through her. Rather than being frightened, knowing that this man wished to be with her no matter the methods of obtaining his goal, gave Elizabeth an even greater appreciation of the gentleman.

            Holding out his arm to her, Darcy prepared himself to the upcoming meeting with her father.

            The pair made their way down from Oakham Mount at a leisurely pace. They spoke of the repairs being made to Longbourn’s manor house along the way.

            “Papa decided to have improvements made to the house.  He is having the drawing room enlarged, as he claims it is too small when all of us are in it together. With the twins joining us more and more, Papa wishes to have a larger room, so everyone is comfortable. He is also adding to the library.”

            “If I did not know better, I would have wondered if your father set the fire, so he would have an excuse to increase the size of the library.” Darcy teased.

            Elizabeth giggled. “I had the very same thought, Mr Darcy.”