Sorry for the delay in posting. Have been busy with family stuff, including losing my nearly 11 year old cat, Lizzy. She had been adopted from my first royalty check, at the same time as I adopted Darcy (my service dog). Of course she lived up to her name, as she was my obstinant headstrong girl. Lizzy and Darcy have been such important parts of my life, and I will miss Lizzy.

Chapter 11

            “Mr Darcy, a pleasure to see you again.  What brings you to my study?” Mr Bennet inquired, after offering the young man libations.

            “I wished to speak with you about Miss Elizabeth. You might not have noticed the particular attention I have paid towards your second daughter. My dearest wish was to ask her for a courtship. She is unlike any other lady I have met and my heart has been captured by her. We were just outside, and she told me that she was not your daughter. Miss Elizabeth told me of her mother, your sister in law. But when she spoke of her father, Miss Elizabeth became distraught and ran inside. What she did say was that her father’s family did not approve of her mother, and that her father was murdered.”

            Mr Bennet was shocked at all that Lizzy had divulged to the young man before him. Perhaps his mother in law was correct. “Lizzy has spoken the truth. Her willingness to speak so openly is surprising. She has not even trusted Jane with the news.”

            Darcy’s cheeks reddened as he tugged on his collar. Why does it suddenly feel as if all the air in the room has departed and I am suffocating? “I believe she felt she could trust me, and she can. I will be honest with you, Mr Bennet. Miss Elizabeth is unlike any other lady I have ever met. Not only is she the most  beautiful lady I have known, she is intelligent, kind, and has an amazing wit. In the time I have known her, Miss Elizabeth has captured my heart. If she is in danger, please allow me to aid in protecting her.”

            Mr Bennet steepled his fingers with his elbows on his desk. He had been watching the two men from Netherfield since first meeting them at the assembly. It was obvious that Bingley was infatuated with Jane, but it was Elizabeth’s hold over Darcy that had been interesting to watch. Could he entrust the gentleman with the truth? If he cared for Lizzy as he said, perhaps it would be wise to tell him, so Darcy could assist in protecting her.

            “What I am about to tell you must be kept secret. Do I have your word of honor to keep silent unless Lizzy or I tell you otherwise?”

            “Of course. You have my word.” Darcy replied, sitting up straighter in the chair.

            “Mr Darcy, my late brother in law was Duke George Augustus of Mecklenburg, younger brother of Queen Charlotte.  The reason for his death was that he had refused the hand of the niece of Emperor Joseph II. When the duke declined the arrangement, the young lady became despondent and took her own life. Her brother, Baron Frances, blamed the duke and had someone attempt to kill George on the battlefield. Men who were loyal to George smuggled him away from the continent and brought him back to England. He was listed as killed in action, allowing him and Amelia to live in peace for several years before she became with child. Their home was a small estate outside of Ramsgate. When George went to Ramsgate one day, he never came home alive. We arrived the following day, finding Amelia devastated. After giving birth, she had no will to live. Because the circumstances of George’s death were suspicious, when Amelia died, we stated that the babe had died as well. There was a name for the babe listed on the tombstone with her mother’s, though not Elizabeth’s name. It was our belief that Elizabeth could be easier to conceal this way. My wife and I remained at the cottage, with my wife’s parents. No one outside our family knew that my wife had suffered a miscarriage just prior to our making the journey, so it was no surprise that we returned from Ramsgate with a babe.”

            “You never informed Miss Elizabeth of this before now? Why?”

            “Why did we not tell her? How do you tell a child that her parents were dead, and that her father’s family would never have accepted her? We had planned to tell Lizzy everything when she turned twenty, which is November eleventh. Due to the letter we received, we were forced to tell her sooner, for her own protection.”

            “Would you permit me to read the letter?” Darcy inquired.

            Mr Bennet opened the drawer of his desk, pulling the letter from inside. “This is from one of the men who smuggled George from the continent.”

            Darcy read through the letter, then read through it a second time. “With your permission, I would like to relay this information to my parents. You may trust in their silence; my mother and father abhor gossip. I was looking forward to introducing them to Miss Elizabeth, and I know they will wish to protect her as much as I do.”

            After thinking the request over, Mr Bennet agreed. “If you would prefer, when you come this evening, I would be willing to speak with your parents. Then, if they have questions, I can answer them.”

            “Thank you, Mr Bennet. You have my word, anything that I can do to protect Miss Elizabeth will be done.”

            “We will be grateful for any assistance. Lizzy is precious to us, and the thought of losing her is painful.” Mr Bennet choked back his emotions. “Do you still wish to court her, or would you prefer to wait until you speak with your parents?”

            “As I have no doubt in their acceptance, it is my desire to court Miss Elizabeth.” Darcy said proudly. He had finally taken a step towards finding happiness for himself.

            “Very good. You have my blessing.” The master of Longbourn stood and poured two glasses of his best brandy. “One advantage of having a brother in law who owns an import business, I have a connection to procure some of the finer things in life.”

            Darcy took a sip from the glass he was handed. “This is excellent quality. You might wish to hide the bottle when you meet my father, as he will wish to procure some bottles for himself.”

            “With the war in France, it would be difficult to obtain more. Fortunately, before the war, Edwin was able to stock me with two cases. I have used caution in enjoying too much, as I know it would be difficult to replace.” Mr Bennet smiled as he sipped from his own glass. “The courtship of my dear Lizzy is worthy of a glass of this fine brandy.”

            “I noticed, when we were in the garden, that one of the footmen was watching Miss Elizabeth and myself. Is this a new situation to protect her?”

            Mr Bennet nodded his head. “We have tasked Roberts with following Lizzy when she is outside. He is the son of one of our tenants. As you might have noticed, he is large and strong. Roberts will protect our girl or die trying. His family have been tenants of Longbourn since my father was a boy. They are one of the most loyal families who are part of this estate. There is no doubt in his loyalty to Lizzy, especially after she saw to the physician and medicine for his mother last spring, when Mrs Roberts had taken ill with pneumonia. Lizzy’s kindness to those who make Longbourn what it is has made her a favorite amongst our tenants and servants.”

            Such information did not surprise Darcy. Smiling, Darcy spoke more to himself than to Mr Bennet. “She will make the perfect mistress of Pemberley one day.”

            “Already planning to marry my dear girl?” Mr Bennet teased.

            The cheeks of the younger man flashed red once again. “Courting Miss Elizabeth is only for her benefit to know me better. Everything I know of her already made me know that she is the perfect match for me.”

            Mr Bennet’s smile was wide. “She is a rare jewel, Mr Darcy. Treat her with the respect and admiration she deserves.”

            “You have my word. Now, I should collect my friend and return to Netherfield. I look forward to introducing Miss Elizabeth to my parents this evening.”

            Upon arriving at Netherfield, William went directly to speak with his parents. Fortunately, they were in the small sitting room attached to the guest rooms being used by the Darcys.

            “William, your mother and I were impressed with your friend’s estate. If the estate is kept in the same manner as the manor house and gardens, it would be the perfect estate for him to purchase.”

            “The farms and tenant homes are well kept as well. I have been impressed with the care that the steward and the owner have given to Netherfield. Many estates are ignored once the owner no longer lives there.”

            “Far too many grand estates are left to deteriorate, either from neglect or from the owners caring more for their private pleasures and wasting their income in such pursuits.” Gerald Darcy agreed with his son.

            Lady Anne could see that something was different with her son’s behavior. “William, is something wrong?”

            “No, Mother. Well, yes. But not what you might imagine. Might we have a discussion of a delicate nature?”

            “Of course. You know you may speak with us about anything.” Lady Anne stated.

            With that, William explained to his parents how he had come to be falling in love with Elizabeth Bennet and then of what he had learned that day about her past.

            To say his parents were surprised was an understatement. Lady Anne could not contain her happiness to learn of Elizabeth, as the lady had always been worried about her first born child when it came to his finding someone to love him as he had been awkwardly shy all of his life.

            “I cannot wait to meet this young lady, as it sounds as if Miss Elizabeth would be your perfect match. If she is all that you have said, I can imagine the joy you will have in your marriage.” Lady Anne was pleased.

            “She fears that, once you know the truth of her parentage, you will load me into the carriage and be off for Pemberley immediately.” William stated.

            “Nonsense. Why would I or your father disapprove of a young lady who was perfect for you? We have always told you that we wished for you, and your siblings, to marry for love. Consequences of one’s birth are not as important as what the person has done with their life.”

            After their son had explained the situation to them, Gerald Darcy spoke. “I can remember hearing of the duke’s supposed death on the continent. The queen was devastated at the news, as Duke Augustus was her dearest brother. They were close.”

            “My father was sad, as he had met the duke years ago. When Father learned that the duke had died on the battlefield, he stated that he prayed none of our relations would choose the military as his living.” Lady Anne remembered her father’s words. “When Richard decided to join the regulars, Father attempted to talk Richard from the choice. He did not wish one of his grandsons to have such a life. Henry told Father that it was no use, Richard was set on his path in life. My brother knew better than to argue with his son, as Richard only digs his heels in further when he believes himself right.”

            “Mr Bennet asked that I inform you of his willingness to answer any questions you might have.” William conveyed the message.

            “We will speak more of the subject after we meet the young lady. I wish to look into her eyes and know that she is as special as you claim.”

            William’s wide smile, showing his dimples, was difficult to miss.

Chapter 12

            “Lizzy, you must come downstairs. Mr Bingley, his aunt, and the Darcys will be arriving any moment.” Jane attempted to coax her sister from her room.

            “I cannot, Jane. Perhaps you could tell them I have a headache and am resting.” Elizabeth was desperate not to see the disappointment she was certain she would see in the faces of the Darcys.

            “No, Lizzy, I will not lie to them. You are well and need to come downstairs to meet our guests. Though I am not certain what has caused your behavior, I will not allow you to hide away up here. Come, allow me to style your hair. Some of the pins have slipped.”

            Elizabeth gave a slight laugh. “My hair repels pins. The curls fight being suppressed.”

            “You, my dearest sister, have always refused to be suppressed.  Lizzy, I pray you will tell me what has happened to cause your mood, but it will have to wait for another time. Please know that I love you and always will, no matter what you tell me.”

            Looking into the peer glass as Jane arranged her dark curls, Elizabeth sighed. “You are too good, Jane. Mr Bingley had best hurry and come to the conclusion that you are the best person in the world and marry you. When you are married, I will teach all your children to play the pianoforte poorly.”

            “With your talent, you could not play poorly if you wished to. Now, you are ready to meet Mr Darcy’s parents. I have faith in you, Lizzy. You have already won Mr Darcy’s heart, his parents will love you as well.”

            “I wish I had your confidence.” Elizabeth said as she looked up at her sister. “You are the best sister I could have ever wished for. I do not thank you enough for all you do for me.”

            “You are my dearest sister and closest friend. Anything I do for you is repaid many times over. It is time that you see what the rest of us do, as you are such a wonderful person. Come, as we do not wish to keep Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley waiting.” Jane tugged on her sister’s hand.

            The ladies arrived in the parlor moments before Mrs Hill escorted the Netherfield party to be announced. Once introductions were made, William made his way towards the sofa where Elizabeth took her seat. 

            “Miss Elizabeth, you look quite lovely this evening. The color of your gown brings out the golden flecks in your eyes.” Darcy declared as he bowed before her.

            Elizabeth could feel the heat rising on her cheeks. “Are you enjoying the visit with your parents?”

            William smiled. “I am. We are a close family. My brother and sister are in London with our aunt and uncle. Lord and Lady Matlock were to return them to Pemberley on the first of December, though things have changed and we may be spending the festive season in London.”

            “Lord and Lady Matlock?”

            “My mother’s brother, Henry Fitzwilliam, and his wife, Rebecca, the earl and countess of Matlock. I believe I have spoken of my favorite cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam. They are his parents. With their eldest son tending to the estate needs, and Richard away with his unit, Aunt Rebecca begged to have my siblings remain with them in town. She claimed it was for Georgiana’s benefit, to further her music lessons with the master my parents had hired when they were last in London.”

            “Will you not miss being at your home in Derbyshire for Christmas? My aunt told me once that it was the highlight of the season to visit the fine houses, decorated with all the holly and ivy, and yards of ribbon. She also stated that some of the estates near Lambton would have sled rides.”

            “There is nothing as beautiful to me than Christmas at Pemberley, but I will be happy wherever we are. As long as my family and those I care about are well and happy, that is all that matters.”

            After her son made the introductions, Lady Anne claimed the chair next to the sofa. “Miss Elizabeth, my son has told me he had the great pleasure in hearing you perform last week. He declared you have one of the finest voices he has had the pleasure to hear.”

            Elizabeth chuckled lightly. “Then he has either told you an untruth or he is having difficulties with his hearing.”

            “Wait until you hear her, Mother. You will agree with me.” William stated with an air of pride.

            “I have often told Jane that when she marries, I will be the aunt who teaches her children how to play poorly on the pianoforte. With your own daughter studying with a master in London, my abilities will be wanting severely.”

            “Nonsense. You can train under the finest musician in the world, and know how to play the cords, but if you do not have the music in your heart and soul, it will only be notes, not music.” Lady Anne said.

            “Exactly what I have told Lizzy for years. She might not have perfect technique, but her heart and soul are in every song she performs.” Mrs Gardiner smiled at her granddaughter.

            “Then I look forward to hearing you perform. Perhaps you will be convinced to do so tomorrow, when you join us at Netherfield.” Ethel added to the conversation.

            Mrs Hill entered to announce that supper was served, relieving Elizabeth of having to answer immediately.

            Mrs Gardiner had allowed their guests to sit where they pleased, as she was certain that the Darcys would enjoy sitting close to Elizabeth, to come to know her better. Mr Bingley and his aunt wished to occupy the seats closer to Jane. The conversation was pleasant, with the topics including books and the current situation on the continent.

            Lady Anne continued asking Elizabeth questions, including her favorite authors, composers, and even if she had a preference on the new fashions that were expected for the upcoming little season. As she expected, Elizabeth had little preference on fashion, as the younger lady preferred simplicity over high fashion. When the discussion had turned to favorite authors and subjects, the Darcys discovered the extensive intelligence of the young lady who held their son’s heart.

            When the ladies left the gentlemen to their cigars and brandy, Lady Anne took the opportunity to have a private talk with Elizabeth.

            “William informed us of your discussion earlier today. Your father authorized him to tell us the particulars of your family. Gerald and I are pleased to know you better and to see why our son has come to respect you. You, my dear, are a blessing.”

            Elizabeth felt tears pooling in her eyes. “You know about my… situation, yet you say I am a blessing?”

            “Indeed. Your parents were legally married, there is nothing scandalous about their marriage. They only wished to protect themselves and you from a murderous fiend who is filled with hatred. That is not your fault that some man you have never met is filled with rage against your true father for his decision to marry your mother.”

            The tears began to flow freely. “I doubted you would allow your son to be in the same room as someone like me.”

            “My dear, wait until you meet my family. My sister’s marriage was quite scandalous. William is unaware of many of the particulars, but needless to say, when Sir Louis de Bourgh died in a house of ill repute in London, and my father went to Rosings to inform my sister, he found her in the arms of her lover. My mother was the daughter of parson. I see no difference in the daughter of a parson and the daughter of a soldier. If I were to condemn you, I would have to condemn my own existence.”

            For the first time since she learned of her birth parents, Elizabeth felt relief. “You have no idea how grateful I am for your trust and your words.”

            Gerald and William entered the parlor to find the ladies they adored embracing, tears of comfort and relief freely streaming down their cheeks. William knew then that it was only a matter of time until he would marry Elizabeth Bennet.