Here are the next chapters of the story. Hope you are all enjoying spring, which is my favorite season of the year. Growing up in a farming community, it was always a time of rebirth and renew.
“I must know if the child survived.”
“The midwife said the child was alive when she left after the birth.”
“The child’s name was on the headstone?”
“It was. A girl. The name on the headstone was Amy Rose. The undertaker said that the girl was buried with the mother, in the same casket.”
“But we have no proof that she died.”
“Not unless we were to dig up the casket and look inside.”
“Then do so. If the child survived, I want her brought here. My sister should have been the child’s mother, but the duke took that from her. The girl would be my niece if he had been honorable and married my sister, as my uncle offered to the duke. How dare he refuse the offer of the Emperor? No, the duke robbed me of my niece, marrying a British nobody. He attempted to hide the truth of his life in England, but he was not swift enough. The whore he married carried the child who should have been my niece. If the child survived, the whore’s family has denied me what is rightfully mine.”
“If the girl survived, she would be nearly twenty now. What if she is married?”
“It matters not. The girl should be here, being raised as my niece would have been.”
“Of course. I will send the men to Ramsgate to dig up the grave. If there are no remains for the infant, I will have them investigate where the family of the duke’s wife are.”
“She was not his true wife. Never refer to that whore as his wife. My sister was to be his wife and no other.”
“Pardon me, sir. I will have the men investigate where the whore’s family live.”
“The girl should be named for my sister. Maria Sophia. When she is found, she must know her name is Maria Sophia. Inform your men.”
“Yes. I will inform the men.”
“Off with you. Tell the men I wish to know soon.”
As his servant left, Baron Frances opened the drawer of his desk, removing a small portrait of a young lady from inside. “My dear sister, I will see that the daughter who should have been yours is brought here. She should have been raised with our family, as she would have had the duke been honorable and married you. Fear not, my dear sister, I will see that the duke’s atrocious behavior is repaid. If only we had known at the time that he finally died, we could have raised the child properly. No matter, we will see that she never forgets the mother that should have been hers.”
Placing the portrait on the desktop, Baron Frances stood and walked to the sideboard, lifting the decanter and pouring a glass of port. Taking a long drink, the baron returned to his desk. It had been a surprise when he learned of Duke George Augustus’ betrayal. Who would dare deny the request of the Emperor? The baron’s sister was beautiful and would have been a loving mother. She had been robbed of this life, all because the duke of Mecklenburg decided to deny her.
~~ ** ~~
The day after the dinner at Netherfield found William and Elizabeth meeting near the path to Oakham Mount. A motion of acknowledgement to the footman was made before William offered his arm to the young lady. Elizabeth noticed a change in the young man she knew she loved, which caused her to fear he would decide it was too difficult to have a relationship with her. How would her heart survive losing him?
When they reached the top of Oakham Mount, William walked close to the far edge, appearing as if there was something he wished to discuss with her.
As he did not speak for several moments, Elizabeth stepped beside him. “You do not need to speak the words. I can guess what is on your mind. It is best if we would part as friends. It was beyond belief when you declared that my family was not an obstacle to you.”
William turned, not understanding what she was saying. “Forgive me, what are you saying?”
“There is no need to worry, I will not speak of our having been in a courtship.” Elizabeth turned away, her emotions becoming too difficult for her to contain.
“No, dearest, you are wrong. Well, I do wish for our courtship to be over, so that I might request the honor of your hand as my wife.”
Shocked by his words, Elizabeth turned back to him, unable to believe what he had said. “What did you just say?”
Reaching into his pocket, he brought forth a handkerchief. Using the cloth, he gently dabbed at the tears which had escaped and streamed down her cheeks.
“I believe I said that I wished for the courtship to be over, as I wish to make you my wife.”
“No, you cannot say such, as it is too difficult to let you go. More than anything, I dream of my life with you. But my family situation is too complicated for me to accept. How can I expect anyone else to understand?”
“Elizabeth, my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth, I care nothing about your family. I am in love, for the first time in my life. My world would be empty if I did not have you at my side. Please, my love, make me the happiest of men and accept my hand in marriage.”
Afraid she was dreaming, Elizabeth closed her eyes and pinched herself on the upper arm. When she opened her eyes to find everything the same, with the slight difference that he had reached inside his coat pocket and pulled out a small velvet bag. Her eyes grew round as saucers as she looked at him. Suddenly, Elizabeth reacted, throwing her arms up and around his neck as she nodded her head.
William’s eyes danced with joy at the fact that Elizabeth was in his arms, embracing him. “Is that a yes?”
“Yes, yes, yes. Yes for eternity.” She responded.
Unable to contain his joy, William held his beloved in his arms, tightly to his chest, as he spun her about. “You have made me the most fortunate man in the world.” He could not help himself as his lips came down to claim hers.
Elizabeth had never felt the love that now surrounded her, bringing a comfort of which she had not known. Though she had always been loved by her family, this was as if William’s love was draped around her like a cloak.
Breathless, the couple separated, yet their arms were still wrapped around each other. “If this is any indication of our future together, I believe it is I who will be the most fortunate.” Elizabeth smiled as she tilted her head to be able to look up, enjoying the view of the man who would be her husband.
“We must speak with your father, though I feel confident that he will give us his blessing.”
“Will you break your fast with us?” Elizabeth inquired.
“I must return to Netherfield after I speak with your father. My parents will be pleased with the news.” William placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.
“While you speak with Papa, I should take a moment to speak with Jane. She knows something has happened, though she has not been told the details.”
“If you wish for me to be with you when you speak, you only need to say the word.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Thank you, my dear, but it is for me to speak with Jane. Though I know she is not my sister by birth, she is my cousin and I could not love her more than I already do.”
They made their way towards Longbourn, slowly, as they forgot the world around them. The walk was also slowed due to the overwhelming need to explore each other’s lips frequently.
Mrs Gardiner was pleased to spend time with Lady Anne the morning after the dinner at Netherfield. Lady Anne wished to know more about Elizabeth and Amelia, approving of the young lady who had won her son’s heart. As those in their family knew, her ladyship had long desired seeing her son happily married and to have grandchildren. The two ladies spent time telling stories about their loved ones, pleased to see that Elizabeth and William were well matched.
“Please do not think me rude, Mrs Gardiner, but would you be willing to allow Elizabeth to come to London with us in the near future? Or we could host your family at Darcy House, as the townhouse has plenty of room for your family and more. Do not misunderstand, we have not decided when we will make our way to town, and to be honest, we are enjoying our stay at Netherfield. Knowing your family better has been so pleasant, and Mr Bingley has been the perfect host. His aunt is all that is lovely as a hostess. But I would love to attend the theater and some musical performances, not to mention take her shopping for new gowns. As I am certain the direction the courtship will make your granddaughter a part of the Darcy family, I wish for her to feel comfortable when we attend performances.”
“We offered to take her to town to order gowns made, as my son lives in London with his family. My granddaughter is adamant that she purchases her gowns from Mrs Twiddleton in Meryton. Margaret Twiddleton has been making Lizzy’s gowns since she came out, and she knows Lizzy’s preferences. I know the current preference for the sort of shape the young ladies should be, according to society, is figures like Jane’s.”
“Yet Elizabeth has the sort of figure that every dressmaker dreams of creating gowns for and every man wishes for his wife.” Lady Anne laughed as she spoke. “I can understand the comfort of having someone familiar with one’s tastes designing a young lady’s wardrobe. Usually, I have my gowns made by the dressmaker in Lambton. Occasionally I will have gowns made by the modiste in London, if we are planning to attend the season.”
“My son imports items from all over the world. Mrs Twiddleton has enjoyed making a trip once every other month to London to visit his warehouse. Edwin gives her good prices, as he has known her all her life. Our family has been in Meryton or the area for several generations.”
“What is the name of his business?”
“Gardiner Imports. His warehouse is near Cheapside.”
“I will have to remember to visit there when we are in town. Did this delicious blend of tea come from his warehouse?”
Mrs Gardiner nodded her head with pleasure. “Edwin sees to some little luxuries for me. The blend comes from India. It is my favorite.”
“It is one of the finest I have enjoyed in a long time. I must send word to our housekeeper in London and have her purchase some.”
“Have her inform my son that she is your housekeeper. I will send Edwin a letter, so he is aware of the blend you wish.”
“From your words, I assume he has other blends as well?”
“Last I heard from him, he had just received a shipment from China. Between what he had from India, South America, and even the continent, he has a large assortment of teas.” Mrs Gardiner smiled. “If you are remaining at Netherfield for some time, I will ask him to send some samples and we could have a tasting.”
“What an excellent idea. I would enjoy that immensely.” Lady Anne was enjoying coming to know Elizabeth’s grandmother.
“Do not think me impertinent, but does your family have any objections to my granddaughter? With all she has learned, it would pain me to see her hopes rise only to have them dashed because she cannot be accepted for who her family is.”
Lady Anne shook her head. “I find nothing wanting in your dear girl. She is delightful and we already consider her as part of the family. William has already lost his heart to her, and, if I am not mistaken, she has lost hers to him. My only desire is for him to propose to her so I can officially declare her my future daughter.”
“I believe you are correct, though it would be understandable if you felt it was all too soon.”
“One thing I learned years ago about my son is when William makes a decision, he does so with his heart and his head. Does not matter if it comes from a day, a month, or a year, he has always known what is best for him and determined to stand by his decision. He loves Elizabeth. Nothing will ever change that, nor will anyone else take her place.”
“Lizzy is having difficulties with her identity at the moment. Everything she knew about herself changed when we received the letter from the soldier who had assisted the duke in escaping the continent. We had planned to tell her the truth when she turned twenty, but the letter moved up the timing.”
“When is her birthday? I believe I heard it was coming soon.”
“In a fortnight. November eleventh.”
“We must have a celebration for her. Perhaps a ball.” Lady Anne’s eyes lit with excitement.
“It might be best to speak with Lizzy. I would not like to see her unhappy for her birthday.”
“Of course, you are correct. Perhaps I am a bit excited for the day Georgiana is old enough to have a ball.”
“A mother’s love can be difficult. We are torn between having them as children and growing up, and when they are grown, we wish for them to make us grandparents, so we have babes to spoil once again.”
Lady Anne laughed. “My mother said something similar after I came out. Now that William is old enough, I admit that being a grandmother does sound wonderful.”
“When you get to my age, it is difficult to accept that my granddaughters are old enough to have their own babes. Some days it makes me feel much older than I care to admit.”
Elizabeth and William returned to the house, and after they spoke with Mr Bennet and Jane, joined the ladies in the drawing room. Elizabeth looked between her grandmother and William’s mother. “Just what were you two discussing? We could hear laughter as we entered the hall.”
“We were speaking of children and grandchildren. It is difficult to not desire having babies in the home.” Lady Anne stated, noting her son’s cheeks becoming rosy.
“Forgive my mother, Miss Elizabeth. It is well known at Pemberley that Mother visits the tenant homes to spend time with the small children. As Georgiana and Matthew are not in the nursery any longer, Mother needs to find the joy of small children through our tenants.”
“There is nothing quite as infectious as the laughter of a small child. It is magical to hear their giggles.” Mrs Gardiner came to her new friend’s defense.
Elizabeth began laughing at her grandmother. “Mr Darcy, your mother and my grandmother have that in common. Currently there are a dozen children under the age of eight living here at Longbourn. Grandmamma knows all of them, their birthdays, and their favorite sweets.”
“Oh, my, we are similar. I have a ledger with all the same information for the children of Pemberley.” Lady Anne confessed with a chuckle. “As the estate is one of the largest in Derbyshire, there are many families who work the land. We likely have more than double the number of children than you have here at Longbourn. I tease my husband that Pemberley’s soil is not the only thing fertile.”
“I should begin a ledger.” Mrs Gardiner thought the suggestion to make complete sense, as she had recently discovered her memory was not as sharp as it had been.
Looking between the young couple, Lady Anne was certain she saw a slight change about them. Had her son asked for the young lady’s hand in marriage? Lady Anne could only hope as she waited for him to speak.
William knew his mother well enough and she knew him. Certainly, she was aware that he was nearly floating with joy. Though he wished to shout his declaration from the roof top, William decided to allow his mother to wait a bit longer. Mrs Gardiner decided she would not wait for her granddaughter to make any announcements of her own.
“Lizzy, how was your walk this morning? If I was not mistaken, Mr Darcy accompanied you upon your return.”
A blush rose on Elizabeth’s cheeks. “Indeed, Grandmamma, Mr Darcy and I came across each other when we each had gone for a walk.”
“Someone knows of your passion of nature? How surprising.”
“Grandmamma, is there something of which you wish to speak?” Elizabeth’s left eyebrow lifted in a challenge.
“When you returned, you seemed to have disappeared. I was surprised that you did not come and welcome Lady Anne.”
“I needed to speak with Jane on a matter.” Elizabeth replied. “It was time she knew what was happening.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. “Jane has stated her full support of me, whether I am her sister or cousin.”
“Jane could never think less of you. The two of you have always been close.” Mrs Gardiner said before turning her head to look directly into William’s eyes. “I am certain you did not accompany Lizzy upstairs when she went to speak to Jane. Where did you hide yourself?”
Gathering Elizabeth close to his side, William spoke with great pride. “You are correct, Mrs Gardiner. I was speaking with Mr Bennet.”
The elder ladies looked at each other, then back to the young couple. Lady Anne could no longer tolerate her son’s behavior. “Fitzwilliam James Darcy, you are infuriating. Just like your father, keeping your secrets rather than speaking.”
His grin was nearly ear to ear, with his dimples obvious. “Mother, Mrs Gardiner, I have asked for Miss Elizabeth’s hand in marriage, and she has made me the happiest of men by accepting. Mr Bennet has given his blessings and consent.”
Mrs Gardiner and Lady Anne were on their feet and embracing the couple. William received a swat on his arm from his mother. “I knew you had made the decision. How dare you keep such joyous news from your loving mother?”
“Forgive me, Mother. I have been so excited with knowing Miss Elizabeth will be my wife. You know how I am when it comes to something I am passionate about.”
“I will forgive you after you name your first born for me.” Lady Anne teased. Turning to Lizzy, Lady Anne embraced her soon to be daughter. “My dear girl, having such wonderful news makes my heart soar. To have you as my daughter is far more than I could have hoped. My son will know love, as I have with his father. There are no words to adequately say how grateful I am to you, for bringing my son such joy.”
Elizabeth required a handkerchief to wipe the joyous tears from her cheeks. “To know I will be loved means more to me than I can say. I can say that I am truly blessed.”
Mrs Gardiner rang for Mrs Hill to bring refreshments. When Mrs Hill arrived, she was not surprised to see there was a celebration, and she was pleased to learn of the reason for celebrating.
Lady Anne turned her attention towards Elizabeth. “Your grandmother and I were discussing your upcoming birthday. How would you like to celebrate the occasion? Perhaps we could throw a ball for you?”
“Your son was attempting to convince me of the exact thing while we were coming back from Oakham Mount. Is this a family trait?”
“It is rare that I can convince William to dance, as he is reluctant to dance with anyone whom he is not familiar.”
Elizabeth looked at William with amazement. “Yet you danced two sets with me the night of the assembly, after having just been introduced. I am surprised.”
“It goes to show that I felt comfortable with you, since our first meeting.” William lifted her hand to his lips. “From the moment we met, there was something that made me feel as I have been friends with you for all of my life. You have made a change in me, my dearest.”
Her cheeks turned a rosy shade as she looked into William’s eyes. Lady Anne could feel the love between the young couple, and it warmed her heart. She and her husband had been fortunate enough to have a love match, and it was what they desired for their children.
“Well, then we must have a ball to celebrate Elizabeth’s birthday and the engagement of the two of you. Mrs Gardiner, when would you suggest we hold the ball?”
“As we are friends, please call me Amy.” Mrs Gardiner noticed the sound of an approaching carriage. “Perhaps that is Mrs Jorgenson. We should wait for her before making any decisions.”
Once Mrs Jorgenson was shown into the parlor, the discussion of the coming events began. The men sat back, only giving a few suggestions. William was pleased to know that soon, Elizabeth would be his wife. He was shocked at all the preparations that his mother and her grandmother deemed necessary, but he would do whatever he was told to make Elizabeth happy.
The date for the ball was decided for Tuesday, the day before Elizabeth’s birthday, Wednesday would be a family celebration at Longbourn, and the wedding would be the day after. Bingley’s aunt was pleased to host the ball at Netherfield, and the wedding breakfast would be held at Longbourn. Gerald and Lady Anne would invite her brother’s family to stay for the ball and remain at Netherfield until after the wedding. Elizabeth continued to look to her betrothed, concerned that all the preparations for the events would be too much for him. William returned her looks with a smile which told her of his love for her was more important than all the details being spoken.