The plans for the ball and the wedding were coming together nicely, thanks to the aid of Lady Anne, Mrs Gardiner, and Mrs Jorgenson. It was decided that newlyweds would spend their first week in London, at the Darcy townhouse. The security of the newlyweds would be discretely positioned, to keep from drawing attention. The housekeeper for Darcy House, Mrs Brosnan, was devoted to the family, as her sister was the housekeeper of Pemberley, and her son had served with Colonel Fitzwilliam on the continent. Thanks to the colonel, when her son, Pierce, had been wounded, he was returned to England to recover, receiving the best care available. Pierce worked in the stables behind Darcy House, and often assisted the Matlocks when the Darcys were not in town. A letter was sent to inform Pierce of the situation, and the hopes that he would assist in protecting the newlyweds while they were at Darcy House.
The seamstress came from Meryton to take the large order for Elizabeth’s trousseau. She would hire extra assistants to help finish as many items as possible over the coming fortnight, promising that the wedding gown and a new gown for the ball would be ready in time.
Mrs Gardiner was pleased to have her son and his family arrive at Longbourn the week prior to the wedding, allowing her to spend time with her other grandchildren.
Also arriving in the area that week was the Fitzwilliam family. Lord and Lady Matlock arrived midday Saturday, and their younger son, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, was to arrive a day after his parents. Richard was in between assignments for the dragoons and was waiting to receive directions from his general before he made the journey to witness his cousin’s wedding.
Though they were proud of the men their sons had grown to be, Lord and Lady Matlock did not approve of Richard’s military career. Each time he was deployed for another battlefield, Richard’s loved ones feared for his life. He had been injured a few times, fortunately nothing too serious. But they all knew the dangers and the chance they could lose him any time.
On Sunday, the family members joined together after attending church and enjoyed a repast, while discussing the final preparations for the wedding the following morning and the upcoming ball.
Richard arrived in time to join his family Sunday evening, though the family noticed he was distant in his behavior. He was polite when introduced to Elizabeth’s family, though there was something in his look that told of his mind being elsewhere.
Lord and Lady Matlock were pleased to meet Elizabeth and her family. They were thrilled to know their favorite, albeit only, nephew was making a love match. Georgiana and Matthew had accompanied the Matlocks. Georgiana was thrilled to be gaining a sister, which she had always desired. Being raised with two brothers, with the only female relation of her generation being her cousin Anne de Bourgh, Georgiana had longed to have a sister who was closer to her own age. Anne de Bourgh was the daughter of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, sister of Lady Anne Darcy and Lord Henry Fitzwilliam, and she was not close to the family, having been raised by her domineering mother. Lady Catherine had always believed herself above her siblings and was jealous when their lives had been better than hers. Being the eldest of the siblings, Lady Catherine felt it unfair that her brother inherited the earldom and the family fortune. Her husband had been a baron, and her marriage had been arranged by their father as no men came to call on the young Lady Catherine when she came out. Having her sister marry for love was a cruel frustration for the elder sister.
Tuesday morning was beautiful, with the sun shining and the air only slightly chilly. Elizabeth waited for her betrothed to arrive in the morning, so they could have some time to themselves while all the preparations were for the evening’s festivities went on around them. Noting his betrothed was nervous, William tried to put her at ease.
“Mother has written to Mrs Brosnan. She suggested we might wish to use one of the suites on the upper level, away from the family wing. Then, when the family join us in town, we will have our privacy.”
A crimson hue came over Elizabeth’s cheeks. Unable to find words, she nodded her head in agreement. Her mind recalled the discussion she had with her grandmother the night before, when Mrs Gardiner explained the marital bed to Elizabeth. The thought of what was to come after her wedding was difficult to believe.
“Elizabeth, we have not discussed how we wish to live after we are married. I mean…I know it is common for people of the ton to have separate bedchambers. But our marriage is not one of business, it is a love match. My parents, they share their bed every night.”
Sensing that her betrothed’s nervousness, Elizabeth took his hand in hers, lifting it to her cheek. “I love you, William, and I trust you. It is my desire to share your bed and wake in your arms every day of the rest of my life.” She turned her head and placed a kiss on the palm of his hand.
William sighed in relief. He was grateful for having met and fallen in love with Elizabeth Bennet. Never had he dreamed of having such perfection in the partner with who he would spend the rest of his life. He leaned over, placing a kiss on her lips. What started out as gentle and chaste grew with each passing moment. Soon, they were both breathless.
Hearing Jane calling for her, Elizabeth gave a slight giggle. “It is a good thing Jane did not come out sooner, for I do not know that her sensibilities would be able to withstand seeing us in such a passionate embrace.”
“Her day will come. Bingley is attempting to pluck up the courage to ask Miss Bennet for her hand.”
“Oh, I had hoped he would. I know Jane is in love with him.”
“Then I will make sure to let my friend know that her feelings are the same as his.” William leaned in and claimed her lips once again. “I cannot wait until I have the right to kiss you any time I wish rather than stealing kisses whenever I can.”
“You will think me wanton when I state that I am very fond of your kisses.”
“My love, I want you to tell me what brings you pleasure. It has always perplexed me that for a woman to state she finds pleasure in her relationship with her husband, she is believed to be wanton. I do not wish for our marriage to be only pleasurable for me. You deserve to be loved and be given joy.”
Jane had walked to the area of the gardens where the couple were, still holding hands, both with red and swollen lips. “Lizzy, you must come inside so we can begin dressing for the ball.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. “Until this evening, my prince?”
“Until this evening, my dearest princess.”
~~ ** ~~
The ball was well attended and Mrs Jorgenson had planned the event with perfection. Elizabeth and William stood next to Bingley and his aunt in the receiving line. For William, it was difficult to interact with so many people with whom he was not acquainted. Often, William moved to be able to take hold of his beloved’s hand. She squeezed his hand to give him encouragement. When Elizabeth had a moment, she whispered how proud she was of him and that the line would end soon enough.
Finally, the line ended and the musicians were prepared for the first set. It had been decided that Mr Bennet, as he was known as her father, would dance the first set with Elizabeth. She had no way of knowing that Mr Bennet and Darcy had made a plan. Halfway through the first song, Mr Bennet turned Elizabeth around and placed her hand on William’s arm, transferring the beloved daughter who had been entrusted to him to the man who would soon be her husband. Choking back tears, Mr Bennet turned to his mother in law, who claimed the remainder of the dance with him.
It was the first time in his life that Fitzwilliam Darcy was comfortable at a ball. He was pleased to dance with his mother, Mrs Gardiner, Helen Gardiner, Jane Bennet, Charlotte Lucas, Lady Matlock, and three sets with his betrothed. Smiling throughout the evening, no one who knew William would have believed what they were witnessing.
The evening ended with a waltz. Everyone who witnessed William and Elizabeth dancing was in agreement, the couple only had eyes for each other.
~~ ** ~~
Wednesday found Elizabeth waking early, as was her norm. When she went downstairs, she was greeted by her loving family.
“Happy birthday, Lizzy.” Jane said as she stood and made her way to her sister. “You brought me so much joy last night, as I watched you dancing. Never have I seen you so happy.”
“I am happy, Jane. If you had asked me a year ago, I would never have imagined how wonderful life could be.” Elizabeth stated as she embraced Jane.
Mrs Gardiner insisted on her granddaughter taking her seat at the table. She filled a plate of Lizzy’s favorite foods and placed it in front of Elizabeth.
“Grandmamma, you have given me enough food to feed several people.” Elizabeth chuckled. “If I were to eat so much, I would be unable to fit in my wedding gown tomorrow.”
“If you are anything like I was on my wedding day, you will be too nervous and too busy to eat much tomorrow, so I suggest you eat while you can today. You will need your energy.”
“Your grandmother is wise, Lizzy. Even I was too nervous to eat on my wedding day.” Mr Bennet added.
All of Elizabeth’s favorite foods was served. She partook of the eggs and bacon, fresh buns from the oven on which she spread jam. “Cook made tattie scones for me.” Elizabeth was pleased with one of her favorite treats. Spreading some butter on one of the scones, she savored the taste of the potato scone. It was one of her favorite treats, and the Longbourn cook made them rarely.
After breaking her fast, Elizabeth was escorted to the parlor to celebrate her birthday with her family. The Darcys and Bingleys arrived as Elizabeth was receiving gifts from her family. There were gifts for her from her family, those who were related by blood and the others soon to be through marriage.
Mr and Mrs Gardiner and their children gifted Elizabeth a new journal which had her initials on the cover. Next came a gift from Mary and Tom, a book of poetry that Elizabeth had been waiting for at the Meryton bookshop. Mary and Tom had struck a deal with the owner of the shop to tell Lizzy the book had yet to arrive, allowing them to purchase it for her.
Jane gifted her dearest sister with a pair of handkerchiefs on which she had embroidered Elizabeth’s initials for after the wedding. The initials were surrounded by red roses. Jane had also given her sister a bottle of her favorite scent that had been made from Longbourn flowers.
Mr Bennet’s gift was a pair of hair combs that had been his wife’s. She had given her husband instructions of what pieces of her jewelry were to be given to each of their girls. The combs had sapphires and pearls on them.
William and his family gave Elizabeth a set of a brush, comb, and mirror that had been engraved with her soon to be initials. The Matlocks gifted her hair pins that had pearls on them. Mr Bingley and his aunt had given Elizabeth a shawl they had purchased from the shop in Meryton.
Finally, it was Mrs Amy Gardiner’s turn. In her hands were two velvet bags. The first one was a beautiful amber cross on a chain. “I gave this to your mother when she was ten years old. She wore it almost every day of her life. Your mother would be pleased to know you have it.”
Turning to the rest of the room, Mrs Gardiner took a deep breath. She knew that Lady Anne had spoken to her brother and sister in law, and was certain that Colonel Fitzwilliam knew the truth. Mr Bennet had spoken with Mary and Tom, swearing them to keep the secret.
Mrs Gardiner handed the other bag to her granddaughter. “Lizzy, my dear girl, this was meant to be a gift to your mother when she gave birth to you. Your father had gone to Ramsgate to collect it from the jeweler who made it to your father’s design. The duke had the bag in his hand when he died. It was the last gift he ever had for Amelia. It would be fitting for you to wear for your wedding.”
Tears were flowing down Elizabeth’s cheeks as she held the bag in her hand. Knowing that this was the last thing her father had ever held made touching it all the more real. She had accepted that her father was Duke George Augustus, but there was nothing of his that she could hold in her hand until now. William moved to kneel before her, holding her hand in his.
Lizzy looked into the eyes of the gentleman before her. His love and acceptance of her, knowing all there was about her, made her feel complete. “My father held this in his hands. It is the first time I have ever touched something that my father had held.”
“I am grateful you have this treasure. From what your family has said, he loved your mother and was looking forward to your birth.” William spoke softly. “You were dearly loved by both of your parents.”
A nod was all she could express, her emotions were made her feel a sense of warmth flowing through her. Elizabeth had finally found a connection to the man who had been her father. Opening the bag, she reached inside and pulled out a necklace that was grander than any she had ever seen before. There were diamonds on the front of the necklaces, leading to the center which the diamonds formed several small flowers with a sapphire in the center to each flower.
“Oh, Lizzy, that will be beautiful with your gown.” Jane gasped. Elizabeth had chosen a cream colored gown for her wedding.
“It is far grander than I would have ever thought to own.” Elizabeth said as she looked at the necklace, fingering each of the flowers gently, knowing her father had touched this piece of jewelry.
“I will look forward to you wearing it tomorrow.” William stated softly. “It will represent your parents who gave you life as you begin the next chapter of your life.”
Elizabeth looked into the brown eyes of the man she loved. There she saw the understanding that she needed, understanding the importance of having something physical that gave her a connection to her late parents. Placing a hand gently on his cheek, Elizabeth spoke. “Thank you, William. I am grateful to have fallen in love with you.”
“The feeling is mutual, my dearest.” William replied, as the two appeared to have forgotten there was anyone else in the room.
A cough from Gerald Darcy reminded them of the fact they were not alone. When William and Elizabeth glanced around the room with innocent looks, their relations broke into laughter.
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth had bathed and was being assisted by Jane and Mrs Gardiner as she dressed in her wedding gown. Jane would stand beside her sister as her witness, as they had always promised each other. Mrs Gardiner and Mrs Helen Gardiner assisted Elizabeth with her hair, styling it in a way that several ringlets hung down around her neck. The combs and hairpins she had received the day before were perfect in her hair. When her hair was styled, her grandmother brought forward a jewelry box.
“My dear girl, the pieces in this box are yours, as they were your mother’s. Your father bought her several necklaces and rings besides the one I gave you last night. There is also a simple strand of pearls that your grandfather and I gave Amelia when she came out. The cross I gave you was a necklace I had been given by my mother when I was a young girl.” Mrs Gardiner held out the beautifully carved wooden box. The design on the top was a pair of hearts which were interlinked.
Elizabeth held the box in her hands, lightly tracing the hearts. “I feel this was meant to be for me, as I feel as if William’s heart and mine have been connected since the day we met. To know my parents had such a marriage brings me joy.”
“They loved you dearly, Lizzy, and I know they would be happy for you. Knowing that you are marrying a man who adores you and will share a wonderful life with you would be all they could ask. Especially your father, as he refused to accept a loveless marriage. Be happy, my dear. Live your life to the fullest. Your parents will always be watching over you, as will Fanny and your grandfather.”
They heard movement from downstairs and Mr Bennet called up to them. “It is time to leave for the chapel. The carriages are ready to take us.”
Helen Gardiner gave her niece a kiss on the cheek. “Trust your husband. He loves you and will treat you with kindness and care. Never forget to speak with him, tell him what you prefer and do not like. Be honest and open in your marriage, and every challenge life gives you will be easier to conquer.”
“Thank you, Aunt Helen.” Elizabeth said as Jane assisted her with the last details, including her bonnet. The group made their way down the stairs, meeting Mr Bennet at the bottom.
“Ah, Lizzy, you are as beautiful. How privileged I am to be giving you to a most deserving young man.” Mr Bennet stated. “Though my dear wife was really your aunt, she loved you no different than she loved the other three children with whom we were blessed. Seeing the combs in your hair gives me joy, as I know Fanny would be pleased with the young lady you have become.”
Elizabeth was struggling to keep her emotions from overflowing. “It will be my honor to wear them, Papa.”
“Let us make our way to the chapel. I believe there is a young man who is waiting rather impatiently to marry you, Lizzy.” Mr Bennet announced with a smile.
“Oh, I forgot my mother’s handkerchief.” Elizabeth suggested.
“I can fetch the handkerchief, Lizzy.” Jane suggested.
“If you do not mind, I would prefer a moment alone. I will not be long.”
Mr Bennet took hold of Elizabeth’s hand. “Take a moment, but hurry to the chapel. Your young man will be desperate if you do not hurry.”
Elizabeth smiled as she made her way up the stairs to the room she had known as her own for most of her life. Picking up the handkerchief, Elizabeth made her way downstairs and out of the house. Mr Bennet and Jane arrived with Elizabeth at the chapel where she had been baptized. Today, her life would change forever.
~~ ** ~~
The two Mrs Gardiners entered the first carriage, while Mr Bennet handed his two daughters into the second. The journey was not long to the Longbourn chapel, and they soon arrived, taking their seats in the front pew of the chapel.
The pianoforte was playing when the doors opened for the wedding party to enter.
Jane walked inside, smiling at Bingley as she made her way to stand across from the man with whom she had fallen in love. Then came Elizabeth holding the arm of the man she had always known as her father.
William had a difficult time not rushing down the aisle to claim his bride. He could not believe that the most beautiful lady he had ever met was walking towards him, to join their lives together. Never would he have imagined such joy and contentment to be his.
Mr Bennet stopped when they reached William, placing a kiss on Elizabeth’s cheek, then placed her hand in William’s.
The parson began the ceremony. If asked later, neither William nor Elizabeth could remember what was said, as all they could see and hear was each other. This caused a few chuckles from their friends and family when the parson asked them to repeat after him. Bingley had to nudge his friend to remind William to speak. Jane coughed lightly when Elizabeth missed her turn to speak.
Finally, the parson spoke the words the couple had longed to hear. They were husband and wife. Once the register was signed, the newlyweds were welcomed by their loved ones as they exited the chapel.
Everyone was soon loaded into carriages and on their way to Netherfield Park for the wedding breakfast. No one was surprised when the newlyweds did not exit their carriage when they arrived at the manor house. Richard stepped near the carriage, giving a loud “Uh hum.” There was a muffled groan as William pulled back from his bride and stepped out before he turned to hand Elizabeth down.
“It is nice of you to join us at your wedding breakfast.” Richard teased.
“Just wait. When you get married, you will understand the desire to be alone with your wife.” William retorted.
The family and friends all made their way inside the grand house and into the dining room. The feast that had been made for the special occasion was grand and included many of Elizabeth’s and William’s favorite foods.
Lord and Lady Matlock were pleased to see the change in their shy nephew. To see him filled with joy and conversing easily with people he had known such a short time amazed William’s family.
Lady Matlock sat next to her sister in law as they partook in the feast before them. “Anne, you must be thrilled with having another daughter. Elizabeth has brought William out from behind his mask. I never would have believed it if I had not seen it for myself.”
“We adore Lizzy. I could not have imagined anyone as perfect for William as Lizzy is. Their union is a love match, as I could only wish for him.”
“Well, I wish there were a few more such ladies so I could see my sons married. As you well know, I cannot wait to have grandchildren.”
Lady Anne smiled. “I am not certain I am ready to be a grandmother. It seems like just yesterday William was in the nursery. Now he is a married man, about to begin his own family.”
“Will they stay at the townhouse in London or leave on a wedding trip immediately?” Lady Matlock inquired.
“The townhouse. They plan to stay there for a week before we arrive. Mr Bingley has offered for us to remain at Netherfield for the week. After we arrive in London, we will prepare for a ball to celebrate the wedding. There is much to do to introduce Elizabeth to the ton. We will need to purchase some warmer clothing for her, as Derbyshire is much colder than Hertfordshire. The seamstress here in Meryton has been working on many items, though she will not have access to some of the heavier fabrics that will be needed for winter with which we are accustomed. Lizzy will need boots, a heavy cloak, muff, and so much more.”
“Where do they plan to live? Will they stay at Pemberley?”
“We have offered the dowager cottage to them. How my husband’s family considered it a cottage, I will never understand. It has six bedchambers, four sitting rooms, a library, two studies, and two drawing rooms. To say the Darcys thought big when they build anything is an understatement.”
Both ladies laughed, as it was well known that all the Darcy homes were extremely large. “So, they will have their privacy at the dower cottage, yet be there at the estate.”
“It will be a blessing to have them close. Georgiana and Matthew are looking forward to coming to know Lizzy better. Georgiana has always wished for a sister.”
“When will Elizabeth be presented?” Lady Matlock inquired, not knowing her new niece’s background.
“We have not discussed it yet. There is no rush.” Lady Anne stated, attempting to keep her voice as normal as possible. There was too many people in the room, so they could not speak of Elizabeth’s parents outside the family. It would be too dangerous for her new daughter.
“You know you may count on me to assist you in introducing Elizabeth to our friends. There are many young ladies who will be jealous, so we will need to stand beside her to show we approve of her.”
Lady Anne placed a hand gently on her sister in law’s arm. “We are grateful for your support.”
“Now, the question is, who has the task of informing your sister?”
With a laugh, Lady Anne spoke. “Well, as Henry is the head of the Fitzwilliam family, perhaps it would be best if he spoke to Catherine. She will not be pleased, and I expect her to be filled with venom towards Elizabeth.”
“Henry had already planned to visit Rosings Park, as it is time for him to examine her books. Though he will not enjoy the tantrum that Catherine will have, he would be the best to control her. She hates the fact that he is executor of Sir Louis de Bourgh’s will, but if she wants her allowance, she will do as she is told.”
“I will need to reward my dear brother for his assistance.”
“If your first grandson is a boy, you could suggest they name him after your brother. That would be more than payment in his eyes.” Lady Matlock chuckled. Lord Henry Fitzwilliam had the deepest respect and love for his younger sister. There was nothing he would not do for her and her family.
~~ ** ~~
Caroline Bingley had escaped from her aunt’s home, claiming a friend had invited her to visit her family home. Though Agatha was leery, she could not prevent Caroline from leaving. Agatha wrote a letter to Bingley, informing him of the situation, though she had not received a response from him. She did not know that Caroline’s maid had absconded with the letter, destroying it for her mistress.
Returning to London, she had taken rooms at a boarding house under an assumed name. She did not use Hurst’s family townhouse, as she knew the servants there would inform the family of her being there. She needed someplace to stay, hidden away, while she determined her next step. Having heard that Darcy was to marry the chit from Longbourn, Caroline was certain that the couple would make an announcement soon. Then she could discover where they were going for their wedding trip. Once she had the information, she would make her plan on removing the country nobody from the man she knew was meant for her alone.
Having visited Darcy House previously, Caroline had paid close attention to everything she saw. Though the townhouse was well staffed and protected, Miss Bingley knew of a potential weakness. When she was given a tour of the house the first time she visited Darcy House, Caroline noticed the lock on a window of the breakfast room appeared to be broken. It was at the rear of the house, off the garden area, secluded from view. She hoped that no one else had noticed it and had it repaired. From there, she could make her way up to the second floor using the servants’ staircase. The family wing was in the same wing of the townhouse as the breakfast room, located on the second floor.
The plan was to enter Darcy House at night, when most of the staff would be asleep. She would find the bedchamber of Eliza Bennet and use the poison to kill her nemesis by pouring it into the sleeping woman’s mouth. Caroline had been told the poison was fast acting, so she would remain in the room, keeping Eliza from spitting out the poison or crying out for assistance. The only problem was that Caroline did not know which room would be assigned to Miss Eliza. The rooms next to Fitzwilliam’s were unused, though there were many suites in the other areas of the second and third floors. Would the newlyweds prefer to have their rooms away from the family wing?
When the chit was dead, Caroline could console Mr Darcy. Certainly he would wish to marry the woman who brought him comfort as he mourned his wife. It was perfect.
Though she despised staying at the boarding house, the reward she would have in becoming Mrs Darcy was worth discomfort she would suffer in her accommodations. Each day Betsy went out to fetch a newspaper for her mistress, and each day without news made Caroline frustrated. Caroline was certain the newlyweds would come to London for their first night at the very least. Hertfordshire was close to town, and the rest of the Darcy family were not in London, giving the newlyweds time alone.
Basing her theory on her sister’s marriage, as well as her own parents, Caroline was certain that Eliza would have her separate bedchamber, where Darcy would visit her, do his business, then return to his own bedchamber. This was common amongst society, as most marriages were of convenience rather than love matches. Finding Elizabeth’s room would be the greatest challenge. After Darcy visited her bed, he would leave, and Eliza would fall asleep. The prize Caroline imagined of claiming the title of Mrs Darcy would be worth a sleepless night, waiting for her chance.
Betsy had returned each day with the papers, and each day, Caroline was frustrated by the delay. With Caroline frustrated, Betsy was the one person who bore the wrath of her mistress. Their funds were dwindling and Caroline was attempting to figure out another way to acquire more money. Agatha believed her niece to be in the country, so the last thing Caroline wished was for her family to discover she was truly in London. This eliminated Caroline from removing funds from her bank account. The only alternative was for her to take some of her jewelry to sell.
With her maid in tow, Miss Bingley made her way to one of the pawn brokers in one of the better areas of London. The proprietor of the shop looked at the pieces of jewelry and shook his head.
“Sorry Miss, but I cannot pay you what you wish for these.”
“They are worth much more than I am asking. You will make a large profit from them.”
“At the moment, I do not have enough to make such a purchase. If I were you, I would make my way to Gardiner Imports. Gardiner is a good man and would likely be able to give you a fair price for them jewels.”
“Where is this Gardiner Imports located?” Miss Bingley asked, her temper barely contained.
“It is located in Cheapside.”
The name of Cheapside made Caroline’s skin crawl. To think she would have to lower herself to step foot in that area of town was repulsive. The only reason she could bring herself to do so was the thought of gaining the Darcy jewels. It was clear that the woman had not put together the name of Gardiner with the Bennet family.
Selling her jewelry to the clerk at Gardiner Imports was simple enough and Miss Bingley, with her maid in tow, returned to the boarding house. The entire time, Caroline continued to tell herself that soon, her goal would be reached. Betsy was not as convinced as her employer, though she followed Caroline each step of the way.
That night, Caroline fell asleep with dreams of the wealth she would have access to as Mrs Darcy. In her dreams, all who had treated Caroline poorly bowed at her feet everywhere she went. Only the finest would do for Mrs Caroline Darcy. For the first time in weeks, Caroline slept well, smiling as she dreamt.