Here are the final chapters for this story. I’m going to take a few weeks off from things before I start sharing info on my next story. With Dara (my new service dog in training), fostering the kittens, and other things going on, I need a break to get things in order. My ghost writer, Tonks, says her vocabulary is limited to meow and screech. At nearly 2 months of age, I will overlook her inability to write better. haha. Hope you have enjoyed the story. Thank you for reading it.
Bingley stepped down from the carriage, turning to assist his aunt. “I never thought I would see the day that Caroline would be seen visiting a boarding house, let alone stay at one.”
“You brought the miniature of her, did you not?”
He patted his coat pocket. “I did. Is it terrible of me to hope Caroline was not the one staying here? Perhaps it was her maid who stole the necklace and sold it.”
“Charles, you must realize that Caroline is determined and willing to do whatever she wishes to achieve her goal. Hopefully she will be in her rooms and we can determine what to do next.” Mrs Jorgensen stated as she gave her nephew’s arm a gentle squeeze.
The pair were shown inside the boarding house and taken directly to the owner, Mrs Tanner. Once the Bingleys were welcomed to take a seat, Mrs Tanner asked for the reason of their visit.
“I was informed that my sister is staying here, and I was concerned, as she was supposed to be in Scarborough. It is my concern which brings me here, to see if she requires my aid.”
“What is your sister’s name?”
“Miss Caroline Bingley. My name is Charles Bingley and this is my aunt, Mrs Jorgensen.”
“None of my guests is named Bingley. There is one woman who is named Caroline, though she claimed her name was Mrs Caroline Hurst.”
Bingley shook his head. Caroline had taken the last name of their sister’s husband. Reaching inside his pocket, he withdrew the miniature of Caroline. “This is my sister.”
“Yes, that is Mrs Hurst. Her maid was staying here as well. Betsy, I believe the girl’s name is.”
“Is my sister in the house? I would like to speak with her.”
“No, as I have not seen her for, oh, I believe three days. Late in the evening, she claimed she was not feeling well and was planning to visit the apothecary. I recommended her to the apothecary nearby. Afterwards, she did not return.” Mrs Tanner fretted. “Forgive me, as your sister did not speak of family, so I had no notion of who to contact. Her belongings are still in her rooms. She and her maid have been here for several weeks.”
“May I take a look at her belongings?” Bingley requested.
“I will show you to her room. You might as well take the items with you, as her rent was up yesterday and it does not appear she will be returning any time soon. I have someone looking for a room. Forgive me, as I am certain you are worried. It is just, well, I cannot go long without the income from the rooms.”
“There is no offense, Mrs Tanner. I am grateful to know my sister was in the home of someone who is responsible and caring. Aunt, would you follow Mrs Tanner to the room while I summon one of the footmen?”
Mrs Jorgensen nodded her head. As the two ladies made their way to the stairs, Mrs Tanner turned back towards Bingley. “It is the last room on the left. We will leave the door open for you.”
“My thanks, Mrs Tanner.”
Concern grew inside Bingley as he motioned for the footman standing near the carriage door. “We will need to bring my sister’s belongings with us. If you will follow me, we can quickly load her trunks and bring them down. Hopefully she did not bring every gown she owns.”
In less than an hour, the trunks were packed and carried out to the carriage. The footmen secured the trunks, all three of them, on the top, with one of the men riding up there while the other rode on the back. What was most perplexing was the fact that the maid’s belongings, meager as they were, had been discovered in the room where she slept. Could it be that Caroline had broken into Darcy House? If so, where was she now? Did her disappearance have anything to do with the two females who had been discovered being taken to the mysterious ship?
When he arrived at Darcy House, Bingley went straight to his chambers. He needed a few moments alone to contemplate what could have happened to his sister and her maid. The possibilities were endless, and none were hopeful for Caroline’s safe return. Would there be a ransom demand? If so, how much? Where had the ship journeyed, in the dead of the night? Though Bingley was not a heavy drinker, as his brother in law was, Charles decided he needed some liquid courage before he spoke with the Darcys.
Finally, Bingley made his way back to the drawing room, where his aunt was informing the Darcy family and Colonel Fitzwilliam of what they had discovered.
“Bingley, Mrs Jorgensen was just telling us of your sister. What do you think happened to her?” William asked.
“The only thing I can think is that for some reason, my sister broke into this house. She and her maid are missing. The maid’s belongings were at the boarding house. Wherever they are, they were taken against their wishes.”
“If you are correct, there was other people in the house that night.” William replied. The thought of how close he came to having his wife taken caused a shudder to course through him.
“I cannot apologize enough for my sister’s behavior. Never would I have thought that Caroline would behave in such a manner.”
“Hopefully Miss Bingley will be safe. If the men who were attempting to find my wife are responsible, when they discover Miss Bingley is not Elizabeth, I do not know what the men will do to her.”
“We will continue to investigate the ship.” Colonel Fitzwilliam declared. “We will discover where the ship sailed. If Miss Bingley was forced on the ship, I will make every effort to see her safely returned.”
Bingley looked at his aunt. “I believe my sister has sealed her fate when she entered this house. It is doubtful Caroline would keep her temper and not inform the men they had the wrong person. As soon as she does, there is no reason for the men to keep her.”
“Charles, have faith.” Mrs Jorgensen said as she reached for her nephew’s hand. “Perhaps they will leave her somewhere and she will send word to us.”
“No, if they discover the truth, it will mean her death.” Bingley was grieving for the sister he had known as a child. Caroline had been a caring child, kind and caring. After their father had made his fortune, Mrs Bingley had decided to raise her children as if they were members of the first circle of society. Caroline had changed from a loving sister to a fortune hunting harpy. The change had led her down the path to having broken into someone else’s house. When Bingley accepted the truth, he also had to accept the fact that her being in the townhouse was not for an innocent reason.
“You must have faith, Charles.” Mrs Jorgensen attempted to soothe her nephew. She was certain that he had the same thoughts as her.
“Aunt, you know full well that Caroline was not here out of kindness. If Caroline broke into this house, laid in Darcy’s bed, what else was she capable of doing? Would she have harmed my friend or his wife? My sister lost her mind to do such a thing as breaking into a house in the middle of the night. I cannot remain here, knowing what my sister likely tried to do to my friend.”
Elizabeth stood and walked to where Bingley sat. “Mr Bingley, you are not to blame for your sister’s actions. There is nothing in your actions that would make me blame you. William told me of Miss Bingley’s actions when she was at Netherfield. You attempted to take control of your sister, and she did as she wished. Do not believe I would blame you over your sister’s behavior.”
“What if she was planning to cause you harm?” Bingley’s eyes showed the depth of his emotions.
“Fate had another decision. I was not harmed or taken from here. Though I do not wish for your sister to have been abducted in my stead, but her being here when the men came in protected my husband and me. If the men had found me, they would have found William. My dearest would have been killed before allowing the men to take me. In my eyes, Miss Bingley saved William’s life.”
Tears were welling up in Bingley’s eyes. “You are too kind to me and my sister. I appreciate your willingness to hold us without blame.”
William had moved to his wife’s side. “Elizabeth is telling the truth. If what we think is what happened, she saved our lives. Pierce would not have allowed them to take Elizabeth either, so Miss Bingley saved him as well. The scuffle would have drawn the attention of the other people in the house. Mrs Brosnan, the Browns, the maids and footman. All of them would have been in danger. The only one who suffered was your sister.”
“I feel it would be best if I return to Netherfield. If Caroline were to find a way to send word, she would send it to the estate, not to London.”
“Perhaps you could stay with us until Monday. Allow yourself and your aunt to be amongst friends for a few days. Perhaps Richard will learn some information about the ship.” William pleaded. He worried about his friend and wanted Bingley to know they did not blame him for what Miss Bingley had done.
Looking towards Mrs Jorgensen, Bingley asked her opinion.
“It would be nice to spend some time in town. I wish to do some shopping for the estate. Mrs Gardiner spoke of her son’s warehouses to Lady Anne and me, so I would like to visit them.” Mrs Jorgensen smiled.
“Oh, we will make the trip together.” Lady Anne stated. “I cannot wait to see all the items he has.”
Gerald Darcy chuckled. “William, Bingley, it may be wise for us to attend the ladies on this shopping trip, as I can see this trip might rob our coffers.”
After surviving the trips to Mr Gardiner’s warehouses over two days, Bingley and Mrs Jorgensen prepared to make the journey to Netherfield. They had a wagon sent ahead of their arrival.
One afternoon, Elizabeth decided she needed to ask a her husband to do something that was important to her.
“William, I would like to take a trip.”
“Where would you like to travel.”
“To Ramsgate. I wish to visit the cottage where my parents lived and loved. The cottage where I was born.”
“It would be dangerous for us to go there.”
“William, we can take some of the guards with us. I would like my grandmother and my father to come with us. Your parents are welcome to join us. It is important to me to see the cottage.”
He was torn in his desire to keep his wife safe and in his wish to give her what she wished. Several moments passed before he finally spoke. “Very well. Send word to your family. I will speak with mine.”
“Thank you, William. Thank you for giving me a most desired gift.”
William chuckled. “I did tell you to become accustomed to my giving you gifts, did I not?”
“Indeed, you did.” Elizabeth kissed his cheek. “I love you, William.”
“I cannot deny you, dearest, as you are the other half of my heart. Before I met you, my life was incomplete.” He turned his head to claim her lips.
~~ ** ~~
It was an early spring day when two carriages arrived at the cottage near Ramsgate. Mr and Mrs Dunn were waiting at the door to meet the people who descended from the carriages.
“Welcome, welcome. Please, come inside.” Mrs Dunn was pleased to see the new arrivals and had prepared for their visit with joy.
Elizabeth stepped closer to the building. “My thanks to you, Mrs Dunn. I was told that your mother was the housekeeper when my parents lived here.”
“Yes, ma’am. She was proud to serve them. It broke her heart when they died. I have been told that she knew you had survived. Seeing you here, with your husband, would have brought her great happiness.”
Following Mrs Dunn inside, Elizabeth felt a sense of peace she had never known. The cottage was not small as she had expected. It was not as large as Longbourn, but not by much. “I can see that the word cottage does not describe this house properly.”
Lady Anne stepped closer to her daughter in law. “Are you certain your parents were not of Darcy blood? Their idea of a cottage is nearly the same as this home.”
The tension was broken as Elizabeth laughed. Everyone made their way inside. Mrs Dunn had prepared the cottage for their arrival, having everything cleaned thoroughly and refreshments laid out for the family.
“Is the cottage much the same as when my parents were alive?” Elizabeth inquired as her eyes wandered around the parlor.
“Yes, my lady. We have had to repair the damage from the men who came here, but there have been no other changes. My husband and I have taken care, as my mother did before us.”
“Might I ask you to show me around?” Elizabeth requested.
“Of course, my lady.”
“I am simply Elizabeth Darcy.”
“But you were the daughter of a duke. Therefore, you are Lady Elizabeth.”
“No one knows of my father’s having a child. It is best that we leave it that way.”
“Very well. Mrs Darcy, if you will follow me.” Mrs Dunn was surprised at the humble nature of the young lady who now was the owner of the estate.
“Lizzy, would you mind if I accompany you? I spent many months here before and after your birth.” Mrs Gardiner asked.
“Of course, Grandmamma.”
William decided to give his wife and her grandmother some time together. It was clear to him that Mrs Gardiner had fond memories of being at the cottage with her daughter, memories that she would wish to share with her granddaughter.
At the top of the stairs, the ladies followed Mrs Dunn. Mrs Gardiner spoke of which rooms had been her parents, the rooms that had been turned into a nursery for Elizabeth, the guest rooms which Amelia had redecorated over the years that she lived there. Returning downstairs, the trio continued the tour. Besides the parlor, kitchen and dining room, there was a study and an impressive library.
“Your mother and father loved reading. Many an evening they would sit together in front of the fireplace, taking turns reading to each other.” Mrs Gardiner recalled. “You have their desire for the written word.”
Looking at the rows of books on the shelves, Elizabeth was pleased to see many of her favorites were there. She could feel a warmth envelop her, as if her parents were there, embracing her. Tears were flowing down Elizabeth’s cheeks as her fingers caressed lightly over the tomes. These had been the treasures of her parents. They had held these books in their hands, shared them with each other. How pleasing it would be to share the books with her own husband.
“Lizzy, your parents loved you and spent many hours speaking of your future. Their match was like yours with William, filled with love and respect. It fills me with joy to know all my children have had marriages built on love.”
“Does it look the same as when my parents lived here?”
“Nothing has been changed. The Dunns and Mrs Dunn’s mother have taken such care of the home, not making any alterations. I have a feeling…” Mrs Gardiner stepped over to the desk in the corner of the room and opened the drawer on the right side. “Ah, it is here. Your mother kept a journal since she was six and ten years of age. This is the last one. After her death, I placed the journal in here, as it was where she kept her personal correspondence and journal. Perhaps I was in such sorrow and returned it out of habit.”
Elizabeth was beyond words. In her hands was her mother’s thoughts and feelings, documented and kept safe, allowing her to be able to know Amelia better. “Thank you, Grandmamma. This is a treasure.”
“If memory serves me, the rest of her journals are in the chest that is at the foot of the bed in the mistress chambers upstairs.”
“I wish to read them all. It is the next best thing to having her here, telling me of her life in person.”
“My only regret is not thinking about the journals earlier. We should have had them sent to Longbourn so that you would have had them after we told you.”
“Do not fret. Part of me is grateful that you gave them to me here, where they lived. As I read these, I can see the rooms she wrote about and what was happening at the estate.”
“Shall I give you a moment to yourself?”
“No, I will return to the parlor with you. William must be fretting over my absence.”
“He is a good man, Lizzy. Your marriage is so precious.”
“He truly is the best of men.”
Five years later
Elizabeth was sitting on a blanket spread out on the sand near the ocean. Her swollen belly made it difficult to stand or move about with ease. She waved to her husband who was on the beach, walking with their two sons as they searched for shells. The eldest one, George Thomas Darcy, was the image of his father, with wavy dark hair and a dimple when he smiled.
“Mamma, Mamma, look at the shell I found.” George came hurrying towards Elizabeth, his hand held out with his treasure.
“Oh, what a beautiful shell. What do you plan to do with the shell?”
“I believe I will give it to Grandmother Darcy. She can place it on her desk.” George announced. “Then, when we are not with her, she can see it and think of me.”
“That is a wonderful idea.” Elizabeth smiled as she reached out to run her fingers through his curls.
“Mamma, me find shell.” Henry Gerald Darcy said, as he hurried after his brother.
“Oh, that is a fine shell as well. What do you wish to do with your shell?”
Henry looked up to his father, thinking for a moment before he spoke. “Would Great Grandmamma like?”
“She would love such a treasure.” William said to his son. Both of the boys were caring and loved giving gifts, much like their father and grandmother.
“We received a letter from Jane and Charles. They plan to join us in a fortnight. Little Fanny is nearly recovered from her cold.”
“That means there will be a house filled to the rafters with guests.”
“Then I was correct when I determined a need for adding to the cottage.” Elizabeth was smug in her response.
“My love, at this point, referring to it as a cottage is humorous. Even before the addition, it was the size of Longbourn. It is now larger than Netherfield Park.” William leaned over her hand, which he lifted to his lips.
“Well, I was correct, was I not? With your parents and siblings, the Matlocks, Gardiners, Bennets all here at the same time, the extra room will be perfect.”
“I concede the battle.” William cried with a chuckle.
In the years since they wed, many changes had happened in the lives of their families. Jane and Charles Bingley had married four years previously and were the proud parents of a darling daughter.
Nearly year after Caroline had gone missing, a letter arrived from Austria. Caroline was alive, though she did not wish to return to England. When she arrived in Germany, the baron insisted on calling her Maria Sophia and instructed her on how her life would be from that day forward. He had made arrangements for her to wed a cousin who was well connected and wealthy. Only after she met her betrothed, Caroline decided that being Maria Sophia was not as horrible as it could be. After a month of living on the continent, Caroline was able to send word, as the baron had suffered from a heart attack and died. Having decided to marry, she had requested her dowry and informed her brother to refer to her as Maria Sophia when he wrote to her.
The younger Bennet children were growing up and would soon be adults. Mary was preparing to come out, while Tom was attending his final year at Eton. He would be starting at Oxford the following year.
Amy Gardiner continued to live with the Bennets, though she traveled more frequently, spending time with her grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Thomas Bennet missed his two eldest girls and enjoyed visiting them often, especially when Elizabeth was at Pemberley. Elizabeth teased him that his desire to visit Pemberley was more to do with the Darcy library than to visit her. In return, he would tease that it would be perfect if he had a pillow and coverlet, and they could bring his meals to the library, his world would be perfect.
Gerald and Lady Anne were kept busy with their younger two children and their beloved grandchildren. There was a rivalry between them and the Matlocks to spoil the children, as Lady Anne and Lady Matlock adored being with them. Georgiana was also preparing to come out, allowing her and Mary to have a close friend at their side as they drew closer to the event.
Colonel Fitzwilliam had married a year previously to a lady who was the daughter of a wealthy tradesman. Lady Matlock was disappointed that neither of her sons had made her a grandmother yet.
Shortly after her first anniversary, a letter had arrived at Darcy House addressed to Elizabeth, with the seal of Queen Charlotte, inviting her and Lady Anne to tea. Elizabeth was nervous at meeting the queen, though she was grateful to have her mother in law at her side.
When the Darcy ladies arrived, they were shown into the queen’s personal parlor.
“Mrs Darcy, I have wanted to meet you for many years. When your mother was pregnant with you, my brother met with me. He told me the truth of his marriage to Amelia Gardiner, and that he was to be a father. I had never seen my brother so pleased in his entire life. We had to meet in private, as the rest of our family were not aware of his survival from his wounds on the battlefield. George was my favorite brother and he wished for me to know the truth. It pleased me to know he had survived and was loved. Your father would be overjoyed to know the young lady you have become.”
“How do you know about my life?” Elizabeth was confused.
“I may have kept silent on who you were and the relationship to me, but I have had people watching over you since you were born. Had there been a need to acknowledge you, I would have done so. It was your father’s wish for you to have a life filled with love. He left me a letter and several items to pass on to you after you turned one and twenty. After the battlefield experience, when the assassin attempted to murder him, George wished to ensure you were looked after, in the event of his death.”
The queen reached over to the wooden chest like box on top of the table next to her chair. “This chest is for you, from your father. He asked that I keep watch over you as best I could. My eldest son knows about you. When I die, he will act as your protector if needed. I know that you have not been presented at court, and before your marriage it might have drawn too much attention to you. Now that the baron has died, and you are married into the Darcy family, you are welcome to take your bow. Though I cannot openly acknowledge you as my niece, I can acknowledge you as Mrs Darcy.”
Elizabeth was stunned. Since learning of her father, she had no intention of knowing her father’s family. To now know that the duke had informed his sister, the Queen of England, of his life with Amelia and the impending birth, Elizabeth was feeling overwhelmed.
When time came to part, Queen Charlotte took Elizabeth’s hand in hers. “This one time, I wish to address you as my niece. It is with pride that I see your father in your smile. He had a beautiful smile. I am grateful to have had the chance to meet you and to do as my brother asked of me.”
“I thank you, your majesty. What you have done today has given me a gift of better knowing my father.”
“If only you had been able to know him personally. He was one of the best men I have known, much like your husband, from what I have been told.”
After they returned to Darcy House, Elizabeth took the items she had been given to the drawing room where her husband and their family gathered. Breaking open the seal of the letter, she began to read.
My dearest child.
I do not know if you are a son or a daughter, though either way, please know how much I love you and your mother. It is my prayer that you do not have to read this, but I fear that my future with you will not be long. Your mother can tell you of an attempt made on my life years ago. Unfortunately, it is my fear that the man responsible for the attempt will learn he did not succeed.
Your mother and I spoke of our hopes for you. My hope is that you are a daughter who looks like your mother. She is such a beautiful lady, and I would enjoy watching her image in my child.
When you are old enough, you will learn the truth of my family and why we have had to hide you. Please forgive me for any deception, it is for your protection. I made our family the obsession of an evil man who wishes to punish me.
No child could be more loved and wanted than you. Do not ever forget that, As a precaution, I have given my dearest sister the items in this box and this letter. I had planned to give them to your mother, but she stated they were too fine for our simple life and feared they would not be safe in our home. Your mother was always a practical lady, preferring a quiet life. Some of the items came from my mother, others from my grandmother. If you are a son, they are for your wife. If I am blessed with a daughter, these are for you. Think of me when you wear them and know how much I love you.
Your loving father
Opening the lid of the box, Elizabeth gasped. There were necklaces, earrings, rings, and bracelets. Diamonds, pearls, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, all beautiful. Lady Anne had been sitting beside Lizzy and she was overwhelmed at the sight.
“Oh, my, what an incredible legacy. This has been quite a day for you Lizzy.”
Unable to speak, as her emotions were battling to surface. William came to his wife’s side, taking the letter and reading it aloud. “You were known to the royal family all along.”
“Only the queen and the prince. The queen wished to protect my father and mother, then later she wished to protect me. She told me that I have his smile.”
“Are you well, dearest?”
“It is all so incredible to believe. The queen knew of the baron’s death. She has been keeping updated on my life all these years. Now, I have gifts from my father, from his mother and grandmother.
~~ ** ~~
Looking back on the visit with the queen, Elizabeth rubbed her belly as she felt her unborn child moving about. Her husband was concerned. “Are you well?”
“This babe is eager to be born. She is so active.”
William smiled at her words. “I am hopeful to have a daughter.”
“I am as well, as I am feeling outnumber with you and our sons. I need another female to side with me.”
“My love, all you have to do is give me the certain look and you have me wrapped around your little finger. Our sons adore you as well.”
“We will know if we have a daughter any day, as I believe we are close.”
“Let us take you inside so you may rest. With everyone coming, you will be extremely busy for the next weeks.”
As William aided his wife to her feet, she felt her water break. “Oh, it appears that our child wishes to be born today.”
Looking down at the ground, William realized what had happened. He hurriedly carried her inside the house, with their sons following with the nanny. Lady Anne saw them coming into the house and immediately knew what was happening.
“I had a feeling we would be requiring the midwife and sent word to her this morning to be prepared.”
“Send one of the footmen for her.” William hurried his wife up the stairs and into their shared bedchamber. The master’s suite had been her parents, and her grandmother had told Elizabeth that it was the bed in which Amelia had given birth to her. The boys had been born in London, but this birth felt different, and Elizabeth felt the need to be at the house where she had been born.
The delivery was quick, and the Darcys were blessed with a beautiful baby girl with dark chocolate curls on her head. Her brothers were pleased to meet her, with George placing a gentle kiss on her forehead.
“She is pretty, Mamma. When can she play with Henry and me?”
“Not for some time, my dear. She will need to get bigger first.” Elizabeth replied.
Henry looked at the baby and smiled. “I am a big boy now, as she is the baby.”
A chuckle escaped Elizabeth. “You are my big boy. You and George will need to always look after your sister and protect her from trouble.”
Reluctantly, the boys agreed. George looked at his sister and inquired. “What is her name? Can we name her Lucy?” George had come to be enamored with their nursery maid, whose name was Lucy.
“No, dearest. Your father and I have chosen Amelia Anne Darcy.”
“Amelia…like your mamma?” George asked.
“Indeed. Anne is for your Grandmamma Darcy.”
“Your mamma lived in this house?”
Elizabeth nodded her head. “My parents lived here. I was born in this house.”
William looked at his sons and then turned his eyes back to his wife and newborn daughter. “This was what your grandparents called their cottage near Ramsgate.”