Pemberley, 1st August, 1820.
Darcy turned his imaginary corner for what seemed like the hundredth time. He glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece for what seemed like the one thousandth. He looked once more at the open double doors which provided the exit to the corridor that led to the next room. The next room. Where his wife was located.
He clenched his fist. If someone told him the identity of the man who said that it got easier every time, he would kill him here and now in the most gruesome way imaginable. The man must not have loved his wife, else he would never had said that supposed pearl of wisdom. For Darcy knew that the pain never got better, it only got worse, every time.
He turned the corner again and glanced around the room, trying to fix on something other than the floor. It was to no avail. The room was empty, Georgiana and her husband having kept his children downstairs while they waited to make sure they were not concerned. He grimaced. He did not blame Georgiana for doing that, for his own presence at the moment would be no help to his children, the worry for their mother written clearly upon his face.
Darcy sighed and turned another corner. He swore to himself every time that he did this that he would never put her through it again, yet always she would survive in perfect health and another year or so would pass before she would announce that they were in the family way once more.
At last he heard the wail of a child and instinctively breathed a sigh of relief. He came to a halt by the opened door, waiting for the midwife to come walking through, the agreed signal long ago for him to go to her. Five minutes later she came and he nodded politely to her before walking straight past her to go the next room.
The midwife made no comment upon the lack of acknowledgment of her presence, instead she just curtseyed and let him go past her without comment. Indeed, where the Darcys were concerned, she was lucky to get one at all. It was common knowledge in Derbyshire that Mr Darcy had only eyes for his wife, in fact it had been established within a month of their arrival.
Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Darcy opened the doors to the room that was only used in these circumstances. He blinked several times as he gazed at the scene before him, trying to confirm its truth. Elizabeth was there lying in the bed, sleeping peacefully. In the cot nearby, a babe was also sleeping equally peacefully.
Darcy went straight to his wife, sitting down on the chair that was near where she lay. He reached out and clasped her hand, bringing it carefully to his lips. Slowly the reality sank in, and he found himself shaking uncontrollably. He rested his head on their hands on the bed, as he finally let go of his restraint and sobbed out his grief.
Elizabeth's sleep was broken. She opened her eyes to find her husband crying on her hand. "Will? What's wrong?"
Darcy looked up. "Will" meant she was concerned, "Fitzwilliam" meant she was fine and "Darcy" meant that she was angry with him. Fortunately he had rarely heard that name being spoken. "Its nothing," he said honestly, gazing at her, "I'm just glad you're alive. I thought I was going to lose you."
She sighed and instantly began to reassure him, for they had had this discussion every time. " You never will."
"I love you Lizzy."
"I love you," She replied, her sparkle returning. Darcy smiled back at her and she leant down to kiss him. Then she sat up, turned and slid across to the end of the bed. She returned with the child and presented it to him. "Here is our daughter."
Darcy gazed down at the babe and was entranced. Every child had had the ability to do that to him since they had had Lawrence, their first and their heir. The babe opened her eyes and stared up at him, causing him to let out a gasp of surprise. Elizabeth's eyes were staring back at him from inside the babe in her arms.
Elizabeth saw his fascination. "What shall we call her?"
"Well," he replied, "as we decided against using our own names long ago and as she is the image of her mother, I think it should be Imogen Elizabeth Darcy."
Elizabeth considered for a moment and then agreed. "Imogen it is. Although I think her father is too much of a flatterer to judge so."
Darcy chuckled. "Let me take her and you get some rest. I'll introduce Imogen to the rest of the family. I love you, Elizabeth Darcy."
Elizabeth smiled. "I love you too, Fitzwilliam Darcy."
The 35th Regiment camp, Newcastle.
In a small, poor looking, ill-kept house on the main street, another woman was struggling in her labour. And this was to be her last child, at least for awhile.
Downstairs, a family equally nervous, waited for the ordeal to end. Seven children, unnaturally silent, wished for their mother to be okay. A wife of another officer kept her eyes on them worriedly.
A knock at the front door brought them all out of their trance. The woman got up and went to answer it. A officer, a Major by the look of him, was standing outside.
"No," the woman answered, "my name is Mrs Lawford. What can I do for you?"
The officer looked uncomfortable. "My business is with Mrs Wickham alone."
"Mrs Wickham is.........." A child's wail stopped the explanation and turned it to be unneeded. The officer nodded in understanding. "How long until she is fit to see visitors?" he asked Mrs Lawford.
"Not for a few days. Why do you ask?"
"I am afraid I come with some bad news. I regret to inform you, Mrs Lawford, that Captain Wickham was murdered this morning in a duel."
Georgiana Blakeney looked up as the doors to the music room were opened by a footman, signalling that her brother was about to come through with the latest addition to the Darcy family. The children near her stopped playing instantly, all equally curious as to what was about to happen.
Sure enough he came through the door with boyish smile upon his face and a bundle in his arms. "Come and welcome your new niece, Georgiana."
The youngest children of the Darcys, twins Alexander and Alexandra, tried to rush up to greet their father but their elder siblings Lawrence and Heloise, held them back. They had been through this already and knew that it was wrong to disturb their father with the new baby until they were asked.
Georgiana came up to her brother and peered down at the bundle in his arms. "She's beautiful," she cried softly instantly. "What have you called her?"
"Imogen," Darcy replied as they moved to sit down on one of the sofas. He gestured for the children to come and see the child. Six children came up to the sofa and clustered around their father and, for two of them, uncle, to see what he held in his arms.
"I think I see why she was named Imogen."
Darcy looked up at his brother in law. "How is that, Michael?"
"I can tell from here that she's the image of her mother."
Darcy chuckled. "That's exactly what I first thought."
"How is Lizzy?" Georgiana asked.
"She's a little exhausted, it was a long time. She's getting some rest at the moment. I'll let her sleep in there until she wakes up."
Hunsford Parsonage, Kent.
"Thank you, Sir, for coming so far. You had a pleasant journey I trust?"
"Yes I did."
"Did Lady Catherine's............"
"Please, Mr Collins, I did not come here to listen to you talk about Lady Catherine. You wanted to see me about something to do with Longbourn. What is it?"
"I am afraid that I cannot inherit it, sir."
Mr Bennet looked at his host puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"I believe, sir, that there is a clause in your late father's will that forbade entail if the heir to that entail was not able to............. that is..........."
"Mr Collins, please get to the point."
"I cannot have children sir. That is, my wife is not able to........."
"I understand, Mr Collins," Mr Bennet replied quickly. He hated travelling, except to Derbyshire, and wanted this visit to end as quickly as possible. Now he realised, it was going to take a little longer than he had anticipated. "Er, when did you find this out?"
Mr Collins hesitated. He had no desire to confess that they had never even tried for children, let alone the real truth; that it was not Charlotte's problem but his own. "About a week ago, sir."
Mr Bennet made no comment on this, surprised as he was. Until now he had never heard of the clause that Mr Collins referred to. "Well, thank you for telling me this Mr Collins. I fear I must be leaving now."
"Will you not stay for tea? Lady Catherine, I am sure........."
"I thank you, Mr Collins, but I am afraid I must decline. I have a pressing appointment with my lawyers in town." At least now he did. This was going to need some careful investigation to find out what happened next. If it could not go to Mr Collins and it could not go to his daughters, then who could it go to?
The 35th Regiment camp, Newcastle.
In the end, Mrs Lawford was spared the unpleasant task of acquainting her friend with the news of Captain Wickham's death, for Mrs Wickham determined it herself, when her friend had been allowed to visit her.
Mrs Lawford could remember her reaction well. Indeed she had been most surprised by it. She had considered once to have many things in common with her friend Mrs Wickham. She like Mrs Lawford herself, had eloped with her husband, and until today, Mrs Lawford had let the romance of it cloud her true judgement of the state of affections between the two.
Yet now, as she looked at her friend in shock, as she listened to her reaction, Mrs Lawford began to wonder what it was in the first place which has caused the Wickhams to leave all their friends, to elope to Newcastle.
"He is dead then?" Had been the only words Mrs Wickham had uttered. It had been more a statement than a question, yet Mrs Lawford chose to treat it as the latter. She confirmed it with sad acknowledgement.
Mrs Wickham made no reply. The babe in her arms stirred but instead of looking at her, Lydia turned to the window, as tears continued to elude her features.
Pemberley, 2nd August 1820.
As daylight began to invade via the sash windows the recent darkness in the north west wing of guest bedrooms, Elizabeth rolled over in her sleep and into the brilliance of the rays. Her eyes blinked open upon the immediate encounter of those rays and then instantly closed themselves again as her senses had yet to become connected to the passage of time, shrouded in sleep as they still were. A second later, however, they opened once again this time in surprise to find her husband's form sleeping opposite her.
Her surprise was not to do with the novelty of the occasion, indeed it was a rarity for her not to wake either in the arms or the presence of her husband's form. Instead its roots lay in the fact that the bedchamber they now inhabited was not the master chamber, or even what the room that was meant to be her own bedchamber, - for she had spent little of her time in that room either, the state of affections between Fitzwilliam and herself being what they were- it was one of the suite of guest rooms which lay some distance away.
Due to its convenient geography- having a small lounge scarcely a hallway away from it- it had been used as the chamber to welcome all of the Darcy children into the world. It was chamber that Elizabeth never spent much more than a week in- except when the twins had been born- and she always slept uneasily there, due to the absence of her husband. Yet now she had awoken to find him peacefully asleep beside her.
At least he had been peacefully asleep. Now he was as awake as herself and wearing a sheepish smile upon his features. "I see I have been discovered," he commented.
"Indeed you have," Elizabeth replied. "How long have you been here?"
"Since last night," he replied, shamefacedly. "I confess, Elizabeth, that I have often...... in fact every occasion it is my custom to sleep beside you until you are well."
Elizabeth smiled at the frank sweetness of the reason. It was one of the many avowals of devotion and love that he had bestowed on her constantly from the day of their engagement. Immediately she encouraged its continuance, by recollecting upon the marked difference it had made to her sleep pattern.
"The first night we spent apart after Lawrence was born," Darcy began, "I could not sleep. I finally gave up at midnight and came here. Since then I have been unable to leave your side at night." He paused, taking her hands in his to kiss them, before changing the subject slightly in order to allay fears. "Imogen is asleep in her cot."
"That I never doubted of, my caring and loving husband," Elizabeth replied, making him smile in pleasure. Her hands evaded his grip and began to trace the lines upon his which marked the divisions.
Darcy tried desperately to keep the desires which this action caused under control. This vow was not easily accomplished, for in a marriage such as theirs, the affection, devotion, adoration and love between them had increased every day of its existence. Indeed, if it was at all possible, Darcy found that he loved his wife even more than the blessed day he had been lucky enough to gain her affections.
"And how have the rest of our children coped?" Elizabeth asked, her fingers still stroking his palms.
"They struggled under the absence of their mama admirably," Darcy managed to reply, still finding her actions unbelievably distracting. In fact, if anything, the somewhat trivial nature of their conversation, coupled with the action served only to increase his desire.
"And dear Georgiana and Michael, how are they?"
"They are also well."
"That was a very economical reply, my love," Elizabeth remarked teasingly, knowing full well the reason for her husband's lack of conversation. Her fingers continued in their task. "I am sure your sister would be most distressed to hear such a reply coming from a previously beloved brother."
Darcy could bare it no longer. "All right, that's it," he declared, and abruptly pulled Elizabeth into his arms, his hands taking control of her own, stopping them in their occupation. "You know why it was a short reply only too well, my love."
Elizabeth affected innocence. "Do I?"
"Most certainly. It was the action of my wife bewitching me." Darcy now took those captured fingers up to his lips and began to lay small kisses upon them. After a few minutes he had become so ingrossed in his task that an interruption was most unwelcome.
The interruption originated from the cot that was not too far from the bed. Darcy reluctantly released his wife to let her fetch their latest child before its cries woke the other occupants of the house.
Gracechurch street, London, 3rd August 1820.
Mr Hawkins, butler to Mr Edward Gardiner, was just about to go to the kitchen to have his luncheon when the door had the annoying presumption to be knocked upon. Sighing in the same emotion he went to open it. The man standing outside waiting to come in was a familiar face to Hawkins however, and his annoyance changed to gladness as he welcomed in the arrival.
"Mr Bennet, sir, welcome."
"Thank you, Hawkins," Mr Bennet replied, distracted as he was. "Is my brother home?"
"He is indeed sir. Shall I take you to him?"
Mr Bennet nodded and allowed Hawkins to take the lead. He was still overwhelmed by the recent sequence of events to notice anything, except for perhaps a slight feeling of deja vu at experiencing the same emotions which had passed through his head here over eight years ago.
"Edmund!" Began his brother in law as soon as Mr Bennet came into the drawing room. "What brings you into London?"
"Estate business," Mr Bennet replied quickly as he waited for Hawkins to leave. When he did so, he sat down and began to explain. "Collins wrote to me about a week ago, asking to see me on an urgent matter concerning the passage of Longbourn. It turns out that he cannot have children. Which means he forfeits the right to inherit it."
"How come?" Mr Gardiner asked, puzzled.
"Well, this is what I found out this morning. Apparently there is a clause in my late father's will which states that if the estate has to be entailed away and that heir does not or cannot have children within my lifetime, it passes to a second male child of one of my daughters."
Mr Gardiner relaxed. "Is this all you came you tell me? I see no problem in this. It is obvious who it will go to."
"It is," Mr Bennet agreed. "But how does that not appear incredibly selfish to the rest of them? After all, they may have sons within my lifetime."
"I think they will just have to live with it. Or rather my sister will have to."
Mr Bennet chuckled at that. "I believe they will. It is strange however. I always imagined one day that her children would inherit Longbourn and now they will. I never wanted it to go to anyone else. If Collins had had more sense............." Mr Bennet trailed off at the thought of possible outcomes that event might have brought about.
"And if you had had another son," Mr Gardiner added. His brother in law merely nodded.
"Still, it is just as good this way. Looking back I would not change a thing."
Mr Gardiner nodded in agreement. "I presume you will be staying here? It is after all, shorter travelling time from London."
Mr Bennet thanked his brother in law for his generosity as his mind began to make plans to meet with his lawyer again in the morning. There were contracts to be drawn up.
Pearlcoombe, Cheshire. 4th August 1820.
In a neighbouring county to Derbyshire and not thirty miles from the estate of the Darcys lay Pearlcoombe, home of Mr and Mrs Charles Bingley. It was a large estate, not as large as Pemberley of course, but considerably larger than Netherfield and had the good fortune of being completely theirs, the last owners of it having regrettably passed away with no heirs not more than ten years ago. The estate had remained empty for so long that the neighbours of it were beginning to despair of its ever being filled again when one morning two riders had been seen surveying it.
"It's a fair prospect," the fair-haired gentleman had concluded first.
"Pretty enough, I grant you," his friend, the dark-haired gentleman, had replied, feeling a slight sense of deja vu as he did so.
"Oh its nothing to Pemberley I know, but I must settle somewhere," the fair-haired gentleman continued, causing his friend even more agitation.
"Bingley," he had began straight away, "do you not realise what you are saying? It is just me or have we had this conversation before?"
Bingley had chuckled outright at that, causing his friend to laugh also, breaking the intrusion of the past. "Seriously, Darcy," Bingley began, once calm had prevailed, "what is your opinion of it?"
"Do you need my opinion?"
"Well, I must confess I am already decided, but I should like to have it all the same."
Darcy paused before answering, "I think you should take it."
Bingley smiled. "That is exactly what I had decided. I shall settle it directly."
And so Pearlcoombe was once inhabited again, much to the relief of all its neighbours. The house was so beautiful, that it had been determined long among them that such a house should not be empty for long. They were most glad to welcome Mr and Mrs Bingley with their son, James, when they arrived to take up residence not more than a month later.
Now, to describe the estate. It was very much of the Classical style, built in pale stone with a considerable amount of windows, but not enough to ensure that they completely covered the house, situated in a valley, with spectacular views of the countryside and its very appearance gave such an atmosphere of tranquillity that it was only right that the family who now had ownership of it would be just as peaceful and kind.
Since that time, the Bingleys had been blessed with two more children, Elspeth and Helena, of whom the latter was just now a year old. They favoured- as their proud father was often wont to judge so- the beauty of their angelic mother and had been pronounced as angels as soon as they were born, with the dispositions of their easy parents doubled in both.
Indeed the Bingleys could count themselves as one of the happiest couples in the world. Their estate was idyllic, their children perfect, and as the situation of Pearlcoombe was too far away from Hertfordshire to incur frequent visits from Mrs Bennet- although Mr Bennet often visited while passing through on his way to Derbyshire- the family could not be more happy.
They had been most glad to get away from Netherfield. The visits of Mrs Bennet had if anything increased since the day of their marriage and it was only so long that even a couple with the sweetest dispositions could put up with the visits and the constant inquiries for balls to invite single young men to marry one or two of their sisters.
The distance of Pearlcoombe had served well, especially as Mrs Bennet was not fond of long carriage rides -although where it concerned her children that was wont to change, but her husband was most reluctant to take her for not more than a fortnight at the most- and had the additional advantage of being not thirty miles from Pemberley, incurring frequent visits from both families.
Jane delighted in visiting her sister, indeed a dinner there had been planned for a few days hence, but which now had been delayed due to the birth of Imogen. The Bingleys had been the first to be informed of this happy news by hand of a Pemberley footman not more than a day after the girl was born and had sent their congratulations.
Jane was happy for her sister and happy for herself. She loved dear Charles more each day and was thankful that he had had the chance to come back to Hertfordshire and marry her eight years ago. The wedding had been as perfect as she had once imagined it could be, although she had missed Lizzy much during the first months.
The Darcys had travelled to town two days after the wedding, then had gone to Derbyshire a few weeks after that. This distance between them caused the frequently flow of letters which helped to lessen the sorrow and they were most glad to be reunited at Christmas two months later. They had spent the first day together walking upon the grounds of the estate as Elizabeth delighted in showing her sister all the beauties of Pemberley, first just the two of them, and then later in a Phaeton with Aunt Gardiner, fulfilling a promise that Mrs Gardiner had requested of her niece a few months ago.
When they moved to Pearlcoombe a year later those visits had increased, along with the sisters happiness. Their young children became fast friends as well, along with Georgiana, whom Jane came to know better over the years. She had met Miss Darcy at the wedding and like Elizabeth had fallen in love with her at once. Together the two sisters between them managed to increase Georgiana's confidence and trust to such a degree that when Mr Michael Blakeney came her way, she did not hide away as she had previously done so.
And so we come to the fourth day of August 1820 which had so far been an ordinary day in the life of the Bingleys. The had risen early -in a house with three young children it was impossible to do otherwise- and breakfasted before separating for the rest of the morning, Charles to sort out a minor problem concerning the horses, Jane to see that the children were established in the nursery before writing a letter to Lizzy.
This business was completed by luncheon to which all the family took outside, the weather being- for England that is, and I speak from experience, dear readers- unusually fine. They took it not far the house itself, upon the grounds that were untouched by gardens. The cook did a very fine luncheon and it was often the custom in good weather to partake of it outside in the relative peace of the estate grounds. I say relative, because it was about to change and the pleasant tranquillity was soon to be done away by the unwelcome- and indeed, must unexpected- intrusion of noise.
This noise was not easily identifiable at first. Although Pearlcoombe had the happy advantage of being situated in a valley, that valley sometimes posed a problem, especially when the source of a disturbance could not be identified. It forewarned the owners that a visitor was coming, but it did not enable them to identify the visitor until it was almost too late, especially when that visitor decided to send no word of their coming, as visitors are sometimes wont to do.
And this visitor- perhaps I should say visitors, for there will be several,- was indeed of the unexpected kind. It was in the form of a carriage, the Bingleys had been able to determine that much by the noise, for it was a distinct noise. The sound of horses hooves going at full pelt, combined with the rattle of carriage wheels on the pebble road way to the estate, had a unique sound and long experience served to identify it also immediately.
It caused complete surprise of course, as unexpected carriages usually do. At first the Bingleys were of the opinion that it was Mr Bennet, but this was quickly dismissed, for that gentleman usually came by horse. No, a carriage usually denoted a lady and or children with- sometimes without- a gentleman as well.
A quick query to his wife's memory told Charles that no family was expected, for no letters had come from either the Guests- Kitty -or the Smythes- Mary -recently, and of course Mrs Bennet was out of the question for no letter had come from her either. That left the Darcys who, with the birth of Imogen were likely to be at Pemberley for quite a while. It was also not the Blakeneys as they too were staying there. The Gardiners were out as well, as Jane had had a letter from them only yesterday which revealed that they were still in town. Which left only one conclusion.
This conclusion was a great surprise, for the Bingleys had never had a visit from them in their entire married life, indeed no one had. It had not been the matter of having no desire to see them- although that was an excuse for some,- it had been more a case of the inconvenience that such a visit would create both ways. Travelling to see them would mean residence in a hotel, for the house was of too full a nature to provide them with rooms, and them travelling to see the Bingleys was often prevented by an extreme lack of funds or to the usually annual addition to the ever increasingly large family.
The Bingleys immediately packed up the remains of the previously quiet luncheon and began the short walk back to the house, as all the while the sounds of the carriage got louder and louder. They reached the front entrance of Pearlcoombe just as the carriage had come to a halt not many feet from the steps.
It was a post or hired carriage, and not a very good one, as the decrepit appearance of it showed. The horses looked haggard and worn out, like they had been driving for at least a day or more without a change. The driver had a similar look and manner, indeed he almost stumbled as he jumped down from the box in a rush to open the door and reveal his passengers.
The Bingleys meanwhile had come to a stop outside the front steps, and were watching with an extreme sense of dread to see if their suspicions were correct. Their expressions of hard come welcome were trying to make a considerable effort to look more convincing when the carriage door was open and was finally relieved of its occupants.
Jane gasped, a motion which was shortly copied by the rest of her family. She stepped forward and pronounced the name of the last person she had expected to see.
Pearlcoombe, August 4th 1820.
It did not take too long for Jane to determine that her youngest sister was not her normal self. She had not done any of the usual things that she would have done eight years ago. Jane knew that eight years would be plenty of time for someone to change, it is just that she had not expected Lydia to follow this example. Jane looked closely at Lydia as she stood there, hesitant to move forward and greet herself and Charles. Almost as if she knew that her reception might not be welcoming. Her whole manner was cautious, more than cautious even, it looked scared. Her eyes were reluctant to meet any of theirs and she seemed to be in a trance as she continued to just stand still.
Jane knew that it was up to her to make the first move and so she began it directly by stepping forward and addressing her sister with, "Lydia, it is good to see you. Will you not......"
She could get no further. The sudden words of comfort spurred Lydia out of the trance that had somehow got her through the past two days. She ran crying into her sister's arms.
Jane was most surprised at this reaction, but nevertheless, she reacted quickly, putting her arms around her, murmuring words of comfort. She turned her eyes to Charles, motioning him to take care of the carriage.
Charles stepped forward and paid the coachman who until Lydia had begun to cry had looked most annoyed at not receiving gratitude for his trouble. However, he was not without heart and stayed down long enough to help Bingley with the luggage and assure the gentleman of his wish to see his sister in law- at least that was the relation he presumed it was- in happier circumstances.
Bingley meanwhile had reached the carriage door and peered inside. Then he gasped again. He knew Lydia had had a son about a year after they had married, but they had never heard of any more after that. Yet somehow there were seven children sitting in the carriage, looking at him with eyes of fear. Instantly he spoke to them, trying to assure them. "Hello, I am your uncle Charles. Will you not please come out now?"
The children silently obeyed him and with his help stepped out of the carriage. It was then that he noticed the eighth child, a bundle wrapped in a brother's arms. The lad himself was having difficulty getting out of the carriage. Charles reached out with his hands to take the child. "Let me," he began soothingly. The lad hesitated for a brief moment, as if this kindly looking gentleman was not to be trusted. However he soon realised the difficulties of his present situation and, with definite reluctance, handed over the child. He was comforted however by the way that his 'uncle Charles' cradled his sister with an almost fatherly devotion in his arms.
Mr Bingley handed the babe back as soon as the lad had got out of the carriage. He knew that their trust needed to be gained and that keeping the babe in his arms would have prevented that instantly. He glanced at his wife and saw her still occupied with a crying Lydia. He was also surprised by the appearance of Mrs Wickham. It then occurred to him that Mr Wickham was nowhere to be seen. He turned back to the lad, who was obviously the eldest, as all the others seemed to cling to him, and carefully asked, "did not your father travel with you?"
It was with some difficulty that the lad managed to reply. "Our father is dead." He said simply.
Who knew that just those four words could have so much effect. It seemed to stop the ominous silence that had previously surrounded them and prompted the carriage off into motion. It was a tired motion, and Bingley noticed that the horses were worn out. "Please," he addressed to the driver, "why do you not stay here for the night? My housekeeper would be glad to accommodate you and those horses need a break."
The coachman nodded and thanked Mr Bingley for his kindness. Bingley turned to order a passing stable hand to take the horses and carriage to the stables and then escort the coachman to the kitchens. With that done he turned back to his wife who had now managed to separate herself from Lydia and was beginning to lead her and the children inside the house. Bingley turned to the children and gestured them to follow him.
Lydia did not even glance at the beauty of the hallway as she entered, in fact, she had seemed to have returned to that trance like state which had occupied her throughout the journey here. Her children were just as silent although their eyes cast themselves about the place, as if looking for something or someone.
Bingley turned to see his housekeeper standing there. "Ah, Mrs Miggins, would be so good as to take these children and give them something to eat?"
"Of course, Sir. Anything else?"
Mr Bingley was grateful for Mrs Miggins' prompt. "Yes, could you prepare rooms for them and my sister in law? And there is a coachman downstairs who will also need the same."
Mrs Miggins nodded and with a motherly gaze at the children she enclosed them in her wake in the direction of the kitchens.
Jane meanwhile had guided her sister to the drawing room where, as Bingley joined them, she and her sister were seated upon a sofa. Slowly Jane spoke. "What is wrong, Lydia? Why have you come?"
Lydia came out of her trance. She wiped her eyes and begun the tale. "George was killed in a duel two days ago."
Jane gasped along with her husband, the latter of whom, having heard of the death, had yet to hear how.
Lydia continued as if the gasp had never happened. Her voice was stilted, almost- to use a modern term- mechanical. "At first I thought we would be okay, that we could carry on as normal. But then the next day brought the bailiffs."
"The bailiffs?" Jane repeated in surprise, but again Lydia did not seem to acknowledge it.
"I knew we had very little money and I tried to help, indeed I tried most frequently, but I had to look after the children. Now it seems there was nothing I could have done. All the furniture had to be sold, including the house. We had nowhere to go. Mrs Lawford gave me some money, enough to travel to here, but no more. I packed the few things that could not be sold and left immediately." She paused and looked at her sister. "I know I am imposing upon you and so you have no fear of me staying forever. I just need to find a service."
"No," Jane began instantly, glancing at her husband as she did so. Mr Bingley nodded his permission. "You can stay here, all of you can stay here for as long as you need to."
"You are very kind," Lydia began, "but I cannot. I do not deserve such kindness."
"I insist, Lydia, you can stay here." Jane repeated before embracing her sister once more.
"Thank you," Lydia replied and then glanced hesitantly at Mr Bingley. "Where are children?"
"They are with Mrs Miggins getting some food," Bingley replied. "Would you care for some refreshment yourself? Or perhaps some sleep?"
"No, I am beyond sleep, but I would like something to eat," Lydia replied. "Thank you, Jane, thank you Mr Bingley. I am sorry........." Lydia trailed off in another set of tears.
Pemberley, August 5th 1820.
As the carriage of the Blakeneys drove away Darcy's arms tightened around his wife's waist. "Alone at last," he muttered in pleasure, kissing her neck.
Elizabeth smiled and refrained for once from reminding her husband of whose departure he was wishing. Imogen stirred in her arms. "Do not pay any attention to your papa's comments, my dearest," she whispered to her. "He will miss your aunt terribly."
They turned and followed the rest of the children inside where dinner awaited them.
A few minutes later when the main course had just been served, and Darcy had just finished announcing a toast to his wife and his new child, their peace was disturbed by the opening of the dining room door.
Heloise Darcy announced the guest before the footman could. "Uncle Charles!"
Darcy stood up instantly and inquired after his friends well being.
"I am well thank you Darce," Bingley replied. "No, no do not get up. I have eaten, thank you, just before I set off for here. I would speak with the two of you if possible." Bingley paused looking at the children who eyes and ears had been watching expression and listening to every word. "Alone."
"Of course my friend," Darcy replied, getting up, followed by Elizabeth, who, after making sure the children continued, followed them to the end of the room. "What is it, Charles?" Elizabeth asked.
"Can we talk in the study?" Bingley asked his brother in law.
Darcy nodded and the three adults quitted the room to go another two doors down. Once there Darcy turned to his friend and repeated his wife's previous inquiry.
"I have just come from Pearlcoombe where Lydia and her children are right now," Bingley began. "They came because Wickham was killed two days ago in a duel."
Rosings Park, August 7th, 1820.
I write to you, cousin, with the best of news. On the first of this month Elizabeth gave birth to Imogen Darcy! I am overjoyed. Words cannot really do justice to my feelings when I first laid eyes on her. She is the image of Elizabeth, Rich, and I dare say will grow to be just as beautiful. Her eyes were already dark blue when she born and now they are an almost perfect copy of my wife's. I thank the day I was able to gain her love, for life has never been so good!
I dare say you are now chuckling out right at this babbling display of mine. My dignified days are long gone I think.
Once Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam of his majesty's Britannic army, now plain Mr Richard Fitzwilliam of Rosings Park, did indeed chuckle at the recently read conclusion of his cousin. Few knew better than himself how true it was. And he deserved it.
Plain Mr Fitzwilliam was also happy with his lot. Once -and still -a second son, he had made the army his career and resigned himself to bachelor hood, knowing all too well that unless he was extremely lucky, he would not meet an heiress who he could love as well. Then, about four months after the marriage of his cousin, Anne de Bough had come to stay at Pemberley.
He had been surprised at first, upon discovering the mask that Anne used to fool her mother into thinking she was an invalid so she could have a freedom she otherwise would not have enjoyed. Then as he spent more time with her, he had begun to value her more than just a cousin, but a friend as well. That friendship had quickly turned to love and they had married in the spring of 1813, just after he had resigned his commission.
Lady Catherine had been less than pleased at first. It had taken her a year to accept them and welcome them into Rosings Park, and then even longer for harmony to be restored. Angry as she was at the 'betrayal' of one nephew, another doing the same had only increased it. It had taken her a lot to eventually admit that she missed her daughter and she had actually gone to Pemberley to bring them back, if only to keep them from the influence of Elizabeth Bennet.
Indeed, Mrs Darcy had remained Elizabeth Bennet in Lady Catherine's eyes until that very day in 1815. After that, communication again ceased between Derbyshire and Kent, until three years later when a letter had come addressed to all, announcing the birth of Alexander Bennet and Alexandra Regina Darcy. It had caused Lady Catherine to soften ever so slightly as she remembered her beloved sister, the late Lady Anne Darcy. Alexandra had been her middle name and the honouring of her served as an olive branch. She wrote back to them with congratulations and begged to be forgiven.
Richard could only guess at what had occurred at Pemberley the day that letter arrived. He had been one of the few to see 'the infamous letter' from his aunt to her previously favourite nephew on the engagement of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. It had not been a letter that had remained on paper long. Darcy had had only enough control to show its contents first to Richard himself, who had been with him at the time it arrived, then to Mr Bennet, whom he had felt it was only right to do so, then to his uncle, before throwing it into the nearest Netherfield fire. Until 1818, he had never mentioned it, but when the 'congratulations letter' had arrived, he had let his anger show. Richard could understand his cousin's reaction and, had it not been for Elizabeth's persuasion, a reunion would never have been retrieved. As it was, the Darcys had spent the Christmas of 1818 at Rosings Park, and Lady Catherine had been most gracious. The breach had been mended forever.
It was therefore with no hesitation that Richard relayed the news from Darcy to his Aunt and mother in law of yet another addition to the Pemberley family.
"That is wonderful news, my love," Anne remarked as she heard the news as well. Lady Catherine also uttered a word or two on congratulations before asking, "does he send any other news, Fitzwilliam?"
"As far as I can see no," Richard replied. "But if you will give me a few minutes I will find the stopping point of his description of joys and see."
There was a pause, a rustle of pages, then Richard found an entry marked but two days later than the first. He began to read it aloud, not expecting the content to be what it was.
August 5th, late evening.
Since, writing the last Rich, news of the most unexpected nature has reached us. I shall begin to relate it as how I learned about it, in order to give you the most complete information.
One day ago Elizabeth's sister Lydia arrived at Pearlcoombe with all her children. It seemed at first that her husband had left her but Charles and Jane soon learned otherwise. You can no doubt determine by now what I am about to relate to you, but nevertheless I shall continue in my task.
Wickham it seems, managed to send himself up into debts of the highest depths, in both the Officers mess and out of it. It got to the point where he was starting to resort to blackmail. Then the regiment was recalled to France. Wickham had no desire to fight and so with a certain amount of manipulation, he managed to promote himself to the rank of Captain into the only company that was staying in camp. Things apparently righted themselves for awhile and then began a downward spiral once more. They came to a head on the last day of June this year.
An Officer by the name of Major Vaughan found out that he was to be blackmailed by Wickham. Instead of reporting it, he charged Wickham to a duel the next morning at dawn. The fight was, as far as I have been able to gather, short and sweet, and needless to say, Wickham lost. He died the same day my daughter was born.
His mistakes do not end there. The extent of his debts were as such to ensure that Lydia and her children- of which there are eight, seven girls and one boy- were thrown out of the lodgings we had set up for them, and had to auction what little remained of their valuables. They had just enough friends to be leant the money to hire a carriage for Pearlcoombe and no more.
They stay with Charles and Jane at present. As for myself I am attempting to investigate the full extent of Wickhams debts from what Army contacts I have. If you know of any, cousin, I would be most grateful for your assistance.
Lydia has changed a great deal, according to Charles. We ourselves have seen little of her, due to our situation.
That is all I can relate at present. I will write when I have more.
I remain most respectfully etc.
Richard laid the letter down with more than a degree of surprise. The death of a man whom the entire family of Darcys and Fitzwilliams hated with an abhorrence, had seemed to of created more problems than his life ever did.
Mr Dreyer, the best of Mr Darcy's personal couriers, had been run ragged by the past weeks work. He had previously been looking forward to spending some time with his family, when the master had rung for him late evening of the 5th. He had presented himself at the study where he had been handed three letters to deliver. The first had been to Matlock, seat of the Fitzwilliam family, where he had rested briefly before leaving at the crack of dawn to travel to Rosings Park to deliver the letter that Richard Fitzwilliam has just relayed to the floor, and now he was nearing his final destination; Longbourn.
He could only conjecture at what the letters contained. He knew of course that part of them would carry the news of the birth of the Master and Mistress' fifth child, Miss Imogen Darcy, but his mind would have been astonished if that had been the only reason for their sending. The Master always announced the news by ordinary letter, no express was ever sent. This time however Mr Dreyer had been told to waste no time in posting all, so it was therefore unlikely that the letters contained only that information. Of course, it was not in Mr Dreyer's nature to presume to speculate too much on the business of his master, indeed he had not wondered at all at the nature of the letters until this morning.
He had arrived in Hertfordshire to find that Mr Bennet was not living at Longbourn, at least not at present, for as the housekeeper had informed Mr Dreyer, her master had left for Kent some days ago after the arrival of another express addressed to him. Thus Mr Dreyer had arrived at a dilemma: who to give the letter to? His master had been most insistent that the letter passed only to the hand it was addressed to, but had failed to mention why.
At length Mr Dreyer had arrived at the conclusion of travelling to Kent at once to deliver the letter, and had been about to voice this out loud when the most unfortunate of circumstances occurred. Mrs Bennet had happened to be passing his horse and, having a good memory, recognised Mr Dreyer, who was obliged at once to dismount. Unable to come up with an excuse he had reluctantly delivered the letter to Mrs Bennet's hand and resigned himself to the sanctuary of her Housekeeper's kitchen to have a now non-deserved meal.
Thus, he and Mrs Hill had been sitting and enjoying quietly a nice lunch, spoilt only by the former's guilt at having failed his master's wishes, when the cries of Mrs Bennet could be heard loud and clear through the ceiling. He then discovered why the news was sent express.
As for Mrs Bennet, persons who are acquainted with her know only too well what reaction she brought forth upon reading the news from Derbyshire. Joy first at the birth of another grandchild. For a while nothing save a few joyful cries of "Dear Mrs Darcy" could be heard from her. The second piece of news however brought her crying out, "Oh my dear Lydia! Oh my poor girl! That scoundrel!"
Mr Darcy had not expected Mrs Bennet to be reading the letter and had therefore been most blunt in his communications of the descriptions of the Wickham's circumstances, knowing that his father in law would expect nothing less, and thus the agony of Mrs Bennet was full indeed. "Wickham, Wickham," she began to cry, bringing Mr Dreyer awake at the name, as he realised his master's actions. Then Mrs Bennet's grief became even louder as she called out "Hill, Hill," again and again.
"Hill," Mrs Bennet began upon that woman's entrance. "Where are my smelling salts? Oh, the most dreadful news! My poor Lydia, widowed in her prime! Oh my poor, poor girl! Oh, Hill, I feel my faintness coming upon me again!"
Mr Bennet would have been unable to receive the letter from Mr Dreyer whether the man had finally discovered his location or not, for he was at this present time taking a break at the Swan Inn, in the village of Kympton, not far from his son in law's estate.
He had spent the past days of time away from Longbourn mostly in town, travelling between his brother in law's house and the establishment of Messrs Averay, Bookbinder, Caudell and Sons, his solicitors. It had taken him several days to first read through his father's will, check with the appropriate parties that his understanding of the certain articles he was concerned with was correct, and then making alterations to his own will, before finally drawing up the contracts that he needed to take with him to Derbyshire.
All of these changes of course were only conditional, due to the nature of the conditions mentioned in his father's will. The line itself about the matter of entail had been most succinct and straight forward, but the actual passing of the inheritance itself concerned the consent of his daughter and son in law.
His daughter and son in law. Mr Bennet chuckled to himself as he mounted his horse for the last leg of his journey. If someone had told him nine years ago that this union would come about, he would have told them that they were devoid of sense. Yet, funnily enough, someone had indeed told him the likely-hood of it, but he had refused to listen. Now, looking back on it, as he had been often doing with all of his daughter's marriages, he was surprised at himself for not noticing the signs before. Of course, he had noticed her wistful look, when ever she looked at Jane and Charles, but had merely put it down to losing her sister. It had never even occurred to him that she might be in love. The gentleman's application had taken him so much by surprise. Consent he had indeed given, for who could refuse such a man anything, but he had been determined to make it conditional on his daughter's feelings. To hear her repeat his assurances and tell him of what the gentleman had done, Mr Bennet had eventually managed to reconcile himself to the match. He had watched her go with a heavy heart, one that was even heavier on her wedding day.
He glanced up and began to slow down his horse as he arrived on the driveway to the estate. As usual, he came briefly to a halt when the avenue of trees parted to reveal a glimpse of the house in all its glory. It truly was a beautiful estate, no more than his daughter deserved in fact. He suddenly wondered if he should have sent word of his coming. Normally he never bothered, his son in law being kind enough to give free rein on invitation, but he knew that they were expecting another child that was to arrive anytime soon, his presence might be an intrusion at this time. Well, there was no point in worrying now, he realised.
He started his horse again into a gentle canter down to the house, as another memory came to his thoughts. It was about the one time that he had been there when a grandchild of his was born. It was their second child and he could still remember to this day his son in law pacing the room where they waited with an anxious face that looked ready to kill any one who remarked that things were making progress, and practically wearing out the rug beneath his feet. The worry had been written clearly on his own face too and Mr Bennet smiled at remembering his son in law walking straight pass the midwife to his wife without even thanking her.
Mr Bennet drew the horse to a prompt halt and dismounted as a stable hand came out to take him. All thoughts about the past stopped as he walked up the steps and knocked on the front door.
Mrs Reynolds greeted him upon his entrance and instantly directed him to the music room. As he got closer Mr Bennet could hear the faint sound of a piano being played. Meanwhile Mrs Reynolds nodded to one of the footman who rapidly opened the doors.
"Papa!" Elizabeth cried upon on his entrance.
Mr Bennet took the room in at quick glance. Darcy had been sitting on the sofa that commanded the best view of the pianoforte, while the children had clustered around him, waiting for their mama to finish so they could claim her attention again.
His glance then went to Elizabeth as she embraced him. She had had the baby, that much he gathered by her thinning body and the bundle in her husband's arms. He set her back and smiled in reply to her inquiry about his journey. "I did, thank you. I hope I have not come at bad time?"
"Not at all, sir," Darcy replied as he stood up and came to see his father in law. "In fact there is a lot of news to relay."
"One of them being the arrival of my new grandchild I gather," Mr Bennet commented as Darcy began to present his bundle to Mr Bennet.
"This is Imogen, papa," Elizabeth stated with pride.
Mr Bennet took his granddaughter in his arms and like others, gathered instantly why she was called Imogen. He smiled as he remembered briefly the gratitude he felt when they had chosen to call their sons Lawrence and Alexander. He knew that they had only done it to honour his name, but he still felt the distinction was also intended for an event that Elizabeth could not possibly remember.
He handed the child back to Elizabeth as they went to sit down. Instantly his other grandchildren rushed at him. He greeted each one in turn, reserving a special token for Alexander, who had unconsciously always been his favourite. Then he began his request. "I came because there is something important that I wish to discuss with the both of you."
As if on cue, the nursery maid appeared at that moment for the children. After they had say goodnight to all, Lawrence, Heloise, Alex and Alexandra went with Mrs Campbell. Imogen stayed asleep in her mother's arms.
"What about?" Elizabeth asked when Mrs Campbell had exited.
"I received a letter from Mr Collins some days ago. He requested to see me as soon as possible. When I arrive at Hunsford he revealed to me something which until then I had no idea had ever existed. There is a clause in my late father's will that allows for the possible eventuality that the entail cannot have children."
"Charlotte and Mr Collins cannot have children?" Elizabeth asked in surprise.
"Yes, that is what Mr Collins needed to tell me. I left for town the next day to consult with my lawyers. There I discovered that the condition did exist. It states that if an heir of an entail cannot have children Longbourn goes to a second son of any of my daughters."
There was a long silence when Mr Bennet finished speaking. Both Elizabeth and Darcy were unprepared for the news they had just received. The conclusion to draw from it was obvious, but they still had to hear from Mr Bennet all the same.
He obliged them. "If you wish it, Longbourn will pass to Alexander." He paused then added, "of course, I do not expect you to answer right now. I understand that this requires a lot of thought. I know the estate is not worth much by Pemberley standards, but I would dearly like it to go to Alexander if it could. It need not been the only thing he receives, either. Of course, I understand completely if you decline."
"It definitely has to go to a second son?" Darcy confirmed.
"Yes, the wording was quite specific." Mr Bennet sat back and waited, wondering idly why his son in law had asked that question.
"Papa," Elizabeth began after a while. "We will need time to think about this. Will you be able to stay for a few days?"
Mr Bennet replied that he would.
Pemberley, 10th August 1820.
"Elizabeth?" Darcy inquired aloud in a slightly panicked voice.
"By the window, my love," her voice answered.
Relieved, Darcy got up, put on his robe and went to join her.
It was the morning after Mr Bennet's arrival. As yet they had been unable to discuss properly the news they had heard last night. Both had been concerned with coming to their own conclusion first before voicing their views with another.
"So," Darcy began after he had greeted Elizabeth with a kiss, "what is your opinion about it, my love?"
Elizabeth glanced at her husband. Their eight years of marriage had never stilted her courage in voicing her every thought to Darcy and so it was without any hesitation that she began to reply. "I am perfectly happy to let Alex have Longbourn, if it is agreeable to you."
Darcy smiled. "I had a feeling that would be your opinion, my love."
Elizabeth's look turned to puzzlement. "Is that all the reply I am to receive?" She asked, unconsciously quoting her husband from the past. She flushed as she saw Darcy flinch briefly. The 'Hunsford incident' was still a painful memory to him, even though they had been married eight years and counting. Every time he woke without her by his side, he would panic that his recent joy had all been but a dream and her voice would take a while to reassure him that it was not. "I apologise, my love. That was not supposed to come out the way that it did. What I mean is, you seem a little reluctant in agreeing with me."
"It is not reluctance, it is plain guilt," Darcy replied, wrapping his arms tightly around her from behind. "We have so much that Alex does not need to worry about being second son, and I feel that if we accept, we would be depriving the other Bennet children of something that they have equal claim to."
"Which is why you asked about the wording of the will," Elizabeth remarked. "I do agree, Fitzwilliam, they do deserve to have the choice. But I believe my father wants it settled quickly. We have the only second son at present and I think he is concerned that he may not live to see another." She shuddered as she finished the last.
"I think, Lizzy, your father wants it to go Alex purely because he is your son," Darcy replied, trying to easy her worry. He above any other- except perhaps Jane -knew that his wife was Mr Bennet's favourite daughter. It was why he had taken pains to become better acquainted with him before he married Elizabeth. Love for her had made it important to have her father's blessing as well as his consent, and he was pleased that he had that still. Mr Bennet reminded him a lot of his own father in a way and he was pleased to know him. "I asked your father about the wording because of your sister's situation."
"That would please mama," Elizabeth commented with a smile. "Her favourite daughter's eldest son inheriting Longbourn. But I do not think that would be wise. Lydia may have changed, but I have only Charles and Jane's authority on that. And they always saw the good far more than the bad. If Lydia's son was to inherit, the inheritance could suffer."
Darcy kept his own reservations about the son of George Wickham inheriting Longbourn silent. "I was also thinking about your other sisters as well. Kitty has only two children so far, and Mary four, but if ever they have a second son, their own situations would ease if Longbourn were to pass to them."
Elizabeth nodded, thinking of her sisters as she did so. "Your are right, my love, but you know as well as I do that Edmund Guest is the most arrogant man when it comes to accepting what he deems charity, which to him Longbourn would indeed be. And as for Ezekiel Smythe, well the less said about him the better."
Darcy admitted reluctantly that his wife was right about his brother in laws. Smythe was close to being a Puritan, let alone an Evangelical, and so any other estate but priesthood was blasphemy to him. Guest meanwhile was a man of means and devoted to Kitty but too proud for his own good.
"And that leaves Charles and Jane," Elizabeth added, with a sigh. "And you know what their reply will be if we express the desire to leave it to them."
"Yes, Charles is too kind for his own good," Darcy replied, smiling. "Admit it, my love, you want Alex to have Longbourn."
"Did I not say so at the beginning of this discussion?" Elizabeth questioned innocently.
"You did, but until now your conclusion seemed to have been reached by process of elimination, rather than a real wish for it."
"I do," Elizabeth confessed, "I do want Alex to inherit Longbourn, but like you I feel guilty that it should go to him above any other. However, he does seem destined to have it."
Darcy looked at his wife with nothing short of amusement. "Since when did you start believing in destiny, Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth turned into his arms so she faced him as she replied lovingly, "since I married you, my dear husband."
At this point Darcy could not refrain from kissing her passionately in reply.
Due to the liveliness of their children, the Darcys were unable to announce their acceptance to Mr Bennet's request until after lunch when the twins and Imogen were asleep, while Heloise and Lawrence were at their lessons.
"I had hoped that would be your reply," Mr Bennet remarked with good humour. He reached into his pocket and produced the contracts. "Here are all the legal papers, so we can make this official." He handed Darcy the documents.
"I'll go and find Reynolds and see if he can get Fitzgerald here tomorrow," Darcy announced before quitting the library, kissing his wife's hand on the way.
Mr Bennet turned to his daughter with a smile. "I am glad you agreed, Lizzy. It was always a wish of mine that your son would inherit Longbourn. If Mr Collins had had a modicum of sense, perhaps........."
Elizabeth reacted as he had intended, breaking into peals of laughter. "Oh papa!" She cried when she had calmed down. "I do not think that would have changed my mind."
"No," Mr Bennet agreed. "Nevertheless, I am happy you and Darcy are together. Now, is there anything else you need to tell me other than Imogen's arrival?"
Elizabeth lost her smile. "Fitzwilliam and I wanted to tell you this together, sir, but I dare say it does not matter now. Mr Wickham is dead."
Mr Bennet leaned forward in shock. "Dead?" He echoed. "How?"
"We have yet to receive the full details but........." Elizabeth began, before launching into the whole of it, at least the information that she had received from Charles who had some how managed to prize it out of a changed Lydia.
When she finished Mr Bennet was sitting back in his chair with anything but the humour that had occupied him before. "I see now why Darcy asked about the wording of the will," he remarked slowly, his hands gripping the arms of the chair in order to keep his anger in check.
It goes without saying that as Mr Bennet's opinion of Mr Darcy rose, his opinion of Mr Wickham had lowered considerably by the hour. During the few weeks before the wedding of his favourite daughter he had attempted for her sake to get to know a man that he had previously thought to be arrogant and proud. The change he had found was astonishing at first, then later he had come to respect and like the man that was taking his Lizzy away.
As his opinion of Darcy changed to approval, his opinion of Wickham changed from merely observing the foibles to regarding the man with suspicion every time a letter arrived from Newcastle. He could still remember vividly the day that he had asked his son in law for the full the story about Wickham.
Now that he had heard this news his concern about Lydia's marriage was justified. "Lydia has nothing left?" He asked his daughter to confirm.
"All Wickham left her was eight children," Elizabeth replied bitterly.
"That's not all he left her," Darcy announced abruptly as he re-entered the library a letter in his hand. "I have just received this from my contacts in Newcastle." He paused and with a disgusted voice added, "apparently Mr Wickham left debts of thousands of pounds in the officer's mess, as well as the hundreds of pounds he owes several officers, along with the rent on the house. All of which, even the auction of the furniture is not going to pay off."
Pemberley, August 11th, 1820.
Darcy rose early next morning to attack his financial estates. His decision had already been formed during the night before, now it was only a matter of making his accounts work without the usual surplus that was laid up each year. He could not help but feel a sense of deja vu, the events eight years ago fresh once more in his mind. However, he reminded himself of his own faults which had brought the situation about in the first place. He was making amends for the faults of his character eight years ago and he still felt the necessity to do so.
Elizabeth rose early likewise and soon found him in his study, checking the final details one last time. "You need not do this," she remarked as she leant over his shoulder, her fine eyes surveying the accounts.
Trying to ignore the sensations that her breath and proximity caused in him, Darcy replied, "I do," before ticking the last equation and laying down the quill. "It is my fault that this situation evolved in the first place."
"Fitzwilliam, if indeed there is any blame to yourself the debt has more than been repaid. You need not do this as well."
Darcy merely glanced at his wife in reply. The years of marriage together had created the rare talent as to be able to exchange thoughts and opinions by just a single glance. Elizabeth received that now and translated it instantly. The matter was already settled in her husband's mind and no discussion would change it's outcome.
"In that case I thank you again," she began.
"No gratitude is needed," Darcy interrupted, leaning against her and looking into her eyes. "The years spent with you, my darling, have more than repaid me, if indeed there was any need for repayment. I love you Elizabeth, and I cannot bear to see you or our family suffer because of Wickham."
"That was entirely too charming a reply," Elizabeth commented with smile. "How ever I am able to live up to such praise?"
"Are you fishing for even more compliments, my love?" Darcy asked her lightly. "At present, I have not the time to do them justice."
"No time to do them justice? One might conclude that you are unwilling to do so from that statement."
"No unwillingness in the matter, only the........" Darcy trailed off. Elizabeth's face was close to his. He titled his head and kissed her.
Somehow, despite the awkwardness of their positions, the kiss developed into a long impassioned declaration from both sides and it was quite awhile before either of them returned to reality. When they did, it was with great reluctance.
"Jane wishes us to have dinner with them tomorrow," Elizabeth began after awhile. "Do you think we will be able to?"
"As long as Imogen and you are up to the journey, I have no objections," Darcy replied, looking anxiously at her.
"Fitzwilliam Darcy, will you never cease your protective sensibility?"
"Never where my wife and children are concerned," Darcy announced grandly. Elizabeth laughed in reply.
"I wonder how Lydia will be," Elizabeth voiced aloud.
"You really think she will have changed?" Darcy asked her in surprise.
"Strangely enough I do," Elizabeth replied. "She has had eight children in eight years of marriage where the money has been scarce and the luxuries absent. I think that is enough to change even her wild disposition. Also, to my knowledge, me and Jane have only received one letter from her since her marriage and that was on the eve of ours. I expected more correspondence, if only to ask for money."
"Has your mother received any from her?" Darcy asked.
"She did once I believe, but they stopped at least two years ago if not more. You remember when they visited around the birth of the twins? She mentioned the lack of letters from Lydia then."
"I am afraid my love my memory of that time is mainly concerned with my worries for you," Darcy replied seriously. "That day was one of the longest of my life."
"And mine," Elizabeth responded with a smile, just before the door clicked. "Good morning Papa."
"Good morning," Mr Bennet replied as he crossed to join them. "Let me guess," he began as he sat down and encountered his son in law's gaze. "You are volunteering to help us with the Wickham debts?"
"Not help, pay," Darcy tentatively replied, looking anxiously at Mr Bennet, memories of a similar conversation some years ago resurfacing.
"May I ask why? Although I suspect that I already know the answer."
"I feel responsible, sir. It was my mistaken pride which..........." Darcy trailed off as he caught Mr Bennet and his wife's expressions. "Well, I also simply wish to do so. I feel it is necessary."
"Well, I have no objection to it, so you may," Mr Bennet replied, causing Darcy to inwardly utter a sigh of relief.
"Papa," Elizabeth began after awhile, "do not think me impertinent, but may I ask how long you intend to stay?"
"Truth be known, Lizzy, I had originally told Mrs Bennet that my visit would take no more than a week at the most. However, it has taken far more than that and I suppose I must reluctantly return to Longbourn before she sends a search party for me."
"Will you be able to stay for a further two days?" Elizabeth then asked. "Jane has invited us to dine at Pearlcoombe tomorrow night you see, and I am sure she would be delighted to include you. It would also give you the opportunity to see Lydia if you wished to."
"Unfortunately Lizzy, I think two more days would rather set the return journey too long for Mrs Bennet's liking. Meryton's delights can only amuse her enough not to notice my absence for more than a fortnight. Do give my best wishes to all at Pearlcoombe though. No doubt Mrs Bennet will insist upon us making another visit once she hears of two further additions to her grandchildren." Mr Bennet paused to flash his son in law a wry grin as Darcy tried once more to master his fear at the prospect. Mr Bennet he could stand, enjoy even. Mrs Bennet, however, was another matter. It was eight years and as yet he had been unable to master his emotions to poker his face. "So, if it is agreeable to you, I shall depart tomorrow morning."
"It is not agreeable for you to depart Papa, but if you must go then we shall not attempt to delay you any further."
Longbourn 11th August 1820.
It did not take long for all of Meryton to learn that Mrs Bennet was in the deepest of grief's although they had yet to determine why. Mrs Bennet had retired to her room since the day she received the letter and the village had not heard so much as a sound from her since then. The sensible quota of Meryton rejoiced at this while the rest lamented at the loss of gossip they were to lose by Mrs Bennet's confinement.
However, being a curious and determined lot, as indeed village gossips always are, they soon came up with a plan to satisfy their interest. The plan was hardly an ingenious one, indeed, where gossips are concerned, what plans were, but nevertheless it was a solution that would have instant remedy. Mrs Bennet required, in their opinion, a visit from a well-meaning friend or relative to aid her through her grief. Of these two the former was paid no consideration, as the latter was in the village and would need no excuse to visit her sister.
So Mrs Phillips paid Mrs Bennet a visit and, much to her and the village's satisfaction, she was soon acquainted with all that Mrs Bennet had to relay.
The first item was quite astonishing but Mrs Phillips soon pronounced herself in conjunction with her sister on the opinion of Mr Wickham's character.
"I was most distressed at first sister," Mrs Bennet remarked in her usual style. "Indeed who would not be upon hearing such a woeful piece of news?"
"Indeed, dear sister, indeed."
"However, I soon managed to reconcile myself to the comfort that my dear Mrs Bingley must be providing for my poor Lydia."
"As would I be sister, if I had such a delightful daughter as Mrs Bingley."
"That scoundrel, to leave my poor girl alone like that!"
"Indeed my dear sister, indeed." Mrs Phillips let in the usual customary pause that was necessary in such circumstances, before adding, "although, I had always suspected that such a man would surely come to such an end someday."
Without a moment's hesitation Mrs Bennet replied, "sister, so did I and warned Lydia accordingly when she visited us after her marriage. But would she listen? One cannot fault her though, sister Phillips. She was so much in love with the young man. And he was so delightful."
Mrs Phillips would have replied with complete agreement to this epithet had it not been for the door of the drawing room opening at that moment.
Mrs Bennet followed her sister's gaze. "Yes, Hill, what is it?"
Mrs Hill looked positively uncomfortable, almost reluctant even, to announce her reason for disturbing her mistress. She had no desire to give her news that would cause even more agitation than the recent news had. However, it was unavoidable. "A Mr Lawrence Alexander Bennet wishes to see you, ma'am."
Mrs Bennet's reaction was immediate. "Oh my dear boy! Oh sister, quick, give me my smelling salts. I feel my faintness coming upon me again!"
Pearlcoombe, August 12th 1820.
So far, the lack of conversation was enough to cause rising concern and palpable tension. The atmosphere at the Bingley dinner table was charged to say the least. It made the Darcys grateful that their father had declined to join them for the evening was doubtless going to be a long one.
Mr Bennet had left as planned early the next morning, having little idea what was to await him at Longbourn and probably no desire to find out. Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam had seen him off, for the children were still in bed after a late night of being with their grandfather. After they had seen his horse disappear from sight, they had returned to the house to take the opportunity of a rare morning to themselves. The rest of the day had then been spent as usual, time with the children and time with the estate business, before retiring to their apartments to dress for the evening at Pearlcoombe.
When they had arrived Lydia was somewhat absent at first. She did not emerge in fact until the moment dinner was announced. Elizabeth had greeted with the best affection she could muster, trying to avoid expressing surprise at her altered appearance. Lydia looked a shadow of her former self. Gone was the wildness, gone was the silliness, in fact had it not been for the unchanged eyes and hair, Elizabeth would never have recognised her.
Even her face had remarkably aged more than eight years could warrant. There were dark circles around eyes which makeup could never cover and, upon her bare arms, -when Elizabeth caught glimpses of them, for they were mostly covered all night by a thick black shawl- had signs of fading red marks, the identity of which could not be mistaken.
They were scars.
During dinner the change became even more marked. Unless something was specifically directed to her, Lydia never entered into any conversation. Her lack of appetite served only to increase her sister's concern and shock. The movement of eating was done automatically, without thought to its taste or its nourishment, and the drink consumed was likewise without consideration to taste or compliment, only water. The desert was not even touched.
When the gentlemen retired to Charles' Billiard room Elizabeth had, rather optimistically, expected some improvement to her sister's appearance, even if it was only a sigh of relief. However, there was nothing. Lydia did not even seem to notice the change of scenery, from dining chamber to the music room, let alone Darcy and Bingley's departure. It seemed that Lydia at times did not even know where she was. Her body was there, but her soul was not.
Elizabeth was not the only one to notice this. It was the first thing that Darcy remarked upon when he and Bingley entered the latter's Billiard room.
"She has been like this since she told us about Wickham's death," Charles replied to his friend and brother in law's inquiry."And even that took some difficulty to obtain."
Darcy laid out his first shot. "And there has been nothing to alter her from it? Even briefly?"
"Nothing. Jane's really at the end of her tether. She was hoping Lizzy had an idea, but she seems just as at lost."
"She is," Darcy acknowledged, remembering the look of astonishment that his wife had sent him during dinner. "Were those red marks on her arms what I thought they were?"
"If you mean scars, I believe so," Bingley confirmed. "Even though we have yet to get her to admit to them being thus." Charles suddenly looked at Darcy in shock. "Wickham was capable of that?"
"Wickham was capable of anything if his mind and the drink took him to it," Darcy replied bitterly, memories of Cambridge rising into his visual mind. He laid down his cue and took another shot. "I cannot help but wonder if marrying the two of them was really the best solution."
"Darce, there was no way you could have foreseen this," Bingley cried. He had learnt of the things that Darcy had done to bring about the marriage when Darcy had returned with him to Netherfield. "You did the only thing you could have done at the time, faced with that situation. It would have been worse for Lydia had you not made them marry."
"Would it?" Darcy asked vehemently. "Would it have really been worse than what's happened in their marriage? All right she might have lost her reputation, but she would not have had the scars she has now."
"Darce, stop blaming yourself. There was no way you could have known that this was going to occur. Now, let's return to the ladies before you drown into more of a depression than you have now."
While Bingley was trying to bring his brother in law out of the self blame mode he had gotten himself into, Elizabeth and Jane were trying to keep alive a conversation that was flagging considerably. The minutes past had done nothing to alter Lydia's appearance. Her soul was still closed off to the party.
Elizabeth had very nearly had enough. When it came to her sisters her patience was never tried but now with Lydia it was waning considerably. She wanted to shake the girl into her senses, or at least to get her talking. She knew Lydia was in grief, she understood the wherefor and the why, she just wanted her to confide in her sisters. After all, why bother to come here otherwise? If she had not wished for help, she would never have taken the coach to Pearlcoombe. True, she had little where else to go, save Longbourn, but even if money had not been an object, even Lydia would know that she'd find no help there.
Elizabeth sighed, then came to a decision. It was a difficult one, in fact it might even make Lydia retreat further, but it had to be attempted. She got up, stepped forward and knelt in front of her sister. Looking up at her face, she began, "Lydia, please, talk to us. We are here to help you. It's tearing me and Jane apart, seeing you like this. Please." She paused and waited for Lydia to respond. Nothing. "Lydia, please. Even just a glance will do. It might help if you confided in us. We are your sisters, flesh and blood. We are waiting to help you. Please let us."
Jane, who had been watching Elizabeth and Lydia intently ever since the former had tried this new tactic, would swear later that she had seen a flicker of something in Lydia's eyes. What it was, she could only speculate. Recognition possibly, even perhaps acknowledgement of all that Elizabeth had said. However, no vocal communication came. At least for a whole five minutes. Then....
Lydia looked at Jane and then back at Elizabeth. Her lips began to open, as if she was trying to speak, but somehow had forgotten how to formulate the words. She slowly opened her mouth, looking at Elizabeth with eyes that screamed out for assistance.
A knock sounded upon the music room door. The spell was broken. Lydia retreated. Jane stood and called for the knocker to come in. It was one of the nursery maids.
"Please, Ma'am, Miss Louise is crying for her mother." The maid, poor soul, had the sense to realise that whatever she had interrupted had been vital. She looked most apologetic as she uttered her speech.
As for Lydia there was a slight improvement. She gestured a silent thank you to the maid, before getting up to follow her out of the room and attend to her child.
Elizabeth turned to her sister when they had gone. "Jane, if someone else had not already done the job for us, I would go and kill Wickham myself. This is not natural."
"People are all affected differently by grief, Lizzy," Jane began, trying as usual to an advocate for all parties.
"I've seen people affected by grief and I know that this is more than that. Much more. That wall, Jane, has affected Lydia longer than the death of Wickham. It's her mask, and how long it's existed is far too difficult for me to judge. But I am certain of one thing. Unless we break it soon, she will be lost to us forever."
Pemberley, 16th August 1820.
The events of the twelfth did not go quickly by. The Darcys had left Pearlcoombe late that evening with no sign of Lydia. Since the call from the nursery, they had heard nothing from her.
Elizabeth had ended the evening feeling very frustrated. Not just with Lydia, but with herself as well. The move had almost worked, she had almost spoke. If only....... Now she doubted her move, wondering if the action had drawn Lydia even further back.
It took her awhile to try and forget the blame. When they had arrived at Pemberley she had told Darcy what had happened, along with the belief that she was at fault. He had emphatically refused to believe such a possibility. He told her of Georgiana and Wickham, when he had tried to break them and the reaction his sister showed. It had been very similar apparently. It had taken him four long hard weeks, just to get her to even look at him. He, who had been her only confidant. He told her not to give up hope.
That was four days ago. Since then, Elizabeth had kept up a daily correspondence with Jane, waiting for the first sign, any sign from Lydia. They had gone back to the original plan, of waiting silently, for her to make the first move, not them. To let her know that they were there for her just by their presence alone. Darcy encouraged the correspondence, remembering well how much a comfort it had been to write to Richard when Georgiana had been the same. The letters did not contain much, indeed the only subject they mentioned was Lydia. It was a frivolous waste of paper, but they could well afford it.
At the moment however and for the first time since the twelfth, her mind was not on Lydia. Instead it was working out the difficult problem of how to slide out of her husband's embrace without him waking up. She tried once more to gently move and then the problem was taken out of her hands as he opened his eyes. She smiled and moved up to kiss him. It was only meant to be a short kiss, but Darcy quickly took control, rolling her on to the bed, his lips still locked on hers. Once he had her impaled by his arms he drew away briefly to gaze at her.
"Good morning," he uttered huskily, drawing a laugh from her.
"Do you plan to greet me this way every morning?" She asked him.
"Only when I am awake enough to do so," he replied, smiling. He laid another kiss upon her lips, before gently sliding away. He settled into a resting position beside her, his arm propping up his head. "What are you plans today?"
"Write to Jane but that's about it," Elizabeth replied. "Why?"
"I was thinking we could take advantage of the sun and have an outdoor luncheon with the children."
"I had a feeling it would."
"You did? Since when did I become predictable?"
"You haven't. I have just perfected at reading your thoughts." Darcy paused as he sent a loving gaze to her and then added, "between two souls entwined, there is always...."
"A complete meeting of minds," Elizabeth finished, smiling. Darcy leant down to kiss her and all thoughts of the plans for the day were forgotten.
Mr Bennet was to remark later- in half a joking manner, mind you -that he would have done well to have gotten to the bottom of the matter straight away, instead of 'indulging' -as he put it- in his wife's nervous whims. As it was, he barely had time to think, occupied as he was by his own hopes and concerns. After all, having some mysterious stranger greeting you in your own house as if the former lived there can put anyone out of their pervious good humour.
The stranger had not come into the house by illegal means, of course, but had been invited, on the authority of name alone. Mind you, where Mrs Bennet is concerned, a familiar name was all that required you- or a stranger, as it happened to be in this case -to be welcome with open arms.
When we last encountered that good woman, she was entertaining her sister with the gossip of family before a visitor was announced. This visitor's name we shall leave for the present, as he is to meet Mr Bennet very soon. He shall remain for now as the mysterious stranger who was waiting for Mr Bennet's return.
Mr Bennet left Pemberley in good time and with regular breaks along the way- one of which was a short detour to London to inform Mr Gardiner that the matter his brother in law had gone to Derbyshire for had, for the moment, been taken care of -he managed to arrive at Longbourn several days in advance of the predicted time that Mrs Bennet would have lasted before sending out a search party. At least on her side in any case, for his was preparing itself to be the recipient of many a good-natured and enthusiastic addresses on the lateness of his return.
So, while his favourite daughter and family were settling down to a delightful outdoor luncheon upon the grounds of their estate, Mr Bennet had slowed his horse to a stop and had dismounted outside Longbourn. Upon arriving he was to remember later that all he had noticed about the place was nothing out of the ordinary, which was strange in itself, for surely the arrival of a horseman would provoke a response from someone, would it not?
Nevertheless at the time Mr Bennet chose not to comment on it, instead walking up to the house and letting himself in. Upon his entrance he was greeted by the laughter of his wife, and the younger chuckle in return. Alarm bells finally began to ring at this moment. Mr Bennet was an astute judge of character, but even on this occasion the most amateur of students would not fail to determine the chuckle as male. Without further delay, Mr Bennet headed for the drawing room.
"Oh my dear Mr Bennet," began his lady the minute he appeared in the drawing room, "we have most anxiously been waiting your return!"
Mr Bennet was already on his guard, and his wife's greeting only made him even more so. Without the slightest appearance of altered composure, he both took in the occupants of the room and the reply to Mrs Bennet in the same moment.
"Oh sir, how can you be so tiresome, do you not notice there is some one else here to welcome you home?"
Mr Bennet had, but he was not about to let his wife know that. He turned his gaze to the gentleman instead, as the mysterious stranger began to rise under his stare.
The stranger walked forward and held out his hand to Mr Bennet. The latter paid him only one comment. "And you are?"
"Why Mr Bennet, do you not recognise him?" His wife cried. "He is our dear Lawrence, returned to us at last! The Collinses will not inherit after all, with our only son and heir to stop them!"