Well, Darcy and Elizabeth are happy and in love! Time to start working on Wickham and Mr. Bennet!
Georgiana returned to her London home after a day of shopping with her aunts and female cousins. Aunt Eleanor and Aunt Catherine butted heads at every turn. Georgiana was too overwhelmed and Anne was too timid to help Lady Belinda attempt to facilitate any compromises. Exhausted, she wanted nothing more than to see her brother for a moment before resting until dinner. Seeing the butler in the hall, intrigued her.
“Oaks is something amiss?”
“A Miss Elizabeth Bennet insisted on meeting with the master…”
“Lizzy is here?” Georgiana began walking down the hall.
“I would not go in—” He gave up as she threw open the door.
William and Lizzy had been in an embrace and immediately parted.
Georgiana blushed scarlet and murmured an apology. She turned to leave.
“Georgie, wait,” Lizzy said.
Georgiana turned and saw her friend was blushing as well but she held out her arms and the younger girl fell into them.
“I have missed you so much!” Georgiana said as she squeezed Lizzy tight.
“And I you,” Lizzy returned the squeeze.
“But what are you doing here?”
Lizzy laughed and pulled back. She looked at William with so much affection in her eyes all of Georgiana’s anxieties were immediately calmed.
“Tell her our news,” Lizzy said to William.
He returned the affectionate gaze for a moment before turning his attention to Georgiana. She could tell he was attempting to control a smile. “You will be very cross with me, Georgie.”
“Why is that?” she said.
“Because I will remain your dearest brother but I am afraid you will have to share the role of my dearest girl with my wife.” He allowed the smile to win at last. “Elizabeth has agreed to marry me.”
Georgiana clapped her hands and laughed. “I knew it would be so!”
“Thank you for securing my letter,” William said to her.
“You read it?” she asked Lizzy.
“As soon as Mrs. Harrison gave it to me. I believed it immediately,” she said and quickly glanced at William before casting her eyes down.
“And then you arranged to come to London!” Georgiana supplied the rest when it seemed neither her brother nor her future sister were forthcoming with more information.
“Sir,” Oaks entered the room. “There is a Mrs. Gardiner asking if you have any information on the whereabouts of her niece.”
“Oh! I forgot! I did not mean to worry them!” Elizabeth began walking toward the door, but William gently grasped her hand.
“Please assure her that Miss Elizabeth is well and invite her to the blue drawing room. We will go up directly.”
The butler nodded and left for his tasks.
“Oh, Lizzy! You will have to meet the family. James is engaged. Did you know? Of course not,” Georgiana chatted on nearly without a breath as they walked. “Richard was engaged first but then James finally decided to offer for Anne. Of course, my aunts wanted both of them for William first but nevermind that. Aunt Eleanor has already hosted one party but we could host a dinner with all of us here soon. You will adore Lady Belinda.”
She finally ceased speaking as she realized they were several steps behind her. Lizzy appeared to be walking slowly up the stairs and leaning heavily on William’s arm “Are you injured?”
“My ankle is healing slowly,” Lizzy said and offered a weak smile.
Georgiana knit her brows. She had sprained it over three weeks ago. “Should we go back?”
“We will be there in only a few more steps,” William said. “Go on ahead and assure Mrs. Gardiner that all is well.”
She nodded her head and upon opening the door was surprised to see Jane as well. “Jane?”
“Georgie!” She was pulled into another embrace.
When they separated, Jane introduced her to Mrs. Gardiner. By the time they had completed that William and Lizzy had arrived and the task of introductions fell to Georgiana. Soon they were all seated with refreshments.
“I hope you are not very cross with me for using subterfuge and coming here without a chaperone,” Lizzy said to her aunt.
“I daresay it rather depends on the result of your errand,” Mrs. Gardiner replied with a smile.
Elizabeth again looked at William to make the announcement. “I have asked for Miss Elizabeth’s hand in marriage and she has accepted.” He smiled so widely, Georgiana believed his face would crack if he had to say those words anymore in the day. Congratulations immediately came from Jane and Mrs. Gardiner.
They had just finished their tea when Mrs. Gardiner stood. “It has been a pleasure to meet you Mr. and Miss Darcy and I look forward to many more meetings but we must return home.”
Georgiana immediately extended an invitation to the proposed dinner, to be held in two days’ time and was readily accepted. William assisted Lizzy down the stairs again. She managed to overhear the ending of their conversation.
“I regret that I cannot call on you tomorrow, Elizabeth,” William said.
“Well, my arrival was unexpected,” Lizzy said with a smile. “In seriousness, I do understand the importance of your task tomorrow and wish you God speed.”
“It is for both of us, my love.”
Georgiana had no idea what errand William had on the morrow, but blushed to hear his private words of endearment and directed her attention to Jane and Mrs. Gardiner.
The ladies soon boarded a carriage and returned to Gracechurch street. William offered her his arm and the siblings walked back to their house with identical full smiles on their faces. She knew her brother was happy to finally gain Elizabeth’s acceptance, and she was happy for him. However, her smile was of a more selfish motive and she acknowledged it without regret or guilt. She felt as though she had gained a real family through her acquaintance with Elizabeth. Whatever life held in store for her it could be neither boring nor terrifying with five sisters.
Darcy and Bingley exited a hired coach and arrived at Arlington’s bachelor apartments, where Denny was being kept under the watchful eye of Mr. Truman and other men Richard hired. They had chosen to meet there instead of at the Matlock or Darcy residence for superior privacy. Upon entering, Darcy was pleased to see Denny seated and looking nervous as his relatives sat seemingly unaffected. All the better to unnerve the man.
After a cool greeting, Darcy directly began. “I apologise for our late arrival. Mr. Bingley’s cousin is a barrister and was most helpful in assisting us.” He laid several papers before Denny. “You see before you, Mr. Denny, a list of extortion cases sentenced to death or transportation in the last several years.”
Denny’s mouth dropped open. “Now, see here. I am no street urchin. My family is respectable! A jury will not see me hang.”
Arlington smiled smugly. “You would like to think that but you targeted a peer of the realm, his wife and his nephew.”
“Not me! Wickham!”
“You would be willing to testify to that?” Richard asked.
Denny grew silent. “You will never take this to trial. You do not have anything asking for money and you would not like to bring ladies into this.”
The earl, at last, sat forward and boomed. “I am sick unto death of this Wickham fellow being a menace to my family. My brother George was too kind to him and William has been as well. I have no attachment to him and while there is no cause for my countess to testify, I will defend her honour if needed.”
Denny visibly swallowed. “Surely we can agree to something.”
Richard laughed menacingly. “You expect payment! For us to protect your life!”
“What do you want then?”
The other men looked at Darcy and allowed him to speak. “You will rejoin your Regiment and act as though you never knew the name Darcy. Go on with your miserable life however you please.”
Denny quickly bobbed his head in assent. “And Wickham?”
Darcy frowned. “He has proved to be much less trust worthy. He is being watched and shall not manage to leave his post. I will deal with him in person when his duties are complete.” He nodded at Arlington. It seemed his cousin ensured the loyalty of Captain Carter by recommending the Derbyshire Regiment, and his Company in particular, for service.
Having secured Denny’s agreement, all that was left to do was for Denny to sign a contract stating he would never harass a Darcy, Fitzwilliam, Bingley, Bennet or Gardiner relative again. Darcy soon left for his next errand.
An hour later, he arrived at Mr. Gardiner’s warehouse. It was not lost on him that before meeting Elizabeth, he never would consider entering such a place. He could be friendly with those beneath him, but to see an unacquainted man at work? Still, he desired to settle matters as soon as possible and time was a growing concern.
“Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Gardiner said upon his entrance, “A pleasure to meet you. Please, have a seat.”
Darcy sat and nervously tapped his leg, uncertain how to begin.
“Since I am rather sure you are here about Lizzy you may as well speak frankly.”
“Sir, I do not know how much she has told you about her encounter with Mr. Wickham.”
The older gentleman scowled. “Not nearly enough. I’ve had a letter from my brother Bennet saying he lost quite a bit in cards and now owes this Mr. Wickham a considerable sum.” He sighed in disgust. “Then he jests that since Lizzy is so headstrong in seeing to her own affairs I had best consult her on how long she intends to stay with us and that in his opinion the lengthier the stay, the better. He gave me leave to act on his behalf for her.”
Darcy scowled as well. “She has told the truth to you?”
Mr. Gardiner shook his head. “Not really. We had a letter from her sister Mary stating Elizabeth missed Jane and would be arriving the following day. My wife and Jane kept insisting it was all in hopes of her meeting with you.” He looked Darcy up and down. “Clearly she saw to that directly, but I had thought there were more nefarious reasons for her sudden departure and resistance to any discussion of Longbourn.”
“He tried to sell her,” Darcy said without disguising his disgust. “Twice. The first to his idiotic heir and the second time in exchange for his debts to Wickham—a rake who has a particular hatred of me.”
Leaning forward, Mr. Gardiner met Darcy’s eyes. “My brother’s flaws are not lost on me, Mr. Darcy, but you forget that I was recently in Hertfordshire. I saw Lizzy’s depressed spirits after you left. Even Jane confirmed that she expected you to propose to Lizzy. You may have secured her hand now, but do not play the role of unerring protector when you had no concern for her feelings then.”
Feeling heat creep up his neck, Darcy nodded his head for the guilt he shared. “You have reason to distrust me and I am pleased to see there is someone who looked after her when I could not, but you lack some information. I had asked for Miss Elizabeth’s hand in matrimony and she declined. As she did Wickham. While I acknowledged her freedom of choice, her father sought to match her to Wickham against her will and that scoundrel ” he clenched his fists. God help him when he saw Wickham again. He would need divine intervention to not kill the man. “He forced his attentions upon her.”
Mr. Gardiner’s eyes widened in shock and he turned white in disgust for niece’s experiences. Darcy then, as briefly as he could, explained how he and Elizabeth had been deceived by Wickham and that man’s longstanding hatred of him.
When Darcy finished, Gardiner blew out a slow breath. “I apologise for my words. I could not have hoped for a more honourable man to ask for our Lizzy’s hand.”
Darcy waved his words away. “There was truth to your accusation. There was a time when I thought badly of a match with Miss Elizabeth and even counseled Bingley away from Miss Bennet. You have every right to think the worst of me.”
“I am not pretentious enough to think that you should see no evil in a match to her,” Gardiner said while shaking his head. “Jane and Bingley are to return to Longbourn in a week’s time. Their wedding date is not yet determined. I do not think Lizzy should go without protection.”
“I already planned to return to Hertfordshire when she did. Wickham will not be a concern at any rate. He is currently marching to duty in the North and will soon be dealt with properly.”
“I do not think she is prepared to return to her father’s house,” Mr. Gardiner said with raised eyebrows.
“Sir…are you suggesting that we marry before she returns to Hertfordshire?”
“I would never choose for her, which you seem to understand as well. But if together you wish it, I would be prepared to act in Bennet’s stead and bless a marriage even if it occurred before Jane’s.”
Having already been through so much suspense for Elizabeth’s hand, Darcy had to admit it was exceedingly tempting. Attempting to hide his eagerness at the thought, he nodded his head. “I will ask her opinion.”
“And I suggest a special license to please her mother and to quell any gossip over why you married quickly and away from Longbourn.”
“I had hoped I could deal with you instead of Mr. Bennet, or at the very least have you on my side when I approached him. I confess I cannot think well of the gentleman at all.”
“I know it does not seem he deserves it at the moment, but he encouraged Lizzy to become the woman who has enchanted you. I daresay he had some good intention wrapped in all of this and we are all mortal. I think you have already learned the penalty of offending Lizzy by speaking or acting against her family. Allow her to come to her own terms with her father.”
Darcy begrudingly saw the sense in Mr. Gardiner’s words. “I have heard from my wife how excellent your father was,” the older man added.
“Indeed, he was quite benevolent and amiable. He was the best landlord and master that I could ever hope to become.”
Mr. Gardiner stood and the gentlemen walked to the door. “I suppose his attachment to Mr. Wickham rubbed you the wrong way, and yet, you concede he is wonderful in every other way.”
The gentlemen shook hands and Darcy left to meet with his solicitor and gain an appointment at Doctor’s Commons for the license. He understood Mr. Gardiner’s unsaid words. It took him some years to make peace with his father’s treatment of Wickham, and he did it without the intrusion of others. He ought to allow Elizabeth the same. Except, he wished to support her instead of her feeling the burden of loneliness he had shouldered for so long.
As he applied for a marriage license, he smiled to himself. Months ago he believed he would avoid marriage as long as possible and then it would be a cold and heartless match. He could not imagine taking this step with any sanguine feeling at all, and now he met the prospect with happiness, nay elation.
The Gardiner carriage pulled up to Darcy House and if Elizabeth could have been sensible to the presence of her dearest relatives, she would have been amused. She had no patience to fret over meeting the earl and countess or Mr. Collins’ fearful patroness, Lady Catherine. Nor was she curious enough to consider that soon she would behold the two ladies who had once been considered the best candidates as Will’s wife. Shamelessly, she did not even notice Georgiana awaiting their arrival from the upstairs drawing room window. Her eyes landed on Will and she did not tear them away until it was impossible to continue watching. They were shown into the drawing room and although there were several unknown faces, again she had eyes only for Will.
He came to them and bowed to her family before kissing her hand and tucking it under his arm. She marvelled at the pride on his face as he introduced her to his noble relations and settled her on a sofa beside him. The earl and countess were not as charming and outgoing as their sons but were amiable nonetheless. They soon fell into conversation with her aunt and uncle. Will perceived her look of wonder.
“I cannot say that position and fortune in life mean nothing to my relatives. We have never wanted for either. However, they are shrewd enough to know that life consists of all manner of people with shared experiences and values. I can tell my uncle finds yours intelligent and well-mannered.”
Elizabeth smiled. “It is a triumph to know I have some relatives for whom I need not blush. I shudder to think of them meeting my mother…or my father.” She grew silent for a moment before turning a teasing look on him. “And is that how you have found my uncle as well? You seemed acquainted a moment ago and yet you have not met him before now.”
Will smirked. “You are incorrect, dearest. I called at his place of business yesterday.”
She attempted to hide her surprise. “Is that so?”
“Indeed and he had the most wonderful suggestion for us.”
“Truly?” She grinned at Will’s playful attitude.
“He suggested we marry in Town with my cousins.”
Elizabeth sat up a little straighter. “Before returning to Longbourn?”
“If that pleases you.”
“When?” she asked quietly.
“They are to wed two weeks from tomorrow. Your uncle suggested a special license to appease your mother.”
Nodding her head, Elizabeth met his eyes. “I care not when or where we marry.” Then dropping her voice and blushing slightly she added, “I will be glad when our parting will cease.”
She heard Will sharply inhale and he managed to nod his head in agreement.
“What is it you are talking about?” Lady Catherine called from a nearby seat.
“Music, madam,” was Will’s reply. Elizabeth hid a smile.
“Does Miss Elizabeth play?”
“A little, ma’am,” she replied.
Surprised to be directly addressed, her ladyship’s eyes snapped to Elizabeth’s. “You are related to my parson, I understand. He is to inherit your father’s estate.” Elizabeth mutely inclined her head and Lady Catherine looked around the room. Her eyes landed on Jane. “Your elder sister is a very pretty, genteel girl. I am happy to hear she is betrothed, even if it is to Mr. Bingley. Are any of your other sisters out?”
“Yes, ma’am, all of them,” Elizabeth replied.
“All of them! The younger ones out before the older ones are married. Your youngest sister must be very young indeed.”
“She is not yet sixteen and perhaps she is young to be much in company, but I think it must be hard on younger sisters to not have their share of amusements because the elder ones did not marry. It would hardly encourage sisterly affection, and that I am most dependent upon.”
Lady Catherine narrowed her eyes but did not reply. Instead, Lady Belinda spoke. “A most excellent sister to Miss Darcy you will be, then. Mr. Darcy appears to have made a very prudent choice. Having always been an only child, I confess I am happy my future brother will be marrying at the same time as us.”
“Anne will be a marvelous sister to you,” Lady Catherine said and Lady Belinda smiled. Turning her attention to Miss de Bourgh conversing with Caroline, Lady Catherine then left them alone.
“You secured your country treasure, I see,” Lady Belinda said.
Will smiled. “And it was not cursed pirate’s gold after all.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam, who had just walked up, joined them in laughter.
“Dare I ask what that is in reference to?” Elizabeth inquired.
“When I returned to London after Bingley’s ball, I was introduced to Lady Belinda. I was encouraged to think differently about matters of the heart and the cost of not following it.”
Elizabeth smiled at the lady. “It seems I am not the only impertinent lady who sees fit to question the opinions of Mr. Darcy of Pemberley. You shall have no peace now! Better to lock Georgiana away from us or we will corrupt her entirely.”
“Nonsense!” Lady Belinda cried. “I will depend heavily on you, Miss Elizabeth, and Miss Darcy this Season. Miss de Bourgh says she will stay at Rosings even while Lord Arlington is busy in the House.”
Darcy raised his eyebrows and looked at Colonel Fitzwilliam. “I thought you intended to reside at the Crenshaw estate after the wedding.”
His cousin sighed and Lady Belinda looked away nervously. “My new general is also an MP for Beverley in East Riding of Yorkshire. He is convinced there is trouble brewing in West Riding and believes the frame breakers may seek to attack those that transport factory goods to the ports in the East.”
As educated as Elizabeth was, she understood what the others left unsaid. Lord Matlock served as Lord Lieutenant of West Riding. His son could not resign a commission from a regiment which may be called upon to aide his own father’s militia. The others fell silent.
Elizabeth turned a cheerful smile on her soon to be cousins. “I shall be happy to provide you company, Lady Belinda, however, inexperienced I am with London. You will have to guide me through meeting all the lords and ladies, but I will happily mock them with you behind my fan.” The other lady gave Elizabeth a grateful smile. Seizing the topic of music as being most commonly enjoyed by all, the conversation held until it was time for the guests to depart.
After the dinner, she left Darcy House convinced she would enjoy her new relations and pleased at the treatment she received. Will had extended an invitation to the Gardiners to visit Pemberley this summer. They had intended to take a tour of the lakes but could not turn down such an opportunity.
When they asked about touring Manchester along the way and if it would be safe with the current unrest, they were assured by both lordships that it should all be resolved by then. Judging by the looks in Will’s, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s, and Lady Belinda’s eyes, Elizabeth very much doubted they believed that any more than she did. She did not pretend to understand much about the common worker, but she was certain a group of armed people upset at the injustices they faced would need more than a stern warning or a pat on the head from their largely negligent masters. Nothing promoted ill-feeling more than when absentee authority suddenly appeared to steal one’s independence. On that level, she could relate entirely with the frame breakers. She did not know how she could manage to make amends with her father for his misjudgments. The idea of not returning to Longbourn for even Jane and Bingley’s wedding pressed heavily on her mind.