We left Darcy and Lizzy planning a wedding in two weeks. I hope nothing can interfere! (insert evil authoress laugh here.)
“You are quiet tonight, Caroline,” Bingley said as they sat for light supper in the drawing room of Hurst’s townhouse.
“Has Uncle Stanley written to you again about the safety of the mills?” she replied.
“He continues to worry.”
“And there is nothing you can do?”
“The militia is at the ready and it has the attention of the Crown. If every machine is broken, it would be a financial set back, but we are secure. Which is better than many.”
Caroline gave an indignant huff. “I could care less about the money. Did you hear Colonel Fitzwilliam talking with Eliza today?”
“No, I was speaking to Lord Matlock and Mr. Gardiner.”
Hurst began to chuckle. “You actually spoke to his lordship?”
Bingley felt heat creep up his neck. “A little.”
“What about Eliza’s conversation?” Louisa brought their attention back to Caroline.
“He is not resigning his commission after his wedding as planned. He has been asked to stay as his unit may be needed to support the West Riding militia.”
The room grew quiet and Caroline fixed her attention on some distant object in the room. “Not only is it impossible for me to even speak with him again while he remains in service, but I worry about his welfare. They only just returned from the Continent…” She trailed off and finished with a shrug. “I still love him.”
Bingley’s heart broke for his sister. He had not wanted to expose her feelings to Fitzwilliam and so despite his hopes that she may have a second chance with Mr. Truman, the chances of them meeting again were slim while he served as a batman. Perhaps a “chance” meeting could be arranged on his day off, this coming Sunday. The others had fallen silent and finished their meal, allowing him to reflect on how happy he was that he did not quell his feelings for Jane. Not returning to Hertfordshire would have been the biggest mistake of his life and who knew how he would have managed to have a second chance with her. Seeing as her father ended up gambling so much and attempted to force Lizzy to marry Wickham, who knows if they would have been at Longbourn months from now or if Jane would have remained unwed. He would be forever grateful that he saw enough cause for encouragement in Jane’s behaviour toward him. Although, if he were truthful, a good deal more of his determination to return to Hertfordshire rested on hope.
The others had gone abed but he sat drinking his coffee in silence. His thoughts were finally interrupted when his butler came in with an express from his Uncle Stanley. He had very strong reason to believe the croppers near their largest mill in Huddersfield would be attacking on the fourteenth. The ___ Militia had been sent for and would be arriving on the thirteenth at the latest but he also intended to hire others to guard the property. Bingley feared the hired guards would be much less well regulated than Colonel Forster’s regiment. Violence was inevitable. If he left in the next few days, he might be able to talk sense into his uncle before the encounter. He hastily wrote a note to Darcy, who was a silent partner in the Huddersfield Mill.
The following day, Darcy called after church. Bingley suggested they remove to the library. Hurst never used the room, so it was set up for Bingley’s use.
“What is this about Huddersfield?” He paced the room instead of sitting.
“My uncle has information that these so called followers of “General Ludd” will be attacking the mill on Tuesday next. You already know Colonel Forster’s regiment is decamping to West Riding. Two platoons will be sent to Huddersfield directly. Uncle is also hiring paid guards to assist. I fear they will be the hot headed sort. I intend to leave tomorrow to convince him to leave the matter to the professionals at the very least.”
Darcy nodded his head. “I will come as well.”
“You are to be married later that week. It will be impossible to return in time!”
“Thank you, but I hardly need to be reminded,” he said grimly. “Are you calling at Gracechurch Street soon?”
“Yes, I intended to leave as soon as we finished.”
Darcy then invited Bingley to ride with him as his carriage was ready. They were greeted happily by their ladies. The Gardiners remained at breakfast with their children.
“We did not expect to see you until later,” Jane said.
“I regret to say that I must depart tomorrow morning.” Bingley hesitated and then looked at Darcy. He had no idea how to explain the situation to the ladies and would not be the one to tell Elizabeth their wedding must wait.
“Has something happened to one of your factories?” Elizabeth asked.
“There is a plot to attack on Tuesday,” Darcy supplied.
Elizabeth nodded her head. “You are hoping it can be avoided.”
“May I speak with you privately, Elizabeth?” Darcy asked and Elizabeth led him downstairs, likely to the parlor.
He was left alone with Jane, who smiled shyly at him. “I am sorry that you have to leave on such a worrisome errand,” she said. “Do you think they will do much damage?”
Bingley sat beside her and took her hands in his. “They have been very successful in their attacks. My uncle wants to prove a point and has requested the Militia be present.”
Jane gasped. “How terrible! I know that they are breaking the law and they must be punished, but I cannot help but feel sorry for them.”
“Indeed, I am of a like mind. I hope to avoid blood shed.”
“There is nothing that will deter them from targeting your mill?”
“I do not think there will be anything that could satisfy the rioters. They have no personal grievances. Their complaint is that the factories take their jobs but neither do they seek employment in them. They can break the machines, but we will rebuild them and continue on. I believe that is the best way to respond to such acts.”
“I would hate for my father’s tenants to feel the loss of a few pounds a year so extremely that they would risk imprisonment or death.”
Bingley sighed at the helpless state of things. “It is very different in the North near these large market towns. Conditions are harsher for everyone.”
She squeezed his hands. “I am sure you will be a conscientious landlord.”
He smiled and said a silent prayer of thanks. Jane perfectly understood that the easiest way to alleviate this concern was for landlords to lower rents. It would affect their own income, but he would never be able to live with his conscience if he lived in luxury while others feared for money to feed their children. “My dearest Jane, how I love your kind heart,” he said before a swift kiss. “I will return as quickly as I can. I do come with good news as well. Everything is arranged with the solicitor and nearly so with your father. I can think of nothing better than to have you as my bride and my Valentine.”
Jane blushed red at his reference. They would be wed on February thirteenth and he had every intention of being the first man she saw upon waking on the fourteenth. He indulged in another, much less swift kiss before they went in search of Darcy and Elizabeth.
Elizabeth led Will to the Gardiner sitting room. Before he opened his mouth to speak, she said, “I am coming with you.”
Will took a step toward her. “Elizabeth—”
She interrupted him. “No. I will not be parted from you.”
“That is impossible for a variety of reasons. Your uncle will never agree and I would not blame him.”
“I believe the wife of Mr. Darcy is not beholden to the opinions of other men.”
“Yes, well as I am sure you have gathered the wedding must be delayed,” he frowned while speaking.
“Or moved ahead,” she said steadily while meeting his eyes. Anticipating his argument she held up her hands to cease the words forming on his lips. “I do not require much rest on journeys. We shall travel swiftly. I suppose the moon is no help right now but surely two days is sufficient.”
“I was hoping to talk with the local landowners. If they can be convinced to help alleviate the burden their tenants feel, there would be no need for attacks. And the yeoman have to face high prices for goods as much as anyone.”
“So your solution would be to spend a week browbeating gentlemen and shopkeepers?” Elizabeth asked with an arch eyebrow.
“Do you have a better suggestion?”
Elizabeth sat and smoothed her skirts. “Do you even know them? Are you even acquainted with them at all? Do you know if they are even at their estates and not in London? Their stewards could not promise to do anything of that sort without approval. How can you work on shopkeepers? They have their own families to feed.”
She tugged Will’s hand and he sat beside her. Seeing that Will looked unconvinced, she pressed her point again. “The trade components are more complicated than most are considering. The factory owners have to pay for the materials. Due to the war and the American embargo, we rely more on textiles made in England but that will not be true forever. The shop keepers buy the goods and must have a profit. Meanwhile, many of the other goods they sold are now unavailable due to the war. Our entire economy is built on ancient practices and is ready to collapse. Goods now travel around the world instead of remaining in a very local marketplace. Even the centuries old trade of raw materials from America to England and goods to Africa has collapsed because of the Revolution and the abolition of the slave trade. There is something great for the future to be made out of this tangled mess, but we must live in harmony.”
Will was quiet during her speech. “Bingley or his uncle would know the principal land owners in the area, but it is possible they would defer to others, even more, influential. Your uncle is a powerful lord with an estate in West Riding and is the Lord Lieutenant. He must know many…” she trailed off. “You already know all of this, of course.”
“Yes, I have sent a note to my uncle and will meet with him soon. I do enjoy how passionate you become on subjects you are knowledgeable on, though,” he said while lightly caressing her hand.
Resisting the pleasurable feeling, Elizabeth shook her head. “You will not distract me. You must see, then, that there is little for you to do. I know you will go. You cannot shirk your responsibilities and investments, but as you do not know the people on either side of the conflict, your uncle could put you to use just as well in London for a few more days.”
Will ceased his movements and looked her directly in the eye for a moment. “It means a great deal to you that I do not leave without you and we wed earlier than planned?”
Elizabeth ducked her head and whispered, “Yes. What if something would happen…” She trailed off, incapable of finishing.
He pulled her into an embrace and she fought back tears. “I would be happy to marry you any day of your choosing,” he murmured into her hair. “Although, I would rather not be a means to you avoiding your feelings about your father, or healing from your mistreatment by Wickham.”
She sniffled, again willing the tears to hold back. “How would you know so much about it?”
“I have been disappointed in my father and I have seen how long it took Georgiana to recover her spirits over Wickham.”
“She had thought she was in love with him and I never did. I only hate that I did not see his true character and seemed so weak compared to him. It is so frustrating to be a woman. How many times have people attempted to take my power of choice away?”
“I know, love,” Will said while rubbing her back. “I will abide by your choice now if you are certain you truly desire to wed in a few days’ time and then go on this arduous journey with me.”
Elizabeth pulled back to meet his eyes. “I have already journeyed to London by my own choice to be with you. What are a few hundred miles more?”
He chuckled. “I wish I could assure you the roads are in good condition, but you will see things run differently in the North. It is not too far from Pemberley, actually. We could return there when our errand is complete before returning for Bingley’s wedding—unless you would like to come earlier.”
She furrowed her brow. “Will Georgiana wish to go as well?”
“No, she hates Derbyshire in the winter. She may come if you desire it, though…” He trailed off.
She smiled. “No, I believe newlyweds ought to have privacy,” she blushed. “I had not wanted to make her feel unwelcome in her own home or abandoned.”
“Nonsense. She will stay with the Matlocks and have the company of my aunt, Anne and Lady Belinda. I am certain Mrs. Gardiner and Jane would be welcome additions as well.”
“Then I think it is a splendid idea!” She beamed.
Will looked around the room. “Speaking of privacy…” he captured her lips for several minutes until there was a noise in the hall.
Bingley and Jane appeared hand in hand. Bingley announced he was ready to leave and Will agreed. When Elizabeth made her sister and the Gardiners acquainted with her decision, they could hardly contain their surprise. Mrs. Gardiner and Jane declared shopping was necessary and began making lists for the next few days. Before going to bed that night, Lady Matlock had also written stating she welcomed the ladies to her modiste on Bond street in the morning.
It occurred to Elizabeth that marriage to Will truly meant leaving the life of a country squire that seldom came to London and knew no one of the first circles. The wife of Mr. Darcy must be appropriately and fashionably attired. She would never regret marriage to Will, and upon the whole had such a cheerful opinion of the world that she thought London Society would prove tolerable, but she did have a twinge of sadness as she considered leaving the simpleness of her old life behind. A life her father had featured heavily in. His wit and sarcasm, so familiar to her, would now be exchanged for the more deceitful charm and ingratiating behaviour of many. There would be a part of her that would always be Lizzy Bennet, but perhaps the dissatisfaction of Longbourn the last several months gave her the nudge to take on the yoke of Elizabeth Darcy.