We’re getting closer to the end. Now, let’s get Darcy and Lizzy safely married!
Jane smiled from her seat on the bed in the chamber she shared with Elizabeth at Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner’s. Elizabeth sat before the mirror on the small dressing table, beaming.
“I am so happy for you, Lizzy,” Jane said. “Bingley and I hoped you and Darcy would work everything out. Now, look at how happy you are!”
Elizabeth came to the bed and laughed. “I may be happier than even you!”
Jane shook her head. “We are both happy in our own ways.”
“Of course, dearest! I did not mean to offend.”
“No, you just tease like Papa.”
Elizabeth frowned. “I hope I am not too much like him,” she said quietly.
“You have always liked his wit and intelligence. What has caused this change?” Elizabeth said nothing and would not meet Jane’s eyes. Jane circled a flower on the bedspread and tried to sound nonchalant. “Has Papa replied to your letter about the wedding?”
Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. “Uncle said that they would not be coming. Papa does not want to bear the cost of Mama’s likely unrestrained shopping.”
Jane gasped and squeezed her sister’s hands. “You are not upset at not seeing him before your wedding? That our other family will not be coming?”
“I am upset over a great many things but I did not expect them to come. I knew it when I left Hertfordshire.”
“Does Papa disapprove of Darcy for some reason? I always knew you left home to meet with him—and not because you missed me no matter how much you protested it when you arrived—but I had not thought it was without Papa’s blessing.”
Elizabeth let out an exasperated sigh. “Do you remember that my ankle was sore when I arrived?”
“Yes. It is strange that it took so long to heal from the sprain before Christmas. I thought it nearly mended by the time I left for London.”
“I hurt it again the day before I journeyed to London with the Hurst’s and Caroline.” Elizabeth recounted her visit to Mrs. Harrison and Darcy’s letter. Next, she explained Wickham’s assault and what Jane understood to be the largest betrayal of all, their father’s role in Wickham’s plot.
When Elizabeth had finished, Jane sat mutely, trying to acquit both Wickham and her father in her mind. She would have gladly gone through her whole life without believing there was so much evil in the whole world let alone as she now knew resided in one gentleman who had once sat in her mother’s drawing room.
“And even now Papa is ignorant of Wickham’s true nature?” She asked Elizabeth.
“No, Uncle and Will have written to Papa but he has not…” A sob wracked her body and Jane pulled her close. When she had calmed, Elizabeth finished in a whisper. “He has not written to me. He has not asked how I am doing. It is as though I am dead to him.”
“No. There must be some misunderstanding. Promise me you will give him a chance to explain himself when you return to Longbourn for my wedding.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No, I will not promise that. I do not know that I will return either.”
Sensing Elizabeth refused to budge, she determined to ask more about Wickham. “Has Mama and our sisters, at the very least, been warned about Wickham? Or is he still welcomed at Longbourn?”
“No, the Regiment has left, already.” She was told of Wickham’s plot against Darcy and the Matlocks. “They can charge him with extortion and blackmail if he does not cooperate.”
Jane nodded her head. It seemed unjust that Wickham may be allowed to go free, and potentially wreak havoc on others, but a trial would bring more pain than anything else. She was confident that the others considered how best to employ their powers to keep their families and the general public safe from Wickham in the future.
“I am glad you finally told me,” she said as she hugged Elizabeth once more. “How did you bear it all alone when it first happened?” Jane would never forgive herself for enjoying her engagement and time in London while her sister had been assaulted and felt abandoned by their parents.
The sisters were so close, Elizabeth understood the thoughts in Jane’s mind. “Do not blame yourself,” Elizabeth scolded. “Caroline and Louisa were quite kind to me and I asked for Mary. Each of them has qualities that I have not given them justice for, but I was not alone. It is not the same as you, but we will soon have to bear that in any case. For you will be at Netherfield and I will be at Pemberley.” She tried to smile but Jane saw tears glisten Elizabeth’s eyes.
A tear trickled down Jane’s cheek. “Our husbands are close friends and Charles is still looking to purchase an estate. I know he favours the North.”
“Yes, we will see each other often,” Elizabeth attempted another smile. “Here, let me brush out your hair,” Elizabeth said while winking away tears and walked to the dressing table. It was a sisterly task they had performed for each other countless times in their lives.
“I am glad you think better of Caroline. I worried you were not looking forward to her being invited as well to tea with Georgiana tomorrow.”
Elizabeth’s brushing slowed. “I think, after understanding her temperament a bit more, that I feel sympathy for her. I do not pretend to be her confidante or friend now, but her treatment toward me in the last several weeks has made me believe she knows heartache. I am glad she is better than I first thought as well. I know you will have Mama and our other sisters nearby but I did worry what marrying a man with such a dreadful sister would be like for you. I know you would bear with it all with the greatest graciousness, but you have always been my sister to protect.”
Jane smiled. “Silly. I am the eldest. I should worry about you and our sisters.”
“And so you do. You cannot blame me for wanting to fret as well. Our sisters quite require the extra nerves.”
Jane laughed before sobering. “Do you truly worry about them, Lizzy? I had not thought of of the dangers that could befall them, but men like Wickham might be anywhere and everywhere.”
Elizabeth waited to answer until the sisters had turned so Jane could return the favour. “I think the danger lies more in our parents than in concerns with rakes and criminals. After talking more with Mary, I think what our sisters need most is for someone to value them and believe in them. I have failed them in that as much as our parents failed by allowing them to remain uneducated and silly. After we are both settled into married life, we could take turns with exposing them to better Society.”
Jane agreed and the sisters soon went abed but before falling asleep, Jane could only think about how brave Elizabeth was to face her recent trials with fortitude and not grow bitter. Despite what Elizabeth had said, Jane could not help but feel she had been a less than attentive sister. She vowed to make it up to her others, including her new ones. She would speak with Bingley about Caroline.
Elizabeth looked in the large mirror in her aunt’s chambers, loaned to her to use for wedding preparations. Jane and Aunt Gardiner had both been needed for a moment and so Elizabeth was left alone with her thoughts, and she was not entirely glad for it. With the dried orange blossoms on her head like a crown and wearing the finest, if hastily, made day dress she ever owned she knew she ought to feel like a bride. Something was missing, though.
She was never one to imagine her wedding day. Having the unwavering love of Will fulfilled her every hope. And yet, now she knew she longed for more. She had spent too much of her life embarrassed by her family to realize, until now, just how important they were to her and how they made up who she was.
She shook her head. No. No grim thoughts on this day. They had the opportunity to come and they had chosen otherwise. Or rather, her father had. Her mother would have wanted to visit London and crow about Elizabeth’s conquest and meeting peerage. Lydia and Kitty would frolick about hoping for balls and shopping. Mary would beg to visit the bookstores. And on the day of preparations, they could all be counted on to noisily help with arrangements. How very quiet her aunt and uncle’s house seemed. Still, she would not repine what she could not change.
“Are you ready, Lizzy?” Jane breathlessly entered the room.
She looked over her shoulder and smiled. “I am.” She believed it with all of her heart.
The wedding itself was a blur she did not think she would recall on the morrow let alone years from now. She would not forget, however, the look of adoration and pride in Will’s eyes as she walked to him at the makeshift altar. Only when she heard a familiar shrill cry of triumph at the conclusion did her mind register that her mother and sisters were present. Her eyes sought Jane’s, who silently communicated by glancing at Will that he had arranged matters. Turning to beam at him, he returned the smile. Then, she cast her eyes about the room looking for the missing face and did not find it. Returning her gaze to Will, he sadly shook his head. Her father had not come. Would not come, even when her generous husband arranged everything for him. Georgiana launched into her arms.
“Now we are truly sisters!” Elizabeth squeezed the younger girl tightly as they were surrounded by her other sisters.
Jane hugged her and kissed her cheek. They had said all their necessary words the other night. Mary fell into Elizabeth’s arms next. Tears trickled down her cheeks. “I will miss you, Lizzy,” she said between sniffs.
“Goodness. Do not think that you are losing a sister. You have gained another one and a brother.”
“Who can take us to all the best balls,” Lydia interjected with a giggle.
“Mama says you will put us in the path of other rich men. It is your duty now as a married woman,” Kitty said.
“Well, not her only duty,” Lydia said in a voice not quiet enough, causing Elizabeth and Will to both blush.
“Come, James will wish to greet you again,” Georgiana said while grabbing their hands. “And you must meet my cousins Anne and Richard. Oh! And Lady Belinda…” She trailed off as she steered Elizabeth’s youngest sisters away.
Elizabeth smiled. She had not thought before that Georgiana had the makings of a leader, but she had a sweet graciousness even Lydia found difficult to resist. She only needed confidence and reassurance that making mistakes was acceptable.
“It is remarkable,” Will said in her ear.
“I agree. I can hardly believe how changed she is.”
“Who?” he asked in obvious confusion.
Will searched his sister out in the crowd and seeing her in animated conversation, nodded. “Indeed, but I meant at how you steal my breath. How in a room as full as this, I see only you.” He squeezed her hands.
She smiled and it gave way to a laugh.
“What amuses you, my dear?”
Elizabeth turned to meet his eyes. “Had we married in a church we would have had to wear gloves.”
Will said nothing but his ardent gaze left Elizabeth breathless.
“William, we must talk,” Lord Matlock interrupted their privacy. “Pardon the intrusion, my dear. Congratulations and welcome to the family,” he kissed her cheek before leading her husband away.
For a moment, Elizabeth observed the room. Her uncle stood in conference with Lord Matlock, Richard, Mr. Truman, Lord Arlington, Will and Bingley. She would not have thought it possible only a few months ago, but a peer as influential and powerful as Lord Matlock and related to the man she had found haughtiest in the kingdom consulted her uncle’s opinion on matters. Nor had she thought it likely that she would see Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst listen to her mother’s effusions without a mocking glint in their eyes. Somehow, they had learned to all come together in harmony for the sake of love.
She could not remain stationary for long, however, and soon was approached by Lady Belinda and Miss de Bourgh.
“William says you are returning to Pemberley for a few weeks,” Miss de Bourgh said. It was the first time the weak looking young lady had spoken directly to her.
“Yes,” Elizabeth replied.
“I do not know if you have talked much about your plans for the rest of the Season, but William and Richard had taken to visiting Rosings during Easter the last several years. Mother and I would be most pleased to have you continue that tradition,” Miss de Bourgh said.
“I will consult with my husband, but I would enjoy that.”
“You are friends with the rector’s new wife, I believe,” she said.
“Yes, I have known Charlotte all my life.”
“Then you must visit.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said uncertain how to continue.
Miss de Bourgh sighed. “Forgive me, I fear I sound overly authoritative like my mother. I am not used to much company and it took all my nerve to come and speak with you. I hope my bravado does not sound condescending.”
At last, Elizabeth felt she began to understand the lady. “No, of course not.”
“The truth is I am jealous of you.”
“Pardon me?” Had she wanted to marry Will?
“You married for love,” she waved her hands in Will’s direction.
“Oh,” Elizabeth said uselessly.
“Fear not, I had no designs upon your husband.” She looked at her feet. “All I ever wanted was to marry anyone and leave Rosings.”
“And yet you are staying,” Elizabeth said.
“You must talk some sense into her, Mrs. Darcy,” Lady Belinda said.
“Please, call me Lizzy,” she replied. “We are to be family.” The other women responded like manner.
“Arlington does not want me in London with him. I believe he wishes to continue his ways…” She trailed off and Elizabeth understood Anne referenced the viscount’s rakish behaviour of the past. “I can never be her regardless.”
Anne had not met Elizabeth’s eyes but she heard something hinting at pain in Anne’s voice. She did not know who Anne referenced, however.
“I see Mama looking for me. Do come at Easter. Excuse me,” Anne said and left her side.
Belinda sighed next to Elizabeth. “I have attempted to encourage her to stay in London.”
“Would he really send her away and…and…” Elizabeth did not know how to properly say a man might keep mistresses and without even concern for his wife knowing it.
“It is not so unusual,” Belinda said sadly.
It was to Elizabeth, of course. Her father, however, unhappy he was at times with her mother, had never taken lovers.
“And so he is in love with another woman? Is she unacceptable for some reason?” Elizabeth asked. She began to recognize how very fortunate she had been, to capture the heart of Will and him be brave enough to marry her.
Belinda shook her head. “Oh, much worse. She died nigh on ten years ago. They never wed because the Earl and Countess disapproved and they would have had no money to live on.” She paused. “I think Anne is wrong. He would not have agreed to marry her if he was not ready to leave his bitterness and anger behind. My pain did not last near as long, I am so thankful to have met the Colonel, but then ladies are not given the sorts of freedom in behaviour that men have. I simply refused to marry any man my parents threw before me; Arlington chose to cavort with actresses.”
“She ought to speak up for her own desires. Even if he never loves her, he would not wish her to be unhappy. She speaks of separate establishments.”
“Indeed,” she played with the bracelet on her arm, belying her own feelings. “She has lived in her mother’s shadow too long, it has made her unnaturally timid.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Something you are not.”
“No,” Belinda said before a lengthy exhale. “I do weary of being brave, though. You have heard that my wedding must wait?”
“No!” Elizabeth cried.
“Yes. The general has called for him. So I will wait for his return in London. He leaves tomorrow.”
Elizabeth squeezed Belinda’s hand in sympathy. She had heard from Georgiana the sad story of Lady Belinda’s first love. She hated to think that her new friend awaited the return of yet another officer to see action.
“I wish I would have been bolder like you and demanded an earlier wedding,” Belinda said with tears gathering in her eyes.
“He will return,” Elizabeth said. “I know it.”
“I hope you are correct,” Belinda said. Then she looked out over the crowd. “Ah, he has finally talked with her.” Belinda nodded her head toward Mr. Truman talking with Caroline.
“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked. Belinda explained what little she knew of the matter between Caroline Bingley and Mr. Truman. “How sad!” She exclaimed when the lady finished her tale.
“Mr. Bingley and Richard have been plotting for a way for them to meet again. Mr. Truman’s contract is almost up and he is to take over his father’s shop. The timing is perfect, as Richard will be resigning after we wed. He would not resign otherwise, I think.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. Others might treat Mr. Truman cruelly.
“Your husband approaches,” Belinda’s words returned Elizabeth’s attention to the present. “And he clearly wishes me gone. Congratulations again!” She said and left Elizabeth’s side.
“I believe it is nearly time for us to depart,” Will said with a soft smile.
“Allow me to say farewell,” she said and wrapped her hand around his arm as he escorted her from group to group.
Upon reaching Caroline and Mr. Truman, they both looked embarrassed at being interrupted. Will performed introductions, as Elizabeth and Mr. Truman had not formally met before.
“We must leave, but I only wish to say that I thank you for your bravery and valor, Mr. Truman.”
“Thank you, ma’am, but it is no different than what many others have done. I would always be glad to give my life for my country.”
Elizabeth heartily approved of his patriotism but saw Caroline’s bottom lip quiver. She pulled her former nemesis into an embrace. “Thank you for your kindness. I wish you every happiness.”
Caroline pulled back, surprised at the sincerity in Elizabeth’s voice. “I am unsure I deserve it,” she said in what was clearly meant to be an apology.
“Of course, you do. We all make mistakes.” Elizabeth leaned in to whisper in Caroline’s ear. “Be bold!”
Will tugged her along to others, thanking them for coming and their support. She felt she owed the Gardiners a debt she could not repay in allowing her to stay after her flight from Longbourn. Finally, she was before her mother.
“Oh! Mrs. Darcy!” Mrs. Bennet cried. “How grand you are!”
“Thank you, Mama.”
“I…I am proud of you Lizzy. You and Jane to marry such great men. I shall go distracted.”
Elizabeth smiled. She and Her mother had never been very close. She often loathed her mother’s vulgar and untempered outbursts, but life at Longbourn had not been easy for her. She naturally feared for her daughter’s’ welfare in the face of the estate’s entail and Elizabeth could not blame her for the relief and enthusiasm she felt with having one daughter so well settled.
“I love you, Mama,” she said while embracing her.
Then, she and Will were waved off to start their married life. She knew the festivities of this day would be a cold contrast to the soberness of their journey on the morrow, but pushed the worries from her mind. For now, she was newly married and desired to spend the evening in her husband’s arms. Will’s silent stroking of her hand in the carriage on the way to his townhouse confirmed he was of like mind.
Hooray!! They’re married! I know it wasn’t quite blissfully happy, but that is the problem with the rushed affair and not having things settled with Mr. Bennet. Remember we haven’t heard from him, so it does appear very bad right now but we only have Lizzy’s point of view. Now, on to the North!