Still on mobile. This is the final chapter and then the epilogue will post tomorrow. There is some cause for concern in this chapter, but have no fear. I am not introducing new conflict in the final chapter! This is about wrapping things up. This story is still in the editing process and I do wonder how readers will feel about the ending. The epilogue is just a bit of a glimmer a few weeks into the future. There will be a companion story about Arlington, Anne, Caroline, Truman, Richard and Belinda in the Spring and a sequel in the fall featuring Mary, Georgiana, Kitty & Lydia.
Elizabeth looked at the clock in Lady Lundell’s drawing room and sighed. Will and Mr. Truman had left for the mill hours ago. The other men gathered in the library to drink their nerves and Elizabeth envied them the soothing tonic. Tedious minutes and hours ticked by of waiting in silence. She committed the last twenty-four hours to memory.
Will had returned to the castle the evening before in poor spirits. His mood blackened when Lord Matlock and Sir John confirmed that the other area landholders refused to negotiate on the rental terms. Mr. Truman and Bingley arrived as well, both with equal shares of bad news. In her heart, Elizabeth acknowledged she had always thought this was the inevitable outcome. No unit was willing to compromise their position. When Will told her of his confrontation with Wickham, she believed the sentiment all the more.
She did not think she would sleep that night, but it claimed her at last. When she awoke, she saw her husband casually attired and gazing out a chamber window. Hearing her stir, he came to her side.
He crushed her to his chest. “I have left you everything,” Will said.
“What?” Elizabeth exclaimed in horror as thoughts flitted through her mind.
“I have seen that your family will want for nothing as well.”
She pushed back. “How can you speak of material things? Of my family? When all I wish is to have a life with you!”
A sob wrenched through her and for a selfish moment she wished her husband were just a bit less honourable. That he should personally go and fight instead of relying entirely on the Militia and guards spoke of his superior character the likes of which Wickham and Denny could not compare. She was more humbled than ever by her previous opinion of him, but she was proud of him. Terrified for his welfare, but proud.
They spent the day in their chambers and in each other’s arms. At last the hour came for Will to leave for the mill. Bingley had desired to go as well, but as he had not served in the Militia it was determined he should stay. For Jane’s sake she was glad.
Mr. Truman would go with Will and arrived at Lundell Castle. As a guest of Lord Matlock, he was invited in but was received very coldly by the Lundells. Elizabeth’s anger at the injustice of his treatment mingled with her anxiety of the evening. While Will was in conference with his uncle and Sir John, she could no longer hold back the tears.
“None of that now, Mrs. Darcy,” Mr. Truman said quietly as he offered a handkerchief to her.
“Thank you,” she replied.
“These rioters have no idea what they are getting themselves into,” he said. “Mark my words, there will be nary a casualty on our side but they will not be so fortunate and all it will do is anger the men in London. Your husband and the others will be cried up as a hero.”
Elizabeth gave him a weak smile. “I am the wrong lady to speak to about that. I would rather have him home and safe.”
“That does you credit.”
“You have seen much action?” She asked, blushing at the question.
He nodded his head and his eyes glossed over with a far away look. “I have seen my share.”
“You would probably find it very silly if I confessed that only a few months ago I never gave much thought to the ugliness of this world. To how complicated it all is.” She dabbed at her eyes. She wished with all of her heart she could take back so many things that had happened to her after Sir William Lucas’s ball. Perhaps many other things still would have come to pass, but if she had accepted Will’s first proposal, she would not now the evilness of George Wickham and have the hatred in her heart at the idea of him being proclaimed a hero alongside her own honourable husband.
“We all have a moment of awakening to the suffering in life. It is what we do with it that matters, regardless if it happens when you are seven or seventy.”
“And what do you do with it? How do you go through life being slighted or worse?”
“I do not find my own worth in the estimation of others’.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. That was a quality she admired, one she saw in her husband and was likely one reason for Caroline’s attraction to him if the man before her had been Caroline’s first love. “And what do you do when wronged by others?”
“I could quote the Good Book and tell you the Church commands us to forgive them. I could make it sound easy.” He shook his head. “The truth is,that each day is a battle to find compassion for others. But you see, it is impossible to know what quiet battle someone else is facing. There is often more to the story than meets our eyes. I have faced darkness in life and I cannot condemn anyone else to face that alone. So, when someone is cruel to me, I grant clemency.”
Seeing Will approach, Elizabeth met Mr. Truman’s eyes and nodded her head. “Thank you for your wisdom,” she returned his handkerchief. “I see that you mean forgiveness can be freeing.” Will reached her side and she said more to herself than either of them, “Forgiveness is the greatest act of love and is not something that can be earned.”
Mr. Truman looked a little startled at her words and then excused himself, leaving the newlywed couple to themselves.
“What was that?” Will asked Elizabeth.
“I think I have finally managed to find how I can forgive Papa,” she whispered.
“I thought you would in time,” he said and quickly pressed a kiss to her temple.
Perceiving the men assembling at the door, Elizabeth kissed Will’s lips, uncaring if anyone saw. “I will be here when you return. I will be waiting up to bid you goodnight.”
Will had no words, but a tender look and kissed her hands before leaving.
Loud knocks on the front door and shouting interrupted Elizabeth’s reflections. She and Lady Lundell started and went to the hall. Her heart ceased beating as she saw Will being carried to the parlor. Time stood still for a moment as Elizabeth registered a flurry of activity and shouting but she could only see the ashen complexion of her husband and the blood soaked makeshift bandage on his arm. At last, she followed them into the room and surged toward her husband’s side.
“Get her out of here!” Sir John yelled.
“No!” She exclaimed and Lord Matlock approached his friend, allowing Elizabeth to stay.
“Will! Will, darling! Say something!” She could see he breathed and felt a pulse on his neck, his cravat torn off to bandage his arm, but he would not open his eyes. He clutched something in his uninjured hand and after a moment she recognized it as the bookmark she made at Netherfield. She looked around the room, seeking someone who would be knowledgeable. As much as she esteemed Lord Matlock, he did not seem to be much use at the moment. She willed herself to calm.
Bingley finally noticed her and came to her side. “Oh, God, Lizzy. I never would have thought…” he trailed off and blanched.
“Come, there is no reason to be upset yet,” her voice trembled. “Did they call for a surgeon?”
Bingley nodded his head and ran a shaking hand through his hair. “We are closer to him here than the mill is. He should be here soon.”
“And…and the others?”
“I have heard there was a Militia man hurt. Several of the intruders were struck but only two or three were incapable of running away.”
Another sound at the door drew their notice and Mr. Truman came in with a man Elizabeth prayed was the surgeon.
“Mrs. Darcy,” Mr. Truman came directly to her side. He pulled her by her elbow to allow the surgeon to examine Will and Bingley followed. “Fear not. A bullet merely grazed him. He has been given spirits to dull the pain and that is why he is so unresponsive.”
“You are certain?”
“The only concern is to stitch up and clean the wound but I have seen far worse that did not turn septic. Being able to move him quickly and to a clean room with constant care will give him every advantage.”
Elizabeth mutely nodded her head. She would have to trust what he said. She hardly knew the man before her, but she did not think he would offer her false hope.
“What happened?” Bingley asked.
Truman blew out a breath. “There were over a hundred of them. More than we had expected. All told we were five and fifty inside. It’s a good thing the Bays came when they did. It’s a good thing they were patrolling the road to Hull. The intruders almost breached the door, however, when an officer attempted to flee.”
“Who?” Bingley asked, but Elizabeth already knew the answer in her heart.
“It was Wickham. We had to put him down or it all would have been worse.”
“You do not think he meant to assist them?” Bingley sounded incredulous.
Truman thought for a moment. “It did not seem to be an act of rash cowardice. That he did not want to fight, I have no doubt, but that he could allow them to enter may have added to his motives.”
“Is he…” Elizabeth trailed off.
“Dead,” Truman said in a cold voice.
Elizabeth squeezed her eyes shut. At last it was over. He had made a final, fatal choice in a lifetime of bad choices.
“Bingley, Truman, come help us,” Matlock called over. The surgeon was done and Will was to be moved upstairs.
Once he was settled, the surgeon asked to speak with the housekeeper, but Elizabeth assured him that she would offer Will primary care and needed the instructions as well. He seemed surprised that she would take such an active role and was not hysterical, but complied with her request.
Soon, the others went abed since so little could be determined at the late hour. Elizabeth sat at Will’s bedside, holding his hand, until the sun began to rise. Her eyes began to droop even as she acknowledged she was half afraid of what this new day would bring.
“Elizabeth,” she heard a hoarse whisper.
Her eyes flew open and she saw Will gazing at her. “Will,” was all she could say. Thankful tears streamed from her eyes. “Here,” she offered him a cup of wine and assisted him in drinking.
“Elizabeth,” he said in a stronger voice.
“Shhh,” she silenced him with a gentle kiss. “Rest.”
“Needed to say goodnight to you,” he said with a half-smile as he closed his eyes again and stretched out his uninjured arm.
She curled up next to him. “Yes, I told you I would wait for it.”
She awoke an hour or two later to a knock on the door. Quickly patting her disheveled hair, she made her way to the door. The surgeon had returned and was pleased by her report. Will awoke during his examination but as he proved in little pain and lucid, the other men were gathered. She was surprised to see Richard among them.
He came to her side. “How is he?”
“The surgeon says he will recover. He just requires rest and frequent bandage changes.”
“And how are you?”
She gave him a grateful smile. “All I require is rest and to see my husband improve. I am surprised to see you though!”
“We set out for a patrol from Howden hours ago. I wish we would have gotten there earlier.” He nodded at the earl, who motioned Richard over. “We will talk more later.”
She returned to her chambers but before resting, chose to wrote a swift letter. She had put it off too long already and while attacks from angry farmers were an unlikely affliction in Hertfordshire, Elizabeth had learned life could change in an instant. She had been wrong months ago when she told Will that love was only beautiful. Beauty could be found in it, but sometimes love was a mess and weeds needed pruning.
I forgive you and hope you can forgive me.
She looked over her short letter, then chose to enclose it in a book, deciding he would find it earlier then. She went downstairs to leave instructions with the butler and the book slipped from her hand as she heard a familiar voice.
“You came,” she said from the bottom step. Her father hated travelling even as far as London. Since her grandfather’s and uncle’s death in a carriage accident, Mr. Bennet had feared long journeys.
“Lizzy!” Mr. Bennet exclaimed and ran past the butler. He pulled her into an embrace. “Lizzy! You are well? How is Darcy?”
She finally allowed herself to cry tears of relief in her father’s arms. “I am perfectly well. But, let us talk somewhere privately.” She led him to the library.
“Why are you here, Lizzy? Where is Darcy?” Mr. Bennet asked and Elizabeth could see the concern on every line of his face.
“How did you find us?” She sat.
“As soon as your mother and sisters drove off for London, I recognized my mistake. My latest mistake, that is. I ought to have swallowed my pride and followed after them right then, but I thought you did not want me.”
Elizabeth squeezed her hands rather than interrupt him as she first felt compelled to do.
“The following day, a parcel arrived with what I thought were marriage papers. Your uncle already approved them, but I was curious. As I looked over them I recognised they were highly irregular. It was as though Darcy expected to not live long.”
Tears pricked Elizabeth’s eyes.
“All I could think of was that I could not leave you alone while he died. I called for my horse. Gardiner directed me here. Now, where is your husband and why are you here?” He asked once more.
“Oh, Papa.” She blubbered through tears. He had come and did not want her to be alone. All she had ever wanted from him was some proof of him exerting himself on behalf of his children. She took a deep breath to calm herself. “My uncle told you nothing about why we were here?”
“He said something about frame breakers. I could not understand why Darcy, let alone you, would need to be here.”
“Will has investments in several mills. They had information that there would be an attack here last night. Right after the wedding, Will’s whole family and Bingley worked to prevent the attacks but failed. He went with them last night and…” She took a deep shuddering breath. “A bullet grazed his arm but otherwise he is perfectly well.”
“My brave, little Lizzy. You demanded to come up here with him, did you not? So you really do love him.”
“Yes, I do. Very, very much.” She emphatically nodded her head.
Her father looked at her as though he saw her as a woman instead of a young girl for the first time. “I am sorry. I never realised…I thought you could learn to care for Wickham. You seemed to get along so well.”
“Even if we did, that would be no reason to force me to wed him to save your debt,” she did not save the sharpness from her voice.
Mr. Bennet raised his hands. “You are correct. I could say that I believed his words of love for you but in the last few weeks I have examined the truth. I was ashamed that my sudden plan for adding to your dowries went so awry that I would have been indebted to your uncle.”
“But what sparked this sudden concern for us?”
“I had lied to myself and said that a worthy man would be attracted by my girls’ beauty and charms regardless of their meager portions. I should have started saving years ago. When your mother was excited to meet yet another gentleman who must be sensible to the drawbacks of match with a wife with no dowry, it awakened my senses. I had hoped perhaps Mr. Collins would be suitable…”
Elizabeth shook her head. “You had good intentions even if your execution lacked.”
“That is far too charitable—”
She interrupted him. “I love you, Papa. You were not justified in your actions but I have not been perfect either. When you learned I might have need of you, you came for me right away. Let us forgive each other and move on.” She stood and yawned. “Now, I will speak with Lady Lundell about finding you a room. I am going to rest as I was up all night.”
“And you will leave me at my leisure?”
“You will need it when you have to explain to Mama how you came up here without her,” Elizabeth smiled before leaving the room on search for the housekeeper.
Later, when Will awoke, she sat beside him. “My father is here,” she said slowly.
“He is?” Will said in a surprised tone.
“He received papers that made it seem as though you were on your death bed,” she gave him a mock glare as she suspected it was his way of encouraging her father to speak to her. Truthfully, she liked that he had asserted so much effort to reconcile them. “We have made amends.”
“I am very glad to hear it.”
“I almost invited him to Pemberley,” Elizabeth said with a sly smile. Will frowned, causing her to laugh. “I said almost! There will be other times he can visit.” Then she kissed his cheek and whispered in his ear. “I am looking forward to finally having privacy with my husband before we go to Jane’s wedding and then London.”
“Is this your method of encouraging me to heal quickly?” he murmured.
“Yes. You will need to be a good patient and obey all the doctor’s orders,” she said.
Will smiled and leaned back on the pillows. “I confess I dreamed of you nursing me, Elizabeth.”
“Did you?” She arched a brow.
“As always, the dream pales in comparison to the reality,” he said before yawning.
Elizabeth lay beside him, Will’s uninjured arm wrapped around her. As they rest, all the troubles of life managed to disappear.