We left with Will, finally, asking Mr. Bennet for his blessing on marrying Elizabeth. What will Mr. Bennet say?
As Mr. Bennet spoke, relief and peace washed over Will. He could breathe easier than he had a moment before and his racing pulse calmed.
“However, I have conditions.”
The flash of hope that swelled Will’s heart evaporated. Would he ever have Elizabeth as his wife? Perhaps stealing away to Scotland would be necessary after all these years. “What are they?” Will asked through grit teeth, his patience wearing thin.
“You must court her openly for several weeks. No one else knew of this secret betrothal from so many years ago. I will not have you swooping in and acting the ever-constant lover who deserves liberties with his betrothed. She deserves far more than that, and her reputation requires it.”
“Must we conceal our attachment and act as new acquaintances, then?”
Mr. Bennet paused before answering. “I will allow you two to consider the best method. Everyone knows you were friends with Sam and that you had met previously. That you had both held a torch for one another will be hard enough for most to credit.”
Will blew out a breath, and his muscles relaxed. “Very well. I will accept those terms. For what it is worth, I do know what Elizabeth is worth, and I know she deserves more from me than I have given her in the past.”
“See that you do not forget it again,” Mr. Bennet added with raised brows. “Did your father know of the betrothal?”
“No,” Will sighed. “He knew of my attachment and the direction of my thoughts. He had attempted to dissuade me but ultimately said he trusted me. Of course, he probably believed my interest would wane during our holiday. Why do you ask?”
“I am considering the fact that you claim someone stole your letters. Do you think he would go so far as that to discourage matters?”
“I do not think so…” Will trailed off. “I had come today with the purpose of if you had.”
Mr. Bennet chuckled. “I assure you, son, I was oblivious to any romance between you and my daughter. While I would have been of your father’s mind, if Sam ever told you anything about me then you should know that I am far too lackadaisical to go to such measures.”
Will blinked. “You would not have approved of our attachment?”
“For all the reasons I am sure your father put forth. It was formed too quickly, you were both too young. You were raised to other expectations and Elizabeth could offer you nothing in the way of fortune or connection. She could hardly be a credit to you as Mrs. Darcy.”
“I strongly disagree, sir.” Will straightened and his jaw set tightly. “Elizabeth is exactly what I need as a Mrs. Darcy. Whatever she has experienced in our years apart will only continue to be an asset.”
“Well,” Mr. Bennet smirked. “You may go and visit with your future sisters and mother-in-law. Send Elizabeth to me. Your courtship may begin tomorrow in Mrs. Bennet’s drawing-room.”
Understanding his dismissal, Will stood and bowed. He had not discovered who had separated him from Elizabeth but had made something of an ally of her father regarding his courtship. It was as much of a good start as he had a right to expect.
Will left Longbourn disappointed he had not had more time with Elizabeth. All he had heard about Mrs. Bennet had prepared him to find a matchmaking mama. Instead, she seemed protective of Elizabeth and wanted to keep her away from Will. She filled any silence with her voice and, if the confused looks on her daughters’ faces were any sign, acted more ridiculous than usual. It seemed designed to put him off, but Will had no intention of leaving Hertfordshire without Elizabeth as his wife. He may have been delayed five years, but he would see his goal met. All those years ago, step one of his plan had been to rent Netherfield and court Elizabeth from there. The situation had changed, but the ends could still be claimed.
“Will,” Charles said with surprise when they passed one another on the stairs. “You have already been out? I am calling on Longbourn as soon as I finish breakfast. Go and change. I will wait for you.”
Will shook his head. “I have already been to Longbourn and in any case, have a servant looking for Apollo.”
Charles’ eyes widened. “There is a story there.”
“Indeed.” Will looked at their surroundings first. “Follow me, and I will tell you all.”
The men walked in silence to Will’s chamber. Upon shutting the door, he relaxed. One never knew which Bingley sister might be listening to a conversation in the hall. “Something spooked Apollo, and he nearly trampled us.”
Will explained the happy surprise of finding Elizabeth at Oakham Mount.
“So you talked and have it all settled now, do you?” Charles grinned.
“What would there be to settle?” Will peered at his friend. He had never told Charles of his proposal. He had barely hinted at the time of his admiration for Elizabeth. Since the fire, he took all pains to never mention her name.
“I know what love and courtship look like far more than you do,” Charles laughed. “Do not look so surprised. You could not act before because of Sam. I never saw you behave around another lady the way you did around Miss Elizabeth. Now that we are here, I assume you have wasted no time in staking your claim, at last. Was she very relieved to finally hear the words?”
Will’s head spun in circles at Charles’ speech. He presumed that Will had proposed already to Elizabeth and would have no way of knowing they had, in fact, been engaged for half a decade. Will had not uttered anything that came close to a second proposal. In fact, his first proposal was rather terrible. A small smile came to his lips as he recalled Elizabeth’s teasing until he actually asked rather than demand her hand. More than anything though, Elizabeth must have longed to hear the words he had waited so long to hear. When Elizabeth confessed she still loved him and always had, a dam broke in Will’s heart. He was as defenseless against his net actions of taking her into his arms as a ___. He acted on instinct. Words were too inadequate to explain his depth of feeling and had failed him years ago. It had been a time of action. Only…did Elizabeth not understand his continued love?
Years ago, she had briefly thought he used and discarded women. Last night on the balcony, she mentioned the gossip rags and their false tales of his exploits with ladies. She must very well understand his continued passion for her, but she had never been courted. She did not understand how he loved and needed her.
“Will!” Charles exclaimed.
“Pardon me. I was wool-gathering.”
“I could see that. You may keep your thoughts to yourself about Miss Elizabeth, but I asked if you would accompany my family and me to Longbourn.”
“Ah. As I said, I have already visited today. I will go tomorrow as Mr. Bennet invited me to begin my courtship with Elizabeth then.”
“A courtship already! I only teased before, but I knew you would not wait long to come to your point.”
Will chuckled. No, he had not waited long at all. Bingley excused himself, and after withdrawing writing utensils, Will settled in. While his friend was away, Will intended to woo his lady from afar. When he had finished, he reread each line, praying they would convey a shred of his regard to Elizabeth. Pleased with the final product, he sanded and sealed it before ringing for his valet.
“Please send this to Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn, along with the blue box,” Will instructed. “Choose a servant you trust to discharge the duty discreetly and ___. I want no one but Miss Elizabeth to handle them. Should that be impossible, he is to return here, and I will see to it myself.”
“Yes, sir,” Matthews answered.
“Oh, and Matthews, I must inquire about your time with my father.”
Will watched his valet tense. He and his father had shared a man since Will had not required one while at University. His father died before Will hired a manservant of his own—a task intended for after the summer holiday. Not wishing to sack Matthews and feeling comfort in a familiar face, Will kept on the older gentleman. Through the years, they had built a rapport and he hoped he could trust the man.
“Before Mr. Darcy passed, did he ever ask you to intercept letters of mine?”
“No, sir.” Matthews shook his head. “May I speak freely?”
“Of course,” Will waved him on.
“If the old master would have asked that of me, I would have resigned. It was on my minds much during his final days. Many of us were displeased with his favouring young Wickham. However, I do not wish to speak ill of your father.”
“Nothing you can say will disturb me. I am aware of all he was, both good and bad.”
“Indeed, sir. And do not think me ungrateful. To all the staff and me, Mr. Darcy was the greatest master—except you, sir—that ever lived. You are very like him in that regard. Only…it did not seem right the way he favoured George Wickham so much.”
“What makes you think so?”
“I do not mean from a servant’s perspective. Many a steward’s son is groomed in such a way. I do not know how aware you were with dealings below stairs, sir. There was considerable trouble between Wickham and the maids—even Miss Darcy’s governesses. I feared for Miss Graves until Annesley, God rest him, was appointed to accompany her whenever she left the house. Of course, he took it a step further and became her shadow even in the home and well, I suppose, that is how they decided to marry.”
“It does you credit that you worried so much. I did know of Wickham’s wicked ways and approached my father many times on the matter. However, you make it sound as though you continued to worry for Mrs. Annesley even after we went on holiday that summer.”
“I did not believe Wickham would be above sending someone to exact his revenge upon her. Additionally, he often visited Pemberley while you were away.”
“Pardon me?” Will’s every muscle tensed. “What reason did he have and why was I never informed.”
“I did not know you had not been informed. I apologise for the lapse—I can only plead there must have been some misunderstanding. It is not like Mrs. Reynolds to not inform you of these matters and you know she was no supporter of him. As for a reason…”
Matthews looked away for a moment and rubbed the back of his neck.
“Out with it, man,” Will commanded.
“He always claimed to want to visit Miss Darcy and indeed he spent hours with her.”
Will swore and his valet blanched. “No wonder she believed the fiend so easily! Her father died and her brother seemingly abandoned her, but Wickham had been her friend for years.”
“You must not blame yourself,” Matthews said consolingly.
“Who is to blame then? It was my duty!” A vice gripped Will’s heart. Who had he not disappointed? He had falsely abandoned Elizabeth, allowed a rake to importune his sister and break her heart.
“You are responsible for no one’s decisions but your own,” Matthews placed a bracing hand on his master’s shoulder. “Besides, you do not think Wickham is so wicked to have intentionally created a friendship with Miss Darcy all to enact later?”
Colour drained from Will’s face. He had not considered such a thing but could he rule it out? Matthews shifted on his feet and cleared his throat. “I will send these to Longbourn. It is good to see such an address on your correspondence again.” He briefly smiled.
“Yes, very good,” Will dismissed his valet.
He had been prepared, even expected, to learn of interference from either his father or Elizabeth’s. He had thought he put the pain of Georgiana’s seduction behind him. Now, he wondered if she deserved any of his scolding and ire. A few minutes later, Matthews returned informing Will who he had selected for the task and with a bundle of mail.
Leafing through the envelopes, Will sighed. Georgiana’s felt incredibly light—probably only a few lines with nothing more than a nod to civility and written under duress and threats of no privileges per his plan with Mrs. Annesley. Richard’s felt the usual weight and Mrs. Reynolds’ heavier than ever before. Arranging his supplies once more, Will bent over the desk. He had much to read and even more to write.
After Will left Longbourn, Elizabeth went for a walk just within the garden. Upon his leaving, her stepmother had begun telling her how unworthy Will was for their attention. Fanny Bennet had never seemed to understand Elizabeth, but she also never seem to desire to purposely wound the girl. Elizabeth knew none, but Jane could understand the pain that her mother’s words against Will brought to Elizabeth’s heart.
After an hour or so in the garden picking the remains of the autumn flowers, Elizabeth returned to the house. She arrived at the door just as a footman from Netherfield, dismounted on the drive.
“Tommy,” Elizabeth said in surprise at seeing the son of one of Longbourn’s tenants who was recently hired as a footman by Mr. Bingley at her door. “Is all well with your parents?”
“Yes, they are very well. I come on business from Netherfield.”
“Netherfield?” Elizabeth scrunched her nose up in confusion.
Tommy turned and withdrew a small package and envelope from a saddlebag. Facing her again, he grinned. “Mr. Darcy’s valet selected me for the task of bringing this to you. I was instructed if I could not give it to you directly to return to the house and Mr. Darcy would come.”
Elizabeth felt her cheeks heat at Tommy’s knowing smirk. “Thank you, Tommy. I am sure that Mr. Darcy’s valet also selected you for your loyalty and ability for discretion.”
“Indeed,” he nodded with a grin. “That is exactly what Matthews said.” He hitched his leg over the horse.
“Thank you for discharging your duty. You may please tell Mr. Matthews to pass along my greetings to Mr. Darcy and my thanks.”
Tommy waved and set back toward Netherfield. Elizabeth glanced nervously around to be sure no one saw the delivery before hastening back to the garden. Choosing the bench in the furthest corner, and therefore away from prying eyes of sisters and parents, Elizabeth settled to read the note.
My Dearest, Loveliest Elizabeth,
My heart is full, and my mind overwhelmed as I attempt to comprehend the depth of my love for you. The only words I can summon barely do it justice. Forgive my poor attempts at courtship. My ineptness does not reflect the esteem in which I hold you.
When we first met, I was an arrogant youth who thought only of his own worth. I loved you, but I could not set aside my fears and insecurities. If we had spent more than a week together or if I had not left on holiday, I would have learned to see past them. I was a selfish lover who did not consider your feelings although you and others attempted to explain to me the difficulties you would face as my bride. In my hurt and conceit, I abandoned you when you most needed me. I can never forget or forgive myself for failing you in such a way. I vow now, to never make you feel alone again.
Your father has invited me to begin my courtship on the morrow, but I could not wait to share my sentiments—thoughts and words which could not be said in your mother’s drawing-room.
Five years ago, I was dumb-struck at your loveliness and vivacity. Your wit fascinated me and your courage impressed me. Now, I have witnessed your strength, your determination, your capacity for love and loyalty. Each of these facets and I am sure many more, make up the wondrous woman you have become. Once more, I am rendered mute at your beauty and the incredible fortune which has turned your attention to me. I did not deserve you then and assuredly do not now.
Although we have been separated by time and distance, you have been the wind in my sails, Elizabeth. I never could meet a lady without wondering what you would say or do instead. None of them could intrigue or captivate me like you. Having a taste of incredible passion and a sliver of happiness, I could not accept anything less—even as I presumed to never have such with you. My heart was yours alone even as I had believed you moved forward with your life. Can you imagine the torturous hours I have spent imagining you with another? That any other man might know the taste of your lips, feel the heat of your blush, or hear the whispered words I so desperately longed for plagued me. I spent hours consumed in letter writing just to resign myself that you no longer cared and did not send them. Countless times, I determined to ride to Longbourn and stake my claim—announce my improprieties to your father and force yourself wed to me—only to determine I would rather never have you at all than have you hate me for life.
My dearest darling, I will not plead that you do not make me wait long to alleviate my suffering. Instead, I will assure you that I will court you until you are satisfied. Nothing will tear me from your side now. I came to Hertfordshire to see you—I had to see you—and here I will remain until I leave with you as Mrs. Darcy. I have held you in my arms for mere moments and in my dreams nightly for years. I will not rest until I have the right to embrace you for a lifetime.
What a letter! That’s two suspects knocked off the list. We still have Mrs. Bennet and Sam. Any other guesses? Reunited is finished and being edited! I think I will keep to posting on Saturdays just for my own sanity. Therefore, the story will continue to post after the book is released. I also will probably not do a pre-order this time around. However, if you subscribe to my mailing list (there’s a pop up for this blog but here is the link as well: http://eepurl.com/cXCKVT) then you have the opportunity of getting a downloadable advance reader copy. There is a limited amount and first come, first serve so I can’t promise everyone will get one. I send out the email as soon as I have a link to share. Look for an email in early August.