Sufficient Encouragement- Epilogue

Yippee! My husband fixed my computer! I’m not sure what the problem was. 😦 Thanks so much to everyone who read along and commented. I need to do some edits and then send it to the editor and then more edits before publication. I’m guessing March now.

I’m hoping to start posting the companion story: Love’s Second Chance, in March. It will fill in the holes in Arlington, Anne, Caroline, Truman, Richard & Belinda’s stories. And I’m planning a sequel for the fall that will follow the younger girls on a Season in London!

Also, I’ll be re-writing this story and working it into my original romance series, just because the timeline fits soooo well with what I’m already doing. It will be clearly labeled as such. There will be differences as we leave the Austen world, but the essential story is the same. I think non-JAFF readers could enjoy the story of Darcy and Lizzy Nate and Ellie with Luddites.

Now, on to the epilogue!

SE epilogue quote

“Oh! Mr. Bennet! Can you believe it? Two daughters married!” Mrs. Bennet’s effusions exclaimed over the crowd in the Netherfield ballroom.

“Did you see the lace on Lady Arlington’s gown?” Lydia asked.

“No l—” Mr. Bennet paused in mid-sentence. “I will leave you ladies to talk about lace. Remember, however, if you wish to buy the finest lace we will be waiting to shop until we go to London after Easter for the Season.”

Lydia began to pout, but her father raised his eyebrows, and she stopped. “Oh, there is Georgie!” She grabbed Kitty by the hand and ran to Georgiana’s side.

Elizabeth and Darcy had watched the scene with bated breath, but it seemed Mr. Bennet was sincere about the changes made in the Bennet household in the last few weeks. Darcy required a few days of recovery at Lundell Castle, and then the newlyweds travelled to Pemberley. They gathered now at Netherfield after Jane and Bingley’s wedding. Then they would journey to London until Easter. Both Anne and Charlotte requested Elizabeth visit Kent, and she could not deny them.

Elizabeth’s anger had given way at her friend’s choice. She was especially curious how Charlotte faired with a husband such as Mr. Collins. Elizabeth perceived his treatment toward her came from strong opinions of subservience. Having met Lady Catherine, Elizabeth now understood her cousin’s mixture of humility and self-conceit that induced anger at those who did not afford him the respect he deemed necessary. However, he was raised with humility and was young. Elizabeth hoped Charlotte would influence Mr. Collins understanding of the world.

“Do you wish we had waited instead of having our rushed ceremony?” Darcy whispered and interrupted her revelry.

“How can you ask that? I am far happier as Mrs. Darcy than I have been in my life. What a cruel husband you are to want to deny me the pleasure of that for several weeks.” She laughed as she looked into his eyes.

Smiling at her jest, he shook his head.

Belinda and Richard came to their side. They had married in a quiet ceremony the week before. He resigned his commission, resolving not to care what some may say about honour and duty or favoritism from his father. He had more than served his country. There would always be gossips; there may not always be time to celebrate life.

“What is she teasing her old, sour husband about now?” Richard asked.

“Have a care, Richard,” Darcy replied with a twitch to his lips. “You are even older than I.”

“This is true,” Richard said while chuckling. “Then we must both have it better than James,” he nodded to his brother on the other side of the room in conversation with Sir William Lucas.

Belinda shook her head. “No, you cannot tease them. I would not have believed it possible, but do you see how they can silently speak to each other?”

The group watched as Arlington and Anne’s eyes met from different corners of the room. They made simultaneous excuses to those they conversed with and met each other half way. Devotion and admiration shone on their faces.

Belinda and Elizabeth both let out a little sigh.

Richard started. “William, I daresay that our wives are dissatisfied with us already.”

“You must be mistaken,” Darcy said. “I have done nothing that could merit displeasure. Surely they are both annoyed with you.”

Elizabeth pinched his arm. “He said dissatisfied not displeased. And you must see how Arlington goes out of his way to romance his wife.”

Darcy stroke his jaw. “Ah, I see. And I lack in that department?”

“Well, he is not the only one who is attempting to woo his lady. There is Bingley,” Elizabeth replied.

“It is unfair to compare a man to Bingley.” His lips twitched. Had they not had this debate before?

“And there is Truman,” Belinda said. They watched as he wrote his name on Caroline’s dance card as she beamed.

“I suppose this is the real reason you are at Bingley’s wedding during your honeymoon?” Darcy asked Richard.

“It pleases my wife,” he said as Belinda and Elizabeth sighed again.

“What now?” Darcy said.

“They have loved each other for ten years and were separated by so many things. They are finally engaged again. Is it not the very height of romance?” Elizabeth asked.

Richard cocked his head. “Do you know, William vowed to James that he would never marry if he could not have you. He was going to wait his whole life until you were free again had you married…” he left the sentence unfinished as they all knew he meant Wickham.

Elizabeth blushed. “I did not know.”

“And I believe Richard has planned a surprise,” Darcy said as the orchestra played the strands of a new song.

A murmur went through the crowd. “Is this a…a…waltz?” Elizabeth asked.

“It is all the rage on the Continent,” Richard said. “And gaining popularity here, if not in London. Shall we?” he extended his hand to Belinda.

“Is it true what they say?” she asked.

“Come, dance with me. Our first dance will be you in my arms,” Richard said to Belinda, which caused her to blush. “We must make this the fashion in England since I will never again dance abroad.” He whispered something in Belinda’s ears which made her blush deepen.

Darcy held out his arm as well. “May I have the honour, Elizabeth?”

“Your arm…” Elizabeth said even as he eyes showed her eagerness.

“The doctor pronounced it perfectly healed yesterday morning.”

“I do not know the steps,” she said weakly and looked at her feet.

“Will you prove now that persuasion between friends means nothing?” Darcy whispered, and Elizabeth’s head popped up at the reference to one of their long-ago conversations. “I promise to guide you. I will not let you look a fool.”

She smiled and placed her hand in his. “What an accomplished gentleman, you are,” she said as he guided her through the steps.

He smiled at her amusement. “I practiced with Richard all morning.”

Elizabeth could not contain her laughter. When she calmed, he noticed her breath caught, and her eyes seemed glassy.

“What are you thinking, my love?”

“That I hate gloves,” she whispered and squeezed his hand.

“I hate a good deal more than that,” he said.

“Will,” she whispered and blushed. But in her eye, he saw enough to know that she was pleased with his efforts.

He saw, too, proof that Elizabeth’s love would remain constant through their lives. For now, it did not matter that he knew tomorrow the men from his club would introduce a bill making frame breaking a capital offense. Nor did it matter that Napoleon still had control of the Continent or that disease and death could take a loved one at any time. He had Elizabeth’s love. Darcy needed no more encouragement than that to know they would have a blessed life.

The End


 

Author’s Note

This story has been a work of fiction but rooted on very real historical events.

Luddite activity in manufacturing towns in the north of England picked up in November 1811 and escalated until around January 1813, although some attacks continued until 1816. A town called Huddersfield in West Riding of Yorkshire (now a defunct county) did see a Luddite attacks but in April 1812. It is most famous for the assassination of the mill owner, William Horsfall on April 28, 1812, but I based the incident in this book on an earlier encounter on April 11th at Rawfolds Mill, owned by William Cartwright. Knowing an attack was imminent, Cartwright had hired guards and several Cumberland militiamen defending the mill. The Dragoon unit known as the Queen’s Bays, recently returned from the Continent, were only a few miles away but the bell meant to alert them to the attack was not rung due to the rope breaking. A soldier did refuse to fire upon the Luddites and was referenced as cowardly in a Leeds newspaper article and was also sentenced to 300 lashes but only 25 were delivered, as Cartwright intervened—although by some accounts he had a reputation for cruelty.

On February 14, 1812, Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer Spencer Perceval, Home Secretary Richard Ryder, Attorney General Sir Vicary Gibbs, Solicitor General Sir Thomas Plomer and three MPs from Nottinghamshire introduced a bill that made the crime of frame breaking a capital offense. It was considered an emergency endeavor and rushed through the House of Lords and gaining royal assent, passed into law on March 20, 1812. While it passed with an overwhelming majority, there was some resistance. Most notably, Lord Byron’s maiden speech in Parliament was in opposition.

Additionally, the fourth Earl Fitzwilliam truly was the Lord-Lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire Militia. As evidenced by Cartwright’s use of the Cumberland Militia, the West Riding Militia was unavailable- having received orders to journey to Cork, Ireland. For the purpose of the story, I used the Derbyshire Militia as many Austen historians have suggested that it was the Derbyshire Militia in Meryton. Some additionally suggested Darcy’s acquaintance with the officers was his reason for accepting Bingley’s invitation to Netherfield and that he may have even served in the Militia himself in the past.

 

Sufficient Encouragement- Chapter 26

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.


 

Chapter Twenty-Six

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.

Dear Papa,

I forgive you and hope you can forgive me.

Love,

E. Darcy

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.

Sufficient Encouragement- Chapter 25

No Pretty picture today! My computer is acting up and has been installing an update for the last 13 hours…not a good sign. My photo subscription I can only access through it, for some reason. And the keyboard attachment on my iPad is broken. Toddler ripped it right in half. It still works, but I’m going to kill y neck by having to look at the screen flat on the desk and when I have neck pain I get a migraine. So… Wham bam post today.

Thanks for the comments yesterday! We’re almost done!


 

Chapter Twenty-Five

Darcy winced as his carriage lurched over another rut in the road. Elizabeth stirred beside him and he pulled the blanket closer around her and held her tighter in his arms. She had insisted she needed little rest to brave the two hundred mile journey, but Darcy had planned more stops than the others were taking. His uncle arranged for them to stay at a friend’s home, for which Darcy was grateful. He despised inns and having his wife in one even more so.

He ran a hand over his face and mentally ticked off his list of tasks. His uncle would speak with the gentlemen of the area. Arlington remained in London hoping to keep MPs and lords alike from working into a frenzy over the increased attacks. Mr. Truman had been given special leave to assist them in speaking with the shopkeepers. His father was a successful shopkeeper in Leeds and he had known the Bingleys since he was a child. Bingley would talk with his uncle.

Darcy had been selected to meet with the militia platoons set to arrive. He knew Colonel Forster’s regiment had been sent to West Riding, as to who led the specific platoons meant for Huddersfield, Darcy was ignorant. He had to admit, he would not be surprised if it were Wickham. They had released Denny to rejoin the Regiment near Manchester, but he did not know the details any more than Darcy did. Of course, meeting him in such an errand would mean he could not give Wickham the thrashing he deserved.

Darcy ground his teeth to stave off more recriminations and violent desires. With any luck, they could stave off violence in Huddersfield or other Bingley mills and perhaps even find a way to remove the gravest concerns the dissatisfied croppers had. Then, he could get on with his life. He would meet with Wickham and present his evidence of blackmail and extortion. Then he would offer Wickham a respectable life…perhaps in Canada. Anywhere, as long as it was far, far away from his loved ones.

He frowned. Of course, that was only part of the problem facing him and Elizabeth. He had agreed to marry her without her father’s presence because he agreed with Mr. Gardiner that she needed some time and distance from Mr. Bennet. They could not avoid him forever, though. Even at his most pretentious times would he never have suggested Elizabeth give up her connection to any of her family, let alone her father. Now, she suggested perhaps missing Jane and Bingley’s wedding, but he knew she would regret that choice. She only needed some encouragement to forgive Mr. Bennet.

The carriage rattled as it went over another muddy rut. Elizabeth roused but nestled closer to him. Her beautiful eyes looked up at him with love, and he knew he would never grow tired of the sight. “Did you rest well? Do you require a stop?”

“No. I am quite content for now.”

“Oh, only for now? Growing tired of your dour husband already?” he teased. There were so few he felt entirely comfortable with.

“Never will I tire of you, or being held in your arms.” She wrapped an arm around his waist and squeezed him. “I feel so safe with you.”

He tried to smile, as she undoubtedly had intended with her words, but in truth his heart broke for her again. In the two nights since they wed, she had been as bold and brave as he would have ever guessed she could be in their chambers. Only now did she give any hint that the effects of Wickham’s actions still lingered. He ought to have been there for her and he vowed to never fail her again.

“Do not think that,” she said. Her hand left his side and instead rubbed at the wrinkles on his brow caused by his thoughts.

“You can read my mind now?”

“Only on this, I think,” she said. “You are not to blame for Wickham’s actions.”

“I ought to have told you about his hatred of me long before. I had intended to say something, anything, to your father but lost my nerve. I failed you both.”

“Wickham is responsible for his own choices. You are not responsible for it anymore than your father for favoring him all those years. I do not care what Wickham expected from life, it is our actions and decisions that define us, even in the face of perceived injustice.”

Darcy slowly nodded his head. “It took me a very long time to absolve my father for any blame. It is difficult to be so generous with myself, however.”

Elizabeth gently kissed him. “You are the best man I have ever known or could ever hope to know. You have raised a beautiful, strong and caring sister. Your opinion is well respected by powerful lords and land owners—if not ignorant country misses,” she gave a rueful smile. “How can you be all this and in any way bear the responsibility for Wickham’s actions? I am sure your every interaction with him was likely out of care for him, even if he could not accept that at the time.”

He allowed her words to wash over him. It was true. He had continually hoped Wikcham could rise above his natural instincts and take the advantages he had been given. At one time he loved him as a brother as much as he now cared for Bingley. Realizing that one cannot force good decisions on a person was a hard lesson to learn. They turned off the main road and passed by a lodge.

“I believe we are coming up on Lundell Castle,” he said. Elizabeth straightened and made her way to the seat across from him. He frowned and reached for her hand so he might have some contact with her still. “I hate having to be formal and proper with you.”

She squeezed his hand before releasing it and placing her bonnet on her head and sliding gloves on her hands. He eyed her graceful movements, jealous of the gloves when it ought to have been him that felt the touch of her skin.

“Will,” she said softly and he looked at her face, pleased to see her blushing. Perhaps she could read his mind on those feelings as well.

The carriage pulled up before the building. It retained the name castle, but the old building was not inhabited and not even in view of the current manor house. They were shown to a large drawing room and greeted by Sir John and Lady Lundell as well as his uncle. After a few minutes conversation they were invited to refresh themselves in their chambers by their hosts. As was previously arranged, Darcy would be leaving as soon as possible to meet with the lieutenants of the Militia platoons. Elizabeth insisted she would be well with Lady Lundell as company and so after quickly washing the grime of travel off him and changing his clothes, Darcy returned downstairs to meet the other gentlemen in the library.

“Ah, William. You made better time than I had anticipated,” his uncle said.

“I suspect Elizabeth will wish to rest for awhile but she tolerated our pace very well. Now, has there been progress made?”

“Not nearly enough,” Lord Matlock sighed.

“There are several gentlemen who support Lord Peters and Mr. Morris’ campaign to punish the frame breakers,” Sir John sighed. “It should be no surprise that they do not understand responsibility. They were all in trade before buying their estates—even if it was a few generations back—they lack breeding. Your uncle assures me, however, that you are not like them,” he finished with a tone of condescension that could rival Darcy’s Aunt Catherine.

Darcy shared a quick look of bemusement with his uncle. This kind of prejudice was precisely why the different classes of England did not trust each other. During the reign of Henry VIII, Darcy’s forefather had been raised to a baron. Alas, Darcy’s father came from Lord Darcy’s second son’s line, who then had several sons himself. Without the benefit of several estates to parcel out to each successive son, they had to seek income somehow. With the all that followed in the generations between then and now—which included the bloody change over of many monarchs—the untitled, but eventually, landed Darcys had amassed greater wealth and kept their heads better than many of England’s oldest noble families. Sir John Lundell boasted a lineage as one of the first baronetcies created and a long line of knights before that. He clearly disliked that many gentlemen in the area had income from trade, however far back, and assumed that they only valued money while over-romanticizing his own position. Darcy doubted Sir John cared so much more about his tenants’ welfare compared with his purse strings. Additionally, holding that view seemed to infantalise his tenants.

“Then we will hope the Militia and any hired guards are well regulated,” Darcy replied with a tight smile before leaving on his errand.

*****

The sounds of groans swirled around Wickham. They had been marching for nigh on a week in what he considered excessively uncivilised conditions. He had foolishly believed that joining the Militia was going to be his means for revenge on Fitzwilliam Darcy and with his fine coin in Wickham’s pocket. He imagined himself finding a way to be set for life, with pretty, pleasant company and balls in between. He nearly had it all. Then, he was fooled by Eliza and Darcy won again.

When he realized Denny would inevitably link everything back to him, Wickham thought only to flee the country and be thankful Darcy did not kill him for touching Eliza. Now, his sore feet and bone weary exhaustion only fueled his hatred. He might have been content to let Darcy live his life but the other man clearly desired to escalate matters. His cousin recommended the Derbyshire Militia to assist in West Riding where none other than his uncle was the Lord Lieutenant. If that is how Darcy wanted to play, then Wickham would meet him. By sending him to his death, clearly he did not desire to prosecute. If Wickham survived this encounter with the unruly mob of King Ludd’s followers, he would return the favor to Darcy.

The Regiment reached Manchester yesterday and there Denny rejoined the ranks, uncharacteristically silent about his London excursion. Now, Wickham marched with his friend turned traitor on to a town called Huddersfield where there was knowledge of a planned attack the following night. The truth was, Wickham could little blame the attackers. The mill owners were becoming filthy rich all over the North while the frame breakers were still poor farmers hoping to earn wages from fabric they weaved in the winter. Merchants they might have sold to before were now restricted in who they could trade with due to the War. It seemed the only people that did not suffer were the rich like Darcy and his aristocratic family. Loyalty meant nothing to them. Wickham’s father had quit a successful law practice to become old Mr. Darcy’s steward. Perhaps children of other well to do servants would be happy with a few hundred pounds to open a shop with, but Wickham was always meant for more. Then the old man had to die and leave his hateful son with too much control over Wickham’s future with a set of conditions. He had to spend money to make friends, had to buy them rounds and lose to them at cards, lest no one would mingle with the son of a steward at school and university. His costly and dissolute lifestyle was imposed on him by a Darcy, the same one he had to be cunning and charming to, and now the newest one thought to blame him for it all.

At last they reached their destination. Leaving their serjeants in charge of setting up camp, Wickham and Denny silently made their way to the inn where they would be quartered. Judging by Denny’s pale complexion, the anger Wickham felt was palpable.

The innkeeper looked at Wickham and shrunk back after thrusting a missive into Denny’s hands.

“Well?” Wickham bit out after Denny had scanned its contents.

“You’re never going to believe this,” he said. Then he finally met Wickham’s eyes.

“We’re to meet with Darcy any minute.”

Wickham did not feel the least bit guilty when he punched Denny square in the nose. He stepped back in disgust as blood poured from his old friend’s face and rubbed his red-stained flesh on Denny’s coat. “We had best prepare then.”

He spun on his heel and entered the private meeting room. He cared not for the whispers circulating around him. Denny shuffled along after him, pinching the bridge of his nose with a handkerchief.

Before the weak ale they were served had quenched his thirst after a week of walking on dirt paths, Darcy arrived. Wickham had expected Darcy to seem surprised to see him, but instead he met Wickham’s gaze with steely resolve. Marching directly to him, Darcy pulled Wickham forward by his lapels, screwed up his fist and punched him in the jaw. Wickham felt his head rattle and his teeth chatter. Before he had regained his senses, Darcy punched him in the gut so hard he regurgitated all the ale he had swallowed.

The splatter on his boots must have cooled Darcy’s ire. Flicking his eyes from his boots and then to Wickham and Denny, Darcy sat without preamble and said, “Let’s get to it.”

Denny attempted to help Wickham up, but was waved off. Wickham fumed as he stumbled to his seat. If he were not so afraid of the gallows, he would run Darcy through at this moment.

“Our presence was noted. They will be fools to attack,” Wickham said.

“I do not think wisdom is one of their strong suits,” Darcy replied.

Just like Darcy to see no value in those below him.

“Our orders are to enter the factory after the final shift tomorrow night. Mr. Bingley has hired men who will be arriving at the encampment this afternoon. They will explicitly obey our serjeants,” Denny said.

Wickham concealed his reaction to Denny’s words. They were protecting a Bingley mill? Would friendship drive Darcy here when Wickham had every expectation that Eliza fled to London and even now Darcy could be courting or wedding her? Another man might be too angry at being thrown over but Darcy would easily forgive the trespass if he believed Wickham was at the heart of the matter.

He reconsidered Darcy’s earlier anger. Wickham had presumed Darcy reacted because he still smarted from their last meeting, however uncharacteristic a violent reaction from him was. Now, he realized that Darcy must know of Wickham’s treatment of Eliza. A reconciliation between Eliza and Darcy must be imminent if it did not already occur. Wickham would wager everything Darcy was worth that Darcy had higher stakes in the mill than mere friendship.

He allowed Denny to continue to speak on logistics of how they would defend the mill, hoping to ensure as few casualties as possible. Darcy spoke in a detached tone. Of course he could, it would not be his life being risked. When the meeting appeared over, Darcy glanced at him. “Denny, I will need a moment to speak with Wickham alone.”

“My, my. Your uncle still pulls your strings, does he? And where are his sons? Safe at home while poor Darcy must deal with rabble rousers and dirty Militia men?”
Darcy did not rise to the bait and instead occupied himself by taking a swig of ale.

“Given your hostility toward Denny, you have likely surmised that I know it was he who delivered that note blackmailing my aunt. A peer. Nay, a very powerful peer’s popular wife. You are intelligent enough to gather just how much trouble you could be in should we prosecute.”

Wickham focused on his cup on the table. “But you never will.”

“Do not be so certain. You did not blackmail only me and my wife’s family, but you involved the House of Matlock and they are far less forgiving.”

Darcy undoubtedly meant to threaten him, but Wickham latched onto the fact that he already wed Eliza. “What are you offering instead?”

“Transportation. Life in a colony with enough funds to begin well. The rest is up to you.”

“And if I say no?”

Darcy merely shook his head. Again refusing to rise to the bait as they both knew Wickham had to recognize the position he was in. Men were executed for blackmailing peers.

“I don’t suppose you could have made these provisions before you send me to a tinder box with a ready match?”

“It was not my goal, or even Arlington’s, to see you face these men,” in Darcy’s eyes, Wickham saw a look of fondness that had once existed between them. “You joined the Militia—undoubtedly for foul intents that you nearly accomplished—had you not wanted to risk your life and limb to defend others you ought to have thought about that before joining.”

“What would you know of it?”

Darcy shook his head. “You have always thought you knew me so well. While you were skipping classes at university to gamble at the Duke of Somerset’s table—Oh, yes, I easily surmised how you knew that piece of gossip about my aunt—I served my five years.”

“The rumour was you had gone to Kent with your cousins.”

“Never mind the rumours. We will all act according to our duty and then you may resign your commission and choose your future location of residence.”
Darcy gave Wickham a pitying look and in that moment Wickham hated him all the more than when he had believed Darcy to be a self-righteous hypocrite. Instead, knowing that Darcy chose the path of honour when he could have paid his way out of service, seeing him leave behind his new bride to see after his investment and the human collateral caught up in it all, made Wickham realise just how depraved and unprincipled his life had been. And instead of being jealous of his carefree and comparatively charmed life, Darcy pitied him. Something stronger even than the desire for revenge and love of money surged forward. His pride would not accept Darcy’s charity.

“Leave off,” Wickham suddenly stood and his chair loudly scraped on the hard floor.

“I don’t want any more of your money.”

He made to leave and pushed by but Darcy pulled him by the arm. “You can hardly leave the country on your own dime and I am through believing you can resist the temptation of wealth through Darcy money or revenge on me.”

Wickham shoved Darcy’s hand aside. “There comes a time when a man’s got nothing but his pride left. You won it all, Darcy and the last thing I want is to see your face again or have you pity me.”

This time when Wickham tried to leave the room, Darcy did not stop him. A primitive beast gnashed on his insides. He deserved more out of life but the cards were stacked too unevenly against him. Visions of riches and grandeur dissolved away, and instead he desired mutual destruction. If Wickham could not be rich and refused more of Darcy’s pity-money then Darcy ought to feel the cost somehow. Tomorrow night would be interesting indeed.

Sufficient Encouragement- Chapter 24

We’re getting closer to the end. Now, let’s get Darcy and Lizzy safely married!

SE chapter 24 quote

Chapter Twenty-Four

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.

“Georgie.”

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!

Sufficient Encouragement- Chapter 23

We left Darcy and Lizzy planning a wedding in two weeks. I hope nothing can interfere! (insert evil authoress laugh here.)

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Chapter Twenty-Three

“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.

Sufficient Encouragement- Chapter 22

Well, Darcy and Elizabeth are happy and in love! Time to start working on Wickham and Mr. Bennet!


 

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Chapter Twenty-Two

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.

Sufficient Encouragement- Chapter 20 & 21

Sorry I didn’t post yesterday! I was fighting a migraine all day. Here’s 2 chapters to make up for it!

There’s still a few more hiccups before Happily Ever After.

SE chapter 21 quote 2


 

Chapter Twenty

Darcy sat in his study, anxiously awaiting the arrival of his male cousins and uncle. They had dined together at the Earl’s house the night before in celebration of the dual engagements of his sons. Despite the celebratory atmosphere and the numerous other guests, it was immediately evident to Darcy that the Countess was in a nervous mood. Her husband and sons soon took notice as well. The lady was well-known for being composed and nothing less than utterly charming, regardless of circumstances.

The gentlemen of the house agreed to tell Darcy should there be a serious reason for her behaviour. The evening’s meal sat like lead in Darcy’s stomach and the feeling of dread only grew as the evening went on. He had thought Wickham had his revenge when he revealed Elizabeth had plotted against him. Whether or not she had, Darcy knew Wickham enjoyed inflicting the torture he had. Until last night, Darcy had not considered Wickham had any further plot or motive.

This morning, a note awaited him at breakfast. His uncle and cousins would be calling this afternoon. The matter concerned him directly. Shortly afterwards, the morning post arrived including an envelope from Meryton. Darcy read Wickham’s vile words with increased agitation.

At last, Darcy heard the knock at the front door and soon his relations were shown into the room. A stranger with a dark complexion named Jacob Truman was introduced as Richard’s friend and current batman. Darcy recalled the name from Richard’s correspondence. The man had displayed considerable bravery on the battlefield.

“We will need fortification, William,” the Earl said.

Darcy handed round glasses of port and sat, awaiting their news. He would share his own afterward.

“Your aunt is being blackmailed,” said the Earl.

“By whom?” Darcy asked.

“The man who delivered the note is not the author.” His lordship passed Darcy the paper to read.

It would be a shame for the House of Matlock to befall victim of scandal from her ladyship’s gambling debts.

Darcy’s grip tightened on the paper. As he had suspected, his aunt’s behaviour and his letter this morning were no coincidence. “Her ladyship does not gamble,” Darcy said.

“Not any longer,” the Earl shook his head. “There was a time when she had made some serious debts—caught up in the behaviour of many of our class. They were settled years ago.”

“Then how could a scandal be formed now?”

“They were owed to the Duke of Somerset…” Arlington said.

Darcy closed his eyes. “Any chance they were to the current Duke?”

“No,” the Earl said quietly. “They were to Jack Rutland, not his nephew. Her former betrothed.”

The Earl and Countess set London on its heel when they eloped thirty-five years ago. Miss Eleanor Manners, daughter of a minor but shrewd baron, was arranged to marry the heir to a dukedom but eloped with a mere viscount. Arlington was born only seven months after the marriage. Angry at being thrown over for a viscount, Rutland declared he had enjoyed the favours of his betrothed and the child she bore was his. The rumours were not widely believed but made for salacious gossip nonetheless. Rutland soon inherited the dukedom and with his nearly unlimited funds lived a lifestyle without restraint. He took many mistresses from wives of the Quality but never married. A genius at cards, his reputation for accepting the favours of women in lieu of either their or their husband’s debts was well-known. Having the name of the Countess of Matlock and the Duke of Somerset intertwined again would be irresistible to the gossips of Town.

“It is not true,” his lordship said. “I paid him myself and Eleanor vowed to never play again.”

“But he is not alive to confirm it,” Darcy supplied.

“He likely would not, even if were living,” Richard said sadly.

Realizing they could do nothing about that concern, Darcy instead focused on Wickham’s angle. “I am rather sure it is from my father’s godson, George Wickham.”

“He lists no demands,” Richard observed. “Once again we are uncertain if it is money or revenge he desires most.”

“Revenge,” Darcy and Arlington said simultaneously.

Arlington looked at Darcy in surprise and allowed him to explain. “I have had a letter from the rat.” He handed it around to the others to view. “As you can see he blames me for his Regiment being ordered to the North. He is to marry…” he trailed off, incapable of saying Elizabeth’s name in conjunction with Wickham’s. “In addition to believing I would wish to see her well-settled rather than suffer with a poor militia officer facing action, he owes her father’s debts. I do not understand why he would seek to harm the House of Matlock, but at this point, nothing should surprise me.”

Arlington paled upon reading the note. “This is my fault.” He turned anguished eyes on Darcy. “After learning of his interference with you and Miss Eliza, I asked Cavendish if he could send some troops to deal with the disturbances and recommended Colonel Forster’s regiment. I only wanted him to be away from her for your sake.”

Darcy gritted his teeth and counted to five before replying lest he be too intemperate. “This is precisely why I always said we should not use the privileges extended to our positions to deal with him.” Arlington blushed but nodded his head in acceptance of the reprimand.

Lord Matlock intervened. “My militia is wintering in Cornwall. I would have requested Cavendish’s assistance in any case.”

“It would not have been linked so directly to someone who had just been in the area, though,” Darcy said in exasperation and then took another deep breath. “This is my fault. I refused to see Wickham’s motives as anything more than mercenary and I always fed his desire for more.”

“He is counting on you feeling guilty,” Richard said. “Ten thousand pounds? That is incredible!”

Darcy shook his head. “He is counting on more than my feeling guilty. He knows I would never leave the Bennets in such a condition. He has studied me better than I have studied him I am afraid.” He took a gulp of port. “I intend to have my solicitor send the funds. If we are lucky that will end his threats against Aunt Eleanor as well,” Darcy said and looked at his uncle.

“Pardon me, Sir,” said Mr. Truman. “That may not be necessary. Last night I was able to trace the man who delivered the note to Edward Street, staying in a house run by a Mrs. Younge.”

He stopped and looked at Richard, who interjected. “I gave him permission to go and address the man. I worried Mrs. Younge would recall me and not allow me to enter.”

Mr. Truman continued his tale. “It was a Mr. Denny, who serves with Mr. Wickham. It seems they are all old friends. Once he had some drink in him, he became quite talkative. He expected to be coming into five thousand pounds shortly. Clearly he thinks Mr. Wickham will split his payment.”

“And you think Wickham will not?” Darcy asked.

Mr. Truman shook his head. “In my experience, people with that sort of selfishness will choose to cross even their closest friends.”

Darcy nodded in agreement. Nor did he wonder that the man had seen cruelty in his life. Britain was not near as bad as America, as he understood it, but many people were still harsh to the freed blacks and mixed-race individuals. He turned his mind back to Wickham. “At the very least we can prove extortion and blackmail with Denny’s testimony. It is a minor offence, but it would secure the loss of any honour still attached to Wickham’s name. He will cease his claims in order to keep that and we shall reach a more reasonable demand.” The other men nodded in agreement. “Retrieve Mr. Denny if you would, Mr. Truman.”

The gentlemen were gathering in the hall to exit when Bingley was shown down. “Jacob Truman!” Bingley cried in astonishment.

The other man smiled, showing perfectly white teeth. “Charles Bingley. I would know you anywhere!” He stretched forward his hand and the two men shook.

“You know my batman, Bingley?” Richard asked.

Bingley tore his gaze from his old acquaintance to answer Richard. “Indeed. The last time I saw him, I was a lad about to enter my second year in Eton. Mr. Truman was about to enter the army and was good friends with my cousin, whom my family was staying with. Caroline would…”

He trailed off and Darcy noticed Bingley wince and the well-known look of haunted pain enter Truman’s eyes.

“How are your sisters?” Truman asked.

“Louisa married a few years ago. Her husband is heir to a small estate.” Bingley looked between Truman and Arlington, clearly uncomfortable. “Caroline is still unwed.”

Darcy saw Arlington observe the encounter with dawning understanding. He reached to shake Bingley’s hand. “It is good to see you again, Bingley. You will have to pardon us. We were just leaving. Do not be too hard on Darcy if he is grumpy this afternoon. My mother dragged him to a dinner to celebrate mine and Richard’s engagements last night.”

“My congratulations!” Bingley exclaimed. “I had not heard!”

“Yes, it seems Richard has finally decided to take Lady Belinda Crenshaw off the market, to my mother’s delight.” Richard smiled at the tease. Darcy chuckled at the besotted look on his cousin’s face. “I will be wedding my cousin Anne, finally fulfilling the wishes of our family.”

“Ah, I see,” Bingley said nervously.

“All is well,” Arlington said with a smile.

Lord Matlock had been silent during the exchange but finally spoke. “Bingley, if you intend to be in Town long, you should call with Darcy soon. For now, we will let you two talk.” The gentlemen said their farewells and Darcy did not miss the feeling of tension of such a strange meeting.

“One of these days you will work up the nerve to speak to my uncle,” Darcy said.

Bingley laughed and rubbed the back of his neck. “It would be easier if he did not peer at me so oddly.”

“He means nothing by it,” Darcy said. “So…Truman?”

Bingley relayed his sister’s account. “Caroline really used to have no pretensions. Truman’s grandfather had been a freed slave. He returned from America with the officer who bought him in Fifty-Eight. He served as the butler and his son became a shopkeeper. He bought his cloth from my grandfather. My cousin Fred became such good friends with Truman, my father assisted in sending him to Eton. When the French broke the peace, Truman wanted to join up instead of running the shop with his father.”

Darcy was stunned to hear of a Caroline Bingley, who cared so little for Society that she entertained an elopement with a mixed race shopkeeper’s son intent on entering the army. But then he knew how starry eyed fifteen-year-old girls who lost their fathers could be. “Tell her he is here,” Darcy urged Bingley. “She deserves to know.”

Bingley nodded his head. “Now, to my business with you. I am ready to knock you on your arse if you do not come back to Netherfield with me and sort out whatever is between you and Lizzy.”

Darcy grimaced. “She does not want me.”

“Bollocks.”

“She intends to marry Wickham. It was all an act so I would not hie off with you in tow and separate you from Jane.”

Bingley opened his mouth, clearly planning to refute it but then closed it without speaking.

“Wickham wrote me,” Darcy handed the note to his friend. Upon seeing Bingley’s alarmed face, he explained the plan he came to with his relations.

“There is nothing for you to do,” he concluded. “The dispute between me and Wickham will come to a close at last. He knows he will have sufficient revenge on me for a lifetime.”

“Do not give him the satisfaction,” Bingley said.

“It is too late for that. They both know I would do anything for her sake.”

Realizing he was useless, Bingley took his leave. Darcy stared blankly at the fire with a wine glass in one hand. In the other he held Elizabeth’s tatted bookmark he found at Netherfield in what seemed like a lifetime ago. Asking why she favoured Wickham over himself was useless. Love was anything but logical and he fully accepted that he was undeserving of Elizabeth as well. Not even the note from Richard declaring Denny had been apprehended and taken to Arlington’s apartments brought him peace of mind.

 

*****

 

Elizabeth arrived at Netherfield’s doorstep shivering. Her gown was hopelessly crumpled and stained. Wickham’s blood marred her skirt, but she was thankful it was not her own. Recognizing her but alarmed at her appearance, the butler immediately took her to the drawing room. Miss Bingley immediately stood and cried out at Elizabeth’s appearance. Caroline motioned for Elizabeth to sit and began calling for a chamber to be made up. In a short time, Elizabeth was settled in a borrowed nightgown and in the chamber that Jane stayed in while ill.

Once the servants were dismissed, Caroline sat in the chair nearest the bed. “What happened, Eliza?”

Elizabeth blushed. She had not considered the horror of retelling the events. “I must go to London. Has your brother left?”

Caroline nodded. “Yesterday morning. But you cannot expect me to not insist on knowing what befell you on your journey here. Why did you come on foot, or at all? A note could have been sent.”

“I did not come from Longbourn,” Elizabeth replied. She considered telling them the truth but could not bear it. She leaned forward and hid her tears in her hands, not caring that the neckline of her gown slipped over her shoulder.

“Eliza!” Mrs. Hurst cried out.

Raising her head, she looked at the exposed flesh the ladies stared at with a horrified expression. An ugly bruise in the outline of Wickham’s fingers was forming.

Mrs. Hurst made her way to the bed and sat on the edge. “Who?” she asked gently.

Elizabeth shook her head.

“We shall call for the physician,” the older lady determined.

“No!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “No, there is no other damage. My ankle will recover after some rest.”

“You are near exhaustion,” Caroline agreed. “Shall we send for your mother?”

“We ought to, at least, tell your father,” Mrs. Hurst suggested.

“No, please do not send for either of them.” She bit her lip. “If you will send for anyone, ask for Mary.”

“Very well,” Louisa said. “We will let you rest.”

They both stood. Caroline paused before leaving. “I have had a letter from Charles this morning and we intend to leave for London in the morning. If you are recovered, you are welcome to join us. I hope…” she paused. “I hope you will use your time in London wisely, Eliza.”

Elizabeth easily understood that Caroline meant she should apologise to Will. Elizabeth wondered if Caroline could comprehend how truly sorry she was for doubting Will’s character and trusting Wickham at all. Warm and tired, she fell into a restless sleep, awaking when Mary arrived.

“Lizzy,” she heard Mary murmur over her before descending into prayer. Feeling comforted by it, she allowed Mary to finish before alerting her to being awake.

“I am not ill,” she told her younger sister.

“No, I did not think so. Will you tell me what happened? Papa grew concerned when you did not return. He was upset to hear you were hurt and at Netherfield.”

Elizabeth was quiet a long time. “We have been very mistaken to trust Wickham.” Mary gasped and Elizabeth nodded her head. “I know Papa must have been taken in as much as any of us, but I do not know if I can ever forgive him for thinking I should marry any man in exchange for clearing his debts.”

She could not tell Mary all that she had suffered. She could not find words for it at all, but she was able to explain their father’s failure.

“So you will not come home?” Mary asked.

Elizabeth shook her head. She had not been predisposed to think well of the male sex, but she had thought well of her father. She had thought he thought well of her as too. “I will go with the others to London tomorrow. Could you write our aunt and ask that it be sent out before the night’s post?”

“Of course,” Mary agreed.

While she wrote, Elizabeth fell asleep again. She awoke gasping and flinging her arms wide. Mary was at her side in an instant.

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said as her sister offered a handkerchief to dry the sweat that pricked her brow. “I am surprised you do not lecture me to return home.”

“Scripture says that we must honour our father and mother. You did enough fighting for your own honour today and you never would have needed to had our mother or father been better and more attentive.”

It was the closest to outright disrespect for her elders Mary had ever displayed. “I am sorry I have not been a better sister to you,” Elizabeth told her. “I have been too much like Papa and content to laugh at others. You deserved better from us both.” She hung her head.

“Thank you, but I do not mind your teasing or encouragement to be more outgoing. I think you do not care for her, but I have been making friends with Miss Bingley. It is nice to have another lady to talk to who favours the pianoforte. Well, I thought I had that with Georgie but…” Mary trailed off. “I will speak with Miss Bingley about sending a dinner tray for you. And would you like to read?”

Elizabeth agreed and the two sisters passed the day in relative quiet. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst sat with them for some time and Mary ate with them. Elizabeth spent as much time as she could feigning sleep. She did not trust herself to slumber, for each time the same nightmare began. First she would see Will’s anguished look at her refusal. Next she would be searching for him in the woods and see his outline in the distance, just for Wickham to find her. The more she ran, the further away Will appeared and the closer Wickham came.

The next morning arrived and Mary was to return to Longbourn. Elizabeth hobbled into the Hurst carriage grateful to leave the environs of Hertfordshire behind.


 

Chapter Twenty-One

Wickham winced as he washed out his hair. Eliza had struck him better than many a man he had fought. It was the perfect position to slow his ability to follow her as well. It was several hours before he recovered from the dizziness he experienced from the wound. The nausea had not lessened, but that was not due to his injury.

For the first time in nigh on twenty years, Wickham passed by his mirror without looking into it. He could not bear to see his reflection now. He had nearly forced himself on the one woman he had ever loved.

Wickham knew he was a man of few scruples. He had courted a life of dissipation and anger, intent on claiming as much Darcy money as he could. Marrying Eliza after she refused Darcy—all while living on his money—would have been his greatest triumph of all, but he had not intended to actually fall in love with the lady.

If she would not have him and was so intent on having Darcy, then Wickham would give her the desire of her heart. She could not go without penalty, of course, but he would not have her and know she longed for Darcy the whole time. Throwing his coat on, he left his chambers and walked toward the coaching inn where Denny should be arriving.

“Ah, Wickham,” Captain Carter called to him from across the street. Wickham waited for the gentleman to reach him. “I have just had a note from Denny. He is delayed in London. I am making arrangements for him to meet us in West Riding of Yorkshire.

Wickham attempted to conceal his internal panic. “What delays him?”

Carter smiled. “He was to pay my compliments to our lofty benefactor, and was asked to remain for some wedding festivity.”

“Quite delightful for him, I am sure,” Wickham said.

“I will need you to look in on Denny’s platoon then.”

“Of course,” Wickham said while seething on the inside and heading off to his new tasks.

He was betrayed! He only wondered if Denny had been so stupid as to be caught red-handed delivering the note to the Matlock residence or if they tracked him later. Realizing Darcy would not be sending the money and now had sufficient means to prosecute him along with giving him a reason for insane jealousy and anger, Wickham came to a desperate resolution. He would go on this assignment and then make his way to Scotland. Darcy had no estate there, no interest and no familial ties. His reach could not extend there. Even the Act of Union forming Great Britain did not allow for extradition to England for trials. Surely he could win some games and maybe even marry a well-dowered girl. He was not foolish enough to hope for a true heiress any longer but at this point, he would be thankful simply to keep his life and all his parts.

 

*****

 

Elizabeth rode in near silence to Gracechurch Street. While Mr. Hurst snored, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst only made strange remarks about how they hoped “he would not resent the past.” Elizabeth did not think they meant Will. Whoever they were speaking about, Elizabeth agreed with the feeling. She hoped Will would not hate her forever. She did not doubt his honour, but she hoped he would forgive her and they could begin their lives with happiness.

She was greeted affectionately by her aunt and sister. They both asked why she desired to come to London so strongly but seemed disbelieving of Elizabeth’s reply that she missed Jane. If they suspected another reason for her arrival, Elizabeth did not care in the least. Indeed, their constant hints at hoping to see Mr. Darcy and Georgiana soon were proof enough of their approval for her errand.

Such it was Elizabeth did not feel guilty when she lied to them while shopping the day after her arrival. She left a hint with the clerk at the book shop and then hailed a hackney. The driver gave her a disapproving look for riding unescorted, but he was not prepared to turn down good payment. She only hoped the butler let her in and that Will was not so angry that he would refuse to hear her plea.

Long before she was prepared, the cab reached the correct street. She descended and walked up to Will’s door.

“Miss Elizabeth Bennet to see Miss Darcy and Mrs. Darcy if she is available.” The butler raised his eyebrows and Elizabeth thrust her card into his hands before he could speak. The back of it read, “Please, I must speak with Mr. Darcy. He knows me.”

She hoped her face looked as earnest as she felt. Will was likely beset by women who wanted to trap him into marriage. She hoped by requesting to meet with the non-existent Mrs. Darcy she would give the butler enough pause to consider her request instead of being assured she was a stranger to the family. If he passed the card on to his master, perhaps Will would begin to understand her offer.

Luck was with her, the butler looked at her again after reading her note on the card and showed her to a drawing room. She was bade to wait. He did not express if he was seeking Mr. Darcy or his sister but Elizabeth felt rather sure all requests to see Miss Darcy would filter through her brother.

It had felt like an eternity before she heard steps in the hall again. The door opened and she held her breath. It was the butler again! Oh, he was going to show her out. Her whole world crumbled and she was sure it showed on her face. She was trembling by the time he came close enough to speak.

“Mr. Darcy requests you meet him in the study. Follow me.”

Still trembling and more than a little confused, she blindly followed the servant a few feet down the hall. She was too concerned and anxious to take in the size of Will’s townhouse. She could think only of her mission. They reached the door and the butler showed her in. Timidly, she entered and immediately felt it was Will’s sanctuary. She had much rather have met him in the drawing room.

The light was dim and the room was panelled with heavy wood and bookshelves. There was a great fireplace and to one side and, at last, she saw Will standing against the mantle, glass in hand.

She took a tentative step forward and he looked up. She hated what she saw in his eyes and ice gripped her heart.

“Miss Bennet,” was all he said. He motioned to a chair, but she felt she could not sit.

“Pardon the intrusion, Mr. Darcy.” She took a deep breath. They had always been so bad at mundane talk. Should she ask how he had been? No, it was very clear how he had been.

“You requested to meet with me, madam, and my imagination is entirely incapable of conjuring a reason.”

He spoke with coldness, like the first night she saw him, and then later when she refused him. It occurred to her then that she had only heard him speak in that tone on those occasions. Even when her mother was insulting him, there was a pleasant warmth in his voice. No, she could not think on things like that or she would lose her nerve. She had to at least explain.

She summoned her courage and began, “I have no doubt you have little wish to see me, but I desperately need your help. Georgiana arranged for me to receive your letter.”

“She should not have,” he said with that steely coldness again.

Elizabeth licked her lips. “After…after I read your letter,” here he anxiously looked up at her, “I saw my mistakes and how blind I was. I completely believed your accounting of Mr. Wickham.”

She could not bear to see the anger she was certain to find so she fixed her gaze on a particular vase near Darcy. “He hates you more than I could have ever imagined. He threatened my family…”

She still could not look at him, but she heard him, she thought he was a little closer than she expected. “Did he explain his plans?”

“He holds my father’s vowels and intended to make you pay.”

“How could he do that?”

She gulped. “He secured a promise from my father. He will forgive Papa’s debts if I marry him.”

“And so you are here to negotiate the terms? You have learned his true character and how little you will have in married life and are asking for a supplement?”

She glanced a little at him then. “You are an influential and wealthy man. If all he wants is your money, then perhaps you can arrange for him to leave his Regiment and forget about anyone named Bennet.”

“Do you believe all he wants is my money?”

She could not answer and looked away.

She heard him step closer. “Elizabeth, do you believe that is all he wants?”

A tear trickled down her face and she looked up to see him only a few feet from her. “No. His history with you is clear that he desires revenge. And now it is very clear to me as well.”

He took the final steps to her side. “Tell me what he did!”

She began to sob. “He said he would leave a mark for you to believe me.”

He grabbed her shoulders to pull her close, but she stiffened in pain. He misunderstood.

“Forgive me, of course, you are still repulsed by me.”

“No. No.” She said firmly. Then she began to pull one side of her sleeve down to expose the bruises. “You see.”

Wickham’s fingers had left ugly bruises but then lower, near her breast, was one from his kiss.

“Dear God,” Will said with true remorse.

He did not say anything else, did not move a muscle and Elizabeth continued to silently cry. She was not even half done with her piece yet.

“Elizabeth, you must tell me. Did…did he violate you?”

She shook her head vehemently. “No… not entirely, not really that is. He thought you would not have me. He was especially keen that you marry me.”

He let out a bitter laugh. “Then he does not know you as well as he thinks he does.”

“Oh, no he understands me perfectly. He knew exactly what I would do.”

“Which is?”

“Come to you for help and…”

“And?”

She met his eyes. She had once thought he was capable of wanting her dishonourably. Now, she knew he would never accept such a proposition. “I cannot be indebted to you, sir. There is only one thing I can give.”

“I will not have you only out of obligation. You do not need to repay me for finding some way to protect your family.”

“You are honourable and that is why you will not spurn my belated acceptance to your proposal.”

“I thought I was the last man in the world you could accept. Leave me in peace. I will call on your relatives when I have come up with some plan to get rid of Wickham.”

He moved to step past her, undoubtedly to open the door and escort her from his home. She reached for his arm and he paused just long enough for her to whisper, “Will.”

In an instant, he pushed her against the wall. He stood before her, breathing heavily, his eyes searching hers. A tear trickled down her cheek and he caught it with his thumb.

She whispered, “Could you, that is, would you please replace the memories of Wickham?”

His gaze had dropped to her mouth, but he appeared to not hear the words she said for he blurted out, “What?”

“Please kiss me. Kiss away the memories.” Her heart was aching for him.

He paused just for half a minute. His eyes had returned to hers and searched them again.

“Please…” she was unable to finish before his lips met hers.

Wickham’s kiss had been ugly and rough but Will’s kiss was so soft and tender, she cried. He released her mouth and kissed her eyes as his hands smoothed away her tears. He kissed her forehead and cheeks before returning to her mouth. There he applied gentle but insistent pressure and she began to respond. This was exactly what she imagined. Exactly as it should be.

He released her mouth and kissed her again and again with increasing frequency until he caught her bottom lip. She gasped and then he covered her mouth fully and almost shyly flicked his tongue in her mouth. It was heavenly and intoxicating.

She entirely forgot about Wickham and what he had done. She only felt Will. She felt his strong arms surround her and pull her close. Then his hands grazed her body, sending sparks of fire everywhere. She felt warm but only wanted to rub closer to him. She pushed further into him and wound her arms around his neck to keep her balance as her legs threatened to melt under her.

At last, he pulled his mouth away from her lips and travelled down her neck. He tugged at her sleeves and tenderly kissed her bruises. His lips swept across her collarbone and then lower. Suddenly he stopped, causing her to open her eyes. His were upon her again and she found now she could understand him without speaking at last.

“Yes,” she told him. Yes, match Wickham’s mark. Brand her whole body.

For several glorious moments he licked and sucked below her neckline and she ran her hands through his hair in approval. His lips travelled up her neck and to hers once more before parting from her body at last.

“I have no idea if I have kissed enough to make a mark, but I needed to taste your lips again.”

Elizabeth smiled broadly and then seemed to catch his words. “No idea? You have not done that before?”

“I kissed Sally Parker, the housekeeper’s visiting niece, on the cheek when I was eight years old. Otherwise no, honourable gentlemen do not have much reason to kiss ladies.”

Elizabeth laughed in reply.

“Have I erased the memories, Elizabeth?”

She wanted to say yes, but Wickham had chosen wisely how to leave his mark. “You will on our wedding night.”

Will’s face showed panic. “But, you said he did not violate you.”

She gulped. “I said not entirely.”

His face suddenly looked grim and hard and she turned away. “I… I understand.” She tried to move, but he still held her in his arms.

“I love you. Do you understand that?” He punctuated it with a deep kiss. “Do you?”

“Yes,” she replied breathlessly as he trailed kisses down her throat. “Yes,” she did not know if she were replying to his question or encouraging him for more.

His hands travelled over her body again, this time, unhurried and fully exploring. She pressed into him once more and ran her hands up his chest before resting them on his neck and easing her fingers under his cravat, causing him to groan. His fervent kisses slowed and he kissed up her face and paused on her forehead. When her breathing evened, she laughed.

“I would ask if it usually feels so wonderful, but I suppose you have no idea.”

He returned her laughter. “I doubt anything about you is usual, but I will say it was thrilling and everything I hoped for.”

She raised an eyebrow and wickedly asked, “Everything?”

He growled into her ear, “For now, the rest must wait for our wedding night.”

She was still in a daze. “Wedding night?”

“I believe you declared I am honour bound to you.”

She grinned. “You certainly are after all of this!”

He swiftly kissed her lips. “It would be best if we quit discussing that. I only have so much control.”

Oh, she wanted to tease! But she decided for once to not allow her spirits to lead her astray. She sobered and chose to address what needed to be said. “You still love me?”

“Did you doubt I would?”

“I thought you would hate me. I thought…I thought you would think less of me than I do of you at the moment.” She hung her head. “You should think less of me.”

“I think less of myself. You are clever. If I had not first insulted, you and then gave offence at every turn you would have seen Wickham’s lies. To know that I could make such a clever, intelligent woman believe I was so arrogant and cruel that she needed to intervene so her sister and my friend could marry is humbling.”

“I was wrong! So wrong!”

“No, I hold the greater blame.”

“Very well, we shall not quarrel over this, but only because I find you so lovely right now.”

He looked surprised. “You find me lovely?”

“Have you never been complimented on your looks?”

“Not by Elizabeth Bennet. In all the times I imagined and hoped for it, I never put those words in your mouth.”

“What words did you put in my mouth?”

He tapped her nose. “Later, minx. You shall not distract me. I nearly wish to shout on the roof top, Elizabeth Bennet finds me lovely.” She pursed her lips and he gently kissed them. “You are content to only esteem me to begin our marriage?”

“Oh, Will,” she murmured. “I more than esteem you. I do not know when it happened but all the while Wickham was…assaulting me, I could only think how I had to see you again and tell you. I love you. I loved you when you offered me marriage, but my pride was wounded. I had determined to never marry another but when he attacked me after my refusal, all I could think of is that I had to see you. I would see you and make you love me again.” She whispered the last words.

He shook his head a little and then leaned his forehead to touch hers. “My lovely Elizabeth. I could never stop loving you.”


 

Ah, our couple is finally together and saying I love yous in each other’s arms! It takes a few more chapters to wrap up things like Mr. Bennet and Wickham but the big scary part is now over. I’ll be back tomorrow!