The Secrets of Pemberley- Chapter Two

secrets of pemberley maskWhat do you think of the cover? Check out the giveaway on Diary of an Eccentric.

 

Previous Chapters: Chapter One

Chapter Two

“Fitzwilliam, Darcy,” Lady Catherine nodded as they entered her drawing room. “Kiss your cousin.”

Anne barely lifted her head for Richard to peck on her cheek but offered more of her face for Darcy. His heart sank. Had he not made his preferences regarding any possibility of their marriage clear? Perhaps she merely meant to please her mother. Darcy stifled a groan at the thought of having to discuss the matter with mother or daughter again.

“Where is Georgiana?” Lady Catherine asked.

“Do you not recall? I wrote to you over a week ago. She is recovering from a cold and preferred to remain at home.”

“I do not see why she could not come,” she frowned at him. “It is only a cold.”

“I confess I spoil her and did not wish to discomfort her with the ride.” Darcy slid his eyes to Richard. He had been correct that Lady Catherine would insist on asking about his sister.

“I should scold you for being so indulgent,” her ladyship said with a censure-less smile.

“I also considered Anne, of course.”

“That is just like you,” Lady Catherine beamed. “You think of everyone and everything.”

Darcy lightly shook his head but refrained from blushing at his aunt’s praise. Richard was correct. Aunt Catherine never saw fault in him. He could say he intended to dance barefoot on the dining table and she would find a way to praise him. Was it any wonder that all her servants were as complimentary? Take her parson, for example. How he was related to Elizabeth, Darcy could never understand.

Elizabeth.

No. No more thoughts of Elizabeth.

“Did you hear me, Darcy?” Lady Catherine, thankfully, interrupted his thoughts. “I asked how your sister liked Ramsgate. I have thought of taking Anne. Or if you still have the house perhaps we might stay with you this summer.”

“I have already told you she did not care for it, Aunt,” Richard said with a subtle nudge to Darcy’s knee.

“I do not want to hear it from you. What do you know? You spend months in mud and on horses in a Godless country.”

Darcy’s brows rose. Lady Catherine’s insults were particularly barbed today. “Thank you for your inquiry,” he attempted to smooth the situation. “Richard is correct. Georgiana did not care for Ramsgate. She mentioned the house was insufficient so I did not retain it. If you would like, I could suggest a solicitor in the area who might assist you.”

Said solicitor did not ask intrusive questions or gossip when Darcy unexpectedly showed up and whisked his sister away after firing her governess on the spot. Darcy clenched his hands at his side. Would that all men in his employ could have been so loyal. No, some attempted to seduce his sister and blackmail him for the misfortune of his birth.

“Perhaps,” Lady Catherine pursed her lips. “If Georgiana did not care for it then it may not be the best place to send Anne. I am very selective about where to spend my holidays. So is Anne.”

Darcy nodded. One reason he did favour his aunt, aside from being happy to finally have any family at all, was that she never required much input from him. His mind was free to wander and merely nod now and then. Richard, who was a regular magpie, could not conceive remaining quiet for much of an hour let alone an entire day.

“And so Georgiana has spent all her time in London since then?”

“We went to Pemberley first, but she has been in Town since September.”

“I wish you had followed my advice and kept a governess for her. They transition to companion quite nicely, as you see with Anne.” Lady Catherine nodded to her daughter.

“If she had been brought up with a governess all along, I am sure you would have been correct,” Darcy answered. “I have recently hired a companion.”

“I do not see why you needed to hire one specifically just to sit with her when she has female relations,” her ladyship frowned.

Darcy glanced at Richard. Was there any pleasing the woman? He began to understand what his cousins always complained about.

“I am feeling rather slighted, Aunt,” Richard interrupted. “You have not asked after my family or me at all.”

“I hear from the Earl often enough. What do you have to say that will interest me? I know you prefer to shock me.”

Lady Catherine shook her finger at the colonel as if she were scolding a much younger boy. Darcy bit back a chuckle.

“It is not my fault I have been deployed to the Continent a few times and have lived to tell the tale.” Richard winked, and Anne smiled. “One would think you are ungrateful that I live.”

“Ungrateful! Me?” Lady Catherine thumped her cane. “Your jesting seriously displeases me.”

“Pardon me,” Richard smirked. “I had thought it would delight you.”

Lady Catherine sniffed and cast her eyes about the room.

“You did not tell them about Mr. Collins,” Anne spoke softly.

Mention of Collins made Darcy walk to a window and look out it. Too many memories of Hertfordshire were associated with the name.

“Quite right, Anne. I have got a new parson. Old Dr. Montague retired.”

“Riveting,” Richard said in a wry voice.

“Well, he is newly married. Is that not news enough for you?”

Richard chuckled. “News of a marriage does not titillate men the way it does for women.”

“He is just the sort of rector we need in this parish. He is heir to an estate entailed on him away from five daughters. For Anne’s sake, I am glad such things were not thought necessary in Sir Lewis’ family.” Lady Catherine paused for a moment and went on. “Well, I convinced him to visit the family. There had been some kind of breach, and it was his Christian duty to heal it and marry one of the cousins.”

Dread filled Darcy’s heart. It could not be.

“Well, he did even better than I had commanded,” Lady Catherine said. Without seeing her, Darcy knew she smiled. “His cousins, judging by the one visiting, are impertinent and falsely superior. No, he did much better than marry one of them and brought back a meek and humble wife.”

Darcy let go of the breath he had been holding.

“Miss Charlotte Lucas as was. Daughter of a tradesman who was knighted. Just the sort of woman to know her place. Not too low and not too high. She manages the household and her husband perfectly. Her sister and one of his cousins are now visiting.”

Richard laughed again. “I like the image of her managing her husband. You say relatives are visiting?”

“Yes, one was a particular friend to his wife. A few weeks ago, Mrs. Collins’ father visited. He brought with them a sister and her friend, Miss Bennet. They will remain for several weeks.”

A buzzing sound filled Darcy’s ears.

“What are these young ladies like?” Richard asked.

Darcy wanted to punch his cousin. Whether it was Elizabeth or not, Richard should not take such pleasure in idle flirtation.

“Miss Lucas never speaks. She is in awe of Rosings, of course. Miss Bennet,” Lady Catherine said with a bit of contempt mixed with amusement in her voice, “has far more courage. Wit and impertinence combined. If she knew how to treat her betters, she would be perfectly charming.”

Darcy’s heart began beating loud and fast. He felt as though he were in a ring at Gentleman Jackson’s. Each word his aunt uttered was a new blow to his heart.

“She sounds like an excellent addition to our small party,” Richard said.

“Darcy!” Lady Catherine called and banged her cane. “I heard that you already know the occupants of the Parsonage.”

Darcy turned to face them, hoping he could hide his state. “I met Mr. Collins while visiting a friend in Hertfordshire. I had to good fortune to also know his wife and the family he was visiting.”

“What did you think of Miss Bennet?” she asked. “I cannot put my finger on her. Sometimes I believe she might be mocking me.”

“You?” Richard feigned disbelief. “Never!”

If it was the Miss Bennet which Darcy feared then the correct answer was “always.”

“As you say, there were five Miss Bennets, and they came with a wide variety of personalities.”

“Ah,” Richard nodded. “You must describe her—for Darcy’s sake, of course.”

So help him, if Richard would sit there and envision Elizabeth’s loveliness and fantasize about her and right in front of him!

“She has brown hair,” Lady Catherine answered.

Four of the five daughters had brown hair. Of course, Darcy would describe Elizabeth’s as mahogany. The way sun would shine on it had always fascinated him.

Lady Catherine continued, “She is medium height, I would say. Around Georgiana’s size.”

That could be three of the five. Anticipation built as his aunt continued.

“Brown eyes.”

They were down to two, although Darcy knew from the description of her personality there could only be one. His heart beat a staccato rhythm.

“Anne, do you recall what her name was?”

“Elizabeth,” her daughter replied.

Elizabeth, Darcy’s mind repeated. It felt like a cannon blast had sounded, and he fought to stay upright from the shock of it all. Elizabeth, here at Rosings. So very close. All his arguments about why she would not suit began to crumble in the face of her nearness. Lady Catherine had not been repulsed by her. She even seemed to respect and like her. She praised her.

“Darcy!” Lady Catherine called and banged her cane.

“Pardon me, ma’am, I was woolgathering.”

“Hertfordshire was quite unkind to him, we are to understand,” Richard chuckled. “It seems London does not lay claim to all the match-making mamas.”

“They dare to think their daughters worthy of Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley? Of the son of Lady Anne Fitzwilliam?”

“You cannot blame a mother for believing her daughter worthy of anything,” Darcy said. “Perhaps if it seems unrealistic it is only a mark of the ferocity of her love for the child.”

Had he just defended Mrs. Bennet?

“What you describe is grasping,” Lady Catherine frowned. “Rank ought to marry like rank, or it is a recipe for distrust and disaster. Your own parents—”

“I will thank you to not mention anything about my parents!”

Darcy fumed. He could not take more of these vacillating emotions. He needed an escape. A fast ride to the Parsonage and banging on the door, grabbing Elizabeth in his arms and kissing her senseless came to mind. He settled for retiring to his chambers.

In the calm and quiet of his room, he acknowledged that his aunt had a considerable point. His mother had been born the daughter of an earl, and she married a country gentleman. Although the Darcys were wealthy, they did not favour Town. She used to tell Darcy of her debutante days of dancing set after set in London. The faraway look in her eyes and sadness in her voice had demonstrated how much she longed for such a time again. Although he had not meant to be cruel, sending her to Scotland was the worst kind of punishment her husband could render.

Their temperaments had been too different. Mr. Darcy was lively and amiable. He welcomed everyone and counted his steward as his closest friend. Lady Anne resented it all. She longed for the aloofness of London. She enjoyed the balls and soirees where she could be above others and did not have to rub shoulders with all ranks. She had been taken from everything she knew and asked to behave differently.

If Darcy married Elizabeth, it would be much the same. Elizabeth was content and happy in her country life. Had she not defended it to him? He did not doubt she could learn, but as he had been forced into playing the role twenty years ago, he long knew there was a difference between learning the steps to the dance and enjoying it. Elizabeth was made for laughter and love. Taking her from the life she cherished would snuff the light from her eyes and he could not live with himself if he did that.

While every fibre of his body longed to race to her door and carry her away, his head cautioned to avoid the Parsonage. Lady Catherine always invited him to look over the books while he visited. He would spend as much time as he could on it. There was no need to call on the Parsonage. None at all. He could conquer this.

Coward his heart whispered to him. All his arguments against Elizabeth were not just vain pretensions but a protective choice. Marrying Elizabeth would set his love aflame, there would be no containing it. No distant and appropriate English marriage for them with separate chambers and separate lives. No, he could not bear to have her away from him for so many hours. Her passionate nature would be just the same.

Then, like his mother’s love for her husband, one day it would end. Or perhaps she could die. Then what would happen to him? He had, at last, found someone to love and love him in return. His heart would be crushed. He would become a shell of a man, unable to go on and see to his duties. Georgiana and Pemberley would be in disarray. Darcys of the future would mock his existence and laugh at his portrait in the gallery. Then, one day, one would find the truth. He was never a real Darcy. And then they would know why he had been the weak link in the family legacy. His blood would find him out.

No, marrying Elizabeth would be the ruin of him.

 

The Secrets of Pemberley- Chapter One

IMG_6301.JPGBlurb: To the world, Fitzwilliam Darcy has it all. He’s the young master to one of the kingdom’s oldest and wealthiest Norman families. Through his mother, he is related to a powerful line of earls. Beneath the perfect façade lies the truth: he’s the product of his mother’s affair and the heir George Darcy never wanted.

At twenty-eight, Darcy has fought hard to put to rest the pains of the past and earn his place in Society. But can he resist the allure of ending his loneliness with the unsuitable woman who has tugged at his heartstrings? Will he tell her his secret and if he does, will she keep it? Or will someone else from the past destroy everything Darcy has worked for?

Chapter One

“You have done this, Anne, and I will never forgive you.”

A large, stern man hovered over Fitzwilliam Darcy’s sobbing mother. Her cries awoke the boy of eight from his nighttime slumber in the small Scottish cottage where he and his mother shared a room. The only light was a lantern in the man’s hand. Outside the open window, the world remained quiet except for the sound of horses snorting and stamping impatiently. A coachman attempted to calm them.

“But do not take him away from me! Do not take my boy!”

Fitzwilliam attempted to hide behind his mother who now sat on his bed.

“You have taken mine!” the man roared. “Have you no words of regret on the passing of your firstborn? My son! My heir! He needed his mother — but no, you were here.”

Lady Anne Darcy remained mute and continued her sobs. Her son peered curiously at the angry man. Mother had another child? He had a brother?

“Do not fret,” the man glared and had no sympathy for the tears he saw. “I kept your affair a secret, and he has my name. He will be accepted.”

“But he will not be loved!” Lady Anne sobbed anew, and she hugged Fitzwilliam.

“You should have thought of that before you played the harlot.”

“If you would allow me to come with you,” she pleaded.

“Absolutely not. You will remain here for your “health.” Now, pass the boy over.”

The man looked at the Fitzwilliam. He looked strange, unfamiliar and in clothing that showed no signs of wear. Mother had always said one day his father would come for him one day, but looking at this man, Fitzwilliam did not want to go.

“No, anything but that please,” Mother cried.

Large hands tried to snatch Fitzwilliam’s arm, and she threw herself in front of the child. He darted to the other side of the room.

“Anne,” George said in a warning tone. “The law is on my side.”

He sounded angry, and Fitzwilliam flinched at the voice, but his mother did not cower. Either Mother was very brave, or perhaps there was no reason to fear violence from the man.

“Allow me to say goodbye,” Mother pleaded.

At last, the towering man relented.

“Fitzwilliam, my darling son,” Mother choked out and embraced him.

He wrapped his hands tightly around her waist and pressed his head to her chest. “Mama, please do not send me away. Do not make me go with that man.” Tears streaked down his face, and he trembled in fear. Other than Cook and the maid, he had seldom known other people. He was even too shy to greet the minister they saw every Sunday.

“He is your father,” Mama said.

The man snorted, and Fitzwilliam lifted his head.

Mother turned her head to face Father. “What else is there to tell him, George?”

“Disguise of every sort is my abhorrence,” he said through gritted teeth. “Am I not lying enough as it is?”

“Please,” Mother asked as her chin trembled and tears fell down her cheeks. “Please.”

“Blast it. You always knew how to get your way,” Father whispered. “I will tell him when he is old enough.”

Fitzwilliam felt relief in his mother’s frame, and she exhaled the breath she had been holding.

“Thank you.”

Turning back to her son, she ran comforting hands over his hair and face. “Now, you will go with your Papa and learn everything you can about running a big estate. So many people will look up to you and will count on you. Do you think you can do that?”

Fitzwilliam shook his head.

“Our son was never afraid of anything,” Father said sadly. “Did you ever wonder?”

Pain and anguish flooded Mother’s eyes, and she squeezed them shut. Upon opening, determination filled them.

“You can do this! I know you can! Do you remember the name of the estate?”

“Pember…Pemberley?”

“Yes! See how smart you are already?”

Fitzwilliam did not care about praise at this moment. Why did he have to leave Mother behind? “When will I see you again?”

“Do not worry about that,” she answered with a quavering voice. “I must remain here and get healthy.”

Mother often said they lived here because of her health. She never seemed ill to him, only sad. However, he would never wish to hurt her. “Must I go?”

“Yes, it is your duty to be the heir of Pemberley.” She pulled him into a crushing hug. “Now, never forget how I love you. No one will ever love you as your mother.”

“Boy, it is time,” Father called.

After another minute, Mother released him and gave him a kiss on each cheek. He reluctantly walked to his father’s side.

“I am pleased to meet you, Father,” he said.

George Darcy harrumphed and left the sparse room. Fitzwilliam cast a parting look at his mother, who tried to smile and waved goodbye. Then, he trailed down the stairs and maintained silence until they were in the carriage. As they pulled away from the cottage which been his only home, Fitzwilliam cried.

“See here, boy,” George said sternly. “You are a Darcy. Darcy men do not cry.”

“I am sorry, Father.”

“And we never apologise for being ourselves. Hold your chin up high.”

“Like this?” his voice warbled as he held back more tears.

Father did not praise him but nodded. After a few moments, Fitzwilliam managed to control his emotions. Seeking his father’s approval, he asked about his new home.

“Mother told me so much about Pemberley. She told me about the horses. I like horses. Do you?”

Father said nothing and only looked out the carriage window. Fitzwilliam tried again.

“I like reading too. Mother says you will teach me how to run Pemberley. I am a very good student.”

“Boy, a Darcy does not chatter. I am not interested in your interests, and you are not interested in mine. Be silent until I speak to you.”

Father’s command was so harsh it rattled off the walls of the carriage, and he followed it with a harsh glare. Fitzwilliam’s lip trembled, and he sank back in his seat, remaining silent until they reached the gigantic house.

“Mr. Darcy.”

“Yes?” the now adult Fitzwilliam Darcy asked without opening his eyes as the images of his long-ago past settled into the recesses of his mind.

“You wished to arise early for your journey to Rosings.”

“Yes, thank you,” Darcy said, dismissing the valet.

The master of Pemberley rose and swung his legs out of bed. As he went through his morning ablutions, he pushed aside the thoughts of his past. The man he had thought was his father was not his father at all, of course. He was the product of an affair, and there was not one drop of Darcy blood in his veins. However, of all their worth he was now master.

His mother had told the truth on one score. She was the only one to ever love him. When his foolish heart brought up the memory of a pair of fine, dancing eyes and free laughter, he closed his eyes and gripped the dresser before him.

“Think with your head, not your heart,” he muttered through grit teeth. The mantra had been pounded into him from the man who raised him, and he would not see all that he worked for to be a true Darcy come to an end through wayward thoughts of the beguiling Elizabeth Bennet.

 

*****

“Will this be the year, Darcy?” Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam asked his cousin.

“Pardon?” The question pulled Darcy from his brooding.

“Do not play dumb. You well know Aunt Catherine has wanted you to marry Anne.”

“If I were at all likely to do that, why would I have waited so long?”

“Because you are Fitzwilliam Darcy and brood over everything and take your time with your decisions?”

“It would be ungentlemanly to make Anne wait so long.”

“She has already waited.”

“Her mother has waited. It does not follow that Anne has been left in the dark about my feelings.”

“Ah, I see,” Richard grinned. “This is the first I have heard you ever criticize Aunt Catherine.”

“It is not my fault that I am the son of her long-lost sister,” Darcy murmured.

He had not been allowed to meet his mother’s family until after George Darcy’s death. While many saw Lady Catherine de Bourgh as proud and intrusive, she had a soft spot for her youngest nephew.

“I happened to spend time in an area this autumn with a woman whose matchmaking attempts rival Aunt’s.”

“Never say you were nearly caught in her web. I thought there was not a miss alive who could ensnare you!”

“No, no. I was not her target.”

Darcy grew quiet as he recalled a ball at his friend’s house in Hertfordshire. The woman he was thinking of had five daughters, and she had selected her eldest for his friend. She had loudly extolled to any guest within earshot that she expected a wedding before the New Year.

“A friend then?”

Darcy nodded. He did not meet with Richard more than once or twice a year, and so there was always much to catch up on. Darcy would not reveal his friend’s identity, but it would take little imagination to make the correct guess. He never had made many friends.

“I had to separate him from a young lady.”

“Grasping wench, was she?”

“No,” Darcy shook his head. “I do not think so bad as that, but she was not the type to fall in love off a short acquaintance. All advantage of the match would be on her side, and she was a very dutiful daughter.”

“And so we return to Anne,” Richard said.

“There certainly were similarities,” Darcy agreed.

“And so this woman was looking for helpless, foolish sots seduced by a pretty face for her penniless but dutiful and complacent daughters. Did she have any sisters?”

Darcy laughed at the picture Richard painted. “Certainly not all complacent.” Elizabeth’s teasing words came to mind.

“Ah,” Richard smirked. “So, was this an act of friendship or self-preservation? If the eldest miss was out of the way, the mother might foist her next upon you!”

Darcy’s heart pounded at the thought. So Richard would not think him affected by the idea, Darcy chose to tease. “You sound jealous,” Darcy raised a brow. “Perhaps you would like an introduction?”

“No, no,” He waved a hand. “Harmless flirtations only for me.”

“Beware. A lady’s imagination is very rapid,” Darcy cautioned.

“I’m no green boy.” Richard then leaned forward, “She will ask about Georgiana. She will ask about your summer.”

Darcy sighed and swiped his brow. Some four years after Darcy had been separated from his mother, she had born a daughter. Once again, George Darcy concealed his wife’s adultery and paid for the child’s care and education. When he died, he named his wife’s son and her nephew as guardian rather than any Darcy relatives.

Darcy had been delighted to finally get to know his sister. She remained at school, but he visited often. When she turned sixteen, he withdrew her from the seminary and put her in the care of a companion who was meant to oversee her transition to womanhood and presentation into society. Instead, disaster struck. Missing her friends and feeling no great affection for her brother, Georgiana readily believed herself in love with an old friend and planned to elope. The merest chance interrupted their plans: Darcy had unexpectedly arrived, and Georgiana confessed all.

Even now, nearly a year later, what hurt Darcy the most was that his sister had not loved him enough to consider his feelings. Of course, that was his sentimental Fitzwilliam side talking. The man George Darcy raised him to be would worry first about the family reputation.

“She has no way of finding out the particulars. If we make it seem uninteresting, she will not care. Georgiana went to the seaside, and I was at a house party.”

“That may work,” Richard agreed. “I only have to be myself to irritate her in some way and distract her attention from you.”

“You have my thanks for that,” Darcy chuckled. Too soon, the lightness faded, and heavy loneliness weighed on him again.

“You should marry,” Richard said suddenly.

“What?” Darcy asked. Surely he hallucinated.

“A wife would ease your burdens. If you marry well, she might make you laugh and ease those worry lines on your brow. She could help with your sister since you will not allow my mother or Aunt to take her—”

“Georgiana is my responsibility,” Darcy said firmly.

Richard held his hands up again. “I only wished to express my concern.”

“Of course,” Darcy said and exhaled. Never having felt he was a true Darcy, he neither fit in with the Fitzwilliams. His insecurity over acceptance often made him push loved ones away rather than rely on anyone else. “Thank you.”

Richard stared at him for a moment and opened his mouth but then shook his head and closed it again. Whatever he was going to say, he had thought better of uttering. He turned his head to look out the window, and Darcy did likewise.

“Here we are again,” Richard sighed. “The palings of Rosings.”

“Another year older,” Darcy said. “Another year wiser.” Another year lonelier, he added to himself.

 

 

Pride & Prejudice & Epiphanies- Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

P&P&EPrevious Chapters: Chapter OneChapter Two Chapter ThreeChapter Four / Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter Seven

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

Longbourn

January 13, 1812

 

Elizabeth looked in the mirror as she readied for her wedding day. The three weeks of her engagement to Mr. Darcy had been a whirlwind. Last week, her cousin, Mr. Collins, had married her best friend, Charlotte. Lady Lucas enjoyed crowing about the county that although Mrs. Bennet had three engaged daughters, hers married first. Amazingly, Elizabeth’s mother had not taken the bait. The revelations of the weeks preceding her engagement remained fixed in Mrs. Bennet’s mind, as well as the minds of the others.

The house was quiet now while Jane, Elizabeth, and Mary shared a chamber to dress. Mrs. Bennet and Aunt Gardiner were downstairs overseeing the wedding breakfast. Kitty, Lydia, and Georgiana were helping with decorations. Elizabeth smiled softly as she considered that at last her father would have the quiet and peace he had long desired, but it came at such a cost.

“I think I am ready,” Elizabeth said. She had elected to use the mirror last.

“Are you sure?” Mary asked, her voice trembling.

“You are not having second thoughts, are you, dearest?” Jane asked and hugged her sister.

“No, I do not think so.” Mary shook her head.

Elizabeth smiled. The engagement had allowed Mary’s beauty to blossom. She now looked lovelier than she ever had before, and the confidence she gained from feeling the unconditional love of a good man made her glow.

“I love Richard so very much,” Mary whispered. “I am worried about being a wife; running a house and pleasing him.”

“He does not seem very hard to please,” Elizabeth said. Richard was one of the most amiable gentlemen she had ever met, and she looked forward to calling him brother.

“I know,” Mary agreed, “I never said my fears were rational.”

Jane and Elizabeth shared an amused look.

“He is so…so worldly. What if I cannot please him like a wife should?” Mary blushed scarlet.

“Oh,” Jane said and looked at her feet.

From the colour rising in her elder sister’s cheeks, Elizabeth guessed that Jane also had such fears.

Pulling on courage that Elizabeth did not know she had, she came to her sisters’ sides. “Do you believe they love you?”

They both nodded.

“Then what do you have to fear? Our gentlemen do not love us because they believe we are perfect. That would not be love. As much as we see their flaws, they see ours.”

“Sometimes I do fear that Charles puts me on a pedestal,” Jane confessed. “Although I know if I had shown him more encouragement, he never would have left Netherfield.”

“Did you say as much to him?” Elizabeth asked.

“I tried, but he would not listen. He took all the blame.”

Elizabeth nodded. “He was not entirely innocent. Selfishly, I would rather you be with a man who thinks you faultless than who tosses all blame on you.”

“Lizzy,” Jane laughed, “you would not want the same for yourself. I know you have disagreed with Mr. Darcy about him taking the blame for everything.”

“Our mistakes are far different from either yours or Charles’s. We will all soon be married and have plenty of time to talk with our husbands. I am sure you will find a way to say what you must. Do not let this evening end without expressing your fears.”

Mary sighed. “It is not as easy for Jane and me, I think. Our husbands did not save our lives at risk to themselves.”

“Is that what has worried you?” Elizabeth laughed. “Well, Mr. Darcy did not fight tooth and nail to come propose to me for weeks on end. He did not even want to love me. Nor did he kiss me senseless in a crowded room.”

“I was not senseless,” Mary pouted.

“Did you stop him?” Elizabeth raised her brows.

“Of course not,” Mary laughed. “That was proof of my good sense!”

“Indeed!” Elizabeth and Jane laughed as well.

“We must not compare our experiences. I trust that just as we each have the perfect man for our personalities, we have experienced the best journey to love in our individual way. Let us try an experiment. Mary, how did you know you loved the colonel?”

Mary blushed but raised her chin proudly. “You know that I recorded journal entries. Increasingly, I grew concerned about the strangeness occurring. However, whenever I saw Richard, I felt my worries vanish. Something about him gave me hope. Something told me he would assist us. Even after he kissed me, I had not known I loved him. Now, I can see that I saw in him what was lacking in my life: a source of joy and someone I could confide in and rely upon.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Jane?”

“All my life I have been called beautiful. It never felt like anyone saw beneath my exterior. When Mr. Bingley returned and apologised, when he understood the pain I went through, I knew he possessed my heart. He made me feel truly beautiful by recognising I was more than the sum of a well-proportioned figure and face.”

Now, both sisters looked expectantly at Elizabeth. “Darcy always created extreme emotions in me. The passion he stirred frightened me. Hatred was so much easier to understand and maintain. However, I craved to know more of him. To understand him. When we faced Wickham, he showed me parts of himself that he had tucked away from others. When I thought he might die…it was like a part of me was dying as well. I may not have always recognised my feelings as love, but once I did, I would not let them go.”

“I think I understand,” Mary said. “I am ready now. I wish to become Mrs. Richard Fitzwilliam.”

Jane eagerly nodded, and the three sisters rose from the bed they sat upon and hugged. Walking down the stairs, their family awaited them in the drawing room. The carriage took them to the church, and while they recited their vows, their hearts soared, knowing their joy was shared by a sister as well.


I hope you enjoyed reading about Kitty, Lydia, Mrs. Bennet and even Mr. Wickham finding a better path in life. I’ll be posting an extended epilogue called MR. DARCY’S CHRISTMAS CAROL in the next few days.

You may also purchase MR. DARCY’S MIRACLE AT LONGBOURN, going live as ebook on Amazon, Nook, Kobo and iBooks on 12/8/17 which contains all three parts.

Pride & Prejudice & Epiphanies- Hallelujah Chorus

P&P&EPrevious Chapters: Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four / Chapter Five / Chapter Six

Hallelujah Chorus

London

December 23, 1811

 

Darcy entered the rented stagecoach and sighed. Across from him, Mr. Gardiner smiled.

“Relieved?”

“Incredibly,” Darcy answered. “I know you might think I should have pushed for this years ago, but devotion to my father’s memory made it impossible.”

Mr. Gardiner shook his head and held up his hands. “No, no. I do not pass judgment on the situation. I think perhaps I saw it with more clarity, but surely even your father would have washed his hands of Wickham after everything.”

“If Father had been alive, a great number of these things never would have happened.”

“You cannot know that,” Gardiner insisted. “If the events of this season have not made that clear to you, then perhaps nothing will.”

Darcy grew quiet. He had not thought Wickham destined to become a murderous madman. Darcy had long believed that if his father had lived, many events would have happened differently. However, he never would have met Elizabeth. That was an alternate reality he did not wish to consider. All the headache and heartache with his nemesis was worth the joy he felt with her.

“Perhaps things may have been different with Father alive,” Darcy said slowly, “but that does not mean they would have been better.” The years that his father was alive and yet blind to the perfidy of Wickham’s ways had been inexpressibly painful to Darcy.

Gardiner peered at him.

“What is it?”

“I was checking for grey at your temples,” he laughed. “For such a young man, you speak with wisdom!”

Darcy chuckled. He genuinely liked Mr. Gardiner and his wife. They had both been easy to talk with. They were neither vulgar nor conceited. He had invited them to Pemberley next Christmas. Mrs. Gardiner added the notion of touring Pemberley wrapped in snow. Elizabeth’s eyes lit with joy as she listened to Darcy talk about the sleigh rides and snowball fights of his youth.

Longing tugged at his heart. It would make for a very long day, but they were now on their return trip to Meryton. Having lived through the pain of separation from Elizabeth for a month and then the havoc of recent events, he wished never to leave her side again. When he arrived at Longbourn that evening, he hoped she would consent to a speedy wedding. Grinning, Darcy did not think the other prospective bridegrooms would dislike the notion of a triple wedding.

When not woolgathering about his beloved, Darcy and Gardiner spoke of fishing and hunting. Darcy learned Gardiner had enough income to purchase an estate, like Bingley’s father had amassed, but he did not wish to give up the day-to-day control of his enterprise. He enjoyed the work, and Darcy respected him all the more for it. Most landed gentlemen became useless wastes and raised just as terrible children. George Darcy had worked hard to keep his children from becoming such, although with influences from his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, it was not easy.

Mr. Gardiner must have sensed the direction of Darcy’s thoughts, for his next question was about the very lady. “I understand your aunt has an estate in Kent. She is the patroness of my brother-in-law’s heir.”

“Yes, such a strange set of connections. He is to marry Elizabeth’s friend. It seems that even if I had not returned to Netherfield, I would see Elizabeth again at Easter.”

Gardiner grinned. “Love conquers all, then!”

“Indeed.” Darcy smiled.

“I am happy to hear you agree. My wife and I have worried the most for Elizabeth’s attachment to you. All the engagements are unexpected to us—you can understand why. However, your situation in life is far different than Elizabeth’s.”

“I believe she is up to the task,” Darcy said. He chose to tread carefully. He did not wish to insult the Gardiners or Bennets and agree too readily, but neither could he lie and say it was not a concern.

“As long as she knows what is being asked of her.”

Darcy shrugged. “Some may view her with contempt. That would be the case no matter how I married. Some might believe her beneath me. On the other hand, if I married a title, many would say that was above me. Unfortunately, people feel they have the right to judge my life.”

“You understand that Elizabeth can be a tad sensitive to judgment and feelings of inadequacy.”

“Respectfully, sir,” Darcy said with a solemn voice, “I believe I have seen her in the company of those who disapprove of her more often than you have. Mr. Bingley’s sisters, while not very important in society, hold similar opinions to them. Elizabeth ran circles around their intelligence. Miss Bingley never knew if Elizabeth mocked her or was being civil. It was entertaining to watch, and she was nothing short of magnificent.”

“Indeed?” Gardiner laughed. “I am pleased to hear it.”

“I understand I uttered words before our acquaintance began which wounded her. I know she, quite justifiably, did not spare any grace when she reported my deficiencies far and wide. I suspect you and your wife received such information?”

“Yes,” Gardiner agreed. Sitting back, he folded his hands over his belly. “I do not doubt her attachment to you. Even at the time of her letter, it seemed as though she was oversensitive because she cared for your opinion despite her words.”

“Ah,” Darcy said. They had got to the heart of the matter. “And you want to be sure I understand that she values my opinion.”

Gardiner nodded. It had not entirely occurred to Darcy before. He had been so desperate for her good opinion, once he realised he did not have it, that he never considered she felt equally desperate for his.

“Let me tell you why I am the perfect husband for Miss Elizabeth,” Darcy said and leaned forward. “No man could love her as I do. No other man needs her as I do. They might see her beauty and enjoy her wit, but they do not need to hear her laughter like a drowning man needs air. They do not need to see her eyes light up in amusement. They are not fascinated with the pitch of her voice, the flip of her hair, the movement of her hands. They do not see her as a glowing light which, while I admit I desperately want to light my own, can be snuffed out with selfishness.”

Darcy shook his head. “A few weeks ago, I would have argued I could offer Elizabeth the world. I would have enumerated what she could gain by marriage to me or vow to keep her safe. In my heart of hearts, I would have acknowledged that I wanted to capture her essence, for it brought me comfort. Now, I only know that I have the good fortune of her esteem, and I will never let it go. Now, I know that it is not enough to be two independent, strong-willed people, but that together, we can defeat anything. Now, I know that to love a person means to encourage them to grow. That by adding to their strength, my happiness is intensified. I never knew such selflessness could be so rewarded.”

Mr. Gardiner said nothing, but his smile was answer enough. When Darcy reached Longbourn, he requested a walk with Elizabeth. The cold air made their breaths puff out like billows of chimney smoke. He wrapped his arm around her tightly as he whispered in her ear his love and devotion to her. In between stolen kisses, they planned their wedding and the dreams they hoped to achieve in their marriage. Fortunately, when they returned to the house, no one commented on the contrast between their breathless state of overheated cheeks and the coldness of the outside air.

Pride & P rejudice & Epiphanies- I Saw Three Ships

P&P&EPrevious Chapters: Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four / Chapter Five

 

I Saw Three Ships

London

December 23, 1811

 

Wickham cursed under his breath as the coach brought him closer to the London docks. He had terrible luck before, but he had always counted on Darcy’s need for privacy and his familial pride to save him. It kept Wickham coming back time and time again.

The strangeness of the repeating days merely allowed him to hone his plans. He kept meticulous notes, and while he had no memories of the events, he had recorded them all. Whatever was going on centred around Darcy and the Bennets. There was only Bennet who could interest Darcy: Elizabeth.

Wickham had to admit, Darcy had exquisite taste. It was one reason why as children, he always sought to emulate his chum. Elizabeth was a fine specimen of a woman. He could have asked Darcy for anything, and the man would have offered it to him to ensure her safety. Wickham had not expected Elizabeth to act so courageously.

Of course, even when she did, Wickham triumphed. Darcy had not pursued him. Mr. Bennet had not pressed charges. That he had not been invited to Longbourn again served as enough fact that they had either regained their memories or left their own means of recalling them. Just when he was planning to slip away, Colonel Forster began having him watched constantly. In time, he might have figured out a way to leave the area. However, Wickham had not considered that Darcy would share the information with an outsider. Nor could he have guessed that Elizabeth Bennet’s London uncle had the means of silencing him.

This morning, when offered the choice between debtors’ prison and Australia, Wickham eagerly chose the latter. Even more surprising was Darcy’s treatment of him.

“Why, George?” he had asked quietly.

He shrugged. “I told you, I felt entitled.”

“Do you remember that night?”

“No,” Wickham answered truthfully. “After I fled Longbourn, I returned to my room. You may not guess, but I keep scrupulous notes on things. It’s how I can always fleece people out of money and favours.”

“By people you mostly mean me.”

“Not just you.” Wickham shrugged. “You did not get me into the militia.”

“No, I had quite washed my hands of you and thought you were afraid enough of my reaction to stay away.”

“I was,” Wickham confessed. “At first. But then you did nothing, as you always do, and I grew comfortable.”

“That night, though. You seemed crazed.”

“I had been reading my notes in the morning and growing more confused and desperate by the repeating days. Since I have no memories after December twenty-second, I really cannot say how I felt, but in my journal, I was becoming unhinged.”

“What has stopped you from acting that way now?”

“I do not know.”

Wickham affected a shrug, but the truth was he hated feeling like he had no control over his behaviour and actions. He had often played the victim and claimed to have no control over his destiny and situation in life, but this was far worse. It was as though he had strings attached to him and someone else pulled them.

“Would you have really hurt her?”

The smallest remaining sliver of remorse and compassion, of real humanity, in his heart was stung by the feeling in Darcy’s words and the look of mourning that entered his eyes as he thought about the woman he loved dying. At that moment, Wickham felt disgusted with himself for the first time in half his life. Darcy had been his friend and playmate before jealousy reared its ugly head.

“I want to say no, I would not have, but I cannot promise that.” Looking down at his hands for a moment, he wrestled with his next words. Finally, he lifted his head and looked Darcy in the eye. “You ought to send me away. I cannot control this compulsion to harm you, it seems. I am always begging for you to save me; this time save yourself. Save me by saving yourself.”

Darcy held his eyes for a long time, then slowly nodded. “You would have a chance to truly start over. Transform your life. No more Darcy name and money to rescue you.”

Wickham slowly exhaled. A few weeks ago, the thought would have been insupportable. He should not have to pick himself up by his bootstraps and make a life for himself while others, ones he was raised with and did everything better than, had everything. But he could lie to himself no longer. Perhaps with an ocean and continents between them, he might live to the potential that Mr. Darcy and his father had seen in him. He might cease comparing himself to his old friend.

“Thank you,” Wickham said as he stood to leave. It was too simple to convey all he felt and owed, but gratitude was a new sensation.

Darcy nodded and told him to get ready, that they would leave in a matter of minutes.

Now, four hours later, Wickham saw ships at port and smelled the stench of the Thames. God help him. Spending months at sea in winter and during a war was no easy task. If he made it to land, he would be a better man.

The carriage came to a stop, and Mr. Gardiner exited first. Wickham moved forward on the seat, but Darcy stayed him for a moment.

“I have been deciding if you should know this or not,” Darcy said. “I hope I am not making a mistake. You were not entirely to blame for your actions that night.”

“I wasn’t?” Wickham looked at Darcy in disbelief. “I was drunk or drugged, I suppose you will tell me. Well, it’s never happened before.”

“I would not know your behaviour under the influence of such things.” Darcy scowled. “You did not press for information about the repeating days.”

“I would rather not talk about that madness. It is over, and I have a ship to get on.”

“In a moment,” Darcy sighed. “You may have guessed that those of us at Longbourn and Netherfield have discovered the truth. Others in your unit did not. You were always so clever, George.”

Wickham tipped his head in acknowledgement, knowing it was not an easy confession from the man.

“In your journal as you recorded events, did they vary drastically?”

“Well, I did not take them very seriously,” he said. “I thought I must be going mad, or at the very least recorded dreams which I no longer recalled.”

“So, they did vary?”

“Not usually. There was one where I had eloped with Lydia Bennet. Of all the stupid things.”

“Then your next entry returned you to Meryton as though nothing had occurred?”

Wickham nodded

“Yes, we also have suffered from strange occurrences. It seems our fates were linked together. The more I ignored your presence and its potential problems for the Bennets, whom I had wanted to reject as unworthy of my notice and fought my love for Elizabeth, the more havoc was wreaked. One day, you had eloped with Lydia, abandoned her, and she bore your child. I never knew. Bingley and I had left the area and saw nothing of the Bennets for years.”

Wickham scrubbed a hand over his face. Would he do something like that? Probably. What was Darcy’s point?

“However, there was another day when you were not involved at all. Mr. Collins had died, and Bingley could not court Jane because she was in mourning.”

“What are you getting at?”

“The things we experience during this time loop are only glimpses of what might have been. When I fought returning to Hertfordshire, I made everything worse. When I insulted Elizabeth in a proposal, you attacked us that very night.”

“You blame yourself?” Wickham’s mouth hung open. He had always known Darcy took on too much responsibility, but this was the height of stupidity. He could not play on his guilt this time.

“No.” Darcy shook his head. “Lizzy is teaching me not to blame myself for everything. No, I merely mean to say they were only what might have been.”

Wickham continued to stare at Darcy, uncertain what he meant.

“You are not mad, George,” Darcy said with a sigh followed by a small smile. “Neither are you a murderer. Your actions that night propelled me and many others into better decisions, but they are not a reflection of what you absolutely are. You have a choice.”

“I have a choice?” It felt like a thousand pounds had been lifted from his shoulders.

“Get on that boat and change your life.” Darcy pointed out the window before exiting.

Wickham followed suit. It suddenly occurred to him how alone he was in the world. The man who could have been like a brother to him now saw him go with no regret. Not one soul in England would miss him. Yes, it was time to change.

Settling for a nod to Darcy and Gardiner, he walked up the gangway to the boat and was directed to the correct chamber. In the distance, he heard church bells ringing, and Wickham had no choice but to collapse in his bed as his senses swirled.

Pride & Prejudice & Epiphanies- I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

P&P&EPrevious Chapters: Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Longbourn

December 23, 1811

 

Kitty awoke the morning before Christmas Eve with a start. She felt she had overslept. Her brain was fuzzy with dreams she could not recall.

The house seemed quiet and still. Where was all the usual noise? In her seventeen years, not once had she heard silence in the morning. Her mother was always wailing and bemoaning something.

Scrambling from the bed, she checked the clock. No, she had not awoken very early. Was Mama ill? Lydia had already left the room. How strange!

Pulling a wrapper on over her nightgown, Kitty stuck her head out the bedroom door. Her mother’s door was open, and the room was empty. Creeping halfway down the stairs, she heard quiet conversation from a drawing room. Lizzy said something that caused a deep voice to lightly chuckle. Who could it be? It did not belong to her father or Uncle Gardiner.

Quietly slipping back to her room, she readied for the day. As she dressed, she heard the church bells announcing the hour in the distance. At least one thing remained familiar.

Arriving in the drawing room, Kitty could not contain her surprise at the presence of Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, and a third gentleman introduced as Darcy’s cousin. He was a fine enough looking man and an officer in the Horse Guards. Making her way to him, unable to resist a man in uniform, she frowned when he leaned in close and whispered to Mary.

Strangely, Lydia did not appear enamoured of the man. She acted more sedate than Kitty had ever seen. Recalling her worry for her mother, she found Mrs. Bennet sitting in a corner with needlework, a fond smile on her face and her husband by her side.

Kitty stood in the middle of the room, mouth agape. No one seemed to notice her, which aside from the Christmas bells was perhaps the only familiar thing about the scene.

“You must be Miss Kitty,” an unexpected and quiet voice spoke at her side.

Kitty’s head jerked in the unknown lady’s direction. “Who are you?”

“Pardon me for not waiting for an introduction, but it seemed everyone else was otherwise occupied.” She waved her hand around the room. “I thought it was forgivable since we are to be sisters.”

“Sisters!”

“Yes, my brother will marry your sister.” Laughter danced in her eyes. “I thought a sister to my sister would make us sisters. I look forward to having so many!”

Kitty blinked at the young lady, who wore impeccable and fashionable clothes and whose beauty rivalled Jane’s. She glanced around the room. Jane sat with Mr. Bingley. A Christmas proposal for them would not be out of the ordinary, but this lady was not one of Bingley’s sisters. Mary was still whispering with the colonel, but Mary getting married? The man was a stranger! And no one cared for the plainest and most awkward Bennet daughter. It was almost as absurd as…Lizzy making love eyes at Mr. Darcy! As she was currently doing!

Lizzy said something, and Darcy chuckled—the voice Kitty had heard before. He scooped up Lizzy’s hand and kissed it.

“They will be very happy, I think,” the young lady beside Kitty said and sighed while looking at Lizzy and Darcy.

Kitty had nearly forgotten about the girl’s presence. “Miss Darcy?” Her voice rose in pitch.

“The one and only.” She smiled and curtsied. “Well, I suppose there are others with the name, but I mean that I am the only one from Pemberley.” Her brow furrowed. “That sounds arrogant, doesn’t it?” She sighed and continued rambling. “I mean I am Fitzwilliam’s only sister.”

Nervous laughter erupted from Kitty. This was the girl who Bingley’s sisters touted as an alternative to Jane? Attempting to stifle the laugh, as amazingly everyone else was quiet and well-behaved, it turned to a cough. Suddenly, she felt all eyes upon her.

“Kitty, are you well?” Mrs. Bennet’s voice came from across the room.

Relief filled her not to be scolded for once. “No, merely a dry throat.”

“Have your tea,” Mrs. Bennet said.

“Will you sit with me?” Miss Darcy asked.

Kitty agreed and sat quietly as Miss Darcy talked of her pleasure with the Bennet family. The silence and lack of arguing seemed as loud as cannon fire to Kitty. What had happened? Her voice sounded impossibly loud and uncouth compared to the demure actions of everyone else. Once or twice she tried to engage Lydia in laughter but did not succeed. Lizzy did much better with her subtle wit.

“Perhaps we will have guests for dinner,” Mr. Bennet said.

Kitty clapped her hands, causing everyone to jump and Mr. Darcy to frown. “Do you expect Colonel Forster? Will he bring other officers? Mr. Wickham would be a lovely dinner companion.” And much livelier than the unrecognisable people before her.

“Mr. Wickham will never step foot in my house again,” Mr. Bennet boomed and shook the walls as an earthquake might.

Tears welled in Kitty’s eyes. She had never heard her father so stern or mean before. Heat slapped her cheeks as she considered that everyone listened to her reprimand. He never censured Jane, Lizzy, or Mary. Now Lydia had become a turncoat. They never knew what it was like to feel as unloved as she did.

“Why not? What did he do but be used by Mr. Darcy?” Kitty bowed her head to hide her embarrassment and tears. “Just because he hates poor Wickham does not mean we must!”

Beside her, Miss Darcy trembled. For a moment, the room was so quiet that one could hear a hairpin drop. Then Kitty heard boot steps. They paused in front of her.

“Miss Kitty,” Darcy’s deep voice drew her face up. “I am sorry if your father’s decision has upset you. I do not like Mr. Wickham, but I do not hate him. He has hurt my family and wounded my sister. He plotted against yours.”

Kitty gasped and looked at Lizzy, whose eyes were shiny. A hand went to her throat, and Kitty could see the red outline of a new scar. Miss Darcy squeezed Kitty’s hand.

“If he has hurt you as you say,” Kitty said slowly, “then why do you not hate him?”

“Hate drowns out love,” Darcy said. “And I want to live my life full of love. It is your father’s love which sends him to protect you all from Wickham.”

Kitty’s bottom lip trembled as her father walked up as well.

“Forgive me for speaking so harshly,” Mr. Bennet said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “What Mr. Darcy says is true. I have been too selfish in the past. I have neglected you, as well as your mother and sisters. That has been my fault, not because of a deficiency in you.”

“So you do love us all?” Kitty twisted her hands. “Even me?”

“What would I do without my Kitty?” He pointed at his chest with a finger, covered his heart with both hands, and then pointed at his second youngest daughter.

“What was that?” Kitty sniffled.

He smiled. “I know how you love languages. Out of all my daughters, you are the one most gifted in learning foreign tongues.”

“You always say it is because I never cease talking.”

“Forgive me for teasing you. The truth is I’m in awe. What if we learn a new language together? You will not have to put up with my poor pronunciation.”

“How could we do that?”

Mr. Bennet again pointed to himself, covered his heart, and then pointed at Kitty. “It is a new language I have heard about, created for the deaf.” He did it again. “It says what I struggle to put into words. I love you.”

“Oh, Papa.” Kitty sobbed and repeated the signs. “It’s beautiful.”

The church bells chimed again, and Kitty’s vision blurred even as a feeling of peace filled her heart.

Pride & Prejudice & Epiphanies- While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night

P&P&EPrevious Chapters: Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night

Longbourn

December 23, 1811

 

Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner arrived at Longbourn as dusk was falling. Their four children spilt out of the carriage in alternate states of exhausted and energetic. Giving each other an indulgent smile, they followed behind their children and the maid they had brought.

“Edward, Margaret, you are most welcome.” Mrs. Bennet greeted them cheerfully but without her typical exuberance.

A confused look passed between them, but they bustled into the drawing room as their children went upstairs to the nursery. Mr. Bennet greeted them and explained his daughters would soon be in from walking in the garden. Then most surprising of all, their sister asked after them and calmly listened to news from London rather than complain about whatever crisis she unjustly faced. In fact, watching her, one would think she had never been perturbed in her life.

The sound of laughter drew their notice, and their two youngest nieces filed in. Lydia had grown much since they last saw her. Instead of seeming as though she bounced from place to place, she walked calmly and welcomed them before sitting. Requests of presents, which usually served as a greeting, never fell from her lips. Kitty came next, looking worriedly at Lydia; she barely spared her aunt and uncle a glance.

Mary, Elizabeth, and Jane came through the door almost on top of one another. Smiles lit their faces, and to Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, they glowed brighter than an angel’s halo.

“Hello, my dears,” Mrs. Gardiner said warmly.

“Oh, Aunt Gardiner!” Lizzy exclaimed and rushed over for a hug. “Wait until you see our surprise.”

“A surprise?” Mr. Gardiner said as he was kissed on the cheek by Jane.

“Yes, the very best.” Jane beamed and hugged her aunt.

“And quite unexpected,” Mary said with an unusual amount of levity.

Elizabeth dashed to the door and poked her head out. “We’re ready,” she laughed.

Rushing out of the way, she stood to the side with her sisters. In walked a young lady, introduced as Miss Darcy, followed by three handsome gentlemen. Each stood behind a niece, and the ladies turned their heads up to grin at the men.

Mrs. Gardiner watched in fascination. That the men loved her nieces, and it was returned, was easy for her to see. But who were they? How did her nieces know them, and when had this developed?

“Aunt and Uncle,” Lizzy said with a saucy grin, “may we introduce our betrotheds?”

“My congratulations!” Mrs. Gardiner exclaimed, but she needed to catch her breath and allow her mind to calm before speaking again. “You all have been very sly. In none of your letters did any of you mention anything of this sort.”

“That’s not true,” Lizzy laughed. “Surely Mama told you about Mr. Bingley and her hopes for Jane.”

“I will count myself as Mrs. Bennet’s favourite son, then.” The blond man with a jovial smile, who stood behind Jane, bounded over to them.

Mrs. Gardiner had not put any credit in her sister-in-law’s words. Countless times since Jane’s come out she had believed a husband was in the making.

“Yes, I recall now.” Mrs. Gardiner smiled at the man. “I am pleased to meet you.”

“And I you!” he said before resuming his position next to Jane.

The tall man behind Elizabeth whispered in her ear, causing her to rapidly nod and hide a smile. “May I present Mr. Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire?”

“Darcy of Pemberley!” Mrs. Gardiner could not contain her surprise and joy. She stood and met the gentleman halfway. He elegantly bowed to her. “I lived in Lambton about ten years ago and passed the chief of my childhood there. I knew your father by reputation.”

“Indeed?” Mr. Darcy smiled. “What an honour to meet someone who knew my father.”

“I was very sorry to hear of his passing a few years ago,” she said kindly.

Mr. Darcy nodded, and his lips lifted slightly. “Thank you. I think he was the very best of men and hope one day I may fill his shoes.”

“I take exception to that, Fitzwilliam,” Lizzy said as she came forward and placed a hand on his arm. “For you are the very best of men. You must already exceed your father’s talents.”

Her betrothed blushed slightly. “Allow me to introduce my cousin on my mother’s side, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam.”

The gentleman behind Mary stepped forward. He was not as handsome as Bingley or Darcy but had watched their interaction with merriment in his eyes.

“You seem to think my relation to you is the best way to recommend me,” he laughed and elbowed his cousin.

“Pardon my mistake,” Darcy said.

His lips twitched slightly, and Mrs. Gardiner could see that he only needed a little liveliness from his wife to be perfectly amiable. She looked forward to seeing Elizabeth loosen his stiff formality.

“And how would you introduce yourself?” Mrs. Gardiner asked the colonel.

“Hmm,” he said and stroked his jaw. “How about Defender of the Kingdom, Slayer of Old Boney’s Finest, Trainer of Puppy Whelps in Breeches, His Majesty’s Last Great Hope, and Her Majesty’s Best Seated Dragoon Guard?’”

They all laughed, and when Mrs. Gardiner caught her breath, she said, “It is a bit of a mouthful.”

“Then I will settle for the incomparable Mary Bennet’s betrothed.” He reached for Mary’s hand and kissed it.

Mary blushed furiously, but Mrs. Gardiner could not contain her smile.

“This is why we all love him,” Lizzy said. “He is so good to our Mary.”

Darcy frowned.

“What?” Lizzy asked as they made their way to seats around the room.

“I do not think he liked you saying you love his cousin, my dear,” Mr. Gardiner observed with a laugh. “Mr. Darcy, if you can stand to be separated from my niece, I would like to ask you about fishing in the Derbyshire district. My wife and I planned to journey there this summer.”

“Indeed. A topic which delights me. While leaving Miss Elizabeth’s side is no extreme hardship for me, and I daresay a recourse from sure vexation on her side, perhaps she would accompany me in the conversation to hear more of her future home?”

During his speech, Elizabeth’s expression vacillated between humour, annoyance, and laughter mixed with joy. Bravo, Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Gardiner thought. Elizabeth needed a man who would keep her on her toes. As much as she enjoyed teasing and displaying her wit, she needed a man who would match her.

“What glad tidings you all have brought us!” Mrs. Gardiner exclaimed. “Now, I should like to hear all about it, beginning with Mary.”

She began to make her way to her niece, but Mrs. Bennet interrupted her. “There will be time for such talk later. Dinner is to be served now; I saw Mrs. Hill motioning to me.”

Mrs. Gardiner bided her time, knowing that her sister-in-law had never been able to keep a secret. During the meal, while she was increasingly impressed with each of her nieces’ beaus, she wondered at the stark differences she observed in Lydia and Mrs. Bennet. Jane, Lizzy, and Mary behaved as she guessed they might when in love, assisted by the fact that a loving couple would be energised by the presence of another. In her estimation, Kitty was the only one acting as she usually did.

After eating, the ladies separated from the gentlemen. Mrs. Bennet had sent Miss Darcy, Lydia, and Kitty to check on the children in the nursery, allowing them privacy with the engaged girls.

“What strangeness has befallen this house?” Mrs. Gardiner asked, getting to the point immediately. “Sister, you and Lydia are subdued. I can understand the reason you three are happy, but how did you become engaged so quickly?”

After a moment of silent communication between them, Lizzy began spinning a fantastical tale. It was only when Mary presented her journal with the extra pages that Mrs. Gardiner could believe the story.

“And so all but Kitty have come to their senses?” she asked.

“Yes, and we are at a loss to understand what might serve as her epiphany,” Mrs. Bennet said. “I confess that I did not know my girls as well as I should.”

“That is perhaps understandable,” Mrs. Gardiner said and squeezed her sister-in-law’s hand. “I had always thought Kitty felt very insecure.”

Her three nieces exchanged looks between them. Yes, insecurity was quite the family failing, and each had suffered so privately that they had not considered whether anyone else felt like them.

“I think she needs reassurance that she is accepted and loved. She does not need to prove herself.”

“What would she need to prove herself for?” Jane asked.

“In families as large as yours, it is common for each child to become known for one quality. Jane is described as the beautiful one. Lizzy is witty, and Mary is studious. Lydia is lively. What claim does Kitty have? I understand it all too well.”

“I had never thought of it in such a way,” Lizzy said.

“Nor I,” Mary and Jane echoed at the same time.

“The poor dear!” Mrs. Bennet sniffed.

“Now, what is being done about this Mr. Wickham?” Mrs. Gardiner redirected the conversation.

“Papa and Mr. Bingley spoke with the colonel of his regiment yesterday,” Jane said. “Well, in our yesterday. We hoped we might wake to Christmas Eve, but it is the twenty-third once more.”

“Allow me to speak with your uncle. I feel we should be able to contribute in some way.”

Mrs. Gardiner left the drawing room and knocked on the dining room door, asking for her husband.

“Edward, they have told me the most incredible story!” She twisted her hands, uncertain he would believe her.

“I suppose it is very like the one I heard about repeating days and alternate realities?”

“Yes! Do you believe them?”

“What else could explain the madness we have witnessed?”

“My thoughts exactly,” Mrs. Gardiner said with a smile. “But what about this Wickham? Perhaps if we can assist them in some way regarding him, we might help the calendar turn? I do not care to be stuck in a time loop simply because we journeyed to Meryton.”

“No, I would not either,” Mr. Gardiner agreed. “What can I do?”

“Purchase his Meryton debts. Together, you and Darcy can present him with the option of prison or Australia.”

“I do not know that Darcy will allow me to do such a thing. Do you recall that Lizzy wrote of his arrogance and pride?”

“Tosh.” Mrs. Gardiner waved her hand. “Lizzy has changed her view of him. I see obstinacy is his real fault. However, if Darcy is the only one to hold his feet to the fire, then Wickham’s hatred will grow. He will forever haunt Darcy’s family. Will he have the energy to hate two men with such fervour?”

“There is merit in that,” Mr. Gardiner said.

“Of course, there is. You married a brilliant woman.”

“That I did,” he laughed. “Well, let us tell Darcy.” He shuffled her into the dining room.

When they had finished telling Mr. Darcy their suggestion, they awaited his response. They had expected him to argue. He would be justified in hating Wickham forever and wanting to mete out justice personally.

“A few weeks ago, I would have arrogantly dismissed your offer,” he confessed. “However, I have come to see the benefit of allowing others to help me and the high cost of my loathing him. I have vowed to cease hating the man. Your offer brings me peace like nothing else has. Thank you.”

As Darcy rose to shake hands with Mr. Gardiner, Mrs. Gardiner heard a loud ringing sound and grasped her husband’s arm for support.