Here’s our last chapter! Poor Will and Elizabeth have gone through so much but finally get their happily ever after! I will add that this story is still being edited, so please give me your final thoughts. I can’t promise that I will take everything into consideration. For example, I will not write five new chapters of post married life. 🙂 However…I might be willing to do ONE.
Also, Will and Lizzy’s story is over but there are others I could tell. What do you think of Charlotte and Richard (who were almost a thing in this chapter but it didn’t seem to fit right and got cut)? Or I have this really BIG idea but I don’t want to give it away. Will and Lizzy would show up but it would be mostly about others. Should I continue the series/give it a spin-off? If I do, do you want Will and Lizzy to remain center stage or can other people be the main hero and heroine?
Over the next few days, Will determined he had not been followed to the inn. Likewise, Elizabeth was able to pass along information via Charles. In the long days of loneliness and isolation at the Ware inn, Will wondered about Harcourt’s intelligence. Then again, perhaps he knew that Jane and Charles were headed to the altar and Will and Elizabeth would always be in each other’s orbit. It would add to Will’s pain all the more if he would easily hear of Elizabeth but not have her for himself. Still, he did not appear to have other accomplices. Wickham must have only been designed as a distraction.
When Will read his name in a gossip column, he knew they had succeeded. Harcourt must have crowed to someone that Elizabeth jilted Will. If he had said that much, he might have said more. Will waited a few more days before returning to Netherfield. Harcourt needed to feel secure in his victory. Correspondence from Mr. Walker of the Rose and Crown in Ware to Mr. Bennet of Longbourn increased. A new wedding date was planned. The rector graciously agreed to their plans.
All in all, less than a week since becoming husband and wife, Will and Elizabeth were reunited. The night before the nuptials, the Bennet ladies dined at Netherfield. Will’s London relations had arrived, but Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle were to come in the evening. Mr. Bennet had gone to London to retrieve them. Will remained on unfriendly terms with Lady Catherine, and she was not invited to the wedding.
When the ladies separated after the meal, Richard laughingly queried Will about how it felt to be a married man. Although it was meant to be a secret, Will explained the situation to his uncle, Lord Fitzwilliam, and another cousin, a viscount named Francis.
“Harcourt has an awful reputation,” Francis observed.
“People fear his ruthlessness,” the Earl countered. “Unfortunately, it gets him what he most wants: respect—or something very close to it.” He shook his head. “I never would have guessed the son of a butcher could have such authority.”
“He is the son of a butcher?” Will asked. “I thought his father was the last earl.”
“He was,” the Earl nodded. “However, it was one of those unexpected and distant relative inheritances. The blasted war took all the closer relations.”
“But a butcher?” Richard asked.
“Oh, the family had not fallen that much. His father had been a respectable clergyman, although he did marry a bit low. His wife was the niece of a rich butcher. Harcourt’s father could have entered the church as well, but chose to take over his uncle’s business. The war had inflated prices, and he could not resist the money.”
Will furrowed his brow. There had been a certain roughness about Harcourt at Eton. He must have terrorized the other boys lest they do the same to him given his background.
“When his father unexpectedly inherited, it thrust the boy, Peter, into a new world,” the Earl continued. “I once thought he might have been a friend for you, Will.”
“He inherited not long before you did. He was connected with the family—although, perhaps not as much as he would have liked.”
“Pardon?” Will knew of nothing connecting him to Harcourt.
“The father knew the de Bourghs.” Lord Fitzwilliam sipped his wine. “Sir Lewis’ father had been a merchant in the same town as the Harcourt family. He was rewarded with a baronetcy at the end of the Seven Years’ War. Blasted French.” The men raised their glasses in agreement.
Will and Richard exchanged a look. “Father,” Richard said, “tell us more about how the Harcourts knew the de Bourghs.”
“Jacob Harcourt, your Lord Harcourt’s father, and Sir Lewis were born in the same year. They grew up together in Ramsgate.”
At the name of the seaside town, Will took more interest in the story.
“And you know Sir Lewis did not inherit until Anne was nearly ten.” The Earl shrugged. “Anne and Peter were playmates until she moved to Rosings and his father inherited the earldom.”
“Was not there talk of a marriage between them?” Francis asked.
Lord Fitzwilliam nodded. “Yes, but by the time Peter inherited and was of age, Lady Catherine had fixated on Anne marrying Will. She did not approve of Peter’s background.”
“Fine talk, that,” Francis grumbled. “Anne is only one generation more removed from trade, and surely an earl trumps a baronet.”
“Not to mention the Harcourts must have been rich enough from the money they made on selling during the war,” Richard added.
The Earl furrowed his brow as though he searched his memory for something on the topic. Before he could say anything more, the clock chimed the top of the hour.
Will had heard enough. Harcourt might hate him because the man had not won Anne’s hand but why target Will’s father? If killing Will was the real aim all those years before, then why wait so long to make a second attempt. It mattered not. Elizabeth was already Will’s wife by law and the church, and on the morrow, all the world would know it. He was tired of waiting and at that moment, tired of conversation with anyone other than his wife.
“We should join the ladies,” Will said while standing.
The other gentlemen followed suit after some good-natured teasing on the subject of Will’s lovestruck ways. In the drawing room, Georgiana, Elizabeth, and Mary took turns performing on the pianoforte. Will allowed their joined voices to wash over him. Soon, he hoped, Harcourt would make his move. He had once questioned his father about why he was on such friendly terms with Harcourt. Will now supposed it was not so strange if Harcourt was close friends to the de Bourgh family.
As the Gardiners were expected at Longbourn by seven, the Bennets soon left Netherfield. Will pulled Elizabeth away for a private farewell. They would be recognised by all as man and wife after tomorrow. Charles had offered for them to stay at Netherfield, but Will had enough of sharing Elizabeth with others. They would travel to London after the wedding breakfast. Georgiana would stay with the Earl and Countess for a week or two. She had made many amends for her behaviour but sometimes glanced anxiously at Will. He assumed she worried for his welfare or wished for his approval. He had made it clear to her upon his return to Netherfield that she was not permanently banished to their relations, providing she continue to behave well she could join them in a few weeks. He even offered the possibility of inviting Mary to town—an idea which all the ladies favoured and Bennet laughed at him for suggesting.
As he headed for his chamber for the evening, the Earl pulled him aside. “I could not remember earlier, but Lady Catherine says that Harcourt recently tried to pay court to Anne again. She was too angry to admit defeat at losing you. She also objected to Harcourt’s finances.”
“Harcourt is known for winning at the tables and even acting as a moneylender. What happened to all the money?”
“I could not say,” Lord Fitzwilliam answered. “Catherine was insulted by Harcourt’s application.”
Will thanked his uncle for the information and said goodnight. The pieces of information rolled in his brain as he attempted to sleep. His dreams bounced from Harcourt to Anne to Wickham to a smoke-filled Scottish inn. He awoke to a throbbing head, aching heart, and empty arms.
“Are you worried, Lizzy?” Jane asked as the sisters prepared for the ceremony.
“No,” Elizabeth said more to herself than Jane. “He has already begun to behave as we predicted.”
“What can be his motive? What about Wickham?”
Elizabeth sighed. “I do not know. However, Will and I refuse to continue hiding. It is time to begin our life together. If it is cut short, then I trust it was meant to be. We have already lost so much time…” Elizabeth trailed off as tears threatened to spill down her cheeks. She refused to give into painful memories or anxious fears. This was to be the happiest day of her life!
“I know one thing for certain,” Jane said as she put the finishing touches on her sister’s hair.
“What is that?”
“Will would never let any harm come to you.”
Elizabeth nodded her agreement. It was a risk she was too selfish to take. She could not relinquish her right to Will and be done with the whole thing. If anything ever happened to him, she might spend the rest of her life wondering if only she had given into Harcourt’s demands how life might have been different. She pushed the worries aside. If she did as he wanted, who knew if he would keep his agreement.
There was a knock on the door and Mary entered. “Lizzy, it’s time,” she said. “Oh! You look lovely!”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth smiled at her sister.
“Will sent the carriage,” Mary said. “It only seats six, so I will walk.”
“Surely, that is not necessary,” Jane said. “Papa can walk or take the horse. Or Lydia may sit on my lap.”
Mary shook her head. “I would not want to wrinkle your gown and Papa should be there for Lizzy. It is no matter. I will leave directly.”
“Very well,” Elizabeth said before leaving her seat to embrace her sister. “We shall see you soon at Darcy House.”
“I look forward to it!” Mary grinned. After a moment’s hesitance, she left.
“Now, let us get you married—again,” Jane teased as she and Elizabeth walked downstairs arm in arm.
It was just as well that Mary walked to the church for Mrs. Bennet made them load and unload the carriage several times before they at last left Longbourn. Elizabeth rolled her eyes at the entire thing. Many brides walked to the church—indeed, she had on the day they legally wed! Longbourn’s church was less than a quarter of a mile away. Taking the carriage only made things take longer.
Entering the church, the family began to take their places. However, Elizabeth soon noted a disturbance at the front. Mrs. Bennet shrilly cried for her husband and swooned into the arms of her sisters. After a moment of conversation, Mr. Gardiner and Will approached Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet at the back of the church.
“What is wrong?” Bennet asked.
“It is Mary,” Mr. Gardiner shook his head. “She has not arrived. We have already searched the path.”
“Georgiana,” Will’s voice cracked, “is also missing.”
“Could they be together?” Elizabeth asked, beginning to tremble.
Will nodded. “That is a possibility. She had wanted to walk this morning, but I wanted to arrive early. Mrs. Annesley was to go with her, but when the others arrived, they informed me Mrs. Annesley awoke ill and was unable to accompany Georgiana.”
“Mary never mentioned wishing to meet Georgiana, nor did she leave early enough which would suggest her intention.”
“She was very adamant about walking though,” Mr. Bennet reminded her.
“I have sent the guards, my valet, and Richard to search for them,” Will said as he took Elizabeth’s hands in his. “They probably merely lost track of time.”
Elizabeth nodded even as uneasiness simmered in her. Behind them, they heard a slamming sound at the door. With widened eyes, Elizabeth watched as the three gentlemen rushed to the entrance. They could not get the door the budge. Outside of the church, Elizabeth heard shouts and women crying.
“Peter?” Elizabeth heard Mary’s horrified voice. “Why are you doing this?”
Elizabeth ran to a window hoping she could see the scene outside. Mary flung herself at Lord Harcourt. He pushed her aside, and she landed on the ground with a thud.
“No!” Georgiana rushed to her friend’s side. While there, she did not see Wickham approach from the forest. He quickly subdued her and had her bound by rope.
Will had come to Elizabeth’s side and watched with her. “I must save her!”
“You do not know what they mean to do,” Elizabeth said as the stench of kerosene filled her nostrils.
Will’s eyes turned dark. He ran back to the door and shouted through it. “It is me you have a quarrel with, Harcourt. Let the others out!”
Elizabeth heard Harcourt’s sickening laugh. “Oh, this is so much better than anything I could have planned. You will die with your love but know that your sister is now in my control. Tell me, how does Mrs. Wickham sound to you? I think your father might have enjoyed the idea of Wickham blood running Pemberley.”
“I will never marry him! Never!” Georgiana screamed.
“Silence her!” Harcourt commanded. A smacking sound reverberated through the church.
In a cry of rage, Will charged at the door. By now, everyone was gathered at the front. Charles and the other gentlemen assisted Will, but it was useless. Elizabeth looked toward the window. They were small, and it would take far too long to break through the lead cames—if someone could even slip through.
Lydia, Kitty, and Mrs. Bennet took equal turns wailing at their predicament. Elizabeth could no longer see anyone. Wickham had carried Mary and Georgiana away. Soon, smoke filled the air. Elizabeth tried to not despair as Will and the men continued to fatigue themselves as they beat upon the door.
Suddenly, a shot rang out. Then four more. Silence reigned—even Elizabeth’s sisters and mother were too terrified to continue their tears. Soon, there were voices and shouting again. Elizabeth heard the splashing of water as the villagers who were nearby ran to put out the flames. At the door, there was a scratching sound accompanied by masculine groans. Finally, the door flung open, flooding the church with light and much needed fresh air. On the other side was a heaving Richard.
Will pushed past the crowd to come to Elizabeth’s side. Will lead her outside then released her arm to go back in and help the others.
Outside, Elizabeth saw the bodies of Wickham and Harcourt. Mary and Georgiana hugged each other under a tree. Mr. Bennet had gathered his wife and other daughters under another. Charles held a sobbing Jane. Elizabeth wondered if this was what battlefields felt like the fighting ended. Casting a glance over her shoulder, she saw Will and his cousin assisting his aunt out of the church. His uncle helped the elderly rector.
Approaching Georgiana and Mary, Elizabeth wondered how they would ever know the reasons behind Harcourt’s actions. She was only happy it was over.
“Mary,” Elizabeth choked out. “I am so happy you are well! You too, Georgiana.”
The girls held their arms open to her, and she fell into them. They were bruised but would survive. It could have been much worse.
“What happened?” Elizabeth asked her sisters through tears.
“I was to meet Georgiana and Peter for the wedding.”
“I believe Will called him Harcourt, but I only knew him as an errand boy named Peter who I had met in the bookshop. He charmed me when I first met him.”
“You told him about the wedding?” Elizabeth asked.
Mary nodded as tears streaked down her face. “Yes. I had not seen him in days and was excited to introduce him to my family.”
Elizabeth sighed. What had Mary been thinking? An errand boy? “Mary, surely you knew…”
“I liked his attention,” Mary sighed. “You and Jane had your serious suitors. I only wanted a flirtation.”
The sound of hoofbeats drew Elizabeth’s notice. The magistrate, Colonel Forster, and the apothecary had arrived. Wickham and Harcourt were brought into a cottage. Elizabeth clutched her heart as she saw Harcourt begin to raise his head. He lived!
As if sensing her fear, Will approached. He lead Elizabeth away from their sisters. “It is over now,” he murmured as he held her close.
“He lives,” Elizabeth forced out as sobs began to rack her body. She was no longer afraid, but her body released the tension in the only way it knew how.
“He will stand trial for attempted murder of many people—including an earl. He will hang if he survives. We are free.”
Elizabeth nodded against his chest. They were finally free.
Eventually, the fright of the morning wore off, and as the sun continued to rise, Mrs. Bennet’s nerves fluttered forward. It was nearly noon, and Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy had not yet wed! When her husband explained that they were already legally married, she actually clapped in delight and called everyone to the wedding breakfast—even the villagers.
The breakfast was a subdued affair and not as light-hearted as Elizabeth had expected, but filled with even more joy than anticipated. In due time, Will and Elizabeth hugged their loved ones goodbye and departed for London.
During the ride, Will explained what he had learned about the events of the morning. The magistrate had managed to procure a confession from Harcourt before he died. He did not hate Will based on Lady Catherine’s rejection alone. Anne had refused him as well. She did not like his character as a gambler and a rake. She preferred an upstanding man like Will.
Harcourt had hoped to kill Will in the fire in Scotland. Wickham had only been his means of information about their location and useful in stealing Will’s letters. He had not known of Harcourt’s intentions, believing he just meant to extract his debt from Sam and harass Will. However, Harcourt soon blackmailed Wickham afterward, threatening to provide proof of his guilt in the arson. Believing Will suffered at the loss of Elizabeth, even if he had not died, provided a balm for Harcourt.
Before the Darcys left for Scotland, Harcourt approached George Darcy. He hoped to bribe the man to ensure his son would never marry Anne. Disgusted, Mr. Darcy had begun to expose Harcourt for the man he truly was, resulting in loss of status and income for Harcourt who continued to live above his means, desperate to appear the wealthy nobleman and not the lowly butcher’s son. As his income diminished, his contempt for Will increased.
While attempting to court Anne a second time, Harcourt learned that Will had arrived at Longbourn. His hatred rekindled, he posed as a hired hand in Meryton and had bought Wickham his commission in the Militia. Wickham had continued courting Georgiana, but she proved unable to provide any information. Meeting Mary was merely chance and yet allowed Harcourt the possibility of learning about Elizabeth. He had returned to Meryton to continue the flirtation.
“No more,” Elizabeth silenced Will’s lips. “I do not care to hear any more about Lord Harcourt or Mr. Wickham. In fact, I do not wish to think about them ever again.”
“Shall we think only of the past as its remembrance brings us pleasure?” Will asked.
“Yes,” Elizabeth smiled as Will kissed her lips. “And we will dream of the future while never taking a moment for granted.”
“I like the sound of that Mrs. Darcy,” Will said.
“And I am happy to officially be Mrs. Darcy instead of Mrs. Walker! Whatever made you choose that name?”
“Do you remember, love? Miss Bingley described you as an excellent walker just before I saw you for the first time. I think I lost my heart to you at just that moment.”
Elizabeth laughed. “It must have been for the first thing I ever said to you was to reprimand. Oh, the conceit I had then!”
“As if I was any better,” Will laughed.
“We are best together,” Elizabeth observed.
“I am nothing without you, Elizabeth,” Will said before drawing her into a kiss.
As it deepened, and more vows of love were murmured mixed with gentle teases and laughter, Elizabeth felt more treasured than ever before in her life. As she had promised, she thought of the future and, at last free of the past, she only grinned to consider what it held for them. Together, they would conquer anything.