Lady Darcy’s Bluestocking Club–Chapter One

Georgian Crescent

You guys have been so patient with me! I had wanted this book to come out last spring but I moved and just couldn’t get back into this world again. Then, I moved again! The kids are back in school and it seems to be going well. Perhaps it’s the start of school that had my brain turning back to the bluestocking world.

I plan on working on this story every day and giving it most of my attention once Treasured is finished. Hopefully, that means a release late Fall 2018. I hope you enjoy!

Do you remember where we left off? Darcy and Elizabeth were married. He inherited the barony and the Baroness had suggested they open a school for bluestockings. The Duke of Dorset announced his intention to marry Jane. Lydia is pregnant by Wickham but he married Kitty. And the most shocking revelation of all: Lady Catherine is actually Darcy’s SISTER. His mother had an unfortunate affair at fifteen and the child was raised by her parents. Many years later, she married George Darcy and had Fitzwilliam and Georgiana.

I can try to promise as many twists and turns in the sequel!

 

Chapter One

Elizabeth Darcy gulped as she saw the sign marker list the ever-more-rapidly-approaching town of Meryton. “We do not have to visit. There is still time to turn back,” she said to her husband.

“Lady Darcy, are you afraid to visit your mother?”

“Afraid? No, never,” she affected a grin. The bravado could not last long, however. Shoulders slumping, she sighed. “If fear is based mostly on anxiety over the unknown then, no, I am not afraid at all. I know all too well how she will react. I can hear her shrill voice and feel her flutterings already. Please? May we go home?” Elizabeth buried her face in her husband’s arm as the carriage swayed.

“If we do not visit her then we risk her calling on us in Town…”

“Oh, no. We cannot risk her wanting to accompany us to every ball. She would introduce herself to everyone.”

“Besides, I know you wish to lend your support to Jane.”

Elizabeth sucked in a deep inhale. Letting it out, she muttered under breath. “It is not as though she loves him.”

“What was that?”

“You heard me,” Elizabeth said. Yanking her arm from around her husband’s she crossed them across her chest and frowned. “I cannot believe you are letting her marry him.”

“I am hardly in control of your sister’s choices. Nor am I her guardian.”

“You cannot tell me you believe them well-suited.”

“Why not?”

“She is so innocent, so pure and he—he—he is so worldly! He could have anything and anyone.”

“Does it not mean his affection for her must be all the more genuine?”

Elizabeth’s frown deepened as she did not want to admit to Darcy being correct.

“Nor would I say the Duke is very worldly.”

“His father—”

“Yes, his father! Who are either of us to point fingers at someone’s family as proof of their own character?”

“I will concede to that,” Elizabeth said disgruntledly.

She could understand why Jane accepted the Duke of Dorset’s proposal after a mere week of acquaintance. Bingley had proven disloyal and too weak. However, Elizabeth knew Jane still loved him. Her affection for Dorset extended only to gratitude for loving her and saving her sisters from disaster. Dorset had used his family’s position to send Wickham to Spain so Kitty would not need to live with the pain he must bring any wife. Dorset’s mother, the dowager duchess, had invited Lydia to live with her until after her confinement. It was agreed that Lydia would stay at Knole Park in Kent with Dorset’s sister so no one in Meryton might guess the truth—that she was with child.

Additionally, Kitty had refused to come to Jane’s wedding if Lydia were there. It made more sense to continue with the lie that Lydia was away for her health and could not return than to invent a new excuse for Kitty’s distance from the family. Of most of this, Mrs. Bennet had no understanding. Even if she did, Elizabeth noted, she would focus only on the fact that Kitty had married an officer, Elizabeth was married to a baron, and Jane would marry a duke. The fragile condition of their family’s reputation and honour would be lost on her.

“Have you given any thought to my Aunt’s suggestion of starting a school?” Darcy asked.

“I certainly agree that a school with Blue Stocking ideals is needed in the world, but I wonder at my ability to be its benefactress as well as a hostess to the Club.”

“You forget one of the greatest resources for doing good is at your disposal now?”

“What is that? I could certainly gain more education by hiring masters—”

“No, my dear,” Darcy interrupted. “Money. The Blue Stocking Society was so successful all those years ago because they found wealthy women to finance it. As Lady Darcy you have quite a bit of funds of your own and the estate could always endow more. You would already be in the top circles of Society, but with Jane as a Duchess, you will be able to reach even more people. People who would only listen to you if you had the right name, title, and money.”

“You are correct,” Elizabeth straightened her shoulders. “I have been thinking about this as though I am still Lizzy Bennet of Longbourn, but I am not.”

“Not that I ever found you deficient,” Darcy said and placed a kiss on Elizabeth’s cheek, “but you are so much more now. Do not give in to old insecurities simply because we will be facing your mother and your home.”

“I will not,” Elizabeth vowed. “I have been two minds about Dorset choosing to buy Ashworth as a wedding gift to Jane, but now I am determined to be thankful for it. Could you imagine if we were all housed at Longbourn?”

“Yes. It is a shame Bingley did not give up Netherfield as it is the most convenient, but it is understandable that Dorset could not approach Jane’s old suitor.”

“I do not know that Mr. Bingley would have turned him down if he had,” Elizabeth observed and could not keep her disapproval out of her voice. “He seems to have taken quite an interest in finances.”

“I am hopeful it is a regrettable phase of his life which he will soon outgrow.”

“And your friendship?” Elizabeth watched as Darcy’s brow furrowed and his jaw clenched.

“I do not know that it could ever be what it once was. However, I do not wish to cut him entirely.”

“What happened to the young man who declared his good opinion once lost was lost forever?”

“He learned the value of forgiveness from a bright, beautiful lady whom he loved very much and is still amazed she ever loved him in return.”

“Ben.” Elizabeth only called him such at very special and tender moments as he once confessed he preferred it to his family names. He wrapped his arm around her, and she settled her head over her heart. “I can hardly believe you ever took notice of what I was then—so proud, so angry.”

“We were both fools.”

“We were, but I do not think I could have loved you as dearly as I do now if I were not the fool I was then.”

Darcy’s answer was to lift her chin and express his words with kisses full of unsaid devotion.

 

*****

 

A part of Elizabeth had expected to step foot into Longbourn, and it be as loud and chaotic as ever. Her mother had not changed and was only more anxious than usual. Kitty also seemed as ever her normal self. Elizabeth had heard Kitty call from the window that it was not the Duke and Dowager Duchess who had arrived but only Lizzy and “her grumpy Mr. Darcy.” Even so, Mrs. Bennet welcomed him profusely—a lord is a lord, after all.

“I hope you do not mind,” Mrs. Bennet said before Darcy had even sat all the way down, “that we do not have any of your favourites tonight. I wanted to give precedence to the Duke. Perhaps we may on another night.”

“Thank you for the concern, madam, but I shall enjoy anything you serve. In fact—”

“La! A Duke! Who would have thought such a thing possible but then I knew she could not be so beautiful for nothing.”

“Mama,” Elizabeth pleaded. “Perhaps you had better visit my father, William.”

Immediately Mrs. Bennet turned red in outrage. “Miss Lizzy! I believe you mean to call him ‘my lord.’ Pray, forgive her, your lordship. I did raise her better. I do not know why she has got so cheeky.”

Elizabeth and Darcy exchanged looks. It would be more difficult to explain to Mrs. Bennet that they preferred the informality. Elizabeth arched a brow, knowing that Darcy preferred her saucy ways.

“For those we love, forgiveness comes easy,” he said then bowed.

“He is still so enamoured with you!” Mrs. Bennet attempted to whisper as Darcy walked to the door.

Elizabeth easily saw that he had heard every word. Indeed, they were both very much in love with each other. Although, they had only been married a handful of weeks. It would be odd to expect anything different. Within seconds, however, Mrs. Bennet’s mind was called back to Jane’s upcoming nuptials. The lace handkerchief was brought out and sent fluttering until Elizabeth suggested that her mother talk with Mrs. Hill once more—and take Kitty with her.

Mary came to Elizabeth’s side. Sighing, she sat next to her where Darcy had left.

“You look very well, Lizzy. Very happy.”

“I am! Oh! I wish I could find such loves for each of my sisters.”

“I do not condone so much emotion,” Mary said with a frown. “It may have led you to Mr. Darcy, but you were attracted to Wickham before that. We see where seeking such love brought Kitty and Lydia disgrace and Jane’s heart is broken.”

“What do you know of Jane?” Elizabeth asked, anxious that others could not perceive the indifference Jane felt toward her betrothed.

“I know that she could not forget Mr. Bingley so easily and give her heart over to another so quickly.”

“It is nothing in her conduct or expression that has made you think this?”

“No.” Mary shook her head. “She is as inscrutable as ever. She never did allow the world to know her feelings.”

“Yes,” Elizabeth agreed.

Such presence of mind had caused Mr. Bingley to believe her indifferent. It had caused Darcy to think it as well. Not that Elizabeth championed Bingley after his treatment of Jane and Georgiana. Nor did she dislike the Duke. It was the rapidity of the attachment that concerned Elizabeth. They did not know one another very well, and Jane had always been so reserved. Elizabeth could not hope that they had learned much of one another in their brief courtship. It is evident to Elizabeth that the Duke was drawn to Jane’s beauty from the first moment he saw her. However, that did not create love, and without love, Elizabeth worried about the stability of their union.

“Kitty and Lydia mistook attraction for love. They may have said they wanted love but real love is sacrifice. It is compromise, and it does not always end happily. Our sisters were not seeking love, they sought courtship. They desired romance. Both on silly, uneducated minds were the evil.”

Mary seemed to consider Elizabeth’s words. “And Jane?”

“Self-respect must trump love. Never have I condoned losing your integrity for the sake of loving a person. She may still love Mr. Bingley but accepting his proposal when he offered no apology, no amends, no courtship violated Jane’s notion of self-respect. She deserves more, and she knows it. It is no surprise to me that even someone as lofty as a Duke would recognize her worth.”

“But do you think this wedding is a good thing?” Mary folded her arms across her chest. “Should she marry if she does not love him?”

“You just said you do not believe love to be necessary for marriage.” Elizabeth wanted to put Mary off the topic as fast as she could.

“If she loves another and makes a vow before God to love the Duke is that not a sin?”

“Oh, Mary,” Elizabeth cried, “I do not know! You will have to ask the vicar. Your accusation is grave, though. Do you think Jane would be capable of that? Believe the best of her as she always has of us. Believe that she intends to love him; that she means it as much as any other woman can mean it after only a month’s acquaintance. Is that too much to ask for?”

“No,” Mary said and hung her head.

“That is the testament of true love. We only wish to see her happy and safe. We must sacrifice our thoughts and opinions in deferment to her wishes.” Elizabeth turned at the sound of a carriage on the drive. “I want to see radiant smiles and hear happy words of congratulation.”

Mary nodded and at the sound of the doorbell, Elizabeth heard a great commotion downstairs. The Duke and his mother were shown into the drawing room, and before Elizabeth could utter a greeting, Mrs. Bennet arrived puffing out of breath behind them.

“Do forgive me, your graces,” she said. “There is so much to do for your visit, you see, and I am sure you know how difficult staff can be.” As soon as the words left her lips, her brows drew together and her mouth puckered into an O. “That is, I am sure your staff is trained to the very best, but we must make do with what we can get. Please, do be seated.” She motioned to the empty chairs.

The Duke sat but his mother remained standing, looking as unruffled as ever. “Lady Darcy, it is a pleasure to see you again and for such a happy cause. Please do me the honour of introducing me to your family.”

“Certainly,” Elizabeth said biting back a smile at her mother’s blush.

After performing the appropriate introductions, the Dowager Duchess sat. Tea arrived, and for a moment a dreadful silence fell over the room.

“Pardon me, your grace,” Mrs. Bennet began, “but I had expected you to bring my daughter.”

“Jane?” the duchess said while swirling her spoon in her cup. She laid it down. “No, I had thought your sister was to bring her.”

“No, ma’am. That is—yes, ma’am. Jane is coming with my brother and sister, the Gardiners. They are vastly agreeable and quite fashionable. I think you will be very pleased when you meet them.”

“I have met Mrs. Gardiner, madam. I find her agreeable and fashionable, as you say.”

“Oh did you, indeed? Well, how do you like that, Kitty?” Mrs. Bennet slid a glance at Elizabeth. “Not one ounce of the insufferable pride some people of far lesser ranks have shown in our company about our relations in trade.”

Elizabeth fought to roll her eyes. Darcy was not forgiven, merely tolerated. He did not fawn enough for her mother’s taste.

“I see four of your daughters present,” the dowager duchess redirected the conversation. “I suppose you mean Miss Lydia. I had thought she wrote to you, but perhaps we travel before it.” She glanced at her son.

“It is quite possible, Mama. We made good time.”

“My elder daughter expects to be confined soon and has preferred to stay at Knole rather than her husband’s estate in Worcestershire. This way she is near enough to London. He is in Parliament, you know. Miss Lydia elected to stay with Selina. They quite dote upon one another, and your daughter has been the best comfort to my own.”

“Oh! That is just her way!” Mrs. Bennet cried.

“I never saw anything so pleasing in Lydia. Your daughter ought to be careful of her husband around her. Lydia is always—”

“Mama,” Elizabeth stood and interrupted. She did not know why. The Duke and his mother knew the truth of their situation. However, her entire life was built around interrupting embarrassing comments from her family and keeping her mother from having a nervous attack. “We have not shown their graces the garden. I expect by the time we finish that my aunt and uncle will have arrived with Jane. The Duchess’ younger daughter travels with them.”

“Oh, of course!” Mrs. Bennet agreed. “You do us a great compliment by entrusting your younger daughter to my brother’s care. He is the most conscientious chaperone that ever lived—”

“Is that Dane’s Blood?” the Duke asked.

He winked at Elizabeth when Mrs. Bennet’s attention was diverted to a botany lesson of the estate. It was one of the few things she had ever had a head for.

“Let us go now, and you may see it in all its glory,” Elizabeth said. “Mama, I know you must continue to speak with the housekeeper. Did you wish to attend us, Kitty and Mary?”

“Mary may go but I will not.” Kitty slouched in her chair a bit. “I am in a delicate state and tire very easily these days.”

“Oh, my love!” Mrs. Bennet beamed. “Why did you say nothing? Oh, and I had you doing all sorts of tasks for me and being in the kitchen. Come with me, and we will have you set up properly. Do excuse us,” she said as she bustled off down the hall.

The others let out a collective sigh. “Mama is rather enthusiastic about…well, nearly everything.”

“Indeed,” the dowager duchess smiled. “I like it. She is not so awed by my status that she is rendered mute and I would much rather be around a person who is so artless they are ridiculous than be around those who are constantly hiding their true selves.”

“Indeed, my mother is incapable of being circumspect,” Mary said as she followed the others out the door.

After several minutes in the garden, they had exasperated the topic of local shrubbery. The conversation had dissolved to the weather. Mary cast Elizabeth strange looks, and she did not wonder why. Elizabeth had described the Duke and his mother as gifted conversationalists and yet it seemed almost painful to find a topic worth broaching. Elizabeth could only assume they did not feel free enough to say what they really wished at Longbourn.

They were saved from further awkwardness by the sound of a hack. “That must be Jane,” Elizabeth observed, and they walked to the front of the house.

Mr. Gardiner descended first, then let down his wife, Dorset’s sister, and finally Jane. Dorset came to her side, kissed her soundly, crushed her in an embrace and then spun her in a circle, eliciting laughter from all. When he set Jane back on the ground, she looked elated. It appeared romantic. It even seemed Jane was blissfully happy. She did far more than tolerate the duke’s attention. She thrived in it. She had never looked so beautiful.

“I hope you have not waited long,” Jane said.

“Only a few moments. Your sister gave us a tour of the garden, and I have met your mother and other sisters.”

Elizabeth did not miss the flash of anxiety and shame cross Jane’s face.

“I found them delightful. Mother has already said how much she likes your mother. Shall we go in?”

Dorset escorted Jane into the house, leading the others as though he were the master. This time, they met with Darcy and William. Mrs. Bennet was rung for and promptly arrived, but Kitty felt too ill to leave her bed. Elizabeth was not entirely sure she believed her sister’s words or if they were only for attention.

The reunion between Mrs. Bennet and her eldest daughter was something for the ages. No other mother could have felt more excitement or pride. Elizabeth would find it disgusting if she did not believe there was truth to it. Mrs. Bennet’s greatest wish in life had always been that her daughters would marry well. Even a prince would not be too high for her children. Everything softened in light of Jane marrying a Duke. No utterances against Mary fell from her lips. Lydia was nearly entirely forgotten. The smallest sign of affection from the Duke to his betrothed had Mrs. Bennet almost swooning.

Thus life at Longbourn had not changed entirely. Matters continued through dinner. Every intelligent word from Mr. Bennet’s lips to his soon to be son-in-law was overshadowed by his wife asking the dowager duchess’ opinion on every matter. Elizabeth sighed to herself that her mother ought to have persuaded Mr. Collins to marry Mary and then she could visit a lady in Kent who delighted in giving minute opinions on every subject. Although, there was hope for Lady Catherine yet.

Finally, Mrs. Bennet stood for the separation of the sexes. Elizabeth sent her father a pleading look, and he glanced around the table before standing as well.

“I know this is unorthodox, but I perceive our guests are tired from their travels. Let us not separate this evening and allow them more rest.”

“But surely a game of cards or some songs?” Mrs. Bennet asked, anxiety and confusion heightening her features.

“Madam, might we have an abbreviated visit tonight? Tomorrow, we may come at breakfast to make up for it,” Dorset asked.

Mrs. Bennet glanced uneasily between her husband and the Duke. “The next two days are full of visits to the neighbouring families. Then there is the wedding and my Jane…” she trailed off and brought a handkerchief to her eyes.

“Which is all the more reason why we ought to part now,” her grace came to Mrs. Bennet’s side. “I have a married daughter. I know how difficult it is to part with them. Think no more about entertaining us and seeing to our comforts. You have been a delightful hostess. Tonight, enjoy the return of your daughter.”

Elizabeth believed it was very skillfully arranged and well-said of the Duchess to get her way. She would wonder at leaving Jane to Mrs. Bennet’s nerves, but with any luck, she would tire herself out early and then Jane could go to sleep at a decent hour for the requisite gushing would happen no matter the time.

“Well, with your permission,” Mrs. Bennet smiled, “a family evening would be delightful. Lizzy, you and Mary will play for us.”

Darcy stepped forward. “I regret that we must leave as well given the distance to Ashworth.”

“Oh, yes, I had forgotten.”

For the first time in many years, Elizabeth thought she saw longing in her mother’s features.

“We will return in the morning, Mama.”

Elizabeth embraced her mother and said goodbye. As much as she knew that she would return in the morning, she had learned at this first visit at Longbourn since her marriage that she had grown too big for the role of Lizzy Bennet. It was time to embrace her destiny as Lady Darcy.

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.

Pride & Prejudice & Epiphanies- Good King Wenceslas

Previous Chapters: Chapter One / Chapter Two

P&P&EGood King Wenceslas

Longbourn

December 23, 1811

 

Mr. Bennet had been watching the liveliness in his drawing room with a smile. Mrs. Bennet sat at his side, holding his hand. He had thought the time loop finished, but then Mrs. Bennet suffered through an epiphany, so it appeared others had something to learn. While they all fell asleep, at least they managed to stay in one place rather than separate to various locations or endure extreme jumps in time. He supposed that was because Darcy and Elizabeth had worked past their differences. By his count, time had reset twice since then.

“They are so well-matched, Thomas,” she said sweetly, reminding him of the woman he married five and twenty years before.

“Do I have you back?” he asked.

Fanny gave him a shy smile. “Yes, I am sorry I was lost for a little while.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I was so worried about having an heir and then about the girls.”

“And I was no help at all,” he finished. “We will begin again. You have nothing to fear now that the older three are to marry, and Kitty and Lydia need more time.”

“I fear what will become of them,” Fanny whispered. “I spoiled them terribly and did them a grave disservice.”

“We both did,” he acknowledged.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lydia talking with Miss Darcy. If he were not mistaken, they spoke of her encounter with Wickham, and Lydia was proving quite a difficult audience. Unexpectedly, Lydia seemed to reconsider.

Mr. Bennet glanced at the mantle clock. It was nearing seven o’clock again. Returning his eyes to Lydia, he saw her collapse and Miss Darcy catch her before the clock reset once more.

“Oh dear,” Miss Darcy exclaimed as she sank to the floor under the weight of Lydia.

Instantly, the music and laughter ceased as everyone momentarily succumbed. Upon awakening, Lydia still slept, trapping Georgiana beneath her. Everyone scrambled to her side. Darcy reached her first. Lifting Lydia off his sister, he laid her on a settee and then left her to the care of her parents while seeing to Miss Darcy.

Fanny perched on the edge of the settee and soothingly stroked Lydia’s face and arms until she came to.

“Papa,” she said before even opening her eyes.

Mr. Bennet’s heart thrilled. He had never seen his younger daughters rely on him. They had always belonged solely to their mother.

“Papa, you must hear about Mr. Wickham,” Lydia said as a line furrowed between her brows. “You must keep my sisters safe. He hurt Lizzy!”

“Hush,” Mr. Bennet said and kissed her forehead. “All is well. Darcy saved her.”

“Who will save the others?” she asked, her bottom lip trembling.

“What will you have me do?” he asked. He could not even be sure what day it was.

“Call for your hat,” Lydia demanded.

Looking into her blue eyes, the perfect picture of her mother, Mr. Bennet found that he could not refuse her one and only reasonable request.

“Call for Hill!” he said, and Lizzy pulled the bell cord.

“I will go with you,” Bingley said at his side. “I am a member of the community and must take an interest in the area.”

Mr. Bennet nodded. “Darcy, Colonel, do you feel compelled to go, too?”

He watched as Elizabeth slipped her hand in Darcy’s and squeezed it tight. “I think it would be wise to allow cooler heads to prevail,” Darcy said.

Colonel Fitzwilliam agreed. “If you do not meet with a satisfactory answer, my sword would love to become better acquainted with him.”

Beside him, Mary smiled slightly. Mr. Bennet watched in awe. If he could have guessed, he would have thought Mary would have been attracted to the austere Mr. Darcy, and Lizzy pleased with the fun-loving colonel.

He said his goodbyes and set off at a brisk pace. It was too late in the evening to call for his carriage, but the moon shone brightly, reflected all the more by a layer of snowfall. The wind began to blow by the time they reached the town of Meryton and the quarters of Colonel Forster.

“Mr. Bennet,” he said, looking up from his desk. “I am surprised to see you so close to Christmas.”

Bingley and Mr. Bennet shared a glance. If the calendar had advanced normally, they would be past Twelfth Night. How many people were affected by their time loop?

“I did not know of your return, Mr. Bingley. Welcome. And accept my thanks for the ball you hosted last month. My wife has not stopped speaking of it.”

“Nor mine,” Mr. Bennet chuckled while Bingley blushed at the praise. Clearing his throat, Mr. Bennet got to his point. “We have come on business regarding one of your officers.”

Glancing from one man to the other and with concern marring his face, the colonel motioned to some chairs. “In that case, you had better sit.” He passed out drinks.

Leaving out some personal details, Mr. Bennet relayed the truth of Mr. Wickham’s history with the Darcys. When he had finished, Colonel Forster furrowed his brow and rubbed his eyes.

“As dreadful as that story is, he has done nothing criminal, and I cannot expel him from my regiment.”

“We only ask that you curb his ability to gossip about the Darcys and keep an eye on his behaviour. He has many debts, I understand.” Mr. Bennet looked at Bingley for corroboration.

“Yes, he does. Darcy has bought the ones in Town and in Lambton. Wickham must be careful or face prison.” Taking a deep breath and glancing at Mr. Bennet, who nodded in support, Bingley told of Wickham’s attack on Elizabeth and Darcy.

“Impossible,” Forster muttered and rubbed at his eyes again. “He was on duty that night.”

“And just how many nights was that?” Bingley asked.

Forster threw his hand down on the desk and gave Bingley a stern look. “What do you mean?”

“As a colonel of the regiment, you must take meticulous notes,” Mr. Bennet answered. “How many entries for December twenty-third do you have?”

“How could you know?” He blinked at the men. “I thought I was going mad!”

“We seem to the be recipients of some Christmas magic.” Mr. Bennet smiled. “We are being given the opportunity to relive a day until we realise some extreme failing we have and learn to manage the day correctly.”

“I see,” the colonel answered. “But what do I have to do? What have I to learn?” “I fear the weight is on our shoulders, and perhaps Wickham’s,” Mr. Bennet explained. “All you must do is believe we tell the truth. If we get our own houses in order, your calendar ought to move forward at a regular pace again.”

“In the meantime, pray, keep a close watch on Wickham,” Bingley said.

“Of course,” Forster answered.

The gentlemen then departed, finding the return trip not as uncomfortable as before.

“You handled that quite well,” Mr. Bennet said, looking at his soon-to-be son. “I was thankful for your presence.”

Bingley shook off the compliment. “I have been thinking for days that I have learned much from not wanting to be like you.” He glanced at Mr. Bennet. “I mean no offence. One can easily draw a comparison between us. You avoid making decisions as much as I do, although perhaps out of different motives.”

Mr. Bennet nodded in agreement.

“Now,” Bingley continued, “I see that I have much to learn from you.”

To their astonishment, the town’s clock tower began to chime. Clutching the wall of a building, they braced for the dizzy spell.