Charlotte glanced at her husband sitting across from her in the carriage. With a look of consternation as she watched him sitting there mumbling to himself. She again turned her attention to the window as the carriage took them to London to carry out Lady Debourg's latest command.
Mr. Collins wiped the sweat from his brow as he sat practicing the things he would be saying to his cousin and to Lady Catherine's nephew.
Her ladyship had commisioned him to go to London and convince Mr. Bennet that he must put a stop to this scandalous betrothal. He knew that this would be a monumental task but he was certain that he would be up to it, especially after seeing his esteemed patroness' anger at the two young people when she returned to Rosings Park. Mr. Collins almost feared for his life as the lady vented her rage.
He must also convince Mr. Darcy that he must honor the promise between the families of DeBourg and Darcy and marry his cousin Lady Anne Debourg. He must make him see that he would become an outcast from his own family if he insisted on marrying Elizabeth Bennet.
Mr. Collins was sure that when presented with all these facts Mr. Darcy would see the error of marrying a woman so ar beneath his own station in life, she could bring nothing to the marriage. She was completly without money or position and or experiance in society.
He must do this and still try to maintain his wife's affections. Charlotte was delighted with the engagement between her best friend and Mr. Darcy. He expressed his disbelief in no uncertain terms when she told him that she knew that Mr. Darcy had loved Elizabeth even while he was at Netherfied. This could not be, men of Mr. Darcy's station did not love women so far beneath them.
That Miss Elizabeth Bennet should be married to a man of Mr. Darcy's standing was appalling indeed. That this young woman who had refused Mr. Collins's own offer of marriage should now aspire to marry one of the most sought after men in England was more than Mr. Collins could bear to think of.
Col Richard Fitzwillam smiled to himself as he watched and listened to Georgianna as she leafed through the sheet music on the pianofortte singing softly as she did so.
It had been five long years since he had seen either of his favorite cousins so happy. Since the death of their father both Will and Georgie had become quiet and withdrawn.
Georgianna even more so after the fiasco with Wickham last summer .She had crawled into a shell of shyness after that and seldom spoke except to him or her brother. Darcy too had become even more taciturn and morose.
This morning at breakfast Georgie had to his delight chatted like a magpie, her words tumbling over themselves as she went on with enthusiasm about wedding plans.
She talked with great animation of the Bennet sisters. She didn't know quite what to think of Miss Lydia but found that she got on very well with Miss Mary, who like her self loved music. She found also that she enjoyed the company of Miss Kitty, who like Darcy's betrothed made her laugh.
Darcy had laughed and talked to her like a boy, which surprised and delighted his cousin Fitzwilliam.
Having met the lady Fitzwilliam understood perfectly their feelings. Miss Elizabeth was a lovely young woman of wit and intelligence. He had at first been surprised at her teasing manner with his cousin and even more so with Darcy's acceptance of her sportive way of speaking to him. To his surprise he had even heard his cousin give as he got sending his lady into joyous laughter.
As he watched the two of them last night at the Gardiners he felt a quick pang of jealousy at his cousin's good fortune.
He found the Gardiners and Mr. Bennet wonderful company. Mr. Edward Gardiner was a man who anyone would find a friend. Mr. Bennet was a well read man of great intelligence and wit.
Mrs Bennet was to his surprise quiet and seemingly in awe of his cousin. From what he had heard of her he expected to find her an unending talker whose shrill voice drowned out anyone else in a room. Instead she said very little except to ask Darcy a few questions about his likes and dislikes.
The three younger girs were something else again. Miss Lydia was an outrageous flirt who seemed to think that he would return her attentions and put herself in where she should have been silent or kept her attentions to the subjects that the ladies were discussing. Instead she seemed determined to hold his attention the entire evening in spite of the admonitions of her sisters.
Miss Jane was as lovely as he had been told with an unbelievably sweet disposition. He knew within a half hour of meeting her that she was the perfect woman for Bingley.
Miss Mary was inclined to be a bit pompous but she obviously enjoyed talking about music to Georgianna and they were persuaded to play duets before the evening was ended. Georgianna was more than happy to promise to give Mary any help she wanted in her music.
Miss Kitty, he thought could be a very enjoyable young woman if she could be wrested from the influence of her younger sister. If given the chance he thought she would be much like Elizabeth. Though she lacked her older sisters inteligence he noticed that she had a quick wit. Unfortunately she seemed inclined to follow Lydia instead of Elizabeth.
As he sat there watching Georgianna and contemplating the Bennet family Darcy came into the room and sat down across from him saying, "You can see what a wonderful influence Elizabeth has been on Georgie already, can you not"
Before he could answer his cousin the servant came in and announced "Mr. William Collins."
"Who is Mr. William Collins, Fitzwilliam asked, I don't recall meeting anyone by that name."
"He is Lady Catherine's clergyman and toady, Darcy replied with a scowl, I would imagine she has sent him to dissuade me from marrying Elizabeth."
Thank you for your e-mails. You are right the people who are most important to Lizzie and Darcy now and in the future are convening in London.
"Oh dear, I don't think my poor nerves will be able to stand it, so many important people, so many titles. I fear it is more than I can bear," Mrs Bennet wailed as they dined the evening before the engagement party which Lady Matlock was throw for the two newly engaged couples.
Lydia giggled at her mothers flutterings but was silenced by a stern look from her father.
"Well, my dear, it it seems that it is too trying on your nerves I can assure you that we will leave at once," Mr. Bennet replied.
"Don't be silly, leave the most important party of our daughters lives, of course we won't leave, Mr. Bennet said.
"I can assure you we shall, her husband said in a stern voice, if I see any sign of nerves or hear any reference to the income of either of these two young men, or any sign of excessive pride in how well our girls are marrying we shall leave at once and return to Longbourn on the morrow."
"Why should we not rejoice in how well our two eldest are marrying, any mother would do the same," Mrs Bennet said indignantly.
"Because, I will not have a display of the vulgarity which you and your sister indulge in at Longbourn. If I recall you found it highly displeasing when Lady Lucas spoke of Charlotte's marriage to Mr. Collins," Mr. Bennet reminded her.
"Vulgar, vulgar, you think that I am vulgar," wailed Mrs Bennet again. Besides Lizzie is marry far above Mr. Collins, he is good enough for Charlotte Lucas but not for such a beautifl girl as our Lizzie."
"You can be very vulgar when you put your mind to it Mr. Bennet replied, remember that these are not the country folk from Herdfordshire, but some of the highest society in England and they find nothing more disgusting than anyone who boasts of what a great catch they have made, it is not done in polite society."
Turning to the three younger sisters he said,"You three, I expect to be on your best behavior, any chasing after young men or giggling and you will be sent home at once. Am I understood."
Mrs Bennet and Lydia started to protest, but one look from Mr. Bennet and they knew that he meant what he said and was prepared to act on his threats.
Kitty and Lydia moved into the next room where Lydia stopped her sister with a laugh.
Kitty, I must tell you something, it is supposed to be a secret but I must tell someone or I will burst," Lydia said with a long laugh
"What is it, Kitty asked with a giggle, tell me at once."
" I have invited Wickham, Lydia snorted, what a great joke it will be when the great and mighty Mr. Darcy finds George Wickham at his engagement party. I can hardly wait to see the look on his face, do you not think it will be a great diversion."
"Lydia, how did you accomplish such a thing, Kitty said in shock. How did you get and invitation to send him? How could you put Lady Matlock's name on it, the servants will notice I am sure."
"I took one when they were being made out and sent it to Wickham and he will do the rest'" Lydia laughed.
"Oh Lydia, I fear that this time you have gone too far" Kitty said in a worried tone.
Too far, after what Mr. Darcy did to Wickham, Don't be a simpleton, it is to be a big joke," Lydia answered.
"Papa says that all that Mr. Wickham has told us is a lie, Kitty replied, he says he has seen proof in black and white that Mr. Darcy was most generous with Wickham, and that he is nothing but a blackguard."
"I don't care what Papa says, Lydia snapped, i shall believe Mr. Wickham."
Kitty paled as she saw her fathers face as he entered the room, but he said nothing to Lydia.
"He must not have heard, or he would reprimand Lydia most harshly she thought, but he has not said a word."
As they prepared to leave the next evening Mr. Bennet turned to Lydia and said, "There is no need for you to put on your cape Lydia, you are going nowhere and your friend Wickham will never get near Matlock Manor.
Lydia turned pale as a ghost as she turned on her sister crying, "Snitch, you told Papa, didn't you," and she slapped Kitty .
"Your sister said not a word to me, Mr. Bennet said sharply as he grabbed her arm, I heard you myself."
Turning to the housekeeper he said, Miss Bennet will go to her room and will not leave it until we return. Robert will sit outside the door to make sure she does not come out and two of the stablehands will watch the windows to see that she does not try to make her leave that way. they will stay out them beneath them untill I dismiss them."
Mrs Roberts was only too happy to be put in charge of keeping the youngest Bennet girl in hand. Miss Lydia had kept the servants in an uproar since her arrival. She highly disapproved of any young woman who flirted so outrageously with members of the staff.
Mrs Bennet began to wail that poor Lydia must not be kept from such company as they were to meet this evening, but she stopped in mid sentence when her husband turned to give her an icy stare. She knew from his look that she and the other two girls had better be on their best behavior or they would indeed be sent home like naughty children.
They went out the door to Lydia's wails that she was very sorry and she would be the best one there if her father would only let her go to the party.
The last thing they heard was Mrs Roberst saying sternly, "That will do miss, up to your room with you, now."
"Papa, what did you mean, Mr. Wickham will not get near Matlok Manor, Jane asked as they settled into the carriage, surely he was not sent an invitation."
Mr. Bennet explained to them what he had heard between the two youngest sisters as they proceeded on their way.
"How could Lydia do such a thing, Elizabeth said in a worried voice, what will happen when Mr. Darcy finds out that Wickham is expected to put in an appearence, what were they thinking of."
"Mischief, is what they were thinking of, Mr. Bennet replied. Do not worry, my dear, Mr. Darcy knows all and steps have been taken.
Lydia thought it would be a great joke, but Wickham I am sure meant nothing but trouble."
Lady Matlock smiled as her nephew paced about stopping to look out the window.
"They will be here when it is time William, dear she said, why don't you go and have a glass of brandy with your uncle and Richard before you wear a hole in my carpet."
"I can't, Aunt, he replied I know that Elizabeth will be upset about this business with Wickham, I must be here when she arrives to reassure her."
A few minutes later the butler announced the Bennet, Gardiner party and Darcy strode quickly to Elizabeth, taking her hand to lift it to his lips.
"Oh, my love, I am so sorry about Lydia's stupid joke," she said with tears in her eyes.
"Do not fret yourself he replied, all is taken care of, my love."
Lady Matlock came forward to greet her guests with a welcoming smile saying, "Words cannot express how very happy much this evening makes me."
George Wickham descended from the carriage followed by another officer as Col Richard Fitzwilliam watched.
"Ahh, Col, I was not expecting the honor of your being here to greet Denny and myself," Wickham smirked arrogantly.
"Follow me, Captain," Fitzwilliam commanded as he turned the two men toward the far end of the courtyard close to the stable.
"We have and invitation, I can assure you, Wickham said turning the embossed invitation over to the Col.
Fitzwilliam looked at it with disdain, "A very poor forgery Captain, I would have given you credit for being wiser than this, Wickham."
"I received this from the Bennets," Wickham, sneered.
"I know all about how you came about this invitation, Fitzwilliam replied coldly. Really, Wickham, I would have thought that by now you would know better than to place your confidence in silly young girls. She gave away all, Wickham."
Wickham began for the first time since his arrival to feel a little worried but decided to try to bluff his way through.
"I don't believe you have met Capt. Robert Denny, the youngest son of the Earl of Harver, he said smoothly, Denny is here at Miss Bennet request, it would seem that Miss Catherine Bennet was fearful of being bored and requested his presence."
"Captain Denny, I am pleased to make your aquaintence. I hope that you are not a party to this," Fitzwilliam said.
"A party to what, Denny replied in confusion, Wickham has an invitation and asked me to accompany him."
"I fear you are under a misconception, Fitzwilliam answered. Miss Lydia Bennet took the invitation without anyone's knowledge and sent it to Wickham, who himself filled in the particulars, including a forgery of my mother's signiture, and a most poor one indeed."
"This is a firing squad offense you realize, Wickham, conduct unbecoming an officer of the militia."
Wickham paled, he knew that Richard Fitzwilliam was not a man to be trifled with and that he would be only too happy to marshall the firing squad himself.
"This is but a joke, Richard he said shakily, we meant no harm. I was Lydia's idea, she wanted me here."
"COLONEL," Richard snapped coldly. "How like you, Wickham, to blame that child, and she is just that a child, but you like children, don't you Wickham."
Wickham was really beginning to be fearful of his life as he listened to the icy tones of Col Fitzwilliam.
"Come Colonel, can't we let bygones be byebones, Denny and I will take our leave and return to Hartfordshire," he whined.
"Not this time, you have caused this family enough grief, this time you shall take your punishment," Richard said coldly.
Denny stepped forward saying, "He has caused this family grief, what of the grief Darcy has caused him. What kind of man would not honor his own father's last requests. He has reduced Capt. Wickham to such a state of poverty that he had to seek the militia for relief."
"So, he has told you that old sad tale has he, Denny, Richard laughed.
I think it is about time he knew the truth, don't you Wickham. Do you consider 3000 pounds in lieu of the living reducing a man to poverty, Captain."
"3000 pounds, what are you talking about, Denny asked looking from one man to the other. Darcy refused to give Wickham anything."
"Correct, Capt Denny, Wickham said with a sneer at Richard, you must take my word for it."
"Darcy has your letter refusing to take the orders for the church and requesting the money, Wickham so be careful you do not sink yourself any deeper, he also has you receipt fot the money. He knew you well enough to know that he must keep them for evidence" Fitzwilliam said with a cold smile, besides if you remember I am co-executuer of his estate and I know all about it."
"Wickham, is this true, Denny gasped, answer me, is what the Colonel says true."
"But I went back and asked for the living and he refused," Wickham replied.
"Yes, you came begging, after you had lost the 3000 on gambling and debauchery in just two years, Fitzwilliam snapped, Darcy knew that you were the last man who should be a churchman, so he refused."
"By the by, Wickham, have you seen your son, he is I believe three years old now. His mother, being only 13 years old, of course did not survive the birth."
"13 years old, Denny gasped, you seduced a 13 year old child. "My youngest sister is but 13 and I would kill any man who tried to seduce her."
"She threw herself at me, Wickham said, you know how these country girls are, you have seen it for yourself in Hertfordshire, how they throw themselves at us in our red coats."
"You had no red coat then, you are recently in the militia," Denny replied coldly.
"Enough of this, Col Fitzwilliam barked, Wickham you have your choice, a firing squad or Boney, take your pick at once I am running out of patience."
"A firing squad or France, is there any choice, Wickham said in a shaky voice, of course I will go to France, I would much rather take my chances with Boney."
"Sergeant Lukas, Sergeant Miller, take your prisoner to the docks the boat sails at midnight, make sure that he is on it, and there is another here who will assist you, I can assure you that if Captain Wickham tries anything Mr. Mason will take care of him"
Wickham spun around, "Mason" he gasped.
"Yes, Mr. Wickham, the huge man snarled, Mason, I hope you try to escape there is nothing that would give me more pleasure than breaking your neck in your fancy red coat."
As they marched Wickham away Denny said, "That is the largest man I have ever seen, who is he and why does he despise Wickham so much."
Fitzwilliam replied, "That is Mr. Mason, Hampton village blacksmith, Wickham seduced his daughter at the same time as the girl who gave birth to his son, she though had a stillborn child and her Father has been waiting to extract his revenge for all this time."
"If you would still like to attend my cousins engaement party I am sure you will be welcome Captain Denny," Fitzwilliam said with a warm smile for the young man he had just met and led him toward the house with it's bright lights and music.
Mr. William Collins was extremely vexed. No one would listen to him, not even his wife.
Charlotte instead of helping him convince the Fitzwilliam family that the marriage between Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy must not be allowed. Charlotte actualy rejoiced in his cousins engagement saying that she had known since he was at Netherfield that Mr. Darcy was in love with Elizabeth.
This could not be, he had observed them himself and they did not get on at all. Why, at the ball at Netherfield they had almost had an argument on the dance floor. Granted Elizabeth was the only one Darcy had danced with that night, but that meant nothing. No, Charlotte had to be mistaken, Elizabeth was expecting his offer of marriage at that time, she certainly was not interested in another man.
His pleas to his cousin Mr. Bennet went unheeded as a matter of fact he has said that Mr. Collins should support the nephew instead of her ladyship.
What did he mean by that statement. Was it possible that he could expect an offer from Mr. Darcy to go from Rosings Park to a post in the north near Mr. Darcy's home in Derbyshire. Such an offer would merit serious consideration. But could he leave Lady DeBourg. She depended on his wisdom for so many things.
His petition to Lord Matlock had been received with a terse rebuff. His lordship had told him to keep his nose out of Mr. Darcy's affairs and go home to Lady Catherine.
Lady Matlock had been no better. She had actualy accused him of wishing to prevent the marriage out of jealousy because Miss Bennet had refused his own proposal of marriage. She had implied that Lady Catherine was not so much interested in Mr. Darcy as a son in law as she was in the fine home he owned in the north. She had been, quite uncivil to him as a matter of fact.
He had hoped that Sir James would listen to the voice of reason but his lordship had informed him that he would not interfere in his godson's plans. He quite approved of the young lady and was most pleased to see Darcy so happy.
The only person who seemed to agree with himself and Lady Catherine was Miss Bingley. She was most distressed at the plans being made. It was bad enough that her brother was marrying Miss Jane Bennet, but that Mr. Darcy should marry so far beneath himself was abominable. she agreed that Lady Anne Debourg was the only one for such a fine gentleman as Mr. Darcy.
Tonight he was forced, against his will and better judgement to go to the engagement soiree at Lord and Lady Matlock's townhouse.
He had declared that they would not attend but his wife, who had promised to obey him at the altar on their wedding day, had threatened to attend even if he chose to stay away. Mr. Darcy had offered the use of his carriage but Mr. Collins could not allow that. To have a Darcy carriage pick them up was unthinkable. Lady Margaret, Lady DeBourg's friend, with whom they were staying, must not know where they were going.
As much as he dreaded going he could not allow his wife to attend such a gathering unescorted. Though he had pleaded, cajoled, and ordered her not to go she was adament, so go he must.
If only Charlotte would listen to reason, but he had learned that when her chin rose up in that way there was no arguing with her, she would have her way or he would suffer the consequences.
Darcy took Elizabeth's hand and led her to the receiving line beside his Aunt Rebecca and Uncle Henry who stood between them and Jane and Bingley introducing them to the guests. Each time someone came through the line that he knew she was particularly worried about meeting he reached for her hand and was rewarded with a radient smile of thanks.
He loved her so much and he wanted her to feel at ease among his friends and family. He smiled down at her kissing her with his eyes and the look that she returned was one of pure love an joy. Neither of them were aware of the smiles their actions brought to the faces of the guests, they were absorbed only in each other.
Two of the last guests were his cousin Col Fitzwilliam who gave him a smile of reassurance and an unexpected Lt Denny.
Lizzie and Darcy exchanged questioning glances when Lt Denny appeared but since he was with the Colonel they knew it must be acceptable.
Richard stood waiting for the line to end before informing them that they need not worry about Wickham. The man would be in France by sunrise.
Elizabeth was so happy she was afraid. "I don't deserve this wonderful man she thought, but I will never give him any reason to regret his proposal. I will do everything in my power to make him the happiest man in England."
Lady Sophia moved to stand beside her best friend Lady Rebecca.
"It is so wonderful to see William smile so much, she said, I had given up on his ever being happy, but now he is so full of joy it makes my heart sing."
"Indeed he is a sight to behold is he not, Rebecca said smiling warmly at Sophia. Caroline Bingley however has no smiles for anyone this night, and the clergyman sent by Catherine looks as sour as she does."
"I have met his wife, she continued, how such a bright intelligent woman could be married to such an odious man is beyond my comprehension, what a waste. He is exactly what Catherine would look for though, a lackey ready to do her bidding.
The ladies stood watching fondly as Lizzie and Darcy floated throught the steps of the dance when the loud voice of Catherine Debourg fell on their ears.
Striding to where the orchestra was playing dragging her daughter behind her, she shouted, "Stop the music, stop this music at once, do you hear me."
As the music ceased she turned to the gaping assembley shouting, what are all of you doing here. I ordered you not to attend. This marriage will not take place, Mr. Darcy is to marry my Anne, I will allow nothing else. Go home all of you.
James, I am shocked indeed to see you here, I know that you must agree with me, this girl is an interloper, she must not be allowed to marry my nephew. You know he has been promised to Anne since the day she was born."
Lord Matlock advanced toward his sister saying, come Catherine you are making a fool of yourself, neither you or any of us has any say in who William is to marry. He has made his decision and we will support him. Give it up Catherine."
"What are you saying brother, what of my Anne, have you given any thought to her."
"Mama, I do not wish to marry William, I never have, I would be most unhappy and so would he," Anne said, to everone's surprise.
Turning on her daughter Lady DeBourg shouted, "Quiet, girl, you will marry who I say you will. what do you know."
Lady Rebecca had had enough, "Catherine, these two young people love each other and they will marry and she will give him fine healthy children, you have no say in the matter so give up your dreams of Pemberley and give them your blessing."
"You, of course you will encourage my nephew to defy me, My Anne will be Mistress of Pemberley, I will not have it any other way. If you support William in this then I wash my hands of all of you ,I shall never see any of you again."
"Come Anne, we shall return to Kent, I shall not stay the night in this town with such as these," and she swept from the hall, Anne trailing after her.
Mr. Collins crept from behind the curtain where he had been hiding since her ladyships entrance.
How fortunate, he thought that he had heard her coming in time to find a hiding place.
In regard to Wickham. I believe that he would know who to cozy up to and with his ease and his way with people that he would become a great favorite among the men of his regiment, so would have been promoted very quickly to Captain.
Darcy took Lizzie's arm pulling it through his own, to walk her around the room greeting friends and aquaintances as they went.
"Your parents seem to be enjoying themselves, he said, and your aunt and uncle seem to have found many with whom they are aquainted."
"Yes, my mother especially seems to be having a good time, Elizabeth answered, she seems to be enjoying the company of Sir Walter especially, and Kitty is enjoying the presence of Lt. Denny I can see."
"Sir Walter has told me that he finds her to be most charming, Darcy said with a rueful smile, much more charming than my own relations I am sure. I must apologise, my love for my Aunt Catherine's tirade,"
"There is nothing to apologise for, Elizabeth assured him please, my love do not let yourself be troubled over something over which you have no control."
The were interupted by Sir James who said to Darcy, "You must not rob me of this young lady's company, William, go and talk to your Aunt Rebecca or dance with one of the young ladies present. Since I am a dreadful dancer I shall ask Miss Bennet to spend the time it takes for the next two dances getting to know one another."
Darcy looked at Elizabeth questioningly, but she gave him a reassuring smile and he departed.
Sir James led her to a sofa nearby where they seated themselves.
"You have a most interesting family, Miss Bennet, he said. I enjoyed a long talk with your father. He shares the same love of books and chess that William and I do."
"I have met your Uncle before and have always found him a man of such intelligence that it is always a pleasure to see him. This is the first time I have met his wife. What a lovely woman she is too."
"My father is always happy to find another chess player," Elizabeth answered with a smile.
"If you please, Sir James I should like to hear some of your stories about Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth continued. He took me to his townhouse yesterday to meet his Pemberley housekeeper, Mrs Reynolds."
"You have met Mrs Reynolds, Sir James said in surprise, I did not think she ever left Pemberley."
"She wrote to Mr. Darcy telling him that she was to be in town to visit her daughter for a fortnight, and he invited her and her daughter to the house that I might meet them."
"I found her to be most engaging, so many stories of Mr. Darcy growing up, it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. She said you too could tell me about his boyhood. She implied that he could be a bit of a scamp when he was small.
She said that it was you who taught him to fish, a recreation that I know he enjoys a great deal. He has invited my uncle and my father to fish at Pemberley."
Sir James gave a laugh as he answered, "Correct, it was I who introduced him to line and tackle."
"It was when he was 5 years old. His mother had given birth to a stillborn child and was confined to her bed with orders to rest. As you know it is hardly possible to get much rest with a lively five year old boy about.
I took him to the river bank with fishing gear in hand and he was enraptured with the sport from the first cast."
"He was always a kind and thoughtful child and worried about his mother, it took a little coaxing on my part but he soon believed what I told him, that his mother would soon be up and about and he could show her what he had learned."
"It became a daily thing for us the entire time I was at Pemberley."
Elizabeth smiled at sir James saying, "I can hear in your voice how much you are attached to Mr. Darcy, sir, and I can assure you that your feeling are returned. He says you have been like a father to him since his own fathers death."
"Yes Miss Bennet, I am very attached to Fitzwilliam Darcy, but I must offer my apologies for the actions of his aunt Catherine, I should have done something to prevent her from coming here tonight but it never occured to me that she would come back to town, she rarely leaves Kent."
"Please do not let yourself be troubled on my behalf, Elizabeth answered. I can feel nothing but pity for the lady and her daughter. It must be a reat shock indeed to plan for all these years to have your child marry the man of your choosing only to have those plans dashed."
"It must be made even worse for her ladyship, since she has never presented her daughter, but kept her with her at Rosings Park and Bath these many years under the assumption that she was to marry her cousin. With that in mind I am sure that Lady Debourg felt that there was no reason to make her daughter know among those who attend the Court Of St James."
"You are a very understanding young woman, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Sir James said warmly, but Catherine does not deserver you pity. She is not a woman to be gainsed, and the thought that she would not find herself with a daughter who was mistress of Pemberley is most vexing to her."
"I my self would have sided with her against this marriage if Henry had not shown me the letter that George Darcy sent to him when he knew that he was dying.
George asked Henry to watch over his son and to help him in any way he could. He was especially worried that William would be coerced into marriage with Lady Anne, or that he would marry her out of sheer boredom with the ladies of his set."
"From what I am told there was never any boredom with you. If what I have been told is to be believed you were quite impertinant with him and enjoyed besting him at any game the two of you indulged in, and that you especially seemed to enjoy arguing with the lad."
"Did you really best him at chess, Miss Bennet" his lordship said with a grin.
"Indeed I did, sir, Elizabeth answered, laughing."
Sir James laughed with her, "Indeed, he thought, she had a most infectious laugh. Not the polite titter of the ladies of the ton, but a bright joyous laugh of a woman who loves life."
"George, Henry and I were very fortunate to find women that we could love and respect for wives, and George wished the same for his son," sir James continued.
"Mr. Darcy has told me of the closeness of the three of you and your wives, and your children. He has told me of your losing your entire family to the plague, sir. What a dreadful blow that must have been."
" I hope you will not be vexed with him for telling me," Elizabeth said as she put her hand lightly on sir James' arm.
His lordship covered her hand with his own saying, Not at all, dear girl. That boy has been the only son I have had for these many years and I would wish him to take the woman he marries into his confidence. This only makes me more sure that you are the right woman for him. He is not one to share his feelings with others but the fact that he is so open and trusting with you is most reassuring."
Darcy came to collect his fiance from his godfather saying, "You too have been chatting here for an hour, I must claim my betrothed for this dance, sir."
"Of course William, I have taken up too much of Miss Bennet's time. I thank you Miss Elizabeth for listening to the rantings of this old man."
"It has been a great pleasure sir," Elizabeth said with a radient smile.
"As his lordship walked away she turned to Darcy saying, "He is a most charming man and I hope to see much of him after we are married"
"So you shall, if that is your wish," Darcy said kissing her hand as he led her to the dance floor.
William Collins clutched his wife's arm saying in a desparate voice, "We must leave at once, Charlotte."
"Why must we go now, Mr. Collins," Charlotted asked.
She felt such pity for her poor weak husband, cowering behind the curtains at Lady Catherine's entrance. She was certain that her ladyship had not seen them, but Mr. Collins was almost in tears in fear.
"Lady Debourg has departed for Kent, you are safe now, sir."
"What if she does not go to Kent, what if she goes to Lady Margaret's to spend the night," Mr. Collins said his voice shaking with fear.
"William, you heard her say that she was returning to Rosings Park," Charlotte answered.
"But she might well go to Lady Margaret's instead, Mr. Collins pleaded, she may decide that the ride will be too much for Lady Anne and that she must rest until the morrow."
Charlotte could well see the posibility of her ladyship indeed deciding to spend the night in town for just the reason her husband put forth.
"Very well, dear, she said, we shall go and give our goodbyes to Lady Matlock and Elizabeth."
"No, No there is not time, Mr. Collins said breathlessly, we must make all haste to get to Lady Margarets before her ladyship."
"Mr. Collins, we cannot leave without thanking Lord and Lady Matlock for a lovely evening, it would be most uncivil, and I willl not go without a word to Lizzie and Mr. Darcy, Charlotte said in exasperation. Perhaps you should go and call for our carrriage while I give our excuses to all."
"But Charlotte, Mr. Collins started, he changed his mind quickly when she gave him that stubborn look that she had about her when she was vexed with him.
"Very well, dear, perhaps that would be best, but please be quick about it."
Lizzie had moved to Lady Matlocks side so making Charlotte's task easier. As she made her goodbyes the ladies assured her that they understood perfectly and wished them Godspeed.
Charlotte sat watching her husband sweating profusely and chewing his nails as the carriage sped through the streets.
"Poor William, she thought, poor weak William. to be so firghtened of any person.
"William, perhaps it would be best if we went to visit my parents until the wedding is over, she said quietly. I am sure that Lady DeBourg will be most upset for some time and it might be best if we are from Rosings until she had recovered her good will.
I am going to attend that wedding William, and it would I am sure be best for you if you did also. A visit to Lucas Lodge would give us clearence to attend without vexing her ladyship further. Perhaps a month will be sufficient time."
Mr. Collins did not know what to think. He was sure that time away from Lady Catherine was a good idea, but would her ladyship think that he was being disobedient if he went to Herdfordshire at the same time that the Bennets had planned for the wedding. On the other hand if he stayewd at Rosings Lady Debourg might just start to hold the fact that he was a relation of the Bennets against him. If only he knew what to do.
When they reached the house Mr. Collins leapt from the carriage running up the steps leaving his wife to pay the driver and walk into the house alone.
As she came in the door Charlotte inquired of the butler Mr. Hawkins, if he knew the whereabouts of her husband.
"Yes, madam I saw Mr. Collins rush up the steps, I would imagine he is in your chambers."
Charlotte ascended the stairway to be met by Mr. Collins gasping, "My dear you must get out to that dress with all haste and don a plain one before her ladyship arrives."
She noted that he had already changed in to his everyday garb. He must have been undressed before he reached his room she thought, how else could he have changed so quickly. she had to smile at the picture of the proper Mr. Collins removing his clothing on the stairway and in the hall.
Changing into her usual muslin dress she started down the stair only to hear the harsh voice of Lady Catherine DeBourg.
"Mr. Collins, I am happy to see you here, I had feared that your wife might have convinced you to attend this engagement party my brother and that wife of his are throwing tonight," her ladyship said.
"Why Lady Debourg, what are you doing here, it is very late, Charlotte said as she saw her husband standing speechless, looking at her ladyship in fear. Have you come to see your nephew and Lizzie, perhaps to make peace with them."
"Peace with them, Lady Catherine shouted, peace with them. It is my nephew who should be making his peace with me. I have washed my hand of the lot of them."
I came to make one final plea for my family to come to their senses and forbid this marriage, but they instead insist on giving their blessing to this abominable affair. I went to my brothers only to find them feting the two couples. I made my thoughts known and started back to Kent, but Anne was too tired for the journey, so I brought her here for a good nights sleep before we return. Perhaps I should take her to Bath instead, she needs a respite from all that has occured in the past few days."
"Perhaps that would be best, Charlotte said, then Mr. Collins and I could go and visit my parents. I would very much like to visit them before I am unfit to travel. I am sure that Lady Anne would benefit greatly from the waters now after all that has occured."
"I believe you are right Mrs Collins, her ladyship said , now is the time to take my daughter away from Rosings Park and London and all the upsetting things that have happened of late.
I agree that if you wish to visit your parents before this child is too far advanced now is the time to do it. I shall plan to stay at Bath for six weeks, will that be sufficient time for you.
Your loyalty to me should have its reward, I feared that you might have attended this soiree tonight but I see that your affection and loyalty to myself and my daughter has kept you here instead." I am very appreciative of such loyalty as you see."
"Thank you your ladyship," Charlotte answered as Lady Catherine ascended the stairs to her own chamber.
"Oh my dear Charlotte, thank you for all you have done these last few minutes," Mr. Collins, gasped, we shall go from here directly to Herdfordshire."
Caroline Bingley slipped into Lord Matlocks den.
"Looking about her she spied the liquior bottles on the table. "Ah, just what I need she thought. I need something to get the sound of all those people saying what a lovely couple Charles and Jane make and most of all from those who seem to think that Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet are so well suited. If I hear another person say how lovely she is I shall be ill.
Caroline was sure that many fo those who had been making such comments to her were enjoying her vexation greatly. The Maxwell sister especially seemed to derive great pleasure in reminding her that her plans for the marriage of Charles and Georgianna Darcy had come to naught.
If only she had heeded Louisa's advice and said nothing about her own plans for Mr. Darcy and herself and what she would do as soon as she became mistress of the Darcy estates, Pemberley especially.
Now she would never be the wife of Fitzwilliam Darcy, she wondered how long he would regard her even as a friend. If he were to find out that it was she who wrote to Lady Catherine he might never forgive her.
Again, Louisa had been right, but she would not listen and her life was now in a shambles around her feet.
Picking up a bottle of Scotch whiskey she took a large draught.
Caroline had never tasted hard liquor before and she gasped and choked for several minutes as the whiskey made it way down. Setting the bottle down she stumbled to a chair to catch her breath.
"Caroline, what are you doing in here?" she heard her brother-in-law say.
"Mr. Hurst," she gasped, "I did not know anyone was here, I saw no one when I entered the room."
"How mortifying," she thought, "of all people to see me, Mr. Hurst."
"I just came in, he replied, I wanted something stronger than that pap they are serving out there.
Would you care to join me, he went on, picking up the scotch bottle. You have looked all evening like you could use a good shot of something with a little kick to it."
No, thank you, you know I never touch hard liquor," Caroline huffed.
As she left the room she had a nagging suspicion that he had been watching her but she hoped she was mistaken. If he ever told Louisa she would die of mortification. Louisa would surely remind her of it whenever she could.
Fitzwilliam Darcy reined in his horse and looked about him. This was his favorite spot.
When he was a boy he had climbed up here to Willow Mount to watch for his father as he returned from visiting the farms, so that he could run to meet him and be taken up and placed in front of him in the saddle for the ride home.
He had another reason now for loving this place, his Elizabeth contended that their eldest son Will was conceived here under the willows that day twenty years ago when they came here for a picnic the September following their marriage the November before.
A contented smile crossed his face as he looked to the left at the neat stone fences separating the farms that were such a large part of Pemberley. He could see the smoke from the houses curling lazily up into the morning sky.
Though he could only see a portion of them from here, he felt a glow of pride as he thought of how well they had done these last twenty years. The farmers loved Elizabeth and seemed to think that his bride had brought good fortune to them as well as himself.
To the right he could see his ancestral home, Pemberley, aglow in the early morning sun.
Pemberley, where his warm hearted loving wife was finishing her correspondence.
A large smile crossed his handsome face as he thought that his wife's warm and loving nature was the reason for his getting a late start this morning.
The past fortnight Pemberley had been filled with friends and relatives who had come to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Jane and Charles and Elizabeth and himself.
Jane and Charles had left the day before for their home 20 miles away, the last of the guests to depart.
Each year since the Bingley's had moved from Netherfield to Spring Lake they had celebrated together their good fortune in finding such happy marriages . One year at Pemberley and the next at Spring Lake.
He had gone into his wife's chamber to bid her good day and inform her about which farms he would be visiting today. She had been sitting at her writing desk penning a letter, still in her pegnoir as he entered.
He sat first in a small chair waiting for her to finish so that he could speak to her. Finding the chair too samll for comfort he had moved to lie on the bed and stretch out his long legs.
As she turned to smile at him he said, "This is a fine bed, what a pity it gets so little use."
Giving a short bark of laughter she had replied, "Do you mean Mr. Darcy that after these twenty years you would have us do as convention insists and sleep in separate beds."
"Indeed not, he laughed, what a foolish custom. Why do people think it is better to sleep in separate rooms. It is far better to curl up around the warm body of my wife than to lie alone cursing the cold on a winters night."
She had come to him with that smile that he so loved and before he quite knew what was happening they were there making very good use of the bed.
As she finished retying his ascot for him he said "You are getting quite good at this, perhaps I should have you assist me in dressing instead of Markham."
"I have had a lot of experience these past twenty years, she said with a grin, but what would Markham do, you could not turn him out after all these years of loyal service."
With a kiss she had bid him godspeed saying that he had better be on his way she did not want to spend the night alone.
As he rode down the mount toward the first farm the converstion that had taken place between the two of them and Jane and Charles on the last day ran through his mind.
They had gone again over the tumultuous courtships of the four of them ending in a discussion of the party thrown by his aunt and uncle the month before the wedding.
The party where he had to face for the first time the fact that as much as he thought of the improprieties of her family, his own relatives could be much worse. As he had told her later her mother was a model of deportment compared to his Aunt Catherine."
"What had happened to the people who had shown up that night," he thought.
Wickham, had no sooner set foot on French soil than he deserted.
Four years later to their great surprise he had received a letter from an old schoolmate living in Italy for the climate telling them that Wickham was there in Italy also.
Barnaby informed him that Wickham had arrived at a party with an aging Italian countess. It seemed that he had been there for over three years, somehow making his way into society and living off various wealthy widows.
The next letter told them that he had married the countess only to find that after the vows were spoken she turned out to be very tight with her fortune and kept her new husband on a very short string.
How thy had laughed at that. Wickham, hoisted on his own petard. Finally finding a wealthy wife only to find out he was not to get his hands on her money. Even after her death he was left with a very small monthy income, the bulk going to her daughter, who detested him vehemently.
Barnaby himself had succumbed to the lung desease that had sent him south in the first place and they heard no more of their nemisis.
Lydia, who had plotted with Wickham to get him into the engagement party had married a Colonel in the militia, a friend of Col Foster's.
The man was nearly fifty at the time but he had been taken by her livliness and flirtatious ways. Much as Mr. Bennet had with his own wife.
Thinking he could teach her proper deportment and tame her wild ways he had married her, only to find that he could do nothing about her. She would have none of his lessons in proper behavior for an officers wife and went on her own path, to her poor once besotted husbands dismay.
Fortunately there had been no children to grow up like their mother. Lydia had made it very clear that she wanted no brats to tend to.
She could never understand why he never took her to his ancestral home at Stratford, but Markus knew how his family would react to his wife so he always went home alone leaving Lydia with her sister Mary when he was away.
Lydia had hopes that even though her husband was the third son he might someday be Earl of Nalcrest. She had laughed with glee at the thought that she might be a countess and they would all have to bow to her and call her Lady.
Now she was a widow and as silly and extravagent as ever.
Poor Markus, to be saddled with such a silly stupid wife had been to much and Darcy was sure that this had sent him to his grave after only four years of marriage.
Four years ago she had been died in a cholera epidemic in London.
Mary had married a clerk in her uncles office who had turned out to be a brilliant attorney and was now a judge in London. Their three girls and one boy were fine intelligent children. Mary herself was much more pleasant to be around having lost the sanctimonious manners she had as a young girl.
Kitty, he thought, Miss Catherine Bennet had married the rector of Kempton three year after his and Lizzy's marriage. She had proven the best of wives for a country parson. Helpful in every way. She and Robert with their seven children were frequent visitors at Pemberley through these past 17 years.
Georgiana, his own dear sister was now the Duchess of Webster. She had waited long for the man she loved but had found a true soulmate in Richard Hunter.
Like her mother before her Georgie seemed to have a problem carrying a child to full term but now had a son and heir and a lovely daughter. She was expecting her third child in two months and had taken to her bed to insure the safe arrival of what Richard declared would be the last. He could not bear to see his most beloved wife suffer through another pregnency.
Carolyn Bingley and Louisa Hurst, he snorted at the thought of them.
Louia had been widowed some ten years ago when her husband had fallen down the stairs at his club and broken his neck.
Drunk as always he had not been able to negoiate the long winding stairway.
Though she had certainly tried hard enough Louisa had been unable to find another husband. The thought of being in close contact with her sister Caroline semed to send even the most ardent suiter dashing for the door.
Caroline had married his cousin James Fitzwilliam, Earl of Hampton. Now she was Lady Hampton and had at last shed the what she conidered the shame of being a tradesmans daughter.
She had for many years held on to her resentment of Elizabeth for marrying him and stealing Pemberley from her.
Why she ever thought that he would have married her he did not know, but after his marriage he was informed that she had considered herself the only woman he would marry for some time before their trip to Hertfordshire.
He didn't know what had happened, but three or four years age she had dropped her resentmets and tried to make amends.
Elizabeth forgave readily but he still did not care for the womans company. Only because of the closenes between himself and his cousin James kept him in contact with the two of them.
The Hampton children, Rowena and Arthur had spent a good deal of their time at the Darcy's most of their lives, which brought James to them frequently, to their delight.
Their mother however until three years ago had prefered to stay in London and let the children spend s much time as they wished with their cousins.
Now however she seemed to have found the joys of motherhood and kept them with her and James unless they visited the country.
Richard Fitzwilliam, his favorite cousin and best friend all his life had found happiness with a lively young widow with a large estate three years after the marriage of himelf. After the war with Bonaparte had been settled he had resigned his commission and become loving husband and father.
Richard, now Earl of Matlock due to a carriage rollover which took both his father and his older brother.
Hi dearest Aunt Rebecca, Lady Matlock had spent summers with them at Pemberley at Elizabeth's insistance.
His dear Elizabeth knew how much her ladyship hated London in the summer, and two Lady Matlocks in the same house, Aunt Rebecca in were one too many at times.
As much as she loved her youngest son and Naomi and her four grandchildren she prefered the north country in the heat of the summer.
Six years ago however she had ceased making the journey when her rhueumatism had made it too dificult for her to travel so far, and had started staying at Matlock Manor instead.
They had been devastated by her death but one year ago. Elizabeth had been most pained by the loss of her dearest friend and ally. She had grieved deeply until Naomi brought her a letter from her ladyship written but a week before her death and entrusted to her daughter-in-law to deliver at her first chance.
Whatever was said in the missive it had brought Elizabeth back to her old self to his and the childrens delight.
His cousin Anne, had fled her mothers house to seek refuge with the Sister Of The Poor, after Lady Cathering pledged her to the 60 year old Earl of Armone.
Anne, who had found such happiness as the wife of his own neighbor and lifelong friend.
She had turned up at Pemberley after less than two years at the nunnery, begging them to let her stay with them until he could decide what to do with her life.
She could never return to Rosings Park she declared and vowed to become a governess if they would try to send her back to her mother.
Lady DeBourg had been so enraged at her daughter defection that she had declared that she no longer had a child and that she would give Rosings Park to her loyal clergyman and toady Mr. William Collins.
Her enraged ranting could be heard all the way to London when she found that she could in no way prevent Anne from inheriting her fathers estate at the death of her mother.
Sir Henry Debourg had been wiser than any of them had given him credit for and had left his entire estate in trust for his daughter.
His wife it seemed could only live there and enjoy the fruits of his labors, but she had no power to do anything about what happened to it after her death.
In spite of the efforts of herelf and her greedy pastor the estate was to be passed on to Anne.
Part XVI: C
Elizabeth's mother had by her constant interference in their lives and her daily, day long visits had driven Charles and Jane to buy an estate not twenty five miles from Pemberley. To his and Elizabeth's great delight.
Far enough from Longbourn to keep the visits from their mother to a minimum. Her nerves could not stand the long trip.
Her nerves did not trouble her enough to prevent her and her sister Mrs Phillips from a journry across the Channel to hunt for bargains in Paris when the war was settled and Boney exiled.
Though Mr. Bennet had protested the trip admonishing the two of them or traveling abroad too soon and trying to stop his wife from her foolish shopping trip, but she had persisted.
Even the warnings of his cousin Edward, who had served at Waterloo, meant nothing. Edward warned them that disease ran rampart in Paris and the feelings against any British subject were not to be ignored.
They persisted in their determination to go. Especially after Mrs Long's daughter returned with her officer husband with trunks of the finest clothes that she enjoyed boasting of, telling them that the great ladies of France were selling their finest for money to buy bread and cheese.
They had not been in Paris four days when they both were struck down by influenza.
Mrs Phillip had survived but Mrs Bennet did not.
Elizabeth was devasted. Torn between pain at her mother's demise and anger at her foolishness in not heeding the warnings given her, traveled with the children to Longbourn.
Darcy followed from London where he had gone to confer with his attorney.
Mr. Bennet three years later married the young widow from the estate adjoining Longbourn.
Since her husband was the lone surviver of the Carter line, the entire estate had been willed to his widow, Lady Miriam.
Mr. Collins had been delighted with the marriage, counting on inheriting a much larger estate at the death of his cousin. He was chagrined to find that the title could not be passed on to him but declared that he would be content with what he got.
Two years into the marriage Miriam had borne Mr. Bennet the son he had given up every hope of fathering.
The joy in the Bennet family was too great to be described. A brother, the brother they had all longed for was now a fine healthy six year old and his brother two.
Mr. Bennet had rejoiced as much at the birth of his second son William as he had the first, Malcome.
"Poor Mr. Collins," he laughed, to have all his hopes for this large estate dashed by the birth of not one but two Bennet sons."
Mr. Collins at the news of the Bennet heir had taken to his bed for a fortnight, wailing and moaning.
Charlotte sent sincere congratulations, but from her husband they heard not a word.
Darcy did not know how Sir William and Lady Lucas felt about the loss of Longbourn for their daughter and son-in-law. Lady Lucas's congratulations he felt were real but he detected an air of ruefulness in his lordship.
Darcy was certain that Sir William had, like Mr. Collins been counting on his daughter becoming a neighbor.
His aunt Catherine had been highly inscenced at the loss of what she deemed her parsons rightful estate and had inquired of her lawyer how the estate could become the home of the Collins' after the death of Mr. Bennet.
The thought that one of her own had again been usurped by the Bennets was more than she could bear to think of.
To her dismay and the Reverend, the attorney informed them that there was naught that they could do, the estate was legally to go to Malcome Bennet.
Mr. Collins was still at Rosings Park, a beaten man, resentful of everything about his cousins. Bewailing the advantageous marriages of the daughters and now to lose all he had counted on for his entire life because of a second, young wife who had the ability to produce sons.
Darcy's aunt, Lady Debourg had passed on three years ago.
Darcy was happy that she had made peace with her family two years before he death.
He knew that her acceptance of Elizabeth had come after she discovered that her daughter Anne was married to Timothy Bonheim and had two children, a boy Fitzwilliam and a girl Elizabeth Rose.
Anne had refused to let her children visit their grandmother until she could accept both her husband and her cousin Darcy's wife.
"Until you can treat them both with civility and make them feel truely welcome, Mama, you will not see you grandchildren," she told her mother.
Lady Debourg had been forced to swallow her pride, but Darcy knew that in the end she was a much happier woman, and seemed to enjoy his family as much as her own.
When he had left the house that morning he had inquired of Elizabeth to whom was she writing.
She had replied, "Miriam, I am so glad that she came into Papa'life when she did, she made his last years so very happy and he died a contented man.
Can it be but a year since his passing, it seems like only yesterday."
Darcy turned his horse toward home. The business at the Baxter farm was not pressing and could wait another day or two. Right now he wanted to be home with his family so he had asked the oldest Martin boy to go to the Baxters with the message that he would be there on Friday.
The thoughts that had been passing through his mind during his rides between farms made him long to be home in the arms of his family. More than anything he needed to see the warm smile that crossed his dearest Elizabeth's face whenever he returned.
They had a wonderful marriage, so much so that he knew they were envied by most who knew them.
It had not all been a bed of roses, they were both volitale people, with tempers that flared and soon died as their love overcame any disagreement in short order.
A grin passed over his handsome face as he thought that the making up made their infrequent arguments all the more palatible.
As they sat at the table dining he watched his family with joy and pride. Their five living children were indeed a source of great pride to both he and Elizabeth.
Young Will at 18 was finished at Cambridge sooner than most and with honors. He had a deep abiding love for Pemberley and was learning the management of such a large estate quickly. The tenants loved him already and welcomed him with open arms each time he came with his father. Like himself and his father before him he would much rather spend his time here than in town and chaffed each time they insisted that he go to London for the season.
Darcy could understand his feelings exactly. The predatory mamas were already hard on his scent pushing their daughters toward him at every chance.
Jane Anne at 15 would in two years have her coming out ball.
Daarcy did not look forward to that in the least. Hhe wondered if her entrance into society would cause them as much difficulty as Georgianna's had.
Elizabeth had already warned him that she hoped he did not put as many obstacles in the path of any suitors for their daughter as he had with his sister.
The thought of his Jane Anne being courted made him scowl.
Looking from her to her sister he caught his wife's eye and the smile she gave him, and the way she turned her head to one side let him know that she was reading his mind.
Lizzie, at 14 was so much like her mother, but looking so much like her grandmother, was another thing. No one would ever get the best of Lizzie, she like Elizabeth had a way of seeing right through any pretense and she soon shattered them with a smile and her quick wit.
George, Georgie, 10, a sweet loving child, was a favorite of all who knew him. His cousin Anne especially seemed to seek the company of their second son and every summer begged them to let him spend some time with her at Rosings Park. She said it was such a joy to have Georgie around to offset the Reverand William Collins.
Dear Anne, such tragedy she had suffered losing her husband and both her children in the cholera epidemic five years ago. She herself might have gone with them if she had not been at Rosings nursing her mother while her family stayed in town.
The shock of losing her grandson and heir was too much for Lady Catherine and she too had succumbed.
Anne had asked their permission to make Georgie and Bennet her heirs, leaving Rosings Park to George and her dear husband's estate to Bennet. They after much discussion had consented and now both of their younger sons would be very well provided for and Bennet would be living not more than 15 miles from Pemberley.
That however was in the future and he hoped his cousin would live a long life, the thought of profiting from her death was repulsive to both him and Elizabeth but Anne had become very upset at when they had at first refused her kind offer. Her tearful reassurances that she would feel so much better if they would consent to her plans had at last worn them down and they had consented.
Bennet, their youngest son at 7 was a lively happy hearted child. His dark eyes even now twinkling with some mischief his father was sure.
Bennet, who filled the house with laughter, like his mother loved music and was better at the pianofortte than either if his sisters.
His clear voice, like his mother's, filled the house making it easy to seek him out, for he would be singing or whistling and one only had to follow the music find him.
As they sat in the music room listening to their children play and sing, Darcy and Elizabeth looked at each other across the room, bringing to her a memory of another night here in this same room when their eyes had met over the head of Georgiana and she realized that this was the one man in the world she would ever love.
When the children had gone up to bed, Elizabeth moved to snuggle up to him on the love seat saying, "You have been very pensive tonight, my love, what has happened to make you so solemn and thoughtful? I have watched you looking at the chuldren with such seriousness this evening."
"Elizabeth," he answered, "do you realize how many of those who were so near and dear to us have gone?"
Your own parents and your sister Lydia and her husband. Aunt and Uncle Fitzwilliam along with Gerard. Anne's entire family.
The conversation we had with Jane and Charles has been on my mind all day. It made me realize how fragile life is and how quickly we can lose those we love the most."
As he hesitated a look of pain crossed his face and she knew immediatly what he was thinking as she said, "Like Cassandra?"
"Yes, he answered with a pained expression in his eyes, Like Cassandra, our firstborn daughter.
Will the pain of losing her ever go away, my love."
"No, dearest, Elizabeth said as she kissed his hand, it will always be there reminding us of how fortunate we are to have five beautiful healthy, loving children left. How many do we know who are not so for fortunate as we.
"I know, he said kissing her hair we have indeed been fortunate, our love has grown stronger through these twenty years and we have such a fine family to be grateful for, but I shall never forget my dearest Cassie."
"Neither of us will, Elizabeth answered, the fact that you think of her all the time and love her so is only a testament to what a fine loving father you are, my love.
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