To Love In Vain
As he departed from the ship, his thoughts were as chaotic as the crowd of people around him. The bitter reminder of the past months made him wonder if love existed at all. With an aching heart, his jumbled thoughts continued to torment him on the journey home.
"...but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever." Darcy finished.
Elizabeth flushed slightly before awkwardly assuring him of her own affections toward him. Had she been able to meet his gaze just then, she would have seen how well the expression of heart-felt delight became him. They walked on, unknowing of direction and time passing as they discussed past actions and current feelings.
They returned some time later, being questioned by Jane. Giving a vague answer, Lizzy blushed slightly, but the matter was not pursued. The evening passed quickly and soon Elizabeth was telling Jane of all that had happened. Although disbelieving at first, Jane was not long in being convinced and exclaimed how happy the news was.
The next morning brought Darcy and Bingley to Longbourn, and upon entering Bingley proposed a walk about the grounds. Kitty declined to accompany them, and the four were on their way. Darcy and Elizabeth agreed that her father's consent should be asked that evening. Elizabeth determined to inform her mother after Darcy's leaving to spare him of her mother's ranting.
Convincing her father that evening of her affections for Mr. Darcy was not the easiest task, but in the end she succeeded. Later, when her mother retired to her dressing room, Elizabeth followed her up to tell her the news. At first, Mrs. Bennet was so astonished, she couldn't speak, then she began rejoicing profusely. Elizabeth worried about her mother's reactions towards Mr. Darcy tomorrow, but the day passed rather easily. Mrs. Bennet was in such awe of her intended son-in-law that hardly a word passed her lips.
The following weeks passed quickly as the engagements were announced socially and plans for wedding arrangements were discussed. Hardly a day passed that the two couples weren't surrounded by neighbors giving best wishes. Darcy sent a letter to Georgiana informing her of his engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bennet to which she replied her great happiness of having such a lovely sister. After all her congratulations were related, she told of a visitor that had come to Derbyshire the day before.
Your Loving Sister,
The lady, a Miss Cecelia Moore, who visited claimed to have an acquaintance with you and was sorely disappointed at finding you gone. She said that you had become friends during your tour of the continent. However, I could not recall you mentioning anyone so I couldn't offer her any comment. She had happened upon me a few moments after my reading your letter. Her shock was evident when I told her of your engagement to Miss Bennet, in fact she became slightly pale. Anyway, I am sure this is of little importance but it just seemed so strange that I felt compelled to mention it. Once again, you have my fondest wishes, dear brother! Please assure Miss Bennet likewise, I shall hope to see you both soon at Pemberley.
Your Loving Sister,
Upon seeing the name, Darcy grew somber and pale in complexion. It cannot be! I thought she was dead. No! I can not lose my dearest Elizabeth. With that, Darcy sent a letter to his steward informing him of his intention to return to Derbyshire. He would find the lady who claimed to be Miss Moore and find out exactly what was going on.
Darcy stared out the window of his carriage as he departed Netherfield the next day. His heart felt heavy with a sense of dread, as if he had just left his chance for happiness behind forever. But no, that couldn't be....it wouldn't be! Elizabeth had promised to be his and he couldn't live without her now! Still his thoughts were foul as he journeyed home.
"Hm...what? Oh, yes all is well Georgiana! I must speak with my steward!" He said distractedly and headed into the house leaving his confused sister behind.
Practically crashing into his chambers, Darcy started mumbling to himself as he stripped off his cravat. His man servant rushed in to help, but Darcy waved him away. "Where is my steward? I must speak with him!"
"Oh, Lizzy, how you must miss your Mr. Darcy! I wish he did not have to leave. We were having such a wonderful time, but he shall return soon and all will be well!" Jane sighed in contentment as she braided her hair before going to bed.
Lizzy smiled at her sister's sweetness, then went over to sit next to her. "Jane, how I miss him already and he has been gone but six days. Soon we shall be married, and I can go to Pemberley with him!" She started braiding Jane's hair as she talked.
"We shall be the happiest of couples!" Jane practically glowed with cheer.
"That we shall my dear, that we shall."
They talked a while longer before retiring, both lost in a wonderful dreamland with their soon-to-be husbands. The next morning Jane, Lizzy, Kitty, and Mr. Bingley walked to Meryton to get away from the chaos at Longbourn and Mrs Bennets constant screeching. Kitty went in to a shop to pick up some lace, while the other three stood outside talking of unimportant issues. Moments later, Kitty flounced out of the shop with another lady in tow.
"Lizzy! Look who I have found!" Kitty practically yelled in her excitement, followed by two woman.
"Mrs. Franz! It has been ages since we have seen you! How are you and your husband?" Lizzy asked.
"Oh, quite alright, I thank you. We just came into Meryton to visit Mama and Sophie, we are staying but two weeks then we must go back to the parish." Mrs. Emily Franz replied. She was a few years older than Lizzy and they had played together as children. After Emily had married, the two had not seen each other except for brief periods, when the Franz's visited Meryton. "Oh, and I must have you meet someone! She is Edward's second cousin from the continent, she arrived two days ago herself, neither of us knew the other would be here. What luck, eh?"
The woman who had stood behind Mrs. Franz stepped forward to greet her new acquaintances. "Elizabeth Bennet, this is Miss Cecelia Moore, Cecelia, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Newly engaged to a Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, a very handsome gentleman!"
Miss Moore's voice faultered slightly at the mention of Elizabeth Bennet but quickly covered it up with friendly inquiries. "Mm..M...Miss B..Bennet. So good to meet you. How do you do today?"
After a few more minutes of chatting, Mrs. Franz declared that she had to be off, she was already late getting back and her mother was waiting on the lace she had purchased. Lizzy invited her and her family to dine with them the following evening, which was accepted warmly and they parted.
Darcy paced the library restlessly, waiting for any information on the lady claiming to be Miss Cecelia Moore. He had been at Pemberly for over a week now, and was getting frustrated at the lack of results. Wickham had been easier to find than this! He sighed and walked over to the window. He thought of Elizabeth and how he had changed since meeting her. She was his life and he wouldn't let anyone stand in the way of that now. Not even Miss Moore, he thought grimly.
The door to the library opened to admit Mr. Darcy's steward, his face was void of emotion as he crossed the room.
"What have you found out?" Darcy asked, dreading the answer.
"Close to nothing, sir. She had been staying at the Inn in Lambton, she left the same day she arrived. No one knows where, and she was unattended except for a maid." Mr. Baker replied.
"Did you get a description of her?"
"Yes, the lady is 5' 8", brown hair, pale yellow eyes. A very handsome figure from what I am told. That is all I found out, sir."
"Thank you, Baker." With a wave of his hand, Darcy dismissed his steward. He leaned his forehead against the glass as his heart began to ache. He tried to deny the truth in his mind, but he knew it with certainty in his heart, It is her.
Darcy spent a few more days in Derbyshire trying, and failing, to find out more information about Miss Moore and her whereabouts. Two years ago he had thought her dead and left the continent heartbroken. What he couldn't understand is why she showed up two years later, and why now?
It had been two and a half weeks since he left Netherfield and he missed Elizabeth. He decided it was time for him to return. His steward would keep an eye out for any information and contact him immediately upon learning anything. It was with mixed emotions that Darcy set out for Netherfield once again, along with Georgiana.
Georgiana and Darcy arrived at Netherfield late in the evening a few days later. Both were exhausted from the trip and went directly to their rooms to retire early. However, Darcy could not sleep. He sat up all night wondering how he was going to tell Elizabeth about Miss Moore. What am I going to do? How shall I make this right? He still held a silent hope that he might be wrong, but it was very faint. After all the heartache he had been through over two years ago, only to realize it wasn't over, Darcy wondered at Fate's cruelty. He had finally found the woman of his heart, and now he feared that he would lose her forever.
The next morning Darcy came down later than the rest of the party. Charles had already left for Longbourn, impatient to be near his beloved Jane. Since he could not hear the sarcastic voice of Caroline Bingley, Darcy figured she must be out walking the grounds, or trying on horrid orange dresses and hats with hideous feather protruding from them. After eating he made his way into the library for some solitude. He missed Elizabeth and wished to see her again but he had to compose his thoughts. Wondering around the library, he felt like a trapped animal and finally made his way outside. He began walking not realizing which direction as his thoughts pounded against his head incessantly.
Both Darcy siblings were greeted warmly, especially by the ever-screeching Mrs. Bennet. Elizabeth just rolled her eyes and escorted them to another corner of the room where they could converse privately. Witnessing his sister's happiness was enough to make Darcy forget that Miss Moore even existed. Bingley proposed a walk about the grounds, to which Elizabeth and the Darcy's happily agreed. Georgiana exclaimed on the beauty of the country, her happiness at welcoming Elizabeth as a sister, and her excitement about the wedding preparations.
Just as they were about to turn back, Mrs. Phillips was seen practically running down the lane toward Longbourn.
"Oh, dear. I do believe my aunt must have some juicy gossip if she is that excited! Her and my mother shall be chittering away for the rest of the evening." Elizabeth said with a laugh.
However, Mrs. Phillips came toward them instead of turning in the opposite direction towards Longbourn. With a gasp and wheeze, she stood before the Darcy's and Elizabeth, holding her hand to her chest while she gulped air like a fish out of water. After calming down enough to form a sentence she began.
"Oh Lizzy! You will not believe the news I have just heard! It seems your new friend is not a Miss at all! Oh she is quite a prankster! I have come to find out that she is married...has been married these last two years! I don't know to who, but it is apparently to a rather wealthy gentlemen around Derbyshire area..." Darcy went pale at her words but it went unnoticed by the rather excited Mrs. Phillips. Lizzy had a half smile on her face as she listened with a patient ear to her aunt spew the latest gossip. "I do not know why it has been kept secret, perhaps the gentleman's family does not approve or vice versa, but whatever it is no longer stands in the way. She only stopped here to rest for a night then continue on to her husbands manor but since her brother was in town she decided to stay. The town is all abuzz with the news! I must tell your mother....tah tah!" With that she turned and sped off to Longbourn.
Lizzy watcher her aunt's retreating figure with a chuckle. "Ah, dear Aunt Philips! Always full of news and gossip, you dare not have a secret around Meryton for she will know it soon enough and spread it around the entire neighborhood. As for Miss Moore, I cannot believe she is married! What a surprise, I am quite happy for her to be reunited with her husband. I do not think I could bare such a seperation."
She looked towards Darcy who's face was very pale and eyes tormented. The smile on her face disappeared as she watched him worriedly. "Fitzwilliam? Are you ok?"
"Hmmm...oh yes yes. I am quite fine." he said but thought to himself in near hysteria. Oh God, she is here and friends with Elizabeth...Why? What am I going to do?
Georgiana's voice broke through his thoughts. "Miss Moore? Why that lady has already been to Derbyshire! She visited Pemberley during her tour of the county. She mentioned no husband at all...although she did mention an aquantence with my brother...Perhaps you know the gentleman who she is married to Fitzwilliam?" She asked with complete innocense.
By now Darcy's complexion was varying from the palest of white to the brightest of red. He swallowed hard and looked at his sister and fiance. "Yes...yes I do."
Darcy looked directly at Elizabeth as he tried to form a sentence, but the words couldn't get past the lump in his throat. Lizzy, never dull-witted, became somber at the look on his face. She couldn't believe it, wouldn't believe it, until he said something. Holding back the tears that threatened to spill she looked at him expectantly.
"I...Miss Moore..." Darcy stopped looking at the faces of the two people he cared most about. Then he tried again. "Miss Moore is my wife."
Elizabeth choked out a sob as the color drained from her face. Georgiana looked at her brother in complete shock, unsure of what to say or do. Elizabeth took a step back as the news filled her heart. She couldn't see anything for the tears in her eyes as she turned and fled toward Longbourn.
"Elizabeth! Wait...please let me explain!" Darcy yelled as he ran after her.
On the verge of hysteria, Lizzy turned away from Longbourn, not wanting her family to see her like this. She could hear Darcy shouting behind her, but couldn't make out the words through the pounding in her head. She came to her favorite spot as a child and collapsed under a tree sobbing. Darcy, only seconds behind her, stopped a few feet away. Her tears where ripping him apart inside but he didn't know how to approach her now. He had kept from her a secret that could divide them forever.
Walking slowly toward her, he knelt on the ground, his thoughts racing chaotically through his mind. "Elizabeth..." She jerked away when he put his hand on her shoulder. Tears filled his eyes as he felt her slipping away before his very eyes. "Please Lizzy let me explain! I did not know she was alive! I married her a little over two years ago...I thought she loved me..I thought I loved her! But it was all a lie Lizzy! She used me once she found out I was wealthy, but I realized it too late! We had only been married four months when there was a fire in her family's house. She never made it out, and a body was found...it was assumed to be her! I swear Elizabeth! I would not hurt you for the world." He reached for her once again. She turned toward him, eyes swollen with tears, face streaked with their tracks. He brushed them away as he looked into her eyes. "I am so sorry Elizabeth...I thought..." He choked on the words. "I thought I was free to marry you...to love you! I do love you!"
Elizabeth leaned into his embrace and continued to cry silently for the next few minutes. This is the first and last time I shall see him, touch him. I will never be able to call him mine. Lizzy's heart shattered inside her chest at that moment and she pulled away. "Mr. Darcy...I must be going home now." She stood up and looked at him one last time. She put her hand to his face and smiled sadly. "I love you, I always will." She turned and walked toward Longbourn as Darcy helplessly watched her go.
Georgiana, who had walked after them, now caught up and stood next to her brother, watching Miss Bennet's departure. She knew what it was like to lose the person you loved. Even if Wickham's love hadn't been real, hers had, and she knew the pain her brother felt.
"William..." she started.
Her brother turned and hugged her tightly as he cried on her shoulder. Never before had he shown his emotions, never before had she been his comfort, and she held him close as his tears fell.
Elizabeth crept into the house silently, trying to go unnoticed by everyone. She needed time to think and the screeching of her mother at this point would do no good for her pounding head. Luckily, Mary was yowling on the piano and Mrs. Bennet was also shrieking on the family's "good fortune".
Grimacing, she ran up the stairs and locked herself in her room. She stared out the window as her rapid thoughts increased the pain in her head. Noticing Darcy and Georgiana heading toward the stables, she put her hand to the glass, and whispered, "I love you," before turning away.
As soon as the carriage pulled up, a gentlemen stood up from the steps where he had been waiting for someone to return. Approaching the carriage with a cheerful grin, Colonel Fitzwilliam was shocked to see the sight of his cousin Darcy pale and shaken, and Georgiana talking in a soft voice to him.
He ran over to greet them, "Darcy, Georgiana, is everything alright? What has happened?"
Darcy tried to reply, but choked on the lump in his throat, shook his head and walked toward the house. Georgiana took Richard's arm as they followed her brother into the house.
"Georgiana? What is going on? Did something happen to Darcy? Or Elizabeth?" Richard whispered anxiously.
Georgiana watched her brother retreat to the library, probably to drink some whiskey, then looked at Richard with sorrowful eyes. "You must help him Richard. He will tell you I am sure, but please, you must help him!" With that she ran up to her room, almost knocking over the orange peacock, and slammed the door behind her.
Richard ignored the indignant squawking from upstairs and walked toward the library cautiously. He entered silently and crossed the room to sit in a chair opposite his cousin, and watched in silence as Darcy down three glasses of whiskey in succession. Darcy seemed not to notice Richard as he stared off into space, his face void of emotion, but his eyes telling the story of his torment.
Suddenly, Darcy spoke up, "Richard, I need to tell you something. And I need your advice..."
Pouring a drink for both himself and Richard, Darcy began his story of meeting Miss Moore on the continent while he toured two years ago. How he had fallen in love immediately, and thought she had loved him also. The pain of realizing she had only married him for his money, and the humiliation of falling for feminine allurements. He had always prided himself on seeing a person for what they were, but obviously he had been wrong about Cecelia Moore. He hadn't returned to England because he was trying to figure out a way to end the marriage with the least trouble. However, his wife had found out about his plans and threatened him with spreading scandals about his family. So he had stayed married to her until four months after their marriage, her parents house caught on fire, and she never made it out. He felt guilt at not being able to save her, but also relief at being set free from her grasp. And he left for England with a heavy heart, swearing to himself never to love again.
"And I had not...until Elizabeth. I...I cannot lose her Richard. She is everything! But what can I do? I have broken her heart, she surely hates me by now. And...and..." Darcy sighed in frustration. "What should I do?" He pleaded.
Richard was silent for a moment, completely shocked by his cousins story. Never had he suspected something like this of Darcy. Yes he had noticed a slight difference, more aloofness, after he returned from the continent, but he would never have guessed it being because of a woman. Swirling his glass of whiskey, Richard looked at his cousin, then spoke. "Darcy, I must say I am very surprised by this. I had no idea... But that is not what this is about. The only way you are going to get rid of this Miss Moore, is to divorce her. Do not shake your head Darcy! You are too damn prideful for your own good! Do you not see? You not only risk your happiness but that of Elizabeth's, who I am certain still loves you. And this Miss Moore, I do not know what she has been doing the last two years, but since she has not been killed in the fire, she would have contacted you before now. Something is just not right here, Darcy. And you need to find out what. Request a meeting with Miss Moore, here, a few days from now. I shall be in the adjoining room and listen to every word she says. We will find a way out of this Darcy, and you and Miss Bennet shall marry."
Darcy looked at his cousin with a newfound admiration. He had always had a high respect for his cousin but now to see his determination made him feel a coward. He would have given up his happiness, his life, and his love, Elizabeth, for stupid pride. Taking a deep breath, he said, "Alright Richard, I will send a note to Miss Moore. And we will see where we go from there. Thank you."
Richard grinned at his cousin, "Your welcome, old boy. And do not worry, all will be well!"
Darcy paced the library restlessly as he awaited the arrival of Miss Moore. He had sent her a note requesting her presence at Netherfield, and she had sent her reply. Now all that had to be accomplished was finding out what she wanted.
Hearing voices in the hallway, he stiffened, and glanced toward the other side of the room where Richard was hidden in the shadows. "I think she is here," he whispered loudly, then looked toward the door as someone knocked. In a louder voice, he said, "Yes, come in."
The servant walked in and announced stiffly, "A Miss Moore to see you, sir."
"Yes, send her in, Fosset" Darcy ordered coldly.
Fosset stepped to the side, allowing Miss Moore to enter, and then he exited quietly, shutting the door behind him. Silence flooded the room as they stared at each other across the room.
"Darcy," she whispered in greeting.
"Mr. Darcy to you, Miss Moore. And what do you want?"
Smiling slyly, she advanced upon him, and touched his forearm. "Now Fitzwilliam, dear, is that any way to greet me? After all we were very intimate with each other and I am your wife."
If it was at all possible, Darcy's eyes became colder as he looked down at her. "Please refrain from touching me, and do not remind me of our past. You are the one who has been gone all these years when I thought you dead. I ask you again, what do you want?"
Her smile vanished abruptly, and her hand dropped, "I want what is owed to me as your wife! I shall be mistress of Pemberley, not that poor chit Miss Bennet, whom I have had the displeasure of meeting. Stupid country girl that she is."
Darcy made a strangling noise, and choked out, "Do not speak ill of her madam, she is more of a lady than you could ever be."
Cecelia Moore practically bared her teeth as she sneered, "I did not come here to argue. I am your wife, and as such, I want what I deserve!"
"What you deserve!!! As far as I can see, Miss Moore, you deserve nothing from me except contempt. For the last time, what do you want? Why have you come back now? And most importantly, why did you pretend to be dead, when you so obviously are not?"
Circling around him with a triumphant look, she asked, "You really want to know? Well, I shall gladly tell you." She stopped in front of him. "Because I wanted more. More money, more prestige, and you did not have enough. Remember Lord Ellingsworth? He had all that, but I was already married to you, so I had to fake my death, assume a different name and pursue him. I would have succeeded too, if the stupid old man had not fallen for some other wench! A year and a half of playing innocent, being flirtatious, and agreeable to that lecherous old man...all for naught! Since my own family thought me dead, I could not return to them. Then it came to me...you were always prideful, always arrogant about the Darcy name, and I knew you would take me back without much of a fuss to avoid a scandal. Then to come here and find out you were engaged to another woman, I knew I had to act fast. I made it very clear to your dear, innocent sister that you and I were very close. Is that how you found out about me so quickly?" She gave a smug smile. "Yes, I thought that must be it."
Darcy's eyes were widened with shock, as were Richard's, who was still hidden in the shadows. Smirking at him, she purred, "I am home Fitzy darling, give me a welcome home kiss." She wrapped her arms around his neck and stood on tiptoe, her lips mere inches from his, as the library door opened to permit Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
A silence fell over the room as Elizabeth took in the sight before her. Darcy stood in shock and Miss Moore smiled triumphantly. A muffled curse came from another corner of the room, which brought Darcy out of his daze. He shoved Miss Moore away and moved toward Elizabeth.
"Elizabeth! This is not what you think..." He reached for her, but she backed away from him, her eyes filled with pain. She choked on a sob and turned to leave, but not before Darcy grabbed her arm. "Please, listen to me Elizabeth. I can explain."
Richard stepped out of the shadows and spoke up. "Miss Bennet, please do not leave. Darcy and I can both explain what is going on."
Miss Moore gasped in horror as she realized she had not been alone with Darcy the entire time. Her scheme had just been revealed to another witness. "You @#$%*&!," she screamed at Darcy. "He was here the entire time! You...you..."
Darcy glared at Miss Moore with so much hate that Elizabeth knew the scene she walked in on was not what it had seemed. "Madam, please control your language in the presence of a true lady. And yes, the Colonel was here the entire time. I wanted to have someone here to witness your sordid plans. I will be filing for an annulment and after that I never want see you again. I will marry Elizabeth, madam, you can count on that. Now please leave immediately."
With every word Darcy uttered, Miss Moore got angrier. In a blind rage, she struck out at Elizabeth, smacking her across the face and shrieking curse words at her. Darcy grabbed her by the wrists and yanked her away from Elizabeth. "That is enough. Leave now before you force me to do something I might regret." Colonel Richard escorted the charming Miss Moore from the house, leaving Darcy and Lizzy behind.
Darcy's hand gently touched Elizabeth's cheek where a bright red mark was appearing, "I am so sorry, Lizzy. Did she hurt you?"
"No, I will be fine in a moment," The high emotions of the last twenty minutes wore on her and she moved to a near chair to sit down. Tears fell from her eyes as she looked at Darcy. He moved to crouch next to her chair and took her hand in one of his own, while the other wiped her tears away. "So you are going to annul your marriage."
"Yes, I am. For numerous reasons, but the most important reason is you. I cannot live without you, Lizzy. After this entire mess is cleared up, please say you will marry me. I know there is bound to be a giant scandal, and it will take some time for the divorce to occur, but my love will not change for you. Please, Lizzy, do not leave me now." His hand squeezed hers and his eyes burned with love.
She couldn't push the words past the lump in her throat. Instead she lifted his hand and kissed it as more tears rolled down. Darcy released the pent up breath he had been holding, and let his own tears fall. He hadn't realized until this moment exactly how scared he had been of her refusal.
Richard peeked into the room, smiled to himself, and quietly shut the door behind him.
Two days later Darcy set out for London, looking forward to his return when he could see Elizabeth again.
The entire town of Meryton was abuzz with this gossip, and where ever Lizzy went she would be accosted by women wanting to know exactly what was going on. Unsure of what to say, and not wanting to spread the news of Darcy's previous marriage without his permission, she stayed quiet, which only confirmed the rumor to many.
After two months of being hearing Darcy severely abused by everyone in town, she could take it no longer. She begged her father to visit with her aunt and uncle Gardiner in London. Seeing how tired and upset his daughter was, Mr. Bennet immediately agreed and in five days time she was set off to London with a footman. Staring out the window, she thought of Darcy and hoped everything was going as planned before Parliament. Praying that it wouldn't take too long for the annulment to be granted, she rested her head against the seat and soon fell asleep.
"Well, well...what 'ave we 'ere. Looks ta be a perdy lady." His smile sent chills down her spine. He climbed into the carriage and reached out for her. In a moment of panic she kicked him where it hurt most and bolted out of the carriage.
Running as fast as she could, not looking back, she prayed for an escape. Shouts went up behind her, then the sound of thundering footsteps warned her of their advance. Out of the corner of her eye she saw one of them closing in on her. Before she had the chance to swerve out of reach, an arm shot out and yanked her back, as a scream escaped her mouth. It was quickly cut short he hit her over the head with his gun.
"Fitzwilliam," she whispered as the world went black.
Mrs. Gardiner paced the dark foyer, worry lines etched across her face. Mr. Gardiner had sent his footman out an hour ago to see if he could find any traces of Lizzy's carriage. She should have been there five hours ago, and still she had not arrived, and no word had been sent to forewarn of delays. Hearing horse hooves in the street, Mrs. Gardiner raced to the window and peered into the darkness. To her disappointment, and greater worry, it was neither Lizzy's carriage, nor the footman. The crest did look vaguely familiar, but she was too worried to think on that. Her mind wandered off to the note she had received a few days earlier, explaining her favorite niece's wish to come visit her. Of course she could not deny her niece from coming, especially when she had a good idea why. The gossip of Mr. Darcy's supposed seduction of another female had already reached London, much to the horror or delight of many. More than likely, Lizzy could no longer tolerate her mother's, and her neighbor's, constant sympathies toward herself.
The slamming of the front door brought her back to the present and she rushed toward the footman, as did Mr. Gardiner, who had been in his study. "What is it? Have you found her or any news?"
The footman looked grim, and replied, "There has been a highway robbery, sir. The driver and footman were found dead. A young lady was found unconscious, and is under a doctor's care. I was not allowed to see her, but asked for a description. It sounded like Miss Elizabeth Bennet, sir."
Mrs. Gardiner stifled a sob and held onto her husbands arm. Mr. Gardiner patted her hand. "Have my horse saddled, and show me to this doctor's place where she is."
Fifteen minutes later, both men raced out of London toward a small town on the outskirts, fearing and yet hoping that it was Lizzy.
The carriage jolted violently and Darcy was tossed to the side of the carriage. He heard his driver yell out, as well as the cursing of a familiar voice. He poked his head out the window and came face to face with Edward Gardiner. "Mr. Gardiner! What is the matter?"
"Mr. Darcy, I cannot speak now. Elizabeth...she...I must go."
"WAIT!" Darcy hollered and abruptly left the carriage. "What is wrong with Elizabeth? Tell me man!"
"She had asked to come stay with us for a while, there were rumors about you...but anyway, she has not arrived, and my footman says there is a girl of her description found unconscious after a highway robbery."
The blood drained from Darcy's face at the thought. "Are you absolutely certain it is her?"
"No, my footman only has a description, but I cannot waste another moment, I must go." With that Edward Gardiner spurred his horse into a gallop.
Darcy turned to his driver and yelled. "FOLLOW HIM MAN!" and climbed back into the carriage. With a lurch they were off, racing faster than before as Darcy prayed to every deity in heaven to not let it be Elizabeth who was injured.
"Please, sir, I have news that you have found a girl who has been injured. I think she might be my niece." Edward's voice cracked. "Please, just let me see her."
The doctor squinted thoughtfully and nodded, holding the door open. "Come on in sir. For your sake I hope it is not your niece. But if you do not mind me asking, why do you think it is your niece?"
"She was on her way from Longbourn to visit with her aunt and I in London. She never arrived." A grim silence fell over them as the doctor led the way. Opening another door, he motioned Edward to enter. Upon seeing the pale form laying lifeless on the bed, he dropped to his knees and choked out, "Oh, God, no." After a moment of silence, he looked toward the doctor. "How bad is she?"
"She took quite a blow to the head sir, and has been unconscious for almost 7 hours. She was found five miles from here, laying on the ground, so I have no idea how long she had been there. There are some bruises, a broken rib, and her ankle is sprained. There is no sign of...of any other damage sir." The slight pause let Edward know exactly what he meant, and he breathed a sigh of relief for that at least.
"Will she recover?"
"I do not know, sir. I cannot know that for sure, until she wakes...if she wakes." Edward looked at his niece gravely, the picked up her hand in his own shaking one.
The doctor opened his mouth to say something else, but there was more pounding on the door. Frowning he left the room to answer it. Opening the doorway, he saw a tall gentleman with a haunted expression on his face. "Please man...is Mr. Gardiner here?"
"There is a gentleman here, but I fear I did not catch his name. Who are you, sir?"
"Fitzwilliam Darcy. Is she...is Miss Bennet here?" Darcy swallowed painfully.
"I do not know who that young lady is, sir..." The doctor began, but Edward cut him off.
"It is her, Darcy..." Edward began, and never before had he seen such torment upon a person's face.
Darcy found it hard to breathe, hard to think as it sunk in that it was in fact his beloved Elizabeth who had been set upon by highwaymen. Without a word, he quickly made his way to the room, and he inhaled sharply at seeing her inert form lying upon the bed. Kneeling next to her, he took her hand in his, tears streaming down his face, and whispered, "No, Elizabeth, no you cannot leave me. Please do not. I love you, I cannot possibly live without you now." He kissed her hand, and lay his head upon the bed and sobbed.
Edward Gardiner stood in the doorway, watching the younger man cry openly over his niece. He had had a hard time believing the vicious rumors that had circled around London, and this only proved his opinion that Darcy was not the type to seduce a woman, especially when he was already engaged. Edward thought of sending his footman back with the news, but he knew his wife would be hysterical, and so he made the decision to go himself.
Entering into the room, he put a hand upon Darcy's shoulder. "Darcy, will you stay with her? I must go inform my wife and send a note to my brother-in-law. I shall return before morning."
Without looking up, Darcy said, "I shall not leave her." Then looking at Elizabeth, he whispered, "I shall not leave you."
Edward left the room, spoke to the doctor briefly, and headed back toward London with his footman.
Mr. Gardiner, Mrs. Gardiner, and Darcy sat next to Lizzy's bed throughout the rest of the night and into the next day, awaiting the arrival of the Bennet's. They only left her side when the doctor checked on her. Darcy had demanded more doctors be brought in to examine her, and each doctor that came gave the same opinion on her health. So they watched, they prayed, and they waited.
Mr. Gardiner escorted his wife back home that night to check on the children. He returned an hour later, leaving Mrs. Gardiner behind to get some rest. Entering Lizzy's room, he noticed Darcy with his head resting upon the bed, next to his niece's hand. He crossed the room and shook the younger gentleman's shoulder. "Mr. Darcy, perhaps you should get some sleep. I will stay with her tonight and..."
Mr. Darcy lifted his red-rimmed eyes, and shook his head, "No, I will not leave her."
Mr. Gardiner did not persist any further. They sat in silence, each holding Lizzy's pale hand, and eventually fell asleep. Early the next morning there was pounding on the door which woke both gentlemen up. Just seconds later, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and Jane Bennet were in the doorway to Lizzy's room, worry written on their faces. Upon seeing her daughter motionless, Mrs. Bennet began sobbing onto her husband's coat. Mr. Bennet comforted her the best he could, while he battled his own tears.
Jane rushed to the bedside, tears streaming down her face, and grabbed her sister's hand. Up until this moment, she had hoped her sister would not be as bad as the letter from her uncle had implied. To see her lively, spirited sister lifeless against the pillow was more than Jane could bear. She laid her head next to Lizzy's on the pillow and cried.
Jane and Darcy both spent the rest of the day talking to Lizzy, hoping it would help bring her back to them. Mr. Bennet sat silently by his daughter's bedside, blaming himself. Mrs. Bennet sat in stunned silence, wiping away the tears streaking down her face, and clutching one of her daughter's hands. The doctor came in late that evening to check on her one more time before retiring himself. After everyone left the room, he checked the bandage on her ankle and around her head, talking to her in soothing tones the entire time. He was timing her breathing when she let out a soft moan, and her eyes moved a little before she was silent again.
Bending closer to her, he whispered, "Elizabeth...Miss Bennet, can you hear me?"
Her lips moved to form silent words, and her head rolled to the side, causing her to grimace in pain. The doctor wetted a piece of cloth and brushed it against her dry lips. "Try again, Miss Bennet. Can you open your eyes?"
Slowly her eyes opened, and stared at the doctor through blurry eyes. In a raspy voice, she asked, "Who...who...?"
"I am Dr. Avery, and I have been taking care of you for the past few days. You have taken a severe blow to the head. Do you remember anything?"
Frowning slightly, she shook her head, "No, I'm sorry..." then her eyes widened in fear. "Yes...I was sleeping...and, and I woke up to shouting. Th..Th...Then there was a man, many men, and I tried to get away, but I...I..." She started crying as the memories came flooding back.
"Shh...you are safe now, Miss Bennet, and your family is here. I will send them in." Smiling gently, he opened the door and motioned everyone in. "She is awake, but please keep your voices down and do not tire her with many questions."
Everyone swarmed into the room and surrounded her bed. Mrs. Bennet immediately went into a tirade about her poor Elizabeth, and began blaming her husband for the entire event. Elizabeth moaned loudly as her mother's loud screeching made her head pound. The doctor quickly intervened and asked Mrs. Bennet if he could speak to her alone. She was ready to disagree, but he told her it was of importance to Lizzy's health. After escorting Mrs. Bennet out of the room, the others took their turns comforting her and wishing her a fast recovery. Smiling and giving each one a weak hug, she told everyone she loved them.
Then her eyes settled on her fianc»'s, and her smile grew wider. "Fitzwilliam," She whispered in a loving voice. He knelt beside the bed, his face flushed and eyes reddened from all the tears he had cried.
She gently wiped them away, and pulled his face near to hers. Kissing his cheek softly, she said, "I love you, my darling. I always will."
Before he could reply, her hand slipped away from his face, her eyes opened wide, and on a shuddering breath, Elizabeth Bennet passed from this earth. Fitzwilliam yelled for the doctor and screamed for her to wake up. The doctor neared the bed quickly and checked for a pulse. With a sad shake of his head, he turned away and left the family to grieve.
From that day forward, Darcy was a changed man. He became a recluse, hidden away in the rooms of Pemberley, never venturing out. Many times he would be found sitting in the music room, caressing a lock of Elizabeth's hair and staring into some far off space. Georgiana tried many times, without success to bring her brother out of his melancholy, but nothing worked. She eventually married, moved to an estate ten miles away, and would visit her brother several times a week. It saddened her to see a once proud man turn so bitter and hard. He eventually passed away an old broken-hearted, single man.
Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley married a year and a half after Elizabeth's death, and named their first born daughter after her. Nothing could ever quite fill the void of her missing sister, and there were times when Jane would cry when she thought no one else was around. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, along with Mr. Bennet, lived the rest of their lives plagued by guilt over the attack on Elizabeth. Mrs. Bennet was never quite the same after that, she became much more quiet and serious minded.
The highwaymen who had attacked Elizabeth were eventually caught, and convicted. They tried placing the blame on the woman who hired them, but the name she had given was false, and so she was never caught. Darcy had always known exactly who it was, but could never prove it, and thus drove him into an even deeper depression and bitterness. Cecelia Moore(who hired the highway men to kill Elizabeth) eventually found another rich, titled gentleman and married him. What she found out too late is, that he was a violent alcoholic who had beaten his previous wife to death. During one of his rampages, he cut a huge gash down the side of Cecelia's face with a broken whiskey bottle, leaving an ugly, jagged scar. He gambled away all the money while he was living, and eventually was killed in a dual, leaving his wife scarred and penniless.
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