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Volume Four.

Chapter XXXVI.

Rosings Park, 24th September 1820.

While Elizabeth was waiting for a reply to her letter from her husband,- even though she knew that it could not possibly arrive until late afternoon, she still expected it every minute- she spent her time with her children and her cousin in law, Anne Fitzwilliam.

The latter she had grown to know only since her marriage, when she had persuaded Darcy to invite Anne to Pemberley. In a contrast to her mother, Anne had written a loving letter of congratulations to her cousin and his bride, thus assuring the Darcys of her constant support, despite all Lady Catherine's recriminations.

A year later Anne was with them at Pemberley. What had begun as merely a short stay there, turned into a long one as she found herself in love with her cousin Richard. The romance had an uncertain beginning, as many tend to do, but once both parties had started out upon it, progressed smoothly.

Marriage soon followed and after the event a letter was sent to Kent, informing them of the event. Anne had feared to do so before, concerned that mother had the power to prevent the marriage. The letter produced the circumstances which led to the reconciliation between the Darcys and their Aunt.

Relations had been strained at first, but now some years later, they were flourishing, assisted by the influence of the younger generation. To everyone's surprise Lady Catherine had fallen in love with the Darcy children. It had changed her as a result, so much so that she had been known to remark to her brother on more than one occasion that Mrs Darcy had done 'much good' for her nephew.

Coming from her, this was praise indeed.

Now, as the days were in the first flush of winter, proving decidedly cold to all those of youthful age, the children of the Darcys and Fitzwilliams, along with the mothers of both broods, were doing their best to keep them occupied in the enjoyment that was to be had inside the rooms of Rosings Park.

Of the latter family, there were only three children, Michael, Juliet and Charlotte, all of varying ages and character. At the present moment, all were happily engaged in a game, not caring that their parents were involved in a more serious activity of words and conversation.

"He certainly seems most mysterious, this supposed brother of yours, Lizzy," Anne commented to her cousin in law. Mrs Darcy had just related all the events of the past months to her and Mrs Fitzwilliam was intrigued by the tale.

"That is putting it lightly," Elizabeth replied, glancing idly at the clock on the mantle, which despite all her prayers and desires, had yet to pass beyond another five minutes of the hour. Inwardly sighing, she turned back to Anne, who was regarding her with an amused smile.

Elizabeth chuckled. "I should be ashamed of myself, should I not?"

"Quite," Anne replied laughingly. "One should not be this dependent on one's husband. I am very displeased with you my friend."

"As am I," Elizabeth returned in the same teasing tone. "How did we ever survive without them?" She asked rhetorically.

"Doubtless there is a philosopher somewhere pondering that very question," Anne prophesied solemnly, before causing both Elizabeth and herself to break into laughter. When they had recovered, Elizabeth reluctantly forced herself to avoid the clock. "My father's plan now is to wait him out."

"Using the old adage that wait long enough he will make a mistake?"

"Precisely. Whether that will work or not, is something that neither of us will find out until William and I return to Longbourn."

"How long do you plan to stay after he has come back here?" Anne asked.

"Possibly only a day at most. I must confess as to being anxious about missing anything. A lot can happen in twelve days."

"Indeed, a lot can," her friend agreed.


The Cunning Fish, Meryton.

Foiled. Utterly and completely foiled. The plan could not have gone more wrong if he had contrived it to do so. And now he was stuck here.

The figure mentioned some ten chapters ago was once again sitting in the same pub he had frequented then, only this time in a much more agitated and irritated mood. One night ago he had managed to procure- by foul not fair means, it must be noted -a horse of good energy and had ridden for all his might for the coast. Only to be stopped, beaten up, struck unconscious, disarmed of both money and animal, and returned to this place.

He had awoken to find himself back in the quarters he had rented, as if it had all been a dream. Only the bruises and the sense of exhaustion had confirmed the night before was reality. A through search of the room- once he had gained the energy to conduct one -had proved his worse fears. He had no money, no papers, no authority of any sort that would permit him to travel as far as he needed to go.

To sum up, he was stuck in Meryton for good.

And he liked not one bit of that fact. Timing was precious in his mission. The slightest delay could cause consequences unforeseeable until they actually occurred. An enforced stay at anywhere foretold a deadly future. This was why he was sitting in the bar of the The Cunning Fish feeling very irritated, considerably agitated and extremely angry.

He knew who to blame for this enforced prison- and a somewhat twisted sense of torture, he thought -but had not the means to prove it. Indeed, it was entirely too obvious, which was why he was slightly distrusted of the previously well thought out conclusion. Never put faith in the most likeliest of possibilities, he had learned, as they nearly always turn out to be entirely false.

Also, he could not identify the men- for he was convinced that there was more than one -who had prevented his escape from Meryton, as the night had been its usual damned annoying dark self. The men, whoever they were, had probably been the same ones that followed him so successfully across most of London and beyond.

The reliable shadows. Who had most likely paid off the landlord of the pub to keep him in the building while they reported to their chief, as the man was doing not a very masterful job of spying on him at this very moment.

The stranger sighed aloud in frustration, causing the landlord to pretend to look away for a few seconds. This idle speculation did his mission no good whatsoever. He could no longer dwell in his anger at being foiled by one or more shadows.

He had two options now. Firstly, to continue with his mission, hoping that he can escape his enemies, secure transport and forge papers. Or he could choose the second. Staying here and finding his adversary, do away with him and pray that the delay did not turn out to prove costly and fatal.

It was a difficult decision to make. It would need objective, rational, sound and logical deductive reasoning. Trouble was that his emotions and loyalties were too firmly bound up in both choices. The consequences of choosing either as well, were as yet mostly unfathomable to his increasingly frustrated mind, which was more concerned in blaming himself, rather than anyone else for last night's failure.

For truth be known, no one but himself could really be held accountable for the fracas of last night. He had unwittingly initiated it, by stealing a horse and riding away without bothering first to check if anyone was keeping watch. Travelling at night had not been a particularly intelligent idea either, for it simply invited attack. All in all, his decision to grab the opportunity the moment it appeared looked to him in hindsight to be a wholly idiotic thought and one that he was not, under any circumstances, to repeat.

No, his next attempt required careful thought. It was not a task to be undertaken lightly. Nor was it to be in any way impetuous. In short, he would need a plan which was almost foolproof, because no plan was ever completely perfect. Like a murderer, the planner was always certain, no matter how careful and cunning, to make a mistake and this mistake, however slight, would ultimately spell that person's fate.

So, as long as he was aware of the mistake that he made, everything would be all right, would it not?


Late evening. Oakham Mount.

Lawrence peered uncertainly into the gloom of the rapidly darkening evening that was settling on Oakham Mount. Its late, he thought inwardly. He should be here by now.

Suddenly a rustle of sound came out of nowhere, disturbing the silence. Lawrence turned, and finally caught sight of the figure he had been waiting for. "What took you so long?"

"We had to secure someone to watch him."

"Is this person reliable?"

"He's bribery-able, if that is what you mean. He's trapped for now."

"Good." Lawrence turned back to face the view.

"So," began the figure tentatively, "what is our next move?"

Lawrence sighed. "I'm not sure. I think we are supposed to wait."

"Wait for what?"

"Until they send word," Lawrence replied turning back to face the figure. "You better go back and keep an eye on him. I'll let you know."

The figure nodded and retreated into the darkness, leaving Lawrence alone. Instead of leaving as well, he turned back to the view, even though he could barely make anything out of the night that now surrounded him completely. He could not return to Longbourn yet. He needed to think. Events were moving quickly. Far too quickly, to his mind. He had thought they had time and it was beginning to look like they did not. Not anymore. He felt angry suddenly, and almost wished his nemesis was standing in front of him now, so he could end the entire thing without anyone finding out.

The anger however, was more directed at himself. For getting himself too closely involved. He was meant to keep his distance, not to bury himself wholeheartedly into the role. Which, and he had to realise this, was what it was. A role. A part he had to play. Not for himself, but for the good of his country. He was not meant to distract himself from that fact, at any cost. Even if it meant sacrificing his happiness.

Yet somehow, his mind could not shut out the emotions. Every fibre in his body was telling him, almost commanding him to remain, to confess. But even as he realised this, he knew he could not. Why did it have to be this way? Lawrence asked himself rhetorically. It was not meant to happen like this. It should not take only a day. Life was not like that. That sort of thing was only supposed to happen in novels.

Lawrence sighed and turned away from the invisible view. He walked slowly back to the path that led him to Longbourn. His mind should have been contemplating an excuse, but instead it was dwelling on the frustration he felt at his present situation. He knew full well he had no one to blame but himself. It was him and him alone that had got himself into the situation in the first place and there was little that he could do about it now. He could only hope that eventually, when events came to a head, that what he had planned to do then was right for all of them, least of all himself.


Chapter XXXVII.

Rosings Park, 25th September 1820.

When Richard visited Rosings Park in the year 1812 he had not expected to encounter a woman that would fit his idea of perfection. He was most surprised then when he was introduced to Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

Having established his inclination after only an and afternoon and an evening of acquaintance, he had not expected to find any faults. But find them he did and there were three. Firstly, Miss Bennet saw him as merely a pleasing acquaintance, perhaps a good friend, but nothing more, that much he had been certain of. Secondly, she had no dowry, or indeed any hope of one coming to her.

Inclined as he was to feel an attraction to her, Richard could not ignore this barrier. His position in life as the younger son of an Earl, with only his reputation as a Colonel of the army to his name, would seriously prevent any idea of marriage between himself and a lady of no financial fortune.

However cold and mercenary this might sound to the conscience, it had been a fact which Richard had been resigned to all his life, thus one he could not go back on now. In these times a marriage of pure love was rare and it was the general opinion that nothing came of such a match.

Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, his cousin was already in love with her.

Richard had come to this conclusion rather rapidly, although it had taken quite a lot from his cousin to actually admit to being so. To be confronted with the information that the Rev. Collins had married, to witness Darcy's somewhat puzzling and rather fleeting flicker of horror, only then to hear the actual name of the new mistress at the parsonage, and see his cousin utter a quiet sigh of relief upon hearing that, was somewhat mysterious in itself to begin with, as to his knowledge, neither of them had even met their Aunt's new curate.

When their Aunt then announced five minutes later that they had guests at the parsonage, the wife's friend and sister, the former of which being rather impertinent to Lady Catherine's mind, Richard had not expected Darcy to casually suggest that they went to pay their respects at the parsonage that instance.

After returning from this rather revealing visit, Richard had arrived at his three previously mentioned conclusions. Desiring only some proof to make certain the third, he took the liberty of trapping his cousin in the library, the one room that he could be sure that Lady Catherine never frequented. Once this task was accomplished and Richard had received the satisfactory confirmation of his cousin's regard; he decided to encourage him in his affections, not realising at the time that the lady in question had a strong dislike of his cousin.

Richard had also decided to try and help Darcy as much as he could. Knowing his cousin's reserved nature in company at Rosings he attempted as much as possible to draw Miss Bennet into conversation, hoping that Darcy would eventually become a third party in their talks.

When he actually did do this, the occasions were unfortunately so few and often put to an end by their ever controlling Aunt. After despairing over this, and with the lady's day of departure drawing ever closer, Richard had decided to make his cousin declare his intentions before all possibility of doing so disappeared forever. Little did he realise what trouble would come of it, even if it proved significant in the long run.

Thus, after helping his cousin through all of this, Richard came to the conclusion through his reflection of it, that he had never really fallen for Elizabeth Bennet at all. Confronted as he had been with his idea of perfection at the same time his cousin having an affection for her, he had never really had a chance to look on her as anything more than a future cousin in law, as the next Mrs Darcy. All that had resulted from their acquaintance, was a long friendship, which was to remain between the both of them for the rest of their future years.

It was this friendship, that induced Richard Fitzwilliam to seek his cousin in law out one afternoon during her stay at Rosings Park, in order to speak to her about the mystery that had encompassed all of his extended family.

"My dear Mrs Darcy," he began upon encountering her in the grounds.

"Mr Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth returned formally, her eyes twinkling in amusement. Her cousin was rarely formal, yet they had always greeted each other like this before proceeding with a conversation. This remark proved no exception.

"I have received some news from my army contacts and thought it best to make the details known to you," Richard began as Elizabeth fell into step with his stride.

"I think I can gather from you tone that this news is not good," Elizabeth commented, looking at him.

Richard nodded. "Unfortunately, I am afraid that is the case. I had hoped to have found something worthy of note for you to grasp hope from, but I fear this will only bring up more questions."

Elizabeth quickly reassured him; "it does not matter, Richard, I was half expecting your news to do so. Please, tell what you have learned."

"Well, it seems that no Lawrence Alexander Bennet existed in the ranks of both battalions of the Oxfordshire. Of course, he has told that he was an officer anyway, but I needed to be sure on that point before proceeding any further. However I could not find him on the list of the officers of the 52nd either."

Elizabeth looked at Richard in surprise. "But why would he be so specific about that regiment if he did not serve in it?"

"That is why I thought, so I have asked them to check again. My hope is that they have made a mistake. But if they have not........"

"If they have not," Elizabeth repeated, "we are no closer to finding out Lawrence's secret than we were before."

A paused passed between the two for a while as each considered the information they had received and the probable consequences of such information. Elizabeth then suddenly raised a question. "William spoke confidently when he told me that Lawrence's aim during shooting was of army origin. He must be a military man, correct?"

"Correct. Darce and I spent many a time together on the hunt and my aim was always slightly better because of my army background. Darcy would be able to tell the difference. Why, what concerns you?"

"I'm not sure. But we cannot just simply dismiss the military background to be a lie."

"I am not dismissing it," Richard reassured her. "The list at the 52nd's headquarters is. Of course if he was............" he trailed off, wondering if his cousin had mentioned his suspicions to his wife.

Elizabeth did not miss the hesitation. "If he was what, Rich?"

"Did Darce tell you my opinion of the case from my conversation with before he left for Derbyshire?"

"That you suspected Lawrence to be a military spy?"

"Yes. Well, if he was, his records at 52nd might have been erased. Then again, I have yet to receive a reply from Horseguards, so this could all just be idle speculation."

"What about the Colonel of the 52nd?"

"Has yet to contact me as well," Richard replied, with a grimace. "Although I have found out his address, which brings me closer than I was a few days ago."

"Could he have served in another regiment?"

"Of course, but that would have defeated the whole object of telling us which one he supposedly served in the first place. And to search the entire army for the name Bennet would take months." Richard paused in his ramblings to recollect on his thoughts. "Have you received anything in the nature of news from Longbourn?"

"No, at least not yet," Elizabeth replied. "My father rarely writes to any one as it is, being not fond of the habit, and Jane usually waits for a letter from me before she sends one herself. However, I do not think anything has occurred to warrant alerting us as yet."


Longbourn.

Elizabeth was right in some respects. Nothing had officially occurred. To Mr Bennet's mind however, something had, but as yet he was uncertain as to whether he should reveal it to the rest of his family. At least, to the intelligent quota of his family. After all, what he had witnessed two nights ago could not really prove to anyone, including Lawrence, that they had an impostor in their midst. All he had seen was two men, one of which claimed to be his son, in conversation in the middle of the night. That was unusual in itself, but then what Mr Bennet had seen could hardly be described as simply a conversation. True, the dark had made it difficult to accurately make out the actions of the figures, but he had not missed Lawrence gripping the other man by his cuffs in clear anger.

It had only been then that the words passed between the two gentlemen became audible to him. Find him! I don't care whether it is by fair means or foul, find the man and bring back here. Delay him here as long as you possibly can, Lawrence had said to the man. Find who? Who was it they needed to delay from leaving the village? Why did they need to delay him in the first place?

Mr Bennet had become even more puzzled when he heard the next. By fair means or foul! If I leave to trail him now, this whole plan could disintegrate before us. We did not spend years on this only to abandon it on the first sign of trouble. You were assigned to help me and by god, you are going to help me! You found out he was missing, you are to bring him back. Is that clear?

This part of the conversation was by far the most incriminating, yet for Mr Bennet it only created more questions, in of answering any that had occurred to him before. Lawrence had come to Meryton with an ulterior motive, that much was obvious. This motive, he had now discovered, concerned another person who was also in Meryton, and was preparing to leave, but was prevented by the actions of his 'son'.

Mr Bennet had followed Lawrence the next night after spying him seeking out of the via his bedchamber window. He had listened carefully to the conversation which Lawrence had held with the same gentleman of the previous night. This second overheard conversation had answered one query of his wondering, that the gentleman they did not want to leave had been brought back to Meryton and was being kept under watch. The identity of this gentleman, however, and his importance to Lawrence, Mr Bennet had yet to learn.

Since that night there had been little disturbance in Longbourn. Lawrence had been his normal self, and Edmund Bennet had felt reluctant to query any of what he had witnessed because of this. He still felt that there was not enough evidence to confront Lawrence with. He needed something else, some proof that could not be denied. That proof was not going to be drawn from two conversation. He needed something tangible.

And that, he was about to find.


Chapter XXXVIII.

28th September 1820.

Letter to Mrs Elizabeth Darcy at Rosings Park, Kent.

 

Netherfield
26th September

My dear Lizzy,

Events here have been of little interest I am afraid.

Concerning Lawrence, nothing has occurred. Aside from his daily visits to us, he has been displaying the same behaviour that we have all witnessed before. He spends his time with Lydia mostly, who is improving a great deal under his and Georgiana's kind and unfaltering care.

She is not the wild person that she once was, but she is a great deal more lively than when she came Charles and myself a month ago. Her children have been absolute angels, and little Henry regularly supports his mother in caring for his sisters. I do sometimes worry that they will not get to enjoy their childhood, but I am sure things will turn out for the good later on.

Charles has written a great deal to me and I have faithfully replied to each one, even though there is little to report. I hear from him that William has done the same for you. I hope those letter have been as much a comfort to you as mine own have been to myself.

It is astonishing to find that I eagerly wait for Charles to send his reply and wonder constantly if he find my letters a consolation. A contrast to both of us so many years ago that we cannot cope without a letter from our husbands who are only three days travel away.

Our father regularly visits here still whenever he can get a chance. He has been greatly consumed lately with writing to his solicitors concerning our cousin Mr Alan Collins' past among other things in the hope that they will reveal what we have yet to find out.

He sends his regards and apologises for not writing himself. However, as we both know his dislike for letter writing, I am sure you will understand. He also sends his regards to your cousin Richard. His information and copies of letter from his contacts from the Military that were enclosed with your last letter to him have been most helpful.

Our mother has not paid call of late, although she also sends her regards to you all. She has been occupied with Kitty, Mary and our Aunt Phillips in keeping in touch with the latest news from Meryton.

Aunt Gardiner also sends her regards and she hopes to write to you soon. She and our Uncle have been considering to travel back to town as his business requires his presence. They assure me however, that they will aim to return to Meryton in time for your own return.

At this point Lizzy, I fear must close this letter, as the children have been wanting me for quite some time. I am sorry that I have little to report, but I am sure that the old adage of no news is good news applies.

I hope to see you all soon. My regards to Charlotte and our cousin Mr Collins and to all others at Rosings.

Yours
Jane Bingley.

Letter to Mr Edmund Bennet of Longbourn, Meryton, Hertfordshire.

 

Messrs Averay, Bookbinder,
Caudell and Sons, Solicitors
to the Gentry.
__________ Lane, London.

26th September.

Dear sir,

Regarding your last enquiry in request for assistance from our firm concerning your late cousin's Mr Alan Collins past, we are happy to report that substantial evidence has been found to support the theory that the aforesaid Mr Collins was involved in business dealings of an illegal nature.

While it is unfortunately beyond our means to relay the specifics of this evidence- owning to our regard for the privacy of our late and present clients -we can assure you that none of the illegal dealings were in any way connected to your estate and your inheritance from your late father, Mr Nicholas Bennet.

Also, regarding your second request for assistance from our firm concerning the whereabouts of the family Calverley in relation to aforementioned Mr Alan Collins, we are glad to report that the information sir received attesting to their employment by Mr Alan Collins, is of a truthful nature and can be confirmed by the various records of our firm. Again, we are sorry to report that we cannot provide a copy of these said records for the same reasons as above.

Furthermore, regarding your third request for possible confirmation of any issue left by the aforementioned Calverley family, we are sorry to report that our firm can find no records pertaining to any son of the above family, either by the names Lawrence, Alexander, or any other.

Nor can we confirm that the Calverleys adopted a child in the years sir mentioned. If the aforesaid Mr Alan Collins put a child under their care, the information regarding such a case has not been made available to our firm.

We hope that this information has been of use to sir and it is also our further hope that sir will continue to employ our services concerning sir's estate and any other business of both financial and personal natures that sir has both now and in the future. We can assure sir that any further requests will always be dealt by our firm to the best of your interests.

We remain, etc.
Fitzmichael Averay.

Letter to Richard Fitzwilliam of Rosings Park, Kent.

 

Egloshayle, Cornwall.
23rd September.

Dear Sir,

I must say I was pleased to hear from an old Oxfordshire and especially one as famous as yourself. I was very fond of the regiment and was quite sorry to retire my commission at the end of 1815, due to ill health.

In reference to your request concerning information my memory might have on a Lawrence Alexander Bennet serving at any time in my officers, I am happy to report that someone under this name did in the years you desired. He brought an Ensign's commission in the year 1808, just before Vimeiro, if I recollect correctly, and served with our regiment for all the battles that you mention, bar the last.

This is where sir my information contradicts yours. Whether this is by common error or an unreliable memory, I am uncertain. I am certain however, that Lawrence Bennet was promoted to Captain and tragically died within only a year of gaining this rank in the chaos that was Quatre Bra. His body was recovered and buried with full honours on the Battlefield and the appropriate information regarding him was sent to Horseguards. They should be able to confirm this.

I hope my information has been of some use to you sir.

Walter Palmerston-Rivers.


1. Quartre Bra was a crossroads near Waterloo which the Duke of Wellington and his army were called on to defend in order to keep a free path for the Prussians to come to his assistance to defeat Napoleon.


Chapter XXXIX.

Longbourn, 28th September 1820.

Lawrence rounded the corner of the front of Longbourn for what must have been the fifth time that morning. And for almost as many times he asked himself once again what he was doing. Experience should have taught him by now that waiting outside a house that he was trying to deceive for a letter that nobody was supposed to know about was not very wise at the best of times.

Still however, he was beginning his sixth walk around the estate. The express he was expecting could not fall into anyone's hands but his own, which the sole reason why he had been touring Longbourn since the early hours of the morning. Breakfast had been the only thing to stop his wandering and luncheon was soon to do the same.

And now, he was beginning to wonder at the flimsiness of the aforementioned reason. For it was stupid to suppose that anyone would try to read the letter. He should have simply trusted a servant to deliver the letter to him without alerting any one else to its arrival. However, past events had taught Lawrence that servants were always loyal to the owner of the household before any other. This was why he was waiting himself.

For he had discovered that Mr Bennet was suspicious of him.

This revelation he had learnt last night. Chance discovery of a letter from a certain Richard Fitzwilliam of Rosings Park to Mr Edmund Bennet had brought forth the inevitable conclusion. How long Mr Bennet had retained these suspicions and exactly what suspicions he had was uncertain. Possibly since his arrival in the neighbourhood.

The knowledge had given Lawrence mixed emotions. Anger, both at himself and at Mr Bennet, the former for not convincing everyone well enough, the latter for seeing through his disguise. Relief, strangely enough, was another. In a way he was glad that he had been found out and Mr Bennet had chosen to keep it silent.

Doubt was the third. Concern that his trail was either hidden too well or was not hidden enough. He had left few clues to his origins in his tale of his past, and Lawrence feared now that these clues were about to cost him dearly. In fact, fear was by far the most underlying emotion in his mind. Fear what discovery would do to him, both in the short and long term. What it could cost him. What he could lose.

This realisation came upon Lawrence just as he began his seventh circuit of the house. Only to be forced to push this thought to the back of his head as Mr Bennet came to meet him, with a cheerful "good morning," forcing Lawrence to reply in kind.

"Good morning, sir," he returned, desperately hoping that Mr Bennet would not delay him too long.

"I came to ask what on earth it is you are doing out here? I have seen you pass my window at least four times."

"Merely thinking, sir. I did not realise I was walking in circles. My mind was obviously too wrapped up to notice the surroundings."

If the reader thinks Mr Bennet was convinced by this statement, then they would be very wrong. He knew exactly why Lawrence was constantly passing the front of the house, although he had no idea whatsoever what the letter could contain to worry the man so much as try and pretend it had never come. Nor was he concerned in trying to find out, for he knew well that such a task would be impossible.

His purpose in meeting him was this; pure fascination to see how he dealt with it. And so far, Lawrence had dealt with it well. His tone did not display frustration or concern. His manner was portraying a calmed personality, without any subtle hinting for Mr Bennet to go away. Here in front of him was a well accomplished actor.

"Well," he remarked after awhile, "if you are concerned in your thoughts I shall bother you no longer. Unless of course you need someone to share them with?"

Lawrence shook his head and Mr Bennet walked away. As soon as he had disappeared, he heaved a sigh of relief. The return of his fears however soon put pay to that relief. What he could lose. Despite their initial mistrust he had gained some friends here, friends that he would assuredly lose as soon as his deception was revealed. He could no longer ignore that, however much he wished to do so.

One of those friends in particular, that he had come to consider as more than a friend....... Resolutely he tried to push that thought away, in fear of the trail of thoughts and emotions that it led to. He began his eight circuit of the path, trying in vain to think of something else to occupy his mind with. It was useless worrying himself on what might have been, for it was unlikely to ever happen. What's meant to be will be, Lawrence reminded his rebellious mind, there is nothing accomplish in trying to change it by sheer will power alone. It is pointless dwelling on it.

For once it was relief that he felt as he came in sight of Mrs Bennet. She was just the person to distract his thoughts.

"Ah my dear boy," Mrs Bennet began in her enthusiastic tones. Glad that her prodigal son had returned at last, and what's more, had returned single, she had fully engaged herself in the task she was best suited to. Matchmaking. "The Goldings are having a little evening dinner two nights hence and you are invited. And they have two unmarried daughters, either of whom would be perfect for you. Of course, they are not the best match one can have, but seeing as there is very little else in the neighbourhood............."

Lawrence by now was beginning to regret actually wanting some distraction from his thoughts. Usually Mrs Bennet would talk about the gossip of the village, giving him both a welcome insight and a chance to escape his over active imagination. This time however, she was unwittingly talking about a subject that happened to be not far from the thoughts he had wanted to escape from.

Added to this her talk was only making those thoughts even worse. Lawrence had not spent too much time with his 'mother' but he knew her character well. When his deception was revealed, any dreams of his might as well be quitted now, because she would put them all on hold forever. Inwardly sighing, he looked up at Mrs Bennet and tried to appear interested, praying that she would depart soon.

And, although it would turn out to be a mixed blessing, she did. "Well, I think I have exalted them enough for you to be able to choose which one you like two nights from now. Oh, do not look so worried my dear boy. You will thank me in the end." Thus, with this parting- actually Lawrence was not entirely sure how to interpret it -Mrs Bennet left him alone as he reached the front door of Longbourn for the eleventh time.

Only to meet the form of another person he did not want to see right now.

Lydia.

"Lawrence," She cried in joy as he came to a stop in front of her, gentleman sense overriding his fear. "I was hoping to see you."

"You were, why?" He tried to ask collectedly, but instinctively feeling that he had failed rather abysmally.

He had. "For this very reason. You've been avoiding me for days. What's wrong?"

When all else fails, play stupid. "Nothing's wrong."

"Lawrence, I am not that blind. And even though you might not think it, I'll wager I can take what ever it that is bothering you. Just tell me."

Lawrence stood still and looked at her. His mouth opened, ready to tell her his traditional response. That nothing was wrong. Everything was fine and he had not been avoiding her at all. He was merely waiting for a letter from an old friend. Nothing to worry about. This time however, his mind took over, closing his mouth and causing him to commit the one mistake that could eventually be his undoing.

He hesitated. Actually hesitated. All his reasons, all his reluctance to actually tell anyone, suddenly came crashing down in his mind. In that one blinding, yet, strangely, blissful, all encompassing moment, he did not care. Not about the possibilities, or the consequences, or her reaction, in fact not any of their reactions, all he cared about was...............

And then suddenly as the revelation came to be voiced aloud in his mind, it was gone and he found himself back in the harsh reality. Unconsciously, his shoulders drooped, and his head hung as he replied to Lydia's question. With a complete and utter lie. "Everything's fine. I'm sorry if it feels like I have been avoiding you. Its just hard to get away from here some times."

"Indeed it is," Lydia agreed, her mind not believing a word of it for one second. She let him walk away, too tired to even try to force it out of him. What's wrong, Lawrence, she asked silently, wishing he could hear her and knowing it to be impossible at the same time. What is this thing that you feel is too big for me to know? Don't you trust me?

Lydia had this running through her mind as she turned back to Netherfield. It did not matter that Lawrence could not answer, her own insecurities overriding any need for him to reply. All the days spent trying to repair her fragile self esteem were now seeming failures as she tried to confront the reasons why Lawrence would hide anything from her.

No anger accompanied the thoughts, only disappointment and despair. That he did not trust her. That he feared to tell her. She who had trusted him with every single part of her past and her present. She who expected him to respect her as much as she respected him. She, who, out of the entire family, saw him not as someone to distrust, but as merely himself. Not Lawrence Alexander Bennet, but simply a man. A man had treated her as an equal. A man whom she was only just beginning to realise the extent of, that she cared about.


Chapter XL.

Rosings Park, 29th September 1820.

Richard announced his rather unexpected departure that morning over breakfast to entire company as a whole.

"I need to go to London for a few days," he began simply, not adding why.

The response was surprise and enquiry from all, prompting him to remember that he had yet to explain his reasons to them all.

"Horseguards will not accept a simple letter, no matter how much I dress it up. They will delay and then most likely present me with the bare facts, not details. I will try not to be too long." This last Richard directed at his wife, knowing her concerns.

"I do not mind my dear," Anne replied placing her hand on his as her mother looked at them disapprovingly. It was not that Lady Catherine objected to her daughter's marriage, she just disliked the display of public affection at the breakfast table. Or indeed any table, for that matter. Anne kept the gesture short as she added, "I understand your desire to help."

Elizabeth looked at the two of them with guilt. "Cousin, you do not need to go to all this trouble. I am sure we might be able to find the solution without......."

Richard cut her off. "That is just the reason why I am going, Lizzy. I do not think you will find the solution without some tangible assumptions to back it up. I did not want to tell you this before, but I think I must, for it complicates everything even more than this whole mystery was before. I received a letter two days ago from the Colonel of the Oxfordshire. He was convinced that Lawrence Bennet was dead."

Elizabeth looked at her cousin in law in shock. "What?"

"According to him, Lawrence died just before Waterloo. This is why I need to go. If we confronted him with this piece of evidence, he could easily dismiss it as a mistake on his Colonel's part. Horseguards however, can confirm this for certain. They can also point the way to his real identity, whatever that is." Richard paused and looked at Mrs Darcy carefully. "Please, Lizzy, do not tell anyone of this rather startling piece of news just yet. As I said, it can be easily disproved. We still need some more incriminating than Colonel Palmerston-Rivers assurances."

Elizabeth nodded, concealing the frustration inside. Richard did not to hear it right now. Nor did he deserve to. It was him after all that had got them this close. She just needed to be patient for a little while longer. "Thank you Richard," she uttered instead. "For everything."

"Don't thank me yet, Lizzy. We have awhile to wait before this ends."


Indeed they did.

Richard spent the rest of the morning with his wife and children, as the occupants of Rosings made an effort to give them time alone before they had to say their goodbyes. They renewed their vows of devotion to each other and discussed what plans he had for his return. By midday he was reluctantly ready to leave.

His farewell to his wife was almost the same as his cousin's to his only a few days ago. Promises to write as soon as there was news to relay, if he could not write every day. She promised not to reply as he gave assurance that his absence would only be as long as was necessary. His lips touched hers, the world disappeared for a few blissful seconds, and then he mounted his horse and galloped away.

Anne turned to Elizabeth who offered her a comforting arm as they returned to the house behind Lady Catherine. Both remained silent, each hoping that the mystery would soon be unravelled. And that Richard would return with the proof that they desperately needed.


Oakham Mount, late evening.

Lawrence waited impatiently for the figure that he had met some days ago. The express had arrived finally at the midnight hour of the day he had made his countless walks around the Longbourn estate. It had given him the order he had expected, thus causing no surprise to his already conflicted state of mind. However, it still proved damaging to his equilibrium, for it turned his imaginings into the cold hard and future reality, which he could not escape.

"You sent for me?" A voice suddenly asked, startling him out of his thoughts.

"I did. I received word yesterday."

"What are we to do with him then?"

"We wait. They are undecided as yet on how they want to deal with him. Keep your watch on him, make sure he does not learn who you are. Move him from the 'Fish' to some where less crowded. Perhaps that abandoned farm on the outskirts of Meryton. Make sure he does not know his location. The last thing we want is for him to escape."

The figure nodded and departed from the mount, leaving Lawrence alone to his thoughts once more. He had just lied for the second time in as many days and it left him feeling just as wretched as when he had committed the first. He was not meant to wait. They had already decided what they wanted to do with man that he had held in his custody for almost a week. It was just him that was hesitating.

Again.

He knew the reason why, even though he wished he did not. It was fear, pure and simple. Fear that he was not up to the task they wanted him to perform. Fear of what it would turn him into, that it would make him different some how, despite all his similar actions in the past. Fear that, no matter how careful he was, no matter how much he planned, it would be spotted by someone. Fear of who would, or rather could, witness his part in it. Fear that they would not understand, nor want to do so. Or, worse still, that they did.

Certainty that they would change their opinion forever about him because of it. That he would never be able to return to any of them without them remembering what he did and holding him accountable for it. There were some things that could be forgiven, but Lawrence knew already that, whatever the future still held for him, this one action that he had to take would change the perception forever of everyone who regarded as a friend, or, ultimately, as a gentleman. He would be shunned for eternity.

All this because of this one simple act.

He also knew that he could not avoid it, as much as he wanted to. That if he tried to, it would haunt him until the end of his days upon this earth and beyond. That more, so much more, was riding on him completing this task than how the people he cared about regarded him, or how he regarded himself. That, inevitably, it depended on him to set things in motion, without thought for whom he could possibly hurt.

This destiny had been written for him before he had even arrived in Meryton, and there was no point in trying to escape it now. He had to think of the important things, not the ones that matter to him, but the things that mattered to the people that were depending on him to accomplish this task. That believed him capable of the mission. That were counting on him to perform as they expected him to do. These people's perception were the ones that mattered at the end of the day, not the ones that barely knew him. Those that only saw him as Lawrence, not as his real self.

Yet still he hesitated. Still he wished for divine intervention to swoop down and change things so he could accomplish his mission and return to the life he was living without any drastic consequences. So he would not lose the one thing, the one person that he had come to care for the most.


Chapter XLI.

Rosings Park, 2nd October 1820.

 

Pemberley
Sept 29th.

My Darling Elizabeth,

Relief soars through me as I write this letter to you, assured in the knowledge that you will read these words with as much joy as I write them, when I announce that my brother in law and I will arrive at Rosings on October 5th. The estate has been well looked after by Mr & Mrs Reynolds, ensuring my early return to you, my love, and to our children.

I hope that this has eased your concerns as to what is happening in Longbourn, as we will soon learn all that we can when we return to there. Would the 10th as our arrival date be agreeable to you? It will give us all time for a respite and myself a chance to see if Richard has anything left to tell me, that is if he has returned before we leave. It will also give you and I a chance of some time alone and with our children before the rigours of Meryton are set upon us.

My heart and thoughts are with you and I know that I can entrust them to your safekeeping until I return. It is my fondest wish that this year we shall spend December in Derbyshire, providing of course that the mystery of Lawrence Bennet is solved by then. It has been far too long since we have celebrated Christmas at Pemberley.

Ever mine, ever thine, ever for each other,

Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Indeed, it would be hard to imagine that Elizabeth read these words with any other emotion than joy or happiness. In a marriage such as theirs where the affection and devotion was frequent and the separation was rare, this absence had been reluctantly undertaken and she was most heartily glad that it ended where it did. She looked forward to receiving her husband in three days time.

Already her mind was anticipating the loving welcome that she would give to Fitzwilliam and the one she would receive in return. Her mind was relieved of the concerns she had had over the lack of news from her father about Lawrence, as the date of their departure arose to be not far away.


In the relative silence of a wood panelled room of a old stately building, an ancient mantle clock began to sound out the hour. Other clocks in the building followed suit, their mechanisms moving in time to the dull echo of each chime that signalled when to stop and start again.

This sudden noise seemed like a starting pistol as it woke the rest of the building into existence. Muffled conversing could now be heard in what was previously thought empty rooms. Outside meanwhile the sounds of horses accompanied by the shouts of their drivers, awoke the occupants of this building to the normal hubbub that served to identify the busy streets of Britain's capital city.

It was in this same panelled room in of the many chairs that graced the walls which signified the confines of the room, that Richard Fitzwilliam sat. The gentleman in question was at this very moment attempting to fight the opposing force of tiredness, having only just arrived to this city, thanks to the speed of his horses. He was waiting for the office that contained his contact to empty and admit him in.

Certainly to the impartial observer the building of Horseguards seemed to be very busy on this the last day of September. In this waiting room apart from Mr Fitzwilliam there sat many persons engaged in a similar occupation to our friend and one extremely harassed secretary. His desk was, unhappily for him, placed in the centre of the room, an ideal position for many of the other waiting persons to reach. Upon his desk lay many papers and books, all of varying size and composition, but all troublesome and time consuming.

These two factors together resulted in a long and engrossing day for the secretary. These were not his only problems however, for the man that he worked for was of a disposition that inclined to encourage lengthy conversation with his visitors- regularly on his side, rarely on theirs -resulting in him being often behind with his appointments, forcing the secretary to excuse his actions to every irate and impatient occupant of the room.

For our friend Richard Fitzwilliam though, this was not his disposition. He was quite content to wait out the delays as his mind was fast losing the battle to stay awake. We shall leave him now, as his eyes close and his ears shut out the bustle and hustle that is London.


Netherfield.

Georgiana Blakeney finally gave up her lonely occupancy of the Netherfield Music room and went in search of the person that should have joined her there some three hours ago. This person had become a close friend of hers since their acquaintance in August. Her unusual lateness was causing Georgiana some concern for those very reasons.

A search of the house proved fruitless and it was only when she stepped outside that Mrs Blakeney found the friend she was looking for. The lady in question was sitting by herself on a bench at the boundary of the wilderness.

"Lydia," Georgiana began as she reached the widowed Miss Bennet, who seemed at first perfectly well. However, as soon as Mrs Blakeney faced her friend she found the opposite the case. "Lydia, why are you crying? What is the matter?"

Lydia looked up at her friend, the tears in her eyes clouding her vision. "Oh, Georgie," she began, in a vain attempt to sound normal. "I am so so sorry. I had no idea it was so late. Forgive me, I shall be with you in a moment."

Georgiana looked at her friend tenderly. "Lydia, I know you are not well. Please tell me what distresses you so?"

"It is nothing, really," she replied, wiping her eyes with the handkerchief in her hands.

"It must be more than nothing to cause you such grief." Georgiana sat down beside her friend and took hold on her hands. "Lydia, you and I have been friends for not very long, but you know my once deepest fears and I would like it if you bestowed the same confidence in me by telling me why you are crying."

Lydia took a deep breath and gazed up into her friend's eyes. "I feel so stupid for working myself up about this, but I cannot seem to help it. It is about Lawrence."

"About Mr Lawrence Bennet?" Georgiana questioned, puzzled. "What has he to do with this?"

"For some days now I have had this feeling that he has been hiding something from me. He even as much admitted it to me once. But he has not told me what it is. And since I asked, I feel like he has been avoiding me. When I confronted him about two days ago he hesitated and then pretended it was nothing." Lydia paused to sniff and then added, "I do not see why he does not trust me. I have trusted him with almost all of my grief's and he refuses to even confide one in me."

Georgiana was at a loss. She had not seen Lawrence for several days, as his visits to Netherfield had decreased somewhat. What his sole purpose to avoid Lydia? Georgiana could not believe it. Yet it had caused her such distress. Yet, given her friend's fragile state, one which without the help of Lawrence in the first place would never have been repaired, it seemed a possibility. "Do you want me to talk to him?"

"Oh no, I am sure it is just me. I shall be fine Georgie, just give me a few minutes and I shall be myself."

Mrs Blakeney could see yet without spectacles and so she knew that Lydia would not be herself after only a few minutes. Allowing her that time however, she stood up and with a comforting farewell to her friend and the assurance that she would take some respite, Georgiana parted from her and went off in search of the only person who could solve Lydia's grief.


Chapter XLII.

Longbourn, 2nd October 1820.

Upon arriving at Longbourn only minutes after consoling and talking to Lydia, Lawrence was, rather conveniently, nowhere to be found. Georgiana decided instantly upon discovering this that to ask anyone of his location would prove fruitless, and ultimately bring up too many questions. So it was with some trepidation that she carefully crept into the house, hoping not to encounter Mrs Bennet during her short journey from the front door to the library.

Mr Bennet was seated in an armchair in this very sanctum, wrapped up in a satirical volume, but agreeable to being disturbed, as long as it was not by his lively- and I do not use this term in its mildest sense -wife. He quite surprised though when Mrs Blakeney asked for admittance.

"Mrs Blakeney, what brings you to Longbourn?" He instantly remarked in a friendly tone.

"Oh, Georgiana please, I feel positively ancient when anyone calls me that," Georgiana replied as she took the seat that Mr Bennet gestured. "I came because I am concerned about Lydia. As you know myself and your son have undertaken the task to try and help her recover."

"Yes, and I am most grateful that you have. What has changed?"

"Well, I went to find her today after she neglected to meet me for piano lessons. I found her crying in the Netherfield grounds." Georgiana paused and looked up at Mr Bennet as she delivered her point. "I think Lydia needs to be made aware of our suspicions about Lawrence for she is convinced that he is hiding something from her. She is distressed that he does not trust her. I would confront your son myself but I fear it will only complicate matters even further."

Yes, indeed it would. Mr Bennet had grown silent upon hearing this news. He had hoped not tell Lydia the suspicions that the majority of the family held about the mystery that was Lawrence until it was solved, but now it seemed as if his hand on that score was about to be forced. "Very well, I'll see what I can do."

Georgiana nodded, thanked him and then departed, feeling calmed by Mr Bennet's assurance. The latter himself though, was less than confident on his ability to solve the matter that she had brought to his attention.

Edmund had been putting off confronting Lawrence, despite his impatience to see the matter put to rest. Now however due to Lydia, the situation had left him with two choices. And neither of them were anything to be optimistic about. The first and by far the hardest, was to throw caution to the winds and confront Lawrence in the vain hope that he could bluff his way into convincing him that the truth- instead of discretion -was the better part of valour.

By those standards alone the plan was clearly lacking in merits. Mr Bennet doubted much in the way of its probable success. All it required to be thwarted was for Lawrence to simply deny it at every turn. And even if he did not, Edmund was not sure if he had enough with which to bluff with in the first place.

By comparison the second choice was much more appealing. That was to try and tell Lydia their suspicions. Yet this in itself would also equally be hard. Lawrence had been a very good friend to his daughter until now. If Lydia was made aware of his possible deception, however uncertain they were of it at present, her trust in him could be destroyed forever.

He and Georgiana had been the only two of the extended Bennet family that she had placed her loyalty with completely. Mr Bennet was afraid that she would never recover from this and that they would lose all the ground they had made in the previous months. If there was the slightest chance of this outcome not occurring, it depended on Lydia being stronger than she was, or having more close friends in their family.

Thus, to accomplish all of this, Mr Bennet needed the one thing he was rapidly running out of.

Time.


Horseguards, London.

The ancient mantle clock in that wood panelled room had struck two more hours since Richard Fitzwilliam had been called into see his contact, not to mention the further two hours that he had spent waiting- and sleeping -in order to meet the man in the first place. A great deal however had changed in that little amount of time.

A great deal and none of it expected.

Richard had left the office stunned. And that was putting it mildly. He had not even expected his friend to tell him all, let alone admit that there was actually a farce to begin with. In fact, before entering the office, during the sleeping two hours wait, he had been questioning his authority to demand such a confidence in the first place.

After all, his resignation from the intelligence staff of the army had taken place two years ago, effectively closing all avenues of communication to any normal decommissioned officer. His own contacts had only been kept open to him by pure luck more than anything else. To learn all of this had been taking place in just two years was enough to cause everyone shock.

Of course, he had known that something was afoot, indeed who could not have deduced it to be so. But what that thing had been was anyone's guess. No doubt when the matter came to the light of the public eye- if indeed it ever did -no one could ever even try to claim that they had foreseen this. Certainly he had not. If someone had told him of it when it first went into motion, Richard would had told them they were in need of visiting the nearest bedlam.

The whole thing seemed in theory so preposterous. Yet it was reality, that was undeniable now. There was also the matter that it was unethical in the extreme. The motives for it however, were surprisingly justifiable. After all, the first tried and tested removal had failed in only a year after being put into action. The chances of the same thing working for longer, were thus considerably unlikely. It seemed wiser then, in the best interests of security, to make the second plan have a rather more permanent end. And this end without a doubt was certainly permanent.

How had they ever managed to accomplish such a thing? Richard could not help but wonder. The objective of the plan alone seemed far too liable of discovery. There were also far too many loopholes. The slightest wrong detail could throw the entire thing out into the open, and worsen matters far more than they would have turned out, had they left it alone altogether. It required too many people to be trusted with the knowledge of it, especially of those that they had previously no reason to trust before. It would only take one, just one of them to be found out or betray them, and the entire plan would fail again.

And obviously, someone had. Otherwise Richard would not be here at Horseguards hearing this story in the first place. To provide a back up was also risky, for it opened the original plan to failure without even attempting that very plan beforehand. It depended ultimately on trusting one man to do a thing that could land him in jail in any other circumstances. It also counted on them finding enough creditable evidence in order to have the justification in the place.

Furthermore, they had to trust the man they sent out to commit the task smoothly, quietly, discreetly, and, above all, as quickly as possible. The slightest delay could prove to be his error and, incidentally, his end. And the authority that he would depend upon to protect him would drop him at the first sign of such a mistake. Preferring to save themselves before saving him.

In conclusion it required their best man. And Richard knew that they already had him.


Chapter XLIII.

Longbourn 3rd October 1820.

It was the coward's way out. There was no point denying it. What Mr Bennet had elected to do was a clear display of just how much he feared confronting Lawrence. But, he had questioned, was it really wise confronting someone with only the evidence of a retired Military Lieutenant Colonel to support the ascertain that his supposed son was dead? Mr Bennet thought not, and it was this conclusion that had propelled him to travel to Netherfield the next morning to see what he could do to help Lydia.

He found her at first impressions in a more collected state of mind than that which Georgiana Blakeney had presented to him yesterday. However, when he sat down opposite her and observed more closely, the contrast was profound. Dark circles, paled by makeup but still visible to the naked eye, showing a clear lack of needed sleep, lay upon her face. The eyes themselves looked wearied, by grief as well as tiredness.

She greeted him with a decided distracted manner that wished to be anywhere but here. Even Lydia's children had noticed their mother's distress and were strangely quiet, every now and again glancing anxiously at the two adults in the room, wishing they could help and yet uncertain as to how.

After sitting with her a minute or two in silence, Edmund Bennet finally roused enough courage to speak. "Well, my dear girl," he began, "what would you have me say?"

Lydia looked up at her father. His initial start surprised her in both its unusualness and its acuteness. Before this she had given her father up as an enigma never to be understood by her, let alone anyone else besides Elizabeth. Now, she had found to have much in common with him. "I wish I knew what I wanted to hear," Lydia replied. "Mostly I am too much ashamed of myself to wish for any comfort."

"Ashamed of yourself?" Mr Bennet repeated, concerned and puzzled at his youngest's use of the phrase. "My dear, it is myself who is at fault, not you. I should have informed the entire family, not just the selected few I thought could be trusted. Despite all this though, I have hopes that the matter will resolve itself for the good. My only worry is what it does to you."

"Have no fear for me, sir," Lydia tried to reassure him. "It is only a feeling; it will soon pass, probably more quickly than it should."

Mr Bennet inwardly shuddered at his daughter's unconscious repetition of a phrase that he had used eight years ago. And look where that led, he reminded himself. Getting up from his seat, Mr Bennet took the space by her and, taking her hand, he began earnestly, "Lydia, listen to me. You have nothing to blame yourself for. Nothing. What ever Lawrence's past actions, I am certain that his attentions to you have been undertaken out of a genuine concern for you. He never meant to hurt you. Do not fall into the same trap that I did. Arise out of this and look at the positive things you have. There is one great certainty in life, my dear. That what ever happens, your family will always welcome and love you."


Later, as he walked back to Longbourn, Edmund Bennet thought over all that he had said to Lydia and all that had she had replied with, noting the comparisons, and checking his surety on the tone. He had the horrible feeling that the little he had said, had done nothing to change her state of mind.

Too late, he mused, one thinks of things they should have said. Resolutely he shied away from dwelling on that point. His time was running out. Lawrence needed to be confronted, regardless of the consequences. At least, if not about his suspicions, he had to realise what he had done to Lydia. She had not the strength of most of his daughters. It had all been used to survive her first marriage.

At the conclusion of that thought, Mr Bennet again shivered. And it was not due to the increasing signs of winter. He was completely used to blaming himself on Lydia's first marriage, for he had all but pushed her into it. He knew all too well by now that if he could go back and change things he would.

As the years increased he had found he had much to be ashamed of, least of all how he had raised his children.

As he arrived at his front door, his housekeeper was waiting outside for him. Slowly Mr Bennet shook himself out of his depression and tried to appear jovial. "And what can I do for you, Mrs Hill? Is Mrs Bennet wanting me?"

"No, sir. I thought it best to keep this until you returned. It is an express for you from London, sir." And with that, Hill handed over the letter she held in her hands.

Mr Bennet thanked her and walked inside, heading straight for his study. After locking the door he sat down and instantly turned the express over. The seal identified the sender at once. Immediately, he opened it.

The express ran as follows;

 

Matlock House
London.

Sir,

I felt it best to inform you of this right away, as matters are fast falling out of my control.

As I made you aware by my last missive, I have recently travelled to town in order call upon a old friend of mine at Horseguards, Lord ______. Needless to say, I hardly expected him to even admit that something was a foot, let alone tell me the entire story.

Nevertheless, this is was he has in fact done. At first I was mystified and certain that it was a falsehood, but his evidence checked out. The story, or rather the truth as I should call it now, is undeniably sound.

And remarkably cunning.

But to resume. I must warn you that greater forces at work here than just the question of entail. You must not, confront Lawrence yet, whatever occurs. I have a few more things to check out, and then I will travel down to you myself and we will confront him together. His truth is one of the utmost secrecy, and cannot revealled to all and sundry.

Although you may hear from me or of me later, I cannot tell you all until a certain date has passed and my contact writes to me, giving me permission to do so. Matters are of such a delicate nature right now as to make the story he has to tell is quite likely the one thing to put him in danger.

Lastly, it is my suspicion that his real identity is familiar to me, which is why his recollection of me was accurate.

Until then, my regards.
Good luck.

Richard Fitzwilliam.


Chapter XLIV.

Rosings Park, 4th October 1820.

Richard Fitzwilliam surprised his entire family by returning to Rosings a day before the expected arrival of his cousins, when he had assured them all that he had not planned to be in Kent at all for quite some time.

Needless to say, his greeting to his wife was everything that was due to her, complete with loving embrace and kisses exchanged, before announcing that he could not stay long and in fact, must be off as soon as the next day arose its head.

Of course this information produced great consternation for all occupants of Rosings, least of all Richard's immediate family. Objections from Anne soon flooded the rooms up to the one where her mother and cousin in law resided, clearly heard by both.

Mrs Darcy chose not to remark upon it, knowing that her opinion to try and be peacemaker could only worsen the situation. Lady Catherine however, had no compunction to remain silent. As soon as Richard was through the door her wrath was assailed upon him.

"Richard Arundel Fitzwilliam," She began in a tone that must be familiar to all who knew her, one that caused several occupants of the Drawing Room to a strong desire to remain unnoticed by the Mistress of Rosings Park, or better still, be as far away from her Ladyship as was humanly possible. "I demand an explanation."

Richard inwardly shuddered, a response repeated by all. His wife instantly quieted and sat down in the nearest chair, casting her eye about the room in an effort to find something with which to occupy herself with. At last, she fixed upon a piece of unfinished lace and set about working on it. "For what Aunt?" Her husband replied, and then wished the words unsaid.

"You know very well what for," Lady Catherine angrily responded. "How dare you presume that you can arrive and depart whenever you wish. You must remember that you are still a guest in my house and shall remain so for quite some time."

Elizabeth looked up at the last part at her Aunt and then quickly looked back down at her book again. She could have sworn that Lady Catherine had an amused glint in her eyes.

Unfortunately, Richard did not notice this and fell right into the trap. "Aunt, you know that I am very much caught up in..........."

"Enough, I do not want to hear excuses," Lady Catherine interrupted. "You are my son in law now and as such you will treat my wishes as requests." It must be noted here that the word request bore a startling resemblance to order right now. "So if I request you to stay with us for longer than a mere twelve hours, then you will do so." She paused and then added in a strident tone, "have I made myself clear?"

"Yes Aunt," Richard replied meekly, as his wife, who had seen through her Aunt's ploy as well now, tried to hide her smile.

"Good," Lady Catherine concluded and motioned to her nephew that he could sit down. "Then you shall stay until Darcy returns."

Richard inwardly sighed and stupidly, tried to convince his Aunt for reprieve. "But Aunt Catherine......"

"No, I will not brook refusal. My daughter has missed your presence much and I can no longer stand the constant display of grief at the dinner table."

Richard gazed at Anne in surprise whereupon Elizabeth could contain her amusement no longer. She closed her book and excused herself from the room, pausing to whisper in Lady Catherine's ear on her way. "Very well played."

Her Aunt, once enemy now friend, smiled at her in reply, causing Richard to groan as he suddenly realised he had been played.


Later, as Elizabeth set her children to bed, her cousin in law joined her. "Elizabeth, I need to warn you."

"What about, Richard?" Mrs Darcy asked, instantly concerned.

"When you return to Longbourn, please make sure your father has not confronted Lawrence Bennet. I have already requested that he does not, but I fear I did not make my point clear enough. I was in a rush to return."

"Of course, I will make sure but why this sudden concern?" Elizabeth asked, looking at Mr Fitzwilliam worriedly.

"Because I have discovered what exactly the truth is and at the moment, nothing can be done. We have to wait until I receive permission from my contact before anyone tries to confront the man."

" But..."

"Please, cousin Elizabeth, trust me. You do not want to ask this question yet. I rather wish that I myself had not done so either."

"Very well, I shall make sure we wait."

"Thank you," Richard replied, relieved. "I am sorry to be so mysterious, but it is out of my hands to be anything else."


Chapter XLV.

Rosings Park, 5th October 1820.

It was unmistakable. The sound was quite distinct. It could be nothing else. Two horses, in the process of slowing down from a gallop to a trot, were definitely pounding upon the gravel of the front drive.

The entire company of Lady Catherine, including the venerable lady herself, had thrown all thought of Luncheon aside the minute they had identified the sounds to assemble outside the house and were now waiting for the noise to acquire the flesh of visibility.

Sure enough the two horses complete with riders were soon to be seen cantering up towards the welcoming committee that awaited their presence. Darcy was the first to arrive. He brought his horse to controlled halt beside his wife and was dismounted from it in an instant, his arms wrapping Elizabeth in an embrace only seconds later. He was hot, exhausted, dirty and he was sure he smelt of horse, but neither could give a damn. His lips rapidly met hers and the world disappeared.

For a time the remaining occupants of the gravelled drive, Bingley included, were content to let the couple stay in that tender reunion. However it soon became clear that neither one of them would be willing to part from each other very soon. Indeed if anything the kiss had intensified and both had seemed to forget that there were others with them. The company took a look at each other and mutually- and silently -decided to leave them alone. Quietly, they retreated to the warmth of the house.

At last, as the need to breathe overwhelmed them, Darcy reluctantly broke from his wife, his arms still wrapped around her. "I have missed you, Elizabeth," he uttered huskily, speaking her name like it was an elixir.

"And I you, Fitzwilliam," she returned the compliment. Darcy pressed his forehead to hers, and closed his eyes, revelling in the nearness of her after too many days spent in separation. However did I manage without her? He pondered rhetorically, not really caring to know or even contemplate the answer. He leant to kiss her lips once more, before taking her hand and leading her away to the more private grounds.

As they walked in comfortable silence in quest of a private sanctuary, Darcy found himself revelling the company of only his wife, a event which in recent times was rare indeed. His mind contemplated the wonder of holding her hand, the richness of the sparkle in her eyes, the way that she walked and the hold that she had upon him, which he frequently and quite happily surrendered to.

Before they had married he had freely admitted to himself that he was a man bewitched, yet now that term was fast becoming an understatement. Her eyes still fascinated him, her mind still hypnotised his own and her love and loyalty to him was always awe-inspiring. That she could love him so much after all their misunderstandings and the rather troublesome beginning to their courtship was both wonderful and humbling. His own devotion to her was as equally as powerful, assured by knowledge that it had hers in return for eternity. He valued every moment with her, and would trade everything he possessed for just one more minute spent with her in is arms.

Elizabeth was also revelling this reunion. These past days and night without her husband by her side had caused her much heartache. She dearly wished that they were at their home now and truly alone. However, this privacy of Rosings' grounds far away from the house and thus all of civilisation was a satisfying compromise. Her love for Darcy had grown so much over these past years of blissful marriage.

Time and time again did she find her mind marvelling over the extent and display of his devotion to her and to their children above all else that occupied his life. To her it was just as awe-inspiring to witness his willingness to put aside business in order spend more time with her as it was for him in witnessing her loyalty. There was nothing that he would not do for her.

Indeed she knew within a month of their marriage that she would not find a more loving nor more romantic husband. His absence from her would always result in the giving of a token or keepsake of his affection, from a dozen red roses exchanged always in February, to the drop pearl necklace that he had brought from London the time she had been too great with child to accompany him. His devotion was equally lavished upon their children, carefully dealt as it was to avoid spoilt behaviour.

At last they chanced upon a grove that was deserted of all but wildlife and picturesque countryside. Unconsciously both breathed a sigh of relief before turning to each other for another embrace. This time however it was of a much shorter duration. Darcy let his face stay close to hers, his fingers entwining themselves in her brown locks. "I am so happy to see you, my beloved," he whispered huskily.

Elizabeth acknowledged the endearment and returned with one of her own- which I will leave your imaginations to supply -before they reluctantly broke apart to sit beside each other on a overturned tree trunk that lay nearby. Slipping into the comfort that his arm around her shoulders afforded her, and the sensations that were left by his frequent touch of his lips to her forehead, she slowly began to tell him the things that she had not relayed in her letters. These, although seeming to be of a inconsequential nature, were nonetheless important to both them.

Most were of their children, their little mannerisms which she had found impossible to relay in the time that it would take to describe them. In turn, he relayed similar matters, such as the frequent comments of his housekeeper that he seemed to be always distracted. And how he had not managed to tolerate the emptiness of the bed that he had slept in only fitfully. Such comments naturally caused returned avowals or displays of affection and thus served to provide these tales with twice the amount of time likely needed to relay them.

Naturally, this did not matter to either of them.

The idyllic isolation, however hypnotically pleasurable, could not occupy them entirely. Reality, albeit unwelcome silently invade the pleasant countryside that they inhabited. Reluctantly Elizabeth and Darcy parted, returning hand in hand to Rosings Park.


After Luncheon had briefly reunited the occupants of the house all quitted the dining room till the evening. The Darcy family en masse retired outside, the children anxious to be in the company of both their parents once more.

Darcy was equally glad to see them. Rarely apart from his wife, likewise separation from his children was just as intolerable. Now as much as ever, he could no longer understand how he had managed for so many years being alone at Pemberley. True, he had not been completely alone, but the household was always quiet whenever he was there and Georgiana had always been at her lessons in town, a place he had tried to avoid as much as possible when he was still a bachelor. This recent visit to his home, it had struck him for the first time how empty the building had felt without his wife or children inhabiting some part of it.

Even when he could not see them, the mere knowledge of their presence was enough to keep this revelation away. During the past days however, the distance between them and himself had weighed heavily on his mind. Pemberley had seemed so empty, even more so, now that he had the ability to imagine it filled with his family. This thought had caused him much distraction during his work and it had taken the kind intervention of Mr and Mrs Reynolds to speeding up the process so he could return to Kent as quickly as possible.

Both knew all too well how much their master had needed a wife and children and they were more than pleased with the new mistress and heirs to the Darcy name. Thus, he valued this afternoon and was determined to make the most of it, before other things intervene. For the moment he purposefully forgot that there was troubling events in Hertfordshire, that they were in Kent for a reason, and that his cousin needed to speak with him before they returned to Longbourn. All he wanted to remember was that he was alone with his wife and children, and would be for quite some time.

The fates decided to be generous and complied with his wish for the entire afternoon until nature took over for a brief while and darkened the sky in recognition of the winter month. As the family retired back inside the perfect afternoon stayed in their minds, managing to conquer any disappointment over in its end that night serve to wipe their happiness away and replace it with concern over what could be happening at Longbourn in their absence. That would be dealt with tomorrow.


Chapter XLVI.

Hunsford Parsonage, 6th October 1820.

The events at Longbourn invaded into their lives all too soon. The next morning, straight after breakfast, Richard dragged his cousin away for a discussion that would turn out to take the best part of the day, leaving Elizabeth at loss as to what to do with that time, as their children were at their lessons.

It was this that made her decision and found her wrapping Imogen and herself up against the cold and making her way to Hunsford Parsonage. To her delight, Mr Collins was conveniently busy visiting his parishioners, leaving her the prospect of her idea; spending an agreeable day with Charlotte.

The lady in question was happy to comply with this. Despite having spent several days in Kent, the two friends had had little time to spend them together. And, as Elizabeth expected to depart tomorrow, today was only chance they would get for a while.

Charlotte seems happier than when I saw her last, Elizabeth thought as her friend greeted her with a smile and enquiry to her health and that of everyone at Rosings. She exclaimed over the weather, expressed the hope that her friend and Imogen were not too cold and declared gratitude to Lady Catherine for ordering that she come across in a carriage instead of on foot. The smile stayed as she ushered Elizabeth inside and into the warmth of her favourite room in the house. Elizabeth resolved to never let it slip throughout the day.

Mrs Collins also had a resolution. That was to keep the subject of events at Longbourn and Netherfield from entering the conversation as it was pointless to contemplate the probabilities that would in all likelihood turn out to be false when the Darcys arrived at Netherfield in a few days time. Any reference to them would cause her friend unnecessary anxiety, a thing which Charlotte was determined not to let occur.

Both resolutions seemed fine in theory but in practice they were liable to become unravelled. A conversation about the weather can only last for so long. Likewise of the events that had occupied them both during the past days, however finally detailed they were. The one issue that could remain a focus for the day was one that Elizabeth was determined not to mention, as it would only served to remind her friend of what she lacked. No, her children would not be mentioned, Mrs Darcy decided, allowing only Imogen to be an exception to this rule as her presence could not be ignored.

There was yet another resolution that needed to be added to their private lists, and, unlike the other three, it was one that Elizabeth doubted herself capable of keeping even for five minutes. That was to keep herself from worrying over what it was that Richard had dragged her husband away for. Could it be that matter her cousin in law had only referred to slightly on his return to Kent a few days ago? And if so, why could he not tell her but tell Fitzwilliam? If indeed, he was going to tell him anything.


Richard was at this very moment pondering that same thought as he delayed talking to his cousin over a game of Billiards. What exactly could he say that would on the one hand satisfy Darcy that his trip to London had been a complete success while preventing him from asking any questions on the other? Even the slightest hint to what he had found out would alert his cousin to situation that was afoot. And his cousin was no idiot.

No explanation had the ability to accomplish exactly the same thing, therefore placing him in difficult position as to why he had even dragged his cousin away from his wife in first place. Richard looked to his friend at that moment. Darcy was still patiently waiting for him to make his break, even though he had been standing over it for a good five minutes without uttering a word.

While this was an event in itself, Richard knew all too well that he could not put off the conversation for much longer. Reluctantly he gathered himself and leant down to make his shot. He then faced his cousin. "Darce, I confess I am now at a loss as to why I asked to talk with you this morning. Even though I resolved on doing so last night."

"I assume your visit to Horseguards went well then?" Darcy inquired as he took his turn. Unlike his cousin his preoccupation with his thoughts showed no effect on his skill at the game.

"It did," Richard admitted, "but it also placed me under an obligation that never crossed my mind until after the event."

"What sort of obligation?"

"One of absolute secrecy until such a time has past as to make that concealment unnecessary."

That got his cousin's attention. "You're serious?" He asked, as his shot went wide, leaving Richard to pick up the game.

"Regrettably so. There is one thing I can assure you of though. Lawrence Bennet is a man that can be trusted absolutely. The present deception was not one of his own making."

"Then you can confirm that he has deceived us?"

Damn! Richard's mind silently exclaimed before he replied to his cousin's sharp inquiry. "Yes, but that is all I can say. The rest needs his consent in order to be told."

"His consent?"

"Not only his, but also several others. Until then, please Darce, respect my silence. And trust me when I say that Lawrence is an honourable man."


Longbourn.

Mr Edmund Bennet laid aside Richard Fitzwilliam's express for the twenty-fourth time since he had first received it. Still the same questions occupied his mind, most particularly of all, whether or not he should heed the advice given. He had long been a stubborn man when it came to forming his own opinions and a change of habit now was likely to prove costly in its upkeep. What was so important that he waited for him before confronting the impostor? What was the matter that was 'greater than a question of entail' and could not be told to 'all and sundry?'

Mr Bennet was not sure if he could wait that long to find out. Particularly if he was just meant to leave the matter be at present. Suspicion was gathering in the daughters who had not been informed of his mistrust as to why he had yet to sort out the necessary papers and establish Lawrence as his rightful heir. Not to mention the fact that his wife had launched herself into the task of finding a wife for their 'dear son' as soon as propriety could allow.

The further the truth was delayed, the deeper would Lawrence be tied into not only the Bennet family but the neighbourhood as well. Already his position as the heir to Longbourn had firmly rooted itself in the minds of their gossiping neighbours. His cousin Mr Collins could likewise be relied upon to spread the matter around Kent as well, leaving few in their immediate acquaintance who knew the real situation at hand.

The was also the problem of Lydia. Since his last conversation with her Mr Bennet had received reports from Mrs Blakeney that she had seemed to have recovered, although was slightly more quiet than she had been since her initial improvement. Lawrence had taken to visiting her again but with less frequency and shorter duration each time.

Mr Bennet could only surmise as to why and the conclusions he had come up with were even more unsettling. Not only that, but they had the effect of making his desire to reveal the impostor all the more pressing. They also provided him with a well founded reason if he choose to act upon such desires.

But Mr Bennet did not feel comfortable in using his suspicion just to bring something to light that would be revealed soon enough anyway. And his involvement in such a matter he was sure would have the ability to harm that matter far more than concealing it ever would.

Such a supposition in itself should be sufficient for him to confront Lawrence still, but at this moment, it was having the opposite effect. You see, for all his deception, Mr Bennet could not help but like the man that was posing as his son and if his suspicion had the slightest element of truth in it, he was not about to go and ruin until he knew for certain that it might be required of him to do so.

With this conclusion in mind, Mr Bennet reluctantly realised, he was back to square one.


Volume V.


© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2011.