Link Here:

C Box:

A Question Of Entail:

Volume Six

Chapter LVI.

The Netherfield Ball; Part III.

The stranger was not completely unprepared to meet his fate when his sentries came upon him that night. He had been fortifying himself for the event for quite some time. The appearance of a vicar surprised him considerably, but he accepted the man, made his peace with the lord and announced himself ready to face whatever fate they disposed to bestow upon him and his soul.

In the company of four darkly dressed men and that good parson, all covered beyond the point of recognition, the stranger allowed himself to be escorted outside. I say allowed, but he really had very little choice and had reconciled himself to the inevitable a long time ago. When they reached the middle of the field that bordered the deserted farm dwelling where he had spent his last days, the men came to a halt and he readied himself for the journey that lay ahead.

He did not need to wait long. Ten minutes later and the figure of a fifth man could be seen coming towards them. The stranger regarded this man with caution. His nemesis. He was to meet him at last. For the first and only time. Outwardly, there seemed nothing formidable about the man that the stranger had long regarded to be his enemy. He was young, the same age as he, yet also aged, a common trait, one that happened to most who walked the life of a soldier and committed themselves wholeheartedly to the task. His face, as far as one could judge in the evening darkness, was resolved, as any man's face should be when carrying out an order, no matter whether they agree or disagree with the order themselves. With this man it was difficult to tell whether he held disgust for the job that his superiors had ordered him to carry out, his face was too closed a mask. His manner held authority, disclosing a high rank, which meant a gentleman, as the British army rarely promoted men out of the ranks, and those that they did hardly ever rose higher than lieutenant. The stranger himself had only heard of one man to rise above quartermaster, but that man was certainly not the enemy that stood before him. At this last point, the stranger, his observation complete, met the eyes of his enemy and silently awaited his fate.

One of the four sentries stepped forward to meet the enemy, saluting him respectfully. He returned the salute and took the object that the sergeant had been carrying. The object in question was a rifle of the very best repute. He regarded the weapon in his hand for a moment, then calmly checked that it was ready. This done, he nodded to the sergeant.

The sergeant turned to face to the prisoner. "Alastair Jermone, you have been charged with conspiracy and treason against this sovereign land. Do you have anything to say before we pass judgement?"

"Nothing," he replied in accented English, "just a request for the name of my enemy, since he has mine, I am entitled the same right."

The enemy simply put the rifle to his shoulder and took aim. "I have many names, sir," he began as he cocked the weapon. "None of which I care to honour a traitor with. Even one who is about to die. But since you ask, I shall answer. Calverley."

The last sound the prisoner heard was the noise made by the bullet as it left the barrel. Beyond that, the rest was silence.


 

Calverley discarded the weapon as soon as it had fired. He stood in silence, watching as the four men picked up the corpse and carried it away. He inclined his head to the parson in thanks, then walked away himself.

Once alone he breathed a sigh of relief, then chuckled at the absurd irony of it. The task he had welcomed the least, had been the easiest to carry out. Now to the one that he welcomed the most. Would he regret such an end? He doubted not. Of course he would regret it, just as he had regretted all his actions from the moment of his arrival in the neighbourhood. Briefly he dwelled on the people that he had deceived. There were so many of them. All he had knowingly abused by playing a man who had died an honourable death a long time ago. Whose real self should be now acknowledged by him and allowed the proper regard that he should had been given long ago.

Calverley dwelled on this man for a moment longer. He was a man that he had been honoured to call a friend. An admirable officer, a brave fighter. Had he done him justice? Calverley dearly hoped so. The man had died five years ago, in battle, the fate that most soldiers preferred to meet rather than retirement, especially when war was all one had known since the age of sixteen. Calverley himself had the better life. Raised with his family, purchasing the commission of captaincy outright, rather than waiting for seniority to take care of the rise. It was thanks to this man that he had survived the war at all, having no experience before his first battle.

At this point he reached the turn in the road, bringing the lights of the house that he was returning to straight ahead of him. Casting a look about himself, Calverley brushed away what he could see of the powder burns and straightened his apparel. He slowed down as he reached the steps, thanking providence that no one had seen him leave and that the room he had to return to faced the south rather than the north side of the stately home.

All too soon he entered the foyer. As he checked his appearance in a nearby mirror, he saw behind him another who had escaped the ball for a short time too. Righting his face, he turned round and addressed her. "Lydia, at last I have found you."

"At last, sir?" Lydia questioned lively, her good humour having been restored by the time spent with her children and her Aunt.

"Yes, I have been looking for you for quite some time." He held out a arm. "Shall we go back in? I believe we have the chance for one more dance before supper. Will you do me the honour of attending such a pastime in my arms?"

"Yes, Lawrence," Lydia replied joyfully. "I believe I will."


 

Chapter LVII.

The Netherfield Ball: Part IV.

The dancing soon gave way to the sumptuous supper that the Devereauxs had kindly laid out for their guests in the drawing rooms nearby. As the guests all filed out of the ballroom, the Darcys remained behind, partly to take the opportunity to indulge in an amorous embrace and to seek out the footman they had asked to keep a lookout for the Fitzwilliams, whose delay had been relayed to them by express just this morning.

"I regret, sir," the footman replied respectfully to Darcy, "that their arrival has not been reported to me, as yet."

"I see. Well thank you for looking anyway, Fosset. Could you please come and inform us if they do arrive during supper?"

"Of course sir." Fosset clicked his heels together, bowed, and disappeared in the direction of the foyer. Darcy turned back to his wife with a wicked grin. "And now that we are alone, my love, where were we?"

"I think we were deciding to rejoin the others," Elizabeth replied, not resisting his embrace all the same.

"Were we? I thought we were doing this." He laid his lips upon hers, kissing her soundly. Elizabeth allowed herself to surrender briefly to the pleasure, then forced her mind to recollect where they were. Drawing back from her disappointed husband, she began to remind him. "Sir, we are at a ball, and if we do not go into the supper room soon, there will be cause for scandal."

"My love, we are man and wife!"

"And that is cause for scandal enough," Elizabeth returned lively, before leading him by the hand into the room.

"Darcy, my dear fellow," Lord Devereaux cried when the couple were in hearing distance. "There you are. Come and join us."

"Sir," Darcy acknowledged as he installed his wife in a chair, before obtaining one for himself. "Perhaps you could settle a question for me. Is it scandalous to be in love with one's wife of nearly nine years?"

"Absolutely, Darce, which is why we all are," Lord Devereaux replied, causing others at the table to chuckle. "Has your cousin arrived yet?"

"If you mean Richard, no, he has yet to appear. He sent word this morning that one of the carriage wheels had cracked and needed to be replaced."


 

Lawrence, who had been listening to this conversation tried not to breath a sigh of exasperation at the delay. Instead he turned to his companion. "So, where did you disappear to?" He asked her casually.

"I went up to see my children," Lydia replied honestly, as she came to a decision. "Lawrence," she began quietly, making sure none but he could hear her, "I must ask, I cannot conceal it any longer. Who was that man I saw you lose your temper at, that day at Oakham Mount?"

Lawrence sighed with shame, then reached out to take her hand, grateful that their public relation as siblings still existed yet. "Please, believe me when I say that I wish you had not witnessed that. It is an action that I regret myself. He was a man who had been working for me. I had told him never to contact me in the day, but....... Oh, Lydia, I wish I could tell you that such temper rarely exists. But I cannot. All I can do is assure you that I would never display such a temper to you or to your family. It disgusts me what your husband did to you. I would never do that to you. I could not. It is not in my nature."

Lydia gazed into Lawrence's eyes and knew not what she saw in them. Sincerity she hoped, honesty she believed, but there was a hint of something else, something that she had never seen directed at herself. Only to others, directed by their........ she flinched and withdrew her hand. She was not ready think that. Not yet.

Lawrence reaffirmed his mask and drew his own hand back to his plate, a quiet dread stealing into his heart. He had no right to hope. No right at all.


 

It was a dark and stormy night as the last carriage drew up at Netherfield House. Actually, it was not stormy, and the night had assured itself two hours ago that it could not get any darker. But to resume.

Fosset, who had been faithfully waiting for their arrival stepped outside and respectfully led the couple inside, answering to the gentleman's enquiries as best he could. Was the ball still underway? Yes, it was. Had supper been served? Yes, it was in the process of being served now. Had a Mr Lawrence Bennet attended the ball? Yes he had. Where could he find his cousin, Mr Darcy?

Fosset directed them through the ballroom and then to the supper table that held the Darcys and the Blakeneys. After greeting all, Richard Fitzwilliam glanced in the direction of the gentleman who had brought him here to night. And he was not disappointed. "So that is Lawrence Bennet," he remarked to his cousin as he sat down.

Darcy could not fail to pick up Fitzwilliam's tone. "You know him then?"

"Yes I do," Richard replied. "Gather the family together in a room. Its time this was all revealed."

"What about Lawrence?"

"I'll see to him." Richard rose from the table and made his way to Lydia's. Once there he halted for a moment, hating suddenly what he had to do. He placed a hand on the gentleman's shoulder. "Well, if it isn't Jesmond Calverley. Or do you prefer Lawrence Bennet?"


 

Chapter LVIII.

The Netherfield Ball; Part V.

"I met your son, Lawrence Bennet, when we were both briefly in the same regiment the day it docked at Oporto. After becoming his friend, neither of us saw anything of each other again until the fateful match at Quatre Bra. Lawrence sustained a wound to the chest, dying almost instantly. His last wish to me was to seek out his family and tell them of his life. I vowed as a man of honour to do so. With that in mind, all that I have said of my, or rather his, past is true. He was indeed taken by Collins to be brought up with a family indebted to him by foul means, whose name was not Calverley, but in fact Brenton. When Collins died, Lawrence was indeed turned out of the house and thus forced to enter the army, a wish to do his real father proud and to earn himself a living before claiming upon yours. I deeply wish he had been able to do so.

"When I returned to London after the war, Horseguards pressed orders upon me, enough to keep me busy until this year, when they asked me to undertake this mission that brought me to you. I know it will make no difference to you all when I say that I wish I had not accepted the task, but I do, most seriously. There is, or rather was, a plot to eliminate a certain nemesis currently residing on St Helena, thus rendering him incapable of harming this kingdom and his own so recently surrendered ever again. His men had found out about it, and had sent someone to inform him. I was sent to put a stop to that man. I was to do it cleanly, that is, as cleanly as possible. I was to attract no attention to myself of any nature, and to undertake any guise I deemed necessary to complete my mission.

"I had tracked him as far as here before I entered under such a mask. Knowing your son's history as well as I did, such a mask had seemed perfect at the time. I knew full well that the deception would cause much grief to all, but faced with the alternative of this man's escape, I found I had no choice but to undertake the task.

"I soon found him, Alastair Jeremone was his name, and carried out my orders to the letter, despite my objections to doing the terrible and fatal deed. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my story. I offer nothing in response to the deception that I have caused you. I cannot. All I can say is that Lawrence Bennet was one of the best men I have ever had the privilege of knowing and that he served and died for this country with distinction."

A long silence greeted the end of this narrative, as all tried to deal with the information that they had just been dealt. All were angry at his deception, angry at themselves for not spotting said deception, filled with horror at the task he had been ordered to do, and with fear at what might have happened had his task failed.

The Darcys were the first to recover from their amazement, although they did so quietly. Fitzwilliam remembered the words of his cousin, conveyed in a letter to his father in law; greater forces at work here than just the question of entail. At the time, Darcy had not fully realised the implications of such a statement. Now he did. There are things which I am heartily glad that you do not know, Richard had also said to him. No truer words had ever been spoken.

Elizabeth also reflected on the words of her cousin law. Her other chief emotion was anger however. Anger at Jesmond's deception regarding Lydia, and the damage this deception could now do to her already fragile state of mind. Her sister had placed such trust in Mr Calverley, a trust which to all appearances, he had abused most dreadfully. Only Georgiana had been the other person to break through the defences that Lydia had set around herself. What would she do now, with this news? Elizabeth prayed that she would not retreat once more, for she knew not how to bring her back out again.

The Bingleys and the Guests reactions consisted of much the same. Kitty was angry for her sister, and her husband was angry for her, and the Bingleys were united in trying to silently acquit Jesmond of any wrong doing in their minds and thus to pronounce him worthy of courting those beliefs that they had previously attributed to him, regarding a certain person. They also prayed that that certain person had the courage to take the risk and place her trust in Jesmond once more.

The Smythes were also united, but for very different reasons. Both lamented Calverley's refusal to confess his sins earlier and before a priest, his refusal to seek absolution and his unchristian behaviour in committing what was, for want of a better word, murder in this very parish. Both kept themselves engrossed in the search of their minds for the appropriate words from Fordyce's Sermons and other eminently praised texts to avail Mr Calverley with at the earliest opportunity.

Lawrence, or rather Jesmond, as the author shall refer to him from now on,- also, for the reader's information, Colonel Jesmond Calverley, to be more precise -watched each person's reaction with a quiet dread filling his heart. He had expected such a reaction, indeed he would have been surprised if he had not been dealt thus, but such expectation did nothing to prevent the wretchedness that was clasping his heart at this moment. His gaze landed on Richard Fitzwilliam, a man whom previously he had had not the only honour to serve under but to count upon as a friend. Inwardly he breathed a sight of relief when he saw the expression of understanding and pity. At least one person understood fully the task he had been given. He turned his eyes to Mr Bennet and saw the same reaction, feeling very grateful that the man had confronted him before this event, as he would not have his support either.

Lastly, his eyes came to rest on Lydia. Or in reality, the place that Lydia had last stood. For her presence had gone from that space, indeed it had disappeared entirely from the room. When such an event had occurred, he knew not, and upon this discovery Jesmond began to regret the moment of his agreement to this by now wretched plan, for all he had prayed for in the past now had no hope of ever coming true.


 

In the rest of the house, all was quiet, none suspecting for a moment the news that had just been announced to the extended Bennet family. Even in the rooms above the large drawing room that had served as the location for the revealing of said news, their occupants did not so much as stir.

One particular occupant was very quiet. It was a quietness that would bring alarm to anyone who bore witness to it, but alas none did. At least, none that were old enough to understand such quiet. Only one bore witness to it, the most innocent mind of all. She lay in the arms of the person, looking up at her with large blue eyes, concerned only of the event of their presence, not the reason why.

Lydia gazed not at her youngest child. Instead she gazed out the window, tears falling continually from her eyes and down her face.


 

Note: The plot of Jesmond's mission was inspired by recent research which has revealed that when Napoleon died, there was a large amount of arsenic in his system, which along with other evidence- such as weight, for example -disapproved the previous theory that he had died of cancer. The evidence suggests he was poisoned slowly to death. The possibility that the British were involved and that an ally got wind of the plot but was killed by Jesmond before he could reach Napoleon, is just my imagination. Source for this theory is mentioned in the Sharpe Companion by Mark Adkin.


 

Chapter LIX.

The Days After: Part I.
Netherfield, 27th November 1820.

As soon as it was decently allowed, Jesmond Calverley quitted Longbourn and rode with all haste to Netherfield the next morning. Deciding against announcing his presence to the household at large, he skirted the exterior of the building, glancing discreetly in every window until his eyes rested upon the one person he had come to see.

Thankfully, she was alone. Jesmond stood for a time outside the exterior entrance to the room, watching her. All night had he spent in contemplation of what he needed to say, what he wanted to say, to her. He had not seen her at all after his announcement. She had disappeared from the ball completely. Now, he wondered if his planned speech would do anything to restore their friendship.

Lydia looked up the moment the door opened, its loud click of the lock waking her from her turbulent thoughts. Until now, every action of hers had been, for want of a better word, mechanical. Somehow, either from exhaustion or grief, or indeed perhaps both, she had fallen into a restless sleep, the like of which she now regretted she had ever entered into, for it had made her feel anything but better. How she had risen, allowed herself to be dressed, and eaten the morning's repast, she knew not, and did not care to find out. Now she gazed at Lawrence, or rather Mr Calverley, as she should refer to him now, with sudden clarity of thought. "Why are you here?"

Jesmond felt as if a someone had stabbed him in the heart as he heard her cold tone. But then, he had expected such. "I came to apologise to you. And to try to offer my reasons for my actions. Actions which I know hurt you badly."

"What right have you to presume my feelings? What reasons can you have to offer, that will acquit yourself of any wrong?" Lydia rose from her seat. "You lied to me, Mr Calverley! I asked you time and time again, and you refused to confide in me. Yet I treated you with all of my secrets. What was it about it me that you found so repulsive that you could not trust me with the truth? My past reputation? My late husband? Both are simply that; past. I am not the girl I was nine years ago. I hoped you would have the decency to recognise that."

"I do," Jesmond replied, flinching when he heard her emphasis on his name. "My only reason for concealing such truth was not due to any of those. I did not want to put you a difficult position with your family. If I had confided in you, you would have been forced to choose between me and your loyalty to your family and I could not have that."

"Loyalty to my family?" Lydia repeated. "Is that all you have to reply? I am an outsider with most of my family, as you very well know. Even Kitty, my only friend from before, I do not reveal my true self with, for fear of putting a irrevocable burden on her. You and Georgiana were the only two people I thought I could trust with my self without burdening either of you. I had every right to expect the same trust in return. Instead I receive deceit and lies. I had hoped to never receive such motives again!"

"Lydia, believe me, if I could go back and change things, I would. Do you not think I agonised constantly over the part I had to play? My deception to you and everyone else? I did. But once I entered into it, I could not go back. Not until I carried out the task I had been ordered to do. If I had had any choice, I would have refused long ago. But I had none. And without the benefit of hindsight, I did not have a reason to refrain from volunteering."

"That does not acquit you from responsibility of the damage you have caused, Mr Calverley. I looked to you, not only as a friend, but as a brother. Now to find you are neither of these things, that you are instead a stranger to myself and my family I......." Lydia trailed off, as her need to breathe took over her ability to talk. "You have committed me to behave inappropriately towards you, by behaving thus towards myself. You may claim it is due to your service to this country, but it does not excuse you of the guilt that firmly lies at your door. As for myself, I cannot help but feel personally aggrieved by your actions. You deceived me. And in doing so, you forced me to lay myself open to thoughts and feelings that I was by no means ready to accept or display. You knew well of my past grief, and the life I had led at the hands of my late husband. You knew the damage he had caused me, and yet this did not stop you from committing some of the same crimes that he did. You convinced me that not all men were like him, that I could trust my family and that I could trust persons outside my circle. Do you not realise the damage that your deception has caused me now?"

"I do," Jesmond uttered in despair, "I do realise. As I also realise that because of my deceit you will in all likelihood never trust any one again. But, of all the things I told you, you may believe in this. Not every man is out to hurt you. Just because you have eight children it does not mean that you cannot find someone worthy enough to open your heart to again. Every time I spoke to you about that, I was speaking the truth as I believed it. The truth I have seen. I had no intention of giving you false hopes concerning that. Lydia....."

"Do not call me that!" Lydia shouted back. "You have no right to address me by that name! You are a stranger to me!"

"What am I to call you then?" Jesmond countered. "We have been on first name terms for as long as we have known each other."

"Known each other! Sir, I realised last night that I have never known you!"

"Be that as it may," Jesmond continued. "If you allow yourself to fall, to suffer from this, because of me and my actions, then you have let me win. Do not let me win. It will be far better for you if you refuse to retreat into yourself again. You already allowed Wickham to do this to you. Do not let my actions repeat such a motion."

"Get out!" Lydia was too angry to listen any further. "Get out now! I never want to see you again!"

Jesmond reluctantly bowed, and quitted the room the same way he had entered. Not until he was gone from sight did Lydia allow herself to cry. Wordlessly she sank upon the sofa behind her, tears continuously falling down her face.

As angry as she was at Mr Calverley, she was just as angry at herself. Past experience had, should have, taught her to be cautious. Yet she had trusted him. Confided in him everything horrid detail about her elopement and her marriage. And in turn........... She hesitated. Had she been deceived? Perhaps, not in that respect. He had not shied from her upon hearing the story, instead he had stuck by her, tried to repair the damage that had been done, not offering a reason why, save a need that he felt had to.

Suddenly she shook herself. No, she was not going to acquit him! He had deceived her! In every respect. His reaction to her past was merely part of his mask, for any other would have drawn suspicion upon himself. He could have chosen to confide in her at any time. She had asked him repeatedly to do so.

Indeed, once he had already tried to. Another time, he had actually admitted to her that he had been concealing something from everyone. Lydia could remember every word he had used. Yes, there is something I have been concealing. Not just from you, but from everybody. Such concealment has been necessary. There is something here, a task that I have to do. This task has to be kept secret from everyone. What I can tell you though, is that it has nothing to do with you or your late husband. It is something different entirely. And it until it has been completed, I can tell nobody of it. Nothing. Not even the fears, or the doubts that I constantly have about it, myself and my ability to go through with it. And the harsh knowledge that once it has become clear, everyone here will look at me in a different light. And they will not see my real self, all they'll see is a monster. I do not deny them that right, I know it is to be expected. It is because of this that I hold myself back, hoping to somehow lesson the blow that I know I will receive, and the one that I will deliver to everyone. I have no desire to hurt anyone.

The morning he had said those words to her, he had been honest, Lydia reluctantly realised. She also remembered, rather guiltily now, what she had promised him in reply. You could never be a monster. I, more than anyone who lives here, knows what a monster is and that is something you could never be. Whatever your task, whatever your deceptions, I for one will not think that of you. These past few days since I have come to know you, convince me so. You are too kind, too thoughtful to be a monster. Once this is over, you will still have my friendship. This I promise you. How quickly had she broken that promise? He had every right to be angry with her because of that. Yet he had been anything but. Instead his anger had been directed at himself.

Oh, what had she done!?! She was a fine one to accuse him of being a false friend. By breaking her promise to him, she had done exactly the same. And he had understood why. He had been right. Confiding in her would have put her in a difficult position. She would have been torn between loyalty to him and loyalty to her family. How she would have coped with such a burden, Lydia did not care to think about. All that could occupy her mind at present, was the promise that she had broken to a friend.

A friend whom she now believed would never regard her as such again.


 

Jesmond did not immediately return to Longbourn. Instead he directed his horse to the fields of Oakham Mount, coming to a halt at the point where the village of Meryton and its surrounding country estates could be seen. There he dismounted and with a sigh collapsed upon the grass, not caring of the damage that the dew would do to his breeches. Indeed he had very little care for anything right now. Except this; he had hurt Lydia.

He remembered the last time they had come here. Well over a month ago it was now. The same day she had witnessed his anger directed at his sergeant for failing to regard his orders. How long had she agonised over that, before confiding in him? A month and two days. How long ago had she ceased to trust him?

Not that he had the right to such a privilege anyway. He had deceived her. He had played a part in front of her, and while he had spent time agonising over the grief that he was to cause her when the truth was finally revealed, not once had it prevented him from continuing to hide himself from her. He had no right to expect anything but the severest reproach from her in reply.

He remembered the time when he had all but confided the whole in her. And what she had promised in reply. That was particularly evil of him. He should not have told her what he had, forcing her to promise what she did. He should have told her the truth. He should have told it from the beginning, or perhaps from the moment he had realised that she was the one person he wanted to see again. No matter what his concerns were about the position he would place her in, she had had a right to know the truth from the start. She had confided herself in him, he should have honoured her with the same.

He had lied to her all along. Not just her, not just her family, but himself as well. It was stupid of him to deceive himself any longer. He could not, should not, hope for anything between them. He was evil in her eyes and she was right to regard him as such. There was nothing to salvage from this. There never had been in the first place. And in believing that there was, he had deceived himself as well.

From now on, Jesmond vowed, he was going to be honest with her. He was going to hope for nothing. He would lay himself open to her mercy, even if she had none to give him, and he would accept whatever punishment she wished to dealt upon him. And then, if he did become lucky enough to accomplish his dearest wishes, his long held dreams, then he would spend the rest of his life trying to make her not regret her trust for a moment.


 

Chapter LX.

The Days After: Part II:
Netherfield, 28th November 1820.

Jesmond Calverley, lately Lawrence Bennet, found himself outside the front entrance to Netherfield the very next morning with his vow from the day before firmly in tact. After a long talk with himself upon Oakham Mount, he had returned to Longbourn and met with Mr Bennet. His original intention with that gentleman had been to announce his removal from said estate effective immediately. Mr Bennet's reaction to this had taken Jesmond completely by surprise. For, instead of agreeing wholeheartedly with such a motion, Edmund Bennet had expressed the contrary, that Mr Calverley was welcome to stay at his estate for as long as was necessary. Jesmond could not help but ask why, and Mr Bennet's reply was something that he had been puzzling over ever since.

"I should have thought my reason was perfectly obvious."

"You perhaps mean, that as a friend to your son, I should be treated thus?"

Edmund Bennet took a long look at the young man before him. "Calverley, I have had a number of gentlemen around your age in my library for this very reason during recent years and, as yet, I have nothing with which to discourage you from your present course. I hope to offer my blessing soon enough."

It was not the unusualness of the phrase that had puzzled Jesmond, but how Mr Bennet had acquired the knowledge in the first place. True, he had confided in the latter about his feelings regarding a certain someone, but he had expected Mr Bennet to discount the matter from the moment his true identity became known. Instead his 'late father' seemed to be still encouraging him in the matter.

And, it was with this, as well as his previous vow in mind that Jesmond had brought himself back to Netherfield again. This time he made his entrance publicly, gave his card to the butler and politely declined the offer of a chair to wait upon while he inquired if the lady was willing to see Mr Calverley.

Jesmond did not have to wait long. Barely had five minutes gone by when he received his reply. It was not however, delivered by the butler, but in the form of Georgiana Blakeney.

"Mr Calverley," she greeted coldly, making no attempt to hide her anger at his actions. "Lydia thought she had made herself perfectly clear when she asked not to see you again yesterday."

"She had, Mrs Blakeney," Jesmond replied respectively, "but I had not promised to not try and see her." He paused and let his concern creep into his voice. "How is she?"

"How do you think she is?" Georgiana was rarely angry, and when she was, few would dare cross swords with her. The Darcy temper was well known to their family. "You deceived her! You deceived all of us! I myself have no concern for the lies to you put to me, but to Lydia..... You knew how fragile she was, and still is. You knew better than any of us. Yet you chose to treat her no differently from the rest of us. And now you presume to think that you will be allowed to see her?"

"Mrs Blakeney, you have every right to be angry with me. Indeed I am angry at myself for every one of my actions regarding Miss Bennet. Were it not for my feelings, I would happily obey her request and stay away. I cannot bare to leave here with her being angry at me. Please, Mrs Blakeney, let me see her."

Georgiana looked at Jesmond in silence for a long time. When she had first found Lydia, only minutes after the gentleman before had departed from the house, she had been very angry with him. She was still angry with him. Yet Lydia was no longer. She was angry at herself for, as she had told Georgie herself, not giving him the judgement she had promised him one morning when he had all but confided the whole in her. "Lydia told me of her promise to you regarding your eventual confession. Personally, I think you had no right to force her into making such a promise, but it is done and cannot be undone."

"I entirely agree with you, Mrs Blakeney," Jesmond replied, much to her surprise. "I had no right at all to say what I said to Miss Bennet and thus force her into a promise that she would inevitably have to break. I came today to say such words to her and more."

"More?" Georgiana could not help asking.

"That from this day forth, if she is will to overlook my grievous faults, I will do everything within my power to restore her faith in me." Jesmond took a step closer. "Almost from the moment I met her, Mrs Blakeney, I have come to feel for Miss Lydia Bennet a regard that goes beyond that of friendship. Despite all of my intentions to guard her from the hurt that I knew I would inevitably cause her, this regard of mine was so powerful as to overcome my every ability and desire for avoidance. If she does not feel the same, be assured I will never bother her again. I love her and I wish to be allowed to spend the rest of my life by her side."

Georgiana could not help gasping after such a speech. Indeed, who could not? It had never occurred to her for a moment that Calverley had such feelings for Lydia. She blushed as she recalled dismissing only last night the same suspicions from her sister in law Jane Bingley. Yet did Mr Calverley deserve to see Lydia because of this? Georgiana knew not. Reflecting on her husband's account of her brother's reaction to his same request regarding herself, she asked Jesmond gently, "you are sincere in such intentions?"

"Very much so."

"And you have enough to provide her and her children with a tolerable sense of comfort in life and after, should something unforeseen occur?"

"I am the only child, with an estate amounting to seven thousand pounds per annum." Jesmond paused to gaze at Mrs Blakeney earnestly. "I would happily look upon all of Miss Bennet's children as my own, if she deemed me worthy enough of such an honour."

Georgiana allowed herself a smile. "You do realise you are making it very hard for me to refuse you?"

"That was my intention." Jesmond smiled as well. "Have I your consent to try, Mrs Blakeney?"

"We can all but try, Mr Calverley." Georgiana opened the door to the drawing room and gestured him inside.


 

Lydia had heard none of Jesmond's passionate declaration. When the butler had presented Mr Calverley's card to her, she had lost any previous strength that she had possessed for composure. Wordlessly had she passed the tray to Georgiana, who had gone to deal with him instantly, leaving her alone with her thoughts.

She still blamed herself. She had broken her promise to him. She had vowed not to regard him as a monster no matter what. He had ever right to be angry with her. She was angry with herself. For laying herself open to deception once again. Eight years ago she had promised herself to never trust any gentleman with any part of her again. How many months had it been since his death? Nearly four. A fine example she had made to her children.

At this moment the door opened and Jesmond walked in, Georgiana shutting the door behind him. "How did you manage to convince Georgie to let you in?" Lydia asked instantly.

Jesmond did not flinch at her cold tone. Instead he stared solemnly into her eyes. "I made a promise to Mrs Blakeney that I wanted to deliver to you. From this moment on, I will be completely honest with you. I wish nothing more than your happiness. If that is accomplished by my never seeing you again, then I willing submit to such an end. But I hope that is not the case. Whatever you chose to believe, I never intended to hurt you and I vow from this day forward to repair the damage that I have caused. I had no right to force you to make a promise never to regard me as a monster. I should have told you the truth from the beginning. Will you, Miss Lydia Bennet, grant me the honour of your friendship?"

Lydia took a deep breath and considered. By rights she should refuse him. Yet something, she knew not what, was compelling her to commit to the opposite. "I do, for as long as you have need of it. And for as long as you keep to your promise."

"Thank you." Jesmond bowed, then held out his hand. "May I have the honour of knowing your name?"

Lydia shakily put her hand in his and shook it. "Miss Lydia Bennet."

"Jesmond Calverley at your service, Miss Bennet."


 

Chapter LXI.

The Days After: Part III:
Netherfield, 29th November 1820.

For the third day in succession Jesmond Calverley once again found himself outside the building that was Netherfield Park. On this day however, it should perhaps be noted that he found himself in a much more calmer and content state of mind. His confession to Mrs Blakeney the day before and her positive reaction to it was all he could have hoped for from the best friend of the woman that he loved. Oh, he would make no attempt to deny it now. He could disguise himself no longer. Sending out a silent prayer for good fortune he stepped into the foyer and handed his card to the Butler, with the request to see Miss Lydia Bennet.

Lydia this time was glad to receive him. After their agreement to begin their acquaintance afresh the day before, she had spent a long and pleasant afternoon with Mr Calverley. Gone was the suspicion she had held in previously, disappeared was the reserve in which he had retreated into during many of their past conversations. It seemed to her as if a heavy burden had been released from his mind, for he had been more relaxed in her company than she had ever seen him. Now she rose from her seat and greeted him with pleasure. "Mr Calverley, it is a delight to see you again."

Jesmond happily took her hand and raised it to his lips. The gesture was purely gallant, but it caused Lydia to blush, and then, surprisingly, smile, giving him hope that his wishes were not in vain. "The feeling is entirely mutual, Miss Bennet," he returned, as she, still blushing, gestured him to take a chair. "How are you this fine morning?"

"I am very well thank you. And yourself?" Lydia tried to keep a calm voice as she stroke the hand that his lips had just kissed. The feelings that the gesture had produced were ones that she had both felt and yet not felt before. There was no fear, only joy.

"I am slightly more well now than I was this morning. And your children?"

"Louise is sleeping. Henry is playing with Lawrence and James, while the girls are with the twins and Elspeth," Lydia replied, musing with pleasure on how well her children had taken to their cousins, coming out of silent shells and enjoying their childhood, with the Darcy, Bingley and Blakeney offspring.

"I am glad to hear it," Jesmond replied. "What are your plans for the rest of the winter?"

"I am not sure," Lydia replied, as his reply before the enquiry concerning her children repeated itself in her head. Her mind wondered what he could mean by it. "I think I will spend it either at Longbourn or Pearlcoombe, for the Darcys are going to Matlock, the Blakeneys to there then Richmond, Kitty and her family to home. Then I shall look out for a home of my own to rent."

Her last comment startled Jesmond out of a daydream about his hoped for future with her and children. "Your family are not forcing you to do this I hope?" He asked, not out of the thought that they would, but out of sheer concern for her.

"Oh, good lord no, it is for my own peace of mind that I do so. I do not wish to prevail on their good will all my life. They have already promised too much in the way of help," She added thoughtfully, remembering the kind offers from Mr Darcy, Mr Bingley and Mr Blakeney concerning her income and education for her children, which, after a lot of persuasion Lydia had accepted, albeit temporarily. She wished independence, if she could afford it. "I find I shall miss the delights of Meryton very much. I have made good friends here that I doubt I shall see again."

"I hope I am not too presumptuous if I ask that I am one of those friends?" Calverley's glance and tone betrayed all that he felt and more.

"Indeed you are," Lydia replied, having no idea the effect she was having on her companion. "I shall miss your company very much Mr Calverley."

"I intend to make every effort, Miss Bennet, that you do not miss it at all. If I may, I hope to be a frequent visitor to wherever your company presides as often as I can."


 

It was this last phrase that Lydia dwelled much upon after Mr Calverley's departure. Indeed she gave much thought to all the conversation that had passed between them recently. Since their mutual agreement to begin anew, his manner had differed completely, an altercation that at first she had put down to the part that he had played before. Now however, she found herself giving much speculation to the possibility that he had another reason for being so. For, due to the history of Lawrence Bennet being lost to her family for so many years, he could have no reason for not playing the part in name only, while keeping to his own general manner. She knew not what to describe it to and thus sort out the advice of a friend the moment after he had gone.

She found Georgiana in the company of her cousins, Richard and Anne Fitzwilliam, and instantly decided against talking to her at present. Yet Mrs Blakeney could do naught but notice the signs that something was troubling her friend and made move to discover it. "Lydia, is something wrong? Be assured, you can speak freely if there is. Richard and Anne will speak of it to no one."

"I am puzzling over Mr Calverley and his changed manner since the revealing of his true identity," Lydia confessed at last. "Many of the things he said today struck me as odd." She then proceed to relate the entirety of the conversation.

Their reaction, was to smile at each other. A private, secret smile, that spoke of their knowledge of things to come and their approval of it. Georgiana was the first to speak. "Do you wish to continue the acquaintance, Lydia?"

"I do," she replied.

"Then that is all you need to concern yourself with now. What ever his intentions are, you will found them out soon enough. As well as your own feelings on the matter."


 

"Calverley, a word before you go."

Jesmond turned from his horse to find Richard Fitzwilliam standing before him. "Of course, Fitzwilliam."

"I want you to know that had I known it was you who was heading this from the beginning I would never have unmasked you the way that I did."

"I know and I do not hold it against you. I'm glad you did, I was fast losing the courage to do so myself. No doubt you know as to why."

"Yes, I think I can hazard the reason. As is the lady herself beginning to do so." Richard smiled at him. "I wish you luck, my friend. And I hope to see you both under much happier circumstances soon enough." He held out his hand.

Jesmond shook it. "Thank you Fitz. I hope you shall."


 

Chapter LXII.

The Days After: Part IV.
Netherfield, 30th November 1820.

Early morning brought a handsome carriage and four to the front of Netherfield Park. The coachman kept the former occupied, while footmen from the latter lifted band boxes and trunks upon it ready for departure.

A small congregation of six people came to be assemble on the front steps. The two apparelled in coats and hats broke from the rest to deal out their farewells. Handshakes between the trio of gentlemen, embraces amongst the women, then the two united once more. "We'll see you on New Year's Eve at Matlock," Richard Fitzwilliam remarked to his cousins before following his lady into the carriage. The coach struck out the riding crop and the horses sprang into action. The four followed the sight of them until the surrounding countryside made fade away.

Lydia saw none of this farewell between the Darcy side of the family. Her presence was situated in the south drawing room, which looked upon the formal gardens and the wilderness at the back of the country house. Her mind however seemed to be in an entirely different space. Her conversation with Georgiana Blakeney and Mr Fitzwilliam the afternoon before had aroused within her many a startling revelation, its aftershocks resulting in the most of the evening and the morning that followed in contemplation of her next move, should his prove to be the motion that everyone else believed he would undertake.

Unlike the last time, she was not going to enter into it lightly. She would not rush it, nor would she allow herself to be confused by emotions that originated from nothing more than pure friendship, or familiarity brought on by frequent acquaintance. At four and twenty, she had no desire to make the same mistake that she had made eight years ago. There would be no miracle awaiting her at two and thirty, uncertain as the future was. If events repeated themselves, the effects would not just be cast on her, but on her children as well. She had to be sure, beyond any doubt, before she committed herself.

Separated by the glass, a figure observed her preoccupation. He had been standing outside for quite some time, uncertain as to when he should announce his presence. Only this morning had his fears overtaken him and produced a terrible dream within his sleep.

He had been standing in the very room that now lay before his eyes. He had declared himself, only to be cut to quick as some mysterious apparition swept itself between and took her out of his life forever. So convincing had this illusion been that he had barely woke fully before grabbing the nearest horse and riding full pelt to Netherfield to assure himself that it was not true. Even now his mind remained undecided upon the matter, a fear lurking in the back of it, trying to persuade him that the nightmare had been prophetic.

Jesmond Calverley forced his mind to return to the present. To the woman that lay seated before him, separated only by glass. He took a deep breath, sent a prayer to the heavens and knock upon the window pane.

Lydia rose up and opened the door for him. "Mr Calverley, forgive me, I had not seen you standing there," she uttered in greeting, blushing into silence when in reply he took her hand and raised it to his lips.

"There is nothing forgive," Jesmond replied, quietly wishing he could attach an endearment to it. "I needed a moment to gather my thoughts any way. I hope you are well?"

"I am very well, thank you," Lydia replied, gesturing him to a seat, her mind still musing over his greeting, convinced that was it longer than the first, and marvelled over how a mother of eight could still be reduced to shyness before a gentleman. "The Fitzwilliams departed for Kent today," she began anew in an effort to distract herself.

"I thought as much, I passed their carriage on my way," Jesmond replied, thinking back to the parting between himself and Richard Fitzwilliam, remembering their mutual past on the battlefields of Spain and France and the friendship that had emerged as a result, grateful that his deception had not altered it. "I hear that they plan to rejoin your sister and brother in law at Matlock in the new year."

"Yes, it is something of a tradition I believe. Usually it begins at Christmas, but Elizabeth wished to spend that at Pemberley in the company of her children and her husband." Unconsciously Lydia sighed at this, trying to imagine what it would be like.

Jesmond caught it. "Why do you sigh?"

"Because I wish I had had the luck that she had in choosing her love," Lydia replied. "Theirs is truly a marriage to model others upon, especially after no one, even they themselves ever thought it would occur."

"Why ever not?"

Lydia looked at him in surprise. "No one has told you the story?" Jesmond shook his head. "Well, the story is too intricate to be related now, but briefly, it began with a misunderstanding, followed by a revelation, then a deception, then a declaration, which brought on a refusal, which resulted in an alteration, followed by a renewal, swept apart by a tragedy, and reunited forever by an unexpected intervention that had no idea her act would result in such a union. Remind me to tell you the full story some time."

"I shall," Jesmond replied, thinking how some of it mirrored their beginning. "And you are right. Their marriage is truly one to be admired. I long for the same state myself."

"And whom do you see as your partner? If indeed you have found one, that is."

"Oh, I have found her," Jesmond returned, as he cast his eyes upon her. "It is just a matter of summoning my courage and declaring myself to her."

"Do you not think you will succeed?"

"I am uncertain. Many things have occurred between us to make me wonder if I even deserve to try and obtain her. However, I believe I will soon have sorted many of them out." He leaned back upon the sofa, his gaze still fixed on her face, praying that he was not misinterpreting her looks or manner.

"Well, whoever she is, I think she will be lucky to have you."

"You do? I think I will be very lucky to have her. She has had so much sadness in such a short time. I know it will influence her answer."

"Are you sure? It may convince her otherwise." Was all that Lydia uttered in response, causing Jesmond rejoice inside. Did this mean he had a chance? That he was right to hope? He returned his gaze to her once again, his mind now made up.


 

Chapter LXIII.

Netherfield, 1st December 1820.

Elizabeth looked up from her book the moment she heard the click of the door. "Mr Calverley," she uttered in greeting.

Jesmond halted and began a retreat. "Forgive me, Mrs Darcy, I had thought that someone else was in here."

"Lydia has gone to spend the morning with Kitty," Elizabeth explained with a smile. "She left not ten minutes ago."

Jesmond sighed. "How did you know?"

"Georgiana told me of your declaration. I must confess that I was surprised that you have yet to tell my sister."

"My delay is due to nerves and fears," Jesmond replied, closing the door and coming to stand in front of her. "Nerves that she will refuse me and fears that her family will not look upon the match with approval."

Elizabeth gestured him to sit. "Well, as to the first, you can only try, and to the second, I believe most of us have suspected its coming for quite some time and have thus reconciled ourselves to looking forward to such a match."

"May I ask your own opinion of it?"

"I approve, providing you have the right intentions."

"Concerning your sister, Mrs Darcy, I have only the very best and most honourable intentions." Jesmond paused to collect his thoughts. "Do I have her blessing do you think?"

"You have mine, but only time will tell if you have my sisters," Elizabeth replied. "And I wish you luck in obtaining them."

Jesmond rose from his seat. "Thank you, Mrs Darcy," he uttered before bowing and leaving her to return to her book. Once outside, he leaned against the wall, gathering himself back together once more, his thoughts having fallen apart the moment he had discovered that Lydia was not in the house. He had intended to declare himself today, but it now seemed that desire was in vain, as he could not interrupt her time with her sister, especially if he planned to deprive her of it in the future.

Inside behind the wall he leant against, inside the room he had just quitted, Elizabeth reflected upon the meeting that they had just had. Despite his deception, Mr Calverley appeared to her to be a good man, the kind of gentleman that her youngest sister was in need of. She just hoped that Lydia recognised that need and allowed herself to not be swayed by her fears that the past could repeat itself.


 

Lydia returned to Netherfield after luncheon, having spent a morning trying not to think about Mr Calverley and failing utterly in the process. The night before had already exhausted her thoughts about him and their last conversation, leaving her convinced that she needed a distraction lest she began doubt her desires once more. However, no such relief could be found.

She entered into the same room that the object of her thoughts had quitted some hours ago, and found the same person as he had. In this case though, Lydia had wished to seek this person out. "Elizabeth, could I speak to you for a moment?"

Mrs Darcy put down her book once more. "Of course Lydia, come in."

Lydia sat down opposite her. "What do you think of Mr Calverley?"

Elizabeth smiled. "I think him to be everything that is amiable and true." She paused to see her sister's dissatisfaction with that reply. Regarding her with a trademark lively gaze, she added, "but he would have my unswerving devotion if he ever became a brother."

Lydia, finally having the reply she had sort, blushed in response. "Do you really think it can happen?"

"If you want it to, then it shall. I believe he is only waiting for the right moment to declare it so." Elizabeth smiled once more at her sister.

A knock came upon the door and called the latter away to attend to Imogen, leaving Lydia to her thoughts once more. Repeating a gesture of his, she sent a silent prayer to the heavens that they would both be deprived of their misery soon, leaving only happiness to contain them.


 

2nd December.

Snow decided to grace the county of Hertfordshire the next morning, blanketing every thing in sight, the grounds of Netherfield included. Inside a gentleman rose from a richly upholstered sofa which had served as his bed for the night, and set about establishing a fire in the impressive hearth of the south drawing room. This task now accomplished, he walked to the nearest window and surveyed the results of the weather. Satisfied that it had served his propose he returned to the seat to wait for her arrival.

The click made by the opening of the door to the room five minutes later came to be his reward. Silently he remained in his pose, waiting his new companion came in sight of him. At the startled gasp of surprise, he rose from his seat. "You found my note then?"

She blushed. "I did not think you would be able to come today."

"Actually I came last night, I anticipated such a change in weather." He reached into the pocket of his jacket and drew out the box that had been nesting there for some days. Stepping forward he took her shaking hands and quietly lead her to stand in front of the now roaring blaze in the hearth. His eyes never left her face as he kneeled upon the ground beneath her. Opening the box to reveal its precious gift, he began. "Miss Bennet, Lydia, I love you. I have from the first moments of our acquaintance. Since then my behaviour to you has committed grave errors, ones that at times made me believe that I could never hope to reveal such feelings to you and expect the same in return. Recently however I have come to realise that unless I declare them soon, I will fear from even trying. I wish nothing more than to give you the happiness you deserve. Dearest Lydia, will you do me the greatest honour and become my wife?"

Smiling and crying in delight, she replied thus. "Yes, Jesmond I will."

His response was only to silently take her hand and place the ring upon it. He then rose from his knees and capture her lips with his.

Outside the snow began to fall once again, in celebration.


Chapter LXIV.

Epilogue.

Lydia and Jesmond married in March of the year of grace, 1821. The author wishes she could say that the match was happily regarded by all, but it could not be so. Mrs Bennet, after vowing to hate the man who had 'usurped the rightful place of her beloved son,'- her words, no one else's -came to be in raptures over the wedding, not five minutes after the engagement had been announced, but the rest of Meryton decided not to join her in such an emotion. Most looked upon it with anger, expressing the view that Lydia should have left him to meet women who had not her 'baggage' and that she was quite decidedly mercenary by choosing to marry a man of seven thousand a year, instead of seeking suitable employment. As I have mentioned before, the village at times tended to have a malicious streak when the occasion called for it.

Despite all this outside friction the couple had a happy marriage, moving to Jesmond's Sussex home a month after their union. Mr Calverley looked upon all his wife's children as his own, adopting them as soon as he could, leaving Henry the estate as his future inheritance and the girls comfortable dowries with which to seek an equally comfortable future. Henry survived to achieve it, becoming Wickham-Calverley in gratitude.

A month after the wedding, while residing at Blakeney Manor beside the river Thames in the fashionable echelons of Richmond, Georgiana Blakeney gave birth to the promised cousin for Imogen Darcy, August Sara. The two girls, having enjoyed a close intimacy with each other within months of their births, grew up to be great friends, both eventually becoming mirror images of their mothers.

Alexander Darcy also survived to achieve his inheritance, following in the footsteps of two of his uncles, by arising to the rank of Colonel at the end of the Crimean War. Two years later, he married August Blakeney. He, like his cousin Henry, took up the Bennet name in gratitude to his grandfather who lived long enough to see his grandson achieve success in his chosen career. It may also prove of interest to the reader that Mr Bennet did out live his wife by several years as he himself had once predicted. Each year however, he would pay tribute to the wife that was Mrs Bennet, by placing a bouquet of her favourite flowers in the family crypt upon the day she departed the world.

Another arrival came to the extended family in the summer of 1822, this time to Anne and Richard Fitzwilliam. Rupert Fitzwilliam came to follow in his father's footsteps, joining his cousin Alex in the Crimean and achieving by the end the rank of Colonel. His elder brother, Michael, tragically for all of the family, died young, leaving Rupert to inherit Rosings, and fulfil a wish of his late grandmother, although not in the way she had once hoped for, by joining the name of Darcy to the Fitzwilliam-de Bourghs when he married his cousin Heloise in his seventh and twentieth year.

As for the remaining Darcy children, all save Lawrence married outside the family. While he sought and won Elspeth Bingley, Alexa and Imogen crossed another of society's circles and became Countesses.

Mr William Collins never even came close to achieving his father's wishes of inheriting Longbourn, by dying but a year after Mrs Bennet, much to the relief of most of the family concerned. His death granted a miracle to which his wife had never looked nor even hoped for, when a gentleman of comfortable means fell in love with her and she vice versa. They married in time for Charlotte to bare two children, fulfilling the belief of her friend that anything is possible.

Lastly, we come to who, without a doubt will always be fixed upon our minds as our eternal couple, Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam. Eight years of wedded bliss soon grew into four and twenty, then eight and forty, even passing over the first squared without the loss of either, much to both of the couple's satisfaction. Their marriage remained the one perfect model that the generations of their families and their relatives families sought to achieve for hundreds of decades and beyond.

The End.

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2011.