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Volume Three.

Chapter XXIV.

Longbourn, 4th September 1820.

Now that the visit to Lucas Lodge was over, Mr Bennet felt that a visit to his sister in law, Mrs Phillips, could no longer be avoided, despite having seen the woman two nights ago. If he delayed it any further, his darling wife would begin to pester him.

One might conclude from this last remark that Mr Bennet was in a foul mood. Well, he was, but not due the prospect of an evening at the Phillips. He had simply slept badly and woken far too early for comfort. Now, as he remained seated at the breakfast table, waiting for his wife, daughters, son and son in laws and children- those of Mary and Kitty that is, the house only having room enough for them- to arrive, his mind was trying to make him not look upon the outlook of the evening without a deepening of his foul mood. He had no one but himself to rebuke, for the visit had to be paid.

At this resolve of thought Mr Bennet detected a slight rustle of noise and glanced up to see his 'son' -or Lawrence as he really should call him in his thoughts now, for the sake of continuing his plans- entering the breakfast room. "Good morning, Lawrence," he tried to begin cheerfully.

Lawrence replied with what can only be determined as a distracted one.

Mr Bennet smiled. "I gather you did not sleep well last night either."

"I slept well, thank you, its just, despite my years serving the country, I still cannot seem to find the energy to appear agreeable some mornings," Lawrence explained as he sat down to a cup of coffee which he greeted with a relieved smile.

"Well, that's certainly not a character trait you've inherited from me," Mr Bennet mused, with a careful eye to see the gentleman's reaction to the comment. Indeed, if Lawrence did react to the comment, he could not detect it.

Whatever Lawrence was to return with it was cut off, by the arrival of the Guests and the Smythes and Mrs Bennet. Her husband carefully put down his glass as he prepared to control his emotions for the daily repentance of Rev. Smythe's so-called 'grace'. The words were so like Mr Collins that Mr Bennet often had to restrain himself from laughing. He had never been a religious man and, thankfully, only one of his daughters had decided to marry one.

"Thank you, dear lord, for what we are about to receive. May we be truly thankful. And, which perhaps I should have said first, bless my dear patron, Mr Longworthy."

Mr Bennet inwardly sighed with relief as the prayer finished quickly. This was why he escaped to Netherfield whenever he could. Smythe was far too much like Collins for comfort. He sometimes wondered if this resemblance was why Mary had married him. He had detected her......... fascination for Collins when he had visited and Mr Bennet had been disappointed to see Charlotte Lucas agree to him. But, rather her than Lizzy. He looked down to see his wife gazing back hopefully. He sighed and began. "I have it in mind, Mrs Bennet, that we should visit the Phillipses this evening. Would that be agreeable?"

"Mr Bennet, how can you be so tiresome?! Of course it would be wonderful to see dear Mrs Phillips after so long. I daresay Mrs Darcy and Mrs Bingley would be glad to see her as well."

I daresay they would not. "M'dear, I do wish you would refrain from referring to your two eldest by their married names. They are still Lizzy and Jane. And I was to visit them this morning to invite them." Which he had to, despite his reluctance. If he did not, he would never hear the last of it.

Lawrence accepted the prospect with his usual calmness. His army background tended to conceal any emotion of a private nature, Mr Bennet had observed.

"Sir, would you mind greatly if I accompanied you to Netherfield?" That gentleman asked at that moment.

"Mind? Not, at all, Lawrence. I'm sure they would be happy to see you."

"You know Mr Bennet, I think I shall go with you as well," Mrs Bennet remarked.

Dear god, no. "My dear, you will see them tonight," Mr Bennet quickly replied. "There can be no occasion for you to see them today."

"Yes perhaps you are right. I will spend today with you, my dears," Mrs Bennet decided with a look to each of her daughters, who were trying to control their reactions to this revelation. Mr Bennet meanwhile breathed a sigh of relief.


Lawrence and Mr Bennet departed Longbourn by horse to arrive at Netherfield just before the hour struck for nuncheon. They found the owners to be at home, the Bingleys, Blakeneys and Lydia's clan likewise, but the Darcys were out on their daily walk, and would not be back for another hour.

While Mr Bennet spent his time with the Bingleys and Blakeneys, Lawrence went outside to seek Lydia and her children. Ever since the day she had confided in him he had felt a connection to her more than anyone else. Only being able to imagine- if he wished to do so- what she must have endured, his heart went out to her, along with a desire, a wish, to help restore her faith in the kindness of the world.

So far she had been the only Bennet whom Lawrence felt did not regard him with an underlying suspicion of his character and motives. Like him, Lydia was something of an outsider, desperately trying to fit in. As he admitted this revelation to himself, his mind began to question his motives, along the wonderment of whether either of them would eventually find their place in the world.

As soon as Lawrence had begun to ponder this question the person in question appeared in front of him, as he turned the corner of the path that bordered the house into the formal gardens at the back. She was seated on a rug with her youngest while the rest amused themselves in the Devereaux's box trees.

"Good morrow, Lydia," he greeted her with.

"Lawrence! What brings you to Netherfield?" Lydia asked, as she gestured with her hand from him to seat himself on the rug.

"Well, father brought me along," Lawrence began, the word father in connection with Mr Bennet coming for the first time from his lips. Even to him it sounded strange. Perhaps I should not be doing this. "While he came to invite our family to the Phillipses."

"Oh no, not another outing?" Lydia questioned rhetorically in despair. "Last night's event was bad enough," she muttered.

"I must confess when I looked at you that evening, you did not seem to be at ease."

"You surmised correctly, I was not." Lydia sighed and looked up from Louise to Lawrence. "I began last night to come to a conclusion on many things."

"Such as?" Lawrence inquired. Receiving hesitation, he added, "I apologise, I have no desire to force a confidence from you."

"No apology is necessary," Lydia assured him. "I rather wish to talk to someone. I have been used to relying on my own judgement far too much recently." She paused and then softly began. "Is love a fancy or a feeling? I have had that line wondering through my thoughts ever since I came to the realisation that I never loved Wickham. I just fancied I did. I was so much caught up in the idea of being in love, that I neglected to realise what my sisters had the caution to. That was to learn to value a man's character before excepting his love. I only saw the excitement, the romance of an elopement. Wickham however, saw me only as a bit of fun I believe." Lydia brushed away Lawrence's attempt to object. "I still remember the night when I saw Mr Darcy staring up at our window at Mrs Younge's. Wickham's reaction revealed all then, only I was too blind to see it until now."

"I hate to interrupt, but I must confess that I have yet to learn the full details of the courtship of you and Wickham," Lawrence interred with a puzzled look in his eyes. Lydia obligingly explained the whole of the history, up until the night that they were discovered.

"Part of me wishes that I had let Mr Darcy talk me out of marrying Wickham that night," Lydia continued. "I love my children dearly, but the fact that Wickham is their father, keeps me reminded of the many mistakes I made when I was sixteen. I think that is my main regret. That I never got to learn what love really was, or what it felt like to be in love. And now," she added with a sigh of resignation, "I never will."

"What makes you say that?" Lawrence asked. "Lydia, you are still very young. You have years ahead of you to find someone."

"I may be only four and twenty, but with eight children. That is too much baggage for any man," Lydia replied calmly.

"I'm sure you're wrong," Lawrence remarked determinedly. "In fact," he added, with a hint of a wicked smile, "I guarantee you that within one year you will be eating those words you confess to me just now."


"What about yellow?"

"Yellow?" Elizabeth looked at her husband in puzzlement. "Fitzwilliam, what on earth are you talking about?"

"Yes, yellow would do perfectly," Darcy concluded before attuning to the fact that his wife had asked him a question a few seconds ago. "I apologise, my love. I was thinking what colour you would look nice in for your portrait."

"My portrait is what you dragged me out of the house for this morning?"

"I thought you enjoyed morning walks with me?"

"I do, just I hate to leave Imogen alone."

"So do I, my darling," Darcy returned, putting an arm around her. "However, you and I have been married for eight years now and a likeness of you has yet to be added to the family gallery. So, would yellow be agreeable to you?"

"I thought it was your reluctance to let an artist gaze at me that was the reason for the delay?"

"That and the suspicion that no one would be of the skill to do your fine eyes justice," Darcy remarked good-humouredly. "However, I have recently learnt of someone who might be able to cater for my high standards."

"Who?" Elizabeth questioned eagerly as her husband bestowed a kiss upon the hand that was enclosed in one of his own.

"I do not think I shall tell you," Darcy concluded.

Elizabeth stopped walking. She separated from his hands and stood in front of her husband, with demanding eyes.

Darcy simply smiled, stepped a pace closer, and kissed her lips. After a split second of hesitancy, Elizabeth surrendered, all thoughts of the painting disappearing under the power of her much loved husband's kiss.


The figure stopped watching the two young lovers who had occupied his attention for the last ten minutes or so. It was time for him to move, to find his way into town. He had no time for distractions or idle fancies. He had a mission to complete. Time was running out. Indeed, he might already be too late. With a sudden burst of adrenaline he rapidly mounted his steed. It was not the moment for thinking like that. Optimism had to be his driving force, if he was to survive the next few days. One second of pessimism might change everything, preventing him from success.

He held his steed's rein ready to motion it into action before deciding against it. He did not know when he would next encounter a village that could offer him accommodation, and the evening was rapidly approaching. If possible, he should forget the night's sleep completely, for the coast was now so near.

Yet, even in the light of his mission, he was considerate of his horse and the fact that he had not rested since leaving London some days ago. Both him and the steed needed a rest before he continued. After all, his information might be wrong. And yet........ the source he had obtained it from had never given him a reason to doubt before. The nature of the news he had to convey however, seemed rather fantastical at first sight.

Normally, such a feeling like this would convince him not risk his situation here to travel in person. But the news had that certain allure to it, a certain suspicious bouquet if you will. Added to this was something else that he could no longer deny. He had established it for certain a day ago and it had assured him his information was no longer to be taken lightly. He was being followed. By how many he was not sure, but they had been travelling behind him for awhile now, and their skill at it had shown them to mean business, whoever they were.

Now he commanded the horse to move and in a gentle canter it began to take him to the village, where he hoped to find some peace for awhile. His followers would be content to wait for awhile, as, sooner or later, they would have to report to a superior. If he could confront them then......... no, that was impossible. He had no idea how many there were and who their superior would be. If they meant to kill him, they could have done it the first night that they had followed him. The darkness would have hidden them, and no one would have noticed the body until morning. No, they wanted him alive.

For some reason, that realisation bothered him far more than the alternative.


Chapter XXV.

Somewhere on the outskirts of Meryton, 6th September 1820.

Lawrence got up from his crouching position and practically ran back to the path which led him to Longbourn. Once there he dusted himself off and began to walk with a more sedate pace, however much his mind was in contradiction to this change. What he had just seen could not be denied. Things were about to get complicated.

He reached Longbourn without any degree of mishap, trying desperately to look like he had just been out for an ordinary walk, praying that no one of his acquaintance had his sudden change of direction from the path to the undergrowth.

If anyone had noticed Lawrence's rather unusual behaviour, they kept their own counsel, for the majority of Longbourn was too much involved with trying to avoid Mrs Bennet's requests to go into town.

One would think that a woman like Mrs Bennet, with all her girls happily married- barring Lydia, but she was still in mourning, as far as her mother was concerned- would stop searching for handsome young men about town. Well, you would be wrong, for since the evening at the Phillipses, Mrs Bennet had been unable to stop talking about the newest addition to the neighbourhood; a Mr Alastair Jeremone. True, he was only staying a few days, but the opportunity was not to be missed. Make his acquaintance she must, find out more about him, she had to. After all, he might have a sister suitable for Lawrence........

Mr Jeremone had the features to look to be a man who was a good four years on the wrong side of thirty, blond hair and grey-blue eyes. He had not spoken much to anyone on the night at the Phillipses, indeed how he had got an invite to that occasion was at present beyond anyone's reckoning. Yet he seemed to be a pleasant, well-mannered gentleman, so much so that the whole of Meryton had decided to try and delay his departure for as long as they could. And by all means necessary.

The evening at the Phillipses had gone remarkably well for all concerned. Their hosts had been all that was affable, the gossip about Lawrence having been already obtained from the Lucas visit. The family had stayed not too long, as most had young children to attend to and the hosts had let them go without an ounce of struggle. The evening had not been one that served memorable motion, but it had served well enough to drop all of Mrs Bennet's hints about the neglect of relatives.

However, only that good lady herself was reflecting on the evening. The others wished to forget it and concentrate on something more worthwhile. And indeed, that was exactly what Mr Bennet was now waiting to do.

He had decided last night, to introduce a new ploy to flushing Lawrence out. This ploy was now about to be attended to, as he caught sight of the latter walking past his study. "Lawrence my son, come in here a moment will you?"

Lawrence obeyed, closing the door and seating himself in front of his father's desk, upon which they lay a number of papers, all covered with writing.

"I have decided that since I have officially announced you now as my son," Mr Bennet began, with a keen eye to Lawrence's reaction, "to recognise you as the eventual heir to all of my estate. There are a few contracts needed to be drawn up, documents to sign and such forth, but I am of the opinion that they must be done soon before events interfere. Would you care to begin?"

As Mr Bennet finished his speech, he was rewarded by the silence which existed for a short awhile after it. Lawrence had indeed reacted to the ploy that was being played, for Mr Bennet had no desire whatsoever to attend to this business at yet. He was looking at his 'father' with nothing short of surprise, shock even. Clearly, he had not expected this to arise so soon.

To say that Mr Bennet was correct would not be an understatement. Lawrence was indeed shocked and surprised at the sudden rapidity of events. Until now he had thought Mr Bennet to be still unsure of him, therefore unwilling to change such documents as the Will, labelling him as heir incumbent of all of Longbourn. So, influenced by the events of this morning as well, it was with this that he replied to Mr Bennet's request. "Sir, although I do agree that the contracts must be drawn up at some point, I beg leave for a delay for that event. This all still very unsettling for me," he concluded rather lamely.

Mr Bennet accepted the answer well enough. "Very well, I suppose a delay is fine. I have no desire to hurry you, Lawrence. Now, what set you out of here so early in the morning?"

Lawrence rapidly tried to come up with a reply that would satisfy Mr Bennet's curiosity. He had hoped that no one had noticed his dawn departure to do some........ reconnoitering. Mr Bennet however soon saved him the trouble. "Do not worry my lad, I know how you feel. Mrs Bennet's chatter this morning was enough to convince everyone to go out on a walk."

As Mr Bennet watch the gentleman eagerly nod to his response and part from the room, he could not refrain from smiling inwardly at the partial success he had just achieved. Now, clearly there was some encouragement for his mistrust. Lawrence had hesitated and delayed the matters of law, and had, to Mr Bennet's mind, lied about his reason for quitting the house this morning. For what and why he had no idea as yet. The important thing was that at last he had something with which to remind himself of when instances tried to convince him to contrary. The objective part of himself would of course try to argue in Lawrence's favour, as his excuse was perfectly reasonable. It did not disagree with any of the impressions that he had received so far, nor did it seem out of character.

Yet Mr Bennet could not help but believe in his initial judgement of the situation and the conclusions he had just obtained. Lawrence was not his son, he was still sure of that hunch, and until he had something more tangible than the mere fact of their apparent resemblance, Mr Bennet was not to be persuaded from this conclusion.


Chapter XXVI.

Longbourn, 7th September 1820.

 

Longbourn
7th September.

My dear brother,

Since our last meeting, matters regarding the inheritance of Longbourn have changed considerably. Until now I had hoped to delay in my relating the matter to you, but if I continue to do so, Mrs Bennet will decide to pick up her pen. I sure you would appreciate my more sensible version of the past days than hers.

When I returned to Longbourn some days ago I was greeted by............

As one may have gathered from the opening of the letter above, Mr Bennet had determined to seek help from more quarters. His night of wakefulness over the conclusions that only last afternoon he had been so sure of, had left him impatient for something else to strengthen his resolve. Mr Bennet you see was now quite determined in his opinion that Lawrence was not his son, however, the deception had yet show itself, except in circumstantial evidence. Something had to be done, to prove it one way or the other.

Mr Bennet however, could think of nothing that had not already been tried. He appealed to Mr Gardiner therefore, as soon as the dawn broke, giving him a release from his hot bedchamber. The weather had been increasingly fine lately, and even though it was Autumn, it not seem to contain any sign of lessening. Although this had given the opportunity for many agreeable long walks, it had not helped Mr Bennet to find any escape from his present difficulties at night.

But to resume, on regarding Mr Bennet's reasons for writing to his brother in law. Notwithstanding those already mentioned, he also felt that a fresh perspective on the situation was needed. It had to come from someone he could trust absolutely to tell him honestly their opinion on the subject and whether they agreed with his conclusions. Naturally it could not be a friend of his, for Mr Bennet had very few people whom he regarded as proper friends outside of his relatives.

Mr Gardiner therefore, fitted the bill. He was sensible, capable of being objective, and he was only to learn of the events from the letter that Mr Bennet was to send today. He, along with his wife would provide Mr Bennet with two entirely different yet sound, fresh perspectives on his concerns and would no doubt be able to verify for certain if Lawrence had been in town, for the Gardiners were sociable people, always attending the theatre and St James Court whenever the opportunity afforded them.

Mrs Gardiner in particular had a memory which thrived on faces, and could be easily relied upon to recognise Lawrence if she had seen him before. Mr Gardiner's business in trade, also provided a useful source of information for it could be relied upon to produce a variety of customers, from various circles of society, popular as it was. He also knew that the Gardiners would be anxious to see their favourite nieces, Lizzy and Jane, whom they had always remained on the best of terms with. They had not seem them since March to Mr Bennet's knowledge, and he knew that they would welcome a visit on both sides to exchange news, views and ideas.

Retelling the story from the beginning via the use of pen and paper also gave Mr Bennet a chance to review the facts. To reflect on his impressions and to try and determine if any more resolves, actions, or conclusions could be gathered from the previous events that he held in his memory. It gave him a fresh perspective in itself, by simply allowing Mr Bennet to write only the facts, uninfluenced by any of his, or others opinions.

Although he disliked letter writing in general- which was why he always delayed correspondence with anyone but Elizabeth -Mr Bennet found it to be on this occasion a pleasant and somewhat relieving experience. Consumed as he had been the past few days with many conflicting thoughts, it was good to get some of them out into the open, giving his mind a break and a chance to dwell on the other ones with more than just a passing glimpse.

It was thus with the feeling of relief that passed through Mr Bennet's mind as he laid down his pen after detailing the last part of the direction to the front of the now folded and sealed letter. His story had been set down to his brother in law, and whatever he chose to conclude from it was out of his hands.


The gentleman who readers will previously have witnessed as a rider on the outskirts of Meryton and as a observer of a recent romantic scene between the Darcys, was at present trying to enjoy a drink at the local Inn at that same village. His mind was much distracted, as he had not expected to stay in Meryton for long. However, the possibility of a fresh horse had been declared absolutely impossible for some days hence, requiring him to spend more than one night in the sparse lodgings that "The Cunning Fish" -the somewhat unusual name of this aforementioned Inn- offered than he had previously expected, or indeed planned.

The fact that Meryton had turned out in his opinion to be only living up to the name of village rather than town had also proved a hiccup to his plans. For it had meant his general arrival becoming widely known within minutes of his presenting himself at the Inn. The village had also proved to contain the usual inquisitive characters that every village had without fail- although Meryton in his opinion had double the usual amount- which meant his receiving an invitation to the evening soiree and without a method to refuse it either.

In the long run though a entire night spent at being sociable had turned up some rather interesting news. The first that the persons of that party had no idea that something quite dreadful was occurring right under their noses. Secondly, no one had even detected his quite untrustworthy nature, seeming to take his good looks and name purely as a simple acquaintance. Well, not quite simple. Naturally, as he had arrived alone, the conclusion that he was single had been drawn and as a result he had been obliged to suffer many an inquiry from matchmaking mothers or companions and the constant introductions or references to their single daughters. Age it seemed had not been a consideration on both sides. He had taken it in quite good humour of course, indeed he would have created even more discussion about himself if he had done otherwise and it was not in his nature to desire this. Nor did his mission command him to do so.

Thirdly he had concluded that his 'shadows' superior was somewhere within the vicinity of this village, for he had not been followed or observed for some time now. Not since his arrival in fact. However a hopeful conclusion this was though, he had learnt not to trust it for the observance of his actions had immediately resumed on the conclusion of the nuncheon hour. Either he was right and his followers had gone to consult their chief, or he was wrong and they had simply chosen not to make themselves obvious to his ever increasing watchful nature.

Nevertheless whatever had happened to his shadows the afternoon and night before this meditation over a drink at The Cunning Fish, he now resolved to pay it no mind, for to concentrate on it at all would surely cause an error in judgement. No matter how small, this error had to be avoided for no doubt some day it would prove significant. For now he would continue to focus on his future travel plans which had been put on hold indefinitely, until matters enabled him to procure his horse back to full fitness.

Little was he to realise now that this delay would prove costly. And fatal.


Chapter XXVII.

Netherfield, 8th September 1820.

The one acquaintance that Georgiana had yet to make concerning her relatives, even though her brother had been married to Elizabeth for so long, was that of Lydia Wickham, now Bennet amongst family by personal request. Of course, the main reason that had posed the barrier was related to that young woman's former name and the links and references that that name brought to Georgiana's mind.

To suppose that Georgiana was still unsettled by Wickham and any reference to him after all these years, was to be in error however, for she had already begun to recover under watching her brother's actions at Pemberley in 1812, in the eventual hope that she would soon have a sister to confide in wholeheartedly. She may have had and indeed still had a wonderful brother in Fitzwilliam Darcy, but the bond between sisters was always much closer than the bond between brother and sister (at least, the author supposes this to be the case, for she has not Georgiana's benefit, being an only child herself).

When she did finally receive a sister Georgiana was even further encouraged to fulfil her plans of confiding, particularly when Elizabeth took the plunge one day by admitting to her an acquaintance, connection and deception at the hands of the same man that her new sister in law still regarded with fear.

It came as an absolute relief to Georgiana to know that she was not the only one to be deceived by Wickham's apparent gentle-manlike manner, and the effect it produced to her character was of such a rapid nature, that even her brother was surprised at the change his wife had encouraged in his sister. Even the fact that Wickham was now a brother in law by her brother's own actions had not been the slightest cause of concern to her.

It was because of this change and the outcomes that had resulted from it, that Georgiana resolved on seeking out Lydia's friendship as soon as an opportunity presented itself. Not only did she believe that both parties would benefit from such an acquaintance, but she also believed that such a meeting should have been performed long ago. The reasons for its prevention Georgiana was not unaware of, indeed she perfectly understood why her brother and sister were so anxious that such an acquaintance should be avoided, for fear of what effect might result from it. In fact she could not deny to herself that such a meeting, particularly while she had still been unmarried, would not have left her feeling entirely unaffected.

All this changed however when she met Michael Blakeney, three years to the day. She had not expected to meet with anyone whom would fill all her ideals of perfection, modified as it had been due to her summer in Ramsgate. Nor had she expected to find such a man so close to her own home. The Blakeney family had previously been closely acquainted with the Darcys, in particular the late Mr Darcy and Lady Anne, but due to their sense of duty, had been abroad quite frequently for some years. As a result, Michael Blakeney, heir to one of the richest estates in the kingdom, had spent most of his life in Europe and very few friends close to his own age.

When the Blakeneys returned to their estate in the North, it had been some years since they had heard from the Darcys. They naturally inquired after them as a result, not expecting to find only the children alive. Nevertheless pay their respects they did and it was then that Georgiana and Michael had the rare pleasure which few couples have of meeting and falling in love with each at first sight.

Such a romance started on so secure a footing rapidly progressed into both parties declaring themselves wholeheartedly devoted to the other within a matter of months. The little distance that parted them as a result of the boundaries of the estates- some twenty miles -was of no hindrance whatsoever, leaving everything between them to be sorted so quickly, that Darcy was taken quite unawares when only two months later he received Michael Blakeney's petition for the hand of his sister.

Since then Georgiana had enjoyed the privilege of a very loving and devoted marriage, one which she was sure of as being as blissful as her brother's. It was because of this marriage that Georgiana had resolved on forming a friendship with the sister that was so near her own age. For it proved that if one woman could escape Wickham's deception to recover and find a love of more equal footing, then so could another. Mrs Blakeney not only wished to put this wish in Lydia's mind, she also desired to encourage her, so that her recovery might be hastened.

Thus on the afternoon of this anniversary Georgiana took her children to meet her youngest sister in law and their cousins. Annette and Matthew Blakeney were the same age as the other set of twins in the Darcy family, Alexander and Alexandra, who were at moment spending their time with their parents, who could rarely be prepared to be parted from any of their children. The day had originally been quite fine out, but the afternoon had brought some rain, leaving Lydia and her restless children in the summer parlour, watching the droplets slide down the window panes.

Lydia herself was glad of some interruption, for her thoughts had once again been concerned with her hopeless future, firstly as a means of strengthening her resolve to care for her children, only to end up reducing her in further depression. However, she was surprised when she saw only Mrs Blakeney and two children come inside the room.

"Mrs Blakeney," Lydia began on her entrance, with a considerable effort to try to sound happier than she felt, "how agreeable to see you."

"Georgiana please, Lydia. We are sisters after all and I see no need to be this formal," Georgiana replied kindly as Annette and Matthew looked around the room and at the other children with interest. Their mother smiled and bent down to their height, "my dears, why don't go and introduce yourselves to your cousins? I'm sure they would be most happy to have new playmates."

The twins, who already seemed to have that secret communication that twins usually display already set up, looked at each other, nodded, and then walked cautiously to the children that were over by the window. Their mother meanwhile, after a slight hesitation, seated herself on the sofa beside Lydia and began her mission in earnest. "I sought you out, because I felt it was time you and I became acquainted with each other. It has been long over due, so without any further delay I shall begin it." Smiling, Georgiana held out her hand. "Georgiana Blakeney."

Lydia, struck by the simple, frank introduction, smiled back and took Georgiana's hand in hers. "Lydia Bennet. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Georgiana."

The shaking of hands seemed to relieve the awkwardness of both parties and made them realise the humour in their situation. They laughed quietly, breaking the tension.

"I believe we are friends already," Georgiana remarked after the laughter had ceased.

"I understand you are fond of music," Lydia started, seeing the smile lit up Mrs Blakeney's face.

"I see my reputation is already known to you. Yes, I am very fond of music, although I have neglected it of late, due to the children. I do try however to practice at least one a week. Can you play?"

"I am afraid not, but I have often wished to of late. I never took the trouble to learn. My mind was always on other, less important things."

"Well, you could still learn. It is an easy thing to accomplish, providing the right teacher is found and the right amount of practice is regularly kept."

"Would you be able to teach me?" Lydia asked tentatively.

"It would give me great pleasure, although I daresay I am not that talented enough." Georgiana paused, and then inspiration came to her. "But I will accept, only if you let me give you what I honestly believe is some hope for the future." She paused once more. "I daresay my brother has made known to you my past history with Mr Wickham?"

Lydia nodded, knowing instinctively what was coming.

"It took me a long while after Ramsgate to even talk to William, and he was the closest to me. Even when I met Elizabeth I was still affected. One word however slight, would do it and I would be lost. I blamed myself beyond anyone else.

"I know you have probably heard this before, by countless of others who have no real idea what he can do. But let me assure you, with all the experience of I have of him, that there is hope. I managed to recover, even though it took a long time. I know you will as well. You may not think it now, you may have resolved only to live for your children, but trust me, Lydia, that is a half life and it will never fulfil you. I resolved only to live for my brother's sake and it did me no good at all. It took your sister to help me realise that my life was not over. And now I want you to try and realise it. I know it will be a long time before you can even grasp it, but you will recover. And I want to be there to help you."

All through this conversation Lydia had watched Georgiana carefully, her already reflex walls of self defence rising up in her emotions. But then the genuine honesty of the young woman who was only a year older than her, coupled with the earnest desire to help captured in her eyes, soon broke them down into nothing as she realised that she did indeed need help.

Georgiana was right. Her resolve to stay alive for her children had rapidly slid her into depression. She was so used to relying only on herself that she had forgotten what a relief it was to have someone offer their understanding and help. Slowly she looked up at her friend and murmured words of gratitude before sliding into a sisterly embrace.


Chapter XXVIII.

Netherfield Grounds, 9th September 1820.

"Do you realise Fitzwilliam, that we have had the information regarding Lawrence Bennet's mistake concerning his past for almost ten days, without mentioning a syllable of our proof to the gentleman himself?"

The Darcys were taking advantage of the brief hour that they would have to themselves before Imogen awoke, by enjoying a pleasure that Elizabeth had only acquired since her marriage; riding. Mrs Darcy had not been much of a horsewoman before her acquaintance with Fitzwilliam, due to her preference for walking.

For her husband however, riding had been much of a necessity primarily, a pleasure second, one that he had come to regard as such only later, when he came the master of it. He had taken a great deal delight as a result in teaching his wife to ride- both the ladylike and the 'unladylike' methods -during their period as newlyweds in the wilds of blissful isolation at Pemberley.

After a few mistakes, some amusing to both parties, some not, Elizabeth had become as proficient as her husband, although her fondness for the romantic side of riding ensconced in her husband's arms and the effects of what that proximity often led to, shortened the activity quite often.

"I am, my love. However, I was under the impression that we were to wait until your father had brought the subject to air."

"That impression is correct, but Papa seems to have a reluctance to bring it to air. Either that or he has come to other conclusions that has prevented the matter being an importance."

"Your father has been rather quiet on the subject of late. But the information that Richard has given us, needs more than its authority alone to justify us confronting Lawrence with it."

"That has been Papa's intention for delaying as he has. I am convinced though that he is beginning to question his hesitation. As far as Meryton is concerned, Lawrence Bennet is who he claims to be, courtesy of that evening at Lucas Lodge. The longer we delay in revealing our suspicion to try and dislodge him, or find out what it is exactly that he does not wish us to know, the harder it will be to convince everyone that we are justified in having our suspicions in the first place."

"You are perhaps thinking that this information from Richard might prompt Lawrence Bennet into revealing something more to make him err in our eyes?"

"I will not attempt to deny that the thought has crossed my mind, but I realise the impossibility of such an occurrence. However, it is so far the only information we have. I am hesitant of losing our advantage, but at the same time I am conscious of what a little advantage it is."

"I feel the same, my love. The mistake is such of a nature as to be easily misconstrued into something more damaging than it is."

"Exactly. If Lawrence is as cautious as he seems to be, this one piece of doubt that we have, might preclude him forever from trusting us, if he does truly turn out to be a Bennet."

Darcy nodded silently as he considered all of this and then remarked on something that had just occurred to him. "The party at Longbourn join us for dinner tonight, do they not?"

Elizabeth acknowledged that they did. "You think we should bring up the question this evening, then?"

"Providing your father does not object to it, I foresee little harm in doing so."

"We must air it with caution though I think," Elizabeth commented as the neared the completion of their ride, by coming to the ground which lay near the stables. "We can mention it in company, as it has the benefit of laying no significance on the inquiry, but we must not at the same time make it a general topic of the entire room."

"A sort of quiet tête-à-tête then, after or during dinner, between ourselves, Mr Bennet and Lawrence himself then?" Her husband suggested.


Accordingly, the plan just aired was set to Mr Bennet as soon as he arrived with his wife, 'son' and the daughters and grandchildren that were staying with him. It was broached most discreetly, after he had paid his respects to Lord Devereaux, in a chance moment that he and the Darcys happened to be alone in the entrance, having chosen to linger behind the others in order to convey their proposal. Mr Bennet had not forgotten the error that his son in law's cousin had alerted them to, and readily agreed to his children's plan of bringing it up during the evening.

The occasion itself was to be an informal one, leaving the children free to enjoy the company of their elders, and causing Mrs Bennet to be much occupied in spreading her comments of praise and affection for them liberally around for the entire evening. Thus, the one and only hiccup which had been anticipated, was done away with in the work of an instant, for Mrs Bennet's conversation was likely to engross all of the remaining guests there, including the hosts, allowing for the plan to go ahead without fear of any interruption, or a fuss being made of what was, after all, a seemingly innocent inquiry into the past.

No opportunity arose before dinner, for Mrs Bennet was insistent that her 'dear Mrs Darcy' acquaint her first with the activities of her children. Elizabeth and Darcy happily complied however, for it meant one lesser topic that must include their participation during dinner, leaving them they hoped free to address Lawrence Bennet. Despite this appearance of design, the conversation was glowing in praise and love of the young Darcys, whom were doted on by their parents and who did much to prove the justice of the praise by remaining on their best behaviour throughout the evening, not complaining a syllable when required to depart to their bedchambers.

In due course the party was soon summoned into dinner, just as Mrs Bennet moved on to talking of her eldest daughter's issues, and Lord Devereaux, who previously had only talked with Mr Bennet, found himself being drawn into the 'interesting'- and let it be noted that he uses that word in its loosest sense -topic of religion and its history by Rev. Smythe. All signs for approaching Lawrence with the question now, seemed positive.

Yet, they were to be impeded once more, by the seating arrangements, which had the unlucky foresight to place Mr Bennet the younger away from his father and the Darcys and near to Mr Devereaux, who being of an similar age to the former and having a desire to learn much of the gentleman's travels, for he had had none. Thus the topic was left unattended to.

When the gentleman separated for drinks in Lord Devereaux's study there was a further delay, brought on by a general reluctance in all bar two to rejoin the ladies, who would no doubt be still involved- whether by their own choice or no -in Mrs Bennet's inexhaustible conversation.

Fortunately there is a limit on how long the subjects of politics and sport can be discussed without neither one flagging and it was with considerable relief that Darcy noticed how much time they still had left before the Longbourn party had to leave.

Upon entering Darcy and his father in law both made their way immediately over to Elizabeth, who had already set things in hand by procuring Lawrence's company upon the moment of his entrance.

After seating themselves and with a seemingly general glance to both his wife and Mr Bennet, Darcy took a deep breath and, with all the skill of a master chess player, casually began to turn the topic of converse to the subject of the army. When the matter had established itself, he then brought up his checkmate.

"Do you," he remarked to Lawrence, "by any chance happened to be acquainted still with members of your old regiment?"

"I have tried to keep in touch with most of them that reside amongst my intimate acquaintance," Lawrence answered.

"Are you perhaps acquainted with my cousin, who like you started his career in the Oxfordshire before gaining a promotion. The once Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam?"


Chapter XXIX.

Netherfield, 9th September 1820.

"Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam?" Lawrence repeated. "Why yes of course. I am not closely acquainted with him, but I have heard of him by reputation. I had no idea he began in the same regiment as myself. Pray, how does he fare, now out of the army?"

Needless to say, his questioners had not expected to receive this as their answer. Mr Bennet was shocked into silence, although he had the sense to conceal it. Elizabeth was similarly surprised, while her husband tried to compensate for both of them by giving a concise description of the Colonel's life since the army. To his increasing surprise Lawrence responded with further inquires and inferences on the general aspects of both life outside and the military.

Thus Darcy found himself entering into a discussion that he had neither looked for or expected, with the task of trying to both conceal and compensate the lack of intervention from both his father in law and his wife, who had since retreated into their thoughts.

Mr Bennet, after getting over his initial surprise, began to see the logic of Lawrence's calm deflection by turning the conversation into an inquiry about Darcy's cousin. He should have known, the man was quite clearly not devoid of intellect. What puzzled him more was whether or not Lawrence had seen this question coming. If so, what his motive was for deflecting it, and why had he not tried to avoid it in the first place?

He must have done some research into his 'siblings' lives, surely, if he had planned so carefully so far on the accuracy of his personal past. Of course it was reasonable to suppose that his supposed past being connected with any of his family was unlikely in his mind and therefore he had chosen to forgo knowing too much, because it would fit his story more. On the other hand, this would put him at a distinct disadvantage, especially if, as now, a part of his supposed past joined with his family's.

It is pointless to state that his daughter's thoughts were not along the same vein. Elizabeth was very surprised, even though she had expected Lawrence would reply like this. She had also expected however that her dislike of him would arise due to this. Yet it did not. Elizabeth was most distressed with herself. This gentleman had, if their suspicions were to be trusted, deceived her entire family with his lies and was persisting in them no matter what.

By all these motives and more she should hate him irrevocably, but she could not. Despite all of this he had appeared to all of them a most amiable and charming young man. His unstinting kindness and support of her sister Lydia was another ally to this cause. Whenever Elizabeth tried to think of Lawrence as someone who was playing a deception on all of them, she could do naught but reproach herself, because of all that he had done for Lydia.

Since their acquaintance she had come out of her shelf. The walls that had previously barred her from any attempts by friends and family to help her, had been completely done away thanks to Lawrence.Lydia would never be the wild, happy sixteen year old she once was, but already she had a light in her eyes and, although prone to despondency on occasion, an attitude to life that none of her family had ever hoped to establish this soon.

No, I will not hate him yet, Elizabeth silently resolved in her head. Not until he does something more that just deflection of a conversation.

While his wife and father in law were sorting out all of these thoughts, Darcy you could well imagine was floundering considerably in his attempts to keep the present topic of conversation alive without assistance from either of his co-conspirators. Every opportunity that had arisen concerning Lawrence's past in the Oxfordshire he had tried to use, and had been thwarted in every single attempt. Finally, to his utmost relief, Elizabeth interjected with a question.

"How exactly did you hear of my cousin in law?"

"When Wellington gave him his promotion to Major I believe it was," Lawrence replied thoughtfully. "It was on the battlefield and I remember myself wondering at it, for it was a rare occurrence. But I believe you have the better authority of me on that subject."

"Richard rarely talks of his time in Spain in anything but humorous tones," Elizabeth cleverly responded with, for her husband well knew that she had been told of this event by Colonel Fitzwilliam the Christmas of 1818 when his wife had inferred about it. Their cousin had been reluctant to divulge circumstances in detail, but in the end surrendered to their persuasions. "He tends to be rather modest about his achievements."

"I think that's an ability that officers tend to learn," Lawrence replied with confidence, as Mr Edmund Bennet, as if by his daughter's voice, came out of his thoughts and began to take in the conversation, at which point the evening began to draw to a close.


Chapter XXX.

Longbourn, 10th September 1820.

Mr Bennet chuckled as his favourite daughter walked into his study, her youngest in her arms. For some time, he seemed not to notice her presence. Then, having seated herself, just as she was about to speak, he pre-empted her.

"Without fail he always makes me laugh."

"Who?" Elizabeth asked, puzzled extremely.

Mr Bennet held up a letter. "This, my dear girl, is the latest missive from our cousin Mr Collins, to whom the news of Lawrence has finally reached. I have been expecting this for some time."

"You called me over to hear Mr Collins' thoughts on Lawrence?"

"That, and to give you this," Mr Bennet drew another letter towards his daughter. "From his wife. She would have sent it to Pemberley, but for Mr Fitzwilliam informing her that you were here. That's according to her husband."

Elizabeth took the letter with eagerness, for it had been too long since Charlotte had written to her.

"Listen to this," Mr Bennet said presently, the first letter still in his hand. " "I was most pleased to hear of your recent good fortune, sir." Of course you were. "I had no idea that my late honoured father could be capable of such duplicity. I am quite sure that there lies a misunderstanding here, for, as my good patroness so eminently says, character is always inherited, and since I know of no such fault in myself, although one cannot always rely on one's own judgement to certify.""

Elizabeth joined her father in a laugh. "But how did he learn it is his father, Papa? Richard is the only one who knows the full details and I doubt if he has related the entire story to Lady Catherine, let alone Mr Collins."

"Oh, I wrote him a quick note, saying that I was most displeased to learn of his father's latest deception. The rest is merely a product of his overactive imagination. But he continues however with, "I am sure that the full truth will soon arise and when it does, there shall be no occasion for uneasiness concerning our relations. Lady Catherine joins me in this opinion, along with a caution that this gentleman may have ulterior motives in mind. I do not wish to lay suspicion upon my new cousin or indeed anyone else for that matter, but it does seem most surprising to me that this situation has arisen so very suddenly." You have dug yourself a deep hole there Mr Collins."

Mr Bennet folded the letter. "The rest is just plain grovelling. Now, Lizzy, I also called you over, because of what happened last night. I have come to a reluctant, but perhaps prudent decision. What ever his motives, Lawrence intends to keep his past from us. If this is because he is not my son, of which I still have no doubt, or if it is another reason altogether, I think we must wait for him to make the first move."

"Or until we have more definitive proof," Elizabeth remarked in answer.

"Exactly. In three days Mr and Mrs Gardiner arrive. Hopefully, they have something, else we will just have to wait."

Elizabeth took this as a signal to go and went to kiss her father on the cheek before she left. Mr Bennet kept her by him for a second longer. "Lizzy," he said softly. "I fear the mystery of Lawrence Bennet will take a long time to be revealed."

"So do I, papa."


Elizabeth returned to Netherfield with much on her mind, least of all Charlotte's letter. It had been a long time since Mrs Collins had sent a letter to her. Indeed, if she remembered correctly, it had not been since Elizabeth announced she was expecting Imogen. She now understood why and felt almost ashamed of writing that piece of news to her in first place.

Finding a quiet seat in the Library- which had been updated since Mr Bingley left the place -Elizabeth carefully lay Imogen next to her on the sofa and took out her letter. It contained the following:

 

Hunsford
7th September

My dear Lizzy,

My apologies for not replying to your last letter. Truth be known, I was too upset to write. Your news was welcome but it only served to remind me of my own inability. Little did I realise then that it was not my fault.

I have kept many things from you, my friend. Since my marriage we have drifted apart, partly because of our disagreement over my choice in partner. I do not wish to lose our friendship, Lizzy, for it is the only part of my life which makes me truly happy. I told you once I was not romantic, but with the influence of the happy match which is your cousins every day, I begin to realise just what I have been missing.

I do not regret my decision, it had to be made. My life with Mr Collins has been one which I am content to had lived and I do not think I would desire to change it. I had to marry, Lizzy. My family needed me to. I had not your youth and what I did have was fading. I could not wait in the hope of a happier situation.

The burden of no children has made it sometimes distressing however. Lady Catherine in particular has......... no, I do not wish to break the branch that has so recently been mended.

I dearly wish you every happiness, Lizzy. I cannot wait to see Imogen, for tales of her beauty have spread like wildfire, since your husband's letter to Mr Fitzwilliam. Do come to visit soon, my friend. That is if you can. Things can so much be discussed better face to face than pen to paper. At least that is what I find.

I understand all of distrust over Lawrence,- which I heard from your cousins, who have asked me to keep in confidence -it does seem rather too good to be true. I have not my husband's motives for it to be a falsehood, I am quite satisfied in not becoming mistress of Longbourn. I heartily approve of little Alex inheriting, if indeed he does.

My letter also brings with it an update from your cousin. He is sorry to report that as yet he has no further information for you, or evidence with which to confront Lawrence with. He is however determined not to give up and will continue to make enquiries, using whatever contacts he has left.

Until your reply, my regards,
Charlotte Collins.

As one would understand this letter left Elizabeth in much occupation of thought. She could clearly see behind the lines that all was not well with her friend and wished she could relieve at least some part of her distress. They had not seen each other since the Christmas of 1818, two years ago.

Imogen stirred from her place upon the sofa. Elizabeth turned both her eyes upon her newest daughter and smiled. Without fail her children had the ability to make her happy and content. Elizabeth scooped her up into her arms.

A knock on the door sounded and her husband walked in followed by the rest of their children. Lawrence Darcy, their eldest and heir to Pemberley, who was now eight years old, had inherited the features of his father and was already showing signs of his mother's wit. He was a happy and well mannered young boy. Heloise Darcy, their eldest daughter at six years old, was already showing signs of inheriting her mother's dark hair beauty and displaying some tomboy qualities, had rapidly become her father's favourite, even though Darcy loved all his children equally.

The twins Alex and Alexandra were three years old and to the surprise of their parents, a complete contrast in looks. Alex had the blond hair and blue eyes of his grandfather George Darcy, while Alexandra had inherited her grandmother's features of dark hair with an auburn tinge and dark blue eyes.

Their fondness for doing everything together was an endearing quality to all their relatives, even if Mrs Bennet wished for 'dear Alexa' to grow out of her tomboy ways (Mrs Bennet quite despaired of 'dear Mrs Darcy's' girls, for she was convinced that they would never grow up enough to attract handsome men of good fortune to marry them).

Darcy came to sit down beside his wife as the children, glad to be with their parents, busied themselves with exploring the room and trying to read the titles of the volumes that they could reach from their small height.

"How is your father?" He asked Elizabeth.

Elizabeth related the tales of the letter from Mr Collins, causing her husband to chuckle and then both of them as Imogen tried in vain to imitate the gesture. "He also had a letter from Charlotte to give to me."

"How is she?"

"She claims to be well but I think the news of the impossibility of having children has upset her more that she is willing to admit. Do you think that after this business with Lawrence Bennet is over, we can go and visit?"

"That sounds like an excellent plan, my love. However I fear the business will take longer than us have any idea."

"For my father's sake, I hope not, Fitzwilliam. I think his patience is wearing thin."


Chapter XXXI.

An evening at Longbourn, 13th September 1820.

"Lizzy, I understand your hesitation to accept Lawrence, but what I do not understand is why you trust the gentleman if you suspect him of this deception."

It was late evening and the Gardiners had been at Longbourn since early afternoon. The Darcys had come over to greet them, and Lizzy had rapidly secured her Aunt for conversation. After exchanging news on her young cousins and on her own children, Elizabeth finally related to her Aunt the whole story from her own viewpoint.

Now Elizabeth regarded her Aunt strangely as she replied, "I am not sure. I think however, it is because of what he has done for Lydia since our arrival. She has come out of herself and for that I am grateful to him. But I still think he is lying."

Mrs Gardiner cast a subtle eye over the gentleman as she expressed her opinion to her niece. "I do agree with you on that. There are just too many questions unanswered. Why now, and not before? Why withhold the detail and show an error? Why deceive a man who has very little in both connections and fortune when compared to others?"

Elizabeth nodded. "That question has been bothering me the most. Why us? He could have chosen any other family. We cannot be the only family in the country who has lost a child."

"It defies reasoning certainly. And I am sorry that I have no good news or hope to bring, Lizzy. Your father hoped my facility with faces would bring some recognition of seeing him before, but I am afraid to say that I cannot remembering seeing him before now. He certainly looked at me without prior knowledge."

"Do not worry, Aunt. I am sure Papa is glad of your presence all the same. This decision to wait for Lawrence to make his move first, although being made only three days ago, has put considerable strain on him."

"I can imagine," Mrs Gardiner replied with an eye to the library door from which her husband and brother in law had yet to vacate. "However, the decision is a prudent one."

"Oh, that I have no doubt of," Elizabeth assured her Aunt, as her own husband caught her eye. He was seated with the man in question, but his mind was only half on the conversation, while the rest was concerned with his beautiful wife. Temporarily, Elizabeth allowed herself to be lost in the gaze, rewarded by Darcy's smile as his eyes clouded with love.

Madeline Gardiner smiled at her niece's happiness. Certain as she had been of the love that Mr Darcy had had for her niece when they have visited Pemberley all those years ago, she had not realised just how much their future marriage would prove to be a source of contentment for both.

Now, as she witnessed the look between them, she was reminded of that visit when a similar gaze between both parties had been watched by her, as one stood by a piano and the other sat by the fire in the best view that the room commanded. It was almost the same gaze, except her niece's level of affection shown in hers had grown and become more assured. Mrs Gardiner could almost hear the strains of Beethoven's Andante Favori playing in her mind.

Elizabeth turned back to her Aunt, reluctantly breaking gaze before anyone else noticed. She valued her relationship with Mrs Gardiner. Since the visit to Derbyshire united her and Darcy, she had remained on close acquaintance with her Aunt and Uncle, inviting them over whenever they could. To her husband and herself they were a part of the family with whom they could relax and be themselves without hindrance or worry.

"You are well contented, Lizzy?" Her Aunt mused aloud.

Elizabeth nodded, for indeed she most assuredly was.


"I wish I had anything to give you, Edmund, but I am afraid that I am as much puzzled by these circumstances as you yourself are."

"Well, I appreciate your presence here, Edward," Mr Bennet replied to his brother in law. "My sons in law, -well, two of them, at least- have been very helpful in their advice and support, but nothing helps me more than to have someone closer to my own age to help me in this affair. Now," he added in a different tone, one which was striving to be of a more buoyant nature, relaxing back into the armchair, "what advice have you to offer?"

"To try and concentrate your energies on something else. Something that has signs of success."

Mr Bennet looked at his brother in law with interest, waiting for more.

"Lydia," Mr Gardiner stated simply.

"Lydia?" Mr Bennet repeated in surprise.

"Edmund, I have only been here today, but I have heard things from Elizabeth and William that lead me to understand that Lydia has changed. Is this true?"

"It is," Mr Bennet admitted. "She is more silent, more thoughtful. Her liveliness has disappeared."

"Suffice it to say, she is not what she once was, correct?"

His brother in law nodded. "What are you suggesting?"

"To get to know Lydia. I am sorry to say but your relationship with your youngest daughter may have been one of the causes for her fall."

"Do not be sorry, Edward, I am not ashamed to admit that my fatherhood concentrated on Jane and Lizzy alone. And you are right. I need to get to know her."

Edward smiled and reach up his glass of port in toast. "To fatherhood, with all its joys and despairs."

Mr Bennet could not help but comply in agreement.


Over the next few days Mr Bennet heeded his brother in law's advice and tried to get to know his youngest daughter. At first there was reluctance of Lydia's side, an in-built fear that her father still disapproved of her. But his persistence soon reversed the fear and turned it into affection as Lydia found herself coming to like her father.

Her children already adored him, but then he had always been considerate over all his grandchildren. Gradually, through Mr Bennet and Lawrence's help, she found herself having less time to dwell on the implications of eight children and the prospect of her future. Finally, she allowed herself to let go of the past and enjoy the pleasure of the present.

Georgiana Blakeney was also instrumental in helping Lydia to become more positive about her life. From the day she had walked into a drawing room at Netherfield to introduce herself, the two had formed an close friendship. Having the commonality of not only age but circumstances gone by, they had found even more things they agreed upon. Of course, there were some things that they did not, but Lydia often found Georgie's opinion to be more objective and clear sighted than her own when it came to those, and did not hesitate in rejecting her own judgement.

The teaching of music also helped, for Lydia found within the first day that it gave her something to occupy her mind with, and stop it dwelling on her past. Mrs Blakeney advised her to practise daily, even when circumstances prevented her from joining in the lesson, and Lydia found it most beneficial, even after only one day.

True, she had not the natural talent for music, but she was quick to learn the means to play, along with an ability to conceal the mechanical nature that her sister Mary often displayed. This, along with almost daily visits from Lawrence, were all helping to amend her retrospection.

By degrees she had come to learn that there was a level of distrust between most of the family over Lawrence. She herself had not been acquainted fully with the details, but through visits when both her father and brother were present, Lydia could sense the carefully disguised mistrust that the former held for the latter.

At first she could not see what was the problem. To her mind Lawrence was her brother. He acted in a brotherly way, and indeed as far as his attentions to her had been concerned, she had found nothing with which to suspect him of having an ulterior motive. But later as their acquaintance furthered, she began to see that Lawrence often held himself within a wall that relied on the gap of some twenty years and more.

She could not understand why he chose to hide behind this wall, and her disappointment at his not total honesty with her when she had been vice versa was hard to get over. When she learnt that others also suspected him of falsehood, but were waiting for him to commit the error first, she was able to approach him once again with the same degree of friendship as before. However, the undeniable fact that things had changed between them was sometimes so apparent to her that Lydia could not help but wonder if Lawrence saw it.

One day, when the Gardiners had been at Longbourn for three days, Lydia took the courage to bring it to Lawrence's notice. She knew that in doing so she was taking a great risk, that if she did not succeed, he would most likely retreat with everyone. Yet somehow, and with no possible logic to it, she was confident that he would confide in her, if he had anything with which to do so, that is.

Lawrence had come to Netherfield as usual and sought her company. Once his stay had been firmly established by Lydia, she tentatively began the subject.

"Lawrence, is there something that you are not telling us?"

He appeared to be completely surprised by her question. "No. Why do you ask?"

"Some times there seems to be a wall when you talk to us."

Lawrence looked at her as he replied, "I have always been honest to you, Lydia."

"Even I cannot let the implication of that escape. If you are honest with me, why not with others? No, Lawrence, I can be as stubborn as my sisters when the occasion calls for it. There is something that you have kept from us. I am quite sure of it."

Lawrence sighed audibly and looked away from her to the ground. Lydia watched his every move. He seemed to be thinking things over for a long time, before finally, and with was unmistakably a sigh of resignation, he came to a decision. He looked up and returned her gaze. It was with a look that Lydia had never received before. It seemed to reach into the very depths of her soul. It was testing her, she decided, to see if she could take the truth. Well, Lawrence, you need not be afraid. I can take whatever is thrown at me.

"Perhaps you are right, Lydia. There is a wall that I put up between myself and my family. I think it is because I do not know you long enough to..........." he abruptly trailed off then, as if he had already seen the dissatisfaction with that explanation in her eyes. Sighing again, he decided to hell with it.

"Indeed, I should have known you would not insensible to it, Lydia. I have not allowed you to confide in me for nothing. Have no fear, I will not betray any of it. I hope that this assurance will grant me the privilege of the same confidence in your secrecy, when I tell you that it is this wall which you have detected that has kept me from............."

At this point, just as things got interesting, and much to Lydia's annoyance, they were disturbed by the announcement that it was time for afternoon tea and the look upon the servant's face was such as to imply that refusal would not be appreciated. Before Lydia could gather her courage to attempt it, her children jumped up at the words, leaving no room for argument by their reluctant mother.

As for Lawrence he retreated back into the mask, rose, and with a hand to her, escorted Lydia into tea, thereby preventing all further tries at conversation.


Chapter XXXII.

17th-20th September, 1820.

It was to Elizabeth's regret that only four days after her Aunt and Uncle's arrival in Hertfordshire that she had to quit the county.

Darcy had finally and reluctantly admitted to her on the morning of the 17th that the estate business which he had been putting off due to their situation, had now gone past the point of delay. In fact circumstances were of such an extent that it was required of him to return to Pemberley.

"It would not be for much more than a fortnight at the most," Darcy began in a vein effort to reassure Elizabeth that morning as she attended to Imogen.

His wife now turned to him with a look that left him no doubt as to her opinion. They had rarely been separated due to business since their marriage, and even before Darcy was not often inclined to spend a day at his estates when he could be in his fiancee's company. "Very well, what do you say to only thirteen days?"

Elizabeth came up close to him. "Ten."

He took her hands, stroking the soft skin. "Twelve."

Elizabeth surrendered, and he kissed her in thanks. "But Fitzwilliam, that is not the main reason for my objection."

"My dear, I thought you would want to stay here."

"I do and I do not. I hate this waiting around. You know I was never good at patience."

"I know." He smiled and delivered another kiss to her lips. "What about a compromise?"

Elizabeth looked him with a hint of a smile. "I'm listening."

"You expressed a wish to see Charlotte. Why don't we all travel to Rosings and you can stay there while I continue to Derbyshire. That way you and Charlotte can spend some time together. What's more, with Richard's active part in our investigations, you can get his latest information and perhaps even direct him into more fruitful ground."

Elizabeth pretended to think for a while, then kissed him. "I think that sounds a wonderful solution, my love."

Darcy smiled and kissed her lips gently. "I'm glad you approve."

"And what if I had not?" Elizabeth remarked archly.

"Then I would attempt to use other methods of persuasion."

"Would you care to demonstrate such methods, sir?"

Darcy happily obliged and began to kiss her passionately.


When the Darcys finally came down for breakfast, they announced their departure to their hosts and family that would still be staying there. All expressed their regret and Lord Devereaux made to assure them that upon the completion of the business their return to Netherfield would be most welcome.

They were soon not the only ones to leave. Bingley requested to join them on their journey, confessing that Pearlcoombe was in need of his attention, although Jane elected to remain behind with their children at Netherfield.

Elizabeth spent the rest of the day making her goodbyes to her family, calling at Longbourn last, having expected it to take the longest in farewells. Her mother as usual exclaimed over her going, disagreed with her decision that she could cope with her husband's departure better in Kent, complained at the desire to see Mrs Collins, whom she saw no reason to pay call on, now that Longbourn was no longer entailed.

Elizabeth however, was firm in her resolution, deeming it impossible for her to remain in Hertfordshire while her husband was miles away. The move to Kent she maintained, was purely to lessen the degree of absence, as it would shorten her husband's return to her by two days. Mrs Bennet was at last forced to relent.

The farewell to the Smythes and Guests when much easier, along with the goodbye to Lawrence, which Elizabeth made sure did not convey any feelings of distrust or suspicion about him. He in turn was ever the dutiful brother, not expressing any concern over the event that they were to visit a certain Mr Richard Fitzwilliam among others.

Her last farewell was to her father, who as usual, she found ensconced in his Library. Upon her entrance, he looked up from the leather bound volume in his hands and uttered a familiar phrase. "Pleasure bent again, my dear Lizzy? And never a thought to what your poor father will suffer in your absence."

Elizabeth chuckled as she closed the door behind her and came to sit in front of Mr Bennet. "Unlike the last Papa, it is not a pleasure I could well forgo. I will however, be delighted to see Charlotte again."

Mr Bennet smiled. "Ah, how much has changed since I last said those words. I never even imagined that the famous Lady Catherine de Bough would become a relative."

"At the time, neither did I."

"Well, I shall miss you, my dear girl. Your family has been a wonderful maxim of support these past weeks. I shall expect your return to be prompt."

"Indeed it shall be," Elizabeth assured him. "I may also have some news to bring back, if Richard has found anything out from his Military contacts."

"Even if he does not, there is still hope I believe, Lizzy. If Lawrence is indeed deceiving us, his deception cannot last for much longer." Mr Bennet paused at this moment to glance at his favourite daughter. He did still miss the closeness they once had, when she was not married and still his little girl.

Still, his eventual blessing of her wish to be Mrs Darcy had done away some part of the grief in losing the daughter that he loved the most. The frequent visits to Derbyshire were always a source of joy to him, not just to check that his son in law was treating Elizabeth right. He already had firm evidence that he did, within the first months of their marriage.

Mr Bennet pulled himself out of his reverie then, by saying, "I suppose my next comment should be something along the lines of that until you return I shall not hear two words of sense spoken together, but as it is, there are still some family members here who possess that modicum of intellect I need."

Elizabeth laughed, as he had intended her to. "I shall miss you too, Papa."


The party departed that afternoon and spent the next two days an a half travelling through the countryside to Rosings Park. The company of five children proved not a burden, as all had inherited both their mother's liveliness but also their father's self restraint and thus managed to behave despite all the troubles that a journey by coach could entail. Imogen was also an angel by sleeping for the majority of each ride, causing many a proud smile to be exchanged between both parents.

Charles Bingley was his usual cheerful self, though the absence of his wife did allow a certain wistfulness in his tone which became noticeable on more than one occasion. He was however continually grateful not be travelling to Pearlcoombe alone and his friend and brother in law had made sure to obey Mrs Bingley's word that he would look after her husband and make sure he did not return until all matters had been attended to. Their contrasting personalities and long friendship would keep the both of them from doing too much thinking, although Darcy did still not yet know how he was to spend twelve days alone in the Master Bedchamber at Pemberley.

As if obeying Lady Catherine's usual wishes, they changed horses at Bromley, and managed to arrive at the home of that formidable woman upon the afternoon of the 20th. The Fitzwilliams were standing outside to greet them.

"Darce, Charles, how good to see you!" Richard cried out as they descended from the carriage. After friendly slaps on the back from all quarters, Darcy turned back to help his children and wife descend.

"My dear Mrs Darcy, how wonderful to see you," Richard added, gallantly bestowing a kiss upon her hand before looking at Imogen. "And is this my newest little cousin?" He pretend to survey her with a critical eye. "Well, I can see no sign of her father, fortunate girl."

"Richard!" Anne admonished as his cousin sent him a look of exasperation in reply. She came up then to greet the laughing Elizabeth who smiled at her mortified husband. "Good to see you again, Anne."

"Well," Darcy finally remarked when he had greeted Mrs Fitzwilliam. "I suppose we can no longer afford to keep Aunt Catherine waiting."

"No indeed," Anne replied she led them into the house. "Mama has been impatient for you to arrive. She is anxious to see her new great niece."

"I never thought Lady Catherine would be one for children," Elizabeth commented as they entered the Hall. "I am pleased to see I was wrong."

"Well, children have ways of stealing into all hearts," Richard replied as he scooped Alexandra Darcy into his arms. Alexandra shrieked delightfully and it was a somewhat noisy party that went in to greet the once formidable Lady Catherine de Bough.


Chapter XXXIII.

Rosings Park, 21st September, 1820.

"Well, as I told you in my letter I have spent the last weeks investigating, aided by what contacts I still have left in the Military."

Darcy leaned forward in his seat. "Has anything turned up?"

Richard grimaced. "Not much. I have found out that there were a number of serving officers with the name Bennet, including some soldiers as well. However, there is as yet no way to prove that any one of them is this Lawrence Bennet that has taken up residence as your brother in law. Speaking of which; how has he performed that task?"

It was exactly one day after the Darcys arrival at Rosings Park with Mr Bingley. Following dinner, the entire party had exchanged news with Lady Catherine and the Fitzwilliams before retiring for the night. Now, the next morning, Darcy had decided to postpone his and Charles' departure in order to ask his cousin if he had found anything fresh to give them hope.

Darcy leaned back into the confines of one of the many black leather chairs that the Library contained. "Perfectly well. Almost too perfect in fact, which might be the reason why most of us still retain our suspicions. He also has a habit of keeping his distance with nearly all of us."

Richard followed suit. "If he is concealing something, that would certainly fit. Who does he keep company with the most?"

"Would you be surprised if I told you it is Lydia?"

"Lydia? Now that is interesting."

Darcy shrugged. "Not that interesting. Lydia was wretched when she turned up at Pearlcoombe in August. No one could break her out of the fortress she had surrounded herself with. We tried everything. Georgiana was the first to make her talk. She called her Mrs Wickham to which Lydia replied with a request to be called Bennet once more."

"What has Lawrence got to do with all of this?"

"To cut a long story short, when we arrived at Longbourn, he was instrumental not only in identifying her problem, but the possible solution to it as well. He has visited her daily, and along with Georgiana's offer of friendship, has managed to bring Lydia out of her shell. She's still not as wild as she once was, but she is learning to regard things with a positive perspective."

"And apart from Lydia he has been distant?" Richard checked. "Hmm."

His cousin looked at him. "What?"

"If I was a gambling man, cousin, I would say that this Lawrence fellow, might have been in the intelligence staff."

"But?"

"But his actions with Lydia seem to imply the opposite. One thing we learnt was to never attach ourselves to anyone while we were out there."

"Also, would not you know him, if he was an intelligence officer?" Darcy queried.

"I might," Richard admitted. "But there were a lot of them. Besides, he would begin to suspect something if I turned up for no apparent reason. Has he heard of me?"

"Yes, he witnessed your battlefield promotion."

"Well, that confirms part of his story concerning the battles he served in. Be that as it may, it brings us no closer to finding out who he is."

Darcy sighed once more. "How many sources of information have you yet to use?"

"I'm afraid not many. Horseguards will be my last port of call, but then they are always difficult when it comes to finding serving or retired officers. I have a couple of contacts who are up north which have not replied to me, and I've yet to locate the former Colonel of the Oxfordshire, as he has recently brought himself out." Richard paused as the clock started to sound the hour. "I'm sorry I haven't been of much use, Darce."

"Its all right, Rich, I was not expecting much anyway. This has got us all puzzled." Darcy paused, then suddenly asked, "What if Lawrence was an intelligence officer and his purpose was not to do with Longbourn and the Bennets, but with Lydia?"

Richard now looked truly puzzled. "Lydia? Darce, I've heard many theories from you in my time, but this has to be the most implausible. What possible reason could the Military have to spy on Lydia?"

"I did not mean Lydia herself. I meant her recently departed husband."

"He wasn't capable of treasonous deception, Darce!, You're becoming far too paranoid," was his cousin's emphatic reply.

"I must be," Darcy commented, looking at his cousin.

"Honestly, Fitz, you knew Wickham better than I did. Do you really think his intellect knew enough to do something so underhand that the military thought it prudent to investigate his wife after his death?"

His cousin sighed as he realised the implausibility of his previous suspicion. "You're right, Rich. Maybe I am becoming too paranoid. You know the present political situation more than I do, with your connections."

"Yes and I wish daily that I did not, Fitz. There are things which I am heartily glad that you do not know."

It was only later that Darcy paused to think on this phrase. For the present, the two cousins rose from their chairs to walk into the Dining Room for Luncheon, which the clock hour had signalled only a few minutes ago.


The above gentlemen spent the remainder of the day with their families, the latter in particular being anxious not to lose any more time he had left with his wife and children before he and his brother in law had to leave the next day. It might be interesting to note that the aforementioned brother in law spent much of the day writing a letter to his own significant other. Then again it might not.

Lady Catherine welcomed the chance to spend some time with her grand nieces and nephews, as well as their mother and father, although she would only be able to see Darcy for more than evenings or dining when he arrived back from Derbyshire. It must be said that she had altered much for the good since her reconciliation with the Darcys.

Her authoritative nature had softened, and if one acquaintance accidentally forgot to follow her advice on a occasion, it mattered not. Now and again she was prone to a insistent tone if the advice was not obeyed the second time, however. Her relations with Mrs Elizabeth Darcy, were by degrees improving, as the constant easy distance of the Reverend Collins was sometimes more of a hindrance than a help.

The Darcys had last visited Rosings Park in the Christmas of 1818, but had spent time together after that date in the summer of 1819 at an estate of the Earl of Matlock which was just in the midway of the distance between Derbyshire and Kent.

It had been a time when the entire Fitzwilliam family had joined together and an event which without Mrs Darcy's persuasion would never have happened quite as soon as it did. Aside from these two visits, the Kent branch of the Fitzwilliams had kept in touch by the usual means of letter writing, often from Richard to his cousin and friend, regularly from Anne to Elizabeth and sporadically from Lady Catherine to the Darcys in general.

Communication with the Collinses at Hunsford had been less than frequent when compared with Rosings. The Reverend could always be counted upon to send a monthly missive to every part of his relatives, no matter how remote, but this letter could hardly be expected to contain any thing further than his thoughts on the latest sermons for church.

His wife wrote only to Mrs Darcy and at times even less than a month. Elizabeth had felt the loss of Charlotte's closeness keenly, even though their thoughts had differed completely on the choice that the latter had made. Now, she hoped with this visit, the breach would be healed and they could have time to renew acquaintances once more.

The rest of the 21st passed quietly, although far too quickly for some. The guests retired late and the Darcys closed their eyes on each other with a heavy heart, wishing the morning to be one twelve days hence.


Chapter XXXIV.

Rosings Park, 22nd September, 1820.

It was the day which Elizabeth dreaded. For the first time since her marriage, she would be parted from her husband for more than a day. They were rarely parted from each other, and never for a distance as great as this. She and Darcy had risen early both with a heavy heart and had been unusually silent at breakfast, despite all Lady Catherine's attempts.

All too soon the horses were announced to be ready and everyone had reluctantly made the move to assemble outside. Mr Bingley made his farewells short and sat waiting on his steed for his friend and brother in law to finish his.

Darcy made his farewell with his wife the last. He stood silently in front of Elizabeth, looking steadily into her fine brown eyes, trying not to flinch at seeing the same sorrow which was contained in his. She gazed back at him with the same control. The rest of the world disappeared for both of them and they felt as if they were alone.

He took her hands in his, cradling them as if they were things of wonder. "I will write to you every day." He bestowed a kiss on each palm. "And get Dreyer to deliver them."

Elizabeth returned the kisses. "I'll send you a reply to every one."

He put his hands to her face, caressing her cheeks. "Give the children a kiss from me every night."

She nodded, tears forming in her eyes, reflected in his own. Slowly he let his arms go around her waist and up to her hair, letting his fingers wrap themselves in the curly tendrils. Finally he let his lips capture hers. At that moment both wanted it to be eternal. Every second was like a facet of each and every kiss that they had ever shared, from the first during their engagement, to the one in the carriage on their wedding day and beyond. It was a kiss to last a life time; encompassing all emotions at once; passion, amour, tenderness, adoration, reverence, ardour, fervour, and most importantly, love.

He withdrew slowly, his eyes never leaving hers as he mounted his steed. With a last final glance of his feelings; he turned to follow his friend out of the estate. Elizabeth watched until his figure faded into the distance and even beyond.


Hunsford Parsonage.

At first Elizabeth had been reluctant to take Imogen with her while she saw Charlotte. She knew that the undeniable presence of her could have the ability to make her friend not confide in her completely. But she was also hesitant about leaving her at Rosings for any length of time, especially as she had no idea how this talk was to take.

Imogen was only nearly two months old and to leave alone, even in the company of relatives, Elizabeth could not yet contemplate doing for very long, even if she was near by. Her absences from the babe at Netherfield had never been more than an hour at most, and even then she had kept to the grounds. So, with a nervous heart as to what reaction her friend might have, Elizabeth took her youngest in her arms, said farewell to the rest, and went off to Hunsford.

She arrived in good time, Charlotte greeting her at the door. "Elizabeth, it is good to see you," Mrs Collins remarked with genuine joy.

"I am happy to see you as well, Charlotte. I hope you are not busy?"

"Oh, no. Mr Collins is out visiting a parishioner. You find me all alone, Lizzy."

"Excellent."

Charlotte led her to the Parlour. Together they sat down on a sofa, as Mrs Collins noticed Imogen for the first time.

"Oh, Elizabeth, she is adorable."

Mrs Darcy smiled with all the pride of a mother. "Indeed she is. Her father was besotted with her from the first moment he laid eyes upon her. She is a perfect angel. I must confess I was unsure as to whether to bring her with me."

Charlotte understood instantly. "You need not worry, Lizzy. Did I not express in my letter my desire to see her? I am perfectly ready to talk to you fully and completely. We have so much to air."

"That we do," Elizabeth agreed emphatically. "Firstly, when did you realise Mr Collins could not......."

Charlotte blushed momentarily before answering her friend. "Let me just say that the consequence of spending the wedding night at Lucas Lodge did not put relations between us on a good footing. And you saw my behaviour towards him when you visited, Lizzy. I avoided him as much as I could. It was only when......." Abruptly she trailed off.

Elizabeth looked at her friend. "Charlotte, if Lady Catherine is involved in any of this, it will not surprise me. The branch will still be healed, whether you tell me or not."

Mrs Collins sighed. "Lady Catherine was indeed the catalyst. She lectured Mr Collins one day on the importance of having children. He returned with the words imprinted firmly in his mind and I was forced to obey their logic, as it were."

At this Charlotte paused, but seeing her friend's face rapidly darken, added, "I was resigned to that long ago, Lizzy. It was my duty, as a married woman to honour and obey my husband. Afterwards, I waited patiently for it to happen. But nothing ever did. At first I thought it was me, and as I let that thought sink in, Lizzy, I felt as if my heart would break. I never realised, Lizzy, how much I wanted children until I found out that Mr Collins could never have them."

Elizabeth sat, looking at her friend with remorseful eyes. "Oh Charlotte. I feel positively dreadful now for every letter I sent that mentioned mine."

"You need not," Charlotte replied reassuringly. "I welcomed hearing of your children, Elizabeth. As much as I resented the knowledge that I could never know what it was that you felt about them. It did me good to know that you were happy. Whatever initial feelings I felt, they were washed away whenever I read that you were happy."

"You are far too good, Charlotte," Elizabeth replied, sadness in her eyes for the second time that day. "At this rate you will pass Jane."

Charlotte smiled for the first time since their greeting. "I do not think I could ever encompass the generosity of Jane. Are you upset that I did not tell you all of this before, Lizzy?"

"No, I completely understand your hesitancy. I would have done exactly the same, although I must confess myself terrified of the thought. As much as Fitzwilliam often protested the contrary, Pemberley needed someone to carry on the family name. Both of us would have missed having children." Grasping her friend's hand, Elizabeth added feelingly, "I hope you get the chance Charlotte."

"I do not think it likely, Elizabeth."

Her friend smiled. "I once thought it unlikely that I would marry Mr Darcy. I have since learnt, that anything is possible."

Charlotte chuckled. "I remember telling you once that he loved you, never for a moment being serious about it. I did not imagine that we would be sitting here eight years later with you married to him."

"I do not think anyone did, Charlotte. That proves my theory."

"I hope you are right, Lizzy. Although I highly doubt it. Now," Charlotte began in a lighter tone. "How is Lydia?"

"A completely different woman. I think that her wild spirit has gone forever."

"Has she really altered so much?"

"Yes. Wickham did a lot that left to be desired. Eight children can also put an end a lot, I imagine."

Charlotte laughed with her friend, the present troubles for once far away from her mind. Elizabeth, with a trait picked up from her husband, watched her through her own. She hoped to see more occasions when her friend could laugh. She would need it, if she was to survive this.


Late evening, Oakham Mount, Meryton.

"Lawrence, I demand to know where you are taking me!"

"Patience, you'll soon see!"

"Are you sure Louise will be all right?"

"Positive. Henry will look after her perfectly well."

"Henry is only eight!"

"And has the makings of an excellent brother already!"

"And with no cause to offend, you are hardly a judge."

"Did I promised you not this would not take long? Do you not trust me?"

Lydia looked back at him sceptically.

Lawrence smiled and took her hand once more.

Lydia sighed and relented.

A moment later they were there. "Oakham Mount?" She queried, puzzled.

"I know you grew up here, but did you ever see it like this?" Lawrence asked her, standing beside her, her hand still in his.

Just then, the sun began to set in the sky. Lydia stopped questioning. The darkening light cast a different aspect upon the land which she had only view in daylight for all of her life. He was right, it is truly beautiful. "You were correct. I have never seen it like this before. I was too concerned about other things to notice the beauty. I must make sure I do in the years to come. This is truly beautiful."

"Beautiful indeed," Lawrence echoed, Although if his mind was on the Mount, I'll leave for your minds to determine. It was too dark to notice.


Chapter XXXV.

The grounds of Rosings Park, 23rd September 1820.

 


My Darling Elizabeth,

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense,1 as I sit down to write this to you. The occasion should be momentous, for this our first love letter, yet I cannot help but feel an almost overwhelming sense of loneliness. It is ironic; I once thought myself to possess self control, yet I find it crumbling when I am parted from you.

Part of me tells me I should keep this from you, yet some how I feel you will understand and feel the same. Our love, our marriage has always one where we seem to know each other's thoughts before we know them ourselves.

Already, we rest at ________, some hours earlier than both of us had planned. As I sit here writing to you, my brother sits writing to his own love, though I have the advantage of him, for I will see you two days before he sees his. It matters not. It is still like an eternity.

My heart and mind wonders if you are well, it hopes you cradle just as I do your image in the latter, so even though I am far away, I feel like I am still with you, when I close my eyes.

If I could write the beauty of your eyes, and in fresh numbers number all your graces, the age to come would say 'this poet lies; such heavenly touches ne'er touched earthly faces.2 I have not a poet's skill, but I know these words are true of you. I await to return with every anxious thought and send you all the love I can, knowing you will send the same in return.

Ever mine, ever thine, ever for each other.3
Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Elizabeth felt sympathy for every female heroine that had the tendency to swoon when they read the words of their lover. She could almost hear Fitzwilliam's voice speaking the lines. Already her mind was contemplating the reply she was to send, for Darcy's personal courier was waiting for it in the Rosings kitchen. She determined to let Mr Dreyer enjoy his brief break for awhile longer, as the man would no doubt be worn out with the constant trips he would taking during these twelve days.

Silently she stroked the words of his parting one last time. He had those words inscribed on their engagement and wedding rings, and it had always assured Elizabeth that she was blessed to have him as her husband. The words were formal but intimate at the same time. Carefully refolding the letter, she placed it in a pocket of her dress and returned with a slow pace to the house, composing her reply in her mind.


Longbourn.

On the same day, but slightly later in the afternoon, the occupants of Longbourn were about to occupy themselves with tea, when Mrs Hill entered the room. In her hands she carried an express for Lawrence. The whole company was surprised by arrival of such a note, including Lydia- who had arrived there with an intent to talk to her brother and so far had failed in that mission -and most importantly, Lawrence himself.

Nevertheless, the latter was a perfect gentleman. He thanked Mrs Hill most cordially, then casually asked if the messenger was waiting for a response. Mrs Hill replied no, and then quietly excused herself. Lawrence then turned the letter over to read the seal, without a shift in countenance. After mulling over the seal for a few minutes, he tucked the letter in his jacket pocket and returned to the conversation he had been in with Smythe, Guest and his father without further comment.

Lydia, who had watched this entire event, was greatly puzzled by it. Her attempts since the thirteenth to get Lawrence to confide in her had been entirely unsuccessful. Every occasion had been used, every opportunity abused, and still she had rarely been able to get him alone. Even the night of the twenty-second had failed for she had completely forgotten her plan, in the wake of witnessing the beautiful sunset. Lawrence had been correct in supposing that she had never fully taken the time to enjoy Oakham Mount, even she had seen it all her life.

The night had taught her a valuable lesson, even though it had made her forget her plan. She still wondered about what it was that Lawrence wanted to tell her, as he had quite clearly indicated that he had a secret to hide. A part of her had deliberated whether or not she should tell her father about this part confession of Lawrence, but then she realised that her father might choose to tell her his suspicions of her brother and that she was not quite ready for. Lawrence was her closest friend in her family- if he was of her family -and if she was to find out she had been deceived by him, Lydia was sure she would not be able to bear it.


Later that day, when the sun had set over Oakham Mount long ago, and the grounds of Longbourn lay shrouded in darkness, Lawrence walked to the lone figure that had been waiting for him to emerge from the house since the arrival of the letter.

"When did you learn of this?" He asked the figure instantly.

"Not until this morning."

"Have you confirmed it?" Lawrence asked anxiously.

The figure nodded in reply.

Lawrence uttered a sigh in frustration. Gripping the hand of the figure he exclaimed in tones of the same, "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!"

"But how......" the figure interjected.

"By fair means or foul!" Lawrence cut him off. "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?"

The figure, visibly shaken by both tone and appearance- the latter of which was hard to judge of course, because it was dark, but it was evident by the urgent tone within the voice -stood straight and acknowledged the order with obedience and it must be said a degree of trepidation.

Lawrence watched the figure disappear into the night, confident that everything would work out fine in the end. This was only one little setback and they had the means to accomplish the solution. He turned to go back in the house. Suddenly, he hesitated, looking carefully at the window to the Library. Shaking his head in silent rebuke at his feelings of fear, he walked back inside.

Mr Bennet, from his view point in the Library, sat quietly back down in his chair. The conversation he had just witnessed, had proved most satisfactory to him, terms of the conclusions that could be yielded from it. Lawrence was most certainly hiding something, that was undeniable now.

What he could almost prove also beyond the shadow of a doubt that the man who had just returned to the house claiming to be Lawrence Alexander Bennet was false. All that remained now, was to try and confront him.

By fair means or foul.


1: Ode To A Nightingale. John Keats (1795-1821).

2: Sonnet XVII: William Shakespeare. (1564-1616)

3: The words of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) to his 'Immortal Beloved' in certain letters, discovered after his death, but when I read the words, I couldn't resist. They just seem made for the Darcys.


Volume IV.