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The Tragedy Of A Woman:

Volume Three.

Chapter XII.

The next morning Elizabeth received the letter from Jane which she had been waiting for. The maid delivered it to her, along with another, also from Jane, just as Elizabeth was leaving with the Gardiners to visit the church. She instantly begged leave of her Aunt and Uncle and stayed behind to read them.

The first letter had been misdirected, which seemed to explain the delay. It ran thus:

 

Dear Lizzy,

I am most glad to hear that Derbyshire suits your tastes so well. As to us, we are all fine at the present, however, our nieces and nephews do tend to try poor Mama's nerves. Charles and I take charge of them as often as we can. Charles and I! It looks so strange and yet feels so right to see and write those words to you.............

The first page of the letter remained much the same as Jane dispensed all the delights of her marriage to her sister. The second page however, was dated more recently than the first and matched the hurried handwriting of the direction:

 

Since writing the last, something has happened of the most unexpected and serious nature. However, I am afraid of alarming you; be assured that we are all well. What I have to say concerns Lydia..................

"Lydia?" Elizabeth uttered aloud in surprise. What on earth could be the matter with Lydia? Her surprise grew as she continued to read, changing to shock and then sorrow and grief. Lydia had eloped with Wickham! Lizzy could not believe it. Lydia had nothing, nothing at all in the way of money that could possibly attract Mr Wickham, given his past history.

What possible reason could he have to run away with Lydia? Elizabeth know not what to make of it. Hurriedly she opened the second letter, hoping for something better. It was not to be. They had been traced as far as London, but that was all. Their father had gone to town to inquire further and Jane begged Elizabeth to let their Uncle know in order to further assist.

"Of course," Lizzy cried out stumbling to her feet. "Where is my Uncle?" She ran to the door, just as the maid opened it to reveal.......... Mr Darcy!

Darcy noticed instantly her distress. Stepping forward he began. "Miss Bennet, I hope......"

"Forgive me, Mr Darcy, pray excuse me, I must find my Uncle at once. On business that cannot be delayed, I have not an instant to loose."

"Good god, what is the matter?" Darcy cried, concerned. He looked at her carefully and saw she was in no fit state to fetch anyone at the moment. "Of course you need your Uncle, but let me go, or let the servant go. You are not well, you cannot go yourself."

"No I must........"

"Come, I insist." Darcy turned and called back the servant who Elizabeth commanded to fetch Mr and Mrs Gardiner back to the Inn at once. Once she had departed, Darcy looked back at Elizabeth. She seemed to be losing the battle to hold back her grief. Silently he took her into his arms.

It was with great shock that Elizabeth found herself to be in Darcy's arms. Forgetting her resolve, and too focused on Lydia, she let him comfort her as the grief overwhelmed.

It seemed like an eternity as they stood there. Then Darcy drew back a little to ask what had happened. Slowly Elizabeth broke away, knowing that when he learned of the news he would think himself lucky to have escaped them.

"My youngest sister has left all her friends, has eloped. Has thrown herself into the power of Mr Wickham."

Darcy's face darkened instantly.

"They left together on Sunday night. They were traced as far as London but not beyond. You know him too well to doubt the rest. She as no money, no connections, nothing that can tempt him."

Darcy could only stare at her. After a long pause he formed his resolution and asked, "what has been done, what has been attempted to recover them?"

"My father has gone to London and Jane writes to beg my Uncle to follow. But I know all too well that nothing can be done. How is such a man to be worked upon, how is such a thing even to be attempted. I do not know what to hope for. She is lost forever."

During this conversation Darcy had moved to window and now in the far corner of it, a carriage began to appear. Realising quickly that the Gardiners would soon arrive, he turned round and began with, "I know you have been long desiring my absence, and nothing but a concern for your well being would make me stay. I fear that this event will prevent my sister from seeing you at Pemberley today."

"Yes, please tell Miss Darcy that urgent business call us away. I would rather this went no further than it already has."

"You may be assured of my secrecy. But I have stayed too long. I shall leave you now." Darcy's voice choked on the last words. He did not mean to sound so distant and cruel. However go he must and soon, if he was to make London in time. With one last look shared between them, he reluctantly left.


The moment he went Elizabeth found herself weeping again. She knew now that she had lost him forever. Even if Wickham and Lydia were found, he would never allow himself to be brother in law to a man he hated absolutely.

Before she could dwell upon this any further, Mr and Mrs Gardiner came in looking gravely concerned. Elizabeth quickly explained the matter to them and her uncle promised his immediate assistance. Elizabeth had expected no less and thanked him eagerly. She was wild to be at home, to see Jane, to see her mother, to see Mary and Kitty, to try and alleviate the grief in any way she could.

"However," Mr Gardiner began as their luggage was loaded upon the carriage, "I believe that the situation may not be as bad as we presume it to be. It appears to me very unlikely that any young man should form such a design against a girl who is by no means unprotected or friendless, and is actually staying with Colonel's family. Do you really believe Wickham to be capable of it, Lizzy?"

"Not perhaps of neglecting his own interest, but of every other neglect I can believe him capable. Wickham will never marry a woman without some money. He cannot afford it. What claims does Lydia have, beyond spirit and beauty and youth? No, I am still prepared for the worse, Uncle."

"But surely Lydia will not consent to such a thing?" Aunt Gardiner asked.

"Ever since the Militia arrived at Meryton, there was nothing but love, flirtation and officers in her head! And all Wickham has to do is pretend they are to marry as soon as his debts are settled. He will delay as much as he can." Elizabeth paused as she stepped inside the carriage. She waited until they were all seated when she began again. "If I had perhaps warned her before she left."

"Would that have helped though?" Mrs Gardiner asked.

"No, I suppose not. Lydia would have not paid heed. But then I never expected this to happen."

Elizabeth lapsed into silence then as did the rest of the occupants of the carriage. They were silent the entire journey, all thoughts of Hertfordshire.


Despite having ridden one of the fastest stallions of the estate, Darcy brought back a worn out horse to the stables of Pemberley. He barely paid attention to the stable lad that came out to take the horse away as he ran around the corner to go inside the house, no visitors heeding his progress this time.

"Georgiana!" He called out the minute he entered the hallway. "Georgiana!"

"Yes, William, what is it?" She asked, appearing behind him and making him jump. He turned to her and began his first set of lies. No one must know.

"I have to go to town on an important matter of business," he began gently. "Will you make my excuses to everyone?"

"You of course. It's nothing bad, is it?"

"No, at least I do not think so. I should be no more than a week or so."

Georgiana was most comforted by those words. "What about Miss Bennet and the Gardiners? Are they not invited for dinner tonight?"

"I have just seen them and it turns out that they also need to return home to Hertfordshire. Will you inform Mrs Reynolds? I will not have the time."

"Of course Fitzwilliam. Oh, er, Caroline wants to see you."

"Caroline? Whatever for?" Darcy asked puzzled.

"I do not know. She just wants to see you. She sounded quite angry though."

"Where is she?"

"In the Music Room."

"Thank you Georgiana I'll see you soon." Grimacing, Darcy released his sister and taking a deep breath, went to the music room to speak with his wife.


Caroline was fuming. She had expected her husband to adhere to the promise that he had made to her at Netherfield last night. Instead he had gone out early without a word to any one, except his valet who Caroline was not prepared to even ask. Now she stood waiting for him to appear.

As Darcy opened the door to the music room, he received such a look of anger that if it had the ability to kill, he would have died on the spot. "You wanted to see me, Madam?"

"And that is all you have to say for yourself?" Caroline stated venomously.

"What else do I need to say?"

"An explanation would be nice, it is my due!"

"I apologise, Madam, but I believe the explanation is needed from you."

"I?" Caroline shot arrogantly back. "I have no need to explain myself."

"Indeed you do, Madam," Darcy remarked calmly back. The longer he kept calm the shorter this conversation would be.

"Will you stop calling me that!" Caroline yelled, now thoroughly annoyed. "How dare you!"

"How dare I what?" Darcy replied, refraining from 'madam'.

"You made a promise to me at Netherfield. You promised we would make our marriage true."

"I did not promise anything of the kind."

"You have not visited me at night once! Why?"

Darcy wisely refrained from voicing his true reason. "I do not need to explain my actions to you."

"I am left," Caroline continued, as if Darcy had never spoken, "to assume only one thing. That you have someone else who answers to those needs."

"On the contrary, Madam, there are two things you can conclude. I could have taken a vow of celibacy."

"I know what men are like!" Caroline yelled back, turning away briefly to pace the floor. "And I know for a fact that you have a mistress!"

At this point Darcy visibly relaxed a little, strangely thankful now for what happened at Hunsford. "A mistress? That's absurd, Caroline, where did you get that from?"

"Servants are useful little things," Caroline began in a smug voice as Darcy began to wonder if any of them could hear this right now. "When they think," Caroline continued, still smug, "that you cannot hear them, they reveal a lot of secrets about the master they supposedly adore."

Silently Darcy wondered if Caroline had ever heard any of the things that he knew the servants had said about her. "Your point, Caroline? If indeed you are coming to one."

"A few weeks ago, they casually mentioned that the Kympton Parsonage, after being vacant for a month, is now occupied by a single lady, if indeed I should call her that." Caroline looked triumphant. "Explain that, sir!"

"I was helping out a homeless woman while I was still searching for a priest for the place," Darcy replied. It was a practised lie, which he had used all the time Elizabeth was there. He did it without a change of composure, fooling Caroline completely. She lost her smug face for a moment, trying to regain ground. Then she took a risk. "I know you have a mistress, sir. I found out when you had the nerve to flaunt her in front of me!"

"When did I do that?"

"Last night. I saw your look at Elizabeth Bennet. And I remember well meeting her at that ball almost a year ago. She is your mistress, is she not?"

"No," Darcy began, keeping his face totally in check. "Miss Bennet is not my mistress." At least not now anyway.

"Ah, but you do not deny that you have one!"

"Did I say that I did?"

"No, but you implied it. Why else were you out of the house this morning?"

"To see Miss Bennet, to cancel tonight's dinner plans."

"Good!" Caroline shrieked before asking why.

"Because I have an urgent matter of business to attend to in London." With that Darcy prepared to leave, for it he did not do so soon, he would reveal everything.

"And what business is that?!"

"My divorce. Good day Caroline." And with that Darcy glanced briefly at the room remembering delights of the night before, which had been tarnished by this morning's argument. Then he quietly walked out, leaving a fuming Caroline behind.


Chapter XIII.

"Lizzy!"

Elizabeth embraced her sister as son as she got out of the carriage. Jane Bingley was smiling but the fears for Lydia showed as clear as day and her relief that Elizabeth had returned was also evident.

The party went to see Mrs Bennet, who had shut herself in her room ever since she had heard of Lydia's elopement. Her grief was inconsolable, as she blamed everybody but the person whose indulgence of her daughter led to the errors in the first place.

"If I," she began when all had seated, Mr Gardiner taking her hand in brotherly support, "had been able to persuade your father to take us all to Brighton, this would not have happened I am sure! But all is lost now. Mr Bennet is gone away and I know he will fight Wickham and them he will be killed and then what is to become of us all? The Collinses will turn us out on to the streets!" With this she collapsed back into her chair, waving a handkerchief to try and calm herself.

Mr Gardiner instantly assured her of his plans to go to town, turning Mrs Bennet's speeches into happiness and instructions to forward to Lydia about wedding clothes, to keep Mr Bennet away from fighting and to let Lydia have as much money as she chuses.

Afterwards, Mr Gardiner departed for town, leaving Mrs Gardiner to travel with the children after a few days, as her presence would be beneficial to her nieces and distract their mother from calling them every hour upon the hour, giving Jane a well needed break.

Jane and Lizzy retired to the drawing room where Elizabeth asked, "now, Jane, tell me everything about it that I have not already heard. What did Colonel Forster say? Have they no apprehension of anything before the elopement took place?"

"Colonel Forster did own that he often suspected some partiality on Lydia's side, but nothing to give him any alarm. Oh, Lizzy, I feel I am to blame. If I was not married I would have helped you to persuade father to prevent Lydia going."

"No, Jane, you are not to blame. No one could foresee this coming, not even those who saw through his charm. Others are culpable, not you." Elizabeth looked at her sister kindly. "Where's Charles?" She suddenly remembered to ask.

"He is at Netherfield, but he returns every day for dinner here and to take me back. He is concerned not only about Lydia, but about me as well."

"About you?" Elizabeth queried, worried instantly.

"Do not be afraid, I am well in mind and body. Yet I feel so guilty for being so, for being in this condition while Lydia is where ever she is."

Elizabeth looked puzzled at first, but then she realised what her sister was implying. "Oh Jane, I could not be more happy for you!" She replied, embracing her. "Have you told mama?"

"No, I dare not, not until Lydia is safe." Jane reached into her pocket and brought out an opened letter. "Lydia wrote this for Mrs Forster before she went away."

Elizabeth took the letter and opened it. It read;

My dear Harriet,

You will laugh when you know where I am gone, and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise tomorrow morning, as soon as I am missed. I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with whom, I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love. You need not send word to Longbourn of my going, for it will make the surprise all the more greater when I write to them and sign my name Lydia Wickham! What a good joke it will be! I can scarce write for laughing!

She trailed off then on to the forthcoming ball to which Lizzy paid no mind to. "Thoughtless, thoughtless Lydia! What a letter to have written at such a moment. But at least it shows she believed Wickam's purpose was marriage whatever he might have persuaded her to otherwise. Oh my poor father. How must he have felt it!"

"I never saw a man so shocked. He could not speak a word for a full ten minutes. Our mother was taken ill immediately and the whole house was in uproar."


 

Dear Mr Huntingdon,

I remember with great pleasure our little meetings some two years ago, and I was most pleased to receive your avowed assurance that those feelings you expressed still remain the same. I would be most honoured to receive you at this address as soon as you feel able to do so. I understand perfectly your reluctance to commit to this affair but let me assure you that my husband is determined to be rid of me as soon as he can possibly arrange it so. We lead completely separate lives.

I hope to either receive a reply to this or see you in the flesh soon.

Yours always,
Caroline Darcy.


In a large house on Grosvenor street, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy stood staring out one of the library windows, reviewing the events of the past few days.

It had taken surprising ease to find Mr Wickham. He had been staying free of charge exactly where Darcy had suspected, at the cheap London Inn of another of his ex-employee's, Mrs Younge, once governess of Georgiana, the woman who had taken her to Ramsgate. Mrs Younge had been watched by two of his most trustworthy servants, ever since he arrived in London and it had only taken a couple of days for Wickham to be seen.

Darcy had then gone to the house himself, taking over the watch of one of his servants and, having spied Lydia Bennet at the window, went to speak with Mr Wickham. Mrs Younge was rather reluctant at first to reveal the location of her partner in crime, and even though Darcy knew he was there, he did not hesitate from parting with a sum of money to keep her silence and compliance. He spoke with Wickham and Lydia briefly and then arranged to call on them the next morning, leaving the servants to make sure they did not skip town during the night.

The next morning along with Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy duly went to start the negotiations. He spoke with Wickham first, relaying to him the realities of his situation and the limits of his expectations. It goes without saying that Wickham wanted more than Darcy was willing to give him; nor is unwarranted to suppose that he took the opportunity to 'casually' bring Kympton into the conversation whenever he could. Darcy however, was willing only to give Wickham some of the former and completely ignored every mention of the latter.

Finally, the amount which was settled upon was just two thousand pounds straight up, together with another thousand to be settled on Lydia, his debts to be cleared and a commission in the Newcastle regiment. With that business taken care of, Darcy went to relieve his cousin whose watch on Lydia was proving tiresome.

Lydia was somewhat an easier matter to tackle than Mr Wickham. As much as he had been determined to not marry her was she certain in her union with him. Having spent an hour talking to Darcy's cousin about the delights of marriage, she had spent another talking to Darcy of the same.

Having determined by this that conversation with Lydia was useless, Darcy politely took his leave of her and along with Colonel Fitzwilliam, returned to Grosvenor street, to consult with his lawyer. He then called on Mr Gardiner at Gracechruch street, but received no reply. Only Mr Bennet was there. Wishing to discuss the events of the day with someone he had more than a passing acquaintance with, Darcy declined to leave his name and called the next day.

Mr Gardiner was most surprised to learn of Darcy's involvement in the affair and was at first reluctant to let him carry out any part of his plans. But by then Darcy was adamant in taking responsibility for the whole business. He felt responsible, as he explained to Mr Gardiner, for concealing Mr Wickam's true character from the world, concerned as he was for Georgianna's reputation. Mr Gardiner was thus forced to concede.

The lawyers were called for, to begin drafting the contracts to sign, when Darcy revealed his final stipulation. That was for Mr Gardiner to take all of the public responsibility for the whole affair. To this Mr Gardiner protested the most and if it were not for Darcy's stubbornness, he would have not accepted this part as well.

The reason for concealment on Darcy's side were none that he dared admit publicly, but they mattered. Although Elizabeth had told him that she loved him, he did not want her to feel obliged to marry him when he went to ask her again after his divorce. If she did not know of this, their situations would be equal and she would choose for affection above obligation.

The couple were then separated the next day, Lydia to the Gardiners, Mr Wickham to Darcy's, where the Colonel was to keep a watchful eye on him until his cousin had returned from the country for the wedding.

He had often thought of home while in London, where almost every instant seemed to remind him of the argument he had had with Caroline the day he had left. As yet he was unable to decide whether or not he regretted revealing the divorce earlier than planned, but it was done now and could not be undone. He wondered about what she was doing, for the first time in their marriage. This return would be a chance to find out.

"Sir?" His lawyer called him to attention.

Darcy turned round to face him.

"Are you ready to sign, Sir?"

"Yes," he replied, sitting down and taking the quill. Rapidly he signed his name. The deed was done.

He rose early the next morning and readied himself for travelling to Pemberley. He checked on Colonel Fitzwilliam before he left.

"Are you sure its wise to return?" Fitzwilliam asked, for Darcy had told him everything about it some days ago.

"If I was able to think twice about it, no," Darcy replied. "But there is little I can do here. And Georgiana will need a break."

"Ah dear Georgiana," Wickham remarked, bringing his presence to their attention. "How is she?"

Darcy and the Colonel ignored him. "Have you told her about this?"

"No, how can I? I will eventually, just not yet."

"Sir? The carriage is ready."

"Thank you, Etates. Now, Rich, any letter that comes, will you open them and check what they contain before putting them on the appropriate piles in my study? If any come from Pemberley, don't bother to send them on. I'll deal with them when I get there."

"Of course, Darce."

"Good luck," Wickham commented with a laugh. "You'll need it."

Darcy again ignored him and shook his cousin's hand before going to his carriage outside. With last glance at the window of Wickam's 'prison' as he got in, Darcy left London.

Colonel Fitzwilliam turned away from the window and let one of the footmen take over his watch before heading out towards a guest room. He was about to catch some sleep when a commotion at the door brought his attention. There was a courier at the door with an express for Mr Darcy. Fitzwilliam rushed forward to take care of it and walked into the library to read it.

It was from Pemberley, by the hand of Mrs Reynolds and a hurried one at that. It ran thus;

Dear Sir,

I regret that it is my duty to inform you that...........


Chapter XIV.

As Elizabeth feared, news of Lydia's ruin was soon made public. Meryton was quick to disown the man who previously every one had adored. Wickham was pronounced to be the worst of men, to have run up debts with every trader, and to have meddled with every tradesman's daughter.

Everyday they waited for a letter from their father and none came. Finally, a letter from their uncle revealed that he was to come home on Saturday, an event which caused Mrs Bennet to despair that he would not be there to fight Wickham.

It was typical English weather when Mr Bennet returned to Longbourn as the rain welcomed him back to his home. His two eldest daughters greeted him as soon as he was inside, and for once he did not welcome their presence. "Not now, Jane," he said rather abruptly, delivering the same to Elizabeth a moment later as he went and shut himself in his library.

It was not until the evening that he emerged, just as Elizabeth and Kitty had despaired of ever seeing him for the rest of the day. Jane had gone home to Netherfield with Mr Bingley and Kitty had taken over her duties with her sister, although Elizabeth tended to command the whole. She was of the feeling that she had neglected her family of late, due to her visits to Hunsford and Derbyshire. She felt most wretched about it and so devoted herself wholly to the task of making Kitty and Mary's lives easier by taking her share of the duties once more.

The tea had just come in and Kitty volunteered to take some to her father. The length of Lydia's absence had done her a world of good for she was now as placid as Jane, though she received little thanks for it. Elizabeth tried to fill that gap. She was gratified by the offer that Kitty had now made but volunteered her own services instead. "I'll go to papa, and you can take Mama her tea." Kitty nodded and began to do so, just as their father came in.

"Papa," Elizabeth began, "you look tired. How much you must have gone through."

"Say nothing of that," Mr Bennet replied. "Who should suffer but myself? It has been my own doing and I ought to feel it."

"You must not be so severe upon yourself," Elizabeth admonished gently.

"No, Lizzy, let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough."

"Do you suppose them to be in London?"

"Yes; where else can they be so well concealed."

"And Lydia always wanted to go to London," added Kitty.

"She is happy then," Mr Bennet commented dryly. "And her residence there will probably be of some duration." He paused, then leant forward to continue, taking Elizabeth's hand in his. "Lizzy, I bear you no ill will for being justified in your advice to me last _______ which, considering the event, shows some greatness of mind I think."

"If I should go to Brighton," Kitty remarked in a vain effort to make her father feel better by this, "I would behave better that Lydia."

It was the wrong thing to say. "You go to Brighton! I would not trust you so near it as Eastbourne, not for fifty pounds! No Kitty, I have at last learnt to be cautious, and you will feel the effects of it. No officer is ever to enter my house again, or to pass through the village! Balls will be absolutely prohibited, unless you stand up with one of your sisters. And you are never to stir out of this house again until you can prove that you can spend the day in a rational manner!"

Kitty was much subdued by this outburst and tried desperately to check her tears. Mr Bennet softened. "Well, well," said he, "do not make yourself uneasy my dear. If you are a good girl for the next ten years, I shall take you to a review at the end of them."

Kitty did not believe her father was joking and her tears became louder. Mr Bennet rolled his eyes and went back to his seat.

As the next day dawned Elizabeth was the first to rise. She dressed herself and slipped out of the house. She had been feeling rather confined lately, as she could only walk in the grounds in case her mother or Jane or the others wanted her.

She turned in the direction of Oakum Mount, stopping where the path's position allowed her an excellent view of Netherfield Park. She stood there for awhile, contemplating the view. She could remember standing here briefly less than a year ago, watching two riders galloping across the fields below. She had not known then that those two riders would change forever her life and her sister's.

Jane was married now and living in the house she was looking at, and in a few months time would become a mother. It was strange how things turned out. Elizabeth had always imagined that she and Jane would marry together. Suddenly a flash came into her mind and for one horrifying moment Elizabeth saw herself in a double wedding with her sister, marrying Mr Collins. She chuckled, her mood lifting for once. At times she felt like she was living in a dream. Nothing seemed real lately.

A breeze ruffled the trees and Elizabeth turned back in the direction of the path. It was time to stop wondering about her own future and wait for Lydia's to resolve itself first.


A sudden bump on the road appeared as if out of nowhere. The driver passed over it expertly, causing only a momentary jolt in the interruption of the smooth ride.

Darcy was brought awake by the jolt and he carefully sat up to gaze out of the window at the passing countryside. For the first time in a long while he allowed himself to think about Elizabeth. The woman he loved. He had tried to avoid thoughts of her lately, fearing how others might interpret his loss of attention and the state of his face.

Mrs Gardiner knew. He had established that the minute she had briefly mentioned Elizabeth the day he had a luncheon with them before he left for Derbyshire. She had just returned from Longbourn and had managed to assure Darcy of his friend's well being.

At least that's what he had admitted to. But Mrs Gardiner had seen straight through it and had managed to ally his real fears. She casually mentioned Elizabeth at several points of the conversation which gladdened his heart. He wondered how much she knew and when she had learned of it. And how. Would Elizabeth have told her? Darcy was not sure.


Colonel Fitzwilliam hesitated to read the rest of the express after reading the first few words. It was obviously bad news and to read it would be like intruding on Darcy's private life. Yet all the same his eyes were drawn to the page. Shaking his head the Colonel read the first line again.

Dear Sir,

I regret that it is my duty to inform you that...........

The Colonel stopped himself again. He should not, should not be doing this. He should send it on to Darcy's first port of call along the journey to Derbyshire and leave it at that. Yet still his eyes were drawn to the page. Sighing resolutely, Colonel Fitzwilliam abandoned his caution and began to satisfy his curiosity.

Dear Sir,

I regret that it is my duty to inform you that the situation at your estate is one of the most dreadful nature.


The carriage stopped at a small village Posting Inn of no importance to change the horses for the next leg of the journey. Darcy got out of the carriage to stretch his legs and sort out the stabling arrangements for his four black steeds who would stay here until; he had returned to _______ whereupon he would use them for his return journey to London.

It was a task his carriage driver could take care of, but Darcy preferred to handle it himself. As he walked back to the carriage where his man was waiting by the open door, he glanced briefly at the sky, marvelling at the weather which despite all purports of the usual signs of rain, had stayed remarkably fine. He looked back towards the carriage and got inside. The horses sped away on the second leg of his journey.


Normally I would hesitate to trouble you so, especially as I am only too well aware of the relationship between you and Mrs Darcy, but matters have changed somewhat considerably since you left. I just hope that you are able to pull yourself away from the business in London. But to resume, as no doubt you are intrigued by now to what news I have to relay.

A few days ago a carriage arrived at the house.................


They took another brief break in Lambton where this time Darcy stayed in the carriage, lost in another world while his physical presence appeared to stare out at the people as they walked past. His mind was in London, imagining the wedding of his enemy already occurring before his eyes. Suddenly the bride turned round to face him. Darcy gasped and for one awful moment he saw Elizabeth marrying Wickham. He shook himself back to reality. He needed to get home.


............for Mrs Darcy. It contained a gentleman who is already acquainted with you I believe, a Mr James Huntingdon, heir to the Earldom of _______. He requested to see Mrs Darcy at once. Knowing his reputation I of course refused him, but he would not be dissuaded. He walked straight past me and called out Mrs Darcy's name.


As Darcy's carriage neared the boundaries of his estate, Darcy was struck by the quietness of the estate. He had expected at least one of his groundsmen somewhere, working on one of the gardens or attending to the trees. Instead he saw and heard none. It was most unusual.

The carriage came to halt a few metres from his front entrance and Darcy was surprised to see two carriages barring passage from his own. The first was an opened topped, black with blue furnishing and the crest of the Earl of _______ proudly staring at him from its vantage point. The carriage was driven by two bays, both of which looked rested, as though they had been there a long while. The other was......... the doctor's.

Darcy practically ran through the archway and up the stairs to the main entrance. What on earth was going on here?


Your wife, Sir, called back that she would be down in a minute. And that's when this most dreadful tragedy occurred. Mrs Darcy must have slipped upon the hardwood floors which had just been recently polished. She fell down the stairs, hitting her head against the wall at the bottom.


Darcy walked inside to find Mrs Reynolds waiting for him anxiously. Panic began to overwhelm him. "What's the matter, Kate? Is Georgiana all right?"

"Miss Darcy is fine, Sir," Mrs Reynolds replied, looking puzzled. "Its Mrs Darcy who is ill."

Now it was Darcy's turn to look puzzled.

"Did you not get my letter, Sir?"

"Where is she?"

"In her room, Sir. Dr Asthen is there."

Darcy did not catch the last as he rushed past her up the stairs.


The Doctor was called immediately. His diagnosis revealed all we needed to know. There is no easy way to tell you this, Sir, but I must. Your wife is dying.


Chapter XV.

Two days after Mr Bennet's return, Elizabeth and Jane were walking outside in the grounds of Longbourn when they were accosted by Mrs Hill, the housekeeper. "What is it Hill?" Elizabeth asked instantly. "Does Mrs Bennet need one of us?"

"Oh no, ma'am. I was wondering if you knew that an express had come for master from Mr Gardiner."

"When did it come Hill?" Elizabeth asked in a concerned voice.

"About an hour ago ma'am," Hill replied and the two thanked her before they went to find their father.

He was not in the breakfast room, nor was he in the library and they were on the point of checking on their mother to see if he was there when the Butler informed them that he had seen the master heading in the direction of copse outside.

Elizabeth reached him first. "Papa," she cried out. "What news? What news have you heard from my uncle?"

"Yes, I have had a letter from him by express."

"And what news does it bring, good or bad?"

"What is there of good to be expected?" Said he, taking the letter from his pocket and handing it to her. "Perhaps you would like to read it yourself."

Elizabeth grasped it eagerly from his hand as Jane came up to stand beside her.

"Read it aloud, Lizzy," said their father, "for I hardly know what to make of it myself.

My dear brother,

At last I am able to send you some tidings of my niece and Mr Wickham. I have seen them both...........

"It is as I hoped!" Jane interjected. "They are married!"

They are not married and nor can I find that there was any intention of being so, but if you are willing to perform the engagements I have ventured to make on your side, I believe that it will not be long before they are.

"What engagements?" Elizabeth asked her father at this point.

"Read on," Mr Bennet commanded lightly.

All that is required of you is to assure your daughter that her equal share of the five thousand pounds she shall inherit on your death and allow her during your life, the sum of one hundred pounds per annum.

"One hundred pounds per annum?" Elizabeth repeated, puzzled. "Why so little?"

"Hr, read on."

You will easily comprehend by this that Mr Wickam's circumstances are not so hopeless as they are generally believed to be.

"There!" Jane replied happily. The father remained the same, and instructed Lizzy to continue to read.

I am happy to say that there will be some little money, after all his debts are discharged, to settle on my niece.

"I cannot believe it," Elizabeth remarked, reading between the lines. Her father chuckled and said again, "Read on."

We have judged it best that my niece should be married from this house, of which I hope you will approve........

"Oh, poor Kitty will be disappointed not to be a bridesmaid," Jane remarked.

Send back your answer as soon as you can and be sure to write explicitly as to the financial settlement.

Elizabeth closed the letter. "How is it possible," she began, "that Wickham will marry her for so little?"

"Maybe he is not so as undeserving as we thought. Maybe he does truly love her," Jane cried hopefully.

"You think that, Jane," her father replied. "If it gives you comfort."

"Have you answered the letter?" Elizabeth asked.

"No, but I must. And soon."

"And they must marry," Elizabeth concluded, "and he is such a man."

"Yes they must marry, there's noting else to be done. But there are two things I very much want to know. One is how much money your uncle has laid down to bring this about, and the other, how ever am I to repay him."


"Dying?" Mr Darcy queried Dr Asthen as if he had not heard him properly.

"Yes sir. There is nothing more I can do. The injury to her head was too severe. It is now only a matter of time."

Darcy thanked him and went into his wife's bedchamber. It was to be his first and last visit to this room, which was as far away from his own as it could possibly be.

A young man of about thirty stood up as he entered the room. Darcy looked at him blankly. "And you are?"

"James Huntingdon. Viscount Huntingdon."

Darcy's face became blacker. He had heard of Viscount Huntingdon. And of his many affairs. The man knew no proprieties. "Let's talk outside, shall we?"

"Er, well I think......."

"IT WAS NOT A REQUEST!" Darcy thundered back, making the man jump, despite his superior rank. He meekly joined him out of the room and into the corridor. "I thought you would have been okay with this."

"What?"

"She said you lived separate lives."

Now Darcy was completely confused. And he was getting angrier by the minute. He led the man into his study, shutting the door behind him, before he sat down behind his desk and asked him the following. "Explain everything. Now."


Mrs Bennet's cries of joy could be heard throughout the entire house.

Elizabeth gave up trying to make clear to her mother the seriousness of the situation and went downstairs to join her father. Mr Bennet grasped her hand and led her inside his library. "Shut the door, Lizzy."

The door was shut, making the shrieks less audible. Mr Bennet continued to speak. "At least some happiness can be gained from this."

"Do you suppose my uncle has laid down a great deal of money in this?"

"Yes I do. Wickam's a fool if he takes with a farthing less than ten thousand pounds."

"Ten thousand pounds!?!" Elizabeth awed. "How is half such a sum to be repaid?"

"I wish I had laid by a certain sum every year to provide for my daughters. But of course I hoped to father a son. The son would inherit the estate, no part of which would be entailed away, so providing for my widow and any other children. But when Lydia was born and all hope of a son was lost, seemed a little late to begin saving.

The satisfaction of prevailing on one of the most worthless young men of Great Britain, might then have rested in its proper place." Mr Bennet sighed. "But it is done now and with extraordinary little inconvenience to myself. When I think of the money I will save on Lydia's board and pocket allowance, I'm scarce less than ten pounds worst off. I'm heartedly ashamed of my self, Lizzy."

Elizabeth came forward and laid a comforting hand on her father's shoulder.

"Well," Mr Bennet concluded, "this shall all pass. And no doubt quicker than it should."


"Now," Darcy began in a tone that was striving to be calm, "let me get this straight. Caroline planned to run away with you?"

"Yes." Viscount Huntingdon judged it best to keep his answers simple.

"And you agreed?"

"Yes." The Viscount paused. "Mr Darcy, you must understand, it is possible to love Caroline. I loved her dearly before her marriage to you."

"Then why did you not marry her yourself?"

"My father disapproved of the inferiority of the match."

That's pretty hypocritical considering your mother was a gypsy girl, Darcy was about to retort before deciding against it. Now was not the time to be arguing. Caroline was dying. Caroline was dying. The reality of it was still sinking in. Darcy got up from his chair. "Come on," he said abruptly to Huntingdon, "let's go back to her."


To everyone's surprise the solemn tone of the priest quietened Lydia's giddiness. She stayed silent, listening to the ceremony, every now and then glancing at Wickham.

Wickham himself was avoiding everybody's eyes, staring fixedly out of the window ahead, wishing the wedding over already. He could feel other's gazes burrowing into him.

Mr and Mrs Gardiner could not smile at this wedding. Having Lydia with them for a few days did not help much either, as they tried to avoid inquiries about why she was not getting married in Meryton and why her family were not at the wedding as well.

Darcy's eyes remained on Wickham throughout the entire ceremony, although at times he felt like only half of his spirit was there watching the wedding. As for his other half, it kept flicking between locations. One minute it was there at the church in London. Next it was at Pemberley where a whole house was shrouded in mourning for a death that few knew had happened. Then it would flick to his uncle's house where Georgiana was staying until the funeral.

The funeral. Caroline was dead. Caroline was dead. Darcy could still not believe it. He was at last able to marry again and not have to worry about the social stigma that divorce would have created. Yet he felt guilty for thinking about that, as though it was a wound on Caroline's memory. Yet he could not stop thinking about it. He was free, free to marry the woman he loved. Elizabeth. So why did he feel like crying?


Chapter XVI.

With the union of Wickham and Lydia finally accomplished, Jane was at last able to tell her family of the news she had been keeping secret. It was told, rather tentatively, just after breakfast, when she and Mr Bingley had arrived at the house, and the reaction which she received was all she could have hoped for and more.

Mrs Bennet almost screamed out her delight, confined as she was to her room no longer, not since she had been told of Lydia's forthcoming marriage. Of that and the future grandchild was all she could talk about, nothing else. It occupied all of her thoughts for the rest of the day, as she chatted to anyone that would listen and sometimes when they would not. As for her husband he retreated back to the library, emerging only for meals.

As life at Longbourn was slowly returning to normality, or what was considered normal by them, the Bingley's lessened their visits to the Bennets, remaining at Netherfield far more frequently, an event which caused Elizabeth great sadness, for no sooner than she had become accustomed to seeing her sister every day once more, that she must now cope with only seeing her weekly. It was a lost that was difficult to bare, but eventually Elizabeth adjusted by spending more time with her father and with Kitty, trying to install in her the permanency of the better character dispositions and manners that she had been recently displaying.

Another letter from Mr Gardiner eventually brought news of Lydia and Wickham and mentioned in passing how much Lydia was hoping to visit Longbourn before the couple travelled to Newcastle to join Wickam's regiment. This hint served its purpose well, for it caused Mr Bennet to be the brunt of many attacks as to why he should refuse his daughter's request.

After much persuasion by both Elizabeth and Jane, Mr Bennet finally relented and the couple soon arrived. They were everything everyone expected them to be; Lydia was her usual self as she boasted of her success at getting a husband and her wish that they had all gone to Brighton. Lydia was still Lydia; wild, untamed, unabashed, noisy and fearless. She addressed each sister in turn, demanding congratulations from each, and laughing at their rather cold replies.

"Only, think of its being three months," she cried when they were all seated, "since I went away; it seems but a fortnight I declare; yet there have been things enough happened in the time. Good gracious When I went away, I am sure I had no more idea of being married till I came back again! Though I thought it would be very good fun if I was."

Mr Bennet lifted his eyes to the ceiling. Jane was distressed and Bingley likewise embarrassed. Elizabeth looked at her sister in exasperation, a look which Lydia ignored completely.

Lydia then turned to Jane and began to remark on her altered appearance. "La, I did not think you would be the first to turn with child. I suspected I would get there before you, did I not, George darling?"

Mr Wickham had the grace to look embarrassed by his wife, and Jane was similarly distressed. Mr Bingley dropped his usually good-humoured face and looked almost angrily at Lydia who appeared to notice none of it. Elizabeth meanwhile could bare it no longer. She got up and ran out of the room, retreating to her father's usual base camp; the library. Her sister joined her a few minutes later.

"Is she never to change!?!" Elizabeth cried out to Jane who attempted no check of her. "Are we forever to be subject to her judgements? Dear god, I wish we had never let her come! How dare she say that about you!"

Jane still made no effort to check her sister, instead offered her support, entirely agreeing with her sister. "I must confess I hoped marriage would change her."

"I hoped the same," Elizabeth replied sitting down next to her, laying an arm of comfort around her. "How are we to bear these next ten days!?!"

A knock at the door sounded at that moment and Mr Bingley came in. "I have come to invite you luncheon with us, Lizzy, at Netherfield, if you wish to come."

Elizabeth accepted readily and the three paid a parting gesture to Mr Bennet before they quietly departed from Longbourn.


For a few weeks while the arrangements for the funeral were made, Matlock townhouse served as a sanctuary for the Darcy family. Compared to Darcy's own townhouse it was relatively secluded and had the additional advantage of disguising well the fact that anyone was at home, incurring no visits by well-wishers or society gossips.

Darcy stayed in his rooms, venturing out only for meals, despite all his relation's persuasions. He was still trying to sort out his feelings for Caroline's death and until they were sorted out, the news was not going to be made public. His mind was a turmoil of conflicting emotions, none agreeing with another, and each threatening to overwhelm him in grief. They went constantly between two people; one dead and the other yet living. Caroline and Elizabeth.

He knew that the latter would be receiving her new brother and his heart ached to know her feelings. He wished he could be there for her, to comfort and console her. Yet Caroline was once again unintentionally barring him from such a journey, because feelings of guilt and conscience would prevent him from even voicing that intention.

His relatives knew not what to make of him. His sister worried over him and as he suffered so did she, anxious as she was for his well-being. His aunt and uncle could do nothing to help either of them and his cousins felt equally useless as all tried and failed to bring him out of the shell which he had retreated into since his wife's death, a wife which he had revealed to them only a few months ago that he was going to divorce.

They could only ascribe two reasons to his manner, that of love and that of guilt. The former, because of recent events seemed unlikely, despite its apparent logic, and the latter was equally hard to detect, especially if one asked the man in question and found that he would not answer in favour of either.

It was just, as they were forced to conclude, a matter that must be waited out, and they hoped that the sufferer could resolve it on his own.


When Elizabeth finally found the courage to return to Longbourn, she found Lydia still her usually self and now, having told everyone else the full details of her wedding, she wanted to tell Elizabeth and Jane. She pounced on them as soon as they returned and despite all of their unenthusiastic responses, she would not refrain from telling them the whole.

"I must tell you how it went off," she began, "we were married you know at St Clement's because Wickam's lodgings were in that parish. And it was settled that we would all be there by eleven o'clock. My Uncle and Aunt and I were to go together; and the others were to meet us at the church. Well, Monday morning came, and I was in such a fuss! I was so afraid you know that something would happen to put it off........."

Elizabeth had had enough by this point and so shut off her attention to her sister's constant babble. It carried on for what seemed like hours and it was only the very last part of it, which concerned the delays of their uncle's lawyer and the subsequent fear that Mr Gardiner would not be able to give her away, that brought back her attention.

"But, luckily, he came back again in ten minutes time, and then we all set out. However, I recollected afterwards that if he had been prevented in going, the wedding need not be put off, for Mr Darcy would have done just as well."

"Mr Darcy?" Elizabeth questioned in surprise. "Mr Darcy was at your wedding?"

"Oh yes! He was to come with Wickham because someone had to be groomsman and I would have preferred Denny but........... Oh lord I quite forgot! And I promised them all so faithfully! What will Wickham say! It was supposed to be a secret."

"If it was supposed to be that," Jane replied, "then do not mention any more. You can be assured of us seeking no further information about it."

Lydia was most happy with this juncture and all conversation came to an end as she ran off to speak with another sister. As for Elizabeth, she would have longed to ask more questions and this news caused the greatest astonishment. Mr Darcy was at Lydia's wedding! it was almost too impossible to believe, yet true it was, for there was no reason for Lydia to lie about it. Two questions now occurred to her; firstly, why was he at their wedding and secondly, was he in any way responsible for any of the developments in the whole affair?

As it was supposed to be a secret and because Elizabeth had no idea where Darcy was right now she sat down at the nearest writing desk and composed a letter to her aunt. She was the only Elizabeth felt could tell her why Mr Darcy was present and who would not question her for asking. It made her grateful again for her aunt's persistence and insistence that her niece tell her everything that had been bothering her lately, else she would have missed this opportunity.

My Dear Aunt,

Pray write and tell me how he of all people could have been there, unless you too are under the secret that Lydia claims to. I cannot answer this myself to any satisfaction and therefore beg to know the whole.

Yours
Elizabeth Bennet.


As quickly as he had gone into his shell, Darcy emerged out of it. The change was instant, he appeared down for breakfast one morning and stayed with his family the entire day. His family, knowing his disposition, chose not to inquire upon it and just accepted his presence. His sister rejoiced and spent every minute with him and Darcy welcomed her willingly. She provided what others could not, the healing balm he needed to recover. During the days before the funeral they became closer than ever before, relying upon each other for the support they needed.

A week before the funeral Darcy built up the courage to write to Bingley to inform him of his sister's death. It was a task which he had dreaded doing but knew all the same that it needed to be done and soon to give him time to come up.

When the letter was done and he had leaned back in his chair, laying down the quill he felt exhausted. Peaceful but exhausted. The adrenaline that had been with him since the first day he had learnt of the eventual tragedy had finally ran out and yet he felt like a weight had lifted from him. As he did so his thoughts drifted once again to Elizabeth, only this time it was unaccompanied by the usual guilt.


The ten days of the Wickhams stay quickly went and Lizzy was glad of it. There were only a few more days left that she could have stood of Wickham's geniality to her without confronting him about the presence of Mr Darcy at his wedding. The question still bothered her, especially as she had yet to receive a reply from her aunt. The delay was disconcerting, for her aunt was generally prompt in her replies, and unless the letter had gone astray, she could only suppose that the lack of reply was deliberate. What was it that her aunt could not tell her? Elizabeth wished she knew.

She travelled over to the Bingley's once again and found Jane calmly sorting out a minor disagreement between two servants. Elizabeth found herself smiling instantly. Jane had become an excellent mistress of Netherfield, a sharp contrast to the others that she had previously seen at the house before the Devereauxs decided to let it. At that moment her sister turned to welcome her. "Finally left?" Jane asked her as they walked inside.

"Yes, not half an hour ago," Elizabeth replied. "Where's Charles?"

"The post arrived a few minutes ago so he will be in his study," Jane replied with all the happiness of someone very much in love. And naturally because she was in love, she could not bare to be separated from her love for long, so that two quickly walked to the room where he was located.

Charles Bingley slowly lay down the letter which had occupied his attention for the past........ was it really only minutes? It had seemed like a lifetime.

"Charles?"

He turned at the sound of his wife's voice to find Elizabeth standing next her. He blinked, wondering how long his friend had been in love with her.


Volume IV