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Daniellas Bureau; A Fanfic & Desktop Site

Along The River

Volume Eight

Author's Note: The Latin wedding ceremony is carefully taken from the Sandy Welch adaptation; I am no Latin expert so I haven't the faintest idea of what a lot of it means. Fortunately, a lovely reader from the boards at Austen.com does. Sammie is her name and she has provided a translation in her feedback to his part, which I have included at the end for you all to see. She stresses that it comes from the American standard bible, so it might not be precise, but its good enough for me.

Part 30:

Weddings do not allow for the haste that a sick bed can sometimes demand, requiring such necessaries as licenses, witnesses and a man of the cloth to preside over the entire affair, as well as the blessing of the families involved. Nevertheless, Richard attempted to ensure that the arrangements were sorted as soon as was reasonably possible.

He sought a moment of time with Lambton's parish priest, who was luckily an old friend of his family and therefore perfectly amenable to performing a service for two not born in the parish, then took off to London to accomplish the rest of the tasks. Securing the license was no difficulty thanks to his profession, nor was the visit to Bingley's father, as he was well acquainted with the man thanks to his friendship with Charles. And his manners granted him the same speed when he visited Holloway Street to acquire the blessings of the bride's family.

Although Mrs Bennet had been forced to give up many of her comforts in the removal from Longbourn to London, her desire to see her daughters marry well remained one held dear to her heart. While Mr Bingley was not the ideal that she demanded for her eldest daughter, - as he was dependent on his father for his wealth, -she gathered enough assurance from his friend to hope that Jane would not suffer in any event, and with that she was content. Mr Bennet required only an verbal surety that his daughter would be looked after if the worse occurred, thus leaving Richard free to carry out the last task required; that of securing witnesses.

Jane had requested him to ask her younger sister and husband, causing him to pay a visit once more to the Hurst's cottage in Blackheath. Elizabeth was sewing at the table in the kitchen when her maid let him in, fresh from his travelling to and fro all over the city.

"Mr Fitzwilliam," she greeted eagerly, rising from her chair, hoping from the apparent good humoured expression upon his face that he brought news of his friend's condition seeing a little improvement.

He bowed at her briefly. "Forgive the hour, Mrs Hurst, but I have come from Jane with the earnest hope that you'll come back with me to see her married."

"Then Mr Bingley is recovering!" Elizabeth cried joyfully.

Richard shook his head sadly, his expression immediately losing the joviality he had summoned for the call. "No, no, he's dying. Time is of the essence, Mrs Hurst."

Elizabeth nodded and put aside her needlework, just as the sound of the front door opening and closing echoed down the hall through the open entrance to the kitchen disturbed them, causing her to rise from her chair. "There is my husband. Take some refreshment, Mr Fitzwilliam. And then we'll all go down together."

Taking a candle from a nearby shelf, Elizabeth joined her husband in the hall. "We have a surprise visitor, my love. I fear Mr Fitzwilliam is much fatigued."

William froze as he heard the name of their guest, having to rapidly school his features into an expression which did not reveal the sudden panic that seized his heart when he heard the name of their visitor. "Mr Fitzwilliam?" He queried, seeking to confirm. When she nodded, he placed his jacket on the stair post, took hold of his wife's free hand and without another word led her into the privacy of their parlour.

Elizabeth frowned at his rather strange behaviour. "William, what is it? You will come with me to see Jane married, will you not?"

Her husband shook his head reluctantly. As much as he wished to attend the event with her, he knew that if he consented, the meeting and the consequences which would inevitably follow said meeting, that he had been avoiding since that terrible night when he came face to face with his attacker, would inevitably occur. "No, I cannot."

"Am I to go alone?" Elizabeth asked him, her frown deepening, confused by his refusal, for she had never learned of the peculiar request he made to Mr Reynolds concerning dealings with Richard Fitzwilliam.

"No you will go with Mr Fitzwilliam," he replied. "You must go. But I'm afraid I must ask you to excuse me to him altogether."

Elizabeth no was further enlightened by his request. "But he already knows you're home. I've told him so."

"Well that's a little unfortunate, my dear, but I'm afraid I cannot see him," William informed her somewhat reproachfully.

His wife shook her head, unable to foresee a reason as to why he would wish to avoid a man who had been so very kind to her and her family since she had first come to make his acquaintance at the Reynolds' soiree. Unlike their once kind benefactors, she had never been informed of his particular condition upon employment. "William, don't be so mysterious. What harm do you know of Mr Fitzwilliam?"

William sighed, clasping her hand almost sadly. "None my love." His hand went her cheek, the fingers etching a loving caress across that soft skin as he realised that the time for further mysteries, as she had called them, had long since past. She was his wife, and he loved her. That was all that mattered. He could delay telling her no longer. She would have to know his secret, as soon as this event was over.

"Forgive me, I will come." He paused as her features brightened, unable to resist kissing her briefly. When he broke back, he was unable to refrain from warning her if indirectly. "Elizabeth, my life! Don't you remember telling me you felt you were being tested in some way? Well I think the time may be coming when you will be tested. But for now, trust me, please."

Elizabeth nodded, brushing aside her curiosity, in favour of relieving the vulnerable shadow that her husband's handsome features seemed to have acquired since she informed him of Mr Fitzwilliam's visit. She had no desire to upset him, not when she had gained his agreement to accompany her to an event he was initially reluctant to attend. "I trust you, my love. Now, I will go and inform our guest."

"And I will wait for you outside," he replied. Silently he watched her depart from the room, following her with an uncertain step into the hall, then with an equally dubious glance as her beautiful form disappeared into the kitchen to inform their guest that they were ready to leave. He had feared this encounter for so long, even though he knew that it would one day be inevitable, if he was to have any hope of ending this secret.

He remembered his cousin of old, the days when they played on his grandfather's estate, the last truly happy, innocent days of his childhood before his father moved him and his sister to London. Those memories held an idyll he often found too impossible to gain once more, so many tragedies heaped upon his shoulders by his father and then his return from the continent. He hoped Richard would remember those innocent days too, and not hold this deception against him.

Lifting his jacket from the newel post he placed the garment about himself once more, his hand absently slipping into one of the pockets to retrieve the last reminder of his secret that he had received from Mr Reynolds only this morning. A letter from his sister, long delayed by travelling across continents, full of eagerness to see her native country once more, and the wife her brother had found himself. Unable to bear the idea of lying to a sister that looked up to him and loved him so, he took the courage to tell her everything that had occurred from the moment he returned to England.

Georgiana's reply had been all that he had dared to hope for and more. Four pages was not enough to contain her raptures of learning that he had fallen in love and gained the woman their father willed his fortune on, along with the earnest wish that he tell her sister in law everything soon. With a wisdom that both astonished and pleased him did Georgiana advise him to be as honest with Elizabeth as he had been with her, to trust in their love, and by doing so all would be well.

And now that hour of telling was soon to come upon him it seemed. As his sister has written in her letter, 'one cannot always depend upon events proceeding as exactly as one desires them to.' William took a deep breath, secured the outer garments needed for a long journey to Derbyshire, then sought the privacy which the darkened porch of the cottage afforded him to prepare himself for the denouement.

Richard's first acquaintance with Mr Hurst was made in the dark, as they shook hands while Elizabeth collected some wildflowers from the garden, knowing Jane would not have the time to think of a bouquet, let alone any other adornment to signify the day.

"It is strange that you and I have not met earlier, Mr Hurst," Richard remarked to man who had yet to emerge from the privacy of the front porch, "for you and I have often been engaged in the same business, on Mr and or Mrs Reynolds's commission."

"Indeed, sir," Hurst answered, just as his wife rejoined them.

They mounted the carriage, Richard tapped his stick upon the roof, and they were off. In the darkness of the interior, it took some time before his eyes adjusted to be able to distinguish the features of his companions. Elizabeth's he knew well from his time at the Reynolds's, but her husband was a mystery, for he never once dealt with the gentleman, only with his former employer.

Even now the former secretary was a enigma, keeping himself silent throughout the journey, his features all but buried in the confines of his clothes. One hand held that of his wife's, while the other he buried deep in his coat, his gaze either directed toward Elizabeth, or the towns and eventually rural villages and countryside which the carriage drove by.

It took some time before Richard figured out that there was a reason for the man's continued preoccupation with those two views, and it was not due to a desire for deep introspection. Rather it appeared to be a deliberate and studied avoidance of meeting Richard's curious gaze, or even acknowledging the lawyer's interest.

Which only deepened the fascination. Desperate for anything to distract his mind rather than contemplating whether his friend would still be in the land of the living by the time they reached Lambton, Richard recalled the explanation Mr Reynolds had given him for choosing to deal with the legal business of his estate management rather than passing such work on to his secretary. At the time he had not given the comment much thought, but now, when he had the figure before him, a man whom he realised now had done his best to avoid him whenever he could, the explanation appeared dubious in the extreme.

There had to be something else behind his avoidance, a private secretary could not have a reason not to meet with him. Richard could think of only one, which was that they had dealings before, dealings which made it difficult for the secretary to meet with him now. Yet, when he looked at Hurst, he could not remember when that was, if indeed it ever happened. But what else was there that could explain the avoidance?

As the journey continued, in between the brief pauses demanded upon them by having to change from horse and carriage to that of train and then back again, Richard carried on studying the mysterious Mr Hurst, searching his memory as he waited for some spark, or word, or glance to bring forth recognition. Starting from his earliest recollections, he tried to de-age his mysterious companion, focusing on the dark hair and dark eyes, attempting to imagine them upon a somewhat more youthful face and figure, then gradually reversing the process until he restored the man to his present appearance.

By the time the coach reached Lambton, he was still none the wiser as to the man's supposed connection with himself. His attempt to find a resemblance dating from his youth ended in frustration, for it was the first time he had ever attempted such technique, making the conclusions somewhat sketchy. As the vehicle halted outside the local Arms, forcing his mind away from the subject, he returned to that of his friend, as he escorted Charles' soon to be sister and brother in law out of the carriage into the bedroom of the local arms where the parish priest, bride and groom were waiting for them.

Though the ceremony was conducted in unusual circumstances, and the overwhelming symbolism of the bed in which his dying friend lay seemed to hung over the words that the Reverend uttered, Richard did not feel the haunting presence that he always felt hovering over the threshold of the room, waiting for some sign with which to launch inward and take his friend from this life into the next. His mind and his heart tried not to raise his hopes to take that as a sign of his friend's recovery, but the attempt was half hearted at best.

"Inluminet vultum summ super nos et misereatur nostri," the holy man recited the words of the ceremony devoutly and tenderly, his voice low but sincere, as though he were all too aware of how far Jane and Charles had travelled to come to this moment between them, what trials they had faced along the way. Indeed he was an compassionate man, of long standing in his parish, and well liked by all his congregation.

Within moments of meeting the couple he was about to join in matrimony, he had comprehended the grave conditions and adapted his ceremony accordingly. "Ut cognoscamus in terra viam tuam, in omnibus gentibus salutare tuum. Confiteantur tibi populi, Deus, confiteantur tibi populi omnes. Laetentur et exultent gentes, quoniam iudicas populos in aequitate et gentes in terra diriges. Confiteantur tibi populis Deus, confiteantur tibi populi omnes. Terra dedit fructum suum benedicat no Deus Deus noster. Benedicat no Deus et metuant eum omnes fines terrae."

Jane retrieved the ring which rested upon the priest's bible for Charles had not the strength to place it upon her hand in the usual manner, slipping the thin circle of silver around her finger. She then smiled at her husband, before offering her hand to Richard, then to Mr Hurst, who both gave their blessing with their lips upon the soft slender skin. They retreated and Elizabeth rose from her chair to hug her sister, before all three of them quietly left the newlyweds alone to savour the moment.

"I bless the day," Charles murmured as Jane came to his side, taking the liberty to sit on the bed, for now she was his wife, all the propriety of a chair could be forgotten.

"I bless the day," Jane echoed, dealing a kiss to the hand she now clasped, followed by one to his forehead, which for once displayed little evidence of injury, being cool instead of flushed or deathly pale, nor hot with fever.

"You have made a poor marriage, Jane," Charles sighed, feeling alittle guilty at having accomplished what he had so long desired. "A shattered, graceless fellow, and next to nothing to leave you when you're a young widow."

Jane continued to bestow kisses upon him, an unusual reproach for his words, but a gesture he was gratified to receive all the same. "I have made the marriage I would've given all the world for."

"You've thrown your heart away," he persisted.

"No, I have given it to you most freely," Jane assured him, turning so her eyes met his gaze, allowing him to descry the emotion contained therein, "most happily."

Charles stared at her for a moment, then uttered, "if you should see me wandering, Jane, call my name, and I think I shall come back." He blinked as his mind wandered over the path that they travelled to bring them to today. "How can I repay all that I owe you?"

"Don't be ashamed of me," Jane began, "and you will repay all...." her voice failed as his eyes slowly closed. Fearfully, she cried, "Charles not so soon! Come back!"

It could only have been a moment, but it seemed a very long moment for both of them before his eyelids parted and he was gazing at her once more. "You see... you call me back from the dead."

"Live for me, Charles," she pleaded. "Live to see how hard I try to improve myself."

"You cannot be improved upon, my darling," he returned, gazing wondrously into her eyes as he attempted to obey her plea. "Impossible. On the contrary, I was thinking that dying is about the best thing I could do."

"And leave me with a broken heart?" she countered.

From somewhere he managed to summon the strength to smile at her protest. "You seem to think quite well of me."

"Heaven knows I love you dearly," Jane avowed.

"Heaven knows I prize it," he replied. "If I were to live you might find me out."

"I should find that my husband has a mind of purpose and energy which I know he will put to the best account," Jane answered assuredly.

Her husband sighed. "I wish I could think so. But how can I look at such a wasted youth as mine and believe it? I'm afraid if I were to live I should disappoint you."

Jane shook her head, bent forward and kissed him, driving such thoughts from his mind, almost forever.

The ride back to Blackheath was a quiet one, with all three of the carriage's occupants reluctant to break the silence. As the vehicle rolled past the gradually brightened countryside, the early morning changing into a brightly sunny afternoon, their minds were stationed some distance behind them, with the couple they had left behind. William and Elizabeth were remembering their own wedding conducted not many months ago, on a bright sunny morning such as this, with cares that seemed light when compared to what Jane and Charles faced.

Richard's thoughts were deeply introspective, as he travelled back with them, having promised his friend and Jane that he would see the Hursts safely home. He could not help but think of the schoolmaster, the man ultimately responsible for causing this ceremony to take place now, as opposed to when, if at all.

If Mr Collins had never struck Charles, would this ever have occurred, he wondered. As a lawyer who dealt rarely with the courts of criminal rather than chancery, he was not used to dealing in the hypothetical, but he did believe that without Mr Collins interference, there was a strong possibility that Jane and Charles might never have been united as they were mere hours ago.

Where was that schoolmaster now, he mused wordlessly, picturing the darkly passionate man stalking an classroom, delivering a lesson to the innocent youthful poor of the Philips's borough. Did the crime he committed haunt his mind as much as it haunted the victims, or did he no longer bother his conscience with such an act? If there was any feeling which the schoolmaster was capable of experiencing, then surely his suffering must be greater now, knowing that his violence had brought about the one thing he desired the most not to occur between Jane and Charles.

The carriage stopped outside the little redbrick cottage in Blackheath, and Richard descended from the vehicle first to help his companions out. As he stepped round in time to witness Mr Hurst assisting his wife out of the compartment, he saw the man properly in the full light of day. For a moment he paused, waiting for a chord of recognition to strike within him, but to no avail.

Choosing to bid them farewell at the gate of their house, he brushed the puzzle away from his mind and shook hands with them both. "Thank you for coming, Mr and Mrs Hurst."

"How could we not?" Elizabeth remarked. She squeezed his hand in sympathy. "Mr Bingley seemed a little better this morning," she ventured.

Richard nodded, his heart gladdened by her observation. "We may hope," he replied, before raising her hand to his lips. "Goodbye."

He walked away, his mind already half way to Derbyshire, when he noticed the something within the coach. Bending down, he retrieved the articles and returned to house, whereupon all suddenly came clear to him.

"You forgot these, Mrs Hurst," he uttered, before all thought left him, as the memory of how he and the man standing there under the porch met emerged from the depths of his recent memory.

It had been a dark night, with the moisture from the docks whipping through their hair, assisted by the cold wind, mounting a chill upon their bodies despite the protection afforded by the material of their travelling cloaks and evening wear. His companion, no friend of his as he remarked to the Inspector, stuck to the shadows, until the sight of the body in the Limehouse parish mortuary took his legs out from under him. Even now, Richard recalled the tone in his voice as he commented upon the horrible sight of the victim.

The victim. William Darcy. Suddenly Richard found himself chilled to the bone as deeply as he had been that night in the mortuary, when the Inspector commented on murdering needing no apprenticeship. He remembered that man of the law asking the stranger to give his name, then ordering a constable to follow him when the stranger hurried out of the mortuary. His mouth opened and he stared at that stranger whom stood beside the woman that in another life would never have been his wife at all.

Mr Hurst had the power to speak and explain before he could. "Mr Fitzwilliam and I have met before, my dear," he remarked to his wife, who was puzzling over their exchanged expressions of shock. "When Mr Fitzwilliam saw me my name was Frederick Denny."

"Frederick Denny," Elizabeth repeated with a frown, bewildered as to why her husband had taken a false name. "Surely not?"

"It was at the time of William Darcy's drowning," Richard added, knowing that Elizabeth had no idea of the significance of that first encounter. "He came with us to view my cousin's body. I took great pains to seek him out after the Inspector lost sight of him."

"Quite true," Hurst remarked, acknowledging and confirming the events quite calmly, to the surprise of the lawyer, "but it was not my object or interest to be found out."

Richard glanced from the man to the wife, his mind now removed from Derbyshire, and very firmly fixed in the dark matter that was his cousin's demise. "My position is a painful one. I hope that no complicity in this very dark matter may be attached to you, but you must know that your extraordinary conduct has laid you open to the deepest suspicion."

Mr Hurst nodded solemnly. "Mr Fitzwilliam, you know where I live. I know you have urgent demands on your time. You have my word I will not disappear again." He offered his hand once more to the lawyer, who took it hesitantly. "I hope hereafter we'll be better acquainted. Good day."

With that speech and a simple shake of hands, Richard was abruptly reminded of everything that had happened since that encounter. Nodding in acknowledgement, he bid them both farewell, returning to his carriage. Once within the confines of the vehicle he made a mental note to visit the Inspector of the Limehouse Borough before he returned to Lambton. For the Inspector had the means and resources to conduct an investigation, and, as Mr Hurst had pointed out, was not demanded to return elsewhere by the illness of a friend.

Elizabeth turned from watching the carriage carrying Mr Fitzwilliam away from their house to her husband, a countless number of questions upon her lips. William merely kissed the hand that he clasped, then parted from her to go inside, remarking that he had some work to do before he left for the China House.

She longed to confront him, but her mind felt unusually fearful of broaching the subject. His casual confession that he had taken a false name, been to see the body of the man that would have been her husband was confusing to her now troubled mind. She could not understand why he had been to see the body, or why he had given a false name to the Inspector and Mr Fitzwilliam. Or why he had taken care to assure that Mr Fitzwilliam never saw him again.

It was not that she feared to ask him anything, but that she feared what the answer might be. Her own speculation could only conclude that he had in some way been involved with Mr Darcy, or the circumstances surrounding his death. But if so, why did Mr and Mrs Reynolds not inform her of this? Or were they as much in the dark as Mr Fitzwilliam had been until he left their house just now?

She loved her husband, and she feared that his answer might cause them to be parted from one another, with little hope of reunion. She remembered what William had said to her earlier, that she was about to be tested as she had once jokingly supposed. That trial was no longer something she looked forward to enduring.

William did not return from the China House until she was in bed, slipping quietly beneath the sheets to sleep beside her, unaware that sleep was far from her mind. She spent the night tossing and turning, her mind pondering one dark conclusion after another, interspersed with memories of Jane's wedding and her own, the recollections overlapping each other, with the presence of William Darcy's drowned body floating in the river, looming over everything in her life, like a dark omen. Suddenly the image of his face, transformed into another she had long come to hold dearly, causing her to rush up from the pillows in terror.

"William Darcy is dead," she murmured, reminding herself that he was not some phantom come from the afterlife to claim her husband.

Unseen behind her, William Hurst blinked as he woke, hearing the words and the fearful tone with which she used to utter them. "What is it, my dear?" He asked when he had the courage to broach the subject.

Elizabeth turned to him, and he saw, almost with relief, that she simply wanted nothing more than his comfort, than his assurance that nothing was going to part them now that they had found and bonded with each other. "William Darcy is drowned."

The Latin actually comes from Psalm 66/67 (66 in the Vulgate, 67 in some modern translations). Obviously chapter numbers and verse numbers were not in the original texts and are up to the translators.

1 in finem in hymnis psalmus cantici
2 Deus misereatur nostri et benedicat nobis inluminet vultum suum super nos et misereatur nostri diapsalma
3 ut cognoscamus in terra viam tuam in omnibus gentibus salutare tuum
4 confiteantur tibi populi Deus confiteantur tibi populi omnes
5 laetentur et exultent gentes quoniam iudicas populos in aequitate et gentes in terra diriges diapsalma
6 confiteantur tibi populi Deus confiteantur tibi populi omnes
7 terra dedit fructum suum benedicat nos Deus Deus noster
8 benedicat nos Deus et metuant eum omnes fines terrae

Psalms 67
CHORAL DIRECTIONS (1) For the choir director; with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A Song
1. (2) God be gracious to us and bless us, And cause His face to shine upon us-- Selah.
2. (3) That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations.
3. (4) Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You.
4. (5) Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; For You will judge the peoples with uprightness And guide the nations on the earth. Selah.
5. (6) Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You.
6. (7) The earth has yielded its produce; God, our God, blesses us.
7. (8) God blesses us, That all the ends of the earth may fear Him.

Part 31:

Contrary to appearances, William Hurst did not sleep well either that night. Until dawn it was a mostly successful enterprise of thinking while his eyes were closed, with an intermission where he did his best to assure his wife that he was not going to be parted from her because of the visit they had yesterday. However, as he held her in his arms, the words which she uttered that had aroused the need for assurance, preyed heavily upon his mind.

When he married her without telling her the true nature behind the events which brought them together, he had forgotten that there was more than the symbolism of changing his name behind the matter. Not for the first time did he find himself resenting what his father had done, not just to him, but to her as well. Catching sight of a little girl playing the park with her father and deciding that someday she would be the perfect wife for his son, carried a certain aroma which he found distinctly unpalatable, not to mention disturbing.

Elizabeth had been right when she talked to him during that night when he first confessed to having a profound interest in her. Until then his thoughts had not once considered how she might be feeling about the conditions his father's will had enforced upon her. For many years an only child, all but abused and neglected by his father, he had no one but himself to consider until he and then his sister banished themselves to the Cape.

Plans were being made between him and Mr Reynolds to bring Georgiana home, but he was a little reluctant to do so until he told Elizabeth the truth, as well as being aware that he was dragging his sister away from a life she found pleasant and comfortable, and one in which she seemed settled, almost contented.

After that night when Elizabeth was made aware of how he felt and how she felt then, he had come to realise how harshly his father had treated them both, as nothing but pawns in his dusty legacy. Resigning himself, if only for a brief time, to a life without her, he had tried to make sure she had everything his father had denied her, the choice to marry whom she loved.

When she declared her love for him, he had been so scared of losing it, that the concealment seemed the only way to keep it. At the time it had appeared a simple matter of avoiding all connections with their past, it had not occurred to him until the evening before last night, when Richard Fitzwilliam sat waiting in their kitchen, that the secret would come to an end before he was prepared for it.

Now, he had to tell Elizabeth everything. Not only Elizabeth, but her family, and his family, such as it was. His cousin would doubtlessly tell the police inspector over in the Limehouse parish about last night before he returned to Derbyshire, and the police inspector had been nothing but thorough in his dealings with the Darcy case.

William recalled how he made sure to evade the young constable who tailed him that night he left the mortuary for his alleged lodgings at Exchequer Coffee House, Palace Yard, Westminster. Indeed, it was incredible that he had managed to remember the lodging place his attacker told him they would be staying at while he was on the boat. That inspector would soon be paying him and Elizabeth a visit, one which he was sure would entail him going to the station and telling them the truth behind his concealment. And from there the legal process of recognising him would take over.

Setting all that aside, the one thing William still remained uncertain about was how Elizabeth would take the truth. Since their marriage, the subject of William Darcy had never come up, not even remotely. In conjunction with this silence, were the words she uttered last night. To him it seemed that there was a strong possibility to him that she might justifiably hate him after he confessed. Yet he could not leave her stranded in this limbo any longer. His hand been forced and there was no going back.

He watched her as they had breakfast together in the kitchen, the small, simple movements of her slender hands as she buttered a piece of toast, then applied some marmalade or preserve upon it before putting the food before her mouth and taking a bite, was somehow comforting and endearing to him. As yet she not broached the subject of her dreams last night, or his surprising revelation, and a part of him had hoped that he would at least have some forewarning of her reaction before he began.

"You don't ask me, my dear, why I took a false name," he uttered, filling his hands with the paperwork from last night, so his nerves would not show through their shaking, shuffling the papers into a pile that he could put into his brief case before he left, making the question appear almost innocent.

"No William, love," Elizabeth replied, her tone seemingly normal, as though she was not concerned in the slightest. "I should dearly like to know, of course. I should not like you to think that I'm not interested."

Looking up from his work, he saw an expression about her eyes that made him realise her worries from last night were still present. Abruptly, he dropped to his knees before her, taking his hand in his. "My darling, I stand in no danger."

Elizabeth laid her toast aside to meet his gaze. "Are you sure of that, William?"

He nodded, his dark handsome gaze never leaving her fine eyes. "Moreover, I've done no wrong, or injured no man. Shall I swear it?"

"No," she uttered softly. "No, never to me."

If ever he was to begin, now would be the time. Bowing his head, he studied the floral pattern on her dress as he searched for his opening words. "You realise, the dark matter that Mr Fitzwilliam spoke of....."

She touched his hands firmly. "No. I don't want to hear. Besides, I have something to tell you," she added, causing him to raise his eyes in puzzlement. "You're not the only one with a secret. Only I'm ready to tell you mine."

In one movement she rose from her chair, took his left hand and placed it upon the front of her waist. William glanced at her eyes to seem them glistening brightly, a nervous but pleased expression on her face. Confused, he glanced down at their hands again, until he realised what he had noticed last night and observed now as the senses in his fingers compared her roundness from when they married to now.

The revelation startled him, driving all other thought from his mind. A smile flew across his face, and before he knew it she was in his arms and he was laughing and crying all at once.

At the dust yard in Maiden Lane, Mr Reynolds was just crossing the entrance with Mr Younge. In front of the them the yard was alive with activity, as people carefully sorted through the mounds, sifting the dust until it was ready to be carted away. Like an island, his old, ramshackle bower stood in the midst of this scene, and he was sure if he squinted hard enough, he would see Wickham staring murderously at him out of one of the windows.

Which brought him back to why he was visiting today. Hurst had come to him that morning with the news that the truth would soon be out in the open, meaning that not only would Elizabeth and Society come to know of William Darcy, but the other, darker matter that involved the crippled, old squaddie and his machinations, would have to come to a head, in order to be dealt with at a time of their choosing, rather than in a court room, where no one would win but the journalists writing about the affair.

"Do you think Wickham's likely to drop down on me today, Younge?" He asked his companion whom he had visited before coming to Maiden Lane.

"I think it very likely, sir," Mr Younge replied.

They neared the house and the old squaddie within exited his rooms, hobbled down the stair case, then stepped outside to welcome them. "Reynolds, you're quite a stranger."

"Nothing wrong, Wickham?" Reynolds asked, trying his best to appear as if he was not aware of the machinations the old soldier had planned to launch on him.

Wickham shook his head as he led them inside. "No, nothing wrong. Quite the contrary. So my friend and partner, Mr Younge, gives me to understand that you are aware of our power over you."

Mr Reynolds nodded, remembering the plan he and Hurst laid out before he and Mr Younge left for Maiden Lane. Above all, this meeting had to go as Wickham intended, so they knew how much 'power' the old soldier believed he held over them before they proceeded further with the matter.

"First of all I'm calling you Reynolds," Wickham continued in a growling voice. "No mister and definitely no sir."

"Well since you say it is to be so, I suppose it must be," Mr Reynolds replied, doing his best to sound unprepared and scared of what the former soldier had planned.

"I suppose it must be," Wickham echoed before unveiling. "You are aware that you are in possession of property to which you have no right?"

"Yes," Mr Reynolds answered, though Wickham could have no conception of how aware he was. Not only that, but the soldier's understanding of the word, when compared to his own definition, were separated by a impassable river.

"And you are desirous of coming to terms?" Wickham asked.

Edmund nodded, as though he was reluctant to even voice a decision to which he was forced into making.

"You'll throw in your mound, with a generous stake and divide the lot into three!" Wickham began gleefully.

"I shall be ruined," Edmund murmured quietly.

"You'll leave me in sole custody of these mounds," Wickham continued as though he hadn't spoken. "When the mounds are cleared away, to the last shoveful that's when the final divison shall be made."

Mr Reynolds put a hand to face, almost as if he was trying to conceal his humiliation and despair. "I must keep this from the old lady. She must not know."

"Why should she not know?!" Wickham countered. "She's was a dustman's wife once! she can become one again!"

"Eh?" Mr Reynolds queried.

Suddenly Wickham put his crutch to Reynolds' face, pressing the crook in the wood firmly against his nose. "Nose to the grindstone, Reynolds! Get to it! Get to it!"

As Wickham Senior plotted and schemed, he was thinking only of himself. No thought whatsoever crossed his mind, that his son, who had abandoned him in disgust as soon as he was old enough to possess such intellect and self-regard to do so, would be in need of the some of the funds that he was so avariciously blackmailing for.

George Wickham esquire, stood with his wife upon a train platform. To any outsider their appearance was both dignified, and pitiable. Dressed in what was left of their finest travelling attire, they waited for the transport which they had yet to acquire a booking for. His wife held a large bird cage in her hand, in which resided a canary bird, who seemed oblivious to the dire circumstances that its owner now found herself in.

Misfortune followed this family, stalking the bloodlines for generations. It had begun with the death of the only prosperous Wickham; a steward of one of the most prestigious estates in Derbyshire; Pemberley. Leaving behind a son, his master had little choice but to provide for his godson;- for the father left a legacy of debts from a life spent constantly trying to live ahead of his means for the express pleasure of his wife, -endowing him with funds and an education.

He had desired him to enter the church, and for a time, it had been the son's dearest wish to enter into that profession. But temptation foiled such noble schemes, as the all the advantages and privileges of an easy living at Cambridge were laid open to him. A life of idleness and dissipation followed, with a brief interlude of an attempted marriage to an heiress of thirty thousand pounds, foiled by her perceptive older brother, then another elopement with a young girl that, had he been sober, he would never have even considered marriageable.

Naturally, bitterness and disappointment followed, ending in a rather ignominious death upon the fields of Alma, an old, embittered Captain. Those emotions were a powerful legacy for a son who was unfortunate enough to become a veteran of that war, returning home with a lost limb serving as his only memento of that campaign.

For the second George Wickham, crippled, aged beyond his true years, orphaned by his son and widowed by his wife, it was not hard to desire revenge upon the family who wronged not just him but his father and grandfather before him. Nor was it entirely easy for his son to escape the same legacy, especially the circles he desired to move in were the same ones which this family had also moved in.

If George Wickham the third had been in a philosophising state, he would have reflected upon the irony that the family he had done his best to avoid, were in the end the same ones he turned to in the hope that they would rescue him from his plight. As he should have expected, the scheme was utterly unsuccessful. He had no one but himself to blame for the state of affairs in which he found himself now, and as usual, he was doing his best to convince his mind and conscience, that he had nothing to do with it.

He and Caroline could only imagine what Society was saying of them now.

"The boat train!" Lady Catherine de Bourgh cried, with all the shock and horror the widow of a knight of the realm could reasonably be allowed to convey in her voice, as she reported the scandal she had recently discovered. "The Wickhams have been exiled to Europe! Forced to live like leeches off the scraps of continental society!"

"What disgrace!" Lady Lucas, once best friend of the Wickhams, now doing her best to deny that she had ever been in such intimate acquaintance with them, opined.

Her husband snorted. "They deserve it for trying to live beyond their means. What do you think. Mr Harrington?"

Mr Harrington, was a rather unusual gentlemen. The cousin of a baron and a well connected one at that, he had the unfortunate position of being referred to as everybody's friend, no matter what amount of acquaintance he could claim with that person. He also possessed a nervous disposition that caused him anxiously worry whenever such a position was called into doubt. "No a gentleman does not need...."

"Don't ask Mr Harrington!" Lady Catherine cried, cutting the man off. "He can never be made to say a word on the misfortunes of others whatever the scandal!"

"Outrageous scandal!" Lucas commented, as his friend Harrington now began to worry that he was no longer Lady Catherine's most intimate friend, and knight errant. "I never heard anything more disgraceful!"

"I have something worse to tell you," Lady Catherine continued, "and Mr Harrington will not say anything to us about this either! Charles Bingley has disgraced his family by marrying a female boat person!"

There was a shocked silence as the ears and minds of Society digested this shocking, scandalous piece of nuptials. None of them knew or even perhaps cared of Mr Bennet's once position as a landed gentleman. Past was something only the elite of Society valued. Meanwhile Mr Harrington worried if he was also no longer the most intimate friend of Sir William and Lady Lucas as well.

"A woman of lower class!?" Lady Lucas cried, shocked. "Makes me feel..."

"Such a scandal," Colonel Forster, Sir William's business partner, bemoaned.

"His father has cut him off without a penny!" Lady Catherine declared. In truth, she had heard nothing of the sort, but it was only natural to imagine what Mr Bingley would do upon hearing such news from his son.

"His mother cries," Lady Lucas informed the others, suddenly an expert and intimate of that noble empire building family as well.

"This social experiment is doomed to failure!" Lady Catherine declared.

Mr Harrington meanwhile, worried that perhaps he should visit his most intimate friend Mr Bingley Senior and ask him if he was still considered as such after this news.

At the station, the Wickhams rose from their misfortune to survey those who would be accompanying them on this voyage to another life. It was possible after all that news of their current poverty had not yet reached all corners of the Society in which they lived, thus perhaps enabling them to attach themselves another wealthy couple, who were gullible enough to be only too helpful and generous to the Wickhams while they settled into a new life in continental society.

Within moments, they found who they were looking for. A young couple evidently comfortably well off by the cut of their clothes and the generous amount of luggage they were taking with them, as well as, judging by their behaviour, not long married. Beside them a member of the boat train's crew seemed only too pleased to given the task of loading their luggage into the cargo section of the vehicle, and, judging by the time he was taking, liable to be well paid for the endeavour, by a couple who did not know how long such a process should be expected to take.

Caroline glanced at her husband with an evil smile, a expression which exactly matched his own. "Do you smell a little money, George?"

He nodded and together they made their way over to the them. Within minutes, their passage and their accommodation and food were all catered for by the charming victims who were only too eager to meet the nice Mr and Mrs Wickham, relieved that they would have some friendly acquaintances with whom to spend time with abroad. As for the Wickhams themselves, they revelled in the new found friendship, hoping that this latest alliance would prove to be far more profitable than any of their previous attempts to become rich off the backs of others fortunes.

In the Limehouse Mortuary and police station, for the wealth of the borough was such that it only allowed for one building to house both, Richard Fitzwilliam had just arrived for his appointed meeting with the Inspector. The officer greeted him with all the eagerness of a man who desired to tie up the remaining loose ends of a case which had been troubling him.

"So, Mr Fitzwilliam," the Inspector remarked as they sat by his desk, "you say you have some information concerning the murder of Mr William Darcy. But now the mystery is you seem reluctant to divulge it."

Richard bowed his head. It is true, he was reluctant to divulge the revelation which had been bothering him from the moment he recognised William Hurst. He was concerned for Elizabeth. She seemed so happy and contented in her life, that it seemed wrong to cause her husband into a dark matter that he probably had little connection to, other than a simple case of mistaken identity.

Especially as Elizabeth was now the sister of his dearest friend, who was still gravely ill, miles away from here. Yet it was his duty as a lawyer and as a cousin to discover the truth behind this concealment, for the man that was her husband must have had a reason to give a false name and then studiously avoid meeting with him so he would not be recognised. "It is concerning Mr Frederick Denny."

"Oh yes," the Inspector remarked, pausing in order to sort through his files and find the notes pertaining to such a fellow. "Mr Frederick Denny was followed from this very police station to his lodgings at Westminster where he seems to have evaded my man and disappeared." The Inspector looked up at his guest. "Have you caught sight of him, Mr Fitzwilliam?"

"I fear so," Richard replied.

It was the evening when they arrived at the door of the cottage in Blackheath, the Inspector and two of his men, just in case the man who they wished to question proved resistant to answering their inquiries, the urgent nature of their case overriding the inappropriateness of the hour at which they were calling.

William Hurst had been waiting for this moment all day, from the morning he parted from his wife to go work, having learned that he was soon to be a father, then at the Reynolds's townhouse where he and Mr Reynolds discussed what was to be done concerning the old squaddie Wickham's schemes in light of this secret being uncovered. Now he was home with Elizabeth, feeling cowardly for being unable to come to the point of confession, so much so that the knock on the door was a relief, causing him to rise and answer it quite promptly, knowing who he would find waiting for him.

"Do you recognise me?" the Inspector asked him, and he nodded, as the full horror of that night when he had first encountered the officer, in the curved roof of the Limehouse Mortuary and police station, crystallised in his mind's eyes once more. "And I recognise you most certainly, Mr Frederick Denny."

"William," he heard, as his wife came out from the parlour to join them in the hall, frowning at the sight of a policeman standing in their porch. "What's happening?"

He turned to her, hearing the slight fear in her voice, and felt the guilt of putting her through this deception keenly. Clasping her arm most tenderly, he turned from the Inspector and fixed his gaze upon her fine eyes. "Nothing can harm us, remember."

"Can I have a private word with you, Mr Denny?" The Inspector continued, appearing to possess little compunction about what anxiety he was causing to his suspect's female companion, whose uncertain stare wandered back and forth between him and the man he wished to question.

William turned to face the policeman, finding himself somewhat irritated by the officer's seemingly lack of compassion, and his persistence in using his first false name. He knew it was a deliberate act, designed to unsettle him, and thus he was also annoyed that it had the power to do so, even though he was aware of it. "Mrs Hurst, knows she can have no reason for being alarmed, whatever the business," he replied, emphasising his wife's name.

The Inspector frowned, as he countered that assertion with all the authority of his office behind him, an almost sarcastic scepticism being conveyed through his voice in his apparently smug reply. "Really, is that so?"

William took a deep breath to calm himself, and then all but threw the authority back in the officer's face. "Are you going to charge me with a crime?"

"I charge you with being in some way connected with the murder of William Darcy," the Inspector declared, growing annoyed himself now with the daring of this man.

Beside him Elizabeth gasped, as her dreams of the man that was to be her husband came back to her, along with the fear that she felt of the man standing next to her now, the man she loved, being parted from her. She was an intelligent woman, she knew full well what the Inspector was implying, that her husband was not just connected with the murder of William Darcy, but possibly responsible for the act himself. It was inconceivable to her that anyone could think that her husband was capable of murder. "No sir, you cannot!"

William sighed, upon hearing the Inspector's declaration, knowing that he could no longer just stand here and deny the charges. Not without telling the officer the truth behind the entire matter, and he had no desire for Elizabeth to be informed in this manner. Turning, he took his coat from the newel post nearby. "I will come with you."

Elizabeth heard the capitulation in his voice and a fear took hold of her, that she would not see her husband ever again if he went with the officer now. "No, William, you don't have to go!" she cried, holding on to him.

He tenderly freed himself from her hands shaking grip on his arm, and clasped them both above her elbows for a moment in an attempt to calm her. "No, I choose to go. Don't distress yourself. I'll be back by morning."

Kissing her lips, a chaste but clear sign of his love for her, William stepped away, and shut the door before turning to face the Inspector, who continued to regard him with the greatest of scepticism.

"You know, Mr Denny," the officer said, "that you had no right to make that kind of promise, when it is highly likely that you will not be returning home tomorrow."

"On the contrary, sir," William replied, "I was speaking the absolute truth. And in time, you will come to realise that too."

Part 32:

George Wickham Senior entered Younge's shop of curiosities in Clerkenwell and found a difference within the establishment, when compared to the manner of visits he conducted before. In the beginning when he had first visited the shop to buy back the bone of the limb he had lost on the fields of Alma, there had been a dull, downcast air, which seemed to hang over the interior, as though the souls of the strange, anatomical, departed works of art that Younge specialised in, had come to haunt their resting place.

Mr Younge's confession that he was lost in mourning due to unrequited love did nothing to dispel the uneasiness which Wickham could not but help experiencing whenever he entered the shop, and his gaze accidentally turned to the last anatomical exhibits. There was something quite unnerving about the hollow eye sockets of skeletons, such as the French gentleman that Younge often referred to. Wickham could not help but feel that they, along with the stuffed animals like the alligator and the mice, rendered creepy by their seemingly innocent human poses, were watching his every move, as an enemy would in battle, waiting to strike.

Now, however, a warm glow seemed to be cast over the shop's interior. There were three ostrich eggs in the window display, instead of the usual macabre animal pantomimes that darkened those glassy panes. The French Gentleman was in his usual stand opposite the fireplace, but he appeared to be the only exhibit not shrouded in the comforting evening shade which hung over the interior of the establishment. This reassuring atmosphere was also enhanced by the smell of lemon and darjeeling, infused together in the proprietor's usual welcoming tipple.

"Why it smells rather comfortable in here," Wickham observed to Mr Younge when the proprietor himself came into view, a contented smile upon his face.

"I am rather comfortable sir," Mr Younge replied with a quiet, happy sigh, before ushering his visitor to a chair.

"Don't use lemons in your business, do you?" Wickham queried as he sniffed the air, inhaling such a fruity scent once more.

"No," Mr Younge replied, before indicating with his hand the slices of the fruit lying upon a saucer by the tea crockery. "Will you partake, sir?"

"Will I partake?" Wickham echoed grumpily, the comfortable surroundings reminding him of his own lack of comforts at his residence in Maiden Lane, with all the now usual, daily disturbances. "Of course I'll partake. Will a man partake who's been tormented by dust carts heaving to and fro twenty-four hours a day?"

"Don't let it put you out, Wickham," Mr Younge commented lightly, before making his tone acquire a more sympathetic air. "You don't seem in your usual spirits," he observed.

"If it comes to that, you don't seem in your usual spirits," Wickham countered somewhat enviously. "You seem getting on for lively. And you've had your hair cut and you've fattened up."

Mr Younge paid the bitter tone in the observations no mind as he took up his saucer and tea, placing the china cup below his mouth to take sip before he remarked upon a few observations which he had made himself. "Well, Mr Wickham, I can see you're being whittled very low. One might fancy you've come to see the French gentleman rather than me!" he chuckled, with a eye to the skeleton proudly displayed across from them.

Wickham turned in the direction, inwardly shuddering as he caught sight of the hollow eye sockets which seemed to stare at him as though he were something to be haunted, and then noticed another difference about the shop. "Why, you've had the place cleaned up."

"Yes," Mr Younge remarked, and seeing the anxiety in the old squaddie's demeanour, decided to reveal the source behind these changes. "By the hand of an adorable woman."

"I presume the next thing you're gonna do is get married," Wickham groused, witnessing the transformation of his friend as he revealed the source and finding himself even more miffed when Mr Younge nodded. "To the old party?"

With a glance directed to the back room, where the woman was presently situated, to make sure she had not heard the insult, Mr Younge turned back to his companion with a reproach in his response. "The lady in question is not an old party."

Noticing her presence for the first time, surprised to notice that she was a young, pretty woman, diligent in her housekeeping, for she was presently occupied in the task of cleaning the rest of the china, the old squaddie obligingly dropped his voice to a whisper as he further enquired about her. "Then the lady's objections have been met?"

"The objections have been met by the kind interference of a new friend of mine," Mr Younge revealed in the same lowered tone, but with the added emotion of joy at his love now being returned. "He waited on the lady, and made the point that if I would, after marriage, confine myself to the articulation of men, children and the lower animals only, it might help relieve the lady's mind of her feeling respecting being regarded in a bony light." Mr Younge smiled at the memory of the moment that Pleasant Jenkinson told him this as she accepted his affections. "It was a happy thought, sir, which took root."

"You seem flush with friends at the moment, Younge," Wickham mused despondently, saddened that his companion no longer possessed the bitter feeling required for going through with their scheme to blackmail Mr Reynolds. "Still you may spend your fortune how you wish. I mean to travel. The tough job is ended, the mounds laid low. The hour is come for Reynolds to stump up."

In the cottage at Blackheath, Elizabeth regarded her husband a fresh this morning, having woken to find him sleeping by her side in the usual manner, as though the visit to the police station the night before never took place. She had not heard him come home, for her worries over what he might be going through at the police station eventually tired her out as the hours passed and his absence continued.

Now, back at home once more, he appeared to have not a care in the world as he partook of his morning meal, his movements unhurried, even sedentary. She knew not what to make of it. Last night, standing before the Inspector, he had seemed as worried as she was by the accusations which the officer made. This morning however, he was calm, and composed, leaving her uncertain as to how to broach the subject which last evening, was so disgusting for them.

"You're going to be late for the china house if you're not careful," she ventured at last, after a glance at the timepiece on the wall nearby descried the time when he had usually left for work gone past fifteen minutes ago.

William paused, laying his cup down in the saucer with a great deal of care before he spoke, ensuring that his tone was casual and unaffected. "The fact is my dear, I have left the china house and I'm in another way of business." He reached across the table and took her unoccupied hand in his own. "And I must ask you this, Elizabeth. You've become fond of this cottage?"

She smiled at him, half wondering if he was to begin his usual ritual of asking if all was well with their married life. "Of course I have, it is our life together."

"I'm afraid we have to leave, my dear," William informed her. "My new position has a dwelling house attached rent-free."

Elizabeth glanced at him astonished. To her mind that appeared an unusual situation to acquire, unless he had become a member of someone's household. The thought of narrow back stairs and small living quarters depressed her, for she had no reason to expect a repetition of the generous space which Mr and Mrs Reynolds had given him for just a study while he lived in her father's rented lodgings in Holloway.

"William...." she uttered as he continued to gaze at her with a searching but seemingly content expression about this new position, "do you consider this a gain my dear?"

"Yes I do," William assured her in the most composed tone he could manage, though inwardly he was just as concerned as she, but for entirely different reasons.

"And what about the baby?" she asked him, hoping that the inquiry would make him reveal the nature of his move and perhaps more information as to what his new position would entail of them all. "Will there be room in the house for the baby?"

"There will I'm sure be room enough for us all," he answered her. "But why should you take this on trust? We will go and look at it this morning."

She watched him as he finished his coffee and then rose from the chair to fetch their coats, not knowing quite what to make of him. All of a sudden it seemed that man she married had been reverted into the man he was before, the mysterious, reticent secretary, who always attended upon her, staring, studying her silently, judging her. As she had said to him only days ago, she could not help but feel that she was being tested, yet for what and for whom? The babe growing inside her, waiting to become a part of their lives? In pay for all her avaricious schemes and thoughts that she felt before she fell in love and married that mysterious secretary?

Whatever the reason was, she reasoned with herself that she was not going to discover it sitting in her kitchen. Elizabeth rose from her chair and joined her husband in the hall, where he helped her into her coat and opened the door. They walked towards the gate at the end of the garden, then William helped her inside the waiting carriage.

Throughout the journey she stared out of the parting above the door, while he held her hands in a tight comforting clasp, watching the houses and citizens of London tumble by, from the comfortable, simple living of their neighbourhood to the more affluent suburbs which society deigned to reside. Her mind froze as she the carriage slowed outside a very familiar looking house. A residence from which she had last quitted, in a fit of righteous anger, with the firm resolve never to step foot inside the house again.

William said nothing when she turned her amazed and confused features upon him, continuing in his silence as he helped her down from the carriage, up the grand steps and through the impressive door frame, into the large chequered hallway to the reception rooms which lay beyond. Her mind spun with the possibilities and fears so much, that by the time she entered the drawing room, to find Mr and Mrs Reynolds rising from their places on a nearby sofa, greeting her with nothing but smiles and pleasant expressions, she could do naught but pass out.

She came to in her husband's arms, resting upon the sofa that their hosts had recently vacated, with Mrs Reynolds smelling salts underneath her nose, William's anxious gaze as he held her, ready to lend his support should she faint again, and Mr Reynolds crouching before them all, waiting for her to come round.

"There, there my dear," Mr Reynolds uttered kindly, before stepping forward to help William as they assisted her rise from lying down into a seated position. "Lets lift you up. There," he pronounced before turning to his wife and addressing her with his usual, somewhat unflattering term of endearment, but always received as a sign of his affection for her nonetheless. "Old lady, if you don't begin a telling of the tale, someone else will."

Mrs Reynolds smiled at her husband before directing the warm expression upon their guests as she replied. "I'm going to begin, Edmund dear. It isn't easy to know where to begin when a person's in this state of happiness!" She took a deep breath, then patted William's hands, still clasping those of his wife's as she uttered the following. "Elizabeth my dear, tell me who this is."

Elizabeth looked towards the man she was directed to, finding William regarding her with a nervous gaze. Though she was confused, she had no reason as yet to answer the question with anything but truth. "Why my husband, of course."

Her hostess chuckled lightly at the reply. "Oh my!" she exclaimed before persisting in her efforts to bring forth a more satisfactory response. "His name, dearie."

Elizabeth blinked in puzzlement as she answered, uncertain as to why Mrs Reynolds felt a need to be reminded of such a title. "Hurst."

Mrs Reynolds shook her head, smiling at her even more now that she had received the response she desired. "No it ain't. Not a bit of it."

An slight inclination of what might lay behind her hostess's questioning began to penetrate Elizabeth's mind, but she had another possible answer to the inquiry which needed to be ruled out first. "Well, Denny, then."

"No it ain't," Mrs Reynolds repeated, still smiling. "Not a bit of it."

Elizabeth half frowned, half laughed, not knowing what to make of the expressions directed to her from her husband or from their hosts. "Well, his name is William?" She asked hopefully, as another part of the mystery slowly began to unravel within her mind.

Mrs Reynolds nodded as she patted hers and William's clasped hands once more. "I should hope so, dearie. Many's the time I've called him William. Guess my pretty."

Elizabeth shook her head. As much as she realised what the answer had to be within her mind, the reasons for concealing such a name continued to escape her, for surely he had nothing to gain in doing so. "I can't guess," she replied.

Her hostess pressed her gloved palm on her and William's hands once more, before resuming her tale. "I could. I found him out one night all in a flash, didn't I Edmund dear?" She paused to turn her gaze on to her husband for a brief moment, then back to the beautiful young woman before them.

"It was on a particular night when he'd had a disappointment about a certain young lady," she explained, with a knowing glance directed to both William and Elizabeth, as they realised that she must be referring to the night when William proposed to her and she refused. "Too many's the time I'd seen him sitting so lonely like that as a child. I just cried out, 'William, its you!' And he catches me as I fall down in his arms."

Elizabeth stilled, startled at having her suspicions confirmed, then glanced at her husband almost in wonder, her response somewhat quietened of its usual brightness when she took in his uncertain, almost pleading expression for her to understand and not be angered by his deception. "William Darcy? But that's not possible. He is drowned."

"Now my dear," Mrs Reynolds remarked, patting the joined hands of the young couple once more, "let me finish telling. So I says to Edmund, lord be thankful! Here is our William Darcy come home again to us. And we both fall down, crying for joy!"

William smiled at her now, although the attempt was half-hearted at best, as he was still nervous of receiving her anger. "Do you see my darling? Can you understand? These two, who I came to life to dispossess and disappoint, they cry for joy."

"Oh don't you mind him," Mrs Reynolds half admonished the man whom she had practically raised, with all the authority that a fond second mother might be supposed to reasonably possess. "So, William tells us about his disappointment with a certain young person and how he's going to leave London and let us keep our wrongful inheritance." Mrs Reynolds glanced at her husband whose own eyes met her gaze briefly before glancing down at the floor at the memory of his actions. "And my Edmund, well you should've seen him. To think that he'd come to the property wrongfully, turned him whiter than chalk."

She directed a smile of reassurance at him before turning her gaze back to the couple sitting before them. "So we came to our confabulation about a certain young lady. Edmund says, 'she's a little spoilt but that's only on the surface. She's true golden at heart.' And then William says 'oh if I could but prove so.' And then we says 'what would content you? If she was to stand up for you when you were slighted? If she was to be true to you when you were poorest and friendless? And all this against any interest. How would that do?' 'Do?' he says. 'It would raise me to the skies.' And we says 'make your preparations for it is our firm belief that up will you go.' Edmund says 'Elizabeth was a little frightened of me at first. She thought me a dusty and brown old bear!'

Elizabeth blushed, half ashamed of her first impressions, tempered as they were now and before by her continued observation of their kind manners and affable nature, as well as their constant generosity. "Well I...."

Mrs Reynolds brushed away her attempt at denial. "You did, my dear. He says 'what if I was to become that old bear she thought me once?' 'William' he says 'prepare to be slighted and oppressed.' And he began. Lord, how he began. And you proved yourself true as we knew you would. And William wouldn't let us tell you though that was the plan. He says 'she's so selfless and contented. I can't afford to be rich yet.' And so we go on. Now the baby's on the way. He's says 'I can't tell her now.' And I said 'if you don't tell her as soon as you can so she can come into her rightful home, then I will.'"

Elizabeth found herself smiling as she turned from Mrs Reynolds, to her husband, and then to their host, whose head was bowed nervously, awaiting her anger. She found she had none left to give. In fact none existed in the first place. For as she listened to Mrs Reynolds's account of the deception performed, she realised her husband's motive for doing so was not one born out of a selfish desire to change her ways, but a heart that yearned for her to love him as much as he had come to love her. As for Mr and Mrs Reynolds, they had only done what any good friends would do in their position.

"Now, come sir, and meet my gaze," she uttered to Mr Reynolds, who nervously looked up from the floor, to find her parting from her husband's clasp to rise from the sofa and stand before him. "Come on admit. You're a bad old bear." She laughed as she hugged him, before returning to her seat to embrace William, who wrapped his arms around her in relief that she had taken his secret so well.

"Well I did hope it might hint at caution, my dear," Mr Reynolds admitted. "And I assure you that on that celebrated day when I which has since been agreed upon, to be my greatest demonstration, I allude to crying, 'money,' and William stares at me as if I've gone a little strange, them flinty words hit my old lady so hard on my account I had to hold her hard and stop her from running after you, and telling you I was playing a part!"

Later, when their former host and hostess left them to take their air in the grounds, Elizabeth stood before the prospect where she could observe them, musing over all she had learned this morning. It was almost too incredible to believe. She had gained a fortune she always wished for, and now hardly seemed to matter. Her husband, whom she had feared after last night's excursion would be parted from her forever, was alive and well, and master of that grand fortune, laying open before her. She had been deceived, even up to the point of signing her name on the register for their marriage, only signing her first, as William took over the rest, but the deception did not make her angry, not as perhaps it once might have done.

She could understand why he might be driven to doing it, why she might have done such a thing if it had been her travelling back to England, to face a husband and a life she had never known, or cared for, courtesy of one embittered father. She could count herself blessed that her own was such a contrast, and wished that her husband had been dealt the same hand.

Speaking of husband, she mused as William wrapped his arms around her waist, his hands caressing her through the fabric of her dress, is dear face nestled upon her shoulder, his dear voice close and tender in her ear. After Mrs Reynolds had given her account, he had spoken of his own, giving her to understand everything which had taken place from the earliest moments of his childhood that he could remember, the innocent, carefree days passed in Derbyshire, before the times of sadness spent in Maiden Lane, until he and his sister exiled themselves to the Cape, to the moment he had learned of his father's death, and returned to England. He spoke to her as much as he had spoken to their hosts the night after she had refused his first proposal, and her reaction was more than he could ever have hoped for.

"Forgive me, my darling," he uttered lovingly now, his voice warm and soft by her ear as he rested his head against her dark hair. "I was drowned, or as good as. And as I lay by that river gasping for air, I thought I might as well be. I had nothing left to live for. And when you have nothing, you are very bold. I had nothing to lose by trying you out. And when I did, I found I had the best of friends and the most worthy of wives."

He pressed a kiss to those dark elaborately pinned tresses before he continued. "And then you told me of this new life growing within you. So it was then I realised that I did miraculously have everything I hoped for, I was so afraid to lose it and determined to hold fast to it. I couldn't risk telling you until I had one more signal of your love, and then yet more and more." He searched her eyes for understanding as she turned her face to gaze into his own, receiving it much to his surprise and relief. "Can you forgive me? We might still be in Blackheath had it not been for Mrs Reynolds and our friend, the Inspector."

Elizabeth clasped his hands which rested upon her waist, above where the child grew inside her and nuzzled his face with her own in reassurance. "There is nothing to forgive, my love. I am too ashamed of my own conduct back then to give credence to be angry at yours. We shall not quarrel for the greater share of blame annexed to that evening when you first declared your affections, and were soundly, rudely rebuffed, nor for what my injured pride all but forced you into following through. You must learn some of my philosophy; think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure." Her gaze turned back to Mr and Mrs Reynolds outside. "I hope we do not have to part with them again."

"We never shall, my love, on that I swear," he remarked.

Volume Nine

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