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Daniellas Bureau; A Fanfic & Desktop Site

Marry In Haste, Repent At;

Version II; Volume VII.

Chapter XXV.

"And this is the Library," Mrs Reynolds declared, opening the double doors to the large grand room, with the many bookcases which covered all of the walls. Once more, she discreetly observed the Countess, watching her reaction and manner, as the young woman made her way over to one of the shelves, and read the titles there on view.

Already, Kate felt no need to disregard her first impression of this young woman. The Countess presented such a contrast to the usual female guests that her master was often obliged to invite, because of the friends they were related to. Quiet, kind, intelligent- judging by her close preoccupation with the leather bound volumes which she was presently perusing -and not at all constantly conscious of her station.

Indeed, she was a very intriguing young woman. Kate had seen her genuine appreciation of the house, but only hints of the other sides to her personality. Occasionally, she had been close enough to be able to observe the fading bruises on her arms, which were uncovered due to the warm summer weather.

Kate had felt disgusted the moment she caught sight of them. Miss Elizabeth was such a nice woman, and did not deserve to be handed such a terrifying first marriage. By the time they had reached the last room to see, the Library, Mrs Reynolds had resolved to help her master with the protection of the Countess as much as possible. As to the future, if she was ever able to rid herself of her scoundrel of a husband, she would have no hesitation in welcoming her as her master's bride.

As Kate continued to observe this young woman, she was forced to quit her occupation, as through the open doors of the Library came her master. He had evidently been searching for the Countess, a conclusion Mrs Reynolds reached by observing the expression on his face as he set eyes on her.

With a silent nod to his housekeeper, the kind that, between masters and servants who have lived under the same roof for so long, cannot fail to be understood, Mrs Reynolds calmly bowed her head and made her way out of the room. She had shown the Countess all over the house, a journey of sufficient length to observe her character properly, and be content with the result. Now she would willingly let the romance continue.

Darcy watched with fascination Elizabeth's movements as she read the titles in the shelves, fingering a certain volume when one caught her attention. He had been closeted with his steward for most of the morning, as he strove to catch up on events he had missed during his long absence from the country.

The estate was running as efficiently as ever though, which had thus given him the liberty to enquire after the Countess' whereabouts, causing him to be standing where he was now. He had been most pleased to learn that she was touring the interior of the house with Mrs Reynolds. Kate's quick approval of her he had been pleased to receive, knowing that it would go a long way to giving Elizabeth the ease she needed to find peace in this strange county.

It had also eased his own mind considerably. He had been so concerned for her safety, that he had not thought of how it might be regarded by his household until they had arrived at Pemberley. As usual, Kate had anticipated him, and had already bestowed her approval of the woman he hoped to install permanently by his side. And her approval would instantly pave the way for the rest of his household, both in town and country, where the name of Mrs Reynolds was regarded with the highest respect.

All this occupied his thoughts for but a moment. Now Darcy moved to be near Elizabeth, making sure he did not startle her until he was standing beside her. "If there are any volumes which you would like to read, please feel free to do so at your leisure," he remarked by way of greeting.

Elizabeth uttered a quiet gasp, then turned to face him. "Thank you," she answered, his blessing encouraging her to take out one of the books she had been fingering, for a closer inspection.

"Have you enjoyed your tour?" he asked, his eyes watching avidly the movements of her fingers, and the turn of her head, she opened the book in her hands.

"Pemberley is truly a beautiful house," she replied, the appreciation clear in her tone as well as her words. "And Mrs Reynolds was a most capable guide."

"Indeed, you cannot praise either of them too highly for me. I have known both for as long as I can remember, and regard each as my anchors in an often chaotic world." He paused, in order to fix his eyes upon her own. "Will you allow me to spend the rest of the day with you?"

"Have you not business with your steward?"

"It is done. I am fortunate enough to have a most efficient household. My steward keeps me up to date through correspondence whenever I am away, ensuring that when I am here, there is not much left that has not already been dealt with." He changed his tone to one of profound earnestness. "Please, allow me to keep you company. We may do whatever you wish to do." He smiled at her, then held out his arm for her to take.

Elizabeth turned to window, observing the glorious view it beheld. "It seems such a pity to waste this fine day in doors. Let us go out." She took his hand.


As the days in Derbyshire turned into weeks, Elizabeth felt a change come over her. Or rather, a reversal. Before her marriage, she had considered herself as lively, witty, intelligent, and of equal worth in the company on men. The Earl had changed all that, forcibly transforming her into a silent creature, afraid to speak even when away from him.

Now however, she seemed to be coming out of that spell, and into another, altogether more pleasant one. Even in the days of rain, Pemberley still produced its marvellous wonderment; a stark contrast to the gloomy estates of her husband. Its location, set as it was in a valley, presented the illusion that it was shut away from the rest of the world, in its own private existence, where nothing could tarnish its beauty. Nothing could touch it, even in bad weather it still shone to all who resided upon its lands. Elizabeth found herself feeling safe, whatever part of the ten mile round estate she happened to be in.

Emboldened by the security she felt, shades of her old character were now tentatively let out, first for a trial showing, proceeding into a continued presence when no one displayed any disapproval or objection to them. Even her wit, which had been one of the first traits she had been obliged to discard upon her marriage, could reign free here, and was even returned and responded to, as she found that her hostess and host could be just as proficient in the art.

As the weeks continued, Elizabeth finally felt sure enough of herself to explore what had long been apparent to her: Mr Darcy's feelings. Since their time spent together in Kent, she had been aware of his love for her. But until now, she had not felt the liberty needed to explore it, or to try to perceive her own. It was a love like nothing that she had ever witnessed before. Even between Jane and Bingley, a match she knew to be a happy one, Elizabeth had never seen such a depth of devotion.

He seemed to convey it almost without any effort, and in every single glance he bestowed upon her. At times, she risked being lost in his gaze, as his dark brown eyes fixed upon her own, calling her soul to answer his own. It was a rare occasion to find him not looking at her when they were in each other's company. The love was not demanding, nor desperate, nor an unhealthy obsession. Rather, it seemed to benefit the both of them, a daily proof she was given whenever she happened to overhear one servant remark to another how happier their master seemed to be since her arrival.

When she had become accustomed to its constancy, Elizabeth began the uncertain task of exploring herself, and seeing if she could return any of it. She found that if nothing else, she liked him. His company was always pleasant, his opinions always well-informed and well thought out. She admired the way he handled his estate, and his conduct with the servants.

She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man, who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. She found herself blushing whenever she received his praise or whenever he uttered her name. He addressed her by it only when they were alone, and in a way that Elizabeth had never experienced before. The tone was always reverent, conveyed like a caress. As though it was an intimacy which he rarely trusted himself to use without losing control over his actions and emotions. There was not a time when she could fail to be moved by it.

Yet, while there were many positive signs of what she felt for him, there were also many negative ones. The shadow of her time with the Earl loomed over her, haunting her at the most inopportune moments, frequently making her doubt herself in everything. This past would serve to remind her what little experience she had had with love, and what horrors had awaited her when she had believed herself to be in that state before. Added to this, while she enjoyed his company, she did not find herself suffering from a loss when she was deprived of it.

True, she had worried about him when he was fighting the duel, but she was uncertain whether this was due more to her own concerns over what would happen if he lost rather than whatever feelings she might have for him. She could not escape the reminder of her husband everyday, the comparison her thoughts often drew between them. Whether to abandon the vows which she had already seemingly given up, on the uncertainty in her heart, the curious possibility of pleasure against her current distaste. These doubts plagued her mind, forcing her to question everything she had ever known, and all she came to learn, all the while keeping her from accepting that which those around her already knew.

"Let us hope, therefore, that her being there may teach her own insignificance. At any rate, she cannot grow many degrees worse, without authorising us to lock her up for the rest of her life."

It was not until she had spent a se'nnight in Brighton that she understood the truth behind her father's words. Before then her rapture on the occasion of her going, her adoration for Mrs Forster, were scarcely to be described. She had flown about Longbourn House in ecstasy, calling for everyone's congratulations, laughing and talking with more violence than ever. In her imagination, a visit to Brighton comprised every possibility of earthly happiness. She had seen with the creative eye of fancy, the streets of that gay bathing place covered with officers. She saw herself the object of attention, to tens and to scores of them at present unknown. She saw all the glories of the camp; its tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and to complete the view, she saw herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once.

Before Brighton she had spent her days and evenings in the company of these gallant gentlemen, flirting and dancing and talking and playing games, running between Longbourn and Meryton to catch them unawares in their quarters or about the villages. She had become the invaluable friend of Mrs Forster, a very young woman and lately married, through the resemblance in good humour and spirits which recommended them to each other, and out of their three months acquaintance, they had been intimate two, and it was on the strength of this relationship that she was invited to accompany her and her husband to Brighton.

It was to be her first excursion away from Longbourn. Mr and Mrs Gardiner had yet to invite her or Kitty or Mary to London, preferring the steady comfort of Jane or Elizabeth before she was married. Upon the occasion of that union with one of the most illustrious personages in the land, Lydia had fully expected to be invited to London to stay at the Earl's house. But two years of her sister's marriage had gone by with no invitation forthcoming. When she did see Elizabeth again, it was but a brief encounter during the wedding breakfasts for Maria Lucas and Mr Collins, then Jane and Mr Bingley, who had likewise gone to London for a brief spell after their wedding, without inviting her or Mary or Kitty to accompany them.

This was why when she received her invitation to Brighton from Mrs Forster, her rapture had known no bounds. Only one element concerning the affair caused her disappointment; the repining of Kitty, whose terms were as unreasonable as her accent was peevish.

"I cannot see why Mrs Forster should not ask me as well as Lydia," said she, "though I am not her particular friend. I have just as much right to be asked as she has, and more too, for I am two years older."

In vain had Mrs Gardiner sought to make her reasonable and Jane to make her resigned. Her Aunt had even gone as far as to speak with their father upon the matter, advising him not to let Lydia go. She had represented to him all the improprieties of Lydia's general behaviour, the little advantage she could derive from the friendship of such a woman as Mrs Forster, and the probability of her being yet more imprudent with such a companion at Brighton, where the temptations must be greater than at home. He had heard her attentively, and then said, "Lydia will never be easy till she has exposed herself in some public place or other, and we can never expect her to do it with so little expense or inconvenience to her family as under the present circumstances."

Such words had been intended by Lydia's Aunt to be spoken to her father in secret, and had she not been passing by her father's book room that day, she would never had discovered the substance of Mrs Gardiner's conference with their father, and her indignation would hardly have found expression in her volubility. Incredulous at such a betrayal, she had lingered in the hall, listening further.

"If you were aware of the very great disadvantage to us all, which must arise from the public notice of Lydia's unguarded and imprudent manner; I am sure you would judge differently in the affair."

"Already arisen!" her father had repeated. "What has she frightened away some of the other girls' lovers? Do not be cast down. Such squeamish youths as cannot bear to be connected with a little absurdity, are not worth a regret.”

"Indeed you are mistaken," Mrs Gardiner remarked. "It is not of peculiar, but of general evils, which I am now complaining. Your family's importance, your family's respectability in the world, must be affected by the wild volatility, the assurance and disdain of all restraint which mark Lydia's character. Excuse me - for I must speak plainly. If you will not take the trouble of checking her exuberant spirits, and of teaching her that her present pursuits are not to be the business of her life, she will soon be beyond the reach of amendment. Her character will be fixed, and she will, at sixteen, be the most determined flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous. A flirt too, in the worst and meanest degree of flirtation; without any attraction beyond youth and a tolerable person; and from the ignorance and emptiness of her mind, wholly unable to ward off any portion of that universal contempt which her rage for admiration will excite. In this danger Kitty is also comprehended. She will follow wherever Lydia leads. Can you not suppose it possible that they will not be censured and despised wherever they are known and that their sisters will not be often involved in the disgrace?"

Her father had replied, "We shall have no peace at Longbourn if Lydia does not go to Brighton. Let her go then. Colonel Forster is a sensible man, and will keep her out of any real mischief; and she is luckily too poor to be an object of prey to anybody. At Brighton she will be of less importance even as a common flirt than she has been here. The officers will find women better worth their notice. Let us hope therefore, that her being there may teach her her own insignificance. At any rate, she cannot grow many degrees worse, without authorising us to lock her up for the rest of her life."

Lydia had not known whether to be relieved or offended by her father's words; his manner of trivialising her many sources of enjoyment were usually thus, but she had not expected them to be proven true within weeks of his speaking them. Arriving at Brighton she rested a little before being swept to a party by her friend Harriet, while the Colonel saw to the arrangements of billets for the men. His officers were obliged to assist him, leaving her forced to find new acquaintances, a task which was most taxing in a room where it seemed everyone knew everybody else but she.

With the arrival of every new day Lydia's disenchantment continued; as Wickham had forgotten her in favour of Miss King and her ten thousand pounds in Meryton, so too did Denny, Saunderson, Chamberlayne and Carter in favour of other ladies with similar fortunes. No one, not even the gentlemen present who were not in any way connected with the regiment paid her even a scrap of attention. What was worse, what was far worse, she had heard talk from those officers who had so tenderly flirted with her before, that they would do well to secure her as a brief source of intimacy before they left, for she possessed not the wit or the manners, or the sense or the beauty, or the wealth, for any other union.

Disgusted, she had gone to Harriet, who after condoling with her woes allowed her to understand that such remarks were nothing less than she could expect, for had she not came to Brighton with such an object of intention in mind? She was astonished and hurt that her dearest friend could suspect her motives to be thus, and declared as much. But Harriet felt no such compunction, as she proceeded to describe her own amusements before marriage to be the same, that she would tarry with the officers now if any offered themselves.

Shocked by her friend's confession, Lydia left the house, seeking the delights of the assembly rooms, where it was customary to promenade during the day, until the dancing was to be held in the night. Receiving little attention from any of her acquaintances there however, she moved on to the building which stood beside it. Though a tavern, it was a respectable place, full of friendly society, where she had always been assured of a warm welcome, ever since the day she and Harriet had ushered themselves inside on the pretext of seeking shelter from the rain, though in verity the weather delivered a suitable excuse to gaze at the handsomely attired officers within.

Here her imagination of being surrounding by a uniformity of beauteous redcoats, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once, was briefly fulfilled, in between their attentions to drinks, provided by the serving ladies whose lively natures no longer appeared as scandalous as once they seemed. However, as she sipped her own liquid refreshment now, absently wishing for some fresh amusement to restore her previous good humour, she was entirely unaware that such a wish would very soon be granted.

"Why if it is not my dear sister in law!" a voice cried, drawing her attention from the lemonade in her hand, to the gentleman beside her, whom she soon recollected to be none other than her brother, the Earl of Saffron Walden.

Chapter XXVI.

The Earl had not returned to Brighton with the intention of encountering his wife's youngest sister. His reasons for sojourn in that bathing place were altogether quite different. Wickham's attempt to sabotage the duel and subsequent death presented a problem for him, as that officer's absence had no doubt by now been noticed within the regiment. As he could not transport the body to them, thus being required for an explanation as to how their newly commissioned lieutenant had died, when, where and for what reason, his Lordship had to hope that the disappearance of the officer would be satisfied by another motive, and this he was soon pleased to discover was indeed the case.

Within moments of his arrival he delegated the task of finding such a suitable reason to his valet, whilst his own respite from the horrors of travelling were assuaged in the nearest tavern. Which was where his manservant found him several hours later, wisely choosing to wait until his master had sobered up before informing him of what he had found out. Apparently Wickham had left Meryton with a considerable amount of debts and in the few weeks he had spent at Brighton, was on to do much the same. Many of the officers had unwisely agreed to extend him a line of credit and were now poorer than they were six months ago before he joined the regiment.

Relieved that the officer's disappearance could easily be explained by the motive of desiring to escape the threats from his creditors, the Earl prepared to return to London, although his energy about such an endeavour was severely lacking. Little remained in that town to amuse him at present, his wife having absconded his home for Derbyshire. At least he presumed she had gone to that county, for he had been informed by her champions's solicitors that their master was bound for his country estate.

Abruptly his stomach clenched as he recalled the incidents which had led to such a departure. He had been surprised by the reemergence of her bold spirit, which had so attracted him in the first place, though truth be told his motives for marrying a lowly gentleman's daughter were nothing more than the surety that she and her family would be ignorant of his reputation, whereas any debutante of society would most assuredly not be.

That he blamed himself for her absconding was entirely untrue, for he had no way of knowing that his carnal proclivities were not in the common way. It had been his father who was responsible for his education in that particular mode of deportment, when he witnessed such a coupling between him and his mother during his youth. Such a similarity existed between his mother's emotions during the event and that of his wife's that he never considered altering his methods until his godmother advised him to look towards the begetting of his heirs.

Then Lady Catherine's nephew interfered, intent on carrying through with his own amusement in Elizabeth, who seemed more than willing to let him have his way rather than her husband. Her preferment was inconceivable and undesirable at such a time as when they should both be directing their efforts toward the procreation of children. Still, he would let her have this amusement, after all she allowed him to indulge in his. If he were patient, he was sure that she would soon tire of the affair and return to him.

However, his vices did not allow him keep his patience, and taxed such calming emotions sorely. Unsettling dreams came to him of calling for her in the amorous embrace of others, encountering her lover at an society event, only to be unceremoniously removed from the premises. Often he would wake in either his clubs or his residences or his carriages with little recollection as to how, why and when he came to be there, let alone how long he had spent in such a fashion. Such inconveniences troubled him little, as did the often disapproving countenances of his fellow club members and those belonging to his household staff.

Such practices were common in the aristocracy. One either led a life of seriousness and occupation, deeply committed to their estates and the comforts of their wives, siblings, children and tenants, attended their seats in the House of Lords, their place in the court of St James. Or they lived a life of idleness and dissipation, amusing themselves about towns or spas, clubs or houses of sensual pleasures, or in houses of willing wives. It was the way of things, tradition as much as custom, which the nation so religiously adhered to.

Amusements of his club often took his Lordship to towns and spas, allowed him free reign in other houses of fellow members or sensual pleasures. If one wished to remain a member, one must adhere to the practices so often indulged. Return he must and soon to that building which housed such an organisation, to appease those members who were unfortunate enough as to witness the entry of a battle hardened Colonel of the Life Guards, carrying the note of challenge from his gentleman farmer of a cousin. Oh the nerve of it! Only such a man would give himself license to call out one so far above him for the mere excuse of stealing away his wife. As if he could hope to retain such a creature; he had not the wealth or consequence to do such a thing, nor the amusement of disposition for that matter.

Yet something must have lured Elizabeth into Darcy's company, though what the Earl could not fathom. Perhaps the novelty of the contrast if nothing else. Such novelties would fade in time, as newness often did. He could journey to the north and await her return at Pearlcoombe, the most northerly of his estates and therefore the most neglected. But there were few amusements to be had there, and since she was indulging in hers it was only right that he be allowed to indulge himself in his, once he had ascertained that no one was urging for Wickham's return.

In the long carriage ride to Derbyshire, he had provided a willing ear to that wastrel's tale of misfortune suffered under Darcy's hands. Whether he believed him or not was immaterial, but what was plainly obvious was that he could not trust the reprobate to conduct himself honourably in the role of a second. To shoot one's opponent was simply not done, unless pistols were the weapon of choice and au premier sang denied. So he had armed himself and concealed the weapon from his challenger until Wickham proved himself entirely capable of seizing his moment for revenge. He had little to regret with regards to his actions afterwards. The duel was over, with the gentleman farmer the victor, his demands not altogether unreasonable. Wickham's actions were a disgrace from which it would be dishonourable to seize any opportunity.

And now he was here in Brighton attempting to determine if the man would be missed by anyone. Or rather his valet had done so for him. With that business so rapidly concluded he should take his leave from the spa town and depart, but the idea of enduring another long carriage ride just now was repugnant. So he beckoned the barkeep towards him and requested more liquid refreshment. As the attendant withdrew having fulfilled his task, the quietude of his respite was disturbed by a laugh which sounded vaguely familiar.

Turning, he caught sight of a young woman in a low cut gown of country muslin, which displayed far more of her voluptuous assets than was warranted. Her artless manner was that of a girl wildly curious, but ignorant of the things of which her pleasing figure so enticingly promised. Her head turned, revealing a countenance of heedless enjoyment, as well as a resemblance to someone he knew, or rather presumed he had for the past two years. Silently he wondered what she was doing in Brighton of all places, until a thought occurred to his barely inebriated mind that her presence was propitious.

"Why if it is not my dear sister in law!" he remarked in a lively tone, catching her attention. Not once had he ever used such an endearment for his wife's relations before, but neither his tone nor his expression would betray how little he believed in such compliments.

"Sir!" she cried, as he rapidly searched his memory for her name. "What do you do here? Where is Lizzy? Oh I would laugh to see her in such a place as this!"

He smiled and offered a light chuckle as she intended. "My wife is at our townhouse. She is feeling a little under the weather, missing her old home and her sisters, I think. I am greatly worried about her. I happened to come to Brighton on a matter of business, and I was quite relieved to find you here. Will you not return with me to London? I'm sure Elizabeth will be delighted to see her sister."

She uttered a loud shriek which almost deafened him and clapped her hands. "London, oh how wonderful, I have always wanted to go to London. Brighton has been nothing like Mrs Forster promised. Oh, there have been balls and parties every night, but all the officers are so dull. Lizzy and Jane always enjoyed their time in town. Oh how I shall laugh if I go to town before Kitty and Mary can."

"And so you shall, Miss Lydia.” The Earl was most pleased with himself for finally recollecting her name, even if it was by process of elimination, through her own conversation. "If you can meet me here in a few hours with your travelling gear, I shall be delighted to escort you."

It did not occur to him until some hours later that he would have to endure a carriage ride with the silly girl. For that is what she was, as he was able to conclude within a few minutes of her company, for he had not had much occasion to know her when he had been going about the business of courting her sister. As he sank into the comfortable damask interior of his coach after they changed horses at Clapham, he wondered once more how it was that the girl sitting opposite him came from the same family as his wife.

Beyond her youth and flirting manner, Miss Lydia had little but her charms to recommend her. To be frank her attributes would be happily savoured by those of his club, not as a wife or society debutante. She was a passing fancy, nothing more, lacking the poise and elegance which was so sought after by the matriarchs of society. Where his wife managed to acquire such skills which she showed to their advantage on the rare occasions he had allowed her into society, her sister's lacking in such manners was rendered a mystery.

As the journey to London continued, he contemplated availing himself of what little pleasures there were to be found in her flesh. He would have to gag her of course, for he did not think he could stand to hear her laughter while he feasted on her assets, for laughter would undoubtedly be her reaction, as it seemed to be for everything. Once he had tired of her, he could use her as he intended to, by sending a threat to the gentleman farmer to return his wife or else her sister would suffer. The girl had not the sense to realise that she would be ruined just by accompanying him without a chaperone, or without notice to Colonel Forster and his wife, so he might as well make her so.

He doubted not that the gentleman farmer would agree, Darcy having the guardianship of a sister whom the Earl believed was the same age or a little older as Lydia. Miss Darcy's debut was a widely discussed event in Society; the size of her dowry was hotly debated by the men who wished to try their hand for her, unperturbed by her protective older brother, her cousin of a Colonel and her Uncle the Earl. No, Darcy would let the Countess go, whereupon he would make a gift of Lydia as hostage to her sister's permanence in Hanover Square.

Though he doubted that the experiment of having both his wife and a mistress in the same house would last for a long time, and pass itself off favourably, the Earl had always so admired those in society who could practise such a lifestyle that he was tempted to try it out, for a few months at least. At least in such an endeavour he would, to paraphrase the girl sitting opposite him, been able to do what none of his peers had done, by bedding two siblings. He even wondered if he could attempt to do both at once.

After what seemed like an absurdly long carriage ride from Brighton, the equipage at last came to a halt outside the rather large, grand and imposing facade of the Saffron Walden's London residence. The sight of such a building evoked little sense from the visitor, who cast her huge brown eyes over the place with a laugh, commenting, "Oh, la, Lizzy must be a grand lady to live in a house like this! What shall Kitty and Mary say when I tell them! Oh, how I shall laugh."

Concealing a grimace, though he doubted the girl knew what displeasure was, the Earl bore her comments with more taste than she had affected them, taking her hand as he led her into the house. Introducing her to the butler who greeted them, a note of decorum which received another laugh from the girl, he brushed Robertson's comments aside before escorting Lydia upstairs to one of the guest rooms near his own chambers.

"I'm sure you would like to freshen up before you see your sister," the Earl remarked to her, to which Lydia responded with a laugh before waltzing into her room, gasping and laughing at the richness of the decor and the proportions, the like of which she had never seen before.

Only when the sound of her raptures failed to end did the Earl take up the key and secure the door to bar her exit, before heading downstairs for his study, where the rest of his business regarding the girl would be set down.

The note arrived at Pemberley one morning in time to be handed to the master while he breakfasted. Georgiana and Elizabeth were seated either side of him at one end of the lengthy dining table. Due to their proximity there was little escaping his reaction from being observed by either of them.

In it of itself there was little to rouse concern from such a short slip of paper. One line of ink comprised the nature of the business, announcing the presence of her youngest sister in the house on Hanover Square, and the threat of her ruin if the Countess did not consent to quitting her current place of refuge in favour of her husband's house. The Earl had also made his intention of keeping her youngest sister as a hostage to her permanence by her husband's side, known and stated.

"What is it?" Elizabeth asked as her fine eyed gaze fixed itself on the reverse of the note in order that she might distinguish the handwriting. Given the solemn and grave countenance of her host, she could not help but feel a certain sense of impending doom to be originating from such an insignificant looking slip of paper.

Darcy met her gaze with his own, and after a short pause, reluctantly turned the note over to her care. A few minutes was all that it took to avail herself of its contents, and her reaction was nothing short of a horrified cry.

By now Georgiana had witnessed more than enough to have some concerns of her own, and nothing less than an examination of the note was sufficient to assuage them.

Retrieving the note from her, Darcy beckoned to one of the footmen and quietly asked him to apprise his valet, housekeeper and stable hands of their master's imminent departure. Finishing what little remained of his breakfast, he tucked the note in his jacket pocket and rose from the table.

"If you will excuse me, ladies, I have a few matters to see to before I depart to take care of this business. I shall be sure to let you know at such a point."

Affecting a slight bow to them both, he left the vicinity of the dining table before exiting the room, leaving Georgiana and Elizabeth to gaze after him, a profusion of horror and astonishment eclipsing their features.

Only a little reassured that his departure was not imminent, it nonetheless took some time for Elizabeth to compose herself into forming a desperate resolution of her own.

As much as she had often attempted to remonstrate with her sisters and her father about her youngest sibling's behaviour, and however much consternation and grief Lydia often caused her family, Elizabeth bestowed upon her each of her sisters the same degree of affection, though perhaps it might be said that she reserved a greater part of her sibling devotion for Jane. However much she might be irritated by this fresh entanglement which Lydia had no doubt entered into willingly, with no idea at all of the consequences of her little adventure both to herself and her family no amount of selfishness or horror at the prospect of returning to her husband would allow her to sacrifice Lydia to his proclivities.

With a parting look of assurance to Georgiana, an expression in which privately Elizabeth held not a particle of hope and from which Miss Darcy derived not even a smidgeon of comfort for herself, the Countess rose from her chair and parted from the girl to seek out her brother.

She found him in his study, entering the room in time to catch sight of him calmly and confidently cleaning a rather fearsome but extremely well made duelling pistol. The weapon was one half of a pair, the other of which still lay within its casing upon the desk, waiting to be submitted to the same procedure as its relation, a technique which its owner was performing with a confidence and an ability that would rival any military man.

Darcy looked up at her entrance, but made no move to conceal the weapon, even as he noted her inability to restrain her fine eyes from focusing on it. "Clearly I shall have to employ harsher methods to make your husband reasonable this time."

Elizabeth found herself advancing to the edge of the desk and laying a slender fingered hand upon his own atop the pistol. "Fitzwilliam, you take too much upon yourself. This is my own doing, and I should be the one to resolve the matter."

He met her gaze with one which was just as resolved as hers. "I am not letting you go back to that man, Elizabeth. Upon no account will you be able to persuade me otherwise. Besides, it solves nothing. Whether you are by my side or his, your sister shall still be his hostage and the damage to her reputation will be complete. I will not allow him to attempt to regain a hold over you and your family which I managed to successfully rid him of but a month ago."

Gently he prised the pistol from their joined grips, returning the weapon to its mate in the casing below with one hand, while with the other maintaining his grip upon her slender fingers. "You have my word that I will not risk any danger to myself or to any of your family. Which I would to heaven I had the privilege to call them my own."

It was as direct a reference to the depth of his affections regarding her that he had ever made and she could not help but feel the full force of it, just as much as she was aware of the warmth which emanated from the touch of his hand upon her own. "Thank you, sir, for that generous compassion which induces you to take so much trouble and bear so many mortifications, for the sake of my family."

"If you will thank me," he replied, "let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you, might add force to the other inducements which will lead me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I will think only of you."

Elizabeth was too much embarrassed to say a word. After a short pause, Darcy reluctantly relinquished her hand to resume his previous occupation. His emotions required some disciplining, it was some time before nothing was heard in the room save the quiet clicks of metal upon wood as he cleaned and checked his duelling pistols. The weapons had been a gift from his cousin Richard a year or so ago, a souvenir from the battlefield which secured his latest promotion. Despite the term used for them, their immaculate condition was not due to frequent use and upkeep, but the occasional target practice and as a means of protection during long carriage journeys, as well as the fastidiousness of their owner.

Only now were they to be used for such a purpose, with the man who bestowed them upon him in the first place as support. Darcy intended contacting his cousin as soon as he arrived in London, after establishing a watch upon Hanover Square, as well as one inside the household of the Earl. For him the mode of au premier sang would not satisfy this time, as clearly the Earl would not let something like a simple sword wound affect him. He only hoped that he would not be too late to prevent the scoundrel from taking his sister-in-law's virtue.

While his plans for his forthcoming departure were fully evolved, his current concerns lay with what Elizabeth might do in his absence. Already since learning of the threat she had formed a desperate resolution to abandon her own liberty and security for the household of her husband and all the abuses which that entailed. He was loathe to contemplate what else she might decide to attempt whilst he was gone from Derbyshire. Silently he resolved to have a discreet word with Mrs Reynolds before he left, making sure that the housekeeper kept Elizabeth too busy to form any more desperate resolutions.

Lydia - the humiliation, the misery, she was bringing on them all, soon swallowed up every private care; and covering her face with her handkerchief, Elizabeth was soon lost to everything else; and, after a pause of several minutes, was only recalled to a sense of her situation by the realisation that he seemed unaware of her distress, even her lingering presence. Drawing breath, she rallied herself to speak in a manner, which though it spoke compassion, spoke likewise restraint.

"I am afraid you have been long desiring my absence."

She turned away and went to the door, only for him to call her name, making her glance back. He was standing before her, and in her grief, she had no notion as to how her came to be there so quickly. In one swift motion he gathered her into his arms, laying a kiss upon her lips which was like no other. Until this moment he had been chaste and considerate of her emotions. Now however he seemed to have observed something in her which made him determined to respond with the same level of intensity.

If it had been her husband, or indeed any other man, such a force of passion would have frightened her. But in Darcy's arms, with his fingers pressed against the back of her dress, absently caressing the last of the fastenings, while his mouth seemed to drink her in as though she were a fine beverage to be savoured, Elizabeth felt a yearning of her own, which could only respond to his in the same strength. Her reply brought as much delight as could be supposed from a man violently in love, driving him to increase the display of his ardent expression.

When they at last drew a little apart from each other, his hand came up to cup her face, his thumb caressing the smooth skin of her jaw line as he murmured, "Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth. I have never desired your absence. Quite the contrary, I assure you, in that I yearn for your company. If neither of us had not a pressing concern with which to deal, I would take very great pleasure in showing you how much. Unfortunately however, such displays will have to wait until I return from London, when I hope to lead you to the altar before long."

Never had there been a more clear indication of his intentions, wishes and desires regarding her. His words had alluded to not just a proposal, but to the darker nature of what his actions were to be while in London, concerning the Earl. As much as Elizabeth disliked the notion that he was willing to commit murder for her, she could not see another way of subduing her husband for good. Yet all of this was a momentary concern as she stared into his intense gaze, attempting to fathom how she might best convey what lay in her heart.

At last she settled for simply this. "Fitzwilliam, I love you. Please come home safe."

"I will," he replied, before kissing her again.

Chapter XXVII.

Darcy's farewell to his sister and Elizabeth was as tenderhearted as could be supposed from a man ardently fond of the one and violently in love with the other. Riders were sent on ahead to the various switching houses which he would arrive at along the way, so the freshest horses might be ready and waiting for him. Upon arriving at his town house, he dispatched orders to various trustworthy members of his household to set a watch on the Earl's residence in Hanover Square, and to infiltrate the household, so he might learn where Miss Lydia Bennet was held and from that information, determine the best means of rescuing her.

After that, it was simply a matter of overseeing the motions and biding his time, occupations which Darcy found distasteful in his impatient mood to have the matter settled in order to restore Elizabeth's peace of mind. He spent the rest of his first day in London idling his time between his study and his library, wishing in both rooms that he was not deprived of her company, and failing to distract himself with matters which could be found in the volumes of literature or the piles of letters upon his bureau.

He delayed calling upon his cousin at barracks, for though his intentions were arranged, his plans were not. Richard would agree to be his second once more, but Darcy was unsure if, should he challenge the Earl again, Saffron Walden would accept. He did not know what the man was about, in agreeing to give his wife into Darcy's care after the duel, only upon returning to Brighton to abduct her youngest sister in order to induce her to return to his side. Its only logic was perhaps that of a drunkard's, impetuously conceived, unwisely followed and desperately adhered to.

At times, when his thoughts were too distracted to think of anything or anyone but Elizabeth, he recalled the moment between them in his study, the passionate encounter that he had bestowed on her before their more chaste parting in the company of his sister. Her words of affection still had the ability to astonish him; he could barely believe his good fortune in earning her love. She had asked him to come home safe, and he would, even when, if, the Earl followed him in a few days for their second and final duel. Only after that would he ask her for the honour of her hand, but not before giving her the liberty which her previous husband denied her. She had seen so little of the world which she had married into, it would be selfish and unfeeling of him to deny her that privilege.

As regards to the outcome of the affair before it, he was being presumptuous in presuming his survival, for though the first had resulted in such, there was no reason to suppose that the second might. Despite all his failings, the Earl was a good swordsman, skilled in his art, a formidable opponent, though no longer unknown and unpredictable. Their second meeting was likely to last far less longer than his first, and the measure of his and his opponent's worth would be judged by the only authority which neither of them could defy.

So, while he waited for the night to darken London's most salubrious streets, he might as well put his time to good use by practising his pistol aim at the club.

Despite what her Aunt and her father, come to think of it, most of her family thought, Lydia believed that she was not unintelligent. Lacking in accomplishments perhaps, but not unintelligent. She could dress bonnets and gowns, dance, flirt and read. She could not play the pianoforte, nor could she sing, or draw, or speak a number of languages. She was sure that if she possessed the time and inclination to do so, she could acquire all these skills and more which were what others considered to form the idea of an accomplished woman. However, none of these things would help her now, except perhaps as a mode of passing the time.

Although she might not be clever, she had known from the moment the Earl had led her to her room that she was not going to see her sister. She heard the turning of the key in the lock all too clearly. As the days passed in solitary confinement with little interruption save for the delivery of meals it dawned upon her that Elizabeth's husband was not entirely trustworthy, that he had probably lied about her sister even being in the house. So instead of flouncing upon the bed or throwing herself against the door, or crying aloud her objections to this unlooked for imprisonment in the hope that a servant might come to her aid, she went to the window to assess the prospect.

Glancing beyond the pane of glass, she quickly determined that the room looked on to the square below, to which the royal house of Hanover had attached its name. Realising that the sight of her climbing down the house from this casement might attract some unwarranted attention, during the daylight hours at least, Lydia turned to the next avenue of escape, the servants' door. This took some time to discover, for the design of the furnishings rendered it indistinguishable from the decor. However after running her hands carefully along the walls for some time, she discovered the narrow band of air which signified the outline of the door.

Hopeful, she pressed her fingers against the entire length of the seam, as well as the wooden sculpting which ran across, trying to find a catch which would grant her access. After a short search however, she soon concluded this to be another vain exercise, for it soon became apparent that the door was only able to be opened from the servant's side, not the room's. This called for her to search for the bell pull, which took much longer, as there were many furnishings about the chamber which could answer for just such a purpose.

Eventually her industriousness was rewarded, she pulled at the rope and heard the faint sound of a bell tolling in reply. Anxiously she waited for a servant to appear, hoping that her patience would be rewarded, that the Earl would not have had time to warn the staff and bar them from her room.

Sure enough, a startled maid soon entered, coming to a halt at the sight of Lydia, with some noticeable hesitation in her manners before she curtseyed.

"I would like to see my sister, the Countess," Lydia stated bluntly.

Again the maid appeared startled by such an inquiry and it took some time before she answered with, "The Countess is not at home, Miss."

Lydia had suspected as much, but she was astonished to hear it all the same. "Where is she?"

Another hesitation on the maid's part. "I'm afraid I don't know, Miss."

That reply drew a shocked exclamation from Lydia, who had assumed Lizzy was merely out enjoying the shops or the parks, or indeed any other amusement which London provided. "How long has she been gone?"

"Three months, Miss," the maid answered, embarrassed.

It is reasonable to assume that such an answer drew another shocked exclaimation from Lydia, who was astounded to learn that her sister had left her husband. While her creative eye began to wildly speculate as to a possible motive, she continued her questioning of the domestic in another line of inquiry. "I would like to leave and visit my Aunt and Uncle, but I have no desire to trouble the Earl for summoning a carriage for what will be a short visit. Could you direct me through the servants passages to the streets?"

At this the maid began to appear somewhat fearful. "I'm afraid I can't, Miss."

"Why not?" Lydia asked.

"Because his Lordship would have m'position taken from me, Miss. He gave orders not to let you out of this room."

Lydia sighed in frustration at her brother in law's rapid arrangements. "What about if I were to slip by you as you opened the door? You could claim ignorance of my actions."

"I think that would warrant the same ends, Miss."

This reply produced another exclamation from the inquirer, but this time it let slip something of the frustrated emotions which she was currently experiencing. "Thank you," she said to the maid, "you may go. Be assured I will not attempt such a scheme that would risk your job."

Much relieved, the maid left, leaving Lydia to surrender to her youthful petulance and flounce herself upon the bed, in an effort to compose her mind out of its frustration into the contemplation of a fresh avenue which would enable her to escape the house. For if her sister was truly gone from the place, then she had no business lingering in Hanover Square either.

Miss Lydia was fortunate that the Earl sought to relieve his suffering from the perils of travelling from London to Brighton with such a lady as her by the application of drinks and much quieter inducements at his club. Unbeknownst to her much fortification would be required before he could contemplate carrying through with his initial desires concerning her physical attractions.

The return to his house in Hanover Square was conducted in the same manner which a certain gentleman had once bestowed upon him so many months ago, not that he recollected much of the occasion, for he had been too inebriated at the time to recall the event with any measure of success. Which in the event was just as well, for the gentleman who had seen him home before, was solicitous enough to perform the same office on this occasion.

No one was there to greet them except the master's long suffering valet, whose concern had caused him to stay up whilst the rest of the household went to bed. Too anxious in seeing the Earl to his chambers, the valet did not notice that the escort had slipped away to the entrance to the service quarters below, having been guided to such rooms by the domestic which he had sent to infiltrate the household upon his arrival in London.

Darcy's faithful servant led him up and down a variety of passages, until they reached the door which would give them access to the room where the Countess' sister was being held. Not wishing to give alarm to the household by causing the captive a substantial degree of surprise, they discovered and persuaded the maid who had been called to attend on Miss Lydia before, and with the promise of a place in his own household, on considerably more generous terms than the wages for her current position, to enter the room first and wake the girl, before leading her out.

The domestic obliged and opened the door to reveal a darkened room, illuminated slightly by the rays of light which were streaming through the window from the street lamps below, casting a somewhat eerie glow on the unmade bed. Upon closer inspection, Darcy and his companions observed that the bed was lacking a considerable number of furnishings, namely blankets and sheets, which were tied together round one of the bed posts, in the manner of a makeshift rope, which was hanging out of an open window. Clinging tightly to this rope, was a young girl, whom he could only presume was Elizabeth's sister.

"Miss Bennet," the maid uttered quietly, confirming such a deduction before rushing to the window and pulling her back inside the room.

"I won't come back in," Lydia cried in a low voice which was sufficient to carry only across the room, not to raise the alarm of the entire household and bring attention to her escape. She stubbornly gripped the coiled blankets. "I shall laugh and break my head, as I said to Kitty upon my departure, but I won't wait here for him to ruin me."

"You will not need to, Miss Bennet," Darcy remarked quietly, as he took a step towards her. "Do you recollect who I am? I stood up with Charles Bingley, at your sister Jane's wedding."

Lydia gasped. "You're that dull fellow, Mr Darcy. What a joke! What are you doing here?"

"Your sister Elizabeth sent me to retrieve you," Darcy replied, ignoring the unflattering description of himself for the present.

The Countess youngest sibling scowled distrustfully. "That's what her husband said."

Darcy suspected as much. In reply he retrieved a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to her. "Here is a note from her, assuring you of your sister's trust in me." Elizabeth had penned such an epistle during their time together in his study, before his departure.

Lydia took a moment to read the note, then scrambled back inside. At a nod from Darcy, the maid and his man assisted her in pulling up the makeshift rope. When that was done, she came to stand beside him as the domestics went to put the bed back to rights. "Where are you taking me, then?"

"To your Aunt and Uncle's in Gracechurch Street," Darcy replied.

When the Earl woke from his alcohol induced slumber the next morning, the thought occurred that he ought to check on the girl whom he had persuaded to come with him from Brighton. His appetite for some less than complying pleasures was alive and active, and since his wife was not to be found about his house to supply as a source of fulfilment in such endeavours, her sister would have to be relied upon to perform such a task.

Rousing himself from his bed and then his rooms, he walked down the hall to her room, whereupon he retrieved the key for the door and placed it within the lock. With a quiet click the door opened to reveal an empty room, devoid of any form except that of furnishings. The windows were closed, their drapes drawn back to allow the sunlight to stream through the panes of glass upon the opulent decor. The servant's door was likewise fastened also.

Enraged, the Earl darted forward and began a rough search of the room, convinced that the girl was merely hiding in one of the large and copious wardrobes which were of a sufficient size to contain the young woman. However only a few minutes of ceaseless openings caused him to realise such a move was in vain. Wherever she was, Miss Lydia was clearly not in this room, and possibly not even in his house.

His energy suddenly spent, he sank down on the bed, glancing down at the adornments absently, as he contemplated the failure of his wild scheme. It was then that he noticed a piece of folded paper, fastened by a familiar seal, which he reached out to pick up and study.

The note contained one line of ink, which was more than enough to warrant all the explanation which his barely sobered mind might have required. Angrily he crumpled it in his fist, before rising from the bed. He would need copious amounts of wine to persuade him to travel beyond London again.

As well he would require an obliging second, one who would not attempt to sabotage the engagement by seeking revenge upon his opponent.

Chapter XXVIII.

The news of Lydia's disappearance from Brighton with an unknown man had occasioned a journey to London by Mr Bennet and Mr Bingley to attempt to discover her. In their absence, Jane had come to stay at Longbourn to give comfort to her distraught mother. During a brief absence from Mrs Bennet's side, Jane learned that an express had come for her father from Mr Gardiner. Mr Bennet's stay in London proved to be short, as he soon tired from the effort of searching for Lydia.

Seeking her father out, Jane asked him breathlessly, “Oh, Papa, what news? What news? have you heard from my uncle?"

"Yes, I have had a letter from him express," Mr Bennet replied.

"Well, and what news does it bring? Good or bad?" Jane asked.

"What is there of good to be expected?" said he, taking the letter from his pocket; "but perhaps you would like to read it. Read aloud, Jane, for I hardly know myself what it is about."

Gracechurch Street, Monday, August 2nd

My Dear Brother,

At last I am able to send you some tidings of my niece, and such as, upon the whole, I hope you will give you satisfaction. The particulars I will reserve 'till we meet. Soon after you left me on Saturday, I was fortunate enough to receive another visitor to my door, in the form of Mr Darcy-'

"Mr Darcy," Jane cried. "What can Charles' best friend have to do with the matter?" She had little correspondence from her sister, nothing since her marriage, therefore knew nothing of what had occurred between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth.

"Read on, Jane," Mr Bennet merely instructed his daughter.

"Apparently he had been escorting a gentleman to his home in __________ Square, when he caught sight of a young woman attempting to climb down from the window of a neighbouring house. After helping her down, with the assistance of his coachmen, he attempted to ascertain her identity. Upon learning of her connection to ourselves, he offered to escort her to our house, an offer which, was gratefully accepted.

After seeing your daughter was safely in the care of my wife, I took the liberty of receiving the gentleman into our confidence. He assured me of his discretion regarding the affair, and further offered his assistance in seeing that matter remained largely unnoticed so as not to ruin your daughter's reputation.

This graciously rendered offer was not within my power to refuse, his motive is pure disinterestedness, it seems, although he made some allusion to his friendship to Mr Bingley, I was forced to accept that there appeared to be no other motive in the affair. As for our niece, she is well, and very desirous of seeing you all, and begs to be dutifully remembered to you and her mother.

Yours &c

E. Gardiner.

"Is it possible?" Jane murmured, surprised by the account of an affair which brought relief after many days of suffering endured by herself and her family. "My dear father, I congratulate you. Have you answered the letter?"

"No; but it must be done soon."

Most earnestly did she then entreat him to lose no more time before he wrote.

"Oh my dear father," she cried, “come back, write immediately, Consider the politeness of an early reply. Let me write for you, if you dislike the trouble yourself."

"I dislike it very much," he replied; "but it must be done."

And so saying, he turned back with her, and walked towards the house.

"What do you believe happened, sir?" Jane asked him.

"I am uncertain," Mr Bennet replied, "and it at this point it would be a useless endeavour to speculate. However, I will not trust her so near Brighton again for fifty pounds! No, I have at last learnt to be cautious, and the rest of my girls shall soon feel the effects of it. Balls will be absolutely prohibited, unless they stand up with either you or Lizzy, and they are never to stir out of doors, till they can prove, that they have spent ten minutes of every day in a rational manner."

Her father left her then for the library to write, and Jane went to the shrubbery behind the house, her thoughts in a state of confusion as to what had just occurred.

She recalled the first night she had learned of her sister's disappearance, when a servant from Longbourn had come to Netherfield shortly after twelve, just as she and Charles had gone to bed, to take them both to her father's house, where they learned of the arrival of an express from Colonel Forster. His note informed them that Lydia was gone off to London to see her sister Elizabeth.

However, no invitation had come to him or his wife, or to Lydia to request her sister's presence in London, and the report from one of his men of the girl travelling in an expensive looking carriage, which led to the Colonel taking alarm, and setting off from Brighton to trace her route. He could trace her easily to Clapham, but no farther; for on entering that place he learned that was the last place after Epsom where the chaise changed horses.

After making every possible enquiry on that side of London, Colonel Forster had come into Hertfordshire, renewing them at all the turnpikes, and at the inns in Barnet and Hatfield, but without any success. With the kindest concern he had come on to Longbourn, and broke his apprehensions to her and her family in a manner most creditable to his heart.

In all haste Jane had sent off an express to Elizabeth, and upon receiving no reply, her concerns increased, particularly in when checking through her last piece of correspondence from her sister, she discovered that nothing had been heard from Elizabeth since she went to visit Mrs Collins and her husband's godmother, Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings Park.

Attempting to reassure herself that she had merely wrote the direction very ill, Jane sent off another flotilla of letters to every house which belonged to her brother in law's estate, all the while her concern about her siblings mounting. Her mother became really ill and kept to her room, while she had never seen her father so affected. He could not speak a word for full ten minutes. He and the Colonel set off for London instantly to try and discover her, as did her dear husband, for the Colonel was obliged to be at Brighton again by the evening of the next day.

Upon arriving in London, Mr Bennet had written to her a few lines, as had her husband to say that they had arrived in safety. He merely added that he would not write again, till he had something of importance to mention. He meant to go to Epsom and from thence to Clapham, the place where the coach last changed horses, see the postilions, and try if anything could be made out from them. His principal object was to discover the owner of the private coach which took her from Brighton. He was in such a hurry to be gone, and his spirits so greatly discomposed, that she had difficulty in finding out even so much as this.

Anxiously Jane waited for word from her sister, her husband, her father or her uncle, whilst attending to her mother, whose hysterics warred from being indignant that Lydia had been invited to Elizabeth's house before she, to despairing over her daughter going missing in a foolish attempt to avail herself of the amusements of London, and complaining over the care of the Forsters, whom she was sure had not properly cared for her girl, who was not the type of person to do such a thing, had she been properly looked after.

Charles soon wrote to her that Mr Gardiner had persuaded them both to come to Gracechurch Street, that he and her father had been to Epsom and Clapham, but without gaining any satisfactory information; and that they were now determined to enquire at all the principal hotels in town, as her father thought it possible her sister might have gone to one of them, on her first coming to London, after discovering the Earl's house in Hanover Square to be shut up. Although her husband and her uncle did not expect any success from this measure, her father was eager in it, so they meant to assist him in pursuing it.

Every day at Longbourn and Netherfield was now a day of anxiety; but the most anxious part of each was when the post was expected. The arrival of letters was the first grand object of every morning's impatience. Through letters, whatever of good or bad was to be told, would be communicated, and every succeeding day was expected to bring some news of importance.

Her uncle soon wrote to inform them of their father's return home on the following day, which was Saturday. Rendered spiritless by the ill-success of all their endeavours, he had yielded to his brother-in-law's entreaty that he would return to his family, and leave it to him and her husband to do, whatever occasion might suggest to be advisable for continuing their pursuit. When her mother was told of this, she did not express so much satisfaction as her children expected, considering what her anxiety for his life had been before.

"What, is he coming home, and without poor Lydia!" she cried. "Surely he will not leave London before he has found her. Who is to fight who ever it is that has her if he comes away?"

When her father arrived, he had all the appearance of his usual philosophic composure. He said as little as he had ever been in the habit of saying; made no mention of the business that had taken him away, and it was some time before his daughters had the courage to speak of it.

It was not until the afternoon, when he joined them at tea, that Jane ventured to introduce the subject; and then, on her briefly expressing her sorrow for what he must have endured, he replied, "Say nothing of that. Who should suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it."

"You must not be too severe upon yourself," Jane replied.

"You may well warn me against such an evil. Human nature is so prone to fall into it! No, Jane, 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 her to be in London?"

"Yes; where else can she be so well concealed?"

"And Lydia used to want to go London," added Kitty.

"She is happy then," said her father drily; "and her residence there will probably be of some duration."

They were interrupted then, by Mrs Hill, who came to fetch Mrs Bennet's tea.

"This is a parade," cried her husband, "which does one good; it gives such an elegance to misfortune! Another day I will do the same; I will sit in my library, in my nightcap and powdering gown, and giver as much trouble as I can - or, perhaps, I may defer it, till Kitty runs away."

Upon which prediction her sister had assured their father rather fretfully that if she went to Brighton, she would behave better than Lydia, causing Mr Bennet to embark on a crusade of words similar to the embargo he had expressed to Jane after reading the letter from Mr Gardiner just now. Kitty had taken the threats in a serious light and began to cry, whereupon her father had promised that if she were a good girl for the next ten years, he would take her to a review at the end of them.

And now Lydia had been found, and by Mr Darcy of all people. Jane could only presume that her husband had confided in him upon discovering his friend to be in London. She had nothing but the firmest belief that Mr Darcy was someone whom her family could trust to keep this matter to himself, he had his own sister to protect who was the same age or a little older than Lydia, after all. But Jane could not help but wonder at the providential nature existing in how quietly the affair had been resolved, without a loss to their family's reputation, for not even her Aunt Philips or Lady Lucas had been invited to Longbourn during their suffering, thus avoiding the risk of all of Meryton learning of the matter.

Her presumption was put aside however when she was able to welcome her husband and her sister home, Charles having offered to provide Lydia with appropriate escort from Gracechurch Street to Longbourn. Jane dreaded her sister's arrival, giving Lydia the feelings which would have attended herself, had she been the culprit, and was wretched in the thought of what her sister must endure.

They came. The family was assembled in the breakfast room, to receive them. Smiles decked the face of Mrs Bennet as the carriage drove up to the door; her husband looked impenetrably grave; her daughters alarmed, anxious, uneasy.

Lydia's voice was heard in the vestibule; the door was thrown open, and she ran into the room. Her mother stepped forward, embraced her, and welcomed her with rapture; gave her hand with an affectionate smile to Mr Bingley, who followed her daughter, a gesture which he managed to return before greeting his wife.

Their reception from Mr Bennet, to whom they then turned, was not quite so cordial. His countenance rather gained in austerity; and he scarcely opened his lips. The easy assurance of his daughter, indeed, was enough to provoke him. Even Jane was shocked. Lydia was Lydia still; untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy, and fearless. She turned from sister to sister, demanding their admiration over adventure, and when at length they all sat down, looked eagerly around the room, took notice of some little alteration in it, and observed, with a laugh, that it was a great while since she had been there.

Observing his wife's distress and frequent blushes regarding her youngest sister's manners, Bingley elected to announce their departure for Netherfield, a statement which caused Mrs Bennet a little regret, which was assuaged by the rapidly consuming sole attention on her youngest daughter, who was happily expounding upon her adventures in Brighton and London, without the least regard for the disgust at her entirely unaltered manner, that was inwardly felt by all her sisters.

Their carriage was still outside, enabling a rapid conclusion to their short journey over the five miles which separated the two estates. Once they were established in the peaceful surroundings of Netherfield's drawing room, Jane inquired as to how her husband's best friend came to learn of Lydia's misadventure.

At which enquiry Mr Bingley frowned, confessing himself at a loss as to how his friend knew, for it appeared that he had been only in London for but a few hours before showing up at the Gardiner's house in Gracechurch Street, with the errant but entirely unrepentant Lydia in tow. When he attempted to secure a moment alone with his friend in order to ask him such a question, Darcy proved extremely reluctant to elaborate beyond his previously expressed motives to Mr Gardiner. Nor did he stay in town long enough for Bingley to attempt further enquiries, claiming that pressing business required him to return to his estate in Derbyshire immediately.

"I can only conclude that he merely wishes to spare us the full distressing details of the affair," Bingley remarked. "In which case it might be best to not inquire for anything further from him."

Jane nodded, before adding, "Oh, Charles it is not just that which distresses me. I have, as you know, written to all of the houses owned by Lizzy's husband in an attempt to discover where she might be, but as yet I receive no reply, and more than enough time has passed for me to receive one from even the remotest estate, Pearlcoombe Abbey."

Her husband's countenance formed another frown as she said this, and he spent some time searching his memory before replying. "Pearlcoombe Abbey, did you say? Is that in Derbyshire?"

"I believe so," Jane answered, "why?"

"Because I think I recall Darcy mentioning the place on one occasion, probably in answer to some enquiry from Caroline about the society which surrounds Pemberley," Bingley replied. "I do believe it is no more than thirty miles from Darcy's estate. Perhaps that is how he learned of your sister, although I do not see how such an event came to pass, though he has been at Pemberley since his cousin's wedding, I believe."

After further thought upon the matter, Bingley added, "Darcy did request that I write to him after I returned here, most particularly. Perhaps, if you will allow me, my love, I shall inform him of your concern regarding Elizabeth. He may be able to confirm if she is or is not at Pearlcoombe. We could then travel to the rest of them, if you wish?"

Jane readily agreed to such a plan, and her husband sat down at the nearby writing table, to set out a remarkably clear letter to his friend at once.


Section Eight

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 20212003-2020. All rights reserved.