Elizabeth ran up the hill at the back of Netherfield Park. She was eager to distance herself from the flurry of activities at the estate and escaped the follies inside.
Mrs. Bennet, Jane and Elizabeth were invited by Mr. Bingley to spend the day to review the preparation of the estate to welcome its new mistress. Yes, Jane Bennet was to become the mistress of Netherfield in five days' time. Much to Mrs. Bennet's glee, Mr. Bingley, a single gentleman with a large fortune from the North, had leased the estate last Michaelmas and dutifully fallen in love with her most beautiful daughter.
Since Jane's engagement last November, Mrs. Bennet's silliness was no bound. The mistress of Longbourn would constantly drag her daughters to gloat at every parlour of the four and twenty families in the neighbourhood. She sent expresses to her brother in London to procure all sort of useless items for her darling Jane's wedding. If the winter was not so harsh, the roads so bad, Mrs. Bennet would have demanded several trips to London herself to buy Jane's trousseau.
And when Mr. Collins, the heir of Longbourn, set a date to marry Charlotte Lucas, after Elizabeth had rejected his offer of marriage, Mrs. Bennet engineered one-upmanship by bringing forward Jane's wedding to two days before the Collins's. Mrs. Bennet would not let that sly and plain Miss Lucas triumph over her Jane. Mrs. Bennet might have an ungrateful second daughter who disregarded her wishes by rejecting Mr. Collins but her Jane must shine bright over Miss Lucas. No one would care that Mr. Bingley's fortune was from trade, with so much more pin money, jewels and carriages in future.
But today's silliness was not caused by Mrs. Bennet. It was Miss Bingley's turn to become hysteric. When the Longbourn ladies arrived, they could hear Miss Bingley's exclamation and indignation before their carriage had even slowed down. Once they were shown into the parlour, Mr. Bingley was apologetic about his sister's rude reception to the visitors and harsh treatment of the servants.
“Um, my best friend Darcy had sent an express last night, said he can attend the wedding and stand up for me after all...”
“And Mr. Darcy is arriving today.” Elizabeth completed the sentence for Mr. Bingley.
As Elizabeth absently slowed down her pace up the woods at Nethefield, she pondered on her dislike of this Mr. Darcy. Why did she dislike him so much, even without meeting him? Firstly he rescinded a promise to his best friend. Mr. Darcy had originally agreed to assist Mr. Bingley first frolic as a gentleman. But by Michaelmas, the infamous Mr. Darcy did not join the Bingley party and left Mr. Bingley learn about estate business all on his own. Secondly, the arrogant and condescending Miss Bingley constantly praised Mr. Darcy of his perfect Pemberley, of his most accomplished sister and of his faultless character. This made Elizabeth see him as a total opposite. Who would take the words of a mean woman who treated Meryton's people with disgust?
Lastly Mr. Darcy was the nephew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Elizabeth's self-important and nonsensical cousin Mr. Collins's patroness. While Mr. Darcy could not choose his family and Elizabeth should not blemish him for that, she found his treatment of Miss Anne de Bourgh wanting. According to Mr. Collins, Miss de Bourgh and Mr. Darcy's engagement was of a long duration. But Mr. Bingley privately told Jane that Mr. Darcy had denied such an engagement. As Miss de Bourgh withered away in her sickly state, Mr. Darcy seemed to engage in raising the expectation of another woman instead. Miss Bingley practically considered herself as the next mistress of Pemberley, and soon to enjoy ten thousands a year, if ever Mr. Darcy could get away from his business and came to join her in Hertfordshire or London.
It seemed today was the day he would come to her finally. Miss Bingley therefore drove everyone at Netherfield to their distraction, demanding every floor be scrubbed once, balustrade cleaned twice, silver polished three times, her feather trimmed fourth times and so on. She did not need the Longbourn party there to spoil her grand reunion with her Mr. Perfection.
After the harsh winter, the new year brought on an exceptional mild day. Elizabeth thanked the lord for the good weather today or else she would be stuck in the bedlam called Netherfield.
“I wish you would fall from your horse and arrive with six inches deep in mud, Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth exclaimed and giggled at the picture she conjectured up of this Mr. Darcy. He would be round with a big belly, so short that he did not need to lower his head to walk inside a cottage and with so little hair that he found no use of a comb. He would be sitting in a pool of mud with grass all over his bright orange and silly waistcoat, somewhere in Hertfordshire.
“I am afraid I cannot grant your new year wishes, madam!” The tight voice of a man startled Elizabeth.
Standing twenty yards from her was a tall gentleman in the finest dark green travelling clothes. He had thick curly dark hair and a stately manner. He held the rein of a magnificent horse. The only imperfection of this Greek god was his build. He was too thin, like he had not eaten for sometimes. His broad shoulders looked angular and his eyes hollowed with tiredness.
“I beg your pardon, sir. But we have not been introduced.” Elizabeth replied and turned, wanting to get away from this strange man who claimed to be that hateful Mr. Darcy.
“You seem to have the privilege of knowing me already,” he spoke tightly. “Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley.”
On hearing his introduction, Elizabeth face turned bright red. But she would not be accused of bad manner. She turned back to face him and curtseyed. “Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn.”
“Mr. Collins's cousin?” His voice hitched.
Elizabeth stared at Mr. Darcy's agitated countenance and nodded her head curtly. He behaved like someone fit for bedlam. She made herself ready to run should he became more bizarre. “I would think you would be more interested in the Bennets being your best friend's future family, rather than being related to your aunt's parson.”
“You know about my aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh?”
Mr. Darcy seemed not to care about Mr. Bingley and his sister at all, not even a word was uttered to ask after them. How extraordinary! Elizabeth begged leave from him and walked back towards Netherfield but the man asked for permission to walk with her. His state of mind still looked very unsettled. He had let go of the rein of the horse and fidgeted with the ring on his finger. The horse followed them dutifully. Elizabeth walked as far away from him as possible. She reckoned that even if she hurried her pace, they were still a fair way away from Netherfield. She should not have run so far into the woods.
After several minutes of silence, he broke Elizabeth's revel “Miss Bingley told me, via a letter from Charles, that Mr. Collins would be marrying your best friend Charlotte Lucas and you have been invited to visit them at Hunsford in March, together with her father and younger sister.”
Not that it was any business of you, Elizabeth thought. She was sure Miss Bingley must have told him she had rejected Mr. Collins's offer of marriage. What a gossiping woman!
“I came immed...Can I ask you...Charles said you are...” He stammered and gasped for air. His legs wobbled and swayed to lean on the trunk of a big oak, holding his chest.
Despite his totally odd manner, Elizabeth could not help but enquiry after him. “Are you feeling not well, Mr. Darcy?”
“I feel...faint.” His hand squeezed the lapel of his coat and he panted heavily.
“I shall go and get help from Netherfield immediately.”
“Wait, I think...a sip of water will make me feel better.” He closed his eyes and rested his head on the trunk.
“I will go and fetch it from...”
“I have a bottle...on Athena.” He opened his eyes and tried to breath more evenly.
“Your horse?” The Goddess of Wisdom. How very unwise of him to travel alone when he was ill!
Elizabeth hurried to the horse, took the bottle and some bread she found inside the saddle bag and handed them to him. “Perhaps you would like to sit down.”
“It is not...proper for me to sit, while you are...standing.”
“I thought I could get my new year wishes, by tricking you into muddying yourself.” Elizabeth teased. She felt relieved that his face became less pale and the corner of his mouth lifted slightly to form a little smile. “I shall sit on the rock over there, sir.”
Once she sat down, he slid down unsteadily onto the stump of the tree and sipped a mouthful of water.
“There is no birds in the wood. I think the bread is not for them.” She looked at him with hawk eyes.
His smile grew slightly larger. He tore up a small piece of bread and ate it with a grimace.
“When have you eaten?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I was in a hurry.”
“To return to Miss Bingley's bosom?”
He grimaced again.
“Are you in pain? I think I should go to Netherfield to get help. It is not good for you to get a chill while you are already unwell.”
“You are exactly as Miss Bennet has described you.”
“What! Did Mr. Bingley write to you about every word my sister had said? I do not know that he is such a diligent correspondent.”
“He normally was not. But it seems love have made him better. He said your sister encourages him to write more and with more care. That will give pleasure to the readers, she said.”
“Ah, Jane was disappointed by Mr. Bingley's first love letter. It was full of blots and unfinished sentences and it was not a verse of poem.”
“I congratulate Miss Bennet for her good influence on my friend.”
“What did Mr. Bingley, or his reportedly quoting Jane, say about me?”
“Only when someone you care about do not yield to your good senses. He said the way you walked three miles through muddy lanes to take care of your sick sister and spoon fed her all the foul taste concoction from the local apothecary made him never want to erk your anger.”
Elizabeth pouted, not sure if he was flattering or laughing at her. He seemed entirely like a normal gentleman now. But she was still uncomfortable about his earlier behaviour. Could the hunger or rush travel cause his agitation? Judging from the emptiness in his eyes, perhaps complete honesty was required to understand this suffering man. She pondered about his words before he almost fainted. “You came immediately after hearing that I would be visiting the Collins in March. What do you want to ask me about?”
He frowned and bit his lips, looking worried and unsure.
“I know that it is not easy to trust a stranger. But I shall become a sister to Mr. Bingley soon. I hope you can trust your best friend's family.”
“I would not trust Miss Bingley,” his eyes dimmed. “I beg your pardon. I should not have said so of Charles's sister.”
“Trust cannot be bestowed without honesty and Miss Bingley hardly treats people honestly.”
Mr. Darcy drew in a deep breathe. “True, I have planned to ask for your help soon after I meet you.” Then he proceeded to tell Elizabeth about his younger sister's near elopement with a Mr. George Wickham. The scoundrel was the son of old Mr. Darcy's steward. He benefited from the generosity of Mr. Darcy's father, obtained a gentleman education, a large inheritance but wasted them away quickly.
Elizabeth was horrified of hearing such an injustice and her heart went out to Miss Darcy and her devoted brother. Mr. Darcy clearly blamed himself for not investigating the governess Mrs. Younge's references thoroughly. “How is Miss Darcy now?”
“For that, I do not know.” His voice trembled and his face contorted in pain, not of physical nature.
“But you said you had arrived early in Ramsgate in time to stop the elopement and dealt with the rake.”
“Yes, but Georgiana has disappeared.”
Elizabeth's eyes widened. “Oh, my god. How did it happen? What has been done to locate her?”
“After I had dealt with Mrs. Younge and Wickham, I decided to stay one more night in the establishment before journeying back to London, to allow Georgiana rest from the traumatic experience. But the next day when I woke, Georgiana was gone, without a trace. Richard, my cousin, who is her guardian as well, and I have been trying to find her...for five long months.”
Elizabeth now understood why he looked so haggard, hollow and grim. He must have been canvassing the whole of England, worrying about his sister. “Could Mrs. Younge and Mr. Wickham have a hand in that?”
“I suspect that as well but they cannot be found either, after I sent them away at Ramsgate.”
“That was why you did not join Mr. Bingley's party at Michaelmas. And Mr. Bingley do not know about your sister's disappearance. That is understandable. You would want to protect her reputation. But now you believe Mr. Collins may have something to do with it? That is why you want me to help?” She paused for a second, “Or could...”
“...my aunt be the culprit.” He nodded his head.
“Why did you suspect Lady Catherine de Bourgh?”
“I read one of her recent letters a month ago. She will be preparing my cousin Anne and my wedding this Easter, when I go for the annual visit at Rosings.”
“Mr. Collins has said that Miss de Bourgh and your engagement has been of long duration.”
“That has always been my aunt's ambition. I do not love Anne and have no intention to marry her.”
“What made you suspect Lady Catherine of kidnapping your sister? Did she threaten to expose Miss Darcy's disappearance to the society, if you do not marry Miss de Bourgh?”
“I had neglected my personal letters when Georgiana first disappeared, travelling all over England to find her. I finally attended to some of them a month ago and found that my aunt sent me letters almost every fortnight demanding me to go to Rosings, since Georgiana's disappearance. The first few letters were like those of her past ones, rambling of an old lady who wanted her wishes to be met. But in the recent one, she talked about an elderly cousin of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, who was well known for his violent temper and gambling, is looking for a young heiress. She implied that one way or another there will be a wedding at Rosings this Easter, with her most obliging parson Mr. Collins performing the ceremony, no matter if the bride or bridegroom is willing.”
Elizabeth gasped. “Could she mean marrying Miss de Bourgh to this elderly cousin, if you refuse to yield to her wishes?” She paused for a second. “But that makes no sense at all as she would not want her daughter to suffer at the hands of a cruel man. Can you not confront her directly?”
“Richard said it is unwise in case she hurts Georgiana in anger. I have asked my steward to reply to her last month, saying that I had been travelling and that he would forward all the private letters to me as soon as possible. My uncle and aunt Matlock, Richard's parents, then invited themselves to Rosings. But after two weeks' stay, they could not find any information and Lady Catherine uninvited them. I have hired several men to watch over the estate, even went through some of the secret passages I have known about and bribed some of the servants there. But Georgiana has not been seen or heard from there. I wish I could tear down Rosings and search for Georgiana brick by brick.”
“You expect Lady Catherine to keep Miss Darcy in Rosings?”
“That would be the easiest way for my aunt to make sure Georgiana cannot escape. If she puts Georgiana in other location, she will have to pay for men and women to do so and visit her if required.”
“So when I go to Kent in March, you want me to help find your sister...But I do not understand. If Lady Catherine is somehow involved with the disappearance of your sister, why would your aunt send Mr. Collins to Longbourn to look for a wife late last year. Surely the new Mrs. Collins may ask questions if there is irregularity at Rosings.”
“I have been thinking about that, since I heard from Charles about Mr. Collins. My conclusion is that Lady Catherine wanted Mr. Collins out of the parish for some time last year and getting him to Hertfordshire was convenient. If Mr. Collins is as faithful to my aunt's advice, he would choose a most obliging and silly girl as a wife.”
“Ah, for that you are mistaken. Charlotte is one of the most sensible and intelligent women I have ever known, though I do not agree with her choice of husband.”
“Charles mentioned that as well.”
“Yes, your most diligent correspondent.”
“Mr. Darcy, there are another two months before I will travel to Kent. Can you not think of something to be done earlier, for Miss Darcy?”
“I have been going through all possible solutions in my mind and talked to Richard about this as well. We hope one of the maids or servants will turn up with some information during this time. You will be one of our last resorts. Failing that, I am prepared to go to Rosings in April. I have already replied to my aunt that Richard and I will arrive for our annual Easter trip as normal. I did not respond to her discussion about any wedding.”
“I shall do whatever I can to help you, sir.”
Mr. Darcy stared at her with steady eyes, full of intensity and emotion. “I thank you, whole heartedly.” After a few second of silence. He continued, “Miss Bennet, I feel much better now, perhaps we should return to Netherfield.”
Elizabeth nodded her head and watched his steps carefully. They talked about Hertfordshire and her family as they walked. She warned him of her mother's eagerness with any gentleman with a large fortune. But it seemed Mr. Bingley's letters had been most informative. Mr. Darcy was prepared to brave Meryton's eager mothers for his sister's sake.
When they were close enough to the estate, Mr. Darcy insisted Elizabeth to return first. She argued that he should go first as he was not well but he could not be moved. As a gentleman, he must see to her safe return before he would venture into the house. After a short battle of will, Elizabeth gave up. She would rather lose this time and get Mr. Darcy settled into Netherfield quickly. Continuing her argument at the edge of the wood would not be good to Mr. Darcy's health.
After Elizabeth had returned to the house for quarter of an hour, Mr. Darcy arrived on horseback to much fanfare created by Miss Bingley. He was whisked off by the considerate hostess to rest, without being introduced to the Bennets. The Longbourn party left soon afterwards much to the displeasure of Mrs. Bennet. She was most eager to be introduced to the wealthier friend of Mr. Bingley and assess if Mr. Darcy would be persuaded to fall for her Lydia.
Luckily Mrs. Bennet did not have to wait long. The entire Netherfield party agreed to a dinner at Longbourn the next evening. Mr. Darcy, still thin and gnaw, was being introduced. But much to Mrs. Bennet's frustration, Mr. Darcy did not take a liking to her Lydia. He was drawn to her most ungrateful daughter Elizabeth instead. Mr. Darcy and Miss Eliza's talk before and after the dinner drew the erk from Miss Bingley. By the time Miss Jane Bennet became Mrs. Bingley five days later, the talk of Mr. Darcy's interest in Miss Elizabeth spread like wild fire in Hertfordshire. Mrs. Bennet for one did not add to the fuel, as she thought Elizabeth did not deserve such attention. Miss Bingley also tried her utmost to engage Mr. Darcy's attention whenever she could, but her efforts failed dismally.
Miss Bingley left Hertfordshire disheartened. Not only did her brother join in matrimony with the most undesirable family in the whole of England, her long aspiration of becoming Mrs. Darcy was diminishing by the day. The hussy Miss Eliza even received an invitation from her aunt from Cheapside and followed Mr. Darcy back to London most shamefully. Miss Bingley had heard from Charles that Miss Eliza and the Gardiners had been invited to dine at Matlock House, though she was not sure if Mr. Darcy had seen Miss Eliza again in London. Miss Bingley felt relieved when the country upstart went away to Kent to visit her cousins Mr. and Mrs. Collins. She wished Miss Darcy would be returning from Pemberley soon so she could find an excuse to visit Darcy House.
Meanwhile in Kent, two days after Elizabeth had arrived, Mr. Collins was ecstatic that they received an invitation to dine at Rosings.
“My dear cousin, do not feel uncomfortable about your apparel. Lady Catherine is most condescending and would not expect anyone to dress one tenth as elegant as her daughter and herself. Her ladyship's advice is of no bound. She always said that nothing is to be done in education without steady and regular instruction, and nobody but a governess can give it. It is wonderful how many families my patroness has been the means of supplying in that way. She is always glad to get a young person well placed out. Four nieces of Mrs. Jenkinson, Miss de Bourgh's companion, are most delightfully situated through Lady Catherine de Bourgh's means.” Mr. Collins said.
“Indeed!” Elizabeth agreed, prompting Mr. Collins to talk more. “Lady Catherine is full of great ideas, such as the ingenuity of the shelves in the closet in the upstairs rooms in Hunsford.”
“You are most correct, my dear cousin. The shelves in the closet plan has now been widely installed in various cottages among her tenants. Lady Catherine first experimented it in the rooms in Rosings. She plays excessive attentions to the well being of her staff and tenants.”
“Did the grand lady visit her tenants frequently, to inspect what need to be done at the tenants'?” Elizabeth had been coached by Darcy's party to establish Lady Catherine's routine or look for anything out of the ordinary.
“Visit the tenants! No lane surrounding the farms of the tenants are good enough for my patroness!”
And she would not bother to improve the roads for her tenants, Elizabeth thought. “I see, then she stays in Rosings all the time?”
“I am gratified that you take such an eager interest about Lady Catherine's life.” Mr. Collins then displayed fully his knowledge about the coming and going of his patroness. Elizabeth listened with rapt attention but could not find any information out of the ordinary.
Lady Catherine was a tall, large woman, with strongly-marked features, which might once have been handsome. Her daughter was a complete opposite, sickly and small. Dinner was a handsome affairs though the conversation was lacking. Elizabeth felt her ladyship's eyes on her all the time but she was not afraid of the elderly woman. Elizabeth's courage always rose in face of intimidation. There was no separating of sexes after dinner and Lady Catherine dominated the conversation.
“I heard that your sister was most advantageously married in the new year.”
“Yes, your ladyship. To Mr. Charles Bingley, a good friend of your nephew Mr. Darcy.”
Lady Catherine face darkened for a moment. But she recovered quickly with a satisfied look. “Darcy is quite stubborn in many choices he has made in his life. I shall make sure he observe the honour and name of our families from now on.”
“Your ladyship is most wise,” Mr. Collins commented. “A young gentleman with such a large fortune like Mr. Darcy must be careful with fortune hunters and what best to take the advice from his own aunt.”
“Mr. Darcy seems very mature at his age, dealing with the early death of his parents, becoming guardian of his younger sister and managing the affairs of hundreds of tenants and staff. I doubt he requires much advice from anyone,” Elizabeth noted, intent on angering the ladyship. Lady Catherine might let slip some useful information if she was unguarded.
Lady Catherine put down her cup of tea with a loud slam. The Hunsford party looked scared, except for Mrs. Collins and Elizabeth. Her ladyship said: “I am exactly right about Darcy. He should not be associating with this Bingley figure. His fortune was from trade and he is only pretending to be a gentleman. Now Darcy's intimate family detail is being discussed by you, someone of low connection and wealth. I am seriously displeased.”
“Your ladyship, I apologise...for my cousin,” Mr. Collins's shook visibly. “Cousin Elizabeth is young and does not know how to bow to the advice of a superior being such as yourself. Mrs. Collins, we should return to the parsonage. I fear you have a headache coming.”
“Quiet Mr. Collins!”
“Yes, your ladyship.”
“Will you shut up!”
Mr. Collins closed his gaping mouth to prevent himself from replying again. Charlotte tried to signal to Elizabeth but the latter pretended not to see her friend. Elizabeth continued to focus on her ladyship.
“I know what you are about, Miss Bennet.”
“I shall be delighted to hear your ladyship's explanation.”
“I have heard rumour of your aspiration in ensnaring my illustrious nephew. But your arts and allurements will be in vain. Darcy and Anne shall be married, on the second day he arrives on his annual Easter trip, Wednesday week and Mr. Collins will preside over the ceremony. I am already in possession of a special licence. What say you and your vain fantasy of becoming the next mistress of Pemberley!”
“I congratulate your ladyship,” Elizabeth replied sweetly. “Will the Matlocks and Miss Darcy attend? Lady and Lord Matlock are very kind. I was happy to make their acquaintance while I was in London. But I have not the chance to meet Miss Darcy yet. I have heard so much about Miss Darcy from her brother and Miss Bingley. I feel I have known Miss Darcy well.”
“Cousin Elizabeth...” Mr. Collins pleaded her to stop.
“You are not to talk about Georgiana!” Lady Catherine's face turned redder than a ripe tomato.
“Oh, that is most unfortunate,” Elizabeth exclaimed. “Miss Darcy or I will not be invited to attend the wedding.”
“Eliza...” This time Charlotte joined in to plead her friend to stop.
“Mother, I am not feeling well,” Miss Anne de Bourgh interrupted softly. Lady Catherine immediate set aside her anger for Elizabeth and demanded Mrs. Jenkinson to take Anne up to her chambers.
“Thank you mother!” Miss de Bourgh rose but before she left the room, she walked purposefully past Elizabeth and murmured softly, “I think once I take the tonic on the shelf in the closet, I shall be fine.” Then in a louder voice, she told her mother: “I want to look my best for cousin Fitzwilliam. I will get some rest now.” Her tired eyes stared at Elizabeth when she emphasised the tonic on the shelf in the closet. This caused Elizabeth to look back at Miss de Bourgh. The silent plea from Miss de Bourgh was another kind. Could Miss de Bourgh has no interest to marry Mr. Darcy? And she wanted Elizabeth to help her too?
Elizabeth murmured a lengthy and fawning apology to Lady Catherine and attributed to her rudeness to the fatigue by the travelling. She also reassured her ladyship she did not have any aspiration about Mr. Darcy. The not-so-bright Lady Catherine seemed to be placated and called for a carriage to see the visitors home.
After the party returned to the parsonage, Elizabeth endured a long complaint from Mr. Collins. He told his wife that they might have to return Elizabeth to Longbourn if she behaved with such disrespect to his patroness in future. Elizabeth uttered another insincere apology. She could see the disapproving glances from Charlotte but Elizabeth was determined to keep the good grace of Mr. Collins for a little bit longer. She felt that Miss Anne de Bourgh could help her find Miss Darcy.
Early next morning, Elizabeth talked to a most obliging maid about Rosings. After all Miss de Bourgh's help was not needed. She set out to the western end of the woods. Lord Matlock said Colonel Fitzwilliam should be her daily point of contact in Kent. She was eager to recount her discovery. But when she arrived at the hidden glen they had agreed to meet, she found Mr. Darcy there instead, pacing around.
“Mr. Darcy, I thought the Matlocks deem it unsafe for you to meet me at Rosings.”
“I do not care. You are braving the dragon for me and I am not even allowed to see you.” He exclaimed passionately and held her hands. Since his encounter with Elizabeth in the woods of Netherfield, he found his strength again to search for Georgiana, attend to his business affairs and gather intelligence about Rosings. He ate and slept better. The two months spent in Elizabeth's constant companion had made Darcy admire her deeply. They talked and discussed solutions in the Gardiner and Matlock residences, under disguise as they would not want anyone from Rosings linking Darcy with Miss Elizabeth. Darcy would ask her to marry him, after this debacle with his aunt was solved.
Elizabeth blushed and squeezed his fingers. “I am happy that I am to bring you some news.”
Darcy's eyes brightened. “Indeed? So quick? Did you observe some irregularities during the dinner last night at Rosings?”
She recounted the conversation to him. “I think your cousin is trying to help. She mentioned the tonic on the shelf in her closet.”
“Shelves in the closet?”
“Yes, Mr. Collins said Lady Catherine has installed shelves in the closets in tenants cottage and some rooms in Rosings.”
Darcy's breathe caught. His voice trembled. “You mean Georgiana may be locked up in one of the closets in Rosings for all these months?” He let go of Elizabeth's hands and paced around. His face was full of anger, guilt and worries.
“I asked one of the maids at Hunsford this morning about any work being done on the closet at Rosings during last summer or when Mr. Collins were away at Longbourn.”
“And?” His voice hiked.
“Lady Catherine has turned one of the walls in her bedroom into a closet with shelves, right after Mr. Collins had left for Hertfordshire.”
“Her bedroom! No wonder no maids or servants know anything.” Darcy's eyes breathed fire. He called for Colonel Fitzwilliam immediately. The Colonel was standing behind one of the trees, not far away from them.
Elizabeth told the Colonel everything she learned again. It was agreed that Richard would break into Rosings discretely early next morning, when Lady Catherine would be having breakfast downstairs and holding court with her tenants. When Elizabeth took her leave from the two gentlemen, Mr. Darcy took her aside for a moment and held her hands.
“Miss Bennet, you must allow me to tell you how very grateful I am for your help in discovering my sister.”
“We are not yet sure if my help is of use.”
“I am most certain your estimation of the situation is correct.”
Elizabeth nodded her head.
“If my sister is alive...”
“Miss Darcy is alive!” Elizabeth desperately wanted to reassure him. She could not bear to see his closest relative perished. She cared about his well being and did not want him to suffer heartache and loss.
“I must tell you how ardently I love and admire you, Miss Bennet. Your courage, your consideration and your intelligence. You made me strong again, to eat and sleep again. I am sure I shall be brave enough to face the world, no matter if Georgiana is restored to me again or not. Would you do me the honour of becoming my wife? I wish to spend the rest of my days and years with you, my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.”
Mr. Darcy soft and tender voice, the depth of his eyes and the warmth from his fingers made Elizabeth tremble. She was touched by the love and consideration of this complex gentleman. He was full of pride, integrity, diligence and love for everyone he cared about. She found that very pleasing to think of him as her partner in life, father to their children and companion in their old age. She nodded her head shyly and replied, “I am honoured, Fitzwilliam. I love you too, most passionately.”
Mr. Darcy pressed his lips to hers gently. They stayed embraced silently for a few moments before they parted company. If the recovery of Georgiana was successful, he would take his sister back to London immediately and wait for Elizabeth early departure from Kent to rejoin him.
Colonel Fitzwilliam and his batsman's mission was successful the next day. After smashing open the locked closet in Lady Catherine's bedchambers, they found the mechanism to turn the entire row of shelves out and a weak and sickly Georgiana lying on a small bed. Once the captive was safely out of Rosings, Lord and Lady Matlock descended onto Rosings to demand justice from Lady Catherine.
To avoid a family scandal, Lady Catherine was sent to America where she lived with reasonable wealth from her daughter. Anne was given the rein of Rosings, with the assistance of her cousins. While Lady Catherine was not in cohort with Wickham and Mrs. Younge, she had a standing order to follow Mr. Darcy wherever he went. On hearing the report about the sighting of Mr. Wickham and Darcy's dismal of the governess, Lady Catherine guessed the possible ruin of Miss Darcy. She brought the girl back to Rosings and waited for her ruin (she thought Miss Darcy would be with child) and hoped to use Georgiana as a chip to force Darcy marry her daughter.
When Georgiana did not fall pregnant, Lady Catherine thought of threatening to marry the young girl to a brute from Sir Lewis family. Whichever way, as long as her ladyship had Miss Darcy with her, she thought that Darcy would bow to her wishes.
The following new year, Mrs. Bennet once again boasted of her good fortune. Her Elizabeth was married to the illustrious Mr. Darcy of Pemberley with ten thousands a year. The pin money, jewels and fine carriages were beyond her imagination. She was only not too happy that Elizabeth had chosen to have a long engagement of eight months, waiting for the sick Miss Darcy and Miss de Bourgh to recover their strength to attend the wedding. The impertinent and disrespectful ways Elizabeth treated her fiance had caused bouts of attacks on Mrs. Bennet's nerves, almost every other days during that long eight months. Mrs. Bennet was afraid that Mr. Darcy or Elizabeth would change their mind about the wedding. Therefore Mrs. Bennet deferred to the young couple's decision to have the simplest wedding breakfast at Netherfield. Elizabeth's wedding gown was scandalously simple with the minimal of laces.
Still her daughter shone like a star on the wedding day and Mr. Darcy could not seem to stop his dimples from appearing. Now that both her eldest daughters had married so well, Mrs. Bennet did not have to worry about her youngest daughters. In particularly, Mr. Collins had perished in the journey to America last June to follow his patroness. Charlotte did not have any children and the entail was broken. Longbourn would be inherited by the first born second son of any of her daughters. Mrs. Bennet was certain none of her daughters would turf her out of her home when Mr. Bennet met his destiny. She thus became a rather sensible woman as she grew into her old age.
As for Georgiana, she lived with her brother, sister-in-law and their many children happily at Pemberley for many years. Her heart was not touched by any gentlemen until she was seven and twenty, when she met a successful doctor who dedicated his life to caring people.