Fitzwilliam awoke with the sun the next morning and quietly situated himself in his cousin's library. He skimmed the volumes of books which adorned the walls, studying each title, trying to find one that interested him. He and Darcy seemed to have different tastes in literature. Finally settling on one, he sat in one of the large leather chairs and started to read. The colonel had great difficulty concentrating on the text. His mind was on the previous evening. The picture of Lady Abigail looking so pale and scared stayed in his mind. It pained him to see her in such a state. He tried once more to read.
After a few moments the doors to the library opened and Darcy entered. "Up so early, Fitzwilliam?"
"I couldn't sleep and I was restless so came down here," replied the colonel.
"Something on your mind?"
Fitzwilliam sighed. "Perhaps."
Darcy sat in the chair next to his cousin. He knew this had something to do with Lady Abigail. "Want to talk about it?"
"I'm worried for her. Did you see her face last evening? Something is certainly wrong." The Colonel got up and was now pacing about the library, clearly bothered.
"Fitzwilliam, it was only a headache," Darcy tried to assure.
"No!" snapped Fitzwilliam. "There is more to it. Something deeper. I can feel it."
"How? You barely know her. She's my sister and I barely know her."
"I don't know, Darcy. I feel a connection to her somehow. Every rational part of me says that thinking about her in such a manner is wrong, but the irrational part of me is winning. I feel like I've known her all my life. Maybe she is the woman of my dreams, finally manifesting herself in reality."
Darcy felt truly sorry for his cousin. He wished that Fitzwilliam would find true love as he had with Elizabeth. His cousin's timing could not have been worse. Lady Abigail lost a husband, whom she was very much in love with, just about a year prior. If anything happened to Elizabeth he would mourn her to his grave.
"Darcy, if you need me I will be in your mother's gallery. My aunt was such a talented artist. I need some time alone to think."
Darcy nodded and the Colonel left the room, clearly confused and in despair. As he was leaving, Georgiana entered. Fitzwilliam simply nodded in acknowledgment and continued walking. She could see his agitation. Darcy rose to greet his sister with a kiss on the cheek. "Good morning, Georgiana."
"Good morning, William," she replied, "What is wrong with our cousin?"
Her brother told her of Lady Abigail's sudden behavior last night and how worried Fitzwilliam was for her. Georgiana suspected some sort of attachment on the Colonel's side, but was not sure about her sister.
"All my life I've wondered what it was like to have a sister and now I have one," said she, adding, "And yet another soon."
Georgiana was so happy when her brother told her about his engagement. She knew it would all come out right in the end. She was eager to express her happiness to Elizabeth.
"Georgiana, I think I will call on Lady Abigail after breakfast. I want to see how she is doing and also I would like to get to know my sister," said Darcy, "Would it be all right with you if I went alone?"
"Of course, William. I had my time alone with our sister, now you deserve yours. She is very eager to learn about our parents."
Breakfast at the Darcy townhouse that morning was unusually quiet, except for the Bingley sisters. Darcy and Bingley were thinking of their loves and what their lives were like before their respective mates entered them. Georgiana was closely observing her cousin, who had said next to nothing the entire meal. Mr. Hurst was his ordinary self. Commenting only on the fact that his muffin was burnt more than his liking. Caroline, as always, was attentive to Darcy, trying to pull him into the conversation. Her frustration quickly began to show. She desperately wanted to know what went on the night of the Hampton ball. Darcy and Elizabeth were out on the patio, alone, and Caroline did not like that one bit.
Contented that he had stayed as long as he needed and as long as could bare, Darcy excused himself and prepared to visit Lady Abigail. Caroline asked his sister where he was headed.
"I believe he is going to visit with our sister, Lady Abigail, " said Georgiana, faking a smile.
"It was such a surprise to learn that Lady Abigail was your sister," commented Caroline, with Mrs. Hurst nodding in agreement.
"Yes, I am very excited to have a sister now. I always wanted one."
"Well, you know dear Georgiana, that Louisa and I have come to think of you as our sister." And if I have my way I will be your sister. "Where has the countess been all these years?" Miss Bingley pressed on.
"She just recently discovered the news herself," Georgiana replied.
"Oh did she?" It was obvious that Caroline didn't trust Lady Abigail's claims as much as Darcy or his sister. Sister or not, this was a woman in her way of getting what the man she wants and being in Caroline Bingley's way is never a pleasant experience.
"Would you like anything to eat or drink, Mr. Darcy?" asked Lady Abigail as she sat opposite her sibling.
"No, thank you, and please call me William."
"Of course, William, and you will, of course, address me by my Christian name or some other pet name that elder brothers tend to use," Abigail said with a smile.
There was a moment of awkward silence that was soon broken by the scampering of little feet towards them. Margaret ran into the room and collided with Darcy, hugging him tightly.
"Uncle Darcy!!" she shouted with delight.
"Margaret, how many times have I told you not to run indoors!" her mother scolded.
"No it's all right. Hello Margaret, how are you today?" said Darcy, smiling.
The young girl blushed slightly and smiled in return. "I'm fine, thank you." Suddenly overwhelmed with shyness, Margaret settled down to play with her doll, Annie.
"I hope you are feeling better this morning," Darcy asked, referring to the previous night.
"Why yes, thank you. I apologize again for cutting the evening short. I know you would have liked to have spent more time with Miss Bennet." She shot him a smile.
"Did she tell you?"
"Tell me what?" Lady Abigail asked in a mocking voice.
"Miss Bennet and I are engaged, but I have not spoken to her father yet, so don't release this information."
The countess laughed at her brother. "I already knew. I could see it last night. Its quite obvious, but your secret is safe with me."
Silence, again, fell between them. Neither quite knew where to begin. Darcy's voice broke the quietness.
"I should send letters to my, our, relations telling them the news of our reunion."
"Pray, who are these relations?" she asked, wondering if she was at all already acquainted with them.
"Well, there is our aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Colonel Fitzwilliam's parents. His father is the Earl of Matlock."
Lady Abigail sat thoughtfully digesting the names. She had heard of Lady Catherine, mostly from the woman she had thought of as her mother. They were most definitely not the best of friends. As for the Colonel's parents, she could not recall ever hearing of them. However she was quite eager to meet her newfound relations. Darcy remained for an hour, telling her of their parents and what they were like. He informed her, before taking his leave, that he would write the aforementioned letters that very day.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh,
I am writing this letter to inform you of a most unexpected and shocking discovery. The baby girl that we thought lost some 22 years ago is actually alive and well. She was kidnapped by the midwife and sold to another wealthy couple. Her name is Lady Abigail de Witt, a dowager countess. The man she knew as her father, while on his deathbed, told her of this secret. Lady Abigail also spoke to the midwife, who confessed to the whole thing. She is quite anxious to become acquainted with the rest of our family. Georgiana is very fond of her and we both have welcomed her with open arms, as we hope you will do the same.
He seemed satisfied with the contents of the letter. It was a bit less civil than the one he wrote to the Fitzwilliams. As soon as the letters were sealed, he instructed his man to have them sent out immediately. One can only dream of how Lady Catherine will react, he thought. There was a small knock at the door. "Come in."
Georgiana entered the study. "How was your visit with our sister?" she asked.
"It went very well. It seems that our aunt, Lady Catherine and Lady Abigail's so-called mother were not the best of friends. I wonder what happened between them."
"Well, from what Abigail has told me about Lady Kellington, I cannot blame our aunt for not liking her. Such an evil woman to have taken someone else's child."
"You're right, Georgiana," Darcy said, "But I am curious. I just sent out letters to Lady Catherine and to Aunt and Uncle Fitzwilliam. They should arrive within a day or two."
"I know our aunt and uncle will be pleased to know that they have another niece, but how do you think Aunt Catherine will take the news?" she asked shyly.
"I know not. She has a great deal of pride where family is concerned. I don't think she will welcome in a stranger."
Georgiana changed the subject; "I am going to the Gardiners for tea this afternoon. Is there any message you would like me to give Lizzy?" she teased.
Darcy thought for a moment about what missive to send with his sister. "Tell her that I am always thinking of her or something like that. But don't make it seem inappropriate in any way." His sister rolled her eyes and smiled. "Oh, beware that if you ask Bingley if he has a message for Miss Bennet, no doubt he will give a whole book full of them and probably make you late."
Georgiana giggled to herself, "Will I act this silly when I am in love?"
"Oh far worse, my sister, far worse."
The day began just like any other day at Rosings Park. Lady Catherine, her daughter, and Mrs. Jenkinson sat in the breakfast room. Mr. Collins had just arrived as usual and was complimenting Anne on how well she looked. It all seemed to be as it always was. But it all changed when the morning post was brought to Lady Catherine.
She mindlessly sifted through the letters, just reading whom they were from. She meant to read them at a later time, but one in particular caught her attention.
"Oh, my dear nephew, Darcy, has sent a letter! How thoughtful. I am sure he misses Rosings a great deal. He is quite fond of it, you know," she glanced at her daughter.
"Of course, your ladyship," chimed Mr. Collins.
Lady Catherine quickly opened the letter fully expecting it to say that Darcy was on his way to see her. As she began reading it, her hopes were dashed. Her face betrayed nothing as she drank in the contents.
"WHAT!!" she explained, no longer able to contain herself.
Everyone present in the room jumped. Mr. Collins opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off as Lady Catherine continued to rant.
"Impossible!! How dare she presume to be..." Lady Catherine rose and paced about the room, "And they believe her...this is intolerable!"
"Your Ladyship, please calm yourself," begged Mr. Collins.
"What is the matter, Mother?" asked Anne, genuinely concerned. She had never before seen her mother act in such a way.
"Your cousins have been tricked by a cunning little fox!" Everyone stared, puzzled, at her. She went on, "A woman. A countess has the audacity to presume that she is the lost daughter of my poor sister and brother-in-law. She claims that the midwife stole her away after pronouncing her dead at birth, then sold her to another couple. How incredulous! And your cousins believe her. No doubt she some ulterior motives for making such a claim."
Lady Catherine shook her fist with defiance. "Come Anne, we are going to London to set Darcy straight and to confront this Lady Abigail de Witt." She left the room in a rush to make the necessary arrangements, leaving the group completely speechless.
"Would you like something to eat, Lizzy?" Georgiana asked motioning to the array of treats lying out upon the tray.
"Yes, thank you," Elizabeth answered, eyeing a delicious looking tart.
"Thank you for coming. We never seem to be alone together."
"That is true. I do apologize again for running out on our last meeting. It could not be helped though."
"Pray, why did you leave?" she asked, reluctantly.
Elizabeth remembered that day in Darcy's study and the poem she found. Her face blushed as she remembered the words, now that she knew they were written with her in mind. "I'm afraid I must confess something, Georgiana. When I arrived there and you were gone, I waited in the music room like you instructed, but I began to get restless. So I took a little tour of the house and ended up in your brother's study. Well curiosity got the best of me and I noticed a book of poems on his desk. There was a piece of paper tucked inside and I could not resist reading it." Elizabeth looked truly ashamed for intruding on his privacy.
"I'm sorry that I took so long. I did not mean to make you wait," Georgiana pleaded, "But as for reading papers on my brother's desk, I must confess that curiosity has gotten the best of me many times." She paused for a moment. "What did it say?"
Elizabeth blushed again. "It was a poem written by Mr. Darcy. A beautiful love poem. Apparently written about me, but at the time I was not sure. I was not sure of anything; my feelings, his feelings. I also thought he was engaged to Lady Abigail."
"Engaged! Oh I'm so sorry you thought that. How awful that must have been."
"Yes it was, but all is well now," Elizabeth said with a smile.
"I'm so glad that we are to be sisters. I could never have bared Miss Bingley as a sister. She is so rude and mean to everyone."
"Everyone beneath her you mean," added Elizabeth, "Speaking of Miss Bingley, how do think she will take the news that she has lost Mr. Darcy to the likes of Miss Eliza Bennet?"
Georgiana could not keep from laughing. "I cannot wait to see her face when she hears of it."
By now both ladies were so overwhelmed with laughter that they did not see nor hear the woman herself enter the room. She had just returned from visiting her friend and was drawn by the sounds of laughter coming from the room.
"Pray, what is it that you find so humorous?" Caroline asked.
Seeing the object of their amusement standing before them, looking so perplexed just added to the fun. Both were laughing so hard, they could not get any words out. Caroline was getting more vexed every second. She hated being left out, but seeing that she was going to get no answer from the two, turned and stormed out. After a few minutes Georgiana and Elizabeth calmed down a bit. Tears were running down Lizzy's face.
"I wonder if she knew we were laughing at her," wondered Georgiana.
"She looked so upset when we didn't say anything. Poor Miss Bingley."
"Yes, poor Miss Bingley."
Georgiana took one look at Elizabeth and again a fit of riotous laughter was heard throughout the Darcy town house. It took the women another ten minutes to fully recuperate themselves. After they had talked for nearly an hour, Elizabeth realized she had better return to Gracechurch Street. Georgiana was just about to show her out when the doors to the music room flew open. Lady Catherine de Bourgh made such ominous presence in the doorway that both Georgiana and Elizabeth gasped at the sight of her. Instinctively they curtsied. Lady Catherine had wasted no time in getting to London. She pushed her driver and the poor horses to their limits.
"Aunt Catherine," Georgiana began to say.
Lady Catherine ignored her niece and focused on Elizabeth. "Miss Elizabeth Bennet," she said in a looming tone, "I was not aware that you too, were staying here in town with Darcy."
Elizabeth felt uncomfortable under the glare of Lady Catherine, but showed no outward sign. No, she would not give her that satisfaction. "I am staying with my aunt and uncle in Gracechurch Street."
"I see," she muttered before turning her attention to Georgiana, "Where is your brother?"
"He is out with Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Bingley. They should be back soon," she replied quietly.
"The dear Colonel is in town, you say. Good. So much the better." Lady Catherine looked again to Elizabeth. "Miss Bennet, I must ask you to please leave. My motives for coming here only pertain to members of this family."
"Of course, your ladyship, I was leaving anyway." If you only knew that I am almost a member of this family.
"Allow me to escort you out, Miss Bennet," Georgiana said. She did not want to be alone with an aunt who had always scared the wits out of her.
Georgiana and Elizabeth curtsied and left the room as fast as they could. Once out of earshot of the music room, they slowed and relaxed a bit.
"Were you expecting her?" asked Lizzy.
"No, but I believe I know why she's here," said Georgiana, "My brother sent her a letter telling her about Lady Abigail. Judging from her appearance here, I do not think she took the news well."
"I hope Mr. Darcy and the others return soon. I would not wish you to be alone with Lady Catherine. Especially when she's angered."
As if her hope had been heard, Darcy and the other gentlemen just entered the house as Georgiana and Elizabeth were upon the front door. Brief exchanges of hellos were given. Georgiana broke the news, "Aunt Catherine is in the music room. She does not look pleased. She wants to speak to us and Colonel Fitzwilliam."
Darcy's look was enough to send Bingley to the library and out of Lady Catherine's way. He had heard enough stories about the lady to know not to cross her. Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam left leaving Darcy to escort Elizabeth to his carriage, which he insisted upon. She smiled gratefully at her fiancée. Darcy had waited two days to see that smile. "Bingley and I will be at the Gardiner's house this evening for dinner and cards. We met your uncle while we were out and he invited Fitzwilliam, Bingley and myself to dinner, but Fitzwilliam had other plans."
"I shall count the minutes until we meet again," she said softly.
"Until this evening, Miss Bennet." With that, he called to the driver to proceed.
"Where is Darcy?" Lady Catherine demanded to know.
The man himself walked in just as Colonel Fitzwilliam was about to make some excuse for his tardiness. Darcy showed no fear as he slowly walked towards a chair next to the Colonel. Georgiana, on the other hand, looked positively frightened, even more so than usual when in Lady Catherine's company.
"Good day, Lady Catherine," said Darcy, mockingly as he took a seat.
"What is the meaning of this!?" she shouted, shaking a paper in her hand. Undoubtedly the letter Darcy had sent her. "How can you support such a notion?" she continued, "What do you know of this woman? How can you trust her claims?" Her scowl challenged Darcy to answer. Colonel Fitzwilliam jumped in, instead, to defend Lady Abigail.
"Aunt, Lady Abigail has no reason to lie. She cannot mean to gain wealth and connections; she has enough of those. She has more title and lands than even you." Lady Catherine was appalled at the last statement. Fitzwilliam had never spoken so many words to his aunt in all his life, "All you have to do is look at her and you can see she is the very image of Aunt Anne. It is uncanny."
"I am surprised, Fitzwilliam. I had thought you would have more sense than this. I had hoped you would be able straighten your cousins out, but I can see that this Lady Abigail has gotten to you as well. And I suppose you agree with you cousin, miss Georgiana."
The young lady nodded the affirmative, unable to find the courage to speak. Darcy grew more tired of this by the second. He finally had the opportunity to speak. "What do you intend to do?" he asked, "Are you going to interrogate her until she cracks and admits that this was all a lie?"
"If that is what it will take. Where is she staying? Bring her before me and I will judge her myself."
"Very well, I'll send one of the servants to get her," Darcy resolved.
"No," Colonel Fitzwilliam said quickly, "I will go."
He bowed and left the room so fast that no one had time to object.
Fitzwilliam jumped into his carriage and shouted the directions to the driver. He had no idea what to say to Lady Abigail when he reached the inn. He was furious at his aunt for coming and raising such a fuss. I should have known she would not sit idly by and accept this. Oh no! She has to be difficult and make everyone's lives miserable. He stared out of the carriage window at the scenes flying by him. I do hope Lady Abigail will be able to hold her own against Aunt Catherine.
Once he arrived at the inn, he ran upstairs, hoping that she was not out. He rang the bell and one of the maids answered.
"Is Lady Abigail in?"
"Yes sir. I'll tell her you're here."
"Thank you," he mumbled.
Lady Abigail came to meet him at the door. She smiled warmly at him and the Colonel nearly forgot why he was there.
"I do apologize for arriving so unannounced, but it could not be helped. I must beg you to return with me to Darcy's house. Lady Catherine, our aunt, has just arrived and is demanding to see you. I am afraid she does not believe that you are Darcy's sister."
"Of course I will come with you, but I must bring Margaret. I gave Miss Cybill the afternoon off and there is no one to watch her."
"I understand, m'lady. I must warn you about our aunt. She will attempt to break you down and conquer you. When she believes she is in the right, one can almost never convince her otherwise."
Lady Abigail nodded in understanding and went to fetch her daughter, who was napping in the other room. The countess carried her daughter towards Fitzwilliam. The tired little girl immediately sprang awake at the sight of the Colonel. She leaped from her mother's arms to Fitzwilliam. They laughed together as he swung her around. Lady Abigail smiled sweetly at the sight.
"Shall we be off, then?" she said.
The carriage ride back to Darcy's townhouse was quiet except for the chattering of the young girl. The colonel listened intently to the stories Margaret was coming up with. Lady Abigail seemed distant and lost in thought. She was a little nervous about facing off with Lady Catherine. She could recall her mother's words concerning that lady. 'That woman makes my blood boil! And to think we were the best of friends. This all started because of Henry de Bourgh!' Lady Abigail had always wondered what happened between them. A few moments later they were outside the townhouse. Colonel Fitzwilliam helped both ladies out of the carriage and showed them inside.
"Would you be so kind as to take this little lady to the library," Fitzwilliam said to the maid who was in the hall, "I believe you'll find Mr. Bingley there. I'm sure he would not object to such lively company."
"Yes, sir," she said as she offered her hand to the little girl.
"But I want to go with you, Mama," Margaret protested.
"I know you do," said the Colonel, bending down to her height, "But there is a mean lady in that room and I don't think you want to meet her."
"A mean lady? Is she the lady in orange that was here before?"
"No, little one," answered her mother, trying desperately to stifle a laugh.
"That's another mean lady. This one's a mean old lady," Fitzwilliam said with a grin.
Margaret allowed the maid to hold her hand and escort her to the library. She gave her mother and the colonel a little wave before she disappeared behind a corner. Fitzwilliam looked to Lady Abigail.
"Are you ready?"
"I suppose as ready as I'll ever be," she answered.
The pair walked slowly to the music room. They could hear Lady Catherine's voice as they stood outside the door. She was mentioning Miss Elizabeth Bennet's name quite a few times. The colonel took a deep breath before he slowly opened the doors. Darcy and his sister stood. Lady Catherine did as well, but not as eagerly. Fitzwilliam entered and was followed by Lady Abigail, whose head was held high. The colonel made the introduction, "Aunt, may I present Lady Abigail de Witt," then turning to the countess, "Lady Abigail, this is Lady Catherine de Bourgh."
"I am pleased to finally make your acquaintance, Lady Catherine," said Lady Abigail as she curtsied.
"As am I, Lady Abigail," she retorted coldly.
Lady Catherine inspected her closely and made no attempt to hide her displeasure. The room was silent for a time. No one knew how to begin or what to say. Lady Catherine broke the stillness by coming right out and accusing Lady Abigail.
"How can you dare to make such a declaration as such that you are the lost daughter of my sister?" the lady said.
"I made such a declaration because I believe it to be true. The man whom I was raised to believe as my father made the confession to me as he was dying. Why, pray tell me, would a dying man wish to lie about something of this importance to a woman he loved as his daughter? What would that accomplish?" Lady Abigail said in answer.
"Your mother was Lady Francis Kellington, was she not?"
"She was the woman I thought was my mother, yes," corrected the countess.
Lady Catherine paid no heed to her correction and dismissed it. "I knew Lady Francis. We were great friends at one time, so I knew her quite well. I knew that she was conniving and spiteful. We had been quarreling for many years before her death. I think she put you up to this. She still tries to get at me from her grave. Your father was always just a pawn in her games. No doubt his confession on his deathbed was a rouse planned by Lady Francis. He had not the backbone to stand up to her."
Lady Abigail tried desperately to keep a look of composure on her face, but she was losing that battle. The words Lady Catherine just spoke were burning in her ears. She could feel her face reddening with anger. Darcy was angered at his aunt's comments, as well as, Fitzwilliam. Darcy's first impulse was to turn her out of his home and onto the street. After carefully choosing her words, Lady Abigail spoke.
"Lady Catherine," she began, in an even tone, "My father was a good and kind man. He raised me well and has taught me a great deal. I will not deny the fact that Lady Francis was controlling and that he never did anything to speak against her. That was only because of his gentle nature. It was not in his character to confront, in fact, he avoided it as much as he could."
"That was a weakness in his character," hissed Lady Catherine.
"I must wholly disagree. That part of him taught me to look for the goodness in everyone and to avoid meaningless arguments. He taught me there were other paths besides confrontation. His lessons have kept me from making enemies, until now."
"So you think me an enemy?"
"You do not trust me, nor do you believe my claims. You attacked me the first chance you got. I think I can safely say that we are enemies. I wish it were not so, but that is how things appear to be."
"Your mother and I were enemies. So it seems she has given me her successor," Lady Catherine looked to Darcy, "You see, Darcy? She is to take the place of her mother in vexing me. Lady Francis always had to have the last word, but not this time. I will expose you as the fraud you are and make you the laughing stock of court! Mark my words."
Lady Catherine rose and with an air of superiority, glided to the doors. "There is no need to show me out. I know the way." She opened the doors and was gone in a sweep. Her voice was heard down the hall seconds after she left, reprimanding a poor servant, before finally fading off into the distance. Georgiana let out a sigh of relief now that Lady Catherine was gone.
"How dare she say such things!" Colonel Fitzwilliam shouted.
"She means it, you know," Darcy said, "She will stop at absolutely nothing to prove her point."
The two gentlemen continued the discussion under the watchful eye of Georgiana. Fitzwilliam was clearly the most agitated. He was circling the room, as opposed to Darcy, who remained in his chair. She also noticed her sister, who had not opened her mouth since Lady Catherine's departure. Lady Abigail stared blankly at the ground, her face more pale than before.
"Abigail," Georgiana whispered, "Are you all right?"
The countess, who almost didn't hear her, looked up at her sister in surprise. "What?"
"Are you all right?"
"I am fine, Georgiana. A little rattled I suppose," she finally answered.
The men stopped talking and focused their attention on Lady Abigail.
"I apologize for Lady Catherine's behavior. I did not expect this much opposition from her," Darcy offered.
"Do not trouble yourself, brother. I should be getting home. The events of today have left me with a small headache."
"Yes, of course."
Fitzwilliam stepped forward and offered his arm. "I will be more than happy to escort you back."
"Thank you," Lady Abigail whispered.
"Let us go get your daughter."
Darcy and Georgiana followed them to the library. The scene they happened upon gave them all a much-needed smile. Bingley was in the middle of the room, on his hands and knees, and whinnying like a horse. Margaret sat sidesaddle on his back. Books encircled them to make an arena. Bingley pranced around the "arena" with head held high and imitating a horse's high-step. The four spectators could not for their lives keep from laughing.
Bingley reddened as he looked up from the ground. Margaret simply laughed with them and shouted, "Like my pony, Uncle Darcy?"
"Yes, very much. A fine steed if I do say so myself, eh Fitzwilliam?"
"I agree, Darcy."
"Margaret, get off Mr. Bingley," said her mother after she stopped laughing.
Bingley got up immediately and brushed off his pants. He shot Darcy a look that seemed to say, "Do be serious". Darcy still chuckled softly. Oh Miss Bennet would have loved to have seen this.
"Come little one, we're going now," Lady Abigail said as she reached for the little girl's hand, "Thank you for watching her, Mr. Bingley." Before Margaret followed her mother she turned and faced her "pony".
"Thank you for playing with me, Mister Bing-ee."
"You're very welcome, Miss Margaret."
After Fitzwilliam had left to escort them home, Bingley, who apologized to his friend for taking so many books down, had the dubious task of replacing those said books back on the shelves.
"Oh and Bingley, make sure they are in the same order in which you found them," Darcy said with a sly grin.
Brother and sister walked arm in arm back to the music room. Georgiana was curious as to what Darcy intended to do about Lady Catherine.
"Well, dearest, I do have something in mind that might put her doubts to rest."
"Really? What is it?" she curiously asked.
"Let me think more on it, then I will tell you."
With a heavy sigh, she rose from the bed and walked to the window. It was just beginning to get dark. She promised her daughter she would be well enough to eat dinner with her. Abigail watched each carriage that rolled by intently, as if the answer to her problems would simply roll by atop one. After many minutes of contemplation, one idea did. She silently prayed that it would work before checking her appearance and venturing out to find her daughter.
Dinner had just completed at the Gardiner house and as the ladies plus the children walked to the drawing room, Mrs. Gardiner linked arms with Elizabeth.
"I see Mr. Darcy is being quite attentive to you, Lizzy," her aunt whispered.
"Is he? I hardly noticed," Elizabeth laughed, arching her brow as she always does.
"I think you're hiding something, my dear. Let me guess, you and Mr. Darcy are secretly engaged," Mrs. Gardiner jested.
Elizabeth joined in her aunt's laughter then whispered, "Actually we are."
"What did you say?" her aunt scarcely believed her ears, "You are!? Why that's wonderful, Lizzy?"
"He has not spoken to Papa yet, so do not breathe a word to anyone."
Mrs. Gardiner nodded her understanding as Elizabeth informed her that Bingley and Darcy were to accompany them back to Hertfordshire in a few days time. After the ladies had finished setting up a card table and a few refreshments the gentlemen joined them, all three in high spirits. Elizabeth smiled at Darcy as he laughed along with her uncle. She was glad to see him so at ease with these relations. She hoped that in time he would act this way among her Longbourn ones. Her breath shortened when he looked over at her. Darcy excused himself from Mr. Gardiner and made his way to Elizabeth who was sitting with her aunt and little Marie. A bit disappointed that he wouldn't be able to fit on the couch next to Lizzy, he opted for the chair closest to her. As soon as he was seated, Marie jumped up and brought him her doll.
"My dolly is sick," she told him with frown, "Will you give her a kiss, so she can get better?"
Darcy smiled at the child. "Of course, I will." He picked the doll up and kissed it on the forehead.
"Thank you. I know she'll get better now," she said now smiling.
"You know, I have a niece who is just about your age. Would you like to play with her sometime?"
Marie relished the thought of having another playmate. "Oh yes."
Darcy looked up from the girl and met eyes with Elizabeth. All the love she had for him shown perfectly in her countenance. A sweet smile formed on his lips. Elizabeth knew that she had to be the luckiest woman in the world to have such a man in love with her.
Lady Abigail sat at a desk with a letter in her hand. Margaret was asleep already and Miss Cybill had retired early to her room. The letter she held came during dinner. It had no name or direction on it. The seal resembled a skull and crossbones, which led her to suspect who it was from. She broke the seal and opened it.
I am sure you must be wondering who sent you this. But since you are a smart woman I know you've figured it out already. There is something we need to discuss. Meet me tomorrow at eleven o'clock at the side entrance of your inn. I will be waiting there with a carriage. It is important that you be on time. Bring no one. Tell not a soul of this. I look forward to seeing you, m'lady.
She cringed at the thought of spending time with this man, but she saw no alternative. This would also be the perfect opportunity to execute her plan. Abigail wished she had more time to arrange the details, but she must act now. She tucked the letter into one of the drawers and went to her daughter's room. As quietly as she could, Abigail began packing Margaret's things. Half an hour later she was just about finished when a voice behind her spoke.
"What are you doing, Mama?"
Lady Abigail walked over to the bed and sat down. "Little one, you're going home tomorrow."
Abigail reached over and pulled her daughter into her lap, holding her tightly. "I need you to go with Miss Cybill back to our house. You can't stay here anymore."
Margaret began to cry, "Why can't I?"
"Little one, do you remember the stories about dragons and sorcerers that Papa used to tell you?"
"Well, think of this as one of those adventures. There is an evil sorcerer trying to hurt a queen and her daughter, the princess. Now, the queen needs to find a way to defeat the sorcerer, but she needs time. The queen loves her daughter so much that she sends her back to their enchanted castle to keep her safe. In the meantime, the queen finds a way to defeat the sorcerer and returns to the castle unharmed. So you see, my little princess you have to go where it is safe."
"There's a sorcerer trying to get us?"
"No, not really. Just a mean man. Now do you understand?"
"I think so, Mama."
"Don't tell anyone either," Abigail lowered her voice to a whisper, "See no one knows that we really are a queen and princess."
"Okay," Margaret whispered back.
"There's one more thing. I won't be here to see you off, so you have to be a brave princess. Miss Cybill will be with you."
"Where will you be?"
"I'll be here in the morning to say goodbye, but I'll be leaving right before you do. I need to find a way to defeat him, remember."
The little girl nodded, hugging her mother. Lady Abigail prayed that all would go according to plan. In the distant reaches of her mind, she thought she heard her husband's voice telling her not to worry. She stayed until Margaret was back asleep and after finishing up the trunks, went to her own chambers. Sleep found her at last, but only after an hour of tossing and turning.
The sound of a bird singing near her window awoke the countess. She squinted as her eyes adjusted to the brightness of the room. It seemed like only minutes ago she had just fallen asleep. Eager to get the day over with she dressed quickly and left the room. She found Miss Cybill sewing in the parlor. Upon seeing her mistress, the woman offered a greeting.
"Good morning, Miss Cybill, you are up early," Lady Abigail said as she sat across from her.
"I wanted to get some things done, before Miss Margaret woke up."
"I'm glad that I found you here. I must ask you a great favor."
Cybill put down her material and listened closely to what Lady Abigail was about to say.
"I want you to take Margaret back home."
"Will you be coming with us, m'lady?"
"No, I need to remain here in town. The problem is that you need to leave today, just after eleven. I am sorry I could not give you more notice, but it is imperative that you get Margaret home and leave at that time. No earlier. No later."
"So soon?" she said before realizing it. Her face lost a little color for questioning her mistress' orders. "I can be ready, m'lady. I didn't bring a lot of belongings." Cybill appeared to understand, but Abigail could see the confusion written on her face.
"I would prefer that you do not ask me any questions at this time, but rest assured that I will tell you the reasons for all this when the time is right. I will send a letter to Mrs. Gibson telling her to expect your arrival."
The countess relayed the rest of her orders to Miss Cybill, telling her the exact time to leave and to get as much distance as they could. Lady Abigail got up to finish arranging the details of the carriage and time. Before leaving she looked back at Cybill.
"Miss Cybill, I will not be here when you leave. Please take good care of my daughter."
The young governess looked puzzled as she watched the countess leave. The look on Lady Abigail's face as well as the tone of her voice frightened Cybill. It was as if Lady Abigail was never going to see them again.
Lady Abigail had seen to all the particulars. She left nothing undone. As she headed out of the inn, she remembered the look on her daughter's face only minutes before. Not a tear in her eyes, Margaret had the face of bravery as she said her good-byes to her mother. Lady Abigail now wore that same face as she slowly walked around the inn. She would not have sent Margaret away at any other time. That man could be anywhere watching. But now she knew exactly where he would be and Abigail would not have to worry about him seeing Margaret. She saw a coach near the side door. A man stood with one hand on the coach door and the other holding an ornate cane. Inhaling a deep breath she approached the man.
"So good of you to come, Lady Abigail."
"I saw no other choice," she said with no civility.
"May I say that you look quite ravishing this morning." The way his eyes danced over her body made her sick with disgust. "Come, we have much to discuss." He held out his hand to help her into the couch.
Well, I can't turn back now. She allowed him to help her in. The man looked around for any watchers before entering himself.
Colonel Fitzwilliam walked briskly down the street, nodding to those he passed. He was in good spirits, considering the problem with Lady Catherine. He was out running various errands around town. Fitzwilliam noticed a woman selling flowers just ahead and decided to have a look at her pick. Seeing a few pink ones, he thought he would buy them for Georgiana since that was her favorite color. After paying the woman he turned and proceeded on his way. Further down the road he noticed a man exiting a coach. His black clothing and hat made him a mysterious sight. The stranger helped another out of the coach; a woman. Taking a harder look at the face, he realized it was Lady Abigail. She was not herself. Looking almost terrified, she followed the man around to, what appeared to Fitzwilliam, the back of a tavern.
Curious, the Colonel hurried to follow. As he peaked around the corner of the building he noticed the group enter the backdoor. There was a small window, slightly ajar. A pile of crates stood near the window. The colonel hid himself behind them and listened to what was happening inside.
"What is it that you need to discuss with me?" came Lady Abigail's voice.
"I wish you to understand the relationship I had with your husband," the man said.
"What relationship can exist between a murderer and his victim?"
The man was annoyed at her question. "Edward and I were friends for many years. Since we were children, in fact. My father worked for his, you see. In my adolescence I discovered that I could accumulate more wealth by stealing it than by trying to earn it any other way. Edward knew of my "business" and wanted in. He wasn't in it for the money. No, he had plenty already, but he wanted to help me and he loved the adventure in it. Edward used his influence in society and what not to aid us in our craft."
"How do you expect me to believe all this?" she interrupted, "Edward was a kind and decent gentleman. Not a criminal like you."
"I will show you proof when I am finished, but I want you to hear all that I have to say. When he got himself engaged to you, he started to change. He wanted out. Said he needed to grow up and be a gentleman for you. After you two got married, he still helped out now and then, but he wasn't as involved. It wasn't until you became with child that he severed himself from me. We were in the middle of our biggest heist, but when he didn't pull through, the lot of us were left out to dry."
Lady Abigail could not believe what this man was declaring. "You mean you killed my husband simply because your theft didn't pay off?"
"I didn't want to kill Edward!" he said slamming his fist on the table. "I only wanted to threaten him into giving me the money he cost us by backing out. We struggled together and when we fell backwards onto the ground, my knife caught him in the chest. That was not what I planned."
"He fell on your knife, eh? I still don't believe a word of it."
The man set a stack of papers in front of her. "Lady Abigail, I think that after going through these you will rephrase that." He rose from his chair. "Until we meet again, m'lady. I will be in touch."
Seconds later he was out the door. The colonel, who was still hiding, watched as the man and his gang walked down the alley and around the corner. He let out a much-needed sigh. While he was listening, Fitzwilliam unknowingly crumbled the flowers as his temper flared. His mind raced with the conversation he had just witnessed. Without thinking he emerged from behind the crates and opened the door. Lady Abigail with tears in her eyes started at the creaking of the opening door. Not a word was said as Fitzwilliam quickly moved to her side, placing her small hands in his. He whispered words of comfort to calm her down.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I saw you get out of a carriage with that man and was concerned, so I followed you here. I overheard everything."
After bearing all this by herself she was overwhelmed with emotion now that the weight of it was not fully on her shoulders. The colonel embraced her as she cried into his shoulder. She felt a safeness there that she hadn't felt in a long time. Reluctantly he let go and helped her to her feet.
"Come, I will take you back to the inn."
"Thank you, Fitzwilliam."
The ride back to the inn was quiet, as Fitzwilliam was not sure what words would be appropriate to utter. After seeing her safely to her suite, he poured her a glass of wine. Lady Abigail, clutching the bundle of papers the man had given her, gladly welcomed it.
"Where's little Margaret?" asked the colonel, noting the silence of the place.
"I sent her back to our house near Dover. She will be safer there."
"What are these papers he gave you?"
"I don't know." Lady Abigail untied the bundle and looked over the papers. "They are letters. Written in my husband's hand to a man named Whitley."
Fitzwilliam stood and poured them both another glass of wine. "I don't like you staying here by yourself. You can stay at Darcy's. I know he will not object."
"No, I cannot. I refuse to put any more people in danger. That man needs to think that nothing has changed. I thank you for bringing me home, but I would like to read these letters alone, if you don't mind."
"Of course. I understand. Please join us for dinner tonight?"
There was no way Lady Abigail could refuse the look on his handsome face. "Yes, I will."
After the colonel left, she sat on the sofa and pulled out the letters. The first one was written a few months before their wedding and the letters continued until just after Margaret was born. She took a sip of wine to ready herself for this glimpse into her husband's hidden past.
Caroline Bingley stood at the entrance of a lavish townhouse not far from Darcy's. She handed the butler her card and waited for his return. After a few moments she was escorted to the drawing room. She heard loud coughing emanating from within. That must her sickly creature of a daughter. Putting on a smile, she entered the room.
"Good day, Lady Catherine. Thank you for speaking with me."
The older woman smiled. From the few meetings they had she had come to like Miss Bingley. Catherine always thought she reminded her of herself when she was younger. "I have always enjoyed your company, Miss Bingley. Do sit down."
"Your ladyship, I would just like to say that I agree with you about Lady Abigail de Witt. I knew the moment I first met her that she was trouble."
"Well, I'm glad to hear that someone has seen reason. My nephews and niece are too blind to see this."
Caroline flashed her famous grin. "I have come to offer whatever assistance I can provide in exposing Lady Abigail." She paused thoughtfully. "And also to discuss Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
"I thank you, Miss Bingley. An ally is always a good thing to have. But what about Miss Bennet?"
"I believe she is trying to lure Mr. Darcy into marrying her. She has been spending time with dear Georgiana. No doubt, brainwashing her into thinking she would make a good wife. All she's after is his money. I am sure you know of her youngest sister's infamous elopement to Mr. Wickham."
Lady Catherine's brows twitched as she thought about what Caroline just said. "Yes, I see it now. I did hear about the elopement. Shameful! Darcy would never allow himself to become such a man's brother-in-law."
"But Miss Eliza might find a way to make him forget about duty and what is right."
"Please stay and take tea with me, Miss Bingley. I believe we have much to discuss."
"I believe we do," Caroline said coolly.
Darcy noticed the strange manner in which Lady Abigail and the colonel acted throughout dinner. Neither said much and when they did it was directed toward each other. He would ask his cousin about it later tonight. Card tables were being set up in the music room so that Georgiana, or anyone else, would be able to entertain the company whilst they played at cards. As soon as everything was in place, Darcy looked around for Fitzwilliam. He was nowhere in the room and neither was Lady Abigail. He whispered to Georgiana that he would be right back and for her to be hostess. Miss Bingley watched as he left. She had paid close attention to Lady Abigail and Darcy. The lady was clearing hiding something. No one else besides Caroline had noticed the Colonel and Lady Abigail sneak out of the room. I wonder what they're up to. She smiled to herself. I'm sure that Lady Catherine would love to know that she's sneaking off with her nephew.
After dinner, Abigail whispered to Fitzwilliam that they needed to talk. So the colonel suggested they sneak off to the library.
"Did you read the letters?" he asked, once they were safely inside.
"Yes." She paced around the room, agitated. "I had no idea my husband harbored such a secret. I can scarcely believe it."
"So that man was right?" Fitzwilliam sat thoughtfully observing Lady Abigail.
"And now he wants revenge, I think. Apparently the heist they were about to pull off when Edward left was quite a hefty one. Can you believe that thievery is what pays some of these men's rent and buys clothes for their families? This Whitley and his men were not happy with Edward. I got the impression from the letters that although they were friends, Whitley was jealous of my husband."
Abigail sat down next to the colonel. "What do you think needs to be done?" he asked.
"I am not sure." The colonel held her hand in as a comforting gesture. "I could simply pay him whatever amount he wants," she suggested.
"Then he will never leave you alone. Once he knows he can buy you, the demands for money will not end."
"Yes, you're right, but I don't have that many options."
As Darcy passed the doors to the library he heard muffled voices coming from the other side. He opened the doors, causing Lady Abigail to jump slightly at the noise. Darcy noticed the distress in his sister's eyes and the concern in his cousin's. Fitzwilliam released Abigail's hand after Darcy glanced at him, puzzled by their sudden intimacy.
"I was wondering where the two of you disappeared to," he said finally, "Is everything all right?"
Lady Abigail looked to the colonel as if to remind him not to say anything about Whitley. This exchange did not go unnoticed by Darcy, who was beginning to suspect they knew something he did not.
"We were speaking of Lady Catherine," lied Fitzwilliam.
"Please don't worry yourself about her, Abigail. I have a plan that will surely convince her and everyone else that you are my sister. It's a bit drastic, but I see no other alternative."
The colonel and Lady Abigail sat and listened as Darcy related his idea to them before returning to the music room together.
Lady Abigail's carriage creaked slowly down the quiet street. It was after midnight when she left Darcy's house. Darcy, Georgiana, Fitzwilliam and herself remained in the music room after everyone else had retired. They enchanted her with stories of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, giving her a small glimpse as to what her real parents were like. The carriage came to a halt in front of the inn and Lady Abigail was helped out. As she made her way up the stairs to her suite, she felt an uneasiness in the pit of her stomach, like something wasn't right. She now wished that she had accepted Colonel Fitzwilliam's offer to escort her back. The hallway leading to her door was darkened at this late hour. Abigail also remembered that she had given her maid the night off to celebrate her birthday, which meant that no one else would be in. Get off it, Abby! Everything's fine. She opened the door and walked inside. Abigail could hardly see anything. Out of the darkness a pair of gigantic arms seized her from behind. One of the hands covered her mouth. She struggled with all her might, but could not escape. A light appeared suddenly as someone lit a candle.
"Good evening, Lady Abigail. Out rather late aren't we?" said Whitley.
Once again she felt panic race up and down her spine. Not since the day her husband was killed had she felt such terror. She was alone in the dark with a murderer and his band of thieves. Whitley stepped closer to her and smelled her hair. Abigail breathed in sharply.
"No colonel to protect you now is there?" he snapped coldly, "And where is your sweet little girl? Did you really think that you could send her away and not have me notice?" He laughed in her face. "You now leave me no choice, Lady."
He nodded to his other henchmen and they moved on Lady Abigail, bounding her hands and feet as well as gagging her mouth. The largest man picked her up and she was being carried down to the kitchen of the inn and out the backdoor. The man threw her roughly into the carriage. Whitley sat across from her, smiling his eerie smile. The curtains were drawn over the windows, so she had no idea where they were taking her. Tears materialized in her eyes. Her only thought was of her daughter and whether she would ever see her face again.
Fitzwilliam was the last to enter the breakfast room the next morning. He tossed and turned for hours until at about four o'clock when sleep finally came. He was worried about Lady Abigail. Even though he'd only known her a short time, Fitzwilliam had to admit to himself that he was beginning to care for her deeply. Darcy approached after they had finished eating to ask his cousin about last night.
"Is there anything troubling Lady Abigail?"
"Just Lady Catherine's plot to ruin her. Why?" answered the colonel.
"I get the feeling that there's something else and you know about it."
"Really, Darcy, I have no idea what you're talking of. If someone was spreading lies about you and trying to discredit your character, wouldn't you worry too?"
"I suppose," stammered Darcy, still not convinced.
Fitzwilliam decided to change the subject. "So when do the Miss Bennets return to Hertfordshire?"
"Tomorrow morning. Bingley and I are accompanying them, as well as the Gardiners. I am sure Bingley wouldn't mind if you came back to Netherfield with us."
"Perhaps in a few days. There are still matters here in town I have to deal with."
"Nervous about asking Mr. Bennet for his daughter's hand?"
Darcy cleared his throat. "Of course not. Elizabeth has informed me that he will be shocked at her change of opinion of me, but I don't think he would refuse."
"I believe, Darcy, that you are the sort of man that no one would dare refuse anything," laughed his cousin.
The butler interrupted suddenly to tell Darcy of a young lady who was there to see him. The man returned shortly with a young girl with blonde hair and a sweet countenance that appeared distressed by something. Fitzwilliam recognized her, but couldn't figure out from where.
"How can I help you, miss?" asked Darcy.
"I beg your pardon for intruding, but I did not know where else to look. My name is Miss Berkley. I'm Lady Abigail's chambermaid."
"How do you do, Miss Berkley," Darcy motioned to a chair, "Please sit down."
"Umm, Mr. Darcy, I was wondering if Lady Abigail returned to the inn last night. I know she dined here with you."
Fitzwilliam's face immediately twisted in alarm. Darcy noticed his cousin's reaction.
"Yes she did return home. She left here around midnight. Why?"
The young lady's hands began to tremble and her face became much like the colonel's.
"Lady Abigail gave me the night off and when I got to the suite this morning I noticed the door had not been locked. When I opened the door I noticed a broken vase lying on the floor. I knew something wasn't right, so I went to my mistress' bedchamber and she wasn't there. The bed was not slept in either." Miss Berkley began to tear up. "I just know something awful has happened to her." Grabbing her handkerchief, she dried her face.
Fitzwilliam was welling up with emotions. He knew exactly who was behind this and was kicking himself for not insisting on escorting Lady Abigail even though she refused. Darcy was not sure what to make of this.
"Perhaps she made the bed herself and left before you came home? And the vase might have been knocked over be her as she went out the door or her daughter might have knocked it over," Darcy suggested.
Miss Berkley shook her head. "My mistress never makes her own bed. It was exactly how I left it the previous morning. As for the vase, Lady Abigail would have cleaned it up herself or had one of the inn servants do it. She hates leaving things undone. It could not have been Miss Margaret because she returned home yesterday morning."
"Lady Abigail didn't mention that. I am sure there is nothing to worry about. My sister is probably out shopping or something."
"But there is something to worry about, Darcy!" shouted an angry Fitzwilliam as he jumped to his feet. Poor Miss Berkley nearly jumped out of her chair in fright. Darcy was taken aback by this outburst.
"What are you talking about!?"
"Darcy, Lady Abigail and I haven't been truthful with you."
"That much I suspected."
"The man who killed her husband has been harassing her ever since that night we went to the circus. I don't know what he wants from her and I can't bear to think about the possibilities."
Alarm finally made its way onto Darcy's face. "How do you know all this?"
Fitzwilliam told Darcy of how he followed her and listened in on the meeting with Whitley. Miss Berkley was in hysterics at the thought of her beloved mistress with that horrid man.
"We have to find her Darcy! That man is capable of anything," cried the colonel.
"But where do we look?"
"Everywhere! All over London!"
"Miss Berkley, please calm yourself. We will do our best to locate Lady Abigail. Do you have somewhere you can stay besides the inn?"
"Yes," she said in a small voice, "I can stay with my aunt and uncle."
"Good. Go there and try not let it out that she's missing."
She nodded and left the study. Fitzwilliam gave Darcy a description of Whitley and they decided to separate in order to cover more ground. Darcy was also going to inform the local law enforcement and enlist their help as well. The colonel nearly ran over the butler trying to get out the door. His blood boiled with rage. If that man lays one finger on her, I will have his head!
Unbeknownst to both gentlemen, their conversation was overheard. Georgiana heard the colonel shout as she passed the door on her way to the music room. Curious, she listened at the door. Gripped with worry, Georgiana ran upstairs to her room.
Meanwhile in a dark, shabby house Lady Abigail sat on the floor. The room was small and cramped with only a table to keep her company. There was a small window which was so dirty that light barely came through. She had been locked in since last night. Her hands and feet were still bound. One of Whitley's men brought her a couple pieces of bread in the morning to eat. Abigail tried desperately not to cry. I will not give him that satisfaction, she told herself. She heard someone at the door. Whitley walked in, looking particularly smug.
"I know this isn't what you're used to, Countess, but you need to get used to it. This is how I live. Edward never knew what it was like, so I intend on making you understand in his place." He seemed to take perverse joy in the situation.
"So is that what this is all about? You were jealous of him?"
He laughed at her. "Of course not. I wasn't jealous, I was angry! Everything he had should have been mine. Why shouldn't I have had the parties, the clothes, and mothers throwing their daughters at my feet!?"
"If you had perhaps done something more with your life than devoting it to breaking the law, you would have. You could have built your wealth up."
"I am the youngest of three sons. My brothers got all the attention. I never could please my father, so he never would have sent me to a university. Both my brothers are tradesmen and have their own townhouses in London, but do they even stop to think of me. No!" He grabbed Lady Abigail and yanked her to her feet. Savageness gleamed in his eyes. "This goes far beyond Edward's backing out and the job that he cost us. Now I intend on taking what should have always been mine. Including you!"
Whitley pushed her up against the wall, seizing her lips for a kiss. Her hands tied behind her back, Abigail was powerless. Her head squirmed but she couldn't break free. He released her, still breathing hard.
"You'll never have me!" she spat.
"We shall see." He said, storming out the door and locking it behind him.
Abigail fell to the floor. The kiss left her with such a feeling of disgust that she wanted to vomit. Why is this happening to me? Unable to hold it in anymore, she sobbed silently in the corner.
Darcy decided to stop in at the Gardiner's while he was searching that part of town. Mrs. Gardiner greeted him at the door.
"What a pleasant surprise, Mr. Darcy. Mr. Bingley just arrived not ten minutes ago. You gentlemen can't seem to stay away from my nieces," she teased with a twinkle in her eyes that reminded Darcy of Elizabeth's.
"That is quite true, madam."
Darcy followed her to the sitting room where he found Jane and Bingley entertaining some of the Gardiner children and Elizabeth embroidering nearby. She smiled adoringly when she noticed Darcy enter the room. He greeted Jane and Bingley, the latter joked with him, declaring, "I knew you would not be far behind me." Elizabeth saw that Darcy was preoccupied by something when he sat down next to her.
"Is something a matter?" asked she.
"Let us move closer to the window for more privacy," Darcy proposed.
Elizabeth was baffled, but complied nonetheless.
"Lady Abigail has been kidnapped," he said in a low voice.
"What!?" she uttered, gasping in disbelief, "Is her daughter missing as well?"
"No, Margaret was sent home yesterday."
"Who could have done it?"
Darcy proceeded to tell her all he knew about Whitley and his connection to Lady Abigail.
"I think I remember seeing the man you're describing at the circus the other night. I saw him watching Lady Abigail. It was only for a few seconds, but the look he gave her made my skin crawl."
"I'm afraid that if she is not found by tomorrow morn then I shall not be able to go with you to Longbourn. At least not until she's found."
"We can postpone until she's recovered," offered Elizabeth.
"No, I don't want everyone to know about her disappearance. I will say I have business that prevents me from leaving tomorrow."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I think not," replied Darcy, "I don't want you going out and trying to find her. Leave it to Colonel Fitzwilliam, the police and myself. The man is dangerous and I could not survive if anything were to happen to you."
Elizabeth nodded, overwhelmed by the depth of his emotions, as well as hers. Eager to continue his search for his sister, Darcy bid goodbye to Bingley and Jane, while Elizabeth escorted him to the door.
"Please be careful, Mr. Darcy. I could not survive if anything were to happen to you either."
He held one of Elizabeth's hands in his. "I promise to be careful." Slowly he brought her hand to his lips and placed a sweet kiss upon it. "And you may call me William, if you wish."
"Only if you call me Elizabeth or Lizzy."
"Your wish is my command, Elizabeth."
She smiled Darcy's favorite smile and replied, "Until we meet again, William."
The door to Lady Abigail's room had not opened again until that evening, when Whitley brought her a plate of food for dinner. She didn't look at him as he set the food on the table. Again Whitley pulled her to her feet. She grimaced when he pulled out his knife. He cut the ropes that bound her hands and feet.
"One cannot eat without their hands and I don't think you're a big enough threat to require being tied up any longer."
Determined to prove him wrong she lunged at him, her hands going for his throat. Abigail knew it was pointless and foolish, but she had no control. He easily got hold of her, turned her around and placed his giant dagger to her throat.
"My, my, we are feisty tonight, aren't we?" He sniffed her hair and behind her ear. The feeling of disgust and nausea she felt that morning was returning. "You had better behave, my dear, or something unfortunate might happen to someone you know."
Abigail's mind immediately jumped to her daughter. "Leave Margaret out of this!" she cried.
"Oh, I wasn't talking about your daughter." Whitley released her, went to the doorway, and motioned for one of his men to come in. "I'm talking about this one." One of the henchmen passed a bound and gagged girl to Whitley. She was dressed in servant's clothing and had blonde hair. Abigail thought it was her maid, but when she looked into the girl's eyes a grave realization came over the countess and she nearly fainted.
"Georgiana," she whispered.