Beginning, Section II
Simon arranged bolts of fabric on the slats of the wooden frame in the small back room of his shop. It was after nine, and the shop had been shut for hours. It was not uncommon for the young man to pass his evenings in this fashion. He had long determined that the key to a successful enterprise was attention to detail... and in the case of a small (but prosperous) country drapery, attention to detail meant as well as a fine selection of wares, a spick-and-span premises. Simon Barnett was a man familiar with a scrubbing brush like no other.
It had been a busy day. Tonight was the long anticipated Netherfield Ball, and all day long mothers had trooped into the shop like well organised armies, leading and in some cases, dragging the females of the neighbourhood into battle. Final flounces and ruffles were added to gowns... enough lace had been sold today to marry off all of the Meryton Misses to the young Mr. Bingley. Simon, ever eager to be of use to those of the name Bennet, had duly assisted Misses Catherine and Lydia in their purchase of new lace to trim their capes.
The Misses Bennet had not been the only customers of interest that day. Two young ladies, of the age of the Misses Bennet had taken a turn about his shop earlier that morning. The prettier of the two was of the age of Miss Lydia, Simon surmised. She was taller than Lydia, fair-haired, and (one could not help but notice), womanly and graceful in her appearance. Her companion, on the other hand was smaller, and thinner and of a sickly constitution it appeared at first glance. Large limpid eyes were framed by a scowling countenance. The ladies were accompanied by an older woman, whom Simon guessed from the modesty of her appearance to be a governess of the girls, or perhaps a nurse to the sickly one. One material point was strikingly clear... these ladies were not of Meryton stock, and their wealth was evident in all of their garments. (Simon having an eye for such details.)
He felt sure they must be relatives of the Bingleys, here for the ball, for he had never seen them before. What they were doing in a country draper shop he did not know... the embroidery adorning the sumptuous dresses of the young ladies was clearly Michonet, using Ricocco ribbons, as was the current fashion in the Paris fashion houses. Country draper Simon Barnett may be, but he was well schooled in the delicacies of his trade. The ladies browsed for a while, before purchasing each a silk reticule and some hair ribbons. It had, all and all, made for a most interesting day.
He finished his adjustments to the garments in the window, and left the shop for the night. As it was the night of the ball, Simon knew his brother, as a member of Netherfield staff would be late in attendance at the house. He needed to discuss details with John. As a gift for his sister Tabitha's impending birthday he had purchased her a pianoforte. Not by any means a virtuoso, she was an enthusiastic performer, having taken to the instrument late in life due to the presence of one crumbling in her parents Derbyshire home. Although the house had been sold long ago, in her brother's infancy, Tabitha had retained possession of the ancient and decaying instrument, and finally, when it had succumbed to rot and woodworm and disintegrated Simon had promised himself that when he had enough money, he would purchases her another. A promise he had kept.
How he would smuggle the instrument into Tabby's home was another matter....
He walked in the direction of Netherfield, intending to discuss the very latest in smuggling methods with his brother John. It was a freezing night however, he noticed, quite correctly, as his breath hung like a loitering fog around his features. It was not a night to go anywhere on foot, least of all three miles to Netherfield. Tabitha's pianoforte could wait. This might just be the evening to catch up on his long neglected accounts before he visited with Peter Phillips, his attorney in the morning....
Caroline's face at that moment resembled a collapsed lung as she surveyed the dancing couples like a hawk. So contorted were her features with her obvious displeasure that her countenance was that of a person who had spent much time sucking lemons, or other such citrus fruits. The cause of such facially disturbing reflections? Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Or, rather the combined absence of her husband and Miss Bennet.
For the past two sets Caroline had seen neither George or Miss Eliza, and for the last set, Caroline, in her desperation not to look like a wall-flower like that bespectacled Bennet child was forced to dance with Rev. Collins. The greasy and profusely sweating clergyman had trodden on her toes something atrocious, and while resting her now aching feet, she had bespied the absence of the two. The way in which that girl ran about with men was shocking to the genteel and ladylike Caroline. Why, if she had ever behaved like that before she was married, Charles would have cut her off from the family.
The financial security that her marriage had secured her was a source of tremendous comfort to Caroline. Her father, though himself an affluent man, was prone to reminding Caroline and her sisters that they must marry well. Therefore, Caroline's elevation to the ton upon her marriage to the illustrious, though not a little unscrupulous George Darcy Wickham had provided her with tremendous peace of mind. But no amount of financial security could quell the fear in Caroline's heart that George held her in the esteem she held him. Often at Assemblies and balls, he would disappear for hours on end, with no explanation. Which was why Caroline was so perturbed to see that George had disappeared yet again from the floor with that Bennet girl. With her ailing feet she wondered at the sense of looking for her husband. Not being entirely insensible of his ways, she was not sure she would like what she might find. No, she would wait here until he returned to her. Caroline swiveled her head in the direction of the approaching Georgiana Darcy, and grabbing the timid girl's arm, forced her into the adjoining seat to begin what only could be described by onlookers of the pair as a monologue with the young lady.
Having decided to spend the rest of the evening with a ledger book in one hand, and a glass of something warming in the other, Simon walked briskly toward his front door, anxious to warm himself by the fire. He patted his stout overcoat for his keys...and quickly realised that they were enjoying the relative warmth of his home without him in it. They were sitting merrily in his study while he froze outside his front door. Taking the unfortunate situation as a sign from the Almighty that he must speak with his brother this evening, he turned on his heel and walked toward Netherfield .
Anne longed to escape the room. She had been monopolised by the awful Mr. Collins for long enough, and now, even in this crowd of potential followers of Lady Catherine he clung to her side like a limpet. Georgiana was being spoken at by the awful Caroline Wickham, so she decided to rescue her daughter from the despised lady, and retire outside for a breath of fresh air.
"Lady Anne". A voice interrupted her state of solitude. A voice she had not heard in years .
"Good Grief. Dominic. I mean Lord Cathcart. How are you?"
"Well, thank-you. I'm here on business actually. My son has business interests in this part of the country, and apparently young Bingley and he were great chums at Cambridge, so he decided to make an impromptu visit. A rather fine set up he has here too, I see."
Anne was not even hearing Lord Dominic. Her mind was cast back to a scene years in the past.... the last time she had seen Dominic Cathcart...
..."Anne, we could be happy, you know we could. You don't love that Darcy fellow. You cannot Anne. I adore you, Lady Annabel Fitzwilliam. Marry me Anne."
"Dominic, I may not love George Darcy but he is the man I shall marry. It has been planned by our families for years. I'm sorry to hurt you, but we can never be anything more than friends. You're engaged to my sister for heaven's sake. How would Catherine feel if she found out about this? Think of her Dom."
"I am thinking of her, Annabel. I could never love her like I do you. Please say you will marry me. I cannot live without you"
"Dominic, I will marry George a week from Saturday, and you will marry Catherine. We will be brother and sister, but that is all. You must leave this be."
The lingering image of Dominic Cathcart's heartbroken face had never left Anne Darcy. In all the time she had been married to George, a man she had grown to love and respect like none other, she had never forgotten her first true love. She had been but seventeen when she married George, and succumbing to the wishes of a domineering mother who wished to see her united with the son of her best friend. A week later Dominic broke the engagement with Catherine. Catherine's joking fears of having a silly sounding name Lady Catherine Cathcart had never materialised... instead being replaced with Lady Catherine De Bourgh, their long planned double wedding at their home never materialising. She had watched as her heartbroken sister married the first man that came along after Dominic, and privately wondered if God had taken Fitzwilliam and his Papa away from her to punish her for breaking the hearts of Catherine and Dominic. Her only comfort in the affair was the notion that George Darcy had gone to his maker knowing she had adored him.
"Lady Annabel?" Nobody had called her by her proper name in years.
"Are you un-well my lady? You were miles away. I fear I may be boring you...? "Dominic smiled.
"Not at all. I was merely wondering which of the young men here was the young Lord Cathcart "She said, referring to the two young men standing next to Dominic
"Ah, yes, I would like to introduce you to my sons, if I may. Lady Annabel Darcy, my sons, James and David Cathcart. These are my youngest sons, twins, if you could believe two so unlike in looks could be twins. Talking to Mr. Bingley is Dominic, our eldest."
"And is Lady Cathcart here with you tonight sir?" she inquired as politely as she could, having an insane desire to see the lady who had replaced her in Dominic's affections.
Dominic smiled sadly.
"No, Lady Cathcart passed away some years ago. Is Mr. Darcy with you this evening?"
"No, George died some sixteen years ago. When Georgiana was a baby." she said nodding at her daughter, now laughing with Anne De Bourgh.
"I spoke with your sister earlier his evening. I believe that young lady there is her daughter."
"Yes, my niece, Miss Anne. She is a little older than my own daughter."
They continued easily in this way, conversing easily, prying gently into the affairs of each other's history of the past years. Anne's walk in the grounds was long forgotten.
The vice-like grip around Lizzy's arm tightened. Her skin crawled as fingers ran along her neck...
If ever the young Mr. Barrett had aspirations of socialising with the ton of Hertfordshire, it was not dressed like this. He realised that tonight, in this attire, was not to be the night he won the hearts of the Hertfordshire ladies, and the respect of their menfolk. He approached his brother's workplace from a different direction.
It was viciously cold, and Simon walked quickly toward the back of the house, where his brother was most likely to be, cleaning tools, and planning what he would plant in the springtime. So deep in thought was he that he did not notice that scene that was being played out on the lawn not twenty yards from him....
Lady Anne needed some air. After the events of this evening, she most definitely needed to get away from the overcrowded and stuffy ballroom. Charles, it appeared, in his eagerness to become acquainted with all of his neighbours, had invited every single one of them to Netherfield, and they, in their turn, eager to get rid of single daughters, had accepted most graciously the young aristocrats kind offer.
She was scarce able to believe that it was Dominic she had conversed with for most of the night. Dominic, who had walked out of her life nearly three decades ago, was back as unexpectedly as he had left it. She was glad. It was time to put some old ghosts to rest. Not that she was implying he was in his dotage, no, far from it, he could still out swagger men half his age, but the ghosts of their friendship and its untimely death.
His eldest boy, Dominic could never deny. Dominic Cathcart the younger was cut from the same cloth as the elder of that name. Never before had she seen two more alike. No one could ever mistake her for Georgiana that was for sure, Georgiana being everything a proper Darcy lady ought to be, tall, fair, willowy, while Annabel Fitzwilliam was petite, dark haired, and green-eyed. Even the use of her proper name was enough to shock her. No one but her papa had ever called her Annabel, named for a French great-aunt of her papa. Her mama, believing it to be to long for a mite of a baby had shortened it to the more popular, and infinitely more English Anne, a wise choice considering the anti-French feeling in the country. Lady Annabel Françoise Rebecca Fitzwilliam became Lady Anne to the world, but Dominic liking Annabel to Anne had used it more often than not in their discourse.
Georgiana had not been seen for a while, having disappeared with the other Anne, Anne De Bourgh to escape the attentions of Mr. Collins and the odious Caroline. Despite the lateness of the hour Annabel gathered her skirts and prepared to take a solitary ramble in the garden.
Dominic intercepted her.
"Would you care to take a turn about the gardens? I believe Bingley has some fine grounds."
Anne smiled. She would be delighted to.
A scream pierced his conciousness, shattering his distracted thoughts. Simon stood stock still in the same position, attempting to determine where the sound had come from. There was another.
Simon began to run in the direction of the screams. They were the screams of a lady in distress, of that he was sure. Every fantasy he ever had about of saving a damsel in distress was to come true, he thought, and he ran faster.
"HELLO. HELLO THERE. CAN YOU HEAR ME?" he called out into the inky darkness.
The screams became louder and more frequent. He could hear a man's voice now, rough, and sinister and the rustle of skirts as the lady tried to free herself.
It was the man that Simon encountered firstly... his narrow back to Simon, his clothes, the cut of a gents (for Simon would notice these things) but no true gent was he, as he held a lady roughly by the arms and throat.
Simon, being the larger and stronger of the two, was on him in a flash, and soon the two were wrestling on the ground. Simon landed a powerful blow to his chin.
"Unhand me at once you cur, I'll see you in ...OOUUMMPHH" the man cried as the fist made contact with his face.
Simon, not having noticed the lady, turned to her, realising with no small degree of shock that the lady was, none other than Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
"Madam are you hurt? Is there someone I may fetch on your behalf? Where is your father? May I fetch him for you?"
Elizabeth looked to be severely shocked, but outwardly unhurt.
"Mr. Barnett! I thank you Sir, for your assistance to me. No, Sir there is no-one to fetch. I will return at once to the house."
"Madam, then you must allow me to accompany you to the house. I will not let you proceed unescorted." He proffered his arm.
Wickham groaned in pain, and stirred on the ground before losing consciousness.
"Miss Bennet you must allow me to fetch Mr. Bingley. He must be informed of this man's behaviour to you tonight.
"No, indeed Sir, I must insist upon it." said Lizzy thinking of the disgrace that may befall Mr. Bingley, and in turn her sister.
"Madam, he must be charged with assault on your person."
"Sir, I beg of you. Scenes may arise unpleasant to more than myself. I beg you to let it be. I must insist upon it."
Simon reluctantly agreed.
"I shall agree if you promise never to alone in his company again. I should not allow a dog I liked near this man."
Elizabeth, shivering not a little in the cold night, pulled her thin cloak about her. She smiled thinly.
"In that matter, Sir I believe you shall brook no opposition from me"
They walked back to the house in silence, Elizabeth deeply shocked by the experience of Wickham, and Simon equally shocked at his being her rescuer. This, he regretfully mused was not the time for thought provoking conversation.
Thomas Bennet was more than a little concerned. He had walked the grounds of Netherfield for near a half-hour, in search of Lizzy, and she could not be found. He stood alone on the steps at the entrance to the great house, hands clasped, brow furrowed, and concern visible on his kindly features. An unknown gentleman, and a lady whom he believed to be the sister of his cousin's patroness emerged from the house and approached him.
"Sir, please forgive the impolitic intrusion, particularly as we have not been introduced, but you appear to be in some distress. I am Lord Dominic Cathcart, and this is Lady Annabel Darcy. May we assist you in some fashion? "
Mr. Bennet bowed to Lady Anne.
"I thank you. I am Thomas Bennet of Longbourn. My daughter passed this way I believe some time ago, and I have not yet had the opportunity of seeing her. I am a little concerned for her safety."
Lady Anne spoke. "Perhaps she took a turn in the garden Sir. The ball-room is a trifle crowded at present."
"I believe so your Ladyship. However it is not like Elizabeth to venture far from the house alone at night, and in such cold weather. I am afraid she has fallen and is unable to walk."
"Would you like for me to send one of Mr. Bingley's men to recover her, Mr. Bennet. He is a very obliging man, particularly when it comes to the safety of his guests."
"Thank you Sir. I believe that may be the safest course of action."
Engrossed as they were in the recovery of Lizzy from the possible fate that had befallen her, none noticed the pair approaching the house...
Simon could not but notice how pleasing it was to walk arm-in-arm with Miss Bennet. Under happier circumstances he could have conjured up a conversation... about her parent's health, the health of her sisters, perhaps...
From her ashen countenance however he surmised she was traumatised greatly from the experience.
Lizzy could not but notice how pleasing it was to walk arm-in-arm with Mr. Barnett. Under happier circumstances she could have conjured up a conversation... about his sister's health, the health of his nephews and nieces, perhaps.....
From his solemn countenance, she surmised that he must disprove of her greatly. To think she would have accompanied Mr. Wickham anywhere, never mind on a walk in the night, unaccompanied by his wife. A disgrace indeed. He must think her as bad as Kitty or Lydia........
Mr. Bennet was the first to notice his daughter.
"Elizabeth, are you well? I have been quite worried for your safety. Where on earth have you been child."
Lizzy broke from Simon's arm and ran up the steps of Netherfield. She hugged her father.
"Oh Papa! How happy I am to see you. Yes, I am afraid I did get into a little trouble on my walk, but Mr. Barnett here was kind enough to assist me. Be not alarmed. I am quite well father."
Elizabeth gestured toward Simon who had refrained from joining Elizabeth on the steps. Mr. Bennet walked toward Simon.
"Well Sir. I am indebted to you for your assistance to my Lizzy. She had us quite worried. "
Simon found himself torn between his promise to Lizzy, and the desire to inform her father of what had happened.
Lady Anne, whose attention, it must be admitted was more with the genteel young lady in the cloak, than with her commoner rescuer heard a voice just then that she had not heard since George Darcy closed his eyes for the very last time.
"Indeed Sir. It was my pleasure to be of assistance to the lady."
Simon bowed to the party. "Excuse me. I believe I must find my brother."
George was the last word Anne uttered before she collapsed into a dead faint at Dominic's feet. The assembled trio looked on in shock at the unconscious form of Lady Anne.
"Annabel, Anne wake up. " Dominic shook her gently.
Simon spoke up. "Sir, if I may be of some assistance to your lady, I can go to Meryton to fetch the doctor. I can take one of Mr. Bingley's horses."
"Go at once, man. Hurry."
With that Simon raced to the Netherfield stable to seek Edward the stableman. Dominic scooped Lady Anne's unconscious form into his arms and carried her inside. Mr. Bennet hurried to the ballroom to alert Mr. Bingley of the situation, and Elizabeth followed Lord Cathcart, who was cradling gently the lady.
Simon was muddy and out of breath when he got to the village of Meryton. He had been pushing the horse as fast as it would go, and the poor animal could be heard protesting at the late night endeavours.
Arriving at the doctor's house, he hammered hard on the wooden door. A butler, candelabra in hand, and not accustomed to being summoned in such a fashion, especially at such an hour as this, looked unkindly at the sullied young man at the door.
"May I be of assistance to you?"
"If you please, I would see the doctor."
"Mr. Spencer is entertaining at present, and does not wish to be disturbed. Good Evening Sir. The man moved to close the door.
Simon, brooking no nonsense, stood to his full height and stopped the door with his hand.
" A lady at the Netherfield ball has taken ill, and Mr. Bingley requires the doctor's presence immediately. If you would be so kind as to fetch your master without delay.
Within minutes the two had departed for Netherfield.
Catherine sat at the side of the bed, cradling her sister's limp hand in hers. Outside the door of the bedchamber a small party had gathered. Georgiana and her cousin, alarmed and worried at the turn of events; Mr. Collins, ever anxious to be of assistance to that great family; Charles, and Mrs. Wickham, who considered herself to be family, for was it not dear Lady Darcy who had taken in her poor dear husband when he was so tragically orphaned.
To the side of the party stood Lord Cathcart. Bowing to Catherine's familial ties, he had left Anne's side, but kept close to the room, should his assistance be required. To Catherine, the events of thirty years past had become all too clear to her. With Dominic never having provided her with an explanation as to his severing of their engagement, she had sought out reasons for his departure in her imagination... ranging from her unattractiveness as a lady... to his dislike of the country... to the dislike of her family... and finally to his dislike of her. Believing she would never receive another offer of marriage, she had accepted the hand of Sir Lewis De Bourgh, and trapped in this marriage of convenience, had become the wealthy patroness of many, a devoted if not somewhat domineering mama to Anne, and the mistress of one of the finest estates in England. Through all of this, however, she had never forgotten Dominic and his rejection of her, and strove to become a wife that Sir Lewis could respect, if not love. Now, it was clear to her why he had left her. He had been in love with Anne, and not with Catherine. Anne, who had been destined to be mistress of Pemberley since she could crawl. Sweet, shy, Anne, who could not go against her mama's fondest wishes in the matter of her marrying a man she did not love. How Anne must have suffered. Catherine was surprised she wasn't angrier with Dominic but her concern for Anne was overshadowing all other feeling at present.
Why Anne was lying in Mr. Bingley's bedchamber, in this unconscious state was a mystery to Catherine. She had been in high spirits all evening. Dominic was at a loss to explain it too. One moment she was attending to the newly discovered Miss Bennet, the next she had mumbled something about George, before fainting on the ground beside him. Catherine was worried. Her sister had been in such good spirits since they had come away from Rosings, there was no cause of her sudden collapse as far as she could see.
A rise in the whisperings outside the door, and a sudden rap on the door signaled the arrival of the doctor, interrupted Catherine's reverie.
Simon sat with his brother in the kitchen of Netherfield. He had been recounting the events of the evening to John, who, like most of the Netherfield staff, had heard most of the commotion in the big house. The cook, aware of Simon's hand in the whole affair, was not adverse to laying on a hot meal for the young man, who had so nobly assisted not one, but two ladies this evening.
"I escorted Miss Elizabeth to the house, and her father thanked me for my assistance. The lady took one look at me and fainted away. I cannot account for it John. It was the queerest thing, brother."
John shrugged. "Perhaps she has been spending too long over her needlework. It seems to me the ladies of today don't spend near enough time in the fresh air. All the more shame when they have such beautiful grounds to themselves."
"Perhaps. But she appeared to be well until I arrived."
"I don't know, Simon. I am sure we will hear the full tale told soon enough though. That is if Martha here has aught to do with it."
He winked at Simon. The Netherfield cook was renowned for her tongue as well as her temper.
An icy look was cast from that side of the kitchen to the two men.
"Now you be minding your manners, John Ross. Or else you'll not set foot in this kitchen as long as I'm cook."
A serious gastronomical threat like that could never be taken lightly and the two men departed Netherfield for the evening.
It was the strangest thing. Anne could not account for her whereabouts at present. She had no recollection of retiring for the evening... nay, being put to bed for the evening either.
She could not place the room... the deeply embroidered canopy under which she was now lying was unfamiliar, although she surmised it was the room of a gent, containing as it did, nothing to suggest that this was the bed-chamber of a lady. It was this thought alone that made her stir in protest in the bed. The door of the chamber opened to admit her sister.
"Sister, you are awake. How are you feeling?"
"I am unsure... I have a headache, but I am well, I believe. What has happened? How did I find myself here in this room, Catherine?"
"I cannot say. You were conversing with Lord Cathcart and Miss Bennet, when you fainted away most unexpectedly. Georgiana and I have been most concerned."
Miss Bennet? Who was Miss Bennet again? She wondered... ah yes, the pretty dark haired lady, the one who had had her father so worried... the one who was with that young man...
Anne sat up with a start. The young man who had George Darcy's voice. Who was he? Where was he now? Had he left? She had to talk to him.
"Catherine, where is the Bennet girl? I want to see her. It is of the utmost importance sister."
Duly summoned, Lizzy knocked on the door of her father's study.
"Ah, Lizzy, come in child. Do sit down."
He produced a piece of paper from his pocket.
"I have had a letter this past hour from Lady Catherine De Bourgh, summoning you at once to Netherfield. The matter is of the greatest import Lizzy. I can only imagine she wishes to hear your role in your dealings with Mr. Wickham last evening."
Lizzy went pale. She had reluctantly told her father all of what had happened to her, and how Mr. Barnett had come to her rescue. To say Mr. Bennet was deeply shocked by the affair was a gross understatement.
"I do not see what it has to do with Lady Catherine Papa. I know she is of that family, but Mr. Wickham's behaviour to me is none of her concern. I would prefer to keep it between us. To expose Jane to any of this would be unbearable."
Her father nodded and looked grave.
"This is a sorry affair Elizabeth. This man ought to be horsewhipped. I am not inclined to allow you into a house where you may be attacked by the relatives of this creature."
He paced the room, letter in hand.
"In fact, I think it may be for the best if we end the acquaintance with the Bingley's for good. I am aware it will grieve Jane, but I would not rest easy at night if I knew I let a child of mine marry into a family that numbered Mr. Wickham. It will grieve your mother far more than it will grieve your sister, but I believe it for the best."
Lizzy felt her heart sink. But loathe as she was to separate Jane and Mr. Bingley, she had no desire ever to return to Netherfield again.
"Elizabeth, I shall respond to Lady Catherine, stating that it is your desire not to return to Netherfield, and that it is mine that neither you nor your sisters continue the acquaintance with that family. They are harsh words, I know, but I will not expose my daughters to the malice of that family."
"Please send in Jane to me. I wish to explain the situation to her before I write to Lady Catherine."
With that Elizabeth quitted the room in search of her sister.
Longbourne, November 18-
To Lady Catherine De Bourgh.
With respect Madam, I fear it is impossible for me to comply with your express wish to seek an audience with my daughter Elizabeth. After last night's events, involving your nephew Mr. Darcy Wickham and my daughter, I feel it is not safe for my daughter to spend any time at Netherfield, or Lillis Hall. Such behaviour is not to be tolerated Madam. I join with my daughters in expressing a desire to end any acquaintance between our families. My best wishes for the health of your sister Lady Anne, yourself, and your families
Charles Bingley was alarmed, to say the least at this turn of events. In his hand he held the now crumpled letter from Longbourn. Only ten minutes previously Lady Catherine had exploded into his study, in a rage he had never before seen equaled by any person in his lifetime, demanding to know the nature of what had transpired between his brother and Miss Bennet.
To which Charles had no ready answer.
It was clear something had happened, something so serious as to cause Thomas Bennet to end the acquaintance between their families. Although it pained Charles to be classed alongside Wickham in the eyes of Jane Bennet and her family, he promised Lady Catherine he would investigate the situation and resolve it as best he could.
Anne could not believe what she was hearing. Elizabeth had refused to meet with her, and her father had cut off all ties with the Bingleys. Catherine was livid. Not so much at the unknown behaviour of Wickham, Anne suspected, but rather at the tone of the letter she had received from Longbourn, refusing her an audience with one of its daughters.
What does one do in this situation? Elizabeth was her only link to the young man. At this point she began to wonder if the ball had been a dream, and that young man part of it.
Anne could see no other option. She would visit Elizabeth at Longbourn herself. There were questions that needed to be answered... Anthony had informed her of Charles' regard for the eldest Miss Bennet, and if only to ensure his happiness this sorry situation must be resolved.
With a determined air Anne called for the Barouche Box and readied herself for the journey to Longbourn.
Bored, Kitty cast her needlework on the table and sighed. A cold had prevented her from accompanying Lydia to Meryton that morning, and she chafed at the confinement of sitting in the drawing room doing needlework while her sister gadded about with the officers. Crunching gravel and the sound of horses outside arrested her attention.
"Mama, Lizzy come quickly. The most enormous carriage has arrived."
Her mother joined her at the window.
"Lord! Whoever can it be? Surely not Mr. Bingley for your father has seen to that " spat Mrs. Bennet venomously .Hill curtsied as she entered the room.
"Lady Anne Darcy to see you Ma'am."
A small lady looked about the drawing room.
"Miss Bennet, it is good to see you again. If you would be so good to introduce me to your family?"
Though taken aback, Lizzy quickly composed herself and nodded.
"My mother, Mrs. Bennet, and my sister, Miss Catherine Bennet. Mama, Kitty, this is Lady Anne Darcy, the sister of Mr. Collins' patron Lady Catherine"
"Mrs. Bennet it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance". She turned to Lizzy
"If you would be so good to grant me a reception with Miss Bennet, I would be very grateful. Miss Elizabeth, would you be so good as to take a turn about the grounds with me? There are matters that must be discussed."
Caroline was in a frenzy. A clearly distressed Mrs. Sinnott was wailing loudly and clutching her abdomen and Caroline was at a loss as to what to do. Screaming loudly for her sister she fled the room.
Her husband was, at this moment preparing for their immediate return to Derbyshire.
Caroline was at a loss as to explain what had happened to her husband. Clearly George had been engaged in some sort of violent fight the evening before. His face was bruised and swollen, and he was walking with difficulty. How this had come about Caroline had no idea. He returned to the house long after she had gone to bed, his breath stinking of liquor... she could only suppose he had been attacked on the way home from... somewhere. When she had questioned him as to his whereabouts the night before her concerns were rudely dismissed and she was instructed to pack her belongings. They were quitting this place.
Unfortunately for Caroline... her maid had chosen this exact moment to deliver of child. Redoubling her vocal efforts she ran through the upper halls in search of her sister.
Simon was lost in thought. No news had filtered from the big house about the lady from last night... usually by now news would have sprouted legs and taken off around the village introducing itself along the way but nobody had heard anything about the lady, or indeed the gent that had attacked Miss Elizabeth. It wasn't that he was overly concerned about the old lady... she was not a friend or even an acquaintance, but his appearance had apparently caused her to faint away. And Simon was not all that used to ladies fainting in his presence.
The bell over the door signaled the arrival of customers.
"She swept into the room Mariah, and asked to speak with Lizzy about what happened last night. Mama is beside herself. She blames Lizzy for ruining Jane's chances with Mr. Bingley you know."
Mariah's eyes grew large.
"I am astonished Kitty. What did Lizzy do?"
"She left and joined Lady Anne. Mama instructed me to follow them and see where they went but I came to call for you instead. It would be too tiresome to snoop on Lizzy for the afternoon."
"Charlotte told me Lady Anne near died at the ball. Mr. Collins was in a tizzy all evening wailing and wringing his hands and getting in everybody's way. Lady Catherine instructed Charlotte to take him away and get him something to soothe his nerves."
Simon perked up his ears.
"Did Charlotte tell the circumstances of what happened to Lady Anne, Mariah? Father would tell Mama nothing."
"No, she knew nothing, only that Lady Anne had taken ill suddenly. But there was a party gathered outside of her sickroom though. Mrs. Wickham was there, for she's near a daughter to Lady Anne, and that Lord Cathcart who we saw speaking to her last night. Nobody seemed to know what was happening."
"Well she seemed well enough when she came to see Lizzy. I wonder what she wanted with her. Father and Lizzy were talking this morning... he won't tell but something transpired between Lizzy and Mr. Wickham I think, for I overheard them in his study talking. Then Father summoned Jane to his study... I don't know what he said to her but she stayed in her room all morning. Father told me at breakfast that we would no longer be continuing our acquaintance with Mr. Bingley."
Mariah's eyes grew larger still.
"And now Lady Anne wants to see Lizzy? Mama says she was like a mother to Mr. Wickham you know. I wouldn't be surprised if she's come to find out what happened with Lizzy and Mr. Wickham."
Kitty had lost interest however. She had bespied some new ribbons on a rail and was more interested in them, than in the thoughts of Mariah.
"What do you think of the blue one Mariah? Do you think it would suit my new dress?"
Simon strained his ears again, but the conversation had been redirected to ribbons. So the lady from last night was asking to see Elizabeth...
Catherine was vigorously pacing the room. She had forgotten her anger with Mr. Bennet, and was worrying about her sister. Anne had demanded the use of a carriage from Charles Bingley and had hurried off to the Bennet estate in search of Elizabeth Bennet. Why, Catherine could not fathom. The young man seen in Miss Bennet's company was the object of her sister's fascination... but for the life of her Catherine had no idea why. Bingley had informed her that the young man in Elizabeth's company was the brother of his head gardener... so why Miss Bennet, a gentleman's daughter, if not a lady of distinguished birth, would be in his company at a function she could not fathom, much less why her own sister would be so interested in him as well. Catherine was indeed at a loss. She considered calling a doctor. Perhaps Anne had hit her head harder than they had feared last night.
Thomas Bennet exited the Longbourn house in a hurry.
According to his wife Lizzy had left with Lady Anne some time past, and he was furious. His express wishes to that family were crystal clear. They were to have no more contact with his daughters and not three hours later here was Lady Anne imposing herself on Lizzy.
If her Ladyship wished to chastise Lizzy over what had happened with Mr. Wickham she could think again. If he was forced to tell Lady Anne exactly what he thought of her surrogate son well so be it. He called Lizzy's name loudly. He was going to put an end to this.
Elizabeth directed Lady Anne to a pretty clearing at the edge of the Bennet estate. There was a small stone seat at one corner which she offered to Lady Anne. She sat down.
"Miss Bennet." Lady Anne paused. "Miss Bennet. I am sure you are at a loss as to why I am here today. Please, forgive my intrusion unannounced. There are several matters that I think need to be dealt with."
Lizzy furrowed her brow.
"Miss Bennet, may I ask the identity of your young escort last night. He is not someone to whom I have been introduced while in this area."
The wrinkles in Lizzy's brow deepened.
"Lady Anne, there is a simple explanation as to why you have not been introduced. He is the Meryton draper and not a member of your social circle. I believe there are those in your set who would rarely admit a person in trade into their company" said Lizzy thinking of Caroline Wickham.
"Miss Bennet. Are you aware of the circumstances of my family history?"
"I would not be familiar with the particulars." she took a breath. There was no point avoiding the question. She steeled her nerves.
"Lady Anne, am I to believe you are here to discuss what happened between Mr. Wickham and myself at the ball? "
Anne frowned. She was not aware of the particulars of what had transpired between Miss Bennet and George.
"I am sorry Miss Bennet. I am unsure as to what you refer to. What is the nature of the incident my dear?"
"Lady Anne, though it pains me to divulge this to one who would consider herself his mother, Mr. Wickham grievously imposed himself upon me last night."
"While I was taking some air in the garden last night between sets, your son, if I may call him that, perpetrated an attack upon my person. Although I was unharmed, I dare not think what may have happened if not for the intervention of Mr. Barnett. I do not know what your son, or indeed your daughter in law have related to you of these events, nor what role they have cast me in, but I assure you these are the facts of the event as they happened, and to my testimony I have Mr. Barnett as my witness."
Lizzy squared her shoulders and took a breath.
"I can only assume that you are here because of that incident Lady Anne, I can only assume your son has related a very different version of events to you."
Anne interrupted her gently.
"My dear. This is the first I have heard of what happened between you and George. You are mistaken however in calling him my son though. He was orphaned early in life, and my late husband and I took him in. We planned on raising George as his father would have desired, indeed my own George made ample provisions for him in his legacy, but my husband died very soon after, and as we had a daughter, but no other son to inherit our property, George inherited Pemberley"
Lizzy listened intently.
"Lady Anne, I am sorry indeed for your trouble, but I must confess I am confused. I assumed you were here to chastise me about Mr. Wickham, but if you were not aware of what happened, why would you call upon me?"
"My dear, I mentioned earlier that my husband and I had no son of our own to inherit our estates. That is not entirely true. Twenty-eight years ago we were truly blessed with a healthy son. He was a dark haired little boy, cast in the image of his late father, and he brought great joy to his parents." Her eyes filled at the memory.
"We employed the services of a local girl as his nanny, and she was as devoted to him, I believe as much as his parents were. Fitzwilliam loved to be outside, and we encouraged Sarah to walk him in the grounds at every opportunity. I believed that fresh air was important for small children. One day while Fitzwilliam was in her care she was accosted by persons unknown. They murdered Sarah and took the baby. A thorough search was instigated by my husband but to this day we have never found the story of what happened to our son. My only comfort these past years has been the knowledge that we never recovered a body. It gives me reason to believe that he was placed in the care of people, perhaps given into service, for he would have been too young too remember what had happened or who he really was. I ask only the identity of your friend, and rescuer, now it would appear, for that young man is the mirror image of my own dear late husband."
Lizzy closed her gaping jaw. The particulars of this situation she had, indeed, been ignorant of...surely Mr. Barnett couldn't be her missing son? No, it was fantasy. The heir of a great estate making his living as a lowly tradesman? It was impossible.
Any chance of Lizzy expressing these thoughts to Lady Anne however, was interrupted squarely by the angry arrival of her father......
Thomas Bennet happened upon the scene. His anger had not subsided at the impudence of this woman imposing herself upon Lizzy in this fashion.
"Lady Darcy" said he, in a tone Lizzy had learned through experience brooked no opposition. "What is the meaning of this?"
"Papa..." Lizzy interjected.
"Lizzy, please return to the house."
"But Papa, you.."
Lizzy curtsied to Lady Anne and left her father with the lady.
"Lady Anne I believe I made it abundantly clear this morning to your sister that I do not permit you or anybody else connected with that man an audience with any of my family. Explain yourself please."
"Mr. Bennet your daughter has just now informed me of the events that transpired between herself and George. Believe me I was as shocked as you are."
"That does not explain why you feel you are above the wishes of this family."
"Mr. Bennet there was an urgent matter I needed to discuss with Miss Bennet. There was no time to be lost in the matter. Perhaps you are aware from Mr. Collins of what transpired many years ago at Pemberley. My infant son Fitzwilliam was kidnapped and never recovered."
Mr. Bennet nodded.It had been a massive scandal that the Darcy heir had never been recovered. His anger lapsed somewhat, such was the pity he felt for this lady. He could not imagine what he would have done if something similar had happened to his own family.
"Last night if you remember I was taken ill following the recovery of Miss Bennet. The reason for that was simple....your daughter was accompanied by a young man."
"Yes Lady Ann. Simon Barnett, a man to whom I am deeply indebted to as of last night following the behaviour of your son toward Elizabeth." he snapped.
"Indeed. The young man you mention is the living image of my late husband .His was a face I have not set eyes on for many years now. It startled me into a faint I'm afraid .Are you familiar with the young man?"
"Not intimately, no. My brother acts as his attorney. But madam, I must caution you. I am deeply sorry for your loss, of course, but I must caution you against forming an attachment to Mr. Barnett in the hope that he is your son. That young man has lived in this village all his life, of that I am sure. His sister and her family are resident here too, they can confirm any of the particulars you require."
"You are sure sir? He is native to this area?"
"As certain of the circumstances of his birth as I am of my own, I regret to tell you. Your sister may have informed you that this property is entailed upon her clergyman, my cousin upon my death. The same predicament faced the Barnetts too, I'm afraid. They had come into property in Derbyshire, if I recall correctly, prior to the birth of Simon. Both the business in Meryton and the Derbyshire house would have been entailed away to a distant family member had it not been for the birth of young Mr. Barnett. He has lived his whole life in Meryton".
"And what of his family? Are his parents native to this area? Perhaps I could speak with them?"
"His parents died many years ago Lady Anne, but, to answer your question, yes they were native to the area. His father was the draper in Meryton for many years prior to his death, and his mothers family were tenants of mine."
Anne was crushed. She could not believe she had allowed herself to hope like that. Over the years, scrutinising every face that passed by her, searching for anything that may lead her to her child had become a destructive habit, one that she had tried hard to conquer. She could not believe that she had allowed herself to hope like that.
"Mr. Bennet. I thank you for the information you have provided. I am sorry for the events that transpired between George and Miss Bennet last night, but, please do not take George to be a representative member of our family. He carries the name Darcy only because it makes him a more attractive prospect to his debtors. He does not represent my late husband's family. He is numbered amongst our family due to the kindness of my late husband, a kindness that has ultimately led to his wife and natural child being cast out of their home like paupers and forced to rely on the kindnesses of their family. I am grieved that he is the instrument that will end the acquaintance between Mr. Bingley and your family, and in that act I urge you to reconsider. I bid you good day Mr. Bennet."
And with that Anne alighted the barouche and returned to Lillis Hall.
At midnight that evening the cry of a newborn babe echoed around the halls of Netherfield. The child might well have cried at its pitiful situation, for it transpired that during the birth its mother had passed away, leaving the babe to the care of strangers. At present the child was being cared for by Lady Bourke's maid, Lady Bourke having taken pity on the child. As Mrs. Sinnott had not left her child so much as a name, the maid had given her the name of her own dead sister.
Charles, weary from the disturbing turn of events this afternoon was sipping port in his study, when he was startled out of his thoughts by the cries of the infant in the halls upstairs. He was somewhat at a loss as to what to do. The only possible course of action open to him was to return he squalling infant to her father in Lambton, but, tender hearted as he was, he felt considerable unease at leaving a helpless child to the mercy of a man who had evicted the mother from his house without so much as a backward glance. Neither did he feel comfortable with making her a pauper and relegating her to life in an orphanage.
Charles Bingley did not much like children. He had several younger siblings, all of whom who were at an age guaranteed to try one's patience, rather than impress a room with their artless conversation skills. However, the circumstances of the child's birth; having taken place under his roof, and her mothers connection to Caroline made Charles feel some degree of responsibility for the lonely scrap of humanity upstairs.
Tender hearted though he was, he felt no wish to raise the child himself ....but perhaps she may be given to the care of a family in the district? A family that would be vetted by Charles himself obviously, a family of good breeding and sensible notions. For it would not do to leave her anywhere. Surely there was a precedent for this sort of thing, this child not being the first to be abandoned amongst the ton. No. He would place her with a good family and she would be educated as a lady. The problem being partially resolved in his head he made for his chamber, reflecting on the coincidence that had seen the child being named Laura. He had always been partial to the name Laura. That had been his mother's name too. With the problem partially resolved in his head, he downed the last of his port and went to bed.
The November morning dawned crisp and clear. The countryside never looked so good as when it was dusted with a light sprinkling of frost Thomas reflected, as he headed toward Meryton in the carriage. He had an appointment with his brother that would not keep, involving as it did Bennet's last will and testament. Due to an oversight on the part of Phillips clerk, the document had not been signed in triplicate, thus nullifying the will, a situation Thomas wanted rectified as soon as possible.
As the carriage trundled past the bakers, Thomas was jolted from his comfortable position and thrown violently against the opposite wall of the carriage. The horses protested loudly at the sudden stop, and Thomas, picking himself up from the carriage floor, threw open the door to see what had happened. A man of middle age had startled the horses while he crossed the road. The horses reared in fright, entangling him in their hooves. He lay unconscious and bloodied on the ground.
The first to arrive on the scene was Mrs. Ross, having happened upon the dreadful event on her way home from her brother's shop. Between the two, Mr. Bennet and his driver carried the injured fellow to the home of Mrs. Ross, and laid him in her bedchamber. She quickly made him as comfortable as she could without moving him too much. The doctor arrived to assess the situation, and pronounced it to be grave indeed. The horses had injured the man greatly and it was doubtful if he would regain consciousness. If he did, there was no telling what state his mental faculties had been reduced to. Tabitha was instructed not to move the man, and to sit with him during the night lest his condition deteriorated.
It was late in the evening before she saw any movement at all. He seemed to be running a high fever, and Tabitha had sent her son to fetch the doctor to administer a blood letting. It was all very mysterious. The man now sleeping in her house was a stranger to these parts, as far as she could tell, and judging from his meagre possessions that scattered around Meryton village when he fell, he was not a man of extensive means. Simon had paid her a visit earlier in the day, having heard the news that was running through the village, and informed Tabitha that the man had been seen disembarking from the post that had arrived from Derbyshire earlier that morning. If this were the case it would be difficult indeed to ascertain the identity of the lone stranger. Nothing amongst his personal possessions indicated who he was, or what the nature of his business was in Meryton. No ring was visible on his finger, suggesting no wife pined for his company in Derbyshire, and the tattered clothes betrayed his lack of wealth.
It was near dawn when the man regained consciousness for the first time. He blinked several times, in a bid to identify the alien surroundings, and let out a sharp cry of pain when he attempted to turn his battered head. Tabitha, who had been dozing in a chair, awoke with a start.
"We were wondering when you were going to join us again." said she, speaking softly , not wishing to jar the man's head.
He stared at Tabitha, trying to identify the lady now standing at his bedside.
"What happened ? Who are you?"
" Shhh. Don't try to talk. You had an accident today. You were struck by a carriage and you injured your head."
"But where am I? How did I get here?"
"I am Mrs. Ross. This is my house and you were brought here after your fall. You are in Meryton. You arrived here today. Can you tell me who you are sir?"
Before he could answer the question the man's eyes rolled in his head and he lost consciousness once more. Tabitha left the room to alert the doctor, as the sun struggled over the horizon on the bitter November morning.
Posted on Sunday, 4 May 2003
The doctor examined the unconcious man and assessed the situation. Tabitha stood at a respectful distance at the side of the room.
"Have you ascertained the identity of this man Mrs. Ross? It is imperative that any family be informed of his condition as soon as possible. I do not believe he will last to the night."
" No Mr.Spencer. He carried no personal effects. We have had no means of identifying him. He regained consciousness only momentarily before I summoned you here."
" I doubt he will live past the end of today. His heart and lungs are slowing down and there is nothing to be done except make him comfortable. If he wakes again I suggest you attempt to get his family name."
With that the doctor took his leave. Tabitha looked at the sleeping man. His breathing was getting shallow and he was deathly pale. The heavy door opened and her husband joined her in the sick room.
"How fares the stranger,my dear?"
" The doctor believes he will die before the end of the day. He is adamant that we ascertain who he is."
"We have no means of identification. We can only hope he awakens long enough to tell us who he is before he passes on."
Tabitha resumed her seat beside the sickbed as her husband departed for work.
“She implied it Jane. Lady Anne implied that Mr. Barnett was her long lost son.”
Lizzy was sitting in Jane’s bedchamber combing her sister's hair, relating the conversation she had had the day before with Lady Anne.
“Poor Lady Anne. Imagine to have a child taken away and to lose a husband. I feel most dreadfully for her. But I do not see how she could have come to the conclusion that Mr. Barnett is her son. He has lived here all of his life. He has a sister and a family that can attest to it.”
“ I know. It does come across as wildly fanciful at best. But Jane, she seemed so sure, why would she suddenly faint away at the sight of him? Why would she come to this conclusion? Perhaps there is something here we are not seeing.”
“ Oh no Lizzy I am sure that is not the case. Papa said that the disappearance of the Darcy heir was a huge scandal. They would hardly have risked taking a child to so near a place as Hertfordshire!!! Papa believes the child was either killed or taken to the continent. There is no possible way that Mr. Barnett could be that child.“
Maybe you are right Jane. It does sound like a ridiculous story. Maybe her grief makes her believe anything. I could not imagine how I would cope in that situation. Maybe I would go mad too. Though she does not seem mad. She seems a very reasonable lady who had had a huge loss to bear in life. “
“Well Lizzy I imagine she and her family will go back to Kent and it will all be forgotten.”
“And you Jane? How are you feeling? You have been very quiet all day today. Has Mama been ranting about Mr. Bingley to you?”
“ Oh no Lizzy. It would be wrong of me to feel the loss very keenly as I have only known him a very short time. I confess though I do like him a lot. I am sorry for the circumstance he finds himself in, with that terrible Mr. Wickham as his brother.”
“I know Jane. It is a sorry mess indeed.”
With that the girls went downstairs for breakfast
Lady Anne lay in her bedchamber mulling over the events of yesterday. Sleep had not come easy and she had lain awake, most of the night, staring at the canopy designs of her bed. So many things were racing through her head.
Fitzwilliam. Her baby. She had not mulled over him like this in a while, having found it easier to cope with the memory of him as a lovely dream that she had once had.
Sometimes she would fall asleep and be with him again, watching him toddle around the gardens at Pemberley, unsteady on his fat little legs. Sometimes she would dream of his little baby chuckles, and how he had the most unfortunate habit of clutching the most unsuitable things in his fat little hands, like worms, for instance, and large amounts of mud. Other times she would dream that he was in her arms, and George Wickham had come to take him away from her, only she could not scream for help, and George succeeded. Those nights she would awaken covered in sweat, clutching at the darkness; only to remember that the event she had tried so hard to stop in her dream had happened years previously.
She knew Catherine was worried about her. She could see it in her eyes. There were questions Catherine was afraid to ask of her. Did she think this draper was Fitzwilliam? How could she think this? Had she not laid the ghost of Fitzwilliam to rest? Anne could hear Catherine rebuking her for the foolish notion in her head.
It was a foolish notion. It was only that he looked so much like, and sounded so much like George, that she could not be blamed for thinking it was his son. She had received word that day that her nephew Richard, a colonel in the army was to be shipped off to the Indies later that month. She was saddened by the news.
Richard would have been only a little younger that his cousin Fitzwilliam and Anne hoped that they would have been good friends. In her mind they would have cared for Georgiana and laughed at their Aunt Catherine’s ridiculous notions. She had assumed in her mind that Fitzwilliam would look like his cousin Richard, but it was possible that he could have been a Darcy in looks, just like Georgiana. She felt he was closer to her somehow if he looked like his mother’s family.
She must put the image of that Barnett man out of her head. It would give her no peace to think these thoughts. There was no doubt that he was not Fitzwilliam. Fitzwilliam Darcy was most likely deceased.
And Dominic. There was something she didn’t want to think about. It was improper to dwell on what may have been and unfair to the memory of George and Fitzwilliam to do so. But dear Lord. She hadn't laid eyes on him since the night she refused his proposal and suddenly there he was. Looking all familiar and comfortable and as if nothing had changed. She wondered if he knew about Fitzwilliam. She wondered if she would tell him about Fitzwilliam. She wondered if his wife knew, and if they sat with each other in the evenings admiring their own offspring and rejoicing in the happiness and sympathizing with Anne’s loss, or was it a marriage of convenience, a means to keeping the family line?
Her head ached from all this thinking. She must get up and face the day.
It was later that day when the man stirred. Tabitha watched him closely. His eyes flickered open and she watched him try and focus on the unfamiliar images around him. His eyes came to rest upon her face and his battered face contorted slightly as he tried to identify her.
“ Hello again. I hope you are feeling better.”
She felt foolish asking given what the doctor had said but he responded nonetheless.
“Who are you Madam? Where am I? Is this the infirmary?”
“No. My name is Mrs. Ross. You are in the village of Meryton, in Hertfordshire. You arrived here yesterday but you were hit by a coach. You damaged your head. Do you remember?”
He indicated by an almost imperceptible nod of his head that he remembered.
“What is your name Sir? May I contact your family?”
“I have no family. None that would associate with me anyway. My name is Joseph Braithwaite. Please. I feel that I have little time left.”
He was racked by a fit of coughing. Tabitha placed a tumbler of water to his mouth.
“Shhh. Do not attempt to speak. You should rest some more.”
“ No madam. There is no time to be lost. I am looking for somebody. I am looking for a man that I wronged grievously many years ago. I did a terrible thing. A terrible terrible thing.”
Tabitha paled visibly. Was there a murderer lying in her bedchamber?
“I have been looking for this person to right my wrong and restore what has been lost.”
“What is the name of the person you seek? Maybe I know him? I have live here all of my life.”
“His name was Fitzwilliam Darcy. I doubt it is still that, but it is all I have to go on.”
Tabitha’s brow wrinkled. Fitzwilliam Darcy? A grand sounding name. But not one associated with these parts.
“I’m afraid I know of no person of that name in these parts. It is a fancy sounding name. Perhaps this person is a member of the gentility?”
“No. He was given to a couple who were in trade in these parts, many years ago. When he was a but an infant.”
Given? He must mean he was raised by family in these parts.
“Does Mr. Darcy have family in these parts then? Does he reside with them perhaps?”
“I do not know Madam. I can only say that I believe he was brought here many years ago.”
Tabitha decided to call the doctor again. The man was clearly raving.
Lady Anne and Georgiana decided to walk into the little village of Meryton. Anne had wished to reassure her daughter that she was neither ill, nor losing her mind, and a ramble in the fresh air would bring a little colour to both of the faces.
Simon kicked himself. He had been sitting in Mr. Phillips’s office when he realised that he had forgotten his ledger books. He would have to stop the meeting and fetch them from the shop.
“Phillips. I have to pop over to the shop for a second. Can we re-convene in an hour or so?”
Georgiana’s attention was drawn to the young ladies in front of the drapery. They were peering in the windowpanes, their faces pressed hard against the window. She was sure they were the sisters of the Misses Bennett, from the ball at Mr. Bingley’s house.
“It’s hideous Lydia. You can’t possibly buy it.”
“I know Kitty. It is frightful. But I might as well buy it as not. Maybe we can pull it apart and make it better.”
Georgiana leaned to her mother.
“Mama. Did you know that those girls are Miss Jane and Miss Elizabeth’s sisters?”
A voice cut across their conversation.
“Excuse me, ladies. You are Lady Darcy, are you not? We met at Netherfield. Allow me to introduce myself properly. My name is Simon Barnett. May I enquire after your health?"
Lady Anne paled. It was Elizabeth Bennett’s escort from the ball.
“ Mr. Barnett. I am very well thank-you. It was nothing serious, I assure you Sir.”
She attempted to smile at the young man. The resemblance was uncanny. He could be her late husband.
“ I believe you were instrumental in assisting me. I thank you for your kind efforts Sir. I believe you were quite busy rescuing ladies that evening .”
She smiled wryly. Simon raised his eyebrow. He shook an errant lock of hair from his brow.
“Indeed Madam. It was no trouble let me assure you.“
“Allow me to introduce you to my daughter, Georgiana, Mr. Barnett.”
“ A pleasure to meet you, Miss Darcy. Ladies, if you will excuse me, I’m afraid I must return to my shop. Good afternoon”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Barnett”
Turning away slightly, Simon opened the door to his shop.
It was then that Lady Anne saw it. Barely, but she saw it nonetheless. She gasped audibly, but Mr. Barnett was gone.
The scar. The scar that baby Fitzwilliam sustained when he hit his head on the wall all those years ago.
“Mama are you unwell? You have paled considerably. Do you wish to return to the house? Anne’s head was spinning.
“Yes dear. I have a headache I’m afraid. We should return.”
That scar. That man that looked like George and sounded like George had Fitzwilliam's scar. Surely that couldn't be a co-incidence? Could it possibly be?
She had to go home. She needed to sit. She needed to think. What was she to do?