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Just a reminder that I have picked up posting this story again. It is being revised (and revised again! LOL) as I go along. Each post has been scheduled a week or two in advance, so hopefully, I won’t miss any. 😉
Darcy House, London
Edward Gardiner stared at the front of George Darcy’s desk while the gentleman perused the document describing the venture they were discussing. He could hear Mr. Darcy commenting on what he was reading, but Gardiner’s mind was not in the room … it was on a problem at home.
“Gardiner, are you well? Gardiner? Gardiner!” Mr. Darcy’s voice rose at the last, snapping the man’s attention back to himself. “What is wrong? I have tried to gain your attention these ten minutes, at least.”
Mr. Gardiner sighed. “I apologize. My mind was miles away.”
“Is there anything I can do?” Darcy inquired.
Gardiner considered for a few minutes. Perhaps by sharing his trouble with his friend, a solution, even a temporary one, might be found. Certainly, Darcy had better contacts than he himself did. They had known each other for many years, having met during a business meeting. In light of their long friendship, his decision was made.
“I do have a problem. It involves my niece, Elizabeth. Her father has sent her to stay with us, for her own safety. It appears that her mother is pushing Lizzy into a courtship with a man. Lizzy does not want him, and according to my brother, the gentleman has been abusive to her.
“Bennet wrote that she left the house one afternoon to walk in the garden in an attempt to avoid this man. My brother noticed the gentleman follow her out and was uncomfortable with it. He was aware of the low regard Elizabeth holds for the man. When he reached the area where the couple was standing, he heard the gentleman ask for her hand and Lizzy refuse him. Bennet then heard her cry out, and rushed closer. This gentleman was gripping my niece’s arm, and before Bennet could reach him, he had struck her several times with his closed fist. Bennet kicked the gentleman off his property and took Elizabeth into the house.
“Her mother is in an uproar, because Elizabeth refused the man. She is concerned about losing her home upon her husband’s death, as the estate is entailed upon heirs male. Based on some of the things my sister has said when she did not know Bennet could hear, she will do anything, including setting up a compromise, for Elizabeth to marry this man. Bennet supports his daughter’s decision not to wed the bounder. Elizabeth was rather severely injured in the attack, sustaining a broken cheekbone to go along with the bruising and swelling. She was bedridden for two weeks, during which time her mother repeatedly entered her room to berate and threaten her. Bennet finally made the decision to send her to me.
“My wife and I have enjoyed having Elizabeth with us this last month. Physically, she is much improved. The swelling in her face is gone, and the bruises are faded almost completely. Emotionally, she is wary of people, particularly men, but mostly those with whom she is not well acquainted. However, that is not our main concern. Her rejected suitor showed up on our doorstep last evening, demanding to see her. We refused him entrance, of course, which resulted in him becoming very angry and making threats. We are worried that we may not be able to keep her safe.”
Mr. Darcy listened to the story in silence. When it appeared that Gardiner had run out of words, he began asking questions. “Did your brother Bennet call the magistrate and have this blackguard arrested?” Darcy could not imagine allowing someone to get away with committing a similar act against his daughter, Georgiana.
Mr. Gardiner responded, “He is afraid that such action will cause more problems. The gentleman involved is a peer.”
“A peer? What is his name?
“Oh, Gardiner … the gentleman has quite the reputation. I cannot imagine allowing him near my Georgiana. How can I help you in this? Because I do intend to help you. You know that I value Miss Elizabeth very highly.”
George Darcy and his children had spent many enjoyable hours in Elizabeth Bennet’s presence as she was growing up. He enjoyed her wit and her lively spirit. He was saddened to hear of her timidity now, as her strength and courage had always been one of the qualities he most enjoyed about her.
Mr. Gardiner’s reply was sure and certain, “If you could help me figure out a way to keep her safe, I would be most grateful. The thought of Lizzy coming to any harm tears me up inside. I have sent one of the strong men from the warehouse to guard her when I am not there, but short of putting bars on the windows, I have no idea what else I can do. Thankfully, this episode has caused her to rethink the idea of walking out, so I have not had that worry. She stays indoors constantly unless she goes shopping with her aunt or on an outing with the family. What else can we do?”
It was Mr. Darcy’s turn to ponder for a moment. “If you will allow me, I will hire men to guard the outside of your house. That will improve the situation greatly.” Here he paused, gazing out the window and mentally reviewing options, as an idea formed in his mind. “I think the best solution is this: let us betroth Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam.”
Mr. Gardiner’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline.
“I know it is perhaps an unconventional way to protect her, but I have long believed that they are made for each other. Think of all the debates they have had and how much they have in common. His face lights up when he hears her name, and hers does the same when he walks into the room. I am not saying that they are in love. In fact, I am sure that if we were to ask each of them, they would deny it. However, my observations tell me differently, and were I to be wrong, I am certain that in time, they would fall in love.
“Too, by letting it be known that she is spoken for, we may be able to dissuade Lord Regis from his pursuit. In addition, Miss Elizabeth will be, for all intents and purposes, part of my family. It will be easier to protect her as such. What do you say?”
Gardiner was speechless. “Are you quite sure? I agree that Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth seem well-matched to each other, but she has little in the way of a dowry; just one thousand pounds on her mother’s death. And while I know that we are friends, that is not the same as family. What will yours think of the connection to me? And what of Fitzwilliam? How will he react to this? And your sister-in-law, Lady Catherine … does she not want Fitzwilliam to marry her daughter?”
“Yes, I am quite sure about this. I understand your concerns, but I do not share them. My family is well-aware of our friendship and gave up squawking about it years ago. They will not even whimper about this marriage. To be honest, they all should have expected something like this, including my sister. To this point, I have not supported her desire, nor have I indicated to Fitzwilliam that he should or should not marry his cousin. To be frank, it is doubtful Anne would be able to bear him an heir, even if she had any accomplishments that might attract him.
“As for the dowry, the Darcys have more than enough money to go around. My investments with you have grown our income immensely. No, Gardiner, I have no reservations. My marriage was a love match, and was quite rare. They are still rare today. However, that is what I desire for my children.
“Miss Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam were formed for each other. One only has to observe them together to see it. It will do my heart good to know that they are together and thriving and that she is safe. One never knows what may happen in the future, and I would rather see my son in a happy marriage to someone who will love him than to leave it all to chance. Come; let us draw up the settlement. I will take it to my solicitor this afternoon, and write to my son.
“I know that he enjoys spending time with Elizabeth, and he will do his duty by me and obey me. His tour is wrapping up and he will return soon. At least with this blasted war, he is not far from home. When I went on my tour, I travelled all over the continent. His latest letter indicated he was enjoying the sport in the area of Dumfries and that he would be heading south by the time I received the missive.”
“Indeed, Darcy; you have convinced me. Thankfully, when Bennet sent Lizzy to us, he gave me authority to act in his stead. We will not have to be concerned about getting his signature. He trusts me to do right by his favorite daughter. And yes, I will take a glass of that fine port you are waving around; I know you are about to ask.” Gardiner and his friend shared a laugh before getting down to business.
The two gentlemen spent the next hour setting out the terms of Elizabeth’s settlement. Gardiner was rather surprised at the generous terms Darcy was describing in the document. When questioned, however, George Darcy was adamant. His new daughter-in-law would be well-provided for and protected. Her beginnings may have been humble, but Darcy knew her true worth. Fitzwilliam would never be happy with a simpering lady from the ton, whose only concerns were for herself and her next shopping trip. Miss Elizabeth, he knew, cared little for material things. She valued his son as an intelligent young man, but she would keep him in check. He needed that, as he tended to be rather arrogant with those he considered socially inferior. That trait came from his mother’s family; Fitzwilliam’s maternal relations were insufferably so. The more Darcy thought about it, the more convinced he became that this was the right thing to do, for Fitzwilliam as well as Miss Elizabeth.
To be continued …