Welcome back to my blog!
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Missed the first two posts? Click here for Chapter 1 and here for Chapter 2.
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. 😉
Upon arriving home from his visit with Mr. Darcy, Gardiner took a deep breath before stepping into the parlor. He was not entirely sure how his niece would react to his news.
“Edward, you are home,” exclaimed his wife, Maddie. “How was your meeting with Mr. Darcy?”
“Very productive, my dear. May I inquire about your day? And that of my lovely niece?”
“We had a wonderful time shopping today. We bought fabric and ordered gowns for our trip to the theatre.” Here Mrs. Gardiner glanced anxiously at her niece. She was not sure how much Elizabeth had heard yesterday when their “visitor” made his claims. She was not even sure they were still going to the theater, but not wanting to alarm the girl unnecessarily, she kept the appointment with the modiste. Lizzy made no mention of the events and did not seem to be concerned about the upcoming theater visit.
Gardiner asked his wife for a private conference. “I have something on which I would like your opinion. Do you have a moment to come to my study?” The look he gave his wife let her know that whatever it was, it was important.
“Certainly, my dear. I will come with you now. Lizzy, will you be well here alone for a bit?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth replied with a timid smile. “I will be here when you are finished.” That said, she picked up the handkerchief she had been embroidering and set to work.
Maddie and Edward retreated to the study, where Gardiner quickly filled her in on his conversation and activities with George Darcy. Maddie was just as shocked by the news as her husband had been when it was first proposed to him this afternoon.
“What I really need to determine is how to tell Lizzy,” Mr. Gardiner said. “You know how independent she can be, and I am not altogether certain of her feelings towards Fitzwilliam. I know she likes him well enough, but will she fight this marriage?”
“I do not know. Perhaps once we explain Lord Regis’ presence here yesterday and our fears for her safety, she will agree. The degree of her happiness with the prospect I cannot predict,” Maddie replied.
“Well, why do we not just get it done, then. Let us go talk to her now. We will have time during our meal to discuss her concerns.”
Upon re-entering the parlor, Maddie went to sit beside Elizabeth while Mr. Gardiner claimed a chair on her other side. A look from her husband told Maddie that he wished her to begin. “Elizabeth, we have something we need to discuss with you.”
Elizabeth immediately paled. “What is wrong?” Maddie reached for her hand, then took a deep breath. “Lord Regis came here last night. Did you hear what he said?”
Elizabeth looked perplexed and wary. “I could not make out his words, but I could hear his voice. I was in the nursery with the children. They were very frightened. What did he say?”
“He threatened you, Lizzy. Not just you, but all of us. Your uncle and I spent much of last night discussing our options for keeping you safe. There is more,” she said when it appeared that her niece was going to interrupt. “Your uncle visited Mr. Darcy today, on a matter of business. During the meeting, this subject came up between them, and Mr. Darcy presented a solution. Your uncle and I agree that this is the best path for us to take. We want you to know that we would not have agreed to this if your safety and happiness was not of paramount importance to us.”
Elizabeth appeared to be contemplating all that she had heard, and indeed she was. Her aunt and uncle had brought up some valid points in their presentation. Among the most important to her was their safety, for it was true that they and her cousins were in just as much danger as she was. Did she truly desire to be the cause of injury to any of them? Most assuredly not!
“What was Mr. Darcy’s solution, Uncle?”
Gardiner responded. “Firstly, he has hired men to guard the house from the outside, and plans to send over some of his burliest footmen to guard it from the inside. One will stay with you at all times, and one will stay by the door and only admit those we specify. The third will remain on duty upstairs. Their sole assignment is to keep you from harm, and by extension the rest of the family.”
He took a deep breath. So far, Elizabeth had taken his news rather calmly, a clear statement of her unease. Now, however, he had come to the hard part. ”The other solution Mr. Darcy presented was for you and his son to enter into an engagement and marriage. This will allow him to better aid us in keeping you safe.”
Here he paused, looking carefully at Lizzy. He was not surprised when confusion, then shock, then anger chased across her features.
“You arranged a marriage for me? I have sworn my whole life to marry only for the deepest love, and you expect me to wed a man I have not seen in months? What are you thinking? Surely there must be another way! I could go away somewhere, to a place Lord Regis would never think to look. You must have connections enough to find me a place? ”
Almost as soon as she said those words, she knew in her heart that it was impossible, and her uncle and Mr. Darcy were right, but it grated that her choice was taken away. Marriage was probably the best solution. Still, to go into such an alliance without love! She sighed to herself.
“Lizzy,” her uncle began, with an urgency in his voice that made her take notice, “I beg of you, do not dismiss the notion out of hand. The Darcys’ resources are far greater than ours, and with your marriage to Fitzwilliam they would be able to protect you. Even before the marriage, as his betrothed, he can acceptably provide a level of protection for you that I simply cannot manage. If I had not so recently expanded my warehouses, it may have been possible, but at this point, I do not have the extra funds. And you know you think well of him. The two of you share many of the same tastes, in books, the theater …”
Here Gardiner paused, then continued softly. “It is done already, my dear, and cannot be undone without great scandal and likely a vast amount of money. Mr. Darcy has already taken the settlement papers to his solicitor; the news is out. Your father entrusted me with your life and safety, and I will do whatever it takes to keep you safe, happy, and healthy.”
Mrs. Gardiner had remained quiet to this point, but now felt compelled to add her own thoughts to the discussion. “Lizzy, you know your uncle is correct. You and Fitzwilliam are a good match. Please, dear niece, do not fight us on this. Look inside your heart; see the truth.”
Elizabeth sighed. She knew they were correct, from a practical point of view. She did get along well with Fitzwilliam, and they did enjoy many of the same activities. She admired him a great deal. She was uncertain she loved him, and it was the throwing over of her desire to marry for love that gave her unease. What would happen to her if their regard for each other grew cold? She did not want a marriage like her parents had—cold and mocking. She wanted hers to be like the Gardiners’—loving and warm. At her aunt’s urging, she shared her thoughts with them.
“What if we never grow to love one another, or if one of us grows to loathe the other? I would be miserable in a marriage like the one I see before me daily at Longbourn.”
“Oh, my dear niece,” her aunt responded. “I know you would, and there is no guarantee that it will not. But it might very well turn out to be exceedingly happy. Your uncle has already reminded you of the similarities between you and Fitzwilliam. Do you really think you could be so miserable with a man with whom you have so much in common? A gentleman whom you regard well? Your parents did not have such a foundation for their marriage. Your father, as I understand it, was so impressed with your mother’s looks and vivacity that he never looked beneath the surface to see if there was any substance. You and Fitzwilliam already know you are compatible.
“As much as it pains me, Lizzy, you must also think of the practicalities. You are in very grave danger, and there is little your uncle and I can do to protect you beyond what we have already done. In a marriage with Fitzwilliam, you will be protected, and I daresay cherished. You know his father thinks very highly of you; do you think he would not shower you with fatherly care and affection? Really, you are in quite the enviable position. And the match is made. You have no true choice, other than to accept it gracefully or fight like a shrew. Which will it be, my darling niece?”
Regardless of her misgivings, Elizabeth knew there was really no way around it. She must marry Fitzwilliam, and soon, for her own safety and the peace of mind of her family.
“Very well. I will marry him, and I will not fight it. I know that Papa has given Uncle permission to act in his stead, but have you notified him? Will my family come to town for my wedding? I am not certain I wish them to be here.”
Elizabeth’s thoughts were whirling wildly as her eyes filled with tears. Shaking, pale, and overcome with emotion, she looked at her companions beseechingly, “Please, forgive me. I find that I need some solitude to reflect upon the situation. May I please go up to my room?”
Mr. Gardiner took pity on her. “Yes, my dear, you may. Rest until supper, and we will call you back down then. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask us. We do not want you to feel alone in this; it is our desire to support you in every way possible.”
“Certainly, Uncle. I love you.” She hugged him before turning to her aunt to hug her, as well. “I love you, too, Aunt. Thank you both for taking care of me so well.”
She walked from the room, their words of love and care ringing in her ears. Upon entering her chambers, Elizabeth threw herself on the bed for a long bout of weeping for what felt to her like lost dreams, fear of Lord Regis, and her unknown future.
To be continued …