Author's Note: This is an alternate ending to 'Pride and Prejudice' from Chapter 45; after the 10th minute of Episode 5 of the 1995 miniseries. I have often wondered about different plot complications on the morning that Darcy goes to propose to Lizzy at Lambton. There is some violence and angst, but I promise that there will be a happy ending! All of the credit goes to Jane Austen for the amazing characters she created!
Samuel Cartwright had been Mr Darcy's valet for many years, but he had rarely seen his young master look so nervous. Mr Darcy stood in front of the full-length mirror smoothing his vest and fussing with his cufflinks. Cartwright wondered about Darcy's business in Lambton; his master rarely left before having breakfast with his sister and Mr Bingley's family when they were all at Pemberley; but it was not his place to ask questions or offer advice.
Cartwright held up two coats for his appraisal. Darcy seemed flustered and then quickly donned the fine green one.
"Never mind," Darcy mumbled distractedly as Cartwright leant forward to re-tie his cravat.
"It looks like it might rain, sir," Cartwright said quietly, glancing out the window at the grey sky, "I only mention it because Mrs Annesley has gone into town to arrange your surprise for Miss Georgiana. I could have one of the stable-hands ready a carriage."
Darcy accepted the top hat that his valet was holding out to him, "It is only a little overcast. I'll ride. I know you will all follow my instructions about this evening to the letter. It's very important, Cartwright, that Miss Bennet and her Uncle and Aunt are shown every civility."
"As you wish, sir," he bowed as his master walked briskly out of the large chamber.
Everything was a blur as Darcy's horse cantered up and down each hill towards Lambton. He did not notice the sunlight peeking through the cloudy sky and shimmering on the large lake. Darcy did not admire the grand oaks and majestic Spanish chestnut trees as he spurred his horse on. It was as if he only had room for one beauty in his mind's eye, and that was Elizabeth Bennet.
Nothing else, nobody else could compare with her. He kept smiling to himself as he thought about her fine eyes locking with his as she kindly saved his sister from the embarrassment Miss Bingley had brought about by asking about Wickham.
Darcy always wanted to be able to look up and see Elizabeth across the drawing room. He wanted to listen to her laughing as they danced. He wanted to wake up with her in his arms for the rest of his life. Darcy used his riding crop to spur his horse on; knowing he must again face his fear of rejection and ask her to be his wife.
Darcy hoped that her feelings were like his own. Ever since he had seen her standing on the sloping lawn at his home, he had prayed that Providence had given him another chance to win her heart. She seemed a little befuddled by the change in him, but so pleased when he was kind to the Gardiners. Elizabeth's compassion for Georgiana was so endearing; he felt triumphant, he had known how well they would like each other.
A warm August breeze blew against his face as he reached the outskirts of Lambton. He brought his large white stead to a trot as they reached the cobble-stoned high street. He knew something was horribly wrong before he even reached the inn, The Bull.
One of Pemberley's newest curricles sped towards him drawn by two spooked warm-bloods. Their high-pitched, panicked whinnies were grating to his ears and he quickly sprang from his horse and tried to grab at their reins. The reins were trailing along the ground and he was almost trampled.
Chickens squawked and flapped around at the villagers' feet as several rushed forward to try to help.
"Whoa!" Darcy repeated over and over again, wondering why Old John had not prevented the horses from bolting.
The horses calmed down and he turned to see the innkeeper trotting towards him, leading his other horse by the reins.
A servant quickly came forward to tend to the horses and Mr Darcy turned back to the innkeeper, wondering if the man had an explanation.
The innkeeper bowed, but turned white as a sheet as he straightened up, "Look there, sir!" he exclaimed.
Darcy spun around to find the limp figure slumped in the bottom of the carriage. He stepped forward quickly, wanting to offer relief to his elderly stable-hand. He soon realised that it was too late. Darcy had known the aging stable-hand since his boyhood days. Now, he gently lifted the man's arm and saw blood seeping from pistol wounds.
"I would ask you to send your lad to fetch Mr Hodges. There is much to be down," Darcy said, overcome with sadness at John's fate.
The innkeeper nodded and quickly left, determined to go himself for Mr Darcy's steward.
Mr Darcy recognised a young maid who worked at the inn. She was standing in the small crowd that had gathered, crying softly at the sight.
"You there," Mr Darcy said, motioning to the girl.
"He means you, Hannah," a grey-haired woman said, nudging her.
She wiped her eyes and curtsied, "What can I do for you, sir?"
"Would you find out where Mrs Annesley is? She was going to Barker's to collect some books I had ordered for my sister. Then, could you tell Miss Bennet and her companions that I will be in to call on them as soon as I have…"
"Begging your pardon, sir," the girl said urgently.
"What is it?" Darcy asked, noting the rising panic marring the girl's features.
"Mrs Annesley were walking past this mornin' when Miss Bennet came out to go walkin' with her relations. Miss Bennet went strollin' with Miss Darcy's companion, and the others went towards…"
Darcy impatiently cut her off, "Please just run and fetch Mr and Mrs Gardiner. Has anyone seen Miss Bennet or Mrs Annesley?" he asked the crowd, who were watching Hannah scamper towards the church.
"No, Mr Darcy," several people replied in unison.
"I'll sit with him, sir," the innkeeper's wife said, motioning to John Smythe.
Darcy pulled off his expensive green jacket and draped it over John's body, wanting to give the man the respect and privacy he deserved.
"We'll help search," people said and began hurrying off in different directions.
Darcy rushed towards Barker's Emporium, but the shopkeeper said that the ladies had left there nearly an hour before. Darcy ran from shop to shop asking everyone he saw if they had seen Miss Bennet or his sister's companion.
He soon rushed back towards the inn, wanting to confer with Edward Gardiner. He tried to convince himself that Elizabeth would be there, awaiting his return.
Darcy was so intent on looking from side to side for the woman he loved, that he did not watch his feet. He tripped as he rushed across a narrow laneway and went to hurry on, thinking it was merely a crate he had kicked. When he heard a pained moan, he turned back to profusely apologise.
"Mrs Annesley!" he exclaimed.
Georgiana's companion clutched at his outstretched hand, "I'm so sorry, sir. John and I both tried to stop them…"
Darcy leant down and helped the woman to her feet. She swayed slightly and clutched at her aching head. Darcy could see a trickle of blood and horrible bruises on the woman's right temple. He pulled out his handkerchief and pressed it to the wound. Mrs Annesley began to sob even more at his kindness.
She reached up and held the fine linen in place herself and then leant heavily on him as they made their way towards the inn.
"Please be calm, madam," Darcy said, as soothingly as he could in his agitated state, "You must tell me what happened. Where is Miss Bennet? Did she go to get help for you?"
"I am so sorry, sir!" Mrs Annersley sobbed, "They took Miss Bennet!"
Darcy could barely speak over the lump in his throat, "Who took her?"
The clatter of a carriage cut off Mrs Annesley's panicked response.
James Hodges, Mr Darcy's steward, quickly jumped down and rushed over, with two footmen, to help them.
"I've had John's body taken into the undertaker's, sir. Shall we take Mrs Annesley to the apothecary or send for one to meet us at the inn."
Darcy settled Mrs Annesley in the carriage and quickly sat down opposite her.
"Send for one to meet us at the inn, Hodges," he said, before leaning forward to calm the older woman, who was now almost in hysterics at the news of John Smythe's death.
As soon as the carriage reached the inn, Darcy alighted. He could tell from one look at Mr and Mrs Gardiner's shocked, grave faces that their niece had not miraculously returned. With few words, they followed the footmen who were carrying Mrs Annesley up the stairs to the small, private parlour.
Darcy rushed over and poured a glass of wine, placing it in the woman's shaking hand and then pulled up a chair beside her. She sipped it, glancing at the sea of faces in her vision, blurred by tears.
Madeline Gardiner sat on the other side of the shocked woman and tried to convince her to speak freely about all she knew.
"But I don't want anyone else to die!" Mrs Annesley whispered urgently, "He said that he would kill her if I didn't deliver his message word for word… When he finds out that she isn't even…" Her words were swept away by a fresh wave of tears.
With an impatient series of urgent orders, Darcy sent Hodges and the footmen to continue searching the village for answers about the men who had taken Elizabeth.
Edward Gardiner let the apothecary into the room and then paced back and forth. The apothecary bandaged Mrs Annesley's head and prepared a draught to help her sleep. He worked quickly and his quiet manner seemed to have a calming effect on the older woman.
"Please tell me everything you know," Darcy said for what he felt was the hundredth time, "If some… men have taken her then we will get her back before any more harm comes to her or to anyone else of our acquaintance."
"I shall do my best, sir," she said, sipping at the healing draught.
Mrs Gardiner reassuringly patted Mrs Annesley's hand as she began her tragic story.
"After we collected the music books, we walked back over to the green where John was meeting me for the trip back to Pemberley. Miss Bennet admired the fine chestnut tree near the smithy and spoke about how you and her aunt had both played there as children."
She paused to sip the apothecary's restorative and wipe away her tears.
"It was still quite early and there weren't many people about. As we got closer to the green, we realised that two men were following us. They looked like rough sorts. Elizabeth took my arm and walked quite quickly to where John was waiting. He insisted on taking her back to the inn. Suddenly…"
Mrs Annesley stopped and gulped down more draught before continuing.
"Suddenly," she faltered again, "suddenly they both pulled pistols from their coats and the larger lout… It was hard to tell who was speaking at first, because their faces were both covered up like highwaymen, said something like, 'Get over here, Miss Darcy, or they both die.'"
"Please continue, madam," Mr Gardiner said, as she stopped and wiped her eyes.
"John stepped forward and started to tell them that she was not the right woman, but they seemed to think he was lying to them to protect your sister. Then they sniggered and said, 'Perhaps we'll just ride up to Pemberley and see who is at home.' Miss Bennet was ever so brave. She turned to John and me and ordered us to get into the carriage. She stepped over to the men and offered them money, saying her brother was a very kind man who would pay for our safe return. She was trying to bargain with them. The…stouter man grabbed her tightly and held a pistol to her neck."
"Oh no! My poor, brave Lizzy!" Mrs Gardiner exclaimed and then continued weeping quietly.
Her husband stepped forward to squeeze her hand.
They watched Mr Darcy spring to his feet, muttering curses under his breath about the men who had harmed Elizabeth.
"Miss Bennet kept pleading with them to let us go. The shorter man aimed the pistol at me and told me that I had to tell Mr Darcy that if he ever wanted to see his sister again he had to return to that exact spot, alone, at midnight on Monday with 30 000 pounds. He had me repeat the message to him. Miss Bennet suddenly nodded at John Smythe and let out a piercing scream. She then tried to duck and escape the hold on her. The stout man… knocked her to the ground and…"
"Pray, continue, madam," Mr Darcy implored, worry for Elizabeth writhing within him.
"He put his knee in the middle of her back and then twisted her arms behind her, tying her wrists together... with cloth he ripped… from her gown… Meanwhile, John could not even get down from the carriage in time to help her. The shot rang out as he tried to lunge at the man… causing her so much pain. Mr Smythe's body was then sprawled across the floor at my feet. The murderer said, 'Tell it word for word or she and anyone else that Darcy cares about dies.' Then he knocked me over the head with the pistol… I guess to give them time to get away before I raised the alarm. I must have fallen from the carriage as the horses rushed through town… Oh! Poor Miss Bennet! She was trying to protect Georgiana!"
"Thank you for your bravery in recounting your ordeal," Mr Gardiner said, encouraging the sobbing woman to sip the rest of the sleeping draught.
He and his wife then helped the sobbing woman to their bedchamber and made her comfortable.
Darcy rushed over to the writing desk and quickly began penning a letter to London.
Friday August 7th, 1812
I do not wish to alarm you, but I have no time for pleasantries. Miss Elizabeth Bennet has been kidnapped by two rogues. They think that she is Georgiana. They killed John Smythe (from my stables) when he tried to rescue Miss Bennet. I need you to arrange with Messrs Fielding and Marsden to acquire 30 000 pounds from the main Trust. Bring it to Pemberley before Sunday. I would come to London myself, but I do not wish to leave Georgiana unprotected and I want to coordinate the search for the murderers who have Miss Bennet.
Darcy was so perplexed that he didn't hear the Gardiner's returning to the room. He was a little startled when he felt Elizabeth's uncle reassuringly gripping his shoulder.
"What shall we do first to recover her?" he asked calmly as Darcy finished sealing the letter.
"First, we need to send this express to my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. He will bring the 30 000 pounds as soon as he can."
Mrs Gardiner rang the bell and he handed the letter and several pounds to the young man who entered. He entreated him to deliver the letter before night- fall.
Mrs Gardiner was surprised that Mr Darcy could obtain so much money in such a short space of time. "It is such a vast sum. How will…"
"I would pay 100 times as much for her safe return; 1000 times as much; every pound I have," Darcy said and Elizabeth's Aunt and Uncle again realised how ardently he loved their niece.
"We treasure Lizzy, too, sir, and one only had to glance at her last night to see that she holds you in very high regard," Mrs Gardiner said warmly.
"Thank you, madam," Darcy said, trying to think clearly, "We must send an express to Longbourn to apprise them of this awful situation, and I insist on you both coming and staying at Pemberley. I wish that I could invite you to my home under more pleasant circumstances…" he trailed off.
"We gratefully accept your hospitable offer, sir. You are sure that, under the circumstances, your solicitors will be able to arrange to give the money to your cousin?" Mr Gardiner asked.
Darcy wondered why they doubted him; the money was the least of his concerns.
"Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam was an executor of my father's estate and he shares the guardianship of Georgiana with me. Please be assured that we can trust him to arrive with the funds in time."
Mr Gardiner quickly wrote a letter to his brother-in-law and rang the bell for a servant to deliver it. Darcy returned with footmen to take the trunks that Mrs Gardiner was hurriedly packing.
Darcy insisted on extra cushions being found for Mrs Annesley as the footmen placed her in the carriage. She did not even stir as they made her comfortable. He couldn't help but feel that he was somehow to blame for her predicament. She was hurt because of her connection to his family. He looked down at the older woman's pale face and thought about how much her kindness had sped his sister's recovery after the disastrous situation with Wickham and Mrs Younge. Darcy hoped that seeing her like this would not make Elizabeth's kidnapping even more wretched for Georgiana. Not that he could see how things could be any worse.
As they were about to drive off the innkeeper came rushing up to the carriage doorway. He hurriedly bowed, "If you please, sir. These letters just arrived for Miss Bennet."
"Thank you," he said quietly, taking the letters, "Mr Hodges will pay you for all of your troubles."
"No need for that, sir. We just hope the young lady is soon found safe and sound," he looked at them and hesitated about who to give the other item he was holding to, "Sir," he addressed Mr Darcy once more. "I found this when I was searching up on the green."
"Thank you," Darcy said hoarsely, taking the delicate item and then tapping the carriage's roof with his riding crop.
They lurched away, rumbling along the cobble-stoned street. Darcy unclenched his fist and gazed at the small pendant longingly. Lizzy's amber cross glowed like honey in the mid-morning light. It reminded him of the way her eyes sparkled when she laughed. Darcy prayed desperately that he would see her again soon. Despite the warm morning, an oppressive fog seemed to permeate the carriage.
Darcy glanced at the letters a few times, realising that they were from Jane. He looked at the neat, flowing script, so much like Elizabeth's own. He had observed her writing a few times when he had visited her at the Hunsford Parsonage.
Mr Gardiner cleared his throat, "I know this is not something that one normally does, but I think we should read them. It will make us think of the vivacious Lizzy we all know. Instead of worrying about…"
"She would be appalled, sir," Darcy said quickly, although he had been struggling with the same urge.
"What about if I read them first to make sure that there is nothing that Jane or Lizzy would not wish for you both to hear?"
He nodded and passed the letters to Mrs Gardiner. He was loathed to part from the amber cross, but he offered it all the same. He had no 'understanding' with Elizabeth that would entitle him to hold on to her special pendant. Both Aunt and Uncle, however, quickly shook their heads.
"You can give it back to her yourself," Mr Gardiner said, trying to sound hopeful.
Darcy nodded gratefully. He pulled out his fob watch and carefully placed the cross under the cover.
"Oh, they are both delightful letters. You should definitely read them. I am sure Jane would not mind at all."
"But their recipient…" Mr Darcy interjected.
"She will probably think it quite remarkable that we were even interested in her correspondence," Mrs Gardiner reassured him reaching out to hand him the letters.
"Knowing Lizzy, she would say something quite witty," Mr Gardiner agreed.
Darcy opened the first letter and read it quickly. It gave him a fresh insight into how affectionate Jane really was, and he resolved to apologise to Bingley for arrogantly separating the two lovers.
July 29th, 1812
I was so excited to hear about all of the beautiful places you have visited: so many stately homes and fine rooms, but I am sure you are right, God's creation of rolling hills and rocky outcrops is better by far. You are also right that I should never have doubted you- of course you can climb over all those peaks and crags! I will never be as adventurous as you!
I am having a delightful time with Nathaniel, Archibald, Jemima and Isabella; although Mama says that they are very vexing on her nerves. When Papa emerges from his study, he reads to them and plays parlour games. It quite reminds me of when we were younger, Lizzy.
Please pass on my best wishes to our kind Aunt and Uncle Gardiner.
He passed the letter to Mr Gardiner who chuckled over the description of his children getting on his sister's nerves. Darcy glanced out the window, wishing he could be at Pemberley sooner; wishing, even though he knew it to be impossible that Hodges and the search party would precede him to the estate.
August 2nd, 1812
My Dearest Sister,
I do hope this letter finds you in good health. How is the weather in Derbyshire? Is it as warm there as it has been here? There is not much to tell you about Meryton. Hence, my discussion of the weather. I anticipate your rejoinder on the matter.
Oh, Lizzy, since writing the above, something has happened of the most peculiar nature. I almost wish you were going to Pemberley and could ask Mr Darcy about it. How wrong we were to trust Mr Wickham's account of him! It appears that Mr Wickham can not be trusted at all. Colonel Forster wrote father a letter stating that Mr Wickham had deserted his post, leaving several hundred pounds of debts! He told Papa that Lydia had received several gifts from Mr Wickham (How I wish she would follow the rules of propriety! What was she thinking? To be accepting gifts from a man she is not engaged to!) By the by, Colonel Forster wished to return the trinkets to assuage the local merchants, but Lydia refused. Papa determined to go there, sort the matter out, and retrieve her, but was convinced by Mama that she should go and take Kitty and Mary with her. She said a trip to Brighton would be good for her nerves. So, after seeing them off in the post-chaise, I am now writing this while Father tries to beat Nate and Archie at cards. He is convinced that they cheat, but I could not believe such a thing of them!
I pray travelling mercies for your return,
Darcy re-read the middle section of the letter before handing it to Mr Gardiner. He immediately assumed that Wickham was somehow involved in this scheme to kidnap Georgiana. They had asked for the exact amount of her dowry; the sum that Wickham had tried to gain by planning an elopement with her.
Had Wickham spent recent weeks setting up this scheme? Did he still desire revenge against Darcy so much that he was willing to take Georgiana by force? Darcy ruminated as the carriage rounded the final bend towards Pemberley. Was it just his desire to vent his gall that made him believe that Wickham was involved? He decided that, whoever was behind the kidnapping would be stopped. He would rescue Elizabeth.
Madeline Gardiner began to talk softly to fill the tense silence in the carriage, "It looks like it will only be Thomas, Jane and the children joining us, my dear."
Her husband agreed, "I stated emphatically that Mr Darcy wished all of Longbourn's inhabitants to come to his estate, at this trying time, and with my sister and three of the girls away, there will be only six added to our party."
"I will make sure that Mrs Reynolds finds things for the children to play with," Darcy offered.
"Oh, you are much too kind, sir," Mrs Gardiner replied, "I will make sure that they are not under foot."
The footmen had barely opened the carriage door before Darcy had bounded to the ground and was barking orders to make sure that Mrs Annesley would be carefully taken to her room, and the Gardiners made comfortable.
"Excuse me," he said, pausing to bow gravely, "I must go and tell my sister the tragic news before she overhears it from one of the servants. Please come to the drawing room after you have rested."
He did not wait to hear their civil replies. Darcy rushed up the steps, looking in several parlours and rooms for his sister.
"Georgiana!" he began to call and then burst out a side door into the courtyard.
His sister was sitting by the fountain speaking with the Bingleys. Mr Hurst was asleep on one of the low benches beside the lush hedges.
"Georgie!" Darcy said in relief, rushing forward and hugging her tightly.
"What is it?" she gasped, straining on the tips of her toes to look at his panicked face.
"I thought for a minute that you… It… I… Please be seated. Mrs Hurst and Miss Bingley, you may wish to leave us. I have some very distressing news to tell my sister."
Georgiana was so sensitive that tears were already forming in her eyes. Bingley cleared his throat and motioned for his sister's to leave with him.
"We must stay, Charles," Caroline said as if personally affronted, "It is our duty to be with Georgiana."
"She is like a sister to us," Louisa added, looking suggestively between her brother and Darcy's sister.
Darcy ignored their duplicitous comments and knelt in front of his sister. He took both of her hands and interlocked their fingers. She immediately remembered that he had done the same thing when at the age of five they had lost their mother; and also at the age of ten after their father had died.
"Georgie, I want you to know before I tell you anything that I will always look after you. Miss Bennet has…" Darcy began.
Caroline Bingley snorted derisively and it only made Darcy more determined to insist that Charles take his family back to London. He would not have Louisa and Caroline upsetting Elizabeth's family. He paused long enough to regain his composure.
"Georgie, Miss Bennet is… missing. We will do everything we can to find her. Richard is coming from London to help."
Georgiana could not speak. She was so worried about the woman that her brother was clearly in love with.
"Missing?" Bingley stuttered, "Haven't Mr and Mrs Gardiner…"
"They will be staying with us until she is found," Mr Darcy said.
"I think…" Bingley began to say.
"People 'in trade' staying here!" Caroline exclaimed.
"From CHEAPside to Pemberley!" Mrs Hurst added dramatically.
"What social climbers!" Caroline agreed.
"Miss Bennet is m…m…missing and all y….you can do is m…m…ock…" Georgiana sobbed and then buried her face in her brother's shoulder.
Darcy was so worried about her, but also impressed that she had stood up to Charles' sisters. He tolerated them because it made his friend happy, but he had begun to see them in a new light and resent their proud, unkind judgments on others.
Darcy decided to tell Georgiana the whole truth. He had planned to do it in stages – to tell her more when Mrs Annesley awoke, but perhaps she was stronger than he thought. Also, it would way heavily on his mind that she would overhear and think the worst. Better to give her the bare facts himself.
"Shh, Georgie," he murmured into her ear, rubbing her back, "there's more. Do you want me to tell you what I know?"
She nodded and sniffled. He set her down on the bench next to Bingley who smiled anxiously as he gave her a handkerchief. Darcy paced for a minute and then sat down beside her. She rested her head on his shoulder.
"I love you, Will." she whispered so softly he thought he might have imagined it, "Please tell me. I want to help you find her."
"I don't want you leaving the grounds!" he said and then instantly regretted how harsh his voice sounded.
Her shocked gasp stabbed at the pain he felt in his chest at the loss of Elizabeth.
"I am sorry for my outburst, Georgiana," he said quickly, "First of all; let me say that Mrs Annesley is quite well and resting upstairs. She was injured when two… well, she said they looked like highway-men came to take… you. This is not your fault, Georgiana," he said immediately as he again wrapped his arms around her, "They were trying to kidnap you to hold you for ransom. When they started threatening people, Miss Bennet told them that she was Georgiana Darcy. She… didn't want them to come here looking for you. John Smythe," he shifted uncomfortably, "was killed trying to free her."
"Old John!" Georgiana gasped; her resolve to be strong and hold back the fresh wall of tears crumbled.
Darcy looked up at the stunned faces of their party and then spoke soothingly to his sister, "We will do everything we can for Mrs Smythe and their family. Old John was always so kind to you and he was truly a hero today, Georgie."
Darcy could tell from the panic-stricken look in her eyes that she was imagining Elizabeth dead, too.
"Listen to me, Georgie. Richard will arrive with the sum they've demanded. Hodges is in Lambton, beginning the search from there. If we don't find her beforehand then I will take the ransom to these… scoundrels at the appointed time."
Caroline voiced the thought that was causing bile to rise in his sister's throat, "What if they kill you?"
"I will gain the upper-hand long before that happens!" Darcy said emphatically, "Think of Miss Bennet's brave sacrifice; I will not cower in fear, while she is risking her life!"
Louisa and Caroline exchanged troubled glances and looked around the courtyard as if dangerous figures now lurked in its corners.
Darcy was torn between encouraging their departure and not doing so, in case it scared Georgiana further. He decided to word what he said carefully, for her sake; knowing she would be also be mortified by the snide comments that Bingley's sisters would make when Mr Bennet arrived with his eldest daughter.
"I do not wish you to think that the estate is not a safe place… presently my steward has armed men on horseback making their way back from Lambton, but I think it may be best if you left in the morning for London. I will be a very poor host over the following days and there will be plenty of guests who you do not hold in high regard."
Bingley stopped pacing and looked intently at Darcy. An unspoken question about Jane Bennet's likelihood of coming to Derbyshire was asked, and answered, with a few nods and raised eyebrows.
"Robert!" Bingley decisively shook the shoulder of his sleeping brother-in-law, "Hurst!"
"Couldn't have said it better myself, Louisa!" Mr Hurst exclaimed, sitting bolt upright and then shielding his eyes from the bright sunlight.
"There's been an… awful… event. You must take my sisters back to Grosvenor Street at once! They are not safe here. I would go myself, but I must stay and help Darcy."
Louisa and Caroline looked less than impressed with the idea that Mr Hurst would be capable of 'protecting' them. They started to protest, and Darcy found himself trying to question whether it was necessary for them to leave before nightfall, but Bingley was immovable on the subject.
"Louisa and Caroline will explain everything, while the servants pack. I shall also come and help you prepare for your departure."
"This is most vexing, Charles!" Caroline exclaimed, torn between wanting to flee to the 'safer' society of London and wanting to stay and watch the spectacle unfold at Pemberley.
"Leaving so hastily is simply not done!" Louisa agreed with her.
"It will take a load off of Darcy's mind if you are not here; you will be quite secure and content in your townhouse," their brother replied.
Bingley turned back for one moment from weathering the storm of his sisters' contempt.
"Darce, I shall help you get Miss Eliza back. I would do so whether her sister were coming here or not," he said quietly.
Darcy nodded appreciatively and then remembered Elizabeth's ire about how he had separated Jane and Bingley. The least he could do for her was not waste another minute until he had righted the wrong impression he had given Bingley.
"Excuse me a moment, Georgie," he said, tucking her hair behind her ear as he stood up.
Mrs Reynolds could be heard trying to placate Caroline and Louisa as they reached the grand staircase.
"Charles!" he called to his friend's retreating back.
Bingley stopped in mid-sentence, left Mr Hurst and rushed to Darcy's side.
"What can I do? Did you have an idea about something else we could do to recover Miss Bennet?" he said without taking a breath.
"No," Darcy shook his head, "I wish to speak with you briefly about another matter. I owe you an apology for separating you from Miss Jane Bennet. Also, she was in London over the winter and I conspired to keep it from you. I thought I was acting honourably; in the service of a friend. I arrogantly presumed that I was able to ascertain that she did not care for you. Miss Elizabeth made it quite clear that her sister's feelings about you were quite the opposite of what I discerned."
Bingley was completely astounded. He had not dared to hope that the woman he had spent day and night thinking of, for more than eight months, could actually be in love with him. He knew not what to do. He walked one way and then the other, looking up at Darcy as he repeated every point his friend had made and asking for Darcy to affirm it.
"Shall you accept my apology, Charles?" Darcy said, holding out a hand.
Bingley vigorously shook it, "I certainly shall! Miss Eliza believed that Miss Bennet's feelings were 'quite the opposite'?" he repeated for the third time.
"Yes," Darcy shook his hand again, "I should not have interfered. I am sorry. Now, make haste and see to your sisters. Meet me in the drawing room. Hodges will be back soon to report on his findings and we will make plans to find Miss Bennet."
Bingley nodded and rushed away. Darcy's heart leapt into his throat when he turned around and saw how pitiful Georgiana looked.
She hastily stood and wiped at her eyes, but he could tell that she somehow blamed herself for the fate that had befallen Elizabeth.
"I promise you that I will not rest until I have recovered her. Let us go in and wait for Hodges," Darcy said softly.
Georgiana stumbled as she put her hand through the crook of his arm and he could tell that she was again blinded by tears. Darcy did something that he had not done since that awful day at Ramsgate. He scooped her up and cradled her in his arms. He walked slowly up the steps and took her through to the drawing room. He placed her down on the chaise lounge and then rang the bell for refreshments. A butler and ladies' maid were quickly prompting her to eat and drink. Darcy was relieved when Mr and Mrs Gardiner also appeared and offered their assistance in comforting her. Darcy paced, wishing he could comfort Elizabeth.
"I am s…sorry about your niece," Georgiana whispered to Elizabeth's relatives, "My brother will br….bring her back as soon as he can."
"Of course he will," Mrs Gardiner said, sitting down beside the frightened young woman, "I thought that, after lunch, you and I could plan a menu for a celebratory meal. What do you think, Miss Darcy?"
Georgiana looked up to make sure her brother approved of the plan. He nodded appreciatively and then turned back to survey the grounds. Darcy peered out of the window apprehensively, watching for his steward to return with news and the search party from the village. He closed his eyes and prayed for Elizabeth's safe return, trying to imagine her placid, radiant face from supper the night before, rather than one of her lying terrified in some squalid room.