By the next morning, it was all over Meryton and the surrounding villages that Miss Jane Bennet had married the second son of the Earl of Matlock. It had been widely regarded as inevitable that Jane would make a good match; everyone knew that she could not have been so beautiful for nothing; and where else but London could she have found it after Mr. Bingley had gone away?
Among the callers who came to congratulate them that day were Mrs. Goulding and her husband's nephew, a Mr. Brown. Jane could not help her swift intake of breath upon seeing that gentleman again, but he acted as though he did not recognize her and bowed properly when they were introduced. Puzzled, she went along with it and accepted his felicitations on her marriage. She found he examined her face longer than her other sisters, and he regarded her husband with much the same scrutiny.
After they had all taken their seats, Mrs. Bennet said, with a sly look toward Mr. Brown, "Elizabeth, would you please serve the tea?"
Her eldest unmarried daughter clicked her jaw and said, "Coming, Mama!" And with a wry look toward her elder sister and new brother, she did.
Mr. Darcy, she did not glance at until she was pouring the tea. He was staring at her again, and she was quickly scolded by her mother when she nearly spilled. Elizabeth could not fathom why his presence made her so agitated, nor why Lady Rosalind's bubbly laughter and proximity to him so disconcerted her.
Elizabeth served Lady Rosalind first, then Mrs. Goulding, Jane, and Colonel Fitzwilliam. When it came to Mr. Darcy, she curtsied and departed so swiftly he barely had the cup and saucer secure in his hands. He appeared puzzled, but continued to say little, and was generally ignored by anyone who was not his cousin. Thus, no one noticed that his eyes were frequently on her.
Mr. Brown had not taken his eyes off Lady Rosalind, even when Elizabeth was trying to give him his tea, greatly frustrating Mrs. Bennet, and she soon turned her eyes to her eldest daughter, who was rather successfully married.
Jane soon became uncomfortable. "Richard, Mama will not stop watching us, and I must talk to Mr. Brown. I must know why he did not say anything."
He nodded, and immediately went in her mother's direction. "Ah, Mrs. Bennet! I have yet to tell you about my family's estate in Derbyshire—the chimney piece alone cost £800!"
"Why, that is like the chimney piece of Rosings Park! Mr. Collins ensured we were well-informed about that great estate; Matlock must be quite the same as it!"
He frowned suddenly. "Forgive me, madam, did I say £800? I meant £1,000!"
With her mother sitting in rapt attention to what were almost certainly her husband's exaggerations, Jane took her opportunity and went to stand by the window next to Mr. Brown, under the pretext of looking outside.
She spoke while still facing the window, looking at him out of the corner of her eye. "Mr. Brown—I must ask. The inn—you have not told anyone you saw me, nor what happened—"
He shook his head and spoke in a low tone. "I thought it best to wait and see if you said anything. I did not wish to cause you further trouble, particularly when I was so uncertain of the circumstances."
"Oh. But—" She cast her eyes down. "When you left so quickly, we thought—"
"I did not leave quickly. After the arrest of the…gentleman…outside, a stage arrived, and I went out to inquire if they had room for your party and myself, anticipating you would wish to make a quick exit. But when I came back inside, you were nowhere in sight. I dared not ask around, for fear of calling attention to the fact that your whereabouts were in question. I had no choice but to leave for that same reason, but believed you were in good hands." He nodded towards Colonel Fitzwilliam.
She blinked. "Oh!"
"As to what happened, why should I have said anything? You did nothing wrong. I could see your uncertainty about leaving with Mr., er. W.," he glanced around at the rest of the room to ensure they were not being overheard, "I had recognized him from my days at Cambridge; I knew he was not the sort to treat ladies kindly."
"But you knew, and you did not come to my aid?" Jane cried in an undertone.
"Oh," he blinked. "I did not realize you would see it that way—I had seen the colonel very determinedly go out the back to meet you and Mr. W, and thought I had better stay put in case Mr. W reversed his steps. You were safe either way." He suddenly looked very nervous. "Would you have preferred that I had come to your aid?"
"Not at all," Jane smiled softly with a gleam in her eye as she looked over at her husband, who was still regaling her mother with tales of Matlock. He caught her eye and returned her smile in his easy way, and her heart soared. "No, I am very happy with the way things have turned out."
Jane had delighted in the idea of a cottage in the country, and her husband was wont to grant her wish. While she tended her little garden, he grew more involved in his nearby farmland, acquired more, and quit the army to pursue it. Eventually a small manor house nearby came up for sale due to the owner's heavy gambling debts, and Richard was able to secure the capital to purchase it.
The earl had been livid over his son's marriage, and thought Jane the worst sort of adventuress. He ranted and stormed and assured them he would not give them any money. But Jane, secure in Richard's love and the knowledge of his happiness with her, did not burst into tears as her new father had expected. She was calm, and when he had finally blustered himself out, she helped him to a chair and fetched him a glass of wine. With further intervention from his wife—who had, as Richard predicted, welcomed Jane with open arms, he was eventually won over, and did not cut off Richard's allowance—which was enhanced as soon as the first grandchild came along. Richard's elder brother snorted at any bit of news relating to his younger brother and his wife; this never changed, and he was always ignored.
Lady Catherine was seriously displeased by Richard's choice of bride—if not more so by the fact that she was not allowed to give her opinion on the matter. She came all the way to Derbyshire to have her say, but was cut off by her nephew every time she opened her mouth and finally left, even more displeased. Fitzwilliam did not miss his Easter visits—as in, he no longer went, but did not repine.
Elizabeth had desired to be the maiden aunt who taught Jane's ten children to embroider cushions and play their instruments very ill, but the latter part of her plan was thwarted by Jane's having not ten children, but only five daughters (despite her mother's insistence that she must not) and, finally, a son; the former part of her plan was thwarted by Mr. Darcy. When Elizabeth accompanied Sir William and Maria into Kent to visit Charlotte, he was there visiting his aunt, and she was thrown much into his company—particularly when she began meeting him seemingly at random on paths in the park. They discovered that, despite their different temperaments, they had much in common—such as the reason behind his constant staring and her recent agitation around him. Thus, two months after her sister had wed his cousin, Elizabeth married Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Collins had waxed eloquent in epistolary form on the occasions of the births of each of Jane's daughters, but only found it in himself to give the most cursory of felicitations when her son was finally born—something her mother had failed to do, as he kindly pointed out. It was a cruel thing for him to comment on, as he was only the heir of Longbourn, but for Mrs. Bennet's failure to have a son, but also a peculiar one, for in a strange twist of fate, he and Charlotte had had five daughters, and only five daughters.
Mary Bennet was at the travelling library in Meryton when she reached for the same book of sermons as her uncle Philips's law clerk. They were wed three months later.
Kitty was walking the paths of Pemberley when she tripped and fell right at the feet of a clergyman visiting from the next town. He scolded her for her irreverence; she defended herself fervently; he was attracted to her flashing eyes and she to his contrite smile; they apologized, and married two months later. (Mrs. Bennet delighted in the fact that Mr. Darcy was throwing her daughters into the paths of other rich men.)
Lydia married Lieutenant Denny a month after that, when Colonel Forster caught her visiting Denny before he was dressed. She was distraught at being the last to be married, for, except for being the tallest, her precedence was the lowest of all her sisters in all possible respects. Denny rolled his eyes in unison with Mr. Bennet. Still, Lydia and Denny ended up with ten children, and had not a single maiden aunt to tend to them.
Mrs. Bennet was overjoyed. "Five daughters married! Oh, Mr. Bennet—God has been very good to us."
"Indeed," he rolled his eyes. "Now who am I to talk to? Him, I suppose—I must give him credit for his good sense."
Lady Rosalind Fitzwilliam clearly did not marry Mr. Darcy, as Elizabeth had once supposed she might. She married Mr. Brown, solicitor and third son of a baronet, after a courtship of six months, delighting at the anxiety it caused her parents—mostly her father—but theirs was a true affection, and they were very happy together.
In accordance with Jane's prediction, Mr. Bingley did find happiness, once he had recovered from his disappointment in himself and in his sisters. He met in London a very accomplished young lady named Miss Morton, who threw over the son of a wealthy widow in order to have his charming and amiable self. She came with £30,000 from an excellent family, and Miss Bingley was ecstatic; however, unfortunately for Miss Bingley, for some reason her new sister never took a liking to her, and she was only afforded the barest of courtesies. Mrs. Hurst was likewise barely tolerated, and Mr. Bingley hid a smile whenever his wife put either of his sisters in their place.
Mr. Wickham was hanged for his offences, which, because of the earlier actions of Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Brown, did not include the attempted abduction of Miss Jane Bennet. Upon hearing the news, Mrs. Gardiner remarked that she was only sorry to think so ill of a young man from Derbyshire. Jane was distressed by the whole ordeal, once again remembering the experience and, as her uncle had foreseen, finding it hard to believe someone could be so very wicked. Her husband comforted her as best he knew how.
When, after celebrating a blissful forty years together, Richard teasingly asked Jane if she ever regretted her decision to marry him, she said with a twinkle in her eye, "I suppose that far worse fates could have befallen us."