Prologue

Elizabeth turned the corner towards a lane as she rambled through the park at Rosings, Darcy’s letter, which she was near to memorizing by this time, was in her hand. She had only two days left before she would leave Kent. As she walked along, she was surprised to distinguish Anne’s phaeton and ponies on the road ahead. She thought it strange because she knew that Mrs. Jenkinson was visiting with Charlotte at the Parsonage. She walked nearer with curiosity.

Anne was sitting in her carriage, and while Elizabeth could not discern their faces, she could tell that Anne was in earnest conversation with a gentleman who was sitting beside her. She could not see the gentleman’s face but there was something familiar about him. She thought it odd, for she had never seen Anne in the company of any man besides her cousins, but she did not wish to disturb what appeared to be a private conference, so she turned back towards the Parsonage and thought nothing more of it.

A few months later ...

Anne had retired to her room after dinner, but had not yet been dressed for bed. She remained in her evening clothes and was placing some final items in a small travel case, looking out the window every few minutes. Hearing the sound she had been waiting for, she folded up and sealed a letter that had been sitting on her desk, wrote her mother’s name across the front, and picking up her case, walked down to the front sweep, where a carriage was waiting...

Meanwhile in Derbyshire...

Elizabeth was preparing to go out on a walk with her aunt and uncle in Lambton when she received a letter from Jane. She bid them go ahead so she could read it and off they went. Elizabeth was grateful to receive word from home, Jane seemed reasonably happy and she gave some information from Brighton, for as poor a correspondent as Lydia was, they had received word from her recently and she was enjoying herself famously despite being disappointed that Wickham had left the regiment. Lizzy thought perhaps Lydia was enjoying herself more than was prudent but could not be unhappy at the news of Mr. Wickham’s departure. Jane’s letter contained nothing more alarming than the effect of her young cousins’ exuberance on their mother’s nerves.

As she was folding up the letter, the door was opened by a servant and Mr. Darcy appeared. After they exchanged the necessary greetings, he seemed a little confused and remarked, “I had not expected to find you alone.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner have walked to the church and left me to read a letter I just received from Jane,” replied Elizabeth.

He was silent for a moment as if unsure what to say. At last he settled on, “Your family is well?”

“Very well, thank you.”

Elizabeth had nothing interesting to relate so she said, “I hope Miss Darcy is well since yesterday?”

“Quite well. She is looking forward to seeing you today at dinner.” He paused. “She was very happy to see you yesterday. It was an unexpected kindness to return her visit so soon.”

“It was the least I could do after she called on me the very day of her arrival.”

He took a step towards her. “She was very happy to meet you. I hope there will be time for your intimacy to increase while you are in the country.”

“I would like that as well,” said Elizabeth with a smile and a becoming blush.

This he took as sufficient encouragement to say, “I would be very pleased if she could greet you this evening as her sister.”

Elizabeth felt a thrill of delight which deepened her blush and brightened her eyes. She was about to say exactly what she should, when there was a knock at the door followed almost immediately by the servant.

Elizabeth started at the idea of receiving bad news but was surprised in the next moment when the servant handed the letter to Mr. Darcy, saying, “The express rider was sent on from Pemberley.”

Elizabeth, judging the news must be of first importance, remained silent, waiting as Darcy opened the letter and began to read. Before he seemed halfway done, Darcy’s countenance changed to one of shock and dismay.

Elizabeth exclaimed, “Good God, what is the matter?” with more feeling than politeness.

Darcy began pacing the room, as he continued to read the letter, and his companion could see that he was unable to respond at present. Elizabeth, in wretched suspense, could only say something indistinctly of her concern, and observe him in compassionate silence.

Having finished the letter, Darcy sighed and fell heavily into a chair.

Elizabeth, in a tone of gentleness and commiseration said, “Shall I send a message to Pemberly? Is there nothing you could take to give you present relief? A glass of wine; shall I get you one? You are very ill?”

At length Darcy spoke, “No, I thank you. There is nothing the matter with me. I am quite well; I am only distressed by some dreadful news which I have just received from Rosings.”

“I hope Lady Catherine and Miss de Bourgh are well?”

“I cannot say that they are. Lady Catherine writes in great distress, my cousin Anne has eloped, has thrown herself into the power of Mr. Wickham!”

Elizabeth was astonished, “Mr. Wickham! But how is it possible?”

Darcy had no answer. “I had no idea they were even acquainted. Lady Catherine writes that he is a cousin of Miss Pope.”

“Miss Pope! The governess of Lady Metcalf?” replied Elizabeth in surprise. “But when was Miss de Bourgh discovered missing?”

He turned the paper to read the date, “Two days past. My aunt says she suspects that Anne fled during the night. She has requested that I attempt to intercept them before they reach Scotland.”

“Do you think there is any chance of finding them in time?”

“Probably not, but I must try.”

“How will you trace them?”

“There are few roads to Gretna Green and I do not think Wickham would be foolish enough to travel through Derbyshire.”

They were both silent for a moment and then Darcy gave her an imploring look before saying, “I must go.”

“When you return, we shall tell Georgiana of our engagement together.”

Darcy smiled and, taking her hand, said, “Please give my regards to your aunt and uncle, say that urgent business calls me away immediately. Conceal the unhappy truth as long as possible.” He released her hand, and with only one serious, parting, look, went away.

Elizabeth was not quite sure how to feel. She reflected that her third, and hopefully final, proposal, though more satisfying, had been nearly as strange and disquieting as the first two.

She then suddenly remembered her strange sighting at Rosings, and wondered if the gentleman who she had spied with Anne all those months ago had indeed been Wickham. For a moment she wondered whether the elopement might have been prevented had she told Lady Catherine what she had seen. Yet, it would have been ridiculous to speak of at the time with what little information she had, so she resolved to think of it no more.

“Mr. and Mrs. Williams,” Wickham said to the innkeeper when he and Anne stopped for the night. It was now their third night of travel and Anne knew what to expect. At the previous Inn, they had been the Wallises. As soon as they reached their own room, he pulled her into an embrace.

“Mr. and Mrs. Williams?” she said coyly.

“Would you prefer Whitaker or Watson or maybe Willoughby?”

“I would prefer to go by Mrs. Wickham.”

“Only two more days, my dearest, loveliest Anne, and I hope you will always call me ‘George.’”

Afterwards, they fell into the bed together.

The next morning as they were getting dressed, Anne looked out the window and noticed a carriage with familiar livery, “It is my cousin!” she cried.

“Which cousin?”

“Fitzwilliam.”

“Again, which?” Wickham asked in frustration.

“Darcy!”

Wickham looked somewhat pale, “He cannot separate us,” he cried as he rang for the innkeeper and upon the good man’s arrival, urgently asked him, “Is our carriage ready?”

“Only a moment, sir. I have been detained by the arrival of a gentleman asking after a Mr. Wickham traveling northward with a lady.”

Anne took several coins out of her purse and, handing them to the innkeeper, said, “He does not need to know anything of our presence here.”

The innkeeper looked at the gentleman, then glanced at Anne again and said, “Certainly.” He then left them with assurances that their carriage would be ready forthwith.

Wickham, familiar with these incidents, led Anne down the back staircase into the stables. As she followed him, she exclaimed, “The servants’ stair? This is ridiculous!”

“Would you rather be seen by Darcy?” asked her would-be-husband.

“Of course not,” said Anne, with an affectionate smile. When they emerged outside, the carriage was ready to receive them.

Wickham handed her into the waiting carriage and as he turned he could see Darcy walking out of the Inn. He had seen them. Wickham tipped his hat to Darcy as he jumped into the carriage and cried, “Drive on!”

Darcy, cursing the innkeeper under his breath, ran to his own equipage and jumped inside only to find that his driver was nowhere in sight. He must still be relieving himself, Darcy concluded as he mused that they had been travelling since dawn.

The moment his driver returned, Darcy was in pursuit. Wickham’s carriage was already out of sight and Darcy realized in horror that he did not remember any distinguishing feature of the rented chaise. His best hope now was that it would be the only one on the road ahead, but it was impossible to calculate where they would stop next and he had no time to lose. Discerning Wickham’s route as well as he could, Darcy pressed on but did not see them again before he arrived at Gretna Green. To his great dismay, he was too late! They were walking out of the blacksmith’s shop as he arrived, apparently already married.

“What have you done?” Darcy demanded of Wickham, taking his cousin’s arm as if to lead her away.

She recoiled from his grasp, “Unhand me, Fitzwilliam! And do not speak so disrespectfully to my husband!”

“I know you must be here against your will; I can only imagine what arts he used to persuade you.”

Anne laughed, “Persuade me! I was more than willing; we are in love.”

“He is in love with your fortune perhaps,” Darcy scowled.

“Do you see no other value in me?” she asked, clearly offended.

Wickham took his wife’s arm and tucked it into his own triumphantly, “You could never have made her as happy as I shall.”

“Now I understand the whole of it. Anne, do you not see that he merely wishes to avenge himself on me by this attack on our family.”

“Are you so incapable of thinking any man could esteem me as a woman worthy of being pleased?”

“And you would give this man control of your fortune? Of Rosings?”

“Is that all you care about? Well now I know the truth and I am happy to know it shall never be in your hands!”

“You are wrong. I wish only to protect you! It is he who has used you ill! How do you not see that he is only after your fortune?”

“Well, it is already his,” she said, waving the marriage document in front of him.

“It is not too late to draw up marriage articles, if his intentions are so honorable?” retorted Darcy.

“What do I care for marriage articles?” laughed Anne, tightening her grip on her husband.

Looking to Wickham, Darcy said, “Will you do the honourable thing by her, will you come with me so that it might all be settled properly?”

“Do you deign to invite me to your home? Are the shades fo Pemberley to be thus polluted?”

“I would accompany you to London,” said Darcy, remembering his sister was currently in residence at Pemberley. “I will write to Lady Catherine and ask her to meet us.”

“Oh, but Wickham promised me a tour of Scotland,” said Anne, “you know I have never been so far from home.”

Wickham smiled, “I did make that promise. I must do the honourable thing, and keep my word to my wife. But perhaps we will stop at Pemberley on our way back, cousin.”

“It is you who should return immediately to face your new mother-in-law, she will be anxious to see that Anne is well.”

“You will give my mother our love?” asked Anne sweetly. “And tell her when I next write, I will sign as Mrs. Wickham.”

There was nothing else Darcy could do but return to his carriage and to Derbyshire. The only consolation for his failure with Anne is that he had succeeded in stopping Wickham’s designs on Georgiana the year before. Anne was older and better prepared for her fate; she also seemed very sure of her own wishes. He returned to Pemberley, sanguine in the hope that Elizabeth would still be waiting for him.

Mr. and Mrs. Wickham had a delightful tour of Scotland before returning to Rosings. Having received Darcy’s letter informing her of her daughter’s fate and her daughter and son-in-law being unavailable, Lady Catherine had unleashed her fury on her nephew instead. She also had several weeks before the happy couple returned to prepare her eloquent reception of her new son-in-law, but it was all in vain. She knew as well as they did that there was nothing to be done. When she later learned of Darcy’s engagement she had little to say on that matter. Nearly anyone must be better than the wayward son of a steward.

Following their marriage Darcy and Elizabeth were only too happy for the excuse not to visit his aunt in Kent. Anne was very happy in her marriage, which was cut short by her indifferent state of health which had been made worse by the birth of her son. After Anne’s death, Lady Catherine removed to Bath in consequence of her son-in-law having settled Miss Pope at Rosings under his protection, to assist him in raising Anne’s child and heir. However, it was not all despair on Lady Catherine’s part, for she lived long enough to see Rosings and Pemberely united when a very handsome Master Wickham married a thoroughly charming Miss Darcy.

FINIS