How did Miss Bingley learn about the secret passage?
Mr. Darcy awoke with a start. His heart pumped quickly, and sweat dampened his entire body. What a nightmare! It was fading quickly; he could not remember the details clearly.
Concentrating on reality, rather than the nightmare, he remembered Elizabeth’s distress at the Inn of Lambton the day before. He thought their surprised meeting in Pemberley had advanced his course to win her heart again very well. But that damnation of a scoundrel, Wickham! He was determined to ruin Darcy’s life. Wickham had seduced Elizabeth’s silly sister, Lydia, and they had eloped. Elizabeth, her uncle, and aunt had been called back to Longbourn. If Wickham and Miss Lydia were not found, the Bennet family would be ruined. Darcy was determined that this would not be the case. He would trace the blackguard in London and make him marry Miss Lydia. He had already decided to leave the Bingleys in Pemberley. Georgiana could host them while he went to London to start his search for Wickham secretly.
In the nightmare, Wickham had gotten away, not to be found. Yes, Elizabeth’s family was indeed ruined. Darcy was now prevented from marrying his loveliest Elizabeth because her family’s reputation was tarnished. Instead, he was forced to marry Caroline Bingley, who had compromised him when he had fallen ill in Pemberley! What a nightmare! In the dream, he was miserable and angry, with Mrs. Caroline Darcy laughing at him the entire time. He felt used.
The sound of a door cracking open alerted him, drawing him to the present from his thoughts of the nightmare. He looked to the source. The door connecting to his bedchamber was open. He did not see anything unusual, but the sound came from the panel near the fireplace in his bedroom. The secret passage. He had not slept in his own room these few days. When he returned to Pemberley from Kent, he wanted to feel near his beloved, so he slept in Elizabeth’s room.
In his mind, he had referred to the mistress chamber as Elizabeth’s room for quite some time. In fact, he had asked Mrs. Reynolds to air the room when he was in Kent. He expected to bring his bride back to Pemberley then. But it was not to be. He sat up on the bed in the mistress chamber and cranked his ear to listen to the sound coming from the master chamber.
Who could it be, entering the master chamber so early in the morning? And through the secret passage no less? The candle in the mistress chamber was still lit, though dimly. He looked at his watch by the bedside. One in the morning.
Suddenly, he dreaded that the nightmare was coming true. Wickham could not be found and the downfall of the Bennet family prevented Darcy from seeking out Elizabeth. He feared Miss Bingley would come to compromise him, much like the in the nightmare. He would not allow that to happen.
Jumping from the bed, he grabbed the trousers and a shirt by the chair, snubbed out the candle, shut the connecting door to the master chamber, and exited the mistress room to the corridor. Then he dressed, walked quietly away, and waited behind a curtain a few metres from the master chamber. Not long later, he heard the sound of footsteps.
“What is the matter, Lousia?” The whisper was Charles Bingley’s. “It is in the middle of the night! Why are you pulling me to Darcy’s room?”
“Just follow me!” Mrs. Hurst mumbled.
Then came a scream, not too loud, from the master chamber. “Mr. Darcy!” It was Miss Bingley.
Through the bright moonlight, Darcy saw Charles straighten his spine and march toward the door of Darcy’s bedchamber, give a quick knock, and push open the door.
“What are you doing here, Caroline, in Darcy’s chamber?” He heard Bingley raise his voice. Darcy moved stealthily near the door.
“Mr. Darcy sent me a note and asked me to meet him here. He…” Miss Bingley’s voice trailed off as she replied.
“And you came? Without regard for propriety or your reputation?” Bingley said.
“I thought Mr. Darcy wanted to discuss something with me. Maybe about Miss Darcy!”
“At one in the morning? In his bedchamber? And Winston, where is your master?”
“The master has not slept in his bedchamber for the past few months.” The sound of his valet echoed from inside the room. “I heard the scream and came in to investigate. I thought it was a thief.”
“Stupid servant!” Miss Bingley cried out. “Why would Mr. Darcy not sleep in his bed but still send for me?”
Darcy decided it was the right time to intervene. “What’s the matter?” He stepped forward, behind Bingley and Mrs. Hurst.
Bingley swirled around. “Caroline…” He stuttered.
Miss Bingley came flying from the bedchamber and tried to throw herself to Darcy.
Darcy stepped aside, positioning himself behind Bingley. The flying orange woman nearly knocked her brother to the floor.
“Mr. Darcy! Why were you not in your room? You sent for me…”
“I did not send for you, Miss Bingley.” Darcy said in a chilled voice. “I don’t know why you snuck into the master bedchamber, but I intend to find out.”
He turned, “Winston, ask Mrs. Reynolds to get two maids to escort Miss Bingley to the African room. Bingley, Mrs. Hurst, I request your presence in my study.”
“No, you cannot do that!” Miss Bingley screamed. “You sent for me! You wanted to compromise my virtue! You…”
At that moment, Mrs. Reynolds appeared with two maids in tow. Darcy never knew how his housekeeper could do that. She seemed to be able to anticipate his order any time.
“Desist, Caroline!” Bingley shouted.
As a loud and struggling Miss Bingley was being marched away, Mrs. Hurst wanted to follow her. But her brother prevented her. The three siblings exchanged heated words.
Darcy headed for his study, knowing from Bingley’s angry voice that his friend would obey his order.
Once in his study, Darcy poured himself a glass of whiskey. What a welcoming nightmare! It startled him and prevented him from being compromised by the scheming Miss Bingley.
He did not need this fortune hunter creating a mess now. He needed to concentrate on finding Wickham and persuading him to marry Miss Lydia without revealing his effort to reach Elizabeth.
But the events of the night had shaken him. He should not conceal his intentions any longer. He needed to declare to Elizabeth that he would be by her side, no matter what happened. He would not let anyone, whether it was a scheming, aspiring woman the likes of Miss Bingley or his own snobbish family, dissuade him. Even if Elizabeth’s reputation was tarnished with Lydia’s elopement, he would find a way to protect Elizabeth, love and marry her, honourably.
Finally, Bingley and Mrs. Hurst appeared in the study.
“I am sorry, Darcy!” Bingley sat down heavily into a chair. “I know you would not have sent for Caroline at such an hour. You are the most honourable man I have known.”
Darcy nodded. “Mrs. Hurst, can you tell us your part in Miss Bingley’s scheme?”
“I swear! I didn’t know anything about it.”
He bore his chilling eyes into hers. “I hope after all these years of friendship, Mrs. Hurst, you will be truthful with me.”
“Louisa, I beg you, answer Darcy truthfully! Or I shall withdraw my support from Hurst. You will lose your townhouse.”
“Lose our townhouse? What are you talking about, brother?”
“Hurst has made some bad investments. If not for my support, he would be renting the townhouse and moving back north.”
“That stupid, lazy cow!” Mrs. Hurst burst out crying.
“Concentrate on the matters here, Louisa!” Bingley urged his sister.
“Yes, why did you fetch Bingley to the master bedchamber at one in the morning?”
“Caroline was…furious…about…Miss Eliza visiting Pemberley with her lowly relations and that you seem…besotted with her. After you told Caroline last night that Miss Eliza was the handsomest woman of your acquaintance, Caroline has been scheming the whole day,” Mrs. Hurst paused and wiped her brows with a handkerchief.
“She went on and on, murmuring she would settle things her way once and for all. She did not disclose her scheme to me, though. She only asked me to sleep in her bedchamber tonight.”
Mr. Darcy said, “And?”
“And near one o’clock, Caroline woke me and asked me to fetch Charles. We were to go to your chamber, Mr. Darcy, to rescue her about a quarter of an hour later. I asked her what she meant. She just said I had to do as I was told or she would not let me have a moment’s peace for the rest of my life. She pulled me up to sit on a chair and thrust the clock at me to hold. She then left the room.”
Mrs. Hurst continued, “When I had trouble waking you, Charles, I was so worried that we would be late. I thought Caroline would turn angry if we did not appear on time.”
“Are there other things you remember about Miss Bingley’s scheme?” Darcy asked.
“That’s all that I know,” said Mrs. Hurst, a bit contrite.
“Is there anything out of the ordinary about your sister? Is she spending too much money?” Darcy needed to find out how Miss Bingley came to know about Pemberley’s secret passages. He frowned. Perhaps she had bribed a servant. He would not be lenient on such a servant. Yet only his curate in the library and some of the older servants would know about the passages. He doubted any of them would be disloyal to the family.
“I don’t know.” Mrs. Hurst shook her head. “Ah, but she did borrow some money from me right after the Netherfield Ball last November. I am not sure if this is relevant. It was so many months ago. Since then, she has not asked me for more money. I noticed that she had not been buying new gowns for a few months now, though.”
“Thank you,” Darcy said and rang the bell. “Please take Mrs. Hurst to the American room for the time being. Mrs. Hurst, I ask for your indulgence in remaining alone in the American room until I have gotten to the bottom of this matter with Bingley.”
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