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Chapter 4


The next morning after breakfast, Elizabeth left to visit her aunt, uncle and cousins in Gracechurch Street.  On arrival she was bombarded with hugs from her young cousins while her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner stood watching with warm, welcoming smiles on their faces.  After almost half an hour spent withElizabeth praising each child’s presentation of their newest accomplishment, Mrs. Gardiner calmly announced that it was time the children returned to the nursery.  After a chorus of ‘Just a few more minutes’ met with a stern look from their mother, the children gave and received a kiss from their dear cousin, Lizzy.  As they filed out of the drawing room,Elizabeth promised that she would visit again soon to cheer their pouting faces.

Turning back to her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner and their questioning countenance, she sheepishly said, “Yes, I know I should have written but it all happened so suddenly.  And since it was not stated how long I would be in town, well, I thought I would wait until I arrived to let you know I was here.”

Her uncle asked, “And just how long will you be in town?”

With a weak smile, she answered, “That, Uncle, is one of the reasons why I came to visit.  I need your…” pausing to look at her aunt, “advice and counsel as to the duration of my stay.”

Elizabeth went on to explain her meeting with Lady Emily’s solicitors and Lady Matlock’s role in the condition of receiving the inheritance.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were amazed at their niece’s good fortune.  When Elizabeth finished, Aunt Gardiner stated, “I do not see why you would need our advice, it seems the answer is obvious.  Think of what you can do to help your mother and sisters, not to mention the benefits you will receive.”

“Aunt, I believe the primary benefit Lady Emily expects from this request is that I might find a husband.”

“Yes, but, Lizzy, it does not mean that will happen.  If you are not engaged at the end of the Season, do you not receive that legacy?”

“No, it will be mine regardless, but I will need to endure the next few months here in London and that is my hesitation in accepting,” Elizabeth informed them.

Mrs. Gardiner asked, “Does this have to do with him?”

Bowing her head, she nodded in the affirmative.

“You cannot live your life in constant fear of that man and his actions.  If you do, you give him power over you that he does not deserve,” Aunt Gardiner firmly stated.

Mr. Gardiner added, “Yes, Lizzy, that is true.  The chances of him imposing himself upon you or this family, for that matter, are nonexistent.  He does not know what happened.  I doubt he will show his face in London.  And if he did, he would be a fool to contact you.  For all he knows, you are in Hertfordshire with your family.”

Looking hopefully at her uncle and then to her aunt, “Do you really believe that, even if he were to be made aware that I have come into some money?”

Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner looked questioningly at each other before Mr. Gardiner turned to his niece. “Yes, he has too much to lose by approaching you.”

Elizabeth shook her head slightly and replied, “But he could spread his story out of spite.”

Mrs. Gardiner spoke, “Your uncle is right, Lizzy, there is nothing he can gain from that.”

“Except to see my reputation in tatters,” was Elizabeth’s response.

Mr. Gardiner tried to allay his niece’s fears. “My dear Lizzy, first I do not believe he would be foolish enough to approach you here in his current situation.  Secondly, do you believe he would connect you to Lady Webberley or Lady Matlock?”

Elizabeth sighed as she shook her head. “Then you are saying that I would be foolish not to accept this inheritance and its conditions?”

In unison, her aunt and uncle answered, “Yes!”

Smiling somewhat hesitantly, Elizabeth stated, “Then I guess I have my answer.”

They went on to catch up on other family news.  Soon, Mr. Gardiner rose and said, “As loath as I am to quit this happy reunion, I must return to my offices.”  Before leaving he added, “I will be on the lookout for any signs of him.  I have some contacts at Bow Street that will discreetly keep an eye out for him and alert us if he shows himself.”

“Thank you, Uncle, that will be most appreciated,” Elizabeth replied.

Standing, Mr. Gardiner stated, “Now, I must get back.  I will leave you ladies to whatever ladies discuss when gentlemen are not around.  I am sure that lace and bonnets and fabrics hold no interest for me.” 

After her husband departed, Mrs. Gardiner asked, “Well, Lizzy, have you given any thought to what you will do with your new found wealth?  Will you still wish to visit you poor relations?” She smiled.

“Oh, Aunt, nothing could keep me away from my ‘poor’ relations.  As to the other, I have been so busy deciding whether to accept the conditions of this windfall that I have not even considered what to do with it.”

“Elizabeth, I, for one, know your reasons for not wanting to enter into the marital state, but you have to know that marriage is not as bad as all that, especially when you find a gentleman that is kind and caring,” Mrs. Gardiner pleaded.

“Aunt, that might be well and good but I am not sure I am capable of discerning that in a man before it is too late.  Besides, I have only wanted to marry for the deepest love, and now, even if I find that, it is lost to me.  I cannot let my past or my family’s past be known lest I hurt that person, nor do I think I am able to be a true wife.”

Mrs. Gardiner said.  “You must know that all men are not like him.  Most men are gentle and kind to their wives.  Your Uncle is one of the kindest, most genteel men I have ever known.   It is possible to find such a man for yourself.”

“Yes, Aunt, I know,” Elizabeth looked at her aunt.

Still sensing an air of unease about her niece, Mrs. Gardiner went on to say, “Lizzy, I know you have lost your innocence in a most terrible fashion.  But you must get beyond that.  Do not look at a gentleman and see the horrors he can inflict on a lady.  Look for the kindness he can bestow.  I know that you consider yourself an excellent judge of character but do not let your failure in judging his character cause you to lose confidence in yourself and your innate abilities.  Lady Matlock sounds like a wise woman. Let her confirm or deny your judgment until you can gain some self-assurance.  You know you can always come to your Uncle and me when you are unsure and need some guidance.”

“Yes, Aunt, I know.  Lady Matlock is wise, as you say, and she has offered to help me to steer clear of those that are undesirable,” Elizabeth laughed. 

“Lizzy, do you plan to tell Lady Matlock about what happened?” Mrs. Gardiner questioned.

“No, I could not even tell Jane.  How could I tell someone I just met?  Besides, I like her and would not want her to think less of me.”

“The fewer people who know of this, the better.  While I did not agree with your father when he requested that it be kept secret, it probably is for the best.  Though from what you have told us of Lady Matlock, I do not think she will think less of you.  None of this doing is your fault,” Mrs. Gardiner said.

“I wish that such things did not taint the innocent victims of such circumstances. The perpetrator of such misdeeds is where the blame surely lies,” Elizabeth concluded.  “At least, then, I would feel that I could marry without keeping such a thing from my husband for the rest of my life.”

“Lizzy, a man who truly loves you will not think less of you for what has happened to you and your family.  I believe he can be trusted to keep such things private.  You should not enter into marriage without having the full trust and respect of your partner and that means not keeping secrets of such magnitude.  If he loves you, his feelings for you will not change.”

“Thank you, Aunt, you have helped me a great deal today.  I know Lady Emily’s bequest is for my benefit and, as such, for the benefit of my family.  It is the least I can do to make it up to them.”

“Elizabeth Bennet!  You must get it out of your head that you have caused any of the past to have happened, no matter what you mother has said.  If anything, she holds some blame for this with her matchmaking and instilling silly, frivolous things into her daughters’ heads.  Do not let her hold sway over you!”

“Yes, I fear her reaction when I tell that I will not be coming back to Hertfordshire in the foreseeable future and the reason for the delay.”

Mrs. Gardiner laughed. “I have to say that living in London holds many advantages-–the most advantageous is not being in Hertfordshire when Fanny Bennet hears this news.”

Elizabeth looked at her aunt in horror. “You do not think she will come to town to supervise my coming out, do you?

Mrs. Gardiner smiled. “I believe your uncle will do everything in his power to dissuade her from such a foolhardy venture.  Lady Matlock, however, may provide a more formidable ally in preventing your mother’s meddling.”

The carriage ride back to Crandall House found Elizabeth Bennet contemplating her future.  She wanted to accept this inheritance though her fears caused her to take caution.  She had yet dared to think what this kind of money would mean to her; the advantages to her life it would bring; the freedom from all that had been wrought on her family until now.  How could she have even considered not taking it?  She knew her fears were irrational, though it took her aunt and uncle to point it out to her.  How would he even know about what fortune had befallen her?  Why would he even care about the Bennets?  He got what he wanted from us long ago.

Regardless of her aunt’s words, she knew that marriage would be out of the question.  Who would want her?  An almost spinster who had little to recommend herself!  A nearly impoverished country girl with no idea how those higher up in society conducted themselves.  She could not envision any of the bon ton of London society caring two shakes for the likes of her.  No, marriage was something she need not worry about.

She knew she was being foolish about this entire inheritance topic.  Lady Matlock was correct. If nothing else came from this venture, the exposure to art, music, the world itself peopled with interesting members of society, would be enough of an impetus for her to accept.

So why did she still feel apprehension about this good fortune?  She knew the reason.  She feared him.  How could she protect herself from him?  Thinking on it, she decided on her own conditions in accepting the terms of this legacy to insure her secret was not revealed.

First of all, there would be no mention of her status of heiress or the amount of money in question.  If anyone questioned her on it, she would just reply that Lady Webberley had left her with sufficient funds to enjoy a season in London with Lady Matlock’s assistance, which was partly true. 

Secondly, she would insist on being referred as a poor relation of Lady Webberley.  After all, that was true enough as she had yet to meet the requirements of the bequest.

By relegating herself into relative obscurity, she felt more confidant of not catching his notice or anyone else’s for that matter.  With these rationalizations firmly defined, finally her decision was made.


On her return to Crandall House, Elizabeth informed Lady Matlock of her decision to accept the bequest but only if the acceptance of her two stipulations were met.  Lady Matlock reluctantly agreed and immediately penned a note to Mr. Mallory and Mr. Stanton requesting their presence at Crandall House at their earliest convenience.

By dinner, Elizabeth Bennet was soon to be a very wealthy young lady who was about to be introduced to the crème de la crème of London society, as one of their own, over the next few months.

After dinner Lady Matlock and Elizabeth began making plans.  Elizabeth decided that she did not need to be presented at court thinking it would call too much attention to her but Lady Matlock persisted that she could be presented with her niece, Georgiana Darcy, Mr. Darcy’s sister.  Elizabeth, however, stood firm saying that she was too old and did not want to intrude on that young woman’s special day especially when she did not know the lady.  Lady Matlock let the matter drop, but she was still determined to see Elizabeth presented at court no matter what miracles she had to work.  Scheduling a presentation on such short notice would be difficult but doable.  As for the presentation gown, which could take months to make, Lady Matlock believed her old gown with a few alterations would do nicely.  Besides, there was a different monarch on the throne when she was presented almost forty years ago, no one would know the difference.  Once she submitted the fait accompli to Miss Elizabeth Bennet, there could be no refusal on that lady’s part.

Soon talk turned to gowns and accessories.  Shopping expeditions were planned.  Next came all the events that would be scheduled to weed through, which invitations to accept and which to decline.  Elizabeth could not believe all that was required to be part of London society. 

It was not long before Elizabeth became overwhelmed by all that had happened that day. She began to worry things had happened too quickly and possibly she had been too rash in accepting her fate.  So she voiced her concerns, “Lady Matlock, what if something happens between now and this summer?”

Elizabeth, you are worrying for nothing.  I, and I alone, have the final say as to whether you meet the requirements of the agreement, so do not fear.”

Elizabeth smiled, becoming somewhat easier about all that had befallen her.  While she had only spent a few days in Lady Matlock’s company, she knew her to be a fair and generous person.  Even if the worst was to happen, she felt Lady Matlock was there to support her.  The problem was how would she go back to her old life if things did not work out?

“Miss Bennet, since we will have a lot to do in a short amount of time, and while not truly related, I do feel a familial bond with you.  Would you mind if I call you Elizabeth?  I would prefer if you called me Suzan.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Yes, Lady Mat…Suzan, I do not mind at all.”

Suzan smiled at Elizabeth and then continued on her list of all the tasks that needed to be accomplished in the next few days and weeks.





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