Hoppy Easter. Here is my version of a chocolate bunny for you.
Elizabeth was surprised to learn of their newest guest. She knew Caroline Bingley held extreme dislike for the Bennet family, more specifically, Elizabeth. Caroline had always thought that it was she who held claim over Darcy’s heart and would become his wife, and was jealous of any attention the gentleman showed to any other young lady.
Sitting in the music room, listening to Georgiana playing the pianoforte, Elizabeth was attempting to determine how to treat Bingley’s sister. Due to Bingley’s love for Jane, and Jane’s love for him, Elizabeth felt it was necessary to tolerate Miss Bingley. At least, for the time being.
Breezing into the room, as if she had lived at Darcy House all her life, and was the Mistress of the house, Caroline joined those already present. “Miss Darcy, how wonderful to hear you play. I have missed hearing such talent, while I was in the north.”
“I thank you, Miss Bingley, though I am not as talented as you say.” Georgiana looked to Elizabeth for comfort. The younger Darcy had never been able to tolerate Caroline Bingley for long, and had always tried to find a way out of being in her presence.
Seeing where Georgiana’s eyes had turned to, Caroline sneered. “Ah, Miss Eliza. How surprised I was to learn you were the young lady behind the scandal which reached my ears in Scarborough. To think, you were forced to find employment.”
Georgiana gasped at Caroline’s audacity. Elizabeth smiled, having had to endure Caroline’s scathing comments when the Bingleys were at Netherfield Park.
“Miss Bingley, how nice to see you. I am certain it will not be long before the men determine a way to safely return you to your sister’s home. Being forced to remain here would be intolerable, and we would not wish to force such torment on you.” Elizabeth smiled.
“Oh, I am in no hurry to leave. I have missed being with my brother and our closest friends, the Darcys. I have so wished to discuss the latest fashions with Miss Georgiana, as she has such refined tastes. Of course, being brought up with all the finest modistes and shops, not to mention having the guidance of her aunt, Lady Matlock, would give her such an advantage over anyone who only grew up in an out of the way, unheard of, village.”
“I am sure that Scarborough was even further behind the fashions than we were in Hertfordshire, as you were so much further away from Town. Being only half a day’s journey allowed us to receive the papers from Town within a day of being printed. It would take, what, three and a half to four days journey to Scarborough?”
Sneering, Caroline was trying desperately to keep her tongue under control. Elizabeth knew that she was playing with fire, but she was fed up with being treated poorly by others. Turning to her future sister, Elizabeth asked Georgiana if she would check on Jane for her. When Georgiana was out of the room, Caroline lost control of herself.
“How dare you behave so inappropriately? You are a worthless chit, and I am certain the rumors concerning you are true. And now, you have turned your arts and allurements to snare Mr Darcy. It is not to be endured. I have just finished writing a letter to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, informing her of her nephew’s foolishness. From what I know of the lady, she will be making the trip here soon, forcing you to leave Darcy House forever. You have no right to be here, especially aspiring to be the Mistress of Pemberley and Darcy House. It would be more fitting if you were the mistress, as you have proved with your employer. I am certain my brother caught you seducing your employer and he was punishing you for your behavior. You convinced my gullible brother that the man was trying to take advantage of you. And, of course, Mr Darcy would not wish to think ill of you, so he is believing the same story you told my brother.”
“You are pitiful, Miss Bingley. A sad, pitiful person who will sink to the lowest levels to make others as unhappy as you are. You cannot find a husband of your own, so you attempt to tear apart the happiness of others. But you will not have such power over me. I have come to love Mr Darcy, and he loves me. It is sad that you will never be able to accept the truth, as you will never find happiness until you do.”
“I am perfectly content with my life, and, once Mr Darcy realizes the truth and comes to me, my life will be wonderful. I will be the envy of all the ladies of the ton. And you will go back to being a servant for someone, only, I doubt you will be able to find work as a companion, not after the scandal. You will be lucky to find work as a scullery maid. Most likely, you will end up in a brothel, earning your keep as the whore you are.”
Elizabeth had had enough of the argument and began to walk past Miss Bingley, when the latter grabbed hold of her arm. “I am not through with you, harlot. You will leave this room when I instruct you to do so. And when you leave, it will be the house, not just this room.”
“Let go of me. I do not wish to continue this foolishness. You will never open your eyes to reality, so I wish to find my family and have some pleasant time with them.”
Caroline refused to release Elizabeth’s arm, and the two ladies began to struggle against each other. As they turned about, Caroline reached out her hand, trying to grasp Elizabeth’s hair. In the process, Elizabeth was able to work her way free and dodge Caroline’s hands. Moving as quickly as possible, Elizabeth tripped and fell to the floor, just as sounds of glass breaking came from the window.
Looking up at the stunned expression on Caroline’s face, Elizabeth suddenly noticed a spot of red blossoming over Miss Bingley’s left breast. The spot grew, larger and larger, and Caroline stood still until the shock of what happened became a reality. Falling forward, Caroline’s head was caught in Elizabeth’s hands just before hitting the floor.
“Miss Bingley, what happened?” Elizabeth cried out. She realized there was blood flooding the front of Caroline’s gown. Placing a hand over the wounded area, Elizabeth attempted to stem the flow as she screamed for help.
Darcy and Mr Gardiner were the first to arrive in the room. “Good God, what has happened?” Darcy asked. “How did Miss Bingley come to receive a wound such as this?”
Elizabeth explained what had happened, and when she stated she heard glass break just before she noticed the blood on Caroline’s gown. Mr Gardiner walked to the window, noting the hole broken which would match the size of a bullet.
“Darcy, it appears someone was shooting at the house. It appears that Miss Bingley was shot.”
“No, no, it cannot be. I was standing with my back to the window when we were fighting. I had just broken free and fell to the floor just a moment before hearing the glass break. The bullet was meant for me. But how? How could anyone see into this room?” Elizabeth sobbed, still holding Caroline’s head in her lap.
One of the guards came running up the staircase, calling out for his employer. “In the music room.” Darcy called back to the man.
“Sir, we just witnessed a man jumping down from a tree, in the park across the street.” The guard was breathless. “He had a rifle with him. We heard it fire just before he jumped down.”
“How can it be that no one saw him climb into the tree?” Darcy cried out.
“The only time he would be able to have done it was late at night, when it was too dark for us to see him.” Came the voice of the head guard on duty, Mr Hornsby replied. “We will need to keep curtains closed from now on. Especially on this side of the house. What I cannot understand is how they would know Miss Elizabeth would be in this room. It appears that the man knew this was a room she would be in, which means someone with knowledge of the layout of the house assisted the shooter.”
Richard Fitzwilliam entered the room, having run from the garden behind Darcy House. Bingley was not far behind him.
Elizabeth was still seated on the floor, rocking back and forth, holding tightly to Caroline’s lifeless body. Bingley was shocked at the sight of his sister’s body, covered in blood, her eyes staring at nothing.
Ever the military man, Richard took command of the situation. Learning what had happened, what the guards had told him, and the appearance of knowledge of the interior of Darcy House, Richard’s thoughts turned towards his father.
“There are very few who know the changes that you made to this section of the house, two years ago. Darce, you moved the music room from across the hall to this room just a little over a year ago. This used to be a rarely used formal dining room. As you preferred having the dining room downstairs, and wished to have more natural light for the music room, you made the change. Since then, how many people have visited this townhouse? Besides those of us who are staying here, how many others knew of this room being here?”
Darcy shook his head. “Only two people I can think of who are alive, your parents.”
“Correct. Do you not think my father capable of giving the information to Armstrong? It was obvious that the shooter was aiming for Miss Elizabeth. It is a miracle she was not killed. Forgive me, Charles, but your sister was not the target. She was an unfortunate casualty of this battle.”
As the ladies began to enter the music room, Darcy instructed them to move down the hall to the former music room which had been turned into a drawing room.
Wrapping his arms around Elizabeth, he carefully lifted her from underneath Caroline’s head. “Come, dearest. You need to change gowns and wash up. We do not wish to cause your sisters or your aunt any fright from your appearance.”
“She is dead because of me. The person was shooting at me, and killed her instead.” Elizabeth sobbed. “There can be no more death on my account. I cannot continue to put everyone in danger to protect me. You must stop this, turn me over to Armstrong. I cannot stand the thought of anyone else being injured or killed because of this war Mr Armstrong has waged against all of us. Please, William, please let me go. You might be the next person injured, or Georgiana, or my little cousins or anyone in this house. I could not live with any of you being harmed in my place.”
“Elizabeth, do not ask me to give you over to that monster. I cannot do it. You mean far more to me, and if you were killed, I might as well die with you.”
“You have too many people who care about you and rely on you. You are far too important, William. I am nothing in comparison. Please, let me protect you the only way I can.”
“Elizabeth Bennet, I will not stand here and listen to your pleading any longer.” Mr Gardiner replied. “You are vital to all of us. We love you dearly, and will not give you over to a man who wishes to murder you, simply due to his own behavior bringing him disgrace. This is a tragedy, but it is not your fault. You did not point a gun at Miss Bingley and pull the trigger. Nor did you ask that monster to beat you.”
“Please, dearest, listen to your uncle. Let us go clean you up. Then you can go to your aunt and sisters.” Darcy began to move Elizabeth towards the door and into the hallway.
~~ ** ~~
Darcy waited in the hall, outside Elizabeth’s door, until she returned to him, clean and dressed in a fresh gown. She was quiet, and did not raise her eyes to him.
The pair made their way to the drawing room where the others had gathered. “Lizzy.” Jane declared the moment she saw her sister entering the room. Elizabeth made her way to her sister’s wheeled chair, dropping to the floor and placing her head on Jane’s lap.
“Jane, I am so scared. Too many people have been harmed because of me.”
“Mr Bingley told me you feel you should go to Armstrong, to protect the rest of us.”
“He is correct. I cannot imagine how I would feel if it had been you or any of our family and dear friends. It would be best if I turned myself over to that evil man, so that he will leave the rest of you alone.”
Jane took hold of her sister’s chin and turned it to face her. “Elizabeth, you have never been a foolish person. Stop and think of what has happened. Even if Mr Armstrong were to get ahold of you, do you truly think he will stop there? Do you truly believe Charles will be safe? He humiliated the man by rescuing you. Charles is in as much danger as you are. And Mr Darcy and his cousin have stayed loyal to you and Charles. They publically humiliated that man in the theater lobby. Do you believe they will escape his wrath? No. This situation is not about you alone. Mr Armstrong is not the sort of man who would allow anyone on his list to go unpunished.”
Elizabeth was so surprised at her elder sister’s words, she did not realize that Jane had called Mr Bingley by his Christian name. She had never heard Jane speak so forcefully. “B…B…But, I thought…”
“You thought this was only about you. Mr Armstrong is not single minded in his wrath. He has many on his list. We must do everything possible to keep ourselves safe while the men do all that is possible to find a way to put an end to his reign of terror.” Jane said gently. “If you were to be killed, do you honestly believe Mr Darcy would allow it to go unavenged? He loves you dearly. Do not forget that. A love match is dear and special, and should be treated as such.”
“I know, Jane. And I do cherish William. If something were to happen to him, especially on my account, I would be devastated.” Elizabeth said, fear clearly written in her expression.
“Then take my advice. Do not think of leaving this house until it is safe to do so. Do not think of turning yourself over to Mr Armstrong, as it will not resolve any of the problem. And please, put Mr Darcy at ease. He is frightened that you will attempt to run away from here, in a foolish attempt to protect him. Make certain he knows that you love him and cherish him.”
“When did you become so wise, Jane?” Elizabeth chuckled.
“Not long after I received a proposal from Mr Bingley. I had a chat with our beloved aunt, who enlightened me of how I was undervaluing his love for me by not accepting his view of what our life could be. Our aunt is quite intelligent.”
“Jane, are you telling me that you and Mr Bingley are engaged?” Elizabeth’s smile grew.
Jane blushed deeply as she nodded her head. “Charles and I have spoken, at length, of the future. Though I will most likely never be able to walk again, Mr Johnston has stated there is improvement in my overall health. I know I was being a fussy child when I did not cooperate with the routine that was developed for me, but I am now grateful for all that was done for me.”
“This is wonderful news. I am so pleased for you, Jane.”
“And I am pleased to know you have a man who loves you, Lizzy. You deserve so much joy in your life.” Jane said as she embraced her favorite sister. “And if I decide to accept Charles, it is nice to be marrying two close friends. They will not argue with spending a lot of time together in the years to come.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “I love you, Jane. Our guardian angel was watching over us that night on the road. Losing our parents and Lydia was hard, but, if I had lost you as well, I doubt I would have been able to survive.”
“And our guardian angel has been watching over you as well. I am so grateful.”
~~ ** ~~
“I had a clear shot, and I took it. I waited for the entire day, and when it finally came, there was another lady in the room. They were struggling. I know the bullet struck one of them, I am just not certain which of the ladies was shot.”
“You incompetent fool. I have paid you handsomely for your services. You guaranteed that I would not regret hiring you, as you are one of the best rifleman in England, outside the military. But I am regretting ever making any deal with you. Now Darcy and his cousin will tighten up their security measures even tighter. This was one of the few chances we had, as it was the only room we could access that whore from the trees. I have tried to find a way into the townhouses on either side of Darcy’s, but one is away from Town and the other has no desire to lower himself to allow a tradesman into his home as a guest.” Armstrong was furious. “Lord Matlock has left Town, traveling to Rosings Park, to visit with his sister. Lady Catherine de Bourgh would have no hesitation in marching in Darcy House and throwing that band of rubbish out on street. The Gardiners, Bennets, and even Charles Bingley, would all be fair game within a moment of that lady’s arrival.”
“Would she not already know of her nephews consorting with such people? Her brother is Lord Matlock, and he would most likely have told him.”
“No, Lord Matlock has spent too much time in a bottle of late. From what I understand, he has been drunk the majority of the time since the last time I was there. Who knows what he has bothered to inform his sister of what has happened.”
“What if you were to send her an anonymous letter, as a concerned neighbor of her nephew? Inform her of what was being said about Town and the danger which Darcy was involved in. If I am not mistaken, Lady Catherine has boasted, for many years, of her daughter’s engagement to Darcy. This scandal would touch her daughter.”
“Sam, you are a bit wiser than I gave you credit. I shall write to Lady Catherine, and wait to see what the lady does. Yes, she might just be the way for us to gain access to our goal.”
~~ ** ~~
Lucy Armstrong entered the shop of Madame La Roche, wishing to place an order for some new gowns. One of the clerks seemed agitated and excused herself to find her employer. Madame La Roche came from the back room quickly. “Miss Armstrong, we had not expected you to come here so soon.”
“I am preparing a wardrobe to wear while I visit my aunt and cousins. There will be a few balls while I am visiting and I thought some new gowns would be necessary.”
“W…W…Well, I am afraid…well, we have far more, yes, far more work, than expected at this time. It would be best if you were to find a different modiste, one who would have the time to fulfill your order.”
“Madame La Roche, I have come to you exclusively for several years now. I am shocked at such treatment from you.” Miss Armstrong was flummoxed by the behavior of the lady speaking to her.
“I know you have, Miss Armstrong. It has come to my attention…well, the situation in Town, and Miss Darcy is an extremely good client. I could not offend the Darcys by catering to you. The Darcy family connections to those in upper society are far greater than anything you have.”
Tears were welling up in the young lady’s eyes. “My father is the innocent in this matter concerning the young lady who was my companion. You cannot possibly hold such lies against my father, or me. Why would you believe the word of a servant who attempted to seduce my father?”
Mrs Hillyard had entered the shop and overheard the conversation. The lady knew the Darcys well, as her son had attended the university with Fitzwilliam Darcy. She was appalled by the naïve young lady in front of her, and the position she was placing the modiste in. “Miss Armstrong, this matter with your former companion is not the first time your father has been accused of such behavior with young ladies who are employed in your household. Have you never wondered why so many of your maids have had to be replaced? Have you never wondered why some of your school mates will not come to your home? It is because of your father. It is time you learned the truth. Your father even approached Miss Worthington, your former friend. When she refused, your father forced himself on her, leaving his seed inside her. Mr Worthington sent his daughter to Scotland, to her aunt’s home, where she gave birth to your half-sister, only six months ago. From what I have heard, you have three other siblings, two boys and another girl. All of who were abandoned by your father, sent to live in the gutters. Can you now understand why no one would not wish to have you in their establishment? Though I am sure your father will retaliate against me for how I have spoken with you, I felt it was high time you knew the truth.”
Miss Armstrong was shocked and confused. Could these accusations be true? Could her father have taken her friend, forced her to endure such behavior? Could her beloved father have…have…raped her best friend? Did she really have siblings who were sired by her father, then cast off as unworthy?
Thinking of the current situation, was her father lying to her? Did he attempt to rape Miss Elizabeth? Had Mr Bingley rescued her from the same fate as Miss Worthington suffered? So many questions darted about inside her mind.
I should leave for my aunt’s home immediately. There is so much to think over, I need time to sort out all I have been told. Father will deny what Mrs Hillyard just informed me, but she is well known in society as a lady of strong character and who know many people. I will need to find a convincing reason to tell Father. He would keep me here if he knew my reason for leaving. But I need time to sort through everything, and attempt to find the truth of the matter. I know my aunt is not fond of Father, she felt her sister, my mother, could have married better than Father. She would be able to assist me in finding the information I need to refute or accept my father’s behavior.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
“Ahh, Mr Darcy, it is always a pleasure to visit Darcy House.”
“Mr Allen, thank you for coming on such short notice. I hope you were able to put together everything I requested, without too much of a burden.” Darcy stood from his chair behind his desk and shook the hand of his solicitor.
“Not a problem, Mr Darcy. It has been slow the past fortnight, so I had plenty of time to take care of your requests. I must say, I was quite pleased to hear your news. You must be quite anxious to have all the paperwork finished, so you can move forward into becoming a husband.”
A chuckle escaped Darcy. “I cannot wait until the young lady is officially my wife. The news will need to be kept quiet for a while longer, though.”
“I understand. I have heard the rumors surrounding your friend and the young lady, their dealings with Armstrong. That man is outrageous in his behavior.” Noticing Darcy’s uplifted eyebrow, Mr Allen continued. “Forgive me, sir, but I have had dealings with some of his victims. Mr Worthington brought Mr Armstrong to my attention, after the beast had forced himself on Miss Worthington. Mr Armstrong has bastard children he has left to fend for themselves, from the manner in which he treats young ladies. Now that the truth of his behavior is well known, Armstrong is being looked at much differently. Rather than having fun at the club, with Armstrong bragging of his latest conquest, many of the men he had been friends with are shunning him. They are coming to realize that if the man can behave so with Miss Elizabeth Bennet, the daughter of a gentleman, their own daughters and nieces are in danger. Some of the men have daughters who were friends with Miss Armstrong. Most have now refused to allow their ladies to associate with the poor girl.”
“I feel for the girl, for she did not ask to be born to such a father.” Darcy stated, as he looked over the papers before him. “From what I have been told by my fiancé, Miss Armstrong is a sweet natured young lady who is extremely naïve, especially when it comes to her father.”
“It would be difficult to think of one’s father being such a monster.” Mr Allen said in a sad voice. “But it is time to talk of pleasant things, and your marriage is the most pleasant topic I can imagine. There will be many hearts broken with you off the market, my niece’s being one of them. You have kept the matchmaking mammas on their toes for many years now.”
“And they kept me on my toes, trying to avoid them.” Darcy laughed. “But I am pleased to be marrying Elizabeth, as she is perfect for me.”
“When will the two of you marry?” Mr Allen inquired.
“Soon. We have not set a definite day, with all that has been happening. With Miss Bingley’s death yesterday, there has been a great many issues to contend with.”
“Please give Mr Bingley my regrets for his family’s loss. Have you learned anything of who took the shot?”
Darcy shook his head. “My cousin is looking into the matter, as he is certain the man was military trained. To make such a shot took an expert.”
“If only it could be proved that Armstrong was behind it. There are many who would like to see him pay for his crimes.”
“And I am at the top of that list.” Darcy stood and moved to pull the cord, signaling for a servant to come to the study. When the footman arrived, Darcy sent him to find Mr Gardiner and Elizabeth. “Might I offer you some refreshments?”
Mr Allen nodded his head, and Darcy poured a glass of brandy for him. Only a few minutes passed before Mr Gardiner knocked on the door and was told enter. “Mr Gardiner, please, join us. This is Mr Allen, my solicitor. Mr Allen, this is Elizabeth’s uncle, Mr Edward Gardiner. I guess I should say he will soon be my uncle as well.” Darcy smiled at the thought.
Not long after introductions were made, Elizabeth arrived at the study. “Ah, here is my fiancé. Elizabeth, this is Mr Allen, my solicitor. He just brought papers for us to sign. He has the marriage contract, as well as our special license.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr Allen. And I might add, thank you for your assistance during the unusual circumstances we are experiencing.”
“Miss Bennet, I have known Mr Darcy all of his life. When he sent word of what he needed, it brought a smile to my lips. We have wished for a young lady to win his heart. My wife is anxious to meet you, as she has always been fond of William.”
“Once we are free of this situation, we will make certain to invite you and your wife to dine with us.” Elizabeth noted her fiancé was smiling happily at her. It was clear that he found her to be a perfect Mistress of Darcy House.
The papers were reviewed, with both Mr Gardiner and Elizabeth shocked at the settlement Darcy had made for his wife. “William, forty thousand pounds is far too generous to settle on me, especially seeing as I bring nothing to the marriage. I have no dowry or connections.”
“I told you, dearest, your connections to your uncle and his business knowledge is perfect. I need no more than that. And I have no need for a dowry from you.”
“But you have also set up dowries for my sisters in the sum of ten thousand each. This is all far too much. And the pin money you have set for me is far grander than I need.”
“Mr Allen, can you see why I love this woman? You can testify that she is not a fortune hunter.” Darcy turned his attention back to his betrothed. “Elizabeth, when I was at Netherfield, I know many of the people thought me to be worth ten thousand per annum. What they did not know is that ten thousand is the approximate income from Pemberley alone. With the annual income from my other three estates, and my business holdings, my annual worth is closer to between thirty and thirty five thousand.”
Elizabeth’s eyes bulged at the news. “You must be one of the wealthiest men in England. How am I ever to fit in with such grandeur?”
“My dear, have no fear. I do not enjoy society. Mr Allen can attest to that. I have hidden from the matchmaking mammas and their daughters for many years, and rarely attend any society functions unless I cannot avoid it.”
Mr Allen laughed. “He speaks the truth. I cannot remember the last ball or large dinner party he has attended. If Darcy had his druthers, he would remain at Pemberley and never come to Town.”
“I could find great pleasure, after all I have heard of Pemberley. I am a country girl, and have always loved nature.” Elizabeth replied, laughing.
~~ ** ~~
Lord Bentley was going through some papers in his study. There had been something niggling at the back of his mind, ever since he learned of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Something was teasing him, a vague memory which refused to make its way to the surface.
A knock pulled his attention to the study’s door. “Yes.” He called out. His butler stood at the door, opening it far enough to step into the room.
“Sir, there is a Mr Sheridan here to speak with you.”
“Ah, yes, show him in.”
Mr Jacob Sheridan had been an investigator for Bow Street Runners for several years. His father was a clergyman in Yorkshire, and had hoped Jacob would follow in his footsteps, but it was not to be. His mind was sharp and questioning, with a keen memory, which made him ideal to investigations. And, fortunately for his clients, Jacob Sheridan was an honorable man. This made him highly valued by those of society who required his services.
“Mr Sheridan, I pray that you come bearing good news.”
“I believe it will be good news to you, Lord Bentley.” Mr Sheridan sat down in the chair Lord Bentley had motioned to. “I traced the lineage of the Bennet family, as you requested. Miss Elizabeth Bennet is the second eldest child of Mr Thomas Bennet. He was the son of Alfred Bennet, son of Robert. Robert’s last name was changed when he was twenty years of age, a year prior to his marriage. Evidently, there had been a disagreement in the family and he turned away from the family.”
“And Robert’s original name, was it Bentley?”
“Yes, Sir. He was third born son of Frederick Bentley, your great grandfather. Frederick, as I am sure you are aware, lost his second born son at quite a young age. The eldest was Joshua, your grandfather. I am not certain of the disagreement which caused the rift in the family, though I am certain you know of it. I have the documentation showing the family history, proving that Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters are distant cousins of yours. And, I might add, they are the last remaining members of your family.”
“I had a feeling, as I had heard, many years ago, mind you, of Robert’s descendants. Hearing you state Thomas Bennet’s name was like a key to unlocking the memory. I remember hearing Thomas’ name mentioned on some papers, when my father was drawing up papers with his solicitor. At the time, Thomas would have been a boy. His father had met with mine once, when my father traveled to Hertfordshire. It was made clear that Alfred had no desire to be in contact with his Bentley relations, and my father dropped the matter soon after. But now, with all of my other relations being dead and gone, I wish for relations whom I can claim. My family’s history can be shared with the Bennet sisters, and they can be my heirs.”
“There is a distant cousin of the Bennet family, the one who inherited Longbourn. A Mr Collins. In doing the research, I have learned that Mr Collins is not blood relation to the Bennets, as he was the step son of Randolph Collins. He was a year old when Randolph married Amelia, therefore, Mr William Collins inherited the estate falsely.”
“How is it the Bennets never knew he was a stepson, not a blood relation?”
Mr Sheridan smiled. “Evidently, Randolph Collins did not like Thomas Bennet, so he kept the news silent. As the two men rarely had contact, it was easy enough to not inform his cousin. Only when the younger Collins was in school, and Thomas had no male heirs, did Randolph contact his cousin, telling him with the false claims that William was the legitimate heir.”
“Our family has had many disagreements over the years, and it is sad that it has torn us apart. I pray it is not too late to bring the remaining members together. As to this Collins, I wish to have a solicitor notify him immediately that he is not the legal heir to Longbourn, and that he will vacate forth with.”
“I have already taken the papers to Mr Allen’s office. Did you know that he was already working on papers for Mr Darcy, concerning Miss Elizabeth Bennet?”
Lord Bentley was surprised. “What were they regarding?”
Sheridan smiled. “It is to be kept quiet for the time being, though you are familiar to Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and now, the Bennets and Gardiners, you should be aware. A marriage contract was being drawn up, and a special license for the couple to wed. It seems your cousin will soon be Mrs Darcy.”
“I cannot imagine a better man for Miss Elizabeth. I have heard that Mr Bingley was quite smitten with the eldest of the sisters, I believe her name is Jane.”
“It is. The other two sisters are Mary and Katherine, who has been called Kitty since she was a little girl. The youngest was killed with their parents.”
Nodding his head, Lord Bentley looked back at Mr Sheridan. Pulling a key from his pocket, Lord Bentley unlocked a desk drawer and retrieved some money. Placing the funds on the desk, Lord Bentley motioned with his head. “Here is your pay, plus a bonus for your efficiency. Would you be interested in further work for me?”
“If you are speaking of your desire to learn who murdered Mr and Mrs Bennet, and their youngest daughter, I have already begun. We will hopefully know more by next week, as I expect to hear from one of my contacts by then.”
“Then I will look forward to hearing from you next week. And, Mr Sheridan, you have my gratitude for your hard work.”
~~ ** ~~
Having bid her father farewell, Lucy Armstrong left Town in her father’s carriage. She was traveling south, to stay with her aunt. What her father did not know, Lucy had no intention of returning to her father’s home.
Lucy knew her aunt had only tolerated Armstrong for Lucy’s sake. Her aunt, Harriett Jenkins, had never approved of her sister’s husband, but promised to always look after Lucy, when her mother died. Lucy knew her aunt would do all she could to protect the young lady.
Having made a list of all the things she wished to do, Lucy went over it in her mind. The first was to hire someone to attempt to locate her siblings. Wishing for siblings all of her life, Lucy wanted to find them and make some attempt at bettering their lives. Fortunately, Lucy’s mother had left her property and a sizeable fortune, which had been inherited from Lucy’s great grandmother, all of which Harriett had kept control over after her sister died.
Once she had determined what to do for her siblings, Lucy planned on selling her property. She would then disappear and begin a new life. Harriett Jenkins had been a widow for two years, and never had children of her own. She had spoken of her desire to travel to her niece years before, so Lucy was certain she could convince her aunt to travel with her.
Another item on her list was going to be difficult. Lucy wished to write to Elizabeth Bennet. She knew that the rumors of her father having assaulted her former companion were true, and Lucy thought long and hard on what she should do for her friend. The only way she could contact Elizabeth was to write to her. So Lucy was determined to write a letter, apologizing to Elizabeth and explaining to her what revelations had come about.
For the first time in her life, Lucy Armstrong was determined to start a new life, one which was free of her father.
~~ ** ~~
Curled beside her husband in their bed, Helen Gardiner laid her arm across her husband’s chest. “I am pleased to see Jane improving so much. Mr Johnston is certain that she will never walk again, but her body is growing stronger, and she is able to sit upright for longer periods of time. Her arms are stronger as well.”
“Her attitude is much improved as well.” Mr Gardiner stated. “She is allowing her feelings for Mr Bingley to come to the surface, feeling as if she will have a future.”
“I asked Mr Johnston if he thought she would ever be able to have children of her own. He said that Jane’s paralysis is below her hips. She has sensation when she needs to refresh herself, and, after his last examination, Mr Johnston can see no reason she could carry a babe. He said that Jane has not spoken to him of such, as she most likely believes she will never be able to have children of her own. I plan to speak with her soon.”
“Mary has been spending a lot time with Colonel Fitzwilliam. It is the first time I have seen her take care with her appearance. She had Miss Darcy’s maid style her hair.” Mrs Gardiner stated. “Kitty is becoming close friends with Miss Darcy. Mr Darcy had supplies purchased for Kitty to spend time with his sister, drawing. Kitty has had the talent, but it was untrained. I am so grateful for the Darcys taking such care of our dear girls.”
“I am certain my sister and Thomas are watching the girls, and smiling.”
“I can hear Fanny squealing with delight that she will have daughters settled in such advantageous situations.” Mrs Gardiner chuckled.
~~ ** ~~
Waking in the bedchamber she had been using, Elizabeth smiled. She was shocked at the ease in which she had become accustomed to such elegance. Feeling the silkiness of the bed covers made her feel like a princess.
And soon, she would be Mrs Darcy, and her life would filled with wonders she had never dreamed of. Her thoughts continued to wander back to her fiancé. Fitzwilliam Darcy was not the man she thought she knew in Hertfordshire. It was easy to see, now that she realized the truth. Darcy was painfully shy and found conversation with new acquaintances to be difficult. When he was comfortable with his surroundings and the people he was with, William was the kindest and most caring man Elizabeth had ever known.
All that had been done for her was overwhelming. Not only saving her life, but seeing to her every need, and the needs of her family was unfathomable. He seemed to enjoy watching the Gardiner children playing in the nursery, and watching over her sisters as they expanded their talents. Everyone was flourishing at Darcy House. If only something could be done regarding Armstrong, so they could, once again, be free to go about their daily activities without fear.
She thought of the previous two days, and what had happened to Miss Bingley. Seeing the lady die before her was disturbing. Even though she did not like Caroline Bingley, to know she was murdered for being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, was devastating. The body was removed from Darcy House, and taken to the undertaker. Bingley requested his sister be taken to Scarborough, to be buried by their parents. He sent an express to Louisa Hurst, informing her of the tragedy and of their sister’s body being transported. Rather than journey with the body, Bingley decided to remain at Darcy House. There was far too much danger, and it was agreed that it would be the perfect time for Armstrong’s men to terminate Bingley’s life.
It pleased Elizabeth to know her beloved Jane was recovering her spirit. Bingley still loved Jane, and it was clear that Jane cared deeply for him. She prayed they could weather the many storm clouds which had encased their lives.
A knock was heard on the door from the hall into the bedchambers. “Lizzy, might I come in?” The voice was that of Mary Bennet.
“Come in, Mary.” Elizabeth said as she climbed from her bed and donned a dressing gown.
“I hope I am not disturbing you, Lizzy. I wished to speak with you on a matter which has me confused.”
“Of course, Mary. You are welcome to speak on any subject.” The sisters took a seat on the bed.
“Well…I am not certain how I should discuss such a matter, as it is far too difficult for me to think of, let alone speak of.”
“Mary, what could have you so confused?” Elizabeth chuckled slightly. “I cannot imagine you have ever done anything to warrant such frustrations.”
“I…well…I….Oh, Lizzy, how does it feel when you are in love with someone? I find I desire to spend as much time with him, think of him whenever we are apart, and my heart feels as if it is beating out of my chest.”
“Am I to understand that you are speaking of Colonel Fitzwilliam?”
Mary nodded her head.
“He is a good and honorable man. I have come to respect him tremendously. Colonel Fitzwilliam is very close to William.” Elizabeth stated.
“Which is another reason to like him. I find Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley to be extremely honorable men, and they would never associate as closely as they do with Colonel Fitzwilliam if he were not like them. The fact that he saved my dear sister also leads me to think highly of him. But I find the combination of seriousness and joyfulness to be very pleasant.” Mary blushed. “He is a fine example of what a man should be.”
“And, has he given you any signs of being partial to you?”
Mary nodded her head. “He asked permission to speak to our uncle with the intent to court me properly. Colonel Fitzwilliam knows we do not have any dowry to speak of, and, as he has been disowned by his father, he would have to continue on in his profession. But I do not mind. As good a leader as he is, his superior officers have long wished for him to take a position of instructing new officers. If he was to take such a position, it would keep him in England, and not have to fight in the war.”
“Such a blessing would meet well with William, as he frets over his cousin being injured in battle.”
“I would worry as well. It would be better if he were to remain in England, train the young men properly.” Mary expressed.
“Well, then I suggest you speak with our uncle and discover what occurred between him and Colonel Fitzwilliam. I pray that you will find happiness and are completely cherished for the gem you are.” Elizabeth suddenly remembered something. “Oh, I completely forgot. William has put in our marriage contract that he set up dowries for you, Kitty and Jane. You will have ten thousand pounds settled for each of you when you marry.”
Mary’s eyes grew round as saucers. “Ten thousand pounds? I could not imagine such a large amount. Your betrothed is such a kind man, and I am pleased to know he will be my brother.”
“I am pleased that it will allow you and Kitty to make better matches than we could have ever thought possible before.”