A loud commotion was heard, coming from the foyer. Darcy stepped into the hall to see what was happening, only to hear a voice he was not looking forward to hearing.
“Where is my nephew? I demand you to step out of my way, this moment. I am here to see my nephew and will not be forbidden by the likes of a servant.”
“Aunt Catherine, please do not mistreat my staff. They have been instructed to bar everyone who is not on a specific list. I had no reason to know you would be coming here.” Darcy said as he approached Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
“I came here on a matter of extreme importance, Darcy. I insist you hear me out at once.” The grand lady forced her way passed her nephew and walked directly to his study. Darcy followed behind her, prepared to wage verbal war with his aunt. She had insisted for many years, as far back as Darcy could remember, that he was to marry her daughter, Anne de Bourgh. No matter how many times he disagreed with his aunt, she refused to accept his decision. Anne and Darcy had made an agreement years before, as neither wished to marry the other. Anne did not particularly like Darcy, especially for a potential husband. And, due to her frail health, Anne would never be able to survive the rigors of childbirth, and Darcy had to have an heir.
“Welcome, Aunt Catherine. What brings you to Town? I thought you despised being here.”
“I am here because of you, Darcy. I received two most unusual letters, the authors of which were reluctant to give his name. But they spoke of your being involved with a paid companion, of whom you have an attachment with. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Though I am not certain who would have sent you such a letter, I have no hesitation in telling you of the young lady to whom I am engaged to marry. She was working as a paid companion, only after tragedy struck her family. Her father was a gentleman, and he was murdered, along with his wife and their youngest daughter. As there was no son to inherit, Elizabeth and her remaining three sisters were forced from their home. The eldest was injured when their parents and young sister were killed. Miss Bennet required medical assistance, and Elizabeth felt she should do what she could to pay for her sister’s care.”
“Miss Bennet, you say? Would they be from Hertfordshire?” Lady Catherine asked.
“Yes. Their father owned Longbourn, near the village of Meryton.”
“That is where my clergyman deserted to. He left me in a lurch, no notice at all. Mr Collins was a foolish man, but he owed me some consideration, after my giving him the valuable living at Hunsford.” Lady Catherine was put out.
“After being employed by Mr Armstrong, the man attempted to force himself on Elizabeth. She was beaten, nearly to death. If my friend, Charles Bingley, had not interceded, Elizabeth would have been killed.”
Lady Catherine looked puzzled. “But why would you feel the need to marry her? It is not as if you caused her circumstances.”
“Aunt Catherine, I have known the Bennets since I visited Bingley at the estate near Longbourn. Nearly from the first moment I saw Elizabeth, I felt drawn to her. She captured my heart and soul, and I am in love with her. Believe me when I tell you I have thought about all the arguments you and your brother could have against Elizabeth, but I came to realize what was more important. I do not care about her lack of fortune, I have plenty. She and Georgiana have become close friends. Elizabeth is a wonderful young lady, and I am honored that she has agreed to be my wife.”
Lady Catherine stood and walked to the nearby window, looking out at the garden behind the townhouse. Noticing several young children playing in the garden, the grand lady took a deep breath. “Who are all the children?”
“At present, we have Elizabeth, her three sisters, their aunt, uncle and cousins, and Bingley residing here with Georgiana, Richard and myself. The children are Elizabeth’s cousins.”
A sadness came over the grand lady’s face. “I always wished for a house full of children. It broke my heart to not be able to have more children. And Anne will never be able to have children of her own. It has been difficult to come to terms with the knowledge I will never have grandchildren. But it is time I said the words out loud.”
“Are you well, Aunt Catherine?” Darcy was concerned for his aunt, as he had never seen her in such a manner. He had never considered her to be a doting mother or grandmother figure.
“I am well, William. I wish to meet this young lady. It is imperative I meet her.”
“Aunt, I will not allow you to cause Elizabeth any further abuse. She has suffered enough.” Darcy stated.
“Fitzwilliam Darcy, I demand to see the young lady you have entered into a betrothal with.”
“Very well, but I will be with you. I will not allow you to be alone with her.”
“I can accept those terms. Now, send for her to join us.”
Darcy rang the bell for a servant, asking them to find Elizabeth and ask her to join him. Nearly ten minutes went by before Elizabeth entered the study. “Elizabeth, I wish to introduce you to my mother’s sister, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.”
Shock was clearly seen on the young lady’s face. “Lady Catherine, it is a pleasure to meet you.” Elizabeth said as she curtsied.
“Come closer, child, for I will not bite. I wish to have a better look at you.”
Elizabeth did as she was asked, stepping in front of Lady Catherine.
“You are quite pretty, Miss Elizabeth. So you are the young lady who has my brother spending more time in his bottles than anything else. He blames you for his eldest son’s death.”
“Aunt Catherine, I must insist you keep such comments to yourself.” Darcy began to walk towards Elizabeth, prepared to shield her from his aunt.
“Have no fear, William. My eldest nephew was a foolish man, and he brought his own death upon him. If he had not gambled away his inheritance and most of Matlock, Anthony would most likely still be alive. Trading the life of a young lady for the debts my nephew had incurred would not have been right. And I have told my brother just that. I do not blame you for your decision to protect Miss Elizabeth. You did what was right and honorable. Now, when are you planning to marry?”
Darcy stared at his aunt, shocked at her behavior. “We were planning to marry, here, at the townhouse, on Friday.”
“Two days, very well, I will stay here until then.” Lady Catherine announced.
His jaw nearly struck the floor from surprise. Darcy looked at his aunt with many questions flowing through his mind. “Y…y…you will support our marriage? I am surprised.”
A smile graced Lady Catherine’s lips. “William, I had a long talk with Anne. My daughter has informed me, in no uncertain terms, that she would rather eat worms than marry you.” The ladies chuckled. Darcy was surprised at the conversation. “I know I have been adamant, for most of your lives, you and Anne would marry. But, after Anthony’s death, I realized I should listen to my daughter’s desires more. My brother made many mistakes in his parenting skills, and, if I were to ignore Anne’s wishes, I would be no better. I have spent far too much time demanding my wishes, but it is time to look to the future with my eyes wide open. I wish to see you, Richard, Georgiana, and most of all, Anne, happy and living the lives you desire.”
Darcy held out a hand to his hand, which his aunt gratefully accepted. Pulling Lady Catherine into his embrace, Darcy whispered his gratitude in his aunt’s ear. Lady Catherine insisted he release her and to act properly, before turning her attention back to her future niece.
“Now, may I call you Elizabeth?” Lady Catherine asked her niece to be. When Elizabeth nodded her head, Lady Catherine smiled. “My sister was not happy in her marriage to Gerald Darcy. My marriage was not pleasant either. My brother thought he was in love with his wife at the beginning of his marriage, but it faded within the first years, after her looks faded. My nephew needs to be loved, as he has always taken care of everyone else. Ever since he was a little boy, he was protective and caring to those he loved. It is clear that he loves you, Elizabeth. Do not break his heart, or you will have me to contend with.”
“I plan to keep your nephew happy and well loved, Lady Catherine.” Elizabeth smiled as she suddenly found the elder lady’s arms surround her.
“Aunt Catherine, Elizabeth. I will soon enough be your aunt, so you should start practicing calling me such.” Lady Catherine turned to her nephew. “Now, where is your sister? It has been ages since I last saw her and wish to hear her play the pianoforte. From your letters, she is quite talented. It only goes to show how correct I am, as I have instructed you time and again that she will never be good unless she practices.”
~~ ** ~~
Lord Bentley decided to visit Darcy House, as he wished to speak with his cousins. He was excited to learn he had cousins, and more deserving ladies he could not think of. After losing everything, from their parents and their home, facing an uncertain future, the Bennet sisters rallied and attempted to better their situation. If it was not for Elizabeth’s desire to aid her sisters, she would not be in the danger she was facing. And now, it was within Lord Bentley’s power to make life much easier for them.
Mr Jarvis ushered Lord Bentley into the foyer. “The family and their guests are in the drawing room on the second floor. I will have one of the footmen escort you to the room.”
“Not necessary, Jarvis, I know the house pretty well. I have spent much time here in years past, as you recall.”
“Yes, Sir. I should warn you, Lady Catherine is in residence as well.”
Lord Bentley chuckled. “Thank you, Jarvis, it is always important to be forewarned when having to interact with Lady Catherine.”
The drawing room door was open and the sound of music could be heard coming from inside. Stopping at the doorway, Lord Bentley waited for the song to end before he disrupted the peace which had settled over the occupants. Darcy was the first to notice Lord Bentley.
“Your lordship, welcome. I did not know you were coming today.”
“Ah, Darcy, I was hoping you would indulge me. I wished to speak with the Bennet ladies on a matter of importance.”
Elizabeth looked at Lord Bentley, then at her sisters. The ladies had not met his lordship, though they knew of his position as a magistrate, and they were all concerned of what they were not about to hear.
“Have no fear, ladies. The news I bring is good.” Lord Bentley smiled. “If you do not mind, Darcy, I could use something to drink, as what I have to say is long.”
Darcy nodded his head and rang for Mrs Jarvis. “If you would be so kind as to bring tea and refreshments, I would be grateful.”
“Of course, Mr Darcy. And if you require strong libations, my husband restocked the sideboard only this morning.” The housekeeper nodded her head towards the liquor bottles.
After taking requests from Lord Bentley and Mr Gardiner for a glass of brandy for each, Darcy poured a glass for himself before taking his seat beside Elizabeth.
“So, Lord Bentley, allow me to make the introductions. I believe you know my aunt, Lady Catherine, my cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam, Charles Bingley, and Mr Gardiner, who is the uncle of the Bennet ladies. Beside Mr Gardiner is his lovely wife, Mrs Helen Gardiner, and their nieces, Miss Jane Bennet who is seated by Bingley, Miss Katherine and Miss Mary Bennet, who are seated on the settee. And last, but most definitely not least, my fiancé, Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Everyone, this is Lord Bentley.”
After everyone had acknowledged each other, Lord Bentley began his story. “When I was just a young boy, I overheard my father and grandfather discussing a family disagreement which had happened before I was even born. In the disagreement, one of my grandfather’s brothers left the family. He was angry at my great grandfather, though I cannot remember what the fight was about. My great grandfather was Frederick Bentley, father of Robert and Joshua. Robert changed his surname, and moved to Hertfordshire. He changed his name from Bentley to Bennet. It was with his inheritance, which he was given when he came into his majority, which purchased Longbourn.”
Elizabeth gasped, as did her sisters. Lord Bentley continued. “It has been investigated, and you ladies are the last family I have. Fortunately, there is no entail on my properties, so I am able to name who I wish to inherit. I have already instructed my solicitor to begin the paperwork which will be required to make you my heirs.”
Mr Gardiner was shocked. “How can this be possible? Thomas never said anything to me of being of the Bentley family line.”
“I know it is difficult to understand. It could be that the information Thomas was given was incorrect, or not explained properly. I also learned that the man who is currently claiming to be the heir to Longbourn, the very man who forced you ladies from your home before your were able to have your parents and sister buried, is not the true heir to Longbourn. He is not a legitimate member of the Bennet family, as he was your father’s cousin’s stepson. Your father had little contact with the cousin, and, when your parents did not have a son, Mr Collins senior falsely claimed his stepson as his son by birth. I have already begun the paperwork being drawn up to evict the man from Longbourn. Even if none of you wish to return to your childhood home, such a man should not profit from a lie.”
“This is all too much to understand.” Jane said, taking hold of Bingley’s hand. “What does all of this mean to us?”
Lord Bentley smiled. “It means that you will inherit when I die. I have three estates, business holdings, a handsome fortune, and a townhouse in Town. All will be divided between you ladies and your families.”
“If we are able to break the entail on it, with Longbourn, there would be four estates to be divided between the sisters. One estate each.” Darcy smiled. “If you do not mind, I would suggest the main estate, Drummond Place, be given to Mary. I believe there is Forest Hills and Billingham, besides Longbourn. Jane should have Forest Hills, and Kitty should have Billingham. That leaves Longbourn for Elizabeth. Does this meet with everyone’s approval?”
Everyone looked at Darcy, a question on the minds of all who were present. Darcy grinned as he continued. “Forest Hill is closest to Pemberley, which would allow Jane and Elizabeth to be near each other. Mary, Drummond Place is a beautiful place, and it has a grand library. I know you are quite fond of reading, and Lord Bentley has a marvelous pianoforte in the music room there. It is nearly half way between Pemberley and London, so we would all be close enough to visit often. As for the other two estates, Billingham is not far outside Town. If it meets with the approval of everyone, it would be an ideal situation, given Kitty’s tender age, for the Gardiners to live with her there. It is close enough to Town for Mr Gardiner to still conduct business, yet allow everyone the pleasures which come from a country estate. As for Longbourn, Elizabeth and I have Pemberley, so we have no need for one of the larger estates.”
“Darcy, you are quite intelligent. I doubt I would have come up with such a perfect solution.” Mr Gardiner declared.
“And now, I can inform any of the harpies who speak ill of my soon to be niece, Elizabeth is an heiress and a member of Lord Bentley’s family.” Lady Catherine nodded her head. “Bentley, you have delivered news at the best of times. And you say you have already begun the necessary paperwork to give my former clergyman the heeve ho? Such wonderful news indeed.”
“I take it you do not have a favorable impression of Mr Collins?” Lord Bentley asked. After learning the fact that Collins had been in possession of the living at Hunsford, and his abandonment of his position without notice to the grand lady, his lordship was pleased to learn that the man he was preparing to evict on behalf of his cousins was unworthy of any consideration. “Now, how will we handle the situation with Armstrong?” Lord Bentley asked.
“I believe Colonel Fitzwilliam is investigating the shooting which occurred, killing Miss Bingley.” Mr Gardiner stated. “The shooter was an expert, there are not many of them good enough to make the shot from the tree.”
“From a tree?” Lord Bentley was astounded. “I had heard of the shooting, and Mr Bingley’s sister being killed, but the man fired from a tree?”
“From across the street, in the park.” Colonel Fitzwilliam stated. “The man, most likely, has military training. I know of only a few men who could have made that shot, and I have contacted some of my men I have served with, asking them for information.”
“It you would not mind, my investigator is very good at uncovering information. He is the one who discovered the truth of Mr Collins, and our family history. I have also asked him to look into the matter of the highwaymen who murdered your parents and sister. Miss Bennet, if we were to locate the men involved, as the only living witness to the event, would you be able to identify the men?”
“They had their faces covered, though I believed recognized the voice of the leader of the group. There was something familiar about his voice, though, I must admit, I was frightened out of my wits.” Jane replied.
“Well, we can cross that bridge when we arrive at it. My investigator is Mr Sheridan. I will send word to him to come here and speak to you.” Lord Bentley tapped his fingers against the arms of the chair. “I would like to place a notice in the papers, publically acknowledging the Bennet sisters as my heirs. Do any of you have objections to such?”
“I do not see where it would harm the ladies.” Darcy stated. “I was planning to place a notice of my marriage to Elizabeth, waiting until after the wedding. If we placed it before, announcing the day, I believe it would be courting danger.”
“When is the day?” Lord Bentley inquired.
“Friday, at ten in the morning. If you are not otherwise busy, we would love to have you join us.” Elizabeth declared the invitation.
“My dear cousin, it would be an honor to attend. And, by then, we should have papers ready to sign for the inheritance. There will be a financial settlement as well, which I would like to see you begin to receive before my demise. I believe my assistant stated thirty five thousand pounds each. It will be placed into accounts, and you will have access to the amount, or live off the interest. It should allow you to live comfortably. And the estates each bring in roughly four thousand pounds per annum, so you will have those funds as well. My age is bringing me ailments, which keep me in town most of the time, to be close to my physician. When I can, I would hope to be welcomed at the estates.”
“Lord Bentley, you will always be welcome with my sisters and myself.” Mary proclaimed. “I feel blessed by your generosity, and would be pleased to welcome you to my home.”
“I agree with Mary.” Kitty said. “And I am sure my Aunt and Uncle Gardiner would agree, as they will most likely be with me.”
Mr Gardiner smiled. “Kitty, it will be your home, and it is your decision as to who can visit. I do agree with you though, Lord Bentley is always welcome wherever I am.”
“Very good. Now, we must do away with the title. If it meets with everyone, I will simply be Bentley, or Cousin. Might I have your approval to refer to each of you informally?”
“I approve of your calling me Gardiner or Edward, and my wife is Helen. With our family, Elizabeth goes by the name of Lizzy, and Kitty’s true name is Katherine. Jane and Mary simply go by their names.”
“And I am Bingley, or Charles. You know Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam.” Bingley added.
“It is an extreme pleasure. I have spent far too many years alone. Now I have a family for the remaining years of my life.” Lord Bentley smiled.
~~ ** ~~
Lord Bentley had only been gone for an hour when Richard sought out Mary Bennet for a private conversation.
“Miss Mary, I believe you know I have your uncle’s permission to court you.”
“Yes, Colonel, I am quite aware of your discussion with my uncle.”
Kneeling before her, Richard took hold of one of her hands. “I was planning to speak with you, to learn your desire. You have stolen my heart, Mary Bennet. Even before the announcement by Lord Bentley, I wished to ask for your hand. Though, at the time, I knew I did not have enough to make you a proper home, being a military man. I have seven thousand saved, and my grandmother left me a small property in Ireland, which brings me two thousand pounds per annum. Though I knew I loved you, I was uncertain if I would be able to give you the life you deserve, due to my lack of fortune. You deserve to have a comfortable home, servants to take care of you, and everything your heart desired.”
“Richard, it does not matter. Between the two of us, our income will be more than sufficient, and we will have an estate.” Mary stated.
“I do not wish you to think I am asking for your hand only due to your inheritance. I loved you before Lord Bentley made the announcement. And I would love you even if you were penniless.”
“And I would love you, if you were penniless. But with this news, you will be able to resign your commission, and none of us will need to fret of your having to return to battlefields.” Mary said as she raised a hand to place it gently on his cheek. “Now that we have settled the fact that we love each other, were you attempting to propose to me?”
Richard Fitzwilliam chuckled. “Indeed, I was. And making a fool of myself as I spoke. Miss Mary Bennet, would you do me the great honor of marrying me, loving me and sharing our lives together?”
“Richard, I accept your proposal. Though we have only known each other a short time, I feel as if you have been with me a lifetime. And I know, in my heart, that you are the only man I will ever love.”
Richard scooped his betrothed up into his arms, and twirled around with her. “Mary, you have made me the happiest of men.” He placed a kiss gently on her lips. “I will resign my commission. I wish to spend my life with you, raising a family of our own, as we tend to our estate. And I will have you know, I wish for many children.”
“How many children would that be?” Mary laughed at Richard’s silliness.
“At least a dozen, maybe more.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
“Well, dearest Jane, shall we announce our engagement before or after Lizzy and Darcy’s wedding? I know we had discussed waiting, but with all the changes since Lord Bentley’s announcements, are you certain you wish to wait?”
“After all Lizzy has been through, I think it should be her special moment to enjoy. There will be plenty of time for our announcement.” Jane said in a sweet voice. “Besides, with your sister’s death, it would not be wise to make known, just yet, our intent to marry. It is difficult enough, as my family should still be in mourning for my mother, father, and Lydia. I can understand the reason why Lizzy and William wish to marry now, as it will protect Lizzy in many ways. And now, learning we are heirs to Lord Bentley’s legacy, society will have a time getting to know who we are.”
“Never count on what the ton will do, as it never works out that way.” Bingley chuckled. “Besides, with their desire to avoid Town and enjoy Pemberley, I doubt anything the gossip mongers would have to say would matter to the Darcys.”
“I know how much Lizzy misses her long walks in the outdoors. It is pleasant to spend time in the gardens here, though I am certain Lizzy cannot wait to take a walk at Pemberley, or even return to Longbourn.”
“Would you prefer to live at Longbourn?” Bingley asked his fiancé.
“I do not believe Longbourn will ever be the same as it was when we were young. With all that has happened, it would be a constant reminder of the past. I do not think I could bear to live there, wishing to see Papa in his study, or Mamma in the drawing room as she ranted about the latest fashions. I would miss seeing Lydia teasing Kitty over some new ribbons and hear her wishing for a ball and plenty of men in red coats to dance with. No, I would much rather start new. With the estate near Pemberley, it would allow us to be close to Lizzy and William. I think it would be the best situation for us.”
Bingley leaned forward, placing a chaste kiss on Jane’s lips. “I love you, Jane. You are so dear to me. We will have a wonderful life together.”
Jane smiled. “Yes, we will. And you have made me see past what happened to me, giving me a future. I cannot thank you enough, Charles, for making me open my eyes.”
~~ ** ~~
Lord Bentley smiled, when, two days after meeting with his cousins and announcing their relations, he read the notice he had placed in the papers.
Lord Jonathon Bentley has announced his cousins, Miss Jane Bennet, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Miss Mary Bennet and Miss Kitty Bennet, are to be his heirs. There had been some distance between family members several generations previous, and a loss of connection has been recently mended. The young ladies, daughters of Thomas and Francis Gardiner Bennet, of Longbourn, Hertfordshire, have been residing in Town since the brutal slaying of their parents and youngest sister, Miss Lydia Bennet. Lord Bentley is pleased to find his relations and has officially declared the ladies to be under his protection and heir to his estates and fortune.
Plans for a ball in their honor will be delayed, though Lord Bentley intends on their presentation in the future. The young ladies are also nieces of Mr and Mrs Edward Gardiner, of Gardiner Imports.
Lord Bentley knew this would infuriate Armstrong, as it made Elizabeth someone of importance, explaining to many why she would have sought employment after her parents were murdered. There would still be many questions, but showing his support and acceptance of Elizabeth and her sisters would go a long way to protect them from society.
Today was the wedding of Elizabeth and Darcy, and Lord Bentley planned to attend. He was pleased to see Darcy find a lady he loved. Over the years, he knew there had been little love between Darcy’s parents, which had saddened the earl. Though Richard Fitzwilliam was the earl’s favorite, Darcy was second on his list of honorable and worthy young men.
A footman entered the breakfast room, announcing Mr Sheridan had arrived and wished to speak to Lord Bentley. “Send him in.”
“Ah, Sheridan, a pleasure to see you this morning. As it is quite early, I doubt you have had time to break your fast. Please, help yourself to whatever you would like. My staff always fixes too many delicious items, it is a miracle that I am not bigger than I am around the middle.”
“Thank you, Sir, I am grateful.” Sheridan picked up a plate from the sideboard and filled it with pastries, fruit, eggs, and ham. Once he sat his plate down at the table, and the footman poured a cup of coffee for him, Sheridan spoke. “I think we have a lead on the shooter who killed Miss Bingley. I spoke with several people, and was told that the only man who could have made such a shot and was in the area was a Samuel Butler. He was in the army until a year ago, and now is working at a warehouse by the harbor. It is not a surprise to know that the warehouse where he works is owned by none other than Mr Armstrong.”
“I want that man captured and brought to me as soon as possible. I will be at Darcy House for a wedding. Do not inform anyone of the wedding, the announcement will be afterwards. But, as this involves the Darcy family, please bring the man to Darcy House so we may all interrogate him.”
Sheridan nodded his head as he took a drink of his coffee. “I have also received word that Mr Collins is having a fit over the truth of his parentage being brought to light. He is frantically searching for another living, and has even asked if the Bennet sisters would allow him to remain living at Longbourn until he finds a suitable situation for himself.”
Lord Bentley laughed. “After how that man treated the girls after the robbery and murder, with Jane in such a condition, and their parents and younger sister not even buried, he expects kindness from them? The man is an imbecile.”
“I thought the same, and sent word for him to vacate the estate immediately, leaving it in the same condition as when he moved in, or he would be taken to court for damages or stolen items. I also informed him to count himself fortunate that the sisters did not charge him for his living there under false pretenses. It was clear that he knew he was not born a Collins, and that he had no rightful claims to the estate.”
“Indeed, Sheridan, I like your style. I do not tolerate such behavior as his, even if the estate had been his rightfully. Cruelty does not sit well with me. Especially when Jane was in such dire straights, forcing her to travel to Town so he could take over the estate was barbaric.”
Sheridan nodded. “It does not sit well with me either. I am still waiting for word on the robbery and murder. I am hopeful that word will arrive soon, as we found a man who received an offer to purchase the jewelry which had been stolen from the Bennets in the carriage. Mr Bennet’s pocket watch was inscribed to him, from his father. This information was why the man would not purchase the jewelry, but he did not know the scoundrel who was attempting to sell them.”
“Good, good, keep me informed as to any information you receive in the matter. Well, I must be off to attend my cousin’s wedding. It will be a wonderful day.”
“My best wishes to your cousin on her wedding day. Hopefully, I will be bringing your gift, wrapped up nicely, for you to present.” Sheridan finished his coffee and the last bite of pastry, before taking his leave.
Watching the investigator leave, Lord Bentley smiled. “It will be a perfect day for Elizabeth and Darcy.”
~~ ** ~~
Unable to dine with his beloved at breakfast, Darcy was pacing in his study. Lady Catherine and Mrs Gardiner had insisted on the groom not seeing his bride before the wedding, and he was completely miserable at not being able to see her. Richard entered the study quietly, watching his cousin.
“If I did not know better, I would think you had been apart from Elizabeth for a month or longer. But it has been mere hours, since you parted for your separate rooms for the night.”
“I am pleased to be bringing you such humor, Richard. Are you ready to stand up with me?” Darcy asked.
“I am. I believe it was wise of you to have Bingley and me both at your side. Having to choose from her sisters must have been difficult for Elizabeth.”
Darcy smiled. “Well, she stated she has always dreamed of having Jane at her side, but now she will have Jane and Mary. Kitty has decided to assist Georgiana, turning the pages while Georgiana plays the pianoforte.”
“It will be a pleasant day. I cannot wait until I have the same privilege.” Richard wore a dreamy expression as he thought of Mary, and the day he would be blessed with her as his wife.
“And have you set a date for your wedding?” Darcy smirked. Seeing his cousin’s eyes grow round, Darcy burst into laughter. “Richard, did you really think that you were keeping your desires to take Mary as your wife a secret? In less than an hour she will be my sister. I take my role as elder brother seriously, when it comes to protecting my sisters, as you well know. I would not wish for them to become attached to some scoundrel. But I must admit, not only did Mr Gardiner inform me, it is clearly written on your expression that you have asked her. And I am certain that Bingley has asked Jane to marry him.”
Bingley was just entering the room, and was shocked by his friend’s announcement. “How did you know?”
“Bingley, you are as easy as Richard to read your expressions. You are in love with Jane, and it is clear to see how much she truly loves you. I am pleased to see the two of you repair the foolishness I brought to you last year. There was a reason Jane survived the robbery, and I believe it was for her to become your wife.”
“And who is Richard in love with?” Bingley asked, his brow furrowed.
“If you had not been so wrapped up in your own lady, you would have realized that we will all be brothers one day, as Richard has fallen in love with Mary, and I believe he has asked for her hand.”
Richard smiled. “I have asked for her hand, her heart, and her beautiful soul. Every part of her, I wish to have at my side for the rest of my life.”
“The Bennet sisters are quite remarkable, are they not?” Bingley wore a wistful expression. “I am also pleased to know I will have you men as my brothers.”
“And why do you think I made the suggestions I did for the estates Lord Bentley has decided to give our ladies. Charles, you and Jane would live close to Elizabeth and me. Richard, Drummond was the estate which Lord Bentley had hoped to have you and his daughter live if you had married. He has always considered Drummond to be yours, as he has wished for you as his heir for many years. I know he would be delighted to have you taking charge of Drummond.”
“I know Bentley has always held the desire, I just never gave the desire any credence. How could it ever have come to be?” Richard said with a sad, though peaceful look. Remembering Lord Bentley’s daughter, and her marriage to the man who ultimately murdered her, was painful. It had all happened while he was away, on the continent, fighting in the war. Returning to England, Richard had been heartbroken to learn of his first love marrying another, and then had died such a brutal death.
“But my daughter would not wish to see you sad, Richard.” Came the voice of Lord Bentley as he entered the room. “From what I have seen of my cousin, you will be very happy. And Darcy is correct. You have always been my favorite to leave Drummond to. You were to be my heir, from the time you were just ten years old and playing at the estate with my dear girl.”
“Well, gentlemen, I believe it is time for us to make our way into the drawing room, for I am about to become the first of us to take a Bennet sister as my bride.” Darcy smiled.
~~ ** ~~
Mary and Jane entered the room together, Mary pushing the wheeled chair with her eldest sister sitting straight and tall. When the young ladies saw the men they had fallen in love with, standing by their soon to be brother, Mary and Jane blushed brilliantly. Each of the ladies were dressed in their favorite colors, Jane in pale blue and Mary in deep forest green, and their hair styled beautifully up on their heads, with curls dangling down, with small seed pearls on pins strewn about.
Richard and Bingley were awestruck by the vision before them. Each wished it was their wedding, and decided to speak with their fiancés with regards to setting a date, hopefully with a very short engagement period.
Lady Catherine could see the love in the eyes of both of her nephews. Seeing the way Richard and Mary looked at each other, Lady Catherine knew she would be welcoming another niece soon.
Hearing Georgiana playing a song for Elizabeth to enter the drawing room, everyone turned their attention to the doors of the room. Mr Gardiner entered the room, escorting his second eldest niece on his arm. It was clear to see the pride he held as he brought Elizabeth to her betrothed, placing her hand in his and granting his blessing to the wedding, before taking a seat next to his wife.
The ceremony was simple, and, in no time at all, Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy were husband and wife. Darcy had taken the wedding band and placed it lightly, first on the thumb, stating “In the name of the father”, the index finger, “The son”, the middle finger, “And the Holy Ghost”, he finally placed the ring securely on her ring finger with the word “Amen”. She was now his wife, for the rest of their lives, to love and cherish.
While everyone was wishing them joy, Darcy could not take his eyes from his wife’s. The warmth and love he found there was tremendous, and he was overwhelmed in knowing that she was his, completely and eternally, his beloved Elizabeth.
As the couple and their family made their way into the dining room, to enjoy the delicious wedding breakfast the staff of Darcy House had prepared, Mr Jarvis stepped to his master’s side. “Master William, I first wish to express my joy in seeing you so happily wed. Mrs Darcy is a wonderful young lady, and will be a perfect Mistress of this house, as well as Pemberley. Secondly, there is a Mr Sheridan here to speak with Lord Bentley and yourself. He is accompanied by several men, one of which is tied up with a hood over his head.”
“Ah, yes, Lord Bentley said he had instructed his investigator to bring a potential suspect. Lord Bentley was certain we would all wish to interrogate the man as to who had hired him.” Darcy said. Turning to his wife, Darcy placed his hand over her own, which was holding on to his arm. “Dearest, let us enjoy our wedding breakfast, and then we will have a gift, from your cousin, to investigate.”
Elizabeth looked at her husband curiously. “What is there to investigate?”
“Your cousin has had his investigator working on the shooting. It appears they have found a man who is thought to be the shooter, and they have brought him here.”
“Would it not be wise to delay the breakfast, and see to this man first?” Elizabeth inquired.
“No, dearest, wish to enjoy the delightful meal our staff has prepared for our celebration. I am certain the men who are guarding him will have no objections in the delay, especially when they will be given an opportunity to partake in the food as well.” Darcy smiled.
~~ ** ~~
After an hour of celebrating, everyone in the dining room was eager to learn what they could from the man who was brought to Darcy House, bound and identity hidden from the men watching the house for Armstrong.
Darcy and Elizabeth, still dressed in their wedding clothes, entered the drawing room where the interrogation was to take place. The man was seated in a chair, guards on either side of him. Hands bound behind his back, and a black hood over his head, he appeared to be prepared to mount the gallows.
“Take the hood off of him.” Darcy ordered. Sheridan motioned to one of the men to do as directed. “You men, take some refreshments in the dining room. My guards are able to manage this…man, for the time being.”
“Thank you, Sir.” The men said as they left the room.
Richard had escorted Mary, Kitty, and Georgiana into the room, followed by Bingley pushing Jane’s chair. Last to enter were the Gardiners, Lady Catherine and Lord Bentley.
Once everyone had taken a seat, Darcy began asking Sam Butler questions. “You are most likely aware of why you were brought here.”
“No, sir, I was snatched outside me house, I have notta clue what be happenin’. Is you planning to murder me? Some sorta rich folk game?”
“Do you recognize this lady?” Darcy motioned to his wife.
“She looks some familiar, sir, but not enuff to say we be acquainted.”
“Were you not the man who was hired to kill Elizabeth Bennet, now my wife, Mrs Darcy? Were you not the one who missed killing my wife, and instead, killed Miss Caroline Bingley?”
“Sir, I know not what you be talkin’ about.” Sam was perspiring profusely, his mouth grew dry as he attempted to figure a way out of this situation. “You must be confusing me with some other fella.”
“Are you not Sam Butler, former lieutenant from His Majesty’s ____ Brigade? Are you not the same Sam Butler who is known to be an excellent marksman, winning the highest awards for your talents? The same Sam Butler who is currently working in a warehouse owned by a Mr Armstrong?”
Sam looked around the room, hoping for any sympathy he could find amongst those gathered. He gulped at the knot which had developed in his throat, when he found no kindness in the eyes of those in the room.
“I be Sam Butler, sir. I was in the Brigade, years ago. When I left the army, I worked many a job. Last autumn, Mr Armstrong came to me, with an offer of work. He said he had need of some protection for his warehouse. I took the job, but I am no killer. Since the war, I dislike killin’.”
“I am Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam.” Richard said as he stepped forward. “I remember you, from a contest which was held three years ago. You made some amazing shots, long distance and of small targets. I have never seen the likes, before or after, of the sort of shooting you were able to do. So, you are telling us, the most amazing shot, taken from a tree across the street, through a second story window, striking one lady just seconds after the intended subject fell, such a shot was not taken by yourself? And it just so happens that your boss wishes my new cousin dead, having made multiple attempts on her life already. So many coincidences, though you do not admit to having any sort of knowledge of it?”
“N…N…No Colonel. I…I…I know nuffin.”
“You know nothing, but I should tell you, I do not believe you. You are an excellent shot, one of the best I have ever known. You work for Armstrong, who is attempting to kill my cousin. And you have the nerve to claim you know nothing about the shot, which missed my cousin, only to kill the other lady, who was the sister of this man, here.” Richard pointed to Bingley. “Do you truly believe we are foolish enough to believe the words coming out of your mouth?”
“Sir…you must understand. Mr Armstrong…he is not to be crossed. When he learns I was here, he will kill me. He is brutal. I have a wife, he would kill ‘er too. Please, I value me life.” Sam began to plead.
“So you are telling us you are not innocent? You were involved in the shooting?” Darcy asked in a voice which refused to be denied.
“Yes, sir. I wudden’ have, if me wife was safe. But Armstrong would kill ‘er.” Sam had tears streaking down his face.
“If we can make certain your wife is safe, will you testify as to Armstrong hiring you to kill my wife?” Darcy stood mere inches from Sam’s face, though above the sniveling man.
“There is no place safe from him.” Sam cried. “We be as good as dead, soon as Armstrong learns you grabbed me.”
Darcy nodded to Sheridan, who quickly moved to the hall with one of his men. The man left the house with two of the other men, making haste to Sam Butler’s home. If they were fortunate enough, Armstrong was still unaware of Sam being captured at Lord Bentley’s orders.
~~ ** ~~
Nearly two hours passed by until the men returned to Darcy House, with a woman in her thirties. Mrs Butler was fearful as she was brought into the room of the grand house.
“Brydie, girl, you is safe.” Sam cried out.
“Sam, what ‘as happened? Why we here?”
“I did a job, for Armstrong.” Sam replied.
“I told ya nuffin good would come of workin’ for the likes of ‘im.” Brydie said, a touch of anger in her voice. “I told ya not to work for such a man.”
“We needed the coin. You was starvin’.”
“And now look where we be.”
“Mr Butler, I should tell you I am the local magistrate for this area. I am willing to make you a deal, if you will work with us.” Lord Bentley said as he stepped closer. “If you are willing to testify against Armstrong, testify as to his hiring you to murder Elizabeth Darcy, nee Bennet, then I will see to it you will be transported to the Americas, with your wife. Do you agree to my terms?”
Sam looked at his wife, then at the others in the room. “I didden wanna kill anymore. Mr Armstrong was angry, threaten me wife. Forgive me, I didden wanna kill a lady.”
“Do you agree with my terms, Mr Butler?” Lord Bentley asked again.
“Yes…Yes, just keep me wife safe.”
“We will indeed.” Darcy replied.