Anne de Bourgh was surprised to receive an express from her cousin. Knowing he had only recently married, she was sure he would be too busy with his wife to think of anyone else.
Breaking open the seal, she opened the letter and began to read.
My dearest Anne,
How I wish I could be with you in person to give you this news, but it is impossible for me to leave Town at the moment.
A fire broke loose in the middle of the night. It was set in many sections of the house, by the men Mr Armstrong hired to kill Elizabeth and my friend, Charles Bingley. The fire was burning on all levels of the townhouse, mainly on the north side, as the culprits had forced their way into the Hamilton family townhouse.
Your mother was assisting us in moving everyone from Darcy House, heading for the tunnel which leads to Matlock House. We knew that Armstrong would have men outside the burning building, waiting to kill anyone who exited. When no one came out, Armstrong came inside. He attempted to shoot Elizabeth in the back, though your mother saw what was happening. Aunt Catherine moved to push Elizabeth out of her way, saving my dear wife, but taking the bullet herself. But Aunt Catherine was not finished. Armstrong did not realize that she was still alive, and when he moved near her, your mother reached out with a sharp, large shard of glass, plunging it into him.
Needless to say, Armstrong was in severe pain. He was unable to cause any further harm, as a large, burning beam fell from the ceiling, crushing him. The man is dead.
We were able to move Aunt Catherine to Matlock House, and we called for a surgeon. Unfortunately, your mother died before the surgeon could arrive.
There are no words to tell you of how my heart pains for your loss. I promised her I would always assist you in any way you needed, and I pray that you know I will do so.
As our uncle, Richard’s father, is at Rosings, we ask that you inform him of what has happened. We have vacated Matlock House, and will be staying at Lord Bentley’s townhouse. Lord Bentley has extended his invitation for you to be a guest here as well, while arrangements are made for your mother.
Again, you have, not only mine, but the sympathies of all of us here.
Anne was shocked at the news. Her mother had always been strong and independent, and now, she was gone. Most people did not understand the true woman Lady Catherine de Bourgh was, of that Anne was certain. The grand lady kept her true feelings private. It pleased Anne that her cousins had come to know more of her mother.
Going to the sitting room her uncle had taken up as his own, Anne entered to find Lord Matlock pouring himself another glass of port. “Your mother should order some more stock. She seems to be running low.”
“Uncle, I received an express from London. There has been an accident, and my mother is dead.” Anne stated in a voice which was stronger than she felt. “I will need to travel to Town today.”
“Catherine is dead? Your cousins are to blame, I am sure of it.” Lord Matlock was furious. “What did they do to my sister? They have destroyed our family, causing Anthony’s death, and now Catherine’s. I will speak to my solicitor, yes I will. I will sue Darcy for all he has, to make up for taking my family from me. It is his fault, him and his whore. I pray Armstrong kills the whore before anyone else in my family is murdered.” He tossed back the drink in one gulp.
“That is enough, Uncle. More than enough. You are a foolish man, full of outrage over something you should have handled better. You allowed Anthony’s behavior to continue, not stop him when you should have. No, your precious heir was doted on and spoiled until there was no possible way to correct his ways. And, instead of cherishing the good man that your younger son has turned out to be, you drown your sorrows in drink. Richard is a far better man than you have ever given him credit for. He has always been honorable and trustworthy. For you to have even considered asking him to forsake Elizabeth is appalling.”
“How do you know the whore’s name?” Lord Matlock roared.
“She is now my cousin, Uncle. She and William have married. That is why Mother was still in London, she wished to be in attendance, to show her support to their marriage. And I will support Elizabeth and William for the rest of my life. She is no whore, Uncle. Elizabeth was placed in a difficult situation, and nearly died in the process. You need to open your eyes and see what is truly before you. Did you know that your younger son is to inherit an estate and be married?”
“The estate my wife inherited from her mother was sold, Richard cannot inherit it. And he will never gain Matlock, I have seen to that. I would rather burn the estate to the ground before allowing him to have it.” A moment later, Lord Matlock realized what his niece had said. “Who is Richard marrying? Some heiress?”
“Indeed. Richard is marrying one of Lord Bentley’s cousins. It was in the papers the other day, how Lord Bentley had discovered his long lost cousins and they are now to be his heirs. The young lady who has won Richard’s heart is named Mary.”
“Bentley always was too soft on Richard. He should never have paid my son any attention.” Lord Matlock poured himself another glass of port. After swallowing it in one gulp, he poured another. “So, what is this girl like?”
“She is the third born daughter of a country gentleman. Her parents are dead, so she has been living with relatives.” Anne stood and made her way to the doorway of the sitting room. Just before exiting the room, she turned her head. “Yes, Richard and William will truly be brothers, as Richard is marrying Miss Mary Bennet, Elizabeth’s sister.” Then Anne left the room, hearing her uncle sputtering the drink he had just inhaled in his surprise.
~~ ** ~~
Anne sent an express to Darcy House, explaining her inability to travel to Town, due to her health. She asked that her cousins bring her mother home, to be buried at Rosings. An invitation was made to Darcy’s family and friends stay at Rosings if they wished to make the journey.
Anne also informed Richard of his father’s reaction to the news of Lady Catherine’s death, and the pleasure she took in informing Lord Matlock the identity of Richard’s betrothed. Darcy and Richard chuckled at the thought of Anne being mischievous.
Darcy, Richard, Elizabeth and Mary decided to make the journey, accompanying Lady Catherine home. Lord Bentley was seeing to the family being settled in at his townhouse, while the servants of Darcy House began sorting through the remains of their master’s house.
Richard knew, from Anne’s description, that his father would not have bothered himself with notifying Lady Matlock of her sister in law’s demise, so Richard did so himself.
I regret to inform you that Lady Catherine died yesterday. It was a tragic death, as she was shot by none other than Mr Armstrong. Aunt Catherine had purposely pushed my cousin Elizabeth out of the way when the scoundrel took his shot. Yes, I said my cousin, Elizabeth. You may not be aware of it yet, but William and Elizabeth were married on Friday past. Aunt Catherine supported their marriage, and had remained in Town to attend the service.
You may not have heard the news that Lord Bentley has discovered that Elizabeth and her sisters are his cousins. As he has no other family members, he has made the Bennet sisters his heirs. Miss Jane Bennet, the eldest, is to marry Charles Bingley. The next sister, after Elizabeth, is Miss Mary Bennet. In one month’s time, she will be your daughter in law. Mary has agreed to make me the happiest of men. I am resigning my commission, and we will take up residence at Drummond, Lord Bentley’s estate, which he has officially given to Mary.
Anthony’s death was difficult to accept, and it pains me that my brother was murdered. But the pain and disgrace which Father has brought is even more difficult. How he thought I would sacrifice the life of a young lady, especially one of gentle breeding and known to my cousins, just so my brother could continue to lead a wastrel’s life, gambling away everything which took generations to build, I just do not understand. Though I wish Anthony had not been murdered, his lifestyle lead to his demise far more than Elizabeth has.
Mary and I have spoken, and we would be grateful if you could find it in your heart to attend our wedding. I know Father will never acknowledge it, and will most likely forbid you to come, though I am certain arrangements can be made, if you care to attend. Mary wishes you to know that you will always be welcome in our home.
William and I, along with our ladies, will be taking Aunt Catherine to Rosings, as requested by Anne. Yes, I know Father is there, and I will contend with him as need be. I am going there for Aunt Catherine and Anne, not Father. Aunt Catherine approved of Mary, and spoke with my fiancé of having a marriage based on love, rather than a business transaction. I am grateful to be in love with my intended, and to feel her love in return. Mary would have married me if I had remained in the army, living as poor as church mice. Now that we will have the inheritance from Lord Bentley, along with my savings and the dowry William set up for each of his new sisters, Mary and I will be able to live comfortably.
With Darcy House needing to be rebuilt, we will staying at Lord Bentley’s townhouse after our return from Rosings.
Your son, Richard
Richard had sent the express off to Matlock, though he was not sure he would receive word from his mother. He knew his father’s influence forced Lady Matlock to obey her husband, but he also knew that the treatment of her beloved younger son was difficult for her to bear. Knowing Anthony was the heir, Lady Matlock had always allowed her husband to raise their eldest in the manner he saw fit. Richard was a different matter. Lord Matlock did not regard Richard as important, and often thought his younger son to have been mollycoddled by Lady Matlock.
The trip to Rosings was difficult, as the thoughts of those in the carriage were centered on what was to come upon their arrival. Richard was not looking forward to seeing his father, nor was Darcy. Elizabeth was nervous, as her mind continued to take the blame for the discord within the family. Mary wished for some way to make the situation easier on her betrothed, praying her love would give him the strength he would need.
As the carriage arrived in front of Rosings, Anne’s butler announced that Anne would be awaiting them in the blue sitting room. Walking through Rosings, Elizabeth could not help but equate it with the décor which had been in Darcy House. Where Darcy House had been comfortable, yet stylish, Rosings was ornate and far too formal for her liking.
Darcy knew what was going through his wife’s mind as he led her towards the sitting room. “Anne’s grandmother decorated the main house, and, as Aunt Catherine never liked the house, she never wasted a single coin to have it redone. She said it was not her home to do as she pleased, as she held it in trust for Anne. My cousin has never cared either way, and just allowed it to remain the same.”
“I am pleased your tastes are more in common with my own.” Elizabeth smiled, squeezing his arm lightly with the hand which laid on it.
“Indeed. And now, we will have a chance to remodel Darcy House together. There are many rooms I had thought to renovate, now we have a reason to do so.” Darcy chuckled. “Amazing that Fate has given us this chance to do so.”
“There will be much to do to restore the townhouse. I am sorry there was so much damage.”
Stopping his wife in mid-stride, Darcy turned to her. “You are not responsible for the actions of a mad man. I am grateful you were unharmed and that Armstrong is dead. We can now move forward with our lives.”
“I love you, William. I am so grateful for you being my husband.”
Darcy kissed his wife’s forehead before guiding her into the sitting room. Anne had been seated in an upholstered chair, and had begun to rise when Richard and Mary entered the room.
“Welcome, Richard. And this must be Mary, your fiancé.” Anne greeted each with an embrace. “It is a pleasure to meet you Mary. My mother’s letters spoke so much of you and your sisters, I feel as if I have known you for a long time.”
“Though I wish it had been under different circumstances, it is a pleasure to meet you, Miss de Bourgh.” Mary stated nervously.
“Now, now, I will have none of that. You must call me Anne. We will be cousins soon enough.” Anne turned towards the door as Darcy escorted his wife into the room. “And this must be Elizabeth. My mother described you perfectly, so beautiful and your eyes. Mother said your eyes sparkle with life, and she was correct. Welcome, Elizabeth and William.”
“Miss de Bourgh, please accept the condolences of my entire family.” Elizabeth said as Anne embraced her.
“Please, Cousin, it is Anne. There is no need for formality. And I thank you for your kindness. I look forward to one day meeting the rest of your family, though Mother wrote to me of all of them. Your eldest sister is Jane, correct?”
“Yes, Miss….Anne. Jane is the eldest, followed by Elizabeth.” Mary explained. “Then it is me, followed by our sister Katherine, or Kitty, as we call her. Our youngest sister was Lydia, who died with our parents.”
“You all have my condolences.” Anne said, holding hands with Elizabeth and Mary, leading them to the nearby sofa. “I rang for tea when I was told your carriage was in the park. It is my hope you will indulge me before going to your rooms to refresh.”
Darcy smiled. “Of course, Anne. How are you? Your mother informed us that your health has not improved.”
“I am as well as can be expected, William. I know my time here with all of you is limited, but it pleases me to see you so happily situated, with ladies who love you.” Anne’s smile was weak, and it was easily determined by those who knew her, as her cousins did, that her health was declining.
Anne allowed Mary to pour the tea for everyone, giving Anne a chance to relate some news to everyone. “I received a letter from our former clergyman, Mr Collins. It seems he is in need of a living, as he had received the inheritance of an estate under false pretenses. The truth was discovered and Mr Collins has been given his walking papers. I believe the estate was your father’s, was it not?” Anne asked Elizabeth.
“Yes, Mr Collins was believed to be my father’s cousin. It turns out that he was the stepson of my father’s cousin, therefore not related by blood.”
“Well, I took the liberty of writing him back and telling him that he would not be welcomed here. He left here unexpectedly, leaving my mother in a difficult position. And I also explained that he had been extremely cruel to my new cousin and her family, which I could not tolerate. He is such a slimy, toad of a man, I could not stand him when he was at Hunsford. Let him find his future elsewhere. He lied, knowing that he was not Mr Collins by birth or blood, and he knew he was not entitled to the estate. I actually spoke to the new vicar, who has an uncle who is high up in the church. When I told Mr Freemont of Mr Collins’ falsehood and cruelty, Mr Freemont wrote to his uncle. Steps are being taken to keep Mr Collins from ever being a clergyman again.”
Darcy and Richard smiled. Elizabeth’s eyes grew round with the news. “I have always believed in doing unto others as you would wish done to you. Mr Collins was vicious and cruel when he insisted we depart Longbourn immediately, even before our sister, Jane, could be examined by a physician. The trip in the wagon was difficult, and could have cost Jane her life. Only due to our friends, the Lucas family, were we able to recover some of our personal belongings. But Mr Collins refused to allow us to take any keepsakes which had belonged to our parents and Lydia.”
“Lizzy, you never told me Collins had been so cruel. Your parents’ personal belongings, he refused to allow you anything of theirs?” Darcy was heartbroken for his wife. “It is a good thing Collins is not here, I cannot help but wish to see him punished for his behavior.”
“At the time, Charlotte Lucas was engaged to him, which allowed her some leverage with him. What Mr Collins did not know, when Charlotte was packing up the rooms of our parents and Lydia, she put some items away for us. Some handkerchiefs that Mamma had stitched, ribbons which had been Lydia’s, and some of the jewelry items which had belonged to my parents. Papa’s spectacles, a few of his books which Charlotte knew were my favorites, and his journals, were all hidden from Mr Collins. Sir William has the items hidden in his cellar.”
Mary was shocked. “How did you come to know this?”
“A letter arrived for me at Uncle Gardiner’s, and the guards brought it to Darcy House, along with other letters for Uncle and Aunt. The letter was from Charlotte. She is visiting relatives, after her engagement was broken. Charlotte described to me of her thievery and trickery, to be able to remove the items from Longbourn. She told Mr Collins that she was taking items which could be used in the parish for the poor.”
This information gave everyone smiles, knowing how creative Charlotte Lucas had been in deceiving the foolish man.
Hearing a noise at the doorway, Anne’s attention turned to see her uncle had entered the room. “Uncle, now is not the time. My guests were just planning to refresh themselves after their journey.”
“I realize that they are your guests, Anne, but I wish to speak to my son.” Lord Matlock stated. It appeared to everyone in the room that Lord Matlock was sober, which was the first time in weeks that he had been.
Richard stood, turning towards his father. “If I am not mistaken, you declared that I was disowned, and no longer your son. What gives you the right to now declare I am your son again?”
“Richard, I wish to speak with you. Would you be so kind as to follow me to the study?” Lord Matlock spoke in a soft voice.
“Lord Matlock, you have nothing to say to me which cannot be said in the company of my cousins and my fiancé.” Richard stood tall and proud. “As you could easily toss me aside, you do not deserve my respect. William, Elizabeth, Anne, and, most of all, Mary, have been with me, through thick and thin. They did not throw me out with the rubbish, as you did. So I will remain here, with them. If you wish to speak to me, do so here.”
A look of anguish stole over Lord Matlock’s face. “Richard, please, would you see me in the study? It would not be proper to have such a discussion in front of the ladies.”
“After all Mary and Elizabeth have been through, I do not know of anything you could say that would disturb them. So decide Lord Matlock, will you speak to me here, or not at all?”
His eyes plead with Anne to come to his aid, but Lord Matlock could see his niece was not supporting him in the matter. “Very well. I wish to speak with you on the matter of your brother’s death.”
Richard turned himself so he was standing directly in front of Lord Matlock. “You made your opinion quite clear with the letter you sent to me. What more could you possibly have to tell me? Do you intend to reiterate your disapproval of my actions in defending the life of a young lady who had been treated wrongly? The young lady is sitting right her, Lord Matlock. She is sitting beside her husband, my cousin, who you also decided to abandon as your relations. I stand behind my decision to protect my new cousin, who will soon be my sister. Your opinion as to how inappropriate I behaved has no sway over my life.”
“Please, Richard, hear me out.” Lord Matlock attempted to withstand his son’s anger. “You are angry at me, and rightfully so. Your cousin, Anne, has defended your position admirably, and caused me to spend the past day in deep thought.”
Turning towards Anne, Richard wore a puzzled look. Anne simply shrugged her shoulders and gestured towards her uncle to continue speaking.
“I have thought carefully of what happened. When I spoke to Anthony, attempting to contain his over indulgences, your brother refused to do so. He spoke of turning the young lady over to Armstrong and asking Darcy for the funds to protect Matlock, allowing Anthony the freedom of continuing his appalling behavior. He did not care of the affect upon anyone else, only finding pleasure in his own life. Anne was correct. I have been concentrating on protecting my eldest son, all the while ignoring the fine young man my younger son has turned out to be. Your behavior has been completely opposite of your brother’s, defending a young lady’s honor, even before knowing her. You tried to convince me to control Anthony’s ways, and I did not listen to you. Then I blamed you for his death. I know Armstrong had Anthony killed, to teach me a lesson.”
“We believed the same. There will be no further lessons from Armstrong, as he is dead.” Darcy explained, taking his place standing beside his cousin.
“Armstrong is dead?” Lord Matlock was puzzled. “When did he…?”
“Just a few moments before Aunt Catherine. She repaid his shooting her by stabbing him with a large piece of broken glass. While he cried out in pain, the ceiling beam collapsed, crushing him.”
“Anne did not tell me what had happened, only that there had been an accident and Catherine had died. Would you be willing to tell me what happened?” Lord Matlock asked. Seeing the nods from Richard and Darcy, Lord Matlock begged approval for him to sit down, which he was granted.
Between Darcy and Richard, they were able to describe what had happened at Darcy House the night of the fire. Lord Matlock was overwhelmed with the lengths that Armstrong had gone to, in the hopes of killing Elizabeth and Bingley. While he was listening to the description of the attack on Darcy House, Lord Matlock paid close attention to the young ladies and how they responded to the men. It was clear that there was deep respect and love between Darcy and Elizabeth, as well as with Richard and Mary. He had never seen Darcy appear to be so at ease, so comfortable. Lord Matlock could tell by the way his nephew would slightly touch his wife, as they sat side by side on the sofa, there was a true bond between the two. He had never felt such with his own wife, nor had either of his sisters.
Since birth, Lord Matlock had been taught that love did not matter. The estate, business affairs, and an appropriate marriage to a lady who brought wealth or connections was all that mattered. Seeing his nephew forsake such was difficult for him. Knowing that his younger son preferred the same sort of marriage as Darcy, rather than holding by the traditions of their social circle, unnerved Lord Matlock.
“You have all given me much to think over. I would like to take a walk in the gardens, if you would not mind.” Lord Matlock stated as he stood. “If you approve, I would very much like to continue this discussion later.”
Richard turned to Darcy, and seeing both William and Elizabeth nod their heads, he spoke for them all. “It would be agreeable to speak again later. Though, I might add, please refrain from imbibing. What needs to be discussed is important, and judgment cannot be clouded by spirits.”
“You have my word. I have had my valet remove all bottles from my rooms and have refrained from entering other rooms alone. Due to Anne’s words to me, I am attempting to clear my mind from the fog it has been in for weeks now.” Nodding his head, Lord Matlock left the room.
Turning to Anne, Richard was surprised. “Just what did you say to him to create such a change in attitude?”
“I reminded him of what a good man his second son was and always had been. And I told him it was high time to remember that he should be proud of honorable man you have become.” Anne smiled at her cousin.
“Thank you, Anne. Your words are kind towards me.”
“Yes, and you had best remember my kindness, even after the wretched way you treated me when we were children. Hiding my favorite doll and telling me such frightening tales which made me fear sleeping in my bed for weeks.”
Mary chuckled. “Why am I not surprised by such behavior, Richard?”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Lord Matlock walked about the gardens for nearly an hour, before he took a seat on one of the benches. Everything he had known in his life had completely changed in the past year. He tried desperately to determine how his life had become what it was.
Since Anthony’s birth, Lord Matlock had been proud to have his heir. Looking back on his eldest son’s life, Lord Matlock realized he had indulged his son, never making him take responsibility for his behavior or training him to take over the earldom and run the estate. Whenever he had wished to start grooming Anthony to take his place, Anthony would make a comment of there being plenty of time for such seriousness later. He wished to enjoy his freedom and youth while he could. Anthony also noted the change in Darcy since his father’s death. “You would not wish for me to become overburdened with responsibility, as Darcy has. Good God, the man acts as if he were twenty years older than he is. What a dull and disagreeable man my cousin has become. No, Father, I would not wish for such a life.”
“But son, what would you do if I were to die tomorrow? How would you run the estate and business matters?”
“Do we not employ a steward to handle problems at the estate? And you have Hornsby to assist you with business matters. Have I not given you Armstrong’s name, and suggested you do business with him? That shows I have some talent at business. The man has his foot in many ventures, and he will take us far.”
Thinking of that conversation, tears threatened to overflow Lord Matlock’s eyes. The worst mistake he had ever made in his life was to do business with Armstrong. It had cost him far too much. And was still costing him, even with Armstrong dead.
Not only had he lost his eldest son, he was on the verge of losing his family’s estate. Generations of the Fitzwilliam family had built their legacy, and in only a few short years, Anthony had nearly destroyed it all, by dealing with Armstrong. It would take a considerable amount of work to rebuild, so much damage had already been done. Lord Matlock was unsure of how he could manage to rebuild. But the truth was there before his eyes. Richard was the answer to everything. Richard was the good and honorable man Lord Matlock had wished Anthony to be. And he had treated his younger son disgracefully.
Realizing what he had to do, Lord Matlock returned to the house and went in search of his son and nephew. It did not take long before he found them, along with the ladies, in the music room, listening to Mary play on the pianoforte.
Lord Matlock stood in the doorway, watching his son’s expression as his fiancé played. It warmed his heart to witness the love and devotion his son held for the young lady. When the song ended, Lord Matlock applauded as he stepped further into the room.
“Miss Mary, you played wonderfully.”
“Th…thank you, Lord Matlock.” Mary said, her eyes darting towards Richard.
“Would now be a good time to speak further?” Lord Matlock inquired, looking, not only at his son, but at each of the people in the room.
“Yes, Uncle, now would be a perfect time.” Anne stated. “My cousins have all refreshed themselves from their journey, and the clergyman just left. The services for Mother will take place the day after tomorrow.”
“Very good.” Lord Matlock moved to one of the chairs across from the sofa where Richard had led Mary to sit with him. “I have thought on what has happened, and what you have told me. Richard, William, I am asking you to forgive my foolishness. It is true, I did not stop Anthony. To be honest, I do not understand why I allowed his behavior to continue. His behavior was due to my failure to be a proper father. The difference in my sons was extreme. Perhaps, being closer to his mother was why Richard has turned into the fine man he is today. I know it had nothing to do with my parenting skills.”
Sitting forward in the chair, Lord Matlock continued. “From my ignorance and foolishness, I allowed Anthony to nearly destroy everything my ancestors built. Due to my pampering him, Anthony led a life of a wastrel, which put the future of Matlock in jeopardy. Then I was an even greater fool by disowning the two men who were kind, caring and honorable. Richard, I plan to send word to my solicitor, revoking my decision to disown you. You will inherit my title and estate when I am gone. It is not what it should be, but I plan do what I can to build it back up.”
“I do not require a title or estate, Father, though I would like to do what I can to assist in restoring Matlock to what it was. You may not be aware, but my fiancé has recently found she is an heiress, as are her sisters. They are the heirs to Lord Bentley, as they are his cousins. He has already taken matters forward, awarding each of the sisters one of his estates, and Elizabeth will receive their family’s estate of Longbourn, after Lord Bentley breaks the entail.”
“You will inherit Drummond?” Lord Matlock asked, knowing Lord Bentley’s fondness for Richard.
“Mary and I will inherit Drummond. As I said, I will do what I can to assist you in rebuilding Matlock. Perhaps, one day, my son will take his place as the Earl of Matlock. And there are far too many people relying on the estate to allow it to fail. The tenants and staff have taken care of our family for many years. They do not deserve to be neglected.”
“Your cousin was correct in describing you as honorable. Richard, you are, indeed, a most honorable man.” Lord Matlock turned his attention to the Darcys. “William, I now beg your forgiveness in my behavior. You have been just as honorable as Richard, and I was blindly ignored the truth. And my behavior nearly cost you the love of the young lady sitting beside you. If you will allow me the opportunity, I wish to know Mrs Darcy better. It would be most pleasing to be a part of your family.”
Darcy turned his gaze towards his wife. Seeing Elizabeth’s eyes turned to him, he could see her desire to speak. Giving her a simple, nearly invisible nod, Elizabeth looked to Lord Matlock.
“Sir, I wish for you to understand a few things. You have suffered a loss in your first born son. I sympathize with you, as we have had tragedy in our family as well.” Elizabeth reached over and took hold of her sister’s hand. “We lost both of our parents, our youngest sister, our eldest sister was gravely injured, and we were forced from our home, all within one day. Our lives were overturned and everything we had was taken from us. But we still had Jane with us, and Mary, Kitty and I were unharmed. And we had our aunt and uncle, the Gardiners, who stood behind us. I endured the pain which was inflicted upon me, both physically and emotionally. And my family was put in danger because of the evil which flowed through Mr Armstrong. Your second son came to my aid on the word of Georgiana, she had been seeing to my needs after Charles Bingley had brought me to Darcy House. Georgiana did not know me, yet she did all that she could to see to my care. When it was finally learned who I was, both your son and your niece had heard of me from William, while he stayed at Netherfield.”
“It was when your nephew returned to London that he discovered it was me who had been rescued. William did all he could to protect me and my family. I realized what a wonderful man he truly is, and fell in love with him. But his life was also endangered, as was Georgiana’s, Richard’s, Mary’s, and everyone else who were at Darcy House. Your sister died as a result of protecting me from being shot. She was willing to place her own life in danger to protect me. She gave me the greatest gift, which I will treasure always.”
Elizabeth brought her husband’s hand to her lips, kissing it gently. “I did not know your eldest son, but, from what I have been told, I do not think I would have liked him. Richard, on the other hand, is a treasure. He will soon be my brother, and cherish my sister as she deserves to be. William and Georgiana are my family, and I am grateful to Anne for accepting me as well. I can forgive you for your behavior towards me and towards my family, including William. In forgiving you, it releases any anger I hold towards you, bringing me peace rather than holding on to anger. Forgetting what you did is different, and that will take time to do. Forgetting would mean trusting you, and I am not certain I could do that at this point. But I am willing to try trusting you. I wish for you to be a part of our lives, and I pray that William and I can assist you in rebuilding Matlock to what it was. My husband and sister are Fitzwilliam by blood. My sister Mary will be Fitzwilliam by marriage. Their children will be of Fitzwilliam blood. So, you can see, why it would be important to me to work with you in rebuilding a part of my family’s heritage? My children will be the great grandchildren of the late Earl of Matlock. My sister’s children will be the future heirs of the estate and title.”
“I agree with my wife, Uncle. My Fitzwilliam heritage is just as important as the Darcy side. And I pledge to you my support in rebuilding Matlock to what it was before. Perhaps, next month, we could all travel to Matlock and discuss what needs to be done to improve the estate.”
Lord Matlock had lost control of the tears, now overflowing and streaming down his cheeks. “I do not deserve your kindness, though I am grateful and pleased to accept it. You are all welcome to come to Matlock. In fact, have you planned where to have your wedding, Richard? Your mother would love to host the wedding, I am sure. You should be married in the chapel at Matlock.”
“Mary and I will discuss it, Father. We will inform you of our decision later.” Richard smiled as he looked at his betrothed.
“That is all I can ask, Son. Anne, I now wish to thank you. You have allowed my disgraceful behavior and self-wallowing, but when I needed it, you gave me a swift kick to wake me from my stupor. Your mother would be proud of you.” Lord Matlock declared. “I wish I had had a chance to speak with Catherine one last time. I am ashamed that the last time she saw me, I was inebriated and behaving in such a foul manner.”
“Mother knew you well enough, Uncle.” Anne spoke soothingly to her uncle. “I have no doubt that she is watching over us now. And I am also sure that Mother will make her opinions well known, especially if we act in a manner which would vex her.”
Laughter filled the room as memories of Lady Catherine were spoken.
~~ ** ~~
The service for Lady Catherine de Bourgh was held, with all of the prominent families of Kent represented. A luncheon was prepared for the men as they returned from the service. Lord Matlock stood beside Anne, as condolences were given over and over again. Elizabeth and Mary kept themselves busy, ensuring everyone had enough to eat and their cups of tea and coffee were replenished as needed. Many of the men had come to meet the new Mrs Darcy and to determine if the rift in the family, which had been rumored to be of gigantic proportions, was true. All were impressed with Elizabeth and her sister, congratulating Darcy and Richard for their choices. Seeing Lord Matlock with the rest of the family quelled the rumors, leaving many who attended disappointed.
The following day, Darcy’s carriage carried the two couples back to London. There was much to accomplish before they left for Pemberley. Arriving at Lord Bentley’s home, they were greeted with their loved ones.
“Lizzy, Mary, it is so good to have you return, safe and sound.” Jane embraced her sisters. “Did all go well?”
“Much better than expected.” Elizabeth responded. “We will tell you all about it later. First, I wish to wash off the dust from the road and rest for a bit. I did not sleep much while we were away.” She gave her husband a mischievous look which spoke of what had kept her from properly resting.
Darcy wrapped his arms around his wife from behind her. “I believe we both could use some rest, Elizabeth. Though, I would not mind a hot bath first.”
“You must have read my mind, William.” Elizabeth leaned back into his chest, enjoying the contented feeling of security and love.
Lord Bentley entered the drawing room just then. “Ah, welcome back. Elizabeth, you have a letter which arrived yesterday. I believe it is from Lucy Armstrong.” He walked over to the sideboard, retrieving the letter from the silver salver, and handing it to his cousin.
Opening the letter, Elizabeth began to read. “It is from Lucy. She received word of her father’s death, just as she was preparing to leave her aunt’s home. They were planning to journey to the continent, but now, she was returning to London to deal with her father’s affairs. She asks if I would allow her to visit while she is in Town.”
“Do you wish to see Miss Armstrong?” Darcy asked his wife.
“Lucy is not to blame for her father’s behavior. I have no anger or resentment towards her.” Elizabeth replied. “She was a pleasant young lady when I lived with her. I cannot imagine her being horribly changed by now, as she wished to escape her father’s behavior.”
Lord Bentley nodded his head. “An invitation will be sent to her, inviting her to tea tomorrow, if you have no objections?”
“Thank you Cousin.” Elizabeth smiled.
“Darcy, the work crew has been diligently working on the townhouse. Anything of value was brought here, and is being stored in one of the vacant apartments on the third floor.” Bingley announced. “The damage is extensive, though not as severe as originally thought. The townhouse will not have to be completely torn down and rebuilt. The plans you requested drawn up should be here tomorrow, so you will be able to inspect them and give your opinion.”
“Thank you, Charles. I am grateful for your assistance. Have you moved to your townhouse, or are you staying here?”
“I…I…Lord Bentley asked if I could remain here, to keep watch over everything while you were away. I felt it was important for me to do so. Now that you have returned, I will move back to my townhouse.”
Darcy chuckled. “Charles, there is no problem with you remaining here. If Lord Bentley offered you rooms here, you are more than welcome.”
Bingley smiled. “I am loathed to leave Jane just yet. I miss her terribly if I am away from her for even an hour.”
“Then it is settled. Are the Gardiners here?” Richard inquired.
“They returned to Gracechurch Street, though they are preparing to move from their home.” Kitty announced. “We are planning to move to our… my estate, so we can enjoy being away from the city. It will be good for the children to be moved to the estate. The boys are already asking if they can build a house in one of the trees. They claim to have gotten the notion from you, Richard.”
Blushing brilliantly, Richard turned his gaze to Mary. “I told them about the tree which William and I played in when we were boys. We built a floor in the branches, so we could have somewhere to escape to.”
“Uncle Gardiner has declared that you have put the idea in the minds of his sons, so it is up to you to assist them in building it.” Kitty giggled.
“William, I may require your assistance.” Richard declared.
~~ ** ~~
Lucy Armstrong arrived at the front steps leading into Lord Bentley’s townhouse. Taking a deep breath, she climbed the steps and reached out her hand, grasping the knocker. The butler answered the door, accepting her card as he asked her to wait in the foyer. Looking around her, Lucy was worried at how she would be received.
Elizabeth came out of a room on the main level, down a long hallway. “Miss Armstrong, it is a pleasure to see you. Are you well?”
Shocked at the congenial welcome, Lucy stuttered as she thought how to respond. “Th…th…thank you, Miss Eliz…forgive me…Mrs Darcy. I am well.”
“Come, join me in the drawing room. My sister, Jane, is there. I believe you will like her.” Elizabeth reached out a hand to grasp Lucy’s.
“I remember you telling me of her. She is recovering?”
Smiling, Elizabeth nodded her head. “She will most likely spend the rest of her life in a wheeled chair, but she is growing stronger and regaining some of her former sparkle. And she is engaged to marry Mr Bingley. We are thrilled.”
“I am pleased. I remember you were worried for her. She was dear to you, I could see it in your eyes, as you spoke of her.”
“Jane and I have always been close. Seeing her so improved warms my heart.” Elizabeth led her former charge into the drawing room, making the introductions.
“Miss Bennet, it is a pleasure to meet you. Your sister spoke often of you, and she was fretful of your health. She must be pleased to have you near her, recovering your strength.” Lucy stated, looking closely at the eldest Bennet sister.
“Miss Armstrong, my sister has told me much of you. If I remember correctly, you were taken with her scent. The rose water mixed with lavender. I am sure she would have told you that I mixed it for her.”
“She did tell me. I wish I was talented enough to concoct fragrances. You are quite talented.”
Jane chuckled. “All that is required is a good nose. Come, sit with Lizzy and me. Would you care for some refreshments?”
Lucy looked nervously from Elizabeth to Jane, and back again. “I do not mean to take much of your time.”
“Miss Armstrong, do not fret. We are pleased to have a chance to speak with you. I beg you to stay for some tea and biscuits. The cook here is wonderful, and she makes some of the most delicious delicacies.”
Lucy nodded her head in agreement to stay. Once the tea and tasty morsels were brought to the drawing room, she began to speak.
“Miss…Mrs Darcy, I wish, firstly, to apologize for all that happened to you. My father was wrong in his behavior towards you, and how he harmed you. It is unforgiveable, and I am still quite upset over the situation. I am pleased you are safe and sound, and now happily married.”
“As am I, Miss Armstrong. I must insist on you referring to me as Lizzy, though. It is still quite difficult to fathom being Mrs Darcy.” Elizabeth chuckled lightly.
“Only if you return to calling me Lucy. It is my greatest hope that you will be able to forgive me, and we can return to being friends.” Lucy’s eyes pleaded for kindness.
“Of course we can be friends. I have never held your father’s behavior against you. It is an honor to be your friend.”
Tears began to stream down the younger lady’s cheeks. “You have no notion who lightened I feel, having that weight off my shoulders.”
Gathering the young lady into her arms, Elizabeth spoke softly. “My dear Lucy, you have suffered as much as the rest of us. Only you had no one to turn to, where I had my family and friends. I am pleased your aunt is understanding and supportive of your desires.”
“She is wonderful. After I finish going through my father’s business and ridding myself of his properties and such, my aunt and I will be leaving for the continent. I wish to see Italy, which is where we will begin our journeys.”
“I know you will find enjoyment in your travels. We spoke often of your wish to see the world.”
“One of the first things I need to take care of is to rid myself of my f…father’s property. I have decided that you should have his house. Yours was destroyed, leaving you without a townhouse. Though it is not as grand as Darcy House was, I wish you to have it.”
“Lucy, that is unnecessary. My cousin, Lord Bentley, has been gracious enough to open his home to us. The plans for Darcy House are already underway.”
“Please, Lizzy, I wish for you to have the house. I cannot imagine ever returning there.”
Jane looked from Lucy to Elizabeth. “Lizzy, I have an idea. We were just speaking of building a home for young ladies who have had their reputations ruined by no fault of their own. Why not use the house Miss Armstrong is offering, turn it into a home for such young ladies?”
Lucy’s eyes grew large with excitement. “Please, Lizzy, accept the house for such a project. And there is a warehouse nearby which is part of my father’s property. It could be used to provide some sort of employment, to allow the young ladies to find honest work and a safe place to live.”
A smile grew larger on Elizabeth’s lips. “What a perfect solution. It would be wonderful. I accept the donation towards aiding young ladies. Now, let us enjoy the refreshments and discuss your proposed journey.”