These are the final chapters for this tale. Starting Wednesday, I will be starting a new story.
After seeing to the repairs which would be needed done to Darcy House, Fitzwilliam Darcy was finally able to take his wife to their estate, Pemberley. Having heard so many wonderful things of the estate, Elizabeth could not wait to see it for herself. Being away from country life for far too long, she was quite ready to take leisurely strolls in nature.
Pulling to a stop on the crest of a hill, Elizabeth looked curiously at her husband. “Is there a problem with the carriage?”
“No, my love, I asked the driver to stop here. It has one of the greatest views of Pemberley that can be found. Every time I return to Pemberley, it has been a custom of mine to stop here and take in the aspect. It reminds me of the beauty and wonders of my home. And now, it is our home. Please, step out from the carriage with me.” Darcy said with such enthusiasm, Elizabeth could not help but to giggle.
“Seeing you nearly giddy at the sight makes me wonder how you will be at Christmas, when you receive gifts.” She laughed.
“Dearest, I have received the greatest gift in the world, for you agreed to marry me. I love you, my sweet girl. And if I am giddy, if is because I am finally able to share all of this with you.”
“William, you amaze me each and every day. To think that I ever thought you to be a proud and disagreeable man.” Elizabeth said as her husband handed her down. Once on the ground, Elizabeth stood on the tips of her toes so she could favor her husband with a kiss.
Darcy smiled, enjoying her spontaneity. Taking hold of her hand, he led Elizabeth to his favorite place to take in the natural beauty of Pemberley. Hearing the gasp emitted by his wife, Darcy could not help but be pleased.
“Of all this, I am to be the Mistress?” She exclaimed.
“Yes, my love. This is your home.”
“It is far more than I could ever truly imagine. William, it is a piece of heaven, here for us to cherish. Nothing could have prepared me for such wonders, for there are no words to give proper due to such a place.”
Darcy’s heart warmed with her words. “I have often felt the same way.”
~~ ** ~~
A fortnight had passed quickly when a letter arrived from Lord Bentley.
Elizabeth and William,
We have received news of great importance with regards to the deaths of Mr and Mrs Bennet, and Miss Lydia, and the attempted murder of Miss Jane. We have learned the identities of three of the men involved in the horrid act, and we were hoping you would wish to be with us as we apprehend them. All of the men are in Hertfordshire, and there are guards keeping watch over them. But we must move swiftly to bring their evilness to an end.
I know you were planning to remain at Pemberley until you journeyed to Matlock for the wedding, but Richard and Mary have decided this matter takes precedence over the wedding. It should not delay the wedding, though we must hurry. Please send word immediately if you are to come.
Darcy was excited to share the information with his wife. The two immediately agreed to set out for Town. After sending off an express to Lord Bentley, the Darcys prepared to leave within the hour.
During their journey, both Elizabeth and Darcy discussed how the information would bring to their family. Both were agreed there was concern in how Jane would react if she were forced to testify in court against the culprits. They also prayed there would be no delay caused for Richard and Mary’s wedding. Elizabeth inquired for details as to what would happen if the case went to court.
Hearing the details of how the court system worked, Elizabeth was even greater distressed for her elder sister. Though Jane had improved tremendously, Elizabeth knew how the remembrance of that terrible night still caused panic deep within her dearest sister.
“Do not fret, dearest. There may not be a need for her to testify. If the evidence is strong enough, the barrister might be kind enough to have mercy on her delicacy. It is done often, and now, with the family relations to Lord Bentley being common knowledge, it will be highly desirable to not bring her difficulties. The men will not wish to find disfavor by offending his lordship.”
~~ ** ~~
Upon their arrival at Lord Bentley’s townhouse, Darcy and Elizabeth were escorted to the Master’s study. Finding Bingley and Richard already in the room with Lord Bentley, greetings were quickly exchanged and the matter at hand was soon discussed.
“Sheridan has discovered who three of the individuals involved in the matter. The one who appears to be the ring leader is none other than William Collins. He wished to eliminate your father, I am quite sure. And with you, Lizzy, refusing his hand, and your mother stating Jane had another understanding, it is certain that his fury was high.”
Elizabeth gasped. “How was he discovered?”
“He was discovered with your father’s pocket watch. He was trying to pawn the piece, not long after he was given notice of his taking possession of Longbourn under false pretense. As a matter of fact, it was only hours after he received notice from Sheridan that he was to vacate Longbourn. Collins also had your mother’s pearls, which Jane confirmed Mrs Bennet was wearing that fateful night.” Richard stated.
“The fool.” Darcy said with such anger. “He deserves whatever the court would deem fit for his punishment. And the other two?”
“Mr Andrew Denny and Mr George Wickham.” Lord Bentley stated, knowing the second name would extract a reaction from both of the Darcys.
“NO!” Darcy cried out. “Wickham is involved in the murder and robbery of the Bennets? I knew him to be evil, but this far outweighs all the other crimes at his feet. How did you come to learn of his involvement?”
“It appears that the two men have been in collusion with Collins for some time now. Even before the Netherfield ball.” Bingley announced. “It seems that they had planned on Elizabeth marrying Collins, and then Collins would have a reason to remain at Longbourn. Because he was refused, he was forced to move to Lucas Lodge, which made him determined to act quicker than he might. Mr Sheridan spoke with Sir William Lucas. It seems that Collins was nervous, far more so than before he was refused. And Sir William had made it clear that he could not remain living at Lucas Lodge. Even though Collins stated his desire to remain near Longbourn, as he claimed he wished to spend time learning about the estate from Mr Bennet, no effort was ever made by Collins to spend time at Longbourn.”
Richard continued the tale. “It appears that Sir Lucas’ eldest son discovered Collins and the other two men in discussion, not long before the murders. From the description of the conversation, it was very heated, with Wickham grabbing hold of Collins’ coat and roughing him up a bit. The only words the Lucas boy overheard were “yes, yes, soon”. The boy thought Collins owed them some money, and that they were insisting on being paid.”
“After the Bennets were laid to rest, and Collins took the estate, Wickham and Denny were seen at the estate frequently.” Bingley said. “And, the most disturbing part was Wickham gave a trinket to a young lady he was sweet on. The item was a hair comb which had belonged to Jane. The comb was silver, with blue paste stones. The young lady, one of Mrs Goulding’s nieces, was seen wearing it in her hair. Mrs Goulding was telling Lady Lucas that Wickham was fond of the girl, though he had yet to make his intention known until he came into an inheritance, which he was expecting soon. It was also stated that Wickham had planned to take a position at Longbourn, until Collins was given the boot. Many believe that Wickham and Denny plan to leave any day, as Denny was overheard saying they would receive Wickham’s inheritance and be off, any day.”
“Then we should go to Meryton immediately.” Elizabeth declared.
“You should not be with us, Elizabeth.” Darcy replied.
“It was my parents and little sister who were murdered. It was my dearest sister who was left crippled for life. It was my home which was ripped from my loved ones, forcing us to endanger Jane further. If it was the right of any of us here, it is mine.” Elizabeth stood her ground.
“William, I agree with your wife.” Lord Bentley said. “If anyone has a right to confront these men, it is our dear Lizzy.”
Taking an exasperated breath, Darcy gave in to his wife’s demand. “We will take you to Lucas Lodge, while we deal with the criminals. Sir William is the magistrate in Meryton’s neighborhood, is he not?”
“He is. So you would need to bring the men to Sir William, once captured.”
“Very well. Men, let us prepare to leave.”
~~ ** ~~
On the way to Meryton, Elizabeth had questions. “Has Mr Collins vacated Longbourn?”
“No, he has been delaying his departure, claiming all sorts of things, including he is making repairs to the house in gratitude for the ladies not bringing demands for recompense from him. The truth is, according to what was learned from Mrs Hill, who had chance of overhearing Collins, in which the fool has made himself believe that the estate will remain his, with no heir to be had. He does not understand that Lord Bentley is backing the entailment being broken and the estate becoming Elizabeth’s.” Richard stated.
Elizabeth was filled with fury. “He is most likely finding any way possible to rob the estate blind before he is forcibly removed from the property. I cannot wait to see him brought before the court and made to pay for his crimes against my family.”
“It will not be long, my love.” Darcy raised Elizabeth’s hand to his lips.
~~ ** ~~
“Lizzy, how wonderful it is to see you.” Charlotte Lucas exclaimed as Elizabeth was shown into the parlor of Lucas Lodge.
“Charlotte. I did not know you had returned to your family’s home. Last I heard, you were visiting family.”
“I decided I must return. After Papa wrote to tell me of the news of Mr Collins not being the true heir, I knew it was time for me to be home. He will no longer be the puffed up peacock, making himself out to be more than he is.”
“After today, he will not be doing anything freely.”
Charlotte Lucas gasped. “So it is true? He was involved in the murder of your dear parents and sister?” With Elizabeth’s nod, Charlotte continued. “My brother and father have spoken in private with me, as they were concerned for my safety. After my brother overhearing Mr Collins speaking with two of the men from the militia, they were deeply concerned about what such men would do.”
“It appears that Mr Wickham and Mr Denny were party to the crimes. It is the plan today to take them into custody. My husband and the others have had men watching their every move.”
“Your husband. Oh, Lizzy, how good that sounds. And it is Mr Darcy. I always knew he cared for you. The way he used to watch you, I knew you were wrong to believe he was looking for fault.”
“Yes, Charlotte, I was a fool to have not listened to you. If only I had not built up my prejudices against him the night of the assembly. He was in a terrible mood, and Mr Bingley was pestering him. William regrets his words, as he never even turned to look at who Charles was pointing to. When he realized the truth that I was the young lady Charles was referring to, William felt deeply his regret and prayed I had not overheard their conversation.”
“You see, Lizzy, you did build up a wall of resentment against the poor man. But you have torn down the wall and now are so happily married.”
“We have had many obstacles in our way, but we have overcome them. And now, Jane and Charles are engaged, and Mary will soon marry William’s cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam. The colonel is now retired from his regiment. They will be living at one of the estates our cousin has bestowed on our family.”
“My father informed us all of your discovery of a distant cousin. And he is an earl, if I am not mistaken.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Lord Bentley is indeed an earl. He has three estates, as well as a townhouse in London, and a vast fortune. And he has given the majority of his wealth and property to my sisters and me. His generosity and kindness through the past few months has been overwhelming.”
“Then I will declare him to be a fine man as well.” Charlotte declared. “Anyone who is so kind to my dearest friends, deserves to be respected by me.”
~~ ** ~~
The men crept up along the side of Longbourn’s house. They had received word, from the men keeping watch, all three of the culprits which were to be arrested were meeting at the house, and it was believed they were in the study which had once been the favorite room of Mr Bennet. Darcy found anger building at the thought of three of the men who led to the violent end of his wife’s family, making use of such a cherished room. Knowing Elizabeth would be appalled at learning such, Darcy was prepared to make the men pay further.
Mrs Hill came outside to hang some laundry on the line. Seeing men creeping about, she became nervous. She had lived in fear since the murders of her previous master and mistress. Suddenly, she felt strong hands grasp hold of her from behind, placing one hand over her mouth as she was pulled backwards.
“Mrs Hill, please do not fret.” Came a voice he remembered from when he lived at Netherfield and visited Longbourn often. “You are safe with us.”
When the hand was taken from her mouth, Mrs Hill turned around to find not only Mr Bingley, but Mr Darcy and several other men. “Mr Bingley, whatever are you doing, sneaking about? And you, Mr Darcy?”
“Is Mr Collins inside the house?” Darcy inquired softly.
“He is, Sir. And he has two other men with him. Cannot say I approve of either of them. Shifty sorts, they are.”
“Are the men Mr Wickham and Mr Denny?” Darcy prodded for further details.
Mrs Hill nodded her head. “They have been hold up in there for some time now. Drinking, from what I have heard from inside the room. It has been going on for several days now. Poor Mr Bennet would be sickened to see the condition of his book room.”
“We are here to arrest the three of them.” Darcy explained to the housekeeper. “This is my cousin, who is engaged to Miss Mary Bennet. Richard, this is Mrs Hill.”
Richard nodded his head towards them, as he kept a close watch on the surroundings. As he watched, Richard took over the matter of asking questions. “How is the room accessed? Is there more than one door into the room?”
“There is a door from the hall and a door from the gardens. There is also a large window. I can show you the location of the doors and window.”
“I am grateful, Mrs Hill.” Darcy gave her a small smile. “Once these men are in custody, we will talk.”
“I look forward to such. Come now, let me show you the doors.”
~~ ** ~~
The men took their places, some outside the house, near the door and window in question, as the other men entered the house quietly and made their way down the hall towards the door they would enter. Mrs Hill knocked on the door, waiting for an answer.
“What do you want?” Came an intoxicated voice from inside the room.
“Mr Collins, I have the biscuits you asked for. And my husband has just returned from Meryton. He has the spirits you ordered.”
Hearing the lock on the door turn, the men carefully moved Mrs Hill out of the way. When the door opened, Darcy and Richard pushed the door inward, taking the person on the other side by surprise.
Darcy moved directly towards Collins, while Richard went towards Wickham, his sword raised and pointed at his nemesis’ throat. Denny, who had unlocked the door, fell to the floor in confusion.
Wickham was quickest to recover his wits, diving backwards through the window, in hopes to escape. Denny was easily subdued by Bingley and a guard, while Darcy dealt with Collins. Richard was in hot pursuit of Wickham, two of the guards racing after him. The men who were stationed outside took aim at the villain, and ordered him to stop. Wickham knew his chances were slim if Richard or Darcy were to get their hands on him. Refusing to stop, Wickham continued to run, disobeying the orders to stop. Finally, he pulled a handgun from his waistband, turning with the weapon pointed in the direction he had come from. He knew he would never be able to take aim at anyone or anything, but he refused to go down without a fight. As the air filled with the sound of handguns being fired, Wickham squeezed the trigger of his own gun. The impact of the bullets striking his body twisted Wickham in different directions, as the guards fired from different angles. Wickham landed hard on the ground, dead as a door nail, his eyes wide open as if in disbelief in what had become his fate.
Unfortunately, his bullet struck a target. Richard Fitzwilliam had felt the bullet strike his left arm, grazing it. One of the guards ran to the former colonel, holding out a cloth to mop at the blood which escaped the wound.
“This one be dead, sir. His troublemakin’ days are behind him.” One of the men checked Wickham for any signs of life.
“Good riddance.” Richard spat.
“Richard, what is happening out there?” Darcy hollered out the window to his cousin.
“Wickham is dead. He pulled a weapon and fired it, the guards had no choice but to shoot him.”
“The colonel is wounded, his arm took a graze.” The man who offered the cloth to Richard called out.
“Richard, come inside. I have unlocked the door for you to enter.”
A few moments later, Richard was standing beside his cousin as they towered over Collins. “Now, Mr Collins, you have the same choice as Wickham. You can take your chances and run from this room, knowing you will be gunned down, or you can be arrested and face the courts for your sentence.”
“It was all Wickham’s doing, I did nothing. I did not know what he was planning until after it was done. When I became the new Master, Wickham attempted to extort funds from me.” Collins was blubbering.
“You is a liar, Collins.” Denny shouted out. “You came to Wickham and me, offering us money and our choice of the Bennet girls before they died.” Turning his attention to Darcy, Denny continued. “All of the sisters were to be in the carriage with their ma and pa. Collins wanted a taste of Miss Eliza, the taste denied him when she refused him. Wickham wanted Miss Eliza as well, though he said he would enjoy Miss Lydia first. The other men all agreed that they would enjoy such prime fluff. I admit I would have been willin’ to take any of ‘em. When we realized three of the sisters was missin’ especially Miss Eliza, Collins was furious. Wickham too. Collins was the one to start the shootin’. He was anxious for the overturned carriage to be found, so he could take Longbourn and force Miss Eliza from here, for she had, once again, denied him the taste of her favors.”
Without thinking, Mr Collins opened his mouth. “She was to be mine. And she refused me. Me, the heir to her father’s estate. How dare she refuse me? And then she was not in the carriage. Again, I was denied. I could not have her stay here, she had to be punished.”
“By murdering her parents and her little sister?” Darcy cried out.
“And wounding my Jane?” Bingley was furious beyond words. “She will never walk again, and nearly died from her injuries. All due to you.” Bingley lunged at Collins, wrapping his fingers around the worthless man’s neck.
“Darce, we should stop Bingley before he kills the scoundrel.” Richard stated.
Darcy shook his head. “Let him have a moment. He deserves the chance to mete out justice for his betrothed.”
Collins continued to claw at Bingley’s hands, attempting to pry them from his throat. After a few more moments, Darcy and Richard finally refrained their future brother.
Turning his attention back to the groveling man, Darcy was disgusted. “You are fortunate that I do not do the same, as you have spoken ill of my beloved wife. You are not fit to lick mud off my Elizabeth’s shoes, let alone marry her. She is far too fine a lady for the likes of you. And, from your own words, you have condemned yourself to hang, both of you. I insist you tell us of all the others involved in the murders. All of the men who participated that night.”
Denny was agreeable to assist, as he wished to have the great men speak on his behalf, hoping to avoid the noose. Soon, the men had a list of six other men who were involved in the slayings, all promised rewards from Collins or Wickham.
Collins and Denny were placed in irons and thrown on the back of a wagon, with several guards climbing on to keep watch over the criminals. Darcy, Richard and Denny quickly mounted the horses they had borrowed from Sir William Lucas, and rode behind the wagon to Lucas Lodge. Darcy had assured Mrs Hill that Elizabeth would come to Longbourn before they returned to London.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Hearing the wagon approaching the house, Elizabeth accompanied Sir William and Charlotte as they stepped outside. Elizabeth took a deep breath, giving a silent prayer for the safe return of her husband and the men she would soon call brothers. She looked at the wagon, giving a look of disdain to the man who had dared to claim to be her relation and make an offer for her hand. How grateful she was that her father had refused to allow her to be forced into marrying him.
“Cousin Elizabeth, please, you must make these men see reason. Your dear parents would not wish to see me harmed.”
Elizabeth’s eyes glowed with anger. “You dare to speak to me in such a manner? You dare to call me cousin? You deserve all that you are given. My parents and Lydia did not deserve to be murdered. Jane did not deserve what was done to her. And then, to force us from our home in the manner you did. You shall have a fiery end, when you arrive in hell for your crimes. And you deserve no less.”
The sound of a hard smack was heard as Elizabeth’s hand punched Collins’ face, causing the despicable man to be silent, blood dripping from his broken nose. “DO NOT EVER CALL ME COUSIN AGAIN!”
Richard and Bingley looked to Darcy, both wearing smiles on their faces. Chuckling, Richard teased his cousin. “If I were you, Darce, I would refrain from angering your wife. She has quite a strong punch.”
Darcy looked on his bride with great pride. “I cannot express how it makes me feel to see her finally get a chance to avenge herself. My only regret is that she did not have a chance to do the same to Wickham and Armstrong.”
Her attention was soon directed to the sight of blood on Richard’s sleeve. “What in heaven’s name has happened? Richard, are you injured?”
“Only a scratch, Lizzy. Have no fear, I have had far worse on the battlefield.” Richard assured her.
“Mary will have a few words for you when she sees you.” Elizabeth forewarned. “Charlotte, may we intrude on your house to tend to Richard’s wound?”
“Of course, Lizzy. Come in, gentlemen.”
Sir William Lucas was pleased to see the men had been brought to him for judgment. He had been furious after the treatment of the Bennet sisters, and the behavior of Mr Collins during the events. It was now his great pleasure to see his daughter had not married the man, a murderer and robber.
Charlotte led the men into the dining room, calling for fresh water and bandaging, as well as some of their housekeeper’s herbal remedies to treat the wound. The other men led Collins and Denny into Sir William’s study. There were other men who were sent to capture the other men involved in the murders; one man was a tenant of Netherfield, three were lower ranked men in the militia. One man was assistant at the stables in Meryton, and the last one was the brother of one of the militia men. All were led into Sir William’s home, and each were given a decision from the gentleman. Those in the militia were turned over to Colonel Forrester for court martial. The other men were bound for a trial, to be held in Meryton at the assembly hall.
From the statements made by Denny, and even by Collins himself, Sir William felt there was no need to have Jane come to the court to give testimony. Everyone felt it was rather open and shut, and, as Collins had no wealthy or well-connected person to stand up for his character, the sentence would be hanging rather than transportation. The other men who were not militia would most likely receive transportation, as they did not do the actual killing, but their willingness to be a part of murder, made their crime severe.
The date for the trial of William Collins was set for two days from the date of the arrests. The other men would be tried following Collins, and the court martial of the militia members involved was set to take place on the following Monday, as officers from London would be needed to assist with such a dramatically large event. Colonel Forrester was not equipped to handle his men, as was obvious from the number of them involved in such a scheme of murder, robbery, and the intent to force themselves on innocent gentlewomen of tender ages. It was obvious that there would be need of a new colonel for the troops under his command, and it had been turned over, temporarily, to Captain Larkin.
Darcy and Elizabeth decided to see Longbourn soon after all involved in the crime were apprehended. Mrs Hill was thrilled to see the young lady she had always been fond of. “Oh, Miss Lizzy, my dear girl, what joy to see you.”
“Mrs Hill, I thought I would never see you again. I pray you are well, and so is your dear husband.” After pleasantries were exchanged, Darcy stepped outside with Mr Hill to inspect the exterior of the house and the stables.
“Never better than I am seeing you now. I have missed you and your family so very dearly. It has been so difficult, with the deaths and losing you girls all in such a short time. And that Collins, he was such a poor Master. He nearly destroyed everything your parents had made of Longbourn. I am certain that your dear parents have turned over in their graves many times in the past few months. But now, he is gone. Please tell me he is gone for good.”
“Have no doubt on that, Mrs Hill. Mr Collins was the ring leader of the band of highwaymen who killed my parents and Lydia. He will be made to pay for his crimes.”
“That explains a great deal. I have overheard many things from him and those two who were in your father’s study with Mr Collins. I have had my suspicions, but he was my new Master. I could not lose my position.”
“You are not responsible, Mrs Hill. It was not you plotting to kill us, and… other things. But now, I must tell you all the news. As you may remember, this is my husband, Mr Darcy. And Jane is engaged to marry Mr Bingley. Mr Darcy’s cousin, Mr Richard Fitzwilliam, who was here earlier, is set to marry my sister Mary. We also learned we have a true cousin, unknown to us before. He is an earl, Lord Bentley. He has no other family, and has insisted on settling part of his wealth and his properties on my sisters and myself. Can you believe such news?”
“I can believe it, as I always thought you girls were destined for greater than Longbourn. And Miss Kitty, is she well?”
Elizabeth smiled. “She is. She will remain living with our aunt and uncle, the Gardiners. Kitty is maturing, and it is pleasant to witness.”
“Do you wish to inspect the house? There has been many things done to it, mostly from disrespect and neglect. I am afraid you will be displeased with the conditions. My husband and I have tried to keep things up, but it was impossible. Mr Collins was constantly in company of those men, and their drunken behavior was appalling.”
“Longbourn will never be what it was a year ago, Mrs Hill. Though it will give me pain to see it as it is now, without my parents and my sisters living here, it will never be the same for me.”
“I will do whatever you wish to restore from the damage which has been done. You need only instruct me as to what you wish done. Now, how long will you remain in the neighborhood?”
“It appears we will be here for a week. There is to be a trial for Mr Collins and the other men, and next Monday will be the court martial of the men from the militia who were involved. So many men, bent on harm and destruction of my family.”
Mrs Hill wrapped her arms around Elizabeth, in a loving, motherly embrace. “My dear girl, those evil men have not destroyed you. You have always been strong, and they were unable to take that from you. And now, you are married to a wonderful man. He is quite handsome, and it is clear that he is very much in love with you.
“And I have come to love him. He is not at all what he appeared to be, when he was staying at Netherfield. William is the very best of men.”
“Your parents would be so pleased.”
This caused Elizabeth to laugh out loud. “I can hear Mamma now, calling for her smelling salts at our inheritance and the eldest three daughters making such matches. Mr Bingley and his five thousand per annum, and my husband nearly triple that. Each of us inherited a great sum, and there is the income from our estates each year as well. She would never have had need of the hedgerow.”
“And Miss Lydia would have insisted on new gowns made for her, so she could attend all sorts of balls. And your dear father, he would have added an addition to the house, a larger library.”
Nodding her head, Elizabeth continued to laugh. She heard heavy footsteps coming towards the kitchen, where the ladies were tucked away. Elizabeth looked up to see the loving face of her husband.
“My dear wife, I cannot begin to tell you what joy it does me to hear you laughing. Mrs Hill, you have given me a great pleasure.”
“Mr Darcy, might I fetch you some refreshments?” Mrs Hill asked, wiping the tears of joy from her eyes.
“No, I believe it has been a long day, and my beloved wife will need her rest. The following week will be difficult, she should be well rested to endure it all.”
“You will be staying at Netherfield?” The loyal housekeeper asked.
“We will. I have spoken with your husband as to the improvements and repairs which need to be taken care of, for the exterior and the stables. Perhaps, tomorrow, Elizabeth and I will return to see what needs to be seen to on the inside. We will hire any assistants which will be required, though, I will ask that you and your husband be in charge of Longbourn when we are not here. There will be an increase in your pay, as is deserved.”
“I am certain I speak for my husband and myself when we say that it would be our honor to oversee the repairs. We will be pleased to make certain the house is as grand as it was. And there is no need for extra pay.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Mrs Hill, I would not wish for you to take on more responsibilities without extra reward for it. We will rely on you heavily, while we are away. And I would like your son and his family to move her to Longbourn. I know that you and Mr Hill cannot do everything, my family took you for granted and overworked you. With us being away from here, perhaps it would be best if you and Mr Hill were to take rooms upstairs. Then your son and his family could have your cottage, so they are close. I know how dearly you have missed your grandchildren.”
“Oh, my dear Miss Lizzy, you are such a dear girl.” Mrs Hill pulled out her handkerchief from her pocket, dabbing at her tears. “Tis all too much. You are far too kind to us.”
Darcy was pleased with his wife’s decision. “Mrs Hill, my wife is correct. Your husband just informed me that Mr Collins dismissed the previous steward, who has moved to Kent. So there is a need for a steward for Longbourn. Tomorrow, we will speak of his salary. You have treated my wife wonderfully, as she has told me many times. And I am sure that the rest of our sisters will agree with the desire to see you well settled with comfort for your dedication to the Bennet family.”
“My dear John will be as pleased as me to have our boy and his family here. We miss those darling children, as we do not see them often. We will make you proud, you have my word of honor.” Mrs Hill said as she grasped Elizabeth’s hand tightly in her own.
“I have no doubt, as I am proud to have had you in my life since I was born.” Elizabeth squeezed the elderly woman’s hand with great affection.
~~ ** ~~
While Mary and her family were making the final preparations for their journey to Matlock and the upcoming nuptials, Richard was nervously pacing about at Netherfield. “I should be with Mary, but I cannot leave here until everything is concluded. We should have planned for the wedding to be in Town, or even here. Why did I agree to my father’s suggestion? It was foolish of me to agree. After all my father did, I should have held firm to my decision to marry from Town.”
“With Darcy House in such a condition, we could not have held the wedding there. And Longbourn is in need of many repairs as well. The Gardiner home is small. Your mother is in Matlock, with no desire to return to Town. We could have held the wedding at Pemberley, but, the same problem exists. We are here, in Hertfordshire, and will be for the next week. So, Richard, it cannot be helped. Working yourself into a state will do you no good.”
“But I should be with Mary, assisting her with all that needs to be done. If only I did not have to testify to what was said by those villains.”
“We will arrive at your wedding in plenty of time. Besides, the letter I received from my sister told me that if you were there, you would only be in the way. There is so much work to be done. And, as you well know, you are not particularly good with lace and ribbons.” Elizabeth said with a giggle.
“I just miss my girl so very dearly. I miss the sound of her voice, the sweet smile she gives me when I enter a room.” Richard held a faraway look in his eyes.
“And you miss the stolen kisses you think none of us know you take.” Darcy said with a laugh. “Come, Richard, you will survive a week from her.”
“And how would you feel to be separated from your wife?” Richard could give as good as he got. “And you, Bingley, I know you are pining for Jane.”
Bingley and Darcy quickly called a truce with their future brother, and all went up to their rooms to prepare for dinner.
~~ ** ~~
The trial began as planned, and it was not long before the evidence was laid out before everyone. Between the testimony of the other suspects, and the testimony of Darcy, Richard and Bingley as to what Collins had said to them in the study of Longbourn, it did not take long to find Collins guilty. The sentence was simple enough. Collins was to hang by the neck until dead. The other men involved pled guilty in exchange for transportation rather than follow Collins to the gallows.
The structure was built simply, for it would be taken down soon after the hanging.
Collins was led to the steps, or, perhaps it would be best described as dragged to the steps, and then up them. The coward who was behind the horrendous plot was blubbering and crying out for someone to come to his aid, to stand up and request his life be saved.
“Please, this is not right. I am a man of the cloth, it would not be fitting to take my life in such a manner. Please, someone, you must convince them of the good man I am. Oh, Cousin Elizabeth, you cannot believe I should be hanged. You are a good, God fearing lady. You must find it in your heart to spare my life.”
Elizabeth walked to the bottom step of the gallows. “I hear by announce to one and all, this man is not related to my family. He was part of a lie perpetrated by his father. Mr Collins was not the child by birth of my father’s cousin, merely the stepson. He was given notice of our knowledge of this information and given notice to vacate Longbourn, which he did not. Not only is he guilty of the murders and robbery of my parents and my sister, Lydia, and our carriage hands, he is also responsible for the injuries my sister Jane received, and all the hardships we have endured since being forced from our home. He has allowed my father’s estate to come to ruin, and the house to be mistreated. I feel no reason to feel sympathy for his situation. He has sown the whirlwind, he must now reap what he sowed.”
With an outpouring of shouts of agreement and clapping, Collins was placed in position on the platform, and a black cloth bag pulled roughly over his head. The noose was then placed about Collins’ neck and tightened. All the while, the condemned man was sobbing his pleas for someone to save him.
Mr Faust, the local parson, said a prayer for Collins’ soul, while everyone bowed their heads. Once the prayer was finished, everyone looked up, just as the lever was pulled, and the floor panel gave way. With a sudden thud, Mr William Collins’ body came to a sudden stop at the end of the rope. For several moments, the body kicked about, before finally ceasing to move again.
The body hung there for nearly a quarter hour before being removed. It was then turned over to the undertaker, to be buried in a pauper’s grave in the far corner of the village cemetery.
~~ ** ~~
The court martial was swiftly carried out. Of the men charged, only two were given a death sentence. Mr Denny and Mr Middleton had been involved with the actual murders, the former killing Lydia and the latter killed the driver. The other men were involved in the overturning of the carriage and the conspiracy. The sentences against Denny and Middleton were carried out, utilizing the gallows to mete out justice. Though Denny had confessed his part in the events, he also knew what they did was wrong, and that he must pay for his crimes. He went silently to the gallows, not saying a word until just before he dropped. “Forgive me, dear Lord, for the sins I have committed.”
Middleton was nearly as silent, though he was clearly sobbing as he climbed the steps.
In a matter of moments, two of the men who had made such a dramatic change to the Bennet family had joined two of their fellow conspirators in the hereafter. All of the others would be setting sail soon, with their destination being Australia.
After attending to the executions, the Darcys, Richard and Bingley prepared to leave, with only days until Richard’s wedding. Before leaving, Mrs Hill gave Elizabeth a gift to give her sister.
“I hid some of your parent’s belongings before Mr Collins could find them. Fortunately, I knew where things were hidden in the house. I know that your parents intended these pieces given to you girls for your marriages. A few months before their deaths, I overheard Mr and Mrs Bennet speaking of the matter. I heard what they wished to give each of you. This hair comb was meant for you, Miss Lizzy. It belonged to your grandmother, hand carved by your grandfather as a gift for their wedding. There is your Grandmother Gardiner’s pearls, your mamma wished for Miss Jane to have them. For Miss Mary, your father wished for her to have this emerald necklace. Your father said her eyes reminded him of the stones in the necklace, which your grandmother had made special after she gave birth to your father. He had the same color eyes, and his mother was said to have rubbed the stone between her fingers as she read each of his letters when he was away at school. When asked, your grandmother said she could imagine your father’s eyes whenever she rubbed the stone. And this is the final piece, saved for Miss Kitty. It is a set of hairpins with pearls attached. These were a gift to your mother on her wedding day, from your father.”
Wiping tears from her cheeks, Elizabeth thanked the housekeeper who had always given her love to Elizabeth. The contented felling which came over Elizabeth as she entered the carriage was a blessing. As the carriage pulled away from Longbourn, heading north towards the future, Elizabeth ran her fingers lightly over the hair comb she was given. Memories of her parents had flowed vividly through her mind while she was at Longbourn and in the neighborhood. Memories of her youth, including all of her sisters, brought moments of joy and moments of pain. But, in truth, they were memories which Elizabeth held dear to her heart.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
The journey seemed to drag on, at least in the mind of Richard Fitzwilliam. He became restless inside the carriage, and longed to have his horse with them so that he might ride ahead. Darcy and Bingley continued to tease Richard, and only when Elizabeth spoke in Richard’s defense was the poor man given any peace.
They were nearly halfway to Matlock when the carriage developed a problem with one of the wheels. Richard was furious, as the repairs would add a full day to their journey. The groomsman who rode into the nearby village returned with a wagon to transport the family to the nearby inn. As the wagon pulled away from the carriage, Darcy asked where the nearest village was located. Hearing the location, Richard instantly realized how close they were to Drummond. “Let us journey to my new home, so I can see what changes will need to be made before Mary and I move in. If we have to waste away another day, we might as well have some constructive purpose to keep us active.”
Everyone agreed to the plan and the wagon was directed in the proper direction.
On arriving at Drummond, the housekeeper and butler met everyone at the front steps. “Welcome to Drummond.” Mr Coyle announced. Mrs Vaughn was pleased to show them inside.
“I must say, I am quite pleased with the looks of the place. You have done a wonderful job of keeping the place ready for guests at a moment’s notice.” Richard declared.
“Nonsense, Mr Fitzwilliam, we have been expecting you for some time now.” Mrs Vaughn stated. Just then, a door opened down the hall, and Mary Bennet stepped out.
Richard stared in disbelief for a moment before he moved quickly to wrap his arms around Mary, pulling her to his chest. “My dearest love, what are you doing here? We were to meet you at Matlock.”
“There has been a change in plans. We decided to have the wedding here. I hope you approve of our surprise.”
“How sweet the day has become. I thought I would be delayed even longer from your side, and now I find you have planned our reunion to be here. My little trickster.” Richard turned, his betrothed still wrapped in his arms, to look at his cousin. “And the carriage wheel just happen to have a problem near here. I feel as if there have been magical fairies traveling with me.”
“I had to admit, Richard, I had a difficult time keeping the smile which threatened to be pasted on my lips. Each mile made me more and more giddy, knowing we would soon be here and you would be pleased with our surprise.” Elizabeth could not contain her joy any longer.
Mary had turned, so her back was against Richard’s chest. “I must thank you, Lizzy, for all you did to assist in the plan. We have been busy, but I believe we were able to bring it all together. Lord and Lady Matlock have arrived, and, now that you have come, we are all here. We are planning to have fine dinner this evening, to celebrate.”
“Ah, I see our final members have joined the party.” Lord Bentley said as he came down the stairs. “It was decided to allow you to marry from your new home.”
“Bentley, this is quite a pleasure. I could not imagine a better place to begin my life with Mary. I will even forgive my fellow travelers for their deception.”
~~ ** ~~
Everyone was gathered in the drawing room of Drummond. Darcy introduced his aunt to his wife, as she was the only one unfamiliar to Lady Matlock. At first, Darcy worried of his aunt’s feelings towards Elizabeth, as she had kept silent since Anthony’s death. But it only took a few moments before Lady Matlock was conversing easily with the new Mrs Darcy. Lord Matlock kept silent, as he was not prepared to resign his feelings completely.
It had been nearly a month since Lord Matlock had imbibed, and it was clear that he was still struggling with the desire to drown his sorrows in a bottle. But he had taken Anne’s words to heart. He wished know his remaining son better, and that would mean putting his bitterness behind him. Having spent two days in the company of his future daughter in law and her family, Lord Matlock could see what attracted his son to his fiancé. She was strict, though kind and caring, her beauty more understated than that of her sisters, but showed through clearly to those who knew her.
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth gathered her sisters in the sitting room which was attached to the bedchamber she was to share with her husband during their stay. “Mrs Hill has given us some treasures. She knew the places where Mamma and Papa hid some of their treasures. Knowing Mr Collins’ person from when he visited us at Longbourn, before the… event, Mrs Hill saw to it that the treasures were removed from the hiding places and hidden elsewhere. What a wonderful woman Mrs Hill is.”
“And she is to stay at Longbourn, looking after the house for you?” Jane asked.
“William and I asked Mr and Mrs Hill to move into the house, and taking care of it for us. They sent an express to their son, as we offered him the position of steward. It will be a blessing for Mr and Mrs Hill to have their son and his family living near them.”
“To think of all that has happened in the past year. So much has changed, and yet, I am grateful for so many things which have come to pass.” Mary stated. “Though the loss of Mamma, Papa, and Lydia has been horrifying and painful, and the agony which was suffered when Jane, and then Lizzy, were injured, we should be grateful for what has been granted to us.”
“Indeed, Mary. Through all of the pain, there has been hope and love. And there has been new members to our family, with William, Charles and Richard, not to mention Lord Bentley. I believe our parents and Lydia would be pleased to see us happily situated.”
“Oh, my, Hill, my salts!” Kitty imitated her mother’s usual response. Her sisters all laughed, as the imitation was quite authentic.
Elizabeth handed each of her sisters their gift from their parents, the gifts Mrs Hill had saved for them. In telling each sister about her treasure, memories flowed of family members long since gone to heaven. The conversation lasted long into the night.
There was no need to make promises to always be close to one another. It was forged into their very souls, through hardship and love, that they would always be a part of each other’s lives.
~~ ** ~~
Two days after Richard was surprised with the change of location for his wedding, he stood in the chapel near Drummond’s main house. At the altar, beside him, were the two men who were dearest to him. Darcy and Bingley stood beside the nervous man who was to become a husband.
It was Elizabeth’s turn to push Jane’s wheeled chair up the aisle, so that they could stand witness for Mary. Kitty and Georgiana took their seats next to Mrs Gardiner. Mr Gardiner guided his middle niece towards the altar, to the man who dearly loved her.
The vows were said, and the ring placed on Mary’s finger, though Darcy chuckled as he had to remind Richard when he was to speak. The poor man was beguiled by his beautiful bride and could not concentrate on anything else.
Soon the announcement was made, they were Mr and Mrs Richard Fitzwilliam. Richard could not take his eyes from Mary, and his smile grew wide. “My wife. My beautiful, loving wife. How did I ever become so blessed?”
“Richard, you are being silly. I am not nearly as pretty as my sisters.”
“No, my dearest love, you are far prettier than any woman I have ever known. For your beauty is both inside and out. You are the perfect lady for me.”
Finally able to make their way from the chapel, the newlyweds returned to their home, followed by their loved ones.
The staff of Drummond out did themselves with preparing the wedding breakfast for their new Master and Mistress. Mrs Vaughn had seen to the decorations, as well as the freshening up of the private chambers which would become those of Richard and Mary, having received a letter over a fortnight before as to the tastes of the couple.
It was decided that the others would move on to Pemberley, allowing Richard and Mary some time to themselves. Lord Matlock agreed to join his wife at their nephew’s home, as he had decided he wished to know his son’s new family better. Just before leaving Drummond, Lord Matlock took his son aside. “I have spoken to my solicitor, before coming here. I have taken the liberty of repairing the damage I did before, and you will now be my heir. When I am gone, you will be the next Lord Matlock. Forgive me for my foolishness before. I should never have treated you, or any other the others, so wrongly.”
“Thank you, Father, for the apology. I have never wished for the title, as it was always to be my brother’s. But I will accept it, when the time comes, as it will one day be passed down to my future son. I never stopped caring about you, Father. I hope you understand, I felt I could not allow such horrors to happen to someone who was so innocent.”
“I do understand, Richard. Once I stopped drinking my sorrows away, and took notice of the truth in what was happening, I realized Anthony was responsible for his own death. He refused to curtail his gambling and frivolous lifestyle, which could only lead to ruin. I plan to speak with Darcy as to the best way to rebuild Matlock, to make it what it should be. Enjoy your life, Richard. Be happy in your marriage. Mary is a wonderful lady. I am proud to call her my daughter.”
~~ ** ~~
It was only a year since Richard and Mary were wed, and so many things had changed in their lives, and those of their loved ones.
The first of those events was the announcement that there would be a new Darcy in the coming year. Elizabeth was with child. The news was thrilling to Darcy, as he was overjoyed at the thought of being a father. He spent many hours in pampering his wife, for which his efforts received many teases.
When the half year mourning period for Miss Bingley was over, Jane and Charles were wed. They were quite pleased with their new home, especially its closeness to Pemberley. Only a month before the first anniversary of the Fitzwilliams, the Bingleys were overcome with happiness when they learned Jane was with child. The physician had been correct, she would be able to carry children, even though she was paralyzed. The entire family was grateful for the blessing which had been granted Jane and Charles.
News had arrived at Pemberley of Charlotte Lucas’ engagement. During his time spent in Meryton, investigating all concerning the Bennet family, Mr Sheridan had become quite taken with Miss Lucas, finally making an offer for her hand. Due to the generosity of Lord Bentley and the Bennet sisters, Mr Sheridan was able to purchase a small estate located near Lucas Lodge, where he and Charlotte would live. The comfortable living from the estate was more than adequate for the couple.
Anne de Bourgh only survived her mother by a few months, when she was weakened by a fever and her frail body succumbed. Her cousins had known for some time that she would not live long, but the news of her passing was still painful. The Darcys and Fitzwilliams made their way to Rosings to pay their respects to the young lady who had never really had a chance to live life.
Lord and Lady Matlock grew closer after the wedding of their son. After speaking with Darcy and Mr Gardiner on the best ways to restore Matlock, Lord Matlock remained at his estate, devoting his time to his wife and their land. With new crop planning, some aid from Darcy and financial advice from Mr Gardiner, Matlock was beginning to turn itself around. Lady Matlock became fond of riding out with her husband, overseeing the improvements being made, and meeting with their tenants to discuss their needs. Darcy informed Richard that if his father continued as per their plans, Matlock would once again be an estate to be proud of.
Darcy and Elizabeth had recently returned to Pemberley, after spending time in Town. Darcy House took nearly half a year to rebuild, but when it was done, it was a treasure to its Master and Mistress. Gone were the haunted memories of his painful youth, and the memories of being forced to remain inside to be protected from Armstrong. The newness made Darcy House their own, and brought the couple joy.
The other item which kept Darcy and Elizabeth in Town for several months was the opening of Bennet House for Young Ladies. Armstrong’s home had been remodeled to accommodate many young ladies, some with children, who had been brutalized by men, and forced to make their way as ruined in the eyes of society. At Bennet House, the young ladies were fed and housed, and trained to some sort of work which would allow them to become self-sufficient. Once trained, the employees of Bennet House would assist the young ladies in finding proper work with decent employers. When an employer was found to be the sort to take advantage of a young lady, the employees of Bennet House would take measures to make the man known publically, bringing shame to the men who had before lived free of any blame for their behavior. Elizabeth was proud of the service which was provided for young ladies who had found themselves in the same difficulty as she had been, and she was even prouder to be friends with Lucy Armstrong. Miss Armstrong decided to remain in London, rather than travel. Between her and her aunt, they worked tirelessly with the Darcys to make Bennet House a success. And the dedication which had been shown by the butler and his family was rewarded, giving them permanent employment in a caring townhouse, and paid a generous bonus when the Darcys learned of their being behind the missive which had led to Elizabeth’s rescue from the townhouse. With the bonus, Mr Lars was able to send his grandson to school, and would see to his education to be a physician, as the young boy had declared he wished to be.
The Gardiners were fortunate in their association with the family which had built around them. With Mr Gardiner’s business savvy, they were able to build their client list quickly, and were well on their way to making a fortune of their own. They remained living with Kitty at her estate, assisting her in preparation of her coming out the following year. It had been decided that Georgiana and Kitty would have their coming out together, so the younger Darcy spent much time with Kitty and the Gardiners.
Lord Bentley was always pleased when any of his cousins came to visit him in Town. His health was declining, but the year spent with the Bennet sisters and their family had brought him great joy.
As a surprise to Lord Bentley, his cousins and their relations decided to gather together. Everyone made the journey to London, wishing to bring their cousin a happy birthday. Between Darcy House, Matlock House, and Bingley’s townhouse, everyone was able to secretly gather before descending upon Lord Bentley’s home. Prior arrangements had been made with his staff to assist in surprising the earl, as his staff were all fond of the man.
Welcoming first the Darcys, Bentley was soon surprised to learn of the arrival of Lord and Lady Matlock, Richard and Mary, Charles and Jane, Kitty, Georgiana, and the Gardiner family.
“Why, I am quite surprised to have you all here together. I had not expected to see you until next month at Drummond.” Lord Bentley announced.
“We decided to surprise you, Cousin.” Elizabeth said, proud that they were able to achieve their goal.
“You cannot know how precious you are all to me.” Lord Bentley said, his voice shaking with emotion. “I have been truly given the greatest gift ever. I was given a family, filled with love and happiness.”
“We have all been given a treasured gift.” Darcy said as he placed a hand on Bentley’s shoulder. “How could any of us have ever known how so much good would come to us all, simply by our saving Elizabeth Bennet?”