The carriage conveying the duke and his daughter in law came to a halt in front of Willows. The Duke stepped down, then turned to assist Martha down. “This seems to be a pleasant estate, just as you described it.” He said.
“I was pleased with my stay here.” Martha replied. “And it is a wonderful place for my brother’s resting place.”
“Richard would have loved living here. You know how fond I was of him.”
Martha smiled. “I know, Papa Howard. Though I do not relish being married to your son, I would not trade anything for what it brought me. My children, you, and Mamma Ruth have all been true blessings to me.”
“Well, shall we make our way inside and learn more of what is happening? Are you prepared for the battle ahead of us?”
“I am, thanks to your kindness.” Martha squeezed his arm lightly.
The door to the house opened and Elizabeth stepped outside. “Martha, it is a pleasure to have you return to us. I know William will welcome your visit.”
“Lizzy, though I wish it was under different circumstances, I am grateful to return. I have been worried for you and William, and the twins. How is William? He has not developed a fever, has he?”
“A slight one, though the physician is hopeful it will not grow worse. We are taking measures to keep him calm and reduce the fever.”
“You are exhausted, Lizzy. I can see it in your eyes.”
Elizabeth gave a light chuckle. “I am, though I cannot rest until this entire fiasco is resolved. We have moved the children into my bedchambers, with armed guards on all doors which leads into the room. With your father now in the neighborhood, I am frightened.”
“I cannot blame you, though you must take care of yourself. You will do no one any good if you make yourself ill.”
“I will be fine, Mart. Now, would you be kind enough to introduce me to your traveling companion?”
Martha giggled. “Forgive me, Lizzy. Mrs Elizabeth Darcy, may I introduce you to the Duke of Winston, Mr Howard Winston. Papa Howard, this is Mrs Elizabeth Darcy, or Lizzy to those of us who are her friends and family.”
Elizabeth curtsied in front of the duke. “Welcome to our home, Duke. I bid you to consider our home open to you while you are here.”
“Mrs Darcy, I wish there had been no need for my coming here, though it is a pleasure to finally meet you. Martha has told me and my wife much about you.”
“Please, come inside. I know you have had a long journey. Would you prefer some refreshments or be shown to your rooms first?”
Martha and the Duke each agreed to see their rooms first. “If you do not mind, Mrs Darcy, could we meet somewhere in an hour? I wish to learn any new information in this matter. You stated that Lord Matlock is in the neighborhood. I will need to know all the particulars of what has happened.”
“I would be very willing to update you any time. Your rooms are just down the hall from my husband’s. You may send word when you are ready and we can meet in the library, which is near the rooms in which I have requested for you.”
The Duke and Martha went up the stairs, following Mrs Blaine. Elizabeth made her way to her husband’s rooms. Darcy had been asleep for the previous hour, after being given some laudanum for the pain he felt. Though he disliked the medication, Darcy had done as he had been asked, taking the vile tasting pain medicine.
“Mistress Elizabeth, you must rest. Master William is sleeping, and most likely will be for some time. You must also do so. The children need you to be strong and healthy. After all you have been through, you must take care.” Mrs Blaine clucked after her mistress. The motherly tone made Elizabeth smile.
“After I speak with Martha and the Duke, I will take a short rest. I wish to hold my children, while waiting for my guests to refresh themselves.”
“Very well, but if you do not rest, you will leave me no choice but to inform your husband of your behavior. We both know what his reaction would be.” The housekeeper was too fond of the Darcys to allow any harm come to any of them, even if the harm was self-inflicted.
“You are quite evil, Mrs Blaine.” Elizabeth laughed. “You know my weaknesses and are using them against me.”
“I would be a poor housekeeper if I was not familiar with how to take proper care of my Mistress and Master.” Mrs Blaine stood tall and proud.
“You are too good. And I am grateful for your care, for my entire family.”
Elizabeth entered her bedchamber to find Jessie holding Ari. “Come to your mamma, Miss Ari. I am in need of your sweet smiles.” She said as she lifted her daughter into her arms. “Is Tom still asleep?”
“Yes, ma’am. He should be waking soon, as it is nearly time to feed him. Miss Ari just finished nursing and had her bottom changed. She is very satisfied with life.”
Elizabeth walked around the room with her daughter in her arms. It was clear to see her love and devotion for the babe, and in moments, Elizabeth felt the weight of the world lifted from her thin shoulders. Just being in your presence can cure any melancholy. I am so grateful for your love, my dear daughter. Your papa is ill, but I am sure that he is also missing his sweet girl. When he wakes, I will take you to visit. I am sure that you and your brother can encourage him to recover quicker.
Several moments went by before she heard fussing from on top of her bed. “Ari, I believe your brother wishes to have his share of attention. Shall we lay down on the bed together?”
Climbing on the bed, Elizabeth placed the children so they were propped up on pillows. Each could see their mother at the same time, making it easy for Elizabeth to entertain them. Their smiles warmed her heart and gave her strength, though it also calmed her until she fell asleep on the bed, near them.
Jessie was not surprised, as she was well aware of her Mistress’ lack of sleep in the past two days. Gently, she picked up Tom and took him into the dressing room, for the wet nurse to feed him. Then she returned for Ari, taking her into the dressing room, so Elizabeth would have peace and quiet. She sent word to Mrs Blaine, informing her of the Mistress finally sleeping, for Jessie knew the housekeeper was concerned.
~~ ** ~~
Three hours passed by before Elizabeth woke. Confused, she looked about the room. Lucy entered from the dressing chamber, finding Elizabeth’s questioning expression. “The babes are in the dressing room. Master Tom nursed and the nursemaids entertained them for bit, before they fell asleep again. We knew you were exhausted, and thought it wiser to allow you to rest. Mrs Blaine spoke with your guests, and Mrs Winston stated that if we woke you to see her, she would tan our hides.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “From what I know of her, she would do just that. I should check on my husband. You may inform Jessie and Susan they can bring the children back in here. The dressing chamber is too small with their cradles and such.”
“Very good, Mistress. And there is some water heating on the fireplace, if you wish to refresh yourself, I can take it off the flame.”
“No, I am fine. Thank you, Lucy. I must remember to tell everyone how dearly I appreciate them. Without all of you, I am certain my world would have fallen apart these past few days.”
Lucy blushed. “Mistress, you have no need to thank us. You are kind and considerate, far better than most any other Mistress of which I have heard. And the same can be said of your husband.”
Elizabeth looked at herself in the peer glass, checking for stray hairs and to smooth any wrinkles. Finally judging herself presentable, Elizabeth left her rooms and made her way to the library.
As she entered the room, she saw Martha’s eyes rise to meet her own. “Lizzy, you look much better, after having some rest. I took the liberty of threatening your staff not to wake you.”
“I was informed you declared you would tan their hides if they disobeyed you. It was heeded, so they must have believed you.” Elizabeth embraced former sister in law.
“Well, it does help that they know I am the daughter of Lord and Lady Matlock. Being their daughter must mean I am insane and unbalanced as them.” Martha laughed.
“Well, look at your sister. There is proof that insanity can be passed on to your children, if you are not careful.”
“I cannot believe Agatha behaved in such a manner. She threatened servants with a knife and then stabs William with said knife. Good God, what has happened to my sister?”
“I can tell you exactly what has happened.” A male voice announced as he entered the room. James Fitzwilliam had arrived at Willows, hoping he would be allowed to speak with his sister.
“James, what are you doing here?” Martha stood and walked to her brother.
“First, I wish to be introduced to our brother’s widow, now our cousin. Secondly, I wish to speak with all of you of this foolish situation that our parents have caused. And thirdly, I am hoping that Mrs Darcy will allow me to meet our niece and nephew. Time has come to choose which side I wish to be on, and I have decided to back Darcy and his family.”
Martha smiled. “James, this is Elizabeth Bennet Fitzwilliam Darcy. Lizzy, this is my brother, James Fitzwilliam.”
“Mrs Darcy, please refer to me as James. Richard would have preferred us to be friends.”
“Only if you refer to me as Elizabeth or Lizzy.”
“I can do such, Elizabeth. Now, Duke, as you are here, I wish to discuss the impossible situation my mother and sister have caused.”
“I spoke to the local magistrate, Sir William Lucas. He had the ladies arrested and is holding them at Netherfield Park, under guard. Mr Bingley, who is a close friend of William’s, has been leasing the estate, and had plenty of room to house them. Sir William Lucas felt this would appease Lord Matlock. Though the ladies were arrested, they were not housed in a local jail, but housed in a fine estate manor.”
“Mother and Agatha will still find it intolerable, I am sure.” James said, as he shook his head.
“Lord Matlock arrived from Town yesterday. He is staying at the inn in Meryton, which he is not pleased with. From the conversations he has had with Sir William, Lord Matlock is demanding his wife and daughter be released. And Lord Farnsworth was in the neighborhood yesterday. He came to inform your father that he is filing for a divorce from Agatha.”
James let out a whistle. “Out of the frying pan and into the fire. From one scandal to the next, my parents and Agatha have sealed their future poorly.”
“Your father is to meet with us tomorrow morning, at Sir William’s estate. I knew that Darcy would not wish for Lord Matlock to step foot on this estate, which is why we chose Lucas Lodge. Neutral territory, so to speak.”
Elizabeth smiled. “I know William will be grateful for your wisdom. What do you propose for handling this situation?”
The Duke of Winston looked at Martha. “We discussed the matter while we were in the carriage, traveling here. The most important aspect we must make clear to Lord Matlock is the scandal would most likely end up harming his family far worse if he does not agree to our terms. There will be some scandal, which cannot be helped. But we can minimize the impact. As the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords, I have power to assist this situation. It is my suggestion that we announce Lady Matlock has taken ill with some sort of terminal malady. We can discuss the matter with the local physician to find something which would mask our deception. Due to her illness, the physician suggested Lady Matlock travel to some distant location, somewhere there is healing waters or such. Of course Lord Matlock will need to accompany his wife, and he will give up his title to James. And we can claim that due to her marital situation in crumbles, Agatha decided to accompany her parents.”
“Our parents own an estate in Ireland. It is small, though out of the way.” Martha acknowledged. “If we can find a way to force them into agreeing to the proposal.”
James smiled. “It will be difficult, but I am willing to do what I can to assist in convincing them. I know Mother would be devastated to have her name dragged through the gossip columns in the papers. She has always tried to keep her name in good standing. That is one of the reasons she has been so difficult when it comes to whom we wish to marry. Mother was the one who arranged your marriage, Mart, and Agatha’s marriage, which was quite literally hell. A divorce may be scandalous, but it is for the best. Agatha would then be free to marry someone decent. Perhaps, if there was someone in Ireland of whom they would approve, for Agatha to marry, they would be more willing.”
“I remember Mother speaking last month of a young man, what was his name? He was from Ireland, a large estate, and Mother was sorry that her daughters were already married. What was his name?”
“Would you be speaking of Marquis of Drogheda? Malcom McCarthy is his name.” Winston stated. “That would be a feather in their cap, as he is well connected and wealthy. Agatha could do far worse.”
“Perhaps we could assist in making such an attachment.” Martha declared. “From what my mother stated, he is all the rage in Town, all the matchmaking mammas have set their sights on him.”
“I am familiar with his family.” James announced. “I went to school with his cousin. If I am not mistaken, I met McCarthy once.”
“Would his cousin be willing to introduce him to our family? Perhaps if we have them visit us somewhere. We could suggest visiting Bath or Ramsgate, state that we are taking Mother there for her health, before we take her to Ireland.” Martha’s mind was thinking rapidly.
“Let us cross one bridge at a time, Mart. First, we need to encourage our parents and Agatha to accept our plan. If they refuse, we are facing our family’s name dragged through the streets. We will all be ruined if that happens. You will be safe, with your in laws to protect you. But I will be unable to find a wife from amongst the ton.”
“That could be a blessing, James.” Martha smiled. “You could finally marry where your heart wishes if we are not suitable for those of the upper circles of society.”
“Martha, first we need to deal with our parents and our sister. After they are situated, then I can begin to concentrate on a way to marry where my heart wishes.”
~~ ** ~~
The following morning, James, Martha, Elizabeth and Winston entered a carriage and made the short journey to Lucas Lodge. Once they arrived, Charlotte escorted them into the parlor, where her father and Lord Matlock were seated. Mr Bennet arrived shortly after the party from Willows.
Sir William welcomed his guests. Taking Elizabeth’s hand, he bowed over it, before speaking to the young lady he had come to admire. “My dear girl, it is a pleasure to see you, even though the circumstances are not pleasant. Would you do me the honor of introducing the guests who accompanied you?”
“Sir William Lucas, this is James Fitzwilliam, Martha Winston, and the Duke of Winston. James and Martha are siblings of my late husband, Richard Fitzwilliam, and the children of Lord and Lady Matlock. The Duke is the father in law of Martha, and the Lord Chancellor of the House of Lords. James, Martha, Winston, this is Sir William Lucas, local magistrate and mayor of Meryton.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Sir William.” The Duke stated clearly, glancing at Lord Matlock to judge the man’s demeanor. “And I appreciate your kindness in seeing to my request. I know it is difficult to deny an earl, but you did as I asked you to do.”
“You were inappropriate, Winston, and you know you were.” Lord Matlock spat the words in his fury. “My wife and daughter should have been sent in their carriage back to Town, rather than being arrested. This is highly improper.”
“Lord Matlock, what I am doing is meant to protect you and your family. You are facing a tremendous amount of scandal and ruination if you do not listen to what I am about to tell you. James and Martha have agreed with me, as it affects them as well. With Agatha’s marriage in tatters, and the scandal which will come from her husband divorcing her, do you truly wish to have Lady Matlock and Agatha face criminal charges? It will completely destroy your family, and you would face disgrace, everywhere you go.”
“If that whore who married my Richard had only done what we asked, relinquish the children to my wife, none of this would have happened.”
“Father, have you ever met the young lady who was your daughter in law? Do you know what she even looks like? How can you behave so to a lady you have never even been introduced to?” James was angry.
“I do not need to meet her to know she is a whore, and that she trapped Richard into marriage, hoping that his connections to an earl would improve her situation.” Lord Matlock looked smug.
“Lord Matlock, you are the most pompous, arrogant fool I have ever met.” Elizabeth stated as she walked towards the man’s chair. “I am Elizabeth Bennet Fitzwilliam Darcy. I was your daughter in law, married to your son for the last years of Richard’s life. We were happy together and we loved each other. Our children remind me of the love I shared with Richard. I am no whore, and did not give a thought to Richard’s status in English society. Such things mattered not to me. And now, I am married to Fitzwilliam Darcy, and we are happy together. Though we married to protect myself and my children, William and I have come to love one another. And I still do not care what connections to society my husband holds. I would be happy to never spend a day in society, as I prefer the simple pleasures that country life has to share.”
“You cannot be the trollop my son married.” Lord Matlock stated. “I was told you were blond with blue eyes.”
“The young lady you described with such features would be my cousin, Miss Jane Bennet. I can assure you that I am Elizabeth, and that I was married to Richard Fitzwilliam. And I am now married to Fitzwilliam Darcy. Now, can you be civil and discuss what Winston has to suggest to you, or will you destroy your entire family out of spite.”
“You have nothing to do with the situation my family is in, except that you caused the matter. If you had not married my son, or had his children, we would not be here. If you had done as you were told, giving the children to our family, we would not be here. So, it is obvious, you are to blame for this entire matter.”
“LORD MATLOCK THAT IS ENOUGH!” The Duke of Winston stood tall and menacing. Your wife and daughter were the ones who committed crimes, not Mrs Darcy. You may not have approved of Mrs Darcy’s decisions to refuse your demands, but it was not your decision to make. There is nothing criminal on her part. The criminal acts were performed by your family.”
“I…I…I cannot believe you would side with that harlot. Winston, you have always been fair and just in your decisions. But to take her at her word, you are being hoodwinked by this woman.” Lord Matlock was furious.
“You are an idiot, Henry. I have known you for many years, and up until now, I tolerated your foolishness. But now, you have gone too far. Mrs Darcy does not deserve your treatment, for all she ever did was love your son. What was wrong with Richard being loved? So what, she does not have a title? She is wealthy in her own rights, and has no need of a husband to provide shelter and comfort for her and her children. Her connections are in many countries, not just in England. From what I have been told, her grandfather was quite the businessman, and well established in Belgium. So all this really concerns is the fact Richard went against your wishes, choosing a wife for love. He did not follow your dictates as to whom he should marry, he followed his heart. For that, you deem it fair to pass judgment on the young lady.”
“And to be honest, Father, the marriages you arranged for my sisters have been disasters. No offense to the Duke, but his son is a rake and gambler. Agatha’s husband is abusive. Have you never wondered where all her injuries come from? Have you never wondered why she would wear long sleeves and high necked gowns in the middle of summer? She was hiding the evidence of the abuse she has suffered. By forcing her into an arranged marriage to that scoundrel, you have made her miserable and angry.”
Lord Matlock grew red faced with fury. As he began to speak, he felt a gripping pain shoot through his chest and down his arm. He collapsed to the floor, writhing. James called out for someone to send for the physician. Martha was at her father’s side, loosening his cravat and his collar.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Charlotte entered the room, carrying her mother’s medicinal bag. “Here are Mamma’s herbs and medicines, in case they are needed. My brother left to fetch Mr Herbert. Lizzy said he was due to check Mr Darcy this morning.”
Winston watched silently as Lord Matlock weakened on the floor. “Should we move him?”
Lucas Lodge was small, and there were no vacant rooms to be had. “There is a sofa in my study which would be more comfortable than the floor. It would take some time before a bedchamber can be prepared for him.”
“Once the physician sees to him, if he can be moved, we will take him to Willows.” Elizabeth announced.
“Lizzy, William will not approve of such a move, nor would my father.” Martha pointed out.
“Willows is my home, and I am the Mistress. It is my right to determine who is a guest in my home, and I have decided to allow your father to stay in one of our rooms. It may not be as fashionable as he would like, but it will be available to him. With you and James staying there, it will make things simpler for all. Then arrangements can be made for your mother and sister.”
“Elizabeth, you are more forgiving than either of my parents, and my sister.” James stated. “I am grateful for your charity to my father.”
“Think nothing of it, James. It is only until he is well enough to travel. Then he can be taken to Town or Matlock to continue to recover.” Elizabeth smiled to the siblings. “And William is not recovered enough to make his way down the hall, so he will not be a hindrance to us.”
Mr Herbert arrived soon enough, and pronounced Lord Matlock having suffered a severe bout of apoplexy. “He shows signs of paralysis, and the side his face is drooping. I must warn you, when there has been one attack, this severe, it is not uncommon for another attack to happen.”
“Is it safe to move him to Willows?” Elizabeth asked.
The physician thought things over for several moments before giving his opinion. “It would be best to not move him, but the situation would not be the best to facilitate the care he will require. As Willows is not far, it would be the best location to move him to. Any further would not be recommended. I will ride on the wagon with him, in case he requires assistance.”
Sir William Lucas sent for his wagon to be readied, and for bedding to be placed on the bed of the wagon. Once it was prepared, Sir William’s servants assisted James in taking his father to the wagon. Elizabeth and Martha joined Winston in the carriage, leaving before the wagon, so they could have the staff at Willows prepared for their new arrival. Winston asked Sir William to visit him later in the afternoon, so they could determine what should be done with Lady Matlock and Agatha Farnsworth.
~~ ** ~~
Mr Bennet arrived at Lucas Lodge only moments after the wagon had left, transporting Lord Matlock to Willows. Shocked at the generosity of his niece towards her former father in law, Mr Bennet made his way to Elizabeth’s home.
Making his way up the stairs, Mr Bennet followed the maids who were carrying bedding into one of the guest rooms. He saw his niece and walked to where she was giving directions to her staff.
“Lizzy, I was just at Lucas Lodge. Sir William informed me of what had happened. What is the verdict?”
“Critical. Mr Herbert is not sure if he will recover. If he does, it is most likely he will suffer another attack. And his paralysis is likely permanent.”
“Apoplexy can be harsh. It is what took my grandmother. Has he regained consciousness?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “And what are we to say to Lady Matlock and her daughter? They will blame me for what has happened. They will retaliate against me for whatever their minds can concoct as being my fault.”
“You are strong, my dear girl. I cannot say I would be strong enough to endure the cruelty they have put you through, and yet, you are kind enough to think of what is best for Lord Matlock. If the tables were reversed, I know he would not do the same for you.”
“That is why I am the better person. I can put the needs of someone else before my own, even someone as cruel and callous as Lord Matlock. I find it incredible that he had any part in producing Richard, James and Martha. They are such good people, caring and kind. So different than their parents.”
“Perhaps the children took all their caring and kindness, leaving the parents empty shells.” Mr Bennet teased.
“Well, I am pleased that your many children have not robbed you of your sweet nature, Uncle.” Elizabeth chuckled.
“Well, your aunt has informed me that our children have robbed me of my ability to say no to the children, as I seem to indulge their desires easily.” Mr Bennet laughed. “I will go to your husband’s rooms and see if he is awake. I wish to visit with him, though I promise not to inform him of what is happening with his uncle.”
“I am grateful, Uncle. I will see my husband shortly, when I have Lord Matlock settled.”
“If you have need of me, know you only need to ask.”
Elizabeth embraced her uncle. “I know. You are so much like my father, I cannot help but feel he is still with me. And I am grateful to have you here, at my side.”
“Always and forever, my dear girl. Always and forever.” Mr Bennet placed a gentle kiss on his niece’s head.
~~ ** ~~
Bingley escorted Winston and Sir William to the rooms where Lady Matlock and Agatha Farnsworth were being kept. Winston chuckled to himself to think of the rooms as a jail, though he knew the ladies enough to know they would be disgusted with their surroundings.
The guards unlocked the door into the sitting room where the two ladies were taking tea together. Seeing the Duke, Lady Matlock stood. “Winston, finally. I was certain you would come and make sense of this mess. Are we to leave? I wish to return to my home, so I can bathe. The filth of this house and neighborhood is not to be borne.”
“I am afraid not, Lady Matlock. There are a few issues which need to be discussed.”
“Where is my husband? Why is he not here with you? And Agatha’s husband, `surely he must be in the neighborhood by now.”
Winston shook his head. “From what we have been told, Lord Farnsworth came and left. He spoke with Lord Matlock, and, from what I was told, is washing his hands of your family. We were told he is planning to file for a divorce. With what has happened, I cannot imagine there will be any difficulties in being granted a divorce.”
Agatha’s cheeks turned red. “He cannot blame me for what happened. It is not fair.”
“Aggie, perhaps it is a blessing. We will find you a better husband, with better connections. And we will find someone who is less brutal towards you.” Lady Matlock attempted to soothe her daughter.
Only, her daughter was far from soothed. “You knew he was abusing me? You knew, and you never said anything? You always insisted on my being the perfect wife and take care of my husband, all the while, knowing he was abusing me?”
“Of course I knew. We all knew. Your father, your sister, your elder brother. We all knew what sort of man Farnsworth was. I prayed that he would be kinder as the years went by, especially if you gave him an heir. But you lost the babe you were carrying, and then your husband deserted your bed for his whores in Town. It has been gossiped over at many social events for several years.”
“Everyone knew how horrible he has been to me, yet I was expected to allow him to beat me. He is the reason my baby died before being born. He is the reason I cannot have children. If you knew the perverted things he has done to my body, the torment I have been forced to endure, you would avail yourself of the chamber pot to relieve your stomach contents.” Agatha was furious with her mother.
“Ladies, please take your seat.” Winston spoke with a deep voice, conveying his authority in his words. “We must discuss the situation and determine what will be the best course of action for the situation. You have two simple choices, first is that you be tried in Town, in the House of Lords, which will cause quite an uproar of scandal, especially after Farnsworth files for a divorce. The second choice, though still some scandal, there will be far less. You will have to give up your position in society and move to your estate in Ireland. James will take over the position as Lord Matlock.”
“I will not give up my place as Lady Matlock. And I am certain my husband will not step aside to allow our son to be Lord Matlock. What has Henry said of this matter? Why is he not here with you?”
“This morning, while speaking with James and Martha of the situation, Henry suffered a bout of apoplexy. It was severe. He is being tended by a local physician, and a surgeon has been sent for from Town. If I am not mistaken, the surgeon is your personal physician. It is likely that, as severe as the attack was, he would not be able to survive another attack. There is paralysis including not only in his leg and arm, but also the face.”
Lady Matlock cried out. “My husband’s death will be as a result from dealing with that harlot. It is murder, I tell you. Clear case of murder. She must have found some manner of poisoning him, causing the apoplexy to happen. I am certain of it.”
“Enough, you foolish woman. Mrs Darcy did nothing of the sort. It is time that you shake yourself of such notions. Mrs Darcy is an honorable lady. You are the ladies who are disgraces to your family.” Winston nearly shouted.
“You had best leave my sister in law alone, Winston.” Came the demanding voice of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Turning around, the Duke was disgusted by the sight before him. Not only was Lady Catherine de Bourgh standing at the door of the sitting room, but her daughter, Anne de Bourgh, was next to her.
“Lady Catherine, I would recommend that you mind your own business and allow me to finish speaking with Lady Matlock.”
“I will not allow you to force her into some sort of compromise which will harm her. I am here to protect her interests. I was informed my brother has taken ill. Where is he? I wish to see him.”
“I am afraid Lord Matlock can not have visitors at the moment. Not only is he extremely weak, you are not welcome in the house where he is being tended.”
“Nonsense, no one would dare deny me entrance in their home. It would be ridiculous to deny me, for I can ruin anyone in society. I am Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and I am well connected.”
Winston shook his head. “Madame, you will not be welcomed in the house where your brother is being tended. I am quite certain of it. I am staying at the house, as a guest.”
“You took my husband to her house?” Lady Matlock was red with anger.
“Lord Matlock was at Lucas Lodge, the home of the local magistrate, when he was seized with the attack of apoplexy. Lucas Lodge is small and there was not sufficient room to allow proper tending of Lord Matlock. With the physician’s approval, and the physician and James rode with Lord Matlock, he was transferred to Willows, as it was the nearest estate which would have appropriate room.”
“You took my brother to the house of that harlot? You will be responsible for my brother’s death, for we all know she will kill him. Winston, I never would have thought you would allow a man to be murdered, even if you do not approve of him.” Lady Catherine was livid with her accusations.
“That is enough Lady Catherine. I will not tolerate your accusations, for they are foolishness. I have no desire to see Lord Matlock die, and his best chance at recovery was to take him to Willows. And I will be there, just down the hall from his room, and will check on him frequently. Martha and James will be there as well, and I know you will not accuse them of wishing to see their father dead.”
“I demand my sister and niece be allowed to stay at that estate. We shall all remain there until Henry is well enough to be taken to Town.” Lady Catherine was barking orders.
“You cannot force your way into the home of another, making demands.” Winston said. “And I would not allow any of you to enter my house if I were Darcy or his wife. Not one of you has cared for the truth, or the feelings of others. You have made threats, accusations, and even injured Darcy. It is a miracle that Agatha is not being charged in murder. And if you think Mrs Darcy will allow any of you in her home, where her children are, after the attempt to kidnap them, you are an idiot.”
“They are my grandchildren, and deserve to be raised properly.” Lady Matlock announced. “I have rights to protect them and care for them. They are all that is left of my son.”
“But they are Mrs Darcy’s children, she gave birth to them. How would you feel if someone came in and tried to force you to give up your children? What would you do if someone you had never even met, who hates you for just being alive, came uninvited, into your house, to steal your infants? No, Lady Matlock, you have no right to take those children from their mother. I have seen the children. They are happy, healthy babes, and they are deeply loved. If it comes down to a court battle, I will be forced to testify against you. You know I am a powerful man. Do you wish to battle me in court?”
“You are not being fair.” Agatha exclaimed. “Those children are Fitzwilliam blood. If James does not marry or have a son, Richard’s son will inherit the earldom. How can the boy be raised to take his rightful place if he is brought up in that whore’s home?”
“ENOUGH!” Winston bellowed. “Elizabeth is not a whore, harlot, or any other derogatory term. She is a kind young lady, caring and intelligent. She is more of a true lady than any of you four. Her generosity in opening her home to allow Lord Matlock to be taken there for care speaks volumes of the sort of upstanding lady she is. If the shoe was on the other foot, I know none of you would be so kind. If any of you dares to say another derogatory word with regards to Mrs Darcy, I will wash my hands of all of you and you will have to take your chances in court.”
Anne de Bourgh moved forward. “It does not matter, for Fitzwilliam Darcy was engaged to me, therefore, he cannot be married to anyone else. He must have the marriage annulled, so we can have the banns read.”
“Miss de Bourgh, your cousin has stated clearly that he has never been, nor ever desired, to be engaged to you. It is my opinion that you should give up your scheme of an attachment to you. His marriage cannot be annulled. And one divorce in your family is quite enough, I would think.”
“But the marriage can easily be annulled. It is a marriage in name only, to protect that…lady. It is not like they are really married.”
“Miss de Bourgh, I am afraid you will not approve of what I am to tell you, but you need to know the truth. The marriage has been consummated, and the couple are very much in love with each other. There will be no annulment, divorce or any other dissolving of their marriage. Elizabeth and William are happily married and adore their children. Let go of this foolishness and allow them to enjoy their life together. Find your own happiness elsewhere.”
“Mother, this has to be corrected.” Anne stomped her feet, acting very much the petulant child. “You promised me that I would be Mrs Darcy, and I demand you produce my husband immediately.”
“Anne, calm yourself. I do not wish for you to make yourself ill.” Lady Catherine attempted to soothe her daughter.
“I refuse to be calm until I see Fitzwilliam. I demand to see my betrothed. Now, Mother, I insist we go there now.”
Anne stomped out of the room and down the stairs. Once outside, she was handed back into the carriage she had arrived in. She sat there for several moments before she stuck her head out the door of the carriage, yelling for her mother. When several more minutes passed by, Anne began shouting loudly for her mother to join her immediately.
The Duke of Winston had had his fill of the childish behavior. He walked out to the carriage and spoke to Anne. “Miss de Bourgh, I would recommend you make no efforts towards going to your cousin’s home. You will not be welcome at Willows, and it will only cause you frustration.”
“I will go there, and I will make Fitzwilliam see the foolishness it is for him to be married to that woman. He is being taken for a fool, used by her. She will only bring him shame and pain.”
“No, Miss de Bourgh, Darcy is happy in his marriage and with being a father to the twins. He was never truly engaged to you, your mother was the one to start that rumor. But Darcy never could make her believe he had no intension of making an offer to you. It is time to let go of the expectation of being married to Darcy. Find a man who will make you happy.”
Anne pouted. “I have never thought of any other man. All of my life I have prepared myself to be Mrs Darcy of Pemberley. And I will not be denied what I want.”
“You are behaving like a toddler who has been denied a treat. You are much too old, Miss de Bourgh, to behave in such a manner.” Winston attempted to keep his voice as calm as possible.
“It is not good. Mother has always told me that if I wished for something, I would have. Now you tell me I will not have Fitzwilliam as my husband. This is not to be borne.” Anne crossed her arms in front of her chest and pouted.
Upon watching her behavior, a thought crossed Winston’s mind. It was well known throughout the ton that when Anne de Bourgh was a child, she developed a severe fever and nearly died. He wondered if the fever had caused the girl damaged permanently, keeping her forever a child. Her actions were that of a child. Perhaps Lady Catherine had not wished for anyone to know the truth, and she wished for the union with Darcy, knowing that he would protect her. It was simple enough to think the overwhelming Lady Catherine de Bourgh demanding her nephew to conceal the truth, keep Anne from society, where the truth would be discovered easily.
Taking a different tact, Winston attempted to gain acceptance from Anne. “I am sure you are hungry, Miss de Bourgh. Mr Bingley is a dear friend of Darcy’s, and he informed me that the cook has made some delightful biscuits to be enjoyed at tea time. Would you not like to have some biscuits and tea?”
“Will my mother know if I have some biscuits? She does not like me to have too many sweets each day, though I love them. If you can keep it a secret, so Mother does not find out, I would love some biscuits.”
“I promise you that your mother will not fuss over you enjoying the refreshments. Besides, your mother is still with your aunt.”
“Oh, Mother is so angry with my aunt and uncle. She blames them for this entire mess. If it were not for their son meeting that…woman, none of this would have happened and I would be married to Fitzwilliam by now. I thought about Richard, when I was younger, but Fitzwilliam is so handsome.”
“Miss de Bourgh, might I ask you how old you are? I cannot seem to remember.”
Anne thought for a few moments. “I am ten, though Mother says I am tall for my age. I have never met anyone my age being so tall.”
Winston knew, at that moment, his hypothesis was correct. Anne was mentally a child, trapped in the body of a woman.
While Winston was thinking of the situation, Anne continued. “Mother insists I marry Fitzwilliam, but, to be honest, I am scared he might wish to kiss me on the lips. Mother has told me that when a lady marries, she is to allow her husband to touch her body, with no clothes on. I would not think that to be proper, but Mother would not lie to me. She says that when a man touches his wife in such a way, they are married and then they make a baby from the touching. But I have never understood how touching can make a baby.”
“What did your mother tell you of having a marriage annulled?” Winston asked.
“She told me that if a woman does not allow her husband to touch her, the marriage is not legal. She said that the marriage can be annulled, which means that marriage is not a real marriage. Then Fitzwilliam and I can marry. Mother says I will need to let him touch me, and give me a baby. I do not want a baby. They smell funny and make messes.”
“Well, you have no need to fret, Miss de Bourgh. Now, let us go inside the house. I will ask Mr Bingley to have tea and biscuits brought up to the music room.” Winston smiled as he assisted Anne step down from the carriage.
“Sir, will my cousin be angry with me? Will he treat me poorly? I like Fitzwilliam, I really do, and I do not wish him to be angry with me.”
“You have no reason to fear Darcy. I am certain he will not be angry with you.”