Once Anne was situated in the music room, Winston returned to the room in which Lady Matlock, Lady Catherine and Lady Agatha had been left.
“Lady Catherine, after a few moments in your daughter’s presence, I am now certain I have the just of the situation. When your daughter was a child, she suffered from a terrible fever, did she not?”
“Yes, she did. What does that have to do with our present situation?”
“Your daughter’s mind was damaged from the fever, was it not?”
Lady Catherine looked away from Winston, and would not meet the eyes of her sister in law. “I do not understand what you are suggesting, Sir. My daughter is fit and ready to be a wife.”
“No, she is not. I asked Miss de Bourgh a few questions. In her mind, she is still ten years old. A child, though her body has aged far beyond that age.”
Lady Matlock gasped. “That is the reason you forbade our family to spend time with Anne without you. You always hid her away, only allowing us to see her for a few moments at a time. She is damaged, and you did not trust any of us to know the truth.”
“Silence, you pitiful hag.” Lady Catherine shouted at her sister in law. “Anne is usually fine earlier in the day. When she has exerted herself and when she is fatigued, she reverts to a childlike state of mind. There is no reason she cannot be a wife, and later, a mother. And Darcy owes his loyalty to the family. He should do his duty, and marry her. No other man would ever marry her, or if one did, he would most likely treat Anne in the same manner as Agatha’s husband does her.”
“Lady Catherine, I have left your daughter in the music room, with tea and biscuits. After she has finished, I suggest you make your way to the village of Meryton, and take rooms there. You will not be welcomed at Willows, and I will not allow you to insist Mr Bingley take you in. You will have to make do with the inn. Then tomorrow, you should return to your home. I will speak with Darcy and James tomorrow, and explain to them the situation. When you are gone, Miss de Bourgh will require someone to look after her. James will be the next head of the Fitzwilliam family, after Lord Matlock. He will have say in what happens to his cousin.”
Lady Catherine prepared to argue the matter, but was silenced by the look the Duke gave her. Giving a petulant huff, Lady Catherine crossed her arms, much like her daughter had. Well, it is simple enough to see where Miss de Bourgh learned her manners. Like mother, like daughter.
~~ ** ~~
Returning to Willows, Winston was quick to speak with James and Martha. “Your aunt and cousin have arrived. There is much of your cousin’s behavior for us to discuss. It is now clear as to why Lady Catherine de Bourgh was so adamant on having Darcy marry her daughter. But we can discuss that later. How is your father?”
“Very weak.” James stated. “The physician stated it was unlikely he will recover.”
“Though I disapprove of my parents’ behavior, I do not wish them dead.” Martha said, as she wiped the tears from her eyes. “How was my mother and sisters?”
“The same as you would have suspected. In denial that any of this was their fault and the twins belonged to them, and, had Elizabeth done as she was told by them, none of this would have happened.”
“Yes, Mother would never admit any culpability in this mess. And she would have Agatha believing the same. They are both fools.” Martha shook her head in disgust.
“Perhaps it would be better for me to speak with Mother and Aggie.” James suggested. “I might be able to get through to them, as they both trust me. Or, at least, they did.”
“What should we do by way of allowing them to see your father?” Winston inquired.
James thought for a moment. “I will speak with Elizabeth. If she will allow it, I will bring them here myself, and keep them at my side during their visit. Then, they will be returned to their prison, if Mr Bingley is willing to allow it.”
“I believe it would be best if we spoke with them together, James.” Martha added. I believe they need to see the unified front and that we are standing firm on this matter. And that they still face consequences for what they have done. Only when we have spoken with them, and if Elizabeth allows it, should we bring them to see Father. I feel that seeing Father should be a reward for their behavior, not just allow them to have their way.”
Winston nodded his head. “I agree with Martha. It may be the only way to get them to cooperate. And they should see that they have brought this on themselves, and still face the choice before them. Either they take the offer we put to them, allowing them to escape the scorn of society, or they will be tried for their crimes. The assault on Darcy, not to mention the attempted abduction of the children, is enough that they could face transportation to Australia.”
“Then let us speak to Elizabeth, and see if she will allow the visit, if Mother and Aggie will cooperate.” James agreed with the others.
~~ ** ~~
“Mother, why are you angry?” Anne de Bourgh asked, her face showing her puzzlement.
“Everything is ruined, Anne. You should not have spoken with that man, the Duke. Because you did, he will not allow you to marry Darcy.” Lady Catherine spouted her angry words.
“But why would the Duke refuse to aid us? Have I done something wrong?”
“Anne, I have told you before, you are to keep quiet when we are in the company of others. I do not wish for you to speak, for you do not know everything which is important.”
“That is not fair, Mother. I should have the right to speak my mind, when it involves my future.” Anne pouted. “I am not a baby.”
“We will need to find a place for us to stay, as we have been told we cannot stay at Netherfield.”
“Mother, why can we not stay with Darcy? I am certain he would allow us. He must been as anxious to see me as I am to see him. I want to speak with him on our wedding. We must see to setting a date, for there are preparations to be made. I wish to wear a beautiful gown, with lace and ribbons. And I want flowers in the church, as well as at the wedding breakfast. Everything will be grand, will it not?”
Lady Catherine was angry at everyone who stood in the way of her daughter’s future. Darcy had disobeyed her, leaving her with no one to see to Anne for the rest of the girl’s life. Not only had Darcy married another, he claimed her children as his own, leaving Lady Matlock and Agatha desperate enough to attempt a kidnapping. Injuring Darcy would only harm Lady Catherine’s plan to force Darcy to do his duty to his cousin. She had planned to find Wickham, enlist him in aiding her further. He had not reported back to let her know if he had found the papers she needed to have the marriage annulled and she needed the papers. If the Duke was to be believed, it would be difficult to get an annulment, but Lady Catherine was desperate to make Darcy marry Anne. So desperate, the grand lady was willing to stay in the inn in the insignificant village of Meryton.
“Come, Anne, the carriage should be ready for us.”
~~ ** ~~
“So, you can see, Mother, Agatha, that you have only two choices. Either you can admit to your crimes and accept the decision put to you by the Duke, or you face being tried by your peers. If you are tried, you face being transported, and the scandal will be great.” James had just finished explaining to his mother and sister of their options. “I hope that you will take the first option, for it will be the best for all of us. If you decide to face the court, you will find that Martha and I will not be at your side. We will support the Darcys and publically state our support. Martha and I do not approve of how you have behaved. And it is time you realized that your rank in society does not allow you to behave anyway you wish. You are not above everyone else in the world, Mother, and it is time you realized it.”
“How dare you speak to me in such a manner? You are disgraceful and your father should have you disinherited.” Lady Matlock’s fury grew. “My youngest son is dead, and his children are being kept from me. I am doing what is best for my grandchildren.”
“Mother, you have done no good to Agatha and Martha in arranging their marriages. Fortunately, Martha has her husband’s parents who are decent and kind to her, and she does not have to face the horrors which Agatha has had to endure. Have you never wondered about all of Aggie’s injuries? Have you thought her to be so clumsy that she constantly has bruises and broken bones? Mother, your daughter is being beaten constantly. Her husband is a brute. I confronted him once, and he retaliated against her for my words. I spoke with Father after I heard of Aggie’s injuries, when she nearly died from the beating, and he declared there was nothing he could do. A man can do as he pleases to his wife. He can beat her if that is what he wishes. Father knew of the situation and did nothing to protect her. All due to your foolish notions of what sort of person we should marry. We are to marry someone with a title and connections. Well, no more. I am finally going to follow Richard’s fine example and follow my heart.”
“No, James, do not tell me you are planning to ask for that nobody, that…trademan’s daughter. I forbid it James, it will not be allowed.”
“Miss Jenson is not a tradesman’s daughter. She is the daughter of a country squire.”
“But who is her mother? Who are her uncles and aunts? They are of no importance.”
“And importance is not decided by wealth and titles. It is time for you to realize that your views are not wise. Richard had the right of it all. He married a young lady whom he loved and who loved him in return. I know that Richard was happy with Elizabeth. His dying words were of her and their children, though at the time, they thought it was a single child. I have seen the children. Mother, the boy looks so much like my brother, it made me weep. And the little girl is beautiful, just as her mother. You only need look at them to see how dearly they are loved, not only by their mother, but by Darcy as well. He has taken them as his own. The boy is his heir to Pemberley. That is how dear the children are to Darcy.”
“I support James’ decision to court Miss Jenson and marry her, if that is what they choose.” Martha announced. “I agree with his words, titles and wealth do not make us good people. It is our actions and deeds which make us good or bad. Agatha, I have been fortunate enough to live apart from my husband most of the time. You have been put through so many horrors in your marriage, I cannot imagine how you have survived. But it is time for you to tell our parents to get out of your affairs and do what is best for you. With your husband divorcing you, you can find someone to care for you, someone who will treat you kindly rather than abuse you. Do you not wish for such?”
“I doubt my husband will divorce me. He has threatened to do so many times. He will not wish to deal with the scandal it would cause.” Agatha sniffed, her head held high.
“It is my regret to cause you harm, Aggie, but we received the papers from your husband’s solicitor. The courier brought them to Darcy’s home yesterday. His lordship has decided that he wishes to move forward with the divorce, declaring your criminal status as reason to be rid of you.”
Agatha was in disbelief. After all she had endured, all that she had disgraced herself for, her husband had determined he wished out of their marriage. First anger, then humiliation, were visible in her expression. Finally, after several moments of thinking, Agatha found peace with the thought of being rid of her husband. To never have to endure his abuse, to know he would not take his anger out on her again, Agatha found joy.
“Might I have some time to think?” Agatha asked, her eyes pleading with her siblings.
“Of course, Agatha. We will remain here, speaking with Mother while you return to your room.” James told her, trying to be as sympathetic as possible. He knew, by her demeanor, that this could vital step towards Agatha thinking for herself. She had always followed their mother’s dictate, doing as their mother insisted, no matter what the consequences.
Agatha left the room, leaving the other members of her family to continue to speak.
“Now, Mother, what is going to be your decision?” Martha asked. “Are you going to force the Duke to have you formally charged and taken to Town to face trial, or will you acknowledge your wrong doing and live out your days at the estate in Ireland? I should tell you, my father in law will have you taken to Town immediately, without seeing Father, if you chose to be tried for your crimes.”
“You are too cruel, Martha. Far too cruel. It is not right, making such demands of your mother. Will you have me ruined to satisfy your perceived wrongs for being arranged in your marriage? You were more than willing to marrying, if I remember correctly.”
“I was being a dutiful daughter, doing what was expected of me rather than following my heart. Though I did not fancy any other at the time, I can now see what loving someone, truly loving them, can bring.”
“You fancy your cousin loves that harlot? Do not fool yourself, Mart, you are so far from the truth on the matter. Darcy did it to give her security against us, out of some loyalty to Richard’s memory. Nothing more than that, unless you consider the fact it relieved him of having to marry Anne. Catherine was foolish to think he would ever follow through and marry her daughter. He did not marry you, Martha, why should he marry Anne?”
“Darcy, marry me? When did you come up with such a notion?” Martha was surprised.
“When you were children. But his parents were not fond of marriages of convenience, having a love match of their own. Your father tried to out maneuver Catherine, as Darcy was a fine catch in general.”
“Mother, can you hear yourself? You speak of a marriage as if you were speaking of purchasing a horse.” Martha declared.
“It is not that big of a difference, if you take a long look at it. What is the difference between finding the best pedigree and value of an animal or a person?”
“It pleases me that my children will be allowed to make their decision in choosing their future spouses. I will not force them into a marriage as you describe. My children will have happiness, and love.”
~~ ** ~~
Could I be fortunate enough to be rid of that monster? Could it be true? For years, I have hated him, hated what he has done to me. But it was my duty to my family, to what my mother and father demanded of me.
But what would I do with my life? Could I follow Richard’s example, possibly find a man who could love me? No, Mother will not allow such. Richard was a fool, and look at where it got him. If my husband divorces me, Mother and Father will find another man to sell me to. I know better than to think it could be otherwise.
Richard, why did go and upset Mother and Father’s plans for your future? They had planned to introduce you to a few young ladies they thought would be appropriate, and then your letter arrived, announcing your marriage. Mother was furious. I will never forget the tirade she threw, throwing items about the drawing room as she threatened to make the journey to Belgium and bring you home immediately. Only Father was able to control her, though he was unable to calm her. Each day, it seemed her fury grew. Though I would never have wished the life I have had with that pig of an earl, I never would have expected you to go against our parents as you did. You could have chosen from one of the young ladies Mother chose, you did not have to throw everything our parents taught us out the window.
And now, look at the mess I have gotten myself into. I followed Mother blindly, do what she told me to do. Why could your wife not just given Mother and Father the children? Mother would have been happy, raising your children. She would not have lost all ration, and neither of us would be in the state we now face. What are we to do? I know it would be wisest to move to Ireland, but it will be starting life anew. Am I ready for such a change? To be free of my husband and move somewhere I am not known?
If Mother and I were to move there, I know I would be miserable living with her. She will be in a fit for the rest of her life, and I would be the one forced to live with it.
I wonder if there is a dower cottage on the estate. If there is one, it might be tolerable for me to live in it while Mother lives in the main house. I do not wish to remain in London, not if I will be a divorced woman. And especially after all that has happened here comes to be known. Even if we were to be found not guilty, the scandal would already be there. Everyone would look down on us.
Richard, why are you not here, with us, helping us? Why did you have to become a soldier? You were always my protector, my knight in shining armor. I miss you so dearly, Richard. First the war took you from England, then your marriage separated us all from you. How I wish I could have just one more hour with you. Just to tell you how dear you are to me and how much I miss you. It may be selfish, but I have had very little for myself for these past years.
Please, Richard, show me a sign of what I should do. Show me the path I should take.
As these thoughts flowed through Agatha’s mind, she dozed off on her bed. A smile grew on her lips as she began to dream.
Agatha was sitting on a bench in the flower garden at Matlock. She had always found refuge there, when her Mother disapproved of something Agatha had done. And it was where Richard always knew to find her.
“Aggie, what are you doing here?” The strong male voice she missed spoke to her.
Rising from her seat, she wrapped her arms about her beloved brother. “Richard, oh, my dearest brother. I prayed you would return to me.”
“Aggie, I am only in your dreams. You know I cannot be with you for real.”
“But you are here with me now, and that is all that matters. Feeling your arms around me, hearing your heart and smelling your fragrance of leather and musk, how I have missed all of it.”
“I will always live in your heart and in your memories. Cherish the memories. I beg of you, Agatha, cherish the memories. You were wrong to try taking my children from Elizabeth. You realize that, do you not?”
“Mother was so demanding, and I was afraid of losing what little happiness I have. I could not go against Mother and Father, you know I have never been as strong as you.”
“On that point, I do not agree. You were strong all of your life. Remember when James and I played pranks on you? Martha would cry when we teased her, but never you. You would always get even with James and me. I will never forget James hollering out because you had placed a lizard in his bed. How many other girls would have thought to catch a lizard, let alone put it in her brother’s bed?”
Agatha laughed at the memory. “You are sorely missed, Richard. We all wish you were here.”
“But a part of me still lives, Agatha. You could have found it in your heart to forget our parents’ disapproval, and to think for yourself, as James and Martha have. Now, they are able to see my children, love them as they loved me. You could have had the same, if you had only stood your ground with our parents.”
“I was never as strong as you, Richard. You were always the strongest of us. Only now has James found his strength. Martha began standing her ground a little more than a month ago, refusing to allow Mother and Father most determinedly.”
“And now it is time for you. Agatha, you deserve to be happy and loved. Do not allow our parents to rob this of you any further. What will come of you when they are dead and gone? You would be alone and bitter for the loss of joy in your life. Begin anew, Agatha. Start today. If Mother refuses to accept the truth, let her sink on her own. Do not sink with her. Celebrate your divorce, for it frees you from the brutality you have endured. Find someone who will treat you with the kindness you deserve.”
“Am I worthy of anyone’s kindness?”
“My dear sister, you are worthy. You have been beaten and bullied for so long, you feel you deserve it. But you do not deserve to be treated in such a fashion. No one deserves such. Well, perhaps your husband deserves to have it done to him.” Richard chuckled. “Please, Aggie, promise me to make these changes. Promise me you will try to better your life. I will be watching over you, from heaven. Will you do your best to make me proud of you?”
Wiping a tear from her eye, Agatha looked up to her brother’s face. “I promise you, Richard, to do my best. I will try to be more like our siblings, standing up for myself rather than allowing others rule my life. It will not be easy, but I will do my best.”
“Nothing in life comes free. You must work for what you desire, what is best for you. But I am pleased you have made this first step. Remember, I am always with you, in spirit. And remember that I love you dearly.”
Holding her brother’s arms, Agatha reached up on her toes to place a kiss on his cheek. “I wish I could hold you for real, Richard. But I will cherish the memories of the times we had together. I will always love you, my dear, sweet baby brother.”
“And I will always love you, my dear, sweet Aggie.”
Slowly, Richard’s form began to fade from view. Tears came easily as Agatha watched him leave her.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
James was tired of arguing with his mother, as she would not give in to his words. Martha had no luck with Lady Matlock either. But the lady clung to her beliefs. She refused to see that the world was so different from her view, and could not understand why her children were behaving in such a manner. “If my way of thinking so wrong, why have you all followed your father and myself in our dictates, up until this past month? Why did you accept what we recommended and told you, until you suddenly take the side of that harlot who has blinded the eyes of all of you? Your sister has been beside me through it all, and she still stands with me.”
“Not any longer, Mother.” Agatha stated as she returned to the room. “I realize now that I was wrong with my behavior. It is time to do what is best for me, not what I am told to do.”
“What has happened to you, Agatha? Why are you suddenly behaving so?” Lady Matlock’s ire raised.
“Mother, I fell asleep while in my room. And the dream I had was the most pleasant one I have had in many years.”
James came to his sister, placing his hands on her shoulders. “You spoke with Richard, did you not? He came to you, in your dream?”
Agatha nodded her head. James smiled. “Well, it seems we have all been visited by our brother. Martha and I have had visits from Richard as well. What have you decided?”
“Richard was correct. It is time to stop doing as I am told and do what is best for me. I will move to the estate in Ireland, and never return to England. I will cause no further difficulties for Elizabeth, William, and the children. The children would be best cared for by their mother and the honorable man who has chosen to be their father.”
“Did you take a fall and strike your head?” Lady Matlock asked. “How can you change your opinion so easily? You were the one who demanded we storm that house and take the children. Now you are completely changed on your opinion.”
“Mother, I did what I thought was the correct path, as was told to me by you. I have been bullied for years now, taught to be obedient and do what is expected of me. But it was wrong. From this day forward, I will live my life in a manner I see fit to live. I will no longer live by the dictates of you and Father, or the man you demanded I marry. To be honest, it is a relief that he is finally setting me free. Though I will not have any money, it does not matter to me.”
“Agatha, you will have the funds you need. Richard and I set up an account in Town, the funds were to be used for your care, if you were ever to be free of his lordship and left with nothing. You will not be penniless, though it will be a fortune. It will keep you fed, housed, and a few new gowns as needed.” James announced. Turning his attention to his mother, he stood straight and tall. “Now, Mother, you must give me your final decision. Do you wish to join Agatha, in Ireland, and see Father before he dies, or do you chose a trial before all of Town?”
Lady Matlock stood and walked towards the window. She stood, looking out at the land, seeing the stables nearby and the men working with the horses. She had been fond of horses, a fondness which was shared with her youngest son. One of the stable hands was working with a stallion, pure black, with a white mark in the shape of a lightning bolt on its forehead. Lady Matlock gasped lightly. It was exactly like the horse Richard had when he was a boy. Jericho had been her son’s favorite, and she loved watching him riding about the estate on the beautiful steed. The horse in the yard reared up, as if looking up at her, pawing its hooves in the air towards her. “Richard.” She said in a whisper. Feeling a warmth envelop her, a warmth she had missed for the past few years, a warmth which she had always found pleasant when her youngest wrapped his arms about her and gave her an embrace.
“Mother, are you well?” James said with concern. He had witnessed his mother pale suddenly. Stepping towards her quickly, he gently took hold of her arm.
“I am well, James. Very well, indeed.” Lady Matlock declared as she continued to watch the horse outside. Suddenly, the horse bent one of its forelegs and held the other foreleg forward, as if in a bow. Tears flowed down her cheek as a memory from long ago reminded her of Richard’s beloved horse being taught that same trick. How could it be, the horse could not be the same one, yet was so like Richard’s, behaving in the same manner, as if attempting to speak to her.
She turned about and wept openly against James’ chest. His arms wrapped around her, patting her on the back gently. He had never been close to his mother, as he was always being taught to take over Matlock when his father died. It had been Richard who had time to spend with their mother, and he was a compassionate person. The true change in their mother’s demeanor had begun when it became apparent Richard preferred the idea of the army rather than studying the law or taking orders. Lady Matlock was not pleased with the thought of losing her son to war, and she began building a wall around her heart when he went off to be trained.
Though they had been insistent on their children marrying appropriately, it was only then, when Lady Matlock began withdrawing her emotions from her children, that her children found her to be cold and almost heartless. Martha had been shocked with her mother’s demands for Richard’s children, when Martha’s children were barely acknowledged by Lady Matlock. Lord Matlock had always been more remote from his children and grandchildren, but his wife had been caring when the children were young.
Seeing Lady Matlock reduced to tears, the sobs wracking her body, was a sight none of them was prepared for. Martha moved to stand beside her brother, seeing his confusion at his mother’s behavior. Standing to the side, Agatha watched the entire scene before her in a state of bewilderment. Suddenly, there was a presence in the room, a comforting warmth which wrapped about each of the members of the Fitzwilliam family. Lady Matlock and her children all felt the sensation, and relished it. Richard was with them, and it was comforting to think of him in such a manner. At that moment, a monumental change came through the family.
“James, I will do as you wish of me. I will move to Ireland, I will remain there for the rest of my life. Please, take me to your father. I wish to see him. And, would you be kind enough to ask your sister in law if she would permit me to be introduced to her? Did she truly love our boy? Was she good to him?”
James was shocked. Words escaped him, though Martha found the ability to answer their mother. “Elizabeth loved Richard dearly, and still does. Though she remarried so quickly, there will always be a tender place in her heart for Richard. And she cared for him as he deserved. He died in her arms, speaking with her of their babe, for he knew she was with child. I have stood at his grave, and found a sense of peace from being there. Richard loved Elizabeth, and she is such a wonderful lady. His connections meant nothing to her, and she has no need of anyone’s fortune, as she is very well off. And Mother, the boy is so like Richard as a babe. William even commented on how alike the two were. His name is Richard, Richard Thomas William Darcy. They call him Tom.”
“And the girl?” Lady Matlock pleaded to hear more.
“She is a spitfire already. She bears more liking to her mother. They call her Ari, for she is named for both of her grandmothers and her mother. Aristella Anne Elizabeth. Is that not a beautiful name?”
“I know I could never ask for Elizabeth’s forgiveness, for I do not deserve it. But I would like to know her better. I would like to know of her life with Richard, what they loved in one another.”
“Mother, what has brought about this sudden change? You were just telling us, mere moments ago, how you would never agree with our decision.” James was confused.
“Look out the window, at the stallion.” Lady Matlock stated. “It was so much like Jericho, and did the same trick as Jericho. I felt as if Richard was speaking to me through the horse.”
James and Martha had moved to look out the window. “Mother, there is only one stallion in the yard, and it is nothing like Jericho was.” James was confused.
“But it was the exact copy of Jericho.” Lady Matlock looked out the window, seeing the horse, being worked by the same hands, yet vastly different from the one she had witnessed. “How can that be? It was there, I was sure of it. As if it was speaking to me, speaking for Richard.”
“I believe Richard was truly here, with us all. He loved us, and wanted the best for all of us. Let us go to Willows, so you may see Father. I must inform you, Father is weak, and it is believed he will not be with us much longer. After spending some time with Father, perhaps you can be introduced to Elizabeth. And I will ask her if you may be permitted to visit Richard’s grave. It brought Martha and me a sense of peace, for it is a fitting place for Richard’s resting place.”
Lady Matlock could only nod her head. She was confused, as she was certain of what she had seen. But she could also feel her beloved son near here, so she would not question the situation further.
~~ ** ~~
James led his mother inside Willows. Showing her up the stairs, Lady Matlock was shown to the rooms of her husband. She went to the side of the bed, sitting herself upon its edge. Reaching out her hand, she took hold of one of Lord Matlock’s hands.
It had been a long time since she had truly looked at her husband, or spoken a word that was not foolishness. Her heart had been hardened to all, including her husband, as he would not do more to protect her beloved Richard from going to battle. It was only now, after feeling Richard’s very essence about her that she could realize how completely she had shut out the man who now laid so deathly still.
“Henry, can you hear me?” Lady Matlock spoke softly. “My dear, I have done you a great harm.”
There was no movement from the bed, other than the slight raising and lowering of his chest as he breathed. It was easy to see her husband’s breath was labored, and it thought of his pain stabbed her heart like an icy blade.
“The physician says that it is unlikely Father will regain any of his strength. The attack was severe, and it was surprising that he has survived this long. We should prepare ourselves for the worst.” James had walked to the side of his mother, placing a hand gently on his mother’s shoulder.
“He is still with us, I can feel his struggle. It is difficult for him to even breathe.”
James nodded his head. “I believe he has been waiting for you and Agatha, holding on until he could see you.”
“Is he in pain?” Lady Matlock asked her son.
“The physician has given him laudanum for the pain.”
A warm breeze entered the room, after Agatha and Martha entered the room. The breeze wrapped everyone with a feeling of contentment and a feeling of love. James looked into the eyes of his sisters, and each gave a slight nod. It was certain that each of them knew that their missing sibling was in the room, ready to lead their father home to heaven.
Lady Matlock leaned close to her husband’s ear. “Forgive me Henry. I did love you as much as I could. If you are ready to go, I will release you. Be at peace, my husband. When you meet with Richard, embrace him for me. Tell him I love him, and I will miss you both dearly.”
She felt a slight squeeze on her hand from Lord Matlock, and a moment later, she sensed his struggle to breathe was no more. Tears rolled down her cheeks, yet they were not tears of sorrow. They were tears of relief, knowing her husband’s pain and struggle were now taken from him. Knowing, too, that he was now being welcomed by their son, brought her great comfort. Suddenly a feeling she could not describe flowed through her, a feeling of contentment and comfort, a feeling of great love.
“They are together now. Richard came for your father.” Lady Matlock smiled as she caressed her fingers lightly over her husband’s brow, sweeping his hair to the side of his forehead. “I will miss you both, Henry and Richard. I will miss you both.”
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth stood in the sitting room connected with her bedchamber and her husband’s. She had accepted the application James had made on behalf of his mother and his sister to meet her, only after James had assured her of their revelation. Having felt Richard’s presence many times since his death, Elizabeth knew how powerful the feeling to be, and the strength she had when she felt him. If Lady Matlock and her daughter felt the strength of Richard’s presence, could it truly change their behavior?
A soft knock was heard on the door. Rather than calling out for the person to enter, Elizabeth walked to the door and opened it. Stepping aside, Elizabeth allowed the others to enter the room.
James brought his mother and sister to stand before Elizabeth. “My dear Elizabeth, this is my mother, Lady Matlock, Rebecca Fitzwilliam, and my sister, Lady Agatha Farnsworth. Mother, Aggie, this is Mrs Elizabeth Darcy, nee Fitzwilliam, nee Bennet.
Lady Matlock felt the sting of tears forming in her eyes. Before her was the young lady who held Richard’s heart, who had loved him and had shared her life with him. This was the young lady who had brought her beloved son great joy and gave him all she could. Having heard tales of the battle stricken areas of France and Belgium, it was simple enough to know it would have been safer for Elizabeth to have left Belgium long before she did. Elizabeth remained there, as it was near her husband.
“I should first beg you to forgive a foolish woman for treating you so abominably. I believe it was out of jealousy which caused me to be so blind to what was truly important. Richard had been dear to me, perhaps the dearest of my children, for we shared similar tastes. Perhaps I would have been the same, no matter who Richard had married. I know Richard must have been quite disappointed in my behavior. It would not surprise me to learn that his grave is unsettled from his rolling about in it, disappointed in my treatment of you.”
“Richard was shocked at your behavior, for he said it was so unlike you. He said he was certain you would like me, and that you would be grateful he made a love match. And it was true, I loved Richard dearly. I still do. It has been difficult for me to come to terms with my feelings, as I did not wish to betray my love for Richard, yet needed to protect my children and move forward.”
“It was my doing which forced you to remarry so soon. I am grateful that it was to Darcy. William is the best of men, so like my boys. And Richard would want you to be happy. It would be a shame for you to spend the rest of your life in mourning. You are far too young to not be loved. And the children need a father. William’s willingness to take them as his own is a blessing.”
“He has already shown how wonderful he is as a father. He has even started the search for the perfect pair of ponies for the twins.” Elizabeth smiled.
Lady Matlock smiled at the thought. “It would be fitting. William and Richard were always fond of horses. Mrs Darcy, might I inquire more of your time with Richard? I wish to know more of how loved he was.”
Elizabeth thought for a moment. “Richard told me that the moment he saw me, it was like lightning struck him. He was romantic. One day, he was came unexpectedly, bringing me a collection of flowers. He said that since he did not know my favorite flower, he had to bring a selection so he would have found at least one which would bring me pleasure. Once he knew my favorites, every week he found a way to get flowers to me. If he knew he would be on the battlefield, he would make arrangements with one of the men at the camp to do so for him. Receiving the flowers while I was waiting word that he was safe always brought me a sense of security.”
“After my father was killed, I had to flee the area quickly. Richard was on the battlefield, so he had not heard of what happened. When we saw each other, it had been nearly a fortnight since I had received any flowers. And what did I find him holding when he arrived at the flat I was staying in? I believe it was every flower in the vicinity. There were over thirty flowers, I counted to there and gave up. All I wanted was to throw the flowers aside and wrap my arms about him. Holding him in my arms was the purest joy I had ever felt.”
“A hug from Richard was always heavenly.” Agatha commented, bringing Elizabeth’s attention to her.
“Yes, they were. There is no way to describe the sensation which flowed through me when I was held by his arms.” Elizabeth smiled at the memory.
“All of his life, he always had a way of calming us with an embrace.” Lady Matlock stated, her expression showed she was remembering the sensation. “I felt the same sensation today. I must admit, Mrs Darcy, I was set to go forward with a trial, so determined was I to ignore the truth. Then I saw something outside the window at Netherfield. What appeared to me was the replica of Richard’s beloved horse from his childhood. It was named Jericho. A beautiful stallion, pure black with only a white streak shaped like a bolt of lightning on its face.”
“I remember Richard speaking of Jericho. He had him until he entered the military. It saddened him that Jericho was far too old to go with him, he trusted the horse tremendously. If I remember, Jericho was left at Pemberley, as William wished to breed him with several of his own horses. He promised Richard one of the colts.”
Lady Matlock nodded. “What I saw must have been the spirit of Jericho, for the horse died last year.” Suddenly, a memory came to her. “What was the date of Richard’s death?”
Elizabeth was curious, surprised that Lady Matlock had not known the date. “March 20th, why?”
“That was the day Jericho died, if I am not mistaken. It is fitting, Richard has his faithful mount with him. I am pleased for that. Today, when I saw what appeared to be Jericho, it was as if Richard was sending me a message. It did the tricks which Richard had taught him, even giving me a bow. Then I felt as if I were wrapped in his arms. There was something so peaceful which coursed through me. At that moment, I realized how disappointed Richard would be in my actions and behavior. I have been a foolish old woman. My behavior became cold and heartless around the time Richard decided to join the army, insisting that he earn any rank he got rather than purchasing his position. I was afraid. So very afraid. My son would be placed in dangerous situations and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. Rather than dwelling on the positive, I allowed my fear to engulf me, overwhelm me. It has cost me dearly. Rather than being happy for him finding love with you, I did everything to destroy that love, as if I could not bear to have him love anyone else. I wished to keep him my little boy, safe at home, making me smile, not a grown man with a wife of his own.”
“I can understand, Lady Matlock, as I have a son now.” Elizabeth reassured the lady before her. “I would do anything to keep my son protected, yet there comes a time when there is nothing more we can do. It will be difficult when Tom grows older, but I will do my best to allow him to choose his future.”
“He will be Master of Pemberley, is that true?”
“Yes. William stated that Tom is now and forever his son. He could not love him more than he does now. And they do share a bloodline, as they both have Fitzwilliam blood in them. Being Richard’s child, William could not help but love Tom. He refers to Richard as the children’s father, but he, William, is there Papa.”
“Why am I not surprised at William’s decision? He and Richard were always dear to each other.” Lady Matlock sat quiet for a moment. “Do you love William?”
“I do. At first, I felt conflicted. But then Richard visited me in a dream. It was as if he were giving me permission to allow William to love me. Fortunately, William and I had already begun our relationship as friends. He has been a blessing in my life, and it did not take long for me to trust and love him.”
“It seems my brother has visited each of us at some point or another.” Martha gave a slight chuckle.
“Richard always said that if we did not behave as we should, he would come back and haunt us until we straightened up and behaved.” James stated.
Lady Matlock gasped. “I had forgotten he said that. Oh, my goodness. He did as he stated. He came back to give me a swift kick, so to speak.”
Elizabeth stood and stepped closer to Lady Matlock, holding a hand out to her. “Lady Matlock, would you like to accompany me to see Richard’s grave?”
With a nod of her head, Lady Matlock accepted the hand of the young lady she had so dearly injured. “And I would prefer it if you were to call me Rebecca.”