Sir William Lucas arrived at Longbourn, obviously still sleepy. The clock chimed three just after his arrival. “Bennet, what has happened? The servant said that there is a dead body here, though not one of the family or staff.”
“Forgive us for disturbing your sleep, Lucas, but we need to ensure all is above reproach. The lady who has died here is Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings Park. It appears the lady broke into my home, and had some sort of accident in my basement. We did not know she was here until dinner time, when my niece learned of the lady being missing. I went to Meryton to meet with Miss de Bourgh and her companion. The companion was the one who sent word to Lizzy.”
Sir William frowned. “Miss de Bourgh did not worry of her mother’s disappearance?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “When Miss de Bourgh was young, she suffered from a severe fever, which left her permanently damaged in her mind. She is childlike in her behavior, and the companion is more like a nanny for the young lady.”
“How did you learn of Lady Catherine coming to Longbourn?”
“The driver of her carriage brought her to the estate, though did not come directly to the house. He was told to wait for her at the location where he brought her, and when she failed to return, he went back to Meryton. He was frightened of losing his position, which is why he did not mention what had happened to anyone.”
Sir William’s frown deepened. “Why would the lady come here? And how is it no one saw her in the house all day?”
“Lucas, I require your discretion on this subject. First, Lady Catherine was attempting to find my niece’s marriage certificate and articles of marriage, for she wished to force Mr Darcy to annul his marriage to Lizzy and marry Miss de Bourgh. And the reason she was not found was simple. She was in a room which very few people even know is in this house. My relations had a hidden room made, including a safe in the wall. All of our family’s important jewelry and documents are in the room and safe. Very few people know of the room, and I wish to keep it that way.”
Mr Herbert was shown into the room. “Bennet, who has died?” He was concerned.
“Lady Catherine de Bourgh is the deceased. No one of the family or servants.” Sir William spoke for Mr Bennet.
After explaining to the physician what had occurred, Mr Bennet and Elizabeth led the way downstairs and to the hidden room. From the angle and location of the chair, it was clear that Lady Catherine had been standing on it to reach the upper shelf. Though she could not have known what the package contained, Mr Bennet found it ironic that she had been attempting to reach the cherished letters from his brother.
Mr Herbert and Sir William confirmed the lady was dead and that the death was due to her own behavior.
Mr Bennet accompanied Elizabeth, just after sunrise, to the inn to speak with Anne de Bourgh. Lady Catherine’s body was loaded on a wagon and taken to the undertaker’s warehouse, located three buildings away from the inn. Once Anne had been informed, she was quite confused. Mrs Jenkinson attempted to calm her charge, but Anne was unable to determine what would happen with her mother dead. The details of how Lady Catherine died were lost to Anne, as the young lady asked questions as to what would become of her since her mother was gone.
“Miss de Bourgh, do not fret. I will send an express to Matlock to your cousin, James. Though they are in the process of dealing with the late Lord Matlock’s death, I am sure James would wish to assist you in your time of need.”
“But what of Darcy? Mother insisted I was to marry Darcy, and that he would take care of me for the rest of my life. You must make Darcy marry me. I will have no one to take care of me without Darcy marrying me.” Anne pouted in a childlike manner.
“I am afraid it is impossible for Mr Darcy to marry you, Miss de Bourgh. But I am certain he will wish to assist in finding staff who will take good care of you. Mrs Jenkinson seems devoted to your care and will not allow harm to come to you. There is no need to fear, you will be protected.”
Anne thought about this for a moment before smiling. “Very good. Mrs Jenkinson, can we go on a picnic today? It seems pleasant outside, I believe a picnic would be fun.” Anne stood and walked over to obtain a better view of outdoors.
Mrs Jenkinson knew her life was to change completely. Without Lady Catherine, the daughter would be able to enjoy some of the world which her mother had refused her. Anne could go for walks or buggy rides, she could wear clothes she found pretty rather than what her mother chose for her. She could also eat the food she liked better than the bland food Lady Catherine insisted on being served.
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth was exhausted when she climbed the stairs to her bedchambers. The last twenty four hours was draining to her, and she now had the duty of informing her husband what had happened to his aunt.
Darcy was wide awake and aggravated that his wife had not returned the previous night. “Beth, where have you been? What has happened? You appear to be walking in your sleep.”
“William, it has been a most difficult time, and I just came from Meryton, where I had to deal with your cousin. Lady Catherine is dead. It appears that she snuck into Longbourn the night before last, while everyone was asleep. She appeared to have found a vault in the basement of Longbourn, and was attempting to locate documents which would aid her in annulling our marriage. Fortunately they were locked away in the safe and she could not find them.” She continued to inform him of the details, as she curled up on the bed beside him, beginning to fall asleep. When her words began to slur and then came to a halt, Darcy placed a kiss on her forehead and held her as close as he could, ignoring any pain from his wound.
~~ ** ~~
James Fitzwilliam was shocked when the express from Willows arrived. Learning that his aunt had died, and the manner of her death, left the new earl dumbfounded. With his brother dead, his cousin Darcy injured, James was the only male to represent his family. But how was he to leave his mother and sister, after having just buried his father?
He informed the ladies in his family of Lady Catherine’s death, though it did not shock them as much as it had him. Rebecca and her daughters were aware of Lady Catherine’s obsession with forcing Darcy to marry Anne, and how angry the woman was when her hired hand had not produced the paperwork she required for an annulment.
After speaking with his family, James decided to remain in Matlock for the time being. He would write to Darcy, and determine what would be the best way of dealing with Anne. According to what Elizabeth had written in her express, Lady Catherine’s body was already deteriorating, so the funeral would need to be quickly arranged and executed. Mr Bennet had offered to escort Anne and her companion home, and make the arrangements for the body. James decided to make the journey to Rosings within a fortnight, after he had dealt with the urgent matters at Matlock.
~~ ** ~~
Agatha and Rebecca decided to accompany James to Rosings. Once there, the ladies soon found the change in Anne’s behavior to be remarkably improved. The angry, bitter, childlike behavior was replaced by a jovial girl who was enjoying the changes in her life. The restrictions Anne had from her mother had been lifted, and she was being allowed to be a girl, no matter how old she truly was. She wore her hair pulled back with a ribbon, and the gown she chose for the day was a pretty pink with flowers embroidered on the bodice. When the carriage arrived at Rosings, bringing the Fitzwilliam family to see her, Anne was found to be skipping in a field of the end of season flowers, smiling and laughing.
Witnessing the change in Anne, there was no sympathy spared for Lady Catherine’s demise. To the Fitzwilliams, Anne was fortunate to be free of her mother.
After speaking with Mrs Jenkinson and the steward of Rosings, Mr Bertram, James made some decisions. His mother and Agatha decided they would like to stay at Rosings, to be of assistance to Anne, and allowing James to have time to adjust to his role at Matlock. Rebecca and Agatha were of the opinion that they could find peace at Rosings, something which was never possible when Lady Catherine was alive. Anne was pleased to know her aunt and cousin better, as her mother had always hidden her from their relations.
~~ ** ~~
Darcy was thrilled to be given approval to rise from his bed. He had never been a good patient, and having a family he wished to be with was causing him aggravation. The twins appeared to be growing daily and Darcy wished to hold them in his arms, something he was denied until his wound had healed.
When Mr Herbert allowed Darcy to leave his bed, the master of the house nearly ran from his bedchamber to the music room, where his wife and sister were entertaining the infants. “Hand over one of my children immediately.” He exclaimed as he came through the door. Giggling as she stood, Elizabeth carried Ari to Darcy’s arms. “Ah, my dear girl, Papa has missed you. You have grown since the last time I held you. You must promise me you will not grow too fast. Papa wishes to have plenty of time with you before you grow up and leave home to marry some young man. Now, first we must discuss the tower I will have erected at Pemberley, which is where you will spend most of your time when you are older. When young men come to call on you, they will be turned away until you are thirty years old. Your brother will assist me in chasing young men from the estate. Perhaps we should only have ladies working at Pemberley.”
“But what will happen when the young ladies fall in love with Tom?” Georgiana asked, laughing at her brother’s silliness.
“Good point, Georgiana. Perhaps I shall have to make two rooms in the tower, one for Ari and one for Tom. Only elderly staff will be allowed near them.” Darcy said as he played with his daughter.
“Then there will be no need of ponies, as the children will not be allowed outdoors.” Elizabeth teased.
“Goodness, Beth, you must cease in pouring cold water on my wonderful ideas.” Darcy said with a smile. “Very well, I will refrain from building a tower for the children, but I insist on keeping up my practice with my fencing. If necessary, I will keep scoundrels away from my children with a blade.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
The day was beautiful and filled with energy. It was the day that Aristella Darcy was to take a new name. Sitting before the peer glass of her vanity table, watching her maid fix her hair, the young lady allowed her mind to wander to her future. Anyone watching her would be able to notice how happy she was, as it was clearly written in her expression. Her marriage was only hours away, and she dearly loved the man she was marrying.
Unbeknownst to her, there was someone very dear to her standing in her rooms. Someone who loved her dearly, yet had never had a chance to meet her. Richard Fitzwilliam had always kept watch over his family, even from the heavens.
Richard had been joined a year past by his mother, and on the happy day of Ari’s wedding, Rebecca Fitzwilliam joined her beloved son as they watched Ari prepare for the most important day of her life.
“She is so beautiful, Richard. You must be so proud of her.”
“So much like her mother when I met Elizabeth. I was pleased to know that Ari was so much like my Lizzy.”
“Are you planning to remain here all day, to watch over the wedding?”
“Yes, I cannot bring myself to miss such an event.”
“Would you prefer to be alone?”
Richard smiled. “No, Mother, you are welcome to remain with me.”
Rebecca smiled in return. “So many changes over the years. Though for some time I blamed Elizabeth for taking you away from us, I look at how everything turned out, and I am so very grateful.”
“It pleased me to see you change your attitude. I feared you would die before your time, as Father did. You deserved to have some time with my children. Elizabeth was generous in her forgiveness.”
“Indeed. Your brother is happily married, with three children of his own. Agatha was able to remarry, and her husband is kind to her. It was a blessing she had not had children with Farnsworth. But she now has two beautiful children with Malcolm McCarthy.”
“Martha’s husband dying young was not a complete surprise.” Richard said as he shook his head. “Fortunately he had long since quit the marital bed for his whores. The French disease is not a pleasant way to die.”
“So shall you reap what you have sown?” Rebecca stated. “I learned my lesson when your children were still young. And Martha was wise to remain at Winston’s estate rather than living in Town.”
“Her children are wonderful, and her eldest son is now the duke. From what I have witnessed from watching over them, Jeremiah is a kind and caring master of his estate. His grandfather, Winston, would be proud of his behavior.”
“Even your father is proud of Jeremiah. Henry is just not one to speak of his feelings in such a manner.” Rebecca smiled. “Are you pleased with the way your wife’s life has turned out?”
Richard smiled as he patted his mother’s hand, which was holding on to his arm. “I am very pleased Mother. I made sure that Wills and Elizabeth knew I approved of their union, as I wished for Lizzy to be loved. I know they have been happy with each other, and their love is true. I know my wife loved me, and still has a place in her heart reserved for me. But she deserved to have a man who loved her and cared for her, and was alive. Wills is the best man I ever knew, and he has proved himself to be the very best of men.”
“It was a blessing that Elizabeth was able to have more children. I know they thought she would never be able to carry another babe, but thank the heavens they were wrong.”
“Ari and Tom were pleased to have siblings. I would never have thought there would be so many Darcys. And Wills has kept his determination that Tom was to inherit Pemberley.”
Rebecca laughed. “It was amazing that William survived each of the births, as he was a nervous wreck each and every time Elizabeth was with child. Each of the six births made me worry over his welfare. After Ruth was born, Elizabeth finally gave up keeping William from the delivery. I never would have believed it calmed him to be in the room as she gave birth.”
“It was the unknown which was difficult for him, as it would have been for me. Why is it believed that it is best for men to be distant from their wives when giving birth, I will never understand. I would have been holding Elizabeth’s hand if I could have.”
“But you were in the room when she gave birth. I am certain that you were fretting when she had bled so badly.”
Richard nodded. “It was the hardest day since my death. I kept whispering in her ear to keep strong, and that our children needed her. My greatest regret was not being able to wrap her in my arms.”
“Look, here is Elizabeth now.”
The two figures watched as Elizabeth stepped to Aristella. “Dearest, I have a gift from both of your fathers.”
Richard was choked up at the way Elizabeth had always explained that Ari and Tom had a Father and a Papa.
Elizabeth held out a box, which was velvet. Opening the box, Ari instantly had tears in her eyes. “Mamma, is this the pearl necklace Father gave you?”
“Yes, and Papa had it reset with the diamonds between the pearls. It turned out beautifully.”
“I will have to thank Papa when he comes to collect me. How much longer until we have to be at the chapel?”
“There is still an hour. Your groom is at the chapel already, as Tom and Benjamin took Frederick over there. Poor Frederick, he is so nervous. And of course, your brothers were not helping matters.”
Ari smiled. “I knew they would be merciless in their teasing him. My dear fiancé is not accustomed to such impertinence, as he was an only child. Having such a large family is new to him.”
“I am pleased you will take over Willows. It should be yours, and I know you will care for the estate as it deserves.” Elizabeth placed a gentle kiss on her daughter’s cheek.
“I took flowers out to place them on Father’s grave this morning. I wish he and Papa could both be with me today, to give me to my husband.”
“It is my belief that your Father is here with us. He has always seemed to be nearby, all of your life. I am certain he would not miss the greatest day of your life.” Elizabeth smiled through her tears.
“There have been times I have felt he was nearby. Remember when I fell out of the tree, and I told you Father had caught me, saving me from being injured worse than I was?”
“He probably was near you and Tom throughout your lives. Richard loved you. It was the final words he spoke in life, telling me how dear he wished for a daughter just like you.”
“I am pleased that I have two fathers, both of whom love me dearly. Papa has never treated Tom or me differently from our siblings.” Ari stated as she wiped tears from her eyes.
“You are my children.” Darcy stated as he entered the room. “And I could not love you any more if you were my flesh and blood. Your Father gave me the greatest gift. When he could no longer be here with us in life, he saw to it that your mother and I found each other. He was the best of men, and I have tried to honor his memory.”
Ari wrapped her arms around her Papa. “Thank you so much, Papa. I have always felt loved.” She placed a kiss on Darcy’s cheek.
Sarah and Patricia entered the room, dressed in new gowns for their sister’s wedding. “Mamma, Tom says that you had best hurry along. If Frederick does not see Ari soon, Tom says the poor man is going to fret himself into an attack of apoplexy.”
“We will be down shortly.” Elizabeth scooted her two daughters from the room. “Make sure that the younger children are in their seats in the chapel. If they cannot behave, they will not be allowed at the wedding breakfast. And I will make sure they do not decorate the carriage with Tom.”
“Mamma, you promised you would not allow Tom and the boys to decorate the carriage.” Ari declared, her hands on her hips. Richard watched the scene with a smile on his lips.
“Ari, allow them to decorate the carriage we gave you as a gift. We have one of our carriages waiting behind the stables that you will take when you leave the breakfast. Your brothers will never know until you prepare to leave.” Elizabeth was pleased with her own quick thinking.
“Thank you, Mamma. I could not imagine riding in a carriage, all the way to Town, all decorated by my brothers. I was so nervous at the thought.”
“Well, ladies, shall we make our way downstairs? Mrs Blaine is waiting with the nosegay of flowers from the hothouse.” Darcy said, his arm wrapping around Elizabeth’s waist.
As the trio made their way to the stairs, Ari was nervous. Searching for anything to keep her from thinking of what was coming, she chose to discuss news she had received from her cousins.
“Aunt Georgiana stated they will have to return to Rosings after the wedding breakfast. It seems that Cousin Anne has been ill, and Aunt Georgie did not wish to be away from her for long. Since Aunt Rebecca and Mrs Jenkinson died, Anne has had a difficult time with people with whom she is not familiar. Cousin Agatha offered to go instead of Aunt Georgiana, but you know how diligently Aunt Georgiana takes her position of tending Anne.”
“Yes, Georgiana informed me. Her husband, Jackson, left his sister to watch over Anne. She has assisted in caring for Anne since Mrs Jenkinson’s death.”
“I am pleased that Cousin Anne has been taken care of. It would have been sad if she had been treated differently. She never grew in her mind, always being a child in many ways.”
“It pleases me to see how compassionate you are, Ari. You have always had a tender spot in your heart for those who are less fortunate, and Cousin Anne is definitely less fortunate.” Elizabeth said with pride in her voice.
After gathering her flowers from Mrs Blaine, Ari and Darcy walked towards the door, with Elizabeth following after them. She had felt the presence of Richard, and was certain he was with them.
As the group made their way to the chapel, Elizabeth was grateful to see her aunt and uncle, along with the Bennet sisters and their families present for the wedding. Mrs Bennet’s health was declining, but she was determined to be at the wedding, having given Ari as much advice as she could on what was proper for decorations and clothing for a wedding.
Jane and Charles Bingley were there with three of their children, their eldest being at school. They had just returned to England after visiting the Isle of Scilly, where Caroline Bingley had recently been buried after having died from a severe illness with an extremely high fever.
Jacob and Charlotte were also there, with their five daughters. It was often teased that they would continue to have children until they finally were able to have a son. Fortunately, with the entail broken by Jacob’s birth, they did not have to have a son. Their eldest daughter could inherit the estate. But Jacob declared he wanted to continue to try for a son. Charlotte’s midsection bump was a clear indication that they would soon have a new family member.
Mary Bennet married a law clerk who had worked for Mr Phillips. They were blessed with two sons, and had taken in her husband’s niece, after her parents died in an accident.
Kitty Bennet had married a man who was a physician, and he took over the practice from Mr Herbert. They were expecting their first child in a month. The only Bennet who was still living with their parents was Lydia, though she was set on marrying a man in a red coat. The militia was currently camped at Meryton and they were invited to most of the functions in the neighborhood, which pleased Lydia.
Entering the chapel, Elizabeth was pleased to have her uncle ready to escort her to her seat. Mrs Bennet went to take her seat with the Darcy children, making certain the children behaved themselves. Once Elizabeth was seated, Mr Bennet took the seat next to his wife.
As one of Charlotte and Jacob’s daughters began to play the pianoforte, the doors at the rear of the chapel opened and Darcy entered the room with Ari holding on to his arm. In her other hand were the flowers. But Ari was certain she felt pressure on her arm, as if someone was holding onto her. A smile graced her lips. Father is here. I know it.
Reaching the front of the chapel, to the young man who was waiting for her to join him, Ari was filled with joy. Darcy placed her hand in Frederick’s, then stepped back slightly.
When the clergyman asked who gave the young lady away to the young man, Darcy smiled. “Her Father and I give her away.” He too had felt his cousin’s presence, as the men led their daughter to her future.
Darcy then took his seat beside his wife. Taking Elizabeth’s hand in his, bringing it to his lips. He felt the sting of tears in his eyes, tears of joy and love. He had been blessed with love, and he was grateful for all that he had been given. Richard had given him the gift of love, with Elizabeth and the children. There was no way for Darcy to repay his cousin for such a valuable gift.
Richard was standing beside the pew where Darcy and Elizabeth were seated, a hand placed gently on his cousin’s shoulder. Seeing his mother standing beside him, Richard chuckled. “You know, at one time I would have claimed the position, but now I do not know. The way he feels for me, Elizabeth and our children, I am not sure just who Darcy’s beloved cousin truly is.”