Netherfield Park had not been lived in for nearly two years, but under the care of the Fitzwilliam siblings, the house was soon ready for visitors. The first dinner Ruth Fitzwilliam organized was in honor of the Bennet family. There were three of the neighbor families who were invited, though the Bennets were the guests of honor.
“Miss Fitzwilliam, there is nothing to celebrate.” Mrs Bennet stated when she was informed of honor bestowed on her family.
“Mrs Bennet, through William and Lizzy, we are all family. What could be more worthy of celebrating than the love of family?”
“You are correct, Miss Fitzwilliam. And I am pleased to have you and your family part our family.”
The families interacted, with Ruth meeting some of the neighbors who previously, she had not met. The young ladies of the group had many questions for Ruth, especially what was in fashion.
Charlotte Lucas noticed the simplicity of the gown Ruth wore. “Miss Fitzwilliam, I have not seen such a cut of a gown before. It is simple, understated, yet extremely elegant. There is no need to adorn such a gown with anything.”
Ruth smiled. “Thank you, Miss Lucas. I dislike many of the new fashions, with feathers and baubles. Wearing something simple, yet elegant, is preferable to me.”
“I agree. Some of the fashions which have come and gone have been silly, if you ask me. I never could hold with feathers being attractive in my hair.”
The two ladies were fast becoming friends, discussing a multitude of topics. It pleased Richard to see his sister settling in the neighborhood with ease. He appreciated her joining him at Netherfield, especially since it allowed him to entertain. He hoped, that one day, she would make a love match and be happily settled in a home of her own.
The evening was a success, with all of the neighbors expressing their pleasure in meeting the Fitzwilliam siblings. Invitations were passed about for a dinner at Lucas Lodge the following week, tea at the Longs’ home, and the assembly which was to take place in a fortnight. And it would become a tradition that Sundays, after church services, the Netherfield party would visit Longbourn, staying to dine with the family.
~~ ** ~~
“I received news from Pemberley, and I am afraid I will need to journey there before I can join you in Ramsgate.” Gerald said to his family. “There is a problem with two of the tenants, and I need to intercede before it becomes worse. It will only take me a few days, then I can meet you at Ramsgate.”
“Are you certain, Father?” Fitzwilliam asked. “I am certain that Lizzy and Georgianna would be fine here, and I could make the journey with you.”
“You would not wish to be separated from your wife so soon, Son. I will be able to manage the situation in no time.”
Fitzwilliam shook his head. “I am supposed to be training as your heir. If there is a problem, it would be best if I were to learn from you how to handle such matters. Though I am loathed to leave my wife, I am certain she understands the need.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. “The estate, and the people who work the land, are crucial to our lives. There is no better person to teach my husband how to manage situations than you, Papa Gerald. Georgianna and I will be safe. And we can even make the journey to Ramsgate, and set the house up for all of us. Mrs Williams will be with us, so all will be well.”
“Oh, yes, Father. Lizzy and I will be able to have the house ready for you and William when you arrive. Mrs Williams will with us.” Georgianna chimed in her view.
Gerald thought for a moment. “Very well. You ladies will go to Ramsgate, and William and I will go to Pemberley before following you to Ramsgate. I must beg you to use caution while you are there, and to take staff from Darcy House with you to see to your needs.”
~~ ** ~~
“Mrs Reynolds, you are a blessing.” Gerald said as he and his son entered the grand house at Pemberley. The housekeeper had already saw to refreshments being made ready for the two Darcys.
“Welcome home, Mister Darcy, and welcome home, Master William. May I wish you joy in your marriage?”
“Thank you, Mrs Reynolds. I know my wife will rely heavily on your wealth of knowledge when she makes the transition to act as my father’s hostess.”
“I am certain she will be fine, as she has been going over the books with me for many years now. Every time she came to visit, she spent time with me, learning the in’s and out’s of this fine home.” Mrs Reynolds was pleased to see the change in Fitzwilliam. She had worried for years, with his being withdrawn from everyone. When Mrs Murphy wrote to inform her counterpart at Pemberley of the miraculous changes which had taken place, the elderly lady was thrilled. “Mr Darcy, we have moved all of your belongingsfrom the Master’s suite, placing them in the rooms you indicated you wished. We have begun sprucing up the Mistress’ suite, but we will wait for any major changes until the young lady comes and expresses what she wants done.”
“As always, Mrs Reynolds, you take everything into consideration when making plans. Our young ladies will not be joining us for a few months. They are at Ramsgate, and we will join them, as soon as all has been managed here.”
“Mr Wickham is waiting for you, in your study. He has the latest news on the situation.” Mrs Reynolds stated.
“Thank you, Mrs Reynolds. We shall dine at eight, if that sits well with Cook.”
“It will, Sir.
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth and Georgianna were thrilled with the house Gerald had leased in Ramsgate. It was near the water, with a private beach area, and a beautiful small park area which had benches to sit upon.
The first thing they did when they arrived was to tour the house. There were eight bedchambers on the upper levels, more than what they would require, but ample space for some privacy. Elizabeth selected the suite of rooms which she would share with her husband, instructing the servants to place her trunks in the one room. Then rooms were chosen for Gerald Darcy, and Georgianna decided which rooms she would like. Mrs William took rooms near Georgianna.
After finding their way around the house, Elizabeth begged off going for a stroll down to the shore. She was fatigued and required a nap. So Georgianna and Mrs Williams started off to their first sea side stroll.
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth woke to the sounds of a commotion downstairs. She quickly slipped on the day dress she had left on the foot of her bed, then went downstairs to see what the commotion was about.
Georgianna had tears in her eyes. “Lizzy, Mrs Williams was injured. She stepped in a hole and her ankle is now swollen terribly.”
“My goodness. Mrs Williams, you poor dear. Has anyone sent for the physician? One must be summoned immediately.” Elizabeth stated.
The housekeeper, Mrs Burke, was nearby. “I sent one of the footmen, Mrs Darcy. The physician’s office is two streets away.”
Elizabeth looked over her shoulder to see Georgianna was distraught. “Georgie, what is the matter? It was an accident, they happen.”
“It is my fault. I wished to visit one of the shops near the pier, and that is where we were walking when Mrs Williams stepped in the hole. If it were not for my foolishness, she would not have injured herself.” The girl said. Elizabeth realized just how young Georgianna was, as the girl had always appeared older than her years. Being tall for her age, it was easy to mistake her for being much older.
Wrapping her arms around the younger girl, Elizabeth held her and allowed Georgianna to weep. As the girl had never known a mother, the fear of losing a motherly figure must be felt deeply. Any injury, even so slight as a turned ankle, could frighten a child.
“Shush, now. All will be well. Mrs Williams will have to remain off her foot for some time, I am certain, but there is nothing life threatening. Calm yourself and go wash your face, while I see that Mrs Williams is settled in her rooms.”
Georgianna pulled back to look up at the kind expression of the sister she had longed to officially have. “Thank you Lizzy. I shall not be long.”
With Georgianna on her way up the stairs to refresh, Elizabeth was able to concentrate on the governess. “We will take you to your rooms, Mrs Williams. Then the physician can tend you there.”
“Mrs Darcy, thank you for the way you handled Miss Darcy. She is always so frightened when someone she loves is ill or injured. She cried for hours after you were assaulted.”
“With her height and appearance, it is difficult to remember she is just ten years of age. And never having known her mother, she must fear loss as much as William, only shows it different.” Elizabeth replied to the governess.
“Especially the ladies who are closest to her. You have always treated her as an older sister would, and she loves you dearly.” Mrs Williams said, as they waited for the footmen to collect Mrs Williams and carry her up the stairs.
~~ ** ~~
“The bone is definitely broken. I insist that Mrs Williams remains in bed for at least a month, before removing from Ramsgate. Even then, she will not be fully recovered. I am saying that she cannot travel for at least a month.” The physician announced.
“Thank you, Mr Cartwright.” Elizabeth stated. “And is there anything we can do to assist her?”
“She will be in considerable pain for a while. Here is a bottle of laudanum, to help ease the pain. Also, make sure she eats good meals. One cannot recover if one does not eat properly. And when in pain, it is common for patients to take the medication, without eating. Now, I will check back in a few days, but if something comes up and you require my return, please do not hesitate to send someone.”
“Is she still awake?” Mrs Burke asked.
“She is, though she is drowsy. I gave her some laudanum before I set her bone. I am grateful that it was a clean break, and on the leg, not in the foot. It will set better, in my opinion.”
“Good, good. I have a tray of tea and some treats for her. I will take them in and tempt her into partaking.” Mrs Burke smiled, as she turned, picked up the tray, and entered the bedchamber.
Elizabeth and the physician were still in the hallway when Mrs Burke closed the door. “You have a very devoted staff, Mrs Darcy.”
“My father in law has always been known as fair and kind, and never mistreats the servants or tenants. He is highly respected, wherever he goes.”
“I know I have heard the name Darcy before, but I cannot say where or when it was. Oh, well. If you do not have any more questions, I will be on my way. I have a patient who is ill with apoplexy and we are not certain how much longer he will survive.”
“Again, my thanks, Mr Cartwright. We will see you in a few days.”
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth entered Mrs Williams’ room with a fresh pitcher of cool water. “I thought I would refresh your water, as it is warm today.” She said, exchanging the pitcher for the nearly empty one.
“Mrs Darcy, you should not bother yourself with doing duties a maid can do.” Mrs Williams stated. “I feel guilty enough, being unable to perform my own duties, let alone have you wait on me.”
“Mrs William, I will have you know that I am pleased to be able to do something, anything to ease your pain. I have spoken with Georgianna, and she would like to spend some time each day reading to you, if you approve.”
“She is such a dear girl. I would enjoy hearing her read. And, when she practices her music, I would be grateful if the doors to the music room and my door are left open, so I can enjoy the delights. I have never heard anyone her age with such a grasp of music.”
“We will ensure the doors are open for you. Now, I will send a message to Darcy House, to have two extra maids come to assist us.”
“Mrs Darcy, I wondered if it would be asking too much, if you would be willing to hire my cousin, temporarily. Her husband died not long ago, and she has had a difficult time financially. She could take my place, until I was on my feet again. I will pay her wages from my salary.”
“Nonsense, Mrs Williams. There is no reason for you to pay her wages. If you think she will be able to perform the duties, and would be willing to make the journey, I will send for her immediately. Is she in Town?”
Mrs Williams nodded her head. “She is, Mrs Darcy. I can give you her address. Her name is Harriet, Harriet Younge.”
~~ ** ~~
“Father, Mr Wickham stated that Hoffman and Jackson are still arguing over the water usage. He is afraid that the men will become violent.” Fitzwilliam stated as he entered his father’s study. “Mrs Jackson is with child, and due to deliver any day now, and the youngest Hoffman child is quite ill. I have sent the apothecary to the Hoffman cottage, and the midwife is ready to attend Mrs Jackson, when the time comes. Now we just need to keep the men from harming each other.”
“Since the old chestnut tree was struck by lightning and fell into the river, diverting part of the river into Hoffman’s farms, he feels it is divine intervention, and that the water was sent to him to make his life simpler. But it has diverted the water completely away from the Jackson farms. Before, both could share, but Hoffman refuses to allow Jackson on his section of land.” Gerald Darcy stated. “Hoffman even refuses to allow us to remove the tree, releasing the river to return to its original path. I have called for Edwards to come, seeing as he is their clergyman, and hopefully he will be able to talk some since into the man. In the meantime, we need to find a way to take water to Jackson’s place. Poor man, his well ran dry last year, now this.”
“Should we send for McGrady? He might be able to use his divining rod to determine where to put in another well.” Fitzwilliam asked.
“It might be worth it. When the well went dry, Jackson was not concerned, as the river was close enough. But he has to have water.” Gerald thought aloud. “Yes, why do you not send word to him to come?”
As Fitzwilliam made to leave his father’s study, he turned to face his father. “Mr Wickham asked if I had seen George. It seems he has not returned to Pemberley, nor has he even written to his parents. They are concerned.”
“I can well imagine.” Gerald replied. “Did he say anything to you before we left Cambridge?”
“Nothing I care to repeat.” Seeing his father was confused, Fitzwilliam stated that Wickham had not stated any location to which he was planning to journey.
“Hopefully he is just taking some time to unwind before returning to his parents’ home. If you receive word of him, please inform me.”
“Yes, Father. Do you think our ladies arrived at Ramsgate safe and sound?”
Gerald chuckled. “I am certain that, if they have not, we will be hearing from them soon enough. Missing your wife already?”
Fitzwilliam’s cheeks became red. “Is it obvious?”
“No, Son, but I am pleased to see how happy you have become. Lizzy is a wonderful lady, and she has always loved you, as you have always loved her. It pleases me to know that you are no longer hiding your feelings.”
“It feels natural, rather than forced, allowing the joy flow through me. And I feel lighter, with the anger released.”
“Your mother would be pleased to see you happy in your marriage. She always wanted you to be loved.” Gerald said.
~~ ** ~~
“Fanny, I hope you have planned a special meal for tonight.” Mr Bennet stated. “We will be having a guest tonight.”
Mrs Bennet frowned. “Who is coming? Are Richard and Ruth joining us?”
“No, my dear, it is a man I have never met before.”
“Of who are you speaking, Thomas?”
Mr Bennet smiled. “It is the young man who would have inherited Longbourn had Gerald not blessed our lives.”
Mrs Bennet rolled her eyes. “What could that man want from us? From what you have described of that odious man and his father, why should we welcome him in our home, let alone feed him a good meal?”
“He claims to be bringing something which belonged to my great grandfather. He discovered his father had not be honest and hid the item from me, and, now that his father has died, he felt it was the honorable thing to return it to me.”
“What sort of item could it be?” Mrs Bennet was curious.
“If it is what I think, it is my great grandfather’s pocket watch. My cousin, Mr Collins, told me years ago that the watch had disappeared after Grandfather died. Mr William Collins, the son, wishes to extend an olive branch to mend the rift which tore the family apart.”
“That will be nice to hand down to Gerald, when our son is older.” Mrs Bennet acknowledged. “As long as your cousin makes no effort in staying longer or attempts to woo our daughters, I will tolerate him for an evening.”
~~ ** ~~
Mrs Younge arrived at the leased home of the Darcys in Ramsgate. She was shown into the drawing room where Elizabeth Darcy was to be found.
The butler showed the governess in, announcing her to the young Mistress. “Mrs Harriett Younge, Mrs Darcy.”
“Thank you, James. Would you have tea sent in for us?”
“Very good, Mrs Darcy.”
Elizabeth motioned to the chair which was situated near the one she had occupied. “Please, Mrs Younge, take a seat. I had a few questions for you before I show you to your rooms and introduce you to my young sister. I am certain you know a little of her, as Mrs Williams stated she had spoken with you when she visited your home.”
“Yes, Mrs Darcy. My cousin told me that Miss Darcy is ten, her mother has passed on, and it is only you, your husband, and your father in law left in the family. And I believe you were recently married.”
“Yes, less than two months ago is when I became Mrs Darcy. I have known my husband and his family all of my life.” Elizabeth replied. “My mother in law died when Miss Darcy was born.”
“The Darcy estate in in the north, is it not?” Mrs Younge inquired.
“Yes, but by then, Mrs Williams will be recovered enough to make the journey home with us. We will only require your assistance while we are here, at Ramsgate. The physician stated that Mrs Williams cannot be moved for at least a month, so we will not leave for Town or our estate until she can travel safely with us.”
“My cousin is fortunate. Many employers would leave her and hire someone new to journey on at their leisure. Very few would remain until their staff member had recovered.” There was a tinge of bitterness in the lady’s voice.
“You will find that the Darcys are not like most people. We value our staff and all they do for us. Now, your cousin stated that your German is not the best, so we will need to hire a Master or have Mrs Williams continue working with my sister in that area. How is your knowledge of history?”
“I am competent with all subjects, history included. My pianoforte is not superior, though I am proficient enough to manage a song or two.”
“That is one area which Mrs Williams lacks, so we have a music master to work with Miss Darcy. My sister’s schedule is usually two hours each morning with classwork, reading, mathematics, science, history. Then, in the afternoon, she has lessons from the pianoforte master and then German lessons. After lessons, she takes long walks on the beach, as she is thoroughly enraptured with the ocean. Does this schedule meet with your approval?”
Mrs Younge was shocked at how much work she would be expected to perform. But it was work, and she needed the funds. “Yes, Mrs Darcy. Thank you for this opportunity.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Well, let us show you to your rooms and introduce you to Miss Darcy. And I am sure you will wish to visit with your cousin as well.” She stood and led the way up the stairs. Coming to stop in front of one of the guest rooms, Elizabeth motioned to the door. “This will be your rooms. If you require anything changed in the room, please let me know. Across the hall is your cousin’s rooms, and next to Mrs William’s are my sister’s rooms. The three of you will have this floor of the house to yourselves. My husband and I will be in the suite upstairs, and my father in law will be on the next level as well.”
Mrs Younge could not believe she was being housed in the guest rooms, not the servants’ quarters.
Seeing the surprised look on governess’ face, Elizabeth chuckled lightly. “As I have said, the Darcys are different. My father in law insists on treating people according to their value, not their rank. Mrs Williams is a blessing to us, and we prefer having her near Georgianna. My sister loves Mrs Williams, as do we all, and we could not think of putting her in the servants’ quarters.”
“It is amazing that someone of great wealth would treat those of such low birth in a manner which is caring.” Mrs Younge replied.
“Take your time and rest. If you wish a bath drawn, let Mrs Burke know, and she will see it done. And if you require anything, please let me know.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
This is not at all as I would have expected. From what George told me, I would have expected a small room in the basement, working twelve to fourteen hour days, having to draw my own bath.
George spoke of Darcys as if they were heartless, cruel and would take advantage of their servants. Did he not say that both the Master of Pemberley and his heir were both rakes? George told me of the servants the men had bedded and then dismissed from service, including when George and Master Fitzwilliam were at school. It was one of the girls George had taken a liking to who was ruined by the young master in training.
My poor George, he has been treated ill by the family for so many years. Even George’s father has been ill used, yet that man is too foolish to realize that he is being mistreated. But I will set things straight for my dear George. I will assist him in acquiring the funds so we can begin a new life, far from the likes of the Darcys of Pemberley.
~~ ** ~~
“Mrs Jenkinson, what condition is my daughter in today? I do not wish to hear the physician’s words, as it is always the same.” Lady Catherine was impatient.
“She is still demanding to be allowed out of her bedchamber, your ladyship. She is furious that you will not allow her to leave her rooms.”
“Have you been giving her medicine to her properly? If she is properly medicated, we should be able to allow her from her rooms.”
Mrs Jenkinson knew her employer would not be pleased with the response. “Lady Catherine, I’m afraid the regular doses no longer have the same affect. The physician stated that she might build up a tolerance and that we would need to look for alternative medications. Either that, or …”
“There will be no or in this matter. I will not send my daughter to an asylum. It is not her fault she is in such a dilemma.” Lady Catherine said furiously. “Then we had best keep laudanum on hand to sedate her when it becomes too bad. And I will begin looking for a new physician to give us better solutions. Until then, we will need to keep Anne locked in her rooms. If she is having a good day, perhaps we can allow her out for a few hours.”
“I would say she is having a good day today, ma’am. Should we allow her to visit you, here, in the drawing room? It might even calm her further, as her nerves are fragile due to being unable to leave her rooms.”
“Very well, Mrs Jenkinson, have tea sent here and bring my daughter to join me. I will judge for myself how she is fairing.”
~~ ** ~~
I should hear from Harriett today or tomorrow. She promised to send a message here, if she cannot come on her own. Oh, I wish this to be done and over with, so I can escape from my debts. My father would never understand, nor would he give me any funds to pay off those I owe. George Wickham thought as he stared out the window of his rented room.
Father always insisted on my working for anything I got. It still amazes me that he allowed the lord and master to pay for my schooling. Mr High and Mighty Gerald Darcy. And his weak willed son. If only I had the funds that Fitzwilliam had as his allowance, I would be set for life. Living in the nicest rooms, eating the best meals to be found, bedding any lady I wish. That worthless sod would not know what to do with what is between his legs. The poor woman he married will be wasted on him.
She is a tasty morsel, to be sure. I would not mind a tumble with her, show her what a real man can do with his manhood. She would tell her worthless husband to sod off and prefer me to warm her bed every night.
But, like everything else, the Prince of Pemberley is blessed. A beautiful wife, funds, a wonderful home, and heir to a fortune.
I know the father well enough, he will pay dearly for his precious daughter. I have not seen her for many years, as I have not been kept from the main house. Pray, she is not as boring as her brother. Hopefully, we will be able to contend with everything in a matter of a few days and I will be able to flee England a wealthy man.
~~ ** ~~
“Has the post arrived, Mrs Jenkinson?” Anne de Bourgh asked as her companion entered the room.
“Yes, Miss Anne. And I have wonderful news for you. Your mother has decided you may come downstairs and join her in the drawing room for tea.” The elder lady handed two letters to Anne. “Would that not be nice?”
“Yes, it would. It is so dreary being cooped up in this room for days on end.” Anne opened the first letter, and, seeing that it was nothing of importance, she opened the second one. Her eyes grew round with delight as she read the news on the parchment.
Mrs Jenkinson had stepped into the dressing chamber to find a fresh gown for Anne to put on, and had not seen the younger lady’s expression as she devoured the words written in the letter. Suddenly, Mrs Jenkinson felt someone had entered the dressing chamber and was standing close. Turning, she saw Anne next to her.
“Forgive me, Miss Anne, you frightened me. Here, allow me to aid you into this gown and we will go down to the drawing r…” Mrs Jenkinson’s voice was cut off as fingers wrapped around her neck, squeezing tightly, illuminating her ability to breathe.
Mrs Jenkinson clawed at the hands of her attacker, Miss Anne de Bourgh, but to no avail. She could not release the hold each of Anne’s fingers had on her throat. The elder woman began kicking Anne’s shins and clawing at her arms and face. This only made Anne more determined to carry out her plan.
Anne de Bourgh was on a mission to take her life in her own hands and finally achieve what she wanted more than anything… Fitzwilliam Darcy. She knew she would be unable to achieve her goal locked away in her rooms, and now gave her the perfect opportunity to escape. And the letter she had received was the news she had been waiting for, giving her the information she needed most.
Slowly, Mrs Jenkinson’s arms and legs went limp, until finally, all life was gone from her body. Anne dropped her companion’s body on the floor, and rummaged through her belongings to find what she would need.
There was a satchel inside her trunks, the perfect size to carry what Anne would need during her escape. She quickly placed two day dresses inside, along with some personal items. Then Anne went into her bedchamber, and to the desk in the corner of the room. She pulled out a key from her dress pocket and unlocked a drawer of the desk. Opening the desk drawer, Anne removed a small cloth bag from the back. “This should do nicely for the time being.” Anne said aloud. She had been stealing funds from her mother’s study, unbeknownst to Lady Catherine or Mrs Jenkinson. Over the years, she had collected close to five hundred pounds. She had also stolen a few bank drafts which were blank, so Anne was sure she could access more of the de Bourgh funds readily enough.
Having packed what she wished to take with her, Anne opened the door just a crack, and peeked out into the hall. Seeing no one was about, she stepped from her rooms and made her way to the servants’ stairs. It was not long before she was outside the house, and making her way to the stable. She would hitch up her phaeton and ponies, and be off before her mother knew she was out of her rooms.
~~ ** ~~
“Lizzy, might we take a walk to the shops today?” Georgianna inquired. “My music master stated that a shipment of new sheets of music were due in today at the Rushton’s store, and I thought Mrs Williams would appreciate a treat from the confectioners.”
“What a lovely idea, Georgianna. I would love an outing. Let us fetch our outer garments and make our way.” Elizabeth replied. Seeing Mrs Younge nearby, Elizabeth smiled. “You may have the afternoon off, Mrs Younge. I will see to my sister until it is time to prepare for dinner.”
“Very good, Mrs Darcy. I thought it would be nice to take in some sights. I have never been to Ramsgate before, so this is a treat for me.”
“Enjoy yourself then.” Elizabeth stated. She reached in her pocket and pulled out a few coins. “Here is money to purchase a treat or something.”
Harriett Younge was amazed. She could not help but think the young lady was naïve and did not know the ways of the wealthy. But the governess took the coins, thanking Elizabeth, and prepared to leave the house.
~~ ** ~~
Richard Fitzwilliam was shown into the parlor at Longbourn. “Good day, everyone.”
Mrs Bennet stood. “Richard, welcome. And where is your dear sister?”
“She went in to Meryton to order some items, and will meet me here. I decided to ride on horseback.” Richard smiled. He was becoming more at home at the Bennet estate. “And Miss Bennet, is she home?”
“She is, though at the moment, she is in the distilling room with Mrs Hill. They are taking inventory of our stock of herbs and tonics. Jane has been taught all there is to be the mistress of her own home. She has been handling the books and ordering the supplies for Longbourn for several years.”
Richard coughed to cover his chuckle. “I am certain that she has learned her lessons well under your careful tutelage, Mrs Bennet.”
Hearing someone’s footsteps approaching the door of the parlor, Richard turned around just in time to see Jane Bennet enter the room. “Mr Fitzwilliam, it is a pleasure to have you join us to dine this evening.” Jane looked about the room, confused. “Is Miss Fitzwilliam not with you?”
“My goodness, I am beginning to think the only reason I am welcomed is when I am chaperoning my sister.” Richard chuckled.
“No, Mr Fitzwilliam, it is just rare to see you without her.” Jane blushed. Turning her attention to her mother, Jane spoke. “Mamma, Papa asked me to inform you that Mr Collins will be remaining the night, and leaving in the morning.”
“Who is Mr Collins?” Richard inquired.
Mrs Bennet shook her head. “He is my husband’s cousin. If it were not for our Gerald, Mr Collins would be the one to inherit the estate. And he has made us well aware of that fact, many times.”
“If you have a guest for the night, we can dine with you another time. Ruth and I would not wish to be an imposition.”
“Please, Richard, do not even jest at your leaving. My husband will desire someone intelligence to speak with this evening. His cousin is full of himself, and I doubt he has stopped speaking long enough to take a full breath.” Mrs Bennet rolled her eyes with disgust.
~~ ** ~~
Just before dinner was announced, that evening at Longbourn, Mr Bennet entered the parlor with his guest in tow. “Ah, Richard, it is a pleasure to have you and your sister with us tonight. Please allow me to introduce my cousin, Mr William Collins. Mr Collins, these are our neighbors, Mr Richard Fitzwilliam and his sister, Miss Ruth Fitzwilliam.”
“Fitzwilliam, that name sounds familiar.” Mr Collins stated, scratching his greasy head as he thought. “I have the honor of the living at Hunsford Parish, in Kent.”
“Hunsford?” Ruth queried. “Next to Rosings Park?”
“Indeed, Miss Fitzwilliam. But of course, you would be the niece and nephew of my patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Please forgive me, I should have recognized you immediately from the strong family likeness. I beg of you not to tell your aunt that I was unable to recognize you immediately.”
Richard could tell that the man was the sort of sycophant that his aunt and cousin would have in their employ. “There is nothing to worry over, Mr Collins. To be honest, there is very little family resemblance.”
“But you must be the cousin who is betrothed to Miss de Bourgh. I know you will be pleased to hear that she was recovering nicely when I left Hunsford two days hence.”
“I am not betrothed to my cousin, nor is anyone of whom I know. And what was my cousin recovering from?” Richard frowned.
“Why, from the injuries she sustained as a child. Lady Catherine is not aware that I overheard her speaking with the physician, but it seems that Miss de Bourgh suffers from reoccurring headaches which are a result from a childhood injury.”
Ruth was surprised. “I have never heard of any such injury.”
Mr Collins looked briefly at the siblings before whispering. “I know it is a secret, as Lady Catherine would not wish those outside the family to know of her husband’s violent tendencies, but surely your family is aware of the situation. Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s assault on his daughter, when he threw her against the wall, and she struck her head with such force. From what I heard, Miss de Bourgh was unconscious for a fortnight from the injury, and each time she has the headaches, they grow worse. But I am sure the new physician will have a treatment to aid your cousin to recover completely. It is no wonder she becomes frustrated and angry with others, what with pain she must endure.”
This was all new to the Fitzwilliam siblings. They knew Anne de Bourgh could fly into a rage at the drop of a hat, but they knew nothing of any injury to her head when her father was alive. Richard thought back on all the times he was near his uncle, and he remembered the man as a quiet and kind man, much older than Lady Catherine, who never spoke back to his wife. Richard could not imagine Sir Lewis de Bourgh to raise a finger to his child, which left the culprit behind the alleged assault to have been at the hands of Lady Catherine. Lady Catherine had been violent in her younger days. Richard could remember overhearing his parents speaking of their suspicions of Lady Catherine’s children who had died before Anne’s birth, suspicions that the grand lady had become frustrated with her infant child fussing. Lord and Lady Matlock had even supposed that the only reason Anne was able to survive was due to Lady Catherine’s fear of what would happen to the estate if she was predeceased by her husband. With no child, male or female, Rosings Park would revert to Sir Lewis’ distant cousin and Lady Catherine would be left with very little.
“And you say my cousin is recovering?” Ruth asked.
“Yes, the physician informed your aunt that Miss de Bourgh required rest, and he suggested she be sedated until she was stronger. From what I understand, the headaches she suffers from are severe, and they leave her drained of all energy. Once she has had proper rest and nourishment, I am certain she will be fit for her wedding. I was certain Lady Catherine stated it would be soon, as she clearly informed me that it would not be long before she had me read the banns.”
“I can promise you, Mr Collins, my elder brother and I are the only unwed men in the family, and we have no intentions to marry our cousin. As to my cousin, Fitzwilliam Darcy, he was recently married to the former Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
Mr Collins frowned. “I was certain Lady Catherine stated it was her nephew, Fitzwilliam. Well, no bother. I will learn more upon my return to Hunsford, I am sure.”
Dinner was announced, and everyone made their way to the dining room. Richard realized Mr Collins was preparing to approach Jane to escort her to dinner, so he made his way to the eldest Bennet daughter first, securing her hand on his arm, before Collins could open his mouth. With his other arm, he welcomed his sister to join them. Mr Collins was left offering his arm to Mary.
~~ ** ~~
Lord Matlock was rereading the express his son had sent him from Netherfield.
Last night, I had the unfortunate experience of meeting Lady Catherine’s parson. The man is everything you would expect, an obnoxious toady of a man who fawns over Lady Catherine as if she were royalty.
One bit of news I did learn was that Anne has been quite ill of late. According to the parson, one William Collins, Anne suffers from severe headaches. Mr Collins stated that he overheard the headaches are of long term, stemming from an injury which was inflicted upon her by her father. From what Mr Collins overheard, the rumor is that Sir Lewis threw Anne when she was young, causing her head to strike an object. She was reportedly unconscious for at least a fortnight and has suffered the headaches frequently since.
I know I was a child when Uncle Lewis died, but the man I remember was meek and kind, not at all like the man described by Mr Collins. Granted, he was only repeating what he had heard, but to me, it does not ring true. In my opinion, the description sounds more of the actions of Lady Catherine, rather than Sir Lewis.
Hearing that Anne has suffered these headaches, I began to wonder about Anne’s behavior over the years. She was near six when her behavior changed for the worse, when she became the overbearing and spoiled child we all came to detest. Could this be when she was injured? And could the injury have been the reason for her personality change?
It is clear that Lady Catherine would not wish for anyone to know that Anne suffers from a mental condition, especially since it would make the inheritance of Sir Lewis’ estate revert to the distant cousin. Is it possible that Lady Catherine has been hiding this from all of us, to protect herself from becoming homeless?
Also, it appears that Lady Catherine has not changed her view that Fitzwilliam is to marry Anne. Mr Collins asked if I were the cousin to marry Anne, and I informed him that no one, to my knowledge, was betrothed to her. He seemed confused, as Lady Catherine informed him to be prepared to read the banns soon. This makes me concerned for Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth. Obviously, Lady Catherine has something planned, though I do not know what she is plotting.
I will leave this in your hands to sort out. If you have need of me, please send word and I will be at your service. Ruth sends her best to you and Mother.
Your devoted son,
A knock on the door broke Lord Matlock’s concentration. “Enter.” He called out.
Lady Matlock opened the door and stepped inside. “I was told you received an express. Is anything wrong?”
“It is from Richard. He discovered some news, concerning my sister and our niece. From what he said, it appears that my sister was abusive to my niece when Anne was just a child. Apparently, Anne suffered a severe head injury, which would explain her behavior over the years. And my sister has kept this hidden from us, as she does not wish to lose her home to the heir, if Anne were to be found incompetent.”
A gasp escaped Lady Matlock. “That beast. Brutalize her own child, then allow the child to treat others cruelly, all for her own gain. If Catherine were standing before me, I know I would be unable to control myself. I would throttle her within an inch of her life.”
“Richard also believes she has yet to give up her plotting to have Anne married to William. I must write to Gerald, inform him of the news. He may wish to keep a watch out for anything suspicious.”
“And the girls are in Ramsgate. Perhaps we should travel there, stay with Lizzy and Georgianna, just until Gerald and William are able to join them. Then we could take our holiday at Netherfield, with our children.”
“It is Richard’s first harvest season, and he wishes me to be there. I am certain that Gerald has placed adequate security with the girls. And I know Ruth is anxious to show you all she has accomplished.” Seeing his wife was still hesitant, Lord Matlock shook his head. “I was not supposed to tell you, but our children have planned a ball to take place in one month’s time, in honor of our anniversary. Ruth is nervous, as it is her first ball, and she wishes for it to be perfect. Richard thought that if you were there, ahead of time, Ruth would not be as nervous. You know how Ruth garners strength from just being near you.”
Lady Matlock chuckled. “Very well, you have convinced me. But you should write to Gerald and William, inform them of Catherine’s unstable nature.”
“I will. Now, what do we need to purchase to take to our children? Some sweets from the confectioners? A few bottles of port?”