Chapter 7

“Go away!” Mr Bennet shouted at the person knocking on the door of his study.

“Thomas, please, I must speak with you.” Mr Phillips stated through the closed door.  “It is important.”

“There is nothing of which I need to speak with you.” Mr Bennet declared.  “Go away.”

“Please, Brother, it is important.  It is concerning your daughters.”

The lock on the door turned, giving Mr Phillips entry into his brother in law’s sanctuary.  As Mr Phillips entered, Mr Bennet poured himself a glass of port, though no offer was made to his brother in law.

“Thomas, I need to speak with you on behalf of your daughters.  Especially for Jane.”

“What does my daughter require that is not provided for her?” Mr Bennet asked, his voice was rough from lack of use.

“Jane has a young man who is courting her.  The young man would like to request your blessing, yet you refuse to speak with anyone.  Fanny asked me to discuss the matter with you.”

“My daughters will not be courted by any young men.  My son will take care of his sisters when I am gone.  I will not have any other young men take one of my girls from me.”

“Thomas, you are being a fool.  Why would you refuse to allow your daughters to find love and happiness?  It is not fair to them to refuse their happiness.”

Fury was building in Mr Bennet’s eyes.  “My girls are too young to marry.  How many times do I have to tell people?  I lost one daughter to a man who made her behave against the way she was raised.  I will not have another of my girls stolen from me.  They will remain here, at Longbourn, protected from men who would ruin them. By now, my ungrateful child is most likely wishing she had listened to me and returned to her family.  But she is ruined, forever lost.  None of my other girls will be lost.”

“Jane is not a little girl, Thomas.  She twenty years of age.  On her next birthday, she is legally of age, and will be able to make decisions for herself.  Do you wish to force her to go against your wishes?  Do you wish to lose her forever?  And your other daughters will do the same.  You stay here, locked away from the world.  When was the last time you even looked at one of your children?  You refuse to see Fanny or any of the children.  Are you going to take to locking them in their rooms, forbidding them to speak to anyone outside the house?”

“How dare you?  They are my children, mine to make decisions for.  I do not care how old they are, I will make the decisions for them.  And I will not allow any man to take my girls from me, no matter what!”

Mr Phillips shook his head.  “Then you are the biggest fool there is, Thomas Bennet.” The man stood and headed for the door.  “And just so you know, Elizabeth and her husband have a son. They are very happy together.  I heard from Edward that the Darcys are in Town for the holidays.  You are missing out on your daughter’s happiness and her child.”

The door shut just as Mr Bennet threw an empty glass at the wall nearby, smashing the glass into slivers.

~~ ** ~~

“Fanny, there is something wrong with Thomas.  He still believes your daughters are children, that they are small girls.  And he refuses to allow any of them to be courted, let alone married.  I cannot understand what is causing him to behave in such a manner.  When was the last time you have been allowed to speak with him?”

“More than six months.  And even then, he refused to discuss anything with me and threw me out of the room before I could speak with him.”

Mr Phillips was angry.  “He threw you from his study?  He put his hands on you and forced you to leave his study?”

“Yes.” Mrs Bennet said, looking down at her hands in shame.  “I have not made an attempt to speak to him since then.”

“Fanny, you should have told me what happened.  This cannot continue. The estate is falling apart, as the steward is not doing his job to the best of his abilities.  By the time your son is old enough, there will be nothing left of the estate to inherit.  Your daughters and you are in danger, if Thomas becomes enraged, if he is willing to physically treat you in such a manner as throwing you from his study.  And his refusal to allow them to have lives of their own is ridiculous.  Jane will turn twenty one in five months.  At that time, I suggest she removes from this house, either coming to live with us, or even with Lizzy.  I am certain that Lizzy would take her sister into her home.”

“Jane will never go against her father.” Fanny stated.  “Even if it is not what is best for her, Jane will do as her father insists.”

“We will see.  But you must be ready to leave here, come to our home, if Thomas becomes physical with you.  Do you understand me, Fanny?”

Mrs Bennet nodded her head.

~~ ** ~~

Elizabeth was exhausted when she returned home from the day spent with her two aunts.  Between Lady Matlock and Mrs Gardiner, they had visited five shops and even went to Mr Gardiner’s warehouses to choose fabrics.  His merchandise was well known in Town as being some of the best quality, and Lady Matlock’s modiste favored fabrics from Gardiner’s Imports.

The young Mistress of Darcy House was shocked at the number of gowns the two ladies insisted she would need, as Elizabeth had never owned such a quantity in all her years combined. Day dresses, evening gowns, undergarments, outer wear, slippers, boots, coats, capes, bonnets, winter hats, muffs, and sleep ware.  Lady Matlock insisted that Elizabeth would need twenty evening gowns, just to start the Season.

When her husband saw her standing in the doorway of his study, he instantly rose from his seat and walked to her, wrapping her in his embrace.  “You survived your first shopping experience with Aunt Rebecca.”

“William, you are going to wish to be rid of me when you see how much everything will cost.  There is no need for all the clothes our aunts insisted I purchase.” Elizabeth said, as she leaned against her husband’s chest and wrapped her arms around his waist.  “We never had so many gowns between my mother and all of my sisters.  Mrs Hill would be grateful not to have had to clean so many gowns.  Can you imagine if my mother and sisters all had the same number of gowns as was ordered for me today?”

“That reminds me, your uncle came by today.”

Elizabeth frowned.  “Is something wrong?”

“He received a letter from your Uncle Phillips.  Your father is worsening.”

“What has he done now?” Elizabeth buried her face in her husband’s chest, as if to soften the news.

“He refuses to allow Jane to be courted, and has even declared that none of your sisters will marry.  And he is still claiming them as children.  Your father has declared that your sisters will remain living at Longbourn for the rest of their lives, and your brother will take care of them.”

“What could be causing him to behave in such a manner?” Elizabeth could feel tears welling in her eyes.  “He used to be such a loving man, who wanted the best for all of us.”

“It appears that he has also been physical with your mother.  He threw her from his study, as he did not wish to listen to her.”

“What does Uncle Phillips think should be done?”

Darcy shook his head.  “He does not know.  Mr Phillips wishes that your mother and your siblings could be removed from Longbourn, taken somewhere safe to live.  But he is afraid that it will cause Mr Bennet to become more violent.  Though he rarely leaves the study, your family disappearing might make him come out.  And he would wish to punish the family for forcing him to leave his study.”

“If we were to take them to Pemberley, I am certain Papa would never come that far.  And, even if he did, we could protect them there.”

“When Mr Phillips determines it is time to remove them from Longbourn, we will do so.” Darcy tightened his embrace around his wife.  “I wonder who the young man is who desires to court Jane.  I pray he is a good man.”

~~ ** ~~

Charles Bingley was pleased to have Jane Bennet on his arm, as he led her to their places in the line for the next dance.  The dance was well under way, and this was their second set of the evening.  After the set was the dinner, and he would have the right to sit with her while they ate.

He loved watching her graceful moves as she floated across the dance floor.  Jane was perfect in his eyes. Beautiful, sweet, kind to all, delightful with which to speak.  The only difficulty was the situation with her father.

Learning that her father had refused to allow her to be courted, and that the man was steadfast in his decision that his daughters would never marry, Charles was saddened.  Mr Phillips and Mrs Bennet reassured him that they approved of his courtship with Jane, and that they would keep his secret.  In a few months, Jane would be of age, and would be able to leave her father’s home and decide for herself if she wished to marry.

When seated at the table, the young couple began speaking of the situation, only to be interrupted by one of the neighbors, Mrs Long.

“Jane, it is a pleasure to see you tonight.  I heard that your aunt, Mrs Phillips, received a new letter from Lizzy.  How is your sister faring?”

“She is well, Mrs Long.  Her son is healthy and growing every day.”

“Such joyous news.  Your mother must be thrilled.”

Jane nodded her head.  “She is, though she will be elated when she finally has the chance to hold her grandson in her arms.  It has been difficult for her to be unable to make the journey.”

“Well, I will pray that it is soon.” Mrs Long declared as she took her leave.

Charles looked at Jane with confusion.  “Who is Lizzy?”

Jane had not discussed her next eldest sister with the young man, for fear of his abandoning her when he learned of her father’s disowning Elizabeth.  “Lizzy is my sister.”

“I thought your sisters were Mary, Catherine, and Lydia.”

“Elizabeth is the next eldest, after me.  She is married and has a baby boy.”

“Why have you never spoken of her before?  Did she do something wrong?” Charles asked.

“No…no, she…she… my sister married against my father’s wishes.  He was angry with her, and has disowned her.  We are not allowed to discuss her or say her name in our home.”

“Was her husband dishonorable or cruel?”

“Oh, no, he is a kind and caring gentleman.  He is good to Lizzy, and they are happy together.  My father, well, he is not pleased, as he thinks we are all still children.  He told my sister that she was not old enough to be married. Papa was prepared to apply for an annulment, but my sister convinced him that it was not possible.  Because she had been with her husband, my father declared her a… a… harlot.” Jane was embarrassed.

“My goodness.  How old was your sister?”

“She was sixteen when she married.  The marriage came about when she was forced to be in a room with two men, one of which was her husband.  Though it was not their fault that they were trapped in the room, Lizzy’s reputation would have been ruined.  Her husband’s father insisted that Lizzy and his son marry, as the father thought my sister perfect for his son.”

Charles shook his head.  “Though it is young, it sounds as if your father refuses to accept your sister was a young lady, not a child.”

“Now, my sister is the Mistress of her husband’s estate and their home in Town.  She is happy, though I know she misses all of us.”

“Her husband has an estate?  Where is it located?”

Jane smiled.  “It is in Derbyshire.  The estate is Pemberley.”

Charles was shocked.  “Pemberley?  Your sister is Elizabeth Darcy?”

She nodded her head.

“I know your sister.  She is married to my dearest friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy.  He is a good man, and you are correct, they are very happy together.  And Ben is cherished by both his parents.  I saw Darcy and your sister when I was in Town recently.”

Jane’s eyes filled with tears.  “Was my sister well?  Did she appear to be happy?  I miss her terribly, and only have contact through my aunt, and we have to be careful so that Papa does not learn of our communication.”

“Your sister is well, and very happy.  I am certain she misses you, and I would be willing to act as a go between for you and your sister, if you wish.  And I am certain that my father would be willing to allow the Darcys to visit Netherfield.  Then you could see your sister and your nephew.”

“I do not know if it would be safe for them to be in the neighborhood.  If my father were to discover them being near, I fear what he would do in retaliation towards the Darcys.”

“We can protect them, Miss Bennet.  Have no fear for their safety.”

Jane bit her lower lip between her teeth.  Finally, she spoke.  “I would dearly love to see my sister, and her family.”

~~ ** ~~

“Elizabeth, you have a letter.” Darcy held out the missive to his wife as they ate breakfast.

“This is Jane’s handwriting.  But how did she send it?  There was no letter from Aunt Phillips today.” Elizabeth turned the paper over in her hands.

“You will never guess.  It came in my letter from Charles Bingley.  Do you know of an estate named Netherfield Park?”

Elizabeth gasped.  “Of course I do, it was the nearest neighbor to Longbourn.”

“That is the estate that Mr Bingley has leased.  Charles is courting your sister, though he is doing so secretively.”

Reading the letter, tears began to pool in Elizabeth’s eyes.  Her sister spoke of the deterioration of their father, the refusal from him to allow her to be courted, and the desire of Jane and their mother to see Elizabeth and her family.

“She says that Mamma wishes to meet you and Ben.  It breaks her heart to not be able to hold her first grandchild.” Elizabeth wiped at her eyes.

“We have been invited to visit the Bingleys, at Netherfield.  Charles says that we are welcome to stay as long as we wish, and they would do all to keep the news from your father.”

“If he were to learn of our being so close, and Mamma and Jane visiting us, I fear what Papa would do in his deluded state.”

“There is little he could do to us.  And we can take extra footmen, to act as guards.  Charles stated that Mr Bennet would not be allowed on Netherfield lands.”

“Not that he leaves his study, from what everyone has stated.  Do we dare take the chance?  I miss my sister dearly, and would love for Mamma to meet you and Ben.  My younger sisters are still quite young, it might not be wise for them to know we are there.  And Jacob, my little brother, is far too young to be trusted with such a secret.”

“Your sister, Mary, is near sixteen, is she not?  She may be able to be trusted.  But I agree, Jacob, Katherine and Lydia are too young to keep such a secret.” Darcy agreed.  “So, do you wish to make the journey?”

Elizabeth looked at the letter in her hand, enjoying the well-known handwriting of her beloved sister.  After several moments, Elizabeth nodded her head.  “I would like that very much.”

“Then I will send word to Charles.  When do you wish to go to Netherfield?  We have commitments for the holidays, but we could go after Twelfth Night.”

“Would Aunt Rebecca be upset if we were not in Town, as we promised to be?  We had stated that we would be here until after the main season was over.”

“Under the circumstances, I am certain our aunt will be agreeable.  And we could leave Georgiana with Lord and Lady Matlock, which would assist in appeasing my aunt’s mothering needs.”

Elizabeth laughed.  “Aunt Rebecca will swat you for such a comment.  But it would be nice for Georgiana to have some time with her beloved aunt and uncle.  Our sister has been so good with not being jealous of the attention that Ben receives, she deserves some time to be the child and indulged.”

Lady Matlock was just entering the room as Elizabeth spoke.  “Who deserves to be indulged?”

“Georgiana.” Darcy replied.  “Good morning, Aunt.  How are you today?”

“I am fine, William.  Now, why is Georgiana deserving of being indulged? Lady Matlock asked.

“We just learned that the Bingley family has leased the estate next to my family’s home in Hertfordshire.” Elizabeth began explaining.  “We have been invited to visit there, so I can see my mother and eldest sister, and they can meet my family.”

“Is that a wise idea?  We all know that your father is not stable, and could cause problems.”  Lady Matlock was concerned.

“Papa rarely ever leaves his study, and, if we are careful, we should be able to keep him from knowing what is going on.  And we would be careful.” Elizabeth stated, attempting to convince herself as much as Lady Matlock.  “We were just discussing the possibility of Georgiana staying with you and Uncle Henry while we were at Netherfield.  She has been so good with Ben, accepting all the attention he receives without becoming jealous, so it would be a reward for her to have some time being the child again.”

“When will you be making the journey?”

Darcy smiled.  “We would wait until after Twelfth Night.  We would not dream of missing your party.”

“You had best not, for I do not forgive easily for such transgressions.” Lady Matlock accepted a kiss on the cheek from her favorite nephew, as he prepared to leave the room.

~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~

Chapter 8

Bennet Darcy’s first Christmas was memorable.  His parents took the infant on a sleigh ride just outside of Town.  Darcy House was decorated with holly and ivy, and a kissing bough in the music room.  Georgiana giggled at the amount of time her brother and sister in law spent in the music room leading up to Christmas.

There were bows and ribbons everywhere, and gifts that had been purchased for the youngest Darcy.  In a letter from Richard, he insisted his parents purchase a rocking horse for young Ben, who was Richard’s godson.  Being the expert horseman of the family, Richard’s request came as no surprise.  Darcy laughed, saying he was surprised Richard had not insisted on a pony or a colt.

“Richard sends his best, and wishes he could be here, but you know the life of the military.” Lord Matlock stated when they delivered the rocking horse and other gifts for Ben.

“It is my prayer that Richard will soon be able to resign from the military and have a home and family of his own.” Darcy replied.  “The thought of him in danger… I do not like it one bit.”

“You are not alone, William.”

Geoffrey was thrilled to be with his family, especially since he was able to bring his betrothed, Lady Margaret, would be joining the family for Christmas Eve dinner.  They would announce the date they had determined for their wedding at the dinner, frustrating Lady Matlock, who wished to know immediately.

Darcy had purchased a new desk for Elizabeth, which would be placed in his study at Darcy House.  It had become habit, at Pemberley, for Elizabeth to share her husband’s study, even though she had one of her own.  They had moved her desk from the Mistress’ study into Darcy’s, so the two could be together as they saw to their responsibilities.  During Elizabeth’s confinement, it gave her husband peace of mind to have her near, as he was constantly worried for her health.

Elizabeth had purchased, with Mr Gardiner’s assistance, a new saddle for Darcy’s favorite stallion.  Georgiana decided to purchase a new pair of riding boots for her brother, and enlisted Lord Matlock’s aid in ordering them from the cobbler.

For Georgiana, Darcy and Elizabeth purchased a new pianoforte for her, which had been delivered to Darcy House, and was kept hidden in Elizabeth’s study until Christmas Eve.  They had decided to surprise the girl, having the pianoforte set up for her while they were dining.

~~ ** ~~

Christmas was not looking to be cheery at Longbourn.  Mr Bennet had decreed that no one from his family was to attend the ball being held at Netherfield, and that his wife and children were to remain inside their home, seeing no visitors in the days leading up to Christmas.  Mrs Bennet was shocked at her husband’s decree, and decided to ignore him, with regards to the Netherfield ball.  She left Jacob, Kitty, and Lydia in the care of Mrs Hill, taking Mary and Jane to the ball.

Mrs Bennet was certain that her husband would not learn of their leaving the house, as he had little contact with anyone who lived in the house.  Little did she know, it would be one of the worst nights of her life.

Mr Bennet called for Mrs Hill to remove his dinner tray.  “Have my wife come here, as I wish to speak with her.”

“I’m afraid Mrs Bennet is not well.  She has retired for the night.” Mrs Hill declared nervously.

“It is not like my wife to not announce to the world that she is ill.  Pray, what has come over her?”

“I cannot say for certain, Mr Bennet, but it is most likely something trifling, like a cold.  I am certain she will be better tomorrow.”

Mr Bennet had not drank as much that day, owing to a pain in his belly, so he could sense that the housekeeper was not telling the truth.  “Mrs Hill, what are you keeping from me?  I demand you tell me the truth.”

“I am not keeping anything from you, Sir.  Mrs Bennet is indisposed at the moment and cannot attend you.”

“Then have Jane come to me.  I will speak with her and she can relay the message to her mother, when Fanny is better.”

This put Mrs Hill in a panic.  Why is tonight is the first time in over a year that Mr Bennet wishes to speak with members of his family? Why could he not wait until tomorrow night, when Mrs Bennet and the girls would be home?  “I believe Miss Jane retired early, as she complained of not sleeping well last night, and she was sleepy.”

Mr Bennet glared at the housekeeper.  “Where is my family?  I demand you tell me immediately.  Where is my wife?  I insist on seeing my wife this very minute.”

For the first time in over a year, Mr Bennet climbed the stairs to the second floor of his home, flinging open the door to his wife’s bedchamber.  Seeing his wife was not there, he went to Jane’s room, to find her missing a well.  Hearing the commotion, Jacob came from his room.

“Papa, what is wrong?  Why are you yelling and banging doors?”

“Where is your mother?  Your sisters are missing as well.  Where is everyone?”

Jacob was puzzled.  “Mamma was going to go to bed, but I heard her leave the house.  The carriage was near the gate, and Mamma, Jane and Mary left in it.”

The news caused Mr Bennet to fly into a rage.  “They left the house, against my instructions?  How dare they?”  Mr Bennet then returned to his wife’s chambers and began tearing her clothes from the closet.  He found a knife and began cutting the garments into pieces.  “If she has nothing to wear, she cannot leave the house again.  I will teach her what happens when she disobeys me.”

In his anger, he threw her belongings about the room, smashing glass objects, including two bottles of aromatic salts.  The odor from the bottles irritated Mr Bennet, increasing his fury.  All the while, his youngest three children huddled together in the bedchamber which Kitty and Lydia shared.  Jacob was frightened of his father, turning to his sisters for comfort.

Mrs Hill slipped into the room with the children.  She feared for their safety, and feared what would happen when their mother and elder sisters returned home.

~~ ** ~~

Jane Bennet moved gracefully across the dance floor, her second set with Charles Bingley as her partner.  She thrilled at being with him, enjoying life, as she could not do at home.  The thought of home was banished for the night, as she could not stand the sadness, when she was finding so much pleasure.  Tomorrow she would be at home, and there would be time to deal with the despair of her family life.

When the set was finished, Charles led his angel to the refreshment table and handed her a glass of lemonade.  “Shall we go out on the terrace, for a breath of fresh air?” He inquired.

“That would be pleasant.” Jane replied, allowing him to lead her towards the doors to the terrace.

The cool, crisp air was refreshing, especially as there were so many people attending the ball, making the ballroom quite warm.  Bingley led her to one of the benches on the north end of the terrace, assisting her to take a seat.

Dropping to one knee, Charles began to speak.  “Miss Bennet…Jane, I know it will be a few months yet, until you come of age, but I wish to ask you now, so that you are assured of my feelings.  I find that you are the perfect lady for me.  Beautiful, charming, caring, with a good heart, and easy with which to speak.  When you are of age, and can make the decision on your own, would you do me the honor of marrying me?”

Tears began to flow down Jane’s cheeks.  “Oh, Charles, I want nothing more.  I only regret that you will have to wait, as my father will never give his consent to our marrying.  He will never consent to any of my siblings to wed.”

“I wish I could take you away from Longbourn this very night, my dearest.  But, as long as I know you will be mine, I will wait forever for you.”

“And I will wait for you.” Jane replied.  Just as Charles was leaning in to place a kiss on Jane’s lips, Mrs Bennet could be heard calling for her eldest daughter.

“Jane, Jane, we must return home.  Mrs Hill sent her son for us, as there is some sort of trouble at the house.”  Mrs Bennet said, when she was near Jane.  Mary was near her mother.

“What could be wrong?” Charles asked.

“I’m not sure, but Hill insisted we return home quickly.” Mrs Bennet answered.  “One of the younger children may have taken ill.  She knows how I dote on them, and would not wish to be away from them while they are suffering.”

“If there is anything I can do to be of assistance, please, send word.”

“Thank you, Mr Bingley.  I am sure it is nothing to fret over.” Mrs Bennet’s words did not match the anxiety shown in her expression.

~~ ** ~~

Jane barely remembered what happened after they arrived home.  So much happened in a few moments, and the eldest Bennet daughter could not believe what unfolded before her eyes.

As the trio stepped from the carriage, they could hear Mr Bennet raging inside the house.  Mrs Bennet shivered from fear, knowing they had been found out of the house.

“Jane, take Mary inside and to the back stairs.  Your father is angry, and I do not wish the two of you to be near when he begins yelling.”

“But Mamma, you should not face him alone.” Jane replied.

“My dear girl, if you are there, it will be far worse for us all.  I will be fine, do not fret.”

Mary was trembling with fear.  “Mamma, perhaps we should send for Uncle Phillips.  Papa does not sound as if he is in his right mind.”

Just then, the door opened, and Mr Bennet was standing before his wife and daughters.  Reaching out, Mr Bennet took hold of his wife’s arm and roughly pulled her inside the house.

“What did I tell you?  What, Fanny?  What were my words to you?  Did I not forbid you to leave this house?  Are you too stupid to understand my words?”

“Thomas, please, allow the girls to go up to their rooms, and I will come to you study with you.” Mrs Bennet pleaded.

“I wish for them to see what happens when I am disobeyed.” Mr Bennet said as he shoved his wife into a chair in the parlor.  “Jane, Mary, you sit on the sofa.  I want you where I can see you.”

Both of the girls mumbled agreement, looking down at their feet, and they shuffled towards the sofa.  By the time they were seated, Mr Bennet was in full fury.

“Why did you go against my direct orders?  Tell me, Fanny.  What right do you, a woman, have to take my daughters, who are not of age, out of my house?  I forbade you going anywhere, what right do you have to disobey me?”

“Thomas, there was a ball tonight.  I knew it would look bad to our neighbors if Jane and Mary did not attend.  Some might be concerned for our welfare, and come here to check on us.  I thought it was wiser to take the girls, to make an appearance, rather than have others come here.”

“I do not care what anyone else thinks of me or my family.  I gave you a direct order, and you failed to carry it out.” Mr Bennet pulled back his arm, bringing his hand down, sharply, across his wife’s cheek.  “I will NOT be disobeyed, not ever. Do you understand me?”  He smacked her again, across the same cheek.

Mrs Bennet nodded her head, tears pooling as the sting of Mr Bennet’s handprint on her face was overwhelming her senses.

“To help you understand and remember my commands, I have eliminated any possibilities of you leaving this house.  You will see when you enter your bedchamber.  I will not have the neighborhood thinking I cannot control my wife and daughters.”  Turning his attention to Jane and Mary, Mr Bennet began to shout at them.

“And, as for you, put all thoughts of balls and dances from your minds.  You will never attend another assembly or dinner party again.  You are my children, not some whores, like that tramp Elizabeth.  I will not have you behaving like her.”  Mr Bennet grabbed hold of an arm of each of his daughters, squeezing them tightly.  “I am your father, and as such, I demand your obedience.  If you do not obey me, you will never be allowed outside this house again. Am I understood?”

Mary and Jane nodded their heads.  Both of them were in pain from their father’s grasp, but did not say a word, for fear of angering him further.

“You girls will go to your rooms.  I have more to discuss with your mother.”

~~ ** ~~

Jane and Mary had gone to the bedchamber of their younger sisters, and the five siblings remained there the rest of the night.  None of them slept much, as all feared their father’s rage.  Mr Bennet had continued to rant at his wife for over an hour, as he shouted outlandish insults at her.  The Bennet siblings could hear sounds which could only be their father striking their mother, repeatedly.  Tears flowed freely, as each of the siblings attempted to understand what had happened.

Jacob curled into his eldest sister’s embrace.  “Why is Papa so angry?  Why is he yelling?”

“I do not know, sweet boy, but we must do as we are told.  We will do as we are told, and, hopefully, Papa will not be so angry.”

“Jane, Papa appears ill.  Could that be the reason he is so angry all the time?  Could he be ill?” Mary asked.  “I have never seen him so angry before.  I was terrified, especially when he struck Mamma.”

“Shush, Mary.  Now is not the time to discuss such matters.  Let us keep Jacob and our sisters calm.”

~~ ** ~~

Mrs Bennet could barely lift her head from her pillow the following morning.  Her face and head ached from the blows her husband had delivered her.  When she looked about the room, seeing the destruction made by Mr Bennet, tears began to well in her swollen eyes.  All of her clothing was shredded, except for a night shift and dressing gown.  The gown she had worn the night before had been removed from her by her husband, and he took it to his study.  “You have no need for this until I say otherwise.  If you have no proper garments to wear outside our house, or to receive guests, then perhaps you will obey my orders.”

Feeling trapped, and fearing for the safety of her children, Mrs Bennet knew not what to do to protect them.  Mrs Hill had been severely reprimanded for her aiding Mrs Bennet, and the housekeeper was forbidden to speak with any of the Bennet females or Jacob.

Fanny Bennet knew that it would only be a matter of time before someone in the neighborhood came to call on the family, but she worried it would be too late to protect them.  But there was nothing she could do for the time being, except protect her children from their father.  She would do whatever was necessary to protect them, even if it meant her own life.

~~ ** ~~

“Charles, how could you ruin our family by proposing to that nobody?  Has not our father struggled for years to earn enough to give us the life of higher society?  We are to be part of the landed gentry, and you go and propose to that chit.” Caroline was in a tantrum after learning of Charles’ proposal to Jane Bennet.

“Caroline that will be quite enough of your fussing.”  Mr Bingley declared.  “Your brother has the right to choose his wife, and Miss Bennet is actually higher in rank than you are, as she was born a gentlewoman.”

“Father, how can you allow Charles to make such an imprudent match?” Caroline continued.  “Her family is nothing in comparison.  I have heard tell that she will have a meager one thousand pounds when her mother dies.  That is all she has.  What good is she to further our family?  She has one uncle who is a country solicitor and another who is in trade, living in Cheapside.  Mr Darcy would scorn such connections.”

“What difference does it make what Darcy would think of the situation?” Mr Bingley asked, his eyebrow raised.  “Mr Darcy is a married man, Caroline, and it is high time you got over your desire to become Mrs Darcy, Mistress of Pemberley.”

“His wife is nobody as well.” Caroline sulked.

“Well, Sister, it would surprise you then to learn that Darcy would not think less of me for marrying Miss Bennet, as it would make me his brother.  Mrs Darcy is the former Miss Elizabeth Bennet, second eldest daughter of the Bennet family of Longbourn.” Charles stated smugly.

Caroline could not believe what she was hearing.  “That cannot be true.  Why did we not know of this before?  Who told you of such a connection?”

“Mrs Darcy told me herself.  There has been a difficulty between Mrs Darcy and her father, though I am not certain to what the problem amounts.  Suffice it to say, Miss Bennet also disclosed to me that she was the elder sister of Mrs Darcy.  It is one of the reasons the Darcys will be visiting us shortly.  Mrs Darcy wishes for her mother and siblings to meet Ben.”

“The Darcys are coming here?” Caroline’s eyes lit up.

Mr Bingley realized his daughter cared little for the fact that Mr Darcy was married.  “Caroline, you should plan on visiting with my sister, Alberta, while the Darcys are here.  It appears you are unable to control yourself in the presence of Mr Darcy, therefore you will be required to be elsewhere.”

“Father, that is not fair.” Caroline said, anxious at the thought of missing out on such an opportunity.  “I can behave myself, you have nothing to fear.”

“I do not trust you, Caroline.” Charles blurted out.  This was shocking to his father, as Charles usually gave in to anything Caroline wished, rather than argue with her.

“You stay out of this, Charles.  Father, please, do not send me to Aunt Alberta’s.  I detest spending time with her, as her house always smells of lemongrass and the lighting is always low.  And Aunt Alberta is mean.”

“My sister is not mean, she is strict.  Perhaps I have spoiled you since your mother’s death, but I will do so no longer.  I will send an express to my sister, and, upon receiving her reply, you will be off to Scarborough.”

“Louisa, please, help me convince Father that I will be good while the Darcys are here.  Please.  I cannot go to Scarborough.  It is not fair.”

“Fair or not, that is my decision.” Mr Bingley replied.  “Now, go to your rooms, and remain there until I come to speak with you.”

Stomping from the room, Caroline’s voice could be heard as she went up the stairs and into her room, slamming the door behind her.

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