Chapter 17

The men and women at Netherfield had been warned of the eminent arrival of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and had prepared for her expected outbursts.

Gathered in the drawing room of Netherfield Park were Darcy and Elizabeth, Mr and Mrs Gardiner, Mr and Mrs Phillips, Charles Bingley and his father, and Mr Dunn.  They all felt that a show of force was necessary to enforce their side of the matter.  None were prepared to be intimidated by the woman.

They were enjoying tea when Lady Catherine and Mr Collins were shown into the drawing room.  The butler had barely begun to speak when Lady Catherine pushed her way into the room.

“Fitzwilliam, you will remove your men from Longbourn.  My parson will be staying there and taking over the running of the estate.”

“And a good day to you, Lady Catherine. Such a pleasure to see you.” Darcy said as he gave and exaggerated bow.

“There is no need for small talk, just do as you are told, so the matter is resolved immediately.”

“Forgive me, but I do not remember Mr Collins being given the estate.  According to what I have seen, in writing, Mr Collins has no right to the estate or anything else which belongs to the Bennet family.  The heir to Longbourn is upstairs, and as his birth broken the entail, Mr Bennet changed his will.  After Jacob’s birth, the will was changed to include my wife as the alternative if something were to happen to Jacob.”

“That is impossible.  It could not be passed on to the female line.  The estate was to remain in the male line of the Bennet family.” Mr Collins squeaked his words.

Mr Phillips moved forward and stood next to Darcy.  “Legally, as I have already informed you, the entail was broke with Jacob’s birth.  This allowed Mr Bennet to make other plans for the estate, should his son not survive to take his inheritance.  He was within his legal rights to leave the estate to Mrs Darcy, had Jacob not lived.”

Lady Catherine sneered at the solicitor.  “Ah, you must be the uncle who is a country solicitor.  I have hired the firm of Jenkins and Larson, in Town.  They will be arriving tomorrow to handle the case.  You see, I believe that Mr Bennet was not of sound mind when he signed the papers, therefore the papers are invalid.  That would mean that Mr Collins would be next in line to inherit.”

“You are incorrect, Lady Catherine.  Jacob is still the heir.” Mr Phillips stated.

“A boy, too young to manage the running of the estate.  Besides, his health is fragile, and it is most likely he will soon succumb to his injuries.” Lady Catherine waved her hand about as if she were wiping away the facts.

“I believe you have not been trained in medical matters, Lady Catherine.”  Mr Dunn moved forward as he spoke.  “My patient is awake, and his fever broke last night.  He has been able to take some broth, and is growing stronger. As his physician, I have the greatest hope of his recovery.”

Lady Catherine was becoming extremely irritated.  “But he is a boy, too young to manage.”

“As you took my cousin’s inheritance from her?” Darcy asked.  “Anne is the rightful heir of Rosings, and it should have been turned over to her when she came of age.  But you have refused to allow her to make decisions.”

“Anne’s health prevents her from being able to care for the estate properly.”

“I remember your stating that her health was greatly improved and she was more than capable of handling the duties of a wife.  If so, then she should have been capable to be Mistress of Rosings, just as you claimed she would be if she were Mistress of Pemberley.  Have you lied to me of my cousin’s condition?”

“My daughter’s health has nothing to do with this matter.” Lady Catherine’s face began to flush red with anger.  Stamping her foot on the floor, she continued.  “Are you willing to sign papers relinquishing Longbourn to Mr Collins?”

“I am not prepared to do any such thing.  How could you even consider asking?”  Darcy knew his aunt was up to something.

Her expression became similar to that of a cat who had cornered a mouse and was about to pounce.  “Well, then I have an offer to make you, and I cannot see that you will be able to refuse.  If you do not sign over the estate of Longbourn to Mr Collins, and sign over guardianship of Georgiana to me, your family will be ruined.”

“You must be insane, Lady Catherine.  I would never allow you to take guardianship of my sister.  Nor would I allow your sniveling parson take Longbourn from my wife’s family.”  Darcy replied.

“You leave me no other choice than to ruin your entire family.  To begin with, I have signed documents stating Mr Bennet had been insane for his entire adult life, making any papers he signed null and void.  The physician I hired will claim that Mr Bennet’s mental illness was inherited, and is likely passed along to his children.  We will also inform the newspapers of the brutal murders of the Bennet family, where the bodies were mutilated as a sacrifice to the devil.  I have hired many people that are willing to discredit the entire Bennet family, and Mr Collins will still receive Longbourn.  But your sister will never find a suitable husband, not with the taint which will be attached to your family.  Your family will never be allowed in polite society, you will be shunned by all, and your wife will likely end up in an asylum when I am done dragging her name through the mud.”

“You are a spiteful, vindictive hag.  You would purposely spread rumors and false information to avenge yourself for my marrying Elizabeth?  You would destroy our lives with lies, just to be cruel?”

Lady Catherine’s face contorted with her fury.  “You have forced me to treat you in such a manner.  If you had done what you were supposed to do, and married my daughter, none of this would be happening.  It was your decision to marry someone so far beneath you.  Will you allow Georgiana to be dragged down with you, or will you give me what I want?”

“I will not give you what you want.” Darcy stood tall, with his wife holding his hand.  “I will not allow you to destroy my family.  If my sister were to be raised by you, it would destroy her life.  She is a precious part of my family, and my wife agrees with me.”

“I do.” Elizabeth echoed his statement.  “I will not allow you to take Georgiana away from our family, nor will I allow you to take my brother’s inheritance from him.  My father was sane, until his accident.  Your physician has nothing to do with our family, how can he make such a diagnosis?”

“Money will buy whatever statements I need to prove my point.” Lady Catherine said smugly.  “And it does not matter that you know what I have planned, as you will still be ruined, no matter what you tell others to refute the claims.”

“Your bitterness from my refusing to marry Anne is more than enough to prove to people that you would stoop to any level in an attempt to ruin me and my family.” Darcy towered over his aunt, as he stepped within inches of her.  “It is time that people knew how vindictive a harpy the great Lady Catherine has become.”

“There is nothing you can do to harm me.  People will understand that you are retaliating out of cruelty, due to your frustration at having married into such a family, and I refused to lend you any assistance in breaking your marriage.  That is what I plan to tell people, you wished to be rid of the Bennet family, and came to me, asking for my forgiveness.  When I refused, stating you had brought on your own shame, you decided to spread lies in an attempt to get even with me.  Do not forget, I have connections.”

“But not as many connections as I do, Sister.” Lord Matlock entered the room, his wife at his side.  “Darcy, I had the housekeeper show your sister and my son to their rooms.  Both were fatigued from the journey.”

“My thanks, Uncle Henry.  I am pleased to see you have arrived, safe and sound.”

“I have.  Now, Catherine, I heard some of your diatribe as we walked towards the room.  You believe you are untouchable?”

“This has nothing to do with you, Henry.  I suggest you and your wife leave me to speak with our nephew.” Lady Catherine was annoyed at her brother and sister in law having arrived.

“Well, I believe you are incorrect, Sister.  You see, anything having to do with my nephew and his family, is my business.  William has married for love, they have a son, and are raising Georgiana.  They need no interference from you.”  Turning his attention to his nephew, Lord Matlock continued.  “What has my sister been threatening?”

“If we do not sign over the Bennet family estate, Longbourn, to Mr Collins, and I do not sign over guardianship of Georgiana to her, Lady Catherine has declared she will stop at nothing to ruin my family, including having people she had hired to spread lies about Mr Bennet being mentally ill for years, and that his illness was inherited, and could have been inherited by my wife and her siblings.”

“My goodness.  My sister has been working hard on these lies.  And she has hired people to confirm her views?” Lord Matlock inquired.

“She stated she has hired people who will testify to all of these issues.  If Mr Bennet was insane, any documents he signed were invalid, which would give Mr Collins the inheritance of Longbourn. Our family would be tainted by the belief my wife to be insane, having inherited the illness from her father.”

“My, my, what a dilemma.  By the way, Elizabeth, it is my deepest regrets at the loss of your family members.  I wish you could have been spared the pain you must be experiencing.”

“Thank you, Uncle Henry.” Elizabeth replied, stepping to Lady Matlock’s side.  The two ladies embraced.

Lord Matlock was prepared for his sister, having learned some information from the solicitors in London.  “Well, I can see my sister believes she is holding all the cards.  What can we do, what can we do?”  He began pacing around the room.  “Well, I believe it is time to discover the truth about my sister and her marriage.  I took the trouble to speak with Sir Louis’ solicitors, and learned some interesting facts.”

“Henry, there is no need to speak of family matters in front of strangers.  And my husband’s will has nothing to do with the situation before us.”

“Ah, but sister, it does.  You are attempting to blackmail my nephew into giving up guardianship of his sister, not to mention his brother in law’s inheritance.  I believe we should take a look at your own situation, to understand more of what has motivated you into behaving in such a manner.”

Lady Catherine’s face was nearly purple from fury.  “We are NOT discussing my legal matters.  We are here to discuss the best for Mr Collins and Georgiana.”

“No, sister, we are going to understand why you have been so adamant about Anne marrying our nephew.  For years I have attempted to understand your behavior.  Our sister never wished for such a match, yet you insist she did.”

“Anne spoke of it often, it is not my fault that you cannot remember.” Lady Catherine crossed her arms across her chest.

“Our sister did no such thing.  You know that Anne wished for her son to have a love match, as she had with Gerald.  And yes, I know you were jealous of their marriage, as you had desired Gerald Darcy for yourself.”

“And what if I did?  Is it a crime that I would wish for a handsome and wealthy man to be my husband?”

Lord Matlock shook his head.  “No, it is not a crime.  What is a crime is how you have tried to manipulate the lives of others.  You were not happy with Sir Louis as a spouse, yet our father left you no option.  If you had not married him, Father was planning to send you to live with our aunt in Scotland.  He felt you would never receive another offer of marriage.”

“I was far from on the shelf, as was Aunt Frieda.  I was only seven and twenty.  Father was ever so cruel to force me into marrying Sir Louis.”

“You were so displeased that you refused Sir Louis into your bed.”

Lady Catherine was still as if she were made of stone.  Finally, she discovered her voice.  “HOW DARE YOU?  HOW DARE YOU?  What happened between my husband and me was private, and none of your concern.”

“You never allowed the man into your bed, yet, you bore a child…how peculiar.”

“That is more than enough, Henry.  I will not tolerate your speaking of matters which are private.  You had no reason to poke your nose in my business.  No reason.”

“But, did you give birth to Anne?” Lord Matlock reached inside his coat and pulled out papers which he began to search through.  “Here we have the truth.  Anne was the natural child of Sir Louis de Bourgh and a Miss Lenore Bonwich.  Miss Bonwich was Sir Louis’ mistress, who lived in the dower house at Rosings.  She died shortly after giving birth to Anne.  Sir Louis insisted you act as if you had been the child’s natural mother, for if you did not claim the child, Sir Louis threatened to have the marriage annulled.  At the time, you had been married for nearly three years, how would it have looked to have your husband claim you had not allowed him his rights as your husband?  Father would have been furious.”

“Stop this minute, Henry.  I will not allow you to speak of this any longer.”

“It seems that Sir Louis left the estate to Anne, with Gerald and myself to stand as her guardians.  Yet, I knew nothing of the will, and I am certain Gerald would have told me if he knew.”

Lady Catherine’s blood was boiling.  How had everything turned against her?  How was she now being tormented with her past, the truth finally coming to the surface?

“According to the will, you were to be moved to a small townhouse in Town, and a small stipend to live on.  Everything else is Anne’s.  The estate, the money, everything, are Anne’s.  You paid the solicitors to keep them quiet.  Yes, they have come forward with the truth.  They are facing some penalties for their behavior, as I have already spoken with my own solicitors.  Just because you are willing to throw money at them, it does not guarantee that they will keep silent.”

“Henry, I have had enough of this discussion.  I insist to have a room so I may rest.” Lady Catherine demanded.

Mr Bingley stepped forward.  “As I am the master of this estate, I am the one to decide who will be staying with us.  I have rooms for Lord and Lady Matlock, their son and Miss Darcy, but that fills all of the guest rooms we have available.  You must be aware that we have had a house full of guests, with all that has happened.  As Mr and Mrs Gardiner and Mr and Mrs Darcy are to become related to my son, when he weds Miss Bennet, they are more than welcome as guests at my home.  There may be a room available in the servants’ quarters, or you are welcome to take rooms in Meryton, at the inn, as Mr Collins was advised.”

“You dare to treat me in such a fashion?  Do you know who I am?”

“You are Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  As far as I can tell, from what your brother has stated, you are the widow of Sir Louis de Bourgh, and soon to be of London, rather than Rosings Park.  Would that be correct?”  Mr Bingley bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself from chuckling.

“I am the daughter of the former Earl of Matlock, sister of the current Earl.  I will not tolerate being treated in such an abominable manner.  You are nothing more than an upstart tradesman who is trying to make himself more important.” Lady Catherine turned her nose up at Mr Bingley.

“Which is better than a thief, a liar, and guilty of conspiracy to defraud.  I have never stolen from anyone, nor lied or prevented anyone from their rightful due.  Can you state the same?”

“Mr Collins, we are leaving.  See that we are taken to this inn.” Lady Catherine nearly shouted at the parson as she stomped towards the door to leave.  Mr Collins was hot on her trail, groveling the entire way.

As the front door closed behind the pair, those gathered in the drawing room cheered with delight.

Lord Matlock was the first to speak.  “It was a privilege to finally put her in her place.  I was shocked to learn that she was not Anne’s true mother.  It does explain why she kept her distance during the time she was supposed to be in confinement.”

“I am pleased to see Catherine put in her place.” Lady Matlock stated.  “Ever since I have known her, she has treated me as if I were nothing.  Now, as Anne will receive her proper dues, and Catherine will be forced to live alone, in Town, no longer owning an estate, I will be able to enjoy the knowledge.”

“Yes, my dearest, I know you will.  As will Anne.  I sent word to her that Catherine was not to be allowed at Rosings, as she has no rights there.  Anne can now begin to live a life free of my sister’s iron fisted rule.” Lord Matlock stated.  “Though I am not Anne’s uncle by blood, I will always think of her as my niece.”

Darcy was still amazed at the facts he had just learned.  “Why would Lady Catherine insist that I marry Anne?  What would it have gained her?”

“Do you not see?  If Anne was married to you, she would legally be a part of the Fitzwilliam family.  From what I was informed from the solicitors, Catherine thought that, if Anne was legally a Fitzwilliam, Catherine would have more footing to argue with the will, should anyone learn the truth.  She would be able to claim Anne as part of our family.”  Lord Matlock declared.  “My sister is not the most intelligent of women.  She has the view that throwing money at a problem could purchase a solution.  And, if Anne were married to you, you would wish to live at Pemberley.  That would leave Rosings free for her to remain, ruling over the estate as she had for years.”

“She will not go easily.” Darcy replied.  “She will fight us every step of the way.”

“I am sure she will.  But I have enough ammunition now with which to fight her.  Anne is now Mistress of Rosings, and in charge of her life.  You and Elizabeth are married and parents of a wonderful son.  Mr Collins will be finding his living at Hunsford was not done legally, therefore, he will be in search of a new situation, which, I might add, will not be running Longbourn.  Elizabeth’s brother will inherit his estate, and Miss Bennet will be marrying Charles Bingley.  And Richard is home from battle, hopefully permanently.”  Lord Matlock smiled.

“In all the confusion, I forgot to inquire with regards to Richard’s injuries.” Darcy exclaimed.  “How is he?”

“Richard will recover.” Lady Matlock replied.  “His wounds are healing, though he is worn from lack of sleep, bad food, and too many battles.  He requires rest, proper nourishment, and something positive to task his mind.”

“Then we will have just the task in the coming months.” Darcy stated.  “Elizabeth and I are planning to have a large barn constructed at Longbourn.  Once it is ready, we will empty the contents of the house at Longbourn, into the barn.  Then, with Jacob’s approval, we will either tear down the house and build a new one, or completely remodel the interior of the house that now stands.  I cannot imagine any of them wishing to live inside the house as it is now, after what happened there.”

“The boy is recovered enough to make a decision?” Lord Matlock asked.

“Not yet.  But either way, the barn will be required and the contents of the house removed. By the time it is done, Jacob should be recovered enough to be able to decide what he would like done with the house.”  Elizabeth answered.

Lady Matlock wrapped her arms about her niece.  “You dear, dear girl.  I have been so worried for you.  Are you well?”

“I am, Aunt.  Now, since we have not had the time to make proper introductions, allow me to do the honors.”  Elizabeth introduced the Gardiners and Phillips, along with Mr Bingley, to Lord and Lady Matlock.

Mr Gardiner chuckled as he spoke.  “I must tell you that there actually was room for your sister to remain here, as my wife and I moved our belongings to Meryton, to the Phillips’ home.”

Mr Bingley smiled.  “My, that must have slipped my mind.  How very rude of me to refuse Lady Catherine to remain here?”

Everyone in the room broke into laughter, knowing full well that Mr Bingley had never intended to offer Lady Catherine use of one of his guest rooms.

Lord Matlock was extremely pleased with the matter.  “I believe the look on my sister’s face when you offered her one of the servant rooms was priceless.  Remind me to find a way to repay you for the pleasure, Mr Bingley.”

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

 

Chapter 18

Lady Catherine was furious when she arrived at the inn.  Mr Collins entered the establishment and secured the rooms for his patroness, leading her inside and up the stairs.

“I must leave here first thing in the morning, as I must reach Rosings as soon as possible.”  Lady Catherine announced.  “See that my carriage is ready to leave at first light.”

“But your ladyship, what of my claims on Longbourn?” Collins groveled.

“Your claims on that insignificant estate are nothing in comparison to my claims on Rosings.  If I do not reach Anne quickly, she might take steps to take over the estate.  I cannot allow her to do so, it is my estate.”

“But…according to your brother…”

“Do not mention my brother to me.  He is no longer a part of my life.  As far as I am concerned, I have no brother.  And he is mistaken if he believes I will quietly sit back and allow anyone to take Rosings from me.”

Mr Collins was worried.  “If Miss de Bourgh does succeed, what will happen to the living you bestowed on me?”

“You would be tossed out on your ear.” Lady Catherine said.  “Do you think my daughter wishes to have a good for nothing toady groveling at her feet?  The only reason I gave you the living was that you are the sort to do as I say, with no questions asked.  Other than that quality, you are worthless.  And now you have not done as I asked, costing me dearly.  I should see that you are tossed out of Hunsford, no matter what else happens.”

“You would not dare.  I have been loyal, doing all that you asked of me.” Mr Collins was becoming furious at her comments.  The threat to his future was glaring him straight in the eye, and it was all slipping through his fingers.  “You promised me that I would be the next Master of Longbourn.  I did everything you asked of me, and you owe me my due.”

“Your due?  Your due?  Mr Collins, you are worthless.  You spend your time kissing my feet and being obnoxious.  How could you ever expect to be the master of anything?  You are far too foolish and ignorant to see the truth.  The only good thing about you is the fact that you are so stupid that you follow everyone about, doing their bidding.”

Mr Collins had grown up being told by his father that he was stupid.  The former Mr Collins had beaten his son frequently, telling him time and again that God had not granted the son with enough intelligence to outsmart a pig.  The bitterness of his youth, battered and beaten, both physically and mentally, was overwhelming.

As Lady Catherine continued ranting of his lacking abilities, Mr Collins’ anger grew and grew.

Suddenly, Mr Collins could take no more.  He picked up the poker from the fireplace, and began swinging it, striking Lady Catherine over and over.  “I am not stupid…I am not stupid…I am not stupid…I am not stupid.”

The proprietor of the inn heard the fight and forced his way inside the room.  Turning to his wife, who had followed him to the room, the man called out to her.  “Send for Sir William.”

He then took the fire poker from Mr Collins’ hands, placing it on the floor, and led the man to the next room.  Mr Collins was in a state of shock, unable to speak or resist.  He sat on the bed in the next room, staring at nothing.  The innkeeper locked the door behind him, keeping the parson secured inside.

The innkeeper then returned to the room where Lady Catherine was found, lying in a pool of blood.  She had injuries to her head, neck, and torso, where the fire poker had struck her over and over.  No signs of life were to be found, which did not surprise the man, as he saw the extent of the lady’s injuries.  When his wife returned, the innkeeper asked her to send someone to Netherfield, to inform Darcy.

~~ ** ~~

Darcy and Elizabeth had just visited Jane’s room and were on their way to Jacob’s when news arrived that Darcy was required at the inn.  The boy who came to give him the message did not know what had happened, as the innkeeper was keeping the news of the murder quiet.

Though his wife declared she would go with him, Darcy refused to allow her.  He had no notion of what his aunt was plotting, but it could be nothing good.  Instead of Elizabeth, Darcy took his three uncles, Lord Matlock, Mr Gardiner and Mr Phillips.

To say that the group was shocked upon learning the news of Lady Catherine’s demise, at the hands of her parson, would be an understatement.  The men had come, expecting more threats or some sort of blackmail, as had happened at Netherfield.  The last thing they expected was to learn of her violent death, and that her parson was unable to talk or move on his own.

The men were escorted to the room, where they were greeted with the gruesome sight.  Darcy and Mr Phillips had had enough of violent deaths to last them a lifetime, so they quickly moved to the room where Mr Collins had been secured.  Just as they began to unlock the door, they heard the sound of glass breaking in the room.  Once inside the room, the men discovered the breaking glass to be from the window, where Mr Collins had thrown himself through and was found lying on the ground below.

Darcy hurried down the stairs, though there was no need to rush.  Mr Collins had landed head first, breaking his neck.  The man was dead.

Mr Phillips joined his nephew outside.  “I am shocked at this development.  I thought we would have more of a fight from those two.”

“I did as well.  And it appeared that Mr Collins was devoted to my aunt.  I wonder what happened.”

“The innkeeper said that he heard part of the argument.  It appears Lady Catherine was refusing to assist Collins any further, and she was belittling him.  Jackson said that Collins was shouting at her that he was not stupid.  It appears she had referred to him as being stupid.” Mr Phillips stated.

“But to cause him to turn so violent and then kill himself, I do not understand.”

“Darcy, there are some things in life that we will never understand.  But I have a feeling that the situation was due to Collins being belittled, most likely by his father.  If I remember correctly, years ago Thomas Bennet told me of Mr Collins’ father.  The man was mean, very mean, and thought that everyone did him wrong.  No one ever did anything good enough to suit the man.  Perhaps he had been so cruel to his own son.  Who knows what abuse for years might have done to this man?  Collins grew up being subservient, but the treatment might have caused him to snap.”

Darcy nodded.  “I am sure that my aunt would have been cruel to him, blaming him rather than facing her own faults.  My aunt never could see that she did anything wrong.”

“It appears that the worries over anyone attempting to take Longbourn from Jacob are over.” Mr Phillips stated.  “Not that I would have wanted it to end in this way, it is better that it is finished.  Now we can move forward.”

~~ ** ~~

Lord Matlock had his sister’s body taken to the Fitzwilliam family cemetery at Matlock.  He refused to accompany her body though, as he had determined to move forward even before he arrived at Netherfield.  His sister had been cruel all of her life, and he was ready to see the family move along a path towards a better future.

Lady Matlock was pleased with her husband’s decision.  She had always felt anger at watching her sister in law manipulate situations to her way, and felt no pity for the woman.  “She has reaped what she has sown.” Lady Matlock stated to her husband.  “Catherine lived a life of forcing her will upon those around her, and it caused her parson to commit murder.”

Richard had sympathy for his father, and had offered to accompany Lady Catherine’s body to Matlock.  “No, my son, you need time to recover.  Riding to Matlock and back will not accomplish your recovery, and could even bring you harm.  I will not allow my sister’s greed and foolishness to be the cause of your health declining.”

“Father, I am not delicate.  I can make such a journey and back without problem.” Richard teased.

“No, there is much to be done here, and I wish to move forward rather than back.”  Lord Matlock stated.  “I have sent for Anne to come, and when she arrives, we will make plans for her future.  She will be able to take her rightful place, and there will be no difficulties with Catherine attempting to undermine her.  I may have need of you to return with Anne to Rosings, and assist her in matters there, if there is need.  And we must move forward with seeing the barn raised at Longbourn, so the house can be packed and the belongings moved to the barn.  There will be repairs to be made to the estate, bring it back to producing as it should.  Darcy will meet with the tenants next week, and a plan will be made for the spring planting.”

“How is Elizabeth’s brother coming along?”

“Slowly.  The physicians have declared him out of immediate danger, though he will continue to have difficulties with the use of his legs and his left hand.  The legs were affected by a wound to the spine, and the arm was badly cut, causing nerve damage.”

“And Miss Bennet?”

“My son’s betrothed is recovering.” Mr Bingley said as he entered the room.  “She should make a full recovery, though she will require time.  The loss of blood alone will take time from which to recover, not to mention the mending of the wounds.  Of course, my son insists she do exactly as instructed by the physicians, as he does not wish for her to have any setbacks.”

Richard smiled.  “Have they discussed a wedding date?”

Mr Bingley’s smile dimmed slightly.  “Miss Bennet wishes to wait for half mourning for her family to be observed before the wedding.  She felt that it would be dishonorable to do otherwise.”

“I can understand.” Lord Matlock stated.  “With so many members of the Bennet family lost in such a short time, it is to be expected of the family to show respect.”

“I noticed that Elizabeth has been wearing mourning clothes, and Darcy has donned a mourning armband.” Richard commented.

“Yes, Elizabeth sent to Town for her clothes, as the dressmaker in Meryton has been gossiping about the Bennets in such a horrendous fashion.  Elizabeth made it clear that she would never purchase anything from such a cruel vulture, especially when she had the funds to purchase better quality from the finest modiste in Town.  The dressmaker was not pleased.”  Lord Matlock stated.

Mr Bingley chuckled.  “I would love to have seen Mrs Darcy in action.  She is quite a whirlwind when her dander is up.  And she would have been very vocal in her set down of the dressmaker.”

“Oh, she was.  Elizabeth was at the mercantile, ordering some items for Jane and Jacob, when the dressmaker entered the shop.  The woman had the audacity to comment on the dress Elizabeth was wearing, and asked if she had planned to have others made.  My niece is entertaining.  She looked at the woman and stated that she would not wish to pollute the woman’s shop.  What would people say if they learned that the woman was doing business with such an immoral and deranged family?”

Richard began laughing.  “And did the foolish woman leave the mercantile with her tail between her legs?”

“Oh, no, the woman was far too ignorant for such.  She commented that she did not understand, and had done business for years with the Bennet family.  Elizabeth declared, loudly I might add, that the news of the woman’s comments about the Bennet family had reached her ears, and she would never favor the business of someone so foolish and rude.”

The laughter rang out.  “I truly wish I had been there to see the woman’s expression.”

“From what we were told, the woman’s mouth did a credible imitation of a fish.”

All of the men were laughing at the mental image this conjured.  When Elizabeth and Darcy entered the room, a short time later, the men began laughing again.

Elizabeth looked at the men strangely.  “And what, pray tell, is so funny?”

“We were discussing the dressmaker, and your conversation from the other day.” Lord Matlock replied.  “We were all picturing the woman with her mouth gaping, moving about as a fish.”

“It will be difficult to not remember this conversation when I going fishing in the future.  Any fish I catch will bring on fits of laughter.” Richard exclaimed.

“Elizabeth is quite intimidating when she wishes to be.” Darcy stated. “I learned, while we were negotiating for supplies to rebuild in Lambton and Pemberley, my wife is not one to treat as a naïve girl.  She is far more intelligent than people give her credit, and she will put people in their place.”

It was clear to see the pride Darcy held for his wife.  Elizabeth blushed at his words.  “I used to assist with handling the books, before Papa’s accident.  And our mother made certain that Jane and I knew how to run a household.  I knew, from reading books and papers, what items would cost normally, and was not in the mood for which to be taken advantage.  Where we were buying in bulk, we should have gotten discounts, not increased prices, I learned that much from Uncle Edward.  He is a shrewd businessman.”

“How are your siblings, Elizabeth?” Lord Matlock inquired.

“Both are making progress.  William and I had a long talk with Jacob.  Due to his age and injuries, we think it best that he come with us to Pemberley, once he is able to make such a journey.”

“What does he think of such a plan?”

Darcy spoke.  “We made this suggestion to him.  First, he is to choose whether to tear down the house at Longbourn and build a new one, or to completely remodel the house that exists.  Jacob has stated he could never return to the house, even if it were remodeled.  Too many memories which would cost him pain.  So we will have it torn down and removed, after all the contents are removed.  While all of the work is being done, we will require someone who will be able to remain at Longbourn, to see that all is done properly.”

Elizabeth turned to Richard.  “We were hoping that you would be willing to take on the challenge.  Your father had stated you were thinking of resigning and selling your commission.  Would you be interested in staying in the steward’s cottage at Longbourn, see to all the work that is needed, and, in return, you would be entitled to the income during your time, whether it be a year, or twenty.”

Richard turned to his father, then looked at his cousin.  “You would truly wish for me to oversee this project?”

Darcy nodded his head.  “You are trustworthy, with a good head on your shoulders and know how organize men to work efficiently.  The cottage is not much, but it would be comfortable, and room enough to have a cook, a maid, and a man servant.  From what I have been told, the estate should bring in around three thousand per annum, once repairs are done.  Elizabeth and I are willing to put the funds into the repairs and the rebuilding of the house.”

“This would be a wonderful opportunity, Richard.  And it would aid you in learning how to run an estate.” Lord Matlock was eager to see his son give up his commission.  Every time Richard went to battle, Lord and Lady Matlock were beside themselves with worry for him.

“I believe I will give it a go, Darcy.  Elizabeth, I am grateful for your offer.” Richard decided.

“And with Charles and me nearby, you can count on our assistance and support.” Mr Bingley added.

~~ ** ~~

Mr and Mrs Gardiner remained in the area for another week, before they returned to Town.  Mr Gardiner needed to return to his business, and Mrs Gardiner missed her children.  The events of the past month had given everyone a new sense of family and caring.

Anne de Bourgh arrived at Netherfield within the week after her mother’s death.  Though she was not a hearty young lady, she was not nearly as fragile as Lady Catherine believed her.  Anne had always used her frailty to her advantage, making Lady Catherine discredit Anne’s worth.

“To be honest, Uncle Henry, I have long wondered whether she was my mother.  There have been things she has said over the years that made me curious, made me wonder what she meant.  And there was something said about a marriage bed, something Lady Catherine said, that made me wonder about her wording.  She said she had been told about pain when a woman is taken for the first time.  Not that she remembered the pain or that it was her experience, but that she had been told.  It struck me as odd.”

“I am deeply ashamed that I did not realize the truth before now, and that I never spoke to the solicitors previously.  It grieves me that you were subjected to so much pain due to no one coming to your aid.”

“But you have found the truth, and Lady Catherine can no longer bring harm to anyone.  It is finished, and it is time to move forward.” Anne said.  “To be honest, I do not wish to remain in that house.  It is too empty and cold, lifeless.  I would prefer to sell the estate and find somewhere fresh and new to begin living my life.”

“Are you certain this is the course you prefer?” Lord Matlock asked.  “If so, I will do my best to assist you, if that is your wish.”

“I would be grateful, Uncle Henry.  And just so you know, you are, and always will be, my uncle.  Blood does not bind us as family, but love and caring does.”

~~ ** ~~

Lord and Lady Matlock returned to Town, taking Anne with them, a fortnight later.  They visited with Lord Matlock’s solicitors, seeing all the paperwork was properly handled for Anne, seeing that her inheritance was placed into the bank, available for the new Mistress of Rosings to use, as she made the preparations to purchase a home of her own.

Anne determined to purchase a smaller townhouse in Town, something comfortable, yet not overwhelming.  She wished to visit the shops, purchase a new wardrobe, new gowns, day dresses, coats, capes, hats, boots, slippers, and more.  She wished to hire a new maid for herself, someone not being dictated to by Lady Catherine, someone who would assist Anne in dressing appropriately for a young lady of her station in life.  And most of all, she wished to wear her hair in a flattering fashion.  Lady Catherine had been determined as to how Anne was to wear her hair, and it was far from flattering.  It did not surprise Anne that no man ever looked at her twice, as her appearance was more than a little drab and frankly, hideous.  She felt she was in constant mourning, as the dresses she had were all dark, mostly black or dark gray.

Purchasing a set of hairpins with tiny pearls attached was thrilling to Anne.  Her hair was actually very pretty, light brown, and straight.  Lady Catherine had insisted on no embellishments, and Anne’s hair was pulled back into a harsh bun at the back of her head.  The first time the new maid styled Anne’s hair, using a set of combs Lady Matlock had gifted the young lady, Anne cried at the vision in the mirror.

“I have never thought myself as pretty, but look at me… I do not recognize the person in the mirror.”

“We will be attending a ball at Lady Haverson’s next week.” Lady Matlock stated.  “I have already received her approval for you to accompany us.  And we will take tea with Mrs Timmons on Tuesday next, and dine with the Wheelers the week after.  Once the Season is in full swing, we will be quite busy, and you will become very highly sought after by all the young men.”

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