Mr Bennet arrived at Netherfield with his eldest daughter, not long after he had received the message from Bingley that something had happened to Darcy on his trip. The man was concerned for his most cherished daughter, for her emotions ran deep and he knew she was in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy.
As Mr Bennet raised his hand to knock on the door, Mr Phillips arrived on horseback. “Thomas, do you know what has happened?”
“No, Jane and I have just arrived. We have not spoken with anyone.”
“I pray that it is not the worst. Seeing Lizzy so happy with Mr Darcy has been a joy to my wife and me. I would hate to see Lizzy devastated.”
“Same as me, Arthur. Lizzy would not easily recover from such a loss. But let us not think the worst. Perhaps he was injured or took ill. We could see to his being tended by the best physicians to be had.” Mr Bennet said, praying that he was correct.
The door opened before Mr Bennet’s hand began to knock. The butler was waiting for the arrivals, and showed them inside. “Fred, will you take these visitors to the sitting room on the third floor, where Mr Bingley is to be found. You know the room.”
The footman nodded his head and escorted the trio up the stairs. All remained silent as they approached the sitting room. The footman knocked and announced the men and Jane Bennet.
It was clear to everyone, the moment they saw Elizabeth, something terrible had happened. Jane went to her sister, wrapping her arms around Elizabeth. Just when Elizabeth thought she could cry no more, a new wave of tears began flowing down her cheeks.
“Lizzy, dearest, what has happened?” Jane asked.
Bingley had returned to the sitting room and held out the letter to Mr Bennet and Mr Phillips to read. Elizabeth could barely speak, her sobs were uncontrollable.
“Oh, Jane…he is gone…he is gone…”
“Mr Darcy? He will return soon enough.”
“No, Jane…forever…ship…oh, Jane…he…he…”
Mr Bennet took pity on his daughter. “Jane, the ship sank. There were no survivors.”
Jane’s eyes were flooded with tears. “No, this cannot be true. It must be a mistake.”
“His aunt, Lady Matlock, sent word to your sister. She had someone investigate, and I am afraid the news is true.” Mr Bennet stated as he moved to place a hand on his cherished daughter’s shoulder. “My dear Lizzy, this news grieves me terribly. I wish I could turn back the hands of time and bring Mr Darcy back to you. My only peace of mind is that you did not make the journey with him. I could not bear to think of how close it was to losing you.”
“Papa, I am lost without him. How am I to go on with life? What am I to do, now that William is…”
“Dead, Lizzy. William is dead. You must say the word.”
“I cannot, Papa. If I say that he is…oh, please, allow the ground to open and swallow me whole.”
“No, my dear girl. As much as you wish for the pain to disappear, it is something you must move past. You will need to be strong, not only for yourself, but also for Georgiana. She needs you now, more than ever.”
“She will have her cousin and her other relations. She has no need of me. I am nothing of importance to her.”
“Lizzy, you are everything to me.” Georgiana moved towards the group. “I cannot imagine losing you as well as William. You are my sister, whether you were married in the eyes of God or not. William thought of you as his wife, and that makes you my sister.”
Mr Phillips spoke. “Lizzy, Mr Darcy did more than leave you temporary guardianship over his sister. Knowing that the passage to Ireland can be treacherous, Mr Darcy made changes to his will. He named you as Mistress of Pemberley and Darcy House, even if he died without marrying you. You will hold the position until Georgiana’s twenty fifth birthday, when she will take over her inheritance. Even when Georgiana takes her inheritance, you will have a home at Pemberley, in the dower’s cottage, and allowed to reside at Darcy House when you are in Town. He also settled on you the sum of forty thousand pounds, and a monthly allowance, which is separate from the accounts for the houses. Everything is spelled out, just as if you had the church’s blessing you as husband and wife. Mr Darcy’s cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, is to resign his position with the regulars, and come to Pemberley to assist with the running of the estate.”
“His family will fight the changes, as Lady Catherine will not allow me to be in such a position. She will try to take Georgiana, as soon as she learns of the ship.” Elizabeth shook her head. “The bitter hag will most likely arrive within the next few days. And this time, she will likely bring men to assist her in taking Georgiana, by force, if necessary.”
The girl gasped. “Richard will arrive soon, I know he will. And he will not allow Lady Catherine to take me to her estate. Richard was named as one of my guardians by my father and by William.”
“And Lizzy, you are named, by Mr Darcy, as Miss Darcy’s second guardian. Lady Catherine is forbidden, by legal doctrine, to take Miss Darcy against the wishes of her guardians.” Mr Phillips stated. “I have sent the papers to Town, just after Mr Darcy signed them, and have heard back from his solicitor. The man, Mr Dalton, declared everything legal and binding and has the papers entered in the records.”
“Legal does not matter to Lady Catherine de Bourgh.” Elizabeth stated. “All she cares about is getting what she wants.”
“Then, perhaps it is best that you and Miss Darcy come to Longbourn.” Mr Bennet stated. “Lady Catherine, and her sniveling fool of a parson, will not be allowed entrance to my home.”
“What of when Colonel Fitzwilliam arrives?” Elizabeth asked.
“He is welcome to stay here.” Bingley stated. “I am certain he will understand the need to move you ladies to Longbourn.”
“And the Colonel is welcome to visit as often as he wishes.” Mr Bennet added.
“It would be comforting to return to my room, the familiarity.” Elizabeth agreed. “Georgiana, would you care to stay at Longbourn?”
“I would, Lizzy. It would bring me a sense of security.”
~~ ** ~~
Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam was still recovering from his injuries, though he was able to ride in a carriage. As much as he wished to jump on the nearest horse and ride for Netherfield, he knew he would do no good for anyone if he were to make himself relapse. He had been wounded by a gunshot wound to his upper thigh and another one to the abdomen. The wounds had caused severe pain, especially the thigh, as it struck the bone. There had been concern for infection to spread through the break in the bone, spreading through the marrow, but the fever Richard developed was minor. The army surgeons told him that recovery would take time, as the bone would have to completely fuse. And he was to follow their directions.
So he was off in a carriage, hurrying to his young cousin. The letter from his mother had been shocking. It cannot be true. William is strong, he has always been capable. That he is dead, it must be a mistake. No, until I hold Georgiana in my arms, and hear her speak the words, I will not believe it to be true. It should have been me on the journey. My father was ill, that was why William was making the journey. But I was off in another country, fighting Napoleon’s army, rather than caring for my loved ones. Mother was frantic, or she would never have written to William, begging him to make the trip to Ireland. If William is dead, it is my fault. I will never forgive myself.
The carriage arrived in front of the main house of Netherfield. Richard Fitzwilliam did not wait for anyone to open the door for him, he quickly exited the carriage and was part way up the stairs, before Bingley could come to meet him.
“Colonel, you made good time arriving here. We had not expected you to arrive before evening.”
“I would have arrived sooner, had I been able to ride my horse. Damned wounds, I am still slow at being able to move. Where is Georgiana? Is she in her rooms?”
“She is not here. We thought it would be wiser for her to move to Longbourn, with Miss Elizabeth.” Bingley stated.
“You did not know? Miss Elizabeth was betrothed to Darcy. They had just become officially engaged the day before he left for Ireland.”
Richard was shocked. “Good God, I had not heard of an engagement. She and Georgiana must hate me, as it should have been my duty to journey to Ireland. It is my father who is ill.”
“They do not blame you, Colonel. And the reason they moved to Longbourn was in anticipation of your aunt’s arrival. We have already survived one visit by Lady Catherine, and were certain she would return, demanding Miss Darcy join her at Rosings.”
“Sounds like Aunt Catherine. How were you able to stop her from taking Georgiana when she was here?” Richard asked.
“Darcy had left Miss Elizabeth with legal papers, which made her guardian of his sister in his place. Colonel, he has also left a codicil to his will, making Miss Elizabeth the Mistress of Pemberley, until his sister’s twenty fifth birthday, when she inherits the estate. Until then, you and Miss Elizabeth share guardianship of Miss Darcy and your cousin hoped that you would resign your commission and take over managing Pemberley.”
Richard could not believe what he was hearing. Not only was his best friend, a man who was more a brother to him, dead, but he was engaged to marry a young lady Richard had never met, and she would take Darcy’s place as guardian of Georgiana. And Richard was expected to not only assist in caring for Georgiana, but see to the management of one of the largest estates in England. It was all too much to digest at once.
“Would you take me to this Longbourn? I wish to see Georgiana.”
“Of course. It is only three miles from here. Let me have your belongings taken to your rooms while we are gone.” Bingley directed the staff to take Richard’s trunk and bag to the room which had been prepared for him. The men then left in the carriage, making the short journey to Longbourn.
~~ ** ~~
The carriage arrived at Longbourn soon enough, and Bingley attempted to assist Richard in exiting. Of course, the soldier would not allow such assistance, as he did not wish to appear weak.
Mrs Hill opened the door before Bingley could knock. “Please go on in the parlor, Mr Bingley. Everyone is there.”
“Thank you, Mrs Hill. This is Colonel Fitzwilliam, cousin of Miss Darcy.”
“It is an honor to meet you Sir, though I wish it was under better circumstances.”
“Thank you, Mrs…”
“Hill. Mrs Hill. I thought the world of Mr Darcy. He had the best taste, choosing our Miss Lizzy.” The housekeeper brought a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at her eyes. “Go on in, and I will bring refreshments shortly.”
Bingley showed Richard the way to the parlor. Opening the door, Bingley stepped inside the room, and motioned towards the man behind him. As soon as Georgiana spied her cousin, she was on her feet and flinging herself into his embrace.
“Richard, Richard, you have come. I am so grateful you are here. I have been so frightened and terribly sad.” The girl was sobbing on her cousin’s chest.
“There, there. You knew I would come as soon as I knew what had happened. My regret is that it was William who made the journey, as it should have been me. My dear girl, can you ever forgive me for not being here when I was needed?”
“Richard, you were in battle. How could you be here, you had your duty to perform? William knew you would have been here if it had been possible. But it was not, and he accepted the fact. I could never be angry with you for doing your duty. And I know Brother would tell you that you are being silly for thinking you need ask for forgiveness. There is nothing to forgive.”
“Dearest girl, I still wish I could have been here, and had been the one to make the journey. Will had so much ahead of him. The estate, you, and so many people for which to care and protect. How are we to ever do Pemberley justice?”
“We will take each day as it comes. That is what Lizzy was just telling us. She plans to take one day at a time, and not think of a week in the future, or a month, or a year. Just each day as it comes.”
“And who is this Lizzy?” Richard asked, placing a kiss on top of Georgiana’s head.
“She is…was William’s betrothed. Allow me to introduce you to her.”
Georgiana took her cousin by the hand and led him to the young lady who had been standing near the sofa that the girl had vacated when she ran to Richard. He was surprised to see the petite young lady before him.
“Elizabeth, this is my cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam. Richard, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Like her family, I call her Lizzy.”
Richard took hold of Elizabeth’s hand bowed. “It is a pleasure to meet you Miss Elizabeth. I had not heard of your betrothal until Bingley informed me when I arrived at Netherfield. I wish you my deepest sympathies for your loss.”
“Your loss is great as well, Colonel. From what I have been told by Georgiana, you and William were like brothers. We each have lost someone who was dear to us, and none can be weighed as greater than the others.”
“You still have my sincerest sympathies, and I know my parents would wish to add theirs as well.”
Elizabeth was overwhelmed with another wave of tears. She looked at Georgiana, then hurried towards the door of the room, muttering something about checking on refreshments for their guests.
Richard watched as the young lady fled the room. “I pray it was nothing I said or did?”
Jane moved towards Georgiana. “No, Colonel, my sister’s heart is fragile at the moment. She prefers not to show when she is overwhelmed, so she makes some excuse to leave for a short time. Once she is in control of her emotions, she will return.”
“Forgive me. I have only known of her existence for an hour, it is difficult for me to remember that Georgiana and me are not the only ones who loved William.”
“Indeed, my sister loves him, very deeply. She planned to only marry for the deepest love, and that is what she found in your cousin. She told me last night that she will never marry, as her heart died with Mr Darcy.”
“And William loves Lizzy so very dearly. I wish you could have seen them together, Richard. Brother has never been so carefree…” Suddenly, Georgiana realized she was speaking as if her brother would be returning. “It is so hard to think of him being with our parents. I miss him terribly.” Georgiana choked back a sob.
Richard Fitzwilliam reached forward to pull his cousin into his arms once again. “Do not fret, Poppet. We will muddle our way through this, together.”
“And Lizzy. William insisted that Lizzy come to live at Pemberley. She is to share my guardianship with you. And she is to be Mistress of Pemberley until I am older and inherit the estate.”
“I must admit that I am shocked. Your brother bestowed such on a lady he knew only a few months.” Richard stated without thinking.
Georgiana pulled away from her cousin’s embrace. “Lizzy is not a fortune hunter. Brother’s wealth has never mattered to her. In fact, Brother tried to give Lizzy gifts, and she refused them. Lizzy told William that she loved him for the man he was, not his wealth or property. She would have loved him, even if he were poor.”
“Easy enough to say. But words are just that, words. Actions speak louder.”
Mr Bennet was not impressed with the young man before him. “Sir, perhaps you and Mr Bingley would join me in my study. I believe we have much to discuss.”
“Forgive me.” Bingley stated. “In all the excitement, I forgot to introduce you to the rest of the Bennet family. Colonel Fitzwilliam, this is Miss Elizabeth’s father, Mr Thomas Bennet. And over here, is Mrs Bennet, Miss Jane Bennet is the eldest sister, and then, after Miss Elizabeth is Miss Mary, Miss Catherine, and Miss Lydia. Ladies, and Mr Bennet, this is Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam.”
“Now that we have been officially introduced, Colonel, I wish to speak with you and Mr Bingley in my study.” Mr Bennet did not wait for a reply, walking out of the room and down the hall. Richard and Bingley followed after the Master of Longbourn.
As the pair entered the room, they found Mr Bennet pouring glasses of port. Without turning from his task, Mr Bennet began the conversation. “Colonel, I am sure you are accustomed to young ladies fawning over those with wealth. My wife is the sort who would throw our daughters at eligible young men, to see the girls married before my demise. She does not realize that I intend to outlive her by many years. But my eldest two daughters are not the sort to allow their mother to force them into marriage for the sake of being settled. Jane and Lizzy have said they would never marry but for a true love that was mutually returned. I will not tolerate your disbelief in my daughter’s feelings for your cousin. Darcy was a good man, and he won my daughter’s heart. When she was informed of Darcy’s decision to add a codicil to his will, she wished to refuse the bequest. You are welcome to ask Miss Darcy and Mr Bingley, for they were present when Lizzy was told of the situation.”
“Indeed, there was no pretense on Miss Elizabeth’s behalf. She did not wish to inherit anything from Darcy, and did not feel it right for her to become Miss Darcy’s guardian. When it came to the settlement your cousin left her, Miss Elizabeth was explicit about her feelings. She said that she was not married to Darcy, so she should not inherit anything. It was only when Miss Darcy pleaded with her, explaining her fear of your aunt, Lady Catherine, that finally led to Miss Elizabeth accepting the position as guardian. I did overhear her and Miss Darcy discussing the income and living arrangements that had been made, and Miss Elizabeth insists that she will be more of a paid companion, and she will not take the position as Mistress.”
“I may have spoken out of turn, Mr Bennet, but, as you said, I am used to seeing ladies throwing themselves at my cousin for years. Most do not bother with me, being a second son and having no real wealth of my own. But you are correct, Darcy had more than his share of ladies wishing to capture him as a husband. It does tend to color my opinion on people.” Richard replied, accepting the glass that Mr Bennet was handing him.
“My wife will appear to be crass in her way of promoting matches for our girls, but it is due to our not having a son. My cousin is to inherit the estate when I am gone. And he is not the best person in the world. As a matter of fact, he is your aunt’s parson.”
“The sycophant that my cousin, Miss de Bourgh, wrote about? Not wishing to be disrespectful, Mr Bennet, but the man is said to be quite the toady, following my aunt about and taking everything she says as if God himself was speaking through her.”
Mr Bennet relaxed for the first time since meeting Colonel Fitzwilliam. “I could not agree more with your description. I have only met him once, and my opinion was that the apple did not fall far from the tree. He is much like his father, only not as bitter as the elder Mr Collins.”
Bingley was relaxing as the two men appeared to be civil with each other. “Mr Bennet, this is the finest port I have tasted. From where did you acquire such fine drink?”
“It is due to my wife’s brother, Mr Edward Gardiner. He owns Gardiner Imports, in Town. When he procures a shipment, he makes certain that a case finds its way to my study.” Mr Bennet smiled. “Some members of the gentry and higher society might frown on being related to tradesmen, but I have nothing but the highest regards for him.”
“I believe my father did business with Mr Gardiner.” Bingley stated. “He carries some of the finest fabrics to be found, if memory is correct.”
“He does. He buys the best from all over the world, but he has always been partial to the fabrics he receives from Scarborough. Edward told me once that he enjoys seeing English fabrics being as good as, or better than, the fabrics he purchases from other countries.”
“My family still owns the mills in Scarborough.” Bingley was pleased. “My uncles bought the mills from my father. They will be pleased to learn of Mr Gardiner’s approval of their quality.”
Richard was surprised at the conversation going on in front of him. He had been raised in the first circle of society, where tradesmen were not allowed. He had always been curious about his cousin’s friendship with Bingley, but had never questioned why his cousin was determined to maintain the connection. And here was the father of the young lady Darcy was to marry, related to tradesmen. He was certain that his parents had no notion of the relationship between Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet, for Richard was certain they would have done everything in their power to separate the couple.
“Mr Bennet, it is probably for the best if I return to Town with my cousin. She should be in familiar surroundings and the comfort of people she knows. It will be a difficult time for her, and I wish to make it as simple as possible.”
“And what of my daughter?” Mr Bennet asked. “She is legally Miss Darcy’s guardian, and expected to live with the girl.”
“I am certain that she would be more comfortable to remain here, with her family. As you said, she did not wish to take the position of Mistress of Pemberley, or the financial settlement, which my cousin left to her. She must wish to remain here, with her family.”
“But I told you that Miss Darcy desires my daughter to accompany her to Pemberley or Darcy House. They have developed a bond through these weeks together. With the loss that they have both endured, would it not be wiser to keep them together?”
“Perhaps I should think about the situation some more. Can you have Georgiana’s trunks packed and sent to Netherfield? It is time that we go there, so that Georgiana and I have some time to discuss our future.”
“Very well, Colonel, though I wish to inform you, the reason Miss Darcy came here was due to her fears of your aunt coming to take her away. This fear will not abate due to your arrival, though it might decrease some.”
“I will keep this in mind, Sir.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
“I will not go to Netherfield, or anywhere, without Lizzy.” Georgiana proclaimed. “William wanted me to be with her, to learn from her. I will not forsake his wishes, just because you did not hear them from William. You have been told of his decisions, and that Lizzy is to live with me at Darcy House or Pemberley. Do you need to see the codicil for yourself? Will you trust my brother’s written words as proof of what he desired? I can produce letters that he sent to me, telling me how pleased he was that Lizzy and I had become close. He told me, in his letters, how he looked forward to all of us being at Pemberley, and that he knew that she would be the sister of which I had always dreamed.”
“But your brother’s death changes things.” Richard replied. “I know you are fond of Miss Elizabeth, but it is up to us to see that Pemberley continues to thrive. Had William married Miss Elizabeth, then everything would be different. The wedding did not happen, and we must move on from here. There is no objections to your corresponding with Miss Elizabeth, as I am certain you will both wish to continue your friendship.”
“She is my sister, whether she has the piece of paper saying she was married to my brother or not. Brother said she was my sister, his last wishes were that she be with me. I will not leave here without Lizzy.”
Richard had never seen his cousin so determined. He could only blame the change of her attitude coming from her friendship with this country lass. And he was not pleased with Georgiana being so willful. “You will do as I say, as I am your legal guardian.”
“And, according to William’s wishes, I am also her guardian.” Elizabeth said as she entered the room. Though she felt her betrothed had been far too generous in his bequeaths to her, Elizabeth would not allow Colonel Fitzwilliam to bully Georgiana into going against her brother’s wishes.
“Forgive me, Miss Elizabeth, but I have no proof that you are legally in a position to make decisions about my cousin’s welfare.”
“Then take a look at these papers. My father has another set, so do not think that destroying them will achieve anything.” Elizabeth was angry at the man’s behavior. “How dare you come into my father’s home, treat us as if we have done something wrong, and ignore your cousin’s written words. He has been explicit in what he wished for his sister, and he wished for me to be a part of Georgiana’s life. If you wish to take the matter to the solicitors in Town, be my guest. They already have copies of the papers, as William had them expressed to them before he left.”
“I was told you did not wish to accept my cousin’s generous gifts. Have you now decided that you wish for his wealth and the control over all that Georgiana will inherit?”
Elizabeth pulled back her hand and brought it forward, striking the colonel’s cheek with all her strength. The sting shocked the seasoned officer.
Her face was scarlet with fury. “I do not wish for the wealth that William had, or that Georgiana will inherit. I do not wish for the settlement that he left me. All I wish for is to have William back, for me to hold him in my arms and tell him how much I love him. You do not have to believe me. It matters not to me. But I will not allow you to go against his wishes when it comes to Georgiana. She was important to William, and he wished for us to be close. So, do not expect that I will stand by and watch you drag Georgiana, against her wishes, from my home.”
Richard Fitzwilliam had never met a young lady with such fire in her. It was clear that she cared for Darcy, but did that matter when it came to Georgiana?
“Richard, I do not wish to return to Netherfield, as Aunt Catherine has already come there, after she learned of Brother’s journey to Ireland, and insisted I live with her and Anne. I know she will return, when she learns of William’s death. I fear her demands, and I fear that she will find a way to force me to leave with her. Lizzy’s father has offered me protection here, and has alerted his staff and tenants to not allow any strangers in or around the house. Please, Richard, do not make me return to Netherfield, where I will be frightened.”
Knowing he had no intention to bring more grief on his young cousin, Richard relented. “Very well, though I do not like leaving you here without me. If Lady Catherine does try to do anything, I would prefer to be close, to protect you.”
Mr Bennet had followed his daughter into the room, and he stepped closer. “We have a guest room, if you wish to stay here, Colonel. Miss Darcy has already decided she will share Lizzy’s room.”
“Thank you, Mr Bennet. I must apologize to you. I enter your home with false beliefs, disrespected your daughter, and have behaved abominably. And now, you offer generosity by welcoming me into your home, without question.”
“We are simple country folk, Colonel. We have no pretensions that you would find in high society. And my daughter is what you see. She loved your cousin, not his wealth or connections. So, you see, we have lost a family member with Darcy’s death.” Mr Bennet stated.
~~ ** ~~
“We must find a way to convince Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss Darcy to return to Netherfield.” Caroline said to her sister, Louisa.
“But how? Charles says they are to reside at Longbourn for the time being.”
“There has to be a way. And we must make Charles see that his future is with Miss Darcy. Only if our brother marries Miss Darcy, will we be able to live at Pemberley. And I need time to make Colonel Fitzwilliam notice me. I might not have been able to secure Mr Darcy’s hand in marriage, but his cousin is sure to come into an inheritance from Mr Darcy, and I will make the best of this opportunity to secure him.”
“You are never going to be Mistress of Pemberley, Caroline, so you had best give up and find someone else to marry.” Louisa Hurst was disgusted with her sister’s manipulation of others. She wished Caroline would marry and have a home of her own, allowing the Hursts and their brother lead their own lives.
“I might not be able to become Mrs Darcy, but Georgiana is too young to inherit the estate. If Colonel Fitzwilliam takes charge of the estate, he will need a wife to assist him with the girl. And that will allow me to convince them both that Charles would be the perfect husband for the heiress of Pemberley. When Georgiana is our sister, she will desire my assistance in all her decisions. Redecorating the houses, hosting balls, and advancing ourselves in society. Colonel Fitzwilliam is, after all, the son of an earl.”
“Second son of an earl.” Louisa replied. “And what of the gossip I heard that Mr Darcy left a sizeable settlement on Miss Elizabeth Bennet? From what they have said, the young lady is to live with Georgiana, as if she had married Mr Darcy.”
“I am certain I can persuade Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss Darcy of the unworthiness of that chit to be with someone of our social standing. Perhaps we can even find a way for Miss Darcy to be disillusioned with Miss Eliza.” Caroline’s mind was working on her plans. “I can speak with Mrs Younge, and her friend. The woman stated they would be available to assist us. Perhaps we could make it appear that Mrs Younge’s friend and Miss Eliza have had an ongoing relationship, and were planning to take the Darcys funds and run off to the continent. The man is said to be quite charming and handsome, and, if we pay him for his work, he will do what we wish.”
“Please, sister, you are playing with fire, and it may come back to burn you. Is it worth all the trouble? Why not find a different man to marry? What of your friendship with Sir Jonathon Lakewood? I am certain you could make a good match with him, and be a baroness. So much better than the wife of a second son of an earl.”
“Sir Jonathon? Surely you jest. He is much older and a drunkard. I wish for Pemberley. Jonathon’s estate is nothing in comparison.”
“Pemberley is the largest estate in England, no other estate compares, Caroline. Stop thinking of the unobtainable and accept what is within your grasp.”
Caroline turned and glared at her sister. “I most certainly will not settle. Besides, Charles is malleable, and we can form him to do as we ask. He will see the benefits that being married to Miss Darcy will bring to our family. And our brother will do what is best for our family.”
~~ ** ~~
Wickham made his way to the inn as quietly as possible, hiding in the shadows to avoid being detected. He entered the building through the servant’s entrance, and slinked up the stairs. Having been there previously, Wickham knew where he was heading. Lightly, he tapped on the door. Carefully, the door opened, far enough for the man to enter.
“No one saw you, did they?” Mrs Younge hissed. “We cannot afford to have anyone discover our connection.”
“My dear, I am very cautious. You know how careful I am.” Wickham used his sweetest voice when dealing with an angered woman. “I do not wish to end our meetings, so I am extremely careful.”
“I received a message from Miss Bingley. She wishes to hire us to make the Bennet chit appear to be your lover, and that she was fooling Darcy all along.”
Wickham smiled. “She is a tasty morsel.”
Mrs Younge did not appreciate his statement. “Remember, you are to appear to be her lover, not actually become her lover.”
“Have no fear, my lover. I could tell from meeting the country miss that she was not fond of me. It will take some sweet talking to win her trust.”
He wrapped his arms around the woman’s waist, pulling her to his chest. He lowered his lips to taste hers, lighting the passion which was inside the widow. It was not long until all thoughts of Elizabeth Bennet were gone from her mind, as the pair indulged in a fiery display of carnal desires.
~~ ** ~~
The carriage arrived in front of Netherfield Park, for the second time in less than a month. The occupant was prepared for battle, for she had no intention of leaving the neighborhood without achieving her goal.
The sound of her walking stick was heard, echoing as it struck each step, as she made her way up to the front door. The door opened, the butler standing to the side.
Charles Bingley was prepared for what was coming. “Lady Catherine, to what do we owe the pleasure?”
“You know very well why I am here. Where is my niece? I do not intend to remain here a moment longer than necessary.”
“I am afraid that you niece is not here. Miss Darcy is with her guardians at the moment.”
Lady Catherine’s eyes squinted as she looked at the young man. “My nephew is dead, and his cousin is in France. My niece is alone in this world, and I do not intend for her to remain here.”
“Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived two days ago, Lady Catherine. He is one of Miss Darcy’s guardians. My friend, Darcy made Miss Elizabeth Bennet the second guardian of Miss Darcy, and he has made her the Mistress of Pemberley, until his sister is old enough to inherit. So, you see, Miss Darcy does have two guardians, and she is with them.”
“My nephew’s will is being challenged, as I have spoken to my solicitors before traveling here. As to my other nephew, I am certain he is in France. If he had returned to England, I would have been notified. So tell me where my niece is, before I have my men search every room for her.”
“Your people will not be allowed to enter my home. You are not the only one who has staff, Lady Catherine. I have already instructed my staff to keep all strangers from entering this house. And, as your carriage was entering the park, one of my stable hands left to inform the constable that there would be trouble.”
“HOW DARE YOU? You…you are nothing, the son of a tradesman. How dare you believe you can forbid me from entering this house and take my niece?” Lady Catherine roared. “I am the daughter of an earl. I will not allow you to keep my niece from me.”
“Aunt Catherine, what do you think you are doing?” Richard Fitzwilliam said as he entered the foyer of Netherfield. A second stable hand had been sent to Longbourn to notify him when his aunt was arriving.
“Richard, w..what are you doing here? I was told you were still in France.”
The seasoned officer knew many types of warfare, including verbally challenging his aunt. “Well, it appears your intelligence was faulty. I returned to England a fortnight ago. I came here, as soon as I learned of Darcy’s accident. There is no need for you to be concerned with Georgiana.”
“You are an unmarried man. It would not be proper for you to raise a girl on your own. You had best turn her over to me, for I know how to see to upbringing. She will be coming out in another year or two. You will never be able to take on such a challenge.”
“I have a mother who is well versed in what is needed for a young lady to come out in our society. She is far more knowledgeable than you, Aunt Catherine, for, if I remember correctly, your daughter has never come out. Nor has she ever learned to be the Mistress of a home or even learned simple accomplishments, such as playing the pianoforte or needlework. What can you give Georgiana that my mother cannot?”
“I…I…I have more time for Georgiana than any of you. Your father is ill, so your mother is busy with him. It is the best solution for the situation.” Lady Catherine attempted to remain true to her course.
“Or is it the fact that Rosings is in financial problems and you require funds to keep from losing the estate? Anne’s inheritance is in jeopardy if you do not come up with an infusion of funds soon. So you figured you would take custody of MY ward, and dictate over her inheritance. Only you did not count on my cousin making sure you could not touch the money. You see, according to Darcy’s will, Georgiana is given an allowance each month until she is five and twenty. Then she will inherit everything. Until then, it is all in trust. There is also an amount that was set aside, as a settlement, for Miss Bennet, and some set aside for me, the rest of the income from the estate and holdings are to see to the running of Pemberley and Darcy House, and the profit goes into the trust.”
“That chit will never see a penny of my nephew’s money! I have already seen my solicitor to begin challenging the will and all the papers that bear the signature of Fitzwilliam Darcy. I believe they were forged, to gain access to the Darcy coffers.”
Richard stood straight and tall, looming over his aunt and glaring down at her. “I have seen the papers and can attest to their being legitimate. My cousin’s signature is true. Also, Bingley was present when the papers were signed. He can attest to their validity.”
“The son of a tradesman, who can trust his word?”
“I will not allow you to besmirch his name and reputation. He is respectable and on his way to become a member of the landed gentry. You will return to Rosings immediately. There will be no challenges to Darcy’s will or the codicil, and you will make no further attempts to remove Georgiana from my guardianship. And Miss Elizabeth Bennet will be remaining with Georgiana, as per Darcy’s request. If you do not obey my orders, you WILL regret your actions. Do I make myself clear?”
Lady Catherine rarely showed fear to anyone, but she was frightened by her nephew’s words. She knew he had earned his position as Colonel, as he had refused for his father to purchase the commission. Richard Fitzwilliam was well known for his skills on the battlefield, and Lady Catherine did not wish to provoke him further.
“Very well. I am dissatisfied with what has happened here, but I will leave. When your father returns to England, I am certain he will assist me in accomplishing my goals. Now, I must take my parson to visit his relations at their estate.”
“Your parson?” Richard was confused, having forgotten about Mr Collins being the cousin of the Bennet family.
“Mr Collins is the heir to his cousin’s estate. He is to choose a wife from amongst the man’s five daughters.” Lady Catherine stated.
“Mr Collins, he is cousin to the Bennet family?”
“Indeed. He intends on visiting them for a few days, to determine which of the young ladies he wishes to marry.”
Richard knew what was happening. “I was unaware of his having notified Mr Bennet of his arrival. According to Mr Bennet, he had no intention of allowing any of his daughters to marry Mr Collins.”
“Ah, but Mrs Bennet saw the wisdom of having one of her daughters married to the heir of her husband’s estate. As a matter of fact, the lady wrote to Mr Collins, offering her support, if he were to choose the second eldest daughter to be his wife. I have informed him I will honor my previous offer of purchasing a small property and give him enough to make a start, if he takes that chit away and has her sign papers declaring no claims against the Darcy estate.”
“Miss Elizabeth will not sign those papers, Aunt Catherine. Nor will she agree to marry Mr Collins. Leave the neighborhood immediately, and do not return.” Richard was growing angered at the continued efforts of the woman.
“That is for her to decide. Now that Darcy is dead, she will never find another man who will wish for her as a wife. She is ruined, for it is clear that she trapped your cousin by use of her womanly arts and allurements.”
This caused Richard’s anger to flare, and he stepped so close to his aunt, she could feel his breath on her cheek. “You will never again speak of Miss Elizabeth in such a manner. Do…I…Make…Myself…Clear?”
A shiver of fear coursed through Lady Catherine’s body. “Y…Y…Yes.”
“Then leave Hertfordshire immediately, and take your parson with you. Do no return here.”