Chapter 11

Before opening her eyes, Elizabeth knew her husband was sitting beside her, lightly caressing the back of her hand.  This had become his way of showing her his support, without words.

She was lying down, but she was not certain where she was.  That is, until she opened her eyes.  Seeing that they were in her bedchambers at Longbourn, it took a moment to comprehend why she would be there, with William at her side.  Then the world came crashing down on her, and the pain grew in intensity.

“Papa, he is…”

William looked her in the eyes, and the sorrow he felt for her was plain to see.  “Yes, my dearest.  I wish it were not true.  From what your uncle stated, when your father learned of the invasion, he collapsed from an attack of apoplexy.  He was to suffer three more attacks in the space of a week.  Your father finally found peace four days ago.”

“Poor Papa.  He believed us both dead. How I wish I could have arrived before his… just to see him one last time.”

“I wish the same, my love.  It pains me that you have had such tragedy befall your family.  My father is speaking with your uncle at the moment.  It appears that your father’s cousin, Mr Collins, had planned to come here, in search of a wife from you and your sisters.  He wished to have a connection with your family, to mend the breech which had happened when your father and his argued many years ago.  Mr Collins felt that giving one of your sisters a secure home and life, he would be doing your father a great service.  He arrived just two days after the news and Mr Bennet’s collapse.  The man is a clergyman, with a living in Kent.  When he heard the news of you and Alex missing, potentially dead, and your father’s condition, the greedy toad decided to stay in the neighborhood.  Due to his constant surveying of the property with his greedy eyes, and estimating how long until he could take over the house.  When Mr Gardiner arrived, Mr Collins was moved to the dower house.”

“And now, he will inherit everything?” Elizabeth asked, already knowing the answer.

William nodded his head.  “And, from what I have been told, the toad feels he deserves to marry your elder sister.”

Elizabeth sat straight up.  “Jane?  He feels he deserves to marry my Jane?  From what you have said, and what Papa has said over the years, Mr Collins is a horrible person.  I could not endure seeing my sister forced into such a marriage.  But what are we to do to protect her?”

“Father is speaking with Mr Gardiner.  They will find the best solution for everything, have no fear.  Perhaps we will purchase a cottage in which  your mother and sisters can live.  Or they can stay with relations.  I am far more concerned with you at the moment.  You collapsed, and I was certain some illness had taken hold of you.  Fortunately, I was close enough to catch you, so you did not harm yourself.”

“I wish to speak with my uncle.  Can we join him and your father?”

“Elizabeth, I think it would be wisest for you to rest further.  After all you have been through, you have not rested or eaten as you should have.  Mrs Hill is having some tea and biscuits sent up for you.”

“My father, I cannot believe he is gone.  And he died believing I was dead.  It is my fault, as I told Alex I envied his going on such a holiday.  I have always wished to see the world; see places I have only read described.  Alex spoke to Papa on my behalf, convincing him of the wonderful opportunity I would have by going with my brother.  Now they are both gone, and Mamma despises me.  I wish I had never gone on the journey.” Elizabeth turned to her side, her back to her husband, as she began to sob anew.

“As much as I wish you had remained here and not having your life in danger as it was throughout the ordeal, I would not have met you, and you would not be my beloved wife.” William ran his fingers over her back, gently massaging her tight muscles, caused from all the pain and grief she had suffered.

“I will only bring you shame, William.  You deserve so much more than  my ruining your life.  Perhaps, if you applied for annulment, you can be released from this wretched situation.”

William’s hand held still.  “Is that your wish?  Do you desire to be rid of me?”

“Of course not.  I am thinking of you.  My family is in a terrible situation and it would be selfish of me to force you into such a mess.  I love you, and want the best for you.”

“You are the best for me, Elizabeth.  Believe me, you are the very best part of my life.”  William leaned over his wife, placing a chaste kiss on her lips.  “Now, I insist you remain here and rest.  Father and I are planning to speak with Mr Gardiner, before we all speak with this Collins person.  It appears that your uncle, Mr Phillips, has gone to Town to learn of the disposition of the estate.  According to what Mr Phillips stated, the entailment was broken with your brother’s birth.  Mr Collins seems to believe he is the rightful heir, as there are no other males in the Bennet family.  While Father and you uncle discuss the matter, I wish for you to rest.  Your sister informed me she would be pleased to spend time with you while I meet with the other men.”

“I would love to have some time with Jane.  I want to know all there is to be known of the time since Alex and I left for Vienna.”  Elizabeth gave her husband a slight grin as she agreed with her husband.

“I love you, Elizabeth.  Do not ever forget how dearly I love you.”

~~ ** ~~

“I demand you remove that…that…good for nothing girl from my home.  Until Mr Collins throws me to the hedgerow, this is my home, and I refuse to have her staying here.  Remove her immediately.” Fanny Bennet was livid.  She wished to be rid of her most troublesome daughter, especially since she felt the deaths of Mr Bennet and Alex rested solely on Elizabeth’s shoulders.

“Sister, calm yourself.  We need to discuss all that we now know has happened.  If you allow us, we shall be able to know what will happen to you and my nieces.” Mr Gardiner attempted to appease his sister.

“I will not allow her to stay here, even for an hour.  She is the cause of all our woes, and I will not tolerate her being here.” Mrs Bennet’s hand was in constant motion, waving a handkerchief as added influence.  “For years, I have tried to prove to my husband that she was the devil and would bring us nothing but misery.  Now she arrives here, after killing her brother and causing the death of her father, with a man she claims to have married.  You will not take what little I have to care for my remaining daughters.  She deserves no such blessings from me.”

“Then allow me to ease your fears in that direction.  Mr Darcy and his son are very wealthy.  They have the largest estate in Derbyshire, and more than enough to see to Elizabeth’s needs.  If you were to be kind to your daughter and her husband, they could even be a blessing to you and the other girls.”

“I want nothing from the likes of them.  Most likely there would be a curse attached to anything they were to give us.  Only the worst sort would wish to be connected with that chit.  No, I wash my hands of her, and good riddance.  My Jane will marry well, and take care of me.  Perhaps we can arrange for her to marry Mr Collins.  Then I would never have to leave Longbourn.” Mrs Bennet’s eyes lit with such a thought.

“After meeting Thomas’ cousin, I would never allow such a union.” Mr Gardiner declared.  “My nieces deserve far better than that sycophantic toad.”

Mrs Bennet ignored her brother, as she continued her plotting to arrange a marriage which would give her the security she desired.

A knock was heard on the door of the study, and Mrs Phillips, Mrs Bennet’s sister, entered the room.  “Fanny, I just spoke with Mr Darcy and his son.  They are willing to purchase a cottage for you and the girls, and provide an allowance for your upkeep.  You would never have to worry again.  It is quite generous, and they would set up dowries for Jane, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia.”

“We will not need their blood money.  Jane shall marry Mr Collins, and we will remain here, at Longbourn.” Fanny held her chin high as she spoke.

Appalled, Mr Gardiner decided it was time to put his foot down.  He was the head of the Gardiner family, which included his sister and her children.  “Sister, I will not hear you speak such nonsense.  Your son in law and his father have brought us a wonderful option, one that will give your unmarried daughters a chance for felicitous marriages.  How could you not wish for such for them?”

“I could not live in a house paid for with their money.  It would be tainted.” Mrs Bennet stated, her arms crossed across her chest.

“Then you will have to find somewhere to live on your own.” Mr Gardiner announced.  “Your daughters will be under my protection, and I will not allow you to force them to marry the likes of Mr Collins.  If necessary, I will take the girls with me to Town.  They will find the lives they deserve, not something you design for them.”

Mrs Bennet stood and marched to her brother, standing toe to toe with him. “You have no right to make decisions for my daughters.  I am their mother; it is my decision that will be considered.”

Mrs Phillips was certain her husband would return soon, and all of this would be unnecessary.  “My husband will learn the truth of the entailment, and what impact Alex’s death will have.  Our brother is thinking of what is best for your family, as he is the head of our family.”

“I beg to differ, Mrs Phillips.” A sniveling voice came from the doorway.  Turning, the trio spied Mr William Collins.  “As their father’s heir, I believe that I have say over an uncle on their mother’s side of the family.  And I wish to support my dear cousin’s widow in her decision.  She is their mother, and wishes only the best for her offspring.  A more devoted mother you would never find.”

“Mr Collins, this conversation does not have anything to do with you.” Mrs Phillips stated.  “Mr Gardiner, as the head of the Gardiner family, does have rights over his sister.  Just wait until my husband returns.  I am certain you will find you have no say in the matter.”

“Ah, but her daughters are Bennets, and I am the head of the Bennet family.  I was informed that Miss Elizabeth has returned, though sadly, Master Alex did not.  I believe that makes me the head of the family, therefore, it is up to me to decide their futures.”

“Mr Collins, I will not allow you to take advantage of the situation.  I am well aware of your desire to marry one of my nieces.  It is my duty to protect them from such a situation.”  Mr Gardiner stated.

“Forgive me, Mr Gardiner, but I want what is best for my relations.  If that includes one of the fine young ladies becoming my wife,  it will only make us closer as a family.  Mrs Bennet is a loving mother, and it is only right for her to wish the best for her children.  She has five daughters, and the ones I have seen are quite beautiful.  If the last one is even half as pretty as her sisters, she will be a perfect bride for me.”

Mr Gardiner looked at the former parson in disgust.  “Mr Collins, my niece, Elizabeth, is married.  She married before returning to England.”

“That cannot be.  She did not have the permission of her father or guardian, and, if I am not mistaken, Miss Elizabeth is not of age to wed without permission.  Therefore, the marriage could not be legal.”

 

“My niece was married in another country.  She did not require the approval of her guardian to make such a decision.  You must be familiar with people crossing the border to Scotland, so they can marry before they are of age and without parental consent.” Mr Gardiner said, his nerves were nearly frazzled from having to contend with the slimy man for days on end.

Mr Collins was not easily dissuaded.  “I am certain that the formality of an annulment will be easily attained.  Who is the man in question?  He was most likely lured by my cousin’s beauty and now realizes he does not wish to be married to her.  What is the name of this man, so I might speak with him?”

“His name is Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley.” Mr Gardiner announced.  “He is here, with his father, with Elizabeth.”

“Mr Darcy?  Is he not the nephew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings Park?  My patroness speaks often of her nephew.  But he cannot be married to my cousin, for Lady Catherine has told me many times that Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy is engaged to her daughter, Miss Anne de Bourgh.  Mr Darcy is most likely desirous of an annulment.  It has long been the expectations of their family that Master Fitzwilliam Darcy would marry his cousin.  And someone will require taking Cousin Elizabeth as their wife, to keep the respectability of the family.  I am more than willing to marry my cousin.”

Mrs Phillips was growing more and more suspicious.  With there being five sisters, and Elizabeth had not been seen by this man, why was he adamant to marry her?

“Mrs Bennet stated that she wished for you to marry my niece Jane.  Why would you determine you wish to marry Elizabeth, when you have never met the young lady?  I admit, my niece is beautiful, but that cannot be the reason.  All of my nieces are beautiful.” Mrs Phillips inquired.

“Well…I…have heard of Cousin Elizabeth’s attributes.  It is my opinion that she would please me better than the other sisters.”

“Mr Collins, Lizzy is not near as beautiful as my Jane.  Jane’s features are delicate, which is popular to the upper circles, from what I have read.  Her blonde hair, blue eyes, slim figure, all are what young men desire.” Fanny Bennet wished for one of her other daughters to become the next Mistress, as they would be easier to manipulate.

Mr Gardiner noted that Mr Collins was nervous about the conversation.  Then it became obvious to the uncle.  Besides Jane, Mary and the twins were fair haired.  And, like the women on their father’s side of the family, they were very…lacking in curves.  Of all the sisters, Elizabeth was endowed with the sort of curves, like her mother, that men prefer.  And Elizabeth was also the one with the dark colored hair.  Obviously, the man had heard about Elizabeth, and decided she was more to his liking.

“Mr Collins, if you would allow me a moment, I will fetch Mr Darcy and his son.  I believe it is important for them to be a part of this conversation.” Mr Gardiner said, as he made his way towards the door.

“There is no need for them to be involved in our family matters.” Mr Collins decided.  He was not willing to cause any difficulties for his patroness’ family.  “It will suffice that we inform them that we are willing to grant the annulment, releasing the young man, so he can fulfill his family’s greatest duty.”

“I believe it is best that the two gentlemen join us, Mr Collins.” Mrs Phillips concurred with her brother.

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

 

Chapter 12

Mr Darcy and William entered the room, following Mr Gardiner.  The men looked about, finding Mr Collins standing beside Mrs Bennet, as he spoke reassuringly to her.

“Have no fear, Mrs Bennet.  I will see that all is managed the way we wish.  As the head of the Bennet family, I promise you that an annulment will be obtained and the foolishness of this will be behind us.  Once I am wed, all will be well.”

“What is this discussion of an annulment?” Mr Darcy asked, his brows meeting as the crease between them grew.  “You cannot be referring to my son’s marriage to Elizabeth.  It is legal and binding.”

“Ah, my good sir, we have yet to meet.”

“And as you are the lower ranking person in the room, I feel it is my place to inform you that approaching me is improper.  But I do remember you, Mr Collins.  I have been the advisor to my wife’s sister, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  I remember seeing you from across a field, and grateful I was so far from you.  Now, what is going on here?  My son and his wife wish to rest, for they have been on a long and difficult journey.”

“As I was saying, as Lady Catherine’s spiritual advisor, I feel honor bound to remind you of your son’s duty to his cousin.  Miss Anne has been waiting for you to finally arrive and marry her.” Mr Collins puffed out his chest, so proud was he to be given such an honor.

Mr Darcy was appalled.  “Mr Collins, you have no knowledge of what is to happen in our family.  My wife did not, and I repeat myself, not, plan an arrangement for Anne and William to marry.  It is none of your business, who my son marries.  Lady Catherine has no control over William’s choice of bride, and I demand you mind your own business.”

“But Sir…Miss Anne will be devastated to learn of her betrothed spurning her.  Your family will disapprove.  The Earl and Countess, they will never approve of such a low born female becoming a member of your family.” Mr Collins was grasping at any possible reason for the marriage to be dissolved.  Lady Catherine had spoken so often of the union between her daughter and her nephew, and Collins knew he did not wish to have the grand dame angry at himself, for Elizabeth was his cousin.  And the man had caught a glimpse of his cousin.

The Bennet girls were pretty, yet they lacked the sort of figure that he preferred.  And he preferred dark hair to light.  Seeing the second eldest daughter, the way she filled out her gown, Collins was certain that none of the other sisters could compare.  William Collins was determined, he deserved Elizabeth Bennet.

He was brought from his woolgathering by the voice of the younger Darcy.

“Mr Collins, as my father has informed you, Lady Catherine does not have any claim on what I do with my life.  I made the decision to marry a young lady with whom I have fallen in love, and we married on the continent. That is the end of the discussion.  There is not going to be an annulment, do I make myself clear?”

“But…but…her Ladyship…she will be terribly upset.  You must take into consideration such superior breeding, Miss de Bourgh is far better suited…”

William walked up to the blundering fool and took hold of the toad’s lapel.  “This is the final word on the matter.  I will not be seeking an annulment.  Elizabeth is my wife, and will remain my wife. That is all there is to the matter.”

Stepping back, as William released the parson, Mr Collins turned his attention towards Mrs Bennet.  “Madame, you had stated I was within my rights to choose from your five daughters.  You have deceived me, and therefore, I resend my offer to make one of your daughters my wife.  Thus, you will need to remove yourself from my home immediately.”

Mrs Bennet’s wailing could be heard throughout the house.  “This cannot be…we are ruined…that foolish chit, she has ruined everything.  She is no longer my daughter.  I refuse to claim her as my daughter.  Never again will she be welcome wherever I am.  My other girls, oh the poor dears, they will never be able to find good matches, due to Lizzy’s selfishness.  It is not to be borne.”

“Sister, you are a fool.  Why do you turn your back on the generous offer you have before you?” Mr Gardiner was shocked at his sister’s behavior.  “You are cutting off your nose to spite your face.  Mr Darcy is offering you a home of your own.”

“A small cottage, why would I wish a small cottage, when I could have this home for the rest of my life?”

“Fanny, do you honestly believe that you would be the Mistress of Longbourn, if one of your daughters were married to Mr Collins?” Mrs Phillips asked.  “You would be the dower, and your daughter would be the Mistress.”

“My daughters all know that my opinions are superior to their own, therefore, I would remain the Mistress of Longbourn.  My daughter will need to step back and watch me as I show her the duties of the Mistress of this estate.” Mrs Bennet puffed up her chest and stood tall in her pride.

“No, Mamma, I would not allow you to be in charge of my home, no matter who I married.” Elizabeth had heard her mother’s cries and came downstairs to have her say in the matter.  “Father knew that his cousin was a fool, he told me, before I left with Alex.  He would never approve of my marrying such a man, especially since I have a husband who loves and respects me.  I will never consent to having my marriage annulled.”

Mrs Bennet was angrier than she had ever been.  If it had been possible, puffs of steam would shoot out of her ears and nostrils.  Before anyone knew what was happening, Mrs Bennet grabbed a handful of her daughter’s hair, yanking on the bun, dislodging the pins.  She began smacking her daughter’s face, all the while she was screaming insults at Elizabeth.

Mr Darcy and Mr Gardiner grabbed hold of Mrs Bennet, as she continued reaching for her daughter.  Mr Collins managed to place himself between the mother and daughter, his hand slipping into a most inappropriate position of the daughter’s bosom.  Before he had a chance to do any further assault on her body, William and his father were able to pull her free of the scoundrel.

“Mr Collins, it is difficult for me to believe you to be a man of the cloth.” Mr Darcy spat the words at the man.  “Do not think, for one moment, that I did not witness what you just did.  The liberties you just forced upon my daughter is grounds to be called out.  You are no gentleman, nor should you be a clergyman.  I will be contacting my cousin, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  He will be very displeased with your actions.”

“I have no notion of what you are speaking.” Mr Collins stated.  “I have done nothing improper.”

“You fondled my wife’s person, Mr Collins.” William hissed.

“As a man of the cloth, I would never do such a vulgar act.  Besides, you should never have married.  I was promised my choice of brides from the Bennet sisters.  From what I had been told, it was Miss Elizabeth I decided would meet my needs.”

“Fit your needs?” Mrs Phillips was having difficulty keeping from snarling .  “I learned from Sir William Lucas the sort of questions with which you plagued him, at the dinner three nights ago.  Sir William’s son, Robert, told me of the questions you asked, regarding my niece’s figure.  No decent man would ever speak of a gentlewoman in such terms.  Robert was shocked at your words, Mr Collins.  When he informed his father, Sir William sent the young man to me and warned me of what you were saying.”

Fitzwilliam Darcy turned towards Mrs Phillips.  “What did this man say of my wife’s figure.” Each word was said as the gentleman attempted to keep his hands from strangling Collins.

“I…I…simply asked…which of my cousins had the most pleasing figure.  As I had yet to meet Miss Elizabeth, I wished to determine if I should wait, to see if she returned.  And of course, it would not have mattered, had her brother returned with her.”

“You asked if my niece’s breasts were firm and sizeable.” Mrs Phillips said, unable to believe that Collins had dared to lie so completely.

William needed no further enticement to deal with the pompous clergyman.  Mr Collins was laid out on the floor with a single blow.  Mrs Bennet was screaming, deafening them with her tirade.  She was defending Mr Collins, calling William names that shocked even her siblings.  When she broke free from her brothers, Mrs Bennet flung herself to the floor, sobbing for Mr Collins to wake.

Mr Darcy turned his attention to his son.  “William, perhaps you should take Elizabeth upstairs.”

“I want that chit out of my home.” Mrs Bennet screeched, as she half laid on the floor, holding one of Collins’ hands to her cheek.  “I want all of you out of my home.  Mr Collins requires peace and calm; I will not allow you to overwhelm him any further.”

Elizabeth and William made their way from the room, just as Mrs Hill was bringing a pitcher of cold water for those remaining.  William could not help but smile when he turned his head and witnessed his father dumping the contents of the pitcher over the unconscious form of Mr Collins.  Mrs Hill was shaking as she left the room, the pitcher having been restored to her hands.  Once she was a safe distance from the room, the housekeeper began laughing, until her sides began to ache.

~~ ** ~~

The decision was made that the Darcy family would stay at the inn in Meryton, so a message was sent to secure the necessary rooms they would require.

While the Darcys were still at Longbourn, the reunion with her family gave Elizabeth strength.  Jane was pleased to have her dearest sister nearby, though she missed the bond they once had.  With Elizabeth married, her first priority was to her husband.

Mrs Gardiner had returned to Longbourn, thrilled to see her niece had returned.  “Oh Lizzy, we feared the worst.  We have been given a great gift with your return.”

“But Alex did not survive, Aunt Helen.”

“And your brother would be grateful for your survival.  He loved you dearly, and would not wish for you to have died.” Mrs Gardiner spoke in a soothing voice.  She held her niece close to her.  “We are so relieved that you are well.  And married.  What a surprise.”

Mr Darcy smiled.  “Who would have thought that our relations would return to us together, not to mention married?  When your husband met with Lord Matlock and myself, there was not a thought of them being together.  It was shocking when we first met Elizabeth and realized who she was.”

“I am pleased that he spoke of the situation with Lizzy and Alex.  You were able to assist in returning Lizzy here.  This has guaranteed you a special place in the hearts of our family.”

“Your husband informed me that you are from Lambton.” Mr Darcy stated.  “How long ago did you leave there?”

“I lived there until I was seventeen.  My mother’s aunt was ill and I went to stay with her as a companion.  One day, I went to purchase some fabric from a warehouse, and I met Edward.  He was working at the warehouse and was the clerk who assisted me.”

“And your family, are they still in Lambton?”

“No, my father died five years past, and my mother lives with a cousin in a village ten miles from Town.”

“My aunt has always spoken of the beauty of Derbyshire.” Elizabeth announced.  “I must admit, I am excited to see my new home.”

“Lizzy will be finding her way around all of the trails within the first month.  She is notorious for her long walks in nature.”  Mrs Gardiner chuckled.

“Well, my dear daughter, you will be forced to wait until after everything is resolved here.” Mr Darcy advised.  “It may take some time before we can leave.”

Elizabeth’s face dipped downward.  For a moment, she had forgotten the reason they were all in Hertfordshire.

“If you are to remain in the area, you will most likely wish to have somewhere to stay rather than at the inn.  Though it is comfortable, you might wish for somewhere else to stay.” Mrs Phillips added to the conversation.  “My husband holds the ability of leasing out Netherfield Park, which is the next estate over.  It is larger than Longbourn, but it will allow you the comforts to which you are accustomed.  We would have no problem in staffing the house.”

Mr Darcy looked at his son.  He knew his son wished for some time with his bride, and he knew that Elizabeth was worn from all the upheaval in her life.  It would be good for her to have some time to adjust, in relatively familiar surroundings.  They could lease Netherfield for a month, which would allow his new daughter to make a farewell to her former life, and become comfortable with her new role in life.  It would allow them to determine the living arrangements for the remainder of the Bennet family.  Mr Darcy thought of sending for his Georgiana to join them.  She was currently staying at Pemberley with her governess.

“The more I think of your suggestion, the more I like the idea.  Shall we lease for a month with the option of extending, if there be a need?”

Mrs Phillips nodded her head.  “I know my husband will approve of your leasing Netherfield, so the paperwork can be done when he returns.  There is a housekeeper, a butler, a cook and one maid who live there all of the time.  Mrs Norton is very capable and can have staff hired by morning.  I will send word to her to prepare for your arrival, she should be able to prepare a few rooms for your use tonight, then more tomorrow.  And we can send word to the inn that you will not be requiring the rooms.”

“Please take this payment for the inn.” Mr Darcy reached into his pocket and drew out some coins.  “I do not wish to see them lose the income they expected from us.”

“Very kind, Mr Darcy.  I know they will appreciate your generosity.” Mrs Phillips made her way to write the messages, then went to the stable to have the young hand deliver them.

~~ ** ~~

Mr Collins was unbearable when he became conscious. The cold water shook him, and he came off the floor, sputtering.  “What is going on here?  Where is Miss Elizabeth?”

“Mrs Darcy is with her husband and his father.” Mr Gardiner responded.  “We are making arrangements to have my nieces removed from this estate, and I ask you to give us a few more days to find the best situation for them.”

“They are my relations, and it is up to me to determine what is best for them.  As I have been denied the daughter I wished to make my wife, I am extremely displeased.  I will not allow you to remove any of the other sisters.  My authority over my relations, as head of the Bennet family, gives me the right to make the decisions for their future.”

“Our nieces are closer in relationship to us than they are to you, as you are only a distant cousin.  You may have inherited the estate, but you did not inherit the young ladies.  Do what you will with my sister, but my nieces will be with us.” Mr Gardiner declared.

“I believe you are incorrect.  Perhaps you should check with your other brother in law, as I believe I will be found correct.  Legally, you have no standing.  It is my decision to make as to where they will reside.” Mr Collins was filled with anger.  “And I demand you leave my home immediately.  Take all of your other relations from my lands, and do not return.  The Bennets will remain here, with me.  I will not tolerate any contact with them. Do I make myself clear?”

“Mr Collins, I would never leave my nieces in your home.  Never.  The girls will be coming with me.  We will have them packed and out of here as soon as possible.”

“I demand you leave my home immediately.  If you remove anything or anyone from my property, I will send for the magistrate to deal with you.” Collins shouted.  “Until I am told by the magistrate that I have no right to protect my cousins, they will remain with me.”

Mrs Phillips was at a loss as to what to do.  The papers that Thomas Bennet signed left the estate to Alex.  The entailment was dissolved with Alex’s birth, and no plans had been put in place for Alex’s death.  Technically, Mr Collins had no real claim to the estate, though he would have to obtain a ruling from the magistrate to determine the estate’s true owner. But Mr Phillips was uncertain as to whether the estate would be transferred to Jane, being the eldest daughter, or if it would revert to the crown to be gifted to another, so he had made the journey to Town to discuss the matter with some of the best legal minds he knew.

“Mr Collins, perhaps it would be best if we send to Lucas Lodge, and ask Sir William Lucas to come.  With Mr Bennet’s death, Sir William became the magistrate.  It would be wise for us to clear some matters.”

Mr Collins was leery.  He did not wish to have anyone closely examine his claim.  “There is no need to waste the man’s time.  The estate has been handed down through the male line of the Bennet family.  My father told me that if Thomas did not have an heir, I would become the heir.  No female member of the family can inherit.  Therefore, I am the head of the Bennet family.”

“Until my husband returns with further information, Sir William Lucas has the authority to make decisions, such as whether you can keep my nieces against their will.  If you are unwilling to allow Sir William to render a decision, then I suggest you try to throw us from this estate.  But remember, the staff of Longbourn are loyal to the Bennet family, not the Collins family.  Most of the servants have known my nieces since the girls were babes.  Who do you think they will defend?”

Mr Gardiner was proud of his sister, the manner in which she was able to stand up to the clergyman.  And for years, I believed her to be as silly as Fanny.  She is nothing like our sister.

Mr Collins was furious.  “Then take the chits and be gone.  But they cannot remove anything from the estate, no even a ribbon or a button.  Do you hear me?  They leave with the gowns on their backs.”

“It is not proven to be your inheritance, Mr Collins.  By refusing to allow the girls to take their personal belongings, you are doing yourself no favor in the eyes of the law.”  Mrs Phillips stated.  “Would you prefer to be seen as a man who treated his cousins abombibly or that you have a Christian heart?”

The man scowled at the intelligent woman.  “They may take one satchel each.  And make them hurry, as I wish to be alone.”

“But…but…Mr Collins, I cannot leave Longbourn.” Mrs Bennet cried.  “You would not toss me to the hedgerow, would you?”

“After all the promises that have been broken, you are fortunate I have not demanded your removal immediately.” Mr Collins glared at the woman.  “But I will allow you to remain here, for the time being.  I see that you are a victim of your second daughter, as much as I have become.”

Fanny Bennet preened as she looked at the others in the room.  “I will make amends, Mr Collins.  I promise you, you will not regret your decision.”

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

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