Chapter 13

Jane, Mary, Kitty and Lydia quickly gathered their most prize possessions and stuffed them in satchels and trunks.  In a matter of minutes, they had all they could grab and were downstairs, prepared to leave their home.  Elizabeth had also gone to what had been her bedchambers, gathering her belongings.  William was on hand to assist her, and they made quick work of the task.

The girls were loaded in the Gardiner carriage, with their aunts and uncle.  The Darcys climbed in their carriage, which was to follow the other to Netherfield.  The entire family party would remain at Netherfield, together, including Mrs Phillips.  She decided she would prefer being with her relations than alone at her home.

As the carriages came to a halt in front of Netherfield, Mrs Norton and Mr Burke, the butler, came outside.  “My goodness, Mrs Phillips, you were not exaggerating.  You brought quite a party to our door.”

“Forgive me, Mrs Norton, I believe it is safer that we brought everyone here for the time being.  The girls can share rooms, Jane and Mary in one and the twins in another.  And Lizzy, she is now a married woman.  This is her husband, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, and his father.” Mrs Phillips was well known to the housekeeper.  “We will make do for tonight, then hire more staff tomorrow.”

“And I can send to our townhouse, requesting some of our servants come.” Mr Darcy stated.  “I can send one of my men tonight, and they will be here tomorrow.”

“That would be wonderful, Mr Darcy.” Mr Gardiner said.  “Would it be possible to have our nanny bring our children here?  I do not believe this situation will be corrected anytime soon.  We may be forced to stay in the neighborhood for a fortnight.”

“Write down the information and I will have my postilion take a message to your home.  We have two carriages and a wagon in town, so there should be plenty of room.”

~~ ** ~~

The following day brought sunlight and smiles, as Elizabeth woke with her family, old and new.  Waking up in her husband’s arms brought great comfort to her, and Elizabeth thanked God for his blessing.

“I do not know what I have done to deserve your love, William, but I am grateful.” Elizabeth whispered as she lay resting her head on his chest.

“It is I who does not deserve such a gift as your love, but I refuse to ever allow you to get away from me.” William placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head.  “You are so dear to me, and I promise to cherish you as the gift that God sent to me.”

“Can you ever forgive me for my family’s behavior?  It was insanity, Mamma and Mr Collins.”

“My dearest love, your mother and Collins are out of their minds.  Your mother is understandable, as she is living with fear.  With your father and brother dead, she is terrified as to the future.  And the fear makes her lash out at you.  She wishes her life to return to what it was, with the security she felt.”

“You are too kind, William.  Too kind indeed.  My mother is a foolish woman, and you make excuses for her behavior.”

“For you, I will forgive your mother.  But the cousin…”

“I have no understanding of that man.  He is ridiculous.” Elizabeth was still shocked at the clergyman’s behavior.

“Well, let us rise for the day.  Once we are dressed, we can break our fast, and determine what we will do today.” William suggested.

Elizabeth nodded in agreement.  The two remained in their embrace, neither wishing to be the one to initiate movement which would pull them apart.

~~ ** ~~

When Elizabeth and William arrived in the dining room, they found the room filled with their relations.  Mr and Mrs Gardiner were speaking with Elizabeth’s sisters, and Mr Darcy was listening to Mrs Phillips ramble on about her husband’s profession.

“My husband will be able to determine the rights of my nieces.  I am certain he will return in the next day or two.  Mr Phillips is quite intelligent and a well respected solicitor.”

“I have no doubt. Elizabeth spoke of you and your husband, and the Gardiners, on our way from Town.  She loves and respects you very much.” Mr Darcy confessed.  “Without the support of your family, I do not know what would have happened last night.”

“I must admit, I was nervous at first, but then I saw how foolish my sister was being, and what she was putting in jeopardy, to have things her way, and I saw red.  I could not stay silent, not when my nieces were put in such a position.  My husband will be surprised when he learns what I did.”

Mr Darcy chuckled.  “I will make sure to compliment your intelligence and quick mind in rescuing the young ladies.”

“Hopefully, he will return in the next day or two.  I honestly miss him.”

Mr Gardiner turned his attention to his sister.  “I sent a message to your husband, my dear sister.  Since he is staying in our home while he is in Town, he will know what is going on when the message is delivered for our children and their nanny to make the journey to join us.”

“Let us pray that he will soon have the answer for which he is searching.  I do not wish to see the girls robbed of their futures.” Mrs Phillips wiped a tear that had pooled in the corner of her eye.

“Have no fear, Sister.  We will see them protected.”

~~ ** ~~

“Mrs Bennet, what are we to do?  You knew the entail was broken, and now, everyone else knows.  What will happen to my claim for the estate?” Mr Collins paced about the parlor.

“If only Mr Phillips had not been here.  Why could he not have been away when this all happened?  Once we had you married to Jane, everything would have been perfect.”

“I would have preferred Miss Elizabeth.  Your other daughters do not have figures that would tempt me nearly as much as does Miss Elizabeth’s.”

“Is it my fault that you are thinking of your preferences for the marital bed, and not of the security of the estate.” Mrs Bennet said with a hint of distaste.  “Had you accepted Jane, everything could have been accomplished quickly and without difficulty.  But no, you insisted you must wait to see if Lizzy was still alive.  Why is it that men do not think rationally when it comes to the woman they are to bed?  You can always take a mistress after you are married.  You do not have to like your wife’s figure to make the relationship work.”

“My belief is that one should not have to pay for something he could get for free if he chooses the bride that will suit him.” Mr Collins huffed.

“Jane is not without a bosom, why could you not find her preferable?”

“Madame, your eldest daughter is not much larger than a schoolboy.  I wish to have a woman in my bed in which I can take pleasure.”

“Well, I cannot see that you will ever know Lizzy’s figure, as that Darcy boy seems to be completely enthralled with her.”

Mr Collins growled.  “I cannot believe that my misfortune is his pleasure.  He is wealthy, heir to one of the largest estates in Derbyshire.  And he was to marry Miss Anne de Bourgh, who is an heiress.  It is simply not fair.  He could have any lady he wished, and a dozen mistresses, yet he chooses your second born daughter.”

“There is nothing to be done about it now, Mr Collins.  You will need to decide whether or not to accept the situation and marry Jane, or find some other young lady.  But you should keep in mind, I will not be forced to leave my home.  I have assisted you every step, and will not be dislodged due to Lizzy not being available for you to marry.”

“I should have you tossed from the house this very moment.” Mr Collins was aggravated beyond rational thought.  “You have been unable to secure any of the promises you made to me.  You were certain that your daughter was alive, though were certain your son was not.  How did you come to such an understanding of the status of your children?”

“As a mother, I can feel each of my children in my soul.  I was certain that something had happened to Alex, and after we received word of the French army attacking Vienna, I knew he had been killed.  With Lizzy, well, there was an emptiness, but there was still something telling me that she was alive.”

“You are such a remarkable mother, Mrs Bennet.” Mr Collins declared sarcastically.

“I am practical, Mr Collins.  My children can fend for themselves.  What am I to do?  How am I to live?  No one will take care of my comfort, so it is left to me to arrange.”

“Why would you have refused the offer of Mr Darcy, for him to purchase a cottage for you?”

“And be at the mercy of a man who is unknown to me?  A cottage… some small residence in which I will be forced to remain for the rest of my life.  No, I will not be reduced to such a degradation, when I should have this home for the remainder of my years.”

“You passed on an opportunity to use your whiles on Mr Darcy.  He is a widower, and you could have forced a compromise to make him marry you.  His estate would make Longbourn appear to be a small cottage.  From what Lady Catherine has told me, there are more than five and twenty bedchambers alone at Pemberley.  It is huge, and you could have been the Mistress of that estate.” Mr Collins wished to be rid of the woman he had pledged to protect, a pledge he had made in an effort to secure his late cousin’s estate.

“I prefer to remain here.  Everyone knows me.  Why would I wish to start all over?  And a man such as Mr Darcy is not as compliant to his wife’s wishes as was Mr Bennet.  My late husband was agreeable to most anything I decided, just so he could keep the peace in our home.”

“Well, you will need to control your behavior, so we both benefit from our arrangement.  I sent off word to my patroness, Lady Catherine.  She will make certain that your daughter’s marriage is annulled, as she has long desired a marriage between the younger Mr Darcy and her daughter.”

“What good will that do for us?  It is clear that Lizzy will not marry you, and is most likely carrying a child by that man.  A bastard child will do nothing but add to our problems.  You must marry Jane, as soon as possible. Purchase a special license, so you can marry quickly.”

“When your daughter is disgraced from an annulment, she will need someone to make her legitimate once again.  And I will be very willing to have her as my wife.”

Mrs Bennet huffed.  “Lizzy stated she would not allow me to remain here, as I am.”

“Have no fear, Mrs Bennet.  Your daughter will learn to tolerate your remaining as the Mistress of Longbourn, even if she requires my teaching her some…lessons.” Mr Collins’ statement was clear, as his right hand, fisted tight, struck his left palm.

~~ ** ~~

Mrs Hill was devoted to the Bennet family, with one exception.  That exception was Mrs Bennet.  While she tolerated the wife of her master, who was the mother of the six children that Mrs Hill loved, there was something about Fanny Bennet that set her housekeeper against her.  Perhaps it was the way Mrs Bennet had always treated Elizabeth.

Fanny Bennet was pleased to have her son and the required heir as her first born.  The pressure to give her husband an heir was relieved, and allowed the nervous wife to calm.  Her next child being a daughter was no worry either.  But then a second daughter was born.  In Mrs Bennet’s way of thinking, Elizabeth had been a disappointment.  There was always room for a a spare to the heir, and Elizabeth should have been the spare.  Once Mrs Bennet had been overheard speaking with Mrs Long of her agitation over Elizabeth not being a son.  Mrs Hill was appalled, never having been blessed with children in all her ten years of marriage.  So a child, no matter boy or girl, was viewed as a precious gift.  While the mother bemoaned of having a second daughter, the housekeeper decided to always be a motherly figure to the girl.  And she would protect Elizabeth from her mother.

Having overheard Mrs Bennet and the odius Mr Collings speaking, Mrs Hill decided to do what she could to protect the Bennet daughters.  The week before Mr Bennet was stricken with apoplexy, he had called his housekeeper and Butler into his study. Mrs Hill could remember the conversation clearly.

“I wished to speak to you on an important matter.” Mrs Bennet stated.  “I have just spoken with Mr Jones, the apothecary, and feel that I need to take you into my confidence.  Had my brother in law, Mr Phillips, been available, there would be no need for me to do this, but he is contending with his uncle’s situation at the moment, and I am sure that there will be no need to make him return to the neighborhood so quickly.”

            “My cousin, a Mr Collins, is to arrive.  If he is anything like his father, he is a fool and pompous as the day is long.  I wish to have you be aware, as the father was furious when Fanny gave birth to Alex.  With the entail broken, the Collins line does not stand a chance to inherit.  But I worry, as Anthony, the father, long believed that they should have some part of the inheritance.  The son might take advantage of his visit.”

            “Should we lock up the good silver?” Mrs Hill joked.  When her master did not laugh, the housekeeper knew something was wrong.

            “The reason I asked you in here is simply to inform you of this message I have written.  I wish for you to sign here, at the bottom.  It is a formality, to show that I signed it, and this is not a forgery.  When Mr Phillips returns, I will have him redo the paper, but in the meantime, I wish to have all my ducks in a row.”

            The butler, Mr Holly, frowned.  “Is something wrong, Mr Bennet?”

            “Mr Jones has apprised me that my health is not the best.  With my heir away from the estate, I would prefer to make everything clear, just in case.”

            Mrs Hill and Mr Holly signed on the bottom of the parchment, though neither read what was written above.  After they signed their names, they watched Mr Bennet place the parchment in the safe, locking it away.  He handed the key to Mrs Hill, who had kept the key hidden in her office. 

The day before Mr Bennet collapsed, Mrs Hill had received word that her sister had taken a fall and was injured.  The lady left Longbourn, planning to take a week to assist her sister.  She had just arrived the morning before Elizabeth arrived home.  Having noticed someone had rummaged through her office during her absence, Mrs Hill had been suspicious.  Fortunately, she located the key to the safe, securely hidden where she had placed it.  What reason would Mr Collins have for looking underneath the rug which was partially under her desk?

Quietly, Mrs Hill stole away from the house at Longbourn, making her way to Netherfield Park.

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

 

Chapter 14

“Mrs Darcy, you have a visitor.  A Mrs Hill.” The footman at Netherfield announced at the door of the drawing room.

“Mrs Hill, oh please, send her in.” Elizabeth was pleased to have a chance with the lady who had aided in raising her.  As the woman entered the room, Elizabeth hurried towards her, arms stretched wide.

“Hill, oh, it is wonderful to have a chance to speak.  But why did you come all the way here?  Has something happened?”

“Miss Lizzy, my dear girl, I have missed you. It pleases me that you have been returned to us.  But I must tell you some information which will be important.”

“What has happened?” Elizabeth asked, as her husband walked over to stand behind her.

“I overheard your mother and that horrid creature speaking this morning.  They know that what they are doing is wrong, that your brother’s birth eliminated the entail, and that Mr Collins has no rightful claim to the estate.  And your mother has been assisting him, as she wishes to never have to leave Longbourn.  She is trying to convince Mr Collins to marry Miss Jane, as she feels this will allow her to remain living as she has since becoming Mistress of Longbourn.  But Mr Collins is adamant that he wishes to marry you.  He has written to his patroness, a Lady Catherine, I believe.  He feels she will be able to assist him in getting your marriage annulled.”

“Mrs Hill, please know, no matter what else happens, I will never allow my marriage to be annulled.” William stated.  “I love this woman, and she is my wife, for the rest of my life.”

“This is good news, Sir.  I am pleased for my dear girl.” Mrs Hill stood with her arms surrounding the young lady who meant so much to the housekeeper.  “Now, I have another piece of news.  Your uncle, Mr Phillips, was away before I left to take care of my sister, Frieda.  Mr Bennet had Mr Holly and me sign a document he had written, as his witness.  I am not certain what the document said, but he locked it in his safe.  Something was said about it probably not being necessary, but he wished to be prepared.”

“Has Mr Collins had a chance to go through the safe?” Mr Gardiner asked, coming into the room.

“No, Sir.  Mr Bennet never kept the key to the safe.  When he first gave the key to me, many years ago, he stated that no one would expect the key for the Master’s safe not being in the Master’s possession.  And where I hid the key, no one knew it was there.  Someone had ransaked my office, most likely looking for the key, but they did not find it.” She held up the key in her hand.

“You do not know what was written on the parchment?” William asked.

Mrs Hill shook her head.  “No, Sir.  But he knew his health was declining.  Mr Jones had been to see Mr Bennet, and said that he was having issues.”

“Papa was dying?” Elizabeth gasped.

“He did not say those words, though it was the assumption I got from what he spoke. I am so sorry, Miss Lizzy.  But he wished to have things done appropriately, in case something happened. With Mr Phillips tending family, and you and Master Alex visiting your uncle, your father wished to protect the estate and the family.”

“We need to open the safe. The information could be just what is needed to force Mr Collins from the estate.” William stated.

“What would we do with my mother?” Elizabeth asked.

Mr Gardiner shook his head.  “I do not know what we will do, though she should not be allowed to profit from her behavior.  She does not deserve the right to remain with the rest of you.”

“I do not wish to live with her.” Elizabeth stated. “I cannot imagine having to endure her behavior every day.”  She turned to William, as his arms wrapped around her.

“And you never shall, my dearest.  Have no fear.  Between your uncles and my father, a solution can be found.”  William continued to soothe his wife, his hand caressing her back as he whispered endearments in her ear.

Mrs Hill was pleased to see Elizabeth and her husband.  It did the housekeeper’s heart good to see the girl she loved being cherished by the young man she married.

“Lizzy, I have a few suggestions, but we must see what happens in the next few days.” Mr Darcy announced.  “When your uncle, Mr Phillips, arrives, we will be able to determine how to approach the situation.  I only wish there was a way we could obtain the papers in the safe.”

“If I might make a suggestion.” Mrs Hill started.  “I think I know a way that will not alert the pair.  Mrs Bennet is normally a late sleeper.  I believe Mr Collins was sound asleep when I left the house.  Perhaps, when I return there, I can keep Mr Collins busy in my office.  It is far enough away from the Master’s study, there would be no chance of his hearing one of you men coming in the rear entrance door of the house and making your way into the study.  I can have Bessie, the maid who assists the girls, see to keeping Mrs Bennet upstairs.  Mr Holly can be stationed in the hall, so he will know when it is safe for me to finish with Mr Collins.”

“It is placing you in harm’s way, Mrs Hill.” Mr Gardiner replied.

“Do not fret, Sir.  I will be fine.  Besides, Mr Bennet gave me a small handgun and taught me how to use the weapon.  It is kept in my desk drawer, and I have no difficulties in using the gun if needed.”

“Mrs Hill, please be careful.” Elizabeth said, turning her head to the elder woman.  “I do not wish for any harm to come to you.”

“It shant, my dear girl.  Do not worry yourself.”

~~ ** ~~

Mr Gardiner sent off an express to alert Mr Phillips of the situation, especially of the news from Mrs Hill.  From the words the housekeeper had imparted, the men had all come to the opinion that Mr Bennet had written a codicil, incase he and his son were to perish.

Mr Darcy and William went to Longbourn with Mr Gardiner, staying hidden from view of the house.  As Mrs Hill promised, Mr Holly stepped out the rear entrance door, pulling his watch out of his pocket, looking at it, then returning it to the same pocket.  Then he turned and stepped back inside, leaving the door ajar.

William had determined he would be the best to enter the house, leaving his father and Elizabeth’s uncle outside the rear door.  He took the key which Mrs Hill had given him, and entered the room that had been dear to his wife.  He could picture her, resting on the sofa, a book in her hand.  The image in his mind brought a smile to his face.  William looked forward to showing his dearest love the libraries at Darcy House and Pemberley.

Walking carefully, William made his way to the location of the safe, hidden by a false front, making it appear to be a drawer in a cabinet.  Pulling as Mrs Hill instructed, William was able to quickly open the safe and pull the papers out.  He decided not to take time to sort through them, so he scooped up all the contents of the safe, stuffing them inside a satchel he had brought with him.

A noise was heard from the second level, as voices could be heard in argument.  “I want Hill to attend me, not you, Bessie.  Everytime you assist me, you make mistakes.  Now, where is Hill?  I demand to see her immediately.”

“Mrs Hill is in her office, speaking with Mr Collins about some matters of importance.” The young maid had only been with Longbourn for two months, and was completely at a loss as to how to keep the woman from going downstairs and interrupting and the situation being ruined.

“Then I will go to her.” Mrs Bennet replied, pushing past the maid.

As Mrs Bennet came downstairs, an idea came to mind.  She decided that she would not hold her breath of being assisted by the likes of William Collins for her future comforts.  She would have a look at her husband’s ledgers while the man was busy with Mrs Hill.  As the lady turned and began to walk towards her husband’s study, she was surprised to find Mr Holly in the hall.

“You have work to do, Mr Holly.  There is no reason for you to be standing about.”

“I was waiting for Mr Collins, as he asked me to be ready to speak with him after he finished with Mrs Hill.” The butler was thinking fast.

“Well, there is no need for you to be lollygagging around here.  Go wait for him elsewhere.”

“But he was adamant that I wait here, by the study, so that he would not have to find me.”

“He is not yet the Master of this house, though I am still the Mistress. When I tell you to do something, I expect my commands to be carried out.  Do I make myself understood?”

As the butler was attempting to find a reason to remain at his post, the cook, Mrs Linder came hurrying towards the pair.

“Mrs Bennet, I have an urgent problem in the kitchen, and require your advice.  Could you please come with me, so I might finish preparing your meal?”

Mrs Bennet was not pleased.  She looked at the door to the study, then back at Mrs Linder.  When her stomach began to voice its desire for food, she agreed to follow the cook to the kitchen.

As soon as they were out of sight, Mr Holly lightly rapped on the study door, letting William know that it was safe to come out.  The younger Darcy moved swiftly and was soon with his accomplices outside Longbourn’s main house.

The men left the estate and returned to Netherfield Park, where they drew out the papers from the satchel.

Each of the men took a few pages and began reading.  William was the one to discover the parchments for which they were looking.

“Yes, this is it, a codicil to Mr Bennet’s will.” William stated as he continued to read.  “He wrote that his heart was weakened, and the headaches he had been having worried Mr Jones.  That is the name of the apothecary, is it not?”

Elizabeth was sitting beside her husband, and she nodded her head.  William continued, reading aloud.  “Though my son is healthy and of proper age to take his inheritance, I feel it incumbent that I prepare this codicil for my will.  Something is nagging at me, as it has the last few days, and I wish for all to be protected when I leave this world.  So I leave this as my decision, if my heir, my dearest boy, preceedes me in death.

The entail was broken with my son’s birth, allowing me to write my will as I pleased.  But if my son should die before me, then I leave Longbourn to my eldest daughter, Miss Jane Louise Bennet.  She may decide what to do with her mother, though I suggest that she send her mother to live in the cottage I purchased years ago, just for Fanny.  The cottage is located four miles to the south of Meryton.  I believe the distance would be enough to keep Fanny from visiting too often, especially if she does not have a carriage and horse.  My wife is not the sort to walk four miles to Meryton and an extra three miles to Longbourn.  So it might give my daughter the peace she deserves.  The cottage has three bedrooms, though tiny, so if any of the younger girls decide to live with Fanny, there should be room.  There is enough set aside to pay for two servants for the cottage.  I pray my daughter has the strength to refrain from giving in to Fanny’s demands for more.

My second eldest daughter, Miss Elizabeth Rose Bennet, is to inherit my books.  I know the books should be left with the estate, but she and Alex have been the ones to share my love of reading.  They have spent many hours in the study with me, reading and discussing books.  I believe these will have great value to my dearest Lizzy.

For all of my daughters, I leave behind the following sums for their dowries.  Mr Phillips and Mr Gardiner are both aware of the money, as they have assisted in investing it over the years.

Jane will receive the sum of one thousand pounds, in addition to the estate.

Elizabeth will receive the sum of ten thousand pounds, in addition to the books.

Miss Mary Ann Bennet will receive the sum of fifeteen thousand pounds.

Miss Katherine Paulette Bennet will receive the sum of fifeteen thousand pounds.

Miss Lydia Frances Bennet will receive the sum of fifeteen thousand pounds.

My wife, Mrs Frances Bennet, nee Gardiner, will receive her dowry to the tune of five thousand pounds.  She will also receive one hundred pounds per annum, for the upkeep of her cottage, her servants, and for Fanny’s needs.

If my son is still alive when I die, all of these measures will not be in effect, and my will is to stand as it is.

My children, I pray that you will all have long and happy lives, filled with all you wish.  Marry for love, not for wealth or convenience.  Though I pray that this is not read for many years, I believe it will not be as I wish.  And if Alex is indeed dead before me, I caution the rest of my children to worry about your own happiness, and do not allow your mother to take your happiness from you.”

The end of the codicil was signed by Thomas Alexander Bennet, Mrs Hill, and Mr Holly.

Mr Gardiner nodded his head.  “Thomas knew in his heart that he would not live long.  He was always a loving father.  When you children were young, he came to me and Mr Phillips to discuss a business venture.  I have been overseeing it for years, and it has done well.  You girls were not to know, until you married or came of age.  Your mother was never to know the extent, as your father was certain she would find a way to take your shares.”

Elizabeth wiped the tears that had begun to flow down her cheeks.  “Papa, I wish this had not been necessary, but I am so grateful for the care you took to protect us.”  Her eyes drifted upwards, as if searching the ceiling for heaven.

Mrs Norton entered the drawing room, carrying a silver salver.  “Mr Gardiner, there is an express for you.”

Taking the message from the tray, Mr Gardiner lost no time in breaking the seal.  “Ah, it is from Phillips.  He is on his way here, and bringing with him a constable.  It appears that Mr Collins is not at all what he seems.”

Everyone turned their eyes towards Mr Gardiner.  “What does he say, Uncle?”

“It seems that Mr Collins is a known gambler, and has extensive debts.  He has been seen frequenting two brothels in Town.  There has been an investigation into his behavior, conducted by church officials.  And it appears there have been complaints from the good people of Hunsford, as he takes what he wishes from the shops, and never pays for the goods.  When they tell him they will no longer allow his taking their goods, Mr Collins goes directly to Lady Catherine, lying to her about the people.”

“Good heavens.  My sister in law is involved in this matter?” Mr Darcy was shocked.  “Knowing Catherine, she will have taken his word and treated the people of Hunsford with extreme cruelty.  I must send word to her, and to Lord Matlock.  This will not be a pleasant situation.”

“Mrs Hill said that she overheard Mr Collins saying he had sent a letter to Lady Catherine.” Elizabeth said.

“Bloody Hell, then Catherine is most likely on her way here.” Mr Darcy announced.  Realizing he had used profanity, he apologized to everyone.

Mr Gardiner spoke again.  “Well, it appears that Netherfield will be seeing many people arriving soon.  My brother in law should arrive in the next few hours.”

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

 

Chapter 15

Mr Phillips arrived an hour after his express, bringing with him a constable.  The men were extremely fatigued from their journey, but they were ready to deal with Mr Collins.

“There is a warrant for his arrest in Essex.  It appears that the man took advantage of a young lady who lives there, while he was staying at an inn.  Mr William Collins, a clergyman, had attempted to seduce a young lady working in the tea shop.  When she did not willingly submit to him, he forced her into a back room, raping her.  The young lady was beaten, leaving her in a terrible state.  It was fortunate that she survived, or there would be a murder charge against him.  The man was identified by one of the shopkeepers across from the tea shop, who saw Mr Collins leave just moments before the young lady was found.” Mr Phillips said, the repulsion he felt was great.

“And we have news for you.” Mr Gardiner stated, as he informed the newcomers of Mr Bennet’s codicil.

“Thank the stars, Thomas was prepared.” Mr Phillips exhaled in relief.

“Yes, and he even knew how Fanny would behave.”

“That was a sure bet, as Fanny has always thought of herself first and formost.” Mrs Phillips had joined the group.  She was disgusted with her sister’s behavior.

“Well, I see nothing to prevent us from making our way to Longbourn.” Mr Darcy looked about at the rest of the group.  Everyone else was nodding their heads in agreement.

Soon, they were all loaded in carriages or on horseback.  And the lives of Mrs Bennet and William Collins would never be the same.

~~ ** ~~

Mrs Hill opened the door and ushered in the large group of people.  She decided not to announce them, and to allow the occupants of the parlor to be surprised.  They had just been served their tea and biscuits when they were interrupted.

“See here, what is the meaning of this?” Mr Collins demanded.  “How dare you barge into my home?”

“This is not your home, Mr Collins.  And it never shall be yours.  We have several issues to discuss with you and Mrs Bennet.” Mr Phillips took the lead.  “But, before we go further, I wish to introduce you to Constable Hendricks, who has come from Essex to speak with you.”

Everyone could see Mr Collins turning white.  “I have never been to Essex, why would a constable from there wish to speak to me?”

“Are you not Mr William Collins, who stayed at the Iron Wheel inn, three months ago?  From the sketch they had circulated, I would believe that the man they are seeking is you.” Mr Gardiner held forth a sketch of the wanted man.

Mrs Bennet took the paper and gasped.  She instantly recognized the man in the sketch was the man sitting next to her.  “Mr Collins, what is the meaning of this?  It says you are wanted for violating a young lady.”

“I did no such thing.  I have women throw themselves at me frequently.  It would be foolish to pass up something volunteered with great passion.”

“And you beat young ladies who throw themselves at you?” Constable Hendricks inquired.  “The young lady, Miss Lucy Fielding, was nearly beaten to death.  If it had not been for the physican being nearby when Miss Fielding was found, you would be facing murder charges.”

“I do not know of what you are speaking.  Now, I will ask you to leave here immediately.  I wish to speak with Mrs Bennet with regards to our dinner.”

“Mr Collins, not only will you be leaving with Constable Hendricks, you will never inherit the estate.  We have a codicil that Mr Bennet wrote, in the unfortunate possibility that his son died.  The estate would then be inherited by my niece, Miss Jane Bennet.” Mr Phillips spoke with disdain.

“I told you to marry Jane.” Mrs Bennet shook her finger at the man.  “If you had listened to me, you would be the Master of Longbourn, but no, you refused.  You could only think of Elizabeth’s curves.  This is all your fault, you selfish man.” She pulled back her hand, bringing it forward to connect with Mr Collins’ cheek.

Fortunately for Mrs Bennet, Mr Darcy and William moved quickly to restrain her, while the constable and Mr Phillips moved to stop Mr Collins from retaliating.

The pair were separated, and Mr Collins was shackled, before removing him to the carriage still sitting outside the front door of the house.

Mrs Bennet decided to make good with her daughters, so as to keep her home.  “Jane, my dear girl, you are such a good daughter.  With your inheriting the estate, I will never have to fret about losing my home.”

“Forgive me, Mamma, but I beg to differ.  You have two options for your future.” Jane was determined to keep control of the situation.  “Papa purchased a cottage near the Long’s estate.  You can live there for the remainder of your life, with the provisons Papa put in place, or you can accept my dowry funds to move to America.  It is your choice, but remember, you will never be allowed to remain in my home.”

“B..but…but…this is not fair.  I deserve to live here.  How dare you, you little ingrate. After all I have done for you, that you would turn your back on me in my hour of need.” Mrs Bennet was furious.  “I am certain your precious Lizzy put you up to such a scheme.  You can make your own mind up, there is no reason to do as your sister says.”

“I made my own decision, Mamma, after the advice of Papa.”

“There was no such advice in his will.” Mrs Bennet pouted.

“The codicil was in his safe, signed just days before Papa collapsed.  And we are well aware of the fact that you or Mr Collins attempted to find the key for the safe.  Fortunately, you never found where the key was hidden.”

~~ ** ~~

Elizabeth Darcy guided her husband to the Bennet family cemetery, found near the Longbourn chapel.  William was carrying a basket, as his wife had decided to give her father a final gift.

As they entered the plot of earth where Elizabeth’s family had been interred for centuries, she saw the area that had been recently dug.  She could feel the tears welling up in her eyes.  The marker was a temporary one, until the headstone could be engraved.

Kneeling down beside the marker, running her fingers over the letters carved in it.  “Papa, I survived.  I returned home.  You and Alex are together again.  I miss you both so much.”

William reached out his hand, placing it on his wife’s shoulder.  Elizabeth reached up and placed her hand over his.  “Papa, this is Fitzwilliam Darcy.  He is my husband.  How I wish you were here, to meet him.  You would love him, cherish the fact that he saved my life, and that he loves me.  He is a good man, Papa, the best man I know.  I am truly blessed.”

“I wish I had been blessed to meet you, Mr Bennet, as your daughter has informed me we share a great love of reading, and we both cherish her.  It is my regret that I could not save your son that day, as we boarded the ship.  My cousin and I reached out, but we were not fast enough.  I pray that he did not suffer, and that he is at your side, once again.”

Wiping tears from her cheeks with one hand, Elizabeth reached over for the basket her husband was holding.  She opened the lid and reached inside, pulling out a plant.  “This is foxglove.  Papa loved foxglove blooms, as he found them elegant.  And foxglove is used in a tincture for heart conditions.  His father used the tincture for his heart, and Mrs Hill stated that Papa had recently obtained a bottle from Mr Jones.  The Latin name for foxglove is Digitalis purpurea, which digitalis comes from the digitanus, meaning finger, for the thimble shaped flowers look as if you could fit your finger inside.  My grandfather used to say that there is a legend that the faeries taught foxes to ring the foxglove bells, warning each other of hunters approaching.”

“That is an interesting, my dearest.” Darcy knelt beside her, beginning to make a place on the grave to place the foxglove plant.

“Now, Papa’s grave will call out to the faeries.  They will bring magic to the estate.”

Once the plant was in the ground, the couple bid a farewell to Mr Thomas Bennet.

~~ ** ~~

Epilog

Five years later

Mr Darcy was thrilled to be visiting Netherfield Park.  He had purchased the estate, a wedding gift for his son and his bride.  As it would be their home when visiting her relations, it also gave the couple privacy in their early years of marriage.

The privacy was appreciated by William and Elizabeth Darcy.  Not long after everything had been settled in Hertfordshire, the young couple learned they would be parents.  This thrilled all, but especially Gerald Darcy and Klarissa Fitzwilliam.  Both were overjoyed to have a grandchild to indulge.  After the birth of the next Darcy heir, Master Bennet Alexander Darcy, it was not long before the couple was once again, expecting an addition to the family.

In the five years, the Darcys had four children, with a set of twin girls born a little less than a year after Bennet.  The newest member of the Darcy family was a boy, only ten months old.  There was a belief that Elizabeth might be with child again, as their family speculated at every gathering.  It was well known that the couple shared a bed every night, and many stories were told by the staff of the young Darcys being caught in compromising situations in many of the rooms of Netherfield.

During a visit to his friend, at Netherfield, Charles Bingley was introduced to Miss Jane Bennet.  It did not take long for the young man to begin courting his “angel”, as he was known to call her.  They had married two years prior, and were expecting their first child any day.  The couple lived at Longbourn, where they looked after the younger sisters of the Bennet family.  Charles had an unmarried sister, Caroline, but she refused to visit Hertfordshire, as she felt it was too far beneath her to be in such a rustic place, where no men of high society would be found.

Mary Bennet had met a clergyman who fell in love with the young lady who preferred reading sermons to any other sort of books. They were engaged to wed in another month.

Kitty and Lydia had their coming out the previous year.  Without their mother to influence them, the twins had taken their cues from their elder sisters.  They were still unmarried, though the idea of a hasty marriage to a dashing officer of the militia, sporting a red coat, was no longer a temptation to them.  They had come a long way in the five years.

Little Thomas was indeed thriving, and was raised alongside the Darcy children.  He even referred to William as his papa and Elizabeth as his mamma.  It had been decided that the boy would be given a proper education and assisted in finding a profession he would like when he was old enough.

Richard had joined the regulars, as he planned, and built his career from a lowly sergant to the rank of colonel.  He worked closely with the contacts he had made in the underground network in Europe, as well as with the King’s German Legion.  The journey through Austria, Prussia, and Germany had boosted Richard’s ability to strategize for attacks.  This made Richard a valuable member of His Majesty’s Army.

Klarissa and Henry Fitzwilliam were frequent guests at Netherfield Park.  Though she was not the grandmother of the Darcy children, she loved them as if they were.  Being with the children gave her pleasure and brought joy to her life.  The Fitzwilliams also kept in close contact with those who had been on the fateful trip that saved many lives.

Erik and Margit settled down at Netherfield.  William had offered Erik the position of blacksmith, and the couple was pleased to accept.  Their relations in England visited, until William offered them positions as tenants at Netherfield.  One of Erik’s brothers had joined the King’s German Legion and was a translator for Richard and his unit.  The children were all grateful to the Darcy and Fitzwilliam families, especially Liam, who was given an education.  He was preparing to enter the university in a few months, something of which his family would never have dreamed if they had remained in Europe.  As a gift to him, his Oma gave him a set of clothing she had hand sewn.  She would never forget how her grandson had acted to protect his family and the others, as they escaped Hannover.  His courage had given her strength to keep alive.

Trich and Emily were able to join their family, though it was not long before they made their way to Netherfield, as a position to be tenants became available.

Mr Collins was taken to Essex, where he was positively identified by the young lady he had attacked.  He was hung, leaving behind him a long list of people to whom he owed money.  Lady Catherine de Bourgh was extremely displeased with the truth, as she had found the man to be impeccable.  It was only after she learned that some of her belongings were found in his possessions, did the lady realize she had been bamboozled.  Though she was displeased with her nephew marrying someone other than her daughter, Lady Catherine did not wish to have people learn how she had been taken in by Mr Collins.  So she kept her mouth shut when it came to Mr and Mrs Fitzwilliam Darcy.

As for Mrs Bennet, well, the lady put up quite a fit when she was forced to leave Longbourn.  She lived alone, in her cottage, for nearly a year, before deciding that she deserved better.  So she sold the cottage and left the area, telling everyone that she would not tolerate the treatment of her ungrateful children.  The last anyone had heard of the lady, she was living in Ireland, with a man she had met shortly after arriving there.  They married and moved to his small estate. She refused to coorespond with her daughters and her siblings.

A letter arrived nearly six months after the fateful day in Vienna, from Randolph Gardiner.  He had been able to rescue Alex’s body from the river, and laid his nephew’s body in the grave, next to his beloved wife.  They had heard from Mr Gardiner over the years since, but none in the family had seen him since that day.

 

 

So comes the end of our tale.  It was a difficult time, and much to endure, but the changes that were made in so many lives was tremendous.  After the birth of the twins, Elizabeth started a journal, in which she wrote the journey to return to England.  On the first page, Elizabeth wrote the following:  This is the tale of the Darcys continental escape.  If it had not been for that fateful day in Vienna, who knows where life would have taken them.

~~ ** ~~

 

THE END

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