Lady Catherine was furious. Her nephew had ignored her request to attend her immediately. He was not coming to Rosings. To make matters worse, he informed her that he would not be coming to Rosings until after the first of the year. As she sat in her favorite chair, in her most overly decorated sitting room, she was distracted from her fury by her butler announcing the arrival of Mr William Collins.
“So, you have returned, Mr Collins. Of what is it you wished to speak with me?”
“My dear Lady Catherine, it is an honor to be in your presence once again. And might I be at liberty to tell you how well you appear? Have you changed your hair, or perhaps it is the color of your gown, as you appear to be years younger.”
“I have no mood for flattery, Mr Collins. My time is precious. What reason do you have to speak with me?”
Collins was nervous. He did not wish to ask the grand lady for assistance, but he found no other choices. “As you know, I have inherited my cousin’s estate. However, you might not be aware that the estate was nearly destroyed. Fire ravaged the main house and all but two tenant homes were destroyed. I have been making attempts to rebuild, but there is little remaining of the small amount of funds I inherited. I have spoken with a solicitor, but to sue my cousins, taking their inheritance, will cost me funds I do not have. It is my belief that their father and mother should have taken proper care of their family legacy. They did not protect the estate, which led to the destruction of the house and tenant cottages. And they had the audacity of setting aside the funds in trust for their daughters, which will award each of the sisters their share of the five thousand pounds each. Two of the sisters are deceased, it is only right that their shares be brought back to the Longbourn coffers. And, since their parents did not do right by the estate, the young ladies should not be rewarded.”
“I thought you had planned to marry one of them, to keep the family together.” Lady Catherine stated.
“I…I…was turned down in my pursuit of a Bennet daughter for my wife. I tried to speak wisdom with
the young ladies, but they would not capitulate. The second eldest declared she would rather be single all of her life than marry me.”
“How foolish. I pray you gave her a piece of your mind.”
Mr Collins nodded. “I told her she would never receive such a generous offer again, and that she would die a spinster, begging for scrapes from strangers.”
“Where is this insolent chit? Does she remain at the estate?” Lady Catherine would put such a selfish and impertinent young lady in her place.
“No, she is living in Town. The three remaining sisters are living with their aunt and cousins. They are working in a tea shop in Town.”
“I will write to my nephew, and have him teach the chit a lesson. She needs to know her place. As her father’s heir, you are worthy of her hand. The insolence, no, it is not to be borne.”
“In the meantime, I was hoping…I was praying…I was…”
“Out with it, Mr Collins. Tell me what you wished to tell me.”
“Have you filled my position, as your clergyman?”
Lady Catherine knew she had the man in her grasp. And she planned to make him squirm. After all, he had deserted her to take up his estate. “Why, Mr Collins, you wish to return to my parish? You told me that you were a landed gentleman now, and to be my clergyman would be a degradation for a gentleman.”
“I am pleading for your forgiveness. I was wrong to speak as I did, and I pray you will forgive me.” Mr Collins groveled, leaving his seat for the floor, where he all but kissed the lady’s feet.
“Well, if I were to take you back, there would be some changes. To begin with, your salary. As you cared nothing when you left to take up your inheritance, and placed me in a terrible circumstance, I dare not know what I was to do to find an appropriate replacement; and, you will do as I say when it comes to sermons. I will send you a message each week, informing you of the topic I wish discussed.”
“Of course, your ladyship. Such kindness and generosity, only one such as yourself could be so. Your upbringing as the daughter of an earl is far superior to all others.”
“Well, it is no difficulties, as I know proper behavior. And my tastes are far superior. Why, take music. There is no greater fan of music, and, had I been able, would have been a true proficient.”
“Indeed. It is a tremendous loss to not have your talents displayed.”
“Very well, Mr Collins, you may return to the parsonage. What of your wife? Will she remain with her relations, or will she join you here?”
Collins was confused. “I planned to bring my dear Charlotte with me.”
“Then I will call on her, after she is situated at the parsonage.”
“Such an honor, your ladyship. Such a fine honor. My dear wife will be pleased to have such benevolence bestowed upon her.” Collins said, as he, once again, was groveling before Lady Catherine.
“Then be off with you. And you will come tomorrow, so we can discuss your sermon.”
Collins was still praising Lady Catherine, as he walked backwards towards the door of the sitting room. His body was bowing until he was well out of sight of Lady Catherine. Now he would make his way to the Rose Crest Inn of Hunsford, to tell his wife of the outcome.
He was pleased to return to his position, as he felt most important as the clergy for Lady Catherine de Bourgh. In the time since he became Master of Longbourn, he had not felt at all important. Even when he married from the neighborhood surrounding Longbourn, he still did not achieve the level of standing that he felt was owed to him.
Entering the inn, Collins went to the table in the dining parlor, where his wife was seated. “Charlotte, good news, my dear.”
“Lady Catherine will take you back as her clergyman?” Charlotte prayed. She had great hopes that with his employment, he would drop his plans to
sue her dear friends, the Bennets. Every time he would have a tirade over how he had been cheated from his rightful inheritance, Charlotte cringed. She had known the family all of her life, and she knew it was not their fault for the fire. Lightning has struck a dying tree, catching fire. The area had been in a drought, so the dry fields encouraged the flames to spread. They were fortunate that no further damage was suffered, as the entire neighborhood could have burned.
“She is magnanimous. I cannot wait to introduce you to Lady Catherine, as you will be overjoyed to be in her presence. And you will learn so many valuable lessons from her. Her Ladyship’s knowledge is beyond compare.”
“When can we move to the parsonage?”
“Immediately. The clergyman who was last here left suddenly a few weeks prior. He did not allow for her to find a replacement. Such an irresponsible man. But we can take our belongings to the parsonage, then we will need to make a list of what we will need to purchase. And we can send world to your father, so to make arrangements to have our belongings brought here.”
Charlotte smiled. Though she knew her husband was not the brightest candle in the window, she now had a home of her own to manage. That was her greatest desire, as she was considered to be on the shelf at the age of seven and twenty. Now, she would be Mistress of her own home.
~~ ** ~~
Picking up the mail from the salver, Darcy noted that the writing was that of his aunt, Lady Catherine. Knowing it was likely another request for him to make the journey to Rosings, he was quite surprised to read the letter.
I am pleased to inform you that Mr Collins has returned to Hunsford Parish. I am delighted to have his return, as I will no longer have to search through so many incompetent clergy.
It grieves me to hear the deplorable situation the poor man has suffered, with his inheritance. His cousin was the Master of Longbourn, in Hertfordshire. The cousin foolishly allowed the estate to be destroyed by a fire, which took the manor house and most of the tenant homes. The family were then struck down by the epidemic that swept through several counties. The cousin and his wife died, and I believe some of his children. Other relations suffered as well, leaving no males in the family. Poor Mr Collins has an estate which is completely ruined, and he is attempting to recover some of the funds, which have been given to the cousin’s daughters. From what I have been told, the young ladies do not deserve the funds, as their family caused the fire. I will do what I can to assist him in finding a proper solicitor, as these chits do not deserve to benefit from Mr Collins’ misfortune.
I still expect you to come, as it is time for you to do your duty to your family. I can have Mr Collins begin reading the banns this Sunday.
Anne is expecting you to come, as she cannot wait for your wedding to be decided.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Darcy could not believe his aunt’s words. He had expected his aunt to continue with her demands that he came to Rosings, but it was the news about Mr Collins that was most shocking.
Could this be the information that Darcy had wished to learn from Jane Bennet? Could her father’s estate be Longbourn? If so, there were more questions to be answered. The most important question was if there were no living male relatives, just who was Elijah Bennet?
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
“Lizzy, you really should take a day and rest.” Mrs Gardiner stated, a look of worry on her face.
“We have several orders today that will keep Kitty in the kitchen, so I need to be at my post, in the shop. Lady Matlock has ordered several items for her dinner party, and Kitty will be busy. And besides, you will need to tend the children.”
“The children know that there are times they need to behave. I fear that you are exhausted, and will take ill. It would not do for you to take a fever or something.”
“I will be fine, Aunt. If you would assist me please, as I need to wrap myself before I dress. Kitty is too busy to aid me this morning.”
Mrs Gardiner took the strips of cloth that her niece held out in her hand. Once dressed in Mr Gardiner’s former clothes, Elijah was ready to begin another day in the tea shop.
He had just unlocked the door of the tea shop, and turned the sign in the window, showing they were open, when Darcy entered the shop.
“Good morning Mr Bennet. How are you this fine day?”
Elijah was embarrassed, as he had not seen Darcy for several days, since he fled the tea shop in tears. Redness crept up Elijah’s neck, continuing up to his forehead.
“Mr Darcy, it is good to see you. I pray you will forgive my actions from the other day. I do not know what came over me.”
Darcy waved his hand in the air. “Tis no matter, Mr Bennet. You have had a troublesome year, and it is not surprising to have emotions overwhelm one from time to time.”
“I thank you for your generosity. Is there anything particular you are looking for today?”
“I was hoping to enjoy a cup of tea and some pastries. Our sisters left early this morning to join my aunt, and I felt it would be foolish for my staff to fix a meal just for me.”
“You are always welcome to break your fast with us. Kitty is busy in the kitchen, as your aunt put in quite an order for today. But we have plenty of items to tempt your taste.”
Darcy chuckled. He chose two pastries and a cup of black tea with peppermint and orange peel, then made his way to a table, taking his seat.
“My friend, Mr Bingley, is joining me today. He has been away from Town, as he is searching for an estate to lease.”
“Mr Bingley seemed to be quite amiable. Are you good friends?”
“Indeed, we are, and you are correct, he is amiable. Rarely does a word against someone come from him.”
“Much like my sister, Jane.” Elijah chuckled.
“I had the same notion. I believe I wish to introduce them to each other, and see where it leads.”
“Mr Darcy, you are playing matchmaker for your friend?”
This brought another chuckle from the man. “My friend’s father died before he could purchase an estate, so it is up to Bingley to find one. He has been looking all over, and I think he has found one that might be perfect for him to learn the ins and outs of running an estate.”
“Tis a noble plan, Mr Darcy.”
“I will go with him to give him advice. The property that we leave tomorrow to visit is in Hertfordshire, a Netherfield Park. It is near the market village of Meryton. Have you ever been there?”
Elijah became nervous. “I…I…believe I m…m…might have been there, when I was much younger.”
“Bingley stated his agent was pleased with the estate, saying the neighborhood was pleasant. I look forward to seeing the location. My greatest hope is that his sisters do not join us. Miss Bingley believes it to be her destiny to become Mistress of Pemberley, and she makes it difficult to avoid her.”
“W…when are you planning to join Mr Bingley? Will your sister make the journey as well?”
Darcy knew he was on the right trail. “I am not certain. Do you believe your sister would enjoy visiting Hertfordshire, even though it is not her home?”
Elijah became extremely nervous. If Mr Darcy were to go to Netherfield, the estate which neighbored the Bennet family estate, he would discover the truth. And if Jane were to journey there, with both of the Darcys, she would be recognized immediately. Even the housekeeper at Netherfield was known to the Bennet family.
“I…I…am not certain. Possibly…though she has had painful memories…from living in Hertfordshire.”
“Is this near your family’s estate? I would be willing to visit there, to ensure all is well.”
Nervously, Elijah tried to find a way to discourage Darcy from the notion. “I am n…not sure. I w…would have to s…speak to Jane. She m…might know better.”
Darcy nodded his head. Silently, he knew he was on the right trail. “Well, I am pleased to learn that my aunt’s need to find another clergyman is not immediate. My sister and I plan to visit our aunt’s estate, Rosings Park, after the first of the year. It will be interesting to meet her clergyman.”
Elijah knew that the man Darcy was speaking of was her father’s cousin, Mr Collins. He had written to her father when he first took possession of the living of Hunsford. The letter went on and on about his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, of Rosings Park.
“I am sure you will enjoy yourself. Visiting relations can be an interesting time.”
“Do you have any relations, other than your sister, aunt and cousins who live here?” Darcy inquired, wishing to see if Elijah would give away any further evidence.
“My father had a distant cousin, but we never met the man. My father declared the man a simpleton, like his father, and did not wish to have connection with him.”
“Perhaps he was a simpleton, but now, with so little family left to you, it might be kind to reach out to him.”
Elijah shook his head. “I would not even know
how to contact the man, even if I wished to do so.”
Darcy was not paying attention to what he was doing, and his hand struck his teacup in a manner which spilled some of the tea in his lap. Jumping up from his seat, Darcy muttered to himself. Elijah snatched a towel from the counter, handing it to the gentleman.
“Mr Darcy, you should go upstairs, to the apartments. My aunt can assist you in cleaning your clothes.” Elijah stated. Part of him was embarrassed, the other part struggled to keep from laughing.
“I thank you, Mr Bennet. I shall not be long.” Darcy made his way up the stairs, closing the door behind him.
As Elijah was cleaning up the tea from the floor and table, he heard the bell of the door ring out. Without looking, Elijah called out “I will be with you in a moment.”
Raising his head, Elijah was shocked at the scene before him. Two men, dressed in the clothing of a dock hand from the piers, were standing before him. Both had cloth tied to cover their nose and mouth, and both were carrying knives in their hands.
“Kep yor trap shut, and no harm will coms your way.” The larger of the two men said. “We be wontin you money.”
“My sister took our deposit to the bank. We only have a few coins.” Elijah lied. “I will give you the coins, please, there is no need to be violent.”
“You be doin a right good business, so we be knowun you got more dan a few coin. Where you hiden it?”
“Please, I promise you, my sister has already gone to the bank with a deposit.” Elijah walked towards the cash box behind the counter. He pulled out the box, showing the men that there was a handful of coins, nothing more. What he did not say was that all large sales, the funds were placed in a false bottom drawer of the counter.
The smaller of the two men moved to look in the drawer, unable to see any money, backhanded Elijah. “You should not of made us mad. We be needin the money, and we be needin it now.”
Elijah could feel blood running down his cheek, from the strike the man had perpetrated. He cried out in pain, as he stumbled from the force.
Suddenly, he could hear Darcy coming down the stairs. Seeing that the other men had heard the footsteps, Elijah called out to warn the gentleman. “Run, Mr Darcy, run.”
Darcy looked up from dabbing the water from the front of his vest when he heard Elijah call out to him. Rather than running, Darcy moved towards the men. The taller man grabbed Elijah, wrapping an arm around his victim’s shoulders, and putting the tip of a wicked looking knife to his throat.
“Stay back.” The shorter man said, jabbing his knife at Darcy. “We kill im if you come closer.”
“I have no problem with you.” Darcy stated. “But if you harm my friend, you will have me as your enemy. You do not wish to make me your enemy.”
There was the ring of the door’s bell, distracting the robbers for a moment. It was a moment, but a moment which would change the lives of Darcy and Elijah forever.
Darcy lunged forward, as the shorter man’s head was slightly turned, looking at the entrance door. Knocking the knife from the man’s hand, Darcy picked the weapon up and held it in a position to strike. The taller man moved backwards, keeping hold of his hostage, knife at the ready.
The woman who was entering the shop screamed at the sight of the men and the knives, as she stood in the door-frame of the entryway. The men knew the door was open, and the two robbers were moving to escape. Darcy, though he wished to stop the robbers, was mainly concerned with Elijah and the newcomer, praying they would not be injured.
Finally, having moved close enough to the door, the taller man brought his knife to cut Elijah, then flung him towards Darcy, as the robbers pushed past the lady customer.
Darcy’s concern halted him from pursuit after the criminals, as he had seen the knife cut Elijah. “Mr Bennet, please, allow me to check the injury.” Darcy began loosening Elijah’s short coat and shirt, while the young man attempted to resist.
“It is not necessary, Mr Darcy. My aunt will be able to tend the wound, it is nothing more than a scratch.” Elijah pleaded, as his hands attempted to thwart Darcy’s hands, as they continued to loosen the clothing.
The lady who was still near the entrance, was shocked at all that had happened. Darcy looked at her and called for her to fetch a physician. After he repeated his request for the third time, the lady nodded her head and scurried out the door.
“Mr Bennet, please, allow me to aid you. You are bleeding, and far more than just a scratch.”
“No, no, it is nothing my aunt cannot manage.” Elijah declared.
Darcy was finally able to unfasten the button on Elijah’s shirtsleeves, and pulled the cloth to the side. He could see the wound, which did not appear to be severe, but he also saw the cloth strips which wrapped around Elijah’s chest.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Darcy gave into his desires and soundly kissed the lips of Elizabeth Bennet.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~