CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

“How much further?” Demanded Lady Catherine, as they stopped at a post to exchange horses.  “Where are we?”

 

The postilion had opened the door for her ladyship.  “The driver said that we should make Lambton by tea time.  From there, we should be at Pemberley not long after.”

 

“I am displeased with the way this trip has gone.  We should have been at Pemberley days ago.”

 

Anne rolled her eyes at her mother’s comments.  “Well, Mother, that is what happens when you travel to the North in the dead of winter.  You know only too well, as you grew up in Derbyshire.”

 

“Winters in Derbyshire were incentive to marry someone who lived in the south of England.  The weather is far kinder in Kent.  It is ridiculous that we have to endure such storms.”

 

“One day, Mother, there will be no need to worry, as you will be able to travel all over England in moments, rather than days.  Perhaps they will breed a new type of horse that will be able to run faster and longer.  Or perhaps they will design a carriage that will fly through the air.”

 

“Do not be such a fool.  You know I dislike your attitude when you speak such nonsense.” Lady Catherine huffed.

 

“Well, I did not come with a fairy godmother who could wave a magic wand, so I have no suggestions as to a way to travel in snow that would place us at Pemberley sooner.” Anne walked inside the posting inn, and was directed to the dining parlor.

 

As the two ladies sat down, the owner of the establishment came to offer refreshments. Lady Catherine was displeased at the condition of the building, as it was not as high a quality as she would have preferred.  But the storms they had traveled through made it impossible to stay in the best establishment, as those places were filled to capacity with other travelers.

 

Tea was brought to the table, which Lady Catherine complained the drink was low quality, and quite weak.  They were offered some broth, cold meats, and bread, of which, the ladies accepted the broth and bread.  As they finished the repast, their driver had sent the postilion to inform the ladies that the carriage was ready when they were.

 

The remainder of their journey was like all the rest, filled with snow, cold, and abominable companionship.  Anne was miserable, and refused to be kind.  Her mother was ridiculous in her decision to make the journey to Pemberley, so Anne refused to accept her mother’s complaints.  In her opinion, Lady Catherine was receiving what she deserved for making such a trip.

 

Anne stared out the window of the carriage, thinking of what was happening in her life.  She was displeased with her life, and could not think of a reason why she should be forced into a marriage with her cousin.  Even if the information was untrue, and Wickham was found to be a liar, Anne had no desire to marry her cousin.  If she was pushed to answer, Anne would likely announce she had no desire to marry anyone.  Why did a woman have to marry?  She did not understand the need.  There was no desire to have children, she despised children.  Anne preferred to make her cousin, Richard, heir to Rosings, and live out her life in peace and quiet.  Of course, that would only happen after her mother was gone, and if she was not forced to marry Darcy.

 

Having written to Richard, Anne was wondering where he was.  She had not heard from him prior to their departure, so she was not certain that he had received her letter.  Part of her prayed he was at Pemberley, as she would require his assistance, if she were to convince her mother that she did not wish to marry.

 

Finally, after days of travel and enduring her mother’s constant anger, Pemberley was in sight.

~~ ** ~~

“Mr Darcy, there is a carriage approaching,” the footman informed his master.  “Mrs Reynolds stated it appears to be Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s carriage.”

 

“Is Mrs Reynolds at the entrance, waiting for my aunt?”

 

“Yes, sir.  She is in the foyer.”

 

Darcy nodded his head, dismissing the footman.  For what possible reason has Aunt Catherine journeyed here?  She has not been to Pemberley since my mother’s death.  When Father died, she made no effort to come.  Why would she come now?

 

Having read to Elizabeth for the last hour, Darcy had just left her room when the footman located him.  Elizabeth was recovering, slowly, and she had drifted off to sleep while he was reading to her.  It was his goal to order a tray brought up when Elizabeth woke.  She had begun to sleep for a few hours at a time, then wake and take some nourishment.  Then Darcy or Jane would read to her.

 

Elizabeth had not wished to take laudanum, as she did not like the way she felt when taking the opiate.  So, the times that she was read to assisted her in pushing past her pain.  Darcy was grateful that she was able to find rest, as he understood the dislike of the medication.  Yet, he knew she needed the restorative sleep to improver her health.

 

Over a week had passed by, and Elizabeth seemed to improve a little each day.  But it would be some time before she was completely recovered.  The smoke from the fire had left damage to her lungs, and Mr. Freemont was of the opinion that Elizabeth would suffer the affects for the rest of her life.  He recommended treatment with some herbs he had found successful for respiratory problems.  Amongst the herbs was eucalyptus, which had been imported from Australia.  Mr Freemont had studied medical treatments in Italy, before the war, and had found the herb to be beneficial, especially when used with peppermint.  They also kept licorice root syrup on hand, as it aided with soothing the throat.  Kitty had also received treatment from the herbs, and was improving each day.

 

Weary from days and nights of being at Elizabeth’s side, the last thing Darcy wished to contend with was his aunt.  He was grateful that his uncle and aunt were still at Pemberley, as they wished to be of assistance during the aftermath of the fire.  Darcy was grateful, especially due to the fact that Henry Fitzwilliam, the Earl of Matlock, was one of the few people who could contain his sister when she was in a fit.  And, for Lady Catherine to make such a journey, it was certain she would be in a fit.

~~ ** ~~

“Sister, what brings you here?” Lord Matlock inquired, as he walked down the stairs to the foyer.  He was on his way down to speak with his sons, who were in the game room, when his attention was drawn to his sister’s arrival.  “And Anne, good heavens, you should not be traveling in such weather, not with your frail health.”

 

“Henry, what are you doing here?  I need to speak with Fitzwilliam immediately, and after I have spoken with him, we will need to have the clergyman called to perform a marriage ceremony.  I have procured a special license.”

 

“And just who is getting married?”

 

“Our nephew and my daughter. It is time all this foolishness is ended, and Fitzwilliam fulfills his mother’s fondest wish.  You know that Anne and I planned the union when my Anne was just an infant.  Our sister wished for her son to be joined with my daughter, combining our estates.”

 

Lord Matlock shook his head.  “Not this nonsense again.  Catherine, how many times must we tell you, William is not marrying Anne.  You know it was not the fondest wish of our sister.  She wished for her children to marry for love, not for material gain.”

 

“You were not as close to Anne as I was, so you would not know her dearest wishes.  Girls do not speak of such things with their brothers.” Lady Catherine stated.  “Now, where is my nephew?  I need to speak with him, and have him call for the clergyman.”

 

“I am here, Aunt Catherine.  And what are you doing here, calling for the clergyman?  Has someone died?” Darcy said as he made his way down the staircase.

 

“There you are, Nephew.  We need to talk in private.  We should go to your study.” Lady Catherine began walking towards the hall that led to Darcy’s study.

 

“Aunt Catherine, there is no need for us to speak in private.  There is nothing you can say to me that cannot be said in front of your brother.” Darcy spoke, attempting to keep control of his anger, which was boiling to the surface.  If he were left alone with his aunt, he would most likely throttle the woman.  Darcy tried to remind himself that his aunt, Lady Catherine, was his mother’s only sister.  No matter how angry and frustrating she could be, Darcy had vowed to treat the lady with respect, as his mother had taught him in his early years.

 

“You will agree with me, when you learn what I have to say, that this meeting should be held in private.  I insist we adjourn to your study.”

 

“Catherine, I believe our nephew is correct, you have nothing to say to him that cannot be said in my presence.  I will attend this meeting, and we will make our way to William’s study.  But first, allow me to ensure your daughter’s well-being.  Anne, if you would like, I can send for my wife to see to your care.”

 

“I am fine, Uncle.  I would ask, is Richard here?  I wrote to him, yet have not heard from him for some time.” Anne inquired.

 

“He is, as a matter of fact.  I believe he and his brother are playing billiards in the game room.  Would you like me to show you the way?”

 

“No…no, I am certain that one of the servants can show me the way.  I will be fine.  You attend Mother, as she has much she wishes to discuss with you.” Anne was thrilled to be away from her mother, and grateful that Richard was at Pemberley.  She needed to speak with him immediately.

 

One of the footmen was nearby, and she was soon at the door of the game room.  The Fitzwilliam brothers were smoking cigars and enjoying good-natured teasing, when they heard someone open the door.

 

Shocked was the first emotion that came to the men.  Richard was able to remember his manners before his brother.  “Anne, we had no idea you were coming.  How did you get here?  Is your mother with you?”

 

“Unfortunately, yes, Mother is meeting with your father and Darcy.  I simply must speak with you, it is crucial.”

 

“Of course, Anne.  What can we do for you?” Albert inquired.

 

At first, Anne was nervous.  She did not know Albert as well as she knew Richard.  Albert was the eldest, ten years older than his brother.  Finally, Anne decided to trust both of the men.

 

“I wrote to you, Richard, but you must not have received my letter.  You must aid Darcy.  Mother believes she has a way to force Darcy into marrying me.  I do not wish to marry him.  Please, you must aid me in refusing my mother’s demands.”

 

“What could she be using to force William into a marriage, one to which he has professed he would never submit?” Richard asked.  He was certain that there was nothing Anne would know that could be used to blackmail their cousin.

 

“Wickham has been to Rosings…”

 

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

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Richard had not thought he would hear the name of his cousin’s former friend.  “Good God, what has he done now?”

 

“He informed Mother that he witnessed Darcy…that he saw Darcy…” Anne was having difficulty in saying the words.

 

“What was Darcy doing?” Albert asked, his brows pulled together as he frowned.

 

“Wickham informed Mother that he saw our cousin kissing.”

 

Richard realized what Wickham must have seen.  “Let me guess, Wickham believed he witnessed William kissing…a man?”

 

Anne nodded her head.  “Richard, you must aid me.  Of all in our family, you have always treated me with kindness.  I cannot be married to Darcy.  Please, Richard, I cannot do as my mother commands.  Especially now, as the thought of Darcy kissing another man makes me ill.”

 

Giving a slight chuckle, Richard stepped closer to his cousin, taking her by the hand.  “Have no fear, Anne.  The person our cousin foolishly kissed in a tea shop in Town, where anyone could have seen him, was actually a young lady.”

 

“But…why would Wickham tell Mother that it was a man?”  Anne frowned.

 

“The young lady was dressed as a man, to protect her family.  It is a long story, Anne, but our reclusive cousin has found a young lady he loves.  And I believe she loves him in return.  He is courting her.”

 

Albert nodded his head.  “He surprised us all…well, except our mother.  She thought they would be a perfect match from the start.  And the young lady is here, with her relations.”

 

Anne was shocked beyond belief.  “Darcy has brought her here, to Pemberley?  Has he set her up as his mistress?”

 

“No, not at all.  The young lady is Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Her family owned the tea shop in Town, which they sold and moved to Lambton, opening a shop in the village.  Unfortunately, a fire broke out, and Miss Elizabeth and one of her sisters were injured.  William had them brought here to be tended.” Richard answered her questions.

 

“He has found someone to love?” Anne asked, her emotions conflicting.  Life had been simple, even though she did not wish for the life her mother had determined.  Could she be released from the cold and bitter marriage for which she did not wish?  Could she finally have a life that she wanted, not one for which her mother decided?  “Richard, do you know anything about my father’s will?  Do you know what I can and cannot do with my life?”

 

“We have all wondered often about your father’s will, as you should have been his heir.  But your mother has the only copy of the will.  The solicitor died shortly after your father, and his office caught fire.  Our father has often speculated as to your father’s decisions, especially when it comes to your mother.  Forgive me, but it was no secret that your father and mother were not the best of friends, and it is highly doubtful that he would leave her in control of his entire inheritance.” Richard was pleased to see a slight change in the young lady.  He had always wished to cheer her, as it was clear to him that she had no joy in her life.  Her mother’s command had always overruled anything that Anne wished.

 

Anne began pacing about the room.  Could her father have left everything to her, rather than her mother?  If so, did she no longer need to answer to her mother?  Did she have the right to make decisions, even for her mother’s future?  A wicked grin began to form on her lips.

 

“I believe I know where Mother may have hidden the will.” Anne announced.  “And I believe I will need someone to make the journey to Rosings, to find the will and bring it to me.  Though I am not as frail as Mother makes everyone think, I have not traveled for many years, and with the weather complicating the journey, I am in no condition to make the journey home.”

 

Richard was surprised to see his cousin taking such a stand.  “I am on leave from my unit, and am supposed to return to Town in a fortnight.  As the roads may be treacherous by carriage, I will go on horseback.  Now, tell me where the will might be, so I can come to your aid.”

~~ ** ~~

“So, Catherine, what is this all about? What was so important that you brought your daughter and yourself through storms and bad roads, to come here for the first time in many years?”  Lord Matlock asked as he took the chair he had moved to the side of his nephew’s desk, after turning the chair to face his sister.  The powerful play placed Henry Fitzwilliam at his nephew’s side, showing his support of Darcy.

 

Lady Catherine glared at her brother.  He had the power that she had craved as a child, feeling she should have been the Earl of Matlock, as she was first born.  All of her life, she had held bitterness about not being unable to inherit the title and property.  Then, when she was older, she wished to marry the wealthiest man she knew, none other than Gerard Darcy.  The fact that Catherine’s father made the match for his younger daughter to marry that Darcy was yet another frustration to the lady.  Her younger sister had everything, beauty, a handsome and wealthy husband, an estate that was centuries old and produced well, and a son–a son who was just as handsome and wealthy as his father.  Catherine had wished she was younger, wished she was in her daughter’s position.  She would have stopped at nothing to have secured Fitzwilliam Darcy as her husband, which puzzled her why Anne had not held such a desire.

 

“I have come to speak with my nephew on a matter that is of an urgent and private nature.  News has reached me of Darcy’s recent behavior while in London, behavior that is shocking and could lead to his being killed.”

 

Darcy and his uncle both frowned.  “Aunt Catherine, I cannot think of anything that would lead to my being killed.  I am certain that my courting a young lady may shock some from the ton, as I have not shown interest in their daughters or widows.  But I can tell you that I am in love, and I intend on marrying…”

 

“Marriage?  How can you possibly marry your lover?  You will be killed for even having such a lover, but it is illegal for such an alliance.” Lady Catherine’s voice raised with her ire.

 

Completely confused, Darcy spoke again.  “Elizabeth is not my lover, yet, as we have not wed.  I pray that she will marry me sometime after the New Year.”

 

“Elizabeth?  Who is Elizabeth?” Lady Catherine was confused.

 

“What on earth are you saying, Catherine? You were not aware that are nephew is courting a young lady named Miss Elizabeth Bennet?” Lord Matlock asked.

 

“I am speaking of our nephew having been seen in an intimate embrace with another man.  I am speaking of Fitzwilliam being involved in an illegal relationship with a man, and the man is one in trade, in Town.”

 

Darcy realized of what his aunt was speaking.  Though it disturbed him that he had been seen kissing Elizabeth while she was dressed as Elijah, he also found it humorous that his aunt believed him to prefer men.  “Aunt Catherine, I must inform you that the report was erroneous.  I was not involved with a man.  The person I was seen kissing was a young lady, dressed as a young man.”

 

Lady Catherine was appalled.  “You made the chit dress as a man, so you could play out your fantasy?  Henry, do you hear what our nephew is saying?  We must send him away, before anyone else hears of his disgusting appetite.  I had thought to force Darcy into marrying Anne, but now, with his preference and forcing young ladies to dress as men, I would not allow him in the same room with my daughter.  We must take steps to have Pemberley and all of his holdings taken from him, and Georgiana must be removed to my care.”

 

“That will never happen, Catherine.”  Lord Matlock gave his nephew a look that spoke of silence.  Darcy knew his uncle’s look, and decided it was appropriate to allow his elder to speak for him.  “Now, Catherine, I can attest to the fact that the young lady dressed as a man due to her family having lost their men, and her aunt’s business was in jeopardy, not having a man.  So Miss Elizabeth pretended to be a man, so as to be allowed to handle business for her relations.”

 

“He has told you this tale so you would be fooled.  Surely you can understand that he is ill.  Why else would he kiss a girl who is dressed as a young man?”

 

“I had only just discovered the truth about Miss Elizabeth, and visited her at the shop.  When I went to the back of the shop to wash, robbers entered the shop.  Miss Elizabeth received a minor injury from the robbers’ blade, and I was so grateful she was not seriously harmed, that I kissed her.” Darcy explained.   “And, if I were to own the truth, it was due to you that I discovered Miss Elizabeth was a young lady, confirming what I had come to believe for some time.”

 

Lady Catherine frowned.  “How could I have had anything to do with the matter?  I do not know the chit.”

 

“Ah, but you know her family.  Or, perhaps it would be wiser to say you know of her family.”

 

“What did you say her name was?  Bentley, Benton…”

 

“Bennet…the Bennets of Longbourn, in Hertfordshire.”

 

Realization sprang forth.  “My clergyman’s relations?  The orphaned nobodies that ruined their father’s estate and left it in such a condition, their cousin, the heir, could not live there?  And they have relations in trade, though it appears that you are aware of that information.  They will soon be poor as church mice when Mr Collins is finished with them, for my solicitor says they will be forced to return the funds left them when their parents died.”

 

“No, they will not be giving up their inheritance to your clergyman.  I have had my solicitor look into the matter, and the fire was not of their making.  So, you will have to keep Collins on, for he will most likely need to sell the estate.  The lands are fertile and I am certain that they will fetch a good price.  Then Mr Collins can purchase some property or even a small townhouse in London.  The Bennet sisters have lost far too much, and I will see that they do not lose their inheritance from their parents.”

 

“Catherine, I am in agreement with William.  I looked over the papers that had been filed on behalf of the Bennet sisters.  They received their mother’s five thousand pounds, which is in the bank in Town.  The little they receive per annum is hardly enough to support them and their relations.  I suggest that you convince your Mr Collins to sell the land of the estate, especially since there is much to do to make the estate livable.”

 

Darcy began thinking of another matter.  “I would have you tell me who came to you with the news of my kissing Miss Elizabeth.”

 

“A reliable source…one you would have been wise to keep close to you years ago.  But he is close to me, and brings me news when he feels necessary.”

 

Shaking his head, Darcy knew immediately who was behind the gossip.  “Wickham.” Was all he said.

 

“He is a good man, and serves me well.  It would have been wiser of you to have kept him as a friend, but you refused to aid him when he needed you most.  Now you will be forced to live with the consequences of your cruelty.”

 

“I would never trust that scoundrel for all the gold in England.” Darcy recommended.  “He is a rake, a blackguard, and has ruined people since we were young.  Ruining young ladies with his dalliances, and financially ruining men by gambling and running out on his debts.”

 

“I know the truth.  George Wickham was doted on by your father.  It was clear that he was your father’s by-blow.  Obviously Gerald cheated on my sister, and he desired having his natural child kept close.” Lady Catherine preened, as if she was proud of her declaration.

 

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

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