“Now, see here.” Lord Matlock’s fury took hold. “Gerald never cheated on Anne. I know for a fact that Wickham was not a Darcy, as the young man was in fact, Gerald’s nephew. If you did not already know the truth, it is time that you know. Wickham was the son of your own husband. Louis de Bourgh was disgusted with your behavior, so he came north, spending time at Matlock. Wickham’s mother was a maid at our estate. When we learned the truth, I had the maid taken to a cottage with a widow of one of our tenants. We gave the widow the cottage for the remainder of her years. The maid, Lucy, died giving birth. The boy was then given to Gerald’s steward, who had no children, and his wife was desperate for a child of her own. Unfortunately, Mrs Wickham did not live long.”
“How dare you make such an accusation?” Lady Catherine stood, anger completely taking over her mind.
“Catherine, I am not lying. I swear, Louis signed papers, acknowledging the boy as his illegitimate child. He provided the funds for the boy’s education. But the child, there was something wrong with him. As Richard and William can both attest, George Wickham is plain wicked.”
“This cannot be true…no, I will not believe you.” Catherine leaned back, appearing as if she were planning to strike her brother. “No one was to know. He told me that no one knew.”
This conflicted with what either of the men expected. Darcy was the first to break silence. “What do you mean? Did you know of Wickham’s birth, that the boy was your late husband’s natural son?”
Lady Catherine was ignoring what the men had just said, as she began mumbling. “How could it come out now? It was never to be known. I did everything to protect the secret. No one was to know.”
Lord Matlock stood, moving to take hold his sister. “Catherine, tell me the truth. Did you know of your husband’s affair and the child he fathered with our maid?”
“No…no…I cannot accept this, as I know my husband was incapable of having children…”
Now Darcy was on his feet, shocked at what his aunt had just revealed. “What are you saying? Aunt, tell me the truth.”
Seeming as if she was coming out of a stupor, Lady Catherine looked at the men as if she could not distinguish who they were. Suddenly, Lady Catherine collapsed to the floor.
The men rushed to her, attempting to wake her. When they were unable to revive her, Darcy pulled the cord to summon aid. Mrs Reynolds responded, and soon had a servant rushing to fetch the surgeon, who happened to be at Pemberley, checking on the improvements of his two Bennet patients.
Lady Catherine was taken up to one of the guest rooms, placed into the bed, and was examined. Mr. Freemont declared her having suffered from apoplexy, and she was in poor condition. It would surprise the surgeon to have Lady Catherine survive longer than a month. “To be honest, I suspect she has been suffering from small attacks of apoplexy, as it appears she has had weakness of the muscles on the left side of her body, weakness that appears to have been there for some time. Simply looking at her shoes showed the wear pattern of someone who was stronger on her right side than she was on her left.”
“If only she had sought medical assistance, but my sister has always of the opinion that she was healthier than everyone else.” Lord Matlock stated. “But, she knew everything, as she was fond of reminding all of us.”
“My only regret is not knowing of what she was saying, just before she collapsed.” Darcy added. “Is there any possible way of learning more of the matter?”
“Louis’ solicitor died just days after Louis. And it was not long after that the office of the solicitor was burned to the ground. It was quite a sad situation. No one was sure how the solicitor died, though most believed he suffered a heart ailment.”
Darcy looked at his uncle, each of the men giving the other a look which suggested there had been some foul play involved in both the man’s death and his office fire.
“I doubt we will ever know for certain, though we should investigate which solicitor Catherine has used, to learn more of her will. Louis’ will was never found, believed burned in the fire, and Catherine had two servants who swore they had signed as witness to Louis signing of his will, and both servants claimed the will gave everything to Catherine.”
“My father was always suspected that the servants had been paid to lie about the will.” Darcy said. “He asked Aunt Catherine to speak to the servants, as he wished to confirm their testimony. But the servants had moved on, and no longer worked for her.”
“We need to know who Catherine hired as solicitor, and find all of her documents. I believe there is more going on than we have been told in many years.” Lord Matlock was frustrated. Rather than having a pleasant holiday season, everything was now chaos. And it would remain chaos for some time to come.
~~ ** ~~
“I just learned that my son has left and will be gone for a week.” Lady Matlock announced as she entered the drawing room. “Just where did my youngest decide to go?”
Albert was waiting for his parents to tell them both of Richard’s decision to honor Anne’s request. “Mother, where is Father? I would prefer to speak with both of you on the matter.”
“He is speaking with the surgeon. They are not certain what will become of Catherine.”
“Anne is in her rooms, as she was fatigued from the journey here. She went up before Aunt Catherine collapsed, and I have yet to inform Anne of her mother’s condition.”
Lady Matlock shook her head as she spoke. “What a fine mess Catherine has left for all of us. And no one knows what to do about the estate, as she always kept everything private, not allowing anyone know what was happening. There is no harm in telling you this now, but your father has wondered for years if his sister had a hand in her husband’s death. We never told anyone, but Louis de Bourgh died from poisoning.”
“Poisoned?” Albert cried out in surprise. “Well, that does sound like Aunt Catherine. Good God, nothing that woman does should shock me. How did you learn of the cause of death?”
“Your father had a surgeon examine the body. We could not prove how he was poisoned, or who was responsible, but we knew for certain that Louis had been poisoned. And it was not long after Catherine found her husband in the arms of another woman that Louis suddenly died.”
“Are we certain that Aunt Catherine is father’s sister? I cannot find any similarities between her and her siblings.” Albert was perplexed at the vast difference between Lady Catherine, his father, and Lady Anne.
“I have wondered the same. Henry and Anne never acted as Catherine has. The only thing I can determine is that Catherine was swapped shortly after birth. She does not even look like anyone in the family.”
Albert looked at his mother, questioning if she was thinking the same as him. Both realized that they should speak with one man…Henry Fitzwilliam, the current Earl of Matlock.
Finding Lord Matlock near the library, the mother and son suggested they enter the most prized room in Pemberley.
“Henry, I wish to speak with you on an issue, and Albert has information concerning Richard.” Lady Matlock explained their purpose for wishing to speak with him.
“You are welcome to ask anything, my dear.” Lord Matlock was pleased he had married his closest friend, who was also the love of his life. He had never had the desire to have a mistress, or to visit a brothel. The only woman he had ever been with was his beloved wife.
“If I remember correctly, your father was well known for his prowess, correct?”
Lord Matlock nodded his head, so his wife continued. “Do you have any siblings that were not by your mother?”
Lord Matlock was surprised, but after the day they had endured with Lady Catherine, he was not completely taken aback. “I believe there were three. Two girls and a boy. One of the girls died when she was quite young, and the boy died several years later. I have never met the remaining girl. According to what I was told, by my uncle, the girl was sent to the Americas. Why do you ask?”
Albert stepped forward. “I believe Mother is asking for the same possibility that I wonder about. Is Aunt Catherine the natural daughter of one of Grandfather’s mistresses?”
Stepping back a bit, Lord Matlock looked at his first-born and his wife. “I must admit the truth, I have often believed the same. Our mother was nothing like Catherine. My father had many…ladies. I have never told anyone, but I read my mother’s journal from the year I was born. At first, I thought Mother made a simple mistake. Truth is, my mother spoke of my being born in April, not in June. And they said I was born early, though I was supposedly a large baby. If I was born in April, and not born early, then my mother could not have given birth to Catherine, as she was born in September before my birth.”
“All these years, and you never spoke of your concerns? Henry, how could you keep this secret?” Lady Matlock was shaken. “We have always told one another the truth.”
“I had no proof, and I had no desire to ever ruin Catherine’s name. And I did not wish to bring shame to my mother. She doted on Anne and me, loved us dearly. If the truth were to come out that Catherine was her husband’s natural child, and she was forced to raise Catherine as her own, I could not cause Mother pain.” Lord Matlock draped his arm around his wife’s shoulders. “You did not know my father well, as he died months after our wedding. Father was not pleasant, especially to Mother. The first three years of their marriage my mother never conceived. Then suddenly, she has two children within a year, and a year later, Anne was born; does this not seem difficult to believe?”
Rebecca nodded her head. “Your mother was the sweetest woman I ever met. I thought it was my imagination, after your father’s death, but your mother seemed…relieved.”
“She was. I discovered, years later, that my father had been abusive, physically. And the first three years, it was not that my mother could not conceive, it was the fact that he beat her many times. If my mother had conceived a child during those years, she would have lost the babe.”
“Father, I never knew.” Albert said, walking towards his father. “Grandmother was always kind, rarely had a cross word towards anyone.”
“How someone so sweet natured ever survived being married to someone so cruel, I will never understand.” Lord Matlock stated. “I always believed Catherine to have taken after our father, while Anne and myself were more like Mother.”
“Well, hopefully we will learn more, once Richard returns.” Albert stated.
“Just where did Richard run off?” Lady Matlock asked, as she wiped the tears that welled in her eyes.
“Anne asked him to go to Rosings. She had a notion of where all the legal papers were hidden, and wished to find out, as she wanted to know if Aunt Catherine truly held rule of the estate.”
“Let us pray that he is successful.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Nearing the tenth day since Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam had left Pemberley, he returned. He was exhausted from the journey, and from the encounter he had dealt with while at Rosings Park.
“When I arrived, I found Wickham searching Lady Catherine’s chambers, seeking my aunt’s jewels to sell. He stated that she had failed to pay him before leaving Rosings, and his creditors were becoming angered with the delay of payment. According to him, if he did not pay them immediately, they would kill him.”
“That would not have been any great loss.” Darcy replied. “What did you do with him?”
Richard smiled. “I deposited him at the gaol in Kent. They were preparing to send a ship to Australia, so I gave them enough coin to see that Wickham was transported. Besides the theft, Aunt Catherine’s butler informed me that Miss Susan Littlefield had been ruined by Wickham. The girl was sent to live with her aunt in Sussex. There was enough evidence against Wickham, he knew he could have hung. Given the choice, Wickham decided that his best alternative was leaving England.”
“Did he say anything about William kissing Elizabeth?” Lady Matlock inquired.
“He began to spout his nonsense, but I instantly informed him that my fair cousin was kissing a young lady, and no one would believe his foolishness. I also gave his jailers a few shillings to keep him fed. So that is one issue managed.”
Anne was with her aunt and uncle, waiting to hear what Richard had to say. “Did you find Mother’s papers? Were they hidden where I told you?”
“You were correct, Anne. Aunt Catherine kept all her important papers, and journals from her younger years, in the room behind her desk in her study. How did you know of the room? We had to pry the door open, the lock was hidden behind the painting on the wall, and we damaged the door and wall. I pray you can forgive me for the damage.”
“Of course, so what is in the papers?” Anne was anxious.
“I did not read any of them, just gathered everything into a satchel and brought it back here. It is not mine to read, so I will leave it to you and my parents to sort through everything. If you do not mind, I wish for a hot bath and a good meal.”
Richard handed the satchel to Anne then headed for the door. “I pray the answers you wish are in there.”
~~ ** ~~
The papers and journals were all sorted and stacked in piles; each person took some of the material to begin reading. Lord Matlock and Albert took legal papers, while Lady Matlock and Anne took the personal correspondence. With the aid of Mr Freemont, Darcy carried Elizabeth down, placing her on a fainting couch, so she could assist him in reading through the journals.
Hours went by, with each learning more about the women who was near death upstairs. What was confirmed by the papers and journals would change the history of their families.
In her younger years, Lady Catherine had written in her journals. She had desired to win her father’s approval in everything she did. But his approval was hard won, and rarely given. When Catherine was only twelve, she overheard her father speaking to a friend of his about his family. That was the day she learned she was not the daughter of the Countess of Matlock, but the natural daughter of the Earl. Claiming an illegitimate child as a legitimate one was unusual, and Catherine Fitzwilliam was determined that her father had great plans for her future. Catherine learned her mother was a scullery maid who had worked for the grand house at the Matlock estate. After giving birth, the maid was sent away, to an estate owned by the Fitzwilliam family in Scotland. The maid died two years later, after a visit from the earl, which left her with child. The child also perished.
Catherine wrote in her journals that she had never felt completely comfortable with her siblings. And she kept her distance from the countess, not wishing to be close to the woman. It had been one of Catherine’s belief that Henry and Anne were not born of her father’s wife. And she did not approve of the treatment she was subjected to due to her being a daughter. One of the most frustrating aspect of her life was the treatment of daughters and ladies. She could not understand why women could not be in control of their own destinies.
From the personal correspondence, Anne discovered the painful relationships her mother had over the years. Her letters exchanged with her father, after she was married Louis de Bourgh, showed a young lady begging to win her father’s love, only to have him belittle her at every chance. The letters she received from the countess were kind and caring, though it was clear that Catherine had never written to her, as the countess begged her to write. The countess had claimed Catherine as a daughter, and cared for the girl she raised with her own children. It was painful to not be accepted by the young Catherine in return.
The legal papers were what held the greatest information. They learned that Wickham had not been the only natural child of Louis de Bourgh. Catherine was never able to conceive a child, and, when Anne was born and her mother died during the birth, Louis decided to make Anne his heir. According to the papers, Anne had inherited Rosings when her father died, and Catherine was never to inherit. If Anne had died before her father, a distant cousin was to become the heir. For more than fifteen years, Catherine had usurped the position as Mistress of Rosings, a title which should have been Anne’s.
“But why would she wish for me to marry Fitzwilliam? It does not make any sense to me?” Anne said. She was bewildered by the turn of events.
“If you married, Catherine could send you to live here, at Pemberley. You would not need Rosings, and Catherine could continue to rule over the estate. Having been denied everything else, from my father’s love, not being born of my mother, unable to give birth to her own child while her husband had children with other women, she could not stand being refused by you or having you take away what she thought was hers.” Lord Matlock explained. “But the papers show that you are the rightful owner of Rosings, it is all yours. And you will not need to worry about your moth…Catherine. She will never be able to cause you harm again.”
Anne stood and began to pace about the room. She had never felt as she did that moment. After years of being told how her life would be, with Lady Catherine making every decision for her, Anne was a bit frightened at the news that she could make decisions for herself. How was she to run a house or an estate? What would she do?
“Anne, do not fret.” Lady Matlock said, as she walked to the young lady’s side, wrapping her arm about Anne’s waist.
“Mother…she made all the decisions. All my life, I cannot remember a time that she did not tell me I was to marry Darcy, that I would live at Pemberley, I would bear him children. She decided how to decorate the house, even chose the style of clothes I wear, and told me what my favorite color was. I can even remember her telling me what I would name my children, as I was to have a son first, then a daughter, and a spare son after the daughter. And I was to give birth in the first year of my marriage.” Anne had tears welling in her eyes. “She was cruel, terribly cruel, when she believed no one was about to learn of her behavior. Because she was so cruel, I did not care about my life. It was mapped out, I had no control. Why should it matter to me? My treatment of others was horrid, I admit to my own cruel nature. It breaks my heart to know how much influence Moth…Catherine had over me.”
“We will be at your side, assisting you to make the decisions that are best for you,” Lord Matlock said.
“I do not wish to have an estate. I have no desire to marry. I would be happy staying home, reading books I enjoy, listening to music, attending plays or concerts. No children, I dislike children, as they frighten me.”
“Then this is the life you will have. We will speak with the solicitors, to determine what is best. The estate can be sold, or leased, and, if there is enough, you could purchase a house in Town. We can find you a new companion, one more to your age and liking, not someone to answer to anyone else.”
Anne nodded her head. “I have been rude to all of you over the years, yet you are willing to stand behind me. I cannot thank you enough.”
“Perhaps you are not a part of this family by blood, but you are still a part of our family. We will forever be at your side if you need us.” Lord Matlock took Anne into his embrace for the first time in many years. Feeling loved and wanted was a new sensation to her, so Anne broke down and wept.
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth was well on her way to recovery when Lady Catherine was removed from Pemberley. Contrary to the early opinion of Mr Freemont, Lady Catherine survived, though she was left without the ability to speak or walk, not to mention the lack of use of her hands. In essence, the woman was trapped in her own body, unable to make decisions for herself. Mr Freemont was able to secure a bed for her in an asylum in London, where she would receive the care that was needed.
A week after Lady Catherine left, the Fitzwilliam family left for Town, preparing to speak with solicitors to determine what options Anne had for her future. Richard was returning to his army unity, as he was preparing new troops for the potential war on the continent.
Elizabeth could see the worry Darcy had for his loved ones, and knew the devotion he had for those for whom he cared. His kindness and love extended to her own family. For that, she could not help falling in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy. By the end of January, Elizabeth had accepted his proposal. The wedding date was set for February.
When deciding who to have escort Elizabeth down the aisle of Pemberley’s chapel, Jane and Kitty teased their sister. “It is too sad that Elijah is unable to give away his twin sister.” Kitty chuckled.
“And unfortunately, Kitty and I have no twin brother.” Jane said.
“We do have a man in the family, who would be more than happy to act the gentleman,” Mrs Gardiner declared, glancing at her son. They were all surprised to see how much Edward had grown, especially in his desire to be the head of the family, doing what he could to protect the females in their family.
Darcy had made taken young Edward Gardiner to his study, asking the boy to sit across the desk, so they could speak. “Master Gardiner, I come to you today to ask for your approval to marry your cousin, Miss Elizabeth.”
The boy sat in the chair, as if in contemplation of the request. After a few moments, while Darcy was attempting to keep from laughing at the boy’s expression, Edward made his decision.
“You promise to love Lizzy, and be good to her?”
“I swear to you; I promise to love her and be good to Elizabeth.”
“And you will take picnics in the summer, allow her to read all the books she wishes, and give her lavender?”
Darcy bit his lower lip. “I promise, all of those and more.”
“And you will allow Lizzy to play with us, reading us stories? My sisters enjoy Lizzy’s reading, as she makes funny voices. I am the man now, and it is my responsibility to see that the ladies are looked after and made happy.”
“Master Gardiner, you can be assured, I will meet with all your requests. And your family will be mine, so you are always welcome in our homes.”
“Very well, Mr Darcy. I will allow you to marry my cousin. But remember, if you do not treat Lizzy like a princess, I will have to call you out.”
Obviously, Richard had spent too many hours regaling Edward on being a proper gentleman. “As I would not wish to garner such wrath, I will do all I have promised.”
“Then let us tell Lizzy.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
The Darcys had been married for nearly twenty years. They had been blessed with a large family of their own, with six children, including a set of twins.
Elizabeth had loved Pemberley, especially the grounds, and, combined with her husband’s devotion to his family’s home, made their children more comfortable at the estate than in Town. Their first son, Thomas William Darcy, was born in one of the small shacks on the estate, as Elizabeth and Darcy had gone for a walk, and as they neared the hunter’s shack, her water broke. Darcy became a midwife for the blessed event, much to his disapproval. When his wife was expecting their second child, she told him emphatically that he was to be with her when her time came to deliver. The midwife for Pemberley’s neighborhood rolled her eyes when it came time for each of Mrs Darcy’s laying ins.
After Thomas, the family suffered a loss, as the second son was stillborn. The Darcys grieved for their loss, as no parent should ever be faced with the death of their child. It would be two years until Elizabeth was with child again. Their twin daughters were born safely, in the middle of the night, with their father beside their mother. The girls were named Frances Anne and Helen Jane, and were especially loved by their elder brother.
The following years brought Richard Charles, Rosemary Katherine, and Bennet James. With each new sibling, Thomas took his role as big brother very seriously. By the time he was ready to attend school, he had informed his parents that they never need fear for their children, as Thomas would take care of everyone.
At age twenty Georgiana Darcy had become a countess, when she married a young man who had become an earl at the ripe old age of five and twenty. They lived in South Yorkshire, near Sheffield, with their sons.
Mrs Gardiner and her children, along with Kitty and Jane, had remained living at Pemberley until after Elizabeth’s wedding to Darcy. By then, they had rebuilt their shop, thanks to the funds they received from Charles Bingley. Bingley and the Hursts felt it appropriate to give Caroline’s dowry to repay the Bennets and Gardiners for the loss Caroline had caused them. Over time, Bingley spent more and more time at Pemberley, not to learn more of running an estate, but to be close to Jane. They married after the Darcys had celebrated their second anniversary. Rather than becoming a member of the landed gentry, Bingley decided to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors and be a tradesman. In that, he became a part owner in Gardiner’s Tea Emporium, and the new mercantile that the family opened, as the village was expanding. The Bingleys were thrilled to have three children, all daughters. Bingley vowed to raise his children to be happy in the world they had, and to only desire to reach higher if that was their true desire, not due to some misguided opinion that you had to be of the highest society to matter.
Kitty was fell in love with a young solicitor who moved to Lambton the year after the Gardiners and Bennets had come to live there. They were blessed with a son, who was very close with his cousin Bennet. The two boys were as thick as thieves, and extremely mischievous.
Mrs Gardiner remarried, to a man she had known as a child, growing up in Lambton. He had gone away to Scotland to train to be a surgeon, then returned to the village of his youth. They were happy together, and he was a loving father figure for her children.
Edward Gardiner continued to be the head of the Gardiner and Bennet families, walking each of his cousins down the aisle to their future husband. Later, he would perform the same duty for his sisters. It was when he gave his mother’s hand to Mr Thornton, there were no dry eyes in the chapel. When he was old enough, Edward attended university, studying business, which would aid him in his future.
Lord and Lady Matlock were grieved when a carriage accident took the life of their eldest son. After years of fearing for Richard’s safety, it was Albert who would die first. This moved Richard to become the heir to Matlock, and he no longer needed to serve his country in battle. He returned to him family’s estate, and spent a year learning about running an estate from his father. He later married Miss Heidi Cornwall, the only daughter of a wealthy, untitled, landowner. They were to raise five sons, born in four years, with one set of twins. It brought the estate of Matlock great pleasure to have the sounds of children, and it was a special treat for Lady Matlock to indulge her grandsons as much as she could.
Anne de Bourgh remained in Town, in the small townhouse. She had leased the estate for several years, before a gentleman made a generous offer for its purchase. It was a quiet life, though she had made a few friends and had a companion with whom she enjoyed sharing time. They attended concerts, plays, the museums; all the things that Anne had been deprived of in her life.
Lady Catherine lived for three years after her first bout of apoplexy. Then she had multiple bouts, each one doing more and more damage. She never had regained her ability to speak, walk or even write, and her family felt relief that she was no longer in such a terrible circumstance.
Mr Collins was not happy that he was unable to obtain the funds from the Bennet sisters, as he had desired. His wife had tried to convince him to give up his struggle, but the man was determined to pursue the matter to his last breath. Unfortunately for him, yet fortunate for his wife, Mr Collins was to perish in a freakish accident, when the clergyman was cleaning the grave of his beloved patroness. He took a wrong step, and discovered a hole in the ground. His foot became stuck in the hole, and the man fell forward, smacking his head against the headstone of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Charlotte Collins moved to the cottage at Longbourn, raising her only child, Robert William Collins, in peace on their lands. Slowly, she was able to bring the estate back to life, with investments and the assistance of her family. Charlotte raised her son to love his father’s cousins, as the Bennets had been her very dear friends in their younger years.
~~ ** ~~
As Elizabeth stood at the railing near the top of the stairs, she watched the way the housekeeper, Mrs Todd, was orchestrating all the preparations for the coming event. Mrs Todd had taken over as Pemberley’s housekeeper five years previously, after training with her aunt, Mrs Reynolds. The elder housekeeper had retired, living out her days with her granddaughter, in a cottage on the grounds of Pemberley. The family could not imagine the estate without Mrs Reynolds being there, and were able to convince her to remain as their friend.
Thomas was to marry, a sweet girl whose father owned the bookshop in Lambton. The two had known each other all their lives, as her uncle had worked as the head gardener at Pemberley, and the girl would come to visit her uncle often. Her name was Jessica, and she had long blond hair and brilliant blue eyes.
As Elizabeth watched the preparations, she felt a pair of strong arms wrapping around her from behind. “What are you doing, Mrs Darcy? You were supposed to be in our room, preparing for our guests. The wedding breakfast will be handled under Mrs Todd’s capable watch.”
“I know. It is just hard to believe, our son will soon be a husband. Why, was it not just last week when he took his first steps? He is my baby, no matter how old he grows.”
“I understand. My heart nearly falters when I think of our girls becoming wives one day. They are just babes, and should still be in the nursery, not planning for coming out balls.”
“Thomas and Jessica will be close, living in the dower house, so that will be nice. He will not be far from us.” Elizabeth placed her hands over her husband’s hands, clasped together near her navel.
Darcy whispered into his wife’s ear, wishing to tease her from her melancholy. “Well, my dearest love, let us prepare for this day. Now let me think. How would our son feel about his mother arriving at the church dressed as Master Elizabeth Bennet?”