Chapter 7

            Mr Bennet’s condition had not improved, nor had it declined.  As days continued, the Master of Longbourn grew frustrated. He was unable to do any of his favorite activities, and was forced to be reliant upon others.  And the reliance was grating on him.  Thomas Bennet had not felt the need to allow others tend him, preferring his solitude in his study.

So having others read to him, feed him, even assist him in the most basic of needs such as relieving himself, were aggravating to the gentleman.

Another issue that frustrated Mr Bennet was overhearing his wife speaking of Mr Bingley.  How could she even think that man to be perfect for my daughter?  Did she not hear him say he was close friends to a Darcy?  This is not to be born.  I must improve, as it is up to me to protect my daughters from such odious men.  Have my daughters not suffered enough, losing of their mother when they were children?  No, I will not allow any Darcy, or someone who counts a Darcy a close friend, to bring further harm to my family.

A knock was heard on the door, and the maid, who had been sitting with Mr Bennet, opened the door.  Elizabeth stepped inside and walked to the side of her father’s bed.  He noticed that she had been coming to his room later each day, and wearing a smile.  What did she have to be so happy about?  Is she pleased that I am unable to feed myself, or even hold a book to read?  My incapacity is nothing to be cheerful over.

“Good morning, Papa.  Mr Hill said you slept through the night.  What wonderful news.  We need to exercise your arms and legs, as we do not wish for you to weaken further.”

Elizabeth lifted his left arm, preparing to move it in the ways that had been suggested by Mr Jones.  In frustration, Mr Bennet pulled his arm away from his daughter.  “N…n…o…”

“Papa, you know we have to exercise your limbs.  You will not improve your health if you grow weaker.”

“N…n…o…! G…g…o…”

“What has you in such a state, Papa?” Elizabeth frowned.  “Are you in pain?  Should I send for Mr Jones?”

“G…g…o…!”

Standing, Elizabeth was shocked at her father’s behavior.  “I will send for Mr Jones.  Forgive me for upsetting you, Papa.”

The second eldest daughter of Thomas Bennet was at a loss as to what was wrong with her father.  Fear began to creep into her heart, as she prayed he was not having a relapse.  Thomas Bennet was cherished by Elizabeth, even with all his faults and weaknesses.  For him to be so angered with her, demanding her leave his room, Elizabeth could not understand the reason.

“Mr Hill, something as my father upset.  Would you go to him, see if he is in need of care?  He has not done his exercises, so he will require assistance.”

The long time valet and butler could see the young lady was near tears.  “Have no fear, Miss Lizzy.  Your father is most likely frustrated from being in his bed for so long.  You know how he is, much like yourself.”

“I am certain you are correct, though it is difficult to see him in such a state.  If only he was improving, so he could sit in his chair in his study.”

“At this time, it is too soon to consider his sitting in any chair.  His weakness is too severe.” Mr Hill said, attempting to ease the burden and pain of the young lady.  He was well aware of the pain it was causing her to see her father in such a manner. “Now, go downstairs and have something to break your fast.  I will see to your father.”

~~ ** ~~

Darcy was preparing to ride the estate with Bingley, as they overlook the conditions of the tenant village and the farms.  As he came down the main staircase, he heard his name called from behind him.

“Mr Darcy, I was just coming to speak with you.” Caroline Bingley nearly purred as she addressed him.

“I am to ride out with your brother, Miss Bingley, is there something amiss?”

“There is an issue I require your assistance with, though I would prefer to discuss the matter in private.”

Having endured, for years, Miss Bingley’s attempts to become Mistress of Pemberley, Darcy was well aware of the danger in her wishing to speak with him alone.  “Miss Bingley, it would be improper for us to speak alone.  I would not wish to cause your brother difficulty, causing gossip to circulate.”

“Oh, Mr Darcy, I am certain I have nothing to fear from a gentleman such as you.  Why, you are the most proper man I know.  Perhaps we could take a stroll in the gardens.  Then we would be in sight of all, yet be able to speak privately.”

“Only if it is quick, for I must attend your brother.”

Miss Bingley had walked down the steps by this time, and wrapped her hand around Darcy’s arm.  “Thank you, Mr Darcy.  It does you credit, with all you do for others.”

The pair walked to the gardens directly east of the manor house.  “Now, Miss Bingley, what is so important that we must speak in private?”

“Mr Darcy, my brother has developed an affection for the eldest Bennet sister.  I am certain you understand why I feel it to be an imprudent match, with Miss Bennet being so far beneath Charles.”

“What makes you think that Miss Jane is beneath your brother?” Darcy frowned.

“I am aware that the Bennet sisters share a family line with yours, but I am sure they are so far removed from your illustrious family, it would be difficult to even claim them as relations.  That alone shows they are beneath our notice.  Their father is a country squire, but who was their mother?  The stepmother is vulgar and has roots in trade.  The younger sisters are ridiculous, especially the youngest two.  They are the worst flirts in the neighborhood.”

“Miss Bingley, you could not be further from the truth.  Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth are the daughters of Mrs Olivia Bennet, nee Darcy, the sister of my own father.  Therefore, they are my cousins.  As you can see, that makes them far above you and your family, rather than beneath you, seeing that your family has built their wealth from your father’s mills in Scarborough.”

Miss Bingley’s eyes grew round as saucers.  “Forgive me, Mr Darcy, I did not realize.  I thought my brother said they were of a distant relation of yours.  They are…they are your cousins?”

“Indeed.  Their mother was my beloved aunt, and I was devastated when she died in a terrible accident. Mr Bennet blamed my family, as Aunt Olivia was in one of our carriages, returning home from Pemberley, when she died.”

“Which is why Mr Bennet was furious when Charles spoke of being close friends with you?”

“Yes, Miss Bingley.  Now, if you will excuse me, I must join your brother.”  Darcy turned and walked away from Caroline, disgusted with her ways of considering herself above all others.  He would need to speak with Bingley, informing him of Miss Bingley’s attempt to interfere in his blossoming relationship with Jane.

By the time he reached the stables, Darcy was fit to be tied.  Bingley could instantly notice his friend was upset.  “Should I guess?  My sister has caused that frown on your face?”

“She is proving herself to be the most arrogant female I have ever met.  And I have socialized in Town with the members of the upper circles of society, including my aunts.  Miss Bingley has proved that she is blind to her own importance.”

“What did she do this time?  Has she attempted to compromise you, to force you into marriage?” Bingley remembered a talk he had endured the previous year, when his sister had attempted to enter Darcy’s bedchamber in the middle of the night.  She claimed that she was confused, in the dark, as she had no candle with her.  Having no proof, only a suspicion of what she was doing, Charles had a long discussion with his sister, informing her that if she made any attempt to force Darcy into a marriage, Bingley would accept Darcy’s word over Caroline’s.  Also, Bingley informed his sister that she would never be Mistress of Pemberley, as Darcy had made his feelings clear…he had no desire to ever connect himself to Caroline Bingley.

“She wished to speak to me in private, to enlist my aid, in dissuading you from my cousin.  Only she did not know that Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth were my cousins, so she berated them, claiming they were so far beneath you.  If she only knew about their dowries and worth.  Not only that, they are the daughter of a gentleman, and their mother was from one of the members of the upper circle of society.  As a Bennet, they are gentlewomen, which is above the daughter of a tradesman.  As a Darcy, they are far above even their own half sisters.”

“Caroline never stops to look at the truth, only what she thinks.  And my sister believes herself far above the Bennet family.  One day, I pray that someone puts my sister in her place.”

Darcy nodded in agreement.  “We have tenant homes to visit and fields to inspect.  If we do not get started, we will not be home in time to take tea.  I believe my cousins were invited by Mrs Hurst to take tea.”

The smile which grew on Bingley’s face was incredible.  In all the time Darcy had known his friend, and all the young ladies that Bingley had claimed to be in love with, Darcy had never witnessed the desire his friend had for Jane Bennet.

~~ ** ~~

“Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth, I am pleased you were able to join us today.” Mrs Hurst declared, welcoming her guests.  “Please, come in and have a seat.”

Jane Bennet spoke to their hostess.  “Thank you, Mrs Hurst.  It was a pleasure to receive your invitation.”

“We wished to know you better, as your family is the most prominent in the neighborhood.  My brother and Mr Darcy just returned from their inspection of the estate, so they will be joining us soon.” Mrs Hurst took the chair closest to the table, where an elegant tea service was laid out.  “Would you care to wait for them, or should I serve you tea to settle the dust from the road?”

“There is no reason not to wait for the gentlemen, Mrs Hurst.  Fortunately, the road was not as dusty as it could have been.  The storm two days prior was just enough to keep the dust at bay.” Jane smiled as she looked at her sister.  It was common knowledge in the neighborhood that Elizabeth would be out for a walk, whether the ground was dry or muddy, and no one was surprised to find her petticoats having six inches of mud on them.

“As my sister  said, we are grateful for your invitation, Mrs Hurst.” Elizabeth added.  “Today is quite pleasant, after the rains cooled the neighborhood and settled the dust.”

Mrs Hurst smiled.  “It is one of the blessings of living in the country.  When we are in London, the weather can be intolerable.  Do you visit Town often?”

“Our aunt and uncle are generous enough to invite us at least once a year, if not twice.” Jane  replied.  “They are extremely kind to us.”

“And your aunt and uncle, they are on your father’s side of the family or your mother’s?” Caroline asked, as she entered the room.

“Caroline, I thought you were resting due to your headache.” Mrs Hurst was becoming nervous.  Her sister had made her opinion of the the Bennet family well known.

“I could not leave you alone to welcome our guests.  After all, they are quite important from what I have learned.” Caroline sneered at the two sisters.

“Not very important.” Jane stated.  “No more important than any other in the neighborhood.”

“Oh, but I dare to contradict you, Miss Bennet.  It is my understanding that the relations in Town are by your stepmother.  Are they not in trade?”

“Uncle Gardiner is the brother of our stepmother, though he and his wife are dear to us.  They have been kind to us for most of our lives.” Elizabeth declared.  “And yes, Uncle Gardiner is in trade.  He owns two warehouses in Cheapside, near his home on Gracechurch Street.  Gardiner Imports is well known in Town.”

Mrs Hurst was appalled with her sister’s rude behavior.  “I believe I have heard of Gardiner Imports.  He has some of the finest silks, my modiste has purchased from him.”

“Yes, Uncle has some of the best modistes in England purchase his silks.” Jane said, her voice lower than her sister’s had been.

“Well, we would not have such beautiful gowns if it were not for those in trade doing their job in procuring items for our use.” Caroline spoke with an air of superiority.

Elizabeth took a sip from her tea, just as Caroline had spoken.  Attempting to keep from gagging, she gave a soft cough.  “If not mistaken, did your father not earn his wealth in the mills of the north?”

Scarlet blossomed on Caroline’s cheeks, clashing with her reddish hair.  “Y…yes…our father inherited the mills, though it was our grandfather who had made the family fortune.  He dreamed of our father becoming a member of the landed gentry, though Father died young, and left the goal to my brother to achieve.”

“Our father is the eighth generation owning Longbourn.” Elizabeth stated, attempting to keep from laughing at the obvious social climber.

“Longbourn is such a quaint little estate.  Much smaller than Netherfield, or Mr Darcy’s home of Pemberley.” Caroline said.

“Actually, the manor house of Netherfield is larger, but the estate is smaller than Longbourn.  The annual is near four thousand per annum, where Netherfield is said to be little more than three thousand.” Bingley said, as he and and Darcy entered the room.  “Forgive our delay, but I was reviewing some information with Darcy about the estate.”

“Charles, I did not expect you to join us.” Caroline had hoped her brother would not be available to take tea with their guests.

“Louisa informed me that you had given us the incorrect time for our guests, so we hurried along with our inspection.  I could not imagine missing a chance to take tea with Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth.  And Darcy was hoping to introduce the ladies to his sister.  Where is Miss Darcy?”

“I was wondering the same, Bingley.” Darcy said, having looked around the room and not finding Georgiana.

Caroline waved off their entreaty.  “She was suffering a headache, so she went up to rest.  And I am certain that she would not regret meeting the young ladies.”

“Caroline, please control yourself.  How rude of you to speak in such a manner, in front of our guests.” Bingley was furious with his sister.

“My sister is in my care, Miss Bingley, and it is for me to decide who she should meet and who she should not.  And, as I informed you, Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth are the daughters of my father’s sister.  I remember Aunt Olivia fondly, and wish my sister had had the opportunity to have met her and our cousins.”

Seething, Caroline attempted to put a smile on her lips.  “Of course, Mr Darcy, your aunt must have been quite a lady, being a Darcy.  It is unfortunate that the ladies did not have a closer connection while they were growing up, as they obviously could not have access to the finest modistes and masters.  I understand that you have never even had a governess.”

Jane gasped, though Elizabeth saw the challenge before her.  “On the contrary, Miss Bingley.  Our Aunt and Uncle take us to concerts and plays, we have one of the finest seamstresses in the county in Meryton, and we have never lacked for instructors for whatever subject we required.  My father saw to my education, and I speak and read in five languages, am well versed in mathematics, and have assisted my father in estate matters.  We receive the papers from Town, and know all that is happening in the world.  Just out of curiosity, how many governesses have you had?  And what languages do you read and speak?”

“Lizzy, do not be rude.  Miss Bingley is one of our hosts.” Jane chastised.

“No, Miss Bennet, I believe your sister is correct.” Bingley was thrilled to see someone put his sister in her place.  “She had to right to defend the accusations of my sister, using the truth.  Caroline, it is my belief that you owe Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth apologies for your unkind words.”

“They were meant as truths, not unkind.” Caroline declared, glaring at her brother for his treatment of her.  “I am certain the ladies did not take offense to my words.”

“Of course, Miss Bingley, I am certain you meant no harm.” Jane said, her eyes darted towards her sister.

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

 

 

Chapter 8

Mrs Bennet was nervous for the arrival of the heir to Longbourn.  No one else was aware of the imminent arrival of William Collins, as Mrs Bennet had decided to keep the news quiet.  The Mistress of Longbourn had also failed to inform her stepdaughter of the betrothal that had been arranged for her.

By afternoon, a wagon was heard coming to a stop before the manor house.  The younger girls ran  to look out the window.  “Mamma, there is a man, wearing a parson’s clothing, stepping off the back of a wagon.” Kitty announced.

“Oh, how nice.” Mrs Bennet replied, looking about her nervously.  “I wonder if it is your father’s cousin, the gentleman who will inherit Longbourn when Mr Bennet dies.”

“Why would he come here?” Mary inquired.  “Papa has always declared the man and his father to be fools and liars.  In fact, Papa declared that if anyone from the Collins family were to come to Longbourn, he would shoot them.”

“Your father can do nothing, not in his condition.  And who knows, your father might not survive another week.  It is best to be kind to the heir, for we do not wish to be tossed to the hedgerow when he takes possession of the estate.”

“Mamma, do not be foolish.  You would have the dower house to live in after Papa is gone.  It may not be large and as nice as here, but it is far from living in the hedgerow.” Mary was confused with her mother’s behavior.

A sneer came over Mrs Bennet’s expression.  “Oh, yes, the dower house, while your elder sisters inherit the estate left them by your father’s aunt.  We will be forced to live in poverty while they live in the lap of luxury.”

Lydia was still looking out the window, watching the rotund parson walk towards the house, a satchel in his hand.  “He is horribly ugly, Mamma.  His belly makes him look like a woman when she is with child.  Goodness, he removed his hat and he is nearly bald.  How hideous.  It will be a poor woman who has to marry such a man.”

Gulping, Mrs Bennet was thinking of how she would inform her stepdaughter of the arrangement.  Several moments passed before Mrs Hill escorted the parson in to the parlor.  “Mr Collins to see you, Mrs Bennet.”

“Thank you, Hill.  Please see to refreshments.” Mrs Bennet instructed her housekeeper as she stood, turning to face the man.  Heavens, Lydia was correct.  He is hideous. “Mr Collins, a pleasure to host you while you visit our family.”

In those words, Mary, Kitty and Lydia were all made aware that their mother had knowledge of the rotund man coming to their home.

“My dear Mrs Bennet, such an honor it is to meet you.  I am certain that my visit will be enjoyable and productive, especially since I will be introduced to my future wife.”

Gasps could be heard from Mrs Bennet’s three daughters.  They shared glances to each other, and realized that no one was aware of any arrangements made for one to marry Mr Collins.

“Yes, well, she is not at home at the moment, as she is with her sister, taking tea with one of the neighbors.” Mrs Bennet spoke as if it were everyday that she discussed the marriage of one of her daughters, especially her stepdaughters.

“From what you have described, I will be quite pleased to have such a wife.  And I will heed your advice and keep a strong hand in taming her improper behavior.”

Mary realized what was being said.  “Mamma, have you told Lizzy of this arrangement?”

“Hush now, Mary.  This is not a matter for you to be involved.  I am making the decision that your father would, if he had not taken ill.”

“But Papa said…”

“Never you mind.  Now, Mary, you should practice your music.  Kitty, Lydia, you should make yourself useful by trimming some bonnets.  You will need to look your best at the coming assembly.” Mrs Bennet waved her handkerchief as she spoke.  The last thing the lady desired was for her plans to be discovered too soon.  Seeing the parson brought back her husband’s words of the elder Mr Collins.  Obviously, the apple had not fallen far from the tree.

Rather than practicing her music, Mary decided to check on her father.  Mr Bennet was agitated, being difficult with Mr Hill, who was attempting to exercise his master’s limbs.

“Papa, you will never guess who is downstairs, in the parlor, with Mamma.  Mr Collins, your cousin.”

Fury was clearly what the gentleman felt.  Unfortunately, he was unable to speak well enough to make his desire for the parson to be removed immediately.  Mr Bennet began waving his hand about, making angry sounds, and even going so far as to attempt to remove his bedding from his person.  Obviously, he wished to go downstairs to deal with his cousin, though there was no possibility of Thomas Bennet making such a journey.

“Mr Bennet, you must calm yourself.  Such aggravation can do nothing good for you.  Please, Mr Bennet, calm yourself.” Mr Hill begged.

“Please, Papa, do as Mr Hill says.  I do not wish to cause you harm.  It is only, Mr Collins was speaking of marrying one of us, and from what he was saying, it appears Mamma has promised him Elizabeth’s hand.”

His cheeks were already lightly red, but with such news, Mr Bennet’s entire face became a deep puce red.  Mary and Mr Hill struggled to keep the ill man in his bed, until suddenly, Mr Bennet gasped for air, and sunk on the bed. As Mr Hill checked his employer for signs of life, he directed Mary to send for Mr Jones to come immediately.  As Mary opened the door to leave, Mr Hill gave her another mission.

“You had best send to Netherfield for your sisters to return.  I believe your father has had another bout of apoplexy.”

~~ ** ~~

Darcy had led his cousins to the sitting room attached to Georgiana’s bedchamber.  Knocking lightly, Darcy escorted the Bennet sisters inside the room, finding Georgiana paying attention to the latest copy of The Lady’s Magazine.

            “Georgiana, I have brought our cousins to meet you.” Darcy said, hoping his sister would use the manners she had been taught since childhood.

The young girl continued to look at the fashion plates, barely acknowledging her brother, let alone the Bennets.  After several awkward moments, Darcy continued to make introductions.  “Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth, this is my sister, Georgiana Darcy.  Georgiana, this is Jane and Elizabeth Bennet, our cousins.”

Jane attempted to ease the tension.  “Miss Darcy, it is a pleasure to finally meet you.  You remind me of your mother in appearance.”

“I would not know, as my mother died before I could know anything about her.  So I will have to accept your opinion on the matter.  The paintings of her show a resemblance in the color of our hair.”

It was Elizabeth’s turn to try to ease the tension.  “More than just your hair, there is something about your nose and mouth, perhaps even your eyes, that remind me of Aunt Anne.”

“My mother was Lady Anne, and should be referred to her proper title by those who are inferior.” Georgiana nearly hissed her words.

Surprised at her behavior, Darcy was livid by his sister’s words.  “Georgiana Elizabeth Darcy, it is time you learned that you are equal to the Bennet sisters.  Their mother and our father were siblings, how dare you refer to our cousins as inferior?”

“But who is their father?  And who are their other relations?  Their sisters are descended from tradesmen, as the current Mrs Bennet’s brother and father were in trade.  And Mr Bennet is a country squire, not a member of nobility, as was our mother.  We are the grandchildren of the late Earl of Matlock, and the niece and nephew of the current Earl.  The Bennets are nothing in comparison.”

“Forgive me, Miss Darcy, for I believe it is time you learn the truth.  Jane and I inherited an estate when our father’s aunt passed.  Do you have your own estate or do you profit from your brother’s estate?  What I can remember of your parents, from my youth, would make me believe you are a disappointment to them.  Uncle Gerald and Aunt Anne would be ashamed of your rude behavior.  They were kind and loving people.  I never witnessed them be cruel to anyone, including those who were servants or tenants.  While your words were meant to cause pain to my sister and me, you have only shown me the depths of your arrogance and selfish disdain for the feelings of others.  You have a brother who is an excellent role model of what your parents were like, yet you treat him as poorly as everyone else.”  Elizabeth was disgusted by Georgiana’s behavior.  Turning to look at Darcy, Elizabeth continued.  “William, I beg you to pardon my behavior, I should have held my tongue.  I was shocked to hear such coming from the daughter of Gerald and Anne Darcy.  Your parents would be deeply saddened if they had heard their child speaking in such a manner.”

“There is nothing for which you need to apologize for, Miss Elizabeth.  My sister is the one who should be begging forgiveness from you and Miss Jane.” Darcy glared at his sister, but she had returned her attention to the fashion plates.

A knock on the door alerted them of Mr Bingley’s presence.  “Excuse me, Darcy, but there is a Mr Hill here for the Bennet ladies.”

Knowing Mr Hill would not have come to Netherfield for anything but the most dire of needs, Elizabeth felt a cold chill run down her spine.  She looked at her sister as she held out her hand, drawing Jane closer to her side.

Realizing something serious had happened, Darcy offered the sitting room connected to his bedchamber for his cousins and Mr Hill to speak.

Bingley escorted the Longbourn butler to Darcy’s sitting room, closing the door to give the family privacy.  Darcy stayed with the sisters, at their request.

“Miss Jane, Miss Lizzy, I bring the gravest of news.  Your father, your father…”

“Papa had another episode?” Elizabeth asked, feeling tears stinging her eyes.

The elder man nodded his head.  “Your father is in peace now, with your mother.”

“What happened?  What caused him to have another attack?” Jane asked, wiping at the tears that were escaping down her cheeks.

“Mr Collins, the cousin who will inherit the estate, arrived at Longbourn just after you left.  When your father learned of the man being at Longbourn, he was angry.  Then he learned that your stepmother has promised Miss Lizzy’s hand to the parson.  Mr Bennet attempted to rise from his bed, and suffered another attack of apoplexy.  He died quickly, before his head even returned to his pillow.  We sent for Mr Jones, but I knew there was no use, as he went so quickly.”

The tears were flowing undisturbed on Elizabeth’s face.  “We need to return home.” She said as she began to rise from the sofa.

Mr Hill held out a hand.  “Miss Lizzy, it is my opinion that you should not return to your home.  Not at the moment.  I dread what your stepmother will do, now that Mr Bennet is gone.  My belief is that she will force you to marry Mr Collins, as it would secure her ability to remain at Longbourn.”

“But Mother has the dower house, she does not need to move from the estate.”

“Your stepmother wishes to remain in the manor house.  My wife has been privy to some of the conversations Mrs Bennet has had with the parson.  If necessary, she plans to have Mr Collins compromise you, to force you into marriage.  It would be best if you were removed to somewhere safe for you.”  Mr Hill hoped that the young man sitting beside the two eldest Bennet sisters would be willing to assist them.

“There is no question, Cousins, I will speak with Bingley to have you remain here for the moment.  We will make arrangements to have you moved immediately.” Darcy stood and moved towards the door of the sitting room.

Fortunately, Bingley was pacing in the hallway, waiting to see if he could be of assistance to his angel and her sister.  He heard the door open and turned, finding only Darcy stepping from the room.

“What has happened?” Bingley inquired, the look he wore begged to be of use to the young ladies.

“Mr Bennet had another attack of apoplexy.  He did not survive.  Would you mind allowing Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth to remain here?  The heir had arrived just after the sisters left Longbourn, and their stepmother is plotting Miss Elizabeth’s future.  The butler and housekeeper have been with the family since before Miss Bennet’s birth, and they feel it is wisest for the young ladies to not return to Longbourn.”

“They are welcome to stay here, with us.  I will speak with Mrs Nichols, see that she prepares rooms for Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth.” Bingley declared.

“I was hoping you would make such an offer.  We can have Mr Hill see that their belongings are packed and brought here.” Darcy said as he returned to the room.  “Cousins, Mr Bingley has invited you to remain here as his guests.  I wish to send word to Meryton, to the solicitor.  If I am not mistaken, even though I am related to you on your mother’s side of the family, and Mr Collins is on your father’s, as first cousins, we are closer related than Mr Collins, who is…?”

“Papa stated Mr Collins’ father was a third cousin or something similar.  It is a distant cousin, to be certain.” Jane replied.

“Then I have the right to claim your nearest male relative.  As such, I will protect you from the man.”

Mr Hill had been listening and nodded his head.  Darcy turned his attention to the butler.  “Sir, would you be kind enough to see that Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth’s belongings are packed and brought to them?  From what you have said, you do not believe it would be safe for the young ladies to return, even to pack their belongings.”

“Tis true, Mr Darcy.  My wife said she also fears for the young misses.  I would not put it past Mrs Bennet to lock Mr Collins in a room with Miss Lizzy, to compromise her.”

Elizabeth shuddered at the thought.  The stories she had heard about Mr Collins’ father, she was certain that the son not be any better, especially if Mr and Mrs Hill were worried for her.

Tears became sobs, as the sisters became entwined, their arms wrapped around each other.  Darcy’s heart was torn, he wished he could take all their pain away.

Mr Hill left to fulfill his task, and Darcy went to his bedchamber, pulling out the portable desk he brought with him.  Quickly, he penned a letter for the local solicitor.  Though he knew the man, Mr Phillips, was the brother in law of Mrs Bennet, Mr Phillips seemed to be an intelligent and upstanding member of the community. Once the missive was penned, Darcy found a footman to deliver it to the solicitor.

Mrs Nichols came to the sitting room to speak with the Bennet sisters.  “We will have rooms prepared for the two of you within the half hour.  The rooms were given a good cleaning a few days ago, so a quick check and fires started, the rooms should be perfect.  They share a sitting room, so you can have somewhere for privacy.  Please accept my condolences.  I remember your parents from when you were little girls.  With Mrs Hill being my sister, I am aware of what has happened over the years.”

“Mr and Mrs Hill have been good to us.” Jane said, attempting to give a smile.  “I do not know how we would have survived without them, especially after Mamma died.”

“She was a dear lady.  Never a cross word to anyone, even if they deserved a tongue lashing.  My sister was devastated when Mrs Olivia left this world, but she told me of a promise she had made to her mistress.  After the funeral, Martha made her way to the cemetery.  Martha placed flowers on your mother’s grave, and made a promise that she would do all she could to protect you girls and see that you were loved.”

Elizabeth thanked the housekeeper.  “Mrs Hill has been more of a mother to us than Mother has been. Even now, she is protecting us by sending her husband to us, and insisting we remain here, rather than returning home. We will forever keep Mr and Mrs Hill in our hearts and prayers.”

“If you have need of anything, anything at all, you send word to me.” Mrs Nichols said, as she wiped a tear from each sisters’ cheeks.

“Our thanks, Mrs Nichols.  Your kindness is appreciated.”

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

Advertisements