Elizabeth felt as if something was wrong, pulling her out of her slumber. She sensed someone was in the room with her, though she was unsure what was happening. At first, she had difficulty in determining where she was. When reality settled in, and Elizabeth realized that her father was dead and she was sleeping in a bedchamber at Netherfield Park.
But there was an odd sensation that someone was in the room. She was sure that it was not her sister, as she was familiar with Jane’s movements, as they had always been close. And Elizabeth was certain that it was not a maid, as the presence felt more masculine.
There was a sudden cough, alerting Elizabeth, as she sat up. Pulling the bedding up to her chin, she looked in the direction of the cough. Though the room was still somewhat dark, Elizabeth was able to make out her father’s cousin, William Collins, tiptoeing across the room.
“What are you doing here?” Elizabeth screamed at him. “Get out of here, immediately.”
“Dear Cousin Elizabeth, I am certain that you will see the wisdom of our union. Your father is gone, and it is up to me to protect you and your sisters. We can have a common license purchased, as you are from this parish, and I am now the heir to Longbourn. You will come to see your mother’s decision as the correct path, as you should not attempt to climb higher in society than you were born. Though your mother was born a Darcy, you were raised a Bennet, and were far too young to remember your birth mother and her family. The current Mrs Bennet knows what is best for you, and you will come to see her wisdom. It is best you marry me and remain here at Longbourn.”
“Leave my rooms immediately. I will not marry you, not now, not ever.”
Mr Collins smiled. “But, you see, you have been compromised. It is up to me to repair your reputation by marrying you.”
There were sounds of someone coming towards her door, in a hurry. She must have been heard. Hearing Darcy’s voice, asking if she was well, Elizabeth cried out. “Please, Fitzwilliam, help me.”
The door was forced inward with a quick kick. Darcy entered the room, seeing his aunt’s sycophantic parson moving towards Elizabeth’s bed. With Elizabeth’s cries and her bedding pulled up to cover her body, it was obvious that she was not pleased with this person invading her rooms.
“What do you think you are doing?” Darcy bellowed.
“I am here, at my dear cousin’s request. She sent word that she had changed her mind, and wished to marry quickly.” Collins spurted out the excuse that Mrs Bennet had instructed him to say. Reaching in his pocket, he pulled out a piece of parchment. “See, here is her missive, she had a footman deliver late last night.”
“Lies… you are a liar!” Elizabeth shrieked. “I would rather die an old maid than marry the likes of you.”
“But you are compromised, my love. You must marry me to save your reputation, and the reputations of your sisters. Miss Bennet and your younger sisters would be ruined if you did not marry me.” Collins preened.
“You are an evil man; one who cannot be trusted.” Elizabeth cried. “I will find a way to protect my sisters, though it will not be in the way you suggest. I will not marry you, not now, not ever.”
“Mr Collins, I believe my cousin has made herself clear. We demand you leave this very instance, or I will have you thrown from the residence.”
“B…but she is to be my wife. She must marry me, or face ruination.” Sputtered the simpleton.
“If Lizzy is to wed, it will not be to you. If anyone is going to do so, I will marry her myself.” Darcy said, as he walked towards the bed, placing himself between Elizabeth and Mr Collins. “As you say, she is compromised, and I have done so by entering her bedchamber. If you say you have the right to marry her, to protect her reputation, then I have the same right.”
Shocked, Elizabeth could not find the words to tell them both to leave her rooms.
There were more footsteps coming towards the rooms. Jane, followed by Bingley, entered through the door Darcy had forced open.
“Lizzy, what has happened?” Jane asked, as she made her way across the room, wrapping her arms around her dearest sister.
“Please, ask them all to leave.” Elizabeth requested, turning her face to her sister’s shoulder.
“Mr Collins, Mr Darcy, I insist you remove from this room, and allow my sister privacy.” Jane spoke to the men. Turning towards Mr Bingley, Jane requested he escort the men from her sister’s chambers.
“Gentlemen, let us take this matter to another room.” Bingley insisted. “Miss Elizabeth needs her rest.”
Elizabeth turned her head to look at Darcy. “William.”
Both Darcy and Collins looked to her, replying “Yes.”
Glaring at Collins, Elizabeth hissed. “I would never refer to you by your given name. And I never wish to speak with you again.”
Darcy had a difficult time restraining his excitement with his cousin’s statement. “Yes, Lizzy.”
“Do not make decisions for my future without consulting me.”
With a nod, Darcy agreed. “Of course, Lizzy. Sleep now, we will speak tomorrow.”
~~ ** ~~
“What do you think you were doing, entering the bedchamber of Miss Elizabeth, in the middle of the night?” Bingley demanded of Mr Collins.
“I…I…was responding to a message from my fair cousin. She sent a message to me, requesting me to join her here, as she had decided that my offer was a sound and logical route to take.”
“Mr Collins, I find your tale to be just that, a tale. Miss Elizabeth would not invite a man to meet her, in her bed chambers, in the middle of the night.” Darcy responded. “You planned to take advantage of her sleeping, and force a marriage. As my cousin’s guardian, I would never approve of you as Miss Elizabeth, or Miss Bennet, for that matter, husband. Even if she were willing to marry you, I would question her sanity.”
“How dare you…I am the rector of your dear aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. How can you treat me so disrespectful?” Mr Collins puffed up like a preening bird, feathers ruffled.
“Remember, I know what my aunt is like and the sort of people she employs. She is arrogant, thinking herself far greater than she is. Which leads me to believe that you are a groveling toady, kissing up to my aunt as she prefers. Therefore, I have no difficulty in believing you would lie to achieve your goal. And your goal here, today, is to force my cousin into marriage.” Darcy was furious, wishing to throttle the pudgy, balding man before him.
“You are wrong, I tell you. Dead wrong. My cousin has accepted my offer, knowing the comfort it will bring to her mother and sisters. She has done me the great honor of accepting my offer for her hand.”
Darcy shook his head in disbelief. “Are you so ridiculous as to believe your own lies? I plainly heard MY cousin refuse you, yesterday and this morning.”
“She was simply flustered by your sudden appearance. Would you have not come in her rooms, Miss Elizabeth would have informed you of the truth of my words.”
“It is clear, you are a fool of the most ridiculous kind. Perhaps we should have you carted off to an asylum, to protect people from your foolish beliefs.” Darcy said, glaring at his aunt’s parson.
“No, Mr Collins, I believe I will have someone send for the constable. Since you are unwilling to see the truth, it would be wise for you to be locked away, so Lizzy does not fear for her safety.”
“Do not address my betrothed in such an informal manner, Mr Darcy. I do not address your betrothed such.”
“My betrothed? I believe we have already established that my aunt’s delusions are not my preference. I have no intention in marrying my cousin, Anne. Do I make myself understood?”
Mr Collins became all seriousness. “Miss de Bourgh will be mightily disappointment, as will her mother. Why, Lady Catherine speaks of your engagement frequently. Was it no the favorite wish of your own dear mother, for you and Miss de Bourgh to wed?”
“There has never been an arrangement and I have no plans to wed my cousin, Anne. My mother did not wish for such a union, she wished me to wed for love. Are you deaf or simply dimwitted, being unable to understand what I have said to you?” Darcy was exhausted of his constant reference to Lady Catherine’s fondest wish.
“Since your aunt was the one to inform me of the attachment, how could I believe otherwise? Lady Catherine de Bourgh is the most knowledgeable and important lady, so whatever she speaks, must be the truth.”
“Charles, I believe it would be best to send for the constable. This idiot is too foolish to be allowed to roam free. He will continue to plague my cousins, until he has caused harm to one or both of them. Could you send for the man?”
Bingley nodded, without a word, and left to speak to his butler.
With Bingley away, Mr Collins insisted that a clergyman be called to perform a marriage for him and Elizabeth. Darcy ignored the man, and instead, began pacing about the room.
“Mr Darcy, I have asked you three times for you to send for a clergyman to come. It is best for Miss Elizabeth to be my wife, as soon as possible. I believe it would be wise for us to wed quickly, perhaps with a common license. Waiting for the banns to be called would be difficult, with the family being in full mourning.”
“If you say one more word of a wedding to Lizzy, I will strangle you.” Darcy declared, walking straight up to Collins, forcing the man to look up to him. “You will never marry Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Bennet, or any other of the Bennet household. As I said before, we can arrange for you to be taken to an asylum, seeing that you are unable to comprehend reality. One more word, just one more, and I will follow through on my threat.”
Collins shuddered with the fury behind Darcy’s words. “B…B…But I must marry Miss Elizabeth, or she will be ruined.”
“Fine, you have sealed your fate. As soon as the constable arrives, I will have a physician sent for from Town.” Darcy stood tall and proud, making the parson shrink back. “Now sit down on the chair by the window, and remain there until you are told otherwise.”
~~ ** ~~
Mrs Nichols had ordered some tea and toast sent to Elizabeth’s room, with a healthy splash of brandy in the tea, to calm the young lady. Jane remained at her sister’s side, speaking softly to her.
The housekeeper of Netherfield had received a missive from her sister, informing of a plot that the maid at Longbourn had overheard. Martha Hill did not like Fanny Bennet, but hearing the woman planning to have Elizabeth ruined so as to force her into marrying Mr Collins, made Longbourn’s housekeeper’s blood boil. She asked her sister to relay the information to Mr Darcy, so that Mrs Bennet could be made to answer for her part in the matter.
With the arrival of the constable, followed not long after by Sir William Lucas, who had become the temporary magistrate for the neighborhood while Mr Downing was unable to perform the duties, as his illness had worsened, Mrs Nichols decided to speak to Darcy. When she entered the room, she overheard the gentleman describing the situation to the older man. Sir William was livid at the news of the attempt against the eldest Bennet daughters. The girls were dear friends of his eldest daughter, Charlotte, and all of his family was fond of Elizabeth and Jane.
“Please, might I have a moment to speak with Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth?” Sir William inquired.
“Of course.” Darcy replied, and he showed Sir William to the sitting room connected to the bed chambers of the Bennet sisters.
When the young ladies spied their family friend, both rushed forward to the man. As a father would naturally do, Sir William gathered his dear friend’s daughters to his chest. “My dear girls, you poor dear girls, allow me to express my condolences on the loss of your father. Thomas was my close friend for many years, and he will be deeply missed.”
Jane found her voice first. “Sir William, thank you for coming. Papa would be grateful for your assisting us in the matter of Mr Collins.”
“Of course, it is my duty to do so. The man is a ridiculous fool, but he has taken foolishness to a new level. Anyone who believes he had the right to force Miss Eliza into something she did not wish deserves to have your sister turned loose on them. I am surprised that she did not scratch his eyes out.”
A small chuckle escaped with a sob from Elizabeth. “Mr Darcy was able to thwart Mr Collins before I could even attempt to scratch that…that…toad.”
“Now that is my friend’s dearest daughter. You have always found a reason to laugh. Charlotte begged me to express her condolences, as does my wife. I am certain that, when I write to John at school, he will be saddened by the news. He has always been fond of your father, especially when it came to playing a game of chess. Thomas was the best chess player I have ever known. His certificate from the university chess club was one of his favorite treasures.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. “He always spoke with great pride of the tournament. The way his eyes sparkled, that is the way I will always remember him.”
“That is how Thomas would prefer you think of him. Lady Lucas and Charlotte went to Longbourn to assist Mr Hill in preparing your father for the undertaker. My lady has stated she will gather some of your father’s hair to be made into mourning rings for the two of you.”
“Please thank Lady Lucas and Charlotte for their kindness and generosity.” Jane stated on behalf of both sisters. “Knowing they are the ones to assist in Papa’s preparation, knowing the loving nature they will treat him, gives me peace of mind.”
“I agree, Jane. Charlotte will treat him as we would have. Lady Lucas has been like a sister to Papa. He would be pleased, as he always respected your family.”
“Sometimes I wish that your mother had never died. Your father was a loving and devoted husband and father. Our families were close, as if we were blood. Your father actually stood as family to my dear wife when we wed. Her father had died, and there were no men in her family. Thomas was pleased to be of assistance in giving the bride away to be married. They had known each other since childhood. My dear Ruth, she has not stopped crying since she heard the news.”
“Papa always enjoyed teasing Lady Lucas. He knew just how to aggravate her.” Elizabeth smiled at the memories flooding her mind.
“That he did. Relentless at times, but in the end, Ruth and Thomas always parted as dear friends. We even named John Thomas after your father.”
Elizabeth smiled. “And Charlotte was named after our grandmother, as Grandmother Bennet helped to raise Lady Lucas.”
“Charlotte Bennet took me to task a few times while I was courting Ruth. Though she was of age to make her choice in marrying, I went to your grandmother and Thomas to receive their approval to marry Ruth. When Mrs Bennet looked me up and down, over and over, I thought I would have to marry my lady without the blessings from your relations.”
The memories of those who had shared in their lives was soothing to the Bennet sisters. Some thought Sir William to be a strange and flighty man, but those who were close to him, knew he was not only kind and caring, his compassion was one of his greatest gifts. And the man was intelligent, though he did not want people to know just how intelligent he was.
Darcy’s heart was touched with the tenderness he witnessed. To know that his cousins were loved by so many people was a blessing he had not realized. Though he had been certain Mr Bennet loved his daughters, Darcy had assumed that his uncle had not allowed close relationships with those outside their family. Learning that Thomas Bennet had allowed his daughters to continue their friendship with family friends dispelled some of Darcy’s worries.
“Sir William, would you care to take refreshments with my cousins?” Darcy offered.
“No, no…I must be making arrangements as to Mr Collins and preparations for Thomas’ funeral. Have no fear girls, I will see that things are done properly.”
Elizabeth stepped up on her toes to place a kiss on the gentleman’s cheek. “Papa would be grateful to you, Sir William.”
“Mr Darcy has been kind enough to explain that you girls will be moving to his home and are under his protection. He gave me instructions as to the addresses, so Charlotte and Lady Lucas can write to both of you. We will come again tomorrow, so the ladies may spend time, if that is acceptable with Mr Bingley.”
“I am certain Mr Bingley would approve if you and your family visited as often as you wish.” Darcy answered for his friend.
“Very good, very good. Now, Eliza, do not fret over your father’s heir, as he will not be able to cause you any further harm. We have decided to have him taken to an asylum in Bedford. Mr Jones came, at our request, and he has taken the liberty writing a letter to a physician he knows at the asylum, stating that in Mr Jone’s opinion, as an apothecary, Mr Collins should be locked away for the safety of others.”
The news caused Elizabeth to relax slightly. “And if the physician does not agree?”
It was Darcy’s turn to explain. “There is no need to fear him being turned loose. If the physician does not accept him, the constable is to take Mr Collins to the gaol in Bedford. Sir William has written a letter explaining the charges brought against the miserable excuse for a man, and that Collins was found guilty by himself as the magistrate. Either way, the parson will be locked up. And I am sending a letter to my godfather, who is the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is my belief that Mr Collins will be stripped of his position in the church, after attempting to compromise you in your bed chamber.”
Though Elizabeth was embarrassed over the memory of finding Mr Collins in her bed, she would not allow the man to torment her any further.
“Then I will put him from my mind. Jane and I must prepare for our mourning. We will need to dye some gowns black, as we have no mourning clothes.”
“I have already asked Mrs Nichols to request the seamstress from Meryton to come this afternoon. You will need gowns, slippers, and such for your mourning period.” Darcy declared, causing the sisters to slightly chuckle.
When they noticed Darcy’s eyebrow shift upwards in question, Jane and Elizabeth looked to each other, before Elizabeth explained.
“You are definitely the same William from our childhood. You always thought of everything, in your attempt to take care of everyone. I am certain that Jane would agree with me in saying that it is refreshing to have such in our lives at the moment.”
Elizabeth was rewarded by the dimples on the cheeks of her cousin as he smiled. Seeing the dimple was rare, so the young lady felt blessed.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
“I have not seen or heard of Miss Darcy all day.” Caroline Bingley stated to her sister. “You would think that Mr Darcy would have informed us if his sister was ill or if there was a problem.”
“Certainly, either Mr Darcy or our brother would have notified us, though they have both been involved with Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth.”
Caroline knew her sister was correct, Charles and Mr Darcy had been far too involved with the Bennet sisters. “We must remove them, for those chits cannot be allowed to remain. If only that idiot parson had accomplished the ruination of Eliza, we would be able to remove them from our home. As long as they are here, Mr Darcy is going to be occupied.”
“But Sister, Mr Darcy is planning to take them to Pemberley. I overheard him telling Charles last night. He even went so far as to send letters to his housekeepers to have suites prepared for them in the family wing of Pemberley and Darcy House.”
“No, that cannot happen. I will not tolerate those chits, those country nobodies, to ruin my chance to become Mistress of Pemberley and Darcy House. The title of Mrs Darcy will be mine.”
Louisa Hurst knew her sister well enough to know, Caroline would do whatever she had to succeed. The elder sister also knew her sister would stop at nothing to win her prize, that of being wife to Fitzwilliam Darcy. “So what do you plan to do, Caroline?”
“At the moment, I am not certain. Have no fear though, I will determine some sort of plan.”
~~ ** ~~
A letter arrived at Rosings, addressed to Lady Matlock. Realizing it was from her niece, Rebecca Fitzwilliam opened it and began to read.
My dearest aunt,
I am writing to inform you that I will be delayed in meeting you and uncle at Rosings. Something wonderful has happened, and I cannot wait to see the excited looks when I tell you. Oh, I cannot hold the news in, as it is far too exciting.
While in Hertfordshire, I became reacquainted with my father’s godson, George Wickham. We spent man hours chatting about our families and Pemberley. And I learned of the treachery that Fitzwilliam has bestowed upon George, all because he was jealous of Father giving George more attention. My brother has been the means to poor George’s becoming part of the militia that is camped in the village nearby.
Fitzwilliam has been busy with the two eldest Bennet sisters. He has even attempted to force them upon me, insisting I treat them as our family. How can he compare us? Our mother was the daughter of an earl, of course we are higher ranked than the Bennets. Father may have been wealthy, but he was not titled. He was merely a gentleman farmer with a fortune. And his sister, who had no title, married a country squire, well they are so far beneath us to take notice. And Fitzwilliam declared that these nobodies will be leaving the neighborhood with him, taking them to live at Pemberley. Like they deserve to be treated like us. Well, Fitzwilliam will have no more authority over my life, and will not be able to tell me what to do. I will come and go as I please.
Now, having said that much, it is time for the exciting news. I am on my way to Gretna Green with George to elope. The next time we meet, you will need to refer to me as Mrs George Wickham. How wonderful that sounds? Will we not be a merry group, as we laugh at my brother’s foolishness?
I must hurry now, so I might arrive to meet my dear George. Wish us joy, and we will see you soon.
Your beloved niece,
“Dear Lord, that foolish boy, how could he allow this to happen? We will all be ruined, ruined I say.” Lady Matlock shrieked.
Lord Matlock came from the adjoining room in a rush. “What has happened? Who is ruined?”
Finding it difficult to speak, Lady Matlock shoved the letter into his hands. Lord Matlock soon needed to sit down, his knees shaking made it difficult to stand. “That foolish girl, how could her brother allow such a thing to happen? We should have demanded Georgiana come with us, or sent word to Richard, taking her away from her brother on behalf of our son. What are we to do to keep the news from spreading?”
“We must speak with Anne and Catherine.” Lady Matlock stated. “They must be made aware of the situation immediately.”
“Perhaps Fitzwilliam will be able to find them and instill some sense in his sister. Yes, I am certain that he has already caught up with them, perhaps even dispatched that scoundrel Wickham. It is imperative that our nephew marries Anne, and with all due haste. If Fitzwilliam calls the reprobate out and ends his life, the situation can be handled simply. Georgiana will have to be sent away for a time, to ensure no babe is begotten. And Anne will need to be more like Catherine when dealing with Georgiana. The girl cannot be trusted, so she must be managed. If necessary, we will send her to one of the religious schools for wayward girls. They will force her into behaving properly.”
“Let us speak with your sister, for I am certain you will wish to leave quickly. I will inform our servants to prepare for our departure.” Lady Matlock stated. As she stepped away from her husband, the grand lady shook her head, as tears streamed down her cheeks. “Georgiana would never have behaved in such a manner if it were not for those Bennet sisters. They have ruined our niece, and us as well. My nerves, oh my nerves.”
“We will stop at this estate…Fitzwilliam’s friend’s place, to learn more of the situation.”
Lady Matlock nodded her head. “Neth…Nether…Nether something. I cannot remember at the moment.”
“Find the address from one of the other letters our niece sent, while I inform our servants of our change in plans.”
~~ ** ~~
A grand carriage arrived at Netherfield late in the evening. Not expecting anyone, the occupants of the manor house were preparing to retire for bed when the footman entered the drawing room.
“Lord and Lady Matlock, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Miss de Bourgh wish to speak with Mr Darcy.” The butler stated as the foursome entered the room.
“Darcy, what on earth are you doing here?” Lord Matlock demanded, his tone accusatory.
“I am doing my duty to my cousins and my uncle.” Darcy explained, moving to place himself between his mother’s brother and the Bennet sisters.
“Good God, what of your duty to your sister? Does she mean nothing to you?”
Elizabeth grew concerned. Darcy had kept the news of Georgiana’s elopement from her and her sister. Only Bingley knew what had happened, and he was swore to secrecy.
“Uncle, I believe it would be wise for us to remove to the library. The matter is private, and should be discussed in private.” He reached out to take hold of his uncle’s arm to guide him from the room.
Lady Catherine had obviously been chomping at the bit to have her say. “If you had done right by your sister and sent her to live with me, we would not be in this predicament. But you refused, saying it was your father’s wish for you and Richard to see to Georgiana’s upbringing. Your father was a fool, and now he must be rolling over in his grave to know you are not living up to your duties. You have not come to Rosings to marry Anne, and now your sister has run off with your father’s godson, the son of Gerald’s steward. Are the shades of Pemberley to be so polluted?”
“I assume that Georgiana wrote to you and told you of her intentions.” Darcy realized that the truth was going to come out, no matter how hard he tried to conceal the matter.
A gasp was heard from behind Darcy, and he did not need to turn around to know Elizabeth had stepped closer to him. She reached out and placed a hand on his arm in a compassionate gesture, only to have her hand struck by a folded up fan.
“Remove yourself from this room.” Lady Catherine hissed at the dark haired young lady. Glaring at her for a few moments, the elder woman realized who was standing before her. “You, you are Olivia’s child, are you not? You look like your mother. But that does not matter. You are keeping my nephew here, when he should be doing his duty to my daughter and to his sister. Because of your interference, everything is in ruin.”
“There is no need to speak to my cousin in such a manner.” Darcy retorted. “Jane and Lizzy are welcomed members of the Darcy family. Their father just passed a few days ago, and I am taking charge of their futures, being I am the closest male family member.”
“What about Anne’s feelings in the matter?” Lady Matlock asked. “Does Anne have no say in the matter?”
Darcy frowned. “I see no reason for it to be any concern for my cousin, Anne. Jane and Lizzy will doubtfully ever make the journey to Rosings, so there will be no burden on Anne to host them.”
“And what about your marriage to Anne? Will you delay your wedding while tending to the needs of these two young ladies?” Lady Catherine demanded. “It would be best for my parson to perform the wedding for you and Anne immediately. I have procured a special license, and Mr Collins can see to the service. Where is my parson?”
“Your parson is in an asylum, after he broke into this house in an attempt to force himself on a young lady. The magistrate for the neighborhood felt that either an asylum or incarceration in the gaol would be the best places for a man so dangerous to young ladies.” Darcy replied. “Now, as to my marrying Anne, I will not do so, not now, not ever.”
Anne had had her fill of everyone deciding her future. “Fitzwilliam, you were promised to me by your mother. It is the greatest desire of both of our mothers, and has been planned since our births. How can you tell me you have no intention of ever marrying me?”
“I have made my feelings on the matter clear, Cousin Anne. Time and again, I have informed you that I would not marry you, and that you had best look elsewhere for a husband.” Darcy was growing more irritated by the minute. “This discussion should be held in private, as I am certain Mr Bingley and his relations would prefer not being involved in the matters.”
“You have already ruined our family’s reputation, allowing Georgiana to run off with a scoundrel.” Lady Catherine pounded her cane on the floor as she spoke. “Then you insist you will not marry my daughter. What more is there to discuss that needs to be kept secret?”
“Seeing as you refused to accompany me to the library, to have this discussion in private, you have no one to blame by yourself for airing our family business in front of everyone.” Retorted Darcy. He was not in the mood to continue with the discussion. “Will you now follow me to the library?”
Ignoring what his nephew was saying, Lord Matlock began asking further questions. “What has been done to recover Georgiana? How can we repair the damage that has been done to the family?”
“First, I did not race after my sister and Wickham, as I knew that it was too late to do anything, once I realized Georgiana was gone. So there would have been nothing to change the outcome, my sister will soon be Mrs Wickham. Even if I had caught them, I would have been forced to allow them to marry. Georgiana would have been vocal with her anger if she did not achieve her goal. All that refusing would have accomplished would be to make her angrier. And we all know that an angry Georgiana, who has been denied her prize, is a force to be avoided. When they return to claim my sister’s dowry, they will learn the truth.”
“And what truth is that, Fitzwilliam?” Lady Matlock inquired.
“My sister and Wickham were never made aware of the stipulations my father placed in his will with regards to Georgiana’s dowry.”
A crease developed on Lord Matlock’s forehead. “What are these stipulations in which you are speaking? I do not remember your father placing stipulations in his will.”
A chuckle escaped Darcy, and he turned towards Bingley. “Charles, please forgive my family for their rudeness. I would beg of you and your relations to keep what you have heard private.”
“Of course, Darcy. You know you can trust me.” Bingley then turned to his sisters. “And my sisters will keep silent as well, or face my wrath and a loss of the additional funds I give them each month. Do I make myself clear?” The last was asked while looking directly at Louisa and Caroline.
Knowing better than to anger their brother, the Bingley sisters nodded their agreement to his demand.
Lady Catherine was in no mood to discuss the children of a tradesman. “Never mind them, they are of no consequence. What is this nonsense you are speaking with regards to your father’s will?”
Taking hold of Elizabeth’s hand for strength, Darcy began speaking. “Father knew there were going to be fortune hunters that would love my sister’s dowry more than they would want her. So he made some additional arrangements to protect Georgiana. The first is that if Georgiana marries without my permission, before she reaches her majority, I have control over her dowry for ten years after her wedding. If she is under the age of seven and ten, the couple will be required to reside Scotland, at a small estate that is owned by me. The estate is in the north of Scotland, with very little in the way of entertainment. They will have a roof over their heads, a small stipend to cover their food and clothing needs. No extra funds will be alloted to them, they will have to economize to make certain they have food on the table and servants to tend them. According to the will, the only servants would be a maid, a manservant, and a cook, so my sister and her husband will be required to do some of the chores.”
“Your father had this entered into his will?” Lord Matlock was skeptical.
“He did. In preparation of my sister’s return, I have already written to my solicitor to inform him of the newlyweds. Once I make myself clear, the Wickhams will have to leave for their new life together. You can understand that I will not welcome the Wickhams at Pemberley or Darcy House, and with the disgrace she will have brought upon our family, I will remain at Pemberley for some time to come. Fortunately, such will be no hardship for me.”
“And you plan to take these country nobodies with you to Pemberley?” Anne huffed, crossing her arms across her chest.
“I am taking my cousins from my father’s side of the family. I would ask you to refrain from disparaging them.” Darcy glared at Anne de Bourgh.
“If you are to take your cousins with you, I demand you take Anne with you.” Lady Catherine demanded. “I demand you comply with my request.”
“As I am the head of the Darcy family, I do not fall under the ruling of the Fitzwilliam family. You can threaten me all you wish, Aunt, but I will not capitulate to your demands.”
“Henry, you must make him see reason. You must insist that Anne makes the journey to Pemberley. My daughter deserves to be courted properly and married soon. And, as he has seen fit to remove my parson, it is best for the wedding to happen at Pemberley.” Lady Catherine was not ready to back down from the fight. Determined, she would force Darcy to take Anne to Pemberley. Once there, Anne would be able to find a compromising situation in which to place herself.
“Catherine, it is Darcy’s estate, and he has the final say on who is welcome to stay at Pemberley. Though I agree with you, as I believe our sister wished for the union, I cannot force my rules upon him.” Lord Matlock then turned towards is nephew. “But I will tell you that you are being a fool, Fitzwilliam. You have the perfect situation in life, with a young lady of proper lineage and wealth, a situation which has been wished for by your family for years. Anne was formed to be your wife.”
Darcy began laughing. “Yes, Anne would be the perfect Mistress of Pemberley and Darcy House. That is why she has never been to a social event, including a dinner party, a ball, or even the theater. Her health has always been poor, not allowing her to do anything, even sewing or reading. Anne has never been presented in court, and has no talents. And if you believe she is capable of bearing a child, you must be delusional.”
Miss Anne de Bourgh’s anger was beyond rational thinking. “Do you honestly believe I wish to bed you and bear you children? The thought disgusts me. I would be happy to allow you all the whores you desire, including these chits. One of your bastards can be passed off as your heir. And living at Pemberley is out of the question. The winters are far too cold for my liking. Winters should be spent in Town or at Rosings.”
“Enough, Anne. Keep your breath to cool your porridge.” Her mother declared. “You have nothing to fear, Fitzwilliam. Anne will bear your heir. Now, show us to rooms so that we might freshen up.”
Before Bingley to say a word, Darcy decided to make his point clear. “As this is not my home, I will not offer you lodging here. If you wish to remain in the neighborhood, there is an inn at Meryton, only two miles from this estate. But you will not be welcome to remain at Netherfield.”
Lady Matlock gasped. “Fitzwilliam, you would not treat your family in such a reprehensible manner. Stop this nonsense immediately. Is it not bad enough that your inaction will leave our family ripe for ridicule, you now force us to take lodging in an inn in a merchant village of questionable tastes.”
“Then I would suggest you leave immediately for Town.” Darcy suggested. He turned to Jane and Elizabeth, holding out an arm to each of them. As the sisters took hold of their cousin’s arms, Anne de Bourgh saw red.
Marching to Darcy’s side, Anne drew back her hand, and before anyone could restrain her, Anne brought her hand across Elizabeth’s face, striking her cheek and jawline. The force of the strike nearly sent Elizabeth to the floor, though she was saved by Darcy’s quick actions. He was able to hold on to Elizabeth’s arm and pull her tightly to his chest.
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