Darcy handed Elizabeth a glass of wine, encouraging her to sip the libation to aid her in calming. He had yet to question her, as he wished to move her away from the scene and the horror she had witnessed.
A sudden and harsh knock on the door alerted Darcy of Bingley’s arrival. The door opened before Darcy could call out.
“I demand to know what happened to my sister.” The usually amiable man spat the words. “How did my sister end up dead in your conservatory? Miss Elizabeth, you are covered in blood, were you injured as well?”
The manner in which he spoke left Elizabeth dumbstruck for a moment. “I…I…am not injured. I…”
“Then how did you come to be covered in blood? Is it my sister’s blood? I insist you tell me what transpired in the conservatory.”
“Charles, calm yourself. I know this has been a shock, but there is no reason for you to treat Lizzy in such a manner.” Darcy replied.
“My sister was to remain in her room until time for her to depart. I had a footman standing guard to ensure that she stayed there. How is it my sister is in the conservatory? Did Miss Elizabeth assist Caroline in leaving her room? What purpose had you to be in the conservatory with Caroline?”
“That is enough, Charles. I will not tolerate you treating my betrothed as if she caused your sister’s death. Did you not realize that George Wickham was in the conservatory as well?”
Shocked, Bingley looked at his friend. “Wickham? What is he doing here?”
“He was here at the order of Miss de Bourgh.” Elizabeth finally found her voice. “And it was he who stabbed your sister, I attempted to aid her, which is why I have her blood on me. Miss Bingley was stating she was to be William’s wife, and that I was William’s mistress. She even offered a reward to Wickham if he killed me and let her live.”
“Anne hired Wickham?” Darcy was unable to comprehend his cousin being so evil. “He must have been the one who shot you.”
“He did not say, though I gathered he had been attempting to do away with me before today. Miss Bingley bit his hand and clawed at his face in an attempt to free herself from him, but he stabbed her.”
“And when I entered the room, Wickham attempted to recover the knife and attack us. That is when my butler shot the scoundrel. So you have no reason to behave so cruelly to Elizabeth.” Darcy’s temper was raw.
Bingley sank into one of the chairs, leaning forward to rest his head in his hands, which were balanced upon his knees. “Forgive me, Miss Elizabeth. I did not wish to bring you further pain than what you have already suffered. It was just…”
“Such a shock?” Jane asked. “I believe we can all claim a share of the shock from what happened.”
“Louisa and Hurst, they are upstairs, resting.” Bingley suddenly stood up, preparing to leave the study.
“No, Charles, stay here. I will send Mrs Reynolds to fetch Hurst and your sister.” Darcy moved to the door of the study, signaling a maid. “Please have Mrs Reynolds attend the Hursts, and have them brought down here.”
The maid nodded her head and quickly made her way towards the conservatory, where she was certain the housekeeper would be found. The lady, who had been housekeeper since Darcy was a boy of four, had already anticipated her master’s need and had spoken to Mrs Hurst’s maid. Learning the couple were resting, she left strict instructions to send word when the Hursts were awake. And Mrs Reynolds stated that no one was to speak with the couple of what was happening in the conservatory.
Mrs Reynold made her way to Darcy’s study, informing him of the Hursts being indisposed and her plans to escort them as soon as possible.
“Would you see that some tea and coffee is sent here? And send for the magistrate. This will need to be reported, even though the perpetrator of Miss Bingley’s murder is now deceased. We do not wish for any tall tales being spread through the neighborhood.” Darcy announced.
“No one in your employ would dare to gossip about anything that happens here at Pemberley, or they will face me.” The woman stated. “And I will make certain that they are reminded of what happens to those who disregard the rule.”
Seeing the woman’s stance and attitude brought a small smile to Darcy’s lips. He knew her to be a staunch defender of Pemberley and the Darcy family, and had no doubt that she would make certain none crossed her rule.
~~ ** ~~
Louisa Hurst was shocked and dismayed by the tragic events of the day. “I told her to obey your orders, Charles. Why would she disregard what you had told her? What good would it have done her to make you further angered with her?”
“She thought she could reach Darcy and force a compromise, I am certain. From what Miss Elizabeth has said, our sister believed she stood a chance at winning my friend’s heart and hand.” Charles Bingley walked to the nearby window, staring out at the land, as his friend was fond of doing. “Our sister claimed to be betrothed to Darcy, and that Miss Elizabeth was his mistress. She even went so far as to tempting the culprit with additional funds if he would kill Miss Elizabeth, leaving her free to have Darcy to herself.”
Sobs could be heard from the lady, as she leaned towards her husband. Hurst looked first at Darcy, then to his wife’s brother. “What should we do?”
Darcy waited a moment, expecting Bingley to respond. When nothing came from the young man, the Master of Pemberley spoke. “We have sent for the magistrate. Though Wickham was the one to kill Miss Bingley, and my butler killed Wickham in defense of Miss Elizabeth and myself, I prefer to keep everything beyond reproach. Once the gentleman, Sir Alfred Thompson, arrives, we will explain what happened. It may be some time before he can arrive, with the rain continuing. I would prefer Miss Elizabeth be able to clean herself and able to dress in a fresh gown. Is there any reason you would disapprove of so doing?”
“No, no reason. It is obvious that Miss Elizabeth has suffered, and should refresh. There is no reason for her to remain here, in such a state.”
Elizabeth had been sitting with her hands folding in her lap, still covered with blood, and her eyes staring at the redness. She was having a difficult time to keep up with the conversation, all she could think of was the blood on her hands and clothing. William had insisted that she go to her rooms and freshen up, even take a bath, but Elizabeth had been adamant, after Bingley’s behavior shortly following the murder, that she remain such until the Hursts could witness her condition. She did not wish to have the couple question her culpability in the death of their sister.
“Miss Elizabeth, please, there is no need for you to remain here, with your appearance in such disarray.” Mrs Hurst stated. “You have endured far too much today, at the hands of my sister. Please, I beg of you.”
Looking towards Bingley, Elizabeth shook her head. “I want no one to be able to question my part in what happened today. If it means sitting here, in this condition, then that is how it will be.”
“Forgive me, Miss Elizabeth.” Bingley looked at the young lady, his pain clear to everyone in the room. “I should not have been so rude to you earlier. My mind was unprepared for what happened, and I lashed out at you, as I would have done to my sister, if it had been possible. There is no question of what happened, and no need for you to remain here, covered in blood. You should take some time to freshen up and rest a bit, as you are still recovering from your injury from just a short time ago.”
Their eyes locked, and in that moment, Elizabeth forgave the young man for his cruelty after discovering his sister’s death. She nodded her head, and left the room, her sister following close behind.
~~ ** ~~
Mr Phillips was furious to learn of his wife’s sister disregarding the rules that had been put in place after Mr Collins had been removed from the neighborhood. Mary Bennet had walked into Meryton, under the pretense of visiting her aunt, Mrs Phillips. Upon reaching Meryton, the eldest of Fanny Bennet’s daughters walked directly to the solicitor’s office.
“Uncle, Mother has been sneaking in the manor house in the middle of the night, or when Mr and Mrs Hill are away on errands. I have tried to stop her, but she refuses to listen to anything I have to say.”
“I am grateful for your informing me, Mary. You have always been a good girl, and I am certain that your elder sisters will appreciate your honesty. If Fanny does not stop her behavior, there will be no option but to have her evicted from the estate. And she will not be allowed to live with my family, or with the Gardiners. Your uncle has stated that he will not welcome her to his home. She will be forced to suffer the consequences of her actions. Do not fret though, as you will always have a home with us.”
“What of Lydia and Kitty?” Mary was nervous. She could not imagine what would become of her younger sisters if their mother was removed from their father’s estate.
“I will need to speak to each of them separately. If they prove to be dependable and trustworthy, they, too, will have a home. But if they follow their mother in her behavior, they will have the same discipline meted to them.” Mr Phillips stated.
“It is my belief that Kitty, if removed from Lydia, has the making to be a fine young lady. But my youngest sister, I hold little faith in her behaving in an appropriate manner. Mother has allowed her far too many liberties. Lydia is a flirt, and will not be happy until she has ruined the reputation of our entire family.”
Mr Phillips shook his head. “Perhaps it is time that your mother and Lydia were moved elsewhere. If I remember correctly, Fanny’s aunt owned a cottage North Cornwall. I think it is time for me to have a chat with Edward Gardiner, for I believe he was left the property when the aunt died. Such a location might be perfect to settle Fanny and Lydia, allowing us to have peace.”
~~ ** ~~
Lord and Lady Matlock were finishing tea when their butler announced their nephew’s arrival. Surprised, they instructed the man to escort Fitzwilliam Darcy to Lord Matlock’s study. Lord Matlock was at a loss for words. “Why would Darcy be in London? I thought he planned to remain at Pemberley with his cousins.”
“We will not know until we speak with him. Let us have done with this meeting, as I would prefer to have it finished before your sister and her daughter return from their shopping.” Lady Matlock had already stood.
“Of course, you are correct. If Catherine and Anne were here, I can only imagine how such a meeting would be.” Lord Matlock offered his wife his arm, and the two made their way to the study. A footman was standing nearby, prepared to open the door for his master and mistress.
Entering the room, they noted Darcy standing near the window, staring out at the street below. His expression was somber, as he turned to face his aunt and uncle.
“Well, Darcy, what brings you here? Have you already come to your senses and realized your foolishness?” Lord Matlock puffed his chest out as he spoke.
“I believe it is your eldest niece who has behaved in the gravest of manners, and she is the one who needs to come to her senses.”
Lady Matlock frowned. “What does Anne have to do with your being here? Have you finally come to regret not honoring your mother and Catherine’s arrangement? I doubt that Anne would want you now, after you have behaved so abominably towards her. You are not fit to be in polite society, having taken those country nobodies into your home. What will people think of you, sharing your home with two unwed chits of no consequences?”
“It is my belief that they will have their tongues wagging over my cousin’s behavior. Your beloved Anne has proven herself to be a master manipulator. Were you aware that Anne hired George Wickham to murder Miss Elizabeth Bennet? Were you involved in the plot?”
“How dare you accuse us of such behavior?” Lord Matlock’s face was turning crimson. “Anne would never do such a thing, as she is a lady of good stock and has been raised properly. Your accusation is preposterous.”
“Where did you come up with such a notion, Darcy?” Lady Matlock asked. “Has this Wickham fellow been spreading lies about our family?”
“He did not lie. I have missives that Anne sent to Wickham, asking him to meet her while she was visiting Town. The letters were found in his belongings. Here is one of the messages. I am certain you can recognize your niece’s hand, as she has written to you for years.”
Lord Matlock accepted the letter from Darcy, and began to read the words that Anne had penned. “Dear God, what was the child thinking? How could she be so foolish as to put such in writing?”
Darcy was shocked at his uncle’s response. “So her attempt to have my betrothed killed is of no importance, but writing the plot down is what has sickened you? I thank the heavens for my mother not having to endure the behavior of her namesake. And I am certain that she would not approve of your behavior either, Uncle.”
“See here, I believe I knew your mother better than you. She would be disappointed to see how you are treating her relations. Anne was devoted to our family, and would be highly disappointed in you.”
A harsh chuckle was heard from Darcy. “My mother despised spending time with you or Aunt Catherine. She told me several times that she tolerated the two of you for her parents, but preferred to be with my father and his sister, while Aunt Olivia was alive. And she would never approve of such a despicable act as hiring someone to commit murder of an innocent young lady.”
The door of the study swung open, as Lady Catherine marched towards the trio. “What is going on here? Has Darcy finally come to his senses an come to apologize? I am not certain he is worthy of my Anne’s hand.”
A voice from behind her spoke. “Mother, keep your opinion to yourself. The matter of a betrothal is between Darcy and me, not you.”
“We have no betrothal, Miss de Bourgh. I am betrothed to Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who is alive and nearly recovered from the attempt on her life.”
Anne scoffed. “What does that chit have to do with me? I have made no attempt to harm her. Ask anyone in Town. I have been seen shopping, taking repasts at different tea shops, attending the theater with Aunt and Uncle.”
“You hired George Wickham.” Darcy was having to hold his hands behind him, for he could not vouch for his self control, being so near the woman who had been instrumental for Elizabeth’s injury.
“And what if I did? It is not as if you would be able to prove your theory correct. Knowing Wickham, you will never get him to testify against me.”
“No, as he is dead. Though he did speak of your treachery before his death, and when we found his belongings, he had letters you had sent to him. They discussed the terms of your agreement, how much you paid him up front, and how much you were to pay him upon completion of his task.”
“You will never be able to prove the letters were from me. With Wickham’s reputation, he cannot be believed at all. And how would I know where to find the scoundrel?”
Darcy was repulsed by his cousin’s behavior. “Since you and Wickham have been lovers for years, I am certain that you would have no difficulty in locating the man whenever you have need of him. I can remember Richard informing me of your relationship with Wickham, having come across you at Rosings. You were unaware of Richard witnessing your behavior, rutting about in the gardens without a stitch of clothing, while Wickham had his way with you. Did you not wonder why I told you six years ago that I could never be prevailed upon to marry you? Why, after years of ignoring the situation, I would become adamant about not marrying you? I knew you had given your virtue to such a man, and continued to allow him to enjoy your pleasures. That was when I informed my father that there was nothing which could induce me to marry you, and I told him the truth of what happened. It was no surprise that Father changed his will shortly after, leaving Wickham the living at Kympton, rather than the large sum he had originally planned.”
“You are the reason Wickham was ruined?” Anne glared, her hands becoming hardened fists. “If you had not spoken to Uncle Gerald, Wickham would have be a gentleman of means, and we could have married. You separated me from the only man I could love. How dare you?” She lunged forward, striking Darcy in the chest, over and over.
Only when Lord Matlock stepped around his desk and took hold of his niece did the young lady stop her assault on Darcy. She continued to screech as she was pulled from the study, her uncle’s hand wrapped around her upper arm. In the hall, Lord Matlock motioned for a footman to take Anne upstairs.
“Anne, you are to remain in your chambers until I say otherwise. If you disobey me, you will suffer my wrath. Do I make myself clear?”
Though still furious at her cousin, Anne relented and went up the stairs to her bed chambers.
Shaking his head, Lord Matlock turned towards his study. Just before he entered the room, he took a deep breath to calm himself. Certainly, his nephew would make demands of the entire family to keep the news quiet.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Five years had passed quickly for the Darcy family. Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth were married a month after his return to Pemberley, following his confrontation with his mother’s relations.
In the first year, Darcy fretted his way through his wife’s condition, which was his way of describing his wife’s ever blossoming body in which grew the heir of Pemberley. Their son was born two weeks before the couple’s first anniversary. Thomas Gerald Darcy was a sweet child, quiet and calm. Elizabeth was often suggesting that Thomas was his father’s equal. Fortunately, the child had his mother to coax him from his shyness as Thomas grew.
The following year, the Darcy family were blessed with a set of twin girls. Olivia Anne and Madeline Jane were welcomed to the family just after the family celebrated Christmas.
Elizabeth was once again with child, and her husband was still fretting over everything. He knew his beloved Lizzy was strong and healthy, far greater than his mother’s condition while she was with child, but Darcy could not stop his constant fear for his wife and child. There was no better father anywhere, as Darcy doted on the children, spent as much time as possible with each of his son and daughters. It was to the amusement of everyone that Thomas was often found in his father’s study, quietly playing while his father worked. When asked, Darcy would smile and reply that it was never too early to teach his son about the estate the boy would one day inherit. Everyone would chuckle, as they knew the boy was teaching the father so much more, how to live life to its fullest.
Jane Bennet married a year after her sister, to Charles Bingley. She had insisted on waiting for Charles to have a proper grieving period for his sister, even though Charles had stated there was no need for the delay. His pain was difficult, for the man was normally one of the more amiable men in England. He had so many conflicting emotions surging through his mind, and Jane was determined to be at his side as he came to terms with his sister’s death.
Mr and Mrs Hurst had returned to his family’s estate, that which he was to inherit. There, the couple raised their two sons. Though Louisa was deeply sorrowful over the loss of her sister, she could not regret the changes that came to her marriage and her life. She was a doting mother of her sons, and spent more time with her husband, who had also improved with Caroline no longer being an obstacle in their lives. Gilbert Hurst had resented Caroline’s behavior, and had turned to drinking to steel his nerves against the most difficult member of the family.
The Bingleys welcomed their first born two years after their marriage, a sweet natured daughter, who was named Elizabeth Helen. Jane teased her sister that little Lizzy was not going to be as adventurous as her aunt, as she had too much of her mother and father in her personality. Elizabeth would respond that there were many years to correct the defects in the child.
Georgiana received word of her husband’s death and her brother’s marriage. She had remained in her exile in Scotland, not wishing to be a burden to her brother. Though she did not approve of Darcy’s wife, the younger Darcy sibling realized that she did not truly know her sister in law well enough to make a fair decision. The widowed Mrs Wickham had begun to see the errors of her ways, the belief in Wickham’s love for her had been for her dowry rather than the young lady herself. Her relations refusing to acknowledge her had been the final blow to the girl, making her realize how foolish she had been. Expecting her aunts and uncle to accept her marriage had been childish, and it was time for Georgiana to be an adult. She accepted her brother’s offer to hire a companion for her, and soon, Mrs Annesley had been employed and sent to Scotland to take up residence with Georgiana.
With the assistance of her companion, Georgiana Wickham had made improvements in her life. She began making clothes for some of the children who lived in the neighborhood where her cottage was located, and even taught some of the children how to play the pianoforte which had been delivered to her as a birthday gift when Georgiana turned eight and ten. The card stated that Darcy, Elizabeth and their son wished her well, and they would welcome her to visit Pemberley when she felt she could make the journey. Instead of making the journey, Georgiana had determined to learn more of her brother and his family through corresponding with them. The widow had determined that she would never marry again, as she was unsure of her ability to judge the motive of others.
Lord and Lady Matlock had been mortified when the truth of their elder niece’s behavior, not only hiring someone to commit murder of an innocent gentlewoman, but her dalliances with Wickham, became known throughout the ton.
After Darcy had left the Matlock’s townhouse, the night he had confronted the family with the knowledge of Anne’s behavior, Lady Catherine was livid. The grand dame of Rosings Park had meant to discredit Darcy, disparaging her nephew to anyone who would listen. Nothing Lord Matlock did could calm his elder sister’s tirade. Soon, the situation became fodder for the gossips, as the papers were filled with Anne de Bourgh’s misdeeds. Due to Lady Catherine’s behavior, Lord and Lady Matlock determined their relations were no longer welcome in their home, causing Lady Catherine to turn her rage against her brother and his wife. As they returned to Rosings Park, Lady Catherine continued her vile assault against those in her family who had caused her displeasure. The papers were enjoying the scandals which had continued. The final straw, which broke Lord Matlock, was when word was received that Anne was with child, the father of babe being the parson who had taken over Hunsford after Collins was placed in the asylum. There had been so many tongues wagging over the situation, and Lord Matlock denounced his sister and her daughter. In a public display, when Lady Catherine came across the Matlocks at the theater, while Lady Catherine was staying at a rented townhouse in Town, Lord Matlock gave his sister the cut direct.
Two years had continued with Lady Catherine and Anne causing more and more gossip, until Lady Catherine died from an epidemic of influenza. Believing his niece unfit to run Rosings, Lord Matlock had Anne removed from her estate and placed in an asylum. The child she had birthed was taken to Matlock, and raised as Lord Matlock’s ward.
Mrs Bennet was moved to Cornwall, with her daughter, Lydia. Kitty had decided to remain at Longbourn, with her sister Mary. Mr Phillips and Mr Gardiner had determined to allow the two young ladies to live at the manor house, with the Hills in charge of the household. Mary had met Mr Phillip’s clerk, and the couple had fallen in love. They were to wed in the spring. Elizabeth and Jane had agreed to gift Longbourn to Mary and her betrothed, as the girls felt Mary deserving of the estate. Kitty had decided she wished to be more like her elder sisters, and was granted permission of Jane and Charles to visit them at the estate that Madeline Bircher had left her nieces. Kitty had finally accepted a courtship with a young man who owned a small estate near the Bingleys.
Mrs Bennet had encouraged her youngest daughter’s infatuation with men in red coats, which led to a scandal, when Lydia Bennet eloped with one of the soldiers who had been encamped at the village near where the cottage was located. All requests from Mrs Bennet for her brother and brother in law to come to her aid were ignored, as were the pleas she had sent to her two elder daughters. Mary and Kitty had determined that they would no longer acknowledge their mother or Lydia, so they turned their backs to their mother’s demands for them to assist in making Lydia marry the man who had ruined her. Though she prayed Lydia had married, it was learned later that the young man had abandoned Lydia in London. The last that was heard of Lydia Bennet was that she had given birth to a daughter, and had somehow gained purchase of tickets to sail to the continent. Lydia’s final letter to her mother declared that she was enjoying a jolly party with her friends and refused to ever return to the dull home of her mother.
Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam had returned to England, and had stayed with the Darcys, as the men had begun planning for the retired soldier to raise the best stock of horseflesh that could be found in England. He also began courting a young lady who lived at her father’s estate, which was ten miles from Pemberley. His parents did not approve of the young lady, which did not bother the second son of the earl. Richard had always wished for a love match, and he was determined to have such in his future.
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth Darcy was aggravated with her husband, as she returned to the house from her walk in the gardens. Against her wishes, Darcy had tasked not one, but two footmen to follow her, where ever she went, indoor or outdoor. The Mistress of Pemberley did not take kindly to having her every move watched, and she was frustrated with her husband’s overprotective behavior.
She made her way to her husband’s study, where the gentleman was seated behind the desk, his first born sitting on his lap, while Darcy was showing the boy the map of Pemberley.
Her fury dampened at the tender sight of her husband and son together. Elizabeth knew her husband was worried for her safety, and that his fear was from the loss of his mother, and though she had been inconvenienced, she would indulge his behavior.
Darcy looked up at his wife, witnessing the change in her expression. “My love, what is wrong?”
A smile graced her lips. “Forgive me, William. Just a momentary bout of being cross.”
“The footmen? I know you prefer your privacy, but I worry for your well being, and for the well being of our child. If you should become injured or some accident befall you, I would never forgive myself for not protecting you as I should.”
“I understand, William. Now that I am growing larger by the day, it is frustrating to have to refrain from taking my favorite, longer paths. Perhaps that is why I became annoyed with having footmen following me about.”
Darcy had placed his son so Thomas could stand, as the Master of Pemberley made his way to his wife. A gentle kiss was placed on the back of Elizabeth’s hand. Then, giving his wife a roguish grin, Darcy spoke. “Never would I wish to bring on your annoyance, for I would not like to have the Bennet fury aimed at me.”