Elizabeth heard the sound of hooves pounding on the dirt, moving quickly in her direction. Shielding her eyes from the sun, she spied the oncoming horse and its rider. “Mr Denhem, out for a ride, I see.”
The young man chuckled. “And I see you are out for your morning constitutional. Might I inquire as to your wellbeing?”
Smile graced her lips. “On such a fine day, how can anyone not be magnificent? Nature has given us bountiful beauty and to remain indoors would be a sin of unforgivable proportion.”
“I could not agree with you more.” Denhem dismounted his horse, and holding the reins, he began walking beside her. “Have you visited Mrs Crawford in the last few days?”
“Jane went to visit her three days prior, and I planned to visit today. With the babe due any day, she has tired easily. Cooking and cleaning have become a burden, not to mention tending to her other children. We have been making some clothes for the babe, and have some treats for the children. Mrs Hill will prepare a basket of food so that Mrs Crawford will not have to prepare any meals for the following days. We will make certain that she has all that she requires. Mrs Jenkins will also keep a close watch over Mrs Crawford, as Mrs Jenkins is the midwife. Their cottages are close, and Lucy Crawford has already been trained to run to Mrs Jenkins if her mother tells her to fetch the lady. Lucy may be only four years old, but she is quite intelligent, and she is excited to be a big sister. She told me that she hoped it would be a baby sister, as she would wishes to be like Jane and me. Her siblings being brothers has also made her long for another girl.”
Denhem chuckled. He enjoyed being in Elizabeth’s company. How he wished he did not have such a heavy burden to carry, not knowing if he would be discovered or that he would not be able to clear his name. But he was also aware that his relations would never allow someone who was so far beneath them to be his choice of brides. What am I thinking? This is not the time for me to lose my mind over a girl? There is too much at stake. If only my heart did not feel such desire to be near her. Why does she always leave me wishing more time with her?
Realizing that Elizabeth had become silent. “Forgive me, Miss Elizabeth, I was lost in thought.”
“There is no need to forgive, Mr Denhem. I was only inquiring after the plans for the planting. Has everything been decided on for the crop rotation?”
Denhem chuckled. “Miss Elizabeth, I find it remarkable that you are so knowledgeable when it comes to managing the estate. Most ladies would be more concerned with ribbons and lace.”
“That would be my two youngest sisters, Mr Denhem. Have you not noticed how they behave when discussion turns to the coming of the militia and the parties that will be held in honor of the men in their red coats? My mother has encouraged them to be silly things, and my father allows Mamma, Lydia, and Kitty to behave in such a manner so they leave him in peace. If you promise not to tell anyone, I will tell you a secret.” She glanced sideways to see him nod his head. “If truth were told, I am not my mother’s favorite daughter, and she frets over my chances of ever finding a husband. In Mamma’s opinion, any man who might find my looks tolerable enough to dance with me, would quickly run from my side should I begin to speak. She says that no man wishes to have a wife who is intelligent. And having Jane as a sister leaves me appear quite ordinary and plain in appearance. You may as well know that my mother has deemed Jane to be the most beautiful in the county, if not in all of England.”
“Miss Elizabeth, though your eldest sister is pretty, there are many who would find you to be just as beautiful. Your love of life shines from you, which enhances your appearance.”
Elizabeth’s cheeks turned scarlet. “I was not asking for compliments, Mr Denhem. I have accepted my lot in life long ago. It is my intention to see my dearest sister married well, then I will live with her family, and teach her children to play the pianoforte quite ill.”
“Miss Elizabeth, if you teach them to play poorly, it will be on purpose, for I know you to be talented. Your father and I enjoyed your practice just yesterday. Did you know he leaves his study door open a crack when you are at the pianoforte? He told me that your talent brings him joy.” Denhem declared. “I found your interpretation of songs to be filled with emotion. Many young ladies may be able to play music flawlessly, but with no emotions. Without the feelings of how the music moves you, it is only notes on a page.”
“Thank you, Mr Denhem. You are far too kind. Now, I must hurry. If I do not return to the house soon, Papa will send out a search party to bring me home. And I can smell the fresh rolls, Pauline must have just taken them from the oven. There is nothing more delightful than her rolls when they are warm from the oven.”
“Well, as I am to join your family to break my fast, I shall accompany you to the house. This way I can ensure your safe return to your father.”
~~ ** ~~
“I demand to be taken to my brother immediately.” Snapped an angry woman as she marched into Pemberley’s foyer. “Where is Lord Matlock?”
“He was in the library, Lady Catherine.” The butler replied. He had known Lady Catherine for many years, and was pleased that his master had married Lady Anne instead of her elder sister. It was well known that Lady Catherine had long desired to be Mistress of Pemberley, and the fact that her sister had beaten her to the title was a thorn in the grand lady’s side. “I can escort you there.”
“I am well aware of the location of the library. Out of my way.” She pushed past the servant and marched up the stairs and down the hall. A footman saw the lady approaching and made quick movement towards the doors of the library, pulling it open immediately before Lady Catherine marched across the threshold of the room. “Henry, why have you not been in contact with me? Why did I have to hear rumors of our nephew from my people rather than the situation from you? This is insupportable.”
Lord Matlock was frustrated, not wishing to have his sister at the estate. “Catherine, there is nothing you can do about the matter. Why did you come all the way here?”
“I came to take charge of the mess you have allowed to grow. Where is Fitzwilliam? Has he been found? Does the solicitor believe he can be make a case for transportation?”
“Catherine, we do not know that William has done anything. As a matter of fact, I have faith that William will be cleared of the charges.” Lord Matlock stated.
“But it was his mistress who was killed, was it not? And she was carrying his bastard, which was why Fitzwilliam killed her. We must distance the family from him immediately. I have taken it upon myself to send a statement to the London papers, denouncing Fitzwilliam as family. My Anne cannot suffer from this taint. It will be difficult enough to find a new match for her, seeing that she has been promised to Fitzwilliam since her birth.”
“Sister, your daughter and William were never promised to each other. Ever since our sister’s death, you have insisted you had a understanding with Anne, but it is not the truth. You know it is not. Your Anne will not suffer any from this situation, as she is not a part of society. She has never even been presented in court. Your refusal to allow her do anything has kept her from living a normal life. Anne has never even learned to play the pianoforte or to stitch a sampler.”
“My daughter is fragile, she cannot be expected to do as other young ladies her age. But if she had been stronger, she would be the most talented at playing the pianoforte. And she would have a perfect voice for singing. But she is too frail to perform such tasks.” Lady Catherine said, her disdain was obvious.
“Anne has been coddled for so many years, and you know that the physician we sent to examine her declared her fit to do many things, including taking walks in the gardens, to strengthen her body. And the diet you have insisted on her eating is not enough to keep a bird alive, let alone a young lady. She requires fresh fruits and vegetables, not that horrible gruel you insist she eat. One would think you did not wish for your daughter to grow stronger.”
“I am her mother. I know better than some quack doctor on what is best for my daughter. Why should I believe the advice of a man who has only seen Anne one time in her life. The apothecary who has seen to Anne’s care all of her life recommended gruel and broth. And he stated that fresh fruit and vegetables would be difficult for my daughter to digest.”
Lord Matlock was disgusted with his elder sister. He had never been fond of her, as she disliked being the eldest sibling, yet, due to her being female, she was unable to inherit their father’s estate and title. The fact had caused her to become bitter when Henry Fitzwilliam was a boy. Lady Catherine had sought to control her brother, in hopes that he would rely on her in all of his decisions. She was greatly disappointed when Henry decided he did not wish to behave as his sister demanded, and even further disappointed with their baby sister came along, and Henry developed a close relationship with Anne. No matter what Lord Matlock said or did, he could make no dent in his elder sister’s mind. Lady Catherine was set in her ways, and no one could sway her resolve.
“You should return to Rosings, Catherine. Return to your estate, and I will tell you when we know more information about William, when we know more.”
“I believe it would be best if I were to take Georgiana with me to Rosings Park. She requires protection, and she will be safer at my home than she will be here or anywhere else. My staff will ensure her safety from her murderous brother.”
“Georgiana is at school, and will remain there. Besides, it is Gerald’s decision to make on the upbringing of his children.”
“Gerald is a foolish man, who should have allowed me to take both of his children to Rosings after our sister died. None of this would be happening now if he had listened to me. Fitzwilliam and Anne would be married and Georgiana would be under proper instruction in my home. I would not be surprised to learn that the school is one of those unruly, modern sort of seminaries. Where is Gerald? I must speak to him at once. He will be made to see that I am correct and should take Georgiana from the school.”
“For once, Catherine, I am putting my foot down. You will not meddle in Gerald’s decisions for his daughter, and you will return to Rosings immediately. As head of the Fitzwilliam family, I have authority over you and Anne. Remember, you late husband left me as executor of his estate, and to be honest, I have been remiss in my protection of Anne. She is officially the Mistress of Rosings, as she inherited everything left to her by Sir Louis de Bourgh when he died. I believe it is time that Anne takes her inheritance and moves you to the dower house.”
“You would not dare.” Lady Catherine’s face deepened in shades of red, as fury began to rise. “You will not succeed in removing me, as Anne is unfit to be Mistress. With her frail condition, she would not survive such strain on her constitution. If you were to do as you threaten, you would be committing murder. Then you would be just as horrible as your nephew.”
“Then I suggest you leave immediately and stay there. You will not speak of this matter again, and you will send word to the London papers to retract the statements you sent them, or I will do as I have threatened. Do I make myself clear? You will leave Fitzwilliam alone, and will not speak ill of him, and you will stay away from Georgiana, Gerald, and Pemberley. Do you understand me?”
Stubborn to a fault, it was several moments before the elder woman hissed through her gritted teeth. “Very well.” Lady Catherine then turned and left the library, marching down the stairs and out the front door of Pemberley. As soon as she was loaded in her carriage, the driver snapped the reins and the horses began to pull the carriage away from the grand estate. As Lord Matlock watched his sister’s carriage rolling away from the manor house, he gave a sigh of relief. With all that was happening, he had no desire to add his sister to the list of problems.
Gerald Darcy was coming from the stables and saw his late wife’s brother, and noticed her sister’s carriage leaving his estate. “Henry, was that Catherine? Why was she here?”
“She came because she has learned of William’s predicament. You know Catherine, she believes that she has the right to make everything her business.”
“Especially when it comes to my family. She has never forgiven or forgotten that your sister Anne won my heart. Even when Anne was dying, and Catherine came to our townhouse in London, she was determined to usurp Anne’s place as Mistress. Catherine went through the townhouse, demanding changes be made to the decor and deciding meals. As my beloved was taking her last breath, Catherine was sending for samples of paper for the walls of the Mistress’s chamber. I was appalled at her behavior. Catherine even had the gall to say that Anne must have compromised me, otherwise, I would have married Catherine instead. Nothing I could say made a difference with her, she insisted I would have married her and, with Anne out of her way, I was free to remarry. With Louis dead, Catherine felt she was the ideal mate for me.”
“My elder sister is nothing if not determined. She stated that she should have insisted in taking William and Georgiana to Rosings, after Anne’s death.”
“Perhaps, if she had, William would not have turned out so bad. It is obvious that I have not done right by my son.”
“Gerald, you need to hear what I have to tell you. I am certain that the claims against William are false. It is my belief that Wickham has set William up for the murder. Richard sent an investigator to speak with me. Mr Andrews was here for a short time yesterday. He has possible evidence which could be used to exonerate William.”
Mr Darcy shook his head. “I cannot believe that William was not guilty. Wickham saw him commit the murder. And my son fled the estate. Only a guilty person would run away.”
“I am going to show you the letter that Andrews brought for me from my son. Gerald, Richard insists that William has never participated in his baser needs. Not once. He informed my sons that he was saving himself for marriage. The boys have even taken William to brothels, yet William wanted nothing to do with such women, and refused to have any of the women at the brothel. When Richard questioned William over his decision, your son reminded mine of your cousin, Joseph. William may have been young at the time, but he understood that the disease that consumed your cousin was due to his lifestyle. Joseph made his preferences for fallen women well known.”
Gerald Darcy was shocked. “Are you certain? William may have told Richard such and secretly found women to satisfy his needs, such as the maid.”
“Brother, do you really believe that your son could behave in such a heinous manner to a young lady? I have faith in my nephew being innocent of these charges.”
“But Wickham told me…”
“You have been taken by a scoundrel, Gerald. All you have seen is the facade that Wickham wishes you to see. When he was away from Pemberley, he was a completely different person. And, from what my sons have told me, Wickham believes your kindness to him revolves around the delusion that he is your bastard. Wickham has convinced himself that you are trying to make up to him for not being able to claim him officially. It is my belief that he hopes to have William removed as the heir, and with William dead, you would claim Wickham and make him your heir.”
“Foolish boy. You know he is not my son, do you not?”
“Of course I believe you. It is Wickham you need to convince.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
“Mr Bennet. Mr Bennet. You will never guess what I just learned from my sister.” Fanny Bennet rushed into her husband’s study. “Netherfield Park has been let at last. And by a young man of wealth. This will be wonderful for our daughters.”
“How so, Mrs Bennet? How can a young man leasing the estate have any importance to our girls?”
“Why, he must be in search of a wife. I mean him to marry one of our girls.”
“You have not even met the man and you are already planning to have him marry one of our daughters? What if he is a rake? Or he might be married.”
Mrs Bennet shook her head. “My sister learned from her husband, as he was tasked with the papers for the young man to sign for the lease. He is a single man, worth nearly five thousand pounds per annum. And a man with a fortune, who is planning to live in a country estate, is planning for the future. A future requires a wife and family. Such wonderful news for our daughters.”
“And when is the young man to take the lease?”
“Immediately, for my sister has informed me that the gentleman brought with him a friend, and they have already moved into the house. Mrs Nichols has spread the word that there will be positions to fill at the manor, and she sent an order to the butcher. You should pay a call on them at once. Invite them to dine here tonight or tomorrow night, as they will be in need of a decent meal, with so little time to prepare for a proper staff.”
Mr Bennet finally had his fill of his wife’s harping and rang for Mr Hill. “Have my horse saddled. And would you please fetch my hat and coat?”
Mr Hill made his way to bring his master’s coat and hat, after sending word to the stable to have Mr Bennet’s stallion readied. Within half an hour, the Master of Longbourn was on his way to Netherfield Park.
~~ ** ~~
“Mr Bingley, there is a gentleman here to welcome you to the neighborhood.” Mrs Nichols announced, as she entered the sitting room. Bingley and Richard Fitzwilliam were enjoying a small repast of cold meat and cheese, and stood to welcome the guest.
“Please, show him in. And bring a cup for the gentleman.”
Mrs Nichols escorted Mr Bennet to the sitting room, before leaving to bring more dishes.
“Good afternoon, Sir. I am Charles Bingley, and this is my friend, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Mr Bingley,and you as well, Colonel. I am Thomas Bennet, the Master of Longbourn, your nearest neighbor.”
Bingley offered his guest a cup of tea and some of the food they had on the table. Mr Bennet accepted the tea, though refrained from the food. As the men chatted amongst themselves, there was an easy friendship building.
Richard’s attention was captured by the possibilities. Could it be that this is the estate that William wrote to me about? He stated the estate was Longbourn, I am certain. If Longbourn neighbors Netherfield, it should be simple enough to meet with my cousin. “What can you tell us about your neighborhood? Is there fishing or hunting available?”
“Indeed, there is a small lake that connects the two estates. If you wish, I can show it to you, show you the best places to fish from. My brother in law has spent many hours fishing there. We have two small boats to use on the lake. Hunting is fine, we have several covies of quail on my property. I can speak with my steward, ask him to make arrangements for you to have a hunt. One of our neighbors, Sir William Lucas, has a pack of hounds that are perfect hunters.”
“I am grateful for your generosity, Mr Bennet.” Bingley said. “We have been here less than a day and already feel at home.”
“As you arrived so quickly, and do not have a full staff, my wife has sent me to invite you to dine with us, either tonight or tomorrow night.” Mr Bennet was pleased that the young men seemed pleasant and unassuming.
Bingley and Richard looked to each other. “Tonight would be a perfect, Mr Bennet. As you said, we do not have a full staff, so we were planning on a cold dinner of items Mrs Nichols was able to procure on short notice.” Bingley replied. “What time should we arrive?”
“Seven would be a good time. Oh, and I must warn you ahead of time. I have five daughters, and a nervous wife. Mrs Bennet fears my death, as the estate is entailed to the male line. Having no sons, the estate will be inherited by a distant cousin. So my dear wife is determined to marry off our daughters as soon as possible. Please do not take offense to her silly ways, she means well. Though you, Colonel, might best leave your red coat here, as my two youngest daughters are determined to marry men in red coats.” Mr Bennet teased.
After finishing his tea, Mr Bennet bid farewell to the young men, and returned to his home. Once Mr Bennet was gone, Richard decided it was time to speak with his host. Richard walked over and closed the door to the sitting room, giving him privacy to speak with Bingley.
“Do you remember George Wickham, from your days at university?” Richad asked.
Bingley frowned, yet nodded his head. “Unfortunately, I do remember that scoundrel. I pray I never have to see him again.”
“Bingley, what I am about to tell you has to remain between us, no one else can know. Do you promise to keep this secret?” When Bingley nodded his head, Richard continued. “Do you remember the rumors that circulated that Wickham was most likely the natural son of my uncle, for no man of wealth would sponsor a steward’s son receiving a gentleman’s education?”
“I remember hearing such rumors, though I did not believe them. What does that blackguard have to do with our conversation?”
“Wickham has convinced himself that the rumors are correct, and therefore, believes that he is the true heir of the Darcy legacy. In this misguided belief, Wickham has set things in motion in an attempt to remove William from inheriting Pemberley. Wickham murdered a young maid at Pemberley. She was allegedly with child when she was murdered. For years, Wickham has told my uncle lies, to make Uncle Gerald believe William to be of low morals. When he murdered the maid, Wickham did so with William’s stone carving, setting my cousin to take the blame for murdering his alleged mistress. The situation was dire, and my cousin was forced to flee from Pemberley. If he had remained, most likely he would have been arrested and convicted, which would have taken him to the gallows. William needed to be able to clear his name, and he could not do so locked in a prison or being put to death. I have sent an investigator to Pemberley to look for evidence to clear William.”
“This is terrible. But Colonel, why would you tell me this now?” A puzzled Bingley inquired.
“I received a letter from William the day we met in front of Whites. William has taken a position of steward at a small estate. He is using a false identity, under the name of Fredrick Denhem. The reason I am informing you is simple. The estate my cousin is living at is none other than Longbourn. I knew the estate was in the neighborhood, but did not expect it to be your nearest neighbor.”
Bingley let out a sigh. “So it is likely I would see Darcy at the Bennet home and property.”
Richard nodded his head. “If you had met him there, unknowing the truth, it could have ruined everything.”
“Have no fear, Colonel. I will not cause any problems for your cousin. Is there anything I can do to be of assistance?
“At the moment, there is nothing but wait. I cannot thank you enough for leasing this estate, and inviting me to come for a visit. I hated not telling you the truth from the start, but I felt the need to protect William.”
“You have my word, I will do everything in my power to be of assistance.” Bingley stated as he sat up straight in his chair. “Darcy would do no less for me.”
~~ ** ~~
George Wickham had arrived in London a fortnight previous, and had already spent all of the funds his godfather had given him. He took advantage of Gerald Darcy’s generosity, setting himself up in one of the guest rooms at Darcy House, and delighted himself in ordering the staff to do his bidding. He felt as if he were already the master of the Darcy holdings, and was spending time searching through all of the rooms in search treasures he might be able to pawn for some ready cash. Knowing there was a safe in the townhouse, Wickham was determined to fins a way to break in to it in search for funds.
As he returned from a late night of reverie with friends at a tavern near the docks, Wickham was shocked to find the door to the townhouse to be locked. He knocked on the door, but there was no response. “Open up, Danvers. I wish to go to my rooms.”
Waiting for a moment, and finding no response from inside, Wickham began pounding on the door. “Danvers, open the door. I will not tolerate such treatment. Wait until my godfather learns of the shoddy treatment I have endured.”
The door opened and Wickham made to enter the house, but was halted when the butler refrained from opening the door more than a crack. Wickham lost his temper, demanding entrance to the house.
“An express arrived today from the Master. He has given me authority to remove you from the premises immediatelty.” The butler shoved a cloth bag through opening of the door. “Your belongings are inside the bag. All of the property of the family were removed from your possession. There is five pounds in the bag, as per the Master’s request. You will no longer be allowed inside the townhouse nor will you be allowed on the grounds.”
“This is not funny, Danvers. Step aside and allow me to enter.” As Wickham began to push on the door, he glimpsed the sight of one of the footmen standing beside the butler. The footman was the largest man in the employ of the Darcy family, and he was intimidating. Wickham had seen the man carrying furniture that normally would require two or three men, and he had no desire to provoke the footman to utilize the strength against him.
“Mr Darcy is aware of your behavior while here, including your ruining of the maid, Jenny. The Master is displeased with your taking advantage of his kindness, and insists that you find other accommodations. He also stated that you should find employment, as he will no longer be funding your lifestyle. Now, leave and do not return. If you do return, you will be turned over to the constable.”
Wickham was flabbergasted. How could everything go so wrong? He was to inherit the Darcy legacy, Pemberley, the townhouse, the smaller estates in England, Scotland and Ireland, and all the investments. They were to be his, as he was the first born, and Fitzwilliam would be captured and hung soon enough. Gerald would then need to acknowledge Wickham as his son, and turn over the everything to him. How was it that he was being forced to leave the townhouse without any notice? And how was he expected to find employment? It was not to be born. He stumbled his way back towards the docks, hoping he could find affordable lodging.
As he neared a tavern, a group of rowdy men exited, roughly shoving a man in the center of the group. A moment past before Wickham recognized the man who was being abused. “Denny, how are you?”
The other men turned toward Wickham. One of the men moved menacingly towards him. “Do you know this cheat?”
“Denny would never cheat you, he is too honorable to behave in such a manner. Perhaps it is a simple mistake. Of what do you accuse him?”
“He cheated us in a card game. Took all our money. That one is a trickster, and we be aiming to teach him a lesson.” The burly man said as he stepped closer. “If you be his friend, you must be a trickster too. Have you come to help him cheat us?”
“No, I was on my way to find lodging.” Wickham began thinking. “What if my friend were to return some of your funds. Then you would have some money and be able to purchase a meal and a bottle. Would that suffice your need to punish my friend? I am not saying that he is guilty of any wrong doing, but if he were to repay some of the funds, perhaps it would save him from being injured.” Looking at Denny, Wickham gave a slight nod to warn his friend to agree.
“Of course, I am willing to return some of the funds, so that you are not empty handed. I did not cheat you, but I can understand your desperation in losing so much. Please, allow me to give you each some of your funds. I ask only to keep the funds that cover the amount I loss purchasing food and drink for all of you this evening.”
The group of men looked around at each other, finally agreeing with the resolution. They would at least have a few coin to give their wives when they arrived home. After receiving the coins, the men made their way to their homes, leaving Wickham and Denny alone.
“George Wickham, you arrived at the perfect moment. What are you doing down here? I would have thought you to be living in that fancy townhouse you talk about.”
“Currently, my godfather is angry with me. So I must find a temporary solution to my lack of funds and lodging.” Wickham replied.
“Come with me, the boarding house where I am staying is just around the corner. I have a potential way of improving your situation.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~