There was to be no enjoyment at Longbourn, as the family and friends waited for supper to be announced. As soon as Mr Collins was introduced to Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam, the clergyman could not contain his good fortune. He ranted and raved about being in the presence of a member of the Fitzwilliam family, feeling far more important in circumstances than he truly was. Richard gave his cousin a look which spoke of the revenge he would strike for being the only member of the family having to endure the foolish man’s attention.
“Why Colonel, I have the privilege to inform you that only two days past, I was in the presence of your esteemed aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. It pleases me that I can relate to you her good health, and that of your cousin, Miss Anne de Bourgh. Such a precious jewel, and a true pity that her frail health has kept her from being presented. I have related such to Lady Catherine, that England is suffering from not having the blessing of Miss de Bourgh part of society. For, if Miss de Bourgh were able, she would be the most accomplished young lady in all of England.” Mr Collins gushed over meeting the nephew of his esteemed patroness.
“I thank you for the information. My father recently spoke with his sister, and assured me of both ladies being in good health.” Colonel Fitzwilliam was not thrilled to contend with his aunt’s parson. What was further difficult was keeping from relying on his cousin to deal with the sort of people with which Lady Catherine was prone to surround herself. Though Fitzwilliam Darcy was sitting in the same room, Richard could not address him by his name. But the line of conversation was to prove even more difficult.
“I must say, your other cousin, Mr Darcy, has become a thorn in Lady Catherine’s side. She has spoken of his engagement to Miss Anne, and how his being a wanted man casts a shadow over the rest of the family, especially his intended. Lady Catherine has determined that the engagement should be dissolved. The grand lady had the foresight to send notice to the papers in Town, notifying them that the family of de Bourgh have withdrawn their support of the union and have disavowed any future connections with the younger Mr Darcy.” Mr Collins prattled on. “To think, someone as close to Lady Catherine as Mr Darcy, to be a murderer. Had she not informed me herself, I am certain I would never have believed the accusation. But she has told me the entire matter.”
“Mr Collins, I must ask you to not discuss such matters that are not connected to yourself.” Richard’s voice was deeper, as his anger was beginning to grow.
The bumbling idiot did not take heed of the colonel’s warning. “It appears that the young man had relations with a young maid, leaving her in a delicate state. Forgive me cousins, but I must speak of this matter, as it shows the dangers that come with the loss of reputation a young lady might find herself. One should always remember that loss of virtue can lead to many terrible consequences. Why, when the maid made demands of the young man, to take responsibility for the babe, he lost his mind and bludgeoned her to death. Then, as if that were not bad enough, the blackguard fled the scene, and has not been seen since. Lady Catherine has been beside herself with fear of how it will harm Miss Anne’s future. And that is not even discussing Miss Darcy. Why, when Lady Catherine last spoke with her brother, the Earl of Matlock, she insisted that their poor niece be removed from school and turned over to my patroness. Only Lady Catherine’s sage advice can protect Miss Darcy from the shame her family is suffering.”
“Mr Collins, please, refrain from discussing my family matters in public. We do not know all that happened with regards to my cousin, Darcy. I refuse to accept idle gossip to convict him, as he might be completely innocent of your charges.” Richard attempted to correct Collins’ assertions. “And I am certain that my father will not allow Miss Darcy to be removed from her father. Lady Catherine is not the head of the family, and it would be wise of you to understand my father will take any matters in hand, if there is need.”
Collins had never been called intelligent, and this moment was a prime example of his foolishness. “But you must see that Lady Catherine is the only female in position to guide a young lady, such as Miss Darcy. It would be a shame if her chances for a proper match were thwarted due to her brother’s taint. From what I was told by my patroness, it was a characteristic from the Darcy line, as his father is believed to be the natural father of the young man who was raised by the steward. Lady Catherine swears that the young man was raised alongside the legitimate son, as if the two were brothers. Why, the young man even received a gentleman’s education. What other reason is there for a wealthy man to pay for such, if the young man were not his son?”
Richard was well aware of his cousin’s growing desire to throttle the blustering windbag. In a stronger growl of a voice, Colonel Fitzwilliam attempted to rein in the sycophantic buffoon. “I will say this once, and only once, Mr Collins. You will keep such comments to yourself. My uncle is not the father of the young man of which you speak. I know this to be the truth, as my uncle was not in England when the steward’s wife was taken with child. My uncle had been on the continent for three months prior to the event, and did not return home until Mrs Wickham was heavy with child, making it impossible for Gerald Darcy to have fathered the scoundrel. These rumors have been spoken of for years. The elder Mr Wickham was a devoted and dedicated steward, and his duty to Pemberley and the Darcy family was rewarded in the care he showed Wickham, especially since the boy had been declared my uncle’s godson. Gerald Darcy has only loved one woman, and that was my father’s younger sister, Lady Anne Darcy. Now, Mr Collins, I suggest you keep your opinions to yourself, for they are untrue. If you are unable to remain quiet on such matters, I will be forced to preserve my family’s honor.”
It took a few moments for Collins to realize what the colonel hinted . Suddenly, the toad was unable to speak coherently. “Oh, no…but sir…I could not…but what was told…but I will not…I cannot… please, Colonel, forgive me. Your aunt…she is all wisdom…told me…she said…”
Seeing how red Collins’ face had become, Richard was pleased to discombobulate the sycophant. Richard then turned to his host. “Mr Bennet, I believe it would be best if I were to remove from your home, and return to Netherfield.”
Bingley was enjoying his time, speaking with Jane Bennet, as the two were seated in a corner of the sitting room, and had been somewhat oblivious of what was happening. Hearing Richard declare his intention to return to Netherfield, Bingley became disheartened. Before he could say anything, the colonel looked towards Bingley. “Charles, I can return on my own. You need not change your plans.”
“No, Colonel, I insist you remain.” Mr Bennet spoke. “It is my cousin who will need to excuse himself. I believe he has not had proper rest, which accounts for his inability to control his tongue.”
Mr Collins was dumbstruck. “Cousin Bennet, I was speaking the words of my esteemed patroness. She is one of the closest family to the good colonel, and her words have great import with regards to their family. I will apologize if the discussion is not fit for some to hear, but as I learned of the matter from one of the prominent members of the Fitzwilliam family, and I am called upon, in my duty as a clergyman, to discuss matters of sin and redemption, this topic is of vital importance for me to take a stand. Your daughters need be aware of the dangers which lurk about, waiting for unsuspecting young ladies to be vulnerable.”
“Mr Collins, as a guest in my home, I would ask you to respect my decision and retire to the guest room. If you cannot do such, I will have you removed, by force if needed, and expect you to find other accommodations. The colonel and Mr Bingley are my guests by my choice, where you have been thrust upon me for no other reason than a distant family tie.”
“I am your heir, Mr Bennet. That should garner respect alone, yet my position as a clergyman demands respect shown. My patroness has spoken often that as her parson, it is my duty to warn people of the dangers in the world, so that they might be able to protect themselves, and protect her from being associated with such behavior. And you must see that the fate of your wife and daughters will be at the mercy of my benevolence upon your death. If you force me to remove from your home in such a manner, I assure you that I will have no sympathy for the ladies. And I will not offer for any of them, you have my word on that matter.”
Mrs Bennet entered the fray at this point. “Mr Collins, I would not allow any of my daughters to marry the likes of you. It would be preferred to live in the hedgerow than to live with you as a son-in-law. No, my girls deserve better. And, it might not be true, you might not be the heir of Longbourn.”
This declaration made all of the men turn their attention to the Mistress of Longbourn. Blushing vividly, Fanny Bennet looked at her husband. “Forgive me, Thomas. I had planned to inform you privately, but it is best to speak of this matter now. I am with child. We have not had the best of luck with having a son, but I believe this child is different.”
Mr Bennet stepped across the room, taking his wife’s hands in his own. “Truly, Fanny?”
Her smile was contagious, as Mr Bennet wore one similar. All of their daughters moved to congratulate their parents. The Master of Longbourn turned to his cousin, desiring to be rid of the disgusting man. “Mr Collins, I ask that you remove from my home immediately. I will not have you insult my guests any further. And, to be honest, I dislike you as much as I did your father. You will never be welcome here as long as I am alive, and I will see that my wife and daughters are protected from you, if this child my wife carries is another girl.” A motion towards Mr Hill alerted the butler to have the stable hands come to assist in removing Mr Collins from the premises.
The clergyman was in a fit over the way he was being treated. “When Lady Catherine learns of this treatment of me, she will condemn your ill behavior. Mark my words, she will have words against your entire family.”
Richard moved closer to the pompous man. “Mr Collins, it is not my aunt’s concern as to how Mr Bennet chooses to run his estate. It is his decision. My aunt may disapprove of not having a say in the matter, but her disapproval means nothing to the Bennets. Now, I suggest you do as Mr Bennet instructed and remove yourself from the estate. I can even assist you in taking your trunk to Meryton, to the inn. You have enough to pay for a room, do you not?”
Mr Collins hemmed and hawed. “I did not bring coins with me, as I expected to stay at the generosity of my relations. Lady Catherine has been investing my wages, so I have very little in the way of funds. But your aunt is wise, and I have the utmost confidence in the investments. Thanks to her decisions, I am certain that I will profit many times over for having given her approval to invest for me.”
This caused Richard to laugh. “My aunt relies on my father and Uncle Gerald to make investments for her. She has the worst opinion in making financial decisions, and would have lost Rosings, had it not been for Uncle Gerald going over her books and speaking with her solicitor to make changes in her spending. You will never receive any funds you have invested with my aunt, she has played you for the fool you are.”
“I do not believe you.” Mr Collins puffed up, wishing to appear important. “Lady Catherine has spoken often of the investments of which she is involved, showing the pages she has received from her solicitor. I have seen them for myself.”
“You are a fool, sir. An absolute fool. I will pay for one night at the inn, and for your journey to Hunsford’s Parsonage. And I will inform my father and uncle of what my aunt is perpetrating. If she is being false with you, she is likely being so with others in her employ.” Richard reached into his coat pocket, pulling out a cloth pouch. He pulled two coins from the contents, and handed them to the parson. “This should be more than enough to cover the cost to take you back to Kent. I would suggest that you refrain from giving my aunt all of your wages from now on, for you will never see them if left in the hands of Lady Catherine.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Wickham was furious. How could everything be going against me? First my father has me removed from the townhouse, with no regards to my having a place to live or sufficient funds to survive, and now Colonel Fitzwilliam is in the neighborhood where I am staying. How am I to survive, with no credit in the shops and being unable to find a young lady willing to satisfy my needs? I am certain he spoke with Colonel Forrester, why else would my commander change his opinion of me so quickly?
Colonel Forrester had spoken with Wickham the day after the encounter with Richard and Mr Bennet, and Wickham was informed that there would be further restrictions placed on the young lieutenant. Wickham would be given extra guard duties during any functions in the neighborhood; he would not attend any dinners, assemblies, or balls. And Colonel Forrester had spoken with the shopkeepers in Meryton, informing them not to give credit to any of his men, but especially not to Wickham. When Friday came, and Wickham received his pay, he noticed that the funds were below what he had expected. Questioning the matter, he learned that his debt to the tavern had been settled before the balance of his coin was given to him. What little he had remaining would not last long. He needed his father to declare the truth, so that Wickham could take his rightful place at Pemberley and Darcy House.
What am I to do? I have not the funds to make the journey to Pemberley, to speak with my father, and I cannot return to Town. Being in this unit is not assisting me, as I had thought it would. I am going to have to find a way to improve my situation. Perhaps a letter to father, informing him of my reduced status. If he believes me suffering, I am certain he would send funds to me.
As Wickham walked down the road, he continued to fume. Where could William be? Why have they not captured him? Everything would be on course if William had been discovered and charged with the murder. Once that pathetic fool is out of the way, Father will wish to wash his hands of the mess, and will wish to protect me. If only I knew where that thorn is hiding out. And if only I could convince Colonel Forrester that Fitzwilliam is lying about me. Too bad Fitzwilliam has always disliked me, or I could have tried to get funds from him. I wonder about his relationship with that family he was with when I saw him. Bennets, if I’m not mistaken. Maybe I can find a way to use their relationship to my advantage. From what I have heard, the youngest daughters are silly chits. They might be worth some attention.
Hearing someone walking nearby, Wickham turned his attention in the direction and witnessed a portly man, dragging a trunk behind him, complaining at every step of the way. When the name of Bennet came from the man’s lips, Wickham decided it might be worth learning more about the man. “Forgive me, sir, are you in need of assistance?”
Mr Collins was shocked, having not noticed Wickham. “I am on my way to the inn, and have had to bring my trunk over a mile. It is heavy and I am worn to a frazzle.”
“Why have you come so far, carrying such a load? Allow me to assist you.” Wickham took hold of the trunk and lifted it with ease.
“I have come from the home of my distant cousin, Mr Thomas Bennet. The man had no generosity about him, as he insisted I leave his home immediately. All because I spoke about the cousin of one of his guests. But I spoke the truth, the young man is a reprobate and a scoundrel. My patroness, the honorable Lady Catherine de Bough, has informed me of the truth. If the family does not wish to hear about such deplorable behavior, they had best rid themselves of any connection with the blackguard.”
Wickham wore a smile which spoke of a cat preparing to partake in some fresh cream. “You are cousin to Mr Bennet and his family? What a deplorable man. I had words with him just the other day, and I was not pleased with his rudeness. How could he be so condescending towards me, a member of the militia. Might I inquire as to his guest? Would it be Colonel Fitzwilliam, the second son of the Earl of Matlock?”
“Indeed. And how do you know of the Colonel?” Mr Collins was surprised.
“I know the family well. I went to university with the Colonel’s cousin, Mr Darcy of Pemberley. Such a disgrace to his family. You would be shocked at all the disgusting behavior I witnessed. But you know the wealthy, they do as they please and the rest of us have to suffer the consequences.”
Collins was certain he had found a kindred spirit. “And your name, good sir?”
“George Wickham. My uncle is a baron in the north, he paid for my education and for my commission. And your name is…”
“Mr William Collins. My father was in line to inherit Longbourn, and my cousin manipulated the situation as to cheat my father from his due. With Mr Bennet having no sons, I am the heir to the estate. Seeing how my cousin is behaving, it will require a good deal of work to bring the estate up to its potential, after Mr Bennet is in his grave. If only there was a way to gain control of the estate immediately, for it is mine, by right.”
“You have my sympathy, Mr Collins.” The men had arrived at the front of the inn. “If you would be so kind as to open the door, I will carry the trunk inside for you.”
Mr Collins obliged, grateful for the assistance Wickham had given him. “Sir, you have been all kindness. I cannot begin to thank you for all that you have done in my darkest hour. I only wish there was some way to repay your kindness.”
“Perhaps you will tell me more about the Bennet family. I would like to know about the daughters, as after the accusations Mr Bennet made towards me, and now, how he has treated his own cousin, I wish to protect myself and my fellow officers.”
“Please, join me inside, and I will enlighten you with all the foul deeds of the Bennet family.”
~~ ** ~~
“A letter arrived for you, Colonel.” Bingley stated as he entered the breakfast room. He handed the missive to his guest, before perusing the offerings that his staff had prepared for the men to break their fast.
“Ah, it is from my father. He is with my uncle, staying at Darcy House. I was uncertain if he was in Derbyshire or Town. I must write to him, and learn more of why Wickham is here, in the militia. For the scoundrel to be in such a position, there must have been some issue between my uncle and Wickham.”
“Hopefully, your uncle has seen the truth of what sort of man Wickham is. Your cousin will be pleased if there has been a division between them. It has always baffled me the way Wickham has been protected.”
“I am amazed that the blackguard has remained in the neighborhood, as I have heard from Colonel Forrester on the restrictions he placed over Wickham. My expectations were to see him run from neighborhood. We must keep our guard up, for Wickham is notorious in his behavior. He will cause some sort of trouble, and sooner rather than later.”
“Well, I for one am pleased to have Mr Bennet assisting to make Wickham’s reputation known. The fear for the safety of the young ladies has been difficult for me, as I would not wish to see harm come to Miss Bennet… or her sisters.”
Richard smiled. “Of course.” He took several bites of the pastries he had placed on his plate. “My only concern at the moment is the lack of word from Andrews. I had expected to hear from him by now.”
“Perhaps you should ask your father for news on the investigator.” Bingley took a sip of his tea, as he began reading over the letter Richard had laid on the table.
“Are you planning to visit the Bennets today? Or, perhaps I should correct that comment, are you planning to call on Miss Bennet?” Richard inquired. He had witnessed the blossoming romance between Bingley and the eldest of Mr Bennet’s daughters.
There was no need for a response, as the glassy eye look spoke volumes.
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth had been busy, assisting the Crawford family as they came to terms with the changes in their lives. Lucy had come to cling to Elizabeth, wishing to never be parted from her favorite of the Bennets. The kindness the second born Bennet daughter showed to the Crawford family was appreciated, as Mr Crawford was unable to tend to his fields or his children. The loss of his wife was still painful for the man, and the neighboring tenants were doing what they could to assist. As the other tenants had their own fields and families, it was a strain for them to take long term care for the family.
Each visit, Elizabeth brought some food for the family, and a special treat for the children. But Lucy did not take her treat, preferring to curl up in Elizabeth’s lap and reverting back to infancy in her behavior, including sucking her thumb. Elizabeth attempted to be patient with the girl, yet expect more from the child. “Lucy, what have we said about behaving like a baby?”
“I am the baby. My brothers say I am a baby. And I need my ma to return to tend to me. I will never learn to be a girl with only brothers and my pa.” Tears began pooling in the child’s eyes. “It is not fair. My ma was to teach me to be a girl.”
“There are others who can teach you how to be a proper girl.” Elizabeth said, as she pulled the child’s thumb from her mouth. “Lucy, there are many ladies who would be pleased to be of assistance to you and your family.”
“You could be my ma. You could teach me to be proper.” The child’s face lit for the first time since her mother’s death. “Pa would not expect you to cook and clean, and my brothers would be good boys for you. Mrs Wilson said that you and your sisters will need to find husbands, as you have no brothers to protect you. My brothers could protect your sisters.”
Trying not to laugh at the girl’s simplistic thoughts, Elizabeth spoke gently to the girl. “Your father is in pain from his loss. In time, he will likely find a new wife to marry, but now is not the time. And your brothers are far too young to marry my sisters. Have no fear, my father is taking steps to protect our family, which goes to protect the estate and all who rely on our family. Now, as to your behavior, I believe it would be best if you were to do what you can to assist your father. There is much you can do to be helpful. Keeping the house clean will help your father. Begin watching some of the other ladies, as you can learn much from them. When you are older, you can learn to cook for your father and brothers. You can learn to mend clothes or launder them. Perhaps we can make a list of what you can do and what you wish to learn as you grow.”
Lucy contemplated the situation for several moments. Tapping her finger on her chin, she made up her mind. “I could learn to stitch, as I have watched ma and the other ladies, and stitching does not look difficult. Ma taught me to sweep, and I have scrubbed the floors to help Ma. Cooking looks hard. How do women know how much of each thing to put in the pot to make food taste good? It will need to wait until I am much older. Do you know how to cook, Miss Elizabeth?”
“I know a little about cooking.” Elizabeth said, pulling the child to her chest. “It can be difficult, but many find it simple enough. You have many years to learn, and I will see that you find the women who can train you, when time comes. Now, what are you going to do about sucking your thumb?” She gave Lucy’s hand a tiny tug.
Lucy stared at her hand for a few moments before she placed her hand in her lap. “I am not a baby, and I need to be a proper girl.” She sat straight and tall for her youth.
“Your mother is watching from heaven, and she is very proud of your choice. Now, do you want your treat?”
The child nodded her head, her eyes sparkling at the excitement. Elizabeth held out a biscuit and a sweet she had purchased from the confectionery shop. As she prepared to leave, she gave Lucy a kiss on the top of her hair. “You be a good girl, Lucy. And make sure you share the other treats with your brothers.”
“They must behave or they will not receive their treats.” The girl puffed up her chest in an attempt to be bigger than she was, leading Elizabeth to laugh. “I will see you on Friday.”
As she left the tenant house, she found her father’s steward walking towards her. “Good afternoon, Mr Denhem. How is your day fairing?”
“We have finished planting Mr Crawford’s fields, so now we can move to other issues. The barn needs to have the loft repaired, as there are some boards that are rotten and need replacing.”
“My father was telling me about the loft, as he knows I have a tendency to visit there when the weather is uncooperative and I desire somewhere outside the house to visit. It is one of my favorite locations as the mamma cats seem to have their litters of kittens up there. I find comfort in the endless love the kittens give and the way they make me smile.”
“I remember the day Mrs Crawford died, you were spending time with the kittens.” Denhem said. “I have memories of watching the kitten my sister had when she was younger. For such a tiny creature, it can bring smiles to so many. Are you returning to your home?”
“Yes, I need to freshen up before our guests arrive from Netherfield.”
“I am grateful they are frequently here, though I pray for a quick repair of matters, so that life can resume for some.”
“Well, I, for one, would be sad to see some situations, as I have come to rely on certain people being in my life.” Elizabeth said, as she blushed a pretty shade of red. She quickly stepped aside, then made her way to her father’s house, without looking back at the man left standing there.
Denhem knew exactly how she felt. He had come to rely on being near the young lady each and every day.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~