Lord Matlock was returning to Darcy House when he heard a voice from behind him. Without looking for the person, he sighed as to what was to come. The voice began chastising him without even a greeting from the person.
“Henry, you must speak with your son at once. He has behaved abominably to my clergy, and I demand you punish your son for his cruelty.” Lady Catherine demanded.
“Catherine, whatever are you speaking? I have no comprehension of what you are alleging. And which of my sons have inflamed your ire?”
“Richard, of course. He has been far too close in connection with your nephew, which you should put an end to immediately. How you are able to be here, in this townhouse, is beyond my understanding. You have a perfectly good townhouse, which must be preferable to staying with a family who is tainted If I had known you were in Town, I would have saved myself the expense of opening my townhouse.”
Lord Matlock pulled his sister inside the foyer, wishing to those passing by from overhearing Lady Catherine’s foolishness. Once the door was closed, the Earl of Matlock held his tongue no further. “You are a fool if you believe our nephew has behaved in any manner that is inappropriate. William is innocent, and I believe in his innocence with every fiber of my being. If you choose to believe the worst, you will have to live with the consequences when the truth comes to be known. And while I am thinking of the matter, I believe I should cut ties with you. The notice you placed in the papers, renouncing William, was one of the foolhardiest stunts you have ever committed. Do you wish to have the family dragged through the mud, for no reason?” Another thought entered Lord Matlock’s mind. “And why are you in London? You dislike being in the city.”
“I came to take care of a legal matter. And it was a stroke of luck that I was here, as Mr Collins reached me sooner than if I had been in Kent. But I wish to return to the issue at hand. You claim I have no reason to protect our family name. I most certainly do have a reason to proclaim your nephew to be unworthy of his noble blood. The grandson of an earl should comport himself better than he has. Our father would turn over in his grave if he knew how his grandson was behaving.” Lady Catherine held her nose high, as if being inside Darcy House had an ill odor.
“Our father would be proud of all his grandsons, and he would be proud of Anne and Georgiana. Your foolishness is what will blacken our family name. Now, what is this nonsense of Richard and your clergy? Richard is not in Kent, he is in Hertfordshire.” Lord Matlock was disgusted with his sister.
“And that is where my parson, Mr Collins, was to meet his intended bride. Mr Collins is heir to an estate in Hertfordshire, and I informed him that it would be wise to choose one of the daughters of his cousin, as a gesture of kindness. The cousin has five unwed daughters and not a suitable dowry for one, let alone five. Upon the man’s death, the wife and daughters will be without a home. Mr Collins could provide a home for them, as a member of their immediate family. But now, he has been ill used by the family, who threw him out of their home, without a kindness in the world.”
“And this involves Richard how?”
“He was there. At the home of Mr Collins’ cousin. And he threatened Mr Collins with bodily harm. This is not to be born. You must speak to him immediately. Mr Collins is willing to accept one of the daughters, as he was quite taken by the two eldest daughters. But he will only do so if your son and Mr Collins’ cousin apologize to him.”
“Richard is a grown man, who commands men in His Majesty’s army. It has been years since I could tell my sons what to do with their lives. And, from what you have said, I fail to see for what Richard needs to apologize.”
“Your son had the gall to lie to Mr Collins, declaring me unable to manage my affairs and make investments properly. Richard has no right to say such lies about me. It is ridiculous for him to spew such against my reputation. And defending your nephew, when Mr Collins related what I had spoken, heavens, will no one in our family see the truth? Gerald humiliates us with a bastard son, then allows his heir to behave in a horrendous manner, shaming all of us. Our sister was a fool to marry that man.”
“That man is here, Catherine, and has heard all you have accused. It is, after all, my home you stand in.” Gerald Darcy was walking down the staircase, and had been unseen by his wife’s sister. “If you wish to know the truth, I will tell you once and for all. George Wickham is not my son, there is no possible way he could be my son. His conception happened while I was on my Grand Tour. Does being on the continent for two months prior and months after his conception qualify as proof that I am not, in any way, the natural father of George Wickham? He is my godson, as Amos was a good friend and managed my family’s properties in an exceptional manner. Amos was grateful for my speaking with my father, persuading him to Amos’ ability to be the steward. As a reward for all Amos did for Pemberley, and the Darcy family, I paid for his son to have a gentleman’s education.”
“You only distance yourself now due to your other son’s corrupted behavior.” Lady Catherine spat. “Had I known what I do know, while my sister was still alive, I would never have agreed to arrange for our children to be betrothed. My poor daughter will be devastated, as she has been raised with the expectations of marrying your son. All of her dreams of becoming the next Mistress of Pemberley are shattered.”
“I find it interesting that I never heard of this arrangement until after my wife died. I wonder why, in all those years after Fitzwilliam and your daughter were born, did my wife never speak of such an alliance.” Gerald stated. Turning to Lord Matlock, he continued. “Did you ever hear of an arrangement, between my son and Catherine’s daughter, decided upon before my Anne’s death?”
“No, indeed. It was only after my sister’s death that Catherine enlightened us on the matter.”
“You know very well that Anne and I spoke of such an alliance since childhood. When she had a son, and I had my Anne, it was as if our dreams had come to life. It was a lifelong dream of two sisters, and should have been treated with the respect it deserved. Instead, you men have refused to support my claim. Well, if you had allowed the marriage, perhaps you would not be facing your son being charged with murder.”
“There are many regrets I have in my life, Catherine, but not forcing William to marry your daughter is not one of them. Now, I insist you leave. I will not subject my staff any further with your atrocious behavior.”
“I will be making the journey to Hertfordshire. If you men refuse to do what is proper, I will do so myself. When I arrive there, I plan to have words with Richard, and demand he apologize to my parson. Then I will deal with Mr Collins’ cousin. There will be a wedding when I am done.” Lady Catherine turned and stomped her way out the now open door, ignoring the failed attempt of the butler to contain his smile.
“I believe we should make our way to Hertfordshire as soon as possible.” Gerald said to his brother in law.
“I will have the carriage prepared, after I speak with my valet.”
“Lord Matlock, I have a letter which arrived while you were out.” Danvers held out the salver.
Looking at the writing, Lord Matlock smiled. “Ah, my son knows just how to time his missives.”
~~ ** ~~
Wickham had plucked as much information from Collins as he could. The pompous clergyman was pleased to have a willing audience, and he informed Wickham of every possible issue with the Bennet family. Through the parson, Wickham learned of the second eldest Bennet daughter’s passion for nature, and her desire to walk in the park surrounding her father’s home. Wickham also learned the two youngest Bennet sisters were silly creatures, and would be the easiest to manipulate, especially as they were known for their love of men in red coats. He was determined to keep watch for Lydia and Kitty Bennet, and he would see how he could use them to exact revenge on their father.
Suggesting to Collins that he should inform Lady Catherine of her nephew’s behavior, Wickham hoped the Mistress of Rosings would have some means to make life difficult for Richard Fitzwilliam. He wanted to see his nemesis be punished, and who was better at doling out punishment than Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Wickham could remember several occasions he had been in the presence of the woman, and he knew, first hand, that right or wrong did not matter. If someone went against Lady Catherine’s opinion, they would be subjected to her wrath.
As luck would have it, Wickham noticed Elizabeth Bennet exiting the bookshop, carrying a parcel. He walked towards the young lady, attempting to appear as if it would be an accidental meeting.
Nearly colliding with Elizabeth, Wickham noticed she dropped her parcel on the ground. “Forgive me, Miss. I was not watching where I was walking. Allow me to assist you.” He gathered the package from the dirt, dusting it off. “There, no worse for wear.”
“Thank you.” Elizabeth replied, wishing to end the conversation quickly. She had no desire to be near the scoundrel.
“You are one of the Bennet sisters, are you not?”
“I am.” Elizabeth took hold of the package, attempting to remove it from Wickham’s hands.
“I am willing to carry this for you. A fine young lady such as yourself should not be forced to carry your purchases.”
“Your aid is not required, Sir. As the parcel is light, I require no assistance in carrying it to my home.”
Wickham held firm to the parcel. “Miss, I must insist, as an officer. It is my duty to come to the aid of those are in need. Our unit is charged with the protection of this neighborhood. Assisting you is actually one of my duties, as it would not be proper for a young lady to be alone. We would not wish for you to encounter any unsavory characters lurking in the area.”
“My father has made his opinion clear, when it regards you, Mr Wickham. You are one of the undesirable people I must avoid.”
“I fear my reputation has been tarnished by lies. I would be willing to correct your opinion, by answering any questions you might wish to ask.” Wickham attempted one of his dashing looks, one eyebrow raised a bit higher than the other.
“Mr Wickham, I believe I know enough about the sort of person you are to make a judgment. If you will please hand me the package, I will be on my way.” Elizabeth attempted to recover her purchases.
“Forgive me, Miss Elizabeth, do you require assistance?” Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam had come across the pair, approaching when he realized Wickham was attempting to force his attentions on the young lady.
“Colonel, thank you. I was preparing to assist Miss Bennet to her home. She should not be wandering about, without a companion. And I wished to be able to answer any questions the young lady might have, as I am certain she been told many falsehoods which could cause confusion.”
“As I informed Mr Wickham, I did not require his aid, nor do I wish to speak with him. I only wish to collect the books I have just purchased and return to my home.” Elizabeth glared at Wickham, wishing the man would take the hint and leave her alone.
“Well, I happen to be in search for a gift for my cousin, Miss Darcy. Her birthday is a month away, and I thought to shop for a gift while I was in Meryton. I have found some of the most unique gifts in merchant villages. Miss Elizabeth, perhaps you could give me your opinion, as my cousin is near your youngest sister in age.” Richard reached over and removed the package, that Elizabeth had been attempting to retrieve, from Wickham’s hands.
Wickham was furious. He wished to call out the man, to teach him a lesson. Once I have secured my fortune, I will take my revenge on you, Richard Fitzwilliam. You could find yourself in the same predicament as your cousin. It will not be much longer, before they locate that good for nothing man, and he will hang. Then I will see you meet a similar end.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Lord Matlock had sent an express to Netherfield Park, informing his son and Bingley of his plans to join them, along with Gerald Darcy. He inquired as to an inn, for the earl did not wish to impose on Charles Bingley. As the men rode towards Hertfordshire, Henry Fitzwilliam gave the letter he received from his second born son.
I am pleased to inform you I have located my wayward cousin. He is well, and has informed me of his innocence. I believe what he has said, as you well know the behavior I have witnessed firsthand. Wickham cannot be trusted or believed. I am waiting to hear back from Andrews, as I have heard nothing from him since his arrival at Pemberley. Enclosed is the address I have for him in Town. Could you discover where he might be found and what he has determined? It is not like Andrews to leave the situation unsettled.
When you can come to Hertfordshire, Bingley has taken the lease of an estate near the merchant village of Meryton. The estate is Netherfield Park. It is the largest estate in the neighborhood. I await your word on when you will join us.
Your loyal and respectful son,
The men looked at the investigator seated across from them. Andrews had been involved in an accident, and had been unconscious until only a few days prior to Lord Matlock and Gerald Darcy arriving on his doorstep. Andrews insisted he make the journey to Hertfordshire with the gentlemen, and they left London the following morning.
The carriage was pulling in front of the grand house of Netherfield Park. When it came to a stop, the liveryman lowered the steps, and waited for his master to descend. Colonel Fitzwilliam and Charles Bingley were coming outside to meet the new arrivals.
“Father, Uncle, it is a pleasure to see you. Andrews, thank the heavens you are well. I was fretting your loss, as I had not heard from you and feared the worst. It is not like you to neglect your duty.”
Andrews smiled. “Nor would I have neglected it if I had been able. The post carriage I was in, returning from Derbyshire, was in an accident, just outside Town. Only when I was returned to my mind, was I able to inform the physician who I was and where I lived. They transported me to my home just the day before your relations came to find me.”
“You are recovered, I pray.” Colonel Fitzwilliam looked his friend up and down, noticing a bandage tied around his head.
“Right as rain, Colonel. Have no fear. And fortunately, my trunk was not damaged and the evidence we need to clear your cousin’s name was not ruined.”
Richard looked to his father and his uncle, before turning his gaze back on the investigator. “Truly, you have evidence of my cousin’s innocence?”
“I am hopeful. As I informed your father, when I was in the Orient, I learned their study of the marks one leaves with fingers. The marks are distinct and are used in the Orient and India on documents as a method of identification. On the carving that was used to bludgeon the maid, in blood, was an impression which was most likely made by the killer. If your cousin’s fingers do not carry the same markings, then we can prove he did not handle the carving when it was used as a murder weapon.”
A look of bewilderment came over the seasoned man. “The lines on one’s hands and fingers are that distinct? I would never have imagined. And you have documentation to prove this theory?”
“I do, Colonel. And the ridges are extremely distinct, and there have never been two prints exactly alike, including in twins. In the Orient and India, there have been many over the years who have devoted study of these marks, which is why they use them on legal papers and even on their pottery, as proof of who was the maker. They have been using such identifications for decades.”
“Then I will send word to William to join us. We can put this issue to rest quickly.” Bingley said. “And I have arranged for rooms for you, here, at Netherfield. There is plenty of room, and no need of your staying at the inn.”
Lord Matlock chuckled. “That is a blessing, as my sister is likely to be at the inn very soon. She is displeased with you, Richard. Catherine was furious with your treatment of her parson. As I have not met the man, what can you tell me about him?”
“He is a sycophantic toad, believing every word Lady Catherine says. And the pompous windbag believes he is worth far more than he truly is, as he believes being servant to Lady Catherine to be nearly equivalent to serving the Queen.” Richard replied.
This pronouncement brought laughter from the two elder men. Gerald Darcy stated. “That does sound the sort that Catherine would have in her employ. She has always believed herself far grander than her true situation.”
“Mr Bingley, I must beg your forgiveness in advance, for I am well aware that my sister will wind up on your doorstep, demanding to speak to Richard. And she will likely insist that she be granted rooms here, for she will assume the inn is far beneath her. My opinion is that, if she does insist on staying here, she be refused. You do not deserve her boisterous behavior. If Catherine insists on making the journey to the neighborhood, she will need to make her own arrangements for lodging.” Lord Matlock declared.
“As you request, Lord Matlock. I would only open my home to her out of respect to you and your family.” Bingley smiled as he spoke. He then excused himself, making his way to the study.
~~ ** ~~
As if conjured from her brother’s words, not even an hour after Lord Matlock predicted his sister’s arrival, the de Bourgh crested carriage loomed up the drive of Netherfield Park. After she was handed down from the carriage, Lady Catherine stormed into the grand house, shadowed by Mr Collins. Mrs Nichols was in the foyer, as the forceful woman entered the house.
“I demand to speak with my nephew immediately.” Barked Lady Catherine.
“As I am unfamiliar with who you are, Madam, I do not know who is your nephew. Would it be Mr Bingley, who has taken the lease here, or would it be one of his guests?” The housekeeper was well aware of the possibility of the woman’s arrival, yet she did not wish to bow to the rudeness.
“My nephew is Colonel Fitzwilliam, as I am Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Now, send for my nephew to attend me immediately. Also, I will require your best rooms for myself, and a room for my clergy, Mr Collins. And have tea brought to a sitting room. After I speak with my nephew, I will require a bath.” When Mrs Nichols did not immediately move, Lady Catherine was incensed. “Did you understand my directions? Do as you are told, at once.”
“Catherine, that will be enough.” Lord Matlock stated, coming down the hall from one of the sitting rooms. “You are not the mistress of this house and have no right to order the housekeeper about. You are not even acquainted with Bingley, so how is it you feel you should be treated with such hospitality?”
“Henry, it is good that you are here. I insist you assist me in condemning Richard’s treatment of my parson, and his words against me. Where is the whelp? I wish to have this done with, and a bath, before the supper hour.”
“First, Sister, you are not a guest of Mr Bingley’s. It would be inappropriate for you to demand accommodations and to be treated as one of his guests. Secondly, Richard is with Mr Bingley and Gerald, discussing estate matters. I will not disturb them for your squawking about. Thirdly, we will be dining with some of Mr Bingley’s neighbors this evening, and I am certain they will not welcome you or your parson.”
“You plan to dine with the disgraceful family who has treated my parson ill? How is this to be borne? If it were not bad enough that you have not renounced your nephew, now you will be dining with a family who have disparaged my good name by humiliating my parson. I would believe that you have taken a fever, the way you are behaving is as if you were delirious. And what do you mean, Mr Bingley would not welcome me into his home? I am the daughter of an earl, why would he not find himself fortunate to host someone of my status. If memory serves me, he is the son of a tradesman. Hosting the daughter of an earl would do his reputation well.”
“As he is hosting an earl and an earl’s son, he has plenty to boost his reputation in the eyes of the neighborhood. And I have instructed the young man that he is under no obligation to lend hospitality to you or your clergyman. Besides, with Gerald, Richard, and myself as guests, there are no rooms to accommodate you. There is an inn in Meryton which you should be able to find rooms for your stay.”
Lady Catherine’s face turned beet red with fury. The color traveled down her neck and disappearing into the neckline of her gown. “How dare you? How dare you treat me in such a fashion? You are my brother. I would expect greater loyalty from you. Perhaps I should send for a physician, for it is obvious that you have lost your mind. That is the only explanation for your treatment of your eldest sister.”
“If you insist on sending for a physician, by all means, do so. But they will find that I am sane and within my rights to behave as I am. You could even send for the Prince Regent himself, and it would be your behavior that would be questioned, not mine.” Lord Matlock stood firm on his decision. He had spent most of his life placating his elder sister, and he would do so no longer. He motioned to the footmen who had gathered in the foyer. They had been alerted to the potential scene, and were quick to respond. Most of the men had grown up in the surrounding properties, and the Bennet family were well respected. Learning of Mr Collins’ behavior towards the family had left most of the men with distaste for the toad. Seeing that Lady Catherine was just as pompous as her parson, the footmen had no reservations as to escorting the pair out of the house.
“Unhand me at once!” Lady Catherine shrieked as the first footman took hold of her left arm. Mr Collins moved to assist his patroness, but was prevented from taking a step in her direction when two of the largest, burliest footmen took hold of Mr Collins’ arms.
Another footman took hold of Lady Catherine’s right arm, just in time to prevent her from being able to smack his fellow servant with her walking stick. Removing the stick from her hand, the second footman looked at the first one, and with a nod of both of their heads, they lifted Lady Catherine so that her feet did not touch the floor, and walked out of the house, directly to her carriage, and plopped her inside on one of the benches. She was kicking and screeching all the way, full of venom for the way she was being treated. Behind then, Mr Collins was attempting to break free from the footmen who had taken possession of him, all the while proclaiming the men deserved to be flogged for treating Lady Catherine de Bourgh in such a manner.
Once the pair were placed inside the carriage, the driver was informed to take them to Meryton, to the inn. The driver nodded, desperately trying to hide his grin. Having been employed as Lady Catherine’s driver for more than two years, he was well aware of her offenses against all she deemed beneath her.
~~ ** ~~
Mr Collins held the door of the inn open for his patroness. The woman marched into the establishment, straight to the counter where the innkeeper was located. “I want your best rooms, and will require a bath drawn immediately. And my parson will require a room. Mr Collins, step over here and make yourself known.”
“We are familiar with Mr Collins. And how long do you plan to remain with us?” Mr Dillard inquired.
“It does not matter. I am Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and it only matters that I be treated with the respect I deserve. We have been treated poorly today, and I will not tolerate another moment of disrespect.” The lady brushed her hands on her gown, in an attempt to straighten her appearance. Between the dirt from the road and the manhandling by the Netherfield staff, she felt unfit to be seen. And she needed to be at her best that evening, when she arrived for the confrontation with the family of her parson. By the end of the evening, she would have everything corrected, and her parson would be engaged with the Bennet sister of his preference.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~