Gerald Darcy wrapped his arms around his son. He could not forgive himself for his believing George Wickham over the young man before him. William was so like his mother, and Gerald could see her in William’s smile. How could he ever have thought William to be anything but the best of men? The proof was before him, in every move William made.
“William, I beg of you to forgive a foolish man. I have allowed Wickham to spoil your image in my eyes, believed what he told me of your character. It took your uncle, Mrs Reynolds, and Danvers to finally wake me from my abominable behavior towards you. All this time, you took the blame and righted the wrongs done by Wickham, all in the effort to protect me.”
There were tears in William’s eyes. “Father, I know you suffered deeply from Mother’s death. Wickham brought smiles to you, as you enjoyed his light hearted banter. I could not take that from you.”
“But you have taken much on your shoulders. Never again. Now, I must introduce you to Andrews. Richard sent him to Pemberley, to find proof of your innocence.” Gerald motioned for the man to step forward. “He has knowledge of a way we can prove you did not handle the carving which was used to murder the maid.”
Andrews moved towards the men. “If we could remove to the study, we can resolve this issue at once.”
The men were soon standing around the desk, watching in wonder as Andrew inked each of William’s fingers, and made an inked impression on the parchment. Picking up the magnifying glass he had brought with him, Andrews looked at the marks on the parchment and then at the mark on the carving. “I can say, without a doubt, that the mark on the stone carving was not made by you, Mr Darcy. If you look through the magnifying glass, you will see the mark on the carving is in a circular pattern. Then, looking at the marks we just made on the parchment, not one of your fingers bears such a pattern. You are innocent of the charges, and I am willing to testify on your behalf.”
“Now we must find a way to capture Wickham and prove he does have the pattern on his fingers.” Richard said. “I can speak with Colonel Forrester. He will assist us, I am certain.”
“It might be wise for us all to accompany you to the encampment. In case Andrews is required to show proof and we will need to make inked copies of George’s fingers.” Gerald suggested. “I want to be able to confront George as well. If I had not been such an idiot to believe his tales, none of this would have happened. And a young girl might still be alive. Countless others may have been spared ruination had I opened my eyes to the true nature of my godson.”
“We should not have William go with us.” Richard suggested. “Until we show the colonel the evidence, I do not wish for a confrontation with William being taken into custody.”
“I will return to Longbourn. There are a few matters I must see to, before the truth comes out as to who I am.” William stated. “I will be pleased to not have to hide my identity from everyone. Fortunately, Mr Bennet and Miss Elizabeth have been understanding. It will be nice to offer them proof to justify their faith in me.”
“The gentleman and his daughter deserve some sort of reward for the care they have given you, William. I should think of a way to show my gratitude.” Gerald began contemplating.
Richard smiled and looked at his cousin. Bingley, too, had the same notion. The two were certain that the only reward that Fitzwilliam Darcy would prefer would be the hand of a certain young lady residing at Longbourn. They would know more, once the burden was lifted from William’s shoulders.
~~ ** ~~
While William returned to his life as Denhem, the other men made their way into Meryton. The militia unit was camped just outside the village, and it was not long before they were escorted into the tent of Colonel Forrester.
“Colonel Fitzwilliam, I was just about to send word to you.” The man stated.
“And why is that, Colonel?” Richard was concerned, his brows joining in a crease on his forehead.
“It appears that we have further difficulties with Lieutenant Wickham. I was informed that he was seen speaking with the two youngest Bennet sisters this morning. From what I was told, he seemed to be far more forward than he should have been. I have sent a note to Mr Bennet informing him of the development.”
“Miss Kitty and Miss Lydia are silly girls, but I cannot imagine they would go against their father’s edict.” Bingley frowned as well. “Miss Bennet told me that her father had spoken with all of his daughters, advising them not to have anything to do with the man, not even carrying on a conversation with him. After Wickham’s forceful attempt with Miss Elizabeth, their father wished to ensure that all of his daughters were warned against the rogue.”
Colonel Forrester nodded his head. “I had received word from Mr Bennet, as well as the visit from you, Colonel, after that incident. Wickham was given extra duties for his behavior. He has been displeased that I have spoken with the merchants of his penchant for accumulating debts and not fulfilling them. Several of the officers have reported his behavior and comments of late have been bent towards revenge, though they are not certain who on which Wickham wishes to bestow his wrath.”
“Most likely on myself and Mr Bennet, being that we are local.” Richard answered. “We are the ones he knows he can reach easily. As my father and uncle have just arrived, I doubt Wickham knows of their being in the neighborhood. If he had known, I am certain he would have attempted to speak with my uncle.”
“Perhaps I should not have had him removed from my townhouse.” Gerald Darcy was downcast. “If he had remained at the townhouse, we would have had control over his movements. Now, with him on the loose, others are in danger of his behavior.”
“Fortunately, he is unaware of William’s location. I hate to think of what he would do to him.” Bingley stated.
“So, you have proof that the murder of the maid at your estate was not committed by your son?” Colonel Forrester asked. “You believe that Wickham is responsible for the girl’s death?”
“We do.” Andrews declared. “Are you familiar with the Oriental use of finger marks being a form of identification?” With the shake of the colonel’s head, Andrews spoke of the subject, showing the evidence he had gathered, from the scene of the crime and from Fitzwilliam Darcy. Seeing the evidence, and hearing what Andrews had learned from the Orient, not to mention the man’s reputation in the regular army, Colonel Forrester was quickly convinced.
“I will have my men searching for Wickham immediately.”
~~ ** ~~
Mr Collins had done all he could to be of assistance to Lady Catherine, but her ire was not to be lessened. She was furious over the accommodations, she was furious over the treatment she had received at the hands of the footmen, and she was most furious over her brother’s behavior. It was all Mr Collins could do to remain at her beck and call, rather than flee from the proverbial lightning bolts she was hurling.
Finally, able to escape the inn for a short bit, Mr Collins was pleased to find the man to whom he wished to speak, lurking about the stables. “Sir, I have returned, as you suggested, with Lady Catherine herself. She will wish to speak with you on all that you know of the Bennet family. Lady Catherine plans to set everything to rights, and we will be making our way to Longbourn. I believe my exulted patroness with have everything correctly set by the end of the evening.”
“If only I could be there for the scene. Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr Bennet deserve to be put in their place.” Wickham stated, sneering at the thought.
“You must speak with Lady Catherine, for you might know something which would prove beneficial to our goal.”
Wickham shook his head. “If only I could. I have to meet my colonel, as he has a secret operation of which he wishes me to be part. But I can meet you here, again, at say ten this evening. Can you meet me then?”
“I am willing, though I know Lady Catherine will wish to speak with you.”
“If necessary, bring her with you. By then, we will be able to make a plan to secure your future happiness.” Wickham spoke, as he looked about. “Now, I must be on my way. Ten o’clock. Be here.”
Mr Collins thought it odd that his new friend behaved in such a manner, yet, the bewilderment did not last long. He quickly made his way back towards the inn, and thought of how he would be pleased to have Miss Elizabeth Bennet become his wife.
~~ ** ~~
“Welcome, welcome, come in.” Mr Bennet declared to his guests. “It is a pleasure to have you here.”
Richard stepped forward. “We are grateful for your including my father and uncle in the invitation. They only just arrived a few hours ago.”
“Tis no worry, Colonel.” Mrs Bennet stated, taking hold of her husband’s arm. “There is always room for them at our table.”
“If you would allow me, I present to you Lord Matlock, Henry Fitzwilliam, Earl of Matlock, and Mr Gerald Darcy of Pemberley. Father, Uncle, I present to you Mr and Mrs Thomas Bennet, and their daughters, Miss Jane Bennet, Miss Elizabeth, Miss Mary, Miss Kitty, and Miss Lydia Bennet.” Bows and curtsies were exchanged.
“It is our pleasure to welcome you to our home, Lord Matlock and Mr Darcy. Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr Bingley have been very amiable guests, and we have enjoyed having them dine with us on several occasions.” Mrs Bennet was beside herself with having someone of the nobility a guest in her home. As she welcomed the gentlemen, Gerald looked across the room at his son. He looked forward to making known the truth. They had planned to announce the situation after supper.
Watching his son, Gerald noticed something different about the young man. William was seated next the dark haired daughter and was conversing of estate matters. The ease in which the pair spoke was unlike anything Gerald had witnessed in the past. How odd to see his son in such comfort, when all had been chaos. He would need to keep an eye on this, and he prayed that he was witnessing his son falling in love.
The housekeeper came to the door of the drawing room to inform the Mistress that the meal was served. “Thank you, Hill.” Mrs Bennet stated. Mr Bennet held out an arm to his wife, and they led the way from the drawing room. Mr Bingley was prepared to escort Jane, but as ranking guest, Lord Matlock took the honor. To his relations’ surprise, William offered his arm to Elizabeth, and though Gerald could have exercised his privilege, he allowed his son the honor, and instead, Gerald offered his arm to Mary. Richard and Bingley were left to escort the two younger sisters.
All were seated around the table, and the conversation was light and friendly. The first course was brought forth, and the guests were appreciative of the fine table Mrs Bennet set. As each consecutive course was served, the men praised what was offered. Lord Matlock lifted his wine glass in a toast to the Mistress of Longbourn. “Mrs Bennet, I cannot remember the last time I had such a delightful meal. I must say, your cook is exemplary.”
“Lord Matlock, you are all kindness. As you have eaten in some of the grandest homes in England, I find your words to be extremely generous.”
Gerald added to his brother-in-law’s words. “And he is honest in his praise, Mrs Bennet. I have a French chef at Pemberley, and I must claim that his meals do not compare half as good as what you have served tonight. If ever your cook wishes a new position, I would gladly snatch her up in a moment.”
“Oh, Cook has been with the Bennet family since before Thomas and I wed. We would be lost without her, for she has been such a crucial part of our daily life,” Mrs Bennet replied. One thing she learned in the first years of her marriage was to always treat Cook with the respect due her. As the tenants tended the land and made it profitable, Mrs Hill and Cook made the home run smoothly. Respect was due them, and respect was given.
As they were finishing the meal, a commotion was heard at the front of the house. Shouting could be heard, and a woman’s voice drowning out the voice of a man. Without any announcement, Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mr Collins entered the dining room. “I am here to speak with you of the mistreatment you have made to my parson.” The pompous windbag declared. “And I will see that you apologize to Mr Collins, and the situation is remedied, before we leave here tonight.”
“Catherine, how dare you storm in here and make demands of anyone? You were not invited here, nor have you been properly introduced.” Lord Matlock spoke loudly, to be heard over his sister and Mr Collins, as the parson was indicating towards Elizabeth.
When Lady Catherine looked in the direction her clergyman pointed, she was shocked to see not one, but two of her nephews. “What are you doing here, Fitzwilliam? How can you show your face amongst anyone of proper society?”
Everyone turned to William. “Lady Catherine. I believe you were told that you were not invited. You would be best to return to the inn, as neither you or the sycophantic imbecile are welcome here.”
Mr Collins was confused, as were several of the Bennet ladies. “Forgive me, Lady Catherine, but you must be mistaken. That man is my cousin’s steward, Mr Denhem.” The parson groveled, hating to correct his patroness.
“That is my nephew, Fitzwilliam Darcy, and he is a murderer. He killed the maid that he got with child. Call for the constable immediately.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
“You must be mistaken, your Ladyship. Mr Denhem is the steward, he could not possibly be your nephew.” Mr Collins feared for the grand lady’s mind. “Perhaps you require rest, as you have suffered a long day in journey.”
“Mr Collins, be quiet. I ought to know my sister’s first born child. That man is Fitzwilliam Darcy. The constable should be sent for immediately, as he is wanted for the murder of his mistress.”
“Lady Catherine, you need to desist.” Mr Bennet declared. “I insist you leave my home immediately.”
“I will not. Not until someone takes that scoundrel into custody. He is wanted for murder.”
Shortly after the arrival of Lady Catherine, Andrews had been welcomed into Longbourn’s manor house. Hearing the raised voices, Andrews was not surprised to find who was causing the commotion. When Lady Catherine spoke of her nephew being wanted for murder, Andrews stepped forward. “Actually, your ladyship, I have just spoken with the constable. He, along with the colonel of the local militia, have reviewed the evidence and agree that Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy was not the murderer. We have evidence to prove he did not yield the murder weapon. The local magistrate is also aware of the matter, and an express has been sent to Derbyshire, to clear your nephew’s name.”
Not being one to accept being told she was wrong, Lady Catherine refused to accept what Andrews had stated. “And just who are you to contradict my statements? What sort of evidence do you have? I insist on seeing the evidence myself.”
“Forgive me, Lady Catherine, but the evidence is now locked in the vault in my home.” Bingley stated. “I insisted Andrews lock the evidence securely so nothing could be tampered with.”
“Just who are you, to dare speak to me without even an introduction? Keep your opinions to yourself, you have nothing to do with this matter.” Lady Catherine swatted her hand about as if shooing flies that were pestering her.
William had had enough. Standing his full height, he lowered his voice in a menacing growl. “That will be enough, Lady Catherine. You have no right to be here, making accusations that you have no proof. I am not a murderer, nor have I ever had a mistress. How dare you make such declarations, and in front of gentlewomen?” His attention turned to Elizabeth, though he spoke to her mother. “Mrs Bennet, please forgive the rudeness that has befallen your lovely dinner. The only part of my aunt’s statement which is correct is that I am Fitzwilliam Darcy. I was falsely accused of murder, but have, just this day, been cleared of the charges. Your husband and Miss Elizabeth are aware of my situation, and have protected me, allowing me safety as I worked to clear my name. Fate must have been watching over me, as my close friend leased Netherfield Park, not knowing I was here. Fortunately, my cousin learned of my location and Bingley invited him along to stay at the estate.”
Mrs Bennet was shocked at the revelation. For several moments, she sat, dumbfounded at the news. “And you are the son of this gentleman? The nephew of an earl?” Mrs Bennet was trying to determine what was happening. “And you are friends with Mr Bingley?”
William gave the lady a smile. “I beg your forgiveness, Mrs Bennet. It was not something I would have wished to do, as deception of any sort is repugnant to me. But I had no alternative, as I cleared my name of the heinous charges.”
“Mr Denhem, oh, Mr Darcy, I forgive your little lie. You have been nothing but kindness and goodness. How anyone, especially someone related to you,” she turned to glare at Lady Catherine, “could ever condemn you of such is horrible offenses, is beyond me to understand. Why, you are no more a murderer than I am the Queen of Portugal.”
“I am grateful for your generosity, Mrs Bennet.” William turned his attention back to the young lady beside him.
His action brought displeasure from his aunt and her parson. Lady Catherine de Bourgh was furious. To her way of thinking, she had been duped by false reports. “Then you need to come with me to Town immediately. We must make haste on announcing your innocence and your engagement to my daughter. There is still enough time for us to leave for London.”
Mr Collins did not approve of the looks passing between Elizabeth and his patroness’ nephew. He was determined to have Elizabeth Bennet for his wife, as he had imagined the fine figure of the handsome young lady in many of his dreams since he had met her. Jane Bennet was a classic beauty, but her sister’s figure was far greater temptation to the clergyman. “Mr Darcy, you are engaged to Miss de Bourgh, I insist you step away from my cousin. Miss Elizabeth, come away from him this very moment.”
Hearing her parson’s words, Lady Catherine glared at the new threat she perceived. “Fitzwilliam Darcy, move over here at once. You are behaving inappropriately with the chit beside you. She is to marry her cousin, Mr Collins. He has declared his desire to wed her, and I approve his selection. I will pay for a special license for him to marry her immediately. Henry, you will do my bidding, and apply for the license as soon as we arrive in Town. We must hurry, as we do not wish to be on the road into the wee hours of the morn.”
Turning, Lady Catherine made a movement towards the hallway. When she glanced over her shoulder, she was shocked to see her relations still standing where they had been moments before. “Henry, Fitzwilliam, what are you about? I said we need to leave immediately.”
“Sister, you hold no sway over our choices. You are not the nearest relations, therefore, you are not justified in your demands that we obey your commands. Now, I insist that you take this foolish man with you and leave this house. You should return to the inn, rest for the night, and leave for your home in the morning. Do not continue your behavior and leave these people to live their lives. And that includes my nephew. William will not be your son-in-law. You have already posted in the papers that you disowned him, and that your daughter was not arranged to marry William. It is over, Catherine. Leave us to live our lives. Return to Rosings, and remain there.”
“Sir, I am appalled at the treatment you are placing on your sister. She is of the finest caliber in all of England. For you to speak so abominably to her is beyond the pale. Why, Lady Catherine has told me from the first day I met her, of the understanding between her daughter, the jewel of Kent, to Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy of Derbyshire. I am more than willing to testify on her behalf in a court of law. If this man does not fulfill his obligations, I…I…I believe she has grounds to file a suit against him.” Mr Collins puffed out his chest as he spoke. “She is the injured party in this matter, and does not deserve the cruelty you are forcing upon her.”
“Mr Collins, I have told you to leave my home, numerous times, and will give you one final chance to leave of your own volition. If you do not, I will have my servants remove you.” Mr Bennet stated, as he nodded his head to Mr Hill, who was standing near the door to the dining room.
“Mr Bennet, I am your heir. As such, I demand to be treated with respect. And, as your future son-in-law, it is only proper for you to respect me and my position in life, as Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s parson.”
Mrs Bennet had had her fill of the pompous toad. She was standing close enough, that she reached on the table, picking up a goblet of wine, tossing the entire contents into Mr Collins’ face. “I must thank Mrs Hill for recommending this red wine this evening. I had thought to serve the white wine, but it would not have had the same effect.” Her words hung in the air for a few moments, as her family and guests looked about at one another. Suddenly, Mr Bennet started to chuckle. As his laughter grew, so did the laughter of his guests. Soon, all except Lady Catherine and Mr Collins were sharing in the humor, laughing at the foolish pair who had disrupted their evening.
Dripping wet and his clothes stained with wine, Mr Collins’ fury was near bursting steam. Only Lady Catherine taking hold of his arm and insisting they leave the house made an impact on the clergyman.
“Mark my words, I will know how to act now. You will all rue the day you crossed me. Mr Collins, you are better off not having connections to this brood. They are far beneath your notice.” Lady Catherine continued to snub those who had spoken against her and the clergyman she had personally chosen for the position. In her mind, insulting him was tantamount to insulting her. Finally having her fill of being treated poorly, Lady Catherine turned tail and marched from the house, with her sniveling parson close behind her.
So, the evening was concluded early, as all of the parties wished to rest from the events of the day. The guests made their way to Netherfield Park, minus William, who wished to remain at his cottage for the time being.
~~ ** ~~
Mr Collins was pacing outside the stable, impatiently waiting his meeting. When Wickham stepped from the shadows, the blundering clergyman nearly tripped and fell. “You are late.” Collins gasped.
“I have had a difficult time getting away from my duty.” Wickham looked about, ensuring that no one was nearby. “What happened when you went to Longbourn? Was Lady Catherine able to make her point?”
“If only it had happened. For such a grand lady to be treated as she was, if only I could have defended her honor properly.” The parson shook his head. “They humiliated my poor patroness. And, to think, her nephew had been hiding at Longbourn, under an assumed name. My cousin knew who he was and allowed him to act as if he were a steward.”
“Lady Catherine’s nephew, are you speaking of Colonel Fitzwilliam?”
“No, no, the other one. The one who was accused of murdering his mistress. Only now, it appears that he was innocent of the charge. An investigator has evidence proving the man innocent of the charges.”
Wickham became concerned. He could not imagine anything he had mistakenly left at the scene of the murder, nor could he imagine his father believing Fitzwilliam over him. “And the investigator, he has notified people of his evidence?”
“Yes, he told us that he spoke with the local constable and magistrate. And he spoke with your colonel, though I do not understand why he would concern the militia of the matter. If I remember correctly, the man stated an express was sent to Derbyshire, to the constable and magistrate there.”
This news was devastating to Wickham. How could everything go so wrong? I planned everything out perfectly. Father could not believe Fitzwilliam, I have planted the vision of that worthless man’s lack of morals. What could have possibly happened? And they spoke with Colonel Forrester. It was good that I had the forethought to abandon my post and stay hidden from the militia. If I had remained, it is likely I would be in shackles at this moment.
“Did you hear what I said?” Mr Collins looked frustrated at Wickham.
“Forgive me, what did you say?”
“I asked if you have any notion of how we can strike back against my cousin? What would be the best method of wounding him, as he has wounded the great Lady Catherine de Bourgh?”
Wickham thought for a moment. A wicked grin began to spread across his face. “You had spoken of your desire to marry one of the Misses Bennets. Do you know which of the sisters you wished to have as your bride?”
Mr Collins pulled at the lapels of his coat, in an attempt to appear more important. “Why yes, I wish to have Miss Elizabeth Bennet as my bride. I believe she will be a fetching mistress of my home.”
“Ah, you will not complain, coming home to such a delightful figure warming your bed.”
“Here now, that is my intended you are speaking of.” Mr Collins was ruffled, seeing the gleam in his friend’s eyes. It was one thing for Mr Collins to think of his cousin’s comely figure and the satisfaction she would bring to him, but for others to speak of such was not to be borne.
“Forgive me, Mr Collins. I should be more respectful. What was Miss Elizabeth’s answer when you applied for her hand?”
“Well, she refused. But it is the fashion currently, for the lady to refuse the man she plans to marry. I have been told it is to have the man declare the violence of his love for his intended. Surely, when I return and ask her again, she will accept. There is no guarantee she will ever have another offer, and she will be securing a home for her family, upon the unfortunate event of her father’s passing.”
“What if I were to tell you I can assist you in your efforts to wed Miss Elizabeth Bennet?”
Collins was eager to learn what his friend had to tell him.
“Did you not say Miss Elizabeth enjoys taking walks every morning? She makes her way to Oakham Mount most days. It would be simple enough for us to speak with your intended, and, if necessary, we could collect her and have you on your way to Gretna Green before she is even missed.”
The parson’s hands clasped in front of him, his joy obvious at the suggestion. “And what time should I make my way to Oakham Mount?”
“Meet me here before sunrise. We can make our way to the park and prepare to secure your future.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~