Lady Catherine de Bourgh was extremely displeased with the news that her parson was dead, and the man she had hired, through Collins, was unable to accomplish his task. She felt betrayed by all of the men in her life, and she was not ready to take their betrayal lying down. No, she would put a stop to all her dreams coming to a screeching halt. Her daughter would be the next Mistress of Pemberley, no matter what her brother and brother-in-law said.
“Henry, I now require an escort for my return to Rosings. I insist that our nephew be the one to accompany me. My Anne has long desired to visit with her cousin, so I expect Fitzwilliam to make the journey, and spend time with us.”
“It is not your place to demand such of William. And I know that Anne does not wish to be married to him, as she has told me so several years ago. It is time you accept such and move forward. Allow her to spend time in society, if that is her desire. Allow her to know others who are her age. Let her have a life that is her own, not what you have dictated.”
“Enough, Henry. My daughter knows I do only what is good for her. It is my wish for her to be set in a future that is best, and our sister wished to have her namesake take her place as the Mistress of Pemberley. Would you deny our sister? She would be extremely disappointed in what you are doing in denying our dreams.”
“Catherine, I will find you an escort to return you to Rosings, but know your days as the Mistress there are soon to be at an end. You are well aware that Anne is the Mistress, as she is of the age her father stated in his will. If necessary, I will make my way to Rosings, to discuss the matter with Anne. She will likely wish for you to move to the dower house, as she would not wish to place the servants in a difficult position of determining which lady to listen to in decisions.”
“You would not be so cruel as to forcing me from my home.” Lady Catherine glared daggers at her brother. “Our father would be disappointed with your behavior, Henry. You should never have been the heir, father knew you were too weak. I should have been the heir, as I have known all along how to manage an estate and staff.”
“And this is why Gerald and I have had to check on your books each year, correcting the mistakes you have made, mistakes that would have devastated the estate if it had been left in your hands. You are foolish in your investments, and indulgent in your spending. But it is Anne’s inheritance, and I will assist her in taking over her role.”
“I will never forgive you, Henry. No, never. You will see yourself ruined and I will be triumphant, and do not come to me for assistance, for I will not lift a finger to aid you.”
“Catherine, you will remain here, at the inn, until I send your carriage for the journey to your home. As it shall not be long, I insist your maid pack and be prepared to leave shortly.”
Lady Catherine huffed and returned to the rooms in which she had been staying. She would be prepared, and she would do everything in her power to take her nephew with her to her estate.
~~ ** ~~
Seeing not one, but two of her nephews waiting beside their horses, awaiting her presence to begin the journey to her estate, Lady Catherine was pleased. She knew they would heed her demands. The two young men gave their aunt a slight nod, and mounted their horses, as Henry Fitzwilliam handed his sister in her carriage, along with her maid. Lord Matlock informed her that her nephew would be making the journey on horseback, so he had a form of transportation, not to mention allowing the ladies the added luxury of not having a large framed man taking up space.
The trip was well on its way when the carriage pulled to a stop outside one of the inns which was a station for travelers. Both ladies were handed down, and led inside by the postilion. Lady Catherine took tea while her maid saw to a basket prepared for her Mistress to enjoy on the road.
When Lady Catherine was resettled in her carriage, she glanced out the window of the carriage, noticing her nephew preparing to remount his horse. “Fitzwilliam.”
The man turned around, and for the first time, Lady Catherine realized that her nephew was not the one she expected. Richard turned to his aunt. “Yes, Aunt?”
“Where is Fitzwilliam? Richard, where is my nephew?”
“I am your nephew, and I am Fitzwilliam.”
Fury began to build. “You know of which nephew I speak. Where is he? Why are you here?”
Richard had to bite his tongue for a moment. “William is at Longbourn, marrying his betrothed. I am your nephew and Fitzwilliam, so I fill your requirements for an escort. And it has been an age since I last spent time with Anne, so I look forward to visiting with her.”
“Turn this carriage back to Meryton. I demand to return and make my nephew come with me. His betrothed is my daughter. He cannot marry that chit.”
Having long wished to speak his mind with his aunt, Richard took a few long strides to come to the side of the carriage. “Your demands are falling on deaf ears. I will not take your orders, nor will I have the carriage return so you could interrupt my cousin’s joy. Unlike my father and uncle, I have no desire to be kind to you. And your threats mean nothing to me. I have fought too many battles to be done in by a bitter old woman. My father has requested I see your removal from Rosings, and moved in the dower house. My cousin, Anne, deserves to enjoy her life, without your demanding to get your way. Now, I suggest you sit back, enjoy the fine day we are having, and keep your opinions to yourself. Do I make myself clear?”
The gulp his aunt gave was easily detected. Having worked a short time for the grand woman, as she went through staff quickly, the maid had a difficult time keeping a smile from her expression. In her mind, though, she was thrilled with the treatment the man was doling out to Lady Catherine. The woman believed herself higher than she truly was, and it was high time someone took her down a peg or two.
Lady Catherine sat back on her bench and remained silent for the remainder of the journey to Kent. At subsequent stops, she would partake in tea and a little food, never speaking to her nephew.
~~ ** ~~
“Richard, what a pleasant surprise.” Anne de Bourgh exclaimed. All her life, Anne had been in love with her cousin, only not the cousin her mother insisted she was to marry.
“Why Anne, you look well. I believe there is some color in your cheeks. How are you fairing?”
Before she could respond, Lady Catherine entered the house, ignoring her daughter, and marched up the stairs to her bedchamber, slamming the door behind her. Anne had never seen her mother behave in such a manner. “What is wrong with Mother? Has she taken ill?” Her eyes filled with concern, as she looked at her cousin.
“Let me just say, your mother and I have an understanding as to how things will be. She is displeased with many issues, and is frustrated that I will not back down. We have much to discuss, cousin, but first I would ask if there is something to eat. I am famished.” Richard stated.
With a smile, Anne nodded her head. “I believe we have some cold meat and cheese you might enjoy. And, as you are being kind, I will see if our cook still has some of the biscuits she made. I know you enjoy those.”
“Ah, Anne, you have always been good to me. While you arrange the food, I will change from these dirty traveling clothes, as I am not fit to sit on furniture at the moment. My batman could not come with me. Is there a servant who could assist me?”
“Mr Tomlin can aid you. And Richard, it is a pleasure to have you here.”
An hour later, the cousins were sitting in the small breakfast room, while Richard enlightened Anne of the happenings. In between bites of food, he told of Wickham’s treachery, of Mr Collins’ foolishness, of William’s hiding at Longbourn, and of the love their cousin felt for Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Anne was amazed by the many things that had happened, but the most important part to her was that William was to marry Elizabeth.
“Then, I am free from the arrangement.” Anne gave a sigh of relief. “It is an answer to my prayers.”
Richard Fitzwilliam had always found his cousin to be a beautiful young lady, but he had also known her mother’s insistence that Anne was to marry William. He had believed Anne was not as unhealthy as her mother had made everyone believe, as he had caught her outside, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine, which was against her mother’s instructions. But Richard had been certain that Anne would do as her mother dictated, when it came to her Darcy cousin.
“You did not wish to marry William?”
Anne shook her head. “I have never been able to think of him as a husband. It has been my prayer that he would marry elsewhere, which would free me from this burden. My heart lies elsewhere.”
It was obvious that the last comment was not her intent to share. Richard was surprised by her statement. “And where does your heart reside, Anne?”
“I cannot say. You would find me foolish.”
“Please, Anne, tell me what you are feeling.” He held his breath. Praying she would not declare the name of another man, Richard continued to encourage her.
Looking down at her hands, lying in her lap, fidgeting with a handkerchief. “My heart has always been with another cousin. William is too difficult for me to be with, as he is far too much like me. We are both too uncomfortable with large groups, especially with people we do not know. Could you imagine the two of us hosting a party?” She chuckled lightly. “No, William is too soft spoken and serious. I wish for someone who can make me laugh. Someone who can share life with me, care for me. William would never be the sort of husband I would be happy with.”
“You still have not spoken of the man who would make you happy, Anne. Will you not share your idea of who you would prefer as a husband?”
Anne looked up, seeing the eyes of her cousin upon her. The sparkle in his eyes spoke of his caring nature, yet there was something else there. Something she had not noticed before. Could it be what she needed? Could it be that he cared for her? “You, Richard. I have dreamed for years to marry you. Your humor, your kindness, everything about you has been dear to me. I cannot bear to think of you dying in battle, or if you had married another lady. It would have broken my heart to not have you in my life.”
After she spoke, she turned her head away from him. She could not understand why she had spoken, as she was certain that he did not care for her. How could he, she was the pathetic daughter of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the daughter who allowed her mother to rule everything in her life? How could any man love her? But when she looked up a second time, she could not believe what she was seeing. A smile graced Richard’s lips, a smile that warmed her heart.
“My dear, dear Anne. I had told myself for years that I would have a difficult time standing next to William as he took you as his bride. It would do nothing to create family cohesion if I had throttled him to death at the altar.”
Tears began pooling in her green eyes. “Truly? You have been jealous of William?”
Richard nodded. “I never would have imagined we would have this conversation. I have always believed you preferred him, that you would follow your mother’s wishes.”
“And I have always wished for him to find someone who would make him happy, so that I could be released from this nightmare. But my mother, she will never approve.”
“Does her approval mean so much to you? You are of age, and are the true Mistress of Rosings. Would you care if your mother did not approve of your decision? You have the right to decide what you wish to do with your life, including moving your mother to the dower house. It is your decision, Anne. Aunt Catherine has no say in your future.” Richard leaned forward, taking hold of his cousin’s hand. “If you wish to find happiness in your life, and allow love in your heart, I would ask if you would be willing to accept my hand in matrimony. Share your future with mine.”
In less than a second, Richard was granted the most precious gift of his heart’s desire. Anne de Bourgh was nodding her head, before bringing his hand to her cheek. “Yes, Richard, oh yes. I would be honored to be your wife.”
He swept her into his arms, placing a kiss on his cousin’s lips. When he finally broke the kiss, he noted his intended wore the appearance of one who was intoxicated, intoxicated on love. “You have made me the happiest man in all of England.”
Anne laughed. “Now, I am allowing you the honor of telling Mother of the future, with you as her son-in-law.”
Richard shook his head. “We have barely become engaged and you are already torturing me. Anne, Anne, how could you be so cruel? Very well, though I require more of your kisses to bolster my courage. And as your mother is a considerable force, I will be forced to insist on the number of kisses to be very high.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Elizabeth’s eyes began to flutter, leaving her confused as to where she was. She knew she was not in her bedchamber of her father’s home. She was someplace unfamiliar. Then memories began to flood her mind. She turned her head, finding she was not alone in her bed. Beside her was the man who had taken hold of her heart, who loved her and married her. William. Her husband.
Fitzwilliam Darcy had made a quick trip to Town, to speak with his godfather, who was the archbishop. He was granted a special license, and sent back to Longbourn. When the engaged couple spoke with the parson of Longbourn’s parish, they were greeted with joy. The elderly man had been surprised, having met Mr Denhem, to learn the young man’s true identity. But he had seen Elizabeth and William together, and had held a notion that the young people were falling in love. For a simple fee, the parson was willing to give the couple a license without having the banns read. A wedding was quickly arranged and a simple wedding breakfast was thrown together. Only their family and close friends were invited, including those from Netherfield Park, Mr and Mrs Phillips as they were aunt and uncle of Elizabeth, and the Lucas family. Elizabeth approved her mother’s demand for a dinner party on another date, so that Mrs Bennet could show off her new son in law to her neighbors.
After the wedding ceremony, and sharing the food that Cook had prepared quickly, the newlyweds were offered a suite of rooms at Netherfield. They made a different decision. Their choice was to spend the first night of their marriage in the cottage that was home for the man who had been the steward for Longbourn. Mr Bennet stated that he considered his new son-in-law to still be his steward, as he teased the young man. “Do not forget that you have to see to the repairs of the tenant homes. It was to begin tomorrow.”
“Papa, you should not tease my husband.” Elizabeth said, as she swatted her father on the arm.
“Very well, I will allow you to have an extra day off this week. But I will require assistance while I search for a new steward.” Mr Bennet smiled. He wished he could keep the young man at Longbourn, as, when William left, Elizabeth would be leaving with her husband. He would willingly keep the newlyweds at Longbourn so he would have his daughter nearby.
Mr Darcy smiled. “Thomas, I believe I might have a steward for you. There is a young man who has been training with my steward, and I believe he will soon be ready to take a position. I can send for him to come here, so you can meet him.”
“There is no need to rush, Gerald. You are welcome to remain in the area,” His new friend stated.
Bingley stepped closer to the men. “Mr Darcy, you are always welcome at Netherfield. And Miss Darcy is welcome to visit as well. Lord Matlock, you and your sons have an open invitation to stay with me anytime.”
“Are you thinking of taking the estate permanently then, Mr Bingley?” Mr Bennet inquired. It was not lost on him that the younger man turned to look at the eldest Bennet daughter. Mr Bennet was certain that there would be another wedding in the near future. He hoped his wife would have time to prepare the wedding she had been denied by Elizabeth’s, for his wife would be extremely disappointed if she was thwarted a second time.
Looking back at the gentlemen, Bingley felt his cheeks beginning to grow hot. “I have been contemplating that there is no other estate that would be as perfect as Netherfield. I have found the vicinity to be extremely comfortable, and the people are kind and welcoming.”
Lord Matlock chuckled. “And just how kind and welcoming are the people in the area?”
The color in the young man’s cheeks spread a vivid redness from his scalp, which clashed with his reddish hair, to where the blush was lost when it extended below his collar. “I…I…some have been extremely kind.”
Mr Bennet tried desperately to school his features. “Do you and I need to have a private discussion, Mr Bingley?”
Charles Bingley’s eyes shot directly to the elder man. “I swear, Mr Bennet, I have treated Miss Bennet with the utmost respect. I would never treat her in an improper manner. She is such an angel and is all that is goodness.” As he finished speaking, a sigh escaped him.
“Mr Bingley, I must warn you. After your friend’s rush to the altar with my second daughter, my wife will be in no humor to be unable to plan a lavish wedding for my next daughter to marry. So, if you decide you deserve my Jane, know that her mother might push your limit of kindness.”
“It would be worth spending the rest of my life with such a lady at my side.” Bingley had returned his gaze to the young lady who had captured his heart.
~~ ** ~~
William felt the warmth of his wife’s body next to his when he woke. He rolled in her direction, opening his eyes to take in the view of the beautiful lady beside him. Finding her eyes already open, he smiled. “Good morning, Mrs Darcy.”
“Good morning, Mr Darcy. How are you this morning?”
“I feel as if the world has just begun. It would be horrible to say this, but I feel I owe Wickham a bit of appreciation. If not for him, who knows if I would have ever come here, or met you. Is it wrong to be grateful that the murder of a young lady led me to find the woman I would fall in love with?”
“Though it would be wrong to claim such openly, between us, we can be thankful that, out of her death, we found love. Perhaps we should find some way to honor her memory.”
William nodded his head. “What should we do today? Should we make our way to the manor house?”
Elizabeth closed her eyes and the smile she gave him spoke of no desire to leave the room they were currently occupying. “Do we really need to go anywhere today?”
“We will require sustenance, for all our activity has left me ravenous.” As if to make his point, William’s stomach rumbled.
A chuckle came from his wife. “Oh, very well, I would not wish you to collapse from your husbandly duties.”
He received a sheepish grin in response. “My mother spoke to me, prior to our wedding. She explained that her mother referred to the marriage bed as her duty to England, allowing her husband to take his rights due him. Mamma stated that some women feel it a chore they have to tolerate, yet, if the husband is kind and loving, other women feel that it is a cherished gift between a married couple. After last night, I believe it is the latter for me.”
A knock could be heard coming from the exterior door of the cottage. A voice reached them, identifying the person as Mrs Hill. “Miss Lizzy, your mother sent food and drink for you, so you will not have to come to the house. We will leave the items in the kitchen. There is plenty to keep you fed for the day. I will knock again as we leave, there is no need for you to be present.”
Elizabeth’s cheeks instantly blossomed in a shade of deep pink. She pulled the coverlet over her head, embarrassed at what had just happened. William began laughing. He called out to the housekeeper their appreciation and to relay their thanks to Mrs Bennet. Once they heard the knocking on the exterior door, signifying the exit of Mrs Hill, William pulled the coverlet from his wife’s face. “Come, my love, let us partake in the offerings your mother was kind enough to send.”
“I am so embarrassed.”
“I am grateful, my love.” He placed a kiss on Elizabeth’s lips, which grew, and the food was quickly forgotten for some time to come.
~~ ** ~~
The Darcys remained in Hertfordshire for several months, including Georgiana, who came to visit after finishing her classes. She was thrilled to meet her new sister and spend time with her. Mr Darcy and Georgiana were guests of Bingley’s at Netherfield Park. Lord Matlock left for some time, as he was required to visit Rosings Park, to assist with his sister. Lady Catherine had remained quiet for the day she traveled there with Richard, but the following morning, hearing of her daughter’s decision to marry the cousin she was not supposed to wed, the grand woman could not be silenced. Richard had even been pelted with cushions from a nearby sofa. When Lady Catherine began throwing figurines, she had to be restrained. Her nephew locked her inside her bedchamber, allowing no one to enter while the woman continued throwing things, breaking every figurine and knick-knack she could get her hands on. When food was delivered to her room, by a footman rather than by her maid, the food was soon added to the decor of the room. The ranting and raving at the top of her lungs was heard throughout the manor house for nearly two days, until she had lost her voice from abusing it, the shrillness and shouting took their toll.
So, Lord Matlock was on hand to move his sister to her new home, the dower house on the grounds of Rosings Park. During the first week, Lady Catherine marched daily to the manor house, demanding on entering the house. When she was refused entrance, the woman found stones and began throwing them through windows. When she threw one directly at her nephew, striking him in the forehead, Lord Matlock’s patience with his sister was finished. He sent for a physician from Town to come and examine his sister. Doses of laudanum were used to subdue her until the physician was able to arrive. The physician was able to diagnose the woman as being difficult and delusional. The decision was made to keep Lady Catherine at the dower house, with nurses around the clock, and keeping her medicated, rather than place her in an asylum.
Richard and Anne wed a month later, with Lord Matlock on hand to witness. Rosings underwent a dramatic change, as the ornate and gaudy decor was replaced with comfortable and cheery. The difference in Anne was considerable, as she was not as delicate as her mother had insisted she was. Being able to go outdoors when she wished, eat foods she preferred, and enjoy activities which brought her pleasure had combined to strengthen Anne. She took walks in the park surrounding the house, and hired masters to teach her to play the pianoforte and the harp. Life blossomed in Anne, and her future finally came brighter. Under Richard and Anne’s guidance, Rosings would become a productive estate.
While his father and sister stayed with Bingley at Netherfield, William and Elizabeth continued living in the stewards’ cottage of Longbourn. Gerald had sent for the young man who had been training under the Pemberley steward, and Mr Bennet found a different cottage in which the young man could live. The newlyweds were comfortable in their private world, as they spent most of their time away from the rest of the world. William was thrilled for his cousins, wishing Richard and Anne all the best for their future. In their letter announcing their wedding, Richard and Anne included an open invitation for William and Elizabeth to visit Rosings.
One of the reasons for the Darcys to remain in the area was Elizabeth’s desire to be near her mother as Mrs Bennet’s confinement approached. Being the only married daughter, Elizabeth was the only one who would be allowed to be at her mother’s side when the blessed event came. Mrs Bennet had a blessedly simple delivery, and was beaming when she introduced her husband to his heir. Thomas William Bennet was a welcome addition to the family, and was adored by his sisters as well as his parents. The entail was broken, and Longbourn would be in the hands of a Bennet for generations to come.
Charles Bingley finally asked for the hand of Jane Bennet. His sisters had joined him at Netherfield, and the younger sister, Caroline, was extremely disappointed in learning of Fitzwilliam Darcy being married. Her aspirations of being the next Mistress of Pemberley was destroyed, but she refused to lose the connection to the grand family, so she encouraged her brother’s engagement with Jane. Caroline knew that having her brother married to William’s sister in law would guarantee her invitation to balls and dinners she would otherwise be denied entry.
Mr Bennet decided to send his youngest daughters to school, and with the assistance of Gerald Darcy, found a fitting school for Kitty and Lydia. Mary had come to the attention of Mr Phillips’ clerk, and she was soon being courted. It was obvious that she would be the next of Mr Bennet’s daughters to marry. When the clerk finally asked for Mary’s hand, Jane suggested that the sisters marry in a double ceremony. Mary agreed, and Mrs Bennet was delighted to plan a wedding fit for her girls. As predicted, she would not be deterred in her desire to put on an event to beat all events in the county. Elizabeth and William were grateful for their avoidance of such a grand affair.
~~ ** ~~
Fitzwilliam Darcy handed his wife down from their carriage. “This is Pemberley.” He stated, motioning to the view of the estate below them. “This is one of the best views of the house and grounds.”
Elizabeth gasped. She knew the estate was large, far grander than she had ever seen before. But this was beyond what she could have imagined. “I am to be Mistress of all of this?”
William smiled. “My Lizzy, you are up to the task. And Mrs Reynolds will be glad to help you as you learn the estate. She has been caring for the manor house since my mother’s death. You only need to perform the duties with which you are comfortable.”
She placed a hand over the swell that was forming in her belly. “I am afraid that I will not be able to learn all that is needed before our addition to the family arrives.”
“I insist you not overwhelm yourself. You are not to cause any unnecessary stress for yourself. The main duty you are to see to is caring for yourself and our babe. We want you healthy and safe, so nothing else matters.” He lifted her hand to his lips, placing a kiss on the tender flesh.
Elizabeth smiled, lifting her other hand and placing it to cradle his cheek. She loved the man more than she could put into words. “To think, all of the wonderful changes that have come to my life, simply for meeting Fitzwilliam Darcy, fugitive from the law.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~