The carriages were readied the following day, and the trunks were loaded. All that was left was for Jane and Elizabeth to leave with the men they loved, to begin their new lives. But there was one final confrontation they would have to endure before leaving.
As the Darcys, Bingley and Jane finished breaking their fast, Mrs Nichols announced a trio that was most unwelcome…Mrs Bennet, Mr Collins, and none other than Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Ignoring everyone else, Lady Catherine forced her way past the housekeeper and marched straight towards her nephew. “Fitzwilliam Darcy, I have received a report of an alarming nature. According to my parson, you have taken a mistress. He stated that the young lady was his betrothed, and he was certain that you could not be married to her, as you are to marry Anne.”
“Aunt Catherine, you have been told many times that I am not engaged to your daughter. Neither Anne nor I wish to such a marriage, and you have been told many times.”
“But it was the fondest wish of your mother’s and mine. From the time you and Anne were in your cradles, my dear sister and I planned the day that our estates would be joined through the marriage of you and Anne.”
“I will not say this again, Aunt Catherine, Anne and I have never wished to be married. And now I have met the perfect lady for me, and we have wed.”
Mr Collins moved to his patroness’s side. “As your aunt has spoken often of your impending wedding to your cousin, I knew that your marriage to my cousin, my betrothed, was a sham. Even though she has been your mistress, I will do my duty to your aunt, and marry my cousin. Taking her away from here will free you to do what your family desires and marry your cousin.”
“You are a bigger fool than I believed, Mr Collins. I am married to Elizabeth, and have no desire to be otherwise.”
“But she is a country nobody. How could you disgrace our family in such a manner?” Lady Catherine demanded.
“Elizabeth is the daughter of a gentleman, and I am a gentleman. In that, we are equals.”
Lady Catherine looked from Elizabeth to Darcy. “And what of her mother? She is the daughter of a tradesman. Her sister is married to a solicitor and her brother is a tradesman. They are so far beneath our family.”
Mrs Bennet had kept quiet until then. “My father was a solicitor and provided my sister and I dowries of five thousand pounds each. He was respected throughout his life. My sister’s husband clerked for my father before taking over after my father’s death. And my brother’s import business is well known throughout London for the quality products he provides.”
“I am the daughter of an earl, so you are nothing to me. And your daughter is not fit to be my nephew’s wife.” Lady Catherine turned towards Mr Collins. “You will do as you were instructed. Here is the bank draft for the funds. When you decide where you will settle, send word.”
“Of course, your ladyship. Whatever I can do to serve you.” Mr Collins groveled as he took the proffered bank draft.
Darcy had had enough. “Mr Collins, you will be going no where with my wife. Elizabeth is a Darcy now, and you had best come to accept the truth. If you attempt to remove my wife, I will be forced to call you out. And believe me, I am an expert with a sword and a pistol. Now, I demand you leave here before I am forced to remove you myself.”
The look on Mr Collins’ face resembled that of a fish, with his mouth opening into an O shape frequently. “Y…your ladyship…perhaps we should remove for town. Your brother might be able to speak sense to your nephew.”
“I will not leave without seeing that harlot taken away from Darcy. Do as you are told, or find yourself without a living.” Lady Catherine demanded as she rounded on her parson.
“You cannot take the living from me, it is not my fault your nephew fell for my betrothed’s feminine ways.”
“The living can and will be take from you for failing to do as you were instructed. Do you understand, Mr Collins?”
“Of course, Lady Catherine. But what am I to do? Your nephew has threatened me.”
“Be a man and do as you are told.” Lady Catherine demanded.
The parson took a timid step closer to Elizabeth, only to shriek when Darcy stepped between them. In a menacing hiss, the master of Pemberley spoke. “I am serious. If you make one step closer to my wife, I will meet you at dawn. Do you understand me?”
The parson was limited on his wits, and having two strong decrees of equal distaste had confounded him. Not finding any alternative to be to his liking, Mr Collins turned and hurried out the door. It was later discovered that he went directly to Longbourn, collected his belongings, caught the post to London, where he arranged to journey to Hunsford. The last anyone in the community heard of him was that he was leaving England while he still had a life. The church was later contacted to inform them of Mr Collins’ death when he sailed for India as a missionary.
Lady Catherine was beyond angry. No one was bending to her demands, and she did not like it one bit. “How dare you threaten my parson? Is that what you have learned, being in the company of such a loose woman?”
Her nephew’s hand stopped mere inches from her cheek. “If you were a man, I would finish the strike I began. You are fortunate, I cannot call you out. But I can forbid you to ever contact me and my family. Lord Matlock is aware of my decision to marry Elizabeth, and he has known for many years I would not marry Anne. He wrote to me, wishing to visit us when he and Lady Matlock make the journey to their estate. And a letter has been sent to inform Anne. Do not write to me or to Georgiana, do not expect to be welcomed at Pemberley or Darcy House in London. If we should somehow attend the same gathering, do not flatter yourself that we will acknowledge you. From this day forward, you are no longer my family. And if necessary, I will give you the cut direct if we see you in public. Do you understand me?”
“All of this because you were taken in by a piece of muslin. A woman uses her ways to tempt you to her bed, and you forget who you are. Your mother…”
Her words were halted when she looked into her nephew’s eyes, seeing his fury.
Darcy could no longer contain his fury. “If you do not leave my sight immediately, I will not be responsible for my actions. You have brought this on yourself. Leave now, and do not ever come near me again.”
Lady Catherine was stunned, unwilling to believe her nephew had struck her. How had such come to be? Had she lost everything she had desired, all her plans for the union of her daughter and nephew destroyed? How could she undo it all, put it back as it was supposed to be?
Tears were beginning to form in her eyes as Lady Catherine looked at her nephew. No, there would be no changing Darcy’s mind. The anger she saw in his eyes was the same as his father’s, the day that Lady Catherine demanded she take Darcy and Georgiana to Rosings to raise them properly. Gerald Darcy had told her repeatedly that his children would remain at Pemberley, where their mother had loved them, and where Gerald could see that his beloved Anne’s final requests were carried out.
Anne had never wished for a union between her namesake niece and her son. As Lady Anne Darcy lay dying, she knew her sister would make demands on young Fitzwilliam. Lady Catherine had always envied Anne for having a son. And she wanted her sister’s son as her own. Only if he were married to his cousin would Lady Catherine be able to claim him as her son.
But Gerald Darcy would not allow Lady Catherine’s influence to touch his children. He had nearly struck his sister in law when she attempted to take his children from Pemberley. And now, Lady Catherine had pushed his son to finishing the action Gerald had started many years before.
Lady Catherine did not know what to say, or what to do. Without another word, she left the house, entered her carriage, and was on her way home. Darcy would never hear from her again. He did receive a letter from his cousin Anne two years later, stating that her mother had died in her sleep. From the time she had left Netherfield until her death, Lady Catherine had become a shell of the woman she had once been. Timid and withdrawn, she left the running of the estate to Anne.
The last person who had come to demand answers that morning was Mrs Bennet. She was furious to learn that her plans for the future had been ruined by her two eldest daughters. The mistress of Longbourn had been confused when she discovered that the belongings of Jane and Elizabeth were being packed and taken to Netherfield. How could this be, as Elizabeth was to marry Mr Collins and Jane would win the heart of Mr Bingley. They would all live in the neighborhood in the years to come, her eldest daughter being the mistress of Netherfield and Lizzy would keep Longbourn flourishing. The two largest estates in the county would be under her control and all of their friends would envy her. When Mr Hill had returned, Mrs Bennet overheard him telling his wife that Elizabeth had married Mr Darcy. That was when Fanny Bennet went to Mr Collins, who denied it to be possible. He penned a letter to Lady Catherine and sent it express to London.
“Why…why did you ruin everything?” Mrs Bennet cried, looking at her least favorite daughter. “Why did you take everything away from us? What will happen to me and your sisters when your father is gone? Mr Collins will throw us to the hedgerow, and we will have nothing. How could you do such to us, your family?”
Elizabeth could not understand how her mother still despised her. “Mamma, what would have happened if I had married Mr Collins? Would you have allowed me to run my own home?”
“W…why you have no experience running a house. Besides, you would be busy seeing to the estate matters, you would not have time to tend to the duties of the house. It would have been best that you left the house to me to continue running as I have for all these years.”
“You have never cared about what I wished for my life. Only what you wanted for yourself. Always your needs, your desires, no one else mattered as long as you got what you wanted. Enjoy your time as Longbourn’s mistress. Perhaps, if you were to economize, you will be able to put some coins aside for when Papa is gone. You must forget me, Mamma. Forget all the frustration you had because I would not cooperate with your plans. Forget I ever existed. For that is what I plan. To convince myself that my parents have died, and I have only those in my life who love me for who I am, not what I can do for them.”
Mrs Bennet was shocked. She had never considered herself to be selfish, as she thought her action would protect her daughters.
That was the last time Jane or Elizabeth ever saw their mother, as she turned and left the room. The young ladies turned to the strong arms of their beloved men, finding comfort after the exhausting event.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Fitzwilliam Darcy entered his wife’s private sitting room, finding her looking out the window at the beautiful spring sky. It was her favorite time of year, when everything came to life after the long sleep of winter.
Quietly, he approached her from behind, wrapping his arms around her when he was near enough. Whispering in her ear was one of his favorite delights, as the fine hairs near her ear would dance from his warm breath.
“My love, how are you this morning?”
“I am well, my dearest husband. Even though you kept me awake late into the night. And your youngest child decided to wake me quite early.”
Darcy’s hand dropped to his wife’s swell, ripe with his child inside. “I am jealous that you know our child so much better than I do. And with each birth, I am still amazed at the small person that has developed inside you from our love.”
“I would think that after five previous children, you would no longer be amazed.” Elizabeth laughed. “Where is Wills? Has he finished his lessons?”
“He has, and is preparing to go with me to survey the ploughing. The new plow seems to be working well.” Darcy placed a kiss behind his wife’s ear.
“It pleases me to see our son take such an interest in everything that makes the estate what it is. Too many heirs are only taught how to spend the wealth and find pleasure. Our children will have better futures for having learned all the hard work and planning that is necessary to make the income we are blessed with.”
“My father taught me every aspect of the estate, seeing that I knew how to muck out a stall in the stable, plant the fields, see to the tenants. My children will all know what is behind each meal that is served to them, the clean clothes they wear, the warmth of the fire burning in the fireplace.”
Elizabeth smiled. She had approved of her husband’s view on how to raise their children. None were allowed to be spoiled, they were grateful for what they were given and caring for those who had little.
“So, have you decided names for our newest child? Wills asked me if you had considered his suggestion.” Darcy chuckled.
“I believe our son’s choice for a sister’s name would be curse the poor child. Hildagard Crumblebun is not a name I would give burden a child with.” Elizabeth laughed. “I heard the name in a book and the girl was a wicked thing. In Wills’ opinion, all girls are wicked, therefore the name is fitting.”
“He made the choice after Janey ruined his favorite book. At that point, our son decided that having sisters was terrible and asked if we could send them to live with Jane and Charles.”
“Janey did apologize, and she went with me to Lambton to purchase a new copy of the book. Wills begrudgingly accepted the new book, but does not trust his sisters to enter his room.”
Darcy reached into his coat pocket, retrieving a letter. “Georgiana wrote. She is planning on arriving next month, in time for the birth.”
“And Jane promised to be here. Aunt Gardiner hopes they will arrive in time, as Uncle has been so busy, ever since you and Charles became partners in his. Between the import warehouse, the bookshop, and the shipping line, Uncle Gardiner is desperately in need of a holiday.”
“I have spoken to the groundskeeper. The pond will be stocked for your uncle to spend as much time as he desires fishing.”
Elizabeth looked down at her hand, which was resting lightly on top of his hand on her thigh. On her ring finger was a simple silver band with a small polished piece of stone set in the top. Most people were shocked at such a simple ring representing the marriage of someone so high in society, but it meant more to Elizabeth than anyone could ever imagine.
After they arrived at Pemberley, just after their marriage, Darcy explained to his wife what had happened with the stone. At first, Elizabeth was certain that she had married a crazy man, but Georgiana came to her brother’s defense. Realizing the differences, she had noticed in each of their characters, Elizabeth knew something was askew. But when she looked into her husband’s eyes, that was when she knew the truth. His sparkling blue eyes, which had replaced the green ones of Georgiana when they were at Netherfield. Elizabeth had remembered when she and Georgiana had taken walks that the girl had the sparkling blue eyes. Now, the younger Darcy sibling had returned to her natural green eyes, which lacked the sparkle.
As far fetched as the story was, Elizabeth could not argue with what she had seen with her own eyes. And what she knew in her heart.
The stone was still in Georgiana’s possession after all that happened the day the siblings returned to their own bodies. A piece of the stone was cut and polished, and set in the simple ring that Elizabeth had insisted on. And the ring was perfect on her long slender finger.
“To think that our lives were meant for different roads until this stone came along. If not for it, things would be much different from that with which we were blessed.”
“Not only our lives, but Georgiana’s, and the lives of Jane and Charles. They may have married no matter what, but they would have lived at Netherfield, and been made miserable by your family.” Darcy stated the obvious. His sister had married a gentleman from Staffordshire and they were the proud parents of a set of twin daughters. Georgiana was grateful for how her life had turned out, after she had come so close to the destruction that could have been, if she had mistakenly married George Wickham.
Jane and Charles Bingley had purchased an estate twenty miles from Pemberley. They had married three months after Darcy and Elizabeth, and were happy with their decisions. One of those decisions was to forbid Caroline Bingley from living with them. And, as the Hursts had also decided against Miss Bingley remaining in their home, the lady was forced to live in a small home in a fashionable area of London, living off the interest from her dowry. She would never marry, for no man would tolerate her, not even for her handsome bank account.
Mr Bennet had become a hermit, leaving the running of Longbourn to his steward. Mary Bennet had become close to the steward, and two years after her elder sisters were married, Mary was wed to Jonathon Walker. The pair would tend to the needs of the estate and inherit it when Mr Bennet died, seeing as Mr Collins had already died and there was no other male heir. Mr Phillips, brother in law of Mrs Bennet, used his skills as a solicitor, and some private assistance from Darcy and Bingley, to secure the future of Longbourn with its female line.
Mr and Mrs Gardiner had become close with the young men who married their nieces, and as Mrs Gardiner had grown up in Lambton and was familiar with the Darcy family and estate, the families spent as much time together as possible.
Lord and Lady Matlock had been pleased when they met Elizabeth, accepting her into the family with open arms. They knew that Lady Anne had never wished for a union between her son and niece, and had attempted to correct Lady Catherine many times. When their son, Colonel Fitzwilliam, returned from battle, he settled down with Anne de Bourgh and they took up the care of Rosings.
To think all of the lives would have been far different if not for the piece of stone that was found so far from its origins, with no reason for it being at Netherfield, on the path in the garden where Darcy and his sister were arguing.
Darcy lifted his wife’s hand to his lips, placing a kiss over the ring. “I will always be grateful for the day Georgiana picked this stone up from the ground. The Derbyshire mystery stone, the stone that magically gave me my life.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~