Sorry for the delay. Between the holidays, some health issues, and life being crazy, everything has been off kilter. Here are the next 2 chapters of the story. Hope you enjoy.
The more the men learned, the greater they suspected it involved Lady Catherine in the robbery, which took Lizzy’s family from her. The solicitor had provided them with a copy of Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s will, which left Rosings and what investments the baron had to his daughter, Anne. It would leave lady Catherine with nothing, so furious was her husband before his death. But the family was unaware of Anne having inherited the previous year, when she turned one and twenty. Had Lady Catherine lied to her daughter, keeping her unaware of the truth?
The investigator hired had left London, planning to ask questions in Kent. They wished to know who the men who committed the robbery were, to use them against her ladyship. Gerald had discussed with Mr Gardiner the need for Benjamin to make the journey to Rosings when the men went there, so the clerk could identify Lady Catherine.
Writing to his wife, Gerald described all they had learned and the next step they would take. What would take the longest was waiting for word from Lord Matlock.
Letters arrived from Lady Anne and Lizzy, each having written to their men. Lady Anne described their meeting with Wickham in Meryton. He agreed with his wife, there was something odd about the meeting. While they waited for word from Matlock, the Darcy men would ask around about Mr Potter and Wickham.
Realizing that Wickham had grown up in Kent, the master of Pemberley wondered if his godson had known the de Bourghs. It would make sense that they could have known to each other, especially as Wickham enjoyed speaking of his relationship with the Darcy family.
The last letter Gerald had received about Wickham had been discouraging, as the young man had become a rake. It had been a waste of money which Gerald had settled on his godson to pay for his education, undoubtedly wasted on gambling, women, and a wastrel’s life. To hear that the young man claimed employment as a clerk to a solicitor sounded too good to be true.
When he spoke with the investigator, Gerald learned he was correct in his opinion of his godson. There was no solicitor named Potter found in London. Further investigation showed that Wickham had been in London for the past several months, seen in the company of several other men, including a man with an extreme scar on his face. William was furious when he learned of his childhood friend’s involvement with the man responsible for Lizzy’s injuries and her loss of her family. Only his father’s restraint kept the younger Darcy from searching out Wickham immediately.
“William, would Lizzy desire you to go after Wickham? Or would she prefer we capture everyone involved in what happened? Wickham is not the one in charge, he seems to be only one member of the group. The man with the scar is the most important, as he seems to be the one in charge of the robbery. He has access to the items stolen that day. Once we find him, we can use him to discover the rest of the group. These men will hang for what they did. Murder of so many people is bad enough, but to have murdered the family of an earl, those involved will not escape the noose.”
“What of Aunt Catherine? How will we treat her?” It frustrated William. “Will Uncle Henry wish for our family’s name dragged through the mud to see her pay for what she did?”
“We must have proof that it was Catherine who was behind the robbery. Most likely, Henry would ask for transportation. Having his sister hung for her actions would be distasteful for him, no matter how terrible Catherine has behaved. Your mother is likely to want Catherine’s head on a pike.”
“Mother and Uncle Edwin were close. She thought of Aunt Ethel as her dearest friend. Of course, she would want the people who were responsible to pay the price for their crimes. Aunt Catherine and Mother have not been close in my life, but I am uncertain she would want her elder sister to die.”
“You have no clue of your mother’s fury towards Catherine. Even before you were born, Catherine hated having siblings and made her disapproval of them known. She especially hated having a sister, and that I loved your mother. Your aunt even attempted to have your grandfather refuse my offer for your mother’s hand.”
“Why would she do such? Did she think Grandfather would have arranged a marriage for her to you?”
“I believe she wished for such to happen. For Anne to marry first, in a love match with a wealthy, landed gentleman, was more than Catherine could tolerate.”
“I hope we make Aunt Catherine pay for her actions. She has been cruel to Lizzy all of my dearest’s life. Taking away her family and leaving Lizzy near death, I can never think kindly of the woman again.”
“Do what you can to protect our ladies. They are the most valuable part of our lives.” Gerald laid his hand on his son’s shoulder. “That could come to be protecting them from the horrible pain they will suffer when we know the truth.”
~~ ** ~~
“Anne, Lizzy told me you received a letter from your husband. What did he have to say?” Lady Elizabeth inquired.
“He says I am correct in not trusting Mr Wickham’s arrival in the area. The investigator discovered there is no solicitor named Potter, and we have seen Wickham in the company of a man with a long scar on his face. I dared not tell Lizzy, for fear that it would frighten her.”
The dowager countess nodded her head. “After remembering the day of the carriage attack, Lizzy has not been sleeping well. She tries to hide it from me, but I believe she is having nightmares.”
“It is not surprising. Poor dear. If William were here, she would be at ease. When the men arrive, all will be well.”
“Had they received word from Henry? What news do they have of Catherine?”
Lady Anne did not wish to inform her mother of the news. Catherine had always been the most difficult of the Fitzwilliam sibling, but their mother loved her firstborn. “Gerald plans to surprise Catherine by showing up at Rosings unexpectedly. He feels that if she knows anything, it would be the best way to keep her confused.”
“That would be best. If Catherine knows he is coming, she will plan things to say if she has anything to hide.”
“Mother, what if we learn that Catherine hired the men to kill Edwin and his family? What will we do?”
“If Catherine was responsible for what happened, she is not my daughter. It will be as if I lost both a son and a daughter that day. Others would likely say I am foolish, that our family will be fodder for the gossips, but I cannot live with her being able to continue a comfortable life if she robbed her brother of the same.”
“I worry of what will happen to Anne. She will be distraught to lose her mother, especially as Catherine has spoiled that girl. How will she be able to manage the estate? The men will need to work with Anne to teach her all she will need to know.” Lady Anne considered her niece with sympathy. “Catherine has nearly ruined her daughter. Poor Anne will require help from all of us as she learns her role.”
Lady Elizabeth agreed. “I will do what I can to aid Anne, though I know it will be difficult as she is such a willful girl. It is like turning back the clock and seeing Catherine as a child once again.”
“You are used to Lizzy. She is opposite of Anne, in most everything she does.”
“Lizzy is so like her parents. Edwin was such a joy as a child, and he was a blessing as he grew up. He and Ethel were wonderful parents, so filled with love. How could one not love Lizzy?”
Lady Anne chuckled. “Well, we are a bit prejudice regarding our dear girl. She is a dear girl. Her survival was a miracle.”
“Well, no matter what I feel about Anne, I will do what I can to assist her. Perhaps the men can find a good steward to take over Rosings. The man they have now has been doing whatever Catherine insists, no matter what should happen.”
“I wonder about Mrs Bennet’s daughter. Would Mrs Collins be able to assist Anne on managing a household? I would believe that Mrs Bennet has taught her daughters well, especially her eldest who will one day become the mistress of Longbourn.”
Her mother thought about the notion. “You may be correct there. Perhaps we could speak with Mrs Bennet after we learn more from the men.”
“Well, what should we do to lift Lizzy’s spirits?”
“That is a simple situation. She would enjoy being outside. Perhaps Robbins could take her for a walk in the gardens.”
They discussed the suggestion in further details. After they had worked out the details, another thought came to Lady Anne.
“Mr Wickham is the same age as William. At the time of the robbery, he would have been around one and twenty years of age. Would they have involved such a young man with the robbery? It is difficult for me to accept that one who is so young could have behaved so horribly.”
“There are many younger than he was who commit crimes every day. Remember, Mr Wickham moved from Pemberley when he was a child, so the influences in his life were far different from what he would have had at Pemberley, especially if his father had survived.”
“It is disappointing, as his father was such a good man. It would horrify Amos Wickham to learn of his son’s behavior. Especially if he aided in the robbery. Gerald has never commented on Mrs Wickham’s behavior, but from what I can remember of her, she was always wanting more than they had. Gerald saw to a monthly stipend to help Mrs Wickham and her son, but she unsatisfied. She even wrote to Gerald; I believe to request more funds. He did not speak of the contents but threw the letter in the fire burning in the grate.”
Lord Matlock and his middle son made the journey to London hastily, arriving three days after they received the letter from Gerald. The express rider had delivered Gerald’s letter in two days, allowing the men to arrive on Saturday.
Having already informed Lady Anne of the plans to confront Lady Catherine on the following Monday, Gerald was ready to finish with the situation so he could return to his dearest love.
Henry Fitzwilliam was furious with his elder sister. He and Richard listened to all the investigator had to tell them, with each new piece of information striking another nail in his sister’s coffin. Richard wished to beat the truth from Wickham.
“What will we do when we prove Catherine’s complicity?” Gerald was unsure how they should handle the situation.
Henry shook his head. “It is beyond me how to deal with my sister. Her difficult streak has caused harm to the family for many years. But this is far beyond what cruelty she inflicted previously. They killed our brother and his family, heartlessly murdered for money. I cannot forgive her for it. As far as I am concerned, the moment our brother died, Catherine died. The woman who was my sister is gone, and I will punish the person who took her place.”
“Even if it means she hangs?”
A slow nod was Henry’s response. “She does not deserve to live when she stole Edwin’s life from him. Not just Edwin’s, Ethel and Jane, and the lives of their servants. Lizzy has lived without her family for five years. Her injuries nearly took her from us. No, Catherine does not deserve to continue breathing when she stole their lives.”
“We will need to answer Anne’s questions about the estate. She has no experience, as Catherine has ruled over everything.”
“Between us, and Malcolm, we should be able to see to Anne’s need for guidance. So, we will leave Monday morning for Rosings. Will Mr Gardiner accept us taking his clerk for the day? I will reimburse the men for their service.”
“I have already offered to pay for Benjamin’s service. Gardiner has another clerk who will work in place of Benjamin. The young man will be here by seven Monday morning.”
“Good, good. What of Wickham and the other men?” Lord Matlock inquired.
“I have men who will capture the men on Monday, while we go to Rosings.” Mr Polk, the investigator in charge of the case, planned to make the journey with the family to Rosings.
“Good. They deserve the noose for what they did.” Lord Matlock’s voice was bitter.
After Mr Polk left, the men dined together. Spending time with his cousin pleased Richard, having not been together since William’s engagement. The pair of cousins made their way to the game room while their fathers remained in Gerald’s study.
“Thank you for allowing us to stay here, as I did not wish to put my staff through opening Matlock House for such a short time.” Henry stated.
“You and Richard are always welcome at Darcy House, just as you are at Pemberley.” Gerald picked up the decanter and poured two glasses of port. He handed one glass to his wife’s brother.
“How is Lizzy? Her memory of the man who stole the jewelry from the bodies is horrible. It must have terrified her.”
“It shook her, though Lizzy is strong. Anne is keeping a close watch over Lizzy, writing that the best thing for her is William’s return. It will be middle of the week before we can return to Netherfield.”
“Richard and I will remain at Rosings for a fortnight so we may assist our niece. Rebecca could not make the journey, as she has a cold. She has instructed me of what will need to be addressed in the house at Rosings.”
Gerald chuckled. “My dear wife has sent me a list of priorities for the house. She suggested replacing the furniture with comfortable chairs and sofas as a priority.”
“My younger sister is wise. Rebecca would agree with Anne on the topic. Last time we were at Rosings, Rebecca had pain in her back from the chairs.”
“We will need to look over the books, determine how bad the situation is at Rosings.”
“I will assist Anne with funds, should she require, to get the estate functioning properly. But the funds will come from Matlock, not from Wilton or Edwin’s coffers. Lizzy deserves what her father left behind. Will she and William live at Wilton after the wedding?”
“Yes. Lizzy has already written to the housekeeper to have her parents’ rooms cleared of their belongings and cleaned for her and William. Sorting through the belonging left behind by her parents and sister will be difficult, but it will open a new beginning of the dear girl’s life. I believe Anne agreed as she was not looking forward to having the newlyweds down the hall from us. The thought of her little boy and her favorite niece sharing the marriage bed is a bit much for my dear wife.”
Henry laughed openly. “It would be the same for Rebecca. She is looking forward to having grandchildren, though not wishing the begetting of the babies be under our roof.”
“They see their sons as still being little boys. Of course, Anne says having me is like another child.”
“They are still little boys at heart. But the men they have grown into are remarkable.” Henry smiled.
“William is more than I could have asked for in a son. He has become my close friend. His love for Lizzy is blooming now that they are engaged. Once the pair admitted their feelings to each other, everything is as it should be.”
“If only my sons would be as fortunate. Malcolm is interested in Lord Abercrombie’s daughter, Penelope. She is a good sort of girl, with a sizeable dowry. Rebecca approves of her, so that is in Malcolm’s favor. If only we could find someone to marry Richard, so we could keep him settled here in England rather than going off to battle. Every day that passes without his receiving his orders has been a blessing.”
“Have you ever thought of an arrangement between Richard and Anne?”
Lord Matlock took a sip of his port. “I have thought about it, even spoke with Richard of such an arrangement. It would be good for both of them, giving Anne the support and someone to run Rosings, while protecting Richard from the battlefield.”
“What was Richard’s opinion?” Gerald watched his brother-in-law closely.
“If Anne would have him, Richard would willingly discuss the possibility. But there would need to be some changes. He has never approved of Anne’s behavior, her superiority over everyone. It would be a challenge for Richard, calming her temper when she did not get her way.”
“That would an issue with anyone she married, even if she and William had married. Anne was always pampered by Catherine, so I would bet it will displease her any time she cannot succeed in what she wants.”
The earl nodded his head. “Another one of Catherine’s failures.”
The men sat in silence for several moments, each lost in thought as they sipped their port. It pleased neither with what was to come in the following days.
Breaking the silence, Lord Matlock moved to refill his glass as he spoke. “I have been thinking of how my father would have handled this situation. He was one of the few people who could intimidate Catherine. It would be best if I was to try simulating Father’s demeanor and tone. Hopefully it will be enough to throw her off balance as we confront her.”
“She will never listen to me, as I would not force my son to marry Anne.”
“You know that my elder sister has always been envious of your love of Anne? When you professed your love of our younger sister, Catherine was furious. She wished to marry you, but you had no title. That Sir Lewis was a baron did temporarily soothe her anger, but having her younger sister marry the year prior to her own wedding irritated Catherine.”
“I have often wondered why Catherine named her daughter after a sister she could not tolerate.” Gerald mused.
“Oh, that was not Catherine’s choice. Sir Lewis was furious with Catherine. He retaliated against his wife by insisting on naming their daughter Anne. Catherine could not refuse.”
A thought came to Gerald. “That explains the stipulation in Sir Lewis’ will, which said that Catherine could not change Anne’s name, or risk being removed from Rosings and receive no income. It surprised me, as I could not imagine why Catherine would change her daughter’s name.”
“Sir Lewis was aware of my sister’s dislike of your dear wife. He was furious shortly before Anne’s birth, though I never knew why. His death when Anne was not even a year old was shocking.”
“You are aware of the cause of his death? Not what Catherine claims, but the truth?”
“I have always been told he had an attack of apoplexy. Was there something I was not told?”
Gerald refilled his glass and topped off Henry’s. “Sir Lewis de Bourgh died from an attack of apoplexy, but he was in the bed of his mistress when it happened. His close friend, Mr Worthington, informed me that Sir Lewis had kept a mistress because of Catherine’s behavior. Evidently, Catherine was not faithful to her husband.”
“Could Sir Lewis have believed Catherine lied about Anne being his child? Is Anne possibly the natural child of another man?” The thought appalled Henry Fitzwilliam.
“It is likely that she is the daughter of Catherine’s lover. If Lewis discovered such news, that would infuriate him. I am surprised he left the estate to Anne. You would think he would name anyone else to inherit.”
“To admit he had been taken in by his unfaithful wife would be against Lewis’ nature. He would not want to appear a cuckold. Disowning the daughter Catherine bore him would have told the world the truth.”