Chapter 17

Monday found the men arriving midday at Rosings Park’s manor house. They were shown into the drawing room, where Lady Catherine was speaking with her housekeeper. 

“Henry, Gerald, what are you doing here? Why are your sons with you? Have you finally come to your senses and Fitzwilliam is going to ask for Anne’s hand?” Lady Catherine hoped.

“You know that William and Lizzy are engaged. He will marry Lizzy, and it is time you come to accept the truth.” Gerald stated.

“Then why are you here?” It disgusted Lady Catherine with having people arrive without notice.

Lord Matlock motioned for Polk and Benjamin to enter the room. “Benjamin, do you recognize this lady?”

“No, sir. She is not the lady who came to the shop.”

“Who is this man? Why would he recognize me?”

“You have never met her?” Gerald asked.

“No, it was a different lady, near her age. Her hair was same color but pulled back in a bun. She slumped a bit, walking with a limp.”

“A limp?” Lady Catherine frowned. “Mrs Jenkinson, Anne’s companion, has a limp. She always wears her hair pulled back in a bun.”

“Where is Mrs Jenkinson? We need to speak with her immediately.”

“She is in London, with Anne. They wished to remain, as Anne was ordering some new gowns made for her trousseau. I was uncertain it was wise, though Anne had become friends with a young lady who was at the modiste and the young lady knew Gerald’s family and invited Anne to stay at her family house.”

“Who is the young lady Anne met?” The news surprised Gerald.

“Bigley, I believe. Anne said that the lady was to marry to a viscount.”

“Bingley? Miss Caroline Bingley?” William demanded.

“That sounds right. You appear to know her.”  

“We do, and she is not someone polite society should know. Where is your parson? I wish to speak with him and his wife.” Lord Matlock was confused by what was happening.

“Mr Collins is away at the moment, visiting family. Mrs Collins is at the parsonage. What is happening? Why are you here and what does Mrs Jenkinson have to do with you?”

“We have proof that a lady, we believed from the description to be you, had items stolen from Edwin and his family. Recently, we discovered other items were pawned in London, items which belonged to Edwin, Ethel, Jane, and Lizzy. Fortunately, the owner of the pawnshop recognized the items. Benjamin is the clerk who took the items at the pawnshop.”

“You believed I had something to do with our brother’s death? Do you really believe I would be so heartless as to have our brother, his wife, and his children killed? Why would I do such a thing?”

“Catherine, you were furious at the time because you needed financial help for Rosings. Father and Edwin had just finished some repairs on Wilton Hall, of which it enraged you over. You demanded Lizzy come here to live with you and that you should take charge of Wilton Hall. Everything we have discovered has pointed at you as the one who would gain from Edwin’s family being killed.” Lord Matlock was trying to determine why Mrs Jenkinson would involve herself in the murders, especially if not at the request of Lady Catherine.

Gerald joined the conversation. “We know that Anne was to inherit everything when she reached her majority, yet you have continued to run the estate and control all the investments.”

“Anne wanted nothing to do with running Rosings. She wished for Pemberley, knowing it was grander than here.”

The men looked at one another. Could Anne de Bourgh be the one behind the attack on Edwin Fitzwilliam’s family? Was the young lady capable of such cruelty? Was her motive to eliminate Jane and Lizzy from being in her way to marry William?

“I believe you should have Mrs Collins come stay with you. We will leave some guards to watch over you. If Anne returns, do not speak to her of our coming here. We must know for certain that Mrs Jenkinson was the one who came to the pawnshop, and we cannot have Anne warning her companion.” Gerald declared.

“You believe my daughter’s companion involved in the robbery? Why would she involve herself? She has nothing to gain from Edwin’s death.” Lady Catherine disbelieved what she was hearing. 

“It is my belief that it was Anne who was involved and had Mrs Jenkinson take the jewelry to the pawnshop.” Lord Matlock said what all the men were thinking.

“Anne would never behave in such a manner. She may be angry over her desire to marry Fitzwilliam, but to plan to murder people she believes in her path to becoming Mrs Darcy. No, I cannot believe she would behave so recklessly.”

“In the wreckage, we discovered a letter in Jane’s belongings. It was from Anne. The girls were never close, but our attention at the time focused on Lizzy’s wellbeing, so we never read the letter. It should be at Wilton, where we sent all the belongings after the robbery.” Gerald remembered. “I would be interested in discovering what that letter had to say.”

“Lizzy might know.” William suggested. “She and Jane shared everything.”

The butler entered the room. “Forgive me, your Ladyship, but there is an express rider here to speak with a Mr Polk.”

The investigator moved quickly to the entrance, meeting the rider. “Gentlemen, we have an issue in London. The men went to capture Wickham and the other men and discovered they were missing. My men are searching for them, but what they have learned so far leads them to believe the group left in the middle of the night and in a hurry. They were last seen meeting with someone in a fine carriage.”

  “LIZZY!” William’s expression was one of fear. “They are going after Lizzy.”

The men hurried to leave without another word to Lady Catherine. She sat on her throne-like chair, shouting at them to return immediately.

“The carriage will take too long.” Richard announced. “We can use the horses of the men we brought with us.”

Mr Polk called to his men, insisting on five men to give up their horses. Once the Darcy and Fitzwilliam men, along with Mr Polk, had mounted, they were off for Hertfordshire. Mr Polk shouted to those left behind to ride in the carriages, ordering them to follow to Netherfield. With one of the carriages belonging to the Darcys, the driver knew the way.

The ride was long and harsh. The horses were replaced several times for the riders, delaying time and causing William’s fear for his beloved rise. Images of Lizzy injured and helpless continued racing through his mind, making it difficult for him to breathe. He could not face a life without the lady he loved dearly.

Late in the day, they finally arrived in Hertfordshire. As they arrived in Meryton, the men noticed a blacksmith’s forge.

Gerald slowed down enough to call out to the people gathered there. “What has happened?”

“There is a problem at Netherfield. A group of maybe twenty men and a carriage we did not recognize descended upon the estate, shooting several people and taking over the manor house. We sent for the sheriff, but he is an hour from here, if he is available.” The blacksmith replied.

Looking at his family and the investigator, Gerald knew they would not wait for the sheriff’s arrival. They had ten other men with them, all of them former soldiers or men who had worked for Bow Street Runners. Mr Polk believed in his men being able to take the highwaymen, but there were ladies involved, and family members which made emotions high. Emotions always made situations volatile. 

“Any of you men willing to join us, we will make our way to Netherfield.” Richard called out.

“They will expect anyone coming up the drive. It would be wiser to go to Longbourn and take the path between the two estates.” The blacksmith called to them as he moved towards the horses tied at the corral. “I can lead the way.”

There were half dozen other men who volunteered to join, including Mr Phillips, who was married to Mrs Bennet’s sister. He volunteered to ride to Longbourn’s manor house and inform the Bennet family of what was happening.

Everyone was moving about. Someone shouted to send for the apothecary, as it was certain they would need Mr Jones. Some people were calling to family and friends that they should evacuate Meryton, others sent riders to the nearby estates to warn them of the emergency.

With Mr Appleton, the smithy, mounted and ready, the other men followed him as they rode out of Meryton, heading for Longbourn, riding quickly.

The group arrived at the border of Longbourn and Netherfield. They came to a halt behind a out building which was the gamekeeper’s cottage for Netherfield. It had long been vacant, as Netherfield had been without a gamekeeper since the previous owner had lived at the estate. 

They tied the horses up to the nearby trees, and the riders dismounted, taking with them what weapons and ammunition they had brought with them. 

Chapter 18

The day had begun pleasantly, as Mr Bingley left Netherfield early to visit Miss Bennet at Longbourn. This had become a routine for Bingley, who had been given approval to court Miss Kitty Bennet. Anyone with eyes could see that it was a love match, the two were oblivious of all around them. 

While he was away, Lady Elizabeth, Lizzy, and Lady Anne were enjoying a visit in the drawing room with Mrs Hurst and Miss Agatha. The ladies were finishing with some refreshments when loud noises and shouting came from different directions. 

The highwaymen had surrounded the manor house, having shot their way up the drive. They entered the house from all different areas, front entrance, rear entrance, windows, anywhere they could force their way inside. 

Behind them, the carriage arrived, opening for three women to disembark. 

“Why were your men shooting? What could bring you to shoot my brother’s servants?” Caroline Bingley was furious. How had this gone so wrong? She thought she had been fortunate in meeting Mr Darcy’s cousin, and that she could be of service to Miss de Bourgh. To Caroline, doing a kindness for Miss de Bourgh would ingratiate herself to the Darcy and Fitzwilliam families. 

“We have a limited amount of time and your brother’s servants would have slowed us down. No, we must hurry as much as possible.” Anne de Bourgh stated as if her words should be obvious to Miss Bingley.

“Why must we hurry? You said you wished to visit your relations.”

“I do not wish to visit them. I am here to finish what I started five years ago. My cousin needs to join her family, as she should have when the carriage overturned.”

Caroline’s eyes grew round. “The robbery, when Miss Fitzwilliam’s family died?”

“Of course. She was to die with them. She and her sister were thorns in my side since they were born. Especially that chit, Lizzy. That worthless child has always claimed Fitzwilliam’s attention. With her out of the way, he would have married me, as my mother has always told me. I will not allow that nobody to steal my husband and get away with it.”

Though she wished to see the engagement ended, Caroline had no intention of killing someone to achieve her goal.

The ladies entered the house through the front entrance, following some men Anne de Bourgh had hired. Inside, they held the butler against the wall, a pistol barrel against his ribs.

“Where are the ladies?” Wickham demanded.

“The drawing room, down the hall.” The butler gasped. They were the last words the man would say, as Wickham pulled the trigger.

Caroline let out a small scream. She was regretting ever speaking to Anne de Bourgh.

Wickham led the way down the hall and found the doors to the drawing room locked. Confident the ladies were in the room, Wickham stepped back, brought his foot up and kicked the door, forcing it in with a bang. 

Entering the room, he found four of the five ladies they expected inside. Anne entered the room behind him, with Caroline and Mrs Jenkinson following behind.

“Aunt Anne, where is my grandmother? Why is she not with you?”

“What are you doing, Anne? Why have you come here?” It stunned Lady Anne at her niece’s arrival.

“I asked where my grandmother is? I want all of you here, in this room.”

“What are you going to do? Lady Elizabeth is resting, there is no need to bother her at the moment.” Miss Agatha replied.

“I did not ask you, and I do not even know you. Stay out of family business.” Anne brought her hand down, smacking Agatha’s face.

“That is my aunt.” Caroline cried out. “She is my brother’s hostess.”

Anne spun on her toes. “It does not matter to me who she is. I am speaking with my aunt, not some nobody who comes from trade.”

“Anne, please stop this. Why have you come here? Where is your mother?”

“Dear aunt, you need not worry over my mother. She is at Rosings, believing I am shopping in London. Miss Bingley was at the modiste, rambling on about her family who were hosting the Darcy family. I quickly realized my good fortune and lowered my standards in making friends with a tradesman’s daughter. She was my way to find you without hiring someone to search you out.” Anne moved towards Lizzy, seated on the sofa next to Lady Anne. 

“Please, Anne, do what you want to me, but leave the others alone. There is no reason to harm anyone else.”

Lizzy’s words met with a hand delivered across her cheek. Anne was furious. “Do not speak to me. If not for you, I would be engaged to Fitzwilliam. I could free myself of my mother, as I would send her packing from Rosings. Mother does not realize that I am aware I inherited the estate. She is not the mistress, I am. Fitzwilliam and I would have lived at Rosings until he inherited Pemberley. But you did not die as you were supposed to. Why could you not have died with your family, it would have been so much simpler? With you and Jane out of the way, I would have been able to convince Fitzwilliam to marry me. We would have been able to manage Wilton Hall as well. But you ruined everything by surviving. Of course, I blame my partner for not ensuring you perished.”

The sound of footsteps came towards the drawing room, then entered. Anne smiled at the man who joined them.

“Ah, Mr Collins. Welcome to the party. You might remember my cousin, as you saw her in the carriage five years ago.” 

Lizzy could not help the fear that was taking hold of her. The man who Anne spoke to was the man she remembered from the robbery. His scarred face was difficult to forget.

“She has changed since I last saw her. This time, I will see she takes her last breath.” Collins moved closer to Anne’s side. 

“Collins? Lady Catherine’s parson?” He confused lady Anne. “Why are you involved in this matter?”

“It has involved me for many years. Miss Anne and I are…shall we say, very close.” Collins sneered.

“Mr Collins is my lover. He has been for many years, ever since he came to Hunsford’s parsonage. For me, he will do anything needed.” Anne preened as she spoke. “Fitzwilliam can have his own dalliances, while I have Mr Collins. I do not expect him to love me, as marriages should be a business contract between two people. Just as my parents had, I will have a marriage of convenience.”

“If the marriage is to be of convenience, why do you not choose another? Why are you set on William?” Lady Anne begged for an answer. “Why would you have your family members murdered?”

“They always stood in my way. Mother has told me all my life, Fitzwilliam was the perfect husband. I must have his wealth and connections. Mother has stolen much of the wealth from Rosings over the years. Her demands of redecorating have taken most of the funds in our coffers. She told me we would have the funds from Pemberley to replace what she used from Rosings. My future is with Fitzwilliam, I have known that all my life. Mother’s spending has even forced me to have Collins and Mrs Jenkinson to pawn some items stolen from the robbery. This little chit has more than she could ever need, all of which should have been mine if she had died with her family.”

“That is enough, Anne.” A voice from the doorway made her turn.

“Grandmother, you have joined us. Welcome, take a seat with your favorites.”

“Anne, you have known for years that your mother’s plot for you to marry William was only in Catherine’s mind. There was never an arrangement, you are not in love. The family can aid you in restoring Rosings, making the estate produce. You are the mistress of Rosings Park. Send your mother to the dower house and cut off her spending. Harming others is not the answer.”

“No, Grandmother, there is no containing my mother. She will not leave the grand house at Rosings. Mother told me she would never step down as mistress of the house. I cannot live with her any longer. Once my cousin is dealt with, I can claim Wilton. Collins and I will be happy there. No one will bother us there, as these men will guard the estate.”

“What of Mr Collins’ wife? What of the law? They will come for you. You know they will arrest you.” Lady Anne tried to reason.”

“Let them try. Once we are at Wilton, no one will touch us there. Wilton will be simple enough to defend from any attack.” Collins declared. “We have spent time there recently, so we are aware of the layout. Do not worry about my dear wife. She will return to her family. We were not legally married. I am not the real William Collins. He died many years ago, before he took the living at Hunsford. It was surprising, the poor man fell from his horse on his way to meeting with Lady Catherine. I found him and took his place.  It was the perfect situation, allowing me to know Anne in every way.”

“You killed my family. I remember your face, and your hand as it reached inside the carriage to steal from my family.” Lizzy’s fists balled in anger. She wished she could strike him, beat him for what he had done to those she loved.

“If you had died, none of this would be necessary. The rest of your family would not have to die if not for you.  Anne, dear, we should hurry. We need to be far away before anyone arrives.”

“But I wish to savor this moment. My grandmother has always shown preference to my dear cousin, over me. I want to see my grandmother suffer when her cherished darling dies by my hand. My aunt as well. They all treated this nobody as if she were precious. Let them watch as the harlot takes her last breath.”

Anne pulled a knife from a pocket in her gown. Removing the sheath, she had a frightening look about her, making the other ladies shudder. They could see how far Anne’s mind had slipped into insanity.

“Aunt Anne, move to the sofa next to Grandmother. Your precious girl no longer requires your aid.” Anne made a step closer to her enemy.