“Enough, Anne. You need to put the knife down and step away. Allow the family to help you. Please, Anne, allow us to help you. We will move Catherine from the manor house. We will take her to the dower house. Or we can take her to Matlock. Henry would allow your mother to stay in the dower house at Matlock. I had decided against staying there. If your mother is there, you will have Rosings. We can improve the financial situation.” Lady Elizabeth pleaded.
“No, I will have what I want now. I will finally rid myself of the Fitzwilliam sisters, both of them, as should have happen five years ago. If only the chit had died, I meant for her to die.” Anne turned her attention to Lizzy. “Why did you not die? Why did you have to make Fitzwilliam think he loves you? It is not to be born. Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted when Fitzwilliam takes his place as the master? Having you for a wife will be his downfall. You will be his ruination.”
“I have done nothing to bring you harm, Anne. Please, as our grandmother said, allow the family to assist you. My sister’s dowry is still in the bank, in London. We can use money to repair the damage your mother has done to Rosings.”
“Do not offer me what I can take. I do not need your pity, I will get what I want with you dead. Why bother with my mother? Leave her to wallow in the mess she made of Rosings. I will have Wilton, and all that comes with it.”
“You will not have the wealth that comes with Wilton, as it is in Lizzy’s name. Your grandfather and uncle saw to the estate’s income, along with all investments, and the girls’ dowries were secure, in Lizzy’s name. Were she to die, they would place the money in a trust, with both of your uncles in control of the funds. Do you believe they would give you the money, after killing us?”
Her grandmother’s words confused Anne; she was unprepared for reality to force its way into her mind. “They will do as I tell them.”
Lady Anne added to her mother’s words. “You know better. Gerald and Henry will not give you a shilling if you kill us. If you kill Lizzy, my son will move heaven and earth to extract his revenge. He will get to you, and he will kill you. You will gain nothing from killing any of us, it will end in your demise.”
“Be quiet.” Anne snarled. “I do not want to hear your words.”
“It is the truth. Besides, the men were having the marriage settlement drawn up with the solicitors in London. He will have control over the wealth of Wilton, and he will deny you everything if you kill me.” Lizzy spoke. She understood what her aunt and grandmother were attempting in confusing Anne. If they could convince Anne that their deaths would be for naught, perhaps they could find a way from the situation.
“You lie. The money, I will have the money and Wilton. They will be mine.” Anne was unraveling. All her plans had centered on taking what was Lizzy’s, not thinking of anything that would hamper her path to what she wanted.
“No, we are not lying. I do not keep the funds at Wilton. There is less than one hundred pounds kept in the safe in my father’s study. The housekeeper sees to the payment to the staff, from the bank in the village. We keep enough there to pay the bills and the servants, which the bank in London then replenishes each month. But it only allows the village account three hundred pounds per quarter from London. You cannot access the rest of the money. William, Uncle Gerald, and Uncle Henry will never allow you the rest, and would likely cut off the funds for the running of Wilton. You could not purchase supplies from the shops, including food. How will you manage an estate with less than what you have at Rosings? No, you are better off accepting our offer of aid.”
Agatha stood. “Please allow me to have some refreshments brought in. You must all be in need of something to eat and drink. Once you have something to eat, you will think clearer.”
Collins lifted his hand, which held a pistol. Without warning, he pulled the trigger. As his hand had risen, Caroline realized her aunt was in terrible danger. She moved quickly, arriving between Collins and Agatha, just as the bullet fired. It struck Caroline in the back, near the center. Slumping forward, Caroline took hold of her aunt’s arm.
“Caroline, oh my, Caroline.” Agatha cried out as her niece continued falling until she crumbled to the floor. Louisa Hurst dropped to her knees beside her sister. Cradling her niece’s head in her lap, Agatha had tears streaming down both cheeks. “You foolish girl, I am old. You should not have protected me.”
Speaking brought Caroline pain. “I was a fool, for believing Miss de Bourgh. She did not wish to visit her relations. She lied to me. Could not allow you to pay for my mistake of bringing her here.”
“Quiet now. Save your strength. We will send for a physician as soon as these people leave.” Louisa spoke as she stroked her sister’s hair.
“No, Louisa, there is no saving me. Only grateful…I pray you will be safe.” Caroline gasped.
“Nonsense, you will be well. It will take some time for you to regain your strength, but there will be plenty of time.” Louisa stated.
“Be well, Louisa. The babe, I pray will be healthy and strong. Forgive me for my foolishness.”
“There is nothing to forgive. If the baby is a girl, I will name her for you.”
“Then I wish you to have a son. I would not want a girl to bear my name. I have wasted my life for the sake of wealth. Such a waste. Know that I love you, Louisa. Tell Charles, I love him. Hopefully he can forgive me.”
“Our brother will forgive you, Caroline. Have no fear, Charles loves you, as do I.”
Caroline shuddered from pain, clutching her aunt’s hand. When the shudder ended, her hand was slack. Miss Caroline Bingley died knowing love she had taken for granted most of her life.
As the ladies grieved over Caroline, Anne de Bourgh was confronting Collins. “You killed her. I told you I was to kill the women. You were to eliminate the men and allow me to do what I needed.”
“The old woman is not one of importance, nor was that chit. You still have your relations to eliminate. Do as you wish with them.”
“Do nothing unless I give you orders. Am I understood?” Anne was furious.
“Of course, dearest. But we need to hurry things along. The citizens of the village may know of what is happening here. We do not want them to gather their courage and come to battle us.” Collins said as he pulled Anne close to him.
“We must decide how to get the money from my uncles. How can we make them pay out the money? Though I do not want to believe their words, the women are telling the truth. Fitzwilliam will do what he can to punish us, including cutting off access to the funds. My uncles will do the same. What good is the estate if we have no money to pay for the men we need to protect us?”
Collins took hold of Lady Anne’s arm, yanking her from where she sat. “We will ransom them, using this one as proof the ladies are alive. Once we get the money, we will leave here, taking her with us. We will leave the others behind, dead.”
“We cannot take my aunt with us. We would need the money brought here. It could take a few days to get it, as a rider would need to be sent to London to my uncle. He would have to get the bank to release the funds and bring them here. This is not happening the way we planned.”
“If we do not ransom them, we will have no way of gaining the money. When we have the money, we can even leave England. There are ships sailing out of Liverpool or Brighton. We could escape to the Americas. Or even India. Anywhere we want.”
“There is no possibility of us escaping without being followed.” Anne was becoming frantic. Nothing was going according to her plans. She wanted to done with the women who had been thorns in her side for years, yet she had to have the wealth that Lizzy held. Without the funds, they could not keep the men who were to protect them.
“Then we will kill all your relations, the men and the women. It is that simple.”
“My uncle and cousin will bring an army of men with them. It will be a battle and they will outnumber us. There must be a solution. Without the income, we will have nothing.”
Collins released Lady Anne, shoving her towards the sofa. Her ladyship stumbled and landed on the sofa next to Lizzy. The two ladies took hold of each other’s hands, clinging to one another.
“Send Wickham to see me.” Collins barked his order to one of the other men.
The man left the room, heading to another part of the house, in search of George Wickham.
As the man returned with Wickham, there was shouting coming from outside near the rear of the house. Collins hurried to the door of the patio off the drawing room, looking out the windowed door. Just as his hand reached the handle of the door, something came crashing through the glass, knocking the man off his feet and scrambling to recover his weapon.
Wickham moved to protect Collins, his pistol drawn and ready.
Suddenly, there were men entering the room from the different doors.
The Darcy and Fitzwilliam men had arrived with their troop of men.
Collins grabbed Lady Anne again, holding her body against his, using her as a shield against the men entering. Anne moved behind the sofa, holding her knife to Lizzy’s neck as she watched the men in her family arriving to rescue the ladies.
“Stay where you are. I will use the knife if I have to.”
William warred between fear for his loved ones and fury at the cousin he could not tolerate. His father placed a hand on William’s arm, reminding him to be patient. They could not rush the situation, or there would be deadly consequences. Seeing Caroline Bingley’s body on the floor, surrounded by her aunt and sister, only served as a reminder of what could happen.
“Anne, please, release Lizzy. There is no reason to harm her.” William pleaded.
“You are not supposed to be here. Why are you not in London?” Anne’s eyes bore into William’s, as she wildly brandished the knife about.
“We learned that the men had left town, and we believed the ladies were in danger. We had investigators watching Wickham and the men with whom he associated. From what we were told, they saw him in the company of a man with a large scar on his face. A witness in London saw him pawn some jewelry stolen when the highwaymen attacked Uncle Edwin’s carriage.”
Anne glared at Collins. “I told you not to go. Any of the others could have gone to the pawnshop. Your scar is obvious, people recognize you.”
“Who was I to trust with such items? We cannot trust Wickham with two shillings, and he is the best of the group.” Collins hissed. “Your companion was not in London, and they could not see you with the goods.”
The lovers continued flinging accusations at each other, diverting their attention from what was happening in the room. When Anne de Bourgh glared at Collins for his comment, Lizzy realized she had a moment to take matters in her own hands. Lady Anne exchanged knowing looks with her future daughter, prepared to follow the younger lady’s lead.
As Anne and Collins were not familiar with the Darcys and the Fitzwilliams, they could not know that Lizzy had regained some use her legs. Treating her as if she were crippled completely, Lizzy knew they underestimated her abilities. She flung herself forward, pulling Anne’s hand at an angle that made her cousin drop the knife. At that moment, Lady Anne kicked her foot backwards, into Collins, forcing his knee in a direction that was not normal. When the man cried out in pain, Lady Anne, Lizzy, and Lady Elizabeth dropped to the floor, joining the Bingley ladies. That moment gave their rescuers a chance to take aim at the highwaymen in the room, firing the firearms they brought with them. When the smoke cleared the room, Anne de Bourgh and her lover lay side by side, one shot in the head, the other in the chest. Neither would take another breath.
Wickham was gravely wounded, as was one other of the gang. Gerald rushed to his wife, while William hurried to wrap his beloved in his arms. Lord Matlock came to his mother, while Bingley, who joined the men outside Longbourn, went to his relations.
“Lizzy, tell me you are unharmed. Please, my love, are you well?” William searched her face for any signs of pain or distress from the love of his life.
“I am well, Will. Miss Bingley saved her aunt from being shot. The rest of us were unharmed.” Lizzy found the warmth and security in her fiancé’s arms to be of great comfort. While the attackers were in the room, she had been too angry to fear them. After the threat to her loved ones was over, the truth of what she had just witnessed was overwhelming.
“Are any of the other men who came with Anne and Collins still alive?” Richard said as he entered the room from the hallway. He had been with some riders who came with the family, clearing out the vermin who had turned tail and run from a proper fight.
“Two were seen riding to the north as if the devil himself were chasing them.” Polk replied. He was not concerned. “They are riding straight into the men we sent in that direction. If they live, we will take them into custody, along with Mrs Jenkinson.”
“A noose will wait for them.” Richard spat the words out. “But that is too good for them. They deserve a stampede of horses trampling them.”
“Our primary concern now is for the ladies. We must ensure they are seen by the physician.” Lord Matlock suggested.
“There is only an apothecary. He is waiting for word to come forward.” Polk nodded to one of his team, sending the man to bring the apothecary into the house. “We have a rider on his way to London to fetch a surgeon. Some grooms and footmen were injured and will require care.”
Lady Anne whispered to her husband of her concern for the Bingley family. “Miss Bingley may have been a fool to bring Anne and the others here, but she did not believe Anne would commit murder. When Mr Collins lifted his pistol to shoot Miss Agatha, Miss Bingley moved to protect her aunt. As foolish as Miss Bingley was, she redeemed herself at the end.”
Reluctantly, Gerald released his wife and moved to kneel at Charles’ side, convincing the young man of the need for Bingley to remove his family from the room. His fatherly demeanor was able to penetrate the numbness to which Charles had succumbed.
Lady Anne moved to her son and niece. “Lizzy, you were so brave. I knew you would take advantage of Anne’s lack of knowledge.”
“You were quick to escape Collins.” Lizzy smiled. “Your safety was my chief concern. Anne was no difficulty. I would have knocked her to the ground. She was no match for me.”
William shook his head. “My dearest obstinate, headstrong girl, they could have killed you.”
“Never. Anne de Bourgh could never kill me.” Lizzy said as she reached her hand in her pocket, pulling out a small pistol which Lizzy had kept on her person while the men were in London. Gerald and Richard had trained her how to shoot, as it was difficult for William to think of his beloved needing to use a firearm to protect herself.
“Lizzy, I am shocked you had the gun with you the entire time.” Lady Elizabeth said as she stepped closer to her granddaughter.
“Well, it would not have done any good with only one shot and a dozen people to shoot. No, it was best to bide my time and use it when if the opportunity showed itself. But Anne was overconfident and did not see me as a genuine threat. In her eyes, I was worthless, dependent on others. She did not know what my abilities are, nor was she aware that I am strong in my arms, as I exercise daily.”
“It is one time I am grateful for Anne refusing to see the truth.” Lord Matlock leaned to his niece and embraced her. “My dear girl, the thought of losing you terrified me.”
“Have no fear, Uncle Henry. It is over now. Those responsible for murdering my family have paid for their crimes. They can no longer harm anyone. What of the servants? Were any harmed?” Lizzy’s mind instantly thought of those who made their lives comfortable. In that moment, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Lizzy would be the perfect match for William, and they would care for those who worked for them.
Henry Fitzwilliam knew he would need to speak with his elder sister of what happened that day. Catherine would be distraught and angry. She would blame Lizzy for Anne’s death, no matter what she was told. Catherine would be difficult, but she held responsibility for what had happened, as she had been the one to fill Anne’s mind with nonsense. If not for Catherine, Edwin and Ethel, Jane, and many others would not have been murdered simply to allow a mentally unstable woman to have her way.
“Mother, are you well?” Henry asked as he held his mother in his embrace.
“I am, dear boy. I do not understand why these things have happened. My granddaughter was a murderer. She had no qualms to killing or having someone killed for her. For what? She did not love William, but her mother convinced her she deserved the best in life, and that he was the best for choice for a husband.”
“Richard and I will make the journey to Rosings, taking Anne’s body home for burying.”
“Your sister will be furious.”
“I know. We will be ready for her tirade. There is much to discuss, as we learned more from Sir Lewis’ will.”
“If Catherine is no longer the mistress of Rosings, and has no authority over the estate, what will happen with Anne gone?”
“We will have that discussion with the new master of Rosings.” Henry replied.
“Do we know who that will be?”
“Yes, though I would prefer to speak of that later. For now, let us take you ladies upstairs. A cup of tea and some rest would do you all good, while we handle the situation here.”
“There is much to do, Henry. There are people who require tending, and Miss Agatha will require our assistance. She has suffered a shock with her niece’s death.”
Knowing better than to argue with his mother, Henry nodded his head. Lady Elizabeth had always taken charge in a crisis, she would have everything in hand and all managed.
Bingley assisted his sister and their aunt upstairs to their rooms. Hurst had been visiting Lucas Lodge, where Sir William Lucas had organized a hunt. They sent a rider to inform Hurst of his wife’s distress.
Mr Bennet had come to Netherfield with Mr Jones, the apothecary. They had waited at the gamekeeper’s cottage for word that it was safe to enter, then they assisted with the cleanup. With the gentleman came some of his staff to aid the apothecary in the care of those injured.
Lady Anne and Lizzy insisted on doing their part, and Lady Elizabeth put them to work. Lizzy would be in the foyer, directing people where to go, while Lady Anne saw to ensuring supplies available, while Lady Elizabeth and Mrs Norris managed the staff.
By the end of the day, ten survivors of the attack were being treated for their wounds, broken glass was cleaned up and widows covered until replacement could be installed, food was prepared for everyone who came to the aid of Netherfield, and all at the estate were exhausted. Near midnight, the house finally calmed and most of the occupants were resting. The physician had arrived to tend the worst injuries and was one of the few still awake.
All at the estate prayed for peace to reign.