Hi everyone. Sorry not to post last week, as i was ill. Doing better now, thank heavens. Here are the next chapters.
Mr Bingley sat on the sofa in the sitting room outside his sister’s bedchamber, holding his aunt’s hand in his own.
“Charles, I was so shocked with Caroline’s behavior. She was in disbelief over what was happening. The poor fool, she thought her kindness to Miss de Bourgh would bring her closer to the Darcy family, making your friend wish to make a match with her. But Caroline could not stand by and watch the slaughter happening. When that blackguard brought his pistol up to shoot me, your sister did not stand by and allow it to happen. Her words as she was dying, Caroline realized the truth too late. She wanted you to know that she loved you.”
“My sister made it difficult, but I cared about her. Perhaps I should have been stricter with her years ago, when our parents died. But I was never strong enough to do so. Today is my fault, had I had the strength to put my foot down…”
“No, nothing happened today that was your fault. Caroline knew the truth, she did not want to accept the facts. The rest, well, I am certain that Miss de Bourgh would have found her way here. She determined to punish her family. You are not responsible for what happened.”
“I had decided this morning that I would purchase Netherfield. Now it will be a constant reminder of the tragedy that occurred.”
“Charles, you can make it what you wish. If you decide to purchase the estate, we can redecorate the rooms. We can make changes to move past what happened. You are in love with Miss Bennet, you should not abandon your desire to have a life with her.”
“I love her. Just this morning, I asked Kitty to be my wife.”
The news thrilled Agatha. “Charles, that is wonderful.”
“But now, with Caroline…”
“No, you will not allow your sister’s behavior to take away your happiness. You and Miss Bennet will have a love match. That is important. Live your life to the fullest and do not allow what happened take that away from you. The happiness you can find here is all that your parents would have wanted for you. Miss Bennet is the daughter of a landed gentleman. She does not have a title, but that is not important. Did Mr Bennet give his blessing?”
“I did not have time to ask, as Mr Phillips arrived to inform us of the situation here. Now, I cannot imagine Mr Bennet would accept me as a husband for his daughter.”
The sound of someone clearing their throat brought the Bingleys attention to the open door from the hallway. There stood Mr Bennet. “I do not hold today against you, Mr Bingley. If you treat my daughter with the love that I know you will, then I gladly give my blessing. You realize, you will live next door to my wife? She will be difficult to contain when she learns of your betrothal.”
Bingley’s smile spoke volumes. “I will gladly accept Mrs Bennet’s enthusiasm to marry your daughter. Kitty is a beautiful young lady, in appearance and especially at heart. She is an angel.”
“Then all I can say is I welcome you as a son-in-law. I am grateful to have one of my daughters married to a good man.”
“Mr Bennet, did anyone tell you what that evil man claimed? The one who went by the name Collins?”
Mr Bennet frowned. “No, no one has spoken of my cousin and son-in-law, other than his participation in this matter.”
“He was not your cousin. From what we were told, the real Mr Collins died before he could take up the position at Hunsford. The man you knew took Mr Collins’ place. Unfortunately for your daughter, the man was unfaithful to her. He and Miss de Bourgh, they were…”
“That is one thing I had heard from Mrs Norris. She thought it best to speak to me, as we have known each other for many years.”
“Will you have his widow return to live at Longbourn?” Bingley asked. “If you do not, I am certain Kitty will agree with me in inviting Mrs Collins to live here, with us.”
“There is no need for your generosity. Mary will be welcome home. Some in the area might scorn our family for being taken in by a fraud, but we will stand behind Mary.” Mr Bennet stood a bit taller as he spoke.
“You will have my support as well. As my sister, Mary will have my protection.”
“Mine as well.” Miss Agatha added.
Mr Bennet nodded his head. “Now that I know he was not the heir; I will have to speak with my brother Phillips. It will be interesting to see if the entail can be broken since Collins was my only male relations on the Bennet side of the family.”
Hurst entered the room, walking to a chair and sat down. “Louisa is resting. The physician wishes her to rest as much as possible. With her spirit so low, he has concerns for the babe.”
“I will sit with her, if you wish.” Agatha offered.
“Thank you, but I will return to her shortly. Her maid is with her currently. How horribly did Caroline treat my wife?”
Agatha shook her head. “Caroline was filled with regret. She told Louisa that she loved her, even gave her hope the babe will be well. It was so different from Caroline’s regular behavior.”
The words were like a bucket of cold water dumped on Hurst. “She was kind? Are we speaking of the same Caroline?”
Leaning closer to the gentleman, Agatha placed a hand on his arm. “That is why we are all in shock. As she was dying, Caroline regretted her behavior and desperately tried to make amends.”
“No wonder Louisa was distraught. She has always wished for Caroline to be closer to her, that they could have a loving bond. My poor wife. I will do whatever I can to support her. Bingley, are you well?”
“Thank you, Hurst. I am shocked, like Louisa. But I have the blessing and acceptance to marry the love of my life. Though the house is filled with death and destruction, I have secured the joy of a future with Miss Kitty Bennet.”
Hurst smiled. “That news will bolster your sister. She had hoped for such news. Though, I will allow you the joy of sharing with her.”
Charles smiled brilliantly.
Mr Bennet took his leave, as he would return to Longbourn. He and his wife had much to discuss, though he warned the Bingley family they would likely be able to hear his wife’s delight from his estate.
~~ ** ~~
The Bennets and Phillips gathered in the drawing room of Longbourn. Mr Bennet informed his family of the news of Collins’ death, the real Mr Collins and the man they thought was Mr Collins. Mrs Bennet went from devastation at the news of Mary’s husband not being legally married to her husband, to sheer delight at the news of Kitty’s betrothal to Mr Bingley.
“I should have known that Mr Collins was not what we thought. There was something about his expression that always made me question his goodness. Poor Mary, my dear girl.” Mrs Bennet lamented. “The only blessing is that Mary has not had a child. At least she can find another man and begin a new life.”
“The man has yet to be buried, nor have I spoken with our daughter. Do not plan her next wedding so soon.”
“Will you make the journey to Hunsford?” Mr Phillips inquired of his brother.
“I spoke with Lord Matlock. He will leave in the morning to deliver his niece’s body to her home. We discussed my going there, but Lord Matlock does not plan to remain but a day with his sister. He has offered to bring Mary home, as his lordship will return here after dealing with his duty to Lady Catherine.”
“Such an honor, to travel in an Earl’s carriage.” Mrs Bennet’s eyes widened.
“Fanny, you must not allow the man’s title influence you of his importance. He is a kind man, who offered to extend a courtesy to our family. Lord Matlock knew that his family members will assist Mr Bingley, as the young man is grieving the loss of his sister. As the Darcys and Fitzwilliams are unfamiliar with the area, I offered to do what I could to be of service to them. There will be a need to hire new servants for the estate. Several of the grooms and footmen, and the butler, died in the attack, while others were injured. Some maids were terrified from the event.”
“To think, the granddaughter of an earl hired men to kill family members. There must have been something wrong with her mind to behave in such a manner to her own family.” Mrs Bennet shook her head.
“Sister, there are good and bad people in every level of society.” Mrs Phillips reminded her sister. “Remember what Papa used to tell us. Look for the good in the person, not their title or position. Some of the best people I have known come from the working class, and today we have proof of the evil that someone of privilege can have. It is what is inside the person’s heart and soul that makes them a good or bad person.”
“Well said, my dear.” Mr Phillips commended his wife.
“I know I would not wish to be his lordship when he arrives at Rosings. From what he told me; Lady Catherine will be furious. It seems the lady will be in search of a new home. She did not inherit the estate when her husband died, and with her daughter gone, the new heir will take up residence.”
The news surprised Mrs Bennet. “Where will the lady live? Mary has expressed the lady’s superiority in all things. Now she will have to move.”
“They will move the lady to the dower house at Rosings. They will force her to live a less elegant lifestyle than she currently enjoys, but she will still have comfort.” Mr Bennet explained.
Mr Phillips knew his brother-in-law was correct. “I would not wish to be Lord Matlock either. I am grateful for my place as a country solicitor.”
William knocked on the door of Lizzy’s bedchamber. “Enter.” Came the voice from inside the room.
“My dear, am I disturbing you?”
Lizzy was sitting in her wheeled chair near the fireplace. “No, William, come in. I was thinking of what Uncle Henry and Richard will experience when they reach Rosings. Part of me wishes to be there, so I can give Aunt Catherine a piece of my mind. Anne was the one who hired the men to murder my family, but Anne was acting according to what her mother taught her. Our aunt has always demanded Anne deserved more than she had, that her daughter was perfect in every way.”
“Father and I wanted to make the journey, but Uncle Henry is the head of the Fitzwilliam family, so he has authority over Aunt Catherine. Also, I believe Uncle Henry was afraid I would attempt to strangle our aunt. He was correct on that belief. There is something wrong with her that will not allow her to accept others. She has always believed herself to be better than everyone, yet she will live the rest of her life a bitter old lady.”
“I was thinking of my parents. Papa would be angry, though I believe he would want to forgive his sister and his niece. Anne’s insistence that she was superior to my sister always intimidated Jane, but Jane was such a good and caring person. She would have forgiven Anne, Aunt Catherine, and most likely, Jane would even forgive the men who killed them. Mamma, I can remember her last words to me. We were speaking of the letter Anne sent to Jane, informing my sister of her supposed betrothal to you, and warning my sweet sister from any thoughts of marrying you. Jane never thought of you as a potential husband. To tell the truth, Jane was always partial to Richard.”
“What did your mother say to you?”
“Mamma said that after Uncle Lewis died, Aunt Catherine was unhappy, and that she wished everyone to be unhappy as well. I never knew Aunt Catherine before he died, so I am uncertain she was correct.”
“To be honest, I cannot remember Aunt Catherine ever being happy.”
“Jane inherited her sweetness and her view of people from our mother. Mamma always tried to find the good in everyone. Though I believe this is one time that even Mamma and Jane would agree that there are evil people who deserve what fate gives them.”
“How are you feeling? You have been through a lot.” William held her hands to his lips, placing a kiss on the back of each.
“I am perfectly well. Anne did not harm me. My greatest fear was for your mother and Grandmamma. Losing them would have been difficult to bear.”
“Seeing Anne holding the knife to you, my heart nearly stopped. Then watching you and Mother, the way you each disarmed your captures, I could not be prouder of the two of you.”
Lizzy chuckled. “Your mother’s kick was impressive. No one would have expected Lady Anne Darcy, mistress of Pemberley, to be capable of taking down a highwayman. Anne underestimated me, as she always did. It was not difficult to catch her off guard. She never understood the truth, I am not an invalid. My legs have not been strong enough to walk or stand for long, but they still function.”
“I thought we should discuss the wedding. I know you had decided to have our wedding at Pemberley, but I wondered if you would be willing to change our plans.”
“Where were you thinking?” Lizzy was curious.
“I do not wish to wait any longer. You could have been killed, taken away from me. I want you to be my wife as soon as possible. If you will agree, I would like to marry here, this week. We could wait for Uncle Henry to return, but I do not want to wait longer than a few days.”
“We would have to have the banns read here, which would be three weeks.”
“Well, while we were in London, I took the opportunity to apply for a special license. We can marry from anywhere.”
“You were certain I would agree with you?” Lizzy teased.
“If you did not agree, it would force me to find a way to convince you.” William smiled at the thought of ways he could make his fiancé comply with his plans.
“Very well, as soon as Uncle Henry returns, as I had asked him to take Papa’s place in escorting me down the aisle.”
“Let us speak to Mother and Father. I am certain they will rejoice with the news. Then I will speak with Bingley. With his loss, he will probably not wish to take part.”
“Oh, my, I nearly forgot. We could not ask Mr Bingley to allow us to marry in his home. He is in mourning.”
“I could speak with Mr Bennet. There is a chapel at Longbourn. Perhaps he would allow us to use the chapel for the wedding.”
“That would be the wisest plan, I believe. It will be small and simple, no need for a wedding breakfast or anything.”
“Allow me to deliver you to our family while I speak with Bingley. Then I can ride to Longbourn to speak with Mr Bennet.”
~~ ** ~~
The carriage arrived at Rosings late in the afternoon. Lord Matlock was growing nervous at the thought of the confrontation that was before him. The earl was grateful that his son was joining him, as Richard would be the best support in such a situation.
Lady Catherine was in the drawing room, as was her preference, when the men were announced.
“Well, Henry, of what did you come to accuse me this time?”
“Catherine, I must admit that we were mistaken when we accused you of being involved with the murder of our brother and his family. We have learned the truth, and we have discovered those responsible.”
“They should hang them. Anyone who dare murder the family of a peer should be dealt with swiftly.” Lady Catherine declared.
Richard stepped to his father’s side. “There is no need for hanging. We have eliminated those responsible, with the exception of one who will hang soon enough.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Those involved made another attack on our family. Our mother, sister, and niece were hostages of the criminals. We arrived in time to save our loved ones, though we learned the most horrifying information. Catherine, your daughter was behind the murders and the attack yesterday, as was the man you believed to be Mr William Collins.”
“No, you are wrong. You have always treated my daughter ill. Anne is a good girl, she would never consider such behavior. Mr Collins is a parson, why would you make claims so vile as this against him?”
“The real Mr Collins died years ago, prior to his arrival here at Rosings. The man you knew has been your daughter’s lover. He and his gang of highwaymen attacked our brother’s carriage with the sole purpose of killing Edwin’s entire family, because Anne wished for Jane and Lizzy to be dead. She wanted no obstacles in her way to marrying Fitzwilliam. The attack yesterday was to kill not only Lizzy, but our sister and mother and Mr Bingley’s family. Your daughter was the leader of the group.”
“You are lying. Anne is delicate and innocent. She would never be involved in robbery and murder. Nor would she have a lover, especially one who is a parson and married.” Lady Catherine’s voice was becoming shrill. “Where is my daughter? Anne will tell you the truth. Where is she? Where is Mrs Jenkinson? She will speak the truth.”
“Anne is dead, as is her lover and most of his gang. Anne was threatening to cut Lizzy’s throat with this knife.” Richard pulled the knife from his boot, tossing it on the floor near his aunt’s feet. “Your parson was holding Aunt Anne with a pistol in his hand, prepared to kill your sister. Grandmother was also in the room, with George Wickham holding a pistol pointed at her. Both men were shot, as was Anne. Mrs Jenkinson is in custody and will hang for her participation in the crimes. They had killed eight people, including Miss Bingley, the lady Anne had stayed in London with when you returned here.”
“I do not believe you. Why are you lying to me? Bring my daughter in here so I may speak with her. Surely, she will tell me the truth. Tell Anne to join me immediately.”
“Catherine, your daughter is dead. We shot her and Collins as they were threatening to kill our family members and others. They planned to kill everyone at the house, everyone from our mother to the lowest servant. You refuse to accept that Anne would not be William’s wife, instilling in her the belief she deserved to be the next Mrs Darcy.” Lord Matlock knew this day was going to be difficult. “We brought Anne’s body back, to bury her beside her father.”
“I want to see my daughter. Show me my daughter immediately.”
As Lady Catherine stood, Richard stepped a bit closer to her. “There is one other issue to discuss before you see your daughter’s body. Anne wanted Wilton Hall, as she knew you would never relinquish Rosings. Your refusal to hand over her inheritance to her forced Anne to rebel against living with you. Anne believed she could live at Wilton with Collins, far from you.”
“Rosings is my home, my inheritance. When I die, Anne will have the estate.”
“No, Aunt, you did not inherit Rosings. We know the truth; Sir Lewis left the estate to Anne. But you would not allow her to have her home. She could not tolerate living with you any longer, so she wanted Wilton.”
“It is my home, and I will live here for the rest of my life.” Lady Catherine stomped her foot as she spoke.
“You are wrong, Catherine. According to Sir Lewis’ will, Anne was to inherit. If Anne died, Richard would then inherit the estate. We will move you to the dower cottage, to spend the rest of your life. We will see to your move tomorrow. Once you have been moved, we will discuss your allowance.”
Lady Catherine’s hand shot up to her chest, grasping the front of her gown, just before collapsing to the floor, where she writhed in pain for a moment before becoming completely still. Before Lord Matlock could reach his sister, the lady took her last breath.