Chapter 23

            “My nephew is spending far too much time at the estate that you are to inherit.” Lady Catherine announced to Mr Collins.

            “How are you aware of what Mr Darcy is doing?” Mr Collins was curious. He had thought he was the one sharing important information with his patroness.

            “I have hired people to watch Darcy. They are keeping a watch over Netherfield and Longbourn, reporting to me that the occupants of the inhabitants of the two estates are quite close with one another.”

            “We have men hired to aid in abducting your nephew and the attack on the Bennet family. We need only finalize when to enact the plan.” Collins was becoming petulant. He lived to serve the grand lady and was feeling left out of the planning.

            “My brother’s son is at Netherfield. With Fitzwilliam’s military training, he will be difficult to subdue. We should find a way to slip something in his food or drink which would drug him. Though I am angry with my brother, I do not wish to kill his son. Drugged and unconscious, Fitzwilliam will cause us no trouble.”

            “What of your niece? What should we do with her?”

            “If we take Georgiana, it will make her brother more willing to comply with our demands. He would not dare defy me if I hold the safety of his precious sister in the palm of my hand.”

            Collins nodded his head. “Miss Darcy could find no better person to train her. Your knowledge of all things has made a substantial improvement in my own life, I can only imagine what it would be like for your niece to gain your benevolence.”

            “Indeed. It never made sense to me that Gerald Darcy would leave the care and guidance of his only daughter to two young men who know nothing of raising a young lady of society. As it is, it might be too late to teach her what she needs to know before she comes out in society.”

            “I can only imagine how spectacular your own presentation to the queen was. You must have had your choice of all the eligible bachelors, all lined up to have a chance to even dance a set with the daughter of the earl of Matlock.”

            Lady Catherine huffed. Her life was not as she had expected it to be. Her coming out had to be postponed, as she found herself in a most unexpected situation. The late earl had been devastated, sending his eldest daughter to Scotland for a year as he informed all of society that she was studying music on the continent. After her confinement, the babe was given to a distant cousin on her mother’s side of the family. The cousin and his wife had been unable to have children of their own and would cherish the boy child.

            Once Lady Catherine had recovered from childbirth, her father arranged for her to marry Sir Louis de Bourgh of Rosings Park. The first time the pair met one another was at the alter as they took their vows. Sir Louis had long been a widower, and having no children, required an heir. After nearly a year, she gave birth to her daughter, named Anne after their grandmother, not her sister. Lady Catherine then locked the door to her bedchambers, never allowing her husband his rights for the remainder of their marriage. With no entailment on the estate, Anne would be able to inherit, and that was all that Lady Catherine deemed to matter.

            Her ladyship refused to admit to what had happened. The only person left alive who knew her secret was her brother. Perhaps threatening the safety of his second born would solve the situation. If she threatened injury to Fitzwilliam, her brother would keep his family close and ignorant of everything that had happened previously.

            There was a knock on the door and Collins opened it to find one of Lady Catherine’s men.

            “Ma’am, word just arrived that the colonel has left the area. He was last seen heading towards London.”

            A smile that was completely evil took hold of her. “Then we will put our plan into motion. We will have tomorrow to go over every detail with the men. Thursday afternoon, we make our attack.”

                                                            ~~ ** ~~

            Maggie had the trunks of Fanny Bennet’s belongings brought to the dower house. Jane and Elizabeth sat nervously waiting to see items that had belonged to their mother by birth. Both the ladies were far too young to remember their mother, especially Lizzy. Mr Bennet had spoke of his first wife often over the years, allowing his daughters to know the loving and wonderful woman who had given them life. Maggie had learned much about her predecessor, from her husband and from Fanny’s siblings. She felt it important that the girls she thought of as her own daughters know as much about their mother as possible.

            The first trunk was opened, and the girls moved to kneel in front of it. There were gowns, slippers, a brush and comb set with FB engraved on them, and more. The second trunk held her personal treasures. The writing tools that Fanny had on her desk in her sitting room, some books of poetry she had loved, hair combs, ribbons, and many other items. Tears were free flowing as Fanny’s daughters handled the items that had brought their mother joy. Bennet would explain some items, tell stories behind others. While they were sorting through the trunks, Mrs Phillips arrived. Seeing her sister’s belongings allowed her to speak openly of Fanny’s feelings and beliefs. Some of her sister’s childhood treasures had been secured in the second trunk, allowing Mrs Phillips to tell stories of her sister’s childhood.

            A steady flow of tea and treats were brought in the parlor for everyone to partake in as they enjoyed the treasures found in the trunks. Darcy and Bingley watched the ladies they loved as Jane and Elizabeth learned more of the lady who had given birth to them. The men were excited to be witness to the joy their ladies had at the items they could touch and hold, things that had been handled by their mother. Knowing Fanny through stories was one thing, but actually handling items that brought happiness during Fanny’s life made her more real to the daughters she cherished.

            Of the gowns that were in the first trunk, each of the sisters found one that they adored. Elizabeth loved a gown that was burgundy with tiny seed pearls sewn on the bodice to make little white flowers. Seeing her mother’s wedding gown which was pale blue, Lizzy decided she would rather wear the burgundy one for her wedding. This allowed Jane to be the one to wear their mother’s wedding gown.

            Pulling out a velvet bag from the bottom of the first trunk, Mr Bennet smiled. Inside the bag was two sets of hair combs that were Fanny’s favorites. One set had pearls which she had worn with the gown Lizzy had chosen. The other had small sapphires that had been worn on the day of her wedding. The sapphire combs had belonged to Fanny’s grandmother, for whom she had been named.

            In the second bag, was a oddly shaped purple stone which appeared to have been smoothed over time in a river. Mrs Phillips chuckled as she touched the stone reverently.

            “We had a problem with one of the boys who lived near us. He would torment Edward, even beat our brother. Fanny could not allow the situation to continue. She found this stone at the river and the next time the boy came near our brother, Fanny threw the stone, striking the boy in the forehead. The boy ran home in tears, crying out to his mother of what had happened. His mother was horrified, believing her son had been the victim of an attack. When the mother came to speak with our father, Fanny came in the room and explained what had been happening to her brother and how she had come to his rescue. Our father confirmed Edward’s injuries and Edward had refused to name his attacker. The boy’s mother was furious with her son, his bullying and the fact that he had beaten Edward. She turned to Fanny and thanked her for taking matters into her own hands and seeing that the truth was told to the parents. The boy never spoke to any of us again. He especially kept his distance from Fanny. My sister was so proud of herself. I see a lot of her in you, Lizzy. You are loyal and protective of those you love, and willing to take a stand for them. Fanny would have loved your spirit.”

            Elizabeth rushed into her aunt’s arms. “Thank you for telling us about Mother. It makes her more real to me to hear these stories.”

            “I have always feared telling you a lot of your mother, as I know how much you love Maggie. Jane has heard stories of Fanny’s youth, but you have always stood back when it came to my sister. It pleases me to know you love her for who she was.”

            “Not having any connection with her, it has always been difficult for me to think of her as my mother. Today, for the first time, I feel very close to her. For that, I will be forever grateful.” Elizabeth embraced her aunt again, placing a kiss on Mrs Phillips’ cheek.

            Mr Bennet was weeping openly at the reactions of his girls. How he had longed for his beloved Fanny to be truly known to her daughters.  Seeing the joy and excitement the girls were having from hearing the stories of their mother was more than he could have asked for. Maggie had been a devoted mother to Jane and Elizabeth, never treating them as someone else’s children. But she also made certain that Fanny was given the respect of their birth mother and the previous mistress of Longbourn. Maggie even taught the younger children to respect their elder sisters’ mother, referring to her as Mother Fanny. Mrs Phillips was grateful that her nieces were raised in such a manner when it could have easily been the opposite.

            The men stepped into the study, as Mr Phillips had arrived and assisted Darcy in the marriage settlement papers. Mr Bennet was shocked at the amount Darcy planned to settle on Elizabeth, in case he preceded her in death. Forty thousand pounds was a considerable settlement, plus the usage of the townhouse in London and the dower house at Pemberley for the remainder of her life. Elizabeth would have two hundred pounds per annum for her pin money, and if she required more, she would be given more.

For his part, Darcy was equally shocked to learn the amount of Elizabeth’s dowry. Mr Bennet had just received a letter from Mr Gardiner the previous day and each of the Bennet daughters had over five and thirty thousand pounds as their dowries. Darcy had thought the Bennets were not so wealthy. Darcy decided to include in the settlement that Elizabeth would retain control of her dowry, using it as she wished.

The men teased Bingley as to his feelings towards Jane Bennet. Finally, Bingley spoke to Bennet. “I spoke with Miss Bennet and asked if she would allow me to court her. Now I wish to ask your permission to court your eldest daughter.”

“Well, it is about time.” Bennet declared. “Yes, you have my approval. Just remember, if you do anything to harm my first born, not only does she have younger brothers, by the end of the week, she will have Darcy as her brother.”

Darcy sat up taller, giving a look of importance. “Indeed, if anything happens to make my new sister unhappy, the perpetrator will have me with whom to contend.”

Bingley took a large gulp of air. “On my honor, I would never allow Miss Bennet to be harmed in any way.”

            The men all looked at each other before bursting into laughter.

Chapter 24

            Rose Bingley had arrived and was preparing the staff for the possibility of more guests to arrive for the upcoming wedding. She had visited Longbourn’s dower house with her nephew and his friends, liking the Bennet family immediately. When she and Bingley returned to Netherfield, she requested to speak with her nephew.

            “Charles, is there something you wish to discuss with me?”

            Bingley looked at his aunt. They had been close, but would his aunt disapprove of his courting Jane Bennet.

            “Of what do you speak?”

            Aunt Rose shook her head. “Charles, you have never been able to hide the truth from me. I can tell by the look in your eyes that you have feelings for Miss Bennet.”

            Taking a large gulp, Bingley acknowledged his regard. “She is the most angelic lady I have ever met. Beautiful, caring, sweet natured, and kind. I…I… well, I have asked for and been given permission to court Miss Bennet.”

            “That is wonderful news. I cannot be happier for you Charles.”

            “You would be the only one. Caroline does not approve of the Bennet family.”

            “Who cares of Caroline’s opinion? I cannot tolerate being in the same room with her for more than a few minutes. Your parents spoiled her far too much, allowing her to think herself better than everyone else. No, I would not care what your sister thinks of your decision. You have the right to be happy.”

            “You would support me if I were to ask Miss Bennet to marry me?”

            “Of course, I would. After meeting her, I can see that she is the perfect lady for you. Take in that she will soon be the sister of Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, and her status as a gentlewoman rises further. It would be a good match for you, especially as you both seem to be in love.”

            Bingley wore a smile that nearly stretched from ear to ear. “I cannot thank you enough for your words, Aunt Rose. Thank you for coming here to aid me.”

            Placing a gentle hand on her nephew’s cheek, the elder Bingley was pleased. “I am proud of you, Charles, and grateful I can be of assistance to you.”

                                                            ~~ ** ~~

            “We will have men enter Netherfield to take my niece and nephew. I will have them taken directly to Rosings and kept under guard until my return. Once the Bennets have been eliminated, I will deal with Darcy and his sister.” Lady Catherine gave her orders to Collins. “Have you prepared your attack against those unfit people?”

            “The men will start a fire at the stables. When the Bennets exit the house, we will have men prepared to shoot them. As they are not truly gentle folk, I have no doubt that the women will come outside with the males. We will make sure that no one of their family survives. The county will rejoice in being released from such evils.” Collins boasted.

            “I wish to have a place to witness the event.” Lady Catherine insisted. “Then I can inform Darcy of the truth, that the so called people he has been consorting with are gone forever.”

            “Of course, your ladyship. You shall have best place from which to watch. Your nephew will come to realize he has been under a spell from voodoo experts. He will thank you for saving you from such a foolish mistake.”

            “We will have to keep him locked up until the voodoo can be removed from him. I will need to send to London for an expert in removing curses. There must be someone who can reverse the effect of the curse those Bennets have placed on him.”

            “As a dedicated aunt, I am certain you will find the best person to treat Mr Darcy.” Collins continued to grovel at his benefactor’s words. He believed she was the most knowledgeable person who ever took a breath.

            “Where are the men? We must prepare to strike within the hour. At this time of day, Darcy and Georgiana will be preparing to rest before dinner. I demand that my niece be treated with the utmost care. She must not be harmed in any way.”

            “Of course. The men will be reminded of your demands.”

            “If Georgiana is harmed, I will not pay the fool who is responsible.”

            “Yes, Lady Catherine. You are correct in such an action. I will remind the men.”

            The men were split into two groups. The smaller of the groups was to enter Netherfield Park, make their way up to the guest rooms, find the Darcys, and abduct them, taking them straight to Rosings Park. The larger group were to take up positions around Longbourn, moving towards the manor house.

            The group that entered Netherfield crept up the stairs. Finding a maid, one of the men held a knife against her throat as he demanded to know where the Darcys’ rooms were. Frightened beyond control, the maid pointed towards the rooms before fainting to the floor.

            First arriving at Georgiana’s rooms, the men entered to find it vacant. Miss Darcy was not to be found. Frustrated, the men made their way to Darcy’s rooms. They found the man seated on the edge of his bed, using a towel to dry his freshly washed hair. Keeping the towel in place, they quickly tied his hands and feet, then dragged him out of the room and down the stairs to the waiting wagon near the rear of the house. A few men continued searching for Miss Darcy, but finally gave up. They felt that they had snatched the more important of the two people for whom they had been sent.

            At the same time, one of the men made it to the stables, setting fire to some of the hay. As the fire spread, the men hired by Collins crept into positions, ready to fire upon those exiting Longbourn’s manor house.

            They waited…and waited…and waited. It seemed like an eternity, yet no one was coming out of the manor house.

            Lady Catherine was seated where she could see the house, eager to see the girl who had attempted to steal Darcy from her daughter. Her outrage was near boiling, all her emotions were tied up in knots as she waited for the Bennets to come outside.

            “Where are they? Why have they not come out to discover what is happening? Do they not care if their horses are in danger?” Lady Catherine hissed at Collins.

            The man who had set the fire had moved closer to Collins and Lady Catherine. “Ma’am, there were no horses in the stable. Perhaps the family who lives here has gone riding.”

            “No horses? Not one horse was in the stables?” Lady Catherine demanded.

            “No, not a one. Thought it be strange. A place this big, usually has a horse or two in the stables at all times.” the man replied.

            Lady Catherine smacked Collins’ shoulder. “They know.  Somehow, they know of the attack and are prepared for us.”

            “There is no possible way they could know. I was careful of the men I hired.” Collins rambled.

            “Someone has told them of the plan. I demand you take charge and storm the manor house. We must be rid of the evil taint of the Bennets. They must all be inside the house, hiding. Little did they know that we would not stop until we achieve our goal.” Lady Catherine’s voice continued to rise in pitch.

            “But if they know we are coming, it would not be wise to continue.” A sniveling Collins said in fear.

            “You will do as I say, Collins. We cannot allow those wretched people to believe they have won this battle.”

            “But…but…they may be waiting for us to kill us. Does that not prove how evil they are?” Collins turned to the other men. “Obviously someone has placed a voodoo curse on our mission to rid the estate of their evil. It will lead to our deaths.”

            The other men murmured amongst themselves. The money they were being paid was a large sum, though it was not enough to the men to sacrifice themselves. What good would it be to have coins in hand if one were dead?

            As the men were deciding their next move, there were other men creeping up on them. Little did they know, the Bennets and Darcy were aware of the plot and had taken steps to protect the family. Their enemy had no way of knowing that the family had been moved to the dower house after Collins set the first fire. When they received word of the attack, the horses were moved to a barn near the dower house.

            The hired thugs were growing concerned with how things were turning against them. In their mumblings, none of them heard the soft steps coming from behind them.

            Only when they heard the sound of the pistols being cocked did the men realize it was too late for them to win. All they could hope for was to save their own lives.

            “Put down your pistols, and step away from them.” Came a man’s strong and deep voice.

            “Who are you and what are you doing here?” Collins exclaimed. “I am the true master of Longbourn, come to take my rightful inheritance.”

            Mr Bennet stepped from behind a nearby tree. “You are not the master of my estate. You are a Collins, not a Bennet. Same as your father. Neither of you were in the direct line of inheritance. Nor will you ever inherit Longbourn, as my sons are my heirs.”

            “Your sons? Your mongrel pups? They are not worthy to inherit the estate in England. Not when there is a worthy heir to inherit.” Mr Collins shouted at his cousin. “You were not worthy to inherit from your father, so your sons should not be able to inherit. Will you sign over the estate to me, then leave here forever?”

            “Why would I ever do such a foolhardy thing?” Bennet frowned.

            “If you do not, you and your mongrel half breeds will die this day.”