Chapter 17

            Darcy returned to the study, wearing a large smile on his face. The other men knew why he was smiling, though they had decided to give the gentleman some good humored teasing.

            “My William, if you continue to smile like that, you will be unable to ever frighten anyone again. Everyone will believe you have had a head injury worse than your betrothed.” Colonel Fitzwilliam declared.

            “I agree with you, Colonel.” Bingley joined in the good natured fun. “If I did not know better, I would believe him to be a different person. Are we certain Darcy does not have a twin who is a jovial person?”

            “Remember Bingley, you wish to have such felicity with your angel. You might tease me now, but I will be wed and you will still be waiting to marry your Bennet sister.”

            “If this is the effect one has to falling in love with a Bennet sister, I wish to know the other sisters better.” The colonel requested teasingly.

            “I have three daughters not spoken for, Colonel. You are welcome to any of them.” Mr Bennet laughed.

            “Well, it would be best for us to deal with the issue at hand.” Bingley said, his mood becoming serious. “I wish to have the matter of my sister’s behavior dealt with quickly.”

            The men spoke with the Bingley’s physician of Miss Bingley’s behavior, her failure to accept that Darcy would never ask for her hand, and that she would never be the mistress of his homes.

            “I did not know if your elder sister was aware of your mother’s illness. She was young when Mrs Bingley’s mind became questionable. You were too young when your mother became extremely ill. Not that I would wish any child be subjected to their mother being so ill, but I am grateful to know Mrs Hurst was aware of what happened back then.” Mr Cooper stated.

            “Louisa had put it to the back of her mind until Caroline’s behavior became so close to the memory of our mother. With how Caroline is behaving, Louisa fears that she has similar difficulties as our mother.”

            “From what you have all told me, I fear Miss Bingley could have the same issues as your mother. Your father could never bring himself to put your mother in an asylum and was devastated when your mother died.”

            “Is it true that Mother ended her own life?” Bingley was devastated with the news.

            “Unfortunately, it is true. I am deeply grieved that we must discuss such a topic, but it is the truth.”

            “Do we need to fear Caroline would do the same?”

            Mr Cooper took a sip of the glass of port that Mr Bennet had given him. “Again, unfortunately we should keep a close watch on your sister and ensure she is not left alone. It would be my recommendation to place her in an asylum. Until I can see her for myself and, if necessary, make arrangements for her to be placed in one, I suggest she has someone with her at all times.”

            “It has been difficult to witness my sister’s decline, then to learn of my mother’s unstable mind, it is overwhelming.”

            “Are you prepared to have her committed to an asylum if needed?” Mr Bennet asked Bingley.

            “As the head of the family, it is my place to see to my sisters’ care. If you tell me she is a danger to herself and others, I will do what is best for both. Though difficult, I will do what is best for Caroline.” Bingley sat up a little higher in seat.

            “Then I believe I should accompany you to Netherfield to see your sister’s behavior for myself. Mr Darcy, would it be possible for you to join us, so I can see Miss Bingley’s behavior with regards to her desire to marry you?”

            Darcy looked to his soon to be father in law. “I believe I can offer you an hour. One of the things we can do to show you her obsession is informing her I am to wed in a few hours.”

            “At least you do not have to worry about leaving the house. Sir William sent word that you are no longer restricted to Longbourn. You could even return to Netherfield, which Miss Bingley would see as your devotion to her.” Mr Bennet joked.

            “No, the memory of her throwing herself on me after she tore her dress, in an attempt to compromise me was enough to turn my stomach.” Darcy shuddered. “Cannot even imagine what she would try if she had another chance.”

            Bingley, Darcy and Mr Cooper left for Netherfield and Mr Bennet returned upstairs to speak with his eldest two daughters. As the master of Longbourn walked up the stairs, he chuckled to himself. It should be quite entertaining to be listening into the conversation that will be happening at Netherfield. Something tells me that we will likely hear Miss Bingley from here.

                                                            ~~ ** ~~

            When the men arrived at Netherfield, Louisa came outside to speak to them. “Caroline is in the music room, practicing on the pianoforte. She told Gilbert that she was preparing to perform for Mr Darcy after dinner tonight.” Louisa feared for her sister. Turning to the man who had cared for the Bingley family’s health since Louisa could remember, she sighed. “Mr Cooper, I am pleased to see you here.”

            “From what your brother has told me, along with what you have just said, I gather that Miss Bingley has lost all touch with ration.”

            Tears were threatening to overflow. “Indeed. She is even speaking of where she wishes Mr Darcy to take her for a wedding trip. In her mind, she believes she is betrothed and that she has a fitting for her trousseau tomorrow. Caroline has even referred to this estate as being Pemberley.”

            “It is worse than yesterday.” Bingley shook his head. “Mr Cooper, what do you recommend?”

            “We should inform her that I was passing through the area and stopped by to visit your family. Mrs Hurst, I have some laudanum with me. Could you put it in a cup of tea in such a way that your sister will not notice?”

            “Caroline prefers milk and sugar in her tea, so we should be able to hide the laudanum in it. I can tell her that it is a different blend of tea that we have never had before. Perhaps I can suggest that it is Mr Darcy’s favorite blend.”

            “If it aids us in Miss Bingley drinking the tea, I will go along with the falsehood.” Darcy agreed.

            The gentlemen followed Mrs Hurst inside the manor house, and while Mrs Hurst spoke to the housekeeper to inform her sister that the men had returned, then prepare tea, adding the laudanum to the pot before bringing it to the drawing room. None of the rest of the party would actually drink the brew, though they would pretend to do so until Caroline Bingley became drowsy.

            As the group made their way into drawing room, Caroline had heard them and came hurrying down the stairs. “Fitzwilliam, you have returned. I have been so concerned for you. There is a storm coming and I could not imagine your being caught out in snow storm. Your carriage is one of the finest there is, but horses can step wrong in such weather and then you would be stranded.”

            “Miss Bingley, I am well. The weather is fine, no storm on the horizon.” Darcy attempted to dodge her talon like hands as she tried grasping his arm.

            “Why do you not refer to me by my given name, as you have since we became engaged?” She had a confused look on her face.

            “While we are in company, it would not be appropriate.”

            Caroline looked about at the others gathered. She began to frown when she spied the physician. “Mr Cooper, I did not know you would be arriving. Has something happened? Louisa, have you taken ill?”

            “Have no fear, Miss Bingley. I was in the area and stopped to visit with your brother. When I last met with Bingley, he was telling me of the hunting in the area and I wished to see for myself. It is not often I am able to escape the busy life in town, so it is a pleasant experience.” Cooper spoke convincingly.

            “You men and your hunting. Fitzwilliam has been hunting and fishing many days with Charles and Hurst. He has often declared that the fishing at Pemberley is superior to what we have here, but Charles disagrees. They have a bet over which estate can boast the finest.”

            “Caroline, I have requested refreshments brought to the drawing room. Mr Darcy has brought a special blend of tea that he has discovered while in London last. Is that not kindness?” Louisa attempted to smile while speaking to her sister. “I am looking forward to trying the tea.”

            “My betrothed is so generous to take care of us. I look forward to sampling the tea. It must be of high quality for my fiancé to recommend it.” Caroline heaped praise upon Darcy.

            Those assembled entered the drawing room and spoke of unimportant issues until the tea cart was wheeled in the room.

            Caroline turned to the physician. “I pray you will be able to join us for Fitzwilliam’s and my wedding. It will be the grandest of celebrations. Lady Matlock will be hosting the wedding breakfast, so you can be sure that it will be one of the grandest events of the year.”

            “It would be my pleasure to attend. When is the date for the event?”

            “In a fortnight. There is still so much to prepare for, and my dear Fitzwilliam has kept secret where he will take me for our wedding journey. How am I to prepare if I do not know where we will be going? But I can forgive his secrecy, as he is such a dear man. Such a blessed day it was when my brother met Fitzwilliam.”

            Taking a sip from her tea cup, Caroline made a curious expression, then took another sip. The others in the room were pretending to drink from their cups, which encouraged Miss Bingley to continue to drink, though she did not care for the flavor.

            The laudanum did not take long until render the woman unconscious. She was taken up to her rooms, where she would remain secured to her bed, sedated.

            “You were right in sending for me. If faced with reality, Miss Bingley could be a danger to herself or others.” Cooper stated.

            “Could she have killed Mr Collins?” Louisa asked the question all the others were thinking.

            “I cannot be certain, but I would not underestimate what she could do. Forgive me for saying this, but your sister will never be able to recover from this illness. It is what your mother dealt with until she killed herself. There is something that I doubt any of you know, but when Miss Bingley was a year old, your mother attempted to smother her. If the governess had not returned to the room when she did, I have no doubt that your sister would have died.”

Chapter 18

            Darcy returned to Longbourn to find his cousin had received an express from Lord Matlock.

            “Father says that he is trying to keep Aunt Catherine at the townhouse, but he suggests we waste no time in getting you wed. It appears our aunt is determined to return here and make her opinion known. He believes she will do anything she can to whisk you away to Rosings and force you to marry Anne immediately.”

            “Then it is a good thing that we are only waiting for the parson to arrive.” Darcy said with a smile.

            “What happened at Netherfield?”

            “Not now, cousin. It was horrible and I do not wish for that memory to overwhelm the most important day of my life. Needless to say, Caroline Bingley will never be able to harm anyone else, and the murder of Mr Collins appears to have been solved. Now, I wish to marry the most amazing lady I have known and begin my future.”

            “Did anyone say they were looking to wed today? By remarkable coincidence, my daughter here is desirous of marrying the man of her dreams today.” Mr Bennet gave a bit of a laugh as he carried his precious daughter into the parlor.

            “Well, since both of us are of a same mind, perhaps we should marry each other.” Darcy announced as he moved towards the older gentleman and his daughter.

            “I have refused Mrs Bennet attending the wedding and have locked her into her room with one of the grooms acting as guard.”

            A knock on the doorframe alerted them to Mrs Hill motioning towards the parson to enter the room. Behind them, Jane and Mary followed into the parlor. While Mr Bennet placed Elizabeth on the sofa, the colonel gave the special license to the parson, and it was not long until Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet were united in holy matrimony. The feeling of her hand in his, knowing she was forever to be his, made the master of Pemberley soar with pride.

            Mrs Hill entered the parlor, followed by a maid, carrying refreshments. Before too long, Elizabeth was obviously fatigued. Her husband scooped her into his arms and carried her up the stairs and into her bedchamber.

            “You have made me the happiest of men, Elizabeth. Thank you for becoming my wife.”

            “Thank you for…loving me, especially…looking like this.”

            “You are and always will be the most beautiful lady of my acquaintance. These injuries will fade and become a distant memory. Collins can never harm you again, nor can Miss Bingley cause me any difficulties. Thanks to my uncle, Lady Catherine can do nothing to prevent our marriage, and your father ensured your mother could not ruin our wedding. We are going to have a long life together, loving one another, having children and grandchildren, and setting an example of a love match for them all to see.”

            “I love you…William.”

            “Let me give you the tincture my physician left for you and put some of the honey and lavender on your wounds. We need to have your lips recovered so that I can enjoy kissing them.” Darcy smiled as he thought of how it would be to claim her lips after she was recovered.

            After dabbing the salve on her face, his eyes looked at the scratches on her chest. They needed to have salve placed on them, but should he relinquish the tending of them to her sister? Elizabeth realized what he was looking at and tried not to laugh.

            “You are my…husband. Not improper.” Elizabeth said softly. “I trust you…though my sister…can do so instead.”

            “No, as your husband, I have the right to care for you. This is not the wedding night I would have thought of, but I do have the right to care of you. I love you, my dearest Elizabeth. If I could take away the pain you have endured, I would do so immediately.”

            “Shush silly man. Soon will be…recovered. Love you, husband.”

            Once her injuries were tended, Darcy leaned over to place a gentle kiss on her forehead. “Sleep, my love. Sleep and recover your strength, for I wish nothing as much as to claim your lips with mine.”

            Elizabeth drifted off to sleep, dreams of her future life with her husband bringing so much joy to her.

                                                            ~~ ** ~~

            Sir William Lucas arrived at Longbourn to speak with Darcy and his long time friend, Thomas Bennet.  “I heard that Miss Bingley is to be removed from Netherfield. Is it true that the physician considers her to be dangerously unbalanced?”

            “Indeed. In front of the physician, she spoke as if we were engaged and soon to wed. She had lost all rational thought. Their family physician, Mr Robert Cooper, has known the Bingleys since Mrs Hurst was a child. He feels that if she is confronted with reality, Miss Bingley could lash out at those she blames for the things going against her beliefs.” Darcy nodded as he confirmed the truth, though he did not wish to share his friend’s mother having difficulty and killed herself.

            “Do you think she could have killed Mr Collins? Could she have been angered that he did not take Miss Eliza away from you?”

            “It is possible. But how could she have gained access to the room, as it was guarded all night?”

            “Have you spoken with all the men who were guarding Mr Collins?” Mr Bennet inquired. “One of them had to have heard something that night.”

            “I have spoken with all the men. None report any disturbance or noise coming from the room. From the condition of the body, Mr Jones said there was likely to have been a struggle as Collins tried to protect himself. If it was Miss Bingley, she might have learned the passages used by servants, though there was always someone guarding the room.”

            “As Darcy and I are not high on the list any longer, and Mr Bingley is too mild mannered to have murdered someone, it would make sense that the woman who was delusional and possibly dangerous to be the top suspect.”

            “Bennet, you have been cleared, as you were here, with Mr Jones as your witness. Mr Darcy, you are still on the list of suspects, though not as high as you were when Miss Bingley placed the knife in your dressing room. Forgive me, I keep telling myself that you could not possibly be the murderer, but I cannot fathom Miss Bingley as one either. Collins was a rotund man. Some of the wounds would have required great strength, more than a woman of Miss Bingley’s size would be able to produce. As you said, Mr Bingley is unlikely to have committed such an act of violence, he is too gentle by nature. All of the evidence returns to the suspect being a strong man with reason to enact revenge against Collins.”

            “My son in law may have wished Collins dead, but if you can believe I would allow anyone who could commit murder to stay under my roof, let alone marry my Lizzy, you are not thinking straight.” Bennet was becoming aggravated with the conversation.

            “Sir William, I was raised with strong principles. Murder is against all that I was taught. Deceit is abhorrent to me. Even after witnessing the vile behavior of a man who was my aunt’s parson, a man who was to bring comfort and God’s words to all, I could not murder him. There were other alternatives, and I had hoped to see him transported. Because of his murder, what he did to my wife is fodder for everyone, though she did nothing more than refuse to consent to marry him. No, had he been transported to Australia, Elizabeth would not have to live with the tittle tattle of what she endured and people believing she was ruined by what he did to her.”

            Sir William held his hands out in front of him. “I believe you, Mr Darcy. Bennet is my closest friend and Miss Eliza is dear to our entire family. My daughter, Charlotte, thinks of your wife as a sister. It is not possible for you to have pulled the wool over on Bennet and his daughter. But I cannot speak for Hammond. He is not as close with the Bennet family, and he is not a trusting person. It makes him perfect for the position, as I believe he would toss his own mother in the gaol if need be.”

            A chuckle escaped Mr Bennet. “He is as tenacious as a dog in search of a bone.”

            “Well, I should return to my home.” Sir William stood to leave.

            “How is Charlotte? Lizzy was asking after her and hoped Charlotte was improved from her illness.”

            “Ah, yes. She has been in her rooms, so I have not seen her since the ball. My wife says that Charlotte will be up and around in no time.”

            “Tell her we send our regards and hope to see her soon.” The master of Longbourn held out his hand to shake his friend’s hand.

            “We should have you to dinner soon, to celebrate the blessed union of the newlyweds. Certainly, after Mrs Darcy and Charlotte have recovered, we shall have a dinner party at Lucas Lodge.”