I’m starting to post my newest story. Hope you like it.
blurb: Fitzwilliam Darcy is framed for murder, a murder that George Wickham has committed to rid Pemberley of its heir. Convincing Darcy’s father that Fitzwilliam is a scoundrel, Wickham believes he will become the heir after Fitzwilliam is hung for murder. But Fitzwilliam escapes, and takes a position as steward at the estate of Longbourn. He is trying to find a way to keep hidden, yet clear his name, all the while trying to keep his heart from being lost on a pair of fine eyes.
“What have you done?” Fitzwilliam Darcy could not believe his eyes. Before him was a scene out of nightmares. He had been requested to come to a guest room on the fourth floor of his father’s manor house at Pemberley, the family estate. Arriving at the guest room, he discovered the son of his father’s former steward, George Wickham. Due to his admiration of the late Mr Wickham, Gerald Darcy had taken the role of godfather to the young Wickham, even sponsoring him in school and at university. It was mistakenly believed that George Wickham was the natural son of Gerald, for why else would the gentleman send the boy to school, alongside his heir?
George Wickham was evil, pure evil. But he was also a smooth talking con, putting on a show for anyone he could potentially use for his own purposes. While at university, he spent more time gambling, drinking and womanizing, than actually going to classes. And he had a penchant for shopping and charging everything to the Darcy accounts. To fool everyone into believing he belonged with the sons of the elite of England, Wickham insisted in dressing sharp and to have all the trimmings to make him appear he was their equal. When he heard rumors of people’s belief that he was Gerald Darcy’s blood, Wickham had not corrected the belief, and had even begun to convince himself that he was of the Darcy blood line. This made him resent Fitzwilliam, as Wickham was nearly a year older than Fitzwilliam. He felt that he should be Gerald Darcy’s heir, believing himself the first born. And Wickham wanted to remove this obstacle from his path to inheriting Pemberley.
In his attempt to remove his nemesis, Wickham had planted the seed of doubt in the mind of Gerald Darcy, as to Fitzwilliam’s behavior. Since Gerald’s wife, Lady Anne, had died ten years prior, Gerald had been deeply sorrowed. Spending time with his children was difficult, as Fitzwilliam had his mother’s personality, while Lady Anne’s appearance was reborn in their daughter, Georgiana. The loss of his beloved Anne could only be alleviated by the light and fun nature of the young Wickham. Wickham’s father had been dead for three years, and Gerald missed his steward, who was also a dear friend. So it was not surprising that he wished to spend time with the son.
Fitzwilliam knew how much pain his father would suffer if he knew the truth about Wickham. Not wishing to cause his father further pain, Fitzwilliam covered for the scoundrel, even finding homes for two children that Wickham had sired, not to mention paying for his gambling and shopping debts from Fitzwilliam’s own pin money. He would do all in his power to protect his father, even taking the blame for things Wickham had done.
But today, things had come to a complete and sudden end. This was the day that Fitzwilliam would refuse to cover Wickham’s crimes.
On the floor of the guest room, a young maid was lying still, no breath came from her body. Blood appeared to cover the side of her head, though a wound was not visible. Her eyes were wide open, as if in terror, staring off into space. Beside her body was a stone, carved in the shape of a turtle. Fitzwilliam knew the stone carving well. His mother had given it to him when he was only a boy. There was blood on the stone, as well as marks which appeared to be from the fingers of the person who had used it as a weapon, striking down an innocent girl.
“I did nothing, Fitz. It appears that you were the culprit, as your turtle is there, beside her. Why would your treasure be there if you had nothing to do with the murder?” Wickham sneered at the one person he despised more than anyone else. “You must have murdered her in a lovers dispute. After all, you have been bedding her for months now. And she carries your child inside her.”
“No one will believe your lies, Wickham. Not even my father will be able to assist you this time.”
“Oh, they will believe what I tell them. And you will be blamed for the murder. I have been planning this for quite some time. Your father knows of your proclivities, and he is at quite a loss as to where he went wrong in your upbringing. He is also aware of your bastard son who lives in York. Such news broke his heart.”
“I have no bastard child, as you well know. The only child in York I know of is the one of your seed, born to the girl who worked in the dining hall at the university, whom you had seduced. You will not put your foul deeds on my shoulders. My father will know the truth, all that I have kept hidden from him.”
“He will not believe you, Fitzwilliam. And I have planned my scheme well. You will hang for this murder. And after you are gone, your father will acknowledge me as his rightful son and heir.”
Fitzwilliam was shocked. He could not believe what he was hearing. “You are not my brother, Wickham. You are the child of Amos and Beatrice Wickham. What could make you think that you would ever be my father’s heir?”
“I am a Darcy. Why else would I have been sent to school along with you? Father could not acknowledge me, but he has done all he could to care for my future. And I am the elder, therefore I am rightfully the heir. With you out of the way, Father will be able to claim me and I will inherit Pemberley.”
“You are mad, Wickham. Absolutely mad. Your father died, as did your mother. My father was fond of your parents, and he is your godfather. It is due to his fondness for the devotion your father showed is the reason you were given an education. Mr Wickham was a close friend of my father. But you are not of Darcy blood. And you will be the one to hang from the gallows for your crime.”
“No, I am a Darcy. And this girl’s death is on your head. If you had never been born, Father would have claimed me sooner. It is your fault that I have not been given all that I am due. Your birth robbed me of my rightful place, and I will not stop until I rid myself of you permanently.” Wickham squatted beside the body of the maid, closing her lifeless eyes. As he stood, he lunged at Fitzwilliam, his fist nearly connecting with Fitzwilliam’s cheek.
Only the skills Fitzwilliam had gained, from years of training and practice with the sword, could make him agile enough to move before being struck. He stepped sideways, and Wickham’s body continued past him, the momentum carrying the furious Wickham forward, stumbling as he began to fall. Wickham struck his head on the floor, knocking him unconscious. Fitzwilliam checked the other man for signs of life, and, after reassuring himself of Wickham being alive, Fitzwilliam looked back at the body of the maid. How would he be able to convince his father that he was innocent? Was Wickham correct? Would Gerald Darcy take the word of the scoundrel, allowing his son to take the blame for the murder? Deep inside, Fitzwilliam knew the truth. He knew that, in protecting his father from Wickham’s evil, Fitzwilliam had allowed his father to believe any tale the despicable young man told. He would have to leave his home. He would have to flee, find somewhere to hide, while he gathered proof of his innocence in all the charges laid at his feet.
Within an hour’s time, and in the cover of darkness, Fitzwilliam left Pemberley, and Derbyshire, behind him.
~~ ** ~~
The following morning, Gerald Darcy was found in his study, staring out the window, when there was a rap on his door. Darcy did not move, making no acknowledgment of the sound. After another rapping, the door opened, and in walked Lord Matlock, Henry Fitzwilliam, the brother of the late Lady Anne Darcy.
“I received your message, Gerald. What has happened? Why was I summoned here so early in the day?” Lord Matlock inquired, walking over to one of the chairs which were placed in front of the grand desk which had belonged to Darcy’s grandfather.
“Henry, forgive me, I would have preferred not to call you for what has happened, but I fear I am at my wits end to determine what to do in the situation in which I am now faced.” Darcy moved towards his chair, yet motioned towards the sideboard. “You had best pour yourself a glass of courage, as you will need it when you learn of what has happened.”
“It is far too early in the day to resort to the bottle, Gerald. What could be so terrible as to require such?”
“My son has murdered a young maid.” Darcy said, leaning forward in his chair, placing his elbows on the top of the desk, and his face rested on the palms of his hands.
Lord Matlock was shocked. “I do not believe William capable of such behavior. Where did you learn of this nonsense?”
“A witness to the crime. George Wickham found William and the girl together in one of the guest rooms. He saw William as he bludgeoned the girl’s head with the stone turtle my wife gave our son for his ninth birthday.”
“What does William have to say with regards to this matter? Certainly, he has denied the accusations. I refuse to believe this. Why would William take such an item to a guest room to meet with a maid? That is highly illogical.” Lord Matlock was skeptical. He had never understood the fondness his brother in law held for the young man, and Lord Matlock’s two sons, Anthony and Richard, had informed him of Wickham’s true nature over the years.
“I thought the same, when I saw it beside the body. It was there, covered in blood from the poor girl’s head. George told me that he believed William was planning to give the carving as a gift to the girl, as she was carrying his child inside her. It was George’s belief that the girl was of the belief of becoming Mrs Darcy, and there was a quarrel. Dear God, what am I to do? How do I send for the magistrate and constable, knowing it will likely lead to my son’s death on the gallows?”
“What has William stated?”
“My son has disappeared. He knocked George unconscious and fled. No one can find him on the estate. Does that not speak to his guilt? Why else would he run from the situation? If he were innocent of all of the accusations, he would have stayed here and refuted everything.”
“Gerald, I cannot believe your son being guilty of such behavior, and I would not hold George Wickham in such high regard. My sons have told me of many things William has suffered over the years, at the hands of that scoundrel. It would not surprise me to learn that Wickham has set this whole thing in motion, attempting to make you believe the worst of William.”
“There would be no reason for George to lie to me. He has been my companion in my times of sorrow since Anne died. And it is not the first sin my son has committed. From what I have learned, William has had gambling debts and…and has a bastard child in York. My son is not a good man, and I have not attempted to correct his behavior. I am just as guilty of the maid’s death, for had I took the time to correct his behavior, this would never have happened.”
The earl of Matlock shook his head. He believed in his nephew’s innocence, for his younger son was close to William. And if he were to believe Richard’s statements, Fitzwilliam Darcy had determined long ago to save himself for when he married. Lord Matlock’s sons had teased their cousin for his choice, especially when they would invite him to accompany them to a brothel. As far as they knew, William had remained true to his decision. That Gerald did not know such about his own son was surprising.
“I believe a search needs to be conducted to locate William. Until we know what he has to say, we cannot believe he is guilty of such a heinous crime.”
“There are too many who are aware of the maid’s death, and that Wickham was found unconscious on the floor of the room. Too many know what George declared, as he did so in front of many of the staff. I must send for the constable and magistrate. If I do not, it will appear I am covering up for my son. No, I must do what is right, though I know it condemns my son to hang.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
“Mr Bennet, there is a young man here to speak with you.” Mr Hill said as he entered his employer’s study. He served as valet and butler to Mr Thomas Bennet of Longbourn, one of the largest estates in the neighborhood in the county of Hertfordshire.
“Who is the young man?” Mr Bennet looked up from the book he had been enjoying while partaking of his tea and biscuits.
“His name is Fredrick Denhem. He stated that he learned of the need for a new steward and has come to apply for the position.”
“And did Mr Denhem say where he learned of the position?”
“It is my understanding he has taken a room at the inn in Meryton. Mrs Dillard knows of the position, as she is my wife’s sister, so I presume that, if she had been asked, she would inform the young man of the position.”
“Very well, send him in.” As the manservant turned to leave the room, Mr Bennet inquired as to the location of his second eldest daughter, Elizabeth.
“I believe Miss Elizabeth is in her bed chambers, preparing to take a walk. As it is a pleasant day, I am certain she has plans to spend as much time in nature as possible.”
Mr Bennet chuckled lightly. “Yes, that would be Lizzy’s preference. If you would be so kind, ask her to join me when she can.”
It was well known at Longbourn that Miss Elizabeth Bennet was her father’s favorite of his five daughters. Having no son, Elizabeth became the child who was closest to him. She was well read, having free access to her father’s library, and was able to debate with her father on most subjects. The only thing keeping Elizabeth from being his heir was the fact she was female. Longbourn was entailed to the male side of the family, making a distant cousin the heir to the estate. No one in the family had met the man, though Mr Bennet had no doubt that he would be a foolish man, as his father had been. Abner Collins had been furious that he could not inherit the estate, and had quarreled with Mr Bennet for several years. Since his death, Abner’s son, William Collins, became the heir apparent.
Mr Bennet was roused from his woolgathering at the sound of footsteps coming near the door of the study. Mr Hill escorted the young man into the room, then left to fetch Elizabeth for her father.
“Mr Bennet, it is a pleasure to meet you. I am Fredrick Denhem. Currently I am a guest at the inn in Meryton. In speaking with the proprietor, Mrs Dillard informed me that you are in need of a steward for your estate.”
“Indeed, we have recently lost our steward, as he moved to the north to live with his daughter and her family. His health was declining the last year, so he decided to spend his remaining time with family.. And you believe you are well versed on the workings of an estate? You could be no more than two and twenty. How could you have learned enough to think you could be a steward?”
“In fact, I am seven and twenty. And I have been raised with the inner workings of an estate. I have recently returned to England, after spending the previous ten years living in Ireland. My father had trained me to know all that is needed to run an estate, and after losing him, I lived with an uncle who was a steward of an estate. My education includes the most recent thoughts on crop rotations, the care and upkeep of buildings, including cottages and manor houses, and breeding livestock to gain the best stock. Since my youth, I have learned to muck out stalls in the stables, planting and harvesting of crops, repairing buildings, shoeing horses, and much more. I can give you references of my work, though unfortunately, they are in Ireland, so it will take some time to receive a response. If you require a steward to begin soon, as the spring planting is to begin within the following month, I understand you would prefer someone with references that are easier to contact.”
“Quite an honest young man. And where in Ireland have you been living? I visited there when I was a lad, when my father took me to visit some of the horse breeders there. My father had desired to breed some of the finest horseflesh in the county, if not in all of England.”
Mr Denhem did not hesitate. “I stayed at an estate near Drogheda for a short time, before moving to another estate, to the south of Carrick. This was where I lived the longest.”
“A pleasant area. I wish we had been able to stay longer, but we needed to return sooner than expected, as my grandfather had taken ill. It has been my desire, for many years, to be able to return there, taking my family, but alas, we have yet to make such a journey.” Mr Bennet appeared to be lost in thought. A light knock on the study door brought the gentleman back from his musings. “Ah, my daughter has come to join us. Enter, Lizzy.”
Denhem was surprised to see the young lady who entered the room. She was unlike any other lady he had met, with her soft brown eyes with flecks of gold, and her chocolate locks, which appeared to strain the hairpins holding the curls in place on her head. The smile on her lips spoke of good humor. Though she was not tall, she was well proportioned in her figure. The poor man had no immunity to her charms, and he knew he was in trouble if he was not careful. He had met many young ladies in his life, and had never felt the attraction he did in a matter of moments of meeting this young lady.
“Lizzy, this young man has come to apply for the position of steward. I thought it wise to include you in the discussion, as you are quite familiar with all that occurs at Longbourn. Allow me to make the proper introductions. Miss Elizabeth Bennet, this is Mr Fredrick Denhem, recently returned to England from Ireland. Mr Denhem, this is my second eldest daughter, Elizabeth. In case Mrs Dillard did not tell you, I have five daughters, and no sons. So you should count yourself forewarned, my wife is intent on having all of our daughters married off as soon as possible, incase of my demise.”
“Miss Bennet, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Denhem stated, bowing over Elizabeth’s hand.
Mr Bennet watched the encounter closely. Seeing the instant mesmerizing his daughter had on the young man made the elder gentleman pleased. He was of the opinion that anyone who took instantly to his Lizzy was someone who had good taste. Many times in his life, it was interaction with his favorite daughter or her opinion on a matter that made up his mind when making decisions.
“My dear girl, would you care to ask the young man any questions? I would like to know your thinking of what will need to be done to make Longbourn improved and better producing.” Mr Bennet had a difficult time keeping a smile from gracing his lips. He did not wish for his daughter to know that the young man beside her was someone her father favored for her. One thing Mr Bennet had always based business on was the reaction to her, and, after seeing the reaction of Mr Denhem, he was certain that the young man would be part of his family one day.
Over the following hour, Mr Bennet watched his favorite child debate with Denhem, standing her ground on some issues, while she was impressed with the modernization of the man’s thoughts. Many of his ideas where similar to Elizabeth’s, ideas she had tried to instill in the former steward, though he was too set in his ways to consider such changes. Seeing someone before her who would willingly make modern changes to crop rotation and modernize the cottages for the tenants and servants, Elizabeth was thrilled.
“Well, Mr Denhem, I believe you have the endorsement of my daughter. I know very few men who would show her the respect and agree with her suggestions, so I am deeply impressed with your respect and openness to her opinions. You have the position. Now, the cottage that will be yours will require some repairs. As I have stated, your predecessor was elderly and his health was in decline. There are several tenant homes that are in need of improvements. Being a single man, I presume you are not well versed in cooking. You are welcome to take meals with the family if you wish. If you prefer to prepare your own meals, I can have Lizzy and her elder sister set up your pantry.”
“I admit I am not much at preparing my own meals, so I would gratefully accept your offer of meals.” Denhem’s cheeks reddened slightly. “Making tea and coffee is the sum total of my abilities in the field of cooking.”
Elizabeth took pity on the young man. “Jane and I will come with you to the cottage, if you wish. We can see what supplies are there and make certain you are stocked on coffee, tea, and any other staples you might require. We can also see to any other improvements you might desire in the decor. There have been no changes to the cottage since before my birth, so it will be in need of freshening.”
“There is no need for anything fancy, Miss Bennet. I am a simple man, with simple needs.”
“Wait until you see cottage. Then we will discuss any changes.”
~~ ** ~~
The elder two daughters of Thomas Bennet escorted their father’s new steward to the cottage which would be the man’s home. “Mr Denhem, I hope you will find Longbourn to be to your liking. Our tenants are extremely important to us, as it is through their efforts that the estate is able to exist. Jane and I visit the tenants weekly, seeing to any needs for medical care, food, and any other care they need. If you discover a matter that requires our attention, please know you may speak with Father, Jane or myself.”
“I am pleased to know I will be working for a family that realizes the importance of those who work for them. It is a rare commodity, and one I share. My father instilled the importance of taking care of those who work for you.” Denhem replied.
The cottage was located to the south of the manor house, near the large barn and stable area. Elizabeth was pleased that they were able to offer the young man a comfortable place to live. Her desire to make the everything to his liking came from wanting to know him better. In the time they spoke in the office, she was pleasantly surprised to find him to be open to her opinions. And his handsome appearance did not go unnoticed. For the first time in her life, Miss Elizabeth Bennet found herself attracted to a man she could respect.
The trio entered the cottage and began making an inventory of the contents. Clearly it had been lacking in a cleaning, which did not come as a surprise. The pantry was vacant, including even the barest of needs such as dishes and a teapot. Elizabeth had brought paper, pen and ink to make a list of items that would be needed for the new steward, and quickly began writing as Jane looked about. “And do not forget candles. Goodness, even the candle sticks are gone. Why would Mr Winters take such things? It was not as if they were the best quality.” Jane was puzzled.
“Perhaps his daughter was in need of items and Mr Winters wished to do what he could to be helpful. As you said, they were not of the best quality, but they were not the cheapest either. After the many years the dear man gave our family, I will not hold ill will towards him for such trivial matters.” Elizabeth glanced around the room, checking the furnishings and the curtains. With a chuckle, she continued. “I am surprised they left the furniture. Perhaps they thought it would be noticed if they had a chair or sofa tied down in the bed of their wagon. Mr Denhem, are you comfortable with the curtains? Would you prefer a different color or design? I can remember when Mrs Winters made these curtains, and I believe I was near ten years old at the time.”
“There is no need to fret. The cottage is a fine place, and I know I will be comfortable here. There is no need for anything fancy for me.” Denhem stated. “And I can make purchases of what is needed for the cottage. I would not wish to be a burden to the estate.”
“Mr Denhem, you are to be vital to Longbourn’s success. Having items of comfort are of no burden to our family.” Jane said. She then walked down the hall, looking in the first room on her left. It was a bedchamber. Jane took notice of the bedding, then went to the closet to see if there was more bedding and towels to be found. She found only one towel, and a single coverlet, so she would inform her sister of the need for more.
Once the list was made, the Bennet sisters left the cottage, after informing the young man of when the evening meal would be served. Elizabeth also assured him that they would gather the items needed for the cottage. When they were out of sight, Denhem closed the door of the cottage, and walked over to one of the pair of chairs and dropped into its seat. Letting out a sigh of relief, he could begin to relax.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~