“Where is my daughter? Why has she not returned?” bellowed Lady Catherine.
Her lady’s maid shifted from foot to foot, clasping and unclasping her fingers, as she replied, “I am afraid Miss de Bourgh is not yet back from London, my lady.”
“How long since you mailed my letter?” The lady’s imperious tone did nothing to soothe the maid’s unease.
“You sent a letter ten days ago. Do you not remember that Miss Anne replied that she was too busy with Mr. and Miss Darcy to return at this time?”
“Of course, I remember,” snapped the ill-tempered patient. “Then why have I not seen an announcement of their engagement in the paper? Are you sure that we have received the London papers each day?”
“Yes, your ladyship.”
“Send for Mr. Collins then. I demand he present himself immediately.”
Eyes wide, the servant gulped, replying, “I cannot, your ladyship. You know the doctor does not wish you to have visitors as of yet.”
“Then send for the doctor post-haste.”
“Yes, your ladyship.” The maid scurried from the room. Upon reaching the hallway, she leaned against the wall and took a deep breath before rushing below stairs to find someone to carry out Lady Catherine’s request.
Dr. Walker took his time in arriving at Rosings. It had been almost three weeks since the accident, and he did not think he would be able to keep visitors away from Lady Catherine for much longer. He hoped that Miss de Bourgh would marry very soon so that she would be beyond her mother’s reach.
At the knock, Lady Catherine’s maid crossed the room, opening the bedchamber door to admit the doctor.
“You took long enough,” complained Lady Catherine.
“I am sorry I was attending another patient when I received your message. As the note did not indicate your need was an emergency, I came as soon as possible. What seems to be the trouble, Lady Catherine?”
“I wish you to lift the ban on visitors. I am lonely and would like my parson to visit. He could make himself useful by reading to me.”
“Should he not be attending to parish duties? I would be happy to stop by the parsonage and ask Mrs. Collins to come read to you if you would like.”
“Perhaps some other time, but for now, I wish Mr. Collins to attend me.”
“The gentleman has been overwrought by your illness. I do not think it is wise for him to be around you as he may cause you to become agitated as well. You know that should you move about too much, your recovery will take longer.”
“Then, I shall order him to be still,’ she snapped, “but I need to learn of any needs in the parish so that I might offer whatever assistance is required.”
The doctor knew that she wished for the latest gossip so that she might force others to bend to her will. He attempted to repress a smile as he answered, “You are unable to assist anyone at this time.”
“I am aware of that,” barked the lady, “but my reach and influence allow me to offer assistance through my steward or Mr. Collins. I demand that you permit him to visit me.”
“Very well, Lady Catherine, but you must wait until tomorrow before seeing him. Since the day is far-gone, I do not wish his visit to distress you before you retire. Sleep is the best thing to ensure that you recover to your fullest.”
“Very well.” The pout on the older woman’s face almost made Mr. Walker laugh. Turning away to hide the smile her expression conjured, he picked up his bag to depart. Looking back, he said, I shall visit you on Monday next week as usual. Please remember to remain still so that you will recover without causing permanent damage to the joint.”
“Yes, yes,” said the lady as she shooed him out the door.
As Mr. Walker stepped up into his carriage to return to his home, he muttered, “I pray you to accomplish your goal soon, Miss Anne. I have done all I can to assist you.”
The next day a footman from Rosings appeared at the door of the parsonage with the message that Lady Catherine wished Mr. Collins to attend her forthwith. As things transpired, Mr. Collins was out on parish business, and Mrs. Collins was visiting several of the sick and elderly parishioners. Consequently, in the late afternoon, when the parson returned to his home for tea, he received Lady Catherine’s message. Without stopping to freshen his attire, he rushed to Rosings. When Jackson tried to turn him away, Mr. Collins pushed his hand against the door to keep it from closing, crying, “Lady Catherine demanded my presence.”
Jackson looked skeptical and only opened the door wider upon seeing the summons sent to the clergyman. Even then, he reluctantly admitted the distasteful man. Mr. Collins rushed passed the butler and directly up the stairs to Lady Catherine’s chamber. He knocked on the door and tapped his foot as he waited for it to open. When the maid admitted him, the parson practically raced across the room and paid obeisance to his patroness.
“Why did you keep me waiting so long, Mr. Collins? I sent for you early this morning.”
“Your pardon, Lady Catherine, other duties demanded my attention, and I only just arrived home. I did not even stop to change as I desired, most anxiously, to see you. Do you need my comfort and succor? How can I help you?”
“I need to know what transpired since I became ill. Do you know when Anne went to town and in whose company she traveled?”
“I tried to counsel, Miss de Bourgh, about the company she kept, but she would not heed my words.”
“Why would my daughter need your advice? Her cousins were here to assist her in any way she needed.”
“That was the problem; she did not realize she was taking a snake to her bosom by inviting Miss Bennet to stay here with she and the others. When I tried to tell her that Miss Elizabeth was attempting to steal Mr. Darcy from her, she said there was no engagement between her and her cousin and that she was pleased that Mr. Darcy found someone to love.” Mr. Collins hoped that Lady Catherine would not wonder why cousin Elizabeth need to leave his home, but the hope was short-lived.
“Why would Miss Bennet need to stay at Rosings when she was in the area to visit her friend and was staying with you?”
His face a mottled red, his voice hard, the parson replied. “The vixen manipulated Mr. Darcy into believing that I harmed her and that she was not safe in my home.”
“When the trouble arose, why did you not just send her home?”
“I tried, but Mr. Darcy intervened and said that Miss de Bourgh would welcome her at Rosings until the time of her scheduled departure.”
A suspicion growing in her mind, Lady Catherine demanded, “With whom did my daughter travel to London?”
“Miss de Bourgh departed in Mr. Darcy’s carriage,” the woman smiled at his words, then began to wonder at his hesitation to continue.
“Who else departed with her and Darcy?” Lady Catherine’s tone informed the man that he could not fail to answer.
“The two you mentioned traveled with the colonel and my cousin.”
“This is all your fault,” cried Lady Catherine. “You brought that jezebel into our sphere and my home.”
“I had no way of knowing she would behave in such a manner.”
“If you had the sense God gave a pig, you should have predicted that a woman who turned down a worthy proposal from a parson was a troublemaker. Now you shall need to make things right. I demand you go to London–to Darcy House. You will take a letter that I give you to the newspaper announcing Darcy and Anne’s engagement, and you will ensure that she returns to me promptly. You need to leave in the morning; I will expect you and Anne to be back the day after tomorrow. I believe you should insist that Darcy return as well. Then you can read the banns beginning on Sunday. We shall ensure they marry the day after the third reading of the banns.”
“But – but – Lady Catherine, how shall I make her come home. She ignored my advice before, what will make her listen now?”
“You will tell her that if she does not return, I will disinherit her.” Mr. Collins looked appalled at the words of his patroness. “You would do such a thing to your daughter.”
“If Anne refuses to return, then you are to go to the office of my solicitor and deliver to him a letter that I will also prepare.”
“Y-y-y-yes, your ladyship. I will do as you say.” The parson again bowed deeply and backed towards the door. When be bumped into the wall, he nearly pitched forward onto his face. Struggling to regain his balance, he wobbled through the door held open by the maid.
It was the night before the wedding, the three Bennets, Gardiners, Darcys, and Charles Bingley all gathered at Matlock House for a celebratory dinner. Tomorrow would see the ladies taking up residence in their future homes. Two days after the wedding, the Fitzwilliam family, including its newest member, would return to Rosings to deal with Lady Catherine. Elizabeth expressed the desire to be of assistance to her friend and new cousin. Darcy, fearing the harsh words his aunt would hurl at Elizabeth, tried to convince her that the others could deal with Lady Catherine and that Elizabeth’s presence might only provoke the older woman, making the situation worse. Insisting she could be helpful without Lady Catherine’s knowledge of her being at Rosings, she pleaded they go as well. Elizabeth hoped to foster a relationship between Charlotte and Anne, knowing they would enjoy each other’s company and probably become good friends as well.
The earl and Andrew would deal with the legalities. Elizabeth would oversee the servants making the dower house ready for its new tenant, and the countess would help Anne with staffing and redecorating.
The group had an early dinner and said their goodnights sooner then the men would have liked. For ease in preparing everyone for the upcoming nuptials, Georgina, Elizabeth, and Jane would be spending the night at Matlock House with Anne. Andrew and Nicholas would be moving to Darcy House for the night.
While Mrs. Gardiner and Lady Matlock spoke to Elizabeth and Jane and Anne respectively about what to expect on their wedding nights, the gentlemen retired to Darcy House for a game or two of billiards. As Andrew was also to marry in the morning, they did not overindulge in liquor, a trick he would have surely played on his staid cousin had circumstances been different. However, the lack of imbibing did not mean the two soon-to-be-grooms enjoyed a peaceful evening. They received a monumental amount of teasing about giving up their freedom. However, Darcy was quick to remind Bingley that his day was fast approaching, and he should expect payback.
After two games, Darcy wished to retire. He stopped by the library to check on Mr. Bennet before making his way to his chamber. Once ready to retire, Darcy dismissed Clarke and sat beside the fire a brandy in his hand.
Darcy could not believe that all of his dreams would come true in less than twelve hours. A restless excitement filled him, so he stood and moved to the door that adjoined the mistress’ chamber. Opening the door, Darcy looked about. When initially shown the room, Elizabeth found it pleasant and said she did not see the need to make changes as everything appeared to be in good condition. However, Darcy wanted only the best for his beautiful Elizabeth, so he decided to make some changes to refresh the room as a surprise. The furniture in the room was of rich deep cherry wood and in the delicate late baroque or Queen Anne style as it was coming to be known. Knowing the colors Elizabeth favored, Darcy had the walls done in pale yellow silk. Filling the picture frame trim on the walls around the room was a fabric with a white trellis pattern on a pale blue background, climbing the trellis were small clusters of yellow and blue flowers. The same material covered the settee before the fire that was flanked by a pair of light blue and white striped chairs. There was a writing desk near one window and a deep yellow brocaded chaise lounge near the other. Imagining her look of pleasure, Darcy closed the door and retired to bed, dreaming of his dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.
The sun was just breaking the horizon when one of Lady Catherine’s carriages arrived at the parsonage. Mr. Collins stumbled from the house, a small travel bag in his hands. As he reached the door, the footman handed him two letters addressed in Lady Catherine’s bold, angular hand. He tucked them into his coat pocket before stepping into the carriage. Collins fell onto the bench as the driver slapped the reins, and the horses sprang forward. He dreaded the trip and wondered what the consequences would be should he fail. The parson was pleased that he would deliver the letter announcing Mr. Darcy and Miss de Bourgh’s engagement as it would cause pain and embarrassment to his cousin.
Having a four-hour journey ahead of him, Mr. Collins settled into the corner of the carriage and was soon snoring louder than the rattle of the vehicle. At the half-way point, the carriage stopped to change horses, and Mr. Collins took the opportunity to break his fast before continuing his journey.
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