We left Darcy and Lizzy with news that Mr. Collins was at Longbourn, threatening to throw out Mrs. Bennet and her daughters. Just a reminder: Darcy and Elizabeth have only been married for a day. It’s been one week since Darcy proposed. I think a hazard to posting is that sometimes readers can lose track of the timeline and I don’t want you to feel frustrated if things aren’t advancing romantically as fast because it’s actually been a very short amount of time for our characters.
“I should have known this would happen,” Elizabeth said alongside Darcy as they raced to Longbourn.
“How could you have foreseen this?”
“I knew how easily offended he was. I should not have left my sisters unattended when he might show up.”
“They were not unattended. They had their aunt and uncle as well as two of their three elder sisters. You cannot keep them from harm their whole lives. You should be able to trust they can behave properly.”
“You sound as though you know from experience,” Elizabeth said as she turned questioning eyes on him.
“I do.” It was not the time to say more about his sister. They were also near the house. “Do you wish to be in the room when I deal with Mr. Collins?”
Darcy did not wish to exclude her, but he was uncertain her cousin would accept a woman’s presence well during what would be quite the set-down.
“What do you plan to say?”
“I hope to impress upon him the unseemliness of his actions and arrival. To tell a widow and her four daughters to leave the house!” Darcy shook his head.
Elizabeth sighed. “I fear there are mitigating factors which will remove any reproach to his conscience. It is not as though he rode over from Kent upon my father’s death. He was already visiting and was a guest. I had already supposed he might return once there was sufficient chaperonage, and he does have every legal right to be there. Perhaps we can smooth it over.”
Darcy did not agree such a thing was possible but held his tongue. “What do you want to do if it is not?”
“I suppose we must make arrangements earlier than we had planned. I am uncertain if any of the eligible houses we looked at have openings soon.”
“Nor am I,” he said as they reached the door. The next quarter day was not until Christmas—just under a month away.
Inside Longbourn, Mrs. Gardiner immediately greeted them. “Thank heavens you have come.”
“Where is Mr. Collins?” Darcy asked.
“In the library. My husband is attempting to make him see reason.”
“And my mother?”
“She is resting in her chamber. Jane is with her.”
Elizabeth’s eyes glanced up the stairs. “We were told Mr. Collins was betrothed and had brought his intended to the house?”
“Indeed.” Mrs. Gardiner frowned. “That is what started the whole thing.”
“He certainly worked fast if he is already engaged,” Darcy observed.
“Indeed, he does work fast,” Elizabeth nodded. “He did not formally propose until after my father was ill, but he had settled it in his mind from almost his first step in the house—he told me so himself.” She looked at her aunt. “This woman, who is she?”
Mrs. Gardiner glanced over her shoulder and shooed them into the breakfast room. “She and her aunt are still here, in the drawing room. Mary is with them. I sequestered Kitty and Lydia in their room. They are not to leave, and a maid sits outside their door.”
She sighed and then rubbed her forehead as though pained before beginning the story. “Mr. Collins arrived during breakfast this morning with two ladies. He introduced them as Miss King, his betrothed, and her aunt. He said Miss King had asked to see the home and, in particular, the mistress’ chambers, and might we allow him to show her about. Well, we were all immediately put out, but before your uncle or I could say a word of sense, Lydia called him a toad and declared she would not let a ‘nasty, freckled little thing like Miss King’ disturb her mother.”
Elizabeth gasped, and Darcy contained his groan. Mrs. Gardiner nodded, then continued. “They were obviously affronted, but I think Kitty’s words is what upset them the most.”
“Good heavens. What did she say?”
“Kitty reminded him that he had recently wanted to marry you and supposed he only went after Miss King when he heard inherited ten thousand pounds upon her sickly grandfather’s death.”
“Is that when he threatened to throw them out?” Darcy asked.
“He said that his young cousins should watch their tongues or they would find themselves without a home. He intimated that he would be taking over as master right after Mr. Bennet’s funeral. My husband suggested he wait until the family was moved out and settled as arranged by Mr. Darcy, but Lydia declared she would leave that very moment. She dashed upstairs to pack her trunks.”
Darcy had watched as Elizabeth grew paler with each word. “And Mrs. Bennet? Jones said she was unwell.”
“That—that woman led her niece, bold as brass, up the stairs, and they checked the chambers until they found Mrs. Bennet’s. I had gone after Lydia but ran to your mother’s room, Lizzy, when I heard a thud, and then the ladies began screaming.”
“My poor mother!” Elizabeth exclaimed.
“As far as we can tell, she was startled by their entrance.”
“I am sorry I did not speak with him when I returned from London,” Darcy said. “I might have been able to prevent this entire scene. However, it does not sound hopeless.”
“I am less sure,” Mrs. Gardiner said. “My husband has been speaking with him, but Collins and Miss King are demanding apologies, and Kitty and Lydia refuse to give them.”
Darcy looked at Elizabeth. “What do you wish to do, Mrs. Darcy?”
While he enjoyed using the formal title, his wife started. “I—I suppose we ought to see him together. A round of reinforcements may be necessary for everyone. Aunt, you could relieve Mary in the drawing room, and my uncle could speak with my sisters. When we finish speaking with Mr. Collins, I will see my mother.”
“I do not know how well Mr. Collins will respond to your presence,” Darcy cautioned.
“That is true. However, it is my family, and they are my responsibility more than yours. I will not speak out of turn.”
Darcy gave Mrs. Gardiner a questioning look, and the woman slowly nodded in agreement with her niece. He relented. “Very well.”
Together, Darcy and Elizabeth approached the library. For a moment, she stilled in the doorway. He imagined a hundred memories of her father assaulted her. Darcy squeezed her hand, and she squeezed his back in reply, then she followed him within. Darcy greeted the gentlemen and then sent Mr. Gardiner upstairs.
“Now, Mr. Collins, I am done with all the pleasantries.” Darcy stood in front of the man who had returned to his seat, towering over him. “I was shocked to hear of your coming to Longbourn in this way. I had thought you a respectable gentleman.”
Mr. Collins stiffened. “You ought to be more shocked at your wife’s family. Or perhaps you have already had an earful from your own little baggage, and that is why you are here. Hen-pecked already?”
Darcy’s jaw tensed. He had not expected Mr. Collins to have the gumption for insults. “Sir, I will thank you not to speak so about my wife. Must I remind you that she is now a relation to your patroness, Lady Catherine? I hardly think she would condone your behaviour today.” While Darcy did not expect Collins to return to Hunsford to live and his appointment was for life unless he resigned, it would still be in his best interest to not anger his patroness. She might have additional ways to supplement his income.
Collins sniggered. “You would be wrong! When I wrote to her of your impending nuptials, she replied with her intention to cut you off entirely from her notice. She also agreed with me that the Bennets deserved no special notice from me. I have every legal right to be here and view any room I choose. I can expel them whenever I like, which, if apologies are not made, will be this very day.”
Darcy glanced at Elizabeth, who had paled at Collins’ words. Darcy made his face look indifferent when, in reality, he wanted to scream at the man who made his Elizabeth fearful. “If you cannot be moved by compassion, then perhaps you will be interested in money. I could easily make it worth your while to go elsewhere. Perhaps there would even be enough to take your wife on a scenic holiday after the wedding.”
Collins leaned back, an eager look gleaming in his eye. Then, it disappeared. “Save your money, Mr. Darcy. I will be rich enough upon marrying Miss King—she is an heiress, you know. It is you who gains nothing from his marriage.” He looked excessively pleased to be in what he viewed as the superior position.
Darcy would not beg a man, and his mind had been working on alternatives since he had first heard the news of the situation from his valet. He spun on his heel and, taking Elizabeth by the hand, left the library without another word.
“What are you doing? Go back in there and do something!” Elizabeth pulled her hand from his as he led her through the hallway.
Stopping, Darcy turned to look Elizabeth in the eye. “Do you trust me?”
“I vowed to take care of your family in my proposal. You are my wife, and they are mine to care for. Do you trust me?” He held out his hand, hoping she would take it.
Elizabeth tilted her chin up to meet his gaze square on. They locked eyes for a long minute, and Darcy hoped she could see the sincerity in them. If she argued, he would explain his plans, and he had little doubt she would agree to them. However, it would be far simpler and faster—and would be a personal victory—if she would only give him her trust. Finally, Elizabeth nodded her head and wrapped her hand around his.
Triumph beating in his chest, he allowed Elizabeth to lead him upstairs. “Your mother first,” he said when they reached the landing. Turning right, they continued past several chambers until they reached one, which he thought overlooked the garden. It would be the ideal view for the mistress of the estate.
Elizabeth knocked on the door. “Mama, it is Lizzy.”
There were quiet sounds on the other side of the door — hushed murmurings, and then the scraping of a chair. A moment later, Jane opened the door. The sisters hugged each other tightly, and then Jane moved aside for Elizabeth and Darcy to enter. As Elizabeth walked to her mother’s bed, Darcy could sense her hesitation. He approached, as well. When they drew closer, they could hear Mrs. Bennet mumbling to herself.
“The hedgerows, Thomas. The hedgerows.” She repeated iterations of it over and over, not even ceasing when Elizabeth spoke to her or held her hand. “My poor daughters. Not even cold in his grave. The hedgerows.”
Darcy’s heart cracked for the matron who was reduced from vibrancy and energy to this broken shell of a woman. He felt a physical ache at seeing Elizabeth in tears again. He knelt at Mrs. Bennet’s side and placed his hand over hers.
“Mrs. Bennet,” he said in a gentle voice. “Please do not worry. You will not be in the hedgerows. I am taking you all to Netherfield. Then Elizabeth and I will find a house for you near Meryton.”
Mrs. Bennet said nothing but turned her face to him and then back to Elizabeth.
“Did you hear that, Mama?” Elizabeth raised Mrs. Bennet’s hand to her lips and then pressed it against her cheek. “Mr. Darcy says you are to stay at Netherfield until we find a new home for you. It will have better attics than Longbourn, and we will be sure your sitting room does not face west in the evening.”
Mrs. Bennet merely nodded, and while she did not utter a thank you, let alone shout in joy at being a guest at Netherfield, she visibly calmed and quieted. A few minutes later, Jane was returned to the post at Mrs. Bennet’s side while Darcy and Elizabeth chatted in the hall.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said, wiping a tear from her eye. “You do not know what a relief it must be to my mother. Her worst fear has come true. How we used to tease her over what we thought was a ridiculous fear of being turned out of Longbourn! She had always said Mr. Collins’ father was the most dreadful man on the planet, and seeing how his son conducts himself, I suppose she was correct. My family can never repay you for your kindness.”
“Thank me for them if you must,” Darcy said, “but I believe I thought only of you. I hate to see you so sad, dearest Elizabeth.” He cupped her face in his hands and leant down for a kiss just as a door opened up. Jolting away from her, they turned their heads in the direction of the noise in time to see the door slam shut and giggles break out.
“Kitty and Lydia,” Elizabeth sighed. “Well, Mr. Darcy, shall we go forth and conquer my sisters now?”
Darcy’s stuttered in alarm at the thought.
“Very well. I will go into battle on my own. I will send my uncle out, and you two can talk over the details in the sitting room. I suppose you must write to Mr. Bingley. You do not think Miss Bingley will fight it, do you?”
“No. She is still in awe of me, even if certain clergymen and aunts are not.” Elizabeth’s smile faltered, and she turned toward her sister’s bedroom. Darcy stepped toward her. “Elizabeth?”
She looked over her shoulder at him. “Yes?”
Grabbing her hand, he pulled her to him before kissing her deeply. They parted on a sigh, and he touched their foreheads together. “Thank you for trusting me.”
His body yearned to continue what they had begun that morning, but he held little hope they would be in the mood for romance that evening. Against all his physical instincts, he left Elizabeth and returned to the sitting room.