Mr. Darcy and Georgiana rode in the carriage with four outriders overnight to London. Mr. Darcy would have never put his sister, or himself, through that unless time was of the essence. With four weeks, now nine and twenty days left, there was no time to spare. He was tired and grumpy but worse he had barely slept at all. The rocking motion of the carriage put Georgiana to sleep, she rested her head on his arm, but he could not sleep. He did not want to admit how scared and worried he was over losing everything. What would he do then? Where would they live? What would happen to Georgiana, the staff and tenants?
Mr. Darcy jumped out of the carriage at his townhouse in London. He could not appear at the law firm with the dust and wrinkled clothes from travel. Plus, he did not want Georgiana to witness him stressed beyond measure if what his aunt stated was indeed accurate. A quick change of clothes, a fast dinner and he was off to the law firm. He rode a horse as it would be much faster than taking the carriage through the London traffic. It was not common to see a member of the gentry riding horseback through London, however at this moment Mr. Darcy did not care. He arrived at the law firm the Darcys had used for decades and paid a street urchin to watch his horse.
He strode into the law firm of Dewey Cheetum and Howe and asked the secretary to see Mr. Dewey immediately on a matter of grave importance. Mr. Darcy sat on a chair in the waiting area for a few minutes until he could not do so any longer and stood up to pace. Finally the door to Mr. Dewey’s office opened and the previous client left. Mr. Darcy walked into Mr. Dewey’s office.
Mr. Darcy opened the packet and handed the legal documents to Mr. Dewey. “My aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, just wrote and informed me that there was a stipulation upon the Darcy entailment. Namely, that I must wed by my thirtieth birthday or I shall be disinherited.”
Mr. Dewey’s eyebrows rose. “Yes, I distinctly remember speaking with her at your father’s funeral and telling her that.” At this confirmation Mr. Darcy’s eyes widened. “I sent her all the pertinent information and stated she must tell you when you reach the age of majority. No one would want you to be disinherited.”
Mr. Darcy flattened his lips and looked at the wall so Mr. Dewey did not think his ire was directed at him.
Mr. Dewey cleared his throat. “I do not want to speak ill of anyone, least of all the Lady Catherine de Bourgh, however am I to assume this is the first you have heard of this stipulation?”
Mr. Darcy nodded. He was going to lose everything in nine and twenty days if he did not marry someone. There was a good chance, no a high chance he would not marry for love but just for tolerable companionship. If he was even that lucky. He might remotely tolerate his wife. It would be a prison term for the rest of his life. Blast his aunt!
“Let me pull out the letter that I sent to your aunt.” Mr. Dewey spoke to a law clerk and then walked back into the room. Mr. Darcy was offered tea and biscuits while he waited. He was so stressed that the biscuits tasted like ash. The law clerk came back with a folder he handed to Mr. Dewey. He opened the folder to a marker. “Yes here it is.”
Mr. Dewey pulled the letter and handed it to Mr. Darcy. It was addressed to his aunt and postmarked soon after his father had died. It did indeed contain all the information that would have been good for him to have known years ago. The only item in the letter that he had never been told was the first point in the letter. That he had to be wed by the day he turned thirty.
Mr. Darcy clenched his jaw and handed the letter back. His aunt had indeed done this on purpose. It was only after his father died that he had heard his aunt mention that Anne and he had been engaged as infants. Did his aunt think of this scheme to get her hands on Pemberley? Or to make sure her daughter had a husband, someone to care for her for the rest of her life?
Mr. Darcy stood with his legal documents, nodded to Mr. Dewey and walked out of the law firm. He was too angry to speak sensibly at the moment. He rode through London aimlessly then through Hyde Park and back towards the Darcy townhouse. Except he passed the townhouse and rose a few blocks further to the Matlock house where his aunt and uncle lived. If there was someone that could help him find a suitable wife in less than four weeks, it would be his aunt.
“My dear Mrs. Bennet, you will need to tell Cook to set the table for an extra place tonight for supper.”
“Oh Mr. Bennet you are a sly one. You did not tell me that Mr. Bingley would be coming for supper. I will have cook make her fabulous pheasant. I daresay that will be as good as any of the French chefs-“
“Mrs. Bennet, you misunderstood me. It is not Mr. Bingley that will be arriving for supper.” Mr. Bennet said nothing else as he loved to tease his wife.
“Who is coming to supper?”
All the girls paid rapt attention to Mr. Bennet who greatly enjoyed this game of his. He stood by the fireplace and rocked back and forth. “It is a man I have not seen in my entire life.”
The girls looked at each other confused. Mrs. Bennet was also confused. “Why have you invited someone to supper if you have never met?”
Mr. Bennet answered his wife. “It is a man that you have disliked since you heard of the entailment of Longbourn to Mr. Collins.”
Mrs. Bennet stood. “Why did you invite that odious man here! You know I do not like that he is going to steal this house out from under your daughters. We will be thrown out into the hedgerows with nowhere to- “
“Mama! You know Mr. Collins has nothing to do with the entailment.” Elizabeth tried to reason with her mother but it was usually a lost cause.
“I believe Mr. Collins intends to join us as an olive branch of peace between our families. I have the distinct impression that he hopes to marry one of you to further amend the breach.”
The Bennet girls looked at each other but it was Lydia who spoke. “How exciting! I sure hope he is quite handsome.”
Kitty joined her. “I hope he comes in a red coat. I do love a man in a red coat.”
Lydia held Kitty’s hands. “But not as good-looking as Mr. Denny or Wickham!” The girls hummed to each other and then giggled.
Elizabeth sighed at her two youngest sisters and then looked at Mr. Bennet. “Mr. Collins stated that he would choose one of us to marry? He does not seem sensible to decide upon a wife before having met us. What kind of man do you make of him?”
Mr. Bennet rocked back and forth and smiled. “He did indeed state that. And I imagine that he is a very silly man. I look forward to his arrival today.”
Mrs. Bennet having heard that the odious Mr. Collins intended to marry one of her daughters, changed her mind to being quite fond of Mr. Collins. She had five daughters to marry off, and no one had better interfere in that goal. Mr. Collins had better marry one of her daughters or they would face her wrath.