“Where could Elizabeth be?” Mr Bennet inquired as he paced about the drawing room. “She should have returned from her morning walk by now. And where is Sadie? I have not seen the dog all morning either.”
“I rode out in the direction she normally walks, though I was later than usual this morning.” Darcy stated. “One of my horses had injured his leg and I was speaking with Mr Fox about what could be done for the horse. I assumed she had finished and returned to the house.”
Darcy walked over to the nearby window and stared out at the rain which was falling. It was tearing at his heart that he could not mount a horse and ride out to find Elizabeth. He could not stand the fact that he had no notion where she could be, nor did he know if she were safe.
Colonel Fitzwilliam and Bingley knew how desperate Darcy was to be out on the estate, searching for the lady he loved. “Cousin, I am sure she has taken shelter in one of the buildings on the estate. Perhaps in the hunting shack which is not far pass the lake. Once the rain relents, we will be able to begin to search for her.”
“Lady Elizabeth is strong and capable in nature, Darcy. We both know that she is able to walk long distances. Remember her walking to Netherfield to tend her sisters when Miss Jane took ill? Lady Elizabeth walked through all the mud from the storm the night before, yet she had a healthy glow from all the exercise. I am certain we will find her in much the same way after the storm subsides.”
“I pray she is. If she is injured, it will be my fault for not being on time to accompany her.” Darcy said as he slammed his hand against the wall surrounding the window.
“Darcy, I am certain that my daughter will be well. Lizzy is strong. She has been caught in storms before, with no harm to her. I am only nervous, which is why I commented. After all we have been through in the past few months, I am particularly protective of her.” Mr Bennet said as he placed a hand gently on Darcy’s shoulder. “Come, let us have something to drink, and then, I believe you owe me a chess match.”
Reluctantly, Darcy agreed.
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth rolled over and attempted to sit up. Unfortunately, there was a large rock on top of her, near her waist. She choked on the dust which was all about her. There was very little light coming from above. Looking up, she could see that the sky had turned dark and cloudy, and that it had begun to rain. How long have I been here? And just where is here?
She could see that she was underground, about ten feet underground, in a large hole. It must be one of the areas Mr Darcy spoke of, one of the areas which was considered dangerous. But I did not see any markings. The tree with the markings and the stones surrounding the area, I saw none of them. How could that be? Mr Darcy was adamant that this area be marked for everyone’s protection. Was this area outside the marked area? Have I found a different location?
Oh, my, this stone is not budging. If I could remove it, I am certain I would be able to climb out. The walls of the hole are uneven, and should allow me to find hand and foot holds. How am I to move the stone?
And where is Sadie? Did she fall down here as well? The poor girl, she was injured to begin with. A fall like this, in her condition, might kill her. Please, God, please watch over Sadie. She is so dear to me, such a kind and loving creature. Please keep her safe.
The rain grew stronger, forcing Elizabeth to cover her face with her arms. She was grateful for the moisture, as she knew she would not dehydrate. But she was worried of the rain continuing for any length of time. It would delay anyone being able to find her. Then the thought went through her mind. Just how will anyone find me down here?
~~ ** ~~
At tea time, Caroline made a production of joining the rest of the party in the drawing room. She put on a performance of how weak she was from her headache and fever, yet felt she must make the effort to be with everyone as they worried for Elizabeth. She made comments of false concern for the young lady, though she also stated she would not have been surprised to learn Elizabeth was safe and sound, causing her family and friends such fear for nothing.
“Who knows with Miss Elizabeth, she was famed for being quite a walker back in Hertfordshire. She could have just continued walking, leaving Pemberley behind.”
“Miss Bingley, why would you say such a thing?” Colonel Fitzwilliam was the first to speak.
“Well, I should not have listened, but the other day, I overheard Miss Elizabeth speaking to that mutt to whom she has taken a liking. She stated that sometimes she feels as if she could just continue to walk, until she left all of her past behind her and could begin anew.”
Darcy walked quickly towards Caroline. “Miss Bingley, I do not believe you. I declare, here and now, if you have done anything to bring Lady Elizabeth any harm, I will see you pay.”
“Mr Darcy, how could you accuse me of such behavior? I am appalled at your words. Here I am, ill, and still attempting to be of comfort to you and your guests. Louisa, I believe it would be best if I return to my rooms. My headache is growing worse. Please, Sister, would you assist me to my rooms?”
Louisa Hurst knew what had happened, as Raymond had watched as Elizabeth plunged into the earth. He had returned to his mistress and informed her of situation being handled. And he was compensated generously by Caroline, over the following hour.
“Of course, Caroline. Charles, you should assist our sister as well, rather than remain here with people who say they are your friend, yet speak so cruelly to her.”
“No, Louisa, I wish for Caroline to remain here. Darcy, if you would not mind, could we have the physician sent for? I believe it would be best if she remains here, with us, to watch over her.” Bingley had finally determined that his sisters were conspiring, and he was certain that Caroline had faked her fever.
“But Charles, it will harm Caroline’s health and prevent her from recovering if she is forced to remain here. She needs to be in her bed.” Louisa became frantic. She could not have the physician check her sister, unless Louisa was able to assist Caroline in looking feverish.
Bingley finally had had enough of his sisters and stood his ground. “I said that Caroline will remain here, and I meant it. She will not leave this room until the physician arrives and examines her. I do not trust the two of you, and will make certain that you cannot concoct an illness which is not true. I wish to have the physician confirm a theory I have of your illness.”
Darcy pulled the cord for a servant, and asked the footman to send for Mr Abernathy. Caroline moaned and pretended she was growing extremely ill, all the while, trying desperately to escape the room. She was on the verge of finding a way to force her fingers down her throat to cause her to vomit, when Mrs Reynolds entered the drawing room.
“Master William, Mr Fox says the rain is letting up. He is having horses saddled for any of the men who wish to search for Lady Elizabeth.” She then stepped closer to Darcy and whispered into his ear. “You might be wishing to speak with the young postilion from Mr Bingley’s carriage. It seems he was seen carrying something out of the house this morning, and was missing for quite some time. Mr Fox said that one of the stable hands commented that the young postilion is frequently seen entering the main house through the servants’ quarters.”
Darcy nodded his head. “Charles, you and Mr Bennet should remain here, until Mr Abernathy arrives to tend your sister. If you would be so kind, as him to remain here, for when we locate Lady Elizabeth. Mr Gardiner, you may remain here or join us in the search, I know Mr Bennet’s health is not the best for riding.”
Mr Gardiner nodded his head. “I will join you. Bennet, I know you wish to be with Lizzy when we find her, but you will do her no good if you cripple yourself in the search. Have no fear, we will find her and bring her back.”
Tears were forming in Mr Bennet’s eyes. He felt useless at that moment, until Darcy leaned over and informed him of what the housekeeper had told Darcy. “I will leave it in your hands to discover the truth of what happened with that young man.”
“Thank you, Darcy. I will need a task to keep me occupied until you bring my daughter back.”
~~ ** ~~
It was growing late when Darcy received word from the house of the area where to search for Elizabeth. In the hours Darcy had been out, searching, Mr Bennet and Bingley uncovered the truth of what had happened.
Mr Bennet and Bingley discussed, openly, in front of the ladies, of the postilion who was seen regularly visiting the house through the servants’ quarters. As the Pemberley staff had been questioned of the man, it was learned that the man in question was not visiting any of the Darcy servants, and was even seen in the area of Miss Bingley’s rooms.
Bingley was disgusted by his sister’s behavior. He realized the truth of what was happening. His maiden sister was not what she appeared to be. He had had Raymond brought to the drawing room, and, in front of his sisters, declared the man had been having relations with Caroline.
“I have no doubt that it has been happening for some time, but that does not matter at the moment. Raymond, I insist you tell me what you have done in the service of my sister today.”
“I…I do not know what you mean, Sir. I have been at my duty to tend the horses today.” Raymond said nervously. He did not wish to face the noose, which is what he would face if his part in Lady Elizabeth’s accident were discovered.
“I have it on the word of several trustworthy members of the Darcy staff, you were seen coming and going from this house several times today. The last I checked, our horses are not kept inside the house. What where you doing here at the house? It was said that you were carrying something from the house this morning. What was it?”
“N…n…nothing Sir. I m…mean, your sister was frightened of the dog. The one which tried to attack her. I removed it from the house, as it had gotten into her rooms. Your sister, Mrs Hurst, asked me to remove the beast. So I did. I did not wish to disturb anyone else. So I took the dog out of the house.”
Mr Bennet was not fooled. “Where is the dog?”
“Th…the dog? I took the dog outside. I released the dog outside and it ran away, snarling at me. I am certain the dog is diseased. It is dangerous.” Raymond did not realize how he was convicting himself.
“The dog was fine last night.” Mr Bennet said. “If the dog was ill, how did you carry it out of the house without anyone knowing? If it was snarling and attacking, how is it that you were able to carry it out without a problem?”
Mr Hurst had been assisted into the room as those gathered had been waiting for the postilion to come to the drawing room. He was tired of the lies he was hearing from his wife, her sister, and the young man who was Caroline’s lover. “What did you do to render the dog silent and calm?”
“I beg your pardon, Mr Hurst, but all I did was throw a grain sack over the dog. It remained calm until after I released it outside. That was when it became snarling and attempted to attack.”
“I thought you said that the dog attempted to attack my sister.” Bingley said.
Raymond was not an intelligent person, and the three men questioning him was confusing him terribly. Caroline feigned being too ill to continue in the discussion, even after Mr Abernathy arrived and pronounced her well and hearty. It was discovered, by Mr Abernathy, that Caroline’s maid had placed heated bricks under Caroline’s pillow before the physician had arrived previously. Caroline’s skin was quite warm due to the heat from the bricks, and some water had been sprinkled on her face to look like perspiration.
“Sir, it is best you tell us where you took Lady Elizabeth’s dog, and where Lady Elizabeth can be found.” Hurst stated. “If she has been harmed in any way, you will face charges. But if you assist us in locating her, it will go easier on you with the court.”
“Miss Bingley, please, I beg of you, please assist me. I do not know what to do.” Raymond said.
“You have lied to my brothers, I do not know why you think I can assist you. I barely know who you are, yet you make it seem as if we are intimate.” Caroline yelled at the young man, pretending to sob on her sister’s shoulder. “How can you ruin my good name in such a manner? I have never done anything to harm you, yet you treat me in such an infamous manner.”
“Miss Bingley, please. I love you, and I know you love me in return. You promised me a future with you, if I would assist you. But I cannot be with you if I am arrested. Please, I beg of you. Tell your brothers the truth. You gave me the vial of medicine to put on the dog’s food, the liquid that would make the dog sleep. You said you always bring some of the medicine with you for your nerves. Please, please, tell them the truth so they will not be angry with me. Then we can be together. I am sure you will have need of a footman in your home in London. There is no need for you to be married to Mr Darcy.”
“You fool.” Caroline screamed. “Are you too stupid to know the truth? Can you not see that you are nothing to me? Can you not see that you were only a means to aid me in remaining here, so I can secure Mr Darcy’s hand in marriage? Why would I want the likes of you, when I can have a real man like Mr Darcy? You are scrapes to feed the hogs in comparison to Fitzwilliam Darcy.”
Too late, Caroline realized her foolishness. Bingley and Hurst were furious, and both realized Louisa was also involved in the plot. “Louisa, you will go to your rooms and remain there. Mrs Reynolds, would you see that a maid and a footman are placed in my wife’s rooms to keep her there?” Hurst decided to take the upper hand. “Caroline, I will have one of the young men sent to Lambton for the constable to come. You will be placed under arrest and removed from here immediately, in chains, if you do not tell us where Lady Elizabeth can be found. Do you hear me? Tell us this moment, or you will be dragged from here in chains.”
Caroline refused to tell the truth, defiant to the last. “You would not dare. The humiliation which would be heaped on our family if you were to allow me to be treated in such a manner would be great. You would not wish for our reputations to be ruined.”
“My reputation is already set, Caroline.” Hurst stated. “I am the first born son and heir to my father’s estate. I do not fear what would be talked about if you were arrested. My own wife might be joining you in chains.”
“And I am going to be married, and start a family of my own.” Bingley added. “I am finished with you, Caroline. If I have to return our family to trade, then so be it. And my betrothed will be much happier without having to fear what you will do to her family.”
“You are trying to rid yourself of me, so you will be able to marry a woman who is beneath us. She is not worthy of being a part of our lives, yet you would throw your sisters away for the likes of her. The Bennet family is beneath us, Charles. Mr Bennet had an affair, then dressed his love child up as respectable. Mrs Bennet is a whore. Oh, yes, I overheard Mr Gardiner telling Mr Bennet. Mrs Bennet is living and working in a house of ill repute.”
Jane gasped, turning to her aunt for comfort. Hearing her soft sob broke Bingley’s heart. He walked towards his sister, standing before her, and reached out his hand, quickly bringing it down to strike his sister’s cheek. “I am finished with you, Caroline. No more. Raymond, I suggest you tell us the truth of where Lady Elizabeth can be found. If you do, I will see that you are represented in court. If you do not, if any harm has come to Lady Elizabeth, you will face the noose.”
Finally, Raymond realized his best plan was to tell the truth. He told Bingley and Hurst of Caroline’s plan to be rid of Lady Elizabeth, how she enticed Raymond to do her bidding with promises of a future with Caroline. He told of taking Sadie to the area where it was unsafe, purposely injuring the dog to encourage Lady Elizabeth to go to the dog. And he told of moving the safety markers which had been placed to keep people from the danger zone.
Mr Bennet sent riders out immediately to inform Darcy and the other men where Elizabeth could be found. A wagon was prepared with ropes and blankets, a stretcher and bandaging, and Mr Bennet joined Mr Abernathy in taking the wagon to the area where the rescue would be done.
~~ ** ~~
While the men were rescuing Elizabeth, Caroline was awaiting her future. Hurst and Bingley had decided they would do nothing to protect her. If there was a scandal, they would live through it. Hurst was not fond of society in Town, and he had no difficulty returning to his family’s estate to wait out the worst of it. Jane and Bingley discussed the ramifications to them, and it was decided that they could live with Mr Bennet at Longbourn. With Mrs Bennet and Lydia away, Jane was certain her father would appreciate having Jane and Bingley live with him after their marriage.
The constable was sent for and arrived while the men were out recovering Elizabeth. He remained there, with Caroline Bingley being defiant, waiting for news to arrive of Lady Elizabeth, so he would know what charges the criminals faced. Raymond had been locked in a room, under guard, after he confessed the truth and told where to find his victim. Louisa Hurst was still being guarded in her rooms, as Hurst determined what he would do with his wife. And Bingley remained in the drawing room, keeping watch over his sister.
Hurst decided that his wife would live out the remainder of her days in a small estate his family owned in northern Scotland. It was a barren wasteland, frozen most of the year, and the estate had not been worked for many years. Hurst’s father had tried to sell the property, but no one desired it. So it sat vacant and unwanted. That would be the perfect prison for Louisa Hurst, and, potentially, her sister. The men could see that there were no means of transportation, so the sisters would be forced to remain at the property. Food and other necessities could be taken to them on regular deliveries. And only a handful of servants could be employed to keep Caroline and Louisa in their place. They would be fed, sheltered, and otherwise, imprisoned in a land which would give them no comfort.
The thought of being forced to live in such a manner was appalling to Caroline. She refused to acknowledge any wrong doing on her part, declaring over and over that it was all Elizabeth Bennet’s fault for the situation. The young lady should never have been at Pemberley, according to Caroline. To her way of thinking, if Elizabeth had not come to Pemberley, Caroline would have had no need to be rid of her.
Jane finally excused herself, along with Mrs Gardiner and Georgiana, as they went down the hall to the music room. None of the ladies could tolerate hearing Caroline’s foolishness any longer.
Georgiana attempted to play on the pianoforte, but her heart was not in it. She fumbled through the sheets of music, over and over, while Jane paced about the room. Mrs Gardiner wandered to the window in the room, watching for the searchers’ return, then she would return to the sofa, picking up a cushion and running her fingers over the stitching.
After what seemed to be an eternity, they heard the sounds of the search party returning to the house. And the ladies were rewarded to see Elizabeth on the bed of the wagon, holding her father’s hand, and Sadie lying beside her.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Darcy and Richard had gone different directions around the lake. Darcy headed in the direction he usually found Elizabeth on her morning walks. He searched for some time, finally going in a different direction.
Hearing what sounded like a dog crying, Darcy began searching for Sadie as well. Calling out to Elizabeth and Sadie, time and again, he was certain he heard the dog, far away from where he was. Suddenly, he heard a fast approaching rider.
“Master Darcy, we learned that Lady Elizabeth has fallen down into one sink holes in at the base of Craggy Rock. The postilion took her dog there, injured it, to lure her there. The beast watched as she fell.”
“I thought I heard a dog crying. If we find the dog, we will find Lady Elizabeth. My cousin has a group of men on the other side of the lake. Find him and send him to us.” Darcy called out as he turned his mount in the direction of Craggy Rock. The closer he got to the location, the louder Sadie’s cries came. Then, Darcy saw Sadie carefully approached. It was clear to see she was favoring a paw, and there was blood matted in her fur.
When Sadie recognized Darcy, she let out a pitiful cry. Then she turned and limped back in the direction from which she had come. Darcy knew she was leading him to Elizabeth.
Coming to the area, which was normally marked to keep people out, Darcy could see the gaping hole in the ground. Sadie had stopped a few feet from the edge, so Darcy was certain that it was not safe to go nearer. He dropped down on the ground beside Sadie, giving her a scratch behind the ear.
“Good girl, Sadie. It would have taken us longer to find her if you had not led me here. Thank you, Girl.” Darcy turned his attention towards the men coming behind him. “Someone send to the stables for some ropes, and have the wagon brought out here. And one of you take care of Sadie. She will most likely refuse to leave the area until Lady Elizabeth is brought up, but the dog deserves to have her wounds tended.”
Darcy turned his attention back towards the hole. “Lady Elizabeth, can you hear me?”
A weak voice could be heard from below. “I am here.”
“Are you injured?”
“A bit. A large rock on top of me. Making it difficult to move or take a deep breath.”
“We are having supplies brought here to rescue you. It will not be long now.”
“Sadie, is she with you? She was injured.”
Darcy smiled. Of course Elizabeth would be worried for the dog. “Do not fret. She is here, and waiting for you to join her. I have one of the men tending her.”
“I was so worried for her.”
“And she is worried for you. She even came to lead us to you. You have a devoted friend, Lady Elizabeth. And she will always have a place of honor with me for her devotion to you.”
Relief was obvious in her voice. “Thank you, Mr Darcy. Did my father come with you? His health is not good for riding horses.”
Mr Gardiner chuckled. “Lizzy, dearest girl, have no fear. Your father is safely back at the house, with Jane and your aunt. Miss Darcy is watching over all of them. Let us worry about getting you out of the hole and back to the house.”
Clearly hearing the fatigue in Elizabeth’s voice, both of the men were concerned. Mr Gardiner attempted to ease his fears. “Lizzy, you are weary. Do not feel you need to speak. Conserve your energy for now.”
“Very tired, Uncle. I wish to be in bed, with Papa reading me a story.”
“Soon, my dear girl. Very soon. Mr Darcy sent for a wagon and ropes. We will have you out of the hole and snugly tucked in your bed, with your father sitting beside you and reading your favorite book to you.”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I am sure Mr Darcy has a copy of it in his vast library.”
Darcy smiled. “Of course I do. And it is yours to borrow. As are all my books.”
Hearing what sounded like a wagon approaching, Darcy stood up and looked around. Though it was becoming dark outside, there was a full moon that night. Darcy could see the wagon approaching, with Mr Bennet and the physician.
“Lady Elizabeth, help has arrived. We will be down there soon to assist you. Have no fear.”
“Yes, Papa. And I promise to be a good girl and go to sleep after you read me a story.” The voice from the hole was sounding exhausted and it was obvious she was becoming confused as to whom she was speaking.
“Stay with us, Lady Elizabeth. Your father has brought the physician and supplies. I will be down to you shortly.”
And then, there was silence. “Over here.” Darcy shouted to the driver of the wagon, as he stood up, waving his arms about. “Over here, quickly.”
The wagon arrived near where the horses were tied off, not wishing to move forward and risk falling through the ground. Rope was thrown to Darcy and Mr Gardiner. Darcy began to tie off the rope to a tree which was near the wagon and horses. Mr Gardiner prepared the other end of the rope for Darcy to tie around himself.
Once tied off, Darcy was lowered into the hole. He continued descending lower and lower, and as he did, he feared as to how far Elizabeth had fallen. Perhaps her soft voice was not from fatigue, but from distance. And if she had fallen so far, the stone on top of her had fallen the same distance. How much damage had it done to her? These thoughts played over and over, as Darcy traveled down the seemingly endless descent.
In reality, the distance was not as far as it seemed. Ten feet was not a tremendous drop, but for Darcy, it seemed more like one hundred feet.
When he reached the bottom of the hole, Darcy had the men send down a lantern. He needed to be able to see, and though the full moon was shining brightly, in the hole, it was still quite dark.
“Lady Elizabeth, I need to remove the stone from you. I will try to be careful, but I am sure you will feel discomfort or pain as the stone moves.”
“I am well.” Elizabeth said with a sad smile. “Do not fret so much.”
Just after Darcy had climbed down into the hole, Richard and the men he was with arrived at the location. Richard hurried as close to the hole as possible.
“Wills, what do you need?” He hollered.
“I will need some assistance down here. The rock will need to be removed from on top of her before we can move her.”
Mr Bennet feared the worst. “How badly is she injured?”
“I cannot tell at this moment. She seems to be drowsy and disoriented, but I do not know if it is due to any injury.” Darcy stated, attempting to keep his voice neutral.
Richard quickly prepared to join his cousin, and was soon being lowered into the underground cavern. Once his feet touched the ground, his training on the battlefield kicked in. “We will need some more rope, and a couple of blankets. The soil appears to be soft and spongy, so it could be that she only sank into the soil and is pinned beneath the stone. We can tie rope around the stone, and, with you men pulling, and Darcy pushing, we should be able to move the stone easily enough. I want to cover Lady Elizabeth’s head and face to keep more dirt from falling on her.”
The men agreed, and soon, the rope was wrapped around the stone and fastened snuggly. Richard covered Elizabeth’s head and shoulders with a blanket and kept his hand near her face to protect if the stone were to roll back at her. He was prepared to move her as soon as the stone was off her. Then Darcy could hold her as the men pulled them from the hole.
The stone was not willing to budge at first, but on the third try, it finally began to move. Darcy pushed with all his might, his back against the cavern wall as his legs pushed the stone to the side. The men above were able to pull it up high enough that, with the Darcy pushing it to the side, Richard was soon able to pull Elizabeth’s body to safety.
“She is free, Wills, she is free. Tie the rope around you and the men will pull you up to the surface. I will follow.” Richard said to his cousin as he gently held Elizabeth for his cousin.
Darcy quickly hollered to the men to lower the stone, and he allowed it to return to the area where Elizabeth had lain. As soon as the stone was safely on the ground, Darcy had the rope tied around his waist, and he scooped Elizabeth into his arms.
“Pull us up.” Darcy called out to the men. “I have Lady Elizabeth, pull us up.”
The men pulled on the rope, bringing Darcy to the surface, with Elizabeth grasped to his chest. He held on tightly, not wishing to risk her being further injured. Even when the men pulled them from the hole, he held her tightly, carrying her to the wagon before he released his hold on her.
Darcy stepped back to allow Mr Bennet and Mr Abernathy to take charge of the young lady who held the Master of Pemberley’s heart. When Richard joined his cousin, they watched as Mr Abernathy gave a quick inspection.
“I believe Colonel Fitzwilliam was correct in his observation. I believe she will have aches and pains over the next few days, and perhaps a sprained ankle, from the looks of it, but it does not appear the stone did much damage.”
The breath that Darcy had unconsciously been holding came rushing out of him. “Thank the heavens.”
“I believe we should take the young lady to the house and warm her up. She is soaked and chilled.” Mr Abernathy said as he looked up to Darcy. “If I am correct, Mrs Reynolds will have a roaring fire burning in the young lady’s bedchamber, and perhaps a hot bath readied before we arrive there. We should have something warm for her to drink as well. Some tea and some broth would be appropriate.”
Richard took the request and sent a rider ahead to the house to inform the housekeeper of the physician’s request. Darcy simply stood beside the carriage, watching the men taking care of his love.
As Abernathy declared it safe for them to take Elizabeth to the house, Darcy jumped into the driver’s seat and took up the reins. Richard took the seat beside him. Before the wagon began to move, Elizabeth’s eyes opened. “Where is Sadie? She was injured. Where is she?”
One of the stable hands came forward, carrying the loyal dog. “She is here, Ma’am. Have no fear. She will be limping from a hurt paw and some scrapes, but I think she will be fine.” He said as he placed Sadie on the wagon bed, beside Elizabeth.
Having her beloved dog beside her, Elizabeth dozed off, her fingers entwined in Sadie’s fur.
~~ ** ~~
The wagon came to a halt in front of the main house. Before any of his servants could come to assist the Bennet family in carrying Elizabeth inside the house, Darcy was off the wagon and at the side, prepared to scoop her into his arms once again.
The staff of Pemberley were prepared to undertake any request which could be given. Seeing their master was preparing to carry the young lady inside, the footmen stepped out of his way, yet were close at hand if they were needed. One of the young footmen realized the injured dog on the wagon which should be moved indoors. Darcy had left strict orders with all his staff that Sadie was to be treated like she was a guest in the grand house, and the dog had been since that day. The young footman, Wesley, gingerly lifted the dog into his arms and carried her inside, following Darcy up the stairs.
Most of the Pemberley staff assumed Darcy’s infatuation with Lady Elizabeth would lead to the couple marrying. Lady Elizabeth and her family were well liked and appreciated for their kindness, so the staff had no difficulty in doing little things in return. When it was learned that Miss Bingley had played a part in Lady Elizabeth’s disappearance and injury, the staff members were repulsed at the disgusting woman who was known to be vulgar.
Elizabeth was taken up the stairs and into her bedchambers by Darcy. He gently placed her on the bed and stepped back, allowing Mrs Gardiner and Mrs Reynolds to take charge of the young lady. Darcy found it difficult to tear his eyes from Elizabeth, afraid that if he turned his view away, she would vanish and he would be unable to find her.
Mr Bennet coughed roughly to capture Darcy’s attention. “Perhaps we should leave the ladies to tend Lizzy. She will need a bath and fresh clothing.”
Darcy was embarrassed that he had continued to watch as the ladies prepared to undress Elizabeth to clean her. “Yes, forgive me. Let us step down the hall to the drawing room. I wish to discover what Bingley has learned while we were out.”
~~ ** ~~
The men entered the drawing room and found Bingley with a glass of port in his hand, and fury building by the moment. “Ah, I am pleased you have returned. Lady Elizabeth, is she alive? Please, tell me that my sisters have not caused my future sister in law great harm.”
“The physician is with her now, but her injuries appear to be minor in comparison to what they could have been. And what has been done with your sisters?” Darcy asked.
Richard entered the room just behind his cousin. “Hurst is making arrangements. Mrs Hurst will be making a journey to northern Scotland tomorrow. The estate there is primitive and isolated from all society. Mrs Hurst is not pleased.”
“If I had my way, Louisa and Caroline could both rot in a prison cell for the rest of their lives. Anything less is too easy for them.” Bingley announced, taking another long drink from his glass.
“The constable wishes to speak with us with regards to Miss Bingley and the postilion.” Richard stated. “He particularly wishes to know Mr Bennet and Wills opinion on the matter.”
Darcy looked at Mr Bennet. “Do you wish to speak with him now or wait until we know more of what Lady Elizabeth’s condition?”
“We might as well deal with it. It will take the ladies a while to bathe my daughter and get her settled in her bed. And the physician will need to examine her for injuries.” Mr Bennet stated. It was clear to see the fatigue which was taking hold of the gentleman.
“Very well, let us take our seats. Richard, would you be as kind as to showing the constable in here?”
Moments later, Mr O’Leary, the constable, entered the drawing room, following Richard. The men discussed the matter, all of the possibilities of punishments, and a decision was finally arrived at.
Caroline Bingley would join her sister in Scotland, to spend out her days in the desolate estate that no one wanted. There would be three servants hired to watch over the ladies, a maid, a cook, and a footman. They would have weekly provisions delivered from the nearest village, which happened to be ten miles away. There would be no horses for the ladies to ride, no possibility of escape from the location with the exception of on foot, and neither Caroline nor Louisa were strong walkers.
The fate of the foolish postilion was the main issue with the constable. As he was the one to actually cause the harm, and the Bingley sisters were conspirators, Raymond was the one with the most to lose. The constable decided to offer the young man a lighter sentence if he would confess, saving everyone the need for a trial. Bingley snorted and suggested sending the man to Scotland with his sisters.
“Serves them all.” Bingley said, obviously after having drank quite a bit. “My sisters would have their footman to keep them occupied, and he would suffer their unhappiness and cruelty towards him.”
“Bingley does have a point.” Mr Gardiner stated. “Not only would they all be imprisoned together, but they would all make each other miserable for the remainder of their lives.”
Mr Bennet chuckled. “It would be cruel, but a just way to see to it they all suffered the same.”
The men all agreed and the constable went to speak with Raymond. “The decision has been made to allow you to live out the rest of your days in Scotland. You will remain there for the remainder of your life, never to return to England. You will be the footman in the house where Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst will be living for the rest of their life.”
“Oh, yes, I will be pleased to be in service to the ladies.” Raymond could not believe his good fortune.
“Young man, I must understand. The estate, where you will be living, is not one of luxury. It is located in the northern area of Scotland, very remote and no other people around for miles. There are no tenant farmers, for it is not good farm land. Do you understand what I am telling you? You would be alone, with the ladies and two servants, for the rest of your lives. And you cannot leave the estate.”
“But I will be with Miss Bingley, as she promised. That is the most important part. I accept the terms.”
“Very well. You will leave for there tomorrow. If, for any reason, you leave the estate, you can still face charges of attempted murder. You would, most likely, be hung for such charges.”
“I will not leave the estate. I will remain there, as Miss Bingley will be there. That is all that matters.” Raymond stated.
The constable knew that the young man was deluding himself with his thoughts of Caroline Bingley’s devotion, but the young man had accepted the offer and that was all that mattered.
He returned to the drawing room, expressing the sentiments of the postilion. The men all agreed that Raymond was naïve and foolish, but they wished to be rid of the trio as soon as possible.
Richard decided to take the journey north with Hurst, escorting the condemned to their new accommodations. Once he finished there, he would return to London, as he planned to return to his unit. There was word of war brewing again, and he would be instrumental in training the new recruits. His years of battle had honed his skills and used his natural talents to good use. But he would not return to a battlefield. After the last battle he was in, when he was nearly killed, his left leg had been permanently damaged. Though it rarely stood in his way when he needed to ride or walk, he felt the pain of it most nights. It was a secret his family never knew. But he felt safe in the knowledge that they would be grateful for his not being able to return to war.
Caroline was furious with the decision which was made for her. “I will not go. You cannot make me go.”
Bingley stood his ground. Walking towards his sister, he came to a stop mere inches from her face. With a menacing glare never before seen from Bingley, he growled. “You are going to Scotland, or you will be spending time in prison. If you choose not to go to Scotland, you will face deportation as a punishment for your crimes, if you are lucky. You conspired to commit murder. And the plot was against a member of royalty. Have you no notion of your foolishness? Have you no conscious? It is bad enough you plotted to kill someone, but to have that person be a member of royalty. You heartless shrew. You worthless harpy. As head of our family, I am telling you, you will be going to Scotland with Louisa. I will not tolerate you any longer. You have destroyed my life and nearly murdered a kind and caring young lady. I have been stupid, and will pay the price for the rest of my life. But I will not allow you to cause any further harm.”
“No one will convict a lady of such crimes. You should accept the truth. Miss Elizabeth is not worthy of all this commotion. Her entire family is beneath us, and your betrothal to her sister is going to ruin our family. I will not live in Scotland, and neither will Louisa. We will remain in England, and prepare for the coming Season in Town. We will be welcomed to all the best parties and dinners, just wait and see. If you go through with the wedding to Jane Bennet, we will be the laughing stocks of society.”
“Caroline, have you taken leave of your senses?” Hurst asked, appalled by his sister in law’s behavior. “Louisa has admitted to what she did wrong, and is willing to take her punishment in Scotland, rather than the humiliation of a trial. You cannot believe you are innocent?”
“I know that having someone killed is wrong, but there are times that it is permissible. Like when someone threatens or endangers your life. Miss Eliza Bennet was threatening my life. She deserved to die, so she could not harm me. It is as simple as that.” Caroline looked at herself in the looking glass. “Now, when shall we leave for London?”
Bingley was certain of what his sister was doing. After her pretense of illness with a pretend fever, he would not believe a word from her. “Caroline, enough of your acting. It is not to be tolerated any longer. You leave in the morning, with Louisa, to live in Scotland. But, if you would prefer, we could have you locked away in Bedlam. You are pretending to be unstable, so we will feel sorry for you. Fine, Bedlam would be an appropriate place for someone who is unstable enough to plot a murder. We could make certain you are included on the tour that comes through for the wealthy to see the sick and depraved. I am sure they would enjoy witnessing you bound up in one of the coats they use, your hair disheveled and drool flowing out of your mouth. Perhaps the visitors will throw food at you. I would love to witness such an event.” Bingley gave his sister an evil smile.
“Charles, you would not dare. You would not tolerate the humiliation it would bring our family. Would you treat Louisa as poorly as you do me? It is not like Eliza died. I know Raymond thought she had, when she fell, but he is such a fool, and can never do as I tell him. It is his fault that the plan failed. He should be the one to pay the consequences, not me.”
“Caroline, you just admitted to the fact that you told Raymond to commit the assault on Lady Elizabeth.” Hurst exclaimed. “You know what is right and what is wrong. Now, no more of this foolishness. You will be joining Louisa in Scotland. Do as you are told or I will see that you are bound and gagged, and placed with the luggage.”
Caroline began to sob. “You are both cruel. All of my hopes of becoming Mrs Darcy of Pemberley are being ruined due to you. Everything I have hoped for will be gone, due to your failing to assist me. It is your fault I reached out to cause Eliza Bennet harm. All your fault for not securing Darcy for me.”
“Enough. Goodbye, Caroline. Enjoy Scotland. And I do not plan to write to you, so do the same, do not write to me. As far as I am concerned, I am an only child and have no sisters. You are dead to me.” Bingley gave up on his sister. “Hurst, I will remain here until you return, then we can decide what else will need to be done.”
Hurst nodded his head. “Colonel Fitzwilliam will ride in the second carriage with Raymond and the cook and maid we hire. We are taking four of the Pemberley men to assist in guarding the three prisoners. I should return in a fortnight.”