The Darcys arrived at Netherfield the day after Twelfth Night. Charles and his father greeted the Darcy family in the foyer.
“Darcy, you look happy and healthy. It is obvious that your marriage agrees with you.” Charles’ father stated as he shook the younger man’s hand. “And Mrs Darcy, you are radiant. Where is Miss Darcy?”
“My sister decided to visit our aunt and uncle for a month. They were waiting to hear word on my cousin, the one in the army. We received word that he had been wounded, but that it was a mild wound. It was not known if he would be sent home to recover or remain in France.”
Charles shook his head. “Such a terrible thing to happen, especially during the holiday season. I pray that Fitzwilliam is well, and the wound was minor.”
“As do we all.” Elizabeth said. “Where are your sisters? I would have thought they would be here to greet us.”
Mr Bingley and Charles looked at each other. Finally the father spoke. “Caroline is having some difficulties with accepting situations, so I sent her to my sister’s home for a visit. I’m not sure if she will be returned by the time you leave.”
Elizabeth glanced from her husband to their friends. She had a suspicion that they were not being told the most important part of the situation with Miss Caroline, but she did not wish to open a can of worms.
“Does my sister know when we were to arrive?” Elizabeth asked.
Charles looked down at the floor. “We have not seen or been able to speak with anyone from your family since the ball on Christmas Eve. The family is not accepting visitors, and the staff seem nervous when I have called to see Miss Bennet. I am deeply concerned.”
Darcy was instantly concerned as well. “What is the reason you are told for not being allowed in the house?”
“I have only been told that the family is unavailable to entertain guests. And there is something else you should know about. Mrs Bennet brought Miss Bennet and Miss Mary to the ball, against Mr Bennet’s orders. It was near midnight that a message arrived from Longbourn, requiring the ladies to return home immediately. Mrs Bennet attempted to make light of the matter, but I have a sinking feeling that Mr Bennet discovered them missing from the house. I fear for their safety.” Charles looked at Elizabeth, both of them had tears pooling in their eyes.
“My uncle, Mr Phillips, is he aware of the situation?” Elizabeth asked. She prayed he would be able to determine whether or not her mother and siblings were well.
“Mr Phillips was denied entrance as well. Mrs Hill told him that she had been threatened with her life if she allowed anyone to enter the house, against the wishes of the master.” Mr Bingley stated. “I sent a boy to Meryton to inform the Phillips’ that you have arrived. I am certain that Mr and Mrs Phillips will soon be here to speak with us on the matter.”
Elizabeth turned to her husband, as he wrapped her in his arms. “William, what has my father done? Would he be angry enough to harm Mamma and my siblings? I do not understand, why is he doing this?”
“Your uncle has some notions, but we have no way of determining if they are true. But I will have him inform you, when he arrives.” Mr Bingley stated. “In the meantime, would you care for some refreshments or to freshen up a bit?”
“I believe we should take a few moments for Elizabeth to gather her thoughts. Would you mind sending some tea to our rooms?” Darcy asked.
Charles nodded his head. “Allow me to escort you to your rooms, and then, I will see that a tray is sent up for you both.”
~~ ** ~~
Nearly two hours passed before someone from the Bingley staff knocked on the door of the rooms the Darcys were to use during their visit.
“Pardon me, Mr Darcy, but Mr Bingley wishes you to know that the Phillips’ have arrived and are waiting to see you and your wife. They are in the main parlor. I can escort you if you wish.” The footman offered.
The Darcys followed the young man, who was familiar to Elizabeth. “You are Walter, Mr Lowry’s son, are you not?”
“I am, Mrs Darcy. I am surprised you recognized me.”
“How are your parents? Are they still at Longbourn?” Elizabeth asked.
“Yes, though they are beginning to look elsewhere. There has been a good deal of talk, and, well, my father is not sure it is safe to remain at the estate.”
“But they have been tenants since I was a babe. Has it really become so terrible?”
“You had best speak with you uncle on the matter. I do not know all the details. But I know my parents would want me to wish you well and happy in your marriage. They will be pleased when I tell them I have seen you.”
Darcy shook his head. “For the time being, we are keeping the news of our being in the neighborhood secret. We do not wish Mr Bennet to learn of our arrival just yet.”
Walter nodded his head. “You can trust me, I will keep your secret.”
The young man showed them to the drawing room door and opened it for them. Elizabeth saw her aunt and uncle, and moved towards them. Mrs Phillips practically threw herself into her niece’s arms.
“Oh, Lizzy, Lizzy, it is so good to have you here. I have missed you terribly. And you are married, and a mother. Oh, our little girl has grown up so quickly.” Mrs Phillips cried as she embraced her niece. Stepping back a step, she looked Elizabeth over. “Married life and motherhood have treated you kindly, Lizzy. You are the picture of happiness.”
“Thank you Aunt. Might I introduce you to my husband?”
“My, yes, I have looked forward to meeting him. Helen has told me so much about his family.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Mrs Edith Phillips, this is Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy of Derbyshire. William, this is my Aunt Phillips. And the handsome gentleman who has just walked up behind her is my uncle, Mr Robert Phillips, solicitor.”
Mr Phillips offered his hand to Darcy and the men shook. Then Mr Phillips turned his attention to his niece. “Lizzy, your aunt is correct. You are the picture of happiness. How is Pemberley and the neighborhood recovering? Helen told us how much you have put into rebuilding the village of Lambton, and all that you did to rebuild your estate. It must have been exhausting, having to tend to the needs of so many people.”
Darcy placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “I could never have managed on my own. Elizabeth has been at my side every step of the way. She took on the role of Mistress of Pemberley, and everyone at Pemberley respect and love her.”
“I am not surprised. Our dear girl has always been intelligent and kind hearted. I have always thought her to be far older than her years.” Mr Phillips replied. “Mr Bingley has tea and some treats for us, if you wish to partake. We have much to discuss.”
After taking their seats, Elizabeth began. “We were told that no one has seen or heard from Mamma and my siblings since Christmas. They have not even allowed you to enter the house?” she asked to both Mr and Mrs Phillips.
“I tried to see my sister, but was refused. Mrs Hill said that Fanny was resting and that Jane was reading with your brother and sisters, and did not wish to be disturbed. I found this odd, as Jane is not the sort to ever turn someone away without a greeting, especially family.”
“After Edith informed me of her being denied access, I went to Longbourn. Mrs Hill was not available. Your father’s manservant answered the door, and though his words declared no problems at the estate, the expression told me there was something very wrong. And I was not allowed to enter, just like Sir William Lucas, Mr Long, and all the others who tried to visit the family.”
“What is wrong with my father? Why is he behaving in such a manner?” Elizabeth asked, a sob escaping her as she spoke. Darcy wrapped his arms about her, holding his beloved wife to his chest.
“Lizzy, did you know that your father had a riding accident, about a month before you left, with Helen, for Lambton?” Mr Phillips inquired.
Elizabeth was surprised. “No, I had no notion. When did this happen?”
Mrs Phillips replied. “The day that the large pine tree near the Simpson’s cottage was struck by lightning. Your father was there when the storm broke out, and he was attempting to return home. The lightning caused his horse to panic, throwing him to the ground. He was knocked unconscious for a bit, according to Mr Simpson.”
“Why did Papa never tell us? Do you think the accident has anything to do with his behavior?” Elizabeth was surprised at the news.
“I spoke with Mr Jones, and he said it is possible that there was some pressure inside the skull, causing the change in personality. Mr Jones told me of a case he read about where the lady, who was a proper lady and the wife of a clergyman, struck her head on a cupboard door, knocking her senseless. Over the following weeks, her personality changed, to the point that she left her husband, and was later discovered working in a brothel. The husband could not recognize the woman she became, she was so altered.”
Darcy felt his wife’s body tremble. “Is there anything that can be done for Mr Bennet, if this is the problem?”
“Not really. Unfortunately, the mind is still quite a mystery. But it would explain Thomas’ bizarre behavior. It may come to a point that Thomas will need to be placed in an asylum, for his protection, as well as the protection of all around him.” Mr Phillips said, looking sympathetically at his niece. “I wish there was better news, Lizzy, but we must determine what is best for the entire family. If your mother and siblings are being kept in the house, against their wishes, because your father is out of control, then we need to aid them, and soon.”
“You are correct, Uncle. I wish to go there. I have to see my family and my family home.”
“Elizabeth, do you think it is wise? Your father was furious with you and our marriage. I do not wish for you to be injured. Perhaps it would be wise for you to remain here, and allow your uncle and I make contact.” Darcy suggested.
“William, I must do this myself. Though I will be pleased to have you at my side, I must confront this situation and do what I can for my loved ones.”
“Very well, my love. But do not, for one moment, think I will allow you to go without me.”
Mr and Mrs Phillips looked at each other. Their shared expression spoke of their pleasure to see Elizabeth was well settled in a loving marriage.
Darcy turned his attention to his wife’s relations. “When shall we go to Longbourn?”
“It is still early. Would you care to go now?” Mr Phillips asked.
“I wish to join you.” Charles stated. “I have been worried for my dearest Jane, and cannot stay here, waiting for word of her.”
With a smile, Darcy nodded his head. “Very well, let us make the journey to Longbourn.”
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth looked out of the carriage window at the land she had known all her life. It amazed her how different it looked now, coming back after only a year away. But it had been a year of many changes. As they pulled into the drive of Longbourn, and advanced toward the house, Elizabeth felt her heart begin to race. This had been her home, where her family lived. And inside the house was the man she had loved and respected, and who turned against her in such a fashion, she was robbed of the rest of her family.
What do I say to him? How do I speak to him? I am not his Lizzy anymore, not the little girl who used to spend hours reading in his study, debating over many topics. I am a wife and mother, the Mistress of my husband’s grand estate. I am William’s partner, something Papa and Mamma never had in their marriage. I must be strong. I will not allow Papa to treat me as a child.
The carriage came to a halt in front of the main house. Darcy exited the carriage, turning to hand down his wife. Mr Phillips, Bingley and Mrs Phillips exited the Phillips’ carriage.
Darcy knocked on the front door of the house. There was no answer. He knocked again. Still, no sound came from inside the house and the door remained closed. Trying the doorknob, he found it secure.
“Mr Phillips, no one is answering. Shall we try another entrance?” Darcy asked.
“Yes, come this way.” Mr Phillips pointed to the west side of the house. Elizabeth rushed past her husband and the others, as dread was beginning to build in her heart.
“Elizabeth, slow down. You must wait for us, my love.” Darcy hurried to catch his wife. “I do not wish for you to be harmed.”
“William, something is dreadfully wrong, I can feel that something evil has happened. We must hurry inside.”
Knowing his wife’s ability to remain calm in the face of struggle and strife, Darcy began to worry. As soon as they reached the side doors, which led into the kitchen, Darcy reached for the doorknob. Again, he found the door locked.
“Force the door in, please William. We must enter the house immediately.” Elizabeth instructed.
Stepping back, Darcy lifted his foot and kicked the door with all the force he could collect. There was a cracking sound, though the door remained in place. A second time met with the same results. Bingley moved to Darcy’s side and the two friends moved as one, kicking the door a third time. The combined efforts threw the shattered door open, and the group entered the home.
What they found was more than anyone should ever be forced to encounter.
When no one answered the sound of the door being forced open, everyone began to fear the worst. The first door they came to was Mr Bennet’s study. It was unlocked, and no one was found inside the room. The group moved on, towards the dining room. There, they found the bodies of Mrs Hill, the housekeeper who had been with the family since before Elizabeth was born, and the cook. They had been stabbed, multiple times.
Elizabeth was in a panic. “Upstairs. My mother and siblings must be upstairs.”
Mr and Mrs Phillips went to the front entrance door, opening it and motioning for the men, who had accompany them, to enter. “Keep an eye open for anyone. We have found two of the servants dead, and there is no sign of Mr Bennet yet. We will move upstairs, to check on the family.”
The men nodded their heads, and moved about the main level of the house.
Elizabeth nearly ran up the stairs. At the top, she pointed at doors. “That is Mamma’s bedchamber, and over there, is Mary’s. That one is Papa’s. The one at the end is Kitty and Lydia’s room. Jacob’s is here, next to Jane’s room.”
She reached out her hand, panicked at what she might find, when she opened her eldest sister’s door. Mr Phillips walked to the end of the hall to the door of the two youngest Bennets, while Mrs Phillips walked to her sister’s door. Darcy decided to take position at Mr Bennet’s bedchamber door, leaving Bingley to watch the hallway.
Elizabeth opened the door to her sister’s room, and carefully entered. She found Jane, lying on the bed, covered in blood. Running to the side of the bed, Elizabeth cried out. “Jane, dearest Jane, please, please, be alive.”
She felt for any sign of her sister’s life being spared, and was rewarded with a faint beat of her heart being felt at her neck. “Charles, please, we must take my sister to Netherfield. She needs a physician immediately.”
Charles entered the room, and was momentarily paralyzed by the sight of his betrothed covered in her own blood.
“Charles, you must help her. Take her to Netherfield and send for the physician. Do as I tell you, immediately.”
He suddenly found his ability to move and scooped Jane into his arms, rushing out of the room and down the stairs. As he made for the front entrance, he shouted out orders to the men who were on the main level.
Elizabeth moved from the bedchamber, torn between her desire to follow Charles and the need to check the welfare of the rest of her family. Mrs Phillips could be heard, sobbing as she knelt beside the bed of her sister.
“Mamma, is Mamma… is she…”
“She is alive, but I do not know for how long.” Mrs Phillip stated.
“Then we need to take her to Netherfield.” Elizabeth said, not looking at her mother. She knew she had to be strong, help those she could, and then break down in her grief after all was tended. This had been her way since childhood, and had proven well during the aftermath of the earthquake.
Looking down the hall, she saw Darcy coming from her father’s room. “Is he…?”
“No, there is no sign of him. Your mother?”
“She is alive, though barely. We need to take her to Netherfield. Charles took Jane, and he was to send for a physician.”
Mr Phillips stepped out of the room of Jacob Bennet. “Your brother is alive, though his injuries are severe. It appears he was stabbed, as we saw downstairs with the servants.”
“Mamma is also alive. Jane has been taken to Netherfield, and we should have the men take Mamma and Jacob.” Elizabeth said. “Mary? The younger girls?”
Mr Phillips shook his head. “Mary is gone. I have not yet checked on Kitty and Lydia.”
Darcy took hold of his wife’s hand and they moved to the door of the bedchamber of the youngest sisters. He opened the door, and stepped inside.
Tears were welling in Elizabeth’s eyes when she looked upon the innocent faces of her sisters. They were so young, Lydia was the same age as Georgiana, and Kitty was only a year older. Darcy checked for any signs of life from either of the girls, finding nothing but the cold fact that they had been murdered.
“Why did he do this? Why? Papa murdered my sisters and servants, and attempted to kill my mother and other siblings? They were his children, his blood. Why would he kill them?” Elizabeth was losing hold of her composure.
A sound was heard from the closet, and Darcy pushed Elizabeth behind him, as he reached out and opened the door. A young female was hiding behind the clothing in the closet.
“Sarah?” Elizabeth asked.
The maid came out of the closet and flung herself at Elizabeth’s ankles. “Miss Lizzy, you are here. Oh, praise God, you have come. I have been hiding since…since…” The girl broke into sobs.
“When did this happen?” Darcy asked.
“It seems like years have gone by, while I was hiding. I was in the dark, so I have no notion of how long it has been. The last I knew, it was Wednesday, in the evening.”
“Good God, Mamma, Jane and Jacob have been lying in their bed, bleeding, for two days. It is a miracle they are alive.” Elizabeth choked on her words.
Sarah continued to sob. “Mrs Hill? Maude?” She asked after the housekeeper and cook.
“They are dead.” Darcy replied. “We found them in the dining room. Who else was in the house?”
“Mr Bennet’s manservant is the only other staff.”
“Do you know where we might find Mr Bennet?” Darcy asked.
“I am not certain. I heard him slamming doors and shouting, and, when I peeked out the door, I could see he carried a large knife and there was blood. I tried to wake Miss Kitty, but, before I could, I heard the doorknob rattle. The closet door was open, as I had been putting the young misses clothes away, so I hid inside.”
It was clear the memory of what she heard and saw was overwhelming the young maid. Elizabeth helped Sarah to her feet, wrapping her arms about her as the Mistress of Pemberley attempted to soothe the maid.
“Sarah, we are taking my mother, Jane and Jacob to Netherfield Park. I wish for you to come with us. We will see that you are safe and protected.”
“Thank you, Miss Lizzy. Thank you.”
“Come, let us leave.” Elizabeth escorted the maid from the room, and down the stairs. At the base of the stairs, one of the men came forward.
“Mrs Darcy, we discovered a man, in the parlor. From his clothing, I would say he was a servant.”
“My father’s manservant, most likely. I take it he is dead?”
“Yes, ma’am. Two of the men went to the stables, but there was no one to be found there. As it is beginning to grow dark, we thought it best to contain the house, and tomorrow morning, we can return to give a thorough search of the rest of the estate.”
“We will need more men to search the area for Mr Bennet.” Darcy declared. Mr Phillips was carrying Jacob down the stairs, following Darcy.
“We can send word to Lucas Lodge, ask Sir William to put out the word that we require assistance. We will need to spread the word to be on the watch for Mr Bennet.” Mr Phillips suggested.
“That would be prudent.” Darcy acknowledged. “Who knows where the man is hiding.”
Mrs Phillips came down the stairs, following the two men who were carrying Mrs Bennet from the house. “We had best move all of us to Netherfield, as there will be much to do, while we wait for the physician to come. Mr Jones will be able to aid some, but I am afraid some of the injuries are far beyond his abilities to tend.”
Elizabeth nodded, and followed her aunt from the house. Darcy and Mr Phillips were close behind the ladies. After Charles had left with Jane, the men had the carriage belonging to the Bennet family prepared. The two injured Bennets were loaded into the carriages and were quickly on their way to Netherfield.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Mr Bingley was in the foyer, directing everyone as they entered the house at Netherfield. “Miss Bennet has been taken up to one of the guest rooms on the third floor. How many more wounded do we have?”
“Only two wounded.” Darcy declared. “Though we have a maid who was hidden during the murders, and she will need somewhere safe to stay.”
“We have plenty of room for everyone. She could stay in the maid room attached to the nursery. Your son’s nanny is using the room, but there are three beds in there. The maid could assist your nanny in Ben’s care.” Mr Bingley stated. “The injured can be placed in the rooms near Miss Bennet’s.”
He motioned for the passing footman to come forward, and explained where to take the new arrivals.
“As soon as Mr Jones arrives, I will send him up. I have already sent a rider to Town, to bring back a surgeon.” Mr Bingley stated. “And I have sent for Sir William, as he is the magistrate in this neighborhood.”
“Then you know that Mr Bennet was not found at Longbourn.” Darcy stated.
“Yes, Charles told me. He is with Miss Bennet. He asked for her hand in marriage, at the ball. I pray he does not lose his chance at happiness.”
~~ ** ~~
Thomas Bennet was staying in the dower house, where his mother had lived, after his father’s death. It had been unused for many years, yet Mr Bennet was comforted by the familiarity. He could feel his mother’s presence in the house.
“Thomas, what are you doing here? Where is Fanny?”
“Mother, I needed to get away from the house. So much commotion going on, almost as bad as each of Fanny’s confinements. Jane’s birth was difficult enough to endure, but Fanny was always worried that the child will not be a son. Father was cruel to place the entail on the estate. Since Jacob’s birth, Fanny has worried that something might happen to him.”
Martha Bennet placed a gentle hand upon her son’s cheek. “It is difficult to understand his reasoning, my dear boy, but he did not do it to cause you pain. As you are well aware, girls are rare in our family, so he thought there would be no issue.”
“Fanny frets constantly, believing that she will fail me. I have told her that I will make certain that she and any girl children are protected, but she continues to fret.”
“It is the woman’s lot in life to fret over her family. I continue to do so for you, my dear son.”
Mr Bennet took hold of his mother’s hand. “I have missed your intelligent conversations, Mother. It seems like it has been years since I last spoke with you.”
“I am always here for you, Thomas. You know how much I love you. My only wish is that I could have kept you as a young boy longer. You grew up far too fast for my taste. Enjoy your children, while they are young.”
“I have refused to allow them to grow older. When Lizzy disobeyed me, I disowned her. I did not wish to lose her, but she did not remain my child, as she was told.”
“Then you were correct in how you handled the situation. But you should keep the other children from growing older.”
Mr Bennet nodded his head. “I will do all that I can to keep them children, and at home. Jane is beginning to disobey, but I taught her and her mother a valuable lesson. And, to ensure Jacob, Mary, Kitty and Lydia understood, they were taught the same lesson. My children will now obey me.”
“You are a good son, Thomas. Do you wish to stay here, until the commotion settles down at the main house?”
“Thank you, Mother. I would like that very much.”
Thomas Bennet laid his head on the pillow as he curled up on the sofa. Sleep soon overtook him.
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth had just left her sister’s room, and was on her way to see her mother. She was grateful to find her husband waiting in the hall for her.
Wrapping her in his strong embrace, Darcy placed a kiss on top of her head. “How is your sister?”
“She is weak. Mr Jones has done all he can for her, we must now wait for the surgeon to arrive.” Elizabeth said, speaking to his chest. “Mr Jones is with Jacob now.”
“I have asked for Ben to be brought down from the nursery. Your aunt informed me that your mother wishes to see her grandson. I am praying it will give her the strength to fight, but it is my fear that it will be the only chance she will see him in life.” Darcy said, holding his wife as her body trembled.
“If only we had come sooner, perhaps we could have prevented all of this…this… carnage.”
Mr Phillips had just left the room where Jacob was being examined. “Lizzy, you cannot blame yourself. What if I had forced my way inside, or your aunt had…what if Thomas had never been thrown from the horse? There is no reason for what happened, and we cannot blame ourselves for what is done. All we can do is to do our best for those who were injured, bury the dead, and find your father, so he can bring no further harm.”
“It is just so difficult to understand, Uncle. My father murdered my sisters, he murdered the servants. Mamma, Jane and Jacob are barely alive.”
Seeing the nanny bringing Ben towards his parents, Mr Phillips smiled. “After all the chaos, this young man is the reason for us to continue on with life. Your son is the next generation. If I am correct, your father’s deterioration would have happened, whether or not you had gone with Helen to Lambton. If the earthquake had not happened, and you had come home, would you have been killed tonight? So many ifs, but the main point is, you were meant to marry this gentleman. You were meant to give birth to this boy. God has a plan for all of you, and you must accept that your life is on the path it for which it was meant. Now, take your son to meet his grandmother. Fanny has been waiting to meet him for some time, and I know it will please her.”
~~ ** ~~
Stepping quietly towards the bed, Elizabeth held her son close to her chest. Mrs Phillips gave her a weak smile, then turned to her sister. “Fanny, my dear sister, your grandson is here. Open your eyes, Fanny, so you might see the fine, handsome boy your daughter birthed.”
Elizabeth watched her mother’s eyes flutter, and finally opened slightly.
“Lizzy…Lizzy is here? She brought…the babe? Where?”
“I am here, Mamma. I brought Ben to meet you.” Elizabeth moved to the side of the bed, then took a seat on the mattress. “Ben, this is your Grandmamma. Can you give your Grandmamma a smile?”
Mrs Bennet reached out her hand touching the babe’s fingers. “Look at the dark hair… and he has Lizzy’s eyes. A dimple…he has a dimple…when he smiles.”
“Just like his father.”
“Is he good…to you and Ben?” Mrs Bennet asked, pain etched in her expression.
“He is, Mamma. He is very good to us. He is just outside the door, would you like to meet him?” Elizabeth asked.
“Yes…oh, yes…might I meet Mr Darcy?”
Mrs Phillips moved towards the door, opening it to find her husband and Darcy standing nearby. “Gentlemen, come inside. Fanny wishes to meet you, Mr Darcy.”
Darcy moved towards his wife, until he stood behind her, with his hands lovingly on her shoulders.
“Mamma, this is my husband, Fitzwilliam Darcy. William, this is my mother, Fanny Bennet.”
“Mrs Bennet, it is a pleasure to meet you. I wish it were on better circumstances, but I know Elizabeth is pleased to be here.”
“Mr Darcy…I am pleased. Lizzy deserves to be loved. Promise me…you will always love her…and your son.” Mrs Bennet held out her hand to him.
Accepting her hand, Darcy placed his other hand over top. “You have my word, Mrs Bennet. Elizabeth and Ben, and any other children we are blessed with, will always be loved and cherished for the precious gifts they are. And you must call me William, as your daughter does. When you recover, we will take you to our home. You will be able to spend time with your grandson, and witness for yourself how happy we are as a family.”
“I wish it could be, W…William. I hold no doubt that I am not long for this world. But I got to meet you…and Ben…and see the sparkle in my daughter’s eyes.”
“Mamma, you will be well, I am certain. Please, do not leave us.”
Mrs Bennet moved her hand to Elizabeth. “You were a gift from God… though I never treasured you… as I should have. Forgive me, Lizzy, for I do… truly love you.”
“As I love you, Mamma. I have always known that you loved me.”
“Your sisters, and Jacob…are any alive?”
“Yes, Mamma. Jane and Jacob are down the hall. Mr Jones is tending Jacob, and we sent to Town for a physician, for all of you.”
“William…I charge you with the care of my daughter… Jane, and my son, Jacob… See that they are cared for…loved…as is my Lizzy.”
“You have my word, Mrs Bennet. I will do my best for all of you.” Darcy could feel the sting of tears welling in his eyes.
“Then all will be well.” Fanny Bennet said, with a smile on her lips. She touched her grandson’s fingers once again. “Lizzy, can you hold Ben…so I can give him a kiss?”
“Of course, Mamma.” Elizabeth replied, moving to place Ben’s face near her mother’s.
Fanny placed a kiss on her grandson’s cheek. “You grow to be a good man, like your father… and take care of your mother and any siblings. Know how dearly…I love you…”
With those word, Fanny Bennet took her final breath.
“Mamma, please, do not leave us. Please, Mamma.” Elizabeth sobbed. Darcy took their son from her, allowing Elizabeth to drape herself over her mother’s still form. “I love you, Mamma. I love you. Ben needs his Grandmamma, Jane and Jacob need you. Please, do not leave us.”
Darcy took Ben to the door of the bedchamber, handing his son to his nanny, who was waiting in the hall. He then returned to his wife.
“Elizabeth, she is gone. With all her injuries, it is a blessing that she is no longer suffering.” He said, as he placed his hands on her shoulders. “She would want you to concentrate on tending Jane and Jacob. There will be time for grief, but for now, we need to care for the living.”
Elizabeth lifted her head from her mother’s chest. She placed a kiss on her mother’s forehead, and followed her husband from the room, leaving Mr and Mrs Phillips with her mother’s body.
~~ ** ~~
“Charles, it is not proper for you to be in the room with Miss Bennet.” Mr Bingley stated.
“She is my betrothed. She accepted my offer of marriage, and will soon be of age and will not require consent of her father. So my place is at her side. I will not leave her.”
“You are not married, and the betrothal is not publically known. Please, Charles, you must come from this room.”
Fury from all that had happened crept into Charles Bingley’s mind. “What does it matter, what the rest of the world thinks? I love Jane and she loves me. We are betrothed, and that is all that matters. With all that happened at Longbourn, what harm could there be from my being at Jane’s side? She needs me, now, more than ever.”
Mr Bingley finally gave up arguing. He knew his son was right, the impropriety of Charles being at Jane’s side was insignificant in comparison to all that had occurred.
There was a knock on the door, and Mr Bingley turned his attention to who was there. Opening the door, he found Elizabeth and Darcy.
Elizabeth looked towards the bed. “How is my sister?”
“She is weak. It is a miracle that she has survived. I do not know what else to do for her.” Mr Bingley said. “Charles will not leave her side. How is your mother?”
Elizabeth paid no attention to her host’s question, as she moved towards her dearest sister. Darcy met Mr Bingley’s look, shaking his head.
“Mrs Bennet died a short time ago. Only Miss Bennet and Master Jacob survive.” Darcy declared softly.
“Good God, what a ghastly situation. Has there been any word on the location of Mr Bennet?”
Again, Darcy shook his head. “As it is dark, I dare not allow anyone to search for the man. He is dangerous enough, without adding darkness to the situation.”
“So true. Do you believe him to still be in the neighborhood?” Mr Bingley asked.
“It is the only area that is familiar to him. Shortly after our marriage, Elizabeth informed me that when her father journeyed to Pemberley, it was the furthest he had been from home since he married Mrs Bennet. Other than a few trips to Town, Mr Bennet never left this neighborhood. With his mind in such a state, I cannot imagine him going anywhere unfamiliar.”
“Are Mr and Mrs Phillips still here?”
“They were taking care of Mrs Bennet’s body, cleaning her to be more presentable.” Darcy explained.
“Sir William Lucas stated he would return with his wife and eldest daughter, so they may be of assistance to the Bennets. Not that there are many left to assist. He and his sons will assist in searching for Mr Bennet.”
“I am certain there will be many to arrive in the morning. I should send an express to Mr and Mrs Gardiner, Mrs Bennet’s brother and his wife.”
“I know the Gardiners. Would you prefer I send the message? Your wife will need you at her side.”
“No, I should do so. It will be difficult enough for Mr Gardiner, as he loves his sisters and their families. To lose not only one of his sisters, but three of her daughters, and another daughter and son in such critical condition, the message should come from family. My wife will be strong for the time being, as she is in her Mistress of Pemberley personality at the moment. It is later, after the urgency is over, that my dear wife will need me most.”
“You have endured more in such a short time than many know in a lifetime.” Mr Bingley stated. “I have the utmost respect for both of you.”
~~ ** ~~
Mr Phillips left his wife to the carefully cleaning of her sister’s body, while he went to the room where Jacob was being tended. Mr Jones was closing one of the wounds with stitches.
“Is there anything I can do to assist?” He asked the apothecary.
“Yes, if you could bring some clean water over and begin cleaning Master Jacob’s face. There are some bruises, and the cut on his forehead, fortunately that is the least of his injuries.”
“How is he? Will he survive?”
Mr Jones hunched his shoulders. “At this point, I do not know. He has a bit of fever starting, which is not surprising. To be honest, I am amazed any of them survived. Did you enter the house?”
Mr Phillips nodded his head. “It was the most horrible sight I have ever seen. Mrs Hill, the cook, and Thomas’ manservant were all dead on the main level of the house. Upstairs, I found Mary, in her bed. Her injuries were so terrible…dear God, I doubt I will ever be able to get that image out of my mind. Kitty and Lydia were also brutalized. The maid was hidden in the closet, she told us some of Thomas’ behavior, but the aftermath spoke far more. And the men found two of the stable hands dead as well. The bodies are adding up, he has killed nine now.”
“Nine, how did you determine nine?” Mr Jones inquired.
“Did no one tell you? Fanny died, not long ago. She was able to speak with Lizzy, and meet Lizzy’s husband and babe. Fanny had wished to meet her grandson since he was born. If she had to die, I am glad she was able to have her wish fulfilled.”
“So only Jane and Jacob remain…Good God, this is far worse than I could ever have imagined. Thomas is truly mad.”
“Do you still believe it is related to his accident, before Lizzy went to Derbyshire?” Mr Phillips asked.
“It is the only thing that makes any sense. Thomas was never a violent man before then, and he was the most devoted father, especially to Lizzy. For him to abandon her, to disown her as he did, and now to murder his children and wife, his mind is damaged.”
~~ ** ~~
Thomas Bennet woke in the parlor of his mother’s former cottage. It was cold and dark, and, for a moment, he was confused as to where he was. Once he realized, he called out. “Mother…Mother, are you here?”
There was no response. “Where is Mother? She should be here. It is not like Mother to be away when it is dark.”
He wandered around the cottage. Finding the dust covers over many pieces of furniture surprised him. “Did Mother go on a trip? Why would she not tell me? I wonder if Fanny knows where Mother went and how long she was to be gone. I will go to the house and speak with her, as she should not keep such news secret from me.”
Mr Bennet made his way to the darkened house where he lived with his family. “Everyone must have gone to bed early. I must speak to Fanny though, it is imperative I learn where Mother has gone.”
Entering the house through the rear door, Mr Bennet made his way up the stairs and to his wife’s bedchamber door. He knocked, but received no answer. This irritated him. He knocked again, and still, there was no answer. Finding the door unlocked, he opened it and entered the room. His wife was not in her bed, yet there was blood all about her bed.
“She must be bathing, as it appears her courses have come and she has made a mess of herself. I will speak with her first thing in the morning.” Mr Bennet decided, and made his way back down the stairs, opting to sleep on the sofa in his study.
Before lying down, he poured himself a glass of port, which he drank in one gulp. He then rested his head upon the pillow at the end of the sofa, and fell asleep.