Netherfield Park knew no rest that night. Preparations had to be made for the bodies of those killed, the two victims were tended, and strategy was discussed for the search which would begin at dawn.
In the middle of the night, Mr Hoyt, Darcy’s family physician and his partner, Mr Dunn, a noted surgeon, arrived from Town. Each took charge of one of the patients. Jacob’s fever had grown through the night, and was dangerously high. Jane had developed a fever as well, though hers was not as high.
Mr and Mrs Gardiner arrived at Netherfield, shortly after dawn. They had traveled through the night to be with their family. Mr Gardiner was grief-stricken, for he was a devoted family man, and loved Fanny and her children. Mrs Gardiner began assisting with all the preparations which were needed for the funeral service, which would be held in two days’ time.
Elizabeth was exhausted, as she left Jane’s room and began to walk towards Jacob’s. Her husband was waiting for her.
“Elizabeth, my love, you must rest. Making yourself ill will do nothing for your family. Please, you must have something to eat and some rest.”
“I need to check on Jacob.” She spoke to his chest as she wrapped her arms around his waist. He ran one of his hands up and down her back, attempting to soothe her.
“Uncle Edward is in with Jacob. There is no change. Aunt Helen and Aunt Phillips are assisting with your mother and younger sisters. You need to take time for yourself, my dearest. Please, come with me. I have a tray of food in our rooms. And our son wishes to see his mother.”
“Ben is too little to notice I am not in his room.” Elizabeth gave a weak smile. “I will come with you to take some food, but then I need to return to Jane.”
Darcy took the small consolation and knew he would be able to convince her to rest. After spending a few moments cuddling her son, Elizabeth began eating from the food tray. He had requested many of her favorites, desperate to keep her nourished.
As she ate, Darcy removed his wife’s slippers and began massaging her feet. It was not long before Elizabeth relaxed, becoming sleepy, and, less than half an hour later, she drifted off to sleep. Darcy covered her with a blanket, leaving her on the sofa in their sitting room.
~~ ** ~~
The militia had been stationed in Meryton, and Sir William contacted their leader, Colonel Forster, for assistance in the search for Mr Bennet. Colonel Forster was willing to help, devastated by the news of what had happened at Longbourn.
The men arrived at Netherfield, to be assigned areas to search. The newest member of the unit was a young lieutenant, George Wickham. He had not heard of the connection between the Bennet family and Darcy, not until he arrived, with the rest of the unit, to Netherfield. Seeing his childhood friend, the man who had refused to aid him with more money, Wickham moved carefully, to hide his face from Darcy.
“Mr Darcy and the Bingleys have set up a plan for the search.” Colonel Forster announced. “Mr Darcy will remain here, at Netherfield, as his wife is the second born Bennet daughter, and he wishes to assist her as needed. Mr Bingley will coordinate the search at Longbourn and reports will be sent back to Netherfield.”
Mr Bingley nodded his head as he began to speak. “So you are aware of what has happened, yesterday, we forced our way into main house at Longbourn. There, we discovered a ghastly scene. Only Mrs Bennet, Miss Jane Bennet, Master Jacob Bennet, and one maid were alive. The maid was the only one unharmed, as she hid when the murders occurred. Mrs Bennet succumbed to her injuries late in the night. Two men were found dead in the stables as well. Mr Bennet was not found. Through Mrs Bennet and the maid, we know that Mr Bennet is responsible for the deaths, and must be found, before he harms anyone else. The man is not in his right mind, as he suffered an accident which caused him a head injury.”
Darcy spoke. “As each area is searched, we ask you to report to Mr Bingley. He will send word here. Once the estate of Longbourn is searched, and if Mr Bennet is not located, we will move out to surrounding locations. There will be guards here, who know what Mr Bennet looks like. We have a sketch of Mr Bennet, and his description, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the man. Please, use caution in your contact with him. As Mr Bingley stated, due to a head injury, Mr Bennet is not in his right mind.”
Colonel Forster divided his men into small groups and they left, heading on foot, towards Longbourn.
~~ ** ~~
Mr Bennet was walking to his mother’s cottage, when he heard the sounds of men walking about. He became concerned, as there seemed to be several men, and he did not recognize their voices. Hiding behind some bushes, he witnessed the men wore red coats of the militia.
Suddenly, one of the men was beside him. In a whispered voice, the man asked if he was Thomas Bennet.
“I am. What is happening? Why is the militia on my estate?”
“Keep your voice low, sir. It is the only way I can protect you.”
“Protect me? Of what do I to be protected?”
“Mr Bennet, my name is George Wickham. I was sent to protect you, as there is a plot to bring you and your family harm.”
“Good God, why?”
Wickham had difficulty in keeping a smile from his lips. “There is a man, named Fitzwilliam Darcy, and he is jealous of you. He has already kidnapped your wife and children. He intends to force you into giving up your estate.”
“I have heard that name before. But why would he wish for my estate?”
“Sir, he is angered that you would not permit an arrangement to be made for him to marry your daughter. In retribution, he will take what he can from you. The other men in my unit are searching for you, to take you to him. But I know the truth. I have known Mr Darcy all of my life. When I learned the truth, I knew I had to find you and protect you.”
“I am grateful to you, Mr…”
“Wickham. Is there somewhere safe we can hide you? Somewhere few know of?”
Mr Bennet thought for a few moments. “In my mother’s cottage, there is a cellar. Most do not know of its existence, and it is large enough to keep me comfortable. There is food, and supplies kept there.”
“Very good. We must hurry, for I do not wish for you to be discovered by anyone else. Mr Darcy is a cruel man.”
“What about my family? How will I get them away from him?” Mr Bennet asked, frightened by what he had been told.
“Leave that to me. Mr Darcy does not know that I am in the militia, so I will be able to get closer to the building where he has them kept. Once I learn more, I will be able to devise a plan to bring them to you.”
“You have my gratitude, Mr Wickham. My family mean the world to me.”
“Come, let us make haste.”
~~ ** ~~
“Charles, how is my sister?” Elizabeth asked, as she entered the room. The young man was bathing Jane Bennet’s face with a cool, damp cloth.
“Much the same. The physicians say there is not a lot they can do for her, just keep her cool, give her their elixirs, and change the bandages.”
“You need some rest, Charles. I will stay with Jane, so you can rest.”
Charles shook his head, never taking his eyes from his beloved. “I cannot leave her. She knows I am here, I am sure, and if I were to leave, she might feel abandoned. What if she thought I would not return? Would she give up, not fight to survive?”
“I understand, Charles, but I know that my sister would not wish you to become ill from being with her constantly, neglecting your health.”
“I cannot leave her side. Please do not ask me.”
Elizabeth decided to let his decision be for the moment. “Will you take some food? You must keep your strength. I can have some food brought up for you. They will be bringing some broth for me to feed Jane. We just finished feeding Jacob some, and need to get some into my sister.”
“All I have been able to give her is some spoonfuls of water. Even that was difficult for her.”
“Mr Hoyt showed me a technique to aid in their swallowing, and we will use an invalid feeder, to make things simpler. I will require your assistance in lifting her head and shoulders slightly, to make it easier for her.”
Charles nodded his head. The broth arrived, and the pair were able to feed Jane part, before returning her to rest on the pillow. The young man began bathing Jane’s face again, using the fresh ewer of cold water which had been brought in with the food for him to eat. Elizabeth took the cloth from his hand, and insisted he eat, finally winning the argument.
Between bites of food, Charles spoke with his friend’s wife. “When will the services be for your siblings and your mother?”
“In two days. My aunts and uncles are taking care of the arrangements. Charlotte Lucas and her mother have come to assist. Lady Lucas is with Jacob at the moment. My aunts have ordered mourning clothes, armbands for the men, and they have collected some hair from Mamma, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia, so mourning rings can be made for each. They are taking care of all the details, as I must admit, I would never have been able to handle them myself.”
“I was told your mother was able to see your son, before she died. It was one of the last things I remember her discussing, the night of the ball. She was telling some of the other ladies that she was excited for your arrival, so she could finally hold her grandson and give him a kiss.”
“She was able to kiss him, and hold his hand. It pleases me that she cared so much for me and my family. I was never Mamma’s favorite daughter.”
Charles smiled. “Jane told me that she and Lydia had been your mother’s favorited daughters, though Jacob trumped all of you, being the heir. She also told me that you had been your father’s favorite, until you went on your trip to Lambton.”
“It made his behavior all the more difficult. When he declared me disowned and refused to allow me to communicate with my mother and siblings, it was heartbreaking. I could not understand why he would behave in such a manner. But I knew that my place was with William, and at Pemberley. Though it did not start as I would have wished, I love William and Ben. I cannot imagine my life not having them.”
“I pray that I have my chance to marry and have children.” Charles finished his meal, and picked up one of Jane’s hands. “I do not know how I would survive without my angel at my side.”
“She is strong, Charles. Jane has survived this long, I am certain she will be able to survive her injuries. We must hold to faith that God has a reason for her and Jacob for surviving as long as they have. Otherwise, he would have taken them with the others.”
“It is my deepest prayer, that you are correct. After all she has survived, it would not make sense to take her now.”
Elizabeth handed the cloth back to Charles. “Now, I will leave you to tend my sister. I must check on my husband and son.”
~~ ** ~~
Sir William Lucas entered the drawing room at Netherfield Park. “I have just come from Longbourn. We have searched the estate, top to bottom, and cannot find Bennet. Perhaps he has fled the neighborhood.”
“I doubt it.” Replied Mr Phillips. “His mental state would not be fit to aid him, especially now. If he has deteriorated to this state, to kill all of those he professed to love, it is more likely he would kill himself. Perhaps he has, and we just have not found the body.”
“We have men stationed at the main house at Longbourn, and others that will roam the area, day and night. Colonel Forster has offered his troops to keep the watch for Mr Bennet, so I accepted on behalf of the Bennet family.”
Darcy nodded his head. “We appreciate all of your efforts, Sir William. You and your family have given us more support than we could have asked for.”
“The Bennet family was always close to mine. My eldest daughter and your wife have been dear friends all of Lizzy’s life. It is devastating to me to know my old friend has lost his mind, killing so many people. It is my greatest hope that he harms no one else.” Sir William stated, as he pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes. “Miss Jane and Master Jacob, are they…?”
“Still alive, though both are in grave conditions. Jacob is battling a severe fever, and the physician is amazed that the boy is still alive. Jane’s fever is not as high, but it is still there, no matter what is done to aid her recovery.” Mr Phillips answered for the family.
Mr Bingley entered the drawing room. “Sir William, gentlemen, there is food and drink in the dining room. And I have requested food prepared and taken to the men at Longbourn.”
Sir William smiled. “The men will be grateful for your generosity, Mr Bingley. I have also sent lanterns to them. I gave the militia permission to bunk in the hayloft and in the parlor of the main house. They have made contact with each of the tenants of the estate. No one has seen him, many are frightened. They will keep their doors locked and send word if they spy him.”
“It will be a difficult time, until Mr Bennet is found.” Darcy exclaimed. “None will sleep well until he is secured.”
~~ ** ~~
Wickham was careful to keep from notice, as he crept to the dower cottage of Longbourn. He had left Thomas Bennet in the cellar of the house, and needed to ensure the man was still there. Finding the deranged man had been a boon for Wickham, as it would allow him some revenge against Darcy.
Careful not to make noise, he entered the house and made his way to the hidden staircase to the cellar. “Mr Bennet, it is me, Wickham. Are you safe?”
A man’s voice whispered back. “I am here, Mr Wickham. Are you alone?”
“I am. I brought you some fresh food. Thought you might be hungry.”
Mr Bennet nodded his head. “I am surprised that all the food down here has spoiled. My mother only had the food brought down here a few months ago. She will not be pleased when she learns of the spoilage.”
“Where is your mother? Is she on a trip?”
The elder man thought for a few moments. “I am not certain. I would have thought she would be here, but she is not. Do you think that Darcy has kidnapped her as well as my wife and children?”
“It could be. I have not heard of her being with the hostages, but I cannot be certain she is not with them.” Wickham enjoyed the ease in which he was able to manipulate the delusional man.
“My children must be frightened. They are so young, so sheltered from the evils in the world.” Mr Bennet stated. “I wish I could have protected them from all of the evil, but there was no possible way. If only I had known the sort of man that Darcy fellow truly was. I could have found a way to stand against him.”
“He is a cruel and vicious man, taking from others to make himself more important. He was jealous of me, as his own father cared for me. When his father died, he left me a living and a sizeable inheritance. But the son refused to acknowledge what was written in the will, and left me with nothing. Heartless man, so different from his dear father.”
“Could you not hire a solicitor to see you receive your inheritance?”
Wickham had told the lie many times. “With what funds am I to pay for a solicitor? Darcy left me penniless. I had to join the militia to keep from starving. No, I will never be able to fight Darcy for what is rightfully mine.”
“I pray you will be able to exact some justice when we are done with Darcy. I will do what I can to assist you.” Mr Bennet said. “As soon as I have my family returned, safe and sound, I will do what I can to assist you.”
~~ ** ~~
Mr Hoyt was exhausted. He had worked for nearly three days without break. Jacob Bennet had been severely injured by the knife his attacker used. To think it was by the child’s father was too difficult for such loving family man as Hoyt, to consider. The knowledge that the child had lain on his bed, covered in his own blood for more than a day, before being discovered by his relations, Mr Hoyt’s blood boiled with anger. He would do all that he could to see Mr Bennet was locked away permanently, or that the man met his maker. There would be no sympathy for the mentally disturbed man, not after the butchery he had done to his family.
As the physician stepped into the hall, he was approached by Elizabeth Darcy. “Ah, Mrs Darcy, did you have a rest?”
“Not yet, but please, do not tell my husband. I cannot have him scold me anymore today. I did have something to eat and took a bath. It has improved my outlook tremendously. And I spent some time with my son. Seeing his sweet smile always lightens my disposition.”
“It is one of the joys of being a parent. Has Mr Dunn rested, or is he with your sister?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “I am not certain. I do not believe he is with Jane, but I might be mistaken.”
“I will check on him. Perhaps he can rest, and then I will take a rest myself.”
“If you require anything, please, inform me. You and Mr Dunn have been so dedicated to your work.” Elizabeth choked on a sob.
“Thank you, Mrs Darcy. Everyone has been most accommodating. I only wish there was more we could do for your siblings. I feel nearly helpless in what I can do for them.”
“You can always pray, Mr Hoyt. I have been doing a good deal of praying, and Jane and Jacob are still here. I am hopeful that God is watching over them.”
~~ ** ~~
The preparations were complete, and the caskets were placed on four wagons, to be transported to the cemetery at Longbourn. With emotions raw, and high alert for the still missing Mr Bennet, the men felt it would be best to have a graveside service for the four Bennets, rather than a church service and burial. Men from all over the neighborhood came to pay respects to the Bennet family. Most of the men were still in a state of shock, as it was difficult to fathom the behavior of the gentleman they had all known for years.
Sir William Lucas coordinated the men, having at least a family member with each of the caskets. As there were only three true male family members, Mr Bingley was made an honorary member of the Bennet family, as his son was betrothed to Jane.
Charles had refused to leave Jane’s side to attend the services. His fear of leaving her, even for a short time, had begun to wear the young man down, and all were concerned for him. But his father decided it would not be wise to make Charles attend the services for Mrs Bennet and her youngest three daughters.
Mr Gardiner was with his sister’s casket, as it led the way from the carts to the freshly dug holes, where the Bennet ladies would spend eternity. Tears spilled from his eyes, splashing on his front and dripping on the ground. It was an extremely painful time for the kind man.
Following Mr Gardiner, Mr Phillips escorted his niece, Mary. The Phillips’ had never been blessed with children of their own, so the couple had enjoyed the Bennet children. Knowing that they had been murdered at such a young age, Mr Phillips felt his heart had been torn to shreds.
Next in line was Mr Darcy, as he escorted his sister in law, Katherine, known by all as Kitty. It grieved Darcy, knowing he had never had a chance to meet his sisters in law, and had only a brief meeting with his mother in law. They had been ripped from the world in such a manner that was too difficult to comprehend.
At the end of the sad parade of caskets was the one of Lydia Bennet, youngest of the Bennet children. Mr Bingley had only met the young lady twice, while visiting Longbourn, as Lydia and Kitty had not been allowed to attend most gatherings, due to their ages.
The service was difficult, but done with love and compassion. The clergyman was in pain from the loss, as he had known each of the deceased, having blessed all of the Bennet children after they were born.
The words were spoken, the caskets lowered into the ground, and it was done. The headstones would be delivered later, and the ladies would likely come later to place flowers on the graves.
Once the service was over, the men were welcomed to return to Netherfield, to take some refreshments and share their condolences with the ladies, who could not attend the service.
~~ ** ~~
Wickham returned to the dower house, finding Mr Bennet had just awakened.
“What is happening? Why am I in the cellar of my mother’s cottage?” Mr Bennet was confused.
“Mr Bennet, do you remember me? I am George Wickham. I have been assisting you, hiding you from Fitzwilliam Darcy.”
“Darcy…Darcy…the name is somewhat familiar.” Mr Bennet thought for a few moments. “But I cannot remember why I would need to hide from the man. What did I do to require such action?”
“Darcy has kidnapped your family. He is trying to force you to give up your estate and allow him to take possession.”
Mr Bennet was still confused. “But my estate is not that grand. I cannot imagine why he would go to such lengths to acquire such a small estate.”
“Because Darcy is a relentless and greedy man. He wants all that you own, and will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. You would not allow him to have an arrangement with your daughter, so he wishes to destroy you.”
“My daughter? My daughters are all too young to think of marriage. They are but small children. My son is just an infant. Why would this Darcy fellow wish for an arrangement so dearly that he would behave in such a manner?”
Wickham was frustrated with the man. “Mr Bennet, we have discussed this before. Mr Darcy means to ruin you, and I am attempting to aid you. But I know we can reclaim one of your daughters. She is at Netherfield, and the men are away from the house there. Let us hurry, so we can bring the girl back to here, and keep her safe from Darcy.”
Mr Bennet stood up. “Yes, I must save my family.”
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth took her son outside for a short walk. She had bundled the babe snugly, though it was a mild winter day.
“Ben, this is the neighborhood where I grew up. In that direction is Longbourn. It is where I lived until I met your father. One day soon, I will take you there, and show you all the paths that I loved so dearly, in my youth.”
They walked around a bit, with Elizabeth commenting of the neighborhood, the people who lived nearby, and anything of which she could think. She wished to distract her mind from the thoughts of her mother and younger sisters being buried, knowing they were forever gone from her life.
Before long, there was a sound from behind her. Elizabeth turned to see two men coming towards her, both wearing the red uniforms of the militia.
She paid little attention to the men, as she continued to coo to her son. Suddenly, she felt a presence, far too close to her body, and then, a hand come around from behind, covering her mouth.
“Fanny, be quiet. I am here to take you and our son to safety. Come, we must hurry.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Elizabeth recognized her father’s voice. Why is he calling me Fanny? Has his mind deteriorated to the point he believes I am my mother?”
Mr Bennet pulled her with him, keeping her mouth covered, while Wickham pulled Ben from her arms. Elizabeth struggled, as all she could think of was to protect her son from the insanity. She did not know who the second man was, but she would not allow him to take her son, not without a struggle.
When his hand came away from her mouth, Elizabeth attempted to reason with him. “Papa, I am Elizabeth. It is me, Papa, Lizzy.”
“Fanny, keep quiet. I am attempting to rescue you. We cannot be found, or that man will find us.” Mr Bennet replied, returning his hand over his daughter’s lips. Wickham picked up Elizabeth’s feet, and, with Mr Bennet reaching his other arm around her waist, the two men carried her away from Netherfield.
Mr Bennet continued to whisper. “Once you and our son are safe, at Mother’s cottage, I will attempt to rescue our daughters. Then I can challenge that man to a duel. He will die for what he has done to my family.”
Elizabeth could not understand what was happening. Her father was acting as if she were her mother and Ben was Jacob as a baby, and she had no notion as to whom the man was that her father was planning to duel. Though she had been told that he was not the same man, but the person who had just abducted her and her son was far beyond what she had expected.
When Ben began to fuss, Mr Bennet looked at the infant. “There, there, all will be well, Jacob. Be a good lad and keep quiet, until we can get you to safety.”
The journey to Longbourn, carrying Elizabeth and Ben, was long. By the time they arrived at the cottage, Mr Bennet was exhausted. He pulled back the hidden door, taking the lead down the stairs. The men placed Elizabeth on the floor.
“Now, Fanny, you must tell me where our daughters are being kept in Netherfield. I must go back to rescue them.” Mr Bennet spoke to his daughter.
“Papa, I am not Fanny. I am Lizzy, your daughter. This is my son, Ben. Please, Papa, can you not see? I am your daughter, Elizabeth.”
Mr Bennet wore a puzzled look on his face. “No, this cannot be true. Why are you lying to me? You are my wife, Fanny Bennet, nee Gardiner. That babe is our son, Jacob.”
“No, Papa. I am Elizabeth. I am married and this is my son.”
“Fanny, I insist you refrain from these lies. That man, he must have done something to your mind. I will make him pay for his cruelty. Making you believe you are someone else, not my wife. You are my wife, I know you are.”
“Elizabeth, Papa, I am Elizabeth. Your Lizzy. Mamma is dead. She died a few days ago.”
“My mother is not dead, I spoke with her…just the other night. Unless you are telling me that black hearted scoundrel killed my mother. I failed her, I failed my mother?”
“No, Papa, your mother died many years ago. Grandma Jessica Bennet. She died here, in this very house. I am Elizabeth, your daughter. My mother, Fanny, died just a few days previously. Do you understand? Do you see, I am not your wife, I am Lizzy?”
Mr Bennet shook his head, his eyes were wild with confusion. “Stop this foolishness, Fanny. I will not tolerate it any longer. I must return to Netherfield, for our daughters. Once I have rescued them, we will leave this place, and you will be treated by the best physicians. The physicians will be able to help you remember you are Fanny Bennet.”
Tears overflowed down Elizabeth’s cheeks and she held her son close to her chest. “This is not Jacob. This is my son, Bennet Darcy.”
“Darcy…you had a child with that man? That man is out to ruin me, and you give birth to his bastard, in my home?” Mr Bennet flew into a rage. “I have no heir? I only have the natural son of the man who wishes to destroy me? Are the girls mine, or am I the greatest fool in the neighborhood? Have you cheated on me since our wedding?”
“Stop this madness, Papa. I am Lizzy, your daughter. Please, listen to me.”
Mr Bennet pulled his hand back and brought it down hard against Elizabeth’s cheek. “You have made me the laughingstock of the neighborhood, giving me children of your lovers. But they are legally mine, and I will not allow another man to claim them. Wickham, you will bring my daughters to me. I must remain here, to ensure my wife and her bastard do not escape.”
Wickham sneered. “As you wish, Sir.”
“Wickham? You are George Wickham, from Derbyshire?” Realization was forming in Elizabeth’s mind. “What are you doing here?”
“He is aiding me in securing my family that is what he is doing. Your lover has been cruel to Wickham and he wishes to keep me from such harm. That was before I knew you were an unfaithful wife. I should have taken my children and left you.” Mr Bennet began pacing. “What am I to do? Mother should be here, so she can advise me on such matters.”
“Papa, your mother died when I was a child. Grandma Jess was a fine lady, but she has been gone for many years.” Elizabeth attempted to make her father see reason.
“Wickham, off with you. Bring back my daughters, and make it quick. I wish to take my family away from here quickly.”
Wickham nodded his head and was off.
~~ ** ~~
Darcy entered the house at Netherfield, walking directly to Mrs Gardiner. “Is Elizabeth upstairs, with her sister or brother?”
Mrs Gardiner shook her head. “Did you not see her outside? She took Ben out for a short walk. As the weather has been so mild, she thought it would be refreshing.”
“Did she take a maid or footman with her?” Darcy was instantly alarmed. He motioned for Mr Gardiner and Mr Phillips to join him. “Elizabeth and Ben are outside. Did either of you see them as we returned to the house?”
Mr Gardiner was concerned. “I did not. Lizzy would not wander far, not with the babe, and especially not with her father’s location unknown.”
A young boy came rushing into the room, with a piece of paper in his hand, followed by the footman who was planning to announce the boy.
“Message for Mr Darcy. The gent says it be important.”
“I am Mr Darcy.” He called to the boy, as he moved quickly across the room. Taking the message in hand, he began reading. “Good God, no.”
“What is wrong, William?” Mr Gardiner asked.
“Wickham…a man I have known all my life, has abducted my wife and child. And he has left them in the care of Mr Bennet, whom Wickham describes as off his rocker. It seems that Mr Bennet believes Elizabeth is her mother, and my son to be Jacob as an infant.”
“Where could they be? We have searched the area?” Mr Phillip asked. “What does this man, Wickham, want?”
“He is always in need of money. He believes he should have inherited Pemberley, as he was my father’s godson. Between gambling, womanizing, and his carefree lifestyle, he has always had extreme debts. For him to kidnap my wife and child, for ransom, he must be in deep trouble with those he owes.”
Darcy handed the message to Mr Gardiner to read. The ransom was set at thirty thousand pounds. Wickham wanted the funds delivered the following day, in the late afternoon. A message would arrive at five the next day, with the expectation of Darcy bringing the money to a designated location. Only then would Wickham give the location of where Elizabeth and Ben were being held.
Mr Phillips called Sir William Lucas and Mr Bingley over to inform them of the situation. Sir William, being the local magistrate, would be involved in what would happen to Mr Bennet and Wickham, once they were apprehended.
The men went to Mr Bingley’s study, and while Darcy wrote a message for his solicitor to secure the needed funds from the bank, the other men prepared for possible scenarios. Sir William’s son, Ethan, would make the ride to Town, as he was one of the fastest riders in the county, and could be trusted to bring the funds back safely. Ethan’s cousin lived in Town, and would be able to return with Ethan, to provide protection.
As soon as the letter was written, and the wax sealed with Darcy’s signet ring, Ethan left on the best horse, which happened to be Darcy’s stallion, Zeus.
All that was left to do was wait, and pray.
~~ ** ~~
Jane’s fever had finally broken, and Charles had fallen asleep, still sitting in the chair beside her bed. For the first time in days, Jane’s eyes fluttered open. Mr Hoyt was in the room, and noticed his patient appeared to be waking. “Miss Bennet…can you hear me?”
“Who…who…?” she asked with a hoarse voice from being unused.
“I am a physician, Mr Hoyt. Your family sent for me to tend you and your brother.”
“Miss Bennet, please do not fret. You are at Netherfield Park. Mr Charles Bingley is here, in the chair, resting. You have been seriously injured and have been unconscious for several days now. Your young man has been at your side, day in and day out.”
“My sister…Lizzy…her voice…”
“Yes, you must have heard her voice. She has been assisting in your care, though she is with her son at the moment. Your aunts are nearby, shall I send the maid for one of them?”
Jane whispered a soft “Yes” in reply.
Mrs Phillips came hurrying into the room. Her voice woke Charles from his slumber. “My dear Jane, oh, my dear girl. You have returned to us.”
“Aunt…” Jane gave a weak smile.
“Miss Bennet.” Charles looked at her, amazed and pleased to see her eyes open. “My dearest Jane. You have returned to us.”
“How are you, my dearest? Are you in pain?” Charles asked.
“My dear girl, you have given us all quite a fright.”
A glass of water was held to Jane’s lips, as Charles assisted her to take some sips. “Papa…where is he?”
“Do not worry, my love. They will find him soon.” Charles replied.
“He was talking…as if to…Grandmamma…like she…was still…alive. Could hear…yelling…and Mamma…screamed. And pain…the pain was…terrible.”
“Do not worry, dear girl.” Mrs Phillips said as she held Jane’s hand. Charles had remained at his betrothed’s side, sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Where is Mamma? Sisters…and Jacob?”
Mrs Phillips could not hide the pain she felt at the loss of her sister and nieces. Tears welled in Jane’s eyes.
“Papa…did he…did he?”
Charles spoke gently as he told her the truth. “Jane, your father is not well. His mind is in a bad way. Unfortunately, he killed your mother and younger sisters. Jacob is still alive, though badly injured. And Elizabeth is here, with her family.”
The tears poured forth from her eyes. “Mamma…Mary, Kitty…Lydia… are gone?”
“Yes, Jane.” Mrs Phillips stated. “They were buried today. We nearly lost you and Jacob as well. I am so grateful that you are still with us.”
“Why…why would he…why did he?” Jane could not find the words to finish her thoughts, the pain from her wounds were nothing in comparison to the pain from losing her mother and sisters. “Where…where is he?”
“We do not know, but we will find him soon.” Charles replied. “He will be taken to a sanitarium when he is found. He is far too ill to be allowed in polite society.”
Mrs Phillips nodded her head. “The men have searched the cottage, the main house, the barn and stables, the tenant homes and any other locations of which they could think.”
“Grandmamma’s cellar? Papa…spoke once…of it being…a good hiding…place.”
A look of confusion came over Mrs Phillips. “Fanny never told me there was a cellar in the cottage. She always said there was very little storage in the cottage, and that the pantry was small. She must not have known about the cellar.”
“Few did…” Jane replied. “Papa stored…important papers…there.”
Charles was surprised. “Does anyone know where the entrance to cellar is?”
“Hidden…behind bookcase…in parlor.” Jane said.
“Rest now, Jane. I will tell your uncles and Mr Darcy. They will investigate the cottage. You need your rest, so you can recover.” Mrs Phillips said, as she leaned forward and placed a kiss on Jane’s forehead. “Your Aunt Helen will come to visit in a little while. She was to sit with Jacob, but I know she will wish to see you. Lizzy was taking her son for a walk, but when she returns indoors, she will come to see you as well.”
Jane needed little encouragement. Her eyelids were drooping before her aunt had told her to rest, and before Mrs Phillips could reach the door, Jane had returned to sleep.
~~ ** ~~
Mrs Phillips hurried down the stairs to speak with her brother and husband. “Edward, did you know that there was a cellar at the dower cottage?”
Mr Gardiner shook his head, frowning at his sister’s question. “No, and I distinctly remember Fanny stating that the pantry was so small, that part of it would have to be in the dining room. If there is a cellar, there would be plenty of pantry and storage.”
“Jane is awake. She just told Master Charles and me about Thomas’ behavior, as if he were speaking with his mother. Mrs Bennet died many years ago, but Jane insists that it sounded like Thomas was speaking with his mother. Could he be so delusional that he thinks his mother is with him? Could he be hiding in his mother’s cottage, in the unknown cellar?”
Darcy overheard the conversation. “It sounds like somewhere Wickham would hide, and he could have convinced Mr Bennet that he was trying to protect the elder man. Mr Bennet never had a good opinion of me, and it appears he was able to be manipulated, what with the state of his mind. How do we go about finding this cellar?”
“The entrance to the cellar is behind the bookshelves in the parlor of the cottage.” Mrs Phillips stated.
Mr Phillips had been listening to the conversation. “If Lizzy and Ben are in the cellar, with Mr Bennet and this Wickham person, how do we get them out safely?”
Darcy began pacing, thinking of how he could safely reclaim his wife and son. “It would be best if we waited for Wickham to be out of the cellar. And it would work better if we could find a way to lure Mr Bennet up from the cellar.”
Mr Gardiner looked at his nephew. “I can assist if I know what state of mind is Bennet. If he does not realize what he did to Fanny and the children, we might be able to convince him to come out for them.”
“Let us have men put in place to capture Wickham when he is outside the cottage.” Mr Phillips stated. “Once he is out of the way, we will be able to focus on Bennet, and retrieving Lizzy and Ben.”
~~ ** ~~
The men were posted in the wooded areas surrounding the cottage, and shifts had been assigned for them to keep watch over the dower house. There was an officer from the militia with each of the small groups, as they would be able to easily identify George Wickham.
The day turned into night, and, near midnight, sounds from the cottage could be heard. The men were on their guards, watching for someone moving about. They soon spotted a man, wander over to the pile of wood, stacked besides the building.
The man spoke. “Damn it all, if I am forced to endure that simpleton past tomorrow, I will be as mad as he. Thinking his daughter is his wife, after murdering his wife and children. Good God, the man is a lunatic.” Wickham moved to the corner of the wood pile and the building, relieving himself, before fastening his breeches. “Once he is asleep, perhaps I can enjoy a bit of pleasure with Darcy’s wife. I wish I could flaunt it in Darcy’s face, but once I gain the funds from him, I will be long gone.”
“That is what you think.” Darcy said, as he stood behind Wickham, a pistol in his hand, pointed directly in Wickham’s back. “You will not be leaving the area as soon as you think. You will be standing trial first, and then, most likely, you will hang for your crimes.”
“Come now, Darcy, you would not see an old friend hang for something as minor as money, would you? If you had only seen fit to pay me more when your father died, would not have become so desperate.”
“No matter how much you had been given, you would have squandered it and begged for more. You are pathetic, Wickham. Now, you will come with me, as we have some questions for you.”
“What makes you think I will answer any questions you might have?”
Darcy poked the pistol firmly into Wickham’s back. “Because you desire to live as long as possible. If you do not do as I say, and give us the answers we need, you will not live to see the sunrise.”
“I know you better than that, Darcy. You could never kill a man in cold blood. That is against your beliefs.” Wickham laughed, his voice filled with venom.
Mr Phillips had moved next to Darcy, without Wickham being aware. “After seeing what my brother in law did to my wife’s sisters and my nieces and nephew, and knowing you are aiding him in hiding from justice, I have no qualms with killing you. And I am certain that my wife’s brother would have no qualms as well. He is here, shall I ask him if he has a problem with killing the likes of you, for helping the man who murdered his sister and her children.”
Wickham knew when to call a bluff and when it was wise to believe. At that moment, he believed that Mrs Bennet’s brothers would kill him if he did not cooperate. “I will answer your questions.”
“Then we will take you to the shack nearby, so we can speak.” Darcy said.