Chapter 3

As the pair made their way to the doors to the balcony, they did not notice several pairs of eyes were watching them.  Some of the eyes were squinted, showing the displeasure that the person had for Darcy and Elizabeth spending time together.

“Miss Elizabeth, I am pleased to have a chance to speak with you in a more private manner.  I learned, from your father, that you over heard my rude comments the night of the Assembly.”

Elizabeth turned her head, not looking at him.

“I was a fool, Miss Elizabeth.  Truth be told, I had not even looked at who Bingley had pointed towards.  I was in a terrible mood, as I had just received a letter from my aunt, and was not of a mind to be at a dance.  Bingley would not leave me be, and my foolish words were meant to dissuade my friend from his relentless wish for me to dance.”

“Why did you not remain at Netherfield, if you did not wish to be at the dance?”

“I knew how much it meant to Bingley, especially since he is just learning about being a land owner.  I wished to assist him in making a good impression on his neighbors, only to do just the opposite.” Darcy said, disgusted with himself.  “When I realized that he had been indicating you, I prayed that you had not overheard my words.  When your father informed me that you had, I was completely ashamed of my actions.  You must consider me the rudest man alive.”

“Mr Darcy, I am well aware that I am not pretty.  My mother has told me, all of my life, that I am plain and will never attract a man.  I believe that is the reason she is pushing me towards my cousin.” Elizabeth’s words were soft and filled with pain.

“No, Miss Elizabeth, your mother is incorrect.  Once I stopped thinking of the letter I had received, and was no longer aggravated with Bingley’s pestering, I saw you.  And I believe that you are the most handsome lady of my acquaintance.  Your sister may be classically beautiful, but your fire and zest for life add to your beauty, making you exquisite. Your eyes dance with life, whether you are excited or angry, you can see the sparkle in your eyes.  I have found myself unable to keep my eyes from watching you, whenever we are in the same room.”

Elizabeth turned and looked at him.  “I have always believed you looked at me to find fault.  We bickered so many times, I thought you disliked me.”

“I have enjoyed our exchanges.  It was refreshing to have someone who spoke their mind, rather than demurring to whatever I thought.  Most of the ladies of the ton usually simper and tell me what they think I want to hear.  Not you.  You have no problem speaking your mind.  I loved debating with, and have even stated views that were not my own, just to see what you would say.  You are the most intelligent and well-read lady I have ever met.  Your opinions are based on what you have learned or read, not whims of fancy.”

“You are so different from the man I believed you to be.” Elizabeth’s eyes roamed their view to take in his entire face, searching for the truth behind his words.  “Is this the true you, or is the man at the Assembly the true you?”

Darcy gave a slight smile.  “A little bit of the man from the Assembly was me, being an idiot.  The man you see before you tonight is who I am when in the company of someone I know and respect.  I do not do well with people I am not acquainted with.  It is difficult for me to speak in large groups, and I always appear to be arrogant, when all I am is shy.”

“I have heard many tales about you from someone who claims to have known you all of your life.” Elizabeth said, wondering whether the man she had thought him to be would return.

“I see that Wickham has been spreading his tales of woe through the neighborhood.  It does not come as a surprise.” Darcy shook his head lightly, yet continued to speak with a calm voice.  “Might I inquire as to what he has told you of myself and my family?”

“Mr Wickham stated you had robbed him of his inheritance, and that you were jealous of him, so you refused him the living your father had promised Mr Wickham in his will.”

“Ah, yet again.  I will admit to the fact that I denied him the living, though there is more to the story than you have been told.  With your permission, I would tell you the truth about the living.”

“It would be wise for me to learn your side of the situation.” Elizabeth replied.

“Mr Wickham had been blessed with my father’s generosity.  Wickham’s father was devoted to our family and estate.  As a bonus for his hard work, my father paid for Wickham to attend school, along with me.  My father did leave a valuable living, the parish at Kympton, to the younger Wickham, hoping that the young man would change his ways.  You see, unbeknownst to Wickham, my father was well aware of the young man’s habits, including gambling, leaving debts with everyone he has business with, and ruining girls.  My father prayed that the best possible future for Wickham would be to take orders, to make Wickham be more responsible and respectful.  That was not to be.”

“I have been told this much, except the despicable behavior of the man.” Elizabeth stated.

“It is not something one cares to speak of with a gentlewoman.  After my father’s death, Wickham informed me of his desire to study law, not take orders.  He asked for, and received one thousand pounds which my father left him, and another three thousand in lieu of the living.  Wickham signed documents relieving me of the debt of the living.  Less than a year later, Wickham returned, requesting he be awarded the living, as he determined that he had decided law to be far more demanding a choice than he desired.  I refused to give him the living, and would not give him another shilling, which angered him.  In return, he has done all he can to discredit me and my family.  Some of his…attacks have been very personal and painful.”

Elizabeth was shocked at the openness of the man she once believed to be proud and arrogant, not to mention the surprise in learning of Wickham’s deceit.  How could such a man be so believable when he told his stories against Darcy?

“Mr Darcy, I owe you an apology for believing Mr Wickham’s words against you.  He was so believable, and seemed to be suffering. And…I must admit…your words from the Assembly had colored my opinion of you.  My self-esteem was wounded, and I allowed it to determine my prejudices against you.  I am ashamed of my behavior, Mr Darcy.” Elizabeth said as she turned away from him, taking a step to distance herself from the man.

“I can understand your behavior, Miss Elizabeth.  It is understandable.  All I ask is that you give me a chance to show you who I truly am.”

Darcy stood, watching the back of the young lady he was finally allowing himself to admit that he loved.  How he wished he could place his hands of her shoulders, turn her back towards him, and comfort her in his embrace.  He could see her shoulders shaking, making him concerned.  Was she crying or shaking from the cold?

“Miss Elizabeth, please, are you well?  Should we return inside?”

“No, I am well.  I would prefer remaining out here for a few more moments.” Elizabeth’s hand reached up, patting her cheek.  Before she could reach into her reticule, a handkerchief was placed in her hand.

“I did not wish to make you cry, Miss Elizabeth.  Please forgive me.”

A small chuckle came from her as she turned back towards him.  “Mr Darcy, I was tearful due to my foolishness, not yours.  You did nothing to deserve my ill treatment, and I was the one who behaved poorly.  I thank you for the use of your handkerchief.  Even when I am so foolish, you come to my rescue.”

Darcy smiled, his dimple showing.  “I will always come to your rescue, Miss Elizabeth, even if you require more than just a handkerchief.”

“Mr Darcy, you truly must smile more.  Your expression is quite pleasing when you do.  I never would have thought you to have a dimple.”

“Do not spread the word that I know how to smile.  I have a reputation to maintain.” He said, teasing her.

“I believe I will make my way to the retiring room, to make myself appear more presentable.  I will return to the ballroom shortly.” Elizabeth declared, as she looked towards the house.  “Is there a way I can journey there, without going through the crowded ballroom?”

“Indeed.” Darcy took her hand and placed it upon his arm, leading her to the door which led to a servant hallway, which would lead her up the stairs, to the retiring room.  “Take care, Miss Elizabeth.  I will see you in the ballroom for the dinner set.”

~~ ** ~~

Elizabeth took some time in the retiring room, dabbing her eyes with a cool, damp cloth, to remove any traces of redness.  When she had arrived in the room, she was relieved to discover no one else in the room, no one to take notice of any evidence of tears.

After she soothed her eyes, Elizabeth made sure her hair and gown were in order.  Once she was certain of her appearance, she made her way out of the room.  Elizabeth entered the ballroom, and discovered Darcy was dancing with Mrs Hurst.  It was expected that Darcy would have to dance with his host’s sisters, and of the two, it was clear that the gentleman preferred dancing with the eldest of the Bingley sisters.

After drinking part of a glass of punch, Elizabeth made her way towards the doors which led to the balcony.  She decided she would enjoy some fresh air, so as to organize her confused thoughts.

Mr Collins noticed his cousin Elizabeth step out to the balcony, and followed her, keeping to the shadow as he watched.

Elizabeth moved towards the stairs and walked down to the gardens.  There were lamps lit through the garden, but the vast area had many shadows.  She knew she should not be alone in the garden, but Mr Darcy had confused her with his words, and she felt the need to sort them out.  Elizabeth was also furious with the behavior of Mr Collins.

Suddenly, the odious clergyman stepped out from behind some bushes.  “Ah, my dearest cousin, you must have read my mind.  How perfect for us to meet in private, to discuss our wedding.”

“We are not engaged, Mr Collins, nor will we ever be.  I have spoken with my father and he has agreed to deny any request from you for my hand.  Please leave me, as it is not proper for you to be here with me.”

A grin appeared on Mr Collins’ face, a grin which made Elizabeth queasy. “It matters not how I achieve my goal, only that I do achieve it, my dearest.” He stepped closer to her, reaching out a hand and placing it on her shoulder.  “If I must compromise you, so it will be.”

Fear gripped Elizabeth’s heart as she attempted to move away from the man, turning her glance towards the house, looking for anyone to come to her rescue. Why did I come out here, all alone? She thought.

His hand took hold of Elizabeth’s shoulder and began to pull on her gown.  “Mr Collins, you are a clergyman.  How dare you behave in such a manner?”

“I am a man, above all else, Elizabeth.  A man, who wants the pleasure of having you for a wife.  And you will be mine, Elizabeth.  No matter what you say, you will be my wife, and my lover.”

Taking hold of the sheer fabric, Collins pulled hard, ripping the fabric covering her décolletage, and leaving scratches from her shoulder to the base of her neck.  Elizabeth began to scream, only to have Mr Collins place a hand over her mouth and pull her further into the shadows.  In their struggles, Elizabeth was able to step back, but as she opened her mouth to scream, Mr Collins punched her in the face, just under her left eye.

The blow from the punch dazed Elizabeth, and she stumbled backwards, falling to the ground, striking her head on a stone, knocking her unconscious.

Mr Collins was frustrated.  Nothing was going as he had planned.  Now Elizabeth was unconscious, and he would have to wait for her to wake before he could force her into agreeing to marry him.  What would he do?

Hearing a noise behind him, Mr Collins turned to see if someone was coming.  He could see the shadow of a person.  “Who is there?  Come out of the shadows.”

There was movement, and the shadow moved closer.

“Oh, it is you.  All is not going as planned.  I need your assistance.” Mr Collins said, as he turned towards Elizabeth’s prone body.  As he began to kneel beside her, Mr Collins felt something sharp stabbed into his chest.

The obnoxious man was shocked.  “Wha…wha…what are you doing? We had a deal.”

The knife was still in Mr Collins’ chest, and was twisted slowly, painfully.  Finally, Mr Collins fell to the ground, dying as he looked into the eyes of his killer.  Once he was dead, the knife was pulled from his body, as the unknown person moved towards Elizabeth.  She was still unconscious when the knife was placed in her hand, her fingers folded as if in a clasp.  Then the shadow disappeared, leaving behind a disturbing scene.

~~ ** ~~

Darcy was concerned that Elizabeth had disappeared from the ballroom.  She had been upset with his words, as he had witnessed her tears.  He had caught a glimpse of her returning to the ballroom, but then she just seemed to disappear.

He began searching all the rooms for her, wishing to speak with her, to clear up any misunderstandings.

Not finding her in any of the rooms, Darcy went to the balcony.  He still could not find her.  Darcy then approached Jane Bennet and Bingley.  “Have either of you seen Miss Elizabeth?  I am afraid she was upset and I wished to speak with her.”

Jane looked about.  “I do not know where she is, though she spoke with me after you danced with her.  She wished for some fresh air.  Perhaps she is taking a walk in the gardens.”

Darcy nodded his head and turned towards the doors to the balcony.  Once outside, Darcy began walking down the steps to the grounds.  He knew Elizabeth was fond of nature, and that she enjoyed walking.  She had expressed her delight in taking walks, in several of their conversations.  Perhaps she was walking about in the garden, to clear her mind.

He had reached the center of the gardens when he saw something to the side of the bushes.  Walking over, Darcy found the ghastly scene.  “Elizabeth.” He cried as he moved to her side.  Finding her still breathing, he checked on Mr Collins.  Finding the odious man deceased, Darcy returned to Elizabeth’s side.  “My dearest, what did he do to you?” Darcy asked, not expecting an answer.

Moving Elizabeth, so that he could lift her without causing her further harm, Darcy scooped her gently into his arms and hurried towards the great house.  A footman near the balcony doors saw him, moving to open the door.

“No, I must take her in a different way.  It would not be good for everyone in attendance to see her in this condition.” Darcy declared.

“This door leads to Mr Bingley’s study.” The footman stated, as he opened the door.  “I will fetch Mr Bingley.”

“Thank you.  And the apothecary, Mr Jones.” Darcy replied.

The footman nodded his head.

Darcy placed the still form of Elizabeth on the sofa inside the study.  He then draped a blanket over her body.

Hearing someone entering the room, Darcy looked up.  Bingley moved closer.  “The footman stated that there had been some mishap.”

“I am not certain what happened, but I found Miss Elizabeth unconscious and injured.  I also found Mr Collins, dead.”

“Good God, how?  Was he ill?” Bingley asked.

“No, it appears as if he was stabbed.  And when I found her, Miss Elizabeth was holding a knife in her hand.”

“Miss Elizabeth killed her cousin?  I cannot believe such news.”

“Bingley, we must keep the news quiet.  Please bring Mr Bennet and Sir William Lucas here.  If I remember correctly, Mr Bennet is the magistrate, so the situation will need to be turned over to Sir William.  An investigation will need to be made.”

Bingley nodded his head and left the room quickly.  A moment later, Mr Jones entered the room.  “I was told that there was need of my assistance.” He stated, not seeing Elizabeth on the sofa.

“Yes, there seems to have been a situation in the gardens, and Miss Elizabeth Bennet has been injured.” Darcy stated.  “I was careful when I moved her, as I felt the cold ground would cause her more harm than being carried.”

Mr Jones moved to Elizabeth’s side and began to examine her.  “A nasty bump on the back of her head.  There is some bleeding, though nothing serious.  And it appears she was struck hard on the left cheek.  If not mistaken, I would hazard a guess that it was someone’s fist which struck her.  The scratches are superficial, once cleaned they should cause her no problems.  From the look of her, it appears a man attempted to take advantage of her.”

“It is my belief that the man was Mr Collins.  I found him near where Miss Elizabeth was found, and he was dead.  Miss Elizabeth had a knife in her hand, and Mr Collins appeared to have a wound in his chest.”

“Good God, the brute must have accosted her, and she defended herself.”

“I have asked Mr Bingley to bring Sir William and Mr Bennet.  There will need to be an investigation.” Darcy stated.  “But I saw nothing which would suggest otherwise.”

The men heard Mr Bennet and Sir William, followed by Mr Bingley, enter the room.

“Lizzy…Good God, what has happened?” Mr Bennet said as he moved towards his daughter.

“I found her on the ground in the garden.” Darcy replied.  “She appears to have struck her head on a stone.”

“What of these other injuries?  Did you attack my daughter?” Mr Bennet turned towards Darcy, fury in his eyes, his hands clenched into fists.

“Indeed not, I found her in this condition.  Next to her was the body of Mr Collins.  It appears he had a wound to his chest.  When I found Miss Elizabeth, there was a knife in her hand.  From what I saw, it appears Mr Collins assaulted her and Miss Elizabeth defended herself.  I only moved Miss Elizabeth, as she required tending.  Nothing else has been disturbed.  I can take you to where I found them.” Darcy moved towards the door.

“Lucas, you know I cannot be involved in the matter.  You will need to act as magistrate.  Please go with Mr Darcy, see what you learn.” Mr Bennet stated, holding his daughter’s hand to his chest.

Sir William nodded his head and followed Darcy out of the house.

~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~

Chapter 4

Darcy led Sir William out of the house, and into the gardens, the the location where he had found Elizabeth, and where Mr Collins’ body was still to be found.  Then Mr Darcy returned to the house, and the study, as his main concern was Elizabeth’s health.

After Darcy left, Sir William was approached by one of the militia.  “Sir William, I wish to speak with you on a matter of importance.  It is involving the murder of Mr William Collins.”

Sir William looked at the man, dressed in a red uniform.  “Step closer, so I might see you better.”

The man stepped forward, and Sir William recognized him.  “Mr Wickham, why do you refer to this as a murder?  From what I was told, it appears to be self-defense.”

“I witnessed what happened.  I can give testimony as to what happened to the clergyman.”

“And just what is it you witnessed?”

Wickham had a difficult time keeping the devilish grin from his expression.  “I saw Miss Elizabeth and Mr Collins walk down the steps from the balcony, and strolled to where they are now.  Miss Elizabeth was speaking kindly to the clergyman, her hand upon his arm, until they were behind those bushes.  That was when she told him that he must sign over all claims to his inheritance of Longbourn, or she would make him pay dearly.  Mr Collins shook his head, stating he was owed the inheritance, and she had no right to take it from him.  Miss Elizabeth took hold of her gown, ripping it and scratching her skin.”

“Why would Miss Eliza do such a thing?  She is all that is proper, Mr Wickham, I cannot believe she would behave in such a manner.”

“She did.  Miss Elizabeth stated that if Mr Collins did not sign over all rights to the estate, she would claim he attempted to rape her.  When he still refused, stating that no one would believe her, she found a piece of wood and used it to strike herself in the face.  Mr Collins began to move away, as if he was going to leave, when Miss Elizabeth pulled a knife from her reticule and plunged it into his chest.  I heard her tell Mr Collins that since he would not do what she requested, she would insure that he never inherited Longbourn.”

“Miss Elizabeth is unconscious, and has a lump on the back of her head.  What caused the injury?” Sir William was finding it difficult to believe Wickham’s tale.

“As the clergyman fell to the ground, Miss Elizabeth pulled the knife from his body.  Stepping back, she stumbled and fell backwards, striking her head on a stone.  I was just about to alert you of the situation, when Mr Darcy discovered the scene. He scooped up Miss Elizabeth and took her inside.”

“If you saw and heard what was happening, why did you do nothing to prevent Miss Elizabeth from killing Mr Collins?  Why would you stand by and do nothing?  You are a lieutenant of the militia, not some milk maid.  It is your duty to assist in protecting the neighborhood in which you are living.”

Wickham looked down at his feet.  “I am ashamed of myself.  I know that I am a member of the militia, but I admit that I was frightened of what she would do to me.  Especially after seeing her dance with Darcy, who, as you must be aware, has wronged me many times.  To be honest, I was afraid they would pin the murder on me, or even kill me, so they could frame me for the murder.”

“This is quite the accusation, Mr Wickham.  I have known Miss Elizabeth Bennet all of her life.  The young lady I know is far from behaving as you have described.”

“Miss Elizabeth made a comment to me recently, that her mother is determined to marry off Miss Elizabeth and her sisters quickly, as Mr Collins was sure to throw them to the hedgerow when Mr Bennet dies.  Perhaps Miss Elizabeth was afraid of what would happen, and took matters in her own hands, ensuring that she would not have to leave her home.” Wickham said.  “Desperate people do unusual things when pushed.”

Sir William thought about what was said.  “Well, Mr Wickham, I will need your statement in writing.  It will be evidence.  We should find Colonel Forster and have some of the men guard the area surrounding the body, until Mr Jones can examine Mr Collins’ remains.  Come with me.”

“I should also tell you about an incident which happened ten years ago, in the village of Lambton…” Wickham began, as they walked towards the house.

~~ ** ~~

Sir William returned to the study, just about the time that Elizabeth began to stir.  “Bennet, we need to speak.”

“Not now, Lucas, Lizzy is waking.  I must see to her.” Mr Bennet replied.

“When she is awake, and after I question her, we may have to find somewhere secure to hold her, while the investigation continues.”

Mr Bennet frowned as he looked at his longtime friend. “Why would you need to hold her anywhere?  Look at my daughter, she has obviously been assaulted in a most grievous manner.”

“We have a witness that claims to have seen and heard all during the murder.”

The word murder rang cold and hollow in the room.  “My Lizzy would never have committed murder.  If she has killed that toad of a cousin of mine, it was in self-defense.” Mr Bennet stated.

“I dislike this as much as you do, Bennet, but it appears that Mr Collins was murdered by Miss Eliza to prevent his inheriting Longbourn.”

“Then the witness is lying to you.  Lizzy would never commit murder, it just is not possible.” Mr Bennet was steadfast in defense of his daughter.

“Papa…P…Papa…” Elizabeth cried weakly.

“I am here, my dear girl.  Are you well?” Bennet turned from his friend and neighbor, placing his attention on his daughter.

“My head aches terribly. Wh…what happened?”

Mr Bennet looked at Sir William.  “We are hoping you would be able to answer that for us.  It appears you stepped outside from the ball, and were injured.”

Elizabeth frowned.  “The last I remember was dancing with Mr Darcy, then going to the balcony.  Then I woke here.  What happened?”

Darcy’s heart went out to her, seeing the pain and confusion in her expression.  “Do not fret, Miss Elizabeth.  We will discover the truth of what happened soon enough.  I am sure your memory will return and fill in the gaps.”

“But you…you are not telling me…everything that has happened.” Elizabeth looked from one man to the next.  She could tell that something was wrong.

“You were found in the garden, near the body of Mr Collins.” Her father informed her.

“The body?  Are you saying…Mr Collins, is he…?”

Sir William moved closer.  “Mr Collins is dead, Miss Eliza.  He was stabbed to death.  Mr Darcy stated that when he found you…”

“Mr Darcy found me?” Elizabeth looked bewildered at Darcy.

“I knew you had stepped outside for some air.  When I did not see you on the balcony, I looked in the garden.”

“As I was saying, when Mr Darcy found you, you had a knife in your hand.  A witness has come forward, claiming that you stabbed Mr Collins deliberately.”  Sir William announced to his suspect.  There was a coldness to his voice, causing all the others in the room to look at the usually amiable man.

“I could not have done so, not unless my life was in danger.” Elizabeth exclaimed, her brow knit with worry.

“Hush, dearest, all will be sorted out.  I am certain the witness is mistaken.  In the dark, with shadows, the person must have been confused.” Mr Bennet stated.  “You are suffering from a blow to the head, and need rest and to be tended.  Mr Jones will give you something to aid your rest.”

“Bennet, with the statement of the witness, it is imperative that we act appropriately.  Miss Eliza must be kept somewhere secure, as an inquest must be held.  Mr Jones will need to inspect the body, and, if necessary, a physician sent for from Town to examine the body.  We cannot be seen as showing favoritism to your daughter.”

Darcy was growing angrier by the moment.  “Who is this witness, and what did the person actually see?”

Sir William hemmed and hawed for a few moments.  “The witness is a member of the militia, and he not only saw the event, he heard what was said between Miss Eliza and Mr Collins.  The statement that was given to me stated that Miss Eliza attempted to force Mr Collins to agree to relinquish his claim to heir of Longbourn, or she would accuse him of attempting to violate her.  According to the witness, Miss Eliza torn her own gown, scratching herself.  Supposedly then, Mr Collins refused and attempted to leave the gardens, only to have Miss Eliza stab him with a knife she removed from her reticule. As she was stabbing him, the witness stated she said that she would make certain that Mr Collins would never be able to take possession of Longbourn.  The injury to her cheek was allegedly done by Miss Eliza using a piece of wood to strike herself.  After stabbing Mr Collins, the witness said that Miss Eliza stumbled and fell, striking her head on a stone.”

“If this witness is a member of the militia, why did he stand back and watch a murder?  Why did he not step forward and prevent it from happening?” Darcy asked, in a heated voice.

“Well…um…Mr Darcy, the witness was afraid of you.  He would have come forward, but he knew Miss Eliza had just danced together.  He said that you coming to look for her made him suspect that you were in league with Miss Eliza and would frame him for the murder.”

“George Wickham is your witness?” Darcy nearly bellowed.  “You are accusing Miss Elizabeth Bennet on the word of that scoundrel?”

“Mr Wickham is a member of the militia.  According to him, you have acted in a most egregious manner.”  Sir William stated, as if to prove his point.  “You did not give him the living that your father left him in his will, am I correct?”

“I did not.  But instead of…”

“No, no, I do not wish to hear your reasons.  You have wronged Mr Wickham, and it is only fair to expect the poor man to fear you doing him further wrong.  Most likely you are responsible for putting thoughts into Miss Eliza’s head, which led to her killing Mr Collins.”  It was unusual for Sir William to be so bold, shocking Mr Bennet and Mr Jones.

Elizabeth was sobbing, frightened from not knowing what was going on, what had happened, and feeling the pain in her head.  “Papa, please, take me home.”

“I am sorry, Miss Eliza, but I will need to have you taken into custody.  There is a room in the basement of the church…”

“You are not placing my daughter in the makeshift jail.  It is not a proper place for a young lady, especially in her condition.” Mr Bennet roared.  “Lucas, I will not have you treat my daughter in such a manner.”

“Forgive me, Bennet, but there is nothing I can do but place Miss Eliza there.  To do less would lead to accusations of protecting her from the law.  No, I have to do what is proper in this situation, and placing her in custody, guarded and locked away, is what this situation calls for.”

Darcy shook his head.  “I am sending to Town for my solicitor.  I will have the best barrister here to defend Miss Elizabeth.  Wickham has fed you lies, and I will not stand by and allow him to destroy the life of an innocent young lady.”

Mr Bennet was worried about his daughter’s health.  “Mr Bingley, would you find Mr Phillips and ask him to join us.  My brother in law is my solicitor, and he will tell us what we should do in this matter.  The room in the basement of the church is dank and musty.  It is not properly heated, as there is no stove or fireplace in the basement.  With my daughter’s injuries, she needs to be cared for properly, not somewhere that will endanger her health further.”

Bingley left the room in search of Mr Phillips, while the rest of the men continued to speak.  Sir William was not pleased.  “I will have Miss Eliza placed under arrest and taken from here by force, if necessary, Bennet.  Her injuries are self-inflicted, so do not expect any sympathy from me.”

Darcy was furious.  “I wish to confront Mr Wickham immediately.  Where is the man?”

“I am afraid you will not be able to speak with him.  I have him writing out his statement, and then he will be returning to the militia camp in Meryton.  You are not to speak to him, until after an inquest has been held.”  Sir William declared.  “If you attempt to speak with him, or force him to change his statement, I will have you arrested for tampering with a witness.”

“You are a fool, Sir William.  And I will see that these accusations are brought to light.  Someone has set in motion a plot to bring harm to Miss Elizabeth.  I will find out who and why, no matter what it costs me.” Darcy declared.  “I will have Wickham brought up on charges of false report.  How do we know that it was not he who committed the murder?”

“An officer in the militia, commit murder and give false testimony against a young gentlewoman?  He would have nothing to gain by killing Mr Collins.  Go ahead and throw your money around and think that it can buy your way through everything.  But your money will do you no good in this matter.  You will not intimidate the witness, and you will not purchase my compliance with your desires.  I will act in the best interest of the law and to this neighborhood.” Sir William turned and walked to the corner of the room, taking a seat in one of the chairs near the fireplace.

“Mr Jones, what is your opinion of my daughter’s health?” Mr Bennet inquired.

“I would agree that it would be unadvisable to place her in the basement of the church.  Though the cut on the back of her head is not terribly large, it would not do for her to be weakened by the cold environment and cause her to take a fever.  Her face is already swelling from the injury there, and she should be watched carefully.” Mr Jones stated.

“Might I suggest one of the rooms here at Netherfield?” Bingley offered, as he returned to the room.  “You can have men guard the room, she would remain locked in the room, yet be treated appropriately and her medical needs will be tended.”

Mr Bennet looked across the room at Sir William.  “I am agreeable with that suggestion, Mr Bingley.  It is far more appropriate for a gentlewoman, especially one who has been injured.”

Sir William knew he could not win the argument.  “Very well, but I will decide who will guard her.  There will be no visitors, unless I approve them, and she will not leave the room, under any conditions.  The room has to be secure so there is only one way to enter, and that is passed the guards.  A servant’s room would suffice.”

“I would not place a gentlewoman in a servant’s room, Sir William.” Bingley was offended.  “Miss Elizabeth will be treated fairly, and will be placed in one of our guest rooms.”

“That is far grander than she deserves.” Sir William spouted.

“Why are you treating the daughter of one of your longtime friends in such a manner?” Darcy asked.  “Is it due to me?  Has Wickham poisoned you against me so much that you would mistreat Miss Elizabeth so abominably?  If so, then take your anger out on me, not Miss Elizabeth.  Wickham’s venom is meant to harm me, and he knows that harming Miss Elizabeth would be a quick way to cause me pain.  The man is evil, and will stop at nothing to ruin good people, to get what he wants.”

“You are the evil one, Mr Darcy.  Since your arrival in our neighborhood, you have treated us with disdain.  You never look upon us without judgment.  The Darcy of Pemberley and London, your wealth means you can do as you please.  Well, not here.  I will not stand for your ill treatment of those you deem beneath you.  I have been knighted, and I have a title.  Something you have never had.”

“Lucas, what has gotten into you?” Mr Bennet asked, as his brother in law entered the room.  “Why are you accepting Wickham’s word alone to condemn Lizzy of such a heinous act?  You have known her all her life, and you have only known Wickham for a few weeks.  What has happened to make you so angry at Mr Darcy?”

Mr Phillips walked over to the sofa to check on his niece.  “What has happened?”

Elizabeth was weary, especially after taking the draught that Mr Jones had given her.  The swelling to her cheek and eye were pronounced and her head ached from the goose egg on the back of it.  She was unable to keep her eyes open any longer and drifted off to sleep.  Mr Bennet stood up, placing his daughter’s hand on her chest, as he turned to his brother in law.

“It appears Mr Collins is dead, after being stabbed in the chest.  Mr Wickham, the young lieutenant from the militia, has accused Elizabeth of purposely murdering Mr Collins in order to end the entail on Longbourn.  From the evidence, it appears that Mr Collins attacked Lizzy, and that she stabbed him in self-defense.”

“What does Lizzy have to say on the matter?”

“She cannot remember.  After her set with Mr Darcy, she went to the balcony.  After that, she has no recollection.  She hit her head on a stone in the garden.”

Mr Phillips turned towards Sir William.  “And you are believing this officer over my niece?”

“What Mr Wickham has told me is logical and meets with the evidence.  And I believe that he was ill treated by Mr Darcy, whom Miss Eliza was dancing with, just before the murder.  I believe Mr Darcy to be to blame for all of this, as he has somehow convinced a young lady to go against her nature and commit such an act.”

“Sir William, my niece has not been convicted of any crime, and if you cannot sit in neutral judgement to hear all the evidence, then we should send for a magistrate who can.” Mr Phillips stated.

“Do as you will, Mr Phillips, but know this.  I will see justice done, for all of the innocent victims who have been injured.”  Sir William stormed from the room, leaving behind many confused men.

~~ ** ~~

Sir William went to the sideboard and poured himself a glass of port.  As the man had never been one to overindulge, it was surprising to Mr Bennet and Mr Phillips.

“Lucas, what is wrong?  What has happened?” Mr Phillips asked.  “I have never seen you drink more than a sip of wine at dinner, and here you are, gulping down port as if it were water.”

“Mind your own business, Phillips.  Your family has much to contend with, and will be brought to pay a dear price for your association with the likes of Darcy.” Sir William poured a second glass of port, gulping it as he had the first.

Bingley knew that it was not a good sign, and he decided it would be wiser to find Sir William’s family members to calm him.  He left the study and went in search for one of the Lucas family, and was fortunate enough to find Charlotte standing near Jane, chatting with Charlotte’s eldest brother, John.

“Miss Lucas, I believe your father is in need of you and your brother.  He is in my study, and I can take you there.”

Charlotte was confused, though she agreed to follow him. “Come, John.  Let us see to Father.”

Bingley turned his head towards Jane.  “Miss Bennet, I believe your father could use you as well.”