The trio became concerned, as they followed Bingley. They stepped outside the ballroom, appearing as if they were wishing a breath of fresh air on the balcony, and but then were led across the balcony, to the door to the study. As they entered, they witnessed Sir William downing his fourth glass of port.
“Father, what is wrong? I have never seen you drink a glass of spirits in such a manner.” Charlotte spoke as she took hold of his arm, hoping to lead him to a chair, and away from the decanter.
“I learned the truth that is what is wrong. All this time, it was that damned Darcy. But now I have a witness. Now I will prove it was him. Mark my words, he will pay for what he did. The pain he inflicted…the humiliation. I will pay him back for it all.”
“I do not understand, Father. Of whom are you speaking?”
It was clear that the alcohol was having an effect on Sir William. “He is the one…Darcy…the scoundrel…will make him… blackguard…should be shot.”
“You are making no sense, Father. What about Mr Darcy?”
“I know now…he is the one…I will make him pay…make him feel what I did…make him suffer…”
Everyone in the room looked at the man as he began to drift off from inebriation. Not one of them understood what Sir William was talking about. He was usually the most amiable, jovial man in the neighborhood, and to see him so angry and discontented was unnerving.
Jane turned to her father. “What is wrong with Lizzy?”
Realizing that Jane and the Lucas siblings had just come into the room, and were unaware of what had happened, Mr Bennet began telling of Mr Collins being dead, of Elizabeth’s injuries, and of the supposed witness, George Wickham. Neither of the Lucas siblings could explain their father’s odd behavior and anger. Jane instantly knelt beside the sofa to assure herself that her beloved sister was alive, as Jane wiped the tears that were trickling down her cheeks.
“Mr Jones is with the body.” Bingley state. “He wishes to know where we should take the remains.”
“It would be best to find somewhere here, that can be secured and kept cool.” Mr Phillips suggested. “I will send to Town, to a friend of mine, who handles criminal cases. And it would be best to have a surgeon come and examine the body. As much as I respect Mr Jones, I will not risk my niece’s life on an apothecary’s word.”
Jane turned suddenly towards her uncle. “What do you mean, risk Lizzy’s life? No one can believe that my sister would commit cold blooded murder. The suggestion is ludicrous.”
“But Sir William is adamant that Wickham was able to give him information that he could only know if he witnessed the event. We do not know what Wickham’s reasons for concocting such a lie is, but we need to do everything possible to protect Lizzy.” Mr Phillips said, attempting to comfort his eldest niece.
Darcy had kept to the back of the room, as he listened to everyone, especially Sir William, talk. He could not understand the change in Sir William’s treatment of him, of the anger the man suddenly developed towards the name Darcy. Obviously Wickham had said something to the elder man to turn him against Darcy.
“Perhaps it would be best to take Miss Elizabeth up to a guest room and get her situated. We will need to take her up through the servant corridors, so we do not alert the rest of the neighborhood to what is happening. And we should have Mr Collins’ body moved as well. The last thing we need is to have someone discover him.” Darcy stated.
“Good God, Darcy, you gave me a start.” Mr Bennet said. “I thought you had left the room, as you had been silent for so long.”
“Forgive me, Mr Bennet. I decided that I was only antagonizing Sir William, so I kept quiet. Now that he has passed out, I feel safe in speaking again. And I believe I know why Wickham would lie against Miss Elizabeth.”
“Do not keep us in suspense, Mr Darcy. Tell us what could be his motivation?”
“I have a long history with Wickham. He is the son of my father’s steward.”
Mr Phillips nodded. “We have all heard his tales of woe.”
“Ah, yes, how I denied him his inheritance from my father? What he does not tell is the fact that he decided he did not wish to be a clergyman and I gave him three thousand pounds in compensation. In return, he signed away all rights to the living. He was also given one thousand pounds, which was left him by my father. What he does not tell is how he squandered his inheritance, and came back for more. I refused to allow him to have the living then, as he would not be a proper clergyman. Unfortunately, it would not be the last I saw of Wickham. He attempted…forgive me, this is difficult for me to speak of, but I must. I must beg you to keep what I am about to tell you as private, if possible.”
The men and Jane all nodded their heads.
“Wickham attempted to convince my young sister to elope with him. She was only fifteen at the time, and quite shy, and remembered Wickham as the amiable boy from childhood. She had no notion of his gambling and womanizing, the debts he left with many in trade. All she knew was his kindness to her as a child. It crushed her heart to learn that he was only proposing to her for her dowry of thirty thousand pounds. My poor sister has not been the same since she learned the truth.”
Mr Bennet was shocked. “Mr Darcy, you have endured a great harm at the hands of Mr Wickham. And it is a far different story than what Wickham has been spreading about in the neighborhood. I take it that you have documents that can prove your words.”
“Indeed, and I am willing to send to Pemberley to have the papers brought here, if you require proof.”
“No, I believe you. I had a feeling the young man was far too easy with telling his tale of woe, speaking openly to people with only a short acquaintance with them. What I cannot understand is Sir William’s reaction towards Darcy. It is unlike him to be so angered, so furious. And his drinking, I never would have thought he would behave in such a manner.”
“I have only seen my father in this condition one other time.” Charlotte stated. “It was when…my aunt…”
“I remember him at that time.” Mr Bennet stated. “Her death was difficult for your father. They had always been close.”
John Lucas was concerned. “Why would the death of Mr Collins cause my father to become so furious, especially with Darcy? It does not make sense. We have only met Mr Collins a few times, and have nothing more than mere acquaintance with him. What could have caused Father to change his behavior?”
“I do not know, but I think it is best to take settle Miss Elizabeth in a guest room.” Darcy stated. “She should be our primary concern.”
Bingley had been looking out the window of his office, attempting to control his desire to wrap Jane Bennet in his arms to bring her comfort. “Darcy, you might wish to take a look out the window.”
The Master of Pemberley stepped to his friend’s side and gazed out over the gardens. Snow had begun to fall from the sky, and the wind seemed to be building.
“We may have a storm brewing. If so, it may be days before we are able to send to Town for assistance.” Darcy declared.
“Mr Bingley, would you be willing to allow myself and Jane stay here? Just so we can keep an eye on Elizabeth.” Mr Bennet asked.
“Of course. There is no problem. I might end up with other guests as well, if the storm becomes too strong.”
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth began to stir. As her eyes opened, she was confused, especially when one of her eyes did not open and she felt pain. She could not determine where she was. “Jane…Jane?”
“Miss Elizabeth, your sister is down the hall. She will be back in a moment.” The maid moved to the side of the bed. “Is there anything I can get for you?”
“You are in one of the guest rooms of Netherfield. My name is Lucy, and I was assigned to tend you.”
“You have quite a bump on the back of your head, and your cheek is swollen so much, you are unable to open your eye. Mr Jones says we should use some of the snow to help ease the swelling. Miss Bennet went to get some.”
“Of course, Miss.” Lucy sat on the side of the bed, picking up the glass from the nearby nightstand and placing it at Elizabeth’s lips. Lifting her head slightly, so she could take a sip, Elizabeth cried out in pain.
“Dear me, forgive me, Miss Elizabeth. I did not mean to cause you pain.”
“No…when lifted…not you…”
A knock was heard, coming from the door into the hallway. A man’s voice was heard. “Is Miss Elizabeth well? Has something happened? I heard her cry out.”
Seeing the confusion in her expression, Lucy answered the unasked question. “Mr Darcy has been outside the door, ever since he brought you up here. He had the footman bring chairs for him and your father, as they wished to keep close by until they know you are safe.”
This caused Elizabeth more confusion. She vaguely remembered dancing with the man, and that she was surprised by the way he has spoken with her. “Tell him…tell…” Elizabeth said, the pain in her head nearly blinding her.
Lucy went to the door and opened it. She could see Mr Darcy and Mr Bennet standing outside the door, waiting for word. “Sir, Miss Elizabeth attempted to lift her head so she could take a sip of water, but the pain was too much for her, which was why she cried out.”
“My daughter is in much pain?” Mr Bennet asked.
“Yes, sir. Miss Elizabeth can barely speak, she is hurting greatly.”
Darcy shook his head. “Where is Mr Jones? He needs to examine her, give her some laudanum if needed. It will some time before the physician can be brought from Town.”
“Mr Jones said he was gonna rest, and he would be back to check on Miss Elizabeth in the morning.” Lucy replied.
Seeing one of the footmen standing at the far end of the hall, Darcy called out to the man. “Go upstairs and ask Mr Jones that Miss Elizabeth is in need of his care.”
“Forgive me, Mr Darcy, I was told to remain in this hall and to make sure Miss Elizabeth does not leave her rooms.” The footman was nervous to speak in such a manner to Darcy.
“Miss Elizabeth is going nowhere, so please do as I say and fetch Mr Jones.”
Sir William came into the hall just then. “The footman has been told not to leave his post, unless I tell him otherwise. I will not allow Miss Elizabeth the chance to escape or for any of you to assist her.”
“Lucas, my daughter is in severe pain, and does not deserve being treated in this manner. She is injured and requires tending.” Mr Bennet was furious.
“Your daughter has been influenced by a man who is disreputable, and has committed a murder. I have a written statement from a credible witness, as Mr Wickham saw and heard all that happened. I do not know what you did to confuse her, Mr Darcy, but you have made her forget that she is a young gentlewoman.”
“Sir William, I do not know what you hold against me, but I have done nothing to you.” Darcy declared. “And to hold anger against Miss Elizabeth, simply due to her speaking with me, is ridiculous. Miss Elizabeth requires medical care. She is in severe pain and requires Mr Jones to tend her.”
“Mr Darcy, I am not going to speak with you of my grievances against you, as this is not the time or place. I will wait until this matter with Mr Collins’ murder is over, as I will need more witnesses to verify information against you. It breaks my heart to know you were able to persuade Miss Eliza to perform such an act, but I cannot allow my former friendship with the Bennet family to cloud my duties.”
“Your former friendship with my family?” Mr Bennet was shocked. “We are suddenly not friends now, due to the words of this Wickham fellow?”
“I am doing my duty to the neighborhood, seeing that a murderer is treated appropriately. His majesty, the king, knighted me, and I will not disrespect my king by failing to perform my duty to see a criminal brought to justice. It is not my fault that your daughter has destroyed your family. If she is willing to kill for this man, it would not shock me to learn that she has given her virtue to him as well.”
Sir William landed on the floor, after being struck by Mr Bennet’s fist. “How dare you strike me? I will have charges brought against you, Bennet.”
“How dare you speak of my daughter in such a manner? My daughter is a proper young lady, not some trollop. First, you accuse her of murder, and then you say she is Mr Darcy’s mistress? I will not stand by and tolerate your behavior any further, Lucas. You are not going to frame my daughter, especially on the word of Mr Wickham. As the true magistrate for this neighborhood, I demand you produce Mr Wickham immediately. If he is giving testimony, I have a right to hear what he has to say. Where is he?”
“I am not certain. After he wrote his statement, Mr Wickham has been missing. He must have returned to the militia camp.” Sir William stated, rubbing his jaw as he made to stand.
“Send word to the camp. As everyone has left, Colonel Forster should be at camp. Have him bring Wickham here to answer questions.” Darcy stated.
Sir William stood tall and proud. “I am the acting magistrate, sir, and do not take orders from the likes of you. We will be able to speak with Mr Wickham tomorrow.”
Jane Bennet entered the hall and was walking towards her sister’s room. When Sir William saw her, carrying a bowl of snow, he approached her. “Your sister will not require your assistance anymore tonight. I suggest you and your father return to your home.”
Mr Bennet’s temper grew. “My daughter requires the snow to aid in reducing the swelling on her face. Good God, Lucas, do you wish my daughter to be permanently blind in her eye from the swelling?”
“The wound is self-inflicted. If Miss Eliza is willing to inflict such a wound on her person, she does not require medical treatment. Besides, who knows how long she will remain living in this neighborhood. If found guilty, which I cannot imagine her not being found so, Miss Eliza will hang for her crimes.”
Darcy walked menacingly towards the pompous man. “Do not predict such a fate for an innocent young lady such as Miss Elizabeth. She did not murder Collins, and I had nothing to do with the man’s death. If anything, Miss Elizabeth was acting in self-defense. And the wound to her cheek would have been difficult to have been committed by her own hand. I cannot imagine her having the strength to have struck herself so hard, with or without some sort of weapon.”
“But the witness stated she did. You have no proof that she did not, so I suggest that you accept the truth.”
“My daughter requires tending, Lucas. Are you going to refuse her the care she requires?”
Sir William puffed out his chest. “I will check on her and make a decision whether she is truly injured or if she is pretending to obtain sympathy.”
The man entered the room alone, locking the door when he was inside the room. Mr Bennet, Darcy, Jane and Lucy were forced to stand outside the door, waiting for Sir William’s decision.
Approaching the bed, Sir William was leery of what he was to see. “Miss Eliza, how could you fall prey to such a man as Darcy? You have always been intelligent, how could you allow a devious man fool you into behaving so heinously?”
He had not expected Elizabeth to answer him, as he was certain that she would lie to him or pretend she did not remember. He was not prepared to see Elizabeth’s face as swollen as it was.
“Open your eyes, Miss Eliza. I do not believe that you are ignorant of what you have done. A witness informed me that you injured yourself, and that you murdered your cousin. What do you have to say for yourself?”
Elizabeth did not move, nor did she make a sound. Sir William believed she was pretending. “Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I demand you speak to me immediately. If you tell me the truth, I will do all in my power to see that you are transported, rather than hung. I do not wish to put such pain upon your family, watching you hang for your crimes. But I will insist on it if you do not tell me the truth.”
Still nothing from Elizabeth.
“If you continue to behave in such a manner, I will have no option but to see that you hang for the crime of murder. The witness against you has told me what you did and said, so you will be found guilty. Your entire family will be disgraced and ruined by your behavior. This is your final chance to tell me the truth.”
When Elizabeth remained silent and still, Sir William decided he had his answer. “Very well. No one will be allowed to enter this room. I do not believe you are severely injured, as the witness declared your injuries to be self-inflicted. So you will not require any tending. Food will be brought to you three times per day, and the maid will bring fresh water each morning and remove your chamber pot twice a day. Otherwise, you will be alone until a trial can be convened. You have no one to blame but yourself.”
Sir William walked to the door, unlocked it, and stepped out in the hall. He looked into the room one last time, before shutting the door and locking it. “There is no need for anyone to enter the room for the rest of the night. I will keep the key for the room, so no one will be tempted to visit Miss Elizabeth. I believe she is pretending, that her wounds are not as severe as you make them out to be. If she were in such severe pain, she would be thrashing about and crying out. She did not. I will have two men stationed outside this door at all times. I will take the room next to this one, so that I am available at all times.”
“I have taken that room.” Mr Bennet declared.
“And I have declared the room to be mine, Mr Bennet.” Sir William turned towards the footman who had been placed guarding the hall. “You, come here.”
The young man walked towards him. “Yes, sir?”
“You will remain here, guarding the room. No one is to enter this room, unless I give permission. Do I make myself clear?”
“Y…y…yes, Sir. But what of the maid who was tending Miss Bennet?”
“She will not be required. No one, and I repeat, no one, is to enter this room without my authorization. I will have another man guard the servant’s corridor, and another to give you breaks when needed.”
“Yes, Sir William.”
Sir William returned his attention to the other people in the hall. “I suggest the rest of you find your rooms or return to your homes. There is nothing else to be done this night.”
Though Mr Bennet appeared to be contemplating striking the arrogant man, he turned to speak with Lucy of her locating Bingley, to acquire another bedchamber.
Once the hall was cleared of the Bennet family and Darcy, Sir William entered the bedchamber he had demanded and went to sleep.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
It was nearly dawn, and the fire in Elizabeth’s bedchamber was low. No other light could be found in the room. A dark figured made their way inside the room, from a hidden door in the dressing chamber. The figure made their way towards the bed, where Elizabeth was lying, the young lady beginning to awaken. When Elizabeth opened her good eye, she could see the figure, though she did not recognize who it was.
“W…water…please.” Elizabeth begged, her throat raw and dry.
The figure stood near the bed, watching the young lady for a few minutes, before stepping closer to her. Picking up a glass from the bedside table, the figure pulled something from a coat pocket, placing it in the glass, before placing it at Elizabeth’s lips.
After being assisted in drinking all the water that was in the glass, Elizabeth felt sluggish. It was not long before she was unconscious. As the figured picked up a pillow from the bed and prepared to place it over her face, an argument could be heard in the hall.
Not wishing to be caught, the figure returned to the hidden door, and silently escaped the room, just before Sir William opened the door from the hall.
“I told you, she is fine. There is nothing wrong with her.” Sir William stated. “Now, I demand you to return to your room and leave me to rest a while longer.”
Darcy’s voice could be heard by the figure, even hidden in a secret passage. “The fire needs to be built back up. It would do Miss Elizabeth no good to become chilled from the fire going out. She could take a fever.”
“Mr Darcy, it matters not. Miss Eliza is not as ill as you and her father make her out to be.”
Charlotte Lucas joined the men in the hall. “Father, what is the problem? I can hear your voice down the hall.”
“Mr Darcy is attempting to garner sympathy for Miss Elizabeth. I do not agree with him. As I am the acting magistrate, it is up to me to determine the truth.”
“Father, Lizzy is a good person, one of the best I have ever known. I do not understand your sudden dislike of the Bennet family. You need to tell me what is causing you so much anger.”
“I cannot speak of the matter here. I will not. All I will tell you is Mr Darcy is not the man he pretends to be. He has done many disservices to the people of England, and I will not rest until he is brought to justice for his behavior. If that means Elizabeth Bennet will pay for her crimes, for throwing her lot in with his, then she deserves no sympathy from any of us.”
“For me, Father, allow a maid to check on Lizzy and ensure she is well. Do this for me. I do not believe in her guilt, not as do you. Allow me to check on Lizzy. I will not lie to you, Father. Trust me.” Charlotte placed a hand gently on her father’s arm.
For a brief moment, Sir William looked into his daughter’s hazel eyes. “Very well, but I demand the door remain open while you are with her, and the maid can build the fire up while you are checking on Miss Elizabeth.” He looked over his shoulder at Darcy. “And you will remain in the hall.”
Darcy nodded in agreement.
Charlotte motioned to the young maid who would build up the fire in the hearth. The two of them entered the room, the maid walking directly to the fireplace, and set to work. Charlotte made her way to the side of the bed.
Looking at her friend, Charlotte was certain that Elizabeth was not pretending to be unconscious. She reached out her hand, touching Elizabeth’s cheek.
“Father, Mr Jones is required immediately. Lizzy is not well. Her skin is dry and warm, her cheeks are flushed. Something is wrong with her, and Mr Jones is needed.”
Darcy pushed Sir William out of his way, hurrying to Elizabeth’s bedside. Charlotte glanced up at him. “Mr Darcy, it would not do to compromise Elizabeth’s reputation by being in her bedchambers. I will see that she is tended.”
“It matters not to me if her reputation suffers. What matters, more than anything else in this world, is that Miss Elizabeth recovers her health.” Darcy stated, lifting one of Elizabeth’s hands to his cheek. “Miss Lucas, her hand is warm, but she is not perspiring, as she would if this was a fever. Something else is going on here.”
“The same thought crossed my mind, Mr Darcy. Mr Jones will be able to better determine, but this does not seem feverish to me.” Charlotte picked up the glass of water and moved towards Elizabeth, to assist her friend in taking some fluid. “Mr Darcy, can you hold her head at an angle, so she does not choke on the water.”
“Miss Lucas, sit the glass down. There is something in the water, there, at the bottom of the water.”
Both of them looked carefully at the glass. “I did not notice it before, but it appears to be a piece of some sort of plant. Could someone have placed it in the glass on purpose?” Charlotte asked.
“As there is nothing in the room which could have fallen into the glass, I am not certain where else it could have come from. Miss Bennet would have noticed if there was something in the glass when she last tended her sister. And the maid, Lucy, she might know.” Darcy’s mind was unsettled. Had someone made an attempt to silence Elizabeth permanently?
Mr Jones arrived in the room nearly a quarter of an hour later. It was obvious that he had been sound asleep, and had a difficult time rising from his bed. “I hear that Miss Elizabeth has taken a fever.”
“No, Mr Jones, it is not a fever. Her skin is warm, but it is dry, nearly dehydrated. There is no perspiration as there would be from a fever. And she has made no movement since we entered the room.”
A concerned look came over Mr Jones’ brow. He took the candle that Darcy had lit and held it close to Elizabeth’s face. The apothecary pulled her eyelid and examined her eyes. “Her pupils, they are dilated. Has Miss Elizabeth had anything to eat or drink since I last saw her?”
“We are not certain, though my father has had the room locked and guarded. I do not know how she would have had anything. But Mr Darcy noticed that there was a small piece of something in this glass of water. We found it on the stand, beside the bed. It appears to be a piece of a leaf or something.”
Mr Jones held the glass up so the flame of the candle made visualizing the mysterious piece of plant easier. “Good God. I cannot be certain, but I believe this is a bit of a leaf from a deadly nightshade plant. If it is, and Miss Elizabeth has ingested some of it, we could be in trouble. Too much of the plant can cause death. The warmth, redness to the skin, yet dry, added with the dilation of her pupils, are signs of belladonna poisoning. Belladonna comes from the nightshade plant.”
Darcy’s heart nearly stopped beating. “But how could this happen? Miss Elizabeth was in this room, alone, locked in and unconscious. Her sister would not have given her poison, as Miss Bennet cherishes her sister.”
“Obviously, the Bennets do not hold family as dear as we thought.” Sir William stated from the doorway. “It appears that Miss Jane Bennet has attempted to kill her sister. The way things are going, I will have to bring charges against all of the Bennet family.”
“FATHER.” Charlotte said in dismay. “Jane would no sooner poison Lizzy than I would you. Enough with your attack against the Bennet family.”
“I should have known that the Bennets could not be trusted. They have connections to Lambton. I would not be surprised to learn that they had been involved…”
“Involved in what?” Darcy asked. At hearing the name of the village near his home estate, he was curious as to what Lambton had to do with any of the matter before them.
“Father, you cannot believe that any of the Bennets were responsible in what happened in Lambton.” Charlotte was shocked. She had suddenly realized what her father was thinking. “And I am sure that Mr Darcy has nothing to do with that situation either.”
Darcy looked at Charlotte. “What situation are you speaking of, Miss Lucas? What is causing your father such prejudice against me?”
“Charlotte, you will not speak of family matters.” Sir William stated, anger in his tone, as he stepped towards his daughter.
“If you refuse to discuss the issue with Mr Darcy, learn if he had anything to do with what happened, how can you hold him responsible? You have never been so cruel in your behavior. Why are you being unfair with Mr Darcy?”
“He was responsible. I have the word of someone who was there. There is no proof, but I know it was Mr Darcy who was responsible.” Sir William spat the words, glaring over his daughter’s shoulder at Darcy.
“You tend to believe the words of Wickham. Allow me to tell you, he is not to be trusted. Wickham is a rake, a gambler, and I have purchased most of his debts over the years, enough to put him in debtors’ prison for the rest of his life.” Darcy stated.
“I will send for him to come here, and he will tell the truth to everyone. He feared your retaliation, as Wickham has been victim of your wrath for his entire life. You denied him his inheritance, and have ruined his life.” Sir William was nearly shouting.
Mr Bennet entered the room, partially dressed, having been awakened by his neighbor’s voice. “What is happening? Is Elizabeth well?”
Darcy turned his attention from Sir William to Mr Bennet. “She is alive, though it appears that she has been poisoned with nightshade.”
“Your eldest must have poisoned her sister, as she was the last in the room with her.” Sir William sneered at the Master of Longbourn. “Your sweet, innocent daughter is just as wicked as her sister.”
A timid voice could be heard from behind Mr Bennet. “Sir, I was the last in the room with Miss Elizabeth. Miss Bennet had gone out to gather snow to aid reducing the swelling on Miss Elizabeth’s cheek and eye. You did not allow her to return to the room.” Lucy said. “But I did nothing to harm Miss Elizabeth. And I know nothing about no poison.”
“I believe you, Lucy.” Mr Bennet declared. “Somehow, someone else has been in this room. What of the servant hall?”
“I locked the door myself.” Sir William stated. “Are you going to accuse me of harming your daughter?”
“Lucas, enough is enough. Mr Jones, will Lizzy survive?” Mr Bennet pushed past Sir William, walking to his daughter’s bedside. He lifted her hand in his own, noticing how warm and flush her skin was.
“We will have to keep a close watch on her. It can sometimes take a few days for the effect to wear off, but hopefully, this is the worst of it. If the bit that we found in the glass had been ingested, it would have been far worse for her.” Mr Jones spoke as gently as possible.
Sir William rounded on Lucy. “You, maid, whatever your name is, I am placing you in custody, pending charges of attempted murder. Did someone give you the nightshade? Was it Mr Darcy?”
“I swear, sir, I had nothing to do with no nightshade. I would not poison anyone, especially a fine young lady such as Miss Elizabeth. My family has known her family for many years.” Lucy had tears welling up in her eyes.
“This fighting is ridiculous, and I will ask that you take it elsewhere.” Mr Jones announced. “I need to take care of my patient, and I cannot do so with all this blundering about.”
“Are you certain that she is not pretending?” Sir William inquired.
Mr Jones picked up Elizabeth’s other hand, holding her little finger near the flame of the candle. No response could be detected from Elizabeth, no flinching or attempt to jerk her hand from the fire. “If she were not drugged, she would have some sort of reaction to the pain from the flame.” He stated as he returned Elizabeth’s hand to the bed. “I am not going to tell you again, Sir William. Leave me to tend my patient. Lucy, you will stay with me.”
“She is the most likely suspect for poisoning Miss Elizabeth.” Sir William roared. “You cannot be serious about having her remain here, alone, with you.”
“Yes, I can. I know Lucy and her family. They are good people, and I am certain that she had nothing to do with the poisoning.”
Charlotte grasped her father’s arm and pulled him towards the door. “Father, come. We need to allow Mr Jones to tend Lizzy. And we have much to discuss.”
~~ ** ~~
Down the hall, in the sitting room attached to rooms that Darcy was using during his stay at Netherfield, the men and Charlotte gathered. By this time, Jane had joined the group, as had Charles Bingley.
Charlotte was nearly certain that she had figured out what was causing her father’s anger. “Father, I believe we must speak openly of what happened in Lambton.”
Sir William’s eyes were round with fury. “I will not speak of the matter in front of these people.”
“But that is at the heart of the matter. Until it was discussed, obviously with Mr Wickham, you held no anger towards the Bennet family. You would never have believed Lizzy capable of committing murder, but now you do, after speaking with Mr Wickham. And you have come to detest Mr Darcy. All of this revolves around what Mr Wickham told you, and it has to do with Lambton.”
“What about Lambton?” Mr Bennet asked. “You know my sister in law is from Lambton. What happened there?”
Sir William walked to the window, refusing to look at anyone. “My sister lived in Lambton, just after her marriage.”
“I remember Martha, and her wedding.” Mr Bennet acknowledged. “It was not long after she married that her husband went to sea.”
Charlotte took over telling the tale, as it was clear her father would not. “Aunt Martha’s husband was from Lambton. When he went to sea, Aunt Martha stayed in Lambton with her husband’s parents. It was nearly half a year later that we learned that Martha had been murdered.”
“MURDERED?” Mr Bennet was shocked. “Why did you never tell me of this? All I knew was that Martha had died. I believed she had taken ill or had an accident. You never spoke of her death, except that she had died.”
“How was I to speak of what happened to her?” Sir William turned his attention towards his neighbor. “When I arrived at Lambton, they told me I did not want to see my sister’s body. I did not understand, and demanded to see her. I wish I had listened to them. My dear sister had been brutally attacked, and had been cut badly.”
“Martha Tinswoody? She was your sister?” Darcy asked.
“Yes, and Mr Wickham told me that you were well known for your brutality with young ladies. Your family had money and paid to cover up your involvement with my sister. Because of you, my dear sister was taken from my life, and the image of her still haunts me.”
“Sir William, when your sister was killed, I was at school. If you do not believe me, I can send for records from my instructors. Bingley would know as well, seeing as he and I were best friends at the time. She died in the winter of 1799. But that was the year that Wickham remained at Pemberley, as his mother was ill and insisted he stay with her. Wickham was not pleased, as he wished to be away from his parents. At school, he could drink and gamble, seduce women, and do as he pleased. Being at Pemberley, he was forced to behave himself, or my father would discover the truth about him.”
“I do not believe you.” Sir William glared at Darcy. “Why would Wickham tell me about your behavior with women, if it were not the truth? He is in the militia, an officer even. Why would he lie to me?”
“Because Wickham could no sooner tell the truth than you could be a woman. He is evil, all polished and pretty, but evil all the same.” Darcy stated. “I heard from my father about your sister’s murder. He wrote me a letter, and later, when I returned home, one of the stable hands filled me in on more of the details. It was one of the worst things to have ever happened in Lambton and the neighborhood. At first, they wondered if it had been an attack by a wild animal, but then they found a bite mark, a human bite mark.”
“Your teeth?” Sir William questioned in a disbelieving manner. He was not accepting Darcy’s words.
“I have told you, Sir William, I had nothing to do with your sister’s death. I was nowhere near the county, let alone Lambton.” Darcy was becoming frustrated. “Once Wickham arrives, Bingley and I can refute all his claims against me.”
“Then how did Mr Collins end up dead? Why would Wickham lie about seeing Miss Elizabeth murder her cousin?” Sir William asked. “It makes no sense for Mr Wickham to lie about such an event. He knows that it will mean a young lady is charged and might hang for the crime. I cannot imagine a lieutenant in the militia would make up such a horrible lie and risk someone being hung for his lie.”
Bingley had known his friend for many years, and knew the troubles Darcy had suffered at the hands of Wickham. “Sir William, if I may, Wickham’s main purpose in life is to torment and harm Darcy. Ever since I have known them, Wickham has done things with the sole purpose to cause Darcy pain. It is clear to me that my friend cares deeply for Miss Elizabeth. Would it not be a perfect way to cause harm to my friend? I am certain that Wickham would be able to recognize that Darcy cares for Miss Elizabeth. The greatest harm that could be dealt Darcy is take away the lady who has captured his heart.”
Sir William was still determined to keep his opinion of Darcy. “I will need to see proof before I can believe anything. But now, how would anyone have been able to enter the room to poison Miss Elizabeth? And why would they? There is no logical reason to poison Miss Elizabeth.”
“Again, Sir William, to cause Darcy pain.” Bingley replied. “If she were dead, he would be devastated.”
“As I said, I will require proof to believe your version. I will need to post a guard inside Miss Elizabeth’s room.” Sir William marched from the room.
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