. Chapter 7
“Charles, how are we to feed all these extra people?  We were supposed to leave for Town today, and instead, we are forced to host guests who are so far beneath us.” Caroline Bingley complained.  “And with the snow, I doubt we will be able to leave anytime soon.”
“Caroline, forgive me for caring about my neighbors.  We had an incident last night, and it made it necessary for some of our neighbors to remain here.” Bingley attempted to be firm with his sister.  “We have plenty of food to feed everyone, and I have already sent to Meryton to have more supplies brought here.”
“Why would you be foolish enough to invite the Bennets to stay here?  They live closer than any of our other guests at the ball.  It is ridiculous for them to remain here.”
“There was an accident last night and Miss Elizabeth was injured.  I invited her family to remain here, so they could be with her.”
Caroline snorted.  “She is just making an effort to use her arts and allurements to trap Mr Darcy.  And her sister is trying to do the same with you.  If you are not careful, you will end up taking care of all of that entire family.  That mother, she is such an embarrassment.  And the two youngest daughters, the way they flirted with all the officers last night, one or both of them will end up ruining their family. I did not see their odious cousin, the parson.  If he could return to Longbourn, why could the rest of them not do the same?”
“The reason you did not see Mr Collins at the end of the night was due to his dying in the gardens.” Bingley finally divulged.
“Goodness, that family does not even know how to appropriately die?  The man had the audacity to die in my garden, at my ball?  How dare he ruin my good name by behaving so inappropriately?”
“You truly believe the man came here with the intent to die and ruin your good name?  I am certain that it was the furthest thing from his mind.”
Their elder sister entered the study, not taking time to knock.  “Charles, why did you not warn us that there is a murderer roaming our home?  I just learned from the staff that Mr Collins was killed, here, in our gardens.”
Caroline’s eyes grew round and large.  “MURDERED?  You said nothing about his being murdered.  And the killer is still here?  We must leave immediately for Town.  It is not safe to remain here.  What if the murderer strikes again? Are we to be murdered in our beds?”
“Calm yourself, Caroline.  We are attempting to discover how the murder happened.”
“What do you mean?  How did he die?”
“I was told he was stabbed in the chest, and by a young lady.” Louisa said.  “Can you imagine, a young lady murdering a parson?  Charles, you simply must give up the lease and we should return to Town immediately.  We cannot possibly remain here.”
A thought came to Caroline.  “Charles, you stated that Eliza Bennet was injured.  Was she involved in her cousin’s death?  Did she murder her own cousin, a clergyman?”
“We do not know who killed Mr Collins, though Miss Elizabeth was there.  She fell and struck her head on a stone, causing a head injury.  She cannot remember what happened.  But it appeared as if Mr Collins assaulted her, and she may have stabbed him in self-defense.”
“I want that murderess out of my home, Charles.  I will not remain in a house with that… that murderess harlot.  Most likely he learned her plans to compromise Mr Darcy and she had to silence him.” Caroline stood and began pacing.  Suddenly she walked to the window, looking out at the snow, still falling from the sky, and blanketing everything in white.  “We must find a way to leave here.  A sleigh…certainly there is a sleigh somewhere we can use to make the journey.  Please, Charles, we cannot remain here.  And we must make certain that Mr Darcy comes with us.  We cannot leave him here.”
“We are not leaving, and I am quite certain that Darcy has no intention to leave for London or anywhere else.  Calm yourself, Caroline.  We must wait for Miss Elizabeth to wake before we can learn what has happened.”
Caroline could not stand by her brother’s decision.  “I will have my belongings packed and prepared to leave, the moment this storm is through.” She then marched from the room.
~~ ** ~~
Mrs Bennet had not been told why the family was to remain at Netherfield overnight, as that did not matter to her.  To be a guest in the grand house was all that the woman could wish for.  She looked forward to her daughter, Jane, becoming the Mistress of Netherfield. When Jane marries Mr Bingley, I will make sure that she keeps a room available for me to stay here when I wish.  It would be nice to stay here once a week or more.  And Jane will require my assistance, as she learns her duties.  Who better to be here to aid her in her time of need?  And when Mr Bennet dies, I will be able to stay here rather than Longbourn. 
I will leave any of the girls who are unmarried at Longbourn, with Lizzy and Mr Collins.  They can take care of Mary and Kitty, Lydia will likely wish to remain with me if she is not yet married.  But, as lively and pretty as she is, she will likely be married. 
I must push for Lizzy to marry Mr Collins quickly.  Perhaps it is best if I set up a compromise, assist that idiot of a clergyman to claim her as his.  The man is far too foolish to know how to compromise anyone.  There is nothing that could ever tempt me to bed such a man.  Poor Lizzy, she will have as miserable a marriage as I have had.  Serves her right, not being born a son, as she should have been.  Had she done her duty and been a son, she would not have been forced into such a foul outcome, but one way or another, she will secure Longbourn for the future.
Mr Bennet has not come to tell me what has happened to make us remain at Netherfield.  Oh well, I shall ring for a tray to be brought up and remain comfortable in this fine bed.
A knock on the door interrupted her musings.  “Come.” She called out.
Mr Bennet entered the room.  “Mrs Bennet, I am surprised you are still in bed.  It is nearly noon.”
“It was a late night, and Lydia and I chatted for some time before turning in for the night.  And the luxury of the bed and bedclothes, well, how could one not sleep soundly.  How long do you plan for us to remain here?”
“I am not certain, though I plan to send you, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia to Longbourn.  Jane and I will remain here with Elizabeth.”
Mrs Bennet disagreed with this opinion.  “That is not fair, Thomas.  We should all be able to enjoy the luxury.  And what of Mr Collins?  Lizzy is required to be at Longbourn, as he plans to ask for her hand.”
“Fanny, there will be no proposal, nor a marriage, between Mr Collins and our daughter.”
“No…no…no. You did not cause him to offer for someone else, did you?  He was set on marrying Lizzy, and I promised him.  I insist you make it right, and agree to the marriage.” Mrs Bennet was out of the bed, standing before her husband, her hands on her hips. 
“It is impossible, Fanny.  Mr Collins is dead.”
Mrs Bennet fainted, collapsing to the floor before Mr Bennet could catch her.  The Master of Longbourn lifted his wife, which was far from simple, as Mrs Bennet had long since left behind her girlish figure and had an insatiable sweet tooth.  Once Mrs Bennet was on the bed, with the blanket tucked about her, Mr Bennet returned to his beloved daughter’s room. 
“Mr Jones, you might be needed to check on my wife, as she fainted after learning that Mr Collins is dead.  I was unable to prevent her from collapsing to the floor.”
Mr Jones nodded his head.  “I will examine her shortly.  As Miss Elizabeth is stable, I was planning to order some food brought up and rest for a bit.  Lucy and Miss Bennet can keep an eye on Lizzy, and if there is any change, notify me immediately.”
Nodding his head, Mr Bennet thanked his friend.  “Having seen the body of my cousin, do you believe my daughter capable of inflicting his wound?”
“I was more concerned with the living, so I did not examine the body very well.  Mr Phillips stated that a physician was being sent for, so I did not worry over the remains.”
“Due to the storm, it might be a few days before a physician can arrive.  When you have some time, would you examine the body?”
Darcy was standing at the doorframe, preparing to make his presence known when he heard Mr Bennet’s request.  “Perhaps taking Sir William with you would be good.  I would be interested in the location of the wound, as well as the angle it was delivered into Mr Collins.  I did not get a good look, but what I saw makes me think the person was taller than Miss Elizabeth.  As she is petite, it would be uncommon for her to have struck a wound very high.  And, being shorter than the man, and the knife was allegedly pulled from her reticule, I would surmise the knife to have been thrust in an upward motion.  I would be interested in seeing Miss Elizabeth’s reticule.  I do not believe it is large enough to hide such a knife, especially without causing cuts to the bag.”
Mr Bennet gave a sigh and a small smile.  “You have rested and refreshed your mind, Mr Darcy.  You have many valid points that can be verified by Mr Jones.  I believe my brother in law should also attend the examination, as he is acting as Lizzy’s solicitor for the moment.”
Mr Jones nodded his head.  “I will have something to eat, then have Mr Phillips and Sir William accompany me.  I pray that you are correct, Bennet.  I cannot imagine your Lizzy as a cold blooded murderer.”
~~ ** ~~
Sir William walked toward the foyer, seeing a young man in a red coat standing there, explaining to the butler that the message he was delivering was of extreme importance, and was to be delivered to Sir William Lucas immediately.
“I am Sir William.  What do you have for me?”
“A message from Colonel Forster, sir.  He said I was to give this message to you.”
“Many thanks.  Please pass along my gratitude to your colonel.”
The young man bowed slightly, then left the house, returning to Meryton, where the militia was encamped.
Sir William broke the seal and opened the letter.  “Good God.  This cannot be true.”
Mr Phillips heard his neighbor’s outburst from the nearby sitting room and came to investigate.  “What has happened?  Has my niece taken a turn for the worst?”
“No, no, this has nothing to do with Miss Elizabeth’s condition.  I just received word from Colonel Forster.  It appears that Lieutenant Wickham has vanished, and his room was in disarray, and they found blood on the bedding.  From the looks of it, the poor man has met with foul play.”
“Well, you cannot blame Lizzy for this, as she was poisoned and fighting for her life.  Due to the weather, my family has all been here, so none of us has caused Lieutenant Wickham harm.” Mr Phillips made a point of clarifying the facts.
“Darcy has enough wealth and connections to have hired someone.” Sir William declared.
“We are returning to this argument again?  Sir William, I do not know if you have noticed, but it is rare to see Mr Darcy far from my niece’s rooms.  His concerns are with her well-being, not in causing harm to anyone.  With the snowstorm, very few have managed to leave Netherfield.  I believe it would have been obvious if Darcy, or anyone else, had left the estate.”
Sir William grumbled something to himself.  “I will grant you that it would have been difficult, but I cannot completely rule it out as a possibility.”
Mr Jones soon joined the pair, and they made their way to the locked room connected to the stables.  They opened the door and entered the room, closing the door behind them.
The body of Mr Collins was on the floor, covered with a carriage rug. Mr Phillips and Sir William lifted the body from the ground, placing it on the nearby table.  Mr Jones was holding a lantern, as he moved towards the table. 
“I will dictate my findings, and will require one of you to write down my words.” The apothecary pulled paper and a pencil from his case.
Mr Phillips volunteered to keep the notes for Mr Jones.  “Sir William, would you please hold my case?  I need to have my instruments handy.”
“Of course.” Sir William replied. 
Once the rug was completely removed, Mr Jones began.  “I need to take measurements.  Mr Collins was fairly tall.  Look at the wound.  It is high in the chest.”
“What is the angle of the wound?  Lizzy would have thrust upwards to make such a wound, as she is quite a bit shorter than Mr Collins.” Mr Phillips declared.
“I will not be able to tell the angle, as the wound is rounded, as if the knife was twisted inside the wound.  With the location of the wound, it would have taken a good bit of strength to twist the knife, as the rib bones are too close together and would have blocked the knife from simple turning.  The person would have had strength in their hands to manage this work.”
“Do you believe that Lizzy would be strong enough to make such a wound?”
Mr Jones shook his head.  He found the knife on the floor, near where the body had been when they entered the room.  The knife was long, with a wide blade, and the handle appeared to have been custom made of wood.  “Miss Elizabeth’s hands are delicate and small.  She is stronger than most would think, but take a look at the knife.  The handle would have been difficult for her to do anything more than a simple stabbing as the handle is thick.  Her hands would have difficulty in surrounding the handle and allowing her to have the strength to twist the knife inside his chest.  Otherwise, it would be difficult to for small hands to move it to turn it more than a hair.”
Mr Phillips looked at Sir William.  “Do you see, Sir William?  Do you understand what Mr Jones is telling you?  My niece is innocent.  Mr Wickham made false statements against her.”
“But why would Mr Wickham lie to me?” Sir William asked, confusion clearly etched on his brow.  “What good would it do him to make up such a story?”
“Can you not guess?” Mr Phillips asked in reply.
“Certainly you are not suggesting that he committed the murder.  What could possibly be the reason for him to kill Mr Collins?”
“I do not know, but Mr Wickham is top of my list of being the murderer.  Is my niece’s reticule here?  I believe it was brought here, along with the body.” Mr Phillips was curious.  He looked around the room and located the bag in the corner of the room.  Mr Phillips had Mr Jones recover the reticule and examine it.
“There is no sheath for the knife.  And no cuts or tears in the fabric.” Mr Jones declared.  He picked up the knife and held it next to the reticule.  “If this knife was inside the reticule, the handle would have been obvious, as it would not have fit in the bag.  And there would have been cuts or, at the very least, puncture holes.  There are none.  The claims of Miss Elizabeth pulling the knife from her reticule must be false, as evidence shows that it could not be possible.”
Mr Phillips nodded his head.  “Yet another statement, by Mr Wickham, proven to be false.  Sir William, you can see for yourself that the evidence and the statements made by that man do not match.  If he is making false statements, that proves to me that he knows what truly happened and was most likely involved in the murder.”
Sir William was having a difficult time accepting the truth.  He wished to believe the young man, as he had been so sincere in his words, telling Sir William what the elder man wished to hear with regards to his sister’s murder.  But he finally had to accept the fact that everything Wickham had told him were lies.  “Good God, what have I done to my dear friends?  How could I have been such a fool?”
“So you no longer suspect my niece, or Mr Darcy, in any crimes?” Mr Phillips demanded.
“I wanted to know the truth of my sister’s death.  I have waited for so many years to learn who had been so heartless, murdering my beloved sister.  Mr Wickham played on my desire to know who the murderer was, and made me believe his smooth talk.”
Mr Jones was confused.  “How would Wickham know about your sister?  You do not speak of her, and have never spoken of her death being of a violent nature.”
Sir William’s cheeks became rosy.  “Mr Wickham informed me of his living near Lambton, and that Mr Darcy had an infamous reputation there.  When I heard Lambton, I stated that my sister had lived there until her death.  He asked her name, and, after I told him, Mr Wickham told me the tale of Mr Darcy.  It was my fault, I gave him the perfect venue to bring harm to Mr Darcy and Miss Elizabeth.”
~~ ** ~~
One of the tenants of Netherfield, Mr Atkins, was making his way through the storm to his small barn, his son following behind him.  He had to check on his animals and give them food and water.  Opening the barn door, the man entered.  Mr Atkins walked over to the cow and patted her back. 
“Bessie, how are you, old girl?  Robbie will milk you, while I see to everyone being fed.”
Picking up the milking stool and the nearby bucket, Robbie took up the task while Mr Atkins began feeding all of the animals and seeing to their needs.  His horses were his pride and joy, two hard working mares who were far better than any of the other tenants could afford.  They had been an inheritance from his uncle, and he treasured them.  After they were fed and watered, Mr Atkins made his way to the area where the chickens were kept in the winter.  Shock overtook him when he spied a man, lying on the ground, wearing a red coat.  Carefully, Mr Atkins approached the man.
“You, what you be doing here?”
No response came from the man.  Mr Atkins asked again.  “What you be doing here?” 
When there was still no response, Mr Atkins picked up a pitchfork and lightly poked at the man.  Nothing happened.  Robbie came to stand nearby, while his father cautiously moved closer to the man, finally tugging the man’s shoulder, turning him over. 
The man was cold to touch, with his eyes wide open.  It was obvious that he was dead, and the blood coating his chest spoke of what led to the man’s demise.
“Son, I needs you to go up to the big house.  Tells them that there be a dead militia in the barn, and it donnot look to be natural.”
~~ ** ~~
Due to the weather, the boy had difficulty making his way to the grand house of Netherfield.  When he arrived, he was nearly frozen.
Mr Bennet was heading for the dining room for something to eat, when he recognized the young boy in the foyer, as Mr Bennet was familiar with many of the tenants of not only Longbourn, but also the neighboring estates.  “Robbie, what are you doing out in this weather?  Is something wrong with your family?”
“N…n…no s…s…sir.  Th…they be well.  Pa…he found…a man…in the barn.  He…wearing red…coat.  Pa say…the man…dead.”  The poor boy shivered as he spoke.
Sir William overheard the conversation.  “Someone is dead?” He asked, frowning at the information.  “Where is this man?”
“The Atkins have the tenant farm near the border between Netherfield and Longbourn.” Mr Bennet replied.  “It is nearly two miles from here.”
Bingley had entered the foyer and overheard the conversation.  “I will have some men prepare to go with us.”  He turned and motioned to the butler.  When the man came close, Bingley requested several footmen to join the men.
Mr Bennet shook his head.  “Will this ever end?”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~

Chapter 8
After returning from the stables, the apothecary delighted in some of the delectable food the Netherfield cook was famous for.  Then he went to the rooms he had been assigned, resting for a few hours.  When he woke, he learned about a new death that had been discovered, but he decided to wait for the men to bring the body from the tenant farm.
He made his way to Elizabeth’s room, and learned that there had been little change in the lady’s condition.  “Miss Bennet, you should rest.  It may be some hours before your sister is alert enough to speak.”
Jane looked at her sister, who appeared frail, upon the bed.  “I do not wish to leave Lizzy.”
“It will do her no good if you were to take ill from not caring for your own needs.  And your sister would be furious with you for not taking care of yourself.  Please, I will remain here at your sister’s side.  If there is any change, I will send for you.”
Finally, Jane relented.  “I will only rest for a short time.  Please, send for me immediately, if Lizzy wakes.”
Not long after Jane left, Elizabeth began to move a slight bit.  Mr Jones checked her breathing and her heart beat, and found them to be normal.  “Come back to the world, Miss Lizzy.  Return to those who love you.”
Her eyelids fluttered a bit.  The apothecary, who had known Elizabeth all of her life, smiled.  “That is right, open your eyes and return to us.”
Mr Jones was holding one of her hands, rubbing it in an effort to encourage her to wake.  A slight knock was heard on the door, and, with Mr Jones’ cry of “enter”, the door opened.  Mr Darcy was standing at the entrance to the room.
“I wished to know how Miss Elizabeth is fairing.”
“Come in, come in.  Her eyes were fluttering a moment ago.  I am encouraging her to open them and return to us.  Take her other hand and speak to her.”
At first, Darcy was hesitant.  It would not be proper for him to behave in such a manner, yet, he longed to be of use to the young lady who captured his heart.  He moved to the other side of the bed and lifted her hand in his own, rubbing his thumb over the back of her hand.
“Miss Elizabeth, please return to us.  Your family have been so worried for you, as have been your friends.  I…I…wish to see your fine eyes sparkle with life.”
Mr Jones had been amazed, watching the tenderness and blossoming love he was witnessing.  He was certain it would not be long before Mr Bennet would be gaining a son in law.
Darcy continued to caress the skin on Elizabeth’s hand, speaking softly and lovingly to her.  After several moments, his efforts were rewarded, when Elizabeth’s eyes fluttered again. 
“That is right, open your eyes, Miss Elizabeth.  Return to us.  Please, Miss Elizabeth, return to us.”
A soft, almost inaudible voice brought tears of joy to Darcy.  “Mr…Darcy?”
“Yes, Miss Elizabeth, I am here.” He lifted her hand to his lips.  “Please, please open your eyes.  I wish to see those impertinent eyes sparkle.”
“So sleepy.”
“I know, Miss Elizabeth. I know it is difficult.  But you are strong.  Open them, even if it is just a little bit.”
Her eyes fluttered again, finally, the uninjured one opened slightly more than a slit.  “Mr Darcy?”
“How are you, Miss Elizabeth?  Are you in pain?”
Elizabeth started to shake her head, finding it to be quite painful.  “I was not, until I moved my head.  It is painful.”
Mr Jones shook his head.  “That is to be expected.  You have a bump on the back of your head which is the size of a goose egg.”
“My face, feels strange.”
Darcy grimaced.  “Your cheek and eye are still swollen.”
“What happened to me?  I remember going to the garden, and then waking here.”  Elizabeth’s voice was groggy.  It was clear to the men that she was not fully awake.
“You need to rest.” Darcy stated.  “There is time to discuss what happened at a later time.”
“Please, tell me.” Elizabeth was frightened, and her voice alerted the men of her fear.
“I will tell you, if you promise to remain calm.” Darcy said, giving her a look that brooked no argument. When she agreed, Darcy informed her.  “Your cousin was in the garden.  We are not certain what happened, but it appears that he assaulted you and you fell to the ground, striking your head.  Somehow, Mr Collins was found near you, dead, from a knife wound in the chest.”
“Murdered?” Elizabeth’s voice was shrill, and tears welled in her uninjured eye.
“Yes.  We do not know who was responsible for the murder, but we know it was not you.  And fortunately, you were not killed.  You have had us very worried.”
“My family…”
“Are here, at Netherfield.  Miss Bennet is resting, as she has been at your side for many hours.” Mr Jones declared.  “Your father and uncle went with some other men to assist at one of the tenant farms.  A storm struck near the end of the ball, and has caused some problems in the neighborhood.  I have not seen your mother or younger sisters, but I know they are also here.”
“Miss Elizabeth, do not fret.  Your family is well, they are only concerned with your well-being.” Darcy replied.
Elizabeth was beginning to have difficulty keeping her eye open.  “So sleepy.” She announced.
“Then sleep, Miss Elizabeth.  It will be the best way to recover.  Sleep, and the next time you awaken, I am certain your sister or your father will be at your side.”
~~ ** ~~
“He has been shot.” Mr Phillips stated as he looked at the wound on George Wickham’s chest.  “Look here, on his coat, there is burn marks from the powder.  That means the weapon was close to him, when it was fired.”
“Who would have killed this man?” Sir William asked.  “Why would they kill him?”
“You have been told that he was a scoundrel and reprobate.  Can you not imagine who would wish him dead?  A relation of a lady he had ruined? Someone he cheated at cards?  Someone to whom he owed funds?” Mr Bennet declared.  “And you have been too much in the company of my family and Mr Darcy to believe we had anything to do with this murder.”
“Y…y…yes, and I know you are disgusted with me.  But I have begged for your forgiveness.  I know Miss Elizabeth did not commit the murder of Mr Collins.  Mr Wickham played on my grief from my sister’s death.  Mr Darcy is most likely correct in his belief that Mr Wickham was involved in my sister’s murder.  How else could he have known as much as he did?” Sir William shook his head.  “I wish I could have gotten my hands on him while he was alive.  I wish I could have inflicted the same amount of pain that my sister endured.”
“It is done, Sir William.  The man will never harm anyone again.  Now we need to discover who murdered Mr Wickham, as they are most likely the one who murdered Mr Collins, and attempted to poison my daughter.” Mr Bennet stated.  “None are safe, until the person is captured.”
~~ ** ~~
Caroline was furious.  How could all this happen?  Mr Darcy is insisting on spending his time near the rooms of Eliza Bennet.  He is ignoring me completely.  I will not stand for this, as he is supposed to marry me.  I will be the next Mistress of Pemberley, not that little upstart.  There must be some way for me to garner his attention. 
She began to pace about her bedchamber, growing more and more frustrated as she attempted to devise a way to pull Fitzwilliam Darcy’s attention away from Elizabeth Bennet.
If the rumors are true, I could use them to my advantage.  After all, it would do no good for him to align himself with a family tainted with the charge of murder hanging over one of them.  The maids were speaking of Miss Eliza having been ruined by her cousin.  No proper gentleman would wish for her as his wife, not to mention, he would never wish for her to be near his beloved sister.  It is not surprising that the Bennet family would behave so disgracefully.  Now Charles will see the family for what they truly are.  He will have no choice but to give up his little mouse.  Jane Bennet is so meek and quiet, and she squeaks just like a mouse, when she speaks. 
My brother must give up the lease of this estate as well.  It would be a mistake for him to continue the lease, and it is up to me to open his eyes to the facts.  Louisa and Hurst are of no use to me.  Ever since my sister discovered she is with child, the pair has been behaving in a most disgusting manner.  Oh, Louisa, why now?  Why would you choose now to pull away from me, when I need your aid to rescue our brother?
Perhaps if I were to tell Charles that I fear for my life, with the murder in our own gardens.  Or I could tell him that I am ill, and only removal to London with the physicians found there, can improve my health.  Charles would not wish for me to suffer, so he will take me straight away.  And Mr Darcy, being such a close friend, would wish to accompany us to Town.  He would wish to ensure my health improves.  Yes, that is what I should do.  Now, what sort of illness should I have? Or shall I have an injury that I am suffering from?  I could claim I injured my back.  My friend, Celia Mumford, had a back injury and the physician could do nothing for her.  All she did was slip on the stairs.  I can pretend to fall on a few steps, and pretend to be injured.  I will insist we leave for Town, as the only medical person here, in this backwards village, is an apothecary.  Charles will give in to my request, as he will not wish for me to suffer. 
Once we are in Town, it would be best to remain there until after the first of the year.  Charles would not wish to return here, not with the holidays fast approaching.  And Mr Darcy would wish to be with us, to ensure my comfort and that I have the best care that can be had.  And he will bring me gifts, to lift my spirits.  I can just imagine the kindness he will bestow upon me. 
I will wait until this evening, and claim the stairs are not properly lit and I missed a step.  This will be perfect.  Miss Bennet and her sister will be left in a heartbeat, and we will be off in a flash to Town.
~~ ** ~~
“I am here to see my nephew.” The voice of none other than Lady Catherine de Bourgh could be heard throughout the Netherfield.  She had forced her way inside the house, having journeyed, by carriage, and demanded entrance.  Being Fitzwilliam Darcy’s aunt, she felt she had the right to enter the home of his friend, even without invitation.  “I was told my nephew, Fitzwilliam Darcy, is a guest here, and I demand you bring him to me immediately.”
“Madame, if you would remain here, I will send someone for Mr Bingley, who is the Master of the house.  He will be able to determine…”
“I do not need the son of a tradesman to determine anything, I am here to see my nephew.  If you do not produce my nephew I will begin searching for him, room to room, if necessary.” Lady Catherine was a force to be reckoned with.  The elder sister of Darcy’s mother, and a daughter of the former Earl of Matlock, sister of the current Earl, Lady Catherine was used to making demands and expecting compliance.  She ruled her daughter’s estate, Rosings, with an iron fist, even though Anne de Bourgh was of age and could take over as the Mistress of Rosings.  Anne was of a sickly constitution, and she did not have the strength to fight the battle of wills that it would take for her to oust her mother from the role.
“I am afraid that my Master is the one with whom you will speak to learn of Mr Darcy’s whereabouts, as I serve Mr Bingley, not you. Now, if you are unable to remain here, I will ask you to step outside, while I send word for Mr Bingley.”
“How dare you treat me in such a manner?  Do you know who I am?  My father was an Earl, my brother is the current Earl of Matlock.  I am Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and I will not be treated in such a manner, especially by the servant of someone whose money comes from trade.” Lady Catherine’s complexion was turning red. 
Hearing a commotion in his home, Bingley came rushing towards the foyer.  “Bonds, what is going on?  I heard shouting.”
“Indeed.” Declared Lady Catherine.  “I have been treated abominably by this servant.  I assume that you are Mr Bumbly.  My nephew, Fitzwilliam Darcy, is said to be here.  I insist on seeing him immediately.”
“I am Mr Bingley, and, yes, Darcy is my guest.  I will go upstairs and fetch him for you.”
Lady Catherine was already walking towards the stairs.  “I will find him myself.  And I will require a room for myself and my maid.”
“Madame, please, we have an injured lady upstairs, and we are attempting to keep things quiet for her.”
“My desires to speak with my nephew far outweigh the needs of anyone else to rest.  It is urgent that I speak with my nephew.”
Fortunately, for the peace of the rest of the household, Darcy had been coming from Elizabeth’s room and heard his aunt.  He quickly descended the steps and came to a stop in front of his aunt.
“Aunt Catherine, what are you doing here?  Why would you come here, through this storm?”
“Fitzwilliam, I received an urgent letter from my brother, and I felt it necessary for you to attend me on the remainder of my journey to Matlock.  We will need to leave first thing in the morning.”  Lady Catherine insisted.
“I am afraid I will not be able to make the journey.  What has Uncle Henry written to have caused you such concern?” A frown developed on Darcy’s expression.
“Why can you not accompany me to be of assistance to your uncle?  He is the Earl of Matlock, not some tradesman’s son.  You owe him your respect, and, if he requires you to drop what you are doing and come to his aid, you should do so, without question.”
“Aunt Catherine, let us take this discussion to some place private.” Darcy began pulling his aunt by her elbow, leading her to a nearby sitting room.
Lady Catherine was not in the mood to have her nephew force her anywhere she did not wish to go.  “Unhand me, Fitzwilliam.  I am capable of walking on my own.  Before I take another step, I demand you explain to me why you are unable to make the journey to your uncle’s home.”
Darcy was disgusted with his aunt’s behavior.  “As I have not received a request from my uncle, I doubt he has need of me.  I am needed to be here at the moment, so, unless you have a letter for me, from Uncle Henry, I must refuse your request.”
“I am appalled at your behavior, Nephew.  I expected far better of you.  And what could be so important as to keep you here?” Lady Catherine asked.  “You should have been in Kent, visiting your betrothed.  Anne has been waiting for you to finally make your union official. That should be far more important than spending time here, with people who are so far beneath you.”
“Aunt Catherine, I have had enough of your declarations.  Anne and I are not engaged, nor will we ever be engaged.  We have discussed the matter, and made the decision several years ago.  We do not wish to be married to each other.”
“It was the fondest wish of your dear mother, to see you and Anne wed.  You owe it to your family to fulfill your mother’s wish.  My daughter will do as she is told, as she knows what is right for the family.  She knows her duty, and it is time that you own up to yours.”
“Your daughter is aware that she will never be able to bear children, which is something that would cause me problems.  I require heirs for Pemberley.  Not only that, I could never think of Anne in such a manner.  She is a beloved cousin, but I could never think of her in my bed.”
“So you would take a mistress to satisfy your baser needs.” Lady Catherine stated, as if it was the most natural thing to do.  “My husband had one, and my brother has one.  It is not uncommon in our circle.  Anne would be Mistress of your estates and home in Town, while you would have a separate mistress of your bed.”
“Aunt that is more than enough of such discussions.”
“While we are discussing marriage, I wish to speak with my parson.  Is he at Longbourn?  I know that is the estate he is supposed to inherit, his cousin is the current master.  Have you seen him?”
“Yes, I have.  And I have news for you, with regards to your parson.  Mr Collins was killed.  We are attempting to discover who committed the murder.”
Lady Catherine flew into a rage.  “Murdered?  My parson has been murdered?  I must have been one of his relations.  He wrote to me of all of them, and it must have been one of them.  I am certain, he told me that one of the daughters was not pleased with his being the heir.  It was one of the eldest daughters…Elizabeth.  She made it clear to him that she wished him dead.  She must have been the one to kill him.  Is she in custody?”
“No, Miss Elizabeth is not in custody.  Nor did she commit the murder.  Someone tried to set the scene as if she were guilty, but she was not the culprit.”
“I do not believe you.  She must have used her arts and allurements to bewitch you into believing her tale.  My parson was murdered, and I am certain it was done by this Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”  Lady Catherine stamped her walking stick on the floor multiple times.
Darcy was losing patience.  “It is a proven fact that Miss Elizabeth had nothing to do with committing the murder.  Now, I suggest that I show you to a room, so you can rest.  The morning will arrive, sooner than you think, and you have a long journey ahead of you.  And you must give my regard to Uncle Henry and Aunt Rebecca.”
“I will not leave here until I see that justice is done for my parson.” Lady Catherine stuck her nose up high.  “The sort of people that are here are ignorant farmers and shop keepers.  None would have the intelligence to properly conduct the investigation.  I will send to Town, have someone sent here to ensure that justice is served to the proper person.”
“No, Aunt, you are not remaining here.  This is my friend’s home, and it would be improper of you to demand lodging here, especially since you have not given him any respect after just meeting him.”
“With the storm having deposited so much snow, it would not be safe for me to journey any further.”
Shaking his head, Darcy was frustrated.  “It was not safe for you to have journey thus far, yet you did so with little inconvenience.  I suggest you continue on the journey tomorrow, as you first declared.  We would not wish for your brother to be disappointed that you did not arrive at his estate.”
Lady Catherine waved her hand, as if she were shooing away a pesky fly.  “My brother will understand.  He knows how devoted I am to the welfare of those in my protection.  And he knows that Mr Collins has been a trusted confidant.  Henry would expect me to see to this matter.”
“Then you will need to take rooms at the inn, in Meryton.” Darcy stated.
“Nonsense. Your friend will insist on my remaining here, I am certain.  Now, I wish to know all there is to know of my parson’s death.”