Hi everyone. I just finished writing this story and decided to start posting it.  Hope you enjoy.

 

blurb:  While visiting Hunsford parsonage, Elizabeth Bennet goes missing. When Darcy learns of her disappearance, his life will never be the same, as the people surrounding him become unrecognizable.  Colonel Fitzwilliam, Lady Catherine, Anne de Bourgh, Mr and Mrs Collins, and even Mrs Jenkins, Anne’s companion. Join Darcy as he learns who he can trust, and who are out to harm him.

 

Chapter 1

 

The spring day was sunny, with the signs of the previous day’s rain nearly gone.  Elizabeth Bennet was pleased to be able to enjoy the outdoors, walking one of the beautiful paths surrounding Rosings Park.  The day before, she had been denied the opportunity to take her daily stroll.  The rain had been pouring from the clouds, forcing Elizabeth to remain inside her cousin’s home.

The parson of the Hunsford Parrish was Mr William Collins.  He was the heir to Elizabeth’s father’s estate of Longbourn, located in Hertfordshire.  Mr Collins had visited Longbourn the previous autumn, and had come with one purpose in mind.  He wished to marry one of his cousin’s five daughters.  Elizabeth’s elder sister, Jane, was Mr Collins’ first choice, as Jane was a beautiful young lady, with a sweet nature and never a cruel thought against anyone.  Mrs Bennet had higher goals for her first born, so the Mistress of Longbourn suggested her second eldest daughter, Elizabeth.  The lady had no concern for her second daughter’s future.  Elizabeth was her father’s favorite, and he had allowed Elizabeth the freedom to choose where her heart led her.  So when Mr Collins made an offer of marriage to her, Elizabeth refused the offer.  Mrs Bennet demanded her husband force his cherished daughter to marry his heir, but her demands fell on deaf ears.

Failing to secure the hand of his cousin, Mr Collins made an offer to Elizabeth’s dear friend, Charlotte Lucas.  Charlotte was considered to be on the shelf, as she was twenty seven years and no prospects of marriage.  As Charlotte was not a romantic, and wished to have a home of her own, rather than being a burden to her family, the lady accepted Mr Collins and the couple were married just after Christmas.

In March, Charlotte had written her friend, begging her to come to Kent and visit her new home.  Elizabeth had missed her friend, and accepted her invitation.

Mr Collins enjoyed being the parson for Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mistress of Rosings Park.  The grand lady surrounded herself with people who would do her bidding, no matter how ridiculous she was. And Mr Collins was the sort to grovel at the feet of someone he felt was of the highest circles of society.  The manner in which the parson treated Lady Catherine was if she were the Queen of England.  Watching her cousin’s foolishness made Elizabeth’s stomach queasy.

The only thing Elizabeth found pleasure in her holiday at Rosings, besides visiting with Charlotte, was the countryside of the park were nearly as wonderful as at her father’s home. Ever since she was old enough, Elizabeth had found true pleasure in the wonders of nature.  Her heart was nearly always at peace when she was on a walk in the untamed areas of the estate.

There was only one issue that dampened her strolls in the park surrounding Rosings…Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s nephew, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley.  Elizabeth had had the misfortune of meeting Mr Darcy the previous autumn, when he came to visit his friend, Mr Bingley, who had taken the lease of the estate next to the Bennet’s. From the first time they had met, Mr Darcy had shown arrogance and disdain, and Elizabeth did not wish to be in his presence.  It would not have been a problem, except that Mr Darcy, who had been visiting his aunt with his cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, had made a habit of taking strolls along the same paths that Elizabeth did, even when she changed directions.  The feeling that he was watching her every move sent a shiver down her spine.  Would he lower himself so drastically to stalk her?  She was beneath him in consequence, with her father being a country squire with an estate that brought an annual income of two thousand pounds.  Mr Darcy was wealthy, his family was amongst the upper circles of society.

Elizabeth has walked for half an hour when she heard footsteps coming from behind her.  She braced herself, expecting to turn and find Darcy coming to walk with her.  Instead, she felt something hard strike the side of her head.  Then she knew nothing further.

~~ ** ~~

Darcy entered the manor house of Rosings, frustrated with himself.  He had rarely overslept, as he commonly woke before seven each morning.  When he was home on his estate of Pemberley, he would spend an hour or two riding his favorite steed over the grounds.  But he was at Rosings, and Miss Elizabeth Bennet was at the parsonage.  Knowing her preference for taking long walks in nature, he began walking the same paths, making every effort to appear to be purely by accident.

He had come to cherish these walks, wishing to spend as much time with her as possible.   How he enjoyed being with Elizabeth Bennet, sparring with her intellect, watching her defend her opinion.  She was unlike any other lady he had met.  The ladies of the ton he had met over the years simpered and agreed with everything he said.  They wanted him for his money and connections, not who he was.  Darcy had determined that he wished to have someone like Elizabeth Bennet as his wife.  What was he thinking, he wanted Elizabeth as his wife.  Her fine eyes, her dark chocolate curls which usually framed her face, her liveliness, and her caring nature; all made for a perfect blend of what he wanted in his life.

His only difficulty was how to approach the matter with his family.  His aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, was set on her desire for Darcy to marry her daughter, Miss Anne de Bourgh.  Anne, who had never been allowed to be out in society due to her frail health, had grown up hearing her mother declaring that the two cousins would wed.  She never spoke of the matter, and rarely spoke to Darcy at all.

Darcy was certain that his sister, Georgiana, would love Elizabeth.  Georgiana was only fifteen, and dearly wished for a sister.  Since their parents were gone, Darcy and Richard were her guardians.  The only female relative she was close to was Richard’s mother, Lady Matlock. When Darcy visited Rosings each year, his sister would stay in London.  Lady Catherine was famous for examining every aspect of those around her, telling her opinion of how things should be done.  Though she had no personal experience in playing the pianoforte, or painting screens, or  stitching a sampler, or…any other activities that ladies claimed as accomplishments, Lady Catherine considered her opinion to be superior to all others.  At every visit, Darcy was prepared to hear the latest criticism of his sister’s education, or how much time she spent each day in practice on the pianoforte, or what fashions should be allowed for a girl of her age.  And, though she had never planned for a young lady’s coming out, Lady Catherine gave her opinion of how things should be done for her niece’s coming out.  Darcy hoped Elizabeth would be able to guide his sister in such an awkward time in her life.

Walking up the staircase, Darcy was faced with his cousin, Richard, coming down the stairs.

“Darcy, I was just coming to search for you.”

“I was not gone long, Richard.  Why would you need to search for me?” Darcy was annoyed.  Was his aunt now controlling everything he did?  And using his cousin to keep track of him?

“Do not get your dander up with me.  We just received word from the parsonage that Miss Bennet is missing.”

Darcy frowned.  “What do you mean?  Are they certain she is not just walking in the park surrounding Rosings?  She is likely speaking with one of the tenants, and has lost track of time.”

Richard shook his head.  “No, Darcy, she is missing.  Mrs Collins went to look for her, as a letter arrived express for Miss Bennet.  She found Miss Bennet’s bonnet on the ground, the ribbon torn, and what appeared to be blood on the side of the bonnet.  Mrs Collins thought perhaps her friend had fallen and struck her head, then returned to the parsonage to clean herself up, but there has been no sign of her anywhere.”

Fear gripped Darcy’s heart.  He had not seen her on any of the paths.  Could Elizabeth be injured, perhaps dying, somewhere in his aunt’s grounds?  “We need to form search parties.  Send word to the stable to have our horses prepared, and have all the men of the estate and Hunsford join the search.  And we should alert the physician.  Perhaps we should send to Town, for my personal physician.  Who knows what injuries Miss Bennet may have?  If she has not returned to the parsonage, she may be severely injured.”

Richard was well aware that his cousin was in love with Miss Bennet.  It was clear to anyone who knew him.  Even Lady Catherine had noticed Darcy’s behavior when in the presence of the young lady from Hertfordshire, which irritated his aunt.  Anne did not care, as she never bothered with anything going on around her.  If she noticed anything, she would have realized that Richard was in love with her.  For years, all Richard heard was how Darcy was to marry Anne, uniting their two estates.  The fact that his cousin was one of the wealthiest men in England, and could have any lady he wished, was always present.  Everywhere they went, Richard was ignored for his younger cousin.  Even after Richard had been promoted, and awarded medals for his service in the war against the French, he was still ignored by most people, including his own parents.  Lord and Lady Matlock had their heir in the colonel’s elder brother. He was the second born, the spare.  Darcy was the only son and had inherited his father’s estate and holdings.  What meed did Darcy have for Rosings, and most of all, Anne?

“You go ahead, Darcy.  Go find your bit of muslin.”

Darcy turned towards his cousin, frowning.  “What do you mean by that comment?”

“It is obvious that you are in love with her.  Do you think our aunt is ignorant of your infatuation with Miss Bennet?  Are you planning to install Miss Bennet on Pemberley’s land, a cottage for her, so you can visit your mistress?”

Fury grew in an instant.  “How dare you speak of a lady in such a manner?  I have no intention of making Miss Bennet, or any other lady, my mistress.  I plan to ask her for her hand in marriage.”

“But we know you cannot make good on such an offer.  You are to wed Anne.  We have known this for years.  You cannot be married to both of the ladies, so it makes sense that Miss Bennet will be your mistress.  It is obvious that Anne will be unable to bear you any children, for it would likely cause her death.  I am certain you will be able to have children with such a lady as Miss Bennet as your mistress, and once Anne is gone, you can accept one of your bastard children as your heir.  Miss Bennet appears to be hearty enough to bear you many bastards.”

Richard was surprised to find Darcy’s fist striking him in the face.  The force sent Richard backwards, landing him on his rear end on the floor.

“What is the meaning of this?” Bellowed Lady Catherine from the top of the stairs.  “Why are the two of you brawling like street urchins?”

“I informed my cousin that we are all aware of his liking of Miss Bennet, and that it was obvious that he must be planning to install the chit on the grounds of Pemberley, so he would have access to his mistress.”

“And what should it matter to you if he has a mistress?  Or is it that you wish to make her your own mistress?  I have seen your looks at Darcy when the flirt is near.  But such a whore would never accept you over than Darcy, as you have nothing to support her in the manner she will likely insist.”

Richard turned his attention towards his aunt.  “How dare you?  I have no need for a mistress, as I have been in love with your daughter for years.  But I have never been good enough for you.  You did not want the second son of an earl, you wanted Darcy.  But he will never make Anne happy.  It is obvious that he would only marry Anne out of obligation or to gain her inheritance.  I want to marry Anne for love.  Her inheritance does not matter to me.  I have enough from my earnings, which I have saved for years, and only want what is best for Anne.”

“You, marry my daughter?” Lady Catherine gave a cruel chuckle.  “You are not fit to be Anne’s husband.  Darcy is what is best for Anne’s husband.  You would not know how to manage the estate or the servants and tenants.  With his years of experience, Darcy is more than capable to manage everything properly.”

“Aunt Catherine, this is not the time and place to have this argument.  Miss Bennet is missing.  We must form search parties to find her.”

“I demand you remain inside this house, at Anne’s side, while the stable hands look around the grounds for the chit.  She is a poor example, always traipsing about on her own.  Mr Collins should be pleased that she refused him last fall.”

Darcy looked at his aunt curiously.  “Mr Collins proposed to his cousin?”

“Of course he did, I insisted he choose from his cousins.  He informed me that the eldest was said to be nearly engaged, though I believe the mother was false, as the young lady has not been engaged in all this time.  So Mr Collins proposed to the next eldest.  And she had the audacity to refuse him.  Can you imagine?  My parson, who sees to my spiritual needs, was not good enough for Miss Elizabeth Bennet.  So Mr Collins turned his attention to a more worthy selection.  Mrs Collins is far superior than the Bennet sisters.”

 

Chapter 2

 

Darcy was shocked.  His aunt’s words were unbelievable.  How could she compare Elizabeth to the former Charlotte Lucas?  “Aunt Catherine, I have told you that I have no intention to marry Anne.  I have never wished to marry her, and I cannot believe she would desire marrying me.  As Richard cares for Anne, you should allow them to wed.”

“Allow my daughter to marry a man who has no future?  You must be daft.  He is not worthy of marrying my daughter.  Anne was born to a far grander life than a lowly spare son could give.”

“Do not believe my dear cousin to be all that is good and perfect.  Ask him about Georgiana.  Ask him about how his negligence nearly cost Georgiana her future.” Richard retorted.

All Darcy could think of was the need to find Elizabeth and ensure she was well.  He could not believe the words that were coming from his cousin’s mouth.  “Richard, this is not the time or place for this discussion.  We must search for Miss Benet.”

Lady Catherine stomped her way down the stairs.  “You, Fitzwilliam Darcy, will remain in this house.  I will not have you parading about, searching for your mistress.  Anne is aware that men have mistresses.  She could not care a bit, as long as she does not have to encounter the trollop.  Once you are wed, Anne will remain here at Rosings.  You can keep you bit of fluff at Pemberley or in Town. But Miss Bennet will not be permitted to return to Rosings.  I will not have her here, usurping Anne’s rightful place at your side.”

“Aunt, I will not marry Anne. Not now, not ever.  And I will aid in the search for Miss Bennet.  She is not my mistress, but I pray she will one day become Mistress of Pemberley.”

“Over my dead body.” Lady Catherine retorted.  She motioned to her butler, and the man stepped forward, nodding to the footmen who were nearby.  The men took hold of Darcy, pinning his arms behind his back, and marched him up the stairs, all the while Darcy was struggling to be released from their grip.  Once on the second floor, Darcy was forced into his bed chambers, and the door was locked from the outside.  As Darcy shouted to be released, he could hear his aunt on the other side of the door.  “You will remain here until your wedding can be arranged.  I have sent for a special license.  When it arrives, the wedding will be performed.  Then you will remove your strumpet to Pemberley.”

“Lady Catherine, please, release me.  I must assist in the search for Miss Bennet.” Darcy slammed his hands against the solid wood door.  “Let me out of here.”

No response was to come.  His aunt would not release him from the room, not until it was she was certain that she would win the argument. Darcy’s eyes searched the room.  He was certain that his aunt would have someone watching the servants’ hallway from his room.  The only option was the window.

Outside the window was a large oak tree.  When they were children, Darcy and Richard used to climb in the tree, pretending to be pirates, in the crow’s nest, preparing to overtake an enemy vessel. Now, Darcy prayed he would be able to climb down without breaking his neck.  He took off his coat, draping it over his arm, as he stepped to the window sill. When the window was open, Darcy looked about to ensure he would not be seen. He knew his aunt and cousins were to be found on the other side of the house, and they would not be able to see him, unless, on the off chance, they were in the formal dining room.  But in over ten years of visiting his aunt, Darcy could not remember ever dining in that room.

Holding on the window frame, the tall, muscular man reached out and slowly lowered himself to the nearest branch. He climbed down carefully, testing each branch to ensure it would hold his weight. Darcy knew that he would be of no use to Elizabeth if he were to fall and injure himself.

~~ ** ~~

Mr Collins was standing outside the parsonage, speaking with one of his parishioners. Spotting Darcy, Mr Collins quietly spoke to the other man, who then hurried away.  “Mr Darcy, what brings you to my humble home?” Mr Collins inquired nervously.

“I have come to assist in the search for Miss Bennet.  Has there been word on her whereabouts?”

“I believe you had best speak with Lady Catherine on the matter.  She specifically informed me that you were not to be involved with the search.  And, as soon as the Miss Bennet is found, she will be moved from the neighborhood.  I have already written a letter to her father, informing him of his daughter’s brazen and inappropriate behavior.  Such a person should be with others like them, not with the good, God fearing people of England.”
“Mr Collins, your cousin has done nothing wrong.  Why would you accuse her of such behavior, and to her father?”

“I have it on the word of your aunt, my noble patroness, who is the most proper lady I have ever known.  She has informed me of my cousin’s daughter using her arts and allurements on you, distracting you from the preparations for your wedding to Miss de Bourgh.  I agree with Lady Catherine, Miss Elizabeth must leave immediately, and never return.  If her father is wise, he will cast her out and disown her.  Otherwise, the entire family will suffer for her loss of her reputation and virtue.”

“If you are insinuating that I have taken your cousin’s virtue, nothing could be further from the truth.  I care about Miss Bennet, and plan to ask for her hand.  To risk ruining her by taking her to my bed is dishonorable.  My father raised me to be a better man than to behave in such a manner.”

Just then, a young boy came running towards the pair.  Mr Collins recognized the lad as young Timothy Wilkes, son of one of his parishioners.  “Timothy, do you bring me news?”

The boy was out of breath when he reached the men.  “I…I found these…down by the blacksmith’s.  Pa…he said…to bring them…to you.” Timothy held out a spencer in forest green fabric, which Darcy had seen Elizabeth wear many times.  The other item was a handkerchief.  Both items appeared to have blood on them.

Mr Collins took the items, looking them over.  The look on his face was one of disdain.  “Mr Darcy, I must inquire as to why your handkerchief was found with Miss Elizabeth’s spencer, and both items have blood on them?  There must be a rational reason for this.  Perhaps it is best we speak with Lady Catherine.  She will know how best to protect you from what has happened.”

“And of what are you accusing me, Mr Collins?  Do you believe I would harm Miss Bennet?  I am in love with her.”

“Please, Mr Darcy, let us speak with your aunt.  I am certain you and Miss Elizabeth were having a lover’s spat, that you would not have done harm to her except in the heat of the moment.  But we must protect you, as it will do no good for word to spread that you murdered your mistress.  How would that look to everyone?  Lady Catherine will know how to protect you from such rumors.”

Darcy was growing angrier by the moment. “Mr Collins, we must find Miss Bennet.  She is likely in need of a physician, as there is a considerable amount of blood on her clothing.  We need to gather more people, search everywhere for her.”

A shake of Collins’ head accompanied the man’s reply.  “Mr Darcy, you do not wish for us to locate the body.  As long as the body is not found, we can tell people that Miss Elizabeth simply ran off.  Perhaps she decided to take another lover and is now with that man.”

No longer able to contain his anger, Darcy pulled back his arm and plunged it forward, striking the pathetic parson in the nose.  Blood began spurting from Mr Collins’ nostrils.  “I have told you multiple times, I am not Miss Bennet’s lover.  I pray I will one day be her husband.  And I would not murder her, no matter how I felt.  If you are not going to do anything to find her, then I will do so myself.”

Collins continued his efforts at staunching the flow of blood, all the while he was calling after his patroness’ nephew to return.  The bumbling idiot of a man called out for his wife, who was in the kitchen of the parsonage.  Charlotte Collins, nee Lucas, came to her husband’s side.  “Mr Collins, what has happened?  Did you stumble while searching for Lizzy?”

“No, Mr Darcy punched me.  He is unable to control himself.  It would be wise to send to the manor house to alert Lady Catherine, as it appears the gentleman has murdered Miss Elizabeth in a lover’s fight.  When I explained that we must not search further for the body, so as to protect him from charges being made against him, Mr Darcy became hostile, punched me, and ran off.  He must be mad.  Miss Elizabeth must have drove him into madness.  Perhaps she did not wish to be simply his mistress, and demanded more commitment from him.”

“As I have told you, Lizzy is not Mr Darcy’s mistress.  Lizzy would not behave in such a manner.  She is a proper young gentlewoman.  Your accusations are without merit.  If I had been Mr Darcy, I most likely would have punched you as well, saying such falsehoods.”

“Mrs Collins, you do not understand the ways of great men, such as Mr Darcy.  As Lady Catherine has spoken with me on the matter, I am certain her opinion is the correct one on the matter.  She is the daughter of an earl, so she has been around more men of the highest circles of society.  Such men have different needs and expectations.  As a lady, you would have no reason to be familiar with such behavior.  No, Lady Catherine’s view on the matter is most likely the truest view.”

Charlotte was furious. How could her husband be such a fool. She had known Elizabeth Bennet from her birth, as Charlotte was seven when Elizabeth was born.  They had been the best of friends all of their lives.  Someone stating that Elizabeth would be willing into an arrangement such as becoming a mistress, was ludicrous. But her husband was adamant, and he insisted on calling off the search for her friend.  Lizzy could be injured and in need of care.  How could Charlotte turn her back on her dearest friend?  She knew she could not, yet she would have to search for her friend in secret.  And Charlotte knew a few people who could assist her.

“Mr Collins, I must make my way to Hunsford.  Mrs Riley is having troubles with her gout, and is in need of treatment.  Mr Jordan left some of the ingredients to make a poultice that would bring comfort to Mrs Riley.  As she is a widow, with no children, I felt it was best if I could come to her aid.”

“But what about me?  My nose needs to be tended.  Am I to walk around with my nose bleeding all day?”

Thinking quickly, Charlotte came up with a way to placate her husband.  “I am certain you wish to speak with Lady Catherine immediately, and show her the injury you sustained.  I am certain she will request her physician to tend you.”

A silly expression appeared on Collins’ face.  “Of course, my patroness would wish for me to have the best care possible.  After all, it was her nephew, and soon to be son-in-law, who committed the assault.”  The parson quickly made his way towards the great house, not even remembering that he was holding the spencer and Darcy’s handkerchief in his hand.

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