“Your Ladyship, there is a gentleman here to speak with Mr Collins.” The footman stated, as he stepped inside the drawing room of Rosings’ manor house.
“And who is this man who wishes to speak with my parson?” Lady Catherine demanded. “We are busy and cannot be disturbed.”
“It is a Mr Thomas Bennet, of Longbourn. He stated that he had received an express insisting he come to retrieve his daughter.”
Collins looked at his patroness with fear in his eyes. “I sent the express prior to your directions not to send word.”
“Very well, send Mr Bennet in, but I wish you to remain outside the door, for I will require you to escort Mr Bennet as soon as he has been informed of his daughter’s behavior.” Lady Catherine stated, waving at the footman as she would at a pesky fly.
When Mr Bennet entered the room, Collins moved quickly to his side. “Cousin Bennet, I am afraid I sent the express to you inappropriately. It appears that your daughter has run off, left her family and friends, and thrown herself into the arms of her lover.”
A lift of an eyebrow spoke of Mr Bennet’s disbelief. “And how do you know she has run away, especially with a man?”
Lady Catherine spoke from her grand throne like chair. “We know, as she threw herself at my nephew, using her arts and allurements to make him forget what he owes to his family. My nephew, Fitzwilliam Darcy, has been engaged to my daughter since she was an infant. The match was the desire of his mother and myself, and has been long expected. But your harlot daughter turned his head with her seductive ways, agreeing to be his mistress. They have run off to the Continent, where my nephew has an estate. Fitzwilliam, where is Darcy’s estate?”
“Near Genoa, Italy. That is the estate to where we believe they fled. Darcy has several estates, some in Ireland and Scotland. And he has financial holdings in many countries. We have planned to speak with the family solicitor and banker to do what we can to cut Darcy off from his investments, to protect his sister and the rest of the family, from Darcy’s obvious mental disability.”
“Mental disability?” Mr Bennet frowned. “What mental disability?”
“Why…that he would behave in such a manner. He has thrown away all he possesses to be with his mistress. No sane man would behave in such a manner.” Mr Collins stated, attempting to aid Colonel Fitzwilliam.
“When I was at your home, I saw my daughter’s trunk near your front door. Why would Elizabeth leave her personal belongings behind if she was planning to journey so far away?”
Mr Collins stammered. “I…I am certain she believes Mr Darcy will purchase all she will require. I packed all her belongings after I sent the express to you. Before I could evict your daughter from my home, we learned of her running away with Mr Darcy.”
“And what of my daughter’s spencer and bonnet? When I spoke to a young man for directions to come here, the man informed me that Elizabeth’s spencer and bonnet were found along the trails here at Rosings. Why would my daughter leave her spencer and bonnet behind, on a path?”
Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr Collins turned their attention to Lady Catherine, both of the men attempting to come up with an excuse for Elizabeth’s clothing being found in Rosings’ grounds.
After a few moments, Lady Catherine spoke. “We are not certain, but it appears that my nephew has lost his mind. From the damaged clothing that was found, it appears that my nephew may have fought with your daughter, and took her by force. Most likely, the trollop flaunted herself to Darcy, and any man would give in to such temptation. She probably refused to give him all he wished, perhaps wishing to solidify a promise of protection after she gave herself to him. There is only so much teasing a man tolerate before his baser needs come forward and he takes what he wishes.”
“So, you are telling me that my daughter has had her virtue taken from her by force?” Mr Bennet could not believe the number of lies he was being told. “She might not have gone with Mr Darcy willingly?”
“I am certain that she went with him, desiring all the wealth she would have access to by being with Darcy.” Colonel Fitzwilliam stated. “Perhaps she wished to wait until they were on the continent before giving in to my cousin’s demands for intimacy. Darcy is well known for his desire for flesh. And he has used force when he did not get his way. The family has paid to keep the news silent. I am certain my aunt would be willing to compensate you and your family for inconvenience. Of course, we would insist on your silence of where your daughter has gone.”
Lady Catherine glared at the back of her nephew’s head. Finally, she spoke. “Of course. Might I suggest ten thousand pounds for your silence?”
“You believe I would accept payment for your nephew stealing my daughter? How dare you act as if my daughter is something to be bought or sold.”
Mr Collins stepped closer to Mr Bennet. “Please, Cousin, remember you have four other daughters. If word spread of Miss Elizabeth’s behavior, her ruination, your other daughters would pay for her indiscretions. They would never be able to make good matches, and would have nothing when you die.”
Mr Bennet glared at his cousin, making the sycophantic parson gulp and step backwards. “You threaten my family with ruination if we do not protect your patroness and her family? Having a man such as you for an heir is disgusting. I wish I could find a way to break the entail on Longbourn, as you are not fit to be the Master of such an estate.”
“Th…th…there is nothing you can do. I am the rightful heir.” Collins puffed up his chest.
“You are like your father in so many ways. And that is not a compliment.”
While the two men spoke, Lady Catherine had sent a footman to retrieve something from her office. Upon his return, Lady Catherine spoke. “Mr Bennet, I have a bank note to fill out, if you will agree to keep silent of your daughter and my nephew running off with one another. Shall I prepare it for the ten thousand pounds?”
Deep inside him, knowing that Mr Darcy had been truthful with him, was the only reason he did not call the trio liars. He knew that Darcy and Elizabeth had not run off together, to the continent or any other place. But he needed to find Elizabeth. He needed to ensure she was living and take her away from this place. And the only way Mr Bennet could do such was if Lady Catherine and the two men were unaware of the gentleman knowing the truth. But he was not going to give in too quickly.
“Twenty thousand. If you wish for my silence, and I am to protect my daughters, I insist on twenty thousand pounds.” When the others began to complain, Mr Bennet held up his hand, beckoning their silence. “With such money, I will be able to give my daughters proper dowries. With five thousand a piece, my other daughters will be able to find respectable husbands.”
“Fine…but not a shilling more. Once I fill this bank draft out, I insist you leave, and never return to my home.” Lady Catherine sneered.
“I will remain in the area for a few days, as I had wished to visit a distant cousin who lives in the neighborhood. Near the village of Hunsford. My plan is to visit him, as it has been years since I last saw him.”
“But I have no relations here.” Mr Collins announced, confused at Mr Bennet’s words.
“He is a distant cousin on my mother’s side of the family, Mr Collins. Not all my relations are on the Bennet side. There is no reason to know my relations on my mother’s side.” Mr Bennet replied, sarcastically.
Colonel Fitzwilliam looked at the gentleman carefully. “And who is your distant cousin?”
“Robert Grant. He does still reside near Hunsford, does he not?”
Mr Collins nodded his head. “He does. Did your daughter know of your relationship to Mr Grant? She never spoke of him.”
“Mr Collins, my daughter refused your hand, so you have no authority to know all of her friends and relations. If she did not speak of Mr Grant, it is none of your concern as to if she knew him to be our cousin. As it is, I had not spoken of him to Elizabeth. Just last week, when I was cleaning out my desk drawer, I came across an old letter from Grant, and had planned to write to Lizzy to inform her.” Mr Bennet was not going to give Collins the slightest bit of kindness, especially after learning of the man’s abuse of his wife. Mr Bennet had known Charlotte since she was born, as her father, Sir William Lucas, had been the closest of friends to Mr Bennet, even when they were youths.
“There is no need for you to be rude, Cousin. I was only attempting to clarify the matter.” Mr Collins sniffed, as if something foul had drifted past him.
Lady Catherine held out the bank draft. “Here is your compensation. While you are visiting your relations, I expect you to keep this matter to yourself. Privacy will protect your family’s reputation as well as mine.”
“Of course, your ladyship. You have my word. If someone would be kind enough to point in the direction of Hunsford, I will be on my way.”
~~ ** ~~
She heard the sound of a door creaking open. The room was constantly dark, except for the fire in the hearth. No windows allowing light to enter, only the single door was found in the room. Elizabeth attempted to look in the direction of the door, but she could not move enough to see. Someone entered the room, and roughly forced a glass of water to her lips, insisting that she drink. That voice, I recognize it, but I cannot think of who it is. My head hurts too much to be able to think clearly. Why is this person keeping me here?
The voice spoke again. “I will bring you some broth later. Perhaps some bread. But I will not release you from the ropes. You cannot be trusted.”
“Please, I promise not to tell anyone of this situation. I will go away and never return. You have my word.” Elizabeth pleaded.
“NO…you will lie to get your freedom, then return to harm me. I know the sort of female you are. Always thinking you are better than anyone else. You care nothing for those you deem beneath you.”
“Why are you keeping me here?” Elizabeth felt the tears escaping from her eyes, streaming across her face.
“You will know…before the end, you will know.”
Forcing the glass of water to her lips again, Elizabeth had no option but to drink the liquid. As much as she wished it was different, she could not help but be grateful for the cool water which quenched her parched throat. Once she had finished the last of the water, she felt the hands roughly push her away. Then the footsteps marched across the room, closing the door behind as they left the room. Again, Elizabeth was left alone, in the small room, with only the light of the fire to keep her from slipping over the edge of sanity.
Mr Bennet entered the home of Robert Grant, greeting him as if they were longtime friends. Fortunately, Mr Grant quickly caught on, and welcomed the gentleman into his home with kindness. Once inside, and the door closed behind him, Mr Bennet spoke in a softer voice. “Forgive me, but Mrs Howard and Mr Darcy stated you knew of what was happening. I am Thomas Bennet, father of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I just came from Rosings, having spoken with Lady Catherine, her nephew who is in the military, and my sniveling cousin, Mr Collins.”
“What did they have to say on the situation?” The man asked, motioning his guest into a private sitting room.
“According to them, Mr Darcy has likely raped my daughter before they left for the continent. The trio spoke of Mr Darcy being a violent man, who forces himself on innocent women, to get what he wants. And they informed me that my daughter wished to leave with Mr Darcy to become his mistress. As you can guess, I believed not a word of their claims.”
“I have known Mr Darcy for many years, when he visits his aunt and Miss de Bourgh. Never has he behaved in a manner that was unfitting, quite the opposite. The colonel on the other hand, has a reputation in the neighborhood. When you first meet him, Colonel Fitzwilliam can be a charming and delightful man. His father is the Earl of Matlock, who is a good man. If he knew of his second born son’s behavior, I am certain he would be disgusted. There have been several young ladies in the neighborhood ruined, and I know of one who ended up with child. Her father is a friend of mine, and the girl was sent to live with her aunt in the north.”
“The colonel made no attempt to be friendly to me. And my cousin, I have never met a man I wished to beat as I do that man. If his wife’s father and brothers knew how Collins has been treating Charlotte, they would join me in teaching that man a lesson.”
Mr Grant nodded his head. “It has been difficult to listen to him preaching sermons from the pulpit, all the while knowing of his treatment of his dear wife. Mrs Collins is one of the sweetest and most caring ladies I have ever known. She does not deserve the treatment she receives from him.”
“When this is all done, I will remove Charlotte from the parsonage, taking her home to her family. And I will send a letter to the bishop, reporting everything that has happened. Hopefully, the bishop will be able to strip Collins of his position.”
“He deserves to be sent away, to be a missionary in some remote lands.” Mr Grant agreed. “So, you are my long-lost cousin who I have not seen in many years. Welcome to the family.”
Mr Bennet chuckled lightly. “I prefer having you as a cousin than that buffoon I am forced to accept.”
~~ ** ~~
Richard Fitzwilliam entered his aunt’s drawing room. “No one has seen Darcy. We have had your servants visiting all the cottages in the area, speaking with the tenants and servants, as well as the shops in Hunsford. Do you think he would just leave, make his way back to London, to his townhouse?”
Mr Collins shook his head. “No, he is so much in love with Miss Elizabeth, I cannot imagine him leaving until she is found.”
“The fool. The moment he shows himself, we will secure him in a room with no possibility of his escape. And have my physician declare Darcy as unstable, so we can have him placed in an asylum. When that is done, we will be able to control Pemberley and all of the Darcy holdings.”
“And what will you bestow on me, Aunt? What will my loyalty to you earn me?” The colonel asked.
“I have already told you, Richard. You will be allowed to marry my Anne. The two of you will remain here, at Rosings, while I take control of Pemberley, and Georgiana. She will need a firm hand to keep her from following her brother down the wrong path. At her age, Georgiana will soon be out in society, and I will make sure that she is properly instructed for her debut.”
Mr Collins groveled a bit. “What of my loyalty?”
“You, Mr Collins, will be given the lands I own in Essex. It will be large enough for your needs, earning nearly two thousand pounds per annum. Once your cousin dies, you will have his estate as well. And I am certain that my daughter will wish for you to remain here for the time being.”
“Of course, my loyalty is always with your family. Whatever is needed of me, you need only to ask.” Mr Collins bowed as he spoke.
Colonel Fitzwilliam eyed the disgusting sycophant. “What of your wife? She has been a friend of the Bennet family for many years. Will she agree to our version of what has happened here?”
“Of course, she will. Why, Mrs Collins knows better than to go against me. Just this morning, I gave her another lesson on following my directions.”
Lady Catherine thought for a moment before speaking. “Mr Collins, it would be wise if Mrs Collins was brought to Rosings until this matter is resolved. With Mr Bennet in the village, it would not do for her to visit with your cousin. I will have a room prepared in the servant quarters for her.”
A gulp was audible. “If that is your wish, your ladyship. I will return home immediately to escort her here.”
~~ ** ~~
Mrs Howard welcomed her neighbor and his…cousin into her home. “I have put the kettle on to heat, and Mrs Collins and I were able to make some biscuits. I have some bread baking and making a stew to nourish us. Now, sit and tell us what was said in the manor house.”
The men joined Darcy, Jane, and Charlotte in the sitting room. “Well, Mr Darcy, you are quite the blackguard, according to your aunt, cousin, and Collins. They told me of your habit of forcing yourself on young ladies, and your abusive nature. And they believed you raped my daughter, before the two of you left for the continent, for your estate in Italy.”
Darcy’s temper quickly flared. Before he could say anything, Mr Bennet held his hand out to halt him. “Sir, I do not believe a word of what they said. In the time I knew you while you were in Hertfordshire, I could see that you were uncomfortable with crowds of people. And I know that Mr Bingley would not consider you a close friend if you were the sort of rouge they stated. I cannot imagine him wishing to have such a man in his home, near his sisters, if you were so evil.”
“I swear to you, Mr Bennet, I would never treat any female in an inappropriate manner. My cousin is well aware of my decision to keep myself for my wife. My father was extremely vocal on such behavior leading to horrifying consequences. He had a relation, he died from the French disease.”
“Mr Bennet, did my husband know I had left the parsonage?” Charlotte inquired, wishing to change the subject. Though she was well versed on the marital duties of a wife, Jane was a maiden, and discussion was making the eldest Bennet sister’s cheeks flush.
“Nothing was stated, though I do not believe he knows. His behavior did not speak of fear of my speaking with you.”
“It is only a matter of time before I am missed. And then, my husband will come searching for me.”
Mr Bennet shook his head. “He will not harm you. I will not allow him to beat you ever again. You will go to your father’s home. I will see that Sir William and your brothers protect you from my cousin. And I will be informing the bishop of Collins’ behavior.”
“My godfather is the bishop of London. He could speak with the Archbishop of Canterbury, on our behalf.” Darcy stated. “Mrs Howard, might you have some writing supplies?”
“Indeed. They are in my bed chambers, at the desk. You are welcome to use the desk to write, if you wish.”
“I would be grateful. Mr Bennet, do you wish to write to Mrs Collins’ relations?”
“Yes, I do. I believe I have enough to send the message express.” Mr Bennet reached into his pocket, remembering the bank draft he had received. Chuckling, he pulled it from his coat pocket. “Oh, and your aunt has paid me to remain silent about your behavior and my daughter becoming your mistress. They were extremely eager to purchase my silence, as your aunt wrote the note for twenty thousand pounds. For some reason, I doubt she will ever make good on the funds.”
“Especially since the estate is near destitute. She has spent so much on her lavish decorations and nothing on the estate, so the income is extremely decreased these last few years. I have attempted to convince her of the need to economize and spend funds on the estate, but she has refused my advice.” Darcy stated.
“Which explains why they wish to have you declared incompetent, so they have access to your estate and wealth.” Mr Bennet mused aloud. “If only we knew were Lizzy was to be found, we could all leave here. Leave them to wallow in the muck with the animals.”
Mr Grant nodded his head. “If it was not for my close friends, I would have moved from here already. But I have nowhere to go, and all the people I know are here.”
“It is the same for me.” Mrs Howard agreed. “When my husband died, I had nothing but my friends. My sister died when we were girls, and I was never blessed with children. My parents died when I was newly married. Where else would I go? It is only by the kindness of Mr Darcy that I have a home and food on the table.”
Darcy looked at them. “If we can thwart my aunt and cousin, you will have somewhere else to live, for the rest of your lives. And any of the tenants who have suffered from my aunt’s cruelty.”
“And I know there are some farms in Hertfordshire that need good tenants. Mrs Howard, you and Mr Grant deserve the gratitude of my family. You will always have a roof over your head and food on your table, I promise you.” Mr Bennet added to Darcy’s vow.
Mrs Howard and Mr Grant looked at one another. Each nodded their agreement. The elderly widow replied. “Once we have recovered Miss Elizabeth, we would be grateful to leave this place.”
~~ ** ~~
Mr Collins entered his home, noticing it was dark and no sound was coming from inside. Why has my wife not lit a candle? There is no smell of food cooking, or fire burning in a fireplace. What is that worthless chit doing? Obviously, the lesson I gave her earlier was not enough to garner her obedience. I will make certain the next lesson is understood. This sort of disobedience will not be tolerated.
“Charlotte, what is the meaning of this? Why have you not lit any candles? Where is my supper?”
There was no response. “Charlotte, where are you? I demand you attend me immediately.”
Still, no response. Where is she? By now she should be groveling at my feet. Well, I will not allow this to go unpunished. He began searching, room to room, growing more frustrated by the moment. Charlotte had to be there, she was forbidden to leave the parsonage. And she would never have gone against him in such a manner, for she knew the consequences. But what if someone had come and taken her away from the house? His cousin was in the neighborhood, would he have stepped in and removed Charlotte from the parsonage?
Collins finished searching, certain that his wife had been removed. I must go to Mr Grant’s cottage. If my cousin has removed my wife from my home, I will see that he pays for his interference.
Slamming the door as he left the parsonage, William Collins stomped his way to the cottage of Robert Grant.