“Where is Darcy?” Lady Catherine’s voice was raised, filled with frustration. She was angered that the colonel was not making good on his declaration to find Darcy quickly.
“I have told you multiple times, I cannot locate him. And as I said before, I would lay odds on his having left the area. We should send word to Town, to discover if Darcy has been seen there. Perhaps my parents would know, as they are watching over Georgiana. Darcy would wish to get to Georgiana, as he would not want her convinced that he is unfit to be her guardian. But with my being her other guardian, I can call his competency into question.”
“Then you should take one of my carriages and make your way to your parents. Make certain that you tell your father that Darcy has become a lunatic. Or perhaps I should go along with you. As soon as we discover him, we can have him taken to the asylum. And it will give us the access to the solicitor and the banker.” Lady Catherine decided. “I wish to have access to the Darcy coffers as quick as possible.”
“And how much in debt is Rosings?” Richard Fitzwilliam was intelligent enough to realize why his aunt was desperate to take possession of Darcy’s holdings.
“Rosings is fine, there is no problems with how the estate is run. With a bit of Darcy’s funds, we will be able to increase the income here, making you a comfortable living.” Lady Catherine attempted to sidestep the topic. The estate had been suffering in the previous years, but she insisted on placing the blame on the tenants. If profits were less than in the past, they were the ones to suffer the consequences. Darcy had made every attempt to persuade her otherwise, but Lady Catherine fought him tooth and nail. Why should she pay for improvements to the cottages they lived in? Why should she suffer for their inability to maintain the buildings she provided them?
“Aunt Catherine, do you think me a fool? Do you honestly believe I know nothing about estate management? The estate will require a large amount of Darcy’s money to make it profitable once again. The land is not producing to its potential. The tenant homes are falling down around the people living in them. Do you believe me to be blind, as well as an idiot?”
“How dare you speak to me in such a manner?”
“I dare speak to you in such a manner, as you need me to carry off your plan. Without me, you will be unable to convince my parents to have Darcy placed in an asylum. Without me, you will be unable to gain control over Georgiana or the Darcy fortune. Without me, you will lose Rosings to all the debts. So, will you be offended by how I have spoken, or do we work together to claim what we want?” Richard Fitzwilliam had been a master of planning battle plans. He leaned toward his aunt, his height and build being used to his benefit in intimidation.
Lady Catherine sniffed. “Fine, we will work together. For now. Once we have what each of us wishes, you are on your own.”
“As are you.”
~~ ** ~~
The following day, Mr Grant came to Mrs Howard’s home in a hurry. “Lady Catherine and the colonel have left for London.”
Darcy was surprised. “I am grateful I sent word yesterday to Lord Matlock. As my sister is staying with Lord and Lady Matlock, at their townhouse, they will need to protect Georgiana. Most likely, not having found me here, they must believe I have gone to Town.”
“What of Mr Collins?” Charlotte asked, nervous over the whereabouts of her abusive husband.
“He has journeyed with them. Mrs Polk went by the parsonage last evening, to deliver the laundry she had cleaned, and she stated Mr Collins was having a horrible fit. According to the lady, she heard glass breaking, shouting, and even vulgarity. It was clear, from what she heard, that you were missing. Fortunately, Mrs Howard and I are not the only members of the parish that know of your husband’s… less than gentlemanly behavior, when it comes to his care of you, Mrs Collins. Mrs Polk stated that she would have no difficulty in lying to Mr Collins face to protect you from being harmed. You can rest easily, dear lady. As a matter of fact, Mr Collins was seen at my cottage and, when he could not find me, no one he asked for assistance would answer his questions.”
Charlotte was embarrassed to learn so many people were aware of the treatment she had been subjected to over the few months of her marriage. “I wish no one was aware of my situation. It is embarrassing to know others are aware of my husband’s behavior.”
“Mrs Collins, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Your husband is a brute. No man treats a woman in such a manner. It is appalling. My dear wife was the light in my life. I wish I had been given more time with her. In many ways, she was much like you. If Mr Collins is too foolish to realize how precious a gift he has in you being his wife, he does not deserve you.”
This caused Charlotte to blush deeply. “I am no great reward, Mr Grant. Mr Collins did not gain from our marriage.”
“He gained a good and caring wife, to be in his home, to share his life. Money and social gain are not what matters. Love that is shared, a hot meal on the table, having someone to share your load, that is what matters.”
Charlotte whispered. “Thank you, sir.”
Mr Bennet nodded his head. “And I will make sure that Charlotte is safely returned to her father’s home. She will no longer be put in danger by my cousin. I hope we are able to convince the bishop to remove Mr Collins from his position as the parson here.”
“As long as Lady Catherine is alive, it will never happen. She will do all she can to protect Mr Collins.” Charlotte replied. “And, with her backing, the church will do nothing to him.”
“Do not count on that, Mrs Collins.” Darcy stated. “Do not forget, you have friends and family who will do whatever we can to assist you to be free of the scoundrel.”
Jane spoke. “With Lady Catherine and the men gone, it will be easier for us to search for Lizzy.”
“Indeed. Mr Grant, have you heard any information as to where my daughter might be? Do you think she could be hidden in one of the rooms of Rosings’ manor house?”
“I do not believe she would be found there. From what Mrs Polk said earlier, the village people were told not to continue the search, though they have been. Her niece works as a maid in the grand house. When I asked Mrs Polk if she believed that Miss Elizabeth might be in the house, she said I was not the first to ask that question. Her niece and several others of the Rosings’ staff have been carefully searching the unused rooms, just in case. They have looked in the attic and the upper floor of the guest rooms, and there has been no signs of Miss Elizabeth.”
“We should speak to some of the servants of Rosings. There are a few I would trust, as I have protected them from my aunt’s fury. The maids, Maggie and Rose, Mr Thompson in the stables, the cook, Mrs Potter. The footmen, Jeffry and Simon. I am certain they will be willing to assist us.” Darcy stated. “If only we could find a way to remove the butler. Mr Fielding is far too loyal to my aunt to go against her in any way. If he were to see me at Rosings, he would send an express to my aunt.”
Mr Grant’s expression developed a wicked grin. “I know of a way to solve that problem. Mr Fielding is fond of the drink. And I know who he purchases his ale from. We can ensure Mr Fielding is unable to send any messages.”
~~ ** ~~
When Elizabeth opened her eyes, the room was completely dark. The fire had long burned out, leaving the room without any source of light. She had no notion if it was day or night, or how long she had been in the room. Moving about a bit, she remembered her head throbbing in pain. And she remembered that her hands were tied, making her unable to reach up a hand to massage her temples.
What is happening? Why am I here, secured and in the dark? What could be the reason for anyone bringing me here? I wish I knew what was happening, and how long I have been tied up in this room. If the person does not return, will I die here, alone, and my family never know what happened to me?
The sound of footsteps alerted her to her jailer returning. She decided to listen carefully to the person’s voice, as it had sounded familiar. Her mind was having a difficult time remembering to whom the voice belonged. A bit of light entered the room, as the person entered, silhouetted from having no light in the room.
“The fire went out. I thought I would have been able to return sooner, but too many people have been around me, and I could not risk being discovered coming here. I could not have anyone learn of my part in this situation. It would not do. But now I should be able to return more frequently now, as most of the family have left the big house. Now I can determine what I will do with you.”
Elizabeth was shocked to discover the voice was feminine. Still unable to remember who the woman was, Elizabeth determined to do what she could to discover the lady’s identity. As soon as the gag had been removed from her mouth, the woman placed the cup of water against Elizabeth’s lips. Once her mouth was hydrated, she spoke.
“Why am I here? What have I done to deserve such treatment? Please, release me. I will cause you no harm, I promise you. Please, if you release me, I will leave for my father’s home immediately.”
“No, you cannot leave. If you leave, what has happened will bring problems. Cannot do such, must protect my child.”
“I do not know who your child is, so I could not bring harm to them. Please, I wish for my family.”
“I have brought you some broth. You will need nourishment. I will bring some bread next time.”
Elizabeth could feel tears beginning to roll down her cheeks. “Why are you seeing to me, if you plan to kill me?”
The woman was taken aback by this statement. “I would never kill you. Just need time to find a way to remove you from the neighborhood, with no one knowing what has happened. At the moment, they believe you have run away with Mr Darcy. When it is safe, I will find a way to take you from here, and have you taken far away, where you can cause no harm to my child.”
“Please, please have pity for my family. Would you wish to know what happened to your child, if they just disappeared?”
“My child will always be with me. I have seen to that. You should never have come here. It is your fault for what has happened.”
Confused, Elizabeth could not think of what the person was saying. “How am I to blame for your child? I was knocked unconscious, tied up and forced to remain here. Yet you blame me?”
“You made him forget himself. You and your wicked ways, turning his head from his duty. If you had stayed away, this would not have happened. All would have been well.” The woman held a cup of lukewarm broth to Elizabeth’s lips. Once the broth was drunk, the lady returned the gag to Elizabeth’s mouth. Turning her attention to the fireplace, she shook her head. “I will bring wood the next time I come. It is warm enough for now, so you will be fine.”
As the woman left, Elizabeth felt her world falling apart. I pray my family learns of what has happened to me, for I do not wish them to think I ran away, with no word of where I have gone. Allow them to grieve and move forward. Please, God, give them the peace of mind of knowing I have died.
Lady Catherine forced her way passed the butler of Matlock House, marching directly towards the sitting room to the left side of the foyer. A footman moved forward, intending to announce the lady, but she swatted him away, as if he were an annoying pest. “Move. I do not require your assistance. Be gone.”
“It is my duty to announce guests, your ladyship.”
“Then find a different duty to perform, for you are not needed.” Lady Catherine took hold of the door handle, opening the door and forcing it inwards. Seeing her brother, Lady Catherine moved towards him, with Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr Collins following behind her. “Henry, where is our nephew?”
Lord Matlock frowned. “If you are speaking of William, he is not here. The last I was told, he was making his annual journey to Rosings, to see to your estate’s needs.”
“Our nephew has taken leave of his senses, and must be locked away, to protect himself and the family. I will need writing materials, so I might write to the physician, so he can administer some sort of draught to keep Darcy calm until he is transferred to an asylum.”
“There is no need for such steps, Catherine. Darcy is of sound mind. Why, just this morning, I received an express from him. It is you and my son who are conspiring against him, in an attempt to take his lands and wealth from him.” Lord Matlock stated, standing his full height, which was taller than his son.
“How dare you speak so of me and your son?” Lady Catherine stomped her foot. “This is not to be borne. We are being treated so poorly, when it is Darcy who is out of his mind. How can you believe him, over your sister and your own son?”
“Aunt Catherine is correct, Father. Darcy has lost his mind. He has forced his attention on a young gentlewoman who was visiting her relations, Mr and Mrs Collins. We believe he has harmed her, and done away with her body.”
“Would that be Miss Elizabeth Bennet?” Seeing the expressions on the trio of faces before him, Lord Matlock continued. “William informed me of everything. Including the injuries sustained by Mrs Collins, at the hand of her husband. If I am not mistaken, you are the Mr Collins who is married to the woman in question?” Lord Matlock glared at the sycophantic toad of a man.
Collins swallowed hard. “I am Mr William Collins, parson of Hunsford, the living given to me by my benevolent benefactor, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. My wife was being taught a lesson, for she had refused to follow my directions. Some women require a strong hand to make them see their errors.” He had puffed his chest as he spoke.
“As a parson, you should know that your attempts to teach your wife are highly inappropriate. You will be hearing from the bishop soon enough, as word was sent to him as well. And your wife will mend, from what I was told in my nephew’s letter.”
Lady Catherine turned her fury towards her devoted clergyman. “I told you she should have been brought to the manor house, where she could have been kept under lock and key. You should never have left that chit where she could cause us trouble. Be gone, I do not wish to see you. Leave immediately.” The glare she gave the man made him nearly run from the house. He had no idea of where to go, all he knew was he needed to leave Matlock House immediately.
While his aunt was ridding them of the pompous clergy, Colonel Fitzwilliam moved towards his father. “Where is Georgiana? As one of her guardians, I insist she be taken under the care of Aunt Catherine and myself. She will require Aunt Catherine’s guidance in preparing for her coming out.”
“William gave me permission to take Georgiana somewhere to keep her safe. And I sent word to my solicitor to begin the paperwork to remove the girl from your care.”
“Father, where is Georgiana? I insist you send for her to join us.”
Lord Matlock chuckled. “Do you think I am intimidated by you? Perhaps it is best that you remember that I still visit the club when I am in Town, and work with the fencing master on a regular basis. Unlike many of our status, I have not allowed myself to go to seed. And you will not be taking my niece from my care. As a matter of fact, your mother and Georgiana left shortly after I received William’s letter. They are visiting a friend in the country. What say you to that?”
“Which friend are they visiting, Father? I demand to know where my ward is to be found.”
“You will not learn their whereabouts from me. I will do all that I can to protect Georgiana from you and Catherine.”
In anger, the younger man took hold of his father’s coat front, pulling him closer. “I insist on you telling me at once, Father.”
Lord Matlock growled. “I am ashamed of the sort of man you have become. Word has come to me for a year now, but I did not wish to believe that my son could be as cruel as I have been told. Now I see the truth.”
The colonel let go of his father’s coat for a moment, as his hand pulled back and came forward, as a fist, to strike his father’s face. The elder man fell backward, blood flowing from his broken nose.
“I can see my faith in William was well placed. You are so far beneath William, and your brother, and do not deserve my sympathy. From this day forward, you will no longer be welcome in our homes, and you will be disowned. Never again will we claim you as a son.” Lord Matlock spat out his words, as he reached inside his coat pocket, pulling out a handkerchief to use to staunch the flow of blood.
The sound of the commotion brought members of Matlock House’s staff in a hurry to protect their employer. The butler, Jamison, quickly moved to the earl’s side. “Sir, what can we do to assist you?” He pulled a handkerchief from his own pocket, handing it to the gentleman.
“Have the men remove these people from my home immediately. And they are not to be allowed to enter any of my homes again.” Turning to look at his sister and his son, Lord Matlock continued. “And do not try to enter Darcy House. I have already made the staff there aware of the situation. They know to keep the doors locked to you. Word has also been sent to William’s solicitor and banker. You will find no aid from those sources. Catherine, I have known for some time that you had been mismanaging Rosings. William and I have discussed the situation multiple times over the years, but the last two years, we have seen alarming problems with how you spend wildly on your own comforts.”
“Henry, you are weak.” Lady Catherine glared at him. “You have never been able to stand up to me for long. I can wait, as I am certain my solicitor will prevail. Once my physician declares Darcy unfit, you will see, we will prevail.”
Lord Matlock gave a dull, lifeless laugh. “You are a fool, Catherine. You see, William placed a codicil on his will last year. It states that if he is unable to manage his duties to his estate, his sister, or the Darcy holdings, he appointed me to take charge of his duties. And I am here to tell you, I will not allow you to do as you please.”
If it had been possible, steam would have escaped the woman’s ears, her fury was great. “It is not possible. Darcy would never have given you authority. He knew he was to wed Anne. He must have been delusional to appoint you. Yes, my solicitor will see this as testament to our nephew’s loss of good judgment. We will have this all appealed and I will have control of everything.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam was not ready to admit defeat. “You cannot keep me from taking control of Georgiana, as I was made Darcy’s equal when it came to decisions for Georgiana’s care.”
“Ah, yes. Gerald appointed you as her second guardian. But, do you remember three years ago, when you were being sent to the battlefield? The papers you signed, in case you were killed? You signed your rights as Georgiana’s guardian to me. When you returned from the continent, you never did the paperwork to return guardianship to yourself. Therefore, I retain the position.”
“NO!” the colonel bellowed as he made a lunge at his father, his hands reaching for the elder man’s throat. One of the footmen moved to prevent the enraged man from injuring the earl, only to become the victim of the angry grip. By the time the men had subdued the colonel, the footman was limp on the floor, at Richard Fitzwilliam’s feet. It took Mr Jamison striking the uncontrollable man in the back of the head with a glass vase. Lady Catherine began screaming that the butler had murdered her nephew, and she would see him pay for what he had done. The servants holding her arms lifted the woman from the floor and removed her from the room.
Jamison looked up at his employer. “Forgive me, your lordship, I saw no other alternative. I feared for your safety.”
“Do not fret, Jamison. We have enough witnesses to my son’s behavior.” Lord Matlock knelt down to the side of the footman’s still form. Finding no signs of life, Lord Matlock shook his head. “Please send someone to fetch the coroner and the constable.”
The request for such men announced the fate of the young servant. “Jacob, as soon as you and Mitchell secure the colonel, please make your way to the coroner and constable. Perhaps it is best we send for the magistrate as well.”
Lord Matlock nodded his head. “And we should send for my son’s superior. At best, Richard will be transported. He took the life of an innocent man, and he will have to face the charges against him. I knew he had been angry, but seeing him behave in such a manner is disturbing. It is a blessing that I sent my wife and Georgiana to Darcy House, for Rebecca would have been devastated to witness Richard’s behavior, especially his violent streak. If only I did not have to inform her of our son killing one of our servants, especially since the footman was attempting to protect my life.”
“Forgive me for speaking sir, but Lady Matlock is a strong lady, she will be grateful for your being alive. And I have no doubt she will reach out to Timmons’ family.”
“She will indeed. And I wish to do something for them as well. If not for Timmons, I would likely be dead. His sacrifice will not be forgotten.” Lord Matlock stated, as he used his handkerchief to wipe at the perspiration from his face.
Mitchell returned to the room a few moments later. “Your lordship, your son is awake and demanding to speak with you immediately.”
“Let him bellow all he wishes. I have no desire to speak with him at this moment.”
The servant gave a slight smile. “He is unable to bellow, sir. Jacob will need a new sock though.”
Lord Matlock gave an empty chuckle. “I will see that Jacob has as many socks as he could ever need. Please thank him for his donation of the sock to our needs.”
“After sharing a room with him, I can tell you, Jacob’s socks only smell good when they come from being washed. It will be nice for him to have more pairs, so he can change them more. The colonel is none too pleased with the foul cloth.” Mitchell tried to rein his fond memory in, removing the smile from his face. “We have his hands and feet tied to the chair, and a rope around his chest to keep him from leaning over to his hands. Barker is watching him. Mrs Olsen is with the men who secured your sister. When she learned of the sock, Mrs Olsen requested the other sock, in case her ladyship refuses to quiet.”
“If she requires the sock, I wish to witness the sight.” Lord Matlock declared. “I wish to have that image in my mind while we face the days ahead.”