Darcy and Mr Bennet were discussing the strategy to continue their search. Jane was assisting Mrs Howard in preparing a meal for everyone, while Charlotte was resting. Mr Grant knocked on the front door of the cottage, and entered before anyone could answer.
“We have seen to Mr Fielding. He will be sleeping for many hours, as he has imbibed heavily on a rather nice bottle of port, which contained laudanum. The stable hands have carried Fielding to his chambers, and have locked the door. Of course, that was after they relieved the butler of his keys.”
“This is good news.” Mr Bennet stated. “We should hurry, as we would not wish to take too long.”
The other men nodded in agreement. As they prepared to leave, Jane spoke to her father. “Find Lizzy, Papa. Please, bring my sister back to us.”
Mr Bennet took his daughter’s hand and pulled her towards him. Wrapping her in his embrace, he placed a fatherly kiss on the top of his first born’s head. “I will do all I can to find our Lizzy. Keep your sister in your prayers.”
Jane nodded her head. “I will Papa.” The men left Mrs Howard’s cottage, Darcy wearing his disguise. When they arrived at the manor house, they entered through the servant’s entrance, near the kitchen. The cook came from her kitchen, her hands on her hips. “Mr Grant, whatever are you doing here? If Mr Fielding learns of your being here, he will tell the royal.” Due to Lady Catherine’s behavior, acting as if she was the queen of the realm, many of her servants referred to her mockingly as the royal.
“Do not fret, Mrs Potter. Mr Fielding is secure in his room, having imbibed freely. And when he wakes, he might find he is missing his keys, and be unable to open his door.” Mr Grant gave the elder lady a quick wink. “We need to search the house, to find Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
“We was told she run away, but I dinno believe it for a moment. I met her in the village. She be sweet and kind to me, as the handle of me basket broke after I been to the mercantile. All of my purchases fell to the ground. Miss Bennet came to my rescue, helpin’ me to pick up everything. She even carried the basket in her arms, all the way here. What a kind girl.”
Mr Grant motioned to Mr Bennet. “Mrs Potter, this is Mr Bennet. He is Miss Elizabeth’s father. And we do not believe she would have run away. That is why we are searching for Miss Elizabeth. We fear for her life.”
“If you learn anything that could assist us, I would be grateful for you to send word to Mrs Howard’s home.” Darcy stated, surprising the woman.
Her voice was questioning. “Mr Darcy? Is that… is that you?” Her hand went to her mouth. “We were told you done run away with Miss Elizabeth. Your aunt told us that you done made the gal leave with you, agin her wants. I not be believing it for a minute. I have known you many years, and you always bin a good man. How you could be doin’ sumfin’ so terrible?”
“I have done nothing to harm Miss Elizabeth, but it is certain that someone has. Have you heard anything that might lead us to find the young lady?” Darcy was becoming desperate for news.
“Nothing, sir. But I will pay closer attention.” The elder woman stated. Suddenly, a thought came over her. “Now I think of it, Mrs Jenkins been an odd one. She disappeared some, and none seems know where she goes. I knows this causin Miss de Bourgh was needing her companion’s assistance, and twas near on an hour before the woman could be found and sent to the Miss.”
“Has Mrs Jenkins stated anything when she returns?” Mr Grant asked, surprised at the elder companion’s strange behavior.
“If me ole memory serves, she claimed to have been in the attic, looking for something the Miss requested. But the Miss says she diddna ask for the item, and how filthy the attic be. Yet, Mrs Jenkins, she had not a bit of dust from the attic. Her hems be dirty, as if she had walked out that day, when the ground was still wet.”
Mr Grant looked at the other men as he spoke. “Is Mrs Jenkins in the manor house at this time?”
“I ‘ave been cookin’, so been keepin’ to the kitchen. If the Royal come home and food not be ready, I be lookin for a new post.”
Darcy patted the woman lightly on the shoulder. “Have no fear, Mrs Potter, my aunt will not know of your speaking with us. And if you should ever require a new position, you are to contact my butler at Darcy House. I will see that you always have a place to live and food on your table.”
“I knew you ta be a good man. Many blessings, Mr Darcy.”
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth had been conscious for a long time, though the room was still dark, and she was unable to discover if it were daytime or night. The room held a slight chill, making Elizabeth shiver.
Why is this happening? Who is the lady keeping me here, and who is her son? Will anyone know where to find me?
At the moment, I would even be grateful to see Mr Darcy come through the door. I am obviously desperate to wish for that man to come to my rescue. But I know I would be safe in his presence.
What could be the reason all of this is happening? What did I do to end up here?
I wish for someone to come, other than the woman who is keeping me here. What I would not give to speak with Papa, or Jane. Or Charlotte. Dear Charlotte. She has always been a dear friend and listened when I needed to speak. But her marriage has changed her. If only she would tell me what is wrong, if there is anything I can do for her. Being married to Mr Collins must be disgusting. I am grateful to Papa for standing behind my decision not to wed the toad of a man. When I see Charlotte again, I will insist she tell me what she is feeling. When she thinks I am not looking, she seems in pain. Please, God, allow me to be the friend to her that she has been to me all of my life.
And allow me to come to Jane’s aid. She is in such pain, having lost Mr Bingley. Perhaps I could speak with Mr Darcy, plead with him to speak with his friend. Mr Bingley would listen to his closest friend. Jane deserves to be happy, for she is the dearest, sweetest creature who has ever lived. Yes, I will do what I am able to assist Charlotte and my dear Jane. Their happiness is important, and I will do anything to bring joy back in their lives. If I am allowed to live, I will do whatever I can to make the lives of those around me happy. Please, God, please. Give me a chance to do good for others. For their sake, I will even find some good in Mr Darcy. There must something good about him, for Mr Bingley would not be close friends with someone who was a bad person. No matter what wrongs he has done to Mr Wickham, even that man has said Mr Darcy has been good in the past. I promise to do all that I can to find the good in Mr Darcy, for Jane’s sake.
Elizabeth could hear someone approaching the room she was in. Would she finally learn what had happened to cause her abduction? Would she be released from the prison she was now in? Or would she at least learn who was involved in holding her against her will. Is it too much to pray for Mr Darcy to find me? Please, God, save me from this insanity. I beg for your aid, so I can fulfill my promise.
~~ ** ~~
The men had left Rosings, having not found Mrs Jenkins at the manor house. They were on their way towards Mrs Howard’s home, to discuss their next plan, as they needed to discover if Mrs Jenkins was involved in Elizabeth’s disappearance, and if so, where she went each day. If she was not involved with Elizabeth being missing, just what was the woman doing?
They were half way to the cottage of Mrs Howard when they heard a lady call out to Mr Grant. The man turned towards the woman. “Miss Pertwhistle, how are you today?”
“Much better than Mrs Collins, that is certain.” Gertrude Pertwhistle declared. Trudy, as she was known to her family and friends, was the daughter of the butcher in Hunsford village.
Darcy and Mr Bennet were both concerned, though it was Mr Grant who was clearly more affected. “What has happened? Where is Mrs Collins?”
“I am not certain where she is, but when her husband finds her, I fear for her safety. Mr Collins was just in my father’s shop, asking if Father had seen Mrs Collins today. The look the parson held was one of fury.”
“Mr Collins has returned?” Mr Bennet asked. The lady looked at the gentleman with caution.
Realizing that Mr Bennet would not be known, Mr Grant spoke. “Forgive me, Miss Pertwhistle. This is Mr Bennet, He is Miss Elizabeth’s father, cousin to Mr Collins.”
Trudy’s hand went directly to her mouth. “Mr Bennet, forgive me. I did not mean to speak ill of your cousin.”
“Fear not, Miss Pertwhistle. My cousin is not a good man. Does Mr Collins know where his wife might be?”
“My father told him that he heard from Mrs Twindle that Mrs Collins was on her way to the home of her family. The parson was not pleased, and he stomped out of the shop, slamming the door beside him. Father was surprised that the window glass did not shatter. But Father was pleased that the foolish parson seemed to believe what was said, and we pray that the man makes the trip to Mrs Collins’ family.”
“Thank you for the information.” Darcy said, forgetting he looked different from what Miss Pertwhistle had seen him before.
“Mr Darcy?” The lady gasped. “You are here. I told Father you would not have run away, no matter what is being said in the neighborhood. And Miss Elizabeth, is she here as well?”
Mr Grant shook his head. “We are not certain. We have been searching for her, but cannot find where she might be.”
Darcy decided to take a chance. “Miss Pertwhistle, have you seen Mrs Jenkins in the village recently? Mrs Potter informed us that my cousin’s companion has been vanishing frequently, and no one seems to know where she has gone.”
“I saw her only yesterday. She was walking towards Rosings, as if she were coming from the area near the pond. But there is nothing in that direction, I cannot imagine why she would be out so far from the house. Mrs Jenkins is not known as a great walker, so her presence there was confusing.”
Mr Grant and Darcy looked at one another. They knew the direction of which the woman spoke. Darcy took a calming breath, as his hope of finding Elizabeth Bennet had increased.
“Miss Pertwhistle, I cannot thank you enough. Tell your father that I plan to place an order with him soon, as I plan to reward everyone who has assisted us in finding Miss Elizabeth.”
“I know I speak for my father in our prayers that Miss Elizabeth is found safe, and returned to her family soon.” Trudy stated. “Mr Bennet, you have a kind and caring daughter. You must be proud of her.”
“Thank you, I am deeply proud of her.”
Lord Matlock welcomed the major-general into the drawing room of his home. Once the door was closed, the gentleman began. “Forgive me for having to send for you, Roger. I was relieved to see you had returned from Canada.”
Major-General Roger Sheaffe had been preparing for his next command, as the war with the Americas was moving closer to a reality. “I am leaving in a week to return home. I was surprised to see your request. How many years has it been since we last were together?”
“Too many years to count, that is the truth. I must tell you how sad I was to learn of your mother’s death last year. How are your sisters?”
“They are well. All are wed, and I have enjoyed spending some time with them while I was in England. Mother had been living with my sister Susanna and her family for the last year of her life. Susanna is married to Captain Molesworth, and while he was away with his unit, Mother aided Susanna with her children. My sister Margaret is married to Robert Livingston, and they are living in New York. You may have read about him, as he is one of the men who drafted the Declaration of Independence, along with Jefferson, Franklin, John Adams, and Roger Sherman. Needless to say, I am not close to their family.”
“Things have come a long way since we were young men at Oxford. At this moment, I wish things were as carefree as it was back then.”
“Your message was regarding your second son? Richard?”
“Indeed. I know he is not attached to your unit, but I prayed you might be able to assist me in this matter.”
Sheaffe had never had a request of aid from his friend, and knew the gentleman would never ask for aid if it was not a desperate situation. “If I am able, I will do what I can for you.”
Lord Matlock took a deep breath. “Do you remember my sister, Anne? She married Gerald Darcy of Pemberley?”
“Of course. How could any man forget the beautiful Anne Fitzwilliam? Darcy was a fortunate man. I read about your sister’s death. She was far too young to die.”
“She was. Her son, Fitzwilliam Darcy, is much like Anne. And it is he who has been victimized by my son and my elder sister, Catherine. Between the two, they attempted to harm William and take his estate and wealth from him. When my son was confronted, he became violent. In his attempt to throttle me, he killed a member of my staff.”
“Good God. And where is your son? Did he escape? I have heard nothing of the matter at command.”
“He has been on leave. And Richard is here, locked in a room in my basement.” Lord Matlock stated wearily. “I need to know what we can do to keep my son from swinging.”
“It will be difficult, especially under the circumstances. Let us discuss all your son and sister did, then we will know more of what can be done.”
With a nod, Lord Matlock directed his old friend down the hall, to the Earl of Matlock’s study. He prayed that he would be able to have his son moved before the end of the day.
Lady Matlock had returned to the townhouse an hour prior to the Major-General, then promptly returned to Darcy House, where her niece was safely housed. Darcy’s staff were loyal to William and Georgiana, and they would not allow the young lady to come to harm.
The truth of their second son’s behavior was not to be ignored, and Lord and Lady Matlock knew they could do nothing to protect him from what he had done. The best they could hope for was that Richard would be transported to Australia, but that would be only at the mercy of the officer who now stood in Lord Matlock’s study, accepting the glass of port, before taking the proffered chair across the desk from the gentleman.
~~ ** ~~
The next issue Lord Matlock needed to address was his sister. He knew this would be the most difficult of his problems. Richard was angry and envious, Catherine was devious and calculating. And she was willing to do anything to win her point.
The earl made his way to the door to the room where his sister was held and opened the door. Catherine was full of fury, beginning his tirade as soon as she saw her brother.
“Henry, I demand you release me immediately. If you do not, I will see that you are made to suffer for your reckless behavior.”
“Enough, Catherine. I will not allow you to continue on this path. You have no one to blame but yourself for your predicament. Your refusal to follow a budget and have spent money lavishly, with no cares of from where the funds will come from. With your funds depleted, you wished to access our nephew’s wealth.”
“He owes it to me, as I am his nearest relation.” Lady Catherine insisted. “As my daughter’s husband, he owed me to see that my needs are met.” The grand woman huffed, her arms crossed across her chest.
“But William is not your daughter’s husband, and he never intended to wed Anne. You are the foolish one who proclaimed some agreement made between you and our sister when the children were born. Interestingly, I never heard of the arrangement until after our sister died. And knowing the loving relationship that Anne and Gerald had, I doubt very much that she would desire an arranged marriage for her son.”
“Henry, enough of your prattling. Either do as I have told you or remove yourself, for I have much to prepare for. As your son is worthless in assisting me, I will require another man to aid me. Where is my parson? Mr Collins was with us when we arrived. Where is he?”
“Your parson has left, just as I told him to do. I expect he is half way to Kent at the moment.” Lord Matlock stated. “And even if he was here, there is nothing he could do to assist you in your plan. My staff has been instructed to refuse that imbecile admittance into my home. So, the question still remains, Sister. What should we do with you?”
“Release me so I may return to my home.”
Lord Matlock shook his head. “No, Catherine, you must pay for your crimes.”
Lady Catherine snorted as she spoke. “My crimes? Your son was the one who killed one of your servants. I never even laid a finger on the man. How can I be held responsible for your son’s actions?”
“You brought him here, with the intention of harming our nephew. You planned to have him locked away, so you and Richard could take all that rightly belongs to William and Georgiana. From what you have demonstrated, you have no value for William or Georgiana’s lives, and in the process of your attempting to cause them harm, my servant was murdered. Rightly, half of the blame should rest on your shoulders. It is up to me to decide how best not to bring shame upon our family. But with all that has happened, I doubt there is any hope our family will not suffer from you and Richard’s behavior. If you know where Miss Elizabeth Bennet is, you had best tell, for if I learn you have brought harm to the young lady, and you have not been honest with me, your punishment will increase tenfold.”
“I wish I had removed that chit from the neighborhood. If I had, it is likely Darcy would have married Anne by now. Richard would have aided me, I am certain, though he would have asked for compensation in an amount I do not have. Perhaps he would have settled for destroying Darcy’s life. Your son has always been envious of Darcy, wanting what was denied a second born son.”
“Have no fear, Catherine, I will be taking care of the mistakes I have made as a parent. Just as I am taking care of the mistakes I made as your brother, and head of the Fitzwilliam family. Do you have no remorse for your behavior?”
“Remorse? Why would I have remorse in attempting to secure my daughter’s future? I should be applauded for how I have tried to ensure Anne’s security. With Darcy, she would never be left wanting.”
“Your daughter is not well, Catherine. Her health would never allow her to be a proper wife, which would do nothing to secure the future of Pemberley, not to mention Rosings. William needs to have heirs. Anne would never be able to carry a child.”
“That can be handled discreetly. A mistress could birth the heir, with no one knowing any difference.”
That was the final straw for the earl. “You have made the decision for me. You belong in a sanitarium.” Henry Fitzwilliam announced as he turned, preparing to leave the room.
At that pronouncement, Lady Catherine de Bourgh made her feelings towards her brother’s decision, as she picked up the nearest object she could find and sent it hurling towards Lord Matlock. Fortunately, the door to the room was open slightly and one of Matlock House’s footmen was watching, calling out to his employer to warn him of the item having been thrown towards the elder man.
First looking at the damage done to the wall near the door, from where the heavy marble figurine had impacted, Henry Fitzwilliam called to his footman. “Have some rope brought here, and request the physician to tend my sister. She requires sedation, as she cannot control her temper. My sister is a danger to others and herself and must be restrained until the physician comes.”
“You keep away from me, Henry. You will not treat me in such a manner.”
“It is too late, Catherine.” The earl would not risk any further fits of temper that his sister might use to harm himself or someone of his home. As soon as the footman returned, the man held out the ribbons that were used to tie back the curtains in one of the guest rooms. Lord Matlock was pleased with the young man’s ingenuity. “Please, would you assist me?”
The footman gave a small smile, as he nodded his head.
“Take hold of her arms as I tie her hands together. Be forewarned, she will not be taken without a fight.”
Lady Catherine screeched from where she stood. “I will kill you if you place one finger upon me. Do you hear me? I will see you dead.”
The two men moved closer to her.
Half of an hour later, Lady Catherine was tossed on her bed, her face down, and her hands secured behind her back. Kicking and screaming, the woman refused to accept her fate. By then, the physician had arrived. With the assistance of Lord Matlock and the footman, a dose of laudanum was finally forced into Lady Catherine’s mouth, and, with her nose pinched and mouth held shut, she was forced to swallow the foul-tasting liquid.
With his sister finally calm, Lord Matlock made the arrangements with the physician to have the lady moved to a secured facility the following day.
A weary Lord Matlock sat down at his desk to pen a missive to his nephew, explaining what had happened at Matlock House. After placing the letter on the salver near the front entrance, the gentleman made his way to his bedchamber for some much-needed rest.