The sun was barely rising when Darcy was awakened to Mr Bennet shaking his arm. “Mr Darcy, she just came out the door.”
At first, Darcy was confused. Realizing he was outside, and not curled up in his bed, with Mr Bennet’s daughter beside him, the young man blushed. Quickly, he moved to look over the hedge he had been hidden behind.
Mrs Jenkins was making her way from the house, carrying a small bundle in her hands. Her behavior spoke of nervousness, as if she expected someone watching her. Mr Bennet moved towards the other corner of the house, alerting the men on the opposite corner of their need to follow him. When he returned, the men slowly moved to follow the companion, keeping hidden behind hedges and trees.
The journey took nearly an hour to walk, but the men watched Mrs Jenkins circle around a thicket of trees. Darcy looked around, and whispered to Mr Grant. “Is this not on Lord Malcolm’s estate?”
“Indeed. I believe he has a few small hunting shacks, and one might be in the middle of those trees. He has a belief that planting trees around a building would confuse the wildlife, allowing him to move closer to them before killing them. There is a large pond on the far side of the trees, it is most likely a good location to hunt geese.”
Mr Bennet looked up and noticed smoke coming from the top of the trees. “You had best be correct, otherwise the trees are on fire.”
As the men moved forward, they heard raised voices, one belonging to a woman, and the other belonging to a man.
“You should not be here. I am taking care of the situation. Now, go back to your home. You cannot be found anywhere near here.” Mrs Jenkins was screeching.
“What have you done? I told you I would handle the matter, why did you have to get involved?”
“You would never do what needed to be done. You are too smitten with the trollop, so it is up to me to handle the situation.”
“And what are you planning to do?”
“The chit will never be found, you have my word. I have been awake all night thinking of how to deal with the body.”
These words gripped Darcy’s heart, and he nearly raced forward, wishing to throttle the woman for destroying his future. Mr Bennet held on Darcy’s arm, keeping the younger man still.
“Mother, what have you done? Have you killed the girl?”
“Not yet. I had a difficult enough time dragging her here, I plan to have her walk to where I will dispatch her.” Mrs Jenkins sounded proud of herself for her plan. “Now, go. If anyone sees us together, all will be ruined.”
“You cannot kill her, Mother. You must let her go. Her father is in the village. We can make it look as if you found her, and helped her.”
“She knows the truth. At first, her head injury kept her unconscious. Now, she is awake when I come to the shack. How do we keep her from telling everyone about what I have done? No, it is best to be done with her. Soon enough, her family and friends will believe Lady Catherine’s tale of the chit running off with Mr Darcy.”
“Until Lady Catherine returns, we cannot run the risk. We do not know where Mr Darcy is to be found. If he were to return, and deny ever leaving with Miss Elizabeth, we would be discovered.”
“But Mr Darcy was in London. Lady Catherine was certain he had gone to his uncle. Why did you return here, without Lady Catherine? You should have remained at her side, doing as she requires. By returning here, without her, you are risking her ire.”
“Lord Matlock demanded I leave his home. I am certain that Lady Catherine will return as soon as she has spoken with the solicitor and the bank. She should be able to accomplish everything in a matter of a day or two, then she will return. And, if Mr Darcy dares to show his face, she will have him placed in an asylum immediately. It would be best for him to disappear completely, make a new life for himself in another country. Especially since his cousin will be the one marrying Miss de Bourgh. Colonel Fitzwilliam will keep Mr Darcy away.”
“Well, the colonel is not here at the moment, so we have to protect ourselves. That is why you should leave. Especially if Mr Bennet is nearby. It would not do for him to discover us, he cannot know the truth.”
“You are well aware that he has not a clue. He never met his cousin, and I can imitate the blundering idiot well enough to keep anyone from questioning the truth.”
In their hiding place, Mr Bennet and Darcy looked at each other, both realizing that the man posing as Mr William Collins was not truly the vicar. They continued to listen to the conversation.
Mr Collins, for it was not known what his true name was, chuckled. “That is one body that will do them no good if it is found. Building the fire and pouring lamp oil over the body completely hid the identity of the man. By the time he was discovered, there was nothing but ash and bone left.”
“But there are too many people in this area who would come running to put out a fire, as there are tenant cottages nearby. We must put her in the lake. Weigh the body down with some of the large stones tied to the body. If done properly, she will never be found.” Mrs Jenkins stated, in a matter of fact tone. Chills ran down Darcy’s spine at the thought of the lady being anywhere near Elizabeth.
“It is best if we wait until tonight to handle the situation. No one will come across us in the middle of the night.”
“Geoffrey, the way this cottage is hidden near the lake, no one will see us. I wish to have it done and over. Coming out here time and again is difficult. Miss Anne is becoming curious. And you need to return to your home, to your wife.”
“Charlotte is still missing. When I discover where she is hiding, she will face my wrath.”
“I told you that you should have broken her down. If she knew she had nowhere to turn, your wife would be more submissive.”
The man turned his head, making sure no one was in sight. “How should we kill her?”
“Strangling would be best, as it leaves no blood, but a knife to the heart is quicker.” Mrs Jenkins said, in a cold, unfeeling voice. The woman obviously was a calculating and heartless being.
The men had been moving closer and closer to the thicket, keeping out of sight of the pair. Darcy finally arrived at the back of the shack and motioned to Mr Bennet, who relayed the silent message to the other men. Soon, they had surrounded the building, and, as Mrs Jenkins delivered her chilling statements.
Unable to control his anger any further, Darcy rushed forward. “You will do nothing of the sort, Mrs Jenkins.”
The woman was confused, not recognizing him. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
“Mother, we need to silence him. He has overheard us.” Mr Collins leapt towards Darcy, his hands raised in fury.
The other men moved to follow Darcy, all concentrating on the murderous man with the intent of killing the Master of Pemberley. As the men were occupied, Mrs Jenkins quickly made for the shack, and once inside, she wedged a chair under the doorknob to barricade the door. The feel of someone attempting to break the door in forced Mrs Jenkins to add her weight to holding the door shut.
“Open the door!” a man’s voice shouted. “Do as I say, open the door.”
“Leave my son and me alone, we have done you no harm.” Mrs Jenkins yelled in reply. “If you allow us to leave, you will never see us again. I swear, we will leave England. Just allow us to gather our belongings, and we will be gone.”
“Only if Miss Elizabeth is unharmed. If she is injured, you will die at my hands.” Darcy called back, throwing his weight into the attempts to force the door inward. “If you come from the shack this moment, and Miss Elizabeth is alive and well, I will even give you the funds to leave England.”
Mr Bennet was surprised at the younger man’s statement. Could Darcy truly mean to allow the pair of criminals to simply leave? Darcy noticed and gave a slight shake of his head. The Master of Pemberley had no intention of allowing the murderous mother and son to leave Kent, let alone England.
“I will open the door for my son, and only for him. If you allow him to retrieve our belongings, while I wait here, you have my word that your precious chit is unharmed. But, if you have harmed a hair on my boy’s head, Miss Bennet will pay the price. Do you understand me?”
“Mrs Jenkins, you will have my agreement only when I am certain Miss Elizabeth is alive and well.” Darcy stepped back, then put all his weight into kicking the door, forcing the wood to shudder.
The woman knew that she would not escape the shack unless she had a hostage. The only way she would be able to recover her son and flee would be if they held the one thing the men wanted…Elizabeth Bennet. On a nearby table was the knife that Mrs Jenkins had used earlier to cut the rope she used to bind Elizabeth’s hands. Waiting until the next kick shuddered against the door, Mrs Jenkins left her place, grasping the knife, and hurrying into the other room.
The exterior door shattered with the following kick. Darcy nearly fell, caught off guard with the woman having moved. His eyes roamed the room until he saw the door into the next room. As he stepped to the door, his heart nearly stopped at the sight before him.
Mrs Jenkins was seated on the floor, holding a knife to the throat of a bound and gagged Elizabeth Bennet. There was dry blood caked on the side of Elizabeth’s head, and the young lady was obviously frightened. Her eyes met with Darcy’s, and they pleaded with him to come to her assistance.
“Mrs Jenkins, I swear to you, there is no need for you to harm Miss Elizabeth. I promise you, if you leave her be, I will give you the funds to leave England. We will not stop you. You have my word.”
“You are Mr Darcy?” the elder woman was still confused by his appearance.
Darcy reached up and pulled the wig from his head, “Yes, Mrs Jenkins, I am Fitzwilliam Darcy. You have known me for several years now. I pray you think me to be an honorable man who keeps his word. And you have my word, you will receive the funds to pay for you to leave England. All you need to do is release Miss Elizabeth and come with me.”
“Where is my son? I will not believe you until I see my boy. Where is my Geoffrey?”
“He is outside, with Mr Grant and Mr Bennet. Leave Miss Elizabeth there, and come outside with me. You will see, your son is there.”
“You bring Geoffrey to me, or I will not believe you. Until I have my son, your harlot stays where she is.”
“Mr Bennet, would you see that Mrs Jenkins’ son enters. She wishes to see her son.”
There was a sound of scuffling coming from outside the shack, and then the men entered, the man in question between them. Mrs Jenkins hissed, seeing her son being manhandled.
“Release him. Take your hands from Geoffrey.” The woman pulled Elizabeth’s body closer to her own, and the knife was held closer to the pale and delicate skin of the young lady’s throat.
“When you release Miss Elizabeth, we will release your son.” Mr Grant stated. “If you harm the lady, you and your son will swing.”
“My son had nothing to do with my bringing the hussy here. If I had left the matter with him, the situation would have been worse. Geoffrey has wanted her for himself. The fool has used his fists against his wife, as he was angry with not being allowed to have this wench. Ever since he first saw her, my Geoffrey has desired her. Charlotte Lucas was a poor substitute for the womanly attributes this one has. And this trollop knows how to use her wiles to ensnare innocent men. Geoffrey, Mr Darcy, and even Colonel Fitzwilliam was taken with her figure and the way she flaunts herself about. What man could resist such a tasty morsel?”
“Mrs Jenkins, I must insist you refrain from such talk. Miss Elizabeth is a gentlewoman, and has always behaved properly.” Darcy said in a low, menacing voice.
“She has made you men forget who you are and what you are supposed to do. You forgot your cousin, your family honor to marry Miss Anne, because you fell for the womanly form of this one. Lady Catherine will never allow you to have your piece of fluff, she will expect you to be loyal to Miss Anne, once you are properly wed.”
“My aunt is not in charge of deciding who I am to marry, Mrs Jenkins. My mother never made an agreement for us to marry, and neither Anne or myself wished for such a union. Who becomes my wife is up to me to determine.”
“But you have thought about taking this one, at the very least, to your bed. Look at my own son. He cannot resist the temptation of her figure. Though her elder sister was the prettier of the two, Geoffrey stated that Miss Bennet’s figure was nothing in comparison. Lust, you men are all the same. Always thinking of your next conquest. Instead of being satisfied with the wife he had in his bed each and every night, my son behaves like his father did, always wanting better. Well, I taught my husband a lesson. And he will never desire another woman.” The look the woman displayed was one of satisfaction.
“Mother, we agreed to never speak of father and what happened to him. I have kept your secret, you must not speak of it now.” Mr Collins stated.
“Geoffrey, you will take Mr Darcy to the manor house and collect my satchel. It has our future inside. Then bring it back here. Once we have the satchel, and the funds that Mr Darcy has promised, we will leave this miserable place.”
“I will do as you say, Mother. But what will we do with Miss Elizabeth?”
“We will trade her for Mr Darcy. You would willingly trade your life for Miss Elizabeth, would you not Mr Darcy?”
“Of course, without question. Miss Elizabeth’s safety means more to me than my own.” Darcy felt a sliver of hope. “I will go wherever you insist, as long as you give Miss Elizabeth over to her father. Once she is safe, I will offer no resistance.”
“First, you must assist my son in retrieving my satchel. After you both return, I will give Mr Bennet his daughter. Until then, she will remain where she is, with my knife ready to strike if we are betrayed.”
Darcy nodded his head, then turned to the other men. “I will do as Mrs Jenkins commands. Please release Mr Collins, and wait here until we return.”
“Sir, it is not your duty to do as she bids. I am Elizabeth’s father, I should be the one to go with them.” Mr Bennet put his hand on Darcy’s upper arm, stilling the gentleman’s departure.
“I have the resources necessary for their journey. There is nothing I would not do for your daughter, and this is what is needed to protect her. Miss Elizabeth will require your assistance once we leave.”
Elizabeth’s throat moved, as she attempted to keep a sob from escaping. The knife blade began to cut into her delicate skin, and a drop of blood started small, then continued to grow. Mr Bennet knew that Darcy was the telling the truth, and the only way to recover his daughter was to allow Darcy to take the lead in negotiating with the mother and son.
Darcy also saw the blood drop building along the blade. “Mrs Jenkins, if you cause any further harm to Miss Elizabeth, I can promise, you will suffer my wrath.”
Mrs Jenkins realized what had happened and pulled the knife away from the skin enough that the two were no longer touching. “Then you had best hurry along with my son. The sooner you return with my satchel, the sooner I will release Miss Elizabeth.”
“Mr Bennet, I will be safe enough with Mr Collins. You men remain here and watch over Miss Elizabeth. If Mrs Jenkins does anything to harm her, you have my permission to bring harm to my cousin’s companion.”
The men all nodded in agreement, allowing Mr Collins and Darcy to leave. As soon as they were gone, Mrs Jenkins relaxed her hold on Elizabeth, releasing the arm she held around the younger lady’s shoulders.
“Soon, we will leave this place.” Mrs Jenkins stated. “I wish to live somewhere warm. Perhaps we can move to the Caribean. It would be simple enough to move to such a location. With the funds Mr Darcy will give us, I am certain we will be comfortable. My son can begin again. He can marry again, hopefully to a better lady. I told him not to settle, but he stated that Lady Catherine insisted on his marrying, and he would never refuse to do as he was told by that woman. You would think he would listen to his mother rather than that heartless woman, but he became devoted to her. They do not know, but I saw him leaving Lady Catherine’s bedchamber one morning, near sunrise.”
A shudder rolled through Mr Bennet’s body. “And who is your son? I realize that he is not my cousin, but who is your son?”
“He is Geoffrey Littleton. His father was my first husband. I married Benson Jenkins several years after Mr Littleton’s death.” Mrs Jenkins explained. “Your cousin was living in a boarding house where my son had taken a room. Geoffrey was looking for employment, while I had just taken the position as Miss Anne’s companion. When Mr Collins spoke of receiving the living at Hunsford Parish, my son knew it would be the perfect situation for him. He took the place of Mr Collins, after removing your cousin from the world of the living. My son flattered the Royal, making her trust him. The foolish woman. She had no notion that he was stealing from her. That is what is in my satchel, the funds and jewelry he stole from her.” It was clear that she thought her son was clever.
“If he only wished for the position here, why did he come to my home, pretending to be my cousin? It would only bring him closer to being discovered as a fraud. When I questioned him about his father, my cousin, your son told me things that were confusing at the time. Given time, I am certain I would have questioned his honesty.”
“Geoffrey never had property of his own. I believe that the notion of having an estate of which he could be master of was too much a temptation. He has always wished for a home of his own, as we never had a place when he was a child. Wondering from one place to the next, boarding houses and inns, sometimes a rented cottage if we were lucky. My poor boy suffered for my failings, and he could not resist having a proper home for himself.”
“And why would he insist that he wed one of my daughters? Even if your son was to illegally inherit Longbourn, his marrying one of my girls would do nothing towards mending the ill feelings caused years before.”
“At first, Geoffrey was going to follow Lady Catherine’s edict to please her. But then he saw your daughters and could not help himself. How can he be blamed, as this daughter of yours did all she could to trap him in her web? It is not fair.” Mrs Jemkins huffed. “Besides, if someone had discovered my son’s true identity, he would legally be your heir, as your son in law.”
“But he would not have been legally married to my daughter, as he would have been married under a false name.” Mr Bennet replied.
Mrs Jenkins was not pleased to be corrected. “Geoffrey would have found a way to make it legal. Have no doubts about it, my son is intelligent. He would have made it all proper. Besides, with one of your daughters married to him, you would never admit to the truth, as it would ruin your family.”
“All I wish is to have my daughter returned to my family, and never having to see you or your son again. I am grateful for Mr Darcy’s willingness to come to our aid.”
“He only wishes to purchase your daughter. Men like Mr Darcy do not help without gaining something in return.” The elder woman shook her head. “You would be wise to refuse him any further contact with your family. Take your harlot daughter far away from here, send her to live out her life away from your family. If she remains here, she will be Darcy’s mistress, or some other man’s property. This trollop will ruin your entire family.”
“Lizzy is a good girl, and I have no doubts that she will not ruin our family. But it will be no cause for you to worry, as she will not be tempting your son.”
“If I thought for a moment she would continue to tempt Geoffrey, I would end her life right here.” Mrs Jenkins stated, her cold, heartless expression glaring at the gentleman.