Hello. Sorry for the lack of communication the past months. My mother died in February, along with many other things happening, and it has been difficult to write.
This story is based on an old western TV show (The Big Valley), an episode called Iron Box. In this version, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Darcy travel to Wales to purchase some horses. Darcy is engaged to Elizabeth and wishes to purchase a horse for him to teach her to ride. Not wanting to be overcharged for the horses, the men have dressed down and are not recognized as wealthy men. They purchase horses from a man who then presses charges against the cousins, declaring that they have stolen the horses and assaulted him. The constable takes them to a quarry, forcing them to become slaves to the quarry owner, who is the man who pressed charges against them.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth is having to contend with her mother, who is certain that Darcy has left and will not return. Mrs Bennet believes it would be wiser to have Elizabeth marry the newly arrived Mr Collins, as if Elizabeth waited, she would be ruined when word spread that she had been spurned. Mr Collins has never met his cousins, but he has known of them all of his life, as his father was extremely bitter against the Bennets. And the younger Collins wishes to marry one of the sisters, giving him a stronger foothold in his revenge for the wrongs done his father suffered.
Will Darcy and Fitzwilliam be rescued in time to save Elizabeth from a terrible fate?
“Whatever you do, do not give him our names. If you tell him, the price will increase.” Richard Fitzwilliam spoke in a soft voice to his cousin, Fitzwilliam Darcy.
“I do not think that he would have heard of me, though you are the son of an earl and a colonel in the regulars.” Darcy replied.
“Having purchased stock for the army, I am careful who I inform of my name and profession. Some people are determined to do all they can to obtain a few extra coins.”
A man approached the pair, who were standing outside the fenced corral. “Well, men, have you ever seen such fine horseflesh?”
“The filly over there appears to be spirited.” Darcy motioned towards a bay colored horse which was quite young.
“Ah, you have a good eye. That one is a descendant of Dyoll Starlight, the foundation sire of the best Welsh Cob line. She is a beauty and will sell quickly.”
“I would not be surprised. What is her temperament?”
“Very gentle. I would recommend her for any rider, whether experienced or not.”
Richard began asking questions about some of the other stock. While his cousin and the other man spoke, Darcy continued to watch the young horse he had determined to purchase. It would be a wedding gift for his betrothed. Though Elizabeth Bennet was not used to riding horses, as her father only had one horse and it was used on the farm most of the time, she had promised him that after their wedding, she would allow him to teach her to ride.
Mr Griffiths turned his attention back to Darcy. “Have you decided on Anwen, Sir?”
“Yes, I believe so. What does the name mean?”
“Anwen means very fair or blessed. Proper name for that girl.”
“Very good. And we have the funds to purchase her. Richard, have you made any decision on any of the other horses?”
“Yes, I have decided on those two stallions in the pen over there.” Richard pointed to the left. “Father will be pleased with them, if I am not mistaken.”
“You have good taste, Sir.” Mr Griffiths stated.
Richard pulled a small coin bag from the inside pocket of his coat. “Here is the coin to cover the purchase. All we require is the bill of sale and we can be on our way.”
“Well, I have been doing so much business of late, I am out of bill of sales. I can send my steward to the village to retrieve some and send it with the horses.”
“We prefer to take the horses with us now. Any paper with your signature would suffice.” Darcy stated. “And we need to be on our way today, as we have another stop to make before we return to Hertfordshire.”
Mr Griffiths was thinking quickly, not wishing to lose the two men. “I will send my steward to the village and have him bring the bill of sales to you on the road. Which way will you be traveling?”
“We are to stop at Mr Driscoll’s estate. It is to the south east, near Newton.” Darcy explained.
“Ah, I have heard he has some fine Arabian stock. One day I will make the trip to see his horses, as I am interested to increasing my stock. Breeding Arabians with some of my Cobs should produce some wonderful horses.”
The men shook hands, and agreed to have the steward, Davies, meet up with the men on the trail they would take. Darcy was thrilled with his purchase and could imagine placing his betrothed on the back of her very own horse.
When the two men, and their horses, were out of sight, Griffiths turned to his steward. “Go to Moss, tell him where to find them. And make sure the horses are returned.”
The steward nodded his head. It was not the first time he had been given such a task. He was off to find the constable and report the horses stolen.
~~ ** ~~
“So, how does it feel to know you will be a married man in a few weeks?” Richard Fitzwilliam asked his cousin, as they sat on the ground, partaking in some of the food they had in their saddlebags.
“It feels amazing, Cousin. I pray you will one day be as blessed as I am. Elizabeth’s accepting my proposal has been a dream come true for me.” The smile on Darcy’s face spoke more than his words. Darcy was smitten, and there was no doubt to that fact.
“You know I do not have the leisure of choosing someone for love. I must look for a bride with a hefty dowry. Being a second son does not allow for love, as I must work for my food and housing. Marriage on a soldier’s pay is difficult, even on a Colonel’s pay. It would not be fair to put a lady through such strife.”
“But you are the second son of an earl, an earl who has been blessed in building his fortune. Your father told me that he had set aside funds for you, though you did not hear such news from me.”
Richard Fitzwilliam was shocked. “Father has not said a word to me. Are you certain?”
“Indeed. From what I understand, your mother’s uncle recently gifted her with his estate. Your father told me that the estate, along with your inheritance from his will, would allow you to resign your commission. You would be able to marry and live comfortably. It is in Leicestershire, near the border with Derbyshire.”
“Her Uncle Mortimer? I remember visiting the estate when I was young. But he has a nephew who was supposedly his heir. Why would he change who his heir is?”
“It seems that the former heir was involved some illegal activities and ended up being transported to Australia. So, your mother’s uncle wished to have an honorable heir, and decided that you would be ideal, being a respected colonel in His Majesty’s army.”
Having never expected a life outside the army, Richard was ill prepared to contemplate such news.
“Could it be possible that I need not return to the battlefield? It cannot be true.”
“You deserve the peace, Cousin. You have been dedicated to the service, but now you can find a good woman and settle into a comfortable life.”
A smile overcame Richard’s expression. “And Elizabeth does have sisters.”
Darcy laughed. “Remember, Jane is already spoken for. Bingley would never forgive me if you tried to steal his betrothed.”
“But there are other sisters. Perhaps I should have a closer look, now that I can look for love.”
The two men shared a chuckle, unaware that there were others approaching them from multiple directions. Suddenly, a man called out to them.
“Hello, you men. I am Constable Moss. If you are armed, I would ask that you place your weapons on the ground.” The man demanded.
“You have nothing to fear from us, Constable.” Darcy responded. “My cousin and I are on a business trip.”
“I must insist you place your weapons on the ground, Sir. If you do not, I will order my men to use force to disarm you.”
Richard became irritated. “There is no reason to behave in such a manner. I am Colonel Fitzwilliam, of the eighteenth division of the regulars. This is my cousin, Fitzwilliam Darcy, of Derbyshire. We pose no threat to you or your men.”
Darcy placed the handgun he kept in his pocket on the ground. “We are on a journey to purchase horses. You see some of the stock we purchased just this morning.” He motioned towards the horses which were secured to a nearby tree.
“It is about those horses that has brought me here. Mr Griffiths has reported that some of his prize stock was stolen from his stables, after the criminals beat him severely. His steward came to fetch me, as Mr Griffiths was in a bad way. Fortunately, Davies arrived at the stable in time to see the pair of you leaving with the stock, and found his master on the ground, broken and bleeding.”
Darcy shook his head. “That is not true. We purchased the horses, gave him the payment in coin.”
Moss puffed his chest out. “Then there should be no difficulty in showing us the bill of sale from Mr Griffiths.”
“He was going to have Davies, here, to acquire more of the papers, and then meet us on the trail. Griffiths stated he had sold many horses recently and had not had time to acquire more bill of sale forms.”
“You lie.” Davies stated. “You beat my master, left him for dead, and took his prize stock. Mr Griffiths has never harmed a single person, and you two attempted to murder him, and steal from him. A kinder man you would never find, seeing to the welfare of all around him.”
Richard stepped between his cousin and the steward. “Why would we be sitting here, partaking in a bit of a repast, if we were criminals on the run? You are welcome to check our words with Mr Driscoll, who we are in route to view his stock. As I stated, I am Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam. My cousin…”
One of the other men stepped closer to the colonel, raising his rifle up and bringing the stock down hard against the side of Fitzwilliam’s head. As this occurred, the other men moved forward, converging on Darcy, and a struggle ensued. In the midst of the fight, Darcy cried out in pain, as something sharp pierced his right thigh. Turning his head to see what was happening, he saw a knife in the hand of one of the men.
Finally, the men had secured Darcy and Fitzwilliam, tying their hands behind their backs. Though he was dazed from the blow dealt him, Fitzwilliam noticed blood on Darcy’s leg and pleaded for someone to tend the wound that his cousin had sustained.
“Please, my cousin is wounded. Can you tend his leg?”
“There is an apothecary where you are going.”
“And just where are we going?”
“You will be taken to a work camp.” Moss replied.
“But we have not been found guilty of any charges.”
Fitzwilliam stated. “We are innocent of the claims against us.”
“Every person makes the same claim when they are caught. You will have your chance before the magistrate, when he returns to the area. Until then, you will be of use.”
“How long did Mr Darcy say he would be away, Lizzy?” Mrs Bennet inquired for what seemed to be the thousandth time. “You did not frighten him with your foolishness, he will be returning?”
“Mamma, Mr Darcy is in love with Lizzy.” The eldest Bennet daughter, Jane, declared. “He will return long before the wedding.”
“But why would he leave as he did? It is all so vexing on my nerves. What will happen to us if he does not return? When your father is gone, the estate is entailed to his odious cousin, Mr Collins. He has been eager to visit us, and I am certain he only wishes to look over his inheritance.” Mrs Bennet stated in a shrill voice, all the while, she waved about the lace handkerchief that was usually at hand to punctuate her words.
“Mr Bingley has told you, Mr Darcy planned to be away for a fortnight. And Lizzy has already received a letter from her betrothed.” Jane responded. Mr Bingley, Jane’s betrothed, and Mr Darcy had been close friends for several years. “Besides, Mr Darcy’s sister is due to arrive at Netherfield in a week. Why would he have his sister come all this way if he planned to jilt Lizzy?”
“But Mr Darcy is wealthy, and wealthy men are known to say pretty things to win the affection of girls, then leaving the girls ruined. Lizzy, perhaps it would do you well to be kind to Mr Collins, as he will inherit this estate. Then we will be able to live here for the rest of our lives, and you will not be ruined.”
“Mrs Bennet, that is enough. Lizzy is betrothed to Mr Darcy, and there is no need to fret. He and his cousin will return before the wedding.” Mr Bennet had just entered the parlor. “Besides, if my cousin is anything like his father, I would not wish any of my daughters to be married to him.”
“But Mr Bennet, if Mr Darcy does not return, our daughter will be ruined, and our entire family will suffer the consequences. It makes sense to accept the man who is present, not hoping for one who is off galivanting about.”
Elizabeth had had enough of her mother’s behavior. Standing up, she glared at her mother. “Mr Darcy will return, of that I am certain. As I do not wish to listen to such foolishness of me accepting Mr Collins, I will take a walk.”
Jane rose from her seat and followed her sister. After the departure of their eldest two daughters, Mr Bennet confronted his wife. “You are not in a position to determine the path for our daughter. As the man of the house, it is my right as her father. You are to refrain from your plotting immediately. Lizzy is engaged to Mr Darcy, and the gentleman will return soon.”
Before his wife could say another word, the gentleman turned and marched from the room, down the hall, and into his study. After taking his seat behind his desk, Mr Bennet attempted to calm himself with a glass of port and the book he had been enjoying. He would have to keep a watchful eye on his wife, for he did not trust her to obey what he told her. When his wife was worried, she would do anything she could protect her future.
Elizabeth Bennet was familiar with her mother’s antics. The years had gone by, never bringing a son and heir for her father, which would have broken the entail on Longbourn, an entail which forbade the estate to be inherited by the female side. And, with each daughter being born, Fanny Bennet’s fear for her future grew.
The eldest daughter was Jane. A sweeter girl had never been born, at least that is what Elizabeth thought. They had been the dearest friends all their lives and were betrothed to gentlemen who were the closest of friends. Their future appeared to be perfect, as perfect as Elizabeth and Jane had dreamed.
The estate sharing the northern boundaries of the Bennet estate, Longbourn, was Netherfield Park. Only three months earlier, Mr Charles Bingley took the lease of Netherfield, as he was preparing to follow his father’s dream of having his family become members of the landed gentry. Charles’s father had died before reaching his goal, so it had fallen to the son.
When Bingley came to stay at Netherfield, he brought with him his eldest sister, Louisa, and her husband, Gilbert Hurst, as well as his closest friend, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy.
The evening that the Bennet family met the Netherfield party was at an assembly in the nearby village of Meryton. It was a night Elizabeth would never forget.
Mr Darcy was not pleased to be at the assembly. He had always been ill at ease when in a large group of people, especially when he was unfamiliar with most of those in attendance. When Bingley approached his friend, attempting to encourage Darcy to dance with some of the young ladies, he pointed in the direction of Elizabeth, stating she was the sister of the young lady with whom he had enjoyed sharing a set of dances. Without looking towards the lady Bingley had motioned towards, Darcy declared that she was not handsome enough to tempt him. When Darcy turned and realized that she was not only the young lady that he had noticed to be quite handsome, she had also overhead their conversation, the gentleman knew what he needed to do.
Stepping in front of Elizabeth Bennet, Darcy bowed. “Miss Bennet, I must beg for your forgiveness. My friend knew I did not wish to attend tonight, as I am newly arrived and find it difficult to converse with those I do not know. It is my belief that my ill spoken words were heard by you, and I am extremely disappointed in my behavior. To be truthful, I did not even look to ascertain of whom my friend was speaking. Had I taken a moment to turn my head in your direction, I would have been pleased to ask for a set.”
“You are not required to put yourself through such torment that dancing with me would bring. Sitting here, watching the dancers, will bring me pleasure.”
“If you will not honor me with a set, would you be agreeable to my sitting with you, so that I might enjoy some conversation? “
Elizabeth took a moment to evaluate whether or not the man before her was being truthful. All she needed to do was look into his bright blue eyes and she felt as if she could see deep into his soul.
That night was the beginning of their courtship. Daily visits at Longbourn found Darcy and Bingley claiming a stroll in the gardens of the Bennet estate with each of their favorite lady. Other times, Jane and Elizabeth were invited to Netherfield, at the request of Louisa Hurst, to take tea or dine with their party. At any dances, the first set was reserved for the two couples. So, it came as no surprise that the men proposed to each of their chosen lady on the same day.
Mrs Bennet was thrilled to have two daughters so advantageously engaged. With the engagements, her fear of the future was decreased, though she would always be worried. With no son to inherit the estate, Mrs Bennet fretted over ever having to move from her home. The marriage contracts were signed, but until her daughters were legally married, she would fret. Her greatest fear was that such a wealthy young man could easily change his mind and leave her daughter ruined.
All of Elizabeth’s life, she had endured her mother’s behavior. Mrs Bennet was certain that her second born would be the required male heir to break the entail. And she would never allow Elizabeth to forget her disappointment, as if Elizabeth had purposely been born a girl to spite her mother.
Hearing her mother speaking of Mr Bennet’s distant cousin in a kindly manner was shocking. Always before, she referred to unknown Mr Collins as an odious man who she was certain was going to toss them out of Longbourn before Mr Bennet was cold in his grave. But all the Bennet daughters knew their mother’s opinion of others was based on what they could do for her.
“William will return soon. There is no need to fear. Certainly, he sent a letter and it is just misplaced in the post. He will be here soon enough.” Elizabeth spoke in a manner that was attempting to calm her nerves.
She continued her walk and arrived home in time to see Jane and Mr Bingley taking a turn about the park of Longbourn. Their sister Mary was sitting on a nearby bench, her attention captured by the book of sermons of which Mary was overly fond. Elizabeth slipped inside the house, wishing some privacy in her room before speaking with her dearest sister.
An hour went by, followed by the sound of Mr Bingley’s horse riding away from the front of the house. Elizabeth knew her elder sister would soon be knocking on her door, wearing a look of contentment and pleasure, wanting to speak of her betrothed. Jane could not be happier with her intended, and the sisters had spoken often of their upcoming weddings.
In only a matter of moments, the patter of delicate footsteps confirmed Jane was on her way upstairs, and as the eldest sister raised her hand to knock, she heard her sister call out from inside her room. “Come in, Jane. I have been expecting you.”
Jane opened the door, a smile gracing her lips. “Am I so predictable, Lizzy?”
“You are in love, my dearest. And you wish everyone else to be as happy as you are at this very moment.”
Wrapping her arms around herself, Jane nearly floated into the room, coming to sit on the bed beside her dearest sister and friend. “Can one die from too much happiness? I cannot believe such joy is meant for one person.”
“And how is your Mr Bingley?”
“He is all that is good and kind. I am the most fortunate lady in the world. Did I tell you that he has sent to town to purchase a new writing desk for me? And my own stationary and supplies. My letters to you will be of the highest quality.”
“From what I have heard from William, your letters will be the ones we will learn the most news, as he says your betrothed has the worst handwriting William has ever seen.”
Jane laughed. “Having seen a list that Charles made, I am not surprised. There may be a need to hire a secretary for him to write his letters.”
“And what is the news of Mr Bingley’s other sister? When is she to arrive?”
“Any day now. She has not given Charles details of her arrival, as she is quite…decided on how things should be. Charles dreads her arrival. He said he would speak with her, but he does not expect her to listen to him.”
“It pleases me to know your gentleman has some faults, with his writing being questionable and fearing his sister.” Elizabeth smiled. “But he has perfect taste in the lady with whom he fell in love.”
“As did your gentleman. Charles expects Mr Darcy to return any day. From what was said, Mr Darcy was aiding his cousin and finding a perfect gift for you for the wedding.”
“I would rather have him here, at my side, rather than any gift.” Elizabeth stated gloomily.
Her sister reached over, placing a hand on Elizabeth’s arm. “Do not fret, Lizzy. Mr Darcy will be here and this time without him will soon be forgotten. Mamma is foolish in her saying that Mr Darcy would ever leave you. The man loves you dearly.”
Elizabeth gave her sister a half smile. “I am trying to hold tightly to that belief. Once he returns, I will be fine.”