Fitzwilliam Darcy and Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam were roughly forced through the door of a small shack.
They had no clue as to their location and had presumed the men were taking them to the local jail, as it would be unusual for such accusations to be assumed and a sentence proclaimed without a trial. The men were certain they would be able to clear up the misunderstanding, as the Darcy and Fitzwilliam family names were highly respected all over England. As the colonel was buying horses for the military, the papers he carried would support their claim.
Darcy wondered how his beloved was fairing. He had not sent her another letter, as he planned to arrive back at Bingley’s leased estate within a few days. Then he would be able to spend time with his Elizabeth. Hopefully the issue before them would be resolved quickly, and the gentlemen could be on their way.
Each step Darcy took was painful. He felt as if a hot poker was shoved into his leg as he walked.
Once inside the shed, the cousins realized it was being used as an office. Behind a large, highly polished desk, sat a man who was wearing an unusual uniform. When the man spoke, it was with a distinct accent.
“Rees, what do we have here?” the man behind the desk inquired of a man standing near the door.
“Captain Pryce, these two have been caught after assaulting a gentleman and stealing several of his horses. The gentleman was severely beaten and left for dead.”
The captain sat with his elbows on the arms of the chair in which he sat, with his fingers forming a steeple. Peering over his fingers, he took in the measure of the men standing before him.
“We cannot have such criminals plaguing our area. We will see that you pay for your crimes. Rees, do we have any numbers available?”
“Yes, Captain, we have nine five four and three six five available. Both of the numbers, the men were in the unfortunate cave in.”
“Then assign these men to their numbers, give them their clothing, and show them to their barracks.”
Fitzwilliam hesitated. “We have been wrongfully accused and insist on speaking to the magistrate.”
“SILENCE!” Captain Pryce demanded.
Rees leaned towards the cousins, striking Fitzwilliam in the stomach with a club Rees had been holding. The colonel doubled over in pain.
Darcy held out his hand.
“Please, there is no need for this violence. I am Fitzwilliam Darcy, master of Pemberley, in Derbyshire. This is my cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, second son of Lord Matlock, and colonel in the eighteenth division of His Majesty’s regulars. We tried to explain this to these men, and they would not listen to us. The horses were paid for, and we did not harm the gentleman. As we attempted to inform Constable Moss…”
“I do not care to hear your lies. How can you prove that Mr Griffiths sold you the horses? Do you have any bill of sale with Mr Griffiths’ signature?”
A strange look overtook Darcy’s face. “No one stated it was Mr Griffiths who was involved in this matter.”
“SILENCE!” The captain stood up, motioning to his men.
“Take these prisoners to the barracks.”
Fitzwilliam finally had the strength to stand up straight.
“Please, my cousin is injured. He requires medical care.”
“He will need to wait until morning, as the apothecary is unavailable until then.” Rees informed the pair as he shoved Fitzwilliam towards the office door.
The men walked towards a rundown building. There was a dim light visible through the filthy window near the door of the building. Rees pushed the door open, before motioning for the men to enter. Stepping inside, Darcy and Fitzwilliam discovered several other men, most lying on bunkbeds.
One of the older men in the room was seated in the only chair that was in view. The man seemed to be rocking in his chair, from the back legs to the front legs. “Welcome…welcome…”
~~ ** ~~
William Collins arrived on the doorstep of his distant cousin. Collins had grown up with his father telling tales of being treated badly by Mr Thomas Bennet, as the elder Collins was certain that his cousin had taken what was rightfully his, the estate of Longbourn.
Every year that went by without the Bennets having a son, Collins’ father took great pleasure. He knew that the estate was entailed along the male members of the family. Without a son, the Bennet family would lose Longbourn to Collins. And Collins had a plan to further his revenge upon the family who had stolen what his father should have rightly had when he was alive. Collins planned to marry one of the Bennet daughters, thereby controlling her life, and the lives of her mother and sisters when Thomas Bennet was dead and buried.
And he planned to teach them a lesson on what it meant to have crossed the Collins family.
Collins was not the brightest of men, and he had struggled while he was in school. Later, after having taken orders, William Collins was given a position he could not have believed possible. Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings Park, in Kent, gave him the living at Hunsford Parrish. To Collins, it was akin to be the parson of royalty. Every word she stated was if God spoke directly through her and the parson did everything she demanded.
Arriving at Longbourn was the first step to gaining his retribution for his father. Immediately, the parson began inspecting everything, the manor house, the park surrounding, the stables, and more. When he knocked on the door of the manor house, he counted how quickly the staff came to allow him entrance. And he even judged how Mrs Hill, the Bennet’s housekeeper for over twenty years, appeared. Everything was lacking in Collins’ opinion. Once he had been privileged enough to see Rosings Park, and the opulence of everything Lady Catherine touched, he could not wish for anything less for he’s own life. Collins knew that one day, when he was master of his own estate, he would insist on everything being just like Rosings. As William Collins, master of Longbourn, he would feel near royalty himself.
Mrs Hill led Mr Collins down a hallway, knocking on a door near the rear of the house. Collins was not impressed with the interior of the home, it was lacking, just as the exterior had been. The voice of a man called from the other side of the door, beckoning them to enter.
The first impression of his cousin did nothing to improve Collins’ opinion. He was determined to dislike all the Bennet family, and from what he had already seen, it would not be difficult.
“Ah, Mr Collins. It is a pleasure to meet you, cousin.” Thomas Bennet stated as he stood from behind his desk.
“Cousin. So, this is Longbourn.” The parson said with an obvious disgust in his tone.
“Indeed. I forget, you have never been here before. Your father was invited to visit many times over the years, and he always refused. You have my sympathies on your loss. How long has it been?”
“My father has been gone for more than a year now. My mourning period has ended months ago, though I accept your words. From what my father stated to me, it had been many years since you had last seen one another.”
“There was an unfortunate disagreement between your father and mine, and your father did not wish to have further contact, not even with me. It was an unfortunate situation, but that was in the past. As it appears you will be inheriting my estate, I am pleased that we can put the past behind us and move forward. Do you not agree?”
Collins nodded his head. “Of course. Especially since I will be responsible for your wife and daughters, if they are not wed before your passing.”
“Please, do not consider me near the end of my days. The apothecary has pronounced me in good health just last week.” Bennet stated with a chuckle. “My wife is constantly bemoaning my daughters being unwed, even though they are still so young.”
“You have five daughters, do you not?” Collins inquired.
“Yes. My two eldest daughters are engaged, and shall be wed soon enough, so you shall have no need to see to their futures. The gentlemen who are to become my sons are wealthy, so I believe you will have nothing to fear of taking care of my wife and younger daughters.”
Such news did not sit well with Collins’ plans. How could he revenge his father’s pain if the family was not beholding to him?
“I would be pleased to meet my fair cousins, and the gentlemen who are betrothed to them.”
Mr Bennet motioned towards the door of his study. “Come, I shall introduce you to my wife and daughters, though I believe my eldest, Jane, is not home currently. She was visiting Netherfield Park, the estate to the north, when she took ill. The estate is currently being leased by Mr Bingley, who is to wed my Jane, requested her to join him in welcoming his sister, so he is not here, nor is his friend, who is betrothed to my second daughter, Elizabeth. There will be plenty of time to meet the men another time.”
The men were rudely awakened with the sunrise.
“Come on, you lazy scoundrels. Time to serve for your crimes.” Rees stated as he shook the end of one of the bunk beds. “You have two minutes to get dressed and line up outside the barracks.”
Fitzwilliam, having lived with being in the military for many years, was up and ready in no time. He then turned his attention to his cousin. Darcy was having difficulty, grimacing as he lightly touched his leg.
“You will see the apothecary today, Darce. He will have you well in no time.”
One of the other men laughed. “The apothecary? The man is drunk all the time. None of us have ever been treated for injuries or illness.”
Fitzwilliam looked at the man. “Where are we? What is going on here?”
“Welcome to Griffiths’ free labor. The man raises horses as a hobby. His wealth comes from his quarry. He needs men to work the quarry, which is why the constable keeps busy arresting near every man who comes in the area. There is never a trial, the men are brought here and put to work.”
Darcy held his hand out. “I am Fitzwilliam Darcy, and this is my cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam. We purchased some horses from Griffiths and were leaving the area.”
“And he was all out of parchment to give you a proper bill of sale.” A second man stated.
“How did you know?”
“It is the same trap that has been used by Mr Griffiths for years. I am Mason. And I am here for having made a fire to cook while on land owned by Griffiths. I was passing through the area but did not believe I was on anyone’s property. Liam over there, he was arrested for looking at a girl in the nearby village. The girl was Griffiths’ daughter. For these terrible crimes, we have been imprisoned for years. If my estimation is correct, I have been here for three years.”
Fitzwilliam was appalled. “Why would the magistrate allow such to continue?”
“The magistrate? There is no magistrate, at least none I have ever seen. If he does come here, he is paid well to look the other way. We are here due to Griffiths’ laws. And he pays off the constable and his men, so they are more than happy to do his bidding.”
“We will see that changes are made, once we return to England.” Darcy stated.
“You will never leave this place.” Liam stated.
Rees entered the barracks once again. “I told you to be outside. Now get lined up for inspection”
Liam hurried for the door. Turning slightly, with fear in his voice, he spoke. “Hurry, or you will be beat. Hurry.”
Darcy and Fitzwilliam followed the other men out, lining up as they did. Rees stepped to Captain Pryce. “All present, Sir.”
“Very good. You men will break your fast at the quarry. And you will be expected to eat quickly. There is a great deal of work and I will not tolerate any delay.”
Most of the men looked down at the ground, muttering their agreement. Darcy and Fitzwilliam glanced around at the men, witnessing the submission they were demonstrating for the captain and his men.
As the men were instructed to move towards the wagons, Fitzwilliam took a step towards the captain. “You said that my cousin could see the apothecary today.”
A moment later, Fitzwilliam realized he was on the ground, an ache in his belly. Rees had struck him hard with his club. “Prisoners speak only when they are given permission. And prisoners are not allowed to approach the captain.”
Captain Pryce gave a menacing look towards Fitzwilliam. “It is too late now to ask for the apothecary. You should have asked to see him sooner. Now, you will have to wait until tomorrow. Off with you now, you have work waiting for you.”
Two other men stepped on each side of Fitzwilliam, taking hold of the man’s arms, and led him to the wagon. They assisted both Fitzwilliam and Darcy up on the wagon, then climbed aboard themselves. As the wheels began turning, Darcy leaned closer to his cousin.
“Richard do not anger them. These men would have no fear of killing us. We must survive and wait for our absence to be noticed. Mrs Bennet will not delay in sending people to find me, as she would move heaven and earth to ensure I am at the church in time to marry Elizabeth.”
“I fear no one knows just where we are. We need to ensure your health, so you do not take a fever.” Fitzwilliam replied. “If you do not survive, it will fall to me to marry Miss Elizabeth.”
“Do not tease me, Cousin. Lizzy is to be mine, and I will walk down the aisle to her, before I take her to Pemberley, where we will be the happiest couple in all of England.”
The men were taken to the quarry. As they came off the wagon, each man was handed a metal cup of water and a crust of bread. The curious look at the meager offerings brought Liam to whisper to the newcomers. “That is your breakfast. And surprisingly, you will receive the same in the afternoon. Not that I wish to spoil the surprise, but I will allow you to guess what will be awaiting you upon our return to the barracks.”
“Is this all you are to receive in a day? My horse eats better than this.” Fitzwilliam was disgusted.
“Horses are more valuable than we are. We are disposable. Mr Griffiths would see us beaten to death if necessary. But if anyone was to even look wrong at his horses, they would be never live to regret their deed. Now, we must begin work. Return your cup to the men, then pick up a shovel.”
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth stomped across the field to the north of her father’s house, towards the estate of Netherfield Park. Her sister had been invited, the day before, to take tea with the sisters of her betrothed, as his second sister, Caroline Bingley had arrived. Jane had become drenched in a sudden and unexpected rain storm. Longbourn received a missive from Mr Bingley that his betrothed had taken a chill, and he was insistent that she remain at her future home until she was completely well.
Wishing to escape from her mother’s presence, Elizabeth determined to visit her sister and see to her needs. While she walked, the day’s events surfaced in her mind.
William Collins had proven himself to be a fool and heartless. His preening over his patroness was revolting, especially after all Elizabeth had been told of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and it was her ladyship’s own nephew who had informed her.
Everything Collins spoke of centered around what Lady Catherine’s opinion would be. “Why, her ladyship has discussed shelves in the closet being the proper place for storing certain items of clothing. Young ladies would be fortunate to have such a patroness to guide them in the correct methods of doing everything. She is a fountain of wise information.”
“Shelves in the closet, how revolutionary.” Mary Bennet had stated. “Lady Catherine must be wise beyond her years.”
“She is, Cousin Mary. And so kind as to share her knowledge with those who are beneath her in status.”
Mr Bennet entered the parlor with the post. “Lizzy, there is a letter from Miss Darcy.”
As Elizabeth reached for the missive, her cousin spoke.
“Would that be Miss Darcy of Pemberley? Why, she is the niece of my patroness. How is it that you know such an exalted young lady?”
Mrs Bennet was nervous. She did not wish to dissuade Mr Collins in his pursuit of marriage to one of her daughters. As the lady was certain her least favorite would be ruined, for Mr Darcy must have deserted Elizabeth, the only salvation was to find another man to marry Elizabeth. “Mr Darcy is the close friend of Mr Bingley, Jane’s betrothed. Soon after Mr Bingley took the lease of Netherfield Park, Mr Darcy came to visit.”
“Mamma why are you behaving so?” queried Kitty. “You know full well that Miss Darcy is writing to Lizzy as they will soon become sisters.”
Mr Collins frowned. “How will they become sisters?”
“When Lizzy and Mr Darcy are married. They are to wed in a double wedding with Jane and Mr Bingley.” Kitty answered.
“That cannot be. Mr Darcy of Pemberley is engaged to his cousin, Miss Anne de Bourgh. Theirs has been an engagement of a particular sort, as it was the desire of their mothers, Lady Catherine and Lady Anne Darcy. Why, since Mr Darcy’s and Miss de Bourgh’s infancy the two sisters decided that such a union would unite their families and their estates. So, there can be no possibility of Mr Darcy uniting with someone as low born as you are, Cousin Elizabeth.”
Mrs Bennet gasped. “I told you that Mr Darcy has left the neighborhood for good. He shall not return and will not marry Lizzy. We shall be ruined.”
“Mrs Bennet, please control yourself. Mr Darcy will return and he will marry our Lizzy. I have no doubt as to his love of our daughter. Mr Darcy shall return in plenty time for the wedding.” Mr Bennet declared.
“Cousin Bennet, I do not wish to cause alarm, but if Mr Darcy has toyed with the affections of your daughter, you must find someone to marry her, before the entire family is disgraced. Cousin Elizabeth would be left at the alter if she believes Mr Darcy will return for her. Though I am not nearly as wealthy or well-connected as Mr Darcy, I would be honored to marry your daughter. Lady Catherine would approve of my decision. Cousin Bennet, I am certain you can see the benefits of having your heir married to one of your daughters, and, as Cousin Elizabeth is in need of rescuing, I humbly offer myself as the groom. As your son in law, I would naturally see to the care for your wife and any unmarried daughters when your time has come to return to our Lord.”
“I do not believe your assistance will be required Mr Collins.” Mr Bennet stated. “As I have said, Mr Darcy is in love with my Lizzy, and he will return in plenty of time for their wedding.”
“Lady Catherine must be informed of what has happened here, and I am certain she will approve of my offering for Cousin Elizabeth, as it will repair any damage Mr Darcy has done to your daughter’s reputation. Even though Mr Darcy will be her son in law soon enough, she will see that my cousin will make a perfect parson’s wife. Cousin Elizabeth will realize that Mr Darcy is only playing with her affection, as is common with wealthy young men. They do not settle for country misses of no importance. No, it has been a rich man’s dalliance and then he will return to his betrothed.”
Elizabeth could tolerate no more of her cousin’s foolishness. She was certain that Fitzwilliam Darcy loved her, and that they were to marry. “Mr Collins, you must be mistaken. It would be improper for you to speak of such intimacies of a man you have never met. Mr Darcy loves me, and I have no doubt that he will return any day now. Besides, he would not have informed his young sister if it was the game of a rich man. His relations are coming to the wedding, as Lord and Lady Matlock are bringing Georgiana with them.”
With that, Elizabeth left the room, and found herself outside the house. She needed Jane to reassure her. And Mr Bingley would know if his closest friend was leading her into folly.
Arriving at Netherfield, Elizabeth was shown up to the room where her dearest sister was resting. “Lizzy, how did you know I wished for you to come?”
“Forgive me, Jane, but your being here gave me an excuse to escape from the house. Mr Collins was being so condescending, and now he is insisting that William is engaged to his cousin, Miss de Bourgh. It is Mr Collins’ opinion that William is toying with me, and that he will not return to marry me.”
“Oh, Lizzy, Mr Collins is wrong. It is obvious that Mr Darcy loves you and I am certain that he will return any day now. Charles is surprised that Mr Darcy and the colonel have not arrived already.”
“Does Mr Bingley know where they went? Perhaps there was an accident, and no one knew who to contact. They did not take a carriage, they were on their horses. What if they had no identification with them? Or they may have been robbed and left for dead along the side of the road. So many things could have happened.”
“It will do you no good to fret, Lizzy. Would you speak with Charles, inquire if there has been news today? I am certain that all will be well.”
“Mr Collin insists that he should be allowed to marry me, to save my reputation. Papa refused to even consider his offer, though Mamma is beginning to believe that William has left me as well. What am I to do?”
“Papa will protect you, Lizzy. Have faith in him. When Mr Darcy has returned, all of the worrying will have been for naught.”