Elizabeth remained at Netherfield until after taking tea with her sister. Jane was recovering, and she insisted she would be returning to their home on the following day.
When Elizabeth entered her home, there was chaos brewing.
“Hill, what has happened?” Elizabeth asked Longbourn’s housekeeper.
“Miss Lizzy, I am grateful you have returned. Your father, he has taken ill.”
Elizabeth gasped. “Where is he?”
“My husband and Lucas carried him to his bedchamber. Mr Hill is seeing to him, and Lucas left to fetch the apothecary.”
“Mr Jones is not in Meryton. His daughter’s wedding is tomorrow, and Mr Jones left yesterday to attend the event. What should we do?”
“Perhaps Mr Bingley could send to London for a physician. Certainly, Mr Darcy would wish his future father in law to have the care of his family’s physician.”
“I will send for Mr Bingley.” Elizabeth entered her father’s study. As she entered the room, she noticed a tea cup which was overturned on the floor. She would think of such things as tea cups later, once her father was recovered.
~~ ** ~~
Nearly a week had past for Darcy and Fitzwilliam, a week of hard work, very little food, and Darcy weakening from his wound being left without proper care. There was not even clean water to wash the wound, let alone bandaging or any salve to protect the cut from dirt and aid in the healing process. Fitzwilliam could see the signs of the injury becoming infected.
Though Darcy would not admit to being in pain, his cousin caught the grimaces that overtook Darcy’s expression frequently.
Liam came to Darcy one evening. “Here, I was saving this from one of the meals we were given a few nights before you arrived. It was shocking that they gave us some cheese, so I thought to save some of it for another day. But you are in greater need than I am for the extra food. You will never heal properly if you do not have food.”
At first, Darcy meant to refuse the gift, but Fitzwilliam gestured for him to accept the offering.
Though it was small, it was a precious gift, worth more in the work camp than a grand feast at Pemberley.
Each night, as the men curled up on their bunks, they spoke of their lives before arriving in the nightmare in which they were living. One man was married and had two children. By his recollection, he had been at the work camp for three years. “Me daughter should be nearin seven now, and me son, he be about ten. They must think me dead, with no word from me in so long. Perhaps it be better that way. The captain will never allow us to leave here. So, I is as good as dead to thems.”
“Why have you never attempted to speak with the magistrate?” Fitzwilliam asked. “Certainly, the magistrate has come to hear the charges against you.”
“He comes, when he wants some coin in his pocket. The gent is thought to be such a high and mighty man, but he is poor as a church mouse. From the talk about, the gent’s a gambler, and a bad un at that. I never even seen him on my case.”
Another man spoke up. “He told me that if I were to give him what coin I had, he could be lenient. I diddno have anything, so here I be. Me mum was ill and I had come lookin for work, so I could pay for the medicines for er.”
“I am supposed to be getting married in less than a fortnight.” Darcy stated, pain obvious in his voice. “What will Lizzy think if I do not arrive?”
“She will know that you love her and will search to find you.” Fitzwilliam replied.
“How can you expect her to find me here? We did not speak of where we were going to anyone.”
“Ah, but I did leave a letter for my father outlining our expected travels.”
Darcy was surprised. “But your father is in Scotland. He would be difficult to contact and would take weeks for anyone to locate him.”
“Do not fret William. I spoke to your housekeeper about the letter, as I wrote it while I was visiting your townhouse. Mrs Wallace took the letter and promised to have it taken to Father’s townhouse as soon as Father returned. He was due to arrive to London within a fortnight of our departure. And that was a little more than a week ago. As soon as Father receives the letter, and learns that we have not returned, he will begin the search for us.”
“I fear that it will be too late for me to arrive at the alter for my wedding. Will Lizzy forgive me for leaving her to fret over my disappearance? Her mother will be hysterical, believing I have abandoned my beloved.”
“All will be forgiven, once they learn it was out of your control.” Fitzwilliam attempted to reassure his cousin. “I am certain that Elizabeth will be grateful to have you returned to her, and she will forgive you for being taken hostage.”
“I will not even have her gift to use to beg forgiveness. What evil lurks in the mind of such a man. It is unforgiveable to know how he has taken so many people from their lives and forced them into slavery.”
“Your being at her side will be more than enough gift for your bride. Now, rest. You require sleep to recover from your wound.”
~~ ** ~~
“I do not care what you say, the physician is Mr Darcy’s personal man and has come here from London to tend to Mr Bennet.” Mr Bingley insisted.
Mr Collins shook his head. “My cousin’s condition is in the hands of our Lord, and as his heir and the closest male relation, I forbid this foolishness. Physicians are worthless, making up illnesses and such to charge outrageous sums from hard working men. There is nothing this man can do for my cousin, and he will not be paid a single coin for coming here.”
“As Mr Bennet’s soon to be son, I must insist on the physician seeing to the gentleman. And there is no concern on the cost, as I will see the man paid. If Darcy were here, he would say the same.”
“Mr Darcy cannot be bothered by anything here. He is likely busy at Rosings Park, preparing to marry Miss de Bourgh. Lady Catherine will be pleased to have her daughter’s wedding soon. And you are not wed to my cousin, so you have no right to make demands. With my cousin being so ill, it would be best if your wedding was postponed. We do not know what God has in store for Mr Bennet, and it would be improper for us to have merriment happening while my cousin is dying.”
Mrs Bennet became hysterical, flitting her fan about her as she dramatically sobbed. “But Jane must be married, in case Mr Bennet dies. What will become of us otherwise?”
“Dear Mrs Bennet, I have already explained to you. Once your daughter, Elizabeth, and I are wed, you will not need to fear. When your husband is called home to our Lord, you will remain at Longbourn. I will see that you are cared for.”
“Oh, Mr Collins, you are too good to us. Of course, you would protect us. And your wedding to Lizzy must be soon. You must wed before Mr Bennet dies. Otherwise, you would have to wait until the mourning is over.”
“Which is why I have sent for the parson. I wish to purchase a common license and be wed immediately.” Mr Collins declared.
Bingley’s fury was immense. “Miss Elizabeth is betrothed to my friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy. She will not be marrying you. Not only is she betrothed, she has already informed you that she would never marry you. My beloved informed me of her sister’s conversation with you on the matter. I believe my future sister has made her feelings clear.”
“Out of this house!” Shouted Mr Collins his face growing redder by the moment. “I will not be treated so poorly by the likes of you. You do not own an estate, you are from trade. Longbourn is to be mine, my heritage. From this day forward, you, Charles Bingley, will be refused entrance to Longbourn. Your wedding is cancelled, as you are not worthy to marry one of young ladies who are under my protection. We have no further business to discuss, so leave here. Do you hear me? Leave immediately!”
For the first time in her life, Jane Bennet, the sweet natured sister of the Bennet daughters, who always attempted to find the good in people, stood her ground.
“Mr Collins, that is enough. My father is not dead. This is his home, not yours. Your decisions on my wedding are not valid, as Father signed my wedding contract with Mr Bingley last week. He also signed the wedding contract for Lizzy and Mr Darcy. You cannot demand that our weddings are not to be, as you have no guardianship over us. If anyone has any say, if Father cannot make decisions, it would be our uncles, Mr Phillips and Mr Gardiner. Father told me several years ago that Uncle Phillips has the papers giving our uncles the guardianship over us when Father is no longer able.”
Bingley was impressed with his intended. “Well said, my love. Your father will be so proud of you.”
Collins’ fury grew. The look in his eyes declared the man was not thinking rationally. “How dare you speak to me in such a manner? I am the head of the Bennet family, and as such, I demand you remove yourself from my estate.” He pushed his hand against Bingley’s chest.
“I will go, for the moment. But I will be back with Mr Phillips, who is a solicitor. He will tell you what legal standing you have in this case.” Bingley turned towards Jane, lifting her hand to his lips. “You rest, dearest. The physician said you need more rest before you are fully recovered. I will return soon, with your uncle.”
As soon as Bingley had left the house, Collins slammed the door behind the younger man. Turning to Mr Hill, he raged. “I demand the keys to the house and everything inside it. All the doors and windows are always to be locked. No one is to enter or leave the house without my expressed permission. Am I making myself clear?”
Mr Hill had been the butler for Longbourn for more than twenty years. This was the first time in his life he felt true fear. Something inside Collins had turned completely evil during the argument with Mr Bingley, and now, everyone who lived in Longbourn were at Collins’ mercy. Clearly, they were all in deep trouble.
~~ ** ~~
“Lizzy, oh Lizzy. You have missed the most dreadful argument. Mr Collins insists that he is now the master of Longbourn, and that my marriage cannot take place. And he swears that you will marry him. Charles went to get Uncle Phillips, as Mr Collins claims he is in control of all our lives.” Jane fell into her sister’s arms, weeping from the confrontation.
Elizabeth was shocked. How could this be? “What did Mamma say?”
“When Mr Collins declared that with your marriage to him, she would be allowed to remain here at Longbourn, she was accepting of the situation. That was all she wanted, to remain living here, same as she has since she married Papa. She cares not for any of the rest of us, all she cares for is her comfort.”
“Mr Bingley will not be able to find Uncle Phillips in Meryton. He went to visit a professor he studied under at the university. The professor lives in Dorset. Why did this happen now? William is missing, Papa is ill, Uncle Phillips is away from home. Uncle Gardiner is not in London.” Elizabeth looked at their father, lying so still on the bed. “And to add to our distress, Mr Jones is not in the area. Did Mr Bingley send for the physician?”
“Yes, and the man arrived. Mr Collins refused to allow him to enter the house. He declared physicians as being charlatans. What will we do?”
“At all cost, we must protect Papa. We cannot allow Mr Collins to be alone with Papa, not for a moment.”
“You do not believe our cousin would bring harm to Father, do you? Mr Collins is a parson, after all.”
Elizabeth knew this would make no difference. “It is my belief that he is the reason Papa took ill. I have no proof, but I believe Papa was poisoned, and the last person in the room with him was Mr Collins. When I went to Papa’s study to send word to you and Mr Bingley, there was an overturned tea cup on the floor, near the desk. At the time I thought it just a coincidence, even though there was an odd odor. Now, I believe it was an attempt to murder Papa.”
Mr Hill entered the bedchambers of his master.
“Miss Lizzy, Mr Collins insists that your father be removed from this room, as the man claims the room to be his own now, declaring he is now the master. We are to place your father in the room on the upper floor, near the rear of the house.”
“Papa cannot be moved from his room. Mr Collins has no right to claim anything as his own. He has not inherited the estate as Papa is still breathing.”
“A fact of which you should not remind him. It is my fear that he would come up here and do your father in if needed.” Mr Hill was serious in his tone, and both sisters realized what their long trusted servant was saying.
“Very well. Let us move Papa. And can you bring food and water to the room as well? Enough to last us a few days, if necessary.” Elizabeth inquired. She had a plan that would protect them from the parson.
Jane looked at her sister quizzically. “What are you planning, Lizzy?”
Elizabeth was thinking of all they would need to do and do so quickly. “Who are the people who could stop Mr Collins’ plan to rule over Longbourn?”
“Father, of course. With Father alive, Mr Collins’ claims are not real.”
“And who does he plan to marry, to give him more leverage in taking over Longbourn?”
Jane gasped. “You…you are every bit as vital to him as Father.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. “And, if he cannot marry me, and if your marriage is cancelled in his mind, who do you believe will be his alternative for bride?”
“But Charles would not allow such to happen.”
“Jane, Mr Collins plans to keep you from Mr Bingley. He will ruin you, if need be, to force you to marry him. We are not dealing with a rational person. From what you and Mr Hill have said, we are at the mercy of a mad man. It would be best if the two of us remained with Papa at all times, keeping Mr Collins out of the room.”
Mr Hill smiled. “If that is your plan, I know a way to aid you. There is a passageway into that room, one of which only your father and I know. We covered it up when you were small children, as there was no need to use the access, seeing as it was used as a classroom for you when you were young. I can bring up supplies as needed. Mr Collins must sleep sometime, that is when I will be sure to bring water and food to you. Now, Miss Lizzy, let us move your father to safety. Miss Jane, you had best speak with my wife and acquire items you will need for the time being. Once Mr Bennet is settled, I will do my best to keep Mr Collins occupied so he is unable to discover our plan.”
“What of Mamma? Will she not know of the passage? What if she sees Jane carrying items upstairs?”
“My wife has already seen to your mother taking to her bed with a glass of sherry as the mistress was disturbed with the cancellation of Miss Jane’s wedding. Mrs Bennet will be asleep any moment now. And no, she was never informed of the passage. Your father made clear his intention to keep the information from her.”
~~ ** ~~
Returning to Longbourn, Bingley was furious. He learned of Mr Phillips having left Meryton the day before, leaving the young man being unable to garner the solicitor’s assistance in dealing with Collins. There had to be something he could do to remove his dearest Jane from the house, take her away from the insanity that had taken over her family home. He would discover where her other uncle was and send an express to London to explain to him what was happening at the Bennet estate.
Pulling his mount to a stop in front of Longbourn’s main house, Bingley dismounted and approached the front door. Oddly, no one opened the door, so Bingley knocked on it and waited. Several minutes went by, and the young man was surprised that no one had come to answer the knocking.
Rapping his knuckles once again, this time a little harder, Charles Bingley waited. Still no one responded. This began to worry the man, as he was certain that the family was at home. When he knocked a third time, it was with a firm fist striking the wood with all his might.
“Jane, please come to the door.” Bingley shouted, attempting to turn the doorknob. “Please, someone come and let me in.”
A snarling male’s voice was heard from inside. “I told you to leave and not return. You are not welcome on my estate.”
“Mr Collins, I insist you allow me to speak with my betrothed.”
“You are no longer betrothed. Did you not hear me when I informed you earlier? My cousin is under my protection and I deem you unfit to care for her. Now, leave, or I will use my guns to remove you from my doorstep.”
“I will return, you may count on that. And, if anyone in the Bennet family is harmed, I will see you punished to the fullest extent of the law.” Bingley shouted. His fear for Jane was immense.
The door suddenly flung open, showing an unbalanced Collins holding two pistols. “You have no connection to this family and have no right to tell me how to care for my relations. Be gone now, before you are sent to meet God.”
Seeing no alternative, Bingley reluctantly mounted his horse and left Longbourn quickly. He headed to Lucas Lodge. As the Bennet family’s close neighbors and longtime friends, Bingley prayed they would know how to contact the relations the Bennets had in Town. And Bingley decided it was time for Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam to return. A letter to Lord Matlock for information would be sent shortly after his return to Netherfield Park.
~~ ** ~~
Lord Matlock, Henry Fitzwilliam, had just returned to his townhouse to discover an express rider leaving his home. When he stepped inside the foyer, his butler stepped forward, holding a missive out to the earl.
“This just arrived, Sir.”
“Thank you, Wilton. I saw the rider leaving. Did he state where it was from?”
“Ah, my nephew has been visiting there. This is not his handwriting though. Please inform Lady Matlock that I have returned and will be in my study.”
“Very good, Sir. Would you like refreshments brought to you?”
Lord Matlock shook his head. “No, I had something to eat at the club.”
The earl made his way down the hall and into his study, closing the door behind him.
Taking his seat, Matlock broke the seal and opened the letter.
Forgive me for writing, but I knew no one else to contact. Your son, Colonel Fitzwilliam, arrived at the estate I am leasing in Hertfordshire, and the next day set out with your nephew, Mr Darcy. That was more than a fortnight ago, and there has been no word from either of the gentlemen.
I would not raise alarm, but Darcy is soon to be wed, and there has also been no word sent to Miss Elizabeth. As my friend did not leave word where the men were going, as he declared he was planning to purchase a wedding gift for Miss Elizabeth, and he decided I could not be trusted to keep his secret, as I am engaged to Miss Jane Bennet, sister of Miss Elizabeth, and my friend thought I would forget and inform my betrothed.
Also, Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s parson has arrived at the Bennet family home. He is a distant cousin of Mr Bennet and is the heir to the family estate of Longbourn. Unfortunately, the man is not stable. Mr Bennet took ill shortly after Mr Collins’ arrival, and the parson has determined he is now in charge of the estate, even though Mr Bennet lives. And Mr Collins has decided to call off my wedding and refuses to allow me entrance to Longbourn. The Bennet family solicitor is an uncle, Mr Phillips, who lives in Meryton, though he is currently he away from home.
I must admit, I am in fear of what Mr Collins will do. He has declared the betrothal between your nephew and Miss Elizabeth to be untrue, and that Darcy likely left to be rid of the young lady, as Collins stated that Darcy is to marry Miss de Bourgh. So, the deranged man has decided he should marry Miss Elizabeth. I know what he claims of your nephew is false, but in Collins’ state of mind, he will not believe me. The Bennet family is not safe with him, and I know Darcy would wish to protect his Miss Elizabeth.
Any assistance you could give me as to where the men were going would be greatly appreciated. The estate I have leased is in Hertfordshire, near the village of Meryton.
Lord Matlock pulled the cord, alerting his butler to join him. When Wilton entered the study, Lord Matlock began giving instructions. “Have my horse readied for me to leave as soon as I speak to my family.”
“Of course, your lordship.”
Climbing the steps, Matlock soon found himself outside his wife’s study. He knocked on the door as he opened it. “Rebecca, may we speak?”
“Henry, I thought you were going to be in your study. What has happened?” Lady Matlock frowned at the sight of her husband.
“It appears that our son and nephew have come up missing, and Darcy’s friend sent word. He has no knowledge where the pair were heading and there is now trouble at the home of Darcy’s betrothed. I know we were planning to journey to Netherfield next week, taking Georgiana to meet her soon to be sister, but it might be best for you to remain in London until we find our wayward duo and take care of the matter of the Bennet family.”
“There is no reason we cannot make the trip. We can remain at Netherfield, while you search for our boys. Then we can be on hand if Miss Elizabeth requires assistance. William would want someone near his betrothed, to protect her if needed.” As Darcy’s mother died when he was only eleven years old, Rebecca Fitzwilliam had come to think of the orphaned young man as one of her sons.
“Very well, I know not to argue with you when you have that determined look about you. Will you inform our eldest son and prepare for us to leave upon my return?”
Lady Matlock nodded her head. “Are you planning to speak with Richard’s commanding officer?”
With a chuckle, her husband also nodded. “No wonder our son is so good planning strategy. He inherited your intelligence. They should have my horse ready by now. Hopefully the General will know where Richard was planning to go.”