Darcy was becoming weaker each day. He did not want others to see the difference, and he continued to work as hard as he could. Richard attempted to lighten his cousin’s load, but the guards would force Richard to another area to work and make Darcy do more to make up for his cousin’s behavior.
The redness surrounding the wound on Darcy’s leg was growing. Infection had set in and the wound seeped pus. A fever was beginning to build, and Darcy had felt despair creeping into his thoughts.
Would he die in this place, being forced to work for a man who was evil? Would Richard be able to escape, or would he be broken and die in the miserable place, leaving all their loved ones wondering what ever became of them? And what must Elizabeth think of him? Could she ever forgive him for making this trip? What would come of her? Would she pine away for him for the rest of her life or would she find someone else and fall in love?
The last thought of his Elizabeth falling in love with someone else, marrying another man, bearing his children, gave Darcy a strength to keep fighting. He did not wish any other man to have his beloved, and he would do all he could to see her once again.
Darcy was resting on his bunk when his cousin approached.
“How are you, William? You appeared to be purging yourself of demons earlier today.”
“I have been thinking of Elizabeth and what will happen to her. She does not deserve to be left wondering where I am or what happened to me. What if she believes that I left her? Not only would she be confused, but others might see her as ruined. At least Bingley would be there, as her brother, to protect Elizabeth.”
“From what you have told me of the young lady, she is highly intelligent. I would tend to believe she will think something is wrong and do all she can to find you. Likely Miss Elizabeth would insist on Bingley hiring men to investigate your disappearance. And do not forget, Georgiana and my mother will be arriving at Netherfield, in preparation for your wedding. Why would you allow your sister and my mother to go there if you were leaving Miss Elizabeth at the alter? She is rational, have no doubt that you will see her again.”
“And if we both perish here? You have heard the men, no one leaves here unless they are dead. How could Elizabeth find us, as Griffith has covered his trail and paid the right people? Will my beloved spend the rest of her life wondering?”
“We will survive this place, and do not doubt that fact. And you will be marrying Miss Elizabeth. Hold on to that fact. I do not plan to live out the rest of my life in this God forsaken place. We will find a way to escape from here.”
“Richard, I would only slow your attempt. You must promise me that you will go without me, if it comes down to that.” Darcy gave his cousin a pleading look. “One of us has to survive, and it is most likely you who will be the one. You must return to tell everyone what happened, and to take care Georgiana. If I am to die here, you must promise me that you will take care of Elizabeth for me. See that she is taken care of, that she has a home and the funds she requires to live comfortably.”
A serious look took over Richard’s face. “No, William, I will not do anything. The ladies are your responsibility, and it is for you to see to their care. If you wish for them to be protected, you must do so yourself. I will not give you the easy way out. You must fight for those you love. You cannot give up on your life.”
“I want nothing more than to see Elizabeth and Georgiana, but I am facing the truth. My leg is infected. Each day, the pain grows worse, as does the fever that is threatening to overwhelm me. And I continue to weaken.”
“Once we are free from here, we will find a physician. With medical care and some decent food, you will be recovered in no time.”
Richard had seen men on the battlefields who had been wounded. He knew how important morale was to the men he commanded. When they gave up in their mind, the body was not far behind.
The cousins soon fell asleep, with thoughts of their loved ones close to their hearts.
~~ ** ~~
Mr Collins was furious. He had tried, unsuccessfully, for the past three days to gain access to the room where his cousin and his eldest two daughters were hidden. The night he discovered they had blocked his ability to access the room, Collins roared with anger, shouting and slamming his hands against the door, throwing his weight into the wood, hoping to break past the barrier.
The keys that Collins had received from Mr Hill seemed to be missing the one to unlock this specific door. How odd this was, he thought. Could Mr Hill be assisting the Bennets in disobeying him? He would have to keep a close watch over Mr Hill. If the butler was found to be disloyal to him, Collins would know how to handle the matter.
Remembering the confrontation with Elizabeth and Jane, Collins sneered.
Reaching for the doorknob, Collins frowned when he found it was locked. “Open this door immediately.”
Elizabeth replied. “You will not enter this room.”
“I demand you open this door immediately. Do you hear me?”
“We hear you, though we will not open the door. Our father is not safe in your presence, and neither are we. Until our uncle arrives, we will remain here, with our father.”
“Cousin Elizabeth, we are to wed tomorrow. You will open this door and do as you are instructed. You are to be my wife and need to obey me.”
“I am not and never shall be, your wife. And I refuse to obey you, as you are not in control of my life. You are only our father’s distant relation, nothing more. Jane and I are engaged, and we will marry Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy. Nothing you do or say will change that fact. Papa has already signed the settlement papers and they are in the hands of the solicitors.”
“Your father is unable to tend to your family, and as his heir, I am doing what is best to run the estate and care for you ladies. It is important that I wed, and important for you to be my wife, as I will allow your mother and sisters remain here. If you do not obey, I will have your family thrown into the hedgerow.”
“You do not have the authority, Mr Collins. If you attempt to harm any of us, you will rue the day you came to Longbourn.”
Collins began beating his fists against the door, his voice louder than ever. “I told you to open the door, and if you do not, I will force the door open.”
“You will not be able to force your way inside this room. We have it secured and barricaded.” Elizabeth stated with a defiance in her voice.
Stepping back, the parson began kicking at the door. The door was strong and heavy, made of oak. There would be no kicking it in, at least not by the pathetic man that Collins was. He had never been strong physically.
After an hour of kicking, throwing himself into the door, and yelling at the room’s occupants, Collins finally gave up and returned downstairs, making himself at home in his cousin’s study. “I will find a way to enter the room.”
~~ ** ~~
An unexpected carriage arrived in front of Netherfield Park just after the Bingleys had sat down to dine. Once he was notified Bingley went to the entrance door and was surprised to find Lord and Lady Matlock, Georgiana Darcy, and the eldest of the Fitzwilliam sons, Malcom.
“Welcome to Netherfield. It is a pleasure to have you here.”
“Ah, Bingley, forgive us for not sending word. We were in a hurry to leave and felt an express would arrive only a short time before our arrival.” Lord Matlock stated. “I do hope it will be no inconvenience to your housekeeper. Malcom and I will be leaving in the morning, so only the ladies will remain here.”
Bingley smiled. “There is no need to worry, Mrs Nichols was already prepared to have you arrive, so she has already aired out rooms. But you must be famished. Please, come and dine with us.”
“We are unfit to sit at a table right now, what with the dirt of the road all over our clothes. If possible, could trays be sent up to our rooms? And I would like some of your time after you finish dining with your family. We have much to discuss.”
“Certainly. Ah, here is Mrs Nichols.” Bingley turned his attention to his housekeeper. “I was just informing Lord Matlock of the incredible staff here at Netherfield. Would it be possible for you to show my guests to the rooms you had planned for them, and see to their needs?”
The housekeeper curtsied to those gathered. “Of course, Mr Bingley. Please, if you would follow me upstairs, I will show you the rooms I have prepared for you. We will have fires lit in them, as there is a chill in the air tonight.”
The Fitzwilliam family and Georgiana settled into their rooms, trays were brought up for them, and the fires warmed the rooms. Finally, Lord Matlock was shown to Bingley’s study.
“Please tell me you have news as to your nephew’s whereabouts. Things are becoming difficult at Longbourn, and I am certain that Darcy will wish to be of assistance to Miss Elizabeth.”
“Has this Collins person still refused medical care for Mr Bennet? Have you been able to gain entry of the residence?”
A shake of Bingley’s head made his reply. “The last attempt found me looking down the barrels of the pistols Collins held in his hands. The physician, Mr Peterson, has remained here, as we wished to have him on hand in case Mr Bennet can be aided.”
“Peterson is a good man. Collins must be a candidate for an asylum. I was surprised to discover my elder sister is his patroness. My sister has always been a fool, but having such a man as her parson, I must deal with her when this situation has been handled.”
“It was as if he lost his mind as we spoke. First, he spoke of Mr Bennet being so ill that it was necessary for Collins to assist the family and the estate. Then, as he spoke, the man decided that he was already the new master of the estate, that he was going to marry Miss Elizabeth and Jane was no longer my betrothed. The Bennet family’s solicitor is Mr Phillips, who is Jane’s uncle. He resides in Meryton, though he is visiting a friend. I am waiting to hear from Mrs Bennet’s brother, who lives in London.”
“Good Lord, the man should be locked away for everyone’s safety. And you said that he pointed pistols at you?” Lord Matlock was shocked. His sister was peculiar in her hiring habits, but this man was far worse than anyone she had ever hired before.
Bingley offered the earl a glass of port, which the elder man accepted. “He did. The fool threatened to shoot me if I returned to Longbourn. What news have you on Darcy and your son?”
“I spoke with Richard’s commanding officer. He stated that Richard was in Wales to purchase horses for the army. Learning that no one has heard from Richard has caused the general concern. The area of Wales they were heading to has a reputation for men disappearing. Richard had scoffed at his general’s warning, saying he was more than capable of defending himself against any highwaymen.”
“You and the viscount are for Wales then?”
From a hiding place near the door of the study, Caroline Bingley quickly removed herself, hoping not to be discovered. Once inside her chambers, she thought of what she had just overheard.
Miss Caroline Bingley was displeased when she learned the gentleman whom she had desired marrying was engaged to another. If only she had not visited her friend at Bath and taken ill, Caroline believed she would have achieved her goal of securing Fitzwilliam Darcy’s proposal, even if she had to set up a compromise to do so. The little she knew of Eliza Bennet was more than enough to convince Miss Bingley that the country nobody was not worthy of becoming the mistress of Pemberley.
All she had to do was see that Mr Collins accomplished his desire of marrying the chit, then Darcy would be free to ask for Caroline’s hand.
“L…Lizzy…Lizzy…” the soft voice of a weak Mr Bennet called out to his daughter.
Elizabeth had been dozing while sitting in the chair beside her father’s bed and woke with a start at the sound she had longed to hear. “Papa, you are back.”
She quickly poured a glass of water and held it to her father’s lips.
“How long…have I…been away?”
“Nearly a fortnight. It was feared you would never wake.”
Lines creased across Elizabeth’s forehead. “Do you remember anything?”
“No…last I remember was Mr Collins attempting to change my mind about forcing you to marry him.”
“We are not certain what happened. You suddenly took ill and collapsed. Mr Collins refuses to allow the physician, who came from town, to examine you, and now, Mr Collins has determined that he is already the master of Longbourn.”
Mr Bennet’s eyes moved about, taking in his surroundings. “Why are we in this room rather than my chambers?”
“To protect you from Mr Collins.” Jane said softly, while sitting on the opposite side of their father. “Your cousin decided that he required the master’s chambers, so he insisted you be removed from said room. And, as Lizzy and I believe Mr Collins poisoned you by putting something in your tea, we decided it would be safer here. Lizzy found the cup on the floor of the study. She believed it to have an odd odor to the tea still inside the cup. If he could do such, he might take it upon himself to make certain that you died. In this room, we have locked us in and barricaded the door and made certain that he has no access to a key, so Mr Collins cannot reach us.”
Hearing such words from his eldest daughter was startling to the gentleman. If Jane thought ill of someone, they must have shown themselves to be of the worst nature. “Do you truly fear Mr Collins?”
The sisters shared a glance which answered the question before a word was uttered. Elizabeth’s eyes turned back to Mr Bennet. “Mr Collins has already determined that I am to marry him immediately. After his behavior with Mr Bingley, I feared for Jane, as Mr Collins declared her wedding would not happen and he forbids Mr Bingley to come to Longbourn. I am afraid Mr Collins has lost his mind, especially since he believes he is the master of the estate. Any attempts to correct him has been met with his anger. And I am certain he would have no qualms with ruining one of us to achieve his desires.”
“How long have we been in this room? Have you girls been without food and water for long?”
“Do not concern yourself, Papa. We have not done without. We have a spy bringing up supplies when we require, as well as any news from the rest of the house. Mr Hill is bringing us necessary items, such as wood, water, and food. He waits for Mr Collins to slumber and comes through the hidden passageway.” Elizabeth stated.
“My dear girls, I have not taken proper care to protect you. Once I am recovered, I will do all in my power to see that changed. Your mother and sisters, are they safe?”
The two eldest sisters nodded their heads. Jane spoke. “As Mamma agrees with Mr Collins, he has no reason to harm her. And Mr Collins has no interest in our sisters. I overheard him telling Mamma that Mary is too plain and would not suit his needs, while Kitty and Lydia are the silliest girls he has ever met. No, he wants Lizzy, but has decided that I will suffice, if he cannot have my sister.”
“Mrs Hill heard him speaking to himself in your study.” Elizabeth explained.
“According to her, Mr Collins is determined to punish me for my disobedience to him. He sees my refusal as not paying him proper respect. And it appears his father taught him the only way to punish a wife for being disrespectful is to do so with a fist.”
Jane shuddered at the thought. “I am grateful for Lizzy’s intelligence, as I never would have believed someone could be so wicked in their mind, especially someone who is a parson. At first, I thought my sister was exaggerating, but she was wise. Had we not locked ourselves in here, it is likely he would have done unmentionable things to either of us and harmed you as well.”
Taking a deep breath, Mr Bennet knew he had failed in protecting his daughters, and he made a silent vow to do better in the future. His daughters would not suffer at the hands of his cousin.
Elizabeth stood and walked across the room to the fireplace. She took the pot that had been sitting on the table near the fireplace, lifting the lid and pouring some of the contents into a bowl. The scent of stew came wafting to the bed, making Mr Bennet’s stomach rumble loudly.
“Well, I have no need of inquiring if you are hungry.” Elizabeth teased. A small chuckle escaped her, as for the first time in days, she was able to laugh. She dished up bowls for herself and Jane as well. The trio enjoyed the warmth of the stew allowing the food to nourish their bodies and spirits.
~~ ** ~~
Lord Matlock and his group rode hard each day, pushing closer and closer to the area where his son and nephew had been planning to go in their trip to purchase horses.
After speaking with the general, Lord Matlock had been uneasy about the young men and their safety. The men with him understood how the earl felt, never saying anything about the hard ride. Finally, they arrived in the small village they had learned was known for people disappearing when they visited the area.
The men were shown into the office of Mr Moss by one of the men standing outside. The small building contained the jail cells. “Sir, these men wish to speak of their relations.”
Moss stood, acknowledging them. “Welcome. Who might your relations be?”
“My son, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, and my nephew, Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley.” Lord Matlock stated, his son’s rank stated clearly. My son was on a buying trip to purchase horses for His Majesty’s army. They have not been seen or heard from since they were last in your vicinity.”
“And you are…”
“I am Henry Fitzwilliam, fifth Earl of Matlock. This is my eldest son, Viscount Tambley. We have our men with us to conduct a search for my younger son and nephew.”
At that moment, Moss knew that the situation had just gone bad. How could they have been so stupid? The men had attempted to tell all of them their identities, only to be ignored. Driscoll was a fool for having these two men arrested. And they would all pay for not believing them.
Thinking quickly, Moss spoke. “Can you give me a description of the men? We have had a few men come through the area of late.”
“My nephew is a tall gentleman, nearing his eight and twenty birthday. He has dark, wavy hair, well built from working the land with his tenants. My son is two years older, a bit shorter, but he is muscular from his years in the military. Richard has light brown hair.”
“They sound like a pair we caught stealing some horses from one of our local breeders. The men beat the gentleman, nearly killing him.” Moss said, attempting to sound braver than he felt.
Lord Matlock’s fury was just beneath the surface. “My son and nephew have no reason to steal anything, let alone horses. And there is no reason they would beat a man to gain access to his livestock, especially as they both carried enough money to purchase the animals.” Looking to the right, Lord Matlock noted that the barred area of the room was empty. “If they were arrested, where are they? I wish to speak with them immediately.”
“We took them to the quarry.”
“The quarry? Has there been a trial? Why were they taken to such a place?”
“There is no sense for them to be here, doing nothing, while waiting for a trial. At the quarry, they are working towards their sentence.”
The Viscount spoke up. “If they have not had a trial, how can you believe there would be a sentence?”
Realizing his mistake, Moss had to think quickly. “The evidence against them was substantial, so a trial is only a formality.”
“Even if they were found guilty, they would have been sent to the gaol, not some quarry. Who owns the mine?” the viscount demanded.
“It is own by a local gentleman. He is an upstanding member of our community and having criminals work for him is a fitting way to repay the man.”
Lord Matlock stepped closer to the constable. “I insist on knowing who the man is, and who the man is that my son and nephew supposedly harmed.”
“It…it would be wrong to do so, Sir. He has the right to his privacy. What if you were to harm him?”
“He?” Lord Matlock questioned. “Not they? Is the man who owns the quarry and the man who was allegedly beaten and robbed, one and the same?”
“Tell me the truth!” Roared the earl.
“Y…yes…but it is only fair that the men work off their sentence in service to the man who was injured by them.” Moss blurted out.
“They were not sentenced, as there was no trial. I insist on being taken there immediately.” Henry Fitzwilliam was not going to allow this man to stand between him and his relations.
“Well, the only person who can speak with them is their solicitor. Are you a solicitor?” Moss was hopeful that he could delay the earl. He needed to hurry to the quarry and send word to Griffiths.
“I am not a solicitor, though one of the men with me happens to be one. He will be acting on behalf of my son and nephew.”
“Then you may meet me at the camp, near the mine, at four. The men will be returning from their labor. Only the solicitor will be allowed to speak to them.”
The man explained the directions to find the mine, and Lord Matlock gave the constable look that would make most men quake in their boots. “We will see you there.”