“Lizzy, I insist you open this door immediately. Mr Collins is displeased with your behavior, and you must apologize to your husband.”
“I am not married, Mamma. And I will not be married until Mr Darcy has returned. He is my betrothed, and Papa agrees with me.” Elizabeth stated through the door. “Mr Collins is insane and I will not accept anything he has to say about my future.”
“Please, Lizzy, he has promised to take care of us. Your father is unable to see to our care, and it is left to us to make our future secure.”
“Mamma, can you really believe anything the man says? Jane told me of what happened when Mr Bingley was last here. Mr Collins determined that Jane was no longer betrothed to Mr Bingley. How could you allow him to behave in such a manner?”
“It is due to their wedding being canceled that I worry about all of you. Your father’s death will leave us with no protection. Mr Collins will protect us, but he will only do so if you marry him immediately.”
Elizabeth’s anger had reached its breaking point. “You only wish to remain at Longbourn, and you care nothing for the rest of us. But Mamma, remember this. If I am forced to marry Mr Collins, you will no longer be the mistress of this home. I would be the mistress. I would be the one to make the decisions for everything in this house. And you can count on my making your life as miserable as mine would be if I were married to the likes of Mr Collins. You would be moved to the dower house, with no servant to tend your needs. So, you would have to do the work yourself, cooking and cleaning. The decisions on the funds you would receive for your food, household items, and even your allowance for purchasing ribbons and new gowns. Remember my words, Mamma. If you force me to marry that man, that will be your future.”
Mrs Bennet gave a screech before she ran down the hall, crying for Mrs Hill to bring her salts. After their mother slammed the door to her bedchamber, Elizabeth took a deep breath to calm herself.
Turning around, Elizabeth witnessed her sister in wide eyed wonder. “I would not have had the strength to have spoken to our mother in such a manner. But she deserved it, seeing how she is practically attempting to sell you to Mr Collins.”
Mr Bennet was also impressed. “Lizzy, my dear girl, you knew what to say to put your mother in her place. I am proud of you. Your mother had given no consideration to her losing her status in the house, and it was the perfect way make her see she was mistaken.”
A smile crept on Elizabeth’s lips. “I must admit, I am proud of myself.”
~~ ** ~~
Lord Matlock and his eldest son, Viscount Tambley, arrived outside the barbed wire fence and gate that surrounded the camp near the quarry. Looking about, the men were disgusted by the appearance of the conditions in which their loved ones had been forced to live. The barracks were ramshackle at best. The men knew they had chicken coops at their estate that were in better condition than these buildings that housed men. The windows were broken, allowing weather to enter the buildings. Sections of the walls needed repair, as boards were hanging precariously. Through the hanging boards, the bunkbeds could be seen inside the building.
Standing at the gate, his lordship called out to the guards. “Open the gate. We are here to speak with our relations.”
One guard stepped closer. “We do not open the gate for just anyone. State your names or be gone.”
“I am Lord Matlock, Henry Fitzwilliam. This is my son, Viscount Tambley. We have a physician and a solicitor with us, as well as other men employed by me. Mr Moss is supposed to meet us here, so I may speak with my son, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and my nephew, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy.”
Moss stepped out of the door of a small shack, followed by another man. Clearly, from his stance and demeanor, the other man saw himself as far superior than anyone else there. The pair stepped closer to the gate, and the other man motioned for the guard to open the gate and allow the men inside.
“Lord Matlock, this is Captain Pryce. He is in command of this camp.” Moss attempted to sound as if he held authority.
“As you can see, we have brought with us a man of law and a physician, as I am certain my son and nephew have been treated poorly in their time here. I insist to be told where they can be found?”
“The men have not returned from their laboring. They should be returning shortly.” Captain Pryce announced. “When they arrive, you will be allowed five minutes to speak to them. Then they will need to return to their barrack for evening meal and rest.”
“I believe that there will be a change, sir. After speaking with your constable, and learning what happened for them to be arrested, it is my understanding that a mistake was made, and the men should be released into my custody, until the magistrate can determine what has actually happened.”
“The men are my prisoners. They were brought to me by the constable. I cannot release them to you, simply on your word. It is my responsibility to see that these criminals are kept securely away from decent people.”
The viscount was furious. “My brother and cousin are not criminals. They are upstanding members of society. My brother is a colonel in His Majesty’s army, a good and honorable man. My cousin is just as good a man, who is engaged to be married. Neither of them would beat and rob a man for some horses. Both had the ability to pay for all the horses they looked at.”
Lord Matlock placed a hand on his heir’s upper arm. “I wish to speak with the man who was injured. Where can he be found?”
“We sent someone to retrieve Mr Griffiths. They will bring him here.” Mr Moss stated.
The news did not shock Lord Matlock. He was certain that the man, Mr Griffiths, was not harmed as was alleged.
“When he arrives, we will speak with him. And we will speak with our relations, as soon as they arrive.”
The men could hear a wagon coming from behind them. Lord Matlock turned his head, spying his younger son in the back of the wagon.
Richard appeared worn, dirty, and as if he had lost weight. The elder man looked about for his nephew but did not see him. This made the earl’s heart nearly stop. He prayed they were not too late to save his beloved sister’s only son.
As the men climbed down from the back of the wagon, Richard leaned over and held out his hand to someone who was seated lower on the wagon bed. With a sigh of relief, Lord Matlock viewed Darcy being helped from his seat.
Both the earl and the viscount made their way directly to their relations. At first, neither of the younger men recognized their family members. Finally, Richard realized who stood before him. “Father, you are here.”
“Indeed, my boy. Are you well?”
Richard nodded his head. “I will survive. It is William who requires aid. He was stabbed in leg, and infection has taken hold.” He motioned to his cousin.
Darcy had become feverish, beads of perspiration covered his face. He did not recognize his uncle standing before him and could barely stand. Lord Matlock and his eldest, Malcolm, took hold of Darcy by his arms, leading him towards the barracks.
“See here, you are not allowed in the barracks.” Captain Pryce insisted.
Several guards moved forward to defend their superior’s instructions.
Furious, Lord Matlock turned towards the man who was causing his family to endure such hell. “My nephew is ill. He has a fever and cannot stand on his own. He needs a chair or a bench to sit on, so the physician might tend his injury. Are you prepared to face charges of murder for allowing my nephew to die in your care? Believe what I say, if Fitzwilliam Darcy dies from your abuse, I will see you prosecuted to the fullest.”
“Of course, allow me to have my men bring a bench to you.” The captain motioned to one of his guards. Within a few minutes, a bench was brought to the earl’s party, and Darcy was gently laid on it.
The physician, Mr Peterson, moved to Darcy’s side.
“There was an injury?”
“Yes, he was stabbed in his upper right leg. There has been no treatment since we came here.” Richard responded. “And there has been very little food, so he has been unable to regain his strength.”
Peterson was concerned. “Lord Matlock, he is dangerously ill. Measures must be taken immediately, or your nephew will not survive.”
The earl turned his attention towards the captain. “My nephew is in desperate need of care. I demand you do all that the physician requests, or you will face a hangman’s noose.”
The sound of horses riding to the gate was heard by all. The gate was instantly opened, as the riders were known to those who worked there. Mr Griffiths rode into the yard.
“What is going on here? Pryce, Moss, what is the meaning of this.”
Richard looked up to see the man who was at the heart of his arrest. “How dare you show your face here? My cousin is dying due to your deceit, and you ride in here as if you own the place.” His father’s hand on his shoulder kept Richard from moving towards Griffiths.
“This is the man who you stand accused of nearly beating him to death?” Lord Matlock asked his son, keeping his eyes on the man still on horseback.
“It is, indeed. This is the man we paid money to purchase the horses we were also accused of stealing. If you were nearly murdered by my cousin and me beating you, it has been a miracle you are able to leave your bed, let alone ride here on your horse.” The bitterness flowed from Richard’s words.
Malcolm held his brother’s arm tightly, not allowing him to charge towards the man who had wronged him, yet soon, even the viscount’s anger was boiling over. “How is it you ride in here, with no apparent injury, and knowing the treatment my relations have endured?”
Griffiths was unaware of what was happening, only that he was needed at the camp. “This is my property. And who are you to come here and demand anything from me?”
“You are a liar and a kidnapper. You have taken these men and forced them to work for your own profit, without a care for any of them.” The viscount was livid.
Seeing that the men were gathered around Richard and Darcy, Griffiths frowned when he spoke to his employee. “What is the meaning of this Captain? Why was I summoned here? You are to keep the mining operation functioning, not treat these prisoners as if they were royalty.”
These words only inflamed the anger flowing in the Fitzwilliam men. Lord Matlock stepped in front of both of his sons, stating who he was. “Though I have not been introduced to you, I am Henry Fitzwilliam, the Earl of Matlock. This is my son, Viscount Tambley. My younger son, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, currently serving His Majesty’s Army as a purchasing agent for the war office, and my nephew, Fitzwilliam Darcy, master of Pemberley, in Derbyshire, have been held here, on your property, on false charges. As a peer of the realm, I demand you release my son and nephew, as their health is poor and in need of tending. We have a physician with us, as well as a solicitor.”
Griffiths was visibly shocked. He had been told that the pair of men had claimed to be important, but he had not believed the men. “There must be some sort of mistake, your lordship. But the fact is still there. The men are charged with crimes and are sentenced to work in this camp to repay me for the damages I suffered at their hands.”
Only his father and brother holding him could keep Richard from attacking the man and pulling him from his horse. “You are lying. William and I paid you. And I can prove it. The gold I gave you, it was from the army. There is a special marking we made on coins in case of a robbery.”
“As you did not pay me, I would not have any such coins.” Griffiths declared, in an attempt to promote himself the victim.
“You lie. I demand to see any coins your employees have in their possession.” Richard growled at the man. “And I demand to see any coins in the safe in your captain’s office.”
Griffiths was becoming nervous. Speaking more in bravado, the man refused to admit defeat. “You have no right to demand anything. You are a prisoner here, serving time for your behavior. I am fortunate to be alive, after what you did to me. There will be no mercy given to you.”
“Mr Griffiths, perhaps we should speak.” Moss suggested. He did not wish to be punish for his part in the fiasco which sent the relations of a peer of the realm to a work camp illegally.
Refusing to step down from his horse, Griffiths used the position to feel superior to everyone else. Motioning to Lord Matlock and his men, Griffiths tried another possibility to save himself.
“How do we know these men are who they say they are? How do we know that they are not here under false pretenses?”
“You are the only one acting under false pretenses, sir.” Lord Matlock stated through clinched teeth. “I am Henry Fitzwilliam, and I am the earl of Matlock. All these men can verify what I am saying. My son, whom you have falsely imprisoned here, is a colonel in the regulars. My nephew is the master of his own estate, which is the largest in Derbyshire. Perhaps you have heard of the Darcy family of Pemberley. And you are who? A man who falsely accuses men and forces them to work in your quarry for free. You are the criminal, Mr Griffiths, and I assure you that you will be made to pay for your crimes against every man here.”
Griffiths pulled a pistol from his holster, taking aim at the earl. “You are on my land, and I insist you leave here immediately. If you do not, you will not see tomorrow.”
Netherfield Park had hosted Lady Matlock and her niece, Georgiana Darcy, for nearly a week. In that time, there was no word from inside Longbourn, and each day, Bingley made the journey to the home of his betrothed, praying to be allowed inside the house, or receive some word from or about the young lady he loved.
Each day, Bingley returned home, depressed from the continued silence from those inside the main house. One day, Bingley noted a footman leaving the house and taking the estate’s wagon into the market village of Meryton. Bingley kept his distance at first, but as they were near the village, the distraught man urged his mount to come along the side of the wagon.
“John is it not?”
The footman was surprised to discover the man knew his name. “Y…yes…I am John.”
“Forgive me for approaching you in such a manner, but I am desperate. I desire word of my intended, Miss Bennet. Mr Collins has forbidden me to see her, and each day has been agony for me. Is Miss Bennet well? Is the family well?”
“None of us has seen Miss Jane or Miss Lizzy, as they are in one of the rooms with Mr Bennet, and they have been able to keep Mr Collins from entering the room. He has been angry with them, and he insists Miss Lizzy was to marry him some days ago, but she refuses him. No one has seen her, though Mr Hill might be taking food and drink to them when Mr Collins sleeps”
This news was both reassuring and painful. His beloved Jane was trapped in a room, hiding from her cousin, who had lost his mind. And her sister and father were with her. As Elizabeth was Jane’s closest sister and friend, it was of comfort to Bingley to know the two were together. Bingley also prayed that Mr Bennet was regaining his strength.
“Is there any word of Mr Bennet’s health? Is his condition improved?”
“I do not know, as Mr Hill has not informed me, if he even knows. All of us pray for his return to control of the estate.”
“John, if I were to write a message to my betrothed, would you see that someone could deliver it to her? I know I am asking for you to go against Mr Collins, and after being forced from Longbourn at the point of his pistol, I would understand if you fear Mr Collins.”
The footman looked around, taking several moments before he spoke. Looking Bingley in the eyes, John spoke. “Mr Bennet and his daughters have always been kind to me. When my sister was sick, Miss Lizzy and her father sent for the apothecary and paid for the medicine for her. I will see that a message is delivered to them for you.”
“If you would follow me to the general store, I will ask Mr Townsend for the use of writing supplies.” Bingley was grateful for the young man before him.
The pair secured their horses outside the shop and entered. After half of an hour, John left with the supplies he had been sent for, and a message hidden in the top of his boot.
When Bingley returned to Netherfield, for the first time in days, he was able to relax, well…at least a little bit. If he only knew what was happening in his own home, he would have never been calm.
~~ ** ~~
“I would put your weapon away, Mr Griffiths.” Lord Matlock was clear with his words. “Your pistol has a single shot. Even if you were to kill one of us, there are still more men with us who would have no difficulty in seeing you receive your just rewards.”
“Sir, I will say this once more, then I will have my guards toss you from my land. If you are found here again, I will have you executed. Do you understand what I am saying? It is best you think of these two men as dead, as you will never see them again.”
“My son and nephew will be coming with me this very moment. They both require tending, especially my nephew. His condition is in peril, and he will be of no use to you here. He should be removed, so as not to cause you any further difficulties.” Lord Matlock was determined that his family would be leaving the camp together, all of them. With Darcy being ill, they must remove him immediately.
“Never. The men owe me their service. They have not come close to working off their debt to me, and I intend to see that they serve the full sentence.”
Malcolm gripped his father’s arm, as the earl made to charge Griffiths’ horse. “Father, you must not lose control. Do not give him a reason to harm any of us further.”
“No, my son, I will not allow such evil to continue bringing harm to innocent people. He is becoming rich off the forced labor of these men, without care for their health and well-being. This must stop immediately. William requires the physician’s care. If we had arrived even a day later, we might have been too late to save him. What of the men who have died here? I am certain there have been men worked to their deaths.”
“All were criminals.” Griffiths defended himself. “All deserved no consideration.”
Releasing his father’s arm, Malcolm suddenly turned towards the horse carrying Griffiths. Raising his arms in the air, Malcolm began shouting at the horse, gesturing in a manner which spooked the poor animal.
Rearing up on its rear legs, the horse was panicked. Griffiths desperately attempted to hold on, but the horse would not calm under his admonishments. The viscount continued to provoke the fear in the horse, until finally, the rider was deposited on the ground. One step backwards planted one of the horse’s rear hooves squarely on top of Griffiths’ chest. Everyone could hear the crunching of the bones in the man’s chest, and they were certain that the man could not survive such an injury.
When he stopped aggravating the horse, Malcolm turned his attention back to his father. Lord Matlock stood in shocked silence. Peterson moved to check on Griffiths and shook his head after checking for signs of life. The physician returned to Darcy.
Captain Pryce was at a loss. His employer was dead, and everything under his control was falling apart before him. What should he do? If the earl and his relations spoke to others, everything the captain had built at the camp would be gone, and he would likely be punished for what had taken place to his prisoners. Griffiths was gone, so the next in charge would be the captain. But he was determined to keep the truth from costing his life.
“You men take that one into custody. He will be charged with murder.” Pryce spoke to two of his guards. The men hesitated, until their leader insisted they do their duty.
The men slowly told the viscount to step away from his party, and that he had best cooperate with them.
“My son will not go with you. That man was holding a pistol on us, threatening to kill us. It is a case of self-defense, scaring the horse was to keep the man from shooting us. You have no authority to do anything to any of us.”
Jacobson, the solicitor who had come with the Fitzwilliam party, stepped forward. “I sent an express to London concerning this situation. As you were employed by this man, Mr Griffiths, what you were doing was as illegal as his filing false charges against innocent men. If you do anything to harm any of us, you will face the law. And that means all of you men. All of you guards need to lay down your weapons or face the same charges as the captain.”
Pryce was furious. “I am in command here. You men had best do as I say, or you will be locked away with the rest of these criminals.” He pulled his weapon and began walking towards Lord Matlock.
“If anything happens to any of us, especially to Lord Matlock, who is a peer of the realm, you will find yourself dangling from the gallows.” Jacobson announced loudly.
“Along with the express I sent to London, another express was sent by his lordship to his wife. According to the earl, he wrote to his wife, explaining all that had occurred here that we knew, including the fact that the colonel and Mr Darcy being locked up on false charges and made to labor in a work camp, even though there has been no trial, let alone sentence levied on them. Knowing Lady Matlock, if her husband and sons, not to mention her nephew who is as dear to her as her children, do not return, she will move heaven and earth to see you pay for your crimes against them.”
Lord Matlock heard his nephew attempting to rise behind him. Turning his attention to Darcy, he did not see Pryce raise his hand, gun in it, taking aim on the earl’s back. As the trigger was deployed, Rees, the guard who had done all he was told, had decided his employer was out of his mind. He was closest to Lord Matlock, pushing the gentleman out of the way, as the bullet struck the guard instead.
Pryce realized that he was in trouble, but he would not surrender. He walked backwards towards his office door, bolting inside and locking the door behind him. The man refused to accept the fact that everything he had worked for was falling apart. The captain had been comfortable with Griffiths plan and had been grateful for the position of authority, as he had missed being the captain of his own crew on the ship he once ruled over. Being relieved of his position, after his employer had received complaints of cruelty to the crew, was a difficult transition to make. Griffiths allowing him to discipline the inmates of their camp had been a balm to Pryce’s wounded soul.
He could hear the shouting outside his office, men moving about in chaos. To a man who had commanded a ship, Pryce came to instantly believe his men had mutinied against him. And that was something he could not tolerate.
Outside the office, the men had moved to check Rees, finding the man still alive, the injury from the bullet had embedded in his right side. The guards had quickly turned against their leader and went to work to assist Lord Matlock and his party.
With Pryce still at large, it was determined that the men would move Darcy and Rees inside the barrack near them, so the physician could continue to care for them.
When the injured were safely in the building, Lord Matlock and his men surrounded the office of Captain Pryce.
“You are surrounded, Captain. You had best surrender.” Lord Matlock called out.
“I will not surrender, especially to the likes of you. I am in command here, not you. You are criminals, responsible for Mr Griffiths’ death. Criminals will not dictate my life.”
“We did nothing criminal, and you will need to pay for what you have done.”
Several moments passed, then the men heard Pryce shout “Damn you all!”, followed by the sound of gunfire. Malcolm Fitzwilliam and one of the guards were able to force the door inward, and they found the crumpled body of the captain on the floor, blood flowing from the bullet wound on the side of his head. Determining the man was dead, Malcolm returned to his father’s side.
“What should we do?”
Lord Matlock was disgusted with the waste of life found in the camp. “After Peterson looks over the bodies of the two men, we will bury them. That way, if there are any questions, Peterson can testify to the way the men died.”
His son nodded his agreement, moving to speak with the physician. Lord Matlock followed, wishing to check on his nephew and younger son.