Mr Bennet was growing stronger each day, yet they kept the information from their relations. Until he was fully recovered, and able to stand against his cousin, it was best to keep the younger man believing that the master of Longbourn was on his death bed.
The message from Bingley had given the trio locked in the room a much-needed boost to their morale.
My beloved Jane,
I have come to Longbourn daily, attempting to see or speak with you. Unfortunately, your father’s cousin has refused to allow me to enter the house. These weeks without your smile, without word from you or about you, and being unable to marry you as we had planned have driven me near the point I was tempted to storm the house. If I could be certain that he would not shoot one of you, I would have done just that.
Today, I witnessed the footman leave the house and take the wagon to Meryton, so I followed him. The young man was kind enough and promised to see this letter got to your hands.
Miss Darcy and Lady Matlock are staying at Netherfield, waiting for their men to return from Wales. Evidently, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Darcy went to Wales to purchase horses; the Colonel for the army and Darcy for a wedding gift for your sister. Lord Matlock and Viscount Tambley took more than a dozen men to recover my friend and his cousin. Please inform your sister that Darcy did not abandon her, as I have said before. Just today I received word that Darcy and the colonel have been located. Lord Matlock was uncertain how long it would be until they have returned, but he passed along a message from my friend to tell Elizabeth that nothing will stop Darcy from marrying her. I feel the same for you, dearest Jane. We will marry and spend the rest of our lives together. Mr Collins will not rob us of our future together, I promise you.
Miss Darcy looks forward to meeting her future sister, as Darcy has written much about his intended to her. Lady Matlock has also expressed her desire to meet the young lady who has won her nephew’s heart. Darcy would not have spoken so highly of Miss Elizabeth to his relations if he was not planning to go through with the wedding.
As soon as I know more of my friend and when he will be arriving, I will find a way to send word to you. And I will continue to come to Longbourn daily, in the hopes of even a moment’s view of your beautiful face. If you have need of me, send word and I will come, no matter the when.
My prayers are with you, your sister, and your father. Hopefully he is recovering, as the physician went with Lord Matlock’s party to Wales.
Your most faithful betrothed,
Though Elizabeth had told everyone that she knew that Darcy loved her and would return to marry her, having Mr Bingley reaffirm the truth had lightened her mood.
Lightened as it was, Elizabeth could not completely be at ease. Having been forced to remain indoors for so many days had been difficult, especially as it was being in a single room constantly. A much as she loved her eldest sister and their father, she grew bored and required movement which was not allowed in the small room.
But then Elizabeth began to worry. If Darcy and his cousin had gone to Wales to purchase horses, why had no one heard from them? Had they been robbed and left on the side of the road, dead? Had there been an accident? What could have delayed her betrothed from returning? All the possibilities she could think of brought her further pain, as they all involved the man she loved being harmed.
If she had only been able to take her daily walks in the park surrounding the main house of her father’s estate. Doing so for most of her life, Elizabeth had always found relief from her strolls in nature.
Though she desired to escape to nature, she was well aware of what would happen if she were to leave the room. The daily reminder of Mr Collins came with him pounding on the door of the room, demanding that she come out and accompany him to the chapel. And each day that he was refused, Mr Collins’ fury intensified. He made many attempts to break through the barriers, including trying to take the doorknob off the door. Nothing allowed him entrance, leaving the man screaming vulgarities and threats at the occupants of the room.
Elizabeth and Jane had discussed the situation multiple times. Mr Bennet agreed with his girls, he did not trust his evil cousin in the presence of his beloved daughters. If the man could not have Elizabeth, it was not a stretch to believe the man capable of forcing Jane to take her sister’s place. And Mr Bennet was convinced that Collins would take one of his daughters by force, if they would not join him willingly. The gentleman could not discuss such with his gentle born daughters, for what man would speak of such base behavior?
“It has only been a week since Charles sent his letter to me. Please, Lizzy, do not fret. I am certain that Mr Darcy is already on his way back here. Surely all is well, or we would have heard something from Charles.”
“Oh, Jane, do you not understand? Why would William be so long away if they were only purchasing horses? He must be harmed, or he would have contacted me or come here to rescue us before now.”
“But fretting will do you no good. You must wait until we learn more, believe that Mr Darcy is well and on his way back here.” Jane had always been the optimist in the family, never wishing to believe the worst about anyone.
“Forgive me, Jane. I am worried about William and have been forced to remain inside this room far too long, for it has soured my mood. Mr Collins constantly pounding on the door and demanding I must marry him has added to my foul outlook as well.” Elizabeth felt selfish for the way she had treated her sister. She had no desire to offend her naïve Jane.
Sensing the tension in the room, Mr Bennet added his opinion to sooth his girls. “You are both correct. It does no good to dwell on our fears, but Lizzy does have reasons to be concerned. And I wish we could stop Mr Collins, as he is irritating me. If not for my dislike of being thought to be like your mother, I would claim that the man is causing my nerves to flutter. My poor nerves.”
Both girls laughed. Jane went a step further. “Hill, my smelling salts…I need my smelling salts…”
Laughter was abundant for several moments. Suddenly, there was the sound of someone pounding on the door of the room.
“Who is in there? I heard a man’s voice. Who do you have in the room?” Mr Collins demanded, his voice filled with insane anger. “Have you been unfaithful to your husband, Elizabeth? If you have been giving your favors to another man, rather than submitting yourself to your rightful husband, I am within my rights to punish you. Do you hear me? I will beat you until you submit to my demands. I will not be treated so by a woman; do you understand me? As your husband, I have the right to treat you in any way I deem fit to make you comply. Open this door at once, so I may see with whom you have been having a dalliance.”
Elizabeth would not tolerate the man any further. “I will not open the door for you, as you have no authority over me. The voice you hear is that of my father. The man you poisoned survives. And he is the true master of this estate, making you nothing. You had best leave the neighborhood immediately, before we have you taken into custody and stand trial for your attempt to kill my father.”
The pounding on the door struck with such a fury that it nearly broke the solid wood door. “I do not believe you. Your father is likely dead by now. You have some other man in that room and I will kill you both. As your husband, I have the right to see you pay for your crimes against me.” If the trio had been outside the room, they would have seen the spittle on the exterior side of the door, sprayed there as Collins shouted.
“I am not, nor ever will be, your wife. You are delusional, and I will never give in to your demands.”
The pounding continued, before Collins stopped and hurried down the stairs.
“Lizzy, we must remove you from here, before Collins finds a way into this room.” Mr Bennet stated. “We need to find a way to remove both of you girls, for I fear for Jane as well.”
Jane shook her head. “I will not leave without you, Papa. Lizzy and I will only escape if you are with us.”
“Then we must make a plan and execute it soon. Mr Collins is becoming more insane as each day passes.”
“Especially if he believes I am already married to him. Do you believe Mamma and our sisters are safe?”
Mr Bennet thought for a moment. “After what you said to your mother, she has likely stayed in her room since that day. Mary, Kitty, and Lydia, I am certain that Collins has no need to have contact with them. They should be safe from him.”
“When Mr Hill comes tonight, we should speak with him of any plans we make. He will be vital in our escape.”
~~ ** ~~
A letter was penned and made ready for Mr Hill when he came up to the room later that evening. The trio of Bennets had gone over every aspect of the plan, all alternatives that could arise.
Earlier in the day, not long after Mr Collins had stormed off from yelling at Elizabeth through the door, there had been a commotion downstairs. They heard Mrs Bennet crying out about her nerves, how she could not possibly leave her room, let alone her home. Soon after, the three younger sisters could be heard fussing and arguing with Mr Collins. Elizabeth went to the windows of the room, looking outside in time to witness her mother and sisters being loaded up on the back of the wagon. Mrs Bennet was disgusted at the treatment, explaining to Mr Collins that she was the wife of a gentleman, not a bale of hay.
“You have no one to blame for your treatment but your daughter. She has refused to do her duty by me, and now she is consorting with another man in her bedchamber. The audacity, she claimed it to be her father. I know better, as her father will never recover from his ailment. For such behavior, I will see she is properly punished. And, as you have not done your duty as her mother, you will no longer be allowed to live here. Consider yourself destitute, as you will not receive another coin from this estate. Even your clothing belongs to the estate, and I would rather burn them than allow you to take them.”
“Please, Mr Collins, you must choose one of my other daughters. Jane is such a beautiful girl, and so sweet natured. Or Mary. She is well versed in the bible and sermons. Mary would make you a dutiful wife. Please, do not send us away.”
“You foolish woman, Elizabeth is my wife. Your eldest daughter has been disrespectful to me by not obeying my demands to open the door when I have gone to the room. She has been in the same room with my wife, and who knows if she has given her virtue to some man as well. I will not tolerate a fallen woman to be my wife. So, they must be handled appropriately.”
“Oh, no, my Jane is a good girl. She would never behave as Lizzy. Jane will be a good wife for you, Mr Collins. Allow me to speak with her, she will do as I tell her.” Mrs Bennet pleaded.
Mr Collins was not listening to her any further. Turning away from the females, he looked at the young man who would be driving the wagon. “Take them to Meryton. Leave them at the home of their relations. Perhaps they will have pity for them.” He directed the groom.
As the wagon began to move, Mrs Bennet continued to plead for mercy from the deranged man, never once considering that Mr Collins had referred to her daughter as being his wife. All the woman could think of was her own comfort.
Turning away from the window, Elizabeth missed the look that adorned the face of her father’s cousin. If she had seen his expression, chills would have run through her body. And she would have been prepared for what would come to pass that evening.
~~ ** ~~
The sky had long darkened when Elizabeth heard the footsteps, alerting her that Mr Hill was coming with supplies, as he had done every night of their captivity. He had been their salvation, seeing to their needs, placing himself in danger for the family who was like his own family. Elizabeth and Jane had always been the favorites of the Hills, including the couples’ only child, Virginia Lee, named for an aunt who lived in the Americas, who was called Ginny by her family, as she had been the nursemaid to the Bennet sisters until they were five and four, when Ginny left to marry. Because of the kindness shown to all the Hills, their devotion to the family was endless.
Each night, Mrs Hill had seen that there was a pail of water, some cold meat and cheese, bread, and tea was ready for her husband to take upstairs. The couple kept watch over Mr Collins, and when they were certain of him being asleep, Mr Hill would carry the items upstairs, removing any dishes and other items needing to be brought from the room. Each night, Mr Hill would inform the residents of the room of the happenings that day.
Most days had been the same, Mr Collins refusing to allow anyone in or out of the house without his direct approval. But this had been a day filled with news.
“Mr Hill, how are you?” Elizabeth greeted as the butler entered the room.
“I am well, Miss Lizzy, as is my missus. We will need to use more caution from this day forward. Mr Collins had your mother and sisters tossed from the house. The amount of food needed each day will be less, which will make the possibility of being caught greater.”
“We will not need the provisions much longer, as we have decided it would be best if we escaped the house. Mr Bingley would allow us refuge at Netherfield, I am certain.”
“He will indeed. How might I be of assistance to you? Do you have a letter to take to Mr Bingley? I could have one of the lads from the stable take it to Netherfield.”
“We do have a letter for him. It is best we make our escape soon, as Mr Collins is becoming angrier by the day.”
“And he is imbibing more each day. Mrs Hill has noted the number of empty bottles there are in the study. The words that man says, I cannot accept him speaking to my dear wife in such a manner. Vulgar, that man is.”
“Well, allow me to explain our plan, and see if you think it is possible.”
Bingley was with his guests in the music room, listening to Georgiana Darcy entertaining them on the pianoforte, when the butler of Netherfield Park knocked on the door. The man entered the room, carrying a silver salver with a letter. “Sir, this letter was just brought from Longbourn.”
The room became silent after the name of Longbourn was heard. Everyone had been eager to hear news of the Bennet family, as no word had been received from the estate in weeks.
Seeing the handwriting of his beloved, Bingley’s heart nearly skipped a beat. “It is from Jane.” He broke the seal and began reading.
My dearest Charles,
I was pleased to receive your letter and to know that you still love me. The events of the past weeks have been a trial. My father is recovering, and we believe Mr Collins attempted to murder Father by poisoning him. When Mr Collins insisted Father moved to a different room, as the man wished the master’s bedchamber for himself, Lizzy had a feeling that we were not safe. She insisted that she and I join Father in the room he was moved to and find a way to keep Mr Collins out of the room. Unfortunately, Lizzy was correct, as Mr Collins has completely lost his mind. He believes that our father is dead, and that Lizzy is not only married to him, but that the male voice he heard in the room means my sister is being unfaithful to him. Mr Collins has removed our mother and sisters from Longbourn. We believe they have gone to Meryton.
Lizzy and Father have a plan for us to escape from Longbourn. If you are willing, tomorrow evening, just before sundown, would you come to Longbourn in your carriage, and cause a distraction. Have the carriage drive towards the stable, turn around, and wait near the rear of the house. If Mr Collins is distracted, Mr Hill will come to assist us in moving Father from the house and into the carriage. Then we can escape from Longbourn. If you are unable to accept us in your home, as there could be danger when Mr Collins discovers us missing, so if you would be so kind as to take us to Meryton, we will take rooms at the inn.
You do not need to write a message in return. We will be prepared and if you come, we will know what to do. I am eternally grateful for all your assistance. And I understand if you decide to call off our wedding. All that my father’s cousin has done is shameful, and if you determine it is too much to bear, I will understand.
Miss Jane Bennet
“Of course, I will be there, my love. Have no doubt, I will be there.” Bingley read through the letter once more, then folded it up and placed it in his coat pocket. He looked up to see all eyes turned to him, waiting for him to tell them the news.
“As the footman informed me, Jane and Miss Elizabeth are hidden in a room, with their father. It appears that Mr Collins has lost his mind, and he may have poisoned Mr Bennet. Fortunately, Mr Bennet is recovering. My angel has asked for my assistance for them to escape from the house.”
After a moment of silence, Charles’ younger sister, Caroline, spoke up. “But Charles, that could be dangerous. What if you were injured by that mad man, or worse, what if he were to kill you? No, you must not go to Longbourn.”
“Jane is my betrothed, Caroline. I will do anything I can to assist her, especially as her safety is in jeopardy.”
“If you are killed, what will become of us? As it is, your attachment to the Bennet family will ruin any chance of my finding a proper husband. Can you not see what it would do to all of us?” Caroline pleaded. “Louisa, you must agree with me. What if word was to spread of our brother assisting Miss Bennet to escape from a madman who has generously offered for her sister’s hand?”
“Caroline, you do not understand what it is like to love someone more than yourself. Our brother cares deeply for Jane, and they are to wed. Your concern is for yourself. And Miss Elizabeth is already engaged and Mr Collins has no right to make decisions for her future. Of course, Charles will assist Jane and her family.” Louisa Hurst turned to her husband. “Do you not agree, Gilbert?”
“I do, Louisa. And if there is anything I can do to assist, Charles, you need only ask.”
Bingley nodded his head. “Thank you, Hurst. Perhaps I might take you up on your offer.”
Angry with her siblings, Caroline left the room, marching to her bedchamber. Inside the room, the lady paced about, attempting to find a solution to the situation. After a while, she walked to her desk and pulled out a sheet of parchment. Dipping her pen in the inkwell, Caroline began to write.
~~ ** ~~
Near sunrise, Mr Hill had awakened, with a sense of something not being right. He checked on Mr Collins, to ensure he was asleep. Finding the parson on the sofa in Mr Bennet’s study, the butler felt it was safe to check on his true employer. Collecting a jar of preserves and a loaf of bread, Mr Hill made his way up the stairs.
Leaving the kitchen was simple enough, no one had been in that area of the house. His wife and the cook would be awake soon, and breakfast would be started. With caution, he walked towards the servants’ passage to the second floor. He would then cross the hall to gain access to the hidden door to the stairs leading up, giving him access to the room.
Suddenly, the door to the servant area opened. Before Hill stood Mr Collins, holding his pistol in one hand and an oil lamp in the other. “Mr Hill, what could you possibly be doing with those items? Could you be planning to assist my wife and her sister in their disobedience? Is my wife in need of sustenance after entertaining you through the night? Or could it be that you were planning to have your way with my wife before returning to your own? As you are the only other man in the house, I have come to realize that it is you who has been disrespecting my marriage, as well as your own.”
“I do not know what you mean? I have never been unfaithful to my wife, especially with a child that we think of as a daughter. There is no other man, as you are aware Mr Bennet is in the room with his daughters.”
“Do not take me for a fool, sir. I am certain someone has been aiding my wife and her sister. Mr Bennet is dead, of that I am certain. And I heard a man’s voice inside that room, a man’s voice that was laughing. It will not be tolerated. Tell me the truth, you have been having your way with my wife and her sister.”
“No, Mr Collins, I would never do such. As I have told you, I think of the Bennet girls as I would my daughter. My own daughter, Virginia, was their nursemaid when they were babes. Certainly, Miss Elizabeth would have said something if her father had died. She would not wish to remain in the room with her father’s body if he had passed on.”
“I WILL NOT BE DISOBEYED! TELL ME THE TRUTH!” Collins bellowed.
“I have told you the truth, Mr Collins. And I am taking the food to rooms my wife and I share, so we might have a little something to tide us over until breakfast has been served. Please, you may follow me to the rooms my wife and I are using on the upper floor. It is down the hall from the room where you insisted Mr Bennet be moved. Ask my wife if I am being truthful.”
“You will come with me. We will ask Elizabeth to tell me the truth. If she does not, or she refuses to open the door, I will know the truth and I will know how to act.” Mr Collins stated, waving his pistol about. “I am already angered with her behavior, and I would be within my rights to punish her, in any way I deem appropriate.”
Mr Hill was worried. It was clear that none would be able to change Collins’ mind, and the man was prepared to cause harm if he needed to. “Please, Mr Collins, allow me to return to my wife, as I explained to you. She will become worried if I do not.”
“Do as I have told you and show me how you are gaining access to my wife.” Collins demanded, waving the pistol about.
The men made their way up the stairs, coming to stand before the door of the room where the trio were ensconced. Collins was displeased. “I told you to show me the way you have been accessing the room. Certainly, there is another passage I have been unable to find. Show it to me immediately.
As Collins’ voice rose, so did Mr Hill’s, attempting to alert the Bennets inside the room. “Mr Collins, I have no way to enter the room. This room has never had another entrance. That is why it was used for the nursery, when the girls were young.”
Elizabeth was awake, and the conversation outside the door of the room had grasped her attention. She picked up a towel from a nearby chair, throwing it at her sister, waking her. When Jane sat up, Elizabeth lifted a finger to her lips to silently inform her sister not to speak. She motioned towards her father, indicating that she wished her sister to wake the gentleman. They needed to be prepared for anything Mr Collins had in store.
Collins was speaking loud enough to wake the entire house. “If my wife does not open the door immediately, I will shoot you. And if that does not encourage her cooperation, I will find your wife and shoot her. My whore wife will pay for being disloyal to me.”
From inside the room, Elizabeth called out. “Mr Collins, what is happening?”
“I have discovered who your lover is and confronted him. He was bringing you some food, after bringing you to ruination. Open the door immediately, or I will shoot him right here and now.”
“I do not have a lover, Mr Collins, not to mention you and I are not married. Please, believe what I am telling you. I am engaged to Mr Darcy of Pemberley. The man you have heard in this room is my father. He is recovering, and he can tell you that he is in here with me and my sister.”
“You are lying. Your father is dead. There is no possible way he could be alive, I gave him enough of the poison to kill him.”
Jane gasped at their cousin’s words. Mr Bennet was awake, and decided it was time for him to speak. “Mr Collins, I am very much alive. Please, do not harm my butler.”
“He is my butler, I am the master of Longbourn. You are not alive, you are a ghost, coming to haunt me. I will not allow you to destroy my plans. My father told me of the man you were, how you robbed him of his inheritance. He would be pleased to know I have the estate now, and that you are no longer alive. He taught me how I should handle my wife, as we planned my marrying one of your daughters, so that I could extract my revenge.”
“Mr Hill has never been improper with any of my family so there is no reason for you to harm him. He would never do anything with Elizabeth. I did not know you had married my daughter, without my permission. If you are angry with someone, it should be with me, as I withheld my approval for you to marry my Lizzy.”
“You are not here, you are dead. I will not speak to a dead man. Be gone ghost, haunt me no longer.” Collins grew more irrational by the moment.
“I am very much alive, cousin.” Mr Bennet moved closer to the door. “You are not well, Mr Collins. Allow us to find aid for you to regain your health.”
“No, no, no. I gave you enough of the poison, you are dead. Stop haunting me, specter, leave this house.”
Mr Collins looked about him, his eyes wide as they searched for any sign of a ghost. Pointing the gun at the door, Collins fired the round at his foe. The projectile made its way through the door, striking Elizabeth in the arm. She cried out in pain.
Jane and Mr Bennet quickly came to Elizabeth’s side, examining the wound, and determining that the injury was minor, having missed the artery. The bullet was visible in the wound, having come to a stop against the bone. Mr Bennet grabbed a cloth and held it to his beloved daughter’s arm.
As the pistol fired, Mr Hill had moved into action. He grabbed the insane clergy by the shoulder, attempting to move him, when Collins turned, striking the side of Hill’s head with the butt of the gun. The butler stepped backwards, which allowed Collins to turn his attention back to the door of the room.
“I will be rid of you, ghost. Leave my home and never return.” He shouted, as he flung the lantern against the door.
The oil from the shattered glass covered the door, feeding the flame and allowing it to grow. Collins stood there, a menacing grin taking form on his lips.
Shouting began, from inside the room and in the hall. Mr Hill calling to the family, Mr Bennet and the girls, begging them to leave their refuge. The fire took life, spreading quickly.
Mr Bennet shouted to his servant. “Wake everyone, get them out of the house. Go, Hill. Wake your wife and the others, get them to safety.”
Knowing he could not put out the flames by himself, Mr Hill listened to his employer and hurried from the hall, raising the alarm as he woke the maid, footman, cook and his wife.
Collins remained in the hall, smiling as he watched the fire devouring all around him, proud of his determination to be rid of the evil he was certain surrounded him. Only when the floor gave way beneath his feet did the smile give way to fear. His life ended as his body slammed into the floor below, with debris collapsed on top of him.
The Bennets discovered the fire had spread quickly, cutting them off from the secret passage from the room. “Jane, open the window. We must climb down from the roof.” Elizabeth took command of the situation. “You should go first, so you can assist Papa from the roof.”
“But you are hurt, Lizzy.” Jane argued.
“Please Jane, there is no time to discuss the matter. You need to go first, then Papa. I will follow Papa. Hurry, Jane, there is no time to lose.”
The window was stuck, taking both Jane and Mr Bennet to open. Once it was open, Jane gathered the skirt of her gown and climbed out of the opening. She began sliding a bit on the roof, catching hold of the window sill to stop herself. The young lady turned to her father, holding out her hand to him. Mr Bennet climbed out, and the pair assisted one another down the slope of the roof, utilizing a large wisteria on the side of the house to climb down to the ground.
Elizabeth watched until her relations were on the ground before she gathered the hem of her gown, preparing to step out of the window.
Suddenly, a crashing noise was all Elizabeth heard. As she felt herself falling, the world faded.