Want to take a moment to wish everyone a happy holiday season, whatever holiday you celebrate. It is one thing I love about this time of the year. Whether it is Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, or something else, we have so many things in common. Kindness, love, caring are all part of this time of the year. We need to do this through the rest of the year. I did complain when they were putting up Christmas stuff before Halloween, but had to laugh when I saw at our grocery store they were putting up some Valentine items.
Here are the next chapters. Hope you like the story so far. Have a good time and I will try to post an extra time this weekend for Christmas.
Darcy slept very little; his mind continued to replay the events of the previous evening. After the Bennets had left, Miss Bingley waited until her brother had gone to speak with the housekeeper before she decided to declare her disapproval of the ladies, especially Elizabeth.
“My, I am surprised that the Bennets left so early. They struck me as the sorts that would have remained until they were the last to leave.”
“Miss Elizabeth was unwell and required to return home. Her father and the apothecary took her to Longbourn, so she could be treated.” Darcy spoke curtly.
“Just how did Miss Eliza become unwell? Did she climb a tree or scale the library shelves? Or did she walk in the rain and take ill as was how her sister took ill?” Miss Bingley was small minded and critical of the young lady she saw as her threat to becoming Mrs Darcy.
“She was on the balcony and was struck by something.” Was all that the gentleman would state.
“How careless Miss Eliza is. She is forever causing some sort of inconvenience. Remember when she arrived here to tend her sister? Her hem was coated in at least to six inches of mud.”
“Her devotion to her sister is commendable.”
“Miss Bennet is a sweet girl, but she comes from a questionable family of no consequence. Are you still planning to return to London on the morrow?”
“No, there has been a change in my plans.” Darcy replied tersely.
Miss Bingley mistakenly believed that the gentleman was desiring to remain to be with her. “Charles was planning to leave tomorrow for London for some business. Louisa and I thought of joining him and remaining in town for the festive season, but perhaps remaining here would be better. It will be pleasant to be able to spend more time with you, Mr Darcy. Will you send for dear Georgiana to join you? I can have rooms prepared for her.”
“My sister is staying with our aunt and uncle for now, as I have not made all my decisions yet. I plan to visit Longbourn as much as possible. Your brother and I will likely be spending a lot of time there.”
To say Miss Bingley was unhappy was an understatement. The last place she wanted Darcy to be spending time was with the Bennet family.
“You should speak with Charles of his relationship with Miss Bennet. Her lack of fortune and connections would only damage Charles in society. It would be best if he were to remove from this estate and return to town. If we remove to London, you would be here all alone. Perhaps you should return to your family rather than remain at Netherfield.”
Darcy knew what Miss Bingley was attempting, as she wanted nothing more to do with the Bennet family. “It is not my place to tell your brother where to live or with whom to spend time. He seems quite taken with Miss Bennet, and I see nothing that would make such a match imprudent. As the young lady is a gentlewoman, who has a long family history as part of the landed gentry, a marriage to her would elevate your brother’s standing.
Between the lady’s derogatory statements against the Bennets and her obvious desire to become Mrs Darcy, no matter the way she had to accomplish the task, Darcy wished to be far from her as possible.
The night had been filled with nightmares of Caroline Bingley sneaking into his bedchamber and into his bed as he slept, as well as the images of the events at the ball. The heartless abuse of Miss Elizabeth by Mr Collins tore at the gentleman’s heart. He knew then that his heart had claimed the dark-haired beauty for his own. Fitzwilliam Darcy admitted that he was deeply in love with Elizabeth Bennet. There was nothing that would stop him from his desire to marry the young lady.
Once he was prepared for the day, Darcy made his way to the breakfast room, where the servants were laying out a grand array of food. Surprisingly, Bingley was already in the room. Bingley was not known to be awake early, unlike Darcy who tended to be awake at sunrise.
“Bingley, I am surprised to see you so early.” Darcy moved to the sideboard to fill his plate.
“Who could sleep after all that happened? Today will be a hectic day, with Sir William coming once again, not to mention determining what will become of Mr Collins. Will there need to be a trial or will Collins agree to transportation?” Bingley grumbled.
Mrs Nichols, the Netherfield housekeeper came hurrying into the breakfast room, her demeanor showing the woman was flustered. “Mr Bingley, you must come quickly. Something terrible has happened.”
Both the men jumped to their feet. Darcy was the first to speak. “What has happened?”
“Upstairs, Mr Collins…”
The men hurried up the stairs, taking two steps at a time. When they arrived in front of the door to the bedchamber being guarded, the men found a weeping maid and two footmen standing beside her.
“What has Collins done?” Bingley asked.
“He…did nothing. It appears that someone has killed the parson.” One of the footmen stated. “His body was discovered when Lucy was taken in to build up the fire. She and Larson entered the room and removed themselves moments after, having seen the body and the blood all over the bed.”
“Good God. We must send for the constable and the magistrate. The constable is the smithy, Mr Hammond. The magistrate is Sir William Lucas at Lucas Lodge.” Darcy took command. “We need to lock the door and allow no one inside. No one is to disturb the scene.”
Bingley had moved down the hall to a chair. Sinking into the seat, Bingley was shocked at the turn of events.
“Charles, I suggest you send a message to Longbourn, informing the Bennets of what has happened. Collins was the heir to their estate, and after last night, it will be a blessing to them to be rid of the man.”
“Must inform them that we will not be able to call on them until after we have dealt with everything. I wished to know how Miss Elizabeth is this morning.”
Darcy lowered his voice as he spoke with his friend. “Mr Bennet expects me to call this morning. We need to discuss my marrying Miss Elizabeth as soon as possible. Now, it will be difficult to keep what happened last night from coming out. Not that we would be able to keep the truth quiet for long, but I hoped Miss Elizabeth would have the time she required to recover more before all the gossip began.”
Bingley nodded. “Bloody hell, I will have to inform my sisters of this, which will lead back to why Collins was here. Caroline will demand we leave for London immediately. Any excuse to remove us from the Bennet ladies.”
“You should wait to speak with the constable or Sir William, allow them to determine if there is a need for your sisters to remain. Though I would encourage your sisters remain here, to keep suspicion down, you know tolerating them will be difficult for me. We will not be leaving. Miss Bingley will use this as an excuse for all of us removing to London or further attempting to dissuade us from Longbourn. She has already declared that we should remove from neighborhood and that I should assist her in keeping you from Miss Bennet.”
A chuckle escaped Bingley. “I would have thought you would do anything to be rid of Caroline.”
Darcy gave a weak smile. “Of course I would prefer to see your sister leave for town. I am only saying they should remain as they were in the house when the murder occurred.”
“Of course.” Bingley sobered at the realization that there had been a murder in his home.
Over the following hour, more people arrived, including Mr Hammond, Sir William, Mr Bennet, and Mr Jones. The undertaker, Mr Knell, arrived with a casket to remove the body after the constable and Sir William thoroughly investigated the scene.
Mr Jones had examined the body of William Collins. “It appears to be multiple stab wounds were responsible for the man’s death. One of the stabs was to the heart. It appears that he bled out quickly, perhaps dying before he knew what was happening.”
“You will testify to that information, Mr Jones?” Mr Hammond asked.
“Of course.” Mr Jones shook his head at what he remembered from the evening’s events. “Forgive me, I have no sympathy for this man, though I do not condone murdering him. As you were here last night and saw what the blackguard did to Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I admit that I am grateful for this man’s death. The young lady was brutalized by the blackguard. When I was summoned to come here, I was at Longbourn to see Miss Elizabeth. What you saw of her injuries last night is nothing in comparison to how she appears today. No, I do not condone murdering someone, but in this case, I will not feel any sorrow for the man’s death.”
“How is Miss Elizabeth this morning?” Sir William spoke to his friend and neighbor.
“The swelling is worse, which is to be expected. There are more bruises visible today. It is difficult for her to eat, but Mrs Hill was able to get Lizzy to take some broth and tea.” Mr Bennet replied.
“She will require food to give her strength to recover. Mrs Hill is wise when it comes to remedies. I must say I am concerned with her eye. The swelling has placed pressure on the eye. Hopefully it will not cause any permanent damage. Fortunately, Mrs Hill has ensured ice is available to aid with containing the swelling.” Mr Jones was accustomed with the Bennet’s housekeeper’s ability.
Darcy was concerned. “Mr Jones, if it is acceptable, I will send to London to request my family physician come to examine Miss Elizabeth.”
“I believe her father and I would welcome another opinion for her care.” Mr Jones replied as Mr Bennet nodded in agreement.
“Mr Bennet, when was the last time you saw Mr Collins?” Mr Hammond inquired.
“When they took him upstairs to keep locked in a guest room. Seeing to Lizzy was my priority. Mr Jones and I left to take Lizzy home so she could be tended. We were awake until nearly three. I was awake near sunrise, as my daughter had a nightmare.”
The news caught Darcy’s attention. “Is Miss Elizabeth well?”
“She will be with time. Her sleep was restless, and we did not feel good about leaving her alone. What happened terrified her, though Lizzy will never admit to being afraid. The beating left her feeling vulnerable which my dear girl does not like.”
“Would it be appropriate if I were to call on her later? I wish to see her, to ensure to myself that she is recovering and will continue to improve.” Darcy’s voice conveyed the vulnerability he was feeling at being unable to do something to take away the pain and suffering the young lady was experiencing.
“You have my permission, Mr Darcy. I would not wish to stand in your way, as I know how deeply you care for my Lizzy. Perhaps it will assist her in her recovery, as I know she considers herself to be ruined. Lizzy believes that she will need to be sent away to protect her sisters.” Mr Bennet was grateful for the young man who had fallen in love with Elizabeth. The older gentleman was certain that his daughter had made a perfect match on many levels. Theirs would be an equal match, unlike what Mr Bennet experienced with his wife.
Mr Hammond continued on with his investigation. “Mr Darcy, I will need a statement from you and Mr Bingley. You said that Miss Bingley, Mr and Mrs Hurst were unaware of Mr Collins being here overnight?”
Bingley approached. “They were unaware when they retired, though I am certain by now, they have been made aware of a situation, after the body was discovered. I had planned to tell them after they woke this morning, but they were most likely sleeping in due to the late night with the ball.”
“When was the last time anyone saw Mr Collins alive?” Sir William asked. “Did anyone see him after he was secured in the room?”
“We went directly to the guestroom from the library. The footmen escorted Collins inside the room, and then the doors were secured. One footman was in the servant hallway, two others were guarding the door from the hallway. There is no sitting room attached to that guest bedchamber, so there were no other entrances to the room.” Bingley was baffled at how the murder had happened.
“What time was it when he was locked inside the room?” Hammond was thorough.
Darcy and Bingley looked at each other to estimate the time. “The assault against Miss Elizabeth was after supper was over, about the time the first set after supper had begun. By the time we took Mr Collins to the library and sent for the other men to join us, then we all discussed what had happened. After we discussed with Sir William to determine Mr Collins’ fate, which we decided to wait for the final verdict for today, then he was taken to the guest room to be held. It was well after midnight. I believe there was only two sets left by the time we returned to the ballroom.” Darcy was searching his mind to ensure the timing was correct.
Sir William nodded his head. “I believe you are correct. When I returned to the ballroom they were preparing for the next to last set.”
Hammond nodded his head. “All of you men should remain in the county until after we finish the investigation. We will need to ask more questions, while we search for the person responsible for this murder. There are many people who are suspect in the case, as you are most likely aware.”
“Of course. We have nothing to hide. As I said, I was too busy, concerned for my daughter. If not for my concerns for Lizzy, and the witnesses who can attest to my being at Longbourn, I would be one of the people high on the list of suspects, as I struck him last night, which was witnessed by most of you.” Mr Bennet stated.
“To be honest, punching the blackguard was one of the proudest moments in my life.” Bingley looked at the bruising on his knuckles. “I have never been violent in my life, but Collins blaming everyone else for his actions was beyond the pale.”
“Anything that is needed to aid in the investigation will be provided.” Darcy stated. “I wish to know who deprived us of seeing Miss Elizabeth’s attacker justly punished for his crimes.”
“As you can understand, you are one of the suspects, Mr Darcy.” Mr Hammond reddened from what he said.
“You do not have to tell me that I am most likely the top of the list of suspects. I was the one who caught Collins assaulting the young lady I love, saw her being struck and bleeding from the parson’s beating. You should also know that my concern was and is for Miss Elizabeth’s wellbeing. Knowing that the man would be either transported to a penal colony or hung for his crimes eliminated the need to take matters into my own hands. If I killed him, what good would I be able to do for Miss Elizabeth? No, there was no reason for me to kill the man, but I will not weep for his demise. The Bennet family, especially Miss Elizabeth, can be at peace, without fearing Mr Collins.”
Shortly after, the body was removed from the guest chamber. Unfortunately, Caroline Bingley had come out of her rooms to speak with her brother. The body of Mr Collins was covered, but blood was soaking the linens over the man. The lady stood as cold as ice, frozen in place, as she closed her eyes.
“Caroline, you should have remained in your rooms. I would have come to speak with you after this is handled.” Bingley was frustrated with his sister. She had already demanded, just after the last guest had left, they close Netherfield and return to London, not wishing to remain in Hertfordshire. Mr Hammond had informed Bingley that it was better for Miss Bingley and the Hursts remain for the time being.
Her eyes searched the men in the hall. Spying Darcy and her brother, Miss Bingley took a sigh of relief. “Who was that on the stretcher? What is going on in this house? We cannot remain in this house. It is cursed. Only our immediate removal would protect us from the evil.”
“The body was Mr Collins. He was killed after the ball.” Bingley responded as he moved closer to his sister.
“Why was that man in this house? He should have returned to Longbourn with his relations.”
Choosing to ignore his sister’s question, he responded to her desire to flee the area. “You will have to remain at Netherfield, as the constable has determined we all must stay here until we discover who is responsible for what happened. Return to your rooms and I will have Mrs Nichols see to trays brought to you.”
“Mr Darcy, certainly you must see that we should leave at once. It is likely that a member of the Bennet family killed the parson. We must leave this estate and county to ensure we are not killed as well.” Caroline pleaded with the gentleman for his aid.
“Not only will I not leave because of investigation, but I have every intention of remaining here until Miss Elizabeth Bennet is recovered so that we can marry.”
“You cannot be serious! Marry that country nobody? That repulsive chit? There are better women who would be perfect as your wife. Someone who is part of the ton, someone elegant and able to be the perfect hostess for you.” Especially the lady standing before you. I would be the best match you could make!
Darcy desperately controlled his anger as he spoke in a hiss. “As you have been informed on many occasions, I will only marry for the deepest sort of love. I am in love with Miss Elizabeth, not with you. Even if you were to be found in my bed, no clothes, I would not marry you. You will never be Mrs Darcy, and it is time for you to accept the truth. All these people are now witness to my decision and that I have informed you.”
Caroline huffed before turning and rushing down the hall. Darcy’s words had struck her hard. She had to turn his attention from Eliza Bennet, she just had to make Darcy see that he had chosen the wrong person to take as his wife. There had to be some way to make him see the truth.
After hours of questioning everyone in the house, Mr Hammond left Netherfield. He left orders for the guest room where Collins had been killed to be left as it was, no cleaning and no one was to enter the room.
Darcy and Bingley made their way to Longbourn, after Bingley left strict instructions with the servants to not allow his sisters attempt to pack their belongings and flee from Netherfield. He believed Caroline would find her brother’s absence a good time for her and the Hursts to leave the estate.
Arriving at Longbourn, the gentlemen were welcomed inside. They were escorted into the parlor, where most of the Bennets were taking tea. Mr Darcy inquired as to Elizabeth’s condition.
Mrs Bennet was displeased with what was happening. Learning of Collins’ death, the mistress of Longbourn was concerned as to who would inherit the estate with the parson dead. The last thing she cared about was anything to do with her disobedient daughter. Giving a distasteful sniff, the lady attempted to change the conversation to making a match between Darcy and her youngest daughter.
“Please be seated, gentlemen. Mr Darcy, you should sit here, on the sofa, next to Lydia. She is such a lively young lady; you would enjoy spending time with her.”
Lydia was not pleased with her mother’s suggestion. The youngest of the Bennet daughters had her heart set to marry a man in a uniform, preferably a red coat. The girl had no desire to marry a man she found to be stuffy and gruff.
“Thank you, Mrs Bennet, but I need to speak with your husband.” Darcy was as civil as possible.
“Mr Bennet is upstairs, speaking with Jane. I should have Mary go upstairs, so Jane might join us now that you gentlemen are arrived. Jane has been spending the morning with her sister, so it would be best for her to enjoy some pleasant conversation. I must say, I was displeased to have to leave early last night. The ball was so pleasant. It has been so long since I have enjoyed such an event.” The lady exclaimed.
“I will go to Mr Bennet upstairs.” Darcy turned to follow Mrs Hill to the master of the estate.
“Oh, it would not be appropriate for you to enter Lizzy’s room. You can wait here, with us.”
“Mr Bennet has already approved my visiting Miss Elizabeth, so I can see for myself how she is doing.”
Mrs Bennet was furious when Darcy refused her offer. She had decided to make the best possible match for her favorite daughter. If any of her girls was to marry one of the wealthiest men in England, it should be Lydia, not Lizzy.
Darcy was shown up to Elizabeth’s room, where the housekeeper knocked on the door. The maid opened the door and stood to the side. Mrs Hill stepped inside the room.
“Mr Darcy is here to speak with you, Mr Bennet.”
“Thank you, Hill, allow him in.” Bennet motioned for the gentleman to enter. There was a chair situated near the bed which was available for the younger man.
“How is Miss Elizabeth today?” he inquired; his eyes turned to the body on the bed.
“Alive…” came the soft, raspy voice of the lady in question.
A smile brought out the rarely seen dimples that appeared on his cheek. “That is welcome news, Miss Elizabeth. To lose you would make the world a sad place.”
Jane was seated on the other side of her sister’s bed. “We have sent for more ice, as it is aiding with the swelling. Mrs Hill has added some of her own remedies, including the honey her son collected from his hives.”
“She swears…by its…healing powers.” Elizabeth explained.
“Mrs Hill also brought some lavender to add to the honey. Both aid the body heal from infection and pain.” Jane added. “We have been placing some on Lizzy’s lips and the cut under her eye. Today will be the worst of the swelling, I am sure. The day after the injury always looks worse. As long as there is no infection, Lizzy should be on the mend soon enough.”
“I look forward to your sister’s quick recovery. It is my plan to be able to take walks in the gardens of Longbourn and Netherfield, with Miss Elizabeth at my side.”
“Sounds…lovely…” Elizabeth was well known for her love of nature and long walks.
Darcy sat on the chair, picking up Elizabeth’s hand in his own. “As soon as you are recovered enough, we will enjoy many walks. You will find great joy in the gardens of Pemberley. There are three gardens which were designed by my mother, along with many areas kept natural with two ponds and a stream running through the estate. Though you might be thrilled with the trails to walk, I believe there is one room in the manor house with which you will be overwhelmed. The library is one of the largest in England. It is the product of many generations, and is two floors high, filled with books. Many first editions.”
“Heavenly…” Elizabeth’s voice expressed the joy she would find in such a place. Then a sadness came over her. “You will…not wish…me…there…”
A puzzled look came over Darcy. “Why would I not wish for you to be in our home? Elizabeth, I am just as certain of my decision to marry you as I was last night. You are the young lady who holds my heart, my soul. Please know that I cannot imagine life without you at my side.”
“Not in my eyes. To me, you are still the lovely, wonderful young lady with whom I fell in love. What others might think, does not matter. You were attacked by an evil man, and you were not ruined in my view. All anyone else needs to know is that I witnessed the assault. It is my regret not to have reached you before Mr Collins began striking you. Nothing will change my mind, I will love you, always and forever.” Darcy lifted her hand to his lips, placing gentle kisses on the back of it. Suddenly a smile graced his expression. “We will not allow anyone else divide us. Besides, anyone who knows me is aware of my distaste for society, and if we do not receive invitations to the events of high society, it will be an added bonus of having you as my wife.”
Her eyes were too swollen for tears, though Elizabeth appreciated what Darcy said, more than she could explain. Knowing that he would be with her, through all that was to come made her heart soar. “Promise?”
“On my honor as a gentleman, I will not allow anyone to change my mind or make decisions me. If others do not accept my choice, they do not wish the best for me, so why would I listen to them. My aunt, Lady Catherine, will likely have a fit. She has wished for me to marry my cousin, her daughter. Mr Collins spoke of my aunt’s desire. My cousin, Anne de Bourgh, does not wish to marry me, any more than I wish to marry her. We care for each other as cousins, nothing more. Anne could never be a proper wife, as she is too weak to be the mistress of my homes, and would not be able to carry a child, which is required for an heir. Anne prefers to live her life without ever marrying. Her father left her a generous inheritance, which our uncle, Lord Matlock, oversees. Lady Catherine is not practical when it comes to the finances of the estate. She prefers to be surrounded by impractical furnishings in her home; she decorates as if she were royalty. Anne’s inheritance is separate, her mother cannot acquire any of the inheritance. This infuriates my aunt. If Anne and I wed, Lady Catherine believes she will be able to have access to my wealth.”
Bennet was surprised. “What will your aunt do when she learns of her parson’s death, not to mention that you wish to marry the same young lady Mr Collins wished to have for his wife?”
“Lady Catherine will not be happy. It is likely she will have a tirade. But she cannot forbid me from marrying as I see fit. My Uncle Henry and Aunt Helen, Lord and Lady Matlock, will support my decision. My sister will as well. Colonel Fitzwilliam, his lordship’s younger son, will approve when he returns from the continent. Uncle Henry is the head of the Fitzwilliam family, which places him over Lady Catherine. I am the head of the Darcy family. They may make suggestions, but I do not have to accept their advice.”
“I wonder what my disgusting cousin told your aunt. Mrs Hill stated that Collins sent daily letters to Kent.”
“Knowing my aunt, she will likely come to Hertfordshire. She will not be able to insert herself in becoming involved in the investigation, which will infuriate her. Lady Catherine is fond of thinking she knows better than anyone else, so attempting to take over the investigation is something she would think her right.”
“How will you handle her decisions if your aunt comes?”
Darcy sat up straight. “My aunt can do nothing to change my decision. I wish to marry Miss Elizabeth. Your daughter is more important to me than anything Lady Catherine can do or say.” Turning to look directly at Elizabeth, Darcy continued to speak. “You mean everything to me, Elizabeth. I know in my heart that you are the lady who will make my heart whole. We have taken everything for granted after last night, and through it all, I have yet to ask you for your opinion. Forgive me for not behaving properly. Would you, Elizabeth Bennet, make me the happiest of men? Will you marry me?”
A tear escaped down one of Elizabeth’s cheeks. “Yes.”
There was a commotion from downstairs and the men left Elizabeth and Jane upstairs while they went downstairs to discover what was happening.
“Mr Darcy, I am here to arrest you.” Mr Hammond stated when he spied the men. “I will need you to accompany me, as we will be securing you in the cell of my office in Meryton. We will not be taking a chance on someone harming you before the law can do its duty.”
Mr Bennet was confused. “Why would you believe Mr Darcy to have committed any crimes?”
“Some evidence has been located which makes Mr Darcy the number one suspect in the murder of Mr William Collins.”
Bingley and Mr Bennet were appalled. “My friend could not possibly be responsible for Mr Collins’ death.” Bingley defended the gentleman he had been friends with for many years.
“Mr Darcy is not responsible for my cousin’s death. I would stake my life on the man being innocent. What evidence have you discovered?” Mr Bennet demanded.
“I am not at liberty to say. Sir William Lucas has been made aware of the situation, and he sent me to bring Mr Darcy for questioning.” The constable attempted to puff himself up with importance.
There was a knock on the front entrance door and Mr Hill answered it, allowing Mr Phillips to enter the home. Mr Phillips needed no introduction, as his wife and Mrs Bennet were sisters, and he was the solicitor for the Bennet family. “Bennet, I spoke with Sir William in the village. He informed me that Hammond was coming to arrest Mr Darcy.”
Seeing Darcy and Bingley standing beside his brother in law, Mr Phillips continued. “Mr Darcy, I wish to offer my services as a solicitor, at least until you are able to send for your own solicitor from London.”
“I would be grateful for your assistance, Mr Phillips.” Darcy acknowledged. “Bingley, would you send to town for Mr Adamson to come?”
“Of course, Darce. I will send it express.
Mr Hammond wished to be away from the Bennet house as soon as possible. “Come, Mr Darcy. We will meet with Sir William in Meryton. He will be coming to the assembly hall.”
“I will join you, Hammond.” Mr Phillips stated.
“As will I.” Bennet added. Turning to look at Bingley, the master of Longbourn spoke. “You are welcome to use the writing supplies in my study. Mr Hill can assist you with your needs. Also, one of the grooms can be used to take the message to Meryton to post it express.”
“Thank you, Mr Bennet.” Bingley followed the butler down the hall to the study.
Mary Bennet, who had heard the men, glanced between her father and the stairs leading to her sisters. Mr Bennet knew what his middle daughter was thinking and nodded his head. “Go up to Jane and Elizabeth. Do not tell Lizzy anything that will upset her. She will have a difficult enough time recovering without worrying over her betrothed. Simply tell her that Mr Darcy is required to answer some further questions.”
“Yes, Papa.” Mary waited until her father and the other men had left for Meryton before she went to Lizzy’s room.
“Mary, what is happening? What was all the noise?” Jane asked, her anxiety clearly etched on her expression.
“Mr Hammond was here, and the men are joining Sir William in Meryton. There are some further questions that Sir William and Mr Hammond have for Mr Darcy, Papa, and Uncle Phillips.”
Elizabeth was alarmed by the news and attempted to rise from her bed. “Must go…be with…Mr Darcy…”
“No, Lizzy, you cannot leave this bed. Mr Jones will be here shortly, he will not allow you to sit up, let alone leave your room.” Jane insisted, holding her sister down by her shoulders.
Though she was in no condition to struggle with her sister, Elizabeth refused to give up without a fight. “Jane, they…think…Mr Darcy…killed…”
“Certainly not. How could anyone believe Mr Darcy is a murderer? It is foolhardy to imagine such a thing.”
“Must go…” Elizabeth was able to rise, against her sister’s demands for her to remain in bed.
“Please, Lizzy, you will make yourself ill if you leave your bed.” Jane pleaded.
“He will never forgive me if I allowed you to leave the house. You need time to heal.”
Elizabeth was lightheaded, dizzy when she stood. After several moments, she moved to the door of her room.
Jane came behind her, desperate to convince her dearest sister to return to her bed. “Lizzy, you are in no condition to leave this room. You are not even dressed. Just look at you, wearing a night shift. I will not assist you in dressing, nor will anyone else in the house. The servants are forbidden to assist you in leaving this room. Please, my dear sister, return to your bed.”
There was no convincing Elizabeth once her mind was made up. When it came to protecting the man she loved, Elizabeth Bennet would stop at nothing, even dressing properly.
Slowly, Elizabeth made her way down the hall and to the stairs. All the way, Jane continued in vain to convince her stubborn younger sister to return upstairs.
Elizabeth managed until she was only three steps from the bottom of the staircase before she crumpled to the floor. Bingley was still at Longbourn, having just sent the groom to carry his messages to Meryton to be expressed to London, and he heard a commotion.
“Help us, please. Someone, we need help.” Jane called out.
Bingley had returned to the parlor prior to Jane and Elizabeth coming downstairs. Hearing his dearest angel shouting, Bingley hurried to be of assistance.
“Why is your sister out of her room? She is going to do herself more harm.” Bingley was appalled. He tenderly assisted the young lady who would one day, he hoped, be his sister.
“Take me…to Darcy…” Elizabeth trembled as she forced herself to stand once again, gasping as she spoke. The pain she was experiencing was tremendous. Moving about had increased what she was experiencing, as the swelling in her face had impaired her vision and her cheeks. Her lips were also swollen and split, making speech difficult. But she was determined to get to Darcy.
“Miss Elizabeth, it would not be proper. Not only due to your attire, it would not be proper for a you to be out of your home. The injuries you sustained, you need to remain in bed so you can recover.” Bingley was nervous as he watched Elizabeth’s face pale, even with the bruising.
With a sudden shake coursing through her body, Elizabeth dropped to the floor, striking her head before either Bingley or Jane could prevent further injury.
~~ ** ~~
The men were at the office of Mr Phillips, as it was deemed more appropriate than the offices at the assembly hall.
Mr Hammond pulled out his pencil and paper. “Mr Darcy, after you and Mr Bingley left Netherfield this morning, we returned to question some of the staff. Miss Bingley allowed us to search the guest rooms, which we did. In your rooms, we discovered something interesting.”
A frown came to the gentleman. “I cannot imagine anything in my rooms to be of interest in the case.”
“What did you find in Mr Darcy’s rooms?” Mr Phillips inquired.
“In the gentleman’s dressing room, behind his trunks, we discovered a knife. There was no blood on it, though it seemed to be hidden as if Mr Darcy did not wish for anyone to know it was there.”
“Did you speak with my valet? Fletcher would be more knowledgeable as to what is in my dressing chambers. There must be a logical reason for the knife to be there. Perhaps he had used it and placed it on the trunk, and it was accidently knocked off the trunk.”
“We spoke to Mr Fletcher and he claims to have never seen the knife before.”
“Do you have the knife?” Mr Bennet inquired. “How are we to know anything about a knife, if there is not more information about it? How large is it, what style and is there any identifying marks on the blade or handle? Asking if the man knows anything about a knife, with no further information, is impossible for him to answer the question.”
“I have the knife. It is about as long as my hand, narrow blade, with a carved handle.”
Bennet, Phillips, and Darcy looked at each other, all frowning. No one appeared to be familiar with such a knife.
Just then, an urgent knock on the office door drew the men’s attention to Bingley having just arrived. Knowing his friend, Darcy was instantly concerned.
“What has happened?” Darcy demanded.
“It is Miss Elizabeth. She rose from her bed and demanded to come here to speak on Darcy’s behalf. When she arrived at the base of the stairs, she collapsed. Miss Bennet and I were caught off guard and did not reach Miss Elizabeth before she struck her head on the bottom step.”