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Action Lizzy and the Four Thieves Chapters 6-8

February 03, 2023 07:06AM
Chapter 6

Richard, Darcy and Bingley were at the spot where the last smear of blood had been found, half a mile West of the road. “This is the last evidence we have of Miss Bennet’s location. We've searched another mile West of here, and then we've swept the search South from here yesterday,” said Sergeant Clifford, a retired army veteran who was leading the search effort.

“No effort has been made to search North of the stream?” asked Darcy.

“We know without a shadow of doubt she was on this side of the stream up to this point. From here, she would have to swim across the stream to cross it.”

They continued walking westward over the rough and stony ground. The stream flowed fast next to them, and the banks of the stream were steep and treacherous. Darcy pointed to a log that had fallen over the stream. “She could have crossed the stream using that.”

The other men in the search party laughed at the idea. “There isn't a chance a young lady would have risked themselves crossing the stream using a log,” scoffed Sergeant Clifford.

“If she was being chased and in fear for her life, I think she might have. I know the lady in question. I doubt she would have given it a second thought before going over it.”

Richard nodded. “I, too, know the lady. She would be the type to cross.”

Bingley nodded. “Nothing would stop her if she set her mind to it.”

The hounds, that had been led to this point were now given a piece of Lizzy’s clothing that had come from her luggage. They took to the scent and raced towards the log crossing the stream.

As Richard crossed the log, he looked down. “Blood,” was all he said.

The hounds bounded ahead, pulling their handlers behind them. The search party chased after the hounds. They'd come across traces of blood, so they all knew they were on the right track. After three miles, one of the searchers said “I’m impressed by how far she went. There's few who would have gone this far.”

The dogs pulled up and started barking at a blackberry thicket. Darcy felt hope that she had been found, which was soon dashed. One of the lead men bent down. “She’s been here.”

“There's a note,” said Darcy, spotting the paper in amongst the leaves and twigs on the ground. He picked it up, opening it as Richard went in to inspect the thicket.

“She spent some time hiding in here,” called out Richard. “I think she may have slept here. She’s discarded her quill and spilt her inkpot, so I doubt we'll get another note from her.” Richard paused. “She’s lost a lot of blood here. At least half a pint.”

Darcy was scanning the note, with Bingley and other men looking over his shoulder. “She says she's broken her arm, hit her head in the crash and that she’s got a gash in her leg.”

“At least her spirits are still high - she's joking about only having one leg,” said Bingley hopefully. “Why does the ink change to red?” he said, before realising what the answer was. “Oh.”

Richard came out from the thicket, looking very concerned.

Mr Darcy started to read the second part of the note.

Please do not show this ever to Jane, my mother or other sisters. The bandits are searching for me. I have overheard them say that shooting the driver was accidental. I know my Aunt has died and my Uncle is in a bad way. They will “ have their fun with me before killing me.” There are four of them. The man who shot the driver was called Bob. Another bandit is known as Bill. They are returning to their camp which is North of here. Tomorrow they will move to Sherwood forest, as they say that it will be easier to hide there.

I will head South until I come across the stream I initially travelled on and then head East. I'm not sure how far I will go as I have a severe headache. EB

Richard, who had become the impromptu search party leader signalled to the Sergeant and another man. He took the note out of Darcy’ hands. “This note needs to be taken to the sheriff immediately. It contains more intelligence on these thieves than we knew before.”

The man who had received the note nodded, then turned and made his way East.

“Can someone bring me a map?” asked Richard. The Sergeant spread out his folded map against a tree trunk. Richard tapped his nose as he thought. “She can't have gone due South, else we would have come across her. If her track went eastward, you would think she would have made it to the road.”

“Unless an accident befell her and she has now broken her leg,” suggested the Sergeant.

Richard nodded. “Possible, though I find that unlikely. She could have passed out from blood loss. I think some of our party needs to sweep from here to the East, to be sure, whilst the rest of us follow the hounds.” Four men put up their hands and were sent East to search for Elizabeth.

Richard looked at the map and pointed to a stream Southwest of their position. “She has no compass, so besides guessing she was probably heading in a Southerly direction, she may have encountered this stream first, and thinking it was the original one, started following it.” His finger traced the stream as it went East, then turned South, before going West. “My guess is she's now turned about and headed West.”

“She would have realised her error,” said Darcy.

“Eventually. Probably at this point, where she would have faced the setting sun.”

“Then where would she be now?” asked Bingley.

“She would have turned East. That would put her in the area that was searched yesterday, but not searched today,” said Richard, tapping the map on the likely area. “We need to follow her trail. She’s badly injured and likely travelling slow. We should be able to overtake her within the next few hours.”

The hounds found Lizzy’s scent, with Bingley and the others following eagerly behind. After reading the letter, all the men had a new found respect for the young lady and her resilient nature.

Richard pulled up Darcy with a hand on his shoulder. “I recall your fascination for Miss Elizabeth at Rosings. I've never seen you so taken with any lady before. I hope your feelings for her have passed?”

“It was a mere fancy and nothing has come of it. Why is that?” lied Darcy, uncomfortable.

“You understand why she wrote that last note. “ Darcy just stared at Richard in silence. “She’s not expecting she'll have a chance to give her account. We need to be prepared for the worst. Even if we find her alive, it may still be too late for her.“

Darcy felt as though a cold hand was griping his heart and throat as he followed behind Richard.

Chapter 7

Kitty sat in the rented chaise carriage next to her father. Even if she was in a newly dyed black dress and she was technically in mourning, she was excited by the fact she was getting to travel, as she’d never left Hertfordshire before.

Her tea with her mother and Mrs Philip’s had been interrupted by a maid delivering the message they were required immediately at Longbourn. With the intelligence that an express was to be sent to Colonel Forster requesting Lydia’s return sent Mrs Bennet into a spin of panicky speculation.

It was almost a relief to enter Mr Bennet’s study to find out the news. However, the fact that Lizzy was missing made her simultaneously both dead and alive in Mrs Bennet’s mind and sent her into hysterics. Even the view that Lizzy did not appear to be badly injured gave her no solace. Kitty was relieved that Mrs Philips was there, as Mrs Philips helped Mrs Bennet to bed.

Kitty has accompanied Mr Bennet, Jane and Mary to deliver the sad news to Mrs Gardiner’s children. Kitty felt particularly useless, as the children realised what death meant and raced to Jane for a hug. As the elder children were crying, the youngest started to cry and surrounded Jane, their favourite cousin and the one who was like a mother to them. Even though she had not been close to her aunt like Jane, watching the poor children cry had made her tear up.

She fingered the seams of her dress where she felt that the dye had not sufficiently dried. Two of her plain, old dresses had been thrown into a large vat full of dye and hung to dry. When they reached her uncle, proper mourning dresses would need to be purchased. By the time they had left, Mrs Philips was helping prepare the house for mourning, and had seen to the black crepe being tied to the front door and for the Meryton dressmaker to visit Longbourn.

They were now travelling North through towns and places she had never visited before. However, as they passed by farms, one farm looked much like the next one. She turned to her father who sat, looking wretched whilst lost in his own thoughts. “Do you think Lizzy is alive?”

“When I first read the express, I certainly thought the worst. However, I'm more inclined to think positively like Jane. She could not be that badly injured if she could run. And of all you girls, she had the most stamina and best sense of direction. If anyone could survive in the woods, it's her. Provided the thieves did not get her first.”

“She was always the best of us at hide and seek. Lizzy would always find the smallest hidey-hole to crawl into. Or she would be up in a tree and we'd never find her because we never looked up.”

They smiled at the memory. “Do you think the thieves will find her? Do you think they'll ask for a ransom?” asked Kitty.

Mr Bennet considered the question. “No. They've already murdered one person, so no matter what, some or all of them will hang for that when they are found. A prisoner will slow them down, and the increased time Lizzy would have with them will make her more able to describe and identify them.”

They were silent for some minutes before Mr Bennet spoke again. “It’s a pity you didn't know your Aunt Madelein as well as your older sisters knew her. She was a good, sensible and wise woman, and a good mother. Your uncle was lucky to find her. I respected her greatly.”

They sat in silence as their chaise carriage clattered along the road.

Chapter 8

The sun was high overhead and beads of sweat were on all the searcher's foreheads. They followed behind the hounds on the trail that Richard had predicted.

“So Richard, you met Miss Elizabeth at Rosings?” asked Bingley.

Richard was happy to oblige. “Yes, we spent a great deal of time with Miss Bennet. Darcy was always requesting Aunt Catherine to invite the parsonage party to dine with us. I remember Miss Bennet asking about you.”

“Darcy, why didn't you tell me you had seen our Hertfordshire friends?” asked Bingley in an accusing tone.

Darcy was silently uncomfortable with the question. He had no good answer. “I didn't want to raise old wounds,” he said stiffly after an awkward pause.

They walked on. “You should have told me,” said Bingley resentfully.

“I know, I'm sorry Charles,” replied Darcy.

Richard watched the exchange and a sneaky suspicion occurred to him. Was it Miss Elizabeth that Bingley had feelings for? Had Darcy separated them because Darcy himself had feelings for Miss Elizabeth? He thought back on the interactions. No, Miss Elizabeth had not seemed particularly upset or heart broken at Rosings, unless he had severely misjudged her acting abilities. Also, though Bingley seemed concerned about her, he didn't seem anywhere nearly as upset as Darcy. Miss Elizabeth had sisters, one being an elder sister she spoke of constantly. It must be one of the sisters that was Bingley’s paramour.

The dog sniffed and barked at a particular spot at the stream. “It looks like Miss Bennet stopped to take a drink,” said the Sergeant. The dogs then sniffed around the area, barking gleefully. Heather had been layed down on the ground next to an old hollowed out tree trunk, which had been flattened. “She must have slept here last night.” A discarded apple core was not far away.

Another piece of paper caught Darcy’s eye. He picked it up to find a short note, this time written in pencil.

Dear Jane

I followed a stream which I thought was the one to take me back to the road. Too late I relished twas different and it took mi the other way. Only when I saw I was walking towards the setting sun did I know my mistake. Going East. Everything hurts today. I've never felt such pain in ** head.
Tell Papa, Mama and my sisters I love them. Dea Jane, you are the kindest and most generous person I know an the best ** all sister. You of all deserve happiness and should not be kept from love by the actions of others. I know ** Bingley love**** and you him. When you were in London *********. I hope you find *****.

Here it appeared the lead had snapped and the message ended. One of the men said “I found a pencil. The end’s broken off.”

Darcy swallowed uncomfortably. He let the letter fall as Bingley grabbed it before it slipped completely out of Darcy’s hands.

Richard, whose suspicions had now been confirmed, made comment. “She’s not doing well. Her writing is uneven, many of the words were barely legible. You can see the toll her condition is taking on her.” He indicated for the search party to gather around him. “Men, we’re about four hours behind her. Good news is she was still alive this morning and was coherent enough to know to head East. Bad news is that that may not last for long. She’s likely to be at the end of her strength. She’s eaten little in the last 24 hours. It looks like she headed East, but in her condition, she may very well veer away or start walking in circles. We need to spread out and keep an eye out. We may come upon her at any moment.”

The men spread out over a quarter mile and started walking East, with the dogs leading the way, hot on her scent.

After many minutes of silence as they walked behind the hounds, Bingley turned to Darcy. “What did Miss Elizabeth mean when she said that Jane should not be kept from love by the actions of others?”

“Can we talk about this later, Charles? We're trying to find Miss Elizabeth.”

“We’re still hours behind her, Darcy. You know what she was talking about – you met with her at Rosings.”

“Miss Bennet was in London at the start of the year. She visited your sister, and your sister visited her,” replied Darcy stiffly. The truth was now out for better of for worse, but a burden of guilt was now removed from Darcy.

“And you did not feel the need to share it?”

“It was your sister’s business to tell you, not mine. Miss Bennet was her guest.”

Bingley’s face went red. He went to open his mouth, but then looked around at all the others and shut it. “You’re right. Now is not the time to talk on this,” he said stiffly. Richard suspected it took every effort of Bingley’s being not to yell at Darcy. Mr Bingley very deliberately moved further away from Darcy in the search line to the other side of the hounds.

They trudged along behind the hounds who were speeding up and barking with greater excitement as the scent got stronger. Another hour went by before Darcy saw something up ahead.

A brown lump ahead, lying at the base of a tree. A pair of feet and shoes. Hair that had come loose and partly obscured a face.
“Elizabeth,” cried Darcy. She did not move.

Action Lizzy and the Four Thieves Chapters 6-8

Anne VFebruary 03, 2023 07:06AM

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