Regina Jeffers

The Phantom of Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Murder Mystery

Chapter 1

“We should turn back,” Fitzwilliam Darcy cautioned as they pulled their horses even and walked them side-by-side along the hedgerow.They explored the farthest boundary of the Pemberley estate, near what the locals called the White Peak.

“Must we?” Elizabeth Darcy gave her husband an expectant look. “I so enjoy being alone with you—away from the responsibilities of Pemberley.”

Darcy took in her countenance. Hers was a face he had once described as being one of the handsomest of his acquaintance, but now he considered that compliment a slight to the woman. Her auburn hair, her fine sea-green eyes, her pale skin, her delicate features, and her heart-shaped face made her a classic beauty, and Darcy thought himself the luckiest of men. “For a woman who once shunned riding for the pleasure of a long walk, you certainly have taken to the saddle,” he taunted.

“I have never said that I prefer riding to walking. Most would think me an excellent walker,” she insisted. “It is just that when I sit atop Pandora’s back and gallop across an open field, I feel such power—as if Pandora and I were one and the same.”

Darcy chuckled.“Do you call how you ride ‘galloping,’ my Love?”

“And what would you call it, Fitzwilliam?” Even after fourteen months of marriage, he could still stir her ire, though she now understood his love for twisting the King’s English and his dry sense of humor. It had not always been so. Elizabeth had told her friend Charlotte Lucas that she could easily forgive Fitzwilliam Darcy his pride if he had not mortified hers. And Elizabeth’s mother, Mrs. Bennet, had once described Fitzwilliam Darcy as “a most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing.”

Darcy’s eyebrow shot up in amusement: He recognized that tone. They had certainly challenged each other often enough. Actually, shortly after their official engagement, Elizabeth declared it within her province to find occasions for teasing and quarreling with him as often as may be. She had playfully asked him to account for his having ever fallen in love with her.The scene played in his mind as if it were yesterday.

“How could you begin?” said she. “I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning, but what could set you off in the first place?”

It was a time for honesty between them, so he told her,“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” He laced his fingers through hers.

“My beauty you had early withstood.” She teased him by running her hand up his jacket’s sleeve, and Darcy could think of nothing but the natural ease of her touch. “And as for my manners,” Elizabeth continued, “my behavior to you was at least bordering on the uncivil, and I never spoke to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not. Now, be sincere, did you admire me for my impertinence?”

“For the liveliness of your mind, I did,” he said diplomatically. He did not—could not—admit to her his dreams of making love to her.

“You may as well call it impertinence at once; it was very little less.” In retrospect, Darcy silently agreed. He often found himself lost in his fantasies of her; so much so that he did not recognize Elizabeth’s challenge as impertinence, but more of flirtation.“The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention.You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused and interested you because I was so unlike them.You thoroughly despised the persons who so assiduously courted you.” Startled by this revelation, Darcy had to admit that Elizabeth was correct. She caught his attention because she was his complete opposite, although she perfectly complemented his nature.With her, he had become freer. And he had come to think less poorly of the world.

Elizabeth cleared her throat, signaling Darcy that she awaited his response. “I believe, my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth,” he said as he winked at her, “that I must call it a breakneck ride from hell.”

Elizabeth glared at him for but a split second, and then she burst into laughter.“You know me too well, my Husband. Of course, you must take the blame. It was you who taught me to ride to the hound.”

“Why is it, Mrs. Darcy, that all your bad habits came from my influence?”

“It is the way of the world, Fitzwilliam. Because God created Eve from Adam’s rib and breathed life into her form, a woman is a vessel for her husband’s generosity, but also his depravity.”

“Depravity?” He barked out a laugh.“I will show you depravity, Mrs. Darcy.” He reached for her arm, threatening to pull her from Pandora’s back to his lap.

However, Elizabeth anticipated his move, and she kicked her horse’s flanks, bolting away, across the open field toward the tree line. She lay forward along the horse’s neck, cooing encouragement in her mount’s ear. Her laughter tinkled in the crisp morning air, drifting back to where Darcy turned his horse to give chase.

He flicked Demon’s reins to send his stallion barreling after Elizabeth. Although Pandora was as fine a mare as he had ever seen, Elizabeth’s horse stood no chance of beating Demon in an out-and-out race. As he closed in on her, Darcy admired how she handled her animal—how she gave Pandora her head, but still knew when to exercise control over the horse. Elizabeth was a natural, as athletic as the animal she rode.

Darcy pressed Demon a bit harder, and the distance between them shortened. As he accepted his success as inevitable, horror struck. From nowhere and from everywhere at once, sound exploded around him. Pandora bucked and then stood upright, pawing the air. Elizabeth’s scream filled him, as her horse threw Elizabeth forward. His wife nearly slid over the horse’s neck, and then she slipped from the saddle, smacking her backside hard against the frozen ground. From the tree line, the screech of an eagle taking flight set Darcy’s hair on end as he raced to her side.

Sliding from his horse’s back, he was on the ground and running to her. “Elizabeth,” he pleaded, “tell me you are well.” He brushed her hair from her face as he tilted her head backward.

She groaned but moved with only a few awkward movements. “I am most properly bruised.” She brushed the dirt from her sleeve. “And I fear my pride is permanently damaged.”

Darcy kissed her forehead, relief filling his chest, as he helped her to stand. “Are you sure you can make it on your own?” He steadied her first few steps.

Elizabeth walked gingerly, but with determination. “Did you see him?” she asked cautiously.

“See who?” Darcy looked automatically toward the tree line. “I saw no one, Elizabeth; I concentrated on you.”

“The man…I swear, Fitzwilliam, there was a man…there by the opening between the two trees.” She pointed to a row of pin oaks. “A man wearing a cloak and carrying a hat.”

“Stay here,” Darcy ordered as he walked toward the copse, reaching for the pocket pistol he carried under his jacket.

Elizabeth watched him move warily to inspect where she had indicated.“Be careful, Fitzwilliam,” she cautioned as he disappeared into the thicket.

Nervously watching for his return, Elizabeth caught Pandora’s reins as her horse nibbled on tufts of wild grass. After securing her horse’s bridle, she led Pandora to where Demon waited. “Easy, Boy,” she said softly as she took Demon’s reins, but she never took her eyes from where Darcy had vanished into the shadows.

After several long moments, he emerged from behind an evergreen tree, and Elizabeth let out an audible sigh of relief. As he approached, Darcy gestured toward where he had searched. “I am sorry, Elizabeth. I found nothing—not a footprint or any other kind of track. Nothing unusual.”

“Are you sure, Fitzwilliam?” Still somewhat disoriented, she anxiously looked about her. “It seemed so real.”

“Let me take you home.” He moved to help her mount.

“Might I ride with you, Fitzwilliam? I would feel safer in your arms. Plus, I do not think my backside cares to meet Pandora’s saddle right now.”

Darcy’s smile turned up the corners of his mouth. “You cannot resist me, can you, Mrs. Darcy?”

“It is not within my power, my Husband.” Despite her nervousness, her eyes sparkled

Darcy slid his arms around her and brushed his lips over hers.

Elizabeth’s arms encircled his neck. She lifted her chin to welcome his kiss. “You are indeed irresistible, my Love.”

“I was simply uncomfortable,” Elizabeth told Mrs. Reynolds, Pemberley’s long-time housekeeper. They sat at the kitchen’s butcher-block table; they had spent the past hour going over the coming week’s menus and now shared cups of tea.

“Ye be seein’ one of the shadow people, Mistress,” Mrs. Jennings, the estate cook, remarked although she had not been part of the initial conversation.

Elizabeth hid her smile behind her teacup; but her voice betrayed her skepticism. “Shadow people, Mrs. Jennings?”

“Yes, Mistress.” The woman wiped her floured hands on her apron. “People be seein’ shadow ghosts ’round here for years. It be a man. Am I correct, Mrs. Darcy?”

“Yes, I believe that it was a man, although Mr. Darcy thinks it might have been some sort of animal—maybe even a bear.”

Mrs. Reynolds tried to downplay Mrs. Jennings’ fear of the supernatural, a fear shared by many Derby residents.“I am sure it was a bear, Mrs. Darcy. Mr. Darcy would not minimize your concerns by placating to you.”