Darcy and Georgiana had stopped at an inn to take some nourishment when they heard a familiar voice. “William, Georgie, what are you doing here?”
“Richard, fancy meeting you here.” Darcy said, as he stood to shake the hand of his cousin.
“I was in Newcastle delivering orders to the General, when I received a letter telling me you had been injured when you were laid upon by robbers. I was on my way to London, expecting to find you at death’s door.” Richard Fitzwilliam was the second son of an earl, Lord Matlock, and a colonel in the regulars.
Georgiana looked down at her hands, folded in her lap. “I was afraid, William. You were in such a fretful way.”
“I am much better.” Darcy stated in a kind voice. He did not fault his beloved sister for worrying over him, and, as Darcy and Richard shared guardianship over Georgiana, it was only right for her to contact their cousin.
“I can see. Has something happened at Pemberley? I cannot imagine you traveling so soon after a head injury, unless something dire has happened at your estate.”
“No, I…I desired returning home to recover fully. And there are some matters to discuss with my steward. Spring is not too far away, and it is necessary to be prepared for all spring brings to the estate. We have some tenant houses which will require repairs, there are some changes we will implement for planting this year, and many other issues which need to be planned out.”
“My goodness, Wills, it is only February. It will not be until May when you begin to plant.” Richard could see that something was on his cousin’s mind, but decided to wait to see what unfolded.
“Well, it is best not to wait until the last moment to have everything in hand. Speaking of which, I need to speak with our driver, so would you be kind enough to keep Georgiana company?” Darcy waited for his cousin to nod his agreement before he rose from the table and left the dining room.
“Now, Georgie, tell me what is truly happening. I know Wills enough to know he is keeping something from me.”
Georgiana’s eyes rose to meet her cousin’s. “Do you remember when he stayed in Hertfordshire with Mr Bingley?” Richard nodded his head again. “In William’s letters, did he ever mention a Miss Elizabeth Bennet?”
“Yes, and it was quite odd for him to behave so. He has never written of any other young lady, besides you, that is.”
“Miss Elizabeth was at the park when William was assaulted. She drove off the attackers, beating them with a branch she found. Miss Elizabeth has been forced to leave her home, due to her mother’s behavior towards her, and William discovered the information that she will be in Lambton, as her aunt sent her there. It seems the aunt grew up in Lambton, and has friends there. So William is determined to make his way to see Miss Elizabeth.”
“This is highly unusual for your brother. Has the head injury brought about this change?”
Georgiana smiled as she shook her head. “No, Richard, love has. William informed me that he is in love with Miss Elizabeth. It is my belief that he will ask for her hand.”
“Whatever you do, do not tell my mother and father. Mother is determined to find the perfect young lady from society to marry your brother. She is also attempting to find a bride for me as well. It is fortunate my brother is married, or she would truly be upset with all of us. Samuel found a good society wife, one who gives Mother the respect Lady Matlock demands.”
“I support William’s decision, and I pray you will too.”
Richard Fitzwilliam smiled. “Of course, my dear Sprite, I will support your brother’s decision, after I meet the lady in question and satisfy my own curiosity.”
~~ ** ~~
Darcy returned to collect his sister, claiming his desire to be on the road again so they would arrive at Pemberley before dark. Colonel Fitzwilliam decided to accompany his cousins to their estate, for he wished to meet the young lady who was in Lambton. After meeting her, he would speak to Darcy and weigh in his opinion.
The cousins rode the rest of the day in Darcy’s carriage. Georgiana and Richard discussed everything there was, with regards to his family, the threat of war with France and whether Richard would be sent to battle or kept in England to train new recruits. Darcy continued to stare out the window, saying very little, though his mind was busy. Thoughts of Elizabeth Bennet continued to flow through his thoughts, and thoughts of what he would say to her when he saw her again. Over and over, he rehearsed his words and actions, in his mind.
The carriage arrived shortly before sunset, and knowing he would have to wait until the following morning soured Darcy’s mood, for it was his greatest desire to mount a horse and ride directly to Lambton, knock on Mrs Lackney’s door, and, when Elizabeth came into the room, kneel before her and ask for her hand in marriage.
~~ ** ~~
After partaking in breakfast and pacing about his study for an hour, Darcy could no longer wait to make the trip to Lambton. He was nervous, and wished to see Elizabeth immediately. Once he had requested his carriage brought to the front of the house, Darcy found his sister and cousin waiting for him in the foyer.
“Wills, you did not think you would be visiting Lambton without us, did you?” Richard smiled.
“Very well, let us be on our way.” Darcy struggled to hide his grin.
The journey to the sleepy village was not long, though to Darcy, it felt as if it took years to arrive at the dress shop. Not waiting for the servant to open the carriage door, Darcy made his way out of the carriage, almost before it came to a halt. He did not wait for Richard or Georgiana, there was only one thing which held his attention. Elizabeth was inside this building and he needed to see her immediately.
The bell on the door rang out, announcing his arrival in the shop. Mrs Lackney came from the back of the shop, greeting Darcy. “My goodness, Mr Darcy. It is a pleasure to see you. And Miss Darcy, welcome, welcome. What might I do for you today?”
“Mrs Lackney, we were informed you have a guest staying with you. Mrs Gardiner told us that her niece, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, was visiting you until the Gardiner family arrives next week.”
Mrs Lackney was surprised. “I have not seen Miss Bennet. I knew Helen and her family were coming to Lambton to visit, but I knew nothing of her niece coming ahead of them.”
Richard was concerned. There had been reports of highwaymen robbing in the area. “Miss Elizabeth was supposed to have arrived two days ago. Have you not heard from her?”
“My, I heard from Mrs Jackson at the inn, that there was a post carriage attacked. I had no reason to think anything of it, as I was not aware of anyone on it. You must check with her. I will go with you to the inn.” Mrs Lackney picked up her shawl and wrapped it about her shoulders as she made her way out the door, with the others following closely behind her.
Reaching the front door of the inn, Mrs Lackney stepped inside as Richard opened the door and held it for the rest of the party. “Mrs Jackson, are you here?” Mrs Lackney called out.
“Yes, yes, I will be with you in a moment.” Came a voice from the office which was behind the counter. A short, slender lady came out of the office a few moments later. “Ah, Mrs Lackney, what can I do for you today?”
Darcy stepped forward. “Mrs Jackson, can you give me more information of the post carriage which was attacked? I need to learn what happened, as I believe a friend of mine was on the carriage.”
“I highly doubt a friend of yours was traveling post, Mr Darcy, and there were only three ladies on board the carriage with the highwaymen descended upon it. Mrs Freemont was the elderly lady, and she happens to be a guest of ours.”
“Please, Mrs Jackson, it is imperative we speak with Mrs Freemont. I must learn more of the other ladies.” Darcy was nearly frantic. How could this have come to pass? Where was Elizabeth?
Five minutes past by at the pace of a snail. Mrs Jackson returned to the counter, with an elderly lady, introduced to the others as Mrs Freemont.
“Forgive me, Mrs Freemont, but I am Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley. We have been told you were on the post carriage which was robbed.”
“Yes, I was indeed. And I have determined I will never travel again. I sent a letter to my son to bring my belongings here, for I will settle in Lambton rather than make the journey further north.”
“Can you tell me what happened to the other occupants of the carriage?”
“Those poor dear girls. The one who was a maid was frightened, crying terribly. The other one, dear me, what was her name, well, she was standing up to the men. When they did not find any fortune, as they had suspected, they took the young ladies, pulling them on the horses and rode off with them.”
“Was the one young lady named Miss Elizabeth Bennet?” Darcy begged her.
“Why yes, that was her name. Fiery young lady, though I do not hold hope for her being able to escape those men. They were frightfully evil, even with their faces covered.” Mrs Freemont began to tear up. “The men spoke of selling the ladies to a ship. I believe I heard one of the men say something of ships to Antigua. Those dear girls will be sold to some barbaric and forced to be a slave.” Mrs Freemont lost all control of her tears, as they came pouring down her cheeks.
“Mrs Lackney, would you be kind enough to send word to Mrs Gardiner? I believe she will wish to know what has happened to her niece. I will begin a search for the ladies immediately.” Darcy stated as he prepared to leave the inn.
“We will investigate the matter, Mrs Lackney.” Richard announced. “As a colonel in His Majesty’s army, it is my duty to protect the people of England.”
Georgiana was beginning to cry as her brother and cousin assisted her into the carriage. All the way back to Pemberley, the men spoke of where they would begin to search for the ladies, while Georgiana sat quietly. As they arrived at the front steps of the grand house, Darcy began barking out orders to his servants.
“We need several horses saddled and prepared to leave as soon as possible. I require three or four men to ride with my cousin and myself. We will be searching for the ladies who were abducted from the post carriage.”
“Mr Darcy, Jim in the stable might be able to assist. His cousin was the post driver. They spoke the night after the robbery. He may know more about the situation.”
“Very good, Rupert. Have Jim meet me in my study quickly. And have Fletcher pack a bag for me. We will be in the study, looking over the map.” Darcy was striding quickly in the direction of his private study.
Georgiana took hold of her cousin’s arm. “Richard, I am frightened for William.”
“Have no fear, Sprite. I will look after him. Now, promise me, you will remain in the house unless you are accompanied by at least two armed men. And I do not want you to leave the estate, not for any reason. I have a feeling Miss Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle will be on their way to Lambton soon. Keep in touch with Mrs Lackney. When the Gardiners arrive in the area, I believe your brother would find it appropriate for them to be invited to stay here. You have already been introduced to Mrs Gardiner, there should be no difficulties.”
Georgiana decided that it was not the time to inform her cousin that Mr Gardiner was in trade, for it would not matter to Richard.
~~ ** ~~
Within two hours, Darcy, Richard, Jim and three other men were all mounted and on their way to search for the missing ladies.
The men were certain that, if Mrs Freemont had heard correctly when she heard Antigua, and the information Jim had heard from his cousin, the best port to begin searching would be Liverpool. From there, ships would be traveling to the islands.
Darcy could not allow himself to think of what might happen to Elizabeth. Every time his mind drifted in that direction, his heart felt as if someone placed his chest into a vice, squeezing the life from him.
Jim stated his cousin was certain the highwaymen would head west, but he was unsure whether to the north or to the south of where the robbery and abduction occurred. Richard was of an opinion they would head to Liverpool, as there had been word as recent as a month previous which spoke of ships making the journey to the islands and South America from the ports at Liverpool. There were some who believed young ladies were being sold in those areas, young ladies who were English born and bred. Elizabeth Bennet would be prime for selling. Not only was she beautiful, she was intelligent and caring. The very thought of Elizabeth being sold into some sort of slavery was more than Darcy could accept.
~~ ** ~~
Stopping at an inn to rest their horses and take some food and drink, Darcy requested a private room for their party to dine without interruption. Fortunately, there was no such room to be found, and the group was forced to share the dining room with other travelers.
As they were finishing their meal, a young man, dressed in clothes of someone middle class, approached their tables. “Gentlemen, I was wondering if I could interest you in some trinkets to take home to your ladies. I have several piece which would be perfect for a wife or girlfriend.”
“I am not interested.” Darcy stated as he waved them off.
Richard had other ideas. “Let me see the pieces you have. I am in need of a gift for my mother’s birthday.”
Darcy instantly knew something was suspicious, as Richard’s mother had celebrated her birthday more than a month previously. Richard had purchased a beautiful mare for her gift, as Lady Matlock was fond of horses.
The young man pulled a velvet pouch from his coat pocket and opened it. Pouring the items from the pouch on the top of the table, the young man started shifting items about.
Almost instantly, Darcy recognized the garnet necklace which was amongst the other items. “Richard, I believe your mother would enjoy that cross there. She loves garnets and it appears to be in fairly good shape.”
Richard picked up the piece and nearly gasped. On the back of the setting was an etching which was a royal emblem, from Brunswick. He had seen the emblem before, having been on military escort for Princess Augusta several times when she was in England. The only way this piece of jewelry could be in the possession of this young man was if it were stolen from someone of the royal family of Brunswick.
“How much for this piece?” Richard asked.
“Ah, you have picked my best piece. It is quite nice. I will let it go for ten shillings.” The young man puffed himself up as he spoke.
“Very good, I will take it.” Richard said as he stood and acted as if he were reaching for his money in his pocket. Instead, Richard reached behind him and pulled his pistol. “Now, I suggest you place your hands on the table and make no sudden moves.”
The young man’s expression deflated instantly. “What is the meaning of this? Are you robbing me?”
“No, we are arresting you for robbery and kidnapping of a member of the royal family. If I were you, I would begin explaining how you came to be in possession of this piece of jewelry. It was the property of a member of the royal family.”
Darcy was confused, but he did not say as much. He recognized the garnet cross as Elizabeth’s, as she wore it nearly every time he saw her. What was his cousin rambling on about it belonging to a member of the royal family? Was this his attempt to frighten the suspect into confessing the information they required?
“I know nothing of no royal, I swear to you. It was taken from a lady on a post carriage. No royal would be on a post carriage. You must be mistaken.”
“As a colonel in His Majesty’s army, I am placing you under arrest for the robbery and kidnapping of a member of the royal family. Do you see this mark on the back of the setting? That is the emblem used by the family of the Duke of Brunswick. This emblem in the necklace can only mean the piece was stolen from a member of their family. As such, it is within my authority to have you arrested and tried for your crimes. The penalty for abducting a royal is death. I would be within my rights to carry out your sentence immediately. Do I make myself clear?”
The young man nervously nodded his head. Darcy took hold of the garnet cross, looking carefully at the back of the setting. He was sure it was Elizabeth’s, but how could that be if it belonged to a member of the royal family of Brunswick?
“Now, what is your name?” Colonel Fitzwilliam demanded.
“My name is Artie…Artie Campbell.”
“And where are the men who assisted you in the crimes?”
“They said they would go to Liverpool. They was going to sell the two ladies they took from the carriage. I never knew they was gonna take ladies, or I would not be part of this. The leader, Caspen, he is a nutter. He was the one to insist on takin’ the ladies. But they be worth more untouched, Caspen told all of us they were not to touch the ladies or he would kill anyone who did.”
“Caspen was smart. If any of you had harmed a royal in such a manner, you would all be hung without a trial. No upstanding soldier would think twice before running you through, so you would not have even made it to the gallows.”
“Please, I been helpin’ you. Please, I beg for mercy.” Artie was sobbing.
“Tell me where you are to meet up with the rest of the men? Do not lie, I am certain they expect a portion of what you would get from selling these items. Where were you to meet up with them?”
Darcy had taken out the map from his pocket, laying it out on the table before Artie. The young man pointed to the map. “Here. We be meetin’ here. Caspen has a shack near here.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Elizabeth woke with a headache. The past days had been a nightmare, especially the last twenty four hours. The men who had abducted her and Lucy had not harmed them, as she would have expected. She overheard the men speaking in the room adjacent to the one the ladies were in, and learned the reason for the men had not violated them. According to the man who was apparently in charge, women who are still maids could bring a higher price when sold. She heard them speaking of ships which sailed to Antigua and Brazil. The man in charge, Caspen, from what Elizabeth overheard, spoke of when they would arrive in Liverpool and where they would stay while finding the best deal with the captains of the ships. She knew they would need to escape, and the best place to do so would be in Liverpool. There would be enough people in the area to cover the trail of two young ladies, and with fewer men guarding them, as several of the men would be attempting to find way to sell them. Fewer guards, easier to escape.
Liverpool was known as a shipping port, especially slave ships coming from Africa, bound for the Americas. She had also heard tales of young Caucasian ladies being deemed valuable in some destinations. The chances of being sold to some ship’s captain to sell in those destinations was a possibility she did not wish to become a fact. Elizabeth had been successful in keeping Lucy calm, but the young maid began to lose hope of escaping the men, so she spent most of the time sitting, with her knees pulled up to her chest and her arms wrapped around her legs, rocking back and forth while trembling.
The man who was left to guard Elizabeth and Lucy was nearly as nervous as the ladies. He had only recently joined the group, having known Artie for a couple years. The others were out of the shack, some to find a ship’s captain willing to take the ladies, and others to find food. Luck was on the side of the ladies, and Elizabeth took her chances to free herself and the young maid.
Convincing the man that Lucy had become ill, and was having some sort of seizure, the man entered the room. As he stepped closer to Elizabeth’s side, she turned, swinging the pitcher of water, striking him in the head. He fell to the ground, unconscious. Elizabeth took hold of Lucy’s arm and pulled her from the room, rushing to escape the shack.
It had been nearly twenty four hours since they escaped, and Elizabeth was attempting to find assistance for Lucy and her. They needed food and lodging, and were in a strange town, filled with unknown people.
Elizabeth realized she had left some coins in one of her shoes, a trick her father had taught her years before, when Elizabeth would travel by post to Town to visit the Gardiners. “Lizzy, most robbers would not think of a young lady putting money in their shoes. My mother had a pocket sewn to the bottom of her petticoats so she could hide valuables in it when she traveled.”
Those coins allowed her to purchase some bread and cheese. There was enough left to pay for an express to be sent, but who to send it too? Had her aunt and uncle already left Town to meet her in Lambton? Her father would not be able to come to Liverpool. Not only because her mother know where she was and demand coming with Mr Bennet, but Elizabeth knew her father had great difficulty traveling the past year. He had suffered from a fall from a horse which wrenched his back, causing him great discomfort if he rode any distance by carriage.
Elizabeth finally decided to write the express and send it to Mrs Lackney. Though she had never met the lady, the Gardiner family would soon be arriving at Lambton and would expect to find Elizabeth with the dressmaker. Mrs Lackney would surely notify Mr and Mrs Gardiner of the express.
We have not been introduced, but I am Elizabeth Bennet, niece of Mrs Helen Gardiner. My aunt had given me a letter to hand to you when I arrived in Lambton, but, unfortunately, my carriage was robbed and I was taken prisoner, along with my aunt’s maid. It had been my aunt’s hope that you would allow me and my aunt’s maid to stay with you until the Gardiners arrived in Lambton.
To make a long story short, I am in a difficult situation. The maid, Lucy, and I were able to escape from our captors, and are hiding in Liverpool. I had a few coins hidden on me, so I was able to purchase some food, but I do not have much left for lodging for several days, and have no means of paying for our transportation to Lambton from here.
My aunt and uncle should be in Lambton any day, if they are not there already. Would you please notify them of where I am currently? I regret having to ask such from someone I have never met before. The reason for my writing to you is that I am certain my aunt and uncle are already traveling towards you and would not receive my letter. Knowing they thought I had arrived in Lambton and would be staying with you, they would contact you as soon as possible after arriving, I felt it was the quickest way of notifying them.
We are currently staying at the Mallard Inn on Plymouth Street, near the docks of Liverpool. I am hopeful we will be able to stay here for two or three days, but I am certain the men who took us will begin to search for us. Lucy and I are remaining in our room, but I fear the men will discover us.
I pray you will forgive me for involving you in the matter. You will have my undying appreciation for any assistance you can give us.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet
Once sending the message by express, Elizabeth went to speak with the innkeeper.
“Mr Barkow is out at the moment, Miss. Might I be able to assist you?” The lady behind the counter asked. “I am Mrs Barkow.”
“Mrs Barkow, I have a desperate situation which has happened. I have just now sent an express to my family, but I know it will be several days before anyone can come here to assist me.”
“My goodness, what has happened?” Mrs Barkow was a kind lady, though she was cautious. There had been many sob stories told to her over the years which had led the innkeepers to nearly lose their establishment.
“I was traveling to Lambton, with my aunt’s maid, when the carriage was robbed. The highwaymen did not find enough to pilfer, so they kidnapped Lucy and myself. They were planning to sell us to one of the ship captains, to be sold again in the island or South America. We were able to escape, and found ourselves here. I had hidden some coins in my shoe before we entered the carriage, though it was not a tremendous amount. I believe I have enough to pay for lodging for two nights, and perhaps some bread to eat. Hopefully, by then my family will receive my express and come for us.”
“My goodness. Were either of you injured?” Mrs Barkow asked, looking over the young lady, trying to determine if she was speaking the truth of the situation.
Elizabeth smiled. “Fortunately, we are unharmed. The man in charge told the others they would fetch a higher price if we were unharmed and untouched. I am concerned that the men will attempt to locate us. Can you keep our whereabouts secret? The men do not know our name, they only know our descriptions. My name is Elizabeth Bennet. My father owns an estate in Hertfordshire, near Meryton.”
“I have a cousin who lives near Meryton. She works for a Mrs Goulding of Haye Park.”
Elizabeth was excited. “What is her name?”
“Bertha Wallace. She is the…”
“Cook for the Gouldings. I know her. Her lemon tarts are famous in our neighborhood.” Elizabeth smiled at the memory of eating said tarts.
Mrs Barkow knew the young lady was genuine from that statement. She knew her cousin’s lemon tarts had won the lady a prize at a fair in the neighborhood where she lived. “Miss Bennet, I will do what I can to assist you. I will see that trays are brought up to your rooms, so you will not run the risk of being seen by anyone. As for you stay, the coins you have will do for the time being. We will not evict you, I will not allow it. You may stay here until your relations come to collect you. The relations who will come, are they also named Bennet?”
“It would most likely be Gardiners. My father’s health would most likely prevent him from coming. My uncle is Mr Edward Gardiner.”
“Very good. Now, scoot up the stairs and into your rooms. Is there anything else you need? Some clothing or something to read?” Mrs Barkow was searching her mind for some way to assist the young lady.
“I would not wish to put you to further trouble, Mrs Barkow. You have been far kinder than I could have expected. With just Lucy and myself being in the room, we can wash our clothing and hang it by the fireplace to dry. Once my family arrives, we will be able to obtain more clothing.”
“Well, if there is anything you need, please let me know.”
~~ ** ~~
Darcy and Richard were standing next to their horses, having just stopped at an inn to rest their mounts. “Richard, what was all that talk of the necklace being from someone of the royal family? I know it belonged to Miss Elizabeth, I saw her wear it constantly.”
“I am telling you that the etching on the back of the setting is that of royal family of Brunswick. I have seen the emblem on Princess Augusta’s belongings, and she is married to the Duke of Brunswick. Princess Caroline has also had the emblem on items. If Miss Elizabeth has this emblem on the necklace, she must be part of the royal family.”
“But her father is a country squire, with a small estate in Hertfordshire. Elizabeth has a twin sister, and the sister did not wear a necklace such as this. Why would only one of the sisters be given a piece of jewelry with a royal emblem, and the other did not?”
“You do not know that the sister does not have such a piece, do you? Perhaps the sister does not wish to wear her jewelry. But I can tell you for certain, that piece belongs to a royal family member.”
So many thoughts raced through Darcy’s mind. How can this be? How can Elizabeth have jewelry from a royal family? She is not royal, for if she were, she would not be living at Longbourn. Look at the way the Bennet family lives. No, if they were royals, they would not live in such a manner as they did in Hertfordshire. Could the necklace have been presented to Mr Bennet as some sort of reward for service to the crown? But it was from Brunswick. Had Mr Bennet traveled the continent, and had performed some sort of service to the royal family?
All of this does not matter, all that matters is that Elizabeth is found. He could not think of what those men would do to her, it was far too painful to think of.
Darcy reached inside his coat pocket and pulled out the handkerchief which had been Elizabeth’s. He held it tightly in his hand, praying that he would find Elizabeth, and that he would have a chance to tell her how he truly felt for her.
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth was trying to put her feelings in order. The past week had been a jumble of emotions which she had not been able to sort through, as there were so many new emotions piled up on top of the previous ones.
Starting with the day she made a hasty departure from Town, Elizabeth looked over each event. Seeing Darcy at the park, seeing the men who were attempting to rob him, and helping him to his home was strange for her. She remembered the feelings which coursed through her at his touch, with his arm over her shoulder, and leaning against her small body. The memory sent tingling fire throughout her body. She prayed he was well and that the injuries he had received were minor. But she also felt the same as when she spoke to the butler. Mr Darcy would not wish to find her. He did not like her. Elizabeth was positive of that fact. And he would, most likely, be embarrassed that, of all the people in London, Elizabeth Bennet had been the one person to come to his aid.
Her mind continued to return to what the butler told her. He spoke highly of his employer, but was that due to his being paid by the Darcy family? Did he speak his true feelings towards the family or did he say what was expected of him?
Elizabeth looked at Lucy, who was curled up on the bed. The poor maid was so filled with fear, she literally could not function. It was all Elizabeth could do to coax her to take any nourishment or drink anything. This was another reason she prayed the men did not find them, for Lucy was in no condition to walk, let alone run, to escape anyone. Sitting on the side of the bed, Elizabeth spoke softly as she caressed Lucy’s hair. Whenever Elizabeth had been sad or ill, Jane had done such to her and it was always soothing.
As she attempted to keep Lucy calm, Elizabeth prayed that her aunt and uncle would be able to come soon. Though Mrs Barkow had promised to assist them, who knew for certain what was to come.
~~ ** ~~
Mr Bennet rarely left his home, and it had been over ten years since he had last traveled further than ten miles from his home. But after the Gardiners stopped there on their way north, explaining the express they had received from Darcy explaining the abduction, Mr Bennet could not imagine staying home while his beloved daughter was in danger. The Gardiner children had been left in Town with their nanny and the housekeeper, leaving room for Mr Bennet to share the carriage with them. It was clear to see the pain the gentleman had as the carriage traveled along. Each bump was like a needle being thrust into his back.
“What did Mr Darcy say in his letter? It amazes me that the letter was from him. When he was in the neighborhood last autumn, he rarely even spoke.”
“Mr Darcy stated that the post carriage was robbed, and, when the men found very little to steal, they took Elizabeth and our young maid, Lucy. There was talk of the men taking them to sell them to a ship for Antigua. The elderly lady who had been on the carriage with them stated that she had heard that information as the men prepared to leave. Mr Darcy and his cousin were to leave his home of Pemberley, taking with them some of his men, to search for Lizzy and Lucy. They planned to head for Liverpool, and if they cannot find them there, they would determine a new destination.” Mr Gardiner stated.
“Mr and Miss Darcy came to our house and were sad that Lizzy had already left for Lambton.” Mrs Gardiner said. “It is my opinion Mr Darcy is in love with our Lizzy.”
“But he declared her not handsome enough to tempt him to even dance. Elizabeth heard him declare those very words at the assembly.” Mr Bennet shook his head. “How could he change his opinion so easily?”
“From what I know of the family, Mr Darcy is much like his father. Mr Gerald Darcy was very shy when he was in large groups or with people who are unknown to him. The son is similar, according to what my friend have written to me. He is well known in Lambton, but everyone is aware of the shy nature of both he and his sister.”
“And you believe he cares for Lizzy?”
“Yes, I do.” Mrs Gardiner stated. “When do you plan to tell Lizzy the truth?”
Mr Bennet looked carefully at his sister in law. “What do you mean?”
“I mean the truth of her birth? Do you not feel it would be wise for her to know the truth? She should know who her mother was.”
“What do you know of Lizzy’s mother?” Mr Bennet looked between the married couple.
Mr Gardiner looked at his wife as he spoke. “Helen knows of Elizabeth being the natural child of yours and a young lady you were in love with. She is aware of the circumstances of your marriage, and how it came about. I have told her no more of the situation.”
Mrs Gardiner gave her husband a curious look. “What more is there to know? Who was Elizabeth’s mother?”
“Her mother was the cousin of Princess Caroline, the niece of the Duke of Brunswick.” Mr Bennet glanced out the window of the carriage as memories of his beloved Constance. “Lizzy is the very image of her mother.”
“Thomas, I have always been angry with Fanny for having behaved in such a manner, forcing you into marriage. It was wrong. She was aware of your heart belonging to another.”
“I cannot forgive her for her behavior. Though I will never regret my daughters, I often wonder what would have happened if I had been allowed to marry Constance. Would she have lived longer, been able to watch her daughter grow? I know she was devastated when she learned I had to marry Fanny, and, from what I was told, she never truly recovered her spirits. If we had married, she would not have become melancholy. Fanny has always disliked Lizzy, and I can understand her reason, but she brought the situation upon herself by tearing her gown as she did, having witnesses to see how I had supposedly compromised her.”
“And I have told her so many times. Lizzy is a wonderful girl, and she needed a mother. She has never known the truth, how can she be blamed for what happened?” Mr Gardiner shook his head as he spoke.
“Will you tell Lizzy the truth?” Mrs Gardiner asked again. “Will you tell Elizabeth that she was dearly loved by her real mother, rather than thinking she was despised by the only mother she knows?”
“I do not know.” Mr Bennet answered, his gaze still locked on the scenery passing them by. “I just do not know. I am surprised she has never learned the truth before this. Fanny has slipped in her words several times in the past few months, when she is furious with Lizzy.”
“I was afraid of her behaving in such a manner.” Mr Gardiner said. “I have warned her several times to keep her tongue in check.”
“I will ask you to keep secret Constance’s connection to the royal family. Fanny is unaware of the connection, and I would hate to think what notions would leap into her mind. She is also unaware of the fact that there is a bank account set up for Lizzy by Constance’s uncle. There are also family pieces of jewelry held for Lizzy. The garnet necklace had been her mother’s. As Constance wore it almost every day, it pleases me to see Lizzy do the same.”
“But Lizzy is unaware of all of this. Do you not see that it would be better for her to know the truth? Would her mother’s relations be willing to claim the relationship? Would they welcome Lizzy as a part of their family?”
“Helen, I know they would. I received a letter, around a year ago, from Charles, Duke of Brunswick, asking if they could meet Elizabeth. I wrote back to inform them of my daughter being unaware of her parentage and I feared, at that time, how she would react. Perhaps it was more how I would react that has kept me silent for so long.”
Mr Gardiner nodded his head. “I know it will be difficult, but Lizzy knows how dearly loved she is. As long as you reassure her of your love, I am certain she can work through everything else.”
“Let us pray we find her first. It will not matter who her mother is if she is sold into slavery in some country half a world away.”
~~ ** ~~
“I insist we search the area again.” Caspen howled at the other men. He looked to the floor in the corner of the shack, where the lifeless body of the young man who had been given the task of guarding the ladies. “And the body needs to be removed. Dump it in some back alley. Those chits could not have gotten far, they had no funds or anything of value, other than their bodies, to pay for anything.”
“We searched all over, but there be no sign of them. What if they went to one of the churches? Them types would help two lost ladies.” One of the men suggested.
“Then we need to speak with the clergymen in the area. I doubt they got very far. That young one was not in the best of shape. She is scared outta her wits.”
The men left the shack and began their search again. They searched each of the churches and any shelters which were taking in homeless women and children. Caspen even searched some of the brothels in the area, though he did not expect the dark haired lady to sink to such a level and the younger one would be unable to do anything.
The men then began searching all the hospitals and clinics in the area. It was a futile effort, as there were so many people found in all these areas, requiring some sort of assistance due to circumstances of poverty or ill health, but none were the ladies they were looking for.
The sky began to darken and the men returned to the shack, tired and discouraged. They were also frightened of Caspen, after watching him kill the young man who had made a mistake, which allowed the escape. They would all sleep with one eye open that night, fearing what their leader’s fury might have in store for them.