Mrs Lackney received the express from Elizabeth and hurried to see the information was relayed to Pemberley. Georgiana was pleased to know that Miss Elizabeth was still in England, and had escaped her captures, but she was frustrated to not be able to be there to assist in bringing the young lady safely to Pemberley. Knowing how dear Miss Elizabeth was to her brother, Georgiana could hardly wait to meet her, and she had been anxious since learning of the kidnapping.
Her brother’s most valued courier was dispatched immediately to Liverpool with the news. Georgiana knew her brother planned to take rooms at the Rose and Crown inn, as he had informed her prior to his leaving.
If she could, Georgiana wished to follow after the courier, but she had promised to remain at Pemberley and Darcy would be furious if she disobeyed his command. She prayed the men from Pemberley would be able to find Miss Elizabeth and her maid, and all would be well.
With the courier on his way, Georgiana decided to spend some time practicing the new piece of music she had purchased before leaving London. It was a difficult piece, but she was looking forward to learning it, having heard it played at a concert her brother took her to only a week before he was set upon by robbers in the park.
For the remainder of the day, Georgiana kept to the music room, with her companion, Mrs Annesley, sitting in a chair nearby, stitching on a sampler she was making.
~~ ** ~~
The men had searched everywhere they could think of, but they were afraid of Caspen’s wrath, so they continued to look in places they had not thought of before. It had been three days of searching and each day, Caspen’s fury grew and grew. He had beaten one of the other men the day before, as the man asked if they were going to give up on the search. Caspen was bent on locating the two young ladies. His determination stemmed from his desire for control. With the two ladies escaping, he had lost control of the situation, and he could not allow it to go unpunished. The other men were concerned for their own welfare, but they were certain the ladies would be brutally murdered when Caspen caught up with them. To the men, it was better the ladies than themselves.
~~ ** ~~
Mrs Barkow had been kind to Elizabeth and Lucy, as she could see the great need the young ladies had, yet had refused to ask for more than shelter and some bread and water. Because of their situation, and little means to pay for more, Mrs Barkow was impressed that they had not taken advantage of the kindness offered. Elizabeth had been determined they would not put Mrs Barkow, or her husband and staff, to any difficulties.
But Mrs Barkow decided to make certain the ladies had something substantial to eat, besides just bread and water. She sent up stew and some biscuits, some vegetables and some cake. Elizabeth had thanked the innkeeper’s wife for her kindness, grateful for the lady’s kindness.
When Mrs Barkow offered on the second day to have a bath drawn, Elizabeth’s eyes swam with unshed tears. It had been a week or more since she had bathed, and the thought of being able to sink into the hot water and wash away the filth she had acquired was more than she could comprehend.
“Mrs Barkow, though it would be heavenly to have such a luxury, I could not put you out like that. I am grateful for the food and the lodging, and you will be paid for those services as soon as my family comes. I could not add to your burdens by accepting your staff preparing a bath for me.”
“Miss Bennet, it is not a burden or a hardship for me to have hot water prepared for a bath. I know you will repay us for any services, but I am offering this as a gift. You have had a difficult time, and I am certain that you would enjoy being able to clean up. And I have two night shifts which should fit you and Miss Lucy, so your dresses can be washed properly and dry. The bath can be readied for you in an hour, and I can come up and sit with Miss Lucy while you bathe.”
Elizabeth could hold back her tears any longer. The strain of the past week finally erupted from her in sobs, wrenching her body. Mrs Barkow wrapped her arms about Elizabeth, pulling the younger lady into a motherly embrace. The sobbing continued for several moments, before Elizabeth was able to collect herself. “Forgive my tears, Mrs Barkow. You have been so generous to Lucy and myself. I will make certain you are repaid for everything you have done for us.”
“There is nothing to fret over. As you are aware, I know where your family are from. I sent a letter to my cousin. I expect to hear from her any day now. Perhaps she will take the news to your family at Longbourn.”
“I am certain my father cannot travel, it causes Papa great pain when he has to ride in a carriage or on horseback. And my mother would only come if there is some sort of reward for her in doing so. No, I am certain my aunt and uncle will be coming as soon as they learn where I am.”
“At the very least, my cousin can reassure your relations at Longbourn that you are safe in my care. By now, they must know of what happened with the post carriage.”
“I pray my father and my sister, Jane, are not pained too much from the news. I would not wish to cause them any grief.”
Mrs Barkow smiled. “Here you are, having escaped from men who kidnapped you, intending to sell you, and you are worried about how others will be grieved over your situation. Miss Elizabeth Bennet, you are too good to be true.”
~~ ** ~~
Knowing her husband had left Longbourn after learning Elizabeth was in danger, Mrs Bennet was furious. She had always been angered at having to pretend Elizabeth was her child, sharing status with Jane. Fanny Bennet was of the opinion that her daughters were far superior to the daughter who was forced upon her. Jane was sweet natured, kind and loving. She adored her “twin” sister and would never say or do anything against Elizabeth.
Lydia, on the other hand, was her mother’s child. Having lost two daughters and a son to being stillborn, Fanny took no chances when she was confined with Lydia. She refrained from doing anything other than keeping to her rooms, usually in bed, and refusing to do any of her duties to the house or to Jane and Elizabeth. When Lydia was born, alive and healthy, Mrs Bennet doted on her constantly. The child was never made to mind, as Mrs Bennet preferred to allow her dearest child to enjoy her life.
This caused a great deal of tension between Mr and Mrs Bennet. Usually, to preserve some peace in the house, Mr Bennet gave up trying to tame his wife and youngest daughter. Lydia was allowed to run wild and unchecked, and when her sisters complained, Mrs Bennet would scold them. “Lydia is just a child, full of life and excitement. Just because you lack the joy of living life does not give you cause to dampen Lydia’s pleasure.”
But it had become clear that others in the neighborhood did not approve of Lydia’s behavior either. The young girls Lydia’s age rarely wished to be with the youngest Bennet sister, which caused Mrs Bennet to instill in Lydia that the girls were only jealous of her. Invitations to dinners had begun coming with direct instruction as to who was invited. Reading invitations for Mr and Mrs Bennet, and their daughters, Elizabeth and Jane, infuriated Fanny Bennet. How dare people prefer inviting Elizabeth than Lydia?
And Elizabeth had refused to marry as Mrs Bennet had commanded. Having one of the Bennet sisters wed to Mr Collins would allow Mrs Bennet to remain at Longbourn when her husband died. Jane and Lydia were far too good to marry the likes of the repulsive Mr Collins, but Elizabeth would be perfect for the position. And Fanny was certain that Mr Collins would allow her to remain as the Mistress of Longbourn until her death, keeping Elizabeth subservient to Mrs Bennet. It was one of the few times Thomas Bennet had stood his grounds in the past ten years. When he was younger, he was firm in dealing with his wife. But nearly twenty years of enduring Fanny’s nerves and fits had worn him down.
Now he was standing firm against a marriage between Mr Leland and Elizabeth. Yes, Mr Leland was old enough to be Elizabeth’s father, and he had a terrible reputation, but he was wealthy and had his own estate, which would be good enough to take care of the Bennets when Mr Bennet was cold in his grave. She thought on the matter long and hard. Why was her husband preventing a union which would protect his wife and daughters when he was gone?
Finally, Fanny’s ire had gotten the better of her and she sent word to Mr Leland to join her at Longbourn. She was determined to set off immediately and see that Mr Leland and Elizabeth were married before another week was past.
“Jane, Lydia, I will be going on a trip. As your father insisted on traveling with my brother and his wife, I will be following them. I am hopeful that Mr Leland will accompany me, as we wish to finalize his union with Elizabeth. Since she is away, it will be acceptable for the wedding to be held away from Longbourn. A message was sent to Mr Leland to join me.”
Jane was concerned. “Mamma, Lizzy did not wish to marry Mr Leland. And Papa declared that Lizzy would not be forced to marry against her wishes.”
“Your father is a fool. With his traveling about, who is to say he will live much longer. No, it is wisest for us to settle this once and for all, and Mr Leland will be pleased to have a new wife.”
“But, if Lizzy is to marry, she will wish all of us to be there as well.” Lydia cried. “Please, Mamma, we should make the journey with you. I have a new gown to wear for the wedding too.”
“Lyddie, my pet, it would be best for you and Jane to remain here. You would not like to be cooped up in a carriage for such a long journey.” Mrs Bennet attempted to soothe Lydia out of going.
“Mamma, I wish to be at the wedding. It is only right to have the bride’s sisters at the ceremony. Please Mamma, please. I will look so pretty in the new gown you had made for me. The blue silk was made for such a fine occasion.”
“I agree with Lydia, Mamma. If Lizzy is to marry, she will wish me to be at her side. We promised each other to be witness at our weddings. I must be there for Lizzy.”
Aggravated, Mrs Bennet finally agreed. As the ladies prepared to make the journey, a message arrived from Mr Leland, stating he would be arriving at Longbourn within an hour to collect Mrs Bennet to journey north.
~~ ** ~~
Darcy and his men began their search at the docks, inquiring of any ships preparing to sail for Antigua or Brazil, or any areas in those directions. One ship had set sail the morning they arrived in Liverpool, but Darcy was certain that Elizabeth was not on it. He did not wish to dwell on Elizabeth being forced on a ship filled with men, being sold as a servant to some unknown man in another country.
Once they had checked the docks, the men began search inns and boarding houses, followed by planting several of the men in pubs to be able to listen to conversations. They hoped the culprits they were tracking would visit one of the pubs, and after having a few drinks, would be talkative of their exploits.
Richard was having a difficult time calming his cousin. Every day which went by without finding the young ladies, Darcy’s mood grew darker and darker. It was becoming difficult to keep his spirits up, while fear of losing the young lady he had lost his heart took hold of his heart.
“Darcy, perhaps we should offer a reward for the safe return of Miss Elizabeth and her maid. People always tell more when there is a reward.”
“They should do the right thing and turn the ladies over, without any such incentive. Better yet, this should never have happened in the first place. First I am assaulted and nearly robbed, leaving me injured, then Miss Elizabeth and her maid are robbed and abducted from a post carriage. I shudder to think of what could be next. It is my dearest prayer that Georgiana is safe and secure at Pemberley.”
“I am certain she is, Wills. And we will find Miss Elizabeth, have faith my cousin.”
“I am trying to keep my chin up, but it is difficult.” Darcy stated. A knock on the door of the bedchamber brought both of the men to attention. Opening the door, Darcy recognized his courier, who was standing there with a message in hand. Darcy quickly snatched it and broke open the seal. Reading both the letter from Georgiana and the one Elizabeth had written to Mrs Lackney, Darcy was thrilled to learn the whereabouts of the young ladies.
“Come, Richard, we now have a location where the young ladies are to be found.”
~~ ** ~~
A knock on the bedchambers brought Elizabeth from her wool-gathering. She opened the door to find Mrs Barkow. Once inside the room, Mrs Barkow began to speak. “Miss Elizabeth, it is best we move you soon. We have noticed several shifty characters loitering about, watching the inn. It is our belief that they are looking for you.”
“But how could they have discovered us here? We have been ever so careful to remain out of sight from everyone.”
“Unfortunately, I was forced to dismiss one of my maids only this morning. She was overheard discussing the guests of this inn with some unknown man.”
Elizabeth’s expression showed her fear. “Where would we go? I have no means to pay for other lodgings, or even for some sort of transportation. I know not what we will do.”
Mrs Barkow shook her head. “Do not fret, Miss Elizabeth. I have sent word to a friend of mine. His name is Abraham Miller. He will be here soon and will be able to assist you. Mr Miller is a freed black man, and he assists others who are being taken to the Americas to be slaves. He has set up a network houses to hide those he helps to escape their destiny. Though your skin is quite pale in comparisons to those he commonly aids, you are escaping being sold into slavery. I am certain Mr Miller will assist you.”
Tears welled up in Elizabeth’s eyes. So caught up in her own struggles, Elizabeth had not thought of the many Africans who were stolen from their homes and sold as slaves. Though slave trading had been illegal since eighteen hundred and seven, most ships carrying slaves ignored the law. She had heard of secret groups who would find ways of freeing the men, women and children who were being ripped from their loved ones, taken far across the ocean. It was shocking to Elizabeth to now be involved in such a situation. Having grown up in Hertfordshire, Elizabeth had never met anyone of dark skin until she visited with her aunt and uncle, in London.
“Why would Mr Miller assist us? We are white, not African.” Elizabeth felt humbled as she realized the situation. She had never lifted a finger to aid those freed from slavery, yet now, she would require the assistance of a former slave who was protecting others.
“Abraham is a friend of my husband. We have…assisted…him from time to time.” Mrs Barkow wished to keep as much information private, for she did not wish the truth to become well known. Though it was illegal to participate in slave trading, there were many who disagreed with the law. Their sort would have no difficulty in causing trouble for the innkeepers, even destroying their inn. “He also has ways of transporting people from the ships, using tunnels and the canals between here and Manchester. My husband is an abolitionist, and I agree with him. It does not matter if your skin is black, white, green or purple. No person should be forced from their home and sold, as if they were a horse or steer.”
“Thank you, Mrs Barkow. I will make certain you are repaid for your generosity.” Elizabeth embraced the innkeeper’s wife.
“Keeping you safe is repayment enough, Miss Elizabeth. I am more concerned with you and Lucy being safe.” The elderly lady patted Elizabeth’s cheek with her hand. “You are a good girl, Elizabeth Bennet. A kind, caring girl, and I am grateful we have been able to assist you. Now, I will bring you news as it arrives.”
“You have my gratitude, Mrs Barkow.”
~~ ** ~~
Abraham Miller was nearing his late thirties, and had lived in Liverpool for the past five years. In that time, he had aided more than fifty slaves to freedom, escaping the ships with their bellies filled with African slaves. Between the abolitionists, like Mr Barkow, and other freed slaves, Abraham was able to move those he freed to other areas of England.
Receiving a message from Mrs Barkow, explaining her situation with the two young ladies staying with her after escaping their captors, Abraham was at a loss as to how he could help. He was accustomed to assisting Negros, and had never given much thought to those of other races being stolen and sold as slaves. He realized how foolish he was in this thinking, as he was certain there were people of all races being sold into service everywhere in the world.
Plans would need to be made quickly, for, if Mrs Barkow’s letter was to be believed, the culprits could storm the inn at any moment.
He sat down at his desk and began writing letters to some of the men and women who had aided him in the past. As soon as he heard from them, he would go directly to the Barkow’s inn, and assist the young ladies to disappear from there.
One of the ways Abraham had used in the past was distraction. His skin color was unique enough to cause many to stare at him. What used to cause him frustration, had become a useful way to use people’s prejudices against themselves. While he distracted the attention of others, other men and women were able to lead those who were being rescued to safety.
~~ ** ~~
Abraham Miller arrived at the Mallard Inn before the dinner hour. Mrs Barkow showed him to a private room near the dining room. The private room had a servant’s entrance in the back, which led to the servant’s staircase up to the guest rooms. Once the door was shut behind him, Mrs Barkow led him up the staircase and to the room where Elizabeth and Lucy were staying.
“Miss Elizabeth, this is Mr Abraham Miller. He has agreed to assist us.” Mrs Barkow made the introductions. “Abraham, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her maid, Lucy.”
“Actually, Lucy is my aunt’s maid, but that does not really matter.”
Abraham looked at the young lady on the bed. “Is she ill?”
“No, just frightened. She has been overwhelmed by all that has happened.” Elizabeth stated.
“Well, we will be hiding you in the basement of the Bluecoat School. It is for poor children, but a friend of mine works there, and will keep you there until tomorrow. From there, we will work on moving to a church near my home. The church is near the canal which flows to Manchester. We can move you there, to the home of another friend. Once in Manchester, we can contact your relations to meet you there.”
Tears were welling in Elizabeth’s eyes once again. It amazed her how easily her tears flowed in the past week. She was exhausted, not having slept a full night since she left London. “Mr Miller, I cannot thank you enough for your aid. I will see that you are reimbursed when my family comes for me.”
“It is not necessary, Miss Bennet. We are all dedicated to stopping slavery, and your plight has made me realize that my people are not the only ones who can become victims of slavery. Now, while I draw attention to myself near the front of this establishment, I will have Mr Barkow lead you out the back and to my wagon. You will need to hide under the cloth on the back of the wagon. Mr Barkow knows how to arrange everything.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. Looking at the innkeeper’s wife, she took hold of the lady’s hands. “I cannot thank you enough, Mrs Barkow. I promise you will be paid for the room and our care.”
“I am not worried, dear girl. Now, do as the Mr Miller tells you and trust him. He will do everything he can to protect you.” Mrs Barkow handed Elizabeth a satchel with some clothing and food inside. “This is to tide you over until the next stop on your way. Save journey, and I will be praying for you.”
The two ladies embraced, and then, between them, were able to manage standing Lucy up and moving her to the stairwell. Mr Barkow was at the bottom of the stairs, waiting to assist the young ladies. “I saw the men, they were talking out front, though one man was standing in the alley, near the stables. If Abraham causes a fuss out front, I am certain the man from the alley would move to the front.”
“Very good. Walter, will you be able to take the ladies to my wagon? It is parked in front of Jethries’ shop.”
“There should be no problems. I will see them safely hidden in the wagon.” Mr Barkow replied.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Abraham Miller took a deep breath and stepped outside the front door of the inn. “I have never been treated so abominably in my life. I have money to pay for the services, how is it my money is not as good as another man’s money?”
Mrs Barkow stepped outside, playing her part in the distraction. “My husband will be back in an hour. Until then, I am in charge, and I say we do not want the likes of you in our business. Your money is from dishonorable work, and I will not sully our establishment with your tainted filthy money.”
“You are a foolish woman. My work is not dishonorable, and there is no taint on my money. All I wished to do was purchase some food. Is it too much for a working man to purchase a meal?”
“In this establishment it is. Now, be off. I will not tolerate you any longer.” Mrs Barkow walked back inside the inn, praying they were convincing enough to allow her husband and the ladies to escape out the back. She had noticed four men watching from across the street, one of which came from the side of the inn and joined the others.
Abraham continued to fuss about until he finally made his way down the street, in the opposite direction than towards his wagon. He had performed this sort of ruse before, and he was more than willing to walk a few extra blocks to protect those he was rescuing.
Nearly an hour later, Abraham was able to meet with his wagon. The ladies were covered completely, and would remain so until they reached Bluecoat school. After shaking hands with Mr Barkow, and apologizing for the scene he made outside the inn, Abraham picked up the reins and urged his horses to walk.
~~ ** ~~
Pulling to a stop near the rear of the “H” shaped building, Abraham was met by his friend, Jenny, who worked as a scullery maid, along with her sister, Ruby. The sisters had been rescued by Abraham and his friends two years prior, and they had vowed to do what they could to aid others.
“Jenny, let us take the young ladies inside before I introduce them to you. It is best that as few people as possible know they are here.” Abraham suggested.
Elizabeth and Lucy were kept covered up, hiding their identities as much as possible. They were led inside the building, and down into the basement. Once they were inside a small bedchamber, and the door closed behind them, were introductions made.
“Jenny and Ruby Walker, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Miss Lucy, pardon, I do not remember her last name.” He turned his attention towards Elizabeth.
“Her name is Lucy Winters.” Elizabeth looked at the young Negro ladies. “It is a pleasure to meet you both. I cannot begin to thank you for assisting us.”
“I must admit, I was surprised with Abraham’s request to assist white folk. But he stated that there is some in other places of the world who be wantin’ a pretty white lady to do their biddin’.” Jenny stated. “Guess it dunno madder what color the skin, there be those who would sell ya.”
“It has been an experience I will never forget. I am from a small estate in Hertfordshire, and, to be honest, I have never spoken with someone of dark skin before.”
Ruby laughed. “I wish I had a penny for ev’ry time one o’ the chilluns asks bout our skin color. I been tellin’ them I was baked too long in God’s oven.”
Elizabeth found the young ladies to be sweet natured. They did not seem frightened of white people, and used humor in the same manner that Elizabeth did to make others feel comfortable.
“And what do the children say in response?” She asked Ruby.
“They’s eyes grow wide, and most act as they believe. It does no good to figures out why we be different, we just is. Be good they see different sorts though, and learn we is all just people, nottin’ evil or scary ‘bout the color we is. The evil and scary is on the inside.”
“I agree with you there. After all we have endured since leaving London, I can agree with your words. The men who kidnapped us were evil, inside.”
“You be hungry?” Jenny asked.
“No, Mrs Barkow was quite generous. She even gave us some food to bring with us.” Elizabeth motioned to the bag in her hand.
Jenny motioned to a small bed in the corner of the room. “Forgive us, you and Lucy will need share a bed. My sister and me will share my bed.”
“I am extremely grateful for your generosity. There is nothing to forgive.”
~~ ** ~~
Darcy arrived at the inn, only to learn he had missed Elizabeth. Mrs Barkow was polite to him, and, at first, denied any knowledge of Elizabeth and the maid. It was only after his informing her of his acquaintance with Elizabeth’s family, her father’s estate of Longbourn, and with the Gardiner family, that Mrs Barkow decided he was telling the truth. “Mr Darcy, if you will step into my husband’s office, we can speak in private.”
Richard followed his cousin as they entered the room, and the door was closed behind them. “So you do know Miss Elizabeth?” Richard inquired.
“Yes, and you must understand the reason for us not saying so. There have been men watching the inn, as one of the maids had gossiped about our mysterious guests who did not leave their room. Foolish girl; we had to send her on her way, for I will not hold with such gossip.”
“The men who were here, are they still watching the building?” Darcy asked.
“They were until an hour ago. We heard some commotion out front, and, when we looked, we saw the men arguing and suddenly left the area. I am not sure if they realized how we snuck them out, but it was plain to see they knew the young ladies were gone from here.”
“How did you remove Miss Elizabeth and the maid?” Richard was curious.
“A friend of our family is a freed Negro. He assists others to gain their freedom.” Mrs Barkow stated, watching her words carefully. She was cautious of allowing anyone know of Abraham, for she did not wish to bring him any harm.
“Mrs Barkow, we are here to recover Miss Elizabeth and the maid. We wish to restore them to the Gardiners. I believe they will be arriving in Liverpool any time now. We received an express from my sister, at my estate of Pemberley. That is how we came to be at your establishment. Apparently Miss Elizabeth sent an express to Lambton, to a friend of her aunt’s. The lady then informed my sister, knowing I was coming to assist Miss Elizabeth.”
“Yes, Miss Elizabeth was concerned with using what few coins she had to pay for the express, but she felt it was important to send the information quickly.”
“I am eternally grateful for your kindness to Miss Elizabeth and, I believe the maid is named Lucy.” Darcy stated with a warmth about him. “And I wish to cover any debt the ladies left behind, as well as whatever cost was accumulated in moving them.”
“Miss Elizabeth stated her family would assist in paying the funds, but it is not that great an expense. Miss Elizabeth would not hear of adding to the bill, keeping everything as simple as possible. I would not stand for her and Lucy having only bread to eat, it would do them no good to take ill from no proper food. They did not have anything necessary to take care of themselves. Why, Miss Elizabeth even tried to refuse my offer of a hot bath. Like it would be such a great burden. No, what I have done for the young ladies was a gift from me and my husband. We are firm believers in when you do good things, good things come back to you. Someday, we might be in need of assistance, and hopefully someone will be there for us.”
“You will always find a friend in me, if ever you are in need, Mrs Barkow. No matter what the problem or need, you will be welcome to contact me.” Darcy handed her one of his cards, with his address at Pemberley and in Town on it, along with a pouch of coins. “Can you tell me where they were being taken to?”
“Mr Miller was taking them to Bluecoat School. He has a friend who works there, and they would be able to hide the ladies in the basement.”
“I can take you there, Mr Darcy.” Mr Barkow stated.
~~ ** ~~
Mr Gardiner came out from the Rose and Crown inn. “They said that Mr Darcy and his men are out of the moment, and they do not know when they will return.”
“Do they have rooms available to rent?”
“They do. I have paid for two rooms. Let us go inside and order some food. We can wait for Mr Darcy to return.” Mr Gardiner assisted his wife down from the carriage, before turning to assist his brother in law. “How are you feeling, Thomas?”
“As if a herd of horses have trampled me a dozen times.” Mr Bennet stated as he shook his head. “I have some laudanum in my bag. After I have eaten, I will take a small dose.”
The trio entered the lobby and were directed to the dining room. They ordered some roasted beef, potatoes, bread and dessert. The food arrived and they all enjoyed the repast.
Just as they finished the meal, they heard a commotion from the lobby. Moving to the door, the trio was met with a disturbing sight.
~~ ** ~~
“Are you certain the black beast was involved?” Caspen took hold of one of his men by the front of their shirt. “You allowed him to trick you while the chits escaped? That man is known for hiding slaves. And you let him fool you. We need to start searching where there are darkies and those who protect them.”
One of the older men spoke up. “There is some darkies working at the poor school, that Bluecoat place. I seen them with that Miller fella a few times. That would be a good place to hide them ladies.”
“I will go with you to check out the school.” Caspen replied. “You two check the darkies’ church over by the canal. And you two go to the church by the stables on Park Street. There are lots of darkies who go there.”
The men separated and went on their way, in hopes to finding the ladies. It had become a clear to all the men, Caspen had no desire to sell the ladies any longer. His desire was to see them pay for making him appear weak. He could not allow the humiliation to continue.
Caspen and Fred entered the rear entrance of Bluecoat School. They silently looked about the main level, before they began searching the basement. With the servants’ quarters in the basement, it was natural the servants would be hiding the ladies.
The first room they came upon was the kitchen. Inside the room, preparing items for the following day’s breakfast for the children, was the head cook, Mrs Firth. The men startled her, making her drop the dish in her hand.
Caspen moved towards her, placing a hand over her mouth as Fred took hold of her arms. “Where are your darkies? They be hidin’ some ladies, and we want them.”
“We have no darkies here.” Mrs Firth replied, though unconvincingly.
“I know you have some darkies, and I demand you take me to them now.”
Mrs Firth was shaking as she felt herself being pulled down the hallway. She was fond of Jenny and Ruby, and feared for their safety. Knowing the men were not to be trusted, Mrs Firth thought of how she could warn them. Down the hall, a door opened and one of the young men who worked for the school stepped out. “Franklin, what are you doing awake? You are usually the first to fall asleep.” She asked, motioning with her eyes towards the man holding her left arm.
“I thought I heard something breaking, and was coming to make sure all was well.” He frowned at the men with Mrs Firth. “Who are these men?”
“They be lookin’ for Jenny and Ruby, though they refuse to tell me why. Have you seen the girls?”
Knowing Franklin was standing near the door to the sisters’ room, and that he realized something was wrong, Mrs Firth took a steadying breath. Franklin’s voice rose in volume. “I have not seen either Jenny or Ruby for several hours. I would have thought them be in the kitchen, helpin’ as they posed to do.”
“I was giving them an evening off, as there is not as much preparations to be done tonight. The dough is rising and porridge can wait until the morn.” Both knew the sisters would not be to work until sunrise, but the discussion was enough to alert each other of the problem, not to mention waking Jenny, if she was asleep, for she was a light sleeper.
Jenny woke her sister, placing a hand gently over her mouth so Ruby would not speak. Ruby’s eyes grew large with the voices outside their door. Jenny moved to the other bed, waking Elizabeth and Lucy. Fear was overwhelming Lucy even more than usual. She could not be moved by those in the room with her, as she remained stiff as a board on the bed. Quivers of fear raced through her body, spasms against the stone she had turned into.
It was obvious that Elizabeth was not going to be able to escape with Lucy by her side. Thoughts flowed through her mind, finally settling on hiding Lucy under one of the beds, and Elizabeth causing the men to see her and follow after her, allowing the sisters time to move Lucy to safety.
Hearing Franklin shout at the men to release Mrs Firth and leave the school, Elizabeth knew she had to do something before anyone was injured. She opened the door a crack and saw that Franklin had moved closer to the men and the cook, and was now standing between the men and her. Moving quickly, Elizabeth dashed out of the door and down the hallway, praying the men would follow her and ignore Lucy’s absence.
Shouting ensued, and screams. Elizabeth feared for the safety of those who were protecting her, and she was prepared to stop when she heard a voice which she recognized, though she believed herself to be imagining it. He could not be here. Why would I think it is his voice?
Turning about, Elizabeth heard the sound of a pistol firing, screams, and of someone being struck repeatedly. She moved towards the skirmish, prepared to surrender, wishing to protect all who were innocent. Seeing a man in a red uniform, and several others, attempting to subdue men who had kidnapped her and Lucy, Elizabeth noticed someone on the floor.
Quickly, Elizabeth moved to the person, who was lying on his side. Rolling his body so that she could see where they were injured, she took a quick gasp. I am imagining things, this cannot be true.
The man she had rolled over was none other than Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy. Elizabeth was sure she had lost her mind in all the confusion, and that there was no reason for Mr Darcy to be at the school. She knew her life had been stressful, but could not determine why she would imagine Mr Darcy, of all people, to be her rescuer.
Two of the men who were struggling to subdue Caspen lost their grasp on the man, who was holding a knife in his hand. He plunged it into the arm of one of the men who was fighting him, and then grabbed hold of Elizabeth’s arm, pulling her with him as he backed down the hall, his knife held at her throat.
“Put the knife down.” The man in uniform growled. “And release the young lady.”
“If I do, you will kill me, so I think not. She will be my protection as I leave here.” Caspen sneered.
“You will not be leaving here of your own free will. You will be accompanying your friend to the magistrate. But if you harm the young lady, I will save you the trouble and run you through here and now.”
The man was vaguely familiar to Elizabeth, somewhat favoring Mr Darcy. What is happening to me? First I imagine Mr Darcy on the floor, now I find this soldier is similar to Mr Darcy. I must be dreaming all of this. That is the only possibility. But why would I be dreaming of Mr Darcy?
Elizabeth was brought back to reality when she felt the knife’s blade scrape her neck as Caspen started to pull her backwards with him. Suddenly, she stumbled over something on the floor, feeling something wrap around her ankle. She screamed as fingers took hold of her ankle, and she fell to the floor. The blade of the knife cut along the top of her shoulder, as her body made its way down, finally landing in a heap on the floor. Caspen’s face registered fear as he watched the soldier advance on him, his sword in hand. The tip of the sword was soon plunging in the front of Caspen’s body, near the center of his chest. Collapsing, Caspen was shouting vulgarities a he landed on the floor near Elizabeth. There were other people moving in the hallway, servants from the school who had been awakened by the commotion and who came out of their room to determine what was happening.
Elizabeth felt herself being lifted from the floor in the arms of someone she had never seen before. The pain in her shoulder was great, and she knew she had been bleeding, as she could feel the wetness on her gown. She noticed the man who she thought to be Mr Darcy was being picked up by the soldier, while another man was coming from the bedchambers of Jenny and Ruby, carrying a bundled up Lucy. Elizabeth’s eyes grew heavy and she felt exhausted, even though she valiantly struggled to keep awake so she could learn who her rescuers were. The last thing she remembered was being carried outside and placed on a wagon. Then everything went black.
~~ ** ~~
Having received word from the Barkows of where ladies had been taken, Darcy and his cousin led the men to the Bluecoat school. It was evening, and most of the occupants of the school had retired early, as was common for them. The use of candles throughout the building was only done when necessary, for candles were expensive. So it was common for the children and staff to keep to their rooms in the evening, and wake earlier in the day, utilizing the sunlight to illuminate the rooms.
The men made their way inside the building by way of the front doors, being directed by the servant to the head mistress’s office at the end of the hallway. Darcy allowed his cousin to carry the conversation with the lady, as he was far too anxious to make sense. He knew the men were still searching for Elizabeth, and he could not feel comfortable until he knew she was safe.
The head mistress was surprised to learn of the situation. “My staff know they are not to bring anyone from outside the school to their rooms. The situation you are describing is potentially dangerous, and I cannot tolerate such behavior in my school.”
“Mrs Langdon, I understand your concerns, but we do not wish to cause trouble for your staff. We are grateful for their kindness to the young ladies who were in need of assistance.”
“But they have broken our rules, so they will be terminated from their employment with us. I cannot allow such circumstances here.” Mrs Langdon declared.
“Then the servants will have employ through me, Mrs Langdon.” Darcy stated. “I will see they are compensated for their efforts and are provided with occupation which will treat them better than you.”
“Mr Darcy, I am not trying to be difficult. I am thinking of the welfare of the students who are under my protection. I cannot have servants disobeying the rules in such a manner.”
“That is not important at the moment. What is important is finding the ladies and moving them to safety.”
Mrs Langdon was displeased with the attitudes of the men before her. “Very well, let us go downstairs.”
As the group reached the bottom of the stairs, they could hear Mrs Firth and Franklin speaking. Mrs Langdon was confused by what was being said, but Richard was instantly at the ready. His years of military service made his senses keen, and he was aware the men in the hallway with the servants were the very men who had kidnapped the ladies.
Richard and Darcy moved quickly behind the men and Mrs Firth, and a fight ensued. Hearing the sound of a pistol being fired, Richard saw his cousin winced and doubled over. He pulled his sword and held it tightly in his grip, as one of the villains took hold of Elizabeth’s arm and raised the knife to her throat. From the way the man spoke, Richard was certain he was the leader of the band of misfits, and the man would not go down without a fight. What the man did not think of was the fact that they had to step over the prone figure of Darcy, who was doing a tremendous imitation of being unconscious. When Elizabeth stepped over him, stumbling slightly, Darcy’s hand reached up and took hold of her ankle, pulling her down. Darcy hoped he was pulling her to safety, allowing his cousin to advance on the crook and finish the blackguard off.
With Caspen run through, Fred quickly surrendered and was bound with rope which had been brought forward by Franklin. Richard ordered one of the men to collect Elizabeth from the floor, and another one to collect Lucy from the room. After lifting Darcy from the floor, Richard directed everyone out of the school and up to the wagons waiting for them. Everyone was loaded on the wagons, including Jenny and Ruby. The driver was urged to return to the Rose and Crown as quick as possible, while the men who had come on horseback rode ahead, while one went in search of a physician to bring to the inn.