Chapter 13

            “Mrs Brooks, you have created many gowns in a short time.” Lizzy stated. “Everything is beautiful.”

            “Your designs are superior to those we would have had to choose from in London. The people of Meryton should praise your talents.” Lady Elizabeth declared. They were grateful for the dressmaker’s willingness to bring the finished items to Netherfield.

            “Will you be able to finish Lizzy’s trousseau and my gowns in the next fortnight?” Lady Anne inquired.

            “As I hired another girl to assist me, there should be no difficulty in finishing the order prior to your departure. Your order has piqued the interest of many of the ladies in the area. Orders have come in from Mrs Bennet, Lady Lucas, and many others. I am forever in your debt.” The seamstress found it difficult to contain her tears of gratitude.

            “Your work speaks for itself. Now, Lizzy, do you like the lace on the blue gown? Perhaps a bit more lace on the bodice?” Lady Anne suggested.

            “No, I think it is perfect as is.” Replied Lizzy.

            “The men will search for the fabric you require next week, while they are in London. We have a long list of items for them to purchase.” Lady Anne knew it would displease the men with their errands, though they would do their duty to see their ladies happy.

            “Will they visit Mr Gardiner’s warehouse?”

            “Yes, and his pawn shop. They wish to speak with the clerk.”

            Lizzy thought of the pieces of jewelry recovered. So lost in her thoughts, the world disappeared as a memory came to her. A memory she did not realize she held. A memory that chilled her to her bones.

            There was a man Lizzy did not recognize, leaning inside the carriage, pulling her mother towards him. The man turned the body of Ethel Fitzwilliam so he could remove the jewels she was wearing the day she died. Then the memory terrified the child, as the man’s hands reached towards Lizzy’s younger self.

            As the hands came near, Lizzy could hear screaming near her. Looking around for the cause of the screams, Lizzy realized she was with her grandmother and aunt, with the seamstress, all staring at her.

            “Lizzy, are you well?” Lady Elizabeth asked anxiously.

            Confused, Lizzy looked from her grandmother to her aunt. “I am well.”

            “You suddenly screamed. What is wrong?”

            The confusion deepened as Lizzy searched her mind for what had happened. “I just had a memory that was unexpected. From the carriage… the day…”

            The words surprised Lady Elizabeth. “What did you remember?”

            The sounds of hurried footsteps traveled from down the hall, growing closer to the sitting room. The door opened and the Darcy men entered, slightly out of breath.

            “What is wrong? We heard Lizzy scream.” Gerald asked.

            William had moved to his beloved’s side, taking hold of her hands. “Lizzy, what is wrong? Why did you scream? Are you in pain?”

            Lizzy lifted a hand and placed it gently upon his cheek. “I am well. I was woolgathering, and a memory came to me. A memory from the day of the robbery.”

            Mrs Brooks realized she was no longer required and made her excuses to leave, allowing the family privacy.

            William’s arms wrapped around the woman he loved. “You do not need to speak of that day if you do not choose.”

            “It was strange, as I remember many things from that day, until Mamma forced us to the carriage floor. My eyes were closed after, I could feel someone pulling Mamma from on top of me. Never have I seen the face of the person. Today I did.  The man had dark hair, a heartless look in his eyes, and a scar on the left side of his face.  From the bridge of his nose, across his cheek, to the middle of his left ear. Jagged, as if it were parchment ripped apart and placed back together.”

            “That is when you screamed? Did you scream that day?” William asked.

            “No, I pretended to be unconscious. I was frightened of what he would do to me if he knew I was awake.” A shiver coursed through Lizzy’s body.

            “I am grateful that he did not know the truth. If he had, they have taken you from my life. That is something with which I could not have survived.” William placed a kiss on her forehead.

            Lizzy felt the comfort of those she loved surrounding her. Another thought came to her mind. “I remember the man saying something. He said that we brought it on ourselves, that we should have known our place. What could he possibly have meant? What could we have done to deserve such a fate?”

            Lady Elizabeth had a suspicion, but she would not voice it. She would ask Gerald to investigate a matter for her while he and William were in London.

            “Perhaps Lizzy should rest for a bit.” Lady Anne suggested.

            Lizzy nodded her head. “Will, would you assist me to my chair?”

            “Your rooms are not far, I can carry you there.”

            Again, Lizzy nodded her head. She had not desired losing the warmth and strength she derived from William.

            After the couple had left the room, Lady Anne moved closer to her mother. “You believe this has something to do with Catherine. I can see it in your eyes, Mother. Do you believe my sister would be cruel enough to murder her own relations? Could Catherine be heartless enough to have hired someone to kill our brother and his family?”

            “I do not know for certain, but I know that Catherine was desperate. Sir Lewis de Bourgh left her with many debts. The man was a reprobate, gambling and his mistresses nearly cost them Rosings. Catherine had spoken to your father and Edwin, pleading with them to come to her aid. They could not assist her because of the repairs they were making at Wilton. Catherine was furious. Your father did not tell you, but Catherine felt that she should have Lizzy live with her, that she should have control of Wilton and Edwin’s assets. Patrick refused, stating he believed Lizzy would be more comfortable at Pemberley. Catherine has never forgiven the decision. After Patrick died, Catherine again approached, this time Henry. Your brother came to me and I informed him of what Catherine had desired before your father’s death. Henry refused Catherine, which infuriated her.”

            “But to murder our brother? Not even Catherine could be so heartless.” Lady Anne could not accept her sister being so cruel. The sisters were not close, but Lady Anne cared for her elder sister.

            “Gerald, when you are in London, I wish for you to hire some men to investigate Catherine’s financial situation. There has to be an answer to how she could save Rosings, and I want to know how she managed the miracle.”

            “Of course. While we are at the solicitors’ office, I will speak with them of Rosings and Sir Lewis’ will.”

            “There is something that feels wrong. I cannot put my finger on why, but it is my belief that Catherine is desperate. Desperate people do foolish things. For the life of me, I pray that Catherine did nothing to bring about the deaths of her brother and his family, but I cannot dismiss the possibility.” It pained lady Elizabeth at the thought. Could wealth have led to the deaths of those she loved?

            “We will learn the truth, Mamma, of that I do not doubt. There was a reason the stolen items ended up in the hands of Mr Gardiner, who knew of their relevance. As Lizzy told us of Papa’s words that Edwin escorted him to heaven, I believe Edwin, Ethel, and Jane are always nearby, helping to lead us. Of all the people in London, Mr Gardiner, the son-in-law of Mr Dimsworth, was the one to whom the villain pawned the items.”

            “Mrs Gardiner knew the pieces, as her father had made Ethel’s brooch. She had seen the necklaces Jane and Lizzy wore, as the girls were proud of them.” Lady Anne added.

            “Edwin’s watch from your father was another stroke of luck. Perhaps Edwin was guiding us in the right direction.”

            “It feels as though it is a warning. Something is coming. I can feel it in my bones. Something is coming and we must prepare for anything.” Lady Elizabeth was fearful.

            “Once I have spoken with the solicitors and discovered more of Catherine’s situation, I will send word. We will be at Darcy House Monday afternoon. William thought we should first place the orders of items we are to purchase for the wedding. We have an appointment with the solicitor, Mr Clark, on Wednesday morning. Mr Gardiner is planning on accompanying us on Tuesday, so we can speak with his clerk at the pawnshop. I set a meeting with the Bow Street Runners for Wednesday afternoon, after we speak with Mr Clark. Thursday we will meet with those involved in the investigation, so we can see what directions to go. Our return will be on Saturday, in the afternoon. What we do not need here, we will have sent to Pemberley.” Gerald had thought through the plans for the trip with his son.

            “Stay safe. I cannot help but fear that we are stirring up a beehive.” Lady Anne warned.

            Gerald wrapped his arms about his wife, holding her close. “We will be careful. We will hire some guards while we are there too. Can never be too safe. It would be better to have extra guards on hand to protect Lizzy.”

            “William might disagree on that need, if they interfere with his time alone with her.” Lady Anne chuckled.

            “Our son cannot be with Lizzy all the time. With her condition, it is best we have extra people to be around to watch over her when we cannot.” Gerald replied.

Chapter 14

            The men had left an hour before and Lizzy was already missing William. Lady Anne and her mother could remember back when they were young and preparing for their own weddings.

            “Lizzy, shall we go to Meryton today? I wish to stop at the confectionary shop, and the bookseller. Gerald’s birthday is coming soon, and I am hoping to find a book to add to his collection.” Lady Anne suggested.

            “That would be wonderful. We could take tea at the confectionary, as they serve those wonderful pastries. The tarts were amazing.” Lizzy said. “I would like to find another gift for Will.”

            “We could order some treats made just before we leave for us to take to Pemberley. The kitchen staff will not have time to make sweets while they are preparing for the wedding breakfast and having the extra guests.”  

            Lizzy laughed. “Always thinking of your boys, Aunt Anne.”

            “Of course. Remember this lesson on keeping your husband happy.” Lady Anne teased.

            They had given Robbins responsibility for moving Lizzy, including into and out of the carriage. He had been long trusted by the family and protective of the young lady. Once Lizzy was in her chair, the footman pushed the chair along the street in front of several shops. At each one which the ladies wished to enter, Robbins would maneuver the chair to enter the shop. As they finished their tea, a young man entered the shop.

            The man wore clothing of a tradesman, perhaps a solicitor’s clerk or a shopkeeper’s assistant. He requested tea and some pastries, before taking his seat at a table near the one occupied by the ladies. There were a few puzzled looks the man made towards the women, before he seemed to have recognized someone.

            “Lady Anne Darcy, I have not seen you since I was a child. What a pleasure to see you.”

            Her ladyship did not recognize the young man, who appeared to be the same age as William. The man realized she did not recognize him and gave a light laugh.

            “Forgive me, I was a child when my mother and I left Pemberley. My father was Amos Wickham, steward of your husband. I am George Wickham.”

            “Mr Wickham, you have grown up. I would not have realized it was you, as you have changed so much.”

            “I believe I was eight the last time you saw me. My father’s death took us from the area, and we moved to Kent to stay with my aunt and uncle.” Wickham explained. He glanced around the shop as if searching for someone. “Is Mr Darcy with you? I long to see my godfather.”

            “No, my husband had to make the journey to London. We have an important event coming soon, and Gerald wished all business to be out of the way for the event.”

            “An event, you say? A joyful event, I pray.” Wickham appeared disappointed to not see Mr Darcy.

            “William is to marry. Do you remember my niece, Elizabeth Fitzwilliam? She has made my son the happiest young man in England.” Lady Anne patted Lizzy’s arm as she spoke.

            “Congratulations, Miss Fitzwilliam. I wish you great joy with my old friend. Is the wedding to be here, in Hertfordshire? Do you live with other relations here?”

            Lizzy was curious. “We are staying at the estate of a friend. Netherfield Park is three miles from here. Are you working in Meryton?”

            Wickham shook his head. “I work for a solicitor in London. He has me on an errand to Oxfordshire. I will be on the post carriage tomorrow. It is a shame I will not see my godfather, as it has been years since I have heard from him. Mr Darcy paid for my education, which allowed me to clerk for Mr Potter. Will he be returning soon? Perhaps he will have returned to the area when I pass through the area at the end of the week.”

            “Gerald and William will be here on Saturday. It will sadden them to have missed you. Do you have a card to give Gerald? I am certain he will desire to write to you. He will wish to know more of the man you have become.”

            “I do not have any with me. But I work for Mr Potter, a well-known solicitor in London. Your husband would be wise to use him for all your family’s legal matters. The man is a master of his craft.”

            Lady Anne nodded her head. “When Gerald returns, I will be sure to tell him. If you will forgive us, we must finish our errands and return to the estate before it is time to dress for dinner.”

            “Of course. Might I assist you to your carriage?” Wickham looked at Lizzy in her chair.

            Robbins had been standing in the rear corner of the room and moved quickly, placing a protective hand on the back of Lizzy’s wheeled chair. “No need, Sir. It is my job to assist Miss Fitzwilliam.”

            Wickham nodded his head, stepping back from the group. “I will finish my repast before returning to my room at the inn. It has been my greatest pleasure to see you again. Please give Master William my warmest wishes on your wedding.”

            The ladies made their way to the last shop they were to visit. Lady Anne looked back across the road at the confectionary. How odd that young Wickham would suddenly arrive in the remote village near where they were staying. She could remember her husband receiving word of his godson several years previous. Gerald was grateful to the elder Mr Wickham, a better steward Pemberley had never known. For his dedication to Pemberley, Gerald had agreed to be George’s godfather when the boy was born. Amos Wickham had died in a fire at Pemberley, assisting a tenant family escape their home. The fire ravenously devoured everything in its path, moving with unexpected speed. Amos was carrying one child from the inferno when the ceiling crumbled, crushing the pair. The child survived, only because Mr Wickham had wrapped his body protectively around the boy. That small boy was Fred, who had grown to be a footman at Pemberley.

            Lady Anne wrote her husband a letter, informing him of George’s appearance and claims of his employment. If Gerald had questions of his godson, perhaps he would speak to Mr Potter.

            “Well, they have the book I wished for Will. What were you thinking for, Uncle?” Lizzy inquired.

            “Oh, I was thinking of the new journal of the explorers in the Americas that Gerald and Mr Bennet were discussing at dinner the other night. Hopefully, he will not purchase the book while in London. Any time I plan to surprise him, he has already purchased the very same book I chose.”

              Finished with their shopping, the ladies returned to their carriage. As the horses pulled the carriage to the outer edge of the village, Lady Anne could not shake the feeling that there were eyes watching every move they made.

                                                            ~~ ** ~~

            “Benjamin, this is Mr Gerald Darcy and his son, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, both of Pemberley. You recall that my wife’s family lives in Lambton, near the Darcy estate.” Mr Gardiner introduced the men.

            After they exchanged pleasantries, William went straight to the matter at hand. “What can you tell us about the man who pawned the jewelry which Mr Gardiner has returned to our family? Can you describe what he looked like?”

            “He was tall, though not as tall as you men. Dark hair poked from under a hat. The odd part was the man’s face. A wicked scar went across the left side of his face. Made the gent appear evil. He spoke strange, like he be the prince hisself.”

            “Arrogant?” William questioned.

            “Yes. Quite a proper little peacock.”

            Gerald moved closer to the counter. “You have never seen him before or after?”

            “No, Sir. It be hard to forget that face. Since Mr Gardiner knew the jewels, I keep a watch for the gent.”

            “If you see him, send word to the Bow Street Runners, asking for Mr Polk. He is investigating the matter, as we believe the man was part of a gang of highwaymen. They caused the deaths of my betrothed’s parents and sister, and all their servants on the carriage. My betrothed was the only survivor. Your description matches what she remembers of the day. The man with the scar from his nose to his ear on the left side, he was the only one she saw.”

            “I said he was evil. Anyone who can kill innocent folk for their jewels is no good at all.”

            Mr Gardiner agreed with his clerk, then the men prepared to leave the shop. As they reached the door, Benjamin called out. “Mr Gardiner, I nearly forgot. A lady brought in this piece in just this morning. She was a fine-looking lady, a bit older. She did not fit in here, too grand for this area.” The young man pulled out a silk bag which held the necklace the lady had pawned. “The lady was not pleased to come into a shop like this, but she says she had no option.”

            Gerald gasped as he witnessed the diamond and sapphire necklace. It had been a favorite of his late sister-in-law. Ethel Fitzwilliam had received it from her mother on the day of her wedding to Edwin. It was rare that she ever wore another necklace when she dressed in her finest. The necklace had belonged to several generations before, handed down from mother to daughter, since Ethel’s great grandmother. After the robbery, the necklace was missing, assumed stolen by the highwaymen.

            Here was the proof that they had stolen it that day. But who was the woman who had come to the pawnshop? Could it have been Catherine de Bourgh? Gerald had learned that Catherine and Anne had remained in town to purchase some gowns for Anne, only leaving for Rosings an hour before Gerald and William had arrived at the Gardiner home. Had they come close to discovering Catherine’s part in the deaths of her brother’s family and servants? He would have to write to Henry at Matlock. If Henry could not make the journey, perhaps he would send Richard to assist the Darcy men. It would be best if they descended upon Rosings before Catherine knew they were aware of her actions.