Chapter 23

            Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived at Darcy House in the early hours of the morning, entering through the rear entrance and making his way up the stairs as quickly as possible. When he reached the third floor, he found Pierce sitting in a chair outside the newlyweds’ rooms.

            “Is my cousin in his room?”

            “Indeed, Colonel. Less than an hour ago, he requested water heated for a bath.”           

            The colonel knocked loudly on the door of the bedchamber. “William, I need to speak with you immediately.”

            In a moment, the door was flung open to find William wrapped in a coverlet, disheveled. “What is wrong? Are my parents well?”

            “Is your wife here?”

            “Of course. She is in the dressing room. What has happened?”

            “We have been watching a suspicious ship near the East India docks. In the middle of the night, a carriage arrived and we were informed two women were taken from the carriage and taken in one of the rowboats to the ships. One of the women was unconscious. We suspect that the woman was kidnapped. The ship has set sail before we could arrive. My fear was that Elizabeth had been kidnapped.”

            “She is here. There has been no time Lizzy has been away from me for more than a few moments. We are celebrating our wedding.” William stated with some irritation. “Why would you believe it was my wife?”

            “The men from the ship were heard speaking a foreign language, possibly German.”

            “You knew there was something putting my wife in danger and I am only now learning of it?”

            Colonel Fitzwilliam’s hands came up in defense. “I wished to allow you time alone with your wife, until we knew what was happening. The last thing I wished to do was disturb your celebration.”

            The footman, Burton, came hurrying towards the men. “Sir, there appears to have been someone in the townhouse during the night. I found the window in the breakfast room open, and I know it was closed last night. Pierce has me check all rooms on the lower levels each morning and he checks them at night.”

            Darcy moved quickly, donning a loose shirt and a pair of trousers, not worrying about anything else. “Pierce, stay here and make sure my wife is safe. She is dressing and will go to the sitting room when she is able. Stay in the sitting room and make certain she remains here.”

            Not waiting for a response, Darcy hurried down the stairs with his cousin and Burton. When they entered the breakfast room, Mr Brown was standing near the window.

            “Brown, how does it look? Did someone enter the house?”

            “Forgive me sir, but it appears someone was at the window and it was opened. There is scuffing on the ground underneath the window.”

            The sound of quick footsteps alerted the men of someone coming towards them. William’s valet entered the room, slightly out of breath. “Master William, someone was in your bed chambers in the family wing. Whoever it was, they had been in the bed, as the bedding has been moved about. The coverlet is missing as well, and I found a woman’s slipper on the floor under the corner of the bed.”

            “What is happening? Someone was able to enter the house, sleep in my bed, and leave?”

            “No one was in that wing of the house. I had gone to your room to gather everything needed for after your bath. You and Mrs Darcy were far from the family wing and Pierce was there to ensure your safety.”

            “Richard, can you find men we can hire to keep the house guarded at all times?”

            “Of course. I would recommend having Pierce be in charge of the men, as he knows every inch of the townhouse and grounds.”

            “That is fine. We also need to inspect every window and door to make certain that they are all secured. From the looks of this window, the lock is damaged, which allowed the entrance. But who would have been in here and not taken anything?”

            “I am still curious as to the women who were taken to the ship. Is there any of your servants who could have been taken?”

            William looked to Mr Brown. “We have only a few females in the house, are any missing?”

            “Mrs Pierce and Mrs Brown are well, and the two maids are accounted for this morning.”

            The men were perplexed at the possibility. William returned upstairs, instructing Pierce to assist Colonel Fitzwilliam.

            Elizabeth moved to wrap her arms around her husband. “What has happened?”

            “It appears someone entered the house during the night and went into the family wing. They were in my rooms there and even used my bed.”

            Concern caused Elizabeth’s brow to crease. “Was anything stolen? How did they enter the house?”

            “The window in the breakfast room appears to have a damaged lock. There is nothing missing that we noticed, though I intend on having the staff inspect everywhere. Richard will send some men to guard the house and Pierce will ensure all the doors and windows are secure. Perhaps we should leave. We could make for Netherfield, I am certain that Bingley would allow us to stay there for a few days.”

            “No, I would prefer staying here. With the added security and the servants being on alert, we would certainly be safe here.”

            “I will take no chances with your safety. We will have guards around the clock. It was wise to use the rooms in this area of the house. Whomever entered the house appears to have only been in the family wing.”

            “We should be grateful for that.” Elizabeth leaned back and looked up at her husband. “Why did your cousin come? Did he know something had happened?”

            “There was a suspicion of a ship that was near the Isle of Dogs. From what he said, a carriage containing two women, made their way to the docks, then loaded the women, one of which was unconscious, into a rowboat and taken to the ship that was suspect. Evidently, the men from the ship were overheard speaking in a foreign language, and it was believed they were in the area to kidnap someone.”

            “Did he believe I was the intended someone?” Fear crept into Elizabeth’s heart.

            “Richard was concerned. When he received word of two women being taken to the ship, and then it set sail, he had to see for himself that we were safe.”

            “Who could the women be? Does it have something to do with whoever was in the house?”

            William leaned down and kissed his beloved’s lips. “I cannot think it being connected, as all the women of the house have been accounted for.”

            “Thank God for that at least.” Elizabeth drew strength from her husband’s embrace.

            “I will not take any chances with your safety. We will do everything possible to keep you safe.”

            “You are the best of men. Have I told you lately how much I love you?”

            “Each and every day, though I never tire of hearing you tell me.”

            “Perhaps, if we have people coming to guard the house, you should finish dressing. As much as I enjoy seeing you as you are, it is far from proper appearance.”

            Darcy gave a chuckle. “You are correct, my love. I will also need to send word to my parents to inform them of what has happened.”

            “I will speak with Mrs Brosnan to determine what will need to be done to make the house secure and to address your rooms being disturbed.”

            “This is not how I wished to spend my honeymoon.”

            Elizabeth laughed. “It will be a story to tell our children and grandchildren.”

Chapter 24

            The men secured Darcy House from bottom to top. Other than the damaged window lock of the breakfast room, all other windows and doors were secure. Colonel Fitzwilliam brought several men to act as guards. Word returned from Hertfordshire, informing that Gerald, Lady Anne, and their younger children would be arriving the following day by the early afternoon.

            Another surprising bit of information had been in the message from William’s family, as Mr Gardiner sent a message to Netherfield. After returning to London, Mr Gardiner had examined the books at his business. He had the reputation at his import and export business of accepting items that people wished to pawn, especially higher quality items that other businesses could not afford to purchase.

            When he was looking over the books of items received, Mr Gardiner was surprised to see the name Caroline Bingley. He sent word to Netherfield, and Charles Bingley was unable to understand why his sister would have been in London, not to mention what would cause her to step a toe in Cheapside, let alone selling her jewelry.

            Bingley decided to accept the invitation from the Darcys to stay at their townhouse while he investigated what was happening with his sister.

            William and Elizabeth prepared for their peace and solitary existence to end. They knew that the Darcys would be arriving in a few days, but the expedited situation made them long for more time of seclusion.

            The following morning, the newlyweds prepared for the arrivals who would descend upon Darcy House within a few hours. Neither wished to be apart, though they knew that they would still have their seclusion on the upper floor.

            After an inspection of the house, it was discovered that the coverlet from William’s room in the family wing was the only item missing. The added curiosity of a woman’s slipper being under the bed made everyone wonder who had entered the townhouse in the middle of the night.

            When the carriages arrived with the Darcys and Bingley, with his aunt accompanying him, Elizabeth had tea and a light repast for everyone to enjoy while they discussed the situation.

            Though they were grateful that William and Elizabeth were unharmed, the knowledge that someone had entered their townhouse, in the middle of the night, was unnerving.

Bingley and his aunt were concerned with Caroline having been in London. They sent a message to Hurst’s townhouse and were waiting for a response. With no word from Bingley’s aunt in Scarborough, there was confusion as to why Caroline was in London, and what would be the cause for her to sell some jewelry rather than accessing the funds from their bank.       

            Mr Gardiner arrived at Darcy House later in the afternoon, his ledger in hand, as well as the piece of jewelry which Miss Bingley had sold. He had the added bonus of seeing his niece.

            “Uncle, how are my aunt and cousins?” Elizabeth inquired as she embraced Mr Gardiner.

            “Your aunt has sent her greetings and hopes that you are well. The children are well and look forward to seeing you while you are in London.”

            “We will need to have your family visit often, Mr Gardiner.” Lady Anne declared as she stepped closer to the pair. “Perhaps we should attend the opera or a play.”

            “It would be our honor to spend time with your family.” Mr Gardiner stated with a smile.

            Bingley looked at the necklace that Mr Gardiner had brought with him. “This is my sister’s. I gave it to her for Christmas last year.”

            Mrs Jorgensen shook her head. “What is that girl doing? Has she lost her mind?”

            “Was there any indication of where Caroline was staying? Did your clerk ask for an address for her?”

            “He did, and the address she gave is a boarding house. The boarding house is not far from Cheapside. I had my driver take us past the address on our way here.”

            Bingley took the ledger to the desk in the corner of the drawing room, using the writing supplies to copy the address of the boarding house. “I will go there tomorrow. My sister has no way of knowing that I am in London, so she will not be expecting me to arrive.”

            “I will join you, Charles.” His aunt stated, showing her support for her nephew.

            “Thank you, Aunt Ethel. I appreciate your assistance.”

            Soon the men made their way to Gerald’s study, while the ladies adjourned to Lady Anne’s sitting room.

            “Lizzy, I am so grateful that you and my son were unharmed by the intruder. You must have been fearful upon learning someone had been in the house in the middle of the night.”

            “I was more concerned with Richard’s report when he was assured of our being here and unharmed.”

            “So, Richard stated he was aware of a ship that was suspicious. They took two women to the ship before it set sail?”

            Elizabeth nodded her head. “When he learned of the women, Richard feared the men had come here to kidnap me. It has all been so confusing.”

            “Why did my nephew not inform us of the ship if he had concerns for your safety? I will be having a chat with him, and his parents. He should have at least sent a message to Gerald and me. Good thing for him that he is too large for me to turn over my knee, or he would be unable to sit for some time to come, after I tanned his hide.”

            This brought a laugh from her daughter in law. The thought of the strong and capable Colonel Fitzwilliam, battlefield hardened, being reprimanded as if he were a school boy, removed any anxiety Elizabeth had felt. When Elizabeth continued to laugh, Lady Anne and Mrs Jorgensen joined her, laughing until they had tears streaming down their cheeks.

            “I am afraid that from this moment forward, I will never forget your words and the image it provoked of you swatting Richard. Whenever I am in Richard’s presence, I will be remembering this moment.”

            “It does sound silly, now that I think of it. Richard is no longer the young boy who was William’s conspirator in their childhood games. The two of them were so close, as if they were brothers rather than cousins.”

            “Fortunately, Richard came directly here and informed William when he did. If we had learned of someone having been in the house late in the night without Richard being here, my husband would have had difficulty.  Knowing that his cousin was working towards keeping us safe was soothing to both of us.”

            “Well, we must make a list of what we need to do while we are in London. A trip to the modiste, cobbler, milliners. Of course, we will need to visit your uncle’s warehouse, as your grandmother informed me of the wonderful items he has, including that wonderful tea blend.”

            “Uncle Edward has three warehouses. One for cloth and lace, one for teas, spices, and spirits, and the last one has many different items. Toys, books, papers for the wall, and much more.”

            “We will require a few days to explore everything.” Lady Anne smiled.

            “Our family teases Uncle Edward that we need string to unroll as we go through the warehouses, so we will be able to find our way out.”

            “Oh, I am excited to visit. I will send a message to discover what entertainment is to be had, so we can decide when to have the Gardiners to attend with us. We will also need to shop for gifts for Christmas. The number of people to shop for has greatly increased.”

            “Please, Lady Anne, you do not need to purchase gifts for me and my family.” Elizabeth pleaded.

            “Lizzy, you are now my daughter. You have already been told to call me Mother. As you are my new daughter, your relations are now mine. Do not fret over any gifts we might give your loved ones. Your family has welcomed us into their homes and hearts. Any gifts would never be enough to tell them how dear they are to me.”

            “M…Mother, I am grateful.”

            “Now, I never wish to hear any arguments from you when it comes to gift giving. Mary and Georgiana have become the best of friends. Amy is like a second mother to me. Your father, Mr Bennet, has become close friends with my husband. It is as if we have been friends all our lives.” Lady Anne was curious as to Elizabeth’s sudden chuckle at her words. “What has brought on such a reaction?”

            “I was just remembering your son telling me that he loved to give gifts and I had best become accustomed with receiving them. He takes after you in that view.”

            Lady Anne beamed with pride. “My son continues to take my views on many subjects. What a wonderful boy he is to follow my example.”