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© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2002-2021. All rights reserved.

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Along The River.

Volume Five.

Part 18.

While one departure began in the night, another followed in its wake, though this time with mortal intent. The river cast its victims, young and old, rich and poor, alike, it made no distinction as those who tried to ride the waves still do. Currents were dangerous, even in their seemingly calm and tranquil states, and fool was the fellow who dared not to respect them, whether in sea, stream or river.

The art of navigating them was one of a life time, aided by ships of wood or metal, as man put to use what talents they may in earth's most natural source for transportation. Inevitably battle would ensue, competition for who held the right of way upon the currents. Sometimes the victor would not even see the victim they turned asunder in course of their travels, or learn of their fate, whether good or bad.

Such was the case today, and, as was usual in such towns of many parishes, Limehouse was the first to hear news of the matter; and the Fellowship of the Six Jolly Porters, the usual port of call for those in distress or witnesses to the event.

"Something's gone down in the fog, Miss Hill!" A man cried from below, heralding the mortal departure to the good lady of the establishment.

Miss Hill was all businesslike, the victims of the river no unusual event to her, as to be rendered commonplace even; she knew the methods of treatment well. "See that the boiler's full. Hang some blankets to the fire," she ordered. "Come on, have your senses about you," she admonished as some parishioners failed to move fast enough. "Does anyone down there know what happened?" She called out to the herald.

"It is the steamboat," he replied back.

"It is always the steamboat," one parishioner commented, well-versed as any of his home streets comrades of the common cause of many river fatalities.

"It is a local craft, Miss Hill," the herald informed her, "run down by a foreign steamboat," he added, using the term to mean a stranger to the parish rather than the country. Foreign fares too, no doubt, as rarely did one mix with the other.

"How many in the craft?" Miss Hill called, while all around her those in the public house made ready to receive the victim or victims.

"One man, Miss Hill," the herald replied, just before the man was brought upstairs into the tap room, slung over a shoulder, his ill-soaked and mud ridden condition instantly translatable as one who held no hope of reviving.

Then Miss Hill caught the man's profile in the gaslight as he was carried by, and her thoughts turned dark and deep, as she recognised him.

"Good God," the blessing was flung from her, "it's Rogue Jenkinson."

Another in the room stilled upon the announcement, all thought of work and aught else immediately forgotten. "Oh God, father," Pleasant murmured. "Poor father."

Once self proclaimed partner to Jessie Philips in matters of profession, now Jenkinson looked to be partners in matters of death as well as life, however such relationship was begrudged by Gaffer. For man had no control over their mortal ends, just as surely as they had none over their birth.

Upstream, the night was like any other, as far as society was concerned, to be feted over by indulgence at some worthy's house. Tobacco and cigar smoke, combined with the smell of fine wine, port and brandy ruled the air, along with the faint whisper of gas from the lights, the clinging choking smell which accompanied it, and the confection of sweets and sour in the food. Conversation too ruled the air, audible only between groups, distinct to sex as well class. Serious matters rarely reigned here, frivolities were the chief subjects; the former being reserved for clubs and parliament.

Elizabeth sought an empty sofa, her mind in no state for socialising, present only at the behest of the Reynolds's, while inwardly fretting over her sister's sudden departure the night before. If Jane had received news from their Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, which Elizabeth doubted, she must have taken the letter with her, for nothing remained of it in the house.

It was not like Jane to be so mysterious, the two of them had never withheld a secret from each other in their lives. Something must have driven her away, something darker than a note from their Aunt, which Elizabeth received no hint of in their last communication from that quarter. Nor had Mr Bingley been informed despite paying call upon her before her departure, for his surprise was clear to see when she and the Reynolds's returned to the house to ready themselves for the evening's frivolities.

The Gardiners lived near the north country, in Derbyshire, having removed from London a year before the illness struck Meryton, for the good of the children's health. Mr Gardiner still held business interests in the town, but such matters were managed now by his stewards, who were well equipped to take care of the warehouses under his management, without need for him to come into town.

No more than a few years older than the two eldest Bennet daughters, Mrs Gardiner frequently invited Jane and Elizabeth to spend time with them, and had offered to provide for the family when they were forced to give up Longbourn. Mr Bennet would not hear of it however, causing them to carry on as before.

Someone laughed, a familiar tone, catching Elizabeth out of her thoughts. She glanced up towards the source, in time to witness Mr Reynolds, amused by his circle of boon companions, empire builders all. Unlike her he seemed unconcerned by her sister's sudden departure. Once was there was a time when he felt awkward and uncomfortable in high society, just as she felt now. The alteration was distinctive.

What a change there is in him, she mused inwardly. And to think that I once wished him more at ease in this company, she added to herself. Money has made him comfortable. It was an ugly thought, to her who had once wished to possess the same wealth. Now she felt very uncomfortable, attired and surrounded by the effects of money, out of place in a world she once devoutly desired to be a part of by marriage.

Oh, Jane, Jane, she wondered silently. Where are you now, and are you in any better comfort than I am at present.

Someone possessed the presence of sober mind to fetch the local physician, who surveyed his patient with the solemn view that held little hope for his survival. A brief examination reached the same conclusion all the parishioners of the Six Jolly Porters arrived at; Rogue Jenkinson had breathed his last upon this earth.

His daughter gave her blessing kiss, sorrowful for the father whom she had cared for most of her adult life. A lonely future was hers now, as lonely as the vigil she now assumed by her father's body, as he lay on the trestle table, awaiting the coffin makers.

The Fellowship resumed their previous pastime around the distressing scene, their eyes immune by now to the horrors of the river, all having bore witness to such a fate at one time or other. Rogue Jenkinson may not have been liked or respected by the parish, but they accorded his body the right of resting in peace, as a hush reigned within the tap room, silent as the grave ground which the man was soon to rest under.

The Physician partook of Miss Hill's kind offer to quench his thirst, and happened to be enjoying what was left of his pint as a sudden harsh coughing broke the silence. The racking sound of a life choking for breath, as water was retched out of their source for air.

Rogue Jenkinson lurched up from his table, instinctively turning to the side to empty his body of the foul river which threatened to choke his internal organs. His daughter kneeled beside him in sudden relief, waiting for the recovery to begin.

When his strength allowed him to sit, she spoke. "Father, you were run down on the river but you're safe now," she informed him gently. "Your friends have given you shelter."

Jenkinson looked grimly upon the place and its members, who once barred him from admittance, doubting and begrudging their generous motives in putting up his body. "A steamboat was it?" He growled out, the river still clinging to his throat.

"Yes father," Pleasant confirmed.

"Damn them to hell," Jenkinson uttered sourly. "I'll have the law on to her. And them that runs her!" He cried, his blood up.

The Fellowship returned to the nursing of their ale, satisfied and perhaps a little dismayed that all was well with their Rogue. His daughter held her peace, eyeing her father as he stared down the gaze of Miss Hill and the doctor, resentful and vengeful, unheeding their looks of admonishment and disapproval. They knew what little such appeals to the laws accomplished in the circles of the poor, and where such persons who dared to try with what little resources they had by resorting to such an appeal, ended up. Life and circumstances were a vicious spiral amongst the poor, with little hope of bettering themselves and the short expectancy that they would rarely live long enough to earn the means of a living, either for themselves or their children, however unusual or extreme it may be.

Never a lady to miss an opportunity when she was presented with one, Mrs Wickham caught sight of Miss Bennet all alone and thoughtful upon the sofa, and inwardly gleamed at the possibilities.

"You seem a little pensive tonight, my dear," she said in a caressing, yet exquisitely tailored tone of superiority as she seated herself beside Miss Bennet.

"H'm," Elizabeth barely murmured, discontented at being disturbed from her ennui.

"My dear, I believe...." Caroline paused, thoughtfully, deliberately, before flicking her fan in a decided purposeful negative. "No I will not," she added, placing the item to her lips in a signal of silence.

Elizabeth summoned a smile from somewhere. "If you believe me to be in love," she said artfully, "I can assure you, you are mistaken."

"No indeed," Caroline replied confidently. "It cannot be so very easy to find a man so worthy of your attractions."

"The question is not to find a man, but an establishment," Elizabeth corrected her, though the thought was no longer so satisfying to her as it once had been.

Caroline flicked her fan in a gesture of admiration. "My love, your prudence amazes me," she replied. "Where did you learn to study life so well?" She smiled at her knowingly, before looking ahead. "You're right of course. You must....."

"I don't mind telling you, Mrs Wickham," Elizabeth interrupted.

"Caroline, my dear," her companion gently corrected.

"I don't mind telling you, Caroline, that I am convinced that I have no heart," Elizabeth replied, forgetting for a moment the worry over Jane. "And as for seeking to please myself, well I don't."

"But you can't help pleasing, Elizabeth dear," Caroline countered, in a voice which was gentle and yet superior at the same time. "You'll have many admirers to shun, don't worry," she added, causing Elizabeth to laugh self-consciously as she remembered the admirer she shunned recently. "Ah, my dear, you must tell," Caroline's eyes gleamed with curiosity, determined to make what use of it she could. She watched her friend look away, and noted the direction with glee. "You do not mean Mr Fitzwilliam has proposed?"

Elizabeth blushed a little and turned back. "No, indeed not," she answered. "In terms of establishments there are others who are even less worthy than Mr Fitzwilliam."

"No my dear, I cannot believe you," Caroline protested.

"What would you say to our secretary?" Elizabeth countered, the confession out of her mouth before she was aware of the consequences.

Caroline had the grace to look elegantly shocked and peeved. "My dear, the hermit secretary who creeps up and down the back stairs?" She queried incredulously. "The man must be mad," she decided, at the thought of someone daring to breach the circles of the highest society.

Elizabeth looked down at her lap, twisting her hands. "He appeared to be in his full senses," she replied, recalling the evening now in a mind more doubtful of her refusal than it had been when she first uttered it. "I told him my opinion of his declaration and dismissed it. Of course it was very inconvenient and disagreeable," she added, convincing everyone but herself. "It has remained a secret however, and I hope I can count on you never mentioning the matter," she appealed to her friend.

"My dear you may count on me absolutely," Caroline assured her sincerely, holding the fan to her lips once more. She dealt a kiss to Elizabeth's cheek before rising from the sofa, and seeking a glass of wine for them both. Her mind meanwhile stored this useful piece of scandal, waiting for the right time to spring it upon those who would pay handsomely for the knowledge of such information.

Across the room upon the threshold of an open door, as the occasion required more than one room be sacrificed by the house for use, Lady Catherine de Bourgh found her nephew in quiet consultation with his friend. Knowing they were the source behind the latest mystery she had discovered just this evening, she paraded over to them.

"Nephew, do you recall the last time we were here?" She began, ignoring the groans from both him and his companion.

"No, Aunt, I do not," Richard replied.

Lady scoffed in exasperation at his reply. "Of course you remember, nephew. It was in this very room that you told us the romantic story of my dearly lamented nephew William Darcy. And over there, sitting very comfortably, are your golden dustmen. And what is that the golden dustmen has told me? There is another disappearance."

Richard turned to his friend, prepared to dissemble if he must, but Charles was stoic and resigned in the face of gossip. Leaning casually against the door frame, a cigar in his hands, he remarked, "tell it, Richard. Or they're sure to make you."

"The reference is to the following," Richard began, raising his voice to carry across the whole room as conversation died and everyone turned to listen and look. "The young woman Jane Bennet, niece of the late Jessie, otherwise Gaffer Philips, who you will remember was accused of the murder of William Darcy. Mr Reynolds, my client, was of course anxious to be in communication with Jane Bennet when she departed from their house suddenly one night. He referred the task to me, and I have tried my hardest to find Miss Bennet. I even have some special means," he directed a look to Charles, who quietly smoked his cigar all through this, "but I have failed because she has vanished."

"Vanished?" Lady Catherine echoed. "You mean kidnapped?" She queried, horrified. "Oh, not murdered?" She added, disgusted.

Charles lost his patience and with it his silence. "No, he does not mean that," he replied. "What he means is that she has vanished voluntarily. But she has vanished. Completely," he reiterated before walking away.

Richard watched him go with concern. Since Charles first informed him of Miss Bennet's disappearance, his concern had deepened to include not just her, but his best friend. Even when he was assured by the Reynolds's that Miss Bennet was safe at her Aunt and Uncle's and merely wished to protect his friend by keeping confirmation of her whereabouts from the public gossip, thus the need to instigate this show of a search, his concern had remained. He knew Charles would not be content to be left in ignorance of a woman whose interest had stirred his energy like no other did before.

He was deeply worried about Charles, who had taken to wandering the city alone day and night, while seeking solitary corners during the social events Richard dragged him to in an effort to get him out of his black mood. He knew Charles was searching actively for Miss Bennet, he was the 'special means' he had referred to in his speech a moment ago. His friend had told him soon after Miss Bennet vanished that he would use any means to find her, fair or foul, and by his recent penchant for nocturnal wanderings, Richard knew all too well it was the latter he had now resorted to. He had no doubt of his friend's resourcefulness.

But he worried where this searching would take him.

Part 19.

William Hurst rose from his chair as soon as he heard the carriage wheels hitting the pebbled driveway. Exiting his study, he swiftly descended the stairs in time to reach the ground floor just as the door opened to usher the return of Mr Reynolds and his ward. Since their confabulation over a certain young lady, the couple had impressed upon him the details of their plan to help him win her affections. William had scrupled about deceiving her in such a way, but they reminded him that he began the lie concerning his true identity, causing him to accept their plan, else face losing the woman he loved forever. This excursion today, was a good opportunity to put said plan into effect.

He stepped to Mr Reynolds's side and deftly relieved him of the large pile of books he had carried in. "I trust you had a satisfactory morning shopping?" he asked before studying the titles with interest. "Ah, more lives of misers I see," he commented as Miss Bennet entered the house.

"That's all right with you is it?" Mr Reynolds queried in a tone of rebuke. "For those that have," he patted the volumes, "this is the required reading. Those with a fortune to protect." He added, all superior, his chest puffed out, his hands on the edges of his tailored jacket, his head raised high.

Miss Bennet looked down at her grown, embarrassed by the comment and disdain coming from her companion. "Will you be joining us this afternoon, Mr Hurst?" She asked.

"Join us?" Mr Reynolds echoed in incredulous astonishment before the secretary could answer her kind inquiry. "Join us! Hurst has my business to attend to. Come, come, Elizabeth." He strode in the direction of the drawing room, leaving Elizabeth with no choice but to glance at Mr Hurst solemnly, before following her guardian.

"Miss Bennet?" Hurst uttered softly before she stepped away, causing her to look up at him. He indicated a glance to his jacket pocket as he replied, "this came for you earlier."

Elizabeth looked to see a white folded letter sticking out of his jacket pocket. It felt strange taking it from him rather than being handed it, but since his arms were still full with the large pile of books, it was necessary. Her hand brushed the material of the his jacket, feeling the contrast between the fine material she wore and the coarser cotton which he was attired in. He stood very still as she removed the letter, his eyes glancing away from her, after Mr Reynolds, making sure this scene passed unnoticed and therefore unremarked upon by the master of the house. Elizabeth briefly glanced at the writing before she secured it within the confines of a concealed pocket in her dress. A cursory glimpse at the direction was more than enough to determine the author, and a smile lit up her face.

"Thank you, Mr Hurst," she said before following Mr Reynolds. He watched her leave, his eyes tracing her fine womanly form, remembering with pleasure the smile she showed for him and him alone, in gratitude at his solicitude and in relief due to recognition of the identity of the sender. He had seen her sad and thoughtful since the sudden departure of her sister, causing him concern over his decision to attempt to win her affections while she was in such distress over a close friend and sibling. Now this smile rewarded him and emboldened him into trying, for surely this letter would bring her relief.

The letter was from Jane, to say she had arrived safely at the Gardiners, and all was well. Reading through the letter twice, Elizabeth still could not discern anything behind the words which gave her cause for concern about her sister. There were some troubling points however; namely that her location be kept a secret from all save herself and the Reynolds's. Jane requested that Mr Bingley especially be not informed of her whereabouts, or their cousin Charlie Philips. The latter concealment was easy enough, Elizabeth had little contact with their cousin even when he visited Jane at the Reynolds's house.

But she wondered at her sister's reasons regarding the former gentleman. Mr Bingley seemed to care for her sister, he had been concerned for whereabouts and safety ever since she disappeared, even before. What excuse could she give for Jane no longer desiring his company? Better ought not to mention it perhaps, though how she would escape inquiries concerning any resumption of her manner to cheerfulness was beyond her at present. This letter had accomplished little except incite more questions and a desire to see her sister as soon as she was able.

Elizabeth set the letter aside and composed her reply, gently requesting why such concealment was necessary, but promising her faithfully that she would do as she was asked.

After finishing her correspondence, Elizabeth rejoined the Reynolds's in Mr Reynolds's study, where he was holding court with Mr Hurst standing before his desk of business, and Mrs Reynolds quietly occupied herself with some needlework. Whatever conversation took place before she entered the room was beyond her knowledge, for the gentleman, the lady and the mysterious secretary were silent when she entered.

Encountering the gaze of all three of them as she closed the door, caused Elizabeth to almost hesitate, unable to escape the feeling that she was intruding. A not uncommon emotion to her mind and body, but one she had only recently begun to feel whenever she spent time with Mr and Reynolds outside the realms of Society dinner parties, balls, soirees and anything other occasion which required her to be sociable. She could not understand why this feeling had come upon, along with the other mixed sensations which accompanied it, all leading to her feeling unsettled with everyone and everything. She felt that her world was soon about to shift, and in a direction no one could predict, thus causing her fear that the outcome would not content her.

"Now, Hurst," Mr Reynolds began, once he and Mr Hurst finished watching Elizabeth enter the room and take her seat, "where were we?"

"You were saying, sir, you considered that the time had come to fix my salary," Mr Hurst replied. He had withdrawn his gaze from Elizabeth first, she noticed, in part due to the agreement she forced upon him to be constrained, a natural by product of her rejection of his feelings for her upon that evening before Jane left. However, she had also observed that it did not stop him caring for her, or keeping her in view at least, in way of protection rather than marked devotion or attraction, yet an impulse which inevitably sprung from such a move. Her feelings had softened towards this surveillance, so much so to find a strange sort of comfort within it, as she began to experience those previously mentioned ominous sensations.

"Oh don't be above calling it wages, man," Mr Reynolds replied. "I never talked of salary when I was in service." He managed to say this with a rather undeserved and therefore inappropriate superiority at having risen above such ignominious origins.

"My wages," Mr Hurst corrected himself, in a subdued manner, something which Elizabeth had lately observed in him. He appeared vulnerable, as she looked at him now, as though he had every reason to be scared of his employer, fearful of wrestling from him the means with which to live, monetary wealth required in return for his hard work which he had earned long ago.

"Now, regarding these wages," Mr Reynolds continued in that self same imperious manner. "I've looked into the matter, and I say two hundred a year. What do you think?"

"Thank you sir," Hurst replied, as Elizabeth found it difficult to conceal a gasp. She was aware that one hundred and fifty was the threshold of a gentleman, hardly an income which Society would term applying to their definition of the word, but there were distinctions in everything, during such times as these. Yet two hundred did not seem adequate recompense for Mr Hurst's services.

"It's a fair proposal," Hurst allowed.

Mr Reynolds rose from his chair behind the desk and came to stand before his secretary, clasping his shoulders in an almost camaraderie fashion, yet with ever the appearance of an overbearing employer to his most put upon employee. "You see, Hurst, a man like me has to consider the market price. Since inheriting this fortune of mine, I have become acquainted with the duties of property, and what such property is worth in the eyes of those who have it, and those have not. A sheep is worth so much in the market and I ought to give it that price and no more. Likewise a secretary."

"You are too kind, Mr Reynolds," Hurst replied, yet in that same nervous manner than implied what he just professed was not what he really believed. Nor did Elizabeth believe it, for Mr Reynolds' speech did not imply benevolence, or fairness, a good master bestowing what was due, but rather a master bestowing what was seen to be done.

"I want to keep you in attendance," Mr Reynolds went on in the same superior fashion. "I want you ready at all times. I'll have a bell rung from this room to yours. And when I want you, I'll touch it." Elizabeth flinched at this declaration, for to her mind it sounded a kin to something insidious, unworthy of the position in which a secretary was held. Rendering him a servant, and a lowly one at that. This entire interview in fact seemed to be served with the intention of making Mr Hurst feel inferior, small, vulnerable and fearful of his employer, and wholly dependent upon him.

"I don't call to mind that I have anything more I have to say to you." said, Mr Reynolds, who turned away from Mr Hurst disdainfully, dismissing him from the room to that impersonal study of his. For the first time Elizabeth wondered if he felt as lonely in there as the room now appeared so in her mind.

Hurst bowed to Mr Reynolds, then to his wife, and then finally to Elizabeth, with a small look, one that seemed to convey to her more than its length would allow. She felt immediately as if she understood his feelings to be the same as her, that he felt the injustice of his treatment just as much she did, yet bore the hardship, in favour of seeing her, and giving her assurance of his continuing regard, and her continuing comfort, with the deliverance of letters, like the one he gave her from Jane today, as well as many other things, which would be revealed in time. In the past, such an avowal of affection would have called her to reject him, as she had already. Now however, she derived from them a certain comfort, took them as a constant, in this increasingly ever uncertain world.

The door closed loudly, the echoing sound bringing her back to an awareness of her company, and of the tension that seemed to still haunt the room which Mr Hurst has so recently vacated.

"Edmund, my dear," Mrs Reynolds began hesitantly, her manner nervous and uncertain, Elizabeth noticed, as though the emotions which the secretary displayed just now were also haunting the room just like the tension.

"Yes, my dear?" Mr Reynolds returned, his voice warm and genuine, all the superiority disappeared. Yet Elizabeth could still feel a part of it, present within the room, which seemed very crowded now, ghosted by as it was with all these negative emotions resulting from wrongful conduct.

"Excuse me putting it to you, but don't you think you're being a little strict with Mr Hurst?" Mrs Reynolds asked tentatively, as though she though she was a little fearful of her husband, something Elizabeth had never witnessed from her. Indeed, when she first came to live with them, the Reynolds's appeared to possess the kind of relationship her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner displayed between each other, the kind of relationship she herself had always wished for, before such illusions were sunk into the sea, along with the promises of old men and young ones with conditional fortunes to inherit. "Don't you think you're being little not quite your old self?"

Mr Reynolds had barely sat down behind his desk before leaping up again at this inquiry with an energy that was rather fierce and boundless, and inappropriate to the inquiry which merited it. "Why, old lady, its the same with Hurst as with the footman. You must either scrunch them or they'll scrunch you."

He glanced to their ward, capturing sight for the first time of her concerned expression, and turned on her with the same boundless energy, a miserly eagerness acquired within his eyes. "Now this isn't entertaining, Miss Elizabeth, now is it?" he turned to his wife, a hand gesturing at their companion, who seemed disinclined to answer him with the truth of what she felt concerning his assertion.

"Now Elizabeth, for her age, is remarkably well up on what to go in for. You're right my love," he said as he loomed over her with that monetary glint still present. "Go in for the money. Make a profit from your good looks and from the money me and Mrs Reynolds will have the pleasure of settling on you, for we're very fond of you, my dear. A golden ball of opportunity lies at your feet, Elizabeth, my dear!"

Elizabeth nodded, but inwardly her mind was suddenly concerned at the change she saw in her once kind and generous guardian. Mr Reynolds appeared so altered from his first brush with wealth as to be quite unrecognisable.

Looking at him as he returned to his desk, remembering the fearful expression across his brow as he loomed over her, and the unjust treatment of Mr Hurst, Elizabeth could not help but wonder if this was what money did to you; worsen and corrupt the character and mind until you no longer knew yourself, or others that you once cared for, for now you cared for nothing but money.

Money, she found herself forced to conclude, was spoiling Mr Reynolds, and not for the first time did she fear becoming mired within the same sinking affliction.

Part 20.

Nightfall fell in slow increments upon the city, blinding those who had not lost their vision to the fog or smog which plagued the poorer streets. Time for all citizens of London to seek their beds or board, a safer alternative to the perils that came with the fall of darkness. As for the richer side, they had their gaslights and candles and carriages to aid them in returning home, still no less to fear from the encroaching blackness as the poor, if not even more so, for they had the more to lose.

During the night these vast divisions of Society were never more apparent, the comparisons never more broad. Blackness threw up a wall between rich and poor, barring one from the other, until the daylight could be seen again, though in some areas, the wall was still present, crossed only at one's peril. Rare was the man who from the richer side who dared to cross the barriers into the poor areas, and often he was also unwise, for that way held danger, both to his wealth and to his life.

However, there was such a man abroad tonight, in an area which a man of his wealth would be a fool to enter, even in the alleged safety of daylight. Such entry from such fools usually caused them to part with some of that wealth, either due to some debt or addictive affliction, such as gambling or the temptations of the opium dens. Occasionally the affliction or debt was too great, causing that man to never emerge from the area, his remains to be washed ashore, or torn to ribbons by the ferries. But this man was different from the rest. His wealth was new, his origins old, and from the area he was now traversing. He knew his surroundings well, he would not be caught unawares by a curious opportunist.

Yet he was not unobserved through his nocturnal adventure. Two sets of inquisitive eyes watched his movements, as he navigated his way through the dust mounds surrounding his old house. They saw his crouching, furtive manner, caught sight of the shovel which he carried within his hand, the skill with which he used it. If they were too far away to see what he might have been concealing or revealing, the distance was no barrier for speculation.

"He's looking for something," Old Wickham murmured. "What's he doing?"

"He's got a shovel," Mr Younge remarked. "And he knows how to use it." They watched him move to another series of heaps, digging away anew. "He knows these mounds like his own garden. He could bury us without a trace, if we give him reason. Come on," he urged the retreat to the house.

Barely were they there safely installed within the comfortable but batted armchairs which resided in the parlour before the front door was pushed open, and the glow of a lantern entered the darkened hall, followed by Mr Reynolds.

"What's the matter, Wickham?" He asked as he caught sight of the man's blanched countenance upon his entrance. "You're as pale as a candle."

Wickham forgot to breathe in his rush to cover his pale complexion, and his body rebelled the oxygen as a result.

"Physic yourself to be order for the morrow," Mr Reynolds advised, before catching sight of the other companion in the room.

Wickham ceased his coughing and ushered the man out from the concealing darkness. "This is a friend, Mr Younge," he revealed.

"Of Clerkenwell?" Mr Reynolds sought to confirm, receiving a nod in return. "I've heard of you," he added, brightening eagerly. "You knew the old man. Did he tell you of any hoardings of money or even better?" He inquired in the manner of someone in need of every penny, when clearly such was not the case. "Oh by the by, I've decided to sell off the mounds, Wickham," he added, almost as an afterthought.

The tenant who had thought himself entitled to whatever treasure remained beneath these dusty covers was rightly stunned. "What?"

"Gonna lose the mounds," Reynolds repeated. "They're to be carted off that's the end of it," he added abruptly, considering the matter at an end. "Goodnight," he continued in farewell, forestalling the man's ushering to the door. "No, I know the way out."

Younge restrained his companion, who was ready to grab their departing visitor by the coat tails, and strangle him for ridding him of his claim to wealth. "Did you hear him! He's going to cheat me! Cheat us! Before we can find anything! Let me get at him."

"Now why would you be wanting to do that?" Mr Younge asked him. "Think, man. The clearing will take more than a day, weeks even, I dare say, and the movement may reveal the treasure quicker than our fumbling could ever do."

"I hope you're right, Younge," Wickham remarked stilling at last under his friend's restraining hand clasp upon his shoulder. "For I fear the morning arrival of all those carts, carrying away the fortune I am entitled to."

Several days after he was brought into the tap room of the Fellowship for the Six Jolly Porters, left for dead, Jenkinson came to a weather-beaten series of wooden planks, laughingly called a walkway across the dredges of the river. Silently he crouched before the edge, his eyes peering into the grimy water, attempting to descry the nature of the depths below. He remembered heaving the muck from his mouth; the poisonous liquid clinging to his throat and lungs, the knowledge of how close he was to death. But how long he spent in the water, where the river washed him up, or what caused him to almost surrender to dark currents beneath these boards, was up for speculation.

He felt the pressure and tread of someone else walking those planks, and looked up to encounter the figure of a man sombrely clothed, with a countenance to match, grim and closed mouth, saying only what he chose.

"Been walking and lost my way," the man revealed. "Been looking out for someone I used to know," he added, resting his hands on the frail support ledge. "I feel she may have passed this spot."

"She?" Jenkinson queried, curious, despite himself. "The lady travels alone?"

"Yes," the man replied. "At least I believe so. You've not seen a man have you?" He asked him. "A city man, a man of law? His name is Bingley."

"Bingley," Jenkinson echoed, recollecting the man and his companion. "Oh, I'd know him if I saw him."

"You are acquainted with this man?" His companion asked.

"I am indeed," Jenkinson confirmed. "Along with that Fitzwilliam fellow. When I was cheated at the time of Philips's death."

The stranger regarded him with new interest. "You are Jenkinson."

"What's it to you?" Jenkinson countered, forcing the man into silence. He crouched for a moment longer, considering. "This river's drowned me once," he revealed. "I mean to get the better of it." He rose to his feet with the practice of an old river hand. "I'm thinking of taking a job up river. More respectable. What do you think?"

"You know Philips's niece?" The stranger asked.

"None better," Jenkinson replied. She was kindest soul that ever lived in this neighbourhood. A far better carer than his burden of a daughter.

"Have you seen her?" The stranger asked.

"Not since the day of Gaffer's death," Jenkinson replied.

"And him, Bingley," the stranger inquired. "Did you ever see them together?"

"Certainly I have," Jenkinson agreed.

"And did he make a show of being kind to her?" The stranger inquired.

"Oh yeah, that was very definite," Jenkinson grinned, remembering the occasion he saw him stare into the window of her dwelling, and his comment to Lawyer Fitzwilliam, concerning how he felt like a dark combination of a traitor and a pickpocket when he thought about Miss Bennet.

The stranger reached into pocket and retrieved some silver. "Suppose I was to offer you five shillings?" He remarked.

Jenkinson grinned at him. "Well I'd take it," he replied, opening his hand to receive the proffered funds. "What's this for?"

"I don't know, I don't know," the stranger replied, sounding suddenly so very lost, that Jenkinson almost felt sorry for the man. "Look, do you know where she is?"

"No," Jenkinson answered.

"Well if you do have any intelligence of her, or of him, would you be willing to part with it?" the stranger asked. "Look you can trust me, I'm a schoolteacher."

Jenkinson nodded, storing away the information about the man. He watched the stranger walk away. "I don't know where to find ya," he called out.

"I'll know where to find you," the schoolteacher replied. He stopped suddenly, seemingly at a loss once more. "Oh, the five shillings, I don't know what I want for it, remember. No I don't know. If anything," he finished before walking away.

Jenkinson watched him go, knowing that with a little bit of detective work, he could find the school which answered in the affirmative to having such a teacher who matched that stranger's description. Yes, there was money to be made out of this encounter, if he bided his time and put it to good use.

Part 21.

Elizabeth woke one morning to a complex of puzzling sounds emanating from the ground floor. Despite the magnificence of the townhouse, the richness in the materials which were used to build the place, the walls could not hide certain noises from reaching every room no more than her father's house in Holloway. Or Longbourn, for that matter, but she often refused to dwell on her memories of their once ancestral home.

Slowly she rose from the pillows, casting her gaze around the bedroom, noting the condition of the daylight entering through curtained sash windows, judging the hour how her father had taught her to in her youth on the grounds of her first home in rural Hertfordshire. Despite the contrast between London and Meryton, it was a science which depended little on surroundings. Once an estimate of an hour was established firmly in her mind, she moved from the bed to dress herself, her mind returning to the internal speculation as to the origins behind the sounds which had woken her in the first place.

There was little peace within her since Jane had escaped to their Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, perhaps even before. Elizabeth just felt that the inability to remained settled and contented, was much more apparent to her now than it had been. Many things disturbed her equilibrium; the noises below were the last in a list which could be summed up in two words; William Hurst. Everything which disturbed her related in some way to him, no matter how indirect the degree of connection, from the changing temperament of Mr Reynolds, to the absence of her sister at a time when she most needed a confidant.

Jane's absence troubled her, even though she could hazard the possible cause as to her sudden departure one night for their maternal Uncle's home. Elizabeth felt this fresh parting deeply, more so than when Jane was caring for their Uncle and nephew Philips. The secrecy which her sister used was doubly disturbing, for rarely did the two of them hide their thoughts and feelings from each other. She knew her sister's reasons for leaving were no doubt sound, but she did not know the exact nature of them, other than that they might involve Mr Collins. This was only a supposition however, and not a certain one at that, for while she knew of the man's visits to the house, Jane had chosen not to confide in her the subject of those visits.

On the rare occasions she had been in the company of the man, Elizabeth had seen nothing in Jane's manner which could cause her concern, but as far as her own counsel went, she did not trust their nephew's old schoolmaster. There was something foreboding in his manner, a dark depth to his character. Elizabeth had only seen the merest hint of this, but the aspect became more apparent in Jane's behaviour after she returned from private conversations with him. Just as it had the day she left.

There had been little correspondence since her sister's departure too, and when Jane did write her letters were full of their aunt and uncle and nieces and nephews, nothing concerning why she left. It concerned Elizabeth that her sister was so reluctant to confide in her, because she could not help but think that the truth was dangerous for all of them, most of all for Jane herself. Her sister strove to protect their family whenever she could, her loyalty was far more powerful than her own.

A violent thump which caused the floor below her feet to vibrate, broke Elizabeth's reflections just then. Having finished her toilette, she quitted her bedroom and made her way down to the entrance hall, which turned out to be the location from where the noise was travelling. Descrying the sight before her as she came to a halt midway down the last set of stairs, Elizabeth silently concluded that the noise was not the only thing which was travelling.

A large collection of luggage bags and suitcases littered the black and white marble tiled hall, some in the process of being transferred by servants from the room to a carriage outside, an equipage which she could espy out of one of the front facing windows. Mr Reynolds stood upon the threshold before the gathering of these cases, Mr Hurst beside him. The faithful secretary's head was bowed slightly over a note book, taking notes of his employer's instructions.

Mr Reynolds looked up as her tread upon the stairs became audible. "Ah, Lizzy, my dear," he greeted her in the usual way. "Hurst is travelling to Derbyshire today."

Elizabeth frowned in puzzlement. "Derbyshire?" She queried.

"Yes, to survey the late Mr Darcy's estate; Pemberley," Mr Reynolds replied.

"And how many days will Mr Hurst spend there?" Elizabeth asked, silently judging the quantity of luggage left before them.

"Oh, only today, my dear," Mr Reynolds informed her. "The cases you see before us are to be stored at the house for when we decide to visit the place." He looked at her carefully, before adding, "you may go with him, if you like."

"May I?" Elizabeth asked, thinking of her sister.

"Of course, Lizzy, my dear," Mr Reynolds assured her. "Visit your sister Jane, I'm sure Mr Hurst can escort you there. Lambton is but five miles from Pemberley."

"I will escort Miss Bennet anywhere she wishes," Mr Hurst replied quietly.

"When do we leave?" Elizabeth asked.

"As soon as you are ready, my dear," Mr Reynolds replied.

"I will go and fetch my travelling clothes then," Elizabeth informed him before turning round to return to her bedroom for her coat and bonnet.

Mr Reynolds however stopped her before she had reached the landing halfway. "Let the servants get them, Elizabeth. That is what they are there for," he added with a look to Hurst, the full meaning of which his secretary could not fail to comprehend, before he left them alone in the hall.

The train left at the station just when it was due, taking Mr Hurst and herself away from the hustle and bustle of the London streets into the quiet and peaceful countryside. Elizabeth took the window seat in the carriage, her fine dark eyes gazing out at the passing views of the lush green fields and the various cottages or country estates from station to station, but her mind remained full of her sister, wondering if this surprise visit would cause Jane to confide in her, for she held no hope that it would allay her fears or concerns.

After the train departed from the last station before Kympton, Elizabeth turned to her travelling companion, silently studying him. His eyes were upon the opened pages of the leatherbound volume which was resting in his hands. It struck her that this was the first time they would be alone for the day since that evening he made known his feelings for her. She had rebuffed his advances then, and a part of her still felt that she was right to do so, but it was increasingly diminished by other evidence which stood in his favour.

His gentlemanlike manners, his considerate and respectful silence when they were in company with Mr and Reynolds, and his quiet acceptance of the change in Mr Reynolds's manner towards him. Elizabeth did not agree with Mr Reynolds's altered behaviour, but she did admire Mr Hurst's silent refusal to treat his employer in kind, or raise some objections concerning the treatment. It spoke well for his temper, a character trait which she had come to hold certain reservations of at late, especially when it was displayed by other persons she was acquainted with.

He must have sensed her gaze upon him, for he looked up from his book and asked her, "shall you be delighted to see your sister after so long a parting from each other?"

"Very much," Elizabeth replied. "It has felt strange to be without her after only just having her company again. I believe I feel her absence more now than when she was helping my Uncle and nephew Philips." She paused, before asking her own question. "Do you think well of my sister, Mr Hurst?"

"I think quite highly of her," He replied.

"I'm so glad of that," Elizabeth found herself replying, though she did not know why she was pleased that he approved of her sister. "There is something refined in her beauty is there not?"

Mr Hurst nodded. "She is very striking."

"Yet there is a shade of sadness upon her. I noticed it even before she left London," Elizabeth remarked, admitting for the first time the concern she felt for her sister. " I'm not setting up my own opinion here. Mr Hurst, I'm asking for your opinion."

Her travelling companion nodded. "I noticed that sadness. I hope it may not be as a result of the false accusation against your uncle."

Elizabeth could not fail to discern the distance in his tone, and sighed. "Mr Hurst, Please don't be so hard on me. Don't be so stern. I wish to talk to you on equal terms."

He closed his book and rose to seat himself next to her. "I was forcing myself to be constrained as required by our agreement." He smiled at her. "But there, it is gone."

"Thank you," Elizabeth uttered, taking his hand.

The train came to a halt, and they disembarked. To his surprise Elizabeth did not let go of his hand until they had left the station and came upon a wide footbridge covering a gentle flowing stream. The walk was brief in its production, but he felt deeply the sensations caused by the clasping of their hands, the touch of his skin against her own. The desolation he felt when her hand parted from his was most acute.

It was a warm summer's day, and in the current easiness of her company, William felt himself able to remove his jacket, revealing a white shirt restrained by a black waistcoat and fitting narrow armbands, designed to keep the shirt free of stains and creases. He folded the edges of his jacket inward and placed the garment on the stone wall. "In her letter to Mrs Reynolds, Jane stated that her name and residence must be kept strictly secret. I was hoping that you may be able to try and find out why."

"Of course. I'd be glad to help if I can," Elizabeth replied. "I have my own suspicions as to why, but you must allow me the privilege of sisterly confidence. I will not reveal anything unless Jane allows me to do so."

"It is only natural that you possess such feelings," William replied. "And I am sure that Mr and Mrs Reynolds will respect your silence."

"Thank you," Elizabeth uttered. She came to join his resting stance against the metal rails of the bridge, resting her bent arms across them, as her clasped hands hovered above the gently flowing water. "Mr Hurst, it seems so long since we've spoken to each other naturally. I'm embarrassed to bring up another subject, yet I can no longer keep silently wondering. It is Mr Reynolds. You know that I am not only grateful to him but I have a true respect for him."

"Unquestionably," William replied. "And that you are his favourite companion."

Elizabeth nodded. "That makes it difficult," she turned her face towards his. "Mr Hurst do you think he treats you well?"

William hesitated, uncertain how to answer her. "You see how he treats me," he added eventually.

"Yes I see it clearly," Elizabeth replied. "You see I have been watching Mr Reynolds these past few weeks."

He smiled at her choice of words. "You? Watching? Surely not."

She blushed, knowing to what evening he inferred, inwardly touched and embarrassed that he seemed not to hold her words said then against her. "I have to admit I have been watching him. And though on my first meeting with Mr Reynolds I found him gruff and dark and somewhat dirty I'm ashamed to confess, I've grown to find him kindly and unspoilt by his good fortune. But now...." She sighed, unsure of how much to say.

William found her eyes with his own, hoping that his solicitous gaze would inspire her to continue. "Now?"

"But now I have to admit that fortune is spoiling Mr Reynolds," Elizabeth added. "And I've seen the way he treats you and it gives me pain because I cannot bear it to be thought that I approve of it."

His features acquired a softened, almost ardent look as he replied, "Miss Bennet if you could know with what delight I see that fortune is not spoiling you."

"This treatment," Elizabeth added. "Well, I sometimes think that it must lower you in your own estimation."

He thought of the conversation with the Reynolds, of their plans and his own, choosing his next words with infinite care. "I have very strong reasons for bearing with the drawbacks of my current position."

"Well, I sometimes think you repress yourself," Elizabeth confessed. "You force yourself to act passively."

"You are right," he replied, for her words were true, from a certain point of view. "I force myself to act a certain part, to appear to be something else to those who might be watching. But I have a settled purpose."

"And a good one I hope?" Elizabeth asked him.

William inclined his head. "And a good one I hope," he added, taking her offered hand once more. "Come, I better set you on your way to see your sister."

"Jane," Elizabeth cried as her sister opened the door of the Gardiner's residence to admit her, "I am glad to see you."

"And I you," Jane replied, embracing her. "Aunt and Uncle Gardiner are out with the children in Lambton just now, you find me all alone here."

"That is to the good, for I want a frank conversation with you," Elizabeth replied. "On a subject which you seem disinclined to confess on paper. How are you, Jane? Why did you leave London so suddenly?"

Her sister breathed deeply, taking care to let her reply sound as calm as she could possibly make it. "There is a certain man, a passionate and angry man who says he loves me, and I must believe does love me. He's a friend of our cousin."

"Mr Collins," Elizabeth deduced astutely. "And you're hiding here because you're afraid of him?"

"As you know, I'm not timid generally, but I'm always afraid of him. I'm afraid to read the newspaper or to hear of events in London in case he has done some violence."

"But you're not afraid of him for yourself," Elizabeth determined, knowing her sister well. "Then you must excuse me but it must be that there is someone else?"

"His words are always in my ears and the blow he struck when he said them is always in my head. 'I hope I may never kill him.'"

"'Kill him?'" Elizabeth echoed. "Is Mr Collins so jealous?"

"Of another," Jane confessed. "Of a gentleman. I hardly know how to tell you. Of a gentleman so far above me and my way of life. He's shown an interest in me since our Uncle's death. You know whom I'm speak of, Mr Bingley. He must not know I am here or give at least clue where to find me!"

"I see," Elizabeth pressed her sister's hand tenderly. "Of course I see."

"I live here peacefully," Jane replied. "And I hope you do not mind that I stay here for a time, until I feel the danger has passed."

"Of course," Elizabeth replied. "And I hope you may forget both these men. The violent one and one who causes you such worry."

"Oh I do not want to forget about him," Jane protested.

"I don't understand, Jane. If you care for Mr Bingley so, why not allow him to know that? Wouldn't confirmation of what he feels and might be willing to endure, be better than living in hiding?" Elizabeth countered. "Where is the gain, my dear?"

"Does a woman's heart seek to gain anything?" Jane asked her. "If I were to forget him, I shall lose the belief that if I had been his equal and he had loved me then I would have tried with everything I had to make him better and happier. I have no more dreamt at the possibility of being his wife than he ever has. And yet I love him, I love him so much and so dearly. When I think my life may be weary, I am proud of it and glad of it to suffer something for him. I may never see him again. His eyes may never look at me again. I'd not have the light of them taken out of my life for anything that life can give me. There I've told you everything. I didn't mean to. I did not want you to worry about me more than when we last parted."

"I only wish I deserved your confidence more," Elizabeth replied. "Do you wish Mr and Mrs Reynolds to know why you left?"

"I do not wish to trouble them so," Jane answered. "Just tell them that I am helping out our Aunt and Uncle."

"And make sure Mr Bingley does not learn where they live," Elizabeth added. "Oh, Jane, I wish I could ease things for you. If only I knew how."

"Mr Collins' passion will pass the longer my absence from London lasts," Jane prophesied. "He will forget me and we shall go on as before, as common and indifferent acquaintances." She smiled at her sister. "Now, how has it been for you since I went away?"

"Mr Reynolds continues to alter," Elizabeth replied. "His treatment of Mr Hurst worsens by the day. I am thankful that I never told him or his wife of that evening when he confessed his feelings for me. I dread to think what might happen if that event were made public."

"And Mr Hurst," Jane added, "has your opinion of him changed?"

"He is a friend," Elizabeth replied. "I endeavour to treat him so more and more since Mr Reynolds's change in manner. He does not seem to hold that evening I cruelly rejected him against me."

"No one who truly loved you would, Lizzy," Jane revealed.

"You think he still loves me?" Elizabeth asked with a gasp.

"You do not?" Jane countered. "His feelings are evident just by the attention with which he continues to show you. If he ignored you, I would be less certain of his feelings, for avoidance can be both due to the desire to continue to love you or to fall out of such love. And your feelings have changed for him, which leads me to believe that he is merely waiting for a chance to ask you again."

"A man who has been refused?" Elizabeth asked incredulously. "How could I ever be foolish enough to expect a renewal of his love? Is there one among the sex, who would not protest against such a weakness as a second proposal to a woman? There is no indignity so abhorrent to their feelings!"

"Love does not give up at the first stumbling block," Jane pointed out. "Nor should it do so, else we would never find it so fulfilling as to desire it with all our hearts."

Elizabeth walked back from the Gardiners, the five mile distance from Lambton to Pemberley no trouble to her. When her father still had Longbourn, she would spend most of her days rambling about the countryside, rain or shine, whatever the season, her return to the house witnessed and despaired of by her mother, who would cry aloud at how her second daughter would ever gain a rich husband, when she chose to run wild about the countryside, causing her dresses to gain inches of mud about the hem lines. To which her father would reply that such displays show a healthy disposition rather than a constant concern as to the money which said gentleman would feel threatened by. She frowned now as she recollected such teasing, for she realised once more how her comments must have hurt her father the last time she saw him. Resolving to summon her courage upon her return to London and apologise to him in Holloway, she went on.

Reaching the beginnings of a gentle slope into a deep, lush, green valley, she slowed her pace, catching sight of something which made her stop altogether. Before her stood a magnificent house, constructed from local stone, with generous windows, casting a glorious reflection into the shimmering lake before it. She caught her breath in vain for it was taken away by the sheer beauty of the place. When she travelled with the Gardiners in her youth, she had toured a number of stately homes, all of them impressive in their own right, but none which touched her heart as this one had. It seemed to belong to the landscape, as though no architect or landowner was responsible for placing it in this valley save nature it self. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.

'And of all this,' she murmured inwardly, 'I might have been mistress.' With these grounds she might now have been familiarly acquainted! Instead of viewing them as a stranger, she could have rejoiced in these woods and hills as her own and welcomed visitors. But, no, she recollected to herself, for she would be with a husband who was a stranger to her, bound by contractual agreement, unlikely to welcome relatives who were so far below his situation in life. This was a lucky recollection, - it saved her from something like regret.

She descended the lush green slope, rounded the natural lake, her admiration of the house and grounds only increasing as it came nearer to her fond gaze. Finding a gardener by one of the borders before the stairs which led to the house, she asked him for the whereabouts of Mr Hurst. He kindly replied with clear directions to the estate office, and she thanked him, before continuing on her way.

The estate office was situated in a separate building by the stable blocks, which, had she taken a closer look, would have appeared unusually active for an estate that was reportedly shut up since the death of last incumbent. But Elizabeth paid this no mind as she possessed no reasons for such suspicions just yet. Instead she found the building described to her by the gardener and knocked on the door.

"Welcome to Pemberley, Miss Bennet," Mr Hurst greeted her as he opened the door. Turning he acknowledged the man behind him with a nod of farewell, before joining her outside. "What do think of the place?"

"I like it very much," she answered, her eyes drifting to admire the building and grounds once more. "I would say that it is beautiful, but I fear there is an inadequacy with the word to describe this place."

"I feel that too," Hurst agreed, though his eyes lingered on her far longer than they had the house, his need to learn that she approved of the estate far outweighing his desire to see a place which he last saw during his childhood. Such innocent days were a stark contrast to the times he lived in now. "Would you like a tour? Mr Reynolds gave me the keys, and I have been reading enough of the papers to pass muster as a guide, I believe."

Elizabeth turned to him, her sister's words on her mind, but too still caught up in the beauty of the place as well as a desire to see more of it to concern herself as to what he might read into her acceptance just yet. "If you are able to free yourself, then yes, I should like that very much. I know Mr Reynolds gave you a lot of instructions however, and I do not wish to inconvenience you with my curiosity."

"No, no," he assured her. "Your visit to your sister was all the time I needed to fulfil Mr Reynolds's instructions." he gestured to the path behind them, leading into the inner courtyard and entrance of the house.

She soon found Hurst's estimation of his abilities as tour guide to be typical of the rare opinion he professed aloud of his intelligence; under-exaggerated. Not only was he acquainted with the layout of the house and the pieces of furniture contained therein, but he also knew enough of the family history to satisfy her questions as to the identity behind certain likenesses, or who adorned a room with a particular look or ornament. He led her through all the principle rooms in an unhurried manner, allowing her to gaze at her leisure.

When they reached the music room, another gasp escaped her lips, as she caught sight of a fine Broadwood Grand which resided in one corner of the room, beside an equally fine harp. Before she was aware of her movements, her feet moved to place her body before the keys, her slender fingers idly picking out a tune. Only then did she note the production date of the piano, which caused her to realise her actions.

"Oh, perhaps I should not have come, as I seem to have ruined a surprise," she remarked, catching Hurst out of his reverie. "Mr and Mrs Reynolds must have ordered this for their visit for Jane and I to play."

"Well, I won't tell them if you don't," Hurst replied, inwardly relieved that he did not have to think of an explanation. For the piano was intended for a sister, his who still lived in the Cape with her companion, and his hoped for wife, who had just stepped away from the gift. Forcing the memory away, he followed her and carried on with his tour.

The last principal room was the gallery, and he took her up the flight of stairs which led to it feeling a considerable amount of trepidation, for there was a particular likeness within this room that her keen eye could find, causing her to realise everything. But the room could not be avoided, for there was a drawing of how the room looked some centuries ago, in another room, which had caught her curiosity.

Elizabeth studied all the fine paintings, asking him about the identity of each person painted therein, which he answered calmly, inwardly surprised he could, considering his state of nerves. When they reached the portrait in question, he tried to give it as little emphasis or meaning as he had dealt the others in the gallery.

"That is your Mr Darcy," he answered her inquiry. "I understand it was painted in the Cape last year, and sent to this house along with rest of the luggage. Mr and Mrs Reynolds asked for it to be placed here alongside his ancestors."

She stared at the likeness in silence for such a long time, that he feared she had noticed the resemblance between the painting and himself. Then she turned to him and smiled. "Come, Mr Hurst, he was never really my Mr Darcy. I never even met him, after all."

Hurst was both relieved and regretful that she had not noticed what he most feared her to. "And that one," he added, as they moved on to the next portrait, "is of his sister, Georgiana."

Elizabeth gasped as she surveyed the image of a young, blond haired blue eyed girl, placed in the same tropical surroundings as her brother. "I had no idea he had siblings. Surely the estate must be hers now? And why isn't she here, does she even know of her brother's violent and untimely end?"

"I er, believe Mr and Mrs Reynolds wrote to her," Hurst hurriedly answered, for the need for such explanations had not occurred to him until now. "And she chose to stay in the Cape with her companion. It is, I understand, the only country she has ever known, as she is more than ten years her brother's junior. But Old Darcy, her grandfather, had no knowledge of her, and therefore she is not recognised in the Will."

"The poor girl," Elizabeth murmured, her heart going out to her. "She must miss her brother terribly."

"Yes," Hurst answered, "she must."

Later, as they walked away from the estate, the bell from the parish church was heard to chime, disturbing the peaceful and comfortable silence in which the end of their time together had placed them.

Hurst mentally counted the number of chimes and retrieved his pocket watch to confirm matters. "We will make the train if we walk swiftly," he observed. "You look rather serious Miss Bennet," he added as he glanced at her.

"I feel rather serious," Elizabeth replied. "Would you believe Mr Hurst I feel that I've passed whole years today."

He smiled at her. "You are overtired."

She shook her head, taking his kind observation with an equally kind reply, a pleasant contrast to the days of their first acquaintance with each other, when such a remark would have provoked a defensive response. "No, I'm not all tired. I feel that much has happened to myself, you know?"

"For the good I hope?" he asked her, receiving a nod in reply. Noticing how the wind ruffled the lose dark brown curls of her hair, curls he often long to kiss or encircle his finger with, he added, "You're cold. You're trembling." Immediately he took his jacket off and placed around her shoulders.

When Elizabeth took his arm companionably in reply, he could have shouted his joy to the spectacular summer sunset which caressed the horizon that they were walking past. "What a beautiful sky," she commented, observing it. "What a glorious evening," she added with a glance at him, followed by another clasp of his hand.

Ahead a train whistled, causing him to boldly take hold of her hand and run for station.

Continued in Volume Six.

© Danielle Atkinson 2010-2020. All rights reserved.