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Along The River.

Volume Three.

Part 9.

Another day, in the same city but in far more pleasant surroundings, a young man chanced upon Jane's younger sister in the park near their home. Actually, it was more than chance, he had been requested to find her by his new employers. There was an irony in that somewhere but he was too mindful of other things to contemplate it right now. So he settled for gazing at her as she sat on the park bench, studying the book she cradled in her hands.

Who could not fail to settle for anything save gazing at her? With her dark brown eyes and equally dark brown hair that was coiled exquisitely in a elegantly complicated pattern of plaits and curls, she was by far the most beautiful woman in London, and as the ward of the Reynolds's, one of the most eligible in society. What man could fail to be drawn into her world, into the pupils of those fine dark eyes? What man could fail to be entranced, to fall in love with her? He had been lost in such a state from the moment he set eyes on her, that evening in her father's rooms, over the threshold of a door.

And soon he would be working in the same house as her. His office only a few rooms away from her apartments. Having dinner in her company, for Mr Reynolds had insisted that he would dine with them every evening, he had refused to even hear of him going home to eat alone in his lodgings. How long would he be able to endure seeing her every day, watching her enjoy all the advantages they planned to bestow on her, before he fell to his knees before her, and told her everything.

In this myriad of thoughts he had neglected to notice that his feet had carried him beyond the gate bearing entrance to the park, to stand before her in such a way that even with a book before her, her dark eyes caught sight of his intruding presence, casting a shadow over the passages within.

She looked up, regarding him with a critical gaze. "Were you watching me, Mr Hurst?"

"No. Indeed, Miss Bennet," Mr Hurst began. "I am charged with a message for you."

She raised an eyebrow when she heard his response. "I find that most unlikely."

"From Mrs Reynolds," he answered. "She will have the pleasure of receiving you soon at the new house. I find that I am to become Mr Reynolds's secretary."

"And will you always be there, Mr Hurst?" Elizabeth asked. "At the new house?"

"Always, no," he uttered. "Very much there, yes. Have no fear, you need pay me little attention. I will transact the business and you the pleasure. You will have nothing to do but enjoy and attract."

"Attract?" She echoed, and he found it hard suddenly to meet her fine eyes.

"The loss of your fiancee, William Darcy, may one day be repaired," he continued. "Of course I speak merely of wealth. The loss of a prefect stranger, whose wealth you could not have possibly estimate beyond on the inconvenience of their death is another matter," he remarked, noting the turn of her face, as now her eyes found it difficult to meet his. Hurriedly he sought to change the subject. "Its growing dark around us. You must have been absorbed by your book. Is it a love story?"

Elizabeth shut the book with a determination to rid herself of his presence. "Certainly not. Its more about money than anything."

"And does it say that money is better than anything?" Hurst asked. He found himself rather anxious to learn her answer.

But she was tired of his company, offended by the insinuations which she felt lay behind his questions and explanations. She rose from the bench in an effort to leave him behind. "I really cannot tell you. Find out for yourself for all I care!"

She walked off, leaving him to watch her go, not in the least dismayed by her answer. For there was a powerful feeling within his chest which would steadily conquer anything he might previously have disliked of her.

Night slowly descended upon Victoria's capital; adding a certain eerie quality to the fog stemming from the glories of industry and Empire. The only source of light was emanating from the gas lamps on the streets, their bulbs casting the same glow that came from the coastal outposts, designed to warn ships of inclement weather, or certain destruction if they strayed too close to shore.

Around the houses in Lincoln's Inn and Temple street, the waves of wind were solemn and portentous, in anticipation of the morning which would follow the night, as though the weather held the gift to foresee the future. Such weather was often required for those who suffered lodgings in this part of town, for their lives needed nature's forewarning to prepare and sustain them while they trod their way through the dense legality of their legal world.

In one such house, there were numerous members who claimed membership in this eminent profession. Rare was the occasion that they spoke to each other on any other matter than work, rarer still were the occasions that they met outside the court room. Only those who happened to require their services, would notice that on the third floor lived a Mr E.N Read, on the second floor lived a Mr H.C Attenborough, a Mr Daniel Safford, a Mr Randolph Bond, a Mr Lambert Scott, a Mr T.R.P Coales, Mr S.P. Davey, and a Mr Hadleigh Carvil, on the first floor live a Mr Horrige, a Mr D.P. Crompton, a Mr Richard Fitzwilliam, a Mr Leslie Scott and a Mr Alexander Part, on the ground floor lived a Lord Alverstone, a Mr A.H. Webster, and a Mr G.R. Askwith. What they would not know, was that a Mr Charles Bingley had recently taken to occupying the guest room of Mr Richard Fitzwilliam, his financial affairs enforcing on him the need for sharing the burden of living.

In the living room of this first floor lodging shared by the two lawyers, Charles Bingley walked from his place by the mantelpiece to the window, the smoke from his cigar creating a slight mist upon the pane. "How the wind sounds up here," he murmured. "As if we were keeping a lighthouse. I wish we were."

"Don't you think it would bore us?" Richard Fitzwilliam asked from his comfortable armchair by the fire.

"No more than any other place," Bingley continued. "And we would be blessedly free, both of society in general, and in particular of my father."

"Speaking of which, shall we touch upon the eligible lady your respected father has found for you?" Fitzwilliam proposed.

"I assure you my intentions are opposed to touching the lady," Bingley answered. He began to pace the room, displaying a mild degree of energy. "How could I possibly undertake matrimony? I so easily bored. So constantly," he added, sitting down.

"So totally," Fitzwilliam finished, making his friend chuckle. The room fell into silence once more, before being abruptly broken by the opening of the door to their rooms.

"Who the devil are you?" Fitzwilliam asked, startled at the sight of their intruder, both of them rising from their chairs. "Where the devil have you come from?"

"I beg your pardon, governors, but might either of you be Lawyer Fitzwilliam?" A man of ill kept clothes and equal accent inquired.

"I am Fitzwilliam," he asserted. "Who are you, fellow?"

"I'm a man who gets m'living by the sweat of m'brow, governors," the man replied, advancing further into the room. "Not wanting to risk the being done out of the sweat of m'brow, I should wish before going further to be sworn in."

"You're out of luck, for I'm not a swearer in of people," Fitzwilliam informed him.

"Alfred David," the man continued, his accent disguising his meaning.

"Alfred David," Fitzwilliam echoed, puzzled. "Is that your name?"

"No, I wanna set down, an Alfred David," the man replied.

"I think you mean an affidavit," Bingley broke in here, enunciating the Latin phrase. "I'm afraid you're out of luck there, for my friend doesn't do affidavits either."

"I must be took down," the intruder insisted.

"Why don't you tell us what your business is?" Fitzwilliam asked.

"It is about money. Its about a ten thousand pound reward, that's what it is about. It is about murder."

The Darcy case. No longer was this visit treated as a joke or an oddity, or an unwelcome interruption to their peaceful solitude. Fitzwilliam fetched the man a drink, then joined Bingley as he sat at the desk, ready to take notes.

"Now, what is your full name?" Fitzwilliam asked.

"Roger Jenkinson," their witness answered. "Some call me Rogue, but that is a friendly name, used by those that don't know me."

"Dwelling Place?" Fitzwilliam inquired.

"Limehouse Hole," he replied.

"Calling? Or occupation?" Fitzwilliam sought.

"Waterside character." Jenkinson answered ambiguously.

"Anything against you?" Bingley asked. When no reply but cautious silence was received, he added another query to that. "Ever in trouble?"

"Once," Jenkinson admitted grudgingly. "Picking a seaman's pocket, though in reality I was an innocent man."

"Naturally!" Bingley scoffed.

Jenkinson ignored the disbelief. "I give information that the man who done the Darcy murder is one Jessie, known as Gaffer Philips. The very same that found the body. His hand and his alone did the bloody deed."

"And on what grounds do you base these suspicions?" Fitzwilliam asked, whilst his friend's hand began to hover over the paper, pen freezing in mid sentence. "He cannot be convicted on your suspicions alone."

"He told me with his own lips that he done the deed," Jenkinson asserted.

"When did he tell you?" Fitzwilliam asked.

"The very night he picked up the body. We had words on the river that night, his niece will not deny that."

"Did you ask him how he did it?" Queried Fitzwilliam sternly. "Where he did it? Why he did it? When he did it?"

"He told me, Gaffer does, he tells me, 'I done it for his money. Don't betray me.' And long have I been troubled in my mind ever since."

"You've been troubled in your mind for a long time," Fitzwilliam noted.

"Mr Jenkinson might have thought some other witness would have come forward," Bingley speculated. "Maybe he wasn't keen on anyone asking what he was doing that night."

"I'm telling you I'm giving Jessie Philips up tonight and I want him took. I want him took this night!" Jenkinson demanded.

Realising that they would get no rest nor peace until this matter was resolved, the lawyers rose from their chairs and herded the man out of the room. They caught a cab, and made their way to the docks.

The weather by now had turned for the worse, the rain pouring down upon the fabric of the Hansom, clinging to their cloaks when the lawyers exited the carriage to meet with the inspector and Jenkinson went to see if his former partner was home or still working on the river. While Bingley was in the dress of a disconsolate bachelor, rarely possessing the energy to submit to the dress code of society, Fitzwilliam wore his usual evening legal uniform of a white tie and black dinner suit, with a dress cloak to match. Despite the unusual contrast, both sets of attire were incongruous to the weather, health, evening and the circumstances, yet neither of them wanted to test Jenkinson's patience by asking him to wait while they changed into sturdier gear.

Jenkinson rejoined them from his scout at the waterside. "Gaffer's out," he announced. "His boat's out. His niece's home. Supper's ready, so he was expected home last high water," he worked out. "He must have missed it for some reason."

"Then we must watch and wait," The Inspector decided. They moved to what little shelter could be found outside of the ramshackle dwellings which littered the docks, a verge of ground situated in the underside of a bridge.

Bingley hung back from them, his thoughts elsewhere, namely the evening when he and Fitzwilliam had first met Gaffer Philips and how his gaze had been reluctant to move from the niece, as she quietly sewed by the fire. The image of her long blond hair, glowing from the light of that heat source, the warmth adding a rosy colour to her pale skin, together with the eyes that regarded him nervously, whenever they sought to regard him at all, had remained a vivid recollection in his thoughts from that evening.

Slowly he walked over to the mill that served as the Philips's house. Bending at the window, he observed the niece anxiously waiting for her Uncle, her face a picture of concern. She was seated in a similar pose to when he saw her last, on a stool by the fire, with a piece of sewing in her hand. But the garment she was mending lay neglected on her lap, and her gaze was more often than not turned to the windows than the flames or the needlework. He had no knowledge of the tides, but from the state of the cold supper which lay upon the table near her and the rain that continued to pour down incessantly outside, he could discern that something was wrong with her Uncle, something which might prevent him from coming home, more than the presence of Jenkinson, himself, Fitzwilliam and the Inspector.

"If we take the uncle, she will left alone," he murmured softly. He knew she had her cousin, but he could see no evidence of his living there. He recalled from the conversation he and Richard had with the boy during their first encounter with him that he received schooling. Perhaps she had arranged for him to become a boarder, he concluded. Which meant, if her uncle did return home, she would be left alone. As he continued to watch her, he could not help but pray that her uncle was innocent of the murder Jenkinson accused him of, or else did not return home this night. He longed to go and comfort her, but it was not his place, nor was it appropriate.

Unable to watch her and ignore this desire, he turned to go, but his boots creaked upon the rotting wood beneath him, causing her to advance to the door, open it, and step outside, casting a glance into the dreadful night. "Uncle? Uncle, is that you?"

Bingley waited for her to close the door and resume her place by the fire, then made his way back to his companions by the river. As he crouched down, he retrieved and handed a cigar to his friend, before proffering his hip flask to the Inspector.

"Don't you feel like a dark combination of a traitor and a pickpocket when you think about that poor girl, Fitzwilliam?" He remarked a low voice. His friend gave no reply but a shrug, which was eloquent enough.

Jenkinson sat apart from them, unmindful of the rain, in a crouching perch upon one of the many wooden docks that littered the river. In the sparse moonlight his figure bore a resemblance to a gargoyle, protecting the building from rain and what ever dark matter decided to haunt the premises. However, the rogue had no concept of this resemblance, nor thought for the weather, for his mind was occupied by another matter, one far dearer to his heart than his health or appearance.

"He's gonna cheat me," Jenkinson murmured to himself as he stared out through the rain. "He's looking to cheat an honest man. Where are you hiding, Gaffer?"

Bingley slowly smoked his cigar, the nicotine within doing little to calm or warm his body. Through the still continuous deluge he could see Rogue Jenkinson perched on the dock, and the dim glow of light from the window of the Philips's dwelling. His thoughts remained fixed upon the girl, unwilling to contemplate the consequences of the various events which occur tonight. If he cared ought for the time, he would have been tempted to retrieve his pocket watch and descry the hour before the rain stained the glass. With the state of the rain and the neighbourhood, it was difficult to tell how much time had passed.

"He could not have slipped past us," the Inspector reasoned eventually. "It'll be morning soon and we'll be seen."

Like a unnatural monster, a gargoyle come to life, Jenkinson suddenly appeared before them from the foggy gloom of the slowly approaching morning. "Suppose I put out in my boat?" He suggested. "Take a look in his favourite haunts?"

The Inspector silently assented. Fitzwilliam and Bingley gathered their cloaks around themselves and tried to get some sleep.

Morning came, its gloomy dawn a suitable sequel to the night before. The rain ceased some time ago, but neither the lawyers nor the policeman could testify as to when that change in weather occurred. One by one the three men awoke from the semi-stupor which each had eventually succumbed to. A sound disturbed them, the one Bingley dreaded the most; the gentle knocking of oars as they strove through the shallow water near the shore, touching the bank of the river, returning a boat to its port.

"I've found it!" Jenkinson's gravely voice cried to them as he pulled his vehicle from the river. "Gaffer's boat. He's in luck. I knew it, he's in luck."

Sure enough, a second rig emerged from the fog, towed by the first. Despite the murky conditions of the dawn, the lawyers and the policeman could see that both were empty, the tow rope of the second hanging in the water

"He's found Philips's boat," the Inspector murmured, more in an attempt to clear his mind than to inform his companions. "But where's Philips?"

"I'm telling you, he got lucky," Jenkinson repeated smugly. "He's been fishing," he added, with grim excitement.

Fitzwilliam perhaps realised what was hidden beneath waves, wrapped in the towrope, before everyone else. "Oh god," he murmured as the Inspector and Jenkinson pulled the boats aground, the latter going for the towrope which held a gruesome sight within its noose.

"Let it go, let it go," Bingley willed, but it was no use. The corpse emerged into the full light of the dismal morning. Worse fears had been realised. The men stared at the mud clothed body of Jesmond Philips.

"Drowned by his own towrope," the Inspector judged. "He went out in search of the dead. But death found him first."

"He's escaped me," Jenkinson said. "He's dead before I can profit. He's done me again."

Bingley ignored the remarks, his mind on the girl, wondering would she do now.

Part 10.

With nothing but a lifeless corpse to respond to the testimony of Jenkinson, the courts accepted that Philips was the man who had murdered William Darcy. Fitzwilliam and Bingley fought against the verdict for as long as they could, until the judge ruled that all official investigation was at an end. Not content with such a verdict, the lawyers resolved to use their own resources to continue to discover the truth behind William Darcy's drowning.

It was Bingley who informed Philips's niece of the sad tidings, and it was Bingley who arranged to fetch her cousin so he could learn the news also. When Charlie recovered enough from his mourning to return to school, Jane promised he could visit her as soon as she found herself a place to live, and the funds to do so.

Today, a note arrived at Charlie's school, informing him that she had found such a place, and he could come and see her as soon as he wished. So Charlie gave notice to the school, and the school informed his tutor, who mulled over whether to grant such a request while he delivered another lesson to the lad.

From the moment Charlie Philips began to display such a natural ability to acquire learning, this tutor had taken a strong interest in ensuring that such ability was put to good use, namely in the furtherance of his career. It was rare that he met with such a gifted pupil as Charlie Philips, and he was determined to ensure that the lad's abilities were not wasted, as so many pupils' talents often were in these schools.

"People came from many different towns to meet the procession," he remarked now, reading from a book in his hands. He paused, waiting for Philips to respond.

"Etiam quorum diursa opida," Charlie Philips translated the sentence into Latin. His pronunciation was correct, but if an outsider listened in, they would note that the tone lacked any emotion or artistry to accompany the words. The pupil was imitating the master, reading as if he were reciting a list.

"Offering sacrifices, raising altars to the souls of the deceased, and weeping and wailing in displays of grief," his teacher said.

"Tamen obuii et uictimas atque ara dis Manibus statuentes lacrimis et conclama- tionibus dolorem testabantur," Charlie replied.

"Very good Philips," the schoolmaster praised, his grim voice making the compliment seem commonplace, even perhaps undeserved. He reached out and took the book from his pupil, placing it on the desk between them. "So you have asked for permission to see your cousin," he remarked. "I've half a mind to go with you."

"I'd rather you didn't see her before she was settled, sir," Charlie replied rather too quickly for the teacher's liking.

"Look here, Philips, I hope your cousin may be good company for you," the school master commented, as though to remind the lad of his better judgement.

"Do you doubt it, sir?" Charlie countered, his arrogance, and the nature of his advancement within the school before this master, granting him such impudence to reply.

"I do not know," the school master replied, his respect for the boy too much to reprimand him for his insolence. I put it to you to consider."

"My cousin keeps me here through her hard work," Charlie reminded him.

"And your cousin has wisely reconciled herself to your separation so as to not impede your progress," his master reminded him. "And you do, make good progress. In time you'll pass an examination and become a teacher yourself. But it will take many hours of hard work," he added sternly. "Hour upon hour. As it did me."

"If you were to see my cousin, sir, I know that you would judge her wise," Charlie offered, attempting to defuse the now tense conversation.

The school master inwardly sighed, before retrieving the book from the table to continue with the lesson. He knew it was bad form to let the pupil win this debate, but neither he, nor the school board for that matter, saw any harm in Philips visiting his sister. In fact, the school board had been very enthused by the idea, which caused his concern as to whether such a visit was in Philips's best interest in the first place.

However, he could think of no reason to dissuade his pupil from going, so he inwardly decided that they would, in a few days.

Before Rogue Jenkinson went to visit Lawyers Bingley and Fitzwilliam, the Reynolds's gave up the dusty bower that was their home, in favour of the nice new house, in the nice new neighbourhood, otherwise once known as the Darcy townhouse. This nice new house was very large, redbrick, and filled with enough windows to set up half a dozen tax men for life. Built in the reign of Queen Anne, it was surrounded by extensive grounds, at least by town standards, and contained enough grand, lofty rooms to make Society jealous when it came to welcome the latest moneyed products of Empire, into its elite and salubrious world.

Outside the nice new house walls' these esteemed guests were mingling, anxious to see the Reynolds's, the dust kings, the new Mr and Mrs Empire, make their twelve thousand pound per annum entry into society. If one of these notable personages had concerned themselves with spying into the windows of the house instead of the quality of appetisers and quantity of liquor, they would have seen their host through one, arguing with his new private secretary, trying in vain to persuade him to join them at the soiree.

Eventually Mr Reynolds gave up the attempt and rejoined his wife and ward in the next room. "He's an invaluable man, Hurst," he mused. "He works at my affairs like fifty men, but he won't ever meet any of our visitors."

"Perhaps he considers himself above it," Elizabeth suggested as she helped his wife with her afternoon dress shawl.

"No m'dear it isn't that," Mr Reynolds disagreed.

"He has a very kept down air for a man of his age," Mrs Reynolds remarked. "I wish you could persuade him to come out into society with us, Lizzy dear."

"Perhaps he considers himself beneath it," Elizabeth declared, before walking out into the alfresco party for their guests. Mrs Reynolds turned to her husband, adjusted his cravat, then placed her arm upon his, and they exited the room.

From the study, Hurst watched the Reynolds's ward move about the guests, greeting lawyer Fitzwilliam, then offering her hand to another, more aristocratic gentleman who seemed determined to occupy her time.

'She is so trivial,' Hurst mused, starring unobserved through the window at her. 'So capricious, so mercenary. And yet she is so beautiful.'

He had found himself haunted by her, ever since their first encounter at her father's house. In her mourning weeds she had looked so beautiful, and now, with the new finery of wealth, that beauty was only enhanced. If only he had known, he mused to himself. But it was too late now. He had thrown the fly and cast his lot with this line. He had no choice now but to follow it through.

Beauty aside, he was wise to continue his original course. She was trivial, and capricious, and mercenary. At least, that was what she seemed, as from his often inaudible position, he could rarely hear her speak, forced to observe only the movement of her mouth, or her gestures, or the colour of her eyes. Even after all this time he didn't really know her. He almost felt as though he had discovered nothing more than what he knew when he began.

Perhaps it was cynicism. He wasn't naive, he knew the ways of the world he lived upon the cusp of. Seeing marital unions planned and embarked as though they were as important as imperial expansions. Few had the happiness he was striving for, or the luxury of choice, which he didn't have either. Put within its context then, he understood. He could accept that.

But the doubts still formed in his mind. Doubts which caused him to pause, to hesitate, before revealing what he concealed. Disguise of every sort had once been his abhorrence, yet now such scruples were a necessity.

Her eyes fixed on the windows, catching sight of him. He bowed and returned to his private study upstairs.

Next morning, Elizabeth Bennet gazed at the ceiling above her, until her neck ached with the strain, and her mind felt dizzy. Blinking she lowered her face, only to be confronted by another disconcerting presence. Hurst, silently staring, as he slightly bowed to her before walking past where she stood and down the stairs. Her gaze remained on him, as did her thoughts, even when he wandered out of sight. There was something strange about Mr Hurst. He shadowed her day and night.

His intentions were fitting, amusing even in Holloway. But here, they were hardly appropriate. Since her entry into the cream of Victorian society, she had learned much about what was considered appropriate and what was quite the opposite. During her arrival into the circle of 'empire builders' she had learned that there were some of the wealthy who viewed such self-made families with all the prejudice of inherited money, disdainfully disregarding their ancestor's acquisition of their own wealth in the same methods centuries ago.

There was snobbery in all circles of society, even the ones which she had once lived her life in, when her father still owned Longbourn. In Meryton the Bennets had been regarded as rich compared with those families who lived in the village, not on equal terms to the great estates nearby, but something close. Yet there were those in that circle who had considered themselves above them, due to a knighthood or a marriage connection. Ultimately, society was the same everywhere.

In Meryton she would have tolerated Hurst's attentions towards her. But here, in the cream of society, such an indulgence would have to be treated with disdain if anyone find out. He had the sense to avoid that at least, rarely showing himself when they socialised, attending on them only at the request of Mr Reynolds, and even then at a discreet distance. When there was nought but herself and the Reynolds's in the house however, Elizabeth felt Hurst's eyes to be always upon her.

If she had been her old self, she would have challenged him immediately. But the illness which had caused the death of so much of her family had affected her too, even though she did not endure any of its painful symptoms. The illness had taught her how quickly things could be lost; from one's position in society, to the deeper loses of siblings, Aunts and other family. No longer was she secure in her living; she had to rely on the charity of others. Before her and her sisters had stood a reasonable chance of marrying, and marrying well, by coming from a landed gentleman pedigree, an estate without an entail. Now she would not even inherit the fifty pounds a year promised to her through her mother.

She had no dowry, and no inheritance but the debts her siblings and mother's illnesses ensued. She could not afford to anger the Reynolds's by challenging their secretary's watchfulness of her, for they were now the guarantors of her future wealth and place in society. As their ward she would attract fortune hunters and gentlemen alike, in the hopes that an alliance with her would gain them a substantial investment in the money of the future. If she displeased them, she would lose any hope of marrying well, and freeing her family from the disgraced conditions which circumstances had reduced them to.

Hurst could continue to watch her. For now.

Hurst indeed continued to watch her, from that moment he passed her on the stairs, to when she and the Reynolds's went to the society soiree they had been invited to that evening. As he observed her climbing into the carriage through the window within his room, his thoughts mused on the position he had put himself into.

And so this was his dilemma. He had worked his way into a position of power in this house so he may watch her every move. Follow her every step. And yet she barely notices him. Often he would deliberately intrude upon her solitude or privacy, forcing her to acknowledge his presence. Sometimes she would speak to him, other times she would merely cease her activities and walk away to another part of the house.

If he was lucky, she would initiate the encounter or conversation, her sweet voice challenging him with her words of opinions or inquiries into his origins. He was sure she meant to disturb his reticent nature, his natural reserve around others, as well as herself, by professing opinions which were not her own. But whether it was to hear his own views was another matter. Often she seemed extremely interested, as though his opinion mattered a great deal to her. Other times he seemed to only infuriate her by anything he happened to say or have said. He knew not what to make of her, or what judgement to form about her character. And he knew that she experienced as much of a mystery in return.

Aside from his secretarial work, he only had these thoughts to occupy his mind, even when his kind employers called him from his occupation to join them on their outings, their excursions of pleasure. There was very little to do in the first circles of Society, aside from attending balls, dining out, shopping or other outdoor amusements.

Such as today, when they roused him to join them outside, for a wander by the river. He had been reluctant to go, and if it were not for Elizabeth's enthusiasm for the excursion, he would have happily stayed at the house. But he was unable to deny her anything when he saw the delight in her eyes at the prospect, even if it was somewhat dimmed by his quiet acceptance of Mr Reynolds' offer to accompany them.

He walked behind them respectfully, as they looked about them upon the avenue by the river. Elizabeth carried a parasol, twirling the ivory handle within her laced gloved hands, adjusting the position of it as she turned her head this way and that to observe her surroundings. Hurst's eyes remained upon her pleasing form, reluctant to even glance in the direction of the river. That preference carried into the rest of him, as he heard that Mr and Mrs Reynolds wished to go on the handsome steamboat up ahead. His footsteps faltered, even as he heard Miss Bennet's willingness to join them, causing him to halt before a small parish graveyard to the right of him. A sense of belonging in such a place rose within him, a chilling thought, revealing if he had spoken aloud. But as usual he confided in no one but himself.

What a strange sensation, he mused silently. I do not belong among the living any more than these poor souls. For I lie buried somewhere else.

A memory caught in the web of his mind; the following of two gentlemen down a dark, dank tunnel. The sudden appearance of a grotesque sight; a body drawn out of the river, its fixed and disfigured expression calling out to him. He felt the pounding of his heart, and the rising of the river within his own body, begging to be released through his mouth. Such dregs were released long ago, a natural course for survival, but the memory was enough to force the movement. His hand closed over his lips, in a rigid and desperate search for control, as a voice disturbed him from his tormented imaginings.

"I was saying. I think it very bad manners for a man to pretend to be what he is not. Don't you think?"

Hurst had to draw several deep breaths before he could reply with reasonable composure to Miss Bennet's somewhat astute observation. "I hope I do not pretend to be what I am not," he uttered.

Miss Bennet looked at him. "Come, Mr Hurst, surely you can cast off your mysterious disguise and join us?" She asked, indicating with her parasol at the steamboat docked ahead of them, to which Mr and Mrs Reynolds were walking to.

He valiantly shook his head. "No, I don't like the river. It makes me sick." He shuddered involuntarily as his mind called his consciousness to another remembrance; the sickening experience of drowning.

"So you have never been to sea then, Mr Hurst?" Miss Bennet inquired.

Roused from his painful recollection, he looked upon her gentle expression. "Why do you ask?" He inquired, concerned that his features gave him away. But the frank gaze of her fine eyes scared him, and hurriedly he sought to distance himself by what means were open to him. "You will miss the boat, Miss Bennet."

She seemed reluctant to go just then, but her dark eyes caught the insistence in his, the desire to be alone, and obeyed his silent request. Turning from him she ran to the gangplank and darted up the steps to board the steamboat.

"I cannot keep silent," He murmured as he watched the steamboat depart. "I cannot stay stranded in this limbo between life and death for long, else I fear it may consume me."

Yet how to tell them? How did one begin such a tale? And would they take kindly to the life changing consequences which would doubtless ensue? Mr and Mrs Reynolds were good people, he could be assured of them doing right by him, but at this moment he was not sure if he wanted them to. And what of her, what would her reaction be? Would she be glad of such a circumstance? Or would she despair at the loss of liberty endured?

Hurst did not know. There was no way to predict, without telling them the whole of it. But he feared to do so. Even now, the water surrounded him, the limbo between hope and despair. His unlimbered mind struggled to be free of its drowning influence, to resist the seducing temptation of being lost to it forever.

He waited for their return, then followed them back to the townhouse, silent and withdrawn. Their happy recollections of the excursion could not rouse him, nor could her teasing enquiries or pert opinions.

Upon their arrival at the townhouse he sought the solitude of his room as he wrestled with his conscience, heart and mind until he had formed a resolution.

He had to tell them. He could not stand this uncertainty any longer. He must know now whether his continued existence was in vain or no.

Hurst made his way downstairs. He knocked on the door to the drawing room, and opened it a fraction, to see within.

A warm fire encountered his gaze, and the quiet, composed and restive reclines of Mr and Mrs Reynolds, with Miss Bennet between them.

"Come in my dear," Mrs Reynolds said, eagerly welcoming him, though in truth Hurst felt more akin to an intruder now.

"Here, come in, join us," Reynolds added to his wife's words.

Suddenly, despite his previous ruminations and resolution, Hurst felt himself lose the nerve as his dark eyes found Miss Bennet's own. "I'm sorry. I had something to tell you. But it can wait. It can wait until tomorrow."

Fortunately for him Mr Reynolds was in too much of a restive mood to inquire further. "Well if you're sure. Come and join us anyway."

"No. I'll say goodnight." Hurst inclined his head to all of them, then closed the door, before seeking out the night air.

A few moments later found him wandering outside on the formal grounds, contemplating his dilemma once more, as he tried to discover why when deciding to come to the point at last, one look from her forestalled the confession altogether.

She has me under her spell, he realised silently. She has made me powerless. I am nobody. If I tell her my secret now, I may lose everything. I will continue to watch her for a little while longer.

Part 11.

Further down the river, in the area of the Thames where Kent and Surrey meet, between the ghettos of the poor and the haven of society, the schools of the borough were situated, each with varying degrees of wealth, ability and intelligence.

Charlie Philips attended one of the poorer institutions. Not a ragged school, where he had begun his education, but the one from which a schoolmaster had visited said ragged school, taken him out of, and transferred into his better school. The kind where the only avenue for advancement, was apprenticeship, or becoming a schoolmaster oneself. He was destined for the latter profession, having possessed a little more wit than the rest, a determination to better himself, and a attitude which endorsed respect, whether he truly earned it or not. His cousin's money had helped send him there, and he was glad of it, for the last thing he wanted to do was follow in his father's footsteps. He had seen the journey's end of them, a horrible entanglement in the towrope of boats. He would raise himself above such a dreadful end. He was quite determined about it.

He was nearing the end of his education, and in time, would take his exams, before becoming a schoolmaster. And he wished to thank his cousin, for her willingness to pay for his education, by whatever means he could. He was aware of his Uncle Bennet's situation, the family's now reduced circumstances, and knew that Jane, rather than place a further burden upon her father's meagre resources by moving back home, had chosen to find herself work and livings elsewhere instead.

She had sent him the address of her new situation in reply to his kind inquiry, and now he wished to pay call on her, along with his schoolmaster and mentor, Mr Collins, a man of six and twenty, who had the constant appearance of always seeming troubled about something, as though he had toiled hard all his life to attain the knowledge and position he possessed, and now having reached them, feared to lose both such gifts, thus was always checking to see if he still had firm hold of them.

Carrying the letter in his hand, Charlie guided his schoolmaster through the maze of alleyways, across Westminster Bridge and the Middlesex shore, following the directions written in his cousin's elegant hand until he reached the equally elegant house of his younger cousin, Elizabeth Bennet, otherwise known as the Reynolds's ward.

He stepped inside, followed by Mr Collins, and found himself in a elegant white marbled tiled hall, where an elegant footman awaited to receive their card. Since they had none, he received a verbal communication of introduction instead, whereupon the elegant footman left them in that elegant hall while he went to convey the communication to Charlie's cousins of his and his schoolmaster's presence and request to wait on them. Said request was elegantly accepted a few moments later, as the elegant footman returned to conduct the visitors into a fine and elegant drawing room, much richer than any rooms either pupil or schoolmaster had been accustomed to, and better than what pupil's father had ever managed to provide for him.

"Charlie!" Jane cried, followed by Elizabeth, and the two ladies, looking more elegant and refined than Charlie had ever seen them, even in the days of Mr Bennet's more prosperous youth, rose from their seats to embrace their cousin.

"There, there, Janie, there there, Liz," Charlie replied to their joyful greeting, stepping back and gesturing to the man behind him. "See, here is Mr Collins to see you. How well you look, Jane, and you, Liz."

"Oh, yes, Jane always looks so well. Everyone thinks so, don't they, Jane, m'dear?" Elizabeth replied, making her sister blush from the praise.

"Does Charlie do well, Mr Collins?" Jane asked.

Mr Collins felt awkward in the presence of so much beauty. He was stiff in his style of teaching, stern to his colleagues and pupils alike, but beneath the stern style there ebbed and flowed a deeply passionate nature, which threatened to overwhelm him when he was confronted with beauty such as this. She was like the Greek Goddesses described by ancient philosophers. Her sister was just as beautiful, but a contrast; dark where Jane was blond, striking where Jane was Grecian, a dark enchantress to her sister's angelic qualities. "Yes, he could not do better," he struggled to reply.

Jane still held her cousin close by her, while Elizabeth returned to the elegant furnishings of the elegant sofa. "Well done, Charlie," the former praised. "Well, I hope we'll not take too much time from your studies. It is better for us not to become between him and prospects, don't you think so, Mr Collins?"

And such intelligence too. It was more than he expected. More than he could have hoped for. "Yes, your cousin has to work hard. But once he has established himself, that will be another thing."

"Shall we walk, Janie?" Charlie asked her, anxious to talk without the presence of Elizabeth, whose impertinent manner he had always found disturbing.

"Of course," Jane replied and fetched her cloak.

They made an odd party as they walked into the formal and elegant gardens of the Reynoldses' grand and elegant townhouse; one elegantly attired, refined lady accompanied by a boy barely into manhood, and a man aged by the circumstances of his paltry wealth and hard life, both dressed sombrely, in clothes which when placed beside those of the lady, displayed the sharp divide between the rich and the poor of London's vast society. Mr Collins walked ahead of them, giving them some semblance of privacy amongst the mass of elegant box hedges and elegant flower arrangements, attended to by discreet gardeners, whose close stewardship sometimes required daily grooming upon such splendid grounds.

"When are you going to settle yourself in some Christian place, Janie?" Charlie asked her as they walked. "I'm ashamed to have brought Mr Collins with me. How can you keep company here? Do you not realise how precarious your current situation is?"

Jane was calm in the face of his distaste for her surroundings. "I could hardly return to my father's, Charlie. Forcing him to support two daughters again when he has only just adjusted to supporting one. Mr and Mrs Reynolds wrote to me after Uncle's death, asking me to become my sister's companion here. And Lizzy had missed me so much since our removal to London that I could not refuse. Where else would you have me stay? With one of the persons related to the police notices on our Wall?"

"I want to forget the police notices," Charlie said firmly, annoyed that she was asking him to renege on her wish to recall his time by the waterside as only something out of a dream. "And so should you."

"I don't think that I ever could," Jane replied. "And I was wrong to ask you to forget them aswell. Mr and Mrs Reynolds do not forget their humble beginnings. They help as many people as they can who live in worse situations than they ever did themselves."

"I don't see what it's got to do with you," Charlie remarked.

"Do you not? Don't you think we owe some compensation for the life we led? For the profit that your father, my Uncle, made?"

"Don't talk such nonsense!" Charlie cried. "I've left the river far behind and so will you. I will not have you draw me back, Jane."

"But I don't draw you back, Charlie. If you choose to become a teacher, like Mr Collins, you will be educating the children of the river."

"I mean it, Jane!" Charlie repeated, ignoring the fact that she was correct. "Now let's not fight. I mean to be a good cousin to you."

Mr Collins rejoined them, causing Jane to draw her cousin into a farewell hug. She felt a little glad of the short duration of his visit. She felt as if in their time apart they had lost the connection of blood and kin which had once drawn them together. Where once he would accede to her judgement, now he took his way in everything, and forced her to obey him as well. They had become like strangers to each other.

Unlike his pupil, Mr Collins was all politeness. "But surely, we can go your cousin's way back into the house?" He inquired, offering his arm to her.

But Jane did not want to be with her cousin in his current temperament. "I'll not return to my sister just yet. And you have a long walk ahead of you both. You'll go much faster without me."

She smiled at them both, and disappeared into the elegant wilderness which surrounded the east side of the townhouse. Her cousin's words had disturbed her, both in their ungratefulness, and their harsh opinion of her living. They were nothing to her views, for Jane was not unhappy with her new situation. After her Uncle's death, she could hardly go back to her parents' house, with their distressed circumstances. There were still Charlie's school fees to pay for. She could not ask her father to divide the earnings that were barely enough to feed himself, her mother and her younger sister, and pay the rent, for a further expense. Elizabeth had offered to fund their cousin out of her own handsome allowance, but Jane could not bear that either. And since they had not seen each other since her removal from Longbourn to their uncle's, a compromise was reached; and she came to live with her at the Reynoldses' nice new house in a nice new neighbourhood. The situation may be precarious, but she was as equal a ward as Elizabeth was, and were not all situations in life precarious, when one took into account the uncertainty of life? Change could come at any time, something which both she and Elizabeth had learned, to their tragic cost.

A series of chimes suddenly disturbed her from her thoughts, and she counted the hour Big Ben bell's marked. Realising the time, she turned and made her way back to the elegant townhouse. She was expecting another visitor today, one who could be counted on being far kinder than her young cousin. Mr Charles Bingley had been very kind, very gentlemanlike since her Uncle's death. He had offered to investigate the matter for her, to see if there was any means to clear their Uncle's name from the rumours of his involvement with the Darcy murder. But not only that, he had been kind to her, and to Elizabeth too, even if she discomposed him, as Elizabeth was frequently wont to do whenever Mr Bingley paid a call.

No, Jane mused as she made her way to the elegant drawing room, she found no cause to follow her cousin's advice and give up her current situation just yet.

Further down the river, in surroundings where the Philipses and their cousin had once lived, another woman was in the same situation which Jane had once been. She stood on the shores of the river, bidding her father- not her Uncle -farewell for the day, as he went out on the river to earn their keep.

Her name was Pleasant Jenkinson.

"Please be careful on the east bank at Blackfriars at tide turn, father." She said.

"What would you know?" Her father remarked curtly. His eyes caught what accompanied his food for the day. "What's this?" He asked, referring to the liquor. "You wanna see me off? Over the side and into the mud?"

Pleasant looked away from him, saddened by his jibe. She caught something out of the corner of her eye, and looked to see a man had paused to observe them. A fine looking man, a man of fashion and society.

Jenkinson treated him with the same contempt with which he treated everybody he could not get money out of. "And what are you looking for?"

"I believe it was you that first sought out a lawyer," the man replied.

"Gaffer's dead now," Jenkinson reminded him.

"But my investigation is not," the man informed them, before walking away.

His route back into the finer parts of the city took him over Vauxhall Bridge, the same bridge which Charlie Philips and Mr Collins chose to use as their return route across the Thames to their school.

Charlie could not fail to recognise him, though it was some months since they first and last made each other's acquaintance, and immediately halted his walk, to watch him pass them and beyond till the end of the bridge.

"Who is that you stare after?" Mr Collins asked his pupil.

His pupil seemed not to hear him. "Yes it is him. It is that Bingley. I don't like him."

"Does he know your cousin, this Bingley?" Mr Collins asked.

"Yes, sir. He's met her," Charlie replied. "He came with a friend of his on business, that is the friend had business and he came with him. The other time was when my father died. He was one of the ones who found his body, and he came with Ms Hill, a neighbour, to break the news to Jane. He came there early morning and was still there when I was finally fetched home, as soon as my cousin was recovered enough to say where I could be found."

"Going to see her then, I dare say," Mr Collins concluded.

"He doesn't know her well enough," Charlie replied, annoyed at the presumption, just as he was annoyed at the man who had not seemed in the least to like or respect him in the Library when they first encountered each other. "I'd like to see him try."

Pupil and schoolmaster continued their walk, the route taking up the rest of the daylight hours so it was dusk by the time they returned to the school gates.

"I suppose your cousin has received little teaching, Philips," Mr Collins remarked. "And yet she hardly seems like an ignorant person."

"Jane was left to look after her own education at her father's house, sir. But he was an landed gentleman, and she was provided with the best materials." Charlie paused, considering the contrast which existed even then, between himself and his cousin's circumstances. "She has as much thought as the best of them, Mr Collins. Too much perhaps. She used to look at the river and have strange fancies."

"I don't like that," Mr Collins remarked, and Charlie realised that he had to change tack, if he wanted to repay all his cousin's kindness to him.

"It's a painful thought, but if I do as well as you hope, I shall be- I won't say disgraced as such -but rather put to the blush by a cousin who really has been very good to me."

"There is another possibility. Some man might come to admire your cousin. It would be a sad drawback for him this inequality of education."

"That's my drift, sir," Charlie replied.

"Yes, well you speak as a relation. For... an admirer.... a cousin you see cannot help the connection. Whereas a husband would...." he trailed off, but Charlie could guess the direction of his thoughts.

"Jane could learn quickly. Enough to pass muster. Certainly if given a little education," Charlie informed. He had a lower opinion of his cousin's intelligence than was the true state of affairs, a product of his arrogant character rather than experience.

Nevertheless, he had said enough to gain his schoolmaster's interest. "Yes well I'll think about it, Philips. I'll think about it maturely."

"Mr Charles Bingley, is it?" Elizabeth remarked as the man in question entered the elegant drawing room some minutes later.

Charles pretended to glance around as if he were checking that they were in danger of being overheard. "So I am told."

"You may come in if you're good," Elizabeth declared, her fine eyes twitching in amusement.

"I am not good, but I will come in," Charles replied, encountering Miss Bennet's gaze as he closed the elegant drawing room door. "Forgive the unexpected intrusion but I happened to be nearby."

"Lost, I dare say," Elizabeth remarked, before moving to the piano forte to give her sister and their caller a little privacy.

"I'm afraid I have nothing to report, Miss Bennet, concerning Mr Jenkinson," Charles began to Jane, "but you may always be assured of my best help, and that of my friend Fitzwilliam's in our efforts to clear your Uncle."

Jane nodded at him, touched beyond words by his manner with her and gentle address. Such a contrast to her cousin. She been away from gentle society far too long.

"And how is Mr Fitzwilliam, Mr Bingley?" Elizabeth inquired.

"He is quite well, Miss Bennet, and sends his compliments." Charles turned to Jane. "Have you considered my suggestion, Miss Bennet?"

Jane nodded. "I have thought of it, but I cannot make up my mind to accept it."

"False pride?" He asked her.

She shook her head. "Oh no, Mr Bingley. Well, I hope not."

"What else can it be? I propose to be of use to someone which I never was in this world, nor ever will be again, by offering to be an intermediary between yourself and those personages mentioned on your Uncle's wall, to provide them with the means to furnish their impoverished circumstances with an income, which you would not require, had you not been a self-denying niece and cousin by choosing to live and raise said cousin. This false pride does wrong both to you and your dead Uncle."

"How to our Uncle, Mr Bingley?" Elizabeth asked him.

"By perpetuating his blind obstinacy; by resolving not to set right the wrong he has done yourself and those personages in the notices upon his wall." He paused, recollecting himself, as his passionate response had seemed to have startled her and her sister. "Please don't be distressed. I am afraid I am a little disappointed. It shall not break my heart but I am genuinely disappointed. I'd rather set my heart on doing this little thing for you and Miss Elizabeth, but so be it. I meant well, both honestly and simply."

Jane felt a little guilty she had refused him. "Well, I've never doubted that."

Charles innocently continued to increase that feeling of guilt, carrying on as if what she said had not registered. "And I intend to go back to my old ways immediately, never to put myself of use to anyone or anything, for it will always be a doomed endeavour. And always mistaken for my own selfishness."

"Well! I think I have hesitated long enough, Mr Bingley," Jane said, unable to think of disappointing him a moment longer, "and I hope you won't think the worst of me for having hesitated at all. But for myself and for Elizabeth, I thankfully accept your offer."

Charles smiled, and Jane was immediately pleased, for she wanted him to be happy, for there was such a pleasing handsomeness acquired by his countenance when he smiled. He appeared to be a man who was unaccustomed to happiness, for his expression always seemed to savour it whenever the emotion came his way. A part of her wished to always make him happy.

"Agreed! Dismissed! Well, let's hope we never make so much of so little ever again," he took her proffered hand and raise it to his lips gallantly.

Elizabeth smiled, seeing her sister blush as the gentleman unconsciously lingered in this gesture to her. Jane had been only months in her company, and already it seemed she was to lose her again. But this time she would not begrudge the person who took her away, as she did when they were first made aware of their Uncle Philips' now dreadful circumstances. For he was not her selfish cousin Charlie, but a pleasant and gentlemanlike Charles, to whom her sister could do nothing but good, and who would welcome whatever alterations her sister might bring into his character and his life, unlike their selfish cousin who resented everything everyone has ever tried to do for him. She could not admit such an opinion to Jane of course, who never thought ill of anyone. Her sister was everything that was noble and good in their family, and she deserved a man who would do right by her, who could provide for her, and make her happy.

But ultimately, she deserved a man who loved her as she deserved to be loved, and that Elizabeth was determined to see Mr Bingley provide.

Part 12.

Elizabeth Bennet knocked on a door in the Reynolds's townhouse. Receiving no reply, she clasped the golden doorknob in her hands and turned. Opening it revealed that the room which belonged to the mysterious secretary to be empty. This was not unusual, for Mr Reynolds frequently requested that Mr Hurst make use of his study downstairs. But Elizabeth was glad to find the room empty, for her curiosity was roused by this opportunity to find out about a man who seemed to know so much about her, for she imagined that was his reason why he followed her wherever she happened to go. After all, he had access to the Will that gave her away to the heir of the Darcy estates, along with the ledgers recording her expenditure as ward of the Reynolds's, and the house of her father in which he lodged. She thought it was only right that she was able to know as much about him as he knew about her.

A desk, chair and inbuilt shelves occupied the room, all cluttered and stacked with books, papers, timepieces, ink, pen and various other necessities that were typically found in such studies. But there was nothing personal to the secretary himself, nothing that revealed anything about his family or his life before he lodged at her father's house. She went to the desk and opened drawers at random, searching for anything, but finding nothing, until a folded document caught her eye. She lifted out, bringing it before her gaze.

It was the Darcy Will. For a moment Elizabeth held the folded piece of large parchment, the broken seal before her gaze, hesitant to find out what she had always wanted to know; the terms of language used which traded her hand in marriage to the now drowned heir to the dust fortune and estates. A part of her had always regarded this document with bitterness, for it had prevented her from achieving one of her once dearly held aims in life; to marry for love. It had bound her to a complete stranger, for whom she must refuse all the attentions of others, lest she deny him his inheritance forever. She had often wondered in what light he might regard the document, torn between the belief that he felt as bitterly about the matter as she, or did not care about her or the inheritance at all, having spent so many years aboard, estranged from his family. Then curiosity got the better of her and her slender fingers went to work on the folds.

Unhappily she was only able to glance at the handwriting contain therein before she was disturbed by the sound of footsteps approaching the study. Hurriedly she hid it amongst the papers upon the desk, and walked away to another part of the room.

Hurst was pleased to see her waiting for him, though to an outsider his expression appeared critical and dismissive. His features were not designed for concealment of his feelings, the mask he assumed to protect himself from the unwanted attentions of others often appeared more foreboding than he desired because it was such a struggle to assume in the first place. He longed to present his real self to the world around him, but he feared to do so as well, because that world had not been kind to him in the past.

It was a hope of his that she would be the one who could see past his protective disguise, but as yet she had always retreated whenever he attempted to develop a friendship between them. It was not often that she sought him out and never had she visited his private study before. "Excuse me, Miss Bennet, I didn't mean to surprise you." He paused as he walked to the desk, his sharp eyes discovering the Will hidden under the papers which covered the veneered surface. "There's no reason to hide it, you are entitled to read it," he informed her. Indeed he was surprised that she had not asked to see it before now.

"As you do time and time again I am sure," Elizabeth countered, annoyed at being caught out and desiring to challenge him for his own entitlement and curiosity.

Ascertaining the defensiveness in her tone, Hurst sought to change the subject. "You wanted to see me? Ah yes, your weekly allowance. We can't forget that, can we?"

Elizabeth took offence from what was meant to be teasing and in turn sought to discompose him. "You even play the mysterious stranger in private, Mr Hurst. No family likenesses or personal possessions. It is a very good pretence."

Hurst flinched at her words and the tone which she used to utter them, but refrained from defending himself, instead handing her the required amount of money. "Speaking of family, Miss Bennet, you do not charge me with any commissions for home. I should be happy to execute any demands you may have in that direction."

"What do you mean, Mr Hurst?" She asked him.

"By home? I mean your father's house in Holloway," Hurst replied.

The state of her family's finances in comparison to her own recently improved situation, was instantly brought before her mind, causing her heart to hurt, as though it had received a painful blow. Whether the secretary meant the comment innocently or not, she was annoyed with herself that she had forgotten the poverty of her family so easily and so quickly. "No, what commissions did you mean, sir?" she asked, trying to ascertain where he was as aware of this transgression as she was.

"Only by some words of greeting which I assume you already send, somehow or other. I should be happy to be the bearer of them. As you know I come and go between the two houses everyday," Hurst explained, sensing that he had unwittingly annoyed her again.

Elizabeth knew not whether to be relieved that he had not found her out, annoyed at his presumption, or curious as to why she was so concerned with his opinion of her. But his reply had reminded her that she had yet to hear from her family since her departure from Holloway. Her father was a infrequent corresponder as it was, but as she had the privilege of being his favourite daughter, she had hoped he would have exerted himself to writing at least a note by now. "They don't send many commissions to me," she admitted, ashamed at revealing such familial neglect to their lodger.

Thankfully Hurst did not comment on the neglect, either from her side or her family's. "Well they frequently ask me about you," he revealed, "and I give them such slight intelligence as I can."

Now she understood him, she felt another uncertainty, as to the nature of the intelligence he gave to her family. She knew not why she cared about his opinion, yet she did, even as she distrusted his. "And I hope it is truly given."

Her words made him turn away from her, in manner that was not mysterious, for she caught the expression in his face before he did, and realised how she had offended him by accusing him of being as unjust as she was to his character, incurring her remorse. "No I do not doubt it. I beg your pardon, Mr Hurst, that was unfair of me. I'm going to visit my family soon, as it happens. Though what business it may be of yours I really cannot imagine."

She turned away from him, and headed out of the room. Hurst lingered long enough to return the Will to its original resting place, then followed her downstairs, in time to encounter someone arriving in the hall.

It was one of their tenants, carrying news of a child which Mr and Mrs Reynolds had entertained the idea of adopting at one time. The child was ill, dying in short, and the man begged them to come to the child's grandmother's house, for the lady had requested to see them and inform them of the sad news in all its detail.

All disharmony between the secretary and Miss Bennet was forgot. Exchanging a silent glance with the former, Elizabeth went to inform her sister and the Reynolds's, whereupon they immediately travelled to the place, situated on the outskirts of London.

A physician was summoned, and his diagnosis was grim. Consumption. Such a disease was not discriminating where it touched, the mortal perils preyed on victims from all walks of life, without warning or relief, save death. Medicine had not yet advanced far enough to procure the cause and find a cure, so there was nothing he could do for the boy.

Hurst returned from seeing the man to his horse to find Elizabeth attempting to comfort the grandmother, who cradled the last product of her blood. He was struck by the scene, deeply moved, beyond words or care for what his features might betray of his thoughts. If the Reynolds's, Miss Bennet, or the young woman herself cared to glance at him then, all would be undone and the truth revealed. Yet, at this moment he was past caring, for he had descried another truth that was far more important to him just now; the truth of her.

Gentleness, compassion, kindness, beauty and intelligence. Stripped away from Society and the demands its practices and codes heaped upon debutantes, she was her own woman, everything that a mistress of an estate could and should be. He had heard from the Reynolds's that her father had once owned an estate in Hertfordshire, which, but for the tragedy of disease which visited that part of the country, had been a small yet comfortable one. He had also heard from the same source that she was a favourite of her father, and that she, along with her elder sister, had been raised for such roles, as their mother schemed to have them married well and their father was glad to delegate such tasks to them, allowing him to spend more time in his study, at his books.

Despite his abhorrence to the plots of such matchmaking Mamas, he was by no means incapable of understanding her motives to see her daughters well settled, wanting for nothing. And it was only sensible that if she intended for her girls to make an advantageous marriage, they should be prepared for the role they would have to assume afterwards.

And who was he to deny her it? What qualms had he still that yet to be dismissed from his heart if not from his mind? He had admitted that he was under her spell days ago, accepted that he was powerless. With further proof presented to him day after day, why did he continue to delay? He knew why, because he could not help but feel that she would be disheartened if she learned the truth. The only way to change this was to improve her opinion of him, and this he had tried to do today, without success. Perhaps he was doomed to find no happiness within this life.

Continued in Volume Four.

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