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Daniellas Bureau; A Fanfic & Desktop Site

Along The River.

Volume Two.

Part 5.

Before a sash window on the basement floor of a house in Holloway sat a woman in mourning. She had been forced into this state, both by the dictates of society and the tragic misfortunes of her family. Her philosophy was once to think of the past as its remembrance gives one pleasure, but now even the latter memories were painful to recollect. Beneath this layer of grief were also feelings of guilt. Many sacrifices had been made to save her family from the dangers of bankruptcy and now mortal circumstances had prevented her from making one herself. True, whichever outcome came about, matters would have been out of her control, but at this present time her conscience could not accept that excuse.

"Elizabeth?" A voice gently interrupted her, making her lift the black veil and turn.

Her father had risen from his seat beside the fire. "Dinner is ready, my dear."

It was a trio instead of sextet that she joined at the table. The 'Meryton fever' of 1865 had caused more losses to the Bennet family than two sisters. House and wealth- for two thousand pounds per annum seemed rich compared to nothing now -may be considered materialistic concerns but they had guaranteed the Bennets' security and the ability to advance their children in the world. Now they were the tenants instead of the landlord and their wealth consisted of what little they could earn by renting out the upper floors of their house and the income Mr Bennet earned as a clerk at King, Lucas and Foster. That had been her father's sacrifice; liberty and privacy. Jane had made hers by going to live with their Uncle Philips and cousin Charlie. And hers had been dependent upon a chance meeting years ago and now that had faded away into nothing.

It had sunk into the sea.

"You will change your clothes tomorrow, Miss Lizzy?" Her mother asked her as she drew the napkin across her lap.

"I am in mourning, Mama," Elizabeth replied.

"Your banns were never published, so I see no need for you to be wearing that insufferable dress," Mrs Bennet continued.

"It is not my fault he died, Mama," Elizabeth said, as much as to herself as her mother.

"I'm sure I'm the poorer," Kitty remarked. "If I have to wait until Lizzy finds herself another husband."

"Think what an embarrassed first meeting it would have been, Kitty," Elizabeth said to her sister. "We never could have pretended to harbour any true affection. I was hardly likely to even like this William Darcy, how could I?" Although, she added silently, this embarrassment might have been smoothed away by the money. She had not fully realised how hateful it was to be poor until they were. Degradingly poor. Offensively poor. "Left to him in a will!" She added aloud. "Like a dozen spoons! And all this for a man I never saw."

"Enter!" Mrs Bennet called out as someone knocked on the door, while Elizabeth rose from her seat to greet the visitor.

"And should have hated if I had," she added, before turning to glance at the visitor.

The man was a stranger to her. Dark hair, brown eyes, and tall, clothed in dark attire, as though he wished to be unnoticed. His manner appeared diffident, reserved, almost nervous, as he met her appraising glance shyly before moving on. Yet the look that was conveyed within that brief moment, was so intense, so vulnerable, so knowing. Instinctively she backed away, allowing her parents to see the visitor.

"Ah AB," Mrs Bennet began. Ever since they had been forced to take in lodgers she had taken to calling her husband thus. "This is the gentleman who has taken our first floor. He was so good as to make an appointment for this morning when you be at home. This is my husband, Andrew Bennet, the undisputed master of the house."

"Seeing that I'm quite satisfied, Mr Bennet," the visitor began, "with the rooms that is and their price, I hope that a memorandum between us; some two or three lines perhaps, might bind the bargain."

Andrew Bennet nodded in acceptance and moved to the desk, where he was joined by his wife and the visitor. Elizabeth returned to the dinner table, but her interest remained fixed on their new lodger, intrigued by his seeming desire to remain unremarkable.

"The gentlemen proposes to take your apartments by the quarter," Mrs Bennet dictated.

"If I might mention a referee?" Mr Bennet asked.

"No," the gentleman answered. "I think that a referee is not necessary. Neither is it convenient. I'm a stranger in London. You see I require no reference from you, I shall pay whatever you please in advance, and I will leave my furniture here, whereas if you, sir, were in embarrassed circumstances," he paused, suddenly realising that they were, "-this is a supposition of course but as you see..." he trailed off.

"We see perfectly," Mrs Bennet answered, offended.

"Well money and goods are of course certainly the best references," Mr Bennet said hurriedly, anxious to keep the peace and their tenant.

"Do you really think they are, Papa?" Elizabeth asked him.

"Among the best my dear," Mr Bennet allowed.

"I should have thought myself it would be so easy to provide the usual kind," Elizabeth added, making then gentleman's gaze turn upon her.

"My dear, will you be the witness?" Mr Bennet asked, bringing the agreement over to the dinner table and placing it before her.

Elizabeth took the pen from her father and wrote in the space he indicated.

"I'm very much obliged to you, Miss Bennet," the gentleman said as he took the pen from her and signed his name.

"Obliged?" Elizabeth echoed. "And why should...." she paused to read out the name, "Mr William Hurst, be obliged to me?"

"I've given you so much trouble," Hurst answered.

"By signing my name?" Elizabeth shrugged. "I am your landlord's daughter after all."

Hurst turned to her father and drew out some coins from his pocket, placing them in Mr Bennet's hand. "I'll send my furniture tomorrow. I'll follow shortly behind." Then with a slight inclination of his head in farewell, he left.

Elizabeth went to lock the door, peering out through the veiled panes to see the man quietly disappear into the depths of Holloway. "Papa," she began as she returned to the table. "We have ourselves a murderer for a tenant!"

"Or a robber at least. And living upstairs," added Kitty.

"On the first floor," added Mrs Bennet. "Have you no compassion for my nerves?"

"You mistake me, my dear," Mr Bennet replied. "I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least."

"Ah, you do not know what I suffer," his wife moaned.

"I've never seen such an exhibition," Elizabeth, used to such complaints from her mother, knowing that continued discussion of them only worsened the suffering, continued. "Unable to look a person in the eye? Mark my words between Mr Hurst and myself there is a natural antipathy and a deep distrust. I don't know what will come of it."

"Well my dear, between Mr Hurst and myself there is the matter of eight gold sovereigns and supper shall certainly come of it!" Mr Bennet declared, placing the coins upon the table.

Later, when the money had been spent upon supper, Elizabeth thumbed through the change which had been left before handing the money to her father.

"Just in time for the landlord my dear," Mr Bennet commented softly and sadly.

"I hate all this money going to the landlord when we all want for everything," Elizabeth sighed. "Why do you suppose old Mr Darcy took it into his head to make such a fool out of me?" She asked in despaired wonder.

"I've told you often, my dear, I hardly spoke a hundred words to the gentleman," Mr Bennet replied. Elizabeth looked at him, and descrying the meaning held within her fine dark eyes, he began to recant the tale once more. "We were visiting your Aunt and Uncle Gardiner one summer. You were sitting on my lap, on a bench in the park, rather as we are now, when you suddenly took it into your head to..."

"To make a scene, Papa?" Elizabeth prompted.

"Never let it be said that I was the parent who condoned infant misbehaviour, AB!" Mrs Bennet remarked as she strolled across the room.

"And then I screamed, and hit you about the head, didn't I Papa?" Elizabeth sought to confirm, ignoring her mother's harsh comment.

"And the old gentleman said, 'that's a nice girl. That's a promising girl,'" Mr Bennet continued.

"Never let it be said I condoned the talking to of strangers in the park!" Mrs Bennet again interrupted with.

Andrew ignored her. "And then he asked for our name and address, and kept saying, 'that's a promising girl. A most promising girl.'"

"And so I was," Elizabeth uttered wistfully.

"And so you were my dear," Mr Bennet added. "So you were."

Part 6.

An old squaddie walked and hopped to the sixty-fifth store in this particular back alley of London, otherwise known as Clerkenwell. The sign above the store; Younge; Articulator of Bones, only began to describe the building's contents. Taxidermy animals of all shapes and sizes, posed in human positions and professions, from fencing to more natural states littered the room, gathered between displays of skeletons and other exotic objects.

The proprietor of the establishment emerged from the back room not a moment after the old soldier entered this curious place. "How do you do?"

Squaddie proffered forward his wooden leg. "Wickham, you know?"

"To be sure," Younge replied, his eyes studying leg from cloth covered flesh to wood. "Hospital amputation wasn't it? I remember you now."

"Just so," Wickham confirmed.

"Come and sit by the fire and warm your other one. My tea is drawing, Mr Wickham. Will you partake?"

Companionably the two men settled by the fire and sipped the hot tea. After the first cup, Younge fetched the bone and placed it before the owner.

"So how have I been going on this long time, Mr Younge?" Wickham asked.

"I don't know," Younge replied. "Do what I will with an old leg, it won't fit anywhere."

"Hang it, Younge, it can't be personal and peculiar to me," Wickham cried. "It must often happen with your miscellaneous ones."

"With ribs I grant you," Younge conceded. "Always. Every man has his own ribs and no others will go with them, but legs..... I can't find another one to match."

"Now look 'ere," Wickham began. "I want to buy my leg back. How much do you want for it?"

Younge shrugged. "Well you were one of a various lot."

"Come, on your account, I'm not worth much," Wickham pointed out.

"Not for miscellaneous working, Mr Wickham," Younge replied. "It may yet turn out to be valuable as a monstrosity, if you'll excuse me."

"I've a prospect of getting on in life," Wickham revealed. "And I tell you I should not liked to be dispersed. Part of me here, part of me there. But should wish to collect myself together, like a genteel person."

Younge sighed and nodded in empathy, the words striking a chord within him.

"You seen very low, Mr Younge," Wickham remarked astutely. "Is business bad?"

"Never was so good, Mr Wickham," Younge answered, surprising him. "I'm not only first in the trade. I am the trade. You may buy a skeleton in the West End, pay West End prices for it, but it'd be my work and putting together. Mr Wickham, if you were brought here lose in a bag, to be articulated, I could name your smallest bones blindfolded, and sort them all in a manner which surprise and charm you."

"Now that ain't a state to be brought low about," Wickham assured him.

"It's the heart that's brought me low," Younge confided wistfully. "I'm a bachelor, I'm thirty-two, but I love her, Mr Wickham."

"But the lady objects to the business?" Wickham guessed, and Younge nodded. "Does she know the profits of it?"

"She knows the profits of it," Younge confirmed, adding sadly, "she doesn't appreciate the art of it. So, a man climbs to the top of a tree, Mr Wickham, only to see there's no lookout when he got there. I sit here, of a night, surrounded by the finest trophies of my art and what have they done for me? Ruined me."

Wickham finished his tea and glanced at the timepiece on the mantle of the hearth beside them. "It's time I was at Darcy's."

"Darcy's up the Battle Bridge way?" Younge sought to confirm. "You ought to be in for a good thing. A Lot of money going there. Old Darcy wanted to know the worth of everything. Many's the bone and feather he brought me."

"Really now?" Wickham remarked, intrigued, for when met Reynolds this morning, there seemed to be little in the way profit to be made.

Younge nodded. "The old gentleman was well known. There used to be stories about him hiding all sorts of property in them dust mounds. I suppose there's something in them. Probably you know that, Mr Wickham."

Wickham made a slight nod, and exited the building. As he walked out of the alley, he felt his senses tingling at the opportunity he had wandered into, by accepting Mr Reynolds' proposal to take care of the dust mounds in his and his wife's absence. An opportunity for money and revenge, against the fortune of the landlord family that had once cast out tenants like himself and his son so many years ago. His son may have grown tired of his father's quest for vengeance, and cast him off to get himself a living by other, perhaps less nefarious means, but the father certainly had not.

Sunday brought change to the Holloway house, in the form of unexpected visitors for the Bennet family after they returned to their house from church. Their arrival was heralded by one of the neighbourhood's domesticated hounds, and an encounter between Elizabeth and Mr Reynolds' at first rather creepy face at the front window.

Rules of polite society were rapidly engaged; Mrs Bennet welcoming the couple into the living area of the one floor that- due to their lack of funds -they were limited to occupying, and broke out the tea service, one of the few items salvaged from the selling of the Longbourn estate.

"And now," she began once they were all seated and tea was served, "to what am I indebted to this honour? A Sunday visit from Mr and Mrs Reynolds who must be so busy in their social activities, I can hardly imagine why they should honour us with a visit to our humble abode."

"Perhaps, Mrs Bennet, you are acquainted with the names of me and Mr Reynolds as having come into a certain prosperity," Mrs Reynolds began uncertainly, unprepared for Mrs Bennet's style of manners.

"I have heard a little madam, of your good fortune," Mrs Bennet replied unaffectedly. Or at least in an attempt to seem so.

"And I dare say ma'am you would not be inclined to think kindly of us," Mrs Reynolds astutely remarked.

"Ma'am," Mr Reynolds broke in with at this point, "Mrs Reynolds and me, we are plain people. We don't pretend to anything. We don't go round and round at anything. Consequently we made this call to say how glad we shall be to have the honour and pleasure of your daughter's acquaintance," he revealed, with a glance to Elizabeth. "We should be rejoiced if your daughter should come to consider our house,- our new house that is -her house. We are considering in the light of our changed circumstances...."

"To go in for fashion!" Mrs Reynolds cut in. "And society. We are to give up the dusty bower, though we do love it, for a nice new house in a nice new neighbourhood. And I'm thinking of a pale yellow chariot with a fine pair of horses and silver boxes to the wheels! For we've been thinking of your poor girl and how cruelly disappointed she was of her husband and his riches."

"In short we want to cheer your daughter," Mr Reynolds added. "And give her an opportunity to share such pleasures as we're going to take of ourselves."

"Yes, we want to brisk her up and brisk her about!" Mrs Reynolds declared.

Elizabeth felt she should say something now. The idea of going into society, as though she were some ward to be auctioned off, was almost as loathsome as the conditions the Darcy Will placed her under. "I'm much obliged to you both," she began, "I'm sure, but I doubt if I have the inclination to go out at all."

"Lizzy!" Her mother cried, afraid of her second and least favourite offending their wealthy guests, and thus denying the opportunity to see her well married, which was still her first goal in life. "Lizzy, my child, you must try to conquer these delicate feelings."

The Reynolds however, were not at all offended. "Well, have a little think about it," Mr Reynolds suggested, rising from his chair, a clear signal to all that this was a good time for them to take their leave. "And take my advice, and do what your Ma says and conquer it my dear. We're going to go everywhere and see everything."

"Of course if your sister would like to come, make you more comfortable, we'll welcome her gladly!" Mrs Reynolds added.

Kitty shook her head decidedly. "I'm sure I know my duty, and will stay at home with Ma and Pa," she said affectedly.

Elizabeth, realising from her sister's tone what comments would follow the Reynolds's departure, rose from her chair to follow her father in seeing their visitors to the door. Mrs Reynolds took the opportunity to add aside to her softly, "you mustn't feel a dislike for us you know, my dear, for we couldn't help the inheritance and did nothing to further it."

Elizabeth nodded silently in reply, and took Mrs Reynolds hand in a friendly shake.

"Come old lady," Mr Reynolds remarked affectionately, "we'll outstay our welcome."

They stepped outside and halted on the street for a moment to shake hands in farewell. Kitty, not caring for manners, had gone to the window to watch them go, and her comments were clearly audible through the thin panes of glass in the sash.

"Well, Lizzy's got what she wants from her Reynolds's. She'll be rich enough at her Reynolds's! She'll have as many lobsters as she likes for her supper at her Reynolds's! Well you won't take me to your Reynolds's!"

Elizabeth flinched, only to meet the sympathetic and understanding smile of the Reynolds's, before they were obliged to take a step back from the entrance, to allow their tenant access to his lodgings. As was his usual custom, their lodger seemed to appear as if from nowhere to intrude on this farewell, before disappearing in to his rooms of the first floor, where they would hear nothing from him. To her surprise Mr Hurst touched a hand to his bowler in silent salutation to Mr Reynolds before making his way up the flight of stairs to the entrance for the ground floor.

"We seem to have a mutual friend," Mr Reynolds commented.

"You are acquainted with our new lodger, Mr Reynolds?" Elizabeth sought to confirm, still surprised by the whole encounter.

"Bit of a mystery man, my dear," Mr Reynolds observed before they finished their farewells and he and his wife walked away.

Elizabeth watched them disappear down the street, before following her father down the stairs to their basement living. Her thoughts however were more concerned with their lodger than their Sunday visitors. Since their brief meeting to draw up the agreement to take the rooms, she and her family had only encountered Mr Hurst when they happened to be exiting the house at the same time. He kept himself to himself, and received no visitors.

Indeed, the floorboards above the ceiling of their rooms seemed so quiet that she presumed he was absent from his lodgings frequently. Mystery was definitely the right word to describe him. From their few words to each other that night she witnessed the agreement, there was little to assume of his character. His manner, if a little reserved, seemed pleasant enough. His looks, like his attitude, were carried without the confidence that his physical attractions would stand him in any good stead, yet, at times, she imagined that she had seen something hidden in those dark eyes of his.

A vulnerability, or perhaps a concealed strength, hinted by the intense stare he conveyed to her when their eyes first met over the threshold of a door. Something she felt, that if one were privileged to see it, would make him a friend indeed.

A part of her yearned to discover it.

Part 7.

Further down the river, in the parish which encompassed Limehouse mortuary, stood the Six Jolly Porters, a local watering hole, for those who worked on the river. The exterior resembled the rest of the buildings in the neighbourhood; bricks all but choked by the dirt and smoke of the industrial age, glass stained by remnants of the same, the grimy layer a shield from the depressing vision of the outside neighbourhood. Clutching to these crumbling bricks, the glue hanging on for grim death, come rain or shine, were countless notices concerning the dead or the living, from 'Wanted' posters to 'Found.'

One particular notice had caught the interest of one of the pub's once regular customers. It beheld a sketch of a man, wanted in connection with one of the latest mortal discoveries the river had deigned to wash up, below which was a short notice, asking witnesses to come forward. Above the description, resided the figure of a impressively large sum of money, enough to feed the members of this parish for life. The unkempt exile paid the notice a long glance before entering the watering hole.

"You think, wouldn't you, Ms Hill," a voice could heard to be saying, addressing the entire establishment and its proprietor at large, "with the general interest the Darcy case has aroused, not least the erm.... substantial reward offered, that some clue to the murderer might have arisen? There's been a notice in the Times everyday in search of the stranger, Denny, our mysterious friend from the mortuary. Though maybe none of your regulars, those who can read, peruse that journal."

Ms Hill laid down the paper in question with deliberate noise on the bar. "I can read," she declared to the Inspector. "And I think that most know the meaning of the figures £10,000, whether they can sign their names or not. This house is a respecter of the river, and a especial respecter of its dead. And I think you also know that this house is a respecter of the law." She gestured to the miserable weather outside. "The Darcy poster is peeling on my walls. Not one of my regulars who can be trusted has remarked on it." Her eyes were sweeping the room as she spoke, and her next sentence was uttered in a louder tone. "Get away from here, Jenkinson, I told you, you're not welcome in this house!"

"But I haven't done nothing," the exile protested. "You can't refuse to serve me."

"I can do what I like in my own house!" Ms Hill retorted. "Now get away with yer! You will not drink in here again!"

The Inspector watched to make sure Jenkinson did leave, then shot another question at her. "And what of Jessie Philips? Jenkinson's partner, is he allowed to drink alongside you at the counter, Ms Hill?"

"No," Ms Hill revealed, "but I came you twenty or so others hereabouts who are also denied that pleasure. Do you think they all had a hand in the Darcy crime?"

The Inspector was inclined to speculate on the likelihood of such an eventuality, but catching Ms Hill's gaze, he realised that discretion was the better part of valour. Desirous of not becoming one of those who was banned from this establishment, he contented himself with finishing the rest of his drink before returning to work.

Last orders over, and with the pub deserted, Ms Hill took a seat at one of the tables to count up the day's takings. Catching sight of her hardworking barmaid clearing another table nearby, she called her over.

"Bring us over a drink, Jane, and come and sit with me."

Jane put down the cloth she had been using and obliged. Hill put before her a small pile of coins, more than four times the amount of her salary for her work at the Porters. Silently, she ignored the fortune offered.

"Now Jane, I'm very put out," Ms Hill remarked, even though she had endured the same battle every week since Jane Bennet had come to work for her.

"I'm sorry to hear it, Ms Hill," Jane replied.

"Then why do you do it?" Countered her boss forcefully.

"I do what, Ms?" Jane answered, looking at her.

Ms Hill met the steadfast expression and sighed. It would not do to lose her temper with her best worker. "I'm sorry. But Jane, why won't you take up my offer to get clear of your Uncle?"

"I'm very grateful for it," Jane tried to assure her. "Truly I am."

"Obstinate more like," Ms Hill decided. "Do you know the worst of your Uncle, child? The suspicions that are laid against him?" She took a fortifying sip of drink before continuing. "This is not easy to say but I must do it. It is thought by some that your Uncle helps to their death some of those he finds dead."

"You do not know my Uncle," Jane replied, shocked to hear confirmation of the gossip which haunted the Philips's. "Indeed you don't."

"Leave your Uncle," Ms Hill appealed. "Jane, let me help you. You must leave him."

Jane rose from the table. "Thank you, Ms Hill, but I can't. The more my Uncle is accused, the more he needs me to lean on. And there's Charlie to consider. I promised my late Aunt I would look after them both. And I mean to keep that promise."

"Even at the cost to your own reputation?" Ms Hill asked.

But Jane was firm. "Even that," she uttered.

"Well, if you won't take it for yourself, then take it for Charlie," Ms Hill decided. "I know you pay for his schooling. Use it to give him the chance to use that education."

"Very well," Jane conceded, slipping the coins into a lining in her dress where pickpockets wouldn't get to them.

And perhaps his absence might give you the means and the push you need to finally leave your Uncle, Ms Hill thought.

Some miles up river, in what was once a bachelor's residence in Sackville Street, Piccadilly, lived a couple whom few thought would have debased themselves to reside in such a neighbourhood. Particularly after attending the wedding breakfast held at their dearest friends the Lucas's, one of the foremost members of the noveau riche.

Caroline Wickham, nee Bingley, finished rereading the thick letter in her hands with a quiet sigh, before concealing the folded pieces of paper in a drawer once more. She directed a glance to her husband, who was searching through the other drawers and papers that were littered about their ridiculously small parlour.

She never once imagined that she would be reduced to this. Born to a family of comfortable means, she had foreseen her path to resemble her dear departed mother's; education at a select school, a coming out ball held in the best circles, followed by a marriage to a suitably wealthy husband. And, until that horrible scene during her wedding breakfast, she believed it had, more or less. True, her father had abandoned her and left her to establish herself in society as best she could on her own, but she had imagined that she had landed herself a husband who far surpassed his limited expectations. Imagined being the operative word. Never had she been more cruelly disillusioned. Presented with the hope of a fortune for eternity, only for it to be crushed before her eyes. Needless to say, she had not enjoyed the rest of her wedding day.

She had thought her father would at least come to the ceremony. After all, he owed her mother that much. She had seen her brother, skulking about in the corner with his constant companion of a fellow lawyer, but her father's absence had been the final nail in the barrier which stood between them. Erected on both sides by mutual loathing during school, his avaricious nature needed only that excuse to disinherit her the moment after her mother was buried in the family crypt. No warning, no final, tearful scene, only a letter making it clear that that mournful event would be the last time she ever saw her father or his wealth again, along with a parting wish that he would see her end her life on the streets in Whitechapel.

But Caroline had not surrendered to that prediction. Instead, like any consummate actress, she had established herself in the best, wealthiest, and- or so she thought at time -intelligent circles, and set about finding herself another establishment. This time, it would be one of her choosing, and she was determined to prove her selfish father wrong.

As it turned out however, his assumption was partly correct. She was married to a pauper, and living on borrowed displays of wealth. The fashion for refusing to settle bills would only give them immunity from the debtor's prison for so long. Caroline feared for the day when that fate might await her.

The door opened to admit the maid, bringing Caroline out of her regretful thoughts. Her husband advanced to collect the large indoor plant which the servant carried.

"The florist begs leave to remind Mr Wickham of the bill of payment, sir," the maid said respectfully, presenting him with yet another bill.

George Wickham took the proffered slip of paper away with disdain, and silently beckoned at the girl to leave.

"I would have thought it imprudent, even for you, to continue to buy goods that you cannot afford," Caroline remarked.

"More fool you, for not noticing this deficiency in my financial affairs before we came jointly responsible for them," George replied harshly.

Caroline turned from the bureau. "I was deceived!" She protested. Abruptly her exclamation turned to one of pain as he grabbed her wrist, his hard, arrogant features staring directly into her self-pitying gaze.

"I cannot get rid of you and you cannot get rid of me," he reminded her. "I suggest we reach a mutual understanding which might carry us through."

Cautiously Caroline recovered her equilibrium. "An understanding?"

His grip ended, leaving a red mark as the only evidence. "With a little encouragement from our friends, we mutually deceived each other into wedlock. I suggest we shall keep these mortifying facts to ourselves. Agreed?" He waited for her to silently nod before walking away.

"That is not an expense," he continued, pointing to the plant, "it is an investment." He picked up the newspaper. "I have been looking to the future and you can be sure that I'm not alone. When a great fortune suddenly appears as if from nowhere it is the duty of all beggars, especially the deserving gentry, to beat a path to its door. We must be amongst them, but we shall be in disguise." He dropped the newspaper back to its previous resting place, and walked to desk she was seated at, whereupon he placed pen, ink and writing sheets before her.

"'Mr and Mrs George Wickham to Mr and Mrs Edmund Reynolds Esquire,'" he dictated. "'Offering their most hearty felicitations on their good fortune, hoping they may accept this small gift, begging leave to call on them at home, at any hour which may be convenient.'"

Caroline finished penning the letter, and placed the blotter upon it in something approaching satisfaction. Perhaps, with her husband's help, this marriage might not prove to be such a bad mistake after all.

The above letter and accompanying present duly made their way to the intended recipients, who tried in vain to give latter space in their increasingly small parlour. Since the announcement of their good fortune, gifts from well-meaning well-wishers had flooded into their little home, causing none of the pleasure their givers expected, only consternation as to where to store them until their new townhouse was ready to receive them.

"All right, old lady?" Mr Reynolds asked his wife as she placed the plant on one of the few remaining bits of floor space left.

"Where are we going to put them all?" She asked him.

Mr Reynolds attempted to clear his desk, but gave up when faced with the piles of calling cards and letters upon it. "Papers buzzing about me ears!" He exclaimed, walking towards the window.

Suddenly, a solution to the chaos appeared before his eyes, in the form of the arrival of the man he had encountered in a book shop in town, some days before. Arms full of purchases of volumes he had previously only dreamt of affording, Edmund had turned to pay, only to almost collide with the man whom- as he later discovered -lodged at the Bennets of Holloway. After a brief verbal exchange of greetings, the young gentleman had presented him with his card, offering his services as a secretary, before leaving the store, giving Edmund no chance to reply, only to stare after him in wonderment.

Before the gifts started pouring in, Edmund had been inclined to refuse the lad's kind offer, assured that he wouldn't need him. As the steward of Pemberley, he was used to dealing with realms of managing a great fortune and all the trappings that came with. Except he had never dealt with the social niceties society thrust upon the owner of said fortune. Now, Mr Hurst seemed like a wise investment.

Reynolds walked into the hallway and opened the door. "Come in, lad, come in. Kate, this is Mr Hurst, the man I told you about."

"Pleasure to meet you, Mrs Reynolds," Mr Hurst remarked, offering his hand to her after he had removed his hat.

Mrs Reynolds smiled at his diffident manner, and together with her husband, ushered him into the parlour.

"There, Hurst," Mr Reynolds began, gesturing to the desk. "See if you can do something with that."

Mr Hurst nodded and walked over to the desk. In less time than both the Reynolds's thought possible, he transformed the chaos into an understandable clarity.

Edmund surveyed the bundles of organised and tied papers with astonished satisfaction. "Apple pie order."

"Sir," Mr Hurst began, "if you would try me as your secretary, for a trial period only, naturally I would keep exact accounts of all the expenditure that you have sanctioned, and write letters... under your strict direction of course. And I would transact business with the people under your employment."

"I ought to have said I already have in my employment, a housekeeper man with a wooden leg," Mr Reynolds replied, speaking of an old squaddie he came across, enroute to the bookshop. The old solider had been singing, managing a stall of music sheets, reminding him of the other Darcy child he once knew, a sister of the dearly departed and lamented lad, who loved music. When their father sent them to the coast, he heard no more of her, and when Richard Fitzwilliam discovered only the lad, he assumed that the girl had gone the way of the rest. He hired the man to mind the bower for them when they moved into the grand house, for he had no desire to rid himself of the mounds which bestowed this fortune and same grand house upon them, though the price of such inheritance was harsh to bear. "And this rounding up of papers?"

"Would be continuous of course," Hurst replied.

Mr Reynolds nodded. "Now," he remarked after a moment of careful thought, "lets try a letter next."

Hurst drew his small, wire-rimmed spectacles out from his jacket pocket, and set himself before the desk, pen, ink and paper at the ready. "To whom shall it be addressed?"

"Well, anyone," Mr Reynolds answered. "Try yourself."

Hurst wrote for a moment on the paper, then rose from the desk and read aloud. "'Mr Reynolds presents his compliments to Mr William Hurst, and begs to say that he has decided on giving Mr William Hurst a trial in the capacity that he desires to fill.'"

Surprised, Mr Reynolds began to search for something to say, but Hurst continued. "'It is quite understood that Mr Reynolds is in no way committed to a salary, which will be postponed, for some indefinite period. And Mr Reynolds relies on Mr William Hurst's assurance that he will be both faithful and serviceable and enter upon his duties immediately.'"

It took some time before the astonishment died away. Then Edmund caught his wife's silent but meaningful expression, and replied. "That's the fairest set down letter I have ever heard," he declared, rising from his seat to stand before his new secretary. "Lets shake on it."

Hurst smiled, his true reserved self revealed in the motion, and he gladly accepted Mr Reynolds' proffered hand. But before their palms began to touch, he withdrew the motion to speak once more.

"Mr Reynolds, before we absolutely settle upon my position, I must ask one favour of you. That you and you alone deal directly with your solicitor, Mr Fitzwilliam."

Both Edmund and Kate frowned at that, for it seemed to them an unusual request that a personal secretary have no contact with their solicitor, and indeed it was.

"Have you any personal objection to Mr Fitzwilliam?" Mr Reynolds asked.

"None. I do not know him enough to warrant such objection," Hurst replied.

"Have you suffered from lawsuits?" Mrs Reynolds inquired.

"No more than other men," Hurst answered.

"Are you prejudiced against the race of lawyers?" Mr Reynolds tried.

"No. But while I am in your employment, sir, I would rather be excused from going between the lawyer and the client. Of course if you press it, sir, I am ready to comply. But I would take it as a great favour if you would not press it without urgent occasion."

Edmund fell into silence as he considered the request. Though he considered himself not much of a scholar in such matters of business, he was capable of dealing with lawyer Fitzwilliam, for Mr Fitzwilliam had such a way of explaining matters as to make them immediately understandable. It was a small, almost trifling condition, and not one to trouble much over. "Does your objection extend to writing to Fitzwilliam?"

"Not in the least, sir."

"Then I think it is a favour I can agree to."

Hurst smiled again, and this time he did accept Mr Reynolds' proffered hand.

"Now," Edmund began afresh, "I may not have mentioned to you that it is Mrs Reynolds' inclination to go in the way of fashion."

Hurst smiled before he responded. "I rather inferred that from the scale in which your new establishment is to be maintained."

"Yes, it's going to be a spanker!" Mr Reynolds grinned and rose from the seat, whereupon he showed their visitor about their current dwelling. "Old Darcy was not much loved. He was a harsh man. Been fair to me, but his child....." he let the sentence drift, the end of it clear enough. "When the son was a little boy, he came up and down these stairs to see his father. He often cried on these stairs poor little thing. Starved of love, that's what he was. And my old lady here did her best to give it to him."

Mrs Reynolds pointed to the small notches that were dotted about the doorway nearby. "Here is where the boy wrote his name several times and measured himself here on this sunny patch."

Her husband took her hand. "We must take care of these names, Kate. They must never be rubbed out in our lifetime. Nor ever, if we can help it."

They stepped outside the house and into the range of dust mountains.

"Do you mean to sell the house, Mr Reynolds?" Hurst asked him as they walked through the small clearing before the mounds. Above them people were shifting through the rubbish, casting clouds of dust about the air.

"Certainly not," Mr Reynolds replied. "In memory of our dear master and the child we mean to keep it. I've got a plan, I'll tell you about it soon enough." He gestured to the mounds surrounding them. "They're a different matter. That was my first mound. It would have been enough for us if it had pleased god to spare the little one. I ain't a scholar in much, Mr Hurst. But I'm a pretty fair scholar in dust. I can price these mountains to a fraction." He took a deeper look at the young man beside him. Since they had stepped outside, even before, Hurst was the first visitor to their house who had not found the air troublesome to his nose or his throat. "You don't find the air a little overpowering, Mr Hurst?"

Hurst seemed surprised by the inquiry. "Excuse me?"

"Its just that strangers can often find the smell of a dust yard fairly pungent on first encounter," Reynolds revealed.

Their visitor recovered from his temporary astonishment. "No, I do not find it in the least offensive." He turned from observing the workers and smiled at them. "It is the smell of good honest work, I am sure."

"Indeed," Mrs Reynolds agreed. "And my Edmund has everything accounted for. Down to the last farthing, proper and right."

"A man such as I was had no use for lettering, except for pleasure, a pleasure rarely found, due to the demands of work," Mr Reynolds remarked. "But numbers, you'll find I'm a master of those."

"Where do you come from Mr Hurst?" Mrs Reynolds asked in an attempt to turn the conversation towards the young man who had been in their company, who seemed content to hear more of them than talk about himself.

"I've been in many places," Hurst answered, in a similar manner as he had when he asked to be excused from conducting business with lawyer Fitzwilliam.

"And what do you do for a living?" Mrs Reynolds persisted.

"I've had some aspirations, but I've been disappointed," Hurst replied. "I have to begin my life once more." He turned towards them and held out his hand. "Goodbye, I'll see you at the agreed time."

They shook his hands, and watched him as he departed from their view, as quietly as he had first entered it.

Part 8.

When she returned home, Jane spent a few moments preparing an evening meal for her Uncle, while silently thinking of how best to inform her cousin that he was to become a boarder at his school. Hill had been right to offer her the money, though Jane felt insulted at the mere idea of accepting charity. But she had to consider what little her Uncle's life had to offer Charlie now.

Before the illnesses and selling of the business, as an only child, so late to arrive that his mother and father almost despaired of ever having children, and then over compensated in showering their only offspring with affection, he had the prospect of following in his father footsteps into law and then into control of the firm. Now all that lay before him was the ceaseless searching for rich bodies on the river, providing he did not catch a mortal disease off one of them first. Her heart had ached to see her Uncle being reduced to such a career, and she refused to let her cousin go down the same route. Her decision for him to stay at his school was an act of kindness.

Whether he would see it that way was another matter. Though she was ashamed to admit to thinking it, the over compensation had led to her cousin acquiring a certain amount of character in his youth more for the deprivation of his reputation, than the benefit. Adored and spoilt by his grateful parents, her cousin had grown used to such affection, resenting the loss of it when his mother died, as well as the staunch refusal of his father to display the intellect that came so naturally to him, leading to a wilful rebellion in her Uncle's absence.

Suddenly a clattering on the wooden platforms outside alerted Jane to his return. Charlie Philips entered the small house with all the enthusiasm of a boy on the brink of manhood.

"Hello Jane," he greeted her cheerfully. "Supper ready? That's early."

"Sit and eat Charlie," Jane ordered, before laying out the coins she had gathered on the table in front of him. "You must be gone before your father gets home."

"Gone?" He echoed, then catching sight of the coins. "What's all this, Jane?"

"I've made up my mind that it is the right time for you to be going away from us. You'll do much better and you'll be much happier."

"How do you know that?" Charlie countered.

"I do know," Jane answered firmly. "I do. You leave the river and your father to me, but you must go."

Charlie glared at her, tossing his hands across the table in a expansive gesture. "No I think you decided that's there's three of us," he yelled. "There's not enough for all of us so you want to get rid of me."

Jane took a breath to hold back her tears. Her young cousin possessed a fine temper, quickened and strengthened by the series of tragedies which had piled on his life in fast succession. "Yes. Yes, that's right. I'm a selfish cousin, I think there's not enough room for the three of us and I want to get rid of you."

Fortunately there was still some good in her young cousin to descry the hidden tears. Instantly he calmed himself and appealed to her. "Don't cry, Janie. Don't cry. I will go if you say. I know you send me away for my own good."

"Oh Charlie, heaven knows I do," Jane replied with sudden emotion. Giving a moment to calm herself, she continued. "Now listen. You get straight to school at once. Your father will never bother you. But he won't have you back either. You're a credit to your school. They'll help you find a living."

She retrieved the coins from the table, and gave them to him. "Now, you show them your money, tell them I'll send you more. I don't know where from, but I'll send it. Now, you must hurry. Remember Charlie; Always speak well of your father. Even if you hear the worst that can be said about him, it will not be true. Now, you be good. Get learning. And only remember your life here, as if you dreamt of it in your sleep."

"I'll see you again, Janie," Charlie promised her as he hugged her in parting. "I'll try and repay all you have done for me."

Jane hugged him back, then watched him go, for though she loved him dearly, not wishing him back again. This was his chance, and he must seize it while he could.

While she waited for her own to come.

The dregs of a dreary afternoon at the London docks dragged themselves into the darkness of the approaching night, as Jane watched and waited for her Uncle to come home. Despite the gloom which had descended around her, she could see him clearly as he drifted away from the other workers and headed towards her.

As usual his face was inscrutable, leaving her at loss to determine his mood. Ever since his fall from the realms of respectability his temper had degenerated into foulness, making her fearful of risking his wrath. Involuntarily, she shuddered, and not from the coldness of the air. No wonder there were rumours flying around about her Uncle, with the negative emotions he frequently displayed. Indeed, it was only thanks to her infinite faith of the goodness in people that she refrained from believing him capable of such black deeds.

He came to be in a few steps of her, and instantly she fell back on her quiet steadiness. "You must be frozen, Uncle dear," she uttered, before leading him inside to the relative warmth of their house.

"I ain't aglow that's for certain," Philips agreed. "Where's that boy?"

"If the river were to freeze there'd be a great deal of distress," Jane remarked, ignoring his inquiry.

"There's always enough of that. Distress is forever going about, like soot in the air. Where is that boy?"

"Sit and eat Uncle, and we'll talk." Jane said softly, but with a quiet firmness that made her Uncle obey immediately.

Jessie Philips placed himself before his cheese, bread and brew, and gave his eldest niece an evaluating stare. "Now, Jane, where's that boy at?"

"Well Uncle, it would, seem that Charlie has a gift for learning."

Philips grunted into his mead. "Unnatural boy!" He declared, ignoring his own capacity for the same upbringing.

"And so not wanting to be a burden to you, he made up his mind to seek his fortune from learning. He went away, Uncle. He cried very much and he hopes that you can forgive him."

Philips gripped his dinner knife angrily. "My forgiveness.... I'll never set eyes on that boy again. He's disowned his own father. Unnatural boy. Now I know why those men turned away from me just now. 'Cause here's a man who ain't good enough for his own son!" He banged the table with his arm, the sharp point of the knife thrusting into the table, and Jane, unable to more her gaze from the gleaming weapon, fearfully backed away.

"Please, Uncle," she implored. "Put the knife down."

Gaffer turned to her with surprise. "What's the matter, Jane?" She did not answer, but the emotions were clearly written across her features, and he felt ashamed of himself for awakening such feelings within her. "You'd never think I'd hurt you, Jane?" He put the knife down to take her in his arms. "Come on Jane, my girl. My love." He caressed her shaking shoulders, as she released her tearful fears. When he felt her calm, he drew back and with sudden, uncharacteristic gentleness, wiped the drops upon her cheeks away with his thumbs.

"You know how much you remind me of your Aunt?" He uttered softly, making her look at him in puzzlement. Mrs Philips had been as much a bundle of highly stung nerves as her mother once was. "When she wasn't with your mother, she was a lot quieter, you know? A willing foil for my bad moods. That's why I was so glad when you agreed to come and live with me and Charlie, because I knew you had the one quality that your sisters did not. The same quality that your Aunt had." He drew in a deep breath, sounding rather choked himself. "Oh, Janie, I still miss her so."

Faced with this sorrow, Jane could do nothing more than take her Uncle into her arms, comforting him as he comforted her. A final thought crossed her mind as she did so. How, when presented with such a scene, could anyone think him capable of murder?

Continued In Volume Three.

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