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Just a reminder that I have picked up posting this story again. It is being revised (and revised again! LOL) as I go along. Each post has been scheduled a week or two in advance, so hopefully, I won’t miss any. 😉
Gardiner House, London
One week later
The household on Gracechurch Street was quiet, the last of the residents finally settling in to sleep. The footmen on duty during the night listened carefully for the snores and sighs that indicated all was well before settling into their positions.
Suddenly, the man posted upstairs stiffened. He had heard something, a sound that did not belong. He held his breath, alert for it to come again. He did not have long to wait. Creeping down the hallway as quietly as possible, he stopped outside the room beside Miss Elizabeth’s, putting his hand on the latch. From the other side of the door, he heard a muffled oath.
The footman flung the wooden panel open and rushed into the room, in time to catch sight of a man running for the open window. He threw himself at the intruder in an effort to bring him to the floor. The man was too quick, however, and escaped out the window. The footman watched as the man ran through the back garden and into the alley that ran beside the house, the guard from outside close on his heels.
“Cooper, what is going on?” Mr. Gardiner stood in the doorway of the guest room, candle in hand, in his nightshirt.
“We had an intruder, sir. I heard him moving around in here, but he was too quick for me to catch. I am sorry. Johnson is hard after him, though. I wish I had been a little faster.” Cooper frowned.
By this time, more of the household had arisen, including Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth. Both appeared frightened, and Lizzy was hanging on to Maddie. Mr. Gardiner began making requests.
“Gibson, please have someone light the candles in this room, and bring more up. We need to check that nothing has been disturbed, though I do not believe this was a robbery attempt. I think we all know who it was that came through the window and what his purpose was.” At this, Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner gasped, holding each other more tightly.
“Yes, sir,” the butler responded, signalling to a maid to gather more candles as he went about the room lighting the ones that were there. Once there was enough light, it was plain to see that nothing had been disturbed except the counterpane on the bed. That item was pulled down, as though someone was going to get under it on the bed, and the sheet below was mussed.
Mr. Gardiner sighed. His worst fears were being realized.
“My dears,” he said to his wife and niece, “it appears that Lord Regis has struck. I believe that he was attempting to harm Lizzy, either through kidnapping or a compromise.” What Mr. Gardiner did not say, and hoped his niece, at least, did not realize, was the likely extent of Regis’ actions if he had managed to get to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth turned her face into her aunt’s shoulder and began sobbing. She was terrified at the thought that the gentleman would try to do this. She did not feel safe, and this made her feel guilty. Why did he not just give her up? Why alarm her in this manner? And how was she to tell her beloved aunt and uncle that she did not feel safe in their house?
“Gibson, we should get my study ready for visitors, as I believe Johnson will soon return to report to me.”
“Very good, sir.” The butler turned to go, shooing the rest of the servants out ahead of him.
To his wife and niece, Gardiner said, “Let us wait for Johnson to return, and see what he has to say. Perhaps he has caught the man, and it was not who we think it is.” Even as the words formed in his mouth, Gardiner knew in his heart they were false. Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner believed the same, though they kept their thoughts to themselves.
The three moved down the stairs and into the study. Gibson and a maid soon appeared with a tea tray.
“I thought some refreshments might be helpful while you wait.”
“Thank you, Gibson, that will be all. Please have the maids retire. There is no need for us all to be up.”
“As you wish, sir.” With that, Gibson removed himself from the room to his office. He knew he would be needed again this night, if for nothing more than to admit Johnson.
After Gibson left the study, Gardiner reflected on the events of the night, and how his staff and Darcy’s had reacted to them. As the highest ranking staff members, both Gibson and the housekeeper were aware of the true situation with Miss Elizabeth and her persistent suitor. The lower staff had been told that the new footmen were just that—footmen—and did not know that they were, in fact, guarding the family.
Mr. Gardiner knew Gibson’s heart ached for Miss Elizabeth. Both she and her sister Jane were great favorites of his staff. The girls were unfailingly polite to everyone, regardless of rank or position. He also knew the staff’s opinion about the rest of his family; they were demanding and oft-times rude, and his brother Bennet frequently gave people the impression he was laughing at them all.
In the study, Elizabeth and her family were discussing the night’s events. Lizzy was quite shaken, her aunt and uncle only a little less so.
“Do you think he will come back, Uncle Edward?” Elizabeth’s voice trembled. Her arms were wrapped around her middle and she rocked slightly back and forth, as if to comfort herself. Maddie sat in the chair next to her, with her arm around Lizzy’s shoulders.
“We have no way of knowing, my dear. I would like to think he would realize we are in a state of heightened alert, but any man crazy enough to break into a house cannot be trusted to stay away once he has been discovered.” Gardiner hated to increase her fear, but he knew Elizabeth would want the bare facts. She was an intelligent and independent young lady who would resent being treated like a child, no matter how ill at ease she was currently feeling.
As Gardiner finished speaking, the trio heard a knock on the study door. Upon being bid entrance, Gibson opened the panel to announce the guard, Avery Johnson. Johnson was one of the large, burly, but nimble men Darcy had hired to guard the house. Darcy had explained some of Johnson’s history to him, and after meeting the man, Gardiner had come away with a large amount of respect for the young fellow, whose roots were deep in the worst part of the city.
Gardiner immediately got down to business. “Johnson, what news have you of our intruder?”
“Aye was not able to catch ‘im, sir, but aye can tell you what aye seen of ‘im, if ye like.”
“Indeed, please do.”
“’E ‘ad fine clothes on, no’ like what aye’d wear, but like ye might, or Mist’r Darcy would. He must ‘ave ‘ad a carriage waitin’ fer ‘im. ‘E jumped inta one a few streets away. It ‘ad no markin’s on it; plain it was.”
“Were you able to see his face?” Lizzy asked the question that all three wanted to know.
“No’m, aye dinna see ‘is face, but aye did follo’ ‘im ‘ome, as it were. ‘E ‘eaded inta Mayfair, stoppin’ a’ a house on Belgrave, nummer six.”
At this, the Gardiners and Elizabeth looked at each other. They had their proof. The man who entered their house illicitly was none other than Lord Regis.
“Thank you, Johnson; my family and I appreciate the effort you made to catch this man. There will be a bonus in your pay this week, I am sure. Please take a few hours off and get some rest. I will send for one of the other men to cover for you.”
Johnson bowed and with a “Thankee sir,” he left the room.
“What are we to do, Uncle,” cried Elizabeth, her voice rising as her anxiety grew. “How are we to rest knowing he is out there?”
Maddie spoke up. “Edward, it is apparent to me that Lizzy cannot stay here. Is it possible to take her to Darcy House? I know it is late and the Darcys are likely sleeping, but would they not want to know what has happened? I know they would be willing to at least let Lizzy stay the night.”
Gardiner thought for a few moments, staring into the candle flame as he tried to order his thoughts. “I believe you are correct, my dear. Lizzy, what say you. Will you feel safer at Darcy House?”
Immediately Elizabeth agreed. “I do not wish to hurt the two of you, as I know you have done everything you could to keep me safe, but I would indeed feel better at Darcy House. Please, may we go?”
“Let me ring for the carriage; we will leave as soon as we are dressed.” Gardiner rang the bell, and when Gibson attended him, asked that the carriage be readied. “We will go out through the kitchen, so have the coachman keep it waiting back there.”
As Gibson left the room, followed by Elizabeth, Maddie, and Gardiner, the master of the house prayed that they would get to Darcy House safely, that Lizzy would finally be safe, and that Lord Regis would at last let her go.
To be continued …