The sun did not dare raise its bright head in Mayfair the next morning. The glass window panes were steadily beaten with a near constant percussion of wintery rain. So it was of no surprise to the household when their new mistress called for breakfast to be sent to her room and not to be disturbed due to a headache. In fact, most of the staff believed it a wonderful sign of the mistress' love for their master, and it brightened their daily chores significantly in spite of the black cloud of Miss Darcy's disappearance.
Languishing in her bed was never something Elizabeth Darcy tended to indulge in. But waking to the dreadful weather out of doors and to the nightmare that had stirred her from bed just the morning previous, she was in no hurry to rush downstairs to an empty household. Lizzy cursed her weaker sex as she punched her pillow once, wishing she could have traveled with Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam. Her mother had always lamented to her that she should have been the heir to James Bennet's estate, had she just been born male as predicted by the midwife. Instead, Fanny Bennet had to endure a headstrong, independent tomboy of a daughter, with no hope of breaking the entail and assuring their future as a family.
Little did Mrs. Bennet know how often Lizzy had also mourned being corseted into the rules and restrictions of the fairer sex. She had the intelligence and wit to out-match most men (save perhaps her dear William), yet she was forced to linger and fret indoors when danger struck. A near sleepless night had left her with a frightful headache, not improved by her forced entrapment by the rainstorms looming overhead.
Her mood was only brightened when Maryanne knocked gently on her door with a cup of hot chocolate, tea and an express from the White Hart. It was mud-splattered on the outer paper, a sure sign of its long, treacherous ride to her hands. Thanking her maid hurriedly, every care or pain was forgotten as she ripped open the seal - the proud Darcy seal and spread open two full pages of letter in the fine script of Fitzwilliam Darcy.
I regret our parting so very much, for the rush of leaving your side stabbed me deeper than the news that carried me hence on horseback. Let me first say that I ardently adore and miss you, wife. Little sleep will find me this night.
We have arrived safely, though a little worse for wear and definitely more soaked than intended, at the White Hart. You shall be able to post here directly to reach me, until the search takes us elsewhere, or ends happily. Let us pray to our Lord the latter instance. A late rain caught us just before reaching the outskirts of Lincoln, but was strong enough to wet us straight through. Luckily, our host Mr. H. was waiting for us with warmed mugs of cider and hot baths.
Directly following our recovery and small repast, F. and I set off on the trail again of the carriage. Any tracks were washed away in the rain, and with darkness upon us, we were forced to head back to Lincoln within the hour. The only news I have for you is that one of the footmen has been found. However, he was found unconscious and in poor health, with a knife wound in his side. I fear he will not pull through, Lizzy. He is young, but has taken a fever. I have sent for my personal doctor from town.
I shall have little sleep tonight, in this lonely cold bed. How I wish I could go back to just this morning, when the world had finally given me happiness and love the food of life. I know I still have it, Lizzy, but everything seems darker now. I worry so for poor Georgie, especially with the coming cold weather the local townspeople are predicting.
I shall post this now, express, so that you should rest easier knowing we are safely settled. Do not become your mother now, Lizzy. I shall not have attacks of nerves and fluttering in my household. Be the strong, loving woman I adore and pray for us all.
With the best of my love, I remain ever,
Mrs. Henry hides the best biscuits in the cupboard over the washing basin in the kitchen. FD
An unexpected burst of laughter came from her mistress' room, but Maryanne continued on in her task in the dressing room. However, a knowing smile spread over her bitten lips as she finished organizing the gowns in the closet.
Lizzy sighed, holding the letter to her heart for a moment with her eyes closed. She felt like Lydia, foolish and silly in love. Even in this dark hour, her sweet husband had found a way to warm her heart. His boyish postscript made her grin again and without another thought of her former headache, she rushed out of bed and to her writing table. Penning a quick but witty reply back to him, she slipped into her dressing gown. Maryanne would take it down to post express back to Lincoln when she had finished dressing Elizabeth for the day.
A busy day followed, full of reviewing the household accounts with Mrs. Henry, skimming through the growing mountain of calling cards from the ton, and a late afternoon tea with her dear Aunt Madeline Gardiner. The visit in particular was a balm to the bride's increasing loneliness and worry. Despite her husband's teasing, she did worry incessantly over the whole ordeal, and found it hard to focus on any other task before her. It was not in Lizzy's nature to dwell in the darker sides of life for long, but the added isolation of the house and entrapment by nature brought out the worst of her moods. Aunt Maddy had soothed her with her presence, though she had to lie to her closest aunt about the absence of her husband and her own agitation. It was not by choice, but by necessity that Elizabeth did so for the less people who knew about Georgiana's disappearance, the better. Such an ordeal could stain her reputation for life, no matter how much the victim she might be.
When the express arrived just before midnight, Elizabeth was still up in her bedchamber, writing in her journal all of her conflicting thoughts. So relieved was she that she sent down a large tip to the carrier and an offer of a meal and bed for the night if he was in need.
Fumbling with the seal, she shakily opened the missive and spread it out in her lap, noting the slight laziness in Darcy's script, a sign of exhaustion again.
I hope this letter finds you in good health and better spirits, darling wife. Know that not a moment goes by when you are not in my thoughts while I am from your side.
Unfortunately, I wish I had better news to relate. Georgiana is not yet recovered, though we have located her coach. Upon the morn, we rose early and set off again for the last known location. In spite of the rain, we managed to find a path into the woods near the road, with the good Colonel's tracking skills acquired from his years in service to the army. After an hour of search, we found what was left of the coach in a ravine, flooded with the recent rain. I could tell from the markings that it indeed was the Darcy livery, and we managed to rescue a few things from the wreckage.
The Colonel has deduced that the enemy (forgive me for the appellation, but he has a military mind) attacked the carriage with little warning, fired upon them, and took the living travelers hostage. He believes they were on horseback, and escaped thus with their loot. One other footman was found, but the poor man drowned in the ravine in the night.
We could not find any way to track the highwaymen, for the rain had washed their tracks away further into the woods. I did find Georgiana's new novel, The Schoolmistress, along with her favorite bonnet and the broach of my mother's visage she smartly hid in the depths of the bonnet. Everything else was unsalvageable, or stolen. I shall send the items back to you, wife, for safe keeping. I know not how long now we shall tarry here, but rest assured, I shall send word of our next destination post haste. There is little more to discover in Lincoln, for even the footman who was with fever finally met his maker while we were away this afternoon.
Do not lose heart, Elizabeth. I believe in the words you repeated to me before I left everything will be made right again. I do trust that Georgie will be discovered soon and we shall all be back together again. Your strength and love keeps my hope alive.
With the best of my love, I remain ever,
You have full rights and access to my rooms, Elizabeth. Do not feel like you cannot take comfort where you need it in my absence. FD
Elizabeth penned a response, reassuring her husband of her love and prayers for his safe journeys and the speedy recovery of their darling sister. Having dispatched it, she ran into his bedchamber through the adjoining door. Barnett had been absent from them since Darcy had left, and the life seemed to have seeped out of the large quarters. Lizzy was relieved however to find Darcy's dressing gown still draped over his armchair near the cold fireplace. Slipping off her own garment, she wrapped herself up into her husband's clothing, the scent of him instantly soothing her heart. In spite of the cold, she curled into the armchair, wrapped in a rug from the bottom of the bed, and promptly fell into a relaxed sleep.
Maryanne lit the fire silently early the next morning when she found her mistress had stolen into the master bedchamber. Once that was done, she gently prodded Mrs. Darcy awake enough to settle her into the master's bed with a bed warmer and pulled the large curtains shut against any sign of day. Tiptoeing back into the hallway, she met a knowing glance from Barnett and nodded in agreement to his silent offer. He would watch over the young mistress and assure she got as much rest as necessary this day.