AMFW Chapters 27-28

Chapter 27

Darcy sent Anne to Longbourn the next morning without him. They had talked late into the night and both agreed that a removal to Rosings, with the Bennets as their guests, was in the best interest of the entire Bennet clan. As appealing as this was to Anne and Darcy, he knew that there were others who would be disappointed with the revelation that they were leaving the country before Bingley’s blasted ball.

The gentleman of the party had planned to go shooting and Darcy accepted his host’s invitation to accompany them. That he had not joined them in the sport once since he had arrived in Hertfordshire added incentive for his agreement to the scheme. Thus Bingley, Hurst, Sir John and Darcy set out with the servant and hound in search of an elusive covey. They went on foot; horses would only spook the birds before the men were ready to fire. Darcy decided to use the time spent in transit to inform Bingley of their departure a week hence.

“But you have only just arrived!” exclaimed Bingley. “If I did not know you any better, I would swear you were trying to escape my company.”

“Bingley, you forget I told you we were going back to Surrey for the christening of Anne’s and my godson.”

“At the end of the month. Why leave so soon?”

“You do remember that we first left because of unexpected business in Kent.”

“Yes, yes. Mrs. Bennet turned out to be a long lost cousin or something.”

“Yes, well, we left before we had a chance to…”

“To what?”

“To spend enough time to get to know them better.”

Darcy saw Bingley glance over, looking speculatively at him and then frowned.

“Does this mean you will be asking the Bennets to join you, again?”

“If the purpose of the trip is to further our acquaintance with that family, of course. Do you object to it, or just the removal of one member of the family?”

“I am planning to have a ball on the 26th of November.”

It was Darcy’s turn to look at his friend – but this time he rolled his eyes.

“We will be back in time for your ball Bingley, Bennets included. And then we will stay until it is time to return to Pemberley. Will this satisfy you?”

“There is no reason to be so damned patronizing, Darcy.” Bingley said with a petulance that reminded Darcy of a little boy. He wanted to laugh at his friend, but thought that it would be a good time to bring up Jane Bennet. Bingley was on the defensive and Darcy would get some answers for Anne.

“Maybe you should solicit Miss Bennet for the first two dances before we leave?”

Bingley brightened.

“The cards are not yet ready, but I suppose I could issue a special invitation in person. That would give me the opportunity.”

“You do that and you will have all but declared your preference for Miss Bennet. Are you prepared to raise such expectations? You barely know the woman.”

“Come now, she is an angel.”

“That might be, but the question then is, what kind – heavenly or fallen.” Darcy watched Bingley’s face grew an angry shade of red. Darcy knew his friend well enough to see his rather pithy inferences had reaped the desired effect. Bingley’s reply confirmed, in Darcy’s mind, his preference for the eldest Miss Bennet.

“She is your wife’s cousin, how could you say such a thing!”

Darcy held back a smile of triumph, and quickly set to change the tenor of the conversation. They were on the way to shoot, after all.

“Jane Bennet appears to be well-bred young lady. Yes, we are related through marriage, but we know little of her true character. Frankly, I am more concerned for her than I am for you. You do not have the greatest record for constancy in your infatuations. If Miss Bennet is the angel you believe, then I would not want to see her hurt.”

Bingley stopped walking.

“Are you warning me away from her? You are not her father, or her brother. You have no right. If this was Georgiana we were speaking of, I could understand your protectiveness, but this is not.”

If you only knew.

“Bingley, calm down and listen to me. Miss Bennet is my family and I will not have her trifled with…” Bingley made to speak, but Darcy raised his hand, “intentionally or not. Take care, my friend, with your feelings and hers. Do not raise any expectations you are not prepared to fulfill. And ask Miss Bennet to save you the sets in private or wait until they return. No one will have a chance to secure any if she is in Kent with us.”

“Unless you did.”

Darcy threw his head back and laughed. He clapped his hand on Bingley’s shoulder.

“Do you honestly think my wife would ever forgive me for asking someone other than her? No sir, I will not risk Anne’s wrath.”

~~~//~~~

On the way back to Netherfield, Darcy set about to complete the second half of his mission. He and Sir John followed Bingley and Hurst back to the house after a successful morning of sport.

Darcy would have to take a different approach to his companion that he had with Bingley. Sir John was older, wiser, and a former suitor of his wife. Darcy reflected that he really would do anything for Anne if he were undertaking this particular commission.

Darcy was searching for ways to bring the conversation to the point. So far they had only discussed the day’s shooting.

“I hope Mrs. and Miss Darcy enjoyed their visit to Longbourne,” Sir John remarked.

“My wife takes great delight in getting to know the Bennets better.”

“Mrs. Darcy is such an engaging woman that I doubt that there are few places she goes, or people she meets that she does not take pleasure in forming new acquaintances.”

“You know my wife well. But what of you, this is the first morning you have not accompanied us to see our cousins.”

Sir John laughed heartily. “If our host could tear himself away from the lovely Miss Bennet for one day, how could I decline his invitation for a day of sport? No today we were intended to be outdoors.”

“You do not regret seeing your Miss Bennet?” Darcy finally asked.

Sir John glanced up at his companion and continued to walk, not speaking for several minutes. Finally he spoke.

“Darcy, I am not Bingley.”

“I never said you were, and what does Bingley have to do with you and me.”

“I do not look to you for advice on matters of the heart. I am my own man, and act accordingly. If you are asking me if I am interested in Mary Bennet, then yes, I am.”

“But after so short an acquaintance? What do you know of her, other than she is Anne’s cousin?”

“If you are so concerned about her suitability, they why do you continue to call on the family. Your wife and sister are visiting even as we speak.”

“I grant you the point, but our circumstances are different; one cannot choose their family, but one may choose their friends. She has next to no dowry, or connections besides Anne’s family. The Bennet’s closer connections are a decided step down in the eyes of society; an attorney in Meryton and a tradesmen in Town.”

“You forget Mr. Bennet is a gentleman. Many a member of the aristocracy are poorer then he.”

“There are other women more suitable as a spouse.”

Sir John sighed. “Darcy, I do appreciate your intent. You do not wish to see your cousin hurt.”

“Or you honor bound to a woman you may come to regret.” Darcy found himself walking alone; his companion had stopped. “Are you coming?” he said over his shoulder.

Sir John took several steps to rejoin Darcy – albeit Darcy would have take less strides to cover the same distance.

“Darcy, have you ever seen pearls harvested? The oyster itself is a very unappealing creature when you see the closed shell. All it takes in a well-place knife to pry open the shell. And then once open, you must move away more of the tissue until the prize is finally revealed.

I am not insinuating that Mary Bennet is some precious jewel, but I do think there is great beauty to be found within if a man is willing to probe the depths of her character. She hides behind a façade of piety, but I believe she is just as loyal and loving as your wife, sir. She may not be the woman for me, but I intend to find out if she is – and a meager dowry is not enough to drive me away.

I am nearly the same age as you; I want a wife; I need a wife; and I would be obliged if you would leave this alone. You may tower over me, but I am every bit your equal, Darcy. You would do well to remember that.”

~~~//~~~

Lord Perryton’s visit to Suffolk had netted him nothing other than a pleasant evening with the Hedges family. Old Mr. Hedges did not join them for supper; a rather normal circumstance the earl learned. The gentleman in question most often had a tray delivered to his room where his faithful manservant saw to his needs.

Now that his lordship had returned to London, it was time to seek out the next person on the list of possible conspirators he had compiled. The midwife, a Mrs. Auten, had worked mainly in Town until she had passed away six years ago. The time of her death matched closely enough with Mrs. Stuart’s recollection to not cast more doubt on the veracity of her information. The man the earl had commissioned to find the people Mrs. Stuart declared were involved in Anne’s arrival at Rosings had given Lord Perryton directions to her Mrs. Auten’s establishment.

It was a shock to the sensibilities of the genteel man that was Lord Perryton to enter into one of the plethora of undistinguishable poor London neighborhoods. His driver located the house number. The drab building was little different for all the others around it. The earl shuddered to think of what would happen if fire ever broke out here. The wooden structures built so close to each other that it was hard to tell where one ended and the next begun.

The earl left the safety of his carriage – the one without his crest – and made his way inside. He was told to ask for a Mrs. Dunn and the woman met him in the shabby little parlor he had been escorted to.

A woman he guessed to be at least forty soon entered and curtseyed rather awkwardly.

“Your lordship asked to see me?”

“Yes, do sit down.”

“Would ye like some tea?”

Uncertain how clean the teacups would not be, Lord Perryton replied, “No thank you, but you are very kind to offer. I would like to get down to the purpose for my visit, if you do not mind.”

“Not at all, how may I help you? It’s not one of me tenants?”

“Not a current one. I have learned that a woman, a midwife by the name of Auten used to live here.”

“Why yes! But Suzy’s been dead and buried these oh… six years now.”

“So I had heard. How long did she stay with you?”

Mrs. Dunn leaned back and tapped her cheek in thought.

“Well, I think she came shortly after me and Marcus was married. Marcus were my late husband, God rest his soul. This house belonged to my family and Marcus was a tenant. We decided to get married not to long after he moved in. I think Mrs. Auten came not too long after that. She were just a new widow, still in her weeds.”

“When was this?”

“Oh, 1786 I suppose, or maybe the year after. A midwife was a good thing to have handy, but she got visitors at all hours. Used to annoy Marcus to no end, until it was my time with our children, then he was glad to have a midwife so nearby.”

“You were close with Mrs. Auten?”

“Yes, we lived in the same house for many years.”

“Did she ever mention any … unusual circumstances in the women she delivered?”

“Suzy Auten didn’t talk to much about her work other than the humorous times. I asked once if she had held any deep dark secrets and she told me to mind my own business. She must have had them, but she wasn’t talking about em, if you know what I mean, milord.”

“I do. And I…”

“Not sure this has anything to do with you, but there were times when she must have helped the quality. She’d come and pay her rent a year in advance, once she even paid for us to see one of those fancy plays at a theatre. A real nice one too.”

“When was this?”

“Oh, about 20 years ago. We left my babies with their grandparents and had a grand night out. Never forget it. When I asked the occasion, Suzy just smiled and said she had helped deliver a baby to a mother who was very appreciative of her help.”

Lord Perryton had no doubt this was Anne, but instead asked. “Did she have any family?”

“No. She had no children and if there was anyone else a brother or a sister, I don’t know about it. Suzy lived a pretty quiet and lonely life.”

They chatted for a few more minutes but the earl was satisfied that he had learned all he could that day. He only thanked his hostess for her time. On the way out he passed a banknote to the woman.

“Why not follow your old friends example and do something special? Oh, and if asked, I was never here. Do we have an understanding?” The shocked woman looked down at the paper stuck in her hand, and then back to the man standing next to her. Looking to and fro to determine no one had seen them, she nodded quickly.

“I will see myself out. Good day, madam.”

Back in his carriage and on the way to the mews behind Afton House, Lord Perryton sighed. Another dead end. He was no closer to discovering anything that was in conflict with the stories of Maggie Stuart or his sister Catherine. He would have to try to find another of the servants involved.

Chapter 28

The anticipation was high as the three carriages carrying the Bennet and Darcy families rattled down the rural Kent road towards Rosings Park. When Anne had spoken to her family about the possibility of them accompanying the Darcys back to her childhood home, Mrs. Bennet was quick to accept without bothering to consult Mr. Bennet. Her siblings were no less enthusiastic about the chance to witness for themselves the splendors of their sister’s abode.

Darcy had summoned a second coach from the London mews to assist the Bennets. They had a large conveyance, but not large enough to transport all nine of them to Kent! Since Anne and Fitzwilliam, as well as Elizabeth and her nurse would be returning to Hertfordshire via Surrey for the de Bourgh’s son’s christening, they needed their carriage for themselves.

Word had been sent on Tuesday to prepare Rosings for the influx of family. What was not expected was the return notification that Lady Catherine had decided to repair to London for the duration of their stay.


Anne,

I understand your desire to become more intimately acquainted with your other family in a more private setting. I have decided that this would be best accomplished if I were not in residence. I shall travel to our house in Town but am at your disposal to return should you wish it. Mrs. Stuart will have the rooms you have directed ready for your arrival.

I remain,
Your Mama

~~~//~~~

Maggie Stuart was informed, per orders, when the three carriages – two bearing the telltale Darcy crest – were spotted making their way up the drive. She had been awaiting her mistress for several hours. All was as Anne Darcy had required in her letter. The past two and a half days had been a frenzy of activity on the estate, first for the impending arrival of the Darcys’ party and then for the removal of Lady Catherine to London. Maggie had advised her ladyship to reconsider, worried about how it might appear, but Lady Catherine was adamant in her desire to leave before the Bennets arrived.

There was no hint that the story she and Lady Catherine had told had not been believed, or had been disproved, but Maggie was still apprehensive. She knew she must be on her guard and that she must not deviate from the course she had set so many years ago. Anne must not learn of her mother’s instigation of the adoption.

Maggie watched as the party disembarked from their coaches. She tried to school her features, but her eyes involuntarily widened as the lot of them stood together; there was no doubt in Maggie’s mind that Anne Darcy was a sibling of the Bennet offspring. Taken individually, other than young Anne Bennet and Anne Darcy, none of the brothers or sisters looked too much like one another. However, when taken collectively, there was a definite family resemblance that no one who took the time to look could fail to notice.

Mrs. Stuart bowed low to her master and mistress and informed them of the refreshments she had ordered for the party. Mrs. Darcy, always pleased to be back in Kent, was happy to show her family inside, and the other servants set to work to bring in all the luggage to the proper apartments. Maggie dearly wanted to retire to her office and have something stronger than a cup of tea, but there was work to be done. The master and mistress were in residence and that outweighed any desire to escape for even a few moments. Maggie had made her bargain for her position; now she would truly pay the price for becoming the most powerful female servant at Rosings Park. The question was, what would be the ultimate cost?

~~~//~~~

William and Henry were very happy to be invited to go riding with their father and their new brother. The previous day had been full of excitement and they saw for the first time the wealth of their sister, Mrs. Darcy. Jane and Mary had some idea of the extent of their long-lost sister’s fortune, but Lydia was the one who would not stop talking about how grand Rosings was. Thus the boys were ready for their ride long before the adults called for them to go to the stables.

Darcy had ordered horses prepared for the boys, but was a little unsure about the choices. The stables they kept in Kent were not as large as those in Derbyshire. Thus William’s and Henry’s mounts were quite a bit larger and more spirited than Darcy would have preferred for the project – but he had promised the lads a tour of the grounds on horseback, and a tour on horseback they would have.

It had been many years since he had been in the company of boys his new brothers’ ages. In fact, the last time was when he and his cousins were that young. While Georgiana was a few years older than William, a teen-aged girl was completely unlike a similarly aged boy. Henry was trying valiantly to act older, but Darcy could see how the boy was itching to test the speed of his horse.

“There is a straight stretch around the next bend. Why not let the horses run?”

“Can we?” Henry asked excitedly.

“Yes,” Darcy laughed, “but not at a full gallop. You have never ridden Chaucer before. The same goes for you, William. Milton loves to run ahead of the other horses. Keep a firm hold on the reins and you will be fine. Just remember, your mother will have my head if anything were to happen to you. So be clever and keep your mounts under control.”

“We will!” both boys shouted, and urged their steeds to quicken the pace towards the bend, leaving the adults behind. Mr. Bennet chuckled.

“They have been begging me for an improvement in the quality of our stables at Longbourn for several years now. Mrs. Bennet would have none of it, of course. She worries that something would happen to them if they had the kind of magnificent animals you gave them to ride today. I have indulged her, without admitting that I am afraid they will break their necks if I did buy quality horseflesh.”

“I hope I have not offended you by letting the boys ride?”

“Oh no! Now is as good a time as any for them to try out your horses. I confess I have a similar urge to join them.”

Darcy nodded and then without warning, set off after the boys. “What are you waiting for?” he called back. Mr. Bennet paused only an instant before he took off after the other three, laughing all the way until he came to where they had stopped. Darcy, William and Henry all had matching smiles and wind-blown hair as Mr. Bennet brought his mount to a stop.

“The next time you decide to race, let me know ahead of time so I can have a fair start.”

“Father, are not Darcy’s horses superior?” William asked in awe.

“Yes, but I suspect your brother is used to having the very best that money can buy.”

“There are certain advantages to a large income, Mr. Bennet. Boys, you may ride my superior horses whenever you are at Rosings, or Pemberley, for that matter.”

“Is Pemberley like Rosings?” William asked.

“Yes and no. Rosings is a fine estate in its own right, but Pemberley is my ancestral home and located in Derbyshire. The house itself is much older and the grounds are very different. The country is more rugged, for Pemberley is near the Peak District. The land is wild and the woods thick. I think there is no estate in England its equal, but I am too biased. You will have to judge for yourself – and see the other great houses, Blenheim and Chatsworth, just to name two — to compare.”

“I am afraid, Darcy, that I prefer to remain at Longbourn than tour the country. Perhaps someday the boys will be able to do so, but they have their education to complete before we can contemplate sending them on a tour,” Mr. Bennet explained.

“Of course, but we do hope that you will come to Pemberley some day, you and all the family,” Darcy replied.

“We will be honored to accept when the time comes.”

“I will discuss the timing with Anne. I doubt that you wish to brave a Derbyshire winter. Perhaps next summer?”

“Oh yes!” the boys cried.

“If you still will have anything to do with us after being with these two scamps,” Mr. Bennet laughed.

“You underestimate Anne. I believe scamp was a very appropriate term for her in her youth. After suffering through the younger version my wife, I am not fearful of these two.”

~~~//~~~

Anne Darcy made a point to spent time with each of her sisters. The previous journey to Kent had somewhat familiarized her with Catherine and young Anne, so she found it much easier to entice those two sisters into conversation than the two oldest girls. Lydia, however, was not so reticent. That Bennet sibling was eager, maybe a little too eager, to get know her new sister. Remembering her own vivacity at the same age, Anne excused it as youthful exuberance.

Mary and Jane were a different matter entirely. Mary was less than two years younger than Anne, but somewhere along the way she had developed a taste for the didactic, particularly in regards to issues of morality and right behavior. This only confirmed Anne’s first impression of her sister. Mary Bennet needed to experience more in life than the sheltered world depicted in the tomes of Fordyce and other moralistic writers. Not that Anne was irreligious. Indeed, she found great meaning in her faith, but she had also found something just as important – balance. Anne’s interactions with Mary then were spent with the gradual expansion of her mind. A bit of discussion on poetry here, and a review of a history there. Anne also began to wonder if Mary would be better off with a suitor after all.

Then there was Jane. All of their siblings spoke of Jane’s serenity and reserve. Anne certainly found her elder sister reserved towards her. No matter how much Anne Darcy laughed and teased, Jane Bennet would calmly smile in response, giving no clue to her true feelings.

“Mr. Bingley appears to admire you a great deal, Jane,” Anne said one day as they were walking.

“He is an amiable gentleman with pleasing manners,” Jane replied. Her voice was even but the rosy hue of her skin gave her away.

“You are blushing, my reticent sister. You like him.” Jane blushed even more deeply.

“I admit I find him… different from the other men of my acquaintance, but do not read too much into my … embarrassment. I am uneasy when it comes to members of the other sex.” This admission surprised Anne.

“Whatever for? You are a beautiful woman–even my husband has commented on how handsome he finds you. Of course, you are my sister, so I do not see how that would surprise me. We do share a family resemblance and I know the power I hold over my dear Fitzwilliam. You hold the same power over your admirers.”

“Anne, you overestimate the situation. What have I to offer a man like Mr. Bingley, or any man for that matter? A few thousand pounds for a dowry is a meager inducement.”

“There is more to a courtship than money. Character, compatibility, affection; all these things and more. Let us not forget connections! Bingley’s money comes from trade. The Bennets are established members of the gentry. Your father is a gentleman. In that sense, it is a good match for Mr. Bingley. In such cases, the monetary deficiency of one party becomes much less of an obstacle.” Jane’s upraised eyebrow made Anne realize her last statement could be taken the wrong way. “I do not demean your fortune, Jane. Mine should have been the same.”

“But it was not.”

“And through no fault of either of us. I cannot help that I was raised by the de Bourghs to enjoy the benefits of their great wealth while the rest of my siblings remained with our parents. Each situation had its own advantages.”

Anne exhaled, wondering how the conversation had gone astray. She would set it back to rights.

“Jane, Mr. Bingley has shown his preference for you and there is nothing I can see that would discourage him from pursuing you, except for a belief in your indifference to him. Frankly, had I not seen you blush earlier, I would have had my husband warn him off. I would not wish any of my sisters to be saddled with an unwanted suitor.”

“He is not unwanted, but it is too soon. I hardly know the man. Do you wish me to express an attachment to a near stranger?”

“Not at all. I was only seeking some reassurance for myself. I would not see either of you hurt.”

“I am not unfamiliar with the process of courtship, Anne. Please, do not interfere. If Mr. Bingley is meant to be my partner in life, then so shall it be. If not, then I will live as I have before, in anticipation of the day when the right man will come to take me away from Longbourn to form a family of my own.”

Anne could see that her sister did not wish to speak any more on this topic and so began a discussion on the latest fashions from Town. She wondered why Jane was so hesitant to speak her true mind to her. Was it still too soon, or was it something else entirely?

~~~//~~~

Normally, Lady Perryton would be the member of the household visiting Mrs. Langley’s shop on Bond Street. Today, the earl was the one darkening the door of the modiste’s establishment.

Mrs. Langley had Lord Perryton escorted to the office after he stated he wished to speak with her privately.

“Would you like some tea, your lordship?” the lady asked once they were alone. A tea service was on a table next to where she sat.

“Please.”

She asked how he took his tea and prepared them both a cup.

“I hope Lady Perryton is pleased with her latest gowns?”

“As pleased as ever. I do not believe my family would have continued our patronage for so long had your seamstresses not done their work well.”

“I pride myself in the quality of our finished work.”

“Hmmm, yes. I have lately learned that my sister, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, was one of your first clients.”

“My very first, milord. I owe much to her and your family. All I needed was a chance to show my skills and Lady Catherine gave it to me. I have prided myself on clothing the de Bourgh ladies for many years.”

“From before my niece, Mrs. Darcy, was even born.”

The earl looked pointedly at the woman. Mrs. Langley calmly placed her cup on the table and then folded her hands in her lap. Her features schooled to betray no emotion, she answered the unspoken challenge.

“Lady Catherine came to me in need of gowns and other items some women need when they are expecting a child. Her requirements were different, but it was not necessarily the only time I have been asked to provide for such situations. In return for my expertise, she helped me establish my first shop. Within a few years I was able to move to this current location. All the while I have faithfully served Lady Catherine, her daughter, your wife, and many, many other great ladies.”

“My sister was your first such case, but not your last,” he said as a matter of fact.

“As I said, her requirements have not been unique, milord. Ladies have discovered that this shop is staffed with people of the utmost discretion. I will not allow any of my employees to share any speculations on the persons who shop here. The consequences of such actions are dire indeed. I pay my workers very well; they have no desire to look elsewhere for employment, whether by choice or not.”

“I am here under the charge of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy.” That earned him a raised eyebrow.

“She knows?”

He nodded.

“Lady Catherine came to me for my help. She wished to conceal her true state. I made her gowns and … under things. She was the first, and I must say I have greatly improved my methods since then. I was paid handsomely and Lady Catherine continued to patronize my establishment after the child came, as I have already said.”

“Who contacted you?”

“Her maid, Maggie. We had known each other before Maggie was hired by her ladyship. Without Maggie’s recommendation, Lady Catherine would never have sought me out.”

“Did my sister mention her husband and his involvement?”

“Not that I recall. Neither Lady Catherine nor Maggie said much about the circumstances. All they were interested in was the gowns and under things. I was paid very, very well. I did not ask questions.”

“What were your impressions of the matter?”

“Milord, as I said, I did not ask questions. I have since learned that more than one family has adopted the illegitimate offspring another family member. I suppose I thought this was the case. It certainly is to the great advantage of the child.”

“Yes, well, I would ask that you keep the content of this conversation between us. Oh, and my wife said she would be in to see you next week.”

“Very good, your lordship. I am always happy to welcome your lovely wife into my establishment.”

“I will tell her to spare no expense on her next purchase.”

“You are too kind, milord.”

“Oh no I am not. She would do so whether I offered or not. Thank you for your time and I look forward to seeing the countess wearing your next creation.

~~~//~~~

Later that night, Harold Fitzwilliam sat at his desk in his study at Alton House. Before him was a list he had compiled in Kent. It contained the names of every known accomplice in the adoption of Anne de Bourgh. He inked his pen and drew a line through the name Mrs. Langley. The solicitor, midwife and the seamstress provided no new information. Mrs. Langley might have known more than she said, but the earl knew she would never reveal it. She was too indebted to the house of de Bourgh. Though he was frustrated, he did not blame her for her caution. Good servants knew how to keep their master’s secrets. And while neither Mr. Hedges nor Mrs. Langley were servants, per say, their livelihoods had always depended on emulating that same silence. It was the way of their society.

There remained the chambermaid and her husband, and the wet nurse. As loathe as he was to admit it, the mystery seemed no closer to being solved than before. Of course, Lady Catherine and the housekeeper could actually be telling the complete truth and his investigation was a mere academic exercise. Nevertheless, he would need to decide soon if he would send an agent to America to track down Sarah Simmons and Bobby Weeks. With the political situation in Europe and the strained relation with the upstarts in America, this was not a good time to send a man on an errand across the Atlantic. Perhaps he should consult Fitzwilliam before such drastic actions were taken. A trip back to Kent would be necessary.

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