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Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 5-7

November 09, 2016 07:46PM
Chapter 5

The same morning—Stockport, England

Late in the morning Elizabeth emerged from the Stockport hotel clutching her carpetbag and glanced up at the overcast sky. Making her way down the street towards the train station, she groaned with each step. Her five-mile trek yesterday had left her sore, and a restless night hadn't helped.

At least her coat and boots were mostly dry, but without a hat she felt like a battered flower missing its petals. She dared not use more money to purchase the accessory, lest she have insufficient funds for the steamer fare.

Was it possible she could be on a ship bound for America by tonight? Her heart skipped a beat. It would be a completely different life. And one without Fitzwilliam.

Her heart cinched. But she was doing the right thing by disappearing, wasn't she? If she turned herself in, there were only two possible outcomes. Worst case scenario, she would be convicted, and then shot or hung. It would be in all the newspapers, and her association with Fitzwilliam would either land him with a conviction or a reputation so tarnished he would never recover from it. In that instance he would have lost Elizabeth, his reputation, and perhaps his own life as well! They were doomed no matter what happened! At least this way she could keep him out of it.

An hour later Elizabeth stared out of the train's window, seeing nothing in the blur that passed by. She sighed and refocused. She needed to look towards her new future. A future she didn't even want. All because of a letter and a newspaper report.

Was she overreacting? Elizabeth was not a spy. What did Dr. Cowart know about her that she didn't? He was certainly no gentleman. If Cowart had suspected Fitzwilliam of being a spy, it would make a lot more sense. After all, at The Ritz he had authority, access to unlimited resources, his own motorcycle, and travelled the area. —Wait.... Was it possible? Fear shuddered over her. Could Fitzwilliam be a...traitor? No. It was impossible. He had worked tirelessly on behalf of everyone in his care, even if at times his manner was brusque.... But he also had a way of appearing out of nowhere.... She shivered at the recollection of her picnic with Dr. Cowart. When a young thief had tried to steal their horses, the doctor had been shot. Five minutes later, Captain Darcy had arrived. Was he somehow involved?

Elizabeth pressed her fingers on her temples. It was all so confusing! She had been deceived so often—by Lieutenant Wickham, Lydia, Dr. Cowart, and Sapper—she didn't know what was truth any more.

The train's whistle snapped her back to the present. The man across the aisle flopped his newspaper onto the seat beside him and gathered his coat. The conspiracy! Was there any more news? Had the authorities discovered her identity?

As soon as the man started down the aisle, she snatched the newsprint. Flicking it open, her eyes darted from headline to headline. Then she froze: Spy to be Executed in Vincennes. She frantically scanned the article, then released her breath with a gush of air. False alarm. The subject of the article was Mata Hari, the much-publicised courtesan spy. There was no mention of The Ritz or a clearing station conspiracy in Belgium. Tipping her head back and closing her eyes, the paper crumpled to her lap. She drew several deep breaths. The article served as a sobering reminder of a traitor's fate.

Was Fitzwilliam a spy? The thought niggled in the back of her mind, and she tensed, barely willing to even consider the idea. But she must. If he was a spy, her association with him would surely come to light and add further evidence against her. If he was innocent and she was found, her association with him would ruin him. In either case, the survival of both of them depended upon her disappearance.

But could he be a spy? What incentive would he have? He already had plenty of money, and betraying his country would jeopardise everything he held most dear—England, Pemberley, Georgiana, and even her. No, he wasn't a traitor. It didn't fit his character at all.

Relieved, she straightened the paper, and a picture of a large steamer caught her eye. She squinted closer at the ad's caption: Liverpool to New York! White Star Lines. Fares from six guineas. Her arms fell limp. So much for her plan to escape to America. She was woefully short of six guineas. But maybe it didn't matter. Her name had likely been circulated to every port in Britain, and her passport would give her away. What would she do now? Her only choice was to return to her original plan. She would obtain VAD certification under her new name, then seek to transfer abroad—for the good wage it offered and its anonymity.

Just before closing the paper, she saw the word VADs. Peering closer she read, London hospital seeking VADs. Training begins 17 October at First General. That was next week! London would be the perfect place to get lost in the crowd and would be much more impersonal than training with a local Red Cross chapter. Could the day hold any more twists and turns? Her mind whirred as the train pulled into the busy Manchester station.

Exiting the train, she sidestepped through the bustling crowd to the ticket window. The train for London didn't leave for another two hours. Good. She'd have plenty of time to purchase a hat.

Motorcars and wagons rumbled by as she strode past shop windows in search of a milliner. At last she came to an attractive display of hats. Once inside, she milled about, then tried on several styles and settled on a serviceable one with a medium brim and a blue band to match her coat.

The town clock struck the hour as she exited the shop. With more than an hour before her train's departure, she should get something to eat.

She followed the smell of freshly baked bread to a bun shop and ordered a boiled egg, two scones, and a cup of tea. A moment later three jovial Tommies clambered in the door, and a bolt of fear shot through her. She ducked behind her hat brim. Had they recognised her? She expelled the air in her lungs and relaxed her shoulders. Just because a soldier had recognised her yesterday didn't mean every Tommy would. Besides, the newspaper had merely referred to her as Florence and Chère, so only the staff at The Ritz would associate the names with her—for now, anyway. But she would feel less conspicuous if she could somehow alter her appearance. She could dye her hair, but what good would it do? As a VAD her hair would be covered by the required white kerchief cap anyway.

With a good half an hour remaining until her departure, she turned down a side street. At the next block, two fashionably dressed ladies stood outside a storefront, directing a young man on a ladder positioning a canvas banner over the shop.

As Elizabeth neared, one of the ladies turned to her and held out an arm. “Oh, you've come to our jumble sale. Come right in.” She directed Elizabeth inside. “You know it benefits our local hospital.”

“Thank you.” Elizabeth had no intention of buying anything, but the numerous tables piled high with miscellaneous second-hand items were intriguing. She casually wandered among piles of books, stacks of linens, and children's toys but stopped in her tracks at a colourful box labelled Spy Kit. The boy pictured on the box top sported an eye patch, fake moustache, and a flat cap. She lifted the lid, and inside, beside the eye patch, moustache, and bulbous nose was a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles. They would be perfect!

“Ah, you found something for a brother at home, did you?”

“Y-yes. I did. I think he will like it very much.” Elizabeth smiled paid for the kit.

Minutes later she stepped out the door. Rounding a corner, she turned aside, retrieved the spectacles, then slid them on and blinked. They fit! She swivelled her head side to side, eyeing her reflection in a shop window. How different she looked!

She tossed the remains of the kit into a rubbish heap, then strode towards the train station. Next stop, London. Today was the beginning of a new life.

Chapter 6

The same day—A little later

Darcy pressed the tip of the pen to his lips and read over the list of dresses and sundries he'd purchased for Elizabeth in Boulogne. And there were also the few things she'd brought from The Ritz. He added the items: garnet necklace and bracelet, hairbrush, two VAD uniforms, stack of letters, carpetbag...

“Good news.” Richard strode into his office and shut the door with a bang. “I just rang off with Canadian headquarters. Canuck sappers have plugged the road, and their medical personnel are moving in to The Ritz as we speak. Our boy reporter Frank Forsyth is supposedly there as well.”

“So we can go by motor car straightaway?”

“My driver's waiting.”

“You've spoken with Robert?”

“He's up to his elbows in some chap's belly, but has no news on the reporter. Get your coat. Meet me at my car in ten minutes.”

~~~*~~~

Darcy shifted beside Richard in the back seat of the touring car and turned his gaze out of the window. Water droplets serpentined down the glass as the car trundled towards The Ritz in the relentless rain. Darcy smiled to himself. A week ago, he'd travelled this same rain-soaked road on his motorbike. When he'd arrived at The Ritz that night and Elizabeth wasn't there, he'd expected the worst. But the next three days turned out to be the best of his life. Perhaps this debacle would have a positive outcome as well, bleak as it looked now.

Minutes later the car passed through the iron gates leading to the chateau he'd managed as a hospital for the past six months. Rounding The Ritz's fountain revealed a string of lorries and wagons lined up at the front door. An army of Canadian medical personnel in their gumboots and mackintoshes unloaded bedsteads, medical equipment, and endless wooden crates.

“Motor around to the back, Watts,” Richard instructed the driver.

The corporal circled behind the chateau and pulled to a stop. Darcy ducked out of the car behind Richard, shielding himself from the rain as they hurried past two horses and up the veranda steps.

A sergeant greeted them just inside the door. “Sorry, sir, I believe your countrymen have relocated to a convent.”

Richard scanned the familiar marbled floor hallway. “We're here to see Frank Forsyth and your commanding officer.”

“Is someone looking for me?” A Canadian colonel emerged from the adjacent library.

“Colonel Fitzwilliam, British intelligence.” Richard acknowledged him with a relaxed salute, then held out his hand. “How d'ya do.”

His contemporary reciprocated the gesture, then shook his palm with a nod. “Colonel Harper, Canadian Medical Corps.”

“This is Captain Darcy.” Richard stepped aside. “He oversaw the conspiracy investigation here.”

The Canadian officer smirked. “So you've come to find out how, after only two days here, Forsyth uncovered the traitor who eluded you for six months?”

“I'm not so sure about that.” Richard's voice bristled with annoyance. “Is he here?”

“I believe I saw him carrying a mattress a moment ago.” The colonel chuckled. “I hope you buried your boys plenty deep up there.” He nodded towards the white crosses on the bluff. “On our way in I saw some chap digging at the cemetery. Wouldn't want him pilfering from your Tommies, God rest their souls.”

Darcy's pulse ricocheted to his neck as he exchanged glances with his cousin.

Richard chuckled, his demeanour remaining calm. “We bury our dead plenty deep, Colonel. We just try not to bury innocent suspects along with them. And if you would kindly spare me two of your men and a lorry, there's a good chance we'll uncover the real traitors.”

“Far be it from me to stand in your way, Colonel.” He turned to two soggy soldiers emerging from the library, “Baxter. Allen. The colonel here is requesting your attendance on a short excursion. Get a truck and take them wherever they should like to go.”

“Thank you, Colonel.” Richard nodded.

“My pleasure.”

Darcy grunted under his breath. They didn't have time for pleasantries and bantering! Every minute these two faffed about could be the difference in proving Elizabeth's innocence or losing the evidence forever.

As soon as Richard stepped out the door, Darcy secured his hat, then darted down the veranda steps into the showering rain. “I'll meet you there,” he called over his shoulder.

“Where are you going?”

“To catch the bastards digging up our evidence.” Darcy untethered the horse.

Richard hastened down the steps and grabbed his arm. “Don't be a fool. It's pouring rain. If he's after what we think he is, you'll be at a distinct disadvantage. He'll see you coming a mile away.”

“Not if I climb up the side of the bluff, he won't.” Darcy swung up on the mount.

“Are you out of your mind? It's been raining for five days! It'll be a wall of mud.”

“I've done it before, and I know this area like the back of my hand.” The horse danced in anticipation under him. “This might be our last chance.”

Richard grunted. “We'll come 'round on the road. Are you armed?”

Darcy patted his revolver in reply, then locked eyes with Richard in a silent farewell. With a nod Darcy wheeled the horse and bolted from the yard.

Raindrops pelted his face, and his greatcoat flapped against his legs as he galloped over the meadow. On the bluff ahead, the back of a flat cap rose just above ground, and shovelfuls of damp earth flew behind the stocky digger in a steady rhythm. Nearing the ridge, Darcy hugged the embankment, thankful that the showering rain drowned out the sound of his horse's hooves squelching through the waterlogged field.

He glanced up the incline. The sprawling oak which had often shaded Elizabeth was a just ahead. The graves were a short distance beyond. He swung down from the saddle, then threw the reins over a bush and jogged to a path with a gentler slope.

Darcy whipped off his coat while angling his ear, straining for sounds above. Had he heard something? No. Nothing but the whoosh of showering rain.

Planting a hobnail boot on the muddy slope, he took a slippery step, then another. Grabbing onto bushes, rocks, and limbs protruding from the incline, he slowly scaled the embankment. Would the traitor still be there when he reached the top?

Slipping and sliding in his mud-covered boots, he hiked upward as fast as he dared until he reached the top. Muddy and wet, he peered over the bluff's lip. A small chest sat on the side of a gravesite, and shovelfuls of soil flew behind the broad shoulders of a middle-aged man from another hole twenty yards ahead. Darcy closed his eyes. He wasn't too late. Suddenly the shovel stopped, and the man bent forward. Had he found something else? Now was Darcy's chance. Just as he planted his second boot on level ground and straightened, the man tucked a box under his arm, then turned around, riveting his gaze on Darcy.

“Stop!” Darcy whipped out his revolver, but it slipped from his muddy hand and went careening over the edge of the bluff.

The thief scrambled for the chest and took off running towards his horse tethered in the churchyard fifty yards ahead. Darcy sprinted after him in the soggy muck. If the man mounted the horse with those boxes, Darcy would never catch him.

The man had a twenty-yard start on him, but Darcy's long legs quickly closed the distance. Just as the man swung up on his horse juggling the bulky boxes, Darcy dived at him and ripped him from the saddle. The coffers clattered to the ground, and the brute caught him with a right hook. Darcy reeled but charged again. The fate of the woman he loved was likely in those boxes. He wasn't going to be bested by an old man even if his forearms were thick as hams.

They rolled in the mud, exchanging blows. A solid punch stunned Darcy, giving the lout the advantage. He pinned Darcy and braced a hand at his throat, choking him. The veins in the brute's forearms bulged, and pinpricks of light flickered before Darcy's eyes. Splaying his fingers, Darcy aimed for the thief's eyes. His longer arm met its target giving Darcy a moment to fill his lungs and roll the man under him. Straddling him, Darcy pummelled: right, right, left, right, his fury fuelled with every blow. This bastard was the main obstacle standing between him and Elizabeth. She'd been wrongly accused and accosted, and this rat was going to pay.

“Darcy! Enough!” A hand on his shoulder ripped him off the traitor. “It's over.”

Darcy snapped out of his rampage to find Richard standing over him. Sucking a lungful of air, Darcy rose to his feet and wiped the blood from his nose with the back of his muddy hand. His opponent groaned on the ground, his face covered with blood.

“It's over.” Richard leaned in, patting him. “It's over.”


Chapter 7

That afternoon

Absently fingering her garnet necklace, Elizabeth thought over the name she'd chosen for herself, Juliet Thomas. Just like Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, her romance had become a tragedy. For a surname, she'd chosen Thomas after her beloved father. As the train propelled her down the tracks towards London, she rehearsed the rest of her new family history.

She startled when the train's shrill whistle broke the monotonous thrum of wheels over rails. Pushing the spectacles up on her nose, she sat up and focused out the window. They were already pulling into Oxford. It wouldn't be long to London now.

A young woman carrying an armload of books exited the train and strode down the platform. How would things be different for Elizabeth if she had continued her medical studies at University rather than returning home to care for her ailing father? She sighed. It didn't matter now. It was all in the past. Besides, if she hadn't gone to France as a VAD, she would never have encountered Fitzwilliam again.

Fitzwilliam. Her heart cinched. Surely by now he'd been alerted to her absence. He would be beside himself with worry. After reading her letter to Jane, would he understand? If only she could have written to him and told him one more time how much she loved him and why she'd had to leave him.

Elizabeth's abstraction was broken when two medical officers proceeded down the aisle. Never pausing their conversation on the advancements in facial reconstruction, they slid into the seat opposite her. Moments later the train chugged out of the station, and their discussion turned to brain injuries, blindness, and then deafness resulting from war wounds. It was all quite interesting. And although Elizabeth directed her gaze out of the window, she couldn't help overhearing the conversation between the captain and major:

“Dr. Scott is now revered as one of the army's top experts on cranial and ocular wounds.” The major lit a fag. “It's a shame he couldn't continue his research at the Front. I suppose you heard about his motor car accident.”

“I heard it dealt him a smarting injury. How's he getting on? It's been nearly a month now, hasn't it?” A cloud of smoke rose over their heads.

The major shifted. “He's at London's First General with three broken fingers, a tibia fracture, and more bruises than spots on a leopard. But now that he's on the mend, he's itching to publish his findings, but his broken fingers are hardly conducive to writing.”

“Is there no one he can dictate to?”

The major shook his head. “None that we can find. He needs someone well versed in medicine and familiar with cranial and ophthalmic terminology. A family in Mayfair has offered accommodation, and we're prepared to offer a small salary, but it's not enough to tempt a professional nurse. Not to mention there are many who frown on employing a Sister to serve one man when she can look after more than twenty as a ward nurse.”

“What about a retired Sister or doctor?”

“Most are already serving local civilians and volunteering at auxiliary hospitals as well.”

“Hmm.” The captain shook his head. “A problem indeed.”

Elizabeth sat up, riveted to their conversation. They were offering a wage and accommodation to take dictation from a doctor? Would they consider her qualifications? She might even be able to pursue her VAD certification at the same time. Should she interrupt? Eavesdropping was impolite, but this was a golden opportunity. Working for one doctor would certainly keep her more secluded than tending to the revolving masses at a military hospital.

The increasing frequency of terrace houses outside her window told her they were nearing London. If she didn't speak up, she could lose the opportunity.

“Excuse me,” she turned to the officers, “I couldn't help but overhear your need for a medical assistant. Might I offer my services? My father was a doctor, and I often accompanied him on his calls. I've had a year of formal nurses training in Texas, but when my father fell ill, I was forced to abandon my studies. My father's failing eyesight gave me a particular interest in ocular disease and blindness making me an avid reader of medical journals.”

The men exchanged glances. The major held out his hand. “Major Townsend.”

“Miss E—Juliet Thomas.”

The major introduced her to his colleague, then spoke again. “Your accent betrays you as an Englishwoman. How is it that you trained in Texas?”

Elizabeth swallowed hard, then launched into her new history. “My mother badgered my father to move to a warmer climate. Six years ago, my father learnt of an opportunity in Corpus Christi, Texas, and my family moved. Four years later my mother died, and shortly thereafter my father's health and eyesight began to fail. I studied Braille so that I might teach him, but he died before going completely blind. I've come home to England to support the war effort. I'm on my way to London now to obtain my VAD certification.”

“But you'd consider working with Dr. Scott for several months?”

“Indeed. I would be honoured to assist a doctor of his reputation. And I would find it immensely more stimulating than making beds and dusting lockers.”

The men laughed. “Well, perhaps you will join us for dinner tonight to discuss this further.”

##

Ok, Dwiggie readers, bring on your comments! Anything confusing here?

Anyone want to speculate where this is all going? As an aside, those of you who read my first novel, Tree of Life ~ Charlotte and the Colonel, might recognise the name Dr. Scott mentioned here. Readers (and I) loved him so much, I've given him a role in this story too. : ) [ Tree of Life, a P&P companion story with a spiritual theme, is available in Amazon's Kindle Unlimited for a limited time if you want to read it there.]
SubjectAuthorPosted

Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 5-7

GingerNovember 09, 2016 07:46PM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 5-7

ShannaGNovember 11, 2016 01:26AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 5-7

EvelynJeanNovember 10, 2016 02:47AM

Lizzy's Scrapbook (freebie)

GingerNovember 10, 2016 03:00AM

Re: Lizzy's Scrapbook (freebie)

EvelynJeanNovember 11, 2016 12:33AM

Glad you got it! (nfm)

GingerNovember 11, 2016 03:45AM

Re: Lizzy's Scrapbook (freebie)

EvelynJeanNovember 10, 2016 06:01AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 5-7

Renee BNovember 10, 2016 12:28AM

Thank you! (nfm)

GingerNovember 10, 2016 12:30AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 5-7

RoxeyNovember 09, 2016 09:28PM

Thanks! (nfm)

GingerNovember 09, 2016 09:55PM



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