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The Curse Chapter 27

June 27, 2019 01:34AM
Sorry for the long absence! I never meant for it to go on so long with no word from me. I can hardly believe it's been two years since I started posting this story. If it's any consolation, there are only 8 more chapters in this story. After that I intend to go back and finish updating NotB.

Thanks to dreeem, priscillatls, noagnes, Karin E Lb, and Lily for their beta work.

***

Chapter 27

Edward Gardiner was not having a good day. It started with an express that was delivered over breakfast. His chest clenched hard when he saw the black wax seal, heralding the announcement of a death. When he saw the direction, from Longbourn, he felt a further sinking. He showed the note to his wife, Madeline, and the children were quickly dismissed to their lessons.

Madeline followed him to his study and read over his shoulder as he broke the seal. Both of them were expecting the bad news, but it was worse than they could have guessed. They loved the Bennet girls as much as their own children. The families often visited each other, and Thomas Bennet would be greatly missed. The Gardiners had long known that Longbourn was entailed away from the Bennet daughters, but to find that they had been evicted from their home without a chance to gather their belongings? Jane Bennet, gentle girl that she was, did not say as much, yet Edward and his wife could read between the lines.

Who was this neighbor leasing Netherfield that they were staying with? Did it seem that Jane spoke of this Bingley fellow with more warmth than was necessary? Edward was deeply worried about the situation. His greatest fear was that the neighbor was taking advantage of the girls. As the oldest, Jane would have felt it her duty to be… accommodating in order to secure lodgings for her family.

And Lizzy, with her unique condition, missing at this critical time? When Thomas Bennet had made Edward the executor of his will, Thomas had put in a specific clause that Edward and Madeline Gardiner would be given guardianship of any unmarried daughters remaining at home, regardless of age. The Gardiners already had 4 small children, and suddenly they found themselves gaining five more daughters, most of them already grown. There was only one thing to do.

"I need to go there and sort the mess out," Edward said quickly. "I fear what Jane is not telling us. I do not like the sound of this Collins chap. Who would remove their own family from the only home they have ever known, especially as recently grieved as they are? No, the girls and Fanny need to be with their real family, with us."

"I agree," Madeline nodded. "This is no time to be staying with neighbors. I just hope they have not been imposed upon already. If Lizzy was there, she would have defended her sisters; I do not like that she has left at this critical time. Do you suppose that her disappearance is connected?"

"I pray not. Losing Thomas is bad enough, but Lizzy too? It would have taken something very powerful to overcome her. If that is the case, the rest will be in greater danger than we can imagine. I would have to involve the magic section of the Bow Street Runners."

Madeline shuddered. "God protect them. I will stay here with the children and get rooms ready for the girls. It will be a tight fit, but we will manage. I love you, Edward, be careful on your journey."

"I will, Madeline. I love you too." Edward took his wife in a hard hug, grateful for her support. Just as he started to release her to pack, there was a knock on their door. They exchanged grimaces.

"Do what you must," Madeline reassured him. "I will take care of whoever it is and tell them now is not a good time. They must wait until this is all sorted."

She went downstairs to open the door. Madeline was familiar with most of her husband's business contacts, but she did not recognize the three gentlemen standing at the door.

"Is this the residence of Edward Gardiner?" asked the tallest one, a man of dark hair, grey eyes and grim expression.

Madeline imagined she felt a chill coming from the man, but put it to nothing more than a stray breeze.

"Yes, but I must apologize, this is not a good time for a visit. We have only just heard of a death in the family, and he is expected to leave at once to deal with it," she explained politely.

"That is why we are here," said the second man, with green eyes, tawny hair and the rigid air of someone in the service. Unlike the first, this one seemed to radiate heat. In fact, there seemed to be a faint shimmer in the air between the first two gentlemen, as though there was something inherently contrasting about the two of them.

"We have information about the Bennet sisters and their mother," the third man said, both the shortest and friendliest, with blue eyes and blond hair. "We were given to understand that Mr. Gardiner has become their guardian, and we have business with him that directly concerns his nieces."

Madeline felt rather overwhelmed by the situation. She had only learned a few minutes ago that her brother by law had died, her niece was missing, and now these gentlemen were at her door with information about the rest of the family.

"You had better come in," she said when she found her voice. "I will inform Edward that you are waiting for him."

She rushed upstairs to tell her husband about the gentlemen in the parlor. His reaction was as incredulous as hers had been.

"Seems rather precipitous for three of them to be on my doorstep at this hour," he said worriedly.

"That is what I thought, but if they have information about the girls and the situation, especially where Lizzy is concerned, then it could be worth the delay to listen to them."

"And at least if they are here, we know they are not doing anything to the girls," he added grimly. "Though it makes me wonder how they are faring now."

"Go and find out," Madeline said definitively. "I will keep packing while you speak with them."

"Thank you, my love, what would I do without you?" He kissed his wife briefly and went downstairs to greet his visitors.

When Edward entered the parlor, all three men met him with rather intense stares. He felt rather like a deer surrounded by hounds, before he shook himself back to his senses.

"I am Edward Gardiner, brother to Mrs. Bennet and uncle to the Bennet daughters. I understand you gentlemen have information pertaining to the situation of my nieces?"

One of the men stepped forward. "Charles Bingley, at your service," he said, offering his hand. Edward took it and found Bingley to have a firm grip but soft palms. So this was the neighbor Jane had spoken about. He tried not to let his suspicion show, but he was deeply worried about what this gentleman might have done to Jane and the others.

"This is my good friend, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, and his cousin, Col. Richard Fitzwilliam," Bingley continued, oblivious to Edward's scrutiny.

Edward spared a glance at the indicated gentlemen. The Colonel was frankly appraising, as if he had any right to do so. It made Edward want to bristle. However, it was Mr. Darcy that gave him the most pause. That man looked up at the sound of his name, briefly catching Edward's eye. For a moment he could not breathe. He was struck by such an expression of raw pain in the man's face that it was as if the hurt was his own. And then the man smoothed his countenance into something unfathomable, leaving Edward to wonder what he had really seen.

Badly shaken, Edward tried to take control of the situation again. "I trust that my nieces are not in such trouble that the military has been called in to take custody of them?" he directed toward Col. Fitzwilliam.

The tawny man offered a slight grin, which quickly turned into a grimace. "I am recently retired," he corrected.

Very recently, Edward judged. The man had not yet lost the hard edge of someone who was regularly in danger of his life.

"And no, my presence does not indicate a military problem with the Misses Bennet. I was on leave and visiting my cousin and his friend who are staying at Netherfield, a neighboring estate to Longbourn."

Edward nodded his understanding, turning his gaze back to Mr. Bingley. He seemed far more at ease than Colonel Fitzwilliam. There was a softness to his face that made him seem more open and leisurely than his companions. He seemed more interested in looking around with wide eyes than in trying to judge Edward.

"That would be the estate you are leasing?" Edward asked pointedly.

"Yes," Mr. Bingley confirmed. "The Bennets are in my custody."

Edward narrowed his eyes at the choice of words. Col. Fitzwilliam coughed loudly.

"No, sorry, that was probably the wrong thing to say," Mr. Bingley smiled guilelessly. "I meant to say, I am currently leasing Netherfield. Jane and Miss Mary came to me over… difficulties with their cousin. They and the rest of family are now my guests, and you may be assured of their safety at Netherfield."

Edward was still not reassured by Mr. Bingley's careless manner. His reliability was questionable at best. How was it that Jane had turned to this man for support? Was there more to Mr. Bingley than appeared, or were their straits truly that bad? It was more imperative than ever that he retrieve the Bennets and bring them home where they were safe.

"Jane?" Edward said frostily. What exactly gave this man leave to refer to the eldest sister by her Christian name?

Mr. Bingley appeared to realize he had misspoke. "Miss Bennet, I mean. Well, I suppose it is not a secret now. I love Jane, Mr. Gardiner, and I have asked her to be my wife. She has agreed, but unfortunately I could not seek Mr. Bennet's approval before he died, therefore I seek yours."

There was stark lack of surprise from the other two gentlemen in the room, but Edward was blindsided. "You do realize, of course, that a period of mourning must be observed before I can grant my approval?" And it would give him time to ascertain if Jane was really attached to Mr. Bingley, or had only turned to him in desperation. He only prayed that news of the engagement had not spread too far if she did not want Mr. Bingley once she knew the Gardiners would give her a home.

"Oh yes, I am aware, but I am willing to wait. I have already spoken to Jane about waiting, and she knows that I will not abandon her."

"Your… enthusiasm is commendable," Edward said delicately. "I should like to take the mourning period to get to know you, as this is quite news to me."

"Of course," Mr. Bingley agreed easily. "I look forward to many family engagements with you." He beamed with excitement that was not entirely appropriate given the situation.

Edward rubbed at his forehead, feeling a headache forming. At least this explained why the Bennets had fled to Netherfield for succor.

"And are you three gentlemen the only residents of Netherfield?"

"No, of course not," Mr. Bingley said quickly. "My sister, Miss Bingley is also with us, as well as my other sister, Mrs. Hurst, and her husband, Mr. Hurst."

That was a small relief that at least his unmarried nieces were not staying with equally unmarried gentlemen without a chaperone. Especially as Jane seemed to be engaged to the host. At least he was charming, Edward had to admit, and appeared to be as relaxed of temperament as Jane herself. No doubt Thomas would quip that with each of them so complying, nothing would ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat them and so generous, that they would always exceed their income. Then he felt a spasm in his chest as he remembered that Thomas would never be making any quip again.

"As much as I appreciate you coming in person to tell me the location of my nieces," Edward began, "If there you have no other business with me, I should like to finish packing so I might visit them myself."

It was not his imagination; all three gentlemen sharpened their attention on him. He braced himself for the real purpose behind their visit. It stood to reason that all of them need not have come if they simply wished to tell him where the Bennets were.

"Ah, thank you for reminding me," Mr. Bingley continued to hold the lead. "I should like to add that Jane and her family may stay as long as they should need. Indeed, they are welcome to remain throughout the mourning period, and even after we have been married. Oh yes, and if you wish to see them now, you can stay with us at Netherfield as well." He said it quite firmly, without any hesitation.

While the idea that a suitor would also take on any unmarried sisters and Mr. Bennet's widow was not unprecedented, Edward did have to wonder what prompted Bingley to state it so explicitly. Was it to do with Collins, or with Mr. Bingley himself? He looked around at the other gentlemen. Clearly they were waiting on his word. He suddenly wished he could have conducted this part of the interview in his private study with only Mr. Bingley present. He rather feared he was about to bring up a sensitive topic.

"Forgive me for being so crass," he began, "but what means do you have to support my nieces and their mother? Do you have an estate of your own?"
Mr. Bingley did not take offense at the question.

"I have no estate of my own, but my father left me an inheritance for which to purchase one. If Jane is pleased by Netherfield, I would purchase it outright. Perhaps she would feel comforted by being near familiar environs."

It was a generous offer. "And if Jane does not wish to live in Netherfield, so close to the family home she lost?"

Mr. Bingley shrugged in unconcern. "Then we can look for another estate which does please her. It matters not to me, only that she would be happy in our home."

Edward decided he liked this Mr. Bingley—an affable and open gentleman. He was starting to feel reassured that Mr. Bingley truly loved Jane and wished the best for her and her family. So long as Jane loved him in return, he would have no problem giving his consent.

"Thank you for your offer," he said, "But be assured that I fully intend to take care of my sister and her daughters."

"It is grand to hear that. I look forward to seeing much of you in the future." Mr. Bingley stepped back and immediately Col. Fitzwilliam stepped forward.
He offered his hand to Edward. His palm was calloused, and his skin was hot to the touch. As the man displayed none of the other characteristics of a fever, Edward guessed the Colonel had magic related to heat or fire. It made him wonder what, if any, magic the other two gentlemen possessed. Col. Fitzwilliam was clearly sizing Edward up, as if the man had any right to judge him in his own home.

"You have become the guardian of the Bennet ladies, and as such, I felt it my responsibility to inform you that I am in love with Miss Mary Bennet," Col. Fitzwilliam said with frank challenge. "We have, only days ago, become engaged. Before Mr. Bennet unexpectedly passed, he had given his consent for the union. I know there must be a mourning period before I can wed her, but I wanted to personally give you my assurance as to the steadfastness of my feelings for her."

Edward should have been less surprised, given Mr. Bingley's confession, but he was once again taken off guard. Who would have guessed that Mary would become engaged first of all? He was torn between equal parts of pride in his middle niece and worry that her choice had been precipitated by events in Hertfordshire. At least Thomas had given consent for this union, so perhaps it boded well for the Colonel. Even still, he greatly disliked the way the man spoke, as if daring Edward to object.

"Also, if there is any difficulty in providing for the remaining Bennet sisters and their mother, I will take upon their care myself, as their future brother and son-in-law," Col. Fitzwilliam added defiantly.

Curiouser and curiouser. Yet another offer of shelter and protection for Mrs. Bennet and her daughters. What had been happening in Hertfordshire? Edward's incredulity was in full force. Even if Mary approved of her outspoken fiancé, what gave him leave to step into a stranger's house and make such a bold declaration? Mr. Bingley had literally just made the same offer, in full hearing of everyone. As long as Jane was happy with Mr. Bingley, the Bennets' future was already secured. Why did Col. Fitzwilliam feel the need to repeat the same thing?

"I shall ask you the same question I asked the last gentleman who made such an offer: do you have an estate, where my nieces might live, to allow you to provide for them?" he asked to cover his shock. He hoped that by meeting challenge with challenge, he might learn what sort of man he was facing.

Colonel Fitzwilliam's face took on a little color. "I am the second son of the Earl of Matlock, but no such place was given to me. I have no inheritance until my parents should pass on, which I do not expect for many years as both are in excellent health. What I do have is a modest savings from my wages in the army. It would be enough to purchase a small house. I may not be able to provide for the family in the manner to which they are accustomed, but I will always do my best to support them."

It seemed even stranger that Col. Fitzwilliam had offered to shelter the Bennets when his own situation was unsettled. At least Mr. Bingley's offer was more realistic. Was the Colonel truly so impulsive, or had the Collins situation made him fear that the Bennets had no home to turn to? How bad was it, exactly? What sort of trouble had Mr. Bingley alluded to?

"Thank you for your honesty, and your offer," Edward said cautiously, "I see no reason to protest your union with Mary at an appropriate time, providing that we may use the mourning period as a time to better know your character. As for your offer, it is generous, but be assured that my wife and I will not allow my sister and her daughters to starve in the streets."

"Thank you for speaking with me," Col. Fitzwilliam was obviously relieved, though Edward had no doubt that at the first sign of faltering he would be quick to renew his offer to support Mary and the others. Edward found himself softening toward the brash man. Life in the army was harsher than he could imagine, but it seemed like the Colonel's heart was in the right place where Mary was concerned.

Madeline entered during this pause and served tea. Edward was grateful for the reprieve, though he suspected it would be temporary. She looked to him with raised eyebrows. All he could offer her was a slight smile in reassurance that he had not learned further bad news. Colonel Fitzwilliam accepted a cup of tea, took a sip, and complimented the beverage. At least he had very pretty manners. Mr. Bingley also made an appreciative noise. The third gentleman, though, seemed lost in the contemplation of his tea cup.

Madeline made to leave, but Edward impulsively grabbed her hand, lacing their fingers. She stood by him, his love and support. He needed her more than ever now. All eyes turned to the last gentleman of the group. The dark-haired man rose and came toward Edward. There was the slightest hitch in his gait, but he seemed perfectly steady on his feet.

Edward felt a sudden apprehension about what the third visitor would have to say.

"I wish I could have made your acquaintance under better circumstances," Mr. Darcy said plainly, extending his hand, "but such is not to be."

When Edward shook his hand, there was a distinct aura of chill around him before reaching warm flesh. If Colonel Fitzwilliam had magic relating to heat, then this man's magic worked in the medium of cold. It made Edward wonder what magic, if any, Mr. Bingley had possessed.

Mr. Darcy did not look around as Mr. Bingley had, nor was he appraising Edward as Colonel Fitzwilliam had. He stared above Edward's head as if struggling to gather his thoughts. He again had the impression of pain radiating from this gentleman as much as the cold did. Edward did not have magic himself, but as an astute business man, he was excellent at reading people.

"Well," he began, when the silence grew to be too much for him. "Are you here to tell me the same thing your companions did?"

Mr. Darcy's gaze sharpened on him, and Edward almost wished he had not spoken. Mr. Darcy seemed a very great gentleman, as well as one used to control. As well as being the tallest, Edward judged the cut of his suit to be the most expensive of the three, and therefore Edward felt the most reason to be cautious of him.

"It is somewhat similar, though some of the particulars differ," Mr. Darcy said succinctly. He seemed to be a man of few words, and Edward had to prompt him onward.

"And which of my nieces are you in love with?" he asked.

"Miss Elizabeth."

The missing one. Now Edward's interest was increased, trying to find any hint of why Lizzy had left at this time.

"And did you propose to her as well?"

"I did. Three nights previous."

"And did my late brother also give his—"

"She refused me," Mr. Darcy said flatly.

Edward was starting to see the reason behind Mr. Darcy's stark manner. The woman he loved had disappeared shortly after refusing his proposal of marriage. Unless he was the cause of her disappearance? The timing, according to Jane's letter, was correct and Edward could not help but to feel suspicious.

"And does that have anything to do with the reason Lizzy cannot be found at the moment?" he asked tersely.

"I could not say," Mr. Darcy retorted, then caught himself. His face softened for an instant; Edward caught a glimpse of a man deeply in love.

"She was alive and well when I last saw her," Mr. Darcy said quietly. "If you know your niece, you know there are few things which could beset her when she is prepared for it."

Edward's eyebrows rose toward his hair. Mr. Darcy knew of Lizzy's curse? He knew of it, and still fell in love with her, enough to take her in marriage? Was it a lack of feeling on Lizzy's part that caused her to reject him?

"I know of the dower house that Thomas built for Lizzy," Edward said calmly.

A look of mutual understanding passed between them. Edward did not think Mr. Darcy was directly responsible for Lizzy's absence, but he could not help but to test the gentleman.

"It is brave of you to come forward like this, when you are one of the last people to have seen my niece."

"I abhor disguise of every sort," Mr. Darcy said stiffly. "I will not hide that I saw and spoke to her that night."

"I value your honesty," Edward admitted.

"Then I hope you continue to value it when you hear what I have to say. My cousin and friend made a similar offer as I will now, but know that between the four of us, yourself included, I am the best situated to offer a home to the remaining Bennets."

Edward stiffened at the blatant dismissal of his familial duty. While it was not entirely unexpected from Mr. Bingley and Col. Fitzwilliam given their engagements, it was incredulous that Mr. Darcy should offer the same when Lizzy had already refused him. What could be his possible aim? Was he hoping to coerce Lizzy into accepting him out of gratitude or duty? If so, he did not know her nearly so well. And while Mr. Darcy was possibly quite correct in his assessment, Edward was hardly likely to allow his grieving family to be taken away by this stranger with no connection to them. It was the highest sort of arrogance that Mr. Darcy seemed to expect Edward to simply hand the Bennets to him.

Before he could correct Mr. Darcy, the gentleman began to provide the answer to the question he had asked the other two suitors.

"I own more than one estate in which the Bennets may choose to live. My family home, Pemberley—"

"Pemberley?" Madeline asked abruptly. "In Derbyshire?"

"The same," Mr. Darcy acknowledged with an incline of his head.

"I hail from Lambton," she explained. "I am familiar with Pemberley and your family. I have the greatest of respect for them."

"I am pleased to hear that," the faintest smile touched his lips, gentling the harsh lines of his face. For the first time Edward saw a young man who might have been worthy of Lizzy. But if she had cast him aside, how could Edward take his side?

"You will know, then, that I speak the truth when I say that they could easily stay at Pemberley," Mr. Darcy spoke directly to Madeline, appealing to her. "I can support the Bennet sisters and provide them with far more opportunity than even their own father had."

"And Mrs. Bennet?" Edward asked, having noticed the omission.

Mr. Darcy hesitated. "I will admit that I have a strong difference of opinion with the woman, but be assured that I will not allow her to suffer any deprivation."

Edward knew his sister did not always treat Lizzy well, which could easily account for the reason Mr. Darcy did not agree with Mrs. Bennet, if he was truly in love with Lizzy.

"Your offer is generosity in itself," Edward said, "But I will tell you the same thing I told the others: Lizzy and her family are mine to take care of."

Mr. Darcy was not deterred. "With all due respect, but you are a business man with four small children to provide for. The Bennets have been accustomed to living as a family of means. I am the one that can allow them to continue their lifestyle in the manner they already know. If you allow me to take them on, it will allow you to set up funds for your own children's future."

Edward felt as though the other man was trying to buy him. "Mr. Darcy," he barked, "Let me assure you, it is not a matter of money. I may not have as much as you, but you cannot bribe me into allowing my family to fall into the hands of a stranger."

"I have not been a stranger to them for many months; I consider them to be my family as much as my own sister," Mr. Darcy said sharply.

Edward gritted his teeth and forced himself to speak rationally. Nothing would be solved by shouting. "But they are not your family. You are not even engaged to Lizzy; she refused you. What possible gain have you by taking on the burden of a widow and five unmarried daughters? Unless that is your aim: to make Lizzy indebted to you, or for me to encourage her to accept your suit?" He aired his suspicions openly to gauge the man's reaction to them.

Mr. Darcy dropped his eyes, his posture slumping. "No, I do not seek a renewal of my addresses to her, nor do I expect you to pressure her in that direction. I know better than to think Elizabeth would change her mind when she has decided against me. Believe me when I say my only aim in this is to see the family of the woman I love taken care of. Her refusal did nothing to lessen my own feelings toward her. I would not wish a single moment of pain or fear on her."

Edward noted the informal use of Lizzy's name and felt he was starting to see the truth behind Mr. Darcy's words. He was prideful, yes, but his heart seemed genuine. Edward could not help but to wonder what flaws Lizzy had seen in him to cause her to refuse him.

"If you were in my place, Mr. Darcy," Edward said kindly, "Would you allow another to care for your family?" His empathy for the lovelorn gentleman was winning over his suspicion.

Mr. Darcy shook his head. "Yet I hope you will have compassion for me, and allow me this undertaking."

"I can see that we will not resolve the issue this moment," Edward conceded. "In the meanwhile, I feel the need to travel to Hertfordshire and check on the state of my nieces and sister."

"I understand, though I still hope to convince you on the matter."

"You are welcome to ride with us in the carriage," Mr. Bingley offered. "There is room, and we are to Netherfield forthwith."

"You did not ride?" Edward was surprised.

Mr. Darcy grimaced. "I have an injury that as yet prevents the full use of my leg. In deference to my own disability, Richard and Bingley decided to ride with me in the carriage."

Edward knew it cost this proud man to admit his weakness, but all he said was, "I should be grateful to join you."

"Papa, does this mean you will be leaving?" asked his oldest son, peering surreptitiously into the parlor. The other three were directly behind him, clearly waiting for Edward's answer.

"Children!" Madeline scolded. "What have I told you about listening at doorways?"

"Please let them come in," Mr. Bingley said quickly. "Jane has told me much about them, I should be delighted to meet them."

Madeline hesitated, looking at Edward. He nodded to her. While he did not believe that the children should be rewarded for their eavesdropping, he was curious to see how the gentlemen—at least two of whom would be joining the family— interacted with them. To his delight, it went very well. In short order, his youngest son, who was late in learning to speak, was seated on Mr. Bingley's lap. Mr. Bingley watched his son intently, nodding on occasion. Col. Fitzwilliam entertained his middle two children with fire which he had conjured to his hands. Even the stiffly proper Mr. Darcy bent—literally leaning down to hear his shy eldest daughter's voice as she solicitously offered him more tea. Any lingering doubts Edward might have had about the gentlemen melted away as he watched their kindness with his family.

"I say," Mr. Bingley suddenly looked up at Edward and Madeline. "Did you know at least two of your children have magic? This fine lad here, and your little lady there." He nodded to the girl next to Mr. Darcy, who looked startled at being singled out.

Edward and Madeline exchanged a look. They had begun to suspect their oldest girl might have a talent, but that their young son did as well was a surprise.

"It is not entirely unexpected," Madeline explained. "My father was a mage, and I have a small talent myself. But young Eddie has not even begun speaking."

"Oh no, he has been speaking me almost from the first moment he came in here," Mr. Bingley tapped his forehead. "He is quite articulate for a young sprout."

"You have magic?" Mr. Darcy asked abruptly, staring at Madeline. "Can you reach Elizabeth?"

She shook her head sadly. "I tried when I first learned she was missing. Like I said, my talent is only a small one, useful for growing herbs. I cannot even speak with Lizzy or Mr. Bennet from Hertfordshire."

Mr. Darcy nodded, unable to hide his disappointment.

"Madeline, I am going with these gentlemen to see to our nieces and Fanny."

"I will stay here and sort out Eddie and Grace. Please convey my condolences to the family, and tell them they are welcome in our home."

Edward looked around at the three gentlemen who had made nearly identical offers. All of them watched him expectantly.

"I do not think there will be any difficulty in finding a home for them," he said with a bland smile.

***

Initial impressions of Mr. Gardiner?
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The Curse Chapter 27

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Re: The Curse Chapter 27

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