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Dearest Anne Book 2 Chapter 11

November 15, 2020 08:09PM
Chapter 11


Mrs. Pritchett and Mrs. Reynolds had long considered themselves among the luckiest housekeepers in all of England. Both Pemberley and Grosvenor Square were normally peaceful homes, blessed with a master who was reasonable, generous and considerate. No wonder he was so beloved by his staff. And for many years, Georgiana Darcy had treated the housekeepers more like wise, elder aunts than servants, asking their advice and seeking their affection. She was a sweet, shy girl who missed her mother terribly and depended on them to sustain her when her brother was away. It never occurred to them that life in service could get any better. But it did when Elizabeth Bennet became their mistress. Her lively spirit and good humour brought such joy to the household that one could not help but be affected by it. Therefore, seeing her now so anxious, so troubled, greatly distressed them. Recently there had been an undertone of some tension among the Master and Mistress which seemed to affect the entire family, but at the end of the day, they always favored affection over discord. The unusual and stressful events of this morning, however, were signs that the problem, whatever it was, had escalated and they would now be drawn into it. They sat nervously waiting for their Mistress to speak.

“Ladies, as I'm sure you have gathered by now, our family is struggling through a somewhat difficult situation and I am hoping that you may be able to help us. I will be deliberately vague, not for lack of trust, but because the less you know, the better it will be for you, as well as us. Please believe me,” said Elizabeth, reaching out to take each lady's hand. Despite the surprising, intimate gesture, the lady's remained transfixed on their mistress's face, but immediately covered her hands with theirs and gave her an understanding nod.

“We are in need of information concerning a number neighborhoods here in London that we know very little about. I understand that you have family and friends living all over town, so I've come to ask if any of these neighborhoods are familiar to you.” Elizabeth handed them each a sheet of paper with the names of the areas to be considered.

Both ladies shook their heads as they slowly read one name after the other. “May I see where these neighborhoods are on a map, Mistress Darcy? I believe that my niece Eleanor lives relatively close to Brunswick Park,” said Mrs. Pritchett.

“Oh, yes of course,” said Elizabeth, unfolding the map.

“Yes, here it is. You see, my niece lives about a half mile from the beginning of Brunswick Park. But I don't know if she would be able to tell you anything about it. I myself have passed through there many times and it has always looked like a nice, respectable part of town.

That's wonderful, Mrs. Pritchett.” exclaimed Elizabeth. “Would you be able to visit her today? The sooner the better.”

“Of course, Mrs. Darcy! I would only need to change my clothes and fetch my bonnet.

“Excellent, but first there is a great deal that I must acquaint you with.” She then turned to Mrs. Reynolds and asked, “Do any of these neighborhoods have any meaning for you, Mrs. Reynolds? I know you have a sister in service not far from here.”

“That is true Mrs. Darcy, but she is employed on the other side of town altogether.”

“Ah well, thank you for your efforts in any case. Please take over Mrs. Pritchett's duties today, Mrs. Reynolds. She will be busy helping me with this. You can tell the staff that Mrs. Pritchett was needed by her niece this afternoon.”

For more than an hour, the two ladies talked about what needed to be accomplished and how it was to be achieved. Mrs. Pritchett had a map, of sorts, with very specific instructions on what to do and say in a variety of different scenarios. Elizabeth then gave her enough money to cover every possible expense and sent her on her way.

As instructed, Mrs. Pritchett headed for the market first, bought some beautiful fruit as a gift for her niece and then took a hansom cab to Eleanor's door. The young woman was very surprised to see her aunt but was very glad for her company. While they had tea, Mrs.Pritchett questioned her about the neighborhood in question.

“I don't know much about the neighborhood, but I do have a close friend living there,” replied Eleanor. “She is such a lovely person, and I have no doubt that she'd be pleased to help if she could. Shall we take the children and pay a visit?

Very much encouraged, Mrs. Pritchett began to think that there might actually be a possibility of going back to Grosvenor Square with her errand successfully completed. But Rose Landring had little more to offer.

“This is an ever changing community, Mrs. Pritchett. This area, and this street in particular, was very elegant in the day. But it has aged somewhat and as the elders are dying off, younger people are moving in. Still, some older residents remain, often because they cannot afford to rent or buy in the better parts of town. I'm afraid I only know the younger families with children. Besides, Brunswick Park is a long street. There are ever so many homes on it.”

“I understand,” said Mrs. Pritchett, clearly disappointed. “Thank you so much for trying to help us. I've detained you long enough.” She then turned to her niece, saying, “Eleanor, dearest, do stay with your friend. The children are having such a lovely time playing together, and I will get a hansom back to Grosvenor Square.”

She bid Mrs. Landring good-bye and was about cross the threshold when her hostess bade her stay. “Wait just a moment, Mrs. Pritchett,” called Rose. “I just realized that my mother may know a great deal more than I about the residents of this street. You see, she has lost her sight and I often take her to the little park further down the street to chat with her friends. I can leave her there for an hour or two as the other ladies enjoy looking after her. She hears all the gossip and has a wonderful memory. Let us see what she knows. She is resting in the back bedroom, but will be very glad of new company.”

Mrs. Graber held out her hand and smiled at the guests she could not see. “Oh, how I do love meeting nice new people,” she said. “Are you a new acquaintance of my daughter Rose?”

“No, Mrs. Graber, I am an aunt of her friend Eleanor, and I'm afraid I have come to visit with a personal agenda in mind. Not that I haven't thoroughly enjoyed getting to know your lovely daughter and am now very pleased to meet you.”

“Oh dear, agenda is such a formal and serious word,” said the old lady. “Is anything amiss?”

“No, no, forgive me. I didn't mean to alarm you,” said Mrs. Pritchett. “I am looking for information about this street and the people who live on it. It sounds very presumptuous, I know, but I have a friend who is hoping to find a room to rent for a few months while she hunts for permanent lodgings near by. This street would be so convenient for her.”

“So you are asking if I know of a room to rent on this street. Well, at the moment I don't believe there are any residents looking for a boarder. Indeed, there has only been one family that I know of that has sought to rent out a space in their home. The Tilson sisters at number seventeen. But they have had a young lady living with them for quite some time now.”

Mrs. Pritchett's heart beat faster as her spirits rose. “Do they have only one room to rent or do you think they might be looking for a second boarder.”

“Oh no, I don't believe so. Although one way to know, I suppose, is to see if they are running their advertisement in the paper again. That is how this young lady came to find them, I believe. In fact, there is a funny story attached to that advertisement. It was in the paper for months on end because no sooner had the Tilsons found someone eager to rent the room, that person left again. The rumor is that the Tilsons are very fastidious and have very strict rules concerning the rental. Too strict for most of the ladies, I would presume. So rather than removing the advertisement every time they got a new boarder, they simply kept it running until they found someone who was willing to stay.”

“Do you happen to have today's paper,” inquired Eleanor of her friend. “We can solve this mystery right now.”

“But how would we know it is their advertisement.” asked Mrs. Pritchett.

“Well, as Mama said, they have been the only people on the street to seek a boarder that we know of. If there is a listing for Brunswick Park, the likelihood is that it is their's, don't you think? But no, there is none here today. I'm sorry to disappoint you.”

“Well, I am disappointed, but it has been so kind of you both to try and help me. I will be going now and I thank you again for your efforts.”

Once on the street, Mrs. Pritchett headed straight for the flower stand she had noticed earlier and bought the largest and most expensive bouquet available. “I'd like to have these delivered to this address,” said Mrs. Pritchett. “Do you have someone who can do it while I wait?”

“Yes, Miss. My son will do it right away. “Frank, come here, quickly,” she called to the boy who was engaged in a game of marbles with his friends. The boy grudgingly made his way to the stand, grumbling softly to himself. But his face lit up when he saw the coin Mrs. Pritchett held out to him.

“Now young man, do exactly as I say and you shall have another on your return.” Frank nodded enthusiastically, taking the flowers from his mother's hand.

“Now listen very carefully. Take these to number seventeen at the other end of the street and say you have a gift for Miss Burton. Can you remember the name?” The boy repeated it and nodded. “If the lady who answers the door is young, closely study her reaction and be sure to remember what she says. If an elderly lady or servant answers the door, say you've been told to give the bouquet directly to Miss Burton. If she says that no such person resides there, apologize and say you must have made a mistake. However, if the old lady says that she will give the flowers to Miss Burton herself, be very agreeable and hand them to her. Then return to me immediately and let me know what has happened. If you do well, this second coin is yours.”

Not ten minutes went by before Frank could be seen running up the street empty handed.
He was breathless, but eager to tell his tale. “An old lady came to the door. She said Miss Burton was upstairs resting and that she would give her the flowers as soon as she came down.” He smiled triumphantly. “Did I do well?” he couldn't help but ask.

“You've done very well,” said Mrs. Pritchett, smiling at him. “But now I have one more errand for you and this larger coin will be your prize when you accomplish it.” Mrs. Pritchett could see how attentive Frank had become and could not suppress a chuckle. “Go back to the same address and hand this note to whomever opens the door. Say you are sorry you forgot to deliver it with the flowers. Pretend to be a bit worried and say that you were really supposed to put it into Miss Burton's hand, as it is from an admirer who wants to be sure she receives it. Can you do that, Frank?”

“Oh yes! I'm very good at dissembling. Ask my Mum!” The ladies laughed as they watched him race down the street.

On his return, Frank reported that the same old lady opened the door and reassured him that Miss Burton would be given the note immediately. Mrs. Pritchett pressed the coin into the boy's hand saying, “Now you know, Frank, when a young lady has a secret admirer, he wishes to remain, just that … a secret. So if anyone approaches you or your mum and asks questions you must pretend to know nothing about it. Do you understand? We must help this young man keep his secret until he is ready to propose.” Mother and son smiled in understanding and Mrs. Pritchett left them a very happy woman!

***

Anne had insisted on sharing the beauty and fragrance of the flowers with her beloved landladies, so the bouquet was now sitting in a lovely crystal vase on the dining room table. However, the note was something she was naturally not willing to share. But Eugenie was beside herself with curiosity. “Can you not give us a hint as to what it says, Anne Marie? Oh, how I adore amorous letters. Does he seek a reply?”

Anne slowly and carefully unfolded the note. Her heart beat wildly at the thought of Simon having found her, yet she trembled thinking of all the things that could now go wrong.. She held the missive close to her chest, although she knew full well that the ladies' eyesight would prevent them from seeing the actual writing. Staring at the note for just a moment , she smiled and pretended to read.

“May these flowers brighten your day and make you happy. That is all it says, ladies! No signature, nothing at all. How strange! Well, now I am very curious myself.”

She was moved by Winifred and Eugenie's disappointed expressions. How sweet they both were. How sad that they had not been brave enough to make rich, independent lives for themselves. They deserved better. And so did she. She kissed them both before returning to her room to study the note in private.

Dearest,
It is no longer safe for you remain in town. Please come to the bench where we had our lovely talk at six this evening. Bring nothing with you. Hugo is your driver. You can trust him. Burn this after reading!

There was no signature. The paper had no heading or water mark.

Anne sank down on her bed, shaking her head in disbelief. Why could Elizabeth not convince Darcy to leave well enough alone! She knew about the investigators and was astute enough to know that her mother would soon be coming to London. And besides, she had no intention of leaving the house. She believed herself perfectly safe. Throwing the note into the fire, she decided to ignore its message. She had kept the wolves at bay on her own for so long now and was determined to see this year to its end without help from anyone!

The distressing letter had exhausted her and she lay back on the bed to rest and calm her nerves. Her eyes closed and she found herself drifting in and out of sleep. Darcy's troubled continence invaded her thoughts and seeing his dear, anxious face, she knew he was afraid for her.

But wait! How had he discovered her? How had he found out where she lived? And if he was able to find her, then surely the detectives could find her as well. She sprang up from the bed and checked the time. It was twenty to six. Could she still make it there on time? She went to her small writing table and hurriedly wrote a note to her dear ladies. She placed it on the bed for them to find after she was gone. Gathering her coat, a warm shawl and her reticule, she tiptoed down the stairs and out the door.

Luckily, she secured a hansom cab almost immediately and found herself at the Brentwood Gate with time to spare. A large, handsome coach with the initials HTC on the door sat waiting there. As she approached, the driver stepped down and opened the door for her. “Miss Burton, my name is Hugo and I shall be your driver this evening. The gentleman seated beside me is here for your protection as well. Make yourself comfortable and we shall be off.”

But Anne was suddenly immobilized with fear. This was happening all too quickly and she could not take it in! After all, she had no idea where she was going or how long it would take to get there. And once there, would there be a familiar face? She thought it doubtful. These strong, burly looking men were complete strangers. How could she trust them? Did she have a choice? Hugo offered his hand to help her inside, saying, “My Mistress has arranged for your comfort, Miss Burton. You need not be afraid.”

Once inside the luxurious coach, she willed her heart to slow and her mind to take in her surroundings. She had to remain alert! On the seat opposite her was a wicker basket filled, she was sure, with wonderful food and drink. Beside it lay several cushions and a quilted coverlet. While on the floor of the seat beside her, was a wooden crate filled with books. Yet, she could appreciate none of it. She sat rigidly upright, one hand clutching the edge of her seat, the other grasping the strap above the window with such intensity that her knuckles were turning white. As the coach lurched forward she fell back against the plush seat, forcing the air from her lungs. She hadn't realized she'd been holding her breath.


Once they left the lights of London behind them, darkness fell like a great, heavy curtain upon the earth. Shadows loomed menacingly, only to vanish a second later. Anne couldn't make out the road ahead and wondered how the driver knew where to direct the team. Perhaps the horses themselves were keeping them on the straight and narrow. Every now and again, a small light would flicker in the distance … a farmhouse, perhaps. But then it disappeared so quickly that Anne could not take a moment's comfort from it. She tortured herself recalling all the stories she had heard of highwaymen and desperate people attacking carriages in the darkness. How much further before they arrived at their destination? It seemed as if they had been traveling for hours, but Anne knew it could not be so.

She had to keep her composure to fight the growing panic in her heart and mind. Closing her eyes, she was determined to conjure up the images of those she loved to comfort herself. Simon's face was first to appear, but worry and doubt accompanied it. Did he still love her after all these weeks of separation? Would he still be willing to marry her after the inevitable, ugly scandal was over? Was he eating properly? Was he working too hard and too long? Anne pushed his beloved face from her thoughts and forced Darcy's to take its place. There had never been a question of her cousin's devotion to her, so if this was what he felt was best, it must be so, she told herself. She had to trust his judgement, and surely this decision was not made lightly or on his own. Elizabeth, Richard, even Georgiana must have had a say in it.

In her thoughts she felt herself surrounded by her beloved family ... for surely they were all thinking of her at this very moment, sharing her anxiety and praying for her safe arrival. Her breathing now regulated, Anne's eyes closed and she drifted into sleep.

Waking suddenly, she listened attentively as the clip-clop of the horses' hooves slowed and finally came to a stop. Straightening, she leaned towards the window and looked out, but could see nothing in the darkness. Hugo opened her door but bade her stay inside until he had moved all her baggage inside. Baggage? What baggage? It was only then that she realized that the large shadow in front of them was a small house. As Hugo approached the door, the figure of a woman appeared in the light from within. Anne descended the carriage and watched as the lady came racing towards her. She flung her arms around Anne, hugging her tightly.

“Oh, thank heaven you are finally here, Anne! The Express telling me of your arrival came only an hour ago, but what a long hour it has been! Come, come inside. You must be exhausted.”

When Anne was finally released from the embrace, she could do nothing but stare. Her shock and confusion kept her speechless and riveted to the spot.

“Oh, my goodness! You don't even know where you are or who I am, do you? How thoughtless of me!” said the young woman. Gently, she took Anne's hands in her's. “Anne, my name is Juliana. Juliana Fennimore … and my brother tells me that you are to be my sister.”
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Dearest Anne Book 2 Chapter 11

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Re: Dearest Anne Book 2 Chapter 11

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Re: Dearest Anne Book 2 Chapter 11

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