May 05, 2023 11:23AM
Chapter 35

After the service was over, they were all quickly ushered out of the church and into their pre-arranged carriages. The guards were all on the lookout. All of the carriage drivers were known. The Gardiners hopped into the first carriage, followed by Mrs Gardiner’s sister and brother and their families. The Bennets and Philips followed then Mrs Gardiner’s Lambton friends.

When they arrived at Matlock estate, everything was at the ready. Mrs Gardiner’s favourite flowers were in vases around the room. Food had been laid out. The Riley ladies were taking it in turns to play soft music at the piano, and Kitty’s painting was on display and could be seen by everyone as they walked into the large parlour that had been set aside for the wake.

Mr Bennet took a position at one of the doors that led onto a terrace outside. He would be there to prevent Lizzy from going outside, if she felt the need to do so. From here he could scan the room as well as scan outside.

Mr Philips came to join him. “Hiding, are we? Can I join you?”

“Please do. Let's not fool ourselves, we knew Fred’s wife the least. This is for the others here.”

Mr Gardiner was talking with Mrs Gardiner’s siblings. Jane was leading little Susan, and every now and then, picking her up to carry her. Mary and Lizzy were keeping Frances company whilst the young Master Henry and Alfred were talking with their other cousins whom were of a similar age. Mrs Bennet and Mrs Philips were on either side of their brother.

At some point, young Frances said she would like to perform a song on the piano. Mary did the introductions. “Excuse me, but Miss Gardiner would like to play a song that she has been practicing. This was a lullaby that our Aunt Madeleine would sing to them.”

Francis sat down at the piano, and cautiously, played the lullaby. Even Mr Bennet was touched, blinking away the tear that formed at his eye.

This was followed by Mary taking the piano to play one of Mrs Gardiner’s favourite songs. Lizzy, unable to play the piano, joined in singing. There were no dry eyes, and every lady’s handkerchief was wet.

It was at this point the Earl came to stand by Mr Bennet. “Your daughter sings very well. A good, strong voice. You must be proud of her.”

“I've always been proud of her,” replied Mr Bennet. He changed the subject. “Has there been any sign of trouble?”

“Nothing at all. No strangers attempting entry. Everyone who is here is meant to be here.”

The wake passed without event. The Riley women left to return first whilst the Bennets and Philips continued mourning the loss of Mrs Gardiner. It was only an hour later after their departure that Mr Bennet looked outside to see a horse galloping down the drive. He excused himself to go to the entrance.

He arrived as one of Sir Riley’s men entered. The Earl was also there to greet the man. “What's happened?”

The Riley stable hand announced. “Sir Riley’s home has been robbed!”


Chapter 36


Lizzy could not sleep. She had heard that the Riley’s home had been robbed whilst everyone, including many of the Riley’s servants, were at the Fitzwilliam’s preparing and helping at the wake.

Luckily for the Bennets, as they were in mourning, they had brought nothing of value with them that was worth stealing. However, the Sheriff had had several hundred pounds stolen, and the women had jewellery stolen.

Lizzy entered the library, looking for a book to keep her mind busy. She passed the Earl’s study and could hear the men discussing the events of the day. Lizzy couldn't help herself and moved closer to the door to listen.

“So, these attacks were a ruse to draw us away, so they could double back and rob the unattended home free of worry of being caught by the Sheriff and his men,“ summarised the Earl. “They came to spy on us here, but saw the security. They must have heard of the changed plans and decided it was easier to rob an unattended house then here.”

“How did they know about the funeral?” asked Andrew Riley.

“The obituary for Mrs Gardiner that was in the paper. It had originally said the wake would be held at Sir Riley’s home,“ said Mr Bennet.

Lizzy was surprised to hear her father's voice, not knowing that he had returned after he had left from the wake. She must have made some noise out of surprise.

“There is someone at the door,” said Richard. The men went stiff.

Mr Bennet realised. “Come in, Lizzy.” Sheepishly, Lizzy entered. “Oh, don't look askance at me. She’s hardly interrupting private men's business, and it is not like she will be distressed or get emotional from what we say.” Lizzy saw the men visibly relax.

Lizzy indicated for them to not bother standing for her. “Apologies, gentlemen. I had not meant to eavesdrop. I could not sleep and was going to library to find something to read when I heard voices.”

“I've told you not to listen at doors Lizzy,” reprimanded Mr Bennet with amusement.

“I wouldn't have to if you invited me in in the first place,” she retorted. “And don't say this isn't my business. It's as much my business as anyone else's here.”

Mr Bennet shrugged. “I presume the men are now long gone?”

“You would think so, however, ever since we returned, we've had our men interviewing everyone coming in on the roads. I've sent men to ask the major towns to watch out for the men and stolen jewels. So far there's nothing to say they've left the area. We tracked how they fled the Sheriff’s house only as far as the road. We now don't know what colour horses they are on,” said Officer Johnson.

“So if they haven't left the area, they might be back hiding in the forest nearby?” asked the Earl.

“It is possible. No one has spotted them in any of the nearby towns. We've got officers watching movement on all of the roads,” said the Sheriff.

“Can we sweep the local forest?” asked Darcy.

“I would then need to pull my men off the roads, giving them the opportunity of getting through. Plus, we don't have any concrete evidence, besides suspicion, that they might be there. I just don't have the men to spare.”

“Then how do we catch them?” said Richard with frustration, running his hand through his hair.

“So, even though you know who they probably are, you have no idea where they are and you are no closer to catching them. I can see no reason for Lizzy to stay after the doctor declares Mr Gardiner fit for travel,” said Mr Bennet. “When you catch them, you can advise when the trial is and Lizzy can then return.”

There was a protest and a number of ideas were thrown about to discover the thieves, all being discarded. In frustration, Lizzy suggested, “why don't you use me as bait?”

“Absolutely not,” exclaimed Mr Bennet. The other men also seemed horrified by the thought.

“I'm not afraid to do my part if it helps to catch the men who killed my Aunt. I won't be able to rest until they are caught,” said Lizzy defiantly.

“Brave as you are, Lizzy, it won't stop a bullet through your head and doesn't help in catching them. Your aunt does not want you joining her,“ bit back Mr Bennet.

The Sheriff intervened as father and daughter glared at each other. “No one questions your courage, or your dedication to do whatever it takes to catch the men responsible for your Aunt’s death, however, you are my only witness that can convict them. I would under no circumstance risk your life to catch them as it would be pointless. I might use rumours about you, someone who looks like you or a scarecrow, but I would not use you.”

There was silence and then Richard suggested an idea which all agreed could work. With input from all, especially Lizzy, a solid plan was formed. Mr Bennet reluctantly agreed that the risk to Lizzy was low, but made it on the proviso that Kitty and Mr Gardiner agreed to the plan as well.

Lizzy walked her father out. “How is Mama after the robbery?” asked Lizzy.

“Distressed, as you can imagine. She immediately became panicky, declared she would be murdered in her bed, despite everyone assuring her that the thieves would be long gone, especially with the Sheriff returned. Considering it was Lady Riley who has lost her most precious belongings and as we had brought nothing valuable with us, we've lost nothing. You would expect Lady Riley to be the one beside herself. We gave your mother laudanum to calm her down. I am glad for Mrs Philips’ presence. There's nothing like the skill of an older sister to calm a younger sister down.”

The two hugged as they reached the entrance, and Mr Bennet left with the Sheriff.


Chapter 37


The next morning the Bingley carriage arrived outside the Fitzwilliam home. Young Henry Gardiner waited outside with the rest of the household.

Everyone descended and everyone wished Mr Bennet, Henry Gardiner, Mr and Mrs Philips, Mary and Lydia safe travels back to Longbourn.

Mr Bennet went to the Earl, Darcy and Richard to say his farewell. “I spoke with Kitty and she is on board with the plan. More excited by it than she should be.”

“I spoke with Mr Gardiner this morning and he is supportive of the plan,” said Richard.

“So the plan will go ahead,” said Mr Bennet. He bid his farewell and thanks to the Earl and Countess for their hospitality.

Mr Gardiner knelt down to look his son in the eye. “I'm proud of you Son, stepping up to do what I cannot and what should be my place. You are acting like the man your mother expected you to be. You'll see to your mother’s burial and you’ll make sure she gets her final respects.”

“Yes Sir. I won't disappoint you or Mama,” said young Henry, trying to look brave and to hold back his tears.

Mr Gardiner hugged his boy. “Don't you worry, your Uncle Thomas will look after you. We’ll all be together again soon enough.” Henry nodded and hopped into the carriage, followed by the others.

Mr Bennet came to give Lizzy a final hug. “It is not too late to back out. I don't want you risking yourself.”

“We'll be fine. You know the plan. Kitty and I will be perfectly safe.”

Mr Bennet climbed into the carriage after all the others. Those that remained watched as the carriage departed.

On returning inside, Georgiana took Frances to the music room to continue piano lessons. Mr Gardiner took Alfred and Susan outside to watch them play. The Countess took the remainder inside for some tea.

Mrs Bennet took pride of place seated on the Countess’s right, with Lizzy beside her and Mr Darcy on the other side of the Countess, Richard had taken a seat on the couch in between Jane and Kitty.

“I heard about the robbery at the Riley’s! What a deplorable thing to do to a Sheriff’s home. I hope you did not lose anything,“ said the Countess.

“We were far more fortunate than the Riley’s in that regard. As we are in mourning, we did not bring any jewellery with us, and we all took our purses with us to the funeral,” replied Mrs Bennet. “I feel for the Riley’s, I really do. All was in complete uproar there when we arrived. Even now, the Sheriff’s men have the Riley’s busy going through the entire house trying to determine everything that was stolen, along with clues. Poor Mrs Riley, Miss Riley and Miss Julia – they lost their most treasured jewellery. It is thoroughly dreadful. And to know they have walked around at will in your house. I was so frightened last night that they would come back and kill us as we slept. I barely slept a wink. But as the Sheriff and my husband pointed out, they would not come back to a full house.“

“Yes, Mrs Bennet, we think they must have heard in town that the house would be empty because of the wake, and took the opportunity. I am certain they are long gone with their takings,” said the Colonel, attempting to reassure her.

“It was a very brazen act by the thieves. They would know that this would bring the full force of the law upon them. They would not dare to come close to the Sheriff’s home again,” offered Mr Darcy.

“Yes, I am certain that you are right, Mr Darcy,” agreed Mrs Bennet. This was the first time Mrs Bennet had seen Mr Darcy, and she was keen to secure him as a son-in-law. “I must thank you, Mr Darcy, for saving our dear Lizzy. I do not know what would have become of her had you not been there. Also I must thank you for your very kind attention to my brother. Mr Bingley told us of it.”

Lizzy blushed, aware of what her mother was doing. “Don't forget Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mama. He led the search party. I would not have been found if not for him. For that he has my gratitude.”

Mrs Bennet realised she certainly could not neglect to acknowledge the Countess’s son as she would not wish to insult the Countess in such a way. “Of course, Colonel, we are deeply grateful for your efforts. Mr Bingley did not forget to mention you either, I do recall, though your name was not at the time as familiar.”

Before Mrs Bennet could go too deep into expressing gratitude, the Countess took expert control of the conversation with a topic she knew would consume Mrs Bennet’s interest. “I must congratulate you on raising such fine daughters. Even with Miss Elizabeth’s injuries, her positive and modest nature has been such a joy to have here. And in truth, her bravery and resilience has been such an inspiration. All of my friends are desirous of meeting her. I must request that Miss Elizabeth joins me for the little season in London, once her mourning period is over.”

Mrs Bennet, so flattered by this attention to her daughter of course agreed as the Countess served her tea and cake.

“She is a delightful conversationalist. I was delighted with how good her French is. C’est très bon.”

“Ce n’est pas très bon,” replied Lizzy with a small blush.

The Countess laughed. “I will be certain to introduce you to the French ambassador. He will be most enamoured with you.”

Whilst Mrs Bennet beamed at such praise of Lizzy and the people of high birth her daughter would be meeting, Darcy glared at his Aunt, which she blissfully pretended to ignore. Richard choked and spluttered in his tea. The thought of enamouring the French ambassador was laughable as all knew him to be a rake, and that he was currently the ambassador only because he had had to beat a hasty retreat from Paris after an incident with a certain general’s wife.

The Countess moved her focus to Jane. “Miss Bennet, I believe your father said he had placed you in charge of Longbourn in his absence. He must respect your abilities highly and trust you immensely.”

Jane agreed that that was the case but added, “it was not an onerous job to make the small decisions and to ensure the expected payments were made or to receive the expected payments and log it properly.”

“Yet still, for so many families, only the elder brothers are taught to do these tasks. I think it very good that you can do these – you will be an invaluable wife for a very lucky man one day. A partner who understands her husband’s responsibilities and can share the burden when required is an absolute treasure.”

From there she praised Kitty’s artistic skills and Mary’s dedication to the education of her young cousins. Lydia was the only one left out of praise.

At that moment young Miss Gardiner came in with Georgiana. “Miss Gardiner’s appetite for learning the piano is tireless,” said Georgiana.

Miss Gardiner politely thanked the Countess for an offered piece of cake and daintily took a seat next to Lizzy. The Countess praised her dedication.

After all had finished their tea, the Countess proposed a walk outside. Mrs Bennet was pleased to see Darcy offer his arm to Lizzy and Miss Gardiner, though the later promptly ran off to her father outside.

Mrs Bennet walked behind the others with the Countess. She was extremely flattered by this attention. They discussed any number of different topics before the Countess navigated the conversation to Lydia. “I was surprised at your youngest. In looks, she looks to be older than Miss Catherine.”

“Yes, she grew very quickly.”

“It must be hard to remember when they look so much like an adult, that she is still a child. You must be terrified of letting her out of your sight! When they develop quickly like that, it attracts all the wrong sort of attention from the wrong sort of men.”

“What do you mean, my Lady?” asked Mrs Bennet, completely confused.

“No decent man with serious intentions would attempt a serious relationship with one so young. It just isn't proper. Which means that at this point, only the wrong sort of men would be interested. You understand, the sort that would try to take advantage of her youth and naivety to their own advantage. You see it ever so much in London. There was the hushed up scandal of Lord.... who took advantage of a young gentleman's daughter. They had to hush up the child and quickly find some farmer to marry the girl. The men, of course, never suffer for their actions. It truely is a disgrace.”

“I never thought about that. That just does not happen in Meryton as we all know each other, and there are so few single young men around,” said Mrs Bennet, thoughtfully.

“But so much in London. You just would not consider having a girl under the age of seventeen out. Too much excitement and not enough sense in the girls at that age. They certainly aren't ready to be wives before then.”

Mrs Bennet nodded sagely in agreement. “So very true. I have always said that myself.”

The Countess smiled internally. She took Mrs Bennet’s arm. “However, with your eldest two, they are very fine ladies and very ready to make wives. I don't believe I'm getting ahead of myself, if I say that I think I can guarantee that I expect Miss Elizabeth to be engaged before this year is out.....”

Darcy enjoyed Lizzy’s company. But he also watched Richard flirt outrageously with Jane for very little result. He could see the subtle difference in the way she treated his cousin to how she had interacted with Bingley, though it was so subtle that it was very hard to tell. She was clearly perfectly amiable with Richard, polite and engaging. He couldn't tell whether it was the lack of eye contact, or whether she didn't smile quite so much, but there was a distinct difference in manner. Yet again he felt bad for his officious advice.

As they approached Mr Gardiner, the Gardiner children ran up to Jane, and then to Lizzy. Lizzy watched both Darcy and Richard interact effortlessly with the children. Mr Darcy answered little Susan’s questions about being very tall and whether he had a house with good humour.

When it was time for Catherine and Mrs Bennet to return to the Riley’s, with plans made for the return journey the next day, Jane and Lizzy also retired with the Gardiners. This left Darcy alone with Richard. “You seemed to enjoy your time with Miss Bennet. I've not seen you flirt quite so shamelessly before.”

Richard sighed. “And all for nothing. I can see why Bingley is enamoured, she is everything a woman should be. So did she show Bingley more interest than she did to me?”

Darcy hung his head as he replied. “Yes, she did.”

Richard shook his head. “You’re a fool for sticking your nose into his business. And he's an even greater fool for listening to you. Nothing anyone could have said would have kept me away, unless she flat out refused me.”

Darcy shook his head as Richard walked away. “What is it with Miss Bennet that causes this affect in men?” he said under his breath. He was at a loss, as clearly Elizabeth was the far more enchanting woman.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Action Lizzy and the Four Thieves Chapters 35-37

Anne VMay 05, 2023 11:23AM

Re: Action Lizzy and the Four Thieves Chapters 35-37

cfwMay 08, 2023 01:59AM

Re: Action Lizzy and the Four Thieves Chapters 35-37

Maria Teresa CMay 06, 2023 10:04PM

Re: Action Lizzy and the Four Thieves Chapters 35-37

MichaMay 05, 2023 08:20PM

Re: Action Lizzy and the Four Thieves Chapters 35-37

keelinshosMay 08, 2023 11:28AM



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