Love's Arrow Poisoned


Part 6

"Welcome at last! You have been dilatory; Was it in meditation? Have you weighed our last discourse? If thou hadst rather leave me, if thou hadst rather give up my poor love, Fear not to say so -

- Thou dost me wrong my heart, you know my soul is in thy life" - Thomas Lovell Beddoes

The following morning, having dressed and dismissed Danvers, Darcy entered the dressing room allotted to Elizabeth in a much more content frame of mind than that which he had been in early the previous night. Helen, Elizabeth's maid, was just applying the finishing touches to her mistresses hair, and he paused in the doorway to watch the final few curls being placed in position. Elizabeth, observing his presence in the mirror of the vanity after a few seconds, gave him a demure smile accompanied by a look of inquiry and he returned the smile without moving from his post.

"Thank you, Helen, that will be all," Elizabeth told the maid who, at first confused by this instruction since she had yet to tidy away Elizabeth's night-dress and gown, soon caught sight of Darcy and hurried away with a small curtsey and a "Yes, ma'am." As she crossed the room, passing Darcy in the doorway, she unsuccessfully tried to hide the smile that crossed her lips.

After the maid closed the door behind her, Darcy approached Elizabeth, holding her eyes locked to his in the mirror all the while. He placed his hands on her shoulders and leant forward to plant several kisses on the nape of her neck and behind her ear, eliciting a sigh of pleasure.

"Have I told you how beautiful you are this morning?" he inquired, his voice somewhat muffled by his endeavours.

"Twice," Elizabeth supplied, her voice attempting a disinterested tone to tease him, though she wore an amused expression.

"Then I trust telling you again will convince you that I am in earnest," he replied. He lifted her from her seat and, standing her in the middle of the room, looked her up and down, even going so far as to walk around her in the manner of an art critic examining a statue or vase. She was dressed in a gown of the deepest blue, with a square cut neckline which, though simple, flattered her figure and showed off her colouring to the best advantage. He nodded once or twice as he progressed and straightened a fold or two with pursed lips and a narrow eye, as he had seen his tailor do, and finally stepped back with one hand on his chin.

Elizabeth bore this behaviour as well as possible, alternately suppressing a laugh or blush, and when he stood away from her in that attitude, raised her eyebrows in inquiry.


He seemed to come out of his abstraction and replied solemnly, "Well, I have no expert knowledge or understanding of ladies fashion, as you know, except that I have for some unaccountable reason an intense dislike of orange," here she broke into melodious laughter, "but I am convinced I have never seen a woman who less needed to rely on the use of excessive adornment or discreet concealment to be seen at her best advantage." She blushed slightly and he finished in a huskier tone, "Indeed, you do look very beautiful this morning."

She did not mistake the look which accompanied this statement, but was forced to reply with more than a tinge of regret in her voice, "Fitzwilliam, we are expected at breakfast."

"I know," he answered wistfully, "but before we go down, I think one addition is required to your ensemble." Elizabeth looked at him quizzically, and he crossed back to the vanity and picked up something. Returning, he positioned himself behind her and slipped something around her neck.

"Your garnet cross, you have forgotten it, my love," said he, fastening it and planting some light kisses on her neck as he did so.

"So I had, something must have distracted me," she agreed amused.

"Well I hope the effect will soon wear off," Darcy said, coming around her and taking her hands in his, "because I believe we will both need to be at our best today and I am rather distracted too."

"What are your plans for this morning?" asked Elizabeth.

"The Captain, the General and I are going to immerse ourselves in the contemplation of Wickham's financial situation," he supplied.

"By which you mean you are going to arrange to pay off his debts," she suggested with a shrewd look, and in a tone of slight disapproval.

"Well..," Darcy replied, in some discomfort at her intuitiveness, "let us see how things stand before making any decisions."

"Remember what Colonel Fitzwilliam said," Elizabeth reminded him. "Do not allow Wickham's connections to us -- to me -- to cloud your judgement. You have been too lenient towards him before."

"You would not want to see Wickham disgraced and dismissed from the regiment?" he asked, surprized, "What about your sister -- her baby?"

"Truly, I am concerned about them," she said sincerely, "but I would much rather face the consequences now than see this repeated in a year, or two years, or every time Wickham feels you will be there to rescue him from the consequences of his own folly." She paused and then added firmly, "This must stop here. I have no wish to go through this again, and I believe it would be better for Lydia too, though she does not know her own best interests."

Darcy pondered this statement for a moment, then agreed, "Perhaps you and Fitzwilliam are correct. You have shown more intelligence and resolution than I have since we arrived here, I fear. I will take no precipitate action. I will simply gather any information which will aid us until such time as Wickham reappears, or we have proof he is fled."

"Very well." Elizabeth gave him a smile and adjusted his cravat, which had become slightly disarranged by his earlier attentions to her neck. "I trust you, you know that, and I am sure you will make the right decisions, with or without my help. I hope Lydia will appreciate what you are doing."

"Speaking of which, I assume you intend to visit her this morning?" he inquired.

"Yes, I think that would be wise," she said, "would you wish to accompany me?"

"No, I think you may do better alone. My presence may be a hindrance," he admitted ruefully.

"Not to me," countered Elizabeth provocatively.

"I will ask Farrow to escort you," Darcy told her, ignoring the implication, "He can try his luck with the domestic staff. I hope I have no need to warn you not to go anywhere but in the carriage?"

"I will be careful," she promised, "shall I reveal to Lydia that you are here?"

"That I leave for you to determine," he suggested wryly, "you know the likely reaction better than I."

A little unsettled by this response, which showed he had some intuition of what Lydia thought of him, despite his efforts on her behalf before, she asked, "What shall I do if I learn anything of Wickham's whereabouts?"

"Send word back here immediately by Farrow," replied Darcy decidedly.

"And if he makes an appearance?"

"Kick him."

After breakfast, and before joining the Captain and General in the library, Darcy called for Farrow and instructed him on what he was required to do that morning.

"Mrs. Darcy wishes to call on her sister, so you will accompany her there," he told him. "Please ensure she goes nowhere except in the carriage or with an escort."

"Yes, sir," Farrow nodded in understanding, "I will make sure she doesn't take any risks."

"I trust you will accomplish your usual feats by becoming a valued confidant of her sister's domestic staff within moments of you arrival?" asked Darcy wryly.

"It will be a pleasure, sir," replied Farrow with a grin. He was personable young man who liked to exercise his talents on Darcy's behalf, though he was sensible enough never to engage himself or his object in too close an intimacy.

"No doubt, but be careful, man," Darcy admonished, good-naturedly, "you nearly got yourself in trouble with Mrs. Younge's kitchenmaid last time we were trying to gather information."

"I had no idea she would lock the door behind her, sir," Farrow said uncomfortably, "I had to climb out of the scullery window."

"Yes, your tree climbing skills came in quite handy," Darcy laughed, "though I still had to bribe Mrs. Younge to get the information we required, so you nearly lost your virtue in vain. Just watch your step this time. As you know, our object is the same as last year."

"Find that --- Wickham, you mean," supplied Farrow with some bitterness, his face clouding.

"Yes," Darcy admitted, then added more gently, "I know you have good reason to hate him Farrow, as have I -- even more reason than I, in fact. But let us not allow that to affect our judgement or impede our endeavours."

"No, sir," Farrow agreed with emphasis. He considered for a moment and then asked, "Do you think he has fled again, then?"

"Possibly, or he may be in hiding somewhere," Darcy told him. "The Captain has a man watching the house and Wickham has not returned since the day before yesterday, though he thinks Wickham has not absconded because he has not taken anything with him, not even a change of clothes."

"Doesn't sound too convincing, sir. It would be like him to think of that to give himself some time before his wife raises the hue and cry."

"True," Darcy reflected. "Perhaps after escorting Mrs. Darcy to her sister's you had better make inquiries at any likely place he may have hired a carriage or horse."

"Yes, sir."

"There are bound to be a large number of them," Darcy said with sympathy, "but you have never allowed the difficulty of a task to deter you before."

"Thank you, sir," Farrow said, gratified at the compliment.

"I have requested Mrs. Darcy send word by you if she discovers anything pertinent," Darcy informed him, "I will do likewise if anything occurs here while you are gone."

"Very well, sir."

"Thank you, Farrow and..," Darcy paused a moment, then gave him a look which betrayed more emotion than Farrow was used to seeing him display, "..take care of Mrs. Darcy."

"I will, sir, trust me," said Farrow firmly.

Darcy joined Captain Perry and General Ashe in the library and the General began by asking Perry to report whether any news had been obtained since they last met.

"Nothing but negative information, sir," Perry admitted, "Wickham has not been seen at his house and no sightings of him have been reported. Mrs. Wickham has stayed indoors since I last visited and there does not appear to have been any communication received from the outside."

"You think she might be helping him to lie low?" asked the General, incredulously.

"Well, no not really. The maid said she believed Mrs. Wickham did not know where he was," Perry reminded them. "Though it is not impossible for her to be involved I cannot believe Wickham would rely on her discretion."

"Quite right, too," Darcy interjected, reminded of that lady's betrayal of his own involvement in her marriage. He felt sure Wickham was too sensible to rely on her secrecy.

"Yes, she is a little...indiscreet occasionally," Perry affirmed. "What I had in mind was the possibility we discussed last night -- Wickham being unable to return for some reason, whether voluntary or not. I thought perhaps he -- or anyone else responsible -- may try to get a message to his wife."

"But why should anyone...," the General began, then, divining what he thought was Perry's meaning, started. "My god, you mean kidnapping and extortion?!" he exclaimed in astonishment.

"No, I believe that may be putting the case too seriously, sir," Perry corrected. "I mean that if someone is preventing him from appearing then they would want to ensure there is no hue and cry while they exert pressure to get what they want. In these circumstances, they would want to give his wife a plausible reason for his absence. Therefore they may themselves communicate with her in some way, though getting Wickham to do it would be preferable. Though I still am more inclined to believe that this disappearance is of Wickham's own choice."

"I agree," Darcy said.

"Yes," the General agreed, though still somewhat discomposed.

"There are so many unpleasant possibilities that it may be better not to dwell on them," Darcy suggested. "Perhaps we would do better to concentrate on the task at hand."

"Yes," the General acquiesced, "Perry, tell us what you have discovered in regard to Wickham's debts."

"Well, sir," Perry replied, taking his notebook from his pocket and opening it so he could refresh his memory as to particulars, "as to his creditors. First of all there are those among his fellow officers who also like to indulge in card play and the billiard table. Lieutenant Morris, Privates Cooper and Venables and Captain Hammond." As he named them the General looked uncomfortable and began to pace up and down with his hands behind his back and his chin lowered.

"Are these the only men of the regiment who hold Wickham's notes of hand?" the General asked.

"They are the only ones that I can discover who are owed more than a few pounds, sir," Perry answered. "There are another group of about half a dozen who he owes small sums to. The ones I have named would all appear to be his creditors for sums of up to perhaps an hundred pounds."

"That is not very much," Darcy mused.

"No," Perry acquiesced, "and therein lies another tale. I had heard that up to two or three weeks ago the sums owed to his fellow men were much greater, and more of them were involved. I have heard tell that someone has been going around buying up Wickham's debts."

"Really!?" the General stopped in his tracks. "Why would someone do that? I would not think him a safe risk."

"Definitely not!" said Darcy with conviction.

"That may be part of the attraction, sir," Perry suggested. "If the people he is in debt to believe there is not much likelihood of them seeing their money, they might be willing to let someone else take them over at a rate which would be tempting to someone with money and experience of these things. Many might prefer to take, say, a certain fifteen shillings in the pound now rather than wait for something they may never see."

"Good point, Captain," Darcy acknowledged, "but it would suggest someone, as you say, with experience in these matters and ready cash to hand. Do you have any suspicions as to that persons identity?"

"I do, sir." Perry admitted, "but no proof, only hearsay. If you will allow me to continue to recount what I have managed to discover, you may better understand my suspicions."

"Of course," Darcy nodded.

"Well, the second set of people of interest to us are those involved in the horse racing, as I mentioned in my express," Perry continued. "Of these, I'm afraid I can offer very few particulars. As you are aware, it is extremely difficult to obtain information from that fraternity without arousing suspicion. I first heard about Wickham's involvement with them from," he paused uncomfortably, "...well, someone who accompanied him on one of his visits to the meetings."

The General's eyebrows rose at this information, but he could see Perry's reluctance to go into details, so he interjected with, "Do not be uneasy, Captain. I shall not demand you name the man. What we want is to solve this Wickham problem."

"Thankyou, sir. You are right in your suspicion that it was one of the men, but I have spoken to him and I think it will be a long time before he ventures forth on such pursuits again. Indeed, after he saw Wickham getting himself into trouble he swore off he races himself, before my interference."

The General nodded, "Well, thank the Lord for that. I don't want to be dealing with another fool who's got himself into trouble as soon as we've dealt with this. What did you learn?"

"Not much, I'm afraid," admitted Perry. "It seems Wickham had some fortune to begin with but his luck quickly turned and my source says that he soon found himself on the wrong column of many a bookmaker's ledger. They had allowed him to have accounts with them after his early luck, so he was able to make wagers without having to hand over any stake. You can imagine how things must have progressed. He probably played one off against the other as long as he could, but these people keep each other informed of their business, they are not fools. When they discovered the state of things, they would refuse any more wagers from him and demand payment for his previous attempts to win. I have heard Wickham had several encounters with a rather unpleasant chap who they use to 'persuade' people settle their accounts promptly."

"Do you know anything about this man? His name or where he might be found?" Darcy asked.

"Not much. He and his 'associates' are pretty discreet, from what I have heard. My source did encounter him once when in Wickham's company but they went off by themselves to discuss matters. He thinks he heard Wickham address him as 'Simkins' or 'Simmons' or some similar name. As to where he is, well, he might be in any low class inn within a forty mile radius."

Darcy pondered for a moment. "Well, it is not much to go on, but I believe we may be able to find out more if we adopt the right approach," he ventured. "In fact, I think this is the sort of thing my groom, Farrow, may be able to undertake with some hope of success. He is a first class man with horses and seems to know an inordinate number of the people involved in breeding and training them. I have given him some other inquiries to make today, but I will ask him to look into it as soon as he is able."

"Very good," the General said, "who is next Perry?"

"Well, sir, there are the local tradesmen with whom the Wickham's have accounts. Wine merchant, Butcher.." Perry began.

"Oh, I think we can pass those, don't you think Darcy?" the General interrupted. "Yes, I am sure we can find what information we need in that quarter from Mrs. Wickham," Darcy agreed. "I am convinced she is not the most efficient or economical mistress. No doubt she would welcome some advice and help from Mrs. Darcy," he added with a wry grin.

"Ahh," said the General appreciatively, and grinned, "no doubt."

"Then that just leaves two more people," said Perry.

"Really?" the General said in surprize, "I thought we had finished."

"No, sir," Perry replied calmly. The General frowned and was silent while Perry waited for him to continue.

Darcy looked at the Captain shrewdly and then prompted, "Do I take it this is where the mysterious person you were alluding to earlier enters our discussion again?"

"Yessir," Perry nodded, smiling at Darcy's deduction. "There are at least two private individuals who also hold notes of hand from Wickham."

"I see," Darcy said, contemplating this information with much interest. "What do you know of them?"

"Quite a lot, sir. They are fairly well known hereabouts," Perry answered.

The General, who had been following this, raised his eyebrows in inquiry and asked, "Well known? And what is known -- is it good or bad?"

Perry smiled. "A little of both, sir," said he. "One you know yourself, slightly. Mr. Nash."

"Nash!" exclaimed the General in shock. "You surprize me. I would not expect him to be involved with the likes of Wickham. Seems a most gentlemanly sort of fellow."

"So he is, sir," Perry admitted. "But as you know, his acquaintance is large and varied. He has regular card parties at his house in --- Place. Sometimes it is merely a dinner party and a few hands of whist afterwards for small sums, but he does occasionally have men only parties, where I have heard the stakes can often be pretty high. Wickham was a regular attendant, I hear, and nearly always came away owing money, particularly to Nash, who I am told is an excellent player."

"I can believe that," the General said with feeling, leading Darcy to suspect he may have been a victim of the man at one of those 'whist parties' Perry had mentioned. "The fellow seems good at just about everything he tries his hand to. An excellent sportsman. First class shot, and a fine archer and swordsman. Rides very well too, even wins the odd point-to-point."

"Really? What do you know of his affairs?" Darcy asked.

"Hmm, that's more difficult," the General pondered. "He's not a very confiding man. Perry?"

Perry shook his head. "I do not know him as well as many of the other men, but he strikes me as one of those chaps that has many acquaintances and very few friends. I doubt there is anyone who knows much about him."

"How long has he been in the area?" inquired Darcy.

"For about four years, I believe. He has his house here in the city and another out past Ponteland."

"So he is a man of property and means?" Darcy asked.

"Yes, he certainly seems most comfortably situated," Perry continued, "and that, along with his good manners and looks, has led many a lady, often encouraged by a matchmaking mother, to try to ensnare him in matrimony, but he seems to rebuff their attentions with remarkable skill. And he has always managed to do it without causing undue embarrassment to himself or the lady. As the General said, he is not a confiding man and I believe he does not like his private affairs broadcast."

Darcy could understand that himself, having experienced similar unwanted attentions before his marriage, and nodded in appreciation that Nash was able to handle things with discretion without putting himself in danger. He concentrated on Perry's last comment.

"So, I assume given his reticence, and lack of any confidant, that discovering the exact state of his dealings with Wickham has been difficult?" he suggested.

Perry acquiesced with a nod.

"Then we may have to adopt a more direct approach than you have been able to use thus far," Darcy mused, "I may have to seek an introduction and take him into my confidence if that is the only way to discover how things stand. You have said he is discreet, so it may not be too great a risk, though I would prefer to avoid it, if it is possible. Did the other men who played with them give you any indication as to what amounts might be involved?"

"It would be based on some conjecture," Perry ventured, "since we do not know if Wickham has settled any of the debts he has accrued, but if I was to make a guess from what I have heard I would say anything between seven hundred and one thousand pounds."

"I see," Darcy replied flatly. He digested this news for some seconds in silence, with a stern countenance, while the General and Captain watched him in anticipation of some more expressive reaction. None came, however, for, seeing their eyes turned on him in expectation, he came out of his reverie and in a business like tone recommenced with, "Well, let us hear of the other individual you spoke of, Captain."

"Of course, sir," Perry said. "It is a Mr. Sutton."

"Sutton?" the General retorted, "Sutton? That name seems familiar. I wonder if it is the same man whom I met at Nash's once. A burly fellow of forty or so, but well turned out."

"He may well be sir," Perry confirmed, "they are acquainted, and Sutton is as you describe him. He is a regular at Nash's card parties and has also won from Wickham there."

"Yes, I remember now," said the General, "is he not an attorney or something in the law?"

"Nominally, yes," Perry allowed, "he has chambers in the town, though I am led to believe that he does not have any regular legal practice. He certainly does not rely on it for his income, if its extent is any guide."

"He has then some private income?" Darcy suggested.

"Perhaps," Perry replied, in a tone which expressed doubt, "but it is known in the town -- especially among the officers -- that he is willing to make loans available and that he does not demand too much security if the terms are advantageous. By which I mean advantageous to himself, of course."

"Oh-ho," the General exclaimed, his tone tinged with disgust, "so that's the way it is. The man is nothing more than a common moneylender!"

Perry acknowledged this and said, "To own the truth, I do not know the full extent of Mr. Sutton's activities, in truth I doubt there is anyone who does except the man himself, but moneylending is certainly among them."

"Do I take it that he is the man whom, you suspect, has been buying up Wickham's debts?" Darcy questioned.

"Yes," Perry said, "he has the connections with the men involved, the money to hand and I have heard he has used the same proceeding before with other men of the regiment who have fallen into the same kind of difficulty. I suspect that at first Wickham went to him for assistance and he, seeing a situation he could take advantage of, began to take over as many of his debts as he could. I have heard he likes to have his 'clients' under strict control."

Darcy raised his brows at this, "And having a knowledge of the law as he does, I suppose we can assume that he manages to keep on the right side of it while exerting the maximum amount of pressure on those clients if circumstances require it?" he suggested.

"Exactly," Perry concurred, "you may be sure that he will not do anything to put himself in danger of prosecution."

"Mmn, this is difficult," Darcy said, "do we have any indication of how far he has Wickham in his power?"

Perry shook his head, "No, even less than in the case of Mr. Nash. Though I would suspect, given the amounts that have been taken over from other people, the extent of his direct debts to Sutton from cards and the probability that Wickham has borrowed to settle other debts, or more likely to use as stake money, the amount is significant. Perhaps fifteen hundred pounds? Perhaps more."

This estimation of Wickham's position was met with silence that bespoke astonishment and shock from the General and anger and grim determination from Darcy. All three mused on their own thoughts for some time before the General spoke, after gaining the others' attention with a sigh.

"You know," said he, "we could discover much more if we could get a look at Wickham's papers and correspondence. With his wife on her own it ought to be possible, without putting her in an equivocal position. Indeed if he does not reappear soon, we will have no choice but to do thus much. Do you not think something might be attempted in that quarter?"

"Yes, I do," Darcy concurred with decision. He pondered for a moment, then a small smile crossed his face. "In fact," he continued with some amusement, "something of the kind is probably taking place as we speak. If I know Mrs. Darcy she is at this very moment finding answers to those questions that most preoccupy us."

Notwithstanding her husbands highly flattering, though perhaps somewhat less than impartial, view of her sagacity, Elizabeth was at that moment far from confident in her own ability to uncover any information that would lead to a prompt and successful resolution of the current situation. Indeed, she had spent fully ten minutes fighting the urge to cover her ears with her hands in an attempt to soften the endless tirade of chatter which emanated from her sister. Lydia, still being Lydia and in no way improved by any mature reflection which her new status and its anteceding events might engender, spoke only of herself and was probably unaware that she had omitted to even ask after Elizabeth's health or whether her journey had been comfortable. She had merely rattled on about her acquaintance, the officers of the regiment, her upcoming confinement (though that was still five months away), her new household &c. &c. These outpourings required the minimum of response from Elizabeth and she used the time to gather her thoughts slowly and, coming to her senses rather in the manner of someone who had been run down by a coach and four -- the effect of which Lydia's unstoppable chattering rather resembled -- she began to endeavour to exercise those qualities her husband had attributed to her.

That Lydia had been surprized to see her had been only too evident. Elizabeth had debated sending word beforehand that she was in Newcastle but, after consideration, had decided that the advantages of an unannounced appearance outweighed any slight abandonment of social convention. When she arrived she noticed the looks of curiosity and discomposure the manservant and maid had given her and she felt sympathy for them in the current situation, which must be as difficult for them as anyone.

She had been shown into the sitting room, where Lydia was reposed in an ungainly fashion on a couch, her feet propped up on a stool and a bored look on her face. Upon hearing Elizabeth announced and seeing her following the maid into the room she had been quite unable to keep the look of shock, combined with what Elizabeth felt might be a little dread, from her face but she had recovered quickly and exclaimed happily, "Lizzy!" before embracing her sister and then taking on the role of hostess. She ordered refreshment and when they were both settled comfortably had began the endless tirade Elizabeth had listened to since.

Though she might be experiencing some difficulty in entering the conversation, since Lydia did not pause sufficiently long enough between sentences to allow her an opening, Elizabeth could still observe and as a prelude to the moment when Lydia exhausted all subjects or expired from lack of breath, she did so discreetly. Lydia herself looked well, though perhaps a little tired, which was hardly surprizing given the events of the last few days. She had grown since their last meeting, though alas it was in bulk rather than height that she had increased; Elizabeth was convinced she had gained at least twenty pounds and the effects of her condition were still to manifest themselves.

Once she had begun to recover her wits, Elizabeth determined to put a stop to Lydia's babbling, though she reasoned to do so in a manner which did not cause any estrangement would be preferable. Since she was not likely to stop talking unless Elizabeth took drastic action, the latter was at first unsure how to achieve her goal. However, a few moments reflection, allied with the realization of the one subject -- and person -- Lydia had not mentioned thus far, gave her an idea. Though she had inwardly debated the wisdom of direct inquiries, she decided that she may be able to achieve two goals at once and asked, in a tone which betrayed no previous knowledge of the situation but allowed no dissembling, "And where is Wickham?"

Those four words had more than the effect she had hoped for. Lydia immediately coloured, replying with an unconvincing air of disinterestedness that he was out engaging in his military duties. The question appeared to rob her of her loquacity and she sat in uncomfortable silence. Elizabeth did not press her further on this falsehood, since Lydia was displaying some loyalty to her husband, and she felt she could discover what she wanted to without antagonizing her further. From that moment on she was able to take control of the conversation and began, with what at first were polite questions but soon became more searching inquiries, to attempt to find out what she had come to learn.

The conference between the gentlemen was coming to an end, as there seemed to be no further information available for discussion, and the General had some business of the regiment to deal with. He had just informed the other two of this when the sound of someone knocking urgently on the front door, followed by the voices of the butler and another gentleman were heard.

"I wonder..?" began the General, then resumed, "that sounds like Sir Thomas."

"Sir Thomas?" Darcy echoed.

"Yes, Sir Thomas Fletcher, the local magistrate I told you about last night."

As the General finished this explanation the door to the library opened and the butler entered, announcing the gentleman the General had identified.

"General," Sir Thomas came in briskly and bowed, then seeing the General was not alone he added, "forgive me if this is an inopportune time."

"Not at all, not at all," the General assured him, and proceeded to make the necessary introduction to Darcy.

"Mr. Darcy is concerned with that matter I spoke to you about yesterday and is, I am sure, as anxious as I am to hear if you have any news," the General added.

"Then I am glad that I arrived when you are all together," replied Sir Thomas suavely. "As to any news that I might have for you, I am not sure yet. But in order that we might better determine that I thought that you might wish to accompany me there."

"Accompany you there?" Darcy asked in some confusion, "Where, may I ask?"

"Out towards Woolsington," Sir Thomas answered.

"But what has happened there?" asked the General in alarm.

"I have just received word," Sir Thomas replied drily, "that a man has been found there dead."

Part 7

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