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This is the excerpt from Conceit & Concealment for those who have already read the early chapters, but please, please, please don’t read it if you haven’t read the first part because this is packed with spoilers and will ruin the beginning for you.
***Really, spoilers ahead! Don’t do it! I’ll be very cross, and so will my kitten!***
When we last saw our hero and heroine, Darcy had just been arrested by the French after whispering his deepest secret in Elizabeth’s ear…
Frozen, Elizabeth watched Darcy’s retreating back as the French marched him away, first down the passageway and then out the window, taking some vital piece of her with him. She touched her fingers to her tingling lips. How hard she had fought not to care about him because of his political beliefs! Only now, when she might lose him forever, had she learned he was everything she could have wished for – and more. She might never have the opportunity to tell him of her regrets. His life might be counted in days, leaving her to grieve for the opportunity she had lost.
She swallowed hard and forced that thought out of her head. She could think about him later. Right now she needed to focus on the impossible task he had passed on to her. Darcy had put his royal charge ahead of everything else, even when it meant working with the French, even when it might cost him his life. Now it was her turn to make his sacrifices worthwhile.
Her breath caught in her throat. Could the girl who had visited Jane in the stables and drank ill-tasting tea with her truly be Princess Charlotte, the rightful heir to the throne? Of all the possible explanations for Mr. Darcy’s inconsistent behavior, this was the most inconceivable, but her instincts told her it was true. It made sense of everything that had puzzled her. She shook her head in mingled bewilderment and wonder. And now Mr. Darcy was likely to die for his loyalty, and part of her would die with him.
But there was no time to dwell on his fate. She had a princess to rescue. She rubbed her damp hands against her skirt and hurried downstairs to find a servant, but the echoing rooms were empty. Had the servants disappeared when the French arrived? Finally she located a footman who told her Miss Darcy was in the library.
She found the girl she called Georgiana curled up in an armchair reading a book, one of her golden ringlets wrapped tightly around her finger. Her concentration was such that she did not even notice when Elizabeth approached her.
The truth hit Elizabeth like a blow to the stomach. This girl was the heir to the throne. Princess Charlotte, the hope of England, the one mentioned in every toast between Englishmen. And now she was Elizabeth’s responsibility. It was terrifying.
How was she supposed to tell the girl what had happened and that they must leave? Yesterday she would have had no difficulty telling Georgiana Darcy what to do, but that was when she had not known the truth. Now she was royalty, so far above Elizabeth that she hardly dared to speak. Part of her wanted to disappear, but Mr. Darcy had been clear in his directions to her.
“Georgiana?” she asked with more timidity than she cared to admit.
The girl jumped. “Oh! I had not realized you were here already. I heard some noise earlier but did not think much of it.” As she spoke, she closed her book and surreptitiously slid it under a stack of other volumes.
Elizabeth bit her lip and forced herself to speak. “I do not know how to tell you this. Mr. Darcy was just arrested by the French. Before they took him, he asked me to take you away from here as quickly as possible.”
Georgiana paled. “They took William? I knew something must be wrong when he said we had to leave!” Her eyes filled with tears.
There was no time for this. The French might return at any moment. “He said you would know where to go and what to do.”
“Oh! Yes. We have practiced this. We must leave at once. I have to collect my satchel for my room, then I will be ready.”
“Good. I will ask for the horses to be hitched to the carriage again.”
“No, not the carriage. The curricle. That is the plan.” The girl hesitated, then grabbed her book from under the pile.
“Would not the carriage be more suitable for traveling a long distance?”
Georgiana shook her head. “More suitable, but we do not want people to think we are going a long way. William says taking the curricle helps to throw off the scent.”
“I see. Is there anything we should do to assist your brother before we go?” Of course, Mr. Darcy was not Georgiana’s brother. Oh, this was just too confusing!
Now tears were beginning to escape the girl’s eyes. “No. He would want us to go straight away. But should I leave a note for Mr. Bingley and ask him to contact William’s friend in London? He might be able to use his influence to help him. But William would tell me not to take that time, that it is too risky.” Her breathing was growing rapid and shallow.
The poor girl. Even if royal blood ran in her veins, she was still a terrified fifteen-year-old who needed help. “Yes, you should do that. Where can we find paper?”
“In my room.” Georgiana dashed her tears away.
“Then let us go there.” She did not dare let the girl out of her sight.
On the way upstairs Elizabeth found the lone footman and told him firmly to have the curricle prepared for an immediate departure. Then she watched as Georgiana quickly wrote a note, her racing pulse counting out each second that prolonged their danger.
After finishing the note quickly, the girl pulled out a small trunk from the wardrobe, opened it and produced a large satchel. She shoved her book inside it. “Very well, I am ready.” Her voice barely trembled.
“Then let us go.” Asking a servant for help would only waste precious minutes, so Elizabeth picked up the surprisingly heavy satchel.
When they reached the curricle, Elizabeth stopped short. The grooms were just finishing harnessing a pair of grey thoroughbreds to it. “Georgiana, I have never driven anything larger than a donkey cart.”
“I can drive it.” She sounded forlorn. “William thinks of everything.”
“I am certain he will be released soon,” she said with a confidence she did not feel. If she thought too hard about Mr. Darcy she might lose her composure, and that might tip off the grooms that something was amiss.
Georgiana’s lower lip trembled. “I hope so.” Then she stepped up into the curricle and took the reins from the groom. Elizabeth swung herself up on the opposite side, her heart pounding.
Was she truly going to do this? Vanish without a word to her family? Would they think she had run off, or would they suspect foul play? Poor Jane would be devastated, never knowing what had happened to her.
But she had a duty to her country as well. How could she ever live with herself if she allowed Princess Charlotte to be taken by the French owing to her inaction? She had dreamed of an opportunity to do some service for England, but she had never considered it might come at such a price. How much had it cost Mr. Darcy over the last six years?
She could think about that later. It was not as if Elizabeth could have remained at home long anyway, not once Captain Reynard found out Mr. Darcy was no longer there to protect her. This had only changed the time and the means of her departure. She took a deep, steadying breath.
Georgiana shook the reins and the horses set off down the drive.
Heaven help her. Elizabeth did not even know where they were headed. “Are we going to Scotland?”
“No, Oxford. Do you know how to get there?”
A bubble of hysterical laughter rose in her chest. No doubt Mr. Darcy had memorized the entire turnpike system of England in case of this eventuality, but Elizabeth had not. “I suppose we should head west on the Hatfield road. There will be signposts when we reach the Old North Road.” It might not be the best route, but at least the general direction was correct.
“The Hatfield road? Where is that?”
“I will direct you. At the end of the lane we should go right. No, left. Right is faster, but it would take us through Meryton and people would see us. But wait – will Mr. Darcy not know you are headed to Oxford?” The French might be in pursuit of them sooner than she had thought.
Georgiana shook her head. “It is a secret. Even William does not know my emergency destination. They could make him talk, you know.”
The thought of Mr. Darcy in a cell, his elegant hands bruised by chains, made bile rise in Elizabeth’s throat.
The girl stole a glance at Elizabeth. “Did he tell you? About… me?”
Elizabeth gripped the curricle bar to hide the shaking of her hands. “Just before they took him away. I had no idea. I do not even know what to call you now.”
The question seemed to steady the girl. “You should call me Georgiana and never even let yourself think that other name. Otherwise you may slip and say it when you should not. That is what William always did.”
“Very well, but I do not understand why you are playing this part. Why the masquerade, and why Mr. Darcy? He must have been quite young at the time of the invasion.” Far too young for a responsibility of this sort, just like Elizabeth herself was now.
“I was not supposed to be in his care, but my original guardian had an apoplexy, and the one who was his substitute was executed. William was all that was left, so he took me in.” Suddenly she seemed very young. “My grandfather – King George, that is – commanded that I remain here in England. He said if I grew up in a foreign land, I would never be accepted as fully English, just as his father and grandfather had not been accepted. His plan was to keep me with him and retreat to Wales, believing Napoleon would make it no further than London. Lord Matlock and William’s father saw the danger – and indeed I would have been captured if I had gone with my grandfather – so they carried me off secretly. They feared Napoleon would spare nothing in the effort to capture the person he thought to be me. The ship to Canada was a decoy to draw his attention away from me.”
And so the girl had been taken away from everything and everyone she had known. Even her name was no longer her own.
Now she was Elizabeth’s responsibility – a terrifying thought. “Might I inquire who is in Oxford?”
Georgiana shrugged. “Someone who can be trusted to take care of me. I have never met him.” Her voice was flat.
The poor girl must feel like a package that was passed from hand to hand. Poor girl – was that not what Mr. Darcy had said about Princess Charlotte? No wonder he had expressed such strong feelings! But if there was someone in Oxford who would take over Georgiana’s care, perhaps Elizabeth could go back home then, at least long enough to tell them she was leaving for Scotland. Jane would only have to worry for a few days.
Georgiana’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Is there a private lane or someplace we could be hidden for a few minutes?”
Elizabeth glanced behind them to make certain they were not being followed. “There is an area ahead where the hedgerows are high. If we turn past them on a track, we would not be visible from the road.” Probably the girl needed to relieve herself.
Georgiana slowed the horses. When they reached a lane, she turned down it and stopped the curricle. “Can you hold the reins?” she asked Elizabeth.
“Of course.” That much she could manage.
“You will need to stand.”
Mystified, Elizabeth obeyed.
Crouching on the floor of the curricle, Georgiana ran her hand below the edge of the seat. “There. Elizabeth, you should look at this in case you need to find it someday. See, there is a little hook here.” She lifted up the leather seat, exposing a hidden compartment beneath it. The girl folded back the oilcloth and revealed a tightly packed space. She took a pistol from the top of it. “Do you know how to shoot?”
“Yes. I have a pistol already. Your brother loaned it to me.” Elizabeth jiggled the large reticule pinned to her waist. She had taken the precaution of bringing it with her to Netherfield, not knowing whether she would be returning to Longbourn in the carriage or on foot. Now the reticule also held the money Mr. Darcy had given her to pay her way to Scotland. It would serve to take the two of them to Oxford.
“You should load it. We should each have one ready to fire.” She retrieved a pile of clothing and a pair of scissors from the compartment. “I must change. Will you assist me?”
“Of course.” Elizabeth followed Georgiana out of the curricle and behind the hedgerow. “Is this another part of your brother’s plans?”
“Yes.” Georgiana presented her back to Elizabeth. “If anyone is trying to find us, they will be looking for two women, so I will be a boy.”
Elizabeth’s fingers paused in undoing Georgiana’s buttons. “Men’s clothes?” She tried not to sound horrified.
“Do not worry; I have practiced in them many times before. William says this is the simplest disguise, provided I know how a boy walks.”
“But your hair!”
Georgiana removed her hairpins and shook out her hair, then handed Elizabeth the scissors. “You must cut it.” Her voice did not even tremble.
Elizabeth looked down at the scissors in dismay. “Cut it? Are you certain?”
“It is part of the plan. Do it quickly, before I lose my courage.”
Gingerly Elizabeth took a lock of the flaxen hair between her fingers. Royal hair. Could this truly be necessary? She thought of Mr. Darcy’s face before the soldiers took him away. Yes, it was necessary. She took a deep breath and began to snip away long locks of hair. It felt like a desecration.
Stepping back, she examined her handiwork. “It is not perfectly even, but it will do for now.”
The girl’s face looked more angular now. Tears were gathering in her eyes.
Elizabeth straightened her shoulders. “Excellent,” she said with false cheer. “I tried to leave enough length so it could be made into one of the cropped cuts fashionable ladies wear and some short ringlets in the front. With a curling iron and a ribbon, you will look like you stepped out of a fashion magazine!” She tossed the stray locks of hair into the hedgerow. “Some fortunate bird will be delighted to find such excellent padding for its nest. Perhaps your hair will cradle baby robins.”
Georgiana swallowed hard. “I would like that,” she said bravely. She stripped off her dress and petticoat. A few minutes later, a young man in a waistcoat stood before Elizabeth. The new angles of her face fit in perfectly. No one would recognize her as Miss Darcy.
Elizabeth tried to shut her mind away from the shocking idea of Princess Charlotte wearing trousers in public. “What else is hidden in your supplies?”
“Ammunition, knives, money, cloaks, oilcloth, a little food – dried fruits and nuts, mostly – a map, bandages. All sorts of things. William is very thorough.” Georgiana tugged at her coat to straighten it. “And travel permits, of course.”
“It sounds more like preparation for battle than a journey,” said Elizabeth.
Georgiana fingered her cropped hair, her expression pained. “We are at war, you know.”
Of course they were. “I am only sorry you have had to live with this fear every day.”
The sympathy made Georgiana’s lips tremble. The girl had sounded so sure of herself a minute earlier when talking about Darcy’s plans, but apparently that confidence was just a veneer.
In the hope of distracting her, Elizabeth asked the first question that came to her mind. “Do you have a hat tucked away somewhere, too?”
“In my satchel. It is a small one.” The girl sounded a little calmer.
“Now I will have to think what to call you, since you no longer look like a Georgiana!” Elizabeth tried to sound as if she were teasing.
“William calls me George, sometimes even when I am being a girl. It is easy to remember.” She made a valiant attempt to smile. “And the name does run in my family.”
Had she actually made a joke about her situation? “I suppose it does at that.” Her father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and his father before him had all been named George. “Well, it will be easier to stop at an inn for the night with George than with Georgiana. Two women traveling alone together would draw attention. And I must say you make quite a fetching boy!”
Georgiana found a pen and a bottle of ink in the curricle’s hidden compartment. “To fill in the travel permit. It is signed, but otherwise blank. What names should we use?”
“I do not know – anything, I suppose. Perhaps Elizabeth and George Gardiner?” Her uncle’s name was the first that came to her mind.
“Good. Travelling to Oxford, dated today and tomorrow, then?”
“That sounds right.” Elizabeth did not know how her legs were still holding her up. Possessing a forged travel permit was a hanging offense. It was one thing to exchange jibes with her younger sister about being hanged and another to actually risk it.
When Georgiana picked up the reins again, the loaded pistols and travel permit sat between them, a brutal reminder of the danger they faced. How had Mr. Darcy carried this burden alone all these years? No wonder he sometimes appeared grim.
“Who else knows about you?” Elizabeth asked quietly.
“In England? Only William and Lady Matlock, and now you. Lord Matlock knew, of course, but he is dead now. William says that if you want a secret kept, you must tell no one at all.”
How very alone they both must have felt!
When they reached the road to Hatfield, Georgiana brought the horses to a full trot. They would make better time now, but they would also be more conspicuous. If someone were pursuing them, this would be one of the first roads to be checked. And since Hatfield was a common stop for travelers on the Old North Road, they would have to travel beyond it tonight if they were to avoid potential pursuers.
As it was, they would no doubt be stopped in Hatfield by soldiers checking their documents. Elizabeth picked up the permit Georgiana had produced. Her eyes widened when she saw the signature. General Desmarais. What had Mr. Darcy been thinking to use the name of the supreme commander of all the French troops in England on his forged permits? She hoped the soldiers would not look too closely at the papers.
But even if they made it past the checkpoint, they would still need a place to spend the night. “Did your brother have a plan for choosing an inn?”
“Not that he told me. He always chose the inns, and I assumed we would be together if we ever had to flee. William insisted on teaching me what to do in case I was alone when problems arose, but he almost never leaves me, so I did not worry about it.” She made a sound halfway between a gasp and a sob.
Elizabeth could not afford to let herself feel anything about Mr. Darcy right now. “It sounds as if he has been very devoted to you.”
“More than I deserve. He did not ask to be given charge of me, and I was often difficult at the beginning. I was accustomed to people waiting on me and to being the center of attention, and I did not understand why that had to change. I made mistakes, bad mistakes, at first. He ought to have hated me for disrupting his life. He dislikes subterfuge, and because of me he must pretend to be someone he is not. And now he has been arrested because of me.” Tears began to run down her cheeks, an odd contrast to her boy’s clothes.
How could she reassure the girl? “It might not have been because of you. The warrant for his arrest was for murder.”
“Is that what they arrested him for?” Georgiana wrinkled her forehead. “Who was the victim?”
“I had never heard of him. George Wickhurst, I think. No, it was Wickham. Your brother seemed to know who he was.”
“Wickham? I do not know the name. Perhaps he is someone from Cambridge or from Pemberley. William has not been able to go back to his home because of me, either. People at Pemberley remember what the real Georgiana Darcy looks like. He misses Pemberley, though he would never admit it to me.”
How badly she had misjudged Mr. Darcy! “As I said, perhaps his arrest has nothing to do with you at all.” But that left another horrible possibility. Could it have been caused by Darcy’s decision to protect Elizabeth from Captain Reynard? The captain was fond of taking revenge. Darcy might now be suffering as a result of his decision to help her. Her stomach tightened uncomfortably.
“Perhaps.” But Georgiana did not sound convinced.
Elizabeth tried to put on an air of confidence as she requested rooms for herself and her young brother at the first inn they passed in St. Albans, grateful to have the satchel to show they were respectable travelers. She was even more grateful to escape any prying eyes when they were finally alone in Georgiana’s room.
The girl opened the satchel and began to unpack its contents. Like the hidden compartment in the curricle, the satchel held more than Elizabeth would have thought possible.
Georgiana unrolled a bundle of pale green fabric which miraculously turned into a simple day dress. She shook it out and held it up in front of Elizabeth. “I think this should fit you. William chose dresses a little big for me in case I grew before the next time he replaced them. There should be another in here.” She dove back into the satchel.
“I appreciate his forethought.” But wearing the same dress again tomorrow was the least of her worries. Now that the details of their day’s travel no longer preoccupied her, fear had begun to fray her composure. Good God, she could be hanged three times over for what she had done today!
“I think this is the other dress. There are stockings, gloves, and a spare shift. And more money, should we need it.”
“I have money, too. Your brother gave it to me.” The sum Darcy had given her that morning was more than Elizabeth had ever seen at one time, but money would not tell her how best to hide and protect Georgiana. Darcy had chosen Elizabeth for the task because she was the only person available when he needed help, not because she possessed the necessary skills.
She could not afford these unsettling thoughts, so she picked up the book Georgiana had brought with her, expecting to see a popular novel. She flipped open the cover, revealing the French title. “Art de la Guerre? Interesting reading material.”
Georgiana looked up at her solemnly. “It is very interesting. It is an ancient Chinese book on tactics. Napoleon always carries a copy of it with him. I need to know how he thinks and what he will do next. I can already see how he uses some of these tactics in battle.”
Yet another side of this girl – the future monarch. A shiver ran down Elizabeth’s spine. “It is wise to know your enemy.”
“I intend to kill him someday, or at least give the order for it.” Georgiana’s lips tightened, making her look older than her fifteen years.
“Many Englishmen would be happy to join you in that.” Elizabeth sat on the bed beside the satchel.
“Many would, though few have more reason than I do. He killed my parents and my uncles, imprisoned my grandfather, and forced my aunt to become his brother’s whore in a mockery of a marriage. I will kill him for that.” The girl’s voice was growing louder, her eyes over-bright.
“Hush. He has done your family great wrong. It is no wonder you want revenge.”
“And I shall have it!” Georgiana said fiercely.
Elizabeth’s head was spinning. There had been so many shocks today. Mr. Darcy had turned her world upside down, and now this mercurial girl was proving unexpectedly challenging. She needed time to think, both for her own sanity and to decide what to do next. “I do not know about you, but I am quite tired after today’s events. I think I shall rest in my room before dinner, if you do not mind.”
At her words, Georgiana shifted from vengeful murderess back to frightened girl. Her breathing quickened as she said, “Must you go? You could rest in here. I can put everything back in the satchel. Or I could go with you to your room. I will just sit in the corner and read, and you will not even know I am there.”
Mr. Darcy had said his sister was easily frightened, but Elizabeth had not expected her to fear being left alone in a room. It was hard to believe Georgiana was nearly Lydia’s age, but the two girls had been raised so differently. Lydia had never been discouraged from her attempts at independence, even when some rules might have done her good. The stakes were much higher for Georgiana. If she made a mistake, she would face imprisonment at best and execution at worst. It was more than enough to make anyone fearful.
“Of course I can rest here if you would prefer.”
“Thank you.” Georgiana spoke barely above a whisper.
But lying down and closing her eyes provided Elizabeth no relief. Her mind whirled with the consequences of her actions. What would Jane and the rest of her family think when she did not return from Netherfield? They would discover soon enough that Mr. Darcy had been arrested. Perhaps they would think she had fallen into the hands of French soldiers or been taken captive while trying to return to Longbourn. Or she might have met with an accident. They would be scouring the fields and woods for her tonight. It might occur to Jane that she could have run off, but she would find it difficult to believe Elizabeth would have gone without a single word to her or without collecting the items she had stored in the stable in case she ever had to leave in a hurry. Jane would worry herself half to death even if Elizabeth returned in a few days.
What was she thinking? It was comforting to believe she could go home, but she had been fooling herself. The damage was already done. Even if Mr. Darcy revealed nothing about Georgiana’s identity, Elizabeth would have no acceptable explanation for her absence. Everyone would assume the worst. She would be ruined, a burden to her family and an even easier target for Captain Reynard. She would have no choice but to flee to Scotland immediately, leaving her family to once again suffer through losing her.
And if Mr. Darcy had been forced to talk, the French would be waiting to pounce on her as soon as she appeared. They would leave no stone unturned in their efforts to find Georgiana. No, her family was lost to her. The best she could hope for was to someday get a message to Jane to tell her she was alive and well. Poor Jane would be even lonelier and more isolated now. Would anyone trouble to bring her tea? What would happen to her if Captain Reynard forced the family out of Longbourn entirely?
If she kept thinking about her family, she was going to burst into tears. Perhaps she should consider her future instead. Scotland was still the obvious choice since so many English Loyalists had formed their own community there. It was what she had always pictured doing if she ran off. But she knew no one in Scotland and would be all alone there with no family, friends or status.
But none of that needed to be resolved now. Tonight all she had to decide was the plan for tomorrow’s journey to Oxford.
Unsurprisingly, Georgiana asked Elizabeth to share her room that night. It was even less of a surprise when Elizabeth was awakened in the night by the sound of muffled sobs. She took the girl into her arms as if she had been one of her sisters, feeling close to tears herself.
“All will be well, you will see,” she told Georgiana. “Tomorrow night you will be safe in the hands of someone you can trust.”
“Will you stay with me? At least for a while? Otherwise I will be with a total stranger.” Another sob shook her.
“If you like, I will be happy to stay with you.” Could remaining with Georgiana be an alternative to Scotland? Even if Mr. Darcy should return – she could not bear to think of it as only a possibility or the tears would begin to flow – Elizabeth could make the argument that Georgiana desperately needed a female influence in her life. Elizabeth could be her companion and thus be of service to England at the same time. It would be risky, of course, but going to Scotland would be dangerous, too. If she changed her name, no one would know that Georgiana’s companion had once been Elizabeth Bennet.
Georgiana swallowed another sob. “But you will leave, too. Everyone leaves. William was the only one who stayed, and now even he is gone.”
“We do not know that. His friend in London may be able to have him released, at least if they have not discovered about you.”
“I… I have never been apart from William this long before.” The girl dissolved anew into heartbroken sobs.
Mr. Darcy must have been a very devoted guardian indeed if he had never spent a night apart from her in six years! “It is not the same, but I am here with you, and I will not abandon you.”
“Not now, but someday you will.” The girl’s despair seemed to overwhelm her.
“Perhaps someday you will no longer feel a need to have me stay with you, but if you do need me, I will stay, unless…” She had been about to say unless she fell in love and married. The image of dark, intent eyes rose in her memory. She had to blink hard to keep back the tears.
Georgiana froze. “Unless?”
Thinking quickly, Elizabeth said, “Unless I have the opportunity to travel to Africa to see the elephants. I have a great desire to see elephants. And the tigers in India, but I suppose I could take you with me to India since it is more civilized. I would dearly love to see the kangaroos in Australia, but it is such a lawless place I think I shall have to survive without them. A pity, though, since I simply cannot imagine how an animal that large can possibly hop. But apart from the elephants in Africa and the tigers in India, you may depend upon me.”
The girl giggled. “There are elephants in India, too. You could even ride one of them in a canopy chair. I have seen pictures in books.”
“That would simplify matters,” said Elizabeth with mock seriousness. “Africa is a very large place, after all. In India we could purchase dozens of those beautiful shawls, and be the envy of everyone we know when we return.”
“Oh, yes! And some of those lovely jeweled silks, too.”
“Perhaps we could disguise ourselves and go down to one of the native markets to find the best silks. We would have to darken our faces, of course, or everyone would know we were foreigners. They must have the most amazing fruit there, things we have never tasted, more exotic than even a pineapple.” Elizabeth continued to spin the tale until her silliness distracted Georgiana enough that she fell asleep. But Elizabeth lay awake much longer, wondering what the mysterious man in Oxford would be like and how he would respond to taking in Elizabeth as well as Georgiana.
She could not bear to think of the man she had left behind.
“How is Mr. Tennant of Pennington Hall to know who you are?” asked Elizabeth as they neared Oxford.
“I am supposed to tell him I have a package from the governor of Jamaica.”
“Jamaica? How does Jamaica come into it?”
Georgiana shrugged. “I do not know, but that is what I am to say.”
“I thought no one knew you were in England. Is Mr. Tennant aware you are here?”
Georgiana’s brow furrowed. “I do not believe so. William would not have agreed to let anyone into that secret. Even the government-in-exile believes I am in Canada.”
“It is possible Mr. Tennant may be inclined to be dubious.”
“Why? You seemed to have no trouble believing it.”
Elizabeth hesitated. It was a good point. Why had she immediately believed Darcy when he told her the implausible tale about his sister being the heir to the throne? Well, she had known him, at least to some degree, and generally trusted him – except when it concerned the French. More importantly, the story made sense of several things which had puzzled her. But perhaps the most convincing point had been the intensity of his concern for Georgiana when he was the one about to be arrested and quite possibly executed.
Mr. Tennant of Pennington Hall would have none of these advantages when two strangers appeared on his doorstep. How were they to convince him? What if he did not believe them? For that matter, what were they to do if he was away? He might be in London.
She was still pondering that question as they approached Pennington Hall, having received directions at a nearby inn. The gatehouse was not difficult to spot along the country lane. Georgiana reined in the horses at the wrought iron gates and called for the gatekeeper.
The man who stepped out of the gatehouse wore a French uniform.
Georgiana, in her disguise as George, rose to the occasion. Pitching her voice in its lower ranges, she said, “We are travelers who thought to call on Mr. Tennant. Is he no longer here?” At the guard’s blank look, she repeated the question in French.
The soldier shook his head. “No more.”
“Do you know where we might find him?”
The soldier grinned, showing blackened and missing teeth. “Chez Madame Guillotine.” And in case they might have misunderstood this, he drew the back of his thumb across his throat.
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