Along The River.
London at night is a perilous, city, to be toured during such nocturnal hours with caution or ventured into not at all. In an age which began with the violence of the French Revolution and ended with the murders in Whitechapel, the populous of England's glorious capital had much to fear from those who stalked the streets, whatever their rank or station in life. One wrong turn could get you killed, your body left to rot in some dank ghetto, prison, or worse, the river.
The Thames had seen better, cleaner days, though the deceiving surface belied such facts. Below the seemingly gentle waves, it was clogged to the depths with the stench of disease and death. For those poor souls unfortunate enough to meet their fate within the river, their remains might be found by the boatmen who toiled that stretch of water, Charons, from London Bridge to Southwark, who after retrieving the funds of obolus or danaka required for passage into Erebus, would report the find to the appropriate authorities.
Jane Bennet watched the gentle waves of water which her oars swept aside and wished for such a tranquillity to exist within her once again, as it had done so a year before. As the wish permeated through her mind, other ones came into being and followed it, causing the contrast between the calm river and the turmoil in her mind to become even greater.
She wished that the terrible tragedy which had befallen her family a year ago had never occurred. She wished that her mother had chosen not to visit Mrs Philips when she became ill with the mysterious fever which struck the inhabitants of Meryton last winter. That her mother had not become ill after returning home, causing for the doctor to be sent. That the illness had not spread to Mary and Lydia. She wished that the village physician had not recommended a doctor from Harley Street to treat them, causing her father's financial state to go from bad to worse, so that by the time the London doctor had admitted there was nothing more to be done for her mother and her sisters, and the estate was close to bankruptcy.
From then on, everything that had happened was inevitable. Lydia grew weaker and weaker until one morning they could not wake her. Mary seemed to rally herself before unexpectedly succumbing to the same fate a week later. Their mother hovered between life and death while the funerals took place and the medical bills arrived, demanding immediate payment. As her father made arrangements to sell Longbourn her mother suddenly recovered, making changes to the lodgings Mr Bennet had struggled to afford in London. Then Mrs Philips died, leaving a young son, a grieving husband and a collapsing legal business.
"Rest the oars a moment, Jane," her boating companion remarked, bringing her abruptly back to the present.
Jane complied to his request and kept her eyes fixed upon him as he searched the pockets and clothing of another departed stranger who had left their fate up to the will of the river. Her uncle Philips. Once a proud attorney of a thriving legal firm in Meryton, now a proud 'Gaffer' of the river, making his living by collecting money from the dead. He had been a clerk in the legal firm, serving her maternal grandfather well enough to succeed him upon his death, as well as marriage to her late Aunt. Since Mr Frank Gardiner's death however, the firm had lost business to more competitive and reliable young lawyers from the next town which, when combined with her late Aunt's tendency to live beyond her means, spelt the end to her uncle's career. When her Aunt died, her uncle lost the will to continue keeping the now little legal firm alive, choosing to sell to one of the practices which had taken most of her grandfather's clients and move to London to start a fresh occupation.
Her mother, when she had recovered, wrote to her brother in law offering them assistance. While Mr Bennet had refused absolutely to giving them money, he could not refuse the lending of one of his three daughters to help raise the young son their Aunt had left behind. Knowing who her mother would suggest and having no desire to give either Elizabeth or Kitty that pain, Jane had volunteered to help her uncle and cousin. At the time she had consented only out of thought for the latter, with the hopeful belief that the nature of her Uncle's new living would only be temporary. However, nearly a year had passed and not only she was still needed; to raise Charlie and to keep house for him and her Uncle, while the former went to school and Mr Philips earned his living along shore, he also requested her assistance with his Charon duties.
Mr Philips caught her gaze now and took hold of her hand. "I'll row now, Jane."
Jane steeled herself and shook her head, gently sliding her hand out of his grip so she could take control of the oars once again. "No, Uncle," she replied. "I cannot sit so near it," she added softly.
Mr Philips caught her words however and gestured at the body now tethered on the towrope beside him. "What harm can it do you?"
"None," Jane replied, though she knew such the price of such a denial, for the city was plagued by regular bouts of Cholera, dysentery and other deadly diseases that death left behind for new victims to stumble upon. "None. I cannot bear it."
"Its my belief," her Uncle continued, "that you hate the very sight of this river. As if it wasn't your living. As if it wasn't food and drink to you."
"I do not hate the river," Jane answered. "I just wish things were different."
"So do I," her Uncle revealed, and looked to speak further, had not another worker of the river crossed their path.
"In luck again, Gaffer?" The voice queried, in an accent betraying a more local connection than Jane and her Uncle could claim. "I know'd you were in luck again."
"Oh lord, Jenkinson," her Uncle muttered and motioned for Jane to speed up.
"Don't fret yourself partner, I didn't touch him," Jenkinson continued, oblivious. "I must have passed him as I went upriver. I sometimes think you're like a vulture, partner. You can smell them bodies clean out the river. Ain't been eating nothing that's disagreed with you, have you, partner?"
"Yes I have," Mr Philips uttered, finally losing patience, causing Jane to stop the boat. "Swallowing too much of that word 'partner.' I'm no partner of yours, Jenkinson."
"Since when?" The man countered.
"Since you were accused of robbing a man. A live man!"
"What if he'd been a dead man?"
"You can't rob the dead," Mr Philips declared. "What world does a dead man belong to? The other world. What world does money belong to? This world. You did time for putting your hand in the pocket of a sailor, a live sailor! You count yourself lucky for being released instead of being hanged. But we work together no more. In this world, or the other." He turned to Jane. "Cast off."
His niece obliged and swept the oars through the water once more, quickly passing the rogue that was Jenkinson. From the moment Philips came to London the man attached himself to them, foisting his hapless daughter along with him, until the authorities found enough evidence to convict him of robbery. By that time he had discovered her Uncle's old profession and was angry enough to snub them when Philips refused to lend his legal mind to Jenkinson's defence at the Old Bailey. Evidently the time for such snubbing had passed, unless his words just a moment ago were taunts.
"Stop," her uncle uttered when the silhouette of the rogue's boat was no longer distinguishable from the darkness haunting the city. Through the dim light of the lantern that hung on their vehicle, Jane could descry another corpse floating amongst the dregs of the river. She was grateful for the night concealing the full horror of the grisly sight from herself and her uncle. The longer a victim lay undiscovered in the Thames, the more gruesome their condition became.
With practised hands Philips searched through the pockets before attaching the victim to the tow rope. Any Charon who found corpses wearing clothes which spoke of a moneyed background were usually rewarded well upon discovery. Jane watched her uncle, wondering once more why he had chosen this profession. London was the home of law, with Lincoln's and Grey's Inn, and the Old Bailey.
Despite the countless members of the bar, there was still enough clients for him to earn a living, albeit hardly a comfortable one. Yet her uncle was violently opposed to any form of education, even providing such for his son, a matter Jane was forced to organise herself and secretly. At times she wondered if it was because of her Aunt, if her passing had caused her uncle to hate the profession which brought them together. Other times she found a certain logic in believing it to be a form of redemption. Then there were those times when she did not wonder at all, for as her uncle said, when you live day to day hauling bodies out of the river, you don't find much time for supposing.
Far away from the river and its environs of nearly poverty stricken inhabitants, stood the houses of London's richer society. Instead of the cares of home's owners focusing on how little they had with which to feed and clothe themselves, these wealthy leaders of frivolity and fashion were, today at least, concerning themselves with a wedding. A union brought about by money, witnessed by money, and now celebrated with money.
Ensconced upon the outskirts of the crowd that had gathered to congratulate the 'happy couple,' were those who felt obliged to attend events such as these, in order to keep their businesses alive by accumulating connections with these affluent personages.
Richard Fitzwilliam was one of these business men. A son of the Earl of Matlock, he had been provided with enough means of free fortune- money that was not tied to his elder brother's inheritance -to start a practice at law. His personal preference had been for the Army, but his mother had fear of his being killed on some foreign battlefield and so to please her he had chosen the law instead. While it had not advanced his career as much as Richard would have liked, it had brought him a much valued friendship.
Taking two glasses from a passing servant, Richard made his way through the crowds back to that friend now.
He had secured for them the privacy of two large armchairs by a fire in one of the connecting anterooms, which provided some peace from the main wedding breakfast festivities. Richard caught sight of the smoke from his friend's cigar as he neared these armchairs and sank gratefully into the vacant one.
"Did I tell you, Richard," his friend began after he had sat down, "that my respected father has found a wife for his not generally respected son?"
"Really, Charles," Richard remarked. "With some money of course?" He sought to ascertain.
"With some money of course," Charles echoed. "Else he would never have found her."
Richard turned from his view of the fire to glance at the crowd for a moment. "So, who exactly is our host today?" He asked his friend, knowing from past experience that Charles loathed talking about his father's filial expectations for long.
"Lucas," Charles replied. "Over there," he added, pointing the host and hostess out for his friend. "Mr Empire. This is his good deed for the year."
A click of one of the doors leading into the main room called their attention from the Lucases to the new arrival.
"Good lord," Richard said as he recognised the formidable woman. "I'm surprised Aunt Catherine has graced this gorgeous spectacle with her royal presence."
"Old money doesn't mind sniffing around new money for an hour or two," Charles remarked. "Champagne tastes the same whoever's buying."
This was a practise which his friend knew about all too well. Charles' father was once accorded the same honorific 'Mr Empire,' as Sir William Lucas was now, but enough time had since passed to let his new money become old. Mr Bingley senior saw the sense of attaching himself to a landed gentry family by marrying an heiress, and now expected his children to do the same. Charles' preference for a career was encouraged, but only with the expectation that he should earn an acceptable profit out of it.
"Oh lord," Richard said suddenly, as he sank himself deep in the confines of the chair, vainly hoping it was not too late to go unnoticed. "She's coming over."
"Richard Fitzwilliam!" Lady Catherine called out, making her nephew reluctantly rise from his seat. "You wretch! Why have you not come to see me?"
"Oh my dear Aunt," Richard began, hoping his charms would flatter her ego enough to leave them in peace; "I cannot bear having to force my way through the crowds of your other admirers. A man must have hope."
Lady Catherine de Bourgh flicked her nephew's shoulder with her fan in mild admonishment, and then glanced at the hosts.
"Well, the Lucases have certainly done their young friends proud." she declared. "Dear best friends of the groom and of course the bride." She raised her voice to attract the attention of other guests. "Any one know anything about the bride?"
The only response that met her query was the entrance of the couple in question.
"I've never seen him before," Lady Catherine continued, "or her. Does anyone know anything about them?"
Someone chose to answer her at last, providing Richard with a brief respite and he enjoyed some peace with his friend while the room gossiped and speculated about how many acres of land, or investments, and fortunes to be inherited by either one of the happy couple if not both of them. Though it was clear by the end of this discussion that no one present had made the acquaintance of the newlyweds before they were wed, it would have been the pinnacle of bad manners to declare such a distinction publicly. So as the bride and groom made their rounds to talk with the host and hostess, along with a few of the guests, everyone pretended that their knowledge of each other was long established on both sides.
"Nephew," Lady Catherine called again when the bride and groom had retired to talk before leaving. "I insist upon you telling me all about the Darcy fortune."
Richard sighed and pretended he had no knowledge of what his Aunt was talking about. "Darcy?" He echoed.
"Come now, nephew. My late and dearly lamented brother in law has been dead for weeks and we don't know what is to become of his fortune."
"Society becomes restless when it smells a great fortune left unclaimed," Charles remarked to friend.
"I find it immensely embarrassing having the eyes of society upon me to this extent," Richard said, before relenting to tell the story behind his involvement with his late Uncle's Will. "George Darcy as you know was a younger son and a tremendous old rascal who made his money in dust."
"An absolute scandal!" Sir William Lucas commented. "A fortune to be made in rubbish!"
"And my brother in law actually lived among the dust heaps?" Lady Catherine sought to confirm, her tone full of disdain at this way of living.
"Yes," Richard confirmed, "like a veritable mountain range about him. My Uncle however had the miserable inclination to make enemies out of all his family. All were turned out of the house. Even the son. Now keep your eyes fixed on the son because this is where I come in. He grew up abroad."
"In the Cape?" Lady Catherine queried.
"In the Cape," Richard confirmed. "Where I discovered he was living, only the other day, having been abroad for some fourteen years. The whole range of dust mountains plus estate is left to young Darcy and he has set sail home to claim it. He is due in England now, even as we speak."
"So my brother in law was not such an unnatural monster after all. Fortune will go to the son, as it should," Lady Catherine opined.
"Ah, but he did leave a sting in the tail of his will," Richard remarked. "The son's inheritance is conditional upon his marrying a girl he has never met. One Elizabeth Bennet."
"Elizabeth Bennet?" Lady Catherine echoed. "Never heard of her. Has anyone any knowledge of any Elizabeth Bennet? Is she out?"
A general silence met these enquiries.
"What if Darcy does not care for the bride his perverse father has chosen for him?" Charles asked.
"Not care for her?" Cried the other.
"Cast off the dust mountains?" Added the brother.
"Not care for a marriageable young woman called Elizabeth?" Lady Catherine cried. "And throw away a fortune? Really, Charles!"
In to this crowd of feckless society a footman entered, carrying a slip of paper. He came to a halt before Richard.
"A note has arrived for you, sir," the footman announced.
The room settled into eager silence as Richard unfolded the slip of paper and read the contents contained therein.
"This note arrives in the most opportune manner," he said a few minutes later. "I fear it is the conclusion of Darcy's story."
"There," Sir William Lucas cried out. "Fellow's married already."
"Refuses to marry Elizabeth Bennet?" One of his daughters added. "Surely not?"
"No," Richard replied. "No you're all wrong. The story is completer and rather more exciting than I had supposed." He paused before announcing, "William Darcy is drowned."
Silence overcame the occupants of the room as each member of the crowd quietly dealt with such a disturbing revelation coming upon the conclusion of an inheritance, the nature of which had occupied the gossip columns for almost a twelvemonth.
Richard took the opportunity to slip out of the room, his friend quietly following him downstairs and into the sanctuary of the Lucas Library.
A young man was awaiting them, seated in the armchair by the window. In his hands rested one of the many leather bound volumes which resided in the Library and his face was buried within its pages.
Richard came over to stand in front of him. "Did you write this?" He asked.
The boy looked up. "I did," he answered curtly before looking down at the pages again.
Richard sighed but persisted. "Did you find the body?"
"My father, Jesmond Philips, found the body," the boy replied.
"What's his position?" Richard asked.
The boy's answer was a little uncertain this time. "He... gets his living along shore."
"And why did your father," Charles inquired, "Jesmond Philips, not write the note himself?"
The boy looked up at him disdainfully and made no reply.
"Is the body far?" Richard asked.
"It's a goodish stretch," the youth informed them arrogantly. "I came up in a cab, and the cab's waiting to be paid." He paused, then added, "we could go back in it before you paid it, if you like."
Richard placed his hands on the arms of the chair before venturing another question. "William Darcy was discovered dead?"
Young Philips looked up disdainfully refusing to be intimidated. "Dead as the Pharaoh's multitude drowned under the Red Sea. If Lazarus was as half as far gone that was the greatest of miracles."
"Good lord," Richard remarked as he walked away from the boy. "You seem to be at home in the Red Sea, young man."
"Read of it with a teacher at school," Philips informed them, "But don't you tell my father. It was my cousin's contriving."
"You seemed to have a good cousin," Charles commented.
"She ain't bad," Young Philips agreed. "But if she even knows half her letters its because I learned her."
Charles looked up from his stance by the desk at this and walked over to the boy. He gripped Philips' chin with his hand and turned the arrogant youth's face so he would meet his gaze. A silent duel of strength was quietly initiated by the boy and calmly refused by the man, who returned to the desk. He lifted the lid of Lucas' cigar case and took out two prime specimens. Placing both in his jacket pocket he closed the lid and turned to his friend. "I'll go with you if I may."
Richard nodded his consent and took the book from the boy, returning the volume to its proper shelf. Affecting not to care, the boy rose from his seat and led the two lawyers out into the city.
Lawyers Fitzwilliam and Bingley, with their young, arrogant companion, were observed quitting the house briefly by the groom from one of the upstairs windows before he returned to quizzing his bride. For some time they had been sequestered away from their guests, presumably to make ready for their departure as a married couple. However, the truth of the matter was that a chance remark from one of the guests caused him to request her company in one of the side rooms from their wedding breakfast, where he was about to receive even more disturbing news.
"Do you mean to tell me?" He began, still affronted and stunned by the nature of what he had learned only moments before.
"Do you mean to tell me?" The bride countered just as indignant, for she had a right to be just as offended by the situation as he was.
The groom ignored her tone in favour of pacing about the room a few moments longer. Silence descended between the two of them, as his bride wrestled with a part of her elaborate bouquet, now laying in fragments across her white gown, waiting for him to explain why he was so horrified by her confession. Unequal marriages were not unusual, but since he had a fortune of his own, there was hardly a pressing need for her to possess independent means also. Unless,... she paused in her thoughts and her floral destruction as something occurred to her.
"Are you a man of fortune?" She at last dared to ask.
The groom paced the length before the sofa upon which she was reclining beside him, then replied, "No," in a sad tone of voice.
"Then you have married me under false pretences," the bride declared, reassuming her earlier indignation.
"So be it," he decidedly said, for his mind was just as quick as her, and he was half prepared for what was coming next. He halted his pacing to stare at her. "Now you. Are you a woman of property?"
The bride tore more of the leaves off the foliage of her bouquet before answering him in that same sadly ashamed tone. "No."
"Then you have married me under false pretences," the groom echoed her words harshly. He began pacing again. "I asked Lucas and he told me you were rich."
"Lucas?" The bride said, equally harsh and arrogant. "What does he know about me?"
"Well congratulations, you obviously made a very good job of deceiving him," the groom commented. He stopped pacing again to add; "And, Mrs Wickham, what made you suppose me to be a man of fortune?"
Mrs Wickham hung her head, ashamed. "I asked, Lucas."
"And he knows of me as much as he knows of you," Mr Wickham informed her cruelly.
Mrs Wickham wrecked her bouquet foliage angrily. "I will never forgive Lucas, for being so...."
"Gullible?" Mr Wickham finished. He tossed his cigar into the remains of the cake, then held out his arm.
The bride took it and they walked to the door, pasting smiles upon their faces as they passed the guests on their way out of the house, for it would not do to inform the upper echelons of Society that they had just borne witness to the greatest con of the age, played out between the couple as well as themselves. As for the couple themselves, an air of polite affection must be displayed, in public at least, if not in private. However this disgraceful union had come about, it was required to be kept, for both the future of the newlyweds and of Society to rejoice in the arrogance of their success, as to admit such a failure would be deeply embarrassing for all concerned.
They would come to terms with the situation in which they found themselves, and how to deal with such circumstances, later.
Night had come once more to the streets of London, establishing residence as the cab in which Richard Fitzwilliam and his friend were travelling rode deeper into its more foulest of neighbourhoods.
Richard took another draught of his cigar, pilfered from the obliging and ignorant Lucas, and leaned back into the recess of the interior. "Let me see, Charles," he said, "I have been on the Honourable roll of Solicitors of the High Court for five years now. And except for taking instructions on average once a fortnight from the will of Lady Catherine de Bourgh- who by the way has nothing to leave -I have had no scrap of business except for this Darcy romance."
"And I've been called to the bar for ages and have had no business at all," Charles said in sympathy. "Which my father uses as an excuse to keep me poor," he added. "Yes, he keeps me bound to him with the merest trickle of income to relieve his disappointment. What's more he continually berates me for my lack of energy. But give me something to be energetic about, and by God, I'll show him energy." Charles paused to take a draught of his cigar. "He's an amusing fellow, my father. I should like to please him, if I could."
"He must know my own father," Richard commented in sympathy. "That sounds like one of his edicts that he delivers to my elder brother on more than one occasion."
The two friends exchanged a shared look about fathers before resuming their examinations that the cab afforded them of the road it was upon. The journey took them past the Monument, the Tower, the Docks, Ratcliffe, then Rotherhide. A sudden smell, rank and cloying, caused them to draw away from the doors and take in another draught of their cigars, before attempting conversation again.
"We must be drawing nearer to the river," Charles realised. "We shall fall over the edge of the world if we don't stop soon," he added softly.
Richard tapped the roof of the cab with his walking stick and called out to the driver. "Hello there. Surely we're nearly there?"
They received no response except silence, forcing them to be obliged with quiet speculation about what they were likely to encounter at the end of this journey, until the cab finally came to a halt.
Young Philips jumped down from the seat by the driver and opened one of the doors for them.
"We must walk the rest," he informed them. "Its not many yards."
Richard and Charles descended from the cab, gathered their coats close about them and followed their arrogant young guide.
Around them London's ghettos closed upon their route, a stark contrast to the salubrious boroughs they had been present in only hours ago. Despite the obvious proximity to the river, dwellings were built almost on top of each other, their doors flanked by dark, dank streets, littered with the filth and muck created by the inhabitants of the nation's capital.
Some of these less reputable individuals now emerged from the shadows to obstruct their path. Boys younger than their guide and more scrawny too, sought out and clung to them, begging for funds, or subtle pick pocketing if their prey were careless. Unfortunately for the ruffians, in this instance, Richard and Charles were wise to such stratagems and with deft touches of their sticks, the boys were dissuaded of their nefarious objectives, and sent back to their previous occupation of skulking in the shadows.
Young Philips led them to a house that was situated close upon the shores of the river. From the outside it appeared to have been an old mill, but its rundown and decaying appearance suggested that such a line of business ended unsuccessfully. Now it looked barely large enough to contain more than one room, but when they stepped inside the lawyers learned that appearances could be deceptive.
"The gentlemen, father," Young Philips announced their presence to the two occupants of the main room.
His father, a middle-aged, stocky man, advanced to greet them. The niece seemed content to remain unnoticed, sitting quietly by the fire, avoiding the gaze of both guests, both the brief one and the other's more curious stare.
"You are Richard Fitzwilliam Esquire, sir?" Mr Philips asked him somewhat astutely. "Are you sir?" He furthered queried after the answer was delayed.
"Richard Fitzwilliam is my name, sir," Richard answered carefully, somewhat discomposed by the many contrasts he was seeing within the room. "What you found last night," he added, "it is not here?"
"Its close by," Philips replied. "I do everything according to the rules. I gave notice of the circumstances to the police and the police have taken possession of it. They have put it into print already. Here."
He gestured to the wall that was to the right of the door. Richard saw that it contained many notices of missing or drowned persons, the papers discoloured by age and condition, hanging on to the shoddily soak sodden wall by sheer force of will.
"Only papers found on the unfortunate man I see," Richard commented when he found the right article, squinting to distinguish the writing in the shallow lighting.
"Only papers," agreed Philips.
"No money," Richard continued reading, "but three pence, in one of the shirt pockets."
"Three penny pieces," Philips echoed.
"The trouser pockets empty and turned inside out?" Richard added, puzzled by such a seemingly odd detail.
"That is a common find," Philips assured him. "Whether its the wash of the tide or no, I can't say. This one," he pointed to another poster, "was found with his pockets turned inside out. And this, and this."
"You did not find all of these yourself?" The other gentleman asked suddenly.
Philips turned to stare at him. "And what would your name be, sir?" He asked.
"This is my friend," Richard answered, "Mr Charles Bingley."
Charles turned his gaze from the niece to the uncle. "Do you suppose there's been much violence and robbery beforehand in these cases?" He asked.
"I am not one of the supposing sort," Philips remarked, disliking him immediately. "If you had to get your living by hauling bodies out of the river everyday of your life, you would not have much time to supposing either."
Mr Philips' hospitality seemed to be at an end, as he headed outside into the night after this remark, causing the gentlemen to join him. Richard walked out first and with a last glance towards the niece, Charles followed.
The trio had not advanced far, when Philips abruptly came to a halt. To the lawyers' surprise, he spoke into the darkness ahead of them.
"Are you looking for a body?" Philips asked. "Or have you found one? Which is it?"
Richard checked his gasp of surprise as a man came out of the shadows and into the light. He was a little younger than himself, with dark hair and slightly tanned skin.
"I'm lost," the man replied. "And I'm a stranger. And I must.... I have to get to the place where I can see the body." He opened out the piece of paper in his hands, enough for them to discern that it was the same notice they had journeyed for, frayed from being torn from where it was first found. "It is possible I may know this."
"Are you seeking a William Darcy?" Richard asked.
"No," replied the man.
"Then I think I can assure you, that you will not find what you fear," Richard returned.
His words made no difference to the man before them. "I must see the body," said the stranger steadily.
"Then follow us," Philips instructed before walking on.
With no further conversation the three gentlemen followed Philips to the Limehouse Mortuary.
Inside the Inspector present showed them the body, allowing no undue length of time to closely examine the remains, such was the condition and smell likely to affect those unused to such sights.
"No clues as to how the body came to be in the river," the inspector remarked, recounting his investigations so far as they headed back down the tunnel from the examination chamber to his less bleak office. "Very often there is no clue, as very often there isn't for ascertaining whether the injuries occurred before or after death. The Steward of the ship identified William Darcy, along with the clothes and papers also sworn as those of William Darcy."
"And as to what exactly happened?" Richard asked.
"Totally disappeared upon leaving ship till found in river. Surgeon said injuries could have been sustained before he went into the river, another surgeon has said they could have been sustained afterwards. He'd probably been on some little game. Thought it a harmless game no doubt, and it turned out to be a fatal game. Inquest tomorrow, an open verdict no doubt." The Inspector paused as he sat down behind his desk, and noticed the third gentleman in the group, who was, it seemed, very shaken. "It appears to have knocked your friend completely off his legs."
"This gentleman is no friend of mine, sir," Richard replied as they all turned to look at the stranger.
"'Tis a horrible sight," he said, sitting hunched upon a wooden bench against the wall in the room.
"You expected to identify?" The Inspector queried.
"Yes," the stranger replied.
"No, no I did not." Abruptly he rose from his seat. "I must go now."
"You were after identifying someone else you wouldn't have come here," the Inspector persisted, leaning to one side in order to get a better view of him. "Can we not ask who?"
If it was possible, the man seemed to retreat even more into the shadows created by the low light and barrelled ceiling room. "You must excuse my not telling you. You must know that sometimes there are disagreements in families, personal tragedies that they would rather not have generally discussed."
"At least you will not object to leaving me your card?" The Inspector asked.
"I would not if I had one, but I do not," the man replied.
"At least, sir, you will not object to writing down your name and address?" The Inspector tried next.
Trapped, the man reluctantly emerged from the depths of the mortuary and came to the desk. Taking the proffered quill, he began writing.
"Mr Frederick Denny," the Inspector read aloud, from the sheet for the benefit of the others in the room. "Exchequer Coffee House, Palace Yard, Westminster. Consequently from out of town?"
"Yes," Denny answered. "Out of town. You could say that." And with that, he left.
The Inspector waited a few minutes, then silently beckoned one of his constables towards him. "Keep him in sight without giving offence. Make sure that he is staying where he says he is, and find out everything you can about him."
Richard watched the subordinate leave, then turned to the Inspector. "I have to ask you, sir, do you think that there is anything untoward in William Darcy's death?"
"If it was murder, anyone might have done it," the Inspector replied thoughtfully. "Burglary or pick-pocketing, that needs an apprenticeship. Not so murder. We're all of us up to that. Pity its not true that old superstition about corpses bleeding when being touched by the hand of those responsible for their undoing." He paused as one of the inmates behind him suddenly cried out in agony. "You get row enough out of her," he added, "but you get nothing out of bodies."
Richard inclined his head. "Thankyou, Inspector," he said before leaving.
It was not until they had said goodbye to Mr Philips that Richard allowed himself to reflect on the short life of the cousin he barely knew. Fitzwilliam Darcy, though two years his junior, had been a close childhood friend, until the quarrel between him and his father had forced young Darcy to live abroad. Richard still held tender memories of the two of them playing in the grounds of the Darcy's grandfather's estate; Pemberley, watched over by Darcy's mother and Richard's late aunt, his father's sister. George Darcy had been a younger son, never expected to inherit the Derbyshire fortune, until tragedy visited upon the elder, cutting him off in his prime. And now the death of William had ended the keeping of the estate in the family altogether.
The Will mentioned who gained possession of the dust and Pemberley fortunes now, and it was not the Fitzwilliam side, a piece of information which Richard knew, would not please one member of his family.
"The entire fortune to go to a dustman? It is unbelievable."
"It is true," Richard asserted to his Aunt, over tea the next day. "As George Darcy's only son is dead and there are no other male relatives living on the paternal side, the entire fortune and estates goes to Mr and Mrs Reynolds."
"It is unnatural," Lady Catherine persisted.
"They were good and faithful servants," Richard added, defending the couple, who he remembered well from his youth spent at the Pemberley estate, where they were steward and housekeeper respectively before George Darcy went to seek his fortune.
"But how will a dustman know what to do with such wealth?" His Aunt asked. "And run a country estate?"
Richard refrained from voicing aloud that what little was left of his Aunt's wealth was managed by such servants, replying instead, "that's for Mr and Mrs Reynolds to decide, when I explain to them the full extent of their inheritance."
"Mark my words, nephew, the man will prove to have no idea what to do."
Richard inwardly disagreed with her but wisely chose to keep silent. Where his Aunt was concerned only one opinion was safe and that was hers. Privately he wondered what she would do with her own wealth, or lack there of, inherited by way of marriage, as the match had long given up hope of producing heirs, even before the death of his uncle Sir Lewis de Bourgh. There was the assumption that it would revert back to the Fitzwilliam estate, but Richard had learned that it was unwise to trust assumptions when it came to matters of inheritance.
He dutifully attended upon her and her opinions until the afternoon, whereupon he made his way to the dust yard once belonged to George Darcy, and now belonging to Edmund Reynolds, situated about one and a quarter of a mile up Maiden Lane.
Mountains proved to be the right term for describing the dust-heaps. Each inclined in their own ways towards the sky with men and women shifting through them as though they were great archaeological sites. Smoke and stench rose from those searches, overpowering the air, so much so that Richard had to hold a handkerchief over his mouth as he negotiated his way to the house that stood in a clearing in the middle of it. The building was two storeys but small, its exterior stained by the dust-heaps. The house appeared gloomy and unwelcoming, a sharp contrast to the owners as Richard found when he was ushered inside and offered a delicious respite.
"So the entire Darcy fortune," Richard began, reading from the Will after pleasantries and small talk was over, "that is the complete range of dust heaps, including the little one, is entailed to Mr Edmund Reynolds. The said Mr Reynolds is also recipient of the Pemberley estates if there are no other living male relatives bearing the blood and Darcy name to claim possession."
The Reynolds said nothing at first. They were too grieved by the knowledge that the young child they had raised was no more. It was not until they were heading outside to attend the inquest, that Richard received his first tasks.
"Though I hate to disagree with you on your very first instruction, Mr Reynolds," Richard said in response, "as your lawyer, I must tell you that ten thousand pounds is too much."
"My wife thinks its the right figure and so do I," Mr Reynolds replied. "Ten thousand pound reward, to find the villain who murdered our William."
From a purely emotional perspective, Richard privately agreed with Reynolds. If funds could help his family receive justice for his cousin's death, then he would pledge all he could towards the cause. As a lawyer however, he doubted a reward would accomplish anything except corruption. All those who were eager for the money would come forward with false claims, preying upon the Reynolds's and their newly acquired fortune, possibly for the rest of their lives.
Yet they had insisted, and as their lawyer, Richard had to obey. So he informed the coroner as soon as they entered the court. Then he saw the Reynolds to their seats before finding a space for himself by his Aunt, who beckoned him over to her side as soon as she observed him entering the court room, no doubt wishing to deliver her judgement once the verdict of the inquest was declared.
The coroner called forward the various witnesses and asked them to deliver their reports. Richard was asked to explain the history of his cousin's departure from England, and the reason he had been required to return home. The steward of the ship Darcy had sailed home upon told the account of how the man had passed the voyage and his conduct aboard ship until he disappeared after the vessel had put to port. A medical man was called forward to give his opinion as to cause of death and Philips was called to the stand to report how the body was found.
When all the evidence had been laid before the court, the coroner began his summoning up of judgement.
"We can only imagine William Darcy's feelings as he travelled homeward after so many years aboard, towards his future and the bride his father had chosen for him. And we can only imagine how the poor girl feels, her hopes so cruelly dashed. We have heard the circumstances of Mr Darcy's return to this country. And we have heard compelling evidence that the deceased carried a large sum of money from the forced sale of his foreign property. No doubt to facilitate the early marriage to the woman who waited for him patiently and silently."
Where was the girl, Richard Fitzwilliam wondered silently, glancing around the court. She had a right to attend, even in mourning, although why she should even enter that state was a mystery to him, for she had never met her intended, nor betrothed herself publicly to him in any way, bar the conditions of the Will. Mere curiosity was requirement enough, yet there was no sign of her.
"This case is made further interesting by the remarkable experience of Jesmond known as Gaffer Philips," the coroner continued, "having rescued from the Thames so many dead bodies. The jury has found that Mr William Darcy was found floating in the Thames in some state of decay and much injured. And that the said William Darcy came by his death under highly suspicious circumstances. Though by whose act, and in what precise manner, there is no evidence before this jury to show. I will therefore this day make a recommendation that there should be a police investigation into this mysterious death. And I have noticed that interested parties have come forward with a substantial reward. Mr Reynolds has provided an excessively generous amount, of ten thousand pounds."
"Ten thousand pounds?" Lady Catherine echoed in whispered shock to Richard. "I told you the man would be a fool with money, nephew."
Richard said nothing, sitting silently as the coroner delivered his open verdict. His mind instead was focused upon the girl who had been promised to his cousin; Elizabeth Bennet. Wondering where she was and what her thoughts were, at having whatever hopes she may have harboured for her marriage dashed by his cousin's death.