An Earl's Agreement(127)

By: Joyce Alec

“Yes, he is my cousin. Thank you, constable,” said John as Amelia went to greet Bartley.

“Whatever has happened? My business ran later than planned. Why so many police? They wouldn't tell me what transpired.” Bartley looked around the room, “Where is Lady Henrietta?”

“Lady Henrietta has gone missing from her bedroom,” Amelia said.

“Oh, poor John. And their wedding is in just a few days. This cannot be happening,” said Bartley. “Lady Amelia, are you quite well? Did you see anything?”

Amelia didn’t answer, and her face suddenly lost its color, as she began to lose her balance. Bartley caught her in his arms just before she melted into the floor.

“Lady Amelia! Andrews, get the smelling salts,” Bartley had her in his arms and gently placed her on the chaise.

“Lady Amelia, please come back to me,” he waved smelling salts under her nose.

Amelia began to respond, and her eyelids fluttered.

“You've had a big fright tonight. I'm here now, and I will take care of everything,” he said reassuringly.

Amelia couldn't help but smile up at him. She admired a man who would take charge and not collapse at the slightest panic.

The inspector returned, and spoke directly to the duke.

“Your Grace, I'm afraid there is no sign of Lady Henrietta anywhere on the streets or around the house. The snow would have revealed footprints, but there is nothing on the ground near Lady Henrietta’s window. I have called the search off until daylight, so we can further examine her room and the surrounding area in more detail.” The inspector paused and carefully considered his next words, “Are you sure she wasn't in any way distressed? She still wanted to go through with the wedding?”

“Inspector, how dare you imply such a thing? Remember who you are speaking to,” said Amelia, who was incensed by inspector’s audacity to say such things to a duke.

“The inspector has to ask uncomfortable questions. Let him do his job,” Bartley counseled before continuing, “Inspector, have you any objections to us staying in the house?”

The inspector shook his head. There was no reason for them to leave, but he would leave some policemen in the house and outside for protection.

Amelia had to admit she had a new admiration for Bartley. His easygoing nature allowed him to take charge, without seeming forceful. Even though John outranked Bartley, the inspector was more deferential towards the earl.

John was distraught, as was expected. The duke’s reaction had Amelia believing that his feelings towards Henrietta were love, and not just infatuation. Amelia felt bad for John; he hadn't even married Lady Henrietta, and now gossip would be rife about what happened. The truth would not matter. It was a mistake to come here, but Henrietta just had to have her way.

“I do not think we will sleep tonight. I propose that we remain together and pray that Lady Henrietta will be returned to us,” Bartley's suggestion was agreed upon, and he directed Andrews to provide refreshments to the police officers.

“Lady Amelia, perhaps you would join me in a card game.”

Something about his expression made Amelia leave her chaise and join him a distance from John, who just stood at the fireplace staring into the flames.

“Are you as curious as I am to try to figure out what happened to Lady Henrietta?” Bartley asked when he was sure they were out of earshot.

“What kind of a question is that? I am extremely worried, but I am sure the police will do everything in their power…” Amelia was interrupted by him.

“A woman with an intelligent mind like yours; surely you do not intend to just sit here while your dearest friend has gone missing? We must figure it out ourselves. I cannot see what waiting until the morning will do.” Bartley lowered his voice, to a barely audible whisper, “What if she found a secret tunnel? Did you know some of these homes have secret hiding places, just in case there was any sort of trouble or uprising?”

Amelia looked at him curiously, “So, you believe she may still be in the house?”

“Well, Lady Amelia, it’s certainly possible. After all, the room had been renovated fairly recently. There was no sign of forced entry. It can be the only explanation.”