An Earl's Agreement(128)

By: Joyce Alec

“Why did you not tell the inspector of your theory?” questioned Amelia. “Surely that information would have been helpful.”

“Secrete passages were built to remain hidden from the public’s knowledge. I didn’t want to share the house’s secrets with the whole police force.”

“Do you really think that's what happened here?” She furrowed her brow as she thought about the room’s design. There wasn’t a wall jutting out to create the space required to hide people. The theory didn’t seem to make sense, but she was willing to consider it. For the sake of finding her dearest friend, she was willing to consider anything.

“But where? The room, while beautifully decorated, is rather flat.”

“At least I've got you thinking, Lady Amelia. Remember when under attack, the hiding place must not be detectable so that the family could stay protected,” explained Bartley.

“We must tell His Grace about your idea. He might have some information on that room that we are not privy to.”

“I don’t think we should involve him at this point. The idea does seem a little farfetched, and I do not wish for my cousin to feel as if we are making light of the situation,” it was the one moment of seriousness from Bartley, who glanced at his friend.

As Amelia looked at John, she was sure a circus could be in the drawing room and he would not have paid it any attention. The duke was lost in his own thought, probably wondering how unlucky he was to lose his fiancée so close to their wedding. If she was lost forever, his heart would surely break.

John was lost in his own world, but he was admonishing himself for allowing Henrietta to make him come to this ghastly place. She would be safe if they had stayed in Kentonville. He should have never allowed her to move into that room. But how could he have said no? He adored Henrietta, who had brought new life into his world. Even the thought of her bright, smiling face brought joy into his life. He was utterly alone, and he didn’t know what else he could do. As one of the most powerful men in England, he suddenly felt helpless. He had been given a glimpse of happiness, and now it might be gone.

Chapter Four

Amelia and Bartley watched as John never moved from his spot. They tried to engage him in conversation, but he didn't pay them any attention. Bartley nodded towards the door. If they left one at a time, he might not even notice they had left. They had to look inside the room.

Except, they forgot about the constables guarding the door. No one was entering the room. Inspector Grimshaw had given him permission to arrest anyone, no matter their rank, who tried to gain entry.

“I don't really fancy a night in the police cells, do you, Lady Amelia?” Bartley smiled as he escorted Amelia back downstairs. Despite the circumstances, Bartley found a small amount of pleasure in spending more time with Amelia.

“I do hope Henrietta is coping. What if it was a kidnapping? Someone might see her as an easy way to get money from the duke. He would surely want the safe return of his bride-to-be, but the scandal might ruin him. What do you think, Lord Swinford?”

Bartley stopped to consider what she said. “I suppose it is a possibility. Shall we look around outside? Perhaps we will find something that the police missed.”

“We'd have nothing to lose by looking around, I suppose,” said Amelia, although a little hesitant.

They didn’t want to alarm John, so Andrews was quiet as he retrieved their coats. They snuck outdoors with two servants, who offered their help.

Amelia tried to piece together a plan, trying to imagine what one of the protagonists would do in the mystery novels she had read. Her first concerns were with finding Henrietta, but she was experiencing a slight thrill at being able to solve this mystery.

If it was indeed a kidnapping, her question was, how had they coerced, or even taken, Lady Henrietta from her room? And why wasn't there any ransom note? Perhaps the earl's suggestion of a secret passageway was true. Maybe Henrietta had discovered the passage and was stuck. The thought of her friend being scared in a dark secret passageway nearly brought tears to her eyes. Henrietta’s fear of the dark would have made the situation even more frightening. Amelia was determined to get to the bottom of this.