Chapter 8: The House Falls

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Sir Benjamin and Henri had decided to transfer their work on the Americas to the Soho apartments in London and that Charlotte would travel with them for the purposes of the project. Henri Le Bas had already departed for the capital to prepare the rooms they would require for their work.

Meanwhile, Lamerton was in an uproar of activity as caskets of books, Antipodean samples of molluscs, insects and reptiles were carried to the carriages awaiting outside the manor. Charlotte's meagre possessions had been placed in a trunk and left in the main corridor leading to the back doors of the kitchen courtyard. Sir Benjamin had not spoken to Lady Dorothea since the dinner party the week before. He had engaged the family doctor to visit her. The doctor's questions had carried an alarming interest in her mental and emotional state. Dorothea remembered all too vividly her own Aunt Beth's descent into madness before Beth was committed to the mental hospital at Bedlam and subsequently died. She had to be very careful, the stakes were becoming ever more dangerous.

Pastor Sutherland had recently called in to enquire after the household, leaving Charlotte to wonder whether this had been at the behest of Father Simmons. Lady Dorothea had invited the Pastor over today for morning tea. The hour was fast approaching. Mrs Brand was officiously in command in the kitchen, preparing a sumptuous morning tea for the Pastor and his good wife. Sir Benjamin was busy in the study setting out the plans for the relocation of the "the project" to the Soho house. The other servants were busy with their normal duties upstairs. There would never be a better moment than now. Dorothea carefully removed the ruby necklace from her bodice where she had hidden it this morning and, unbuckling Charlotte's worn trunk, deposited it in the folds of a woollen skirt. Carefully closing the trunk, she walked quickly up the stairs to her rooms and rang the bell for her chamber maid, Bessie.

"Yes ma'am, you rang?"

"Bessie, get me my silk shawl and my ruby necklace. I have a mind to take Pastor Sutherland and his wife on a tour of the gardens and estate in the carriage this morning, as the house has been thrown into chaos with Sir Watts' travelling plans."

"Of course ma'am. Would her ladyship wait while I retrieve the key to the safe from Mrs Brand?"

"Yes, thank you Bessie."

Mrs Brand was slightly out of breath by the time she climbed the stairs, but it was the shock of finding the safe key gone from her office cupboard, rather than the exercise, which had drained her face of all colour. She wrung her hands in desperation. "Ma'am, I don't know how this could have happened. All the keys were in the cupboard last night when I locked up. But this morning, O please God be good, your safe key is missing!"

Dorothea's face arranged itself in a suitably stupefied expression. "Bessie, get the spare key from my husband and be quick about it girl! Mrs Brand, have you left the door of your office open this morning?"

"Yes, ma ladyship, on account of the preparation for this morning's tea Ma'am - well, I was being called back and forth to the kitchen and I may have left my office unattended with the extra business."

"What? Mrs Brand, there are hordes of extra men in the house this morning helping with the packing of his lordship's things - men we know nothing about and you leave the door to your office open and in so doing, our precious things unsafe?"

Mrs Brand let out a wail of misery. "I'm so sorry your ladyship!"

"Pray Mrs Brand, that there is nothing missing from my safe, or you will be looking for another position!"

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