On Friday morning, Elizabeth rose early, energized for a busy day ahead. She had slept well for the first time in over a week, courtesy of the Scofields’ departure the previous afternoon. She grinned to herself; the deafening roar of Hubert Scofield’s snoring, even from the opposite end of the fourth floor, demonstrated that the townhouse’s soundproofing didn’t measure up to William’s frequent assertions.
Her suitcase stood in a corner, packed and ready for her trip that afternoon. Although she would have preferred to accompany William on his recent trip to London and Edinburgh, traveling with him was still a novel experience, and she was looking forward to—as the old song said—meeting him in St. Louis. In addition, as he had pointed out the previous morning while kissing her goodbye, they would have two nights of total privacy. That alone was enough to put an extra spring in her step … and a sexy nightgown in her suitcase.
But first came the meeting at the Washington Heights school. She had finished breakfast and was almost ready to go but hadn’t seen Georgiana. She popped her head into the kitchen. “Has Georgie been down yet this morning?”
“No, but that’s not unusual,” Mrs. Reynolds answered. “She’s been skipping breakfast lately.”
“We have our meeting this morning. I hope she didn’t forget.”
“I took dinner up to her last night; Mrs. Darcy doesn’t like for me to do that, but she wasn’t home and the poor child isn’t eating enough. Georgie had a few different outfits on her bed; it looked like she was deciding what to wear today.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Good; at least she was thinking ahead. I’ll run upstairs and see if she’s ready.”
She considered taking the elevator to the fifth floor but, remembering how many dance classes she had skipped lately, decided the steps were a better option. Most of the family, even Rose, used the stairs almost exclusively, which might help to explain why they were all slender despite the constant, tempting stream of baked goods issuing from Mrs. Reynolds’s kitchen.
Her knock at Georgiana’s door went unanswered. “Georgie?” she called out. “Are you ready to go? We don’t want to be late.” Perhaps she had overslept. Did that possibility justify opening her bedroom door? Elizabeth glanced at her watch and decided to take the risk. But first she said, in a loud voice, “Georgie, I’m coming in, just in case you’re still asleep, okay?”
Still hearing no answer, Elizabeth gingerly opened the door. She could see from the doorway that Georgiana’s bed was unmade and unoccupied. A few shirts and a pair of jeans lay in a pile at the foot of the bed. “Georgie? Are you here?” she called out. Elizabeth switched on the lights and peeked into the bathroom; it was empty as well. The closet doors stood open, with a short skirt hanging from one doorknob.
Had Georgiana taken the elevator downstairs, perhaps, while Elizabeth was on the stairs? But she didn’t recall hearing the elevator. She hurried down to the second floor, where Sonya was busy in her office. “Hi, Sonya. Have you seen Georgie this morning?”
Sonya shook her head, and Elizabeth kept moving, checking the rest of the second-floor rooms. Then she searched the first floor and finally returned to the kitchen. “I can’t find her anywhere, Mrs. Reynolds. She couldn’t have gone out, could she?”
“I’ve been downstairs since seven thirty, and as far as I know, nobody has left the house but Mrs. Darcy, and Allen, of course. But back here in the kitchen, I could miss someone going out the front door. She isn’t in her room?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “And I looked all over the second floor, and down here, too.”
“I suppose she might have popped out for a quick walk; she’s done it before, and she would have made sure nobody saw her go.”
“But she knew we had a meeting at the school this morning. She was looking forward to it.”
“Children don’t always remember about schedules and appointments.”
Georgiana had behaved more like a colleague than like a child in their work at the school, but Mrs. Reynolds was right: Elizabeth needed to remember that she was dealing with a teenager. “I’d better call Ms. Martinez and let her know we’re going to be late. If Georgie went out for a walk, I hope she gets back soon.”
Three hours later, Elizabeth’s initial concern was threatening to blossom into outright panic. There were plenty of enticing yet benign destinations in Manhattan for a fifteen-year-old who was fed up with being stuck in the house, but Elizabeth couldn’t shake a suspicion that something worse had happened. She had called Georgiana’s cell phone several times, receiving no answer.
Rose was on her way home from an opera guild meeting, in response to a call from Sonya. Mrs. Reynolds had called Eleanor and Robert Fitzwilliam, who were in Chicago for the weekend; they hadn’t heard from Georgiana.
Neither had Richard, whom Elizabeth called next. “I bet she snuck out to do some shopping. Great opportunity to have some fun and also flip Gran the bird,” he replied. “I wouldn’t worry about her. Not yet, anyway. But, look, if you want some company while you wait, I can stop by.” Elizabeth had declined his offer with thanks, promising to keep him updated.
She had also left William a message on his cell phone. He was in the midst of his orchestra dress rehearsal, and his cell phone would be turned off until noon, but he would get the message in just a few minutes. The situation wasn’t dire enough yet to justify calling the symphony offices, asking that the rehearsal be interrupted, though she was tempted to it all the same. In his absence, she felt very responsible and very afraid of somehow making matters worse. She longed to call Jane, simply for moral support, but there had been no opportunity to slip away and make a call; everyone seemed to be looking to her to take charge.
The front door opened. Elizabeth raced in that direction, but it was Rose, arriving home from her meeting. “Have you found her?” Rose asked before the door even closed behind her.
Elizabeth shook her head. “She hasn’t called any of us, or answered our calls, and we’re not sure where to look. What about friends? Maybe she’s meeting someone.”
Rose frowned. “The only friend she ever mentioned to me was Courtney.” Sonya and Mrs. Reynolds, standing in the background, nodded their agreement. “But they haven’t spoken since that awful girl blamed everything on Georgiana in court.”
“Are you sure?” Elizabeth asked.
Rose looked mildly offended. “I forbade her to speak to Courtney. And in any case, why would she want to speak to that girl, after the lies she told?”
Rose was probably right. Courtney had betrayed Georgiana in order to get a reduced sentence for herself; it was hard to imagine their friendship surviving such a blow. Elizabeth evaluated the other options she had been considering in a continuous loop for the past hour. “Do you think she could have just snuck out for a long walk, or to window shop? She’s been stuck in this house so much lately. I guess she could have forgotten about our meeting and headed out on a sudden whim.”
Mrs. Reynolds cleared her throat. “I … I think that’s possible. She went out on Wednesday and she was gone for at least a few hours.”
Rose lifted her chin and said, in a cold voice, “And I am just hearing about this now?”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Darcy,” Mrs. Reynolds replied, her hands clasped in front of her. “I didn’t see her leave, but when she came back, she swore she’d only walked around the block and she begged me not to tell you. I know I was wrong to agree, but I thought the poor girl deserved a little fresh air. I didn’t find out till later how long she’d been gone; that night, Allen mentioned seeing her crossing Fifth Avenue, heading toward the park, when he was running errands after lunch. He assumed that she had permission to be out.”
“Okay,” Elizabeth said. “So maybe she’s doing the same thing again. She might have gone to the park to hang out for a while. Or for all we know, she’s exploring the Madison Avenue boutiques and ignoring our phone calls because she’s mad at us. So, do we wait a few more hours and hope she comes back on her own?”
“I suppose we have no other choice,” Rose remarked. She sounded calm, but Elizabeth could see the tension in her eyes. And in any case, Rose was right; there was little they could do, for now, but wait.
Four hours later, little had changed but their anxiety levels.
Ever since William’s rehearsal had ended, he had been on the phone with Elizabeth almost nonstop. “Should I cancel and come home?” he asked. “I admit, it would create some problems here, but if you need me, I’m on the next flight.”
“No, stay where you are,” Elizabeth replied, trying to sound calm. “There’s nothing you could do if you were here. Just keep trying to think of places where she might be, and keep calling her every now and then. One of these times, maybe she’ll pick up.”
“Do you think she decided to run away?”
That was exactly what Elizabeth thought, but she couldn’t say that to William when he was far away and feeling helpless. She reached up to touch her talisman, the emerald pendant. “I think she decided to give us all a big scare, and she’s out enjoying her spring break. I bet she’ll be home later, and we’ll feel like idiots for getting so worked up about it.”
Currently, Allen and Mrs. Reynolds were driving the streets of the Upper East Side, hoping for a glimpse of her. Richard and Charlotte, despite the futility of the idea, were searching the park. In both cases, only needle-in-a-haystack serendipity would produce results. Rose was in conversation with the family attorney, asking how soon the police would consent to get involved. Sonya had obtained a roster of Georgiana’s classmates, and their next step was to try to reach some of them.
“I know there’s someone she talks to,” Elizabeth said. “I see her on her phone pretty often, but she usually hangs up and tries to hide the phone as soon as she sees one of us.”
“Her phone records!” Sonya exclaimed. “Why didn’t I think of that sooner?”
Sonya ran upstairs and returned five minutes later with two printed sheets of paper. “The phone bill lists all the calls placed and received, and we can see more current ones online,” she explained.
“Has she made any calls today?” Rose asked.
“None that have been recorded so far, but it takes a little time for them to show up.”
Rose shook her head, frowning. “Then how does this help?”
“We can see who she’s been talking to lately,” Sonya explained. “She’s made a lot of calls to two different numbers, and she’s gotten calls from those same numbers.”
Elizabeth looked over Sonya’s shoulder and began dialing the number that appeared most often on the list. The call rolled to voicemail; Elizabeth left a short message and hung up. “That was Courtney’s phone. Evidently they’re still in touch after all.” She couldn’t help flicking a quick glance in Rose’s direction.
Elizabeth left a voicemail message at the second number as well. Then Sonya looked up from the list. “There’s one number from Wednesday night that’s different from the rest.” She read the number to Elizabeth, who dialed it.
“Ramsgate Hotel; how may I direct your call?”
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“You’ve reached the Ramsgate Hotel. May I help you?”
A hotel? That seemed strange. “Where are you located, please?”
“In the District of Columbia, near Constitution Center.”
The location made no sense, but at this point nothing else did either. “Could you please ring Georgiana Darcy’s room?”
After a brief pause, a reply came back. “I’m sorry; we don’t have anyone registered under that name.”
“All right. Thank you.” Elizabeth hung up and stared at Rose and Sonya. “She called a hotel in Washington, DC. Why would she do that?”
“A wrong number, perhaps?” Rose suggested.
Elizabeth’s phone rang. It was the second number she had called. “Hello,” a woman’s voice said. “This is Tricia Evans. You called about Georgiana Darcy.”
“Yes, thank you for calling me back. I’m her brother’s fiancée and we’re not sure where she is. This number was on her phone log several times.”
The other woman heaved a loud sigh. “That little …. Sorry. My stepdaughter kept stealing my phone while we were in the Bahamas recently.”
“You’re Courtney’s stepmother?”
“Unfortunately, yes. What has she done now?”
“We’re looking for Georgiana and wondered if the girls might be together.”
“I doubt it. Courtney’s back at school in Connecticut, finally. I haven’t seen Georgiana since … probably around Thanksgiving.”
“We’d like to find out if Courtney knows where Georgiana might be. Can you help us with that?”
“I’ll call my husband and ask him to call her; she might tell him something, especially if she thinks her allowance is on the line.”
Elizabeth thanked Tricia and said goodbye. Almost as soon as she hung up, the phone rang again.
“Lizzy, it’s Aunt Madeline.”
“Aunt Maddie, I can’t talk right now. We’re in the middle of a crisis.”
“How did you know?”
“Because I just got off the phone with her.”
“She called you?” Elizabeth gesticulated wildly at Sonya and Rose.
“She just called my office. She’s in DC; I don’t know why. She really didn’t say much; mostly she was just crying.”
“Crying? Is she hurt?”
“Physically, I think she’s okay, but she sounded terribly upset. She asked if I’d come get her. I’m on my way to my car right now. I’m going to take her to our house, and then we’ll sort things out.”
Madeline promised to call again as soon as she had Georgiana in her car. Elizabeth relayed the news to the others.
“What on earth is she doing in DC?” Rose asked. “Why would she want to go there?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “I don’t know. Thank heaven she figured out how to reach Aunt Maddie; I guess Georgie remembered that she works at Johns Hopkins.”
While Sonya called Mrs. Reynolds and Richard to cancel their search activities, Rose and Elizabeth discussed next steps. “If your aunt and uncle don’t mind hosting her overnight,” Rose said, “I’ll send Allen down to get her in the morning. It’s too late to drive down there and back today.”
“I’m sure they won’t mind,” Elizabeth replied. “But …. ” It seemed like a cold response to the crisis, to send a member of the staff to fetch her, but Elizabeth couldn’t think of a tactful way to say so.
Rose apparently reached the same conclusion. “On second thought, I will make the trip myself. Georgiana and I can have a long talk on the way back.”
That was worse; the last thing Georgiana needed was four hours alone in the family car with Rose. Elizabeth exchanged worried glances with Sonya and then said, “Mrs. Darcy, would you consider letting me go instead? I know there will be consequences for what she’s done, and I know you’ll want to discuss that with her. But don’t you think it would be better to bring her home first? My aunt says she’s very upset, and we still don’t know why she went down there, or what happened to upset her. And since she’s with my aunt and uncle, it would probably be less awkward if I were the one to go.”
“That sounds like an excellent plan,” Sonya said, nodding emphatically.
“I can go down this evening, spend the night, and bring her home in the morning,” Elizabeth added, with a quick smile of thanks at Sonya.
Rose shook her head. “That would be a great imposition on you, Elizabeth. I couldn’t ask that of you.”
“But, Mrs. Darcy, you didn’t ask. I offered.”
“Isn’t William expecting you in St. Louis?”
Elizabeth shrugged. “I already missed my flight, and since this is to help Georgie, I know he’ll understand.”
After a long pause, Rose agreed to Elizabeth’s plan. Elizabeth declined Rose’s offer of the car and Allen’s services for the trip, pointing out that Amtrak was a sensible option that would save Allen a night on the road. And so, instead of sitting in a special reserved seat at the concert hall in St. Louis, she found herself that evening on a train to Baltimore, with no idea what challenges might await her there.
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