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Jane and the poacher's secret part ii

May 11, 2017 01:21PM
IV

When Dolly slipped back in, she had something she was concealing in her pocket, and Jane frowned. Was this girl all she seemed, a bit hasty to fall into bed with her lover, or was she a wanton, playing the gamekeeper false? Had she flirted with Basil Wolf, and had her betrothed husband killed a man he was already inclined to be jealous over, for his expected promotion over his head, and it was nothing to do with the poaching? Jane stepped up to Dolly and whipped the envelope, as it turned out to be from her pocket.
“Hey, thief! That’s mine!” cried Dolly.
“I’m not going to read it, but I’ll be taking it to your master,” said Jane. “He is in the position of being in the place of your parents, and he would not permit a daughter or young sister of his to receive clandestine letters, and nor would he permit you to do so. It is part of a protection a master gives to his servants.”
“Well it ain’t a clandestine letter to me, Mrs. Nosypoke,” said Dolly. “I was asked to put it with the mail to post, see?”
Jane looked down at the letter, which was addressed to an address in London.
“I see; and I apologise for such suspicions,” she said. “However, it is not your place to carry mail for others, and to take advantage of your master in hoping that he will just frank any mail waiting to go out. Do not do so again. I will also ask your master to dock your pay for insolence, there was no call for you to speak disrespectfully to me. I will not tell him that you are cheating him by getting a frank for your lover’s letters. I have no doubt a weak girl like you was talked into it.”
“Yes, madam,” said Dolly, tonelessly, though she hid a smirk. “But I ain’t weak!”
“You got pregnant, and I’ve not heard you were coerced,” said Jane, crisply. “You may go.”
“Yes, madam, thank you, madam,” said Dolly, with a resentful look. Jane sighed, reflecting that if the girl worked for her she would want to know how one of her maids had been seduced, and would have been married as soon as possible to the man responsible, so long as she had been a willing participant.
She glided back to her room where Ella was ironing.
“Ella, find Fowler, and tell him to ride as fast as he can to London, to seventy-six Sun Street, and to return as fast as he might to tell me what or who might live there.”
“Certainly, Mrs. Jane. He’ll be back by the morning, I’m sure.”
“He’s no Dick Turpin, but I have every faith in him. You know where I keep my funds, give him plenty to hire fresh horses.”
“Yes, Mrs. Jane,” said Ella.
Ella tripped downstairs and Jane absently finished the ironing, and began to dress for dinner.

“I need a word with you, my lord,” said Jane.
“In my study?” asked Felix.
“Yes, and perhaps Honoria would like to wait outside,” said Jane.
“You suspect eavesdroppers in the house?” Felix dropped his voice.
“Ella already caught one,” said Jane, dryly.
“We’ll talk before eating,” Felix decided.
Jane went into his office and gave him a quick report of her conversation with Dolly.
“I said I wouldn’t report her use of you to frank a letter, so I ask you not to take it up with her,” said Jane, “Though you might be careful what you frank. But the reason I accosted her is because I suspect her of being a bit of a wanton, and it occurred to me that if Amos Sparrow was a jealous man, the death of your brother might have been no more than action in a jealous rage, if Dolly was flirting with him. And then, frightened, he could have concealed it as an act of the poachers.”
“My goodness! I never thought of that. I would have said that Basil wasn’t in the petticoat line, but then, young men are young men, and Dolly is the kind of girl who takes comehithery to levels that leave me feeling in need of a chaperon. She says that Sparrow fathered her child, he’s willing to marry her, and I thought if she’s living in his cottage raising children, it would solve that problem. I don’t know why they haven’t set the date.”
“She told me that she wouldn’t marry him until he was bailiff,” said Jane.
“That’s ridiculous; I have no intention of making him bailiff,” said Felix. “Why on earth would Sparrow be writing to London?”
“I don’t know; and it might not even have been from Sparrow, if she has any clandestine affaire going on with another.”
“Well, when I frank the letters, I shall open it and read it,” said Felix. “In fact, I’ll send Spurgeon for the letters now.” He rang the bell, and when his butler answered, directed him to get the mail.
The letter to London was not amongst the letters going out.
“How odd!” said Jane. “Wait! When I taxed her with cheating you, she smirked and didn’t contradict me. I wonder if she thought she had put one over on me, and was intending passing it directly to the post boy.”
“I’ll have her here and make her give it up.”
“No, I advise against that. It may be nothing to do with your poachers. Just because she’s a little flirt who appears to treat veracity as something to be moulded to her satisfaction does not mean she is also seeing one of the poachers. And it is better, if her lover is one of the poachers, if no suspicion seems to fall on her yet. There is no point looking for a big mystery when it might just be the amatory adventures of a naughty maid. And the letter might be to anyone from a relative in service in London to an abortionist because she’s decided she doesn’t want to proceed with this pregnancy and asked someone other than Sparrow to arrange it.”
“My goodness! I had not thought of that.”
“I can’t see her being very maternal,” said Jane, dryly.
“No, but even so … the men who do such things are butchers.”
“And at that, better the men trained in surgery than an old woman with a knitting needle,” said Jane, dryly. “At least most reputable surgeons may be expected keep their tools clean, I cannot think that the ministrations of someone who is not so scrupulous can possibly do any woman any good, as we know from reading in the newspapers of unfortunate women who have died from the same.”
Felix shuddered.

Caleb went with Jack Cubitt that evening, with the rifle.
“Where are we going, Mr. Cubitt?” he asked.
“The boss wants you to take down deer.”
“There are deer here? I thought they were in Scotland,” said Caleb.
“There are deer in Scotland, but there’s a herd of fallow deer here. They ain’t as big as some of the big ones in Scotland, but they’re big enough to have plenty of meat. And they’re pretty skittish, and know how to disappear into the shadows with their spotted skins. It takes a helluva long time to track them down and shoot, and you have to get within fifty yards with a musket, better thirty, staying upwind. I can take one down, but I ain’t a shot like you are, and with a rifle, you can take them from further, and with the speed you reload, the chance of getting two in one night before they disappear.”
“I see,” said Caleb. With a sniper as good as he was, going after deer made sense, otherwise it was a long exercise which might yield nothing if they got scent of the hunter. “Won’t it deplete the herd entirely if we take two every night?”
“We won’t be taking two every night. But the boss got a request for venison, now doe meat is in season, and knowing we had you, he sent off a promise of two deer. Don’t let him down; he don’t like being let down.”
“I thought you were the boss,” said Caleb. “Who is it?”
“That’s for me to know and you to wonder at, until you’re in proper. I’m his number two as you might say.”
Caleb nodded. It made sense not to introduce a new member of a gang to the boss before he proved trustworthy. It was unfortunate for the deer, but he would take down the two required to show that he was worthy of his hire.
“What’s my cut?”
“If you can make the two clean kills, a quarter of the take on them shared only with me as your guide. The boss takes a quarter of everything because he has the means to get them sold, and the rest is shared equally. Wiggett’s son gets a quarter in his share on pigeons because he’s that good with a fowling piece it’s worth the boss’s while to give him that bonus. The rest of the time, we work as a team, some beating, some shooting, and we share and share alike. I have taken the odd deer, but with your skill we’ll make more between us. We’ll mostly be after hares, or as they call them in London, lions.”
“Lions?” asked Caleb, who knew full well that London butchers sold hares as lions, and partridges as owls to hide the fact that they were flouting game law.
“It’s code, see? Same as we sell the venison as wolves.”
“I see,” said Caleb. “You’re well organised.”
Cubitt shrugged.
“You have to be well organised to get on anywhere. You ain’t having second thought, are you?”
Caleb shook his head.
“Why should I? Robin Hood took the king’s deer, and nobody says he was a bad man. Like you say, it’s our rights.”
“Good man,” said Cubitt. “I thought a man who’d given his duty to a bunch of aristos who don’t take care of him would want a bit of pay back.”

Fowler staggered into the salon after the company had retired from eating.
“Good G-d, brandy for the poor man!” Felix called to his butler, who was following Fowler with some disapproval.
“Jem Fowler, who changed your name to Dick Turpin?” asked Jane. Fowler managed a chuckle.
“Reckon the golden boys you gave me got me good horses, ma’am,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without changes of horses. And I had to shift, because the moon’s going down. I didn’t want to break a hock, or worse, my neck. It ain’t as far as Turpin’s ride, but I reckon I did London and back in seven hours and my fundament is about to fall off, and bless you milord,” he added, sipping appreciatively on the amber liquid. “Gawd, that’s too good for the likes of me,” he added.
“Nothing is too good for a man who can make London and back in seven hours,” said Felix. “Good grief, man, it’s fifty miles if it’s a foot, and you had to find the address too.”
“And worth the ride,” said Fowler. “It’s a high class butchery, one of the sort as sells owls and lions.”
“Owls and lions? Who can eat them?” asked Jane.
“Partridges and hares, Mrs. Jane,” said Fowler, forgetting to be formal. “As any former footman knows is code for things as is poached.”
“So Dolly is involved,” said Felix grimly.
“She might be involved innocently,” said Honoria. “Might she not, Jane?”
“It is possible that she knows very little,” said Jane. “But I fear that she is the kind who would actually enjoy cheating her master.”
“But to keep her on when she is with child … how can she behave so when he has been so generous?” asked Honoria.
Jane gave a twisted smile, and sighed.
“Purely because he is so generous,” she said. “There are those people who will push and push against the boundaries set, to see just how much they can get away with. The more generous someone is to them, the more their mean hearts despise the generosity and the more they take.”
“I would rather give chances and take that risk than fail to take care of those of my people who need it,” said Felix.
Honoria smiled on him.
“Now you see why I love him so much, Jane,” she said.
“I do,” said Jane. “I agree, my lord. It is better to give chances.”
“I will arrange for someone to adopt her baby if she is involved,” said Felix. “And I fear I have no doubt that she must have some idea about what is going on. She could scarcely be passing letters to the mail man and not have some idea. ”
“And I fear I agree with you,” said Jane. “I wish we could confine her.”
“Ella will arrange that,” said Fowler. “I’m sure she can manage to keep the girl out of sight and quiet.”
Jane nodded and went out to search for Ella, and explained what was wanted.
“It’ll be a pleasure,” said Ella. “I’m glad Jem, Fowler I mean, is back safely. You leave that little hussy to me.”

Jane did not anticipate that Ella would be especially gentle with Dolly; Ella had taken a distinct dislike to the maid. Knowing that Dolly’s friends could prove a risk to Fowler would not improve her disposition. Jane found she really did not mind how much Ella frightened Dolly. Her Caleb was somewhere out in the village and she had no idea whether he had contacted the poachers or not, or even whether he was alive. She sighed, and went back down to Honoria.
Honoria smiled impishly.
“Fowler has proved an adequate chaperon while you were away,” she said.
“I feel very de trop, Mrs. Jane,” said Fowler. “May I go, now?”
“Yes, of course, Fowler,” said Jane. “We’ve had no word from Mr. Armitage.”
Fowler’s shoulders slumped.
“Did I ought to go down to the village inn?” he asked.
“It’s too late now,” said Jane. “He’s too resourceful to get himself killed.”
“Indeed he is, Mrs. Jane,” said Fowler. “I’ll check on Ella and when I’ve had some shut-eye, I’ll relieve her.”
He opened the door, and a haggard young man fell in through it, the butler on his heels.
“My lord! The poachers!” cried the youth.

V

It took time to track the deer, and Caleb actually enjoyed himself. They were hard to see, even with a good waxing moon, as their spotted fawn-coloured coats made them blend into the shadows of the leaves, but Caleb identified two targets and noted their positions. He took a breath and let it partly out as he took up the tension on the trigger. And then he was firing, and tossing back the rifle to scrub out and reload, and was firing again as his second target was still wondering which way to run.
The herd scattered then.
Cubitt was jubilant.
“I was doubtful you’d get two, but dammit, man, you’re good,” he said.
“Nice little hunt, not as satisfying as Frenchmen, but more profitable,” said Caleb. Cubitt laughed.
“I’ll tell the boss that one, he’ll like it.”
The two went across to check that the kills had been clean, and Caleb was pleased that he had not been far in each case from the eye. Cubitt was clearly impressed; such a precise shot over the distance did show a remarkable skill.
“If you was a gentleman, you’d make your fortune gambling on being able to culp wafers at White’s,” he said.
“If I was a gentleman I don’t suppose I’d feel a need to do so,” said Caleb, who had not yet been invited to those rarefied places, the London clubs, but if he ever was, gambling on his skill shooting would be a less foolish way to impress them than playing cards for ridiculous stakes.
Cubitt began jointing the meat expertly.
“We’ll have some help taking this to where it can be sent on,” he said.
“Good; a couple of hundred pounds of meat isn’t carried easily,” said Caleb. “It ain’t like hefting sacks of meal or grain.”
“No, and the boys will be preparing double barrels to store it in, in straw, with saltpetre in water in the outer barrel to keep it cool on its journey,” said Cubitt. “Game does no harm in being allowed to mature, but best to let the butcher decide how long he wants it maturing, it’s still as warm as summer. They’ll carry it over to Wulcombe Parva whence it travels to London. The Sparrows have a carting business there, so nobody takes any notice of what they carry inside the faggots they run to London legitimate-like. And it’s just a step across the forest to the village. What was that?” there was a rustle, and Cubitt hurled himself into the bushes, returning with a young man Caleb recognised as one of the ostlers. He looked on Caleb in scorn.
“The lady was right to turn you off, you scoundrel,” he said. Cubitt hit him.
“Filthy little spy! The boss will know what to do,” he said. “Tie him up, Armitage.”
Caleb cursed to himself. Foolish boy! He trussed him up, but not too tightly.
“What happens next?” he asked Cubitt.
“We wait for the others; they’ll be looking for us. Light that lantern.”
Caleb nodded, and lit the lantern, standing well to one side of it as he did so, in case it was a trap to light up a target to shoot at. He moved back into the shadows.
“Leery cove, ain’t you?” said Cubitt.
“Being a leery cove saved my life more than once,” Caleb shrugged.
Presently there were sounds of other men coming, and several rough men in dark smocks carrying burlap sacks emerged into the circle of the lamplight. One wore a rough mask.
“What’s this?” he pointed to the tied up ostler.
“He was spying, boss,” said Cubitt.
The boss kicked the youth in the ribs.
“He won’t do that, again,” he said. “Nice shooting, Armitage; I am impressed. One more thing though, before you are a full-fledged member; you can take care of this spy before we carry the meat away.”
“You mean, kill him?” said Caleb.
“Yes, kill him,” said the masked boss. He glanced expectantly at Caleb’s pistol.
“If you think I’m wasting a bullet on a spy, you can think again,” said Caleb. “Let me have some of that rope you’re tying the meat with; I’ll put him to bed with a hempen collar.”
“Can you tie a hangman’s knot?”
“You learn all manner of things in the army,” said Caleb.
“You’re all filthy thieves and you murdered Basil Wolf,” said the boy.
“Save your breath, boy; you won’t have any to spare for long,” said Caleb, and started making a knot with the rope. Noting that all eyes peered at it in horror briefly and then were averted, he surreptitiously got out his knife, and moved closer to the young ostler.
“Listen my lad, and listen well,” he said in a low voice, “I’m with Bow Street, and I’m going to give you a false hanging, but you have to keep your mouth shut and then run to rouse his lordship as soon as you fall out of the tree I put you in, and tell him to go to Sparrow’s carters with all the tough men he can muster. Nod if you understand me.
The young man nodded. His eyes were wide with terror.
“I understand,” he muttered.
“You keep a civil tongue in your head,” said Caleb out loud. “Or I’ll beat you to death instead of just hanging you.”
“I hope you rot,” said the boy.
“You’ll rot afore I,” said Caleb. He added in an undertone, “Keep your hands behind your back, I’ll cut the ropes mostly, so you can get out quickly, and I’ll cut the rope just above the noose almost all through. Insult me in a moment, and I’ll make to strangle you, and I’ll put on the leather stock I wear under my belcher scarf to give you more time. I’ll leave my knife in your hand to finish the cutting if it don’t break. I dare do no more.” As he spoke he was unbuckling his own leather gorget.
“You lousy gin-sodden wreck!” yelled the boy.
Caleb pounced, and in the darkness and uncertain shadows of the setting moon managed to buckle the gorget on the boy.
“It ain’t as good as a real cheat hanging but I ain’t got a gang to help rescue you,” he said. “Once I heave you up, you’re on your own.”
“Yes, sir,” said the boy. Caleb nodded to him.
“You’re a brave lad,” he said, and aloud, “Phaugh, why soil my hands on you when I’ve a good noose! Are we ready to get out of here, lads?”
“As soon as you’ve strung him up, Armitage,” said the boss.
Caleb threw the noose over the boy’s head, threw the other end over a tree branch and heaved, tying off the other end to another branch.
“I’m done,” he said. “Any beer at the other end? Hanging a man is thirsty work.”
“You’ll get beer or a heavy wet,” said the boss. “Not bothering to hang him higher?”
“He’ll dangle and strangle whether his feet are inches from the floor or feet,” shrugged Caleb, moving away from the stable boy. “I’m looking forward to that beer.”
And then they were moving off, and Caleb resisted the urge to look back, and could only hope that the boy was able to get loose and that a brave lad’s death would not be on his conscience.

“More hem riding ventre à terre,” muttered Fowler, as the stablehand choked out his story. “At least we know the master is alive, Mrs. Jane, and with all his wits about him.”
“And thanks to Billy here, likely to remain so,” said Felix. “Billy, get all the outside men, if you think them loyal; Fowler, are you able to come?”
“The one that ain’t loyal was with them, milord” said Billy. “And I’d swear to that in a court of law, mask or no mask.”
“I’m ready and able to assist my master, thank you, my lord,” said Fowler, drawing himself up. “It’s a valet’s prerogative to moan.”
Felix laughed. It was rather a brittle laugh.
“Why, so it is,” he said.
“I fear Honoria and I must remain,” said Jane. “She is not yet well enough trained to shoot, and I am a trifle hors de combat at the moment.”
“Why, yes, of … Yes, I quite understand,” said Felix, suddenly realising that for Jane ‘of course’ was not a given. “We’ll rely on you ladies for hot drinks in the kitchen in an hour or so, and hope not to need any patching up.”
Jane took Honoria firmly to the kitchen. The servants had largely gone to bed, and Jane blew up the fire to boil water. Honoria might as well learn how to prepare to treat the wounded, even if Felix and his men were fortunate enough not to need it.

The village of Wulcombe Parva made Caleb nervous. Half the villagers had turned out. Apparently the lot of them knew what was going on and were willing confederates. An elderly woman with a prognathic jaw was busy mixing saltpetre with water to pour into the outer of two barrels in which the poachers were busy putting the jointed venison. The offal, forelegs and head was being shared out amongst the villagers, presumably their share for helping. A strange set-up, thought Caleb.
“Don’t go freezing it, Ma,” said the leader. “Venison don’t want to get too cold.”
“You teach your grandmother to suck eggs, Amos,” said the old woman. “Buggering about half the night, you’ll be lucky to get it into London much afore midday at this rate.”
“There was a spy, Ma,” said the leader. “He had to be dealt with.”
“What did you do with him?” asked the old woman.
“Armitage here hanged him,” said Amos. “Looked a workmanlike job.”
“Exotic skills he has,” said the old woman.
“He’s been a soldier,” Amos shrugged.
“Watch that your doxy don’t decide she prefers a tall, well-set-up fellow like him to you,” said Ma Sparrow.
“You leave Dolly out of this,” Sparrow snapped.
“I wish I could leave her out of it,” grumbled Ma. “The girl is nothing but trouble, and you mark my words, she’ll give you away one of these days.”
“You lay off her, she’s loyal,” Sparrow glowered. None of his men dared cross him or risk his temper, but he could not stop his mother saying what she wanted.
And then there were the sounds of horses hooves. The faggots waiting to be loaded were thrown into the cart to cover the barrels and half the village melted away.
“Get inside, Ma,” said Sparrow, pulling off his mask, which would make him more suspicious than otherwise. The poachers were all drawing guns as Felix and his cohorts thundered down the hard earth of the main street. Sparrow took aim, and flung up his arms with a cry which almost drowned the report of Caleb’s gun. His second shot took Cubitt down, and the other poachers, suddenly aware they had a traitor in their midst, turned on him, unaware that he had two more shots as well as the rifle. Caleb threw himself behind a pile of faggots, and took down three more.
It bought time for the earl and his men to bring their own weapons to bear, and the poachers were at bay, determined to sell their lives hard, since they faced hanging in any case, for being associated with the killing of Basil Wolf, and so far as they knew, the boy Billy. A few more muskets appeared out of windows, but Caleb was reloading his rifle, and with reinforcements, the battle was soon over, and the poachers were either dead or being tied up by burly stablehands, some of whom were also frogmarching out those who had been firing out of windows.
“Armitage, my dear chap, are you unharmed?” asked Felix.
“Grazed by a ball on the ribs,” said Caleb. “Oh! The blood!” he looked down ruefully. “I felt the ball graze, pluck my shirt and fall down, it’s still in my shirt, I think. A shake of basilicum powder and a cup of coffee and I’ll be as right as rain.”
“We’ll leave Mrs. Jane determining that,” said Fowler, coming over. “Oh gawd, I’m going to have to take your report to Bow Street tomorrow, ain’t I?”
“Is that a problem?” Caleb was puzzled.
“I did London and back in seven hours to find out where Sparrow’s fancy-piece was sending a letter to. It’s a butcher’s shop,” said Fowler.
“Invaluable man. I expect his lordship can send someone.”
“I shall,” said Felix. “Come on, Armitage, back to the ladies; my lads will bring in the prisoner. I … I am most disappointed in Amos Sparrow. You had to kill him?”
“He was about to shoot you, my lord. Also, I thought if I shot to wound, it would not amuse me to have to arrest you for taking him apart with your bare hands for killing your brother.”
“I would have done,” said Felix, soberly. “Well, perhaps it is for the best. Armitage.”
“A suggestion, my lord?” said Caleb.
“I’m listening.”
“Let his mother have his body and offer amnesty to the rest of Wulcombe Parva and bind them over to keep the peace,” said Caleb. “If you start pursuing everyone who was involved, even peripherally, it will lead to ill-feeling for generations.”
“Tempted as I am to transport the lot of them en masse I think you are probably right,” said Felix. “Time, however, I think, for some people to move to other places I own, and split them up.”
“That is a good idea,” said Caleb. “I don’t think the rotten apples will spoil another barrel without the leadership of Sparrow.”

Fowler warned Jane that the blood on Caleb’s shirt was not a serious wound, and Jane just embraced her husband when he came in. Caleb wrote his report, and sent it to Bow Street, indicating that discipline of the local villains was being undertaken by the local magistrate but that the butcher would bear investigation. Felix personally broke the news to Dolly that her lover was dead, and did not have to give notice to her, as Dolly stormed out, and took herself off.
“And doubtless she will end up in Covent Garden,” sighed Jane.
“And little enough we can do about it,” said Felix.
And then they might relax, and enjoy a few days as guests of Felix, and Jane was able to see the rose garden which Honoria had been so enthusiastic about.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Jane and the poacher's secret part ii

Sarah WaldockMay 11, 2017 01:21PM

Re: Jane and the poacher's secret part ii

Agnes BeatrixMay 16, 2017 08:53AM

Re: Jane and the poacher's secret part ii

Sarah WaldockMay 17, 2017 10:08PM

Fake noose?

Agnes BeatrixMay 18, 2017 08:07PM

Re: Fake noose?

Sarah WaldockMay 19, 2017 05:02PM

Re: Jane and the poacher's secret part ii

AlidaMay 12, 2017 05:17AM



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