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Jane and the deadly flower

May 20, 2017 02:01PM
another short story in which Simon makes a friend and I do not kill any pet dogs


Jane and the deadly flower


I
“Jane-girl, how do you feel about spending a long weekend with a neighbour?” asked Caleb.
“I am happy to consider it,” said Jane. “I am still feeling well, and the weather has been so fine, you would scarcely think we were halfway through October. Was there a particular reason?”
“Yes, I have received a letter from a Mr. August Bathurst, who has recently become the guardian to his brother’s child, a boy named Sylvain Duquemin Bathurst, who is from Guernsey. Mr. Bathurst says the boy is likely to drive him to the grave if he doesn’t kill himself first, as he is very lively. He would like him to go to school but does not want him too far away or in too large a school.”
“Poor little boy, orphaned and in a strange land,” said Jane. “How old is he?”
“Eleven, same age as Simon. Apparently his English is not as good as it might be, and he speaks only French and refuses to learn English.”
Jane raised an eyebrow.
“With an English father? I find that hard to believe,” said Jane. “Guernsey is and has been British since the time of the conqueror.”
Caleb shrugged.
“I am sure we will find out, and if he is poor at English, then it will soon be remedied. And if he is recalcitrant, then John and William might gabble in Hindu so he may see what it is like not to understand what people say.”
“Indeed,” said Jane. “We will, of course, take Henry Redmayne and Simon too?”
“Of course,” said Caleb. “There are two other nephews who live with Mr. Bathurst as well, but they are his sister’s children and are nineteen and sixteen years old, so are too old for Henry.”
“The older is not at university?” Jane was surprised.
“Apparently they are too delicate,” said Caleb. “Their mother lives there too and will not hear of them being sent away.”
“Perhaps this is why Sylvain will not speak English,” said Jane, dryly. “A pair of rather precious spoilt brats of cousins would not make me feel like being forthcoming.”
“You make a good point, my love,” said Caleb. “I will write and accept the invitation, then. As Sukey and John and their children are to be visiting Wulcombe to get to know him, that is fortuitous.”


August Bathurst met his visitors in a stuffily overheated room, with his foot up on an overstuffed footstool.
“Gout, my dear fellow, I am a martyr to it,” he declared. “Even with my medicine, I cannot rise to greet you.”
“Oh, we know something of gout,” said Caleb. “And also that it can, unfairly, attack those who do not eat too much red meat or drink too heavily.”
“I am a very moderate trencherman,” said Bathurst. “Aren’t I, Laura? This is my sister, Mrs. David Forbes, Captain Armitage, Mrs. Armitage.”
“Pleased to meet you, I’m sure,” said Mrs. Forbes. “You eat too much, August, you are not a moderate trencherman at all, you are careless of your health and you are careless with your medicine.”
“Pish and tush,” said Bathurst.
Jane found it hard to assess the age of Mrs. Forbes. She might be almost any age over her mid thirties, but she was carefully corseted, and beautifully made up, and her black dress was stylish and expensive. She could pass for any age over twenty-five in a place where the light was kind to her. One might assume she was at least thirty-five to have a son of nineteen, since the gentry rarely married as young as some labourers. She smiled a rather vapid smile at Jane.
“How do you manage to look such a girl with a boy of eleven, Mrs. Armitage?” she asked.
Jane smiled.
“Oh, he is my stepson,” she said. “I am three-and-twenty.”
“Dear me!” said Mrs. Forbes. “Tell him not to pull faces at me.”
“He is not pulling faces, he has a dropped side to his face,” said Jane, with studied patience.
“I can pull faces, ma’am, but never at ladies,” said Simon, sweeping a beautiful bow.
“Oh!” said Mrs. Forbes, taken aback.
“Will we meet your sons and your nephew?” asked Jane.
“Oh, my sons are in the music room; they are both musical like my dear late husband,” Mrs. Forbes dabbed at her eyes with a tiny scrap of lace and silk.
“He was a wastrel and a feckless idiot,” said Mr. Bathurst. “And if you think your boys are going to make a career of being musicians or treat it as a nice avocation whilst hanging on my purse-strings much longer, you can think again. I was hoping the Captain would have some suggestions for them.”
“Oh!” Mrs. Forbes gave a little scream, “I can’t have them sent into the army!”
“Eh bien, ils n’ont pas le courage, enfin,” said a scornful little voice. “la guerre est finie, mais ils ne seront jamais des soldats.”
The child who had entered was skinny, but looked to have a wiry strength, and his chin was firm and determined. He was tanned to a golden brown, with dark hair, and big dark eyes. He would be a handsome lad without the sneer.
“I do wish you wouldn’t gabble in French, Sylvain,” said Mrs. Forbes. “How can you expect visitors to understand you?”
“Oh my French is quite adequate to understand,” said Caleb, “And my wife is far more fluent than I.”
“I prefer Latin,” said Simon, “But perhaps it is as well, madam, that you do not understand. Sylvain doubts the courage of your sons, and feels they would not make soldiers. Though why do you assume that is what my father would advise?”
“Because he is an army Captain, of course,” said Mrs. Forbes. “Don’t all officers think that the best career?”
“Not at all,” said Caleb. “It was an excellent career for me, but Simon here plans to be a barrister. I could not advise your sons until I had met and spoken to them, and found out their interests, but I would suggest that taking time at university will always help a young man to consider his options and discover his vocation.”
“They wouldn’t last the course,” said Mr. Bathurst. “Taught music and nothing else; no French, no Latin, no mathematics. Wouldn’t send them to your school; they’d be sitting below the youngest, and it won’t do. Laura should be able to speak French, she learned it, we all did.”
“I cannot remember any,” said Mrs. Forbes, sulkily.
“Dis-moi, Sylvain, parle-tu la français pour irriter ta tante et ses fils?” asked Jane.
Sylvain regarded her, and flashed her a smile, which turned a rather sulky looking little boy into an attractive one.
Mais oui, absolument,” he said.
Mechant garçon,” said Jane, without rancour.
“I will not have to speak French for you and for the boy who does not like my aunt any more than I do,” said Sylvain, still in French. “My Papa was a brave man, he was a privateer, and he captured many French vessels. They hanged him as a pirate because he was captured the day after Napoleon surrendered and he did not know,” he added resentfully. “And Mama just faded away. And I must live with an uncle who tries, but he is no fun, and with her and with cousins who might as well be girls and who have the vapours.”
“You will have plenty of boys your own age, at school,” said Jane. “Simon’s friend Greg, and his cousins Johnnie and Will, and there will be much that is active as well as lessons.”
“Good. We will leave now, please?
Jane dropped diplomatically back into French.
“We did say we would stay for the weekend, Sylvain, and it would be rude not to do so. Moreover, perhaps we might help your cousins to be less helpless, yes?”
Sylvain shrugged, plainly considering this a forlorn hope, and glanced instead at Simon.
You can come boating with me if you want,” he said. Simon glanced at Caleb, who nodded permission, and the boys went off.
“Where have they gone?” demanded Mrs. Forbes.
“Boating,” said Caleb.
“Let us hope that Sylvain does not drown your boy,” said Mrs. Forbes.
“Come now, Laura! Sylvain is very able in all matters to do with the water,” said Mr. Bathurst.


Jane smiled and slid out of the room, being led by the sound of music to where Philip and John Forbes were laying a cello and flute duet. Jane slid onto the seat of the pianoforte, and picked up the music to play an accompaniment to the music of the two young men. They came to the end of the piece and stared at her.
“I say, you’re really good, not like a governess at all,” blurted out the younger.
Jane smiled.
“I am fortunate to be able to play for my own enjoyment, not to have to teach.”
“Oh! I’m sorry, I thought you were the female who was coming to take Sylvain back to school.”
“Well, that is accurate as far as it goes,” said Jane. “We hire a schoolmaster for our oldest son, and he has set up a school for the children of friends and relatives as well. Your uncle suggested that school might be good for your cousin. I’m sure you young gentleman are too old for school, and will be going to university.”
“Er … we weren’t planning on going to university,” said Philip, the elder.
“No? well, I’m sure you know your own business best. I would have loved the opportunity to go to university, if only women were permitted.”
“We don’t make the rules,” said Philip, looking uncomfortable.
“No, and if university isn’t for you, then that’s an end to it,” said Jane. “What do you hope to do?”
“I want to play as a concert cellist, like my father,” said Philip.
“Well, I think you are very courageous,” said Jane. “It’s a hard life, long hours and low pay, and treated as a servant if you get hired to play at a ball or a soirée.”
“I can handle that,” said Philip, looking shift. “Besides, Uncle August is bound to leave us something, to make life easier, and he’s a sick man, he won’t live forever.”
“Poor man,” said Jane.
“Well … yes, I suppose so,” said Philip. “But it must be miserable being old and ill.”
“It may well be, but you know, people still cling to what they have,” said Jane.
“Oh. Well, it ain’t that I wish death on him, you know,” said Philip. “Only Mama says that he’s a poor foolish old man and he’s pretty miserable and it would be kinder on him if he does die.”
“I don’t think that’s for anyone else to decide,” said Jane. “Who knows how he feels about it? Especially with a new lease of life with your young cousin.”
“That little brat!” cried John. “He’s a pest, and it ain’t fair that Uncle August wants him as his sole heir. He’s more French than English, a foreigner!”
“Maybe he’s more French than English because he wasn’t made to feel welcome,” said Jane, dryly. “An orphan boy in a strange land should expect some consideration, I’d have thought. However, one makes choices.”
“You haven’t heard the little beast boasting about his father the privateer,” said Philip.
“And why should he not? Many brave men sailed under letters of marque,” said Jane. “His father and mother are dead, and all he has are boasts. I consider it shameful that a man almost at his majority should be acting like a child no older than the unfortunate Sylvain. I hoped to find a point at which we might meet through your love of music, but alas! I will tell you that you will never, ever be fine performers until you can lose resentment and hatred, because anything which interferes with the pure love of music will interfere with your performance.” And she got up and left.
There was the sound of indignant young men behind her. Jane did not care. Their mother plainly expected them to hang on their uncle’s coat sleeve, and had not raised them to do anything else. A new heir must be a shock to them, and perhaps it was as well that Sylvain would be away from them at school, in case it occurred to either that an orphan boy might be as miserable as a sick old man, and Sylvain’s exploits became attended with deadly pranks.



II
The two boys returned wet and covered with slime.
“It wasn’t our fault, Ma!” Simon declared.
“Some cochon had taken the bung out of he boat,” said Sylvain, forgetting to speak in French beyond a more familiar term of invective. “It was full of dirt so it did not show, and it washed away.”
“Sylvain saved my life,” said Simon, soberly. “As you know, I do not swim well, for my withered arm. He kept me above water and dragged me to shore.”
Jane froze, then embraced both little boys fiercely.
“Is this the first time an accident has befallen you, Sylvain?” She asked.
Sylvain stiffened, and looked at her seriously.
Non, madame,” he said. “I have discovered a burr under my horse’s saddle, and I fell down the steps into the boating lake once, and everyone came to see and I was carted off when I swam to shore, and it was not until later I could look for what I tripped on, and there was nothing but a wisp of black silk tied to the railings at ankle depth.”
“I think you should be careful,” said Jane.
“I will, madame. I think cowards make such tricks.”
“I think someone cowardly has done so,” said Jane. “Run along and have a bath and return to drink tea in a fragrant and seemly manner.” She retired to clean up on her own account, where her impetuous hug had transferred a lot of pond detritus to her normally immaculate person.

“Your maman is a woman who does not dismiss things as imagination,” said Sylvain.
“My Ma is a partner to my Pa, and he’s a Bow Street Runner,” said Simon, proudly. “She helps him solve murders.”
Sylvain was duly impressed.
“They did not say that he was with the so-famous Bow Street. Just that he was an officer who had sold out who has independent means.”
“The independent means come out of rewards for solving thefts and things,” said Simon. “He’s worked for Lloyds of London and for the East India Company.”
“I am glad I shall be coming to school with you,” said Sylvain. “I have survived being a cabin boy on my Papa’s vessel, and being shipwrecked, but I fear I might not survive quiet country life in rural – ah, bah, what a word! – Essex.”
“Reckon you might not,” said Simon, soberly.

The smaller boys were indeed fragrant and seemly for afternoon tea, with nicely brushed hair and impeccable linen. A servant pushed in a three-tier dumb-waiter, with tea on the top, and a selection of sandwiches and cakes below.
“Ah, good, an excellent selection,” said Laura Forbes, taking charge.
“Come, Sylvain, my boy, I have had the kitchen prepare one of your special sandwiches of crab meat,” said Mr. Bathurst. “And one for me, too, I hope; I can’t think how those cousins of yours can turn up their nose at fish.”
“Fish, they say, is brain food,” said Jane.
Simon, mon ami, ou partage?” Sylvain passed half of his sandwich to Simon, who was nothing loath.
“I cannot think that crab is healthy,” said Mrs. Forbes.
“Nonsense, there is an ‘r’ in the month,” said Bathurst. “Here!” a small pug ran out from the folds of Mrs. Forbes’ skirt and seized the sandwich he had taken, running off with it.
Mrs. Forbes shrieked in horror.
Simon had taken a bite of his sandwich, took out a handkerchief, and spat into it.
“I wouldn’t eat yours if I was you, Sylvain,” he said. “Something chalky ground under my teeth and it tastes … metallic.”
“Everything tastes metallic in this house,” grumbled Bathurst. “Drat the woman, I was looking forward to that, I really was, and her damned dog has taken it!”
Mrs. Forbes had prized as much of the sandwich as she could out of her dog’s jaws.
“Naughty Puggy!” she said. “Mustn’t steal Uncle August’s sandwiches!”
“And I am not that revolting creature’s uncle,” grumbled Bathurst. “You are a sight, Laura.”
Mrs. Forbes looked down at her hand holding the remains of sandwich, and grimaced.
“I … I will go and dispose of this,” she said, going out.
“And so do we,” said Sylvain, depositing his sandwich in the fire. Simon followed suit.
“I thought you liked crab?” asked Philip, looking puzzled.
“He does not like poison,” said Simon. “And nor do I. Didn’t Mr. Prettyman near Highbury say that his gout tablets make things taste metallic?”
“Did you swallow any?” Caleb asked, his colour draining.
“No, Pa. Not a bit of it,” said Simon.
“We should make the dog vomit too,” said Caleb.
“Good luck with that, sir,” said John. “Nasty little thing won’t let anyone but Mama touch it. But would he have eaten the crab if it was off?”
“It wasn’t off,” said Simon. “It was full of colchicum.”
“Here, young Armitage, don’t you start accusing me of being careless with my pills,” said Bathurst.
“I wasn’t, sir. I was accusing someone else, as yet undetermined, of being extremely careful with your pills, but not in a friendly sort of way,” said Simon. “I suggest you count them.”
Bathurst frowned, but opened his pill tub and counted.
“Why, I am missing a good dozen!” he said.
Simon, Caleb and Jane exchanged a look.
It had to be said; it was now a family joke.
“Cui bono,” they said in unison.
“What does that mean?” asked Philip.
“It means ‘who benefits,’” said Simon.
“Who benefits? I don’t understand,” said Philip.
“Who benefits from Sylvain dying,” said Simon, patiently.
Philip stared at him, then turned to Jane.
“Is he mentally damaged as well as physically?” he asked.
“How dare you, you nasty little boy!” said Jane. “Nobody can be as stupid as you are pretending to be.”
“I am not pretending to be stupid!” Philip went very red in the face. “Why is he saying Sylvain is dying?”
Jane glared at him.
“He isn’t; he’s saying that Sylvain would have died if he had eaten colchicum in the crab sandwich which neither of you was likely to eat.”
“Oh, come on, that’s rather far fetched,” said Philip.
“Is the fact that your mother’s pug is showing signs of illness far fetched?” asked Jane. The unfortunate dog was shivering, and starting to whimper.
Mrs. Forbes returned at that moment and gasped.
“Puggy!” she cried, sweeping the animal up into her arms, and crooning to it. “This is your fault!” she snapped at her brother.
“How can it be my fault?” demanded August Bathurst, testily.
“Because you are so careless with your pills some of them got in the sandwich,” declared Mrs. Forbes.
“I am hardly likely to take out a dozen, which is what is missing, and if it was carelessness, they would be whole and not crushed up so that Master Armitage declares it to be gritty,” said Bathurst. “One of your precious sons has tried to kill Sylvain.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” snapped Mrs. Forbes.
“”And it’s not the first time someone has tried to kill him,” said Simon. “He’s had some very fishy so-called accidents.”
“The brat over-dramatises himself,” said Mrs. Forbes. “He is not a nice, quiet, well-behaved boy like my boys.”
“Enough!” Caleb’s voice carried. “If Simon believes the accidents to be no accident, I am prepared to accept that. He is not as stupid as a stump like your sons appear to be, Mrs. Forbes. And as there has been an attempted poisoning, I will step in with my official capacity, as Law Officer of Bow Street, granted powers of Constable in the County of Essex, and I will pursue a proper investigation. Try purging your animal: you might be in time. I am going to eat only those comestibles which young Sylvain dislikes, but eat I am going to do as I am hungry. And then between tea an dinner, I will begin to pursue my investigations. Take your dog away and do what you can, madam. I am sorry you did not get all the sandwich away from him.”
Mrs. Forbes fled with Puggy, and Caleb fortified himself with egg sandwiches, seed cake and tea.
“I had no idea you were with Bow Street; I thought you were a gentleman,” said Bathurst.
“Do you see the two as mutually exclusive, then?” said Caleb.
“I … well, in general, yes.”
Caleb shrugged.
“I bring my experience as an officer and a gentleman to such cases which need delicacy. However, if it offends you to have me investigating your family, I can leave, with Sylvain, for his own protection, and have another Bow Street officer sent. I doubt you’d find it comfortable though.”
“Dammit man! Of course I’d prefer a gentleman, but … isn’t this a bit melodramatic?”
“Would you consider it melodramatic to watch the nephew you have just brought from Guernsey vomit his insides raw, and then die screaming as his kidneys and liver fail, before his heart gave out in shock? That’s the way people poisoned with autumn crocus, which is the source of your pills, die.”
“But … Armitage … if anyone poisoned him, they must hate him!”
“Mr. Bathurst, your other nephews spoke of Sylvain in terms which suggested that they do hate him,” said Jane.
“I say! You can dislike a nasty little tick of a Froggie without wanting to poison him, wot?” said Philip.
“Somebody dislikes him enough to poison his favourite sandwich,” said Jane. “Somebody who didn’t care if his uncle died too, for liking the same. And you have expressed the opinion that it would be a kindness if your uncle died, as he can’t enjoy life.”
“That’s it!” roared Bathurst. “You can both pack, and you can go with your precious mother and get jobs somewhere and I don’t care what you do!”
“I’d rather find out who did the poisoning first, Bathurst,” said Caleb. “Whether you care or not about who might have almost killed you and Sylvain is, I’m afraid, rather immaterial to me. They might have succeeded in killing my son, had not his sense of taste been rather well developed. I take that very personally.”
Mon Dieu, I am glad I have not tried to poison one of your kindred,” muttered Sylvain to Simon.
Eh bien, le bon Papa est un peu distrait,” said Simon, with what Jane considered to be far too English a level of understatement to sound good in French. “You had better sleep in my room: we will move your favourite belongings over before we go to bed.”
“”Beyond a painting of my Papa’s ship and miniatures of my parents I have little that I care about,” said Sylvain. “I would like to know which of them it is, who wishes me dead, or I should ask if we might not remove entirely as soon as possible.”
“You boys and Henry are going back home right now,” said Caleb, grimly. “If you leave now, you should get there before it’s fully dark. We’ll bring your belongings with us, Sylvain, if you just run and pack an overnight bag. If I thought your would-be murderer was not inept, Sylvain, I’d assume he had not the sense to stop trying to kill you while we are here, but I don’t think our presence is enough to stop someone who appears to be both desperate and stupid. And stupid enough to risk my wife and son, if Sylvain is still around. And no, Simon, your clear duty is to stay with Sylvain.”
“I know, sir,” said Simon. “And you also don’t want to have to worry that I will manage to annoy someone as much as Sylvain has, by my own ineffable brilliance and better manners than a pair of puppies bred in the kennel of sloth and ignorance.”
“You’re a brat at times, Simon, but I can’t say I disagree with the sentiment,” said Henry. You know, Caleb, that the law don’t deal with attempted murder?”
“No, but it does deal with assault, and some of Sylvain’s so-called accidents count as assault,” said Caleb, grimly. “And I shan’t hesitate to take a would-be poisoner before Sir Randolph Pettiman, as local magistrate.”
“Oh dear me!” cried Bathurst, “I … surely they cannot have understood the full import of their actions?”
“I don’t know why you think I might have had anything to do with this, Uncle August, for I have not!” cried John.
“And I certainly have not, nor would I stoop to play dangerous trick on the brat,” said Philip.
“I will speak with the servants,” said Jane, and swept off to the kitchen.





III
“I need to speak about the sandwiches, for there was a problem; and Mrs. Forbes’ dog is ill as a consequence, and it was luck that it was not my son as well as Mr. Sylvain made ill,” said Jane, crisply.
“There was nothing wrong with them when they left the kitchen,” said the cook truculently.
“Who made them?”
“I made all of them; the girl Netta mashed the boiled eggs.” He waved a hand at a maid.
“Oh, madam, there was no shells in them, honest!” Netta gasped.
Jane smiled reassuringly.
“Indeed not, the egg sandwiches were delicious, I liked the addition of chives and I fancy a pinch of mace.”
The cook preened.
“An introduction of my own,” he said. “Which sandwiches had a problem?”
“The crab ones,” said Jane.
“I had one for my own tea, of the brown meat, which company won’t eat. I take out the poison glands most careful, madam, I have a set of tools for it,” and the cook displayed the tiny silver utensils for handling crab.
“Most commendable,” said Jane. “No, there is no question that any of the poison sac remained. There was a subsequent … adulteration.”
“It ain’t the servants’ hall as was mucking with the sandwiches, madam,” blurted out one of the other servants. “Jimmy, you tell her.”
One of the footmen was lounging in his shirtsleeves, and looked much embarrassed.
“You brought in the dumb-waiter with the tea on,” said Jane. “It was nicely manoeuvred over the door-step, without disturbing anything or spilling a drop of tea.”
“Thank you, madam,” said Jimmy. “See, I had left the dumb-waiter in the hall whilst I collected the teapot; and when I come back, there was them Forbes boys, and Mr. John was saying, ‘I will laugh to see his face when Puggy snatches it from him.’. I thought nothing of it, I had not thought they had tinkered with the food.”
“Oh! But Jimmy, what I meant was how Mrs. Forbes came into the kitchen and messed around with the sandwiches afore you took the dumb waiter up,” said the maid who had said it was not the servants who were responsible.
“Oh, ar, but her do come and mess with things,” said Jimmy. “And I didn’t see her this time, Moll, so don’t you call on me to talk about things I ain’t seen.”
“Well, well, how very interesting,” said Jane. “I am sure you have all done your duties perfectly well. I compliment you on a well-run kitchen, interference notwithstanding.”
She returned to the salon where the Forbes boys still sat, looking scared, on a sofa, while Caleb stood, scowling, in front of the fire.
“What did you boys put on the sandwiches to make Puggy grab one?” she demanded.
Their faces displayed their guilt.
“It was aniseed,” blurted out John. “We thought it would be funny if he grabbed a sandwich out of Sylvain’s hand. He hates Puggy!”
“And nothing else?”
John burst into tears.
“I shouldn’t want to hurt Puggy, I ain’t fond of him, but Mama is.”
Jane nodded.
“Your mother made the choice to add colchicum to the sandwiches, regardless of whether they would be eaten by Sylvain, your uncle, or any of your guests who might like fish,” she said.
“I will go and find her,” said Caleb, grimly. “At least I can put the poor dog out of its suffering quickly.”
“Oh sir! Is there no chance he will recover?” asked Philip.
Caleb shook his head.
“Not unless she has managed to purge him successfully,” he said. “I will check and see.”
He made his way, directed by a servant, to Mrs. Forbes’ boudoir. She looked up. There was a bucket full of foul matter which her maid was carrying discreetly away.
“I think he will live,” she said.
“Then I will not have to shoot the poor little beast,” said Caleb. “It’s a cruel death, colchicum poisoning, and the victim conscious through all the agony. Did you really want Sylvain to suffer that?”
“Yes! He deprived my sons of their birthright! When August learned that our brother had left a son, he was determined to raise him as his own and leave the bulk of his estate to him, apostrophising my poor boys as feckless! They are sensitive and artistic! I did not care how the little Frenchie suffered!”
“As the boy’s father was hanged by the French for fighting them, that’s a singularly inaccurate name for him,” said Caleb, dryly. “Partiality for your own boys I can understand, but to kill a harmless lad simply for existing? That is disgusting. Rather perhaps you should have urged your own sons to impress their uncle by studying. You are fortunate that this has not ended in the death of Sylvain; or of my son. Because if your efforts had killed Simon, I swear the hangman would not have had the chance to hang you. You have your dog to thank for that.”
She gave a little cry, and turned to petting her dog.
“I don’t understand why he took the sandwich; Puggy is so well trained, and never steals!”
“Now that could be because your sensitive and artistic sons thought it would be funny to dust the crab sandwiches with aniseed to tease Sylvain, because he may be well-trained, but Philip and John are assuredly not. Now do I have to search your embroidery things to find if you have a broken length of black silk used to trip Sylvain on the boating lake stair, or look in your presses for the bung to the skiff?”
She gave him a look of loathing.
“I tried to get rid of him, showing him up, but it did not work! What was I supposed to do?”
“Maybe your duty as a mother, madam,” said Caleb. “You had better get your coat; you will be coming to the lockup.”
“But … but he didn’t die!”
“No; but you are still guilty of assault. And I am determined that you will spend at least one night in the lockup even if Sir Randolph does not feel that there is a good enough case to answer. If I had my way, you’d be whipped at the cart’s arse. But a night in the cells will perhaps make you reflect on my son’s wetting and fright, for he is an indifferent swimmer. And you should spend that night on your knees praying in thanks that Sylvain is a strong enough swimmer to have saved him there, as well as for your sons meaning that only your dog was affected by your poison.”
“But … who will care for Puggy?”
“I will take him with me and nurse him,” said Caleb, gathering up the quiescent little beast. “If he does take a turn for the worse, I won’t let him suffer.”
“I … Thank you for that,” said Mrs. Forbes.

“We have acquired a dog?” asked Jane.
“I didn’t trust those boys to care for him,” said Caleb. “You nurse the poor little devil while I take that wretched woman in to the lock-up. If he shows further signs of pain in his limbs, or nausea, shoot him. If she’s purged him well enough he should pull through, if she hasn’t, well, you’ll soon know.”
“I’ve never been fond of pugs, but I won’t let him suffer,” said Jane. “If he pulls through, Frances will be delighted to have a dog to distract her from having a sibling born near her birthday, and if not, well, maybe we can get her a pup or a kitten.”
Caleb nodded.
“Change the poor little blighter’s name though,” he said.
“I will. I shall call him Nat, because he has a look of Sir Nathanial Conant when he’s using his sad eyes to convince you to take a job you don’t really want to,” said Jane.
Caleb laughed.
“Jane-girl, thank you for the first laugh I have had out of this sorry business!” he said. “I will return when that besom is locked up, and we leave first thing in the morning.”
“What am I to do about my nephews?” asked Mr. Bathurst, pathetically.
“Short of making them do a year in the army as volunteers, I suggest you send them to a vicar who takes crammers for university to show them what work is,” said Caleb, viciously. “And then at least they’ll be able to get a position teaching music in a school when they find that being concert players requires a bit more hard work than I wager they put into practising. Lazy in one thing, lazy in all. You’ll get my bill for the investigation tomorrow and the reckoning for the last of the Michaelmas term for Sylvain by the end of the week.”
“And I will retire to my room where I will take dinner on a tray, as will my husband on his return,” said Jane. “I will see you to bid farewell tomorrow.”
“It wasn’t my fault,” said Bathurst.
“I did not see your hand leading your other nephews,” said Jane, tartly. “And whatever you may have thought of their father, your duty was to show them how to use their musical skill within sensible ambitions, not to let them lounge about all day. You may be certain that we, at least, shall take good care of Sylvain. We don’t want the other two to cram, even though they probably would struggle to keep up with Edward, who is six.”
“And that,” said Philip, to John, “is as the Bard says, ‘the most unkindest cut of all’.”
SubjectAuthorPosted

Jane and the deadly flower

Sarah WaldockMay 20, 2017 02:01PM

Re: Jane and the deadly flower

Agnes BeatrixMay 26, 2017 02:04PM

Re: Jane and the deadly flower

NickiMay 21, 2017 09:42AM

Re: Jane and the deadly flower

Sarah WaldockMay 21, 2017 10:52AM

Re: an addition:

Sarah WaldockMay 21, 2017 10:55AM

Re: an addition:

NickiMay 21, 2017 04:31PM



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