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Jane and the younger pretender

May 23, 2017 02:29PM
When Jane arranges a Christmastide party for her family, a surprising discovery is made, which leads to Caleb having to ride off to save the life of the Prince of Wales and others.

Jane and the Younger Pretender

Jane was glad to be brought to bed with a second daughter earlier than her calculations made it likely, early in December, a joy to dispel the countrywide solemnity following the death of Queen Charlotte in the middle of November.
The baby was born quite three weeks before Frances’ birthday, so the infant would not feel her birthday was overshadowed by the birth of her sister. When they were older, they might dislike having birthdays close together, but for now, at least, three weeks was an eternity to two-year-old Frances. Having her own dog helped, too. The unfortunate Puggy, renamed Nat, had survived his unfortunate experience of being poisoned, against all the odds, and was now a cheerful and friendly little dog. He may have missed his former mistress, but he took to Frances, and even Sylvain, who had formerly disliked the dog, was willing to play with him to please Frances.
There was no question of what to call their new daughter; Caleb and Jane had already decided that a daughter would be named after Caleb’s sister and mother, Susanne Amy.
“Once I’m churched, we could have Sukey and John and their children for Christmas, and Aunt Hetty and Uncle George,” said Jane. “I know we are in mourning for poor Queen Charlotte, but Christmas is Christmas.”
“Will you be up to entertaining?” asked Caleb.
“I like entertaining,” said Jane. “And it’s only family.”
“Sukey turned down an invitation from Felix Lovell to meet his friends for Christmas; she said maybe next year, but it was all a bit too new and sudden,” Caleb told her. “However, when I’m not doing official Bow Street business, Felix commissioned me to track down any other siblings he might have. It’s what I’ve been poking into and spending more time in London over, he is doing his own investigating on his own estate after the tragedy of Abel Sparrow being so resentful.”
“Have you got anywhere?”
“I have a few leads, and one dead infant,” shrugged Caleb. “It’s not every lord who’d want to know where his father’s byblows are.”
“He’s an unusual man, and Honoria is lucky,” said Jane, “as I am. And actually Felix is lucky in having a sister whose brother is someone like you, not someone who will try to batten off him. You are being careful?”
“Yes, extremely,” said Caleb. “I know what people are like, Jane-girl!”

December was mild, for a change, though Jane worried that the weather would be overset, and make travelling too hard for her guests when the fifteenth of the month was subject to a frighteningly strong buffeting of wind, but fortunately it was short lived, and beyond morning frosts, the weather remained mercifully fair, as Jane commented to her sister-in-law when they arrived.
“Or what the English call fair,” shivered Sukey. “I keep forgetting how cold it is here; and fair means it isn’t actually raining at the moment.”
“Yes,” laughed her husband, “I heard a joke from another chap in the John Company, how do you tell when it’s foggy in England? When it isn’t raining.”
Jane laughed.
“Oh it’s not that bad,” she said. “Though the year I was married to Frank and subsequently widowed was terrible. They called it ‘the year without a summer’ and it really was. But Caleb brought me enough sunshine not to mind.”
“Now that is sweet,” approved Sukey. “You both look very well on it; marriage plainly agrees with you.”
“And you,” said Jane. “I’m glad you and John are so happy together.”
“Yes, it helps put up with the Indian climate,” said Sukey. “I might moan about the cold, but believe me, I’m glad to be out of the enervating heat.”

George and Hetty Coate and their twins were also soon tenderly installed in Daisy Hall, and getting to know the Perrins. George Coate was sufficiently used to his own nieces and nephews to be swiftly on good terms with the younger Perrins. Jane had spent her enforced inactivity well, in devising both party games which were new varieties of old favourites, and in writing clues to a treasure hunt for the youngsters. It was not long, however, before the squeals of enjoyment were ripped by a scream of terror.
Naturally, all the adults left their wine and mince pies to run to the source of the sound, which sounded like the only female voice amongst the children, little Phoebe Perrin.
The salon whence the sound appeared to have come was empty.
“Phoebe!” Sukey cried.
“Mama!” it was muffled. “The fireplace ate me!”
“There’s a scrap of muslin on the panelling around the fireplace,” said Jane. Caleb and John were over there in a trice.
“It’s like it was shut in a door,” said John.
Caleb scratched his head.
“Well, I didn’t know we had a secret door,” he said. “Phoebe, love, how did you get in there?”
“I don’t know!” there were muffled sobs.
“She must have leaned on something that was a catch,” said Caleb. “Here, Edward, you’re nearly your sister’s height, see what you can find.”
“Will the fireplace eat me?” asked Edward, fearfully.
“Not if your brothers and I hang on to you,” said Simon.
Edward poked around and suddenly there was a creaking noise, and a slit appeared. Caleb reached in and grabbed his niece and dragged her out, handing her to her mother.
“She must have been leaning on the panel and fell in,” said Caleb. “It hasn’t closed, when she tumbled in it must have set off a mechanism to close it.”
“There’s a stair,” said Simon. “I say, Pa, may we explore it?”
“Yes, but not until tomorrow morning,” said Caleb. “It’s been there long enough, you can finish the treasure hunt now, for the younger ones, and then tomorrow, you and Sylvain and John, and William, if he wishes, may go. You will take water, just in case you find any other doors and get trapped until we can rescue you, and a rope, in case the stairs are bad.”
“Yes, Pa,” said Simon. “Come on, Phoebe, I’ll help you find the next clue.” The sobbing Phoebe was happy to be coaxed back into the game by her big cousin, and soon forgot her fright.
“What a horrid thing to have in one’s house to be sure!” said Sukey.
“Oh, well, doubtless that part of the house dates back to a time when religion was something to worry about,” said Caleb. “I thought it was Queen Anne, myself, but there! It might have been added to and given a Queen Anne façade . I don’t know enough about architecture to comment. Simon and the other boys will find out where the stair goes tomorrow. It probably just follows the chimney down, which means it will come out in the housekeeper’s room, and you know, it may just have been built as a short cut for the housekeeper to come upstairs. If we were near the coast, I’d suspect it of being used by smugglers, and to go down to a tunnel, but we’re too far inland for that. So long as it is sound, it will do no harm for the children to use it in their play.”

Next day, Jane and Sukey settled down for a comfortable coze with Aunt Hetty by the fire while the men went out to shoot rabbits, both to keep them off the newly planted wheat and to distribute amongst the poorest for St Thomas’ day largesse. Daisy Hall did not really run to having tenants, but there were a number of small farmers who struggled to keep going. Caleb had invited the man who ran the smallholding belonging to Daisy Hall, hardly enough of a concern to be called a home farm, to join them to shoot for his own pot. The smallholding fed him and went some way towards the needs of the Hall, and Caleb was considering selling out the cottage and few acres of farmland to the farmer, and contracting to purchase his surplus. So long as there was pasture for the horses and a small kitchen garden there was no need for anything more. And yet it would be a means to keep the land from being built on. If the land manager bought the land, he could sell it to be built on. Caleb was under no illusions, and if he found the area sufficiently convenient for London, so too would others of similar income, and by and by the rural landscape would become more urban. With the farmland behind, and the lawn at the front running to the gatekeeper’s cottage which was now the small school run by Henry Redmayne, they would still be surrounded by countryside. Caleb was indifferent on his own account, but Jane loved the country, and it would be good for the children as they grew up.

Simon, Sylvain, John and William had meanwhile set off on an expedition, with bottles of water, generous slabs of cake, apples, a rope and a lot of giggling. Jane was relieved.
“Really that passage, even if it is short, is a Godsend,” she said to Sukey.
“In what way?”
“Sukey, if you don’t find the exuberance of your older children over the holiday season to be a little tiring if you can’t find something for them to do, you must be stronger than I am. I love Simon dearly, and I love to see him have fun, but he has a lot of energy, and when it isn’t directed in some fashion he can be wearing. Especially on days he can’t get outside.”
“Oh, well, of course we’ve had the ayahs,” said Sukey. “And even in the monsoons it’s warm enough and no question of the boys not going out.”
“You’ll notice them more, confined in bad weather,” said Jane.
“Why do you think I’m so happy for them to be at school?” said Sukey.
“Simon is such a sensible little boy,” said Aunt Hetty. “He will make sure they don’t do anything stupid, and at least we know where they are. Dear me, how very like a Gothic novel this is, with secret passages! Most singular.”
“But probably a relatively boring stair, and they will be back demanding nuncheon by half past eleven, having consumed everything they were given and still hungry,” said Jane, cheerfully.
She was wrong.
It was almost two in the afternoon before four rather cobwebby little boys reappeared with radiant faces.
“Oh Ma! It’s capital!” said Simon. “We have our own priest’s hole, which is a regular room, and an exit into the cellar, and an underground passage all the way to ruins in the wood. Did you know we have a ruined chapel in our own woodland?”
“I didn’t,” said Jane. “Dangerous, or merely picturesque?”
“Well, I don’t know about picturesque but it’s capital to scramble about,” said Simon. “There’s a well-oiled stone trapdoor which comes out in the chapel crypt, and the steps up are all good, and another well-oiled trap at the top.”
“Well oiled?” Jane frowned. “Simon, that suggests recent use.”
Simon stood stock still, assimilating this.
“Oh my!” he said. “Smugglers?”
“This far from the coast?” Jane was sceptical.
“It might be part of a smuggler’s way,” said Simon. “You know, as storage.”
“Possible,” said Jane. “Your father needs to see this.”
“I’ll take some food out to the hunters and tell him,” said Simon.
Jane let him go; his shortened leg did not seem to slow him up at all now he had the built up heel.

Caleb took a dim view of well-oiled mechanisms leading to tunnels to his house.
“We shall fit up locks on the inside of this stone, I think,” he said to Simon.
“We can help,” said David Brockley; and Henry Redmayne nodded.
“Come and see the priest’s hole, Pa,” said Simon. “It’s fitted out like a regular study, with chemistry books and all, though they might be old,” he added.
“I’d like to see them,” said David.
When they reached the priest’s hole, Caleb’s attention was drawn to the blotter on the desk while David and Henry went to look at the books. Caleb got out the small mirror he always carried for observing round corners to read what had been reproduced backwards on the blotting paper.
Then he started swearing.
Even Simon, who had heard a lot of bad language when he was a street boy, was impressed.
“Caleb?” said David. “I have a book here with a marker in a comment about how Robert Boyle created fire by rubbing phosphorus and sulphur together. Would that be germane to your evident loss of sangfroid?”
“David, my boy, it would have everything to do with it,” said Caleb. “I need you to come with me, Simon, my lad, go and pack an overnight bag for David and for me, Henry, tell them to saddle up our riding horses. We’re going to Windsor via Bow Street.”
“Yes, sir,” said Simon. “May I ask?”
“An infernal device to blow up the Royal Family,” said Caleb, grimly.
“And here are the rough plans, sir,” said Henry, taking a leaf of paper out of another book.
“Good work both of you,” Caleb nodded. “Come on, David; clothes for shooting will do to ride in, and we have eaten, thanks to Simon. We have no time to waste; it’s the twenty-first already, and the Royal family, they say, exchange gifts on Christmas Eve in the German fashion, from under Queen Charlotte’s tree, not on St Nicholas’ Day or New Year’s Day like normal folk. And we may take some time to get a hearing.”
He gave Jane a brief salute on the cheek when he emerged.
“I’m sorry, my dear, I’ll miss the Christmas service with you,” he said. “But this is a plot against the royal family using an incendiary machine.” He showed her the sketch and explained rapidly.
“Oh my!” said Jane. “Was the previous owner of this house a revolutionary?”
“He calls himself James Charles Stuart in his writings,” said Caleb, grimly. “You might look on the deeds and see what you can find out. I have to stop this plot, arresting the plotter is of secondary consideration, though he has a footman suborned at Windsor.”
Jane kissed him.
“Godspeed,” she wished him. “Not that any of the royal family are particularly prepossessing, but one doesn’t want them assassinated.”
“My sentiments precisely,” said Caleb. “People who kill their royals are careless sorts and not good at governing.”

Jane got out the deeds and documents pertaining to the sale of the house. It had previously belonged to one James Charles Donald.
“This could suggest that the Young Pretender had a child with Flora Macdonald,” she said to Sukey. “Of course, this man would have to be a grandson, if he truly is descended from Charles Edward Stuart. Or he might just be using a name to convince others. It doesn’t matter if he’s a genuine Stuart or if he’s trying to be a modern Perkin Warbeck. We need the solicitor who did the conveyancing.”
“Not this close to Christmas, you won’t raise him, and Jane, you are not going out, are you?” Sukey was scandalised.
“We are driving into Chelmsford,” said Jane, firmly.
Sukey sighed.
“I will keep an eye on the children, my dears,” said Aunt Hetty, happily. “Simon will mind me, and he won’t let Sylvain burst out in mischief.”
Jane nodded. Simon was very fond of Aunt Hetty.

“You interrupted my holiday for what?” the solicitor blinked myopically as he cleaned his spectacles. He was clad in a banyan somewhat more colourful than the garb in which his clients usually saw him.
“Gunpowder, treason and plot, in a nutshell,” said Jane, crisply. “Do let us come in and hear me out; it’s chilly. And my poor husband is riding ventre à terre to Bow Street and thence to Windsor. And I need someone for him to arrest when he’s stopped someone blowing up the King, the Regent and any other random princes and princesses who happen to be there.”
“Good G-d!” said the solicitor. Mrs. Armitage had always struck him as a singularly rational woman, so perhaps she had not run mad. He ushered Jane and her sister-in-law into his parlour and introduced them to his wife.

“Let me see, Mr. Donald,” said the solicitor, Mr. Humphries, getting down ledgers as Jane swiftly explained what had been found.
“Excuse me,” asked Mrs. Humphries, “But why would he leave so much there?”
“I suspect he felt he had to leave as quickly as possible; maybe he felt under suspicion,” said Jane. “Which Caleb will discover at Bow Street, no doubt. Or he just forgot it. You have to understand, the detailed plan was only in mirror-writing on the blotter. Do you worry about people reading on your blotter, ma’am?”
“Dear me, no,” said Mrs. Humphries.
“To my shame, nor do I,” said Mr. Humphries. “And goodness knows, if a servant were not entirely loyal, they could expect a good vail in removing old paper from the rubbish, and selling the terms of a will to family of the legator. I will begin burning it. A valuable lesson.”
“And the sketch of the infernal device is only that – a sketch,” said Jane. “My husband was in a foot regiment, but he was considering transferring to the Royal Engineers before he was invalided out, and he is interested in machinery. He tells me that the clockwork mechanism would begin to turn as soon as the wrapping was removed, causing the part with the sulphur to be rubbed against the part with the phosphorus, igniting a very short length of slow match, disappearing into a metal canister filled with gunpowder and ball shot. The resultant explosion would shred anyone in the room.”
“Good G-d!” said Mr. Humphries. “Well, I am sorry, I have very little apart from his sale of the house. He did not ask me to find another, I fear.”
“I am sorry to have wasted your time,” said Jane. She was sober as they drove back to Daisy Hall.
“A penny for them, Jane?” asked Sukey.
“When the device does not blow up, if Caleb can reach the royal family without fuss and noise, what would you think if you were a plotter?”
“Why, I suppose I’d think it had gone wrong, with so many moving parts,” said Sukey.
“And what would you do, realising that they would probably discover what it was after it failed to blow up, and likely found out which footman had put it there?” asked Jane.
“I’d go into hiding,” said Sukey.
“Yes, so would I,” said Jane. “And unless he knows his plan is discovered, that means that he is likely to return to his old priest’s hole.”
Sukey gasped.
“Jane! The children!”
“Stay calm. We can lock the cellar where one entrance comes out, as anyone might; and find a way to jam the mechanism at the chimney. He will hopefully think it has just stuck in the intervening time – if indeed he even tries it. The idea is not to draw attention to himself, and he will want to reconnoitre to see how many people occupy the house before committing to trying to terrorise us. He can poach game and steal for food without difficulty and hide out in the crypt and priest hole almost indefinitely.”
“Jane, are you saying we should let him?”
“Not at all,” said Jane, crisply. “I am saying we should jam up the entrances in the Hall, and set Jackie and the others to watching the trapdoor into the crypt. And when he is safely down there, to pull rocks over it so he is trapped until Caleb returns.”
“Jane, I have not given you credit enough for your exciting life,” said Sukey. “I suppose it is the best thing to do.”
“He may, of course, flee abroad,” said Jane, “But if he does come here, we shall look foolish if we are not prepared.”

Caleb returned weary, but triumphant, on Boxing Day. He kissed Jane hard.
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to put up with being Lady Armitage,” he said. “That fat fool knighted me on the spot.”
“It’s a cheap way for princes to say thank you,” said Jane, demurely.
“A good point,” agreed Caleb, cheerfully. “It’s a nuisance but there you are. At least I got there in time, I fear if I’d had his younger pretender he might have kissed me.”
“He’d better not try to kiss me,” said Jane.
“Jane! Are you telling me the scoundrel came back? What happened?” Caleb was concerned.
“He’s mewed up in his own passages for the one in the salon is well blocked with furniture, the one in the cellar with a hogshead of beer, and half the old chapel on the exit in the woods,” said Jane. “You can fetch him out any time you want.”
“He’ll keep overnight,” said Caleb, callously. “I’m tired and hungry and I want to take My Lady to bed.”

It may be said that two days of imprisonment with no food and water left the self-styled James Charles Stuart quite tractable, and Caleb duly delivered him to be tried for high treason.
And then he went back to his family. Treason was to be dealt with, but Christmastide was Christmastide, and he had missed a lot of it with his family.

It was in the New Year that Caleb received a letter and a package from the palace, carried by a Royal Messenger.
“Listen to this, Jane,” said Caleb, and proceeded to read.

“My dear Sir Caleb,

It is with deep pleasure that I have learned of the loyal actions of yourself and your wife, whose forethought and planning have captured a most villainous traitor.
I can confirm that I have persuaded Lord Liverpool to grant you an annual pension of three hundred pounds, and I have chosen a demiparure of jewellery for your good wife, which I hope and trust she may like.
I was much upset, as you know, that my mother’s custom of having a tree at Windsor was to be used for such a plot, especially in light of her recent death. That her name was on the explosive device was even more iniquitous. Therefore I have had one of my mother’s favourite pieces of jewellery copied for Lady Armitage.
I appreciate all your efforts, and the swift expediency of your capture of this so-called James Stuart. The trial will, of course, be in camera so as not to give anyone else ideas.
I look forward to seeing both you and your lady wife during the season. I will, of course, ensure tickets to Almack’s as well..
George, Princeps

“Goodness!” said Jane. “Well that’s a useful addition to the economy. I am half afraid to look at what he has sent me to wear.”
“Well, I’m not,” said Caleb, unwrapping the package.
Jane stared.
“I have seen similar diamonds on a portrait of her late majesty,” she said.”
“Yes, so have I,” said Caleb. “And it’s damned cleverly done, to set small brilliants around a pear-shaped stone, to make it closer to the size of the Arcot diamond set.”
“I cannot accept anything this valuable!” Jane was shocked.
“You certainly cannot refuse it,” said Caleb. “A pair of drop earrings, very tasteful and discreet, you need not fear that they will be either too showy or too out of date, a drop depended from a single rose-cut diamond is fashionable at any time. And these hair ornaments can be arranged as you wish, to be like a tiara, or as two side pieces. And the necklace is not too showy, a choker necklace of rose-cut diamonds, and I believe you can detach the dependent pear-shaped diamond with its surrounding brilliants, which matches the earrings.”
“I am overwhelmed,” said Jane. “I hate to think what this has cost the taxpayers.”
“Probably nothing; Prinny never pays his bills,” said Caleb.
“Well that’s even worse!” said Jane.
“Jane-girl, look at it this way. If Prinny had been killed, and a selection of his brothers with him, how much would it cost the government to sort out the mess?”
Jane considered.
“Well, when you put it that way ….” She admitted.
“Exactly,” said Caleb. “Now put those fetching diamonds on and take off everything else, Lady Armitage.”

Jane and the younger pretender

Sarah WaldockMay 23, 2017 02:29PM

Re: Jane and the younger pretender

Teresa DouglasMay 24, 2017 06:36AM

Re: Jane and the younger pretender

Sarah WaldockMay 24, 2017 09:28AM

Re: Jane and the younger pretender

NickiAugust 24, 2017 11:19AM


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