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Ace of Schemes 22-24

November 18, 2017 08:32PM
Chapter 22

It had been fortunate circumstance for Mary that the Carruthers home was on a short cut to the city from the club Toby had visited that fateful day. Mary might consider it a less fortuitous circumstance when it meant that Mattlebere was driving down the street in his curricle. He saw and recognised Mary, with a fierce, feral glee. If he was going to have to flee the country, at least he would have entertainment, without having to worry about a male protector at the moment.
He pulled the curricle to a halt, and leaped out, relying on the well-trained horses to stand. It was lunacy to abduct the girl in broad daylight, but she only had women with her, since Mattlebere did not count servants as people, who would never be able to stop him. He could be on a ship to the continent before they even managed find a man to report it to the authorities for them. And Mattlebere was not thinking straight; even his associates at the gaming club had made it clear that someone revealed in public as a cheat was someone who should take himself elsewhere.
Mary had no idea what might bring Mattlebere to London, but she was not about to permit him to grab her to throw her into his curricle, which appeared to be his intention. She kicked him.
Marie ran up to her mistress.
“You leave her be, Lord Mattlebere!” she cried, grabbing his arm. Mattlebere flung her from him, roughly and Marie landed heavily on her side, with a cry.
Jemima and Jenny went on the offensive, and fastened their teeth into a wrist each, as Amabel shouted to her coachman,
“Shoot the footpad, you fool”
“I can’t lady, for fear of hitting the little girls or Miss Mary,” said the coachman.
Amabel seized the pistol from the coach door pocket and marched up to Mattlebere, and thrust it into his face.
Mattlebere let go of Mary in a hurry. Women and girls weren’t supposed to fight back, they were supposed to scream and let men do as the wanted. The whole damned family were unwholesome and trouble. He had shaken off the little girls who were sobbing for being thrown to the ground, and Jemima spat out a bit of the base of his thumb. Mrs. Mayhew had run after the little girls, and had caught Jenny to prevent her falling hard, but had been unable to help Jemima who was half dazed. Mattlebere sneered, the woman would not shoot when there were children hurt.
And then the world exploded for Mattlebere in thunder and lightning and he felt himself hit the ground hard on his back.
Mattlebere wondered for a moment if he was dead; but if his back hurt he wasn’t dead, just aware of an incredible pain there, and pain so intense in his ear that it was like a sound that continued to reverberate agonisingly after the initial concussion of the shot was over. He was half stunned, and unable to see anything for a moment but flares of white and red light from the flash of the pistol. He shook his head, trying to clear it, tasting blood.
“Demme, how could I fail to kill the creature at this range? And oh Mary, my shoulder!”
“Aunt Amabel we must get you and Marie to a doctor, you weren’t prepared for the gun to kick,” said Mary. “Quickly, or that woman will accuse us of making a vulgar row in the street and will take the children back. Come my poppets,” She knelt down to embrace them, before going to Marie, whose gown was covered in blood and tears ran down her grey face.
“I fear he has killed his own child in you,” said Mary. “Come, my dear, we shall go to Aunt Amabel’s town house and the doctor shall attend you and her.”
All this Mattlebere heard vaguely through the mists of pain, and gradually his vision cleared. He was alive, and they were ignoring him. The only woman having hysterics was Amabel’s dresser, and the children were sobbing in distress. Jenkyns, who had frozen, was helping Mary in hustling everyone into the coaches. Mrs. Mayhew had picked up the children bodily to put them in the coach before going back to help Mary with Marie.
Mary was trying to think of everything, for Amabel had suddenly descended into shock and was half swooning.
“Jenkyns, I think it will be quicker if you run to her ladyship’s doctor and tell him he is needed at her town house. Bring him there.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Jenkins, and broke into a jog. Sometimes a man on foot could traverse the city quicker than a carriage might. Mary climbed up, without a backwards glance at their assailant and called for the coachman to take them to Albemarle Street.
“You should have finished him off when you had the chance,” said Amabel, faintly.
“I can’t shoot a man when he’s down on the ground wounded!” said Mary. “Besides, the ball cut his cheek open and quite took his ear off, he’s likely enough to die anyway.”
“One can only hope that wretched Cattermole woman or whatever her name is don’t nurse him back to life just because she don’t like us,” grunted Amabel.
“Carruthers,” said Mary, who had a little girl in each arm beside her aunt on one seat, whilst Marie lay on the other seat, sobbing, her head in Mrs. Mayhew’s lap.
“That was a bad man,” said Jemima. She was inspecting a graze on her elbow.
“Yes, my pet, and I’m sorry you had to be so close to him,” said Mary. “He is like your Uncle James, only being richer, he thinks he can get away with even more. You were both very brave girls, and I will bathe your wounds when we get to Aunt Amabel’s house.”

The servants in the town house were in an uproar at the unexpected return of the countess, and Mary firmly directed them to turn the green salon into a sick room with day beds, where Marie might lie down on old sheets as the painful contractions of her miscarriage shook her young frame, and Amabel might be propped up against cushions to ease the pain of her shoulder until the doctor might arrive. Mary then bathed the nasty grazes the little girls had sustained, Jemima more than Jenny, as Jenny had let go rather than be thrown off. Jemima had a banged head, the graze on her elbow and another on the side of her knee; Jenny had got away with a few bruises and a nasty fright, and was distressed because she had wet herself. This was soon rectified with a warm bath and new clothes, both little girls in the bath together, and put into nightrails, and snuggled into a quilt on another day bed.
“See to Marie; I am comfortable,” said Amabel. “I didn’t realise the lower orders had the same sensibilities which we do, but plainly the poor girl is distraught, as well as in pain, and bravely trying not to show it. More bottom than many a lady, if you ask me.”
“And brave, coming to my aid against the man who had assaulted her,” said Mary, going to give Marie her support, and an arm around the girl. “I am sorry, I had to see to the children first.”
“Of course, miss, and you are right kind to care,” said Marie. “I didn’t want the baby, miss, but oh! I ... I miss him and grieve for him, even though I ain’t never held him. Is ... is it big enough to hold?”
Mary investigated the flow of blood and found the tiny foetus, less than a foot long.
“No, Marie, not really,” she said, beginning to clear up the worst. “We’ll get you into a warm bath next, and into your night rail too.”
Marie was in the bath when the doctor arrived.
“What’s all this, Lady Remington, your footman had a garbled story of villains and kidnap!”
“Oh, thank goodness you are here,” said Mary. “We were set upon by a villainous footpad. He sent poor Marie there into a miscarriage by pushing her, and my aunt tried to shoot him, but she has wrung her shoulder badly, for not anticipating that the gun would kick. I fear a broken collar bone. She has swooned again. I think I have done all that may be done for Marie; she appears to have passed both foetus and afterbirth, and I’ve acted midwife for mares before now. She is in a warm bath behind the screen.”
“Perhaps if the lass gets dressed into her nightrail I may examine her after I have seen to Lady Remington,” said the doctor, who knew Amabel well enough not to be surprised at the idea of her trying to shoot a villain.
Mary left Amabel to the administrations of the doctor while she helped Marie to dry herself and dress herself in one of Mary’s nightrails, which was easier to find. Back on the daybed, Marie looked wan and sad, but less grey.
Amabel gave a sharp scream at something the doctor did, and Marie jumped. In a few minutes he came bustling of.
“No breaks, your aunt was lucky,” he said. “Her shoulder was out of true; not a full dislocation, but still painful. I put it back and she must wear a sling for three weeks. Can you make her do that?”
“No, but I will do my best,” said Mary.
“Realistic about it, anyway,” said the doctor. “Tell her that if she moves it about, I or my colleague near the hall will bind it up so she cannot use it.”
“It’s worth trying blackmail,” said Mary, dryly.
The doctor laughed easily, and turned his attention to Marie.
“This girl is too young to be expected to bear a child herself,” he said, angrily.
“Yes, I know; she was ravished, however, and had little choice in the matter,” said Mary. “A girl on her own is very much alone. Until I joined Aunt Amabel, I was a governess, and my employer’s brother was permitted such liberties as he wished to take. I managed to avoid his dubious gallantry, but not all girls are as fortunate.”
“I see,” said the doctor. “Well, you appear to have done all that is needful. She will need the usual monthly towels for a few days.”
“Thank you,” said Mary. “This has been very traumatic.”
“Thank goodness Lady Remington has taken on a sensible girl like yourself; I prescribe chamomile tea to help your nerves,” he said.
Mary nodded.
“I will do so.”
Mrs. Mayhew had been getting to know Amabel’s housekeeper, explaining her position as housekeeper-to-be to Miss Mary when she married her sweetheart, and Mary found herself whisked up to her own room where a hot bath and a mug of chocolate waited, a panacea which Mary privately considered more useful than chamomile tea, and the little girls asleep in hastily erected truckle beds.
“And I’ll be waiting on your household and bringing up a tray, aye and for that girl Marie, too, for whom there’s a story.”
“Where is Marie?”
“I’ve had a truckle for her and myself made up in the dressing room, Miss, so don’t go worrying. That way the salon can be made over to be a proper bedroom for her ladyship, and her dresser stopped from fussing about all and sundry being in it. There’s footmen brought down a proper bed for her, moving the day beds out again, and her own commode, so she may have all her own things.”
“Mrs. Mayhew, I’m hoping you and Marie will put aside position while we recover from this terrible attack, and eat with us. Marie has been through so much! That man was her employer, and he used her against her will, and my betrothed managed to find her before she threw herself into the Thames.”
Mrs. Mayhew tutted.
“I won’t say I haven’t provided the odd herbal draught for some of the girls that fellow Black got intimate with,” she said.
“It was too late for that,” said Mary. “But it is perhaps providential for Marie that she did lose the baby. One day she may find a good honest fellow who will care for her, and they can conceive a child in love. I’ve a hope that my fiancé’s valet might do so, for he was involved in rescuing her, and was most put out on her behalf.”
“Well, now, that would be a nice outcome,” said Mrs. Mayhew. “Now you get into this nightrail, miss, and try to have a nice sleep.”
“Yes, Mrs. Mayhew, I think I will,” said Mary. “But first, I will pen a letter to Toby, if you will be good enough to see it sent. He is expecting us to be on the Remington estate the day after tomorrow; we planned to travel over two days for the children’s sake, and he needs to be intercepted in Brighton.”
“I’ll have someone catch the mail,” said Mrs. Mayhew, and Mary rapidly penned an explanation to Toby before sinking into blessed sleep.
When she awoke, there were confiding arms around her; the children had awoken and abandoned their truckles, to lie down one each side of her. And Mrs. Mayhew was coming in the door with a footman bearing a table on which to put a tray of steaming comestibles.
It was an odd meal, most of them in night rails, Marie helped through from the dressing room and looking uncomfortable to be eating with her mistress. The table stood by the bed, and the little girls sat on the edge of the bed to eat, while Marie and Mrs. Mayhew had bedroom chairs, and Mary had a tray.
“It’s fun having a meal like this once in a while,” said Jemima. “Who was the bad man, Aunt Mawy?”
“He’s a bad man who doesn’t like me or your Uncle Toby, who caught him cheating at cards,” said Mary. More than that was unnecessary for now.
“Where’s Clare?” Jenny asked about the nursery maid.
“She, silly wench, had hysterics and ran back into the Carruthers house, refusing to have anything to do with families who get set upon in the street,” said Mrs. Mayhew, “And good riddance to her, for ingratitude. After Miss Heatherington went to the effort of giving her a job, since there ain’t one for her at Carruther’s place now there’s no nursery.”
The girls exchanged looks.
“We’re too big to need Clare,” opined Jemima.
“We’ll find a girl to train up to be a ladies’ maid to you,” said Mary, firmly.


Chapter 23

George Mattlebere might be considered lucky in a way that he was on a street populated entirely by cits, who were unlikely to get involved with anything not quite nice. He was goggled at by servants from various areas, peering up through the railings around their sunken domains, but none dared brave the wrath of their masters by approaching him. Any street hawkers had retreated before the inexorable approach of the two coaches come to collect the children, and had stayed well away at the sound of trouble.
Gradually Mattlebere’s vision returned, for which he was devoutly grateful. His back was bruised, but he could move, it was not broken. Slowly and painfully he sat up.
A watchman, alerted by chatter on the part of the vendors, made his way down the road.
“Gawd!” he said. “What happened to you ... sir?” he added the honorific since Mattlebere was undoubtedly a gentleman. Mattlebere spat blood so he could answer.
“Footpads,” he said. He was not about to admit to being bested by a parcel of women.
“In broad daylight? You look as though you need a doctor, sir. Cuh, you do look queer without an ear.”
“That’ll be why it hurts so damned much,” said Mattlebere. “Here, fellow, help me into my curricle and lead the horse to the nearest damned leech, will you? Here...” he fished in his pocket for a guinea.
The watchman was nothing loath to earn a significant vail for an insignificant service, and proceeded to retrieve the curricle from down the street, where the horse had shied after the shot, and to tenderly install the injured man into his curricle. Leading it a few streets to a doctor’s house was no difficulty, even though the horse was now nervous. Being unsure how to deal with horses, the watchman tied the reins to the railings, and manhandled the half-swooning Mattlebere up the steps.
Mattlebere was sufficiently grateful that he found another guinea for his rescuer.

oOoOo

Toby read the letter in Mary’s well-trained cursive script and was increasingly appalled as he read what Mattlebere had done.
“I’m going to kill him,” he declared to Brunwin.
“Who?” asked Brunwin, reasonably, not knowing that a valet agrees with his master and doesn’t ask questions.
“Mattlebere,” said Toby. “He has run mad, tried to abduct my Mary in broad daylight. Actually, I think he really has run mad.”
“You can’t kill a madman, it’s bad luck,” said Brunwin.
“That’s spiders,” said Toby. “And he’s a nasty piece of work. Well! Pack for London, Brunwin; if he’s hurt he won’t be leaving, and Marguerite will know his direction.”
“Yes, sir,” said Brunwin.
Toby had the forethought to go to see the prince. He was received alone by a prince in a good humour, and decided to make a clean breast of everything to do with his and Mary’s dealings with Mattlebere.
“My little Toby, you certainly know how to make an enemy,” said Prince George, when Toby showed him the letter as the last piece of evidence. “And I would have said you were the little friend to all the world. Mind, I can’t think of a better man to count as an enemy.”
“No, sir, he’s moderately loathsome,” said Toby. “And I get the impression he is one who gets his pleasure through hurting women.”
The prince made a face of disgust.
“A very little man, then,” he said. “You have our permission to run him through, but as the law takes very little account of my permission in such matters, I’ll send you with a few of my boys to make sure his death appears accidental.”
Toby chuckled.
“You mean as in he accidentally ran himself through a few times?”
“He could fall out of a window and land on a railing spike,” said the prince. Toby was not sure whether he felt chilled by such insouciant pragmatism or relieved that the prince had a realistic outlook over removing menaces to society.
“I note neither of us even considers the choice of prosecuting him,” he said, dryly.
“You know and I know that I cannot be involved in such; and that he has a title and you do not,” said Prince George. “It’s not considered proper to use the loyalty of others to get rid of enemies, but it is an expedient of last resort to royalty. Take someone else as well, Widburgh would do, or Fulfleet, you get on well with them, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir,” said Toby. “I fancy Widburgh would be more likely to keep his head; Fulfleet is a jolly fellow but he’s gamed in Mattlebere’s club, and might find it a little impolite.”
The prince laughed.
“Yes, I imagine he might,” he said. “Go and talk to Widburgh, and I’ll arrange an escort of likely lads. You’ll have to retire into the country for a while, I’m afraid, but as you’re getting married, I don’t suppose you’ll mind that,” and he winked broadly.
“Yes, sir; thank you.”


Justin, Lord Widburgh, listened to Toby’s story.
“By Jupiter, the fellow deserves horse whipping, not given a good clean death!” he declared. “I’m your man, Toby, least I can do in thanks for all you’ve done for me.”
“He was born a gentleman, and deserves a duel,” said Toby. “Anyway, I want him dead where he can’t scheme. Silly creatures, females, why they couldn’t finish him off when he was lying there half-dead, I don’t know; not as if he hadn’t set on them, so the law would be on their side, and it’s not as if a woman is expected to act with honour over a man being down.”
“I expect your good lady was too upset about the children being frightened and your aunt and her maid hurt,” said Widburgh. Toby brightened.
“Yes, of course,” he said. “Devilish difficult thing to kill a man in front of children, I can see that. Even the redoubtable Mary couldn’t be expected to do that.”


The ‘likely lads’ sent by the prince were as villainous a bunch of men as Toby ever hoped to see.
“Jim Carter, field commission to lieutenant,” the most villainous looking of all introduced himself. “I hand picked you a bunch of experts; Chalky is a charm, Dusty used to be a resurrection man, Lofty used to work for a pawnbroker as a legbreaker, and Tuppence is a file.”
“Pickpocket, is that? And a charm is a lockpicker?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Well, an eclectic selection,” said Toby.
“You don’t need to worry, they ain’t about to nick from you or your friend,” said Carter.
“Never occurred to me to doubt them,” said Toby, nodding at his little troupe of specialists.
They gave him their rather battered hearts for that.

oOoOo

Mattlebere had been patched up by the doctor, who had sent a servant for Mattlebere’s man to get him home in one piece. A wound to the face was always risky, but the doctor had packed it with brandy and honey and had covered the wound, and a good night’s sleep with the aid of a little laudanum had Mattlebere feeling in much better trig.
“That girl will pay for this, Brent” he ground out painfully.
“Yes, my lord,” said his valet, a man infinitely better trained than Brunwin, but not averse to helping with his master’s dirty work. He was of the opinion that Lord Mattlebere had completely lost his grip on reality, but his master knew too much about him for him to be anything but obedient. Not, however, if it meant dancing at Beilby’s Ball for the old man, who appeared to be rope-ripe. Being wounded should keep his lordship quiet for a day or two and with luck he would have regained his senses by then. Brent thought his master unnaturally obsessed with this girl; one female was much like another after all.
“Our berths are assured for America, my lord,” said Brent. “Rest and get well, and then the sea air will help.”
“Having that enticing little virgin with me will help,” grunted Mattlebere.
“The world is full of enticing virgins, my lord,” said Brent. “I am sure we can procure one to take with you if you want.”
“No. I will have Mary Heatherington,” declared Mattlebere. Brent sighed inaudibly.
“Listen, Brent,” said Mattlebere, “Marguerite Labellette engaged her as a secretary. If such is what she was. Therefore, Marguerite will know more about her. We shall go tomorrow to Marguerite’s house, and you shall drive, and if we pick our time with care, the servants may be locked into their domain below stairs so I may question Marguerite without interruption.”
“If I may say so, my lord, I don’t think it’s wise ....”
“You may not say so.”
Brent did not trouble to hide the sigh this time and accepted having a glass thrown at him. His master was weak enough to have a poor aim in any case.

oOoOo

“Why haven’t the ladies on the ceiling in the ballwoom got any clothes on?” asked Jemima.
“Because they live somewhere so very warm that they don’t need to wear very much,” said Mary.
“It’s too hot here, but we aren’t allowed to take our clothes off,” said Jenny.
“Oh, but you see, it’s a picture of a story about some very naughty girls,” said Mary. “I don’t know the whole story, but I think they come to a bad end. I didn’t think they were interesting enough to ask the rest of the story.”
“Oh,” said Jemima. “Wouldn’t it be better to teach them how to be ladies wather than have them come to a bad end?”
“Well, it would, but perhaps they wouldn’t listen,” said Mary.
“They’re ragamuffins,” opined Jenny, having remembered the dreadful insult Mary had made to Jemima to shock her into behaving.
“They are, darling, and I expect they say naughty things too,” said Mary.
Jenny’s eyes grew wide.
“As bad as demmy?” she asked.
“That’s a bad word, Uncle James says it all the time,” said Jemima.
It did not take much to realise that ‘demmy’ was ‘demme’ spoken without understanding.
“Oh, indeed, quite as bad,” said Mary, blithely, throwing the reputations of the nymphs attendant upon Artemis at her ablutions to the wolves, as it were.
“As bad as snot?” asked Jemima, greatly daring.
“Oh, possibly not that bad,” said Mary.
“Did they get chased by the dogs on the other side of the picture?” asked Jenny.
“More than likely,” said Mary, who had no intention of enlightening such infants about the story of Actaeon and Artemis. “Thinking them beggars in rags, no doubt.”
The subject of the naughty ladies on the ballroom ceiling having been exhausted, the girls were happy to consider a piece of bread and jam to keep them going until their next meal. Mary left them eating to check on Lady Remington. Amabel might have wanted daughters, but Mary strongly suspected that she would be happier with daughters who spent most of their time with the governess and spent a few hours with Mama at a time when they were tractable. Jemima could be disconcerting at the best of times, being anything but tractable, and would shock Amabel on her less attractive days, poor child. Amabel certainly could not cope with direct questions when she was in pain. Thus, the two children were holding a picnic in the garden with their bread and jam.
Amabel smiled at Mary when the young woman came in.
“Thank you for taking over and rendering my life easier,” she said, holding out her good arm to embrace Mary. Mary came over to her.
“I’m so sorry you were hurt defending me; thank you,” she said.
“Tush, child, it’s my own fault for knowing nothing about guns,” said Amabel. “Really! On the streets of London and in broad daylight, can you credit it?”
“I suppose because it is so unexpected he hoped boldness would carry the day. Should I send for Bow Street and report the incident?”
Lady Remington pursed her lips, considering.
“No. He’ll only drag us through mud, given the chance, and he might even get off, claiming he was only planning on greeting you, not abducting you. I don’t have any great faith in the law. You should write to Toby; he’ll know what to do.”
“I have done, ma’am,” said Mary.
“Excellent. I have always found the understanding of the descendents of old Lucifer to be superior, even if my poor brother-in-law ran to madness when my sister died. Such might happen to anyone in the throes of grief,” Amabel declared. “I doubt Mattlebere will be doing much; his face was all over blood, and if I didn’t kill him, I swear I shot his ear clean off.”
Mary suppressed the reprehensible urge to make ear puns; she was afraid it might lead her into hysterical laughter, as a prelude to actual hysterics. A sleep had calmed her down considerably but she was still shaken, and had every expectation that the girls would have nightmares for a while. It might have been better if Aunt Amabel had merely plied the point of her parasol rather than suddenly being seized with an urge to use a gun, but what was done was done. And Mary would deal with the consequences as far as was possible so that Amabel was not disturbed, and would not regret her generous off to have Jemima and Jenny until Mary and Toby were wed.

oOoOo

Toby seethed to be off the road. A broken wheel and a tumble into the ditch was embarrassing enough, but he had to acknowledge it was his own fault. He had taken the corner too fast, and had consequently tangled with the farm cart going the other way. The waggoner had been happy enough to help him when Toby acknowledged his own mistake, and vailed him will for his trouble, but though he had been able to get the phaeton to the next village on three wheels, it would take time to fix, and there was not room for all his cavalcade in Widburgh’s carriage.
“More haste, less speed, squire,” opined Brunwin.
“You are quite correct, of course,” said Toby, carefully, “But I am sufficiently mortified by my foolishness that I want to take it out on someone.”
“One of the things I likes about you, squire, is your honesty with yourself,” said Brunwin. “I’m agreeable to be your punching bag if you want a quick bout to take out all them bad thoughts.”
“Brunwin, what an excellent idea. There’s a fine orchard behind the inn, where we shan’t overheat.”
The bout did not remain private for long, as word soon spread of a boxing match, though neither Toby nor Brunwin noticed for a while that they had a deeply appreciative, and moderately knowledgeable audience. Widburgh appointed himself second to Toby, assigning his own valet to Brunwin, and the hirelings kept an eye on the spectators.
It relieved Toby’s feelings no end, and they called a halt when both were blowing and bruised. Toby shook Brunwin’s hand warmly, blinked in surprise at their audience, and called for beer all round, making him the most popular toff to have ever passed through the picturesquely named Muddle’s Wood.
“A nice little place, Justin,” Toby commented to Widburgh. “I’m impatient at having to stay overnight but at least the carpenter is enough of a wheelwright to mend the wheel well enough to get us to London, where I can replace it.”
“I wager that a lot of carpenters on the Brighthelmstone road have been learning other skills with the amount of traffic that passes, now Prinny has taken the place over,” said Widburgh. “Stands to reason; you won’t be the first person to put yourself in a ditch and you won’t be the last.”
“I feel like the biggest idiot though,” said Toby.
“If you ask me, dashing to your lady love when she’s been assaulted is a better reason than racing on the road, and I said as much to the carpenter, and he’s called in help so we can be on the road first thing.”
“Thanks, Justin! And bless the man, I shall make sure I let him know I appreciate his efforts.”



Chapter 24

“When we get to Marguerite’s house, and her butler lets us in, you will hustle him down to the servants’ quarters and lock them all in there,” said Mattlebere. “And indeed, before we go, you must lock the door into the area.”
“How can I do that, sir? It will only lock from the inside, and they can get out of the coal hole. About the only thing you could do is to block the area by having a load of @#$%& delivered into it.”
“An excellent idea. Have it arranged for tomorrow at eleven,” said Mattlebere.
“My lord ....”
“Brent, it’s the sort of thing any amount of young bloods do to each other as a prank,” said Mattlebere. “Make like your master is just such a fool if you must, but have it arranged.”
Brent sighed.
“Yes, my lord,” he said.

oOoOo


Toby was pleased to get off to an early start.
“I thought I’d call in on Mary before seeking the whereabouts of Mattlebere,” he confided to Widburgh. “If I have to flee the country, I’d have liked to have seen her first.”
“The whole point about bringing along Lieutenant Carter and his boys is to make sure you don’t have to flee the country,” said Widburgh.
“In theory, Justin, in theory. But if someone sees the duel, then it becomes another matter entirely.”
“The idea is not to let anyone see it.”
“Just put me down as unduly anxious and in need of covering every contingency.”
Widburgh laughed.
“It’s probably why you managed to survive the exigencies of being part of Prinny’s set, something I want to escape from, he’s too expensive for me.”
“Yes, I’ve got to the point where I fancy I’d start spending more than I can make from the foolish,” said Toby. “Oh, well, at least you have a duchy to plead needs your attention.”
Widburgh considered.
“That’s a good point,” he said. “Been leaving it to the steward, but know what? That’s rather abrogating my responsibilities. I should learn the things the pater never felt me old enough to learn, before he stuck the spoon into the wall when I was only sixteen.”
“You didn’t ask your steward then?”
Widburgh blushed.
“Well, I’d rather lost the will to learn by then, with father always saying ‘when you’re older’ to me, and I’d discovered girls.”
“I see,” said Toby.
Widburgh blushed.
“No, you don’t,” he disagreed. “I wasn’t some kind of hell born babe with a mistress on each arm, I admired from afar for a long time. Fact is, Min Wrexworth is my first ....”
“I am glad my belief in your good sense isn’t dented,” said Toby. “And you got drawn in to the Carlton House set, and it all carried on like a runaway team of horses and you dragged by the traces.”
“More or less,”
“Well, the easiest thing to do is to write to Prinny and tell him that you’ve retired to seclusion with me, and have been enthused by my cousin Lucius’ interest in his lands and wish to oversee your own.”
“You’re a real schemer when you put your mind to it, Toby.”
Toby laughed.
“The knave of schemes?”
“The ace of schemes.”

oOoOo

Mary ran downstairs when she heard Toby’s voice greeting Amabel’s butler, followed by the children, and cast herself into Toby’s arms.
Toby took advantage of this breach of etiquette and gave her a thorough kissing. Mary clung to him, knees weak and head swimming from such improper usage.
Toby noticed that he was being regarded critically by two pairs of eyes, and gently put Mary to the side of him, so he could bob down.
“Hello,” he said. “Now, let me guess which is which. Hmm. I think Jenny, or Jane, is the lovely young lady who reminds me of the only queen truly loved by King Henry VIII; Jane Seymour. And the young lady with the frivolous curls has a frivolous name like Jemima. Now I wager that Jemima is going to be the sensible one and Jane the frivolous one, because that’s the way life goes.”
Jenny did not really understand but she knew she had been praised, and beamed. Jemima giggled.
“Auntie Mary wants us both to be sensible,” she said.
“Oh, and Uncle Toby, which is me, wants you both to be frivolous when you want to be,” said Toby, with a wink. “I’m too sensible myself not to like other people being frivolous, to remind me not to be too sensible.”
“Kissing a lady like that isn’t sensible,” said Jemima, severely. “It’s fwivolous.”
“No, and you see, I’m managing to be just frivolous enough,” said Toby.
Jenny pulled on his hand.
“Do you think I’m plain?” she whispered.
“No, not at all; why should I?” asked Toby.
“Mama said I was a plain Jane,” said Jenny.
Toby bit back his opinion of her mama.
“Why, I think you look a bit like Auntie Mary; and I think she’s the most beautiful woman in the world,” he said.
“Don’t you like curls?” Jemima was jealous.
“Well, Jemima, I have curls myself, so I have to like them, don’t I?” said Toby. Jemima digested that, and nodded.
Mary was relieved; Toby had managed to talk to the children without trouble. It would make life easier if they liked him!
“You have golden curls, it isn’t fair,” said Jemima.
“I’d have happily swapped with you when I was growing up,” said Toby. “I learned boxing from my cousin one holiday because I got badly bullied at school and told I looked like a girl. Some of the big boys even made me put on a dress before I learned to fight.” He did not say what the big boys had intended for him, of course, or how he had managed to jump out of a window to escape, and climb a drainpipe back to his own dormitory having ripped the horrid dress off. He had been whipped for having to wear clothes that had seen better days, of course, not looking like a perfect gentleman at the morning parade, but it might have been worse. Learning to box and making friends with Theodore Mackie when that young man joined the school the following term had made a lot of difference. Toby only regretted that he had not met up with any of the older bully boys whilst making his fortune, in order to ruin them, since their school had been one for aspiring gentlemen, who tended not to be likely to move in the sorts of circles Toby had been occupying. And at that, Toby reflected, he was avenged in being happy, about to be wed, and better off than any of them could possibly imagine.
“Did they hurt you? Your face had a nasty-memory look,” said Jemima.
“They tried, but I jumped out of the window and ran away,” Toby said. “Most bullies are cowards and they don’t like victims to fight back. When I learned to fight, everything was much better.”
“Good,” said Jemima. “Are you going to fight the bad man who hurt us?”
“What, by Jove, he hurt little girls too?” Toby was furious.
“We bit him and he thwowed us off,” said Jemima.
“No excuse,” growled Toby. “Yes, I’m going to fight him, as soon as I find out where he is.”
“Good,” said Jemima.

oOoOo


The stench of ordure at Marguerite’s house alerted Toby to the idea that things were not as they should be. The top of the sash window to the kitchen opened as Toby peered down at the cartload of dung.
“Mr. Davenport! We’re locked in above as well!” Toby recognised Prentice’s voice.
“I’m coming in to sort things out,” said Toby, grimly. Locked in suggested some kind of villain in the house and Toby had a shrewd idea who. “Chalky, charm your way into the house, somebody go to round up a few beggars who will dig out the area for pay. I smell evil afoot.”
“Tally ho!” Said Widburgh, cheerfully.
It did not take Chalky long to open the door, and Toby sent him to release the servants, taking the stairs two at a time as he heard Marguerite give vent to an agonised scream.
Toby kicked open the door to Marguerite’s salon, taking in the scene as he did so. Marguerite was tied up, naked, spread across her desk, and Mattlebere held the poker Mary had wielded so ably, but it glowed a dull red. The heat was sultry, with a fire kindled on a hot day and he was stripped to his shirtsleeves. A mark on Marguerite’s breast showed where he had placed the hot poker.
Mattlebere glanced at Toby.
“Brent, kill him,” he said.
Brent, seeing others behind Toby, raised his hands, and Mattlebere turned fully.
He scowled.
“Back off, Davenport; unless you want to see me pleasure Marguerite with my hot iron,” he said, with a sneer, pointing the poker suggestively.
“You devil,” said Toby. “Surely you wouldn’t ....”
“You don’t want to try me.” Mattlebere moved the poker closer and Marguerite whimpered as the smell of burning hair showed how close it was to her, and how hot.
Something flew past Toby’s face, and he flinched; and then Mattlebere was screaming, blood blossoming on his arm, and smoke rising from his stocking where he had dropped the poker.
“Nah yer cin kill un, squire,” said the man named Tuppence. “Me an’ me knives be a match fer a swine like that any day.”
“I am indebted to you,” said Toby, moving purposefully forward. Tuppence also darted forward and slung the poker into the hearth before the carpet caught fire. Mattlebere jumped at its clatter, and swore as Tuppence whipped out his little knife in passing.
“Mattlebere,” said Toby, coldly. “The lieutenant will render you medical assistance so you are in a fit state to fight me.”
“Be damned if I’ll fight you,” Mattlebere said through gritted teeth, shooting a poisonous look at his valet, who had surrendered entirely to Toby’s men.
“You would rather I just killed you? As you wish,” said Toby, slashing at Marguerite’s bonds. He took off his coat to lay over her and she clutched it to herself, with a whimper.
“Kill him, little Toby,” she hissed. “Cut out his tripes and cook them on the fire and make him eat them.”
“Sorry, Miss Labellette, I don’t really have time for such refinements,” said Toby, swallowing his bile. The nasty burns and cuts on her lovely body were a good reason for her to feel so vindictive. “Justin, will you take care of Miss Labellette?”
“By Jove, yes, ma’am, your servant!” Justin made a beautiful leg and Marguerite giggled, a little hysterically at his formality.
“Chalky, find her maid, or any maid if the wench is having hysterics, to clothe Miss Labellette decently,” said Toby.
“And don’t steal anything while you’re looking for one my lad,” snapped the lieutenant.
Chalky sighed, theatrically.
Toby advanced on Mattlebere.
“I give you the chance once more,” said Toby. “Will you meet your end like a gentleman, or shall I just kill you like a rabid dog?”
Mattlebere sneered.
“You wouldn’t dare,” he said.
Toby shrugged and drew his sword. Mattlebere stared, and at the last minute pulled his own, to parry frantically.
“You’d attack a wounded man?” he tried, desperately looking for a way of escape.
“When it’s you? Yes,” said Toby. “You have hurt my aunt, my betrothed and my wards. You have hurt Miss Labellette of whom I am fond. You have hurt my betrothed’s maid, and in doing so killed your own offspring, and I say good that the line will end, but that’s small comfort to her. You are a parasite, and I will squash you like a flea.”
He pressed his attack. Mattlebere fought desperately but he was being forced back. He had one chance and he took it, flinging himself through the window, shattering the panes and splintering the thin frames between them.
Toby said a short, unpleasant word which would have shocked his father and ran to the window. And then he laughed.
“Are you run mad?” asked Widburgh, who was cradling Marguerite tenderly against him, wrapped in a curtain he had wrenched down.
“Not in the least. The suggestion was made that a sword wound could be hidden by a man impaled on railings. He’s impaled himself on the railings without any help,” said Toby.
“Plainly we found the villain attempting a robbery and he fled,” said Widburgh.
“Justin, why didn’t you take her away?” Toby asked.
“I begged to stay to watch that .... creature ... die,” said Marguerite, who was recovering something of her usual fire. “Don’t tell me Mary would not have liked to see it too!”
“You’re probably right, but she won’t leave the little girls, and they shouldn’t see things like that,” said Toby. “Or she’d probably have insisted on coming. When you’re dressed, Miss Labellette, you will be coming back to my aunt’s house and will be recuperating in the country.”
“By Jove, yes, and I’ll be your escort,” said Widburgh.
Toby raised an eyebrow. Well, it was no skin of his nose if the fair Marguerite managed to end up as the mistress of a duke. She’d worked hard enough to deserve it. Or even to end up a duchess.
“Right, men, start clearing up here, and we’ll have in a robin redbreast over the thief,” said the lieutenant. “Stuff a few baubles in his pocket, quiet like, Tuppence!”
Toby left them to it; covering up the peccadilloes of the associates of the prince seemed to be the speciality of these men, and he knew better than to tell them how to do their jobs. He wanted to get back to Mary, and see Marguerite installed in Aunt Amabel’s tender care. She might not be someone Amabel would usually welcome into her home, but he knew his aunt’s tender heart under her haughty exterior, and knowing she had been hurt for refusing to tell Mattlebere where to find Mary would win her over. It was plain from the number of wounds on Marguerite’s body that she had been hurt quite a lot without revealing anything, and Toby was much impressed. He had a quiet word with Prentice.
“Let the lieutenant arrange things, Prentice; this villain trapped you all below in order to steal. It will avoid scandal.”
“Of course, sir. I will be guided by your suggestions,” said Prentice. “Gawd help us though, if you had runned him through, we’d still all have sworn blind he fell out of the window.”
“You’re a good man,” said Toby. “And I’m sure you’ll keep the house well, while your mistress is in the country. But not open for business.”
“No, sir, of course not! I hope she recovers soon.”
“I am sure she will. Take care, and don’t let the maids gossip.”
“No, not them nor the footmen, and they ain’t seen nothing, anything I mean, anyways,” said Prentice, suddenly aware that his plummy tones had lapsed slightly.
“Good man,” said Toby.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Ace of Schemes 22-24

Sarah WaldockNovember 18, 2017 08:32PM

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Re: Ace of Schemes 22-24

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Jane and Caleb

Sarah WaldockDecember 01, 2017 07:57PM



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