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Jane and the sins of society 10-12

March 03, 2018 11:26AM
Many thanks all! sorry about my poor self image and fear of things going wrong

Chapter 10

“Beau! Have a seat! Tea?” asked Jane. “I was expecting someone else, but Fowler can get another cup ...”
The Beau held up a hand.
“I never drink tea; it is made with water, and fish procreate in water,” he said.
“You are incorrigible,” said Jane, ringing the bell for Fowler.
“Thank you,” said the Beau. “However, I came to apprise you of another death.”
“Another one? Was this a Draisine accident too?”
Popham stiffened.
“I missed a death by Draisine accident?”
“No, I apologise, there was no death, I noticed that a Draisine had been damaged deliberately, and the young owner was none the worse. I was expecting him in order to talk to him about his enemies.”
“Ah, now I see why you are all disposed, presiding over the tea table like a motherly preceptress ready to strip away all pretensions and stand your prey in the corner until he is ready to get over the sulks and tell you what you want to know,” said Popham.
“Mr. Popham, behave,” said Jane. “Ah, Fowler, brandy for Mr. Popham.” Fowler went out on his silent feet.
“Why? I like it when you ruffle up your feathers like that,” said Popham. “My nickname wasn’t ‘The Gadfly’ at school for nothing, you know.”
“I can see why,” said Jane. “Now tell me about this death so I may throw you out without ceremony, as old friends may, for when my potential victim arrives.”
Fowler returned with a brandy decanter and a glass for the Beau, and a second glass so that Jane might offer some to Mr. Montgomery when he arrived. Jane smiled grateful thanks to him for that; it would have been bad manners to have the brandy out and not offer it to her anticipated guest if he should arrive before the Beau departed. Popham waited for Fowler to withdraw.
“I know he is in on all your secrets, but Fowler unnerves me,” he admitted. “The party deceased is a Lady Julia Demomerie, who choked on a fish bone when dining alone. Her sole beneficiary is her great nephew, one Lawrence Pelham.”
“I know, or rather, knew her, briefly,” said Jane, grimly. “And her nephew is a most unsatisfactory character, impatient in the extreme, and also something of a gambler.”
“Well that covers most of the ton,” said the Beau.
“It might well, but ... no, it cannot fit,” said Jane. “He wagered that his aunt would live into her eighties.”
“He’s also covered by an unimpeachable alibi,” said the Beau. “He was at White’s all evening, and never left the gaming tables.”
“Nevertheless, pray tell the doctors examining her body before it is prepared for a funeral to swab inside her throat as well as removing the fish bone,” said Jane. “I would be interested to see if fish was all she choked on. I would also be interested to know if there were any new servants in her household.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Beau. “I knew you’d be able to work out where to start. Oh, afternoon, my dear fellow, I was just leaving,” he said, as Fowler announced the anticipated guest.
“Mr. Montgomery, Mr. Popham,” said Jane, automatically. A brief handshake that social convention demanded, and the Beau whirled off, telling Fowler he could see his way out.
“Something of a dandy,” remarked Mr. Montgomery, in distaste, as Jane begged him to be seated.
“Yes, but he is an old friend of ours, and has a fund of amusing stories,” said Jane, who had no intension of giving away the Beau’s considerable mental acuity. “He came to break the news to me that a new friend is dead, Lady Julia Demomerie.”
“I say! Bad luck,” said Montgomery. “Of course, it’s dashed convenient for Pelham, he was all to pieces with the cent-per-centers pursuing him like a bear or whatever.”
“Splendid, so while his great aunt is cooling down, he can get rid of the immediate creditors and then run through the money the old lady left him, until he’s back under the hatches again because the reason he’s in financial trouble is because he’s a gamester and a fool,” said Jane, with heavy sarcasm.
“I say!” Mr. Montgomery sounded hurt. “Well, it’s not as though she wasn’t old, and old people do die.”
“She was, I believe, not even seventy, and that is not old,” said Jane. “Moreover, starchy as she was, I liked her. I heard Pelham himself lay a bet that she would live into her eighties; a stupid young man whose first act with his inheritance is to pay out a debt of honour on a stupid bet.”
Montgomery flushed.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, with your interest in the Draisine, I rather forgot you were one of the dowagers yourself,” he said, “And might actually think of the other dowagers as real people.”
“Mr. Montgomery, I think of all mankind as real people, which has nothing to do with my age, and more about having been raised in a decent, Christian household. I had wondered about your brother’s intemperate comments about you, but since you both appear to have been dragged up anywise, with less care than the street brats who wondered at your machine, I believe I will cease to wonder. I had thought you showed good brotherly care for young Christopher, but it appears you are more shallow than I thought.”
Montgomery went dark red, and looked as though he was about to burst into tears. He fidgeted with his fobs.
“I ... I apologise, Lady Armitage. You are correct, we had very little in the way of parental upbringing. We had a succession of tutors until we went to school, but nobody .....” he slammed a fist into his other hand. “Some of the other chaps spoke of their mothers as though they loved them, gave them time and affection, we were permitted to admire our mother before she went out with father to balls and routs, but never to touch or kiss her, in case we left a mark.”
“You poor little boys,” said Jane. “I find that quite appalling. Your parents, are they dead?”
“Yes, there was a ball Mother especially wanted to go to, it was out of town, in the winter,” said Montgomery. “There was snow, and they got stuck in a drift. I don’t know if they could not get out and walk to the nearest house or if they assumed someone would rescue them, but they died of cold. It ... it meant nothing to Kit and me, because life was no different, and it’s not as if we knew them.”
“Well, my dear boy, you should know that many families are much closer. We would have brought my stepson with us, had he wanted to come, but he loves being in a proper school, now Mr. Redmayne has set it up, and with other pupils, so he decided not to join us, but it is the first time being apart from him since I agreed to marry his father, and I miss him sorely, and of course I write to him twice a week.”
“He is a lucky boy; I only ever got one letter from my mother in all the time I was at school, telling me how disappointed she was that the headmaster had needed to contact her about my behaviour. I don’t even recall what I had done,” he added.
“Well, it explains why you find it difficult to see older women, or indeed women, as people in their own rights, having no example of a mama or, I presume any caring woman in your life?”
He nodded.
“The headmaster’s wife was kind to the youngest boys but we didn’t know how to react,” he said. “I ... I don’t know if Pelham had any affection for his great aunt, but he always called her ‘the banker’, so I suppose not.”
“I suspect she was a stern guardian, but I believe she loved him, despite his faults,” said Jane. “Well, I hope she had other friends to mourn her sincerely, if her own closest flesh and blood will not. I personally consider the death of a woman, who was not old, in such circumstances to be about as likely as a Draisine cutting its own steering handle.”
Montgomery gaped.
“You think she was murdered?”
“Yes, Mr. Montgomery, I do think she was murdered. And yes, I know her nephew was elsewhere. Your brother was elsewhere when an attempt was made on your life, and now that I know what an affection-starved life you have led, I am truly wondering if it was he who made an attempt on your life as you are his banker.”
He jumped up.
“Kit would never do a thing like that, you take it back!” he cried.
“Sit down and act in a civilised manner, Mr. Montgomery,” said Jane. “If you are so certain, why are you acting so angrily, rather than laughing at me for a ridiculous idea?”
Mr. Montgomery sat down, rather stiffly
“I know he’s angry with me at the moment, but it’s because of the Draisine, and he is angry that I am riding it instead of driving out with him, or taking him fencing or to mills and so on,” he said, wearily. “I suggested getting another one, so we could go out together, and he said if I thought he was going to bounce his bollocks off on a .... Oh, Lady Armitage, I am most dreadfully sorry,” he said, paling as he realised his linguistic solecism.
“I forgive the word, Mr. Montgomery; I have heard it before,” said Jane. “It sounds to me as if that was as much dog-in-the-manger speaking as a refusal to take up a hobby for any practical consideration. My husband plans to add leaf springs to the seat for an increase in comfort, which, if your brother regrets his refusal, might be a way to save his face if you suggest it, as well as saving his more tender portions of anatomy.”
“By Jove, what a splendid idea!” said Mr. Montgomery.
Jane did not suggest ball bearings. It would not be a good idea to encourage a greater turn of speed to reckless young men.
“Very well. Now do not be too angry with your brother if he did something like this as a prank, to make you fall off, with the intention of damaging your dignity not your person,” said Jane.
“That, I could believe,” said Montgomery. “I was much upset that you would think he could mean me real harm; we were both all that each other had, and still are.”
“He does not resent your relationship with Coxsedge?”
Montgomery flushed scarlet.
“Ma’am, what can you mean?”
“You know what I mean, and we both know it should not be spoken about, and I hold no judgement for you providing Coxsedge is not coerced by his social superior. But if you have found another, then your brother might resent him.”
“No, he has never resented any ... friend ... I might have,” said Montgomery.
“Good; then that is disposed of as a motive. So now we look outside your immediate family, for Caleb is of the opinion that Coxsedge is innocent of the deed. Have you any enemies? Or any former ... friends ... who have reason to resent you?”
“No, I have usually been very careful,” said Montgomery.
“I noticed you having words with Mrs. Fielding,” said Jane.
Montgomery changed colour several times.
“I thought I knew her, but it was a case of mistaken identity,” he said.
“From where did you think you knew her? After all, you have told me you knew few if any women of our own class.”
“Do I have to speak about this? It’s wretchedly embarrassing,” he said, in a low, bitter voice.
“Mr. Montgomery, if you speak about it to Governess Jane, it will make it better,” said Jane.
He blinked.
“Do you think so?” he asked.
“I know so,” said Jane. “Once you have spoken about it, you can look at it, realise it is something you can put behind you, and then it will never embarrass you again.”
“Promise me you will not be angry if I shock you?”
“I will not be angry, and you must believe me when I tell you that it takes a lot to shock me.”
“I wish we’d had a governess and she had been like you,” said Mr. Montgomery.
“I wish you’d had a governess who had been like me,” sighed Jane. “You’d probably be a happier young man.”
“Yes,” agreed Mr. Montgomery. “Well, when I was thirteen, my father told me it was time to make a man of me. And ... and he took me to this ... place.”
“A brothel?” asked Jane.
“Yes,” said Montgomery in a low voice. “Told me he’d hired a bawdy-basket, er, a ... a .... one of the women there .... for the night to ... educate me.”
He buried his face in his hands. Jane poured him brandy, and put the glass into his hands. He drained it at a gulp.
“And you were so terrified that you found you could not perform and she laughed at you?” said Jane.
“How could you know that?” he gasped.
“This is why I can help my husband so much; I understand people,” said Jane. “It was scarcely your fault that you were unable to do as your father wished, and doubtless the wench was afraid that she would lose a fat fee, or would be beaten, if she had not done her best, and tried to shame you into compliance. They are not very well educated, these unfortunate women, and know no better.” Jane had acquired something of an education of real life both from Dorothy and from Henrietta Abercrombie, the former Holborn Hetty.
“Lady Armitage, you make my greatest shame so commonplace.”
“It was never commonplace for you, but alas, it is something which happens. You are not the only boy in the world with so mistaken a father, nor the only one who has found the whole experience too embarrassing to engage in the activity involved, even if you had not had alternative preferences. At that age a boy scarce knows what his preferences might be, even if he knows he prefers women, he has not usually chosen a type. You hold no responsibility nor blame for the incident. Am I to infer that you believed Mrs. Fielding to be the female in question?”
“No, ma’am, I thought she was the madam, who put me strongly in mind of the senior boys’ matron, whom one avoided seeing if at all possible,” said Mr. Montgomery. “Ma’am, are you going to have to tell your husband?”
“I’m afraid so, but remember, he has had raw recruits and subalterns under him when he was in the army, it won’t be new to him, either,” said Jane.
“Thank you, ma’am,” said Montgomery. “You were quite right, though,” he added, in great surprise. “Now I have talked about it, it is not such a ... a nightmare as it was, and I dare say I might never even get nightmares about it again.”
“Well, I certainly hope not,” said Jane. “Now you had best be on your way, as you will want to dress for dinner, and eat before sallying out, if you plan to attend Almack’s, as I am told that the refreshments leave much to be desired.”
“The bread is stale and the tea tastes like the cups are never washed,” said Montgomery.
Jane shuddered.
“Well, well, I am warned,” she said. “And, Mr. Montgomery! If you ever want to talk things through, I will be at home to you to do so.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”

Caleb and Jane got together to compare notes, and Jane filled in her husband on what she had learned, with Nat on her lap, soliciting caresses. The pug was not keen on young men he did not know, probably as a result of much teasing from their former owner’s sons. He had played least in sight when Mr. Montgomery had been in the room, and wanted reassurance.
“Explains a lot,” said Caleb, as Jane told him what she had extracted from the young man. “Coxsedge talked to the boy, and is certain he did not do anything to the Draisine; indeed, the lad waxed indignant that anyone should have sabotaged his brother’s favourite toy, the younger Mr. Montgomery’s word, I believe, as it could have been risky if his brother had come off somewhere where he might have hit his head. And Coxsedge found the saw left buried in hay in the stables, and most indignant that the horses might have been hurt.”
“He did well, and is a good friend to his master,” said Jane. “He is in the relationship willingly?”
“Seems to be,” said Caleb, laconically. “Devoted, I’d have said.”
“Well, that’s one point of stability in that poor young man’s life, anyway,” sighed Jane.

Chapter 11

Almack’s was located in an unprepossessing building, but inside was all that could be desired of a romantic, glittering location. Knee breeches were de rigeur and it was said that even the Duke of Wellington had been turned away for wearing pantaloons. Caleb was impeccable in black satin smallclothes and black silk stockings, and wore a black neckcloth as his nod to his military background. He looked very severe and correct.
“I am going to enjoy mussing you later,” said Jane, eyeing him hungrily.
“I look forward to it, my lady,” said Caleb. “I’ll be enjoying unwrapping you, too, from all that glittering packaging.”
Jane smiled austerely, because she knew Caleb loved to know that her governess-face hid the passion she felt for him. She was dressed in a silver tissue slip under a sheer muslin gown of lavender, woven with satin-weave stripes in self-colour. It was trimmed with black ribbons shot with silver, and had been made over from the half-mourning she had worn for Frank, a gown she had had made up in York, when she had worn it over a black petticoat with dark purple ribbons. There was, after all, no point wasting perfectly good fabric. Diamonds were not considered proper for full mourning, but the Prince Regent had decreed a lot of leeway for the mourning for his mother, as she enjoyed dressing up and would not have wanted her beloved people to feel that she laid too onerous a hand on what they wore. Hence, Jane wore the demi-parure of necklace, earrings and several hair ornaments, and did so as a token of respect for Queen Charlotte as well as anticipating being called to book by the Regent, if he attended, if she did not wear them. It was heavy, but Jane had to admit that it looked very fine.
“Sir Caleb, do you waltz?” Lady Lieven came over to the couple.
“I can do, ma’am,” said Caleb. “I fear I will have to sit some dances out; though I’m largely recovered from Corunna, I can’t stand up for a whole evening.”
“Of course, that is quite understood. But I have a mind to permit a few ladies the waltz, but I want to make sure they are introduced to a safe gentleman with whom to take their first dance.”
“Of course, my lady,” Caleb bowed, disappointed that he was not to waltz with his lovely wife; but then, being too uxorious was frowned upon in polite society. Caleb thought this a load of rubbish, and could explain why there were so many badly behaved young people, who had not been reared firmly and with love.
“And will you introduce young men who need guidance through the waltz to me, Lady Lieven?” asked Jane.
“If you will be kind enough to put up with them, yes,” said Lady Lieven. “I will not guarantee the safety of your feet and shins.”
“I believe I am sufficiently adept on my feet to avoid too much damage,” said Jane. “I have come across some very wild dancers at provincial balls, where it is not merely the feet and lower legs which are in danger, but any part of the anatomy which a wildly flailing arm might reach.”
“Alas, such dancers are not entirely unknown even in London’s highest society,” said Lady Lieven. “However, you should be a little safer here at Almack’s. We frown upon high jinks, and hooching in the Scottish numbers is strictly forbidden.”
“You relieve my mind, ma’am,” said Jane, who always found it extraordinary that otherwise sober and sensible men, and some women, should feel it appropriate, and even necessary, to utter a loud cry of ‘Heuch!’ during the performance of a reel. “I could not think that such a thing would be at all tactful if the Prince Regent should happen to drop in.”
“No, indeed, and Almack’s have decreed that the reel will not even be danced until such time as we are out of mourning, because of the Jacobite attack.”
“I think that a very wise decision, ma’am,” said Jane.

Jane noticed that Miss Elizabeth Elliot was attending, and was currently having her ear bent by the beautiful Alexei Ivanovitch Kiasov, and the girl was looking bored. Jane caught the eye of Mrs. Elliot, who bowed and smiled. Apparently the strategy suggested by Caleb was working very well, as Miss Elliot looked up hopefully every time a young man approached the neophyte entrants to the social world, in the hopes of being asked to dance.
“Should I ask her to stand up with me?” asked Caleb. “At least she knows I am a safe person to dance with.”
“Do, poor silly creature,” said Jane. “Ah, no, you will not have to do so, she has been solicited to dance by a young man whom I do not know, but as nobody has introduced them, I presume she knows him.”
“I think that’s Ashall; the new viscount,” said Caleb. “He’s heir to the Duchy of Braxtrode, and Braxtrode isn’t best pleased about it. I met him when I was at the coachmaker’s, ordering a Draisine, and we fell into conversation. The poor man’s son recently drowned, it seems he had fallen in the river when fishing. He wasn’t much older than Simon, so I said all that was proper, and meant it, which I think he recognised. He has four daughters, three older than his boy, and one younger, who cost his wife her life. A sad affair all round, as it seems he adored his wife, but he’s thinking of remarrying, just to dispossess Paul Strode, his current heir. I told him to consider marrying the governess, unless she was past her last prayer, since at least he would know she got on well with his daughters.”
“And what did he say?”
“He laughed, but looked thoughtful.”
“Should I feel suspicious about the death by drowning of an active youth?”
“I don’t know, Jane-girl, I really don’t. Death by drowning is a very common accident, and it was in October, when it is conceivable that cold was a factor in his death. We cannot see every sudden death as suspicious, but equally we cannot discount every death. I hope Popham will produce us a report on Lady Julia soon, you asked him for everything I would have been able to think of, too.”
“We make a good partnership, I think,” said Jane. “Oh, look, there is Miss Evans, I wish you will stand up with her, so she does not have to sit out the first dance, all those young fools are round Miss Fielding like bees round a honey pot.”
“As my lady requires,” said Caleb. “A pleasant young lady, Miss Evans.”

“My lady, may I have the pleasure?” it was Beau Popham. Jane noticed that he modified the excesses of his garb for the halls of Almacks, and was faultless in black smallclothes and stockings, a plain black coat, and only the silver tissue waistcoat embroidered in lavender, grey and black a sartorial rebellion against the conventional.
“Delighted,” said Jane, curtseying. “Did you really want to dance or did you have news for me?”
“A bit of both,” said the Beau, leading her into the line of a measure. “Your instincts are, as always, unerring. As well as a single fishbone which was loose, not lodged, in Lady Julia’s throat, there were fragments of down. Was that approximately what you were expecting?”
“Either that, or the lint of a heavy piece of wool,” said Jane. “Then it is definitely murder. What of the new servant?”
“Again, you were quite right, a new footman, who declared that he wouldn’t stay in a household of death. The agency he was supposed to have come from had never heard of him.”
“I suppose he wasn’t the sort of man who could pass as the, er, Captain Hackum to a Miss Laycock?” asked Jane.
“Lady Armitage! Should I be shocked that you know such terms?” said the Beau.
“Not unless I should be shocked that you recognise them,” said Jane. “I have a potential suspect who has been dressed as a footman but looks, I am told, like a bouncer at a house of ill repute, but one who has never been a pugilist.”
“I wish I could say that tallies, but unfortunately this footman is a man who has no distinguishing feature. As you might say, he excels in being very ordinary looking,” said the Beau. “A man of average height, not strikingly handsome nor unpleasantly plain, no feature out of ordinarily large or small, middle coloured hair, middling build.”
“In short, the sort of man who makes an ideal man to use for killing people and walking away afterwards,” said Jane. “The danger is to see murder where there is none, as people do genuinely have accidents. Indeed, I think the only way we can surmise that murder has been done is if the main beneficiary has an unassailable alibi.”
“Using the services of another while he establishes himself or herself elsewhere. Yes, I see,” said Popham.
“It is the only explanation if this is a spree of killings and not pure accident,” said Jane. “That young Mr. Pelham has a definite and established alibi seems to suggest that it is an organised murderer or murderers for hire, not mere coincidence. You have the background, my dear Beau, so I will leave it up to you to establish which beneficiaries had clear alibis, since those who did not will tend to indicate a death which is purely coincidental within the deaths which are not. And then we might start looking to see if there are Jacobite sympathies amongst those who appear to be suspicious beneficiaries. I believe you might wish to check the alibi of Paul Strode, Viscount Ashall as well, when his cousin drowned. I might be going too far in wondering about that, but at the moment, any death which is not long expected by the doctors must be suspect until or unless shown to be otherwise.”
“Indeed. If it is a Jacobite ring, getting a young man who will be a duke one day is quite a coup.”
“If it is a Jacobite ring. Beau, have you considered that it might be purely a murderer for hire? We must not be obsessed with Jacobites, just because of one misguided fool. After all, if one wants a job done in society, one hires someone to do it, whether that is a butler, a chaperone, a governess, an undertaker or a rat-catcher. How big a step is it to have a secret murder agency?”
“By Jove, Lady Armitage, you are quite right,” said the Beau. “I had been looking on it as a secret society approaching potential sympathisers, and trying to work out who might be the next to be approached, and so far, I’ve been well off in my guesses. If it is some underground agency which is approached by those with inconvenient relatives, well, I should be hard put to have every heir to every fortune watched.”
“There is, however, an anomaly where Pelham is concerned, which I will concentrate on, now that it is shown that the death of Lady Julia is proven murder,” said Jane, grimly. “And I urge you that a normal investigation into that should go ahead, in order to possibly flush someone out by panicking them that the perfect murder has gone wrong.”
Beau Popham nodded, and they parted briefly in order to dance through the measures of the dance as they had moved to the top of the line. When they came back together, he said,
“And what was this anomaly, Lady Armitage?”
“That Lawrence Pelham laid a bet that his great aunt would live into her eighties. Another man whom I did not know wagered that she would not live a week in these inclement conditions. I thought at first how horrible that the first payment from his inheritance would be a debt of honour over something so traumatic; but then, to me, the whole concept of betting on things like that is strange and horrible.”
The Beau shrugged.
“And yet, people do that sort of thing all the time.”
“Yes, people do that sort of thing all the time, but usually the hale and hearty relative does not die within the week. And what if the wager was a way of paying the fee for the killing to be carried out?”
The Beau stared, and then they were whirled around in the frenzy of the dance once more, and promenaded back to the far end of the line. He spoke.
“Lady Armitage, horrible as that suggestion is, I fear that you may be quite correct. I have learned over the years that where there is a complex solution and a simple solution, in nine cases out of ten, however unlikely it seems, the simple solution is the one which is correct. Openly betting on the survival of one’s relatives is so staggeringly, mind-numbingly simple that I am almost left bereft of speech.”
“You must be shocked indeed,” said Jane, demurely.
“Madam, you are a hard woman,” said the Beau.
“Indeed; I expected to be a governess,” said Jane.
“I wager you’d have managed even the most unruly of boys, too,” said the Beau, appreciatively. “But it certainly makes a lot of things fall into place, and moreover makes it easier for anyone who wants to get rid of a relative than sneaking around to some seedy little place off Bear Alley or some such location.”
“I’ve never even heard of Bear Alley.”
“It’s notoriously a haunt of money lenders,” said Popham. “And I was associating in my own mind the idea that someone short of the readies might know of such a place, and thus fall in with another kind of villain.”
“Hmm, not an idea to discard out of hand,” said Jane. “Perhaps you might investigate such places; and in case my idea was entirely wrong, you might also consider having people look through the newspapers in the classified advertisements.”
“Nobody is going to advertise themselves as a killer for hire,” said the Beau, as the dance ended and he led her back to her seat.
“Are you really that naive?” said Jane.
“I resent that,” said the Beau, “But presumably I should take it that I really am that naive.”
“There are adverts for abortifacients and abortion doctors in the newspapers,” said Jane.
“There are?” the Beau was shocked.
“They advertise such and such powders, or a skilled doctor, who might relieve female problems and congestions of the womb,” said Jane, calmly. “And if called on it, they would tell you that this refers to those women whose monthly fluxes are sluggish and painful, and since the same herbal remedies are used for these painful occurrences as are used to abort a foetus, nobody can complain.”
“By Jove!”
“And it occurred to me that someone might advertise, either as a doctor able to remove obstructions and blemishes which are ruining your life, or possibly as fortune tellers, able to tell you how to improve your life.”
“Good grief! Jane Armitage, I am naive and I bow to the Queen of Wickedness!”
“You are, Mr. Popham, the most complete hand,” said Jane, severely.

Chapter 12

There was something of a disturbance when the Prince Regent arrived, just before the doors were shut and locked at eleven. He greeted all the patronesses with easy grace, and cast a look round. Seeing Jane, wearing the parure, he made his rather portly way over to her. Jane dropped a deep curtsey. Like the other men, he was conventionally clad, but in deference to his mother he wore a plain black waistcoat and a black cravat. Convention would permit him to avoid dancing, but dancing was also a matter of politics and business, Jane supposed, permitting him moments of relative privacy on the dance floor with agents and wives of agents, to hear news and pass it on. For a prince, she suddenly realised, dance was not an avocation for pleasure, but a necessary part of ruling the country.
“Your Highness; I am so pleased to meet you, to thank you in person for such a beautiful and poignant reminder of your late mother, as a memento for my part in bringing that horrid little man to justice,” she said.
Prince George laughed in genuine amusement.
“Alas for the designer of grand stratagems and infernal machines, to be reduced to ‘that horrid little man’,” he said.
“My husband and I refer to him as ‘the even younger pretender’,” said Jane.
“I like that. You and your husband are most witty,” said the prince. “I was wondering if I might engage the first waltz with you? Lady Lieven says you dance it.”
“I would be honoured,” said Jane. “All the world knows how accomplished you are on the dance floor.”
“Not got the stamina I used to have, but tol lol,” said the prince. “Hear you’ve had Popham working for his pay.”
Jane laughed.
“He has more contacts than we do in the right places to undertake certain enquiries,” she said. “Our own men make enquiries for us as is appropriate for their skills and abilities. And Caleb and I are eyes and ears.”
“Tell me, do you think it a Jacobite plot?” he asked quietly.
“I am coming to the conclusion that you may be easy on that head, sir, and that it is merely a sordid plot involving base greed,” said Jane.
His shoulders relaxed.
“I am glad to hear that,” he said. “At least, it is intolerable that there should be a sordid plot, but a treasonous plot is a trifle nervous.”
Jane resisted the governess urge in her to quote Shakespeare ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,’ since the regent was not yet king and it was tactless. She smiled austerely.
“Indeed, I have always found it a nervous business when helping my husband’s work has made me a potential target for villains,” she said, “And I can appreciate that for you the fear I have sometimes felt for my children must be greatly magnified, since all your subjects are your children, to whom you have a responsibility. I cannot imagine how worrying such things must be.”
It was the right mix of flattery and kindly understanding, and the prince expanded proudly.
“It is my duty,” he said, waving a hand. “But it is nice that it is recognised. Ah! They are playing our tune,” as a waltz air struck up, and he drew Jane onto the dance floor. Jane was pleasantly surprised that he was still remarkably light on his feet as well as skilled, and dancing with him was a pleasant experience. The ever-changing holds of the German waltz were intimate but never improper; his highness appreciated an attractive woman, but he was no lecher. Jane chatted with him about inconsequential matters, telling him how impressed Caleb had been by the beautiful royal Christmas tree, and that they planned to institute the custom Queen Charlotte had brought, in her memory, and as a loyal gesture to the crown. It pleased the prince, and he kissed Jane on the back of the hand as the dance ended.
“By Jove, Lady Armitage, if Sir Caleb had not seen you first, I would have been honoured to have been a suitor of yours,” he declared.
“Why, I declare myself much flattered,” said Jane, with a curtsey, hoping that he would not try to persuade her to be his mistress.
“Ah, and you are plainly a couple much in love; I envy you,” said the prince, sighing gustily, before turning away to mingle.
Jane reflected dryly that if she had not felt the charisma the man really did carry with him, but had heard a report of his words, she would have declared him a maudlin old fool. Well, it was now plain why so many people were so loyal to him, despite his debts and foolishness.

Jane made her way over to Mrs. Fielding, who was with Lady Caroline.
“I see that Cora has made a hit with the young men, Mrs. Fielding,” she said. “She looks lovely tonight, quite angelic in sheer muslin over silver tissue, how wise you were to keep her gown so simple!”
“Thank you; she seems to have taken very well,” said Mrs. Fielding. “She has a number of suitors. Even Falkrington has danced with her, the marquess, you know, he inherited recently.”
“Indeed?” Jane pricked up her ears.
“Yes, though goodness knows his grandfather had been rehearsing after dying any time the last nearly twenty years, since Gerard Falk the older, Falkrington’s father, that is, turned up his toes getting caught on the continent when the peace of Amiens ended so suddenly. He insisted on fighting and refused to tell them he was a viscount and could have been ransomed. The younger Gerard has been viscount since he was eight or nine, and by all accounts doing most of the paperwork for the marquisate most of that time, no wonder he’s a stuffy stuck up prig.”
“You know the family?”
“Only through gossip, Lady Armitage.”
“Ah, of course. Do you have a suitor you favour for Cora?”
“Well, I cannot say that I like Mr. Ambrose Tyler much. He is the sort of dandy who cares more for his own appearance than for the well-being of any lady he may be with. He is the kind who would snatch a lady’s umbrella if it came on to rain because satin spots in rain. Rather like that Popham fellow you have danced with. ”
Jane laughed.
“I’ve met a few of the type,” she said. “Popham is at least an amusing fribble. Are there any that you do like?”
“Well, he is not what you might call handsome, but I like Mr. Andrew Brasenose, who has a visage better described as ‘amiable’ than to attempt any encomium upon its beauty, because beautiful it ain’t, is not, I mean, but he’s a lovely gent, and he thinks the world of Cora. Has only a moderate fortune, but fortune’s not everything. Better to have a husband who thinks the world of her and only half a dozen servants, rather than be knee deep in second footmen’s assistant boot-cleaners, and have a man who beats you.”
“I agree,” said Jane, who had been in the situation of having to juggle half a dozen servants or so, and had still had a husband who beat her. Frank, however, had wanted to live above his means. She said, “Much comes down to whether Mr. Brasenose is happy to live within the confines of his moderate fortune, or whether he wishes to cut a dash and outspends the constable, in order to do so at such places as Almack’s.”
“Bless you, Lady Armitage, he’s dragged here by his fond mama to make an eligible connexion, and as far as I can tell, he don’t like fast living above half.”
“Well, then, so long as he’s not an inveterate gambler, or too fond of the horses, he sounds a most admirable young man,” said Jane.
“There! I thought when I first met you that you’d be the sort of woman to give good, straight advice,” said Mrs. Fielding.
“I do my best,” said Jane.
“Now, what am I reminded of ... oh yes, a friend of dear Caro’s wanted to know if you were the same Jane Armitage who had once been Jane Fairfax; she received a long and rambling letter from someone called Nessie.”
“Oh, that will be Agnes Fanshawe,” said Jane. “I was at school with her, and she’s something of a connexion of Beau Popham with several removes in the cousinship. To whom has she been writing?”
“A Rosalind, Lady Liddel; she said you would have known her as Rosalind Vaughan. Ah, I see you remember her.” Jane’s face had shown a flash of dislike before she schooled it. “I did not like her much, myself.”
“Rosalind Vaughan was the wealthy, pretty, accomplished girl in the class,” said Jane, “And I am still a better pianist than she, which irritated her no end at school. She shut my fingers in the pianoforte lid once, and apologised so prettily and falsely, when we were playing for the governors. On the whole she considered herself too good for Nessie and me; what on earth is Nessie doing in writing to her?”
“This is third hand, you understand, but apparently Lady Liddel came across her chaperoning some child to a country ball, and renewed the acquaintance, and was impressed that Beau Popham turned up and claimed Miss Fanshawe as a cousin, and showed her every courtesy. I think she supposes Miss Fanshawe to be expecting an offer from the Beau?” She looked a whole paragraph of unspoken questions at Jane.
“Highly unlikely,” said Jane. “The Beau respects Nessie’s ability to hold a household and look after Emma, which is the young girl’s name, a cousin and ward to the Beau. She is a lively girl with annoying brothers, who need a firmer hand than Nessie can manage, but the Beau does not find her restful.” Jane did not say that the Beau was driven to distraction by Nessie’s rather fluttering manner.
“Ah, well, I believe that this Lady Liddel is inclined to jump to conclusions; she asked Caro who Sir Caleb was, before he was knighted, and what made a man of wealth and distinction pick, and I am sorry, a ‘poor little dab like Jane Fairfax’.”
Jane laughed and laughed.
“Oh, she has heard the stories that he is the byblow of a royal duke and assumes one of those cheapskate skinflints has actually acknowledged and paid for one of their side issues?”
“I’m not sure if she has heard that story, but I understand he made a fortune on the Peninsula, looting the baggage train of Joseph Bonaparte.”
“I am sure that my husband would have been very happy to have diverted some of that poor fool’s wealth into merry England, but unfortunately for him, he was invalided out long before the opportunity for that arose.”
“Indeed? Well, I said she sounded like one who draws a bow at venture. Note her calling you a ‘poor little dab’, indeed!”
“At school, I have to say I was a poor little dab, the impoverished granddaughter of a vicar and daughter of an officer who died in the line of duty. I am sure there are those who similarly denigrate your daughter’s friend, Miss Evans, who will be a very pretty girl when she has lost her slight puppy fat, and has something which will outlast beauty, in being a kind, gentle and pleasant girl.”
“She is a nice girl, though I confess, I partly encourage the friendship because she is plain at the moment, and it is a foil for my Cora, who is not clever.”
“Which is why you are happy to settle for a respectable match with a kind man like Mr. Brasenose, rather than a brilliant match with Falkrington.”
“Absolutely, my dear Lady Armitage. I want her established and protected.”
“As every mother of daughters does,” said Jane.
“You have daughters?”
“Three of them; Cecily is my stepdaughter, she is eleven, so I will be worrying about suitors before I can turn round! Frances is my first husband’s child, and is still a toddler, and Susanna is the baby of the family, born last December.”
“My, you are doing well to be back on your feet so quickly and to have recovered your figure.”
Jane smiled.
“Part of the secret is in feeding your own babies, not getting in a wet nurse, and in having remained fit before birthing. I fancy if Princess Charlotte had walked vigorously every day until the birthing pangs began, she would have been in a better state, and we should have had a live prince as heir presumptive, and we should not have seen the scandalous scrambling of all the royal dukes to provide themselves with suitable wives, and legitimate heirs to trump their pack of royal bastards.”
Mrs. Fielding sniggered, then sighed.
“I was not given the options to do that, nor to feed Cora,” she said, a trifle wistfully. “I don’t suppose Princess Charlotte found herself permitted to make many choices, when the birth of a royal baby becomes the business of the accoucheurs more than of the mother.”
“More than likely,” said Jane. “I am sorry you found yourself without choices.”
“I think the length of time it took birthing her had something to do with her being slow, and no forceps for me,” said Mrs. Fielding, almost viciously. “But having her gave me the incentive to fight to see that she had more options than I have ever had.”
“Yes, when one has a baby, totally dependent on one, it opens one’s eyes to the surroundings, and to things one wishes to change,” said Jane.
“Your first husband did bad by you?”
“Let us just say that when he fell in with a bad crowd and got himself murdered, I was not exactly prostrated with grief,” said Jane. “Were he and Mr. Fielding of a piece in that respect?”
“I would prefer not to speak about it,” said Mrs. Fielding.
“That, I can quite understand,” said Jane. “I do not like to talk about Frank, but I have the best part of him in Frances and Joseph, so that is quite sufficient. Moreover, I can quite see that you would not wish to even think about your situation at the time.”
“What do you mean by that?” demanded Mrs. Fielding.
“Oh, nothing particular, though I cannot think it polite to interfere in Draisine races because of the inconvenient memories of those who recall a time which you would rather forget. I myself find it hard meeting those who thought my late husband was a charming man as he could be on the surface.”
“And there was me thinking you had had the easy life, born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and then marrying a man of substance,” said Mrs. Fielding. She gave a rather forced laugh.
Jane laughed.
“Oh, do not make up as many fairy-tales as Rosalind, I pray you,” she said. “Dear me, I hardly know whether to tell you to let her make up her whimsies, or disabuse her. My husband has worked very hard for us to be in a position of some financial comfort.”
“Indeed? What has he done to achieve that?”
“He is a consultant to Bow Street, and has been instrumental in helping out Lloyds of London to recover stolen goods, and in investigating insurance claims,” said Jane. “A step up from being an officer of Bow Street to keep body and soul together when he first invalided out, taking those cases which needed the tact a gentleman could bring.”
Mrs. Fielding paled.
“My goodness!” she said.
“I am not ashamed of his efforts,” said Jane, softly. She was not ashamed of the fact that Caleb had never been a gentleman before Fowler had taught him to speak like one, and his former colonel, Sir Henry Wilton, had arranged a late field commission for him, so he could at least muster out as an officer. However, that was not information to bruit abroad at Almack’s.
The effect on other people on learning that Caleb was associated with Bow Street was, however, always interesting.

Jane and the sins of society 10-12

Sarah WaldockMarch 03, 2018 11:26AM

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