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Jane and the sins of society 13-15

March 06, 2018 12:24AM
warning, one or two slightly coarse words from street people

Chapter 13

Jane was not expecting the cry,
“Stand and deliver!” in the middle of town, on the way home from Almack’s. The coachman they had hired for the season brought the carriage to a halt, causing Jane to frown. Fowler would have whipped up the horses and ducked.
“What the....?” Caleb was incensed. “Now that’s downright lawless.”
“Well, I have taken off the demi-parure so maybe the fellow may be bought off with a few guineas,” said Jane. “And we can have him pursued later.”
The door was wrenched open, and a man, whose face was covered with a muffler, and who was holding two pistols, stood there. He shot deliberately at Caleb, who gave a grunt of pain, and subsided.
Jane gave a little scream.
“Hand over the demi-parure, or you’ll get it too,” said the man.
“I put it in my reticule; it was heavy,” said Jane, meekly. “I will get it out, please do not hurt me!”
His eyes said that he had no intention of leaving her alive.
Jane fumbled in her reticule, making little sounds of distress. It was not merely her jewels which were in there, but the muff pistol Caleb had bought her, and insisted that she be proficient with it. Jane found it.
It would be a harder shot through the reticule, but he had moved up into the carriage, and lowered over her, and she could hear his breath, fast and excited.
She looked up at him, and pulled the trigger. She aimed at his face.
The warm spatter of blood and ... well, Jane preferred not to imagine if it was brain matter ... was most unpleasant.
“Caleb!” She turned to her husband.
“Damn!” said Caleb. “I owe a heap of thanks to the Almighty, I think.”
“Where are you shot?” asked Jane.
Caleb produced a ball.
“I was shot in my heavy military cloak, which appears to have caught the ruddy ball,” he said. “I have a bruise on my belly the size of my fist, I suspect, and I was thoroughly winded, but I am not actually hurt.”
“Oh, thank G-d!” Jane sobbed suddenly.
Caleb investigated further.
“The blighter has killed my watch, however,” he said. “Well, a combination of a thick cloak and a good steel hunter. Be damned if I replace it with a silver one like I was considering; in fact, I’ll see if I can get it mended.”
“Indeed!” said Jane, with heartfelt thanks. “Where is that dratted coachman? Fellowes!” she called.
“My lady?” the window between carriage and coachman’s seat opened, timidly.
“Fellowes, come here at once and dispose of the corpse of this wretched highwayman,” said Jane.
“Not until I’ve had a quick look at his phiz, and you’d drawn it, Jane-girl,” said Caleb, grimly, leaping over to undo the muffler.
He lifted the carriage lantern to give a closer view. Jane gasped.
“He has powdered hair and is in a livery,” she said.
“Indeed. And he looks to me like a bouncer at a most insalubrious place,” said Caleb. “Here, Fellowes, you run to Bow Street, my lad, and have them send a couple of men out. If you find a watchman ... no, they’re worse than useless.”
“I ain’t paid enough to tangle with Bow Street nor to ‘ave to run places,” said Fellowes.
“Dear me, what a singularly useless fellow you are, Fellowes,” said Jane. She was reloading her pistol, and the coachman was watching her with horror. “Very well, tomorrow morning you may come for your money to date, and I will write you a reference that you are a good driver providing nobody minds how timid you are. In the meantime there’s a guinea for you to go to Bow Street, and collect a couple of men for Captain Armitage. They’ll care more for that than for his knighthood.”
“Er, yes’m,” said the coachman. He wanted to be well away without having to look at that awful thing hanging out of the coach, with its brains dripping onto the ground. And the lady was drawing it, for goodness sake! Mad, they were, absolutely insane!
Fellowes had no intention of going to ask for his wages to date; he would use his letter of reference from his previous employer who had not expected him to either stand up to highwaymen, or to look at them when they had been done to death by a lady of all things!
He did go to Bow Street, however.
He had a lively fear that a man who permitted his wife to shoot footpads might hunt him down if he did not carry out instructions.
“You did well, Jane,” said Caleb. “I was taken by surprise.”
“I did not face up to Sparkler Jack to be shot by some dandyprat jackanapes of a counterfeit highwayman,” said Jane. “I want to confirm with Cecily that this is the man hanging around outside Montgomery’s house, and then we shall have solved who made an attempt on the lad and why, and will have a result for Lady Lieven as well, though there are some loose ends.”
“I don’t see why he should suddenly attack us now,” said Caleb.
“Because I mentioned you were with Bow Street,” said Jane. “I thought it might shake Mrs. Fielding, but I did not realise how much it would shake her. I was rather expecting her to send a house breaker, and planned to warn you and Fowler to be ready accordingly. Well, she is a decisive woman, and I am warned that she will act fast. I’ll like to have any evidence Jackie and the boys find as well to lay out, for a full picture, but decisive as she is, at least she is an inept killer, or rather her man is. Was, rather.”
“And it’s to hide her background. Seems extreme.”
Jane sighed.
“To be fair, I suspect that her main motive was to keep her daughter safe,” she said. “But she can’t go around killing people whom she suspects know her secret. I would like to come to an accommodation with her, if I can, for her daughter’s sake, because I suspect she is dying from some disease contracted in her youth. Her air of desperation to get Cora safely established would suggest she has a limited time in which to do it.”
Caleb pursed his lips.
“I don’t like it,” he said. “But if you see her in the book room, I’ll lurk in the Bramah closet eavesdropping.”
“Just what I intended suggesting,” said Jane.
They were glad to get home when a couple of officers of Bow Street arrived to relieve them of the body, and Caleb had been able to make a written report. No suspicions were mentioned in his report, just the bald facts of the attack. Caleb would leave Jane to handle things her way. They would have to replenish the supply of paper kept in the carriage door pocket, however, with Jane needing to draw, and him needing to write, and Caleb was glad that Jane always insisted on having some paper in case of needing to make a sketch, or send a note, and that they carried steel nibs and a short pen body and ink bottle in etuis. Caleb had little use for men with an excess of fobs, but he did find the decorative etui boxes he had instead very useful. Not that many gentlemen with etuis also carried a set of lock picks, but then, there was nothing wrong with being prepared.

Jackie was waiting to give a report early in the morning. Jane saw him at the breakfast table. He and the others would be taken care of and well fed by Mrs. Ketch.
“We went all abaht the area of Wiltshire where there are Fieldings, Mrs. Jane, and even to some villages wot we didn’t have on the list, account o’ how Daniel say, we can see if they lived there, if they died there, which was uncommon clever of him.”
“It was, and he shall have a bonus for thinking of it,” said Jane, impressed. Daniel was simple, or rather, his thought processes were very slow. If he worried at an idea, however, he could occasionally come out with some quite profound observations.
“He’ll be right pleased you fort it a good idea,” said Jackie. “Anywise, we stopped and looked at gravestones, and if any was in the name o’ Fielding, we went through the parish register, to see what we might find. It’s why we took longer.”
“And better to be thorough,” said Jane. “What did you find?”
Jackie scratched his nose.
“We found an Eliza Clark who gave birth to a daughter, Jane, thirty-seven year ago, noted that the father was one Harry Fielding. Seeminly he was already wed,” said Jackie. “And we was lucky, there was a note that Eliza Clark moved to London when her daughter was just a few years old.”
“I thought I heard the tones of St. Martin at Bow in her voice,” said Jane. “Well done, Jackie, and well done all of you for undertaking a thankless task.”
“Well, Mrs. Jane, we’ve done worse, and at least we can read fluent-like, fanks to you and the Capting, so we could do it bowman,” said Jackie.

“What is this about?” asked Cecily.
“It’s about your Captain Hackum, for one,” said Jane. “I have a sketch to show you. Is this the man?”
She took the sketch out of her damaged reticule.
“Yerse, vat’s ‘im,” said Cecily, reverting to the vernacular. “’Ere, missus ... mama, I mean ... did ‘e attack you?”
“Yes, he did,” said Jane. “This is why there is the hole you are eyeing askance in my reticule, since I shot him through it.”
“Gawd!” said Cecily.
“He had already attempted to shoot your papa, and was not planning on letting me live, so I felt no compunction in so doing,” said Jane.
“Gawd, I got bleedin’ ‘eroes for bleedin’ parents,” said Cecily, who had a rather more sanguine attitude towards the stray deaths of ruffians than a gently-reared child her age.
“And fortunately, neither of us was bleeding,” said Jane, deciding to use the wilful change of use of the word as a gentle rebuke.
Under the circumstances of nearly losing her new parents, Cecily might be forgiven for demonstrating some degree of emotion.
“What’s ‘e ... he want to kill you for?” Cecily demanded.
“I may have intimated to his employer that I had some idea why she wanted to have Mr. Montgomery killed,” said Jane.
Cecily regarded her with disapproval.
“You didn’t ought to do things like that without taking precautions,” she said.
“I had my pistol with me,” said Jane.
“I’d love to see the faces of those Friday-faced dames who run their little subscription club if they knew that all the time you were dancing, and with the Prince Regent too, you had a pistol in your reticule,” said Caleb.
“You danced with the Prince Regent?” breathed Cecily, awed. “Wass he like in reel life?”
“Fat, but surprisingly light on his feet until he starts blowing,” said Jane. “He’s actually more charismatic, has more personality, than you’d think and I found myself liking him, despite my generally rather republican tendencies. And your father need not speak as though he does not carry another ladies’ muff pistol in a special holster inside the armpit of his jacket, which is tailored to permit it.”
“Guilty as charged, m’lady,” said Caleb. “And you’ll be learning how to use a pistol too, young Cecily, and you will carry one at all times in your reticule or muff, because there are people out there who would try to hurt us through our family.”
“Gawd!” said Cecily again.
“G-d is indeed good, and preserved the life of your papa when the ball meant for him not only largely spent itself in good wool of a cloak, but on his watch,” said Jane. “And I’m not going to lie to you that you are actually quite right, and we were singularly unprepared because I assumed the, er, arch dell would send a bullyruffian in the darkmans to crack the ken.”
“I just love listening to you coming out with cant in that refined and disapproving voice of yours, Jane-girl,” said Caleb.
“I’d like to be excused if you’re going to bill and coo,” said Cecily.
“We are relieved to be unhurt,” said Jane. “It makes us silly in relief.”
Cecily nodded.
“Yerse, I understand that,” she said.
“We also hired that silly fellow, Fellowes, as a coachman,” said Caleb. “I wanted to leave Fowler at home, in case someone with half a brain was needed. But now we can have Jackie drive us, he’s not going to stop meekly if some fellow calls us to stand and deliver. If he don’t shoot anyone of that kind, at least he’d drive over him.”
“Indeed, it cannot be easy to be a highwayman if faced with determined coachmen,” said Jane.
“It ain’t, but they rely on the fellows being cowards,” said Caleb.
“Well, I have finished my breakfast, and I will write a letter to Mrs. Fielding, asking her to call upon me at around four,” said Jane. “And in the meantime, Cecily, you and I will go shopping. These wretched assemblies were not designed for people with children.”
“No, Jane-girl, they were designed for people with children to shift on the marriage mart and any younger ones to be farmed off onto governesses,” said Caleb. “These hours don’t suit me any better than they do you, and we are not, either of us, exuberant youths shy of our twenties, to be able to burn the candle at both ends.”
“I shall be glad to get the other problem solved as well as tying off the loose ends of this one, and go home to Essex,” said Jane. “Dear me! How very fatiguing all this compulsory pleasure is, to be sure!”
“Laugh, my dear; we’ll be doing it again for Cecily, and then Frances, and then Susanna,” said Caleb.
“You know how to spoil the day,” said Jane, kissing him.
“Ah, but you know how to improve it,” said Caleb, kissing her back.
Cecily sighed audibly.

Chapter 14

Jane preferred to shop on Cheapside to Bond Street. Bond Street was the paradigm of fashion, but Cheapside sold a wider range of goods, including household goods, and groceries. The prices were not, despite the name of the road, cheap, but could be relied upon to be more reasonable than those of Bond Street and Mayfair, which charged higher prices purely for being exclusive. Cheapside was the commercial centre of the city, and as well as shops, housed businesses such as physicians, dentists, opticians and apothecaries. Rooming houses and apartments might be found, as well as houses owned by middle class businessmen, usually with their business on premises. Jane had furnished her town house using a paper-stainer’s business on Cheapside, rather than the expensive and exclusive firm Frank had told her to use, typically failing to give her enough money for the firm he wanted.
He had never found out, or that her stylish gowns had been made up from fabric bought in haberdasheries here, and sewn by Jane herself, not made by a modiste as he believed. Other than the noise, Jane might have been happier to have resided on Cheapside when she and Frank had married, but she did love her tall, white house on Pembridge Square, in a relatively quiet backwater, save for the cries of the street vendors calling out to apprise servants of such essentials as sand for sale, to polish and sharpen cutlery, and various seasonal foods, and cats’ meat for those people who kept cats. Butlers might have to go and find a knife sharpener if they did not care to do it for themselves, the sound of the grinding wheel was not welcome actually in a residential square in a moderately fashionable quarter.
That was not true of Cheapside, however, where a knife grinder was putting an edge to the long shears of a haberdasher, as Jackie stopped the carriage for Jane and Cecily to alight, the high whine making Jane shudder. The clop of hooves and the rumble of metal tires with a continuous stream of traffic in both directions was at least less painful on the ears on the beaten earth of this street than on those streets which had cobbles installed. Cheapside was too busy a street for cobbles to be laid; the traffic was so heavy that repairs would be needed almost weekly, and the disruption that would cause to business would be unacceptable. The rumble was, however, as continuous as a summer thunderstorm running up and down between two rivers. It was almost deafening, with delivery carts coming and going, hackney carriages hired to bring people to shop, the vehicles and horses of customers, residents, and passers-by. Some vehicles pulled over to complete their business, others continued on in an inexorable stream. Added to this were the shouts and cries of derision of coachmen and jarveys, with plaints about blocking the road. A Draisine bowled down the road, expertly weaving in and out of the rest of the traffic, followed by a crowd of shouting urchins. Jane recognised Mr. Grey and raised a hand in greeting, and he cautiously touched his hat to her as he sped away.
“It’s better nor Mr. Montgomery’s,” said Cecily, eyeing the carefree urchins with a mix of envy and contempt.
“Agreed, and your papa will have a better and safer one yet,” said Jane.
“He ain’t no fool,” said Cecily.
They walked along the pavement, passing from the influence of one street cry to another, from cries of ‘chestnuts, chestnuts hot, last o’ the season’ to ‘pertayters, ‘ot pertayters’, and even “primroses, early primroses’. The cries were readily drowned out by the knife-grinder’s wheel, as it progressed along the street, sharpening such things as were required as it went. Less offensive was the asthmatic wheeze of a badly maintained street organ as it struck up a popular air, promptly drowned out as the knife grinder moved too close. The organ-grinder threw his hat on the floor, and Jane was glad the wheel grinding knives was still going, since she suspected from the way his mouth was working, he was giving vent to some rather choice oaths. His dog, presumably trained to dance, after the fashion of the dogs of such, sat in his jacket and frilled ruff, howling mournfully in a discordant counterpoint to the grinding wheel. A woman with a barrow of oranges made the mistake of throwing one at the dog, and was bitten for her pains.
“I like Cheapside, it’s always entertaining,” said Cecily.
Jane would not necessarily have chosen that description, but she could see Cecily’s point. She steered Cecily away from the incipient bout of fisticuffs, and into the haberdasher she had favoured when living in London.
“Why, it’s Mrs. Churchill,” said one of the assistants.
Jane blushed.
“I am remarried, Walter, I am Lady Armitage, now. This is my stepdaughter, and she needs a complete new wardrobe; she has grown like a weed, you know how children are when they are away at school.”
“Indeed, Lady Armitage,” said Walter. “My congratulations, and not just on your title, but on your husband, who plainly treats you better than Mr. Churchill used to do.”
“Dear me, did it show?” said Jane.
“Right pinched, you used to look, my lady, counting out the pennies, and making sure to get the latest kickshaws, to please him, I always reckoned. I always wanted to plant him a facer for putting worry lines on the face of a nice lady like you, who goes to the trouble of remembering a fellow’s name.”
“Walter, how kind of you,” said Jane. “I shall be spending more in here nowadays, and I’ll also ask you if you can recommend anyone to make up a number of round gowns for Cecily here, to save me some time.”
“Well, my lady, my sister does sewing for ladies, if you would be willing to employ her,” said Walter.
“Excellent,” said Jane. “We had better have some half-mourning, for the Queen, and half mourning never comes amiss, and can be easily made deeper with the addition of black trim and petticoats. Now, I wonder if your sister can make good cotton pantalettes with enough lace on the bottom to look as ridiculous as such things may, but sturdy enough and double sewn, to withstand a girl joining her brother up trees, and likewise sturdy calico morning gowns to survive the slings and arrows of outrageous playtime.”
“I think my sister will sympathise with the little miss,” said Walter. “Sal can sew anything you ask of her. Just let me know how much of anything you want.”
Cecily was quite carried away, looking at patterns of printed calico for morning dresses, some in half-mourning colours for the present, and some for when the period of royal mourning was over.
“I didn’t know nobody ever had so many cloes,” she whispered to Jane as Walter carried away one bolt of cloth and went to look for another. “Are you going to send me off to school?”
“Only if you want to go,” said Jane. “But haberdashers can be inclined to gossip, and I did not want anyone saying anything unkind about you, being short of clothes.”
“Fanks,” said Cecily. “I reckon you’re just the kindest mort in the world.”
“As Walter said, I’ve known what it’s like to feel embarrassed by a lack of clothes and a need to have a display of fashion garments,” said Jane.
“Huh, this Churchill cove must of been a rum niggling little dandyprat, dicked in the costard, and deserving of an earth bath,” said Cecily.
“Death did improve him,” agreed Jane, answering the last part of that only too accurate cant assessment of her mean natured, self-important and less than clever late husband.

Jane and Cecily tripped out of the shop with a selection of parcels, as Jane would make some dresses up for Cecily for immediate use, with the aid of Ella, as well as having more left in the hands of Walter’s sister. She had bought some fabrics for herself as well, but left instructions that Cecily’s clothes should be made up first.
The fight was over, but the argument was still going on, the knife grinder and the organ-grinder bloodied but unsubdued. The knife-grinder shied a stone at the organ-grinder’s dog, which was growling at him, and it leaped away, running into the road. Cecily screamed as the dog was clipped by a passing curricle, and thrown to the side of the road, where it lay still. She pulled away from Jane and ran over to the small body. The dog moved its head painfully to look at her, and Cecily picked it up. Jane pulled a face. The dangers of rabid dogs were not as great as they had been in the middle of the last century, and this was not a stray. She went over.
“Let me see, old fellow,” said Jane, running her hands down the dog’s sides. It moved its head readily, looking at her, and she ran her hands down its back, and down each leg. It whined as she touched the top of its rear left leg. Jane turned to the organ-grinder. “Your dog has a broken rear leg, that is all,” she said.
“You bastard, you’ve cost me my dog!” the man roared to the knife grinder. “Do you have any idea how long it takes to teach a dog to dance?”
“Surely when the dog is healed, he will be able to dance again,?” asked Jane.
“Stupid mort! It won’t never heal proper, I’ll have to kill un,” said the man. Cecily pulled at Jane’s sleeve.
“Can I keep him?”
“I was rather coming to that conclusion,” said Jane, softly. “Take off the jacket and ruff; they belong to this man.” She raised her voice. “You will not kill him; I will take him with me.”
His eyes grew cunning.
“And what will you give me for a valuable dog?” he asked.
“You just told me he has no value and you would have to kill him,” countered Jane. “I am saving you the effort. If you want compensation, I suggest you take it from the one who shied the stone at him and drove him into the road.”
“The lidy’s right,” said another man who had been watching the fray.
“What’s his name?” asked Cecily. The organ-grinder spat.
“Toby o’course; all dancing dogs is named Toby.”
“Then shall we take Toby home, Mama?” asked Cecily.
“We shall,” said Jane. “Can anyone let me have a box to put him in, to keep his leg still until I may set it? Why, thank you,” as the man who had spoken handed her an apple box. Jane put her muff in it to lay the dog on.
“Well, you’re a real lidy to care,” said the man. “And some of us is going to ‘ave words wiv both these coves when you’m out of the way, beggin’ your pardon, lidy.”
“My daughter and I are withdrawing so you might not feel inhibited,” said Jane demurely.
“What do you think they are going to do?” asked Cecily, as they moved towards the carriage.
“I suspect they are going to mill both grinders down for causing an affray, possibly make the knife grinder give the value of Toby to the organ-grinder, and give them both enough lumps to remember the lesson by,” said Jane. “And no, we will not be watching; men like to be more private about such things, especially private from swell gentry morts like you and me.”
Cecily giggled.
“Oh, it is funny when you mix cant in with your swell whids,” she said.
“I expect Toby will be teaching doggy cant to Nat,” sighed Jane.

Caleb raised an eyebrow at the addition to the family, but helped Jane by holding the dog and petting its head as Jane set the broken bone and bandaged it firmly, using a horn page-cutter as a splint. Toby whined and growled a little, but seemed to be aware that they were trying to help him. Nat came over and sniffed the intruder, decided he belonged to the family, and licked the newcomer’s nose.
Fed on a bowl of meat scraps from the kitchen, Toby curled up on Jane’s muff and went to sleep, one leg stuck out sideways. Nat curled up beside him, eschewing his own rather grand little bed to be friendly with the new addition. Jane was much relieved. Nat was used to visiting dogs at their house in Essex, but she had been concerned that in a strange house, he might prove to want to exert his territorial rights.
“You can fill another vegetable box from the kitchen with dirt, and teach him to do his business in that,” said Jane, to Cecily. “If he is clever enough to learn to dance, he will be clever enough to learn to use such a box. It is your task to change the dirt every day until he is well enough to take outside to do his business. We will feed him plenty of good meat jelly to help his bone to heal, and with good care, he might even dance again, if he wishes to, whatever that fellow said.”
“Not natural, mind,” said Caleb.
“Possibly not,” said Jane, “But he was wagging his tail when he was dancing in the street, so he does not do it unwillingly like a poor dancing bear, pricked about the legs to teach it to dance. Dogs enjoy learning tricks, if taught them with kindness, and however that fellow treated him, he is well enough fed, and he will be rewarded here for performing tricks asked of him, not punished for failing to do them. If he likes showing off, I would not want him discouraged.”
“You mustn’t have him in here when you are playing the pianoforte, Jane, or when Cecily is playing,” said Caleb. “It will be unfair on him if he wants, or feels he should, dance, and cannot at the moment.”
“Jackie was sufficiently taken with him, he can live in the kitchen for now,” said Jane. “Simmy started out there after all, until he settled in, so if it’s good enough for our son, it’s good enough for our new dog until he settles in.”

It had already been a busier day than Jane had looked to have, and she was to see Mrs. Fielding in a short while. Cecily was banished to the kitchen to help Toby settle in, with orders to stay out of the way of the murderous woman her parents were going to see, to stop her from trying to murder anyone else.
Cecily was not happy, but she knew she could not do much to stop a killer; and her new parents were experienced thief-takers, and Mama Jane had shot a man, so they were not helpless. Cecily told Toby all about it, as she fed him titbits Mrs. Ketch let her have for him, and he thumped his tail. It was hard to say exactly what sort of dog Toby might be; he had a look of a terrier, but his coat was smooth, and he had the large eyes and velvet nose of a pug, though not so flat-faced, and drooping soft ears, not standing ears as most terriers do. Fowler declared that his one of his grandsires was a pointer-terrier cross, who had dallied with a spaniel, and the resultant was his sire who had had his wicked way with someone’s pug.
It was as close as anyone was likely to get. Mrs. Ketch said it was a little brown dog, and that would do for anyone.

Jane sat behind her desk and smiled austerely when Mrs. Fielding was shown in. Tea things were already on the desk waiting only for her to pour out.
“I am afraid your footman is dead,” said Jane. “I was not expecting you to have him attack me so soon, and to be so violent as to open fire on Caleb right away, so I just shot him instead of taking him in charge.”
Mrs. Fielding went a dirty grey.
“What is it you want of me?” she asked.

Chapter 15

“I believe I want you to stop trying ineffectually to kill the people who know that you used to be a madam,” said Jane. “You were born Jane Clark, to one Eliza Clark, the result of the misbehaviour of one Harry Fielding. When you were six, your mother moved to St Martin at Bow, where she plied her trade, as a ruined woman having little choice. I find it sad that she involved you in it, and admirable that you did not involve your daughter.”
“My mother resented me. I always saw Cora as a treasure. I named her ‘Cora’ meaning ‘a maiden’ and I swore she would remain a maiden unless in legal matrimony by her own choice.”
Jane nodded.
“Did you contract syphilis before or after she was born?”
“After, thank goodness, she’s not wanting because of being born with it. It was because of the long birth.”
Jane nodded.
“Then I see no reason to interfere with her marriage prospects; if she had been carrying it, I would have offered to take her as a companion so she would not pass it on. I am glad you are not trying to dissemble.”
“You seem to know it all, even about the disease.”
“That was a guess because you were acting as though you had a finite time in which to see Cora wed. And you move with great care; I imagine you are experiencing loss of balance, headaches, maybe?”
“Blinding headaches, and I have the sores in my mouth. They will come on my nose soon, and I will not be able to hide that, nor the madness when it begins. What are you going to do?”
“I’ll tell you in a moment. How did you get Lady Caroline to co-operate?”
“When she was very young, she came to the brothel to hire a woman, to experiment with the joys of Sappho. I blackmailed her.”
“Dear me. A shame, as she will not see Cora as someone to be protected if the disease should progress faster than you hope. I should have thought a clever woman like you might have convinced her that your mother went through a form of marriage ceremony with your father, and believed you to be legitimate; the scandal of that would probably have been enough for her to acquiesce to a pretence that you were quite legitimately part of her husband’s family.”
“I did not think of that, I just saw my chance and took it,” said Mrs. Fielding. “I’ll do anything for Cora, and if that means killing you, I will,” and she withdrew a pistol from her reticule.
“You are covered by my own pistol under the table, and I have a listener at the door,” said Jane. “All I know about you is in writing, and is filed in a sealed envelope with my solicitor. You don’t dare kill me. And indeed, if you tried, I would not be able to help you with Cora.”
Mrs. Fielding gasped, but put the pistol away.
“And what do you intend doing?” she asked.
“I was asked to investigate you, by Lady Lieven. I intend telling her the story I suggested to you, that you are an imposter, but with a good excuse, and point out that your innocent daughter is not party to this, and that exposing you would be a worse scandal for an old family than promoting Miss Fielding’s chances.”
“Why would you do that?”
“I am also a mother of daughters, remember?” said Jane. “Like you, I would go to any lengths to protect them. You had no need to send your minion out on his abortive attempt on Mr. Montgomery, by the way; he is mortified with shame by having mistakenly identified you as someone he once met. As to the attempt on Caleb and me, well, we are used to more professional bullies coming after us, so there was no harm done, though I fear your footman may not feel so. He did not have a pretty expression on his face when he approached me.”
Mrs. Fielding coloured.
“He was what I had at my disposal,” she said.
“As he is no longer at your disposal, the attempts at killing people stop,” said Jane. “For Cora’s sake, if you have any problems, you will tell me, and I will sort them out. And once Cora is safely wed, I strongly suggest that you retire to the country, and accidentally take an overdose of laudanum. I am told that the final stages of your illness are most unpleasant, and as you go insane, you will ramble, and might tell a nurse more than would be good for Cora.”
“I understand,” Mrs. Fielding bowed her head. “I was terrified when you said your husband was with Bow Street, I thought you would take Cora and me in charge.”
“I’m more interested in justice than the law,” said Jane. “You and your mother were treated unjustly. I can’t do a lot about that, but I can help you protect your daughter.”
“And ... your husband? He lives, I take it?”
“He lives, and he agrees with me, though if you cross me, I expect he’d save the hangman some rope.”
“It must be nice to have a protective man.”
“It is, and it makes up for Frank.”
“That was true, then?”
“I did not tell you one half of what it was like,” said Jane. “I have a lot of sympathy for any woman at the mercy of a man, though I confess, I was also rather moved by poor young Mr. Montgomery’s story.”
Mrs. Fielding shrugged.
“These crass men with crass appetites feel a need to force the same onto their sons, he’s not the first and he won’t be the last.”
“I said something along the same lines to him. But he said he thought he recognised you because you and the madam reminded him of the senior matron at school.”
“Poor brat,” said Mrs. Fielding. “Thank you; you have gone further than I could have hoped.”
“Just get the girl married off fast. If the headaches have started, it won’t be long.”
“If I go mad before I have had a chance to ... to fix laudanum for myself, will you do it?”
“If you wish,” said Jane. “G-d help me, it should be against my beliefs to do so, but I would put a badly injured animal out of their pain, and why a human should suffer more, I cannot see as the will of G-d.”
“Thank you.”
Mrs. Fielding left with great dignity.
“Mother love can be a terrible thing,” said Jane, softly to herself.
Caleb came out of the closet and put his arms around her.
“If you were protecting our girls, I imagine you’d be more efficient about it,” he said.
“Caleb, if I ever set out to murder anyone, appalling as the thought is, I do not doubt that I could do so in such a way that murder was never even suspected, let along brought home to me. The thing about most people who dress a murder as an accident is that they over-egg the pudding, and put in too much scene dressing. Like a fish-bone loose in the throat.”
“It’s just as well you aren’t that way inclined, isn’t it, my love?” said Caleb.
“It is indeed,” agreed Jane.

Cecily came upstairs when she was told that the visitor had gone. She glared at Jane.
“Didja take risks?” she demanded.
“No,” said Jane. “She was frightened enough to draw a pistol, but I pointed out I already had mine pointed at her. She put it away. I am sorry for her.”
“How can you be sorry for her?”
Jane drew Cecily into her arms, and the girl melted into the embrace hungrily.
“Because she loves her daughter, and is prepared to kill to keep her safe. I’d kill to keep you safe, and Frances, and Susanna, but you see, I’m a cleverer woman than she is, and I’d explore other avenues of action first. She has had a hard life, and she is dying of the pox. Her daughter is wanting, and she wants the girl married to someone who will be kind to her. I can understand that. She has made some poor decisions, but I cannot feel that her daughter should suffer for them. If she had succeeded in killing poor Mr. Montgomery, then I might have been harsher.”
“Ain’t anyfink a lot harsher than dying of the pox,” said Cecily. “Gawd! It’s one reason I dressed as a boy; a lot o’ people believe it can be cured by swiving a virgin, and they ain’t particular about the age, in fact the younger the better, to make sure a girl is a virgin.”
Jane shuddered.
“A callous and evil act,” she said. “No, there is very little which is harsher than dying of the pox. Cecily, dear, perhaps for me, you can manage to say ‘lud’ or ‘dear me!’ instead of ‘Gawd’.”
“I’ll try,” said Cecily. “Pa useter say it, and it got ‘abit. Habit, I mean.”

Jane took a carriage to Lady Lieven’s home, near to the Russian embassy, and sent her card in via the footman who showed her into a reception room and relieved her of her muff and pelisse. She did not have long to wait; and Lady Lieven joined her, followed by a footman with a dumb waiter holding an urn, and a variety of little cakes. The urn on the dumb waiter was an odd design, and Jane looked at it quizzically.
“It’s a samovar, Lady Armitage,” said Lady Lieven. “Of all my acquaintances, I thought you might be brave enough to try Russian tea.”
“I will try most things,” said Jane.
Lady Lieven smiled.
“The tea we favour is black without any green blended in it, a bohea called Lapsang Souchong, slightly different to the bohea teas favoured in England. It has a smoky taste, and we like it very strong.”
“I confess, I find the tea made by many to be too weak to struggle out of the spout of the teapot,” said Jane. “I like my tea robust, and though I keep a blended variety for company, I prefer black tea to green.”
“You will like Russian tea, then, my dear, and I will have a receipt sent over to you so you will know how to make it,” said Lady Lieven. “It is made in two parts; a concentrate in a teapot which is kept warm in the upper part of the samovar, and hot water added to taste from the lower part, kept piping hot by charcoal.”
“Ah, so individual tastes may be catered to,” said Jane. “Thank you,” as Lady Lieven made her a cup.
“I hope that is the right strength for you,” said Lady Lieven. “We do not add milk, but we use sugar, honey, jam and lemon as flavours. I like mine with honey and lemon.”
“I will join you in that,” said Jane, recklessly. Lady Lieven added the extras for her, and Jane sipped, cautiously. It was very hot.
It was also pleasant, although nothing like tea as she knew it.
“I like it,” she said.
“I thought you might,” said Lady Lieven. “Try a tea cake, also traditional Russian.”
Jane accepted and bit into the snowy white ball she was offered. The confection almost melted in her mouth, and Jane could taste vanilla and finely ground nuts.
“I am tempted to come to live in Russia,” she said.
“I will have you sent my cook’s receipt for these as well,” said Lady Lieven. “Now, I presume you have come to report? Are my suspicions well founded?”
“Yes, and no, my lady,” said Jane. “Is there something underhand going on? Yes. Is there an explanation for that? Also yes. It is a story of tragedy, a woman betrayed, and scandal to Lady Caroline’s husband’s family. Our men traced the birth of Mrs. Fielding, who has adopted her father’s name. Her mother went through what she believed to be a marriage ceremony with a relative of Lady Caroline’s husband; I have not traced the precise relationship, but I understand it to be a first cousin. Mrs. Fielding was not brought up in a genteel manner, and her mother was forced into a certain profession. Mrs. Fielding’s daughter was born as a result of being too close to this, and she had little choice in the matter. Her daughter is, as I am sure you have noticed, no more capable of caring for herself than a kitten, and Mrs. Fielding was determined that her daughter should never be betrayed and misused as she was. Hence tracing her father’s relatives, and I fear that instead of throwing herself on Lady Caroline’s mercy, she threatened her with scandal.”
“We can’t have that; I will rescind her vouchers, and expose her.”
“Lady Lieven, I beg that you will not. The scandal would be worse than letting Mrs. Fielding find an honest man who will marry and care for her daughter. She has promised me that if she can be permitted to do this, she will disappear from society.”
“Do you believe her?”
“Actually, yes. She was very frightened, not for herself, but for the unfortunate Cora. She has not set her sights high, she just wants Cora to have the life of a gentlewoman, which she should have been entitled to, had not there been an ungentlemanly betrayal by one Harry Fielding.”
“Oh, Harry Fielding was a libertine. Now I understand more. A form of marriage ceremony? Iniquitous behaviour, and I am sorry for Caro, but I have to say, the Fielding family do owe something for such a piece of nikultyurny, uncultured, behaviour. I am angry that the Fielding woman did not confide in me, rather than letting Caro put her forward, but I hear your words, and such a scandal will add nothing to the reputation to either Caro or to Almack’s. I will accept your recommendation for clemency, but of course, I will not invite Mrs. Fielding to any of my personal soirées, and I will write to her asking her to refrain from attending Almack’s. There are other balls.”
Jane bowed from the waist.
“Thank you for your kindness, my lady. I see the position as a mother of daughters, as of course I know you will, having a daughter yourself.”
“Indeed. I confess, I do have some admiration for the boldness of this woman, as well as understanding her desire to establish her daughter. Thank you for undertaking this investigation. Is it true that there was an attempt on your life?”
“Mrs. Fielding’s man was very loyal, and tried to make sure I would not be able to speak to anyone about what I had found out. I shot him dead,” said Jane.”
“Dear me! You certainly take such things in your stride.”
“I had wondered if he would attack me, but I miscalculated and assumed he would attack me in my home,” said Jane. “In which case, I should have been able to plan to capture him. However, loyal or not, I do not think he was a very nice man, and I do not regret saving my own life at the expense of his, as he had already shot my husband. Fortuitously, not fatally; he was winded, and his watch will never be the same again, as it stopped the bullet. I might have felt less charitable had I lost my husband,”
“Indeed, quite so! My dear Lady Armitage, I am glad that the outcome was happy. Thank you for your expeditious investigations. You must take Russian tea with me again; it has been most enjoyable.”
Jane was dismissed, and she rose to curtsy and take her leave.

Jane and the sins of society 13-15

Sarah WaldockMarch 06, 2018 12:24AM

Re: Jane and the sins of society 13-15

ConnieRMarch 07, 2018 06:42PM

Lol, thanks (nfm)

Sarah WaldockMarch 07, 2018 11:05PM

Re: Jane and the sins of society 13-15

MayaMarch 06, 2018 07:32PM


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