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Jane and the sins of society 16-18

March 09, 2018 11:03AM
I just published Ace of Schemes, if anyone is interested

Chapter 16

Jane ran into the last person she wished to meet at a musicale, hosted by Lady Caroline. Jane had not wanted to go, but she felt it behoved her to look out for the hapless Cora.
“Why, Jane, dearest! How well you look!” the sickly sweet voice belonged to Rosalind Liddel. Jane suppressed a sigh. She turned to regard her one-time nemesis. Time had not treated Rosalind as well as it had treated Jane. Jane recalled a beautiful girl with rose petal skin and curling dark hair framing a pixie-like face. Too much good living meant that Lady Liddel carried a bit more weight than was entirely attractive, and though a plump, rounded figure was to the taste of many men, it had obscured the piquant little face with something suspiciously close to a second chin. The perfect complexion too was damaged by late nights and smoking candles, and lines of discontent stood etched upon it in the harsh lighting of a fine candelabrum. Those lines tightened in barely suppressed anger; Jane knew her own looks had improved with maturity. Jane looked into the sneering eyes of her old tormentor and remembered every slight.
Rosalind Liddel was dressed in a gown of midnight blue, shot with silver threads woven into the muslin, so that as she moved, she shimmered. On a slimmer figure, one might have made comparisons to stars twinkling in the night sky. The décolletage was low enough to reveal two half moons with rather more craters than were entirely attractive.
“Rosalind? Is that you? I am glad that Mrs. Fielding told me you had asked after me, or I should never have recognised you,” said Jane, only slightly mendaciously. It was a very childish and petty revenge, but the once richer, prettier girl who had sneered at Jane, was not at a disadvantage. Jane’s air of serene contentment loaned her a beauty which made Lady Liddel curl her fingers into claws.
“I hear your intention to become a governess disappeared when you were able to snare a rich man,” said Rosalind. “I’m told he has a son, you were the boy’s governess, I suppose?”
“Dear me, Rosalind, how well I remember Miss Harper telling you that your suppositions were no substitute for facts,” said Jane.
“What do you mean? You married a rich man, did you not?”
“No,” said Jane. “I married a poor man, and helped him to become rich. I am proud of my husband’s efforts.”
“Oh, he is in trade?”
“No, unlike your father, he is a professional man, and he has gained awards for his efforts for Lloyds of London,” said Jane. “He became involved with Bow Street when he was injured at Corunna.”
“Didn’t he gain a portion of Joseph Bonaparte’s baggage train?” Rosalind’s nose was twitching.
“I just told you he was injured, and invalided out at Corunna.”
“But why do you emphasise that and not answer my question?” whined Rosalind.
“Rosalind, have you worked hard to lose the few wits you had at school?” asked Jane. “If he was wounded at Corunna, which was in 1809, how would he have still been on the Peninsula to loot Joseph Bonaparte’s baggage train in 1814?”
Rosalind stared.
“I thought Corunna was a place,” she said.
“It is, but the place name is used to refer to a well-known battle which took place there,” said Jane, trying not to sigh in exasperation.
“This is why you should have been a governess, you care about stupid things like politics and geography,” said Rosalind.
“At least my knowledge prevents me from making an utter fool of myself,” said Jane. “Moreover, my husband likes to discuss current affairs with him, and by that I mean matters of politics and foreign policy, not whether the Princess of Wales is entertaining half of Horse Guards.”
“Oh my, is she?”
“I neither know, nor care, and I made up such a ridiculous piece of nonsense as a conversational gambit in contrast to real news,” said Jane.
“My husband knows better than to talk to me about boring things,” said Rosalind. “Though I confess, he will talk about it to others, so tedious. I might have had a much more interesting husband.”
“I do hope you were not planning to wager that he lives a long and tedious life?” said Jane.
Rosalind paled.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“If I was you, I’d carry on not knowing what I mean, and not mentioning that you don’t know what I mean to that personable young man who takes wagers,” said Jane. “You would not enjoy transportation; the climate of Australia is so bad for the skin.”
“I never liked you at school.”
“Oh, you don’t know how pleased that makes me. I should hate to have been liked by someone I despise quite as intensely as I have always despised you.”
Rosalind flounced off.
“I’ve been waiting to say that for years,” said Jane, to herself.
“Excuse me, I could not help overhearing,” a man emerged from behind a potted palm. “You were just speaking to my wife.”
“We did not get on well at school,” said Jane.
“Ah, I would not have recognised you for the ‘poor little dab of a thing’ who ‘snared herself a wealthy man’. Sir Henry Liddel at your service.”
“I am not going to apologise, Sir Henry, your wife went to lengths to belittle me when we were children, and she must learn to live with the idea that I will not permit her to do so now we are grown, and I have found my confidence.”
“Oh, I had no intention of suggesting it. I was just intrigued about the last part of the conversation. I believe you inferred that my life might not be long and tedious.”
Jane bit her lip.
“It was a bow drawn at venture, but one which shockingly hit the mark,” she said. “A number of people have inherited from hale, hearty people who have suffered accidents. It seems that a wager is laid that an ... impediment ... will live a long time. Someone counters that, and of course paying off a gambling debt over a wager is not payment for a hired killer.”
“I see. Which personable young man is running this?”
“Sir Henry, if I knew that, he would be under arrest and I could shake the dust of London from my feet and go home,” said Jane. “I have only told you this much because I don’t see why you should become a victim. I pray you will not mention this to anyone else, though I do suggest that you let your wife know that if you die of an accident of any kind, you have remade your will to leave all your worldly goods to an orphan-asylum, and a list of notes of her suspicious activities to Bow Street.”
“I don’t have a list of notes about her suspicious activities.”
“No reason she needs to know that,” said Jane. “And you might do well to make one and lodge it with your solicitor.”
“I’ll do that, thank you,” he said, grimly. “She was so pretty and merry, and I was captivated. It took me a while to discover that she wasn’t very clever, and she was a shrew.”
“I’m sorry,” said Jane.
He shrugged.
“Caveat emptor,” he said. “Oh, beg pardon, that means ... I say, you know!”
Jane smiled.
“I actually enjoyed the Latin classes at school. And yes, I fear the buyer should beware in marriage.”
Perhaps it had been a wasted opportunity; if she had permitted Rosalind to make that preposterous wager, then Sir Henry might have been watched day and night, and the active half of what Jane suspected was a partnership of two men might have been seized in the act. Somehow, however, Jane balked at seeing any old schoolfellow make herself into a murderess.

Jane was interested to note that the Marquess of Falkrington was talking to Miss Evans. And he was actually talking to her, not lowering over her as he often did to young women. Miss Evans had danced with him at Almack’s when he had led Cora back to her seat, and courtesy dictated that he ask the nearest lady to dance. Jane had been preoccupied, but she had received the impression that Miss Evans had been brave enough to give the man a set-down. It was an interesting observation that a man who was said to have little time for anyone was actually chatting to someone Jane almost considered as a protégé. She waited for the marquess to leave, but he did not seem inclined to do so, so she moved past, smiling at Miss Evans. The child looked very fine tonight, in a gown of gossamer thin grey muslin, embroidered in self colour, over a slip of dark amber paduasoy.
“Oh, Lady Armitage,” the girl said, “Oh, please excuse me, sir, but I will be expected to sing, and I wished to ask Lady Armitage if I might presume on her good nature to play for me.”
“I’d be delighted, Miss Evans,” said Jane.
“Oh, my manners, Lady Armitage, this is Lord Falkrington, Lord Falkrington, Lady Armitage.”
“Delighted, I’m sure,” said the marquess.
“What lovely manners when you wish me to perdition for interrupting the only sensible girl in the room,” said Jane. “Her voice is worth listening to when she sings, I assure you, if you have not heard it. Pure gold.”
“I have not, and I shall look forward to it,” said the marquess.
“L ... Lady Armitage, you flatter me,” said Miss Evans.
“I doubt it,” said Jane. “I never thought to say so, but it really is an insipid squeeze. And Cora is nice enough but not a conversationalist.”
“And the rest are sufficiently identical to look as though they may be bought by the gross in Bond Street,” said the marquess.
“I would have used a more tactful word than ‘gross’, myself,” said Jane. “Excuse me; I will ask our hostess if she needs incidental music.”

Jane had moved to a quiet passage in her playing when she heard the comment behind her, masked from most by the music.
“I wager my grandfather lives well into his nineties, you know.” She recognised the voice, but could not immediately place it.
“Oh, and I wager he has not two weeks to live,” said another voice, the same which had replied last time she had heard this formula. “Although the late snow in February has gone, it is still inclement.” The mention of inclement weather was also what the other young man had said before. Jane could not turn round to see the owner of the voice, as that would give her away before she was ready. Jane moved into ‘Sweet Lass of Richmond hill’, catching Caleb’s eye. He knew how much she disliked the song, so it was a warning to him, as nobody was singing yet. He would not know what it was a warning about, but he would at least make sure to be more aware of his surroundings. She moved into the Irish ballad, ‘The girl I left behind me’, holding her foot on the loud pedal where the words ‘behind me’ would be, repeating that the second time. Caleb gave her an almost imperceptible nod, and Jane continued playing without any further abuse of the music.

One of those behind Jane became apparent when he stepped forward. She recognised James Radcliffe by sight as well as by his voice when she saw him. He had bet on his grandfather living a long time.
“I’d be obliged for accompaniment if you would be kind enough to play for me, my lady,” James Radcliffe said, very softly indeed.
“I’m sorry, would you repeat what you said? The noise in here is confusing,” said Jane.
He relaxed and smiled, repeating his request louder.
“I’d be delighted,” said Jane. “You have the music?” She thought the young man looked strained; there was something in his eyes which reminded her of Caleb, when he could be induced to speak about his time on the Peninsula. The foolish young chub had acted in haste and was regretting it.
Radcliffe handed over music, and Jane ran her eyes over it, nodding. It was a less complex trumpet voluntary than the piece he had played before, but called for the piano or organ to add to it, and would probably sound better, considering how he had sounded challenged by the horn concerto he had tried last time she had heard him. Jane noted that there were passages on Radcliffe’s copy which were marked, and noted the places mentally on her sheet. When he faltered, she picked up his music line flawlessly until he recovered, covering his mistakes.
When Radcliffe had finished playing and bowed, he went to collect his music from Jane.
“Thank you, Lady Armitage,” he said.
“You are welcome,” said Jane. “You know, it’s none of my business, but I thought I heard you say something about making a wager. I know a lot of people do wager, but do you think it’s strictly wise for a young man to get into the habit?”
“What, a Wesleyan, are you, ma’am?”
“No, but a man who once wagers might be pestered by bad companions to make ever more foolish bets, and might find that he loses more than he has bargained for,” said Jane.
“Well, I can’t take it back now, it’s against the rules,” he said.
“You could, however, lay information against a gambler who leads young men who are half flash and half foolish into something too deep for them.”
He looked at her thoughtfully.
“No, I don’t think I could,” he said. “It would be betraying a trust.”
“I personally think your trust is misplaced, Mr. Radcliffe, and would be better confided to your grandfather who will be angry but at least ready for any trouble.”
“I believe I understand you,” said Mr. Radcliffe. “I ... should not have made the wager, I was angry.”
“A bad time to make a wager,” said Jane. “I can arrange someone to guard the old man.”
“How would I know if it was someone to guard?”
“Because he would comment on music,” said Jane.
“Then ... yes.” He looked as though a weight had been lifted.
It was a job for Fowler, who could outdo any butler in haughtiness if he had a need to, and would impersonate a footman if he had to, or be a gentleman’s gentleman. It would be easy enough to arrange him a warrant card as a constable from Bow Street. And Fowler would delight in the cloak and dagger idea of a phrase to identify himself using something about music. The other fellow had said two weeks, so there was time before an attempt was made. This might be because someone else was to be killed in the meantime, but that could not be helped. This was an opportunity.

Chapter 17

Jane had to play for Miss Evans before she might retire to speak to Caleb, and she saw Falkrington sit up as Miss Evans began to sing. He had been sitting in the position of someone ready to show appreciation of someone they knew and liked, but the child’s golden voice plainly captivated him. Jane permitted herself a smug smile. Falkrington was, she had heard, a byword for being difficult to please. It would do Miss Evans no harm in her chances if he engaged in a flirtation with her. Jane just hoped that Miss Evans would not be hurt.
A party piece of her own, and Jane was free. She moved over towards her husband, who was sitting with an older man.
“Jane, let me make you known to Michael Strode, Duke Braxstrode. His youngest girl is about Cecily’s age: I’ve accepted an invitation to join him with all our children for a week in the summer. Sir, my wife, Jane.”
Jane curtseyed to the duke, who rose to kiss her hand punctiliously.
“Sir Caleb gave me some excellent advice when I first met him,” said he. “I’m retiring to the country tomorrow. And hopefully I will be able to implement his most practical plan. Did he tell you about it?”
“Yes, my lord, and though it might be supposed to be too much like a novel for real life, you need have no fear that a governess will be anything but ladylike, and having feared I was destined for such a position myself, I can tell you that she will also be entirely grateful to have the sort of job security marriage brings. The thought of lavishing attention on other people’s children and continually moving to new families when they are deemed too old for a governess, and never watching them reach the fruition of adulthood cannot but wring a woman’s heart, especially if she does not have a sufficient portion to ever hope for the joys of motherhood herself.”
“Most eloquently put, I do declare!” said the duke. “I believe I will not even wait to see my wastrel nevvy, but send a note to him when I have reached Braxstrode.”
“I’d also, if I were you, employ a few ex-soldiers as bodyguards,” said Jane. “At least, if your nephew is also a gambling man.”
The duke narrowed his eyes.
“Are you implying what I think you are implying?” he asked.
“I am. And I would also, in your shoes, marry as soon as possible, and let people think a happy event was pending for the early winter, whether it is or not,” said Jane. “One death can be an accident. Two deaths, well, it happens. Three start to become suspicious.”
“You have no proof, I take it,” said the duke. His voice was icy.
“We have only suspicion based on ... other events,” said Caleb.
“And I have a lead to discuss with you, my dear, and a means of trapping a villain,” said Jane, “but in the meantime, your grace should err on the side of caution. Even if we wrong your nephew, taking a few extra precautions cannot hurt.”
The duke nodded.
“Very well, I will do as you suggest again. Sir Caleb’s idea is an uncommon good one, and you expand upon it well, ma’am. I will not refuse to listen to your other ideas. Indeed, I will leave for the country tonight, if you will excuse me.”
“I think it wise,” said Caleb, with a bow.
“Slip out and have Jackie follow him home,” said Jane as the duke left. “Once home, not being looked for, he should be safe.”
Caleb nodded, and slid out of the room.
Well, thought Jane, that was hopefully another death averted, three this evening by warning Rosalind off, and arranging a guard for old James Radcliffe.
When Caleb returned, she drew him into a parlour, and spoke to him quickly, in a low tone, explaining what she had arranged with John Radcliffe.
“I think you should be the Bow Street officer, my dear,” said Caleb. “You have done an amazing amount.”
“I am a woman, and the proper milieu of a gentlewoman is in society,” said Jane. “Women babble to and in front of other women, and men are unguarded. Did you get a good look at the other fellow who was behind me when I was playing?”
“I believe so, although I have not yet ascertained who he is, as he dresses unremarkably, and is not out of the ordinary to look upon. He might even be the mysterious footman himself.”
“It would be hard to maintain a position in society whilst living in as a footman, even if only for a week at a time,” said Jane. “Perhaps they are brothers, though.”
“It’s a thought,” said Caleb. “Here, Jane-girl, have you been asked to play for anyone else?”
“No, not yet,” said Jane. “I was ready to oblige Miss Evans, and there was an opportunity to be had in accepting the request from Mr. Radcliffe, but I have no reason to be obliging to anyone else.”
“Good; let’s emulate Braxstrode then, and shab off early,” said Caleb.
“I am satisfied,” said Jane. “Wait!” she pulled Caleb behind a screen as the door to the parlour, in which they were lurking, opened. Mrs. Fielding’s voice was to be heard.
“I like you, Mr. Brasenose, and I think you’d do well by Cora. But you need to know a few things, and make me a few assurances,” said Mrs. Fielding.
“Anything!” said Mr. Brasenose.
“Don’t go saying something daft like that, or I’ll feel a wicked urge to tell you to hold up a stage-coach and demand forfeits from all the passengers,” said Mrs. Fielding.
“By Jove, it might have been a good lark when I was younger,” said Mr. Brasenose.
“Not if you met someone like Lady Armitage, who is in the habit of shooting highwaymen,” said Mrs. Fielding, dryly.
“No, is she? Terrifying woman, ain’t she? Haven’t exchanged above half a dozen words with her, but I’m not sure if she reminds me most of m’grandmother the dowager, or my governess, but I always feel I should mind my P’s and Q’s and call her ‘sir’.”
“There you are, Jane-girl, they say eavesdroppers never hear good of themselves,” Caleb murmured into Jane’s ear.
“I consider it a compliment,” Jane replied demurely, into his ear.
“I would say she is a good friend but it would not be well to cross her,” said Mrs. Fielding. “She takes an interest in Cora, so you may have my assurances that she, like me, has the girl’s best interests at heart. I know you are attracted by Cora’s beauty and gentle nature.”
“She’s such a kind girl,” said Mr. Brasenose.
“Quite; she is kind, gentle, and not very clever,” said Mrs. Fielding. “I want her protected. The man who marries her will have the greater part of my not inconsiderable fortune as her dowry. And I do not talk of three zeroes,” she added.
Jane’s eyebrows went up. Presumably if blackmailing Lady Caroline was the solution which had come to mind for the ex-Abbess, she had used judicious blackmail in the past. Well, it was too late to worry about that, and anyone who used a brothel for their dubious pleasures opened themselves up to coercion of some kind.
“I am not marrying Cora for her money!” cried Mr. Brasenose.
“You misunderstand me. It is partly to make sure you will have no worries in making sure that Cora has enough servants to look after her, and any children who come along, and partly a gift of gratitude to you in advance for tender care of her. I can see that her lack of conversation might come to irk you, and rather than be brusque with her, I would suggest that you take a mistress, the proviso being that Cora never finds out, and never has any cause to complain of your treatment of her. And in case I am not around to keep an eye on her, my will states specifically that if you ever give her a disease, or lay a finger on her, other than a gentle slap if she is hysterical as anyone might do, that my solicitor is to use any and all means to ruin you, and the dowry becomes forfeit as part of that. I have a prenuptial agreement drawn up to that effect; will you sign it?”
“Yes, of course, I would never hurt Cora!” cried Mr. Brasenose. “What kind of man do you think I am?”
“Very young,” said Mrs. Fielding, dryly. “Mr. Brasenose, I had this agreement drawn up for anyone for whom Cora developed a tendre who was willing to marry her, it is not specifically any mistrust of you. However, I have reason to believe that I have a fatal canker within me, and I want to make sure Cora’s future is tied up right and tight.”
Mr. Brasenose was audibly pacing, but he stopped.
“I see, and yes, I can understand that you want to make sure she is protected. Very well, if my word as a gentleman is not sufficient ....”
“It is not your word as a gentleman, it is the fact that circumstances can change, and Cora, sweet as she is, can be enough to make a saint feel like raising a hand to her when she is being dense. I’ve fought the urge often enough, so I recognise that if I can have that fault, so can other people. You have not seen that when she gets an idea in her head, she can be stubborn. And working through finding out what has put such an idea into her head, in order to get round it, can be very, very wearing.”
“Poor Cora. I know her understanding is not superior, I will do all I can to help her.”
“Good. And the prenuptial settlement will help you to help her. If you still wish to marry her?”
“I do.”
“Then you may call on her on the morrow with a betrothal gift, and sign the papers then, and we can set up the banns right away.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
The door opened and shut again, and Jane peeked round the screen to check both had left. They had.
“Well, that was very enlightening,” said Jane. “I’m glad she has it all sewn up. And is sensible about him taking a more interesting mistress. Though, in the general way, I disapprove heartily of the habit of taking a mistress, I can quite see in this instance that it might save the marriage from becoming intolerable for both husband and wife.”
“I have to agree with you,” sighed Caleb. “I hope we won’t be called in to rescue Cora if he breaks the terms of the agreement; it would not surprise me to learn she named us to be called on in that instance.”
“Almost certainly,” said Jane. “Indeed, it would not surprise me if she knew we were in here, and chose this room for her tête-á-tête deliberately so we would know the terms under which Cora is to marry. She’s a manipulative woman, used to it, in order to protect herself and her daughter.” She sighed.

Fowler was a happy man.
He enjoyed being valet and bodyguard to Mr. Caleb, Sir Caleb, he should say, or even bâtman as an army man would have it. However, it was very nice when Sir Caleb gave him a task to complete, and left it entirely to his own initiative. Fowler knew it was potentially risky, but he had a good pistol with him, and a ladies’ pistol as well, inside his coat, the way Sir Caleb wore his, to have on him in case he ended up as a footman, in fancy duds, and needing to have a smaller concealed weapon. A footman’s coat would never be as skin-tight as a gentleman’s coat, so there would be room for it, without having to have it tailored in the way Sir Caleb did.
Fowler was confident of fulfilling whatever role Mr. John Radcliffe wanted him to undertake to be close to the young man’s grandfather, but it was as well to look like some footman, who might aspire to be a valet. Fowler dismounted from the Hackney carriage which had brought him to Grosvenor Square, composed himself, placed himself into the character of a footman, and positively minced down the steps to the area, where he knocked on the kitchen door.
It was opened by a scowling cook in the apron which showed his profession.
“What do you want?” he growled. “It ain’t a message or you’d of gone to the front door.”
“I have an appointment with Mr. John Radcliffe with regards to a position; I wasn’t sure I should go to the front door,” said Fowler, twisting the chapeau-bras he carried, as though nervous. It would be all over the house that he was a new man if the kitchen servants knew it.
“I’ll take you up,” said a footman, sitting over a cup of tea at the kitchen table. Fowler regarded the tea with a raised eyebrow.
Mrs. Jane, Lady Armitage, bought tea for the servants’ hall, and Mrs. Ketch and Ella and he all had keys to the caddy. Mrs. Jane, and bless her, she preferred that to formality, was an indulgent mistress, and the servants were well aware of it. Without such indulgence, the only ways a servant would legitimately get that socially elevated beverage would be to pool some of their wages to buy their own, not unknown; or dry and re-use the leaves already used above stairs by the lady of the house. Some housekeepers kept their own supply, having better wages than most servants, and used the sharing of it as a form of control, in the giving or withholding of favours.
The footman flushed.
“It ain’t stolen,” he blurted. “The old man gives a tea allowance, and if we wants more we pays out of our salaries.”
“Most generous of him,” said Fowler. It was a measure of the master to find that he made such an allowance. Fowler felt happier about protecting an old man who was moderately generous.
“’E ain’t a bad master,” said the footman. “Demanding, mind, very demanding, but generous too, if you puts yourself out. If he have you hopping up and down all day, there’s always a bonus in it, and often a golden one.”
“Reckon I might be in the right place then,” said Fowler.
“The grandson ain’t as free with his gelt,” warned the footman. “But then, ‘e’s allus skint. ‘E tortures wounded oliphants too.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“’E plays the trumpet, badly. When it ain’t a wounded oliphant, it’s a pig, farting.”
“How, er, unfortunate,” said Fowler. “I understood the job was with his grandfather, but I might have misunderstood.”
“Oh, well, you’ll find out,” said the footman, shrugging. “Wait here, and I’ll tell him you’ve arrived. What name shall I say?”
“Johan Sebastien Fowler,” said Fowler, humorously.
The footman did not appear to find this amusing, and Fowler sighed. An ignorant lot, the servants here.

Chapter 18

Toby limped upstairs on three legs, the splinted one carried high and stuck out in front of him. Little mistress was up here somewhere.
The door had a handle he could open. Jane could have told Toby that Frank had insisted on brass lever handles, an unnecessary conceit, in Jane’s opinion, since the pretentious brass needed to be polished daily to look nice, whereas good cast iron took care of itself. Fortunately for the servants, it was only on the four doors on this main reception floor, and on the front door. Jane personally thought that iron door furniture looked stronger, and more intimidating to burglars than brass on an outer door, but had not bothered to have it changed back. It meant she could charge a higher rent to those who usually hired her house for the season, far beyond the cost of the brasswork, for the cachet. Jane might disapprove, but she was still going to exploit those stupid enough to pay the price she asked.
Toby did not know this, and would not have cared, if he had. But he did care that if he stood on his one good back paw, using the splint as a balance as he leaned on the door frame, he could reach the handle with his front paws and pull it down to release it.
The door of the parlour swung open, and Cecily cried,
“Toby! You clever boy!”
Toby half fell in the door, his tongue lolling out. ‘Clever’ was a word he knew and it usually went with sausages. He sat and begged, wishing that the splint did not get in his way.
“You may feed him a few titbits cut up on a plate on the floor,” said Jane. “One cannot do anything but reward a dog with such determination and cleverness. However, he will only eat at the table if he can manage a knife and fork.”
Cecily giggled.
“He can’t hold them.”
“Precisely,” said Jane. “I dare say we shall have the misbegotten cur sitting under the table taking treats from those he can cozen them out of.”
“He is not a misbegotten cur, he is ... just a bit of a mix.”
“He’s a mongrel, Cecily, like me,” said Caleb. “And he has nicer manners than many a lap dog bred to be pampered, and don’t you go spoiling him like some pugs get spoilt.”
“As if I didn’t see you slipping bits of bacon to Nat under the table, Papa,” said Cecily.
“Who, me?” Caleb tried to look innocent.
“Papa slips small bits to Nat, so he feels indulged, but he does not have too many scraps, and is not allowed to get fat,” said Jane. “Poor Nat, he’s used to long walks in the country, the best we have managed is to take him to the park twice a week and send him out into the garden otherwise, with a muffler wrapped around him, for he dislikes the cold.”
“I will make him a jacket, and one for Toby as well, because Toby is used to have a jacket on, and he must feel naked and cold without one,” said Cecily.
“So long as you don’t make the poor creature a fool ruff,” said Jane. “I agree, a jacket would help both of them in inclement weather, you are able to sew?”
“If I weren’t able to sew, I would’n’ hardly ‘ave kep’ body and soul together,” said Cecily. “When I weren’t priggin’ purses, I took in sewing, an’ said I was fetchin’ it for me ma, so nobody di’n’t think I done it.”
“Clever,” said Jane. “You may use part of an old blanket in my rag bag, and if you want to embroider it, or add patches to make a gay patchwork banyan of a jacket, you shall do as you please. Remember, dogs cannot put their front legs out to the side, so you must take that into account when you make the jackets.”
“I ‘ad ... had ... a good look at the one he was wearing,” said Cecily. “I was thinking abaht ... about ... copying it.”
“Good, clever girl,” said Jane.
“Smart and observant,” added Caleb. “You and Simon will make a good partnership!”

“Can we take the dogs out for a walk?” asked Cecily.
“Nat, yes, but Toby won’t be able to walk,” said Jane.
“There is a hand-cart in the nursery, I have been wheeling Joseph and Frances about in it, Annie said Susanna is too small. He would like the air, he is used to being free on the street, I expect he is stifled in here,” said Cecily.
Jane put an arm around her.
“And are you also feeling stifled?”
Cecily went red, and nodded.
“I ain’t used to bein’ a swell gentry mort,” she said.
“Of course you are not,” said Jane. “We shall take the dogs for a walk, and later you may put on your old clothes and go to see if Fowler has any errands for you. Mrs. Ketch has seen to laundering them, and ironing the seams to kill any lice.”
“Cor, she knows that trick?”
“We have a wide range of associates,” said Jane. “Go and fetch the handcart, and one of the cradle blankets from the press; Toby will need to be kept warm. Nat will wear a muffler as usual, as any gentleman might.”
Daniel was to do the duty of a footman, following Jane and Cecily and their dogs. Jane had Nat on a leash, and Cecily pushed Toby, the dog taking every interest in his surroundings, and his tail escaping from the blanket to wag, vigorously.
Jane sighed to see Rosalind, Lady Liddel, out in her carriage, with another lady beside her. Rosalind almost managed to make a mockery of half-mourning, being clad in as bright a lilac pelisse as it was possible for it to be, with silver frogs to fasten it, and the feathers on her bonnet dyed from almost black, through lilac to almost white. There were at least five plumes, which bobbed like a rather dissipated bird on her head.
“Why, Jane, dear, how nice to see you,” said Lady Liddel. “Who is this?”
“This is Cecily, my stepdaughter,” said Jane. Cecily managed a fair curtsey.
“I thought you had a stepson?” said Lady Liddel.
“I do,” said Jane. “I don’t believe anything states that a man may only remarry if he has but one child, you know.”
“I had not heard of the girl.”
Jane smiled, sweetly.
“Perhaps Lady Lieven did not mention her to you,” she said.
“I do not move in those kinds of circles,” ground out Rosalind Liddel.
“Well, you can hardly blame me for that,” shrugged Jane. “Blame the traitor whose capture made my husband a royal favourite, doubtless a temporary position, but one which currently dictates the society in which we move. You have not introduced your companion, in your curiosity.” The companion was dressed expensively but more conventionally in a black pelisse of superfine. The trim was tasteful and understated, in paduasoy.
Rosalind looked daggers; it was most impolite of her to have given in to vulgar curiosity and a desire to put Jane down, rather than to introduce her own companion. She had lost the encounter with Jane, and shown herself up to be uncultured.
“Maria, this is Lady Armitage. Jane, this is Mrs. Maria Devlin, wife of the honourable Mr. William Devlin.”
Jane bowed to Mrs. Devlin.
“Delighted,” she said. “Forgive me, I do not know to which title your husband is heir.”
“Oh, he isn’t an heir to any title,” said Mrs. Devlin, her voice holding traces of Yorkshire in it.
“Ah? Probably more comfortable for that,” said Jane. Rosalind seethed. She had done it wrong. She had introduced Jane to Mrs. Devlin first, because it was so insufferable to consider that Jane was equal to herself in rank, and socially outranked her companion. And Jane had called her on it in so clever a way.
Cecily frowned, not understanding, but Rosalind burned red, thinking the chit to be frowning in censure.
“And what kind of dog do you call that?” she asked, going on the offensive. “Isn’t your stepdaughter a little old to pretend a dog is a doll?”
“He has a broken leg; an encounter with a carriage,” said Jane. “He is a Medleyan Retriever, and I believe he is the only one in the country. The Russian Embassy appreciated a small service we were able to tender.”
“Oh.” Rosalind was almost abashed.
The Russian Embassy had appreciated the small service of finding out all about Mrs. Fielding. Before they had left to go walking, to the consternation of both Jane and Caleb, a package had been delivered, containing a gold watch for Caleb, inscribed ‘with thanks, and in replacement for the one damaged’ and a gold-mounted musical box for Jane, playing a Russian air, with a tiny pair of dancing dolls, in brightly enamelled and bejewelled national dress, who danced to it when it was wound. There was also a substantial bank draft, which Jane was not about to refuse, and a book of Russian recipes.
Jane smiled brightly at Rosalind; she had not lied, she had just presented information in a way that Rosalind was bound to take it out of context.
They moved on.
“A Medleyan Retriever?” demanded Cecily.
“Well, he retrieves medleys when they are played, and dances to them, anyway,” said Jane. “I do not like that woman; we were at school together, and she took every opportunity to belittle me, and some of my friends. I did not want her belittling you and your pet.”
“Thank you,” said Cecily. “Why was she so angry about you asking if the lady’s husband was an heir?”
“Because she should have said, ‘Lady Armitage, this is Mrs. Maria Devlin’, instead of introducing me to her friend,” said Jane. “The correct way to introduce someone is to name the person of higher rank, addressing them formally, and then introduce the person of lower rank. And she did not, and I was able to censure her.”
“I didn’t like her,” said Cecily. “I think Mr. Devlin beats his wife.”
“You do?” asked Jane.
Cecily nodded.
“She moves like she’s bruised, and her cap lappets were awfully wide for someone who isn’t old, but they hide any bruises on the side of the face.”
“You are a good, quick observer,” said Jane. “I doubt there is much we can do; if she has any children, it is a rare mother who will leave her children to the mercy of an abusive father. And all children belong to the father, you know.”
“Unless a swell mort prigs them,” said Cecily.
“I could probably use influence to sever your father’s ties with you if he was alive, yes,” said Jane. “As it is, Caleb had him declared dead in order to adopt you. It won’t affect his pay, the Navy keep their own records, but it satisfied the Parish. And yes, I know it’s abuse of power, but I don’t actually care.”
“Good. I likes being your daughter,” said Cecily.

Fowler was shown into a study, to meet Mr. John Radcliffe. Fowler’s valet’s eye appraised Mr. Radcliffe, and judged him a gentleman in his dress, without the excesses of either dandy or Corinthian, but managing to maintain an air of fashion, neverlethless Doubtless his lack of money came from paying his tailor, whom Fowler suspected to be Weston. Good clothes were an investment, however. Maybe Mr. Radcliffe had too much of a good thing, and invested in more coats than were strictly necessary.
“A musical name, Johan Sebastien Fowler,” said he.
“If music be the food of love, play on, as that gager in Twelfth Night said,” said Fowler. “I’m from the Armitages; I can turn my hands to most things, for dissembling while I guard your grandsire.”
“I was thinking that you might be his nurse. He is not ill, but he does have need of medicine in the night at times, and as medicine is so easy to doctor, I thought I would give you keys to a tea caddy in which to keep it.”
Fowler nodded.
“A good thought, though of course it don’t give you the perfect alibi the cove who does this tries to provide,” he said. “Medicine can be interfered with over a wider time period than holding a pillow down on an old woman’s face, or drowning a little boy.”
“You’re talking about other real wagers, aren’t you?” said Radcliffe, paling. “Are ... are you a gentleman?”
“No, but my gentleman trusts me more than anyone else bar his lady,” said Fowler. “Is your grandfather aware of what is going on?”
John Radcliffe paled again, a fine sheen of sweat on his forehead.
“Yes, I made a clean breast of it to him,” he said. “He bawled me out royally, as well he might, and when I explained about you, he said at least I had the sense to try to put things right. It would be hard for you to be his nurse if he did not know; he has always strenuously refused one, expecting his valet to wake in the night to give him medicine. His valet, Henderson, is half glad, half resentful. Probably more glad, so long as you call him ‘Mr. Henderson,’ and don’t try to usurp his place.”
“Understood, sir. I’m relieved the old man knows about me.”
“He said he’d put up with you so long as you didn’t try to actually nurse him and stayed out of sight,” said Radcliffe, half apologetically.
“Well, sir, to be fair, having a stranger in mauling him wouldn’t be much fun,” said Fowler.
The younger Radcliffe led Fowler upstairs. A tall, sallow, austere man sat in an antechamber, which also had a truckle bed behind a screen, which Fowler’s sharp eyes picked out, and had two doors out of it. A knock and a muffled bark of greeting led them into a comfortable and warm sitting room. A door off this went to the room which the antechamber also communicated with, presumably the old man’s bedroom.
The old man was a straight, positive figure, sat at a desk. He was an older version of his grandson, but without the flesh of youth, he could almost be described as hatcher-faced. There were enough laughter lines around his eyes, however, that Fowler judged his stern looks to be superficial and at least partly due to pain. He fixed Fowler with a steely gaze.
“So you’re the bodyguard, eh? How good are you?”
“Well, sir, my man is still alive despite many villains trying to silence him,” said Fowler. “I believe that record speaks for itself, though I do not discount that he’s lucky as well.”
“Luck plays its part. What will you do if someone attacks me?”
“That will entirely depend on who, how, when, where and a number of other imponderables, sir,” said Fowler. “If, however, you want to know my aims for the outcome, then that would be primarily keeping you alive, and secondarily capturing your assailant alive. I won’t compromise your safety to keep him alive, if that’s what you are concerned about.”
“Cocky, ain’t you?”
“Realistic, sir,” said Fowler. “I know my limits, but I also know my abilities. This killer is used to dealing with older men and women or children. Plenty have been hale, but few in the prime of life. So far, he has not failed. I am anticipating that he may have become a little careless, because nothing has gone wrong, because it has been easy. Now, a certain news report might make him think twice, but we are hoping it will rattle him and make him careless in order to get in and out quicker.”
“And what news report is that?”
“The ‘Morning Post’, and other newspapers, will carry the news that Bow Street have still not uncovered the murderer of Lady J – D, who was murdered by smothering with a pillow, though a clumsy attempt had been made to make it appear that she had choked on a fish bone. It’s all quite true, and my master hopes her nephew, who had the killing arranged, will do something stupid. However, there is a chance it will also rattle the killers for hire. It’s a risk, but then, life is a risk.”
“Hmmph. Well, my idiot nephew will not tell me who makes these outrageous bets, which to my mind makes the fellow no gentleman so no finer feelings of honour towards him need be preserved, but young people are so stubborn.”
“I happen to agree with you, sir, but my master says we must honour his finer feelings. My lady achieved a most unwontedly unladylike sniff,” he added.
“Ha! Well no flies on her. And your master is?”
“Sir Caleb Armitage, sir. Late of the army and you know what officers are.”
“Hmm, indeed. Well, we shall have to see how it goes. I don’t want to see more of you than I have to, but you’d better acquaint yourself with my rooms.”
“Indeed, sir, in case I have to move around at night without my quarry hearing me,” said Fowler. “You don’t give a view halloo until the fox is spent. I also need to acquaint myself with your medicine so I know how much to give you if needed.”
“As it might be. It is a weakness of my heart; I take digitalis if that means anything to you.”
“I am familiar with the effects of the extract of foxglove on arrhythmia,” said Fowler. “Also that it can kill someone without heart problems for slowing the heart, or be fatal in overdose. I think the nature of the wager, however, is such as to avoid anything which could be the laid at the door of the cowardly creature who sets the killing in train.”
“Well, you know your business. I’m going to ignore you.”
“Very good, sir,” said Fowler, bowing.

Jane and the sins of society 16-18

Sarah WaldockMarch 09, 2018 11:03AM

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