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Jane and the sins of society 19-21

March 12, 2018 12:45PM
Chapter 19

Jane looked through the late editions of the newspaper and froze. A small item had caught her eye.
“A shock for Mrs.M- D- following so soon after the death of her father, to return from a drive in the park to discover that her husband Mr. W-D- had plunged to his death from an upper storey window after a fire had got out of hand. The fire was quickly brought under control by servants, who said that the door out of the room had become stuck, and needed the combined strength of two footmen to open it.”
“Ella,” said Jane, “Find out the address of Mrs. Maria Devlin. We are going to call on her; bring your pistol.”
“Yes, Mrs. Jane,” said Ella.
It did not take Ella long to find out where Mrs. Devlin lived; she was adept at using the grapevine of the servants. She set out with Jane.
There was plain smoke damage on the white stone above an upper window. Jane narrowed her eyes. A man who was not a complete idiot should have been able to scramble across to the next house to raise the alarm, or even drop onto the semi-balcony of the floor below.
She knocked, and sent up her card to Mrs. Devlin when the rather smoky butler let her in.
Mrs. Devlin saw her very quickly, in a lower, and unburned chamber.
“I’m sorry about the smell, Lady Armitage,” she said, nervously.
“I take it you are also short one footman, who tendered some excuse about a house of death, or made sick from breathing smoke?” said Jane.
Mrs. Devlin paled.
“How could you know that?” she gasped.
“Because I know how the man who wagers works,” said Jane. “I want to know why.”
“Why? Because the bastard did the same thing to my father, that’s why!” the colourless little woman flared up into anger, and she clenched her fists, colour to her face making her suddenly, paradoxically, better looking. “And because he’s taken my father’s money to waste on gambling, drinking, and going out with his high class friends, without a by-you-leave to me, who was a helpmate to Papa when he was making his money, nor letting me spend more than he let me have in an allowance, and what’s to go to our children if he fritters it all away?”
“How do you know he had your father killed?” asked Jane.
“Because he boasted of it when he was drunk,” said Mrs. Devlin. “I said that now poor papa was dead in a freak accident, he would do well to permit me to hold the reins of the factories, as I knew how they worked, and how to continue to build up the business. He slapped me, and told me that I knew nothing as women are too feeble-minded to understand business. He said one reason he killed papa was to get hold of the capital, and another was because the old gager – his words – was asking questions about why I was so quiet and withdrawn. I don’t care how much you censure me, or if you have me hanged, my children are free, you have no idea what it is like to live with a monster!”
“On the contrary,” said Jane. “My first husband was just exactly such a controlling man. I did not kill him; he managed to get into bad enough company to be killed by his companions. How old are your children?”
“Ellie is seven, and already he calls her stupid and useless. He sees little of Jenny, who is five, and he has praise only for Richard, so long as he doesn’t take after me.” She sobbed.
“My Frances was not even a year old when Frank died, and he blamed me for birthing a useless daughter, using me before I was recovered from the birth to punish me for having a daughter, and to get a son as soon as possible,” said Jane. “If I had lived with him until she was seven, I suspect I, too, would have accepted such a way out. I am not going to put this case into the files my husband has compiled for Bow Street, though of course he knows I have come here and why, but he will agree with me that you have saved the country the price of a length of rope, and you will just have to live with having taken a life. But I need you to tell me the name of the man with whom you wagered.”
Mrs. Devlin stared.
“Dear G-d, Bow Street know about this? Lady Liddel told me it was utterly safe, she ... she hates her husband, though she did not tell me what abuses he heaped on her, so it must be bad, yes?”
“I doubt the inoffensive Sir Henry heaps any abuses on the fair Rosalind,” said Jane. “In fact, knowing her as I have since we were children, it is more likely to be the other way round. She told me he was boring, and I suggested that she not do any wagering. I could not know she had passed on this method of murder to anyone else.”
Mrs. Devlin shuddered.
“Murder! That’s an ugly word.”
“It’s an ugly business, Mrs. Devlin. You did not push your husband out of a window, but you still murdered him. I can see why the damage to your immortal soul would be worth it, to preserve your own life and wellbeing, and that of your innocent children. I take it amiss that Rosalind did not pass on to you that I knew what is going on; and I take that as a sin against you. She could have told you when she came to pick you up for the drive, so you could have had the choice to dismiss the new footman.”
“I am not sure I would have done,” said Mrs. Devlin. “I have been at the end of my tether.”
Jane nodded. She understood. She preferred not to speculate what she might have done, had someone offered her a way of being free of Frank which involved nothing more than placing a silly-sounding wager.
“So who is the man?”
“I don’t know. I do not know his name. Lady Liddel took me to a soirée, and said that her friend, that’s me, was willing to bet her husband would live to a ripe old age. And ... and it just carried on from there. She said someone would call on me to collect his winnings.”
“I see,” said Jane. “Unfortunately, if I have someone left here to arrest him when he comes, it will bring you into it. Perhaps you can insist on writing him a bank draft, and then he will have to give you his name.”
“I ... very well, Lady Armitage. Thank you for understanding.”
“I understand, I cannot approve, but until there are laws which permit a mother some rights over the fruit of her own womb, rather than giving them all to their father, and indeed rights over her own body, then the lawgivers can scarcely complain if a woman takes the law into her own hands,” said Jane. “I trust you will pray about this, most seriously.”
“Yes, I will,” said Mrs. Devlin. “Papa would be most shocked; he was a good man! And he only cared about me, but William only wanted our money, he was so greedy!”
She burst into tears. Jane patted her on the arm, and left.

Jane took Ella on a shopping expedition on the way home, both to settle herself down, and to show her own new daughter that she valued her.
“Happy birthday, Cecily,” said Jane, when they got home, with parcels.
“It ain’t my birthday,” said Cecily.
“No, but we missed too many, so here are gifts for an extra one,” said Jane, handing her parcels. Cecily’s eyes were wide.
She carefully opened the parcels, staring first at the beautifully-made parian fashion doll. Jane had managed to persuade Walter’s employer to sell her an older one, as she was a good customer.
“She’s a bene dimber mort!” gasped Cecily.
“You need pretty things in your life,” said Jane. “And the other main parcel is a fairly new novelty, I thought it amusing.”
Cecily unwrapped the other parcel.
“A little telescope?” she said, and put it to her eye. “Oh! The pretty patterns!”
“Yes, it is called a kaleidoscope,” said Jane. “It has two mirrors set at an angle to make one section of pretty shapes of coloured glass beads become a whole pattern by being reflected. By shaking it, you may get a new pattern. The third gift I left downstairs; you will want it when you are dressed as a boy.”
“I may still go and see if Fowler needs me?”
“Most certainly. I will have Jackie pass by regularly as well. But I thought if you had a hoop and stick, you would have an excuse to be loitering, because you are playing in the street,” said Jane.
“I have always thought what fun they look,” said Cicely.

Fowler explored the two rooms thoroughly, counting silently as he moved between pieces of furniture. Then he tied a neckerchief over his eyes and walked about, almost faultlessly, negotiating his way around.
The old man watched him quizzically.
“What are you doing that for?” he demanded.
“If it’s dark when cully comes to stick your spoon in the wall for you, I’ll know where I am, and he won’t. When I was man of all work, before I became Sir Caleb’s valet and helper, I did this in any room I might have to serve tea. A big tray obscures your vision. I figured that if I knew my way around blind, I wouldn’t do something like fall over a footstool. It’s stood me in good stead since, keeping guard for my gentleman.”
Fowler did not point out that it was partly fear for his position which had initially driven this form of learning blind. Frank Churchill, that charming man, was less than charming if crossed, and Fowler, new to a position that was almost butler, was terrified of being turned off if he tripped on any of the silly little pieces of furniture that Churchill liked to have cluttering the place up, to show apparent wealth, and indeed of incurring a beating, or having the urn of boiling water emptied on him. Fowler recalled the time Churchill had held Jane’s hand under the spout of boiling water because she had spilled a little, a very little, tea in handing it to her husband. If there had been a man who wagered in those days, Fowler would have had no compunctions about making a wager to rid his lady of the nastiest fellow Fowler ever wanted to meet.
Fowler strongly suspected that Jane only had the use of her hand because Churchill had ordered her to treat the burn so that she would still be able to play the pianoforte for him. He had been careful not to run the water on her fingers but nearer the wrist, where it could be hidden.
Well, those days were over, and nowadays Fowler was glad to serve as happy a couple as you could ever have, and do what he could to help catch crooks. He performed a quick minuet step sideways around an occasional table, and pirouetted to avoid the old man’s stick thrust out.
“And how did you do that?” asked the older Radcliffe.
“Heard it,” said Fowler. “I ain’t always been with Sir Caleb, and I know how to dodge the blows of less temperate masters. Heh, and what’s more, I’ll be carrying a pocket full of boys’ glass marbles to trip cully, given the opportunity.”
“There’s a lot more to being an assistant to a Bow Street Runner than I realised.”
“I think it’s just that my master takes it more seriously than some,” said Fowler, dryly. “And he believes in making sure he, and all his men, are as fit and able as possible. Not being prepared kills people a lot faster than ill intent on the part of crooks kills ‘em. See, Mr. Radcliffe, if you think someone has broken into your house at night, what do you do?”
“Light a candle and go looking for them,” said Radcliffe.
“And that’s where you could end up with a pistol ball in you,” said Fowler. “Same as Sir Caleb did once. We talked that over, and it was because he was in a strange place, and that’s why we go over any strange place now until we can do it blindfold. He lived, thanks to Mrs. Jane’s, that’s Lady Armitage’s, ministrations, being before they married. But now, if we carry a glim, it’s a dark lantern. And we wear heavy wool stockings over the silk ones, for silence but warm enough not to lose feeling in inclement weather, not shoes which can slip. And if forced to show a candle, hold it away from the body, in your left hand. Most people hold a candle in their right hand, just in front and to the side. Any burglar with a barking-iron, gun that is, who sees a glim will fire to his right of it and slightly above, which has a good chance of taking the person with the candle in the chest, see?”
“My goodness, Sir Caleb has put a lot of thought into it.”
“Sir Caleb is hoping that if there are serious reforms to Bow Street, there might be a training school, same as there is for midshipmen,” said Fowler. “I can also describe to you accurately all your knick-knacks and where they are, and list the periodicals on your table. I will notice a piece of wallpaper or fabric which is not faded where a picture or mirror may have hung and has been recently moved, and if a display of ornaments looks incomplete. Sometimes distraught people who have been burgled do not seem to realise all that is missing. And sometimes people claim to have been burgled and do not tell all the pieces that have gone.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Well, one reason might be that a subordinate member of the household has taken and sold a piece, but does not want that to be noticed when, say, a senior relative comes calling, and so stages a burglary to cover it. Or maybe as a matter of an insurance claim. Even respectable people can be exceedingly dishonest when it comes to insurance claims.”
“That don’t surprise me. Well, well, you have entertained me enough with the bad habits of crooks and ninnies, now you may help me to take off my shoes, and get me onto the day bed, I want a nap. You can make yourself scarce. Henderson has his own tea caddy and kettle in his room; tell him I said you could drink tea with him. I pay for it anyway, so he can’t complain.”
“Yes, sir,” said Fowler.

Chapter 20

Cecily skipped down the street chasing the iron hoop. The skill of bowling it, and even more, doing tricks with it, was not so easy as the boys she had seen playing with it had made it look.
Cecily was not, actually, wearing the clothes she had been wearing when she moved in with her new parents. Caleb had looked her over before she left, frowned, and muttered something about an ‘anomaly’, and said that a fine hoop and stick did not go with an urchin who might be supposed to have stolen it. Cecily could see this logic, and was consequently dressed after the fashion of a grocer’s son, or similar, or as Caleb said, the son of a sergeant in the army, which she might lay claim to, with nankeen breeches, woollen stockings and sturdy brogues, and a short jacket of cloth de Nimes. She had a soft hat with a peak, common to boys of all classes, also in the de Nimes cloth. It was a lot more comfortable than her old, mismatched rags, and Cecily found no difficulty in strutting like a boy out in new finery with a new toy. She jauntily sent her hoop ahead, and turned the hoop stick sideways to rattle along the railings as she ran to catch up with it, replying to angry shouts of servants emerging from areas to berate her with the time-honoured salute of the English, said to date back to Agincourt to demonstrate how many bowmen still had their bow fingers.
She would miss being coarse, when being a lady. However, if she was allowed to be a boy from time to time, it would relieve the tensions.
She reached the house where Fowler was living and frowned. How was she supposed to carry messages, if Fowler didn’t know she was there?
She slipped down the area steps and banged on the door.
It opened violently, and Cecily was greeted by an apron smeared in blood.
The apron appeared to be intimately attached to a man with a big knife in his hand and a scowl on his face.
“’Ere! I don’t make good eatin’, I’m too scrawny!” said Cecily.
“Don’t make ... hahaha, you are a caution, brat!” the cook laughed a big belly laugh. “So, whaddya want?” he asked.
“I wanna talk to Mr. Fowler,” said Cecily.
“Ho, and what makes you think a niffy, top-lofty feller like a gentleman’s nurse would want to speak to you?” demanded the cook.
“Well, if he won’t talk to his son, I’m reckoning he’ll be sleeping on the parlour sofa for the rest of his life as I have a message from Ma,” said Cecily, cheekily.
“Huh, well, you’d better come in,” said the cook. Cecily followed and sat herself down on a stool at the kitchen table while the cook sent a maid scurrying to find Mr. Fowler.
Fowler’s immobile face showed no surprise over having suddenly acquired a son, and he scowled at Cecily.
“What do you think you’re doing, disturbing me in a live-in position?” he demanded.
“You went off without leaving ma the dibs to pay for the coal,” said Cecily.
“Ho, did I, now?” said Fowler. “You tell your ma the coal money is in the crock on the overmantle, same as always. If she ain’t spent it on a new bonnet. And if she has, she can burn the bonnet, for it’s all the coal she’ll get. And when you’ve told her, you can come and hang around outside if you don’t make a nuisance of yourself, in case I need you to run to the apothecary for me.”
Cecily cracked an urchin grin. It was fun play-acting like this. And now Mr. Fowler knew she was around and recognised that she was there to run messages. It would be a good idea not to rattle her stick on the railings in this street, or she might get run off. But she could learn how to do tricks with the hoop.
Fowler saw Cecily out, and she said softly,
“Jackie will be around after dark.”
Fowler nodded.

Molly was being a little truculent, rattling the fire irons as she made up the fire. She had been promoted to chamber maid, with the girl, Hanny, assisted by the rather vacant Eliza, taking on the duties of tween-floor maids, since Jane had accepted their service after the scandalous business of the Attwood fire.
“Molly, why don’t you tell me about it, instead of working yourself into more of a temper?” said Jane.
Molly scowled. Jane recalled she had been jealous of Dorothy and had been unkind to the girl, not seeing at first how Dorothy was to be pitied.
“It’s that girl. Miss Cecily,” said Molly. “I don’t see why Annie and me have to wait on a street brat and why she gets adopted.”
“For one thing, Molly, Cecily’s father is a gentleman, and she found herself in straitened circumstances when her stepfather was taken by the press,” said Jane. “She preferred to be a street brat to letting someone force her into prostitution; what would you have done in her circumstance?”
“I dunno,” said Molly.
“And that is why we have adopted her, because she can make plans,” said Jane. “As well as being gentry-born. She can also act as a street child, if we need her to do so, and she can help the master in his uncovering of crimes and criminals, like Master Simon. Somehow I don’t see you willing to live for a couple of nights on the streets, dressed in rags, spying on people who need spying on, dodging the missiles thrown at you by costermongers and servants.”
“Gawd, Missus Jane, is that what it takes to be gentry?”
“That’s what it takes to be a Bow Street Officer’s child,” said Jane. “The ability to be gentry at need, which Miss Cecily has to learn again, having had to lose the sort of accent which would have got her beaten and laughed at on the street, as well as being able to produce enough cant to make a highwayman blench. She is in danger of kidnap or death, as a means to force Sir Caleb not to pursue a criminal, as all our children are. We place a great deal of trust in your sister Annie, which is why she is paid accordingly, and why she is called ‘nurse’ not ‘nursery maid.’ I was considering permitting you to be Miss Cecily’s maid, and learning, as my dresser, Mrs. Fowler, has done, to help her, as well as learning another part of the craft towards rising to be a housekeeper one day. However, if you resent Miss Cecily, then I will merely promote you to chambermaid, and take on another ‘tween stairs maid, as you are more than ready for something more.”
Molly was struck dumb.
She had not considered that Miss Cecily was in danger.
“What danger would I be in as her maid?” she asked.
“Not much; people don’t consider servants as a threat,” said Jane. “You could learn the craft of crime detection as Mrs. Fowler has, or you could just be her maid. I was hoping a bright girl like you would like to learn more, but I will understand if a potential risk frightens you. And as you get older you would then have the choice to move sideways as upper maid, or stay as a dresser. You are, as I told you when you behaved so badly towards the unfortunate girl, Dorothy, a clever enough girl to make what you will of yourself. But you will not make much of yourself if you spend your whole life resenting others.”
Molly snuffled.
“I’m sorry, my lady. It just didn’t seem fair.”
Jane put her arms around the young girl.
“It was even less fair in a way when you and Annie were left, her at fourteen and you not twelve years old yet, with no other option but service. But I do value you both, and you have shown yourselves to be very able. And I did offer Annie the choice of being sent to school so that she could be a governess to our younger ones when Miss Adcock chose to stay with Miss Araminta. She turned it down. Now, if you wanted to go to school in her stead, I would certainly consider it.”
“Oh! Oh, but ... but I would not want to be a governess, so it’s no use,” said Molly.
“Molly, I would send you to school in order to be a better housekeeper, taking the position younger for being trained in accounting, or as a librarian,” said Jane. “If you have the urge for learning, I’ll not stifle that.”
“I ... I’d like it,” said Molly. “Annie’s assured her position, ain’t she?”
“She is,” said Jane. “And indeed, if you come out of schooling eager to work with Miss Cecily as a supposed maid, but actually working as a consulting thief-taker for Bow Street, then education never goes amiss.”
“Oh, thank you, Madam” cried Molly.
“I will write to Mrs. Goddard’s school immediately,” said Jane. “It is a school which teaches real subjects, rather than turning out silly, mincing little fools, and many of the girls there will be expecting to earn their livings. You should not look down on those unfortunate enough to be illegitimate, for it is the way of so many gentlemen to act most improperly, even with respectable girls.”
“Like Miss Cecily’s father?”
“Exactly,” said Jane. “And when I find out who he is, he will be paying for his slighting behaviour to her mother one way or another.”
“I believe you!” said Molly, emphatically.
Jane heaved a sigh of relief; trouble averted. And Molly was clever enough to make educating her worth the while and the twenty-five guineas a year, money well spent. She and Annie would not like being separated, but at that they had been lucky to have been sent out together as maids when they ended up on the parish when they were orphaned.
Jane took up her pen.

Cecily returned home when Jackie arrived in the street, and explained that Fowler had nothing much to report. He had passed her a message by throwing it out of a window, which explained that his real position was known to the old man, and that he had the lie of the land, so to speak, but there had, as yet, been no new man taken on save himself.
“I can’t bowl a hoop all the time, may I have money for a whipping top, and some knucklebones and marbles?” she asked Jane.
“Yes, of course,” said Jane. “And a good idea to have marbles on you at all times, to throw behind you if pursued by anyone. It’s hard to run on marbles without going over.”
Cecily giggled. Jane gave her a goodly amount of money in small coins.
“You should be able to find something to eat as well, if you stay out all day, tomorrow” she said. “And your father was right, you’re far less likely to be run out of the street if you are an annoying, but respectable child playing, than if you looked like a beggar. I’d send Nat with you, if I weren’t afraid someone might steal a valuable-looking pug. And Toby isn’t well enough yet.”
Toby cocked his ears at the sound of his name and his tail thumped on the floor.
“He’ll be a bene helper when he’s well, if I have a barrel-organ or a proper hurdy-gurdy to play,” said Cecily.
“What’s the difference?” said Jane.
“Well, lots of people call a barrel-organ a hurdy-gurdy, but a proper hurdy-gurdy has strings, and as well as turning the handle, you actually have to play it by pressing the keys. It’s a gypsy instrument often as not. A barrel-organ has the music in holes on a sheet, and you just turn the handle, you don’t have to be able to play no better nor what Toby can. Simmy – Simon – and me could work tergiver, him on a barrel-organ an’ me on a real instrument, and Toby dancing. I wouldn’t mind learning guitar properly, and violin.”
“Either are good instruments to have as a street performer,” said Jane, “As well as for a lady. I will see about getting you a proper music teacher.”

Next morning, after Cecily had gone skipping off to wait around for messages, Caleb received a letter, with an elaborate seal, and franked with the careless scrawl, ‘Braxtrode’.
“Wonder what the duke wants,” said Caleb.
“Open it, and you might find out,” said Jane.
“Really, Jane, the simple solution?” laughed Caleb. “I should make deductions first, since it is an anomaly to receive a missive from a relatively chance acquaintance.”
“He wrote it in a hurry for his pen has splashed on the frank, and he has addressed it in some anger and determination, for the positive way he has ground his nib into the paper,” said Jane. “I suspect the anger is over finding more proof or suggestion that his son was, indeed, murdered. Unless someone has convinced him that it is nonsense and he is angry with you.”
“I’m opening it, I’m opening it,” said Caleb.

“Braxstrode Hall
March 23rd

My dear Armitage,
Your warning seemed at first to be risible, but I am glad I have taken your advice. I decided to stay entirely within the house, the inclement weather not being an inducement to go out in any case. My bailiff has reported that a stranger turned up in the village some two days after I repaired here, and he has been run off my lands a few times. I have warned my butler, housekeeper and chief groom as well as my bailiff that they are under no account to take on a new man, who solicits them for a job.
Meanwhile, I have spoken seriously to Miss Peterson, who is a sensible and down-to-earth woman. She was willing to accept a marriage of mutual convenience, making only the proviso that my daughters should be willing to accept this. Georgiana squealed with delight, Lydia embraced me, and Jessica jumped up and down, which expressions of glee I took as a willingness to embrace Petie, or Lucilla as I must learn to call her, as a mother.
Lucilla is a most superior sort of woman, rather after the manner of your own excellent wife, I fancy, in that she has a mind well above the normal foolishness one may see with gentlewomen, but she is capable of appreciating fashion as well, to be sure that my daughters are dressed appropriately. Georgiana will be making her come-out before much longer, as I have to acknowledge, and needs to be treated as a young lady, despite the odd girlish squeal of delight. Lucilla has reminded me of this, and I have had to accept that I will have to lose my girls as they grow. It is hard to recollect that Lucilla has been with us for ten years, shortly after my dear late wife died. Georgiana was six, and Jessica hardly more than a baby. Lydia was four, and Stephen unbreeched at three. He had barely left Lucilla’s care for that of a tutor when he died.
Anyway, I bought a common licence, since I am a resident of the parish of my own house, even if not always in residence, and Lucilla had been there for much more time than the required residency, and we were married the day after I got back, the vicar being sent for so I would not expose my body to accidental shooting by a supposed poacher. You see, I am taking your recommendations very seriously! I have not even ventured near a window unless the curtains are drawn. It is a little irksome, but being dead would be more irksome. Lucilla told me she never believed that Stephen’s death was an accident, but had not mentioned it to me, since I knew how much she holds my nephew, Paul, in aversion, since he behaved inappropriately towards her, when he was visiting the Hall some years ago, when he was first at Oxford.
I fear Paul is as much of a womaniser as his father, my late younger brother, who was married to Paul’s mother in something of a hurry, having seduced a young lady of quality when he was only sixteen. The scandal is old news, but I imagine you have wondered about my having a nephew some years older than my own children. I cannot disown him unless he is shown to be guilty of a crime, so I hope that you are able to show conclusive proof of what Paul has done, for I no longer doubt that his intention is to kill me. I will happily provide any out-of-pocket expenses for such an endeavour, and though one hesitates to suggest the same to any gentleman, a substantial reward for saving my life and preserving my precious daughters. I have little doubt but that Paul would force Georgiana to marry him, to get the portion I have left to her, and would give Lucilla her conge, and pack Lydia and Jessica off to a school of the sort which does not have adequate provision for the health of growing girls, in the hopes that they might die before he has to provide a dowry for them. Indeed, I could quite see him marrying them off to anyone willing to pay him for a gently-born girl, and filling the Hall with Paphians, regardless of the feelings of Georgiana.
I know I am worrying about what has not happened, but I cannot express too deeply my fears on this matter. I would do anything to ensure the safety of my children, and only can blame myself that I did not realise that Paul might have attacked Stephen, or rather, had him attacked. He was a solitary little boy, much as I was, and I was accustomed, with the agreement of his tutor, to permit him to go fishing when he wished, so long as he made up his lessons.
Hoping this finds you in good health,

Caleb read the letter out to Jane.
“Poor man,” said Jane, softly. “To lose a child is bad enough, to do so by a malicious agency must have been worse. He has, of course, no real reason to reproach himself, for nobody could have foreseen it; but it will not stop him wracking his brains to see if there was anything he might have done to preserve his son’s life. I would write back to him if I was you, and tell him to apprise his nephew as soon as possible that he may expect another cousin soon. It will mean the nephew will have to hold off in case of over-reaching himself if he tries to interfere with the Duchess. After all, he can hope that she and the child die in childbed, like Princess Charlotte, or that it is another girl. And we shall surely have enough evidence within the next nine months.”
“Yes, and Braxstrode knows well enough to dissemble if there is no immediate pregnancy. I do feel a trifle sorry for his superior sort of governess, it is a cold sort of marriage.”
Jane smiled.
“If the daughters were that enthusiastic, I have no doubt that they have a suspicion that their Petie is not entirely indifferent to their papa, and if she loves the girls, he will come to love her, or at least feel a sufficiency of affection which is not always seen in society marriages.”
“You know people very well, my Jane-girl.”
“I think it is because they interest me, Caleb. Oh, and when you write back, tell him not to send for some fancy accoucheur, but to use a local midwife. I am convinced a man with book learning cannot know as much as someone with experience, usually from both sides of the matter, as most are married women with their own offspring.”
“You are probably correct, my dear, and you note that I acceded fully to your wishes regarding the birth of Susanna. And Joseph’s arrival in the world was rather irregular, and I am sure Aunt Hetty made a better job of assisting than any doctor with their high-blown ideas. Mind, in an emergency, I’d not necessarily turn down a good army horse doctor.”
“Indeed; a cavalryman’s doctor would have to be good. The cavalry care more for their horses than the army cares for its men,” said Jane, dryly.
“Naturally; but then, it’s the horses that have all the brains in the cavalry,” said Caleb.
Being from a line regiment, the calumny on the cavalry had to be made.

Chapter 21

“How long do you suppose it’s going to be?” said John Radcliffe to Fowler. Fowler looked up from the note he was reading, brought by Cecily, folded in a paper like a powder from an apothecary.
“Didn’t he say within two weeks, sir?” said Fowler.
“Well, yes, but does that mean we have to be hung about for two weeks?”
“Possibly, sir, yes. Our killer has hit a small snag.”
“Well, he took on three jobs at once, as you might say. One was completed, and yours was the third, which is why he said two weeks instead of one. The second job he has been unable to complete.”
“How do you know?”
“Because Sir Caleb has communicated this to me,” said Fowler.
“But ... but he has never been here, and you have not been out!”
“Good grief, sir, did you really think we did not have methods of communication outside of visiting each other? What sort of law officer would he be if he had to run around carrying his own messages all day long, without other, often coded, ways to let his people know facts they need, and collect facts from them?” said Fowler. John Radcliffe stared.
“You people are amazing!” he declared.
“Well organised,” said Fowler.
“So, what is the problem he is having?”
Fowler interpreted the ‘he’ as referring to the killer, not to Caleb.
“His last victim left town before he could be killed, and is immured in his country seat, refusing to make a target of himself,” said Fowler. “I presume cully will continue to attempt to get at him until his time limit is up, and therefore his bet still valid. Once over that time, he loses that bet. I wonder what would happen if the one who made it demanded to be paid as a debt of honour?”
“A whimsical idea. Who is the man who made the wager?”
Fowler considered, and decided to answer.
“Paul Strode, Viscount Ashall, who had already wagered that his twelve-year-old cousin would never die,” he said, softly.
Radcliffe pulled a handkerchief, and mopped his brow.
“How could anyone murder a child?” he demanded.
“Because Ashall saw the child as in the way, and in need of being removed so he might be the viscount,” he said. “Now he’s after the duke before he can breed another heir.”
“I see,” said Radcliffe. “Braxstrode has other children, girls.”
“Yes, I don’t think much for their chances not to be sold off as soon as they bleed if Ashall inherits,” said Fowler, who had few illusions.
Radcliffe mopped his brow again.
“I remember Strode being at a soirée where He was, too,” he said. “The week is up tomorrow.”
“I’ll let Sir Caleb know,” said Fowler. “I’m sure he’ll be glad to have a better knowledge of what sort of time we are working under.”
“I believe I’ll go out tonight,” said Radcliffe.
“Yes, sir,” said Fowler. It was none of his business, unless Radcliffe meant to warn the man who wagered. Fowler would let Caleb know that the fellow was going out tonight as well, in the hopes that he and Mrs. Jane could keep an eye on him. He wrote his letter, and looked out of a window. He saw Cecily playing with another child, their voices shrill as they argued over a game of knucklebones, and noted absently that she was playing the boys’ version of the game, where the way the bones landed accrued different points, rather than the girls’ version where a ball was thrown up and an attempt was made to pick up all the bones while it was still in the air.
He lifted the sash window.
“Here, you kids, have a sow’s baby each and go away, you’re giving me a headache,” he called, throwing two sixpences wrapped in the note near to Cecily. She picked it up, threw one sixpence to her companion, shrugged, gathered the bones, and slouched off down the street.

Hot chocolate was welcome on a cold day which did not manage quite to be raining or sleeting, or even foggy, but which held enough damp in the cold air to seem to hold anyone out in it hostage to threatened precipitation of some kind. Cecily warmed her hands on the tankard of the hot, sweet drink, sipping in pleasure. Hot chocolate was as good a reason to learn to cut benely whids like a gentry mort as any.
“Well, Jane-girl, what do you think?” said Caleb, passing the note to Jane.
“What did Mister Fowler say?” asked Cecily. “Am I allowed to ask?”
“You didn’t read it?”
She shook her effulgent locks.
“You didn’t say I might,” she said.
Caleb stared, and then ruffled her hair.
“In all my years, I’ve never known anyone who had a chance to read a note have the self-control not to do so because I hadn’t said they might,” he said. “You’re a very good girl, Cecily. But I’m going to give you blanket permission to read any note, either way, so if anything happens, you can pass it on by mouth. And you shall also read it presently.”
Jane passed the note to Cecily, who mouthed the words as she read them, not being as fluent at reading as the adults. It had been a long time since her mother had taught her.
She looked up.
“Do you fink Radcliffe has turned coat again and means to warn the man who wagers?”
“It crossed my mind,” said Caleb. “But I note that Fowler said he got upset about the child being killed.”
“We should really try to be where he is tonight,” said Jane. “I may be wrong, but it seems to me that they go to entertainments run by those ladies who can scrape a way into Almack’s and the like, but are not truly high society, and yet cannot be said to be skirting society.”
“Any suggestions?” asked Caleb.
“Without throwing any aspersions on Mrs. Elliot, she of the daughter who fancied herself in love with the Russian Poet, she moves within the right circles. And she has a ball for her daughter tonight, and I believe we even accepted the invitation because you took a proprietary interest in the chit, for having managed to put her off the poet,” said Jane. “Last I heard, she was making eyes at a Mr. Gregory Aspinall, whose main interest seems to be in racehorses, so I expect he’ll want to examine her teeth and check her hocks for splints.”
“He inherited enough fairly recently to indulge his hobby, I believe,” said Caleb. “Which is interesting in itself.”
“Do you think Radcliffe is going to do in the Ashall cove what had the swell kinchin coe killed?” asked Cecily. “If he feel bad abaht putting the old codger in danger, ‘e might see it as a way to make good, like.”
Caleb and Jane exchanged a look.
“We’ll be on the watch,” said Caleb.
“Not that I’d be that averse to letting him succeed,” said Jane.
“We’ll see what happens,” said Caleb.
He was not averse to letting someone kill Viscount Ashall either, but it was his duty to try to stop blatant crimes. And besides, Radcliffe was an investment to catch a murderer, and if he was dead or taken up by the law, that plan would fall through.

The ball in honour of Miss Elizabeth Elliot could only be described as lavish. The building shone with illuminations in every window, each one filling the whole window and depicting beautiful scenes. They had surely been painted by professional artists with ink on thin silver paper, which was fine enough for light to shine through. Coloured lanterns were strung up outside, and the effect was almost garish.
“A trifle excessive, murmured Jane, feeling her nose wrinkle slightly.
“My lady is the mistress of understatement; I’d have said it was damned tawdry myself,” said Caleb.
“I was trying not to think so,” said Jane. “Ah, well, the woman is a wealthy widow with an only daughter, and she wants her marrying well.”
“She won’t get a good stud if the filly is shown to be a showy high stepper rather than a good goer,” said Caleb.
“You’re thinking that Aspinall is not necessarily any better than the poet.”
“It crossed my mind, but I’ve nothing definite against him.”
“You had nothing definite against the poet.”
“Other than the fact that he wore a perfumed pomatum in his hair and made improper remarks to you?”
“The first should be irrelevant,” said Jane, sternly.
“Well, it ain’t,” said Caleb. “Taking care of his appearance is one thing, stinking like a Spanish brothel is another.”
“I’ve never smelled a Spanish brothel,” said Jane, demurely. “Is there anything you should be telling me about your time on the peninsula?”
“Yes, we were stationed in one, and I swear I’d rather face the Old Guard than have to deal with twenty assorted Spanish whores again. We had to barricade ourselves in not to have our virtue stolen. Sir Henry assured us the ones that didn’t have pox had the clap, because the French had been before us, and he put enough of the fear of disease in us, we relieved ourselves in the nearest bushes for fear of something jumping on us in their jakes.”
“And were all your fellows so continent?”
“No, and Jackson had to be invalided out with something that had him vomiting uncontrollably, which may not have been the pox, but whatever it was we didn’t want it,” said Caleb. “I strongly suspect Sir Henry of having something slipped in his drink to make an example of him and keep the rest of us scared, but he weren’t much of a soldier and nobody missed him. Except, maybe, the whores. As most of them weren’t even passingly pretty, it wasn’t much temptation anyway.”
“Are you telling me you remained continent throughout your time as a soldier?”
“Of course not, Jane-girl, but I was busy comforting a cavalry officer’s wife because his sabre wasn’t enough to satisfy her,” said Caleb.
“Ah, the war stories the ladies never usually hear,” said Jane.
“Quite right too,” said Caleb. “Lud, it’s as bad inside as out,” he added as he led Jane into the house.
The effect could be described as glittering. Every candelabrum dripped with cut glass, enhancing the candle flames and turning them into myriad diamond prisms of colour. Mirrors all around the walls of the vestibule could be seen to be but an extension of the mirrors and prisms in the ballroom.
“Someone has heard of Versailles,” said Jane.
“Indeed, and with all those mirrors, I think I’d be afraid to dance in case I ended up in the arms of my own reflection’s reflection,” said Caleb. “Deuced confusing.”
“Something to bear in mind if ever setting up a meeting with an enemy,” said Jane.
“Not such a bad idea, Jane-girl,” said Caleb. “You go and mingle; I’ll see if I can find where the card games are, which is where the gambling will be.”
Jane nodded, and smiled at him. She left her cloak in the cloak room, and checked her appearance in front of the mirror. She was wearing a sheer muslin, embroidered in sprigs of flowers, originally white, but dyed grey for the royal mourning, and not a moment too soon before it lost its freshness. One advantage of mourning was to hide how a muslin was no longer new. Her undergown was deep lilac, and the overall effect with the grey muslin was of greyed lavender. Silver ribbons trimmed it and caught the light, and Jane reflected that there was a lot of light to be caught, and was glad she was not wearing silver net instead of the gauzy muslin, or she might have half blinded anyone who saw her.
She went to greet the hostess, and exchange a word or two with Miss Elliot.
Miss Elliot was wearing silver net over a lavender gown, and the effect was unfortunately a trifle garish.
“Oh, Lady Armitage!” Mrs. Elliot gushed, “What do you know about a Miss Evans?”
“Miss Laura Evans? The child with a golden voice who still needs to lose her puppy-fat?” said Jane.
“She’s a dumpy little squab of a thing,” said Miss Elliot.
“Now, Elizabeth, let us not be rude,” said Mrs. Elliot. “You know her, then?”
“Yes, a nice girl, very clever,” said Jane. “And, poor child, not sensible enough to hide it. However, she appeared to find favour with Falkrington.”
“I know,” said Mrs. Elliot, hollowly. “He’s just offered for her.”
“He has? Why, I thought he was just flirting, I must congratulate her,” said Jane.
“It is a coup for any girl,” said Mrs. Elliot, with something of a snap.
“I didn’t want him anyway,” said Miss Elliot. “I’d like to be a countess, but not if I had to live with a miserable Friday-faced fellow like Falkrington, he’s only handsome when he is bothering to look pleasant.”
“He is rather sardonic,” said Jane. “I think you are wise to steer clear of him, Miss Elliot, he is plainly drawn to a bluestocking.”
“See, Mama? I told you so,” said Miss Elliot. “I rather think I prefer Mr. Ferrant to Mr. Aspinall now anyway; Mr. Aspinall is boring about his horses, and he got irritable with me because I could not remember which of his race horses was called Bustard and which was Buzzard, and if you ask me, calling horses after birds is pretty silly.”
“In my opinion, racing is pretty silly,” said Jane.
“Mine too,” said Miss Elliot. “Mr. Hillborough Ferrant has a really good fund of stories, however, and he says nice things.”
Jane reflected that he was probably a fortune hunter, but she could not rescue all the girls from all their problems. It was not as if Miss Elliot did not have a mother looking out for her interests.

Caleb negotiated the ballroom floor, lavishly chalked, though the design had already been churned up, exchanging words when he could not avoid doing so, and moving eventually to the small antechambers set up for the purpose of card playing. He finally ran Radcliffe to earth, talking quite loudly, having gathered a small audience. Caleb listened, remaining out of sight behind the door.
“Well, tomorrow the wager you made runs out, don’t it, Ashall? And didn’t you wager that your uncle would wed before he died and sire another heir? Have you had any news?”
“What’s it to you?” Viscount Ashall’s rather nasal voice spoke.
“Well, look at it this way, you bet to lose, but as it stands, you can demand your winnings as soon as the time is up, right?”
There was a long, pregnant silence.
“I can demand my winnings now; the old fool is married,” snarled Ashall. “And at least that will be some compensation.”
“That’s what I thought,” said Radcliffe, brightly.
“I’m going to see him now,” said Ashall.
Caleb stood back as the viscount and several other young men surged out of the room. Radcliffe followed, more slowly.
“Evening, Radcliffe,” said Caleb.
“Oh! Evening, Armitage,” said Radcliffe. “I suppose I should have expected to see you here.”
“Not that I’m much in favour of the decor or the illuminations,” said Caleb.
“Oh, Mrs. Elliot is a vulgarian, but she sets a good table,” said Radcliffe. “I’ll miss dinner, alas. I’m off home.”
“Done what you came to do?”
“Do, Armitage? I haven’t done anything,” said Radcliffe.
“Just dropped a word and a hint?”
“I don’t like people who hurt children; I have my limits,” said Radcliffe. “And what happens next is going to depend entirely on the greed of the viscount, and what he decides to do over getting something out of this business. I have my suspicion that he won’t stop short of threatening someone with exposure. Of course, I might be wrong; it’s nothing but a wager with myself, you understand.”
Caleb nodded.
“I understand,” he said. “I came to stop you killing Ashall.”
“My dear Sir Caleb! I am not so crude,” said Radcliffe.
“No, so I see,” said Caleb. “Well, as you say, all hangs on how venal Paul Strode, Viscount Ashall turns out to be. Enjoy your evening, and tell Fowler about it. He will probably think it a neatly-turned solution to Braxstrode’s problem. You will have lost me a large reward for getting him arrested, but I can’t say I will weep for the loss.”
“Sorry about that,” Radcliffe shrugged.
“I’d rather have those little girls safe than have any amount of reward money, so don’t be,” said Caleb. “And we never had this conversation.”
“Of course we didn’t. I missed running into you,” said Radcliffe.

A/N Yes, the romance between Lucilla Peterson and Braxstrode will be one of the romances I will be writing as a spin off of this, as well as Laura Evans and her Marquess. I am tempted to do one of Popham as well

Jane and the sins of society 19-21

Sarah WaldockMarch 12, 2018 12:45PM

Re: Jane and the sins of society 19-21

NickiMarch 14, 2018 04:39PM

More applause!

ConnieRMarch 13, 2018 09:42PM

Re: Jane and the sins of society 19-21

MayaMarch 12, 2018 07:48PM

Re: Jane and the sins of society 19-21

Sarah WaldockMarch 12, 2018 08:16PM


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