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libby twenty to to end

June 04, 2018 10:02AM
Chapter 22

“Brexhay House
3rd August

Dear Penelope,
Well that was a surprise! Mr. Belvoir has kissed Miss Freemantle, not that I saw it, but it was quite obvious, or at least it was to me. Fortunately Sir Henry is unobservant as well as a little bit stupid. However, as Miss Freemantle is not freezing Mr. Belvoir into an icicle, presumably she liked it, and intends to have him. I am very glad for them, and very wistful that my first encounter with a man was not like a romantic story, the way Miss Freemantle’s is. Or so I suppose, for I believe that if she had herself had any insalubrious experience, she is kind enough to share it.
I do wonder if she hoped that I would get to know Sir Henry, and find a kindly husband; and if he were not heartbroken over his wife, he would be a kindly husband. I would feel more sorry for him, too, if I felt him capable of any depth of feeling. However, it seems that however much he may have adored his wife, he is easily and readily distracted from his grief by other matters. I could not marry a man who is so mentally and emotionally limited, however kindly. And I know there are those men who do not wear their hearts on their sleeves, but Sir Henry is not one of them. He might be aux anges one moment over what one of the bells has said or done, and then weeping for their dead mama the next. And such fits of weeping are soon blown away, like clouds carrying sun showers. Whilst any gentleman hides his deeper feelings in front of guests, of course, I do not feel that anyone could accuse Sir Henry of deeper feelings. I may wrong the man, of course! But a man who hides his deeper emotions would not show sensibility, in wiping his eyes and saying how much he misses his dear Belle.
However, I believe he will be a tolerable employer, since he is kindly, and his daughters are sweet children, and I will enjoy teaching them, I think. It will be a job which will last until I am only a few years older than Miss Freemantle is now, which will be time enough for me to put aside my reservations concerning men and consider marriage. I have no doubt that I will, by that time, be ready to consider matrimony. As Maribella is now just over the year old, I can readily expect to be her governess for another sixteen years, all being well, and both of us surviving, which is some manner of security. And of course I might encourage Sir Henry to remarry, to secure the succession, in which case one might expect his regular habits to provide me with more pupils until his second wife expires of an excess of child bearing. Think of the truly epic struggle to marry off say eighteen daughters if it is his seed which is responsible for an excess of girls, as his late wife seems to have demonstrated no deficiency in carrying a pregnancy of either sex to term. Though I wonder what naming system he might use for future offspring; maybe he might take Maribella, his youngest, as inspiration and contrive to produce Marianne, Marietta, Maritina, Mariquette, Maricesca, Mariella, Maricilla, Marititia, Marilla, Mariana and Marinda. And even my wildest imagination fails with eleven, and I cannot make a round dozen.
Your friend,

Julia did not mention that by the time she was thirty, she hoped to have some sort of inheritance; William Brace may not have received a long sentence, but she was fairly certain that the doctor would make sure that the other prisoners learned what he was in for. The doctor believed in justice, and was a father to all the girls in the orphanage in the way Julia recalled her own father, who was a protective man to be depended upon. Dr. Mac had murmured that even criminals do not like child spoilers. Julia was hoping to receive word of her stepfather’s demise. This would return Julia’s own father’s monies to her mother, but it would not be enough to tempt anyone prepared to put up with an ageing and silly woman. Mrs. Brace had signed over care of her daughter to Swanley Court, but had not disowned her.
It seemed a terrible thing, in some ways, to be waiting for one’s own mother to die, but Julia had declared Mrs. Brace no mother of hers the moment the woman had spat vituperative words at her little girl rather than taking her into her arms to comfort her. Julia had stopped even calling her mother ‘mama’ after the woman would listen to no appeals, and referred to her pointedly as ‘Mrs. Brace’, it being, as she had said, the title chosen over being ‘mama’. And Mrs. Brace was not a physically strong woman.
It did not occur to Julia that her mother might also be in fear of her husband, as her thoughts on the matter were that a mother should be ready to do anything for the safety of her own children. But then, Mrs. Brace’s attitude when speaking to the Macfarlanes had not given them any suggestion that fear of her husband coloured the woman’s views of what Graeme declared to be ‘an awfu’ imfamous bout o’ jeelousy ower a wee lassie wha’s nae owd enough tae ken that her ordeal is tae be jeelous ower.’

“Will you walk with me in the gardens, Miss Freemantle?” Julia asked.
“Certainly,” said Libby. She buried the sudden suspicion that Julia’s ordeal might have made her sly enough to try blackmail. The girl was self-contained, making it harder to know her, but a girl who flared in temper to protect a friend, and a preceptress who had been kind to her, was not the sort of girl to hurt that preceptress.
Libby sallied forth with the girl.
“What can I do for you, Julia?” she asked.
“Am I wrong to consider Sir Henry no great catch?” asked Julia, bluntly. “I am sure I could, if I wanted to, make myself so indispensible to him that he would offer marriage, especially as he has no heir. Am I too nice in my views of a potential husband to not wish to do that?”
“Not at all, my love,” said Libby. “I know that marriage is held up as a paradigm of achievement to every young lady, but you need never marry at all, if you do not want to do so, if your experience has given you a total disgust of the matter.”
“It has not; I know what he was doing was wrong, and I know that I was not grown enough for it to be anything but a painful experience, and it has taken me years, and lately, too, your kindness and that of Mrs. Macfarlane to realise that with all my being, rather than feeling guilty and fearing that it was all my own fault,” said Julia. “It is all in the Book of Common Prayer, who you may marry, and if he might not marry his stepdaughter, he should not lay with her either, and the onus is on the one who has attained his majority, as well as on a man, as women are not accounted able to exercise sufficient judgement upon the matter. I am not sure I agree with that, but a child of twelve can surely exercise no judgement. I formulated these thoughts at Garrard’s school in reading the Book of Common Prayer.”
“You have arrived most rationally at a correct conclusion, though I tend to agree with you, that women may exercise more judgement than most men would like to realise,” said Libby. “Whether you decide to compromise your intellectual integrity in exchange for a comfortable life is up to you; and if you did decide to do so, we would have to have a frank discussion about other ways to avoid pregnancy than that used by that revolting man. I suspect that the death of Lady Harkness was more down to six pregnancies in as many years as it was to the delayed arrival of the doctor, but one cannot be certain. It is certainly not good for any woman to go through that, and I fear you will find the younger children less stout than their sisters, for the weakness of the mother is often visited on their subsequent offspring.”
“The nurse did mention that Annabella was prone to putrid sore throats and coughs,” said Julia. “And I do not think that Maribella looks at all stout.”
“And it will be wonderful if they live to grow up,” said Libby. “You have calculated, I take it, that you may expect a position here until Maribella is seventeen?”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Julia.
Libby nodded.
“It is not impossible,” she said. “However, you may always expect to return to Swanley Court, for we are ever ready to accept more teachers. And there is also a school for girls in Yorkshire sponsored by one of our former pupils and by one of our former mistresses if you did not want to return to your old school. I shall be, as the doctor would put it, ‘a crabbit wee wifie’ by then, no doubt.”
Julia laughed.
“Crabbed? You? Never! You are so merry, I am not surprised Mr. Belvoir was so taken aback by your youth when you first met. You are right that there are social expectations for a lady to marry, but I would not want to do so unless I met a man who would understand what I have had to deal with, for I will not keep it quiet, just to get a husband. And he must let me be myself.”
“I agree with you, Julia, my dear, but whatever your choice, the school is there to support its former pupils even as parents are supposed to be there to support their offspring.”
“Miss Freemantle, you and Mrs. Macfarlane have been more mothers to me than my own mother, and I am glad to have you both in my life. I cannot imagine Mrs. Brace, even when she was Mrs. Spencer, being there to support a married daughter, or one who was working as a governess. It would be too onerous.”
Libby thought of letters from Ophelia Sanderville, and how much she did not say about her own mother, and reflected that there were some women for whom getting up in the morning was about as onerous as they might manage.
Julia went on,
“You will still be teaching when you marry Mr. Belvoir?”
“I shall, and so will he, but I fancy we may have a suite within the school rather than a cottage outside it,” said Libby.
“Oh, famous!” Julia looked pleased. “I know Mrs. Macfarlane founded the school, but really, ma’am, it is you who is the school. It would not be the same without you.”
“Why, thank you, my dear; but I am only mortal.”
“In time, others will be moulded by your example,” said Julia. “But for now, you set the tone, but also need to hold the tone.”
Libby blinked in surprise at Julia’s insight.
“The tone is set by Mrs. Macfarlane too,” she said. “And the doctor fits in very well. As do all the mistresses.”
“Yes, but would any of them save Mrs. Macfarlane be able to take over if you were indisposed, and run it in the way you do for any extended period?” asked Julia.
Libby considered.
“Miss Joliffe might,” she said, cautiously. “Miss Edwards is only a visiting teacher in any case. Miss Kinaide, Miss Tissot and Mrs. Andrews, no. Mrs. Styles might, but to be honest, I would rather see Mrs. Ashley in charge, and she has, moreover, been with us almost from the beginning. She came as a replacement to a most unfortunate choice of woman who was most unsuitable as a matron for the younger ones. We have had our ups and downs, before we had Miss Andrews, we had a couple teaching music and dancing, but they proved altogether too ... volatile.” She shuddered in remembrance of the scene Mme Daumier had made over a trick the twins had played on Emma Spink. She remembered, too, the Rawson woman, who had locked Felicity in a cupboard and intended to sell all their good clothes and dress them in cheap black or grey fustian. There were many pitfalls for a head preceptress! And although all of her teachers now were capable of controlling a class of even the choicer spirits in the school, there was more to being head preceptress than that. It was also about dealing with those relatives of the girls, who had more or less feeling for orphaned relations of more or less tenuous familial connection. Or about maintaining good relations with potential benefactors without antagonising them, or permitting them to be poisoned with food which included cloves of garlic not cloves, or falling foul of a prank set for someone else, or being cheeked by a child driven to bad behaviour over grief. It was about making sure that if the staff quarrelled, their differences were ironed out, about making sure the servants had nothing to complain about. And it was also about making sure that Rocinante the ass did not eat the doctor’s notes or the clergyman’s hat.
There was never a dull moment as head preceptress.

It might be said that Libby was not expecting a quiet walk with a pupil to suddenly be anything but dull in a most unexpected and unpleasant manner.
A man with wild eyes, holding a pistol in one hand and a knife in the other leaped out of the bushes.

Chapter 23

“My goodness!” said Libby. “Whatever is this about?”
“Don’t you play dumb, I know fine well who you are!” said the man. Libby could now see that he was a young man, a few years older than Julia, and one might assume him to be the Brock who had been mentioned.
“I beg your pardon?” said Libby, playing for time. He had been reared, nominally, as a gentleman, as she understood it. Perhaps observing the social amenities would help.
Apparently not.
He sneered.
“Well, I won’t grant you pardon, unless you do what you’re told. You are Belvoir’s doxy, and that’s his daughter who he’s foisting on Harkness.”
“What? are you crazy?” said Julia. “I’ve come about a position as governess, and my preceptress here has come with me. Sir Henry has a fellow called Belvoir staying with him, but he’s nothing to do with us.”
Libby had to admit it was quick witted.
“Why don’t you just walk away, and let us go, my man?” she said.
“No! And don’t you ‘my man’ me, my birth is every bit as good as yours!” shouted Brock. “I don’t know if I believe her, anyway, she’s too young for a governess.”
“That was why I was overlooking the offered position for her, as she is very young, and inexperienced,” said Libby. “If you are indeed a gentleman as you claim, you will not want to detain a couple of ladies. We have no money to give you, and there is nobody who will pay to get us back, so if ransom is in your mind, pray disabuse yourself of the idea, and let us go on our way.”
Brock waved the pistol. Libby wondered if she might be able to stab him with her parasol before he fired it, but it was a big risk to take unless he looked as though he was going to decide to kill them anyway. It was cocked and ready; it could go off at a moment’s notice.
“Well, whatever! Two fine gentlemen won’t let a lady be hurt; it’d make them squeamish if they heard you screaming and praying for death right on their doorstep,” he said. “And that’s what is going to happen if they don’t give themselves up to save you. You!” he waved his pistol at Julia, “you tie her up; use her scarf and get her hands tied behind her back. Now you, bitch, turn around and let her to it.”
Libby turned around. She had very little choice, his knife was close to her, and his pistol wild. She gripped her parasol hard, clenched the other fist, and put her hands crossed one above the other for Julia to tie up.
The visit to Astley’s Amphitheatre, watching a bound man escape from his bonds, had been amazing, entertaining and instructive, and Libby had noted how he had held his hands to be tied, and had then wriggled to get the flats of his wrists together to give more leeway to get out.
Julia dutifully tied the knots, and Libby winced artistically.
“Does it hurt, Miss Freemantle? Should I loosen it?” asked Julia.
“Don’t loosen it, I don’t care if it hurts!” shouted Brock. “Now, come over the stile and get in the cart, and if you don’t try any funny business I won’t shoot either of you.”
They had little choice but to obey him. The cart was small and filthy and was pulled by a single ass, which jogged along the track sullenly.
The roads they took were back roads and farm tracks, with some bumpy and painful rides across fields.
“Someone will see you, you know,” said Libby.
“That they will not; there’s a pugilist over at All Saints,” said Brock. “All the men are off to watch him fight the local champion, and the women who haven’t gone are all gossiping about their menfolk.”
It would explain why he felt he could carry them off in broad daylight.
They came duly to an old medieval hall house which had seen better days.
“Inside,” Brock poked Libby with the pistol, causing her no little trepidation, since such things could fire with the lightest of jars if the trigger were too sensitive. He sneered. “Aye, you know about pistols, you know it’s already cocked. It ain’t a hair trigger, but it don’t take much pull on it to fire, so carry on worrying, missus.”
“Miss,” said Libby. “I am unwed.”
“Must be someat wrong with you, pretty piece like you,” he leered. “I won’t mind doing you at all to show Mister Belvoir what happens to his doxy.”
“I am not his doxy, and you said you would let us go if he gave himself up,” said Libby.
“Well, I will let you go, and I won’t even cut any toes or fingers off if you please me enough,” said Brock. “Frigid you might be, but you’d better learn to act like you ain’t.”
Libby noted that the inside of the central hall was still in its medieval state, two stories high, and that there was a rough looking man leaning against the wall. Stairs went up to a gallery on the right hand side, which ran all about the upper floor, with doors off it. The main room was furnished like a parlour more than a vestibule, with chairs and a day bed clustered about a big chimney breast on the wall opposite the stairs. Brock turned a heavy key in the big lock of the front door, smiled nastily, and put it in his pocket.
“Wyatt, watch the older one,” said Brock. The man detached himself from the shadows, and showed Libby a knife.
“Don’t try anything,” he said.
Brock had turned his attention to Julia, undressing her with his eyes.
Julia was whimpering.
“She is too young for you to hurt her,” said Libby.
“Reckon she’s old enough to bleed,” said Brock. “Old enough to bleed, old enough to breed, they say. How’d you like to be my doxy, and get me a son, to carry on my revenge?”
“Oh please!” begged Julia.
“You hear, she wants me, bad enough to beg for my caresses,” said Brock, laughing at his own sick jest. He ran a hand down Julia’s face.
She kicked him; and his face changed, and he backhanded her so that she fell.
“You’re going to write, bitch, and then I’m going to tie you up as well, and if you don’t write what I tell you, I’m going to make sure your precious father and lover hear you scream as I burn you alive,” he said. “There’s an art to it, to make sure the smoke is channelled away so the room heats up more and more and anyone inside cooks slowly. I don’t know how Belvoir got away but that precious brother of his doubtless died screaming worse than the time we kicked his game leg when we were at school. If you do what I tell you, you won’t suffer much.”
“I don’t have a father, I’m an orphan, learning to be a governess,” said Julia. “If you make me write that, they’ll think I’ve run mad and won’t do what you say. I was hoping to be his mistress so I wouldn’t have to be a governess, please don’t hurt me.”
“Oh, you’re looking to Belvoir as a lover? Well, well, miss sly boots, you write to him, that Tom Brock wants justice, and if he don’t get it you and your companion are going to die slowly. Tell him and Harkness they had better come to the tithe barn at midnight, alone, or they’ll find out how long you can scream.”
Julia sat at the table he indicated, where there was paper, pen and ink. She dipped the ink, and Libby noticed that she was shaking enough for drops to fall.

Julia thought quickly, and wrote,

Lucius, darling!
It is your own Julia who is writing. A man called Tom Brock has captured me, and my dragon of a companion. He says that if you and Sir Henry do not go to the tithe barn at midnight he will kill us both horribly. I do not want to die horribly, there will doubtless be a homo sequendum and it will lead to much embarrassment.
Your own Julia.

Brock scowled.
“I forgot all my Latin, what does that mean?” he demanded.
“It means an inquest, which follows the death of any of mankind,” said Julia, glibly. “Lucius is a scholar, and he likes me to remember my Latin.”
Brock grunted.
“I suppose it does prove who it’s from,” he said. “Wyatt, take the letter.”
Wyatt took the letter and glided off, soundlessly, like a poacher, which he might well have been. Brock caught Julia by the arm, and tied her up with her own scarf.
“What are we to do about the call of nature?” asked Libby.
“Piss yourselves,” said Brock, coarsely.
He went into the next room and the sound of liquid pouring might be heard. Libby went over to Julia, using her shoulders as best she might to help the girl get herself up. They retreated under the stairs, where they might almost be private.
“I am sorry, Miss Freemantle, but I thought Mr. Belvoir would respond if he knew we had our wits about us,” said. Julia. “And if this fellow knew what you meant to him, he would hurt you more than if he thought I was angling for a soft life.”
“That makes sense,” said Libby. “I hope he will not hurt you the more for thinking you mean anything to Lucius.”
“I will lay with him first and see if I might kill him, the ways I fantasised about killing Brace,” said Julia. “I am already used to it.”
“You should not be,” said Libby. “If need be, I will suggest lying with him. What was that about Latin?”
“It’s a long shot, if they see the messenger, I put that there would be a homo sequendum.”
“A man who must be followed? You clever girl.”
“Yes, I hoped that Mr. Belvoir might be clever enough to manage that, and would rescue us before we could be shot. It is scary being tied up.”
“I believe I can slip my bonds, but I am nervous of doing so while he is waving that pistol,” said Libby. “I am hoping that he will think that two women on their own are no trouble, and will leave us to eat or something.”
Brock came back into the room, wiping the froth of beer from his mouth with the back of his hand. Libby shuddered; how he could claim good birth was inconceivable.
He belched.
“Right, ladies, don’t you go anywhere, will you?” he said, laughing, and threw himself onto a day bed. “I need my rest; it’ll be a busy night.”
Libby worked at twisting her wrists after the fashion of the man at Astley’s; it was a lot harder than it looked. The fine silk of her scarf was digging cruelly into her wrists as she worked them. She tried not to show the pain, but Julia leaned against her and kissed her cheek.
“I could try to help if we wriggled back to back,” she said, softly, with a cautious look over at the supine figure of Brock.
“I’m not sure if you can,” murmured Libby, candidly. “I can do it, but it will take me a lot longer than it took Signor Girondelli at Astley’s. If we had a knife to hand, we might have tried cutting the silk, but we cannot know if he is even asleep, and if so, how deeply. I would not want to risk taking his knife.”
“No, indeed,” said Julia. She got up, and moved towards the door which might be supposed to be the kitchen.
“Where are you off to, bitch?” Brock sat up.
“I want to relieve myself and I’m not doing so in front of a man,” said Julia.
“You ain’t been nobody’s mistress then, wench,” said Brock. “You’ll do it in here. I ain’t watching; nothing to watch as you can’t pull your skirts up.”
Julia went to the corner of the room and squatted, making sure to sob as if in frustration and embarrassment. It gave Libby the chance to make more noise and wriggle harder, while Brock watched Julia.
Really, thought Libby, the only person she would rather have had with her in such a desperate strait was Daisy. What a very resilient and resourceful girl Julia turned out to be.
Julia returned to their corner.
“My shoes will never be the same again,” she muttered in disgust. “But I knew he’d check, and at least I’m not uncomfortable any longer.”
“You are a brave girl,” said Libby, “And I am free. When he is asleep again, I will see if I might untie you, and we shall wait for an opportune moment to escape.”
“I got a good look in the kitchen. It has a door to what I think is a lean-to to the outside,” said Julia. “There’s a fowling piece over the mantel, but no telling if it’s loaded or no. It shouldn’t be, but then, this fellow doesn’t seem to be fully loaded either.”
“Very true, my dear,” said Julia. “He has tied you cruelly tightly.” There were angry red ligature marks on Julia’s wrists as Libby undid the scarf.
“Lud, I mustn’t scream as the feeling comes back,” said Julia, tears gathering in her eyes and running down her face. She took one of Libby’s hands and examined her preceptress’s wrist, which was bleeding. “Well, I think you take the prize for bravery, ma’am,” she said.
They sat as the shadows lengthened. It would not be fully dark until the sun had been set an hour, and it set at around eight at this time of year. However, the hall faced south, and the kitchen was at the west end, meaning that the tall windows were in shadow, and no other windows opened onto the hall bar those at the front. The shadows were deep, under the stairs where Libby and Julia had taken refuge.
The kitchen door banged, and Brock woke, with a start.
“Where are you, bitches?” he demanded, sitting up.
Wyatt came in.
“I’ll kindle a light,” he said. Brock ignored him, charging into the shadows under the stairs.
He went down as Libby grabbed his ankle. He dropped the pistol, and hitting the hard floor, it went off. Libby felt the rush of air as the ball passed her cheek, and gave hurried thanks for a lucky escape. She hit Brock over the head with the ball of her parasol, which was, like the ferrule, metal, and if not very heavy was at least heavy enough to lightly stun a man if hit on the temple.
Wyatt had succeeded in kindling a light and lighting a lantern, and stood, menacingly, with his knife drawn.
“One each side,” said Libby.
Julia nodded.
“I’m left,” she said.
They rushed out and veered left and right, each side of Wyatt. It confused him for a minute, and that was enough. Libby picked up a bottle which he had placed on the table, and threw it at the man as she passed.
It missed him, but it hit the lamp, knocking it off the table, to the sound of breaking glass, and Libby and Julia dashed into the kitchen, pushing the door closed, and somehow dragging the big table to block it.
And then they ran out of the back door, and Libby was grabbed and a hand put over her mouth.
Libby had taken too much. Her abused wrists being seized was one thing too many.
She fainted.

Chapter 24

Lucius was wondering where Libby and Julia had got to. They had gone out for a walk, but it was almost dinner time. He frowned. It was unlikely that anyone as sensible as Libby was likely to turn her ankle and sit down waiting to be rescued, but he had no idea of how much fortitude Julia had in like situation. Libby would doubtless do any physicking that was necessary, but a little assistance might not go awry.
Lucius strode out, deciding not to change for dinner until he got back. He was about to turn into the gardens when he saw a shifty looking fellow who was holding a scrap of paper.
“If that’s for Sir Henry, I’ll take it,” said Lucius, fishing for a coin.
“It’s for a Mr. Bell-vwar,” said the man.
“That’ll be me, then,” said Lucius, not bothering to correct the pronunciation. Most country folk whose people hailed from Belvoir in Rutland spelled themselves ‘Beaver’ these days, adding to the plethora of wildlife in Suffolk names, along with Brock, Buck, Capon, Squirrell, Sturgeon, Howlett, Sheldrake, Wren, Sparrow, Partridge, Pigeon and Peacock. The man sidled off in a hurry, which made Lucius break open the note fast. He blinked at such terms being written by Julia, and then saw the Latin.
Lucius had happily poached over the lands of absentee landlords in the days before he managed to make his fortune in bulbs, with the same incentives of hunger most poachers had. He duly followed the man with much caution.
The fellow glanced behind several times, but Lucius took to the ditches, and Wyatt could not believe that any gentry-cove was likely to be able to move with the same caution as a poacher.
Lucius’ eyes hardened as the fellow fell in with others at the edge of what appeared to be a prize fight; maybe this fellow was irrelevant, and not as much a man who must be followed as Julia seemed to think. Still, thought Lucius, if I keep him in sight, I might be able to question him later.
It was harder keeping track of his quarry in crowds, but Lucius was tall, and could see over the heads of others as the man he followed ducked under the raised platform where the fight was taking place. Lucius poked a guinea into the hand of a yeoman farmer in the crowd, hastily divesting the man of his low hat and muffler, and placing his own beaver on the farmer’s bald dome.
“Thank you, neighbour,” said Lucius, to the startled man, and sidled away.
Wyatt peered out from under the platform. The tall beaver was still where it had been, and if that was the gent who had the note, well, he was flummoxed now. Wyatt slithered out like an eel out of a trap in the dykes and set off at a trot.
A man in a farmer’s low, broad brimmed, round hat followed him.
Wyatt stopped off at the inn, and Lucius took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves to follow him in. His waistcoat was plain enough to occasion no interest. Wyatt sank a heavy wet, and purchased two bottles of brandy, then he went on his way again. Lucius watched him up the street through the inn’s grimy windows before following. He resumed his coat; its dark colour would help him blend into the shadows. If there had been a convenient carter, he might have offered the fellow good money for his blue smock, but Lucius was out of luck in that respect.
Wyatt, however, was now careless. He was sure he had not been followed, and that he had certainly been likely to lose any follower at the fight. He had sat in the inn long enough to see he was not followed in by anyone but a brawny hayseed, not realising that the brawny hayseed was Lucius. Nobody had been loitering outside, and Wyatt considered that he was free and clear.
Lucius thought grimly that he must take a lesson from such overconfidence.
Finally, Wyatt went into the back of a medieval hall house, of the kind which had a kitchen with servants’ rooms over it at one end, and a solar room and chambers above at the other. There were no windows in at the back, and Lucius scouted quickly around. The front windows were high and narrow, glass put into the original window frames, which might have had oiled paper or horn in them, or be left open to fire arrows out of, and only covered from draughts with heavy shutters. Lucius saw sparks through the window, as though someone was kindling a light. He heard a shot ring out, and pelted round to the back where he knew the door was unlocked.
After some banging, a figure stumbled out of the house, and Lucius grabbed it reflexively, putting a hand over its mouth to stifle any warning cries.
The figure sagged, and Lucius realised he was holding a fainting female, and not just any female, but his beloved!
“Libby!” he whispered, as Julia followed, hot on her preceptress’s heels.
Lucius swung Libby unceremoniously over his shoulder.
“Come on,” he said to Julia.
“Did you knock her out?” asked Julia, as they retired behind a cobble-built wall.
“No, she swooned. Didn’t think it was an accomplishment she had,” said Lucius.
“If you grabbed her by the wrists it was probably pain,” said Julia.
Lucius glanced down at Libby’s wrists, and bit off a curse.
“I am going to kill him,” he said.
“Good,” said Julia.
Libby came to, her wrists a mass of agony, but thinking she heard Lucius.
“My darling!” said Lucius. “You are safe now, but I am going to kill someone.”
“I shouldn’t think you had need,” said Julia, laconically.
Yells and screams came from the hall. A lick of flame might be seen on the thatch.
“Goodness, did we do that?” said Libby. “I knocked the lantern over with a bottle.”
“The bottle that fellow brought in? That was brandy,” said Lucius. “I followed him as instructed by Julia, and after a merry dance we fetched up here. I was reconnoitring the place when all hell broke loose inside. I knew the back door was unlocked so I came around, and here we all are. I should think if they come out, I’ll be able to take them easily, unless they come out the front instead, so if you will excuse me ...”
“They won’t come out the back,” said Julia. “We jammed the kitchen table over the door. Brock locked the front door, but he’s going to have to get past a burning table to put the key in it to get out. He gloated about burning people alive, so I don’t feel inclined to go and offer help.”
“I ... no, I don’t feel any need for any of us to risk our lives for them either,” said Libby.
“I take it you were serious when you said they threatened horrible deaths?” said Lucius.
“And rape,” said Libby. “He threatened to burn us alive where you could hear it.”
“Well, then, nobody lives in the old Brock house, since the father is shot and the son volunteered for the Navy, so nobody is under any obligation to try to help,” said Lucius. “Excuse me, I just want to make sure they don’t brave the flames to successfully open the front door.” He ran round to the front of the house, and unhitched the patient donkey, running the light cart up against the door, and using an axe wedged into a stump to smash the wheels. He led the donkey round to the back of the house.
“Ladies, I imagine that though this good ass may not be Sleipnir, he will manage to carry you both back to Brexhay House, if you will care to ride him,” he said.
“There was a cart,” said Libby.
“The past tense is correct, I fear,” said Lucius. “I just used it to block the front door, and I really want to get you away fast.”
“Why? They cannot pursue us,” said Julia.
“He doesn’t want our sensibilities offended with the screams,” said Libby, gently. “And I cannot say that I wish to listen to them either, panicked shouts are bad enough. Can they get out of the windows in the solar, Lucius?”
“I doubt it; they are narrow too, it was a defensible farm house back in the days of wandering bands of brigands,” said Lucius. “If there is a cellar, it will likely open from the kitchen. They might knock out the window frames of the solar if they have a heavy piece of furniture, but they have to think clearly and act together.”
He lifted the women up onto the back of the ass, which, offered a handful of succulent leaves, followed happily enough.
“Oh well, if the owner is not found, the Bells may ride it,” said Julia. “I swear it’s more uncomfortable than Rocinante.”
“Skinnier, poor beast,” said Libby. “Rocinante is, as donkeys go, decidedly plump.”
Libby preferred not to think about the ride back to Brexhays House. All the house was lit up, and Sir Henry came running out.
“What have you been up to? I’ve been looking all over for you!” he cried. “It isn’t funny, Belvoir, not funny at all!”
“No, it damn well is not funny,” said Lucius, grimly. “Have your housekeeper arrange hot water for baths, hot bricks in their beds for shock, hot chocolate, and a panada each or some such. They were taken by Brock, and that they are alive and mostly unharmed is thanks largely to their resilience and cleverness. And I am sure they will tell us the whole story tomorrow, but tonight, they are going to bed, to rest.”
“I’m not even going to protest,” said Libby, half swooning again.
Lucius carried her up to her room, and came down again for Julia.
He then grabbed hot mutton, a bread roll, and a pie, and left Sir Henry abruptly to return to the Brock house.

Libby sank into hot water, and permitted Mrs. Denny, the housekeeper, tutting to herself, to treat her mangled wrists. She was glad Lucius had not tried to kiss her back at the Brock house; whatever may happen in gothic novels, it would have been most inappropriate in real life. She allowed herself to be dried, dressed in a nightrail, and installed tenderly into bed.
“I’ve made you up a draught of poppy seed in hot milk, Miss Freemantle, and there’s a nice panada here to line your stomach, and I’ll be up in the morning with a tray for your breakfast,” said Mrs. Denny.
“What about Julia?” asked Libby. “She was so brave, she deserves coddling.”
“She was, was she? She seems a nice little ow’ mauther, and a governess wass not a wilting weed is needed afore those little girls turn into young limbs. Don’t you fret, Alexander is seeing to her, seem she’s taken a liking to her.”
“Good, I’m glad she’s taken care of,” said Libby, viewing the panada with dislike, but making herself dig into it. “What an excellent panada; would you let me have the recipe? We often have sick girls come to us, and invalid food needs to be tempting,” she said, finding it out of the ordinary.
“Ar, I’ll be glad to do that, mor. Been in my fambly time out o’ mind, it has,” said Mrs. Denny. “The secret is in the spicing of it. Moi sister, Miss Beccles, wass a governess, swears by it.”
“And I wager that’s as much help as the broth,” said Libby. Sops in broth was easy to digest, but was difficult to make appetising.
Libby was glad to drink the hot, poppy-laden milk, sleep and freedom from pain would be welcome. Lucius would be on guard in case Brock got away and decided to burn them out, and really, Libby did not think she could fight any more.
She slipped into a comfortingly warm darkness, and slept until the rattle of the curtains told her that it was morning.

Lucius walked around the Brock house. There were no screams, so one might assume that either Brock and his accomplice were dead, or they had escaped. There appeared to be no holes in the fiercely burning timber and wattle walls, and the roof was long gone. Lucius picked a vantage point at a safe distance, and kept a lonely vigil through the night as chunks of burning wall, red dragons of heat crawling through black charred mud and stick, limed over many times fell from time to time. He reflected that in Brock’s shoes, he would himself have tried climbing the chimney, which would give him good air before it started drawing smoke into itself, and would have then slid down the thatch before the fire fairly took a hold. But then, he was a man who did not think along conventional lines. No conventional gentleman would save his family fortune by literally grubbing in the dirt to make a living, not from the crops all landowners depended on, but from the luxury market of flowers. Fortunes might not turn on one bulb of a new hybrid, as they had in the seventeenth century’s tulipmania, but new hybrids still commanded high prices. ‘Belvoir Princess Amelia’, a pale yellow tulip, had done especially well after that unfortunate princess’s death, though he had developed it to celebrate her initial recovery from illness. Ironic.
Lucius watched until every part of the house was burnt. It would be too hot to go into the wreckage, but he approached the still glowing embers as closely as he might.
The great front door had burned entirely away, but had covered what Lucius looked for.
Two skulls, the domes just visible above the ashes. He took the felling axe and stirred the ashes slightly to make sure.
They were skulls.
Lucius heaved a sigh of relief.
Unless there had been any other person in the house, which seemed unlikely, Brock and his man had been trying to shift the front door when they were consumed, or something fell on them. Lucius did not really care what.
They were no more threat to him and to his family, or to Sir Henry and his little peal of bells. And Lucius did like Sir Henry, even if the last week had reminded him why he preferred a distant acquaintance with the man, not a close friendship.
Lucius walked back to Brexhay House, ate breakfast with the servants in their kitchen, bathed in a tub before the kitchen fire, and put on a nightshirt and banyan fetched down for him by a footman and took himself to bed for a few hours.

Chapter 25

Lucius wandered into the breakfast room to find Sir Henry still making a hearty breakfast.
“What happened to you, last night?” asked Sir Henry, wiping his mouth delicately with a napkin.
“I wanted to make sure Brock and his confederate had not escaped to do us more harm,” said Lucius, helping himself to ham, pickle, buttered egg and toast. “The ladies escaped on their own, bless them, and managed to barricade the door to inhibit pursuit. However, in the flurry of escaping, a lit lantern and a broken bottle of brandy had a form of unholy matrimony and the consummation was, er, consuming.”
“I beg pardon?” asked Sir Henry.
“The brandy went on fire and the house burned down,” said Lucius.
“You are waxing poetical this morning, Mr. Belvoir,” said Libby, coming in, arm in arm with Julia.
“Did it burn right down?” asked Julia.
“It burned right down and there were two skulls in the ashes,” said Lucius.
“I say! Don’t want to upset the ladies...” began Sir Henry.
“Good,” said Julia.
“Thank G-d, we do not need to fear them any more,” said Libby. “Why, Sir Henry, what sort of wilting violets do you take us for? A woman of adequate education is not about to have her sensibilities overset to know that two villains have met an unpleasant end. I have to say that their end is poetic justice, though I assure you I had no intention of setting the house on fire when I threw that bottle. I missed my target, the other villain,Wyatt, as the bottle turned in the air and caught the lantern instead. It was an ill-considered throw as I was more concerned with running away.”
“Call it fortuitous and leave it at that,” said Lucius, holding a chair for her, and contriving to brush his fingers over her neck as she sat. “If you both feel able, Sir Henry and I are agog to know what happened.”
“Yes, ma’am, and how it comes that your wrists are bandaged, and Miss Spencer’s look sore; did the villain actually tie ladies up? Dammit, the Brocks are of old, respected stock!”
“He was no gentleman in his usage of us, Sir Henry,” said Libby. “My wrists were damaged because he made Julia tie me, and we used a trick I have seen at Astley’s, and I cut them in escaping my bonds. His handiwork hurt Julia’s wrists, however. And without her magnificent bluff, we should not have escaped.”
“Oh, Miss Freemantle, it was your clear head and ability to get out of the bindings which enabled it, and I took inspiration from you. I thought I was going to break down in sobs, but I saw you standing there looking scornful, and I knew I had to live up to you,” said Julia.
“You did more than that,” said Libby. “Well, gentlemen, we will have a cup of tea, if you please, before beginning our narrative.”
“Of course, of course!” Sir Henry hastily rang for tea, and Libby refused to say a word until she had drunk one cup and had a second before her, and motioned Julia likewise to silence.
Having satisfied herself, Libby embarked on a narrative of the events, glossing over the matter Julia wished to discuss, and suggesting that Julia had merely crept over to see if she could see into the kitchen, without mentioning such indelicate matters as relieving bodily discomforts. She implied that Julia had kept Brock talking to allow her to slip the scarf about her wrists.
“And then we decided to split, one each side of Wyatt, and I grabbed the bottle opportunistically,” she said. “We ran out, and between us managed to bar the door so that they could not readily follow, and went out the back, and there was Lucius.”
“Lucius, is it?” asked Sir Henry, with a raised eyebrow.
“Don’t even start,” said Lucius. “I realised in that instant what I had almost lost, and if you tease, you will lose a bell-ringer, for I will, as Trustee, forbid Julia from taking a position with so unsatisfactory a fellow.”
“They are belles, beauties, not bells that you ring,” said Sir Henry.
“Oh, but they chime so delightfully as bells,” said Julia. “I love hearing the changes being rung in a church with a good peal. Pray do not twit Mr. Belvoir, Sir Henry, for I should like to be the bell-ringer here.”
“Oh, very well,” said Sir Henry. “Matrimony will become you, Belvoir. Oh, but you have no house to take your bride to!” he cried in sudden dismay.
“We’ll be living at the school; more convenient with both of us teaching,” said Lucius.
“But surely you are sufficiently recouped of your fortune that your wife need not continue to work?” Sir Henry was distressed.
“Oh, I’m warm enough for us both to live in idle luxury; but I’ve come to see why Libby enjoys teaching so much,” said Lucius. “You must allow us our avocations, old man.”
“Oh, if you teach as an avocation, for charitable reasons, it cannot be looked at askance,” said Sir Henry.
Libby caught Lucius’ eye and had to look away before she giggled.
Julia busied herself with a coddled egg, refusing to catch any eyes. They had breakfasted well from the trays organised by Mrs. Denny, but Julia could manage another coddled egg. She was still growing.

They stayed another two days, for the ladies to recover fully, and the little girls made such a pet of the ass, that Sir Henry feared that it would be impossible to get rid of the beast.
It turned out that the ass had belonged to Wyatt, who eked out his living as a poacher with a little carting, so nobody was wanting the poor creature back. After hearing the row the beast made in his stall at breakfast time, Lucius decreed that the ass should be named Boanerges as he was certainly a son of thunder.
“And I expect the wretched creature will be known as Bo, and they will forget why he was named,” he said.
“No, they will not, for I will remind them,” said Julia. “He is a most excellent ass, and is overlooked by two good disciples.”

“Brexhay House
6th August

My dear, dear Elinor,
We shall be leaving on the morrow, and I hope we shall not race this letter, which I send to apprise you of our arrival.
We shall have much to tell you which I did not feel able to commit to writing, as much of it is too fantastical and horrifying. We lived, briefly, in a gothic romance, and I have to say it has cured both Julia and me of wanting to read such rubbish, for the adventures of the heroines are altogether too uncomfortable.
I will let you know ahead of time that Lucius Belvoir and I are betrothed, but we will not be deserting the school, if a married head preceptress does not shock your sensibilities as much as the idea shocked our poor, conventional, host.
Lucius is writing under separate cover to Marcus.
Your very loving friend,

Brexhay House
6th August

Dear Marc,
You are going to be laughing at me again. We should be home shortly after you receive this, and you are going to have a sister.
Yes, I am marrying my managing head preceptress, and I am not letting her out of my sight again.
Brock and Pole both escaped from the ship where they had been taken, and Pole made an attempt on me, shortly after I arrived, which was not serious enough to tell you about. As far as I am aware, he has been hanged by the Navy for being ‘run’. Brock kidnapped Libby and Miss Spencer, but they escaped by their own efforts, accidentally setting the house on fire. I watched it burn to be sure that Brock and that fellow, Wyatt, who was his associate, were truly dead. There will be no more trouble from either family, as they are now extinct. I’m going to pick up an ordinary licence on the way home, we have been absent, but the Reverend White is not about to make a fuss, as it is our home. I am marrying my bride out of hand the morning after we get home.
Your loving brother,

The returning party were greeted rapturously by the girls, Marc, and Rocinante, who had learned how to open the pasture gate, and came to see what the fuss was about. On due consideration, Libby gave a much expurgated version of their adventures to the school, since Julia was bound to tell her friends, and some of it would leak out. Julia might fill in details for the older ones if she so desired, or not if she did not wish to relive it in the telling yet again. Getting it off her chest in telling Lucius and Sir Henry had been cathartic, but if Julia did not wish to talk about it, Libby sternly warned the school, her wishes were to be respected,
It has to be said that Julia and Penelope crept into bed with the twins, and Kitty into bed with Cleo so that Julia could tell the tale in more detail, and there Mrs. Ashley found them in the morning, bundled together like so many kittens, having pushed all the beds together, and Julia in the middle, sleeping peacefully for the first time since it had happened, the tear tracks on her face dried overnight.

The Reverend Timothy White was more than happy to perform a wedding ceremony for the head preceptress and one of the trustees of the school, at which he, too, was a trustee. The girls threw rose petals with gay abandon, and no thought of Mr. Finch’s outraged feelings, or Lucius’ chagrin. Afterwards, Mrs. Baxter had managed to lay on a feast as a wedding breakfast.
Lucius firmly extracted Libby, and led her away to the new married quarters suite which Elinor had overseen setting up in a hurry, with all Libby’s bits of furniture and those Lucius had sent on by carrier set up in the rooms.
Lucius sighed in satisfaction, and drew Libby into his arms.
There was a crash outside the door, and Libby stiffened.
“No,” said Lucius. “Someone else can deal with it.”
“But ...”
“But nothing. As your husband, I forbid it; there are no hysterical sobs of pain, so it is not your business, woman, until I have had my wicked way with you.”
“I am never sure whether you are overbearing or masterful.”
“You will call it masterful when your own desires march the same way, and overbearing when you wish to do something different,” said Lucius.
“Ah, then it is masterful,” said Libby.
“So I should hope,” said Lucius, kissing his wife firmly.
This extremely pleasant activity led to exploring, and the removal of clothes, and a removal to the bed. Libby, literary scholar though she was, and rarely at a loss for an appropriate turn of phrase, found herself unwontedly at a loss for words, if not rendered silent.
Later, as they watched the sun go down, throwing the trees into silhouette, and reflecting its gaudy colours in the river, Libby said,
“Do you know, Lucius, I don’t believe I ever said ‘I love you’, did I?”
“No, but I knew that. I’m a loveable sort of fellow when you know me. And I love you, too, my darling.”
Libby gave a sigh of contentment.
“I am not one of these missish women who needs to hear those three little words frequently, but it is nice to hear them. Especially for the first time.”
“I love you,” said Lucius again.
“And I love you,” said Libby.

Don’t forget to visit my blog for further stories as this is the last one I shall be posting here, as per my earlier notice to that effect. https://mywipwriting.blogspot.co.uk/ and please comment! You can sign up to receive updates as I post them.

libby twenty to to end

Sarah WaldockJune 04, 2018 10:02AM

Re: libby twenty to to end

LilyJune 06, 2018 12:03PM

Re: thanks to all....

Sarah WaldockJune 05, 2018 10:40AM

Re: thanks to all....

KarenteaJune 05, 2018 05:42PM

Re: libby twenty to to end

AlidaJune 05, 2018 03:47AM

Re: libby twenty to to end

KarenteaJune 04, 2018 11:19PM


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