Archie and Edrington
by
Karen L.

Part Three

Ch. 27--The Mathematics of Dancing

Vaughn’s voluble buildup was for once, understated. It seemed that almost everyone knew what was about to take place but Lady Madeline and me. The various couples cleared the center of the floor and Edrington entered with his sister in his arms. She held a glass of champagne. Edrington’s gait was smooth and easy; he carried her as if she was no more than a child. The band struck up a graceful air and he began to dance, or should I say, they began to dance. Lady Katherine moved her free arm in time to the music, holding her champagne glass and remarkably, not spilling a drop. Edrington’s feet moved in a pattern that looked like a familiar step, but was different in some odd way. I wondered if these steps were similar to the scandalous waltz that I had heard talk about that was becoming the dernier mode in France. It was a beautiful performance to watch. Edrington was not a particularly strongly-built man, but he must have had great strength in his legs and back in order to dance so perfectly in balance while holding a woman who must have been nearly my height if she could stand. Lady Katherine looked so happy, and the expression on the face of her brother was sad and tender all at once. He really loved her very much, that couldn’t have been more obvious.

"How does he do it?" I whispered to Vaughn. "I don’t see how the wine stays in the glass."

"Actually, I can tell you how. I have been reading a lot of scientific studies by this tremendously brilliant fellow, Isaac Newton. The principles are mathematical. I could show you the calculations if you are interested. The key is to keep the stem of the wineglass always at the center of the rotation. And then if the speed of the rotation is not too fast, the outward forces…."

"Forces?"

"The momentum of the liquid that causes things to slosh, good heavens, Archie, you’ve seen enough water in your time….think it through.anyhow, if the speed of the clockwise turn of the glass is not too great, and then a counterclockwise spin is attempted at the same rate and acceleration, with a period equal to the first clockwise spin and so forth, well, the upshot is that the wine stays in the glass."

"So you could also do this trick?"

"Not if my life depended on it, old boy!"

"And the Earl, has he read Newton’s work?"

"I’d wager a considerable sum that he never did."

The musicians came to the end of the piece and the couple slowed gracefully. Lady Katherine raised her glass to the applause of the entire room and took a sip; Edrington kissed her on the forehead and swept her back into the drawing room. A small crowd followed them, presumably to pay court to Lady K. I saw Lady Madeline, still standing at my side with her hand wrapped around my elbow. I hadn’t realized until then how tightly she had been gripping my arm. Her eyes were luminous, almost damp.

"Wasn’t that amazing?" I asked her gently.

"Yes." she answered huskily, and Edrington appeared before her to claim her for the promised dance. I could find no words. Cecil Vaughn, naturally, had no such difficulties, nudging me hard in the ribs as the couple joined the other dancers streaming back into the center of the ballroom.

"Really excellent girl, Lady M., I am frightfully fond of her already. So rare to see a woman these days who has real education and such a delightful contralto sort of voice she has, so pleasantly lacking in any sort of shrillness, I am sure I could listen to her for hours…"

"If she could get a word in edgewise, of course."

"Right! I must remember to allow that. From time to time." He snorted good-naturedly. "Now for a contrast," he tilted his head towards a group of young ladies, his spectacles slipping slightly down his nose, "there’s Lady Honoria. Beautiful. Ah yes, so beautiful. They say that the Earl might be more inclined to offer for her this time. He is getting to that age, you know, he is surely facing a LOT of pressure from the Dowager Countess to get busy siring heirs."

"What do you think of her?"

"Well, just between us old school friends," he lowered his voice. "I don’t think he’ll have her this time, either. I don’t know the Earl WELL, of course, nobody does…he is been in the Army for going on ten years now and so we don’t see him except around Christmas, but I would say he is the sort of man who would want a woman with either a bit more character, or quite a bit less than Lady Honoria. She is the most stultifyingly dull creature. But demanding, very."

"Many men would be besotted with a woman so lovely." I said pensively.

"Most men would. But the Earl has turned up his noble nose at far too many beauties for one to logically assume.." he shoved his spectacles back up his nose and composed his features into a scholarly expression, "that beauty alone is of sufficient interest to him. And of course, you’ve only to look around to see that he does not need to marry for money. Although there’s never such thing as having too much." He winked owlishly.

"Well then Cecil, as you are still the most brilliant scholar I know and not that I know any, what’s your logical conclusion on my friend Edrington’s matrimonial disposition?" I spoke pedantically, trying to match his studious expression. He chuckled appreciatively.

"Love. The logical conclusion is that he will marry only for love. The mathematics of romance, Archie. Eliminate what has not so far worked to coax him to the altar, and what you are left with is the answer."

"And you?"

"I think if I could find a tolerably pretty girl who could put up with me in good humor and had a quick mind and 20,000 pounds to her name I would find perfect happiness."

"That sounds like a match made in heaven to me, Cecil."

After Edrington’s dance with his sister, the musicians had begun to play livelier and more energetic country dances, which were my favorites--the older guests being presumed ready to take their ease and pursue conversations in the drawing rooms or watch the young people from the many well-cushioned chairs and divans arranged around the perimeter of the ballroom. Edrington and Wellesley’s bright red coats stood out among the mostly black and dark brown evening Incroyables worn by the other young men. I watched them in the line of dancers, Lady Madeline with Edrington first, and then after several, the two men exchanged partners so that she was primarily dancing with Col. Wellesley, with spirited enjoyment.

I decided to investigate Lady Honoria, and went up to her with a bow, reintroducing myself as the Earl’s friend and asking for the honor. I was accepted. She was a graceful partner, but said little to me other than to inquire how long I had known the Earl.

"I met him several months ago, my Lady, but he and I have been through so many shared adventures that it seems far longer."

"And did you travel north with him?"

"Yes indeed. With him, Lady Madeline of course, and Lady Madeline’s very large dog. It made for a cramped ride, but it did not lack for points of interest."

"And Lady Madeline’s maid, she was with you as well? How did she find the journey." I could see where this was going. Fortunately, this dance was nearly over.

"Who would not find it absorbing to watch the English countryside change around them from South to North? It has been the greatest of pleasure to dance with you, Lady Honoria. Look, here’s Edrington. I have promised the next dance to Lady Madeline." I bowed and took my leave, handing her over to the Earl like a cask of beef gone off, as my friend Horatio was so fond of saying. There was something terribly cold about her. She was beautiful like an ice sculpture, but she had none of the warmth and humor of Lady Katherine, nor was she spirited and fascinating like Lady M.

Lady Madeline and I took our places in the line and proceeded to have the most extraordinary conversation, made even more so by contrast with my previous partner. We began with hands joined together.

"Mr. Kennedy, do you think a person has only got a certain amount of love in them? And when that is used up there is no more, so love should be rationed like water on the Indefatigable?"

Turn, bow to the lady to my right, take her hand and make a circle, then return to my partner.

"Lady Madeline, what I find most pleasing in you is that one never knows what you will say next. But to answer your question, I think love is like a spring. The key is to strike through the rock, and start the flow."

Skip her down the line underneath the raised hands of the other dancers, then take our place facing at the end.

"Mr. Kennedy, what I find most pleasing in you is that you are willing to talk about anything, without expressing the slightest disapproval of the subject. I have seen warm springs in the south of France, and yes, once they are located they gush forth and can fill many vessels. But what if the water is cold, like that one gets from a well?"

Turn, bow to the lady on my left, take her hand and make a circle, then return to my partner.

"I am no farmer, Lady Madeline, but to the best of my knowledge, the trick is to dig very deep and then the well will never go dry." I was baffled by this conversation, but my answer seemed to satisfy her curiosity.

And we danced several more sets making far more commonplace comments about the excellence of the musicians and the beauty of the ladies’ gowns and the decorations on the tables. I introduced her to my parents before the evening was through, and then it was time for those of us who lived some distance from the Hall and were consequently staying overnight to find our rooms, which were located around the two floors overlooking the ballroom floor. I did not see or speak to Edrington again that evening.

FROM THE PRIVATE PAPERS OF ALEXANDER EDRINGTON, EARL OF EDRINGTON

Journal

Nov. 8, 1798

Another Harvest Ball come and gone and this one as successful as the others. About one hundred fifty guests. All seemed to enjoy themselves greatly.

Everything is very quiet; everyone has gone to sleep save myself, and a few of the servants. I passed quietly down the second story hallway a few minutes ago and heard snoring through many of the doors. Only Kennedy’s door seemed to still have some light coming from beneath the jamb. He told me a wild tale tonight about falling off of his horse, but I do not believe him. I have been an officer for far too long not to recognize the clear signs of a fist fight on a young man’s face. I do not wonder whom he fought, but I have to wonder why. My guess is, it was over some insult to either Katherine or myself. If it had been over anything else, he would have had no reason to lie. His older brother’s wife has never made any secret that she disapproves of us. God preserve Archie and me both from women of such sanctimonious piety. I paused to stare at our portrait. It seemed to rivet Kennedy the other evening….what does he see in it that I do not? It only reminds me that I have not sat for a portrait since. A lamentable oversight.

I had every intention this night of making myself agreeable to Honoria, and I did find her beauty unchanged and she greeted me with delight.

It appears that several gentlemen took an interest in Madeline this evening. One of whom I could approve, and that would be Lord Vaughn. I do not think Madeline could love him deeply, but he is a most pleasant and companionable, intelligent, affectionate sort and with her dowry I have set aside they would be quite comfortable. The other gentleman I suspect might wish to further his acquaintance with my cousin would be Wellesley. He has a reputation for being something of a libertine, but his behavior with Madeline and Katherine was proper enough. He cuts a very fine figure, is an excellent dancer, has a proud bearing but an easy manner with women, and I do not trust him. But he is the sort that inflames the romantic imagination of women.

A.E.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ch. 28--A Compleat Angler

We wandered down to breakfast at our leisure in the morning. I am not ashamed to admit I slept in rather late as my imagination had been far too inflamed by many of the events of the past evening and sleep was quite long in coming, which is unusual for me. As I meandered past the servants who were busily occupied in cleaning up the wreckage of the night’s revels, I spotted several objects lying on a table that gave me an interesting idea. I tucked them in my vest pocket, for I was no longer wearing my uniform but was attired for a picnic and an angling expedition in canvas pantaloons tucked into boots, a white shirt, and a tweed vest. I paused as I passed through the great entrance hall, enjoying the view out the tall windows that overlooked the cliff and down at the river below. It promised to be another day of fine weather, warm for November in Northumberland. I was beginning to get excited about the day.

After breakfasting and renewing my acquaintance with several of the other guests, I went and paid my addresses to my parents who were readying themselves to go. My father shook my hand and bade me have an excellent time. My mother pronounced Lady Katherine charming and Lady Madeline handsome and mentioned several other ladies as worthy of my attention, then kissed me and departed in our carriage. I hoped they would tell Edward all about it, not neglecting the particular distinction of my having stood up with Lady Madeline for several dances late in the evening.

As the house emptied of guests, I decided to look in on Finch at the stables. There I found Edrington, inspecting the horses and directing the grooms to saddle up several as he chose them. A small but sturdy-looking horse was brought out and a most alarming-looking side saddle was placed upon it…this could be none other than the special saddle that Ashok had designed to convey Lady Katherine’s person.

"Hullo, Edrington. Wonderful evening, I really enjoyed it."

"Did not know you were acquainted with Cecil Vaughn. He is quite a conversationalist, is not he?" Edrington smiled.

"That is putting it mildly. He was always in trouble in school for talking during the master’s lectures. But everyone liked him. And of course, he is really brilliant." I paused and carefully assumed a wide-eyed, neutral expression. "Is he one of the potential suitors for Madeline?"

"I suppose he is…Katherine seems to think they might suit," he answered tersely.

"She looked well last night. Cecil was taken with her, and told me he so. You must be proud of her then."

"I am. Would you like to pick out a mount for yourself?" Indeed I would.

When the fishing party assembled, I found it included Wellesley and the ladies. He had exchanged his red coat for a port wine-colored wool cutaway, but was otherwise as before with shining black boots up to his knees. He mounted his horse easily. Lady Madeline came out with her guitar slung over her shoulder. Wellesley chuckled.

"How delightful, Lady Madeline, what an enticing prospect. This puts me in mind of India, you know. They play an instrument over there called a sitar. It is terrifically portable, and as one rides about one can often hear a musician plucking the strings as he sits by a river. But Indian music….oh my word, it’s impossible to understand." She murmured something with lowered eyes as to her hopes of producing a more pleasing sound for his enjoyment though her talents were but meager.

The next to appear was Ashok, carrying Lady Katherine effortlessly to her horse with his odd lilting stride. I had wondered who carried her when Edrington himself was not available. Apparently this was one of the duties of the butler. Perhaps here was the source of the gossip about them, but I quickly understood that there was no other way. In Edrington’s absence, a male servant would have to be able to lift Lady Katherine when needed. I ruminated silently about the evils of unsubstantiated gossip, and those who spread it about. Lady Katherine steadied herself with an arm around Ashok’s neck, but slid easily into the saddle. He handed her a crop and she took the reins with assurance. Wellesley said a few inaudible words to Ashok, who smiled broadly. Of course, they probably knew each other well if Wellesley had brought him all the way from India.

Edrington gave Lady Madeline a hand as she mounted her side saddle, gathering her skirts in graceful folds and displaying just the slightest bit of ankle and calf, which I appreciated no end. Edrington tugged her skirt back into place quickly. Then we swung up into our saddles. His saddle had several fishing rods tied on the back, which had detachable segments so they could be carried broken down and then assembled at the water’s edge. It was a most clever way of doing it. Ashok mounted his horse, which he had burdened with two large hampers that presumably contained our luncheon. Lady Katherine pulled up alongside me and expressed the sentiment that this was not only going to be great fun, but that her mother and the servants had so much to do to get the house back into order that our protracted absence would not be unappreciated.

The ride down to the river was spectacular. We trotted along the steep banks of the cliffs near the house and then entered a pathway through a wooded bank. The leaves were all yellow and orange and with the sunlight filtering through, it was like passing through a golden tunnel of light. We picked our way down a steep path, which ended at a clearing where the river made a bend. The sunlight sparkled on the water as it foamed around the rocks. There was a nice grassy area and then several extremely large, flat outcroppings at the water’s edge, one of which overhung what looked to be a deep pool. My attention was diverted by the slapping sound of a salmon crashing back into the water as it leapt over a small waterfall which was created by a long-downed tree embedded in the gravel.

"Ooh, look, I saw one!" exclaimed Lady Madeline. We all dismounted and a large white blanket was produced and spread on the grass. Edrington began to put the poles together, seating a reel in each one firmly by means of metal bands attached to the butts. He handed the first one to Wellesley, who was picking through a small case. Selecting a creation of feathers, he tied it on to the delicate tip of line he had pulled from the reel and he strode down towards the rocks, eagerness apparent in his long stride. Madeline turned to Lady Katherine, who had been helped to the blanket by Ashok.

"What do we ladies do now?" she asked. "This could take hours, you know."

"What we are here to do is to butter their toast points and put clotted cream and thinly sliced ham on their biscuits, hand them to them, and pour the tea. But that is not until luncheon. In the meantime, we admire the effect." She arched an eyebrow and gazed down at Wellesley who was already standing with his back to us, swinging his rod tip in a graceful arc and pulling line out of the reel. "Do you not feel that the new "Crop" of hairstyle is flattering on a man, Lady Madeline? I find it so. It displays the neck to great advantage in the high collared style of cutaway." Edrington looked back at them, his expression one of pure nausea.

"Lady Katherine, I am appalled." I said with a grin. "So very appalled to find you have only come on this expedition to watch a gentleman’s back as he casts for fish for YOUR dinner."

"But not surprised? Or shocked, Mr. Kennedy?"

"No, ma’am."

" Well, I find your lack of surprise appalling!" Lady Katherine said. "You may butter your own toast point." Madeline laughed into her hand, then took up her guitar, sitting cross-legged beneath her skirts. Neat trick. Katherine removed a small book from her reticule and leaned back on an elbow, turning the pages to find her place, Ashok busying himself with tying up the horse’s reins to suitable tree limbs.

"Come, Kennedy. Time for a lesson," said Edrington. And removing our jackets, we went down to the water’s edge where he proceeded to attempt to teach me to cast. It was very difficult. The majority of the line was made of braided hair from the tail of a horse and was greased with fat so that it floated, but the tip was moistened gut…very flexible and fairly strong…and this sank when it landed on the water. Onto this was attached a hook with bits of feather cleverly tied near the eye. Out of the water, it looked like nothing much more but a hook with bits of feathers tied to it. Submerged, in Edrington’s or Wellesley’s experienced hands, it was stripped in and looked like a darting flashing minnow, or a water-dwelling insect, slowly rising to the surface. The air above the river danced with flying insects that had come up from the bottom encased in grayish-brown skins, and then once at the surface, those same dull-colored skins split up the back and a gossamer-winged fly emerged and took to the air. The idea was to wave the long rod tip about so that the line made a graceful loop, and then settled down lightly to the surface so as not to scare or alert the fish that anything untoward had entered their watery realm. Wellesley caught one and lost two. Edrington caught one and would have caught more if I had not managed to flail the water with my line, causing salmon to scatter from behind the rocks he was working. But he took it with good humor, and bade me alter my form and eventually, I cast well enough to hook a salmon briefly, but it broke off the hook before I had gotten it all the way to the bank. Its wild beauty as it leapt from the churning riffle made my heart pound.

We had been conscious throughout of Lady Madeline’s guitar playing softly in the distance. She began with something that sounded like scales, but then she worked in more notes and it became complex and had a rolling sort of quality. I recognized it immediately as music played in the Spanish style. It was odd to hear such a thing here by a salmon stream in the North of England, but then again, Lady Madeline herself was nothing one thought to encounter here, either. A French émigrée, nobly born, ignobly raised, and now being tutored by her English relatives solely for the purpose of snagging a fine husband…a sparsely-dressed hook for which the proper arrangement and type of feathers to add had been the subject of much discussion no doubt. But I became aware that the guitar music had ceased some time ago and turning around, I saw her standing behind us, balancing on a river rock and looking hopefully at the back of Edrington’s head.

"Alexander? I would love to try this. Can I?"

Edrington turned around, startled, but then responded, his brow furrowed quizzically, "are you sure, Madeline? It’s quite hard, you know. I wouldn’t think you’d like it."

"I want to try it." she said stoutly. "You cannot object. No one here will be scandalized…we are all friends and family." Wellesley, striding over from what appeared to be a productive stretch he would been working over for the past half-hour, smiled his oddly delicate smile and concurred.

"Certainly do teach the lady to cast for salmon, Edrington. You never know, she might prove to have talent. I approve of ladies who take an interest in sport. It shows a spirit one cannot help but admire."

"Thank you, Col. Wellesley," she favored him with a grateful smile. "Maybe on days when I have no dress fittings it would be amusing to come down here and bother the fish for awhile." Madeline said acidly. Then added, "It’s just about the most beautiful place I have seen in England."

"Very well," he sighed, and proceeded to give her the same lesson he had just given me. Madeline snapped her rod energetically and the line sliced into the water like a lash. "No, no, no! You’re trying to entice them not give them a bloody concussion!" Edrington said gruffly. "Sorry. Look, you have to get a feel for the motion. It’s graceful, you need to raise the rod and then swing it back and forth slowly and gently." He came around and stood behind her. She was balancing on the rocks in her slippers, it had to pain her feet, but she seemed to be completely focused on her efforts. Edrington took her wrist from behind. "Observe. The rod is quite stiff at the base, but the tip is very sensitive. If a fish takes your fly, you’ll feel it from the tip all the way down to the butt. OK, now remember when you are casting that you are casting with the tip of the rod, not the stiff base of it. Here’s how it should feel." And he held her left shoulder firmly in place with his left hand, and then worked her wrist with the right hand so that the line arced through the air and settled gently onto the surface of the water. "There, now can you feel that? Remember how that felt."

Was it my imagination, or did she lean back into him as she said, "Yes, oh yes, that is nice. I can remember that."? It was not my imagination that Edrington’s normally pale skin took on a pinkish glow. She was flirting with him! Well, I never!

I could give a fishing lesson, too. I left them to their combined efforts and clambered back up the bankside to Lady Katherine, who was chatting idly with Ashok as he unpacked hampers and began to spread out luncheon.

"Lady Katherine, would you care to give it a go?"

"Oh, Mr. Kennedy. I never have tried it! I would like to but you see, I couldn’t possibly cast from a sitting position...."

"Ma’am, you would not have to. This way of fishing is challenging and intricate…" I glanced back at my companions still working over the white foaming waters. "But I used to catch quite a few fat trout when I was a boy and my method required more patience than art. I am sure you could perform admirably."

"You interest me strangely, Mr. Kennedy. Indeed, I would like to try. But," she added, wrinkling her nose attractively, "I don’t have to touch it, do I?"

"Not unless you want to." I said gallantly. "Ashok, would you do us both the great favor of conveying Lady Katherine’s person to that nice large flat rock overhanging the deep pool to our right?" Which he did, with what must have passed for enthusiasm in the Punjab. I swept my boot through the grasses and was rewarded almost immediately by a glossy dark brown flash. A tolerably fat cricket, which I swiped up in a smooth and graceful motion that would have done credit to Edrington’s casting lesson.

I went down to the rock with my rod. "All right. Here is how we Kennedy’s catch a fish." And I removed the two objects I had secreted in my vest pocket–a champagne cork and a bit of lead sealing strip from a wine bottle. I tied the cork a meter or so up the line. Then I wrapped the lead strip tightly around the gut about a foot from the hook. I stripped off all the feathers and impaled the cricket, then dumped the whole affair into the pool. "Lady Katherine, watch the cork. When you see it begin to move, lift the rod tip sharply."

We sat and chatted companionably about books and music and all sorts of things for I am not really sure how long until a delighted squeal erupted from the depths of Lady K’s opulent bosom and she leaned back for all she was worth. The rod bent hard. "Mr. Kennedy! What do I do now?"

"Now you turn that little handle and get the line back into the reel. Try to swing the rod over..OUCH! No, not into my eye! No, no, over towards the shallow water on the other side of the boulder. That is it, work him over there…yes, you’ve got him!" I scrambled down the side of the ledge, hoping to pull the fish, a fat brown trout, up onto the bank (for Edrington and Wellesley had the nets). As luck would have it, my boot slipped on a mossy rock and I sat down hard in about a foot of icy cold water. But I grabbed the line and eased the fish onto the gravels at the river’s edge. Lady Katherine laughed with delight. I took her fish up to her and found that Edrington and Lady Madeline, alerted by the commotion, had come over to see what had happened.

"Oh my!" exclaimed Lady Katherine, breathing hard with her hand over her chest. "That was so exciting! And look, is not he a pretty fellow? He is a fellow? How does one tell?"

"The usual way," said Edrington with a broad smile, looking at my sopping breeches, "One ascertains by silhouette." He grasped my shoulder, "Thank you," he mouthed wordlessly.

"But you are all wet!" said Lady Katherine. "Poor Mr. Kennedy! What is to be done?"

"Nothing, ma’am. I am an officer in His Majesty’s Navy and therefore not unfamiliar with the sensation. But," I added. "you were lucky not to break him off."

"Tell me why."

"Here is the secret to fishing, at least as I understand, and correct me if I am wrong Edrington. The key is to bait the hook with something attractive, something they want. Then put it down at a level where they are laying about." I saw Lady K and Lady M exchange a cryptic look. "Then one will probably bite. Right. But when he feels the sting of the hook, he will try to run." Madeline giggled. "Just let him run. As far as he likes, but at some point, he will turn back to you." Now Katherine bit her lip, stifling laughter. "I don’t see what’s so amusing. Now then, when he turns back to you, THAT is when you reel him in hard for all he is worth. Now here is the important part. When he sees you are about to bring him into the net, he may get a second wind and try to run away from you again. But you must not let him do this, for it is at that point that he will break off and you have lost him." Madeline sighed dramatically. "Oh please. What I am saying is that you must act quickly, or have your Gillie, that is me today for you Lady Katherine, drag him up onto the rocks without delay or scoop him up in the net with great dispatch and determination. And that is how one catches a fish."

By this time, both ladies were absolutely prostrate with laughter. "What if the Gillie falls into the stream, and sits on his head?" gasped Lady Katherine.

"Well, my Lady, you see that you have your catch after all so there is nothing wrong with that method."

"Kennedy, here we see the female mind in all its glory. I could have told you that the gentlemanly art of angling would be lost on women!" Edrington said, the corners of his mouth twitching in amusement.

"And do you think that Lord Vaughn would run if he feels the sting of the hook?" gasped Madeline.

"Why no, dear, I think all that is needed is to hold out the buttered pan at streamside and he will roll around in a bit of flour and leap right in it!" whooped Lady Katherine.

"What on earth is going on here?" asked Wellesley, hiking up the bank with a nice stringer of salmon.

"The ladies are giving us an angling lesson," commented Edrington, pulling out his watch. "Anyhow, it’s time for luncheon."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ch. 29--Heaven

Surely enough, Ashok had spread out a prodigious luncheon on the white blanket. Edrington carried his sister back up and set her gently upon the edge, where she immediately and charmingly metamorphosed from angler to hostess, arranging things attractively onto plates and passing them about. The sweet aroma of freshly landed trout and salmon packed in the creel blended interestingly with the tangy scent of lemon-spiced tea and the familiar one emanating from the patiently waiting horses. It was unusual to have a servant along on a picnic. We did dine al fresco from time to time in my youth at Strathoak House, but we always fended for ourselves once we were away from the manse. The cook would pack our luncheon, but we did not have luxury of so many footmen that we could allow one to spend an entire day out of doors just to hand around the biscuits. But Edringtons were different from Kennedys and we had Ashok and his apparently bottomless hampers, from which port wine was produced following the completion of a most excellent luncheon.

Some sat, some sprawled, some half-reclined as we enjoyed the delightful laziness that comes from an excellent meal eaten out of doors after some exertions. Not to mention the sort of delicious haziness of thought that comes from wine consumed on a warm sunny day.

Madeline clasped arms around her knees and said fervently. "This is heaven. Heaven, I think, must be a place like this, a beautiful place where nothing ever happens."

"I should think you’d find that sort of heaven a dead bore," Edrington commented.

"Oh no, I have seen too much excitement in my life. I desire peace, safety, and tranquillity, truly," she said. "Do you know that since I have come here it is the first time in over five years that I have been able to sleep securely, knowing that it is not just my dog laying across my door that is my only warning against being surprised and hauled to Paris to be put before the Tribunal, and then onward to the guillotine?"

"My Lady," said Wellesley, taking her hand and kissing it, "the horrors you and your peers must have endured." He puffed out his chest. "You may take heart that his Majesty’s government shall not relent until these Republicans have been beaten down too low to concern themselves with such murderous activities."

"For which we are all grateful, to you and Z–Alexander, and all the men who serve His Majesty." said Lady Katherine gracefully. "But I think that Heaven is not such a quiet, dull place, Madeline. No, I think it is a place which is bright and filled with laughter and joy, like a wonderful party that never ends, where everyone is gay and full of fun and filled with love and lightness of spirit and all one’s friends and favorite family surround one."

"A pretty sentiment, Lady Katherine" said Wellesley. "My concept of Heaven is not unlike it."

"I think Heaven is a feeling," said Edrington with a dreamy look on his face. "I think it is like the feeling you have deep in your chest when you are kicking your horse over a fence." He raised his hand to mimic the rising motion. "It’s the feeling you have when you are rising up into the air, except that you never come down, you never land with a bone-jarring thud, your mount never stumbles…it is the feeling of forever rising."

Lady Madeline was quite taken with this concept. "That is almost poetic, Alexander. I did not know you had it in you." He looked a bit embarrassed, but a secretive smile flashed across his face.

Wellesley turned to Ashok. "Ashok, tell us of the Hindu concept of Heaven. I think it is not without points of interest."

Ashok bowed slightly and began in his melodious lilting cadence. "Sahibs, the Hindu does not see Heaven as a place. Heaven is instead a perfect understanding of reality. Everything one sees around one can be pondered to understand the mind of Brahma, whose earthly manifestations take many forms and shapes. When one has achieved perfect understanding, then one knows heaven, and the mind of God." He waved at the dancing golden flies which still emerged in abundance from the river water. "All that one can see, the river, the creatures rising within it, and even the beautiful colors of the leaves as they fall and are blown about by the wind…this is the Dance of Shiva, a dance that takes many lifetimes to understand."

"Now you see why the Indian is so difficult to train and why they have no concept of schedules and discipline," commented Wellesley. "Have you ever heard anything so outlandish in your life? Lady Katherine’s eyes were very soft as she gazed at Ashok.

"Of course," Ashok added, his large dark eyes lowered under long thick lashes. "I have been converted by the missionaries so now I know heaven to be the place where one can go as a reward after dying, to be with the Almighty God after a life spent observing the Christian faith and doing good works according to the scriptures." He bowed again and began to clear away the dishes and leftover foodstuffs. Suddenly, he directed an almost playful look at me. "But Mr. Kennedy, Sahib, you have not yet shared with us your vision of Heaven. You are the only one not yet to do so."

I stretched out on my back, knees raised, hands crossed behind my head, and looked up through the high branches of the flaming foliage above to the patchy blue sky beyond.

"I think Heaven is to enjoy the same delightful company, only with drier pants."

 

 

Ch. 30--The Art of War

Few things compare to the satisfaction of a dinner prepared by a chef of great skill and artistry from something one has caught or shot oneself. Wellesley, pleading duties back at the regimental offices, left us in the mid-afternoon. I fancied that Edrington was not as regretful to see the back of him as the ladies appeared to be. I had found him interesting company, quite intelligent and talkative. He pulled heavily on the port, but appeared little affected by it. His accounts of life in India were fascinating to me. I had heard talk that the Indefatigable and some of her sister frigates might be sent to the Indian shipping lanes to protect the interests of the East India Company from marauding French corvettes who operated as little more than officially-sanctioned pirates in those waters. So naturally, I listened eagerly, thinking that this information might some day be useful to my Captain.

After dinner, it appeared that I was in for a repeat of the previous weekend’s cozy tenure in the library as we were back to just the family plus myself. The ladies filed into the library, but surprisingly, Edrington invited me to come with him to the study, a room I had not seen before. It was in the same wing, and boasted a magnificent view from the rear of the house, the river cliffs near the sea being illuminated by a harvest moon of deep orange. Edrington lengthened the wick in the lamp on the big polished desk to illuminate the room. It was dark-paneled and had a wall of bookcases and drawers, which I took to be the repository of estate paperwork. My father had a lair, which was quite similar in the back of our house.

He took down a decanter and two cut crystal glasses and sloshed a bit of brandy into each, handing me one.

We drank silently, gazing out the window at the moon hanging over the cliffs. I could tell he wanted to talk about something but was having difficulty finding the words. I looked around; my gaze came to rest upon a lovely marble statue on a pedestal in one corner. I rose and went over for a closer look. It was a statue of Diana, or Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. She was balancing on one bare foot, caught in mid-stride. Her cloak blew back to reveal her body outlined strong and rounded under the sheerest draperies possible, thick coils of hair caught in a ribbon or rope and blowing back off her neck. In one hand, she held a bow. A hound of some sort crouched at her feet, ready to pounce. It was a beautiful object.

"Grecian?" I asked.

"Oh no. Not that. It is in the Grecian style, but it is modern. My father had it commissioned. He had seen a Greek representation of the goddess on his youthful travels and never forgot it. He asked this sculptor, an Italian, to produce something in that style. I think it is a lovely piece." He fingered the smooth marble contours pensively.

"It must be very fine to be able to afford to have anything you wish done by such a talented artist."

"True, he could afford it, but it did not make him happy." Suddenly, Edrington slammed his hand down on the desk. "It’s no good, Archie. I’m completely at sea here." He began to pace. "I adore my mother and my sister, but this is not the life I know. I am frantic about my division, and what they are doing, if anything, in my absence. And I do not think Lady Madeline holds a very good opinion of me." He looked at me, dull-eyed, then sat down in the big leather chair behind the desk, tipping back and closing his eyes, putting one boot on the desktop. "You seem to have a grasp of the situation. I have tried to undo the damage of my ill-considered words, but it seems that whatever I try she interprets in the most negative fashion possible. I am absolutely wretched and I don’t know what to do about it."

I struggled to keep the surprise from showing in my face. "Alexander, if you are asking me to explain women in general to you, then you are digging through dry rock. I am sure I have less experience than you do. All I know is that I enjoy myself greatly in the company of these ladies."

"And it is my observation that the feeling is mutual."

I smiled at the unexpected compliment. I swirled my brandy and sniffed at it thoughtfully, buying time to consider what I should say.

"I thought she was quite friendly to you today at the river." I said carefully.

"Well, yes, she was. But that was in public, in front of others. I tell you, Archie, I do not know what game she is playing. When we meet in the hall here, she scarcely speaks. Last night, I noticed her talking with great animation when she danced with you and with Wellesley, but to me she said barely a word. It pains me. I would not have it this way. "

"Perhaps she still feels you disapprove of her; resent her in some fashion. Lady Madeline is not her mother, you know. You have to put that from your mind."

"And I am not my father," he said.

"Then stop acting like him." I said, surprising myself in the process. "Moping about up here in the study. Is not that what you said he used to do?" Edrington looked at me annoyed, indignant. Probably few people talked to him that way, him being an Earl and all.

"Besides, I think you are wrong. Dead wrong." I said firmly, having worked things out in my mind to my satisfaction. "Lady Madeline has a very high regard for you. I know this for a fact, but I will not tell you why as it is not my place to tell you. If you would but stop being so critical of her, and simply enjoy her company like you did today I am sure matters would be easier between you. Get to know her. Find out what she thinks about herself and her life; what dreams she cherishes for her future. Stop picking at her hair. It’s lovely however she wears it."

"There is truth in that, Archie."

"I think we should go down to the library and make ourselves agreeable." I said, rising with determination.

"I would enjoy conversing with the Dowager Countess again. I find your mother extremely amusing."

"And my sister?" Edrington asked with studied ease.

I scowled at him. "If I have anything to say on that subject that you need to hear you may be sure I will not hesitate to do so. Besides," I added. "I have come to enjoy Lady Madeline’s reading and hope to put myself in a good frame of mind for sleep by listening to a few more riveting chapters of your mother’s current favorite." He winced, then stood up and stretched agreeably. As we left the darkened study, he put a hand on my shoulder for the second time that day, a light, fleeting touch.

"Thanks." And that was all.

We found the ladies merrily ensconced in the library with all the Edrington dogs around them. The dogs bounced up to greet us with many wags when we entered, and once again Edrington took his place with his old favorite wrapped around his side like a little serpent. Only I remained unencrusted with dogs, which was all right by me. Unlike Edrington, I didn’t have a valet to undo the damage. Madeline was reading aloud, Lady Katherine was working her way through a pile of correspondence, and Lady Edrington was relaxed in her chair, feet on a stool and little spaniel on her lap, listening with dreamy enjoyment. It went something like this:

""Oh, Captain Kearney," Dr. Applewhite said, his drink-yellowed eyes betraying his concern. "Your shoulder. It is nearly blown apart! I have bandaged it but any movement could start the wound to bleeding again. It’s too dangerous, sir. You've already lost too much blood. I cannot condone this course of action."

"Nonsense, man, my crew needs to see me on the bridge or all will be lost!" And with that Captain Kearney, the youngest Captain by far in the history of the British Navy promoted to Flagship Commander at the age of 26 due to extraordinary valor, pulled himself painfully to his feet using his one good hand and returned to the bridge. His dark blond hair was streaked with blood and grime, but when his men saw him back on the bridge looking down over them with his familiar intense blue gaze, they gave a lusty cheer and renewed their battle with fresh vigor, finally repelling the crew of Spaniards who had been boarding the ship by the dozens. The Indivisible broke free. "FIYAH!" bellowed Captain Kearney, and the guns erupted with a thundering broadside of cannon fire, blowing the Spanish flagship’s hull to splinters near the waterline. The Spaniard began to haul down her colors.

Captain Kearney thanked merciful providence, for the pain in his shoulder was so severe that he was scarcely able to stand. He accepted the Spanish Captain’s surrender, gripping the proffered sword without visible weakness, but when he returned to his cabin, the sword slipped weakly from his grasp and all went black.

Several days later, the Indivisible limped into Portsmouth. Despite having a high fever, Captain Alan Kearney would not rest, would not honor his doctors orders, and would certainly not report to the Admiralty until he had made his way to the little vine-covered cottage to see his Sally. Only the thought of her warm smile and dancing brown eyes as she laughed at him over the pastry dough had kept him from going mad with pain during the stormy passage home…."

"Oh good Lord," said Edrington. "Archie Kennedy again? Look, this hero even has the same initials. And the same coloring. Kennedy, you aren’t keeping secrets from us are you?"

I flushed. "No! I am sure I am not. It has to be coincidence."

"A very strange coincidence," commented Edrington. "Mother, do you not agree? Do not the heroes of this particular series of romances bear a striking resemblance to our guest?"

"I was thinking the same thing.." mused Lady Edrington. "My goodness, Mr. Kennedy. You must have impressed someone greatly. Perhaps there is a mysterious author on board your ship."

"Oh, I can’t see how that could ever be kept a secret, Ma’am. The one thing we do not have on a frigate is privacy. It has to be a coincidence."

Madeline spoke next. "Or maybe it is just that the author considers that a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Naval officer is the perfect romantic hero to set the reader’s feminine hearts aflutter. An understandable conceit. Lady Edrington, I do not believe the author of these stories I have been reading to you is a man."

"Oh, but women do not write of battles and war, dear. It must be a man."

"No, I do not think so. The battle scenes are realistic enough, but perhaps the author heard of them from someone she knew well who served in the Navy. But the romantic scenes are a female imagining."

"Speaking of female imaginings, there is one thing I have always wondered about romantic fiction," said Edrington. He was sitting with his elbows on his knees, fingertips together propping up his chin as he leaned forward to gaze at Madeline intently. "Why is it that the man always has to be so sick as to almost die, or injured badly before the woman takes an interest?"

"An interesting literary question, Alexander. What do you think? I’d care to hear your opinions on this subject."

"I was hoping you would tell me, Madeline. Just as a for instance, it seemed to me on the Indefatigable that you were very intrigued with Hornblower until his bandages came off." Oh dear, there he went again, stepping right into it. I rumbled low under my breath and gave him a telling look. But it was too late.

Madeline was up on her feet, dark eyes flashing, pacing in a little circle, fingers working in the folds of her dress and getting ready to give him a real set-down. Oh, Alexander Edrington, you poor bastard, I thought, you are definitely in for it now. But Lady Madeline surprised us both by striding over to the bookshelf behind his chair and rifling quickly down the rows of documents and volumes.

Her words came out sharp and distinct, "It would seem that there are things about women that will just have to remain a mystery to you, MAJOR Edrington. But I think perhaps, since you have so many pointed criticisms of the stories your mother so enjoys that maybe it is time I read something just for you. Fair is after all, fair. Perhaps you can assist us with insights into the male temperament."

"Oh, not military history…" groaned Lady Edrington.

"Indulge me, ma’am. I love to read your stories to you, but I have always held it true that a good Lectrice can render any material interesting to the listener. I crave a challenge." She pulled out several things. "Let’s see…Frederick the Great, hmm, no, too contemporary. De Saxe? Never heard of him. Vegetius? No, everyone has read Vegetius, we're all quite bored with Vegetius." Edrington snorted. "Ah, this looks intriguing..."

"Careful, Madeline, that manuscript is quite old. It’s a hand copy. There’s not another one in England as far as I know."

"Fear not!" she said archly. "I’ll try not to spill wine on it or make the ink run with my sentimental tears when we get to the good parts. How do you pronounce this name?"

"Sun Tzu. That work is over 2000 years old."

"Very well then, Sun Tzu, "The Art of War"."

"My word, Edrington," I asked "what does an old dead Chinaman have to say about war that is any use to us?"

"Just wait, Kennedy. You might be surprised."

Lady Madeline began, and she put everything she had into the reading. At first, it was hard to follow but as she read the translated passages in a low thrilling insinuating voice, I became fascinated with the ideas of Son Zoo, or whatever his name was.

"….that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards. Therefore in chariot fighting, when ten or more chariots have been taken, those should be rewarded who took the first. Our own flags should be substituted for those of the enemy, and the chariots mingled and used in conjunction with ours. The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept. This is called using the conquered foe to augment one’s own strength."

I sat up excitedly. "Aye, if you substitute the word ships for chariots, that is exactly what we do in the Navy. We give prize money to those who take an enemy ship in good enough condition that it may be used, so the fighting men are rewarded for defeating the enemy without destroying the prize. We rename the captured ships and fly our colors. And Captain Pellew is renowned for his humanity in housing the prisoners of war. Humanity which has been rewarded by successful exchanges for British prisoners held by France and Spain."

"Very interesting, Mr. Kennedy," said Lady Katherine. "You explain it so well, so dramatically."

Lady Madeline had been skimming quickly through the pages, looking for her next passage. "But now, friends, our long-dead Chinaman is getting to the meat of his subject. Here he tells us the essence of strategy." She smiled slyly and winked at Lady Katherine.

"All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy... Alexander, does this sound like the fishing lesson to you at all? Ah! Feign disorder and crush him!"

Lady Katherine laughed. "This is excellent advice."

"If he is superior in strength, evade him. If your opponent is of a choleric temper," she dipped a finger into Edrington’s brandy glass and flicked the hanging droplet straight into his eye "seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak.." she swooned limply back onto her couch, picking up her fan and fanning herself feebly, "so that he may grow arrogant." Both the ladies were laughing now. Edrington’s temper appeared to be warring with a growing sense of amusement. Madeline arose again and begin to read, pacing in slow circles towards her cousin.

"If he is taking his ease, give him no rest." She hooked the footstool from underneath his feet, causing his boots to slam onto the carpet, as she moved to stand between us. "If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand." She put her hand to her cheek. "Och! Too late!"

"Madeline, only you could take a military classic and trivialize it into a treatise on how to conduct a romance." Edrington said laughing. It was good to see that he got her little joke. She smiled winningly at him.

"Alexander, now that you have found your sense of humor, all I find lacking in you is a really bad case of pleurisy or at least one broken leg to make you a great success with the ladies."

"That WAS quite a performance, Madeline. But dear," Lady Edrington asked plaintively, "could we please have some more of "The Captain and the Confectioner" ? You can't leave me hanging like this. I am all anticipation to see what Sally makes of Captain Kearney's interesting condition."

Ch. 31--Marksmanship

 

November 13th, 1798

Messers. Phelps and Lynch

Bluestreak Publications

5 Hargreaves St.

Manchester

Dear Messers,

Enclosed please find a frontispiece cut from a book published by your concern, entitled "The Bonny Lieutenant". This volume is clearly being published under a nom de plume. In the event that the author, or authoress is the same person as the individual who wrote "The Captain and The Confectioner" and "The Midshipman’s Secret" please convey to them my card (also enclosed), telling them that if they contact my bailiff, Mr. Patrick Sullivan, at that address they will learn something to their advantage.

Enclosed also please find 3 pounds, 5s. for your expenses incurred in so doing.

Yours most sincerely,

Alexander Edrington

Earl of Edrington

 

Journal

Nov. 14, 1798

Today started out innocently enough. Madeline, who has been making calls for the last several days with Katherine, knocked on the door of the study with many apologies for interrupting my work, but saying that if she did not get some fresh air and an opportunity to converse about something other than gossip about people she doesn’t know and whether or not the newer style of bonnet was flattering to women lacking in height that she would surely go mad. She asked me if I could keep a secret and I told her that I could. Very intriguing. So she asked me to meet her at the stables in half an hour’s time.

She arrived wearing a long cloak which when thrown back revealed her to be wearing men’s clothing. Specifically, mine. She had a leather case of some sort, which she attached to the saddle. She said that she did not care to ride side-saddle today as she wished to ride at full gallop and get far away from the house. Then she said she had a surprise for me. As if seeing her wearing my pants didn’t fall into that general category. In answer to my unspoken question, she said she had bribed my valet. No doubt he enjoyed that tremendously. I might have to consider sacking him, and would except that there was something terribly interesting about seeing a woman of Madeline’s proportions in knee-breeches, a stableboy’s boots, and a vest.

So we applied the spurs and were quickly gone from the house and any prying eyes who might have carried scandal abroad about Lady Madeline riding astride. Her hair was braided back into a queue and from a distance it would probably not be evident to any viewers on the estate that I was out riding with a woman. We galloped the horses down through the forest and past the place where we had fished for salmon. Finally, she slowed to a halt at a clearing. Dismounting, she took up the leather case and kneeled on the ground to open it. Inside were two pistols of the most exquisite workmanship and ornate design…at least 75 years old if my memory of weaponry serves me well. This she confirmed, saying that these pistols were the only things she had of her father’s and that they dated from the reign of Louis XIV. These were his dueling pistols with which, lacking a surviving son, he had instead taught HER to shoot. These lessons were given in the far reaches of their Chateaux where no one would see that little Madeline was not just a spectator to the Compte’s marksmanship exercises. Handing me one, she challenged me to a contest. For a stunned second, I thought she was asking me to duel her, but she quickly indicated several natural targets and bade me try to hit them with a single shot. We loaded the pistols and commenced banging away at knots on trees, oddly shaped leaves, abandoned birds’ nests, and the like. It was great fun, the pistol was of exceedingly fine workmanship with an excellently level bore, and I was gratified to hit slightly more of the marks than she did, although her marksmanship would do credit to almost any member of my company. She would have made an admirable soldier, were it not her misfortune to be born a woman.

We were quite serious and intent as we fought our duel of marksmanship, but eventually she conceded that I was the better shot and that only her father could give probably me a match. Then I saw the glitter of tears in the corner of her eyes as we remounted and as I touched her shoulder she turned to me and revealed that this day was the anniversary of her parents’ execution by the mob and she had always shot her father’s pistols as it was the only way she could pay tribute. I don’t mind admitting here that my throat became rather tight. But then she thanked me curtly for indulging her and wheeled around, kicking her horse rather harder than was necessary into another wild gallop back to the stables.

The irony of having assisted M in honoring the memory of her father, who was a man I had always held a low opinion of as a ravisher, was not lost on me. Nor was the vision of her retreating breeches-clad form, posting in the saddle in perfect rhythm with her mount’s galloping hooves. It occurred all at once to me that the convention that ladies only ride side-saddle has little to do fundamentally with concern for their safety. It furthermore occurred to me on the wild ride back that I must have somehow changed, and maybe not for the better, for even a month ago I would have been so very displeased and angry to see Madeline wearing my clothes and shooting a pistol. But now she feels like family and I suppose we have always been a little eccentric in our private lives here at Edrington Hall. But all the same, I was glad not to have Wellesley see her in this interesting condition.

Upon returning, we saw the Neville carriage pulled up in front of the house and so I was obliged to shove her quickly off the horse and back into her cloak and towards the servants entrance lest Honoria get a glimpse of her.

She came down to tea in Katherine’s sitting room twenty minutes later to find the rest of us conversing with Honoria, and passed off her absence by apologizing for having been indisposed with a slight headache. She was as if nothing untoward had happened, dressed in a new gown and with her hair dressed in simple turban style under which I suspected the presence of lingering leaves and twigs. Lady Honoria looked hard at her but asked no questions. She had news of her cousin’s marriage that she wished to share with Katherine, and she managed to coerce me into walking her through the gardens before leaving, and was successful. Today was a day characterized by successful schemes by ladies to get me out of doors. I tried to make myself agreeable. She is, after all, my sister’s friend.

After dinner, Madeline showed becoming enthusiasm for retiring to the library to read to my mother. She has become a great favorite, which is another surprise to me as I fully expected Katherine to find her a burden and my mother to resent her purely for her parentage. Now I can see how very lonely and bored they must have been at home in my absence for they have both embraced Madeline with evident relief for the diversions, both pleasant and vexatious, that she has provided us. I’ve taken to devoting myself to my correspondence in the study with just old Katie for companionship as I find these readings too distracting.

A.E.

Nov. 18th, 1798

Lt. Archibald Kennedy

Strathoak Hall

Alnwick

Dear Lt. Kennedy,

The pleasure of your company is requested at a dinner to honor the Birthday of our mother, the Dowager Countess of Edrington on Dec. 15th, 1798 at Edrington Hall, 7 o’clock. Please RVSP by my messenger.

Sincerely yours,

Alexander Edrington

Lady Katherine Edrington

p.s. (in sprawling but elegant handwriting) Mr. Kennedy, my dear, handsome friend who taught me to catch a trout, it will be just the family and a few friends but wear that dashing uniform of yours anyhow. I DO hope you can make it as I think the evening will prove of exceptional interest to you. K.E.

 

Nov. 18th, 1798

 

Lord Arthur Neville

Ransdell Hall

Ayelsford

The Dowager Countess of Edrington

Lady Katherine Edrington

and

Lady Madeline Du Martine

Accept With Pleasure

The Kind Invitation

of

Lord Arthur Neville

and

Lady Honoria Neville

For Dinner

Nov. 21st, at 8 o’clock

Major Lord Alexander Edrington

Regrets Exceedingly That

He Will Be Unable To Attend

Due to Pressing Business

On behalf of

His Majesty’s Army

 

Journal

The courtship of Lady Madeline has begun in earnest, and Katherine could not be more delighted with the success of her schemes. I thought in the beginning that Katherine had a tendre for Arthur Wellesley, but my misreading of that friendship has been typically consistent with the generally poor quality of my understanding throughout this whole affair. Katherine has no personal interest in Wellesley besides finding a certain amusement in his company. But from the beginning, she felt that the bold, well-born, and somewhat rakish Wellesley might be a suitable match for impetuous, undisciplined Madeline. An unlikely rival has come forward in the person of Cecil Vaughn. Two more dissimilar men could not possibly be imagined. Vaughn is a scholar with no interest in outdoor life, and Wellesley is a soldier and a sportsman. Vaughn looks rather like an owl with ruffled feathers; Wellesley is a striking man with a proud bearing. Vaughn is witty and amusing in conversation, Wellesley is direct and forthright but has a rather coarse sense of humor, which he conceals well in front of ladies. Vaughn is upright, steady, and has an unimpeachable character. He would be a dutiful husband. Wellesley’s reputation as a rakehell and a womanizer precedes him. In fairness, he has never been one to dally with unmarried women, so I do not fear for Madeline’s virtue…only her happiness. But he is eligible and has a great future, particularly since his older brothers occupy high posts in His Majesty’s government.

Both gentlemen have become frequent callers and keeping their paths from crossing has required the most intricate planning and manipulation on the part of the ladies. The Art of War.

As different as the two suitors are, it is not surprising that their apparent attraction to Lady Madeline, other than the obvious benefits of her dowry and a connection with the Edrington family, is based on different aspects of Lady Madeline’s own character. Cecil Vaughn values her for her intelligence and her conversation. They discuss, debate, exchange opinions, and read passages from various books as they promenade about the gardens or take tea in the parlor. There is much laughter between them. Arthur Wellesley prefers taking Madeline for rides in his open carriage and he seems to appreciate her boldness, horsemanship, and to be blunt, her figure. Madeline gazes at his profile with abject admiration.

And I am entirely miserable watching this process. I harbor regrets, many of them, for having required her to alter her normal disposition to render it more pleasing to gentlemen of the sort I so fervently wished would quickly relieve me of the responsibility of overseeing her welfare. God, what a beastly sentence. But only I can know what a complicated, exasperating, adorable creature she is and only I can appreciate her diverse nature in all its elusive fascination. For only I, and my friend Kennedy, saw her in the very beginning, in her stained dress and old gray cloak smelling of the barnyard, head unbowed and unashamed, survivor, Lectrice, warrior, and more noble at the base of her than any woman of my acquaintance.

I should declare myself, I know it. But I do not think she would have me now. She proved that the other day, for no woman who truly viewed a man as a potential suitor would have ridden with him deep into the forest, unescorted, and wearing his clothes. My burden, so heavy in the beginning, has become one I would bear lightly and gladly if I could know that I had it within myself to act in the best interest of her happiness.

A.E.

 

Ch. 32--Stone Circle

On November the 18th, I became an uncle. On November 19th, I became a spy. First things first. My brother’s wife, Georgina, delivered amidst great wailing and gnashing of teeth, frantic maids carrying water and clean rags, and the total unconsciousness of Edward and I pacing the hallways by the females of our household except as another obstacle to negotiate like a hunter clearing the fences.

I was off by one in my prior estimate, for she delivered twins. Two red-faced, squalling new Kennedys who were at once the homeliest and most beautiful objects I had ever seen. A boy and a girl. The boy had the bluish eyes and reddish fuzz of hair that my mother stated were incontrovertibly the mark of a Kennedy baby, while the girl was very reminiscent of her brown-haired, brown-eyed mother and only slightly less prone to constant complaints and dyspepsia than her mother.

It had been a difficult week with my brother Edward leading up to the birth of his heirs, for Lady Georgina’s disposition was understandably querulous and perhaps he was more nervous than he was willing to show; consequently, he found me a convenient target for his barbs and criticisms. The subject of marriage came up frequently. I was given to understand in no uncertain terms that my carefree childless and unmarried state was a complete abdication of my responsibilities to the family. Or perhaps Edward was just envious of my freedom to indulge in flirtations and the like. Probably the latter, although I suspected that any desire to trade his life for mine ended when the nursemaid decanted the two mewling babies into his awkward, trembling embrace. Lo, how the bullies of the world are domesticated…rags draped over their shoulders to protect the fine fabrics of their Incomparables.

I had been surprised to receive an invitation the day before to a dinner party at the Nevilles. Naturally, my parents were included as were Edward and Georgina, but of course she was in no state to travel. My mother accepted it on behalf of the rest of us and Georgina made no objection to Edward’s dining with Viscount Neville as she pronounced (from her enthroned state amidst the many pillows and satin coverlets of my old bedroom) his daughter Lady Honoria to be everything admirable in her manner, grace, and person and the Viscount himself was, in fact, an old friend of Father’s.

I fully expected to see Edrington and the ladies when I went, and was looking much forward to it. My only regret was that I did not have the pleasure of shoving Horatio into the crush. I had left home almost eight years ago as an awkward boy, prone to fits and embarrassed by my affliction, with little to recommend me but the mostly useless education given to boys of my class and a fairly good aim with a pistol or musket. It seems I had returned interesting and worth knowing. It was a heady thought and I was in love with my world, from the brilliant autumn landscape under that still uncharacteristically blue sky to the beauty and charm of my new acquaintances. Edward pressed me constantly to choose one, and ride out to court her, but I was undone by them all and all those I might someday hope to meet.

The next day I awoke to cold, gray drizzle and two creamy white envelopes by my breakfast tray. I tore into the first one eagerly as its seal showed it was from Captain Pellew, the imprint of his signet ring being as familiar as that of my own father’s.

November 11, 1798

Dear Lt. Kennedy,

I hope this letter finds you enjoying all the comforts of your home and your family is well. I am sure they were most delighted to see you again after so long an absence.

I have carefully considered the recommendations of several gentlemen highly-stationed in the Admiralty, as well as the communications I have received from Major Lord Edrington and my own observations of you during your years of service aboard Indefatigable. I have, therefore, the following news that I hope you will find to your liking.

Admiral Lord Hood is keenly interested in creating a small cadre of officers within the Navy whose chief duties would be the acquisition and use of clandestine information vital to our waging a successful campaign against the French with minimal casualties to our side. You are ideal for this newly-created position and I felt no hesitation in putting your name forward. Your candidacy has been accepted and you will be expected to report to the Admiralty offices the first week of January. This is a brilliant opportunity to serve your King and Countrymen and I wish you every success. While information-gathering does not have the immediate glamour of actually engaging the enemy at sea, it is vital to our efforts and will save many British lives, perhaps my own someday.

I suspect you will be disappointed to learn that you will not be coming back to serve with your friend Mr. Hornblower. I am confident that your paths will continue to cross, but I do not feel that your future lies in command of a fighting ship. Working inside the Admiralty, your natural advantages of birth and observant mind will be rewarded in a manner unlikely should you instead continue to await promotion on a Frigate, particularly one with Lieutenants senior to yourself who have so much natural ability. It has been an honor to serve with you, Mr. Kennedy, and I feel that you have unique and uncommon abilities which will serve you very well in your new assignment should you choose to continue, as I hope you will, in the service of His Majesty’s Navy. I hope to see you in Portsmouth when you report to the Admiralty and convey my warmest wishes for your success in person.

I remain,

Yours Most Sincerely,

Captain Sir Edward Pellew

 

Over the side, with dignity. I held the letter in my hand, staring in morbid fascination at the uncontrollable tremors of my hand. The envelope and single page seemed heavy, leaden in my grip. I was glad that no one else was down for breakfast that early save my two youngest sisters, who were occupied with giggling over some picture book at the other end of the table and spared me not a glance–an older brother at breakfast being a singularly uninteresting object.

With rising nausea, I took up the second letter. The seal was unadorned, but the handwriting on the address was familiar.

November 12, 1798

Archie,

I hardly know what to say, whether to congratulate you on what promises to be a most interesting assignment or to tell you that you will be greatly missed by everyone on the Indy. I was very surprised yesterday when Captain Pellew informed me you would not be returning to the Indefatigable after your leave of absence.

Your last letter was so full of interesting news that it made me long to be there and see these things and people with my own eyes, which are quite healed now.

I have had a very kind invitation from Major E. to come and visit for several days before Christmas. I do not yet know if Captain Pellew will be able to spare me for that length of time, but I cherish some small spark of hope that I will be able to get leave to make the journey. When I think of the distances we travel, the journey from Portsmouth to Northumberland seems small indeed, but I know it is three days = and that is if all goes well, which apparently did not in your case. How tremendously exciting to have rescued Lady M from the Frogs! And Col. Wellesley. Have you met him yet? Your letter said you might. The Military papers have been full of his exploits in India.

Our own news is much less brilliant. We are breaking in a new crew of pressedmen–drunken rascals or Irishmen, all of them, which is usually the same thing according to Matthews who has been in a position to know. Half our compliment has been transferred to the Dumbriton. You will no doubt be relieved to hear that Matthews, Styles, and Oldroyd remain under my command as I absolutely refused to give them up. It was the first time I have ever declined to instantly obey an order from Capt. Pellew, but I think that once he had done with being angry at me that he admired the boldness of my request and perceived that men worth risking one’s Captain’s ire over were worth keeping on board one’s ship. So since then, we have conducted training exercises. It is quite tedious, but entirely necessary. In their present state, I would not care to face even a small French cutter with a cargo of rice.

What a plum to have forged a friendship with the Earl. I wouldn’t have thought it possible. Zandy? I can hardly credit it. That was the first good laugh I’ve had since you left us. I do esteem him as an officer. He is one of the best I have seen and he showed remarkable patience and intelligence during our very difficult two days in Muzillac. He must think very highly of you, Archie, or else he’d not have been so forceful in making his opinions known to Admiral Hood. I believe you have him to thank for your current good fortune. And I have him to blame. I shall regret your absence from this ship. Do write again.

Sincerely,

Horatio Hornblower

Tucking both letters in my breast pocket, I got up and left the table without touching the fragrant eggs and bacon. I thought it might serve better for me to leave the house and go for a long walk. I really did not care to see anyone and from the muffled thumps and scrapes I could hear through the ceiling above it was clear that the remaining Kennedys would be shortly descending en masse. An intimidating prospect even if one’s own head were not pounding with a morning headache from not having bothered with tea, and if one were not outraged to have been dumped so cavalierly into another branch of service with no warning.

However, my hoped-for solitude was not to be for as I walked down the road I saw Edrington’s carriage approaching at a gallop. It slowed as it pulled alongside, for Edrington’s driver recognized me. He banged on the window beneath him and Edrington’s face appeared through the dust-streaked glass.

"Kennedy! I thought to find you at home." I just stared at him, dumbfounded to find the meddlesome Earl whose name I had lately been cursing as I shoved along down the road.

"Ah. Major. What an unexpected…er, honor."

"Would you care to ride back to your house with me? I am bound for London and I have several things I want to discuss with you before I go." Well, I suppose there was nothing for it but that I agree. It was a short ride, as I’d not gotten very far.

"How have you been."

"Fine." I was probably glaring at him. I cannot recall having been so angry.

"Your family."

"Fine." I drew the one-syllable word out in a pointed manner.

We arrived at the front of the house. I escorted him into the sitting room and went to fetch whatever members of my family were in a fit state to meet an Earl at breakfast. This turned out to be most of them. My mother fluttered around in a great dither, alternately bemoaning her lack of anything appropriate to offer him and gloating over the singular familiarity he had shown by simply popping in. It took the better part of a half hour to make the required introductions and small talk and, while correct in his manner, Edrington said little to encourage my family in the belief that he had come simply to congratulate them on the newest additions to the Kennedy clan, which were displayed for his assessment like a goodish brace of salmon. From the workings of his slim pale fingers on the buttons of his sleeve, I could tell he was agitated. Well enough. I had a few choice things I wanted to say to him, and when I suggested that he use my horse and I would take Edward’s for the purpose of riding out to show him around our estate, he jumped to his feet with less than polite enthusiasm. My mother looked huffy, but wished us a pleasant ride all the same.

We walked out to the barn in silence, but I paused before the stalls and removed the letters from my pocket, handing them to him.

"Read these. I believe your name is mentioned once or twice."

"Oh really?" He looked concerned, then as his eyes followed the course of Captain Pellew’s flowing hand he assumed an expression that could only be described as smug. It was extremely irritating to see. I was glad I was not wearing my uniform and that I had some pockets in my jacket to shove my hands into, so that he could not see the whiteness of my knuckles as they clinched and unclinched. He turned his attention to Horatio’s letter, finished, then looked up at me with a bemused smile.

"Congratulations are in order, I see."

"Congratulations? Congratu–bloody-ations?" I sputtered. "Edrington, you had NO right! I am really very angry with you right now. Damn your interference!" I turned my back to him, opened a stall door and extracted a horse. Grabbing a saddle, I slammed it onto the poor animals’ back. Its startled flinch brought me a little back to my senses. "There now, old boy. Sorry ‘bout that." I stroked the soft nose. Exhaled through gritted teeth. "I was perfectly happy on the bloody Indy, and now I find I am supposed to bloody report to bloody Admiralty for some damn-fool assignment I don’t even know what it is. And you say "Congratulations"? "Are in order?" Hell. Bloody Hell."

I handed the reins over to Edrington and pulled open another stall door to saddle a mount for myself.

"Archie, I was simply–"

"Simply what? What?!" I forced my boot into the stirrup and swung up into the saddle in a great deal of high dudgeon. "I don’t recall," I said looking down on him from atop my horse, "having asked you to arrange my future for me. I don’t recall, furthermore, having asked you to discuss me OR my career with Captain Pellew."

"True enough, Archie. True enough." he mounted in his graceful practiced manner. "I thought you might be angry if you ever found out, but I don’t regret anything I have done."

"Smug bastard.." I muttered under my breath, then dug in my heels and put my mount into a canter. "Come on, then." I shouted behind me. "You might as well see the place since you are here."

We cantered along in near silence for awhile, slowing only as I indicated various points of interest on our lands. Our holdings are not as beautiful in scenery as the Earl’s, nor are they anywhere near as extensive, but we do boast a nice lake, some fertile pasturage and grainfields, and a rather remarkable old ruin of a hill fort of great antiquity with a stone circle on its windswept summit. It was here that I stopped and sat silently waiting, looking down over the fields to our house in the distance. It was a pleasing view and I had always found peace here in my boyhood.

"All right." Edrington began. "I did discuss your future with Captain Pellew, and I also spoke on your behalf with Admiral Hood. I think the time has come for some candor between us. I will be entirely candid with you, and I expect the same in return. Do we have an agreement?"

"Yes. I want the plain truth."

"Very well. Archie, I was struck by some things I observed in Muzillac, and as our acquaintance continued, my initial suppositions became firmly supported in my mind by all that I have seen of you. The truth is that you don’t belong on a fighting ship."

I looked at him in shock. "Do you question my courage or my ability?"

"No, no…I question neither. Let me explain to you about courage. If courage is the ability to overcome real fear, then you have that sort of courage. I can see that you are really afraid of being killed, yet you do not run. Few men are born brave, you see. It is training and force of discipline that makes for courage on the battlefield. All of the training drills that Hornblower described to you in his letter….those drills are not just designed to teach the men to handle the cannon and shot. The training and discipline gives each man confidence that if he performs his role in battle as he has done over and over in the training drills, that no harm should come to him. The mind is a strange thing in the heat of battle, Archie. A soldier or seaman who has been drilled repeatedly finds that his mind is wholly occupied with the task he has been trained to perform, and that all thoughts of mortal danger are driven out. Do you think that is real courage?"

"Well, put that way, I suppose not. I suppose that it would be more courageous to not know what to do, or what is really expected, and still not run away or shirk one’s duty."

"Absolutely. But Archie, you have several problems and I don’t think they can be hidden forever from the men. First of all, because you were in prison so many years you did not receive the same training and drills that your contemporaries received. This is why you panicked in Muzillac while men like Mr. Matthews appeared completely at ease under enemy fire." He held up a hand. "No, don’t argue with me. I was there and I saw it. But I also saw no hesitation in saving your friend from a bridge that was set to explode. I saw you show really formidable cleverness in scouting the fortress at Gironde. And you were without any trace of cowardice in Madeline’s rescue. Archie, you do have courage but you do not have the sort that one needs to sit and wait for enemy fire. You must act, and act on your own judgment and your own gut feelings. You must make your fear of being killed work for you, and not against you."

"But I don’t see why..."

"And there is another problem. Your "fits" or whatever they are. You cannot keep that sort of thing secret on a warship. There’s simply not enough privacy. Archie. It’s a real problem! You cannot command men if they do not have confidence that you will be able and alert at all times in battle."

I sat silently seething, but I knew that there was truth in that. Hadn’t Mr. Hunter used the residual shame of my having had a fit the night of the cutting-out of the Papillon to incite rebellion among fellows like Oldroyd, who I would have expected to be loyal to Horatio and not a sour bastard like Mr. Hunter? I knew he was right, but I did not love him for it.

"Very well, Major. You have given me an accurate summation of my weaknesses. Why, then, take any interest in me at all?"

"Because I have dedicated my life to the service of England’s best interests. And because…I consider you as my friend." He shot me a fleeting sidelong glance. "As an officer, it is my duty to see that young men are assigned where their talents and abilities can be of greatest use to His Majesty and His Majesty’s fighting men. And as your friend, it would give me pleasure, and pride, to see you successful. Archie, if you stayed on the Indefatigable you would be forever under Horatio’s shadow. Look me in the eye and tell me that it wouldn’t be just like that."

I couldn’t. But the vision of my Naval career continuing without the friendship of a man I had come to value so highly gave me little pleasure to contemplate.

"Archie, I see something in you. You aren’t an intellectual, don’t see war and strategy as an interesting puzzle to solve, as I do. But you are clever. Observant. You miss little. And you are the sort of person that others talk freely around. You can be many things, blend in with others, and you have pleasing manners which…" Edrington gazed out over the patchwork fields, and swallowed hard, "I envy."

"I still don’t understand."

"I cannot tell you a great deal about spying or the gathering of information about the enemy. But I do know that your attributes are ideal for the task. And I do know that you are not a killer. Not really. A spy is a very high calling, Archie. We’ve not used them well as a nation in the past, but things are changing and it’s high time they did. A spy saves lives, Archie. The lives of all the fighting men depend on good decisions by their superiors, decisions which require information in order to be well-founded. And you don’t care for personal glory. If you did, you would have captained the Dorado back to port. No, you are like me in that respect. You care most for doing what you feel is right." He shrugged and rolled his eyes in a self-deprecating gesture. "Why do you think they picked ME to go to Muzillac?"

I pondered this. It was true. And he was no Wellesley, caught up in how many times his name made the Military papers and whether or not every person in the room was aware of each and every military victory he had gained. Damn him, he was starting to make sense. Worse yet, I was starting to like him again. And I had hoped to spend the entire morning in a blue funk.

"The highest intelligence of the military must be used for the purpose of spying and the wise general who does so will achieve great results. Spies are the most important element in war, Archie, because on them depends an army’s ability to move."

"Alexander, I need time to think all this through. You talk to me like you are old as Pellew, but you cannot be much older than thirty-two." I gave him a grudging smile. "I still think you are a meddlesome Major, but…I do consider you a good friend. Now, what brings you here today, really?"

He looked extremely uncomfortable. "It is your turn to be candid." He looked me straight in the eyes and I thought I saw something almost like fear in the nut-brown depths behind his. "Do you have…um, does your heart…well, what I mean to say is, are you, have you any intentions of...? Oh hell. Bloody hell."

"Can I make this a little easier for you?" I asked, inwardly amused. "You wish to know if I am planning on courting any females currently in residence at Edrington Hall with my eventual object being matrimony." He laughed.

"Now, see this is exactly the sort of thing I have been trying to explain to you about yourself, however badly. You are just so terribly perceptive and easy to know."

"Very well and thank you so very much. Alexander, I admire your sister and your cousin tremendously and were circumstances other than they are I might indeed try my luck with either or," I winked, "both of them. But I am in no settled state of affairs to offer marriage to a lady of their class. Particularly now, no thanks to you. And I hope I am a gentleman…I would not trifle with them or dishonor them no matter how much encouragement I received unless my intent was to marry them."

He looked exceptionally relieved, almost insultingly so. But before my ire could be aroused again, he said, "Archie, it would not displease me to have you marry into my family someday but I must confess I am glad to have these assurances. Because I have a very great favor to ask of you."

"What?"

"I know you are invited to the Neville dinner. I shall not be there. I do not trust some of those who will be there and I ask you, as my friend and as a friend of my family to keep careful watch over Lady Madeline and see that she does not do or say anything that would provide a basis for gossip or rumor. Her casual manner has already been noted."

"I will stick to her like moss on a tree if that is what you wish, Alexander, but I really think she does well enough on her own."

"No. She is caught up on her own affairs these days, playing off Wellesley against Vaughn in some sort of infernal game. I fear she may do something rash or scandalous. Please do watch over her, for my sake."

"Absolutely, you have my word on it. But where are you going? I thought you had several months of leave as I do."

"I did. But in my absence my Sergeant-Major has gotten himself into a world of trouble and is being Court-Marshaled. I leave for London today to speak on his behalf at the trial."

"My God! What happened?"

"He killed a fellow officer. No, not in a duel. Apparently, they were both drunk and came to blows over a female." He looked disgusted. "It was a girl from Mrs. Porter’s establishment."

I gasped. I knew that place, and I dare say, every young man of means who had been to London. "Do you mean they fought over a lightskirt?"

"Yes. And I am sure she did everything she could to bring them to that point. Silly doxie! Curse her, anyhow. Such trouble they cause."

"Well, Alexander, what else do they have to occupy their minds? Can you imagine a more boring life?"

"There you go again. Case in point. You have a very interesting way of looking at things. But, Archie, he is a good man, I know it! I fear that there has been a complete breakdown of discipline in the 42nd Foot since I left them ashore. Nothing else could explain such aberrant behavior. The charge is that he beat a man to death with his closed fists."

I felt my gorge rise, disgusted at such brutality. "Very well, Alexander. I will keep a watchful eye on your ladies. Godspeed to you, friend."

We rode back at a goodly clip and within minutes he was back in his carriage and speeding down the long road to London. I wished him well indeed.

 

Ch. 33–My Presence Is Requested and Required

The Neville residence, also known as Ransdell Hall, is an imposing pile of Northumberland gray slatestone with white columns and a wide veranda overlooking the sea. Viscount Lord Neville was a retired army officer who had reached the rank of Lt. Colonel before resigning his commission upon the death of his father. He had returned to his ancestral home and had been an active member of the House of Lords and had held many cabinet posts, including a short term as Chancellor of the Exchequer. This all, according to my father, who also had dabbled in politics and finance. I only mention this because I had been giving serious thought to resigning my own commission and wondered what I would do instead, if I were to turn down my orders to report to the Admiralty and leave the Navy entirely.

"FATHER." I said to him as I entered the study the morning of the Neville dinner party.

"Good Lord, Lad. You don’t have to scream. I’m a little hard of hearing but I don’t think I am completely deaf!" He looked up at me over his pince-nez from the pile of papers he had been sorting into neat stacks. "What can I do for you, Archibald?"

"Father," I continued in a somewhat less strident fashion. "What would you think if I decided NOT to stay in the Navy."

"You say your what? is stained with gravy?"

"NO…IF I DECIDED NOT TO STAY. IN. THE. NAVY!"

"Don’t shout, lad! I heard you perfectly well the first time. Hrmmph." Father drummed his fingers on the table. "Are you thinking of resigning then?"

"I’m looking at my OPTIONS." I’d told no one about my letters of the day before or my conversation with Edrington.

"Well, I think you should consider a political career. Yes, that would suit you very well." He sorted through the stack of government reports. "Hmm….here’s an interesting post. In the Diplomatic Corps. Yes, that would do. Travel, excitement, change of scenery, strange food, even stranger company….just about everything you get on a Frigate I would imagine except the actual getting shot at. You’d fight with words, not cannon and pistol."

"Diplomatic Corps.." I rolled the idea around in my mind. It had possibilities.

"Mind you, these posts are pretty popular..a lot of bright young lads and some not so young ones want to take a crack at Diplomacy. If I were you I’d cultivate Lord Neville at dinner tomorrow. Impress him. He still has a lot of pull with the Diplomatic service."

But I didn’t get my chance to make myself popular with Lord Neville. For that afternoon, as I was beginning to dress for Honoria’s dinner party, I heard an absolute racket outside on the flagstones in front of my house and was completely astounded to see Cecil Vaughn fling open the door of his carriage, hurl his stocky form out of the seat and pound up to our front door bellowing my name. I ran down the staircase to find our footman had already opened the door and was trying without success to take Cecil’s hat and coat. His glasses were askew on his ruddy face and he irritably slapped poor Newby’s hands away.

"Archie! The most horrible thing.." he panted, gasping for breath. "She said to fetch you…oh, it’s impossible! This sort of thing….doesn’t happen here. What to do?" The words were tumbling out in a torrent and he was positively trembling, as if with rage. I grasped him firmly by both shoulders and gave him a good shake.

"What?! What’s happened? Cecil, calm down and tell me what has happened."

"She is been kidnapped! She went shopping in town, and the next thing you know, her carriage is gone and her in it!"

"Again?" I said incredulously. "Up here? Cecil, are you sure?"

"Again?" he said. "Again? You mean this has happened before?"

"Oh yes," I said grimly. "On our way from Portsmouth, near Reading. She was taken by the French. Edrington and I were obliged to rescue her." At once, I thought about the Earl, gone to London. What on earth would we do without his cool head in this crises?

"But, she is never been to Reading..." Vaughn’s brows knitted, then his eyes popped open wide. "Oh Archie, you great booby! Not Madeline. Katherine. Lady Katherine is missing!" He saw my cloak draped over a chair in the entry hall and tossed it to me. "Pack at once. I’ve been sent from Edrington Hall to fetch you. Lady Madeline was very definite on that point. Not to return, whatsoever or in any shape or form, living or dead, unless it was with Lt. Kennedy and…what was his name? Oh God…Starling? Wren? Mallard?"

"Finch?"

"THAT IS IT! Oh dear, oh good heavens HURRY! Lady Edrington is prostrate. The doctor is there attending her, and the constable, but he is going to be no use at all I can tell already."

I threw a few things in a satchel and told my parents to send a message to the Nevilles. Obviously, the ladies from Edrington Hall were going to be absent that night at dinner as well. I collected Jimmy Finch (whose small satchel was always packed apparently) and hopped into Vaughn’s carriage. I must say that whatever Cecil personally lacked in personal fleetness he more than made up for with the quality of his carriage team, for in no time we were pulling up in front of Edrington Hall to see Lady Madeline pacing back and forth in great agitation before the massive front doors to the manse.

FROM THE PERSONAL PAPERS OF ALEXANDER EDRINGTON, EARL OF EDRINGTON

Nov. 20th, 1798

Dear Madeline,

I was thinking today of Shannon and how much I look forward to the puppies. Hearing yesterday morning that you thought that the mating had been successful with Moustache gave me pleasantly hopeful thoughts on my journey to London. I had not realized how old our dogs were getting until I saw them again after so long an absence. To allow the Edrington Deerhound line to die out would be unconscionable. I know we do not agree about many things but I feel certain we agree on this. Of course, you may select the puppy of your choice and raise it as you wish. That is, if you have not by that time chosen to get married to a man who cares not for it. It will always have a home at Edrington Hall, so fear not on that account.

It was a day and a half of hard riding, but I am here and the trial of my Sergeant-Major starts tomorrow. His offense is something I cannot discuss with a lady, and so continuing to press me about it will get you nowhere I assure you. Military matters are none of your concern, but your curiosity about them astounds me. Lady Katherine has never asked me questions of that nature, nor have the other ladies of my acquaintance. It is the sort of thing that is remarked upon.

I hope that by the time you receive this letter that you are reflecting on a pleasant evening spent at Lord Neville’s Ransdell Hall. I always admired the style of his house. So well-designed for a small country house, I think. Excellent gardens, you must see them in the late spring. Lady Honoria’s roses are famous throughout the county. Ask her for some cuttings. It will flatter her. We could use some new roses planted out by the stables. The climbing sort. You know what I mean. If not, ask Katherine for an opinion. She is generally considered sound in the matter of flowers.

Do write to me if you have any time between visits from that Irish rascal, Wellesley, and good old Vaughn and let me know how Shannon progresses. Ask the cook to give you a largish piece of liver or one pig’s kidney every day for her and make sure she eats all of it. You may feed it to her with a fork should you not care to touch it with your fingers. Do not allow her to gulp it all down at once. I shall be home well in time for Mother’s birthday no matter what transpires here in London.

Sincerely,

Alexander

November 20th, 1798

Dear Capt. Pellew,

This will be brief, as I have concerns in London that require all of my attention. Your former Lt. Archibald Kennedy has made a great success of himself upon his return to society back in his home country. He is highly sought-after by the premier hostesses of Northumberland. However, he was not entirely pleased with his reassignment, although I think he is becoming used to the thought of himself in a new role. I would thank you very much in the future if you would keep my name out of your correspondence with Kennedy, as he does not perceive my efforts on his behalf in the same benevolent light as you must have thought he would.

I have heard that you are busily occupied with training exercises in the Channel. Your expertise in this area is too well-known for me to hazard any wishes for best of luck, and I will instead therefore express my confidence that one day I shall read of this new crew and see all of the supreme readiness and enterprise that so impressed me during my all-too-brief time with your former crew on the Indefatigable.

Remember me kindly to the admirable Mrs. Pellew, and to Lt. Hornblower, whose name I shall look to see in future featured almost as prominently as your own each time I read the Naval news dispatches.

Yours Most Sincerely,

Major Alexander Edrington, Earl of Edrington

 

Ch. 34--Kennedy's First Command

 

Lady Madeline came down the marble stairs in a rush, grasping both our sleeves as we stepped out of the carriage and tugging us in the direction of the house. "Jimmy, go to the stable directly. Reese is expecting you. If he needs tea, tell Cook." To us she said "Please, we must talk. The Constable has gone to town to make his report but I should think he will be back within the hour."

We bounded up the stairs and made for the library. I almost had to run to keep up with Lady Madeline, so quick were her strides. She looked pale as death. "How is Lady Edrington?" I asked.

"She is asleep, thank merciful Jesu for that. The doctor gave her a strong dose of opium. Thank you so much for coming, Mr. Kennedy. I knew I could rely on you."

"Of course," I answered. "But what can I do? Does the Constable have any ideas about where Lady Katherine might have been taken, or by whom?"

"Not that he has shared with me, but I don’t think he knows enough to make any sense of it. Now," said Lady Madeline, "we wait."

"For what?"

"To hear from Lady Katherine’s abductors, of course." Cecil Vaughn had recovered a great deal of his composure on the carriage ride to the Hall, whether from the comfort of my company or simply because he had successfully performed the task he had been given by Lady M I could not say. His eyes were bright behind his spectacles. "I wonder how much money they will ask for her safe return?"

"They will not ask for money." Lady Madeline said hollowly, her eyes brilliant with unshed tears. "They will ask for me." Cecil stuck out his lower lip and expelled a sharp breath. His reddish-blonde fringe ruffled impatiently.

"Why do you say that?"

"Perhaps we’d better begin at the beginning," I interjected. "There are some things you don’t know."

"Please." Lady Madeline nodded her compliance, flickering her fingers at me as if to say "go on, tell him, I don’t care…". She turned her back to us and stood looking out the library windows down to the river below, chewing on a finger.

"All right, Cecil, how much have you heard about how Lady Madeline came to be here?"

"Just the initial gossip, of course, that Edrington had located a cousin thought to be dead in France, and then what the Lady herself told me…that she had escaped the Chateaux and been living in hiding at the home of some family retainers in order to avoid being captured and tried by the French Republican guards. All of us, Archie, who stayed at home instead of joining up have met many, many émigrés over the past eight years. More of them down in the southern counties…Bath, Brighton, Southhampton, and so forth…than up here of course. All of them will tell you the same thing, that if they’d not escaped they would have met Madame Guillotine. Few of them, however," he looked sharply at Madeline, "had the good fortune to have such illustrious English connections."

I thought of what I had heard about the émigrés. They were tolerated as grudgingly-accepted guests of His Majesty, often arriving impecunious; the women descending into gentile but shabby poverty unless they were particularly beautiful and married well, the men often sliding into drunken dreams of former power and prestige. At first, they had been cultivated by society, as no one really believed that the Republican government would last, but as the years dragged by any hope of eventual repayment upon the émigrés returning to France and recovering their former wealth and power faded. More and more doors of the Quality began to close in faces of the French and every English town now boasted a French Milliner, a French Confectionary, and an elderly gentleman with soft hands and sad eyes who would teach your children French for the price of a hot meal and a few shillings.

"Forgive me, Cecil, for not having been completely candid. I think when you hear the whole of it you will understand why my Lord Edrington wished me to be circumspect," Lady Madeline said softly, looking at no one.

"I am all attention, dear Lady."

"The Lady Madeline," I interrupted, not wishing her to give away too much, "is not only an aristocrat but she also passed information to the British Navy. Information which resulted in a successful action on the evening we found her."

"Spying? For our side? How absolutely unheard of…why, I’d call it unique. Yes. Unique. That is the mot juste!" Cecil looked not so much appalled as intrigued. Good old Cecil. "And you think that what you did in France is somehow to blame for what happened this morning?" Lady Madeline started to answer, but once more I interrupted her.

"Not so much spying, Cecil, as simply being in a position to observe certain things and having the means to get these observations to those who could make good use of them. But one can hardly blame the Frogs if they want to put her on trial. Her information led in part to the loss of six ships of war, several of their best Captains, and a large portion of the armament of a shoreline battery fortress. She was abducted once before, shortly after we left Portsmouth, but the trail was not cold and Edrington and I were able to retrieve her safely." I did NOT want to relate to him how she had participated in her own rescue.

"I know these people," Madeline said softly. "The price on my head is high enough to tempt, even here, though I had thought myself safe this far from France. And so long as I remain unmarried, I am still a citizen of France. No English authority will pursue me once I am taken from English soil."

" Interesting….very. Tell me what happened today. Omit nothing." Cecil said firmly, finally sitting down and drumming his fingers lightly on the leather arm of the chair.

"I had two appointments this morning–my dress for the Neville dinner party was due for a final fitting and to be picked up. After my fitting, I had planned to give the dressmaker time to put the finishing stitches in by calling at Blanchette’s.."

"The Confectionary?"

"…Yes. That is the one. Katherine had asked me to order a special confection for Lady Edrington’s birthday."

"And she had planned to accompany you on this visit?"

"No. I had planned to go out alone, with just Reese to drive me, since our coachman is with Alexander in London."

"But Lady Katherine came after all." Cecil stated. "Umm humm…"

"Yes. She finished her book this morning and decided she wanted to pick up a new one."

I pondered this information. "So, until just a few minutes before you left the house, Lady Katherine was not coming out with you today."

"That is right, Archie."

"So you and Lady Katherine went out, driven by Reese."

"Who has been with the family for many years," added Cecil. "I think we can absolve him from suspicion."

"Particularly when you consider how difficult it would have been for him to split the back of his own head open," added Lady Madeline with disgust. "But I am getting ahead of events. Lady Katherine’s idea was that before I went to the dressmaker that I would stop at the bookseller for her. Then she would have something to read in the carriage. She trusted me to pick out something she would enjoy."

"If you were going to choose a book for her, then why did she insist on going?" I wondered.

Madeline gave me a hard look. "Can you imagine what her life is really like? She just wanted to get out of here. We converse, comment on the shops, exchange opinions on the gowns and hats worn by the passing ladies. We are….friends," she rolled the word around slowly, wonderingly, as if the concept was unfamiliar to her. Perhaps it was.

"Soooo…" Cecil mused. "If Katherine was the intended victim then the abductor must have been extremely opportunistic."

"Quite. We stopped at the bookshop and I got her a book. Then we went to the dressmaker. I knew it would take at least the better part of an hour to complete all the fittings, so I told Katherine that if she wished to have Reese drive her to Blanchettes so she could order the cake herself that I would not mind waiting if she returned a little later than we finished up inside. Mrs. Blair fitted me, we looked at some new fabrics and ribbons she had just gotten in from London, and then I went to the front parlor and waited. After two hours had passed since I had been left there and the carriage had not returned, I became alarmed. I went to stand outside to peer down the road, hoping for a glimpse, anything…and then the constable drove up in his phaeton and he had Mr. Reese with him, a large bandage wrapped around his head."

"And that was when you heard that Reese had been knocked unconscious by an assailant he never saw when he stopped to help a man who had passed out in the street on a small side road near Blanchettes. This, according to Reese."

"That is right. When he awoke, he was under a hedgerow on a back street at the outskirts of town, and the carriage was gone."

I thought of the appearance of the Edrington carriages. The Edrington coat of arms was displayed prominently. There were curtains of some sort of gauzy material at the windows which preserved the privacy of those inside the carriage while still allowing them a fairly good view of the passing scene. Yes, Lady Madeline and Katherine were of a size, both had brown hair, done in similar style. It would be possible to see Katherine through the curtains and assume it to be Madeline. One sees what one expects to see, exactly as Pellew had said. Lady Madeline had planned to leave the dressmaker and go to the Confectionary herself.

"Who had you told of these plans?" I asked.

Lady Madeline began to pace. "Reese, of course. And you, Cecil, if you recall. When you came yesterday, just as Honoria Neville was leaving. Ooh!" she brought her fist to her mouth, "I told Honoria, too. She asked if she could call today and I told her I was going to be running errands all morning and she asked where I was going and would it be convenient for her to meet me at the dressmakers."

"Why did she want to do that?"

Lady Madeline looked blankly at me. "She asked me if I would care to help her look at fabrics for a wedding gown."

"For whom?" Cecil Vaughn asked. "Unlike me not to know if someone in the county is getting married."

"For herself, I suppose. That is very much what she implied."

"Ah," said Cecil. "And what did you tell her?"

"I told her about my obligation to stop in at Blanchettes and she said that it probably wouldn’t be convenient since I had planned such short calls at Madame Blair’s."

"Lady Madeline," I asked. "Do you consider Honoria Neville a friend also?"

"She is agreeable company. She is quite eloquent on certain subjects. Gardening, the correct seating of guests, the dernier cri of bonnets, the servant problem, and Edrington, of course." Madeline stared at a the big chair in the corner. "Katherine enjoys her the most, because she always brings news and gossip of the county. Of course, I don’t know most of these people so it is of little interest to me."

"Interesting," said Vaughn. "Extremely. I wonder…". But I did not get to hear what he wondered about for the door was flung open by Lt. Col. Arthur Wellesley, who crossed the room in a great rush wasting no time capturing Madeline’s small hand in his and bringing it to a dashed efficient pair of lips. Ashok eased in behind him, no longer in his servant’s garb but wearing instead plain brown pantaloons, boots, and a shooting jacket. His black wavy hair was dusty and he looked very tired.

"My dear Lady!" Wellesley exclaimed. "I came as soon as I could. Do you have the letter? My swiftest courier awaits." Madeline took a small envelope out of her reticule, and handed it to him wordlessly. "A day and half to London, no more, with God’s aid and good weather. Edrington should encounter no difficulties in postponing whatever duties remain. I shall add my own entreaty to Cornwallis to allow his Lordship to make an immediate return." He took the envelope and departed.

I fervently hoped that in three days time we would have recovered his sister. I did not wish to face the Earl when he arrived if we did not have happier news. My dark musings were interrupted again by the entrance of another visitor, a middle-aged chap, who entered the library without so much as a polite rap on the doorframe. He was followed closely by Reese, whose head was wrapped in linen bandages.

"Constable Dobbins," he said to me. "I ‘ave already ‘ad the pleasure of meeting Lord Vaughn."

"Lt. Archie Kennedy, HMS Indefatigable" I said, nodding slightly. "A friend of the family."

"Quite." said Dobbins. "Mr. Reese and I ‘ave been going over the events of this morning one more time. I wanted you to know, ma’am, that I ‘ave my men going door to door throughout the village. I should think Lady Katherine’s captors cannot ‘ave gotten far."

"Thank you, Constable Dobbins, but I do think that the blackguards have probably taken her some distance from the town," Lady Madeline said emphatically.

"Nonsense, ma’am. A carriage such as yours must’ve been easy to spot, and readily noticed. Mark my words, we will find it soon enough. Don’t fret y’self, we will get ‘er back."

But the afternoon faded into evening and they did not get her back. Cecil closeted himself with Madeline in the library and they pored over maps of the county. I sat on the balcony overlooking the river and thought hard…it was clear to me that the abductors must have by now realized their mistake and would be desperate to make some use of their unexpected captive. The thing to do was to wait, as Madeline herself had proposed. And the next morning, as Cecil and I sat drinking tea and watching Lady Madeline pace before the hearth, the footman, Montross, entered with a letter which he claimed had been found by the gardener wrapped around a brick laying in the center of the carriageway just inside the gates to Edrington Manor. I opened the envelope and a long lock of wavy dark brown hair fell out into my lap.

In block letters, the missive read:

"If you wish to see Katherine Edrington alive again, the Lady Madeline Du Martine will give herself up tonight at 10 o’clock, at the old Gristmill on the Tweed River. No more than two unarmed men may escort her. Any attempt to use arms, any more than two men, or any attempt to contact the authorities will result in the death of the Lady."

Lady Madeline snatched the letter from my hand and read it with great agitation.

"Lady Madeline," I said. "I forbid you, absolutely, to give yourself over to these villains. I will not allow it. Your cousin would never forgive me if I did. Cecil and I shall come up with a plan."

 

FROM THE PAPERS OF ALEXANDER EDRINGTON, EARL OF EDRINGTON

Nov. 21, 1798

Dearest Sister,

How are you faring? Was the dinner party at the Nevilles the same dead bore that we have come to expect? Oh, I am being wicked, I know you enjoy Honoria’s company but she is so much occupied playing the hostess with no mother to do THAT duty. One is quite sure their kitchen staff still compares poorly to our own. I trust you found that something of interest appeared on your plate at some point during the evening. I hope it was a PLEASANT surprise. Between whom did Honoria seat Kennedy? That would be most illustrative of her true sentiments regarding minor sons of baronets of sub-Admiral rank.

My own affairs here in London have taken a melancholy turn. It is most disagreeable to see a young man whose fortunes seemed assured throw a bright future away over an infatuation with an unsuitable female. More than this I would not care to say, but I had hoped that the initial reports were exaggerated. I very much fear they were not. My best efforts on his behalf will probably result in the disgrace of a dishonorable discharge. Without my witness, he would hang at the end of a rope and that is certain. Yet, today in the dock, he looked at the little guttersnipe who was the cause of it all as if she was a combination of Kitty Cobham and the Queen of Sheba. Most extraordinary, for as near as I could tell she was a smallish quiz of a girl with impossible hair and a bosom quite out of proportion to the rest of her.

Appointments the next two days with Cornwallis. Then, hopefully, I shall have leave to return. Did you contact our guest for Mother’s dinner? I think if our Bailiff’s reports are accurate, the cake itself will not be the centerpiece of the evening’s festivities.

I am sorry, truly, that my letter is so brief. My mood is subdued this evening, reflecting on folly and hope. Perhaps Mother’s favorite authoress expresses these disordered thoughts with more feeling. One would not QUITE wish to be such a sodden dishrag as the Bonny Lieutenant, but one could wish that the flesh and bone heroines of this not quite so Bonny Major’s life had half as much sense as those in the Bonny L.’s fictitious English village.

Your affectionate brother,

Zandy

Ch. 35--A Master of Disguise

At that moment, the Dowager Countess came into the room. She looked haggard, as one might expect, and sat down heavily in a wing chair, pressing a handkerchief to her mouth and staring out the big windows down the carriageway. Cecil wordlessly handed her the ransom note.

"Ma’am, we’ve heard from the kidnappers," I said quietly. "She is surely alive and well and we will get her back, I swear it! These men may be desperate, but they wish her no harm, please take comfort in that at any rate."

Lady Madeline rushed over and knelt by her side, taking her free hand. "Lady Edrington, I am so very sorry I have brought danger into your lives…if I had any way of knowing my past would follow me here I would NOT have come." Lady Edrington did not look down at her.

I gave Cecil a meaning look. It was time for us to start laying our plans. We left the two motionless women, one sitting and one kneeling, each staring out the window like figures in a tragic tableaux. Edrington’s study suited me right down to the ground as a place to get some real thinking done. It had the sort of dark brown moodiness conducive to deep thoughts. At least, I hoped so, for right now I was feeling distinctly rattled.

"All right," Cecil said. "Let’s review. The kidnappers have left us with a very unpopular choice to make. The life of Lady Katherine or the freedom of Lady Madeline and one can only assume that if they are, as we suspect, agents of the French government then as soon as they get her back to France, they will have some sort of public spectacle of a trial and then execute her. Fanatics!" he spat. "Unpredictable sorts…so glad we don’t have that sort of thing here."

"That is how I see it."

"Well? I suppose one could always turn over the Lady and hope that the kidnappers were men of their word and would restore Lady Katherine to us, and then we could hope, or plot, for the eventual rescue of Lady M."

"Unacceptable, Cecil. I could never agree to such a plan. If we failed to recover her….no, it’s just to horrible to contemplate."

"But if we do not present them with something this evening, then Lady Katherine will remain captive."

"Perhaps not…they surely do not wish to risk the sure retribution if they were found to have killed or injured the sister of an Earl…and a military officer at that! Perhaps if we simply refuse their demands they will just abandon her somewhere."

Cecil scratched the tip of his nose. "Unlikely. Very. I think these men will try again and again. If they followed Lady M all the way up here, then they must be quite determined. No, I think it would be best to make that rendezvous. The Frogs must be made to show their faces."

"I won’t have it, Cecil! Lady Madeline shall not be handed over to these murderous Frogs!" I was pacing the room now, very unhappy with the choices that lay before us. I smacked the desktop hard with my flattened palm. "I thought you were courting Lady M, Goddammit! How can you sit there and speak so casually of tossing her back to the French?"

"I wasn’t suggesting that we do anything of the sort!" Cecil looked wounded. "Now see here, Archie. These fellows have already made one mistake. Perhaps they’ll make another. Lady Madeline must make her rendezvous…" He tilted his head and looked at me oddly. "How tall are you anyway?"

"Five feet, seven or so. All right, five foot six. What’s this got to do with…" I suddenly choked on my words and began to back away from him. "Oh. Oh no. No. Uh Uh. Not THIS Leftenant."

"Well, I’d do it of course, Archie, but being (ahem) a gentleman of somewhat fuller habit than yourself I think I would not fool anyone. Turn your head to the side. Hmmm….yes. Except for the eye color I think it just might work. And it WILL be night."

"Cecil, I protest. Vigorously."

"You are quite fetching when you are angry, you blush becomingly, I confess myself enchanted. Do you know that spray of freckles now highlighted so vividly across the bridge of your nose is not unlike the bewitching Lady M’s? Here…" he threw me a brown coverlet that had graced the back of the Earl’s desk chair. "Put this over your hair and tie the ends under your chin."

"Oh shut up, Cecil." But I did it.

"All right, now let’s see you walk. NO! Not like that. You aren’t striding boldly across the deck of a bloody Frigate to berate some poor sot for having tied a knot backwards. You are mincing, your slippers have thin soles, you can feel every rock and sharp stone and you are terribly afraid but you are resolute." I began to slow and shorten my strides and curve my shoulders inward. "Hmmm. Something’s missing." Cecil said. And he pulled several pieces of parchment from the desk drawer and wadded them up into balls, then he stuck the damnable things down my shirt front. "OK, hold that pose. Your head droops, from fatigue, exhaustion, shock…but you do not cower. You are a noble lady, nobly born, nobly bred. You will accept your fate. Vive le Roi!"

Naturally, Lady Madeline chose that moment to make her unannounced and unheralded entrance.

"Lady Madeline," said Cecil, bowing deeply. "I’d like to present Lady Madeline Kennedy. She is a little bit shy, as you can see, but she is at your service."

It was a credit to Lady Madeline’s quick mind that she did not jump to several of the more unpalatable conclusions.

"Oh heavens, Lord Vaughn. Is this how I look? I might as well go put my head on the block right away. Life," she said with an appalled glance at my chest, "is scarcely worth the humiliation."

Then she stared at me critically, head tilting in a mirror image of Vaughn’s. "What’s needed is some jewelry, and the hair’s all wrong. Also, a gown. Perhaps Mrs. Blair can do another fitting for me today. Aha!" she exclaimed. "Lady Edrington has some excellent wigs. Wait right there, Archie!"

"Oh Madeline," I said, dropping any pretense of formality. (It’s difficult to maintain that sort of thing when you have two enormous wads of paper in the front of your shirt, I find.). "Not you, too! Oh well, at least make sure whatever gown you purloin has enough room for me to secrete a pistol or two. Better yet, a cannon!"

"Got room for two cannons," quipped Cecil, staring pointedly at my chest.

"Cecil, if this plan does not work I will have to call you out. You realize that, don’t you?"

"If this plan does not work I’ll probably save you the trouble and just shoot myself directly," He said, suddenly serious.

FROM THE PAPERS OF ALEXANDER EDRINGTON, EARL OF EDRINGTON

Journal

November 22

This morning, the court-martial went into an extended recess owing to the sudden indisposition of the counsel for the defense. My theory is that the apparent hopelessness of the case against my former Sergeant-Major led the man to spend most of the previous evening in the taverns. I used this unexpected free morning to buy some presents in London. I got quite a nice set of Fielding, bound in leather, for Katherine; a very good sort of brooch for my mother’s birthday; and at an Antiquaries I found the most charming little Greek vase which showed two rough-coated hounds running alongside a Chariot and thought immediately how much Madeline would like it.

Afterwards, I---

(N.B.: this entry was never finished.)

 

It took most of the morning but I was eventually outfitted in a gown, which was damnably tight across the chest; bonnet, wig, cloak, and a rather nice sort of necklace. Lady Madeline produced some creams and powders (I never knew she had need of that sort of thing) and plastered them liberally on my face. When she was done, they both stood back to admire the effect. Lady Madeline frowned.

"Cecil. I still think he looks like a man wearing a dress and a wig."

"Oh come on, Madeline. It will be night. Here, let’s draw the curtains." The curtains in Edrington’s study were of heavy dark brocade and when drawn, the room was quite dark. Cecil pulled out a match and struck it on the hearthstone. "Pull your cloak over your head, Archie." He came around me with the match and held it up near my face, then did the same to Lady Madeline. "I think the resemblance is near enough."

"Yes, but what about his voice?"

"Yours is rather more alto than not, my dear girl. Archie, do your best."

I did.

"Perhaps the best thing to do is swoon, then, as soon as the blackguards speak to you. I’ll lift you into their carriage, and then we shall recover Katherine, and you are on your own from there. We will do our best to trail you of course, but I would expect you will escape without difficulty." Easy for him to say.

"It would be best, Cecil, if you did not grunt and groan quite so much when you lift me tonight. It could arouse suspicion."

Very well, we were resolved. We had considered briefly an idea suggested by myself that we simply ride out as ourselves and offer them quite a bit of money to give us back Katherine and forget the whole thing but both Madeline and Cecil pointed out that these men were more motivated by political fervor than profit. We’d have no more success trying to buy them off than a French Captain would have if he offered Captain Pellew a substantial amount of gold to stop firing cannon at his ship.

But as the day went on, Lady Madeline grew more and more agitated. She complained of headache and went to her bedroom for several hours. Constable Dobbins returned to tell us that the Edrington carriage had been found abandoned in a barn. The farmer on whose land the barn stood appeared to be genuinely surprised to find an empty carriage of such elegance in his barn when he came into it to feed his oxen and wasted no time riding into Aynesley to report it for fear of being accused of the theft himself. He had been at market all the previous day and had been seen by witnesses who had purchased chickens and vegetables from his wagon. We did not tell Dobbins about the ransom note. Lady Madeline had him down to a nicety as a man of little imagination. He would have had dozens of men stomping around the Gristmill, scaring off the kidnappers and any chance we might have of getting Katherine back.

The day faded. Cecil and I determined that it would take an hours’ ride to get to the mill at Berwick-upon-Tweed. We had planned to leave shortly after 9 o’clock, taking Cecil’s coachman as our second. He was a sturdy-looking fellow and according to Cecil, a former pugilist of some distinction, having earned Cecil’s gratitude and eventual offer of steady employment by performing to expectations each time Cecil had wagered a good sum on the outcome of one of his fights. After dinner, Lady Madeline (who had eaten little) pronounced that her nerves would not support the wait. I was surprised to find myself being kissed on the cheek but before I could return the gesture, she had moved on to Cecil and was soon taking her leave, announcing her intention of taking a strong dose of laudanum. "I have been the most fortunate of women," she said. "to have the honor of knowing the finest of men."

"Well!" said Cecil. "Let’s go slay a few dragons."

But as I was putting the final touches on my disguise, there was a furious pounding on my door. "Archie! Madeline is gone! And the Butler! And the kid! Pigeon, Titmouse, or whatever his name was…Reese just came to the back door in a panic. Three horses missing from the stables!"

We made for the stables and Reese was waiting there, head still in a bandage. "Saddle up the fastest horses you’ve got!" I yelled at Reese, who stared at me with an expression of utter bewilderment. Damn it all! I had forgotten I was still wearing the blasted dress. "What are you looking at? Do as I say and stop dawdling!" I tried to sound as much like Pellew as possible. He started pulling saddles off the wall but then began to curse vividly.

"The girth straps are all cut, sirs! Lookit. They’ve all been slashed clean through." It was true. Every saddle ruined. "Well, we will have to go in Vaughn’s carriage then.

"My horses have all been put in the pasture," Cecil cursed even more vividly than Reese did. His man appeared in the doorway. "Round them up, Stackhouse. And make haste, man!"

But of course, it took a great deal more time to get a carriage ready to go than it would have to simply saddle up three horses. By the time it was done, I was back in my man’s clothing, and armed to the teeth. Damn! I was angry. At Madeline, yes, but mostly at myself. What an appalling lubber!

We made good haste to Berwick, but as we neared the Gristmill it wasn’t hard to determine, even though it was a very dark night, the location of the rendezvous for the sky was brilliantly-lit by orange flames. The whole mill was ablaze. And silhouetted against the flames was a single horse, and a strangely-shaped rider. As it galloped closer we saw it was Ashok, with Lady Katherine lying limp and waxen across the pommel of his saddle before him, but as we reached out and took her into the carriage, she gasped and coughed. Alive, thank heavens and all the saints for that.

"She has breathed much smoke. Her lungs…Lord Vaughn, we must get Lady Katherine to her home and send for the doctor." He looked at me and dismounted. "Here is my horse, Sahib Kennedy, he is strong and fleet." His eyes looked like dice in the faint light of the quarter moon. "The Lady Madeline. They have taken her."

 

 

Subject Ch. 36--A Letter from Madeline

To describe the many darkened lanes I searched that night, the late travelers I questioned (most of whom were far too drunken to be of any use), and the small hamlets whose crisscrossing streets I traced and retraced would be a tedious slog for the reader with no pot of gold at the end of it. For as dawn was breaking I returned Madeline-less, dismounting Ashok’s jaded stallion and handing him over to the kind ministrations of a still-bandaged Mr. Reese, who was looking at me with a most peculiar expression. My sleep-starved brain turned creakily like a wheel on a rusted axle, but eventually disgorged the memory that the last time this man had seen me I was wearing a dress. Explanations would simply have to wait. I was for bed, unless Cecil had thought of something really brilliant. A frightening thought, considering his latest flowering of genius on the subject.

I entered the hall and was immediately met by both Cecil and the Dowager. Their initially hopeful expressions rapidly changed to scarcely-concealed disappointment which mirrored my own.

"How is Lady Katherine?" I asked.

"She is unconscious, but her breathing improves. The smoke she inhaled burned her lungs and throat. The doctor has said she must remain quiet and must not speak. He gave her a strong dose of laudanum."

Lady Edrington added gratefully, "I owe her life to all of you…Ashok for taking her from the fire, and the two of you, for the timely carriage to bring her quickly home."

"She has been unable to tell us anything that could help us, but I am satisfied that Ashok has told me all that he knows." Cecil added. "But there will be time enough for that. Was there…any trace?"

"No, " I sighed. "It is as if she sank beneath the waves, along with those who took her. And Finch."

"Finch? Er..of course..the child. Pity. Mr. Kennedy, go and sleep," the Dowager bid me, snapping a footman to attention. He escorted me to my room with a glass of warm milk. It was a credit to the life of a low-ranking officer that I had long been accustomed to snatching several hours of sleep at any time of day or night that the opportunity presented itself. Consequently, only a few hours were sufficient to give me renewed energy and a raging appetite upon awakening. Ashok himself brought a tray of luncheon to my room, softly knocking with Edrington’s own valet at his side. The valet brought freshly cleaned clothing, and directed two housemaids to fill a basin with hot water. I could not have been more carefully tended were I a newborn baby heir to the manse and it was a much cleaner, finer, and well-fortified Archie Kennedy who entered the library at 4 o’clock to find quite an assortment of people already there assembled.

Exhibit A was Lady Honoria Neville, resplendent in the silver and pale blue colors which by now I knew to be her own conceit, sat sobbing daintily into a scrap of lace and entreating Lady Edrington to allow her to visit Lady Katherine’s bedside.

"Oh, Madame! I will not know a moment’s peace or serenity until I have seen her dear visage for myself and felt her sweet breath on my cheek…the horrors I have imagined! To think it should have happened on the evening when I had SO hoped to give my DEAREST friend the best my home had to offer and such entertainments I had planned to delight her, for I know she cannot dance, and then to hear that she had been so cruelly taken from her loving family…." and more and more and more in that sort of vein.

Cecil stood in a corner, smoking a pipe and fingering the buttons of his waistcoat importantly, with two gentlemen who were conversing in hushed tones. Wellesley was standing with his back to me, his fingers ticking off the rows of Edrington’s military history books as if he were deciding whether or not he would make him a generous offer for the lot, or a smaller one for those volumns which he alone deemed worthy.

The two unfamiliar gentlemen turned to look at me when Lady Edrington exclaimed "Mr. Kennedy! How much better you look and how much courage it gives one to see the improvement. See, everyone is here now and simply waiting for you to begin devising a clever sort of plan to find Lady Madeline before it is too late." Her lip trembled slightly.

Lady Honoria said in a low, confiding sort of tone, "It really is too hard, dear Lady Edrington, you and dear Katherine just simply don’t deserve this sort of ill-use. Of course this sort of thing never happened before that…" But Lady Edrington cut her off, straightaway.

"Now, dear, there is just too much we do not know to speculate unwisely." She drew herself up and said "Come, Lady Honoria, my nerves will not support a single moment longer in this room. I feel the need for fresh air." She gave Cecil’s pipe a rather pointed look. "Won’t you accompany me to the gardens? Then, perhaps, we can look in on my daughter."

As soon as the two ladies had graced us with their absence, we all came together in the middle of the room.

Cecil spoke first. "Archie, these gentlemen are Mr. Jones, and Mr. Psmythe."

"The "P", in Psmythe, is silent," explained one helpfully.

"He is very particular on that point," offered the other, who I took to be Jones. "We are from His Majesty’s Government, and we are here to help."

"We have heard of you," said Psmythe. They were one-up on me, for I hadn’t heard of them.

"Oh really? In what manner?"

"Nice work in France. That whole sharpshooter impersonation thing. Well done," said Jones.

I looked them over closely, but I’m damned if I can describe them. They were sort of middling height, middling build. Their hair was either light brown, or dark blonde and their eyes were a sort of grayish, brownish, green color. Their clothing was well tailored, only about two years removed from the dernier mode, but unremarkable. In color, it was bluish/tannish/black. Or was it brownish-red? I confess I cannot remember. Their accents….similarly hard to place. Merchant-class, with a hint of the "Ton".

I was completely lost and Cecil felt it keenly. "Archie, these gentlemen have some dispatches that I think you should glance at." He handed me several sheets of parchment and I scanned them rapidly, and then reread certain passages with intense concentration. My current employment, as well as my honor, prevents me from revealing the exact contents of these most interesting documents, but suffice it to say they were the sort of thing to which any Military officer would give his most respectful attention.

"Well, then…" I whistled softly. "I’m glad to meet the both of you and your "offer" of assistance is most welcome."

"Constable Dobbins has been reassigned to investigate a horse theft." Cecil said. "Mr. Psmythe and Mr. Jones feel that just those of us who are already in possession of the main facts of the unfortunate disappearance of Lady Madeline will be more than sufficient to secure her return."

"That is welcome news indeed," added Wellesley. "But as you are all no doubt aware we can look for the Earl, tout suite. And to refuse to involve him would probably be unwise at best, dangerous at worst."

"If you are referring to Major Lord Edrington," Jones said with faint exasperation, "we have already factored him into our plans." Which was a good thing, anyhow, for at that moment we heard the front door bang open and sharp bootsteps ring out on the marble tiles of the great entrance hall. The door to the library was flung open and before us stood a very mud-splattered, very road-weary looking, very outraged Earl of Edrington.

"For God’s sake," he bellowed. "Someone tell me you have gotten her back!"

"Lady Katherine is here.." I began. Edrington came at me in a rush and took my hand, nearly crushing every bone in my fingers.

"Thank you, my friend, I am sure I am in your debt. Where is she?"

"She is in her bedroom, resting, and the doctor is in attendance. But.."

"The Doctor?" he gasped. "Is she..?"

"She has burnt her lungs from the smoke of the fire that was set by her captors.." Cecil began. Lady Edrington, apparently having been alerted to the return of her son, came sweeping into the room.

"Alexander!" she cried, throwing her arms around him in a most un-Countess-like display.

"I want to see her now," he insisted, gripping her firmly by her shoulders and holding her in front of him. Lady Honoria materialized and wasted no time in removing one of Edrington’s confining hands from his mother’s brocaded shoulders and pressing it to her shallow bosom.

"Oh Alexander.." she moaned. "I had to come, I couldn’t live with myself if you had to face this calamity alone." And draped herself around her neck as if she were a yoke and he an ox. Surprisingly, perhaps reflexively, he put his arms around her. She sagged into his embrace. "I shall go with you….it is too, too horrible. Poor, poor Lady Katherine. So innocent and dear, so unlike that…"

"Go and see her," Wellesley interjected. "You shall see for yourself that although she is in a drugged sleep, she is beautiful as ever and she will recover. Go," he gestured, "and then come back down for we have much to discuss." Edrington shot him an annoyed look, but he wasted no time following his mother from the room.

In the ten or so minutes that followed, Cecil rapidly brought me up to date on Ashok’s version of the previous evenings’ rescue. Lady Madeline had indeed planned to effect the rescue without us once she knew I was going to attempt to go in her place. He handed me a letter that she had written and left in care of Ashok. It read:

Dear Mr. Kennedy,

I am resolved to end this horror myself, since it is my own past that has followed me here. It would be unfair and a torment to my heart if you were to die in someone else’s war. This is not your war, it is my war, and I therefore cannot allow you to carry out your brave plan. I will honor you in my memory for however long that shall be. But I cannot continue to live like this, wondering if I am bringing peril and danger to my dear friends. This situation is intolerable. Tonight sees an end of it. I am sorry that I must resort to deceit.

If you hear from me again, it shall be because I have hope that you, Lord Vaughn, and perhaps my Lord Edrington (with luck and God’s aid) shall be in a position to advance the cause of His Majesty without grave danger to yourselves. If you do not, then please know that my life was not lived in vain since I had the great pleasure of knowing the best of men, which is a distinction few women can claim.

Vive Le Roi, and God Save the King, &etc.. I shall always remember the many and diverse kindnesses you have shown me.

M.

Ch. 37--The Major Takes Charge

"Have you shown this to our visitors?" I asked Cecil in an undertone.

"I have. I thought it a clue," was his only answer.

Apparently, Lady Madeline had deposited Finch in a copse near the rendezvous site, and had gone on with Ashok. She had trained a rifle on the two cloaked and hooded men who met them and demanded to know where Lady Katherine was and vowed that if they did not produce her she would shoot them down as they no doubt made ready to pierce her body with shot in kind. This proved to unnecessary, for one of the two shadowy figures (both of whom apparently spoke English with a light accent similar to Lady M.’s) lit a small fuse of a projectile he had pulled from his saddlebag. He shot it straight up and upon reaching a certain height, it proved to be a Chinese firework such as is employed in certain entertainments popular with royalty.

This "firework" could be seen at some distance and the shooter explained that Lady Katherine was being held at the gristmill, and that the firework was the signal to a confederate that Lady Madeline had arrived and the mill should be set ablaze. So, he explained, her choices were to continue to argue and threaten or to throw down her rifle and become captive. Her dusky friend, he added, could make his own decision, either trail them or if he were to leave immediately he would probably get to the burning mill in time to save Lady Katherine from the flames. His choice. And we had already seen what choice he had made. So, to the best of Ashok’s knowledge, Lady Madeline’s horse had been abandoned and most probably, a concealed carriage was in the area. Hopefully, young Finch had been in a position to trail Lady Madeline’s captors. We must simply await a message.

Having been quickly apprised of the salient facts, I had no sooner begun to ponder same when the Earl re-entered with the two ladies. His smile was broad, but fleeting.

"Thank heavens she is safe. My mother makes no sense at all, though. Archie, you must brief me." He looked around. "But where is Madeline? I thought to have seen her by now."

"Well, that is what we were trying to tell you…" said Cecil.

"Yes, Edrington. It is my unhappy lot…" I began.

"Who are these people?" asked Edrington, looking at the two newcomers as if for the first time. "What are they doing in my house?"

"They are from the government," said Cecil. "You see.."

"I am Mr. Jones. Lady Madeline has been taken by the abductors."

"WHAT?!" bellowed the Earl. "Who allowed her to.."

"And I am Mr. Psmythe. We would like to make you aware of certain circumst…" The Earl picked up his chess board off the corner table and dashed it to the ground.

"I have ridden," he said through clenched teeth "without stopping, ever since yesterday morning. And now YOU" He looked wildly at me "are saying to ME" he hissed furiously at Cecil, "that SOMEONE allowed Madeline to leave THIS HOUSE!!?? GOD!" He turned and regarded the two newcomers with his hot gaze. "Get these people out of here, by Jove, for I don’t care to lose my temper in front of total strangers!!"

"The ‘P" in Psmythe is silent." said Cecil.

"WELL!" the Earl barked. "In that case…."

"Dear boy, it is all my fault," sobbed Lady Edrington. "I was unkind yesterday, and implied to Lady Madeline that I blamed HER for Katherine’s misfortune. I fear the dear girl determined to be a heroine.."

"And how inconsiderate, how very rash, of her to vex you so sorely!" cried Honoria, clinging to the Earl’s dusty sleeve.

"Honoria, the sentiment is not unwelcome but I’ve pressing matters here. Go home. Please. There is nothing more that you can do here." Edrington looked down at her with an expression of some coldness, then turned to his mother with a kinder expression. "Mother, I do not blame you for anything that happens where Madeline is concerned. She is her own mistress." The two women, looking vaguely wounded, twined lacy sleeves together and left the library.

We proceeded to inform him of all the events of the past day and half, omitting nothing, even those things which showed Cecil and me in a less than brilliant light, which would include most things, sadly to say. And we showed him the letter that Lady Madeline had written to me.

"Archie," Edrington growled in a low and dangerous tone, "how could you be so stupid?" This was indeed a reasonable question. I thought frantically, a process that was aided by the sharp pain in my skull as I smacked it against the wood-paneled wall I was leaning against. It felt surprisingly good.

"I think.." I began carefully, "that my main problem was that I saw what I expected to see. I expected to see a female distraught and hysterical from the strain of knowing her friend and cousin was in grave peril. So when she said she was going to take a strong draught and try to sleep, I believed her."

"I totally absolve Vaughn from blame, for he cannot know her true nature as you should!" Edrington scolded. "But you, you of all people Archie, should know! Did I not tell you she is a lioness?!! I asked you specifically to keep an eye on her! How difficult could that be?"

"I underestimated her, Edrington. I’m truly sorry. I’ll not make that mistake again," I stammered.

"Pray God you have another opportunity not to make it." He shook his head, inhaling sharply as if to clear his disordered thoughts. "And I am to understand that I owe my sister’s life not to my peers and fellow noblemen but to an Indian servant?"

"That would seem to be the way of it." Jones said. "It strikes me that your Butler is cut from a finer bolt of cloth than most others."

"HELL!" The Earl exclaimed. "Bloody hell!" he offered by way of clarification. "I’ll have him sacked." He looked pensive. "But why? Why would he risk such danger to himself when you two were ready to rush to her aid?"

"Is not it obvious?" asked Cecil.

"No. Not to me." I said.

"He loves her," Cecil said simply.

"Then he loves without hope," added Edrington flatly.

"Love without hope is still love." Cecil stated with conviction, chin raised in defiance. Some of the heat in Edrington’s eyes damped down.

"Perhaps more so," he murmured, then abruptly grabbed Cecil by the shoulder, dark eyes sparking angrily again. "Vaughn, you seem to know a lot about what has been going on around here."

"Well, I have been around here QUITE a lot because I have spent so much time, and delightful time it was, too, paying court to.."

"I don’t want to hear about it, Vaughn," the Earl snapped. "I sincerely do not. Are you EVER quiet?" He furrowed the Edrington brow, massaging his forehead with the heel of his hand, then snapped his fingers. "Did anyone think to search her room?"

"It would hardly be our place to suggest…" I said.

"Well, it’s my house and I damn well suggest it!" countered the Earl. And up we both went, leaving Cecil, Wellesley, Jones, and Psmythe dumbfounded in our wake.

Edrington commanded the immediate presence of Lady Madeline’s maid and upon her arrival proceeded to throw every single garment out of her wardrobe and onto the bed. I tried to avert my eyes from the undergarments that came flying through the air. One of them would have smacked me in the eye if I hadn't caught it, a most alarming contraption of silk, thin metal hooks, and worn lace. I held it up curiously, turning it over and over. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how the bally thing was supposed to be worn. It smelled deliciously of rosewater and something else, something indefinable but interesting. Extremely.

"Put that down!" Edrington snapped. I started guiltily, and dropped it on a chair. "What’s missing?" He asked the little maid, who was staring at him with shock.

"Her cloak, one dress, a corset, nothing more!" she said, eyes wild with fright.

"Ah!" said Edrington, as he spotted her old battered satchel, the one she had carried with her from France, laying atop her pillows. He hastily unbuckled it. A creamy envelope lay on top, his name written in

sprawling hand across the front. He read it, eagerly at first but then with a growing expression of such wild dismay that I could scarcely bear to witness it. Passing it to me without comment, I read:

Dear Alexander,

I wish devoutly that this shall not be the last communication we have pass between us. But if it is, then I wish to thank you with all of my heart for the kindness you have shown me. Remember me to your sister and your mother; they are the finest women I have known other than my own dear mother. And as

for yourself, well, I didn’t think to find (here it was scratched out).

Alexander, if you should receive a message from me, then you must bring my father’s pistols. They are yours in any case, and the best things I possess, other than my dog, of course, whose welfare I know you are well worthy of safeguarding.

I am truly sorry for any distress and for the diverse expenses I have caused you and your family. Please understand that I must face my tormentors, and outwit them if I can. But I can live this way no longer.

Please make my apologies to Honoria if I am unable to serve as an attendant at the wedding. Also, Shannon has not had fresh liver or kidney, sliced or forked, for two days. I am sorry for that.

M.

Edrington stared at me, open mouthed, as I read this bizarre communication. "I don’t know what to make of this," he said in wonder, as he upended the satchel to tumble out two gleaming pistols of exquisite workmanship.

"I’m similarly dismasted," I said, "adrift! But it appears the Lady did not find this situation inexplicable to herself."

"No. She seems to have a grasp of the situation. If only I could say the same…" trailed the Earl as, having exhausted the wardrobe and the closets he continued to rummage deeper through the drawers of a small desk. He came up with a leather bundle.

"Edrington," I said, recognizing it with trepidation, "I don’t think that has anything to do with.." but it was too late. His slim white fingers were busily untying the laces. Three miniatures fell out onto the embroidered coverlet of Madeline’s bed. He looked at the first two.

"The Compte and Comptess." I said carefully. Then he picked up the last one and held it to his face.

"Who is this?" he asked tonelessly.

"That," I said reluctantly, "is Lady Madeline’s older brother. The one who died." But the Earl had already left the room and was racing towards the other end of the house. I found him before the portrait of himself as a boy, glancing rapidly from the painting to the miniature and back. He whirled to face me.

"You knew about this!" His tone was accusing. "What do you make of it." His voice was harsh, a charicature of its normally smooth timbre.

"Well, I wouldn’t like to say.."

"Say it."

"It strikes me as a possibility, based on the resemblance.." I gulped.

"That what? WHAT?!"

"That perhaps your father.."

"Yes?"

"Used Lady Madeline’s mother before she was, umm.., well that is to say, married. And whatnot."

Edrington’s jaw clenched. "That is what I make of it also. The resemblance is exact. DAMN! And to think I abused her mother…" he put both palms flat on the richly paneled wall next to the portrait and bashed his forehead against the shining wood. "Why did she bear it? Why did she not tell me the truth?"

"Is not it obvious?" I proffered. "She esteems you too much to wish to hurt you by debasing your father's memory."

"Then she should have thrown the bloody portrait in the river!" he howled, and stalked off down the hall.

I was awakened several hours later in rude fashion, being essentially hauled from my bed by my nightshirt collar to find Edrington in full military regalia at my bedside. A candle and a note were thrust in front of my bleary eyes.

"An urchin, not Finch, climbed over our wall and brought this note to the attention of Mr. Reese." Edrington explained.

Archie and Alexander, for I hope you are arrived by the time my messenger has found you.

Come to the Wensleydale Heifer Inn in Ripon with all the haste you can muster. Bring sandwiches. Also, one of my father’s pistols, the one with the ivy leaf engraving on the handle. No, bring both. No one else. There are many watchers of this place.

Madeline

"SANDWICHES?" hissed Edrington. "What the hell game is she playing?!"

"I suppose we are for Yorkshire, then?" I asked.

"Just get dressed," the Earl said curtly, turning his back to me. It was a wonder that until that moment I had not realized that he had cut his hair while in London in an imitation of Wellesley’s. But now, wild blonde curls were springing up surprisingly at the sides of his temples. "You have a LOT to answer for, Archie Kennedy, so it would be best in this instance if you were to get back on your horse and come with me to get her. I, too, have much to answer for. And intend to."

"What about the sandwiches?" I asked.

"Hang the bloody sandwiches!" Edrington grumbled. But he had brought several all the same.

 

 

Subject Ch. 38--The Coop

Five hours in the saddle and we were just over the north border of Yorkshire in the little village of Eaglecliff which we had passed through on our way north just a few weeks ago. The Wensleydale Heifer was a largish coaching inn where we had stopped for provisioning and so it was known to us both. But it was the last place we expected to find Lady Madeline, or for that matter, the small lad who emerged from the stables to take the reins of our tired horses as we entered the darkened courtyard.

"Finch!?" I said incredulously.

"g’mornin, Govs," said Finch cheerfully. "Right glad I am to see you two." Edrington and I dismounted.

"I’ll wager you are," Edrington said in a silky voice. "I do so very much hope that you are going to tell us just what the devil is going on? Where is she? Here at the Inn?"

"Nossir, but closeby, very close-like. I’ll take you to ‘er but, me Lord, you’ll need to take off them bright uniform." I had dressed simply in plain dark clothes, feeling that it would be better to be inconspicuous. But Edrington was a walking bonfire in the dim light of the stable lanterns.

"I did not pack for an extended visit," he muttered testily, "I’ll throw on a cloak if that will satisfy you. Now are you going to take us to her or not? and what are YOU doing here?"

"Got me a job ‘ere. Busy inn like this can allus use a lad what’s good wit’ ‘orses. And I can keep watch on Lady M. Get ‘er messages out, like yesterday. Cor! She is a brave one! I'd do anything for ‘er!"

"How old are you, anyway, Finch?" I asked.

"Twelve, sir." Oh Lord, that was the age, wasn’t it? I’d been accustomed to thinking of him as younger because of his small stature, but I recalled myself at 12 and the grande passione I’d developed for my sister’s young and pretty nanny. Finch had a bad case of heroine worship. He stood looking up at us expectantly.

"Me Lord, did you bring sandwiches?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Well, that bit about the sandwiches…that was moi idear. Lack o’ decent grub ‘ere for us lads. Lady M took pity on a poor boy…." Edrington removed the packet and made as if to hand it to him, then rapidly withdrew it, holding it just out of Finch’s reach.

"Not until you take us to Madeline," he said.

"Cor! Awright, but Sirs, you must be quietlike. Theys men all around the front and sides of the ‘ouse where they’ve got ‘er. But I have found a way in through the back." He put our horses, still saddled with our kit, in stalls and motioned for us to follow him. Which we did, down several winding streets until we came to a high wooden fence. Finch took out a pocketknife and slid it carefully between several of the boards. An entire section of three fell back neatly, caught by Finch. It was a generous entryway for a boy, a tight fit for a grown man.

"I worked on this fer ‘ours," he added. "It’s a good job, you couldn’t never tell it once I put the boards back on."

"Is she in there somewhere?" I asked, peering in through the boards at what looked the back of a small wooden shed.

"No, that is what you’ve got to crawl underneath, Sirs. It’s a chicken coop, so be quiet as you can. If the chickens start squawkin’like, they’ll come out sure enough to see what set ‘em off.

"Wonderful," said Edrington. "I fancied a crawl underneath a chicken coop. Then what, Finch? Quit dawdling!"

"Then you’ll see right in front of you a cold frame up next to the bottom of the ‘ouse. Lift that up, and then poke at the bricks near foundation a bit. There’s a couple that I have worked loose. Pull those out and you can see down inter the basement. Lady M.’s there, you can talk to ‘er. The guard is at ‘er door, but it’s thick and ‘e’s on the other side of it. If you talk quiet, you can speak with ‘er." He paused, looking thoughtful. "Ummm…."

"Oh fine!" and Edrington threw him the packet of sandwiches. "Just….stick around, keep watch, make some noise if anything starts to happen that you think we should be aware of." Young Finch, cheeks full of what looked to be the first of several sandwiches, nodded assent. "I really don’t know what to make of the lad. Well, shall we? Dung was, ah, your department I recall."

"Horse dung, yes. Deerhound dung, most certainly. But I am woefully lacking in experience with chicken dung. Or for that matter, rooster. As the senior British officer I think you should advance first," I countered.

Edrington saluted ironically, then turned his shoulders sideways and began to work his way carefully underneath the chicken coop with me right behind him. The gloom underneath the stinking coop grew as Finch carefully replaced the boards behind us.

It was several minutes of slow crawling through a variety of small foul-smelling things best left to the reader’s imagination but when we emerged into the dim light we saw the coldframe before us. This house had quite a small sort of backyard that was overgrown with weeds, vines, and willows. It would be difficult to see anyone on the ground in the area of the coldframe from the upperstory windows, unless, of course, he was wearing a bright red coat. Hence, Finch’s concern. But Edrington had covered his finery with a dark green cloak and was therefore as drab when seen from above as I was. We carefully opened the coldframe door and saw the bricks with the loosened mortar. Working two of them loose, our heads banged together in our mutual eagerness to have the first look inside. "Oof! Owch." I said. But I had gotten there first.

"Archie? Is that you?" came whispered from below.

"How could you tell? Madeline, are you all right?" I whispered back into the gloom. I heard the soft thump of an object being placed on the floor underneath the opening and then a pale hand emerged through the bricks. I took the cold fingers in my own. "Alexander is with me, Madeline. Everything is going to be fine. Tell me if you are injured."

"Archie, they have not hurt me. Hello, Alexander," was the whispered response. He shoved my face aside and put his hand over hers and mine.

"Madeline, what in God’s name were you thinking? Do you have any idea what this is doing to Mother? To me? and to have to drag poor Kennedy into another mess…" Madeline’s hand twisted from mine and was withdrawn.

"Did you come to lecture or to help?" she asked. "I had no choice. Please tell me that Ashok was in time to save your sister."

"He was." I said gently. "Lady Katherine will recover from the ordeal." A little sob of relief drifted up through the darkness. "Now, quickly tell us…how many men? Where stationed? Anything at all that we can use to plan your rescue from this place?"

"I don’t want you to rescue me."

"What? Of course we are going to rescue you!" said Edrington, shouldering me aside again and pressing his face to the opening.

"No, not yet…please. I am all right at the moment. My life is in no danger until I am taken to France. Please, do not be rash. But I don't wonder you are both very angry at me."

"Rash? You have a fine nerve to speak of rash actions, Maddy! Now see here, Archie and I have gone through a great deal of trouble to come here and by God we are going to rescue you whether you want to be rescued or not! And we are damnably angry with you, both of us, although Archie," he kneed me viciously in the side, "WILL act the gentleman despite his TRUE feelings on the subject. So will you help us or would not you?"

"I will help you, but listen…Alexander, give me your hand." hers reappeared in the opening and he grasped it. "These men think to take an even bigger prize than myself. And there are more of them around here than are at this one house. Please, if you can just be patient I WILL find a way to put them all before you. A day or two of waiting, no more." She squeezed his fingers. "I have a protector among them. For the time being, I am perfectly safe. I want you and Archie to go and get a room at the Heifer. Stay there, keep very dull, do not let anyone know your real names. You will hear from me, I promise. Finch will bring messages...he is brought me paper and pen and comes several times a day. And if what I suspect is true, we can not only eliminate the threat to me, but bring glory to you. Both of you."

I’d had about all I could take. "Madeline," I insisted, jostling for position with Edrington, "are you saying that your abduction is part of a larger intrigue?"

"Yes. Did Alexander bring my pistols?"

"I did," he said tersely.

"Then slide one through the hole. Make certain it is loaded and a few extra shot would not go amiss. I am going to secure it to my, um, thigh. If any of the sodding bastards really tries to harm me he’ll get the surprise of his life." Edrington’s eyebrow shot up. "Keep the other and pray that the set is reunited." Reluctantly, he did as she asked, removing one pistol from his belt and servicing it carefully before handing it through the aperture. At that moment, we heard a screeching, yowling noise behind the back fence such as a cat might make when fighting over a mate.

"That is Finch!" Madeline whispered. "His signal. Someone must be stirring in the house. You must go!"

Finch assisted us through the fence panel and then we slipped carefully back up the side streets, now looking rather suspicious since both of us had a grayish-black streak of chicken manure and adhering feathers up the front of our clothing. "Cor!" said Finch. "You swells stink!"

"I don’t recall asking for your opinion, Finch," I said. But I was lost in thought and Edrington was similarly distracted. It was all too confusing. We’d come to rescue the lady, and she would opted not to be rescued. That was very difficult to understand. We cleaned up as best we could and then took the contents of our saddlebags into the inn, where we checked into rooms as Mr. Andrew Kearney and his friend, Mr. Edward Alexander. Oh well, we were too tired to think of anything cleverer. And having been assured by young Finch that if ANYTHING that required our immediate attention arose that he would awaken us by throwing pebbles against our windows, we slept.

Thinking it best to have our meals sent up to our rooms on the off chance that the Earl might be recognized, I went downstairs that evening to order something, both of us ravenous after a long and refreshing sleep unbroken by any small gravel-flinging boys. This only to find two men seated smoking in the tavern who looked vaguely familiar. When they arose, I realized that I was looking at none other than Psmythe and Jones. They waved happily at me.

"I am surprised to see you here," I said as I joined them.

"Shouldn’t be," said Jones. "We are, after all, professionals."

"We followed you here."

"But we never saw you." I said.

"We are that good," Psmythe said modestly. "Now, I take it you and the Earl are in need of revictualling? Care for a bit of company?

"Sure, why not?" I stammered. My surprise at encountering these two was exceeded only by Edrington’s own when all three of us entered our room with a tray of meat pies and ale. He looked at the two newcomers quizzically, as if he were unable to place them at first, reflexively reaching for his pistol.

"No, Alexander," I warned. "These are His Majesty’s agents, remember? Psmythe, with a "P" and all that from yesterday?" He wiped his face hard with one hand and tugged irritably at his curls. He seemed to be doing a lot of that lately.

"Right. I do recall them. Very well, welcome to our humble quarters, gentlemen and let us hear what you have to say."

As we ate, they quickly brought us up to date. The official policy of His Majesty’s Government was still the same as it had been when it decided to back the ill-fated plan to recapture France for the Royalists by General Charette. Peace being the issue. The British crown had no wish to extend its resources on a long and drawn-out war with France, as looked ever more likely should Napoleon continue to gain in strength and daring. His Majesty, or more specifically, His Majesty’s ministers (for rumors had reached us that King George was, not to put too fine a point on it, potty as a greenhouse orchid) were resolved to shore up the treasury by investing the majority of their military might in advancing the fortunes of the East India Company and in protecting the shipping lanes to the East and West Indies. Expanding trade, not war with France, was in the best interests of the Crown and by extension, His Majesty's subjects. But there were, Jones added darkly, persons within the highest levels of trust of His Majesty’s Government AND the military itself who were resolved to take any actions which could embolden Napoleon and prevent peace. Psmythe added, "it may come as a surprise to Your Lordship, but not all peers of the realm are as fortunate in the wealth from their holdings, nor have all high-born families been as shrewd in their choice of lavishly-dowered wives as the Edringtons. There are substantial financial interests at work here. There are some who always profit from war, and grow rich off the takings."

"But that is dishonorable!" spluttered the Earl. "I can hardly accept such a condemnation. Surely no nobleman would turn traitor simply for money." But as he said it, I could see the realization dawning in his eyes that of course it was not only possible, but likely.

"It’s our task," explained Jones, "to root out corruption at the highest levels."

"Without embarrassment to His Majesty, of course."

"Of course," I mused, beginning to get a pretty good idea what these fellows were about. Was I looking at my own future? "But what of Lady Madeline? I would not be a party to anything that risks her safety."

"You’ll have to stop taking such a narrow view of things," said Psmythe.

"Oh give the lad a little free rein," chided Jones. "He is not been through the training."

What? I thought.

Jones continued, "Lady Madeline has been very helpful with this inquiry. And she is in no danger at present. Lord Edrington, have you counted your footmen lately?"

"No. I confess I don’t even know exactly how many we employ. I am so seldom at the Hall." Edrington's brow was furrowed with a vengeance.

"Well, it might interest you to know that several weeks ago, when word that you had located Lady Madeline in France reached Northumberland your sister was successful in finally luring away a footman she had long been coveting from a neighboring estate. But…I should say no more about…."

"Anyhow," interrupted Psmythe, "this footman is one of ours, although they think he is one of theirs."

"Must be a difficult act," I thought aloud.

"Not for this fellow, we plucked him off Drury Lane."

"He was one of the best," exclaimed Jones. "But we pay him much better than an actor’s wages. And.."

"He has very much enjoyed working at Edrington Hall," Psmythe completed. "Your sister and your Mother treat their servants very well, and he is positively enthralled by Ashok."

"Yes," chortled Jones, "I wouldn’t be surprised if the man seeks to join up with the East India Company himself after all of this business is finished."

"Kindly return to the subject," Edrington said with a most unpleasant smile. "This footman cum actor cum spy, he is in the house with Lady Madeline’s abductors?"

"Absolutely. And he will make sure we get word when the time is right."

"And Lady Madeline knows this?"

"Yes, of course."

"For how long has she known it?" Edrington continued in that smooth, deep, silky voice which by now I recognized as the gentle rumbling of a volcano about to erupt.

"Well, I’d say pretty much ever since she is been at the Hall," Jones said. "Remarkable girl, cannot say I have seen her like in many a year. There was one girl, in Spain in ’83…" But his reminiscences were cut off abruptly when Edrington threw his tankard at the brick hearth. There was a knock at the door, and a stout middle-aged lady stood there holding a basket of linens.

"Everything all right in 'ere, gents?"

"My friend dropped his tankard. Put it on our bill," I said hastily. But Edrington was staring over our heads at a crack in the wall with an expression of such fury that I was glad the innkeeper's wife was not able to see it.

Subject Ch. 39--Ambush

I spent a most uncomfortable night and day with Edrington. His mood was perfectly foul and no matter how many times we went back and forth over all that we knew of the whole l’affaire Madeline, it seemed to make less and less sense to him with each rehashing. I was exhausted from alternately condemning her and defending her. What I was unable to do was to explain her actions or for that matter, her feelings, to his satisfaction. At least our horses down in the stable were getting a chance to recover from their ill-usage of the past few days. That afternoon, Finch threw a handful of gravel against our window. Edrington had been sitting moodily in the corner cleaning and recleaning the ornate pistol, but he started to his feet at the sound. Finch stood in the courtyard below, waving an envelope, the contents of which Edrington shared with me.

Dear Alexander,

Tonight my captors shall make their bid to escape England with me and one other prisoner. There will be two carriages and an escort who look to be footmen, but are in actuality armed marksmen of superior ability. The party shall look for all the world like a wealthy family leaving on a journey, but the two carriages shall contain one prisoner and one guard each. The more heavily-surrounded of the two is the one you must concentrate on. I shall know when the fighting commences and will take action to secure my own freedom. My captors have not yet found the welcome gift you left for me yesterday. It is secure on my person.

Their destination is the docks at Middlebrough. A packet sloop awaits. I am unsure of the land route, but I would suspect it will be one of the more direct ones.

God protect you, Alexander, and keep you from harm. Do not abandon your customary caution, and do not allow Mr. Kennedy to risk his life unnecessarily. He would ever try to be the hero. I am hoping that in several hours I shall have the great pleasure of introducing the both of you to a gentleman of some note.

In haste, I remain

M.

My goodness, I thought, she certainly sees me differently than I see myself. "Well, it appears our wait is nearly over," I said. Edrington just looked at me grimly and began to pace the floor. It wasn’t very long before a soft knock at the door heralded the return of Psmythe and Jones. Their bantering tone of the afternoon before was entirely gone and their faces were deadly serious as they spread a map on the table.

"This is the route they will take tonight. Here," Jones indicated, "We shall set up an ambush. But we shall need someone stationed here," he pointed at a spot about half a mile up from the proposed roadblock and around the bend,"to prevent any of them that elude our ambush from escaping. We want them all! Every last man Jacque of them."

"Don’t shoot into the carriages. That would be very bad," said Psmythe. "And shoot to wound, if possible. You know, like you did in Reading. Those men were eventually eager to help us with our inquiries." So they knew about that, too!

"You two will wait at this spot." He pointed again, indicating what appeared to be a sharp bend in the road. "Lady Madeline has assured me she has every confidence in you."

"What a whacking great bloody compliment," commented Edrington. "And your ambush, surely it will not consist of just the two of you?"

"Major Lord Edrington, two gentlemen, however professional, could hardly be considered to constitute an ambush party!" Jones said irritably. "No, of course we shall have considerable backup."

Which proved to be true, for later that evening as we went along in Psmythe's unremarkable gig to the first site indicated on the map by the unremarkable Jones’ unmemorable-looking finger we found on the other side of a grassy hillock from the road a small encampment of redcoats led by none other than the oft’remarked-upon Lt. Col. Wellesley.

"Hallo, Edrington," he grinned, acknowledging me with a nod. "Some sport, eh? Better than fishing by half!"

"Hallo, Wellesley. I just can’t even bring myself to ask how you got involved in all of this."

"Why, rescue Lady Madeline, serve the Crown, whatever is needed. That’s my motto, in a nutshell. I swear, by Jove, from what I’ve heard the only thing that could keep the Lady M out of trouble would be if she were surrounded by an entire garrison!"

"I quite agree."

"Really? Glad to hear it!" He clapped Edrington heartily on the shoulder. Edrington’s mouth pursed in a tight line and he looked pained. "I’ve been wanting to speak with you a bit on that very subject…"

"It’s not the time or the place, and I’m definitely in no mood…" growled the Major.

"This is like a bally nightmare," I commented. "Nothing makes any sense. It wouldn’t surprise me at this point to see old Cecil Vaughn appear right about now."

And sure enough, I looked in the direction of Wellesley’s amused gesticulation to see Vaughn stretched out on his cloak underneath a tree, snoring into his hat. I wasted no time in marching over to him and prodding him in the side with point of my boot. "Wake up, Vaughn, and explain yourself! What the hell are you doing here?" He jerked awake and sat up groggily, removing and cleaning his befogged spectacles.

"Well old boy, I didn’t want to miss the excitement. Besides, I’m reckoned a fair shot."

Cecil? I never would have thought it. The doubt must have been plain on my face.

"Oh yes," he continued, "don’t let the spectacles fool you, Archie. The Vaughn table is seldom scant of quail. Which reminds me, how fares young Parrot? I saw him scuttling about in town this morning."

"It’s Finch, Cecil, and he’s fine. I HOPE to have him out of here and danger by tomorrow. I can’t think what Lady Madeline was about putting such a young lad in harm’s way. I confess myself very out of temper over it."

"Really?" said Cecil with exaggerated surprise. "I find that very odd coming from you, Archie, since what I was told was that you plan to decant him into the Navy, first thing and right off. I suppose he’ll be in no danger on a fighting ship. At least in this case he has the option of running away from peril." A damnably good point. Leave it to Cecil. "He’s serving King and Country already, mark my words."

I was growing very weary of everyone pretending to know more than I did. "He’s serving Lady Madeline, for whom he feels a boyish tendre," I argued. "And she's encouraged him, I know it." Sandwiches, indeed, I thought!

"Those were the days, eh Archie?" said Cecil, putting an arm around my shoulder companionably. "Look, here’s Edrington glaring at us. We’d best be off."

"You’re with us?"

"I am indeed!"

As it grew darker, we stationed ourselves behind some low-growing shrubs half a mile up from the main ambush. "Now, we wait," said Edrington grimly. And like all waits, when one is crouched in the dark on one’s stomach on the cold damp ground, it seemed interminable. And it didn’t help when after some hours, it began to rain hard. In no time, our cloaks were soaked through. Various wagons, gigs, and coaches passed by, but none were accompanied by an army of footmen and none appeared to excite any interest up the road where Wellesley's riflemen and the two government agents were stationed. But as we lay in hiding, arguing in low tones about the advisability of spiking Lady Madeline’s pudding with laudanum for the rest of her life (there was widespread agreement) we could not help but feel the ground beneath us tremble. This, surely, was many hooves and some heavy lading. Cecil’s glasses were streaked with rain but I could see his teeth glinting dimly as he smiled. "Gentlemen, I think we shall shortly be called upon to act." He got to his feet and went to the other side of the road, taking up a crouching posture behind a small stone wall.

"Do you think he’ll be all right?" Edrington asked me softly.

"I’ve no idea," I answered truthfully. "I can’t say I see him in this role, but you never know. He’s no fool."

"Has he ever killed a man?"

"I don’t think so."

"Then it is too bad he will probably not be able to make that claim much longer," commented my friend bleakly. For sure enough, at that moment the woods behind us echoed with the sharp retorts of rifle fire from up the road. I heard distant shouts and frantic whinnying of a panic-stricken horse. And then, a huge black carriage appeared around the curve in the road. Two mounted men with pistols, their cloaks blowing open to display a footman’s livery, were frantically chasing the carriage. It was a coach and six. In a split second, my eye and mind registered two horrifying facts, first, that the horses were in a blind panic, and second that there was no coachman. A shot rang out from the other side of the road and one of the two riders fell from his saddle. I heard another shot, this one from inside the carriage. Madeline! The Major had sprung to his feet, dueling pistol aimed in front of him.

"God I hate this. How I HATE this.." he muttered through clenched teeth as he shot the middle horse on our side clean through the skull, dropping the unfortunate animal in mid stride. The horse in back of it stumbled and the horses in the front traces reared back as the shock of suddenly finding a dead weight dragging on their harnesses. This slowed the coach enough that the second rider pulled alongside, but not before turning briefly as he passed and firing his rifle right into us. His shot whizzed past my head, pinging off another stone wall behind us. I took him down with a single shot. Not as tricky a shot as Edrington’s, of course, but just as effective. He toppled from the horse and Edrington and I both sprang out into the road looking in the direction of the retreating carriage. "Hell!" he said, as we observed the whole damn thing lurch over to the roadside, several hundred yards ahead, then turn over, writhing horses and all.

The three of us ran over to towards wrecked carriage, which was a wild melee of frantically thrashing hooves. The horses were bursting one by one from their traces, kicking frantically. There was a sharp crack as the wooden shafts splintered. The whole carriage was in danger of being lashed to bits by the force of their panic. We saw the glass of one of the carriage windows break as it was struck repeatedly from the inside by some blunt object, and then Lady Madeline herself appeared, writhing through the space she had created.

"The other carriage was just a decoy!" she gasped. "He’s in here with me and I can’t get him out by myself!" Edrington dragged her from the window, ripping her gown on the sharp pieces of glass that still remained. He drew her to him, kissed her forehead, and then set her down and began attacking the lock on the carriage door. Her hair was wild and disordered, hanging down in snarling masses to her waist; her eyes were huge and frightened. She had never looked more beautiful.

"Cut the traces, Archie!" Edrington commanded. I pulled out my knife and began to cut the remaining horses loose, sustaining several savage kicks in the process. As the horses were released, they vanished into the darkness and the carriage ceased its mad rocking.

"Here, allow me," said Cecil firmly. He took several small pieces of metal off his watch fob and began to work them in the lock. "This is sort of a hobby of mine. One of many." A few deft and obviously practiced probings and the lock sprang open. We opened the door and looked down into the depth of the carriage to see two shadowy figures. Lanterns approached, and the sound of hoofbeats and the various members of the ambush party arrived with the other carriage in tow. It was literally covered with Wellesley’s redcoats and I suspected that it now contained prisoners.

Psmythe said, "Please do tell me that there is a gentleman of rather full habit somewhere in that carriage." He gave me his lantern. I put the light through the doorway and looked.

"There is." I said. "And a gentleman of slighter build who appears to be recently departed." Lady Madeline’s work, no doubt.

"Please tell me that the larger gentleman is alive."

"He is, a very alive and extremely frightened-looking gentleman of full habit."

"Very good, well done, we’ll take it from here. You’ll hear from us in due time. You may take Lady Madeline with you. A carriage has been provided back at the Wensleydale Heifer for your conveyance."

"Mine," said Wellesley. "It was the least I could do."

"Now just wait a minute!" hissed the Earl. "I want some damn answers. I am, in short, refusing to leave this spot until…"

"Oh very well," said Jones. At least, I think it was Jones. Several of Wellesley’s men climbed down into the carriage and with a great deal of grunting and straining, they heaved the large gentleman through the open door of the overturned carriage. He proved to be hugely fat, richly dressed, and wearing surprising pink slippers on his swollen feet.

"May I present His Majesty, King Louis XVII," said Psmythe. So this was Vive Le Roi himself, who we had tried so unsuccessfully to put back on the throne at Quiberon Bay. An old, very fat man with terrified eyes who stood blinking in confusion before us. I was stopped from gaping too rudely by the sudden ejection from the carriage of the second man, who landed with a sickening thud right at the feet of Cecil Vaughn. He’d been shot through the stomach.

"Wait a minute," said Edrington. "I recognize this fellow. He’s the valet of Lord.."

"Oh Dear!" exclaimed Psmythe, picking up the fellow by the feet and turning him over so that his dead face dragged through a puddle of mud. He turned him back over. "This light is so poor and there is so much mud on his face. What a pity it isn’t possible to make a positive identification. And he’s dead, too."

"Then I won’t get to interrogate him," sighed Jones sadly. "That’s my favorite part."

"Mine, too," agreed Psmythe companionably.

"The Ladies just don't quite grasp the concept of winging a chap. The glancing blow is foreign to their nature," Jones mused.

"They shoot straight through the heart," admitted Psmythe.

"Or lower down, depending," added Jones. "so typical. Appalling lack of discipline."

"Your Majesty," said Madeline, as she sunk to her knees in the mud before King Louis XVII, kissing the signet ring on his hand. "These are my friends. I told you they would come and save you."

"Lady Madeline du Martine," he said in French. "I shall never forget you or your courage." King Louis looked around at the rest of us. It was as if he had just become aware that he had actually been rescued. "To whom am I indebted?" he asked, blinking myopically. I found myself being shoved aside.

"Lt. Col. Arthur Wellesley, Governor of Mysore and commander of the 73rd Highlanders." He bowed.

"Major Edrington, of the 43rd Foot and Artillary" Edrington came forward, filthy but correct as always.

"Lt. Archibald Kennedy, HMS....of His Majesty’s Navy" I finished lamely.

"Lord Cecil Vaughn, of Bedlington." He looked down at the muddy corpse. "And now I think I am going to be sick." And was.

Another rider came towards us. I looked up to my astonishment and saw Montross, the footman. Oh well, that was a rather preposterous story he had told us about the brick with the ransom note tied around it. How strange I hadn’t noticed at the time. He saluted Edrington. "My best to your Mother, and Lady Katherine," he said cheerfully. "See you in the newspapers! No need to worry about my back pay, your Lordship." And he spurred his mount and rode off in the wake of the retreating carriage of prisoners.

It was then I noticed that Wellesley was supporting Lady Madeline, his arm around her shoulders. He was murmuring something into her hair. But it was to Edrington that Psmythe addressed his parting remark.

"Do invite me to the wedding. And remember, when you make out the invitations that the "P".."

"I KNOW!" shouted Edrington with exasperation.

Jones handed him an envelope. "From Lord Castlereagh. The contents should prove of interest. I know we can rely on your discretion."

"Golly, Cecil," I said on the carriage ride back to Northumberland. We were riding inside Wellesley’s carriage with Madeline. Wellesley and Edrington rode alongside on the two horses we’d taken to Yorkshire. "I’ve never seen anyone vomit on a King before."

"Good thing, anyhow, that he weren’t OURS," agreed Cecil. "That could have been rather awkward."

* Secretary of War and a fine-looking dude, if his portraiture was accurate.

(No actual animals were harmed during the filming of this Chapter. The horse that Edrington shot was entirely computer-generated and animated by three shots of espresso and a Butterfinger)