Disagreements on WIP Wednesday

lady in snow broughtonI nearly forgot to post my work in progress Wednesday post! Does it still count if it is Thursday in a fair part of our spinning world?

Today’s topic is the conflict that stops our romance story from being over before it even begins! Have you ever read a story that went: they met, loved at first sight, married with the blessings of all their family and friends, and lived peaceful and prosperous lives? All very nice for the participants, but not at all exciting!

My sample comes from the made-to-order story I am writing for the person who won my cat day story. My heroine has just found her husband holding the body of her pet cat, and has leapt to an immediate conclusion.

A gasp behind him told him he was no longer alone; a voice he knew, a scent he would recognise till the day he died even if he never smelled it again, composed of the herbs she strewed among her clothes, the flower oils she used to scent her soap, and something that was ineffably Callie.

He turned to meet blazing blue-green eyes in a white face. “Imp! You brute, Magnus! What have you done?”

“I just found her, Callie. She must have been trying to bring the kitten home.”

The name just slipped out. She had told him that first day, after he had interrupted her wedding and proposed himself as groom, that no-one called her Callie anymore. So he honoured her wish, and called her Caroline. But in his heart, she would always be Callie.

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We interrupt this programme for a cuteness overdose

white-kittenI’ve sent the last story of Hand-Turned Tales off to the beta readers, and received the first feedback, which gives me sufficient confidence to finally announce a date!

My new permafree sampler book (three short stories and a novella), Hand-Turned Tales will be published as an ebook on 16 December, and as a print book with a price set for cost recovery as soon after as can be managed. Click on the link above to read about the four stories.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on another made-to-order story, written for the winner of the Cat Day giveaway. She wanted a wounded or disabled hero, a pretty heroine, and arranged marriage, and a cat named Angel. Here’s how it starts:

Magnus and the Christmas Angel

Imp was not in the house. She had not been accidentally shut in the cellars or the attic or any of the dozen unused bedrooms, frozen in a state of readiness for guests who never came.

The children of the Fenchurch Abbey estate had searched high and low, and brought a score of cats for Callie to inspect, hoping to win the reward.

None of them were Imp.

She was not in the stables, or the dairy, or any of the sheds or other outbuildings. Callie had questioned all the servants who had cottages near the main house, and none of them had somehow acquired an elegant, imperious, elderly, and very pregnant black cat.

Or not so pregnant now. Imp had gone missing four weeks ago. Somewhere, she had nested and produced her litter. Somewhere—and half an hour ago, Callie had suddenly had an idea about where. They had not lived at Blessings for more than a year, and Imp had birthed two litters since then, her latest at Fenchurch Abbey (in Magnus’s dressing room on his cravats). But perhaps she had returned to the place that had been home for most of her life?

Callie shivered, and pulled her shawl further forward over her head. She had run impetuously from the house without first checking the weather, and without telling her maid where she was going, thinking she would not be long.

The clouds had looked ominous, but her childhood home was only a brisk walk away; she could be there, find her cat, and be back well before dark. She was not a fool. She wore a rain cape, and it never snowed this far south as early as Christmas Eve. Except, it seemed, this year.

Perhaps it would remain a few stray flakes, melting before they reached the ground, but the sky was black and heavy, and she feared she would not make it back to Fenchurch Abbey before the snow began in earnest.

The servants would fret if she stayed at Blessings overnight. Magnus would neither know nor care. He had spent more time in London than at the Abbey since their wedding. Proving his identity so he could take up his title, he said. This was true, but avoiding his unwanted wife was doubtless also on his list of reasons.

 

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Kidnapped to Freedom – the birth of hope

The conclusion to the short story I wrote as a made-to-order…

You can read part 1 here.

You can read part 2 here.

You can read part 3 here.

88676-display_image-1_copyOver the next few days, Phoebe found herself telling the captain a little about her life. He sought her out when she was on deck, insisted on her and the older children taking their meal with him and his officers, invited her to walk with him in the evening.

At her request, he called her Mrs Morien, and assured her that her brother and sister would be waiting to welcome her home. Beneda—she called herself Benita now—was a widow with a child, “though not likely to remain single for long, Joseph says. A number of men have expressed an interest.”

Joseph was enjoying the life of a highly eligible bachelor too much to settle down, much to the despair of the local ladies and the exasperation of his sister.

To Phoebe, the stories seemed like the ones Mist’ Finn had told her long ago—she couldn’t comprehend the life her sister and brother led. Cautiously at first, and then greedily when he laughed and complied, she asked for more and more details, more and more tales about this strange new life that Captain Val was taking her to.

Venus and Jake were soon over their illness. Phoebe had little to do apart from keeping the younger three entertained and out from under the feet of the crew, helped by the two older children. The trip was a holiday such as they had never known. All but the youngest were used to working until they dropped. For an overseer, Paddy O’Keefe had been indulgent to the children of his reluctant mistress, even giving his daughter his name. But they had to work as hard as any of the others, and he would not have lifted a finger to save even his own get from the traders.

Not like Finn. Finn had taken a beating for her, and had then stolen her brother and sister away to save them when Ol’ Massa Blake had decided to sell them. Joe was the young master’s get, and Patsy and Baby were O’Keefe’s. Jake and his sister, dear lost Mina, were bred on her by another slave at Ol’ Massa Blake’s command. Quaco, or Jacob as the white owners called him, had been a kind and gentle man, and she’d been fond of him. But Finn was the one she dreamt of; the one she thought of when she woke in the night.

She hoped that Venus was Finn’s daughter, made in that one week they had before Chan found them together. She’d taken a beating for that, and so had Finn. But Chan couldn’t take the memories from her.

Finn, his head full of knights and chivalry, hadn’t wanted to bed her. But Chan had already announced his intention to have her when he got back from a trip to Charleston, and she wanted her first time to be with someone who would be kind. That’s what she’d told him; someone who would be kind. She didn’t tell him that she loved him. She knew better than that.

And he was kind, too, though the first time had been awkward and clumsy. Two virgins together, they had to work out how things fitted. She’d giggled, she remembered, and he laughed too, but the laughter froze on his face as he entered her and the discomfort he caused was nothing compared to the dawning wonder on his face.

She was thinking about Finn one evening about a week out into their journey, taking out her memories one by one to examine them and gloat over them and tuck them safely away again. The older children had wandered off to the kitchen where the cook always welcomed them, avowing his intention of fattening them up before the ship arrived in Halifax. The little children were settled in the cabin—the captain’s cabin, she realised now. Captain Val was sharing with the first mate, a man of colour he called Perry and treated as an equal and a friend.

She was thinking of Finn, not the captain: not of how he helped her up a ladder earlier in the day and his hand had lingered for a moment on her hip; not of the way his eyes followed her whenever she was on deck. If she was going to be honest with herself, she knew he watched her because her eyes sought his every time she came on deck. Why did the memories of Finn’s boyish face smiling at her turn unaccountably into Captain Val’s masked face, with the firm square angles of his cheek and chin and the amused quirk that seemed to always linger in one corner of his mouth?

The first mate’s roar startled her, and she whipped around, cringing and protecting her head with her arm. But his anger was for a sailor who had abandoned a rope without properly coiling it, and he passed Phoebe without a glance to explain to the sailor, in precise incisive terms, what could happen if the rope tangled when it was needed, and how long the sailor would spend mending sails in penance, so he would never forget again.

Phoebe, who had expected a careless blow if not an outright beating, felt something uncurl inside her, a soft tentative tendril of… what? Hope? Comfort? A sense of safety?

Too early for the last; the captain had warned her that American privateers or the American navy might stop the ship at any time until they made port in Canada. But here, yes, here on this ship she felt safe.

The sailor was making excuses and apologies as he recoiled the rope correctly.

“I was that tired, Mister Peregrine, and it were near the end of my deck time, and then Mickey saw fins off the bow and I went to see. I meant to come back, Mister Peregrine, honest. It won’t happen again, sir, that it won’t.”

Peregrine? That was the name of one of the black knights in Finn’s Arthurian Tales—Sir Morien, Sir Peregrine. Others, too. What a fitting name for a man of colour.

She said that to the mate he passed on the way back to his watching post.

“Peregrine was the name of one of the knights from Africa in the stories of King Arthur.”

“Yes,” the mate replied, “that’s what Val said when he gave it me. He fair loves those stories, Mrs Morien.”

A polite nod was the only response she could manage. Her mind was racing. Val. Short for Percival? Percival was the perfect knight, the Parfait Knight of the tales, the role that Finn had sought with all the poetry in his soul.

As she crossed back to the rail, adding up all the little clues she’d noticed this past week without being aware of them, he came up from below and made a straight line for her.

“Good evening, Mrs Morien.” The slight husk in his voice had been turning her knees to water all week. Quickly, before her fears choked the words in her throat, she said, “Finn, when are you going to take off the mask?”

The captain went completely still. Then, slowly, he raised his hands to the back of his head, fumbled with the strings of the mask, and let it fall into one hand.

A man changes a great deal between 17 and 29. She knew him though. She should have known him a week ago, by his eyes alone. She clamped firmly down on the hurt that he’d felt the need to hide from her. He owed her nothing. She owed him everything. He had saved her brother and sister. He was in the process of saving her and her children. He clearly wanted not to acknowledge her, and he had every right.

“You do not need to wear the mask,” she told him. “I understand. I have no claim on you and I will not be a nuisance.” She made to pass him, but he put out a hand to stop her.

“No, Mrs Moriel… Phoebe. No, that isn’t it at all. I was… The Blakes have done so much wrong to you, to your family. You must hate us all, especially me. I don’t blame you. I left you in that place. I knew what Chan was like, and I walked away. I wore the mask to make you more comfortable. No. That isn’t true. I just didn’t want to see your eyes when you rejected me. You stay here. Enjoy the fine evening for a while longer. I’ll go.”

She was so stunned that he was halfway to the hatch before she found her voice. “I don’t hate you, Finn. I don’t blame you.”

“I blame myself.”

“For what? For trying to protect me and being half killed for it? For saving my brother and my sister no matter the risk to your own escape? For coming back for me?”

“I came before. The first time, I couldn’t get onto the plantation. They had men out with dogs. The second time, we sent you a message, and I waited on the beach, but you didn’t come.”

“I had the message.”

“You couldn’t get away, I imagine.”

Phoebe shook her head.  That was the week Mrs Blake had miscarried a child, and had, in her anger, had her husband’s mistress beaten so badly that Phoebe had lost the baby she was carrying. It was after that Phoebe had been sent to Quaco.

Finn—no, Val—Val saw the shadows in her eyes. “It is over now. You are a free woman and a wealthy one. You never again need to do what you do not wish.” He turned to lean on the rail, looking down at the water that folded back from the racing hull.

Phoebe leaned beside him, content to be silent.

After a while, Val spoke. “Phoebe, I know it’s too soon. I don’t want to press you. I won’t press you; you need time to get your family settled, to learn what it is to be free, and respected, and loved. I want to give you that time. But may I write to you? May I visit from time to time?”

Was he asking what she thought he was asking?

“Yes,” she answered briefly, and he turned to her with a smile that lit his whole face.

“I have never forgotten you, Phoebe.”

She smiled back, ready to tell him that she had never forgotten him, but Mr Perry called him to come and see something on the horizon, outlined by the setting sun, and he left her standing at the rail, watching the water.

Val was right. It was too soon. She needed to get to know her brother and sister again. She needed to get her children started in this life as free people.

But in her heart, the tendril of hope threw off a couple of leaves, and set down a strong root into her memories of the boy who had once been her champion.

Not quite the end, but as far as the short story takes us.

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Kidnapped to Freedom – dinner with the captain

Here’s part 3 of my made-to-order story, Kidnapped to Freedom.

You can read part 1 here.

You can read part 2 here.

captainstableThis was not how Val had imagined their reunion; him with a bucket under the chin of one of the children Phoebe had borne his brother, while she tended to another child who, by the look of him, had a different father. He shuddered to think what her life had been like.

If he’d stayed, could he have protected her? He had asked himself the question many times. At 17, he’d been half inclined to blame Phoebe for being selected by his brother. His jealousy had made it easier for him to agree to run with the others after Chan caught them together, and then taken Phoebe and refused to let her out of his sight.

The more Val mixed with the free men of colour in the Maritime States, the more he realised how arrogant and stupid he had been. And after he’d rescued Perry from some privateers and heard of Perry’s anguish at some of the things his sister had been through, he’d felt even worse. He and Perry made a raid on the Georgia plantation that held Perry’s sister and won her free, and Val had been planning to do the same for Phoebe ever since.

Phoebe had never encouraged Chan. And he’d known that then.

Reassured that seasickness was natural, and the children weren’t dying, Phoebe was saying something: apologising for her children being sick, promising to clean up after them, trying to take the jug so she could tend to both children at once. Did she think he would beat her because the ship’s lurching disturbed their stomachs? Yes, in her experience, that was probably normal behaviour for a white man.

“No need to apologise, ma’am,” he said, as gently as he could. “It takes most people a while to catch their sea legs. Some experienced sailors are sick for the first days of every trip.”

Jenkins brought more water, and more buckets. “They’ll be better on deck, cap’n,” he suggested. “I could set a hammock for ‘em, out o’ the way, like?”

Val had hoped to keep Phoebe from the crew’s sight. She was lovely, and they were men. But, he reminded himself, they were men he trusted, for the most part.

“See it done, Jenkins. Ma’am, once the children are settled, you and I need to have a talk.”

The oldest boy, the smaller girl, and the baby joined them for breakfast, while Jenkins sat with the middle boy and the older girl. Both the afflicted looked better for being out in the fresh air, though it was too early to challenge their stomachs with food.

Phoebe looked uncertainly at the table.

“Serve the children,” Val suggested, then you and I will serve ourselves. Shall we try them on porridge? It is a bit like grits, but made from oats.”

The children found porridge very much to their liking, the oldest boy, who Phoebe called Joe, feeding the baby, and the littlest girl feeding herself.

Val filled a plate for Phoebe, who looked surprised when he gave it to her.

“Where I come from, gentlemen serve ladies,” he told her.

“I ain’t… I’m not a lady. I’m just a seamstress. A slave and a seamstress.”

“Not a slave now. Not anymore,” Val said. “And not just a seamstress either. You are the older sister of Joseph and Benita Copeland, proprietors of one of the finest hotels in St John’s, Toronto, a free woman, and a lady of considerable wealth in your own right, Miss Blake.”

Phoebe shook her head, a sharp negation. “Not ‘Blake’.” She clapped her hand over her mouth as if to catch the words, then dropped it again, and straightened her back. “You say I am free, and wealthy. Then I will not bear that man’s name. Let his widow keep it.”

Val was admiring her clear diction—she had always had a facility with languages and could speak English as good as his, but he was fascinated by how quickly she dropped the slave patois. It took a few moments for him to process what she’d actually said. “Widow? Chauncey Blake is dead?”

“Yes. You knew him?”

She was quick. Now Val should tell her who he was. But the same impulse that led him to retain the mask ruled him still. “I did,” he said, “to my sorrow.”

Had their father not intervened, Chan would probably have killed Val twelve years ago. 24 years to 17 is not a fair match. Val’s last memory of his brother was of his face twisted in anger and hatred as he struggled against the restraining arms of the overseers to come back and beat Val some more.

There had been no word of Chan’s death from Val’s friends in Charleston. Mind you, since they found themselves on opposite sides in this war, the correspondence had been sporadic, at best. “When did he die?”

“Three weeks ago. He was thrown by his horse, and broke his neck.”

“There’ll not be many who will grieve, I imagine,” Val said. “His wife; his father. Maybe some of his friends.”

“Miz Blake, she be happy to be a widow, I think, except Ol’ Massa Blake lived just a week longer than his son, so she loses everything but her widow’s portion. She’s mad enough to spit. She’ll be still madder when she finds us gone. She thought to get a good price for us from the traders.”

It was a lot to take in. His brother dead. His father dead. His sister-in-law disinherited, and planning to sell Phoebe—and who else?

“Who inherits?” Val asked. Chan and Nettie had no children, he knew, but his father had a low opinion of most of the Blake cousins.

“Phineas Blake,” Phoebe said. “Mist’ Chan’s younger brother. He’s been gone a long time, but Ol’ Massa Blake, he never changed his will.”

Concluded in Part 4

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Kidnapped to Freedom – children throw our hero’s plans into turmoil

Here’s part 2 of my made-to-order story, Kidnapped to Freedom.

You can read part 1 here.

captains cabinVal waited in the shadow of the trees. It must be at least 30 minutes past moon rise. She wasn’t coming. Again. Five years ago, he had waited the whole night, and come back again the next. This time, if he couldn’t carry Phoebe off tonight, he’d have to give up. It had taken him all his powers of persuasion to convince his crew to make one try. They weren’t privateers. The letters of marque that let them take an American ship while the United States and England were at war wouldn’t cover a land raid on a plantation. If she didn’t come, the men wouldn’t agree to a second attempt.

There! Someone was coming. He straightened in anticipation. Yes, it was her—12 years older and a mature women rather than the girl he remember, but even in the moonlight he couldn’t mistake her.

She wasn’t alone. He couldn’t take a herd of children with him! What was she thinking?

He stepped out from the sheltering trees. The mask would hide his face, and his voice had never been the same since Chan tried to strangle him the last time he saw Phoebe close enough to talk to.

“Are you Phoebe?” He was 12 years older too, and a man changed more from 17 to 29 than a woman did, but he couldn’t risk being seen and recognised by anyone on the plantation.

She nodded. He noted that she gathered the children protectively behind her, but the older boy, his face grimly intent, evaded the sweep of her arm and stepped in front. Brave little bantam rooster.

“I was commissioned to take one woman to her brother in Canada, not a parcel of brats,” he said.

“Can’t leave without ma babies, Sir.” Her voice was barely a whisper, but determined.

Her children? All of them? His brother’s children, then, possibly. He surveyed them quickly. Yes the little bantam had the Blake look, and the girl rocking the baby could be a darker version of the childhood portrait of his mother that hung in the parlour.

The men wouldn’t like it, but he was taking them all and be damned.

He met the eyes of each in turn as he said, “You must be quiet. Not a sound. Do everything I say, and I will take you to your uncle in Canada.”

“Perry, give the signal.” He gave the command over his shoulder, not waiting to see if it was obeyed. Perry could be trusted to carry out the raid with maximum noise and minimum damage. He didn’t want anyone actually killed, but he did hope that many slaves would take the chance to escape in the confusion, masking the disappearance of one maid and her children.

He led the way down to the creek, where Jimson stood ready to row them back out to the coast and the waiting ship.

ship

Phoebe startled awake at the knock on the door. Three of the children still slept on the bed in the small but luxurious room. No. It was what Mist’ Finn called a cabin. Venus and Jake were awake, but unmoving in the tangle of little bodies, watching her with anxious eyes. She smiled to reassure them and wished she had someone to reassure her.

Another knock.

When she opened, the little man who had shown them to this cabin nodded at her. “The cap’n wants to see ye, ma’am.”

He’d called her ‘ma’am’ last night, too. Unaccountably, being addressed so courteously made her even more nervous, as if an overseer hid just out of sight waiting to punish her for aping a lady.

“Do I come with you?” she asked.

“He’ll come to ye, Ma’am. In a few minutes, like. To have breakfast with ye and the nippers. He thought ye might want to have a wash first.” The man handed her the jug he was holding, filled with steaming hot water, and crossed the cabin to put the towels off his arm onto the back of a chair.

He turned in time to save the jug as the ship lurched and she lost her balance.

“Ye’ll get yer sea legs soon, ma’am,” he said, not unkindly, and put the jug into a hole that was obviously made for it, next to a basin in a hole of its own.

She had the children and herself washed and tidied before another knock heralded the man from last night. He was still masked, his eyes glittering at her, and his chin and mouth showing, but the rest of his face covered in black cloth.

The little man scurried in behind him, carrying a laden tray that smelled of bacon and fresh-baked bread.

Venus, who had already been looking a little ill, gave a piteous moan. Before Phoebe could react, the masked man, moving with blinding speed, had grabbed the jug that had held their wash water and placed it under Venus’ chin. He was just in time, and Jake was the next to say, “Phoebe, I don’t feel too good.”

Phoebe hurried to feel his forehead. What could be wrong with them? They were never sick!

Some of her fear must have conveyed itself to the masked man, because he said, calmly, “Seasickness, Miss Blake. They will recover once they are used to the motion of the boat.

“Jenkins, remove the bacon, will you? Miss Blake and I will have breakfast in the wardroom with whichever of the children is well enough to join us.”

He was holding the jug with one hand, and calmly supporting the vomiting girl with the other. “Oh, and Jenkins, bring some buckets, please? I rather think this young lady may have imitators.”

You can read part 3 here.

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Kidnapped to Freedom – Phoebe risks all

Here’s the first part of Tiffany Reid’s made to order story, Kidnapped to Freedom. Her specification: A buccaneer (secretly a wealthy plantation owner) kidnaps an heiress for political reasons and keeps her aboard his ship. He wears a mask so she falls in love with him though she doesn’t see his face on the ship. The characters are all siblings: The eldest is strong willed, happy, rebellious, passionate and feisty. She is the one who is kidnapped. The middle child is her sister, 18 months younger: soft, carefree, all kids and animals love her, but fiercely protective and loyal. The youngest is their brother. A very eligible bachelor who is extremely witty, funny, handsome, with the best heart; he is very protective of the sisters who constantly pick on him (in good ways). The one who is kidnapped loves tall, dark, and handsome with brown eyes.

Michael_Zeno_Diemer_-_A_frigate_off_the_coast_near_Rio_de_Janeiro,_Brazil

Phoebe hurried from shadow to shadow behind the row of cabins. The full moon had risen. She was late. Why did Massa Paddy have to send for her tonight of all nights! He was drunk, which was no surprise, for he’d been drunk since the Master died. The drink, though, had left him limp, for which he blamed her, until the punishment he administered excited him enough to finish.

Then he’d collapsed on top of her, and it had taken time to edge out from under his weight.

Under the constant susurration of the cicadas, she could hear murmurs of conversation inside the cabins. He wouldn’t look for her when he woke; he would assume she’d gone back to the cabin she shared with the children.

Had he made her miss her chance? Their chance—for she wouldn’t go without the children.

Phoebe felt some of the tension leave her when she saw them waiting for her behind their cabin. Venus balanced little Patricia on her hip, and Joe cradled Baby. Jake ran to meet her, taking her hand for the few steps back to her family.

Now if only whoever it was had waited. If only it was true and not a trap. Phoebe hoisted one of the bundles she and Venus had hidden here earlier this morning before work.

“Jake, take this bundle, and Venus, give me Pat-a-cake, and take the rest of our things.” The three-year-old didn’t stir during the transfer, just settling her head into the curve of Phoebe’s neck. She slept like a rock, that girl, just like Massa Paddy, who’d sired her.

She led her little flock down the path that led into the woods. She was putting a lot of trust in the letter the peddler had slipped to her three weeks ago. But what choice did she have? Miz Nettie was going to sell them to the slave trader—Phoebe and all of the five children left to her.

When she first made the threat, Phoebe had hoped it was just the sorrow speaking. Miz Nettie had been wild with grief since her husband fell from his horse and died, followed in short order by Ol’ Massa Blake, his father, who took an apoplexy when Mist’ Chan turned up dead. Or at least Miz Nettie had been wild since the will was read.

But she meant her threat. Massa Paddy said the trader was coming this way next week. He was sorry, he said, because he was fond of Phoebe, but her sewing skills would mean she would fetch a high price and find a good place, so she wasn’t to worry.

Not to worry? Not to worry about her children being taken from her and sold away, probably down the river? Venus, at nearly 12, was old enough and pretty enough to catch a master’s eye, and Joe already did a man’s job in the fields, but at least Massa Paddy had a reason to treat him fair.

Please God the letter is true, please God. It had been her constant prayer these last weeks. Please God it was from her brother as it seemed to be. It would read like nonsense to anyone else opening it, but she knew.

“To the gentle Lady of the Lake. Sir Morien bids you, on the night of the first full moon after the natal day of the loathsome Sir Kay, to go to the place where the Parfait Knight shared his tales of chivalry, and from thence to seek the Holy Grail.”

She read, but not well. She couldn’t ask for help, but she managed to puzzle most of it out. The names she’d seen before, long ago when she learned to read. What was ‘natal day’? She fretted over that one for a week, until she overheard a visiting preacher comment how sad it was that the Master had died on his natal day.

Sir Morien—the name that Mist’ Phineas had given her brother Cudjo in the long sagas they had played out at his directions in these very woods. Mist’ Finn was the Parfait Knight, of course, and they readily agreed to refer to his older brother, Mist’ Chauncey, as Sir Kay. The Holy Grail, to them all, was freedom.

This was her third note in the 12 years since Mist’ Finn had run away, taking her younger sister and brother with him. The first, some 18 months after they left, was just five words. ‘We found Avalon. All safe.’ The second, five years ago, had offered escape ‘at the abode of the Lady of the Lake’. The little harbour where Mist’ Finn had kept his sailboat might just as well have been on the moon for all the chance she had of reaching it.

But this time, the meeting point was right here on the plantation.

They were heading for the Woods House, behind which, in stolen moments, Mist’ Finn had taught the three of them to read using the books about the Arthurian legends that he so loved.

Please God she was not too late. Please God it was not a trap.

Read part 2 here

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The Raven’s Lady – the villains foiled, our hero rewarded

Part 4 of The Raven’s Lady, the short story I wrote as a prize for Crystal Cox.

You can read part 1 here.

You can read part 2 here.

You can read part 3 here.

Frederick_Morgan_-_Off_for_the_HoneymoonThe planning session devolved into an argument over a different topic; first Felix against Joselyn, and then—when Joselyn convinced the others of the sense of what she said—Felix against the officers and part-time smugglers alike.

Felix did not want Joselyn taking her usual place down on the beach at the head of her women. Indeed, if Felix had his way, all of the women would be replaced with his trained soldiers.

Joselyn and her helpers agreed that the soldiers would form the main part of the workforce on the beach, disguised in skirts and with concealing shawls to keep their masculine features from giving away the ambush. But, Joselyn insisted, she needed to be there, head uncovered and face seen, so that the villains would believe they had her trapped. And her supporters insisted on joining her.

She was right. Felix knew she was right. He hated placing her in danger, but she was essential to the success of the plan.

Reluctantly, he had to agree.

By the time Cyril returned from his errand, all was prepared. Tonight, they would trap the Black Fox.

raven

Cyril clearly expected an outcome much more to his liking. He could hardly contain his glee when both Joselyn and Felix claimed tiredness early in the evening and retired to bed. And they had to hastily conceal themselves behind trees when he came crashing noisily down the path towards the clifftops, muttering to himself about tonight being the last night.

Reaching the clifftops themselves, they watched him hurry away down the path towards the village.

“I don’t want you going down there, Josalyn,” Felix told her. He wasn’t going to stop her. She had as much at stake as he—more, given her love for these people. But he wanted her to know he was reluctant.

Had she been this frightened for him, knowing he had gone to war? If so, he’d have to spend the next fifty years making up for his unthinking cruelty in staying away so long. He smiled at the thought of that, and she smiled back.

“I will be careful. And if the smugglers come this way, you will be in more danger than I.”

In the event, the Black Fox split his forces, and attacked from the sea as well as the cliff top. For a few minutes, Felix was too busy to worry about Joselyn, but once the thugs on the cliff top were subdued, Cyril among them, he hurried down the path to the beach, where clumps of people wrestled in the moonlight.

As he reached the sand, a sudden loud shout stopped him in his tracks. “I have the woman, and I’ll kill her if you try to stop me.”

It was the Black Fox, his arm around Joselyn’s neck, brandishing a pistol in his other hand. He was backing towards the rowboat he had arrived in, two of his henchmen flanking him on either side.

“Not another step!” the Fox shrieked at the soldiers following him. The rest of his crew were gone, subdued by the soldiers or Joselyn’s women. But no one dared approach these three!

Felix’s heart was in his throat, blocking his breath and pounding like the French cannon at Waterloo. He couldn’t attack without risking Joselyn, but if he didn’t attack, they’d take her with them to who knew what horrid fate.

At that moment, there was a loud caw. Immediately, and so fast that Felix couldn’t afterward untangle the order, a large black feathery missile hurled itself into the Black Fox’s face, Joselyn gave a twist and vicious upward punch into a portion of the Fox’s anatomy that made Felix wince, two shots rang out, and the two henchmen fell.

Within moments, it was all over, the smugglers captured and the raven marching up and down the beach cackling his satisfaction at his timely intervention.

Felix, with difficulty. restrained himself from wrapping Joselyn in his arms in front of half his tenants and all his soldiers. He’d never been so frightened in all his life. Thank God she was safe!

The Black Fox was hauled off in custody, along with his surviving men and Cyril, his co-conspirator.  They would face the magistrate on the morrow.

Joselyn and Felix walked home together through the dawn. The raven had flown off about his own affairs, and the housekeeper had gone on ahead, arm in arm with the farmer’s wife.

“Joselyn,” Felix said, “I have explanations to make, and excuses. I let everyone think I was dead because that was the best way I could serve in the war against Napoleon, but I didn’t think about how it would affect you. Dare I hope that you will forgive me? I will spend a lifetime making amends if you will permit.”

Joselyn was silent for a long time. He was wrong then. He had hoped she was beginning to like the adult him, at least a little. Eventually, she spoke.

“You seem very certain that we would suit,” she stated.

“I know we would suit,” he said. “Certainly you suit me. I did not think there was a woman in the world who so combined courage, intelligence and spirit with beauty and kindness. I wish for a chance to convince you I can make you happy. May I court you, Joselyn?”

She was silent again, but a quality in the silence gave him hope, and he waited patiently.

“I did not know there was a man in the world who valued spirit and intelligence in a woman. Certainly I have not before met a man who would allow me to lead my troops into battle, even though he wished to protect me.”

“I didn’t want you to go,” Felix admitted.

“But you respected me enough to agree,” she said.

She was silent again.

“I daresay, now that my last surviving relative is dead, my trustees will find me somewhere else to live,” she said after a while. “I cannot, of course, stay here as a unmarried woman in the house of a bachelor.”

That was true, Felix supposed, his heart sinking. He hadn’t thought of that. Would she leave him, then?

“I never knew… Felix, you really do want me, don’t you? Not just my money?”

“Joselyn, I’ve not taken my officer’s pay in eight years, and it has all been soundly invested along with my prizes. Believe me, you are the treasure I want, not your money.” He moved to take her back into his arms, but Joselyn stopped him with her hand.

“Then I wonder,” she looked down shyly, “if you would consider marrying me first, Felix, and courting me after?”

raven

So it was that Joselyn Bellingham and Felix Maddox were wed as soon as the bans could be called. And if there were some who questioned the sudden change in Viscounts, and wondered at the reappearance of one who had been thought dead these six years the older servants and villagers soon put them right. And if some said the bride should not have lived in the groom’s house that last fortnight, Viscountess Maddox’s supporters told them to hush their mouths. And if some raised their eyebrows when the bride was escorted down the aisle by a large raven, Viscount Maddox didn’t care a jot. After all, he said, the raven had found him his bride and saved him his bride, and that was all there was to that.

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The Raven’s Lady – Felix declares himself

Part 3 of The Raven’s Lady, the short story I wrote as a prize for Crystal Cox.

You can read part 1 here.

You can read part 2 here.

proposal

When Felix got back to the house, he could not find Miss Bellingham. However, he found the servant, Betsy.

“Tell Miss Bellingham, please, that I heard her cousin Cyril and the Black Fox plotting against her, and I need to see her now. I’ll wait in the library.”

After a shocked moment, Betsy hurried upstairs, and a few minutes later, Miss Bellingham entered the room.

She’d clearly been interrupted before she could complete her change. She’d put on a dress, but her hair was caught back in a long plait that brushed her rump as she walked. Betsy came in at her shoulder, and their glares were identical.

“Mr Matthews? What’s this about my cousin?”

“Not Matthews,” Felix told her. “My name isn’t Matthews. I was sent here to investigate the Black Fox for the Crown. I followed you last night, and I saw you bringing in your cargo.”

Now the women had identical looks of alarm.

“It is not what you think,” Miss Bellingham said. “I am not the Black Fox. And the women; they were just following my orders. I am the leader. Arrest me. Let them go.”

“No, Miss,” Betsy objected. “We all agreed. We’re all in this.”

“None of you are in this,” Felix said. “I’m not after you. I want the Black Fox. In any case, Miss Bellingham, I don’t wish to arrest an old friend, and I certainly don’t intend to arrest the wives and daughters of my tenants.”

Betsy was bewildered, but Miss Bellingham was examining him with narrowed eyes. “You are dead,” she told him.

“No,” he said.

She was shaking her head. “We were told you were dead.”

Joselyn still got a white pinched look around her lips when she was angry, Felix noted, and two bright spots of colour on her cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” he said, not sure what he was apologising for.

“You should be. I cried. I wore black for a year. Why are you not dead, Felix?” And then she was in his arms, punching his shoulder and fighting back tears. “I am so glad you are not dead.”

He tightened his arms around her, but Betsy cleared her throat, and Miss Bellingham pushed away.

“You be Viscount Maddox, seemingly?” Betsy asked. “Come to take yer own, is it?”

“After we catch the Black Fox and Cousin Cyril, yes,” Felix said. He was finding it hard to focus on the job ahead of them, given how wonderfully Miss Bellingham filled his arms and how empty they felt without her. The idea of redeeming his boyhood promise was growing more and more appealing.

“Where have you been? Why have you waited so long to come home?” That was his Jocelyn; pestering him with questions.

“I will answer every question you have,” he told her. “But we don’t have time today. Today, we have to decide what to do with your enemies.”

Quickly, he told the two women what he’d overheard. Then he had to repeat it for most of the rest of the household. Not the valet or the butler who, Joselyn said, were from London, and Cyril’s men through and through. The local people, she said, could be trusted.

When Felix had finished his story, the servants were of a single mind.

“You can’t go, then, Miss,” said Betsy. “We’ll have to let the Black Fox have the cargo.”

“We can’t risk you, Miss,” one of the other servants said, and the others murmured their approval.

Joselyn turned to Felix. “I suppose they are right. But I hate letting Cyril and the Black Fox win.”

“I might be able to help there,” Felix said. “What if we went ahead with the move, as planned, but set an ambush for the Black Fox and our delightful cousin?”

They couldn’t settle their plans immediately. Joselyn would need to bring in the farmer’s wives who, with Betsy the housekeeper, were her chief lieutenants. And Felix needed the officers of the troops who awaited his orders in the nearby town.

“I’ll send messengers,” Jocelyn said.

“We can’t risk Cyril finding out,” Felix warned. “Is there somewhere else we can meet?”

Joselyn and her supporters fixed him with identical looks of exasperation. “We have a place,” Joselyn said patiently. “I’ll give your officers the direction.”

The servants went to carry out Joselyn’s orders, but Felix lingered, and so did Joselyn. Betsy, the last to leave, looked at her mistress uncertainly.

“Go, Betsy,” Joselyn told her. “I’ll just have a word with Lord Maddox and be along shortly.”

But when they were alone, she was silent. Was she shy, all of a sudden, his brave Joselyn?

On the cliff-top, she had referred to the last time they’d seen one another; that long-ago morning when his mother had carried him off to the other end of England. Should he start there?

“Joselyn,” he said. “I came back to redeem my promise.”

Joselyn laughed, her mouth turned up in a smile, but something unreadable in her eyes. “No, you did not, Felix. You came back to catch the Black Fox.” And then, suddenly sober, “After eight years of silence, Felix. Eight years!”

All his excellent reasons for staying away turned to dust in his mind in face of the angry tears pouring down her cheeks. In a moment, he had her in his arms, and was kissing the tears away, murmuring apologies and endearments.

Finally, they drew a little apart. “I have made your shoulder damp,” Joselyn said, brushing at it ineffectually.

“We had better join the others, my love,” Felix said. “We have a busy day ahead of us.”

“Your love, Felix? You hardly know me. And I am still angry with you,” she continued sternly. “Do not think to butter me up with a few kisses.”

“After the ambush, I will tell you my whole story, and make whatever penance you assign. But, yes, you are my love. Now and forever, Joselyn. Show me the way to this meeting place. We can argue later.”

Continued (and concluded) in Part 4

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The Raven’s Lady – a series of surprising disclosures

Part 2 of The Raven’s Lady, the short story I wrote as a prize for Crystal Cox. You can read part 1 here.

George Morland, Smugglers Isle of WightBut when Felix got to the room assigned to him—one of the guest rooms on the west frontage of the house—he couldn’t sleep. Perhaps a stroll in the woods: scene of many a childhood game when he and his widowed mother lived here with his grandfather. And a slightly older Felix often stole out on a night such as this, when the moon was nearly full, to trap game in the woods, or just to watch animals living their secret lives while the world slept.

No sooner thought than done; he let himself down from the window and was soon slipping into the shadows under the trees. As he had so many times before, he chose a trunk to lean against, stilled his movements, and slowed his breathing to wait for what the night had to show him.

There was a fox, trotting purposefully along the path. An owl swept by on silent wings. Two deer stepped daintily out of the undergrowth, then startled as they caught the fox scent and leapt backward again, crashing away into the deeper shadows.

No. Not the fox. Someone was coming from the house. Without moving a muscle, he prepared for action. A figure. But not large enough to be Cyril. The hope that he could clear this whole matter up this first night died, but his curiosity remained. Where was the lad going? For the person hurrying along the path was no more than a boy, surely; short and slender, with a youthful gait.

On an impulse, Felix followed, using all his woodcraft to stay silent and undetected, but still keep within sight of the boy.

They took the fork leading down to the cliffs. Below on the beach, clear in the moonlight, people milled around several rowboats in the surf. He’d found the smugglers after all! No legitimate cargo would be unloaded on a remote beach in the middle of the night.

The boy took the path down the cliff face, but Felix would be seen if he followed. He concealed himself in a rocky outcrop, where he could watch both the beach and the path from the village. If the smugglers planned to take the cargo inland tonight, that was the most likely direction for whatever transport they had arranged.

As time wore on, however, it became clear that the cargo was being stored in the old cave complex Felix used to explore as a child, before his mother married again and took him away. Good. He could bring a troop to watch until the smugglers came to retrieve the goods, and catch them all.

Oddly, the boy Felix had followed seemed to be directing the whole enterprise, people appeared to be coming to him for orders, and several times Felix saw him run into the surf to catch someone by the arm and redirect them.

The rowing boats went back for another load, and the night was beginning to lighten in the east before the last of them had its cargo removed and put back out into the waves.

Below, the smugglers began to slip away singly and in small groups.

Something odd struck Felix about the faces that looked up at the cliff before beginning to climb the path. No beards or mustaches. Not even the shadows one would expect on at least some of them after a day’s growth. His mind took a while to interpret what his eyes were telling him. Women. Every smuggler he could see was a woman.

He looked again at the boy, shaking his head to dislodge the wild thought. No. Not Miss Bellingham. That milk-and-water miss could not possibly be a smuggler. The boy—or the woman, in fact—could be anyone in the house, or could easily have come from one of the farms beyond the house. But he was definitely a she. As the light strengthened, the way she moved, and the curves inside the breeches she wore, became more and more obvious.

Then the raven swooped down to land on the beach beside her, and removed all doubt. Miss Bellingham’s pet cawed at her, a loud raven alarm call, and she looked anxiously up at the cliff. A few quick orders to the remaining women on the beach, and they all scattered, some heading for the path and some for the narrow way around the cliffs that had been uncovered as the tide fell.

Now what did he do? He stiffened his shoulders. Woman she may be, but smuggler she certainly was. He would do his duty, of course. Even though once, long ago, she had been Joselyn, the girl child who dogged his footsteps and whom he would have died to protect.

Miss Bellingham led a few other women up the cliff face, and stopped to speak with them a few paces from where Felix hid. The raven swooped in to join them.

“It will be enough, Matilda,” she was saying. “The money we raise will pay your rental and that of the other tenants and keep cousin Cyril from casting you out.”

“For another quarter, miss,” the woman addressed as Matilda said dolefully. “We canna keep doing this here smuggling though. If’n the Black Fox catches us, or the excise, we’ll all hang.”

Miss Bellingham nodded, her brows drawn anxiously together. “By next quarter, perhaps I will have thought of something else.”

“Master Felix had no business dying in foreign parts,” Matilda declared.

“I do not suppose he did it on purpose,” Miss Bellingham said. Was it just his imagination, or did her tone sound wistful?

“If’n he’d lived, tha’ could have wed him,” another woman suggested. Felix recognised her; she was a servant at the grange. “Tha’ always said he promised to come back and wed thee.”

“He was 14, Betsy. Even if he was alive, he would have long forgotten a few words said in haste when his mother took him away.”

“Mayhap you should marry that man your cousin brought home,” Betsy said.

Miss Bellingham gave an inelegant snort. “If I were inclined to marry, and I am not, I would certainly not marry anyone who was friends with cousin Cyril.”

“He’s a well-enough looking young man,” Betsy insisted, “and polite, too.”

“He is prepared to pay my cousin in order to get his hands on my trust fund. In any case, I do not think he wishes to marry me any more.”

“Only for that you’ve gone out of your way to discourage him,” Betsy said.

Miss Bellingham giggled. “I just listened to everything Cyril said he liked, and did the opposite.”

Why, the little minx. Certainly, Miss Milk-and-Water was unrecognisable in the laughing maiden he could see before him. He had told Cyril he preferred women with opinions, who could think for themselves and hold an intelligent conversation. He might have added that he wanted to wed a lady who put the welfare of his tenants ahead of her own, as this delightfully grownup Joselyn clearly did.

The women were splitting up, Miss Bellingham and Betsy taking the wood path, followed by the raven, and the other women heading along the clifftop to the village. He watched them out of sight, but stayed where he was. He had a lot to think about. Miss Bellingham was clearly not the Black Fox, even if she was a smuggler. And she was far more the Joselyn of his memories than he had believed.

The sound of shifting rocks attracted his attention.

Two men emerged from another rocky outcrop some distance down the cliff, and walked up to the junction of the two paths, talking as they came. One was cousin Cyril, the other a dark burly man who walked with the distinctive roll of a sailor.

“It’s my cousin, I tell you,” Cyril insisted.  “That damnable bird follows her everywhere.”

“I don’t care who it is,” said his companion. “She’s on my patch, and I’ll have her cargo and I’ll kill anyone who gets in my way, and so I will.”

“Look here, Fox!” Cyril was clearly alarmed. “You can’t kill my cousin. I’ve got a man up at the house who’s willing to pay good money to marry her.”

The Black Fox, for it must be he, looked interested. “How much is the wench worth?”

“2000 pound. And this Matthews is willing to stump up 500 to have the rest free and clear.”

“2000, eh? That’d go a long way to sweetening your exile!” The Fox laughed. “Worth more dead than alive, I’d say.”

Cyril shook his head. “She’s made a will leaving the lot to her sister’s children. Not that the brats need it. They’re wealthy orphans; inherited a packet when their parents died. I need her alive, I tell you.”

“You could marry her yourself.”

Cyril shook his head. “I tried that. She won’t have a bar of it. And I’ve no wish for a wife anyway.”

“Drug her, marry her, and then kill her before you run,” the Fox advised.

For a moment, Cyril looked interested, but then he shook his head. “Too complicated. I couldn’t have the bans called. Even if I could wait—and the real Viscount Maddox could turn up at any time—no-one here would believe she was willing. I’m just lucky that I heard two men discussing his unexpected survival, and his petition to the courts to be recognised as viscount. It has given me a little warning to sell off everything I can lay my hands on. Once the courts notify me, I’ll not be able to touch a penny.”

“A special licence?”

“Expensive. And chancy—she could still refuse me at the church. No; getting this Matthews to court her is the best plan.”

“Or…” The Fox fell silent, clearly thinking deeply.

“Or?” Cyril prompted.

“I could buy her off you. I’ll pay 400 pound, mind, and not a penny more! But I’ll be able to sell her to the Barbary pirates, a fair-haired virgin like that. She is a virgin, I suppose?”

Cyril nodded, eagerly.

“Yes,” the Fox continued. “It’s only fair, the trouble she’s caused me, taking cargoes on my patch. Yes, and I’ll take my pick of the other women she had with her.” He grinned, an evil leer that made Felix shiver. “Some to sell, and some to use on the way.”

“450,” Cyril said, “and you have a bargain. What’s the plan, then?”

The two men moved out of earshot, still talking. Felix hurried after them as soon as they’d cleared the open ground and gone into the trees, but they had horses tied in a small clearing, and he caught up only to see them ride away.

Time to return to the house, then, Felix thought. And past time for a little conversation with the lady smuggler.

Part 3 is here.

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The Raven’s Lady – the traveller returns

In April, I sent Crystal Cox her made-to-order story, The Raven’s Lady. I promised her sole use of it for the month of May. Today, in New Zealand, it’s 1 June, and over the next month or so, I’m going to post this story, and Tiffany Reid’s Kidnapped to Freedom.  I’m also planning to make them into ebooks for my newsletter subscribers (if you’re a subscriber, expect to get a link within a week). And sooner or later, I’ll give away enough made-to-order story prizes to have a collection. (The next one is at my friend Mari Christie’s party on 10 June. She’s launching La Déesse Noire, written under her pen name, Mariana Gabrielle.) So that’s the plan. Now, without further ado, The Raven’s Lady.

TRL cover

In the past eight years, Felix Maddox had spent more hours staking out suspects than he ever wished to remember. He couldn’t count the number of nights he’d spent awake, knowing he’d go into battle the next morning. He had even been imprisoned for six months.

This evening as a guest in what should be his own home was probably not the most interminable he had ever suffered through. At this moment, though, it certainly felt like it.

The lady he was supposedly here to consider as a wife was pretty enough, he supposed, if one liked milk-and-water misses who never looked up from their plates, and who answered every conversational sally with a monosyllable or a giggle.

She had sadly changed from the lively child he remembered. But that was long ago, almost another life. She was nine, and he was fourteen, the last time they parted.

The only interesting thing about her now, as far as he could see, was the raven she kept as a pet. He remembered the raven, too. He’d been the one to rescue the half-fledged bird from a cat, but Joselyn Bellingham was the one who tended it, fed it, and captured its affection.

He’d been startled when the raven flew in the library window that afternoon, fixed him with a knowing eye, then marched out the door and along the hall, to tap at the door of Miss Bellingham’s sitting room until she opened and let it in.

Now, though, at dinner, any sign of originality was absent. And as for his cousin, the fat oaf who had inherited the viscountcy when Felix was reported dead, the man’s conversation was all on-dits about people Felix didn’t know and off-colour jokes that were inappropriate in front of a lady, and not even funny.

Miss Bellingham rose to leave the gentlemen to their port, and Felix forced his face into a pleasant smile as he prepared to get fat Cyril even drunker and pump him for any knowledge he had of the Black Fox, the smuggler Felix had been sent to investigate.

A waste of time, in his opinion. Cyril couldn’t organise a bunfight in a baker’s shop. The condition of the lands and buildings on the estates of Maddox Grange showed the man was a total incompetent.

Felix couldn’t blame Cyril for thinking he was the viscount. Felix had decided to stay dead to more easily find the traitors who had given him up to the French. The released prisoner, Frederick Matthews, was no threat to them until all of a sudden they were behind bars. Then Colonel Webster, one of Castlereagh’s men, had approached him and said the identity he had painstakingly created could be used to help England win the war.

He’d stayed in that identity even after Napoleon was exiled to Elba, sure the emperor would not accept his defeat.  The right decision, as it turned out—but Waterloo had finished Napoleon’s ambitions forever, and he was now home to claim his own; just this one last job for Webster to complete.

Felix had nothing against smugglers who simply sought to make a living, but he hated with a passion the type Webster was after; those who had smuggled French spies onto English soil. And the Black Fox—the smuggler leader on the patch of coast that belonged to Maddox Grange—was, by all accounts, the worst of the worst.

“So what did you think of her? Nice tits, eh?” Cyril made cupping movements under his own not inconsiderable dugs.

Felix resisted the urge to punch the fool. “She’s very quiet,” he said.

“Yes, that’s an advantage, don’t you think,” Cyril agreed. “Who wants a chattering woman? And she’s a good housekeeper, don’t you know? And used to living in the country, so you could just leave her at your estate—you did say you had an estate, Matthews?”

“Yes, I have an estate.” After the meeting with Webster, he’d been sitting at his club considering his options when Cyril Maddox came in with a group of cronies. That wasn’t so surprising. The Maddoxes had been members of Brookes since it opened. He hadn’t recognised Cyril; he hadn’t seen him since they were boys. But the group sat right behind him, and he’d soon realised that the supposed viscount was talking about raising money by selling Felix’s childhood friend.

“Does Miss Bellingham have a fortune, Maddox?” one of the others asked. “I’m not interested in a chit without a fortune.”

“A competence, rather. In trust till she turns 25 or marries,” Cyril said. “If she had a fortune, Peckridge, I’d be marrying her myself! But 2,000 pounds, gents! That’s worth an investment of 500, surely? And she’ll have control of it herself in less than three years. A sin against nature, that is.”

“22? That’s pretty old! What’s wrong with her? Secondhand, is she?” The others all sniggered.

Cyril was indignant, more on behalf of his sale than in defence of Miss Bellingham. Felix was indignant enough on that cause for both of them. He remembered Jocelyn Bellingham; remembered her well. She was Cyril’s cousin, not his; the daughter of Cyril’s mother’s sister, left to her aunt’s care after the death of her parents, “and as shy and modest a lady as you could wish to find,” Cyril proclaimed.

Even if he hadn’t had his mission, Felix might have spoken up at that point, for the sake of the child he remembered. As it was, he introduced himself (as Frederick Matthews), apologised for overhearing, and announced that he was interested in 2000 pounds and would be willing to consider taking a wife. It worked, and here he was, drinking his own port, in his own house, and listening to cousin Cyril describing a lady in terms that made him see red.

Suddenly, he could stand it no longer. His investigation into the Black Fox would have to wait for tomorrow. “I’m tired, Maddox,” he said. “I think I’ll turn in.”

Part 2: a series of surprising disclosures

 

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