When Mr Oliver or Harding or whatever tries to confuse things, Rachel discovers that George is something more than he lets on. He’s not just a flighty social butterfly who escorts diplomatic visitors and keeps them out of trouble in the London gaming hells and associated fleshpots.
My co-author Amelia and I often put the beginnings of books on my, now our, blog. They don’t always make it to the end, but it’s helpful for our writing. This is another Regency Romance. This time without grave robbing or financial dealing and legal chicanery.
We’ve been working hard to write from Rachel’s viewpoint. It’s an interesting exercise.
Mostly about a Notebook, that and Pontefract.
That morning, Lady Beddlington requested her son’s company while she drank her chocolate in her room, prior to emerging from her lair.
Sitting stiffly upright in her bed she asked him, after he gave her a dutiful son’s peck on the cheek, “What can you tell me about this Lady Hayforth?”
“Not much, she was on her way to London, to stay with Lord Bromley … To try her hand at the marriage market. Carriage broke down outside of Rupert’s pile.”
“I don’t think so. Not if she’s Bromley’s cousin … he’s a stiff-rumped fellow of the first rank. Couldn’t be, at least not more of an adventuress than any other unmarried woman in search of a husband.”
“I doubt that.”
“Well … Mother she has behaved with grace, good manners, and genteel conduct. I gather Rupert’s proposal came as something of a surprise to her, but I think it will be the making of the two of them.”
Lady Beddlington studied the faded wallpaper in her room while she tried to remember the Hayforth’s. Eventually she said, “I place her, not her, but her family, now. Her father tried to keep up with Brummel and that set. Run of his legs.”
“When was that?”
“Years ago. You were still in school. It was the talk of the ton. She’s a queer one, George, dashed smoky.”
“I don’t know Mother. She seems pleasant enough. Not at all what I’d expect for an avaricious ladybird.”
“As if you would know.”
“I haven’t lived a completely sheltered life. Until I met Miss Deacon, I carefully avoided the Parson’s trap … which I assure you was laid for me by many an ambitious mother, baited with her desirable miss.”
“I must admit, George, that I find it most reassuring that you are engaged to Charity and out of this harpy’s reach. Poor Rupert. We shall just have to see what we can do.”
“Mother, I’m not…”
“Nonsense. Time that I finished my morning toilette. Would you send Graves in?”
“All I will say, Mother, is that Lady Hayforth is a pleasing and rational young lady with excellent manners.”
“Right, next you’ll tell me about a new patent to make purses from sow’s ears. Where’s Graves?”
George, still unconvinced, nodded his agreement. He also made sure to shut the door before he sighed in relief.
Miss Graves was waiting outside the door. “How is she?”
“Irritable … still upset that old Gas is donning leg shackles. Shame, because it’s the best thing he could do. It’s made him almost human.”
Miss Graves nodded, “I wish I understood My Lady. Trying to keep poor Lord Hartshorne from marrying. It’s a shame and so beneath her.” Confidences over, she curtsied to George and entered the room.
George shrugged and started down the hallway towards the stairs. He didn’t get far. “My dear Lady Hayforth, you look positively radiant this morning.”
Rachel blushed, “Oh stop it. I don’t hold a candle to the sun of Miss Deacon, and you know it.”
“If you’d rather, I could say you look worn and exhausted … positively haggish.”
“That’s not true either.”
“No. But you are looking in good health. One of the prettier sights I’ve seen so far this day.”
“Thank you, but I’m certain Charity would disagree.”
A door opened behind them and Charity asked, “I’d disagree with what, Rachel?”
“Lord Beddlington’s been telling me sweet lies. Ones he should tell you.” Though not lies, you’re so tall, so beautiful. I don’t compare.
“George, stop flirting… so unseemly. I’d like to breakfast and then we should review your Greek. No point in learning Hebrew if your Greek is lacking.”
George smiled at her, and then at Rachel, “See, I told you she wanted to improve my mind.”
They were sitting at the breakfast table, with Charity questioning George on his Greek declensions when Rupert burst in. “It’s missing!”
“That volume, volume nine, from my notes.”
Rachel said, “That’s what I told you.”
“I know, but I thought it was just misplaced. It’s gone. Nowhere.”
George, glad for a diversion from endless arcane variations of difficult words, asked “Did you check your workshop?”
“Of course. Everywhere.”
“What was in it?”
“Things. I shouldn’t say more.”
Rachel said, “Those things you worked on during the war?”
She continued, “I think we have a problem. George, you might want to send an express to your friend Poodle, or did I get the name wrong?”
“No. Poodle’s the fellow. There’re some dashed odd characters associated with the F.O. It’s either him or ah, Lord Grey. Maybe both.” He rose and bowed to Charity, “You’ll have to excuse me, my love. The Greek verbs can wait.” He chuckled, “They’ve been waiting for me all these years, so what’s a few more hours?” With that he left for the library.
Rupert watched him go. “I don’t know what else. It couldn’t have been that Mr Oliver. I mean he was with General Byng.”
“Who else?” Rachel said, “Either him or one of the soldiers. I doubt most of the soldiers could read.”
“I think we should do our patriotic duty and pay a visit to General Byng’s camp. Show we support our gallant Hussars … and ask a few discrete questions.”
Rupert smiled, “Show there are no hard feelings?”
“And inquire after poor Lewis. With that hand and all. You did warn him.”
Bowing, Rupert replied, “That’s true. I’ll see if my Uncle needs my help.”
After he left, Charity asked Rachel, “Why is Rupert being so mysterious?”
“He made explosives, fulminating compounds is what he called them, during the war. I’d bet a farthing to a pony that the missing notebook is the one where he kept his notes.”
“Oh.” Charity felt faint, “His work could be dangerous?”
“Exciting. Though I’m surprised about his notebook. If it’s so secret why did he have a copy here?”
“I’m sure he had good reason.”
Once the carriage pulled up in front of the Hall, Rupert remembered that his workshop needed his attentions. “Sorry, George, but it’s a total wreck. I daren’t let Brindle or the servants in – they could hurt themselves. Do you mind going without me?”
George replied, “Coward.”
Rupert smiled in his embarrassment. “Let’s just say I’m glad to be shot of Camp Hill. It was hard enough to get away from it yesterday. I’m not sure I’d like to return.”
Rachel said, “He has a point, Ge-,” seeing Charity frown, she continued, “Lord Beddlington. It must have been worrying.”
Charity added, “I’m feeling a bit tired, George my love. Do you mind if I stay?”
“No, I suppose not, it’s just I’d thought, well maybe, you’d have enjoyed a ride with me … and Lady Hayforth.”
“I would, but not today. I’ll keep your nephew out of trouble.”
So without much further discussion, the carriage, bearing George, Rachel, and of course – for proprieties sake, Miss Holloway, sped off for General Byng’s camp. It was just this side of Pontefract, an easy five mile ride.
George stretched back in his seat, evidently enjoying the space. Rachel asked, “What should we expect?”
“In Pontefract or General Byng’s camp?”
“The town’s a little market. Used to be an important place, back in the day. Parliament and Cromwell saw that it would stay a minor town.”
“They grow liquorice if that helps.”
Rachel smiled, “I suppose it might. And the camp?”
“A yes. That’s different. Tents, soldiers and officers.”
“Officers?” Lucy asked. “Handsome ones?”
“Yes Miss Holloway. What did you expect?”
“Handsome officers,” Lucy muttered to herself. “I wonder.”
Rachel gave her a friendly push, “After I’m married, Lucy. For now, I still need a companion.”
General Sir John Byng stared at this interloper. “Lord Beddlington. Why should I search Mr Oliver and his rooms for this book?”
“Because I’m asking you nicely.”
“That’s not a sufficient reason.”
“I thought as much.” George calmly turned to Rachel and Lucinda, “I’m afraid I shall have to ask you to leave.” He nodded to the General’s secretary, “Unless you are cleared, you as well.”
Rachel gasped, “You’re not going to fight?”
“Oh, no, not at all.” George laughed, “It’s just, um, you see … I can’t show it to you. Please do as I say, and it won’t be long.”
General Byng continued his hard stare, “You’re one of those ‘funnies’ aren’t you? I don’t approve of the funnies. Caused no end of trouble for us real soldiers.”
“Let’s say, I work with the F.O. shepherding dodgy diplomats around the village. Not really one of the funnies, but I know my share of them.”
“You can document this?”
“But of course, my dear general.” He bowed to Rachel and Lucinda, “Now if you’d leave us.”
The guards pulled the flap away when Rachel and Lucinda walked out. They stood there blinking in the bright daylight.
“Rachel,” Lucy said, “Isn’t that Mr Oliver?”
The man in question strode towards them and said, “Lady Hayforth, what brings you to Pontefract? To see the castle Pomfret where good King Richard was murdered or is it to shop in the market?”
“Neither. Lord Beddlington thought it would be good of us to show our support for the soldiers with a visit to their camp. He’s inside arranging the details of a tour with General Byng. We felt we needed some air.”
“Indeed.” Mr Oliver went a shade of puce, then paled to a decidedly grey colour. “Give him my regards.” He turned and hurried away.
Lucy said, “Odd that.”
“Yes.” Dashed odd. He’s worried. Why?
The presence of two young women outside of the General’s tent quickly drew attention. Lucy was chatting with a decidedly good-looking young lieutenant while another, equally gallant and possibly more dashing, tried to attach Rachel’s attentions. He pointed out that there was another ball in a couple of weeks.
“Could I have the honour of a dance?”
“Maybe, but I hope to be in London by then.”
“London, Ma’am? What could London offer that we don’t have here?”
Culture and society, not to mention skilful dancing and men who didn’t stink of horses, “I don’t know, but those are my plans.”
“Is there nothing that would dissuade you?”
“I’m sorry, but I promised my cousins that I’d visit.”
“Lucky cousins, to have such a.” He stopped and saluted. General Byng and Lord Beddlington emerged from the tent. His friend, who had been chatting to Miss Holloway, was not as observant. He drew a sharp reprimand and the night watch for a week.
George said, “Lady Hayforth, Miss Holloway, if you’ll accompany us?”
General Byng glared at him, but mindful of George’s credentials kept quiet.
“Do you need us?”
“No, but I would feel better were you not far away. Mr Oliver or Harding is a slippery customer.”
“Then,” Rachel curtsied, “It will be my pleasure to accompany you.”
George, Lucy and Rachel rode back to the Hall in silence. Mr Harding or Oliver or Jones wasn’t in the camp, and if he had the notebook he’d cached it well. It wasn’t in his tent.
Rachel watched the country slide by as the horses pulled their carriage. She turned back and said, “Well, I hope that’s the last we see of him.”
George replied, “Pity about that notebook. Wonder if one of the soldiers took it after all.”
“I’m sure he has it. Never loses anything that’s to his advantage. Do you remember Lucy, when he turned up at the solicitors, during probate?”
Lucy nodded, “All those bills. You almost had to sell the hall to meet them.”
George’s eyebrow raised, “Indeed. That’s interesting.”
“Interesting to you, Lord Beddlington. A disaster for us.”
“No, not what I meant. I’ve seen this fellow before, or at least heard of him. … I mean from before the last few days. Dashed if I can remember where.”
“Well, for me, I still hope that’s the last we see of him.”
The carriage pulled up near the front of the Hall. A pair of footmen promptly appeared and helped them alight.
George stretched in the fading afternoon light, “Good to be back. Have to see about getting you to London, and what my dear Mater’s plans are. Maybe you can ride with her. It might help things if she gets to know you better.”
Rachel replied, “I’m not sure of that. She disapproves of me, on principle. Thinks I’m taking advantage of Rupert. She almost called me an adventuress to my face. Who knows what she’s said behind my back.”
“Yes … well … you know, she’s sort of, um, stuck in her ways. Pity, but that’s how it is. You’ll have to charm her. I mean she’s Gas’s grandmother.”
“Lord Hartshorne, Rupert’s step-grandmother. I’ll do my best.”
“Good girl. Gas is getting a good bargain. I must admit my suggestion has proven fortuitous.”
“Please remember that my fiancé doesn’t like that nickname.”
“But I do. There’s that, you know.”
An unpleasantly familiar voice met them as they approached the parlour. George stopped and quieted Rachel. He whispered, “Listen.”
Lady Beddlington said, “Mr Oliver, thank you. We’ve been looking all over for that book. My grandson will be ever so pleased that you found it.”
“One of the men took it. I’m simply happy to be the agent of its return.”
“And that other thing, those papers of yours, they will be most useful.”
“Glad to be of service.” The sound of chairs scraping along the floor echoed from the room. Evidently Mr Oliver rose and bowed to Lady Beddlington.
George pulled Lucy and Rachel into the library, with a whisper, “Best if we’re not seen.” They watched while Mr Oliver whistled his way to the front door, and then strode towards the stables.
“Pleased with himself, isn’t he?”
“I’d say so.” George replied, “Wonder what mischief he’s done?”
Rachel said, “Who knows.”
George shrugged, “Must see how Mother is, and then you should find Gas. I hope Charity has recovered.”
“Yes, Charity.” Rachel replied, in a curiously toneless voice.
“Once more into the breech dear friends.” George led the way to the parlour.
Inside Lady Beddlington greeted them with a smile. A knowing smile that seemed almost a leer to Rachel. “You just missed a visit from an excellent young man. A Mr Oliver.”
“We did Mother?”
“Yes. He was returning that missing notebook of Lord Hartshorne’s. One of the soldiers had taken it.”
George hurriedly asked, “May I see it?”
Lady Beddlington pointed to a bound volume on the table. “If you insist.”
Hastily picking it up, George quickly flipped through the pages. His mother continued, “I didn’t know you were interested in chemistry, George.”
“I’m not particularly, but this book interests me.”
“That would be telling. Let’s just say I’ve acquired a recent interest in natural philosophy.” He snapped the book shut and stared at the ceiling for a moment. “Interesting, dashed odd, but interesting.” Then he slipped the book into the shelves with the other laboratory notebooks.
“George,” Rachel started to say, then seeing his mother glare at her, “Lord Beddlington, what’s interesting?”
“Must find Gas. I mean Rupert. See that he’s keeping out of trouble.” George bowed to Lady Beddlington, and then to Rachel. She didn’t take his hint and followed him out of the room.
Once out of immediate earshot, Rachel asked, “George, what was in the book?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Exactly what I said. It was blank. Other than the first few pages. Something tells me Rupert wouldn’t have left it that way. I think it’s a fake or a copy.”
“Surely, Mr Oliver would know that it would eventually be opened.”
“He was gambling on that being well after he had left, or that he’d have the time to copy it out. We interrupted him.” George smiled at the thought then laughed as he said. “Shall we find the light of my life, my Charity?”
Having knocked on Rupert’s workshop without success, George found Mr Brindle, “Ah Edward, have you seen Miss Deacon?”
Austere at the informality and disapproving of the intelligence he had to bring, Mr Brindle’s frown deepened when he replied, “Lord Beddlington.”
“Lord Beddlington, Miss Deacon and the Master have gone for a walk on the downs. I believe they are hunting Lepidoptera. At least, they had nets and collecting box.”
“Sounds a wholesome activity. It sounds like Gas is taking after his parents after all.”
“It was not clear that they were chaperoned.”
George cocked an eyebrow, “I shouldn’t worry about that. Charity’s a rock. Trust her with my life, you know.”
Mr Brindle’s expression indicated he thought that might be a misplaced trust, but as a well-trained servant he kept his opinions to himself.
George continued, addressing Rachel, “Ma’am” he bowed, “Perhaps you and Miss Holloway would care to find his Lordship. I, on the other hand, am dreadfully tired. Need to write a missive to my friends in London. Let them know the good news.”
“If you’re taking your letter to the post, I should write to my cousin once more. To let him know I’m still on my way.”
“Yes … there is that. I was thinking of a faster, somewhat more expensive missive.” He gave her a smile, “More than a shilling a sheet, if you must know.”
“Oh. That. I’m sorry, must seem so very dense.”
Mr Brindle coughed, “Ma’am, I shall have a page carry your letter to the village for posting.”
Rachel smiled at him, “Thank you Brindle.”
Rupert came bouncing back with Charity in tow. Rachel looked up from the desk where she struggled with the letter. “My Dear Lord Bromley,” was about as far as she had written. There’s so much I could say, and so little I can.
“Good hunting Rupert?”
“Yes, for Charity – a blue skipper and others. Did you have luck?”
“Not directly. Mr Oliver brought back your missing notebook.”
“George said it was interesting because it was mostly blank.”
“What! Are you sure?”
“It’s in the library. George too, unless he finished his express.”
“Excuse me,” Rupert gave the two women a quick bow and ran.
Charity remained, standing. “I think you are so lucky Rachel. So lucky with Lord Hartshorne. I mean, to be engaged to him.”
Rachel smiled at her. “Yes, I suppose I am. George, your George is no mean bit either. You could do far worse and not much better.”
“I wish he were more serious, cultured.”
“That frippery manner conceals a good mind and a sound heart. I’m sure he’ll settle down with matrimony.”
“His mother thinks he’s a bit of a fool and needs a strong hand guiding him.”
“That, I can assure you, isn’t at all true. It’s an act, an affectation.”
Charity blinked in confusion, then changed the subject. “Did you know Mr Oliver called while you were out?”
“We saw him.”
“He was closeted with Lady Beddlington for ever so long. They were talking when we, Rupert and I, left to look for butterflies.”
“He said something, I didn’t hear it all, about documents and you.”
“The man’s a forger and a villain. He drove my father into deep water, far over his head.” Rachel paused, “In a way I owe him thanks. Wouldn’t have met Rupert otherwise.”
“It sounded as if Lady Beddlington was pleased with what she heard.”
Rachel sighed, “Why am I not surprised? She thinks I’m an adventuress … out to steal Rupert’s fortune.”
“Weren’t you searching for a husband?”
“Yes, but there’s a difference between that and being an adventuress.”
After dinner, after port and snuff, and when the men had finally joined the ladies in the drawing room, George attracted Charity’s attention. “It’s a fine night, Miss Deacon. Why don’t you show me the stars? You were saying you needed to improve my mind.”
“If you’d like.”
“I’d best take advantage of the chance. I’m afraid I must run off to the village in the morning.”
“London?” Rachel asked, “Why?”
“With the end of the war, the expresses don’t run this far. Not regularly in any case. They’ve let themselves go slack.”
“But?” Charity said, “Why do you have to do it?”
“A matter has arisen, an old but in a way still very pressing matter, and I need to, ah … an old friend about it.”
Rachel, all ears, said, “Is this that Lord Grey you mentioned?”
“Maybe,” He flashed her a smile, “Then maybe not. I’ll either be back or Old Gas can see you into town himself.”
“Here,” Rupert objected, “I’m not sure I like this. Me in charge of Lady Beddlington.”
“More likely you in her charge. Charity,” he offered his arm, “The stars are out and it’s a surprisingly clement evening.”
Charity glanced around, “We’ll need a chaperon, Rupert?”
Lucy rose, “Miss Deacon, I’d be glad to see the stars. His lordship should pay attention to my mistress.”
“Yes he should,” Rachel laughed, “Would you care to see the stars too, Lord Hartshorne?”