The Elusive Miss Wakefield

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Entirely unexpectedly, she had ridden no more than a few hundred feet than she encountered her brother riding toward the village. Her mother must have suggested he do that and see that she got home safely through the woods, if she might be reckless enough to return that way. Oliver should still have been in London or Cambridge for at least another day or two—at least that is what had been generally believed. Undoubtedly, Enright had heard that too, and that was why he had decided that he might wander the Fallowfield estate with impunity, as he had done.

Oliver could see by the look on her face that all was not well. He could also see that she was not only disheveled, but her eyes showed unusual anger. She was also breathing heavily, and there was a small spotting of blood on the bottom of her dress. He reined in beside her and put a hand on her arm.

“Shar, are you all right?” He should have known better than to ask. “Obviously not. Did you take a tumble? Mama suggested you might come back this way, and she was concerned for you. Perhaps with good reason.”

He reassessed his first impression of her as he could see a thunderous look of anger about her flushed face. He could see that she was agitated, but she was also relieved to see him. There might be tears of relief ready to flow, now that she was free of whatever had troubled her. He thought he might know what that had been, and felt a cold hand at his heart and the stirrings of a deep anger.

“So what happened in the village to set you in such a pelter, Shar?”

“Nothing in the village, Oliver. More recent than that—barely five minutes ago. Enright.” Her voice broke under a sudden surge of emotion, momentarily robbing her of speech. She nodded back in the direction she had come from. Her eyes flashed in anger, and her tremulous voice conveyed the same emotion. “I am all right. Unharmed. He’s drunk, or he would have known better, but I drew his blood. He’ll not go far or fast after that. Enright thought to accost me and paid the price. But not enough of a price for what he thought to do. I broke his nose with that defense you taught me and then used my crop on him. I should have driven its blade into his heart. I came close to doing so. Perhaps I should go back and finish what I started. I am unharmed, I can assure you of that, though I am monstrous angry.” He could see as much himself. She looked angry, and there were berry stains upon her dress apart from the small droplets of blood and a few small damaged areas to the fabric.

“Go toward home, Shar. I will catch up with you soon enough if you go slowly, and see you safely home. I shall look after Enright and add my bruising objections to yours, if he has not somehow skulked off.”

“I don’t think he was riding, and I did wound him a little, so I doubt he will escape you too easily. I threw his shoes deeper into the brambles so that he could not stop me or follow me.” She did not say anything about hoping that Oliver would deal with him as he should have done the first time and have an end to all of this continuing trouble in the area.

“Go home, my dear. I shall catch up with you shortly.” He reached across and pulled some fragments of bramble out of her hair and from the back of her dress. He tried to assess her situation from her face, but she was flushed with anger at being caught unawares. She had undoubtedly been roughed up a little. Fortunately, nothing worse had happened, or he would have seen that in her face too.

She shook her head, close to tears of frustration. “I am angry is all.”

“Understandable. I shall make sure this does not happen again, though I thought I had already done that. No need to tell anyone else what happened. I shall see to it.” She knew that he would.

He watched as she rode off and then went looking for Enright. His sister had told him enough, but not all of it. He had not raped her, or she would have killed him herself, though thathad been his intent; and from the look on his sister’s face and her anger, he may have got closer to it than anyone might feel comfortable relating; but she had not been damaged to that extent, or he would have known it. How it was that Jasper had turned out the way he had, he could not understand. His elder brother Charles was an entirely different kind of person, but then Charles Enright had spent more time at Fallowfield and with the Morton children than with his own family, consisting only of his mother and younger brother. When he had become older, Charles had spent most of his life in London, with his estranged father, though he did visit from time to time. Jasper, on the other hand, stayed close to the estate he and his mother now occupied and had been cosseted, spoiled, and mollycoddled by his overprotective and clinging mother and had become known as a mother’s boy, whom other’s easily poked fun at. Perhaps that was why he had turned out as he had, always seeking to take revenge upon those weaker than himself, especially unattended females.

Oliver and Charles were still the firmest of friends, despite the antics of the younger Enright brother. They had all played together as children, and Charles and hehad even been at university together; though with Charles being a year older, he had left university just the year before and had settled in London. Oliver was not entirely sure how he would deal with Jasper. The man deserved to die for the damage he had done across their confined society over the last three years, but to kill him as he felt that he deserved was a rather drastic step even with someone as bad as he was.

Jasper was easily found of course, tangled in the brambles and in obvious pain, a stain of blood on his coat where Charlotte had wounded him. He was not easily able to move or go anywhere. There were other marks on his face too, and his nose was still dribbling blood. There was fear in his eyes when he saw someone he had not expected to be within thirty miles of the place but still in London or at the university—Oliver, who would certainly bear him great ill after what he had thought to do to his sister.

Oliver sat upon his horse and looked coldly down at the man in the brambles. “I thought you and I had reached an agreement some time ago, Enright, after a previous painful confrontation that you lost—obviously not painful or memorable enough—that you would leave the local women, including my sisters, out of your amorous considerations, or that you would face castration. Or worse.”

Enright blanched. He knew what would happen to him, and regretted having lost his pistol from his coat somewhere in the scuffle with the sister. His eyes darted about trying to see it, but it was not visible. He watched as Oliver drew a small pistol from his pocket and leveled it at his head.

“The Pickfords, father and son, did not deal with you as they should have done for what you did to his daughter, though they were tempted and had the opportunity, but then they felt sorry for you after the beating they gave you. Fools. Obviously, the threat of thatdid not deter you from continuing your assault upon the fairer sex. I know that this will.” He pulled the trigger.

A few moments elapsed. Enright had felt the ball enter his brain and had died at that moment, and yet his wildly pounding heart and his abject terror at the circumstance, told him that he perhaps still lived.

“First misfire in years. Would you believe it?” He took the percussion cap from the gun and searched for another in his pocket. Jasper’s eyes darted wildly about as he looked for some escape, but there was none—he was trapped. “Damn. I do not have another with me. Perhaps I shall beat you to death instead then, as I would like to. My crop is heavier than that of my sister.” He dismounted from his horse, peeled off his coat, and draped it over his saddle, as Enright extricated himself with difficulty from the clinging embrace of the brambles. He knew he would have to stand and face up to Oliver once more, for he would never be able to run fast enough without his shoes.

Oliver advanced upon him and proceeded to beat the man mercilessly. Jasper made little attempt to defend himself but sought merely to survive what would undoubtedly be a severe beating. His clothing was gradually torn off him to leave him naked, as he tried to stay on his feet, and when that was no longer possible, Oliver kicked at him and then dragged him by the ankle through the brambles, hearing the man scream at the pain of the thorns tearing at his bare flesh and embedding themselves in his body.

Afterward, leaving him senseless and a bleeding and bloody mess in the thicker area of brambles, Oliver shrugged into his coat. He placed his gloves into a pocket, to be cleaned up later, if it were possible to do so. He mounted without a word, turned his horse, and rode off toward home, leaving the severely beaten man, lying semiconscious in the brambles, and caring nothing if he were to live or die.

He caught up with Charlotte just as she was approaching the open areas surrounding the large house. She had waited for him at the edge of the wood. She took note of his slightly bloodied appearance, but it was the blood of another. His gloves, which he had had on earlier, had protected his hands from any obvious injury, but were not to be seen. He had lost his initially cheerful look when he had first encountered his sister, and now there was a firm set to his jaw and his eyes were hard, even as he assured himself that his sister had indeed not suffered from her encounter. He seemed loath to say much of what had happened, but there was a story to be told from his clothing, as well as the look on his face. She would not dare tell him what had really happened to her, or he would go back and kill the man, if he had not already done so. Jasper had come too close to her, for a second time, and she hurt in too many places from fighting with him. Her face might also show signs of bruising where he had grasped her hard about the chin and tried to kiss her.

“Í did not hear a shot, Oliver. I suppose that is a minor relief only, to me, for I would not have hesitated if I had had a gun with me.”

“Then you should carry one, Shar, but make sure that, unlike mine, it will notmisfire. Mine did, and I did not have another cap.” So Oliver had intended to kill him. “The first time it has ever done so, or you would have no need to think of carrying one from this moment forward. I thought the first lesson to Enright two years ago might have been effective. It took him a week and more to recover from that. He will be considerably longerrecovering from thisone. If he does. He also will need to make it home, and that will pose considerable difficulty for him, after being intimately introduced to that bramble patch and in a much more exposed state than he might have thought reasonable. I threw all of his clothing deeper into the brambles before I thrashed him. I should have gelded him as I had started to do.”

“Oliver.” His sister was mildly shocked at his outspokenness. “He will have an exposed walk home.”

“Well, I should have done. I doubt he will be walking however. A slow crawl might be all he will manage. If you hear any tales of the naked man of the woods surfacing again, you will now know who it was. I doubt that others might easily recognize him, for he is well scratched up and bleeding and will not soon get rid of those thorns.” Nor the bruises or broken face bones. Oliver had dragged him in his naked state through the entire bramble patch, by both hair and ankle, before he decided to be finished with him. “I thought that his shouts and pleadings might have been heard in the village.”

“I heard nothing that might elicit my sympathy.” She had probably heard everything;Jasper’s screams had been loud enough, but she had closed her mind to it.

“Good. I decided to send him home without clothes, as he seems to have done with that . . . with one of the young women that he mistreated on one occasion. Though I doubt he will be easily able to walk home with the condition that he is in, and he will never dare go through the village, and so vulnerable. I ruined a perfectly good pair of gloves doing it and made a mess of my own clothing a little, though I find that it was a price I would willingly pay again.” He inspected one of his gloves taken from his pocket.

“They may be recoverable.” He had his doubts about it, however. “I doubt he will bother you again, Shar, though against my better judgment, I allowed him to live.” He looked at his own clothing and realized he would need to change before he returned to his original intent of going to Calderwold. “Damn, I shall need an entire change, or my friend will wonder what I have been up to.” However, he knew that once he explained the circumstance to Henry, as to the reason for his being late to their meeting—while saying nothing about his sister—he would be forgiven.

“He was no real problem for me, Oliver. I was angry is all, once I had dealt with him. But thank you.”

Oliver knew better than to argue with his sister. She had been lucky to have had her crop with that blade in it with her, or the outcome might have been different, and then there would have been no doubt about the outcome for Enright, no matter how long it might have taken Oliver to hunt him down. He still might consider doing that, but then Enright would not remain in the area after that. There had been no mistaking what had almost taken place. A simple gun misfire would not be tolerated a second time, and it would not be repeated. He swore at himself for his carelessness in not taking better care of his gun and for letting Enright off as he had, with only a severe mauling.

“What on earth made you cut through the woods alone?” Oliver was beginning to feel even more angry now that he had had time to settle himself down and think about what had happened, or might have happened. “Mama said you had gone off with Angelica and Anne, and I did not realize you would think of returning alone without them, or without an escort if they were not with you.”

“Not you too, Oliver.” His mood was justified. She had behaved stupidly but did not like to have it rubbed in. “They pleaded to stay until later, and I was in no real danger.”

They both knew better than that now. He said no more. She was his sister, and just as stubborn, perhaps more so than he was, and would do exactly what she decided to, but he would see that she and Anne both had a pistol in their possession after this. One that would not misfire.

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