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The Elusive Miss Wakefield

By johnksutherland All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Adventure

In London. A villain Thwarted. Another Miss Wakefield?

In London, Henry brought his father up to date with what he had been doing in the north, and learned, in turn, that both ships that had been expected were even then putting in at the Port of London. He spent most of the next two days at the docks, supervising unloading and reprovisioning both of the ships for a rapid turnaround. Time spent in port was lost time. High-value cargo, nails, woodworking tools, iron implements, cloth, and numerous pieces of European furniture were ready to be loaded for the return trip. He learned that the two ships that he had repossessed from the Sinclairs had already been at dockside, had discharged their loads of coal for immediate profit, and had been sent off into the Mediterranean where cargo awaited them there.

In his travels between his father’s house on Vine Avenue and the docks, he had opportunity to observe two young women going along in the same general direction. One rarely saw such respectable young women in that unwelcoming environment by the docks, and that itself was enough to arouse his curiosity. He had seen them yesterday too. If they had an escort, he was not at all obvious. They did not seem to realize that the dock area was frequented by some questionable characters and by women of a certain, questionable stripe, and that by their presence, they invited the wrong kind of attention. He decided to remain close and to follow them. If the opportunity arose, he might caution them, as he should have when he first saw them, on the previous day, but in any case he would see them safely to where they intended to be, even without them knowing of his presence or of his interest in protecting them. One of them looked familiar to him, though he could not place her. After one of the young women had reached her destination, a modestly respectable house, and had been admitted, the other turned back and began to retrace her steps to return to wherever they had come from, and to a more respectable neighborhood. They had both entered that house on the previous day, so he had not been so concerned, as he was now.

Henry hesitated. He could not let an unescorted young woman wander the streets by herself. Surely she would have more sense than to do that, but apparently not. She should have stayed with her friend and either been escorted by one of the men of that household or should have been offered a carriage ride back to where she needed to be. He turned and followed her. She actually did appear to have an escort of some kind, but a poor one, as a young man could be seen rapidly approaching her from further up the street. If he was supposed to be her escort, he did not seem to take his role too seriously and had allowed himself to be sidetracked by some acquaintance. Any man who took his responsibility so lightly, deserved being taught a lesson. Henry quickened his pace, intending to take on that role himself, and would at least berate the man for his neglect of his duty in such a dangerous area of the city.

It was as well that he did so.

As the young woman passed by one of those alleys that ran between the houses, she was suddenly grabbed by the arm and pulled off balance, and almost out of Henry’s sight; though by then, he was close, no more than ten or fifteen yards behind her.

He could hear raised voices as he picked up his pace. There seemed to be two men. The young woman was objecting, of course, to being accosted like that, but she was not entirely helpless. However, the contest was too uneven and the circumstance not in her favor. She had brought her parasol into play on one of the men, jabbing at his throat and face with it, as though she knew some of the finer points of fencing, while the other attempted to disarm her and then to overpower her and continue what they had started to do, possibly to rob her. She stood little chance against two such ruffians, and would be soon disarmed. What Henry saw was a circumstance too often played out in some of the seamier areas near the docks, where lone women seemed to be a fair target of certain individuals, but then those women might expect such treatment and were often well able to defend themselves. In this case, the motives of the two men seemed clear enough, but they would not be allowed to succeed. Henry was also surprised to see that one of the two was dressed almost as well as he was himself. The meeting was neither expected nor welcomed, and the woman needed to be defended.

Her escort was still some distance away and seemed not to be aware of what was unfolding. He was either a remarkably dull-witted individual or had such poor eyesight that he was of value for nothing. It did not matter. Henry had begun to intervene by then, to the surprise of the two men and to the young woman herself, who now saw three potential assailants. The first two men had appeared out of nowhere, and now there was a third. The odds were definitely against her now. She then noticed that the third man was focused upon her opponents, rather than upon her.

Henry knew what he was dealing with, having grown up with such violence by the docks, and recognized the value of expeditious action before one’s opponent became aware of what was happening. He did not waste any time to allow them to bring either a knife or a pistol into play, but had felled the man closer to him with a blow that seemed to throw the man’s head back and drove him off his feet to land heavily upon the flagstones. He would not be likely to stir for some time.

The young woman had transferred her attention at that moment to her single opponent, holding him off, as she had the second man, with her parasol. The odds were against the first man, who now sought a means of escape, but found that he was boxed in by a high fence behind him and an angry young woman in front of him, though the opponent he was concerned about had already laid his companion out with a single blow. He may even have broken his neck. Before he could decide how he might escape, or retrieve his own stick from the ground where he had dropped it, and bring it into play, his more stalwart opponent had moved the young woman off to one side as he stepped in front of her and had then grabbed the man by the arm as he had unwisely tried to throw a punch at him. Using his own weight, and the force of his opponent’s wild blow against him, he swung the man around as though he were nothing more than a sack of grain and had thrown him with extreme force against the corner of the building. He hung there for a moment, his eyes wide with shock. The pistol that the attacker had tried to retrieve from his belt, even as he had thrown his punch, dropped with a clatter to the ground. That was not the end of it, however. As he fell, more unconscious than conscious at that moment, his attacker dealt with him, as he had done his earlier opponent, and laid him out even more finally with a blow to his face.

Henry kicked the pistol and the man’s stick to one side and then stooped over the other man, lying still, and removed a pistol and a knife from his belt too. The young woman watched, holding her parasol at the ready, before she lowered it slowly. He seemed to know his business and how to deal with ruffians as though it were a matter of habit. He wore no hat and dressed as a gentleman, but a gentleman who had no use for ostentation, nor finesse either. His clothing was admirably well made and fitted him perfectly.

He turned to the young woman and smiled at her. “I am sorry about that display of brutality. I learned long ago, however, that nothing succeeds quite so well in this part of the city, as an excess of unexpected violence, sufficient to discourage one’s opponents from any renewal of the contest.” He smiled, yet he might just have killed both men. “You should not be alone in this part of the city without an escort, you know.”

He was surprised to see that she was smiling back at him and appeared remarkably little ruffled by what had just happened. She had made no attempt to run off, nor did she seem in any way distraught at what might have happened to her. “I thought I had an escort, but I see that I was mistaken. I must thank you, therefore, for coming to my help as you did.”

“Do you know either of these two men?”

She nodded. “That one is well known to me and my family.” She indicated the man slumped at the base of the wall. There was blood coming from his nose. “His name is Jasper Enright, a scaramouch and a bully of those weaker than himself, but I do not know the other. I tried to walk by him when he spoke to me, but he did not like to be ignored by a mere woman. He presumed more than he should have done, as I did not encourage him in any way. You know the rest.” She did not seem to be too put out over the way things had turned out. He suspected that he might know her, or someone of her family, but could not immediately place her.

“Have we met? If so, I must beg your pardon.” He frowned. “Although if we have not met, why is it that I have the feeling that I know you, Miss . . . ?” He waited for her to supply a name. “You remind me of someone.” Her features and mannerisms were similar to those of his sister’s companion. “I am embarrassed to admit that if we have met somewhere that I cannot easily recall it.” He recovered his composure. “I hope you will forgive me for being so maladroit. I know that we have not been properly introduced—how could we be?—and that we are not acquainted at all, but I believe we should remedy that if you would not object.” She made no indication that she would object. He had clear smiling eyes as he bowed to her and introduced himself. “I am Henry Stavely.” He looked closely at her and saw her smiling at him, obviously grateful for his intervention, but almost as though she might know him.

“Of course you are! I believe I recognize that scar on your forehead. My sister described you accurately. She said that that scar was almost the first thing she saw of you when you disturbed her in the library—at Stavely. She wrote and told me of that.”

Henry was taken off guard again. What might this woman know of what had happened in the library at Stavely. “Your sister?” Might there be two such women, and as for him disturbing her sister in the library, he had been the one disturbed far more than she had been. She had been all calmness, if concerned, about her rather flimsy attire.

The young woman before him at this moment, her sister, should not have been so calm or even smiling at him after this incident, but should have been more disturbed by it all. Two remarkable women! He began to wish that he had taken more pains to learn more of the family. She also seemed to know something of him. “I suppose I am in your debt, being rescued from these two thugs. We have not met until now, though my sister did describe you. Anne Wakefield, sir. I believe I also saw you here yesterday. My elder sister is companion to your sister.”

The younger of the two men, the least injured of the two, was coming around. He crawled off out of reach, and then, regaining his feet clumsily (he obviously had a thick skull not to have been severely injured), stumbled off down the street, leaving his companion still to regain his senses. The man still lying there was bleeding from the back of his head now, as well as from his nose. It seemed strange to Anne that they could both, Henry Stavely and herself, be conducting such a relatively polite social conversation while two men had been injured close by them.

Henry watched the first man leave. He had seen him before and would deal with him further, later, if the man decided to remain in London. “You should not wander the streets alone, you know, and certainly not in this area near the docks. One of those two was following you yesterday too, for I first noticed him then.”

“You have been spying on me!” She did not seem to be taking him to task for that, but was merely making an observation.

“Not deliberately. But I did feel obligated to ensure that two young women, clearly not familiar with this rough locale, did not come to harm, so I tried to stay out of sight and kept an eye on you. This is not a place where respectable young women are expected to be without an escort, however briefly, and certainly not alone.”

“I told you, I did have an escort. Somewhere.” She looked about. “I did not know that I had lost him.” He watched as the young man, who had held back as the violence had unfolded, hurried toward them, realizing that something had happened that should not have happened, and all because he had neglected his duty. “He is not so bad. I wasn’t entirely alone, though I see that I was, else those two might not have approached me. I was escorting a young friend to her relative’s home, but our protector seemed to have found a friend to chat with rather than staying with us as he should have done. I did not recognize that he had gone, or I would not have been so careless.”

That same young man was, even then, looking embarrassed as he should, as he took in the scene with the man lying on the ground. He had seen the other stumble off holding his neck. Henry noticed that he was too young to trust with the protection of two young women. He was certainly out of his depth and not the mature kind of individual up to the task that might have faced him.

Henry completed his disgrace by ignoring him and addressing Miss Wakefield. “Who is he, this negligent protector of yours?” Henry did not care that he might be overheard by the young man in question.

“An acquaintance of the family. Alex Newcombe.

“An unreliable acquaintance! You should dispense with his services.” Henry turned and addressed him. He could see that he was slightly built and not well-enough armed to discourage any of those particular individuals that haunted the areas near the docks. He probably might need protection himself down here. “When you are assigned as escort to any young lady, you should not neglect that duty, you know. You also need to carry a pistol, at least, and certainly a heavy stick. Perhaps you are the one more in need of an escort!” The young man flushed red with embarrassment at being justly criticized but held his tongue, recognizing the validity of the comments and having seen some of the violence at a distance. “No, sir. It won’t happen again.” Henry ignored him, turned his back on him, and spoke to the young woman, “Would you object to my temporary escort, Miss Wakefield?” There was no objection.

He tossed the stick and the pistol he had taken from the first man to the flustered escort. “You have more need of these than he does. If you can use them.”

He retrieved the second pistol from where the man had dropped it after he had been thrown against the stonework of the corner of the building, inspected it, and then unloaded it before dropping that into his own pocket.

“Shall we go?” He offered her his arm.

“There is a slight difficulty, sir!” Henry could see that in the scuffle, she had lost her shoe.

“Yes, that would present a small problem, wouldn’t it?” He picked it up from just inside the alley and offered her his arm for support as she pushed her foot into it.

“Thank you!” She looked at the man still lying there. “I do hope you did not kill him, though I fear I would not regret it if you had. I do know that he is not above being violent with women, and men too, and has long been a thorn in the side of our society.”

“I am not above violence myself when it comes to defending a young woman.”

“Clearly, sir. But in that case, it is forgivable, and it is not violence, but necessary retribution.” Henry escorted her toward her home, followed by the downcast and severely embarrassed escort, but she would not let him see her along the street or to her door. For some reason, she did not wish him to know where she lived, though the area they were then in was not at all shabby.

“You should have no difficulty from here, Miss Wakefield. It was pleasant to meet you and to be of some help. I shall not insist upon escorting you to your door, as you do not seem to wish it for some reason.”

“Sir, I am not ungrateful, but I must beg that you excuse me for that. I have my reasons.”

“I am sure you do. You will now leave me to worry over what your sister may have told you of me. If you feel you can now trust that young man over such a short distance, I can relinquish your escort back to him and trust he executes it better this time than he did earlier. I shall also leave you my card.” He had a sudden afterthought. “Please write to your sister and let her know that I will suggest my sister invite you to stay with them both, that is, if your sister approves of us with our difficult history. She may not. I suspect that both ladies are quite bored with Stavely, for although they do get out and about, and seem to enjoy themselves, the society is confining.” He would see his sister in a short while too and would tell her some of this.

“From what my sister has told me in her letters, she is satisfied with everything about her. She feels lucky to have made a good friend. She said nothing ill of you.”

“Then that is a relief. I can only repeat my suggestion that you should visit your sister. It would relieve you of running the gauntlet of unknown admirers in this area, and inattentive escorts. You would be welcome. My sister needs all the friends she can get at this time.”

He watched her go off along the street and thought more about the two Wakefield ladies that he now knew. They were both ladies of quality and well conversant with society, though the younger was too careless of her safety for her own good, except he thought he might have felt a pistol lying in the bottom of her purse when he had picked it up for her, for all the good it would have done her there.

As soon as Anne set foot in her home, she sat down and wrote a letter to her sister.

'Dearest Charlotte,

You are not the only one with news. What a tale I have to tell you!

I am writing this in some haste, so you must forgive a spluttering pen and the occasional lapse in grammar. I have had an interesting day. But first, I shall take you to task. You misled me about Mr. Stavely by error of omission, rather than commission, and I shall have more to say on that matter to you when I next see you.

I met him, your Mr. Henry Stavely, in rather enlightening, yet awkward circumstances down near the docks—enlightening for me, awkward for our nemesis, Jasper Enright, and his equally violent companion. They had followed me into an area of town near the docks and had approached me, as they should not have done, and there was some violence.

I am entirely unharmed, so you can set your mind at ease. Your Mr. Stavely had also followed me, keeping an eye on me, he said. I remember how you had told me that he seemed to have a reputation for violence. I can now confirm, quite happily, that you were correct. He laid both men out, before they even knew he was there. I doubt Jasper will survive more than one encounter like that from what I saw.

I know that as women, we are supposed to abhor violence and to be shocked by it, as well as to censor those who are violent, but I was not shocked, but thankful. I was all admiration at how easy he made it all seem. I had my pistol, but everything unfolded so quickly, I had quite forgotten it. I am not even sure that it was loaded.

We introduced ourselves . . .'

She chuckled at the thought that when Charlotte read that, she would undoubtedly feel a sudden upheaval, thinking that she may have been found out if Anne had disclosed her true name to him, and that her sister was at Stavely, but she would also realize that her younger sister was more alive to the circumstance than she might have believed.

'.. . As soon as I heard his name, I knew who he was, of course. You will be pleased to know how clever I was and told him that I was Anne Wakefield, and that my sister, you, was companion to his sister. Young Alex Newcombe, who was supposed to be my escort, heard little of our exchange, caught up, as he was, in confusion and embarrassment and did not hear me claiming to be Miss Wakefield, or had sense enough to say nothing.

I must tell you one more thing, if nothing else, by way of taking you to task. You misled me about him. He is not as you portrayed him to me. Thinking back on what happened, I can tell you that if he had asked me for a kiss, whether I was in that flimsy nightdress or whatever, and even if we were alone after midnight, I would not have hesitated but would have given him one, or perhaps two, to thank him for intervening on my behalf as he did.

You had better snap him up, or you will risk losing him.

P.S. He said something about writing to his sister and suggesting that I be invited to Stavely. How could I refuse such an offer. It may be the only chance I will get to see you for some considerable time, and I am anxious to meet Georgiana, after what you have told me of her.'

Anne saw the letter sent off that same day.

It had been a shock for her to have encountered Jasper as she had. Clearly, with him knowing where she was, London was not safe for her. She resolved that if she were invited to Stavely, as Henry had hoped might happen, she would go as soon as she might, for she had liked what she had seen of him and had heard of Stavely. She would give her sister a piece of her mind for not telling her more of him, rather than just a passing reference to a somewhat sinister brother in her weekly letters. From what Anne could recall of those earlier letters Charlotte had provided only the barest information of Henry (except in one letter), and had painted an entirely inaccurate portrait of him, as a cynical and perhaps even aloof individual, for some reason best known only to herself.

Charlotte responded almost immediately.

'Dearest Anne,

This is my second letter to you today.

I did not mislead you deliberately about anything, there were just a few things that I did not disclose. Georgiana heard from her brother almost as quickly as I heard from you. Your name was mentioned, and before I knew it, Georgiana had approached me and insisted that I invite you up to Stavely to join us, which I did (that was my first letter), though I had not then heard of the difficulty with JE as Henry would have said nothing of that to his sister.

This second letter is to persuade you to accept her kind offer and to waste no more time in coming up to us, at least as far as Calderwold. You must leave London as soon as possible, now that you have been discovered there, and tell Mama that you are going to join me at Eastbourne. Fanny will cover for us both, and Willis will say nothing. Oh dear, yet another deception with another sister roped in, and with our own mother, but it cannot be helped. It is not safe for you, now that JE knows that you are there. It would just be a matter of time before he would find you again and learn where we are located in town, and then where I might be located also.

Willis can drop you at the inn here, and you can get word to us by messenger. I can tell you that you will be made welcome, as I was. Georgiana is excited to meet you already. I almost feel as though I were at home, though how I can feel that way, after our loss, I am not sure.

I meant to ask you to send my trunks up to me that I had Willis keep back, so now you can bring them with you. I am suspected of being a respectable lady of good birth, fallen on difficult times, so it would not appear out of place that I might have a good wardrobe after all, nor to be well educated and soft spoken—you either.

Make sure Willis is careful to disclose nothing of where we really are to Mama.

Charlotte.'

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