The Elusive Miss Wakefield

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The Repercussions Begin

Jasper Enright was removed to London early that same morning in his mother’s carriage to receive medical attention to his many contusions and pains. He was in a pitiful condition—at least to those who knew and loved him of which there was but one; his mother. To all others, had they known or cared, it was a well-deserved and long-overdue thrashing.

He was to stay with his elder brother, Charles, who neither expected him without any warning, nor would have any reason to welcome him, so their mother had not given Charles any notice of it beforehand. If he had no warning of it, he would not easily refuse to take his brother in, once he saw his condition.

After the doctor had left, Charles went up to see his brother. He was under no illusion as to how he had come by his wounds. Some relative of the many women he had wronged had caught up with him at last.

He looked him over for a few minutes before he spoke. “I do hope you learned something of a more lasting nature than you did the last time.”

Jasper knew better than to respond.

“I thought that you were aware of what would happen to you if you continued to prey upon the women around the village. I take it that what happened to you was at the hands of the relatives of one of them?” His brother said nothing but just lay back with his eyes covered with a warm cloth. He was in considerable discomfort, and he did not look forward to another of Charles’s sermons about morals or drunkenness or selecting one’s women more carefully and always with their approval. Preferably while sober too.

Charles lifted the cloth from his bruised face so that he might see Jasper’s face, as mauled as it was, and his expression, as well as the look in his eyes—at least as much as might be seen in one of them. The other would likely be too damaged to be any good to him. “So who was it this time? Which unfortunate young woman crossed your path? Or did her brother or father intervene first? I hope so. She was no one that I know, I hope. Of course you know better than to tell me, or I might be tempted to deal with you myself. You went too far with Preston’s niece—leaving her to make her way home in the difficult state you left her in. It seems that others may have learned of that and allowed you no clothing to return home with either.” He saw the passing of one alarming emotion after another across his brother’s face that he might know of that.

“Yes, I did hear of that. Few of your exploits go unnoticed. You are running out of rope and time. What I do not understand is why they took so much trouble to punish you, yet left you with the means to continue your amorous predations. I would certainly have castrated you!” Jasper was not comfortable having that subject brought up. He was not sure how he had escaped it himself.

“No wonder Preston intends to kill you. I would have if I had come upon you then. So might any man. You were lucky I was out of the country at the time.” He looked thoughtfully down upon his brother.

“Perhaps I should tell him, Preston, where you are.” He saw by the fleeting expression of fear in his brother’s uncovered eye; though whether because of his threatening to tell Preston or that his victim might well be someone familiar to him, he could not be sure. He did not like that hateful feeling that proximity to his brother always seemed to cause in him and noticed stirrings of anger. “I thought I had warned you about conducting your amorous adventures within twenty miles of the village and never to let them go beyond what might be tolerated with the more respectable women who are all known to me. There are plenty of those others who seem to welcome your attention, though perhaps not even them, if one of them did this to you. However, you should restrict yourself to that class of female.

You cannot deny that it was Brokeston where you were, as Mama did send a letter with you bemoaning the sorry state you were in when you crawled home, naked and nearer dead than alive, but she always did tend to be melodramatic where you are concerned, especially when she wanted my help. I suspect her letter was meant to elicit some pity in my bosom for you, but it did not. Had I been the one to have met you then, and not your mother, I would have shut and locked the door in your face.” Charles was surprised to find that he still resented the favoritism that his mother shown for her younger son, regardless of how badly he behaved.

“You should tell me about it before I learn of it from others. I will find out eventually, you know.” His brother still dared say nothing. “If I find out that it was one of the more respectable of the women in the village or anyone well known to me—either of the Morton ladies, for example—then you may regard what happened to you as merely a down payment on what will happen to you at my hands. Perhaps I should teach you another lesson about that, as I once did, as it is clear that the young woman was not a willing participant. I warned you about that too, once before.”

His brother was discomforted to hear that. He remembered that lesson too clearly. He had almost drowned when his brother had thrown him down the well. He might still be there if the dog had not heard his cries and alerted his mother by its incessant barking. Their mother had not forgiven her elder son for that and had let him see it. That was when Charles had left the estate and gone to London, intent on looking up his father after listening to his mother run him down at every opportunity over the previous eighteen years.

Jasper felt that he had suffered enough without being subjected to another of his brother’s homilies. He did not like Charles preaching at him, and not with a threat of violence behind his words. He put up with the discomfort from his bruised face and responded unwisely before he had thought of the consequences. “What if it was? The Mortons can mean nothing to you after Charlotte spurned you as she did.” He felt his brother’s hand descend across his mouth and squeeze just enough to stop his words and to elicit a muted scream of agony as his brother continued to speak, and in a way he might never mistake. It felt as though his jaw might even be broken, though the doctor had not thought that it was. He watched as Charles took out a small knife from his belt and held it up for his brother to see, before he brought it down to his abdomen where he could feel it pricking through the sheet in a vulnerable place.

“You should keep in mind, Jasper, that I am a friend of the Morton family. They were more welcoming to me than my own family. Also, Charlotte Morton did not spurn me, as you say, as I did not approach her as you seem to think I did, despite what Mama may have suggested to you. It has nagged at our mother for the last ten years how I could find their society to be so much more pleasant than that of my own family. There is nothing more that needs to concern you other than to be aware that I shall protect them from the likes of you to whatever degree is necessary.” He let his words sink in. “I do hope that it was neither of the Morton girls. If I find that you have harmed any of that family, as you thought to do nearly two years ago when our mother fed you all those lies, then the fact that you are my brother will count for nothing. I shall hang you from the rafters in the stable and bleed you like a duck before I eviscerate you.” Jasper was surprised to feel that he might mean it, as well as the depth of his anger. It seemed that there was more between Charles and the Morton women than Charles was prepared to disclose.

“Still, I suppose I can take some comfort in the fact that you are here now, and will be laid up for some little time at least, and cannot be doing damage in that direction. I doubt that I will get an honest admission out of you, so I shall make my own inquiries.” Jasper felt it wiser not to say any more, nor to annoy his brother further after that, but in any case he was endeavoring to deal with the sudden pain from his face where his brother had angrily held him. Charles had responded unexpectedly. He resolved that it might be wise to keep his mouth shut and to be as far away from his brother as soon as he might, if he really did intend to find out what had happened.

“I will need to go away for a brief time. I should tell you that my servants will be warned about you. If I return to find that you have been impolite in any way to either of the young girls who may attend you from time to time, that I will hear of it.” He let his words sink in. “When you recover, you will find somewhere else to live, and the further away from me, the better. You should consider the Indies. I told you that I have interests there that you are not likely to jeopardize, as well as many contacts. The further away from Mama that you are, the better you will find your life to become. She is mischievous, vindictive, and a liar where the Mortons and others are concerned.” Jasper remained silent. He knew better than to try to contradict or argue with his brother at such a time.

London might prove to be even less friendly than where he had come from, but he would need to recover his health before he might think of doing anything else. He did not like the suggestion that he should relocate to the West Indies. Too many white men died there from various diseases or violence, though he had heard that the women were more accommodating than those in this neck of the woods, while being less predictable and often more violent themselves. However, he might live longer there than here, considering what had happened to him on two occasions now.

Jasper looked about with his one good eye, took in the obvious affluence of his brother’s lifestyle and felt further stirrings of jealousy and anger. The West Indies had been kind to Charles, though he spent little time there himself. His brother could never have achieved this lifestyle by himself, yet he said nothing of how his good fortune had come about, though their mother had guessed. She did not approve of the influence that her distant husband now had in Charles’s life, but could do nothing about it.

Her estranged husband had seen Jasper on only two occasions, and fleetingly at that when Jasper had been in London with his elder brother. He remembered his father’s words quite clearly from that time and still did not understand why they had been so scathingly spoken, but they had been spoken only to Charles as they had met in the street. Jasper might not have been there—invisible. His father had barely looked at Jasper, nor had he acknowledged him; but the generally derisive tone when he had spoken had been obvious, even to Jasper.

“So this is your brother, is it?” He had then been swept from his father’s mind and consideration. He began to understand why his mother hated her husband as much as she did and kept him out of her life.

Charles’s advice to take himself off to the Indies began to appeal to Jasper, but he was still not ready to wash his hands of this country just yet. He had a burning desire to be revenged upon Oliver for what he had done to him, as well as to meet up with Charlotte Morton, or even her younger sister under different circumstances than he had experienced. However, what he wished for, and might achieve, were two different things.

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