Some Years Later: A Scheme is Born
Six years after he had left London, and glad to get out of it alive, Jasper received three letters from England, all at the same time. There was one from his brother, accompanying a slightly more bulky package for him, along with a letter from his mother. She had tried to write every two or three months, when she had learned where he was, but he rarely responded as she would have liked, and so her letters had become less frequent as time had gone by. Jasper rarely wrote to anyone. He was not happy where he was. The third letter was from a friend he had stayed in contact with over the years and whom he had first met in Jamaica.
He heard from his brother, Charles, just once each year, almost as a matter of obligation, and to check that he might still be alive perhaps, but without ever expressing any familial affection and without inquiries about his health, comfort, or even success in what he was doing. With such an obvious prickly situation between siblings who had little time for each other even when they had lived under the same roof, Jasper generally did not respond unless he required Charles to send him something. Jasper was aware that there were others in Jamaica who also wrote to his brother concerning him and his turbulent affairs and various misfortunes.
The brothers had grown further apart, and not with any increase of good feeling but quite the opposite. No doubt, Charles felt more relaxed knowing that his brother was not disturbing his own society quite so well as he had been when he had been in England all of those years earlier.
As Charles’s fortunes had risen (according to the few letters Jasper got from London), his own had declined.
Then a different kind of letter from his brother found him.
Our mother has died. She passed away in her sleep last May 12. I could learn no other details. She was buried in the local church cemetery with relatively few at the service. I did not learn of it myself until afterward.
She died, as she lived—remote, and with little that was kind to say of anyone, even to the end. She had become quite bitter in her last months, especially as to your lack of communication with her. With her in that kind of mood, I kept my visits to a minimum, while telling her what I could of you.
Our mother’s final wishes were difficult to carry out, as she assumed too many things that were hers could be disposed of, when they couldn’t. The only things she possessed at her death were her clothing, her modest jewelry, and various knickknacks. She had been able to exercise some control of her spending in the last few years when she became more and more housebound, so there was some money. She wished that you would have it. Enclosed is a banker’s draft in accordance with our mother’s wishes.
It is little enough, but will keep you in some comfort where you are if you are not reckless. London is becoming too expensive as well as more unfriendly than I like to admit, so it would not go far here. There is little point in you returning to England. I am sure your circumstances where you are, are likely to be better than they would be here.
P.S. Enclosed is a somewhat bulky letter that I just received. It has your direction on it. Our mother must have written to you when she realized that she was dying, but she was unable to send it to you before she died. It only recently came to light in the midst of her belongings.'
Charles had enclosed it against his better judgment. Had he realized the damage that it would cause to so many lives, he would have followed his first instinct and have destroyed it.
Jasper put his mother’s letter to one side. He would read it later. The third letter was from a former acquaintance who now lived in London. He opened that one and read it.
I expect you will have heard by now that your mother died. Please accept my condolences.
I see your brother from time to time. He knows that I met you once in Jamaica, but he does not know of our friendship, or that I write to you. He is secretive concerning his own affairs, though I did manage to learn that his fortunes have risen along with that of the Stavelys with whom he has some business connections.'
Jasper was surprised to see that name, Stavely, come up.
'I am always careful in my inquiries, however, as he has more friends than I am aware of, and he has a habit of discouraging too much scrutiny into his affairs.
He has become prosperous with his ventures with that Stavely family, and he is obviously trusted to see to more of that shipping business of theirs on behalf of the partners, with Henry Stavely being off in India as he has been now for some five or six years.
That latter snippet was news to Jasper. He had not realized the Henry had gone off to India. Jasper had stayed away from England for no other reason than fear of meeting up with him again and facing certain death at his hands. Now he learned that Henry had been in India all of this time, and was still there. He cursed his luck at not learning that sooner.
Your brother seems to have formed an attachment for Anne Morton, a childhood friend from somewhere in the north, though he says nothing. I think you know of her, and there are rumors of an understanding, if not an engagement between them. Other rumors are less kind about both women, but I do not know enough to relate more, other than of the elder daughter arriving home with a babe in arms, and unmarried. Such a mark against one daughter in any family, is a mark against all, yet your brother did not seem to be put off by it.
No wonder they both had to leave London and preferred to remain out of sight in the country. However, despite all of these awkward missteps, that family’s fortunes are also on a firmer financial footing than they were before their father died. They say that virtue is its own reward, but it also seems to be true, that lack of it can be even more rewarding in their case.
Jasper sat back thoughtfully. Everyone that he might know, seemed to be prospering no matter how badly they behaved, and here was he, living almost hand to mouth and with no way to return to England, and not sure if he should, even if he had the means. His brother would not welcome him. He broke the seal on his mother’s letter and read it slowly, rereading sections of it, as he pondered what it meant for him.
'My dearest, dearest boy,
I hope you continue in good health and are making something of yourself. I hear far too little about how you are faring to feel comforted, but at least you are safe where you are and doing as well as might be expected.
There are some things that are essential for you to know about me before I die, which I fear is not too far off—about yourself and about your own past. It is also time for you to return to England to claim your birthright. Yes, you do have one, if you are brave enough to follow my directions and to take it.
Enclosed separately, are some letters that will surprise you and may prove to be of some substantial benefit to you, so keep them safe and out of the hands of your brother. I wrote them. You will see that they are addressed to Reginald Morton. They are unopened (he returned them that way), and you should keep them that way too, until they need to be opened in front of the proper magistrate and witnesses.
Charles may be my son, and your brother, but he is neither your friend nor mine since he took up with that Morton clan. He has taken up with Anne Morton in some way or other and will stop you from doing what I suggest to that family, if he can. He must learn nothing of what I am confiding to you in this letter.
I suppose I should begin by telling you that Charles is only your half brother. It should come as no surprise to you, as you were two of the most dissimilar of boys in every way. My husband abandoned me and left me to fend for myself with a pitiful allowance, even while I was carrying Charles. He appears to have become Charles’s benefactor in the last few years while continuing to ignore both of us.
I met up with your real father while Charles was still an infant. I once regarded him as a gentleman and thought that he was as in love with me as I was with him. Nothing turned out to be as I believed. The one time I was truly alone with him, and vulnerable, he forced himself onto me repeatedly, and brutally, and then left me to deal with the consequences for myself. The only good thing to come out of all of that, was you. I felt betrayed and destroyed by those acts. He was a man I had trusted and whom I thought I loved at one time. When he discovered that I was pregnant with you, he abandoned us both completely and denied everything. Hence, the evidence of these letters, which I wrote to him, reminding him of his responsibility. He never responded. That man—your real father—was Reginald Morton. I warned him what would happen if he did not take me seriously, and acknowledge what he had done to me, though I was not sure how I would achieve that until later. Yes—now you know why I felt such unrelenting enmity toward that family. It almost does not matter that he did not respond to them. They are spread out over several years and tell their own story.
I waited almost twenty years and saw my opportunity for revenge one day when I was walking in the woods. I encountered a strange youth, a simpleton, on one of my walks. From his words and actions, he seemed to regard me as some goddess, with the sun directly behind me, shining through my hair, and with me seemingly appearing out of nowhere. He fell to his knees and implored me not to harm him or bewitch him, and that he would poach the deer no more, as well as be my slave for life. Poor, witless boy. Of course, I saw immediately how I might use him. I was quite amused, but saw, for the first time, a way to be easily revenged upon that Morton family. I told him that I forgave him, but that he would need to undertake a task for which I would prepare him. He was more than happy to go along with everything I suggested in exchange for not being bewitched, as well as for certain other rather personal favors to bind him to me.
We met several times after that, and always in that same place. I had once been on the stage, and what I learned there proved useful. I made sure that I dressed then, as he assumed a goddess might dress, with flowing white robes and all of the correct accoutrements to confuse the poor boy. He was easily taken in and bound to me. I was pleased to see that I had not lost my allure over the years.
To get to the point, I persuaded him that certain animals took on the form of humans to escape the hunter, and that the animal he would find in the Morton woods, and in man form, was one of those.
I knew Oliver’s habit of walking alone in the woods, and where he walked, when he was home. It worked far better than I had believed possible. He shot Oliver, believing him to be a deer, though did not kill him outright, and then, as I had sworn him to complete secrecy upon fear of death, he kept our secret. By those simple yet devastatingly effective acts, you became the surviving heir to the Morton estate. I waited until now to tell you of this.
Mr. Morton, Reginald, died soon after that, so cannot dispute your claim, and nor can anyone else. The time has now come for you to establish your claim to that estate. Mrs. Morton is as old as I am, and in indifferent health from what I hear, though she has been that way all of her life, and a recluse, much as I became after I told her of what her husband had done to me. I believe she may be easily persuaded to comply with what needs to be done. I approached her while I was quite far advanced carrying you. I let her know about her husband and wrote her letters to that effect too in the subsequent years. Unfortunately, unlike her heartless husband, she was careful neither to return them, nor to reply to any of them to strengthen our case and to lay a better trail for your claim.
You need to return to England as soon as you can and lay claim to the estate before they manage to discover an heir themselves to fill in the gap, as so many desperate families do when things do not go their way. A little money, judiciously spent, can conjure an heir out of nowhere, given enough time. It would also work in your favor too if you approach the right official with these documents, and sufficient monetary inducement.
Do not delay too long, or those Mortons will find some means to block you, though they know none of this just yet.
I advise you to destroy this letter after you understand what it tells you.
Your ever-loving mother.'
Having read and reread that letter, Jasper’s course seemed clear to him. Despite what his brother might say, perhaps England could be possible once more and had enough to offer to make it worthwhile. He did not like the life where he was. It was too hot and not at all friendly. The women had been interesting at first but then had found out about him and his ways, and he had come close to being killed more than once by one or other of them, and had the scars to prove it. He had no head for business and too much of a fondness for rum, and making the wrong kind of friends. The little money his mother had bequeathed him would help him find passage.
Jasper packed his few belongings and took the earliest ship back to London. Charles might eventually learn that he had returned, but he would be too late to do anything about it by then; and with Henry Stavely in India, he could be revenged in his own way upon the Mortons, as well as moving forward with what his mother suggested.