The Elusive Miss Wakefield

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One Week Later: A Candid and Uncomfortable Conversation

Henry entered the sitting room, where his uncle was relaxing with a glass of brandy in front of the fire after his evening meal. He had not knocked or given warning of his approach. His uncle was sitting back, with his legs up on the fender, trying to bring some warmth into his extremities. He had a greatcoat about his body and a cap upon his head. Henry smiled. The room was cold, especially away from the fire. That entire wing of the house was almost uninhabitable, and should have been torn down years earlier.

“I see you are comfortably settled.”

His uncle slowly took his legs off the fender and scowled at his nephew’s peculiar sense of humor, but said nothing to correct him. “Settled as well as can be expected out here. Pleasant enough in the warmer weather, but too Spartan with the weather as it has been for the last week.” He said nothing about his meals being invariably cold and poorly presented, and that there were never enough covers on the bed to keep a bedbug warm.

Henry looked at him and smiled. He had been aware that his uncle would not have liked the conditions he had been living in, but would know better than to say anything. “I take it that you are now well enough rested and have been able to make other plans for yourself in London.” He continued to smile at the confused look on his uncle’s face. “Yes, I am suggesting that you should now leave. In two days, if not before. I have business, which is likely to take me away for some little time, and I am afraid that the servants may forget about you if I do not remind them.” His uncle uttered a slight sound, almost as though he had been ready to object, but thought better of it. He had learned some things of Henry over the last few days—one of which was that he would not tolerate being opposed. He was being given notice to leave, or he would indeed not be attended to in any way; and it would be on Henry’s instruction, not that he would have been forgotten. He was aware that the many neglectful omissions he had endured silently over the last week had been at the direct suggestion of his nephew and that they would be likely to get worse. He had not expected any better.

His laundry had not been seen too promptly and had come back damp and even un-ironed. No girl had appeared from the village to bathe his foot or to see to having salve applied to his stump (he could have bribed her to see letters smuggled out of the house, as he had intended). The fire was never made up as he would have liked and never with enough coal to throw any heat out, and the damned chimney smoked. He knew better than to complain. Nothing had changed from when his own parents had lived in those same quarters, and Henry had known it.

Henry brought some recently written letters from his pocket and tossed them onto his uncle’s lap. “I held on to them for a while, thinking to deliver them in person, but am now returning them to you. The gentlemen they were addressed to, no longer seem to reside at the addresses you provided, and one of them, Bradshaw, must have thought I was carrying the plague, the way he left from the back of his house before I had even raised the knocker to his door when I thought to visit him just the other day.” His uncle had gone pale.

“My sister’s companion passed these over to me as I requested she do, if you were to approach her in any way. Imagine my surprise when I saw those letters from you. I read them, of course. I feel quite disappointed that you tried to work behind my back, and that is why you shall leave us. I can see that you get to London safely.

“You really should not have approached any of my staff, or my sister’s companion, to run any errands for you.” His uncle could see that the letters had all had their seals broken and that his nephew had indeed read them, and acted upon them. Matthew tossed them onto the fire. Henry smiled at that action. “I see that you are congratulating yourself in counting only four of them when you had written five. I sent the fifth one on its way—the one to Truscott. I doubt there will be a response to it. I decided to rewrite it in respect of a few details, and couched the language in somewhat less gentle tones than you had used. I may actually have threatened him. He would not know that you had not written it. I believe he may have left London for the continent, and in some haste, just yesterday.” His uncle had colored notably and had settled deeper into his chair. “The contents of those letters told me more of you and your intentions in coming here.” Henry picked up the poker and stirred the fire a little. “They told me that my suspicions of you were correct and that you did wander the house after you had believed that all others had retired. You spent some time in my study and perused those documents that I left on my desk there as I expected that you would, and reported a few of the details you learned in those letters.” His uncle made some effort to protest and deny.

“No, no, Uncle, too late for that. Protest your innocence as you will. The evidence was in those letters you wrote, endeavoring to stir up trouble. I used you, just as you hoped to use me, but why you would assume that I was not suspicious of why you were here, or might believe any of the Canterbury tale you first told me, of your innocence, escapes me. I watched you that second night you were here. You should have paid more attention, though it was dark enough that you would not see the gentle sprinkling of flour that I left outside of your door, nor in my study, which I left temptingly unlocked in my foolish carelessness. Your trail betrayed you. I can tell you that you learned only what I intended you should learn, which is why I did send off your letter to Truscott after, as I said, a few judicious additions and edits. It seems to have scared him off.”

He looked down at his uncle. “Surely you could not believe that I would not be suspicious of why you wanted to come here, of all places, rather than stay hidden in London.” His uncle sat hunched over and kept himself to himself. “You leave tomorrow. You will also cease all of your efforts to try and influence this business that Father and I now have responsibility for. You have strained my hospitality to the limit. I will see you to London, as I said, and that will be the end of it. What you choose to do after that, is up to you.”

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