The Elusive Miss Wakefield

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Retribution.

Revenge most often harms those who seek to carry it out.

After a busy and tiring day with Miss Georgiana, Charlotte retired for the night to make entries in her journal. Henry had excused himself after dinner and had pleaded that he had an errand in the village, but would be back later that evening; and if he were not too late, they could all sit in the library as they had become used to doing.

After being at Stavely now for some months, she had made many entries, certainly a page or partial page for each of the days she had been there. Her letters from Anne were tied separately and kept in a locked drawer.

She reviewed what she had written up to that time in her diary, and reread some of her earlier entries. She had been careful what she had confided to those pages. Some—the early ones—were tear stained, and some had just a few lines of entry. Some, detailed her observations of the family in whose midst she found herself. The two families, the Stavelys and the Mortons, were so similar in essentials, and yet so different too. Henry’s father, whom she had met on those visits, which he often made, was a kindly man, and obviously not deserving of the blistering rendition she had mistakenly given of him to the real Miss Wakefield. She hoped none of that would come back to haunt her. She still felt pangs of guilt over continuing to misrepresent herself, but it seemed the safest course of action to continue.

Her eyes grew heavier. She yawned, put off her shawl, drank down the milk that she had brought to her room with her, turned down her bed, and climbed into it. Her last thoughts were of blowing out the candle and then a brief consideration of how she might best help distract Georgiana on the following day, from her own advancing condition.

She was awakened by a noise across the room. She listened as she tried to pinpoint where it was coming from. A mouse or a rat? Perhaps one of the dogs had got in. Then she realized that it was not an animal, but a person. Someone was making a noise near the wall at the foot of her bed. She recollected then that she had locked her bedroom door before she settled, as she had been told to do by both Henry and Georgiana, with that uncle of theirs in the house. He was not to be trusted.

“Who is there? Is that you, Henry?” Her voice was tremulous and uncertain.

A vague figure loomed out of the dark. It was a man, and from the way he moved, somewhat clumsily, it was the uncle. He seemed able to get about well enough without crutches. Before she could move, or do anything else he threw himself across her.

She could not avoid him as he lay upon her, trapping her arms beneath the covers, as she began to feel his weight upon her to hold her down. His weight was enough by itself to severely limit her movement under the heavy coverings. He had been a silent attacker, with unusual strength in his arms.

He had clamped his hand over her mouth but had not been prepared for quite such a violent struggle. He was bitten for his trouble until he put a sheet over the lower part of her face and held it tightly over her mouth to avoid her screaming or calling out for help and alerting others, as well as to stop her biting again. His weight and his trapping the sheets and blankets about her confined her struggles, as did the lack of air.

“Where did you put it?” She could vaguely see his eyes above her. He held her by the throat and spoke. “If you scream or shout out, it will be the last sound you will make in this life, but I need an answer. Where did you put it?” She felt his grip lessen so that she might answer.

“Put what?”

“The small box that was in that alcove behind the wainscoting. That hole is as empty as the others.”

“I know nothing of any alcove, nor of a box.” She filled her lungs now that she was free to do so, and seemed ready to shout out, except his hand tightened again on her throat.

“I underestimated Henry and his father letting me stay here. Keeping me a prisoner in my own house more like, and spying on me. You have all been cleverly working against me ever since I arrived. Henry, and now you. Why did you give him those letters I had written? I trusted you to get them to London for me without anyone stopping them, and then Henry threw them onto me just this afternoon.” His anger was obvious. “He is putting me out of my own house. My own house, would you believe, but I shall not go empty-handed or without something for him to remember me by. You gave ’em up to him deliberately. You ruined all of my plans when you did that. Too damned careless! He was the last one I needed to find out about those, and then he throws them back at me—all opened and read!”

“No . . .” He did not like to hear any further protest and shut her up by covering her mouth with his hand.

“I thought I might at least be able to count on you after what I learned of you and your own little secret.” There was a puzzled look on her face.

“Oh yes! The carter that brought me here. He saw you and my niece in the garden. So that’s where she wound up, he said. There was talk of her being in London, and now I see her here—Ms. Morton of Fallowfield.” He felt her go still beneath him. “Aye, I thought that might get your attention. I stored it away, not realizing that it might have value to me. So we both have secrets we would rather not have discovered, especially when I find you are known here, to the family, as Miss Wakefield—a lady’s maid. Except Henry seems to have discovered most of my secrets now, no thanks to you, and even knew about my little hiding places. I should have seen him dealt with all those years ago when I had the chance on board that ship—him and his father both.

“Perhaps I should have told you what I knew of your little deception before I asked you to see my letters sent off, and you may have been more careful. No doubt Henry or his father knew of these other hideaways and emptied them years ago. Had you known of them, you would have been long gone. Damn! They would have seen me settled comfortably away from here, and now I find that I am to leave with nothing to show for my being here. Less than nothing. Not even a feather to fly with.”

He looked down at her, beneath him, with other thoughts growing in his mind. “But all is not entirely lost. I’ve seen the way he looks at you, and you at him. I should tell him who you really are. You wouldn’t like that, I expect, but why waste such an opportunity? There is something that you and I shall share together before I leave—a featherbed jig, the beast with two backs, and then we can both keep our mouths shut.

I am sure that such things are rarely spoken of after they have happened, or if they are, it is the woman who usually has the most to lose by it.” She could see the way his mind was working. “Then again, once I am gone from here, as I soon shall be, I can send him a letter, giving details of what happened here between us tonight. I would think that would cool his ardor for you and curtail any other more lofty ambition you might have, except to continue with what he may already have begun with you. I would have done. You both seem ripe for it from what I glimpsed of you.” He felt her test his grip on her and begin to physically resist once more.

“Oh yes. I shall send him a letter. I shall describe how you welcomed me into your bedchamber so eagerly that it was positively overpowering to the emotions. I shall describe how we went forward with this together. I imagine that would work quite well upon his feelings for you. Something good may come of this disaster after all.” He could see her response to all of that, and could feel it too, the way she began to struggle with renewed energy and desperation beneath him.

“Oh come now. You have no need to be so coy, Miss Morton of Fallowfield. You have too much to hide, to look down your nose and to be persnickety with me. You cannot be entirely unfamiliar with what I intend if you have been in service for any length of time. It is a common fate for women who work away from the security of their own homes—though even that may not be secure. I doubt Henry has been able to keep away from you that way. Some women even seek such attention to secure their position, but whether she does or not, it happens to women employed in such a place, sooner or later, and you have been here all of three or four months. Long overdue if he hasn’t cornered you somewhere already. No servant girl ever avoided me for that long if I intended to have her.”

He kept her face and head covered, as he moved himself down upon the bed, relieving her of some of his weight, as he moved the covers from the bed to uncover her lying there. He knelt across one arm to hold it still while holding the other, and then taking hold of her nightdress in the open neck, ripped it down and off her, and then changed his grip on the fabric, tore it further, and threw it off to one side to leave her naked beneath him.

Free of at least some of the restriction on her, she fought harder and scratched at his face and whatever was in reach of her free hand, drawing blood. She suffered some bruising, scratching, and marking as she fought him, and as he cursed at her and tried to pinion her again and to hold her still before he might go forward with his intention. He laughed at her. “That’s the spirit. Hardest won, most enjoyed!” Her feet, also now uncovered, lashed out around her to try and displace him, but her foot encountered only the chair by the side of the bed, sending it flying with some noise as she struggled. He lay close above her to try and hold her still. She could smell his breath, and the brandy on it as well as, the rancid smell of sweat from his body. It was all, quite sickening to her, though it was thought of what he intended with her that was the more sickening.

As she tired, all he did was chuckle as he held her still by grabbing her by the hair and using his full weight upon her. He continued to try to divest himself of some of his own clothing. His intent was the worst nightmare of any young woman caught up in a supposed gentleman’s residence—of encountering those who were not inclined to gentlemanlike behavior. They usually got away with it too and were immune to any repercussion, apart from those rare ones of angry relatives who might or might not find out about it until it was too late, if at all. Even then, they might be persuaded to judge the matter less harshly if they were led to believe some cooperation and encouragement from the young lady. Mostly, there was the fear of such a stigma being openly gossiped about. It was not surprising that such events were usually never discussed with anyone.

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