Five minutes after leaving Vine Avenue, with evening approaching and having learned little more than he already knew, Jasper Enright became aware of footsteps somewhere near him, and echoing, like his, off the quiet buildings that hemmed him in. He picked up the pace and stayed close to the middle of the road. Once he had left the more respectable neighborhood of Vine Avenue and approached the seamier districts close to the river, there was the ever-present risk of footpads; and one did not chance walking too close by any dark doorway or alley, lest one might be attacked, hit over the head, and robbed. He held his stick more tightly, ready to bring it into use. Once he was over the bridge, he would be in more familiar surroundings and might feel safer. He knew most of the more violent individuals in that area he was going to, as they knew him. They did not usually prey upon each other.
In the last few days, he had, by accident, come across two persons still living that had affected his life for the worst sometime earlier—Henry Stavely and Charlotte Morton. They were together, and she had a baby in arms as though she were its mother. He was always curious about such small coincidences and deciding how they might be turned to advantage, one way or another, or where revenge might be taken for past wrongs. He also felt jealous, having once hoped that he might enjoy such a relationship with one or other of the Morton girls. He thought he might have been followed once before too when he had left that part of town, but realized that it was probably just his mind playing tricks on him, except that the footsteps had quickened as his own had, and they now seemed to be closer. He could not believe—had he even thought about it—that he was being driven, much as beaters on a hunt would force a deer from cover and drive it toward the hunters.
He ran, as he should have done earlier. The bridge was a sure road to safety if one might cross it, but one did not want to be caught out upon it. There was nowhere that one might hide easily on it, as all doors were locked at that time of night; and between the houses were gaps that led off either to the parapet and to the river below, or to the means of getting down onto the piers, but he had no intention of being cornered down there. He could hear the water rushing noisily below him as he moved across the arches between the houses. There were others about too, but they ignored what was going on. Such pursuits were common when some light-fingered individual thought to steal something from another, or from the open shop fronts, closed now. No one else would get involved at that time of night and risk being murdered.
He was beginning to congratulate himself that he was now close to safety and that he had just imagined being followed.
That was when a figure stepped out from the shadows into the middle of the road in front of him. He paused, wondering how this man could have passed him and had somehow contrived to arrive where he was, ahead of him. The figure was that of a gentleman. He recognized Henry Stavely. So he had been seen and had been recognized himself. He had no delusions that he might plead innocence. His carelessness had caught up with him again, as it seemed to do with some regularity. Neither man said anything.
Jasper debated turning and running back the way he had come, as Stavely slowly came toward him. No, he would not run. Besides, he heard footsteps approaching from behind too. There were two of them, and he was boxed in. When Stavely was little more than six feet from him, Jasper snatched at the pistol he carried in his pocket and began to raise it to see the man cleared from his path, but saw it beaten from his hand by the man’s stick before he could bring it into use. Stavely had a pistol of his own too, and intended to use it.
Jasper knew that he stood more chance of surviving in the river. He could swim. It was almost low water, so he would not have to fight the current, and it was darker off the bridge. He jumped onto the parapet and was even then leaping from it toward the water below, when he felt a sudden blow to his head and then heard the sound of a shot behind him. The next thing he felt was the cold water closing around him, but it also revived him. The instinct to survive overrode the sudden pain from his head. He had been shot. He let the air trapped in his clothing bring him to the surface on his back. He fought for air and was relieved to see the bridge, outlined against the dark sky, and its weak lights, receding from him as he was carried downriver. He was already out of sight to anyone on the bridge. He did not try to swim and make any noise from that, but gave the impression of death until he could hold his breath no longer. By then, he was well out of sight of the man on the bridge.
Henry stood leaning against the parapet and looked out. He had shot Jasper in the head, he knew that, and if the shot had not killed him, then the river would. There was nothing to see of course. The water on the falling tide would carry yet another item of garbage out toward the sea, though it might take that body some weeks to get there, being carried down and then back up in stages. Of course, others might see it and pull it out to find out what valuables he might have been carrying, or to retrieve the coat, other clothing, or shoes—if the body still had any on—before returning it to the water again to continue its journey.
No one would choose to investigate a shot at that time of night. Such goings-on were common in the city. He could feel easier leaving London for India now, knowing that another irksome and potentially dangerous problem had been removed from their lives. He was joined looking out down the river by his father’s steward who had followed him. They had worked well together.
Jasper’s body was recovered sooner than had been anticipated. A late arrival for one of the ships heading to the Americas had caused a delay for one of the ships, risking it being stranded in the river for the next tide. Jasper’s hand had instinctively grasped at the side of the rowboat, ferrying the passenger over to a ship waiting in the river. He had been unceremoniously hauled aboard the skiff, more dead than alive, and then taken up onto the deck of the ship that was even then raising anchor to catch the outflowing tide. He was dumped unceremoniously on the deck, thankful to find out that he was still alive after thinking that there would be no escape for him. He heard orders given and the noise of anchors being raised.
“Get him peeled off and dried out, and see to that gash on his head. We’re short-crewed for this trip, but at least we now have fourteen crew rather than thirteen when Simeon jumped ship. Not a good omen, that. However, this one is. If he survives, he’ll work ’is passage and be grateful for it. If not, he can go over the side again, superstition or not.”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
If he survived, whoever he was, he was going with them and could work his passage. He seemed strong enough but for that wound on his head. He would probably be glad to leave London considering what had almost happened to him, and likely with the law after him too. If he died, he would have a quiet burial out at sea, and no one the wiser.
Charlotte was entirely unaware that Jasper had been dealt with, though he was only one of her immediate problems. London was no longer as safe as she might have assumed for either her or Anne. She did not wish to worry Henry or cause any further delay in his departure or spoil their last night together by telling him who it was that she had seen at the edge of the park. He had more than enough on his plate. She resolved that as Henry departed downriver on board ship for India the next day, she would also leave Vine Avenue with the baby and take refuge in what would be a safer place for her and James, and that she knew well—Fallowfield. London was too big a place, with too many eyes and dangerous places where others might encounter her or her sister without any defense.
She accompanied Henry the following morning to join his ship. His imminent departure was already causing them both so much anguish to think of being parted for some long time, certainly years, and not to hear from each other again for possibly some months, even though their letters would be written regularly.
After seeing him sail off downriver and returning to his parents’ house, she sat at the desk in her room while James slept, and wrote a letter to Anne, seeing it taken to the inn where she usually contacted her. She could trust her to see to what was needed. She wrote other letters which she had hoped she would never have to write, but now had to. She wrote a detailed, tear-stained letter to Henry, apologizing for her actions and hoping that he would be able to forgive her. He would be three months if not more, getting it, and it would arrive with others she would have written by then too. She knew that he would see the hurt—caused her by the action she felt she had to take—and the undeniable love for him spilling out of her across the page, telling him what she had decided to do, but not giving the reasons for it. She meant it to be reassuring in every way and told him what she could, and dared, to tell him.
I hope you may be able to forgive me for what I have done. By the time you receive this, I will have achieved what I set out to do. I have left Vine Avenue and have taken James with me for his protection, as well as my own. I have good reasons for following this course of action that I am not sure I can easily explain to you at this time.
I had intended to go with you as we had planned, and even for us to have married on the ship, but that course was closed to us with Georgiana’s passing. With a newborn to see to, and India not being friendly, as you confessed to me, to women or infants, never mind to men, I could not go with you.
As welcoming and as lovingly attentive to us both, as your parents are, it is not the same without you by me. My previous life will be more welcoming to me, as well as more secure, and there will be those around me that will be able to help me, as I will need, with a baby in arms.
You should not worry for us. We are safe, and I shall write to both you and your parents with some regularity to keep you up to date with our progress. I am sure that other of my letters will find you, even as you are reading this one. I shall number them so that you may at least know what is their sequence.
Please believe me when I say that I regret having to follow this course of action, but I am afraid of losing much of what I now hold dear in life if I stay, and I know that I can provide for young James even as well as Georgiana herself, had she lived.
Please do not involve others to try to find me. See to your business in India. I will stay in contact with you, and I will look after James and love him just as dearly as though he were my own.
Everything I do is done for the love and protection of young James, and of you, as well as to protect our memory of Georgiana, so I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me if I do not tell you more about my reasoning, or my actions.
The sooner you finish what you set out to do, the sooner you will be able to return to us. We will be safer in surroundings that I know, and in the midst of those who need me. Anne, and others who know me, will be with me, and I promise that I will write often.
I love you. I already miss you cruelly.
Her letter would arrive in India shortly after he did, along with many others. His own letters to her, with him unaware of what she had done until after hers reached him in India, would be sent off from Gibraltar and other ports of call along the way, or when they encountered other ships returning to England, and where a mail transfer might be possible. She would see that they were picked up from Vine Avenue and her other letters to him dropped off at the same time.
As she had planned with Anne, she left early that same evening without telling anyone. She left behind a letter for Henry’s parents, to let them know what she could, and to reassure them that she was taking this step for everyone’s protection. She would stay in touch with them and let them know how she and James were going on. She would even visit them regularly. She had to leave too much behind, needing to take only what the baby would need and a few of her own belongings in a bulky reticule. She regretted not finding her brother’s last letter to Georgiana, or the marriage certificate as she had hoped, but then Georgiana had kept those in a safe place. She hoped that was the case, or she might be too easily tracked down, although perhaps not, with her having the name Wakefield. No one knew her relationship to the baby or to the Mortons. If anyone looked for her, they would be searching in the wrong places for the wrong person, though she felt guilty about playing such a false card upon Henry after what they had shared together, and with her feeling so much love for him as she did. He did not deserve to lose his sister and her baby too within a few days of each other, and even Charlotte herself.
She cried herself to sleep that night. They had changed carriages twice on the way to Fallowfield so that they would not be easily traced. There would be some surprise to see her return to Fallowfield bearing an infant in arms, as Anne had kept her confidence over all of these months. She would be mother to an infant she would convince others was her own, and with some credibility to it, considering her several months of absence; but she was sure of her warm reception, even though there would be too many questions to have to deal with. They would assume the same had happened to her as she knew had happened with Oliver—that she had met someone at the Calderwold festival and had been seduced. Hopefully, they would not believe or suspect worse than that. She would not care to clarify that impression and would not let anyone but Anne know the truth of it.
When she was settled, she wrote other letters to Henry’s mother and father, thanking them for their kindness and detailing as much as she could, without betraying who she really was or where she was, while reassuring them. She gave directions for them to be able to reach her. She could not be so cruel as to deny them all knowledge of their grandchild, but assured them that she would visit them from time to time and bring James with her. She could not allow them to believe that her intent was anything but the best for the child while Henry was away. With time, her own guilt would fade, and she would be able to confess everything to them and to Henry.
Thus were two distinct destinies, separated on the map by thousands of miles, to continue their independent yet emotionally closely connected lives, until they could once more be reunited.