The Elusive Miss Wakefield

All Rights Reserved ©

It is an Ill-wind that Blows No Good

Henry was suddenly awake, finding a shadow standing by his bed and speaking to him. He had half expected both boys, but not whom he saw. It was Charlotte. He was not sure what to think.

“Henry, the boys are gone.” He was instantly awake. “Neither James nor Oliver is in their beds!” She was clearly distraught to have approached him as she had.

He sat up in his bed. “Are you sure? They were to . . .”

“Yes, I am sure they are gone. I half expected them to be here, despite my telling them not to disturb you. I wish I had not given nanny a few days off now. Are you just going to lie there while they are trampled by horses, get bitten by a rabid fox or an adder, or fall down the well or . . . drown in the lake! So many unpleasant fates I had never been aware of until you came and told me of them! Oh! Will you not get out of bed and help me before I go mad?” He threw back the covers.

“They will do none of those things. I told them that they must not go anywhere far afield without me.” He could see that she was becoming more anxious by the minute.

“I told them not to disturb you.” She began to notice other things, as he swung his legs out of bed. “Is that blood on your nightshirt, and are those bandages?” She was suddenly pale and could now clearly see that he had bandages about his body and arm and another about his upper leg, He had been careful to have hidden them from her on the previous day, and no one else had spoken of what might have happened to have caused them until Anne had told her.

“Yes, they are. Scratches and scrapes. I get up to the same mischief that boys do, being just an overgrown boy myself as I heard you scathingly say of me, and pay the price for it too.”

“That wasn’t what Anne told me. She said that you had brawled with Jasper, and that he had tried to shoot you. They look to be more than minor scrapes, for there is a stain of blood there on both of them. What have you been up to, Henry?”

“Damn! Probably on the sheets too!” He stripped back the covers, and she could see a small bloody stain where he had lain. “The laundry maids will not thank me for that. Dried blood is devilishly hard to get out.” He glanced at himself in the mirror as he looked over his shoulder. “On my nightshirt too! However, the boys . . . that is why you are here. We need to find them, though I doubt they can have gone far.”

She watched him as he dressed—not in the slightest bit embarrassed to see him strip off his nightshirt. “You have other wounds too, older ones that I do not remember you having! You said nothing of those in your letters, and you did not have so many when you left.”

“No, I didn’t, did I? I will tell you everything later, once we have found our absent adventurers.”

She watched for a few seconds as he continued to dress, pulling on his trousers, and then blushed as she recollected where she was. He rose to his feet and then approached and took her into his arms. “They are boys, my love, and will do these things. Especially if they know that they will cause their mother and their nanny some distress. Little boys love to frighten their mother, as they display their bravery in facing down a mother hen to gather eggs, or picking up a toad. It lets them see that they are loved when their mother goes off into hysterics and sheds tears over them.” He recollected that he was still bloody and did not hold her as close as he wanted to.

“I do not become hysterical! Not over a defensive hen pecking at them or a toad, not even a salamander. This is likely to be more serious.”

“Probably much less serious, my love.” He kissed her and sighed heavily. “As you clearly have no intention of letting me rest, we shall go and find them together. However, I believe that I should finish getting dressed, or I will have the house in an uproar if anyone else were to see us, especially if any of the servants are about.”

“Why do you try to make light of everything, Henry? Even about something as serious as these wounds that you have, which no one seemed prepared to tell me about. Except for Anne.”

“I would have told you, had you noticed them, but the moment never presented itself between us, as I’d hoped it might. Besides, they are almost healed.” He kissed her on the forehead and stroked her hair back from her face. “I will tell you what happened—but later, so never mind about me and my petty little problems. I shall need to complete getting dressed, you know. The servants will talk anyway when they see us leaving here, my room, together, and heading outside before anyone else is stirring. They always do.” He decided to say nothing about her relative state of undress, but she could see what he was thinking.

“I know I am not adequately dressed, Henry, but I did not and do not have time to do anything different. The boys’ lives may be in danger, and you are chattering on needlessly as you dress, instead of feeling the same urgency about this that I do! We need to find them now before they are injured or even killed, climbing the ivy or drowning in the lake—I did not know that there were so many pitfalls to be discovered by a boy, and I spent a sleepless night thinking about everything I had never given any thought to. You will probably know where to find them, since you seem to have the same mind as a child.”

He laughed. “I will take that as a compliment in this circumstance! There. How do I look?”

She turned from looking out of the window, wondering if she might catch even a fleeting glimpse of the boys as their beds had still been slightly warm when she had found them to be missing. He was smiling at her in the mirror as he finished buttoning up his shirt and then pulled on his socks and shoes. He ignored his unruly hair.

“I am afraid I do not have any clothing in this room for you, but I will give you this to wear over that charming nightdress—though not nearly as charming as the one I first saw you in—as it will be colder than you might realize out there.” He picked up his heavy robe from the foot of his bed and put it about her. “I do not have shoes that will fit you. I fear I shall regret this, and we will find that they are both somewhere in the house. It might even be raining outside.”

“It is not raining. Is that a pistol?” She watched with some alarm as he put a small pistol from beside his bed in a specially designed pocket at his waist.

“It is! I carried one about me all of the time I was in India, sometimes two of them. They saved my life more than once. I have a special pocket for them, on either side of my waist. I regret not carrying one of them just the other day.” She wondered if he might be referring to his more recent wounds. “I did not realize that I would learn that lesson in England, of all places. I found the area not to be at all as welcoming as I had hoped.” He smiled suggestively at her. He was not referring only to Enright, which she would be sure to quiz him about when they returned, but to her uncertain welcome of him too.

“I am sorry. That was a low blow. You are cautious of me, as you should be. Six years seem not to be so easily swept aside as I would have liked with me still as madly in love with you as I always was. Still am!” She was blushing and even stammered a little.

“I . . . I did not expect you. You must have seen how affected I was when I first saw you?”

“Yes, I did. As though death itself had walked in on you and was breathing down your neck, but I saw it soon pass, thankfully. However, you had as great an effect on me when I first saw you then too, but of a different kind. I do not know how I held myself back from greeting you as I wanted to, but then I had two excited boys underfoot and wanting to get to you first, and an audience, so I had to be patient and let you come to the realization that I was not in your home for any sinister purpose.” He looked at her and smiled at her. She could read that look in his eyes, and it was so reassuring to see once more, but then he had been looking at her like that ever since he had returned. “You are just as I remembered you, except for both boys.” She felt the same way, but dare not send him off on a tangent.

“Isn’t it dangerous to leave guns lying around, with mischievous boys running loose and liable to come in when you are not here?”

“Both James and Oliver know that they must not touch anything in my room, especially not my guns. They know that they are off limits to them and will not touch them unless I invite them to do so. I expect they got up early, as I had promised them a lesson in shooting today. With you telling them that they must not disturb me I believe they must have gone off by themselves.”

“Guns are dangerous! Oliver is dead because of a gun in the hands of an irresponsible youth. Did we not already have this conversation, yesterday?” She followed him down the stairs and out of the house, as he gave her his hand.

“Of course, they are dangerous, my dear. That is what makes them so useful against brigands and unsavory characters. I owe my life to that fact. That is what makes them so effective to deter would-be thieves, murderers, and poachers, as well as other smaller vermin, such as a badger! Even a neighbor or two.” She would certainly ask others about that, and ask why they had not told her of Jasper being on the estate, as he had been.

“You did not deter it, as you so euphemistically say. You killed that badger!”

“Yes, I did. The ultimate deterrent I would say! He had Penelope—the boys’ favorite hen—cornered, and in his sights, just as I then had him, in mine. The boys did not see me shoot him in cold blood, whatever that means, so you can relax.”

“We can discuss that later. James and his brother are the subject of importance at the moment.” She accompanied him, with her arm tucked into his, as they walked completely around the house.

“What are you looking for? You won’t find the boys unless you go into each of the locations where they might be.” She suspected he was taking advantage of being able to stroll with her and did not share her own concerns.

“I am first making sure they did not go further afield.” He looked around. “See? There are no trails leading off across the grass and disturbing the dew. Boys always take short cuts and never follow a winding driveway. They are close by and did not wander far. From the trail of orange peel that I see, they are probably in the old barn over there,” he pointed. “They seemed intent on it every time we were close by here. Pigeons hatching!” She seemed confused by what he said about orange peel.

“I told them that if they went out of the house without someone with them, that they were not to go further than the stables, and that it would be wise of them to take an orange along to eat and they could leave a trail of peel so that I could find them later. They appear to have followed that advice.” He pointed to a piece of peel just beyond the front door that they had left from, and then another small piece some yards further out. All were barely visible to Charlotte. “They were not there yesterday, and they seem to lead in this direction. They learned it from that Hansel and Gretl story, where they left a trail so that they might find their way back out of the woods, but I cautioned them not to leave anything that the birds might eat, like bread crumbs, or it would soon be gone.” He led her over to the large structure.

“You should hope that the servants do not see us going into here with you but scantily dressed you know, or the gossip will fly even more.” She did not care about that. The boys were the only thing on her mind. They silently entered by the small door at the side. He had cautiously suggested that she should keep her voice down, not to startle the boys and possibly risk them falling.

“If they are in here, and I believe they are, they will not respond right away if you call to them, so please do not shout. If you do, you may startle more than you bargain for, and might cause an accident of the kind you are trying to avoid if one of them were to fall.” He stayed silent and looked around in the upper dark sections of the roof space far above their heads. “The little tykes! Yes, there they are!” He pointed as his hand held her steady so that she could look along his outstretched arm.

She could see nothing. “Where? I do not see them!”

“They are watching for those pigeon eggs to hatch.” He put his arm about her and pulled her back into him as he put his head down onto her shoulder and extended his arm for her to look along. “There!” His face was in her hair at that moment as he breathed in. “My, you smell nice, my dear!” He kissed her on the neck, feeling her respond as he had hoped she might.

There was another low voice from close by, which startled them both. “Most touching!” They froze. Jasper Enright was standing in the shadow, with a pistol leveled at them. He seemed to have difficulty speaking.

“When I saw those two boys come across here earlier, I suspected you would not be far behind, but I did not expect both of you, so I followed them and hid myself away. I have waited for my chance to repay you for what you did to me a few days ago, as well as six years ago when you shot me and left me for dead in the river. Both speechless, I see. It is good to see you here too, Miss Charlotte Morton, considering how you set your brother onto me, more than six years ago too. I still remember that occasion clearly. You nearly cost me an eye. Your being here will save me looking for you later. Quite a family gathering, isn’t it—all five of us? With you and I having the same father, that must also make me some kind of uncle to the boys up there.” They could easily make out the bruising and contusions on his face in the dim light.

“We may have had the same father as you say, but you do not have the name of Morton, but of Enright! Fallowfield belongs to the Mortons!”

“How fortunate that I am really a Morton then. Perhaps that is why you called both of the boys by that name too, hoping that one of them could be passed off as next in line—as Oliver’s son by some sleight of hand, or changing parish records to fit the desired narrative.” He laughed softly. “I shall take care of that too. However, Morton, or Enright, the name does not change anything in this present circumstance. My mother left me enough documentation to suggest that I have a claim, and might even be able to prove it if I can persuade your own mother to tell what she knows. She did not deny it when I first approached her after I had seen you drive off that day. I would say that in the absence of other potential heirs, possibly including one of those two boys up there, that I have a strong case.” He could see in her face, the effects that his words had. “Yes, you can see how my mind is working.”

His voice hardened. “No. Stand still, the both of you, or I shall shoot. I need to see your hands, sir.” He saw Charlotte move in front of Henry and move back into him, ignoring his order; and he chuckled, while noticing that Henry’s hands had come into clear view upon her shoulders. Henry was the one he was wary of. “That’s better, but it will do neither of you any good—you trying to protect him like that by standing in front of him. Raise your hands higher. I do not trust you. I have enough powder in this pistol to send the ball through the both of you if I must. Most tempting after what you did to me. But not just yet. I had rather savor this longer.” He watched as Henry slowly moved out from being directly behind her. “I should tell you that I have another pistol too, easily got at, so whatever you might think to do, the pair of you, it will not work. I will always shoot him first if I must take a shot, and at this distance, I will not miss as I did before. But then I can see you better this time.” He saw Henry stop. His hands were still visible.

“Yes. So we seem to agree that we have the same father. I did not know it myself until after my mother died, and I came into possession of those letters she left me, and a full account of what happened between her and your father. He seduced and violated her in the worst way.

"Not to beat about the bush, he raped her, you know, just as I would have done to you that day when I came upon you. He also left her to raise me without help. She waited twenty years before she dealt with Oliver in revenge for that, inveigling that simpleton into her plan and letting him take the blame for it while I was in London, after your brother attacked me.”

So Oliver’s death had not been an accident.

“Father suspected that your mother had a hand in Oliver’s death.”

“I imagine he did. She told me in her last letter to me that she let him know what would happen if he walked away from her and did not acknowledge me, but it took her twenty years to do anything. She should have done it sooner, and then Oliver would not have been able to stop me that day when I came across you.”

“Oliver did not stop you. I did. Oliver merely made sure that you would not do it again.”

“He tried, but his pistol misfired. Mine will not. No, you are wrong. Oliver stopped me from remaining in the area and encountering you again, or your sister, in a situation more favorable to me. It would just have been a matter to time without Oliver to intervene for either of you.” He chuckled as some amusing thought gripped him. “What a violent and immoral family we are turning out to be! Our father a rapist.” Henry felt Charlotte flinch beneath his hands, but she did not try to contradict him. “My own mother with murderous blood on her hands. Is it any wonder that I turned out as I am? Like father, like son. And now you, with two sons, and not married to their father, as far as I can tell.” His glance took in Henry, standing quietly, unmoving.

Charlotte said nothing further. She had other things on her mind than believing what he might say to hurt her, or of arguing with this man who clearly had murder on his own mind. Her mother had eventually told her all of what had transpired that fateful day between her father and Mrs. Enright, but Jasper’s own mother had obviously not been as honest and forthright with her second son. “Now, let me see if I have this right—with Oliver being dead, and with no surviving heir on the male side, that will make me the surviving male offspring of our father, and heir to Fallowfield. No one else came forward after your father died.” What he planned to do seemed clear enough.

“I doubt that those two up there will count, even if they were to live, both of them being yours.” He retrieved his second pistol from his pocket. “I doubt anyone will hear the shots. When I leave here, this barn will be ablaze to hide the great tragedy that will have unfolded here. There will be four dead bodies in an unfortunate accident. The two boys up there will burn up with the barn before they might know what had happened. I doubt that anyone will question what will seem obvious. The speculation will be how the boys accidentally set fire to the barn and how you both rushed in to rescue them. I shall never have been here, of course—I shall slip away just as unobserved as I arrived. I shall think of some way of dealing with Anne and your mother and getting them out of my way. We may have the same father, but that will not stop me any more than it would have stopped me that day when I had you cornered in that bramble patch.

“After that, I shall be absent for a week or so, and then I shall produce my mother’s abundant correspondence with your father from almost twenty five years ago to the time of his death. I had not followed the family fortunes, being as I was in Jamaica all of this time, and am only now returned.

“After such a devastating loss, a daughter gone, perhaps two, and two grandsons, I doubt that your mother will be in a frame of mind to protest too much, but even if she does, then another unfortunate accident will see her removed from the scene, just as my mother saw to Oliver being shot that day.” He began to raise his pistol to follow Henry as he moved further away from Charlotte. He would not miss him this time. He did not see Charlotte raising her own hand at that moment with a pistol in it, nor did he hear the shot that killed him.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered book publisher, offering an online community for talented authors and book lovers. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books you love the most based on crowd wisdom.