Cast Adrift - Book 01byMarshAlien©
But the bawling baby had the household in an uproar on his visit two days previously, and Caroline had not taken her usual care in dressing. Once again, his eyes caught sight of a stain on her dress, and he thought he could even see the outline of a soft nipple in the flimsy material. The whores in London always laughed at his particular fetish, although whenever one was nursing, they were eager to help him find her and share a small portion of her fee. For several months now, the cold had prevented his travel to London, and in that time he had grown more and more fixated on Caroline Stanhope.
This time, he was pleased to observe, because she had not been expecting him, Caroline was dressed even more to his liking. She was wearing a soft, frilled robe, evidently one of the few indulgences she had permitted herself in the last several months. Underneath it she would have nothing more than a cotton shift, for she would have only now finished nursing her young baby and sung him to sleep.
Digby had already spent some of his time and money learning all he could about his client's schedule, largely by taking advantage of her maid's willingness to flirt with the unemployed sailors who loitered about the streets of Dartmouth. Sailors who were more than happy to earn a few extra shillings by dropping a question or two into their conversations with the comely girl.
"You spoke of news?" Caroline asked excitedly as her guest slowly removed his hat and threadbare gloves.
"News, yes. I hope I did not catch you a bad time, Caroline?"
"Oh, no. I thought you might be one of the neighbors, stopping by to stand a few minutes in front of the hearth."
"Ah, yes." He nodded toward the roaring fire. "Your coal. A very prudent investment."
"As I recall, I advised against it. You were fortunate to keep your own counsel."
"Perhaps your knowledge lies in the law rather than the signs of nature," Caroline said agreeably.
"Yes, the law. The law is a funny thing, Caroline."
"I beg your pardon?"
"For example, were the law to understand that I was here at night, and that you met me, dressed as you are, it would presume that we were very good friends indeed."
"Mr. Digby!" Caroline protested.
"It would presume, in fact, that you had invited me here, on an evening when none of your neighbors were at home."
A number of traveling entertainments had abandoned the interior of the country for the slightly warmer southern coast, and the people of Dartmouth were taking full advantage. Caroline's eyes widened with horror as she realized that nearly everyone on her block, Lucy among them, had flocked to a newly arrived revue in the town's sole theatre.
"And it would recognize that now, just over a year after your first husband died, you have very appropriately decided to put aside your mourning clothes, no doubt in favor of finding a new father to support you and your son."
"You bastard," Caroline said with a hiss, backing toward the living room.
"The law would look upon me as the answer to your dreams, Caroline," Digby said as he slowly followed her into the room. "Just as I look upon you as the answer to mine."
He smiled as she turned wildly and located the fireplace poker, and then just as quickly spun back to make sure that he was not near enough to prevent her from reaching it. He continued to follow her until, trapped in a corner, she tried to run by him. He caught her arm without a second's thought, and pushed her back in place. In what he saw as a delicious irony, her own thriftiness proved his ally undoing. One of her slippers caught in one of the loose braids of her worn carpet, spilling her backward onto the floor.
And then it was easy, even with his thin, almost bony frame. He fell atop her, driving his knee into her stomach and knocking the breath from her. The knotted sash of her robe proved little trouble, and while she was still gasping for breath, Digby yanked the robe over her head and tossed it across the room.
He gasped with delight as he realized that the babe had not taken all of her milk, and that her shift was stained. Grabbing its collar in his hands, he yanked Caroline to her feet and slammed her back against the wall, pinning her young body against the blue paint of the wall.
"No," she cried weakly, ineffectively trying to fend him off with her hands. She was no match for his obsessive rage. He effortlessly tore the shift down the front, exposing her breasts, her stomach, and, just above the end of the tear, the thick brown pubic hair between her thighs.
His right hand went to her throat, and Caroline clawed at it with both her hands. But then his left hand reached down to mercilessly squeeze one of her breasts, and she watched his face grow dark as he realized that he had not been rewarded with what he was so clearly seeking.
"Dry, bitch?" he rasped between manic laughter. "The milk whores in London told me that sometimes a little rubbing will stimulate production."
He removed his hand from her neck, confident that she was powerless to break his hold on her, and dropped it between her legs, forcing it between her thighs and finding the dry slit.
Digby's laughter was filled with malicious glee.
"There. Feels good, doesn't it, cunt? I can feel you growing wetter by the second."
Caroline could feel nothing of the kind. But she was horrified to feel the milk starting to well up in her nipple, not the one on the right breast that was clamped in her assaulter's disgusting hand, but the one on the other breast, the breast fully open to his leering eyes.
Her world spun, and the wind seemed to rush into her ears as she imagined the horrors that would be visited upon her next. His filthy mouth would be fastened to her breast, forever ruining her own baby's nursing for her. And then he would take out his...his prick, and force it roughly inside her. And so the knocking that she heard started as just one indistinguishable sound among many. It seemed to take forever for her to realize that it was a forceful fist rapping on her front door.
"Help!" she screamed at the top of her voice.
"Fuck!" Digby growled.
And suddenly he was gone, her body free of his groping, clutching hands. She was vaguely aware of him spinning across the room as she sank to the floor. Looking up, she saw only that her savior, who was turned away from her to face her attacker, wore a naval uniform.
Digby slowly rose to his feet, clearly cowed by the newcomer's obvious strength and fitness. The officer slowly stepped forward, and delivered an open-handed slap to Digby's cheek. Digby got up again, only to be slapped down once more.
"Let me up, you coward, and I will fight you." Jonathan Digby sneered as best as he could manage from his seat against the wall.
Or run, he added silently.
"As a man?" the officer sneered right back.
"As a man?" Digby was confused.
"In a duel?"
"Exactly," Digby insisted. "I challenge you to a duel."
"Very well. I accept."
Caroline could hear the delight in the officer's agreement, and when he turned around, she saw his rakish grin.
"Geoffrey," she said softly, her eyes fluttering as she pitched forward to the ground one more time.
Sitting on the floor of his client's drawing room, Jonathan Digby found his eyes widening in amazement at the apparent identity of the man who had put him there.
"You are - Geoffrey Stanhope?" he stammered out between his swollen lips.
"No, you ass, of course not," William Stanhope muttered. With a quick glance at his nearly naked sister-in-law, who lay stunned on the other side of the room, William grabbed Digby by the front of his shirt and jerked him to his feet. He reached down with his other hand and threw Caroline's robe back toward her, and then roughly pulled Digby into the foyer.
William yanked open the front door and bellowed out, "Matthew!"
"Sir?" came the faint response from the pier a half a mile away.
"Bring two men to Number 7 Welmore Street!"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
Captain Stanhope dragged Digby outside and closed the door behind him.
Three men in the uniform of Captain Stanhope's barge crew arrived shortly thereafter at an energy-conserving trot.
"Andrews, Jenkins," William ordered. "This -- gentleman and I will be fighting a duel tomorrow at ten o'clock. Escort him home and make sure he shows up on Parkham Green. Oh, and find him a sword."
"Aye-aye, sir." The two men touched their knuckles to their foreheads and caught the "gentleman" as their captain threw him down the steps toward them.
"Wait here, Matthew," William said as he beckoned the other man into the foyer.
William hesitantly peered back into the drawing room, where Caroline had begun to recover. She was sitting up now, and had managed to pull her robe on. She looked up at him with dull, leaden eyes as he knelt in front of her.
"Caroline, I am so sorry I did not arrive earlier."
She reached up and touched his face.
"You're not Geoffrey."
"No. I'm William. We always looked very much alike. Are you able to stand? May I get you some water? Do you have a maid?"
"She is out for the evening," Caroline waved a weak hand in the general direction of the town's theatre as William helped her to a seat on the sofa. "Yes. Water. Thank you."
William strode back into the foyer.
"She has a maid who was conveniently away tonight. Find her. She's probably at that revue. Bring her back."
"Aye, sir. Name of?"
William glanced back into the foyer, as if debating whether to bother Caroline with another question.
"No matter, sir," Matthew interrupted him. "I'll find 'er."
William found a pitcher of water in the kitchen and returned with a cup for Caroline. She drank greedily, as if the water could somehow instantly replace the milk that she was sure had been tainted by that animal's assault on her breast.
"Did I hear correctly?" she asked timidly after she had finished. "Do you really mean to fight a duel tomorrow?"
"Certainly." William gave her a grim smile. "I have no intention of turning him over to the law."
Caroline gave an involuntary shiver as she heard that word, the word that Digby had invoked so often.
"At most he would serve a brief jail term," William continued.
"He is an attorney himself," Caroline whispered. "My attorney."
"Then it is more likely his friends could get him off with just a fine. This way, though, I shall be able to kill him."
"He deserves no less, Caroline. He took advantage of you, alone in a dark neighborhood. He abused a position of trust to gain entrance to your house."
"But he could kill you, too."
"With a pistol, perhaps. Any fool can get lucky with a pistol. With a sword, no. That is why I forced him to challenge me, rather than the other way around, so that the choice of weapons would be mine."
Caroline stared, open-mouthed, at her brother-in-law.
"Dueling is not a pleasant business, Caroline," he said, albeit with a smile that told her that he did not regret his decision for a moment.
A few minutes later, the front door opened, and William was instantly on his feet as he heard a hesitant "sir?"
"The maid -- Lucy? -- she's been raped, sir," Matthew said as his captain strode into the foyer. "I've got two men bringing her here in a cart, and two more after the bloke who asked her out tonight."
"So she was lured away?"
"'ppears so, sir," Mathews said.
"Damn that miserable bastard," William muttered. "Can you see to her when she's brought in?"
"Aye, sir. I'm headed there now."
William fetched Caroline a second glass of water before sitting next to her on the sofa.
"It appears, Caroline, that your maid was assaulted as a part of the scheme to assault you."
"Lucy?" Caroline started. "Is she hurt?"
"I don't know. My coxswain said only that she was assaulted. Two of my men are bringing her here, and others are seeking her attackers."
Caroline exhaled. "What a horrible day."
"I am so sorry, Caroline."
"Oh, William. If it hadn't been for you it would have been a far worse day, for me at least."
"Caroline, you need to leave."
"Leave? But the baby, and . . ."
"Come to London, with Michael. Spend a month, Caroline. You need to be away from Dartmouth for a while."
"Oh, William. London -- how kind of you to ask. But the baby, and . . ."
"Yes, London, Caroline. Where you could listen to music, see a play, or just read the latest books. I could arrange a nice comfortable carriage for you, with inns along the way."
"Oh, God, no."
The words seemed to have been torn out of her.
She looked up, tears in her eyes, and shook her head.
"I cannot," she whispered.
"Cannot what, Caroline?"
"The road to London goes through Exeter. I cannot go to Exeter."
"My father." She began to sob quietly. "He died in Exeter Prison when his fellow merchants called in all of his debts. And I swore that I would never pass through that town again."
"Caroline, do not worry," William said with a smile. "I have a ship."
"Yes, the Wallace. We are headed for London, in fact. A few extra passengers will cause no inconvenience. Please, Caroline. It would do you such good."
"It would," Caroline agreed, patting his hand gently. "Very well, if Lucy can bear the voyage, I --"
The door burst open, admitting two men with a wooden bench on which lay the senseless form of Lucy Burton. Matthew was walking alongside the bench, his hand gripped tightly by Lucy's much smaller fingers as he murmured gently into her ear.
"Lucy!" Caroline exclaimed. "Bring her in here. Put her on the couch. William, please bring us some water and then leave us."
Matthew watched in amusement as his captain sprang to follow his sister-in-law's brusque order. William returned with the entire pitcher, and found Caroline brushing the dirt from her maid's hair.
"Caroline," he asked hesitantly, "shall I send for a physician?"
"No," she said with a brief shake of her head. "There is little that medicine can do. Her healing has to come from within."
"Very well. I shall leave my coxswain, Matthew Cooper, in the house for the night, Caroline."
"That is not necessary, William."
"I think it best, though, sister."
He excused himself and rejoined Matthew, who had retreated once again to the foyer after Caroline had pried his hand free of Lucy's.
"I would like you to stay here in case Mrs. Stanhope or her maid require anything further."
"Aye, sir. With just the women?"
"I'm sure you'll be fine, Matthew."
"And report to you at the Green on the morrow?"
"I'm sure I'll be fine, too, Matthew. Now where is the little snake who was to escort Lucy to the theatre?
Matthew scratched his head. "You see, sir, he were accidentally scragged, like, after he were found."
"You hung him?"
"Sir, it seems he took a tumble off the pier when some of the larboard watch was leadin' him to the barky."
"Leading him with a rope around his neck, and his hands tied behind his back?"
"It was thought the most conwenient way of ensuring his timely arrival, sir."
"Indeed, Matthew. Where is the body now?"
"Oh, with the tides around here, sir, that would be right hard to say at this point."
"He did peach on the two others, though, and that attorney bloke what put him up to it," Matthew added cheerfully.
"Very good, Matthew. And those two?"
"What acted as 'is lookouts? Safely on the barky, sir. Always in need of a good lookout, we are."
"So once that other what you so-called a gentleman is out of the way, it looks to be all finished, sir."
"Thank you, Matthew. I quite understand."
The so-called gentleman was run through the belly shortly after ten o'clock the following morning, his presence on the dueling ground having been guaranteed by his escort of two sailors off his opponent's sloop.
When William returned to Caroline's house, his satisfaction was slightly diminished, however, by the upheaval he found inside.
"Is there trouble, Matthew?"
"You might say so, sir. It seems that the babe, your nephew -- Michael? I didn't know you had a nephew, sir."
"Matthew," William growled.
"Aye, sir. It appears that young Michael was unable to, um -- that is to say, that Mrs. Stanhope here, sir, is no longer, er, capable."
"No longer capable of what?"
"That is to say, sir, of, er, of her duties to young Michael."
"You mean she needs a wet nurse?"
An expression of palpable relief spread over the coxswain's craggy features.
"Well, find her one."
"Sir?" Matthew asked shakily. "Miss Lucy, sir, believes that she can remedy the problem with a brew."
"You have no intention of leaving this house to find a wet nurse, do you, Matthew?"
"Nay, sir," Matthew said as he started down at his shoes.
William rolled his eyes and took to the streets. The impressive uniform of a naval master and commander produced nearly instant results, and within ten minutes he had located one Miss Sarah Parker, who had lost her own young baby two weeks ago, and would be grateful to accompany Mrs. Stanhope anywhere she chose to go.
Caroline waited for the roll of the ship, and then dropped a perfect curtsy.
"Captain Stanhope," she said with a triumphant smile.
"Mrs. Stanhope," William answered. "Welcome to the captain's cabin, such as it is."
"Oh, it's glorious, William. Such wonderful woodwork. And such lovely silver."
"Ah, well that doesn't come with the ship, I'm afraid. I had to buy that myself. May I offer you some wine?"
"I confess that I am surprised to see you. I expected my invitation to be turned down due to the usual bout of seasickness."
"Sarah, I'm afraid, is absolutely prostrate in the cabin you were so kind to give us. But Lucy and I have not suffered at all."
"How is Lucy?"
"She still claims to have no memory of the attack. I simply do not understand it."
"I do not doubt her. I have known similar forgetfulness in men after a particularly hard-fought battle."
"What will happen to her? Will the memory suddenly rush back in upon her?"
"I honestly do not know."
"I hope not. And to me?"
"I am even more at sea there than I usually am," William said with a smile.
"Well, thank goodness for Sarah. And for your Mister Cooper."
"Matthew? What's he done now?"
"Oh, Lucy has simply attached herself to him. It appears to cause him no end of discomfort."
"Matthew grew up on a farm with his father and four brothers," William explained. "And then joined His Majesty's Navy. Women are the only thing that I know him to be afraid of."
"And Lucy delights in it no end, I assure you."
A knock at the door preceded the entrance of a very young officer.
"Yes, Mr. Rutledge? Oh, excuse me. Mrs. Stanhope, permit me to introduce Mr. Rutledge, one of our midshipman."
"Mr. Rutledge," Caroline acknowledged.
"Ma'am," Rutledge lifted his hat. "The master's compliments, sir. We just spoke to a fishing boat whose captain claims that the Thames is froze solid in London, sir."
"Very well, Mr. Rutledge. Have him set course for Portsmouth."
"Aye, sir. Steward, sir."
"Tucker, what do you have for us today?"
"A fine roast, sir, what came compliments of the Dartmouth sheriff. Seems we did him a favor taking those two lookouts we traded to the Renown."
"Ah, yes. May I help you to a slice, Caroline?"
"Thank you, William."
"No, it is I who thank you, Caroline. The hands were quite pleased with our stop in Dartmouth. When we returned to Jamaica to restock the ship, we were ordered to immediately set sail for London. No explanations, no time for even a drop of water or a single bag the mail. Now, though, we have fresh food and water, even if we will be in Portsmouth in a day."