The Adventures of Lady Belinda Ch. 4byraven5©
Notar bene - although the dramatis personae herebelow included are based upon some real people, living and historical, any resemblance between them and the people of the story is purely coincidental.
In the last enstallment, gentle reader, our trepidous Lady met the less trepid George Pickstock. In putting her side of the argument, it is possible that Lady Belinda was a little too forceful in persuading the normally naturally felonious George, causing him to resent his recent employment.
What will he do? Is the Lady Belinda riding into a trap, has George summoned the soldiers or will he bring other forces into play?
Read on as we present -
Part the twelfthe: A Meetinge in the Darkness
Two nights later it was a very nervous George that once again heard his name called across the overgrown and cramped yard outside the little cottage.
“PICKSTOCK! GEORGE PICKSTOCK! Come out, I have returned!”
Had he but known it the rider who summoned him so imperiously was feeling anything but imperious. Groat had warned her that perhaps George might have resented the approach she had taken in their last encounter. Even as she waited Lady Belinda’s eyes roamed hither and yon about the dark clearing. Groat she knew was in the trees, armed and roving the darkness. He had loaded her pistols himself, giving her the more reliable flintlocks, and charging them carefully with meticulously measured powder and placing the ball and wadding carefully.
At last George’s nervous face appeared at the door.
“Well?” The rider asked as soon as she saw him.
“Well what?” George asked nervously, unsure as to what was going to happen, and trying to conceal the fact that he had made plans himself.
“George Pickstock, did you carry out the warrant of the Committee of the Heath?” The Lady Belinda, said confidently, slipping into her role of ‘Red Nick Bidstand’, chairman of the Committee of the Heath.
If she had known that at that moment one of George’s less respectable friends was drawing a bead down upon her from the shadows, the Lady Belinda might not have been so confident. The man took his time, confident that George would hold the target in conversation while he made ready. Like the highway robbers' pistols, the sniper had a flintlock gun, but unlike hers the gun was a full musket with a three-quarter inch bore.
Steadying the gun against a tree limb he sighted along the top of the barrel, even a musket would hit what it was aimed at this short range, and the sniper was a good shot.
Now he aimed the gun at the rider, sighting for the dark mass of the rider’s upper torso, confident that when the ball hit, the rider would be shattered by the impact, and thrown to the floor, where he could be collected and, if he lived, or even if he did not, the body could be duly turned in for the reward.
Parte the thirteenth: - and the Advantages of a Loaded Pistol
In the darkness of night a simple click can have many meanings, it could be the click of a closing door, or the welcoming click of a tinderbox about to light a fire. It might be the click of a gate shutting behind a returning traveller, or it might be, as it was in this case, the awe-inspiring click of a pistol being readied for firing right by the hearer’s ear.
“Evenin’.” The large shadow spoke softly into the sniper’s ear.
“E_, e_, e_, evening.” The sniper stuttered back.
“What you have just heard,” the shadow whispered hoarsely, “was the sound of a piece of pyrites being placed against the steel wheel that provides the ignition for a wheel-lock pistol - possibly the most complicated fire-arm available in the world today.
“The problem with a wheel-lock is that the firing mechanism is not as reliable as it could be. Now I could pull the trigger and the wheel rotates and nothing happens, or I could pull the trigger, the spark catches the priming which goes through to the powder in the barrel sending a twelve gauge ball into the side of your head.
“The question is will it go off or won’t it? And you’ve got to ask yourself - do you feel lucky? Well? Do you?”
It was obvious from the way that the musket was pulled away and off the target that the sniper did not feel that lucky. As it was, the next thing he was aware of was a soundless explosion of lights in the darkness and the heavy pistol was used as a club to knock him unconscious.
“Do you know what?” Groat quietly asked the prone form, as he hefted the newly acquired musket and stole off towards the back of the cottage. “I kind of wonder what would’ve happened myself?”
From her vantage point all the Lady Belinda was aware of was the sight of Groat appearing concealed from George’s view, waving the all-clear.
The highwaywoman dismounted quickly and strode up to the doorway of the cottage. Pickstock tried to shut the door but Belinda shoved her way in. She thrust her pistol under his chin and, in as fierce a whisper as she could manage, she urged George to speak.
And speak he did. His plan had clearly not worked, he was on his own with the obviously murderous leader of the Committee of the Heath.
“Five nights from now, in the Tannat valley near Oswestry. There’s a tavern, the Three Feathers. Three hundred yards beyond there, there’s a split oak tree, wait there an hour before midnight and some one will contact you.”
“Give me a name, George, I want a name!” Pickstock was rising on his tip-toes from the pressure of the pistol-barrel.
“I don’t know a name - no ‘onest, really I don’t. I just heard one thing_”
“I heard them say ap Evan, that was all.”
The rider dropped him and made for the door, pausing the leader of the Committee turned and said, “Be warned George Pickstock. The Committee of the Heath of the Heath rewards those that serve it well, but the foulest fates await those that cross it. You decide which one you’d be.”
And with that the rider was mounted and away.
Parte the fowrteenth: Verilie a New and Furthe Complication
As the Lady Belinda and Groat rode back to Castle D’Airing, riding around in a circle south away from Myddle parish, they talked about George’s information.
Groat was not impressed, “It’s a dirty little place, and as far as I remember it’s full of the worst sort, thieves and cut-throats to a man.”
“What are we now, Groat?”
“Begging your pardon my lady, there’s thieves and then there’s thieves, and the likes of villain as you’d find up that part of the world, ‘ud slit their granny up and they thought she was hiding something. Some of ‘em was dragoons during the war - they could strip a house in minutes.”
“Well what about this ap Evan?”
“As I remember it they’re all called ap Evan - son of Evan.”
“So there’s no course left but to go up and have a look, is there?”
Groat wished that there was, but his mistress was right, the only option left was to go there and find out.
Just then they heard the sound of horses on the road in front of them. A coach was heading towards them. Groat was about to pull his horse off the road and let the coach pass, when he realised that Lady Belinda had pulled up her kerchief and drawn her pistols. Lady Belinda D’Airing was determined to be a highway robber, and to be sure a coach was a robber’s stock-in-trade.
“God help us and save us! NO!” he thought as he moved to one side, but just then her ‘highway man’s voice’ rang out in the night.
“STAND YE AND DELIVER!”
The coach man brought the horses to an abrupt stop. His postillion looked to see what had brought them to a stand. The rider in front of them waved his pistols, suggesting they dismount onto the verge.
“You, catch-fart!” The robber indicated the postillion, “Unhitch the horses.” The man hurried to do the robber’s bidding. When that was done, the robber summoned the passengers to dismount. In the light of the carriage lamps the sole occupant of the coach was a girl, still in her teens. From her clothes Groat judged that she was from a well-off family, but not gentry. That was why the coach-men had capitulated so easily, it was a livery coach, not retainers.
“Hand over your valuables girl.” The robber demanded.
“To whom?” Groat had to admire the girl’s defiance.
“Let us say,” Lady Belinda answered her, “The Committee of the Heath has judged your Imposition to be all that you own of value.”
From his vantage point Groat saw the girl catch her breath, almost as if she was enjoying the experience. Just then the postillion who had been told to throw down a little coffer, made too rapid a movement and to Groat’s astonishment, the Lady Belinda shot him.
Actually, he corrected himself, seconds later, she had shot at him, the bullet passing within a half of an inch of his nose, “The next one will be through your head, God damn you!
“Now you girl, bring me the chest.”
Willingly almost, the young girl brought the chest to the robber’s stirrup. Handing it up to him as she would a present to a friend.
The Lady Belinda was about to turn the mare away when the girl spoke, “I pray you my Lord Bidstand, since you have had all of my worth, may I ask a favour.”
Intrigued the Lady Belinda paused in her departure as the girl went on excitedly, “Sir robber, may I request a kiss, of such a famous highway man?”
Even at the distance he was away from the pair, Groat heard Lady Belinda cough. “Damn you for a strumpet, girl! D’ye kiss every man that would rob you? Save your lips for one as would want them.”
Entranced by the experience of being robbed by the Committee the girl had been ensorceled by the romance of it. When Lady Belinda had refused her that romance turned to anger.
“Wait until my uncle hears of this, you bloody bastard!” The girl screamed at the diminishing back of the robber. “He’ll see your neck as long my arm for this you whoreson bastard, you boy-loving dognapper! I’ll laugh when you swing you pig-futtering jack-thief!”
I hope she never kissed her mother with that mouth! Groat thought to himself as he slipped away from the scene. Even as he made his way through the darkness to catch up with his mistress, he could hear the girl’s imprecations resounding through the woods. Suddenly Groat felt a chill wrap him in its cold embrace, and he knew that there would be complications from this little bit of business.
The next day that feeling was brought home with a vengeance when both Groat and lady Belinda, walking in the gardens at Castle D’Airing were treated to the site of the coach and four, with an escort of troopers drove up the road to the house.
Groat went cold at the thought of what might happen, only for that to be replaced by his usual nausea at the sight of colonel Duckett, who approached them both with what the colonel hoped was a beaming greeting for the fair lady.
Following the colonel was a young lady, a young lady that both of them found uneasily familiar.
“Dear Lady,” the colonel said greasily, “Please allow me the pleasure of introducing my niece Amber.”
Belinda extended her hand and the girl, as good form dictated took it and kissed it, curtseying to the noblewoman.
The colonel’s beam disappeared, “Unfortunately her parents have been inconvenienced by these late troubles and have sojourned to sunnier shores.” As royalists they had been forced to flee into exile, Groat gave thanks to providence that at least someone in the colonel’s family had sense.
“My niece will be staying with me for a while.” God help her, Groat added.
“I trust you are well this morning, Amber?” Lady Belinda asked.
The girl looked own at the floor, “I am sorry, my Lady, but I am not_”
Belinda was just about to ask why not, when Duckett broke in.
“That damned highway man, Red Nick! Not only did he rob my niece last night, but the villain tried to have his way with her as well. Damn fine thing she fought him off though, ain’t it?”
“Quite so.” Both Belinda and Groat fought back their surprise.
But Duckett was in fine flow and after cursing Red Nick to hell and an eternity in the execrable fires of torment, he went on, “Thought I’d bring the girl to meet you, as you’re the only woman around here with the feminine qualities. You’re a godly woman, and a gentle woman.” Groat coughed.
The Colonel went on, “Amber needs those things in her life. I pray you my lady D’Airing, be her teacher in these things. I cannot teach her more than a soldier’s skills and the barracks life - and I could be more than grateful.” The colonel smiled meaningfully, now even Belinda’s stomach turned.
Thinking quickly she stalled, obviously the colonel wanted to farm out the poor child out, but the way things were at the moment, it might prove difficult.
Taking the colonel by his wrist and leading him through the garden, Belinda turned her not inconsiderable charms on the man. Groat followed with the girl, making small talk and chit-chat. Reflecting, in the morning sunshine that the shy young lady before him had, the night before called an infamous highwayman ‘a pig-futtering jack-thief’.
“I beg you, dear colonel Duckett, allow me one week, Castle D’Airing has for too long been a man’s house, and though my father and my brothers no longer reside here, their shadow is long over the house, and it is still no fit place for a child of gentle nature.
“Allow me a week to put the house to rights and gladly Amber can come and live here.”
It was almost what Duckett wanted to hear, though the delay bothered him, he’d have to find suitable accommodation for the girl till then.
Once more his oily face beamed, he was about to say ‘a week then?’, but Belinda stopped him.
“I shall send a messenger when I am ready.”
Stalled the colonel put his best face on the matter, “Until then dear Lady, I await, your servant. Come Amber, we must away!”
Once again Amber demurely curtseyed her respects before she followed her uncle to the coach.
Groat looked at his mistress as she stood there regarding their departing forms. Just for once both of them were speechless.
Parte the fifteenthe:A Quiet Pint
Five nights later, Groat and his mistress were once again riding through the moonlight. This time it was the end of a long ride. Ahead of them the lights of the tavern shone through the windy evening. Trees on the valley sides rustled and shook as the breeze ruffled them.
Belinda, in her highwayman’s clothes blessed the long casaque she wore and shrugged the collar higher, while Groat nervously looked around them.
Once again he had been careful to tell his mistress as much as he could about the area, it was true he had family up this way, but it was not something he was proud of. Still people in this valley were sensitive, and feelings between them and the English from just across the border often ran deep.
“We just go in and have a quiet beer until it’s time to go. Then as soon as we’ve done we’re gone from here.” No one would have described Groat as a timorous man, but in all of this business so far he had never been so nervous.
The tavern, though lit, was gloomy inside from smoke and poor lighting. As the two walked up to the door they could hear laughter and conversation from inside. As the two of them entered, that conversation died to a threatening stillness. His worst fears recognised, Groat ordered two beers. The girl put the pots on the bar, slopping them carelessly, spilling beer on Groat’s coat.
Suddenly a voice spoke from the darkness of the common room, “ I donnow - they sounded like they was English to me.”
“Me too!” Another voice chimed in.
“Don’t be daft, what would bloody English be doin’ across this side of the border on a night like this?”
This question went unanswered for a moment, the silence that followed building even more tension in the room.
“Do yew think?” The first voice asked. “Do yew think they could be some of those ‘pewritans’ come to convert us ‘eathen Welsh to their English church, or something daft like that?”
Groat was about to turn around when his mistress beat him to it. Turning to face the speakers in the dark she offered loudly, “If any of you pox-ridden, whoreson bastard, sheep shaggers have got a problem with two travellers taking a drink, why don’t you say something, instead of whispering in the dark like a bunch of nancy little girlies who are afraid of the teacher, otherwise shut your toothless, rotten mouths and God damn you all to an everlasting torment in the cess pits of the Devil’s own dung-hole, being shit on by the turds of a thousand devils.”
While Groat was impressed by his mistresses imagination he was not so sure of the locals. As a man they stood and moved to surround the two at the bar.
Impassively Belinda looked at the biggest of them, and quietly she asked, “Well?”
And there gentle readers we must leave our daring duo. Has our heroine’s way with the English language turned the trick?
Or will the Welsh take offence at being called sheep-shaggers?
Are the two travellers going to find time called a little early?
More will be revealed in the next round of the Adventures of Belinda Lady D’Airing and her faithful servant Groat