The Adventures of Lady Belinda Ch. 2byraven5©
Further Relations of the Adventures of Belinda, Lady D’Airing, and her faithful servant Groat
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.
Part the fifthe: In Which Tongues are loosened, and Schemes Revealed
Both the soldiers and Colonel Duckett had inferred that the pay convoy would be on the move sometime in the next week, Groat needed to know precisely when and what route it would take.
For a day or so he pondered how to tackle this one until the arrival of colonel Duckett, himself and escort, this time on a social call.
This time Groat saw to the settling of the troopers, whilst unbeknown to him, his elegant mistress also set to to discover what she might.
Having made sure that all the troopers had a drink and bread and cheese Groat settled himself for a while.
“Not so busy then, Mister Groat?” The leader of the colonel’s escort asked.
“Nothing that I can’t spare some time for our guests.” Groat beamed expansively, “I ‘spect you lot like the odd moment off as well don’t you? Dun’t his excellency run you lot ragged as well?”
Corporal Harcourt shared a ‘tell-me-about-it’ look with Groat and his men.
“The old bugger’s ‘ad us out all morning he ‘as.” Harcourt took a deep drink of the beer. “Riding down past Shawbury way, up to the north of Battlefield and on towards the Montford Bridge. Checking out the route for that thing we was telling you about the other day.” Harcourt closed one eye conspiratorially. “Seems like there’s not one convoy, but two, one big one for Ireland and another for us at Shrewsbury. And which stupid sods have they found to spend all night on horseback guarding it?”
Groat nodded, and Harcourt prodded himself with his thumb. “You guessed it.”
Groat commiserated with the men, no closer to finding out what night it would be but with clear evidence of the route.
Just then one of the servant boys called him to wait on his mistress, finishing his drink he laughed at the irony. “No peace for the wicked, eh lads?”
“No peace at all mr. Groat, no peace at all.”
Once again Groat entered the solar wishing he had a pistol in his hands. Once again he caught his breath at the sight of his mistress in the bright sunshine.
“Groat I am planning to give a dinner. The Colonel Duckett says he is not available on Wednesday night next, can you send pages to the Whitbrys and the Corbets to find which nights they are available?”
Appalled by the fact that the fat colonel would be dining under the roof of castle D’Airing, Groat mentally rubbed his hands at such a simple method of discovering the night of the convoy presenting itself.
Unknown to Groat, the Lady Belinda also now had all the information she required.
Unlike Groat the Lady Belinda did not have a dark past to draw on for her preparations. Instead she applied her sharp wit to the problem, so telling her maids that she should not be disturbed she sat for several hours in her room and made her plans.
On the Wednesday night Lady Belinda complained to Abigail, her maid, that she was feeling unwell. She would, she informed the girl, withdraw, and dismissing the maid for the night she announced that she did not wish to be disturbed. Abigail, having been trained to her task by the inestimable Groat went down to the servants quarters where she sat with some of the other servants, and waited for anything her mistress might call for.
While Abigail waited Lady D’Airing was changing into her brother’s Ralph’s old clothes. First she donned the man’s shirt, and over that the dark green breeches and doublet. Next she put on two pairs of hose and pulled Ralph’s old long boots on, finding them just too loose she put on a third pair of hose before the boots fitted well. Finally she picked up a dark kerchief, a dark coloured riding coat and Ralph’s oldest most battered hat before she slipped, as quietly as she could down the back stairs to the stables.
In the stables, the years of playing the tom-boy to her brother’s stood her in good stead as she saddled her own horse, this time with a man’s saddle rather than her own side-saddle. Harnessed and ready she led Orpheus out into the yard and away from the house before mounting him and riding off into the night.
Groat too was making ready for his expedition, but as he left the house he was aware that someone had left the stable yard. Calling for Richard Hopwell he found that the man had had to go out to one of the tenements, too pressed for time Groat had to let the matter pass, so that he too could leave ostensibly on estate business.
Part the sixth: Robberie on the King’s Highway!
Despite their best efforts eight soldiers, and their mounts, two carters and their team of two horses and a cart laden with hard coin, does not go gently into the good night. In fact it makes a lot of noise. The soldiers and carters had tried, the horses’ hooves were muffled in lengths of cloth, and the axles of the cart were well greased, yet the whole affair sounded like an approaching fair.
For what he felt must have been the twentieth time Corporal Harcourt prayed to the Lord that he grant the convoy a safe and quiet passage, he prayed fervently for the safe delivery of this cargo of back-pay to Shrewsbury, and, as a final note, he added, Lord, please shut Mattie Potter’s rattling chops.
Trooper Potter was a happy man. He looked at the cart and he saw back pay, six month’s back pay to be precise. Once his ‘owings’ had been deducted Mattie knew that he wasn’t going to be rich man, but at least he would be solvent.
For the fifth time he started on how precisely he was going to spend his new found wealth. Most of the day Trooper Potter was one of the most godly men going. He loved the psalms, more importantly he loved singing the psalms, and he knew he had the voice to do them justice, but he also reckoned seven hours of psalming on a Sunday was as much as the dear Lord God could expect from any reasonable man. It was true as well, it said so in the Bible, a man could not live by bread alone, and Trooper Potter had a sweetheart. And such was the way of the world that sweethearts took money. With his income rising Trooper Mattie Potter saw his success in the sweetheart department as pretty much certain.
Certain, that was until, with all the assurance of a pair of well loaded pistols, backed by thirty-one inches of good steel pointed at your throat, the cry of “STAND AND DELIVER!” cut the creaking, rattling chattering night.
As one three voices delivered those deadly words.
‘Sodding hell!’ Mattie Potter thought staring virtually straight down one, very hefty looking pistol barrel.
‘Gods wounds!’ thought the first highwayman, the stout one with the heavy riding cote swathing his physique.
‘Bugger!’ Thought the second highwayman, also well wrapped as a disguise, and as surprised as the first.
‘Damn and Rot It!’ the third highwayman, or perhaps that should have been highway-person, exclaimed silently. Like the first two, well wrapped in dark apparel as a disguise against recognition, and equally startled by the abrupt alteration in what had been thought of as quite thorough plans.
‘I’m a dead man!’ Corporal Harcourt thought to himself as he realised that his night had just gone straight down the privvy, without touching the sides.
Cautiously the three highway-people covered each other with their multiplicity of pistols, whilst ordering, almost by committee, the troopers to dismount. Mistrust reigned, in the dark forest glade. The soldiers saw that the three robbers were in competition. This was more disconcerting than being robbed. The fact that one false move might cause a trigger finger to flinch and a pistol to fire. Everyone moved very, very slowly.
After a few minutes where the robbers regarded each other nervously, the smaller of the three spoke.
“Er, er herumph!” ‘He’ coughed making, what a quicker, less pre-occupied ear might have said was a pleasant and lilting voice gruff and ‘manly’, “There’s enough for all of us,. Let us split the spoils?”
The other two thought about this for a moment. Their eyes constantly flitting between their competitors and the convoyers, lying prone now upon the turf, they almost seemed to be engaged in some sort of jerky dance.
Finally the second robber spoke, “Aye ‘tis a match! We’ll each take a third of the money. We’ll take the cart and divide it up the road a ways”
The first robber, the bulky one, eventually agreed, “But first!” he said, “You lot! Off with your boots and your britches.”
“You what?” Corporal Harcourt protested.
“Their what?” The smaller of the highway-robbers exclaimed in surprise.
“Aye! Good idea.” The second robber, relaxing his guard slightly, directed one of the troopers to gather all of the breeches and boots and shoes put them in the cart. The robber then gathered all of the troopers’ swords, and took their pistols off their horses and threw them into the cart. Then as the smaller robber led the cart off into the dark the second robber took the soldier’s horses while the third loomed over the prone soldiers.
“I don’t expect you boys to move for at least a half hour until after we’ve gone. Your gear’ll be up the road a way, but the first one to move before the half hour is up, gets a shroud on the morrow. Now all of yous face down.”
The ten men obediently studied the earth in front of them, as, with a silence surprising for a large man, the robber melted backwards into the darkness.
‘It’s damned typical!’ Harcourt told himself as he lay there listening to the sounds of the night, ‘The sodding cart sounds like all hell breaking loose when we’ve got it. The damned thing doesn’t make a bloody squeak when they’ve got it.!’
In the darkness away from the glade the three robbers stopped briefly and gathered their own mounts, one of which was a handsome grey mare, scattering the troop horses and moving a mile or so down the road. Finally they stopped and gathered by the tail of the cart.
There were four small coffers on the cart, each containing ten bags of coins, which weighed several pounds each. The big robber produced a steel pry-bar, which served to open the coffers, then he took some lengths of rope out of one of his saddle bags and after replacing them with some of the bags of coins. After that he began to tie the rest of his bags into bundles. The other two when they saw what he was doing began to do the same, using parts of the cart harness for the task.
The bigger robber then unharnessed one of the cart horses, and loaded that with his sacks. As there was only one carthorse left the other two robbers looked at each other for a few minutes.
“There is but one horse left.” The smaller robber said needlessly.
“Aye!”, said the other, “And who should have it?” he asked.
Finally the big robber stood between them. Reaching up he removed his hat,
“If I might suggest, sirrah, you take your horse loaded with your sacks and we shall take the other, ‘twould be better if both horses are found close together, and not the one near Castle D’Airing and t’other near your Fox Hall, my lord Byron.” and the robber removed the kerchief he wore around his face.
Stunned the other two robbers whipped round and stared at the big robber, their mouths open.
Part the sixth: Plots and plotters unmasked
“Yes, mistress, my Lord?”
“Sir Byron?!” the smaller robber gasped.
“Lady Belinda?!” the second robber asked, equally surprised.
“Groat?!” they both exclaimed again.
“Ay mistress, my Lord Byron.”
The shock and accusations rolled around the now horseless cart. “If I may, my Lady, my Lord?” Groat fought to get the situation under control, “‘twould be better we were not here. Those soldier boys are not very bright, but even they are going to figure out that we’re hardly likely to leave one guarding them while the other two share out the loot.
“If I may make a suggestion? We’d best be away and meet this afternoon and discuss this in more congenial surroundings.”
The other two ‘robbers’ recovered their composure quickly, “How did you know it was me, Groat?” Lord Byron asked.
“And how many times have I seen this mare at Castle D’Airing, my Lord? Now, until noon, I bid you goodnight.” And between them they left the scene.
Still bemused by the evening’s events the lady D’Airing strove to recover her bemused wits. Groat, continually surprising Groat, seemed to have it all under control, and she was content to let him handle the situation. To be perfectly frank her plans had only ever dealt with actually stealing the money, she had given no thought, so far, to its disposal. All she had reached was a vague idea that somehow it would solve many of their problems.
Groat on the other hand had given it much thought. He had reasoned, correctly it was to turn out, that the money would be new minted, and if it would have been minted in London, it would therefore be quite recognisable. Should large quantities of this money turn up anywhere it would lead, what would be irate authorities to the culprits. The same would happen if the money was used to pay an imposition.
Groat’s plan had called for him to sit on the money, dispose of some of it through connections like George and use it to replace the money they would lose paying the fine. That way any money they raised, which would be known about would mask the money that they used for keeping the estate going, and paying the real bills.
He explained this now to Belinda, who agreed to follow his plan. She quizzed him about his plans and how he had prepared, then refused to let him tell her where he would hide the money. They split up and the now nefarious Lady D’Airing returned to the house.
“And my father a Justice of the Peace!” she laughed to herself. ‘Still’, she mused, ‘it had all been very exciting’. Far more exciting than her life normally was.
Part the sevinth: What happened later that morninge
By the time Groat had hidden the money, returned his new mare to her stabling and returned to Castle D’Airing it was late. He was almost tempted to stay up and watch the new morning, which, despite the events of the night before, promised to be fair and pleasant, instead he made his way to bed.
Later, although he could easily have lingered in bed, Groat was up and about as usual. A house as big Castle D’Airing doesn’t run itself, and the big steward was about the business of making it run smoothly.
Despite his preoccupation with his daily tasks - compiling accounts, training servants and the one hundred other things that needed to be done daily to ensure that the place did not break down into anarchy - Groat found time to review the events of the night before.
To be sure it had gone smoothly, despite the intervention of Lady Belinda and Lord Fox. By back-tracking several times during the trip away from the robbery, by simply reigning in and sitting still in the darkness and listening Groat was certain that they had not been followed. During their conversation he had agreed with Lady Belinda that if ever questioned they had spent the evening, after the Lady Belinda had summoned Groat for company, until late playing ‘tables’ or backgammon, as some called it. She had won money from him, they would say, and he from her, though as neither of them had any money none had changed hands. Groat thought it through quite carefully several times during the first part of the morning, he was fairly certain that they had gotten away with it.
Upstairs in Lady Belinda’s bed chamber that fair lady lay musing about the previous night’s adventures also.
In her great bed with the down-filled mattress the sun peeped through the half closed curtains, and the lady of Castle D’Airing thrilled as she recalled the excitement of the robbery, the excitement outlasted the surprise and fear she had felt at the appearance of the two other robbers. Yes, she told herself, she had kept her head. Fortunately they had been friendly and the robbery had succeeded. Groat had helped her once again, but Lady Belinda was bitten by a bug. Without understanding it fully the elegant lady cavalier had been become addicted to the adrenaline from her experiences of the night before. She told herself that it would have to be a once-only occasion, a drastic solution to a dire situation, but one, deep down, she wanted to repeat.
And why should she not? She questioned, half dreading an answer, and half wanting one. She rode and shot as well as either of her brothers. She now held Castle D’Airing for the family, and had held it safe through the latter years of the past wars. She was not alone, Brilliana, Lady Harley at Brampton Bryan, the Countess of Derby and others had all played the part of their husbands in sieges and kept their houses and honour safe. Why should she not play the highway robber?
She was fortunate to have Groat, who she was sure would back her in these ventures, Groat whose overseership had ensured the success of last night. Of that both she and Groat agreed, they had not been recognised, neither had they been followed.
At last after an age of lying still, contemplating the patterns carved on the testor above her head, she resolved to be shed of her womanly meekness. She would, if the opportunity arose, and she could see no reason why it should not, play the robber again, at first chance.
Just before noon Lord Byron arrived on his famous grey mare, one of the most distinctive mounts in the county. Groat was just about to show Lord Fox up to his mistress, when out of the woods to the south of the house, surprising Groat and the lad that usually acted as sentinel, colonel Duckett and his troopers appeared, riding fast and hard towards the house.
Groat’s heart leapt into his mouth as with surprising dexterity the fat colonel brought his horse to a skidding halt and dismounted.
Red-faced from his hard ride and panting with anger, the colonel looked first at Lord Fox and then at Groat, “My Lord Fox, Groat, I need to see you, sirs, and the Lady Belinda. Immediately!”
Well, gentle reader, has this venture met an untimely end?
Did my Lord Byron’s mare give him away?
Shall we see the fayre Lady Belinda taken a prisoner to Shrewsbury Gaol in chains, and all that that would entail? Would it be over Groat’s dead, but faithful body?
Find all of this out and more in the next instalment of the “TRUE relation of the Adventures of Belinda, Lady Daring and her faithful servant Groat”