Of course, it was abundantly clear to me I could no longer deal with this on my own. Douglas, my Douglas, was missing! A multitude of scary, horrible images popped up in my mind of him lying injured somewhere ,or worse, dead!
“Jack,” I urged, “come with me! We must seek help, we cannot do this alone anymore.”
About half an hour later, I burst into Delaford’s library, Jack in tow. I startled Colonel Brandon, who was quietly working behind his desk. Marianne, who was reclining on the settee while sewing baby sheets, gasped in surprise.
“Forgive my impulsiveness but I need your help! Colonel, I am at a loss at what to do! Douglas Spencer has gone missing for more than a week and I am so very concerned about him!”
My loud outbursts also alarmed Mother and Elinor who came running from the morning room. Elinor, my practical, level-headed older sister, took matters in hand with her usual efficiency.
“Margaret, calm down! Mother, take a seat! Marianne, stay where you are and, for God’s sake, let us all keep a cool head! Now, Margaret, what is this all about? Please, make an attempt in being clear and succinct?”
Drawing a deep breath, I straightened my shoulders, closed my eyes and then started my narration of Douglas and me right from the beginning. Mother knew nothing about all this and several times she gasped violently during my tale but she did not interrupt me until I finished.
“Margaret, my dear, this is all most disconcerting and also most inappropriate! This man certainly has not behaved as a gentleman when he endeavoured to hold you, kiss you and reject you all in one gesture. I do fervently hope you have not formed an attachment to him for I do not see anything good coming from this.”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, Mama!” Marianne burst out, “She loves him! Surely even you must understand that!”
Mother’s face grew even more alarmed at her impulsive remark. Fortunately, Elinor intervened.
“There is no need for emotional uproar, please? Mother, do not upset Margaret further with useless preaches about propriety. She has behaved like a genuine lady in all this and has used her brains much more than her heart. It has also become quite clear to me that Mr Spencer has feelings for Margaret and that he is showing considerable respect for her by urging her to be cautious about her reputation.”
She now turned to me, her face showed deep earnest.
“Meggie, as matters stand presently you cannot marry Douglas Spencer. I am sure you understand as much?”
“No, I do not! Why, for Heaven’s sake, can I not?”
Tears of rage and frustration wetted my face and I made no attempt to stop them as I felt drowned in complete despair. Obviously, my family was not prepared to help me in my hour of need! My hands flew to my face and I wept like a child, unable to stop myself.
Colonel Brandon was the one who took matters into hand.
“Ladies, would you please leave it to me to try and help Margaret? Kindly leave us, I need to have a conversation with her and your presence here is upsetting her too much already.”
They must have obeyed him for when I lifted my tear-streaked face again I noticed the colonel and I were alone. He rose from his chair, handed me his handkerchief and patiently waited until I had cleaned up my face before seating himself next to me on the settee.
“Margaret, you know about my unfortunate affairs of the heart when I was a young man, don’t you?”
I nodded, searching for words yet not finding them.
“About Eliza, the girl I fell in love with but was not allowed to court because she had no fortune. I was only nineteen then and, if my father had not whisked me away into His Majesty’s Army, I would have eloped with her. I would have done the same thing as my friend Douglas, and where would I have ended then? I would have had no money, no prospects and a wife and child to support. My point , dear Margaret, is that we all tend to do irrational things for love when we are too young to make the right judgements.”
“Yet, colonel, you were deeply affected by what happened to Eliza, so deeply that you searched for her for years! Even after you found her dying in a workhouse, you committed yourself to provide for her daughter Beth in so thorough a way that you even tracked the rapist Willoughby who impregnated her!”
“Yes, and a good thing I did for it was that same rascal Willoughby who seduced my beloved Marianne and would have ruined her in the same way, had I not intervened!”
“I am sorry, sir, but it was not you that saved Marianne from Willoughby! He did that himself by marrying the rich Miss Grey, thus alienating himself from my sister. You did bring her back to life, first by rescuing her from the moors in a rainstorm, then by healing her emotionally after her sickness. Yet, who has healed you, colonel, after Eliza? Who stood by you in those horrible years of longing for her?”
Col. Christopher Brandon’s face had grown very white and his soft hazel eyes were wide with grief. I laid a hand on his in an attempt to soften my previous harsh words.
“Forgive me, sir, I was very rude. It is none of my business.”
He smiled, a bit sadly, before continuing.
“No, Margaret, you are right. I have been nursing my pain entirely on my own which makes me a fair judge of how Douglas must have felt when he was shipped off to Jamaica without seeing his Christina again. He was in an even worse situation than I was because he was the father of …”
“No, no, colonel, he was not! I had not reached that part of the narrative because of Mother’s outburst but listen to what I discovered today. Jack, where is Jack? I need him to …”
“Elinor has taken him to the kitchen, I believe. It is the boy you brought with you that you are talking of, I presume?”
“Yes, his name is Jack Twinkler and he is Douglas’ friend and acts as his servant as well. I must have him with us to help me explain …”
“Margaret, please, calm yourself and slowly explain it to me yourself. What have you found out?”
I obliged in a long, somewhat undisciplined tale. The colonel drew a deep breath, after I was finished and said. “So Douglas is innocent? But who, then, was the father of Christina’s child?”
Col. Brandon and I had a long conversation with Jack after we located him in the kitchen. He was enjoying a large plate of Cook’s excellent shepherd’s pie. Poor Jack looked like he needed it, he seemed even thinner than before. We learned quite a lot from Jack, information we did not know before.
He explained that Douglas returned to England in late February of that year 1818, after family lawyers informed him of his father’s demise. Those same gentlemen explained to him the stipulations of his father’s will, now common knowledge to all of us. The consequences of that will were dire, for Douglas was left in uncertainty since he was not the full heir to his father’s legacy – until he married. Therefore, he could not sell nor buy any property, nor have access to his father’s money. Douglas was, to keep it short, completely powerless to do anything except to try and find a bride.
According to Jack, he had looked for a suitable mate all over the London scene for the good part of two months without results. Each London mama of unmarried daughters was well informed about him and his past. He was instantly barred from most of the London homes and parties.
“I wonder,” Colonel Brandon said in a pensive tone, “who informed the London ton of Douglas’ past. Certainly not his lawyers for they could be barred for breach of trust.”
I was thinking along the same lines myself. Someone who was very close to Douglas must have spilled the beans on him and I had an inkling as to whom it might have been. It could only have been his own cousin, Phineas Wilkinson.
ANDREW BUCHAN, CHARLES DANCE IN 17TH CENTURY LONDONAfter a very long wait British ITV has finally released a teaser for their upcoming new historical series THE GREAT FIRE which will air this Autumn. Starring Andrew Buchan, Rose Leslie, Charles Dance, Daniel Mays, Jack Huston and Oliver Jackson Cohen,4 episode series
THE GREAT FIRE tells the story of exhausted baker Thomas Farriner who forgets to close his ovens, sparking a terrible blaze which threatens to destroy 17th century London. Family members are lost amongst the fleeing crowds whilst desperate refugees fight, loot and riot to survive. Amid the horror, the personal stories of those caught in the disaster stand out against the flames; Frantic with worry, Sarah, a penniless widow searches for her missing son; Famous diarist Samuel Pepys’ burning ambition to become the King’s confidant threatens his marriage more than the blaze outside his door; A pleasure-seeking King struggles to tame his wild side and become the leader his people need. At the heart of the story is the tragic baker, distracted by an agonising dilemma, who makes a simple mistake with devastating consequences.https://youtu.be/acyERCXJF-o
DVD Coming soon. This is the series, not the single pilot with different actors.
I could not resist taking a longer route home since all those startling disclosures of Mrs Jennings had left me quite restless. What lay hidden in them I did not know yet but I was determined to find out. I was sure it contained the truth about Douglas’ dealings with Christina Finney.
Without noticing I had wandered onto the moors and was now approaching the stone circle where I found Douglas’ horse Dragon – the day he had been shot. I dismounted and tethered my mare to one of the standing stones. The day was rapidly growing hot again and I let myself down in the large shadow of a stone and rested my back against it.
The silence was absolute and welcoming, too. A morning in the company of Mrs Jennings has that effect on people. She was very overbearing and yet the information she gave me could prove to be of use. I thought it of particular importance that Christina Finney’s father had been bankrupt when he came down to Devonshire. He had been in search of a rich husband for her but had probably not informed Sir Matthew about his financial situation. Had Douglas known that?
I needed to speak with him, urgently so, and decided I must quickly go to Torquay.
I was about to mount into the saddle when a soft voice made me turn around first.
“Bonjour, Mademoiselle Marguerite.”
“Petite-Maman! Comment allez-vous?”
It was indeed the gypsy woman who addressed me and with an earnest gravity I had not seen the first time we met.
“Je vais bien, Mademoiselle, merci. Est-ce que vous avez des nouvelles de Monsieur Spencer?”
I replied by telling her that the only news I had about Douglas was that he seemed to have recovered well enough from the bullet wound. I insisted on thanking her again for her help.
The gypsy woman seemed perturbed in some way so I decided I wanted to know what it was that upset her.
The following conversation ensued between us:
“Have you seen him recently, Mademoiselle?” was her next question.
“No,” I replied with hesitation, “not for a fortnight. Why?”
Petite-Maman wrung her hands in the gesture of despair.
“What? What is it? Has something happened to Douglas? You have to tell me! Please, tell me!”
The gypsy woman hastened to explain she had not seen him either but that she feared he might be in mortal danger.
“Petite-Maman, please, why are you saying that?” I begged, as I tried to calm down the panic that was rising in my chest.
“Venez, Mademoiselle, vite. Il y a quelque chose que vous devez voir … There is something you have to see …”
With that, she swung herself onto my horse’s back and helped me up behind her. Then we rode at a neck-breaking gallop as my mare hit her full stride. I held on to the gypsy’s waist for dear life as we raced over the moors. I should have known any gypsy was good with horses and could ride like a cavalry man.
Before long, we penetrated the woods and reached a tiny, rather ramshackle cottage but with a surprisingly neat herb garden. Petite-Maman nimbly leapt from the saddle and hurried inside, leaving up to me to tie my horse.
“Ecoutez-moi attentivement, Mademoiselle!”
She pointed to a chair beside the rough wooden table and I sank down on it, watching her while she went to a cupboard and started rummaging through it.
“Petite-Maman, I beg you! Please tell me that Douglas is alright? Have you heard something, anything from him?”
“No, nothing, but you have to listen to me, Mademoiselle. You have to listen very carefully but first, answer this question: Est-ce que vous l’aimez? Do you love him?”
“Oui, je l’aime de tout mon coeur! Yes, with all my heart!”
Her deep set eyes scrutinized me. She looked me in the face and probed my very heart abut I did not waver. How could I waver when I was not seeing her but instead saw only the face of my beloved rake, my Douglas.
“Vous m’avez convaincue. You have persuaded me, Mademoiselle, and I shall tell you what I know.”
My heart missed several beats as I listened to Petite-Maman’s story.
“Ten years ago I was summoned to the bedside of a young girl in the process of childbirth by a gentleman who claimed to be her father. The birth took place at an obscure little hotel in Torquay. This amazed me for the father seemed to be a wealthy man and the girl’s nightgown was of silk and the finest Brussels lace. He did not tell me his name but instructed me to assist the girl in her confinement. He said his daughter was six months pregnant. He left me alone with the girl; she could not have been more than seventeen years of age.”
“What was her name, Petite-Maman? Did she reveal it to you?”
I swear my heart stopped for a moment.
“The baby was in breech position and the birth was very difficult,” the gypsy explained. “The mother was bleeding profusely and I was not able to stop it. The baby was stillborn yet full term.”
My breathing was not fully adequate as I took in all these new facts.
“While the girl was slowly dying, she told me to look in her reticule and extract a document from it. I did as I was told for she was very adamant. I held her hand in mine and stroked her wet, golden hair while she faded away – quietly but inexorably. Her last words I shall never forget.”
“What were they?” I breathed.
“She said ‘Ask Douglas to forgive me’. I have been searching for this Douglas since the day she died and now I’m convinced it must be Monsieur Spencer. The poor girl did entrust a letter to me, a letter I was to give him.”
The gypsy’s hand held a small, cream-coloured envelope, sealed with blue wax, with the ends tied by a lavender-coloured ribbon. Instinctively, I reached towards it but stopped. I had no right reading it.
“Have you been to Mr Spencer’s house in Torquay?” I asked and when she shook her head, I wrote down the address on a scrap of paper.
“No, Mademoiselle, you must take it. I have implicit faith in you and that you will give it to Mr Spencer. You love him very much, do you not?”
“Yes … yes, I do …”
I took the letter from her and tucked it in my skirt pocket, under my kerchief.
“Petite-Maman, you said something about the baby, that it was full term. Are you absolutely certain it was? Christina’s father said she was only six month pregnant.”
“He must have been wrong, Mademoiselle. The baby was a boy, eight pounds in weight. It must have died in the womb because the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. Yet it was fully developed, Mademoiselle.”
So Christina had already been with child when she came to Watcombe Manor.
I thanked Petite-Maman and left for Torquay immediately. I simply had to see Douglas since there were too many things I had to tell him. Yet, when I arrived at the house near the port, only Jack Twinkler was there to receive me. He had not seen his master for more than a week and was very concerned about him.
Events from the life of the author Jane Austen inspired this romantic historical drama, which speculates of a romance that may have had a significant impact on her life and work. Twenty-year-old Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) is the daughter of Rev. Austen (James Cromwell), a minister who looks after a flock in a small rural community in Southern England with his wife (Julie Walters). While her older sister, Cassandra (Anna Maxwell Martin), is engaged to be married, Jane resists her family’s efforts to match her up with Mr. Wisley (Laurence Fox), the wealthy but dull nephew of Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith), a minor member of the British nobility. Jane has the heart of an artist, and hopes to distinguish herself as a musician or a writer, though her parents don’t think much of her prospects. When Jane meets Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy), a young man her own age, she’s intrigued; while he scoffs at her writing style, he clearly sees she has talent, and is eager for her to learn more of the larger world by exposing her to more daring literature and modern pastimes such as boxing. As Tom begins to court Jane, she finds herself increasingly attracted to this poor but keenly intelligent man, though she soon realizes her own ideas about love and marriage are sometimes at odds with the conventions of the society in which she lives.