“Mrs Bernard, please? Do not let them do this to me!” I cried as Dobson carried me from the room and down the stairs. No answer came from the mother of my abductor. I could not understand! Why? What had I done to her or anyone else to be denied mercy like this?
I was also denied the leisure to ponder over this because Dobson headed for a door on a lower landing. He kicked it open and forcibly threw me on a large four poster bed. My head banged against the headboard, leaving me vertiginous for a short period of time. When my vision cleared, I saw Nicholas Bernard sitting in an armchair beside the bed. He placed his fingers under his chin forming a steeple and drew up his lips in a smile that did not reach his eyes. I tensed and instinctively crawled away from him. Glancing at the windows, their curtains still open, I saw that night had come.
“I demand that you stop this outrageous behaviour, Mr Bernard! Please take care that I should return home this instant. My family and friends will be in great concern over my safety.” I did my best to look at him with a scowl because I was afraid to let him see my fear. My life could very well be at risk.
Bernard’s smile widened but did not grow softer.
“Oh, you feisty little vixen!” he exclaimed. “Good! Gather your courage for you will need it for what I have in store for you!”
That remark sent a chill down my spine because his voice had been laced with cruelty and viciousness. His eyes, which were a soft hazel, now showed a hint of green. It gave him a devilish look. It also did nothing to put my mind to rest.
“Mr Bernard, pray act like the gentleman that you are. You are a young man of fortune and proper upbringing and one who enjoys the respect of his fellow citizens. Why would you want to throw that away on my behalf? How would you be able to face society if you acted as you intend?”
“Ah, but that is where you are mistaken! I am no ‘gentleman’, no ‘gentry’ like that bastard Spencer and I have no standards, moral nor societal, to uphold! I am a commoner, a wealthy one but nevertheless, a commoner. How do you think my father gained his fortune? Not by playing it fair, sweetheart, I can tell you that! My father was as cunning as a lion. He searched for prey and was ruthless in cutting out the competition. Moreover, do you think I will let my actions be known to all and sunder?”
Bernard suddenly stood and loomed over me, his hands gripping my arms and pinning them onto the bed. I noticed a drop of saliva running down his chin and had a sudden fear that he might be insane! In a cooing voice he continued. “You will be ruined and shunned as a loose woman but I will appear clean as a whistle because no one knows you are here. I have, however, set things into motion already. Rumours are being spread throughout the city that you have eloped with a hitherto unknown lover.”
One of his hands began unfastening the buttons of my riding jacket and all the while, Bernard kept on talking. “The members of my mama’s little card club have already dispersed the scandalous lies my mother fed them about your hypocrisy. How you deceived society by your dainty and innocent ways. How you tricked Spencer into your confidence and, on the verge of marrying him, stole his mother’s jewels to run away with your lover.”
“His mother’s jewels?” I exclaimed, now utterly bewildered. “I had no knowledge of their existence! Douglas never spoke of them.”
“Ah!” Bernard cajoled, his hand now inside my bodice. “But he has not told you even the half of it, my pet.”
Desperately swallowing against the nausea that threatened to overwhelm me at Bernard’s cold fingers on the soft skin of my breast, I ventured. “The half of what, Mr Bernard? Can you not tell me? I would like to know, please.” And with a courage I did not know I had, I laid my hand against his cheek and caressed it. “Please, Nicholas?”
My aggressor leered and drew back, seating himself on the chair again. “Margaret, my sweet, are you beginning to like me, then? Or are you just attempting to beguile me with your feminine wiles?” His eyes raked over me so vilely that my heart nearly stopped in fear. That man was the devil incarnate. Nevertheless, I had a sudden understanding that I could actually have an influence on Bernard which restored my courage. For the sake of mine and Douglas’ future, I had to try everything within my power to escape this lunatic and his mother. I ached to go back to Douglas and our love, to the bond we would soon forge. Already I missed him so acutely that nothing else mattered! I would do anything to be united with him, anything! I would even let this madman think I would succumb to him. So I shamelessly batted my eyelids at him and tried to make my voice sound sultry.
“Nicholas, had I but known you sooner, who knows what might have transpired? We were so isolated, my mother and I, that we did not pay enough attention to what life had to offer us in Torquay. A foolish mistake, I realise now. It deprived me of the pleasure of your company. We will remediate that, won’t we?”
“Margaret …” Bernard now said hoarsely, his eyes softening ever so slightly. “Margaret, are you sincere? How do I know you are not deceiving me? You could easily be tricking me into softening my vigilance and leap to freedom when I let my guard down.”
I dared not answer with words because I needed all my presence of mind to make the expression on my face longing and seductive. A faltering of my voice would surely betray me. Instead I kept stroking his face with a faint smile curving my mouth. Bernard bent over me again and tested my sincerity by pressing his mouth on mine, his tongue pushing for entrance.
“Oh, Douglas!” I begged inwardly. “Please, forgive me, my love …” And opened my mouth to Bernard’s kiss. It was as vile as I had imagined! His lips were thick and spongy and his breath tasted sour. His tongue was like a piece of rotting vegetable that probed all the way down into my throat. It was incredibly hard for me to prevent myself from choking and gagging. I do not know how I managed. Maybe it was the memory of Douglas’ kisses that kept me sane, the feeling of his mouth and tongue, so sweet, so alluring, that made me sustain Bernard’s onslaught. But I achieved it, for Bernard withdrew with a sigh of satisfaction.
“Ah, sweet nectar! My lovely Margaret, how I long for us to join our bodies in unison and pleasure!”
“We will, Nicholas, we will. Could I beg you for a small favour? What day is it?”
“August 14th. Why?”
“I am extremely thirsty and starving for food. I think I have not eaten in two days and I feel a little queer. Please, let me partake of some refreshment so that I can devote myself to the full to our union?”
“Very well, my sweet. You must give yourself to me in complete concentration and for that, you will need all your abilities. I will go and order a tray.”
Private Diary of Douglas Alexander Spencer
Watcombe Manor, August 15th 1818, two o’clock in the morning
I cannot believe it! For hours I have been reading Father’s diaries and found nothing but estate business and every day goings-on being described in full and boring detail. Until now … until I read this hastily scribbled and badly worded paragraph in a shaking hand on the last day of his life, April 4th 1818, a few weeks before I reached home.
‘Made a new will. Had to. Must preserve some funds for Douglas in case he comes back to England, even if it means I have to bring down the Bernard child’s allowance. My cousin in Jamaica wrote to me in February to confirm Douglas was still unmarried and had not formed an attachment to any young lady. Stubborn young sod! Anyhow, the will is drawn and secured away in the usual safe place, where I found unending comfort and where I keep all my secret correspondence. If Douglas is the man I hope he has become, he will look there and find it, along with the rest. If he does not search for it, then he will have to marry to get his inheritance. Otherwise, all goes to Wilkinson and Douglas be damned!’
Understandably I was in great confusion! A will subsequent to the one guarded in the lawyers’ practice? The Bernard child? What child? I had to find this will! What could he have meant by ‘the usual secret place’? A place of safety and comfort … Then, suddenly, it dawned on me! It could only be in my parents’ bedchamber.
I went to wake up Jack Twinkler and the two of us went to the bedroom where I had almost deflowered Margaret and, in the process, spilled myself into my breeches, fool that I am!
Jack and I turned the room inside out, searching every cupboard and closet, tapping the panels on the wall, and even probing the floor boards for hidden spaces. It was all to no avail. Jack, sensible lad that he is, then fetched me a glass of brandy and told me to sit quietly and concentrate on my father and mother. I was stunned to find such an awareness in a young man who had scarcely known his own parents! Yet, I did as he asked and let my eyes wander through the room. I recalled my strong father and my sweet mother and how they had loved and cherished one another, here in this very room, where their love had blossomed. And then I knew …
As soon as Bernard left the room, I jumped up from the bed and ran to the window. Not only was it locked tightly and situated at the street side of the house, it was also on one of the upper floors and the drop to the street level was at least 30 feet down! That had slipped my mind completely. I tried to open the latch because I might have a chance to call out on someone walking by. It was useless. I could not shift the handle because it was weld shut. This fact assured me of Bernard having acted under premeditation to abduct and ruin me. He had even prepared a prison for me.
My thoughts raced through my brain and I felt panicked like a caged bird trying to find a way to escape. I looked around the room for a weapon of some sort, in case I needed to strike Bernard down. The place was as bare as a monk’s cell, the only furniture being the bed and the chair! There was not even a closet or a chamber pot! My shoes had been taken away, along with my riding crop and hat. My spirits suddenly plummeted as I sank onto the bed, sobbing in aching despair.
What was I to do when Bernard would return and claim me? Well, I scolded myself, to sit here and snivel like a baby will not solve a thing! I needed to gather my thoughts and think!
I had been taken two days ago, halfway afternoon. Douglas would be searching for me and – oh, no! – not if he reckoned I had pinched the family jewels! Here I was, it all came to only one fact; did I trust Douglas’ love for me? If Douglas loved me, truly, utterly loved and trusted me – and I was sure he did – then he would not believe I deceived him. I had to trust Douglas completely and, with a jolt of pure joy, I realised I did!
But how would he know where to look for me? And how would he recognize Bernard’s doings in this? In truth, I had not the least notion if and when my rescuer would come. So, in the end, the only thing I could do was to hold off Bernard as long as possible or – to knock him unconscious and escape on my own accord.
I was still considering my possibilities when the door opened to let Dobson in and – Mrs Bernard. I stood and curtsied politely while I covertly studied her. She was short and stout with an ample bosom and a broad, plain face. Her once pleasant looks were blurred by plumpness. Her eyes were the same hazel colour as her son’s but she must have been dark-haired in her youth instead of fair like Bernard. Her mouth was thin and her nose snub. Her double chin quivered with agitation when she addressed me.
“You foolish, vain creature!” she growled. “Do you even have the slightest idea what a family you plan to marry into? The Spencers are a race of villains who do not place the slightest value upon the lives of others. They see, covet and take what they want with no regard for man or devil!”
“Mrs Bernard, I do not have an inkling about what you are talking of. I beg you to enlighten me about the Spencer family, Ma’am. What is it that I need to know?”
The woman did not reply but gave Dobson a sign whereupon the brute grabbed me and took me outside after Mrs Bernard and down a flight of steps.