A Significant Name for What?

A Significant Name is the title of the next chapter of my short story Garden Secrets, which links Book 3 and Book 4 of my Highwaypersons series. Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of Garden Secrets are on earlier posts on this blog. I hope you enjoyed Book 3 of Highwaypersons, The Stallion Man and will enjoy the recently published Book 4, Blood in the Heather: Rumours Rebels and Rogues. That will be the end of this quadrilogy. but I do not rule out writing another book about the adventures of Billy Rhys and his associates.

 

Garden Secrets: Chapter 3: A Significant Name?

Breakfast was interrupted as the sound of hoofbeats and the rattle of wheels announced the arrival of Meredith Evans. Kenneth showed him into the library where Helen was sitting.

“As you can see,” he began, drawing a sheet of paper from a pocket, “I have kept my word and retrieved the reference I had for Mr O’Neil, your gardener. I am sure you will be most impressed, as I myself was, on first reading it.” He handed it to her. “As you can see, the fellow’s previous employer speaks most highly of him and explains that his decision to terminate his employment was in no way due to any shortcoming on the man’s part, but merely the result of some reordering of his estates to improve their profitability, thus requiring fewer gardeners, and indeed fewer labourers of various kinds, as is becoming increasingly prevalent among wealthy landowners, both here and in Ireland.”

Helen made the effort to hide her irritation as Meredith told her what was in the letter as if she was incapable of reading it for herself. He was not finished, “You will see, I am sure, that the letter, although probably written by a secretary, as is usually the case nowadays, is nevertheless signed in person by one of the noblest of aristocrats, albeit of course an Irish nobleman, whose word must be considered unimpeachable.”

Helen wondered if words were ever unimpeachable or only those who utter them, as she studied what was written. “Oh, indeed, Mr Evans. This reference would doubtless secure employment almost anywhere. I can hardly believe I have had such good fortune as to obtain this man’s services.”

An audacious deception.

Helen contained her emotions as she handed the letter back to Meredith and waited until Kenneth had returned from escorting the agent back to his carriage. She then exploded.

“The audacity! The temerity! How dare he! If the law doesn’t hang him I’ll do it myself! What a cheek!”

Lewis and David entered the room and stood amazed. Kenneth said, “Was there something wrong with the reference? Mr Evans seemed impressed.”

“Oh, I’m impressed. Highly impressed. Evans is a fool. A completely credulous fool.”

“What was wrong with it? Was there some clue as to an undesirable aspect of Mr O’Neil’s character that you spotted but he had missed?”

“Clue? Hardly. Only that it was signed by Charles Butler!”

David and Lewis laughed until they received a look from their mother that would have terrified the bravest.

Kenneth said, “Are you sure? Could you have misread it?”

“No! Beneath the signature was written in a clear hand the words Duke of Ormonde. He even has the nerve to claim the dukedom which he aspires to inherit if the Pretender ever succeeds to the throne. He’s toying with me. Laughing at me!”

“Well, he can’t have known you would be the new tenant here.”

“All right! He’s laughing at whoever is to be the tenant. He’s mocking all decent loyal citizens.”

Kenneth thought it best not to mention that Helen’s father had once been close to the Pretender and had had hopes he would be crowned king. That was before the Rebellion of 1715 had failed, but still…

Decisive Action.

Helen paced the room striking one fist into the opposite palm. “Lewis! Can you ride Cassius?”

The boys were all taken aback at the apparent change of subject. Lewis nodded enthusiastically. “Right! Ride to Tenby to Eddy Edwards – that’s Sir Edward to you – the Lord Lieutenant, and tell him Charles Butler is here. Make sure you tell him I sent you and this is not some game or prank. Do you understand?”

Kenneth began to speak but was silenced by a raised palm. Helen said, “I need you here in case Charles tries to escape. And David – keep away from him. I don’t want you to put yourself in danger.”

“Won’t you and Ken be in danger?”

“I have had many fights with Charles and have never been afraid of him. And Kenneth has enough sense to look after himself. You can start, Kenneth, by making sure we each have a brace of pistols that are loaded.”

Lewis hurried to the stables. Cassius had been his late stepfather’s favourite. He was fast but gentle. Ideal for the task in view. Meanwhile David accompanied Kenneth to the armoury and began cleaning and loading pistols.

Helen looked out of a window and failed to see the gardener. Her heart missed a beat. Had he suspected that they suspected him and had run away? She went to another window and another. At last she saw him working: still at the far end of the garden, but a little to one side of where he had been. Throughout the morning she kept looking. Whenever he was not immediately in view she tensed. After an hour or so he seemed to have disappeared altogether. She rushed to the armoury to find Kenneth and David cleaning a musket.

“I said to load pistols, not muskets!”

Kenneth replied calmly, “I know. We have. I thought it was time we cleaned some of the other weapons.” He pointed to a bench on which lay six assorted pistols.

“Oh! Good. Well, come with me – not you, Dai – you stay in the house until I tell you otherwise – Kenneth, come on! He seems to have disappeared.”

“Where have you looked?”

“Down the garden, through every window that looks out on it.”

“That explains it.”

“What?”

“I saw him going into his apartment a few minutes ago.”

“Why would he be doing that? He always stays in the garden in the day, except when he goes into the chapel out of the sun or the rain.”

“I don’t know. Does it matter?”

“What if he’s planning on running away?”

“Why would he?”

“What if he knows we know. What if he saw Lewis ride off and guessed where he was going? Perhaps we’d better keep an eye on his door.”

David said, “He could be planning on running away on a horse. Or do you think I should say riding away?”

His mother and brother said in unison, “What?”

“Don’t you know you can get through to the stables from his apartment? I suppose it was made for a groom.”

“Stay indoors! Kenneth, follow me and give me a pistol.”

Kenneth handed his mother a pistol and stuck one in his belt before picking up a third and heading after her at a brisk walk.

At the door to the apartment, Helen glanced over her shoulder, saying, “Wait out here in case he comes out.”

“Be careful, Mother!” Kenneth realised as he said it that telling Helen to be careful was always a waste of breath.

Confrontation

Helen threw the door open and stormed inside. “All right, Charles Butler. Stay where you are! The Lord Lieutenant is on his way. We know who you are.” As her eyes adjusted from the bright sunlight to the gloom of the room, she wondered where the man was. Had he already escaped? She nearly discharged the pistol into empty space as she heard a clatter above her followed by an Irish voice, as a man descended the ladder from the bedroom.

“Hello dere! Will ye give me a chance to get dressed? I’m having me break.” He continued his descent wearing only his breeches, holding his shirt in one hand. Helen cursed herself as she recalled that he always took an early lunch since he started work very early. She thought he took his lunch either outside or in the chapel, but he was quite entitled to use his apartment. But why was he up in the bedroom?

The man stood with open mouth as he saw the pistol. “Will ye put dat down before ye shoot someone?”

“I’ll shoot you if you try anything. I know you’re Charles Butler. You can drop the Irish accent.”

“If I was Charles Butler, I wouldn’t be here working for you or anyone else. I’d be living in comfort like he does.”

More noises came from above. Helen glanced at the open trapdoor at the top of the ladder. That was enough time for the man to leap on her, knocking the pistol aside. They fell together. Even taken by surprise, Helen had the presence of mind to twist as she fell and land on top of her attacker. He kept a firm grip on her right wrist as he rolled over on top of her, despite her struggling. Their faces touched. She felt the pressure and the warmth of his body. And the smell. It was a pleasant smell of earth mixed with sweat. The scent of a man. Something she had missed for some time. It brought back memories: some good, some less so.

He shook her wrist, banging her hand on the floor. “Drop the damn gun, will ye!” The second blow achieved its objective. She tried to bite him. His hair got into her mouth. She noticed it was red right to the roots. She tasted it and tugged at it with her teeth. He scowled but the hair showed no sign of coming away from his head. It was no wig. He really was a redhead. And as they struggled, not once did his Irish accent falter. The awful truth sank in: this was not Charles Butler.

She said, “I’m sorry. I think I’ve made a mistake.” He laughed as he lifted himself until he was kneeling astride her and picked up the pistol.

Helen felt untypically afraid as she asked, “What are you doing?”

He took out the flint and laid the gun and the flint beside him. “Just making sure ye don’t go and make another mistake. Yer last one had me worried, so it did.”

There came another noise from above. Helen asked, “Is someone up there?” The man made some indeterminate sound. A thought struck her. Why had he been up in his bedroom at lunchtime? Why had he been wearing only his breeches when he came down?

Woman to woman

“Have you got a woman up there?”

“Err, well, you see, it’s just that I’ve been …”

A loud female voice called, “What’s this?” Helen looked up. A big woman was coming unsteadily down the ladder. She spoke clearly with a Welsh accent. “You couldn’t keep your hands off him, could you? No man’s safe from you. You’re as bad as my sister.”

The man stood up. “Err, now, you see, it’s not what ye think. Let me tell ye…”

The woman finished her descent, landing heavily, facing Helen who was beginning to get up. This big creature looked like the old woman but younger. In the shaft of light that caught her in a certain position, her grey hair took on a reddish tint. Sister? Helen realised who this was, but couldn’t believe it. “Is your sister Lady Rhianna Hughes-Jones?”

“Very good! And to think I felt sorry for you once. I thought she was cruel, letting that ruffian have you. Now I know you two were as bad as each other.”

Helen wondered whether she meant she was as bad as Rhianna or as the ruffian but merely said, “You stay where you are. The Lord Lieutenant will want to speak to you when he arrives.” At least his journey would not be wasted, she thought, as she cringed at the expected embarrassment of his finding an Irish labourer instead of a Jacobite spy.

The big woman said, “I shan’t be here when he comes, but first let me give you this.”

Helen looked to see if there was anything in either of the woman’s hands. Too late, she realised it was not their content that was to be the gift. A fist struck Helen on the nose, almost knocking her out, as the other fist buried itself in her stomach. She reeled and reached out. Hugh grabbed her as her assailant climbed back up the ladder with far more agility than she had displayed coming down. After she had slammed the trapdoor shut, clattering and scraping sounds indicated she was moving something on top of it.

For a moment, Helen enjoyed being held in those muscular arms. She laid her head on a strong shoulder. Then she shook herself and said, “Come on! We can’t let her get away.” She ran out into the yard, where Kenneth was standing, looking anxious. He opened his mouth but any sound was drowned by clattering hooves coming up the drive. As three redcoated riders came in sight, more hoofbeats sounded closer, as several loose horses came out of the stables. One was carrying a rider.

As Hugh came to stand next to Helen, she asked, “Was that old Mary?”

“Err, it was. She’s not as old as I forst tought. We was having fun when ye came shouting, down below us.”

“How did she get to the stables?”

Kenneth answered, “Upstairs is all one room, bar a curtain.”

The Voice of Authority.

A redcoat shouted, “Halt! Stop! In the king’s name, I command you!”

Neither the woman nor any of the horses obeyed.

“Don’t shoot the woman! We don’t know who she is!” Helen recognised that voice: it belonged to Eddy Edwards the Lord Lieutenant.

Lewis rode through the melee and pointed to Hugh, “That’s him! Charles Butler!”

Hugh looked at Helen, “What’s all dis about? Who says I’m Charles Butler? Do I look like a duke?”

Helen called to Eddy. “Never mind him – get that woman. She’s stolen one of my horses!”

Eddy sent his two horsemen after her and dismounted. “So this fellow’s not a Jacobite? What’s all the fuss?”

Lewis tried to protest as he jumped down from Cassius, but Kenneth pulled him aside and said, “If Mama says he’s not Charlie, he’s not. She knew him better than we did.”

The boys began catching loose horses, helped by a bemused Hugh. Helen invited Eddy into the library and poured them a glass of brandy each. She lacked her usual confidence as she explained why she had sent Lewis with that message.

Eddy shook his head and smiled. “Oh, my dear. What a mistake. I’ll have to concede the fellow does resemble Butler in a way, but if that reference was what persuaded you, you made a fundamental error.”

“But he must have written his own reference, surely?”

“Ah, no. The Duke of Ormonde is indeed Charles Butler. A loyal subject of King George. The man you have so often encountered is his son, who prefers to follow his Uncle William in supporting the Pretender, James Stewart. A thing he does with great zeal and remarkable ability, if you ask me.”

“Is not his uncle the Duke?”

“He was until parliament – the Irish Parliament – declared his dukedom forfeit and then bestowed it upon his younger brother because he – William – was one of the chief perpetrators of the Rebellion.”

He sipped his drink. She gulped hers down and refilled the glass.

They got up to investigate a commotion at the back door. The redcoats and the boys were returning. Kenneth said, “We got all the horses back, bar the one that woman was riding.”

A corporal said, “Sorry, Sir Edward, we lost her. She had too good a start on us and probably knows her way around better than we do. Nobody seems to have seen her.”

“Very well. Can’t be helped. Return to Tenby to your duties. Tell Lady Edwards I’ll be back soon. Dismiss!”

The boys sat down eying the brandy decanter. Helen laughed as she poured three small measures, before telling Eddy about the fugitive woman.

He said, “So that must be Gwynne, Lady Hughes-Jones’s sister – well, half-sister as I recall. She’s not actually wanted.” Helen and the boys began to protest. Eddy held up a hand and shook his head. “No. It’s no use. I’ve no evidence she was involved with Butler and the others in that plot or that she was responsible for holding Billy Rhys and his nephew captive.”

“She’s stolen a horse.”

“Hmm. That’s a point. At least it gives me an excuse to send the men looking for her again. Of course, the real reason I’d like to catch her is so I can ask her about the whereabouts of her sister and especially of Charles Butler.” He frowned as he took another mouthful of brandy before saying, “Damn!”

Wait for Chapter 4 of Garden Secrets, A Spy is Unmasked

After reading A Significant Name, look forward to the final instalment, Chapter 4, of Garden Secrets, A Spy is Unmaskedwill be coming to this blog soon. After that, I hope you will look forward to Blood in the Heather: Rumours, Rogues and Rebels.