Chapter 20: The Sting

Copyright© 2005 by Argon

Historical Sex Story: Chapter 20: The Sting - This is set twenty years after the events of "In the Navy". The lives of Anthony Carter and his family are turned topsy-turvy by the arrival of Ellen, a young shepherdess. Follow the lives of the Carters and their friends and relatives during the late regency era and explore foreign countries and cultures with them. History is not necessarily dry!

Caution: This Historical Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   mt/ft   Fa/ft   Teenagers   Consensual   Romantic   Rape   Lesbian   Heterosexual   Historical   Tear Jerker   First   Oral Sex   Masturbation   Petting  

It was a week after the charity ball, and Sir Anthony Carter was sitting in his chair, perusing the Naval Gazette, when he stumbled over a small article.

Bolivian Merchantman Lost

On Sept. 15, the Rosemary schooner, out of Falmouth, after having weathered a severe cyclone, and standing one-hundred miles north-east of Barbados, came to sight a small boat, carrying the survivors of a ship wreck. The rescued sailors and passengers reported the brig Estrella del Sur to have sprung a leak in the heavy storm. They also reported of a second boat with other sailors and passengers, but this boat could not be found by the Rosemary’s crew. Of note is the fact that one of the missing passengers is His Excellency, Don Antonio Ruiz de Costa, Bolivian ambassador in London. It is to be hoped that the second boat met with another ship or somehow reached land.

“What is it, Tony?”

Harriet had entered the study unnoticed by him, and she had seen his paleness. She saw his grave expression and knew something terrible had happened.

“The ship Antonio was sailing back in, the Estrella del Sur, sank in a hurricane. One boat with survivors was recovered, but Antonio was in another boat that has not been found yet.” He swallowed heavily. “We must tell Eleanor and Maria.”

Harriet sat down heavily, desperation washing over her.

“Is there a curse on us? Why can’t we and our children be happy?”

“Harriet, we need to be strong and encouraging! He may still be found. Eleanor and Maria need us now, but we must give them hope.”

Harriet looked at her husband doubtfully.

“Do you really think there is hope?”

“Absolutely! If one boat with survivors made it through the storm, there is a good chance for the second boat. There is much traffic in that region, and the second boat may have met a southbound ship.”

They both went up to Eleanor’s room. Harriet made Eleanor sit down on her bed and sat beside her, holding her shoulders. Sir Anthony saw the pain in his daughter’s eyes when she grasped the meaning of all this, and her lips began to tremble.

With a calm voice, he related the news to his daughter. To his surprise, Eleanor showed relief.

“Oh my god, father, but for a moment, I thought Antonio was dead!”

“Eleanor, dear, they have not found him. He may have perished,” Harriet started cautiously.

“No, he is alive,” Eleanor said with finality. “I know he is alive, and I refuse to believe otherwise. He will come back to me. Father, there is hope, isn’t there?”

For his life, Sir Anthony would not have destroyed his daughter’s hope, and he had seen enough unexpected things on the seas.

“There is hope, Eleanor, yes. The boat crew may have been rescued by another ship. Even so, we need to tell Antonio’s mother. Will you come with us?”

Eleanor took a deep breath. “Yes, let me change, though.”

Anthony and Harriet were surprised to see their daughter walk down the stairs in a dark green velvet dress, but they said nothing. The coach brought them to the Ruiz’ house where Donna Maria was surprised to see them. Hearing the news, she had a momentary lapse of strength, but recovered quickly. Glancing at Eleanor, she asked.

“You believe that Antonio is alive?”

Eleanor answered with a firm “Yes.”, and the older woman nodded.

“We shall wait for him to return. Could you stay with me for a little while longer, Eleanor?”

Eleanor stepped forward and put her hand on the older woman’s arm.

“Of course, Mother,” she said simply. Then she turned to her parents. “We are fine. Can you send back the coach around five? Doña Maria and I will spend some time together.”

The Carters left, fervently hoping that their daughter’s hopes would not be disappointed. Over the next hours, days and weeks, Maria Ruiz and Eleanor Carter kept their pact of mutual support. It was Eleanor’s calm conviction that kept up Maria’s hope. Even when weeks and months went by without news, Eleanor visited her future mother in law daily, refusing to wear dark colours, let alone black, refusing the suggestions by others that her hope might be in vain. She received support by her father and by her brother Richard. One evening, when her fears nearly overwhelmed her, Richard sat with her and gave her encouragement.

“Eleanor, there is hope. Look at me! I still hope that Ellen will forgive me one day, and believe me, those chances are much slimmer than Antonio’s. Don’t give up.”

In spite of herself, Eleanor had to smile at his words. She spoke to Ellen regularly, and she knew that her friend secretly still loved Richard, albeit without admitting it even to herself.

What was really bad was that several suitors showed up. So-called friends tried to convince her that she should give up on Antonio Ruiz and find herself a new fiancé. It embittered her greatly that people would think she could give up her hopes and love and just move on to the next contender.

Doña Maria knew about all this, and she developed a true affection for the girl. If ever Antonio should return to the living, she would tell him of Eleanor’s unwavering love and commitment. The days trickled by, though, becoming weeks and months, without any news from Antonio Ruiz.

A half year after his last meeting with Ellen, Richard Carter, 3rd Baron Lambert, arrived at his work place at the Foreign Office at a quarter to nine. The work he did, assessing the numerous new nations in Spanish South America, and the possibilities for British trade, was interesting and in line with his previous training and his interest. He authored briefs and reports for the Secretary, and sometimes he was even asked to present the results of his research to select cabinet members. He had joined the Foreign Office nine months ago as a protégé of Lord Brougham when there had been no opening in the Trade Ministry, his original preference. Nevertheless, he soon appreciated his appointment for more than one reason.

For his immediate superior, Sir Gilbert Hume, was, as all London knew, the current love interest of one Marjorie Binnings. Hume was a harmless type, although, on Binnings’ instigation, he tried to terrorise his subordinate. He just was not that effective. The most serious diatribe somehow lost much of its sharpness when the superior official had to address his subordinate deferentially as ‘Milord’ or ‘your lordship’.

Hume hardly ever showed before lunch time, and Richard had the run of the department in the mornings. Most of the time, he was done with his work and gone before Hume could harass him. Two months ago, Richard had also begun to pick and collect documents from Hume’s desk. Never really important ones lest he caused alarm, but in a steady trickle, official Foreign Office documents in Sir Gilbert’s care continued to disappear, and people upstairs began to notice.

On this particular day, Sir Gilbert appeared at the office at ten o’clock, and the staff was alarmed. When he asked for Lord Lambert to come to his office, everybody, including Richard, expected another meaningless reprimand. The clerks in the office chuckled and wished Richard luck as he hurried to Hume’s office. They appreciated the pleasant young man who worked with tireless energy and surprising skill.

When he entered Hume’s office, Richard was surprised at the friendly reception.

“Oh, thank you for coming, Milord. Listen, we’ve had some run-ins in the last months, but I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your efforts on the whole.”

“Thank you, Sir Gilbert,” Richard answered drily, comprehension dawning.

“I’ll be having a dinner party at my house on Friday. Would you care to come?”

“That is exceedingly kind of you, Sir Gilbert. Of course, I shall attend.”

“Jolly good! Now, where are we with that report on Mexico?”

Patiently, Richard explained to his superior the current situation on the Spanish Main and the implications on the Mexico trade. A half hour later, when he emerged from Hume’s office, he could not help but grin. Binnings had taken the bait.

Two weeks ago, he had sent a short letter to Ellen, through his grandmother. In response to that letter, Ellen had attended a function to which Sir Gilbert Hume had also gone. For three hours, Ellen had flirted mercilessly with Sir Gilbert, until Marjorie Binnings, doubtlessly alarmed by some informer, had appeared and dragged Hume away from Ellen.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Sir Gilbert, I did not know that you preferred elderly women,” had been Ellen’s parting shot.

No wonder Binnings wanted to be on his good side now. She obviously planned a revenge against Ellen, and since it was known how Richard and Ellen detested each other these days, Richard appeared to be a natural tool for her retribution. Or so she thought.

In his office, Richard surveyed the documents in his care. There was a draft for a commerce treaty with Bolivia, which if leaked to the public, would cause serious difficulties with Spain. He contemplated for a minute. Was his revenge worth this risk? But then he remembered the ham fisted reconciliation attempt by Hume, and he smiled grimly. Besides, Ellen had exposed herself already, and he could not betray her in this. He set the draft aside for Friday.

When he came home that evening, Richard had a lengthy conversation with his grandmother which left the old woman thoughtful. The next afternoon, Ellen Wilkes visited with Lady Lambert, like she did every Wednesday. They sat, drinking tea and eating cookies, when Lady Lambert cut the idle chatter short.

“Ellen, the final stage is close. Richard needs your help.”

Ellen took a deep breath. She did not know Richard’s plan, for he refused to tell her. If this went wrong, he maintained, he wanted to keep her out of it.

“What does he need?”

Lady Lambert smiled sardonically.

“You must write him a love letter.”

Ellen choked on her tea. She looked at the old woman incredulously and, with a chuckle, Lady Lambert explained.

Nobody would have recognised him in his disguise. The heavy walrus moustache and the bushy eyebrows made him look like a man at least ten years older. The disguise was courtesy of Anita Heyworth. The woman he was about to meet was a key to his plan. In fact, he had not begun any serious planning before he had met her again by chance. Her name was Charlene Beckham, and she was a trollop. More so, she was a trollop in trouble. She also was the trollop with whom Richard had spent that fateful night. That was why she had known him and asked for his help. That was also why he met her in disguise, lest Ellen heard of him meeting a loose woman.

Four months ago, Charlene had been with customer, a very uncouth person. Charlene, not accustomed to such rough treatment, threw the money back at the man and bade him leave. That did not sit well with him, and he threw her on the bed and proceeded to take her with force. The girl did not know how to help herself other than grab a hidden knife and stab her assailant. Now he was dead. When the landlord came up to the room, he almost had a stroke. The man was one Tim Cook, brother of Jeremiah Cook, the leader of one of London’s most notorious gangs. Realising the danger she was in, Charlene fled the whorehouse that same night. The house burned down the very next evening, and the word was out on the streets of London that Jeremiah Cook wanted Charlene Beckham.

In her desperation, she had waylaid Richard’s coach and begged him for help. Richard was terrified that Ellen might find out that he sheltered this girl, but he recognised her value when she confessed that she had been a pick pocket in her youth. He stashed her away with John Little’s family. The Littles liked him like their own son, and Inez Little made sure that his contacts with Charlene involved appropriate clothing on both sides. Today, though, they met in secret, because he did not want to compromise his friends.

If Charlene was nervous she did not show it. If all went well on Friday, she would be out of England and off to a new start in America. All would go well, she was confident. This was her trade, after all.

“Are you set with the butler?” Richard asked.

Charlene nodded and giggled. “Am I ever. ‘e’s all crazy about me. ‘e said the coast is to be clear on Friday! What about that sleeping draught?”

He handed her a small bottle, from Lucy Wilkes’ stores and courtesy of Ellen.

“And them papers?”

“Will be on the coach that brings you to the rendezvous.”

“No trust, eh?” Charlene asked with a mock pout, and Richard chuckled.

“Not more than necessary. So, are we all set? Splendid! If those papers are retrieved where I expect them to be, you will be taken to Liverpool on Saturday. You will travel to Boston in your own, private cabin. Kindly refrain from stealing from your fellow travellers; the captain will keep an eye on you. You will also receive your one-hundred American Dollars, as agreed, and another three-hundred in Boston at the office of the shipping line. I will not see you again, Charlene, but I wish you all the luck. Try to stay honest, will you.”

Charlene nodded. “I will. I’m grateful for this chance, Milord, I really am. ‘ave you practised your moves like I teach you?”

“Every free minute,” Richard answered.

“Remember to look annoyed-like when you drop the letter.”

“I will. Farewell, Charlene!”

“Farewell. Milord, I hope you can get your fiancée back. I really feel bad about my part in this.”

“You should not, Charlene. Bonne chance!”

Friday afternoon, Richard was still very busy. He had seen to this. Around four o’clock, Sir Gilbert stuck his head through Richard’s door.

“You still plan to come, Milord?”

“Yes, yes,” Richard replied eagerly. “I only need to finish on that report. I will work on the treaty over the weekend.”

“Splendid, splendid. I shall see you then.”

At a quarter past eight, a rather ruffled looking Lord Lambert arrived at the residence of Sir Gilbert Hume. As expected, Sir Gilbert was at the entrance to greet him, as was Marjorie Binnings. This was good because he could start the little charade right away.

“I’m awfully sorry for the delay, Sir Gilbert, but we had to redo parts of the report. There were some grievous spelling errors in it, and you know how the Secretary feels about that.”

“Calm down, calm down, Milord,” Sir Gilbert laughed, obviously in good humour. “Why don’t you take off that cloak and make yourself comfortable?”

Richard did, and an envelope dropped to the floor, right in front of Marjorie Binnings. The letter in it had fallen out as well. Richard seemingly did not notice this and Marjorie Binnings looked at the letter with moderate interest. Then she became alert. She knew that handwriting! Looking carefully, she could decipher the first lines:

“My dearest Richard,

I beg of you to meet me once more to resolve the issues between us. You have not spoken...”

The letter was picked up. With a seemingly embarrassed smile, Richard stuffed the envelope back into his breast pocket, handed his coat to the servant, and followed the valet into the dining room.

A wolfish grin spread over Marjorie’s features. That was too precious! That stupid, spineless girl begging the man who had betrayed her. Oh, to throw that into her face at the next opportunity! She would deny it, of course. Wait! Let her deny it and then throw the actual letter into her face! Then she would be really crushed, and she would be so mad at young Lord Lambert! Marjorie needed that letter!

The opportunity arose after the dinner when Richard stood to the side, with a glass of Madeira wine in his hand. Marjorie faked a stumble and fell into him, spilling the wine over his shirt.

“Oh I’m so sorry, Milord. Please forgive my clumsiness. Gilbert, dear, you would not have a shirt that you might borrow to his lordship?”

She steered Richard into an upstairs room and directed him behind a paravent. Smiling, Richard hung his coat on the outside of the paravent and took off the stained shirt. In a moment, Marjorie Binnings was back with a fresh shirt. He noticed it was closed at the bottom, and he had to pull it over his head, blocking his view temporarily. When he had the shirt on, she even helped him with the coat, again apologising profusely.

Richard was seemingly embarrassed by the incident and he made his escape under the pretence that he had to pick up his grandmother at another function. Marjorie Binnings showed him to the door in person, apologising over and over again. She felt ready to burst. She felt tempted to go upstairs and read in her treasure, but people would notice. The whole silly dinner party would end soon anyway, and the anticipation made her giddy.

Almost two hours later, the last guests had left, and Marjorie Binnings prepared to leave.

“You don’t really have to leave, do you?” Gilbert Hume pouted, but Marjorie would have nothing of it. She left his house with a spring in her step, and she noticed very late that soldiers were standing around her coach.

“What is this?” she asked sharply.

A uniformed colonel appeared before her.

“Mrs. Marjorie Binnings?”

“Why yes, what is it?”

“Please surrender the envelope that you took from Lord Lambert’s coat!”

“That is ridiculous!”

“Madam, you were seen taking that envelope. Please save yourself the embarrassment of a search.”

“Oh well, here you have the stupid letter! I hardly think this is a business for the Cold Stream Guards.”

The Colonel took the envelope and inspected the papers within. He turned, and, from the shadows, Richard Carter stepped into the light of the coach lantern.

“Is this the document, Milord?”

Richard inspected the draft treaty carefully.

“Yes, it is, Colonel. You have prevented great damage to the Crown, Sir, and I thank you.”

“We are only doing our duty, Milord. Mrs. Binnings, I am afraid you will have to accompany us.”

“For what? Lord Lambert has his letter back.”

“I must arrest you on the suspicion of high treason, Madam.”

Marjorie Binnings shrieked and looked about in panic.

Among the clatter of hooves, another coach arrived. A solemn man in a black cloak emerged.

“Have you secured the document, Colonel?”

“Yes, Sir! The Binnings woman had the document on her person.”

“Are those documents complete, Lord Lambert?”

“Yes, Sir, all four pages.”

“Any chance they could have been copied?”

“No, Sir, they have not been unfolded. I can tell from the little drop of glue that I put between the folds.”

“A good thing you noticed. Did your superior know you had those documents on you?”

“Yes, Sir. I informed Sir Gilbert this afternoon that I would work on the treaty over the weekend. That is his house, by the way.”

“Indeed? And this person has been going in and out here? Hume, Hume, right, he has been losing confidential documents over the last months, hasn’t he?”

“Not to my knowledge, Sir,” Richard replied cautiously.

“No, you would not know, of course. Do you know this person’s address?”

“Yes, I have been there twice. Nº12, Oxford Lane.”

“Colonel, prepare to search those premises. I shall send a few of our own specialists to organise the search.”

“Yes, Sir!”

“Have that person brought into custody!”

“Yes, Sir!”

“Milord, I shall need those documents as evidence. I shall give you a receipt. One of my personal secretaries will prepare a copy tonight so that you can continue to work on that treaty.”

“Of course, Sir.”

The commotion had been noticed inside Sir Gilbert’s house and he came out to enquire.

“Good Lord, Lambert, what are you doing out here? Oh dear God, Marjorie, what happened to you?”

He stepped forward but was stopped in mid-stride by the black man.

“Leave her be, Sir Gilbert!”

“What ... Mr. Sunderland! What brings you here in the middle of the night?”

“Your blundering! Haven’t you lost several confidential documents over the last months?”

“Why, yes, but I’m quite sure I misplaced them. They will turn up eventually.”

“Oh, I’m quite sure they will,” Mr. Sunderland replied caustically. “The only question is, on which side of the Channel? How long have you known this woman?”

“Almost a year. She is a good friend and I’m willing to vouch for her.”

“Then you might be interested to hear that we found the draft of a treaty on her person, a draft, Lord Lambert has reported as stolen an hour ago.”

“Is this true Marjorie?” Hume gasped. “Why would she do that?”

“That is what I am here to find out,” Mr. Sunderland replied grimly. “I must ask you to return to your house and to stay in London until further notice. You are not to enter your office until I say otherwise. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Sir. But what about Marjorie?”

“She is not your concern. She is married after all, isn’t she?”

Hume stumbled back into his house, a broken man.

“I hope, Sir Gilbert will not have difficulties, Sir,” Richard offered.

“I don’t think so. He is just stupid, and there is no law against that. Well, Lord Lambert, I thank you for the alert. At least one person in that department kept his wits about him. Please report to me first thing on Monday morning.”

Richard bowed and left. He had no way of knowing whether the rest of his plan had worked out, but it looked good. He knew that he must avoid showing undue curiosity, so he could not watch the search of Marjorie Binnings’ house. There was one thing he had to do, however, when he came home. He took the letter Ellen had written and read it to himself. If only that letter were real! Ellen had written very convincingly; this really read like a desperate plea for a reunion. Maybe, he should write a letter of his own with the same wording, he thought, but he pushed the notion away. The next weeks and months would be crucial. He could not afford a stupidity!

He went to the fireplace and stirred the ashes until a flame reappeared. He dropped the letter into the fire and watched it until it was completely destroyed. The he raked the ashes once more.

“How did your plan go?”

His grandmother had entered the room silently.

“You should not have burnt that letter. Ellen and I spent almost two hours on it.”

“It was perfect, and it served its purpose. I wish it were real, I really do. But there are more urgent matters that need to be addressed first.”

“Yes, but don’t wait too long. I am not getting younger.”

John Little reported to Richard the next morning. He had watched the Binnings’ house unobtrusively. Soldiers and civilians had searched the house for over an hour when suddenly an excited civilian had emerged from the house with a stack of papers. Marjorie Binnings’ husband had been led away, and the Guards had been posted around the house. Charlene had got out before the commotion began, around eleven o’clock.

“Please convey her safely to Plymouth and on that ship. Here is her money.”

“Inez and the children will miss her,” John Little observed. “She is not a bad woman.”

“I agree. For reasons you know, she has to leave England, though.”

John Little disappeared quietly. Charlene Beckham was indeed brought on board the Eleanor Boswell, bound for Boston, and changed quietly into Miss Annabelle Fourtnoy, a respectable nanny. This was done with the help of a real passport issued by the Foreign Office and a Letter of Recommendation written by one John Little, Esq.

Charlene had changed in the months she had spent with the Little family. For the first time, she saw the workings of an intact family. She witnessed how the children, five of them, were brought up, and she wondered what could have become of herself if she had been taken care of by real parents. Her father, a veteran of the war, was a cripple. What little pension he received was spend on cheap spirits to numb the pain in the stumps that had been his legs. She had never known her mother who had abandoned her crippled husband and her infant daughter. Charlene had been raised by her aunt who worked as a whore.

She knew that she would never work in her old trade again. Living with the Littles, she picked up on the careful English John Little spoke. With a little effort, she could parrot the speech and mannerisms, maybe not of educated people, but at least of the upper class servants. Since there was little else she could do to earn her keep, she had helped Inez Little with her smallest children, and her thoughts began to lean in the direction of becoming a nanny. In this she was encouraged by a newspaper article that Abigail Little, the oldest daughter, had read to her. In it, the writer reported of the high demand for English nannies in New England.

Thus, Charlene Beckham planned to offer her services as a nanny once she arrived in Boston.

Before she left England forever, Charlene decided to right some wrongs she had committed and which weighed on her soul. On the eve of her departure, she posted a letter to one Ellen Wilkes, a letter that had taken her long to write for she was not a studied person. The Little children had taught her to read and write, but it was a major effort for her.

Four days later, whilst London was still in an uproar over the unmasking of a prominent idler as a common spy, Ellen Wilkes received a letter addressed in clumsy letters. Curiously, she opened it and went into the living room to read it. When Lucy did not hear from her for quite a while, she went into the living room to look for her. What she saw scared her almost to death. Ellen sat on a chair trembling all over. Her face was ghostly pale, and she rocked back and forth with her upper body whilst her empty eyes stared ahead unseeing. Her mouth was open, mumbling unintelligible words.

Luckily, Lucy did not easily lose her presence of mind. She took Ellen’s left arm and led her from the chair to a chaise longue at the window. Ellen curled into a tight ball, whilst Lucy ran to pick up the letter. It must have been something in that letter, she thought feverishly. Her first thought was ‘horrible handwriting’, but after the first sentence, she could not stop reading.

‘Dear Miss Wilkies, ‘ the letter started,

‘you do not know me but you have seen me one time. My name is Charlene Beckham and you must excuse my writing but I learned it only the other day. I have caused you much grief when I spent the night with your bridegroom. Yes I am the woman that you saw. As I said I caused you grief but I did not mean to, honestly. I always steer clear of married men seeing they are just trouble. Only your bridegroom did not do nothing wrong. That is what you must know. When we went to my room and I took off my dress he just looked at me and next he cried. He said we could not do such a bad thing seeing that he was to marry a wonderful girl the next morning. He gave me some more money and asked me not to tell his stupid friends. He slept some time in my bed because he had drunk too much wine but I stayed on my chair. So you must see that nothing did not happen that night. Maybe you can forgive him now because he really did not do nothing bad.

‘Your anonymous friend

‘Charlene Beckham’

Lucy looked at the sobbing wreck on the chaise longue and sighed. Would these two people ever be able to avoid these disastrous misunderstandings? It was as if they were cursed to hurt each other unwittingly. Lucy folded the letter carefully and hid it in her bosom. With the help of a maid, she brought Ellen to her room and undressed her. After they had put a sleeping gown on her, the maid left. Lucy sighed, she had seen Ellen like that before and she would come out of that state. Then her eyes wandered up to the hook in the ceiling. Shaking her head, she took four silk stockings and bound Ellen’s wrists and ankles to the bed posts.

Watching over her stepdaughter, Lucy contemplated the next steps. Ellen would need some time to get around. Keeping back this information would be unfair to Richard, though. As far as she knew, his sister still did not talk to him, and Harriet was short tempered around him. She had to tell Harriet, and together they could think of the best way. She quickly wrote a billet to Harriet and asked her to come as soon as possible. She must have conveyed the urgency of her request, because Harriet showed up within a half hour.

“Harriet, there is something you need to know. Please come up to Ellen’s room.”

Curiously, Harriet followed her friend upstairs and into Ellen’s bedroom. She gasped in horror when she saw the trembling figure with the empty eyes, her hands and feet tied to the bedposts.

“She has been like that for over three hours, ever since that letter came. Wait, I shall let you read it. You need to know. But please, don’t be angry at Ellen. She really couldn’t know, and you see how she is.”

She pulled the letter from her bosom and handed it to her friend. She watched Harriet go pale. For a moment, Lucy feared that Harriet would go into the same state Ellen was in.

“Can I sit down?” she whispered.

Quickly, Lucy led her to a chair. It took two minutes, but then Harriet had regained her composure.

“Lucy, what have I done to my son? I judged him and did not give him a chance to defend himself.”

“Harriet, it would not have mattered. Had Richard known that nothing had happened, he would have maintained his innocence. He was too drunk to remember, and like us, he believed the obvious.”

“I can never make up for that,” Harriet sighed heavily.

“When should we tell him?” Lucy asked.

Harriet thought about it.

“He should not hear it from either of us. Ellen must tell him, it is her letter to begin with. It was her accusation, too, misled though she was. We shall wait until she is able to show him the letter herself.”

Late that evening, Ellen came out of her shocked state. She could not remember how she got into her bed, neither did she understand why her hands and feet were tied. She screamed in panic.

Lucy and Jonathan came running when they heard the scream.

“Lucy, why am I tied down? What happened?”

Quickly, Lucy untied her and hugged her.

“Lucy, what is the matter?”

Lucy was worried, but Jonathan assured her.

“Ellen, you had a shock. You were in shock the whole day. You can’t remember this morning?”

Ellen shook her head.

“That is quite normal when people are shocked. I see this all the time with people who, let’s say, fell down a ladder. They don’t remember the fall. You don’t remember what happened this morning, do you?”

Ellen shook her head again.

“Ellen, I want you to know that it was a good news that shocked you so much.”

“A good news?”

“What if I told you that Richard has always been true to you?”

“Oh Lucy, we saw him!”

“We saw him go into the house with the woman, yes, and I agree that this is usually proof enough. What if he passed out drunk before anything could happen?”

“Then he still intended to cheat on me.”

“What if he, drunk as he was, thought of you before anything happened? What if he refused the woman?”

“Lucy, what are you getting at? Do you know something? Please tell me!”

“Ellen, do you remember getting this letter?” She held up the letter with the horrible scribble.

“No ... oh my god, yes, the letter ... there was something in the letter, I cannot remember, yes about Richard...” Full comprehension came upon Ellen and she slumped back on the bed. For a moment Lucy feared that Ellen would slip back into shock, but then she slapped her hands before her face and began to cry.

“She came out of it last night. She remembers everything, but as you can imagine she feels terrible. She soaked three of my night shirts with her tears until she finally fell asleep. Do you want to see her?”

Harriet had been there early. She was worried about the girl. Ellen might be a bomb ready to explode at the most inopportune moments, but Harriet cared for her, and she knew that Richard loved her.

“I would like to, yes. Perhaps, you can warn her of my coming. The last time I barged into her room, I scared her terribly.”

Lucy went ahead, and Harriet heard Ellen groan in desperation. Then Lucy held the door open and beckoned Harriet in. Ellen looked at her like a lamb eyes a butcher. Carefully, Harriet sat down on the bed and stroked Ellen’s head.

“Ellen, tell me, will this go on forever? Will you and Richard stumble from one catastrophe to the next? You two must really learn to talk to each other.”

“It does not really matter, Harriet. Oh, I’m sorry, Lady Carter. Lucy told me that I should show the letter to Richard. I will do that. Then I will ask his forgiveness and be gone from his life. He needs a woman who has faith in him.”

Harriet shook her head emphatically.

“Don’t you think he was punished enough? What is this talk about leaving his life? He needs you. Frankly, we need you. What you did for us in the last year will never be forgotten. Ellen, please, give him a chance to forgive you! Don’t forget, he is not innocent of what happened. Even if he had second thoughts when he was alone with the woman, he still gave the impression that he cheated on you. For you, it was just as bad as if he really had cheated on you.”

“Well, he was drunk,” Ellen maintained stubbornly. “He made a mistake whilst he was drunk.”

Harriet could not help but smile. “I thought that was no excuse? Well, and what about you? You were beside yourself seeing him arm in arm with another woman. That is just as good as being drunk.”

“What is your point? Should I still be mad at him?” Ellen asked.

“My point is: give him the good news that he behaved halfway decently after all, but don’t forget that the whole situation was still hurtful for you. You both have to forgive each other.”

Richard reread the billet his mother had sent him to his office.

“Dear Richard, please be at our house tonight. We have good news for you, and we hope you will appreciate the bearer of those news!


It had been a terrible day, so far, with auditors crawling over the offices. He was the only senior officer left in the department. Gilbert Hume had opted for retirement into private life when faced with a possible complaint for negligence. The mysterious Mr. Sunderland who, as Richard found out, was the senior career officer at the Foreign Office, had told him to keep up the flag for the time being, and he had been trying for five days to get the department back into working order. Together with a man from Trade, they even finished the commerce treaty with Bolivia, and it would be signed by the Bolivian ambassador in the next days. The damage was contained.

He arrived at his parents’ house after dark and he recognised the two coaches out front as his grandmother’s and the Wilkes’ coach. When he entered, the first thing he noticed was that his whole family waited for him. Even Eleanor, who broke loose and threw herself into his arms.

“I’m so sorry for the way I treated you!” she whispered. “Please be nice to Ellen!”

“Eleanor,” his mother chided, “do not spoil it!”

Grinning sheepishly, Eleanor let go of him.

“Richard, please go to your old room!” his mother commanded him, but the corners of her mouth were twitching. “Go, please. Don’t ask questions, just go!”

Wondering whether his family was going crazy, he slowly ascended the stairs to the second floor and opened the door to his old room. He blinked twice before he trusted his eyes. There, on his bed, sat Ellen, looking at him like she expected him to beat her.

“Ellen, what are you doing here? You know we mustn’t meet.”

“I am supposedly the bearer of good news, Richard. I must also ask your forgiveness for the way I treated you and for the hurt I inflicted on you. Words fail me to express my remorse. Please forgive me!”

She must be insane, he thought.

“Ellen, these are the words I should say and the words I shall say once the affair about you-know-who is settled. What have I to forgive?”

Her eyes cast down, she held a letter to him.

“Read this then, and know.”

He took the letter and blanched when he saw who had written it. When he came to the end, though, he shook his head. He read it again before comprehension dawned on him: he had not cheated on Ellen! In spite of his drunk stupor, his love for Ellen had been strong enough! If Ellen knew that, maybe she could forgive him the embarrassment he had caused. His guilt had been cut by half in a few seconds.

He looked at Ellen and he saw the tears that streamed from her eyes, dripping down from her chin, whilst her hands kneaded an unused kerchief.

“Ellen,” he said, “this takes a load from my soul. But why are you crying?”

“Because I failed you! Because I did not trust you the way a wife must trust her husband! Because I judged you without ever giving you a chance to defend yourself.”

“Ellen, I did not even trust myself.”

“Then I should have defended you against yourself! Listen, Richard, I came to tell you this news and to ask your forgiveness. Please do not answer now. You need to think about whether you can truly forgive me. When that whole affair you mentioned is over, give me your decision. Richard, your plan worked beautifully, and I am proud of you. I must leave you now. Good bye.”

Before Richard recovered from his confusion, Ellen had left the room. When he ran down the stairs, he saw that the Wilkes had already gone. Harriet stopped him when he wanted to run after them.

“I need to speak to her, Mother.”

“This is not the time, Richard, she will not believe you. You both need time to heal, and besides, you have to listen to the apologies of your whole family before we will let you go.”

When Richard left his parents’ house that evening, in his grandmother’s coach, he felt at peace for the first time in almost a year.

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