Sunday, 17 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 17 Word Count 2403

Melissa remained stationary as he departed. Her memories of those hours when she had been wholly unable to comfort herself that the boys would be in any way safe, or that she had not sent them on an utterly futile errand would not dissipate now they had been recalled and now she stood, alone, wallowing in the fear, the futility and guilt. All the horrendous negative emotions were roiling around her mind and creating greater turmoil.

She stared into the flames and relived every microsecond of the mind numbing, gut wrenching horror of the mistake she had made and the fear of hearing another tale from James or Michael of the failure of their mission. She kept hauling herself back to that moment of success and relief where she had seen the boys to their yacht and attempted to convince herself they would be back and safe.

But the solution had been too easy in comparison to the terror endured. It was as though she had endured a medical diagnostic procedure over the course of months with every sign indicating she had cancer; to be called into an office and given the all clear. There must, she was convinced, have been some mistake, or maybe it was a dream.

Mary came into the room after a few minutes. She had heard the gentleman flounce out and had held herself in readiness for a call that never came. Presuming greatly, she simply presented herself in her mistress' company. Within seconds she saw that Melissa was truly unwell; pale and shaking, her eyes were hugely dilated and she was barely supporting her own body weight. Mary immediately summoned the first footman: a burly chap with steady hands and a placid disposition. When he saw his mistress, he moved swiftly and decisively and caught her just as she swayed and almost toppled into the fireplace.

Nodding with relief, Mary directed him to transfer their mistress to her bedroom. The two of them settled Melissa before she began to stir and as she did Mary directed the footman to go to the kitchen and collect a number of items. He did as he was told, taking the additional step of informing the other servants of the outcome of her visit with her recent guest with the result that when Paul attempted to visit the following day, he was turned away in no uncertain terms. Lord Carlisle also attempted to follow up his burgeoning acquaintance with Melissa and, while surprised to discover she was ill, was not sufficiently invested to particularly care one way or another and went placidly on his way.

Paul had come to take the easy route to caring for he horses they had left. Discovering Melissa's illness he simply left a message to that effect with the butler in a screwed up note before heading out of town. Melissa received the note that evening and it allowed her begin overcoming the stresses of her adventure. It was a simple and small responsibility that could be easily achieved, with little investment, but had a long future ahead of it. It was not something that would disappear in as short a space of time as her difficulties with Andy had, and yet it would not cause her ongoing distress.

She required Mary to send for Starke on the following morning and wrote out a brief plan for him to follow. It was wholly uncomplicated and required little effort on his part, but she was able to drift off into a sound un-drugged sleep once it was completed. When she saw Starke she asked for him to arrange a financial supplement to care for the horses they had brought from France. She described it as a charitable venture to rescue stranded or suffering horses, and insisted it be based in the region in which she had deposited the horses at Paul's suggestion. She also suggested any recently located horses in the region be taken into the charity to get the process underway.

Starke calmly took all the details she provided, then proceeded to inform her of the success of his endeavours on her behalf to date. As he recounted the details of the property he had secured for her, she brought Mary in to listen to the information he provided. Both ladies were thrilled by what he had already accomplished and he confessed he had arranged for some work to begin immediately to create additional entrance ways. The ladies arranged a date to visit the site in his company and he returned to the bank and set the wheels in motion for both the visit and Melissa's new charitable endeavours. Working for Melissa was by far the most interesting work he was enabled to do and he threw himself into it whole heartedly with rapid and dramatic results, even by the standards set by the average clerk at that bank.

Now Melissa had distracted herself from the awful depression that had accompanied Phillip's visit, she only needed to see her boys together again to ensure her full recovery. It was two or three days later when and impeccably turned out pair of young men arrived on her doorstep. They were immediately admitted as Melissa had been gradually extending her social forays again – a morning visit the day after Starke had attended her had given her enough vivacity to cause Mary to relax her vigilance and although she had not left her own home, she had begun arranging a small musical soiree for the social circle she had been forming. Neighbours and friends gave her advice via little notes with hints and suggestions, and the young ladies from across the square who were not yet out, but were allowed by their mother to attend day visits came to see her and excitedly enquired after the progression of her plans.

When Michael and James arrived she was alone and welcomed them with delight. They, understandably, had questions and she decided it made most sense to explain as much as possible to the group. She sent notes to both John and Paul requesting their immediate attendance and called to the kitchen for tea to be sent up.

When the four men were present she first invited them to lunch and, when all had accepted, sent the directions to the kitchens knowing that a late arrangement for five places at lunch would have every hand in the household hard at work for at least an hour. In that time she would ideally be able to answer every question the men presented her with. Once the luncheon preparation was underway, she retrieved the device from her bedroom and displayed it to the men.

This, she explained was the source of the problem. The man the French had captured had been discovered with one of these devices upon his person. There were, she said, only two devices in the world. When the French had taken the device, they had not realised what it could do, but when they identified its purpose they would be able to immediately distribute their troops anywhere in Europe they wished, eliminating transport and supply concerns and ensuring a fresh supplement of soldiers to any battlefield, massively swinging the war in their favour.

A strategist like Bonaparte would be able to rule the world with such a tool, she observed. The three who had experienced the device in action remained silent as she spoke and their response was simple evidence of their realisation of how close to the collapse of the British Empire they had become. John alone disbelieved her claims. Understanding his scepticism, Melissa offered to demonstrate. This time she took him on a brief trip to Hyde Park where they appeared briefly to the milling throngs and then immediately returned to her home, partly due to the shocking cold she felt appearing outside in her light house dress and no coat.

Returning to the house John gazed at the device in stupefaction. After a moment or two, one of the younger three enquired if they were planning to use the device at all. John's head snapped towards them in shock, then back to her enquiringly.

“It happened.” she assured him. “It seems to be a side effect of the device that when you arrive in a location or depart it, anybody present cannot witness it. I've no idea why.”

John nodded. “If I had seen someone disappear and reappear, I probably would have disregarded it as impossible, myself.” His comment was a little dry. She smiled and nodded.

“Where do we stand now?” John's query reminded her that she hadn't brought him up to date on the specifics of their latest expedition and she quickly recounted the general overview culminating in the assurance of both James and Michael that they had delivered the device into the French prisoner's hands.

“Your endeavour rests wholly on the presupposition that the man was not working for the French willingly. If he was willing, he can now demonstrate the use of the device to them, which may have endangered us all.”

“I think not,” James' observation was spoken with conviction. “The situation he was in was not a comfortable one. If he was willing to sell out to the French, he would have done it already for a better set of living conditions. He was not happy; they were definitely holding him captive, despite his freedom to drink.”

“When we gave him the device,” interpolated Michael, “he recognised it immediately and was utterly delighted. Mindful of your warnings we immediately departed and there was a significant hue and cry that followed us – as you saw, madam.”

“The crowd following bore all the hallmarks of one who were seeking an escaped fugitive. Their most likely belief is that he did not simply disappear, but that you spirited him away with you.”

“In which case,” mused Paul, “it is most likely the chase was called off to be replaced with hunting dogs. Fortunately, our trail went cold the moment we knew they were no longer following.”

“Can we have any confirmation?” John was persistent in his concern. Melissa thought for a moment then smiled and nodded:

“Of course.” All four men looked to her. “Lord Penthvere will have received a report from his assassins of the disruption in the French camp and the disappearance of the wanted man. It is likely that such a report will also mention our involvement at the time. Upon receiving such a report I would expect to see the gentleman upon my doorstep momentarily.”

“And if you do not receive a visit?”

“We may have to once again presume upon your friendship to establish if the man is known to have been lost by the French.”

He nodded. There was a few moments of silence and then the talk returned to the probable success of their mission and the particular experiences each had. Melissa felt no need to recount hers and was happy to listen to Paul's description of those few days; James countered with a humorous description of the time they spent ingratiating themselves with Phillip's men and Michael restricted himself to discussing the rigours of the channel crossing.

When lunch was called the conversation became more general and Melissa described her latest charitable effort to Paul who, although blessed with a decent and reliable income, was not sufficiently wealthy to be able to support indefinitely a stable of 6 horses (when the new four were added to the two he had already). She was a little concerned that he might take offence, but he appreciated the gesture in the style which it was meant. It was a peculiar character trait of his, as James later informed her privately, that he would accept nothing for himself without feeling patronised, but when the same gesture was made for an animal to benefit he would accept without grudge and with a smile on his face.

They were not adhering to formal rules as they ate and so John picked up the conversation from across the table asking how her agent responded to her request for aid setting up a charity. Melissa laughed a little and explained that Starke had been assigned her agency after her difficulties attempting to convince nher first agent of her charitable interests.

Thus begun, the gentlemen were able to urge her into confiding her particular interest in caring for the young women of London who were condemned to a miserable existence. The gentlemen were surprised to hear a young lady even acknowledging the existence of such people let alone feeling pity for their plight and it was only the explanation of Mary's past as a nurse to such females that reconciled them to her having such knowledge. She was disappointed in them a little, but had grown to have sincere affection for them and their placid acceptance that this was something she was doing turned rapidly into endeavours to help. When she explained that her greatest difficulty was finding a doctor who would commit to treating her girls, James exclaimed something then hesitated and looked to John for guidance.

John frowned slightly, chewing through the mouthful of game pie that he had taken while Melissa was describing her need. When he swallowed, he nodded towards his cousin and turned to address Melissa. “We may be able to help you there. Allow me some time to look into it, but I think there may be a gentleman who works in the country that is willing to help your girls. Whether he would be a part time supporter or willing to move to London I could to take it upon myself to say.”

“I would happily pay any of his expenses including travel and lodgings for his time in London. Obviously I would also pay full rates for any medical equipment required for him to do the work. I am not expecting or requesting a charitable contribution from him – this would be fairly recompensed work. Please make that clear to him when you raise the matter.” She leaned forward and spoke passionately, causing John to relax his usually grave features into an affectionate smile. He had, without realising, begun to regard her in the light of a younger sister and her obvious enthusiasm made him want to help her all the more.

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