Thursday, 28 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 28 Word Count 4026

Melissa saw Mary waiting in the room and apologised. She'd forgotten that when she disappeared Mary covered by claiming illness on her behalf and was therefore condemned to remain isolated in her bedroom for the duration of Melissa's absence.

She quickly took Phillip home and returned to her own place. Mary had called for the hot water that was once again stood waiting in the kitchen and begun preparing the wash stand to treat the worst of Melissa's bruising and grazes. Prescribing arnica, Mary dressed a few areas but left the rest as they were. A little facial and hair powder left Melissa looking interestingly pale, but hid the worst of the bruising. After all preparation, Melissa insisted on taking Mary into her confidence before she allowed herself to sleep.

It wasn't fair, she said, that Mary act with such integrity and effort on Melissa's behalf without at least knowing why. Leaving the time travel component out of her story again, Melissa explained the crux of the issue: that she had been bequeathed a device which could transport her around the world. She could take other people with her and currently she was working with the British government to aid their war efforts. Mary heard her our in silence. She found Melissa's explanation difficult to accept but conceded to herself that such a fantastic explanation was either true or, given Melissa's current state of exhaustion, an unbelievably well crafted fiction.

She decided to disregard the issue for the time being and focussed instead on putting Melissa to bed. Murmuring a soothing “there, there” and other such platitudes, she tucked Melissa into bed and watched her drift off to sleep.

When she woke, almost twelve hours later, Melissa was famished. Mary had prepared the kitchen staff and a well arranged breakfast was placed around the small dining room where Melissa preferred to eat. Her face was still pale courtesy of Mary's powder and her thoughts were preoccupied by a memory of Mary's apparent disbelief and the outcome of her efforts with Phillip. They had identified with certainty the three men who had been assigned responsibility for Wellington's assassination and they had established that only one of the three could possibly be recalled. The gap in their knowledge was simple: they had discovered the codename identities of these men and Phillip had some idea of how they could be tracked down, but they didn't know their real identities.

She was stationed at the breakfast table for quite some time with a combination of food, preoccupation and, eventually, her morning mail keeping her distracted. When she rose she moved idly into her front sitting room and called Mary to her. The two women sat for a while quietly discussing the ramifications of Melissa' revelation the previous night. Expecting to have to convince Mary, Melissa was surprised to hear that Mary had been thinking overnight, not of whether Melissa had been attempting to pull the wool over her eyes, but rather of how she could more readily cover for her mistress' absences. She made a few suggestions all of which Melissa considered. She agreed eagerly to the plan for covering up predicted absences: spontaneous absences were more tricky as she was known not to have any relatives in the country who could be taken ill unexpectedly, but Mary pointed out that her business affairs were known to be so varied that she could easily be called to the country to investigate something at short notice. Mary's role would be to determine the likely length of her absence and the most appropriate journey for Melissa to be taken on then arrange for her property to be packed up and moved from the house correspondingly. She would also contrive so that her staff thought they had seen Melissa leave, rather than have them questioning sudden disappearances.

When they had finished their discussions, Mary sat alone gazing into the fire contemplating how fortunate she had been to discover a companion like Mary who was ideally suited for her own needs and continued success and survival. She began to wonder if it was possible that the device did, in fact, have a personality as Phillip had suggested, and that it was pushing her towards the exact people she needed to help her.

The rest of that say she was alone. The next day Francis turned up on her doorstep with a bouquet of flowers and expressed a hope that she was feeling healthier. The twinkle in his eye caused a brief guilt to flicker and she apologised for her sudden disappearance. He, gentleman that he was, waved away her apologies, explained that he understood how important it must have been and expressed himself her servant should he ever be able to help in her future endeavours.

She had never, even in the early stages, readily taken people into her confidence. Pushed first by Andy into telling the boys, by necessity into telling Phillip and by circumstances into telling John, she felt now that her little band was big enough – she had no reason to mistrust Frank, but wanted to keep the circle to a minimum. She pressed his hand in gratitude and the two of them moved onto discussing something else.

His half hour stay was absolutely correct and proper and his departure was witnessed by many neighbours and passers by. Unbeknownst to her, his interest had become more publicly marked and many persons waited in daily anticipation of seeing a notice in the papers. She was alerted to that in the afternoon visits, which arrived like a tumult on the heels of Francis' exit. Several kind and genuine enquiries about her unexpected indisposition were punctuated with heavy handed suggestions, nods and winks towards Sir Francis' concern for her.

Melissa blushed deeply and inside fell into a chaotic panic. She was still fielding questions when Phillip arrived and her joy at his entrance was not only witnessed by every female in the room but gave rise to a whole new level of speculation as to not only who was interested in her but potentially even who would win her. It didn't escape Melissa and she wasn't particularly soothed by the gossip. As soon as she was alone, she called for Mary and begged for a plausible means of scotching the rumours that she might be on the cusp of marriage to any of the local gentlemen. Mary simply smiled – she'd been expecting this plea for some time – and pointed out: “Gentlemen require a wife who can bear their children. You are known to be sickly. If the nature of your illness was known to be that you could not bear children, you would immediately become unmarriageable.”

Mady blinked. Half of her was up in arms that such a simple thing could immediately write off the future for so many local women, but the other half pointed out that if she questioned or fought it, she could no longer take advantage of it and it was absolutely necessary to her that she remain unwed. She loved it here, but she expected to leave one day and marrying a man – particularly one who actively contributed to the success of the country in any way – would severely mess the time. Especially if she either produced an heir for him, caused him to leave when she did or in some other way disrupted his life.

Now it was only her own needs she had to consider as she determined to make use of Mary's idea. How was simple – it wouldn't be appropriate for Melissa to make any kind of statement about bearing children, but Mary would undoubtedly be approached for gossip about her mistress. Usually she turned it away in short terms, but if she was clearly worrying about something a little detail may be let slip. And so it happened two days later Mary was able to report that she had been retrieving a few items at the Bazaar for Melissa's linen closet when she had been approached by the ladies' maid of one Helena DuBrun, a sharp tongued female of impeccable provenance but suspicious income, who was only accepted on the fringes of society by a few females who were addicted to gossip.

The maid engaged with Mary about the trials of being a ladies maid, to which Mary replied repressively – as was her usual habit - but in a slightly preoccupied fashion. Encouraged, the other suggested that it must be more difficult for Mary given her mistress' frequent bouts of ill health. Mary responded hotly that her mistress was a good woman who stood her trials well. “And if,” she cried, “Madam should be distressed by certain comments of the doctor, that is only to be expected. She does absolutely nothing,” Mary descended into bare faced lying, “to cause me trouble or distress. She deserves better than the hand she has been dealt and she will get the best I can offer her, which does not include being spiteful or spreading her personal history to the like of you Millicent Harper!”

As Mary was about to storm off, Millicent caught her arm and apologised profusely. “I'd had no notion it was so bad for you to be worriting as you are. I'll leave you be, but please, you know I weren't trying to upset no-one. Your mistress is a good woman. We all know what she's doing with the girls on the streets – them as deserve much worse than what they're getting from her. You just know I didn't mean no harm.”

Mary sighed heavily. “I know. Sorry. It just seems so unjust – especially as you say, with the work she's doing with the girls and their children. She's always loved children.” Shaking her head, Mary scurried off leaving Millicent with a dropped jaw and a delighted yet incredulous look on her face. Within 12 hours, Melissa was the recipient of many a sympathetic look, many ladies robustly supporting her in her time of trial and many gentlemen suddenly deciding her wealth wasn't a sufficient inducement to wed a barren female.

She had never been at the centre of such mixed signals before and it was a difficult few hours for her. Francis still took her for a turn about the floor – all eyes on the two of them as he did so. Once they had finished their dance, she noticed a gentleman leading him to one side to have a quiet word and, having done so, she observed his eyebrow quirking in her direction. Phillip arrived later in the night and took her for a walk on the terrace to relieve herself from the heat of the room. There he asked her quietly what the purpose of this ruse was and she confided her desire to remain unwed to him. She admitted that she knew there were a variety of reasons why she should be a single female according to the laws of their society, but she could not afford any of those to be publicly known. This reason at least, although it would see her pitied and kept at a distance by certain men, would not affect her reputation. She had, fortunately, enough wealth to remain a spinster without difficulty or discomfort, as long as she had her reputation.

He nodded his appreciation of her argument and bowed to her before leading her back into the ballroom and to a small sofa where he left her. Within minutes she was surrounded by an honour guard and she was deeply touched by he sincere affection expressed by this group of ladies at her perceived plight. She eventually retired for the night and confided the success of her endeavours to Mary who had been in no doubt.

Later that night Francis visited her and had the same conversation Phillip had. She pointed out that eyebrows were being raised in daily expectation of his proposal and that she didn't want that impact on him. He appreciated her endeavours on his behalf and the two of them once more relaxed into their relationship. It was at about this time, however, that Francis became conscious that he had, for a while, been thinking of Melissa as more than merely a convenience and now that the public were aware of his interest he realised that he didn't want to have the excuse provided. It was, he informed himself, merely the idea that the inability to bear his children would be enough to put him off any female that stuck in his craw. In the quiet hours of the morning as he slipped from Melissa's bed and returned to his own home he admitted to himself that the truth was more simple. He wouldn't give her up for that reason or any other.

Over the next few days, as Melissa's bruises faded and her grazes healed, she waited for Phillip to return with the required information about the French operatives.

In his turn every time he heard something relevant he made a point of sharing the information at any casual opportunity. She was off limits to him in every way – he respected and liked her, she was in some form of relationship with a man whom he had grown to consider a friend and she was a single woman held in esteem by many members of society and regardless of her own approach to her relationship he could not see her as a sexual individual and so he had created a new category for her of female friend to sit alongside female relative. She was more than just another society female and could never be his wife.

Phillip was not aware of just how offensive his views of women were to Mary. Melissa couldn't see how limited they were: women were either sexual toys worth nothing in their own right, or ladies to be respected and held at a distance, but Mary, accustomed to a lifetime of objectification and never subject to respect recognised his attitudes. She had seen them all too often before. Sir Francis, although more willing to risk Melissa's reputation, was actually more respectful of women – he allowed the the right to make decisions and participate in his life on their own terms: Phillip, without ever acknowledging it to himself, removed the right of choice from the women he associated with. He was always very clear about the offer and never forced himself upon a woman, but although he walked away from women who refused him, he did so with a sneer. Although he accepted ladies who were married could seek physical relationships outside of wedlock, he considered them morally corrupt. That their husbands were also unfaithful he dismissed as the male right.

His revulsion of feeling where Melissa was concerned had not spread to his views on the female race in general. Instead, he held one set of rules for her and considered himself incredibly open minded and progressive, while pursuing his old rule set with all other women.

Mary was deeply worried every time he hove into view and she was glad that her relationship with Francis was apparently steering her clear of Phillip's potential. Her feelings about Francis were more complicated – she didn't trust or like him. She had taken against him at the start and had never particularly warmed to him in the following months although he had done nothing to earn her disapprobation. She felt that he had not been tested yet, and she suspected when he was, he would fail. Phillip, however, she knew was good news for Melissa but bad news for every other female.

He gave Melissa a role and a purpose and treated her with the respect due to a male colleague, but Mary anticipated trouble from him in time.

The time soon came. They had found one of the three assassins and Phillip had made arrangements for him to be tracked. There was a period during which they did nothing but gather information and then came the time to take the assassin down. He was referred to as le Chat Noir in the English paperwork, partly in mocking reference to his large green eyes and swarthy complexion, and partly with an edge of respect for his stealth and ability to slip into the most confined places to make his move hours later.

He had stopped in an inn and set up with a group of travellers for a market run which would take him across Wellington's path in about a month from now. Phillip had determined that a raid on the travellers' camp was the most appropriate way to take down the Cat. Within a few days they had sketched up a plan: the British assassins were the first line of attack, but it wasn't possible to guarantee that their attempts would succeed and it was imperative that the Cat was given no opportunity for escape.

The assassins went into the camp and moments later the cry went up – whatever the reason, the Cat had ensured a guard was set up to protect the camp beyond the usual concern for horses and specifically precious belongings. The British were taken by surprise but regrouped quickly. In the poor light of the night and one flickering bonfire, however, there was every chance that the Cat would escape. This was why Melissa and the gang were there. They had stationed themselves at intervals around the camp and, within ten seconds of the hue and cry starting they had set fire to the oiled cord that they had lain on the ground. Encircled in light, the action in the camp was much more visible.

Women and children were screaming and huddled, while the men leaped to arms. Melissa was the only member of the group accustomed to the idea of cross dressing as a normal activity and she had not lost the habit of checking faces for gender instead of merely clothes. Therefore she was the only one who saw the gypsy woman carrying a bloodied knife sprinting between carts. She immediately threw three of the smaller star blades at the figure who, with lightening reflexes, turned and ducked. Knowing that was the man, she charged in and entered into hand to hand combat with him. Phillip was preoccupied seeking out all male figures and called her to stop wasting time while the other men were trying to protect her from the missiles that various members of the travelling group were throwing.

Well fed and well prepared for this attack, Melissa had the edge on the Cat. His fighting style was incredibly reflexive and seemed to change moment by moment, although she was clearly a surprise to him. She ducked underneath his left arm thrusting and lunged towards hi right shoulder. As he twisted and bent, blocking her arm, she brought up her knee and connected with considerable force. As he was recoiling, gasping, she followed up with a knife and drove it straight through his ribs. The force of her blow was sufficient to make a deep wound and the sharp edge enabled her to slice out wards with ease, tearing open his chest. He collapsed, the blood spurting and bubbling out of his chest as he clutched at it. Within moments he was dead.

It was the first time she had watched a combative opponent die. She stood staring in shock and the noise and chaos around her faded. The sounds of the men behind her became somehow remote and the light of the fire faded into darkness. A hand shook her and Phillip's face came into view. He was shouting. The other men neared and all laid their hands on the two of them. They needed to be in contact to travel and, as that was the only thought in her mind, she automatically flicked the device and all men arrived with her in her dressing room.

When they landed the first thing that happened was James' fist hitting Phillip's face with some considerable force. As he went crashing to the ground the other men nodded. She looked around, bewildered, and saw Frank leaning in the doorway. His eyes narrowed in concern when he saw the look on her face and he walked to her and wrapped his arms around her as she leaned silently and wide eyed into him.

“What happened?” Francis was the only one with the self control to speak at that time.

John stepped forward and informed him “There was a difference of opinion as to whether we achieved our objective or not.” His words were stilted and clipped. Cold beyond belief he refused to look at Phillip and instead focussed on the disturbance they might be causing. “What of the household?”

“Melissa is out of town for a week. Mary gave them all a holiday as the fair is in town – the house is empty until tomorrow.”

“Good.”

Phillip recovered and came to his feet. Caution had been forgotten in his ballistic fury. For several minutes he unleashed it all at Melissa, occasionally encompassing the others in his verbal lashing. When he had finished he informed them that he never wanted to see such incompetence on display again and that due to their worthless actions the Cat had escaped.

The other men looked at each other and silently nominated John as spokesman. He stepped forward and in the same cold tones informed Phillip that they were not in his employ: they worked with Melissa out of respect for her and what she was trying to achieve. If she made any action they would trust and follow it. The individual she had attacked had been chosen deliberately and that choice had their full support. They weren't going to leave her defenceless in such a situation.

Phillip once more raged that they weren't even looking for a woman. John pointed out what all the men had realised as soon as they saw Melissa enter the fray – just because he was a man, didn't mean he had to be dressed as one. It was the considered opinion of those gathered that the individual deceased would turn out to be in the report after the event a man and none other than the Cat.

Phillip spluttered and blustered but the others remained unmoving and unmoved. That fury they had felt that he had dared to try attacking Melissa had not faded, but their response now was the code of conduct expected of a gentleman. There were four of them and one of him. Five if you included Francis who had gathered the gist and was now also in arms on Melissa's behalf. They all stood, furious but controlled waiting for Phillip to retreat and apologise.

He didn't. Instead, Melissa, who had recovered from her shock somewhat, called the men to order and pointed out they were in entirely the wrong place. She had programmed home accidentally and needed to take them to the inn where all of their work had been done and where they would receive the post event report. The four men accepted her statement as an order and lined up ready to move. Francis didn't release his hold on her and when she turned her gaze to him he simply raised an eyebrow as if to dare her to attempt leaving him behind. Too drawn out to fight she accepted it. Phillip grudgingly took his hold on the device and when they landed in the inn immediately started throwing his weight about as if to make the point that he was in charge.


The others remained gathered and silent, protectively surrounding Francis and Melissa. Eventually the body of the gypsy woman was brought in and “her” identity confirmed as a disguised Cat. Phillip was silent and sulking. His respect for Melissa as an individual was high but his problem was that he had always seen himself as the one giving the orders and she was allowed to tag along. It was the device only that made her important he'd thought and this corpse indicated otherwise.