Authors: Allie Borne
Charlie reached out and grasped the small, beribboned box. “I am almost afraid to open it...” he joked as he pulled off the bow and lifted the tiny lid. A satin bag lay inside and Charles was shocked at the weight as he pulled it from its resting place. The jingling of coins had his heart racing. Charles poured them into his hand. “Why there’s at least fifty pounds, here, Linnie, where did you come up with these funds?”
Lindsay’s face flushed and her chin tilted at a jaunty angle. “I sold Buttercup and her foal. I wanted to help you finish university. I wanted you to have a merry Christmas and to stay home on holiday, for once.”
“I cannot accept this, Linnie. You know that pony was a gift from your father. Does he know what you have done?”
Lindsay shrugged, unconcerned with Sir Richard’s wishes. “She was my horse and thus mine to sell. Please, Charlie, take the money and be happy with it.”
Charles wanted desperately to return the coins but he could hardly afford to do so. The money would make certain he could complete his training without incurring any more debt. Reaching into his jacket pocket, he stowed the funds and pulled out her gift.
By now her lashes were coated with tiny white flakes, completing the look of a miniature snow angel. Lindsay tore through the thin brown paper, then scrunched up her nose in puzzlement. “Tools?”
“Not just any tools. A lock pick set. I will show you how to use it for when you need to get in to see your mother and she is having a bad day.”
Lindsay looked up at Charles, her eyes glowing with unshed tears. “Thank you, Charlie. It is exactly what I want for Christmas. Thank you.”
“Well, I’ll be seeing you at the New Year’s gathering. I’m sure,” he offered, chucking her on the shoulder conspiratorially. “We’ll sneak off then and try out your tools.”
Aboard the Queen Charlotte
Charles shook himself free of dreams, he shoved Christmas, Lindsay, and Warwick out of his mind to face his new reality. Winter sunk sharp teeth into each of Charles’ stiffened fingers and toes. Deftly winding the tar-soaked yarn into a twelfth rope, Charles thought only of the intricacy of the knots he would create. The iron shackles around his ankles clanked together as he rubbed his bare feet to keep them free of frost bite. He had long since stopped shivering. The flogging would be a welcomed end to the harsh gnawing of this beastly weather.
“Have you completed the cat?” the snide lieutenant questioned, as he approached his favorite victim. His soft, ivory vest and lovely gold-looped jacket represented so much of what Charles had valued in his past life. Now, he saw through the frills and frippery.
What makes a gentleman worthy of his peers
, Charles realized,
is the responsibility and respect he bears. This idiot is nothing to me.
Charles was freed by the realization that this man was his inferior, not by chance of birth, or any amassed wealth that Charles might have. Instead, this man was his inferior because he did not know what it was to show compassion, or put other’s needs before his own.
If I survive this trial
, Charles thought,
I will be a man worthy of running an estate. I will be a man with my priorities in order.
“Answer me!” the Lieutenant goaded, menacingly.
“Yes,” Charles responded, blandly. “Twelve lengths of knotted rope, three knots each.”
“Boatswain’s mate! Please inspect the cat and choose your nine tails!”
The ship’s crew aligned themselves along the deck, beckoned to witness the flogging of their guilty crew member.
Once the heavily muscled mate had cut away the least pleasing of the tails, leaving nine well constructed whips, he handed the weapon to his captain. All the men doffed their woolen caps, sidling close together in their loose knit jerseys and short waisted jackets.
Charles felt strangely detached from the scene as the captain referred to the Articles of War. “If any man shall cause unrest due to drunken misconduct, he shall be flogged for his offense. James Madden, you are sentenced to six lashes for last night’s drunken tirade.”
In the fog of hypothermia, Charles almost laughed out loud.
They are going to punish some other man for the offense
, he thought irrationally, then realized that James Madden was the name under which Sir Richard had had him enlisted.
“Remove your shirt,” the Boatswain’s mate ordered gruffly. His hands, blue from cold, were wrapped around the mast and tied securely.
Despite this desperate position, Charles could not bring himself to regret his actions. He had stopped the pompous Lieutenant from striking the elderly Jake, when the man had fallen asleep at his post.
“We can’t all be lucky enough to retire to a warm bed in our dotage. Give the man a break,” Charles had pressed.
“How dare you question my Honor? He has fallen asleep on duty and must be punished. If you think you are the better man, you can take the lash! Now, remove your filthy hoof from my jacket, Swine.”
Last night’s scene played through his mind as the lash swung up in a powerful arc. “Thwack!” The nine ropes, the twenty-seven knots came down on Charles’ smooth back, slicing tender flesh. “Thwack!” bright red beads appeared above the welts. “Thwack!” the once golden skin fell open, releasing crimson rivulets.
Charles did not call out. Somewhere, deep inside himself, he stood in front of a narrow window, staring out at a heartbreaking sunset. The strokes fell, the muscled mate ran his fingers through the tails, releasing clotted blood from each knot, so that they might continue to cause more damage. Charles saw only the porch, with a tiny raven-haired beauty propped upon it. An enduring scene, of burnished purples and golds... It was warm there. Linnie would be waiting for him, his Diana, ready to rise with the sinking of the sun. He was sure of it.
Charles opened the window to his second story bedroom, rubbing sleep from his eyes. The black sky brightened temporarily with distant flashes of lightning and the stark, white face of Lindsay Beaumont appeared out of the darkness.
Her black hair hung limply, like paneled drapes about her face and his heart raced, fearing she was some sort of apparition.
“Linnie? Is that you?” he called down.
At her subsequent nod, he quickly climbed out the window and down the lattice attached to the side of the manor house. Lindsay was soaked through from the storm and Charles wondered briefly how she had dragged what must have amounted to fifty pounds of sodden cloak and petticoats two miles down the road.
“What is wrong? What has happened?”
Lindsay clasped Charles’ open shirt front in white-knuckled desperation. “Papa is going to send Mother away! Charles, you have to help me!” she begged, collapsing into sobs against his chest.
Charles instinctively wrapped his arms about Lindsay protectively. “That is not going to happen, Linnie. Sir Richard would not dare draw attention to himself. Certainly not with all the legislation he’s trying to push through Parliament.”
“He is! Mother had a particularly bad day today. She lashed out at Alison and scratched her face. He said he’d had enough and she had terrorized the family and staff for the last time. He said it was Bedlam for her! He’s sending her to the sanitarium. Please, Charles, please help me!”
Bethlem Royal Hospital?
Charles’ mind raced. Mrs. Beaumont had always been an endearing, if unstable mother figure for Charles. He had long ago promised Lindsay that he would not allow anything to happen to the emotionally frail lady. But now, his many boasts seemed childish in their confidence. What could he do to stop a husband from having his wife committed?
The law was on Sir Richard’s side. And Mrs. Beaumont was undoubtedly unwell. But what cruel malignancy of character would drive a man to send the mother of his children to such a God forsaken place? He’d have to act or he’d never be able to live with himself.
“Lindsay, do you still have the lock set I gave you?” She nodded silently.
“Good. Here’s what we’re going to do...”
~ ~ ~
Lindsay snuck into the house through the servant’s back entrance. She quickly changed into dry clothes and filled an overnight bag. Sneaking down the hall toward her mother’s room, she thought back to the Christmas two years past.
Charles had given her a lock pick set and said, “You may not be able to open your Mama’s heart and mind, right now, Linnie, but at least she can’t totally keep you out. Use these to get in her room when you need to be close to your mother. My mother and father are dead and I know how hard it is not to have them around.”
“When my Mama was sick, I wasn’t to be around her, but I learned to sneak in her room late at night and she would hold me as I drifted to sleep. I would sneak back to the nursery before anyone woke. You can do the same now, if you wish.”
She had done just that. Many nights, Linnie had unlocked her mother’s door, to curl within her unresponsive arms. Later, as her father grew more impatient, Lindsay would sneak in and give her mother a bath, brush her hair, trim her nails, or tell her the latest gossip. Her lady’s maid, Whitney, had been a great help, always bringing up water, saying it was for Lindsay. Whitney had a true heart. Only she understood how important it was to Lindsay that her mother appear to be able to care for herself, at least a little.
Lindsay had often feared that either her grandparents or her father would decide to send Elizabeth to a sanitarium, if they knew how badly she had deteriorated. Some days, Lindsay would spend hours in her mother’s room, just trying to force some food down her throat. Sometimes her mother would smile, or grasp her hand and it was all worth it. Lindsay knew that her mother loved her and was in there somewhere, unable to gather the strength to break free from her unspeakable melancholia.
As Lindsay pushed the pin and lever into the lock and slid through the door, she was relieved to see her mother up, reading. Lindsay sat at her mother’s feet as Elizabeth read aloud from
. “How poor they are that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?”
“We have to go, Mother,”: Lindsay interrupted, hugging her knees to her chest.
“Go? Go where? You know I do not leave this room,” Elizabeth chortled sadly.
“If you do not, Father will force you into a sanitarium, Mama! Please let me take you somewhere safe.”
“There is no where safe if I am to be without my family,” Elizabeth sighed in a rarely lucid moment. “If your father wishes to send me away, so be it.”
Slipping the gold and ruby band from her right ring finger, Elizabeth handed Lindsay the symbol of her girlhood hopes and joy. It was the ring of her deceased twin sister. “Wear this ring as my sister did, not as I have. Wear this ring with a glad heart, seeing what life offers, not what it withholds.”
When Lindsay shook her head and tried to hand the ring back, Elizabeth snapped.
“Take it, for God’s sake!” Slapping Lindsay hard across the cheek, she immediately grasped Lindsay’s arm and pulled her onto her frail lap, rocking and sobbing.
Elizabeth’s breath and clothes smelled like Father’s whisky and Lindsay’s chest ached, dulling the sting of her cheek. She sat numbly as her mother rocked her, wailing, “Lindsay, Lindsay, Lindsay!” Linnie felt herself drift away as she realized her mother believed she was holding Lindsay, her twin, and not Lindsay, her daughter.
This further understanding of her mother’s grief helped Lindsay distance herself from the situation enough so that as her mother returned to her more typical catatonic state, Lindsay was able to gather up her frail frame and place her in bed. As Linnie tucked her mother’s thick grey comforter around her, she bent to kiss her papery cheek. “I love you, Mama...and I forgive you.” Lindsay did not look back as she stepped from the room and into the balmy night.
She ignored the water that seeped through her slippers as she approached Charles and the two horses he’d brought for the rescue. “She’ll not come,” she hiccuped, stepping into Charles’ warmth. There, the tears slid silently down her face as Charlie rubbed her back and kissed the top of her head.
“I’ll speak with your father on the morrow. Perhaps she can go to stay with my aunt in Bath. All is not lost.”
Sir Richard stood on the balcony of his chamber overlooking the field where the embracing pair met. His chest clenched tight in despair. How could he have trusted Charles to keep his hands off Lindsay? He knew his daughter was a rare beauty, but she was only thirteen, for God’s Sake! Why, he’d rip the man limb from limb for this! How long had Charles been taking advantage of his daughter’s innocence? And how could he call the man out without destroying his daughter and his family’s reputation?
Suddenly, an image arose, of a flyer he’d seen posted in London, warning that, “Rogues and Vagabonds” would be, “Subject to impressment in his Majesty’s Navy for a term not to exceed five years.” He knew what he had to do.
~ ~ ~
Early the next morning, nineteen year old Charles paced the sitting room for nigh on an hour before Sir Richard returned, looking bedraggled from the rain and mud.
“Charles! What a pleasant surprise. Has Bernard brought you any refreshment?” Charles crossed his arms and shook his head.
“No, thank you. I has hoping you and I could have an earnest conversation concerning Miss Beaumont.”
Sir Richard strode to the parlor door and looked about. “Why don’t we ride into town for some drinks. The tavern may be a better place to conduct this conversation.”
“I see,” Charles responded, realizing that Sir Richard would wish to avoid having this discussion around his staff. If he was going to nail Sir Richard down long enough to speak about Linnie and Elizabeth, this was as good an opportunity as he was likely to get.