Authors: Allie Borne
The moment Charles nodded his ascent, Sir Richard sprang for the door. “Let me change into some clean clothes and I will join you in the stables shortly. We’ll take the carriage to avoid the rain.”
“Yes, Sir,” Charles returned cheerfully.
By the time they reached the inn, the drizzle had cleared and in its place, a bright, summer-like sun shown.
After seating themselves in the back room of the Yellow Sheep, Richard immediately ordered two tumblers of whiskey and leaned in towards Charles. “So, you want to talk about Lindsay, you say?”
“I do. She came to me last night and-”
“She came to
?” Sir Richard roared, then quieted, pasting a smile on his flushed face. “You don’t say?” Richard watched the young man shrewdly. “Maid! Another round of whisky, if you please.”
Inwardly, Charles groaned. He’d not slept a wink last night and the wet weather had left him feeling ill. Ignoring the tankard placed before him, he pressed on, “Lindsay was upset and asked for my help in dealing with a family matter.”
Sir Richard stilled, his voice growing eerily soft, “What are you telling me, Charles? That my daughter is in the family way?”
“What?! No! At least, not to my knowledge. She came to me about your wife.”
Downing the burning brew, Sir Richard declared, “Let us have a drinking game. What do you say?”
“As much as I would love to stay, I had a rough go of it last night and would rather not. Why don’t we return to the manor house and have a game of chess? I am eager to settle things and assure Lindsay all is well.”
Sir Richard shook his head, his relaxed body belied by a steely gaze. “I insist, Charles. We really must talk here. The absence of my family and servants is a much preferred scenario.”
“Very well, Sir Richard. What game do you propose?”
“Have you a penny?” Sir Richard inquired.
“Of course,” Charles responded, pulling one from his vest pocket.
“We will line up drafts of whiskey. The object is to bounce the coin into the glass. If you are unable, you take a draft. If the coin goes in, you ask the opponent a question that they must answer. Anytime someone misses, they drink. The game ends when someone passes out.”
Charles knew that for Sir Richard, this was not just a game. The man was seething. He wanted to challenge Charles’ manhood and question him about his daughter. What better way to do so than through a game? Charles would not back down.
“I am in,” he responded coolly.
“Maid! Fetch us several drafts of whisky and keep them coming,” Sir Richard bellowed. “You begin, Charles.”
“With a miss and a drink, I think,” Charles quipped, flipping his coin.
Charles knew that he would be woefully ill adept. He suspected that Richard had a skill in the game and was seeking to get him drunk. On the other hand, he had nothing to lose and nothing to hide, so he took a shot then shot the whiskey.
“Your turn, Richard.”
The coin spun perfectly into the glass. He began his inquiry. “I hate to broach the subject, Charles, but I have heard some disturbing rumors about my daughter and you. Is it true that she has a tendre for you?”
“She and I are good chums,” Charles responded matter-of-factly.
“Take your shot, Charles.”
“Another miss.” Downing the whisky, Charles shuddered.
Sir Richard’s shot again rang true. “I saw you lay hands on her last night, is that not so?”
“Yes,” Charles sighed, “but only because she was distraught. Charles might have to demean himself to get through to this man, but he was not going to make it easy for him. “Take your shot.”
Missing, Richard took a drink.
, Charles thought, as his coin fell into the cup for the first time. “Is Elizabeth not well, Richard?”
“My wife? No. She is poorly. She may have to be sent away. What does this have to do with Lindsay?” Sir Richard flipped the coin and hit his mark.
“Lindsay loves her mother and wants her to stay at home.”
Charles flipped the coin and it skidded off the table. His chair flipped over as he crawled to fetch his penny. Crawling back to his set, he righted it and downed his drink.
Sir Richard hit the mark and asked another question. “So, you are admitting that you have been improper with my daughter?”
“Aye, I should not have met her alone, it is true.”
Missing again, Charles hung his head, then downed the whisky. He was feeling warm and the edges of his vision were growing fuzzy.
Sir Richard again bounced his penny into the glass. “Have you been spending time alone with her?”
“You know I have.” Distantly, at the edges of Charles’ subconscious, a warning tingled. But through the alcohol-induced haze, Charles couldn’t figure out what his mind was trying to tell him. “I don’t understand the interrogation, Sir Richard. You know Lindsay and I have always been chums.”
Charles hit the side of his glass with the penny and cursed loudly. His speech was slurring and his vision blurred.
Sir Richard, his will hardening to iron, flipped the coin in the glass and leaned over his opponent menacingly, “As to your intentions, would you say they were honorable?”
“I suppose scheming behind your back was not honorable but I cannot deny Lindsay her feelings. I must admit I feel the same way. Miss-us Beaumont is a most precious and...” Charles’ face fell flat on the table.
“That was all I needed to know,” Sir Richard ground out, standing and staring down at his incapacitated neighbor. “Maid! Fetch me the bill and my coachman. My friend and I are leaving.”
~ ~ ~
Charles awoke in a cold sweat. Sitting up, he swung his legs over the guest bed at his grandparents’ estate and sat, catching his breath. Thin scars ran across his back and arms, silvery white in the moon light. He had toiled away until only the core of his body remained, a hardened center of its old self. Each vertebrae and rib showed clearly through his dark red skin. Each lean muscle and thick sinew bared with any movement of his body. They rippled across his flesh, Apollo turned Ares. Fire and death burned in his eyes.
It had been three weeks since the Queen Charlotte had finally docked in England, freeing him from four years of forced service in His Majesty’s Royal Navy. In the two weeks since he had been restored to his home, Charles had been lovingly and joyfully embraced by the family who thought him lost to them forever. In his absence, it seems, he had inherited the title of baronet from his great uncle, as well as a a small, run-down estate with a dozen or so cotters and an ancient manor house.
If he could find himself a bride with a hefty dowry, his future prospects looked bright. Still, the nightmares, the feelings of helplessness would come over him, giving him the sensation that the world was closing in about him, crushing him, in infinitely surging black waves.
He couldn’t help feeling betrayed anew. Lindsay was supposed to have been here when he returned. It was thoughts of his friend’s devotion and innocence in the matter that had seen him through the worst of his suffering. He had thought she loved him as a brother. Surely, if she cared for him at all, she would have been awaiting his arrival, ready to nurse him back to health, full of guilt and angst over her father’s misdoings.
Instead, he had learned, she was enjoying her first season in London, dancing and socializing. The letters he had sent care of her London hosts had been rebuffed--returned unopened. That blow had been worse than her father’s betrayal, worse than the years of torture aboard the Queen Charlotte. Charles grasped his head in his hands attempting to contain the pounding.
Get yourself together, Charles. Compose yourself! You will await their return from London. The Beaumonts will be sorry that they dared to tangle with you!
"They called me mad, and I called them mad, and damn them, they outvoted me."
~Nathaniel Lee, playwright and Bethlem patient
Lindsay Beaumont blinked against the hot sting of tears. They gathered in the corners of her cobalt blue eyes, threatening to spill over and shame her more profoundly than the cold reception of high society. No one had out and out snubbed her. It was more that they avoided engaging her whatsoever. Not immediately understanding the cause of her lack of conversation partners, Lindsay had naively set out to engage other young women in friendly chatter. They would often smile benignly and discuss superficial topics, such as the weather or the cuisine. However, none would open up enough to discuss upcoming social events, much less to offer any invitations.
Lindsay wondered at their lack of eye contact while they fluttered their fans and gazed out at the crowd. Her eyes followed theirs, searching for a friendly face. It was times like these when she missed Charles the most.
Her mind left the ball and flew to the perplexing questions that always followed thoughts of Charles. How could he have so cold heartedly abandoned her and her mother to take a position in the navy? How could the steadfast and honorable boy she knew turn into an easily bought man?
She would never forgive her father for sending her mother away and buying off Charles with a position in the navy, but she held an even deeper feeling of resentment and contempt for the man who had nurtured her trust and made promises he had easily and thoughtlessly abandoned. At least her father was a self-confessed snake. Charles had pretended to be her savior, while all along angling for a leg up in the world. Had he really only been her friend for the money and perks that the Beaumont family so readily offered?
It must be true. Otherwise, why would he not have written to explain himself? Why would he not have waited to sail out until her mother’s welfare had been protected? Sir Richard most certainly had offered to purchase a naval position in return for Charles’ corroboration on the commitment of her mother to Bethlem.
Shaking her head free of her unsettling reverie, Lindsay noted the ballroom candles had burned down to half their original length. The night was wearing on and she was one of few debutantes who had not received any signatures on her dance card. Confused, she began glancing back at her grandmother who sat ensconced with a couple of similarly aged chaperones. Eleanor Beaumont’s neck showed flushed beneath her white, powdered face. Although she wore a placid expression, Lindsay knew her well enough to sense she was distraught.
Excusing herself, Lindsay made her way to the powder room. She immediately crossed to a table with a looking glass and picked it up to study her face. Squinting into the small oval, Lindsay searched for any outward signs of imperfection.
Staring back at her were the same dark blue eyes, small, snubbed nose, and pink, pouty lips she’d always found acceptable. Thanks to what her doctor called, “the threat of organic dust”, she had been indoors a great bit of the summer. As a result, her ivory skin was free of blemishes and freckles. Her cheeks, while stained a telltale pink, did not look unbecoming.
Setting down the fragile mirror, Lindsay Beaumont sighed dejectedly. How could her fancies and expectations have gone so far awry? Dreaming of handsome beaus, breathless dancing, and stunning gowns had gotten her through many an endless evening at her grandparent’s country holdings in Warwick. Growing up with only one younger sister, on a relatively remote estate, Lindsay often had only books and daydreaming to stave off boredom and melancholy.
Although she loved to walk and ride, horses, grass, and flowers had a tendency to steal her breath, causing her to limit these pursuits during certain times of the year. To make matters worse, Lindsay was the constant subject of her grandmother’s scrutiny. Eleanor Beaumont was a devout parishioner and rather controlling of her immediate household. To her credit, her commanding nature had saved both Lindsay and her sister, Leah from running feral. Without Eleanor, neither girl would have had any home life to speak of. They both would have likely wiled away their girlhood in a preparatory school, rather than on their grandparents’ quiet estate.
Lindsay’s mother, a frail and sensitive creature, had not withstood the stresses of motherhood well. About six weeks after Leah’s birth, Elizabeth had attempted to drown herself in the creek. She never seemed to recover, often spending weeks on end in her bed and rarely joining the family for meals, much less public functions.
After Charles left, having neglected to persuade her father to change his course, Elizabeth had been carted off to Bethlam Hospital for the insane. No amount of begging had dissuaded Sir Richard. Left bereft of her best friend and mother, Lindsay had folded in on herself. Living only with the goal of enriching her sister’s life, Lindsay had thrown herself into her womanly studies, determined to make a good match, so that she might arrange a love match for Leah. Someone in her family must escape the path of destruction her father wantonly wrought in pursuit of his own goals.
Blessedly, Sir Richard’s pursuits made him a very busy man. He worked in London on the king’s business during much of the year. When he was home, he spent long hours working with the tenants on the estate. Thus, when the time had come for Sir Richard Beaumont to launch his eldest daughter into the ranks of the ton (albeit the lesser ranks), the only suitable female available to chaperone his daughter was his mother.
Lady Eleanor Beaumont did her best to prepare Lindsay. She hired tutors and dance instructors. She picked out her trousseau. Despite her severity, she desperately wished for Lindsay’s security and happiness. Strict structure, a strong faith in God, and firm role models, she hoped, would overcome any possible “flighty tendencies” that Lindsay might have inherited from her mother. What neither Lindsay, nor her grandmother had anticipated, however, was the ton’s knowledge of Elizabeth’s condition.
So, here she stood, within her great aunt’s powder room, hiding from the very debut for which she had so longed. It was a grand affair at a beautiful home. Linnie felt lucky to be included in the event. She was one of three kinswomen that were making their debut at her Cousin Samantha’s ball. Each girl hoped to attract a handsome husband, perhaps a second or third son of higher nobility.
The ballroom was fabulous! Guild molding abounded and bees wax candles glistened. Perfumed and powdered dandies turned fine legs and ladies all looked like porcelain dolls in their make up and finery. Lindsay cared nothing for the fun and frivolity. What she had hoped for was to turn her fair face and graceful dancing into a smart match. What a difference an hour had made!
Rehashing the past minutes, Lindsay tried to trace her lack of popularity back to its source. What had she done wrong? After tucking and pinning an ebony curl back beneath her elegant white wig, Lindsay began to examine her dress. She turned to see Eleanor step into the room.
Eleanor drew Lindsay’s hands from the hem of her dress to clasp them tightly in her own. Lindsay became instantly attuned to her grandmother. Physical contact was rare and to be taken seriously in her family.
“It has come to my attention that your mother’s frailty is common knowledge among the London set. Charlotte Reynold’s mother found it necessary to eliminate the competition for bachelors from the local gentry by warning their mammas that the Beaumont girls would make poor breeding stock.”
Eleanor stated this course bit of information quietly and levelly as if she were saying, “They’ll be no scones for tomorrow’s breakfast.”
Lindsay’s mind reeled. “So, you are saying I’ll likely not find a match among the country gentry?”
“What I’m saying, Lindsay, is that you may not find a beau that will risk marrying you and having his heirs turn out like your mother. You may have to steel yourself for a tough, perhaps fruitless season of husband hunting.”
“But I’m only seventeen! Surely some gentleman will risk partnering me for a dance without worrying they’ll be forced to marry me!”
Lindsay knew her voice had taken on the whining petulance of a young child, but there was no help for it. She’d come here to get away, to escape the painful ghosts of her past, and, mayhap, have some fun, for once.
God help her! Even in London, she was unable to escape her mother’s sullen shadow. For the first time, she tasted the same bitter disgust and resentment for her mother’s condition that so often coated Eleanor’s tongue.
Suddenly, Lindsay’s lungs tightened up. Gasping for air, she felt as if she were peering down a long, dark tunnel. Her grandmother’s deeply creased forehead was the last sight she saw before collapsing in a dead faint.
Slowly, Lindsay became aware of someone patting her hand lightly and rapidly. “Lindsay?” queried the deep, kind voice. “Lindsay? Lindsay, Dear, wake up. Ah, here she comes around, you see? I told you loosening her stays would help.”
“Thank you, Doctor Evers. Oh, bless you!” breathed Lady Beaumont.
Peering over at her, the cherubic Jonathan Evers smiled. “Are you feeling more the thing?” he queried. Lindsay couldn’t help but return his lopsided grin.
“Yes, thank you,” she sighed, attempting to sit up on the chaise lounge in which she’d been placed. “I must have gotten overheated.”
“Yes, well, I think it best you return to your room upstairs and get some rest.”
Just then two young ladies entered the powder room. Gasping, one stated in a loud stage whisper, “You see! Just like her mother, having panic attacks and needing a doctor-and not even one full night in town, mind you,” as they turned back to walk out the door. Mortified, Lindsay turned to Eleanor for guidance.
“Don’t worry about those two nitwits.” Eleanor chided. “They are just petty, jealous little things.”
“That’s right,” Doctor Evers reassured her, patting her hand gently. “You just head up to bed tonight, get a good night’s rest, and we will see you at Mrs. Reynold’s soiree tomorrow evening. My son will be there and will be more than happy to partner such a lovely young lady for a dance. What do you say?”
“I’m no object for pity,” Lindsay replied stiffly, her spine straightening and her eyes brimming afresh with unshed tears.
“Who said anything about pity? This is strategy, my dear. Currently you are the metaphorical social leper. Send a handsome fortune seeker into the realm to interact with you and come out unscathed and others will soon follow.”
“You may be deemed brittle, my dear, but you come with a very attractive dowry. You are not too hard to look at, either. My son will be all too happy to pay you court, at my behest or no.”
“So, what do you say? Will you choose to take fate by the nose or will it lead you where it will?”
“I accept your offer, Doctor Evers, and I thank you for your sound advice. I am no fool. I know to accept a helping hand when I am in over my head. Thank you,” she said, hiding the truth of her stung pride by bowing her head in acceptance.
~ ~ ~
Just outside the city, the walls of Bethlem Hospital rose no higher than Lindsay’s chest. The sanitarium looked quite civilized, not at all the dilapidated house of horror she had oft times envisioned. Yet, the very orderly, contained presence of the monstrous edifice bespoke of a carefully constructed social corrosion.
In the country, sick people were not sent away. All people were individuals with faces and names and problems to be dealt with. It might be messy, dealing with the cotter William’s tirades or Great Aunt Bess’s many invisible friends, but it was handled and grumbled over and joked about by those who knew them and loved them and cared about their fate.
Here, if you did not fit in or act your part, you could be locked away so that all of polite society could look at this attractive building and not the unattractive truth of a hurting spirit, or a damaged soul.
For years, those that dared to peer beyond Bedlam’s orderly surface, to laugh and point and chide at those suffering within, need only step up and pay a penny.
Did it make them feel superior in some way?
Lindsay wondered. Nothing in the wide world could entice her to set foot in the cursed place, nothing but this all-consuming yen to connect with her mother.
Thus resolved, Lindsay strode forward. Whitney, clutching painfully to her elbow, had to be dragged along. “Please don’t do this, Miss Lindsay. I beg you not to torture yourself so. What’s done is done and seeing for yerself cannot make it better.”
“You know I have to, Whitney,” Lindsay muttered through chattering teeth. Reaching into her reticule, Lindsay produced two pounds and walked forward to gain admittance as a “patron”. By offering a “donation” and explaining that she was a conscientious supporter of the mentally infirm and would like a tour to, “properly ascertain the opportunities for improvement that my women’s missionary group might explore,” she was ushered in and left to her own devices.
The quiet, sparseness of the gardens without gave forth to a haphazard cacophony of stimulation within. A dingy, yellow light seemed to hang suspended in the air, clinging to the smells of blood, feces, and rotting flesh. Aproned nurses with mop caps bustled past, unconcerned with Lindsay and Whitney’s presence. Long hallways lined with doors ran to the left and to the right. Each door sported a tiny, barred window, into which meandering voyeurs might have peered.
A human menagerie
, Lindsay whispered to herself, her whole body taking up the tremors of her chattering teeth.
Had her father even stepped foot in this place to which he’d sent her mother? Surely, he must have, for he’d taken Elizabeth to London in the carriage, seeing to the necessary paperwork and payments...Whitney surreptitiously approached a door and then scuttled back when a course voice screeched obscenities in her direction.