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Authors: Diana Norman

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BOOK: Taking Liberties
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He's probably quite a nice little man, Diana thought, if undoubtedly Welsh.
She said: ‘Obviously you have your problems, sir, and I am here to relieve you of one of them. I wish to arrange for Lieutenant Grayle to be exchanged.' She added lazily: ‘One would be happy to pay for such an arrangement.' For a while, she could still draw upon the Stacpoole bank account.
‘Oah.' Mr Powell sat up with surprise. ‘Exchange, is it? No, no. There can be no question of an exchange for American prisoners. Absolutely not. Nothing I can do for your ladyship in that quarter, do you see.'
‘I do not see, I'm afraid,' she drawled. ‘One was led to believe you gentlemen incorporated the exchange of prisoners of war in'—she waved a hand—‘whatever it is you do.'
‘Prisoners of war, yes, prisoners of
war
, that's right enough. But Americans aren't prisoners of war, your ladyship, not like the French. We'll be able to send French prisoners back in return for some of ours but strictly
speak
ing Americans are rebels against their lawful king. Captured in British waters
attack
ing English shipping, they are. Traitors, in fact. Felons, pirates.'
‘Why not hang them, then, and be done?' She was nettled by disappointment. It would have been nice to send Martha back her son.
‘Oah, we can't hang 'em.' Mr Powell smiled. ‘No, no. Legally we could, mind, but I doubt there's gallows enough in the country to take them all. Coming in by shiploads, they are. Might set a bit of a precedent, do you see? We wouldn't want our brave lads captured by the Americans
in
America strung up in response, now would we?'
The Dowager sighed. ‘Mr Commissioner, one is not concerned with causing an international incident, merely the fate of one miserable young man.'
‘There's sorry I am to disoblige, your ladyship, very, very sorry. I'm not saying we commissioners wouldn't be happy,
happy
, to exchange the Americans—indeed, more than once we've lobbied their lordships to that effect. Difficult . . . dear, dear, you wouldn't believe how difficult they are. More trouble with them, there is, than all the rest put together: riot, demands, attempts to escape, oh dear, dear . . . but my hands are tied, do you see?' Mr Commissioner Powell closed his books. ‘My advice is to send the lieutenant a nice parcel of comforts, I'm sure the governor . . .'
The Dowager left the Sick and Hurt Office dissatisfied on her own account and oddly saddened on little Philippa Dapifer's. There lay the trouble with chance encounters; one remained ignorant of an outcome. Her interest had been aroused, and with it her sympathy—less for the awful mother than for Sir Philip's child, if it
was
the child, who had been set adrift in a city like Plymouth, full of sailors, to meet the fate of all lost young girls.
Would the Hedley woman find her? And, if so, in what condition?
Qualified as she was to know the damage done to mind as well as body by sexual violence, the fact that it might be being inflicted on a child even younger than she had been when it was inflicted on her was disturbing—she was surprised how
much
it disturbed her. It happened on the streets every day, possibly to thousands. Yet this was a case she knew about, it had been given a name, she had overheard its history. If the girl had survived that terrible voyage across the Atlantic, she'd already suffered enough.
‘Be not curious in unnecessary matters,' Ecclesiasticus said. The Dowager reminded herself that it was not her concern. She had her own problem; she could report only failure to Martha Grayle— always supposing it would be possible to report at all.
Your son is in a Plymouth prison, Martha. It is better than the hulks
.
Yes, well.
She stood for a while on the Admiralty steps, looking for her coach in the heavy Whitehall traffic. Tobias must have had trouble finding a place for it in which to wait for her.
In view of her insistence, both Robert and Alice had eventually reconciled themselves to her departure on what Alice called ‘Mama's visiting spree'. They had given her Tobias and Joan to take with her and allowed her the third best coach but no coachman, so Tobias had been transformed into a driver—a job he performed excellently, as he did everything.
It had amused the Dowager that her son and daughter-in-law had stipulated—without actually using the word—that she return to Chantries for Christmas and settle down. It made her feel like Cinderella commanded to leave the ball by midnight or else . . . to quiet them, she had agreed to spend the Twelve Nights with them. As for settling down, well, she would see.
Expecting London to be comparatively quiet with Society having retired to the country for the summer, she found it actually busier than ever, full of soldiers and baggage trains on their way to the ports for embarkation.
A column of footguards marched past her, sending up dust, their Brown Bess flintlocks gleaming. A useless weapon, Aymer had called it, unreliable in bad weather and at anything over eighty yards' range. Women and children ran beside them, some cheering, others weeping.
She was suddenly oppressed by dull heat, crowds, dust and the doom to which all these men were going. The war was undoubtedly necessary—colonies could not be allowed to secede as and when they pleased or they would not be colonies—but how many of these soldiers would return from it? How many young men on both sides, how many children, would be parted forever from their mothers?
I will not think of it. There is nothing I can do for any of them. After twenty-two years, I am allowed some liberty of my own, a little healing.
The sea, she thought. I need to be near the sea and breathe clean, free air.
She would go to Devon, the county of her ancestors which, unaccountably, her family had deserted for London and its environs. Not Torbay—there was no suitable house there and, in any case, she did not want to face the memory of the young Martha now that there was only failure to report to the mother Martha had become. T'Gallants, that was the place. Home of the founding Pomeroy. She had never seen it, but it was on the sea. It had been tenanted for years but its lease was falling due—she had looked it up in the Chantries property book before she came away.
Diana smiled to herself; had she unconsciously intended to go there from the first? Yes, there were friends in the area. The Edgcumbes would put her up while she investigated. Devon would serve very well for her escape from the dowagerhood Alice and Robert wanted to inflict on her.
The fact that both the Edgcumbe home and T'Gallants were only a few miles from Plymouth had nothing to do with the matter.
Chapter Four
BY the time she set off for Plymouth, Makepeace had clutched at the straw of hope that the young girl landed with the American prisoners at Plymouth was her daughter, and was managing to keep herself afloat on it.
Of
course
the child was Philippa. The fact that, if it was indeed her daughter, she had therefore been on English soil without word for two months . . . well, that could be due to anything, loss of memory, kidnapping,
anything
. As for Susan Brewer, perhaps she had been landed somewhere else, had also suffered loss of memory, been kidnapped . . .
So Makepeace forced herself to recover some equilibrium and thereby lost her temper, as she always did when she was fighting fear.
She cursed the friends she had expected to turn to for help and who had proved absent, her brother, her doctor, all of them having deserted London for the summer with the rest of Society. She cursed, with tears, her husband for choosing such a time to go to France. And she cursed Oliver for wanting to accompany her to Plymouth.
‘Who's going to run the damn business if you're traipsing all over the country with me? You get back to my girls and see nobody kidnaps
them
.'
‘Missus, you are not going alone.'
‘No, I'm not. I'm taking Beasley. You get back to Newcastle and try to get word to your father—that's if nobody's kidnapped
him
. Call on Rockingham in Yorkshire on the way home and see what he can do.'
Oliver conceded. There was undoubtedly a need to have other irons in the fire, like the Marquis of Rockingham, and he could heat them better if he were not employed in combing the streets of Plymouth. Also, it would profit nobody if the business went to the wall in the Missus's absence. John Beasley might be a peculiar choice as a travelling companion but, in this case, his particular peculiarity might prove useful.
Oliver, however, used as he was to his stepmother's eccentricity, was still concerned that she would be travelling with a man to whom she was not related and without female accompaniment. ‘Won't you take a maid with you?'
‘No.' Her regular lady's maid was out of commission and there were few other women for whom Makepeace had any use. ‘I ain't listening to feminine chatter all the way to Devon, drive me lunatic.'
‘It will look improper, that's all.'
‘Improper?' Makepeace stared at him as if he was deranged. ‘Philippa's missing and you think I care about looking improper?'
She never has, Oliver thought, even when Philippa wasn't missing. He sighed. ‘All right, Missus.'
So Makepeace, Peter Sanders, who was her favourite coachman, and John Beasley set off on the Great West Road for Devon in her favourite coach. With Sanders up on the driver's box, there was only Beasley on whom her all-pervading spleen could be vented for the next two hundred miles.
‘Damn you, I didn't ask you to come.'
‘Yes you did,' John Beasley said.
‘You didn't
have
to.'
‘I said I was sick. Coaches make me puke. I didn't say I didn't want to come, I just said travel was a bugger. And the Plymouth press gangs might get me.'
‘They wouldn't want you,' she said. ‘Job's blasted comforter, you are.'
It was unreasonable, she knew. She would have been sent mad by reassurance when there was so little reassurance to be had. But anybody was her kicking boy at that point so she berated Beasley for providing no comfort at all. He was morose—he was
always
morose—and refused to pretend to be sanguine about the journey's outcome. He slouched in his corner, allowing his body to flop with every bounce of the coach, looking ill—he
always
looked ill—and watched her fidget.
‘You'll ruin that satin,' he said.
She kept rubbing her hands over her thighs and knees, up, down, up, down, stretching the delicate material and leaving a mark on it from the sweat of her palms. ‘It's silk.'
‘Why di'n't you bring your maid?'
‘Hildy's mother's dying. I couldn't bring her.' She scored her hands over her knees again and added nastily: ‘You're all there was.'
She couldn't rile him—his own manners were too surly to mind surliness in others—and she was forced to give up. The moment she stopped talking, she heard Philippa calling for her. Desperately she started again: ‘What you done with all your money, anyway?'
As with all the friends who'd supported her through distress and penury after Philip Dapifer's death, she'd subsequently tried to make him rich by giving him shares in the mine, but money flew away from him: some into the hands of needy acquaintances; some down the drain that was his publishing business. Last night, to free him for this journey, she'd had to pay off the bailiffs occupying his rooms in Grub Street.
He shrugged. ‘Government keeps smashing my presses.'
She said, ‘I don't blame it,' not because that's what she thought but because it was there to be said. Nevertheless, that the government's antipathy to John Beasley ran as deep as his to the Tories was no surprise. He was against government on principle; he was against any authority.
Even Makepeace, a natural rebel herself, became impatient at the number and diversity of evils he attacked in his various publications: the King, Parliament—he'd written an article calling it ‘the most listless, loitering, lounging, corrupt assembly in Europe'—the Church, judges, rotten boroughs, pocket boroughs, enclosures, high prices, press gangs, crimp houses, public executions and whippings, the oppression of the Irish and all Roman Catholics (though he loathed popery), the Excise, sweat-shops and workhouses.
On the American war, he had spread himself, calling for Lord North to recall his ‘butchers' from their ‘slaughterhouse', publicizing the fact that the British army didn't scruple to let its Red Indians scalp the colonists and that ‘Americans have all rights to independence from the dunghill its oppressors have made of their own country'.
But, despite his calls for revolution, it was impossible, he said, to goad an England that had no revolutionaries of its own into revolution. Despite widespread poverty, despite the fact that the war was not going well, the English refused to rise to his call to overthrow their government. Its middle class infuriated him by indifference and its deprived masses seemed, he said, lulled by the opiate of the Poor Law that kept them alive. Occasionally they might riot but they would not rise.
His publications were constantly being suppressed and their printing presses destroyed. He'd been in prison four times for debt—she'd had to rescue him—twice for libel and once for sedition.
He was at liberty now only because John Wilkes, that equally libertarian but outrageously effective hornet, had stung the authorities so effectively on behalf of gadflies like Beasley that they were chary of losing even more popularity by swatting them.
He even insisted that Makepeace was exploiting her miners. She'd pointed to the village she and Hedley had built for them at Raby, a model of its kind. It didn't satisfy him. ‘You bloody rich only keep poor people alive so they can fight your wars or make you richer.'
BOOK: Taking Liberties
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