Deception By Proxy, Ch. 19: The Revelation, and an Embarrassing Re-assessment.

Thursday, March 29th, 2018



When Mrs. Barristow and the two younger girls returned from their visit, having seen a carriage leaving their home, they saw Annis pacing up and down the corridor and obviously in high dudgeon. She was steadily fuming and had a drawn and angry look on her face. She rushed over to her mother and blurted out her feelings.

“Oh, Mama. I was right about him. I overheard everything that transpired between them.”

Her mother took in her blazing anger. “So I can see, Miss. The intention was that you would accompany us to our neighbors. You were not supposed to be here and listening at keyholes.”

Charlotte and Sophia listened to their sister’s outburst but could not make sense of what was disturbing Annis so much. Their visitor must have upset her in some way.

“I wasn’t, but I couldn’t help overhearing. They are a pair of rogues, the both of them, and we should never have trusted him. I would have burst in and confronted him with this…this….” She ground her teeth in anger. “But he locked the door to keep me out. He must have heard me. I overheard one blackguard dealing with another just as bad. I knew he couldn’t be trusted. Oh, why did I not tell you what I knew, before we lost everything?” She was close to tears in her desperate frustration. “How could you, Mama? How could you be so easily taken in and be so gullible? Oh, I wish I had shown you Lady Seymour’s letter now, for it laid his loose character out so clearly.” She seemed adamant about that. Yet her mother was smiling kindly at her for some reason she did not understand, and spoke gently.

“I doubt it, my dear. It would have shown you her perception of him from many years ago, and I do not always trust your godmother’s perception of anything as I have told you often enough. I do trust my own feelings and those of other of my friends however.”

“But her letter warned us of everything.” She was so agitated she felt like stamping her foot for all the good it might have done. “His character is execrable. We should never have trusted him or allowed him to stay. He intends mischief to all of us. He worked his way so well into our confidences and look where it has got us. I should have shot him when I had the opportunity and saved us from all of this. If he were here now, I would be tempted to do so. I may still do so, and with his own gun. Poetic justice to pay him back for his treachery and before he forces himself upon any one of us.”

Her mother was taking it all so calmly and even put her arm about her daughter’s shoulder. “Now please calm down, my dear. This is not like you to speak of violence, and guns, with such animation. I am so glad you didn’t do anything rash. You would have made everything so much worse. Here I thought you might be having second thoughts about his character, and his intentions.”

Annis was raging on tearfully. “I was. But not anymore. He pulled the wool over your eyes and mine. He was able to fool Thomas and Molly and even Mrs. Rogers.”

Her mother chuckled, but there was little humor in it considering how her daughter had become so exercised over something she really had little knowledge of.

“No, he didn’t.” Her mother seemed sure of it.

Sophia’s hand pushed into her mother’s for reassurance and comfort. She had never seen her sister before in such an upset, and wildly tearful mood, or so angry. Charlotte stood off to one side and listened, not sure what to believe, and not entirely sure who they might be talking about.

Her mother’s sober words and lack of anger at what had happened caused Annis to look at her strangely, as though her mother might not be entirely sane or in complete control of her senses.

“No, I have not lost my wits, my dear, but you seem to have.  What do you think you know, child?”

Annis did not take offense at her mother’s addressing her as “child” for her apparent simplicity in understanding. “Oh, mama. What will we do?”

“Why nothing, my dear. It has all been done for us and so easily and conveniently and without trouble.”

“It was not done for us, mama.” Her eyes were flashing with her anger. “It was done to us.”

Her mother continued to smile at her in an exasperated manner. “There was no violence, was there?”

“No. Unfortunately. There was some talk of a sword stick and a pistol and murderous intentions and some other threatening words between two like-minded villains. But why would you be concerned if there had been? One blackguard less, maybe two, and it would not have mattered which one as far as I could see. Neither of them deserves to live from what I heard. You are taking it all so calmly.” She was surprised at her mother’s apparent complacency.

“Yes, I am. So should you. My, you are bloodthirsty all of a sudden. I do hope your sisters do not become afflicted with this same feeling toward him.”

“I won’t, Mama.” Sophia seemed to want to rise to his defense, whoever they were talking about.

“I know you won’t, my dear.”

Annis fumed on. “Papa would not have allowed this to happen. He can’t have known him at all.”

“I fear your father might not have been able to stop it quite as William did. That was his biggest concern also. The Thackerays are too well connected in all of the wrong places and have a reputation for shady dealings, and even violence, especially the father. Deviousness, deception, villainy is all they might understand, especially when it is brought to bear against them, fortunately. William decided to fight fire with more fire. Nothing quite succeeds with such men like an unanticipated and unexpected excess of something returned to them, whether it be violence or some other action. Now, however, it does not matter. So come and sit here and cease your agitation.”

She saw Annis was unable to settle down in her present turbulent mood.

“Charlotte, Sophia, get on with you and help in the kitchen.” She stalled their protest with an upraised hand. “No. You are not staying to listen in. You will learn all you need to know of this later.”

She watched them reluctantly leave, though they did not leave so far, but lingered to listen.

“Now Annis. We shall sit down. Or I shall, if you are too worked up. What is it that you think you know, and I shall try to explain it to you?”

“Oh, Mama. Please tell me that it is not so, that we have been disinherited by that rogue.”

“Have we really?” She seemed almost to laugh at that thought. “How little you seem to know.”

“That is what I heard. Please tell me that it is not true.”

“Of course it is not true. You must be careful what you believe, my dear, no matter what you might hear, especially at keyholes. Nothing is what it seems. Your father told me to believe nothing that I heard from another, unless I knew the source well, and to believe only half of what I saw. He told you the same thing more than once. He was proved right on many things. Where is William, by the way?”

“He rode out after that Thackeray man. Probably to murder him on some lonely stretch of road like he did that unfortunate Mr. Maxton.”

“You do not know that. Oh I hope not. But then he has a way of cutting through such threats and nonsense and getting to the heart of any problem as he did with the son, and may just feel the need to do that to protect us even better.”

“I do believe it….” Annis faltered. She should not let it be known that she had been snooping in his private correspondence to his sister and knew more about Mr. Maxton than she should. No mistaking the meaning of R.I.P. “Oh, Mama, he is a rogue of the worst kind.”

“Yes, he might be, where the need is there, or almost. But no. Not of the worst kind. Of the best and most effective kind. The kind a woman can rely upon. But whatever he is, I am thankful for it. I am also thankful that he would stand no nonsense from either of those Thackeray persons. Very like your father was at that age too. Oh, my dear, you have a lot to learn about certain men and so little time to learn it I would say, now that your father is gone and our situation has changed. Too little time to achieve what we need to see achieved.”

She smoothed her daughter’s hair back from her face and wiped the tears of anger and frustration from her face. “The rogues often prove to be the better men, my dear. Your father was. The gentlemen of fine words and apparently finer deeds turn out to be the true rogues, for they too well hide their real purpose. I know several of both persuasions. The younger Thackeray when he first approached us was that way, I remember. All politeness. Simpering and greasing his way into our family as he did, and look how he turned out. He was interested only in finding out what he could to assist his father in his devious intent to put us out. Now we have one of another kind in our midst.”

“Yes. Worse.”

“I see that you think so. But easily settled I think.” She looked across to the pantry to see that William had left the documents where he said he would. “Pass me that small bundle of papers tucked into the pantry over there. Yes, bring them all over here, and we will go through them one by one. It is time you learned what I know of this man you think to be a villain.” She sorted through the documents that Annis brought over to her, to put them in some order.

“A man can deal better in business and legal matters with those people in London than ever a woman might. A woman can achieve so little with them, for they do not take her seriously, and I would have been at a severe disadvantage. Besides, I do not understand any of that, and would have made a mess of it even if I had known who to approach, and I knew nothing about even where to begin. William did.”

She put the first paper into her daughter’s hands and watched her read it.

“But, Mama, you confirm everything I said.” She looked up at her mother, convinced she had lost her wits completely. “You sold it to him. This entire property. Several days ago even. Is that what those two men did? They pressured you into this.”

“Oh, hush. It might seem so. But I can assure you they didn’t.”

“That is what it says.” She re-read the offending document. “It is a bill of sale to him. But it says nothing of the price paid, for that figure cannot be right. Can it? Yet it was witnessed by Thomas and Molly and there are both of your signatures on it. Yours and his. You did this yourself. The servants even helped you.” She seemed thoroughly confused.

“Yes, I did.” She tossed that paper onto the fire, to her daughter’s surprise. Annis doubted it might so easily be overturned as that.

She produced the next one and opened it up. “William and I had an enlightening conversation after you had all gone to bed, after those gentlemen had left, and he was not at all shy about laying his history out for me to understand; in its entirety I might add—warts and all as Cromwell said to his portraitist. He hid nothing from me. But I already knew most of it. We were lucky to find him, my dear.” She hesitated and thought for a moment or two. “Or did he find us?”

Her daughter was not inclined to believe her, except for the latter.

“He was busy in London yesterday on my behalf and not on his own, as you seem to suspect.”

“But….”

“Now what do you think that this is?” She passed the next paper for her daughter to examine.

“It is a full title….” She looked closely at the paragraphs her mother indicated, and the legal language, that seemed more easily understood than was usual she thought. She recognized the name Diebold in the Title above it all, as being one of the firm of several lawyers who had drawn it all up. ‘…to all of that property held by Mr. Lionel Barristow, whatsoever. Father.”

Annis scanned the paper. It looked disturbingly legal to her. “All of our property—land, house, possessions, everything.” She was pale. “It is now the property of Mr. William Devane of Brooklands. Dated yesterday at three in the afternoon.” She opened her mouth to protest but was caught without power of speech for a few moments.

Her mother threw that into the fire also. “No, my dear. Say nothing. It does begin to improve. That was the one he said he would show Mr. Thackeray, to convince him of the worst of his fears, that Underby was now totally lost to him. I think he may have succeeded in that, considering the black look that Thomas described on Mr. Thackeray’s face as he drove off. Now this one.”

“But it is another deed to all of that property of William Devane, formerly owned by Mr. Barristow of Underby Manor, drawn up by the same lawyers, and it is now entirely in your name. This is also dated yesterday, but the time is at four in the afternoon.”

“Yes. The last legal transaction before he returned to us. The London lawyers have copies of all of this and faithfully carried out his instructions and mine, once it was clear what we intended. It is done. Finished. We own Underby again without question.”

There was gentle whispering followed by movement away from outside of the door once Charlotte and Sophia had heard that last of it.

Annis looked confused as her mother knew she would be. That document, with another, she placed carefully back on to the pantry and set a decorative rock upon them to hold them down.

“I do not understand.”

Mrs. Barristow explained it to her daughter. “We now own Underby once more, my dear, and everything that your uncle and father added to it but with no cloud hanging over us ever again. It was William’s idea. I told you we spoke at length the other evening for some hours. After that, I gave him title to all of this, as far as I might be able to, so that he could work with his own lawyers in London without question, and bring some clarity to this property ownership. There were other things to do with property that you do not need to know about.” She tossed another small document on the fire. “Once it was cleared up, if it could be cleared up, then the intention was that he would transfer title back to me as he did. Otherwise, he would hold it on my behalf until it was resolved. Oh, don’t worry. He insisted on other safeguards in there too, so that if anything happened to him, I still had title to it all. You need to know nothing of those.”

Her daughter was speechless, undergoing a painful readjustment of her views, which a short time ago had been so violently inclined.

“Are you feeling any better about this, my dear?” She watched her daughter nod her head. There was a pained look on her flushed face. “He is an honest man, my dear. But I was already convinced of that. There are few of them about these days. You have been laboring under a wrong impression as you have been for several days now. The elder Thackeray was shown only the ownership by William. You may have heard part of that conversation that you were not supposed to be here to overhear. Thackeray could not be aware that William had already transferred ownership back to me, nor is he ever likely to find out. We need keep only this one. The others are where they need to be. She watched them consumed in the fire. Far too dangerous to leave those lying around.”

Her daughter’s anger had drained from her as she had learned of what had really happened, but then the reversal of feeling that suddenly flooded over her was more than she felt she could bear. She flopped into a chair beside her mother.

“Oh.”

Her mother smiled at the sudden transformation of emotional feeling. “Yes. Puts him in a different light altogether, doesn’t it? From villain to saint. But he was never the former. Nor the latter either. Just a good man. It’s a pity you overheard any of it, but then, it could not be helped, I suppose. His thoughts were only of protecting us. Nothing else.” At least, nothing else she could easily discuss at this time with her daughter. She watched as the tension and hatred drained from her daughter’s attitude, to be replaced by one of puzzlement and embarrassment and even uncertainty, and then guilt.

“But…” Annis still struggled with it. “How confusing it all is. It could not have been settled so easily? Father struggled with this for years. He must still be misleading us somehow. It seems to be part of his nature to be misleading.”

Her hand fell over that of her daughter. “Oh, hush. Let go of it, my dear. You appear not to know William as you should.”

“It seems I do not know him at all.” She was flushed, thinking about the uncharitable and even violent thoughts she had harbored. “I seem to have been wrong at every turn. I resented his presence when he first came, despite what his sister, Elizabeth, had persuaded Bella of, and I later learned that a deeper animosity was probably justified too, the more I learned of him. I didn’t understand how Bella or anyone could be so foolish as to ever consider entering into a marriage with a complete stranger about whom so little was known, and even that little, seemed to be questionable, considering the tales floating about. In fact, what was known was all either questionable or bad.”

Her mother reached out and took her hand to comfort her. “Bella thought so too at first. Your godmother’s views on him are far too pervasive and too well known. But then Bella was able to change her mind also, little by little, even without meeting him. His sister, Elizabeth, was able to clarify the confusion, for she was well aware of so many things that your godmother was not. William also confirmed all of that too when he and I spoke the other night. I don’t think I have ever known quite so much of any man, except your father. He hid nothing important from me. I think I would have been proud to have him as a son, and now I find that I do.

“Bella went from complete antipathy to any suggestion of a union with him, to being prepared to meet him and see him for herself. We could not ask for more. They may not have suited, despite our hopes. Unfortunately, she met with that accident before he might become acquainted with any of our plans or might even meet him. We had not allowed for that. All of those plans and scheming came to a disastrous end before any of it could take place as I had hoped. It is a pity that Bella did not confide in you more after her first confidences.

“Then, after that accident, I felt sure he could not come, not being in England, or would not come if he was. He is not easily either to be cajoled or pushed; no man is. They need to be led but in such a way they do not know that it is happening. Perhaps I was guilty of misleading him, for I appealed to him in a way I felt sure…no, I knew he might not be able to refuse. He didn’t refuse. We had not properly set the groundwork as we had originally intended. But then…when we most needed him, and when I had despaired of ever seeing an end to any of it, he did come….” She shed tears again at that welcome relief that she had felt at that moment. “I feared for the worst by that time, for I was ready to tear my hair out, and he must have wondered what he…’ She blinked back her tears. “No matter, he came. Fortunately for us.”

She wiped her tears away.

“For my part, I held out hope that he would come, but lived in fear that he would not or would not get my letter in time. Everything seemed to depend upon it.”

“Oh, Mama. Why did you not tell me all of this before?”

“You would not have believed me. But I did not think of it. There was too much else to occupy us.”

“No, I would probably not have believed it. I was sure that he was probably as bad as I feared even without reading that letter, except when….”

“Yes, my dear?”

“Nothing, Mama.” But she could not hold back her thoughts. “Except when he also shed tears over our loss on that first night. It seemed real and from the heart, when he had no need even to feign any of that. Then, when he kissed….” her voice caught as she thought of that “…when he kissed Bella in a gentle and loving way after he had married her. I did not expect that of him either. From the little I heard of him, I expected someone remote and untouchable, arrogant, unfeeling, cold. I thought he would be aloof and detached and resentful at being used in that way for our benefit alone, and then would be gone. When he didn’t go, I wondered why he stayed and began to suspect his motives for staying. I began to think he was a past master at misleading everyone, including his sister and mother, or so godmother said of him. That seemed better to fit his reputation. What little I had gleaned of him.”

“And what would you know of his reputation from gossip and rumors?”

She decided to say nothing more of Lady Seymour’s letter. Some of it was undoubtedly true, but it was difficult to know what was true and what might not be. It had not been a flattering account in any case. “But then I was concerned again, especially after he started wandering that first night. Except he seemed confused and lost, rather than intent on anything…worse, like that Joshua Thackeray had been, I think. Then that brawl with Thackeray. I feared for the servants when I saw his bloody hands at church that afternoon, for I had not known Thackeray had been here. And you thinking he had shaved to get that blood on his face and shirt. I had seen him shave earlier, so I knew that was not it.”

“I admit, I knew nothing of any of it until later my dear. My thoughts were elsewhere.”

“I could see that, Mama. I had to reassess him for myself after that and after listening to Molly and Mrs. Rogers and Thomas even. They could not praise him highly enough without breaking down into tears with their emotions. I could not understand them. But what wouldn’t I have given to have seen that. They could say nothing nice enough about him and certainly looked after him well after that.”

“And so they should look after him. If he had not interceded as he did, I do now know where we would be, even now, other than that we would probably not be living here. We would have had that grasping ignoramus and his father underfoot, interfering and encroaching in everything we did, and hard to get rid of and would not be quite so comfortable or secure.”

Annis tried to reconcile what she had seen with what she had come to believe of him “He seemed kind and good mannered in every way with the servants and with us, especially keeping Sophia occupied as he does. Hardly the attitude of an encroaching villain to enjoy the company of a child. Then there was that incident when he found my pistol, giving me his own. I did not know what to believe.”

“I heard of that. I cannot approve of you playing with guns. But not knowing what to believe? Of course you do. You will see it eventually. He is a good man, my dear. He will not judge you ill or hold your honest feelings against you, but may be quite amused by them. What others tell you of someone should not entirely displace what you yourself find out you know? Believe what you know for yourself and see and do not so readily or so easily believe what you hear from others. People are too often mistaken about others they may dislike or are jealous of.”

Her mother sighed as she took in her daughter’s contrition. “But there is another problem looming before us, Annis. I fear what might happen when he realizes—as he soon will, if not already—that eventually we may be able to manage without him, if we can, for then he might leave to go to his own estates. With both Thackerays now taken care of and difficulties with the title, all needless concerns now and seen to, it seems that our larger need for him is now at an end, but I shall not tell him that just yet.”

“Indeed, Mama, why would he stay in any case?”

Her mother felt that she might be able to answer that question if she chose to, but could not yet be sure how it might work out.

“I would think that he might want to put as much distance between himself and us, considering what has happened here and what I believed of him. But does he have any estates worth speaking of? You mentioned Brooklands, and I remember that name in one of those papers.”

“Yes, my dear, he does. Much larger than this one and a few miles off from here.” She stared into the fire.

“To think that I actually owned it for a few hours.” Annis looked at her sharply. Her mother raised her head. “One of those papers I burned.” She recovered from that brief consideration. “His father—late father—Captain Devane was a respected gentleman, well known to your father and a highly decorated sailor who served with Admiral Nelson. When he died not so long ago, he left the entire estate to him as the only son, and it is…he is quite wealthy. There is nothing here that he could not buy ten times over if he chose. But if he makes that decision to leave, and he will eventually, for there is nothing now to hold him here….” She knew that was not entirely true, but her daughter may need a jolt or two to think about that, “…I cannot stop him, though I will be more than sad to see him leave. He reminds me so much of your father at that age. It is to be hoped he will still remember us and visit as he might, for he is not so far away.”

She looked intently at her daughter as she made those comments, hoping to see some indication in her expression of how that eventuality of him leaving, sat with her, but there was nothing to see other than that she was in a downcast mood.

“Mama, you said he reminds you of my father, and I think I recall you saying something earlier about father too, and even eventually admitted about him being a rogue at times? Surely, not in the same vein? I find that hard to believe. I do not understand.”

“Of course, you don’t. You do not know the half of it, for I have never told you anything of your father when he was younger, but he and Mr. Devane had quite a few things in common. More than quite a few things. That is why I was not so defensive about him being considered for Bella. I shall tell you more, one of these days but not now. I need to relax for a while and savor what has just happened.

“We will be having a late lunch, and if I do not mistake, William has just returned to join us and will be in from the stable shortly.” Her daughter seemed uneasy at hearing that. She probably could not face him at this moment. “You cannot know how relieved I am to see him safely back. I take it you have lost your murderous impulses toward him?”

Her daughter nodded, not trusting herself to speak.

“I shall say no more at this time.” She stroked her daughter’s hair back from her forehead. “William is like your father was, and I think your father knew that of him too within seconds of meeting him. A man to be relied upon and not inclined to take nonsense from another like Thackeray. But he had to place his trust somewhere, and so did I.”

Her mother met William at the door and, unable to hide her feelings at what he had accomplished, embraced him. “Thank you for what you have done for us, William.” He smiled at her as he returned her hug. “You are just in time for a late lunch, Sir.”

She watched as Annis sheepishly excused herself went toward the sounds from the kitchen, with her head turned aside so that he might not see her tears. Her eyes followed her daughter. She smiled, knowing that he had seen those tears. “Do not worry, she will soon be her argumentative self again, William.”

He watched her out of sight. He understood her mood. It must have been quite an unexpected revelation for her to find out that he had not robbed and cheated them, as the older man had come to believe. “Yes, Ma’am. I must see what else I can do to annoy her and distract her from her present mood.”

“As you seem to do so well with all of us. Distract us, that is. I see you know her too well, William. Indeed you seem to know all of us well, if it comes to that. So what are your plans now? I am sure you must be itching to be gone, but we will be sad to part with you. I was hoping you might stay longer if you can manage it. I am not entirely sure we are out of the woods yet.”

“Nor am I. There is still that matter with the squire that should be tidied up, and I still need to define your financial affairs better. If the weather stays clear, perhaps a tour of the estates tomorrow will be distraction enough if I can persuade Annis to go with us, for she will be the one who will need to understand all of that for herself when I am not here.”

 

«Go back.