Deception by Proxy. Ch. 34. That Night. The Grand Deception.

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018



Charlotte had seen the signs developing, that a smuggling run was planned for that evening. It would be William’s first run across to France since he had returned from abroad, and he had prepared for it for the last two weeks now.

“I watched them earlier….” she disclosed to Annis when her sister had wondered the same thing when she returned from the village later that day with Mrs. Abernethy, “…and they are even busier now. They are getting ready to make a run tonight. That is the same sailor we watched the other morning. They are getting the cart ready again. I heard William say something about seven tonight, after dinner, and they had to set sail before eight to catch the tide, but they went quiet when I walked around the corner of the building and they seemed to be talking about something else entirely, and they looked like two guilty little boys for a moment. One might almost think they do not trust us.”

“Oh, come away from the window, Charlotte. You will be seen and upset their plans. Smugglers are always nervous.”

“We didn’t upset them the last time we watched them, and I know they must have seen us, for William gave me a strange look over breakfast that morning and asked if I had slept well, for he said I looked tired.” She perked up. “Look. They are loading some new rope to take with them, so they aregoing out. Did you hear that Sophia was at the docks with William the other morning while they were getting their sloop—I think it is a sloop or sloop-rigged, whatever that means—ready for the next of their nighttime jaunts across to France. She had insisted she be taken up with him or that she be allowed to ride Pat, and he agreed. I overheard her, and then I saw them going off together.”

“Surely not. Though I may have heard something.”

“Oh yes. She was not about to tell me anything until I caught her putting some boy’s clothing away in that closet in your room again, and I demanded to know it all, or I would go and tell Mama what she had been doing. I told you about it earlier. She confessed that she had borrowed some of William’s clothing from his boyhood. They were in the closet in that bedroom you now have, and she did some minor alterations—she must have been planning it for some time—and then waylaid him to be taken with him. He could hardly refuse, could he?”

Annis smiled. It was hard to refuse Sophia when she turned on the charm or the disappointment. “Hardly. She can be persuasive as I have discovered to my cost more than once.”

“He took her off with him on that mule and had her back into the house before lunch and before anyone saw how she was dressed. She would provide no more details than that, the little witch. No one would have been the wiser except for me seeing her putting those clothes away when I came to find you. She learned thattrick from you, I know she did, for you did that with father’s clothes when you wanted to go off alone and to ride properly astride the horse, instead of with that stupid saddle and with someone with you to help you when you fall off, which happens to me all of the time.”

“I thought no one knew of that.” Annis had an alarmed look on her face.

“Everyone knows I fall off that saddle.”

“No Charlotte, I meant knew about me dressing in father’s clothes, for I changed in the stable before anyone else was about, and I made sure that none of you were awake when I did so.” She became thoughtful. “Though Bella must have found out somehow for she cautioned me about it later. I only did it the once.”

“You might have been caught by the stable boy, and then where would you have been Annis.”

“But I wasn’t. I changed in a box stall and made sure the door was closed, and no one saw me go or return.”

“No matter. Sophia knew. She seems to know everything that goes on, for she spies upon everyone. I thought she did that only to William, but no, she does it to all of us. The whole house seemed to know what you had done eventually. She was impressed by that. No doubt that was where she got the idea. She has now put it to good use I would say, by eclipsing us both. If we don’t watch her, she’ll be the one slipping aboard the Seamew next, perhaps even tonight, for a nighttime rendezvous with the smugglers. She will come in beaming and boasting of it all tomorrow when they return and after putting us all in fear of her life and her whereabouts.”

Charlotte sighed. “I lack the courage, but I am sure I would enjoy the adventure. William will be out overnight too, for he is going with them this time. I heard that it was to be a big run with a lot of cargo. Perhaps I shall approach William and see if he will take me out with them. I have never been to France.”

Annis frowned. “That will be his second night out in a row.” She wondered if he might have guessed where she had waited for him last night, and he had tried to avoid her in that way. ‘But you must do nothing of the kind, Charlotte. Out overnight with only rough sailors for company? Your reputation….”

“Yes. Always one’s reputation. I will not let it hold me back from doing what is needed. Not as youseem to do. Life is supposed to have some enjoyment in it I think, rather than confine us to being so mindful of our reputation, and dull. I doubt he would allow me to go anyway, and I am not sure I dare to hide away like that.” She changed the subject. “That was a particularly nice dessert we had after dinner. Apple something or other.”

“Apple cobbler.”

“Oh yes. I think I shall go down and have some more of it.”

“It is only half an hour since we ate. Be careful you do not put on any weight, Charlotte.”

“You will be putting on weight long before I will, Annis, and it will not be from eating.”

“What do you mean?” Annis felt a touch of alarm at what her sister seemed to be suggesting. What did she know? Had sheknown where she had been?

“Never you mind. You’ll see.”

 

Charlotte had been right about the preparations. Later, Annis noticed the carriage pulling out of the yard with William at the reins. So they weregoing out on a run tonight.

“At least you resisted that impetuous impulse to want to go with them, Charlotte.”

“Yes, I did. I don’t like the thought of being seasick or getting wet. But that is the only reason I decided not to go. At least not this time.”

 

No more than half an hour after the cart had disappeared down the driveway, a rider approached at a fast clip across the lawns. The horse appeared to have been ridden hard and was all lathered up.

Annis came onto the scene just as the messenger was letting Jerome know that he must see Mr. Devane immediately and urgently, for he had a letter for him and hoped he had not already left for the coast.

Jerome recognized the stable hand from Kellands, where William’s cousin George lived. “I’m sorry, but he has gone. He left a short time ago and will be setting sail about now, or soon, I would say.”

“Damn! Beg pardon, miss.” He saw the young lady in the doorway. “I have an urgent message for him. Very urgent, from his cousin. Matter of life and death he said. I was told that I might catch him before he left. But he has gone you say?”

“Yes.”

“Then there is nothing I can do.” I will give you this to pass on to him when he returns. If he returns. For by then it will be too late for him I suspect. Master George will not like to hear that I missed him. He told me to say how important it was and that it really was a matter of life or death. I had to make sure that I stopped him setting sail, even if it meant killing this horse to get here.”

“And you will kill him if you try to return like that. Get him walked around and seen to. I am sure we will have a spare horse for you if you must return tonight.”

“Yes, I must. His cousin will not be pleased to hear that I missed him and needs to be told that. I will be lucky if I am not turned off after this.”

Jerome passed the letter to Annis. It was indeed from his cousin George Devane. It was marked urgent and immediate. Open it now and read it, cousin.”

Just then her mother walked up to her. She seemed worried. “Have you seen Sophia, my love? She is not in her bed nor in the conservatory, and all of her clothing is on her bed. She was locked out there the entire night of the thunderstorm in nothing but her nightdress, poor child. She must have been cold and terrified, and here she is gone off hiding somewhere again.” Fortunately, she was not looking at Annis’s face as she said that. Or she would have seen a great look of alarm on her face.

Annis tore open the letter and read it. “I thought that was for William, my dear, or did I mishear? You should not open other people’s mail. It might get you into trouble.”

“I must, for he is not here Mama. It is from his cousin, and it says urgent and immediate, and he even wrote that William must open it and read it now. Something about life or death. I am sure he will not mind.” She read it quickly. Within seconds of seeing what the letter said, she was headed upstairs at a run, heedless of inquiries from either her mother or her sister who was just then heading down to execute her own plan concerning the little that remained of the apple cobbler.

“Charlotte.” She spoke so that her mother might not overhear her. “Sophia has gone off with them.”

“With who, whom?” She corrected herself, but was not sure she was correct for a moment.

“With William.”

“I told you.” She turned and followed her sister upstairs. “I said she would. So she undoubtedly did. She told me that she would be doing so at the first opportunity when she knew they were going off to France, but I thought she was just talking.”

“Undoubtedly not, Charlotte. But there is now another reason I must get down to the dock and stop them. I must show William this letter that just came for him. He is in grave danger. They both are. Do not let anyone know I have gone.”

“What danger?”

“Revenuers. Customs agents. They know what he is about and of his plans tonight and intend to board him or sink him. He must not go. If Sophia is with him, it is even more important that she does not go either, for that also puts herin danger.”

“She may not be with him.”

“Don’t be silly, Charlotte. Of course she is.”

Charlotte recognized the truth of that. “Yes, she probably is. How will you get down there?”

“I’ll take William’s horse.”

“He won’t like you doing that. But if you do, you must also take the mule too don’t forget, or you will not get far. But you should not, you know? William will be annoyed.”

Her sister ignored her. “Yes, and the mule must go too. William will not be annoyed, considering what I have to tell him. I’ll saddle the mule up so that I can bring Sophia back with me, the little mischief. I’ll have some words to say to her after this.”

“The side saddle will not fit Boney. The girth is not long enough. You will need to change it.”

“I shall not take the side saddle.”

“Well.” Charlotte was shocked to hear that. “Quite a sight you will make careening across the countryside with your skirts flapping at your waist and revealingallto the world.”

“No, I won’t, for I shall dress in some of Williams clothes from that same closet in my room that Sophia was raiding. I tried one set on the other day, but it was not a good fit. It will have to do though.”

“Annis. You didn’t?”

Her sister blushed, and was defiant. “Well, I don’t see why Sophia should be the only one to have fun, but I realized I shouldn’t. Come, I will need your help.”

 

Charlotte assisted her out of her clothing and into a suit of young man’s clothes that she sorted from the clothing in the closet. “They are not at all flattering, but they look better on you than they did on me.” She looked approvingly at her sister. “You should have put two shirts on. It would never do to have those obvious parts of you, moving about as they do—like two piglets jostling in a sack, as they say—and that should not be there if you were a youth. Better do the buttons up as far as you can too. At least the trousers are loose enough to hide your hips.”

“They are a better and looser fit than the others I had on.” Annis sounded puzzled. “I don’t remember these, except they are just as scratchy. You say you tried them on?”

“Yes. I thought I might try and smuggle away too, but the more I thought about it, the less enjoyable it began to seem. You’d better get them off and put these smalls on first, to help stop the scratchiness. But look. She did go as you thought. There is a gap here where Sophia had those boy’s clothes that she wore before, and they are gone again. She did go. The little vixen.”

“Yes. I suspected as much myself, when Mama could not find her in her usual places and with her clothes lying on her bed. We don’t know the half of what she gets up to. All the more reason that I must now go myself and make sure that she does not come to harm considering what that letter said.”

“What letter?”

“I told you. The urgent letter that just came was from William’s cousin warning him of the revenue officers about to descend on that wharf sometime tonight after they had departed and await their return in the morning. It also said that they may have a ship out too, to try to intercept them at sea or even sink them. The message said that he must cancel the run at any cost, or he would be risking everything. To think that Sophia is on board with him and he not knowing she was there. I must warn him and stop him, andher, and I have little time to get there to do either of those things. I hope that neither of us will be missed, except that Mama already seems to know that Sophia is not in her bed. But say nothing of the other about the contents of the letter that came, or she would be worried. There, how do I look?”

She did not wait for an answer but stormed out of her door and headed for the stairs even as she was doing up her buttons, closely followed by Charlotte.

“Except for the hair, you might easily pass for a poorly dressed youth. If it were dark. Your complexion is too smooth by far though and your eyes too large and innocent. You don’t look like a youth to me. You are built all wrong. Youths do not generally have such prominent breasts, which nothing will hide you know? If anyone recognizes you, your reputation, even ours, will be lost forever. You will be branded as a hoyden, which you called me once. Whatever one of those is, but I am sure it is not complimentary.”

“It is not complimentary and refers to a woman’s lack of self-control and thoughtfulness concerning her reputation. I don’t care. I am a hoyden by that definition.”

“At last. An awakening as to what is really important. But what have you and William been up to? You will put on weight if you are not careful, and you are not married either, don’t forget.”

“Charlotte.”

Annis grabbed a boy’s cap from her pocket. She had not recalled thatearlier either. It suited the rest of her garb, and as she ran off across the yard, she stuffed her hair up under it.

“There.”

“Yes. Better and better. No one would take a second look at you.” That was a blatant lie, and Charlotte knew it. “You should not run, Annis, or you certainly will be discovered. Boys do not run like that nor do they jiggle quite like that either.” She was having difficulty containing her laughter. “You had better take care of yourself, you know. I only have two sisters left. I shall try to tell Mama nothing until she demands to know, or goes into decline. I hope you remembered to take that pistol with you. It will go into your pocket just in case someone tries to stop you.”

“I already have it.” She patted her other pocket. “But if they do, I will ride them down. I hope no one sees me leave, or there will be trouble.”

Charlotte could not help wondering for whom there might be trouble. “I shall help you saddle up. At least I can do that. I hope you can manage that brute. He is as much as any man could handle, never mind you.”

 

Within five minutes, they had the stallion saddled and ready to go, and with the mule saddled too, and turned loose. Annis mounted and she turned off and rode out to get onto the road to the coast and to the wharf where the Seamew was tied up. She hoped she was in time, and that they had not set sail already. Charlotte watched her go.

She smiled as Annis rode out of sight and then chuckled to herself and, in her excitement, almost ran back to the house to report to their mother and Elizabeth that their plan was now underway, and to describe what Annis looked like, and was still so obviously a woman.. What was Annis thinking, to believe she could hide her sex and dress like a youth. No one could possibly be misled by any of it. She might as well have hired trumpets to blare out her coming or have emulated the daringly reckless Lady Godiva, and dispensed with clothing altogether, for the difference it made. Charlotte had to stop in the doorway as the tears of mirth and even of relief ran down her cheeks. Resolution of all of the nagging difficulties was now within reach. She rushed off to capture the shockingly revealing images of Annis, burned into her brain. Those, she fully intended to show William. At the same time, she began to feel a slight envy of what lay ahead of her sister. It would be interesting to see how her sister’s new outlook on life as a ‘married’ woman might be reflected in her face when they were able to visit her in a couple of days, and after riding the…marriage peacemaker, as she had heard her mother jokingly refer to that intimate activity with their father. Though best if she did not say it, even to herself.

 

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