Part 2 of The Masked Lady
By Lauren Xena Campbell
Source: The man behind the mask
It is a curious thing, meeting a stranger, not knowing how much there is to discover of their character, what lies behind their façade. It is true that when this happens, it is in our nature to search for the knowledge and understandings that lies hidden from us. Such a sensation became me when I met Lionel Freedman.
The night we met at the masque is one I shall always remember. Shortly after I was forced to meet with my new suitor and the evening, for a time, became naught but a distant thought, as though a memory of a dream.
Father had become acquainted with a very rich noble family from the north. They only had one son, and unlike the pleasures of meeting with the man of masked mystery, I found this experience a dreadful bore.
“Hurry miss.” Barked Elinor, my Mother’s very trying tiring women. She is only a year younger then I but is determined to scold me like a child as she is married and I am not. “Your suitor shall arrive shortly and you are not yet ready!”
And with her words she busied herself collecting petticoats and false fronts.
“Tell me Elinor.” I said as courteously as possible, to avoid another scolding. “What know you of Master Bacillus?”
“Master Bacillus?” Asked the maid in confusion. “Oh, you mean Lord Ambrose Henry Bacillus the Third. But why so you ask, you have met before?”
I sighed at the insufferable nitwit. Surly she has a thick pate, for she is as dim as the day is long.
“Indeed.” I replied, grimacing through all the nonsense. “For all of three seconds before the evening was drawn to a close. But surly with such a bevy of folk, you would not expect me to remember everyone I met?”
The girl laughed as though what I said was a jest, as I intended it to sound.
“Indeed no milady.” Said Elinor, amused. “For what lady has the memory of a man?”
This one, thought I.
“His Lordship Bacillus the Third.” I scoffed at the title, all these nobles with their long names and honoured announcements, it is all so vexing. How I wish someone would come to my Father and address him by his moniker only. “Why he is a man of worth, my lady. Tis no man more caring to his servants accept perchance your esteemed father. For this is a man all respected, madam, he is handsome enough for a gentleman and is very courtly, apparently. And he is vastly wealthy!”
Elinor waited enthused for my reply, eager for me to receive the news and be stupefied.
“I see…” I replied. “And what of his wits?”
Elinor giggled once more. “That is of no import, madam. T’would make no difference if he had not a brain in his head, so long as his has mint in his purse.”
I disbelieved it.
All at once my Mother hastened into my bedchamber and started to fuss about my apparel.
“Look you child!” She scolded. “What will the young gentlemen think of my daughter if she is not properly dressed? And in a finer dress too, take that old smock off at once! Surly you would not disgrace yourself in last year’s fashions! Come now and change.”
I sighed and allowed the women to dress me to her satisfaction.
“ There now.” She said, red in the face. “Turn and let me look at you…well it shall do. If I had one wish it would be that you where taller, thinner too mind. You hair is far too dark and skin much to ruddy! But then what would you expect of such an old lady. Of course your dugs are nicely proportioned but that is the only feature worth…”
“Mother please!” I snapped and left the room, feeling more then insulted, to await the arrival of my perspective husband.
Two days had passed without word of the highwayman, and as I sat in the parlour engrossed in my embroidery I heard the most offensive ruckus as a stagecoach pulled up outside the house. From the raised voices that could be heard I soon discovered that the coach had been robbed on its way to this dwelling. According to the shouts and screams a masked draw-latch appeared out of nowhere and knocked the driver and two footmen unconscious before the cuffins knew what had happened. The villain then proceeded to steal the riches from the gentlepeople’s very buget! What an interesting incident indeed!
Shortly after the noise hushed and the air became silent once more. Mother had left me alone in the parlour before the coach had arrived but had yet to revisit. I took the time to muse over the happenings and smiled at myself as I conceived the highwayman’s doings. Cunning old fox that he was I wondered how he had managed the task alone. I could understand how he had captured my Father off guard but a coach carrying six men, two of whom were armed, and also two ladies! Not that I believe for a moment that these ladies would have been much use in a brawl, unless their fainting figures provided someone with a fall. But I tend to doubt it.
Still the matter was most exciting.
Soon Elinor was sent to bring me into the dinning room for a light supper, to welcome our guests. Before we entered Elinor told me very sternly that I must be chivalrous to the gentleman and on my best behaviour.
“We should not want you to disappoint the gentlemen.” She said. “And try hard not to waddle.”
I stared stunned for a moment as she left, wondering what she meant by my way of walking. Indeed! If I do tis only because my stays are tied tight to make my waist small. It is hard to move when your insides are being crushed.
Gathering myself, I entered the room as elegantly as possible, holding my head high as I was taught and attempted to move as though floating.
The gentlemen stood as I entered the dinning room and bowed. Curtsying I observed the party. There was my Father draped in his finest brocade, placed at the head of the table. Opposite him at the other end was our guest of honour, the Lord Bacillus elder. And on his left, next to him sat his wife, much like my own Mother, smothered in white lead face paint and starting to plumb. Then there was my Uncle, who was, I suppose, to write the contract of the match. Next to him was another women, younger than myself, whom was Mistress Bacillus and then finally, placed next to the only vacant seat was the man of the hour, Lord Ambrose Henry Bacillus the Third.
God’s blood! He was not a short man and yet his build cast the illusion that he was. His shoulders were not broad as some men’s but stout and rounded. Mother’s maid had painted him handsome for a noble, which most are but his beauty left a lot to be desired. His eyes where far apart and he had a rather large boil on his chin. But bless me I sound vain. Tis not his appearance that I found so vulgar but when he first opened his jaws.
“Lady Lisabeth.” He mewed, raising his eyebrows at me. “Why don’t you look well…for a brunette. If I may enquire, how old shall you be? Nine and twenty, one and thirty?”
I moved towards the table, where a servant held out my chair.
“Indeed no.” I said as I sat down. “I am two and twenty years old my lord.”
“I see.” Replied my imprudent lord gruffly.
The meal began with little conversation on my part, as the men spoke of business and other matters of state that did not interest me. I was keen to hear more of the robbery but I knew that if I should ask for an account I would be birched anon.
Occasionally Lady Bacillus or my own Mother would ask questions but for the majority all the females of the party were silent, as expected. I noticed, from time to time, that Lord Ambrose would glance in my direction but I could not tell from his manner if he approved or not of what he saw, though in truth I hoped that he found me as repulsive as I him. He may be rich but I am certain that a match between us would lead to an awfully forlorn existence.
Soon this meeting of tiresome talk was over and we all proceed to the parlour for tea and music. I made myself comfortable away for the party in a corner chair by the bookshelf and took up my embroidery once more. I had hoped to go unnoticed while Mistress Bacillus played the virginals. Thought my eyes were on my needle and tread, my thoughts truly explored this mystifying matter of the highwayman still further. I thought back to my own encounters of the thief. I began to muse over the possibilities of what might have come about if my Father had not been so pusillanimous and given up his treasures. Could this kindly cove truly use the armaments he carried if so inclined and needing? Indeed he was kind enough to me but he had a history of thieving, and much of it. My Mother for all her baloney had recited tales of this man many a time and it is said that he is wanted by the City Fathers, whom have a reward on his head for over two hundred pounds. I admit to being curious as to why the fellow, so obviously fine mannered would want to steal. Or need to.
I could remember the way he looked and his manner clearly, there was defiantly something courtly about him and yet a noble would be rich or at service for Her Majesty. Nobles need not filch! So he must be poor…yet his etiquette. I was so addled over it all. For want of a man so courageous yet black at the very core! When he appeared at the masque I should have screamed the alarm. Why had I not? In making my decision I endangered another family, thought they are not hurt I felt responsible for their ordeal. If a man can carry a dag then surly he must have aim and a trigger finger.
But a man who must steal must too have famine.
And those last words he spoke to me. “I will see you again”, that vow in a voice of steel. Could I doubt that he might find me, perchance if he could track me to the masque he can find this house. And what would his intention be; simple conversation or had my ears not warranted a kiss?
I could not for the life of me order my feelings, was he just a thief or a gentleman?
How could he be all he seemed? T’was it just my dream of him, my fancy that made him so dashing a character? Was I mistook in my faith of his kind nature? Was he truly a villain? What evil was he about?
I doubted Lionel Freedman.
Shortly after supper had ended and everyone had become settled there came a knock at the parlour door. In came a servant who announced that the Baili had arrived. My Father bid him enter. Baili Trask was welcomed by the Bacillus family and my own. He had come to take a report on the theft due to the Bacillus being such an influential and honoured family. He had already taken my Fathers accounts the week prior and it became apparent to me that my Father had clearly had a servant ride out to call the Sheriff for favour of his guests.
The Bacillus men gave their descriptions. All details they told were as I remembered, navy cloak, half mask and a white horse.
“Fear not!” Said Baili Trask confidently. “I understand that you are all amort but you have my word that this draw-latch shall receive no amerce, rather a trip to the chats.”
“We are grateful Trask.” Said Lord Bacillus bowing to the gent.
Baili Trask bowed back, before adding, “I trust there is nothing else to affix to the report, even from last weeks attack.”
The floor was open. This was my chance to speak, to help stop the crook, and also offer myself protection.
I opened my lips to speak.
Faces turned towards me. Mother looked furious that I might converse, Father more so, our guests appeared more startled then shocked. And I suddenly realised – what had I to be afraid of? The prospects of a masked man’s cutlass in a daring attempt on my life or a beating and imprisonment by my displeased Father.
Pressing the back of my hand to my lips I began to cough violently, gasping for air, putting on a marvellous act worthy of any player. Mistress Bacillus took charge and brought me a goblet of watered-wine and knelt gently beside me to see to my recovery. The gentlemen and ladies turned back to their conversation and within moments Baili Trask left to interview the Bacillus’s serving men. Thus I quitted my cough and thanked Mistress Bacillus graciously for her troubles.
The afternoon was drawing in when my Mother suddenly spoke.
“My dear?” She said, referring to my Father. “Should you not be attending certain businesses with thy brother and friend?”
My Father nodded and requested my Uncle and Lord Bacillus elder to accompany his to his office to discuss matters. But that was not the end of my Mothers ploy.
“Now Lady Bacillus, I trust you have not yet seen our gardens. Perchance you and your daughter would delight me in your company as I take my afternoon walk.”
Sly old bat! She had purposely quitted every member of the room aside Lord Ambrose and I.
The door closed behind the leaving party and I suddenly felt trapped, deprived of air, the tides of my pulse quickening. How had I not noticed how little space there was in this parlour before?
Lord Ambrose turned towards me. He smiled.
“We are alone at last.”
“Indeed my Lord, we are.” I replied, attempting to sound unmoved when in truth I was terrified.
He advanced towards me; he’s stout body appearing suddenly taller and destructive.
“And if we are alone we must be ourselves.” He said, still moving further in my direction.
“I am always myself, my Lord.” I said, noticing how close he was. I stepped back a pace. “For whom else shall I be?”
The smile vanished from his face. Whether from my reply or my step away I could not determine.
“Our fathers are now signing the marriage documents at this very moment. All I need to do is sign myself and see you at the alter and you are my wife. Everything you are belongs to me. And when I am your husband I shall expect certain standards, and respects!”
His hand chased through the air unnoticed to me at first from its speed but I knew on impact what had happened. The left side of my face burst into flames as his hand left my cheek, leaving a violent sting. I fell to the ground in pain. Tears suffocating my vision, I clasped my hands to my face to prevent him the satisfaction of my sobbing. My lord was breathing heavily as was I, but soon he calmed himself and I heard footsteps retreat and the door close behind him.
I stood on my balcony in the night air, glancing towards the stars, the only light save for the watch candle that lay glowing scarlet inside my bedchamber.
The Bacillus family had gone, heavens be praised. My Mother has heard of my ‘disobedient tongue’ and confined me in mine own locked bedchamber for a night and day in punishment but also to train me to “honour thy future spouse”.
And now it was done. The documents signed so that in a week I would become handfast to that horrid rodent, and a month there after meet him in the house of God to become his slave.
The world had all but lost its sparkle, the magic the sights of nature once held to me had become gloomy and I was anon wed to a true criminal.
But the hour was late and I had grown weary from standing in the chill and so turned to retreat to bed for a night of peace in sleep.
“My Lady?” Came an unexpected whisper from the shadows. I returned quickly to the rail to peer down into the gloom. Thought I could see the faint details of the lawn below I saw no one beneath the balcony.
“My Lady!” Said the voice again, this time behind me.
I smiled to myself as I turned to greet him, for I recognised that voice.
“Good evening, Master Highwayman.” I said with a curtsey to the masked face that welcomed me.
“Good evening!” He replied with a bow, as polite as ever.
“I heard you have had some well earned adventure this day, I an interested to hear your tale of the event.” I paused for a moment and stared at him. “Why…How did you get up here? I heard you voice below.”
“Indeed no, my Lady.” He said smiling even more broadly. “Tis not my voice on the ground that you heard, but from the roof above. There is a large vine fixed to the south wall of your home that I used to climb, and once I had located your chamber all I had but to do was lower myself down.”
I nodded. “Please do not think that I am not glad to see you but pray what are you doing here?”
Mr Freedman laughed charmingly.
“I have come to visit my Lady.” He replied. “For I promised to see her again.” And with these words he produced a posy of pure white snowdrops bided with a thin cherry ribbon.
I gratefully received the posy and entered my bedchamber to place them in my water cup. I felt so dim-witted! How could I ever have doubted the honesty of this man? He was too pleasant for words. There must be a valued reason for his doings.
I turned to ask him this but the chamber was empty save myself. I lowered my head to see past the drapes covering the balcony doors.
“Would you come in Master Highwayman?” I asked.
“If it please you, my Lady, and we are alone.” He stepped in peering about himself inquisitively. Taking off his hat he unbuckled his cloak to fold over his arm. I pointed at the wooden chair by my dressing table. Nodding his head slightly he moved towards it and placed his outdoor attire upon it. Now in the candlelight I could see the sword strapped to his waist and the dug in a holster on his hip. He still bore his mask and so his face remain covered, yet I wondered what he looked like without it.
Facing me once more the highwayman saw me looking at him. Embarrassed I faced away.
“My Lady?” He remarked, advancing on me quickly. Slightly startled form my previous experience I struggled not to move. I was now determined to trust this man until I had reason not to. “The light must trick mine eyes for it reveals a contusion on your cheek. Tell me who has bett you?”
I suppressed a slight chuckle.
“I believe you met only this day break.” I replied, feeling suddenly ashamed of the vast mark on my face. I moved to turn away form him again but he stopped me, gently brushing the bruise with bent fingers. I grimaced at the sting of the gesture but the pain soon wavered. He withdrew his hand.
“One of the men in the carriage?” He asked concerned.
“Aye.” Said I. Suddenly I was no longer in control of my own voice and I told him the unyielding truth. “My fiancée, as of this afternoon.”
“Oh…” He said, glancing quickly at the balcony doors. “I see…but why?”
I pondered the question for a moment, carefully considering the answer, whether it be wise to tell him of my voice. I am not sure why but I told him the truth. Within moments his face had turned burgundy, glowing with heat.
“You are angry with me sir?” I asked, frighten as if I were back at the moment of Lord Ambrose’s blow. More then a little alarmed I retreated, preparing to run if need be.
“No!” Said the rogue gently, before becoming once again fiery with abhorrence. “I am angry but not with you, dear Lady. Tis this pig fiancée you speak of that flames my blood.”
“Never in my life have I met with blows to a women. Nor would I ever, even if she came at me with a knife! I’d rather sever out mine own heart then strike a dame!”
I was surprised at this. I had known many women to have been hit, my own Mother and maids and many others, I myself had been slap by my Father, though I expected it little of another man. But to find one against it completely, it astounded me.
“You are indeed an honourable man, Master Highwayman.”
A disapproving glare caught my eye.
“Please,” He said, civilly. “I am not a highwayman when I am in your company, nor am I your master or equal…”
“Until I met you I had no equal!” I exclaimed. “Not even the other females at court would speak to I without inferiority in their tone. Yet you have always spoken to me with kindness, value. I thank thee.”
There are few memorable moments in ones life that stands out both chilling and exciting. This was one such time as he took up my hand in his and pressed it to his lips, just as he had done the first time we met. And just as it was then, my heart began to race with all might, yet flutter at the same time. I could have flown from the balcony at his touch, and his presents thrilled me more then another man’s ever did. I was a fool to ever doubt, and I swore never to doubt again, for here lie-eth a man I could trust, even with my life.
Little did I know that one day I would have need to do just that.
“Now!” He spoke boldly and cheerfully. “Where were we in our conversation? I believe you had asked a question? What was it?”
I thought back, trying to recall the conversation before talk of vile potential husbands. “I was wondering about…”
“My days adventure!” I nodded at him with a grin, hoping he would continue. “T’was a normal a day as any, a little thievery here and there, though I must say I did find today’s events practically rewarding. For you see I met a coach full of warthogs clocked in gold satins, carrying much treasure.” He gestured that I sit, so I took up a perch on the edge of my bed. “But they also had heavy armoury, and t’was with the penalty of death and dishonour that I took the task of rescuing the riches from their keep. And thus I did so.”
I laughed at his antidote, amused by his storytelling.
“Yes, but how? You have interested me with the reasons but now to your resources.”
He smiled. “My Lady is indeed wise to know t’was not done by magic but by luck. Sometime ago it became clear to me that I should need away of distracting the guard of such riches so to get to it, and so I invented The Sleeper.”
“What is it?” I asked breathless with anticipation.
“The Sleeper is a very good friend of mine.” He said, amused. “It puts to dreams the men out top the carriage. Now with such events as your fathers carriage a pistol and sword is enough, but when facing more then one or two men tis not. This is where The Sleeper helps. For it is-“ He paused with a smirk and sat beside me. “Tis just a large piece of wood…suspended in the trees that I release to knock the chaps from their stations.”
I laughed at the thought of a serving man being throw from his chair but nought but a dead tree. O, the cunning crook!
“Truly you are a mischievous sprite, Master High-“ An eyebrow raised as the fellow cleared his throat. “Lionel…now this is silly.” I remarked, a little annoyed. “Why I would it we be equals, and that you address me by my name also.”
“And by what name shall I call thee?” He mused. “Angel? No, thy true nature should not be revealed, but what name is desiring of your grace…”
“Lisabeth!” I commanded slightly sternly but with a laugh. “You shall call me, Lisabeth.”
Our conversation went on into the night and we spoke of many a thing. For instance I asked him why he took from a wealthier pocket, and I was most shocked to here the answer, which I bid, must be true.
“Tis a sad story in truth.” Replied Lionel gravely. “But I must begin where it all began. In childhood.
“I was but ten years old when my Father left our house to go to the wars in France. I remember the day well enough. The blossoms had just opened on the trees that shadowed the courtyard. Aye, we lived in a large home, nothing fine like this, but it was well enough. My family were nobles at a time but were always poorer then many others, little better then wealthy farmers. And yet it was a happy house. My Mother was devoted to my Father and he her and I believe they loved each other truly. Yet that day came when men of duty must take their call. If we had been rich it would not have been.
“Not but a year later, even before I was eleven, we received word that my Father had been killed in battle. It broke my Mother heart. There is nothing as so painful as feeling the loss of a parent, save for seeing one die inside. We tried to make do for a little time, while it was decided where we might go. We where now too poor to keep a living. I no longer went to school but took charge of my Fathers work, and even without hired help on the fields; I would work to keep the house we owned, just for a little longer. It was when I came home from the fields one day that I saw a parked carriage outside my house. The servants stood outside and I knew something was wrong. Busting thought the door I ran up the stairs in urgency, searching for my Mother. I could hear her screams from the hall and so hastened to the upper sitting room…”
Lionel’s eyes where glazed with liquid, and his voice now brittle. I placed my hand on his arm, from where we now both sat on the edge of my bed. He looked at me thankfully, coughed twice then continued.
“Pray you never should witness what I have, my Lady.” He said. “The screams suddenly stopped as I reached the door. I kicked it open with all the might I possessed, which at the age was not much. But it worked. As the door opened I was suddenly pushed aside by a figure in black. Instinctively I forced myself up form the floor and gave chance. I never caught the man but I knew who he was. He had been to the house before, claiming that now my Father was dead he owned our estate. It was deemed by law that I was too young to run my house, but while my Mother lived it was to be kept for me later in life.
“Once the villain was away, I returned to see my Mother was safe. But she was not. As I neared the doorway a servant grasped my shoulders and pulled me away. Despite my ignorance I believe that my heart knew what lie beyond the threshold, for it put up no fight of resistance. I was taken to my room, where I was told that my Mother was gone. Strangled to death.”
Tears now too had formed in my eyes as he spoke these last words. I felt so terribly guilty for bringing up the matter that was none of my business. I had thought he simply robbed for the riches or excitement even. But now he revealed he had had no choice.
“I am so sorry…I had no right to ask…”
“No, Lady, you asked a question with every right, and I in my own, choose to give answer.” He forced a small smile. “But my tale is not yet finished.
“After the death of both my beloved parents I found myself suddenly without home nor family. The bailiffs evicted this child into the streets. But not all was lost. For you see, my Father in his life had take kindness towards an orphanage, St Roseings, and had become its patron. He could not give much, but had fed the house for more then twenty years. The kind lady who owns it, I am sure, would have given me house even if I was not my Fathers son. But within three years, when it was my time to live life on my own I knew that this kindness could not go unpaid. So I took up patronage of the orphanage. But I was still only some poor rook, how was I to pay? Thus I took up thievery. And I was good at it. Pick pocketing with earn you a good kick in the gut at times, but it was good money. I still earned honestly, as I do now, working the land as my Father had done, to pay for mine own loggings. But the riches I take fuels my life of crime and my fellow orphans bellies. Has been this was for nine years.”
What a grand story.
“But it is late.” He said, getting up. “I fear we what talked the night away.”
“Pray don’t go!” I said hurriedly standing. “For I may never see you again.”
“Would you see me again?” Asked Lionel, slightly amused.
“Then you shall.” He said graciously and bowed. “I shall return when you are alone, a visitor of the night. But until tomorrow, I bid thee sweet Lady, adieu!”
With one full sweep he picked up his cap and hat, and ran towards the balcony. Pulling the cloak onto his shoulders, he tilted his hat towards me, and gave one great leap up into the air, pulling himself unto the ledge above. I moved quickly after him and stood staring up at the direction he had just taken. A half masked face peered over the rooftop.
“I would it be nightfall again.” I whispered. “Fare-thee-well!”
He placed his hand to his hats rim once more then vanished.
When dawn came that day I was already impatient for it to be dark once more. I had slept little that night and had made sure then the balcony door latch was not shut, encase he should return sooner. I cannot express how much joy our conversations brought me, and I knew then that I would give up title and wealth and do nothing but speak with him for the rest of my life.
I spent my day in impatiences, wishing the light away. Unable to leave my chamber still I paced up and down, out onto the balcony and back inside. Towards midday I was so tired that I returned to bed for a few hours, then up once more, pacing.
Towards the fading light I heard the key in the lock of my chamber entryway. Elinor opened it and entered. With a short curtsy to me she spoke:
“Your supper is down stairs, madam.” She said and left.
I did not want to leave my chamber should the bandit return but, as I had not eaten since supper the day prior I was famished. I ate with fury and on several occasions my Mother scolded me for it. How undignified I was! But I cared not for I was in haste.
I entered the room but it was empty still. I had assured my Mother and maid that I was tired with megrim and thus should sleep. Drawing the latch on my door I locked it, taking care that it should be secure. And thus then waited. The night was dark outside and though I was sure that my acquaintance would not return until well into the night I was beginning to grow troubled in the lateness of his arrival.
“Oh good Lionel, where art thou?” I whispered in anxiety as the clock stuck eleven.
“Late yet here.” And with whispered words he entered through the balcony doors.
I knew not why but I ran at him and flung my arms about his neck and embraced him tightly, glad that he was safe. Realising what I had done I pulled back sharply to face him.
“Good-e’en. You have been kept waiting, I apologies.” He spoke softly.
“You are safe, tis all that matters!” I replied. “But know this now, next time I might well cuff you for giving me fright! I thought you had been caught…”
He laughed at me, removing his hat. “I have never been caught! Have you not heard my story; I can outrun anything that should be brave enough to pursue. But come now, and answer me a question?”
“Are you needed again this night or can you be acquitted?” I nodded to him in reply. “I am glad for I have a surprise. Come!”
He pulled my arm gently in the direction of the balcony, paused, let go and walked towards my closet, which he opened and after producing a thick dark cramoisie caster, he returned, bade me put in on and then hurried me out onto the balcony, gently closing the doors after. He then jumped up as before and pulled himself unto the rooftop. He then lowered his hand down for me to reach. I paused for a moment, thinking of the hight when I heard his voice whisper.
“Can you trust this villain?”
“Yes” Said I, reaching for his hand. He pulled me form the floor one handed and lifted me gently up beside him on the roof. Then, warning me to tread carefully and quietly he proceed to usher me across the rooftop towards the south wall. I was then instructed to hold tightly about the fellow’s neck. He then proceeded to lower himself over the roof’s side and clime down the trellis he spoke of. Once on the ground he grabbed my hand once again and hastened me across the lawn by the shadow of the walls. I never knew it before but there was a large hole in one of the hedges that acted as a border to our land and it was through this that we made our escape into the night. A little down the road, hidden away was dear Désirée, as attractive as ever, shinning in the pitch of the night.
Before I knew where unto or what, my highwayman had lifted me onto his mount and climbed up behind me, and we where away.
What was a light breeze blew thought my lose hair like a playful hurricane, stroking my skin with it’s gentle fingers. The moonlight lit the way as clear as day save everything was silver. Instead of lark’s song the owl hummed its melody in the night, and what a nights ride! The thrill of it all!
We rode for little over an hour when we reached Lionel’s destination.
We walked over the wooded plane which stretched afar before us until we met with crystal waters, shimmering in the moonlight. The lake near sang to us, its small waves whispering. The highwayman and I took up chair on a cloak spread over the grass and once again resumed conversation.
“Do you like it?” He asked.
“Yes I do.” I replied happily, looking at scene before me, more beautiful then the grandest palaces of the world. “I like it very well, very well indeed.”
We sat about gazing over the waters, perfectly in peace in each other’s company. It seemed that the lawbreaker had something on his mind, unable to put his musing into words, so I asked him what was wrong.
“Tell me,” He asked respectfully. “If you will, what manner a man it is that you marry? Why engaged to such a fierce beast? You must love him or why else wed?”
“Please do not insult me!” I remarked coarsely unable to contain my disgust for my betrothed. “If I had a choice I should never marry him. I do not love him and nor he I, as he has shown in his anger. He marries me only because my Father has brought his favour with my dowry, tis all he is after. Please do not think that I would ever marry such a man, tis something I would never even conceive of if it was not so.”
“My sincerest apologies.” He said quietly, honestly. “But if you do not love him then why consent to the match?”
I pressed my fingers into some bear dirt and scooped out a large stone. With all my might I flung it into the water yonder.
“Because it is not worth my life not to.” I replied desperately, hoping he understood. “If I do not say ‘I do’ at the alter then I should be took, beaten and starved until death or wearing will. And after the marriage, which I must consent, I would be beaten again, and still further until I had paid the penalty of the ill-gotten wife…This dark fate I cannot surrender but only make it painless then not.”
Gentle fingers brushed away an escaped tear from my cheek.
“I shall have to think about this.” He said plainly.
“Think about what?” I asked but received no reply. Instead we sat in silence for a time, as the moon blazed brighter thought a clearing in the trees. Finally I decided to start up the conversation again, not because the silence was cold and unfeeling for it was far from it, but more so that I had a new question to ask of the gent.
“Why do you come to me?” I asked curiously, promptly adding. “The second time we met, you said something to me that implied motive and yet you have not followed through…”
“It’s late!” He interrupted. “Come, Lady Lisabeth, tis time I took you home.”
I was taken aback by his sudden change in temper but said nothing, instead I followed him back to Désirée.
Once back on my balcony I bid him goodnight, feeling gloomy at his silence. But instead of letting me quit without conviction, Lionel placed a tender hand to my shoulder.
“My Lady.” He spoke sweetly. “I come to see you because of who you are, please understand that though all my teasing it was merely that your insights interested me that I ventured to meet with you…before I hold up a coach I take the task of studying it first, along with it’s inhabitants, to reveal hidden dangers. It was as I watched you from afar that I noticed a glimmer in thy eyes that indulged nature’s beauty. A young deer. I was amused at how such a thing appeased my Lady but not her kin. I knew we where alike and thus sort to meet you. There is no other reason. I saw that you where kind of heart and bright. That is all. Yet thy beauty is real and adds to thy charm. ”
“Those may have been the kindest words ever spoken to me.” I revealed.
“They shall not be the last.” He stated. “I must hence.”
And for the third time he pressed his warm lips to my naked hand and left with a fond farewell.
The next day I was in such a joyful mood that not even the threat of rain could conquer. My Mother fussed even more fearsomely then normal and still I remained in high spirits and contentment. I never thought for one moment that my spirits would be shattered by the evening post.
We sat at the dinning table, Mother happily moaning about presuming courtiers to Father, whom grunted in return as he chewed his roast duck. A knock echoed on the door and the messenger entered, giving Father the vellum and left once more.
“From my brother.” Said Father. “May be about the wedding.”
He opened the seal and read though the letter, his face growing more and more elated with every word. After he had read it a fifth time, he places it down on the table and burst into tears of mirth.
“Good news, my dear?” Questioned Mother.
“Indeed, indeed.” Responded Father gleefully. “Very good indeed. They have caught that flich at last!”
My Mother clapped her hands in joy, cheeks as red as apples.
“Oh that is good news!” She said. “Are we to have a hanging?”
“Oh no, he has been dealt with.”
I could remain silent no longer. Dread had filled my stomach and I felt strangely light-headed.
“What mean you, my Father?” I asked politely, desperate for his reply. At first he only eyed me curiously.
“Why, he is dead.” Replied he. “He was shot this morning by a farmer as he encroached on the Queens own land! Nerve of the laggard! But still, at last justice has been served…”
I listened to no more talk, for my head was empty but for thoughts of my dear friend. Shot! Dead? How can the heavens be so cruel but to take away my only companion. No, it could not be so, I shan’t believe it until I had proof.
“Lisabeth?” Said Mother. “You are awfully pale dear. Mayhap the excitement of your dress fitting tomorrow has gone to your head. I certainly hope you are not coming down with cold, especially so close to the engagement ceremony. Still, best to be safe, off to bed with you.”
I left the table instantly. Inside I was screaming, in need of being alone. I felt as though I myself was dyeing. I could not wait for the hope he might call; I should have to hear the truth with mine own ears.
I bolted my chamber door and made hast to the balcony. Grabbing at the stonework I pushed myself upon the rail and managed with one mighty leap to seize the roofs edge, with hardship I pulled myself onto its surface. My hands where clammy and scrapped as I scrambled to my feet. Impatient I did not wait to catch breath but dived towards the south wall and nearly flung myself over its edge. Climbing down I ran over the shady lawns and under the hedge and started the five-mile journey into the outskirts of London.
Never had I walked as far in my life but I made the trip with no thought on my part. I just marched towards my goal.
The stench of death rattled my nostrils. The summers heat had brought the plague to town, smothering the goodly folk with bubos and blackened limbs. Thankfully I was far from the death pits and infected area but the thought linger well. Hailstones began to thundered down form the sky with tremendous force, striking my thinly covered skin with might. A winters shower is early summer. Was this a sign from God? As I walked down the streets awhile, I became suddenly aware of how many people there were, how many houses lined the streets. How was I to find him?
“Good miss?” I stopped an approaching bawd. “Could you tell me where I might find the St Roseings orphanage?”
She pointed at a minute building close by and then held out her hand. It took a moment to see what she was after but I gave her a sixpence for her troubles.
Hail changed to rain and I raced to the door, and began to bang on its face until a petite, old women answered the door.
“Please be quiet dear, or you shall wake the children.” She spoke with kindness and offered me entry, which I refused.
“Please!” I begged out of breath. “Lionel Freedman?”
“He no longer lives here, my dear.” She said gently. “What is your trouble? What business do you have with him?”
“I am a friend in much need of his whereabouts, so please if you know where he is then you must tell me!”
The women’s eye lightened at my plea and she gave me directions to his apartments. I left without a word and ran the distance. Within minute I was there. Not evening knocking I bust thought the unlocked door, hastened up the stairs and into the apartment.
The glow of candlelight blinded me, but anon the sights came into view. A clean room with a small desk came before my eyes. There was not much else here, save a small stove and fire, a large chest and a truckle bed. But God be praise, the candle be lit so someone must be here. Moving further into the room I called out.
The door hinge squeaked.
“Lisabeth!” Replied his voice from behind.
I rushed into his arms.
“What are you doing here?” He queried, dropping his pistol onto the bureau beside him.
He was alive!
“You’re soaked through! You’ll catch your death!”
He was safe!
“Come now I insist on taking you home.”
Bless it be!
Lionel pulled a blanket from his bed and rapped it around my shoulders.
“What are you doing here?” He laughed at my second abrupt embrace.
“I thought you where dead.” I could not help it, I cried into his commission. “My dear Beaupere, I thought I’d lost you!”
“How now, don’t cry!” Producing a kerchief he wiped my eyes. But this was not just any kerchief, rather one I had stowed the stolen jewels in. I smiled at the thing, happy he was safe. “I am fine, as you see. A little overcome that you cared so much, but in perfect health.”
“Lionel, I…” I began but words seemed to fail me.
“I spread the rumours that I had been shot so that I might go undetected and un-searched for, for a time.”
“I…have a…business deal to contend with for which I need much money. A sort of life’s pursuit if you will…but now I have enough and need not briber any longer. But come explanation can wait for another night, I really must see you home.”
My Lionel moved to get the cape that hung by the door, but as he turned I realised a sudden sight.
“Your face!” I spoke softly. Lionel stopped and turned to see what I had said, and realising placed a hand to his naked head.
“Oh!” He chuckled. “I haven’t realised…if I’d known you were coming…do you think me hideous, Lisabeth?”
I gazed in wonder at the face before me. I had imagined his look but never had I thought it so handsome. I would not have cared if he had of been hideous but this face was the most pleasant I had seen. His eyes where such thrilling blue, like azurite and as wise as deep waters. He has a pointed chin like a emperor, with well carved features, an um-offensive noise, pale lashes and the humble glow to his cheeks of a man who knew not his own affect.
“No sir. Quite the opposite!”
He smiled diffidently, and then made for his cloak again. Once he was suited in his hat and mask also we entered the streets of London. The wind was colder then I remembered it and I hoped it would not take as long to return home on horseback for my wet clothes were becoming uncomfortable.
“My stables are just around the corner.” He said, escorting me to a bend in the road. As we made to turn, Lionel suddenly pulled me back into the shadows of a near by building, shielding me from view with his own body as a brigade of guards marched past.
“My apologies.” He said, looking at me gently, waiting for the guards to pass.
I let out my breath slowly, able to feel the cool wall pressed against my back.
“Not at all!” I smiled at him to show I held no grudge.
He returned the smile.
“I am glad I saw you this night.”
“Aye, so am I.”
His eyes were so bright behind the mask. His face so near I could feel his breath and yet he pulled away.
“I believe they have gone.” He said.
“Yes.” I replied, unable to shake the feeling of disappointment. “Lionel…I…”
I love you, I thought, unable to utter the words.
He head turned sharply.
His lips pressed to mine.
My heart thundered.
The moment of passions was brief but the most pleasant thing to happen to me in all my life. As our heads drew apart we both smiled at each other, laughing softly, and raced thought the rainy streets of London, as merry as merry be.