Part 4 of The Masked Lady
By Lauren Xena Campbell
Source: The Rise To Brigandry
From the privy daybooke of Lady Lisabeth Ainsley Drake, Spinster and secrete Highwaywomen.
Entry the first
It is dreadfully cold in the night. But then at night it always is. Even shrouded in the warmth of a cloak, sitting in the ambiance of a roaring fire I feel the chill. It seems that no matter how much time should pass, the night’s never-ending freeze will not cease to claim me. And I find it hard to forget~
Entry the second
How strange it should be. These six weeks my life’s accounts have lay scribed in my desk drawer, conserved with care in envelope and seal, and still I find little peace in the comforts that my recollections should stay breathing. Despite that my tale has been penned, it is as if the ink shall fade should I forget the words, as though the chronicle still lay unfinished. It saddens me.
I still struggle to recall that face, his voice, and touch, not for the lack of recollection, but for the grievance it gives me. How should the twilight rear every morn to bring forth new light in the death darkness of my years?
Oh, how I wish I could but let my sorrow overcome me, and allow the temptation to drink myself into a stupor to succeed. By the hand of aqua vitae it shall be. Save for the poor babes I play patroness too. The poor waif’s my love had lay charge to, before – – and who should see to they were fed and kept in warm shelter. If not I, whom would sponsor the soul of St.Roseings and keep it’s glorious spirit awing? And send the monies it needs across the naval, who?
And what of the other duties concurrent with my name?
In darkness should they too fall, so that I might be selfish and not live out eternity’s pain? No. I could not leave my last true friend, hidden in the dark. For no other friend have I, and one such as she. Even though granted freedom she has stayed with me, for nigh these nine weeks since, and what other companionship can out weigh such trails and still prosper true? I have a duty to the mare of which I am proud, and thus must attempt to stay sane for my dear Désirée.
I had wished my life to be more then it has become and yet in truth it was more in past then I had hope to believe. Not half a year ago my best changes of happiness where to find a rich husband who bett rarely and could be kind at times.
But so much has opened to me since, the pages of fable have come alive and shown me a new path, and as quickly still the tome was closed.
Perhaps I morn too much…If my Mother still knew me she would tell me so. But it is hard-
Ever since arriving here I cannot look upon a single stone or shadow and not blindly wish for what should have been.
The wind howled vengeance at the gulls above, tearing at their wings in furry. Salt spray hit at the embankments casting the pier into tremors, mimicking the beating humours of the mariners stranded ashore. Over the rocky creeks and schooners, war clouds threaten the coastal point, laying in wait for the most opportune time for misery!
I had only resided in this new land a day, having been escorted to the English Courts by a friend of my Late Love’s. We had never met, but in my silence he had spoken in vain attempts to comfort. He told me that once, a time ago, Lionel had saved his life. He had been a poor sailor caught false by the Gentlemen Pensioners and was being transported for trail against petty theft. Lionel had happened on the scene and held up the coach, as palace guards generally have a pretty coin between them, and had then set the good fellow free.
A month later they had met again and the sailor had pledged his life and future deeds unto his rescuer. The Highwayman had never called to that promise until now. After the flee from the magistrate, the kindly fellow had retreated back to the docks in search of labour as a crabber or fisherman, and so by the River Thames he lived and paid homage to his trade. But there was still no sea dog better!
And so the favour was called and the kindly fellow brought upon to see us safely over the marine. A purse richer he waited at his station. On the first sights of trouble he kept to his word and raced to our aid. Though too late to prevent the signet of justice, he still served to safe guard my life.
Once arrived safely across the boarder we headed for court where the goodly fellow hired a dey-women as a kitchen hand, someone to carry me thought the night with food and hot water. She would stay with me a day and eve to settle me securely into my new home, to help me unpack and to dress, so that on the morrow I could find my own services. I was glad of the help though I did not show it, as it took us from dusk till near midnight to travel from the sea to the farm by Post, the sad colts drifting at the slowest pace. The dey-maid, a young women named Tammy, was gentle unlike any maid I have ever encountered, she set to work with broth and a warm washing basin in a dutiful manner. Our kindly sailor having since departed, had promised to call within the week and have left clear instructions. I was to be bathed and set to bed, while Tammy unpacked the luggage.
Forthwith, the maid and I proceeded as instructed and I watched with waterlogged eyes as she unloaded papers and horses tackle. As at my rescue I had no opportunity to collect any of my processions all but a kirtle belonged to Lionel. It was too much. I sent the girl off to the other chamber, while I knelt on the floor beside the caskets and wept.
In the morning the girl re-entered the room and asked if I should like to change into my other raiment but I refused. Although the dress I wore was not as fine as my old wedding kirtle I could not part with it. Instead, seeing the rages the dey-maid wore I insisted she took it for herself and fashioned it to suit. At first she would not, saying it was too fine, not fit for her station. Her reaction made me for the first time bear the smallest of smiles.
“Please take it, as a token of my thanks, and pre-payment for becoming livery to this house and it’s mistress.” I said gently.
The girl gave an unbelievable shriek.
“You mean…me serve a lady?”
Seriousness overtook me at once.
“Who told you I was a Lady?”
The girl smiled, her eyes twinkling in the dawn light.
“Your escort did, Milady. But please don’t be angry with us! I noticed it about you and questioned. He said you were…a Lady from England…that I should serve you as such and more, for you were better then other nobility. Isn’t it true?”
“It is true I am a Lady, yes.” I sighed, recalling my parents and rank. “But that was in England, now in the past, and all this nonsense about being better…from now I am just a Farm Mistress, that is all.”
“Oh, but it isn’t, Milady. Your of fine nobility an’ must act as such despite wealth or poverty. Now come let me see you dressed properly.”
“No, I shall never wear that thing again, now take it.” I replied austerely, struggling to keep steady speech. Then in a lower voice, I turned from her and said. “Besides, it is fitting I wear the dress provided for the day…”
I could see the girl was out of spirits just as I was and thought it best that we both where not sombre. So I gave her leave and money to travel to the town and fetch me a morning smock, which I would where from then on.
And so I sat in solitude for a while, residing over the thought that I should be married that day. Anger rose within me, a fire fiend from hell sent to torment and destroy, capturing me in senseless rage. I dashes at the trunks, punching and kicking in near desperation. Casting things from their hold onto the bed, papers flying into the atmosphere, slowly drifting, afraid of my wrath. I grasped at my hair and screamed on seeing the marriage documents. I fell back on to the cold floor breathless and afraid, no longer able to scream or cry. I was cold. So cold. As cold as the grave.
I rested. Still. Lying on the stone. Dazed and shivering. For hours I waited, not moving, barely breathing. Eventually a little strength returned to me. I pulled myself from the floor and ventured slowly to the dressing table, where Tammy had left a lit candle. I peered into the looking glass. Gasping at the ghost face before me I felt the strangest pain of dishonour. Could my pain hurt others, even those beyond this world? Would Lionel be ashamed of my lack of strength? I know he wanted me to be happy. But without him would I ever be?
Over the next few days I found a routine in the care of Tammy. She would see me awake in the morn and set me small tasks, like brushing my hair or making the bed. Each task she set seemed a chore, nothing harder or more brutal. But the work did ease my misery a little. At my instruction she had left the cases of garments undisturbed but had sort to deal with paperwork and the estate, asking me to read and scribe for her. There was the strangest sensation in the feel of the quill in my hand, the ink sleeking down my fingers, and so on her next trip into town I requested she buy me ink and vellum with some of the money we had claimed from a small chest found about the trunks.
It was then over the next week that I set to character the tale of Lionel. It was a trail at times, causing me to weep and near broke me; Tammy having to cradle me as I whimpered, calling for him. And at other moments it raised me so high that I would laugh uncontrollably. And I realised I should always love him.
Entry the third
A letter has come today. It was addressed to ‘Master L.Freedman Esquire’. It was from a solicitor conveying the news that now the farm was paid for we had seven hundred pounds left in bank, to pay for labour for the next few years, but nothing more. Since my arrival I had survived on a letter of credit I found among Lionel’s possessions. I had sent three instalments to St.Roseings and equipped my loggings with all its necessities. The letter would last a while yet, but there is no longer enough to be sent overseas.
I wonder what can I do for my charge? The farm is slowly making pay but not yet profit, soon I shall sparsely be able to feed myself. Now that Tammy comes to help only a few days a week I shall not need to give her as much but to give the orphanage nothing? It cannot happen!
Oh, what to do? If only it where possible to take up saddle and become a marauder.
On the conclude of Lionel’s story I jested, toying with the thought but it is not possible, though it would be a simple solution. To cry out ‘Stand and Deliver’ as he had done and rob fools of their petty cash. When I wrote those words I was smiling, my pen a sword to cut the ties of the old world and bring back his spirit in my crime of loving it. It had seemed like such an interesting venture, such alike as one from a fairytale dream, to relive his past and learn more. But I was mistook by my notions. It was a false plan. Ludicrous. Why, I should make the most appalling crook, no doubt caught on the road even before the crime. That I should have even thought it! Written it! A mistake on my part. What could I have ever done?
And now begs the question more, what can I do?
I need a resolve. But what? I shall think a little more and try to make a decision by the morrow. But for the moment I shall end my charactery for now Désirée needs attending to.
Entry the forth
Yester-eve I made my verdict. It came as swift as a candle being lit, jumping out at me in the preliminary gloom. I entered my bedchamber hurriedly; unlocking the last of Lionel’s chests I searched thought all of his clothing. Lifting work commissions and doublets from the hold, I came across Lionel’s highway-mask. It was the one he always wore for his raids. The adrenaline left me. He would never wear it again, and yet in the absent eyeholes I could see the brilliances of his eyes.
If I was to do as I had decided then I would need it. Lifting it slowly to my face it was only by chance that I caught sight of another mask lying in the folds of a caster. They where much alike, though this one I had not seen before. Unlike Lionel’s mask it was pure black and not the deep cerulean Lionel favoured. Taking the black mask up I walked to my mirror where a watch-candle reviled the ghost still staring. Placing the mask slowly to my face the ghost disappeared.
The strangest sensation overpowered me. I was no longer cold, but warmth travelled though my veins like a blaze. Calmness rose in me, like mystery it gave me strength…it is hard to tell, but I felt as though I was indomitable.
But still, though the ghost was gone there was now a stranger gazing back at me, no longer leaking any traces of femi’ninity or caring; nor even sorrow, just a shrouded face. Mysterious.
All around the land was boskey as I rode astride Désirée, the nightshade clock billowing in the wind behind me. Désirée trotted slowly, feeling my imbalance at first. It was so strange to have a leg either side of her back and also not to be covered in petticoats and farthingale. Lionel’s regiment had taken little time to adapt and as he had usually worn sky colours I knew I would feel safe in the lands. Though I still wore my corset, the doublet hid my dugs effectively. With my hair simply tied, hidden beneath a soft hat decked with a feather and slopping brim, I thought I looked fitting to the part.
I had also acquired a pistol and one of the highwayman’s rapiers and attached them to my belt. I had too come across a caliver, which I managed to secure to Désirée’s saddle. Fully armed and clocked we made our way though the darkness of the trees towards the road to town.
Aside from my venture to his loggings on the night I thought he had been killed this was the first time I had been out at night alone. And unlike that night, where fear of his death had driven me, the pain of dread grazed deep within. Landscapes somehow changed in the darkness, the ghostly blue cape it wore stood fearsome and strong, revealing a startling change. The air seemed to hum in this hallow wilderness, like spirits walking the earth. Every a cool breeze shock the leaves and all but none of it was unpleasant as such. Strange and new yes, filled with the scents of fright, but that which too sung of freedom. Darkness has the gift of peace.
As we neared the city boarders we halted. Setting Désirée far enough from the road so that her azure coat would not give us away I neared the edge to look for a target. The moon disappeared from the darkened sky behind a storm cloud now nearing, and while the lack of luminosity made details difficult to distinguish, the darkness worked to my advantage. Yonder, far down the road a small pimple of light glittered towards the metropolis. It was a lantern from a trader’s wagon, late on the road no doubt, and seeking shelter from the bordering storm.
This was it! Running softly back to the mare I pulled myself back into the saddle with difficulty before drawing the sword and grasping the reins with the other hand, gave Désirée one good kick to drive her into a canter. Charging though the undergrowth, the cleaver stallion evaded trees and other vegetation and was soon running down the road towards the dray. Pulling back on the reins I slowed Désirée as we neared the target, preparing myself with uncertainty for the sure brawl to come.
As the mare paced herself into a calm trot en route for our victims I was become by the first pains of doubt since my proclamation was made. What was I doing? How did I ever think to succeed? I was a woman! By no means a gallant trained in combat! Not at all able for such deeds. How could I suspect a triumph?
I awoke from my thoughts as the dray pony and Désirée met face to face. During my absent mindlessness I had let my sword hand glide to my hip where now it was stationed. The weapon was beyond my means to wield, but it was too late to turn back now. I looked at the wagon that now lay before me and what the lamplight revealed.
Two men sat on the landing seat. Alike in looks they both sat slouched, their rotund bellies laid lazily upon their knees. Each had a mass of unruly black hair, crazed around peasant caps, drifting onto the unclean garb of merchants. Even from the distance they stank of grime and the wench house. But it was beyond the traders that I now looked. A vast sack of taffeta and brocade lay open in the back of the stage.
A stock like this could feed my unfortunate waif’s for a year.
Straining somewhat I raised the sword.
“Stand and deliver your purse!” I said in solid tone, hoping the threat was clear, as too were my intentions. But the coves just burst into uncontrolled laughter.
“Is this a jest?” Asked one in a thick French accent. “Come lad, ye had ya fun, nows aways with ya.”
Despite the comment being rather more then discouraging I knew I must hold firm. Lionel, though charming never fled from a fight, and so to I must be the same. I moved Désirée towards the driver’s bench, halted and replaced the rapier from whence it came and drew the pistol. Pointing it directly at the man that spoke I cocked my weapon and spoke again:
“Will you think my threat false when I pace a bullet to your brow!” I asked fiercely, slightly taken aback as a tear began to well in the quivering chaps eye. What I presumed his brother sank back into his seat, searching my face for pity but finding none behind the mask. “Now stand and deliver. Your money, your cargo and your banter.”
The tradesmen nodded their fat chins at me, the weeping cuffin gathering all his lose coins into a buget, while his brother busied himself in fetching the bag of silks which I had demanded. Timidly he offered the heavy load to me. With one strong and struggled pull I hosted the prize from his arms and onto the rear of my saddle where I placed a secure strap about it to keep it in place. My back and arm screamed from the effort and it was all I could do not to slide from the saddle, but to dig my protesting thighs into the poor sides of Désirée. Then turning back to my terrorised fellows I smiled.
“That was but half your dept.” I held out my hand, voicing impatience.
Now dried eyed, the driver extended his hand slowly. I snatched the packet from him and opened it. There was a fair amount within and as I began to close it the desperate, upset faces of the tradesmen came to my notice. Lifting the only gold coin from the buget I threw it to the driver.
“Fear not my good fellows, I’ll not leave you so heavy. A drink on me.” I nodded at them, trying to sound charming but I fear not succeeding terribly well. “Now, I shall bid you good night. Yah!”
And with another jab into the poor mares side, we began our race for home. But the wind carried the howls of phantoms.
“Bandit! Help, help! Écorcheurs. Someone help us!”
Stupidly I paused in my wake, and turned to see the screaming faces lost in darkness. I would have fired a warning shot but the darkness was to eminence and I could not risk the guilt.
But it was too late. Riders from the city had already risen. Three members on horse back, riding with devil speed towards the wagon, carrying torches. These where city guards, the men whom at night would question those who wished to enter the metropolis, but whom too aided the charleys in their quest to kill thieves. And these where on particularly good form, their mounts charging with blistering passion.
Seizing the reins I kicked the steed with undue might, and heaving myself close to her neck as we charged with all power. The rumble of thunder echoed above us, trembling the ground and soaking the sky with a heavy shower. But it was not the lethal rain the caused me the most unease, but the pellet that passed my ear!
They had guns!
“Come Désirée, make haste! Make haste!” I shrieked at the startled mare, as she to felt the pulse of metal screaming though the air and charged even faster.
The world was a blur. All the bare sights faintly lit by the approaching torchlight liquefied into the darkness. Every sound ceased. And the freshness of the country air became stale, merging softly into a memory. The fright within me welled; pass a peek I should never have wished to venture again. Now mine eye’s saw once more but not the country road, the restless façade of a ship in the near distance, the queer towering of London homes. The stench of sea salt and urine filled my lungs. It was not the sounds of horse’s hooves that reached my ears but that of running feet.
Voice’s echoed in my mind.
Armaments roared. The aroma of gunpowder overpowering.
I shut my eyes tight until the fast rocking of the stallion’s speed returned to my seat. But still the unearthly sound of muskets.
“Faster Désirée!” I urged, opening my eyes to seek safe distance between the charleys and myself.
I faced ahead once more, determined in my quarry of escape, trying to fight the faint feeling of fright. And then I saw them.
Screams of the past filled my ears.
Pain erupted in my heart.
The world went dark.
I awoke near a small stream in the wilderness of the countryside. My vision still hazy I suppressed a shudder of disquiet and sat up to look for my mount. She was not far, grazing peacefully on the long grass, unaware of my resurrection.
Everything looked magical in the light of a full silver moon; it’s misty halo beaming down gracefully. The cool summer breeze casting the reeds into a dance, eloquently scenting the air with a sweet perfume. But I was in hell.
The pain still gripped my spirit and I struggled to inhale. The tears came with no persuasion and I cared not if constabulary were on their way. My mind was confusion and a battle between anger, loneliness and terror arose, tearing at my soul, making it screech with pain and disarray, the very brink of lunacy.
Mask or no, my ghosts still sung on the wind.
My Dear Désirée carried me home before morning awoke. Slow in my pace I struggled to unsaddle her, and take the treasures we stole. For the time they would be well in the tackle shed, along with my artillery.
I entered my house. As I walked over the threshold to my chamber and saw the array of chaos I’d left behind, the crumbled cloths and steel I had left be, my sobbing silence distilled. The beast within awoke!
Ripping the mask from my eyes I threw it across the room so that it hit the prisons of the walls. A violent queasy confused my senses as I hauled from my head the hat and tossed it into the open caffer. And with one vial look at my reflection I unbuckled the clock and let it fall from my shoulders.
I could have gotten myself killed? Or worse, Désirée! I was indeed the very finest of fools! Not worth the rank of his love! And it was because of me that he was dead! I was a wretch, the very worst of it all! And to try to take his stead, what a martyr! A hoodwink! Woodwild! A fate I shall never imposes on again!
I had only taken a pace towards my bedstead when I halted. I had heard something. A slight scratch from the wooden floorboards. I turned about, and peered down at the fallen caster. There, just peeking out of its fold was a small scrape of folded parchment. Leaning down I picked up both the vellum and the cloak, and moving in a bemuse, I sat down on the corner of my bed to unfold the financial sheet. On one side it was, as one would expect, the monie dealings of an organisation, St Roseing! But on the other lay thanks from a child’s hand. It reads; ‘may the blessed angels keep you brave sir, for I know what it is you do for us, and thank the saints every day that they have sent us you. Thank you and bless you!’
I stared at the page all the day through, holding it in a cradle with the cloak close to my breast. Tears came and dried and came again until soon there was nought left in me but a dull ache and a promise.
And in my promise my solution I conclude. So long as there is a breath in my lungs I shall not cease to fight for their cause! Not just St. Roseings but the orb, the poor, the orphaned, the lame, all shall feel the benefits of our love. In his name, treasure and ill treatment I shall take, as of this moment, I shall ride.
I must be a Masked Lady!
To be continued….