The Captain and His Innocent(3)By: Lucy Ashford
He broke off, realising at the same moment Luke did that Tom Bartlett was back, his feet crunching on the shingle. ‘There’s travellers on the high road, Captain!’
‘Revenue men?’ Luke’s voice was sharp.
‘No, Captain, it’s a fine carriage. With two grooms as well as the driver, and luggage aplenty strapped on the back.’
Luke felt his lungs tightening. ‘Does it look as though the carriage has come from London, Tom?’
‘Aye, that would be my guess. Can’t make out the coat of arms on the door. But the horses, they’re Lord Franklin’s all right—I recognised the four fine bays that he keeps stabled at the George Inn close to Woodchurch.’
‘And is Lord Franklin in the carriage?’
‘I caught sight of a middle-aged woman and a younger one, by her side. But was his lordship in there as well?’ Tom shook his head. ‘I couldn’t see and there’s the truth of it.’
Luke made his decision—he needed to know exactly who was in that carriage. ‘Tom, see Monsieur Jacques up to the house, will you? I’ll join you as soon as I can.’ Even as he spoke, he was already setting off along the beach, towards the path Tom had followed.
Tom guessed his intention and was aghast. ‘You’ll never catch up with those four bays of Lord Franklin’s!’
Luke turned calmly to face him. ‘They’ll have to stop, Tom. Don’t you remember that half the road’s fallen in a little beyond Thornton, after that heavy rain a week ago? Lord Franklin’s coachman will have to take that particular stretch of road very slowly, or he could risk breaking a wheel. There’s woodland I can take cover in. I’ll be able to observe the carriage and its occupants at leisure.’
‘But if Lord Franklin is in the carriage, Captain, what are you going to do?’
Luke let the silence linger for a moment. ‘Don’t worry. I’m not going to kill him. At least—not yet.’
And with that, he turned his back and once more headed swiftly towards the cliff path.
Tom sighed and smiled resignedly at Jacques. ‘Well, monsieur,’ he said, ‘let’s be off up to the house, shall we? There’ll be logs burning on the fire and my good wife will have a pot of stew keeping hot on the stove. And thanks to you, we’ve brandy to drink...’ He hesitated. ‘I take it there’s no news yet of the captain’s younger brother?’
Jacques shook his head. ‘No news.’
‘Then we can still hope,’ said Tom, ‘that he’ll turn up safe and well!’ He set off once more, cheerful at the prospect of hot food. But Monsieur Jacques, following behind, looked sombre.
‘Safe and well?’ he murmured under his breath. ‘Sadly, I doubt it, my friend. I doubt it very much.’
Ellie Duchamp, nineteen years old, gazed out of the carriage window at the alien English countryside and remembered that she had hoped to travel to Bircham Hall on her own. To have the time, and the silence perhaps, to come to terms with all that had happened to her in the last few months.
But she had had no period of grace in which to contemplate how or why her life had changed so rapidly, ever since Lord Franklin Grayfield, wealthy English aristocrat and collector of art treasures, had found her in a garret room in Brussels. Ever since, he had told her she was his relative and would thenceforth be in his care.
No time or silence—far from it—because beside her in the carriage was the female companion Lord Franklin had provided for her, Miss Pringle, a very English spinster, who had arrived at Lord Franklin’s Mayfair house a few days ago. Who could not conceal her excitement at being entrusted to escort Ellie to his lordship’s country residence, Bircham Hall, in the county of Kent.
Yesterday, as they prepared for their noon departure, Lord Franklin himself—middle-aged, polite as ever—had stood outside his magnificent London mansion in Clarges Street to watch as Ellie’s trunk was strapped to the back of his coach. Miss Pringle, as she took her leave of his lordship, declared ardently that she would take as much care of Ellie as if she were her very own daughter. And Ellie soon realised that to her new companion, taking care meant one thing only—talking.
All the way through London, Miss Pringle had talked. She had talked through the city’s suburbs and through the green fields beyond Orpington. She had talked all the way through their halts at the various coaching inns where the ostlers raced to change Lord Franklin’s horses.