.. excerpt from
The Motive from the Deed
-- Chapter One --
August 13, 1715
As the horns began to trumpet, a light hush fell over the fleet of little boats upon the Thames. Watermen’s wherries and aristocrats’ gilded barges bobbed like corks about the Royal Shallop, on which King George and the Prince and Princess of Wales lounged in regal splendour.
To either side of this dazzling concourse towered the masts of his Majesty’s sailing ships: the fifty-gun Worcester, the Shrewsbury with its three large decks, the Blenheim and the Prince George with ninety guns each. Square-sailed merchants of every tonnage and type stood moored along both banks of the river, impervious to the waves that lapped against the pleasure craft, splashing their passengers with drops. Silent and still in the long summer twilight, these sentinels had framed the King’s journey from the base of London Bridge to Lime House where the music was to be performed.
Hester Kean, waiting woman to her cousin Isabella, Countess of Hawkhurst, had the privilege of witnessing all this from the forward bench in Lord Hawkhurst’s barge. Tonight, she could not help feeling a measure of respect for King George, no matter what a dolt she might otherwise think him. His presence at this event showed a complete lack of fear concerning the security of his throne. Surely, no one observing him now, as he reclined under a splendid gilt pavilion, would think he had a care in the world—certainly not that the kingdom he had so recently inherited might soon fall under attack.
The magnificent display—from the carved and painted barges to the enormous ships boasting the colours of Great Britain—conveyed an impression of might, which, perhaps, was the reason King George had commanded this performance. If the Pretender and his French allies were planning an invasion, as believed, they might have second thoughts after seeing such a demonstration of power.
The danger had not yet come, but no one doubted that it would. Rumours that the Pretender had left his place of retreat to lead his exiled troops were heard daily. The lord bishops of the Church of England were so convinced of his coming that, in reaction to the tumult in the streets, they had formally assured King George of their faithful support. And, though the rioting in London had been halted by the camping of troops in Hyde Park, every week arrests were made of people who had cursed his Majesty or spoken dangerous words against the government. Meanwhile, prodded by his Whig advisers, King George continued to insult the Tories he would do better to charm.
Tonight, however, his Majesty betrayed no sign of concern as he tapped his fingers to the music floating over the water.
Hester relaxed against the cushions lining the barge and prepared to enjoy a respite from the tensions that had hounded the Court all summer. The gentle rocking of the barge, the inspiring music by Mr. Handel, and the splendid summer night created an illusion of peace.
The blessed silence was shattered by a shriek from Isabella behind her. "How dare you, sir!" Hester’s cousin whispered loudly, ending her show of outrage with a giggle.
Her start had been so violent as to rock the barge. Reluctantly, Hester turned to see what had provoked it and found her cousin mopping water off her bosom with a lace handkerchief. Under the heavy pavilion in the middle of the barge she lay propped on cushions between her husband Harrowby and their guest, Lord Kirkland. Lord Kirkland had been one of Isabella’s swains before her marriage, and was her current flirt.
With a look of assumed innocence, Lord Kirkland dried the water from his fingertips. "My lady, I protest! How can you accuse me of sprinkling your breast, when drops are raining down at us from all sides?"
"Fie, you naughty, naughty man!"
"Shall I call him out, my dear?" Harrowby’s coyness added to the merriment of the jest. Isabella and Lord Kirkland had maintained a steady stream of this nonsense all evening, regardless of Isabella’s delicate condition.
Just recently, Harrowby’s physician had confirmed Isabella’s suspicions that she was carrying a child, but impending motherhood had only mildly restrained her spirits. As yet, except for a few weeks of nausea, she had not suffered much from the nine-month sickness. Her energy was unimpaired—which meant the only drawback had been the restriction against sexual intercourse during the first four months of her gravidity to keep from dislodging the babe. The four months were nearly up, as she frequently reminded her husband in the hearing of Hester, and the entire household.
Normally, at this time of year, Isabella and Harrowby would have been disporting themselves at a place like Tunbridge Wells, instead of being trapped in London, but the Court had been forced to stay in town all summer to support the King. The peers had sacrificed their summer pleasures to ensure that the first Hanoverian king would remain on his throne, and that they would not fall under suspicion of working for the Pretender, James Stuart. At least this evening’s outing on the Thames had spared them the suffocation of another royal drawing-room at St. James’s.
The Prince and Princess of Wales had moved their households to Kensington Palace for the summer, which had afforded some aristocrats the excuse to escape their London houses during the months of dangerous heat, when the small pox was more likely to spread. Harrowby had been one of the fortunate few to secure lodgings for his family in the small village of Kensington close by. But with Parliament not yet granted a recess, he had to spend most of his days in the House of Peers voting on measures the King believed necessary to secure his reign, leaving Isabella to amuse herself.
The Prince’s court was much more diverting than his father’s. Unable to understand English, King George had no interest in plays or even conversation with most of his subjects, who spoke neither German nor French, and he had no patience for the kind of public entertainments that had always made the English court the centre of aristocratic life. He preferred spending the evening alone with his German mistress. In contrast, the Prince of Wales, who spoke a heavily-accented English and had enthusiastically embraced his new country, hosted the sort of balls and assemblies where gentlemen and ladies might flirt to their heart’s content.
The King’s appearance upon the water tonight was a rare public event. For this reason, his courtiers had crowded about, their vessels exhibiting varying degrees of wealth. The Hawkhurst barge was naturally one of the more magnificent. Like the King’s, its pavilion was roofed with crimson carpets, laid over ornate posts with gilded carvings. With eight liveried oarsmen to propel it, and banners waving from bow to stern, it cut an impressive swath through the water.
The oarsmen were at pains to keep it near his Majesty’s shallop, however. So many of the Thames watermen had crowded the river in their little wherries, they had left the larger vessels little room in which to ply their oars. The constant motion of the concourse had chopped up waves so rough that even the King’s shallop rocked occasionally from side to side.
Over a flourish of trumpets, hautboys, and double curtails, Hester heard Harrowby complain to his bargeman, "If this rabble don’t take care, they’re going to make us tip! Why the devil don’t you make ’em back away?"
"We’ll try, your lordship." Samuel’s tone was skeptical, but he called out an order to his crew.
Harrowby was not the only one becoming nervous, Hester realized, as an occasional gasp or shriek reached them from the other barges. The number of little boats had been increasing, as his Majesty’s subjects up and down this stretch of the river came to take advantage of the musical treat. One could hardly blame them when they would rarely have heard such splendid music. Performances like these were only given in the chambers of dukes and kings.
For all his faults, King George sincerely loved music, and wherever he chose to amuse himself, the musicians and composers were certain to be the best. Hester leaned back against the cushions again and strained to hear the notes drifting over the water. But with the increasing cries of alarm from the audience, the constant lapping of the water, and the occasional crack of oar upon oar, the music was all but drowned out.
The barge gave a sudden lurch. A convergence of waves had rocked it to within an inch of tipping. Isabella screamed, and Hester turned to see her pretty cousin, her golden locks askew and her blue eyes wide, grabbing fearfully onto her husband’s arm.
Lord Kirkland tried to distract her with another jest, but the brow beneath his massive periwig was far from tranquil. Hester held on to the bottom of her seat and controlled her quickened pulse.
Isabella’s anxious wail carried over the music. "What if the boat does tip, Harrykins? I cannot swim!"
"If it does, your ladyship," Samuel ominously advised, "you must take a-hold of the bark. Even if she’s upside down, she’ll float."
"But I do not wish to be soaked! Harrowby, let’s leave!"
"Hush, my dear! If you don’t take care, his Majesty will hear you."
As yet, King George had not permitted the widening alarm to disturb him, but clearly his beefeaters were growing worried. Dressed in their usual garb of red tunics and caps, with purple stripes and gold lace, they braced their feet in the shallop, pikes clasped in front of their strained faces. But, in spite of these Yeomen of the Guard, the listeners’ boats pressed closer and closer to the royal barge, pushed by the increasing number of other vessels behind them.
The music played on, even when suddenly the Guard turned their pikes upon the encroaching boats, whose oars could not find space to row away. The beefeaters had cause to feel uneasy, since one assault on the King had already been attempted. How could they be sure there was not another Irish madman or a Jacobite spy in one of the vessels? If King George had wished to place himself at risk, he could not have chosen a better way.
From the anxious looks on the faces around her, Hester knew that her thoughts were shared. The music was soon forgotten as fear flew like sparks from barge to barge.
Eventually, whether because the King recognized the general concern, or because the Royal Bargeman advised him to return, his Majesty finally signaled for the musicians to stop. While his Yeomen used their pikes to clear other vessels out of the way, his oars attempted to cut a path through the water.
The tide was rising rapidly. Hemmed in by smaller boats, the barges of the nobility struggled to turn their forty-foot lengths. Collisions led to altercations as the passengers vented their fright, adding fury to the chaos. Not even the royal oarsmen could find enough room to swing their oars. The best they could do was use them to ward off other boats, as the tide slowly swept the fleet of little vessels back up the Thames.
Harrowby’s party fared no better. As the Hawkhurst oarsmen struggled to turn, Hester was buffeted about. A sudden push carried them straight towards the Royal Shallop. Unable to halt, they cringed, expecting a crash. Hester swallowed a cry as a beefeater’s pike was thrust at her nose. She retreated as far as the boat would permit, with Isabella’s shrieks and Harrowby’s oaths loud in her ears.
Turning to peer through the gathering dusk, she spied the boat that had knocked them into the Royal Shallop, a common wherry, bearing a woman and three men. Two of the men were dressed shabbily, like the desperate souls who might try to do away with the King.
With a start, one of them leapt to his feet, rocking their boat perilously from side to side as he clambered over the seats. He aimed straight for Hester, as if intending to leap aboard Harrowby’s barge. Grasping onto their benches, his friends cried out in alarm, but he seemed oblivious to their warnings as he lunged Hester’s way.
For one terrifying moment, she believed she was caught between the King and his assassin.
Then the ruffian opened his mouth, and her brother Jeremy’s voice came joyfully over the water. "Hester! Is that you?"
Earlier that evening, a short way up the river, on the southern bank near Vauxhall Stairs, Thomas Barnes rode a tall, lanky horse through the gate to his master’s house and headed for the stables. Both he and the animal were weary, for they had travelled all the way from the coast in Sussex. No less than his mount, Tom hoped to find a good meal waiting, although Katy, who kept house for him and his master, had no reason to expect him back tonight.
Tom’s master, the outlawed Viscount St. Mars, had bid him recover the horse, so Tom had ridden to Rye, where the thief who had stolen it had found a smuggler to take him into France. Tom had discovered the animal abandoned in a livery, the liveryman eager to relinquish it in exchange for his unpaid bill. The whole business had been accomplished so quickly that Tom had started home that very same day, spending only last night on the road.
As he crossed the yard in back of the house, he wondered if Katy would be as glad to see him as he would be to see her.
During the past few weeks, with his lord in France, Tom had come to an important decision. He still feared that Katy might give him the pox, for before St. Mars had hired her, she had been an innkeeper’s wench. For months Tom had fought his growing feelings for her, but eventually his contempt had changed to love, and even respect, for he had come to understand that she had only sold her favours to survive.
Katy had never been a thief. Nor had she ever shown a wish to continue her sinful life. Instead, she had begged Tom to help her get a decent post in St. Mars’s house, and she had fulfilled it beyond his highest expectations. Her faithfulness, her skills, and her modesty had made him forgive her past and admit the desire he had felt since first seeing her.
When St. Mars returned from France, Tom meant to ask his permission to wed her. He thought she might have him, for marriage would give her back the respectability she had lost. From the glances Katy sometimes threw him when she did not know he was watching, he hoped she might want him for another reason, too. But his longing raised a fear that haunted him whenever he recalled his father’s agonizing death from the pox. Then, he wondered if he should--or could--ask for nothing more than her cheerful companionship.
He pulled his mount to a stop in front of the stable door, wishing Katy would come out to greet him, but a glance at the house through the lingering twilight caught no sign of stirring. With a grimace of disappointment, he started to dismount, just as a pig came snuffling from behind the wash house.
Before he could even wonder whose pig it was, the horse beneath him gave a piercing neigh. Flattening its ears, it charged at the swine, whose startled squeals rent the air.
With his foot caught in the stirrup, Tom reached for the pommel and held on for dear life, as Looby—the horse St. Mars had so aptly named—tried to snatch the little animal with his teeth and trample it into the ground. With every muscle in his body straining, Tom maintained his grip, as the outraged horse lunged left and right through the yard after the scampering pig. His nails were torn by the leather with every jerk. His neck threatened to snap. Unable to pull on the reins, he fought to throw his leg back across the horse, but every time he nearly did, Looby cut sharply to the right and almost swung him off.
The pig ran in ever wider circles. Tom cursed loudly at all swine as he swung helplessly on the stirrup.
Eventually the neighs and squeals drew Katy from the house. With a shriek, she ran and flapped her apron to chase the pig away. Her efforts made Tom’s situation worse, for Looby’s turns grew even wilder. He was shouting for her to stop, when the horse made a broad swerve and slammed him into the stable wall.
His sweat-slicked fingers lost their grip, and his back hit the ground with a bone-rattling jolt, just as mercifully his left boot broke free of the stirrup. The breath left his body with a whoosh. He struggled to regain it. Lying with his chest in a spasm, he thanked God that he hadn’t been dragged. Then the thought that Katy could be trampled made him sit up with a jerk.
As he raised himself, he saw her running towards him, the pig nowhere in sight. Looby had come to a stop outside the door to the brew house, and was beating upon it with one front hoof. It looked as if the pig--whosever it was--had managed to squeeze inside it and shut the door.
Tom fell back and closed his eyes. He had forgotten that Looby hated pigs. But even if he hadn’t, a pig was the last thing he had expected to see.
"Mr. Barnes, are you hurt?" With a puff from her skirts Katy fell to her knees in the dust beside him.
His breathing was still laboured. He couldn’t answer at once, which seemed to alarm her. She tenderly lifted his head and laid it in her lap. If he had been able to talk, he might have spoken angrily to her. He would have demanded to know where the cursed pig had come from. But neither he nor St. Mars had bothered to tell her what a lunatic Looby was around pigs.
With a cool, light touch, she combed his hair back from his forehead. Her lap felt as soft as a clover-filled meadow. All at once, a sigh of happiness eased the tightness in Tom’s chest.
Then her hand touched his cheek, and all thoughts of Looby and the pig fled his mind.
"Tell me, please, Mr. Barnes," she said again. "Are you hurt?"
With joy welling up inside his chest, Tom gazed up into her pretty face and smiled.
Almost as suddenly as Hester’s brother had appeared, he vanished, his boat knocked away by another. But before he was carried off, he raised his voice above the hubbub to ask her for her direction. When she called back that she was living with their cousin Isabella, now Countess of Hawkhurst, a stunned look came over his face. Then he broke into a beaming smile, as if no piece of news could have pleased him more.
As his wherry floated away, he promised to visit her in Kensington the next week, before his boat was swept out of sight.
Hester fell back against her seat and struggled with a sense of unreality. She had not seen her brother Jeremy in over five years. She glanced at her companions in the barge, but with their attention focused on the King’s boat, no one seemed to have noticed her encounter with Jeremy.
As darkness gradually fell, the crush of little boats continued to block the King’s oars. In the end, the royal barge only managed to return to London Bridge by driving with the incoming tide. Fatigue, relief, and discreetly suppressed anger could be seen on every aristocratic face when, finally, his Majesty’s courtiers set foot on Tower Wharf and started picking their way to their waiting carriages, leaving their oarsmen to shoot the treacherous waters under the bridge alone.
Hester was unable to absorb the shock of encountering her brother after so many years, until she stood safely ashore, but as she picked up her skirts to follow her cousins and their guest into Thames Street, a range of conflicting emotions stirred her breast. She waited for the footman to hand her into the coach and took her place across from Isabella before giving into her confusion.
Her first sensation of relief, that she was not to be spitted on an assassin’s sword, had been followed by a deeper one of thanks to learn that her brother was well. She loved Jeremy, and the joy of seeing him alive had brought tears to her eyes.
Now those feelings were threatened by others that pushed and shoved at her ease.
It was impossible not to feel angry, for, if not for an accident of fate, she might never have learned not only that Jeremy lived, but that he dwelt not far from her in London. And with that anger came the old anxiety, the kind a mother must feel about a wayward child.
Hester had not heard from Jeremy since he had run away from their father’s house. The night before he had left, he had informed her that he did not want to study for the Church as their father intended. Instead, he planned to seek his fortune. He rather thought he might take ship for the colonies--or become a seaman, he wasn’t precisely sure which--but whatever the case, he knew he was not fashioned for the clergy if it meant sitting through endless lessons day after day.
Hester had always known how much her brother hated and resisted their father’s tutoring, which was often enforced by a whipping. It was not that Jeremy could not read his lessons, but that his mind would wander in every direction. He read everything that came in his way, but the more fanciful and adventurous the material, the greater its appeal. He found no use for Latin or Greek or even the worthiest of sermons, but the stories that were told by Betty or John, their servants, would send him spinning day dreams for hours. It was his absent-mindedness that had driven their father to frustration.
Hester had not tried to persuade her brother to turn his mind to his studies. She had offered to plead with their father to apprentice him for different work, if that was what he wished.
But Jeremy must not have believed in her ability to sway the Reverend Mr. Kean, for in the morning he was gone, and after the first burst of fury from their father, nothing more of Jeremy had been said.
Hester could not help loving him, but in leaving her behind, he had shown no concern for her dismal future. He had not even made the empty promise to come and fetch her when his fortune should be made.
Knowing him as she did, Hester had not expected anything to come from his venture. She had thought he would return when he grew tired of being hungry, or at least when their father died. She had tried to talk him out of leaving, certain he would get no farther than the first town before someone either cheated him out of his meagre store of coins or tricked him into some foolish act. For the Jeremy she knew did not have a suspicious bone in his body. He was cheerful and generous to a fault and had the uncomfortable habit of making fast friends with anyone who struck up a conversation with him. He had an innocent faith in his fellow man, and whenever anyone disappointed him, his shock and outrage were so great as to be comical.
He lived according to his principles, which in a less-grasping age would have been considered Christian, but were thought foolish and imprudent by most Englishmen--certainly by their father who, in spite of being a clergyman, had little inclination to share. Even Hester, who admired her brother’s generosity, found it irritating at times. He had no ambition, and the fact that he had survived on his own all these years astonished her. She dared to hope that he might have learned a little bit of prudence.
Unfortunately, the brief glimpse she had caught of his clothes, and his dubious state of cleanliness, had not conveyed a sense of prosperity. She had mistaken him and his companions for ruffians. And now that Jeremy planned to call on her at Hawkhurst House, where he would present himself as her brother and Isabella’s cousin, she could not help feeling nervous about the reception he would get.
It was not that she would ever be ashamed of her brother, even if he was perfectly capable of embarrassing her deeply at moments, but her position in Isabella’s household was that of a superior servant. True, they were cousins. But without a penny to her name, Hester would always be a dependent. And in the Hawkhurst household, her security must depend on the goodwill of Isabella’s husband, who had enough to worry him with the importunities of Isabella’s mother, brothers, and sisters without the welfare of her cousins, too. Though not mean in the accepted sense, Harrowby did possess a natural degree of selfishness. And he was understandably nervous about his position. Having been granted his cousin’s title when the Viscount St. Mars was accused of murder, and conscious of the Crown’s suspicion that the former Lord Hawkhurst had been a Jacobite, Harrowby worried about the need to preserve the best appearance.
Hester somehow doubted that he would find the sight of Jeremy particularly reassuring.
Fortunately, during their brief encounter on the Thames, neither of her cousins had noticed her brother’s boat. Now, on the way to their rented lodgings in Kensington, both were giving vent to their relief by reliving every hair-raising moment of their outing.
"I don’t wonder that it gave you palpitations, my love," Harrowby was saying. "I confess, I was a trifle agitated myself. I don’t know why his Majesty had to go all that way just to hear a bit of music, when he might have had them play for him at Kensington or Hampton Palace. After all—" he gave an amused snort— "it’s hardly likely they would have refused to come! But to drag us all to a place where every jackanapes among them keeps a boat!—well, I doubt that he will do it again."
"It certainly did seem ill-advised," Hester agreed, judging it best to abandon her silence. "But I suspect King George had no concept of the interest his concert would arouse, or that the watermen at Lime House would think to join us. Remember how shocked he was to discover that his subjects could enjoy his park at St. James’s?"
Her speech seemed to remind Harrowby of the risk he took in appearing to criticize the King, for he said hastily, "Well, no harm done." Then, remembering Isabella, he added, "Assuming, of course, that you took none, my dear. We mustn’t upset the little mother now, must we?" Isabella’s interesting condition had given her husband brilliant hopes of an heir.
"Oh, lud, no!" his little woman replied. "Though I was vastly scared when the Guard stuck their pikes in my face! But, now that it’s past, I feel completely well. I wonder if anything is going forward at the Palace tonight."
To Isabella, Hester knew, it was intolerable to think of retiring this early in the evening. Her pregnancy had not diminished her desire for pleasure in the least. It had restored her husband’s attention, however, and for that Hester was glad, even if the prospect of an heir who would take the Hawkhurst inheritance farther from its rightful owner was a travesty she could hardly bear to contemplate.
The Earldom of Hawkhurst rightfully belonged to Gideon Fitzsimmons, the Viscount St. Mars. Hester knew for certain, as few did, that St. Mars was innocent of the murder that had led Parliament to declare him an outlaw and bestow the title on his cousin Harrowby. She also knew that the only bit of proof that might clear him had either been destroyed by Isabella’s mother or been hidden away in the event it should prove useful to her later. There was nothing Hester could do to help St. Mars regain his title, unless she found that letter, so chances were that if Isabella was delivered of a son, her child would be Earl of Hawkhurst one day.
Isabella’s child would be Hester’s blood kinsman--and Jeremy’s--a grandchild of her Aunt Mayfield’s, a conniving shrew of a woman for whom Hester felt neither affection nor pride.
Fortunately, Mrs. Mayfield was not living with them just now. She and Isabella’s brother Dudley had been sent packing to Dudley’s country seat the moment Harrowby had seen the size of the house they were to rent at Kensington. Mrs. Mayfield’s presence was scarcely tolerable in a house as vast as Hawkhurst House in Piccadilly. It would be too much for any son-in-law, even one who had always been vulnerable to her flattery, in such a confined space.
Hester was glad she would not have to present Jeremy to their aunt after all these years, when Mrs. Mayfield could never refer to him without calling him a wastrel. Jeremy might be heedless and irresponsible, but his better qualities would always be lost on a woman as grasping as their aunt.
Hester could not be sure of Harrowby’s welcome for her brother either. So she made plans to alert the footmen that if Jeremy should appear, they should ask him to wait downstairs and fetch her privately to him.
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