Dy Brougham Searches for Lt.Richard Fitzwilliam
(1815, 2 years or so after Darcy & Elizabeth are wed)
The wagon jolted and shivered over the shell pocked roads until Dy’s teeth ached and his fingers cramped in their grip on its splintery sides. Rain continued to fall in unrepentant bursts that were soaking through his oiled cape. His hat was most likely a loss, even for its protective coverings, and the cold crept into the reaches of muscle and bone, both thoroughly wracked by the paths he had been required to travel to get to the farm house in which Darcy’s cousin was said to have been deposited before Uxbridge moved out.
“Il ya la ferme de Emille. Nous sommes presque hors de la pluie damnés,” his driver tossed over his shoulder. (“There is Emille’s farm. We’re almost out of the damned rain.”)
Dy grunted his acknowledgement and began to flex his hands and feet. Pray God that Richard really was here and this was not another dead end. Upon a closer examination of the dwelling, his hopes rose. The ebb and flow of armies over its lands could not entirely extinguish the impression that at one time the farm had been a prosperous one. If anything remained of its family and of human compassion, mayhap Richard’s circumstances were not as dire as he feared.
His driver halted the sorry beast so dearly bought in the aftermath of war and hallooed the farmhouse’s inhabitants, but even after Dy’s careful descent from the wagon, no door or window had yet opened. The driver shrugged at his questioning look, indicating that his assistance in raising any response to their arrival was complete. So, stepping out on legs just beginning to feel some life, Dy advanced upon the door and rapped on it sharply.
“Hello there! Is anyone about?” He repeated his salutation in French. No sound came from within. He rapped the door longer and harder. “Hello! Hello! Can someone help me?” An indistinguishable bellow from within, followed by the rattling of the lock and latch stayed Brougham’s hand. He stepped back from the door, but it opened only a crack.
“Pardonnez-moi, pardonne-moi, si vous s’il vous plaît,” he began.
“Wot’s ‘is?” came a voice from the dark interior. “Pardon? Pardon? Who the ‘ell’s pardoning me out of me well-earned nap?”
“A fellow subject of King George III.” Dy put a strong arm up against any attempt to close the door and locked squarely with the eyes of the rumpled figure beyond. “I am looking for someone…a friend. Is there anyone else, any British soldier, within?
The door opened a little wider. “’ow does I know you ain’t a spy, a Frenchy spy come to get this ‘ere bought ‘n paid for piece ‘o rubbish I gots to guard?”
Dy went rigid. “Can you recognize a pass and orders signed by Field Marshall Uxbridge that releases your prisoner into my custody, if indeed your man is my friend?” He pulled out the packet of documents with one hand and shook them out, holding them up to the gap. He doubted that the man could read, but perhaps the seal would mean something to him.
A hand shot out from the opening and made a grab for the letters he could not loose. Without thinking, Dy slammed his shoulder into the door, sending the guard down on his back and himself through the portal into the dim interior. For a moment, both men looked at each other in surprise, but the guard’s glance to a pistol on a table set Brougham into motion first. Sweeping it up, he quickly determined that it was primed and loaded. He cocked the hammer and trained it on the rising figure of the guard.
“Now, me fine gentl’man, don’t be hasty wid that there pistolero. I ‘ad to make sure o’ you, didn’t I? The sergeant would ‘ave me ‘ead iffen I neglected me dooty now, wouldn’t he?” the man wheedled, taking a small step toward him.
“Stand where you are!” Brougham commanded. “When does your sergeant return?”
“Oh, any moment, yer lordship, any moment. But, you best not be pointin’ that pistol at an honest soldier of the king when ‘e gets back. Oh, no, sir!”
Dy ignored the warning. “Where is the man you are guarding?”
The guard motioned beyond him. “In a room off the kitchen, yer lordship. I’ll take you iffen you…”
“You most certainly will,” he responded in a steely voice. He stepped aside. “On with you, and have no doubt that I will shoot should you give me the slightest excuse.”
The guard stared at him, then coming to a decision, shrugged his shoulders and ambled forward through a hall, leading him down a short flight of stairs that ended in the farmhouse’s kitchen. The doorway of another hall opened on the right and a doorway to the outside and the kitchen gardens stood on the left. Dy’s nostrils twitched. The stench he had encountered at the top of the stairs had increased on their descent and could not entirely be accounted for by the filth and depredations he had seen upstairs or upon the kitchen’s rotting larder spread out before him.
“He be back there, yer lordship.” The guard motioned toward the hall and the origin of the stench that was raising Dy’s bile already. The look on his captor’s face served the soldier notice that his next words might be critical to his future. “Now, it ain’t a pretty sight, I’m warnin’ ye. I be just a common soldier, yer lordship. Don’t know nothing ‘bout sawbonin’.”
Dy comprehended him with horror. There would be no quick rescue. He might even be too late! Whatever he must do now, he must have freedom to work and that required that the miscreant before him be effectively restrained. But how?
“So, what air ye goin’ to do, yer lordship? The mand grinned hideously. “He ain’t nowise fit to travel. ‘ppears to me…”
“Where does that go?” Dy nodded to what looked like a door fixed in the floor of the kitchen.
“Be a root cellar, yer lordship.” This reply was accompanied by an amused air at the common ignorance of the gentry, but in a moment, it turned into one of concern. “Yer not goin’ to put me in the root cellar, in the dark!”
“Open it up, or this will end here and now,” Dy barked at him and brought the pistol to bear upon his heart. With a gulp and cry the guard twisted on the ring and pulled the door up and open. Another set of stairs led down into darkness. “Move that chest there over here.” He indicated with his left hand. “Down into the cellar with you, all the way to the bottom” he ordered after the chest was in place.
“Please, yer lordship. Don’t be leavin’ me…” the man pleaded from the bottom of the stairs.
Dy slammed down the door and had pushed the chest half way on top of it just as the guard hit the other side at a run. The chest shivered at the blow but did not move. With another great shove, he had it squarely upon the cellar door where it would stay until the “sergeant” returned, if he ever did.
Copyright Pamela Aidan 2016