1. #15

    “What the devil are you doing, Miss Fairfax?”

    Katherine stopped. “I think you know quite well, Mr. Cutter, the trap you laid for me.” She looked at the high walls on either side of the stair and considered her escape.

    “Trap?” Mr. Cutter shook his head impatiently. “How is your father?” Mr. Cutter brushed past. “Major Molesworth can take the guilty party to custody. If we can find him, of course.”

     She saw a lantern coming across the lawn. As it drew nearer she made out the form of Major Molesworth, head of the Volunteer Militia, with a cluster of servants. The link boy held the lantern over her.

    Major Molesworth gasped. “Good heavens, child. What happened to you?”

    With the tightness of held in tears in her chest and the weakness of her knees, Katherine had failed to notice the stinging pain on her cheeks.

    Major Molesworth peered at her face.“That’s quite a bruise.”

    Mr. Cutter poked his head out the ice house door. “Bring your lantern down here, sir.”

    Major Molesworth hurried down the steps with his retinue. There was a murmuring in the icehouse. “Bring him out. Steady now.”

    The footman backed out. “Make way,” he called over his shoulder.

    Katherine climbed the stairs. She felt giddy.

    Two footmen carried her father up the stairs and laid him on the lawn.

    “Lantern.” Cutter began to untie her father’s shirt.

    Major Molesworth bustled over to Katherine. “What happened in there? I heard a shot.”

    Katherine tried to speak, but all that came out was a sob. She felt so foolish. Stupid. But it was what the Major expected. He patter her back tenderly. “Never mind, miss. We’ll get to the bottom of it.” He turned back to his men. “Has the gentleman got a pistol?”

    “Yes.” Cutter untangled the pocket pistol from Lancelot’s fingers.

    “Very good.” Major Molesworth turned it over in his hands. “Surprised it could fire. The powder’s wet. Did he fire it?”

    Katherine nodded. The wind gusted again. The icehouse door banged.

    Katherine jumped.

    Major Molesworth laughed. “Don’t worry, miss. Quite safe.” He frowned, looking at her. “You’ve taken quite a knock. Fall over, did you?”

    “No.” Suddenly her voice was back. “The gentleman – it was the other gentleman in the icehouse.”

    “Gentleman? Cutter, did you see any other gentleman?”

    Cutter did not look up from peeling the bloodied shirt back from Lancelot’s chest. “Not that I can say, sir.”

    Major Molesworth ordered the footmen and linkboy into the ice house.

    They returned in short order, the link boy running ahead. “There’s nothing in there sir. Just ice. And a lady’s glove.”

  2. #14

    “Don’t be afraid, my pretty.” The gentleman, and Katherine was assured by his voice that he was a gentleman, pulled her close. “I’ll do nothing that hasn’t been done before.”

    Katherine’s shouts echoed back at her.

    “It’s good to scream, my pretty. Lets the devil out. I like ‘em pure.”

    The gentleman pinned her body down with his own. His intention was clear, pressing hard against her. She could almost make out his features. Certainly smell his gin soaked breath, hot on her cheek.

    He forced her petticoats up. “Why don’t you scream, by pretty? The devil already laid with you?”

     Katherine scrabbled against his ruffles, freeing pendant which lay cold against her bosom as he laid on her.

    “You want it, don’t you, my pretty?”

    Katherine tore one of the Countess’ earrings from her ear and drove it into the darkness she took for his eye. She felt the filigree impact the socket. She ground sharp cut stones into the eye.

    The gentleman squealed like a stuck pig. As he pulled back Katherine aimed her cork sole at his Man Thomas.

    “Bitch.” He slapped her once. Then again. Then sat back, invisible in the dark.

    Katherine rolled free and slid down the ice.

    “Not so fast, my pretty.”

    She felt her hair caught. “Cutter!”

    The gentleman laughed. Dragging her back up the ice by the hair. “Do you think he’ll save you? Most like, he’s next for a turn, since he brought you here to me.”

    Katherine longed for a pair of scissors to cut herself free. She kicked out and succeeded in kicking the icehouse door, but it remained firmly closed.

    The gentleman pulled her face towards his lap. Katherine squeezed her eyes and mouth shut to ward off what he brandished at her. “So quiet my pretty? It’s not like Eve to say no to the snake. What do you say?” He pulled her lips close.

    “No.” A pistol flared in the dark. Her father, supine, chest black.

    Their eyes met.

    The gentleman turned his attention to Lancelot. “Why is sin so hard to stamp out?” He let go of Katherine.

    “Go.” Her father closed his eyes.

    Katherine needed no prompting.

    At the top of the ice house stairs was Cutter.

  3. #13

    Katherine listened to the conversation with growing alarm. “Mr. Cutter. Please tell me. Where is Mr. King?”

    “I will take you.”

    They hurried down the steps. The lawn was dark without the light of the fireworks.

    “Be careful.” Mr. Cutter held out his hand. “The ground is rough.”

    Katherine accepted the hand, then shuddered at its sticky warmth, made so by her father’s blood. “Is he alive?”

    “Barely. I fear it is a mortal wound.”

    “I pray the surgeon comes soon.”

    “I am a surgeon, Miss Fairfax. But I didn’t think to bring my needle to a party.”

    Katherine felt a tightness in her chest. “Where is the ice house?”

    “There. Between the trees.”

    A little Doric temple nestled between two oaks, backed by a stand of silver trunked birch.  It made a fine spectacle from the house. Katherine picked up her skirts and ran.

    Rabbits had been at work, making holes. Mr. Cutter caught Katherine’s waist as her foot slipped into one. “Steady.”

    The wind shook the leaves of the oak, startling an owl from its hiding place. The noise of its cry made her pause and look up.

    “Who’s there?” Cutter called out.

    “What is it?”

    “Over there.” Cutter pointed. “In the trees.”

    The moon broke free of the clouds, casting silver light. There was a glimmer. A rustle amongst the beech. Was it the flash of a jewel? The rustle of silk? Or just the white of the owl’s wings and the rush of wind over leaves?

    The door of the ice house lay open. Katherine ran beneath the branches of the oak and hurried down the steps to the half submerged entrance.

    It was black inside. Katherine could see nothing. Only hear the steady drip drip of water.

     “Father?” Her voice came back at her from the walls. Katherine knelt and put her hands into the straw. Her hands did not find flesh, warm or cold. “Father?”

    “Here.”

    Katherine saw the gleam of gold thread.

     “Over here.”

    Katherine climbed the mound of ice, slippery and wet. “Where are you? Father, I can’t find you.”

    “Here.” A gloved hand pulled her close.

    Curious. Her father was not in the habit of wearing gloves.

    “Let me take a look at you, my pretty.”

    It was not her father.

    There was another gust. The ice house door shut with a bang.

  4. #12

    Sir Roebuck advanced on them. “What’s this I hear? Jackson says you’ve been crying murder. Calling for a surgeon.”

    "Indeed I have, sir. There’s a dead man in your ice house."

    Sir Roebuck cast a cool eye over Mr. Cutter’s bloodied clothes. “I'd wager this is a hoax, knowing you youngsters’ appetite for sport.”

    "No, indeed, sir. Though I do admit to seeking the sport of a man trap on your lawns. "

    Sir Roebuck glanced nervously at Katherine. “Ladies present, Mr. Cutter. Put a lock on your tongue.”

    "This young lady has an interest—"

    "The assemblage will have an interest if you don’t keep your voice down, Mr. Cutter. No - don’t interrupt - there was no dead man when the servants dragged ice for me table sculptures.”

    "That don’t surprise me, sir. He weren’t here then. He’s one of your guests: Mr. Lancelot King."

    Sir Roebuck’s brows shot up.  “I didn’t invite the sharper.  Wouldn’t do. Leastways, not to a polite gathering.”

    "Whether or not he was invited, he’s bleeding onto your ice."

    "Then you are right, Mr. Cutter, to call a surgeon. But do it quiet. Don’t frighten me guests."

  5. #11

    There was a press of guests outside on the terrace. Try as she might Katherine could not catch up with Lady Fairfax. There were too many hoops and elbows. Too many ‘pardon me, ma’ams’ and ‘excuse me, sirs’.

    Looking about the assembled party Katherine could find no one of her acquaintance. She walked the length of the terrace until she found her own space by the crenulated wall.

    On the sloping lawn below a maid carrying a brace candles followed a liveried footman. The fireworks were set out, rank upon rank. The footman eyed the sky. A mazy rain fell. The moon was blacked with cloud. The guests murmured. If the wicks were wet the expense would all be to waste and Sir Roebuck the laughing stock of them all. Sir Roebuck waved his handkerchief, indicating the display should start.

    The servant lit the first wick with a flourish. Sparks dropped to the grass as the wick burned up to a roman candle.

    A sharp report tore the silence. The guests looked up but no firework bloomed in the sky. The footman gesticulated at the maid who ran to his side, shielding the candles with her palm. The footman crouched and lit and lit wick after wick.

    A shower of sparks began. A Katherine wheel whizzed into life, occasioning a cheer from the guests. A rocket screamed into the sky.

    The maid and the footman ran back and forth with a candle each, lighting and lighting wicks. The rain became sparks of light in the sky.

    Mr. Cutter strode out between the whirling Katherine wheels. He stopped before the guests and raised his arms. All looked on, enjoying the amusement of this new display.

    Mr. Cutter was shouting. Voice lost in the bang bang wheee of fireworks exploding. He rounded the wall and climbed the steps two at a time.

    His neckerchief was missing. His ruffles soaked in blood. He stopped a waiter who was passing with a tray of champagne. After a quick conversation the waiter handed the tray to another, then set off at a run.

    Katherine caught Mr. Cutter’s arm. “Mr. Cutter. What is the cause of your alarm?”

    “Alarm indeed. There’s a body in the ice house.”

  6. #10

    First of all, apologies for the posting hiatus. I have my eye on submitting this to a competition in September. The competition requires the first 3,000 words plus a story synopsis. Thinking about the synopsis made me realize I had to make the plot tighter, with less focus on back story. After bitch slapping the supporting characters back into their secondary places, I think I’ve got the story back on track. I have pasted the new text into the previous posts and now continue more or less from where I stopped.

    So without further ado…..

    ******

    At that moment Sir Roebuck began gathering his guests for the firework display.

    Mr. Cutter bowed to Katherine. “Miss Fairfax. Would you oblige me with your company?”

    Without waiting for her reply, Mr. Cutter took her arm and strode towards the terrace doors. The speed of his step almost lifted Katherine off the ground. Their flight was halted by the press of guests.

    Glancing back, Katherine saw Lady Fairfax nod with approbation at their pairing, before turning to one of the beaux left at the table.

    Cutter whistled between his teeth. “I pray that Bunty gives his tongue a holiday.”

    Evidently Bunty did not. As he spoke Lady Fairfax’s unrouged cheeks turned a livid red.

    Katherine felt her arm drop. Mr. Cutter was moving like a coursing hare through the wigs and petticoats of the crowd.

    "My nephew? Married?" The boom in Lady Fairfax’s voice turned heads in the crowded doorway.

    The Lady Fairfax was after her nephew with all the fury of the hunt.

    Finding herself alone Katherine gratefully sank into a chair. With the exit of guests the room was quiet. How she had dreamed of assemblies. The reality was proving far less entertaining than the scenes depicted in novels.

     Her peace was interrupted by Lady Fairfax’s strident voice. “Come along now, Katherine. We must find Mr. Cutter without delay.”

  7. Portrait of a Young Woman, Called Miss Sparrow Thomas Gainsborough - 1770s
possibly painted by commission while resident in Bath

    Portrait of a Young Woman, Called Miss Sparrow
    Thomas Gainsborough - 1770s

    possibly painted by commission while resident in Bath

  8. #9

    Miss Sparrow tripped gaily through the hall, ignoring the wall of disapproving fans and faces turned away from her. She sat down opposite Katherine. A crowd of beaux surrounded her chair.

    Miss Sparrow turned to a grandmother at the table. “You don’t mind me, do you?”

    The grandmother coloured and looked away. The rules of propriety did not permit a respectable lady to speak direct to a woman of no character.

    Miss Sparrow laughed. The beaux laughed with her. Like naughty school boys.

    Katherine was shocked at the change in Miss Sparrow. Her mother had kept her so perfect. Now there was a disorder about the half done curls. The haphazard lacing of stays.

    Lady Fairfax pursed her lips. “Don’t flaunt your barracks behaviour in polite society, Mr. Cutter.”

    The officer gave a lazy to salute to Lady Fairfax. “Evenin’ to you, Auntie.”

    Lady Fairfax glowered at him. ”Bringing that creature in here won’t do nothing for your prospects.”

    Cutter laid his hands on the back of Lady Fairfax’ chair. “If you don’t like our company, Auntie. Why don’t you move on?”

    “I most certainly will not, Mr. Cutter. Take that hedge whore out to the garden where she belongs.”

    Miss Sparrow fondled Mr. Cutter’s braided sleeve. “Are all your relatives so dreadful rude?”

    Mr. Cutter settled into a chair, careful not to hook his spurs or tangle his sword in the frame.  “Don’t give a curtain lecture, Auntie. Where’s your husband?”

    “Fairfax Hall, of course. You know Sir Fairfax can’t go five miles until he signs the oath.”

     “The King don’t coop up Catholics now. Not since the Act. Perhaps Sir Fairfax don’t like the company of the Frenchman. Sees him as the enemy.”

    Lady Fairfax brandished her fan. “How dare you. I’ll see to it that your father horsewhips you for speaking to me so improper.”

    “Don’t get frisky with me, Aunt. Remember that when Fairfax is dead, I’ll be master at Fairfax Hall.”

    “No, Mr. Cutter, you will not. After a hand of cards last week Sir Fairfax changed his will. The Deeds lie in hands of this young lady. Or, more particularly, the gentleman she marries.”

    Miss Sparrow gasped.

    Lady Fairfax signalled a footman. “Assist Miss Sparrow from the table.”

    Miss Sparrow was removed from her chair.

    Mr. Cutter started to rise. “You can’t do that.”

    “I can and will, Mr. Cutter.” The footman escorted Miss Sparrow towards the doors to the terrace. “Now. Make your introductions to Miss Fairfax.”

    Mr. Cutter looked up from untangling his spurs. “Miss Fairfax, you say? Whose child is she?”

    "My husband, you fool. Sir Fairfax."

    Mr. Cutter laughed. “Don’t call me cork-brained Auntie. She can’t have sprung from Sir Fairfax. The world knows he’s a—”

    "Silence." Lady Fairfax brought her fan down on Mr. Cutter’s knuckles.

    “It’s only a rumour, Auntie. Nobody’s hung the old boy yet for sailing the windward passage.”

  9. From Plunket & McCleane 1999

NOTICE - SEPTEMBER 1780

After Miss Fairfax vanished, the landlord of the Three Tuns discovered a lady’s journal, a gentleman’s pocket book and a packet of letters in his rooms. Transcribed by local author Timothy Scratchitt , their contents can be read at Bath’s FINEST circulating library .

Text sourced hazardofbath Copyright ©hazardofbath 2013

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