A Dangerous Scheme by Laura Beers

Chapter Two

With the morning sun streaming into her bedchamber, Miss Daphne Locke laid in bed as she stared up at the ceiling. Today was to be a happy day, she thought, as her dear friend was to be married; but she couldn’t help but feel a little sad at losing her friend to matrimony.

It wasn’t as if she were opposed to marriage, but Daphne just hadn’t been fortunate enough to meet a gentleman who sparked her interest. Most of the men in the village were rather disagreeable, despite their many attempts to court her. She found their advances to be disingenuous and questioned their motives.

She was the great-granddaughter of a duke, and her parents had left her a modest inheritance when they died nearly ten years ago. They had all contracted influenza when there was an outbreak in the village, but she was the only one who had survived. That is when she had come to live with her grandmother in Anmore, partly because no one else wanted her.

The door opened, and her blonde lady’s maid stepped into the room with a tray in her hands. “Good morning,” Anne greeted her, placing the tray on the dressing table. “I brought you up toast and a cup of tea.”

“Thank you,” Daphne replied.

Anne walked over to the armoire and asked, “Would you care to prepare for the day?”

“I suppose I must,” Daphne said, tossing off her sheets.

“I can’t help but notice that you seem hesitant.”

Placing her feet over the side of the bed, Daphne replied, “I am happy for Eliza, but I do hope that she is making the right choice.”

“You doubt her affection for Mr. Fitzwilliam?”

“I do not,” Daphne replied. “I’m afraid I am growing a little sentimental at the thought of losing her.”

Anne gave her an understanding smile as she draped a white gown with a pink net overlay over the back of the settee. “You aren’t losing her. After she is wed, she will be moving into Mr. Fitzwilliam’s manor, which is just on the other side of the village. It is only a short carriage ride away.”

“You are right, of course.”

“But?” Anne prodded.

Daphne rose and walked over to the dressing table. “I can’t help but point out that I rarely see Augusta now that she is wed to Mr. Banfield and is increasing.”

“You three were quite thick when you were younger.”

“We were,” Daphne replied as she sat and reached for her teacup, “but it all changed when Mr. Banfield started courting Augusta.”

Anne approached the dressing table and picked up a brush. “You could always accept one of the gentlemen’s offers to court you,” she suggested as she began brushing Daphne’s brown hair.

Daphne took a sip and returned the cup back to the saucer. “I think not.”

“Whyever not?”

“I am not interested in forming an attachment with any of the men in the village.” She picked up a piece of toast and took a bite.

Anne put the brush down and reached for the hair pins. “Is there a particular reason you are so reluctant?” she asked.

Daphne swallowed her bite before saying, “They are vain and pretentious.”

“All of them?”

“They only seem to care for themselves, and I cannot abide that,” she said, setting the toast on the tray. “Besides, many of them invest in the mine, and you know my thoughts on that.”

“I do.”

“They treat the women and children despicably, and the conditions there are horrid.”

“I must agree with you. It is most unfortunate,” Anne remarked as she stepped back. “Would you care to dress now?”

Daphne rose and stepped over to the settee. After she was dressed, she moved back to the dressing table and admired herself in the mirror. She’d had this gown specifically made for the wedding, and she was pleased with the result.

“You look lovely,” Anne praised as she extended a pair of white gloves.

Daphne accepted the gloves and forced a smile to her face. “Do I look happy?”

Anne laughed. “No, you look as if you just ate something that didn’t agree with you.”

“I shall have to work on that on the way to the church,” Daphne said, smiling genuinely now. She walked over to the door. “I do intend to go riding once I return.”

“I will be waiting.”

“Thank you, Anne.”

Daphne departed from her bedchamber and walked down the hall towards her grandmother’s room. She stopped outside the door and knocked.

“Enter,” her grandmother said.

Daphne opened the door and stepped inside. Her grandmother was sitting at the dressing table putting lotion on her hands, her grey hair neatly coiffed. Daphne couldn’t help noticing that the lines on her grandmother’s face were beginning to deepen, marking her advancing age.

“Good morning,” she greeted.

Her grandmother gave her a knowing look. “How are you faring today?”

Daphne knew it was nearly impossible to hide her true feelings from her grandmother. It had been this way since she was a little girl. Her grandmother had the uncanny ability to know when something was bothering her.

“I must admit that I have been dreading this day ever since Eliza informed me of the betrothal,” Daphne admitted.

“I assumed as much, but life has a funny way of continuing on, whether we are a willing participant or not.”

Daphne smiled. “You are exceptionally wise.”

“No, I am just old and have much more experience than you do,” her grandmother said. “What exactly is bothering you?”

“I’m truly happy for Eliza, but I know my life is about to change now that she is marrying.”

“Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing.”

“How can you say that?” Daphne asked. “I’m losing my friend.”

Her grandmother laughed. “To marriage,” she teased, “not to death.”

Daphne sighed. “I’m being silly, aren’t I?”

“You are, but it is all right. You have never been one to embrace change with an eager heart.”

“That is true,” she replied.

Shifting in her chair, her grandmother said, “I have been meaning to speak to you about something.”

“Can it wait until after the wedding?”

“I’m afraid not.”

Daphne walked over to the settee at the foot of the bed and sat down. “What do you wish to discuss?”

Her grandmother grew solemn, which was a stark contrast to her usual demeanor. “I am most concerned about your future, especially once I pass.”

Daphne stiffened. “I do not wish to think about that.” She didn’t know what she would do without her grandmother in her life.

“I know, but it is inevitable,” her grandmother pressed. “I have immensely enjoyed having you reside with me these past ten years.”

“As have I.”

Her grandmother’s eyes crinkled around the edges as she spoke. “Which is why I have asked my solicitor to modify my will.”

“For what purpose?”

“Your cousin, Phineas, is not making good choices, and I fear that once I am gone, he will not care for you as he should,” her grandmother explained. “That is why I have decided to make you my heir, and only leave him a small portion.”

Daphne let out a puff of air. “You have?”

“Yes,” her grandmother replied. “When I pass away, you will inherit a tidy sum of one hundred thousand pounds and this estate.”

Daphne’s eyes grew wide. “I will be an heiress.”

“You will be, and I am confident that you will use the money for good,” her grandmother said. “If Phineas inherited my estate, I worry that he would waste it on gambling or other despicable practices.”

“Have you informed Phineas of what you intend to do?”

“I sent him a letter last week regarding my intentions, but it is already done,” her grandmother replied. “The solicitor has updated my will, and it has been filed with the church probate court.”

Daphne stared at her grandmother. “I do not know what to say.”

Her grandmother smiled tenderly at her. “I could not be more proud of you,” she said. “I want to ensure you have the future that you deserve to have, and I do not want you to lack for anything.”

“Thank you, Grandmother,” Daphne replied, hoping her words conveyed the gratitude that she felt.

“You are most kindly welcome, but I should warn you that with this money comes a great responsibility.”

“How so?”

“You are responsible for many people and their livelihoods,” her grandmother said. “I am hoping you can start working with Mr. Bradshaw. He is a good man, and an even better steward. I have asked him to start easing you into your new role as my heir.”

“Is that truly necessary? I’m sure you will live for many more years.”

“That is my hope, but I am in fact getting older and slower,” her grandmother said. “I am unable to travel around the estate as I once did.”

“You are still young.”

“Only in your eyes, I’m afraid,” her grandmother joked. “To the world, I am just an old woman.”

Daphne abruptly rose from her seat. “I do not like to talk about such things,” she said, hoping to change the subject.

“I know, but there will come a time when I am no longer around.”

“I do not want to think about that time.”

Rising, her grandmother stepped over and embraced her. She stepped back, then said, “I know it is hard, but you will have to carry on without me.”

“How is that possible?” Daphne asked. “You are all I have left.”

“You’ll still have Phineas.”

Daphne gave her a disbelieving look. “The only time we see Phineas is when we go into Town to shop, which isn’t very often,” she remarked. “It has been nearly six years since he has traveled out here to visit with you.”

“Has it been that long?”

“It has,” Daphne replied. “Although, I do suspect he will be visiting shortly once he learns about you modifying the will.”

“I imagine that will be the case.”

A knock came at the door, interrupting their conversation.

“Enter,” her grandmother ordered.

The door opened and a maid stepped into the room. “The carriage has been brought around front, milady.”

“Thank you,” her grandmother replied as she retrieved her gloves from the dressing table. “We shall be down shortly.”

Daphne remained rooted in place. “I can’t believe how my future just changed,” she admitted.

“Money will not solve all your problems, but it is nice to have,” her grandmother shared. “I want you to be mindful of all the fortune hunters and rakes who will attempt to woo you to gain access to your fortune.”

“I am not easily fooled.”

“I know, my dear,” her grandmother said. “I trust you will make a wise choice when it comes to picking a suitor.”

“If I pick a suitor.”

“If?”

Daphne nodded. “I do not know if I will be as fortunate as you to find love, and I will not settle for anything less, especially since I will now have my own fortune.”

“I would expect nothing less for you.” Her grandmother slipped a green reticule around her wrist. “We’d better hurry if we want to arrive before the bride.”

“I forgot howdeucedly uncomfortable it was to dress like a gentleman,” Guy grumbled as he tugged on his white cravat.

Corbyn gave him an amused look. “Surely it is not so bad,” he said from his seat on the other side of the coach.

“I contend that it is.”

“Regardless, you need to look the part of a gentleman, and I believe we succeeded in that regard.”

Guy glanced down at his blue jacket and maroon waistcoat. “I look like a dandy.”

“No, you don’t,” Corbyn replied. “You are fashionably dressed. I am pleased that few alterations had to be done on the clothing for them to fit you.”

“Why couldn’t I come up with my own cover as to why I was in Anmore?” Guy asked.

Corbyn glanced over at the window, then said, “I couldn’t risk you blowing the mission.”

“You think so little of me?”

“Pray tell, what reason would you have given for being in Anmore?” Corbyn asked.

“I could say that I was looking for work at the mine.”

“I doubt anyone would have taken you seriously.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You have a muscular build, and mines are notoriously narrow,” Corbyn said. “I daresay you couldn’t even fit in a mine shaft.”

Guy frowned, recognizing that Corbyn made a valid point. “Regardless, I don’t need you hovering over me on every assignment.”

“That is not what I am doing.”

“No?”

Corbyn shook his head. “I am merely helping you along so you can be successful.”

“It feels a lot like hovering,” Guy muttered, “but I thank you for your assistance.”

“I do hope you are up to the task at hand.”

Guy nodded. “You do not need to worry on that account,” he replied. “I have no doubt that I can play the part of a gentleman.”

“I trust that is true.” Corbyn glanced at him curiously. “May I ask why you started working as a Bow Street Runner even though you were educated at Cambridge?”

“I’m afraid that is a long story.”

“I have time.”

Guy sighed. “When I was younger, my father discovered that I had a rather unique mind.”

“In what way?”

“I tend to remember everything that I read,” he explained. “I can read a book once and recite it nearly word for word.”

“That is remarkable.”

“When you are poor, a book is a luxury you can scarcely afford, but that didn’t stop me from borrowing them from everyone I could.”

“I hadn’t considered that before.”

“Unbeknownst to me, my father wrote to Eton and begged them for a scholarship for me,” he said. “They allowed me to be interviewed and decided that I could attend their school.”

“That is wonderful.”

“At times, it felt like a curse,” Guy replied. “I was poor, and everyone else knew it. My shoes had holes in the soles, and I wore nearly the same thing every day. The boys were relentless in their treatment of me and would throw cold water on my bed almost every night.”

“That is awful.”

“They found great joy in tormenting me, and the headmaster would look the other way, even when I showed up to class with bruises.”

Guy frowned as he continued. “I was miserable, and even debated about going home,” he shared. “It wasn’t until one of the teachers introduced me to boxing that I started fighting back.”

“How so?”

“Every morning before the other kids would wake up, I would spar with my teacher. Not only did I develop physically, but it helped me mentally. I realized that I wasn’t going to give up on Eton without a fight.”

“What happened?”

“Eventually I was prepared enough, and I fought back,” Guy revealed. “I beat every one of them.”

“Did they leave you be after that?”

Guy shook his head. “No, these boys were not very bright. They kept coming back for a rematch, and I would pound them senseless. Eventually, the headmaster got wind of what was going on and called me into his office.”

“Did you get into trouble?”

“Quite the opposite,” he said. “The headmaster praised me for taking the initiative but made me promise not to leave visible bruises on the other boys. Fortunately, it didn’t take long before they all started leaving me alone.”

“Did you make any friends at Eton?”

“I did not, but I didn’t lose any sleep over it,” he replied. “I studied hard and received a full scholarship to Cambridge.”

“Did anyone tease you at Cambridge?” Corbyn asked.

“They wouldn’t dare,” Guy said. “By then, I was boxing professionally, and that is how I survived while I was at university.”

“Why didn’t you continue to box professionally?”

“I was good, but I was much more focused on school. I spent nearly all my time at the library and attending lectures. I was rather proficient at mathematics and physics, and I even considered working towards becoming a professor.”

“If that is the case, why did you give up the life of a gentleman to become a Bow Street Runner?” Corbyn pressed.

“While I was away at school, my father was murdered when someone attempted to rob him of the two farthings that he was carrying,” Guy revealed.

“Two farthings?”

Guy bobbed his head. “That is all my father had on him.”

“That is awful.”

“The constable was contacted, but he didn’t have the time or resources to adequately investigate,” Guy shared. “My mother and sister had no choice but to move in with me. I knew I needed to work to provide for my family, and I was forced to drop out of university.”

Guy adjusted the lapels of his jacket as he continued. “I became determined to solve my father’s case, and I knew the only way I would be able to accomplish that feat was to become a Bow Street Runner. So, I marched up to Justice Conant and demanded a job.”

“You demanded a job from the Bow Street Magistrate?”

“I did.”

“That was quite bold.”

“Justice Conant thought so as well, and he agreed to hire me on a trial basis.”

Corbyn gave him an expectant look. “Did you solve your father’s case?”

A small smile came to his lips. “I watched the man hang.”

“Bravo.”

“It took me years to track him down, but it was worth every moment I spent on the case.”

Corbyn pounded on the roof and the coach started to slow down. “I have enjoyed your story immensely, but this is where I must get out.”

“Why?”

Corbyn gave him an exasperated look. “It is best if you don’t ask stupid questions, Agent.”

“I do apologize.”

“I have instructed my driver to take you home before you depart for Anmore,” Corbyn said. “The driver and footman will remain in Anmore until you finish your assignment.”

“That is most generous of you.”

“Do not fail me on this, Stewart,” he said. “Keep me posted on what you discover and inform me at once if you need any assistance.”

“I assure you it won’t be necessary.”

Corbyn opened the door and stepped out. As he disappeared into the crowd, the coach started rolling down the street towards his house. It wasn’t long before it stopped in front of the main door and the footman stepped off his perch.

As Guy walked inside, Esther looked up from where she was sweeping the floor.

“Those are some fancy clothes,” she said, perusing the length of him.

“Thank you,” he replied. “I require the use of them for an assignment.”

Esther put the broom aside. “Are you infiltrating the House of Lords?”

“I am not.”

“The House of Commons, then?”

“Neither,” Guy replied, smiling. “I have just come to inform you that I will be gone for a few days, but it should be no longer than a week.”

“But you can’t tell me where you are going?”

He gave her an apologetic smile. “I cannot, but I do have some good news.”

“You do?”

“I received an advance on my pay, and I have more than enough to cover Mother’s medical bills.”

Esther clasped her hands together. “That is wonderful news.”

“It is,” he replied, removing a few bills from the pocket of his waistcoat. He set the money on the table. “When the doctor comes to visit, you can pay him what we owe him.”

Stepping over to the kitchen, Esther asked, “When do you need to depart?”

“I’m afraid I am on my way out, but I wanted to inform you before I left Town.”

“May I make you something to eat for the journey?”

“I would greatly appreciate that, since I could save some money by not eating at the coaching inns along the way.”

As he watched his sister busily prepare a meal for him, he asked, “How is Mother?”

“She went back to sleep after you spoke to her, and I haven’t heard a peep from her since.”

He sighed. “That is most unfortunate to hear,” he said. “I do hope she can recover from whatever it is that is troubling her.”

“The longer she remains sick, the weaker she gets.” Esther walked up to him and handed him a sandwich wrapped up in a napkin. “I know it isn’t much, but it is all we have at hand.”

“It will be sufficient.”

Esther reached up and embraced him. “Do return safe, Brother,” she urged as she stepped back. “I don’t know what I would do if something happened to you.”

“You would be just fine.”

“I don’t believe that would be the case. I wouldn’t be able to look for work since I must care for Mother.”

Guy placed a hand on her shoulder. “You are doing a great service for Mother,” he praised. “When she recovers, you can get a job in the shop like you always wanted to.”

Esther smiled. “I would like that very much.”

“Perhaps you can dream bigger and get a job in the circulating library.”

Her smile dimmed. “I do not presume to have dreams of such grandeur.”

“You were destined for so much more than what you have been given,” Guy said dejectedly. “I am sorry that I could not give you more.”

“Enough of that talk,” Esther asserted. “You have given us a roof above our heads and food in our bellies. It is more than sufficient.”

“You are kind to say so,” he said, dropping his hand.

Esther gave him a knowing look. “Don’t fret about us,” she insisted. “We’ll be fine and will be here when you get home.”

“If something does happen to me, I want you to speak to Lord Evan Corbyn,” Guy said. “I have no doubt that he will ensure you find employment.”

“Lord Evan Corbyn?” she repeated. “Since when did you start mingling with members of Society?”

“Only recently,” he replied. “But promise me that you will seek out Lord Evan if anything happens to me.”

She bobbed her head. “I promise.”

“Good,” he replied. “It is best if I depart now.”

Esther walked over to the door and opened it. She glanced at the shiny black coach and looked back at him in surprise. “Is that your coach?”

“It is for now.”

“What are you about, Brother?”

He smiled as he approached his sister. “You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you,” he said before he left.