Oddly I haven't forgotten about Simon and Katherine, and they've been insisting that I get back to their story. I've written a bit more of it, but not enough to share (yet). That said, here's a bit more (draft) copy from Charlotte.
Charlotte and Elizabeth are riding from Bath to London, in the company of the rather shady Lady Maplerod, and run into a few complications on the way.
To London.Elizabeth's predictions about Lady Maplerod and the chance of a free ride were spot on. She hemed and hawed, claimed she didn't want to be a burden, but quickly acquiesced to the idea of taking a seat in the Oswith carriage. The Answorths were pleased as well, while they couldn't put their finger on the reason, something about their erstwhile neighbor bothered them. Having a steady young female like Miss Oswith near their friend was reassuring.
The post chaise Elizabeth hired left Bath for London early in the morning. Not as early as Elizabeth wished, but earlier than either Lady Maplerod or Charlotte would normally rise in the morning. Naturally this lead to a certain amount of matutinal silence. They took the Bath road through Chippenham, Marlborough and Newbury. In Newbury the Bath road changed to the London road and Charlotte asked if anyone else was perhaps a little in need of refreshment. Elizabeth took the hint and asked the driver to stop at the next respectable pub. Lady Maplerod was visibly distressed, “Could we move on?”
“This place has unfortunate associations, poor Lord Maplerod took ill in Newbury.”
Elizabeth innocently inquired, “On a race day, perhaps?”
Lady Maplerod gave her a hard stare, “No, of course not.”
“If you say so. Driver, can you drive on?”
The driver pointed out that they had to change horses at the next post house and were stopping no matter what. He was not about to lame his horses simply to satisfy a woman's whim.
Charlotte smiled at her friends, “So I guess we're stopping after all, LIzzy.”
Lady Maplerod quickly left the coach and fled to a table in the back of the house, while Charlotte and Elizabeth followed at a more leisurely pace. “LIzzy, why was Lady Maplerod so worried?”
“Probably she made a bad bet at the races, owes some money to a bookie, and left town in a hurry to avoid payment.”
“Of course I could be wrong about it. It's just I tend to be cynical about people, especially when there's money involved.”
Elizabeth wasn't wrong. A rather large and somewhat greasy and ill-dressed man had cornered Lady Maplerod in the back of the room. He was loudly demanding that she settle her debts with him, now.
“I'm sorry who are you?”
“Gentleman Jack, the bookie. Now my fine lady, will you settle your account, or do I call the bailiffs?”
“I- I-” she stammered, desperate to find a way to avoid paying or, worse still, being trotted off to debtor's prison. Seeing Elizabeth, she threw one last desperate toss of the die. “Miss Oswith, I seem to have mislaid my pocketbook. Can you help me settle with this individual?”
Charlotte was dismayed to see her friend in a difficult situation. Elizabeth was amused by it. “You know Lady Maplerod, my brother told me never to loan money without collateral.” A hard, ugly expression flickered on Lady Maplerod's face, then she was sweetness itself. “Of course, my dear. It's not a loan, I'm temporarily a bit short. I left my money in the luggage.”
'Gentleman' Jack growled, “There's plenty of time to retrieve it.” Elizabeth thought quickly, while she would prefer to remove Charlotte from the company of this old leech, she was acutely aware that exposing Lady Maplerod and causing a fuss could have more bad effects than good. Especially if it led to difficulties with the Answorths or Charlotte.
“How much is the debt?”
Gentleman Jack studied Elizabeth with a measuring eye, he liked what he saw and recognized a lady of means. “Miss, this old croaker ain't worth it.”
Elizabeth gasped in pretend amazement, “Why Lady Maplerod, I'm shocked that you wouldn't carry such small change with you. Especially on a journey like this where there are bound to be expenses.” Charlotte's expression was puzzled, and she asked, “Lizzy, are you making fun of Lady Maplerod?”
Lady Maplerod, desperately suggested to Elizabeth, “I'll pledge my necklace to you, it's worth at least ten times that.”
“Paste, most likely.” Gentleman Jack unhelpfully interjected. Elizabeth had already noticed that the diamonds lacked brilliance and the silver mountings were unusually tinny. She replied, “Undoubtedly and not very good paste at that.” Elizabeth thought about leaving Lady Maplerod to dangle in the basket, but the driver of the chase came in and said the horses were nearly ready. “Charlotte, why don't you go purchase some food? I'll settle with these two.”
After Charlotte slipped off, Elizabeth pointedly told Lady Maplerod. “Ma'am, Miss DeVere is a bit naive, a sweet little bird unused to the ways of the world, I'm not. Please remember that she is my friend, and my family looks after its friends. Understand?” Lady Maplerod, aghast at such blunt, almost threatening, language from someone she assumed was a refined gentlewoman, nodded. Elizabeth pulled a sheet of paper from her reticule, and drew up a repayment contract. She abruptly commanded Lady Maplerod, “Sign this. Here.”
Once that was complete, she paid Gentleman Jack. “Thank your Miss, but you know that vowel is only scrap paper to her kind.”
“I know, but I have a few friends who are good at getting my debtors to pay up.”
“As good as me?”
“You'd be surprised. You've heard of the Kennet County Bank?” // needs a better name here.
“Yes. They financed the canal. It helps bring in the punters.”
He turned to Lady Maplerod and grinned, “You'd best pay that vowel, Milady. Don't say I didn't warn you.” His gap-toothed smile only added to the menace of his suggestion.
He then thanked Elizabeth and left.
Reinstated in the chase, Charlotte's needs relieved, Elizabeth amused and Lady Maplerod exhausted from the day's struggle, they continued with a change of horses at Calcott Green outside of Reading to London.