While doing research for the "Mysterious Mr. Willis" I came across a real story, that of Frances Kendrick, which has potential as a swashbuckling story. This is a start.
I'll often write trial drafts of several books in order to see what seems to be working.
The Berkshire Lady
Memorial Service.Frances Kendrick knelt at the altar in St. Mary's church in the Butts in Reading and looked up at the stained glass while she prayed for her brother. Or tried to pray. She wished there was some sort of answer or reassurance, but her words and thoughts seemed to disappear into the void. Her brother James had managed to get himself killed on the plains of Montreal, and the news had finally reached Reading six months later. A short note, with a package, waited for her at the family solicitors. The family, what was left of it, put a plaque in the church and held a funeral service.
She couldn't even cry any longer. When her mother died six years ago, she'd been disconsolate. It seemed she had weeped for a year. Only her dashing and handsome big brother, on leave, had helped to chase the grief away. He taught her to fence and indulged the 'tom-boy' in her by helping her to ride to hounds and hunt the deer. It didn't remove the ache, but dulled it and made life livable again. Her father died last year, but that was a merciful release for him after years of pain. Somehow it was a fitting close when he joined his wife under the narrow stone in the churchyard outside. Now it was James' turn to be grieved for.
She stared at the window and wondered if anyone was listening. “Lord, if you could, give me a break. Please.”
As usual silence was all she heard. That is until the vicar tapped her on the shoulder and quietly asked her if she were ready to see the solicitors now. She turned and looked at him. Mr. Reddick was a handsome young man, and safely married to an old friend of hers Mary. Frances said, “Oh yes. I suppose I must.”
“Do you need a companion?”
“It would be nice.”
“Unfortunately, I have a christening and two marriages to perform today. However, Mrs. Reddick would be happy to escort you.”
Frances smiled, maybe someone was listening. “I'd be pleased if Mary could accompany me. She knew James well. They'd often danced at the assemblies.”
Mr. Reddick nodded. It had been something of a shock to society when Mary chose him over a dashing young captain. He still couldn't always believe in his good fortune. Frances saw the flicker of doubt in his eyes and said, “My friend showed her good sense when she married you Mr. Reddick.”
Mary escorted her down the narrow alley behind the church to Broad street and into the solicitor's office. They waited together for him, and then entered the dusty, close space he called his office. He coughed to clear his throat and then went through the will and entailments on the Calcot estate.
The form of the strictures on the estate held few surprises for Frances. She, as a young woman, was not considered fit to run the estate. It was held in trust for her, until she married. Then it would belong to her husband, and he could do with it as he saw fit. There was a small allowance reserved for her to use for dresses and entertainments. Enough that she wouldn't go naked, but too little for a jaunt to London or Bath. Mr. Jones asked if she had any questions. Frances said, “No, although I thought the allowance was more generous.”
“It hasn't changed since the original entail in the days of William and Mary.”
“I see. It's not much money. Is there anyway to increase it?”
“Think of it as an inducement to marriage.”
Mr. Jones left her to consider the situation for a few moments and then he said, “Miss Kendrick, in addition to the formalities, your brother left you this package.” He pointed to a large, obviously heavy, bundle of long objects. “His instructions are that you read this note first.”
“If I may have it.” Mr. Jones handed it to her and she began to read it. At first quietly and then aloud.
If you're reading this, then I'm camping with the angels, or perhaps with the devils. In any case, I'll have done my bit for England and be buried in some foreign land.
Don't grieve too long or too hard for me. I had a good run, and took the most I could out of life. I suspect your friend Mary and that vicar of hers are sitting with you. Give them my regards. I wish I could have attended their wedding.
I'm sorry about the allowance from the estate. It ought to be larger, but Father and I have been a drain on the resources. Old Mr. Jones will see that the mortgages get paid off.
No doubt you're wondering what's in the package. Knowing you, you've already guessed. It's my spurs and my swords. Use them well.
Captain 66th foot regiment.Frances put the letter down and flushed a stray tear from her eye with a handkerchief. Then she said, “Can I see the package?”
Mr. Jones put it on the desk in front of them. He said, “Are you sure you want these? I could keep them safe here.”
Frances replied, “I need to see them. They're his gift to me.” She tore open the package and found two swords and his spurs. One sword was his ceremonial sword, engraved and gilt-encrusted. The other was the sword he carried when he was a lieutenant. It was a heavy serviceable rapier with a sweat-stained handle. The guard was dented and scratched. Frances held it and thought. Then she said, “Mr. Jones. Could you look after this ceremonial sword? I think I'll keep this one and his spurs with me.”
“If you wish, Miss Kendrick.”
“Thank you. You know he taught me to fence with this sword.”
“Yes, I have a smaller one like this at home and a couple of foils. But this is my new favorite.”
Back out on the street after saying their farewells, Mary asked her friend, “Frances, you could stay with us if you want. That mansion is so big and you could be lonely.”
Frances said, “No. It's home. I'll be fine there.”
“At least let me get you a cab and come with you. It's a long walk alone.”
“That would be perfect. Why don't you leave a message at St. Mary's? That way Mr. Reddick can join us for dinner.”
Late that evening, as she was preparing for bed, Frances pulled the sword from its sheath and looked at it in the flickering candle light. It was fine steel and still held an edge. She told her maid, “You know, Martha. I think I'll keep this with me. To scare the nightmares and megrims away.”
“If you wish, Ma'am. I might put it back in its sheath first.”
Even later that evening, Frances awoke to the sound of scrabbling outside of her window. She was about to turn over and go back to sleep when the crackling noise as one of the panes of glass was detached from the frame forced her to be fully awake. When the sound of the latch opening followed, she pulled the sword from its sheath and sat, behind her bed curtains, wondering what she should do.
The window opened and Frances could hear a muffled discussion between the cracksmen outside.
“Come on lad, up and over. You'll never be a Ken-Miller if you hesitate.”
“There's someone there.”
“Na, it's just your nerves. The upright man said the house 'ud be empty. What with the funeral and all.”
“I can hear breathing.” Frances fought to keep her breath quiet.
“Lad, get thee in, or Captain-Tom will whip you. Any road, I'm just behind so no fear.”
The younger thief carefully lifted himself through the window and stealthily walked to the door beyond. “I'm in, at the door. Won't be bothered.”
The words, “Good Lad.” were followed by the louder noise as the older and heavier cracksman lifted himself over the sill. “Damn-me, I'm getting to old for this. Still it's better than forking for a living.” Frances could hear steps as he approached the bed. “The curtains are drawn. Wonder why?”
He pulled them open and found out as Frances lunged forward and put her sword through his belly. Withdrawing the sword as he fell she pointed it at the younger man and shouted, “Stand there or I'll do you too.” He shook and said, “No Ma'am, no. I'll stay still. Don't run me through.” Frances walked round until she could reach the bell pull and rang with all her might.