A Rational Proposal

By: Jan Jones

Verity beamed. “You are the best of friends. I accept with pleasure. Two days will be perfect as far as our packing is concerned. Anticipating Charles’s agreement, I set it in train last night and dispatched a letter from Mama and me to Godmama. He has no option, really, but to escort us. However, your invitation will sweeten the pill and help him justify to himself the delay in returning to his chambers. I believe he knows the Rothwells socially, does he not? He and Alexander and Adam can all talk politics together which will amuse them very well. In truth, Charles could do with a rest from his work. He seems tired, but that may be the result of having his nice tidy plans thwarted. Oh, and I have had another idea. We can ride over to Furze House after we have been to church, so I can show him I am in earnest about removing there. The gardener and his wife are still in their cottage and have a set of keys. I am sure when Charles has seen the rooms and the pleasant prospect, he will agree it is far superior to the dower house, even if it is a trifle shabby.”

“And once you are in London? How will you ensure his cooperation in your quest to search for your sister? He has concerns of his own to deal with. He cannot neglect his other clients.”

“I wouldn’t ask him to. If he will but set me on the right route to finding Kitty, there will be no need for me to disturb him. I have frequently stayed with Julia and her parents before. London is not wholly strange to me.”

Jenny made a wry face. “It will become more familiar the longer you spend there. From my dealings with Mr Tweedie over the years, much as I esteem the dear man, I cannot say his chambers are very swift to deal with matters, even those he considers urgent. Although, being scrupulously fair, events do happen rather faster now Adam has got into the habit of catching the stage to visit Charles every few weeks.”

“Is that so? Well then, I shall take steps to ensure that Charles discovers in himself a compelling need to speed my search.”

“I tell you, Adam, if we hadn’t been travelling in her own carriage I’d have dumped the minx in the lane and come on here alone. As it is, it wouldn’t surprise me to find all the trunks corded and ready on our return.”

Adam Prettyman laughed and drew them each another tankard. They were in his land office where he found the presence of a barrel of ale made a considerable difference when discussing estate matters with his foreman or the tenant farmers. “Verity is a determined young woman, but she strikes me as having a good heart.”

“Oh, she has - together with a conviction that she is always right. I have known Verity forever and have no illusions about her. I hope she will not be too distressed if we do trace her sister. You know as well as I the likely fate of those poor souls who are persuaded to elope to London thinking they are in love.”

Adam’s grim expression reflected his own. “I do indeed. Not only to London. Do you have contacts amongst your more interesting acquaintance who could help if hers is one of those cases?”

His more interesting acquaintance. The Pool, in other words. The loose ‘pool of talent’ that his one-time school fellow Benedict Fitzgilbert had drawn together to combat the rising tide of lawlessness in London. That was definitely something he would need to hide from Verity.

Fitz’s had been a simple idea. To recruit gentlemen who had a particular area of expertise, and who shared his own progressive ideas, and to see if they might pool their resources in a war against crime. Fitz provided the funds and the connections, including access to Sir Nathaniel Conant, Chief Magistrate at Bow Street. Charles’s contribution was a sound knowledge of the law, a working relationship with London’s poor, and a useful affinity with the card table. Other members had other skills.

For the Pool to function successfully, it had to be invisible. Adam was one of the very few people who were privy to Charles’s clandestine life. “Any number,” said Charles, answering him, “but it will be tricky just now for me to make contact. The Pool have had whisper of a shadowy gentleman that we have suspected the existence of for some time. We think he is behind a number of women’s disappearances as well as running a score of unsavoury establishments catering for all degrees of vice. I’m loathe to do anything more than tiptoe through the outskirts of his empire until I am more sure of who hides within the rumours.”

“Can you make enquiries for Verity’s sister by proxy then? Use my name if you wish.”

Charles shook his head. “Not until we know more. I learned very early not to involve others. This particular shadow has a swift and merciless way with loose mouths. I’ll not have retribution falling on the innocent. I’ve a couple of aliases that will serve if it comes to it. But thank you.”

“It wouldn’t be ‘involving’ me if I made the enquiries myself.”

“I can’t do that, Adam.”

“As you wish. It is your fight. But remember, if you need a strong arm, send me word.”

Charles quirked an eyebrow at that. “Is settled life palling on you? Are you hankering for the boards again?”