Fifteen

It was Rose’s cries that woke John up. For a moment he wondered where he was, dreaming that he was still in Elizabeth’s great house and that he was lying beside her. Then as he hastily struck a tinder and lit a candle, he saw that it was his bedroom in Nassau Street and remembered that he and his daughter had travelled back to London a few days before. The swift feeling of reassurance that he was back in town was instantly dissipated by the shouts of terror coming from her bedroom. Then as he leapt out of bed he heard another pair of feet running towards her door and flinging it open. Unable to gather his thoughts, John hurried to Rose.

Jacquetta Fortune was sitting on the bed holding his daughter in her arms but the child was looking toward the door and sobbing, ‘Papa, Papa. Oh where is he? Is he safe?’

‘I’m here, dearest girl,’ he said from the doorway.

‘Oh thank goodness you are alive! Oh Papa, I had such a terrible dream.’

Jacquetta released the child into his custody and stood up. John smiled at her and just for a moment thought how beautiful she looked with her lovely hair loose around her shoulders and that awful, frightening thinness disappearing and a shapely body starting to emerge. Then he turned his full attention to Rose.

He had never seen her so frightened; his spirited daughter, who was afraid of nothing, who had strange and rare abilities, whose very exuberance was a pleasure to behold, lay like a crumpled doll in his arms, her small frame raked with sobs.

‘Shush, sweetheart. It was only a dream. It’s all gone now. You’re safe in your bed and I’m here with you. Tell me what it was that frightened you so much.’

She pressed close to him and he could feel her trembling. ‘It was that wicked old brown woman. The one who wears the big bonnet. She came in my dream and said she was going to kill everyone. And you were there, Papa. I saw you.’

‘Where? Where was this?’

‘I’m not sure, that’s the trouble. But there were a whole lot of people all in one place. And then this terrible… Papa, be sure to lie flat when you see her. It is vital that you do.’

‘But why, darling? What is it you see about her?’

Rose wept again but this time with frustration. ‘I don’t know, I don’t know. It’s just that something tells me you will be safer lying down.’

‘I swear I will go flat if ever I see this old apparition.’

‘But you will see her, Papa. I am certain of it.’

‘I promise you that I shall be on my guard,’ replied John solemnly.

She relaxed a little but remained in the protection of his arms. ‘Do you have to return to Devon, Pappy?’

‘I do, my sweetheart. I promised Mrs Elizabeth and the twins that I would return next month. So I am duty bound to go.’

‘I wish you didn’t have to. I shall feel so far apart from you when I am at school and you are miles away.’

‘I promise to write often.’

Rose suddenly sat up and John could feel that her body had gone rigid. ‘She is waiting for you,’ she said, and her voice sounded tired and old.

The Apothecary was too wise to try and shake her out of whatever vision she could see. ‘Where?’ he asked again.

‘In Devon,’ she answered, and fell back on to her pillows.

Two days later John escorted Rose to her new school. Irish Tom had cleaned the coach till it shone and had retouched the initials of its owner, gracefully entwined on the door. John, going to inspect Tom’s handiwork in Dolphin Yard, had walked round the equipage with a look of great satisfaction.

‘Is it to your liking, Sorrh?’

‘You’ve done a grand job, Tom. It almost looks new.’

‘Oh, it’s taken a bit of punishment in its time, the old coach. But I hope it will be grand enough for our Miss Rose to set foot in.’

Sir Gabriel would have been irritated that a servant spoke in this familiar manner but John and Tom had built up a special and, in a way, very close relationship over the years and the Apothecary would have wondered what was wrong if the coachman had addressed him in any other way.

So with her newly bought trunk and a couple of hat boxes stowed on the top, John and his daughter set off down Gerrard Street, waved to by all the servants, the nursery maid in floods of tears, and by Jacquetta Fortune, who had come out of the office she had now established in the house in Nassau Street, to wave farewell. Gideon was, of course, at Shug Lane.

The destination was Kensington Gore but the carriage diverted to Sir Gabriel’s residence so that he, too, might see his granddaughter into her first school. In a sea of stiff satin, black as always, the only colour being the white lining of his cloak and what one could glimpse of his shirt, Sir Gabriel emerged from his front door like the leader of fashion he had always been. Round his neck he had a bow at the centre of which glinted a diamond.

‘Oh Grandpa, you do look fine,’ Rose called excitedly through the window, then, as Tom lowered the step, hopped out and curtseyed as Sir Gabriel made his way within.

‘Dear child,’ said Sir Gabriel, fondling the strands of flame-coloured hair that shone beneath her new hat. ‘I shall come and visit you often.’

‘Yes, please do,’ she answered.

John looked at her, thinking to himself that the effects of her terrible dream had completely gone. He wondered, in fact, when she was in that sort of state if she had no memory of it afterwards. For today she seemed radiantly happy, glad to be entering into the adult world, proud to be bowling along in the newly restored carriage with her handsome father and his imposing adopted parent, who was leaning on his great stick and looking out of the window from time to time.

But as they arrived at the school, amongst many other carriages and fine looking modes of transport, she suddenly turned pale. ‘Oh, Pappy, will I be able to cope?’ she asked anxiously.

John was about to answer when Sir Gabriel rose from his seat and got out of the carriage on to the step, holding out a hand for Rose to join him. It had occurred to John that over the years his father might have lost some of his ability to attract attention — a faculty that at one time had meant he could enter a room and stop the conversation — but not so. As he stood on the step, his great height raised even taller, his old-fashioned three storey wig with its cockaded hat atop glinting in the sunshine, he took Rose and motioned her in front of him so that she was in full view of the passing parade. Much to John’s astonishment, Irish Tom let out a hearty cheer and a far tinier child than Rose stopped its howling and instead dropped a curtsey. Seeing this, several of the other children did the same.

‘You see, my girl,’ said Sir Gabriel, ‘everything hinges on how one presents oneself. If you go in weeping and ashen-faced they will think you a sad creature from a wretched home and will treat you accordingly. But if you go in chin high and exude a confidence that perhaps inside one does not feel, then you will be treated with respect and as someone whose views are worth listening to. Now, child, let me lead you to your headmistress.’

Still within the carriage confines, John smiled. ‘Go on, Rose,’ he said. ‘I will follow behind.’

So his daughter was led down a kind of ceremonial walk, with the parents and children falling back to allow Sir Gabriel — using his great stick to a nicety — to pass through. Thus they arrived at the feet of Madame de Cygne.

‘Bonjour, Madame. Votre ecole est magnifique, je crois.’ And he bowed low before her, then kissed her hand.

She was quite overcome, answered him in French and made much of Rose, whom Sir Gabriel introduced as his granddaughter and eventual heir. Then John joined them, having walked slowly behind them, and the bowing and curtseying began all over again. Finally it was time for Rose to go inside.

She turned in the doorway and reached up to John for a last kiss. ‘Be very careful in Devon,’ she whispered.

‘I will, I promise,’ he whispered back.

Then he set her on her feet and she turned away and walked through the front door and into her new life.

Having spent the night with Sir Gabriel, John returned to town the next morning early and did a full day’s work in his shop. After which, feeling in the mood for some fresh air, he went for a walk in St James’s Park. Despite the evening being not yet truly warm there were a great many people about, those simply out to take the air, and those whose sole purpose in life was prostitution and picking pockets. A dismal child of about twelve approached him and offered him a short time in a back alley for two pennies. John gave her the money then ordered her away and told her to go to an apothecary’s as the poor girl was covered with a most suspicious rash. She ran off and John continued his walk in peace.

A beau minced past in unfashionably high heels, somewhat worn down. On looking at him further one could see that he was genteelly shabby, a sad figure if he had not been such a ridiculous posturer. He turned his head as John approached, and raised his eye glasses which hung around his neck to peer. The Apothecary saw a face that must once have been handsome but was now raddled with dissolute living. There were cracks in the enamelled make-up and the huge eyes, heavily outlined with kohl, were heavy with bags beneath. John could see that the seam of his coat had split under the arm.

The man let out a little scream. ‘Oh good gracious me! Zoonters, but I thought you were a pickpocket, Sir.’ He stared at John closely, the eyeglasses reflecting the light. ‘You are not one, are you?’

John smiled and made a small bow. ‘No, Sir, I am not. But if you are so frightened of them why do you walk here?’

The beau’s carmined lips parted in a smile. ‘I am not afraid, Sir. No indeed I am not. And if a man cannot saunter along minding his business and enjoying his own company, then we are in a sorry plight indeed.’

Certain that if he agreed with him he would receive a lecture on the state of the nation, John smiled non-committally and would have passed him had it not been for the beau’s arm blocking his way.

‘Oh do chat a minute, Sir. It is so very pleasant to exchange news and views.’

John’s heart sank slightly but out of common politeness he allowed himself to walk beside the beau who rattled off a load of nonsense in a high-pitched voice.

‘… and as I was saying to Sir Rollo Golightly t’other day, one hardly dare leave one’s home for fear of highwaymen. I mean, what indeed are we come to, that…’

John switched off his brain and allowed his thoughts to drift away, but was suddenly called back to reality by the mention of a familiar name.

‘… of course, as I said to Lady Bournemouth-’

‘Excuse me, but do you know her?’

The beau sounded slightly waspish. ‘Of course I do. I am often invited to her place to play cards. Met a delightful girl while I was there, a Miss Cordelia Clarke. She invited me to stay at her home…’

‘In Devon?’

‘Precisely. But I wouldn’t travel on the public stage or by post-chaise, come to that. One never knows what might be lurking behind the bushes, don’t you know.’

This last remark struck John as funny and he felt his mouth starting to twitch into a grin.

‘I am serious, my dear Sir. One takes one’s life into one’s hands when one steps abroad. I mean to say, anyone could be a pickpocket or a cutpurse, don’t you know.’

‘Then why are you walking along with me?’ asked John mildly.

The beau shrieked with laughter, bending double and clutching his sides. John had a glimpse of his eyes, which he could now see were the colour of ginger spice, watering madly as he giggled away. ‘Oh, my dear Sir, you’re a regular rogue, so you are! Why, I haven’t laughed so much since I last clipped the King’s English!’

John decided that the man was very slightly mad and concluded that a rapid exit would be the order of the day. Pulling his watch from his waistcoat pocket, he said, ‘Dearie me, is that the time? I promised to meet someone in ten minutes. I really must hurry along.’

The beau wiped his face with a lace handkerchief that had seen better days. ‘It has been a great pleasure to talk to you, Sir. I do hope my lack of decorum did not frighten you away. Alas I am given to such outbursts when something takes my fancy. Before we part, please remember me to Lady Bournemouth and Miss Cordelia Clarke if you should happen to see them.’ At the mention of the last name the beau let out a deep sigh, clutched his heart and rolled a ginger eye.

John presumed from this that the fellow had a penchant for the young lady, thinking simultaneously that he was somewhat too old for her, and far too seedy. He nodded. ‘Be sure that I will. What is your name, by the way?’

‘Pendleton, Sir. Benedict Pendleton. And yours?’

‘John Rawlings.’

And with this the two men bowed to one another and parted company.

Thinking that it was time he rewarded Jacquetta for the undoubted amount of hard work that she had put into launching the Rawlings brand of sparkling water, John invited her to accompany him to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, to see a revival of The Parson’s Wedding, a play that in its heyday had made Samuel Pepys blush. Now she too, though laughing, had colour in her cheeks and John could not help but think it sailed a little close to the wind for a delicate female. However it had the desired effect of engaging the often rowdy audience who, instead of talking or throwing rotten fruit into the stalls below, guffawed heartily throughout.

Coming out into the chilly April night John decided it was too early to return home and instead took Mrs Fortune to a quiet tavern near Covent Garden and ordered a late supper. Having seated themselves and placed their order, she turned to him, looking at him with her clear eyes.

‘Mr Rawlings, I would like to thank you for all you have done for me. I believe that you have quite literally saved my life.’

‘Don’t thank me, thank Octavia Dawkins. She is the person who recommended you, after all.’

‘I am obviously aware of that. But you have been a very kind employer. Moreover you had sufficient faith in me to allow me to pursue my own way.’

‘As a matter of fact I would like to be more involved in the business in future. You see, I have been interested in the properties of water ever since I can remember. Not,’ John added hastily, ‘that I infer any criticism of your splendid organization.’

‘You are welcome to join Gideon and myself at any time, Sir. You know that.’

Feeling that the conversation was drifting towards his commitments in Devon and the difficulties that these were already presenting him with, John changed the subject. ‘I’m glad that he has been of help to you. I must say he has developed really well. He used to be so clumsy, you know. I hardly dared to let him loose in the shop.’

‘He has certainly changed,’ answered Jacquetta, and lowered her eyes.

A pang ran through John, though of what kind he had no idea himself. ‘You are fond of him?’ he found himself saying.

Mrs Fortune looked up again and directly at her employer. There was no denying it. Her gentle green eyes held a look of great tenderness. ‘Yes, I am. Very.’

Why this should irritate John, Heaven alone knew — but irritated he was. It was on the tip of his tongue to enquire how far these feelings had led when he realized that it was none of his damned business.

Instead he said, ‘I am glad that the two of you get along so well.’

Jacquetta smiled. ‘Of course, I rather imagine that he has fallen in love with me.’

‘Of course he has,’ John said loudly, then added, ‘Who could not?’

She gazed at him in great surprise. ‘I don’t quite understand your meaning.’

The Apothecary was all apologies. ‘Forgive me. It was silly of me to say that. I really meant that for a woman as attractive as you are you must be used to men fawning at your feet.’

She made a humourless gesture. ‘Mr Rawlings, you know as well as I that when you first met me I was a wreck of humanity. It is the kindness of yourself at letting me live in your beautiful home and enjoy your excellent food that has brought about the changes in me. I have only you to thank for that.’

‘But nothing could ever have taken away from your glorious hair,’ he said indiscreetly. ‘I have never seen a colour like it.’

Mrs Jacquetta Fortune looked down at the table and said nothing.

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