Spy Another Day – Elizabeth Ellen Carter

“MR. BASSETT, İS there nothing we can do?” His apprentice, Joe, face soot-stained, looked at him with wide mournful eyes. “Get one of our horses from the stables and race as fast as you can to Sir Daniel. Tell him the fire was no accident. Someone set it by the back door, poured turpentine all over it before lighting it – and stayed long enough to watch it go up.” Bassett spun round to look at the shopfront, suddenly remembering. “My God! The key!” He took off at a run back toward the burning building without a second thought. “Mr. Bassett!” the youth called out. “Follow orders, Joe!” Bassett yelled back. “Go to Sir Daniel!” One week later ADAM HARDACRE PUT a black-gloved hand on the shoulder of the young man before him. With red-rimmed eyes, Bassett’s apprentice stared straight ahead at the coffin laying before the altar, manfully holding back tears in public that he’d allowed himself to shed in private. It had been hard for the lad. Young Joe had lost everything – his home, his work, and a man who, by all accounts, had become a good friend to him. Even though Adam didn’t know the deceased that well, his own throat constricted when one of the mourners gave a heartfelt eulogy.

How was it that such sentimentality had been opened up in him? Beside him, his wife, Olivia, squeezed his hand. Sir Daniel Ridgeway, head held high, posture erect, led the pallbearers two-by-two, to their positions. Joe made up the sixth at the end. It had all the occasion of a military funeral, although no one in St Mary’s Church wore decorations. This was a decidedly civilian affair. Each one of the twenty mourners rose to their feet and bowed their heads as a mark of respect as the coffin passed. Adam remained standing even after the others had filed out to begin their graveside vigil. “You can’t blame yourself.” He looked down at Olivia and drank in her loveliness. The warmth of her brown eyes made him grateful to the good Lord above that this woman was his wife and was prepared to stand by his side come hell or high water.

He saw no pity in her face, just understanding and a silent promise of steadfastness he sorely needed right now, although he would admit that to no one but her. The truth of the matter was he did feel responsible. How could he not? He even had it in writing – a note from Harold Bickmore. This is not over. It had been a threat and a promise rolled into one. And it took the form of arson, an action designed to put The King’s Rogues out of business. As a result, a good man lost his life. Adam squeezed his wife’s hand and nodded to indicate he’d heard her. He wasn’t sure he could form the words to tell her so. They left the church hand-in-hand.

At the grave, he watched his friend and employer closely. Sir Daniel carried the twin responsibilities of clandestine spymaster and pillar of the Truro community. The strain showed on his face – a man who’d had had too little sleep and burdened with too much to do. Yet Ridgeway performed his public duty without flagging, sparing a word or two of comfort to the mourners. Adam knew how much the devastating fire had cost him financially, too. After all, he had owned Charteris House. Shopkeepers on either side of their little headquarters would require compensation for their losses. Adam’s nerves jangled despite his outward calm. If it was just him alone, he would have saddled up and searched under every rock and in every hell hole from here to John O’Groats for that bastard traitor, Bickmore, but he’d been under orders to stay close. “You have a job to do, Lieutenant,” Sir Daniel had told him in no uncertain terms.

“I can have a hundred operatives around the Kingdom alerted and searching before you’ve even left the county. Bickmore will show his face again, mark my words. Our best chance of finding him is in the material we already have.” Alas, marking time was not among Adam’s preferred pastimes. Nor could he bear a burden of distress he was powerless to relieve. “I’m going to have the carriage brought around,” he told Olivia. She simply nodded and moved to stand beside Joe who, as the coffin was lowered into the open earth, could no longer contain his tears. ON THEİR WAY back to Sir Daniel’s home of Bishop’s Wood, they passed what remained of Charteris House. On this crisp winter’s day, Adam could smell the strange combination of damp and ash. Everything which could be salvaged from the rubble had been – but alas not the clocks.

Not a single one of Bassett’s beloved timepieces survived the conflagration. Such a waste. Poor Joe couldn’t even bring himself to look. “I’ve ordered the site to be cleared tomorrow,” said Sir Daniel. “There will be no trace that The King’s Rogues were ever here.” “Have we heard from Nate and Susannah?” Olivia asked. “I hope Abigail will have received word while we’ve been out,” Sir Daniel answered before directing his attention to Bassett’s apprentice. “Chin up, lad, you did as much as any man could. I’m proud of you.” Adam pulled himself from his stupor.

There was too much to do – starting with how the hell Harold Bickmore escaped Naval custody. “We’re all proud of you, Joe,” Adam added. * THE LETHARGY THAT accompanies funerals was absent at Bishop’s Wood. The Ridgeways’ country residence was a fine Georgian manor surrounded by the woods for which it had been named. It was a peaceful retreat, generally, but now it was also a temporary place of business. Lady Abigail Ridgeway sat at her desk in the morning room to receive the first post of the day. She liked this room. It captured the best of the winter sunlight, but that was not why she favored it particularly today. In truth, she needed respite from their unexpected houseguest. She was untroubled to confess that she was not a very compassionate woman by nature.

Even as much as she loved her adopted daughter, Marie, Abigail also accepted she was not a particularly maternal creature either. Thank goodness the girl had Daniel to guide her upbringing in such things. As a result, the role of a kindly nurse was not one that fell on her shoulders easily. Indulging an invalid stretched the limits of her patience – especially when she suspected the party in question was making somewhat of a meal of his current situation. She turned her attention to the pile of correspondence that Musgrave, the butler, had left on her desk. The first was a letter from Susannah Payne, which she recognized by her neat cursive hand. She and Nathaniel ought to be enjoying their honeymoon as newlyweds. Instead, they were now preparing their inn, The Queen’s Head on the western Cornish coast, to be the new headquarters for The King’s Rogues. “… do let us know what special arrangements are required and we will endeavor to have everything in place for your arrival at St. Sennen.

We were horrified to hear of Bassett’s…” Abigail skimmed the rest of the letter. The Queen’s Head would be ready for their arrival in five days’ time. That was all she needed to know. The letter was put to one side. She opened the next. It was from Admiral Sykes, direct from the Admiralty in London and addressed to Sir Daniel. “We regret the escape of the prisoner, Harold Monteagle Bickmore, from our custody on tenth of December. “The prisoner, in concert with three accomplices whom we have not identified, overpowered the guard escorting him to the first hearing of his court martial. The search is continuing for the prisoner who has since been tried and found guilty in absentia based on the strength of evidence supplied by you and Lieutenant Adam Hardacre. “As the prisoner has openly professed his treason, our resources have focused on the coast closest to France in the expectation the man will attempt to make his break across to enemy territory.

“As your letter made plain, we were remiss in letting your company know of developments in a timely fashion and we deeply regret the losses you’ve suf ered. “We remain confident that, in time, we might recapture…” Abigail set the rest of the letter aside in disgust. Useless! Completely useless! The Admiralty had allowed its plans for Admiral Horatio Nelson’s state funeral to completely overshadow their responsibilities. It was just as well that she sent her own agents out last week. They would have more solid leads on the whereabouts of the traitor before Whitehall could finish writing the orders. Abigail gritted her teeth to prevent very unladylike profanities crossing her lips. Fools to a man! No doubt, Daniel would have stronger words than that to say when he returned home. Movement caught her eye. Through the trees beyond the window, she spied the carriage returning from the funeral. She looked down at the last piece of correspondence, this addressed to Lady Abigail Houghall at an address in Bath.

Oh my, she hadn’t resided there in twelve years, not since before she wed. The time before Daniel seemed a lifetime ago. She smiled at the memory of their unusual first meeting, then turned over the envelope. There was a return address. The Honorable Alexandra Gedding Stannum House Cornwall Alexandra? Felicity’s daughter? The last time she’d seen the child was as a babe in arms. She heard Musgrave at the front door and left the letter unopened. Old family connections could wait for a more opportune time. There was much to do before they relocated to the village of St. Sennen. She met Daniel in the hall and greeted him with a kiss, but did not ask about the funeral.

There was nothing good one could say about them. Besides, as with the letter from Susannah Payne, she knew already all she needed to know. The elderly man had been found in the apartment above his shop in Charteris House. The flames hadn’t even reached his quarters. The old gent was apparently overcome by the smoke even as he slept. “How’s our patient?” Daniel asked. “As his hands are bandaged, he insists on me feeding him, except he spends most of his time looking at my bosom instead of the spoon.” “I can’t fault the man for his taste.” Abigail accepted her husband’s compliment with a coquettish wink. “We’ll see if he’s on better behavior later.

I threatened to have big Billy from the stables see to his care instead.” For the first time in a week, Daniel cracked a smile. That gladdened her, for she knew how her husband worried – but it disappeared as quickly as sunshine in winter. “Any word about Bickmore? Adam is champing at the bit.” Abigail glanced to Adam and Olivia Hardacre who had just entered the entrance hall with Joe Browne, Bassett’s apprentice. “There is. And from Nate and Susannah, too.” she said, opening the drawing room door. Inside was a small man seated on a wingback chair as though holding court between two servants – a footman and a maid. His face was red and his burned hands were bandaged in white linen.

“If everyone’s here,” said Lady Abigail, “we might as well join Bassett in the drawing room.”

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