on August 18th 2016
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Edward, Earl of Chalcombe, walking home, is attacked by footpads. He attempts to defend himself but is bludgeoned to the ground. Death seems inevitable when a fat ugly man carrying a stick and a beautiful slender young lady appeared.The young lady stumbles and picks up his dropped foil, dispatching one footpad and injuring another. The fat man belabours a third with his stick. The footpads flee, leaving their deceased comrade behind. The rescuers bundle Edward home.
The young lady, Madelaine summons the Bow Street runners. Refusing reward she provides no address. But Edward fascinated by both Madelaine’s beauty and swordsmanship intends to pursue the acquaintance. Edward seeks his rescuers and the culprits who wish to terminate his life. Offering the elusive Madelaine marriage but she repeatedly declines. Her father accepts an invitation to visit his estate with her over Christmas as he takes a liking to Edward.
As Edward pursues Madelaine, the attempts on his life continue. The sinister French spy, Major Furet, discovered as the arch nemesis in both Edward and Madelaine’s stories. The mystery intertwines as their romance progresses and Madelaine eventually reveals the secret making her refuse to marry him.
If our imaginary observer looked very closely at the walker, a slight limp became apparent and the gentlemen was speeding his pace as if aware he was tardy for an important engagement.
Closer inspection would have provided a classical profile and a distracted expression deepening into a scowl. His clothes were an immaculate fit and obviously very expensively cut, yet the gentleman’s bearing intimated that he was more used to wearing uniform. Edward Charrington, the seventh Earl of Chalcombe, until recently Major Charrington of the 3rd Dragoon Guards, was missing his uniform and also missing the Cavalry sabre that was accustomed to hang at his side….
The streets were quiet. Sound seemed to be muffled by the thickening mist, and those denizens he had espied lurking in the shadows. He had that prickly feeling that came before a battle and he uneasily unbuttoned his greatcoat to give easier access to his sword. He turned from one narrow lane into another which looked much the same, with dank grey brick buildings hemming him in on either side, an ideal place for an ambush he thought, before reminding himself that he was now a civilian living in the civilised city of London.
He thought back to his friends from his former regiment, who were in London, briefly, on furlough before returning to Portugal. His former comrades were now settled in to the hostelry near Black Friars intending to make a night of it. As a career officer, Edward resented having to stay in England when his brother officers returned to the war against the Corsican monster and his generals. He had unexpectedly inherited the title at the age of thirty, when his elder brother George had died from a seizure. Then he had been wounded himself, and with the addition of his distraught mother’s pleading letters, selling out became necessary. His wound was healing now, but he limped more as he tired, especially in this damp wintry weather. It was already getting dark and he regretted not summoning a hackney cab instead of walking the three miles home.
Yet no sooner had he dismissed these discouraging thoughts, than he was confronted by a huge silhouette. The creature coming towards him was at least his height and of considerably greater girth. A dirty grizzled face beneath a grimy old-fashioned tricorn hat glared in his direction, his beefy hands clutching a very large cudgel. Tricorn had the cocky arrogance of a man who had fought often before and was not used to losing. His stance as he came on indicated no intention of letting Edward Charrington pass.
Edward stepped to his right to move around the obstruction, discreetly loosening his sword as he moved. Almost immediately another man loomed from the shadows on his right side blocking his egress. His foil swished from his scabbard to meet the new threat, for this man held an ancient cutlass. It looked like it hadn’t been sharpened for a long time, but Edward did not doubt that it could still cause a nasty wound or kill. Bringing the foil up he slashed towards Cutlass’s right hand, hoping to disarm him, but the blackguard was faster than he had expected, whisking his arm out of reach and stepping back to make another attack. Tricorn then brought his cudgel down towards Edward’s head but he swerved to avoid the blow receiving only a nasty crack to his shoulder. Charrington had every confidence in defending himself against his two assailants when Tricorn cried out something, a name perhaps and Edward became aware a third footpad had crept up behind him. He cried out in surprise and pain as he went down, a vicious blow from a club had crashed down upon his skull from behind.
Edward dazedly watched the men close upon him, but could do nothing; he dropped his foil as he slumped to the filthy street. Then in a detached way he ascertained that he was no longer alone with his attackers, he tried to call out for help but no sound came. Belatedly his assailants also noticed the intrusion of two passers-by, turning from his prone form to assess the new challenge. Coming towards them were a most ill-assorted couple. A tall, slight girl with the face of a Botticelli Angel, wearing a dark redingote and a most unflattering bonnet, and a short rotund man, with one of the ugliest faces Edward had ever seen, bearing a heavy walking stick. Edwards’s brief hope disappeared as he surmised that they would be little assistance against three armed men.
The couple continued forward, seemingly unmoved by the apparent nature of the crime taking place. They would clearly pass by ignoring the fracas and pretend they had seen nothing. The Footpads obviously concluded that these two were no threat to their enterprise and turned back to Edward as the couple prepared to pass the group. “Silence him,” muttered Tricorn Hat to Cutlass, who pulled back his weapon to slice open Edward’s throat.
The girl seemed to stumble as she glided pass the group, bending down and coming up with the foil in her hand, the business end flicked towards Cutlass with such speed and style that Edward thought he must be dreaming. Cutlass made a late attempt to parry the thrust, but he was gasping and spurting blood over Edward as the foil found its mark neatly within Cutlass’s chest.
Meanwhile the ugly little man had engaged with Tricorn Hat and was comprehensively and viciously belabouring him with his stick. That stunned individual was getting the worst of the battle and receiving a cruel drubbing. The lady spun gracefully and raised the foil to attack the third assailant whom Edward could now see for the first time. He was a spindly man with a wispy ginger beard and a face that resembled a mangy weasel. He was dirtily clad in the sort of costume most sailors wore.
The blunt instrument had been a belaying pin; and very effective it had been, Edward’s muddled thoughts argued. The weasel backed as the girl brought the sword forward, attempting to batter down the blade. One smooth step forward and the lady lunged and the foil twisted. Weasel cried out in pain. Weasel was holding his wrist, trying to stem the blood pouring from a slash that must have cut deep across tendons and arteries. The belaying pin fell to the ground and weasel’s eyes briefly registered both pain and disbelief. The point of the foil moved towards weasel’s eyes and waited for a brief second. Weasel gulped and ran into the night. Tricorn’s bravado deserted him and he too backed away and fled into the shadows.
Cutlass was going nowhere; his eyes stared towards the darkening sky with no life illuminating them. His body crumpled in a bloody heap motionless in the dirt of the gutter.
“Vite! Henri,” cried the angel in dark serge, “Help me up with this gentleman, they may return with friends.”
Edward found himself hauled to his feet, but could not stand unaided. The couple draped his arms over their shoulders and frogmarched him down the street, in the direction he had been travelling. Edward was irrelevantly aware of Henri smelling strongly of garlic, sweat and spices, and the angel of sweet roses in bloom. His feet refused to obey him and help them in their rescue and his head felt like it was going to fall off at any minute. He felt sick and giddy and his thoughts floated as if far away from his body as he was dragged onward until they reached a busier thoroughfare and better-lit street.
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Ms Marks is curious….
Madelaine, the heroine of The Fencing Master’s Daughter has some rather strange skills and few feminine accomplishments of the period. What qualities would you like in a historical heroine?