"This must be handled!" shouted the buffoon in the corner while his jowls shook.
"It cannot be borne!” Another resounded, slamming his fist on the table.
It had not been three days since his encounter, and to his frustration, his injury had drained much of his energy and it appeared his good temperament. These men, apparently upon hearing of his injury and subsequently his recuperation, if a day and a half could be considered so, deemed to blow into his home like a mighty squall and proceed to interrupt his calm. More frustrating, he was still unsure as to what information he wanted to divulge.
"Well?” The first old codger demanded, looking sullenly at Clive as though this were his fault and thus his problem to fix. Ignoring him, Clive sat comfortably in an overstuffed chair with the offending arm resting in a sling across his chest. He should have felt at a disadvantage for his lack of proper gentlemen's attire. As his clothes were all of the current style, the tightness of a jacket would not do, so he was lounging in his breeches, shirttails, and a waistcoat. To his satisfaction, he didn't feel the slightest bit untoward. He liked to think his father would have behaved the same. He looked around the room. Every eye was on him and waiting.
"Well, sirs, you are correct. There definitely is a thief in our midst.” As good a place to start as any. He waited while they all nodded and grumbled to each other about the truth of it.
"You, Lord Breakerton, seem to have had the most direct interaction, and was almost killed for your trouble. What have you for intelligence?” Asked the magistrate, another in his majority, but Clive was hoping he had some sense and more importantly, authority over the other doddering fools in his presence.
"I do not have much in the way of plain facts, but I do have some thoughts on the matter.” Wincing, he adjusted to sit straighter, pulling on the bandage. His voice now more gravelly than he would like, he continued, "What was it this thief stole from you gentlemen? I purposely had with me a ruby cravat pin, and I wore a very impressive pocket watch complete with fobs. All the thief was interested in was my change purse and for me not to continue along the road."
"Well, yes that's all – th--they demanded of me, but damn it, isn't that enough? My rights were violated! I want justice!” This from the jiggly fellow in the corner of the room. Clive was sure if put to the test, the man wouldn't like puppies, or kittens for that matter.
"Aye, look at you, fer God's sake! That ruffian has injured a Lord of the British realm.” Normally, most Scots would cheer that, wouldn't they? Clive thought.
"Yes, well, I am aware of that. However, you gentlemen sent me to investigate so I was not acting as another might. I refused to give. I instigated to see if I would be able to garner the fiend's identity."
"And what say you to that end?” asked the magistrate, with a bit too much enthusiasm. Clive once again looked around the room, thinking and waiting. These were not tolerant men. They demanded order in their existence and this was not giving them order.
"A man-- mid-twenties, long hair." Clive saw the surprise and indignant disbelief on the faces of those having encountered his highway woman. "He is thin, slender almost. At first glance, I could have been sparring with a woman.” He hoped he added the correct amount of disgust at the thought, hiding a smile.
"Thin you say?"
"Long hair?” The two men having been relieved of their wealth seemed to grasp the possibility with hope.
Finally, one took the bait offered. "I could see how you might be taken to thinking that it was a woman. Barely any flesh a'tall. I might have thought the same thing had it not been for the voice. Wouldn't you agree, Acton?” He asked the other victim.
"How would you suggest we handle this matter?” The magistrate looked to Clive, the youngest man in the room, for an answer. This was where Clive didn't want to be. If he botched this, people could be hurt. If he was wrong about this woman, she could hurt innocents. However, if he stepped back and let these idiots take the helm, she could be in more danger than Clive felt she already was. This was why he left London, so he would not be put in such a position. Hadn't he proved time and again, he would fall short of accomplishing anything?
"I would suggest you allow me to continue my investigation, beginning with a full recounting from you two." He looked to the corner of the room. "I need not only to know exactly where you were when the thief stopped you, but also, the time of day, day of the week, and day of the month. I am going to try to establish a pattern. We know he isn't attacking people every night so there must be a reason why the three of us were struck when we were or why. I would also use the alternate route to get to Kilbarek Harbor until this is solved. No need endangering anyone else.” Or his damsel in distress.
"Well, what say you, men? He seems to be invested in this endeavor and Lud knows we all are much too tied up to take on such a task,” the magistrate posed to the other two men. They considered it and both grumbled their acquiesces to the proposal. With that, Clive slowly rose out of the chair. Dizziness still plagued him when moving too quickly. He feared more blood was lost than he first thought. "Thank you, gentlemen, for visiting to assure yourselves of my hardy condition.” The magistrate rose a bit self-consciously understanding Clive’s rub. "If you will excuse me, my butler will see you out. I will be in touch when I have more to offer.” He turned on his heels, and as briskly as he could, made his way to the small parlor off the library where after yanking the bell, he promptly threw himself on the couch. He would only rest for a bit. Damn, he hated feeling so useless. It was bad enough he knew the fraud he was, but to show his inability to others was unacceptable. The throbbing in his arm lessened as he relaxed.
"A missive for you,” his butler intoned, the vibrations reaching his aching head.
Without bothering to open his eyes, he answered, "I'll read it later. Put it on my desk."
"Yes, sir, you might do that, but I believe it is from your mother."
"What better reason to wait?"
"Ah, because it was sent by a rider, not the post, sir.” The ramifications of that news slammed into his relaxed state, shattering it. Clive dropped his foot heavily off the cushion following with the next. Sitting with his shoulders and head on the back of the couch, he extended his good hand for the offending package of velum. The damned letter was so fresh he could still smell her perfume.
"Oh, bloody hell, just what I need.” Without opening the missive, he knew it meant a visit was imminent. The sound of crisp vellum being opened and manhandled filled the silence with a long-suffering sigh from Clive to follow.
"Ready my mother's usual room, and have one for Nettie and Mary as well. If this was delivered from my sister's home, which it undoubtedly was, they will be here within a week's time."
"I shall let the staff know. How long are they visiting? Cook will want to be prepared."
"I am sure I do not know that. I promise they will be safely ensconced back in London before winter sets in.” If they weren't, he might wander into the wild Scottish winter to freeze to death.
The butler left with his news. Clive moved across the room to the floor length window. The view was of the back garden and path to the folly. In spring, the flowers were just beginning to come into their own and the pops of color drew the eye. His arm began to throb along with his head. Within a few days, he would be able to remove the sling and return to wearing proper attire. His mother and sisters never need know of his injury. As for his nocturnal spying ventures, well, he had spent many years perfecting his stealth. They shouldn't be in his way. Mother was no doubt making the rounds in an attempt to be out of London in the heat, not to mention the Little Season had always pinched a nerve for her.
The one black spot on all this was his sister Nettie. She was a sly one and she wouldn't miss a trick. Hopefully, Mary would keep her busy.
Poor Mary. Clive's heart tightened. He had not seen his fourth sister since he had escorted her to her husband's funeral. She was well out of mourning, but Paul had been the love of her life. Nettie's letters overflowed with concern over Mary's forlorn attitude. She felt Mary was not trying to heal. He would make time to go riding with Mary and see for himself. He might be the youngest child, but he was the head of the family, for what that was worth. He wouldn't let one of his charges be lost to the fates.
Cook needed to be made aware of his mother's favorite dishes so that a trip to the market to acquire the necessary ingredients could be accomplished. He turned and headed to the study to compile a list for the staff. Once done, he would need to ride out to visit his childhood friend, Nicholas. If anyone knew about this highway woman, it would be him. The one glimmer in the fiasco was the fact that his other three sisters would not be in tow as well. One highway woman and three uncontrollable titled women was all, he was certain, one man should have to handle at a time.
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