Friends In High Places

  • April 7, 2006 at 10:58 am #1968

    (Many thanks and XP to Sir Abraham Hughes III, esq.)

    Agnes made her way towards the Athenaeum early, hoping to meet Sir Hughes there. Her employer had be especially taxing for the past couple days; she suspected she only had this evening off because of the family's impending trip to Bath. She was a bit worried about keeping the knight waiting this way, but it couldn't be helped now.

    Abraham hadn't been terribly worried or upset when the governess hadn't met up with him at the appointed time, as such occurrences happened, particularly when dealing with people who worked serving others for a living. That wasn't to say that he'd any particular prejudices against lower classes, merely that he understood that duties to employers came first, and that employers (himself included) could be a fickle lot indeed. And so he sat once again in the Athenaeum, sipping at a cup of tea.

    When she arrived, she took in the coffee house and saw the man she was looking for. Without ordering anything, or perhaps trying to save her income, she made her way over to him, demurely but steadily. [q] “Good evening, Sir Hughes. Forgive me for breaking our previous appointment; I had more difficulty than I was expecting getting away for the past couple evenings.”

    “Quite alright, Miss Ridgemont. I do understand the necessity of obligations fulfilled. Won't you have a seat? Or, if you'd prefer, we may adjourn to the upstairs member's area, where things would be a bit more private and, thus, quieter as well. I do hope that there have been no troubles for you these past couple busy evenings?”

    “No, thank you, sir, they have simply been full. And as for where we speak…I will leave that to your discretion.”

    Chuckling, he glanced about. “Well, I don't see dear Mr. Morris here at present this evening, but that doesn't mean that there aren't other prying ears. Come, this way please.” He stood slowly, and led the way up the staircase that would bring them to the member's area, showing his membership card to the man who stood guard. “A full evening is certainly not necessarily a poor one. Has your young charge kept your hands full, then?”

    She nodded and followed him upstairs. “Indeed. The family is taking a small holiday this weekend and, as you can imagine, her thoughts have been continually elsewhere.”

    “Ah yes, the excitement of the young before a journey,” he smiled. “It's quite a sight to behold. Almost more so than traveling yourself, is the delight upon their faces.”

    She smiled fondly in return. “Though, of course, like adults, some children have more of a taste for travel than others. I remember my eldest sister always used to pout for half the outing unless it was a place that particularly amused her.”

    He led the way over to a new table, and, when a waiter approached, he looked to Agnes. “Would you care for some tea, Miss Ridgemont?”
    She is taken a bit off guard, but nods. “Oh…yes, thank you kindly.”

    “Of course,” he nodded, and placed an order. “Your eldest sister,” he rubbed his chin, idly. “Unless I've been much mistaken, in which case please do accept my apologies, that would be Dora, wouldn't it?”

    She blinked, once. “Yes, sir, that is right. Are…you an acquaintance of hers?”

    He laughed, softly. “No, no, not at all, I'm afraid. I'm much too old to travel the same circles as she, no doubt. No, I was a friend of your mother's, a friend of Lillian.”

    “Indeed?” Her face took on a look of keen interest. “My mother's? But not my father's, I take it?”

    “I'm afraid I never had occasion to meet your father. But from the sound of it, you don't seem so surprised by that.”

    “Well, sir, I could only assume so, since he never mentioned you, nor did he take advantage of your acquaintance when my sisters were looking for husbands.” She dropped her gaze, voice quieting. “If you were a friend of my mother's, I am sure you already know I was not brought up to be a governess, but you may not know how recent the change of station was; we were living in London for many years beforehand.”

    “Indeed? No, I hadn't heard of such…I'm afraid I'd heard naught in quite some years. Not since she passed, which, I'm sad to say, I only discovered through my own careful deduction. For all I knew, the child she'd been carrying at the time had been lost as well. I'm very glad to see that you weren't. But you must forgive me for not having recognized you sooner. I'm afraid I never quite got used to thinking of her as Mrs. Ridgemont, and so it wasn't until later on, when I noticed your locket, that it occurred to me that you were probably related to her.”

    She looked back up at him, as she absently put a hand to the locket, fondly. “Of course, Sir Hughes. I'm sure you weren't expecting to see me in these circumstances, either, and I've been told I favor my father a bit.” She frowned lightly. “You say you discovered her passing through deduction…why? You said you'd never met my father, so it could not have been an estrangement from him. Frankly, it is hard to imagine Father estranged from anyone.”

    “Well, at the time, your parents had still been living out in the country, and when her father began to show signs of mourning at the same time as her letters had stopped…” He trailed off and shrugged slightly.

    “We did not live so very far from London, Sir Hughes. Surely…” She suddenly released she was pressing him, and cut off. “Forgive me. I never knew my mother, but I am sure you are among those who sorely miss her.”

    “Surely…?” He shook his head. “There's no reason to hold anything back, Miss Ridgemont, I assure you. It was something your mother and I held in common, a certain lack of the phoniness held fashionable by so many.” He smiled slightly with the memory. “Yes, I do miss her, very much so.”

    She blushed a bit. “I was not trying to be fashionable…at least not purposely, though I was trying not to be rude. But since you ask, I couldn't help wondering: if you were such friends with my mother, how is it you never met my father, or my sisters? Lanesbrook was not so far to prevent visitors from London, though I allow we never had many; my father was not overly social by nature.”

    “Oh, I didn't mean to suggest that you were,” he chuckled. “Only that there's no reason to be. Though I was never quite clear on the reasoning behind it, your mother's father didn't wish for any of her previous acquaintances to know of her whereabouts, or that she was married. Indeed, your mother often wrote that she had to keep our correspondence a secret from him, for fear that he'd else put an end to it. She lived in hopes of convincing him to relent, and to permit she and your father to return to London, but he never did.”

    She frowned. “My grandfather…” She shook her head. “I never met any of my grandparents. But…when we moved to London, I noticed that there was something strange about our family. It was as if everyone knew we had a secret, but no one was sure what it was.”

    “If it's any consolation, Miss Ridgemont, though I suspect there might have been some secret, I've no knowledge of what it might have been.”

    “But…when you knew my mother, there was no scandal? And you didn't know my father, but you knew of him?” It was obviously a puzzle she had often considered, and now she was trying to fit in a new piece.

    “No, no scandal connected to her that I'd ever known about, at any rate. I do admit there were a couple of years where she'd disappeared off the map, along with her father, and when they returned, only he came back to London, and she'd become married. As for your father, I only knew of him what your mother wrote to me, though he seemed a good man, from what she described.” At least, most of the time. Towards the end, it had sounded as though her feelings for him had waned considerably.

    Agnes nodded, obviously considering. “I never wanted to press Father about it, as his health kept getting worse, but…I know there must be something. I just wish I knew what.”

    “I wish I could help you there, Miss Ridgemont, but I'm afraid I haven't the foggiest.”

    She sighed. “Well, thank you in any case, Sir Hughes. I am sorry that our paths did not cross sooner.”

    “As am I, Miss Ridgemont. As I'm also very sorry to never have been able to see your mother again. She was quite the person. I take it, then, that your father has since passed on, as well?”

    She nodded. “Indeed… about a year ago. Both my sisters are well, but neither of them are living in London.”

    “That's a shame, for if the opportunity ever presented itself, I'd very much like to meet them. I suppose we must be thankful to the Fates that you and I crossed paths at all.”

    “Indeed, and that you were able to recognize me. It is funny, who one runs across in London.” She smiled a little.

    He smiled back. “Yes, well, for all that it purports to be such a large city, the circles within it are rather small indeed, aren't they?”

    “So I am finding. Though it is funny how they can evaporate.”

    “I take it, then, that the acquaintances you'd had before your…fall in station, as it were…have all since vanished?”

    She nodded. “I can't blame them, really. And I was never the social butterfly my elder sister was, so I don't miss the parties all that much, truly.” She smiled. “I do miss certain things, but all events considered, I could be much worse off.”

    “Things could almost always be worse,” he nodded. “You've your health, and there's much to be said for that.”

    “And a station. Nor am I in debt any longer.” She smiled a little wider. “And I've found a place where I may borrow new books.”

    “All the makings of happiness, at your disposal.” He smiled. “I do hope, Miss Ridgemont, that if ever you need anything, you'll let me know. I would consider it an honor, in your mother's memory.”

    “I am flattered, Sir Hughes, truly. Though I imagine Dora would be slightly more fit company for you, now, than I am; she is a lawyer's wife, after all.”

    “Nonsense, Miss Ridgemont. After all, as you've said, she's not living in London. Besides, the import placed on station can be rather ridiculous and tedious, don't you find? And it's not as though you haven't the breeding.”

    She smiled. “Indeed. Well, I suppose there is one thing you might be able to help me with, though I hesitate to mention it.”

    “Please, by all means, do. If there's anything I could do, it would be my pleasure to do so.”

    “Well…before my father's death, I very much enjoyed music, and I've been told that I have a fair voice. I only have use of the Highgates' instrument to instruct my pupil, and she is so elementary it hardly counts as practice for me. If you know of a place where I might use a pianoforte every now and then…”

    “Funny you should mention it, Miss Ridgemont, but I've little doubt that Lord Sterling, who owns this coffeehouse, would be quite willing to allow you to play here.”

    “Truly? I would be honored…but I would be most grateful if you would broach the subject with him. I wouldn't feel right asking him myself.”

    “Of course, Miss Ridgemont. The next time I have occasion to speak with him, I'll broach the subject.”

    “Thank you. I would appreciate that very much.” She hesitates, for a moment. “I have another small favor to ask of you, if it is not too much of an imposition.”

    He laughed, quietly, eyes full of amusement as he smiled at her. “Not at all, Miss Ridgemont. Please, do go on.”

    “Well then…do you know very much about Mr. Morris?”

    “Not too very much, no. Might I inquire as to why you ask?”

    “It's probably nothing. Just…well, I don't want to give too many details, as I wouldn't wish to betray a confidence, but he seems very nonchalant about the occult. But he's been nothing but kind to me…almost excessively so.” She shook her head. “I'm sure I'm just worrying over nothing, but I thought I'd ask.”

    “Hmm. Do you believe he's trying to use the occult over you somehow, or simply worrying for his sake?” He shook his head. “No, if you know him well enough to have any idea about his opinions on the occult, you know him far better than I.”

    “No, no, nothing that sinister, though it must have sound that way. No, I simply worried that he seemed…so unworried. And I suppose I've gotten used to being ignored in the last year – it's a little disconcerting whenever anyone takes an interest in me, I fear. But I'm sure it's fine.”

    “Perhaps it's not my place to say so, especially given how little I know of the man, but there is something about him that strikes me as being somewhat off. A little caution never hurts, Miss Ridgemont.”
    She nodded. “I'm sure you're right. But it isn't as if he's done anything other than talk to me in a coffee house, and while it may be a little forward, it certainly isn't sinister.” She smiled. “But I'll keep my eyes and ears open.” She paused for a moment. Her voice softened a little. “What was she like, my mother? Father spoke of her very seldom.”

    “She was a wonderful person…very devoted to various charitable works, and far more sensible than most. She used to joke about wishing she'd been born a man, as she held a kind of fascination for travel and exploration that she didn't get to indulge anywhere near to her satisfaction. While she protested that she didn't dislike Lanesbrook, she always wished for a return to something more…she couldn't stand how bloody nice everything was there.” He chuckled softly, remembering. “She importuned me to write her often regarding the parties, events, and scandals going on in London after she had left, and while she'd still been here, she and I had a merry time mocking the poor wretches who delighted in all that pompousness.”

    She smiled, softly but genuinely. “I remember only bits and pieces of Lanesbrook…I was seven when we moved back to London. It was a lovely house though – a pity you never got to see it. Though I imagine too much of any one scene could become monotonous, especially for someone without a quieter temperament.”

    “Tell me of the place, if you wouldn't mind. It would be refreshing to have a perspective upon it apart from Lillian's. I wish I could have seen it, and paid a visit to your family, but your mother was terribly worried about what might have happened if her father discovered she'd told anyone about any of it.”

    Closing her eyes, she remembered for a moment. [q] “When I went back a year ago, it was not nearly so large as I remembered it to be, but it was fair sized estate. There was a lovely park, with a cultivated garden, though some of the woods were left wild. I understand Mother liked to hunt, but Father never did, so I never knew it to be used for much of anything. The house itself was rambling, but it was warm – I never remember it feeling empty, though there were just the four of us and the servants. There was a big bay window in the parlor, with a seat, and I used to love watching the rain…” She shook her head, letting her eyes open. “But my memories are all jumbled up…I was very young. And when I saw the house again – it was somehow like seeing a ghost, all the furniture stripped away. It seemed like a different place.”

    He nodded slowly, sadly. “As they say, you can never go home again.” He smiled wryly. “At least you've your memories of what it was like there when you were young, and all together. Yes, your mother enjoyed hunting very much…she and I went on a number of hunts together, along with her father and others, of course, before she left London. A shame that her husband didn't share her fondness for it.”
    “From what I understand, he always encouraged her love for it, but once she died, he lost all interest in the sport.” She absently turned the chain on her locket so the clasp was behind her neck. “But you're right – except for never knowing my mother, I'm lucky I have such a pleasant childhood to remember.”

    “It's a tragedy that you never got to know her, particularly given how wonderful she was, but I'm very glad to hear that you had an enjoyable childhood, all in all. That's more than may be said for many, particularly these days.”

    “Yes, so it is.” She bit her lip as she smiled. “I don't know if you know, but my mother would be a grandmother, now, if she were still here. I have two nieces and a nephew…it's hard to believe the oldest is older than I was when we left Lanesbrook.”

    “No!” He smiled broadly. “Well, congratulations to you. Are they all Dora's, or does Emily have a child, as well?”

    “The boy is Emily's, both girls are Dora's. I know her husband would like a son, but they really are darling children.” She laughed softly. “Then again, I'm sure all aunts say that…”

    “And I'm sure despite his desire for a son as well, that he rather dotes upon them and thinks them darling.”

    “In his way. But I'm sure you understand how busy a man can get with his work, especially when he's ambitious.”

    “That I do understand, all too well. Though how busy he remains could hardly be seen as a measure of how much or little he loves or thinks about his children.”

    “Of course, I didn't mean that. And I am grateful for his business contacts; he is the one who found me a post.” She wrinkled her nose. “The dangers of being overqualified for your work.”

    “There are certainly worse dangers to be found out there,” he chuckled. “And, as you've said, it could certainly be far worse. Do you regret your change in station, Miss Ridgemont?”

    “I regret…not being trained for my new station in life. I'm still not very comfortable with it. Material comforts, I can do without, really, though I miss my piano, and having my own books.” She seemed to consider for a moment. “I like being useful; if I had inherited money, I still would have wanted to find something to do with it, as I can't picture myself throwing lavish parties.”

    He smiled. “How very much like your mother, in that. So your discomfort, then, has more to do with a lack of specific training for it, than anything specifically about it or the change?”

    “Well, I'm not a martyr, sir Hughes. It is nice to be comfortable and not to be in the employ of another. But most people have to work for their bread, and it is not so very awful, really. It has been difficult, I will not lie, but many people are worse off than I am, and I recognize it.”

    “Oh, forgive me, I didn't mean to imply otherwise at all. I'm merely curious to get to know you better; after all, even though we hadn't seen each other in a number of years when she passed, your mother and I had been rather close friends.”

    “Of course. It's only natural, that you would be curious. And you said you admired her frankness, so I will give you a frank answer. I am only human, and I prefer having money to not having it. That said…the bigger change in my life has been suddenly being more or less completely on my own, and that took much more getting used to.”

    “Well, we can't be having with that, now can we? When you've the opportunity, you must come and join my children and I for dinner at our townhouse some night. And of course, whenever you see me here, you must feel free to join my company.”

    She smiled. “You are very kind. I would love to dine with you, at your convenience, of course. I have most evenings free, as well as most weekends. I am only sorry I did not have the pleasure of knowing you before all this happened.”

    “As am I, Miss Ridgemont, as am I. Truly, almost any evening would suit just fine. Although I must admit that I'm planning on taking a journey to Stonehenge sometime in the near future, and I'm not certain for how long it will last. Though, if you could get the time away from your employers, you'd be more than welcome to come along. We're gathering as many people as possible to come along, and the more the better.”

    “Stonehenge? I confess, I've never been to Salisbury before. When are you going, or has a date been set?”

    “We've not a date set as of yet, unfortunately. I've been making preparations as best I can, but for all I know, we'll be leaving upon a moment's notice.”

    “Ah. Well, if there is a bit of time to plan, I would love to come, but I'm afraid my obligations don't allow me as much impulsiveness as I would like.”

    “I don't believe we'll be leaving so very quickly, but it would be preferable if you could obtain permission to be a bit impulsive in this case. If you'd wish it, I could speak with your employers and offer them compensation for the time with you they'd be losing. Perhaps some arrangements could be made.”

    “It's a lot of trouble for you to go to, sir Hughes, but I admit that I would dearly like to go, should it be possible.”

    “Then I'll be sure to make any necessary arrangements in order to smooth things over with your employers, so that you may do so.”

    She fairly beamed, obviously unused to being able to travel. “Thank you, then, very much. May I ask if there's a purpose behind simple historical interest?”

    “There is…we're looking for something, though I'm afraid I'm unclear as to exactly what it is, or where we're going to find it.”

    “Ah.” She folded her hands. “That would make looking for it rather tricky.”

    “Indeed,” he chuckled. “Though Miss Fellows seems rather confident that she'll know it when she sees it, and I've promised to do all I can to help her in this. It would be very much appreciated if you'd see it fit to join us, Miss Ridgemont.”

    “If you can make the arrangements with minimal inconvenience to yourself, it would be a great pleasure.”

    “Then I'll be sure to see it done.” He smiled.

    “You have done a great deal for me, sir Hughes, in a very short amount of time. I pray you, if there is anything I may grant you myself, do not hesitate to mention it, though I fear my powers of gift-giving are not especially great at present.”

    “Were you to join us in this, you'd be granting me something great, indeed, Miss Ridgemont. And truly, there's not enough I could do for a daughter of Lillian.”

    “Perhaps the greatest service you have done me today is telling me a bit about my mother…I am afraid I knew all too little before. But for everything…thank you.”

    “You're quite welcome, Miss Ridgemont, and I can only hope to be of more service in the days to come.”

    “Your friendship, I assure you, will be service enough. For the present, though, I imagine you have other matters to attend to. For my part, it has just occurred to me that I carelessly left Mr. Morris' book at home when I meant to return it to him this evening.”

    He chuckled. “Well, then by all means, don't let me keep you here. Perhaps I'll see you again later this evening, or if not, sometime soon, be it here or elsewhere. And I'll take care of any arrangements necessary in order to see to it that you're able to come to Stonehenge with us. Thank you for your time, Miss Ridgemont. I do hope I didn't concern you too much when I asked to have a word the other night.”
    She stood and smiled. “I confess, I was rather bewildered, but I did not loose too much sleep over the matter. I will see you very soon, I'm sure.” Almost hesitantly, she offered him her hand.

    He stood, as well, and took her hand warmly, before raising it to his lips for a brief kiss. “I'll certainly hope for as much, Miss Ridgemont,” he smiled back. She nodded, and then left to retrieve her book, quite a lot of thoughts to digest on the walk home.

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