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Damn All Randalls

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Jonathan Wolverton Randall, Captain of His Majesty’s 8th Dragoons and lately Terror of the Traitorous Highlanders, lolled in the back of a stagecoach as the pale sun rose ahead of him. Groaning queasily into the weathered wood to his left, his empty stomach heaving, he closed his eyes and tried to let the motion lull him back into oblivion. The pink streaks on the horizon, soft and hazy and so unlike the penetrating grey of the country he had left behind, put him in mind of the blood, diluted by the mud and damp of Culloden, which had deluged his uniform and finally his consciousness. He had a dim vision of Fraser, running towards him, and then somehow falling away from him, away from his outstretched sword arm, before he could deliver the death blow. The next thing he knew, he was unable to move, lying helpless as some unknown highlander, his kilt revealing far too much, stampeded over him towards an enemy beyond, before toppling himself, face forward, into the mud.

It had been with considerable consternation that he gradually found himself, rising out of the heat of fever, to be lying on a rough camp bed at Fort William, surrounded by the stench of those whose wounds had gone bad slowly rotting to death around him. More irksome still was the surgeon who proclaimed him destined for either a slow demise or an even slower recovery, depending on which way he went himself. All of his strength seemed to have fled him, and he was for a long time powerless against the sick ministrations of those around him.

One particular incident stayed with him; a lieutenant, barely more than a boy, had somehow discerned the strength of Randall’s constitution and his promising chances of survival from his place on the other side of the room. The captain awoke one night to find the boy clasping his hand, rambling some nonsense about his sister and a letter, the stench of his gangrenous flesh hot in Randall’s nostrils. Somehow, he had not been able to muster the strength to push the boy away or even to reprimand him, and he lay there for the rest of the night in abject disgust until the boy finally disgorged his soul and his bodily fluids with it. When the whole mess was discovered next morning, Randall, his guts still roiling from the stench, had barely managed to grind out ‘…must send word of his demise only to his uncle…’ before he was violently sick all over himself, disgusted by both the corpse on top of him and the feebleminded idiocy of his attempted ‘revenge’.

He had not, of course, much wanted to survive the battle in the first place. Be that as it may, however, he had. An actual wish for self-destruction was alien to a man such as himself, and it was mainly with indifference that he stared at the ceiling and pieced together the increasingly hopeful trajectory of his condition from the surgeon’s prattle. When he finally staggered out of the makeshift ward after being given leave to convalesce at home, and joined the supply wagon which was to take him as far as Edinburgh, he consoled himself that by coming home to his young wife he would at least be thoroughly disappointing that bitch Claire Fraser, who had planned with such certainty for the date of his death and the best use of his pension.

As the view outside the coach coalesced into the familiar road which would take them out of Bath, Jonathan Randall reflected on the sublime absurdity of a world which would bring a man such as himself home to a wife less than half his age, especially as he was now; still convalescent, if not actually crippled. The whole thing was so ridiculous, he couldn’t help chuckling aloud even as he winced, the sutures which were no longer there causing a phantom pull at the flesh in his stomach.

He must have nodded off again, for the sun was higher in the sky when the coachman woke him, and the village of Chippenham floated into view in the distance. With some effort, he hoisted himself out of the coach while that fool, much too eager for the tip he would not now receive, liberated his trunk from the pile on top of the coach and, with a grossly ingratiating smile, deposited it on the steps of Randall’s modest country house.

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After Alex’s death and John’s shocking reaction to it, Claire Fraser had covered up Alex’s bloodied face, and had his body taken away to the nearest suitable church. She then asked her young friend to come with her to a nearby inn to sleep, reasoning that Jack was likely off drowning his sorrows in drink, so that Mary could be of no further use to him. For the first time, however, Mary felt she had to deny her friend’s well-meaning requests. It would hurt her, she said pointedly, to immediately leave the room where she had spent barely two happy months with Alex. This seemed to shock Claire. It was an expression Mary was unaccustomed to seeing on a woman who was usually so sure of herself. She was still more astonished when Claire actually acquiesced and left, after making her promise to lock herself into the empty room for the night, and not to open the door until morning.

She did indeed sit alone for the rest of the night, though she scarcely noticed, wrapped up as she was in her own misery. Shamefully, she completely forgot that there was someone else who had loved Alex just as dearly, and was almost surprised when John showed up again next morning, red-eyed but offering no recrimination. Instead, he informed her of something she had known but barely thought of: the deciding battle against the French Pretender was almost upon them, and all available troops would of course be called to the cause. His leave was over, he said, and he must re-join his regiment. Before Mary could muster a single intelligent thought, he had hired a carriage, settled their bills, and thrust their marriage certificate and a good amount of coin upon her. As she left, he made her promise to go first to his house near Bath, ‘after which you may do as you wish; I will not in any case be there to stop you’. Indeed, on arriving at the picturesque cottage after her long and painful journey, she discovered that an official notice declaring John ‘mortally wounded’ was already waiting for her.

Since then, she had met once with John’s lawyer, a pompous man who treated her like a child. She learnt little from him, except that, as she had suspected, Alexander Randall’s property amounted to almost nothing. His things could not, in any case, be released to her while his brother might still be alive. The lawyer ended by enjoining her not to meddle further in her husband’s business ‘until such a time as we can be sure that there is no more suitable person to manage it’.

‘It’ appeared to consist mainly of the house, and so that was where she focussed her attention. The accounts allocated no housekeeping money, of course, apart from the little which actually went to the housekeeper to provision the kitchen. The rest of the staff consisted of the kitchen maid, who was delighted to promote herself to lady’s maid and follow Mary around the house, and an elderly gardener who also maintained the stables. Mary learned from them that the Master had only acquired the house five years ago, mainly in order to ‘make like he was respectable, as it doesn’t do for an officer to have no home at all, you know’. She also learned that Master Alex, who was of course universally loved and looked upon with the greatest sympathy, had stayed there more often than John ever had, usually alone and during spells of ill-health.

Mary had not written to her family since she had gone to tend to Alex, and she was mindful that he would have wanted their child to know its grandparents. She therefore wrote at the first opportunity, explaining that she was recently married and expecting a child, and informing them of her husband’s current condition. She entrusted the letter to a family acquaintance in the area, who promised to see it delivered into her parents’ hands. They in turn soon sent back a letter of condolence, noting in particular how recently her marriage had taken place, and wishing her well in inheriting her husband’s property, such as it might be. Accordingly, she returned home to John’s house, and cried.

A few weeks later, a bland, official looking envelope addressed to ‘Mrs Jonathan Randall’ arrived. Inside, there was a short preamble in a well-educated hand, informing her of her husband’s ‘most grievous condition’ with a warning to ‘prepare your heart, Madam, for his possible departure from this earth’. There followed two sides of atrocious cursive, in a much friendlier tone, from the surgeon. He seemed a kindly, attentive man, and he considerately tried to give her an account of her husband’s injuries which was detailed but not too horrifying. He further noted that, while not yet entirely lucid, her husband seemed to be regaining what must, under normal circumstances, be a fine sense of humour. In a soldier, the surgeon explained, this indicated a robust constitution and a lust for life which were highly encouraging.

Mary didn’t doubt it. She remembered, after all, how John had gone rushing back and forth to see Alex, paying no heed to the punishing climate at Inverness, and never betraying any need to rest himself. She could not picture him in a bed, and somehow, though she knew it was foolish, she always imagined him storming about a hospital ward, still wrapped up in bandages but impatient to be set loose. She was therefore more delighted than surprised when, one mild and sunny August morning, she heard an odd commotion outside and the sound of something heavy scraping on the front steps and being deposited, finally, at the door.

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Randall had just succeeded in dragging his trunk up the few steps to his front door, and was leaning against the doorjamb trying to catch his breath, when he heard the key scraping in the lock. Straightening, he twisted his face into a dangerous sneer, the better to greet his maid, Agnes, with when the stupid wench finally managed to open the door. Instead, he was confronted with the unexpected: Mary, looking exactly as she had at Inverness save for her bulging stomach and a look of radiant joy which she had of course never worn while Alex lay dying.

Randall had not really expected her to be there. He had assumed that the notice of his probable death would be enough to send her running back to her parents or into the arms of some new lover. He realised now, of course, that this could not be; she was a woman, after all, and would wait until this child was safely born before forgetting its sire. Besides, Alex would have chosen a partner who felt things as deeply as he did. She wasn’t likely to want to leave this house, or the few remaining relics of Alex’s existence, so soon.

Mary was still staring at his face, and he noticed a slight frown darken her features, and that her hand came up to cover her eyes, briefly. Presumably, she did not like the sight of her husband very well, compared with the one she might have had. She recovered herself quickly, however, and held out her hands.

‘It’s so, so good to see you, John!’, she exclaimed. ‘Oh, I really thought you would – but when the surgeon wrote to me he still wasn’t certain, you see. And then I didn’t hear anything after that for such a very long time.’

Randall, still trying to catch his breath, could do nothing more than nod.

‘I’m so very glad you’re here!’ she reiterated, apparently not yet tired of that particular line. ‘I told the baby – it’s kicking, you know – I told it that it would soon meet its father, and that it had a father in heaven, too. I can’t wait for you to meet – but you must tell me what you’d like to name him, John, for I’m sure it’s a boy.’ She looked at him expectantly.

‘You’re still wearing that damned dress’, Randall returned, not knowing what else to say. Mary looked down at herself in apparent astonishment. For a moment she was speechless, and Randall had time to catch his breath once again.

‘I did not…Johnny, I looked at the accounts, but there wasn’t any pin-money in them. And I didn’t want to interfere in your affairs. Besides, Agnes is so very good at altering clothes to size, you know’.

Jack rolled his eyes, but then collected himself. Arranging his face into what he hoped was a reassuring smile, he said ‘Indeed; I never doubted that you would have the situation well in hand, madam. However, I’ve had a rather trying journey. I would be grateful if….’ he broke off, as his stomach chose that moment to give a tremendous heave, and he descended into a fit of spluttering. Mary looked mortified.

‘How awful of me, I’m so sorry John…’ Her prattle faded away as the doorstep began to spin. In short order, he found himself lying on the chaise longue in the parlour, Mary’s concerned face hovering above him while she gave orders for ‘tea’ and ‘the door’. Jack watched as a mad array of colours danced above him on the ceiling, and tried not to throw up.

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After John’s dreadful turn at the front door, Mary swore to herself she'd make sure that there were no more episodes of the kind. She hovered around him anxiously, always ready to help him on those occasions when he could not manage by himself.

He would not let her look at his stomach, and bathed with the help of the gardener, which for some reason caused Agnes great relief. However, Mary soon realised that he also had other, older injuries. In particular, when he hoisted himself up using his arms or shoulders, he always winced, and once or twice she heard his joints crack in a most alarming fashion. Mary took to having him lean on her as he lifted himself to his feet, and while his irritation at this was obvious, it did seem to help.

He still refused to discuss the baby, or anything else, with her, though he did ask every day if she was well. A few times as she was assisting him he lost his patience, and said something to the effect of ‘Idiot child, I’ll be too heavy for you if you do it like that’, so that she knew he really was concerned about her, but just did not know how to say so.

Naturally, he slept in his study, as it was common knowledge that a husband lying with his wife during pregnancy might make the baby come early. Mary knew he would never do anything to risk Alex’s child, but suggested once or twice that he move to the much more comfortable guest room, for the sake of his joints, which he flatly refused.

He spent a good deal of time shut up in his study, especially after teatime. There being no-one else to talk to but Agnes, who was much more subdued than she had been before, Mary found herself rather at a loose end. She began spending occasional afternoons visiting the Astleys, to whom she had entrusted her parents’ letter. In spite of the unflattering account they must have heard, they had not ended their acquaintance with her. Instead, they encouraged her to spend time with their eighteen year old daughter, Cressida, whom Mary had hated as a child, recognising her to be dull and vapid.

Cressida had, of course, heard all about Mary’s marriage. However, she reassured Mary that she was keen to overlook the defects in her virtue - ‘out of Christian charity for a sinner’, she said. Mary sat through several conversations to this effect, through which she gritted her teeth. Finally Cressida’s father enjoined his daughter to drop the matter, since Mary was after all now a married woman of good standing. Thus reassured in her moral superiority, Cressida soon moved back to her real interests, which could be summed up as dresses, hair pins and cats. Mary was happy to follow her on short expeditions to dressmakers and hatters, occasionally buying something new for herself as well, which also seemed to please John.

One day, as they were ready to turn for home, the heavens suddenly opened, and a torrent of rain descended from the sky. Cressida, for once showing some sense, immediately insisted that Mary could not possibly walk home through the rain in her condition. She pulled her into a nearby teashop, where the owner, a kind and enormously fat old woman, directed them to the corner nearest the fire and plied Mary with all manner of sweetmeats. The downpour continued, and it was several hours before Cressida’s father, realising what had happened, dispatched a coach to collect them. By the time Mary arrived back at her front door, It was quite dark outside, and Cressida was nodding sleepily on her shoulder.

Entering the house, she found John pacing furiously up and down the hallway. On seeing her, he turned around and, before she could utter a word, grabbed her hair and dragged her by it into the sitting room. Once there, he pushed her further into the room and began to unbuckle his belt. Mary was too stunned to speak for a moment, but then understood what this must be about, and said;

‘I’m sorry, John. Really I am. I wanted to come home earlier, but Cressida and I were caught outside. And then…’

‘And then I suppose you thought me fool enough to let you stay out alone all night’.

‘No, John, but the rain…’

‘Ah yes, by all means, we must blame the weather. How very English of us, and how very ladylike! I suppose you couldn’t have found a way home, even though you were only five miles away. Or did your companion prevent it? With her there, of course, you couldn’t reasonably be expected to come home to your husband before dark.’

‘Well, yes…I wasn’t alone, was I?’

‘No, I suppose you were in fine company, and found yourself quite at ease.’

‘Then, am I not to see anyone ever again, John?’

John looked at her incredulously at that, and his upper lip curled into a sneer. ‘No, not that. I couldn’t care less about your silly little friend’.

‘What, then?’

Seemingly infuriated by the question, he advanced upon her, pulling his belt buckle over his fist.

‘It’s really quite simple’ he said ‘Never defy me, girl. And never keep anything from me. And now I mean to make you scream so you don’t ever forget it’.

Grabbing her hair again, he leaned backwards, and then slammed the belt buckle into her cheek. Mary cried out as a trickle of blood ran down her chin and under the collar of her dress. Still holding his belt, he curled one hand around her neck and she fell backwards, cradling her stomach as she went. She began sobbing, and might have fallen flat but for the fact that John was still clutching her, and did not release his hold. For a moment, there was nothing but him, looming over and around her. Then, looking down, he groaned aloud, and she felt the pressure on her neck ease off. His eyes were closed, lips pressed together, breath coming in short, sharp gasps. He seemed to collect himself, however, for he smoothed back his hair and then, with considerable effort, hoisted her upwards and deposited her into the chair at the writing desk on the other side of the room. Breathing heavily from the exertion, he was silent for some moments, so that Mary was able to recover somewhat.

When she next looked up at him, he was standing at the other side of the desk, his eyes cold as he stared down at her.

‘I suppose you’ll say that you’ve learned your lesson now.’

Mary, swallowing, did not know how to reply.

Grabbing her hair yet again, he pulled her head backwards. Bending over her, he roared deafeningly into her face. ‘Well?’

‘Ye-yes, John’, Mary finally managed. ‘I’m so, so, …’

Abruptly releasing her, he moved back to the other side of the desk.

‘Better. Now hold out your hands’.

Mary obeyed. Her hands, she noted absently, seemed to be shaking of their own volition.

‘Not like that’, John corrected. ‘Lay your palms upwards and open them’. She did.

To her surprise, he brought his right hand to hers, and she felt his fingers drawing slowly across first her palm and then each finger in turn. It was almost soothing, and for a moment Mary thought that perhaps this was his way of trying to make it up to her. Abruptly, however, he stood up and brought his belt down on her palms with an unexpected and resounding ‘crack’. Mary started shaking again, more from surprise than from the pain. This blow was followed by exactly nine more, which did not hurt so very much as she had expected, though she could not stop her hands from trembling still.

When he had finished, John stepped back once more. Mary, not daring to withdraw her hands yet, simply sat there looking up at him.

He did not seem at all sorry. Suddenly, though, his tongue came out at the corner of his lips and a very odd look came over his countenance. He caressed her with his thumb, running it over the bloody welt on her cheek, and smudging it across her face and over her mouth. The next moment, however, he quickly withdrew his hand, turned his back, and walked towards the door. Before Mary had a chance to say something which might have helped to mend things between them, she heard him marching up the stairs, and the door to his study slamming shut behind him.

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Mary spent the next fortnight chiefly in the parlour, alone or with Agnes. While she was still kind to Randall when they happened to be in the same room, she did not trot around at his heels all day as she had before. For Jack, this was a considerable relief. He was able to use his stomach muscles better now, which meant that he could move almost normally, and no longer required constant assistance. Sometimes, when Mary was out, he even managed to corner Agnes and prevail upon her to ‘help him to his study’, which she always did with the most delicious reluctance.

He had almost forgotten their little spat, when he came upon Mary crying in the garden one day. This in itself wasn’t unusual; he had often seen her doing so while clutching Alex’s handkerchief, or staring out at the rose bushes, or some other such nonsense. He usually just left her alone until she was done with it. This time, however, she held out her hand to him and, smiling tremulously, said how nice it was to see him, and that he was always so good to her, and that he was so handsome, and she hoped the baby looked like him.

Jack found all this rather alarming. He carefully took the proffered hand and kissed it, with the best show of gallantry that he could muster under the circumstances. Then he went back into the house and immediately sent for the doctor.

The doctor, who took a long time to arrive, then insisted on examining Mary alone in her room. Randall paced back and forth outside the door, ready to seize the man and toss him out of the house if he tried anything at all untoward. When he was finally invited to enter his own master bedroom, Mary was propped up in bed looking much calmer, clutching some kind of tea in a small cup. The doctor’s lips were set in a thin line, as he lectured them about the ‘dangerous stage’ that Mary was at and the necessity of taking the utmost care from now on. Above all, the doctor said, turning to Randall with narrowed eyes, there were to be ‘absolutely no more shocks until after the baby is born’. He further stated that some ladies’ feelings became ‘particularly delicate during this time’, and that she should be indulged in almost any request, especially with regards to meals, sleeping arrangements and so forth. Jack accordingly, after consulting with Mary, set off for Bath the next morning, to order the most impossible combination of victuals he had ever heard of.

He returned to find her in the parlour again, sitting on the chaise-longue and idly trying to do some mending with, however, such a sleepy look on her face that Randall thought she might draw the needle through her own skin, rather than the fabric. Gently, he succeeded in removing the work from her hands and depositing it out of harm’s way. He then reached over to her again, meaning to place her now dangling arms back onto the seat before leaving.

Instead, he felt her hands come up and grab him by the lapels, with a strength he would not have expected from her even when awake. Jack, though skilled in single combat, was unaccustomed to dealing with an opponent who grabbed at his clothes, and in the seconds which it took him to decide that the next best move was definitely *not* to drive his fist upwards and break his enemy’s nose, she had succeeded in pulling him down beside her and rolling half on top of him.

Unable to move more than a few inches, Jack was trapped. He felt a surge of desperate fury as Mary curled around his side, and then snuggled down into the crook of his arm, exactly as Alex used to do when he was small, after he had taken a beating. Her warm, shallow breaths tickled the side of his neck, as her small body rose and fell with his chest, light and soft and so very, very breakable. All Jack would have to do was stretch his right arm over, reach up around her neck, and then…

She was asleep, of course, thought Randall. Asleep, and wholly insensible of what she was doing to him. For a moment he thought about just waking her up, before recalling the doctor’s injunctions. All it would take would be for her to roll off the side of the seat by accident…in his current condition, Randall wasn’t at all sure that he’d be able to catch her. And what a ridiculous way *that* would be to lose the baby, after all these damned and blasted months of waiting.

So he stayed there with her, mortified, for what else could he do? He was even more mortified when Agnes, poking her head through the door to see what was keeping her mistress so long downstairs, found them there. Momentarily quelled by his thunderous expression, her face turned incredulous and finally mirthful when he attempted to raise a hand in her direction, only to find that she was, currently, entirely out of his reach. Her eyes streaming with tears of silent laughter, she gathered up her mistress’s work and, with Randall glaring furiously after her, left the room. He’d get that bitch later, he promised himself, and make her pay. For now, though, all he could do was accept that his first night with his wife would be spent downstairs, in the parlour, fully clothed.

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The baby came a few weeks later. Randall spent a disagreeable night shut out of the bedroom once again, too far away to hear the details of what was happening, but too close not to be awoken by the screams. At least, he reflected, Mary’s lungs were also stronger than he would have thought, which must be a good sign.

Once she had finished screaming, the doctor and midwife kept Mary to themselves for another hour. When Randall finally entered the room, he expected her to look utterly drained, as his mother always had after she had finished producing yet another doomed infant. Instead she was – there really was no other word for it – glowing. The tiny bundle of human flesh, which she had wrapped up in a pretty yellow blanket Randall hadn’t seen before, while not moving much, was definitely alive. Randall even thought that he saw a wisp of dark hair peeking out from underneath the fabric.

Slowly, he approached her. His mother, he remembered, had never been quite lucid after giving birth, and sometimes his father would get a slap in the face if he approached the bed too fast. Randall was definitely not in the mood for any of that.

Mary didn’t notice him at first, as she was entirely wrapped up in looking down at the baby in her arms. Carefully, Randall lowered himself into the chair beside the bed, groaning softly from discomfort as he did so. That got her attention. She looked over at him, then back down at the baby, and, to his surprise, made to place it in his arms. Randall awkwardly took hold of it, taking care to balance the head, which was surprisingly heavy, in the crook of his elbow.

The baby, sensing the change, scrunched up its face into a tremendous number of wrinkles, and let loose a shriek which, if final proof of life were needed, could leave no-one in any doubt. Gratified beyond understanding, Randall grinned helplessly down at the little creature, which was now peering up at him with precisely the same bright blue eyes and sceptical expression with which Alex had greeted him all those years ago. Jack, equally sardonic, smirked back. Then he leaned forwards, and scooped the still wailing lump back into Mary’s arms.

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After Denys’ birth, no suitable wet-nurse could be found in the area. John suggested that he might go to Bath to fetch one, callously asserting that ‘in a town so large, there must be plenty of mothers with recently deceased infants’. Mary, however, assured him that she did not need any additional help, and John did not press the matter. She was therefore kept rather well occupied for the first six months of Denys’ life. John, meanwhile, spent his time travelling back and forth to Bath, saying that some fellow officers were spending the winter there. Mary viewed this with some scepticism, but understood that it must bore a man of action to sit about the house, especially in the company of a crying baby.

Naturally, the Astleys knew about Denys’ arrival. Mary was still surprised, however, when she received a letter of congratulations from her parents, announcing their intention to take a house at Bath for a month, and asking her to come and call. She discussed the matter with John, and for once they were of one mind; both agreed that ensuring Denys such a close connection to a Baronet was, unfortunately, too good an opportunity to pass up. Mary, remembering the importance her parents placed on appearances, asked him to wear his uniform for the occasion, and to hire a private carriage, both of which he readily agreed to.

When they arrived, Mary’s father came to the door himself to greet them, and, after briefly glancing over her and Denys, immediately conducted John to the study. Mary, thus left alone on the doorstep with her son, timidly made her way down the hall towards what she assumed must be the sitting room. Reaching the door, she heard voices murmuring on the other side. A footman, who was standing ready at the door, opened it, and she entered. Another footman, seeing her hovering there uncertainly with the baby in her arms, came to her side from across the room, and, bowing, conducted her to an armchair.

The room was filled mostly with ladies; quite a number of them, in fact. Mary had not expected so many people to be there. Most of them she recognised as various aunts and cousins. Two of her uncles on her mother’s side were also playing chess together in one corner.

Then Mary spotted her mother herself, sitting near the window. She was, however, quite engrossed in conversation with Beatrice, one of Mary’s many aunts, and did not see her there. Mary rose and made her way over to them.

‘Mary!’ exclaimed her mother when she finally saw her, smiling rather insincerely, ‘but how good it is to see you, my dear’.

Mary, mostly for the sake of propriety, smiled back. Then, turning her son around awkwardly, she introduced him. ‘This is Denys’.

Denys, on catching sight of a tremendously long peacock feather in Lady Hawkins’ hair, began babbling happily, and tried to grab hold of it.

‘But how charming!’ exclaimed her mother, ‘What a handsome little thing he is! Beatrice’ she said, turning to her sister ‘have you ever seen such a merry and healthy looking child?’

Beatrice, dabbing at her face with a handkerchief, said that she had not.

‘You must let us hold him a while, dear.’ said her mother, all but wrenching Denys out of Mary’s grasp, ‘and rest. I know how trying it can be to venture out with a child, especially when its nanny cannot accompany you.’ Then, looking behind her she called out ‘Marigold? Mary, you must remember Marigold, Beatrice’s daughter. Though of course it is some time since last you saw her’.

Mary did, indeed, remember Marigold, and tried to retrieve Denys so that she could beat a hasty retreat. Her mother, however, instead deposited him onto Beatrice’s lap and, taking Mary firmly by the arm, steered her towards her cousin.

‘Marigold, you remember Mary?’ said her mother, and, without waiting for a reply, ‘Of course you do. Marigold is recently married too, you know, to the Earl of Fordham. So I am sure that you will have a great deal to talk about’.

Marigold took her arm. ‘Oh yes, thank you auntie, I’m sure we shall. Mary,’ she said, steering her towards an unoccupied couch, ‘you must come and sit by me, and tell me absolutely everything there is to know. I hear the Baronet has taken an interest in your son, notwithstanding your husband’s lack of a title? You must be awfully pleased.’

Mary, rather amazed at this bold opening, said ‘Of course I’m happy that mamma and papa are interested in Denys.’

‘But of course you are’, continued Marigold. ‘And I’m sure your husband must be too’.

Pressing her lips together, Mary replied, ‘I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you what John thinks about the matter yet. We shall have to see.’

‘I heard he is a Captain in the dragoons, and was injured in the recent battle against the Scots. Dragoons always look so handsome, don’t they, in their uniforms, though not quite as much as the real officers of the cavalry’

Mary, outraged, was just about to reply that her husband looked more than handsome enough in his uniform, thank you very much. At that moment, however, John and her father themselves appeared, looking quite at ease with one another, and, heading straight for the liquor cabinet, helped themselves to generous glasses of port. Marigold waited until they had left the room, and were well out of earshot, before turning to Mary again and saying;

‘But isn’t your husband such a dashing fellow! You must feel very lucky, after all, to have found such a handsome man’.

Mary assured her that she did indeed feel very lucky.

‘And isn’t he indeed also very well connected? I heard that his father’s rank and property were not insignificant, in his day’.

Mary agreed, again, that it was so.

‘I wonder’, continued Marigold ‘How it came to pass that he chose you? Oh don’t misunderstand me, my dear’, she said, seeing Mary’s look of stunned outrage, ‘For you are very, very pretty too. Only I heard…how shall I put it? I heard that there may have been…others, you know, before him’.

Mary was speechless. Looking around her, she could see that most of the room was staring at her, and hear her relations beginning to murmur amongst themselves. Turning back to Marigold, she managed to get out,

‘And where did you hear that?’

‘Oh’ said Marigold, seemingly unperturbed, ‘In Paris. My father, you know, was a great friend of the Comte de Saint Germain. We used to stay with him every summer. His sister, in particular, told us such interesting things. She was a clever lady’ she said meaningfully, turning again to Mary, ‘And what she said was nearly always true’.

Mary could make no reply. Looking about the room, which was now almost utterly silent save for the clink of one set of chess pieces, she lowered her eyes and clasped her hands together into her lap.

‘Oh, don’t take on so!’ laughed Marigold, smiling around at everybody. ‘You’d almost think you were too dull to take a joke!’

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The others soon left to go and take a turn in the garden, taking Denys with them. Mary managed to wait until she was alone in the room before giving herself over to tears. Hugging herself, she tried her best to stifle the sound so that she would not be noticed, but it was no use.

At that moment, John entered the room again, probably to procure fresh glasses of port. When he saw her sitting there crying, he seemed utterly taken aback. Making his way over to the couch, he looked down at her intently.

‘Mary, what is it?’

She could not answer him. How could she? John continued staring down at her for some seconds, and then his upper lip curled into a sneer, so that she thought that perhaps he was about to be angry with her. However, at that moment, Mary’s mother again entered the room.

‘Ah, My Lady’ said John smoothly, bowing low as she entered. Then, rising, he said: ‘I don’t suppose you might assist me. As you can see, your daughter seems to have taken leave of her senses, for reasons unknown. I am not a patient man, I’ll admit, and I’m unaccustomed to dealing with such nonsense. Tell me, do you know what might have happened?’

Mary’s mother looked uncomfortable. John quirked an eyebrow at her.

‘I do not know’, said her mother, haughtily. ‘She’s always been a silly little thing, and cries so very easily.’

‘Be that as it may’ said John, ‘You were in this room a moment ago. Surely, if you do indeed know anything about your own daughter, you must have some idea what set her off?’

Mary grit her teeth and hugged herself harder. To her surprise, John, seeing this, placed one hand gently on her shoulder.


Mary’s mother looked more uncomfortable still.

‘I suppose some ladies of our acquaintance must have heard a scandalous rumour’.

‘Which was?’

‘You must understand, sir,…’

‘Again, My Lady’, Interjected John. ‘I must remind you that my patience is limited. I don’t suppose that they could have heard anything so scandalous that it is impossible for you to put it into a coherent English sentence. So, out with it.’

Lady Hawkins’ mouth fell open in astonishment at being addressed in such a manner. Then, setting her lips into a thin line, she said,

‘It seems, Captain Randall, that some people were under the impression that my daughter was involved in a scandalous incident while in Paris.’

Mary, losing all hope, dropped her head into her hands.

‘Indeed? I think I heard something of that nature myself. And with whom, pray tell, was your daughter staying while she was running around a foreign city compromising her virtue?’

‘Why, with her uncle, of course. He manages his wine business there’.

‘Indeed. I had heard that, too. Well,’ John continued, ‘you may tell your husband, My Lady, that he need have no more fear on his daughter’s account. She will certainly not be renewing her connection to his negligent ass of a brother. Furthermore, madam’ John said to Lady Hawkins, whose mouth was hanging open again ‘I do wonder what you presumed you were doing, leaving your daughter with a man too drunk on his own goods to attend to his niece’s whereabouts. It’s almost as though you couldn’t wait to be rid of her.’

Lady Hawkins simply stared at him. Mary, astonished, stared up at him too.

‘And now, My Lady, if you would be so kind as to go and locate your grandson and bring him back here? Unless, of course, you have managed to mislay him too, in his short time under your charge.’

Mary’s mother, for once utterly lost for words, turned and left the room.

Chapter Text

When they returned home that evening, John handed Denys to the housekeeper to put to bed, and he and Mary withdrew to the sitting room. Once she was alone with him, Mary turned to him and said,

‘Oh John, thank you. You were so very kind to me today’.

John looked at her, contemplatively.

‘Was I?’

‘Yes John, of course’.

John said nothing for some moments, but simply stared at her intently. Mary felt rather like some shiny dead butterfly, with its wings pinned to a board for his amusement.

‘And I suppose that makes me a good husband to you, does it?’

Mary did not really understand why he would ask that, but said, ‘Of course you are, John. You are always so very good to me. I don’t know, indeed, what would have become of me without you. And now…’

All at once John seemed to lose interest, and interrupted her.

‘That is all very nice, girl. I suppose you must be very grateful.’

‘Of course I am, John’.

‘It is odd, then’, he continued, turning to her and pinning her with his gaze again, ‘that you seem to have no interest in being a good wife to me’.

Mary had no idea what he could mean.

‘I tolerated’ he continued ‘hearing about you giving yourself over to other men in the street. Even defended you over it. The thing is’ here he paused, cocking his head to one side and pursing his lips ‘I do not think that you are very sorry about it, really’.

Mary was shocked.

‘If…if you heard what happened…Johnny! You cannot really believe that I…that I… enjoyed it?!’

‘Hmmm’ said John, still staring at her intently. ‘Perhaps not. Nonetheless, you must realise that most respectable women do not behave the way you do’.

Mary felt horribly confused. ‘How, Johnny?’

‘Well, for one thing, they don’t usually let other men have their way with them, whilst neglecting their husbands’.

Now Mary understood. Timidly, she looked into his face. ‘Have I been neglecting you, John? But I thought, you know, that you didn’t want to-?’

‘Well, and now?’ he interrupted her, ‘How do you intend to proceed?’

Mary swallowed hard. ‘I- I’ll do anything you want, of course, John’. What else could she say?

John smiled oddly at that, lifting his eyebrows slightly and letting his tongue come out from between his teeth.

‘You may live to regret that particular statement. However, I am willing to let you make a trial of your duties. That is, if you really do have an interest in fulfilling them.’

With an effort, Mary swallowed down her rising panic, and stood up. Walking over to John, she sat down next to him on the couch, and carefully placed one hand on his knee. This seemed to please him. Raising his right hand, he brought two fingers lightly over her temple, before tracing her cheek and finally pushing them past her lips and into her mouth. Mary did not really see what he was aiming for, but did her best to give him as much access as possible. John groaned softly and brought his other hand up to the back of her head, releasing the clasp that held her hair up and laying it aside, so that it flowed free over her shoulders. Pushing it aside slightly, he brought his mouth and nose to her neck and inhaled, deeply. However, the next moment, he abruptly withdrew.

‘I suppose’ he said, ‘seeing as our goal here is to be all holy and proper, it would be much more appropriate to retire to the bedroom. It doesn’t do, after all, for a virtuous little wife to entertain her husband in the parlour, where the servants might enter at any moment. Tempting though that thought might be’.

Mary had not even considered that. She was very, very glad that John had.

Chapter Text

Once they were in the bedroom, John closed the door. ‘Clothes off, girl.’

Mary was rather surprised. She and Alex had usually lain together when they were both in their nightshirts, so she knew that it was not necessary to disrobe completely. Nonetheless, she turned around and carefully undressed, placing first her outer garments and then her underwear onto the chair by the bed. John pulled off his coat and vest, and hung them on a hook by the door, but after that ceased undressing and simply stood there watching her intently.

When she was finished, he strode over, and brought one hand down to caress her cheek. He pushed his thumb over her lips again, but very lightly this time, and soon withdrew it. Then he pushed her hair back from her face with both hands, and pressed his face to one side of her forehead. ‘Lovely’, he murmured, running one hand lightly down her side and then bringing it down to squeeze her behind. ‘Quite, quite lovely’.

Mary, delighted by his approval, brought her own hands up and ran them up over his back. To her surprise, though, he caught them in his and pushed them back down again. Before she could ask him what was the matter, he grabbed her and pressed her close against him. Then he turned them both around, so that she was caught between him and the wall.


He placed one finger, gently but firmly, over her lips. ‘Shhh’, he murmured softly into her ear, ‘Just be still. It’ll all be so much better in a moment’. His other hand travelled downwards, first fondling at her breasts and then her hip, before coming to rest between her legs.

Suddenly Mary winced and almost cried out as she felt his fingernails rake over her, hard, before stabbing, abruptly, up and into her. She was completely unprepared, and the pain was almost as bad as what she remembered feeling at her uncle’s house in Paris, while she was still recovering.

‘Johnny’ She gasped out. ‘You’re hurting me’.

John, for some reason, threw his head back and laughed. Looking down at her, he smiled his strange smile, licked his lips and said, ‘Would you believe me, little bird, if I told you it’s supposed to feel that way?’

Mary couldn’t help protesting.

‘Alex never…’

John reached out with his free hand and slapped her, so hard that it left her ears ringing for a moment.

‘Alex’, he said, grimacing, ‘Is the one person I really do not wish to hear about in my bedchamber. It is really very sinful, you know, to mention a man’s own brother to him while he’s taking his pleasure. I ought to beat you for that’.

Mary, mortified, realised that this must indeed be very sinful. Perhaps he was right, and she should be beaten. She said as much to John, who, strangely enough, laughed in her face again.

‘Not today, little one; I have other plans for you’.

Leaning in abruptly, he pressed one hand to the back of her head and began kissing her, hard. It was not entirely unpleasant, but Mary moaned in agony as the hand below continued to claw at her. Pressing her eyes shut, she tried to push back the tears which kept threatening to fall. The pain kept building and building until, finally, she couldn’t help but try to wriggle free of him. John responded by bringing his forearm up to trap her, very effectively, against the wall. Then he shook his head sadly.

‘Ah, ah, ah. Obedience, girl. Surely you haven’t forgotten already?’, he asked, leaning in and pausing for a moment to lick one of the tears from her cheek.

Mary squeezed her eyes shut again, but shook her head in reply.

John stepped back a little and sighed heavily in apparent disappointment. ‘Then I suppose you really don’t intend to discharge your duties, after all’.

‘Ye-yes. I do…’

‘Then look at me’.

Mary opened her eyes and looked up at him. John smiled, grimly, and slapped her face once more, though not quite as hard this time.

‘That’s better. I won’t be ignored, girl. Is that clear?’

Mary nodded. John gave a little huff of satisfaction. He released the arm pinning her, but then brought his hand up cruelly, into her hair, and pulled. Eyes watering from this fresh source of pain, Mary simply stood there as he pushed his tongue into her mouth once more. Then he placed his hand over hers and guided it down to squeeze his hard sex through his breeches. Still controlling her movements, he rubbed her fingers over it firmly in slow, forceful circles. ‘Can you feel that?’

Mary nodded as best she could.

‘Well then’ said John, mockingly, ‘Would you like to have it now? Or perhaps you would prefer me to continue with what I am doing?’

Mary shook her head. He laughed again, and released her.

‘Good girl. Get on your knees, then.’

Mary looked at him in astonishment.

‘Well, have you gone deaf? Do it!

Mary awkwardly obeyed, kneeling before him and then looking up at him once more. John brought his right hand downwards and began to unbutton his breeches.

When he had freed himself completely, Mary stared, horrified. A huge jagged scar ran across his pelvis, and, from what little she could see, quite a way down his right leg as well. She looked up at him. ‘Does…does it hurt?’

John seemed taken aback by the question, and for once answered her plainly. ‘No. I suffered the wound in a duel, but that was some time ago now’.

Mary was awestruck. She had never met anyone who had survived a duel before. Staring up into his face, she said sincerely, ‘How awfully brave of you, John’.

John, however, seemed to take this for cheek.

‘No more of that’, he said. ‘Now, get to it’.

Mary didn’t have any idea what she was supposed to get to.

‘Good Christ, girl’, John exclaimed, incredulously, ‘are you really incapable of using your mouth for anything other than gawping?’

Finally, it dawned on her. Mary stared at him, horrified once more.

‘What? How?’

John reached down and yanked his fingers through her hair again, pressing her nose and mouth into his thigh until she began struggling for breath.

‘I am sure’, he said, as she choked and gasped into him ‘that you will manage to work it out on your own. Should you fail, however’, he added, pulling her head to one side, sharply, ‘you may trust that I will be more than able to assist you. It will, however, be much less comfortable for you that way. You should probably begin now, while I am still in the mood to be helpful’.

Mary still couldn’t quite wrap her head around it. ‘So you want…you want me to…’

‘What I want, girl’ he said ‘is your submission. And I will have it, one way or the other’.

Mary was terrified, but she knew that he was in the right. Slowly, she leaned back in towards him.

When it was done, John left her alone for a few moments while he wiped himself off and made himself presentable once more. Then he turned back to Mary, and saw her still kneeling where he had left her, gagging and shaking on the floor.

All at once, he looked completely mystified. Frowning, he tried to kneel down next to her, but hissed in pain and instead, rather gently, hauled her up to face him.

‘What’s all this, girl?’

Mary couldn’t reply. She was still shaking. John frowned down at her.

‘How…unexpected. This is hardly normal’.

Mary looked up into his face, her lip wobbling. ‘I-i-isn’t it?’

He frowned at her in seeming annoyance. ‘Certainly not. Calm yourself, girl. You’d almost think you’d never done this before’.

Mary burst into tears. John sighed, and, with what seemed to be considerable reluctance, took her in his arms. Mary sniffled into him. ‘There, there’, he sighed into her ear, with one hand gently stroking her hair. ‘Isn’t that better?’

It wasn’t better at all, but Mary didn’t want to disappoint him. Reluctantly, she hugged him back. ‘Of course it is, John’.

Jack grinned down at her triumphantly, baring his teeth.