Tales of Footscray Lodge: The Wicked Lady
Footscray Lodge Private School, Hertfordshire.
“I can’t believe that they’ve asked me to join the Board of Governors of this place,” Agnes McAdam shook her head as Catriona parked the car.
“And why not?” the barrister smiled as they looked at the doors, “you are a distinguished economist, and you’ll soon be an Ambassador’s wife.”
“And I used to be London’s most famous dominatrix,” Aggie shook her head as she got out of the car.
“I think the other governors think that your past has become irrelevant darling,” Shirley laughed as she climbed out of the back seat with Paula Lardarn.
“Well I don’t know about that,” Agnes brushed herself down, “but thank you all for coming with me today.”
“Not a problem,” Paula smiled as she looked up at the main building, “it’s been a while since I was last here.”
“If only these old walls could talk I wonder what tales they could tell?” Catriona mused as she looked at the 18th century house that was the school’s main building.
“Oh I’m sure we all know far too many that we daren’t even tell to each other,” Agnes laughed.
“That’s true,” Shirley laughed.
“Anyway we better head inside I’m a couple of minutes late already,” Agnes glanced at her watch.
“Oh…Yes…” Cat looked distracted for a few moments.
“Penny for them?” Shirley whispered.
“Oh I was just rambling through my memories.” As they walked through the doors, she looked at the large portrait of a woman hanging on the wall.
“And there she is, Lady Amelia Footscray. Did you ever research her Paula?”
“Nah – I’m not sure if I believe half the tales of her…”
Footscray Lodge, Hertfordshire
Lady Amelia Footscray slowly descended the grand staircase, her pearls and diamonds glistening as Lord Charles stood waiting at the foot of the stairs. Her dress was made from white silk, studded with small pearls in a brocade pattern, her brown hair in tight curls as it fell down the back of her neck.
“Amelia, my darling, you look amazing tonight,” Charles said as he took her hand and kissed it. “Come – our guests await.” She looked at him, the curled wig covering what she knew to be a perfectly bald head as they walked into the main room, smiling at the guests as they clapped.
She had been married to Lord Footscray for four years now, a marriage that pleased her parents, but she knew it was not a marriage of love, but of political convenience. Charles was attentive, but he could not satisfy all of her desires – but he provided a safe place to live in these dangerous times.
“Did you hear the news, Charles,” Robert, Marquis of Ordford said as they came over, “that highwayman struck again yesterday.”
“No – where this time?”
“The coach to Northampton – it was stopped outside St Albans, and the passengers robbed at gunpoint.”
“How terrible,” Amelia said quietly, “when will the authorities catch these scoundrels?”
“Do not worry, my dear – we will catch them,” Charles said quietly as the footman stood in the doorway. “Shall we go in for dinner?”
“Was it a pleasant evening Miss,” Mary said as she helped remove Amelia’s jewellery, placing them in her boxes before she put them in the bureau, then helped her mistress to remove her dress. The older Welsh woman had come with Amelia to serve her, had been with her since she was a child, and was almost a second mother to her, sharing in all her secrets.
“I learned a few things,” Amelia said with a smile as the undergarments were removed, and she put on a nightdress, “in particular, that a number of very important people will be travelling nearby on their way to a Royal house party the day after tomorrow.”
“I see – and what will you be doing that day, Miss?”
“Paying my respects, Mary, paying my respects…”
“Honestly, is there nothing they can do to make these journeys more comfortable,” the dark haired woman said as she looked out of the carriage window. Her dark long coat covered her brown silk dress, the white petticoats visible underneath.
“Endure my dear,” her husband said as he looked over at her, the older man next to him nodding as well while the coach wheels went over another rut in the road, “we will soon be at the luncheon stop, and we can eat and…”
“HALT- STAND AND DELIVER!”
The men looked at each other as the carriage came to a sudden halt, before the older of the two put his head out of the carriage and said “who dares…”
“I do, sir,” the figure on the large grey horse said as he pointed one of two very real pistols at him, the other aimed at the driver as he and the young man next to him raised their hands, “I say so.” He was tall, wearing a grey military long coat with a black cloak, grey britches and long brown boots, a black hat on his head, and a black scarf covering the lower half of his face. “Kindly disembark, all of you, with your hands raised where I can see them.”
“And if I do not?”
The masked man pulled the hammer of the pistol back, and said quietly “be a gentleman – do not ask for an answer to that question.”
Nodding, he opened the carriage door, saying “do as he says” as the other passengers stepped out, their hands raised as he looked on.
“You,” he said to the young boy, “open the trunks, and bring me the valuables.”
“Do as he says,” the driver whispered, the young boy nodding as he scrambled to the top and opened the trunks up, searching through them.
“Who are you, to think you can do this to ordinary people,” the older man said as he looked at the masked highwayman.
“The man holding you at gunpoint,” he replied as the boy gathered small boxes from one trunk, and held them out. “Both of you, off there. You put the boxes in here,” he said to the boy as he held out the saddlebag, “and then you both stand with these fine people.”
As the driver and boy got down, he looked at the masked highwayman, who winked as the boxes were put in, and then slipped off the horse, putting one gun into a holster on the saddle and pointing the second one at all of them. “Now, it is time for you to donate to the poor – money, coins, jewels, in this saddlebag, if you would be so kind…”
“You are a devil,” the woman said as she took the rings from her gloved fingers, and dropped them into the saddlebag.
“Ah, but a handsome devil,” the man said with a smile, as he walked up and down the line of the passengers, taking all they had before he put the saddlebags over the horse, and jumped back into the saddle.
“Safe journey onwards,” he said as he holstered the second gun, and then rode off, the passengers looking at each other as he did so. He sped across the countryside, and into the forests, before emerging at a small cabin in a copse and dismounting.
“There, there,” he said as he patted the horse, tying the halter to a water trough before he took the saddlebags and walked inside the cabin.
“Do you feel better now Miss,” Mary said as Amelia pulled the scarf down and removed her hat, letting her locks fall down from where they had been concealed.
“Much better, thank you. Wine?”
“Here Miss,” Mary said as she handed a flagon over, and then took the saddlebag. “I will ensure Charles deals with these Miss.”
“Good – I need to change, or I will be late back from the visit I was making…”
“Amelia – are you all right?”
“Of course I am,” Amelia said as she stepped down from the carriage, her grey travelling cloak wrapped around her, “why?”
“The highwayman struck again – I was afraid you may have come across him?”
“Of course not husband,” she said with a laugh as she looked at Charles, “but I am touched you were concerned for me. Did I see another carriage leave?”
“You did – my cousin has arrived. Come – meet him.”
As she walked into the hallway, she saw a man come out from the drawing room.
“Amelia, allow me to introduce the Reverend Josiah Footscray. Josiah, my wife Amelia.”
She looked at the man, wearing a sober black suit with a white neckerchief, and smiled as she extended her hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Josiah. You are John’s cousin?”
“Indeed – our fathers were brothers,” he said with a smile as he took her hand and kissed it. He had short black hair, and she could see he was muscular under the clothing. “But Charles rather underestimated your beauty.”
Amelia blushed as she said “you are too kind. Allow me to remove my traveling clothes, and I will join you. Mary, arrange some tea please.”
As she walked up the stairs, Amelia smiled to herself. Josiah was a handsome man, to be sure – but she was unaware of him watching her ascend the staircase as well…
“So how long will you be staying, Josiah,” Amelia asked as they sat round the dinner table, Josiah smiling as he sipped from his goblet and put it on the table.
“I preach in the church on Sunday,” Josiah replied as he cut into his meat, “and I have some people to visit in the local area. So I imagine a week at the most – unless Cousin John asks me to leave early.”
“Unlikely,” John said with a smile, “but we need some sound Christian teaching locally with this highwayman around.”
“So you have one as well? We have been plagued by a similar character,” Josiah said quietly. “A number of my parishioners have fallen foul of his attentions.”
“Well, when we catch him, I will bring the full force of the law down on him,” John said quietly, Amelia smiling as she looked across the table. His cousin was a very attractive man…
“Have you heard the news, my lady?”
Amelia turned from her dressing table as Mary came in. “No – what news?”
“Lady Ordford was in a coach that was held up again yesterday – a tall, handsome man, according to her lady’s maid.”
Amelia looked at Mary, before she said “but I did not… There is a second villain in my area? That does not bode well…”
“So will you still go out this morning?”
“With the allure of those jewels coming down from the Midlands? How could I refuse to not attend – we go as planned…”
The driver looked along the rutted road as a large grey horse appeared form the side, the rider dressed in grey with a black scarf over the lower half of their face – and then from the other side a second rider, dressed in black with a tricorner hat, a black mask covering their eyes, as they both drew pistols and called out “Stand and Deliver!”
As the coach came to a halt, the two highwaymen looked at each other, Amelia wondering who the stranger was, and realising they were thinking the same thing, as he said “well, this is interesting – how shall we handle this?”
“I think there is sufficient here for both of us,” Amelia said, her voice deep and masculine. Shall we?”
“Indeed – ladies and gentlemen, please disembark and stand with your hands where we can see them. I think neither of us have any wish for bloodshed this fine day.”
Amelia disembarked and opened the door of the carriage, watching with her pistol raised as the two men and two women got out. The women were in their finest clothing, the jewels hanging from their ears, around their necks and on their gloved hands gleaming in the sunlight. Smiling, she walked up and down the line, before she said “thank you in advance for what you are about to do.”
“And that is,” one of the men said.
“Donating to my favourite charity,” she said as she took a saddlebag from her horse and opened it. “Kindly remove all valuables, money bags, and notes and place them in here.”
“And as for you,” the masked man said as he pointed his gun at the driver, “kindly remove that small dark chest from amongst the luggage up there, and hand it over. I know what is inside, I know how much it will raise.”
“You fiends,” one of the women said as Amelia looked at her.
“Indeed – the necklace, dear lady, and the rings – or would you rather I removed them from you?”
The woman stared back, and then reached round to unclasp the pearl and diamond necklace, dropping it into the bag as her rings followed. “Very much appreciated,” she said as she walked up and down the line, while the driver passed a small wooden chest down to the masked man. He smiled as he dismounted, and shot the padlock from the chest, the sound reverberating round the woods as Amelia looked round.
“Do you want the local authorities down on us,” he growled.
“Relax – we have time,” he said as he tipped the contents into his own saddlebags, and mounted his horse as Amelia got on hers. “Fare thee well,” he called out as they both rode off, Amelia looking over as the masked man smiled.
“So, we split the takings?”
“It seems fair – although we need a place to do so. Perhaps, as a good Christian person, you know of a place.”
Amelia turned and looked at him, before she said “follow me” and rode into the woods…
“Discrete, hidden – a good choice,” he said as they walked into the cabin, looking round as Amelia closed the door.
“I like it to be, cousin.”
He looked at Amelia, and smiled as he said “I do not believe I have had the pleasure – oh… Lady Amelia?”
As she pulled the scarf down and removed her hat, Amelia nodded and said “so, Cousin Josiah, I see we have similar tastes.”
Removing his mask, Josiah chuckled as he said “well, this is an unexpected pleasure. I knew you had spirit, but this…”
“What do you think John will have to say about this?”
“I think, on the whole, it is better if he does not find out, do you agree?”
Amelia nodded as she said “so what was in that chest?”
“These,” Josiah said as he opened his saddlebag onto the table. Amelia nodded as she sorted through the emeralds and rubies, then said “very nice – so, how are we going to split this.”
“Oh I’m not going to.”
She turned and looked at Josiah as he levelled a gun at her, and said “I think rather I will take everything, and leave you here – the loyal Mary will doubtless be along soon – to be found I trust you are not going to resist – although I must admit, it would please me if you did so.”
Amelia smiled as she raised her hands, and said “I suspect I would like it as well, but I value my health too much. What are your intentions sirrah?”
“Turn round – hands behind your back,” Josiah said as he drew some leather thongs from his pocket, Amelia nodding as she did as he commanded, and felt her wrists been secured together.
“And what confidence do you have I will not tell my husband about you?”
“Because I would tell him about you. Mutually Assured Silence, I think. Sit on the cot.”
“Very true,” Amelia said as she sat down, watching as he lashed her ankles together, and then took the black scarf from her neck, rolling it into a band as he said “I feel moved to steal one more thing.”
“And that is?” Amelia’s eyes opened wide as Josiah kissed her, and then she returned the kiss, their tongues playing with each other before he cleave gagged her with the scarf, and helped her to lie on her side. She watched as he left the cabin, wondering where he would go as she heard the horse ride off, and then after a short interlude a carriage pull up.
“Miss Amelia, are you – oh my!”
“Amelia – you look flushed,” John said as she walked into the hallway, “are you all right?”
“I felt a little unwell, so left early. Is Josiah here?”
“Sadly no – he had an urgent summons home, and has already left. I promised we would visit next month.”
“I look forward to it greatly,” Amelia said with a smile.
“Go now, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
As Josiah stepped down from the pulpit, he walked down the centre of the church, stopping at the door and greeting the members of his flock as they came out. The village clock was striking one as he finally managed to return to the Rectory, walking in as he said “what do we have for lunch Cassandra?”
Josiah smiled at the sound of the face, and walked in to see the young girl who kept house for him, staring at him over the rolled up rag that was pulled between her lips, held firmly to the chair with rope as the masked man stood behind her.
“Ah – I see we have visitors. Be at peace Cassandra – I will deal with this gentleman,” he said quietly as he stood to one side, the man nodding as he followed the priest into the front room.
“I thought we were meeting next month, cousin.”
“A change of plan, cousin,” Amelia said with a smile, “I will take my share of the takings now – unless you wish to be found stripped naked and tied to that charming woman.”
“Tempting – but fair enough.” He walked to the bureau and opened it, taking a bag put and dropping it on the table with a clink. “I figured you would visit, so I was prepared. What do I tell her?”
“Whatever you want – if I am correct, she knows your tastes anyway. We shall meet for dinner next week?”
“Indeed,” Josiah said with a smile, “I look forward to it…”
Agnes smiled as she saw the blonde walk out.
“Thank you for coming – I’m…”
“Hazel? Hazel Burnett?”
She looked at the other women, and whispered “Cat? Shirl? You’re here to support her?”
“We are Paula Gaunt, this is Hazel Burnett, another survivor of our year. You’re the headmistress here now?”
“For my sins – please, come this way…”