A Lady of Value - Eienvine (2024)

Chapter 1


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

February 10, 1817

It was the first major event of the Season: a ball at the home of Lady Bathurst, one of the patronesses of Almack's. Anyone who could obtain an invitation was there: dashing young men with family fortunes, honorable names and carefully tied cravats; beautiful young ladies, dressed in their best silks and ready to make a match with eligible gentlemen, with their respectable mamas chaperoning their evenings with a careful eye; the wealthy elite of the gentry mingling with barons and earls and dukes. It was rumored that the prince might even put in an appearance.

And Captain Daniel Sousa was hiding.

He had not intended to hide, precisely. He had simply gone into the card room to look for his father, only to discover that his father was no longer there. Sighing, he moved carefully across the room, to assure himself that his father was not tucked into a corner or in a tall chair where he could not be seen; he was not. And Daniel was just deciding where to go next when the door began to open, and he heard the unmistakable tones of the Honorable Miss Cartwright. He had no intention of making conversation with that young lady again -- indeed, she was one of the reasons he had decided to take a break from the ballroom -- and looked around for a place to secrete himself. There was nowhere, but there was a door at the back of the room. It was not at all the done thing to go wandering around one's host's home during the ball, but no one was looking at him; no one would see. So before anyone could notice, he slipped as quietly as possible through the back door.

In doing so, he found himself in an empty hallway, blessedly quiet after the din of the ball. Across the hall from him, an open door lead into what appeared to be a study or writing room of some kind. Part of him wished he could stay there the rest of the evening, but he knew that to be discovered there would be difficult to explain. Accordingly, he listened for the sounds of the ballroom and began moving in that direction.

Suddenly, behind him in the hallway, he heard what he thought to be the rustle of fabric, and perhaps a few light footsteps. Embarrassed to have been caught, he prepared himself to turn around and give whatever servant had just discovered him an explanation for his being uninvited in this part of the house. But no servant awaited him when he turned. Instead, what he saw was a flash of skirts -- a rich royal blue, not at all the sort of color ladies usually wore, in his experience -- disappearing into the study.

Daniel started, stared, doubted, and was silent. That was most certainly a guest, and not the lady of the house; he had seen Lady Bathurst but a few minutes prior, and she had not been wearing that color. A part of him instinctively wanted to investigate the matter -- what reason had a guest to go into her host's study? -- but he immediately saw that would be foolish. After all, he too was a guest who was where he should not be. And perhaps the lady had been looking for a place to catch her breath, to collect herself, and his intrusion would be most unwelcome. Instinctively he felt that this was not true. But he had no right to go confronting this woman, no matter her reasons, so after a long moment of indecision, he resumed his walk back to the ballroom.

His mother instantly pulled him into a conversation with Lord and Lady Russell, in which he participated with only half his attention. The rest was down the hallway, in the study with the mysterious lady in blue. Who could she have been? What reason had she to be in her host's study? He kept a careful watch for the lady to make a reappearance in the ballroom. But for quite some time to come, he waited in vain.

"Daniel," said his sister to him an hour later, "I cannot help but feel you are not enjoying this ball. You should appreciate it, you know; Lady Bathurst invited you especially, and she is one of the patronesses of Almack's."

Daniel rallied his feelings well enough to smile at his sister. Kate was eight years his junior and, she was fond of telling him, far his senior in good sense and intelligence. The siblings were very close, despite Daniel's having been in the Navy for much of Kate's life, and he was quite happy to see his naval career had enabled her to move in a higher circle of society than the family had been accustomed to previously. He knew their mama had high hopes for Kate's marrying well this Season, for in addition to her dark-eyed beauty and good nature, she now had a small but respectable fortune to recommend her.

Said Daniel, "I am trying," and then laughed to see his sister's sceptical look. "I know no one here," he explained. "These are your friends, and Mama's." He did not exaggerate. He had been in the Navy since he was twelve years old, and prior to his current visit home, had not taken shore leave in over three years. When he arrived, it was to learn that his parents, newly enriched by his giving them some of the prize money he had earned capturing French ships, had moved from his childhood home on Gracechurch Street to an address on the fashionable side of town, and he had spent the last few months in a world he did not know or, to be truthful, care for.

"Don't be foolish, Daniel," said Kate. "I have been watching, and you have not wanted for conversational partners all night."

Daniel grimaced, causing Kate to laugh. "Old gossips like Miss Fry, who want some new tidbit about the war hero to tell their friends."

"That is not true. I know that Mary Templeton and the Honorable Miss Cartwright both asked to be introduced to you," teazed his sister.

"Yes, I know," said Daniel with a theatrical sigh. "And I had rather have sat in silence."

"Daniel! Unkind! What can those ladies have done to deserve such censure?" Kate laughed as the dancers on the other side of the room applauded the completion of the minuet.

At that Daniel grew quiet and thoughtful. He and Kate were the fruit of a marriage between João Sousa, a poor but worthy Portuguese doctor who had, some thirty years previously, moved to London to study for a time under a renowned heart expert, and a well-bred lady, the former Miss Maria Ward. The two had married despite the wishes of her family, leading to just the sort of rift in the Ward family that was to be expected after such an unequal match. Dr. Sousa, while a clever and competent physician, found the growth of his medical practice impeded by the fact that many of the better-bred potential clients did not consider a Portuguese man to fall into the category of acceptable foreigners. So he did his work among the working class. And while he found this a worthwhile pursuit, and it paid enough to support his growing family, he regretted that it prevented him from keeping Maria in the lifestyle to which she was accustomed.

"Nonsense, dearest," was ever his lady's reply when he broached the topic. "We are comfortable enough, and I am happier married to you than to anyone else." And though she did occasionally miss the life she'd lived until age twenty, she was sincere in her response to her husband, and the Sousas lived in comfort and and complete marital felicity on Gracechurch Street.

After the birth of their daughter, which came some eight years after the birth of their son, the Sousas found added happiness in the reconciliation of Maria with her sisters. While they still did not move in the same circles, the sisters invited the Sousas out to their country estates for Christmas and summer holidays, and even occasionally deigned to travel to Gracechurch Street for family dinners or to call on the Sousas. Even old Mr. Ward unbent eventually, mollified, perhaps, by the Sousas having named their son after him.

And it was Mr. Daniel Ward who ended up providing for his namesake. Young Daniel had shown no interest in or proclivity for the medical field, but was endlessly fascinated by boats, having grown up so near the Thames. So Mr. Ward used his connections and wealth to find the lad a position in the Royal Navy, a position that suited Daniel perfectly. He took to Navy life as though born to it, and through hard work, integrity, and natural intelligence -- along with his prominent grandfather's influence -- found himself promoted to lieutenant in the midst of the wars with Napoleon. The years of Daniel's lieutenancy were very good to the Sousa family. Daniel's ship, theIndomitable,under the command of Captain Roger Dooley, was a terror to the French and received so much prize money for the capture of French ships that by the time he was 25, Daniel had become a wealthy man -- and one whose name not infrequently appeared in the papers next to the descriptor "hero." In the meantime, the alliance between the British and Portuguese during the Peninsular War lead to an increased tolerance in London for Dr. Sousa's Portuguese background, leading to an improvement in business for the doctor and social standing for his wife and daughter.

But it was the last conflict with Napoleon that had sealed Daniel's reputation as a war hero, promoted him to the position of Captain -- and cost him something rather dear.

"They stare, for one thing," said Daniel, tightening his grip on his cane. Indeed, in the month since the Season had started, he found the reactions of thetonto his presence to be a strange mix of admiration for the returning war hero, interest in his newfound fortune, pity and disgust at his injury, and contempt for his humble upbringing -- sometimes finding all these reactions in the same person. He was becoming very accustomed to being stared at.

He saw mortification come into his sister's expression as her gaze flew down to his false leg, and he chastised himself for bringing it up. When he'd first realized the leg would have to be amputated, he'd stoutly sworn he would never let it make him a burden on the people he cared about. So he put on a teazing tone. "I imagine they are seldom privileged to see such a handsome face."

Kate laughed aloud. "It is too bad you could not have worn your uniform," said she. "Then you would have been irresistible to all the ladies."

"I curse these Navy regulations," he said with a theatrical sigh. "Perhaps the Admiralty worries that if sailors were allowed to wear their uniforms on furlough, they would become so occupied with fending off the advances of ladies that they would never return to their duty."

And while Daniel meant to go on in this teazing vein, his sister suddenly grew serious. "I wish you were not so reluctant to speak to the young ladies here," said she, drawing close to him on the settee and pitching her voice low so it could not be heard by those around them. "You should marry, you know. You are built for marriage, brother mine. You have a nurturing, loving heart that was destined to cherish one person for the rest of her life. Why do you reject every attempt by me and Mama to introduce you to eligible young ladies?"

For a moment Daniel could not speak. Kate was right, of course; Kate was always right. He had always intended to marry, to dedicate his life to one woman as his father had dedicated his life to Daniel's mother. Indeed, many a cold, dreary night or hot, stifling day aboard ship had been spent reminding himself what he was there for: to earn enough money to care for his future family. Often he imagined what he would do with his prize money, once he had returned to England: -- he would find a bride, a clever, spirited woman who would spend life by his side, not in his shadow (with a mother as strong-willed as he had, it was not surprising that he had developed such an opinion about women). He would marry her and buy her a house in the country, somewhere the roads were cleaner than London's, and he would invite his family often to stay with them, where the healthful air and tranquility would surely do them good. And he would buy her a carriage, perhaps a phaeton, with two fine horses, and when the weather allowed they would go on long drives together in the country. Many a night he had comforted himself with that vision. Yes, Daniel Sousa had always intended to marry.

"I do not mean to reject your attempts to help me," said her brother. "I appreciate them, I do. And I have no complaints about the institution of marriage."


"If I do marry, I do not think it will be one of these young ladies." He was quiet a moment. "You might think I am too slow to forgive," he said. "But I cannot help but remember how these people treated us when we were children. The young ladies are eager to make eyes at Captain Sousa, the wealthy war hero, but they were far less kind to Daniel Sousa, the poor doctor's son." What he did not say to Kate -- he did not want to make her unhappy among her friends -- was that eight years earlier, after he went to sea but before he became a hero, he returned to London on shore leave and was invited to a ball at his Aunt Metcalfe's home, and the Honorable Miss Cartwright, then but sixteen years old, had openly snubbed him when his aunt tried to introduce them. He doubted she remembered the incident, but it had made an indelible mark on a twenty-year-old young man with a sensitive soul.

"If I marry, I would want to marry for love," he went on. "I would want to know she loves me, not my money. And how can I do that when I know full well how the Miss Templetons of the world treated me before I had any?"

Kate said nothing for several minutes as the siblings watched the other guests; Daniel searched the crowd for the woman in blue, but no such dress could be seen. "I forget," Kate said finally, "what it was like back then. I was not out yet, when we were still in lesser circ*mstances. I never knew what it was like to be so looked down on by good society. But I can see that would be a hard thing to forget."

Daniel saw that he had distressed his sister. So, squeezing her hand, he smiled gently and spoke: "I will come out all right, Kate. I don't wish for you to worry about me. I will find happiness, in marriage or bachelorhood. I can simply stay unmarried and be Uncle Daniel to your children."

Kate squeezed his hand in response. Before she could answer, a young baronet he vaguely recognized appeared to ask Kate for the honor of the next two dances. Daniel nodded in response to her questioning look -- she was too kind to leave mid-conversation if he didn't assure her he didn't mind -- and the young man led her to the dance floor. Daniel watched them and smiled; their mother would be so pleased.

Daniel wondered a moment if he preferred to stay seated or go speak to his father, whom he could see on the far side of the ballroom. Getting there would be difficult; while dragging his false leg around gave him very little concern at home or on a ship, it was embarrassing under all these watchful eyes. "But if I stay," he mused, "it will look like I am asking for company, and someone may invite themselves over to talk to me." So with that in mind, he picked up his cane, got carefully to his feet, and moved with all the grace he could muster toward his father.

It was a long walk, made longer by several people stopping him so they could ask after his parents and quiz him about his service in the Navy. He passed his mother, talking to their hostess Lady Bathurst, and she smiled so happily at him that he immediately felt guilty for not enjoying the ball. All Maria Sousa had ever wanted was for her children to have friends, to be well-provided for, and to find happiness in matrimony, and she was convinced the family's ascension to good society would accomplish her ends. So if he wished at that moment to be at home in his room, dressed comfortably in his shirtsleeves and reading a good book, he would certainly never have dreamed of telling her that. He simply smiled at her and moved on.

As he'd feared, people stared as he moved through the room. Many were admiring, for they knew his story: not only his actions on the Indomitable, but that a year later, after the final defeat of Napoleon, when that would-be emperor attempted to escape from France to North America, Daniel's ship Thetishad been one of several that had formed a blockade, preventing his passage. But inevitably, he would see those gazes turn from his whole person to his right leg. At first he'd gotten the best false leg money could buy, a recent invention called the Anglesey after the marquess who'd famously lost his leg at Waterloo. But though there were advantages of having such an advanced leg, it made a noisy clicking sound as he moved. So he usually opted for a less articulated, simpler leg that made his movement look less natural but was far quieter. Still, his walk across the ballroom was drawing attention from everyone he passed. Most people looked sympathetic; with more than a decade of wars against Napoleon, soldiers with missing limbs were certainly not an unusual sight, and most people would not do anything more unkind than simply watch him as he went by. But Miss Mary Templeton, along with a few others, looked dismissively and even insultingly at him as he walked, and he felt a flush creeping up his neck as he walked. Apparently the young lady was interested in meeting the war hero only while he was sitting; seeing him move about the room was enough to destroy all good will.

His father was speaking to one of his friends, but was happy to include his son in the conversation. Daniel listened to the talking and answered when it was required, but only half of his attention was on his father; the rest was on the mysterious woman in blue. And it stayed there as the evening wore on, through many conversations and introductions and minuets and quadrilles -- all of which dancing he sat out, of course, because of his leg. Everywhere he went, he kept an eye out for a royal blue dress, and everywhere he went he was disappointed.

But when the evening was nearly over, his search was rewarded. Daniel was making his way to find his father when across the room he caught sight of a most interesting collection of young ladies: his sister, Kate; a finely dressed lady with a haughty air; and, with her back to him, a statuesque young woman wearing a royal blue dress.

Without meaning to, Daniel found himself changing his course to meet the group. He did not know how he would explain himself when he got there, but fortunately his sister had that happy gift of always knowing what to say.

"Daniel!" cried she when she caught sight of him. "Come, let me introduce you to my new acquaintances."

Blessing his sister for her matchmaking ways, Daniel made his way to the group, so eager to meet the woman in blue that he did not even remember to be uncomfortable about his leg. He did not know what he would do with the knowledge of the woman's identity, but at least his curiosity would be satisfied.

And then the lady in blue turned around and all rational thought went from his mind.

She was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen: fine figure, stately dress, graceful air, elegantly styled dark hair, captivating dark eyes that sparked with intelligence. Her face was serious in repose, but when she saw him coming, her expression blossomed into a warm smile. Daniel was enchanted.

Kate made introductions: the haughty lady was Miss Crawford, daughter of the Marquis of Fullerton, and the young woman in blue was Miss Margaret Carter. "Permit me to name my brother, Captain Daniel Sousa."

He gave them a polite half bow; they curtsied, though Miss Crawford's seemed more dutiful than sincere. Indeed, her expression and posture communicated a lack of interest in the captain. But Miss Carter gave him another warm smile. "Of course, Captain Sousa," said she, and even her voice was lovely. "Your reputation precedes you."

"Does it?" said Miss Crawford, with a look of polite boredom. "Indeed, I have heard nothing of it, only of your . . . interesting childhood situation."

It was unspeakably rude, and although Daniel was accustomed to it, he saw hurt fly into his sister's face, both for his sake and because such a dart aimed at him must by necessity hit her too. Something would have to be said to soothe Kate's feelings, and he began to search for the right turn of phrase. But before he could, Miss Carter spoke. "I'm not surprised you haven't heard," she said to Miss Crawford, with an expression and tone that seemed perfectly commiserating and kind -- on the surface. "Fullerton is very far from London, is it not? I understand that it takes quite some time for things to travel from the capitol up to you: news, customs . . . fashions . . ."

It was irreproachably polite and incredibly cutting; Daniel wished he'd thought of it first, although he'd never have dared to say it to a lady. His companions felt the full force of it; Miss Crawford looked surprised and insulted, and Kate's face was a war between shock and delight, though she was visibly fighting to keep her expression neutral.

"So allow me to enlighten you," Miss Carter went on. "Amidst the hostilities with Napoleon, Commander Sousa, as he was then, was on theIndomitablein the Channel. The ship found itself under fire from two French warships, and in the midst of the battle, cannon fire hit the deck. Captain Dooley was killed instantly, and Commander Sousa was badly injured. But he took command of the ship, leading theIndomitableto victory over its attackers and taking both French ships as prizes, even as he had to prop himself up with a musket to stay on his feet. He is a hero who deserves admiration from any who value the freedom and dignity of our homeland."

Miss Crawford's jaw had become quite set. "Forgive me for my ignorance, Captain Sousa," said she. "Clearly I have been insufficiently informed about your wartime exploits. Now if you'll excuse me."

"Oh dear," said Miss Carter when the lady had gone, turning back to look at Kate, "that was a bit rude of me, wasn't it? I do apologize, Miss Sousa, for antagonizing your new friend. I'm afraid I am too easily provoked sometimes by people who do not respect the military."

Kate only smiled. "I think Miss Crawford very much deserved being set down."

"And to you, Captain Sousa, I must apologize as well for dragging you into the spat." She turned that stunning smile on him. "Did I get the details of your exploits correct?"

She'd gotten most of them correct, leaving out only that the cannonball that had killed Captain Dooley had shattered Daniel's leg, and that he'd tied a tourniquet around it and kept fighting; the musket he'd used hadn't just been for general support, it had been a crutch -- the first of many crutches in his future. He wondered if Miss Carter was ignorant of that fact; not likely, as she seemed to know the rest of his story, and the newspapers had seized on that lurid detail, repeating it every time the story was retold. So perhaps she had omitted that detail to avoid discussing an indelicate subject in front of the Misses Crawford and Sousa.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, she had done it out of consideration for him, to avoid drawing more attention to his leg. If so, that was kindness indeed from a stranger.

And she had omitted the fact that the battle had changed Daniel's life forever. In one afternoon, Daniel Sousa went from mildly wealthy to fabulously wealthy, from commander to captain, and his reputation as a war hero was sealed forever. His family was officially rich and respectable; he was officially an eligible society bachelor, whose wise financial investments in the Funds had ensured that he would have enough to keep a family in style far into the future, even if he never captured another French ship again. He often thought he'd have preferred to keep his leg and stay Commander Sousa, only reasonably wealthy and slightly famous. But then Mama did seem so happy to be able to introduce Kate into good society; he supposed that something good had come out of his injury.

"You did indeed, Miss Carter," said he. "May I ask how you come to be so familiar with them?"

"I have . . . close ties to the military," was her reply, delivered with a small smile. "My uncle is Colonel Phillips, of the Army."

"A man about whom I have heard a great deal," said Daniel. "He was recently appointed to an excellent position in the Home Office, was he not?"

"Indeed he was. So I find myself in possession of a great deal of knowledge about the recent unpleasantness with Napoleon. I recall my uncle telling your story to some of his officers, over the dinner table. The tale was repeated with great admiration and respect."

That moved him more than he expected it to. He missed the company of military men: people who understood what he'd been through, around whom he did not have to be uneasy about his leg. To hear that officers of the Army commended him for his actions meant more than the approbation of a whole ballroom oftheton. "I am pleased to hear it; I have the highest admiration for the Army. I understand your uncle was a vital part of the battle at Waterloo."

She smiled. "He is the bravest of men. As were all who fought at Waterloo." And for a moment, there was something strange in her smile, something sad and bittersweet. The chiming of the clock striking midnight shook her from that reverie, and she excused herself, saying that she was reminded that she had promised her uncle she would be home soon. "I am so pleased to have met you both," she said. "I hope to see you both again soon. And next time I shall endeavour not to insult anyone." She nodded at Daniel, and clasped Kate's hand briefly, and then was gone.

Kate watched her go. "I like her."

Daniel hid a smile. "So do I."

His sister looked at him, and a knowing smile crossed her face.

In the carriage on the way home, Kate regaled their parents with the story of Miss Margaret Carter. Dr. Sousa listened with an approving smile, and Mrs. Sousa stepped in with information about the lady, gleaned from Lady Bathurst: Miss Carter was raised by her uncle among the Army officers, and by some accounts had spent her childhood learning to shoot and ride. This was only the second time she had ever participated in a London Season; the first had been eight years previous, when she was but seventeen, and she was said to have disliked it so much that she had never been back. No one knew where she had been since then. There were rumors that she'd accompanied her uncle to France, but surely that had to be a lie; the battlefield was no place for a lady of gentle breeding.

The conversation lasted all the way back to Berkeley Square. Daniel, sequestered in his corner of the carriage, said little. He feared that if he spoke, his family would hear in his voice the thoughts that currently crossed his mind: that if he were the type to allow himself to form an attachment that quickly, he would admit to being a bit taken with Miss Margaret Carter. He preferred not to have his family teaze him about it, though, so he said nothing, simply listened and smiled.

And so full was his head with thoughts of their conversation that not until he was at home and drifting off to sleep did he remember the reason he'd been interested in Miss Carter in the first place: her being in the Bathursts' study. But it was easy to put the thought from his mind. Perhaps he'd imagined it, or perhaps it had been someone else, or perhaps she'd had permission and a perfectly good reason to be in there. Surely such a warm, charming, sensible lady could be involved in nothing that required reproach.

. . . . . .


Historical notes, because I did a lot of research, darn it:

Patronesses of Almack's: Almack's was a social club in London—perhaps the social club. They held regular balls, and to even be allowed to purchase a ticket you had to first be approved to get a (very expensive) voucher from one of the patronesses of Almack's. These were fashionable and prominent ladies who basically decided who lived and who died, socially. The lineup changed often; the list I'm going off of comes from a newspaper advert of 1815, which is the nearest I could find to this story's date of 1817. Lady Bathurst was indeed one of the patronesses in 1815.

Prize money: A practice carried out in the Royal Navy to encourage some good hard fightin'. When a Navy ship captured an enemy ship, the Navy would give the crew money for it; there was also a certain amount paid for any cargo and crew aboard a captured ship. Any prize money that was awarded would be split up among the crew based on rank: the captain would get the most, then the other officers, and the rest would be split between everyone else. Thus a captain could make a great deal of money; in 1807, one captain reportedly earned £52,000 for the capture of a single ship. (To put that into perspective, Mr. Darcy, who was so rich that even people who thought he was a jerk found his fortune attractive, had a yearly income of £10,000.)

Napoleonic Wars: A series of wars spread between 1803 and 1815, between Napoleon's French empire and a whole lot of other countries. Napoleon won most of the early conflicts and took over much of Europe; the 1812 invasion of Russia turned out to be a disaster, and things mostly went downhill for his Grande Armée after that.

Waterloo: The final battle of the Napoleonic Wars, occurring June 18, 1815. Fought in what was then the Netherlands but is now Belgium, between Napoleon's French troops and the Seventh Coalition, which consisted of soldiers from the UK and elsewhere under the Duke of Wellington and Prussian soldiers under Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. The Seventh Coalition eventually won, but not without a cost; it resulted in 41,000 French soldiers being killed, injured or captured, or just going missing. The same fates claimed 24,000 soldiers from the Seventh Coalition, including some 15,000 of Wellington's troops. After the battle, Napoleon abdicated, then reportedly may have tried to leave France for North America, but a blockade of Royal Navy ships stopped him. He lived out the rest of his life in exile on an island in the Atlantic called Saint Helena. He died in 1821.

Anglesey prosthetic leg: This type of prosthetic leg was invented in 1800 by James Potts and eventually came to be called the Anglesey after Henry Paget, Marquess of Anglesey, who lost his leg at Waterloo. It was a highly advanced prosthesis for its time, but was nicknamed the Clapper because of the noise it made.

The Funds: Government bonds that promised investors a steady 3-5% return. They are more commonly mentioned in Victorian literature, where they're often referred to as "the three percents" or "the five percents," but seem to have been established in 1751. I thought Daniel seemed the type to take a reliable investment with modest returns over a risky investment with higher potential returns.

Chapter 2


Thank you so much for reading so far! In this chapter: Daniel pretends he's not taken with Peggy, Peggy is up to something, and some familiar faces arrive.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

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In the weeks that followed, the Sousas saw a change in their son; where once it took a certain amount of persuasion to compel him to attend a social event, suddenly he was willing and even eager for any outing they proposed. They had their suspicions as to the reason, which they hid, and smiled.

Daniel, for his part, dressed himself with extra care every evening, even going so far as to ask Kate's opinion on his hair. As always, he did it all alone; Mama had suggested many times that he hire a valet, now that he could well afford one, but Daniel couldn't justify the expense in his own mind. He had been at sea for more than fifteen years. He had looked after himself since he was twelve years old. He had taken command of a ship of His Majesty's Navy and led it to victory while propped up on a musket and feeling his life's blood drain out of the shattered remains of his right leg. Surely he could manage to dress himself and hang up his clothes when he took them off.

But the reason for his sudden interest in the Season did not reappear at first. His willing attendance of balls, musicales, and dinners was never rewarded; he approached each with anticipation and left each one disappointed.

Some two weeks after the Bathursts' ball, the Sousas made their way to Lady Russell's home for a musical evening. Such an evening was one that Daniel would have happily attended no matter the circ*mstances; he was very fond of music, though he had only moderate ability himself, and the format of the evening meant that he could sit for large portions of it, taking some of the pressure off the stump of his right leg. His mother and sister also anticipated the coming evening with pleasure; it was rumored that the Dowager duch*ess of Leeds would be in attendance, and they longed to catch a glimpse of her. She was of an old and eminently respectable family, and, more importantly, was one of the patronesses of Almack's. Accordingly, Mrs. Sousa reminded her children to behave respectably; Daniel's fame and fortune had already secured them a voucher to Almack's from Lady Bathurst, but it was always wise to ensure all of the patronesses were pleased with them, just in case.

The musicale was a blessedly small and quiet affair, compared to the balls that they had been attending recently. They greeted their hosts, talked to their friends, and then took their seats for the evening to begin. The crowning event of the evening was to be a performance by a famous French soprano, but in the first half of the evening, local young ladies of quality were permitted to exhibit. An assemblage of performers took their turns over the next hour; some played the piano, one played the harp, several sang. All were perfectly tolerable performers, but only one stood out to Daniel: a fair-haired young lady called Miss Angela Martinelli. While most of the young ladies who sang chose sentimental folk songs, as was common, Miss Martinelli dared to stray from custom: she sang in Italian, and she chose a song from an opera, and a comic opera at that. But she executed it admirably well, and was by far the most interesting performance of the first half; Daniel spoke only a little Italian, but so expressive was Miss Martinelli, with her gestures and her facial expressions, that he felt he understood every word. There was no doubt: the young lady was a born performer. When the song finished, he applauded enthusiastically.

Soon there was an interval, so that the guests might circulate about the room and fetch any desired refreshments. While Daniel would have loved to stay seated, he desired to find Miss Martinelli and congratulate her on her performance. He communicated this idea to his sister, and she, as taken with the performance as Daniel had been, readily agreed to come with him. So, arm in arm, they set off to find the young chanteuse.

With direction from Lady Russell, they found Miss Martinelli in a corner of the room, receiving compliments and congratulations from a string of well-wishers. To Daniel's surprise and delight, standing by her side was the elusive Miss Carter.

"Captain Sousa! Miss Sousa!" exclaimed that young lady warmly. "How lovely to see you again."

"Miss Carter," said Daniel, inclining his head with a tranquility he did not feel. She was as lovely as he remembered. "We have come to congratulate Miss Martinelli on her performance."

"You see, Angie?" said Miss Carter as Miss Martinelli turned to join the conversation. "The audience truly did enjoy your performance. Allow me to introduce Captain Daniel Sousa, of the Royal Navy, and his sister, Miss Catherine Sousa."

"Charmed," grinned Miss Martinelli. "I'm glad you enjoyed it."

"You were afraid people would not?" asked Kate delicately.

Miss Martinelli made a most unladylike face. "My mother almost talked me out of the song choice; she said 'it was not what people expected a well-bred young lady to perform.' My father only agreed to it because it was in Italian. He was born in Italy and he loves when I sing Italian music. Anyway, I suppose I started to believe her when she said it would be a bad idea."

The young lady was in person much as she was in performance: lively, expressive, confident. She had a means of expressing herself that was unorthodox but refreshingly informal; Daniel found he liked her very much. "Well, I approved of the choice. It was a very welcome change of pace, and masterfully executed. Scarlatti, was it not?"

Miss Martinelli's face was the very picture of surprised delight. "Are you knowledgeable about the opera buffa, Captain Sousa?"

"Knowledgeable might be too strong a word. But fond of it, certainly."

She turned to Miss Carter. "I like your friend, English," said she with a smile.

Daniel intended to correct her, for while he would very much like it if Miss Carter considered him a friend, they were hardly well-acquainted enough yet that he would presume to call her by that title. But Kate spoke up first. "English?" asked she.

Miss Carter seemed a little embarrassed. "Miss Martinelli's nickname for me. When we met, I commented that she had the passion that her father's people in Italy are so famous for, and she responded that I am . . ."

"Incredibly English," finished Miss Martinelli with a smile.

"Have you known each other long?" asked Kate.

"Only a few weeks," said Miss Martinelli. "Neither of us participates in the Season often -- my father doesn't like leaving Sussex -- so we both hardly know anyone here. So I decided we had better be friends." She looked at Kate and Daniel a few moments with a considering expression, and then she smiled. "I think the three of us ought to be friends as well. What do you think?"

Daniel found refreshing and compelling the way she expressed herself so openly, although he know that many of the tabbies of the ton would rip her apart, socially, for such informality. But he was not one of the tabbies of the ton, so he smiled. "I agree."

Kate echoed the sentiment. Before anything else could be said, their group was approached by the same baronet who had asked Kate to dance at the Bathursts' ball. He begged Kate for the honor of sitting by her for the second half of the evening, and she smilingly agreed and excused herself from their group.

"Mama will be so pleased," said Daniel, watching the baronet lead his sister away.

Miss Martinelli laughed aloud at that, and Miss Carter smiled. Kate's exit gave him an excellent excuse to bow out of the conversation, but he found he did not want to leave yet; he had not seen Miss Carter in some time, and he did not want this conversation to end so soon. He cast his mind about for a further conversation topic, and settled on the following: -- "You are a very talented performer, Miss Martinelli. You have a gift."

At that, Miss Martinelli heaved a theatrical sigh while Miss Carter hid a smile. "I know," said she. "I would love more than anything to be on the stage, but my parents forbid it; you know what sort of reputation actresses have. I have tried to point out to them that Mrs. Siddons was an actress who moved in the highest circles of society, but they say she was an unusual case, and far more often women in the theatre are 'ladies of ill repute' and they will not allow me to sully myself that way."

Miss Carter gave her a sympathetic look. "Someday, Angie, you will find a purpose for your skills."

"And in the meantime," added Captain Sousa, "you can use them to make a musical evening like this one pass much more pleasantly for its audience."

Both Miss Carter and Miss Martinelli smiled at him for his speech, and though he admired Miss Martinelli, he had to admit to himself that he had eyes only for Miss Carter's smile. He would like to ask her for the pleasure of sitting by her for the second half of the evening, but he assumed she already had plans to sit by Miss Martinelli; he also wondered if she would say yes even if she were at liberty to do so. He knew his value, certainly, but Miss Carter was a beautiful lady, dressed in a way that spoke of family wealth, and was the ward of a military hero and a powerful figure in the British government. What had he, Daniel Sousa the foreign doctor's son, to offer her? A wartime record, to be sure, but then men who had honorably served against Napoleon were as common as sparrows in England these days. So he said nothing, instead commenting on the elegance of the room, and soon a comfortable conversation about the evening was flowing. Miss Carter became more animated when speaking in the presence of her close friend, and Daniel found himself mesmerized by watching her speak -- although he hoped he was not so green as to let his interest show in his face. He still knew nothing of her, and it was early yet to begin forming any kind of attachment.

Not long after, the commencement of the second half of the evening was announced, and the attendees began to return to their seats. He was in the middle of a cordial goodbye to his companions when a man approached them, fair-haired and handsome and dressed in the absolute peak of fashion, and gave them all a confident, assured smile. His gaze was focused on one particular member of their party. "Margaret," he said.

Miss Carter responded with a polite smile. "Lieutenant Thompson," said she, and Daniel felt all of his hopes dashed like a storm-tossed ship against the rocks. It was a terribly informal way to address a lady -- to him, she ought to have been Miss Carter -- and the fact that she had not rebuked him for the familiar use of her Christian name would seem to indicate that she had given him leave to use it, which, in its turn, would indicate an intimacy between them far greater than mere acquaintances or even friends. It seemed that all his dear hopes about Miss Carter being unattached were proving to be unfounded.

Miss Carter made the introductions."Captain, permit me to name Lieutenant John Thompson, of the Army. Lieutenant Thompson, Captain Daniel Sousa, of the Royal Navy, and you remember Miss Martinelli."

"A pleasure, sir," said Lieutenant Thompson with that same confident smile, and Daniel considered himself a good charitable Christian who believed in loving his neighbors, but there was something in the man's expression, person and voice that inspired an immediate dislike. It was an unkind thought, and he quickly tried to put it from his mind. He could not help but reflect with pleasure, however, that he had attained a higher rank in the Navy than this man had attained in the Army.

"I wonder," said Lieutenant Thompson, turning back to Miss Carter, "if I might beg the pleasure of your company for the second half of the entertainment."

Miss Carter blinked, and then she smiled at him. "Of course, Lieutenant." She took his arm and they both made their goodbyes to Daniel and Miss Martinelli and left, and Daniel could do nothing but stand and watch them go.

"I do not like that man," came Miss Martinelli's voice at his elbow.

Daniel gave a surprised laugh. "That is a very decided opinion, Miss Martinelli."

"Don't try to tell me you don't agree," said Miss Martinelli. He said nothing, unable to decide on an answer that was both honest and polite, and she laughed, assured of her correct assertion. "I do not know how Peggy tolerates him."

Daniel was momentarily distracted by the knowledge that Miss Carter's close friend, when not calling her English, called her Peggy. Was that the name she preferred? He found he rather liked it; it suited her, in a way, and he thought that he could get very used to calling her Peggy. Then, ashamed at himself for allowing such an intimacy, even in the privacy of his own mind, he turned back to Miss Martinelli. "They are well acquainted?" he asked.

She nodded, and then leaned in, as though to share a piece of gossip. Daniel had a moment of indecision; gossip was certainly not the most virtuous of hobbies, but he confessed himself desperate to find out what connection had Peggy -- had Miss Carter-- to this man. So he leaned in as well, and Miss Martinelli spoke in a conspiratorial tone. "You know Miss Carter's father, Harrison Carter, was a very wealthy man," said she. Daniel did not know that, but he nodded encouragingly. She went on. "He and Mrs. Carter died when Peggy was young, and she was their only child. The entail laws were such that their Dorset estate, Bell Hall, went to a distant cousin: Lieutenant Thompson's father. And somewhere along the way, the lieutenant took an interest in English, and he's been subtly hinting to her ever since she came into Town for the Season that he would very much like to see her reinstated as lady of Bell Hall."

It took a great deal of self-control for Daniel sound disinterested when he responded. "And how does she feel about this offer?"

Miss Martinelli only shrugged. "I cannot tell," said she. "Peggy is warm and caring by nature, as you have seen, but says little of her most intimate feelings."

Daniel nodded slowly, and Miss Martinelli laughed. "Don't worry, Captain, they're not married yet."

He looked back at her, startled. She merely smiled. "I believe you keep your dearest feelings secret as well," said she. "But I make a hobby of observing those around me." She smiled again. "Don't worry, your secret is safe with me."

The second half of the musical evening was not as enjoyable as the first, largely because Daniel spent so much of it with his attention several rows back, where he knew that Miss Carter sat with Lieutenant Thompson. At one point, a man in the back row dropped his walking stick, and it fell to the floor with such a clatter that nearly the entire audience glanced back to see what had made the din. When Daniel did so, he noticed something that surprised him: Miss Carter was gone; there was an empty chair next to Lieutenant Thompson. Daniel started a little, but then he supposed that she had gone to get a drink or some fresh air. So he put it from his mind and turned his attention back to the soprano.

When the music was over and everyone began to get up from their chairs, there was suddenly a commotion from the last row of chairs. "My reticule is gone!" was the cry of a handsome and finely dressed older woman. "Has someone taken it?"

"That is the Dowager duch*ess of Leeds," whispered Mrs. Sousa to Daniel.

The duch*ess's companions immediately began to search the area for the missing reticule, but it would not be found. The duch*ess looked increasingly angry until a voice spoke from the back of the room, saying the following: -- "Is this the missing reticule? I have found one here, left by the refreshment table."

All eyes turned to see Miss Carter striding toward them with a small silk bag in her hand. "Yes, that is it!" cried the dowager duch*ess. "My deepest thanks, my dear. I was certain I had it with me when I came back to my seat, but I must have been mistaken."

"I am glad it is found now," said Miss Carter, and excused herself.

She walked away, leaving Daniel to stare after her thoughtfully. It was lucky that she had come across the reticule, and yet . . . it was odd too, was it not? The duch*ess was sure she had brought it back to her chair. Miss Carter had disappeared during the second half of the entertainment, and suddenly she reappeared with the reticule in her hand.

Then he scolded himself for having such thoughts. What was he insinuating, that a respectable young lady had snuck out of a musical evening in order to abscond with a dowager duch*ess's bag, only to return it as soon as the music was over? It was an odd set of coincidences, that was all, and it was easy enough to put it from his mind.

. . . . . .


Historical notes:

Opera buffa: Italian for "comic opera." This genre of opera flourished from the early 1700s to mid 1800s and was largely centered in Italy; many works are still performed today (because, I would argue, quite frankly they're a lot more fun than opera seria). Well-known examples include The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, and Don Giovanni.

Mrs. Sarah Siddons: One of the most famous actresses of the 18th century. Born in Wales in 1755, she acted in London—chiefly at the Drury Lane and Covent Garden theatres—until 1812 and died in 1831. Unlike many actresses of the time, who were assumed to be a bit loose and therefore looked down on by high society, Mrs. Siddons was highly respected, and quite popular; the Duke of Wellington was known to attend her parties.

Chapter 3


In addition to the usual Austen references, a couple Victorian lit references here. See if you can spot them.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

Two days later, Daniel found himself out on the streets of London. The reason was simple enough: over breakfast, Kate had expressed a desire for marzipan, and expressed her regret that a slight fever she had been suffering for the last day prevented her from taking a walk to a confectioner's to obtain some. Mrs. Sousa had offered that they could send a servant to buy the sweets for her, which declaration had made Daniel shake his head in wonder. When he was a child, the Sousa family had exactly two servants: Mrs. Dixon, the cook, who prepared all their meals, and Molly, the maidservant, who cleaned and who waited on them when they had company. Both were far too busy to be sent out on an inconsequential errand like going to the confectioner's, and Daniel had grown up knowing that if he wanted something done, he had to do it himself. Now the Sousas had a fine place on Berkeley Square, where Mrs. Dixon commanded a crew of kitchen servants and Molly -- now Mrs. Rouncewell -- commanded the rest of the household staff. Now the Sousas had enough help that they could afford to send someone out for marzipan. It was a strange thought, and made him nostalgic for the days when he would run down to the confectioner's or the baker's with a farthing from his father to buy a bun or a sweet. And in the next moment, he found he had volunteered to get the marzipan for Kate.

"Nonsense," said Mrs. Sousa. "The weather today is chilly, and it looks as though it may rain later."

"Then I had better leave soon," said Daniel. "A walk would do me good, Mama. I promise I will bundle up warm."

Mrs. Sousa looked as though she would like to object again, out of concern for her son's health, but the whole family knew that the only grounds left on which she could worry about his going was his leg, and as the whole family tried very hard not to draw attention to his injury, there was no way she could broach the subject. So, finally, she smiled at Daniel. "Well, if you are to make the trip, Daniel, bring me back some marzipan as well."

The day was indeed cold, but the promised rain had yet to arrive, and snug in his wool coat and his fine new gloves, he found himself comfortable enough on the journey. The nearest confectioner's was some distance away, and he had to obtain written directions from one of the footmen in order to find it; he had done little walking since his arrival at Berkeley Street from his ship, and he hardly knew his way around the area at all. But the footman's directions were clear, and he soon found himself close to the confectioner's. It was then that a couple turned the corner and walked toward him, and he was surprised to see the lady was Miss Carter.

She was becomingly turned out in a morning walking dress of white linen, with a pelisse of a rich deep purple and matching bonnet. Her companion, to whose arm she clung, was a solidly built man with reddish hair and a impressive mustache, dressed simply but respectably save for a surprisingly worn hat. "Captain!" exclaimed the lady on catching sight of him, and stopped to speak to him. She made the introductions: her companion was Major Timothy Dugan, of the Army.

"Daniel Sousa?" repeated the major when the introduction had been made, and Daniel was surprised to find the man spoke with a thick Irish brogue. "Of the Indomitable?"

"I see the story made it into your part of the Army," said Daniel.

"'Pon rep!" exclaimed the major, and clapped a very heavy hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Where is the nearest public house? I would like to buy you a drink, Sousa."

While Daniel, surprised, attempted to determine how to respond to this very friendly but very odd request, Miss Carter said mildly, sounding a bit embarrassed, "It is not yet lunchtime, Dugan. It is perhaps a little early to start drinking."

"Too true, too true," said the major. "What do respectable people do at this time of morning?"

Miss Carter did not answer right away, so Daniel suggested, "I am going to the confectioner's up the road. They serve drinking chocolate there, I believe."

"Hot chocolate!" exclaimed Major Dugan. "Just the thing on a nice brisk day like this. Let's go with him, eh, Peggy?"

Another person who used Miss Carter's Christian name: she was an odd lady indeed. But the way the major spoke to her was familial, not romantic, and Daniel supposed that perhaps if she had indeed been raised among the officers, then the major, who appeared to be in his forties, could have known her since she was a little girl. She smiled at Daniel. "If you do not mind the intrusion, Captain."

"Not at all," said he, quite sincerely. And so their odd little company moved up the street and into the confectioner's. Daniel purchased the marzipan and ordered their drinks while the major secured them a table near the window. "Ah," Major Dugan said with a satisfied sigh after his first sip, "I will never grow tired of this."

"Better than field rations," laughed Miss Carter.

Now when would Miss Carter have eaten field rations? But he added with a smile of his own, "Better than hardtack."

"You're absolutely right there, my boy!" said Major Dugan. "Now, tell me about the Indomitable. Is everything we've heard true?"

"That depends on what you have heard," said Daniel, making both his companions laugh. He told the story, confirming or denying various details that Major Dugan had heard over the years.

When he was done, the major leaned back and let out a low whistle. "Now that is a great yarn, and no doubt about it. Masterfully done, Captain. And if I may ask, how are you adjusting to that leg? Only I have a close friend who lost a hand at Quatre Bras and he's still having a great deal of trouble."

Daniel, surprised, shot a glance over at Miss Carter; this was an indelicate subject to address in front of a lady. Major Dugan saw it and scoffed. "Don't worry about offending Peg here," said he. "No matter how bad your leg is, she's seen worse."

Miss Carter shot him an irritated look at that, and Daniel for a moment was entirely speechless. Was that true? But the major was waiting for an answer. "I am adjusting well enough," said he. "I think a leg may be easier to lose than a hand, as it does not interfere as much with the daily tasks of life. And it happened over three years ago. It has been less than two years since Quatre Bras, so it does not surprise me to learn that the time has not been sufficient for your friend to grow accustomed to the loss."

Just then, Major Dugan caught sight of someone walking past the windows and hurried outside to say hello, leaving Daniel and Miss Carter entirely alone at the table. He could see from the press of her lips that she was displeased about something. After a moment, in which Daniel looked desperately and futilely for a new topic of conversation, she spoke. "I suppose you have some questions about a great deal of what the major has just said."

"It aroused curiosity," admitted Daniel. "But I have no intention of asking questions that you may find uncomfortable to answer."

"I am not uncomfortable answering them," said Miss Carter. "I simply worry that, should some of the details of my past be brought to light, it could reflect negatively on me."

"Then say no more, Miss Carter," said Daniel quickly. "I assure you, I have no desire to press you for any information that you do not wish to share."

"But now I do wish to share," corrected the lady. "To leave explanations unsaid may lead to you presuming things that are far more scandalous than the truth."

"I assure you I would not. But if you wish to share, I will hear what you say gladly."

She considered him a long moment, her intelligent dark eyes searching his his. Whatever she found seemed to have satisfied her, because she nodded and began thus: -- "My parents passed away when I was four years old, of a fast-acting illness that took them both within a week of each other. So I was taken in by my mother's brother, a Colonel Chester Phillips." A small smile played across her face as she continued her story. Apparently Colonel Phillips was a military man by preference, not financial necessity, and was surprised but not displeased to find himself in possession of a niece. Still, his military work was a priority; after years of distinguished service in the far corners of the world, he was then employed with the training of young soldiers in England, and at the time of his sister's death had been preparing men for deployment to Flanders. But he quickly lit upon a way to be both guardian and soldier: he would take his young niece to the training camp with him. And, as it was not unheard of for officers to have their families with them, and as he had no wife, sister or mother to tell him that a camp full of soldiers was no place to raise a young girl, he did.

Major Dugan returned then, and, hearing the story that Miss Carter was telling, took up the thread of it. "I was there when the colonel first brought Peggy to camp." He explained that young Peggy, clever, sturdy and strong-willed, took to military life with incredible ease. The soldiers and officers, enchanted by the bold girl with the beautiful dark eyes, prized her as a sort of temporary replacement for their own sisters, and, as befitting a camp full of soldiers, began teaching her military arts. And so, while other little girls were learning sewing and dancing, Peggy Carter learned horseback riding, shooting, and the finer points of fisticuffs.

She did learn sewing and dancing eventually, though; once things were over in Flanders and the daily demands of his military work had lessened, Colonel Phillips engaged for the girl a governess, a prim lady who taught her deportment and elocution and the arts, as well as science, history, mathematics and languages. But all of the governess's persuasion and demands could not convince Colonel Phillips to curtail the girl's freedom, so Peggy would daily flit from French lessons in the school room to rifle shooting with the officers. For many years this was her life, as the colonel's work took him from camp to camp, and sometimes to Town and even the Continent, so that by the time she was ready for her presentation at Court, Miss Peggy Carter was a formidable creature: poised, fashionable, well-spoken, clever, fearless, and more than a match for any man in a fair fight.

Miss Carter seemed embarrassed by this praise, and continued the story. "But I did not take to society life; years of independence under my uncle's care had made me ill-suited to enjoy a ball or a musicale, with its endless small talk and social strictures. So after a single Season in Town, I returned to life with my uncle."

"I have heard of your one Season," said Daniel. "And that you disappeared after."

She smiled a little. "I suppose you have heard the rumors that I accompanied my uncle to the front lines?"

"I have heard them," said he. "They are universally discredited, I believe; ladies are not commonly found on the battlefield."

Major Dugan laughed. "They're all true, boy."

Miss Carter looked embarrassed at Daniel's surprised look. "I did go with him. I largely aided in the organization and the running of the camps, and acted as scribe for my uncle."

Daniel got the impression that she was holding more details of her involvement back. She seemed a little embarrassed, a little anxious, and he wondered if she worried for his opinion of this knowledge of her background. So he was quick to assure her: "Miss Carter, it seems that you have lived an extraordinary life."

"Do you mean that as praise or censure?"

He reflected that she must have met with negative reactions to the truth about her past, given her question. He supposed that many people would be shocked by what they would see as a lady participating in decidedly masculine pursuits. But he was not one of those people. He was surprised, surely, but he admired her for that strength of character and mind that would allow her to live so comfortably so close to the battlefield. The way the major looked so proudly at her would indicate that she was a boon to the military, not a liability. He had never met such a lady, one of such strength and courage and conviction, and he was awed, humbled, and fascinated. Miss Carter may have worried that his knowing the truth about her past would have made her think less of her, but the truth was just the opposite.

"As praise," he assured her. "I shall not tell another living soul, as per your wishes. But you need not worry about the effect of your story on me; if anything, I think more highly of you than I did before."

She gave him a long, considering look, and then the corners of her lips turned up in a smile. And in that moment Daniel decided that Lieutenant Thompson and any other man who might have designs on Miss Carter could go hang; clearly his heart was going to go on feeling for her, no matter what his brain said, so he might as well surrender to the urge to lose himself in that smile.

He wanted to see her smile again, so he went on. "I have no doubt that you were a credit to the Army. And I have nothing but the highest respect for that organization. The whole nation owes all of you a debt of gratitude for the incredible sacrifices made at Waterloo."

This declaration did not, however, have the intended affect. Instead, the mention of that terrible battle caused Miss Carter's smile to falter, and her fingers to twist nervously on the handle of her cup.

"I am sorry," said Daniel, truly chastened. "I did not mean to bring up a tender subject. I know that the losses suffered at that battle were incredibly high."

Miss Carter darted a glance up at him, her lips tight in a humorless smile. "They were," she agreed. "And still keenly felt."

Major Dugan reached out and placed a comforting hand on her arm. "You know he wouldn't want you to mourn forever," said he in a low voice, and Daniel was left in the uncomfortable situation of being in the middle of a very personal conversation with no easy means of extraction. "All Steven ever wanted was for the people he loved to be safe and happy."

Miss Carter stood up so suddenly that she nearly upset her chair. "I am eager to try some of this marzipan that the Sousa ladies find so agreeable. If you'll excuse me." She walked over to the shelves across the store, although not before Daniel caught a sheen of tears in her dark eyes, and stood there pretending to peruse the goods but most likely, Daniel thought, actually attempting to collect herself.

Major Dugan watched her go with a sigh. "I shouldn't've said that," he said in a tone that indicated his statement was meant more for his own benefit than for Daniel's. "I've always been terrible at comforting ladies."

"Do not blame yourself," said Daniel, unwilling to see such a cheerful man look so downcast. "It was kindly meant."

The major nodded. "Poor Peg," said he, his gaze across the room on Miss Carter.

"I am sorry that she suffered such a loss that she still mourns it," said Daniel. It was not meant as a question, as he was sincere in his declaration that he would not pry into Miss Carter's affairs, but apparently the major took it as such.

"You ever hear of a man called Captain Rogers?"

"Captain Steven Rogers? How could I not have?" Captain Rogers was the greatest hero of the wars with Napoleon, after Nelson and Wellington. He had famously died at Waterloo while returning from a raid to disable French cannons. He had turned the tide of the battle and saved hundreds, even thousands of his fellow soldiers, but he had not lived to see victory. Suddenly he understood what the major was asking. "He and Miss Carter were . . . engaged?"

"No, I don't believe he ever made her an offer. But we all expected him to once we were at peace."

"Poor Miss Carter," said Daniel. "How does she now?" He felt a little ashamed at having this conversation about her; it felt like gossip, of which he disapproved. But he did it because he was genuinely solicitous for her welfare; if there was any way he could help, he would like to know, and he knew enough of Miss Carter's character to be fairly certain that she would not ask for help even if she needed it.

"I believe she is doing all right. She never really took time to mourn; she simply did what she always does: threw herself back into military life. So sometimes it's hard to tell if she's all right or she is simply good at lying, because she's always hiding in her work. But I do believe she's doing much better these days. It's only occasionally, when something reminds her, that she'll fall back into low spirits." Daniel wondered what the man meant by "her work." With Colonel Phillips leaving the Army for the Home Office, Miss Carter could no longer be part of military life.

Miss Carter returned then, having indeed bought marzipan. "I hope you enjoy it," said Daniel. "I cannot vouch for my sister's taste, as she will eat absolutely anything sweet, but my mother is a little more discerning, and she is very fond of it."

"Thank you, Captain," said she, and Daniel had an instinct that in those words she was also thanking him for not mentioning her sudden loss of spirits. True to Major Dugan's words, she seemed much better now, and Daniel wondered if she had genuinely rallied or if she was playacting at being tranquil, for her companions' sakes.

It was nearly time for luncheon now, so their party determined it was best that they all returned to their homes. Major Dugan slapped him on the back again and gave him directions to his lodgings, saying that if ever Daniel needed any help or just wanted to get a drink or attend a boxing match, to not hesitate to ask. Miss Carter bowed prettily and thanked him for the suggestion of getting hot chocolate, saying it had delighted her companion.

Daniel bid them both farewell and headed off in the direction of Berkeley Square. As he turned his first corner, he could not help it: he turned a little to look at Miss Carter and the major. To his immense surprise, just before the young lady disappeared from view, she glanced back at him. And he could not help smiling.

. . . . . .


Historical (and comics) notes:

Timothy Dugan: In the comics, Dum Dum Dugan is Boston-born and of Irish descent, and since it was far more likely to see an Irishman in the British army than an American, I went that direction. The bowler hat associated with the character was not invented until 1849, so I had to put him in a regular hat. But I hope you picture it as well loved and often worn.

Hardtack: A very hard cracker or biscuit, often taken on sea voyages or military campaigns because as long as you kept it away from moisture, it would last for ages. By all accounts, not that tasty.

Quatre Bras: A battle fought two days before Waterloo, on the 16th of June, 1815. The Anglo-allies ultimately beat the French, but the battle did allow the French to prevent them from coming to the aid of the Prussians in the nearby Battle of Ligny, so really it was kind of a wash in terms of who came out on top.

Flanders: The Flanders Campaign was part of the French Revolutionary Wars and lasted from 1793 to 1795. The French army attempted to push into the Belgium/Netherlands area; armies from various kingdoms in the area, plus Great Britain, attempted to push back. The French were ultimately victorious and took over the Dutch Republic.

Women on the battlefield: It was not unheard of for women to follow their husbands to war, but it was not common; only a handful of soldiers from each regiment was allowed to bring their wives with them. These women were expected to contribute around camp and submit to military rules. There are even stories of women giving birth on the front. One soldier had his four-year-old daughter with him at Waterloo (far from the action of course); she died in 1903, making her one of the last living witnesses of the battle. There are also accounts of women on both sides dying at Waterloo; not being a soldier yourself doesn't make you safe, unfortunately.

Nelson and Wellington: Two of Britain's greatest military heroes. Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, was a highly ranked Naval officer and brilliant strategist; over the course of his many years in the Navy, he lost both an eye and an arm in combat. In 1805, he lead the Navy to one its greatest victories in the Battle of Trafalgar (a conflict of the Third Coalition War of the Napoleonic Wars) but was killed by a French sharpshooter. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke Wellington, joined the Army at 18 and saw action all over the world before leading the British forces to victory at Waterloo. He was also a politician, both in England and in his native Ireland; a prominent Tory, he was twice Prime Minister of the UK. Although one of those times was for less than a month.

Chapter 4


I've been trying to post at least weekly, but last week was Christmas and, well, you know how these things go. So accept my apology along with this chapter.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

Over the next week, the house on Berkeley Square was aflutter with excitement. Sir Thomas Featherstonhaugh, the baronet who had shown Kate such attention over the last few weeks, had asked her to go driving in Hyde Park, and, that outing having gone well, accepted an invitation to tea at the Sousas' the next day. Dr. Sousa smiled approvingly, Mrs. Sousa was delighted, and Kate shyly confessed to Daniel in secret that she liked Sir Thomas very much.

Daniel, for his part, found Sir Thomas to be good-natured, earnest, and very sensible, and he approved of the growing attachment heartily. On the subject of his own romantic entanglements, or the lack thereof, there was very little to report. He did not see Miss Carter, and he did not know if it mattered if he ever saw her again. Though still admitting to himself that he found her one of the most amiable, clever, interesting women of his acquaintance, he could not help but reflect often on her previous attachment to Captain Rogers. He did not blame or revile her for being so attached to another, certainly, but he could not help but feel that after caring for such a man, one renowned the country over for his valor, virtue, handsome looks, fortune and ancient family name, she could hardly be inclined to care for Daniel Sousa. What woman, having loved such an Adonis, could be prevailed on to turn to her attentions to a Hephaestus?

Not to mention the familiarity she seemed to share with Lieutenant Thompson. Daniel had no desire to attempt to court the lady, only to find out to his embarrassment that she had stopped mourning Captain Rogers just to make over her affections to Lieutenant Thompson.

This did not mean that he did not wonder sometimes what it would be like if he had the courage to ask her for a drive in Hyde Park, and if she said yes. In truth, however, that would most likely end badly; Daniel was in fact a very poor driver. The Sousa family had not kept horses or carriages when he was a child, having neither the money, inclination or need for them, and he certainly had not improved his horsemanship skills during fifteen years at sea. If he tried to take a young lady out for a drive, it would likely end with both of them pitched into a ditch, and surely that would harm his matrimonial chances more than aid them.

A week after Daniel met Major Dugan, Dr. Sousa secured for the family tickets to the Drury Lane Theatre to see the opening night performance of Shakespeare'sTwo Gentlemen of Verona. Daniel cared little for attending the theatre, unless it was for an opera, but he considered it a superior way to spend an evening than a ball. Anyway, perhaps Miss Martinelli, with her interest in the theatre, would be present; she was an extremely amiable young lady and he would be happy to see her again. And if Miss Martinelli were there, her friend might be there as well.

As the box seats were both expensive and already claimed for the evening, Dr. Sousa had procured seats in the orchestra section, down on the floor, and the family repaired hither when they arrived at the theatre. Many of the Sousa's neighbors and acquaintances were also in attendance, and Kate and Mrs. Sousa were soon occupied in conversing happily with their friends.

Daniel was not long without a conversational partner, however; Dr. Sousa soon realized that he was acquainted with the young lady sitting in the row behind them, and he promptly made introductions: "Daniel, allow me to introduce Miss Dorothea Underwood, who I recently came across in my work. Miss Underwood, my son, Captain Daniel Sousa."

Miss Underwood was a slender young lady in what Daniel knew other ladies would categorize as a slightly unfashionable dress, with a shock of golden ringlets and a wide, nervous smile to match her wide, nervous eyes. She was pretty, certainly, but seemed entirely out of place here. "I am so pleased to meet you," said she with an accent that marked her as a resident of Devonshire, or possibly Cornwall. "Can you believe this theatre? I have never seen such a beautiful place in my life! Except for some of the ballrooms I've seen recently. We don't have anything like it back home."

Clearly she was new to London and had not yet learned the practiced casualness so regularly affected by the beaumonde. Well, she would soon learn, or she would end her Season a social failure. But Daniel liked and pitied her for her naïveté, and he addressed her with a smile. "How did you come to be acquainted with my father, Miss Underwood?"

"Your father had to make a house call," she said. "Poor Aunt Elizabeth here turned her ankle on the street last week." So saying, she gestured at a matronly-looking woman sitting next to her, a woman of more substance than style, with a curiously blank expression.

"I'm sorry to hear that," said Daniel to this Aunt Elizabeth. "And how does your ankle now?"

But the woman said nothing, nor did she give a hint of having heard.

"I'm sorry, I should have said," said Miss Underwood. "Aunt Elizabeth has become a little deaf in her old age, I'm afraid. She does not hear anything."

"My apologies," said Daniel.

"So, CaptainSousa," said Miss Underwood eagerly. "Are you in the Army? I am immensely fond of the Army."

"I'm afraid I was in the Navy, actually."

"I like the Navy a great deal as well," said she, her wide smile never flagging. "Such brave men, and such clever men. The whole military is full of them, is it not? The strategies, and the battle plans, not to mention all the ships and the weapons. Someone was telling me this very day about the Corps of Royal Engineers, and its Chief Engineer. Sir Howard Stark, I believe his name was? I hear he is a true genius, if a little eccentric. Are you acquainted with him? I am eager to meet him."

"I'm afraid I have to disappoint you again," said Daniel. "I know Sir Howard by reputation, but have never met him myself." Miss Underwood seemed disappointed at that, so he added, "But I have no doubt that if you continue to circulate throughout the Season, you will see him soon enough. I hear he is very fond of society."

Her smile returned. "I hope very much that you shall turn out to be right," said Miss Underwood.

They talked pleasantly enough about inconsequential topics until the show began. Daniel found her an unobjectionable conversational partner, though she had little that was original or interesting to contribute to the discussion. Though it was not kind, he could not help thinking that the best way to describe her was pleasant but forgettable.

The first half of the show was well enough, even though Daniel did not much care for Shakespeare. He got the feeling he was one of the few audience members actually attending to the play; people went to the theatre to see and be seen, not to enjoy Shakespeare, and conversations could be heard all around throughout the course of the performance. When the curtain fell and the interval began, he glanced up toward the boxes for the first time and found that seated in one was Miss Martinelli, along with two people who Daniel supposed must be her parents, based on the incredible resemblance. By her side was Miss Carter. In that moment Miss Carter got up and excused herself from the box, and Miss Martinelli, left looking a little bored with her parents, looked down and saw Daniel looking up at them. She waved enthusiastically and gestured for him to come up and say hello. He decided he would oblige her; after, what was the theatre for if not to meet with one's friends? And according to Miss Martinelli, they were indeed friends.

He made his excuses to his family, who were distracted at that moment by the arrival of Sir Thomas, and made his way up to the first floor, struggling a little with the stairs. At least the new gas lights in the foyer gave a bright, even light and made his way easy to see. Once he attained the upper floor, he made his way to the Martinellis' box. Miss Martinelli was glad to see him, and presented him to her parents with an exquisite politeness that showed that she could conform to rules of etiquette when she chose to. The Martinellis received him kindly, and Daniel was surprised to hear how thick Mr. Martinelli's Italian accent still was. He had forgotten Miss Martinelli's statement that her father had been born in Italy, and in that moment he felt a certain kinship with her, that they both knew what it was like to be the child of a foreigner; no doubt they both understood the myriad small ways that could make one feel like an outsider.

To his disappointment, Miss Carter did not return throughout the duration of the interval, and soon the imminent beginning of the second half was announced. Daniel said his goodbyes to the Martinelli's, and went to use the necessary on the upper floor. By the time he was finished, the hall was empty and the play was beginning again; he could hear the dialogue floating through the doors to the boxes, which were covered only by curtains.

As he stepped out into the hallway, he saw a strange sight: Miss Carter, sliding out of an alcove in which she seemed to have been secreted, and moving with feather-light footsteps across the hall to stand very near the opening to one of the boxes -- not the Martinellis'. Her posture and gestures were unmistakable: it was the attitude of a person who was attempting to hear a noise very quietly made. It appeared for all the world like she was eavesdropping. The sound she sought to hear could be the sound of the play being performed on the stage . . . or it could be the conversation being had in the box, should the inhabitants of the box be, like so many of their peers, talking through the performance.

Immediately he endeavored to put the thought aside, as he always did, but it refused to be ignored. What else could it be? If this was the first such behavior from Miss Carter, it would have been easier to excuse, but as he watched her in bafflement he was suddenly reminded of her disappearing during the musicale and reappearing with dowager duch*ess's reticule, and of her going into the Bathursts' study the night of their ball. Each of these on their own might be explained away, but together, they began to look like a pattern.

Before Daniel could decide how to respond, or even begin to comprehend what it was he was seeing, the curtain covering the box was suddenly drawn back, leaving Miss Carter very conspicuously close to the threshold -- very obviously in the act of eavesdropping. And standing where the curtain had been was the last person an eavesdropper would want to be caught by: Lady Bertram. She was known and feared throughout London Society for her acerbic tongue, her unforgiving nature, and her voracious appetite for gossip. If she decided to spread the story that Margaret Carter was a sneak and an eavesdropper, the young lady would be ruined. The story would be all over London in just days. No matter what Daniel thought of her behavior, he could not leave her to that fate.

Fortunately for Miss Carter, Lady Bertram happened to be extremely fond of the Navy in general and of Daniel in particular.

"What are you doing at the door of my box?" she demanded of Miss Carter, causing that lady to straighten and step back. "Were you trying to get in? Were you listening in on our conversation?"

Miss Carter opened her mouth to respond, and Daniel knew her well enough by now to see that she was a little flustered. He thought that an excellent moment to insert himself into the conversation. "Miss Carter!" he called, gripping his cane and hobbling towards them, and both women turned to look at him, surprised. "Have you found your fan? I have been up and down the other end of the hallway, and I have not seen it anywhere. Your idea that it might have bounced or been kicked under one of these curtains is a good one, but thus far it has borne no fruit."

Miss Carter broke into a smooth smile. "I haven't found it here either, I'm afraid. Perhaps you were right, and I left it at home. Though it is odd; I was sure I had brought it."

"Let us hope it is at your home," said he. "If not, perhaps the theatre staff will locate it, and you can send a servant in a few days to inquire after it. In the meantime, I shall escort you to your box." Looking at Lady Bertram, he made a very deep and proper bow. "Lady Bertram, how excellent to see you again. We apologize if our hunting expedition spoiled your enjoyment of the play."

Lady Bertram smiled beatifically, the way she always did when Daniel spoke to her. "Oh, Captain Sousa, I am so sorry to hear your friend has lost a personal possession. If we see it anywhere in our box, we will let you know."

"That is most kind of you," said Daniel. "In the meantime, we should return to the performance. You would not want to miss out on the second half; I understand it is excessively diverting."

Lady Bertram smiled and nodded, then smiled and nodded at Miss Carter, then watched as Daniel offered his arm to the young lady. She took it smoothly, as though she had done so a thousand times in the past, and the couple nodded their goodbyes and then made their way up the hall -- slowly, because of Daniel's leg. He had rarely had a lady on his arm who was not his mother or his sister, and the sensation, even through the many layers of clothing between them, was quite distracting -- even if the lady in question was the currently the source of a great deal of confusion and turmoil in his mind.

When Lady Bertram had returned to her box, Miss Carter pulled Daniel to a stop and gave him a sheepish expression. "You've saved me from a terrible fate among the Society gossips, Captain Sousa. I fear Lady Bertram may not have believed me when I told her I had no interest in her box, I was simply out taking the air and happened to stop for a rest in that spot. And she would have spread the story all over town."

"I am always pleased to help out someone in need," said Daniel, but he did not feel the easy camaraderie that he affected.

"You were sitting in the center of the ground floor, were you not?" asked she. Apparently she had noticed him during the first half of the play -- a task made easier by the house being lit by many candles, which remained lit even while the actors were onstage. "I fear the second half has already begun, and your neighbors might not appreciate your sliding past them to get back to your seat. Would you care to join us in the Martinellis' box? They would not mind, I am sure, and we have the space."

She was right, so he accepted her offer with the requisite gratitude and followed her to the Martinellis' box. They greeted him happily, and he took a seat by Miss Carter's side and watched the unfolding action on the stage with little interest and comprehension. His mind was very much taken up with other matters: namely Miss Carter's strange behavior. Several weeks previous, he would have been delighted to spend this hour with her at the theatre, but he could no longer feel that pleasure. Something had changed between them, and he knew what it was: he no longer trusted her.

. . . . . .


History notes:

Drury Lane Theatre: Technically called the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, as it was one of the few in London that had been granted letters patent from the king allowing it to perform serious drama. One of the most popular theaters of the day. The site has been occupied by one theater or another since 1663; the current theater was built in 1812. Gas lights were just getting popular at the time, and while the audience areas of the Drury Lane Theatre did indeed use gas lights, they wouldn't use gas lights for the stage until September 6, 1817. So Peggy and Daniel would have watched their show by candlelight. But that may be for the best; after all the new gas lights were installed, the Times reported that "having sat through a whole evening in the theatre, playgoers felt a burning and prickling sensation in their eyes, a soreness in the throat and a headache which lasted for several days afterwards."

Corps of Royal Engineers: The military engineering corps of the British Army, officially established in 1716 but tracing its roots back to William the Conqueror. In addition to military engineering, it has also undertaken a great deal of civil engineering projects around the world, including the Royal Albert Hall. The office of Chief Royal Engineer was actually abolished in 1802, with the retirement of Sir William Green, and not reestablished until 1936 (the functions of the office having been covered by other positions). But for the sake of this story, I'm imagining that after Sir William's retirement, the office passed to a brilliant young engineer named Howard Stark. Who would have had to be quite young at that point. Just don't think about the timing too hard, okay?

The necessary: Okay, at the risk of you thinking I am a creeper, I will tell you that I spent a large amount of time researching historical bathrooms for this story, and I must say, it is fascinating stuff. If you have an hour to kill and want a comprehensive view of the history of the bathroom in England, I highly recommend looking up Lucy Worsley's "If Walls Could Talk: History of the Home" bathroom segment on Dailymotion (it has disappeared from YouTube). Or, if you want to be very thankful you are alive today, Google "bourdaloue." What I learned is that since toilets as we know them would not become commonplace until the Victorian era, people of the Regency era were still using a chamber pot system. There were no bathrooms as we now know them, so if you were at a party somewhere, you would just excuse yourself to find a quiet corner somewhere to relieve yourself and then a servant would take care of the used pot. So it is certain that the Drury Lane Theatre did not have restrooms. However, I imagine they may have had a quiet corner set aside; surely in such a public space, they would want to discourage people just going wherever they like. Right? Or is that just my modern sensibilities talking? Anyway, that's why I decided to go ahead and have Daniel use the necessary (which is, by the way, my favorite euphemism for bathroom); it was convenient for the timing of him catching Peggy.

Chapter 5


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

His family teazed him a great deal on the carriage ride home for forgoing their company during the second half in favor of the Martinellis' box; they made remarks about Miss Carter's loveliness in tones of exaggerated innocence and disinterest, and Mrs. Sousa stopped the teazing long enough to point out, in a more sensible vein, that Miss Angela Martinelli was also a very charming young lady, if a bit eccentric, and that she would have no complaints about making that lady's further acquaintance, and perhaps her becoming someday a part of the family. But Daniel was so quiet in response to their jests that in time they fell silent, seeing that something weighed heavily on his mind.

This brown study continued for several days. He did not see Miss Carter again, and he was glad of it. How had he been so thoroughly misled as to her true character? She had seemed the very picture of goodness, loveliness, and intelligence when he met her; her connexion to the highly regarded Colonel Phillips, and the warm regard shown for her by her friends, would seem to be arguments in her favor. But surely there could be no good or lovely or intelligent reason for her to eavesdrop on her peers and rifle through their belongings. He could not imagine any satisfactory explanation for these transgressions, and he was left only to conclude that Miss Carter was not what she seemed to be and to wonder whether he should warn anyone of what he had seen. After all, Miss Carter could be stealing from other members of the ton; that would explain a great deal of her behavior. Or perhaps in going through their personal effects and listening in on their conversations, she was looking for information with which to blackmail them. Surely they deserved to be warned in that case. But immediately he settled that he would do nothing, at least for the moment, because as yet he had only conjectures about the true explanation for her behavior.

Five days after the theatre incident, Daniel found himself unexpectedly left to his own devices for two whole days. Dr. Sousa had been called to a manor some distance outside London to see to a longtime patient of his who was currently residing there; accordingly, he packed and planned to be gone at least one night, maybe more. At the same time, Mrs. Sousa and Kate had been invited by an old friend to a house party for a few days in Windsor, several hours away by carriage. The invitation had not included Daniel, which Mrs. Sousa was absolutely certain was an oversight on her good friend's part; no doubt Mrs. Baker had not realized that Daniel was on furlough from the Navy. She proposed to write to Mrs. Baker, explaining Daniel's presence in the hopes that the invitation would be extended to include him; she assured her son that she and Mrs. Baker were such old friends that they would not dream of standing on ceremony with each other and Mrs. Baker would not find it rude at all. But Daniel quickly dissuaded her. He had no interest in going to Windsor; he could do with a rest, he told his mother, stating that it sounded positively divine to have the house on Berkeley Square to himself for a few days with the rest of the family gone and no social engagements to attend.

Mrs. Sousa had not pressed him, perhaps thinking that granting his desire to be alone could help assuage the low spirits he had been in of late, and accordingly she and Kate set out in the family carriage Wednesday morning early, with Dr. Sousa following soon after to catch the public coach. And Daniel, dearly as he loved his family, saw them go with a pleased smile.

Once they were gone, he changed into comfortable clothing plus a dressing gown for warmth, and removed his artificial leg, which he preferred to have off if he had no reason to keep it on. Telling the very upright butler, Mr. George, that he was not at home to visitors, he secreted himself in the library with a stack of his favorite books and a plate of Mrs. Dixon's biscuits, and spent a very pleasant day reading, napping, and writing letters to his friends from the Navy. It was as pleasant an afternoon as he had spent in months.

His second day alone he intended to spend in a similarly self-indulgent manner, but to get out of the house: he would return to Gracechurch Street and visit some of his old haunts. The Sousas, to their credit, had not cut off their old friends and neighbors when they moved to a more fashionable address; Mrs. Sousa and Kate still made regular social calls to that part of town, and many of their old friends had been invited to Berkeley Square for dinners and card parties. But Daniel had not seen the old house since his last furlough several years previous, and he missed the familiar streets and shops. So, dressing himself in one of his simpler ensembles, one that he had insisted on getting when his mother dragged him to the tailor's back in December to get a whole new wardrobe, and in his most comfortable boots, and wrapping up tight against the chill air, he headed out.

He hired a hackney cab to take him to Gracechurch Street; it was only a few miles from Berkeley Square, but he knew he ought to be prudent about how much strain he put on his leg; he expected to be out and walking for much of the day, and he didn't want his excursion cut short by his stump becoming too painful to walk on too early. So he spent the money for the cab and was soon among familiar streets and buildings.

First he went to the house he had grown up in, but did nothing but stand outside and look at it. He knew nothing of the new occupants, who had been living there now for some time and who might not take kindly to a stranger knocking on the door and demanding entrance. Instead he went next door to visit the Gardiners, who very happily invited him in. The Gardiners were an elegant couple with a handful of children, the eldest of whom was a little older than Kate, and when Daniel was young the two families had been close friends. Mrs. Gardiner served him light refreshments and updated him on all the doings of the neighborhood, and when she heard that he had been viewing the outside of his old home, she promptly suggested an outing to visit the Prices, who lived there now. "They will not mind at all," Mrs. Gardiner reassured Daniel. "They are all ease and cheerfulness."

The whole group undertook an expedition to next door, and true to Mrs. Gardiner's prediction, Mrs. Price was vastly happy to let Daniel go all over the house. They had heard of the famous Captain Sousa, both as a Navy hero and the former resident of their home, and were only too pleased to extend to him every possible courtesy. He saw his old room, now occupied by the eldest son, a boy of twelve who looked up at the captain with adoration in his eyes. He saw the drawing room where he so often sat and read as a boy. He saw the dining room where so many happy family meals had been spent. And when he went away, after a long chat and many heartfelt expressions of gratitude on his part, he did so with a curious mix of happiness and sorrow. He could not but feel a pang of nostalgia for the boy he had been, and the carefree life he had lost when he joined the Navy.

Bidding the Gardiners farewell, he continued his walk through the surrounding streets, stopping in to visit old friends and old shops. He went to the confectioners' that he had visited so oft as a child and purchased licorice sticks, caramels, and other sweets to bring home to Kate; he imagined himself as a young boy, walking through the door with a precious farthing clutched in his hand to buy a bit of toffee, and reflected that if someone had told that boy that someday he would have enough farthings to buy all the toffee in the whole store, without making a dent in his pocketbook, he would never have believed it. He went to the baker's and bought a sweet bun, and then, as he had as a child, took a moment to simply hold it, letting the hot bun warm his hands and the delicious smell waft up to his nose and transport him back in time twenty years. He ate at the public house down by the water, owned and run by the family of a friend, and spent a very cheerful hour reacquainting himself with the family. Finally he went to the docks where as a child he had spent hours watching the little boats land and leave again like white birds alighting and departing, and the large ships being unloaded of their cargo. It was here he had first had the seeds planted that led to his joining the Navy, and he found the bustle on the docks just as fascinating as he did as a child.

So engrossed was he that after a few minutes of standing and watching, he found a place to sit and happily whiled away a considerable amount of time watching the world go by. It was a sunny early spring day, and as long as the wind did not blow and he stayed in the sunshine, he found himself very comfortable indeed. Finally, when the sun in the sky indicated it was mid-afternoon, something happened to interrupt his reverie.

Raised voices could be heard from down between two warehouses that stood along the edge of the docks, and moving toward the warehouses to get a better view, he found the source to be a handful of very drunk sailors harassing a young fishwife, who was likely in the area to meet a fishing boat; they surrounded the young lady so that she could not extricate herself from the situation. Instinctively he took a step toward the commotion, hesitated, and then continued on. He knew, from a lifetime spent observing these docks and a lifetime spent in the Navy, that his interference was as likely to exacerbate these sailors' behavior as to stop it -- just as the same lifetime of experience left him little surprised to see these men so drunk this early in the day. It mattered little, though; he could not in good conscience stand by and see a lady harassed this way. Perhaps just by walking through the group of sailors, he could distract them long enough for the woman to get away. He had to do something, anyway; no one else seemed inclined to notice or care what was happening.

As he drew near the commotion, the fishwife, whose back was to him, said something too soft for him to hear. Whatever it was prompted a chorus of jeers from the sailors, who pressed close, demanding in mocking tones what right had she to pretend to such superiority over them. "Come on, then," said the sailor who seemed to be the instigator of all, "give us a kiss." So saying, he grabbed the basket from the young woman's hands, tossed it aside so that her fish spilled across the street, and grabbed her around the waist to pull her close to him.

What happened next seemed to go too fast for Daniel to follow with his eyes: the fishwife grabbed the offending arm, and in the next moment the man was thrown to the ground, on his back. The fishwife turned to fix her attackers with a dangerous glare, and Daniel felt his mouth fall open in shock: the lady was none other than Miss Carter, in simple clothes and with her face smeared with dirt. Her gaze caught his, and a strange expression crossed her face. In the silence that had followed her throwing the sailor to the ground, Daniel clearly heard her voice come from across the distance: "How is it always you?"

In the next moment the shocked sailors sprang into action, trying to seize the young lady who had done such damage to their companion, and instinctively Daniel swung forward and threw himself into the fight. Hand-to-hand combat was a vital part of Navy life; the Crown paid prize money only on ships that were captured, not sunk, so all members of a crew were skilled at boarding an enemy ship and fighting its crew until the enemy surrendered. As an officer, Daniel did did not see a great deal of such combat, but he was still skilled at it and practiced often, as he found it a diverting way to spend time; even after the loss of his leg, he kept up the habit. He also did not scruple to use his cane as a weapon. So he was more than a match for these drunk sailors, despite their superior numbers.

Nearby, Miss Carter was dispatching attackers with even more efficiency and skill than Daniel, and more than once he was distracted from the fight by watching in shock as she landed a resounding blow on some sailor's skull. Soon the last man fell and she looked up at Daniel with eyes brightened by exertion. "I think we should go."

"I think you are right," said he, and in another moment she was at his side and they were removing themselves from the area as fast as Daniel's artificial leg could carry him; he noticed, as they walked, that the fight had been so well hidden between the warehouses that no one on the docks seemed to have seen it. Soon they were lost in the streets of London, and with the ease of long familiarity with the area, he pulled her down a twisting alley where they could be hidden from any sailors who decided to pursue and from any prying eyes of the local neighborhood.

"What in blazes is going on?" he demanded when he'd caught his breath enough to speak.

Miss Carter was leaning against the wall, breathing heavily as well. "I should think it'd be obvious," said she, with a touch of flippancy in her tone. "You just broke up a fight."

"Miss Carter," he demanded, "why in the world are you here, of all places? And dressed like that?"

"I could ask the same of you," she retorted, and he glanced down and remembered that he too was dressed simply -- although not as simply as she -- and that he too had been spending an afternoon on the docks. It was different, though; he was not pretending to be a fishmonger. It occurred to him, though, that at least the simplicity of his dress would likely have kept onlookers from recognizing him as a member of the ton. He did not care if the onlookers recognized him, but he did not want them to suspect, from his familiarity with her, that Miss Carter was anything other than the fishwife she had pretended to be. No matter what she was up to, he was determined that no harm would come to her because of him; if there was any kind of justice to be meted out, it would come from the sources ordained by God and the Crown.

"I used to live here," said he. "I was visiting."

"And so was I." She smiled.

"Do you often sell fish to the local populace when you visit a place?"

Her breezy manner disappeared, leaving a serious expression in its place. "Do you doubt my honesty, Captain Sousa?"

"I do, Miss Carter."

Now she appeared affronted, but Daniel felt instinctively that it was as much an act as her earlier flippancy. She was trying to put him off from pursuing her real purpose, clearly. "You are so quick to dismiss my integrity, over one silly incident of visiting the docks?"

"It is not a single incident on which my distrust of you is founded," said he, and was as surprised as she seemed to be to hear the words he spoke. He had not meant to respond so harshly, but the excitement of the last few minutes had apparently shattered his usual reserve.

She paused. "Because of what happened at the theatre?" she asked. "I told you, I was simply getting air."

For a moment he hesitated. Part of him was loathe to cast any more aspersions on her than he already had cast. But part of him still worried about what her true intentions were. If she were stealing from the ton,or intended to harm them, surely he should at least press the matter now, while he had the perfect opportunity. What if failing to do so resulted in her eventually doing something to hurt his Society acquaintances, or worse, his family? So he pressed on, though it pained him to do so.

"You were not getting air," said Daniel. "You were eavesdropping on Lord and Lady Bertram, or on the two Russian dignitaries in their box with them. And that was not my only source of concern. You also sneaked into the Bathursts' study and, unless I much miss my mark, you did not find the dowager duch*ess's reticule, youtookit."

Miss Carter stared at him a long moment with what appeared to be a surprised expression. Then, against all expectations, she smiled. "You are very observant, Captain. And clever, I think."

This was unexpected turn of conversation. "Thank you," he said, uncertainly.

"And good in a fight. Did they teach you that in the Navy?" She was looking him up and down now, taking in his whole person, and he wondered how she had managed to so thoroughly turn the conversation so that he suddenly felt that she was in control again.

"Yes, but why—"

"Fifteen years or so in the Navy, yes? And you are in good standing there?"

"May I ask to what these questions tend?"

She ignored him. "And how long are you on furlough?"

He was a bit exasperated, but perhaps an answer would prompt answers from her. "Until the summer, at least."

She nodded and continued to examine him.

"Are you avoiding my questions?" asked he.

She hesitated, and then gave a decided smile. "No, I rather think I should like to answer them. But not here."

"Then where?" asked Daniel.

She straightened to the most correct posture, giving her simple dress and dirty face a kind of genteelness and dignity. "Captain Sousa," said she, "are you at liberty to join me and my uncle for tea?"

. . . . . .


I went back and forth a long time on whether his coming across Peggy was All Too Convenient—because it really is—but then I thought, Lizzie kept running into Darcy because his aunt happened to be her cousin's boss and because her aunt happened to have grown up in the village where he used to play as a boy. Austen is the queen of All Too Convenient. So I decided to let it slide. :)

Historical notes:

Hackney cab: Public carriages for hire, common in the streets of London. They first appeared in the early 1600s and quickly became popular—one source I found estimates 1200 hackney cabs operating in 1823—requiring the Crown to step in and start regulating them. This arguably makes taxis the world's oldest regulated system of public transportation.

Fishwife: A woman who sells fish (in Old English, "wif" meant any woman, not just married ones; other Germanic languages have similar words, such as German "weib" and Dutch "wijf," although for some reason those have both taken on rather pejorative connotations). London fishwives, especially those who frequented the Billingsgate fish market, were known for their strong language and penchant for tobacco and gin, and had a reputation as a bit of a tough crowd. So maybe no one would have been surprised to see Peggy throw down with those sailors.

Chapter 6


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

He was, at first, not inclined to answer in the positive; it was a decidedly strange response to his accusations, and for a brief moment he actually wondered if she intended him harm, once she had gotten him to a secluded place; he had seen her fight on that dock, and had no doubt that she would more than be a match for him. But that was absurd; if she intended him harm she could inflict it in this blind alley, and besides, other than defending herself on the dock, nothing she had done had indicated a violent bent. Besides, if Colonel Phillips was to be at this tea, surely nothing could be amiss.

"Fine," he said. "If you'll allow me an hour to go home and change my clothes --"

"I am afraid not," said she. "If we are to have this conversation, we should have it now; I would not like you to go away with all you've seen and no explanation. I'm afraid that could cause problems for me, and also that I would be giving you enough rope with which to hang yourself, as the saying goes. It is best, I think, to get this sorted out now."

The thought crossed his mind again that a nefarious scheme was afoot, and it must have shown on his face, because she laughed. "I promise you, Captain, that you shall find the answer satisfactory."

He considered for a time, then: -- "Fine," said he. "But I hope the colonel will not think the less of me for being so informally dressed."

"Neither of us shall care at all," she assured him. "And unless I very much miss my guess, you do not care either, when social demands are not forcing your compliance."

He stared at her, and then he smiled. "No," said he, "I suppose that I do not."

Both took a moment to straighten their clothing that had become disheveled in the fight. Miss Carter pulled the covering from her hair and, with a few twists and hairpins, put it up in a tidy and respectable style. Leaving the alley, Daniel found them a hackney cab, and Miss Carter gave the direction of Fludyer Street, which surprised him a little; that street was in the area of Whitehall, so apparently they were taking tea with the colonel at the Home Office.

Miss Carter said little on the ride there, preferring to scribble in a little notebook that she had obtained from somewhere within the folds of her dress. So Daniel spent the ride watching the buildings of London go by and wondering what on earth Miss Carter planned to tell him.

In front of a very modest building on Fludyer Street, the cab stopped and its passengers alighted. Daniel thought it an odd place for the colonel's office, but quickly realized it wasn't; Miss Carter led him down an alleyway between two buildings, making her way to one of the larger buildings on Downing Street from the back. Daniel immediately understood; she did not want to be seen entering the place, and so had chosen to enter from a less busy location. But their final destination was indeed the Home Office building on Downing Street -- beautiful, but from the looks of the cramped offices he passed and the library's books spilling out into the hallways, not large enough to accommodate the Office's staff. Once inside, she installed Daniel in a parlor and asked him to please wait until she returned.

Daniel whiled away the time looking around the beautifully decorated parlor. After ten minutes, according to the clock on the mantle, the door opened and in stepped Miss Carter with a man who must be her uncle. Colonel Chester Phillips was older than Daniel had expected, with a craggy face and graying brown hair. But his eyes were shrewd and intelligent, and he carried himself like someone who could hold his own in a fight. Daniel thought he would not want to get on the wrong side of the man.

The pair seated themselves on a sofa near Daniel, and the colonel fixed him with a long considering look. "Daniel Sousa," said he finally, with a drawling tone. A servant came in with tea things and began arranging them on the table, but the colonel took no notice. "I heard about the Indomitable. Very impressive, young man."

"Thank you, sir," said Daniel, pleased to receive such praise from such a highly respected man.

"And you were on the Thetisas well, were you not? Keeping Napoleon from escaping again. I do appreciate that; no desire to have that pushy little Corsican starting another war."

Daniel nodded confirmation as the servant left the room again.

"Going back to the Navy in the summer, I hear?"

"I am as yet undecided," said Daniel. "I have considered selling out and settling here in London for good; I have been happy in the Navy but I would like to see my family more than once every few years."

"Understandable," said the colonel. "You have the money to retire, do you?"

It was a bit of a forward question, but coming from a career military man, Daniel did not mind it. "I do, sir."

Colonel Phillips nodded thoughtfully as Daniel wondered to what end these questions led. The servant returned then with a basin of water and a washcloth, and to Daniel's surprise Miss Carter began washing the dirt from her hands and face right there in front of him. They certainly did not stand on ceremony here.

"Now," said the colonel, "the real reason you're here. You are suspicious of what my niece has been doing."

Though that sounded quite negative, Daniel could think of no way to correct him in a way that didn't seem defensive, so he struggled for a moment to find the words to explain.

"Don't feel bad, lad. If anything, be proud of yourself. You saw what hundreds of your peers failed to notice." Colonel Phillips leaned forward then. "Can I ask how you did notice?"

Daniel glanced at Miss Carter; her expression and attitude were encouraging. So he told the whole story, starting at the Bathursts' and ending at the docks.

The colonel listened, nodding. "Smart man." He was quiet a moment, then nodded decisively. "Peggy here thinks you can help us with a little project we're working on. I think I agree. But before I explain myself, I have to ask you to do something: swear that no matter what you decide, you will not tell a soul what you hear here."

This was serious indeed. For a moment Daniel was hesitant, but there was such warm encouragement in Miss Carter's eyes, and a twinkling smile hidden away in Colonel Phillips', that he felt at ease. And Colonel Phillips worked for the Home Office; they were currently actually sitting in the Home Office building. Surely Daniel could trust the man. "You have my word, sir."

"And I believe you are the sort of man to keep your word," said Colonel Phillips. "Very well. Here is what you need to know: the position I hold here is Superintendent of the Alien Office. Have you heard of us?"

Daniel shook his head to answer in the negative.

"As far as the average person is aware, we enforce the Aliens Act, which involves controlling and recording the passage of immigrants into the country. In truth, our duties are a bit more . . . complex. A certain part of my staff is involved in keeping an eye on foreign persons of interest, both here and on foreign soil. Usually surreptitiously."

Through all the colonel's careful phrasing, Daniel saw the truth immediately. "You are spies."

"More or less," said the colonel.

Suddenly things began to come together in his mind. "Youare a spy," he said to Miss Carter. She smiled at him.

"Peggy is one of my best," said the colonel. "She has been a valued member of my team since she was eighteen years old, first on the Continent as a codebreaker, and now here. Major Dugan, too, whom I believe you have met."

But Daniel barely processed that statement, so caught up was he in this new information about Miss Carter -- and in the relief that coursed through him at the knowledge. She wasn't a thief or a blackmailer; she wasn't up to anything disreputable or dishonest. She was a spy working to protect her homeland, her people and her government. He was right in thinking she wasn't what she pretended to be, but what she actually turned out to be was significantly more fascinating. And no sooner had his brain processed this information than his heart pointed out to him that he no longer had to feel conflicted about his preference for her. He found himself smiling.

"I must say," said Daniel when it became clear that the colonel wanted a response from him, "I did not expect this."

"Good," laughed the colonel. "You're not meant to expect it."

"So you have been spying on the ton," he said to Miss Carter. She nodded.

"She is the best person for such an infiltration," said the colonel. "She was already known in Society, and she can fit in with these high-class types best of all my operatives. And equally useful: no one ever suspects a woman."

"Except you, Captain," smiled Miss Carter, and he, feeling dazed, smiled back.

"Now, let us see if you're as clever as we think," said the colonel. "What is the question you ought to ask next?"

Daniel knew the answer, for it was already on the tip of his tongue. "Where do I fit into all this?"

The colonel nodded with satisfaction, but looked to Miss Carter for the answer. She obligingly responded, her voice resounding with authority. "Three months ago, one of our customs agents processed a young man entering the country at Dover. He described the man as visibly agitated and unsettled, so he attempted to detain him for further questioning. The young man ran. Soldiers soon caught up with him, but not before he had thrown his satchel into a fire. One soldier managed to retrieve it, only partly destroyed, while others chased him to a cliff where, despite attempts to talk him down, he jumped to his death." A brief look of sorrow crossed her face. "A senseless tragedy. His satchel was found to contain, in addition to the usual clothes and personal effects, a letter, in code and in Russian. It was a very good code; it took me two weeks to break and then translate it."

She paused to take a breath, and Daniel could not help himself: "What did it say?"

"The letter was heavily damaged by the fire. Most of what remains is a passage from William Godwin, translated into Russian, with annotations from the letter writer."

The name was unfamiliar to Daniel, so Miss Carter explained. "A political philosopher and writer of this country. The passage included is from his Political Justice, and it argues strongly against the state, claiming that the government and many social institutions halt the progress of mankind and so should be abolished. It is a school of thought referred to as anarchism."

"Abolished?" repeated Daniel uneasily.

Miss Carter nodded. "Godwin advocates peaceful revolution, but that is where the letter writer disagrees; he argues that peaceful revolution will never result in real change, and that 'they,' whoever 'they' are, must affect this change by force and violence; it ends with vague threats against unnamed people in power. We have long been worried about a violent application of anti-government thought arriving on these shores, ever since the Terror in France showed us how far people might go to achieve political aims. This could be a great threat to the Crown -- and to everyone else. In any attack on the government, it is quite likely that ordinary people would be caught in the crossfire."

"So a nervous young man was sailing into Dover to hand-deliver a coded Russian letter with anarchist leanings to someone in England, and he was so averse to the idea of being caught with the letter that he tried to destroy it and then jumped to his own death," summarized Daniel. "Not a comforting idea."

"Our thoughts precisely," said Miss Carter. "We traced the young man's journey back as far as we could; he definitely arrived on our shores from eastern Europe, so it's likely he did come from Russia." She sighed a little, then went on. "There was one other scrap of salvageable information in the letter: a command that the recipient of the letter remember their orders to get into Almack's."

His mind was alive with activity as he processed this information. "Which could mean either as a servant or a guest."

Miss Carter nodded. "So we have a man undercover as staff at Almack's. And in case this Russian anarchist is hiding among the ton . . ."

"They sent you." Ideas began to click into place in Daniel's mind. "You weren't eavesdropping on Lord and Lady Bertram; you were eavesdropping on the Russian dignitaries in their box."

"It wasn't likely to be a fruitful attempt, but it wasn't as though I was enjoying the play anyway."

Understanding dawned on him. "And the two ladies you have been investigating so far, Lady Bathurst and the Dowager duch*ess of Leeds, are patronesses of Almack's."

She nodded. "Each patroness is given a certain number of vouchers to allocate. If our anarchist expects to get into Almack's as a guest, he will either have to obtain a voucher from one of the patronesses, or attend with someone who already has a voucher, on a Stranger's Ticket. Either way, their identity should be kept in one of the patronesses' records. I have obtained copies of these records from the two ladies you mentioned and am in the process of investigating the persons on them; I also aim to obtain the other patronesses' records."

"In the meantime," added the colonel, "I have reached out to contacts in Russia to learn more about groups currently active there who might deal in this kind of thought. There is social unrest there at the moment; the losses suffered during the recent war with Napoleon, and the poor treatment of the serf soldiers, have led certain groups in the Army to begin attempting to affect change; my sources tell me that the most prominent of these, the Union of Salvation, advocates a revolt to establish a constitutional monarchy and abolish the serfdom system. They do not appear to be who we are after. However, there are rumors of a splinter group from this Union of Salvation, one with more anarchist leanings, that seeks for the abolishment of the government altogether. We know only its name: Leviathan."

"Leviathan," repeated Daniel. "Defined by some Old Testament scholars as an embodiment of chaos and destruction. Very fitting."

The colonel nodded. "My contact is currently trying to gather more information on this group. We do not know, however, what brings one of their people to England, if it is indeed Leviathan we are after."

"It seems you are doing good work on this," said Daniel. "But you have not yet said how I figure into it."

Miss Carter smiled, and her response was simple. "Help me."

Colonel Phillips was more loquacious in his answer. "Peggy believes you could be invaluable to this investigation, and as I said, I agree. We'd like to ask to take you on temporarily. I can talk to the Admiralty and ensure you're not called back to active duty until we are done with you."

Daniel was astonished; he had wondered if that was their aim, but it seemed so unlikely that to hear it out of their mouths now very much surprised him. "Why?"

"It will be very useful for me to have a second set of eyes and hands," said Miss Carter. "And you are an excellent choice; as we've said, you're observant and clever, and very good in a fight. I'd wager you're a good shot as well, should it come to it. And you would be my ticket to get places I could otherwise go."

"Me?" repeated Daniel, baffled.

"You," confirmed Miss Carter. "Did you see the way Lady Bertram calmed down when you made your appearance? She believed a story from the mouth of the war hero that she would not have believed from me. You are a popular man, more than you give yourself credit for. That name, that face, that story . . . they open doors. I could use that. You have a voucher to Almack's, do you not? I do not yet. You can take me on a Stranger's Ticket."

"Not always," he interrupted. "Even with the voucher, we cannot always get tickets -- there are always more interested attendees than there are places available for them."

"Still, that would be more access than I have now." She smiled. "Besides, I think you'd do quite well in this kind of work. You have already seen through with ease what I meant to keep secret. Why not use that skill to help your country? Help us find an anarchist who could be operating on English soil and intending harm to our government or our people."

Daniel had to admit that part of himinstinctivelywanted to accept the offer without further thought. The cause was righteous, the work would be more interesting than his usual daily schedule of social visits and card parties, and he would be required -- required--to spend more time with Miss Carter, who might still be mourning Captain Rogers and therefore never cast an eye Daniel's way but that did not mean that he would not still rather spend time with her than nearly anyone else.

He forced himself, however, to be sensible about this, to not agree to anything without knowing the terms. "I assume I cannot tell a soul what I am doing."

"Precisely," said Colonel Phillips.

"What will this involve?"

"In many ways," said the colonel, "little that differs from your current lifestyle. You will continue on as you always have done; any hour we do not require of you is yours to spend as you chuse. But you must assist Peggy at social events of her choosing; this will involve mostly evenings but occasionally teas and luncheons and other mid-day activities."

"What if finding this anarchist takes years? Am I agreeing to skulking around ballrooms and theatres for the rest of my life?"

The colonel shook his head. "If we have not found this anarchist by the end of the Season, we will try a different tack; after all, if he's attempting to gain entry to Almack's, he will likely have done so or given up by then, as the social scene will change considerably at that point."

Daniel wanted to say yes; that was the thought that was foremost in his mind. But as he imagined moving through the glittering ballrooms of the ton, on alert for any suspicious behavior, he remembered that he, like all humanity, was not an island; more people than just himself were affected by his decisions. "I will do it," said he, "if I may make one condition."

"What is it?" asked Miss Carter.

"I will not do anything that will negatively affect my family. This is my sister's first Season, and if her brother is caught rifling through the desk of some duke or other, she will be ruined just as much I. They shall be, as they always have been, my highest priority."

His companions glanced at each other, then turned back to him. "Your dedication to your family does you credit, sir," said Miss Carter. "I promise that I too will do everything in my power to keep them away from the investigation and their reputations intact."

Daniel looked at her a long time, and then a smile spread across his face. "Then, Miss Carter," said he, "when do we start?"

. . . . . .


Lots of notes and two book recommendations!

Home Office: Officially the Home Department. A department in the UK government that deals with domestic issues like immigration and the police. I could not for the life of me figure out if it was actually located on Downing Street in 1817. From what I could find, I think it's not unreasonable to assume that it was, but I'm not actually sure. The point of this is to tell you that if you happen to know for sure where the Home Office was at this point, and I'm wrong, I apologize.

Pushy little Corsican: This line is borrowed from one of the books that first made me love Regency England, so I'm going to recommend it to you now: Magician's Ward by Patricia C. Wrede. (It's actually a sequel, but I like it better than the first book and you don't have to read the first one to get this one.) It's set in an alternate Regency England where magic is common and learning it is considered a respectable pastime for members of the ton. Kim is a street urchin who's taken in as the ward of a wealthy, powerful magician who recognizes that she has a knack for magic. So she's trying to do magic lessons while simultaneously learning to behave like a respectable young lady and helping her guardian figure out who is attacking magic users all over London. There is action and suspense and humor and romance and you should all read it.

Alien Office: A sub-office of the Home Office, created in 1793 to enforce the Aliens Act and control the influx of foreign visitors, because they just might be dangerous French revolutionaries. According to some historians, because it accomplished these ends by surveilling persons of interest at home and abroad, it can be argued that it was the UK's first spy agency.

William Godwin: An English writer of the 18th and 19th centuries, and an early proponent of anarchism (though not by that name); he advocated peaceful change, not violence. I mostly find him interesting because he was the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the early feminist work A Vindication of the Rights of Women, and the father of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

Union of Salvation: A secret political society in Russia, dedicated to the abolition of serfdom and the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. It was formed in 1816 by Army officers who had come back from the wars with Napoleon disgusted with the poor treatment of the peasant soldiers and just generally fed up with things. The society morphed a lot over the next nine years, but it was always generally part of a movement for greater equality that eventually erupted into revolution after the tsar's death in December 1825—thus earning the rebels the name the Decembrists. The revolution failed and a lot of people died. Fun fact: that's where the band The Decemberists got their name. Other fun fact: they did not have a splinter group called Leviathan.

Anarchism: Okay, this is the moment where readers who really know their history of political philosophy started rolling their eyes so hard that they strained a tendon somewhere. A confession: anarchism did not exist at this point in time, precisely. The seeds had been sown in Europe and elsewhere for centuries, with various philosophical and religious movements advocating ideas that resemble anarchism, and William Godwin's work has indeed been called early anarchist thought. But the word "anarchist" would not be used in this sense until Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's What is Property? in 1840, and the anarchist groups Peggy's worried about here—the bomb-throwing, king-killing, "propaganda of the deed" types—would not really become a thing until the 1880s. But I decided to dare the wrath of those who would spot the inconsistency, because I really wanted them to be the villains for two reasons: first, they seem just the sort of thing spies would work against. Did you know that between the 1880s and the 1910s, the tsar of Russia, the empress of Austria, the kings of Italy, Portugal and Greece, and the presidents of France and the US were all assassinated by anarchists? Seriously, anarchists were kind of a problem. Second reason, these sorts of bomb-throwing anarchists are the antagonists of my second-favorite novel of all time, The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton. So that's my second book recommendation of the day: at the turn of the century, London detective Gabriel Syme infiltrates a group of anarchists and finds himself rushing to the Continent to try to stop an assassination, only really there's tons more to it that I can't explain without spoiling the book. Just read it; it's great. If you think you'd like something billed as a "metaphysical thriller."

Chapter 7


Very long chapter this week; the choice was one long or two short and I went with the former so we can get more into the meat of the story sooner. :)

Guys, it was hard to switch my brain back to 1817 Peggy after finally having 1947 Peggy back on my screen. And it was surprisingly hard to get back into a relationship that was based on season 1 Peggy and Daniel after seeing season 2 Peggy and Daniel; that was seriously a drastic change. Not that I'm complaining! My shipper heart had never expected in a million years to have Peggy so obviously into Daniel so early in the season, and I'm loving it (as long as Peggysous is endgame, please let Peggysous be endgame). Point is, I hope the change isn't too jarring for you guys. :)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

As it happened, they started in that very moment. Colonel Phillips took him to a beautifully appointed office and had him sign a great pile of paperwork, most of them indicating to the Admiralty that he was willing to be traded off to the Alien Office for a few months and the rest affirming that he understood the secrecy he was now placed under. Then Miss Carter reappeared, having found a new dress somewhere -- one far finer and cleaner than her fishwife's dress. Daniel supposed she kept one here at the Alien Office for just such a time as this.

They went to a small office on an upper floor, small and cramped with a desk and two chairs and little else. Miss Carter produced several sheets of paper covered with a neat, confident script that he supposed must be her own, and sat down to teach him several useful codes and ciphers that they might use for passing communications. There was a number-based one, which was simple and precise, but which was quite obviously a code, and so should be used only when no one else would see the missive. And there was a clever one that could be hidden in a standard letter or invitation; it gave one the space to say but very little, but also meant that it would look perfectly innocent to any who intercepted it. Both ciphers were of Miss Carter's design; Daniel was impressed, and told her so.

She left him to study on his own for a time and then returned with a light dinner: meats and cheeses and breads, which he accepted gratefully. He'd supposed she would leave then, but she surprised him: she sat down in the other chair with a stack of papers of her own and began to read, making herself available, no doubt, should he have questions. He found it very pleasant to spend time with her like this, each involved in their own projects but near enough to ask questions or make comments. He wondered if this was what their daily life would be like if they were married, and then quickly reprimanded himself for the thought and turned his attention back to his study.

On they went like this for several hours. Periodically she would stop and quiz him, or write a coded message for him to translate, or make him create a coded message for her. When he was feeling confident, he created a letter from one friend to another detailing the events at a recent ball, but hid in it the message "VERY BORED TOO MUCH DANCING." Miss Carter laughed aloud when she read it, and Daniel could not help flushing with pleasure.

Occasionally they spoke; he would ask her questions about the ciphers and she would ask him how he was getting on. Once he ventured to ask what had brought her to the docks that day, dressed as she was, and she smiled in response. "Meeting a contact," said she. "Someone coming up the Thames on a fishing boat. Not related to the Russian case, but someone needed to be sent and I was available."

"You are very carefully giving me little information on this contact," observed Daniel.

"We brought you in on the Russian case," said Miss Carter. "We are not going to trust you with all of our secrets on your first day."

"Very wise of you," said he. "Did you at least make contact before you were so rudely interrupted?"

"I did," she reassured him. "His intelligence has already been delivered to my colleagues who were waiting for it. Our intoxicated friends have not managed to impede our protection of national security. Thanks to you."

"I think it safe to assume that you could have handled all of your assailants without my assistance," said Daniel with a gentle smile.

She smiled in her turn. "You may be right, Captain," said she. "But your help was very much appreciated. It would have taken me longer, and drawn too much attention."

He inclined his head in acknowledgment of her gratitude, and both went back to their work.

The hour grew late, and in time Miss Carter set aside her reading and pulled an appointment book out of her reticule. "When is your next evening party to be?"

He thought a moment. "The day after tomorrow, I believe, when my family will be back in town. My Aunt Metcalfe is having a ball."

Miss Carter peered more closely at her book, and then smiled. "I am invited," she announced. "We may begin then."

"My aunt is not one of the patronesses," Daniel pointed out. "There will be no record books to purloin."

"I do not purloin, I copy," his companion corrected him. "And we will have other work to do. Our people here have already gone over the two sets of records I've managed to obtain, looking for anyone with Russian connections or those about whom we can find no information about their background and origins."

"Assuming that someone whose family has been living in England for many generations will be less likely to be a Russian anarchist."

"That is our assumption. People have certainly been induced to turn against their native countries before, so we are not ruling it out, but it is a place to start. People who were flagged, and those for whom our people could find no information, need to be vetted personally."

Daniel nodded. "And that is our job."

"It is, I should warn you, by no means certain that we will discover our anarchist this way," said Miss Carter. "He might not even be hiding among the ton. But as I said, it is a place to start, and something to do while we wait for further intelligence from my uncle's contact, which I hope will come very soon. I have eleven names. I will take the seven who have a Russian connection and give you the four about whom we know nothing. If they are in attendance at your aunt's, talk to them. If they are not, ask others. Discreetly, of course."

"Of course."

She handed him a list -- four items, all in her number cipher, so that he might practice using it. "Memorize these names," said she. "Then burn the list. And apply for tickets to Almack's, and a Stranger’s Ticket for me; there is an office there with copies of all the patronesses' records, which would save me having to get each book individually. The Home Office will reimburse you the expense." A clock chimed in the hall then, and she stood and stretched. "Home, I think," said she. He did not object; it had been a long and tiring day.

She showed him the way out of the building, giving him advice all the while, and instructing him to greet her as an acquaintance at the Metcalfes' ball but have no further contact with her that evening until she initiated it. All this she explained as she led him outside and located for him a cab and driver. Then, after having seen him safely installed in his seat, she stood close to speak her parting words: -- "Godspeed, Captain. The work we do is vital and righteous, remember that."

So saying, she backed away from the cab, and it rumbled away down Downing Street. He felt both anticipation and fear, as though the cab was disappearing not only into the darkness of the night but the darkness of the unknown future he was embarking on. He found himself, without intending to, glancing back at the Home Office; Miss Carter stood in front of it with one hand raised in farewell, surrounded by the warm glow of the lights from the office's windows. In the weeks to come he would think of that sight often: Miss Carter, looking like safety and warmth in the midst of a dark night.

When Daniel awoke the next morning, he more than half wondered if the previous day had been but a dream. Had he truly been recruited by the Alien Office to help them root out a Russian anarchist hiding among the ton? Then he shifted in his bed and heard the sound of paper crinkling under his pillow: the list, which he had placed there for safekeeping. He pulled it out and looked at the list of coded names, written in Miss Carter's confident hand, and then he smiled.

He spent the day at home, memorizing the list and planning for the day ahead. When his mother and sister arrived home that evening, he had his first chance to practice keeping his new secret when they asked what he had been doing all this while and he told them a half-truth. It felt strange to lie to his family, but he was doing this for them; he was trying to keep them safe. His deception worked, and neither lady noticed anything amiss when he said he'd visited the old house and spent time at home reading -- although they did teaze him for being such an unsocial creature.

Dr. Sousa returned the following day, and that evening the family journeyed to the Metcalfes' for the ball. Daniel dressed carefully; he knew that he would likely only see Miss Carter for a few moments, but still, if she was to spend any time at all looking at him, he wanted to look handsome: his best silk double-breasted waistcoat, a fine green tail coat that Kate had informed him went very well with his complexion, a carefully tied cravat. And trousers, always trousers; he blessed the changes in fashion since his childhood that allowed him to wear trousers as evening wear instead of breeches. Breeches made his false leg all the more apparent, as even when it was covered by stockings it was abundantly clear that it was not like his natural leg. Trousers allowed for discretion on that front.

He concealed his anxiety on the ride to the Metcalfes', though he felt it in spades: not only was he about to undertake a career in espionage, but he had unpleasant memories of the Metcalfe home to disquiet him. It was at one of his Aunt Metcalfe's balls that the Honorable Miss Cartwright had snubbed him, leaving him embarrassed and unwilling to attend social events for quite some time.

His aunt's greeting was enough to dispel some of that anxiety, however; she was enthusiastically welcoming, nearly to the point of being fulsome. Mrs. Metcalfe had been pleased to be reconciled with her sister all those years ago after Maria's unfortunate marriage, and now, with an accomplished and admired young lady for a daughter and a famous and wealthy Naval captain for a son, Mrs. Sousa was assured of a warm welcome to any event her sister gave -- even if she did bring her Portuguese husband with her. Daniel, seeing the pleasure that the greeting brought his mother, tried to focus on the warmth of it and not on the fact that it was warmer now than it would have been before Daniel gained fame and fortune on the Indomitable.

The ballroom was splendid and filled with the fashionable and wealthy. Kate's baronet quickly appeared and led her to the dance floor, and Mrs. Sousa smiled beatifically as she watched them go. Daniel tried to keep a surreptitious eye out for Miss Carter, but clearly he was not as subtle as he had intended to be because after a few moments she detached herself from the crowd and appeared before him, resplendent in red silk. She greeted him with a smile but when she spoke, her voice was low and serious. "Captain," said she in the moment before Dr. and Mrs. Sousa turned and noticed her there, "you're being a little obvious that you're looking for someone. Subtlety, recall."

He winced. "Apologies. I fear I have little experience with this kind of work."

Her smile turned more genuine then. "You will do fine," she assured him, and placed one hand on his arm.

His parents turned then and saw them, and Daniel could see from their expressions that the physical contact between himself and Miss Carter did not escape their notice. "Daniel, I do not believe we have met your friend," said his mother, badly hiding a smile, and Daniel supposed that if he was unsubtle, he had learned the art of it at home. "Pray do introduce us."

He hoped he managed the hide the grimace that wanted to cross his face then. "Mama, Pai, permit me to introduce Miss Margaret Carter. Miss Carter, my parents, Mrs. Maria and Dr. João Sousa."

Miss Carter curtsied very prettily, and his parents, to their credit, responded with exquisite correctness. "And from which part of the country do you hail, Miss Carter?" asked Dr. Sousa.

"I was born in Dorset," said she, "but I have spent little time there since; I move often with my uncle. I understand from your son that you hail from Portugal, doctor; that is a very beautiful country."

"You have been?" asked Dr. Sousa delightedly. "Which part?"

For a few minutes longer the lady and doctor conversed comfortably about Portugal while the son and his mother looked on, both relieved at how well the conversation went. Daniel noted with a smile that now that he knew Miss Carter's past, it was clear from her words that she had visited Portugal because of her military duties during the Peninsular War, as he once had as well. Her comments were sufficiently guarded, however, that his parents would no doubt assume she had been there for pleasure.

All good things must end, however, and ere long they were interrupted by a most unwelcome figure. "Lieutenant Thompson," said Daniel in polite greeting but with a sinking sensation in his heart.

"Captain," said the lieutenant in his co*cksure way. "And who are your companions?"

Inwardly sighing, Daniel presented his parents to the lieutenant, who seemed to barely listen at all to the introductions. The moment they finished, he turned his attentions to the other member of the group. "Margaret," said he, "may I beg from you the honor of the first two dances?"

For the briefest of moments she hesitated; Daniel was certain that he was the only member of their little assemblage who noticed. "Of course," said she, and took his offered arm. "Dr. Sousa, Mrs. Sousa, an absolute pleasure. Captain Sousa, always lovely to see you."

"That lieutenant was a bit rude," said Mrs. Sousa when the couple was out of earshot.

"Mama," Daniel admonished.

"Well, he was," she insisted. "Daniel, she is an absolute angel. Why do you not ask her for the next --" Her gaze flew down to his leg, and her cheeks colored. "I am sorry, my darling. I did not mean to . . ."

"I know, Mama," he said, and put an arm around her shoulders.

His mother was not contrite for long, however. "Then why do you not ask her for a drive in the park?"

He laughed at that. "Have you seen me drive?" he asked. "I would kill us both, likely as not."

His mother would not be deterred. "You should do something before that lieutenant snatches her up. It's time you settled down."

Daniel looked to his father for support, but he simply shrugged. "You know I do not argue with your mama." He grinned. "Especially when she's right."

"I see I am outnumbered in this conversation," said Daniel. "I shall go speak to my cousins." And with a nod at his parents, he moved in that direction. He was fond enough of his cousins, and he was keen to get away from his parents' teazing about Miss Carter, but his real reason was neither of these: he had four names to investigate.

To his surprise, he was immediately fortunate. After a few minutes of conversation with his cousins, he managed to work in the first name from his list, asking if either of them knew of a Benjamin Whitrow, giving them the excuse that he had heard the man was an enthusiastic hunter and wanted to ask him for some advice for an upcoming house party he was to attend. His cousin Fanny was a dedicated gossip, so perhaps it was no surprise that she knew of both the man and his life story.

"Oh yes, he has a small country estate in Hertfordshire, I hear. It has been in his family for many years, I believe. I am surprised to hear he still hunts, for he is quite old, but I suppose he can get his servants to carry his guns for him. He is not here, I am afraid; Mama invited him but he had a prior engagement. The next time he is around, I will be sure to introduce you. He is a very amiable man, and his wife is a dear thing as well."

Benjamin Whitrow sounded unlike a Russian anarchist. Daniel made a note of the Hertfordshire estate and the age -- he had an idea that the elderly were less likely to be dangerous anarchists -- and thanked Fanny for the information.

It took another three-quarters of an hour of mingling and small talk and and hint-dropping before he got another hit. "Susanna Harker?" asked Lady Bertram. "Why yes, I do know the young lady." She leaned in close, her voice dropping conspiratorially. "What is your interest, Captain Sousa?"

"Oh, no real interest," said Daniel, who had no intentions of starting such a rumor. "I simply heard her mentioned as a very amiable young lady."

"Why yes, she is, I think," said Lady Bertram. "She has never been to Town for the Season before, but she's quite lovely. I believe she is somewhere . . . ah, yes! Miss Harker!" And so saying, she motioned over a young lady with shining golden hair and a statuesque figure: a beautiful woman, by anyone's standards. She was accompanied by an older woman who looked very much like her. "Miss Harker, Captain Sousa here was just expressing a desire to meet you."

Captain Sousa thought indignantly that he had done so such thing, but certainly speaking to her would be a quick way to get the information he needed. So he put on a smile and bowed to her. She curtsied most prettily back, and a curly-haired young man who had been standing near her scowled -- some swain who thought Daniel was usurping, no doubt.

A few moments' conversation was enough to ascertain that they hailed from a very remote area of Rutland, where their family had lived for many generations, and that the entire family were staunch supporters of the Royal Family. Politeness dictated that he not end the conversation immediately, however, so he was forced to discuss the weather, the dancing, and the assembled guests, and he was quite glad when the conversation ended and they drifted away. He reflected on the strangeness of the idea that being a spy, such a secretive and lonely occupation in his imagination, actually required a great deal more social interaction than he would have chosen were he left to his own devices.

Moments after he had bid farewell to the young lady and her mother, Miss Carter appeared and planted herself in front of him, her expression determined. "Ask me for the supper dance," she commanded without preamble.

Daniel blinked in surprise. "Come again?"

"Ask me for the supper dance," she repeated. "I could lie and tell you that I ask so that we may discuss what we have learned, but in truth, Lieutenant Thompson is trying to ask me and it is the very last thing I would like to do."

"Asking you to dance twice in one evening? Lieutenant Thompson is very pointed in his attentions to you."

"Far too pointed," Miss Carter agreed. "So will you ask me instead? Please."

He was surprised to hear her say please, and flattered that she would turn to him in her moment of need; it signified that she preferred his company to the lieutenant's, at the very least. There was something that she had forgotten, however. "I would very much like to do that, Miss Carter," said he, trying to inject warmth and levity into his tone, "both to discuss our findings and to save you from Lieutenant Thompson. But I fear my dancing days are far behind me." He gestured with his cane at his false leg.

Miss Carter looked stricken. "Daniel, I am so sorry. I forgot, and I did not think . . ."

His pulse accelerated at that, to know that she had called him Daniel in a moment of distraction and distress. Was that a sign that she called him by his Christian name in her mind, in the same way that he sometimes dared allow himself to think of her as Peggy? -- This would not do; he was distracted, and she had apologized and deserved an answer. "I beg you not to reproach yourself for it. You have never treated me differently because of my leg, and I very much appreciate that."

The look she gave him then was thoughtful and appraising, tinged with warmth. She seemed about to speak when suddenly Lieutenant Thompson, forgotten by both parties for a moment, appeared. "There you are," he said to Miss Carter. "May I beg the honor of the next two with you?"

Miss Carter was silent a long moment, and then gave him a smile. "Of course, Lieutenant." She turned to Daniel and gave him a very proper curtsy to take her leave, allowing him alone to see the unwilling look that crossed her face.

Daniel saw it, and forced himself not to laugh. Even as he smiled, though, he cursed his injured leg; he could have been dancing and having supper with Miss Margaret Carter if not for two ships' worth of French cannon fire. Daniel had been fond enough of dancing before his injury. But tonight -- and every night, for the rest of his life -- he was forced to watch the dancing from the side. Tonight -- and perhaps every night, for the rest of his life -- he was forced to watch Miss Carter dance with another.

When supper was announced he went through with his mother instead. To keep his mind off the sight of Lieutenant Thompson a few seats down, talking endlessly and allowing his companion to say very little in return, he decided to continue his spy work. He worked the names of David Bamber and Lucy Scott very carefully into the conversation, and Aunt Metcalfe, who was as great a gossip as her daughter, had a great deal to say about them; everything she had to say convinced Daniel of their innocence. This meant that all tallied up, he had uncovered no real information about his four names.

"Nonsense," said Miss Carter when they convened briefly in the card room to discuss toward the end of the evening. "You've helped shorten our list, which is precisely what I asked you to do. And you did very well, to find all the names I gave you on your first try."

"Did your investigation turn up anything?"

"I crossed everyone off my list save one man; he will require further scrutiny. I will contact you with our next move soon." So saying, she gave him a firm nod and departed. Daniel watched her go with a smile on his face; his first day as a spy had been something of a success after all.

The next day, a letter arrived by the penny post, addressed to the whole family in a hand that Daniel recognized instantly. It was a note from Miss Carter expressing how delighted she was to meet Dr. and Mrs. Sousa, and hoping that they would all meet again soon. This resulted in no end of knowing looks and teazing nudges from Daniel's family to him, and he colored a little and wished that she was indeed writing out of a desire to know him better, rather than a desire to find a Russian anarchist.

For he saw, as soon as he looked at the letter, the message hidden inside: "GRANTHAM 17." Two days hence, on Friday, would be the 17th of March. He examined it a moment, then asked his mother, "When is our next evening engagement?"

"Friday," said his mother. "Lord and Lady Grantham are holding a ball for their daughter's coming out. It should be a major event; the Granthams are known for their lavish parties, and their last débutante ball, for their older daughter, was legendary."

"Good," he said without thinking, and his mother and sister once again gave him overly emotive smiles. He sighed.

The two days between then and the ball were not spent in vain; remembering that Miss Carter had asked him to attempt to get tickets to Almack's, he mentioned to his mother how nice it would be to attend, and to obtain a Stranger's Ticket in order to invite a friend along, and she promptly started the process of writing to Lady Bathurst on that very subject, so excited was she that Daniel seemed to be showing an interest in society events.

The day of the ball, he received a note from Miss Carter in a disguised hand, with five names she had gotten from the Hon. Mrs. D. Burrell, and he approached the ball prepared to discover all he could about them. His covert activities seemed much easier at this ball than the previous one. Perhaps he was learning subtlety, or perhaps he was just very lucky, but by the time the supper dance rolled around, he had cleared four of the five names from his list and none of his companions were any the wiser.

Going in to supper, he saw Miss Carter being led in by a handsome young man at whom she was smiling politely. Then, very near where he stood, a sight that made him smile: Miss Martinelli, being led in by Lieutenant Thompson and looking entirely displeased about it. Catching Daniel's eye, she gestured subtly for him to make his way over to them -- eager, no doubt, to have someone to talk to besides the lieutenant. Schooling his expression into a serious one, he obligingly made his way over to their table and sat casually next to Miss Martinelli, feigning absolute surprise at ending up by her side.

"How excellent to see you, Miss Martinelli. You are looking extremely well. And you as well, Lieutenant."

Lieutenant Thompson gave him a dutiful nod, and Daniel shared a secret smile with Miss Martinelli, who looked quite relieved to see him there. The supper turned out to be rather more pleasant than he expected. The lieutenant, of all people, gave him the information he needed on the last name on his list -- another dead end -- and the rest of the time, he and Miss Martinelli had an excellent time conversing with each other.

When the supper had ended and many of the couples had returned to the dance floor, Daniel was surprised and pleased to find himself approached by Miss Carter. "That was good of you to sit by Angie," said she. "She is not particularly fond of the lieutenant."

"She is a lovely girl,"' said Daniel. "I am very fond of her. And of course I would happily do any service for a friend of yours."

Perhaps that was too warm a response, for Miss Carter looked at him a bit curiously before responding. "How goes your investigation?"

"All five names seem clean," said Daniel, and detailed the information he had gleaned about each. She listened, nodded, and sighed. "I agree with your assessment. Stumbling across any useful information in this way may be as difficult a task as finding a needle in a bottle of hay. But until we have more news from Russia, there is little else that we can do."

Daniel was about to answer when suddenly there was an increase in the general noise level of the room, chiefly around the door. Someone of great interest had just entered -- and incredibly late, for it was after midnight -- but with the crowds present, Daniel could not see who it was. He and Miss Carter returned briefly to their conversation, discussing the people that she had investigated, when suddenly this new and exciting guest apparently caught sight of them, for a cry of "Miss Carter!" came from the center of the buzzing crowd.

The throngs parted so that they had a clear view of the speaker. It was a man of small stature, with dark hair and a mustache, dressed in the absolute height of fashion; the cut of his coat would have made Beau Brummel proud. He moved swiftly toward them and clasped Miss Carter's hands in his, his over-charming smile turning warm and genuine as he quietly said, "Good to see you, Peg."

It appeared that many people in Miss Carter's life were on a first-name basis with her.

Miss Carter gave the man a smile -- not her polite smile, or her warm smile, but the sort of smile one reserves perhaps for an unruly child of which one is nonetheless fond. "Howard."

"Introduce me to your friend," this Howard commanded, turning his attention to Daniel. "Excellent cravat, by the way." He peered more closely at it. "Is that the Mathematical knot? My man absolutely cannot figure that one out. Could your valet give him some advice?"

Daniel blinked, surprised, and could only think to say, "I do not have a valet."

"Howard," said Miss Carter before the man could respond, "this is Captain Daniel Sousa, of the Royal Navy. Captain, this is Sir Howard Stark."

Daniel was all astonishment. The Sir Howard Stark, baronet? Chief Engineer of the Royal Corps of Engineers? The mastermind behind a dazzling array of new innovations in weapons and defenses? The infamous man-about-town and Corinthian, known for his lavish parties, expensive tastes in clothes and horses, and the many whispered rumors of his romantic liaisons? Of course Miss Carter was a close personal friend of his. Was there anyone she did not know?

"A pleasure, Captain," said Sir Howard, seemingly sincerely. "I have heard all about your exploits on the Indomitable. Very impressive."

"And I have heard all about you," said Daniel. "I believe we used muskets that you designed in the very battle you have just mentioned."

Sir Howard gave him a pleased, confident smile. "Used them to blow those Frenchies back to where they came from, I hope. That's because my little trinkets are the best."

Daniel had always supposed that the man about whom stories of such opulence and carefree behavior were told must be quite self-assured, but Sir Howard was even more co*cksure than Daniel had imagined. Still, there was something about the man that Daniel could not help liking -- perhaps his genuine affection for Miss Carter, or perhaps the way his confidence seemed to envelop those around him, as though it would sweep the whole lot of them up into the man's next wild adventure.

"Now," said Sir Howard, "a very important question." He stepped in close, as though about to tell a secret, although he made no attempt to lower the tone of his voice. "What are your intentions with my friend Peggy?"

"Howard," scolded Miss Carter. "Really, you are too forward."

Sir Howard looked up as though to answer, but before he could, their group was approached by a young lady. "Oh, dear, I'm sorry to interrupt," said she. "I just wanted to say hello to Captain Sousa."

It took Daniel a moment to remember her name, so brief had been their initial meeting. "Miss Underwood!" he said finally, hoping she had not noticed his hesitation. "How nice to see you again. How does your aunt? Is her ankle healed?"

"Yes, entirely," said Miss Underwood. "You are so kind to remember her." She trailed off and glanced around uncertainly at the other two members of their group.

"How rude of me," said Daniel quickly. "Allow me to introduce you. Miss Underwood, this is Miss Margaret Carter and Sir Howard Stark. Miss Carter, Sir Howard, permit me to name Miss Dorothea Underwood."

The introduced persons all greeted each other politely, although Daniel saw Miss Underwood's eyes linger on Sir Howard far longer than on Miss Carter. Sir Howard, Daniel could see, noticed the attention, and basked in it. But when Miss Underwood spoke, it was to Miss Carter. "What a pleasure to meet you," said the young lady eagerly. "Your dress is absolutely beautiful; I saw it earlier when you were dancing and I thought that it was absolutely beautiful."

"Thank you very much," said Miss Carter kindly, and Daniel thought to himself that there couldn't be more of a difference between this untried country ingenue and this self-possessed and intelligent woman. And he knew perfectly well which type of woman he admired more.

Sir Howard, however, seemed a bit taken by Miss Underwood; Daniel supposed the young lady was very pretty, in her way. "Miss Underwood," said Sir Howard, "Miss Carter is not the only lady here looking lovely tonight."

He raised his eyebrows and leaned in so that his meaning could not be missed, and Miss Underwood colored and gave a very coquettish giggle. "You are very charming, Sir Howard," said she. "But I suppose you are charming to all the young ladies."

"Only the young ladies that I think are charming as well," he said smoothly, and Daniel thought that even staying in Miss Carter's presence might not be worth overhearing this insipid conversation. At least he had the comfort of catching Miss Carter's eye and seeing from her expression that she was as uninterested in it as he was. It made him smile, and she smiled in response.

Fortunately, at that moment the dance ended and new couples began making up the next set, and Sir Howard held out his hand very gallantly to Miss Underwood. "May I have the exquisite honor of your hand for the next two?" he asked.

MIss Underwood giggled again. "You may, sir," she said, and took his arm so he could lead her out onto the floor. The set was already filling with couples, but when Lady Grantham saw that the famous Sir Howard Stark wanted to take the floor, she went out of her way to make room for him.

Miss Carter and Daniel stood and watched him go. "Oh, Howard," she said, her tone a mix of fondness and exasperation.

Daniel couldn't help smiling. "Do you know everyone in the Army?" he asked. "I am astounded by the breadth of your acquaintance."

Miss Carter smile at that as well. "Howard -- Sir Howard, I mean to say -- was part of my uncle's operation in France. He has many qualities I do not approve of, but I must admit that he is unflinchingly brave. He could have stayed safely away from enemy lines, but he demanded to be on the front lines so that he could ensure the correct functioning of his inventions and make adjustments, if necessary. We could not have won the war without him."

Daniel nodded. "Have you known him long?"

"Yes, quite some time," said she, her smile growing. "We had some great sport on the Continent, he and I and . . ." She trailed off, her expression suddenly troubled, and Daniel thought he knew why.

He did not want to press, however, so he simply said gently, "A great many good men were lost in the war."

"They were indeed," she said, but then she smiled. "I am trying, however, to remember that a great many more survived."

They stood together quietly a few moments, watching the dancing begin, and then, feeling it perhaps wise to change the subject, Daniel noted, "Sir Howard is . . . exactly how I expected him to be. Except perhaps more kind."

Miss Carter smiled. "He has a very good heart, buried down somewhere very deep."

"Is he . . ." Daniel hesitated, but there were none around to hear. "Is he involved in your uncle's current work?"

"He is aware of it, and he provides us with information and equipment when he can. But he does not undertake it himself. He is very busy with his work for the Army -- and with his personal life. He was recently made a baronet, you may have heard, and given an estate in Kent, which he promptly renamed Stark Hall. And when he is not there, throwing house parties and riding fast horses, he is in Town, looking fashionable and breaking hearts." She hesitated. "I hope your friend does not become one of his conquests."

"I do not know if she is likely to fall for his charms or not," said Daniel. "I have only met her once before this. She did seem rather taken with him, though."

"Well," said she, "they all learn eventually."

They fell quiet again, and then Miss Carter spoke. "Feel free to ignore this question, Captain, for it is rather forward. But do you ever miss dancing?"

It was indeed a forward question, but he did not mind. The endeavor that they had undertaken together had forged something of a bond between them, and despite only knowing her for a matter of weeks, he felt he knew her quite well. He thought a moment before answering. "The act of dancing itself is not of particular interest," said he. "I do not mind that it is no longer available to me. But the things that a dance can mean -- as a way to spend time with an amiable young lady -- that is a more difficult thing to lose. And even when I do not care to dance, knowing that all the other young people are doing it but I cannot . . . I mind a little, I suppose. But not so much that it genuinely upsets me."

She nodded thoughtfully and was silent a few moments. "I do not like to dance," she admitted after a time, as Sir Howard and Miss Underwood came past where they stood, too caught up in each other and the dance to notice them. "I have never told you this, Captain, but some years ago I . . . had formed an attachment to a certain young man. He died at Waterloo."

She looked at Daniel as though gauging his reaction; he gave her a sheepish smile. "I know," said he, his tone apologetic. "Major Dugan told me."

She gave a laugh that was also a sigh. "Of course he did." She was quiet a moment. "I suppose you know, then, that it was a soldier by the name of Captain Steven Rogers."

"I have heard he was the best of soldiers and the best of men," said Daniel, hoping that was some consolation and not merely a reminder of what she had lost.

"He was," she said, with a small sigh. "We used to say, out there in the camp, that when we returned to London we would attend a ball so we could dance together, properly. In the end we never got that chance." She hesitated. "I have not been fond of dancing since."

This seemed a very personal conversation topic, and Daniel little knew how to respond. So he said simply, "I am sorry."

She nodded, and they stood together in a silence that, to Daniel's mind, was fraught with sorrow and memory from their discussion of Captain Rogers. He was wondering what he could say to ease her from this spell of despondency, when an unexpected voice came from behind them. "Miss Carter," said Lieutenant Thompson, "may I have the honor of dancing the next two with you?"

That shook them both from their reverie faster than anything Daniel could have devised. As Miss Carter turned to face the lieutenant, Daniel had a moment of self-pity. He was rather more fond of Miss Carter than he would ever admit aloud. But how could he ever do anything about it? When she was not mourning her lost love, the great hero of the war, England's favorite son Captain Steven Rogers, she was being hounded by other men. There was a queue for those who wanted to find themselves first in her heart, it seemed, and Daniel felt like he was at the very back of it.

As the lieutenant led her away, however, she shot Daniel a look that had him laughing aloud. That look, and the fact that she chose Daniel to receive it, lifted his heart, just a little. Her heart might still be on the battlefields of France, but she liked Daniel. She considered Daniel a friend. That was better than nothing.

. . . . . .


Trousers vs. breeches: Breeches buttoned at the knee and were worn with stockings; they were a little old-fashioned at this point and were considered evening wear, kind of like how tuxedos are throwbacks to an earlier time of fashion and don't entirely resemble what people wear in normal life. Trousers are long and were for a long time considered a more casual look, suitable for day use. By 1817, however, fashions were changing and trousers were beginning to be accepted as formal wear. (I've seen several sources that argue that trousers weren't formal until rather later, but I'm sitting here looking at an 1815 drawing of a ball at Almack's and they're all in trousers, and that's good enough for me.)

Supper dance: At a ball like this one, supper would have been served late in the evening—often around midnight, which seems terribly late until you realize that the ball would often go on for hours after the supper. They seriously knew how to party back then. The dance immediately before supper was served was referred to as the supper dance, and gentlemen would escort whichever lady they danced with into supper, so suitors would maneuver so that they could be the one to escort the young lady of their dreams to the supper table. Another interesting note: married couples were expected not to go to supper together (and at dinner parties, were seated apart from each other); it was supposed that they saw enough of each other at home and ought to mingle at social events. Hence Daniel taking his mother to supper, instead of Dr. Sousa.

Needle in a bottle of hay: I saw this older variant of "needle in a haystack" somewhere and I thought it was charming. "Bottle" in this sense comes from an old French word meaning "bundle." By 1817 this was starting to be replaced by "haystack," so I figured I'd better have Peggy and Daniel say it while they still can.

Christian name: Another spot where I have taken some artistic liberties. Proper forms of address were serious business back then; people were generally Miss/Mrs./Mr./my lord rather than their given name. Young ladies who were close friends might ignore this rule, as in how Emma calls her friend Harriet, and young boys at school occasionally might do the same, but men who were close friends still tended to use last names and titles. And there is evidence from personal correspondence of the period that even married couples often followed this rule; note that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet never called each other anything but that in P&P. And for an unmarried couple, it would be highly questionable. But I liked the idea that Daniel and Peggy think of each other by their given names sometimes, and slip up and say them out loud sometimes, because I love watching, in Season 1, the differences between the times they call each other Agent, or by their last names, or by their first names. And also, Peggy has no time for silly social conventions.

Chapter 8


This was the easiest chapter to write so far, because I'm much better at fluff than plot. Or at least it's as much fluff as can be expected from these two at this point in their relationship and in 1817. :)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

Through a strange twist of happenstance, Daniel and Miss Carter found themselves not invited to any of the same events for a fortnight following the Grantham's ball. Miss Carter told him he would be on his own for those two weeks, and promised to get him new names after her morning call to Countess Cowper. The evening after the planned morning call, he received a letter from her, containing eight names written in cypher. This was followed four days later by another list of names, this one obtained from the Marchioness of Stafford. That meant that the records of five of the ten current patronesses had now been obtained; they were making good progress.

Daniel dutifully undertook the responsibilities of his temporary position, conversing politely with strangers at card parties and routs and musicales and balls, but it was not the same without Miss Carter there. He missed the thrill of catching her eye across a crowded ballroom; he missed knowing that they were working side by side toward a shared goal. But duty was reason enough to carry on, so he did. And although he did not enjoy it, he could see his own social acumen improving as the days went by; it was no longer difficult to begin a conversation with a total stranger. Even if they never found the anarchist, his tenure as a spy would not have been all for naught.

Finally, in early April, he heard from Miss Carter: a note thanking him for flowers he'd never sent her, with a message hidden: -- ASKMEFORDRIVE4. The 4th of April was the following day, and he fought a smile as he asked his parents if he might have use of a carriage tomorrow.

"Of course," said his father. "But what do you need it for?"

He supposed he ought to be honest. "I should like to take Miss Carter for a drive in the park."

Perhaps he should have realized it would be unwise to say such a thing to his mother; she looked as though he'd just told her he was to be crowned king. "Miss Carter? Oh Daniel, I'm so glad! Of course you may use a carriage. And do see if you can't come back engaged."

Daniel sighed but couldn't help laughing a little, which only encouraged his mother's smile.

"Oh!" said she. "I forget to tell you. As you asked, I have enquired about tickets to Almack's, and we have tickets to the ball to be held 11 days hence. Plus one Stranger's Ticket, as you requested, but Lady Bathurst would like to know who shall be attending on it. Did you have someone in particular in mind we ought to invite with us?"

He hesitated. "Would it be inappropriate for me to invite Miss Carter? She has never attended a ball at Almack's, and has expressed an interest."

He didn't think it was possible, but his mother's smile grew. "It shall not be inappropriate if I am the one to invite her; it shall be seen as my taking under my protection a young lady who has neither mother nor chaperon to look after her. And Lady Bathurst will be vastly pleased; she thinks Miss Carter a very elegant and amiable young woman."

The next day, Daniel dressed carefully, smiling as he tied his cravat, remembering Sir Howard's compliment on his Mathematical knot. The hour of the drive, as well as the outdoors nature of it, meant he could wear his buckskin trousers, for which he was quite grateful; they were far more comfortable than any other trousers he owned, and the thick material hid his false leg well. And they flattered him, if he did say so himself; as he was meant to be portraying a young swain courting a young lady, he supposed he ought to look the part, and being turned out handsomely certainly helped the illusion.

It was a little embarrassing, though, to set off in his chosen carriage. The Sousa family owned precisely two conveyances: the stately coach they used for social events and to get to church, and a very simple gig his father sometimes used for his work. There was never a need for any others, for no one in the family enjoyed taking drives for pleasure and recreation. The coach was a respectable choice for such an outing as this one, but it required a driver and Joseph, their usual driver, was unwell; and anyway, if he and Miss Carter were to discuss state secrets, he supposed it would be preferable to have no one around. But the gig was rather unfashionable; the young Corinthians of the town would be driving ladies through the park in their curricles and their phaetons with their fastest ponies. Taking Miss Carter in this gig was like showing up for a ball in a homespun coat. But there was nothing for it, so he swallowed his pride and carefully made his way to the Phillips home. At least, he reflected as he drove, the gig was less prone to tipping than phaetons and curricles; he was less likely to throw himself and Miss Carter into a ditch.

He had never seen the Phillips home before, though he had been given an address by Miss Carter some time previous. It turned out to be an extremely handsome set of rooms on Cavendish Square Gardens; Daniel supposed this was all part of keeping up appearances as perfectly normal and respectable members of the ton. He found himself acutely nervous as he ascended the front steps and rang the bell, and more so when Miss Carter appeared, resplendent in a sprigged muslin walking dress with maroon spencer and matching bonnet. She was an absolute vision, and he was as embarrassed as he'd ever been to know that she was seeing the awkward maneuver required for him to climb unassisted into a carriage. She said nothing, though, and gave no indication of having seen anything amiss, and he was once again thankful for her easy acceptance of his limitation.

"So where to, Miss Carter?" said he as the gig began down the street. "I am sure you have some plan."

"Indeed I do," she smiled. "Hyde Park, if you please. Mr. Randall Jones, an outspoken opponent of the current government, has recently been courting a young Russianémigré. I thought that worth looking into. And I know he is taking her driving today at Hyde Park. Now, talk of something innocuous until we arrive. We must keep up the appearance of this being a social visit."

Daniel blinked in surprise, then fell back on his usual topic of small talk: family. "How does your uncle?" he asked.

"Very well, I thank you," said she. "How does your family? Does that young baronet still court your sister?"

"Sir Thomas?" asked Daniel with a smile. "He does. We are all immensely fond of him, and would be only too pleased to have him make Kate an offer, but he is cautious; it is rumored that his mother is very fastidious and concerned with the opinions of society, and she is not entirely pleased at the thought of her son marrying a mere doctor's daughter. But Kate is becoming acquainted with her, and she hopes that the old woman is relenting a little. I hope the difficulties may be dealt with; it would be a very good match, for Kate and Thomas do seem so attached to each other."

"Then let us hope it works out in her favor," said Miss Carter. "She is a sweet girl, and I am very fond of her." They conversed politely in this vein until they had reached Hyde Park, and, to their immense surprise, immediately stumbled upon Mr. Randall Jones and his young Russian friend.

"Wait, Daniel," said Miss Carter, catching at her companion's arm, "that is the carriage we are looking for." And she nodded discretely down the path to where a sandy-haired young man and a bashful young lady were taking one of the paths at a leisurely pace in a handsome curricle. "That is fortunate, is it not?"

Daniel, for his part, was rather distracted by her hand on his arm and by the fact that she had, not for the first time, called him by his Christian name when she forgot herself. Reflecting on how fortunate it was that they had found their targets on the first try was not foremost on his mind. "It is," he agreed, while inwardly scolding himself for letting himself be distracted on the job.

"Pull up there," said she, "and intercept them."

This Daniel managed to do, through some miracle, and soon they were alongside Mr. Jones' carriage as though they had run into them entirely by accident. "Oh, you are Mr. Jones, correct?" Miss Carter said warmly. "We met at the Thorpes' card party, did we not?"

Mr. Jones, it was clear, did not remember this meeting at all; Daniel wondered whether he'd forgotten about it or Miss Carter had simply made it up. "Ah, yes. You'll have to remind me of your name, I'm afraid; absolutely dreadful with names."

"Miss Margaret Carter," she responded politely. "And permit me to name Captain Daniel Sousa, of the Royal Navy."

Mr. Jones recognized Daniel's name; it was clear from a subtle shift in his expression. He said nothing, however, and Daniel wondered if his dislike of the government resulted in a similar dislike of the military. "A pleasure, sir," he said, politely enough. "And allow me to introduce the both of you to Miss Sofia Kabalevsky, recently of Russia."

The young lady blushed and smiled shyly in response to their introductions.

"Have you been long in this country, Miss Kabalevsky?" asked Daniel politely.

"Nearly a year," said Miss Kabalevsky, with very little discernible accent. "It has been lovely. I do miss home but England is a very wonderful place to live."

"Do you know, Mr. Jones," said Miss Carter, taking control of the situation, "after we met, my uncle realized he'd read a piece you wrote for the Times in November. He found a copy and I read it. It was very interesting --"

To Daniel's surprise, the young man in question looked suddenly very embarrassed. "My piece about the prime minister, you mean? I am sorry you read that, Miss Carter; I am heartily embarrassed to have written it in the first place, along with my other writings against the government. I was very angry about the Corn Laws; indeed, I still disagree most fervently with them, for they prohibit free trade. But I can no longer be entirely angry with the government, for . . . " He turned his gaze on his companion, and she blushed most prettily. "Sofia and I are engaged," he explained. "And Liverpool, who is a friend of my father's, used his political position to help push through naturalization for her. I will continue to fight for the repeal of the Corn Laws, but I can no longer be as unhappy with our government as I was. Besides, to write personal attacks on Liverpool for the laws is unfair, for he is only one piece in the machine of government. To affect change, one must change the minds of the people, not spew venom on individuals."

Miss Carter and Daniel exchanged glances, and in that look Daniel could see that her thoughts matched his: this was not a man who would violently attack the government. So they conversed politely with Mr. Jones and Miss Kabalevsky for a few moments longer, and then bid them farewell and watched the couple continue down the path. "Well, that was an absolute waste," Miss Carter sighed.

"At least now we know," said Daniel in a conciliatory tone. "Although it is too bad that we drove all the way here for nothing."

Miss Carter looked at him a moment, and then she smiled. "I did not suggest this outing merely for Mr. Jones," she admitted. "I had been longing for a drive. Let us take advantage of the moment to discuss our work, away from listening ears, and let us drive and enjoy the weather; it is a lovely day, is it not, Captain?" So saying, she wound her arm through his, looking for all the world like she was on the arm of her suitor, and nodded down the path. "So drive on, Captain."

He laughed. "I will obey you, Miss Carter." So saying, he snapped the reins over the horse, and the gig rumbled into motion. "Have you had any success since I saw you last?"

She sighed. "I am afraid not. I always knew that it was not entirely likely that we would discover anything in this way, but I had supposed that something would have happened. You?"

"Nothing to report," said he. "We must hold out hope that your uncle's contact in Russia will be able to discover more information for us."

"Indeed. What is your next outing to be?"

They discussed future events for a time, interrupted when Daniel suddenly remembered something. "I have news," said he. "About Almack's. We have obtained tickets for the ball in a week and a half, including a Stranger's Ticket. On my suggestion, Mama is going to invite you; she should contact you soon."

"Perfect! Daniel, you are a marvel. There I shall be able to obtain copies of all the patronesses' records at once."

There, she'd done it again. Between the use of his name, and her arm curled warmly in his, he could not help himself; he ducked his head shyly. To cover, he said, "Mama will be quite glad to have someone else to shepherd around the ballroom. She does so love being social, and I'm afraid that Pai and I are both hopeless on that front."

Miss Carter tilted her head inquisitively. "Pai? That is Portuguese, is it not?"

He nodded. "Pai has very much adapted to life in England. He rarely spoke his native language at home; although I have visited my grandparents several times, and fought with my father's countrymen in the Peninsular War, I speak far better French than I do Portuguese. But one thing he insisted on: he had always imagined his children calling him 'Pai.' And so Kate and I do."

She listened with an attentive smile. "Your Pai is an excellent man, from what I have seen and heard of him," said she when he had finished. She looked thoughtful a moment. "Do you know, I am trusting you with matters of national security, but I actually know very little about you. Tell me about your childhood."

He hesitated, but her smile was encouraging and her manner sincere. And so he did. He told her of growing up on Gracechurch Street, of helping his father in the sickroom, of happy afternoons spent watching the boats on the Thames. It was more than he had told anyone from the ton about his past, but somehow he did not feel anxious; he knew she would understand, and not think the less of him. She, in turn, told him of growing up at a series of Army encampments and training camps. She told him of life with her uncle, and being all but adopted by Major Dugan and his group of friends and fellow officers, many of whom now worked for Colonel Phillips at the Alien Office.

All the while, conversation flowed more easily between them than he had ever experienced with anyone outside his family and a select few friends from the Navy. Certainly he had never met a young lady with whom he found it so easy to converse. As the gig proceeded at a stately pace through the park, its occupants speaking comfortably of subjects Daniel was accustomed to being made to feel ashamed about, her arm tucked warmly in his, he could not help reflecting that if this were truly the social outing they were pretending it was, it would be a rousing success. If he had asked her for this drive simply because he wanted to spend more time getting to know a very amiable young lady, he would now be thinking that it had been an excellent idea, and that she was indeed a woman to be admired. He would be planning when he might ask her for another outing, and wondering if he dared be so forward as to hold her hand. And Daniel found himself wondering how things might have turned out differently had he met Miss Carter when she wasn't so thoroughly focused on discovering a certain Russian anarchist. But then, perhaps without their spy work to bring them together, he would not have had the courage to speak to her; perhaps they would not be as close as they currently found themselves.

In time, their conversation was interrupted by a young couple rushing by in a phaeton at a breakneck speed. Miss Carter watched them go with laughter in her eyes. "Why do we not give them a run for their money, Captain?" asked she.

He chuckled, hesitated, and decided to respond honestly. "I have two excellent reasons: I fear this gig was not built for speed, and even if it were, I fear I haven't the skill to match that driver. I am more accustomed to being on sea than on land these days, and I have very little experience with horses. I am entirely likely to tip us or drive us into a ditch."

At this Miss Carter laughed, but then leaned back, removing her arm from his, and gave him a long, considering look. "It is not many men who would admit to such a thing in front of a lady," she observed. "Lieutenant Thompson, for instance, would die first."

He shrugged. "Better that I tell you now, rather than when we've already fallen into said ditch."

This elicited a smile from her. "Do you know, I rather like you, Captain."

He smiled shyly in return. "Likewise, Miss Carter." They rode in comfortable silence for a few moments, and then he could not help giving voice to a question that had plagued him for some time. "Why do you tolerate Thompson as much as you do? You seem no more fond of him than I am, but you never discourage his attentions."

She sighed. "I am trying to avoid attention, as you recall. Part of being a spy. And I fear that getting a reputation as someone who attends balls but refuses to dance for no apparent reason would draw attention." She smiled. "But you are right, he is not my favorite person. He means well, but . . . his views are hopelessly and unretractably old-fashioned when it comes to men and women and marriage. He's the sort who's kept Europe back for a thousand years."

Daniel smiled, and Miss Carter noticed. "That amuses you?"

"Not at all. I was just thinking . . ." It seemed a forward thing to say, but she was looking at him rather expectantly, so he admitted, "I was thinking about how, when I first met him, I thought the two of you were . . . attached."

"Lieutenant Thompson and I? Why?"

Embarrassed to have even brought it up, he explained, "He called you by your Christian name, and you did not correct him. I quickly realized my mistake," he hastened to add. "I know now you do not even prefer to go by Margaret."

She gave him a surprised smile. "How do you know that?"

He shrugged. "The people you genuinely like call you Peggy."

"Observant as always," she laughed. "And does anyone but your family call you Daniel?"

He shook his head. "My friends and fellow sailors call me Sousa." He hesitated. "Although . . ."


"Although you have called me Daniel several times today."

"Have I?" she laughed. She appeared to think for a moment. "I must admit," said she, looking a little embarrassed, "you are always Daniel when I think of you."

He was surprised and pleased. "Truly?"

She nodded her confirmation. "Though I would of course be loathe to undermine your authority, 'Daniel' suits you better than 'Captain.' Your disposition is such that it feels strange to call you by such a formal title."

It was, in a way, strangely complimentary. So Daniel smiled. "Then I give you leave to call me Daniel whenever you like." He stopped and considered. "I suppose I should amend that to, whenever we are alone. It would draw too much attention if you were to do it when we are in public."

She smiled. "Thank you . . . Daniel. And I give you leave to call me Peggy, when we are alone."

He could not help smiling at that. "Oh?"

"As you said, only people I genuinely like call me Peggy."

Daniel felt a warmth spreading through him. He had long supposed that Miss Carter -- that Peggy -- liked him, but it meant something quite different to hear her confirm it, twice in one conversation. He did not know how to respond, not wanting to say too much and alarm her with the warmth of his feelings. So instead he smiled and handed her the reins.

"What is this?" asked she.

"You are right," said he. "I imagine the horse is a bit bored. And I imagine you can run him far better than I could. And here we are at a nice open stretch of path. I think you ought to take the lead for a while, do not you agree? Peggy?"

She looked at him, and then she smiled, that warm, lovely smile that had first captivated him at their first meeting. "I do agree, Daniel." And with an expert crack of the reins, she set the horse off at a run. The gig lurched forward, and Daniel and Peggy were thrown backward by the sudden force. She could not grab anything to steady herself, because her hands were both taken up by the reins, so without thinking, he reached out and set one hand on the small of her back. She said nothing, just glanced at him and smiled, so he left it there as they sped through the park, Peggy expertly taking the gig around corners and past other carriages full of surprised occupants. He felt perfectly safe in her hands. The gig was indeed not built for speed, but she coaxed from it every bit that could be coaxed, and they flew like Apollo's chariot.

Their flight lasted less than a minute, but Daniel would have sworn that it, like all perfect moments, lasted both far too short and also forever.

Far too soon, they reached a corner too sharp to be taken at their current speed, and Peggy slowed the horse to a walk. "I believe the fashionable hour is ending," said she, and indeed the park was emptying.

"I suppose we should go," said he, reluctantly removing his hand from her back. Peggy tried to offer him the reins, but he only smiled. "Drive us home, if you like. You'll do a better job than I would."

She smiled at him. "Thank you, Daniel. It has been a very long time since I have had the opportunity to drive. I did not realize how much I had missed it."

"It is my pleasure," he said sincerely.

Perhaps it was his imagination, but she seemed to move closer to him on the seat as she began their journey back to Cavendish Square Gardens. Either way, he was left thinking that it had been the most pleasant afternoon he could recall spending in years.

. . . . . .


Carriages: Coach: a large, enclosed, four-wheeled carriage, very fancy; basically the town car of Regency England. Gig: an open, two-wheeled cart drawn by a single horse; unfashionable but affordable. Curricles and phaetons: open, light, sporty carriages (two- and four-wheeled, respectively); popular with the young folk for fast driving but very liable to tip.

Drive in the park: A common outing, and a respectable way for young lovers to spend some time together away from their chaperones; people would traverse parks by carriage, horseback or foot in order to see and be seen. A number of parks were used for this purpose, but Hyde Park was quite popular. The "fashionable hour" for such a drive was late afternoon to early evening—generally around 5 to around 7:30.

Corn Laws: Laws passed in 1815 that restricted and taxed imported grain. They were designed to encourage the consumption of locally grown grain and, not surprisingly, were backed by wealthy land owners who would benefit from their grain being in demand. They led to high food prices and were opposed partly by workers who just wanted to be able to feed their families but also partly by industrialists who wanted to keep the price of living low so they could get away with paying their workers less. They were repealed in 1846.

Liverpool: Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, was prime minister from 1812 to 1827. He was ostensibly against the Corn Laws and for free trade, but gave in to political pressure and passed them anyway.

"He's the sort who's kept Europe back for a thousand years": A line borrowed from A Room With A View by EM Forster, a book about which I have mixed feelings (seriously, can someone explain to me what's going on with her family at the end?) but which has a number of really wonderful passages. It's the sort of thing you might like if you're into Jane Austen but also maybe you wish that Austen had been a little more politely snarky but also a lot more heavy-handed with her social commentary?

Chapter 9


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

Though he did not see Peggy again until the ball at Almack's, Daniel spent the next week and a half in a heady state of joy. Though their drive in Hyde Park had been part of a cover for their spy work, it had also been a pleasant social outing, and perhaps even more than that. And for the first time in many weeks, he began to hope.

An official invitation for the ball was issued by Mrs. Sousa, and answered very promptly and graciously by Peggy. Mrs. Sousa communicated this to Daniel with a smile, and he expressed his pleasure at the news. This made Mrs. Sousa smile all the more, and recommend that he select his clothing for the evening with care.

This he intended to do, but the thought of dressing for the evening filled him with trepidation. Almack's was a place of venerable tradition, and very much resistant to the winds of change. As such, one of their dearly held rules was a prohibition on the new men's fashion of wearing trousers as formal wear. All men, with very few exceptions, were expected to wear breeches. And there was little that Daniel wanted to do less than wear breeches. There was nothing for it, though, so on the day of the ball, Daniel put on his best breeches -- very little worn since his injury -- along with his stockings and shoes, and stood with great dissatisfaction before his looking glass. There was no denying it: even when it was covered by stockings, there was no chance someone would mistake his false leg for anything but what it was.

He oughtn't be so vain, he knew; he was lucky to have escaped that battle with his life, unlike poor Captain Dooley. And many other men of the military had come home with missing limbs; the field at Waterloo, he had no doubt, was littered with body parts of brave soldiers. But he could not persuade himself to stop regarding his reflection with shame. It was the first time he would see Peggy since that glorious day at Hyde Park, when she'd told him she liked him and gave him leave to use her Christian name, and he wished very much that she could see him at his best, with his false leg hidden under trousers instead of looking entirely obvious under stockings.

But he could not defy the wishes of the patronesses, so with a sigh, he returned to his wardrobe to finish dressing. At least Kate and Mama, when he went downstairs, complimented him on looking especially handsome that evening. That was some consolation.

As the Sousa family carriage rumbled toward Cavendish Square Gardens, Daniel found himself anxious with anticipation. How ought he to greet Peggy? She was his mother's guest, but had only been invited on his suggestion, and in addition they had that outing at Hyde Park in their recent past . . . It was difficult; since he had started this spy game, he sometimes felt that he was an actor in the theatre, only he was playing many different roles for many different audiences, all at once.

For instance, that night he would have four different roles: --

For the ton, he would play the role of war hero and eligible bachelor, whose mother had decided of her own accord to invite Miss Margaret Carter to the ball.

For his family, he was playing the role of their modest and diffident son and brother, who cared more for Miss Carter than he admitted to and had accordingly asked his mother to invite her to the ball.

For Peggy, he played the role of fellow spy and soldier, who had gotten her an invitation to the ball for the sake of duty.

And for himself . . . he hardly knew anymore. He was a sailor who had never desired to be famous or rich or eligible. He still wondered occasionally whether Peggy had made a foolish choice when she supposed he would make a good spy, for he had little experience in the field. And he had obtained the Stranger's Ticket for the ball simply because Peggy had asked, and there was little he could deny her. He cared about his duty, of course; he cared about the safety of the English people and Crown. But his reasons for following Peggy so willingly into the fray were not merely professional.

At least Peggy would also be playing a part for his family. That would make the approaching carriage ride together much easier to navigate.

When Peggy joined the family in the carriage, Daniel caught his breath a moment at her beauty. She was wearing a white gown, which was quite unusual; her evening wear was usually quite bold in color. He supposed she was trying to blend in, given that the night's festivities would include breaking into a private office. But the color suited her; she looked absolutely angelic. He told her none of this, of course; he simply remarked that she looked very well tonight, and she gave him a cordial smile.

He wished very much that their first conversation after Hyde Park could have been in a more private setting, so that he might talk openly with her and gauge how she appeared to be feeling after that outing had turned so social and even sometimes nearly tender. That was not his lot, however; instead their first conversation had to be in a slightly crowded carriage with his whole family listening in.

Clearly she felt their lack of privacy as well, for when he asked after her uncle's health, she responded with a simple but polite "He does very well, thank you," before engaging Mrs. Sousa in discussion. He knew there was little more she could reasonably say to him, given the circ*mstances, and that it was entirely proper for her to begin by making conversation with the woman who had become her sponsor for the evening, after a fashion, but he could not help feeling disappointed that their conversation had been so brief and impersonal.

Almack's was a large building on King Street; the exterior was of a simple style, although the row of great arched windows on the second floor gave a hint as to the beauty that lay within. Daniel and his father exited the carriage first so that they might help the ladies out, and as Peggy took Daniel's offered hand to alight from the coach, she gave him a quick, secret smile that lifted his spirits. She might hold herself at a polite distance when his family was about, but this did not mean she had forgotten their friendship.

The interior was a marked contrast to the exterior, with chandeliers and paintings and elegant draperies adorning the walls and ceiling. The ballroom was filled with the cream of London Society, all there to see and be seen -- and, for the hopeful young ladies and their mamas, to find a suitable match. There was a reason, after all, that Almack's was referred to as the marriage mart. Daniel had not been to Almack's since late January, and he was reminded how little he liked it. He did not like balls under any circ*mstances, but even a private ball at someone's home was preferable to this. At least at someone's home, there was, at most, one overbearing, exacting host one had to work to please. At Almack's, there were ten.

Once inside, Mrs. Sousa immediately fell into conversation with her good friend Lady Russell, and Kate and Dr. Sousa obediently joined her. Peggy, however, touched Daniel's arm. "I find myself in need of some light refreshment, Captain," said she politely, loud enough for the Sousas to hear. "Could you accompany me to the refreshment table?"

"Of course, Miss Carter," said he gallantly, and, under Mrs. Sousa's approving eye, offered the young lady his arm.

As soon as they were out of earshot of the family, Daniel smiled at his companion. "Do you truly need refreshment, or were you simply looking for a means to talk privately about our plan of attack for the evening?"

"The second," she admitted. "But since your family now expects it, to the refreshment tables we must go."

Arm in arm they crossed the room, Peggy explaining quietly that the office where she could find all the remaining patronesses' records of voucher holders was near to the ballroom, and that they would need to find their way there and copy down the names at some point in the evening. "But not until later, when the ball has been going on for long enough that no one is paying us any attention. Until then, we mingle and keep a weather eye out for suspicious activity. The odds of the anarchist doing something to betray his identity here on the very night that we happen to be here are impossibly small, but still, it would be wise to be prepared."

They arrived at the refreshment table then and helped themselves to lemonade and unfrosted pound cake; Almack's was famous for its simple fare and lack of alcoholic beverages. They returned to the Sousas to find that Kate had disappeared onto the dance floor, and nearly the moment that Peggy removed her arm from Daniel’s, the same fate befell her; a handsome young man appeared and asked her for the next two dances. Peggy looked to Mrs. Sousa, who nodded and smiled. "I would be delighted," she told the young man, and he took her hand and led her away.

Daniel forced himself to look at his father, in order to not watch her walk away. Dr. Sousa’s expression was somewhat sympathetic, and when Mrs. Sousa spoke, Daniel understood what they were both thinking. “It is too bad that other young men are forever taking her away to dance. I have been thinking, Daniel, what if you asked her to spend a dance with you?”

He opened his mouth to respond.

“I know, dear,” said his mother. “I know precisely what you are about to say. But when I mean is, what if you asked her to spend the duration of a dance at your side? Surely no one could begrudge you that, and Miss Carter, I think, would not be opposed to it.”

“She might prefer to dance,” Daniel pointed out. In fact she cared little for dancing, he knew, but it allowed her to be out mingling with the guests, which surely was important for her intention of watching the proceedings of the evening to discover if anything untoward was occurring.

“No one can dance for a whole evening,” pointed out his father with a twinkle in his eye. “Her feet will get tired. Mine get tired just standing about all evening.”

“I know, darling,” said his lady to him with a smile. “That is why I always lose you to the card room at an evening like this.”

Dr. Sousa shrugged. “You knew what I was when you married me, my dear.” There was laughter in his eyes.

Daniel watched it all, and hid a smile; there was a great deal to admire in how his parents behaved when they were together. He hoped someday to be as happily wed.

“The point is, my dear boy,” said Mrs. Sousa to Daniel, “you should ask her.”

It was actually a rather charming idea; he might keep it in mind for if he and Peggy ever needed time to discuss their work. But at the moment, he had no intending of curtailing her spy work by keeping her at his side. “I am not going to ruin Peggy’s enjoyment of the evening by making her sit out for a dance, Mama.”

Inexplicably, his mother’s smile only grew at that.

“What?” he asked.

“Daniel,” said she with an amused tone, “are you aware that you just called her Peggy?”

Daniel felt heat rush to his face. “A slip of the tongue, Mama,” said he, and berated himself for being so careless. He had been a terrible spy so far tonight, so caught up in thinking about Peggy that he had thought little about what he ought to be doing, and carelessly hinting as to the true close and informal nature of his connexion with that young lady. It was time to change that. “There is Admiral Croft and his wife,” said he, determined to mingle with the crowd. ”I must go say hello.” With his ears still burning, he left their group.

For the next hour he mingled with friends and acquaintances and strangers, and where possible, carefully worked in references to Russia and to unpopular acts by the government, such as the Corn Laws. It was all to no avail; no one seemed to show an undue familiarity with that country or any excessive anti-government feeling. It always had been an unlikely prospect, but he would have liked to be able to present Peggy with some useful information when she returned from the dance floor. That was not to be his lot, however.

After an hour, he drifted back to where his mother stood speaking with a knot of people he did not recognize. Peggy was there, however, and greeted him politely; he returned the greeting with a sinking feeling in his heart. They were in public, so she could not be particularly effusive in her treatment of him, even if she had wanted to. But he found himself wondering if she did want to. Thus far this evening, her treatment of him had been very polite, very correct, and very formal; she could have been interacting with a stranger, for all the warmth she showed. Surely she was just focusing on her job, as he ought to be doing. And yet he worried.

Not long after his rejoining his mother, there was a murmur around the main entrance that built into a quite a din. Daniel glanced over and was not much surprised to see that, as at the Grantham’s ball, this commotion was caused by the ingress of Sir Howard Stark. What did surprise him was the person on the baronet’s arm.

Peggy had seen her too. “Is that the young lady we met at the Grantham’s ball?” she murmured.

Daniel nodded confirmation. “Miss Dorothea Underwood.”

His companion was startled. "I have not often known him to stay interested in the same young lady for so long. Miss Underwood must have some very desirable qualities."

"I am as surprised as you are," said Daniel.

“This is an excellent opportunity for us, though,” said Peggy. “All the room’s attention is on the door.” And, tapping Mrs. Sousa on the arm to draw her focus away from Sir Howard’s entrance, she said, “Ma’am, I am a bit lightheaded from all the dancing. Your son has kindly offered to accompany me to partake of some refreshments.”

“Oh, yes, by all means,” said Mrs. Sousa kindly, and Peggy and Daniel nodded and made their way to the far side of the ballroom. No one else was there, and no one in the room paid them any attention, and after looking about for a few moments, the pair slipped away down a side hallway and out of sight.

“If we are caught,” whispered Peggy to Daniel as they slipped down a set of passages that she seemed to have memorized, “we will say that I became overheated and you were taking me to find some fresh air.”

That seemed an entirely unlikely reason to be in a private office, but Daniel supposed that anyone could convince someone of the story’s veracity, it was Miss Margaret Carter; she might not have her friend Miss Martinelli’s penchant for theatrics and playacting, but she had a knack for deception.

Soon they were at the office. Peggy pulled a set of small metal picks from her reticule and set about working the lock, and when it opened they slipped inside and pulled the door shut behind them. The room was black as pitch, having no windows, and Daniel stood very still and listened to Peggy move about. Then there was the sound of metal striking metal, and a small flame appeared in the darkness, and then a candle was burning and Daniel could see again.

“I came prepared,” Peggy whispered, in response to Daniel’s surprised look.

“You had a candle and a striker in your reticule? I am most impressed, mademoiselle spy.”

She rolled her eyes and stationed Daniel at the door, to act as lookout, and then set about finding and copying the record books in question.

“This may take me some time,” said she in a whisper. “I hope you are prepared to wait.”

“I hope no one notices us gone,” whispered Daniel back, and settled in to listen at the door.

The operation went off without a flaw; for ten minutes, there was no sound except the rustling of paper and the scratching of a pencil, also produced from Peggy’s reticule. When she was done and the candle had been blown out and everything put away, suddenly she was at his side, her hand ghosting over his back and her breath warm on his ear, and he jumped a little.

“I am ready,” said she, and he nodded and opened the door.

Their return to the ballroom was not as easy as their flight from it; when they were nearly back, they were discovered by a footman, who looked at them disapprovingly.

“I do apologize,” said Daniel told the man, looking sympathetically at Peggy, who stood with her arm in his. “She became overheated and overwhelmed by the crowds in the ballroom, and we repaired here to find her a quiet place to recover.”

The footman, Daniel could see, did not believe that. But he could also see, in the man’s face, that he thought their reasons for being here alone were romantic, rather than nefarious, and he simply looked at them disapprovingly and walked away.

“That was close,” Peggy sighed as they slipped back into the ballroom. “Well done, Daniel.”

He leaned down close to her ear. “What are fellow spies for?”

They both thought it wise to return to Mrs. Sousa’s side then; the hour was getting late, and the lady might want to leave soon. That appeared not to be the case, however, for when they found her, she was surrounded by a group of ladies, both young and old, and speaking very happily with them. And there was a member of the group that Daniel recognized.

“Angie!” said Peggy, sounding pleased, and clasped her friend’s hands when that young lady turned from the group to greet Daniel and Peggy. “I did not expect to see you here tonight.”

“You can expect to see me here every night,” Miss Martinelli sighed. “Mama is very fond of Almack’s, and gets tickets to every ball she possibly can. And Viscountess Keith is an old friend of hers, which means that we get tickets nearly every time we ask. I am so sick of this place, I could scream. At least tonight she let us arrive late; I attended a concert first. It was marvelous. So much better than this stodgy old ballroom with its stodgy old rules. They don’t even frost their cakes here, did you know that? It’s absurd. What good is a cake without frosting?”

Peggy and Daniel laughed at their friend's indignant response, and all three returned to the group.

“Welcome back,” said his mother. “I was just about to send out the hunting dogs to search for you two. Lady Denham here has been asking about the story of the Indomitable, Daniel. I thought you had better tell it; you do it so much better than I do.”

If anyone but his mother had asked, he might have resented retelling the story. As it was, he simply smiled and told the assembled ladies the story -- the sanitized version, the one he had carefully cultivated to not offend delicate sensibilities. It was also meant to be a modest version, one that did not appear to be bragging, but it never worked; the story always ended with people staring at him in admiration. This was no exception.

“Remarkable, young man,” said Lady Denham. “You are truly remarkable. You are unmarried, your mother said? I have a niece I would very much like you to meet.”

“You sailors have more worth than any other set of men in England,” said another young lady with fervent awe.

“Sailors and soldiers,” corrected Mrs. Sousa with a smile. “Your uncle is in the Army, is he not?” she asked Peggy. “They do a good work. The brave men who fought Napoleon will always have my highest regard.”

“Oh indeed,” said another lady that Daniel thought he might recognize as the wife of some baronet he’d met recently. Lady Watson, he believed her name to be. “I met Wellington once at a ball. He was the bravest and most courteous of men. So handsome, too.”

Not to be outdone, Lady Denham chimed in with her own brush with a war hero. “My sister lives in Sussex, where her neighbors include the family of Captain Steven Rogers. I met him several times at balls and dinners, before his death. What an excellent man! Such politeness, such manners, and so handsome.”

“And such virtue,” said Lady Watson. “Lord Nelson may have been a brave man, but his personal life was not what it ought to have been.” She said no more but fixed them all with a very significant look, and Daniel knew the lady spoke of Nelson’s public and scandalous affair with Lady Hamilton.

“And his poor wife Fanny,” cried the young lady who liked sailors. “Despite his casting her off before his death, I hear that she mourns for him still.”

“That is one blessing in Captain Rogers’ early demise,” said Lady Denham sagely. “At least, as he was unmarried, he left no broken-hearted lady behind to mourn him.”

Daniel carefully did not look at Peggy; he was sure she was feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the conversation, and he did not want to draw any unneeded attention to her in her moment of unhappiness. And sure enough, she spoke up then, and he knew her well enough to know her easy, cheerful tone was a little forced. “I see an acquaintance I must go speak to. If you will excuse me.” She left the group without a backward glance and disappeared into the crowd.

Most of their group did not appear to find anything amiss, but Miss Martinelli shot a questioning glance at Daniel. He shrugged.

“Should I go after her?” Miss Martinelli whispered, as the conversation around them carried on to the topic of Napoleon. “Is she upset about this Captain Steven Rogers?”

Daniel shook his head. “She simply needs some time alone.” His companion did not look convinced, so he explained, “She was acquainted with the captain before his death, through her uncle. His death still gives her some grief.”

“Poor English.” Miss Martinelli’s expression was all commiseration and pity.

“Poor English indeed,” sighed Daniel.

The hour was late, and soon guests began to leave. Daniel was dispatched to find his father and meet the rest of their party at the cloakrooms. This he did, and found himself waiting alone outside the ladies’ cloakroom while his father struggled to find his coat; Kate and Mrs. Sousa were already outside climbing into the carriage. As he thus waited, he was very much surprised to hear Miss Martinelli’s voice from very nearby; clearly she was in the women's cloakroom, and very near the door.

“So you’re here with the Sousa family,” she observed. She must be speaking to Peggy, then. “That’s . . . interesting.”

“Mrs. Sousa was kind enough to invite me,” said Peggy. “She knew I had been eager to see the famed Almack’s.”

That seemed a reasonable explanation, and Peggy had expressed it in a very believable manner, so Daniel was surprised that Miss Martinelli seemed unconvinced. “Really?” asked she in doubtful tones. “That’s the only reason?”

“What are you getting at, Angie?”

“Don’t play coy with me,” laughed Miss Martinelli. “Captain Sousa! You’re here for him, aren’t you?”

There was a moment of silence while Daniel felt himself start to blush and wonder if he ought to go back into the ballroom, and then Peggy laughed. “No, truly,” said she. “What gave you that idea?”

“English, you needn't pretend,” said Miss Martinelli, and Daniel could almost hear her rolling her eyes. “I’ve seen you with him at multiple events. And you seem very friendly with each other.”

“And friendly is all it is,” said Peggy firmly, while Daniel felt his heart sink. “The captain is an excellent man, but . . .”

There was silence. “Is it because of Captain Rogers?” Miss Martinelli said finally. “Don’t look like that; I know you were acquainted with him. Captain Sousa told me. But the way you reacted back there . . . you were more than acquaintances, weren’t you?”

Still Peggy did not speak.

“I’m sorry, English.” Miss Martinelli sounded truly contrite. “I didn’t mean to bring up a difficult topic.”

“I pray you do not reproach yourself,” said Peggy. “You did not know. That was . . . a difficult period of my life. And sometimes, when someone brings up the topic unexpectedly . . .”

Their footsteps sounded then, as though they were moving toward the door, and Daniel quickly ducked into the men’s cloakroom, not wanting them to come upon him and wonder if he had overheard their conversation. His father, who had finally located his coat, smiled at him, and Daniel struggled to smile back.

In truth, it had been a great length of time since he had felt less inclined to smile.

. . . . . .


Waterloo littered with the body parts of brave soldiers: Remember Henry Paget, 2nd Earl of Uxbridge, later the 1st Marquess of Anglesey? We talked about him in chapter 1; they named the Anglesey prosthetic leg after him. He had his leg amputated at Waterloo, in the house of a local man called man called M. Hyacinthe Joseph-Marie Paris. So Paris suddenly finds himself in possession of a war hero's severed leg, plus the bloody chair on which Uxbridge sat while the amputation was happening, and he decides, why waste this opportunity? So he puts the chair on display and buries the leg in his backyard and erects a monument, and they become this huge tourist attraction for the next 60 years—people came from all over Europe to see it, including the King of Prussia and the Prince of Orange. TRUE STORY. (This has nothing to do with Peggy or Daniel's situation, I just thought it was interesting.)

Lady Hamilton and Fanny Nelson: Emma, Lady Hamilton, was a former model, dancer, muse of the famous painter George Romney, and mistress to several prominent English men before marrying Sir William Hamilton, British envoy to Naples, who was twice her age. She soon met Lord Nelson and started an affair with him. (Such affairs were not at all unusual, but Nelson drew negative attention for actually casting off his wife to live with his mistress.) Sir William Hamilton was fond of Nelson and didn't really have a problem with their affair; Nelson's wife Fanny absolutely did have a problem with it. Sadly, even after her husband rebuffed her every attempt to reconcile with him (once she sent a letter to him asking if they could try to fix their marriage, and he had it returned to her marked with the message "opened by mistake by Lord Nelson but not read," like seriously do you have to be a jerk about it, Nelson?) (don't even get me started on the awful things Emma used to say about Fanny) Fanny stayed very much in love with him for the rest of her life; her granddaughter recounted that she used to sleep with a picture of her dead husband under her pillow and kiss it. Poor lady. Count me #teamfanny.

Chapter 10


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

When several days had passed, Daniel received a note from Peggy, inviting him to tea that afternoon with her and her uncle at Downing Street. To his immense surprise, there was no intelligible hidden message in the note; apparently it truly was an invitation to tea. Something related to the Alien Office, no doubt; perhaps Colonel Phillips had finally received intelligence from his contact in Russia.

Mrs. Sousa, when she heard of her son's plans for the afternoon, gave him a smile to which he had become quite accustomed in recent months, and which prepared him for what would come next. "You're meeting her family now, are you? You know, this would be an excellent chance for you to ask the colonel for permission to propose to his niece."

For months now he had simply smiled indulgently when his mother made a suggestion like this, but today he found he could not. Today he still remembered all too vividly that conversation he'd overheard at Almack's, and how much it had hurt to hear Peggy dismiss Miss Martinelli's insinuations so thoroughly. For a short while, he'd hoped her words had simply been to keep her friend ignorant of her true connexion to Daniel, and to keep their work a secret. But that idea did not stand up to much consideration; it would be illogical, and that was not like Peggy. The most logical way to keep their Alien Office connexion a secret was to allow Miss Martinelli to go on thinking that they were fond of each other; such a thing was perfectly believable, perfectly respectable, and perfectly dull to all except the two lovers. Had Peggy lied and said she had feelings for Daniel, Miss Martinelli would never have looked any further for an explanation as to their being so often in the other's company. The only reason he could see for Peggy to insist she felt nothing for Daniel, therefore, was that it was so true that she could not or did not want to pretend otherwise.

His hopes for a romantic attachment between himself and Miss Carter were entirely unfounded; she had no very good opinion of love and marriage, and felt for him nothing other than friendship, and he had been a fool to hope otherwise. So he could not laugh indulgently while his mother teased him about his impossible future marriage to Miss Carter; it hurt too much. And perhaps it was kindest to disabuse Mrs. Sousa of that notion now, so she too could stop hoping for something that would never occur.

"Mama," he said gently, "I am not going to propose to Miss Carter."

"Pish tosh, Daniel," said she with a laugh. "I know you are naturally reticent and do not like to discuss matters like this, but you do not need to be so guarded with me. I am your mother, after all. After you have courted her for so long, I certainly hope you are going to propose to Miss Carter."

Daniel was startled. "Courted?"

"Yes, courted. What you have been doing with Miss Carter."

"We are not courting."

"I'm not blind, dearest," said his mother in a tone that brooked no opposition. "I have seen you two. You spend time together at every event you both attend, she sends you notes constantly, you are taking tea with her uncle, you were seen together drinking hot chocolate at a confectioners', and you were seen speeding through Hyde Park together with your hand on her back. You called her by her given name. What can you possibly call that besides courting? Especially after you asked me to invite her to Almack's. Every single one of the patronesses, and most of the rest of the ton, knows you are courting now."

Daniel was all astonishment. Had they truly been so unguarded? He had thought -- they had both thought, he assumed -- that they had kept their behavior to what observers would consider natural for friends or those who had, at the very most, a passing fancy for each other. He had not realized that to the outside it would look as serious as courting. All the more reason for him to make his mother understand that there was nothing between them.

"Mama," he said gently, "I know how much you like Miss Carter. I like her as well. But there is nothing romantic at all between us, nor is there likely ever to be any such connexion. She has no desire to wed me."

Mrs. Sousa's expression was the very picture of surprise. "Oh! But -- are you certain you do not misunderstand her?"

"There is nothing to misunderstand," said he. "I have heard her say these very things herself."

Now his mother began to look stricken and sorrowful. "Dearest, I am so sorry. And I am sorry that I have teazed you for so long about something you know can never be."

"It is all right, Mama. I know you do it because you want me to find happiness."

She nodded, but the stricken expression did not leave her face. She peered more closely at her son, moved as though she were about to speak, and then shook her head and left.

In a sober and pensive mood, he retired to his room to dress. He was just finishing tying his cravat when there was a soft knock on the door and his mother entered, her expression as concerned as it had been when lasthesaw her.

"May I speak with you, Daniel? I fear the topic is not an agreeable one."

Both curious and eager to soothe whatever concern weighed on her mind, he invited her into the room and seated her on the bench at the foot of his bed, then returned to the chair in front of his mirror. "What is it, Mama?"

"Daniel," said she, very gently, "if you know that you are never to marry Miss Carter, I must suppose that you still spend so much time with her because you consider her a friend. And I am happy you have a friend; I know you have felt uncomfortable this Season, and I am quite glad that you have found someone with whom you like to spend your time. But Daniel . . ." She took a deep breath, as though to fortify herself. "I worry for your sister."

"Kate?" He was surprised. "What has she to do with this?"

"It is Sir Thomas," she explained. "Or rather, his mother. We have been wondering for some time now why he does not propose to Kate; their preference for each other is so marked. There have been rumors around town that the reason is his mother, who still disapproves of a mere doctor's daughter for her baronet son. She has become acquainted with Kate, and they are on cordial terms, but it is rumored that she still refuses to give her blessing, and he will not act against her wishes, out of love for her."

"It is a shame," said Daniel. "But what has that to do with me?"

His mother looked rather embarrassed. "I am not the only person to believe that you were courting Miss Carter; it is spoken of all over town. Indeed, I have been asked by more than one acquaintance when we were to hear wedding bells."

"What are you saying, Mama?"

She took a deep breath. "I am saying that your alleged prolonged courtship of Miss Carter, which never seems to turn into an engagement, has . . . exposed the both of you to remarks and speculations among the ton."

"Remarks? Speculations?"

"You have become a source of gossip. Everyone is wondering when you will propose, and even wondering why you have not yet, especially with that Thompson fellow so clearly trying to snatch her up as well. I have always responded that I had no doubt that you would do what was right in your own time. But now you tell me that you will never marry Miss Carter, which can only mean that as time goes on and you two remain as you have been, rumors will begin to fly that you are a rake who is only leading her on." She sighed. "You are old enough to decide how to act, and to control your own reputation. And if you want only to be Miss Carter's friend, then friends you ought to be, for I wish nothing more than your happiness. But I fear it is reflecting badly on Kate, as you are her family, and this may be contributing to the dowager Lady Featherstonehaugh's reservations about her."

This was all rather distressing, and it was strange to see his normally cheerful mama so serious. "What are you saying?"

She sighed and twisted her hands together anxiously. "I hate to say it, Daniel, truly I do. But I wonder if you might . . . I wonder if I could ask you to be seen a little less in Miss Carter's company in the future. No more carriage rides, no more long chats at balls, enough to cool the rampant speculation about your alleged courtship. Just until Sir Thomas proposes. Then you can do whatever you like. But just for now, if you could be a little more circ*mspect in public . . . I'm sorry to even ask it, my dear boy."

He shook his head, his mind reeling. "Do not apologize, Mama. The last thing I want to do is hurt Kate. I had no idea of my friendship with Miss Carter being seen that way. I will watch my behavior from now on, I promise."

"Just until Kate is safely married," she reminded him. "Then you may do as you like." She smiled and crossed the room to cup his face in her hand. "I know I may safely say that to you, because I know you have as good and honorable and loving a heart as it possible for a person to have. And I know that you would never do anything that genuinely deserved rebuke."

He covered that hand with his own for a moment, and mother and son smiled at each other. Then his mother left, and he returned to his dressing, still shocked by the conversation he'd just had. Did Society at large truly think he and Peggy were courting? And when they never became engaged, would people come to believe that he was some sort of rake who was breaking Miss Carter's heart? If only they knew, he thought wryly, that it was in fact just the opposite. Then he sobered. Something would have to be done. Fortunately, that is precisely why he had made the condition, when he agreed to aid the Alien Office, that he would never do anything to hurt his family. And with a grim determination, he finished dressing and caught a hackney cab to Downing Street.

He was right as to the true purpose of the invitation; there were a handful of people gathered together in the entrance foyer of the Home Office building, among them Major Dugan, who grinned on seeing Daniel and declared, "Excellent to see you, Captain. You here for the meeting?"

"I am," said Daniel with a smile, as it seemed reasonable to assume he was here for the same reason as the major.

"Excellent! Before it starts, let me introduce you to some people."

"In a moment, if you don't mind," said Daniel. "I must speak with Peggy first. It's urgent."

"Of course. She is in that office just there, I believe."

Daniel moved to where the major had indicated and found Peggy writing at a desk in a small office just off the main entry. She smiled when he knocked. "Daniel! Glad you could make it. I am finishing up some paperwork before the meeting begins."

"I see," said Daniel, and steeled himself. "May I speak to you? Privately?"

She was surprised but gracious. "Of course. Come in and take a seat."

This he did, shutting the door behind him so they could not be heard. He'd missed being alone with her, which was a thought he hated himself for having.

"What troubles you, Daniel?" said she with a warm smile. "You look rather serious."

If only she didn't look so terribly pretty today, this would all be much easier to do. "I'm afraid I have a bit of a problem," said he, beginning the speech he'd rehearsed in his head all the way to the office. "Nothing we cannot work around, though, I think."

She set down her pen. "Oh?"

He took a breath. "You recall, I am sure, that when I agreed to this assignment, I made the condition that I would never do anything to harm my family, physically or socially?"

"I remember. I promised the same."

"Well, it is time to make good on that promise, I'm afraid. I've had a talk with my mother this morning; apparently the entire ton thinks that you and I are . . . courting."

Peggy looked surprised, but then her expression changed. "My friend Angie thought the same thing, actually."

"My mother worries that us forever 'courting,' but never becoming engaged, is starting to negatively affect my reputation. And yours too, I'm sure. And I would not care for my own sake, and I do not think you care for yours, but my mother worries it is starting to reflect badly on my sister Kate. She worries that this is why Sir Thomas Featherstonehaugh's mother has not yet given her blessing for their marriage."

"That sweet young baronet," Peggy remembered. Her expression was strange; Daniel could not put a name to it. "What are you suggesting, Daniel?"

"We need to be seen together less," said he promptly, and Peggy let out a little noise of understanding, even as her shoulders seemed to slump a little. He supposed she was just sorry that her partner seemed to be jumping ship. "I will still help the Alien Office, of course; you can continue to send me names, though you'll need to disguise your handwriting when you do, and I'll continue to investigate them, and do anything your uncle needs done. But in the future I will have to refrain from taking you driving, and spending so much time in your company at social events, and in time the speculation will fade. Or Sir Thomas will propose, and then we can go back to how we have been." He hesitated, suddenly uncomfortable. "If you want us to do so."

She was looking at him, her brow a little furrowed, her expression unreadable. He would almost say her expression held a hint of displeasure. Was she perhaps disappointed in him? That he put his sister's marital chances above national security?"I really do intend to continue my work here," he assured her. "That is very important to me. But so is Kate. And this seems a reasonable solution to my problem."

She stared a moment longer, then nodded. "It does seem a reasonable solution," she agreed, and returned her attention to her paperwork. "We can discuss the details after the meeting; it should be starting soon."

Daniel could recognize when he was being dismissed, and he nodded at her and left the office.

The meeting was held in a room mostly filled by a sizable and handsome mahogany table. Colonel Phillips stood at the head of the table and nodded at Daniel as he walked in and took a seat. Major Dugan, who had introduced him to several other Alien Office employees on the way to the meeting, sat at his right. Peggy came in a few moments later and sat across and one seat downfrom Daniel. She seemed to be watching him more than was usual for her; was she perhaps still thinking about the conversation they'd just had?

"Welcome," said Colonel Phillips. "If you've been invited to this meeting, you have some connection to the Leviathan case. The fieldwork on this investigation, of course, is being carried out by three of our agents. Barnes here is undercover as a footman at Almack's." Here a handsome, dark-haired man across the table nodded. "And infiltration of the ballrooms of the ton --"

"Tough assignment," joked someone in the room, and the colonel rolled his eyes at the interruption.

"Is being carried out by Peggy Carter and Captain Daniel Sousa, currently on loan to us from the Royal Navy." At this, Major Dugan clapped a beefy hand on Daniel's shoulder, and Daniel tried not to wince. Across the table, Peggy seemed to be watching him out of the corner of her eye.

"Now, while they investigate leads on our end of things, I've had contacts hard at work in Russia, looking for anything related to this Leviathan group. Their first packet of information came in last night from one of my contacts, and I wanted to relay it to you." He looked down at the stack of papers before him. "Niko found the group but couldn't infiltrate it; very tight security, very secretive. One thing he is quite certain of, although he cannot prove it to Russian authorities: the leader of the group is a man called Vanya Ivchenko, a minor nobleman and scientist in Moscow. Ivchenko was part of the Russian military, as a doctor, starting with the Second Coalition all the way up to the French invasion of Russia. He saw fifteen years of wars with Napoleon; unfortunately, he also saw his only brother die a grisly death on the battlefield. That may have prompted the creation of the only piece of hard evidence we have connecting him with anarchism: in 1813 he wrote a pamphlet called 'The Enemy of the People' in which he argued that wars are started by governments, and therefore if there were no governments there would be no wars."

"No," scoffed Major Dugan, "if there were no governments, all that would happen is someone would rush in and make himself king and start another war in the process."

"I never said it was a well-thought-out pamphlet." Colonel Phillips returned his attention to his papers. "Apparently the man himself is quite persuasive, however; Niko has an acquaintance who met Ivchenko once. The acquaintance said, and I quote --" he peered closely at a paper and read from it -- "'Ivchenko had a very frank, friendly demeanor and a very persuasive way of talking; one got the feeling that the man could talk a person into doing anything.' Thank you to Peggy, by the way, for translating this."

Peggy nodded.

"The group meets on Ivchenko's estate on the edge of Moscow. It is very difficult to prove oneself trustworthy and get in, but Niko is trying. Other than that there is little he can do; Ivchenko is very careful with security for his group, and he is very careful with what he says in public. The pamphlet, and the rumors he's heard, convince Niko that he is planning something of a violent nature. But he cannot prove it yet."

"You called us into a meeting simply for that?" called a voice from the back of the room, and Daniel marveled at how easy and casual these men were with a superior officer; his Naval superiors would not have stood for it. But perhaps, like Peggy and Major Dugan, these people had all worked together for so long that they could not help but be informal and familiar with each other. He glanced at Peggy out of curiosity, to see how she took the informal behavior, and this time he was certain: she had definitely been watching him.

"No, there is one thing yet," said Colonel Phillips, his voice quite serious. "One last piece of information about this group, one which Niko had a very difficult time verifying but which he feels quite confident about. Leviathan's leaders feel it important that its members prepare physically, as well as mentally, for any future attempts to overthrow the government. A member of the group is a former military officer, and he reportedly teaches members of the group to use firearms and engage in hand-to-hand combat. They have a name for this program: the Red Room, after the wallpaper in the ballroom in the Ivchenko mansion where all this is carried out. The agents the Red Room produces are apparently quite dangerous in combat and espionage. It is possible that the person whom we seek is a Russian who has traveled here, not a Briton who has been convinced to turn against his country; if so, we could be facing a highly trained soldier." He turned and fixed Daniel with a serious look. "Can you fight, Captain?"

"A little," said Daniel, then hesitated. "I hope it is enough." A ripple of laughter ran through the room.

"I tell you all this to remind you to be careful and on your guard," said Colonel Phillips. "I want you all safe. Dismissed."

The occupants of the room began to stand from their chairs. Without intending to, Daniel found himself glancing over at Peggy again, only to catch her gaze; she was watching him again. This was getting quite odd, but fortunately, he did not have to wait long to discover the reason.

Major Dugan and the other men in the room bid Daniel farewell, and he smiled to watch them go. They were a friendly, familiar, comfortable lot, and it occurred to him for the first time that he would not mind making his sojourn at the Alien Office permanent. It was an interesting thought; he wondered if he dared mention it to Colonel Phillips.

The colonel called Daniel's name just then, asking him, Peggy, and Barnes to stay a little longer. They gathered at the head of the table and, at the colonel's request, filled him in on their progress thus far. Peggy and Daniel had frustratingly little to report, and Barnes even less; the clue that the anarchist could be a skilled fighter was something, at least, but they could do very little with that information. Daniel felt frustrated, and it must have showed on his face, for the colonel gave him a small smile.

"I simply want you to continue doing what you are doing, Captain," said he. "I know this seems that you are accomplishing very little, but it could yet be fruitful, and in the meantime, you and Peggy are perfectly positioned to act when we receive more actionable intelligence from my contact, as I feel certain we will; Niko is an old friend of mine, and very good at what he does."

"Thank you, sir," said Daniel as the colonel rose and left the room. Barnes followed, though not before squeezing Peggy's hand in a warm goodbye -- another old companion from the wars on the Continent, apparently. Daniel grabbed his cane and began to struggle into a standing position as well, but Peggy's voice stopped him.

"Please stay seated, Daniel. I have something I wish to discuss with you."

Assuming the topic was their next plan of attack, Daniel obediently returned to his seat. But that was not the topic that Peggy broached. "I have been thinking of what you said downstairs."


"And to hurt your family is the last thing I would desire to do -- to hurt Kate's matrimonial chances, when she is such a sweet girl, and when I have promised so faithfully not to. But on the other hand, I think we are more effective when we are together. Or at least when we can come together and discuss our work."

"I agree, but I see no way to reconcile --"

"I do," she said. "I have been thinking all through his meeting, and I think the solution is very obvious."

His brow furrowed. "Is it?"

"It is," said she, her voice and expression quite calm and collected. "I think we should become engaged."

. . . . . .


No historical notes today, but I just wanted to congratulate CotyCat82 for guessing that this was coming. I am an enormous fan of stories with fake relationships/fake engagements/marriages of convenience—this actually started life as a Regency era marriage of convenience story, but it also started with Colonel Phillips' death and that just put a damper on the whole thing, so I ended up completely changing directions—so it was perhaps inevitable that it would come to this. And it was Coty who first saw which way the wind was blowing. So good job. :)

Chapter 11


A little faster update for me than usual, but I'm just feeling really inspired right now to crank out as much as possible before the season ends. Also, there's a direct quote in here from Emma: ten points to anyone who spots it!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

Colonel Phillips objected most strenuously to the plan. "I appreciate your dedication to this office, both of you, but this is too far."

"No, it is perfect," said Peggy, sounding very reasonable. "I'm a little disappointed in myself for not thinking of it earlier. We should have been engaged all along."


"Indeed," said she. "It gives us every reason to spend time together, to write each other often, to attend events together. Our doing so as an unattached couple has caught the notice of the ton, which I've tried so hard to avoid. But what is more commonplace and uninteresting than an engaged couple? With the uncertainty of our status and the allure of possible scandal both gone, no one will pay us any attention at all."

"I agree," said the colonel. "But how long can you remain engaged but unmarried without drawing notice?"

"The Season will end in two months, as will this portion of our investigation," said Peggy. "I think we can draw it out that long; we will tell everyone that we want to marry at the end of the Season so that we may leave London to take a lengthy wedding tour and not miss any major social events. Or perhaps that we want to wed on the anniversary of Waterloo. Two persons with connexions to the military -- no one will question that. And this is perfect; we may be seen whispering together and driving through Hyde Park and no one shall suspect it is anything but romance."

"I agree," said the colonel again. "But you forget that in addition to spies, you are also young people with lives to lead. Have you thought about the impact that a broken engagement will have on you socially?"

"I have," said she. "And I have it all planned out. I shall cry off in the end, which will leave Daniel undamaged socially; he may receive pitying looks, but public sympathies will all fall entirely on his side. It may even increase his standing with the young ladies, who may like to flatter themselves that it will be their charms that will heal a man's broken heart. I shall be exposed to some censure for my caprice, but I shall recover. A lady may always cry off, you know, and in a few months everyone will have forgotten about it."

"But what if in the meantime one of you meets someone you would like to court?" He leaned back, examining his two companions. "You have said very little," he observed to Daniel. "How do you feel about all this? Has my niece bullied you into agreeing with this plan?"

Daniel shook his head. "No, she presented it logically, as she has just done to you, and I could not but agree with her reasoning. It allows us to stay in close contact while keeping our reputations intact, which is good for my sister, for I do not want my irregular connexion with your niece to reflect badly on her. And if I do indeed meet someone I would like to court, she will simply have to wait two months until I am unattached again. But I do not think that likely to occur."

"And what of your family, Captain? Have you thought of how it might affect them?"

Daniel was a little surprised. "They shall be no more damaged by it than I am."

"But do you truly want to keep a secret like this from them for this long? Peggy has the advantage that I am in on the plot. You will have to lie to your parents and your sister for two months while they congratulate you and plan your wedding and rejoice in your happiness. You will have to watch and say nothing."

"They like Peggy, certainly. But they will understand when it ends. It will be no different than if I'd had a genuine engagement that ended. And I would not refuse to form a genuine attachment just because there was a chance it would end and those around me would be disappointed."

"We appreciate your concern, Uncle," said Peggy. "But we both feel that this is best."

Colonel Phillips looked at Peggy a long, quiet moment. Then he turned and examined Daniel. A strange expression touched his face, just for a moment -- something Daniel could not put a name to. And then he nodded. "Fine," said he. "I don't see how I can stop you, anyway. And I shall keep your secret. I just hope this does not end badly."

"It will not," Peggy smiled. "I have the utmost confidence in this plan."

"When will you announce your engagement?" asked Colonel Phillips.

Peggy turned to Daniel. "We should tell your family soon, to put your mother's mind at rest. When might be a good opportunity?"

Daniel considered this. "I know we are to have a simple dinner en familletonight. Perhaps you might join us, if you have no other plans? My mother does not mind at all, when she is given sufficient notice, if we invite friends to dine with us."

"I suppose I had better come as well," said Colonel Phillips, still looking not quite convinced, "to help you sell this fiction. Besides, I have long had an interest in meeting your family, Captain."

"You will be very welcome," said Daniel. "I will return to Berkeley Square now, to inform Mama of your coming. And unless I send word to you that there is a problem, I will see you both at seven o'clock."

Peggy walked him to the door, and lifted her hand in farewell as he climbed into the cab. It was all unbearably domestic, and Daniel managed to sit up and wave her goodbye only until they rounded the corner and were out of sight of the Home Office. Then he slumped and put his face in his hands. What a debacle today had become! He had gone to the Home Office to end his public relationship with Peggy, and had gotten engaged to her instead. It would fix Kate's problem, but at what cost? What exquisite torture he had set himself up for, to spend the next weeks and even months pretending at something that he wished desperately were true but that appeared to be forever out of his grasp!

He had spoken the truth to Colonel Phillips: Peggy had presented the case for their false engagement so reasonably and logically that he could scarcely refuse. What freedom would be theirs, to collaborate and to investigate, now that curious eyes of the gossips would be off them. His duty to serve the Crown, both as an officer of the Royal Navy and as a temporary agent of the Alien Office, demanded that he acquiesce. The only possible reason he could have given Peggy for his refusal would be the truth: his feelings for her. And that he refused to do. Daniel Sousa was not a proud or a haughty man, but he still wished to spare himself the humiliation of baring his heart and soul to a woman who did not return his feelings. In the end, he could do nothing but agree to her plan.

And yet, to walk arm in arm with Peggy, to smile and laugh with her as they answered questions about when they would wed and where they would live after the wedding, to feign joy at the prospect of spending the rest of his life with her . . . and all the while, Daniel would every moment be haunted by her words: "Friendly is all it is." It was not a pleasant prospect.

The cab was nearing Berkeley Square, so Daniel straightened his posture and forced all feelings of melancholy from his mind. This was his duty, and no matter what else he thought, he had already agreed to the plan. He would do what he must, and then, when the ruse had ended, he would force himself to forget. Perhaps he would even find love again, but not in London. London would forever remind him of Peggy, and he thought that after this Season he would perhaps spend some time elsewhere. Perhaps he would do what he had always wanted to do, and let a home in the country. Of course, he had always imagined obtaining such a house for his bride. But one changed one's plans when one must.

Once home, Daniel informed his mother that Colonel Phillips had expressed a desire to meet the family, and as such he had invited him and his niece to dinner. Mrs. Sousa was understandably surprised, as Daniel had just promised to limit how often he was seen with Miss Carter, but she agreed readily enough and went to inform Mrs. Dixon that they would have two extra for dinner, tossing a curious look at Daniel over her shoulder as she left. And Daniel went to his room, tossed his cane aside a bit more forcefully than necessary, and collapsed on his bed with a great sigh.

At seven o'clock precisely, Mr. George announced the arrival of Colonel Chester Phillips and Miss Margaret Carter, who arrived in the height of fashion and full of warm praise for the house. Daniel had never seen the colonel so formally dressed, and he had to hide a smile at how uncomfortable the man looked in breeches and an elaborately tied cravat.

The family was waiting to receive them in the sitting room, and Mrs. Sousa greeted them both with an exquisite correctness that surprised everyone in the room; Daniel was prone to forgetting that his mother had grown up in very different circ*mstances than he had, and when she needed to, was capable of "laying it on thick," as the saying went. Introductions were made to Colonel Phillips. Peggy greeted Dr. Sousa with a very correct curtsy and the two ladies with warm and fervent clasping of hands; to Daniel she gave a happy and affectionate smile that, he had to admit, looked very like what a recently engaged young lady would bestow upon her intended. She was clearly going to play this role with gusto.

"Are you still sure about this, Daniel?" she asked when the others were distracted, stepping close and pitching her voice low. "Last chance to change our minds."

Duty to God and country. "I am sure, Peggy, if you still are."

She nodded determinedly, and went to Daniel's side to take his arm. "Everyone," she said, "before we go into dinner, Daniel and I would like to say something to you."

The whole group turned to look at them. The colonel's expression still fell short of looking entirely pleased, but the Sousa family were all smiling: Dr. Sousa with amusem*nt, the two ladies with hope.

Peggy looked up at Daniel, that affectionate smile back on her face, and Daniel took that as his cue to speak. "We are engaged."

He had expected his family to be pleased and excited. What he had not expected was that his mother would immediately dissolve into tears. "Oh, Daniel!" cried she. "I have hoped for so long . . ." She did not finish her sentence, for she had wrapped her arms around her son and commenced crying on his shoulder.

Before anyone had a chance to react, her attentions turned to Peggy. "And Miss Carter! May I call you Margaret? Or is it Peggy? For I know that is what Daniel calls you."

Peggy turned a surprised glance at Daniel, but quickly her mask of serene pleasure returned. "Peggy would be fine, ma'am."

"And when we are not out in society, dear, you must call me Maria, for I have always thought it a strange thing for family to call each other by anything but their Christian names."

"Of course, Maria," agreed Peggy graciously.

Then Dr. Sousa kissed her hand very kindly, and said she was a sweet girl and he could not be happier that Daniel had found her, and then Kate threw her arms first around her brother and then around Peggy. "You do not know how I have longed for a sister," she exclaimed. "And to know now that it is to be someone I have so long thought so well of . . ."

By the time these effusive congratulations were over, Daniel thought he could not fake a smile any longer. He did not dare look at Peggy, for if she looked as overwhelmed as he felt, he would surely lose his composure then and there and confess all to his poor unsuspecting family. Luckily he was saved by the butler entering to announce dinner.

"You must tell us all about the engagement and your plans while we eat," said Mrs. Sousa brightly. She smiled again, then kissed Daniel on the cheek, then did the same to Peggy, her eyes still shining with tears. "Oh, my children," said she, "you have made me so happy."

She went in to dinner on her husband's arm, and Colonel Phillips offered his arm to Kate with an extravagant bow that had her laughing, and then for a moment Peggy and Daniel were alone in the sitting room.

"Oh my goodness," said Peggy softly into the silence. "Daniel, I feel terrible. I have never felt so guilty in my entire life."

Daniel glanced at her and saw that indeed, he had never seen her look so stricken; his own expression was, he assumed, about the same. "I did not expect such a forceful response," he admitted.

"I never intended to so thoroughly mislead your family. I thought they would be pleased, but not . . ."

"I know," sighed Daniel. "At least you have the excuse of not knowing them well. I should have realized just how much they have been hoping for me to marry. I mean to say, I knew they desired it, but I did not know they would . . ."

"I have never had female relatives to dote on me, and I did not realize . . . Your mother was crying," she said, quite unnecessarily, for Daniel remembered all too well. "Kate called me her sister. What have we done?" And she pressed her hand to her forehead.

Daniel allowed himself a brief moment to commiserate, and then he shook his head to clear his thoughts; if they didn't go through to the dining room soon, someone would come looking for him. "Well, the damage is done; we will break their hearts whether we tell them the truth now or after we find the anarchist. We might as well take advantage of it."

He held out his arm, and she, after looking at it a long moment with an unreadable expression, straightened her posture, put a smile on her face, and took his arm for them to go through together. It was not the first time he'd had Peggy on his arm, and this time, as on every time, he marveled at how easily she found that perfect spot that was close to his side but did not interfere with his false leg. A useful skill, if they were to be engaged for the next two months. He took a deep breath, and took one last look at Peggy. She squeezed his arm encouragingly. And that gave him the courage to pass through to the dining room.

The family had left the engaged couple two seats next to each other, so that they might sit side by side. Daniel led Peggy to one of them and pulled out the chair for her, determinedly ignoring the fact that his mother watched it all with her face as radiant as the sun, her eyes still bright with happy tears. They had certainly better find this anarchist, thought he, or he would have put his poor mother through all this emotional upheaval for nothing.

Mrs. Dixon had prepared an excellent meal ofwhite soup, steamed endives, glazed carrots, new potatoes, and neck of venison, and they had scarcely started in on the soup before Mrs. Sousa turned to the newly engaged couple. "So I must ask you, my children," said she, and her smile at the last two words clearly indicated how happy she was to be able to refer to Peggy as family, "how did this happen? For when I spoke to you this morning, Daniel, you seemed quite certain that there was nothing between the two of you."

Peggy turned to him at those words, her face alight with curiosity, while Daniel hoped very fervently that his face was not coloring, as he felt it might be. "I was wrong," he said quickly before Peggy could speak, hoping she did not guess, from his mother's words, the rest of the conversation -- his explanation that any indifference between them was entirely on her side, for his side was entirely affection and fondness. Again he felt the tug and pull of the many parts he had to play in this spy game: for his family, a lovesick swain; for Colonel Phillips, a steadfast soldier;for Peggy, a reliable partner who would not annoy her with declarations of love. "Clearly."

He began to search for a way to change the subject, without it being clear that he had done so, when Kate spoke up. "Daniel," she said with exasperated fondness, "You must give us more than that. How did it happen? What made you decide to ask?"

Daniel hesitated -- he had spent the afternoon coming up with answers to all the questions his family might ask, but he had struggled to find an explanation for his and Peggy's about-face that did not cast Peggy in a negative light -- and in that moment of hesitation, Peggy placed a hand on his arm. "I believe I must explain my part in all of this first," said she. When he glanced at her, her expression was supportive and conciliatory; her words seemed to be a sort of apology for getting him into this situation. "When I met your son, I admit I thought of him in terms only of friendship, not of romance." She looked over at Dr. and Mrs. Sousa. "Not because of anything he had done or failed to do, but because I did not intend to marry. I found the thought of marriage stifling. Living with my uncle, I have led a life of great independence, and I thought that no man could allow me to continue on in that vein. Far better to remain sole mistress of my own heart, I thought, than to allow a husband take control of my life."

Kate looked surprised. "To remain unwed forever? Did you not worry what Society would think?"

Peggy shook her head with a laugh. "It is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman of good fortune is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as any body else. And so I planned my future, and made no secret of my opinions on marriage to Captain Sousa. He, being the respectful gentleman that he is, did not force his suit on me. But over time, as I came to understand what an excellent character he truly has, and to admire him for those qualities, my mind began to change." She squeezed his arm and looked at him, and he understood that she was encouraging him to speak next, having given him an excellent foundation on which to build his story.

"And so I had put the thought entirely out of my mind, not realizing that Miss Carter had indeed come to care for me," said he. This was a dangerous game, he reflected to himself as he took a sip from his drink. For the story they were telling was quite plausible, and if he was not careful, he might begin believing that it could be true. "Until today at our tea, when Colonel Phillips pulled me aside a moment and asked what my intentions for his niece were. I explained that I knew Peggy had no interest in marrying, and he advised me to 'rethink that assumption.'"

He stopped and stole a glance at the subject of his sentence, and was surprised to find the colonel watching him with eyebrows raised. It made Daniel feel as though he had forgotten a vital piece of his story, and the colonel was trying to remind him of it. He had no idea, however, what the colonel intended to draw his attention to with that expression, so he ignored it and moved on. "So I returned to my interactions with Peggy today with that new possibility in mind, and it made me see that she was in fact treating me very differently than she had been previously. So I decided I might dare to . . ."

He trailed off, trying to think of how to express himself, and Peggy laughed and squeezed his hand. "You tell the story just like a man would," said she. She turned to Kate and Mrs. Sousa. "After our tea, he asked me for a walk; my uncle's offices on Downing Street, you know, are very near St. James' Park. We talked and walked for some time, and I tried very hard to make my interest in him felt --" she smiled warmly -- "and I suppose it worked. For he bought me a syllabub, and as we stood under a tree to drink, the conversation turned to marriage, and I admitted that I no longer felt the same about the institution as I had previously, and he, stammering adorably, asked if I would ever consider marriage to him, and I responded that I already had, and . . . here we are."

Kate and Mrs. Sousa both sighed a little, moved by the story, and Peggy was smiling very happily at him, her hand still in Daniel's. Daniel had to force himself not to move his hand away, as much as he desired to. It was not that he did not enjoy feeling the warmth of her hand through her glove. It was that he enjoyed it too much.

"When are you to wed?" asked Dr. Sousa.

"After the Season, we think," said Daniel, glad of the distraction. "It will allow us to take a long wedding tour without missing anything that may be happening here in London." He did not refer to Kate's potential wedding to Thomas, but apparently it was what his family thought, for Kate colored and Mrs. Sousa glanced at her. He did not bother to correct them; it would help sell the story.

From there, the talk turned to where the wedding would be held, what Peggy would wear and what flowers she would hold, where the wedding breakfast would be eaten. All these questions Peggy had ready answers for; Daniel was interested to learn that should he and Peggy ever marry, they would do so in the church of St. George, Hanover Square, as the Sousas lived in that parish and attended services there, and it was a terribly fashionable place to wed. After a few moments, though, he recognized that Peggy was gently and carefully steering the conversation away from the fake wedding and toward Dr. and Mrs. Sousa's own wedding some thirty years earlier. Mrs. Sousa was only too happy to speak of it, as ladies so often are, and when she was deep in a debate with her husband over whether it was her Aunt Norris or her Aunt Yates who fell asleep during the service, Peggy leaned close to Daniel.

"I was terribly uncomfortable listening to your mother decide what to serve at our wedding breakfast," she admitted in a whisper. "Poor woman."

"That is kind of you," Daniel whispered back. And between the two of them, they managed to keep the conversation firmly on the subject of his parents' wedding for the rest of the meal.

After dinner, the ladies retired to the drawing room and the gentlemen stayed in the dining room for port. To Daniel's immense surprise, his father and Colonel Phillips, who'd had little chance to converse as yet, got along famously once they began conversing. They were of a similar age and similarly practical, good-natured temperament, and the time passed quickly in friendly discussion of a topic that interested them both: battlefield medicine.

When the gentlemen had joined the ladies in the drawing room, Daniel prepared himself to spend another long conversation keeping his mother from planning too much. To his surprise, however, it was not necessary, for it transpired that the lady would prefer to chuse an entirely different topic. "I know very little of your background, Peggy," said she. "Tell us about your childhood."

This was a pleasant and not at all uncomfortable topic of conversation, so with a pleased smile, Peggy spoke at length of her youth, the colonel adding his recollections when necessary. Daniel knew enough of their lives to know that they were giving a censored version of events; much of their work on the Continent, especially Peggy's work as a codebreaker, was omitted. But still it was a sufficiently compelling story to keep all four Sousas thoroughly engrossed, even Daniel, who already knew a great deal of it.

He was distracted from the stories only when Peggy took his hand again. Daniel imagined his life for the next two months, with Peggy constantly casually touching him, and sighed inwardly. But then he supposed, why not let himself enjoy it? Peggy was initiating, not he, so he need not feel like he was in some way taking unfair advantage if he allowed himself to enjoy the warmth of her skin on his. And the alternative to enjoying it was to become horribly uncomfortable every time it happened, which would mean he would be horribly uncomfortable nearly constantly. So a few moments after she had taken his hand, he allowed himself to rub his thumb across her knuckles.

Her voice faltered, just for a moment, and she shot a brief and unreadable glance at him and moved on. "And it was Major Dugan," said she, continuing her story, "who first taught me to ride."

"He taught you more than riding," laughed the colonel. "Shooting, too; there is no finer shot in England than my niece. If ever you should visit the country, Captain, your wife will be vastly happy to take you hunting. And riding."

"I do enjoy a good bruising ride," admitted Peggy with a laugh, and glanced at her supposed fiance. "But I shall have a difficult time of convincing Daniel to accompany me. He is not, I think, very fond of horses."

"You shall simply have to teach me to appreciate them," smiled Daniel, and squeezed her hand.

"Were you never worried?" asked Kate from across the room. "Living in the camps, I mean. I am sure that the troops would be very respectful of the colonel's daughter, but still . . ."

Colonel Phillips, for some reason, laughed aloud at that. "They wouldn't dare try anything," said he, and Daniel could see that the evening's wine had loosened his tongue. "Even if they didn't fear my wrath, they would have soon learned Peggy can more than take care of herself." He turned to his niece, smiling. "Mind the time you broke your hand?"

This made Peggy look quite embarrassed, which intrigued Daniel. "How did you break your hand?"

She shook her head. "You don't want to hear that story."

"I certainly do now," said he, smiling. Still she hesitated, so he leaned in close. "Come now," said he in a teazing tone, "we don't want to start our engagement with secrets, do we?"

She saw the absurdity in that statement, as he had intended her to, and laughed. "Fine," said she. "I broke it on an officer's face."

Her proclamation was greeted with immense surprise by the Sousa family. Dr. Sousa looked amused, while Kate looked happily scandalized, and Mrs. Sousa looked entirely baffled. Daniel blinked in surprise, one corner of his mouth turned up in a tiny smile. "He had it coming, I presume?"

"He was not behaving himself like a gentleman," said she. "He was . . . a little more familiar with me than was entirely appropriate, and he did not believe Major Dugan when he said that he or I or my uncle would have to respond if he continued his attentions. And he did not believe that I could fight him." She smiled a little. "So I proved I could, and he never bothered me again. But I was not careful when I hit him, and I fractured the bones in my hand."

"You struck a gentleman in the face?" Mrs. Sousa asked in shock. Perhaps the story was lessening her estimation of her supposed future daughter-in-law, and Daniel supposed that would be one way to soften the blow when he had to tell her that the engagement was over.

"He would hardly deserve the title 'gentleman,' Maria, if he was behaving in that way," pointed out her husband reasonably. From the corner of his eye, Daniel saw Peggy smile a little at the good doctor coming to her defense.

"If you think of it," added Kate, "perhaps it would be wise if more ladies were able to defend themselves. There are men out there with dishonorable intentions, and a lady will not always be in the company of a man who can protect her."

Mrs. Sousa looked surprised and stayed silent for a moment yet, and Daniel worried for a moment that they had reached the edge of her usual good-natured tolerance. But then she laughed. "You are both right, of course."

And Peggy smiled.

Soon the hour came for Peggy and her uncle to leave. As the Sousa family bade them farewell, Mrs. Sousa approached Peggy and Daniel; Kate and Dr. Sousa were both engaged in bidding the colonel farewell. "You must excuse me, Peggy dear, for earlier; I was surprised, but certainly it is a skill that has served you well, if it kept a scoundrel from forcing his attentions on you."

It was a skill that had served her well on many occasions, Daniel had no doubt. Peggy smiled. "I apologize for my uncle," said she. "He likes to teaze me sometimes. And I assure you, I do not often strike people, gentlemen or otherwise."

Mrs. Sousa laughed a little, then unexpectedly took Peggy's hands in hers. "Clearly you have had an upbringing quite different to what I am accustomed," said she, "but the end result has been your becoming a woman of immense self-possession, intelligence, and good character. I think it an excellent thing that you are to marry my son, and I very much look forward to the day I can call you my daughter-in-law."

Daniel supposed that Peggy's hesitation before speaking was so slight that his mother did not notice it. "You are too kind, Maria," said she, and pressed a kiss to that lady's cheek. Then Kate and Dr. Sousa came to give Peggy their goodbyes, and then finally only one more farewell remained to be made.

"'Til I see you next, Captain," said she. "I shall think of you every moment until then."

"And I you."

This seemed the sort of moment that a lovesick swain would kiss his lady's hand, and so Daniel took her gloved hands in his and pressed each to his lips, one after the other. She smiled at him, and then the guests departed.

When the door was shut, Kate wordlessly put her arms around her brother, and Mrs. Sousa patted his cheek with tears once again brimming in her eyes, and his father clapped him warmly on the shoulder. Clearly he and Peggy had successfully convinced them of their engagement. And as he saw how happy it had made his family, the mantra ran again through his head: Duty to God and country. He was doing this for his family.

Perhaps, if repeated enough, it would help him to stop feeling quite so guilt-ridden.

. . . . . .


The Season: In case you were curious, the Season coincided with when Parliament was in session; the members of the Houses of Parliament would flock to London to do their civic duty, and while they were there everyone would party. So the dates of it shifted when Parliament did, but was always roughly winter and spring; in 1817, it would have been roughly January to June.

Syllabub in St. James' Park: Syllabub is a sweet drink of curdled milk/and or cream, sweetened and flavored. It is the sort of thing one might have gotten in St. James' Park, which to my enormous surprise, was apparently used for pasturing cows in Regency Era London. I mean, I suppose that if you want fresh milk, you have to keep the cows somewhere, but it's hard for me as a modern American to imagine having cows all over your local park—especially a park in the middle of swanky downtown, spitting distance from Buckingham Palace. So the next time you're in London, watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham, imagine the park behind you dotted with picturesque cows and milk maids.

St. George's, Hanover Square: A large and impressive church built in 1721, very near to the Sousas' own Berkeley Square. Because it was right in the thick of the nice part of town, it was a very popular place for fancy weddings, including Percy Bysshe Shelley, Benjamin Disraeli, and Teddy Roosevelt.

Chapter 12


Guys, I am on a roll, and I figured I might as well take advantage of how much I've been writing this week and get this posted. Enjoy!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

The first event that the alleged future Captain and Mrs. Sousa attended as an engaged couple was a card party at the home of the Martinellis. Colonel Phillips and the Sousa family were invited, by virtue of their children being friends with Miss Angela Martinelli, but Colonel Phillips was otherwise engaged that evening -- Daniel was quickly learning that if there were any possible way to get out of a social engagement, the colonel would find it -- so it was decided that the Sousas would take Peggy along with them in their coach.

"After all," said Mrs. Sousa, "as she has neither family nor chaperon to attend with her, and as we are nearly family, I consider it both an obligation and a privilege to step into that role for her." Again the pangs of guilt ate at Daniel at her pronouncement, but really he counted himself fortunate; his family had not pressed him too much for more details on his very sudden engagement to Miss Margaret Carter, so he had not spent as much of the last few days lying and feeling guilty as he might have expected. And Peggy sent back the kindest, warmest note thanking Mrs. Sousa for the offer of the coach and the company.

So on the Tuesday next, the Sousa coach pulled into Cavendish Square Gardens, and Daniel went to the door to call for Peggy, who soon appeared. He took advantage of the moment alone to speak, knowing that such moments might be few and far between this evening. "I hope you do not mind my mother's very solicitous attentions," said he. "She is only trying to help and show affection, but I sense you do not prefer to have a chaperon."

"Do not apologize," smiled Peggy. "I do find having a chaperon rather tedious, but my reason for appearing so often without one this Season is logistical in nature, not rebellious: I have no relative or close friend to step into that role."

Daniel frowned; surely he had seen her with a chaperon before. Peggy saw his confusion and explained, "My uncle has an old friend who accompanies me to balls when she is able, but her health is poor and she often cannot. And Mrs. Martinelli has acted as chaperon when I attend events with Angie. But the rest of the time I have been forced to do without one, which I like for my own sake but which draws rather more attention than I would like; I am allowed a certain amount of leeway, because of my unusual upbringing and my uncle's wealth and position, and because I am old enough to no longer be considered newly out in society, but it is still not ideal for me to be out without one, not even as an engaged person. So your mother stepping into that role is an unforeseen but entirely welcome benefit to our engagement." She took his arm and her butler shut the door behind her. "Besides," said she, "I rather like your mother."

He could not help but smile at that, and his family saw it as the couple climbed into the carriage because his mother gave her son a soft smile in return. She had been giving him that smile often over the last few days, and he fancied he knew what it meant: it was the contentment that came with feeling she was halfway to securing the design she valued above all others, namely the security and marital felicity of her children.

The passengers of the coach talked easily and comfortably all the way to the Martinellis'; Peggy told the other ladies an amusing anecdote about her visit to her modiste that afternoon, and it occurred to Daniel with a start that there were still certain things he did not know about Peggy: for instance, he did not know if her story was true or simply invented for the sake of small talk. She was always dressed in the height of fashion, which he supposed did require time at the dressmakers', but he had a hard time reconciling the Peggy he knew with the idea of fussing about flounces and frocks.

When the coach arrived at the Martinellis' rooms, Dr. Sousa alighted from the coach with a spring in his step; he cheerfully tolerated most social outings, but a card party was one he genuinely anticipated with pleasure. He helped his lady from the carriage, and then his daughter, and with one of them on each of his arms, they approached the door, leaving Peggy and Daniel unexpectedly and temporarily alone. She took advantage of the moment of privacy to withdraw a list from her reticule and hand it to him. "I nearly forgot! The first batch from the records we obtained at Almack's," she explained. "I am sorry I did not get them to you earlier; I've only just obtained the list myself from our people at the Alien Office. I highly doubt any of them will be here, but this may be my only chance to get them to you tonight, and you can take them home and begin to learn them for our next outing."

He was a little surprised. "You do not expect to do any spy work here?"

"I have seen the guest list. I know everyone on it, and I do not think any of them can provide me with much information."

"Then why attend?"

Peggy looked startled. "Because Angie is my friend," she said. She was quiet as Daniel scrambled ungracefully down from the carriage and turned back to help her alight. "I understand your confusion, though," said she. "My work is usually my entire life. But I have been reminded, this Season, that there is more to life than one's duty. So my attendance is a symptom of my desire to be a good friend to Angie."

He looked down at her, surprised but pleased, until she admitted, "And Mrs. Martinelli is an incurable gossip. I can think of no better way to spread the news of our engagement than to tell her, and that is vital for keeping our covers intact. And for your sister's reputation."

"Who knew a simple card party could fulfill so many purposes?" asked Daniel with a smile, and offered Peggy's arm to lead her inside.

They had been so long in the coach that by the time they reached the door, the Sousas were out of sight, but a footman was stationed at the door to motion them inside. Inside they went, and what Daniel saw there caused him to grimace: a very long flight of stairs, leading to the Martinellis' rooms on the upper floor of the building. He was able to climb stairs, of course, and did it often; his shame came from the fact that never had Peggy seen him mount any sizable number of stairs before, as generally he had managed to slip behind her any time stairs were encountered. It was an ungainly sight, one that required him to take up nearly the entire width of the stairwell with his prosthetic and his cane; he did not like her to see him this way. But there was nothing for it.

With a tight smile at Peggy, he removed his arm from hers and gestured at the stairs. For a moment her expression was one of surprise, but then understanding filled her face and she obligingly started her ascent. Daniel, in the meantime, gripped the railing tightly and, with his cane in his other hand, began the slow and arduous process of climbing the stairs.

By the time he reached the top, Peggy had been waiting for him there for some time, and she smiled at him as though she hadn't been. "Shall we?"

He nodded, fearful to make eye contact, for he suspected from the warmth on his cheeks that he was coloring in a most humiliating way. Peggy seemed to notice this, for she looked at him a moment, and then unexpectedly she placed one hand on his upper arm.

"You know it doesn't bother me, don't you?" said she. There was no question as to what she was referring.

He stared.With her face so close to his, her eye contact so bold and so direct, he thought it was perhaps the most intimate contact they'd ever had, and certainly it felt like perhaps the most intimate topic of discussion they had ever broached. He swallowed hard. "Thank you."

She gave a small nod, her eyes still on his, but anything else that might have been said was swallowed up by the sound of a door opening; a footman, standing at the other end of the hall, was opening the door to the Martinellis' drawing room, and whatever enchantment had lingered in the air between Peggy and Daniel was shattered like glass.

"Our party awaits," said Peggy, and Daniel nodded and escorted her down the hall.

A handful of people dotted the handsomely furnished drawing room. Daniel had always been fond of a card party, for though he did not share his father's enthusiasm for cards, they were always quiet, intimate gatherings of friends, something of which Daniel approved greatly. And adding to the general sense of pleasantness was the presence, right at the door, of Miss Martinelli and her parents.

"Miss Carter, Captain Sousa," said Mrs. Martinelli in kind greeting. "How good of you to come. You are a most welcome addition to our little gathering."

Mr. Martinelli greeted them as well, and surprised Daniel by remembering the hour they spent in the same theatre box some two months ago. And then Miss Martinelli stepped forward to clasp her friend's hands, and to greet Daniel with a very correct but very enthusiastic curtsy.

"It is so good to see you both, as always," she said, and then hesitated. "Did you . . . arrive together?"

"Daniel's family was kind enough to bring me with them," Peggy explained. She glanced at Daniel, who gave her a small nod. "You see, Angie, we have news for you."

Miss Martinelli's jaw dropped and she gasped in a most unladylike fashion. "You're engaged," was her guess.

Peggy smiled and nodded, and Angie let out a little shriek that caused several guests at the card tables to turn their heads in surprise. "I knew it!" exclaimed the young lady, and Daniel very much wished that he could ask her what precisely she had known, without attracting any more attention than Miss Martinelli already had. Soon the thought had left his mind, though, for Miss Martinelli was throwing her arms around Peggy, and then giving him a very expressive look; he thought it reasonable to assume that if her very correct mother were not so nearby, she would have embraced him as well.

"I have hoped so long for this news," said she. "You two are perfectly suited to each other. A perfect couple. Like Tristan and Isolde."

Peggy made a face at that. "You know what happened to Tristan and Isolde, don't you?"

Miss Martinelli gave no sign of having heard. "Although --" she glanced at Peggy -- "I had rather given up on hoping for you two to finally reach this point."

"What is this?" Mrs. Martinelli asked, approaching their group.

"Mama," said Miss Martinelli, "Miss Carter and Captain Sousa are to be married."

"Indeed!" exclaimed her mother. "This is excellent news!" Though he knew the woman was somewhat acquainted with Peggy, and might therefore be very invested in her happiness, Daniel found himself wondering how much her enthusiasm for the match was spurred by her happiness in finding herself owner of what was likely a highly desirable piece of gossip. He imagined that Peggy was right, and by this time tomorrow, news of the engagement would be all over town.

"Well," said Mrs. Martinelli, "far be it from me to split up a pair of young lovers. We shall have to sit you two down at the same table; Angela, darling, go with them, and fetch the lieutenant to make a fourth. I believe he is in the corner, talking to the vicar. What do you prefer to play? Whist, loo --"

"Loo," came the firm response of Miss Martinelli, who suddenly looked a little displeased.

"Then take the vicar as well, to make a fifth."

As she turned away, Peggy and Daniel looked at Miss Martinelli. "Lieutenant?" asked Peggy.

Miss Martinelli heaved a great sigh. "It is, I'm afraid, exactly who you fear it is. Mama met your Lieutenant Thompson at a rout a few weeks ago and thinks him a very good match for any young lady -- including, unfortunately, me. She is now trying very hard to bring us together. I half suspect that she decided to entertain tonight for the sole purpose of getting me at a card table with him."

That explained her insistence on loo over whist; if they'd played whist, then Peggy and Daniel, as a newly engaged couple, would surely request to partner with each other, forcing Miss Martinelli to partner with Lieutenant Thompson. Loo, however, did not require participants to play as partners. "Could we get another player instead?" asked Daniel.

But Miss Martinelli, although grateful for the suggestion, did not approve this plan; her Mama, she said, would be upset with her daughter for ruining her plans and her carefully organized groups at the card tables. Lieutenant Thompson would simply have to be borne with as much patience and grace as they could muster. "But just think," said Miss Martinelli, her countenance brightening, "how unhappy he will be to learn of your engagement!" And with that thought to buoy her, she led Peggy and Daniel to where the lieutenant stood talking to a kindly looking older gentleman that Daniel recognized from previous social events as vicar of a nearby church.

"Lieutenant Thompson, Mr. Ferrars," said Miss Martinelli with perfect gravity, "would you care to join us for a game of loo?"

Lieutenant Thompson glanced around and saw Peggy and Daniel standing at the card table behind Miss Martinelli, and his face brightened a little. "I would be honored."

"And I too," said the vicar. "Although I hope we may limit the betting. I do not think a little gambling inconsistent with my calling, but a clergyman should always be careful at the card tables, I think."

"I am happy to agree to that condition," said Daniel, who was by no means certain of his abilities at cards and was not interested in losing a great sum of money tonight.

"Wonderful!" exclaimed Mr. Ferrars, and made his way to the table.

The others followed, and Lieutenant Thompson invited himself to the open seat on the other side of Peggy. "You look exceptionally beautiful tonight, Margaret," he said, pressing a slow kiss to her hand, and Daniel felt his body tense; the lieutenant was as impertinent as ever. He reminded himself, however, that Peggy had elected not to reproach him for his familiar use of her name, so with some difficulty, he forced himself not to respond.

Peggy, for her part, simply smiled. "You are too kind, Jack," said she, and Daniel was surprised but amused at the use of the nickname. "And by the way, my dear cousin, you must congratulate me."

Lieutenant Thompson raised one eyebrow. "Must I? And why is that?"

She smiled beatifically while Miss Martinelli watched the proceedings with interest, clearly waiting for the lieutenant's reaction. "I am to be married."

The lieutenant blinked, his expression blank. "To whom?"

A strange sound escaped from Miss Martinelli, who quickly covered her mouth with her hand -- a stifled laugh, clearly. Daniel rather agreed with the sentiment. "To me," he said, a bit incredulously. Surely that was obvious, from the fact that Peggy was standing beside to him when she made the announcement.

But clearly that had not even occurred to the lieutenant. "To you?" he repeated. He turned to Peggy. "To him?"

"Yes, to him," said Peggy with a faint smile. "Captain Sousa and I are to be married."

"Well, this is excellent news," said Mr. Ferrars. "Congratulations, my children." It was rather effusive for a man who Daniel had only ever met twice, but he got the sense that was simply the man's personality.

Lieutenant Thompson was not so encouraging. "To him?" he repeated.

Daniel's first response was to be insulted at the lieutenant's apparent refusal to believe that Peggy could ever want to marry him, but then he got a closer look at the gentleman's face. His expression was genuinely shocked, and a little hurt; he had not expected this, and he was not emotionally prepared. And to his immense surprise, Daniel was a little sympathetic. He too knew what it was like to care for Peggy without hope.

The sentiment only lasted, however, until Lieutenant Thompson opened his mouth again. "Do you really want to spend the rest of your life with a man who is . . . not whole?"

Both Miss Martinelli and Mr. Ferrars looked shocked at his question, and Daniel felt his pulse begin to race at what his body sensed was an impending conflict.

But it was Peggy who responded. Her posture shifted subtly, and she stood up straighter, and when she spoke, Daniel sensed her light tone was covering steel beneath. "I am quite certain I do," said she with surety. "For I have long thought that the content of a man's soul is far more important than the vessel of flesh and bone that contains it, and I can assure you that the content of the captain's soul is quite superior to that of any other young man I know. So why should I care for anything else?" She reached out without looking and took Daniel's hand in hers, and even with her glove as a barrier between their joined hands, he felt like a current of water was rushing through that point of contact. "Far better that than a man who appears perfect on the outside but has little inside. There is a phrase from the Bible, is there not, Mr. Ferrars . . . a whited sepulchre, I believe?"

"Indeed," said the vicar, sounding pleased. "Gospel of Matthew. They 'appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones.'"

"Exactly," said Peggy, her gaze still fixed on Lieutenant Thompson and her tone still deceptively casual. "I had far rather have a man whose character and mind are above reproach and entirely compatible with my own, no matter how he appears, than a whited sepulchre." She turned to smile at Daniel. "And besides, I think most young ladies would agree that there is absolutely nothing lacking from Captain Sousa's exterior, don't you think, Angie?"

"Absolutely," said Miss Martinelli, hiding a smile. "Very handsome."

Daniel colored under the onslaught of so much praise. Peggy had obviously only said it to put the lieutenant in his place, and yet . . . and yet she must have meant at least some of it, mustn't she have? She had seemed rather sincere in her declarations.

Lieutenant Thompson had stood silent through all this, his expression tightening all the while, and Daniel supposed that he was angry at being so set down. But then the gentleman surprised him, for after taking a deep breath, he spoke, his eyes on Peggy. "I may have deserved all that. I should not have said what I said." He glanced at Daniel. "It was inappropriate." He turned back to Peggy, and Daniel sensed it was as much of an apology as they were going to get. And from John Thompson, it felt like a great deal of an apology.

Peggy seemed to agree, for with a glance at Daniel, who nodded, she said to the lieutenant, "You were surprised and you spoke out of turn. Let us sit down to our game and talk no more of it." She gave Lieutenant Thompson a polite smile. "After all, we are family, are we not?"

He nodded, and Daniel pulled the chair out for Peggy as the vicar pulled the chair out for Miss Martinelli, and they all sat down to what he could only assume would be a very uncomfortable game of loo. And indeed, as Miss Martinelli began to deal out the cards, there was an awkward silence at first. But Mr. Ferrars soon filled it. "And where are you to wed, my dears?" he asked Peggy and Daniel.

"St. George's," said Daniel, when Peggy did not immediately responded, being distracted with looking at her cards. "Hanover Square."

"A beautiful church," smiled the vicar. "But are you sure you would not prefer a country wedding? Very charming, very rustic."

"Indeed it would be," said Peggy, "but neither of us has a country residence. We both reside exclusively in London."

"We could get a country residence," Daniel suggested without thinking; he was a little distracted looking at his hand, which was a surprisingly good one. "After we are married."

Peggy looked at him, surprised. "Do you want one?" she asked. "So far from both our families?"

"Ah," laughed the vicar, "but it is possible for a woman to be settled too near her family."

"Agreed," sighed Miss Martinelli.

"We needn't live there year-round," said he, wondering all the while why he was pursuing this topic -- and then realizing he knew the reason. He did it because it was pleasant, to sit like this and pretend. "Somewhere we can visit when we need respite from the crowds and noise of London."

Peggy's expression lightened a little at this. "Somewhere by the sea."

"Somewhere you can ride horses to your heart's content," he agreed.

"Somewhere with an excellent confectioner close by, so that you may drink all the hot chocolate you chuse," she teazed.

Miss Martinelli chimed in. "Somewhere with enough spare bedrooms that you can invite me to visit you often."

The other occupants of the table laughed and turned their attention to their cards, and Daniel forced down the silly, besotted smile that wanted so desperately to cross his face. What a perfect future he could imagine, if he knew Peggy would be by his side.

"Let us begin the game," said Peggy. "And allow me to warn you, my dear Captain, that fiancee or no, I have every intention of beating you."

He gave her a fond smile and the game began, and he very quickly learned that Peggy's words had been a bluff. He himself did quite well; he had never been a very enthusiastic card player, but he knew the rules well enough, as it was often how the sailors would pass time on ship. He had not realized how much practice that had given him. Lieutenant Thompson was quite good as well, and Miss Martinelli was a very passable player. The vicar was not particularly good. But to Daniel's immense surprise, the worst player at the table, without a doubt, was Peggy. She never passed when she ought, she lost trick after trick, and it was probably quite good that the vicar had insisted on limiting the betting or she would be out a great deal of money. It endeared her to Daniel strangely that she should be a poor card player; for a woman who seemed to excel at everything she attempted, it amused him that there was one thing at which she did not.

He considered, a time or two, throwing a hand so that she might have a better chance of winning; and indeed, at the beginning of their acquaintance, he might have done just that. But he knew her well enough now to know that she would not appreciate it; she might fight dirty to get what she wanted, but she would not accept pity and charity.

Thus he found himself, soon after, laying down yet another ace with an amused glance at Peggy. "Do let me know, dearest, when you decide to commence beating me at this game."

Peggy let out a long-suffering sigh, amusem*nt dancing in her eyes, and contributed another three coins to the pot. "I did not know I was marrying such an accomplished card sharp," she teazed.

"I am wounded by your words," he said drily.

Lieutenant Thompson, who had been somewhat quiet since his apology, was watching them both, and when he spoke, it became clear that some animosity still lingered. "You know, Captain, many men would allow their fiancees to win at cards."

Peggy simply smiled. "The captain would not be my fiance if he allowed me to win at cards," said she, and Daniel gave her a half-grin. "Although, in two months it will be his money that I'm spending at the card tables. So perhaps he will have an incentive to keep me from losing so often."

"My money?" repeated Daniel, willing to go along with the joke. "I assure you, madam, that any money you lose at cards will come from your pin money. I have no desire to lose my hard-earned money to your poor playing."

She made a surprised and affronted little sound, but her eyes were smiling. And Daniel returned her smile.

The rest of the evening passed in much the same way; after a time their table broke up, much to Miss Martinelli's relief, and Daniel and Peggy found themselves playing whist against Mr. Martinelli and an elderly lady who destroyed them all at the game without batting an eye, and then they helped themselves to refreshments, and then they found themselves separated and scattered to two different tables. Daniel was both relieved and sorry to find himself playing Vingt-et-un against Mrs. Martinelli and a group of strangers. He missed Peggy immediately, which made him at once wish her back and wish her far away. He was getting too attached; he was growing accustomed to her presence at his side, so that she could catch his eye and make a face when someone did something ridiculous, could squeeze his hand or make a sly remark or share a joke. He could see why people liked it, this marriage institution. With the right person, having someone always by your side could be a very beguiling notion.

They all shared a bit of hot supper, Daniel and Peggy joining the Sousas to eat, and then they bid the Martinellis farewell and made their way back to their coach. Peggy calmly released his arm at the top of the stairs and made her own way down, and when he reached her side after his usual ungainly descent, she took his arm again as though nothing had happened. All the way back to Cavendish Square Gardens, the family talked easily of the evening's events, and laughed delightedly at Kate's story of her whist partner falling asleep mid-game. When they reached Colonel Phillips' rooms, the Sousas all bade Peggy a fond farewell, and Daniel saw her to the door.

"This was a lovely evening," said Peggy. "Thank your family again for me."

Daniel nodded. "It was . . . very nice." He wondered if he should kiss her hand, but before he had made up his mind, she spoke again.

"It has been a long time since I had to do such a great deal of playacting to maintain a cover," she said. "I rather enjoyed it. It was a nice challenge."

Daniel was still a moment, and then he nodded. "Indeed," he said. "A very nice challenge." And with a very correct bow, he took his leave and returned to the carriage.

Playacting, he repeated to himself as the carriage pulled away from the steps. She was only playacting, when she pretended to be so fond of him. And indeed, it apparently took "a great deal of playacting" and was "a challenge" to pass herself off as the future Mrs. Margaret Sousa.

He had, despite his best efforts, apparently let himself get carried away by his feelings again. But he was not upset at her words; indeed, he blessed her for them. They were a reminder, much needed, that this was all a job for the Alien Office. She might very convincingly play the part of a smitten fiancee, but it was only that: a part. When she touched him, when she smiled at him, these gestures might be inspired in part by the genuine friendship that had sprung up between them, but he ought not read any more into them than that friendship and duty to the crown.

And as the carriage rumbled on toward Berkeley Square, he made himself a solemn oath: he would not allow himself to be swept up in his feelings again.

. . . . . .


I decided that Thompson was turning into a mustache-twirling villain in this story, and after this week's episodes, he doesn't deserve that. I mean, he's made himself jury, judge and executioner, which is not ideal, but at least he's on Peggy and Daniel's side? Which is nice? So, this week, a brief moment where I force myself to remember that there is more depth to the character than I sometimes admit.

Historical notes:
Modiste: A dressmaker or maker of other fashionable clothing for women.
Tristan and Isolde: (spoilers) died. That's what happened to those two, in answer to Peggy's question. It's an old story with many versions and many possible origins, but the basic gist is that Tristan is a Cornish knight who goes to Ireland to bring the princess Isolde (or Iseult) back to marry his uncle, King Mark. On the way, the pair accidentally (OR DELIBERATELY??) drink a love potion and fall madly in love, which causes weirdness when they get to Cornwall and she marries his uncle. Lots of sneaking around, lots of subterfuge, eventual death. It's not a story you want to model your own love story on, is what I'm saying.
Cards: Loo was wildly popular in its day, but also a little bit disreputable, especially since it had the capacity of very quickly costing people a fortune if they didn't put a cap on the betting. Vingt-et-un is basically Blackjack. Whist is a bit like Hearts only you play on teams, which if I recall correctly makes it sort of like Rook, only I don't think I do recall correctly because I only played Rook like once in college and was bad at it.
Pin money: Marriage agreements in this period, and prior periods of English history, often included "pin money": a small yearly allowance a husband would give his wife for her personal needs.

Chapter 13


Guys. GUYS. This is a glorious time to be alive. This ship that looked like such a long-shot in season 1 has suddenly become canon and everything is good and wonderful and I've been smiling since Tuesday.

In this chapter: IDK, I'm just really into boxing this week, apparently.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

Over the next several weeks, Daniel's life fell into a comfortable routine. His family accepted Peggy unquestioningly as one of their own and brought her with them to balls, routs, and musical evenings alike, and it was as great a boon to their investigation as they had hoped it would be. Always in the carriage they were surrounded by the Sousas and could not speak of their work, but on every outing Daniel was allowed time alone with Peggy as he took her from her house to the carriage and the carriage to her house, and in those stolen moments they could talk openly. And because they now attended many of the same events, they often found themselves unexpectedly given privacy to talk to each other. On the pretext of taking tea with Peggy and Colonel Phillips, Daniel began traveling to the Home Office whenever he liked, where he and Peggy could discuss strategy.

On one of these visits, Major Dugan invited Daniel to come with him to Gentleman Jackson's boxing academy, and several such outings followed; Daniel had now been away from the sea for nearly five months, and he very much saw the need to keep his strength up and his skills sharp. Mr. Jackson was very understanding of Daniel's injury and provided invaluable advice on compensating for it; in short, Daniel felt he had never been so prepared to face a possible Russian hostile as he was at that moment.

Unfortunately, the added freedom and preparation did not produce any results. Phillips' man Barnes did not discover anything of interest, and was quite bored of being undercover as a footman. Daniel and Peggy's search was similarly fruitless; they were now very nearly through all ten patronesses' record books, and nothing useful had been found. Privately Daniel doubted anything would ever come of it; it was a good idea in theory, but all the people on those lists were, from what he could tell, entirely above reproach. He had even been amused to find that the Alien Office's people had flagged Dorothea Underwood of all people as a potential, as they could find insufficient information about her background; he had showed it to Peggy, and they had both laughed and agreed that even if they hadn't met her severe old aunt and seen that she came from a respectable family, they could be fairly sure that no one so sweet but unsophisticated and silly could be deserving of their suspicion.

So they waited for further intelligence to come from Russia, and in the meantime they continued their charade as as engaged couple. Daniel had kept the oath he'd made: he had not allowed himself to be overwhelmed by his feelings for Peggy since that night at the Martinellis', and without that hanging over their heads, he found himself quite able to enjoy the time he spent with her. Peggy was an exceedingly pleasant companion, and he very much appreciated having someone to socialize with at these events when he was not feeling equal to the task of making small talk with strangers. And he especially enjoyed that the eager mamas and chaperons of the ton were now leaving him alone; he had truly grown weary of making polite conversation with eligible young ladies, conversations that were little more than an opportunity for potential mates to size each other up.

And he enjoyed being drawn into Peggy's social circle, just as much as Peggy seemed to enjoy being drawn into the Sousa home. Besides boxing with Major Dugan and the occasional afternoon spent with Colonel Phillips, he now supposed he could count Sir Howard Stark, baronet, chief engineer of the Royal Corps of Engineers, among his friends, which was certainly not something he would have ever expected to be true.

The baronet learned of the engagement a week after it occurred. Mrs. Sousa, supposing from Peggy's earlier request to be taken to Almack's that her future daughter-in-law greatly enjoyed the place, obtained tickets for the whole family to attend one night. The outing was less than relaxing, for although Peggy and Daniel would not be required to rifle through any private offices this time, this still put them in the location of their one clue about their anarchist, and they spent the whole evening on high alert. Daniel found himself politely conversing with more strangers than he could count, searching subtly for any anti-government feeling, all to no avail. It was tiring, and he was almost glad when Peggy came walking toward them, looking as defeated as he felt; he supposed she'd had no success either.

"I am reasonably certain," said she as she approached, "that the Almack's clue is a dead end."

"If we are being honest," said Daniel, "I have thought so for weeks."

Peggy sighed, but before she could speak, an older gentleman approached, beaming and bewhiskered. "Oh no," Peggy groaned quietly. "Charles Finley."

"We do not like Charles Finley?"

"He means well, I am sure," said Peggy. "But he asks me to dance at every ball we both attend, and I am not sure my poor bruised toes can take another beating. He is . . . not the most graceful of dancers, we shall say. Mr. Finley, hello." For the gentleman in question had at that moment reached them.

"Miss Carter, capital to see you, absolutely capital. And this must be the lucky fiance! You have found quite a woman, sir, quite a woman."

"Thank you," said Daniel, inclining his head with perfect gravity.

"And now I must ask you, Miss Carter, would you do me the honor of the next two?" He glanced at Daniel. "My own wife does not like to dance, you see, and I am immensely fond it. And Miss Carter here is as accomplished a dancer as I have ever seen!"

Daniel was certain only he saw the subtle shift in Peggy's posture, the reluctance in the way she drew breath and prepared to say yes. And in that moment, his mother's advice from the last time they were at Almack's suddenly came to mind. "I am afraid she is already engaged for the next set," said he, and both his companions turned to look at him in surprise.

"Indeed?" said Mr. Finley.

"Indeed," confirmed Daniel. "She has agreed to spend them with me."

Mr. Finley glanced down at Daniel's cane, at the false leg visible under his Almack's-mandated breeches, and then looked questioningly back up at Daniel -- not unkind, but confused.

"Since I cannot dance with her," Daniel explained, "I have asked if she would sit this dance out with me."

Peggy broke out into a smile. "Which I was only too happy to agree to," she lied smoothly. "For it is really too bad that we never get to spend this time together, simply because my dear captain does not dance."

"Capital idea," said Mr. Finley kindly. "Well, far be it from me to interrupt your dance. Another time, Miss Carter." And he bowed and set out in search of another young lady on whose toes he might step.

"That was quick thinking, Daniel," Peggy complimented him.

"It was my mother's idea," he admitted. "The last time we were here. She was sorry that I could not dance."

She smiled. "Well, I think it is, as Mr. Finley would say, a capital idea. I think we ought to carry it out. Shall we find ourselves somewhere to sit?"

Surprised but pleased, Daniel offered Peggy his arm and made his way to an available chaise longue. They had scarcely seated themselves there when the rising murmuring of the crowd heralded the arrival of a person of interest, and the pair looked to the door to see that Sir Howard had entered. Daniel had not spoken to the man since their first meeting, but on catching the captain's eye, Sir Howard's face brightened and he made his way over to their seat.

"Peg! Captain Sousa! How good to see you both."

Peggy smiled warmly and stood to greet him, and he kissed her hand warmly. Daniel grabbed his cane and began to struggle into a standing position as well, but Sir Howard waved him back down. "We'll all sit, shall we?" said he, and pulled a spare chair over so he could sit and face them both. It was surprisingly kind, especially coming from a man who was the source of so much negative gossip. He remembered Peggy saying that he had a good heart, deep down under all his fancy clothing and penchant for fast horses and doubtful company, and reflected that it seemed that was true.

"Are you here alone, Howard?" asked Peggy. "Only I have seen you very often with a certain young lady."

"Dottie," Sir Howard grinned. "Or Dorothea, as I suppose you know her. That's quite a girl. But she's ill right now. She's very disappointed she couldn't come."

"She must be quite something, to have kept your interest all this while."

"Peg, she's tremendous! Just tremendous."

"Good," said Peggy. "Then perhaps it's time you settled down."

"Oh," said Sir Howard, deflating a little, "I wouldn't go that far." He glanced at Daniel. "I hope I'm not interrupting," said he. "You two looked awfully cozy," and he gave a wink. "But I haven't seen you ages, Peg! What have you been up to? Breaking hearts? Breaking heads?"

Peggy glanced at Daniel, her expression conflicted for a moment. He supposed that this was the first of her friends who was not a part of the Alien Office and to whom she would therefore have to lie about her engagement. But then she smiled and looked back at Sir Howard. "Actually, Howard," said she, "I hope my heart-breaking days are entirely behind me. Captain Sousa and I are to be married."

A strange series of expressions ran over Sir Howard's face. Surprise, at first, with his eyebrows raised and his mouth hanging open, and then an odd combination: happiness and sadness in equal parts. But then the sadness drained away, leaving him looking entirely pleased. "Are you, Peg? That's wonderful news! And congratulations to you, Captain!"

He shook Daniel's hand enthusiastically and then turned back to Peggy, peppering her with questions about why she couldn't have spent ten minutes to drop a line to an old friend about her engagement. And Daniel watched it all curiously, trying to interpret the baronet's odd reaction. Was he a little sorry for his own sake? Had he perhaps had designs on Peggy? But that idea did not stand up to a moment's scrutiny; the man would have had years to act on such feelings, if they existed, for he was not the type to dither when he wanted something.

Then Sir Howard hesitated a moment, then said in a gentle voice, "I'm glad you've moved on, Peg." And it struck Daniel like a blow: Sir Howard had, from what Peggy had told him, been part of a small cadre who worked together to fight Napoleon's Grande Armée, along with Peggy, Major Dugan, Colonel Phillips, Barnes from the Alien Office . . . and Captain Steven Rogers. Undoubtedly the baronet had known of Peggy's attachment to the captain, as everyone else from that group seemed to; perhaps the idea of Peggy moving on to a new suitor had reminded the baronet of a dear friend, now dead, and he simultaneously celebrated Peggy's future while mourning the loss of Captain Rogers'.

Peggy's response was confirmation; she gave Sir Howard a small, slightly melancholy smile, even as she reached out and wrapped her arm around Daniel's. "I have," she said with certainty in her voice.

Sir Howard gave her a similarly sad smile, and then he unexpectedly reached out and clapped Daniel on the shoulder, his cheerful mood returning. "Well! This is excellent news, Captain, and I look forward to getting to know you better. For I know Peg here would not agree to marry you were you not something extraordinary. We need to spend some quality time together. You attend any clubs?"

Daniel shook his head; he had little interest in the gentlemen's clubs that dotted the city. "Unless you count Gentleman Jackson's. I have been going there with Major Dugan."

"Gentleman Jackson's! I knew I liked you, Sousa. Dugan's an old friend of mine; I'll write him about inviting myself along some time. We should celebrate. What do they have to drink around here?" He glanced over at the refreshment table.

"Punch," said Peggy. "You're at Almack's, recall; no alcohol."

And Sir Howard hung his head and sighed. "I've just remembered why I dislike this place."

Daniel even managed to largely ignore the constant tension between what was true, what was a cover story, and what he wanted; as long as he did not ponder too long or too hard on his current situation, he could pretend he was simply having a lark with a dear friend -- a friend with a tendency to hold his arm quite often. The only dark mark on this relative happiness came not long after his conversation with Howard, when his mother spoke to him at breakfast.

"The Season will be ending in a little over a month," said she. "Have you picked a date yet for your nuptials? For, remember, we shall have to post the banns at least three weeks prior to that."

The banns! Daniel hid a grimace. He had entirely forgotten about that. He opened his mouth to tell his mother that he would talk to Peggy about it, and then he shut it again. Suddenly he could not bear to have his vicar and hers announce, in a house of God, that they were to be married. He could lie to his peers for the sake of this mission; he could even lie to his family. But he would not lie to God, not even for Peggy and the Home Office.

"I thought we would get married by common license," he said, "as it would give us a little more flexibility on the timing of the wedding."

"A very fine idea," said Mrs. Sousa, and bustled away to the sidebar to get more ham. And Daniel stifled a sigh. One more lie to his mother to weigh on his conscience. But at least he did not have a lie in church to add to the growing pile.

Not long after, Daniel received a written invitation to join Major Dugan at the Crown Inn. He and the major had never dined together before, but they had indeed become good friends over their visits to Gentleman Jackson's, and Daniel was only too happy to agree. He took care to dress simply, both to better match how Major Dugan usually dressed, and because he knew the crowd at the Crown Inn. It was not a dangerous place, precisely, but it was the sort of place that inspired one to take care not to draw attention to one's wealth.

When he arrived at the Crown, Major Dugan was nowhere to be seen. Daniel found himself a table and settled in to wait, but before long, the steady flow of people passing through the inn to exit out the back door caught his curiosity, and with a final look around for the major, he rose and followed them. This led him to the yard behind the inn, where a large crowd had gathered around two men, both stripped to the waist. A prizefight, clearly. Daniel, with a growing suspicion in his mind, pushed his way through the crowd and was not at all surprised to find that one of the fighters was Major Dugan, with Barnes standing nearby.

"Sousa!" said the major happily. "So glad you could make it. You expressed curiosity as to what an actual fight is like, so I thought I'd invite you along."

Daniel shook his head. "I suppose I should not be surprised that you've been fighting, not just training. You do know that this is not entirely legal, do you not?"

"Never stopped me before," was Dugan's cheerful declaration.

Daniel laughed and was about to respond when he was suddenly quite surprised to see a very familiar fishwife appear from the crowd: another thing that he supposed really ought not to surprise him. "My own true love," he grinned. "What a lovely ensemble. Will you wear it on our outing tomorrow night to the Bertrams'?"

Peggy smiled back at him, and he marveled at how she could look so entirely confident and radiant in a dirty dress that smelled slightly of fish. "My gallant fiance," said she, "I did not know you would be attending."

She stepped toward him, already reaching out as though to take his arm, and Daniel pulled back. Peggy looked surprised and perhaps slightly annoyed at being thus rejected, and he rushed to explain. "I am sorry," said he, "but while your disguise is a fairly good one, I still look like myself. And if anyone recognizes me and sees you on my arm, they will either identify you and realize that you sometimes walk the streets of London looking like a fishwife, or they will think that I am cavorting with an unknown woman while my poor fiancee waits faithfully for me at home. Either option will bring us a great deal of unwanted attention."

"Of course you are right! How foolish of me not to think of it. It was just so unexpected to see you here, and I have grown so accustomed to . . . Well, I suppose for this afternoon, we shall have to be strangers."

By way of agreement, he tipped his hat and said politely, "Just so, miss."

She looked at him a moment longer, a strange expression in her eyes, and then nodded tightly. "Enjoy the match, then, sir." And she turned away to find a spot from which to observe.

"Sousa," said Major Dugan, returning to where he stood, "could you be my bottle man? Barnes here will be my knee man."

Daniel was at first uncertain what that meant, but it became quite clear when the innkeeper's placid-faced wife pressed a bucket of water into his hands. Nodding his thanks, he offered it to Dugan, who drank a bit, then turned to the ring. It was time for the fight to begin.

It was even more brutal than Daniel had expected. This was nothing like the polite fisticuffs of Jackson's club; this was a bloody, no holds barred contest, with each fighter determined to win by any means possible: punching, headbutting, eye gouging, wrestling . . . Barnes, standing next to him, caught his wincing and grinned. "They say that before Broughton suggested his rules, it was even more violent and disorganized," said he. "Only imagine."

"You ever fancy being a prizefighter, Barnes?"

The man shook his head and grinned. "I'm fond of a good fight," said he, "but I prefer to do it when my opponent doesn't have monetary incentive to pummel me into the ground."

"Too true."

The fight went on, and though Daniel had little experience with these things, it appeared that the advantage was all on the major's side; he was both broader chested and lighter footed than his opponent, and he certainly seemed to be landing the lion's share of the exchanged blows. Before long, Daniel was sufficiently convinced of Dugan's eventual victory that he felt comfortable pulling his eyes away to search for Peggy in the crowd. He found her some fifteen feet away, just behind the ropes, and his eyes had not been on her for more than a moment when she looked up at him, as though feeling his gaze, and gave him a small smile.

He returned it, wishing very much that he could be at her side. He could only imagine what entertaining commentary she would have, what tales of her own brawls she might share. If only she had not elected to come dressed as she had! She would not be the only well-dressed lady in the crowd; he could pick out a few whose dress marked them as, if not genuine quality, at least the wives and daughters of wealthy merchants and tradesmen.

Forty minutes and fifty-eight rounds passed before Dugan's opponent finally stayed down when he hit the ground. Exhausted and bloody, the major raised his arms in triumph while half the crowd cheered and the other half hissed at both him and at the fighter who had let them down and cost them their bets. "Not bad!" Barnes yelled at Daniel as they pushed their way through the thronging crowd to reach Dugan. "I've been to matches that went on for hours."

Peggy had disappeared somewhere, but Dugan insisted on leading Barnes and Daniel into the inn and buying them both drinks with the money he'd just won. "For where would I be without my seconds?" said he, and in a very short time was very drunk.

Barnes happily followed his friend into his cups, and soon Daniel had two very drunk companions to contend with. He himself had enough to be a little cut, but not nearly as much as they; he had always preferred never to drink enough to feel any real loss of control, an aversion that had only increased since the loss of his leg; for if he were unsteady on his feet while sober, how much worse would he be while drunk as a wheelbarrow!

So it was Daniel who eventually had to cajole the two men out of the inn and into a hackney cab. He gave the driver the direction of the Home Office, having no idea where either man lived, and with Dugan starting to sing some song, undoubtedly Irish in origin, about a girl with a ribbon in her hair, the cab took off.

Both men had quieted a little by the time they reached the Home Office, and to Daniel's immense relief, Peggy was waiting there, having changed her fishwife's dress for one of her usual office dresses: not quite as fine as an evening gown, but far more comfortable. She paid the cab driver and gave him the directions for Barnes' and Dugan's lodgings, and then it left, leaving Daniel and Peggy standing side by side in front of the Home Office.

"Quite a fight," Daniel observed.

"Yes," smiled Peggy. "After your training with Mr. Jackson, do you think yourself ready for a prizefight of your own?"

"No thank you," he said promptly. "I prefer not to spend my leisure time being pummeled by men both stronger than I and with two working legs."

"I think you could do rather well," said Peggy. "At least in advertising. You are familiar with Daniel Mendoza? You could be his protege. Just imagine what the promoters would say about you: 'Former champion Dan Mendoza presents the next generation of great Iberian fighters.'"

He played along. "'Marvel as Dan Sousa is beaten senseless by a much better fighter than he.'" He grinned at her. "Besides, have you ever seen a prizefighter who does not look a bit knocked about? You would encourage me to risk this face?"

She laughed at the joke and lapsed into silence. "I wish I could have spent the fight with you and Barnes in Dugan's corner," she confessed after a time.

"Next time, don't disguise yourself as a fishwife."

She raised an eyebrow. "You would have me attend an illegal fight in my own clothing?"

He shrugged. "If you like. You would certainly not be the first lady of quality to do so."

"It would be a bit daring, though. You would not mind your fiancee being seen at such a fight?"

"Why should I?"

She regarded him curiously for a moment, then shook her head. "How do you do that?" she demanded. "How does it never bother you, when I do things that most men would consider inappropriate, or aggressive, or . . . masculine? I know my uncle's men do not mind, but they have all known me since I was young, and they scarcely think of me as a woman, more as a comrade." She hesitated, than asked, "Do you think of me as more of a comrade than a woman?"

"Oh no," he said without thinking, "I certainly think of you as a woman."

The words hung awkwardly in the air between them while Daniel felt his face starting to burn. "That is to say," he quickly barreled on, "I do not believe your actions make you less feminine." It was dark enough that he could scarcely see her face; he hoped very much that she could similarly not see the blush on his.

"Thank you," she said, her voice a little strange. Then: "But you have not yet answered my question."

"I scarcely know," he admitted. "My parents, I suppose, had a great deal to do with it, for my mother has always been of a very strong and decided character and my father made it clear to us children how much he admired her for that strength." He hesitated. "And since my injury, I have, I think, been especially cognizant of the hardships faced by any who are at any kind of disadvantage in society. I grew so tired of having limitations, and of being treated like a lesser person because of something that is outside my control . . ."

She reached out and looped her arm through his, and he realized in that moment just how much he'd missed having her by his side like this. "Daniel Sousa," said she, "you are without a doubt the kindest fake fiance I have ever had."

. . . . . .


Historical notes:

Gentleman Jackson: John Jackson was a famous boxer (or pugilist, which is a fabulous word I need to use more often); he won the title of Champion of England in 1795, after which he opened a boxing club on Bond Street in London. This became very popular with upper class gentleman who would go there to train with him.

Banns and marriage licenses: Some facts on marriage in the Regency Era: the most common way to get married was to post banns, as this was free. This meant that both the bride and groom's local clergyman would read the announcement of the upcoming marriage in church for three weeks prior to the marriage, giving all the parishioners a chance to declare the existence of any impediments or objections (i.e. if one of them is already married). You could also get a common license from your local clergyman, which he'd give you in exchange for some money and a sworn statement that there were no impediments (they were seriously worried about bigamy). In both of these cases, there were strict restrictions on when and where you could marry: before noon, on a weekday, in the church of the parish where either the bride or groom resided. That too restrictive for you? Want to get married on the beach or in the Regency equivalent of a hot air balloon? In that case you'd need a special license. These were rather expensive, and you had to get special dispensation from the Archbishop of Canterbury—which means you had to have a way to chat with the Archbishop of Canterbury—but once you had one you could marry any place and any time you liked. As you might guess, only the very wealthy and prominent went for that option.

More on boxing: Despite the growing respectability of training in boxing, actual matches were still frowned upon and largely done in secret or outside of town, because it was such a brutal sport (although fights were super popular among all classes of people and the cops/government never actually did much to stop them). In 1743, famed fighter Jack Broughton came up with a set of rules for the sport after a man he'd fought later died of his injuries. These were revised into the London Prize Ring Rules in 1838, and then in 1867 the Marquess of Queensberry rules (written by John Chambers but endorsed by said marquess) were published; they helped legitimize the sport and, with some alterations, are still used today. However, boxing would not become legal in the UK until the 1890s and until even later in the US.

Boxing matches were usually fought for an agreed-upon purse; there was also usually a great deal of betting going on at a fight. Fights went for as long as it took for one opponent to knock the other down so thoroughly that he or she could not stand up again (yes, there were women's matches too), which could take hours. Under Broughton's 1743 rules, a round ended when a fighter went down; he then had thirty seconds to get back to the "scratch" (a scratched mark on the ground in the center of ring, which is where we get phrases like "up to scratch"). If he couldn't do it in those thirty seconds, he lost. Gloves or any other kind of handcovering were used for practice but rarely for prize fights, at least until the Queensberry Rules gained widespread adoption. Each fighter had two seconds with him: the bottle man, who would keep water or other refreshment on hand for him between rounds, and the knee man, who would kneel on one knee so that fighter could sit on the raised leg to rest, because I guess no one ever thought to bring a chair?

Daniel Mendoza: Cool historical figure alert! One of the most famous boxers of the 18th and early 19th century, who went by Dan Mendoza, Mendoza the Jew, and the Star of Israel. His family had lived in England for several generations, but were of Spanish or Portuguese descent (I saw both possible origins equally often in my research, so that's why I just referred to him as Iberian). He was small—5'7" and 160 pounds—so instead of just standing there slugging the other guy, he developed fancy footwork and bobbing and weaving &c. and thereby changed modern boxing. He was the English champion until John Jackson beat him in 1795, and he wrote The Art of Boxing, the first book on the subject. Unfortunately he had a terrible head for business and ended up in debtor's prison more than once. But he was a cool cool guy who fought his countrymen's stereotypes about Jewish people and also changed how everyone who came after him fought.

Chapter 14


This chapter owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Annie+MacDonald, who introduced me to Astley's and Life Guardsman Shaw and Timour the Tartar and pointed out that they seemed a very good fit for this story, as indeed they are. This chapter would not have happened without her!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

In mid-May, Daniel received an invitation from a most unexpected source: the dowager Lady Featherstonehaugh wanted him to accompany her, her son, and Kate to Astley's Royal Amphitheatre. Daniel scarcely knew what surprised him more: to receive such notice from such an august personage, or that said august personage apparently had a thirst for light entertainments.

"I do not wonder at your surprise," laughed Sir Thomas, who had delivered the invitation verbally at a tea at the Sousa home. "It is the not the sort of thing I would expect my mother to be interested in either. But Astley's entertainments are a secret favorite indulgence of hers; she loves the historical reenactments and the tumblers. She enjoys going and inviting young people along, for then she may pretend that she planned the outing for their sake, not hers. Tomorrow night should be a treat; they are to perform Timour the Tartar, which I hear is quite the spectacle."

Kate seemed delighted at the prospect of spending an outing with her suitor and her brother, so Daniel nodded. "Of course, I would be delighted to attend."

"Oh," said Sir Thomas, "and do invite Miss Carter. My mother is very keen to meet her."

Daniel, always glad to have a reason to spend more time with Peggy, was only too pleased to agree. "I shall write to her this very moment," he said.

Peggy's reply came quickly, and warmly in the affirmative. And so the Sousa siblings found themselves engaged for the next day with the formidable dowager Lady Featherstonehaugh.

The Featherstonehaughs called at the Sousa home the next afternoon in their coach. Kate, waiting beside Daniel in the sitting room, seemed a little overwrought; although he knew she had spent hours at her dressing table, she continued to fuss with her hair and steal glances in the mirror over the end table, even as the butler announced the arrival of the coach.

"You look lovely," Daniel assured her.

She sighed. "I just want so badly to make a good impression on Lady Featherstonehaugh."

And Daniel saw that the same thought had occurred to her as had occurred to him: that this outing was a way for the dowager to take stock of her son's possible future wife and in-laws. He squeezed her hand. "You have already made a good impression, remember? And I do not see how you could fail to do so again, for you are as sweet and kind as they come."

She turned a grateful smile on him and, arm in arm, they made their way to the Featherstonehaugh coach.

The dowager Lady Featherstonehaugh was a formidable lady in a very fine dress. Her eyes, sharp and intelligent, raked over Daniel once as he climbed into the carriage. When she spoke, however, her words and tone were entirely polite: not overly kind or affectionate, but nothing that anyone could reproach her for. She responded very agreeably to being introduced to Daniel, she greeted Kate warmly enough, and she asked after their parents' health. Daniel supposed that she was still undecided about Kate Sousa, and therefore carefully not burning any bridges as yet.

He wished very much that he could warn Peggy about all this, so that she might be on her guard for the way the dowager was watching them all so closely, but when they reached Cavendish Square Garden, a servant was dispatched to announce the coach's arrival. So he could only hope for the best as Peggy climbed into the coach.

He quickly saw, however, that he needn't have worried. Peggy responded to her introduction to Lady Featherstonehaugh with exquisite correctness, and quickly fell to conversing politely and flatteringly with that lady, commenting on the fineness of her dress, the handsomeness of the coach, and the incredible pleasure of being invited. Daniel hid a smile; Peggy could certainly play the part of the simpering sycophant, when it was required. And yet she did it all with an air of such sincerity, warmth, and intelligence that Daniel supposed the subject of her flattery did not even notice how thick Peggy was laying on the charm.

As the carriage rumbled toward Westminster Bridge, Peggy expertly turned the topic to Kate, expressing how very delighted she was with her future sister-in-law and how very sweet and accomplished the young lady was. Kate looked pleased but embarrassed, and after a few moments of her blushing, Peggy appeared to notice because she turned the conversation again, this time to asking after how the dowager Lady Featherstonehaugh was enjoying her Season. By the time they reached the Royal Amphitheatre, the mood in the carriage had warmed considerably, and the dowager was giving the group genuine smiles.

The Royal Amphitheatre was an unassuming looking building squeezed between a bookseller's and a warehouse on Westminster Bridge Road, with only the height of the roof hinting at what lay inside. Daniel, having been once or twice as a child, anticipated the scene inside with both pleasure and trepidation: pleasure, for he did rather enjoy the entertainments there, and trepidation, because he remembered it being quite crowded and in particular quite filled with children, so it could be very noisy and difficult to maneuver through. But the dowager was smiling with anticipation, and she led the way in with great confidence.

Lady Featherstonehaugh had secured for them a box on an upper floor very near the stage; this was a mixed blessing for it put them closer to the theatrics being carried out on stage but farther from the feats of horse riding and acrobatics being carried out on the floor in the center of the amphitheatre. But it did not surprise Daniel, for surely such a dignified lady would object to being mixed in the crowds in the other seats. He felt fairly certain that the very thing he remembered liking best about Astley's -- that it was a place where Londoners from all walks of life congregated and mingled -- would be a source of some displeasure for the dowager.

And indeed this seemed to be the case, for they had scarcely settled into their seats when Daniel noticed a small group across the way waving enthusiastically at them. It was Barnes and several other men from the Alien Office,dressed in a manner that clearly identified them as members of the working class. Daniel glanced at Peggy and saw her sending a quelling glare in their direction. They seemed in that moment to realize that she and Daniel were working and undercover, and, embarrassed, they lowered their waving hands and pretended to be busily doing something else.

But the damage was done; the dowager had seen. "Do you know those men, Miss Carter?" she asked, a little displeased.

Trapped, Peggy told the truth; Daniel supposed she could do little else. "They work for my uncle at the Home Office."

Lady Featherstonehaugh was only a little mollified. "You seem very friendly with them."

Peggy remained very calm, but Daniel could only imagine how annoyed she was that men she had fought side by side with were being so disparaged. And thinking so brought to mind something her son had said the day before: his mother's fondness for the historical reenactments at Astley's.

"Before they worked for the Home Office, they fought under Colonel Phillips on the Continent," he spoke up. Both of his conversational companions looked at him in surprise. "I believe that is how you first became acquainted with them, is it not, dearest?"

Peggy nodded cautiously, trusting the direction Daniel was taking the conversation. "It is. I . . . occasionally accompanied my uncle to the Continent," she explained to the dowager.

"I find it easy to understand," said Daniel, his words directed at Peggy but meant for Lady Featherstonehaugh's ears, "how close bonds could form on the battlefield. I know that was the case on the ships I sailed with."

"Indeed," said Peggy.

He turned to the dowager. "I think it very commendable, do you not, that these soldiers fought so valiantly against Napoleon? Only imagine if he had been allowed to run rampant, without these brave soldiers to oppose him! We might be speaking French now."

It was a bit absurd, but it seemed to have done the trick. Lady Featherstonehaugh, as he had guessed, appeared to be very invested in the recent wars against Napoleon. She nodded earnestly. "You are very right, young man." She looked at Peggy. "I do admire the work your uncle did," said she, and then added, a little more reluctantly, "And I appreciate that those friends of yours fought for England."

Peggy's smile was polite, and the brief crisis passed. But as the dowager turned to talk to her son and Kate, Daniel wondered if it ever annoyed Peggy that her own contributions to the war efforts went unknown and unappreciated. So he leaned closer to her. "And I do admire the work you did," he said, just loud enough to be heard over the crowd.

Her smile turned more genuine. "The feeling is mutual, Captain."

The show started soon after, and they were all too busy watching the jugglers and strong men and equestrians to talk of much else. Lady Featherstonehaugh was, as her son had foretold, entirely enthralled by the show. Kate and Thomas seemed equally interested, but also to be enjoying each other's company; Peggy nudged Daniel at one point and nodded at the young couple, and he glanced at them to see that Thomas was sitting so close to Kate that their elbows were brushing. It was the most physical contact he'd ever seen between them, outside of a ballroom, and he hoped very much that it was a good portent for things to come.

There was only one other moment of discomfort over the course of the outing: a brief reenactment of the fall of Life Guardsman Shaw at the Battle of Waterloo. It was a wonderful spectacle, with horse riding and sword fighting and the tall, broad-shouldered actor portraying Shaw looking at once brave and tragically doomed as he fought off nineCuirassiers at once; Lady Featherstonehaugh, in particular, seemed quite entranced.

But Daniel found himself reflecting how fortunate it was that of all the heroes of Waterloo, it was Shaw with whom the public had become so fascinated -- most likely because Shaw, as an accomplished pugilist, had become quite famous in London long before his death. Only imagine if Astley's had instead chosen to reenact the death of Captain Steven Rogers! How unbearable would that have been for poor Peggy!

Daniel was wrong, however, if he supposed that they had escaped any mention of the captain, for when the actor playing Shaw lay defeated and dying on the stage, another actor, dressed as Wellington, came forward. "The wars against Napoleon claimed many heroes," he intoned, "from Captain Steven Rogers to Lord Nelson himself. But no truer man ever laid down his life for his country than Life Guardsman Shaw."

Daniel glanced at Peggy out of the corner of his eye, only to see her shake her head slightly, clearly unwilling to accept his pity. So he returned his focus to the stage, and though his hands itched to reach out for hers, he forced himself not to; she would not appreciate it right now.

"Such bravery!" Lady Featherstonehaugh enthused in the brief interval that followed. "Such skill! Truly a great British hero." She looked at Peggy. "You have said that you were on the Continent with your uncle; was that very like the battles you saw there?"

This entertainment for bored Londoners? With several dozen actors with fake guns, and a handful of horses, and no real danger at all? It was impressive and entertaining, but Daniel did not have to have been at Waterloo to be annoyed by the dowager's question. It had been his experience, though, that no one who had not been in battle could conceive of what it was like: bullets flying, comrades falling on either side of you, no idea if you would be next. He was suddenly heartily sorry to have brought Peggy along at all; she likely wanted nothing to do with impertinent questions and with her personal tragedy portrayed on stage to amuse the masses. He had not been to Astley's in ten years, and so had not realized that they had started performing reenactments of such recent battles, but if he had known, he never would have subjected Peggy to it.

But Peggy answered with perfect composure and a smile. "The battles on the Continent were a little bigger than this one, ma'am," she said, and Sir Thomas laughed at her answer and his mother soon joined in.

The other three members of their group thereafter fell into a conversation about what they hoped to see in the second half of the show, and Peggy took advantage of the focus being off her to lean toward Daniel. "I know what you are thinking," she said, "and I want you to stop thinking it. I am absolutely fine."

"I am sorry, though," said Daniel. "I had no idea of this outing becoming so . . . personal."

She smiled at him. "I have no doubt you would have objected to this outing if you had known it might turn a little painful for me. But you did not invite me, Lady Featherstonehaugh did, and I agreed despite knowing it was possible there would be a reenactment of Waterloo here. So you have nothing to reproach yourself for. And as I said, I am fine. It's been a lovely outing."

He nodded, but before he could say more, there was a deafening roar as the tumblers came out to continue the show. After that, it was the main event of the evening: a performance of Timour the Tartar. It was indeed an extraordinary spectacle, with horsemanship and fight scenes and monologues of grand passion. The performers were mostly all better equestrians than they were actors, but they played their roles with gusto. Unfortunately that could not fix the most glaring problem with the play.

"That was terrible," Daniel said to Peggy after the last event of the evening, the harlequinade, had ended and the patrons were all beginning to stand from their seats. "The play, I mean. The story, and the writing. They were terrible, were they not?"

"Completely terrible," Peggy agreed.

In that moment the dowager turned to face them. "A marvelous show, was it not? That Timour the Tartar was absolutely delightful."

"Thoroughly delightful, ma'am," Peggy agreed seriously, and Daniel fought back a smile. "I very much enjoyed Zorilda the warrior princess. A most admirable character, did you not think? And how excellently refreshing to see a woman play the part of the hero. But my favorite part was undoubtedly the feats of strength and the equestriennes. I think I should like to learn some horsemanship tricks of my own."

The dowager smiled. "What an exciting prospect."

"Can you stand on the back of a galloping horse?" Daniel asked Peggy.

"Well, no, not at this moment, but surely it cannot be that difficult to learn."

"I hope you do not mind the broken bones that will undoubtedly accompany such an endeavour."

She waved her hand dismissively. "I have had broken bones before," said she. "They are not so bad. We shall simply have to make sure our home by the sea is in the neighbourhood of a good doctor."

There was a brief, happy moment of silence, and then Daniel reminded himself: playacting. She was simply playacting. "If you're going to teach yourself to do equestrian displays, we may just have to keep a doctor on retainer."

"Oh! how foolish of me not to think of it," said Peggy. "We shall simply have to invite your parents to live with us. Then your father can tend to all my broken bones." She turned to Lady Featherstonehaugh. "Dr. Sousa is abominably clever," said she. "Quite the most accomplished doctor I know. It is a very excellent thing, to have him in the family, for he shall be able to aid us with any medical needs."

"Indeed," agreed the dowager. She examined her a moment, and then Daniel. "Do you know, I like the both of you. When you are married, I shall have you over to dine with me. I do enjoy the company of respectful young people."

"Oh, then you must adore Kate's company," said Peggy quickly. "For I have never known her equal in respectfulness, solicitude, kindness . . . "

The old woman's face softened as she looked over at the subject of their conversation. "Indeed," she agreed. "She is a very good sort of young lady." It was a mild endorsem*nt of Kate, but an endorsem*nt nonetheless; Daniel hoped it would be enough to convince Lady Featherstonehaugh to allow her son to marry her.

Their group talked happily together a little longer, Kate's face shining when she spoke of the tumblers and Thomas' face shining when he looked at Kate. Finally, the crowds in the corridor had cleared enough for them to make their way out of their box.

As they approached the stairs, however, the crowd thickened again, a happy, raucous throng of young and old, rich and poor, and ere long Daniel and Peggy were separated from their group; he with his cane and false leg could not move quickly through the tightly-packed crowd, and she elected to stay by his side. Daniel quickly saw he had an opportunity to speak privately to his companion.

"I wanted to thank you," he said as they came to a stop to allow a particularly boisterous crowd pass them. "For what you have done today for Kate, and all the kind things you have said to Lady Featherstonehaugh about her. My sister is fortunate to have you as an ally."

She tightened her arm around his in a reassuring hold and smiled up at him. "Not so fortunate as she is to have you as a brother."

"Undoubtedly true," he smiled. "But thank you, all the same; it was incredibly kind of you to come. I know it has not been entirely pleasant, with the Waterloo reenactment --"

"Daniel," she said firmly, and disentagled her arm from his so she could move around in front of him and address him face to face, her hands on his upper arms. "I have told you already, I am quite all right. And this evening has indeed been pleasant, so I pray you do not distress yourself any longer on the subject. I was happy to attend. The entertainment was good, and even were it not, your sister is very important to me. You are --"

And here she stopped, as though some thought had distracted her from her declaration. A strange expression flitted across her face, something like surprise. And when she finished her statement, it was in rather a different tone of voice than the one in which she had begun -- one a little more serious and, strangely, a little more uncertain. "You are very important to me."

"But you see, that speaks even more to your kindness," he insisted. "To be so solicitous about the welfare of a young lady to whom you have no real connection, other than her being the sister of a man with whom you have a . . . professional association. It is very good of you, Peggy; that is all I am trying to say."

Peggy regarded him a moment with a surprised expression on her face, and then she removed her hands from his arms and let them fall to her sides. The smile she put on then was one he recognized as one of her acting smiles; she was playing a part. Clearly she was preparing herself to rejoin the Featherstonehaughs. "You are right, of course. I suppose I had not thought of it that way. But Kate is a dear thing, and I am more than happy to take her side in any situation." She glanced around. "The stairs have cleared. Shall we rejoin our party?"

And they did just that, and had a very cheerful and animated carriage ride home. Daniel couldn't help but think that Peggy, as she had done on that day she suggested they fake an engagement, was glancing at him a little more often than was usual. But he did not think about it very much, for his focus was entirely on the way that both Thomas and his mother were smiling at Kate.

The trip to Astley's seemed to have accomplished its purpose, for less than a week later, at the Bertrams' ball that he was attending with the Sousa family, Thomas asked Dr. Sousa for permission to speak privately to Kate. The rest of the family waited on tenterhooks in the ballroom while Thomas led Kate out to the garden, and when the young couple returned, their faces were wreathed in transcendental joy.

"Dearest family," cried Kate, her eyes shining and her arm tucked safely in Thomas', "I have such news! Thomas has made me the happiest girl in the whole world! He has asked for my hand in marriage."

"No indeed," said Thomas, beaming as well, "it is I who am the fortunate one. You have made me the happiest creature in the world."

And perhaps this back and forth would have gone on even longer, had Mrs. Sousa not stepped forward and drawn her daughter into an enthusiastic embrace. "Oh my dear girl, I am so pleased," said she. "Thomas, you are getting the best girl in the world. And Kate, I'm sure you know that you have found one of the very best of men."

"I do, Mama," said she, pulling back from her mother's embrace. She hugged her father then, followed by Daniel, while Mrs. Sousa clasped Thomas's hands in a motherly fashion. And then, to Daniel's surprise, his sister hugged his fiancee.

"I am so happy for you, dearest," Peggy said sincerely, pulling back to clasp Kate's hands. "I have been hoping for this from the first moment I saw you together. You will make each other very happy."

"Indeed we will," smiled Thomas, now shaking Dr. Sousa's hand. He shook Daniel's hand after that, a warm and enthusiastic shake that made Daniel grin.

"Only think of it!" said Mrs. Sousa, reaching out to take Kate's hand on the one side and Peggy's hand on the other. "Both of our children married in the same summer! And to such wonderful partners. This will be a very happy time for us, João."

Her words had the effect of diminishing Daniel's good mood somewhat, although he kept his smile firmly in place as the group began to discuss wedding dates and locations. This would not be the summer of love that his parents thought it would be, for one of those engagements would be broken by the end of it. Not to mention, he was a little saddened to think that they were now one step closer to that broken engagement. Of course, even if they found the anarchist at that moment, they would stay engaged until Kate and Thomas were safely married, just in case . . . but that marriage would likely take place quite soon. The thought made his chest ache a little, a dull, hollow feeling that settled into his very core.

Peggy seemed to notice his sudden downward change in mood, for, after Thomas led Kate onto the floor for a celebratory dance, she asked Daniel to accompany her to the refreshment table, promising Mrs. Sousa that she would bring her back a bit of cake. "Now, my dear," said she as she wound her arm through his and began steering him toward the refreshment table, "something is on your mind. Why don't you tell me what it is?"

He glanced at her, not at all surprised that his attempt to cover his feelings had not been sufficient to hide his brown study from her watchful gaze. He certainly could not tell her that he was sorry that their engagement would end so soon, so he spoke of the other concern that weighed so heavily on his mind. "Seeing Mama and Pai so happy about Kate's wedding, and how happy Kate is . . . it reminded me that we must cast a pall over the general gaiety in the near future. And it occurred to me, we shall need to come up with convincing reasons to continue to delay our wedding until after theirs has occurred, just to be absolutely sure they are safely wed before we bring negative attention to the family. But you know that even without our being yet married, Mama and Kate will be quite insistent on your being a part of the wedding party. It just saddens me, I suppose, to think that their happy memories of the wedding day will later be marred a little to know that the source of my alleged heartbreak was in attendance at all the festivities."

Peggy slowed to a stop then, and Daniel obligingly came to a halt beside her. There was something on her mind, he could see, something causing her brow to furrow and her expression to become distant. Hesitantly she spoke. "You know," said she, but that was as far as she got because they were at that moment approached by one of Lady Bertram's footmen, bearing a folded paper on a silver platter.

"For you, miss," said he. "It was brought by a servant of your uncle who now waits for you outside."

With a surprised glance at Daniel, Peggy took and opened the note. Her eyes widened, and she folded the paper up and put it into her reticule. "We must to my uncle at once," she told Daniel, and turned to the footman. "I must make my excuses to the party I came with; after that, will you lead us to the servant?"

The footman gave a very correct bow, and Peggy hurried to Dr. and Mrs. Sousa, Daniel and the footman trailing behind. When Daniel caught up with his fiancee, he was surprised to see that her eyes were bright with unshed tears. He had never seen her cry, and so could not guess whether this was a genuine or feigned emotion.

"My goodness!" said Mrs. Sousa. "My dearest Peggy! Whatever can be the matter?"

"I have had a note from my uncle," said she, her voice wavering. "He has had an accident; they do not think it overly dangerous, but he requires me at home at once. I do apologize for abandoning our party so suddenly."

"Of course," said Mrs. Sousa kindly. "You must see to your uncle. Dr. Sousa and I can take you in the coach --"

"You are too kind, Maria," said Peggy with a small smile, "but my uncle has sent his coach for me." She hesitated. "But I do wonder if I might request -- would it be improper if --" She glanced at Daniel.

Mrs. Sousa understood immediately. "Of course Daniel will go with you. And as far as propriety, it is not precisely the done thing, but this is an emergency, and you shall have a servant with you. I am certain all will be well." She clasped Peggy's hands. "You will write, to let us know how he does?"

"Of course," said Peggy, and stepped forward to embrace the lady.

"If there's anything I can do . . ." said Dr. Sousa. "I am certain your uncle has an excellent doctor, but if I can in any way lend assistance, I pray you will let me know."

"I will, thank you," said she. "Make my apologies to Kate and Thomas, and offer them my congratulations again." She curtsied, and Daniel nodded at his parents, and they turned to follow the footman out of the ballroom.

The servant in question, waiting in a simple, unmarked coach, turned out to be one of Colonel Phillips' men, which solidified Daniel's suspicion that this was Alien Office business and not a genuine medical emergency. And indeed, when they were seated in the coach, Peggy's worried expression vanished.

"I take it your uncle is not actually injured?"

She shook her head. "He has received what he describes as a vital piece of intelligence from Russia. He wishes to speak to both of us about it immediately. I do not know what it might be, but he seemed to think it was very important."

This seemed to be the case, for when they arrived at the Home Office, Colonel Phillips greeted them in a state of agitation and excitement greater than any Daniel had seen in the colonel yet. "Good, you're here," the colonel said, showing them the sheaf of papers in his hand. "I have had a letter from Niko, with more detailed information than I expected to receive from him." He glanced at his niece. "I shall have you check the translation, Peggy; Yauch's Russian is not so good as yours, but I was too impatient to read the letter to wait for you to return from your ball."

"Niko has earned Ivchenko's trust?" Daniel asked.

Colonel Phillps nodded. "He is not in the group so deep as to have learned the identity of the anarchist -- although he did learn that this anarchist is one of Ivchenko's people, sent to England, rather than one of our countrymen induced to turn against their homeland -- but he did learn why the anarchist was sent here."

"And?" Peggy prompted.

Colonel Phillips fixed them both with a serious look. "Leviathan's target is Sir Howard Stark."

. . . . . .


Historical notes:

Astley's Royal Amphitheatre: Guys, meet Philip Astley, the father of the modern circus (although he did not use that word for it). He was a former soldier who, in 1768, started a riding school on the outskirts of London where in the afternoon he'd perform fancy horseback riding tricks. His wife would perform with him; her big trick was "circling the ring on horseback with swarms of bees covering her hands and arms like a muff" which I just have so many questions about. Over the next few years, he built a proper amphitheater for his show, and then enclosed it to create Astley's Royal Amphitheatre. Astley had two big new ideas that led to the creation of the modern circus: first, he performed the equestrian acts in a ring, rather than a straight line, which made it easier for the audience to keep an eye on the rider and easier for the rider to stay on the horse; the ring size he preferred, 42 feet, is still the standard for circuses today. Second, to jazz up the show, he began hiring acrobats, jugglers, strong men, and clowns to entertain the audience between the equestrian acts. Et voilà! The circus.

In addition to the circus acts we now think of as standard, Astley's became famous for equestrian dramas such as Timour the Tartar, Mazeppa, and reenactments of historical battles. One of their most famous shows would be the epic reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo, first mounted in 1824. But even before that, Astley's often borrowed from current events, especially battles of the Napoleonic Wars, to mount their "spectaculars."

Timour the Tartar: A play written by Matthew Gregory Lewis in 1811 for the Covent Garden theater; the theater had to borrow horses from Astley's to perform it, and eventually Astley's just started putting on their own productions of it. It tells of Zorilda, a warrior princess who rescues her son from the villainous Timour the Tartar. It's quite a piece of work; if you've a hankering to read it, it's at https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=86ASAAAAYAAJ, or you could just trust the critic at The Times, who called it a great display of splendor but the worst story he'd ever sat through.

INTERESTING FACT: The last theatrical performance that Jane Austen ever attended was at Covent Garden, on 28 November 1814. The first show on the playbill? Isabella; or, The Fatal Marriage. The second show on the playbill? Timour the Tartar. Jane wrote to her niece about Isabella but didn't mention Timour; but unless she left early, this might be the last play she ever saw. Did you know that when you suggested it, Annie? Or was that just an amazing coincidence?

Life Guardsman Shaw: The closest thing I've ever heard of to a real-life Captain America. John Shaw enlisted at 18 in the Army. He had been a bit of a scrapper as a child, and in the military found many opportunities for boxing, and he had the size and strength to win. By 1815 he was well known throughout England as a first-rate pugilist, and in fact it is said that some of his more wealthy admirers offered to buy out his commission so he could stay in London and keep fighting, rather than going to the Continent to fight Napoleon with his fellow-soldiers. But go he did, as was his duty, and was killed at Waterloo. Whether it was because of his fame as a boxer before the war, or just strange happenstance, Shaw came to be hailed as a great hero of Waterloo, and the subject of almost a cult of personality; he was a central figure in many reenactments and retellings, and as is often the case, the story of his death was told and retold and embellished and expanded until it's hard to know what was true. By 1843, the fervor had grown so high as to cause the historian and politician Thomas Macaulay to comment that "There are at this day countries where the Life-Guardsman Shaw would be considered as a much greater warrior than the Duke of Wellington."

Harlequinade: A comedic theatrical act, based on the Italian Commedia dell'arte but, in this form, uniquely British, popular from the 17th to 19th century. The stories generally revolved around five stock characters, chief among them Harlequin (who gives his name to the whole genre). The short acts were usually entirely pantomimed and formed a sort of exclamation mark at the end of an evening of more serious works.

Chapter 15


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

"Howard Stark?" Peggy repeated. "You're quite sure?"

The colonel nodded seriously and gestured with the papers in his hand. "Even I know enough Cyrillic to read his name."

"Oh, I am not doubting the translation," Peggy said. "Yauch's Russian is better than you give him credit for. But . . . why Howard?"

"Niko was not able to ascertain that," said her uncle.

"Leviathan is a militant group, are they not?" Daniel asked. "Ivchenko advocates armed revolt against the government. Perhaps they simply needed more arms."

"But Russia is not exactly lacking in their own armaments," Peggy pointed out. "Why send someone all the way to England to fetch more? That would be carrying coals to Newcastle. Especially considering the great distance and difficulty of travel from here to there. It must be something more specific."

"Howard is internationally renowned as the greatest weapons manufacturer currently living," offered Colonel Phillips. "Perhaps he has something special, something very particular, of which Ivcheno wishes to get hold. Something that cannot be obtained in Russia."

Peggy considered this, and then nodded decisively. "There is only one way to find out what Leviathan may be after."

Her uncle nodded. "I shall have the coach brought back around." He strode from the room.

"We are going to Howard's now?" Daniel asked. He glanced at the clock. "It is just after midnight. How likely do you think it is that Howard is even home? Or will be any time before dawn?"

"You are not wrong," said Peggy, stripping off her gloves and laying them on the desk. "But I know Howard's man quite well, and I think he shall be able to help us locate him. There is no time to lose; lives hang in the balance, and we finally have an actionable piece of intelligence."

She began unclasping her necklace, and with a start, Daniel realized she intended to change out of her evening gown into one of her work dresses. Heat rushed to his face, and he turned around very quickly, staring determinedly at the wall. "I should go."

Behind him, Peggy laughed. "I wasn't planning on changing in front of you, Daniel; I'm not that quite that forward. Go see to the coach with my uncle. I shall be down shortly."

Daniel couldn't even bring himself to look back at her as he left the room. He didn't want her to see how furiously he was blushing.

In no time at all, they were on their way to St. James's Square, which thought left Daniel a little dazed; that was one of the most fashionable addresses in London, occupied largely by dukes and earls. And here was he, Daniel Sousa the doctor's son, pulling up at the front door of No. 3. Without waiting for her companions, Peggy jumped down from the carriage and pounded on the door.

A very correct-looking footman opened the door. "Sir Howard is not in," said he before anyone could speak.

"I am here for Mr. Jarvis," Peggy said without preamble. "It is a matter of national security. Tell him that Miss Margaret Carter needs to speak with him without delay."

The footman looked at all three of them a long moment, and then, with a resigned air, showed them into a sitting room and disappeared down a hallway. The group waited in anxious silence until a man entered, dressed in the sedate and dark-colored waistcoat, breeches and coat of a valet. He was tall and narrow, with brown hair and delicate features, and he carried himself impossibly correctly; just looking at the man made Daniel, who was sitting on the sofa with what he knew was very bad posture, feel suddenly like an unkempt rustic.

When the man saw Peggy, however, his serious expression made way for a small but genuine smile. "Miss Carter," said he, and gave her a very deep bow.

"Come now," said she, "you needn't stand on ceremony with me." She turned to Daniel. "Mr. Jarvis accompanied Howard on his military expeditions," she explained. "We saw a great deal over on the Continent together, didn't we, Mr. Jarvis?"

"All the same," said this Mr. Jarvis, "social niceties must be observed." He hesitated, and then smiled again. "It is jolly good to see you again, though, Miss Carter."

She returned the smile. "You remember my uncle, of course, and this is Captain Daniel Sousa, of the Royal Navy."

Mr. Jarvis's eyebrows raised. "Your reputation precedes you, Captain. That was excellent work you did on the Indomitable." He turned to Peggy. "I am sorry you made the trip for nothing," said he, "but Sir Howard is not at home at present."

"Do you know where he is?" Colonel Phillips asked. "It is a matter of national security."

"So Foote said," Mr. Jarvis murmured.

"Please, Mr. Jarvis," Peggy added.

Mr. Jarvis relented. "He is at his club this evening, or at least he is as long as he hasn't grown bored and moved on to another entertainment for the evening. I can send a servant over with a message for him, but if he is not there, I'm afraid I can't help you any further; he never sends word of where he is going."

"Call the servant," Peggy ordered. "I shall write the message myself."

All this was done with great dispatch, and soon the group had settled in to wait. "Are we keeping you from important duties, Mr. Jarvis?" Peggy asked as the valet settled into one of the armchairs.

"I was simply polishing Sir Howard's boots," said he. "I am required to stay awake until he returns home, so that I may help him undress, so I save many of my tasks for the evening, as he is often gone until all hours of the night."

"Seems a tiring schedule," Daniel offered.

Mr. Jarvis smiled. "Working for Sir Howard is never easy," he admitted. "But I owe him a great deal of loyalty. He once saved my brother's life on the battlefield, putting his own life on the line in the process. He is a good man . . . deep down."

Peggy laughed at that. "Do you recall the time he disappeared in Belgium, and we had search parties out all over, and eventually we found him in --"

"The presbytery!" Colonel Phillips finished with a laugh. "Drunk as a wheelbarrow, and the poor priest couldn't get him to leave."

Mr. Jarvis laughed as well. "That village never quite trusted the British soldiers after that."

The next twenty minutes passed in fond reminiscences of scrapes and mishaps they'd gotten up to on the Continent, and Daniel was so amused in listening that he did not notice Sir Howard standing in the doorway until the man spoke. "I hope you have dragged me home for something more exciting than idle remembrances," said he quite suddenly, and the whole group started. "Not that I do not enjoy seeing you all, but I was in the process of cleaning that Wickham idiot out at the card tables. The man does not know when to quit."

"Howard!" said Peggy, her face suddenly all seriousness. "We are sorry to pull you away, but we have received information of a most alarming nature that needs to be communicated to you."

"So your note said." Sir Howard wandered into the room and dropped into a chair. "National security, was it?"

"I am afraid so," said she. She hesitated a moment, then said, "I should begin by telling you that I did not choose to participate in this Season for social reasons."

Sir Howard's eyebrows raised. "You didn't?"

She shook her head. "The Alien Office has been, for the last six months, investigating evidence that a Russian anarchist has been hiding out among the ton. He comes from a dangerous group, whoever he is; they are called Leviathan, and they may be planning an armed revolt against the tsar."

"Ah," said Sir Howard, "Alien Office business," and Daniel could see in his expression that he understood all the implications of what Peggy was saying. He really was a clever man. But what he said next surprised the captain. "Then why is Sousa here? No offense, Captain."

It was Colonel Phillips who answered. "Captain Sousa has been assisting us, as a temporary agent of the Alien Office."

"Really?" asked Sir Howard. "Did you bring him on before or after the engagement --" He stopped, his eyes widening in sudden understanding. "You're not engaged? This was part of . . . a cover identity?"

Daniel nodded. "You are correct on both counts."

"But why?" Sir Howard demanded, having seemingly forgotten the anarchist for the moment. "You two make such a handsome couple."

Daniel felt his face heat a little, and Peggy seemed similarly embarrassed. "That is not why we're here, Howard."

"I've got an insider in Russia who infiltrated Leviathan," said Colonel Phillips. "He's finally identified the anarchist's purpose for being in London."

Sir Howard raised his eyebrows.

"All we know," said Peggy, "is that you are his target."

"Me? And what do you mean, target? Do they mean to kidnap me? Kill me? Hire me?" He did not seem particularly worried, just surprised and confused.

"We are not entirely certain," said Colonel Phillips. "They may be attempting to steal weapons, although as Peggy pointed out, they would not choose you to obtain simple rifles or cannons, for surely those are more easily obtained in Russia. Is there anything you've worked on that is especially efficacious and cannot be obtained anywhere else?"

"You just described three-quarters of everything I've ever created," Sir Howard said. "I've invented much that even Prinny and Wellington don't know about. And for good reason. There are things too dangerous for governments to get their hands on."

"Then why create them at all?" Daniel asked.

He shrugged. "I cannot help what ideas my mind conceives."

Peggy shook her head at him. "Do any of them stand out? Anything particularly dangerous, easy to transport, and that no one in Russia has the intelligence to create?"

"And that a Russian nobleman may have caught wind of?" Colonel Phillips added.

Again Sir Howard shrugged. "The last criterion is one that is harder to satisfy," said he, "but I am often in contact with scientists in other countries, and they know a little of what I work on. So there are a number of things that this anarchist of yours might be after."

"And where do you store these dangerous ideas of yours?" asked the colonel.

"I have three vaults," said Howard. "One under Stark Hall in Kent, one in London provided by the Army, and . . . one in London that the Army knows nothing about." He hesitated a moment, appearing to mull something over in his mind. "Are you certain it's that they want a better weapon?" he asked. "Sending an operative to live in a foreign country for six months seems a very inefficient means to obtain weaponry, especially as there are a number of very clever engineers and chemists working in Russia now. Why not target one of them?"

His companions looked at each other. "Peggy had the same question," the colonel admitted. "Is it perhaps that Leviathan is targeting you personally?"

"Is there anyone in Russia who particularly admires your work?" asked Peggy. "That might have reason to seek it out above all others?"

Daniel added, half in jest, "Or anyone in Russia who particularly hates you?"

To his surprise, that arrow seemed to have found its mark in Sir Howard; the chief engineer looked at Daniel a long moment, a look of surprise on his face. "That is actually a more pertinent question than you might realize, Captain." He hesitated. "Would anyone in this Leviathan group have connections to the military?"

Colonel Phillips nodded. "The leader, Vanya Ivchenko, was in the military himself, and his brother was killed in action in the French invasion of Russia."

"Battle of Maloyaroslavets?" Sir Howard guessed.

The colonel blinked in surprise. "How did you know?"

The baronet stood from his chair and walked to the window, gazing out to the darkness outside. When he finally turned to face his companions, his expression was one that Daniel had not supposed the man was even capable of: the usually cheerful and confident Sir Howard suddenly looked guilty, world-weary, and tired, as though an old sadness hung over his shoulders like chains. It made him look years older. "There is something I've never told you. Something I've never told anyone, except Jarvis here."

"You know you can trust us," Peggy said gently when he did not go on.

He gave her a half-smile that did not reach his eyes. "I know, Peg." He heaved a great sigh. "There is an event I was involved in some four or five years ago, the shame of which I shall carry to my grave." He hesitated a moment, then set his hands on the back of the chair he had just been in, clearly too agitated to sit down. "I suppose you know that our relations with Russia got a bit strained during the wars with Napoleon."

"Yes," said the colonel, "we were annoyed about the treaty that Russia had made with France after the Battle of Friedland. Napoleon forced them to stop doing trade with us."

"Led to a few naval battles, if I recall," added Daniel. "Just skirmishes, really."

Sir Howard nodded. "After a few years, it became pretty clear that old Boney wasn't going to hold up his end of the treaty, so Tsar Alexander sided again with Britain."

"And Napoleon invaded Russia that very summer, if I recall," Peggy added.

"Our government wanted to send aid to the Russian army," Sir Howard continued. "A show of good faith and support for our newly reforged alliance with them. Also, anything that helped the Russian army lessen Napoleon's numbers could only be in our favor. So they came to me, to see if I had any 'dangerous ideas,' as you so aptly termed them." He sighed. "I had one. I am fond of reading historical sources on warcraft and have discovered multiple references to what you might term 'chemical warfare.' One particular suggestion intrigued me: a powder of sulfide of arsenic and verdigris which, thrown among the enemy, would asphyxiate their soldiers. Suggested by none other than Leonardo da Vinci."

"So you tried it," Peggy guessed.

"It's da Vinci," said Sir Howard, as though that explained everything. "He was a genius." He sighed again. "Only the delivery system I had created for it was flawed. I needed a way to launch special artillery shells that would disperse the powder broadly on impact. I made two prototypes, but one of them failed testing; the firing mechanism sometimes slipped, leading to mis-aimed shells, and I feared that one might land among our own people. And I had not yet had time to fix it. Besides, I felt that such a devastating weapon ought to be deployed only in times of the direst need. So when certain figures from our own government came requesting I give them these prototypes, I refused. I forgot, however, that they had access to my army vault."

"They took the prototypes?" Daniel guessed.

Sir Howard nodded. "And a supply of the powder. It all went to the Russian army, who received the shipment in October of 1812. I sent letter after to letter to their government, our government, anyone I could think of, imploring them not to use it. No one listened. The Russians immediately sent the guns to the front lines; the first battle they were used in was Maloyaroslavets. From what I've heard, the first shot they fired was from the malfunctioning gun, and . . . it was worse than I could have expected. The firing mechanism may have been further damaged in shipment, for the shell did not launch at all; the gun exploded instead. The artillery crew, and soldiers for some distance around, were riddled with shrapnel and then exposed to da Vinci's powder." He looked down a moment. "Forty-eight Russian soldiers died. And they did not die quick or easy. If this Ivchenko's brother died at Maloyaroslavets -- if Ivchenko saw his brother die at Maloyaroslavets -- it would have been a grisly sight." Daniel could see the baronet's hands tighten around the back of the chair, just for a moment, then looked up, his expression back under control. "That's when I built my vault that the Army knows nothing about. And the one under Stark Hall."

All was silent a moment. Then Peggy spoke. "Howard, you know that was not your fault."

"And yet those men are dead, and they might not be if not for me."

"Miss Carter is right, sir," Mr. Jarvis ventured to add. "You did everything in your power to stop that event."

"I didn't get on a ship and chase the guns. I didn't sail to Russia and explain how dangerous they were." Sir Howard dropped into his chair, massaging the bridge of his nose for a moment, before looking up. "All of this is to say, there are undoubtedly people who hate me in Russia."

"It was well known, that you were the manufacturer of those weapons?" Daniel asked.

Sir Howard nodded.

"Then I suppose we have motive," said the colonel. "Revenge. This anarchist could be out to kill you, Howard, on Ivchenko's command."

Peggy chimed in. "Or to discredit you. If Ivchenko steals some weapon of yours, and uses it to destroy the tsar and his men, and ensures that it is widely known that it is your weapon that did it, in one move he would accomplish his ends of overthrowing the Russian government and revenging himself on you. For surely there would be consequences if it was discovered that you'd allowed a dangerous weapon to get into the hands of a radical foreign element, and your reputation and livelihood would be thoroughly destroyed."

Daniel spoke up. "Do we think Ivchenko could hold a grudge that long? And that thoroughly?"

"I've read his anarchist manifesto," said Colonel Phillips. "I absolutely believe he could do that."

"So we have a working theory as to his plan and his motive," said Peggy. "Now the question becomes, what are we going to do about it?"

"It seems to me that we have three goals," said the colonel. "To protect Howard, to protect the vaults, and to apprehend the anarchist if at all possible."

"Protecting the vaults is an easy enough job," said Daniel. "The Army ought to be able to spare the men to cover the vault they keep for you. Are the two vaults you built for yourself quite secret?"

"The London vault is," said Sir Howard, sounding more like his usual self now that the difficult subject of Maloyaroslavets was past. "I refitted an existing vault and did all the work myself, so not even any builders are aware of its existence. No one knows of it but myself and Jarvis here." He punched his valet cheerfully on the shoulder. "And you are not going to betray me to a group of anarchists, are you, Jarvis?"

Mr. Jarvis, rubbing his shoulder, responded with an expression too serious to be taken seriously. "Wouldn't dream of it, sir." Daniel was starting to suspect that the man hid a sense of humor under that carefully pressed waistcoat.

"And the Stark Hall vault?" Peggy prompted.

"I did hire some men to construct that one. They were all very discreet, but word got out anyway. The existence of that vault is . . . rumored, I suppose, is how I would describe its status. But no one has ever seen it, not since construction was completed. It is very heavily protected with locks."

"So we send men to Kent," said Daniel, "and some to the secret London vault. They can guard them day and night."

"In the meantime," Peggy continued, "Daniel and I become Howard's closest friends and go with him everywhere, to protect him."

Sir Howard winked at her. "You won't like some of the places I go, Peg."

"Howard, you are incorrigible."

"But what of apprehending the anarchist?" Colonel Phillips asked. "We cannot hover around Howard and his properties forever. We must put a stop to this. If we can find and arrest him, and find some proof linking him back to Ivchenko, Niko can take this information to the authorities in Moscow and get them to break up Leviathan forever."

"Easier said than done, Uncle," said Peggy, looking suddenly tired. Daniel did not blame her; it was well after midnight now. "We have been attempting to identify this person for months with no success."

"Yes," said her uncle, "but now we know something very important about him." He nodded his head toward Sir Howard.

Peggy was right, though, Daniel thought; this person was very good at blending in. How would they find him among the more than one million people who lived in London? And then an idea occurred to him. "The difficulty is," he said, "that London makes it too easy for a person to disappear. So what if we leave London?"

Peggy's face lit up as she immediately latched on to his plan. "If we go to Stark Hall," she added. "Daniel, you're brilliant! If the anarchist truly means to harm Howard, or if he is after something in the vault there, he will follow."

"And surely, in the countryside," Daniel finished, "he will have a much harder time blending in."

"He would," Sir Howard agreed, also clearly warming to the idea. "Jarvis, how many families do I dine with in Kent?"

"Four and twenty," Mr. Jarvis answered promptly.

"And Richford village and the surrounding farmlands hold perhaps a few hundred people," Sir Howard continued. "All of whom know each other. Anyone new or out of the ordinary will stick out."

"It is a good plan," the colonel agreed. "I will stay in London and oversee the guarding of the London vault. Daniel and Peggy can accompany you to Stark Hall, where they will simultaneously guard you, guard the vault, and keep a weather eye out for the anarchist."

"But it must not look like we are doing such," Peggy quickly warned. "The anarchist likely is unaware that we are onto him, and we don't want to tip our hand by making it clear that this is a trap."

"House party!" said Sir Howard, snapping his fingers. "I shall invite you both down to Stark Hall for a few weeks to celebrate the end of the Season."

"The Season is not over for another month," Daniel pointed out.

The baronet was not concerned. "It is not unheard of to leave before Parliament lets out. The Thorpes have already left, and the Bertrams will be gone by next week. People will think it is just like me, to tire of the Season and leave early."

"We will need more help," Peggy said to the colonel. "May we bring Major Dugan? For he is very handy in a fight, and as a friend of Sir Howard's, no one will think it at all odd if he joins us."

Her uncle nodded. "Take Barnes too."

Peggy glanced at Daniel, an amused look in her eyes, Daniel supposed at her uncle's short-sightedness in matters of good society. "Barnes would undoubtedly be useful, but he is . . . not the sort that a baronet would invite along on a house party. We want to not draw attention, remember."

Colonel Phillips scoffed. "You're clever. Think of a way he can blend in."

Peggy considered this, then smiled. "He can come as your valet, Daniel! For I know you do not have one."

"How do you know that?" he demanded.

She smiled like one who had a secret. "Kate told me."

"And why were you discussing this matter with Kate?"

She waved her hand dismissively. "These things come up."

With a jolt, Daniel realized he had forgotten his sister's recent engagement. "I am happy to come with," said he. "But if we have not found the anarchist within a few weeks, someone else shall have to take my place there for a time so I may return to London. For Kate will be married soon, I am sure, and I want to spend some time with her before she leaves home forever." He glanced at Peggy and her uncle. "And do recall that you shall likely be invited to the wedding as well."

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Peggy smiled. "I have confidence this plan will smoke out the anarchist before then. And if not, we shall take a break from our plan to return to London for the wedding."

"All right," said Sir Howard, "invitations to you two and Dugan, and a room made up for Barnes. Anyone else?"

"We should invite other ladies," said Peggy, "to make this look convincingly like a social outing, and to keep up the appearance of propriety. If Kate did not have a wedding to plan, I should recommend her and the rest of the Sousa clan, but they will undoubtedly be busy. But Angela Martinelli shall do quite well. And perhaps her parents should also be invited, so her mother may act as our chaperon."

"Done," said Sir Howard. "I rather like your Miss Martinelli; fiery spirit. Anyone else?"

No one immediately came to the mind of anyone else in the room. "We will all continue to think of who else might be useful," Peggy said. "In the meantime, Howard, have Stark Hall prepared for guests, and please, if you are to go on a social visit, let someone from the Alien Office know so they may accompany you. I hope we may leave for Kent within the week."

"Done and done," said Sir Howard. "Jarvis, remind me to do all that, won't you? Actually, will you write to Mrs. Collins about the guests coming? You're better at that sort of thing than I am."

"Of course, sir," said Mr. Jarvis, and just for a moment, a tiny smile quirked his lips. Unfortunately for the quiet valet, his employer noticed.

"Excited to go back to Richford, I see," Sir Howard grinned. He turned to the other occupants of the room and whispered, as though telling a secret, "He's sweet on the dressmaker there. Hungarian girl."

"Sir!" Mr. Jarvis' voice was stern and a little embarrassed.

Sir Howard raised his hands in defeat. "I shall not say another word about it." He leaned toward Daniel. "Red head. Very pretty."


And so Daniel returned to Berkeley Square with an invitation to a house party hosted by the infamous Sir Howard Stark.

. . . . . .


First, an important question: did we ever learn Ana's maiden name in the show?

Prinny: A nickname often given to the Prince of Wales at this period, George. When his father, George III, became unfit to rule in 1811 (he was said to have gone mad, but scholars and historians today are still debating whether his illness was mental or physical), his son became the Prince Regent, ruling in his father's stead, until the king died in 1820 and Prinny became George IV. His regency gives the Regency Era its name, but the era is often considered to have extended past his actual regency, from the 1790s to the 1830s. For excellent portrayals of George III and Prinny, YouTube "Couldn't Stand My Wife" to see Lawry Lewin and Jim Howick in Horrible Histories, aka my new favorite pastime. (I'm a sausage! Sizzle sizzle sizzle.)

French invasion of Russia: In June of 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia with somewhere between 450,000 and 650,000 soldiers. His official reason for doing so was to save Poland from the threat of those pesky Russians &c. but really the reason was that he could see the treaty he'd signed with Tsar Alexander was falling apart, as discussed in this chapter, and he really wanted to keep Russia from trading with the UK because that was going to bring the UK to its knees somehow? The French hoped to defeat the Russians quickly, but that plan quickly dissolved: the Russian army just kept retreating and retreating farther back into Russia, burning their own fields and cities as they went so the Grande Armée couldn't forage for food. It was difficult to keep the large army supplied. Illness ran rampant. Morale flagged. Soldiers began deserting to find food. The triumphal entry into Moscow was a big letdown because the Russians had basically abandoned it and lit it on fire, and Napoleon sat there for a month waiting for Alexander to acknowledge him and ask for a treaty but Alexander never did. The French did win a few battles, but never could nail down the decisive victory old Boney wanted. AND THEN THE WINTER CAME. The Russians were prepared to deal with a Russian winter; the French were most emphatically not. Finally giving up, Napoleon began retreating back to France, but was forced to take those same roads that had already been stripped of food by their advance into the country. Without proper clothing, and with few supplies, the French deserted or died off one by one (or hundreds by hundreds, on some especially cold nights). Estimates vary, but of the original army who went to Russia, perhaps fewer than 40,000 returned. It was a spectacularly unsuccessful campaign, and the depletion of the Grande Armée would contribute to Napoleon's final defeat two and a half years later.

Battle of Maloyaroslavets: A battle held in the town of Maloyaroslavets on October 24, 1812, after the Grande Armée left Moscow; I should note that Howard Stark was not actually involved. The French got control of the town but the Russians just withdrew and began cutting off the retreat route the French had intending to use, forcing them to take the road they'd come in on (the one with no food). Man, we are all going to be experts on Napoleon by the time we're done here.

Sulfide of arsenic and verdigris: This was genuinely a suggestion that da Vinci made, for launching at enemy ships. He also wrote about how to create and weaponize Greek fire. The man had many varied interests.

Chapter 16


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

Daniel awoke late the next morning, having not returned to Berkeley Square until after four the night before; after discussing strategy for quite some time at Sir Howard's, he, Peggy and Colonel Phillips had returned to Downing Street to draw up plans for the guarding of the three vaults. He had returned home to find his family already asleep, and he could scarcely remember the last time he had been so grateful to fall into his bed.

Now he stretched and dressed himself with slow, lazy movements, noting from the time on his clock that breakfast would likely already be cleared away. Luckily, Mrs. Dixon always kept a few little snacks in the kitchen. He made his way there, thanked that excellent lady for the bread and apples she provided, and then retired to the sitting room, pleased to see the rest of his family already there. They were discussing wedding plans, but when he approached, they dropped that subject immediately.

"You're awake!" Kate teazed. "We were beginning to doubt we would ever see you out of bed again."

"I was beginning to doubt it myself," was his rejoinder, delivered with an affectionate smile.

"And how is Colonel Phillips?" his father asked.

"Quite well," he assured him. Peggy had insisted several times as he made his way out of the Home Office that he put his family's minds to rest as soon as possible on the subject of her uncle's health. "He took a nasty tumble on the stairs, and the doctor was for a time worried because he struck his head and was rather dizzy. But he is quickly recovering and the doctor expects there will be no lasting ill effects whatsoever."

"I am glad to hear it," said Kate. "He is a kind man, and very humorous."

"And I," said her brother, bending to drop a kiss on the top of her head, "am glad to hear that Thomas finally came to his senses." He seated himself on the sofa, across from his sister and next to his mother and father. "Come, I must hear the details. I know young ladies always love to share the details of their romantic adventures."

Kate colored at that, but, with his repeated encouragement, began to tell the tale of Thomas' proposal, hesitantly at first but then with more enthusiasm as the story progressed. She smiled, she laughed, she blushed very delicately, she even sighed a little. Daniel, watching her tell the tale, reflected that any amount of heartache his engagement with Peggy might inflict on him was worth it, if its end result was this incandescent happiness in his most beloved sister.

"An excellent story," he smiled. "And your Thomas has a very romantic way with words." He paused. "Unless he copied that proposal out of a book."

"Daniel!" laughed his mother, happily scandalized.

"It happens sometimes," he insisted. "I knew a midshipman on the Thetis who was courting a girl back home in letters. She thought him a very excellent writer, until one of her friends recognized a turn of phrase and realized he had stolen all of his most romantic sentiments directly from a book. She married the local vicar instead."

His companions were laughing by the end of his story. "You are such a teaze," laughed his sister. "I am sure Thomas could do no such thing." She hesitated. "For one thing, he only reads books on history and science. I hardly think any of them would provide useful statements for wooing young ladies."

"My dearest," Daniel intoned, "your face reminds me of the Battle of Thermopylae --"

Again his family laughed, and then Kate crossed the room to sit on the sofa beside her brother and lay her head on his shoulder, as she had so often as a child. "The only thing that gives me any sadness at all in marrying Thomas," said she, "is the thought of leaving home, and no longer seeing my dear family every day."

"Well, we shall simply have to make an effort to see each other as often as we can," said Daniel. "I would venture to guess that you and Thomas have a standing invitation to dinner here, any time you'd like to come."

"As do you and Peggy," said his mother to him. "Do not forget, Kate dearest, Daniel will be leaving home as well. I hope that makes it a little easier for you to leave. And we shall have all our dear children over to visit as often as you'll come."

"All?" asked Daniel. "Don't you mean both?"

"I mean all," said his mother. "For we shall have four children by the end of the summer. And, I hope, grandchildren not long after."

"Mama," said Kate in a tone that was admonishing and slightly embarrassed.

Daniel's chest tightened at his mother's words, as though a hand of steel were gripping his heart. Throughout the fake engagement, he had managed to keep from thinking much about children, and now he knew why that had been wise. For the image that flashed before his eyes, of little dark-haired, dark-eyed moppets being instructed by their mischievous mother in fisticuffs and horse riding at their house by the sea, made him perhaps more melancholy than anything that had happened thus far in his connexion with Peggy.

To change the subject, and banish his sudden somber mood, he asked his sister, "And when are you and Thomas to be married?"

"Early July, we think."

He was surprised. "So long from now?"

"Thomas has a very beloved uncle," Kate explained, lifting her head from his shoulder so she could lean back and look him in the face. "James Carrington is his name. He works now in Cadiz and is very rarely in England. But he is to visit this summer, and Thomas wants to make sure we wed when he can be in attendance."

"And he does not arrive until July?"

"He arrives mid-June, actually; he would like to be in town for the opening of the Waterloo Bridge. But then Thomas would like to spend some time with him before we leave to our wedding tour."

Daniel barely heard her reply; he was busy thinking how fortunate it was that they should marry in July, for then he could stay in Kent through much of June, if necessary. Then what she had said sunk in. "The Waterloo Bridge is nearly complete?"

"Yes," said Kate, "it will open on the second anniversary of the battle. Peggy and her uncle will, I assume, want to attend, for they say that hundreds of soldiers who fought in that battle will be there. That is why Uncle Carrington returns to England for it; he fought there under Uxbridge. The Prince Regent and Wellington will be in attendance as well."

"I shall ask Peggy if she intends to go."

"And ask her about July," his mother said. "And her uncle. They are both invited to the wedding, and the luncheon to follow. Kate and Thomas shall wed at St. George's, Hanover Square, and then return to the Featherstonehaugh home to dine."

"I shall." He hesitated, then glanced at Kate. "She has been hoping she would be invited. I have no doubt she will say yes."

"How could we not invite her?" asked Kate. "She is family, very nearly, and even were she not, she has become a dear friend."

"Thank you for that," said Daniel after a moment. Someday his family would not be so fond of Peggy as they presently were, and he suddenly felt it quite important that, while they still thought so highly of her, they know just how fond she was of them. "To all of you. Peggy has little memory of her mother and father, and no sisters or female relatives, and I think she has very much enjoyed spending time with you."

"Well, we very much enjoy spending time with her," said his father.

"Indeed, we adore her," said Mrs. Sousa, and reached out to squeeze her son's hand. "Now, when are you two going to marry? I know your Peggy cares little for fripperies or flowers, but still, plans must be made eventually."

"Not until after Kate weds, I imagine," said he, giving the time frame that he and Peggy had decided on the night before as a reasonable fib. "Her uncle is quite busy on a major Home Office assignment for the next month -- very secret, can't say a word -- and so July seems the best choice."

"So I shall wed before you, older brother," smiled Kate. "Despite having gotten engaged after you. I have always told you that I am more punctual than you, and now it seems I have been proven correct."

"Yes, you win this contest," her brother smiled at her. "However, as long as we live, I shall always be taller than you."

And Kate gave a melodramatic sigh of disappointment.

That afternoon a letter arrived from Sir Howard Stark, inviting Daniel to spend a few weeks at his home in Kent. "He invites the whole family," Daniel informed them, looking down at the letter; no doubt that part was added for the sake of the appearance of propriety, which told Daniel that it was probably Mr. Jarvis's idea. "Although he says he has heard of Kate's recent engagement and will understand entirely if not all are able to attend, because of wedding business."

"An invitation from Sir Howard Stark!" Mrs. Sousa exclaimed, all amazement. "The Sir Howard Stark, baronet? The chief engineer?"

"He is a friend of Peggy's from the military," Daniel explained.

"She knows everyone, doesn't she?" Dr. Sousa said.

"Very nearly," was his son's reply.

"Well," said Kate, "I am immensely grateful for my part in the invitation, but I do not know that this is a good time for me to leave London; I would have to return so soon for Uncle Carrington's arrival . . ."

"And there is wedding planning to do," added Mrs. Sousa.

"And I would not like to be separated from Thomas for so long," finished the daughter.

"And I cannot leave my work on such short notice," said Dr. Sousa.

"So you may go without us, dear," said Mrs. Sousa. "But in truth, that is likely all for the best; I am sure Sir Howard meant the invitation for you, as the affianced of his friend, and we were invited only for the sake of politeness."

"Indeed," said the doctor. "Daniel, you may go and have a very pleasant time without your dull old parents to ruin your enjoyment."

"You could never ruin my enjoyment of anything," smiled Daniel.

Mrs. Sousa shook her head and smiled. "Only imagine! An invitation from Sir Howard Stark. Daniel, my dear boy, what an honor. Only do not pick up any bad habits when you are with him. I do not think your Peggy would take kindly to your suddenly taking an interest in high-stakes betting and possibly losing your fortune, and hers."

"My Peggy would blacken my eye if I tried," Daniel laughed.

"You know," said Dr. Sousa, "I rather like that about her."

Daniel had a chance to plan strategy with Barnes, Major Dugan and Peggy not long after.

"This house party is a bold plan," Major Dugan said. "I like it."

"Bold?" Peggy repeated.

"Aye," said the major. "It gives Howard the protection of isolation, and will let us see the anarchist coming, if we are lucky, but it also separates us from the support of the Alien Office and the Army. It puts the safety of him and possibly the entire Russian government in the hands of four people, all a solid day's ride from backup in London."

"What a dispiriting thought," said Daniel.

"I confess, I had not thought of it in exactly those terms," Peggy agreed, glancing at him.

"I did not mean it as a criticism of the plan," Major Dugan hastened to assure them. "I think it the most logical response to the information we currently have. And adding too many soldiers or Alien Office agents to the party would give the game away. We shall simply all have to be ready for anything."

"I rather wish I had spent more time at Gentleman Jackson's," Daniel muttered.

"Excellent!" said the major. "Let's go when we're done here. Barnes, you in? I will tell Jackson you're my valet, and he'll let you in, no question."

"Perhaps Daniel should claim Barnes as his valet," Peggy observed. "Since that is the part he is meant to play on this trip. You two need to practice."

Barnes shifted a little, his expression less than pleased, and Daniel wondered if it chafed to be forever expected to be somebody's servant, as though Barnes' entire social class existed purely to keep the upper class's world running smoothly. "We should talk about that, you know," he said to Barnes. "Your being my valet."

Barnes turned to face him, and although his expression was now placid, Daniel still detected a bit of displeasure in his eyes.

"For I neither want nor need a valet," he went on. "You shall have to pretend to be such around Sir Howard's servants, but I imagine we will need you to spend most of your time on Alien Office duties. I do apologize if you thought you were going to get a break from sneaking about and preparing to fight anarchists, for I imagine that is precisely what we will have you do."

Barnes looked at him in surprise, and then his expression softened.

"Indeed," said Peggy, smiling, "I do not know that Daniel would know what to do with a valet."

"It is so absurd," Daniel sighed. "A gentleman cannot be bothered to hang up his own clothing? We trust the lords of this country to manage national affairs but not to manage their own boots?"

At that Barnes smiled. "I am glad to hear it," said he. "For I am not at all certain how to be a valet, or what one even does."

"Nor I," said Daniel.

"Nor I," agreed Major Dugan. "And I imagine, Barnes, we shall need you largely for the guarding of the vault. The rest of us will trade off with you when you need to sleep, but during waking hours we shall be constantly at Howard's side, protecting him."

"Speaking of," said Peggy, gesturing at a diagram she'd sketched, "when we are out with Howard, I propose we keep one of us with Howard, one nearby, and one scouting the perimeter of the room . . ."

Their group was to leave for Kent on the Friday next. On the Wednesday before that, Daniel and Peggy received a rather unwelcome piece of news from Sir Howard, at a rout they were attending with him as part of their plan to act as his bodyguards.

"You invited whom?" Peggy demanded.

"Lieutenant John Thompson," Sir Howard repeated. "Smashing fellow. Met him at my club yesterday. Seems a useful sort of chap to have around: devilishly clever at the card tables, and he holds his liquor ever so well. Plus he said he was a close relation of yours, so I supposed you wouldn't mind."

From the look on Peggy's face, Daniel supposed she was about to retort that she minded very much, but after a few moments her expression relaxed and she sighed. "You are, of course, welcome to invite any guest you like to your home. And perhaps the lieutenant's Army experience will prove useful, should we need his help, for at the very least he will know his way around a gun." She paused a moment. "Although I can't imagine what you think we are going to be getting up to, that his being a good card player and heavy drinker will be desirable skills."

Sir Howard smiled. "I like to be prepared for anything."

"Have you invited anyone else who is not on our original list?" Daniel asked.

"Of course not," said Howard. "Just Lieutenant Thompson and Dorothea Underwood and her aunt."

"Dorothea --" Peggy repeated, clearly annoyed. "You know this isn't a real social outing, don't you?"

"Yes," said Howard, "but I know it is meant to pass for one. More attendees will help sell the illusion."

Daniel shrugged. "He's not wrong," he pointed out gently to Peggy.

She sighed. "So now it's Daniel and I, Dugan, and Barnes, attempting to protect you, Jack Thompson, Angie and her parents, and Miss Underwood and her aunt from an anarchist who may kill anyone in his path in order to get to you."

Sir Howard simply smiled. "I have the utmost faith in your abilities, Peg."

She shot him a rueful look. "I suppose I shall pack an extra firearm for Jack. Just in case."

"That's the spirit," he told her. "Now, join me in the card room? We can find a fourth and play some whist. I am feeling very lucky tonight."

Peggy glanced at Daniel, who shrugged; he was not particularly keen to play. "Thank you," she told Sir Howard, "but no; I think Daniel and I should rejoin his family in the music room. Tonight is the last time I shall see them before we leave for Kent, and I should like to spend some time with them before we do."

Sir Howard looked a little surprised. "That is impressive dedication to maintaining your cover."

Peggy gave Sir Howard a smile Daniel had become quite familiar with, a small, closed-lipped smile that spoke of many things she was thinking but not saying. "The Sousas are not a cover," she said. "They are friends. Shall we, Daniel?"

Daniel thought of her words as they headed arm-in-arm to the music room, as they found the Sousas and Thomas tucked comfortably in a small cluster of sofas and love seats, as they sat down and fell immediately into comfortable conversation with the family. "The Sousas are not a cover," Peggy had said, and he smiled a little every time he thought of it. She had said it in reference to his parents and sister, but was he not a Sousa as well? He was not a cover. They might have only become as close as they were for the sake of the Alien Office; they had certainly only become engaged because of the anarchist. But he was not merely a cover. That would be some amount of comfort in the future, when they were no longer part of each other's lives. He and his family had not simply been a cover to her; she was genuinely fond of them.

"I am sorry you two are to go away for a few weeks," said Thomas to Peggy and Daniel. "We shall miss you both. I hope you shall not stay away too long."

"I shall return well before the wedding," Daniel assured him. He smiled at his sister. "I must spend a little more time with my sister before she moves away to be a busy and important married woman and I never see her again."

"Not ever," Kate agreed, her expression perfectly serious. "Indeed, I'm a little sorry that you're seeing me now."

"Such insolence," sighed Daniel. "And to her own brother."

"Speaking of the wedding," said Mrs. Sousa, "did Daniel tell you that you are invited, Peggy dear? You and your uncle."

"He did indeed," Peggy smiled. "And we shall both be vastly happy to attend." She glanced back at Daniel, and for a moment her expression was a little uncertain; he wondered if she was thinking, as Daniel was, of his worry about Kate's memories of her wedding day being marred by the presence of the woman who would so soon break her brother's heart. But she said nothing, instead simply slipping her hand into his.

The conversation veered off in a different direction, but Peggy kept her hand in his for a long time after, and Daniel wondered at it. Because of where they sat, none in the family could see their joined hands. And as he thought of it, into his mind came other instances over the past few weeks of Peggy taking his hand or his arm or calling him "dearest" or "darling" when there was no one to observe them. Most likely she was simply continuing to play her part in case they were unknowingly being observed by others.

And yet . . .

Playacting, he reminded himself. She was maintaining the part she played for the sake of the Alien Office.

And yet . . .

And yet nothing. Nothing had changed, no matter how much he wanted it to, no matter how much he liked the feeling of her hand in his, of her seated just a little closer to him on the sofa than was proper.

When the rout was over, Peggy and Daniel climbed into the Sousa family coach with his parents, Kate having traveled with Thomas and his mother. Peggy seemed a little quiet and withdrawn on the ride home; Daniel supposed she was tired from a long day. They all spoke comfortably and easily of Peggy and Daniel's approaching trip to Kent, but when the coach pulled up in front of the house on Cavendish Square Gardens, her countenance fell even further, and Daniel wondered if it was not fatigue, but unhappiness.

She reached across the carriage and took a hand of each of the Sousa parents in her own, squeezing them too long to be construed as a casual farewell. "Peggy, dear," said Mrs. Sousa, clearly surprised, "whatever is the matter?"

Her moment of vulnerability over, she smiled brightly at them both. "I shall miss you, that is all," said she.

Mrs. Sousa smiled and patted her cheek. "Well, do not stay away for long," she said.

"I shan't," Peggy promised. The footman had gotten the door open and the step in place by then, so Daniel exited the carriage and turned to help Peggy down after him, still wondering over the exchange he had just witnessed. Peggy waved his parents goodbye, then took his arm and followed him inside, her bright smile never flagging.

When they were inside the front hall, however, her expression dimmed. "Peggy, are you all right?" he asked quietly, daring to place one hand on her upper arm.

She shook her head. "I am perfectly well, I assure you."

"For a spy, you're sometimes a very poor liar."

She smiled a little at him. "I simply . . . it occurred to me in the carriage . . ." She paused. "No matter what happens in Kent, this feels like . . . an ending, of some kind. And I find myself sorry at the thought of losing my connexion with your family."

Then marry me. The words came to his thoughts so suddenly and so vividly that he nearly spoke them aloud, but fortunately good sense ruled and he kept his mouth shut.

Peggy, too, seemed nearly on the verge of saying something; indeed, she opened her mouth as though to do so, and then closed it again.

A door shut loudly somewhere nearby and jolted Daniel from his reverie. "I should go," said he, removing his hand from her arm and making his way to the door.

"Thank your parents again for bringing me with them," said she.

"Of course," he said. "And I shall see you on Friday morning."

"'Til then," said she, her face back to its usual placid expression.

And he left, then marry me still echoing through his mind.

. . . . . .


No historical notes today. I think this is a first. I feel like the teacher's let us out of class early.

Chapter 17


Sort of a transitional chapter. Sorry about that. :) More drama to come next week!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

On the Friday next, at five in the afternoon, a train of carriages pulled through the gates of the park at Stark Hall, and Daniel heaved a great sigh of relief.

Peggy turned away from the window to smile at him. "Glad to have finally arrived?"

"More than I can say," said he. The journey from London to Sir Howard's home was not as lengthy as it could have been; Sir Howard had earlier related to them with a proud smile the story of how, when the king made him a baronet and proposed to gift with him an estate, he had audaciously demanded that the estate be within a day's ride of London. It was a brave man who made demands of the king who was bestowing a dignity of him, but it appeared to have been successful, for they had made the journey to Stark Hall in eight hours, including a break for a midday meal at a charming inn.

This did not mean, however, that the journey had not felt excruciatingly long. "I shall be pleased to stretch my legs," he told her. Sitting for long periods of time with his false leg could become very tiring, as he struggled to find a comfortable position and keep his balance when the road became a bit uneven. Even the break for lunch was not enough respite from the road. If he ever did buy a home in the country, he would seek out houses that were, like Stark Hall, a day's ride or less from London.

At least the difficulty and monotony of the ride had been mitigated by the company he'd kept while making the journey, for he and Peggy had ridden with the Martinellis. Sir Howard rode in the head carriage, with Miss Underwood, her aunt and Lieutenant Thompson, as well as Major Dugan, who acted as the first line of defense between the baronet and any threat on his life. Barnes rode in a carriage with Mr. Jarvis and other servants, but, claiming he became claustrophobic, he rode up top with the driver; unbeknownst to the other occupants of his carriage, he was armed and constantly on the lookout for approaching trouble. But none appeared and the carriages arrived at Stark Hall in perfect safety.

Stark Hall was a handsome house of notable size built in the clean, classically-influenced style of the previous century, nestled among the rolling hills of the Kent Downs. "Oh my," was Mrs. Martinelli's comment on viewing the place as the coaches rolled toward it, and Daniel was inclined to agree. The verdant fields and forests around it, the sloping hills building behind it until they faded into the distance, all labored together to make Stark Hall perhaps the most beautifully situated house Daniel had ever seen.

"There are advantages to being famous and wealthy," Miss Martinelli observed, and her mother tutted at her while her father and Peggy smothered smiles.

When the carriages rolled up to the front of the house, the servants were lined up to receive them. Sir Howard seemed to hardly notice; as Daniel alighted from the carriage, he could hear the baronet busily chatting away to Miss Underwood, who listened with rapt attention as he explained all about the improvements he had already carried out and those he still intended to do.

"It is absolutely the most beautiful house I have ever seen!" Miss Underwood declared in wide-eyed wonder, one hand over her heart. Beside her, her sturdily-built aunt stood staring stony-faced at the house, appearing to take no notice of the conversation. Daniel had been surprised by the woman's silence when they all met up that morning, until he remembered Miss Underwood's explanation, all those months ago, that her aunt was quite deaf. He wondered if that had made the carriage ride less tolerable, for she had to sit in silence all those hours and could take no part in the conversation, or more tolerable, for she did not have to listen to Sir Howard flirting and her niece simpering.

The other guests alighted from their carriages as well, and a very correct-looking butler made a deep bow to Sir Howard. "Welcome to Stark Hall, sir."

"Thank you, Baddeley," said the baronet. "Everyone, anything you need while you're here, Baddeley will see to it."

Baddeley bowed again and gestured toward the front door while, behind them, servants began unloading the trunks from the carriages. Sir Howard offered his arm to Dottie, Daniel offered his to Peggy, and Mr. Martinelli offered his to his wife. Major Dugan, very gallant when he wanted to be, offered his to Aunt Elizabeth, who eyed him suspiciously before taking it. This left Angie to take Lieutenant Thompson's arm; to his credit, the lieutenant offered it very promptly and with exquisite correctness of manners. Still, the young lady shot Daniel and Peggy a very expressive look as she passed them, and Daniel fought back a smile.

The front hall of the house was even grander than the exterior would suggest, and Daniel could not blame Miss Underwood for staring up at the lavishly decorated ceiling in awe; indeed, it took a great deal of self-control for him not to do the same. "Rooms are upstairs!" Sir Howard announced. "I presume you would all like some time to rest and freshen up before dinner. We eat at 7. In the meantime, follow Baddeley!"

As the guests all moved to follow his instructions -- Miss Underwood having communicated them to her aunt using some kind of hand gesturing system -- Sir Howard moved to the back of the group and caught at Daniel's sleeve, slowing him and Peggy to a stop. "I wasn't sure where you'd prefer to be put up, Captain," he said, his voice pitched low so as not to be heard. "There is a room prepared for you upstairs, in the guest wing, but I wasn't sure whether you might like not to have to climb so many stairs. There is a room on this level that I also have prepared; it is easier to access, and --" he lowered his voice even further -- "it is closer to the entrance to the vault."

Daniel looked at him in surprise a moment, then turned to Peggy, who raised her eyebrows very expressively. "I agree," he told her, and turned back to Sir Howard. "It could indeed be advantageous to have me and Barnes close to the vault; it also puts us nearer the front doors, should anyone attempt entry. That leaves Peggy and Major Dugan available upstairs to handle protection of you and the other guests." He hesitated. "And I would indeed find it preferable to be on the ground floor. Thank you, Sir Howard."

The man smiled. "If we are to work together," said he, "you must call me simply Howard. 'Sir Howard' is a little more formal than I like."

Daniel smiled. "Then you must call me Daniel."

"Deal," Howard said. "Now, Peg, go catch up with the others, and I will show Daniel to his room."

Peggy nodded, briefly tightening her hold on Daniel's arm as a goodbye, and hurried up the stairs. Howard led Daniel down a corridor, explaining that a previous owner had fitted up room in the last century, having had a mother who was confined to a chair and did not like being carried up and down the stairs by servants. "I hope I didn't overstep any bounds," said he as they reached the room."With suggesting you might prefer not to use the stairs, I mean."

In truth, Daniel might have been a little embarrassed had someone else suggested it, but there was such a frank manner in the baronet's address that Daniel felt no such shame; when someone was as bluntly honest as the baronet, one could feel reasonably certain that his words did not conceal any hidden animosity or derision, for if he felt these things, surely he would simply express them. So Daniel only smiled. "It was kindly meant, and good of you to think of. And as you said, there is an advantage to giving Barnes an excuse to always be in the this part of the house, as he is to take on the bulk of the vault guarding duties."

The room Howard showed him to was very lavishly decorated. "Your trunks should be delivered soon," Howard said, and excused himself, and Daniel was only too grateful to remove his prosthetic and collapse onto the very comfortable bed. In little time, he was fast asleep.

He awoke some time later to the sound of the door opening, and he blearily opened his eyes to see Barnes dragging a trunk into the room. "Don't do that," he mumbled, still half-asleep.

Barnes, startled, dropped the end of the trunk he was holding onto the floor. "Sorry, I'll be more quiet."

Daniel sat up and stretched. "No, I mean -- you needn't see to my things. You're not my servant, recall."

"Outside this room I am," Barnes reminded him, closing the door so they could not be overheard. "The footmen brought the trunks this far but clearly expected me to bring them in and situate them. I thought I'd oblige, to keep them from getting suspicious."

"Allow me to help, then," Daniel said, and began groping over the edge of the bed to find his prosthetic leg, which he had carelessly propped up against the bed and which had slid to the ground during his rest.

Barnes promptly found the fallen prosthetic and handed it to Daniel, who caught sight of his fake valet eyeing the straps on top of the device. "Is that how you --"

He caught himself and fell silent, but Daniel understood the question. "That's how I attach it to what remains of my limb," he confirmed.

His companion hesitated, then asked, "Is it comfortable?"

It was a bluntly honest question, and though Daniel did not know this Barnes too well yet, he knew enough to know the man would appreciate a similarly honest answer. "No."

And indeed, Barnes looked surprised, but then gave a small smile. "A friend of mine lost a hand and bit of arm at Quatre Bras," said he. "Says his prosthetic is worth it because he can work again, but it's a right pain to wear." He hesitated, then seated himself atop Daniel's trunk. "You should talk to Howard," he suggested. "He designed a new arm for this friend; apparently it's a 'vast improvement.'"

"I didn't know Howard's interests included prosthetic limbs," Daniel said, taking Barnes' informal sitting and curiosity about his leg as permission to do what he did not often do in front of others: begin strapping on his prosthesis.

Barnes smiled. "Howard's interests include anything that happens to catch his eye. In addition to weapons, he's also designed carriages, bridges . . ." He fell silent as Daniel inadvertently scowled a little at the feeling of the straps back on what remained of his leg. After a moment, he asked, "It must be difficult, to carry a reminder of the battlefield always. Or of the battle ship, I suppose, in your case."

"It is not ideal," Daniel agreed. "But then I remind myself of what good health I do still have, and some of the more egregious fates befell some of my fellow soldiers. I can yet walk; I have full use of my hands, my arms, my eyes . . ." He hesitated. "I saw my captain killed right before my eyes -- a good man, and a good friend. When I feel particularly self-pitying, I remind myself that I am yet alive, and that men like Dooley would not want me to waste that opportunity." He dropped his gaze down to the straps he was currently tightening, a little surprised at what a personal turn the conversation had taken.

But Barnes was not done with his frank line of questioning. "Does it help?"

Daniel finished with the last strap, considering his answer, before responding, "Usually."

Barnes was silent a moment. "Steve used to say, 'The dead gave their all so that the rest of us might live.'" Daniel glanced up to see his companion give a nostalgic smile. "I don't know that his own words helped him much. He had quite the tenderest heart; felt it very keenly when one of our men fell. People called him a hero, but really it was just that if he, through his efforts, could save another soldier from suffering, he would do it without question. He would rush into the line of fire to save a perfect stranger."

"I have heard he was the best of men."

"The very best," Barnes agreed. "But you should know that, for you know Peggy, and you know she would scarcely have fallen in love with him if he were anything less." He got to his feet. "I'll get the other trunk," he volunteered, and exited the room, leaving Daniel to marvel that Captain Steven Rogers still commanded such affection and loyalty two years after his death.

Dinner that night was a lavish affair, and Daniel, amazed, wondered if this was a specially fine meal to celebrate their first day in Kent, or if they could expect every meal to be this grand. The company was excellent as well; Howard and Major Dugan, friends from their time on the Continent, both turned out to be even more vivacious and amusing than usual when they were in each other's company, and they kept the conversation flowing in a very lively style.

Howard kept the gentlemen's drinking of port very brief, undoubtedly anxious to get back to their female company, which was likely all for the best because the conversation had devolved into Major Dugan recounting his latest prizefight to Howard, demanding occasional input from Daniel, and poor Mr. Martinelli looked a little shocked at the vivid descriptions of the violence. Once in the drawing room with the ladies, however, any conversational snags were smoothed over by the large number of conversational partners available. Howard fell into conversation with Mr. Martinelli about the time both had spent in Italy, while Miss Underwood looked on with absolute adoration and Aunt Elizabeth read a book nearby. Lieutenant Thompson and Major Dugan had discovered some overlap in their military histories and were comparing notes about battles and fellow officers that both had known. Mrs. Martinelli had invited herself into that conversation and was simultaneously expressing her admiration for the military and trying to convince her daughter to come join the discussion and admire Lieutenant Thompson's valor. Her daughter, however, was determinedly ignoring her mother and engaging Daniel and Peggy in a conversation about Mozart.

It was all very pleasant, sitting there with Peggy by his side, listening to her animated discussion with her dear friend. He found himself remembering the day he'd first met Miss Martinelli, and how it had fascinated him to see Peggy so animated around her dear friend. Now Peggy was just as animated around Daniel as she was any others in her circle, and it warmed his heart to think of how much she had come to trust him.

The party adjourned early, as all were still fatigued from the long trip, and Daniel was only too glad to think of his bed. When Howard came to bid him and Peggy a good night, however, he leaned in and said in a low voice, "Do not sleep just yet. I want to show you the vault."

And so Daniel found himself sitting in his room, fully dressed but longing for sleep, for nearly an hour after all the guests had gone to their rooms. Finally, at a point that Howard must have considered sufficiently safe, the baronet knocked softly on Daniel's door. Peggy, Barnes and Dugan were with him, and the group followed him to a study just down the hall from Daniel's room. In one corner was a door that appeared to open to a small storage room filled with old and unused books; when Howard pressed a hidden button under one of the shelves, the whole back wall of the room opened smoothly toward them, showing a staircase disappearing downstairs into darkness.

"A hidden passageway!" Major Dugan exclaimed. "I feel like a heroine in one of Mrs. Radcliffe's novels."

Peggy blinked at him, surprised. "You read Mrs. Radcliffe's novels?"

The major seemed baffled by her question. "Yes," he said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. "Far more exciting than the Latin and history my old tutor used to force on me."

"Good point," said Daniel.

Behind the hidden door was a staircase leading down, and Howard led the way down it, a candlestick in his hand. It was a tight, spiraling staircase, and Daniel struggled a little getting down it; he did not look forward to using it on nigh watch duties.. At the bottom was a small room with a comfortable armchair and table; Howard set the lantern on this table and turned his attention to the large metal door that covered much of one of the walls. "The vault," said he, gesturing grandly. "It can only be opened with this key, which I keep hidden very carefully away in my rooms." And from his pocket he produced a heavy iron key and fitted it into the keyhole.

The door swung open to reveal a cavernous black space behind. Howard stepped confidently into the darkness and touched something that made a clicking sound; the next moment, five or six lights flared into existence, showing the room beyond the door to be of a moderate size but so filled with clutter that it looked much smaller. "Self-lighting lamps," said Howard with a smug smile, in response to his companions' surprised looks. "One of my inventions." He led the way into the room, which was encased entirely in brick except for a smooth tile floor, and which was lined with shelves. These shelves were laden with objects, some of which Daniel recognized -- pistols, helmets, goggles, and the like -- and some of which were unidentifiable steel canisters and leather boxes and intricate contraptions made up of wheels and pipes.

Each shelf of inventions had a corresponding shelf beneath it, on which were piled sheaves of paper. "Notes," he explained to Peggy, who had bent to examine one of the papers. "How to operate each device, and how to reproduce it, should I decide I want to."

"And all of these are inventions you determined too dangerous for the government to have?" Major Dugan clarified.

Howard shook his head. "Some simply don't work," he admitted with a grin. "Others I am keeping in reserve until the right moment to introduce them to the world." He turned to Daniel, who was examining a vest made of a dark material. "Clever, don't you think? Made up of layers of silk and cotton that will stop a bullet." He hesitated. "Well, certain bullets. But still, it's better than nothing."

"Perhaps we should make you wear it full time," Daniel said under his breath.

Howard heard him. "Don't think so," he said. "Dashed uncomfortable, and it makes me look as fat as Prinny. Still working on making it wearable."

"So nothing in here stands out to you as a possible target?" Peggy asked, looking around.

Howard shrugged. "Surely the weapons are more of a target than the armor, but more than that I cannot say."

Peggy looked at Barnes. "Are you ready to spend the next few weeks guarding this?"

"Words cannot express my excitement and anticipation," Barnes deadpanned, and his companions laughed.

"It's a pleasure we shall all experience," said Peggy. "Daniel and Dugan, I hope you both remembered to bring the schedule I wrote out for you? And you'll have noticed an alarm clock in each room, courtesy of Howard; use it to make sure you get to your night watch shifts on time. Dugan has the first shift tonight, and Daniel the second; make sure you're down here at four o'clock, Daniel, for I am sure the major does not want to miss out on a moment's more sleep than he absolutely must."

Soon the lights were extinguished and the vault closed and locked, and the group was climbing the stairs, leaving Dugan behind with the candle. It felt strange, abandoning him down there in the dark with only a chair, a table and a candle, but he assured them several times that he was not worried about growing bored. "I have kept more far more uncomfortable watches than this," he reminded them.

Back at Daniel's room, Howard showed him how to wind the smallest hand of the clock to set the alarm, and finally Daniel was allowed to sleep. It was not for long, however, for just before four o'clock, the soft dinging bells of the clock awoke him, and with a sigh he stretched, put on his leg and a dressing gown, and made his way down to the vault anteroom. Dugan greeted him gladly, clearly looking forward to his own bed, and showed him where the extra candles were stored. Then, wishing him a good night, the major left him alone and Daniel settled into the chair.

Sleep quickly threatened to overtake him, and he was forced to rely on an old trick he'd used in his Navy days: attempting to remember lists. He went over counties of England, countries of Europe, and monarchs of England and the United Kingdom. And then he did them again, this time for speed, and then he paced the room for a while, and then he did the monarchs in reverse chronological order. Then he checked the clock: it was only five o'clock, and he hung his head and sighed. This was going to be a very tedious way to spend his evenings.

. . . . . .


Godmersham Park: In case any of you were interested, the house I was picturing when describing Stark Hall is Godmersham Park in Kent—although in a different part of Kent than I'm picturing Stark Hall—a lovely Georgian house located on the North Downs in Kent. (I didn't know if they'd call it Georgian architecture during the Georgian period, so that's why I didn't describe it as such). The house is of some interest to Austen fans because it was the home of her brother Edward Knight (he'd been adopted by a rich relative, Thomas Knight, and inherited the house from him) and Jane and her sister Cassandra visited often.

Mrs. Radcliffe: Ann Radcliffe was perhaps the most prominent author of Gothic novels in the late 18th and early 19th centuries—certainly the one who made them respectable and influenced many authors who came after her. For all that she gets a bad rap (watching the most recent film adaptation of Northanger Abbey, which is a parody of hers and others' Gothic works, will make you think she was writing the pulpiest of trash), she seems to have had loftier literary intentions; her works valued morals, integrity and honor, and objected to the oppression of women. She felt her works were distinct from other Gothic novels because they employed terror, rather than horror, and while horror "contracts, freezes and nearly annihilates" the faculties of readers, terror "expands the soul" and is a "source of the sublime." Later commentators have suggested that her disgust at the direction Gothic novels were taking—Matthew Lewis and The Monk, I'm looking at you—eventually caused her to give up writing.

Body armor: Another stretching of the truth from me on the timeline of world events. Although metal armor designed to stop or slow bullets had been used for centuries at this point, with varying levels of success, the first recorded cases of cloth being used to make bulletproof armor wouldn't come until the 1840s (cotton) and the 1860s (silk). However, there are reports of armor made of layers of silk and/or cotton for many hundreds of years before this point—including reports that Mongolians wore silk vests to lessen damage from being hit with arrows, although I'm having a very hard time verifying that—so I'm supposing that Sir Howard, with his interest in historical warfare, would have read about it and given it a try. (I never know how historically accurate I need to make Sir Howard, because show!Howard invented a hovercar in the 1940s, so he's sure as heck not bound by historical accuracy.)

Alarm clocks: Clocks with timing mechanisms that make a noise at a certain time are about as old as clocks themselves, but ones that we would recognize as alarm clocks probably only date back to the 1500s. They didn't become popular for personal use until the 1870s, however. I'd have liked to have a flintlock alarm clock, which was created in Austria in the 1700s and which, instead of having a noisy alarm, used a flintlock mechanism to light a candle. Wouldn't that be a pleasant way to wake up? Except for when I'd sleepily swat at this thing that was shining in my eyes and either burn my hand or burn the house down.

Chapter 18


The line about Beau Brummel was written by Annie+MacDonald; she put it in a review and I thought it was so funny that I used it. Sorry for the plagiarism, Annie. ;)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

Barnes appeared to relieve Daniel of his guard duty just after 8 in the morning, and Daniel happily returned to his room to get a few more hours of sleep. He awoke feeling far better than he had at the end of his guard duty, but the consequence of his late rising was that when he finally dressed and went out to breakfast, the morning was nearly gone and the house was all but empty. Only Major Dugan, similarly fatigued from his sleepless night, remained, finishing his late breakfast and reading a newspaper. He explained that Howard had taken all the other guests on a walking tour of the gardens behind the house, and Daniel responded with a smile that he was not too sorry to miss it; he was as fond of gardens as anyone, but the extra sleep was more than worth missing the tour.

Daniel ate his breakfast and then returned to his room to unpack his trunks and write a letter home, telling them he had arrived in safety and describing the grandeur of Stark Hall. He had just located a servant and given him instructions to send the letter when the touring group returned.

"You missed our little walk, Captain," Howard grinned as he entered the hall and saw Daniel standing there.

"Oh, the gardens are absolutely beautiful!" was the wide-eyed exclamation of Miss Underwood, who was on the baronet's arm. "I never saw such beautiful shrubberies."

"And so charmingly old-fashioned!" added Mrs. Martinelli, coming in behind the baronet with her husband. "But have you never thought, Sir Howard, of redoing the garden in a more modern style? My neighbors had their park redone by Humphry Repton, and it is exquisite."

"Couldn't possibly," said Howard. "Not when nature has already done so much out there. And my man Jarvis, whose taste Beau Brummell always admired for its complete reticence, would never forgive me the chopping of a single oak."

"Well, it is lovely as it stands," said Mr. Martinelli. "I am very keen to attempt to solve your maze, Sir Howard."

"You can't attempt it yet," Howard said. "For then you will have an unfair advantage when we take the whole party and make an outing of it. It is devilishly tricky. Come! I should like a drink. Take your walking things off and join me in the sitting room." So saying, he led the way upstairs, and the others began to follow.

The last members of the group to enter the front door were Peggy and Lieutenant Thompson, arm in arm; Daniel might have been a little jealous, had he allowed himself to be, but he quickly reminded himself that it was only polite for a gentleman to offer a lady his arm when they were walking over rough ground. And besides, Peggy was not his intended, not truly.

But despite the fact that she was in fact not Daniel's, and perhaps because of the fact that she'd had to spend the morning with the lieutenant, Peggy's face brightened as she saw Daniel; she quickly removed her arm from Lieutenant Thompson's and made her way to take her place by Daniel's side. The other guests had all disappeared up the stairs by that point, and Daniel, Peggy, and Lieutenant Thompson were alone in the front hall.

Daniel smiled at Peggy as she wound her arm through his. "I missed you this morning," she said, sounding quite sincere. He did not blame her; a morning with Miss Underwood and Lieutenant Thompson for company could not be a pleasant one.

"Indeed," said Lieutenant Thompson, a hint of censure in his tone, "it is too bad you could not wake in time to join us."

Peggy caught Daniel's eye, and he appreciated the look there that said she knew precisely why he had slept late and did not blame him for it at all. But even with her tacit reassurance, he could not help but be piqued by the lieutenant's words, and and he found himself saying facetiously, "I am indeed sorry to have been deprived of your company, Lieutenant, but I shall strive to bear my disappointment cheerfully."

Peggy gave an unladylike snort at that, but the lieutenant would not be moved from his original point. "I would rather think you would be more eager to spend time with your fiancée," he said. "Had I a fiancée as lovely as Margaret, I should spend as much time as possible with her."

"Yes, I can see that," Peggy muttered under breath.

That brought a smile to Daniel's face, and he unwound his arm from Peggy's so he could take her hand instead. "Well, I am sorry to have missed spending time with her this morning," said he, fixing his gaze upon Peggy's face, "but I have some consolation in the fact that we shall have the rest of our lives to spend together." And, not taking his eyes away from her face, he lifted their joined hands and pressed a fervent kiss to her knuckles.

As he'd hoped, Lieutenant Thompson took that as a cue to leave. "I should join the others," said he, with an irritated edge to his voice, and Daniel glanced at him to see him moving toward the stairs.

"Oh, and Lieutenant?" Peggy called after him.

The man stopped partway up the stairs and glanced back at them.

Peggy gave him a serene smile. "I have never given you leave to use my Christian name. To you I am Miss Carter."

Lieutenant Thompson looked surprised, then embarrassed, and then he nodded. "My apologies, Miss Carter." With a small nod, he disappeared up the stairs, and Daniel and Peggy were left alone.

"I suppose I should let you go upstairs and take your walking things off," said Daniel, and released her hand. But to his surprise, she did not release his.

"It can wait," said she, and tugged his hand to lead him into the sitting room. "I want to hear how your first night on watch went."

"Oh!" said he, surprised at the question. "Quite boring, really. But no one approached the vault, and I stayed awake, so I suppose it was a success." The pair seated themselves on a sofa.

She smiled at that. "It is going to be a bit difficult to undertake the watch when it means two of us are always sleep deprived. How soon do you think it will be before the other guests notice that you, me, and Major Dugan are always sleeping late?"

"Perhaps we shall have to force ourselves not to," said Daniel. "We could wake up at the same time as the other guests if we nap, or simply force ourselves to operate on less sleep. I imagine we've all done it before, in the wars."

"Very true," she agreed. "Perhaps if it gets to be too much, we can make Howard take a shift, although he's very little good in a fight, so all he could do if someone did approach is call for help. Or perhaps we can take day shifts sometimes and make Barnes take our night shifts."

"Poor Barnes," Daniel sighed. "He is going to have quite the dullest month."

Peggy hummed in agreement, and the pair fell into silence. "You know," said she after a moment, "I believe this is the first time in a week and a half that we've been able to relax like this. Ever since that letter arrived from Russia, things have been so frantic; I have scarcely seen you when we did not have some pressing matter to contend with. This is quite nice."

"It is," Daniel agreed. The house was quiet, the sofa was comfortable, the windows offered a stunning view of the beautiful landscape, and Peggy was a comfortably warm presence by his side. How could he not agree that it was quite nice?

"And," she went on after a moment, "I am glad that we shall . . . be able to spend some time together here."

Blinking in surprise, he turned to look at her, only to realize that she had already turned to look at him. It brought his face quite close to hers, and he could not help it; his pulse quickened at the nearness of her. His first instinct was to lean back and lessen the effect of her proximity, but his body refused to obey, and she remained similarly motionless . . . except her gaze, which darted down toward his mouth and then back up to his eyes. He swallowed hard.

And of course Howard Stark chose that moment to enter the room. "Have either of you ordered tea yet -- oh, I'm sorry, am I interrupting?" For he had apparently finally taken in his companions' position, and the surprise of it apparently slowed his exuberance for tea. Daniel looked up at him, surprised, and in that moment realized just how this must look: he and Peggy, scandalously alone, her tucked in close to his side with her hand in his, them looking at each other as though -- as though what, he hardly knew. With that thought his body came back under his control and he jumped a little, leaning away from Peggy enough for her to get the hint to move away from him as well.

Howard stared at them both a moment, then said calmly to Peggy, "Mrs. Martinelli will be here any moment. If you don't want to get scolded for being so eager to sneak off with your fiance that you neglected to remove your boots and pelisse, I would suggest you go do so now before she catches you."

Peggy hesitated. "I see your point, Howard, thank you." And with great dignity, she stood from the sofa and left the room, pausing at the door to shoot a smile back at Daniel.

When she was gone, Howard seated himself where she had been, beside a slightly stunned Daniel. "Well!" the baronet said. "That was quite something. I thought you said your engagement wasn't real."

Daniel blinked, brought back into responsiveness by the reminder. "It isn't."

Howard leaned back and crossed his ankles comfortably, a smirk twisting his mustache. "If that is so, then may I ask, why in blazes isn't it? She's an extraordinary young lady, and if that little display is anything to judge by, you are not entirely immune to her charms."

Warmth touched Daniel's cheeks and he suspected that he was blushing. "It's not -- it's not like that. That was simply --" What on earth had that been? He had no idea, and he suddenly wished to be far from Howard and the crowd of people he could hear approaching the door so that he might reflect on that very subject for a while.

It was too late, however; the door opened and the guests poured into the room. Miss Underwood seated herself next to Howard and began to teaze him about producing the delicious scones he had promised his cook excelled at, and Mrs. Martinelli seated herself next to Daniel and promptly drew him into a conversation about the activities she hoped to enjoy while they were in the countryside, and in time the adrenaline from moment with Peggy faded. The memory still lingered in his mind, and he still wished desperately to be alone for a time so he might dedicate some consideration to the event, but the happy noisiness of the room distracted him sufficiently that by the time Peggy returned, just moments after the tea arrived, he was composed.

She looked a little disappointed that the seats around him were all quite taken, but there was nothing for it; she had to take the only open seat, by Mr. Martinelli and Lieutenant Thompson, and speak with them instead. And Daniel spent the next three-quarters of an hour forcing himself not to look at Peggy, for surely to do so would cut up his peace again.

After quite some time, Howard crossed the room to look out the windows and announced with some pleasure that the threatening rain clouds of the morning had disappeared and they would have excellent weather for the rest of the afternoon. Accordingly, he proposed a ride. "I've horses enough for all of you," he said, "and now I can show you that lake I was speaking of, Mrs. Martinelli."

An approving murmur arose from the guests, and Daniel smiled a little; Peggy had so been looking forward to an opportunity to ride. He, of course, did not intend to join them; the only time he had attempted to ride since his injury, he had learned that with his prosthetic leg, keeping his balance on a horse was possible but extremely fatiguing, and he was tired enough from the night's watch. Around him, the plan was being discussed with much approbation, and Major Dugan suggested that they all go fetch their riding things now, so they could take their ride while the sun was still bright and warm. The group approved of this proposal and swept from the room as one. Daniel saw Miss Martinelli take Peggy's arm, and they left the room in deep conversation; he remembered that young lady had explained she was a mediocre rider, so perhaps she wanted advice or encouragement from her friend.

Daniel himself supposed that this would be a good time to take the tour of the gardens that he had missed this morning, and accordingly he went to his rooms to fetch his hat, his good boots, a warm coat, and the sturdier cane he used for walking outdoors and over uneven ground. When he returned to the front hall, Miss Underwood was just appearing from upstairs, in a slightly shabby riding habit of deep red. With her was her aunt, who had not changed into a riding habit.

"Does your aunt not join the ride, Miss Underwood?" he asked.

"Oh no," said she, "she does not like to ride. She will stay here and work on her correspondence, she has told me." And with a few hand gestures, she sent the old woman into the sitting room.

"In that case, may I escort you?" said he, offering his arm. "For it will make me look very chivalrous and dashing, and also I need you to show me where the stables are."

Miss Underwood gave a surprised laugh. "Oh, Captain Sousa!" she exclaimed as she took his arm. "You are so funny."

"You are kind to say so," he said as they began their walk. "My sister would not agree with that assessment."

So talking, they made their way outside and toward the stables, discussing his family and her home near Plymouth, a part of the country he confessed he had never visited. She smiled at that. "No one I talk to has ever been to Plymouth," she confessed. "I fear we are not the most popular corner of the kingdom."

They were the last of the party to arrive at the stables; Daniel saw many of the guests were already mounted, and Lieutenant Thompson helping Miss Martinelli to get comfortable in the saddle. Howard appeared to lead Miss Underwood to a lovely little light-colored horse he'd chosen for her, and Peggy appeared in a gorgeous navy blue riding habit, leading a gleaming horse that Daniel, with his limited knowledge on the subject, assumed was a stallion, as it was larger than some of the other horses.

"This one is yours, dear," said she. "I asked Howard for a docile horse, for I know you are not much comfortable with riding."

"Very kind of you," he replied, "but I actually do not intend to ride. I came to see you all off, but I thought I would tour the gardens instead."

She blinked. "Sorry?"

He leaned in close. "You know I have not ridden above thrice in my life --"

"Yes, so I thought I could teach you," she said with a smile.

"I very much appreciate the thought, and I look forward to your tutelage in the coming days, but I am not up to it today. Between eight hours in a carriage yesterday, and my interrupted sleep last night, I fear I haven't the fortitude to attempt to stay balanced on a horse all afternoon. With . . ." He trailed off and tapped his cane against his false leg.

Peggy's face showed understanding, then determination. "Then I shall stay here with you," said she, but he shook his head.

"Major Dugan could use your help guarding Howard, I have no doubt," he said, pitching his voice even lower although no one was nearby to hear. Then he smiled. "Besides, you have so been looking forward to riding. I could not be comfortable, knowing I had denied you an opportunity to do so."

She still looked surprised and doubtful, but Howard and Lieutenant Thompson were approaching to see what the holdup was, so he reached out to quickly clasp her free hand. "Another time, I'll let you teach me, I promise," said he. "Howard! I was just telling Miss Carter here, I am not quite recovered from our long day of travel yesterday, so I will not be joining you on this ride. But another time, I hope."

Howard nodded understanding and took the reins of the stallion from Peggy. Lieutenant Thompson, thankfully without comment, took Peggy's arm to lead her to the mounting block by her horse. She looked back over her shoulder as the lieutenant tugged her along, so Daniel raised his free hand in farewell, and then moved toward the rest of the group to bid them the same. Howard approached on a gorgeous black animal, taller and more powerfully built than the rest; his personal steed, no doubt, some expensive animal with an impeccable bloodline. Lieutenant Thompson and Peggy came trotting up after, the latter still looking a little unhappy, and Daniel felt a twinge of guilt; he had not realized how much she'd looked forward to imparting her knowledge of riding with him. Well, too late now, for with a wave goodbye at Daniel, Howard led out across the great meadow behind the stables and the others followed. Daniel had seen enough riders to know that Peggy had an excellent seat on her horse; she looked confident and comfortable and, with her impeccable riding habit, absolutely regal, like a queen out on her morning ride. Howard and Dugan and, surprisingly, Miss Underwood, were also clearly excellent riders, but it was Peggy that Daniel watched until she disappeared from sight.

Daniel then turned his attentions to the gardens. As the earlier conversation inside had indicated, Howard had clearly not touched the grounds, for they reflected none of the current fervor for naturalistic landscapes made famous in the last century by Capability Brown. The gardens were of the formal, geometric style popular in previous centuries, with clean lines and carefully laid out flower beds and shrubberies. Out beyond the gardens, nature began in earnest: not the meticulously planned imitation of nature Brown was known for, but great ancient oaks over rutted footpaths from centuries and millennia past. There was a deer park somewhere out there, Daniel knew, one of the largest remaining in England. All of this was in stark contrast to the land in front of the house, which Daniel recalled from their arrival yesterday was simply smooth grass dotted by trees, with the road curving gently to the front door. Daniel wondered how much land the estate covered, and he supposed that should he ever buy his own country estate, he would like it to be of a slightly more manageable size.

Gripping his cane, he set out to explore the gardens, and spent a very happy hour wandering through the flowers and shrubs. He saw the famous maze but, minding Howard's intention to make an outing of solving it, he did not enter. When he finished his exploration, he collapsed gratefully onto a bench and rested a time with his eyes closed, enjoying the warm sun on his face and the absolute silence around him; the countryside indeed had certain advantages over London. It reminded him of quiet nights on ship, when many of the men were asleep and the sea was calm. The memory stilled his mind, and he sat in happy silence until into his quiet mind came a sudden thought: what had happened earlier with Peggy, in the sitting room?

His eyes opened and he frowned a little, then felt the need to move; he often did, when he had something on his mind. He had noticed a gate in the garden wall nearby, leading out into the rolling countryside around Stark Hall, and he made his way there, curious to see what the landscape outside the gardens was like. The gate led to a path, wide and smooth and well-kept, and he supposed it must lead somewhere of interest, to be so well cared for. So he followed it out of the garden and into the trees.

The path he followed turned out to be beautiful, with the dignified old trees and the sunlight dappling through the leaves. Daniel scarcely noticed, however, so full was his mind with Peggy. What had that been, that moment in the sitting room? The way she had looked at his lips . . . he could almost have thought she was going to kiss him. Surely not, though; it was not the done thing, and especially not in someone else's sitting room when other guests might arrive at any moment. And if Peggy was going to be kissing anyone, she would hardly choose Daniel Sousa.

And anyway, what did he know about the subject, to presume to know what Peggy had been about to do? He himself had little experience with kissing, unless one counted the events of an ill-advised tavern visit in Portsmouth when he was 18, when his fellow officers got him roaring drunk, and then convinced one of the ladies of ill-repute who frequented the tavern to flirt with the innocent young lieutenant as a joke. But he'd been too drunk to remember much of it and too uncomfortable to do anything but feel awkward and hope she'd go away soon. The whole experience, when viewed in a more sober light the next day, had cemented Daniel's dislike for drinking. And he had not been kissed since.

He imagined Howard would laugh himself sick at the knowledge that Daniel was so little experienced romantically, but unlike the baronet, Daniel was someone who followed Society's rules about how a man ought to behave toward a woman. And even if he'd been inclined to dismiss societal expectations, the fact was that he had spent far more time on sea than on land since he was 12 years old; no young lady had ever caught his eye on any of his furloughs, in London or out at his Uncle Metcalfe's estate, and the type of female company one found himself with while out with the Navy was . . . not the sort Daniel preferred to spent his time with. So who was he to say that Peggy had intended anything in that moment? He was hardly experienced enough on the subject to be so bold in his assumptions.

Of one thing, however, he was entirely certain: he would most certainly have liked it if Peggy had kissed him.

The path he was following suddenly ended in a large meadow, filled with wildflowers and ringed with trees, with the blue sky arcing overhead, the whole scene awash with sunlight. Daniel felt certain that he had found the loveliest spot on the estate. If he was indeed still on the estate; he had walked perhaps a half-mile, and did not know what the boundaries were. But surely no one would begrudge him a rest among the wildflowers, and he found a fallen log at the side of the meadow and sat down to enjoy the view. He forced himself not to think of Peggy, and amused himself instead trying to remember the name of a town in Portugal where he had once seen a similar meadow of wildflowers. From there his mind went to his time abroad, places he had seen, sailors he had known, and he found himself quite lost in recollections -- so much so that when a sudden sound stirred him from his reverie, he had no idea how long he'd been distracted, although he had a sense it had been a long time.

The sound that had disturbed him came from the other side of the meadow, and it had sounded like a human exclamation. So, gripping his cane, he began making his way through the flora, some of it nearly as high as his waist, looking for the source of the noise until he found it.

Or until he found her, as the case turned out to be. On the other side of the meadow, sitting on the ground with a basket by her side, was one of the loveliest young women he had ever seen: blonde ringlets, blue eyes, delicate features that seemed to be designed to be arranged into an eternal smile. Even the scowl her face currently wore had a quirk to it, as though the fact that she seemed to have hurt her foot was more silly inconvenience than real concern. She was sitting on the ground, gently prodding at her left ankle, but when she heard his approach she looked up in surprise, and then her face melted into a pleased expression. He was right: to smile suited her; it lit up her whole face.

"I am so glad to see someone come along," she declared fervently. "Provided you are not a highwayman or a rogue come to carry me off to your lair like a heroine in a novel."

Daniel laughed in surprise. "I assure you I am neither. Have you injured yourself?"

"I am afraid so," said the young lady. "I came here to collect wildflowers, but I'm afraid I stepped in an animal hole and twisted my ankle. My mother always says coming alone so far from the village is a bad idea, because something like this could happen, but I always ignore her. She will be insufferable when she hears she was right."

"May I?" he asked, kneeling carefully on the ground and setting his cane aside. "If you will forgive the impertinence."

"It is not broken," said she as he prodded at the ankle as his father had taught him so many years ago. It seemed swollen, but he could not tell how much without examining her other ankle. She went on. "From the tenderness and swelling, definitely a sprain." He looked at her in surprise, but before he could ask how she knew that, she asked, "I wonder if you could perhaps find me something to use as a crutch? I can tend to the ankle when I get back home."

"You live in Richford village?" he asked. She nodded. "And how far is that?"

She considered. "Four miles?"

"Four miles?" he repeated. "You cannot walk four miles on this foot, not using a branch as a crutch." He considered. "I am staying at Stark Hall, which is not above half a mile from here. Let me take you there instead, and we can see to your ankle and get a carriage to take you home."

"Stark Hall!" she exclaimed with a smile. "You are a friend of Sir Howard's?"

"I suppose," said he. "He is more a friend of my fiancée's, but I am coming to know him as well."

He thought he detected a moment of disappointment, a slight drooping of her shoulders and dimming of her smile when he said "fiancée," but it was gone almost immediately. "I did not know he was back in the neighborhood. I am pleased to hear it, for he always makes our assemblies more lively. I am happy to agree to your suggestion, Mr. . . ."

"Sousa," said he as he struggled to his feet and held out his hand to her. "Captain Sousa."

"Not Captain Daniel Sousa, of the Indomitable and the Thetis?" she asked, then accepted his offered hand and carefully got to her feet.

"The very same," he said. "You shall have to lean on me; I know it would shock both our mamas if they saw, but it is a medical emergency. I am afraid I am not the sturdiest of supports --" he gestured vaguely with his cane -- "but I think we can get back to Stark Hall together." And indeed, it was an awkward, shambling walk that they attempted across the meadow, with her leaning on him and him leaning on his cane. But they made progress, albeit slowly.

"I have yet to learn your name," said he. "I think if you are going to hang off my arm all the way to Stark Hall, I would like to at least know that."

She laughed, a bell-like peal that made him smile in return. "An excellent point. Miss Violet Bellefleur."

"A pleasure, Miss Bellefleur."

"Likewise, Captain Sousa. You have quite the most useful arm."

"Likewise, I am sure," he joked. "So you are aware of my military career?"

"My father is a great supporter of the Navy; used to be in it, when he was young. We have always carefully followed reports of naval battles in the newspapers, and we keep a copy of the Navy List. He shall be thrilled to know you are in the neighbourhood; I expect you shall be invited to dinner at least once."

Daniel wondered privately exactly who this girl was. She was dressed in a white linen dress with purple spencer and bonnet that would not have looked out of place in Hyde Park, and she seemed to move in the same circles as Howard, but it was not common for families of quality to live in the village itself. "Your father was a sailor, then?"

"Ship's doctor, actually. His family did not want him doing something so dangerous, but he was eager for adventure." She laughed. "He seems to have had his fill of it there on the high seas, for now he wants nothing but to stay in Richford always. He will not even take us into London above once or twice a decade."

"And is your father a doctor still?"

"Yes, the only one for miles."

That explained it; a Dr. Bellefleur would be respected and included by the upper classes but might very much like to make his home in the village, to be as accessible as possible to his patients. It also explained something else. "I had wondered how you diagnosed your own ankle so astutely," said he. "And it makes me certain that you must be an excellent person, for my own father is a doctor as well, and I think the children of doctors are all excellent people. Although I may be biased."

She laughed again, and in this breezy manner of conversation, they labored on toward Stark Hall. Their progress grew even slower as both parties tired, but they kept each other's spirits up by trading stories of his life in London and hers in Kent, and in time, they came out of the trees and found themselves near the garden wall at Stark Hall. Daniel was surprised to see that the sky, which had been blocked from their view by the tall trees, had again filled with clouds, and in fact it was raining very lightly as they stepped out of the cover of the leaves. They had just passed through the garden gate when the rain suddenly deepened into a proper downpour, and Miss Bellefleur gasped.

"Better run for it!" Daniel called over the pounding of the rain, and attempted to quicken his pace.

"I don't know if we're up to much running," Miss Bellefleur retorted, with merriment in her voice. And she laughed aloud as the pair maneuvered as quickly as possible through the garden paths, perhaps even more ungainly than they had been as they tried to hurry and keep the rain from going down their collars.

"Ah, so close!" he called as they came through an archway and saw the house within easy distance.

"Salvation is at hand!" she exclaimed, and he found himself joining in her laughter.

Someone must have been watching them, for as they neared the house, the door opened and they stumbled inside, only to nearly run headlong into Peggy, who was standing in the hallway. Daniel had to tighten his grip around Miss Bellefleur's arm and she had to grab at his sleeve with her free hand to keep from tumbling to the ground.

"We made it!" Daniel triumped.

"Looking like a pair of drowned rats," Miss Bellefleur laughed. "There is nothing I love so much as meeting with a baronet with a soaking wet dress and a sprained ankle."

"Little storm like that?" he responded. "It's nothing. When I meet your father, remind me to tell him about the storm off Gilbraltar."

"And he shall respond with the story of the storm in the West Indies," she sighed. "I can see it will be an evening of two sailors swapping tales of the sea. I shall warn Mama."

All of this conversation Peggy watched in great surprise, and when Miss Bellefleur had gotten her balance back, Daniel made introductions.

"Miss Bellefleur, permit me to introduce Miss Margaret Carter, my fiancée. Miss Carter, this is Miss Violet Bellefleur, daughter of the local doctor and a very unlucky flower picker."

The ladies curtsied. "I am so pleased to meet you!" exclaimed Miss Bellefleur. "Your fiance was kind enough to come to my rescue when a bad sprain left me stranded far from home. I am afraid I must rely on Sir Howard's hospitality to get my ankle wrapped."

"Howard could spare a carriage to take her home, could he not?" Daniel asked Peggy, whose expression was strangely blank.

In that moment, the man himself appeared from around a corner. "For whom am I sparing a carriage?" His eyes fell on their injured guest, and he smiled warmly. "Miss Violet! How excellent to see you. It has been what, above six months since I saw your family last?"

"Not since the Samberlys' Christmas party," Miss Bellefleur agreed.

Daniel interrupted. "The young lady has injured her ankle. I thought it best to bring her here, as she was nearer to here than the village."

"You thought right," smiled Howard. "My house is always open to neighbours, and especially to such good friends as the Bellefleurs. In fact, Miss Violet, you must stay to dinner, and perhaps cards after. No, I insist," he spoke over her attempt to demur. "I will send a servant to your home with a message telling your mother where you are."

Peggy spoke up then. "Shouldn't Miss Bellefleur have her ankle seen to? Surely going home is the best option, if her father is the local doctor."

"Daniel can wrap it," said Howard carelessly. "He grew up around medicine. Or Jarvis can do it; he saw to all of my medical needs when we were on the Continent. Dr. Bellefleur probably couldn't even see to it until late tonight. Poor wretch is up and down this countryside all day long, morning to night, seeing to patients. Exhausting job, if you ask me."

All eyes turned to Daniel. "It does only require a wrap, and some hot water," he offered. "I can do it. I'm happy to do it."

"I see," said Peggy.

"Decided, then," said Howard. "Miss Violet, you are staying. I will have a message sent to to your parents and tell the cook we have one more for dinner. Daniel, call for a servant and get cloth and hot water sent up. And hurry with the wrapping; dinner is in forty minutes and I will not wait for you. I am famished."

"Forty minutes?" repeated Daniel. "It is that late already?"

"Yes, you've been gone ages, didn't you know?" Howard asked. "Peg here was worried sick."

Daniel glance at Peggy, surprised, but she was busily helping Miss Bellefleur off with her spencer and bonnet and would not look at him. "These caught the most of the rain," she told their guest. "I think your dress should be dry enough to wear to dinner."

"Thank you," said Miss Bellefleur. "Thank all of you."

Peggy nodded sharply. "Captain, I will have water and bandages sent to the sitting room," said she. "You can drop your wet things off in your room and then see to Miss Bellefleur's foot."

Such were Peggy's powers of organization that before he knew it, Daniel was in the sitting room, soaking his patient's ankle in a basin of hot water and reminding himself that there was a medical reason for him to see a lady's uncovered ankle and therefore it was nothing to get flustered about. But it had been many years since he had helped his father in the sickroom, and he had none of the calm, reassuring detachment his father exuded; he was entirely flustered by holding a lady's calf, bare to the knee, in his hands.

It certainly did not help that the lady is question was so pretty, and so amiable. She talked comfortably all through his wrapping of her foot, and he only realized as he was finishing that she had done it to keep him at ease, having sensed his discomfort. He wondered if Mrs. Martinelli, sent for by Peggy to act as chaperon during the procedure and embroidering quietly in the corner, could sense his discomfort as well.

Dinner was a pleasant, happy affair, for all were glad to have a new face among the crowd, especially as the visitor was eager both to please and to be pleased; she laughed at all of Major Dugan's jokes, reminisced with Howard about neighbourhood parties past, and listened with rapt attention to descriptions of fashions and goings-on in London. It occurred to Daniel, watching her talk to Lieutenant Thompson, that if you had asked him six months ago to describe the sort of young lady he wanted to marry, he would have described Miss Violet Bellefleur: sweet, cheerful, clever, kind, and untainted by life in Town. How much six months could change things! For now that he knew Peggy Carter, his list of what he wanted in a wife had changed drastically, perhaps forever.

After dinner, Howard convinced Miss Bellefleur to stay for cards, and that led to a very pleasant evening indeed. One aspect of the evening bothered him, however: Peggy did not sit by him, not once. She remained her usual vivacious self, she was as terrible at cards as ever, she was very friendly with their guest, but all evening, even when there was a spot available next to Daniel, she did not take it. Perhaps she was embarrassed at Howard catching them alone together earlier and was remembering his warning that if Mrs. Martinelli, as acting chaperon, had seen that, Peggy would have had a difficult time explaining it. Perhaps she was trying to avoid even the appearance of overly familiar behavior. The explanation made sense to him, but he missed having her sit so near him.

Around ten, Howard called for a carriage to have Miss Bellefleur sent home. She bid them all a warm farewell and said she looked forward to seeing them all again soon, and then Daniel, Peggy and Howard walked her out to the carriage to see her off. She thanked all three for their help with her ankle and then, with one last sunny smile, she was off.

Howard walked inside almost immediately, but Daniel took a moment to look up at the night sky; the clouds had cleared again, and he was enraptured by the stars he could see; in his last six months in London, his view of said stars had been hampered by the lights of the city. Peggy also did not move, and when he glanced at her he saw her attention was similarly fixed on the sky above.

After a moment, he spoke to break the silence. "You have first watch, do you not? I am quite pleased to be allowed to sleep through the night."

"Yes, I do not look forward to it," she said. Silence fell, until she spoke again. "Miss Bellefleur seems a very excellent young lady."

Surprised, Daniel glanced at her again, but she did not remove her attention from the stars. "Yes, I thought so."

There was another silence before she spoke. "And you two had a great deal in common, with your fathers both being doctors and you both having a connexion to the Navy."

"I suppose," said he. "I think she shall be a very pleasant neighbour, while we are in Kent."

She nodded. "You know," said she, her tone quite casual, "Kate told me once that you were quite tired of the girls in London, and that you thought you'd have to go to the countryside to find a wife."

"I shall have to stop telling Kate my secrets," said he with a laugh. "Apparently she cannot keep them."

Peggy did not laugh at the joke. "If that is the case," said she, "then Miss Bellefleur seems just the sort of young lady who might make you happy."

He blinked in surprised, then turned to face her fully. "This is a very odd topic of conversation, Peggy," he laughed. "I don't think people usually play matchmaker for their fiances."

She seemed a little flustered at that. "I am not playing matchmaker, I assure you. I am simply . . . pointing out your compatibility. If you wanted to marry a young lady from the countryside, it seems you could not find a better match than Miss Bellefleur."

He stared, doubted, and was silent. Was she truly trying to help him find a wife? Before the engagement was even over?

He oughtn't be so surprised, he knew. He'd always known that the fake engagement was nearing the end of its life. And Peggy, as a good friend, was solicitous for his future happiness. That was all; it was perfectly reasonable. But it struck at his very soul. Despite thinking he'd hardened his heart entirely against hope, it had found its way in again somehow; he had not even realized it until this moment, but some tiny part of him had continued to hope that things might be changing between them. Had he not, this very day, thought that Peggy might have been considering kissing him? He was a fool. He always had been a fool, where Peggy Carter was concerned.

"Thank you, I will consider what you've said," he responded, before making his way back inside and to his room. The party was still carrying on in the sitting room, but he had no intention of joining them, feeling fairly certain that he wouldn't be very good company at that moment.

. . . . . .


Beau Brummell: was the Kim Kardashian of his day. Or the Biebs? I don't know, who do the kids today all want to dress like? I'm too out of touch to make this reference. Brummell came from a middle-class upbringing but wanted very much to be a gentleman, and with some schmoozing, some well-placed military service, and some natty fashion sense, he became a friend of Prinny, a major figure in London society, and the arbiter of men's fashion. As Annie's quote hinted, his sense of style tended toward understated and elegant, rather than the flashy styles of the previous century, and he basically invented the modern men's suit.

Capability Brown, Humphry Repton, and landscape gardens: In the 18th century, the fashion for gardens turned from the ornate, formal, geometrically laid-out gardens that had so long been popular to landscape gardens, which attempted to improve on nature: rolling hills and fields, smoothly undulating rivers and lakes, all carefully planned and laid out by folks like Capability Brown, the style's most famous practitioner, and Humphry Repton, its great last practitioner. It's basically the garden equivalent of spending three hours curling your hair then artfully tousling it, so when people comment on your great beach waves, you can say carelessly, "Oh, I just woke up like this!" PS It sounds like I'm making fun of the style but it's actually gorgeous. Google Chatsworth and Stourhead to get a sense of what it all looks like.

KISSING: This has always been a challenging story because it is not only a Agent Carter fanfiction, it is basically a Jane Austen fanfiction, and I want the things my characters do to be in-character for both of these. So how do I reconcile the fact that Jane's heroes and heroines never touch more than is proper before their weddings with the fact that 1940s Peggy and Daniel, although comically terrible at noticing how their love interests feel about them, have both been shown to be quite willing to go for it when they decide what they want, romantically? I struggled with this question for a while.

But then I realized that it boiled down to this: I like that Jane's work is so G-rated. I like that the relationships are built on emotional and intellectual foundations, not just makeout sessions. I like being able to watch an adaptation of her films and know I'm not going to be surprised with a sex scene (except the 1999 Mansfield Park, which I did not like at all for so many, many reasons). And it's my story, not anyone else's, so I'm going to preserve that aspect of her work, because I can. And if Peggy is going to always have been quite proper in her dealings with the opposite sex, then darn it, so is Daniel, because I'm not going to hold them to different standards. So, is it entirely realistic to the time period to suppose that Daniel never dallied around in his sailor days? Is it entirely realistic to his character in the show? I don't know but it doesn't matter, because this is Jane Austen's Agent Carter, and Jane Austen's hero would not be consorting with doubtful company in low taverns, and he would not be kissing young ladies of quality if he did not intend to marry them. So here we are: totally inexperienced Daniel Sousa.

(In case you were curious, because I don't think it will ever be stated in the story: Peggy kissed Steve very briefly on the cheek just before Waterloo, in case she never saw him again. Which she didn't.)

Chapter 19


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

There are few things finer than a full night of uninterrupted sleep, and Daniel awoke the next morning feeling as refreshed as he ever had. Poor Peggy and Dugan, he saw when he went in to breakfast, had not fared as well; both looked lethargic and gave only half-hearted responses to his greetings. Daniel would have felt guilty for his own well-rested state, but he knew that their fate would be his the next day, so he certainly had his share of the suffering.

It would have been far more pleasant for Alien Office agents had they been allowed to stay abed later, but Howard had every intention of hearing services at the church in the village, and they had all agreed that the church would be an excellent place for the anarchist to strike: there were many other people in attendance, and there was no attempt made to control the influx of crowds; absolutely anyone could slip in and mingle with the church-goers. So it was imperative that all of them accompany Howard -- except, of course, for poor Barnes, who yet again whiled away the daylight hours guarding the vault.

"Don't you two look exhausted," Howard said, coming into the room, and Peggy glared at him. Daniel was sure she wanted to bite off some rejoinder about how it was his vault that they were sacrificing their sleep and health to guard; unfortunately for her, but fortunately for Howard, the other guests were also in the room, so she could say nothing of the kind.

Instead she said, "I am more worn out than I expected from the ride yesterday. I have gotten out of practice in my time in the city."

"I confess I am a little tired as well," Mrs. Martinelli said. "But oh, that ride was well worth it! The scenery in the area is beyond compare."

"It is, isn't it?" responded Howard proudly, as though he could claim credit for the scenery, as though Kent, and not East London, were the land of his forbears.

"I hope we may enjoy the pleasure of another such ride soon," said Mr. Martinelli.

"I believe that can be arranged," said Howard. "And Captain Sousa, my good sir, I hope we may look forward to your presence on our next outing."

"Indeed," said Daniel, "I look forward to it." He said so more from politeness than sincerity, for he still viewed the prospect of riding a horse with some trepidation. Still, he would not be alone in such an endeavour, and that was a great source of comfort to him. "I cannot claim to be much of a rider," he added, "but my dearest Peggy has promised me that she shall assist and teach me, and I have high hopes that under her excellent tutelage I shall acquit myself creditably on horseback."

He looked at Peggy, expecting her to look pleased at the praise or offer some quip about the prospect of his ever becoming a respectably good rider, but she simply gave him a placid smile. He blinked in surprise.

"Aye, Peg is as fine a horsewoman I have ever seen!" exclaimed Major Dugan. "If she is by your side, you shall do marvelously."

"Thank you, Dugan," she said mildly. "And now, speaking of horses, is it not time we should be making our way to our carriages? For I think we must leave soon if we are to make the service in time."

It was indeed time to go, and soon enough, two carriages were filled with guests and rumbling the four miles into Richford village.

"I look forward to seeing the village," said Daniel to the other occupants of the coach. "I have spent only a little time in the countryside, when I was young and we would go to my Uncle Metcalfe's estate in Somersetshire. A country village sounds very sweet."

"Richford is the loveliest little village in England," said Howard. "I look forward to raising my children in the neighbourhood one day."

The other occupants of the carriage perked up at that statement -- except, of course, for Aunt Elizabeth, who had not heard it. "Really, Howard, you've thought about raising children?" Peggy asked.

Miss Underwood looked even more interested in the statement. Daniel took a moment to wonder if she had any expectations of Howard making her an offer, and if so, whether there was a way to kindly hint to her that she ought not put all her matrimonial eggs in one basket, as the saying went. Even if Howard's previous behavior were insufficient proof of his lack of interest in committing himself to any woman any time soon, Daniel had himself heard the baronet demur when the subject of marrying Miss Underwood was raised.

Howard looked a little alarmed at the sudden attention. "Not any time soon," he insisted. "I am speaking purely in hypotheticals." Perhaps Daniel would not have to speak with Miss Underwood; perhaps Howard's behavior alone would eventually serve to teach her that to rely on Howard Stark for a proposal of marriage was to set oneself up to be disappointed.

To change the subject, Daniel remarked, "I look forward to meeting the people of the village as well," said he. "Especially a certain Hungarian dressmaker. I am keen to see what kind of lady might catch your Jarvis's eye."

"Oh! Ana," said Howard. "Indeed, she is a remarkable creature. But she shall not be at church services; she and her family are Jewish."

Daniel was surprised at this, and it must have shown on his face, for Peggy asked, "You disapprove?"

"Not at all," said Daniel. "Many fine sailors in the Navy were Jewish, and they served the Crown most loyally. I was only surprised to find a Jewish family living in the countryside; I had thought most of the nation's population resided in London."

"Not all," was Howard's reply.

"And how is this family received by the locals?" Miss Underwood asked.

Howard shrugged. "Not everyone was entirely pleased to have the Kirshenbaums move to Richford, but they arrived as friends of the Bellefleurs, which helped. And Ana -- Miss Kirshenbaum, I should say -- has turned out to be such an excellent dressmaker that no one dares cut her, for then they should have to travel all the way to Maidstone to have a dress made."

"Well, perhaps we shall have to walk into the village one day," said Daniel, "for I am keen to meet this young lady."

Peggy looked at him, and then she broke into a smile. "I confess I am similarly eager," said she. "For I have never known Jarvis to show any tendresse for a young lady before, and I am curious to see the woman who finally captured his affections."

"I shall be sure we plan a morning to go into Richford, then," said Howard.

The village church was a lovely building, situated in a verdant churchyard ringed with oaks, like sentinels around the holy place. There was a throng outside the church doors, but as the carriages drew closer, everyone began moving inside; clearly some signal had been given that the service was about to begin, so the Stark Hall party found themselves walking into a church in which most of the churchgoers were already seated. Their late entrance drew many stares, and Daniel promised himself he would insist on them getting an earlier start next Sunday. He quickly realized, however, that it was not simply their tardiness that attracted interest: it was the presence of Sir Howard Stark, baronet and, if his own claims were to be believed, richest man in the neighbourhood. It was a bit embarrassing to find their whole party the focus of so much attention, and he found himself unconsciously drawing Peggy closer to him, like a shield. At least there was a friendly face in the crowd; Daniel saw Violet Bellefleur sitting near the front, and she gave him a small, happy wave that he replied to with a smile.

Finally their large group was situated in the Stark family pew and services began. The vicar gave a very excellent sermon on the ninth commandment that Daniel found both interesting and edifying; it appeared, however, not to be compelling enough to drive off Peggy's fatigue, for after a few minutes, her head began to droop. Quickly she sat back up into a sitting position, but this was a battle she seemed destined to lose, for it was not long before her head was drooping again, and when she tried to fight it, each effort was less swift and less determined than the last.

He wondered why she did not avail herself of his shoulder, so very available so nearby, but he supposed perhaps she found that overly forward in a church. Still, when she seemed to have finally succumbed to sleep, he reflected that it could not be comfortable to have her head hanging at such an angle, so he carefully guided her head to rest against his shoulder. She sighed a little and curled even closer into his side, and he fought back a smile and returned his attention to the vicar.

When the service was over, the noise of the crowd talking awoke Peggy from her sleep, and she looked a little embarrassed to have dozed on his arm. He was about to reassure her that he had been pleased to be of use to her, when the Bellefleur family appeared and interrupted them. "I hope you will excuse my impertinence," said Miss Bellefleur, "but I was eager for my father to meet you." She turned to the older couple at her side. "Papa, Mama, this is Captain Daniel Sousa, of the Royal Navy. Captain, permit me to name my father, Dr. Andrew Bellefleur, and my mother, Mrs. Caroline Bellefleur."

"An honor," Daniel said, getting to his feet. "Allow me to introduce my fiancée, Miss Margaret Carter."

"I understand that I owe both of you a great debt of gratitude for looking after my daughter yesterday," said Mrs. Bellefleur with a gentle smile.

"And you did an excellent job of wrapping her ankle, Captain," said the doctor. "Couldn't have done better myself."

"My father is also a doctor," Daniel explained. "And I have years of experience with battlefield medicine while at sea."

"Yes, I have heard much of your naval exploits!" said Dr. Bellefleur. "I think your daughter mentioned that I was myself a ship's doctor, back in my youth?"

"I can see that this conversation is going to turn into military nostalgia," smiled Mrs. Bellefleur, "and I think we must allow you to circulate with the others here. We have come to invite your whole party to dine with us, and then you may reminisce to your hearts' content. Would this Wednesday suit you?"

Daniel glanced at Peggy for confirmation, but Howard had overheard and turned to them Bellefleurs with a smile. "We have no plans on Wednesday, and would be most delighted to accept."

Mrs. Bellefleur bowed her head graciously, and after making their farewells, the family departed.

The Stark Hall party began making their way out of the church as well, stopping here and there so Howard could greet friends. In the churchyard, they were stopped one last time to speak to friends of Howard's. They were a married couple, older than Daniel but not quite so old as his parents, who were introduced to them as the Samberlys. Mr. Aloysius Samberly was a tall man with a rounded face, dark hair, and an abrupt manner; Mrs. Rose Samberly was red-headed, more plump than was fashionable but with a very pleasant face, and she more than made up for her husband's unsocial behavior with her frank and easy disposition. Both were dressed in a manner that spoke of wealth.

"It is so good to see you back in Kent, Sir Howard," Mrs. Samberly said when the introductions had all been made. "Our neighbourhood gatherings are always a bit duller when you are not in attendance." She laughed. "Do you recall the year you brought donkeys to Eshercambe Abbey for all the children to ride at the harvest fete? It made an absolute mess, don't do it again, but it certainly was a memorable day."

"Yes, the servants are already mutinous about the messes I leave in my laboratory," said Mr. Samberly in that blunt manner Daniel was coming to suppose was characteristic of him.

"Anyway," said Mrs. Samberly, setting one hand on her husband's arm, "we did not know you were back at Stark Hall, but since you are, you have arrived just in time for our yearly strawberry-picking picnic on Saturday. And we would love for all of your guests to join us."

"Picking strawberries!" Miss Martinelli exclaimed. "That sounds positively delightful."

"Truly it does," agreed Miss Underwood eagerly.

"Well, you see two votes in favor of our attendance, and I am always eager to visit Eshercambe Abbey," said Howard. "You may count on us, Mrs. Samberly."

"Try not to get as drunk as you did at the Christmas party," Mr. Samberly said quite unexpectedly, and his wife briefly closed her eyes in what could only be embarrassment. Indeed, Daniel felt he hardly knew where to look after such a statement.

Howard only laughed. "I promise to try," said he, and bid the Samberlys farewell.

"Oh, dear Rose," said he when they were installed in their coaches and pulling away from the churchyard. "I have known her for some time, and there is no one better for sensible conversation. Her husband is a good man, and a very intelligent one, who absolutely dotes on her, but he has a knack for saying rather embarrassing things."

Daniel did not like to gossip about the couple, and was looking for a new subject of conversation to introduce when Miss Underwood asked, "Why did she marry him, then, if he embarrasses her?"

Howard leaned in close, as though telling a secret. "After he inherited Eshercambe Abbey, he became shockingly rich, almost as much as me, if I may be allowed to brag a little. They say it was her father's doing; when Samberly proposed, old Mr. Roberts all but forced her to say yes."

"Poor girl," said Peggy.

"I think she is reasonably happy," said Howard. "Better than being in her father's house; he is not a kind man. Samberly, as I said, dotes on her and gives her free rein to run the house and spend his money as she wishes." He shrugs. "We are not all so fortunate as to marry the loves of our lives. In fact I think it the exception, rather than the rule."

"What a depressing thought," said Peggy. Her expression turned distant and thoughtful, and Daniel wondered if she was dwelling on Captain Steven Rogers, the love of her life, now lost to her forever.

The afternoon was spent quietly. Peggy had disappeared up to her room as soon as they arrived at Stark Hall, presumably to nap, so Daniel wandered to Howard's study to find a book to read while on watch that night, and to visit Barnes, who was grateful for the company. Heading to the sitting room, he found Miss Martinelli and her mother much engaged in doing embroidery, so he joined them and started his book while they stitched. It was a relaxing way to while away the afternoon, but he hoped they would not spend too much of their time this way. Six months away from sea had not been enough to accustom him to such inactivity for such long periods; even in London, the constant social obligations had at least been a sort of distraction, and of course he'd had his work for the Alien Office. He fought back a sigh as he finished the first chapter. He did rather wish Peggy were here. She would have come up with something interesting to do.

Dinner was a similarly quiet affair, although as extravagant a spread as ever; Daniel was coming to see that all of Howard's meals were lavish, and he wondered how much of his income was spent on food. Peggy sat by his side but was very much caught up in conversation with Miss Underwood; they were discussing the splendidness of the house, which seemed to be a favorite topic of Miss Underwood's. Daniel could not but feel a little put out; he felt he had seen almost nothing of Peggy today, and though they were now seated side by side, she was still far away from him.

The evening's entertainment did little to bring him back into Peggy's orbit. Howard suggested a showcase of musical and dramatic talent, from all who wished to participate. Daniel had no dramatic talents, but he could sing well enough, and knew a few well-known duets that were always popular at gatherings such as these, if performing could not be avoided. He knew Peggy did not consider herself a musician, but perhaps she could sing enough to partner with him; accordingly, he sought her out where she sat with Miss Martinelli and asked her to join him.

Her demurral quickly doused his hopes. "I am sorry, but you know I do not sing." And though her voice and expression were apologetic, Daniel could not help feeling a little hurt that she had no interest in even trying.

Miss Martinelli, glancing back and forth between the two of them for a moment, volunteered to sing with him instead. They looked through the pieces of music at Howard's pianoforte and found one they both knew, and Daniel thanked her for her willingness to join him. He thought he detected sympathy in her tone when she assured him she was glad to do it.

He could not even sit by Peggy, as it transpired, for by the time he returned to the sofas, there were no open seats near her. He took what seat he could find and hid the frown that attempted to cross his face. Was she upset with him? Was she angry he did not ride with her yesterday?

The performances began, and it quickly became apparent that this was an evening of Miss Angela Martinelli, accompanied by a few friends; the young lady did not intend to take over the program, but as she was by far the most talented member of the group, she performed more than anyone else. First she did a dramatic reading from a piece of poetry by Pope. Then Miss Underwood took to the pianoforte and played a song by Berezovsky; Daniel was not familiar with the piece, but he was impressed by the young lady's playing. Then Miss Martinelli took to the metaphorical stage again and sang a operatic song, accompanied by her mother on the pianoforte.

Then Howard surprised Miss Martinelli by asking her to join him in a reading of the balcony scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet; she, of course, eagerly accepted. Her mother looked entirely alarmed, being still very opposed to her daughter performing theatrics, but she could hardly go against their host's wishes, so in the end she was silent. The pair put together an impromptu staging of the scene by standing Miss Martinelli on a chair and having Howard kneel before her. And then, both reading from printed copies of the play, they began.

"But, soft!" Howard began, looking up at his Juliet, "what light through yonder window breaks?" And Daniel could only stare in surprise as the speech wound on, for Sir Howard Stark, baronet and engineer, was in fact a most excellent actor. His face showed subtle emotion; his voice rose and fell; he was half agony, half hope as he longed to be by Juliet's side. Daniel could not help glancing around the room to see how the others took this unexpected development; they all seemed as entranced as he.

Then their Juliet began to speak. "O Romeo, Romeo!" she sighed, "wherefore art thou Romeo?" And if Howard had been excellent, Miss Martinelli was transcendental, radiant, every inch the Italian maid gazing longingly from her window. Through the scene the pair moved, first shy, then hopeful, then bold as they declared their love. The enchantment they cast over their audience was palpable, but still Daniel spared a thought to suppose that the two were strangely suited to each other; they even looked very well together. If he weren't so fond of Miss Martinelli, he might give himself leave to think that two would make a very handsome couple. But he considered Miss Martinelli a friend, a very good friend, and he would hardly wish on her a Corinthian like Howard Stark, no matter how good-natured or how compelling an actor he might be. Still, he supposed Howard might change his ways, given he found a young lady for whom he'd be willing to change.

Soon Juliet, reaching down to clasp her Romeo's hand, was bidding him good night. "O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?" Howard demanded.

Miss Martinelli looked surprised. "What satisfaction canst thou have to-night?"

In response, Howard gave her a soft, hopeful smile. "The exchange of thy love's faithful vow for mine."

Miss Martinelli was silent with surprise for a moment, and in that silence, Daniel had the distinct impression that someone's gaze was upon him. He glanced over to the other side of the room and saw to his surprise that Peggy was watching him. When he caught her eye, she started a little and returned her attention to the actors.

What in the world was he meant to think of that?

The scene closed soon after, as they had no one to play the nurse, and they took their bows to enthusiastic applause. Even Mrs. Martinelli looked reluctantly impressed and pleased; Daniel wondered if she had ever seen her daughter act before. Daniel glanced at Peggy, wondering if she might be looking at him again, but her attention was entirely on her two friends. In looking at her, Daniel noticed that Lieutenant Thompson, who sat by her side, seemed rather transfixed; if Daniel read the man's line of sight correctly, he was staring at Miss Martinelli. Was he developing an admiration for her? That would be a very interesting development, although if that were the case, the lieutenant had his work cut out for him, for the lady very much disliked him.

Miss Martinelli, looking entirely pleased at all the applause and at Dugan's repeated cry of "Bravo!", announced that the final performance would be a duet between herself and Captain Sousa. Daniel grimaced a little; he had entirely forgotten he had volunteered.

"What an act to follow," he muttered to Miss Martinelli as he joined her at the piano. "We should have finished the evening with your scene."

"Too late now, Captain," smiled his companion. "We shall simply have to amaze them with our singing."

The song they had chosen was a light-hearted Scotch air, and Daniel thought he acquitted himself tolerably well, although of course Miss Martinelli outshone him. When they had finished and the group applauded and then began to mingle, he wondered what Peggy would say to him. Would she be impressed? Did she admire musical ability in others? He did not claim to have a great deal, but still, it was something he did tolerably well; he sometimes felt that he had few personal qualities that would impress a young lady worthy of impressing, so he could not help but hope that the song had bolstered her opinion of him, even a little.

But in the end, Peggy only smiled at him and Miss Martinelli. "Very well performed," said she. And then she was gone to speak with Major Dugan, and Daniel was left to try to conceal his disappointment from Miss Martinelli.

Apparently he did not successfully hide his feelings, however, for Miss Martinelli spoke to him about them the next day. After a picnic lunch in the gardens, the party had all repaired to a wide stretch of grass to partake in archery. The ladies were all quite pleased with this plan, for it was one of the few sporting activities that a lady of quality could participate in without appearing unfeminine. Peggy, in particular, was most enthusiastic about the outing, and when they had all begun to shoot, Daniel was not surprised to see that she excelled at the activity. Not even the soldiers in the group could match her, for they trained with muskets and pistols, not bows and arrows. Daniel himself was only tolerable; even Miss Underwood, who was sharing a target with him and a few others, outperformed him with every shot.

"An excellent shot," he smiled at Peggy when she hit the target yet again and moved out of the way so Howard could take his turn.

She smiled politely and excused herself to partake in the refreshments still set up by the picnic basket, and he watched her go with a sigh. He could no longer ignore that she was deliberately eschewing his company and conversation; clearly she was upset with him. And in that moment, Miss Martinelli called to him. "Captain! I am having trouble with my bow; could you come assist me?"

He responded obediently, but quickly learned that the bow was simply a ruse, for Miss Martinelli stepped close to him, and, pitching her voice low, said, "I am about to say something very nosy and impertinent, but I pray you will excuse me, for my intentions are entirely honorable."

Daniel blinked in surprise. "Yes?" said he, hardly knowing what was the proper response to such a statement.

"Captain," said she, her expression kind, "have you and Peggy had a falling out?"

He shifted uncomfortably. "That is indeed a little nosy."

"I don't mean to pry into your personal affairs, but I have noticed some distance between you for the last few days, and if there is anything I can do to assist, I'd like to know what it is. For I consider the both of you to be dear friends, and would help you, if I can."

"Have you spoken to Peggy of this?" he asked her.

Miss Martinelli smiled. "I decided to begin with you. English has many good qualities, but when it comes to willingness to discuss her feelings . . . suffice to say I knew I was more likely to get an answer out of you."

Daniel hesitated, then decided to be honest with her. It would not endanger their cover, and perhaps as Peggy's friend, Miss Martinelli might offer insights on the matter. So he sighed. "She has been distant, and I don't know why. I had rather hoped you might know."

"I'm sorry, I haven't a clue," said Miss Martinelli with sympathy in her voice. "I get the impression that I am her closest female friend, but even so, I can tell that she's far more open with you than she has ever been with me. Have you asked her what is the matter?"

He shook his head.

"You should try it. I am told that honest communication is a cure to many ills."

The young lady made an excellent point, and something did need to be done, so he nodded. "You are correct, Miss Martinelli," said he. "I shall speak to her soon."

"Speak to her now," urged his companion.

"You are a good friend," Daniel observed, "to be so solicitous of the welfare of our relationship."

"I am," said Miss Martinelli magnanimously, with a regal nod of her head. Then she laughed. "But I admit my reasons are also selfish. I always enjoy stories with romance, and yours is one I am privileged to view in real life. I need the lovers to reconcile so I may continue to enjoy the story."

Poor Miss Martinelli, Daniel reflected; she would be very disappointed at the ending of this particular story. But she'd made a very good point; Daniel and Peggy were still meant to appear to be engaged, and lately they had been doing a very poor job of that. He would have to speak to his fiancée about it, and there was no time like the present.

"I shall speak to her now," said Daniel, then grinned mischievously. "But if you are to meddle in my romantic affairs, you must allow me to meddle in yours."

Miss Martinelli laughed. "I have no romantic affairs," said she.

"Not yet," said Daniel, then turned toward the others. "Lieutenant Thompson! Miss Martinelli has need of your assistance!"

"Captain!" Miss Martinelli hissed, but it was too late; the lieutenant had turned toward them with a look of some interest on his face.

Daniel turned back to her with a cheeky smile. "I enjoy stories with romance as well," he said, then walked away as Miss Martinelli reluctantly greeted Lieutenant Thompson. He made his way to Peggy and smiled at her. "My dearest, would you take a turn with me in the garden?"

Peggy, who stood with Howard and Miss Underwood, her bow in her hand, looked to be about to demur, but Daniel raised his eyebrows at her and she hesitated, then acquiesced. A servant took the bow from her, and Daniel offered his arm with a flourish; she dutifully took the offered arm -- standing at more of a distance than was usually her habit -- and followed him toward the intricate spread of flower beds nearby.

"Is something the matter?" she asked when they were out of earshot of the others. "Some news of the anarchist?"

"Nothing so useful, I'm afraid," said he. He hesitated, wondering how best to word the question he had to ask, and found himself unconsciously gripping the handle of his cane more tightly. "Have I done something to upset you?"

She came to a stop, and he halted as well, as her arm was still in his. "What?"

He shrugged uncomfortably. "You've seemed a little distant lately. Miss Martinelli noticed it as well; she asked me just now if we'd had a fight."

Her eyebrows raised in surprise.

"I worry that the others will uncover our deception," he went on. "But also, I would be very unhappy to know if I had treated you poorly. If there is something I have done, I would like to know, so that I might remedy it." He hesitated. "I cherish your companionship, and your good opinion."

Peggy stared at him a long moment in surprise, and then shame flooded her face, and she hung her head. "I am sorry, Daniel," said she. "You have done nothing wrong. I have . . . had a great deal on my mind, and I have most unkindly been treating you indifferently because of it. It is I who must work to remedy the problem." She looked him in the eye a long moment, and then said, in a manner that indicated she was choosing her words carefully, "I cherish your friendship as well, and nothing will change that."

He felt relief wash over him, along with a twinge of disappointment at her use of the word "friendship" Still, his disappointment on that subject was such a frequent companion to his thoughts that he hardly noticed it anymore. "So, you and I are . . . still on good terms?"

"Very good terms," she assured him. He held out his arm, and she slid into place close by his side as they had grown accustomed to doing over the course of their engagement. "Come," said she, "let us walk a little longer; they will not miss us." He wondered if she asked because she, like he, had missed the feeling of her tucked in so close to his side that she could rest her cheek against his shoulder, if she desired. He knew he had certainly missed the sensation of having her nearby, and as he so often did, he rebuked himself for indulging in such sentimental reflections. Still, for the moment they were reconciled, and he would give himself leave to enjoy that without worrying about what the future held.

"Do you wish to speak what has weighed so heavily on your mind?" he asked.

She shook her head mutely, and Daniel, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye, saw from the expression on her face that whatever troubled her was troubling her still. But he could not force her to share her burden with him, so he satisfied himself with saying, "Just know that I am always willing to talk to you, anything that you need to discuss."

She gave him a small but genuine smile. "You are kind, Daniel. I will remember."

They walked in silence a while longer, Daniel simply enjoying the views and Peggy's presence, and finally she suggested it was time they returned. "Probably best," Daniel agreed. "Miss Martinelli is no doubt ready for a change of conversational partners, for I left her in the hands of Lieutenant Thompson, much to her chagrin."

"Jack," Peggy smiled. "Did you notice him last night? The way he was staring at Angie during her Shakespeare scene?"

"I did," smiled Daniel. "Her mother would be so pleased."

"Angie, however, would not."

"He's a good match for her, at least on paper," Daniel pointed out. "Wealthy, prominent, with his own country estate. And he is a moral enough sort of man, and an honest one." He shrugged. "It is too bad that his personality is so . . ."

"Lacking," Peggy finished. "Perhaps he could change, and become the kind of man who could make her happy. I hear that it has happened before. He would have to change a great deal, however, to overcome Angie's dislike of him. And mine, for I should certainly discourage the match unless I felt he could truly treat her as she deserves."

Daniel found himself smiling at how normal a conversation this was for them; it was as though the awkwardness of the past few days had not even occurred. "Is something funny?" Peggy asked him.

He admitted, "I am simply glad that we talking again."

In response, she reached over to wrap her free hand around his arm, clearly apologizing through herdeeds for her strange behavior. And in this state they returned to the archers. Miss Martinelli, seeing them so close, gave them a pleased smile, at least until Lieutenant Thompson touched her arm to return her attention to the target. Her expression then indicated exactly what she thought of this interruption, and Peggy and Daniel both laughed.

And Daniel reflected how fine it was to have Peggy Carter laughing with him once again.

. . . . . .


Guys, ever since I decided Rose and Samberly would be married in this fic, my brain has been trying so hard to spin off on a Regency Samberts marriage of convenience story, and I keep having to remind it that I've already committed to a rather lengthy undertaking. But man I would love to read that: she marries him for the money and the security and because it's better than living at home forever; he's embarrassing but adores her; eventually he learns to think before he speaks and she learns that deep down he's actually exactly the kind of man she wants. I would read the heck out of that story.

I do feel a bit bad about not letting Rose marry for love, but to fit the both of them in this story, it made sense to make them a couple, and given how Rose feels about him in season 2, it would definitely not be a marriage of love, not at first. And also, I liked the idea, because here's the thing about that time period: they were not always—maybe even not often—marriages of love. Arranged marriages weren't nearly so common as Regency romance novels would lead you to believe, but marriages like the Samberlys'—based more on finances and/or social climbing than on love—were quite common indeed. And they show up in Jane's novels: Charlotte and Collins, Maria and Rushworth, General and Mrs. Tilney. So, after so many couples in the story so far have been all lovey-dovey, I thought it'd add a bit of variety to have a couple who are not, in fact, lovey-dovey. But don't you worry, Rose fans; in my head, she ends up entirely happy and in love with her husband. And if I ever do get around to writing that story, you'll see. :)

The Jewish population of Regency England: Estimates on the size of said population vary from 15,000 to 25,000, depending on who you ask; 3/5 of these lived in London. England at the time was sort of middling-tolerant of Jews; London had a synagogue as early as 1690 (which the Royal Dukes visited in 1809, as they were very friendly with the prominent Goldsmid family), and some Jewish residents became quite wealthy and well-known; there were even members of Parliament from Jewish families as early as 1770. But only middling-tolerant; Jewish people were always treated as a bit Other-y, and many people had some negative stereotypes of them, and really it was a society made for Christians. For instance, I mentioned members of Parliament, but until 1866 the Oath of Allegiance required MPs to swear "on the true faith of a Christian" so really it was only those who had had to at least some extent renounced their Jewish faith and converted to Christianity who could hold that office. But there were indeed many Jewish young men who enlisted in the military, encouraged to do so by rabbis who considered it everyone's duty to defend the country. There were even Jewish enlisted officers, although they had to hide or abandon their faith in order to receive their commissions.

Kirshenbaum: Ashkenazic Jews in the Austro-Hungarian empire (and possible elsewhere, I'm not actually sure) didn't take permanent family names until the 18th and 19th centuries. Up to that point, they'd used patronymic names—if your father's name was Moyshe, your last name was ben Moyshe. Starting in 1787, however, the government of the Austo-Hungarian empire began requiring them to take family names, having realized that if people have family names they're easier to keep track of and therefore easier to tax and draft into the army, and really what's even the point of having subjects if you can't tax and draft them, amirite? So people chose last names at that point in a number of different ways: you might decide to pass your patronymic name onto future generations. You might choose the name of the place you currently live, or your occupation, or names from the Bible. Or you might choose a name because it is pretty, as in the case of Kirshenbaum, meaning "cherry tree." I chose this name for Ana for one very simple reason: in the promotional shots for season 2, she's wearing a green top with what looks like cherry blossoms on it. That's it. That is as imaginative as I can muster today.

Shakespeare: greatest English playwright or greatest playwright ever? You decide. But the man we love has not always held such a lofty place in the world's esteem; he was popular in his own day, and in the decades after his death, but not really more popular than other similar writers UNTIL there was a resurgence of his popularity in the 18th century that built in fervor until the actor David Garrick was referring to Shakespeare in 1769 as "The God of our idolatry" and 19th century audiences were absolutely wild about him (although they weren't all wild about his dirty jokes). This brings me to the whole point of this note, which is to introduce you to our Word Of The Day: bardolatry, the worship of Shakespeare, which was coined by George Bernard Shaw in 1901 and which cracks me up every time I think of it.

Chapter 20


What? New chapter on a Wednesday? As Douglas Richardson would say, it's a topsy-turvy day of misrule. I will be out of town and unable to post tomorrow, but I didn't want to let you fine young people down, so here we are. Don't get used to it; this is still a Thursday-posting story at its heart.

Props go once again to Annie+MacDonald, who provided excellent ideas and historical tidbits for this chapter (see the end notes for details), and to SillyRomantic4Ever, whose comments on the last chapter inspired a bit of this one.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

On Wednesday the party from Stark Hall dined with the Bellefleur family in Richford village. Howard seemed quite pleased at the prospect of seeing the family again, and Daniel felt pretty much the same; he looked forward to making Dr. Bellefleur's better acquaintance, and seeing Miss Bellefleur again must of course be considered a pleasant prospect. Visiting Richford village again was another inducement; they had not yet made the trip there that Howard had promised to plan. Indeed, they had spent the last few days only at Stark Hall and the surrounding environs.

Daniel would never complain about this, of course; the estate was exquisite and they had spent many happy hours taking tea in the gardens, sipping lemonade on the terrace, and playing lawn darts and badminton and all manner of games and diversions. The evenings had been spent in lively conversation and card games and music, and the night previous Howard's nearest neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Churchill, had dined with them, and had been very pleasant company. Really he had no complaints about staying so near to Stark Hall for the last few days. But it would indeed be an interesting change of pace to visit a new place, and he found himself in very good spirits as the coaches made their way to Richford.

He had another source of high spirits, he reflected as he looked across the coach at Peggy, who caught his eye and smiled before returning her gaze to the scenery passing by the window. Since their talk in the garden, she had renewed her efforts to play convincingly the part of the smitten fiancée, and Daniel was once again cast in the role of her beloved intended. He had missed her companionship, even over those very few days of their estrangement, and was pleased to find himself so close to her again.To be quite honest, Peggy's behavior to him was not quite what it had been back in London; she was less prone to taking his hand or his arm, and he was at a loss to explain why. Still, she was no longer keeping an emotional distance from him, and he would be loathe to look a gift horse in the mouth, as the proverb went.

The Bellefleur residence was a fine big house on the edge of the village, next to the vicarage. Of course, being where it was, it had neither the size nor expansive grounds that Stark Hall or similar grand houses could boast of, but it was a handsome, well-kept home, with a large kitchen garden visible around the corner of the house. Howard descended from the coach and swept to the front door with the confidence of someone who had visited this home many times before, and the rest followed and were welcomed very kindly into the home.

In addition to the three Bellefleurs Daniel had already met, the vicar was in attendance, having been invited to make up even numbers for the party. Mr. Jonquil was young, unmarried, and quite handsome, with his tall, trim figure and golden-blonde hair, and Daniel spared a thought to wonder why Miss Bellefleur had not set her cap for him. Perhaps it was that the vicar, while kind, was so very serious.

When the introductions had all been made, and the guests waited in the sitting room for dinner to be announced, Miss Bellefleur said to the vicar, "You do not know it, sir, but there is a hero in our midst."

Daniel grimaced inwardly, not looking forward to discussing the events on the Indomitable with yet another stranger. With Dr. Bellefleur he would not mind, for he had been a Navy man himself, and would understand. This vicar would not, not in the same way.

But Miss Bellefleur surprised him, for she followed her statement with, "Captain Sousa came to my aid when I twisted my ankle this weekend. I should have been doomed to die in the wilderness if he had not happened along."

"Well, this is valiant indeed," said the vicar with a smile. "Like a hero in a novel." He glanced at Miss Bellefleur, his expression unreadable for a brief moment. "And I suppose that makes you, Miss Bellefleur, the lovely heroine."

Clearly it was meant in jest, but Daniel found himself a little uncomfortable with the level of intimacy that the statement hinted at, especially with his intended seated by his side. He did not like to give the vicar or Miss Bellefleur, or indeed Peggy, the wrong idea. He was about to speak up and work a mention of the nature of his connexion with Peggy into the conversation -- Howard had neglected to include it in the introductions, so the vicar would not be aware of it -- when he felt Peggy slip her arm through his and hold it firm, almost possessively.

"Yes," said she with a smile, "my dearest captain is quite gallant, is he not?"

Mr. Jonquil raised in eyebrows in an inquiring manner. "Your dearest captain?" he repeated politely.

Daniel set his free hand on Peggy's, the one that currently rested in the crook of his elbow. "Yes, Miss Carter and I are to be married. In July."

It seemed as though the vicar's expression lightened, just a little. "How excellent! My warmest wishes to you both." He glanced at Miss Bellefleur a moment, and it occurred to Daniel that perhaps the young lady had not set her cap for the vicar, but that did not mean the vicar had not set his cap for her. Daniel thought it seemed an excellent match; from what he had seen tonight and on Sunday, the man was warm-hearted, sensible, and well-educated, and the living at Richford no doubt gave him a very comfortable income. And then he realized what he was doing and fought back a smile. It seemed that ever since he had "become engaged" to Peggy, he had been playing matchmaker for everyone else he knew, even if only in his mind.

He did not have much time to reflect on this, however, for just then dinner was announced, and the assembled guests made their way to the dining table. The dinner that followed was most excellent, and many effusive compliments were made about the cook. Miss Bellefleur would look quietly gratified when such statements were made, and Daniel began to suspect that the family either did not keep a cook, or the cook needed assistance preparing such a large meal, and that the young lady of the house had assisted. He wished there was a way to compliment her on that without drawing attention to their servant situation, whatever it might be.

Much of the meal was spent with Mrs. Bellefleur and her daughter catching Howard up on the news of the neighbourhood, on who had married whom and what children had been born. This left Daniel to watch Mr. Jonquil and to confirm his suspicion that the vicar seemed to pay more attention to Miss Bellefleur than to any other attendee of the dinner. Lieutenant Thompson, apparently seized with the same sort of feeling, closely attended to Miss Martinelli throughout the meal, filling her plate when the food was served and rather monopolizing her conversation. His companion bore it all with good grace but Daniel could see from her expression that if they were alone, she would have something to say to the lieutenant. The other attendees conversed easily with each other -- it was a lucky thing that the disparate invitees to this house party had discovered they all got along so well -- and Peggy more than once touched Daniel's arm. All told, it was a very pleasant meal.

He assumed that Dr. Bellefleur would want to indulge in reminiscing about the Navy at some point, and indeed he did, after the gentlemen had joined the ladies in the sitting room after their port. Mrs. Bellefleur was much engaged in conversation with Howard, and had drawn the attention and participation of much of the Stark Hall party, but the doctor, his daughter, the vicar, Dugan, Daniel, and Peggy sat together as the two naval men traded tales about their time on the high seas. Daniel worried that the others would be bored by the conversation, but if they were, they were certainly capable of joining the others instead.

The discussion stayed on lighthearted topics for some time, on adventures in the far corners of the world and exotic peoples and endless sea voyages with endless hardtack to eat. Dr. Bellefleur was an eager and amusing conversationalist, and Miss Bellefleur and Mr. Jonquil seemed interested in all the stories. Daniel could not see Peggy's reactions, but she stayed steadfastly by his side, her arm in his, and it occurred to him that she had touched him more this evening than in the last few days combined. Not a situation about which he would complain, of course.

In time, as Daniel had known it would, the Indomitable came up, and he took a deep breath and answered all of the doctor's questions.

"I was sorry to hear of the death of Captain Dooley," said Dr. Bellefleur. "I had followed his naval career most eagerly in the papers; he seemed to be the very best of men."

Daniel was silent a moment, until he trusted his voice enough to say, "He was the finest man I ever served under. Harsh, at times, but brave and competent and noble-hearted and willing to sacrifice for the sake of his men. And in the end, he made the ultimate sacrifice." He bowed his head a moment, and as he did he felt Peggy's hand slide down his arm until it met his and their fingers intertwined. It felt like it had been a long time since she had held his hand, and he glanced over at her to see her smiling quiet support at him. His heart warmed, and he wondered if he would ever be able to stop loving this woman.

Perhaps that was why he did what he did next. Dr. Bellefleur, perhaps seeing the moment between the couple, changed the subject slightly to the upcoming nuptials. "If it is not too forward to ask, what are your plans where your naval career is concerned once you are wed, Captain? I spent a year married and serving at sea, and while knowing my dear Caroline waited at home for me was a great support to me, it was difficult, I must admit."

That was actually an excellent question, and for a moment Daniel did not know how to answer it and keep up his and Peggy's deception. The truth was that they had never talked about his plans; indeed, he had avoided thinking about it for weeks now. But if they were to be married, surely it was something they would have discussed. Peggy was looking at him expectantly, and he knew she was giving him leave to field the question as he liked. So he hesitated, then decided to tell the truth. After all, as working at the Alien Office had taught him, the easiest lie to tell was one that was nearly true.

"I have intended all along to return to my post after the wedding," said he. He found it difficult to continue meeting Peggy's gaze, and so turned back to the doctor. "But I have been increasingly uncertain about that decision, ever since the day I first met Peggy -- Miss Carter, I mean. The lure of the open sea, of my command, of the promise of adventure . . . it has all started to pale in comparison to the dream of domestic life." He tried another glance at Peggy, to see her staring at him in something like surprise. "We have not discussed this, my love, and perhaps this is a strange place to start, but what would you think of my resigning my commission? Then we could spend all our time together, in London or our house by the sea."

It wasn't a question he would have asked in front of three near-strangers if Peggy had really been the future Mrs. Sousa, but as she had to play along with whatever he did, he had no scruples in asking it, for her answer could be whatever lie she chose. The future of his naval career was indeed something he would like to get her opinion on, though, for he valued her opinion above all others, except his family.

Peggy still looked a bit stunned; he hoped she was not annoyed that he had surprised her with such a question. "I would not have you give up your ambitions on my account," said she, slowly. "You could rise quite high in the admiralty, I believe. But I also know that the Navy has never been your long-term goal, simply a means to financial security; I don't believe that the admiralty is your ambition. You always meant to resign before too long, and focus on more domestic ambitions, have you not?"

He nodded, suddenly stunned himself. The things she said were all true, but they were not things they had ever discussed outright; they were things she had apparently picked up over four months of their acquaintance, and he found himself a little shocked at how well she knew him.

"Then I think, for your own happiness, you should seriously consider resigning, for I think you will be happy to be near your family again." Her face was quite serious, and he was fairly certain she spoke from the heart, as his friend, not his supposed future wife. He could not look away. Then after a moment she smiled brightly and the moment of enchantment was broken. "And of course, for my sake I would wish you home, all the time. I had been dreading the day you went back to sea, and would be very happy not to have to bid you farewell. But then we will need to look into acquiring our country home very soon."

Still a little dazed, he could not respond at first. Then he managed, "This is something we definitely ought to discuss at greater length, soon." And, suddenly eager to change the subject, he turned back to the doctor. "Did you meet Mrs. Bellefleur on furlough, or did you know her before you went to sea?"

Through the rest of the evening, even after they had bid the Bellefleurs and Mr. Jonquil goodbye and returned to Stark Hall, Daniel felt a little dazed. Somehow that conversation had turned extremely personal and intimate, and he was still reeling from it. Never before had he felt such an understanding of his very being from someone who was not his parents or sister, and never before had he been comfortable enough with anyone outside his family, let alone a young lady, to admit he would like to give up the sea, and all the fame and power that came with being captain of one of his majesty's ships, and simply live a quiet life with his wife and children. He felt that surely, tonight of all nights, when Peggy bid him good night, it would be . . . he hardly knew what he expected. It would be different, somehow.

Her good night was not different. Just as she had done the night before, and the night before that, she inclined her head, wished him a quiet good night, and was gone. And Daniel went to relieve Barnes of his watch, already anticipating with dread the prospect of four hours awake and alone with his thoughts.

The next morning, Howard proposed at breakfast that they finally make their trip into the village, to see the shops, a suggestion that was met with approbation all around. Mr. Martinelli would stay at the house, to work on his correspondence; Daniel suspected the man was simply not interested in the shops. Aunt Elizabeth, too, communicated via gestures to her niece that she would prefer to stay home. But the rest of their party anticipated the outing very eagerly.

"Shall we walk?" asked Howard. "The scenery is absolutely stunning, and I should love to stop and show you all the most charming little bridge."

"A country walk sounds delightful," said Miss Martinelli.

"I agree with Miss Martinelli," said Lieutenant Thompson, and the lady made no attempt to hide the eye roll that followed.

Miss Underwood voiced her approval as well, and Daniel hid a grimace. He could walk four miles on his false leg; he'd done it before. But it would be tiring and not very comfortable, and he would feel the affects of it even more the next day. But they were there to guard Howard, not indulge their own comfort; if the walk must be done, then it must be done, and he was about to say so when Peggy said first, "Daniel and I will take a carriage, if you don't mind. But I'm sure Dugan would like to walk, wouldn't you?"

Major Dugan looked over at them with understanding in his eyes. "I am very fond of a good walk, especially through such fine countryside as this. I shall accompany Howard as well."

After a moment's hesitation, Mrs. Martinelli smiled. "I shall accompany the walking group as well," said she. "Miss Carter, this leaves you without a chaperon, but I believe I may trust you in Captain Sousa's hands." Daniel understood that good lady's momentary indecision; she would undoubtedly wish to accompany and chaperon her daughter, especially given that she was in the company of Sir Howard Stark with his unreliable reputation, but that left Daniel and Peggy to drive alone, which was a little bold.

"Indeed," smiled the young lady, "Captain Sousa is quite the most trustworthy person I know." And Daniel smiled.

The walking group left first, with one addition to their numbers. "It is not at all proper for the valet to go on social outings with the master of the house," Daniel heard Jarvis objecting to Howard as the group prepared to leave.

"Since when have I cared what the proper thing is?" Howard demanded. "You're good company, and I happen to know for a fact that we've been in Kent nearly a week and you haven't visited the dressmaker's shop even once."


"Jarvis goes to the dressmaker's to peruse her copy ofJournal des dames et des modes," Howard explained to the group.

"You are interested in fashion?" Mrs. Martinelli asked politely.

"I try to keep on the current trends, for Sir Howard's sake," said Jarvis with all the dignity that could be mustered in such a situation. "It is good to know what the latest fashions coming from Paris are, although many of them are a little too florid for me to recommend to the baronet. Only two editions of the current Journalare to be found in the whole county, and the copy in Tunbridge Wells arrives far more tardily."

"And you haven't even seen the latest edition," said Howard reasonably. "Of course you should accompany us. No one minds, do they?"

The assembled group confirmed that they did not mind being accompanied by the valet, although their expressions ranged from Mrs. Martinelli's shock to Major Dugan's obvious pleasure that a familiar face from the wars should be joining them.

Howard pressed the reluctant valet further, stating that he would like a new waistcoat made and that he relied on Jarvis to find out the latest trends in that garment for him. The result of all this was that Jarvis, looking mostly embarrassed but also slightly pleased, followed the group out the front door, leaving Peggy and Daniel to trade smiles behind them.

"Poor Jarvis," said Peggy. "He puts up with a great deal from Howard."

"Or perhaps, fortunate Jarvis," countered Daniel. "If he ever works up the courage to declare himself to Ana Kirshenbaum, he will have his employer to thank for his part in it."

"You are suddenly quite invested in the man's romantic life," Peggy observed.

"What can I say?" responded Daniel, offering her his arm. "Weddings are in the air right now."

Howard had given them leave to borrow any carriage they liked, so Peggy chose a small, fast curricle that made the stable hand smile. "You'll want fast horses, then," he said, and went off to get the curricle ready.

Daniel wondered if this meant it would be a repeat of their drive in Hyde Park, something he would not have minded at all; he had very much enjoyed the speed at which she'd taken that path. But to his surprise, when they were out on the road to Richford, she handed him the reins. "You don't want to drive?" he asked, surprised.

"I'll drive on the way back," she smiled. "For now, I thought I'd give you some tips. You must learn to drive properly, especially if you plan to buy that house in the country."

He glanced at her sharply, but she was looking at the horses and did not notice. And so they spent their journey to Richford with Peggy advising him all the way. Howard had recommended a winding route to take, so as to arrive around the same time as the walking party, and the scenery was beautiful, the day was warm, and Peggy was smiling by his side. Even when they did not speak for whole stretches of the journey, he felt content just to have her near. And he did not tip them into a ditch even once.

Ana Kirshenbaum's dress shop was in the heart of town. Daniel, who had never visited a genuine ladies' modiste before and had some vague picture in his mind of piles of boxes overflowing with half-made dresses, was surprised to find it instead a quiet, tastefully decorated place with comfortable yet elegant chairs and only a few accessories and the like on display. They were greeted by a young woman with curly red hair and what appeared to Daniel's admittedly untrained eye to be a very fashionable dress. Her already cheerful face split into a broad smile when she saw the members of the party.

"Sir Howard!" she exclaimed, and stepped forward to his cheek, a gesture Howard accepted and then returned as though it was quite common between them. "And these must be your guests at Stark Hall! Violet told me you were to dine with her family last night." Her English was excellent but still tinged with the accent of her native Hungary.

Howard made introductions, and Miss Kirshenbaum, for so the young lady turned out to be, curtsied very properly to all of them, her smile never flagging. "I am so pleased to meet you all," said she. "I am always pleased to meet new acquaintances, and friends of Sir Howard's must of course be excellent sorts of people."

There was one member of the group who had not yet made his presence known, and as the group moved further into the shop, Jarvis, whose tall frame had been hidden behind Dugan and Lieutenant Thompson, came into view and bowed to the proprietress. "Miss Kirshenbaum," he said formally. "I hope you do not mind our crowding your shop so, but Sir Howard would have a new waistcoat made and required my opinion, and also I hoped I might peruse your copy of the Journal; I have not seen the latest edition."

Miss Kirshenbaum's smile softened then into something a little more warm, a little more intimate, and she stepped forward and took his arm to lead him to a counter where apparently the magazine was stored. She spoke in a soft voice, but Daniel, standing nearby, heard every word. "You, of all people, are always welcome here, Mr. Jarvis," said she. "I hope you know that by now."

Jarvis looked over at her, embarrassed and pleased, and Daniel had to fight back the grin that was trying to spread across his face. He looked at Peggy and saw that her expression was about the same; when she noticed his gaze on her, she smiled at him and spoke quietly. "She's perfect."

With Jarvis ensconced behind the counter, reading the Journal and pretending not to watch Miss Kirshenbaum out of the corner of his eye, the modiste allowed the ladies of the group to peruse her wares while she measured Howard for his new waistcoat and called out numbers to an assistant, who scribbled down notes. It was quite the large and established operation for a young, unmarried woman, particularly a foreigner who, according to Howard, had only five years ago arrived on English shores; Daniel found himself very impressed by the young lady. And the ladies of the party were similarly taken by her, or at least by her bonnets and shawls, which, to judge by their comments, were very fine and very fashionable.

"Many straight from Paris," Miss Kirshenbaum explained to the ladies with a smile when the measuring was done and Howard had drifted over to join Jarvis in perusing the magazine. "There is an advantage to being in Kent, and so close to the Channel." She turned to Peggy, who was running her hands over a pile of beautiful fabrics and asking Daniel what he thought of them. "But you know a little about that, don't you, Miss Carter?" She looked Peggy over with a critical eye, then said, "The dress is English work, and very fine, but the bonnet and the spencer are straight from Paris too, aren't they? You have a well connected supplier in London, I would wager."

"Oh!" said Peggy, surprised. "I do have a very good modiste, but actually I purchased these in Paris myself."

Miss Kirshenbaum looked pleased. "You have travelled to the Continent?"

"Often," she answered. The others in the group drifted back to what they had been doing -- examining laces for the ladies, conversing or looking at the Journal, for the men -- so only Miss Kirshenbaum, Peggy, and Daniel were part of the conversation. "My uncle, who raised me, often travels to the Continent."

"For pleasure?"

"He is in the military," Peggy explained.

"Colonel Chester Phillips," added Daniel.

"Ah, I have heard of him," said Miss Kirshenbaum. "No doubt it was Napoleon who required his attention." Peggy nodded, and the modiste looked suddenly a little downcast, an expression that seemed out of place on the face that had been so cheerful up to this point. "There has been a great deal of upheaval in Europe lately," said she. "Some of us are still feeling the effects of it."

Peggy was silent a moment. "I take it you and your family did not leave your home willingly."

"We went of our own volition," said she. "But because it was safer, not because we wanted to leave our dear Hungary."

"Do you miss it?" Daniel asked, then immediately wondered if that had been too forward a question.

But Miss Kirshenbaum smiled at him. "Of course. But there are many good things here too. My father knew Dr. Bellefleur, for they had studied together in France when they were young men, before the revolution. His family has been very good to us. And . . . I am fond of the neighbourhood." Her gaze flicked up to where Jarvis still stood by the counter, then back to the fabrics in front of her, and Peggy and Daniel shared a smile.

"But enough of sad things!" Miss Kirshenbaum declared. "Tell me, when are you two to be married?"

Her companions were both momentarily surprised into silence. "How did you know we were engaged?" Peggy asked. Howard had left that fact out when he made introductions.

Miss Kirshenbaum made a dismissive gesture. "A simple deduction. Violet told me that Captain Sousa is engaged to a member of your party, and you two clearly gravitate toward each other."

Daniel glanced up at Peggy, who, to his surprise, had colored a little at Miss Kirshenbaum's words. "July," she answered.

"Very exciting," said Miss Kirshenbaum warmly. "And, may I ask, how did he ask you?"

But before Peggy could answer, Daniel, who, like the modiste, thought it was best to turn their minds away from sad matters, said with mischief in his eyes, "Actually, if you want to be precise, she asked me."

"Don't tell people that!" Peggy said. "I'm going to get a reputation."

"Is that true?" Miss Kirshenbaum asked, delight dancing in her eyes.

Peggy hesitated. "Somewhat, yes."

And Miss Kirshenbaum smiled. "I do believe that I like you two," said she. "And you are . . . very sweet together."

"If that is true, it is only because Peggy is so sweet, and it has rubbed off on me."

Peggy laughed and shook her head. "Come now, darling, don't overdo it."

He took her hand. "You know I never say anything I don't mean," said he. He meant it as part of the character he was playing, this version of himself who was truly engaged to Peggy and who was not working as a spy, but when Peggy looked up at him, something slightly uncertain in her expression, he suddenly felt a little shaken. Because he had accidentally spoken the truth, at least in part: every compliment, every term of endearment he had ever spoken to her, that had all been the truth.

And they stared at each other until Miss Kirshenbaum spoke. "You see? Very sweet together."

In time the group left the shop, laden with packages; the ladies had all bought beautiful shawls, imported from Paris, and Miss Martinelli had purchased a bonnet that she delightedly exclaimed was wearable as it was, no work required. Howard had left his order for the waistcoat, the style and fabric chosen by Jarvis, which Miss Kirshenbaum promised would be ready in two weeks. And Peggy had purchased a ready-made pelisse, in a brown and gold oak leaf pattern, that wanted only a few alterations to fit her. Miss Kirshenbaum promised it would be ready in less time than the waistcoat.

They all took a fond leave of the modiste, who was even more affectionate and warm now that she knew them a little; Howard and all the ladies were given a kiss goodbye, which seemed to have startled most of the ladies but barely even registered with Miss Underwood. To Jarvis, whom Daniel was not ashamed to admit he watched very carefully, she gave a curtsey and a warm smile and a few words; Jarvis stiffened, then hesitated, and then, in a movement so quick Daniel could barely follow it, kissed one of her hands and then left the shop as quickly as possible, leaving Miss Kirshenbaum to watch him go with a surprised, happy smile.

A visit to the confectioners' saw them all happily supplied with a morsel of something sweet, and then it was time to return to Stark Hall. Daniel wished very much they could offer to take the walking group's packages back with them, but the curricle allowed little room for transporting cargo beyond its occupants. He quickly saw it was unnecessary, though, for the gentlemen offered to help, and to Miss Martinelli, who had the most to carry, Lieutenant Thompson offered his services with a very proper bow. The lady might not be fond of him, but she was clearly not above taking advantage of his desire to appear chivalrous, for she was only too happy to turn her pile of packages over to him.

Bidding farewell to the group, Peggy and Daniel made their way to the curricle, where Daniel promptly handed the reins over to Peggy. "You don't want any more practice driving?" she asked.

"I've had practice," said he. "And I do think I've improved. But now I believe it's your turn. Besides, I like it when you drive."

She looked at him a long moment, her face softening. "I like that you like it when I drive," she admitted. And when she settled into her seat, she sat just a little closer than she had on the way to Richford this morning. And Daniel, emboldened by her closeness and enjoying the beautiful scenery and warm breeze, dared to place his arm along the back of the seat behind her.

She glanced over at him, her expression unreadable, and then she seemed to blush, just a little. And then they began to make their way back to Stark Hall, Peggy taking the horses at a very leisurely pace. Daniel could almost have suspected that she was trying to make the ride linger a little longer.

. . . . . .


History and MCU notes:

Richford: In case you were interested, I chose this as the name of the village because according to the MCU wiki, that is the town in New York where Howard was born. I tell you this because every time I type "Richford" I feel a little silly, as though I chose it because Howard is rich and he lives in Richford, and maybe he drives a rich-mobile and hangs out with his friends Richie Rich and Mayda Munny. Now you know, that wasn't my reasoning at all.

Chaperons: I have read so much contradictory information on the necessity of chaperons as to leave me entirely unsure what to believe; many sources say a lady could not go walking alone without taking along at least her maid or someone (and she certainly couldn't go walking with a man), but then Austen's characters contradict this all the freaking time (see: Lizzie walking to Netherfield; Lizzie walking around with Wickham and Fitzwilliam and Darcy, sometimes with her sisters within shouting distance and sometimes not). But on the other hand, when Lizzie shows up at Netherfield "alone, quite alone," Miss Bingley calls it "an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum." So from what I can gather, walking alone or walking with a man was in fact done, especially if your sisters were conveniently somewhere in the area, but it was not the absolute properest way to do it. Anyway, I figured that Mrs. Martinelli would figure, if I can only chaperon one of these two groups, I'm going to choose the walking group because (a) there are more ladies who need my protection, (b) it's my own kid, and (c) Daniel and Peggy are perfectly respectable AND already engaged so they're probably fine.

Journal des dames et des modes: One of Annie+MacDonald's excellent suggestions for this story (there are many); I also stole from her the suggestion that Jarvis goes to Ana's to read it, and his line about the copy in Tunbridge Wells arrives more tardily. Basically all the good ideas this chapter are hers. :) One of the earliest illustrated fashion magazines, it was published in Paris from 1797 to 1839 and included illustrated fashion plates showing fashions for women and men, information about the latest shows in Paris, news pieces, and even poems, songs and riddles.

Chapter 21


First, a special thank you to Paeonia, who contributed research to this chapter about the horseback riding, which was enormously helpful.

Second, a PSA: I will not be posting a chapter next week; I tell you all this so you can adjust your expectations accordingly. ;) When I started the story, I always had at least a handful of chapters written ahead of where I was posting, but then life caught up with me and I kept having to dip into that buffer and for the last few weeks I've been finishing chapters 30 seconds before I post them, which produces a whole range of problems. So I am giving myself a week to get me feet back under me, writing-wise; I'm sorry for the wait, but I think it's going to make the experience better for everyone. :)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

On Friday Daniel took time to visit with Barnes, still on guard duty at the vault. He had visited several times throughout the week, feeling guilty that the man was stuck day in and day out in a small dark room while Peggy, Dugan and himself were playing lawn darts and enjoying sumptuous meals. So when on that Friday he found himself possessed of free time and a handful of the cook’s famous biscuits, he took the opportunity to visit his colleague.

Barnes, to his surprise, was in the study itself, not the anteroom below. “It occurred to me finally that the only way to get to the vault was through the study, so I might perform my guard duties here,” he explained. “It is much nicer up here, where at least I have windows and books.” He looked around himself ruefully. “Though I admit I am usually not a great reader. But when the alternative is endless boredom . . .”

“I can see why you would choose books in that case,” said Daniel. “This is clever; I shall have to remember it when I am on guard duty. Far better to spend that time up here. Oh! I nearly forgot; I went to the kitchen to get something to eat and thought I would bring some of these to you.” And he gestured with the plate of biscuits in his hand.

“Daniel Sousa, you are a true English hero,” said Barnes fervently, gazing at the biscuits with undisguised hunger, and Daniel laughed and handed him the plate.

Carefully maneuvering with his cane, he dropped into the chair across from Barnes and helped himself to one of the biscuits as well. “If I had known that’s all it takes to be a hero, I could have stayed home from the sea and saved myself a great deal of trouble,” he observed.

“Ah, but then you would only be my hero, not the whole nation’s.”

Daniel scoffed. “What has being the nation’s hero ever gotten me except --"

“Fame, wealth, and the admiration of all the young ladies?” Barnes cut in. “Sounds quite nice to me.”

“You were quite heroic,” Daniel pointed out. “You fought at Waterloo. That never earned you the admiration of all the young ladies?”

Barnes laughed a little. “I was only as heroic as every other soldier on the battlefield. Which is important, to be sure, but it doesn’t make me stand out.” He hesitated a moment, a shadow crossing his face, then said more quietly, “Steve was the true hero.”

Daniel hesitated, then worked up the courage to ask, “You two were very close, were you not?”

“He was my best friend,” Barnes admitted, looking down at his hands.

“May I ask,” Daniel began, but then stopped. There was no polite way to phrase the question he wanted to pose, so he held his peace. But Barnes appeared to hear the question he could not ask.

“How did someone from a family as wealthy and prominent as the Rogers become friends with the poor son of a poor apothecary?”

“Something like that, yes,” Daniel admitted.

Barnes was quiet a moment. “Something most people don’t know about Steve,” he said finally, “is that he was very sickly as a child, just a spindly, pale little boy who was in bed ill half of the time. My father, as the nearest apothecary, was constantly mixing treatments for him. And I, as his son, was assigned to deliver them more often than not.”

“But surely the delivery boy was not allowed to visit the young master,” Daniel said.

“Not at first,” said Barnes. “But Steve, he wanted to get healthy more than anything -- so that he could someday fulfill his duties as master of the estate, and he wanted to be a politician. He wanted to do good for the poor and vulnerable, those who had no voice or champion among the wealthy. So he insisted on being allowed to sit outside, where he thought the fresh air would do him good. And one day he was sitting outside as I returned from a delivery, and he looked so pitiful and lonely -- no siblings, you see -- that I couldn’t help myself. I stopped to say hello.” He smiled a little, lost in the memory. “Steve was so excited to have someone his own age to talk to that he talked my ear off for an hour. Da nearly gave me a hiding for it when I got home, until I told him where I’d been, and then he told me I’d done that boy a good turn by being kind to him. From that point on, any time I saw Steve outside, I’d stop and talk to him. Or if we saw each other at church.”

“What did his parents think of this friendship?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Rogers? They were good people, kind people, and just wanted to see their son happy. They didn’t mind. They even let Steve invite me around to talk, or to play games when he was feeling well enough.” He hesitated, perhaps caught in memories of those happy days, then shook himself. “When we were teenagers, Steve’s health improved drastically; he stopped getting sick so often, and he was finally able to keep weight on. The doctors called it miraculous. But he never wanted to go back to the way he had been, so he became a keen sportsman to keep fit: riding horses, running footraces, boxing. Everything that could be done, he did, and became the muscle-bound Atlas you’ve not doubt heard him described as. But he never forgot what it was like to be weak and vulnerable, and he always kept his desire to help those who felt that way. That’s why he joined the Army. His father was dead set against it; no reason to go, and Steve was the heir to Lehigh Hall -- no other sons in the family. But he insisted. And I followed, because . . . he was my best friend.”

“You served under him?” Daniel asked.

“I was his batman,” Barnes said proudly. “I’ve always chafed at having someone in authority over me, but I never minded with Steve.” His face fell then. “Once he died, I could no longer stand to be in the Army; too many memories and it was very different serving under anyone else. So when Colonel Phillips was putting together his staff for the Alien Office, I was eager for the opportunity.”

“You all seem to be such good friends,” Daniel observed. “That must be pleasant, to find yourself so situated.”

“They are all good friends of mine,” Barnes agreed. “It is a bit strange to find myself a . . . colleague, nearly even an equal, with those who were mostly officers over me in the war. But . . . I don’t know if anyone ever explained to you the origins of our little group, but during the war, Steve and I, with Peggy and Dugan and occasionally Howard and Jarvis, ran espionage missions for Colonel Phillips. I was allowed to participate because Steve trusted me. And in time we had all become so close to each other that they all treated me as though . . . as though they had forgotten that I am the poor son of a poor apothecary.” He hesitated a moment. “The people at the Alien Office are like family to me.”

“I understand well the bonds that can form in battle,” Daniel agreed, then smiled. “It’s been very kind of you all to accept me into your circle, even temporarily, even though I am not Army.”

Barnes grinned at him. “Keep bringing me biscuits and you can stick around as long as you like.” He was quiet a moment, helping himself to another biscuit, then asked, “Have you thought of asking Colonel Phillips to make your position permanent? You seem to be doing a rather good job, and to be having a rather good time.”

“I have considered it,” Daniel admitted. “I am seriously considering the possibility of resigning my commission, so that I might spend more time in London with my family. But I fear I would find the life of a gentleman a little tedious. A position with the Alien Office, which would give me an occupation while allowing me to stay close to home, might be the perfect solution. Although I do not know if Phillips is looking to hire anyone new.”

“Have you spoken to Peggy about it?”

“We’ve discussed the possibility of my resigning my commission,” Daniel responded. “She seems to think it a good idea.”

Barnes looked up at him and blinked a few times, his eyes dancing. “I meant to ask if you had spoken to Peggy about her uncle’s hiring new agents for the Office,” he said. “I didn’t realize that you and she were having discussions about your future. Rather cozy for two people who aren’t actually engaged, isn’t it?”

Daniel stared, feeling a blush creeping up his neck. “It's not like that -- it came up at the Bellefleur’s dinner party.”

"That's not the first time you two have seemed quite . . . friendly with each other."

"We're doing our jobs," Daniel insisted, certain his whole face was red.

The corner of Barnes’ mouth crept in a smile. “You know, Captain,” said he, his voice quite nonchalant, “if I were engaged to someone like Peggy, even if it were a fake engagement, I wouldn’t give that up without a fight.”

Daniel, his expression blank with surprise, opened his mouth, hesitated, then closed it again. And in that moment of silence, he heard footsteps and voices approaching the study door.

“I suppose that’s my cue to return to my underground post,” Barnes sighed, and collected his book and the rest of the biscuits. At the door to the closet, he turned back to Daniel, his expression suddenly serious. “Steve Rogers was my best friend, and he adored Peggy Carter, and sometimes the thought of her marrying someone else makes me feel like I’m losing Steve again. But, if she were ever going to find someone new . . . you seem a good man.”

And he disappeared into the closet, leaving a very surprised Daniel for Howard and Miss Underwood to stumble upon a moment later. He made his excuses and left quickly, his mind still awhirl.

The next day was Saturday, and the day of the Samberlys' picnic. The morning dawned bright and clear and warmer than any day of their stay had yet been, and perhaps it was this warmth that inspired Howard, at breakfast, to suggest that those who were interested might ride to the Samberlys'. "For," said he, looking at Daniel, "it is a fine day, and less than a mile to Eshercambe Abbey. It should not take above fifteen minutes to ride there; that seems a bearable length for an introductory ride, Daniel."

Daniel was a little fatigued from being on watch the night before, although he had managed to sneak in a few extra hours of sleep after Barnes relieved him that morning, but he found himself very interested in the prospect, for one very particular reason. "If you are feeling up to teaching me, dearest," he said to Peggy, "I would be quite pleased to try." Though he had not acted on Barnes' words to him the day before, they had haunted him every waking moment, and he found himself eager to be in her company.

Peggy looked about as tired as he felt, having had the watch before him, but at his words, she perked up a little. "I believe I can be prevailed upon to assist," she said, and gave him a small, almost shy smile.

And so, an hour later, the group gathered at the stables; all had elected to ride except Aunt Elizabeth, who was staying back at Stark Hall. Howard assisted Miss Underwood in mounting her horse, and Lieutenant Thompson helped a reluctant Miss Martinelli, leaving Peggy to assist Daniel.

She showed him to what looked like the same horse that she had chosen for him last Saturday. Seeing that reminded him of how disappointed she'd looked that he hadn't joined them, and he felt himself compelled to apologize again. "I am sorry to have abandoned the group the last time you rode," said he. "I was indeed quite exhausted and sore, but I did not intend to disappoint you."

"You did not disappoint me," she said quickly and defiantly, but he had known her long enough to know when she spoke more defensively than truthfully. He waited, eyebrows raised expectantly as he gently stroked the horse's nose, and Peggy broke down and sighed. "I had indeed looked forward to riding with you. I felt that you, of all people, seem most to understand my love of horses, after our drive in the park. Being able to saddle a horse and ride anywhere? It is . . ."

She trailed off, looking for the word, and Daniel remembered that wild flight through the park, Peggy's look of happiness and triumph as they sped by carriage after carriage. "Liberating?" he guessed.

She gave him a small smile. "Yes, precisely. And I wanted you to understand how it felt."

"I am here now for you to enlighten," he said with a smile of his own. "Although I must admit to some trepidation. The only time that I have ridden since my accident, I found it tiring and difficult with . . ." He tapped his cane against his false leg. "And that was a short ride around the yard. On a longer ride, out in the fields and trees . . . I worry about having my false leg in the stirrups. When my uncle took me riding once as a boy, he told me that should the horse spook or fall, you should hope to be thrown clear, for if you are too close it could land on you."

She nodded. "Other men in your situation continue to ride; some prefer to remove their prosthetic for that very reason. Others have special stirrups made, which have a cup hooked the saddle in which you can rest and support what remains of your leg. But since we are going such a short distance, and since you must have your leg with you for the picnic, I recommend that we attempt it with your leg on. We shall adjust the stirrup length. I see you wore the black boots, as I recommended; the heel on them will keep your foot from sliding too far forward into the stirrups, so that if you do fall, you can pull your foot clear easily."

"I see you have thought this through," Daniel observed.

She hesitated. "I spoke with former Army compatriots with similar injuries to yours. This is what they recommended."

"But you would have had to do that back in London."

She looked a little uncomfortable, as though the question was a very personal one. "I wanted to be prepared, should we have the chance to ride."

Warmed by the thought that she had prepared for this moment weeks previous, in the hope of giving him this experience, Daniel approached the mounting block the stable hands had brought out for him with more tolerance than he might have otherwise. Thompson, of course, chose that moment to swing easily up into the saddle, no block required, as though he had been doing it all his life. But Daniel reminded himself that he had known it would be like this when he agreed to ride, and that he had known from the moment that cannonball hit the deck that things would be very different from that point on; he reminded himself that he was lucky to be alive.

So, ignoring Thompson, he climbed the mounting block, then handed his cane to Peggy, who lashed it to the back of the saddle. The mounting block only went so high; it was still a chore to swing his false leg over the saddle, and he only managed it after some very ungainly maneuvering -- enough that he found himself a little embarrassed by the time he was situated in the saddle.

"Never mind that," said Peggy, seeing the face he was pulling. "You'll grow more accustomed to the process in time." She made sure his foot on the prosthetic side was carefully situated in the stirrup, then handed him the reins. "Are you ready?"

Mounting her own horse, she led the way out of the stable yard, and Daniel followed, relying on her instructions and what he remembered of riding in his childhood. It was both easier and more difficult than expected; it was not too difficult to keep his balance if he compensated for his injured leg by putting more weight on the other one, but this kept confusing his horse into thinking he was guiding it to turn. But when Peggy maneuvered her mount alongside his, his horse seemed to understand and followed along obediently.

"I think," she said, "that if you trained a horse up from a foal, so that it was used to you and no other riders, you could teach it to be accustomed to the uneven weight distribution."

"If I decide to get a horse, I will remember that."

"When you decide to get a horse," Peggy corrected him with a smile. "You are a gentleman now, Daniel. It's nearly a requirement."

He shrugged. "I suppose, but I prefer a carriage when I am in Town."

"But you will not always be in Town," she reminded him. "What about the house by the sea?"

Daniel hardly knew how to answer her, for they were entirely alone on the road, so he was not sure why she continued the facade of their engagement. Perhaps it was simply such an easy joke between them that she hardly noticed she was doing it. Perhaps she thought he ought to purchase a country home even without first finding a wife. Or perhaps . . . he shook his head. He was being fanciful, that was all.

The ride, once Daniel had gotten used to it, was quite pleasant. The sun through the trees scattered dappled shadows across the road, and Peggy looked like Boudicca beside him, astride her horse with her riding habit spread over its side, with the green countryside rolling behind her. To his surprise, he was quite comfortable on the horse; it was in some ways preferable to walking, for it did not require the use of his cane, and he could stay seated.

He said as much to his companion, and she looked pleased. "I knew you would like it, if I could convince you to try."

"Yes, I suppose you win this time, dearest."

Before long they had reached Eshercambe Abbey, a sprawling mass of grey stone in the style of a medieval castle. The expansive grounds had been landscaped in the naturalistic style, and Daniel thought it seemed the perfect location for strawberrying.

The other members of their party were already at the front of the house, where stable hands were waiting to lead their horses back to the stables. This left Daniel with something of a conundrum, however, for the riders were all slipping off their horses without aid, whereas he did not trust his ability to lift his prosthetic leg over the horse's back or to land with that leg first on the ground; perhaps in time he would learn to do so, but he did not want his first time trying to have so many witnesses.

He looked to Peggy, intent on explaining this, only to find her looking over her shoulder. "The stables are through there, I believe," said she, gesturing. "Shall we?" So saying, she urged her horse down the drive and around the side of the house, leaving Daniel to follow her and the others to watch them go in surprise. Equally surprised were the stable hands they found at the stables, but when Peggy primly asked for a mounting block, they happily obliged. To Daniel's embarrassment, however, they brought it to her, not him, leaving Peggy, when she had dismounted, to loop up her skirts, pick up the mounting block, and carry it to his side while the astonished stable hands looked on.

Then she crossed to his right side so she could help him remove his foot from the stirrups; he appreciated this, although he imagined that if he practiced he could perfect the movement required to do it himself. But he also supposed that if it required so much extra help and effort every time he attempted to ride a horse, Peggy might quickly tire of bringing him along on her rides.

Some of his thoughts must have shown on his face, for Peggy stepped closer to the saddle, looking up at him. "What is it? You looked unhappy for a moment. The ride was not to your liking?"

He shook his head quickly. "No, I enjoyed myself, and I am glad you talked me into it. I was simply thinking . . . I'm sorry it is such an undertaking to get me on and off a horse."

He smile, to let her know he had spoken at least partly in jest, but Peggy was not fooled, and stepped even closer to look up at him earnestly. "How many times must I tell you?" she said softly, as his heart swelled. "It doesn't bother me."

And then, rather boldly, she put a comforting hand on his thigh, which currently rested against the saddle at her shoulder-height. By some twist of chance or fate, her hand fell right on the seam where his prosthetic met the remnant of his leg. She immediately recognized what she was feeling through the fabric, it seemed, for she stiffened in surprise, and lifted the offending hand from his leg. "I am so sorry, Daniel; I did not mean to --"

Without thinking through his actions, he reached out and seized that hand, bringing it to his lips for a fervent kiss, and then laying their joined hands back on his thigh. "Peggy," said he, "I pray you do not reproach yourself. For --" and he cast his mind back to the day of the prize fight -- "you are the kindest fake fiancée I have ever had."

She looked up at him with a strange expression in her eyes, something soft he had never seen on her before, and so they might have stood forever, looking at each other, had Dugan not come along to see what was happening, for they had been quite long in the stables. When their friend saw them standing so, clasped hands resting on Daniel's thigh, he gave them a very pointed look but said nothing about it, simply explaining that he had been sent to show them the way to the picnicking area.

Despite being suddenly quite flustered, Daniel managed to dismount from the horse with relative ease. Peggy fetched his cane from the saddle, and the trio walked together toward the rest of the party, talking with a level of casual comfort that Daniel feigned more than felt. That moment in the stables had left him shaken; Peggy had an extraordinary ability to discompose him.

The picnic soon soothed some of his nerves; the Samberlys put on a very fine outing, certain to put anyone at ease with its combination of comfort, elegance, and ruralcharms. Though the picnics he had been on while visiting his Aunt and Uncle Metcalfe's country estate had been elaborate affairs, with tables and chairs set out under pavilions in the garden, the Samberlys had apparently chosen to emphasize the pastoral nature of the outing by having the guests actually sit on blankets -- although, of course, the food was served on tables and for comfort there were pillows scattered all about. The trees above provided adequate shade from the warm sun. On one table was a row of baskets for when the strawberry picking began.

"Oh, how charming," said Peggy.

They were greeted by the Samberlys then; Mrs. Samberly, looking every inch the country lady with her arms full of wildflowers she was currently arranging in vases on the tables, was effusively welcoming. Her husband, standing awkwardly nearby with his hands clasped nervously in front of him as though he did not know what to do with them, gave them all a small smile and a nod.

"So glad you could make it!" Mrs. Samberly gushed. "The rest of your party is already looking about the gardens, and the vicar and the Churchills and the Westons are here, and we have several more families coming."

"This looks absolutely lovely," Peggy said kindly.

"I believe you said at church that this is an annual event?" Daniel asked.

"Oh yes, there's been a June picnic at Eshercambe Abbey since I was a little girl, back when it was owned by Mr. Farnsworth, a very good man." Mrs. Samberly's expression turned nostalgic. "He invited all the children of the neighborhood to a yearly Christmas party as well, and the whole village to a harvest fete. When he died and Mr. Samberly inherited the estate, I rather bullied him into continuing the traditions."

"Anything for you," Mr. Samberly blurted, then looked a little embarrassed. Daniel remembered what Howard had said, that Samberly doted on his wife; he hoped that was enough to make the lady happy. And indeed, the smile that Mrs. Samberly bestowed on her husband was fond enough.

"Now," said that lady, "we shall eat soon; in the meantime, if you should like to wander the gardens . . ."

Peggy, Daniel and Dugan obediently made their way to where others of the party were wandering the ornamental flower beds; Eshercambe Abbey, despite being largely made over in the style of Capability Brown, had retained some of its older formal gardens, and here they found themselves in the company of Mr. and Mrs. Churchill. They talked politely with that couple, having dined with them earlier that week, and then the five of them began to wander the garden together. Peggy, who had been wandering free as she examined the flowers, eventually gravitated back to Daniel's side, and when the backs of their hands brushed by accident, he found himself reaching for her hand without thinking. He had grown accustomed to it; that was the only explanation he could give. She gave him a small smile as she wrapped her fingers around his.

In time they returned to the blankets to eat; the other invitees had already arrived, and the blankets were largely full, so Peggy and Daniel found open spots by the Allens and old Miss Bates, and they spent a very pleasant meal in conversation with those fine people. "And how do you enjoy your stay in Kent?" Mrs. Allen asked them. "I am fond of London, and even more so of Bath, but I am always happy to come home to the countryside."

Peggy did not respond immediately, so it was left to Daniel to state that while he was little accustomed to it before now, he had to admit, he found himself increasingly enchanted with country life and country manners. "And such a view!" he exclaimed, looking out over the Eshercambe grounds, at the sweep of the lawn and the trees and the gently rolling hills of the Downs disappearing into the distance. "London has many attractions, but it has nothing to compare to this spot."

"Well said," agreed Peggy.

"Then perhaps you should find yourself a home in Kent," said Miss Bates helpfully. "Meadow Brook Hall will soon be available, I know; it is only eight miles from here, and very beautifully situated by the sea."

Daniel and Peggy looked at each other, surprised, and Daniel found himself smiling. "We have talked of finding a home by the sea," he admitted. "Perhaps we should look into this Meadow Brook Hall."

The surprise on her face was softened by the turning up of the corner of her mouth. "You are so fond of Kent, my dear?"

"Well, the neighbourhood is quite pleasant," said he, shooting a smile at the other occupants of the blanket.

"And it is close to our families in London," she agreed. "Perhaps we should take a house in Kent."

Why did he do this to himself? he wondered a few moments later as the picnickers all collected baskets to begin the hunt for strawberries. Why did he voluntarily indulge in these fantasies about his future domestic bliss with Peggy, knowing that these fond dreams would just be a source of pain later? On the other hand, he knew at least part of the reason was that Peggy always went along with it, encouraged it, even initiated it sometimes. So perhaps the question to be asked was, why did she do that to him?

There were only baskets enough for all the ladies, leaving the gentlemen to partner up with the lady of their choice: the married men with their wives, Dugan with Miss Bates, Howard with Miss Underwood, Lieutenant Thompson with Miss Martinelli, Mr. Jonquil with Miss Bellefleur. The latter two ladies both looked less than pleased with how things had turned out for them.

"If I'd known this trip to Stark Hall would result in me having to spend all my time with Lieutenant Thompson, I do not know if I would have been so eager to attend," Miss Martinelli confessed when her would-be suitor was out of earshot.

"Is Thompson so terrible?" Daniel asked.

She hesitated, then shrugged. "He can be very charming company, when he wants to be. And he says that if I want to be on the stage, then I ought to be on the stage, although I don't know if he would hold to that opinion if it were his own wife who wanted to act. But he is so . . . he acts as though he is entitled to everything: to attention, to wealth, to his prominent position, even to the attention of any young lady he should chuse. I think it still causes him a great deal of shock and confusion that you chosen Daniel over him, English." She shook her head. "It is possible that there is a version of the lieutenant that I could love, but it is not the current version." She sighed, and glanced toward the table, and then she froze, her face gripped with surprise and embarrassment.

Daniel and Peggy followed her gaze to see none other than the lieutenant himself, standing only a few paces behind them. From the expression on his face, it was clear he had heard at least part of what Miss Martinelli had said about him.

"Lieutenant!" Miss Martinelli said finally, breaking the uncomfortable silence. "You've returned."

His mouth was tight; his gaze was directly slightly downward, as though he was unwilling to meet anyone's eyes. "We should go, if we want to collect any strawberries before the others take them all."

"Indeed," said Miss Martinelli. She shot a look at Peggy and Daniel, her eyebrows raised very expressively, and walked sheepishly to the lieutenant's side and took his arm.

"This is something I never thought to say," said Peggy when the couple was out of earshot, "but I feel sorry for Lieutenant Thompson. I suppose that, as they say, there is a first time for everything."

"I've felt sorry for Thompson before," Daniel said conversationally as he offered her his arm.


"The night we announced our engagement at the Martinellis', do you recall? He looked absolutely shocked, and really rather hurt, at the realization that he had lost his chance with you. I felt rather sympathetic. Until he said something rather insulting, as I recall."

Peggy laughed at that. "Jack, bless him, had lost my good opinion long before you ever came into my life," she said. "I think it occurred the first time he gave me that self-satisfied smile and called me Margaret."

"So, things to remember," said Daniel, as though reading off a list. "I should avoid smugness and calling you Margaret. I will file that information away."

"Well, you can call me Margaret, if you like," said Peggy, leaning in close for a moment to lay her cheek against his shoulder.

"But he can't?"

"I like you," she said, sounding quite reasonable. "I don't like him."

A wave of warmth hit Daniel, and he ducked his head and smiled. "I like you as well. But I think I shall continue to call you Peggy. It suits you, and it is how I know you best."

In this mood of warmth and affection, the couple set to picking strawberries, only to very quickly abandon the endeavour. It required that they seat themselves on the ground, which meant that every time they needed to move on to a new patch, Daniel had to struggle to his feet and then lower himself carefully back down, which was tiring and unpleasant. So before long, they had left behind all pretenses of picking strawberries and were simply seated together on the ground, talking comfortably and idly about those little nothings that often fill the conversations of people who know each other well.

At one point Peggy tipped her bonnet back so the sunlight could warm her face. Daniel, watching her, thought that country life was suiting her very well, and said so.


"I do not mean to say I think you should give up life in Town altogether," he amended quickly. "I know you love your work with your uncle, and your friends in the Alien Office, and the bustle of city life. I do not think you could be easy in a life only of ease and tranquility in the Kent countryside. But I think the occasional visit would be very good for you, as this one has been. You seem very relaxed and comfortable, and your complexion has a very healthy color to it. The fresh air and sunshine have done you good."

She considered this. "I have felt wonderful since I've been here; all this sunshine really is marvelous." She hesitated, and reached out a hand to take one of his where it rested on his leg. "And you know, I've thought the same thing about you, all week. Perhaps . . . perhaps Meadow Brook Hall really would be the perfect place for us."

She'd done it again. She'd brought up this fictional future life they'd created for themselves with no prompting from him and with no outsider to fool. They gained no tactical advantage by discussing this when they were alone. So why did she do it? Was she simply bored, and this was a way for her to entertain herself?

Or was it just possible that she meant it? Did Peggy perhaps wish, as he did, that this future might truly come to pass? He stared at her bowed head until she looked up and met his gaze, and he knew that something needed to be said but he hardly knew where to start.

But before he had a chance to even try, they had a most unwelcome interruption. "Miss Carter! Captain Sousa!" It was Miss Violet Bellefleur, moving toward them with the basket in her hand and no vicar in sight. Daniel had to force himself to keep his displeasure from showing on his face as she approached; he had no complaints about seeing her in general, but her timing left a great deal to be desired.

"Might I join you?" she asked, seating herself gracefully nearby. "Mr. Jonquil has had to go speak with Mrs. Churchill; she had questions about a chair she is covering for the vicarage."

"And how are you enjoying your afternoon with the vicar?" Peggy asked graciously and calmly, her voice betraying none of the irritation Daniel felt.

"Well enough," Miss Bellefleur sighed, but her tone told a different story.

"Mr. Jonquil seems a very good sort of gentleman," Peggy pointed out.

"He is," agreed Miss Bellefleur readily enough. "Very good. A fact my mother will not let me forget. She has been trying to play matchmaker for us since he took the living in Richford last year."

"You do not care to be matched with Mr. Jonquil?" Daniel asked.

She sighed. "He is, as you say, very good. But he's so . . . serious. All he ever speaks of, and all he ever spends time on, is sermons and books."

"He is a man of the cloth," Peggy reminded her. "Perhaps he thinks a serious, studious mind befits his position."

"Undoubtedly it does," said Miss Bellefleur. "And I do not deny that he is an excellent vicar. But perhaps I simply do not have the disposition to be a vicar's wife."

Daniel laughed aloud at that. "You would write off the whole profession that quickly?"

She sighed, amusem*nt sparkling in her eyes. "You are right, of course; perhaps there is a vicar somewhere who could sway me. But I prefer a man who is a little more active, a little more light-hearted. I prefer a man who can make me laugh." And she smiled.

"Have you explained as much to your mother?" Daniel asked. The young lady's expression clearly gave the answer. "You should," he told her. "It is your life, not hers. You are the one who must spend the rest of your life with your husband." He did not know what it was about Miss Bellefleur that reminded him of Kate, but he felt the same urge to protect her as he did with his sister.

Again she sighed. "You are right."

"And do not worry about finding a husband," said Daniel. "Someday soon a man will come along who is everything you dream of. You will see."

"Thank you, Captain," she smiled.

They fell into easy conversation then, about how the Stark Hall party had enjoyed their stay in Kent, and Daniel reflected again how easy it was to talk to Miss Bellefleur; it was as though he had known her years, not days.

Peggy said little until the vicar returned. "There is Mr. Jonquil," she said, nodding across the lawn to where the vicar's shining blond hair could be seen. "I hope you do not find the rest of your afternoon with him too dull." And as the vicar reached their group, she stood. "If you will excuse me, I should like to see how Miss Martinelli does."

"Shall I come?" Daniel asked, surprised at the sudden move. He scrambled to his feet and required the vicar's assisting hand when he nearly slipped.

"If you like," said she. "But you can stay, if you prefer."

"I prefer to stay with you," he said without thinking, and she nodded and took his arm.

As they made their goodbyes and set out to find Miss Martinelli, and indeed throughout the rest of the outing, Daniel could not help noticing that Peggy seemed a little distant. She was vivacious and charming and warm to everyone they spoke to, but to Daniel she was never much more than polite. Their moment of closeness earlier seemed so far away that he wondered if he had imagined it. He had done something wrong and he did not know what it was.

In time the outing ended, and the guests began sending for their carriages. The stable hands brought the horses around and kindly remembered to set up the mounting block for Daniel. Peggy helped him situated himself on the saddle and his foot in the stirrups once again, and once again doing so took so long that they found themselves quite alone on the ride back to Stark Hall.

Peggy asked quite warmly and sincerely whether he were comfortably and stably situated on his horse, but other than that and a few polite comments about the weather and the pleasantness of the picnic, she was quiet for the rest of the ride. And Daniel watched her go, confusion written across his brow.

Her behavior was odd; that was undeniable. Several times now, in the time they'd been in Kent, her behavior toward him had turned distant and even a little cold. What had prompted it? In London they had been as thick as two thieves. Either it was simply a matter of timing -- she had eventually grown tired of his company -- or it was something in Kent, specifically, that had triggered the change.

And as soon as that thought had entered his mind, it was followed by a second, one far more surprising and wonderful: the two times her behavior toward him had cooled, it had been immediately after one of his conversations with Miss Violet Bellefleur. Was it just possible that Peggy was jealous of his attentions to that young lady?

He looked sharply at Peggy, as though some mark of jealousy would still be visible on her, but she continued to ride sedately along, unaware of his scrutiny. He had to admit, if he had been a third party, observing that behavior in another couple, he might indeed have assumed jealousy to be the culprit. Could Peggy have been sincere in her belief that Miss Bellefleur would be an excellent wife to Daniel? Could she have believed, from Daniel's friendship with the young lady, that he intended to pursue her when the false engagement was over?

It would explain everything . . . if Daniel could be persuaded to believe that Peggy had formed an attachment to him. Could she really? Peggy who thought so little of the institution of marriage? Peggy who still needed a moment to recover when Captain Steven Rogers' name was mentioned?

It seemed so unlikely, and yet it would explain a great deal. He would have to think carefully about how to proceed.

The thought, though no more than a mere possibility, warmed Daniel through, and he felt something he had not felt in weeks: hope.

. . . . . .


Two note and one comment:

Boudicca: A Celtic queen who led an uprising against the Romans in Britain in AD 60-61; her forces killed tens of thousands and destroyed Londinium, though that didn't keep the Victorians from putting a pretty cool statue of her up near the Houses of Parliament.

Batman: Not, unfortunately, the Caped Crusader, although I would have loved if Barnes had spent the Napoleonic wars fighting crime in a bat costume. In the British military, a batman was a personal assistant/servant to a commissioned officer; it comes from the phrase bat-horse, which is also not as exciting as it sounds—it's a pack horse. Your batman originally helped you groom your bat-horse, but eventually did all manner of cleaning and errand running. The more official term for this position was simply "servant" or "soldier-servant"; now in the British military, they are called orderlies. Bates was Lord Grantham's batman, and it was indeed not unheard of for officers to employ their batmen as valets after the war was over (or force their valets into a soldier's uniform when the war began).

I did a great deal of research about riding horses one-legged (oh the random phrases that litter my search history after six months of writing this story) and found a whole range of responses about the feasibility of riding as an above-knee amputee. Paeonia found me some excellent sources as well, including a patent for the cup-stirrup mentioned by Peggy; other riders opined that they prefer to ride with the prosthetic off, with it on, with it on but not in the stirrups for safety reasons and tied down to the saddle so it doesn't flop about . . . Eventually I found a very detailed post by a young woman who rides leg on, using the stirrup. All the details come from her: wearing heeled boots so the foot doesn't slide too far into the stirrup, horses getting confused by her weight distribution until she trained one to be used only to her . . . point is, from what I've read, the way he rode the horse in this chapter is theoretically possible.

Chapter 22


Guys, did you miss me? I missed you. And I hope you're excited, because this chapter, on which I originally thought I was going to struggle to reach the 3,000-word minimum I've set for myself with this story, spiraled out of control and is more than twice that long. Also there's dancing.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

For the next week, Daniel paid close attention to Peggy, curious to see whether her feelings for him had indeed changed. Now that the idea had crossed his mind, he could not keep from thinking about it, and in his more confident moments he found that he did think it within the realm of possibility. How frequently, after all, had the possibility of her having developed true regard for him crossed his mind, after she had said or done something particularly affectionate? Always he had pushed the thought from his mind, convinced that Peggy could not feel that way for him, that her heart still belonged to Steven Rogers. And yet, if he let himself assume that Captain Rogers no longer held sway over the young lady's affections, then Peggy coming to care for Daniel explained a great deal of her behavior: her sudden unease whenever he interacted with Miss Violet Bellefleur in a particularly friendly manner; her determination to call him by fond names and hold his hand even when no one was around to benefit from the charade; even her impassioned defense of him to Lieutenant Thompson, all those weeks ago at the Martinellis' card party.

The results of his close observation were mixed. Beyond greetings exchanged at church, they spent no more time with Miss Bellefleur, so it was difficult to say whether Peggy did indeed grow unhappy in that young lady's presence. And Peggy continued to behave toward Daniel just as she had for the past week: not as openly affectionate as she had been in London, but still warm enough. He was still uncertain what had caused the change from London to Kent; it might have been the introduction of Miss Violet Bellefleur into their midst, as he hoped, but it was also entirely possible that with a smaller audience to perform her than they'd had in London, she had stopped putting so much effort into the charade.

But she continued to call him "dearest" when it was not strictly required of her, and he continued to hope that meant something.

At least they had the prospect of the assembly in Richford on Saturday, he reflected. Perhaps, in that familiar sort of setting where they had first come to know each other in London, something would happen; perhaps she would do or say something to give him a clue as to her true feelings and motivations. He looked forward to that day with great eagerness.

In the meantime, life at Stark Hall went on much as it had the week before. They played outdoor games and went on country drives and walks; they ate lavish meals; in the evenings, they played charades and cards and the Misses Martinelli and Underwood delighted them with musical performances. Daniel and Peggy went riding on two different afternoons, and Daniel was pleased to see that already his endurance was growing; on the second ride they were out for an entire hour before the need to constantly compensate for his uneven weight fatigued him too much to continue. On both of these rides he and Peggy spoke but little, but Daniel felt that the silence was a comfortable, pleasant one -- the silence of two people who knew each other well enough to no longer feel the need to fill up silences with polite conversation.

The watch they kept for the anarchist continued to bear no fruit, and Daniel was growing heartily sick of the night watches. At least he could now, as Barnes had made him aware, sit up in the study itself, where he could light a candle and read from Howard's collection of books on the natural sciences and military history. This watch continued to keep Daniel, Peggy and Dugan exhausted, and Howard finally took pity on them and allowed himself to be worked into the rotation. He would spend the long hours of the watch tinkering with some of the inventions from the vault; Daniel came to relieve him one night and found him taking measurements of the bulletproof vest he had created. "Trying to create a slimmer version," the engineer had explained. "Something I can actually wear out and about."

"Good," said his companion; "then the next time someone threatens your life, you shall be prepared."

"What makes you so certain there will be a next time?" Howard asked, pretending to be affronted.

Daniel raised his eyebrows.

"You are right," Howard agreed. "I shall probably do something to make someone want to threaten my life in the future."

The public assembly in Richford was a source of much excitement at Stark Hall, as the group had as yet had no dancing on their visit to Kent. And there was to be an unexpected attendee from Stark Hall: Jarvis, who would be arriving with friends of his from the village.

"Why shouldn't he attend?" Howard asked when Mrs. Martinelli expressed surprise at the valet's intentions to be at the assembly. "This is no Derby or Lincoln, with their exclusionary attitudes toward the lower classes. The patronesses of the assemblies here take a very catholic view where attendance is concerned; these are public assemblies, and therefore should be open to the public. Any who can afford to pay the subscription fee and dress smartly enough for the occasion are invited. And Jarvis can certainly manage both."

Daniel privately wondered whether even the most broad-minded of patronesses found it a little eccentric for the baronet to bring his valet along, but he supposed that even if this were the case, it hardly mattered, for they had prevailed upon Howard to act as master of ceremonies for the evening, so the decision on who was admitted to the assembly fell entirely into his hands. And more to the point, no one naysaid Sir Howard Stark. They would hardly dare.

On the day of the assembly, the party ate dinner early. Daniel was given to understand from Mrs. Martinelli that under normal circ*mstances, people often arrived at an assembly just as late as they would to a ball in Town; however, Howard would need to arrive early, to play his part as master of ceremonies. The baronet pretended irritation at how punctual he would have to be, but Daniel knew him well enough to see how truly pleased he was to have been asked. Daniel could hardly blame him; that the patronesses had asked it of him was a mark of their high regard for him, or at least for his title and position, which would be quite something for a man who came from humble circ*mstances, as Howard had.

Dressing for the evening took Daniel far less time than the ladies, for their hair alone would take them ages. So when Daniel was finished dressing in his dark green coat, finely embroidered waistcoat, and trousers, and had done his cravat in the Mathematical knot that had so impressed Howard on their first meeting, he took the chance to visit briefly with Barnes. The man would be required to stay on watch until the group returned from the assembly, as they had all agreed that the other three must stay with Howard all night; such a public gathering would be a prime spot for someone to attempt to do violence to the baronet, if indeed that was the anarchist's intent. The man was resigned but in good humor when Daniel visited him; he did not look forward to the possibility of being on watch halfway through the night, but he had his books and a plate of food from the cook to keep him company.

"Still," he sighed, "I rather wish this anarchist would make a move, if indeed that is his plan. All this waiting has made me nervous."

"I agree," said Daniel. "I worry that we have been incorrect in our assumptions about his motives. If he did indeed want to mount an attack on Howard, he has had a plethora of chances to do so. And if he wanted to attempt to rob the vault, what is he waiting for?"

Barnes nodded his agreement. "And no movement in London?"

Daniel shook his head. "Peggy had a letter from her uncle this very afternoon. No change there, and no news from Niko in Moscow."

Barnes' countenance fell a little, but then he smiled and tapped on the book he held. "At least I have the life of Hannibal to keep me company. If I pick up on some of his military strategies, perhaps they'll come in handy should we have another war."

Finally it was time to go, and Daniel caught his breath when he saw Peggy, who was dressed in a very familiar royal blue gown.

"What is it?" she asked as she stepped close and took his arm.

"You were wearing this very ensemble when I met you," he said. "This dress, and this necklace, and I believe you had this bandeau in your hair."

She looked surprised. "You remember that night very well."

"It was a very memorable night," said he, without thinking.

In response, her look of surprise was tempered by a small smile.

They found themselves in a carriage with the Martinellis. "It is really too bad Lieutenant Thompson went in the other carriage," said Mrs. Martinelli. "He is so agreeable, and you know he seems a bit fond of my Angela."

"Mama," said her daughter, and her tone and expression showed precisely how she felt about this conversation and about her mother for starting it.

"He is a very good match for you," was the response of that estimable lady. "I am not telling you that you must marry him; I only wish you would give him a chance, and not look so annoyed every time he tries to speak with you."

Peggy and Daniel glanced at each other, both smothering smiles, and then Peggy, clearly sympathizing with her friend, distracted her mother by changing the topic of conversation to assemblies back in the Martinellis' home in Sussex. On this topic Mrs. Martinelli had a great deal to say, and under the cover of that conversation, Daniel spoke quietly to his friend.

"I wish I could ask you to dance, to take up at least some of your time so that Lieutenant Thompson cannot monopolize it as he usually does. Instead, all I can do is offer that if you need someone to converse with, I am always available."

Miss Martinelli laughed. "You are very good, Captain. And I will keep that in mind. I have high hopes, though, that the assembly will produce other young men of the neighbourhood who will make willing partners."

"And when Thompson asks for you for a dance?"

She shrugged. "Truth be told, there are worse partners I could have. He dances well." Her smile suddenly grew mischievous. "And I must admit, it is not a chore to look at his face."

"I have long suspected he is the sort that young ladies might find handsome." He gave a mock sigh. "Men like that make it so much more difficult for average-looking men like me."

"Well, Peggy finds you handsome, and surely that is what matters most."

"It does matter," he agreed heartily, and then joked, "But I believe it took quite some time for me to wear her down before she came to that conclusion. My ears, in particular, have always been a source of great distress to me; I have no doubt it took her some time to come to terms with them."

But Miss Martinelli, instead of laughing as she had expected him to, gave him a long, considering look, her head tilted to one side, a smile playing across her lips. "Shall I tell you a secret?" she asked eventually.

He blinked. "I suppose."

She leaned closer. "English admitted to me," she said quietly, "the very first evening I met you, that she considered you one of the handsomest men of her acquaintance. So I do not think it took her very long to come to terms with your ears at all."

She sat back, looking satisfied, and Daniel was left blinking in surprise. He could not help it: he smiled like a bashful schoolboy. "Truly?"


And Daniel rode the rest of the way to Richford surrounded by a rosy glow, stealing glances every so often at an oblivious Peggy.

The assembly was being held in rooms at the Crown Inn in Richford; Howard, the Samberlys, and a few other families planned to contribute money to build permanent assembly rooms, but the project had not yet come to fruition. When they arrived, only the patronesses and their parties were present, although several coaches arrived not long after those from Stark Hall. They were greeted warmly, and Mrs. Churchill rhapsodized at length about how very fortunate they were to have Howard as their master of ceremonies. Howard, in response, positively preened.

In the dancing room, a small group of musicians were setting up on a raised dais at one end of the room. "Oh, I do so love dancing," Miss Underwood exclaimed, clasping her hands together in her excitement. "I hope, Sir Howard, that your duties as master of ceremonies shall not occupy you the whole night, so you may favor us with at least a few dances. I declare, I never saw such an excellent dancer as you."

"I promise I will find at least one opportunity to dance," Howard said. "For I shall count the evening a loss if I do not dance with you at least once." And he gave her hand a fervent kiss while she giggled. Peggy caught Daniel's eye and gave him a very expressive lift of her eyebrow, and he had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing.

"I think I should like to visit the card room," said Mr. Martinelli. "Who will join me?"

Major Dugan agreed immediately, and a few of the other husbands who were only there on the insistence of their wives also volunteered to come along.

"I should like to take a tour of the rooms first," said Peggy. "This is a very fine old inn." In truth, this was all part of the strategy that the Alien Office agents had decided on for the evening. They would tour the facilities to first, to find possible entry points other than the main doors. Then Dugan would spend the evening in the card room, keeping an eye on the goings-on there -- an assignment that suited him well, for he had little tolerance for dancing or small talk. Daniel would spend the evening in the dancing room, keeping watch for trouble there; his leg was an advantage in this case, for he could refrain from dancing without raising suspicion. And Peggy would both watch the tea room and shadow Howard, as surreptitiously as possible.

"This seems an excellent plan," said Daniel, offering her his arm.

"What's that?" Mr. Martinelli said, not having quite heard. "Are you coming to play cards with us?"

"I think not," said Peggy very apologetically. "I do enjoy cards, but I have not had an opportunity to dance in so long."

"That is for the best," said Daniel with mock solemnity. "For unless there is a limit on the betting, you should bankrupt me before we are even married."

"Are you always going to teaze me about my card playing?"

"Most likely," he said quite seriously, and she grinned at him.

"Good," said she, "for it shall serve to keep me humble."

Miss Martinelli insisted on accompanying them on their tour, which made it a little more difficult to discuss strategy, but Daniel could hardly blame her; he had already overheard Lieutenant Thompson asking her for the first two dances, and she was undoubtedly trying to limit her time with him.

He could not resist teazing her about it. "I am surprised you do not wish to spend more time with Thompson," said he as they meandered through the card room, "for I believe I recall you saying something about enjoying his face."

Peggy turned to her friend, her eyes wide in surprise. "Is this true?"

Miss Martinelli was unrepentant. "You're not blind, English. I know you've noticed how handsome the lieutenant is."

Peggy considered, then admitted, "I suppose he is, and I suppose there was a time I would have been a little more taken with his looks than I currently am. These days, however, I find I prefer dark-haired men."

She did not look at Daniel as she said it, but he could see her looking pleased with herself, and before he could overthink it, he found himself teazing, "I prefer redheads, personally."

She looked at him quickly; her expression was surprised, but it melted to a smile when she saw his grin.

"Are you two going to behave this way all night?" said Miss Martinelli. "While I do very much like seeing you so happy together, if you get too sentimental and lovesick I shall have to take my conversation elsewhere."

"I apologize for nothing," said Daniel, and took hold of Peggy's hand where it lay in the crook of his elbow to lift it to his lips.

Miss Martinelli laughed. "I've seen enough of the rooms, I think -- and enough of this display. I shall go see if the musicians are ready."

So saying, she took their leave of them, and Peggy and Daniel were free to scout the perimeter without a witness. They found that although the rooms were on an upper floor, one window in the card room was very approachable by trellis, and they caught Dugan's eye and indicated he should watch this window carefully. In the other two rooms, they found no weak spots, in terms of security; it seemed they would be able to hold to their original plan.

When they returned to the main room, dancers were lining up for the first dance of the night, a minuet. Miss Martinelli, lining up across from Lieutenant Thompson, gave them a deliberately wan smile, and they both laughed. Mr. Jonquil the vicar approached just then and asked Peggy for the honor of the first two; he knew that Daniel did not dance, and was clearly trying to give Peggy an opportunity on the floor. She accepted graciously, and Daniel watched with a smile as they lined up with the others and began the minuet.

It was a very long set of dances, but he was not long alone; Mrs. Martinelli soon joined him, Aunt Elizabeth in tow, and they spoke easily about a variety of subjects. It occurred to him that, despite the lady's relentless matchmaking, he had become very fond of Mrs. Martinelli, and indeed of the entire Martinelli family. He wondered if they would continue to be friends, when all of this was over; he wondered whether breaking the engagement with Peggy would cause him to lose his connexion to those friends he had only met because of her: Howard, and Dugan, and the Martinellis, and Barnes, and Colonel Phillips . . .

All the more reason, he could not but think, not to break the engagement.

When the dance finally ended, Mr. Jonquil and Lieutenant Thompson escorted their partners to where the other Stark Hall party members congregated. Mr. Jonquil promptly asked Miss Martinelli for the next dances, to which she agreed most readily, leaving Lieutenant Thompson to watch them go with an impassive expression on his face but his true feelings clearly discernible in his eyes.

Peggy must have seen it too, for after a glance at Daniel, she spoke. "Lieutenant, I should like to visit the tea room. Will you accompany me? I do not want to pull my dear captain away from his conversation."

Lieutenant Thompson was surprised but willing, and they walked off arm in arm. Daniel hoped very much that whatever she said to the man was of some use to him, for as little as he had liked Lieutenant Thompson on their first meeting, he had to admit that the man was pleasant enough company when he wasn't pursuing Peggy; Daniel had come to like the man well enough, and was a little sorry to see him so cast down over Miss Martinelli's continual rejection of his attentions.

They were gone for quite some time; after a while, Daniel saw the lieutenant back out among the dancers, so apparently Peggy had ended their conversation and was currently watching the tea room, as was her assignment. In the meantime, Daniel spoke to many of the locals, including people from the village he had not yet had occasion to meet. He found he very much liked the public assemblies in Richford, with their tolerant take on public attendance; the attorneys' clerks and merchants' daughters he met were much more the sorts of people he had grown up with than the fine gentlemen and ladies of the big houses, and although he had indeed grown very fond of the families of quality in the neighbourhood, he felt a bit more at ease with the tradespeople. And he felt the patronesses' faith in the village was very well placed, for he thought he had never met with pleasanter people or prettier girls in his life. All the assembly was lively and friendly, the music was good, and all in all Daniel felt he should like to attend more assemblies in Richford.

He also kept an eye on Howard, who appeared to be absolutely in his element, greeting newcomers, making introductions, encouraging gentlemen to ask ladies to dance. As though he had heard Miss Martinelli's hope, the baronet introduced her to several young men in the neighbourhood, all of whom were happy to ask the vivacious and pretty young lady to dance, and Daniel smiled as he watched her clapping her hands in time to the music and laughing at something her partner had said.

They weren't the only dancers that Daniel watched with interest. Howard, as promised, took a break from his duties to dance with Miss Underwood, who looked very pleased and laughed very prettily all the while. Daniel watched the baronet's face and wondered if Miss Underwood's clear devotion to him was changing his mind about the prospect of settling down. He thought the young lady entirely unsuited to move in the glittering circles where Howard spent his life, but she could learn; many people had certainly been elevated by marriage into spheres of which they had previously only dreamt, and they all seemed to learn eventually. And even if she was perhaps not suited to being the wife of the chief engineer and Society's favorite Corinthian, she had kept Howard's interest for months. Surely that had to mean something.

He found he rather hoped that Howard did eventually change his mind, because if this flirtation did not result in a marriage, Miss Underwood's reputation would be damaged, even destroyed. He glanced at the chairs set up around the perimeter of room and saw Aunt Elizabeth staring listlessly at the dancers. Did that lady never warn her charge about the dangers of being so forward and so pointed in her attentions to one man? Perhaps she did and the young lady refused to listen.

Another couple held his attention even longer. Jarvis, as expected, had arrived not long after the assembly began with a collection of tradesmen and shopkeepers' sons that he appeared to be friendly with. He mingled with the locals, and even danced with a few village girls, but it was clear from his behavior that he was waiting for the arrival of someone else. Daniel was certain he knew who that someone might be, and his feelings were confirmed when Miss Ana Kirshenbaum entered the room around ten and Jarvis's whole countenance and bearing shifted subtly; he looked at once both pleased and anxious.

Miss Kirshenbaum was accompanied by two people who must be her parents; the mother looked a little uncertain, but was quickly and kindly pulled into conversation by Rose Samberly. The father, in contrast, strode confidently into the card room, undoubtedly looking for his friend Dr. Bellefleur, whom Daniel had seen enter that room not long before. Miss Kirshenbaum was clearly popular among the masses; she approached a group of merchants' daughters, whose very smart gowns were no doubt of the young lady's design and creation, and was quickly absorbed into their group.

Daniel glanced back at Jarvis, who had watched all of this with that same mix of pleasure and anxiety, and wondered if the man was going to ask the young lady to dance. Across the room, he saw Howard also watching Jarvis with impatience on his face; undoubtedly the baronet would be over there instructing him to ask Miss Kirshenbaum to dance if not for the fact that Mr. Elton had pinned him to the wall with what looked to be a very boring and unending conversation. Daniel watched all this, then smiled to himself. Howard had showed him a great deal of hospitality in his visit to Stark Hall; he supposed he could return the favor and have the conversation that Howard currently could not. So, excusing himself from the group he currently conversed with, he made his way to Jarvis.

Fortunately, in that moment Jarvis's last companion left to ask a young lady to dance, and Jarvis was entirely alone, making it quite easy for Daniel to approach and casually remark on the pleasantness of the evening.

"Indeed, Captain," said Jarvis formally. "They always put on excellent assemblies here."

"I saw you dancing earlier. You are a very fine dancer."

Jarvis looked embarrassed and pleased at that.

"I wonder that you do not dance now," Daniel added. "There are a number of young ladies without partners, who might appreciate taking a turn on the floor. I would dance myself, but . . ." He shrugged and tapped his false leg with his cane, then pretended to notice Ana Kirshenbaum for the first time. "That is the dressmaker we visited, is it not? You ought to ask her to dance; you two seemed to be on friendly terms when we all met."

"Miss Kirshenbaum," Jarvis confirmed, then looked down. "She seems a bit busy with her friends just now. Perhaps --"

Daniel smiled at him. "I believe it would not be rude to interrupt, given that you are going to ask the lady to dance," he said. "Look at the way she watches the dancing! I think she might very much like to be asked. And I imagine she is a very fine dancer; she seems to have that sort of musical flair about her."

Jarvis looked at the young lady in question, then back at Daniel. "I suppose I might . . . in a few moments . . ."

Daniel dropped all pretense of their conversation being a casual one. "Go or I will walk over there and ask her myself, on your behalf," said he, firmly. "And that will be rather embarrassing for you."

Jarvis hesitated, then laughed a little. "Quite right, Captain Sousa," he said and, with a nod to take his leave, made his way to the dressmaker's side. Daniel watched as the valet very formally bowed and said something to her, impossible to hear over the crowd applauding the end of the quadrille. Miss Kirshenbaum's face lit up in surprised delight, and she smiled and inclined her head and said something back. Daniel could almost hear the sigh of relief that surely accompanied the visible relaxing of Jarvis's shoulders. Then Miss Kirshenbaum took his arm and, both smiling, they made their way to the floor to join the next set.

"Your doing?" came a voice next to Daniel's ear, and he jumped. Peggy smiled at him. "I saw you speak to him, and now they're dancing. I assume you had something to do with it."

"Perhaps I encouraged him," was his smiling reply. "A little." He glanced across the room and saw that Howard too had witnessed the exchange; the baronet was smiling and miming applause in Daniel's direction. "Tell me about your evening so far. I imagine you did a little encouraging yourself, with Thompson." He hesitated. "Or were you discouraging him?"

"Advising him, is all," smiled Peggy, as in one smooth movement she turned to watch the dancing and slipped her arm through his. "I recommended that if he wants to attract a certain young lady's attentions, he ought to focus more on being pleasant company when they are together, and showing interest and regard for her thoughts and feelings, than on monopolizing her time and trying to be suave and charming."

"Do you think it will help?"

"I suppose that anything is possible," she smiled.

They stood together a while, conversing about the evening thus far; Peggy's watch had been as uneventful as his. Among the dancers, Jarvis and Miss Kirshenbaum were skipping through the line of dancers with ease and grace; as Daniel had suspected, the lady was an excellent dancer. Daniel scarcely noticed their dancing, however, so distracted was he by the smiles on both of their faces.

Peggy had noticed it too. "I hope Jarvis has the good sense to declare himself to the young lady," she murmured.

"They do seem an excellent match," said Daniel. "Although I wonder how they would organize their affairs; Jarvis's job as valet requires him to travel often with Howard, and after all the work Miss Kirshenbaum has done on her shop, I do not know that she would be willing to give it all up so quickly."

Peggy shrugged, not looking at him. "I am given to understand that people are willing to make sacrifices for love," she said calmly. "And I am certain they would be able to sort out some compromise that allowed them to stay together. That is what you do, I believe, when you find someone you wish to marry."

In time they fell into a comfortable silence, and were soon approached by Mr. Jonquil. Daniel was rather fond of the vicar and only too pleased to converse with him, and Peggy seemed to feel the same, and they spoke very comfortably for some time. At first it was only the usual topics of conversation -- the number of couples and the size of the room -- but then Peggy asked him about his growing up in Oxfordshire, and that appeared to loosen his tongue. He became quite animated and lively, and Daniel was surprised to see what pleasant, amusing company Mr. Jonquil could be. His seriousness under normal circ*mstances, it appeared, might be the result of his attempting to live up to expectations about his profession, or perhaps he was just shy.

Either way, Daniel found himself wondering whether Miss Bellefleur had seen this side of the vicar, and if she had not, whether seeing it might soften her opinion of him. With that thought in mind, when the young lady in question happened to walk by just as Mr. Jonquil finished telling them a very entertaining story about the time he and his brothers had pulled an elaborate prank on a pair of bullies when they were all at Eton, Daniel found himself calling out to her. "Miss Bellefleur! Come join us!"

He had meant it only for Mr. Jonquil's sake, and indeed the man looked pleased as the young lady willingly joined their group, but Daniel could feel Peggy's posture stiffen beside him. Again to his mind came the question that had plagued him all week: might Peggy be jealous of his friendship with Violet Bellefleur?

He was not certain, but he did feel that her greeting of that young lady betrayed a bit of discomfort; she was no longer as at ease as she had been when they had simply had Mr. Jonquil for company. Before he could observe any more, however, Mr. Churchill appeared and asked her for the next two dances.

"For," said he, "I am vastly fond of country dances, and I saw you earlier, Miss Carter; truly you are an elegant dancer."

Peggy agreed politely and excused herself from the group, leaving the other three behind. Daniel cursed Mr. Churchill's timing, but he could not fault the man for wishing to dance at an assembly. So he turned his attention back to his companions. "Mr. Jonquil was just telling us the most diverting story," said he. "Has he told you about the bullies at Eton? You must tell it again, Jonquil."

Miss Bellefleur looked surprised but willing to hear, and Mr. Jonquil looked thoroughly embarrassed. "I do not wish you to think me frivolous, Miss Bellefleur; as your vicar --"

"You are allowed to be a vicar and amusing at the same time, you know," Miss Bellefleur said. "I will not think any the less of your spiritual authority. In fact I might think more of it."

Mr. Jonquil hesitated, but when both of his companions looked encouragingly at him, he retold the story. It was not as eloquent or effortlessly amusing as it had been the first time, as is usually the case, but it still left Daniel laughing and Miss Bellefleur smiling, while also eyeing her neighbour with something like surprise. "You know," she said when the story was done, "you do not always have to be serious around your parishioners. We will not look down on you." She hesitated, then smiled. "Well, Mrs. Elton might, but she looks down on everybody. You would be in good company."

Perhaps her warm answer had given Mr. Jonquil a new hope, for after a long moment in which he looked on her in surprise, he uttered suddenly, "Will you dance with me, Miss Bellefleur?"

She hesitated and then nodded. "Of course, sir."

He offered his arm, and she looked at it a moment, and then gave him a genuine smile as he took it. They took their leave of Daniel and walked away, leaving him smiling. He was fond of the vicar, and wanted only the best for Miss Bellefleur, and he hoped most heartily that the dance went well for them.

The assembly went on until well after midnight, leaving Daniel to remind himself to apologize to Barnes when they returned. At some point after twelve, Mrs. Martinelli made the rounds to see if any of the Stark Hall party should like to take one of the two carriages home, but only her husband was interested in leaving, so in the end the carriage stayed. The Alien Office agents were required to stay as long as Howard did, a fact that Daniel deeply regretted, for he'd had only five hours of sleep the night previous, and the late night at the assembly was beginning to wear on him. Mrs. Martinelli herself was enjoying talking with the local ladies and watching her daughter dance with a number of the local gentlemen; Miss Underwood, too, scarcely wanted for partners after it became clear that she was an eager and graceful dancer with a pretty face and a listening ear.

Lieutenant Thompson, perhaps responding to Peggy's advice about giving Miss Martinelli space, did not ask her for a second dance, instead dancing with many other young ladies in the room, including Ana Kirshenbaum and Violet Bellefleur; Daniel, very fond of both young ladies, was pleased to see them asked to dance and found himself looking very favourably on the lieutenant. When Miss Martinelli, taking a break from dancing, came to speak with Daniel and the Allens, Daniel saw that she too had noticed the lieutenant making the rounds of the room. "I had no idea of Lieutenant Thompson being such a willing dancer," said she. "In London he seemed only interested in dancing if he could get very particular partners." Though she did not mention Peggy by name, because the Allens listened in, Daniel knew precisely to what he was referring.

"Perhaps he wants to make certain that young ladies who wish to dance are given the opportunity," said Daniel. "I am hardly one to talk when it comes to dancing, but I think that a young man ought to dance as much as possible at an assembly such as this, if he possibly can. I think it very admirable of the lieutenant."

"Indeed," murmured Miss Martinelli, her eyes fixed on the dance floor.

Howard took a second break from his duties to dance with Miss Underwood again, and though Jarvis was too polite to ask Miss Kirshenbaum for a second dance, he did work up the courage to spend part of the evening at her side, talking to her. Daniel watched the valet's nervous fidgeting and wished he could make him see what was clear to any who watched the pair of them together: that Miss Kirshenbaum's smile bloomed like a flower whenever he spoke to her.

Daniel was even pleased to see Rose and Aloysius Samberly take to the dance floor; he had grown very fond of Mrs. Samberly, and although he still felt a little guilty that he knew of their situation only through Howard's penchant for gossip, he still found himself often watching the pair of them together and hoping the lady was happy in her marriage. Mr. Samberly was not graceful but always unfailingly correct in his knowledge of the steps, and twice over the course of the dance he said something that made his wife smile; Daniel hoped these things brought pleasure to Mrs. Samberly.

He did not see Dugan or Peggy again for the majority of the night, as they were both at their posts, and not one thing occurred that indicated an anarchist might intend to cause harm to Howard Stark. Daniel was beginning to seriously worry that they had been entirely wrong about the anarchist's intentions, and perhaps he was at this moment causing mischief somewhere miles from Richford. These thoughts must have shown on his face, because when Peggy finally approached him, when the assembly was nearly over, her brow furrowed in concern. "You seem worried."

"I am, a little," he admitted, holding out his arm so Peggy could take it. He looked around the room again. "Nothing. And not just here -- in all the time we have been in Kent, nothing has happened. What if we were wrong about what the anarchist intends? Or what if Niko was wrong about Howard being the target? What if the Alien Office has expended all of its resources on a wild goose chase, and will be entirely unprepared when the anarchist strikes somewhere unexpected?"

Her face clouded and she tightened her grip on his arm. "I confess I have wondered the same. Indeed, if Niko had not heard reports of the anarchist spy from Ivchenko himself, I would have begun to suspect that we were wrong in our interpretation of the original letter that started all this. We have not had even a hint of this mysterious figure's dealings in England."

"So what do we do?"

Peggy sighed. "I will write to my uncle tomorrow, and see if he feels the same. I think we must stay here another week or two at least, and then perhaps rethink our strategy." She hesitated, then smiled. "Perhaps if nothing has happened by the time we must return to London for Kate's wedding, we can make our return permanent."

Kate's wedding. Although Daniel had corresponded often with his sister while he had been in Kent, her approaching wedding had started to feel very far away and unreal, so to hear it spoken of now was strangely jarring. It reminded him that this was not his life, holidaying in the sun-drenched countryside with his future wife at his side. In a matter of a week or two, they would return to London, Kate would marry on the second of July, and all this would be over. If nothing happened to change things, he and Peggy would end their engagement, and he would . . . return to the sea, most likely. He had considered asking Colonel Phillips to take him on at the Alien Office, but in his heart he knew he would find it most difficult to see Peggy at the Office but only as a colleague.

Perhaps it was this melancholy turn of this thoughts that led him, when Howard announced that the next would be the final dance of the night, to turn to Peggy and give her a very formal bow. "My dear," said he, "will you do me the honor of joining me for the final dance?"

She smiled at that. "Have you missed me tonight?"

"Yes," he said honestly, which seemed to surprise her. She led the way to a corner of the room where there were open seats; many of the guests had already left because of the late hour, and they had few people around them as they sat in companionable silence and watched the dancing. Daniel, a little surprised at his own daring, shifted closer to her and released her arm in favor of taking her hand; she responded by leaning her cheek against his waiting shoulder. It was a little bold, but no one saw it, secluded as they were in their corner.

For a long time he was content to say nothing; the late night, and his abbreviated sleep the night before because of his watch shift, had left him very tired indeed, and he thought it quite possible that he would drift off to sleep right here in the assembly rooms. But after a time, he found himself murmuring sleepily, "Did you enjoy your dancing tonight?"

When she answered, she sounded just as sleepy as he. "As well as I ever enjoy dancing," she said. "Although I must say, I was surprised to find that Mr. Jonquil is an uncommonly good dancer, and very pleasant company."

"I am glad to hear it," said Daniel. "He asked Miss Bellefleur to dance not long after you left us, and as I have high hopes that eventually something he does will convince her to rethink her position on him, I'd like to think that perhaps the dance softened her opinion, at least a little."

Peggy became very still, and when after a long quiet moment she spoke, her voice was a little strange. "You are in favour of a match between Miss Bellefleur and Mr. Jonquil?"

Daniel yawned. "I am in favour of Miss Bellefleur finding happiness, and I think Mr. Jonquil a very likely candidate. Certainly if she does not care for him then she ought not to marry him, but I hope she gives his suit more consideration than simply deciding she does not want to wed a clergyman and that Jonquil is too serious for her. In my experience, a great many happy couples only found love because one or both parties were willing to look past their initial misconceptions about the other."

"Oh," said Peggy, and then again:--"Oh." She did not say more for the rest of the dance, but she seemed to move even closer to him and began to rub her thumb over his knuckles, a distracting but very welcome sensation. There was more he would like to say on the subject, but this moment, when they were both nearly falling asleep, was not the moment to have a serious conversation. So he contented himself with sitting in silence until the dance ended, the assembly broke up, and it was time for all to return to their homes.

. . . . . .


Public assemblies: What to do for fun when the Season is over and you're back in Ruralsville? Never fear, public assemblies are here. These evening gatherings, usually held on full moons to make driving easier, would be held in existing rooms in the village (such as at an inn) or in rooms built specifically for this purpose. There would be three areas: one room for dancing, one for cards, and one for food. In larger towns, like Bath, these would be a very slick affair, with a professional master of ceremonies whose job it was to organize the assemblies, control the influx of people, and make introductions; the master of ceremonies in Bath until 1805, James King, is mentioned in Northanger Abbey and is the one who first introduces Catherine and Henry. In smaller towns and villages, the assemblies would be organized by a local muckety muck or a committee of patronesses, and often one of the organizers, or another local resident of distinction, would take on the role of MC. At its heart, the idea was to have a genuinely public assembly; as Howard says here, anyone who could afford to pay their way in, and who could dress nice and behave well, ought to be able to attend. Thus we get the sort of public assemblies seen in Richford, or in P&P, particularly the Keira Knightley adaptation (or indeed in Bath; King's successor, Beau Nash, was pretty lenient about who he let in, although he would visit subscribers at their homes to sort of interview them and make sure they would follow his rules of decorum). Often, though, the MC or patronesses would decide to keep the undesireable (read: tradespeople) out and make all sorts of rules about who could attend. The two towns Howard mentioned are examples of that: in both of those places, tradespeople had to establish their own rooms because the higher class folks wouldn't let them into theirs.

Hannibal: A Carthaginian military commander, considered by some to be the father of military strategy—and he was good enough at it that the Romans, whom he spent most of his career fighting, adopted his strategies into their own military. He lived from 247 to 181 BC, probably, and is most famous these days for leading a invasion of northern Italy over the Pyrenees and Alps using war elephants. (It worked, too; he occupied northern Italy for 15 years. I don't know if he kept the elephants the whole time.)

Chapter 23


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

The party arrived back at Stark Hall after two in the morning, and Daniel was very pleased to know that he did not have watch duty that night. The first watch fell to Howard, who appeared to have no concerns about taking the watch after such a long night at the assembly. "After all that excitement, I am wide awake!" he assured the Alien Office agents, when the others had all gone to bed. "Had some brilliant ideas about my new musket when I was at the assembly, actually."

"Why?" asked Peggy curiously. "Were you considering shooting some of the guests?"

"Only Mr. Elton," came the cheerful response.

Daniel fell gratefully into bed, and it seemed that hardly any time had passed before he was waking the next morning. Had it been any day but Sunday, he would have gone back to sleep, but he did want to attend church services, not least because he imagined the late night would result in a low turnout this morning, and he did not want Mr. Jonquil to feel that he had prepared his sermon in vain.

He went out to breakfast only to learn that half the house was still asleep, and that Peggy, who had taken second watch after Howard and was therefore operating on only two hours of sleep, had decided to stay home from services to nap. So it was a small group that made their way into Richford village, to match the small group who showed up for services. But the sermon was a good one, and Daniel fought valiantly to stay awake, a battle he was pleased to win.

When the services had ended, Dr. Bellefleur asked if Daniel would like to drop by to look at his new Navy list. Daniel was pleased to do so but would have no way to get back to Stark Hall; however, when the others of the group heard of the difficulty, they volunteered to all visit the Bellefleur home, Miss Underwood and her aunt to take a light luncheon with the ladies of that house, and Howard, Daniel, and Dugan to look at the Navy list with Dr. Bellefleur.

This all went very pleasantly until Dr. Bellefleur was called away to see to an ill patient who had taken a bad turn. This left the gentlemen in an awkward position, for they could not leave without Miss Underwood and her aunt, but the ladies, thinking the gentlemen would be much longer in their conversation, had decided to walk together to drop off a basket for a poor labourer's wife who had just had a baby. So the three gentlemen were left to sit alone in the Bellefleur's garden and wait for them to return.

Howard was in very good spirits and remarkably energetic, considering what a tiring evening they'd all had; he was vastly happy to sit in the shade of a tree and talk over the events of the assembly the night before. Daniel and Dugan listened, half-awake in that pleasantly cozy way that only a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon can produce. And perhaps it was that cozy fatigue that loosened Daniel's tongue and caused him to say something he almost immediately regretted.

Howard had been in the process of recounting his conversation with the estimable Lady Weston -- that she and her husband were the only other titled persons in the neighbourhood earned them a great deal of notice from Howard -- and recalling some of that lady's compliments to Miss Underwood, when Daniel quite unexpectedly found himself speaking up, voicing concerns that had been on his mind since they arrived in Kent. "What are you intentions with Miss Underwood?"

His companions both looked at him in surprise, although Dugan was smiling a little, as though he approved of the direction Daniel was taking the conversation.

"Excuse me?" said Howard.

"You heard the man," said Dugan. "What are you intentions with Miss Underwood? Poor girl's so obviously smitten with you."

"Et tu, Dugan?"

Dugan shrugged and grinned. "She must have known what she was getting into before she started carrying on with you -- she'd have to be a fool not to have known -- but even so, I've started to feel a little sorry for the lass. She's so obviously smitten with you."

"And the way you carry on with her," said Daniel. "Even inviting her here. She must be expecting a declaration from you, at this point."

Howard was scowling a little, and Dugan chuckled at that. "Have we made your mustache sad?" he asked.

"You two," Howard grumbled, but he was smiling a little, at which Daniel took heart; he had not alienated his friend.

"If you do not wish to marry her, then do not marry her," said Daniel. "But it would be kind to let her know at some point, for it does seem that she is angling for a proposal, and if that is not your intention, it might be best that she knows that so that she might move on, if she decides that is what is best for her. The longer she spends on this flirtation, if it does not end in marriage, the more she will be exposed to the world's derision for disappointed hopes."

Howard was quiet a moment, his expression inscrutable, before finally conceding, "I will consider what you have said." Then he leaned forward, fixing his gaze on Daniel with a smile on his lips. "But if my romantic escapades are up for discussion, then so are yours, my good sir."

"Romantic escapades?" Daniel laughed. "I haven't any."

The baronet was skeptical. "Really? Because I seem to recall you wandering around the last few months with a very pretty young lady at whom you have a tendency to stare as though she were the crown jewels."

Daniel blinked. "I do not." He looked at Howard, who raised one incredulous eyebrow, and then at Dugan, who gave him a sympathetic look even while he nodded his agreement with Howard. "Do I?"

His companions nodded.

"You know it's not a real engagement," Daniel said.

"Which I have never understood," said Howard. "You're obviously in love with her. Why would you not want to tell her that?"

"I have to agree with Howard, Captain," said Dugan. "I've been watching you two together since the first day we met. You're not a bad actor, but where she's concerned, it's rather obvious how you feel."

Daniel could think of no answer that saved his dignity; he obviously struggled to lie convincingly to them on this subject, but he did not want to be an object of pity either. So instead he said, "My own feelings matter little if Peggy does not return them." He could admit to himself that he spoke these words partly because he hoped they would object and inform him that just as his feelings were easily read, so too were her feelings for him obvious to an outside observer.

To his disappointment, they did not. Instead they glanced at each other thoughtfully. "Peggy is a difficult one to read," admitted Howard. "She does not let her emotions show very frequently; even those closest to her are often not privy to her feelings."

Dugan nodded his agreement. "Even with Steve, she was the same way. The only time I've truly seen her let her emotions show was when we learned he had died."

Daniel shifted uncomfortably, and Howard shot Dugan a reproachful look. "Steven Rogers was, I believe, the first man she cared for," the baronet said. "And she misses him. We all miss him. But he's gone, and I don't believe either he or Peggy would want her to mourn forever."

"And I don't know how if she loves you, Captain, but I do know she's very fond of you," said Dugan. "That's a start, certainly."

Daniel dragged a hand down his face, wondering how far he dared believe them, wondering how his life had become so strange that Sir Howard Stark, perhaps the most notorious man in Britain, was advising him on his romantic endeavours.

"I have considered saying something," he admitted finally. "I have considered it so many times, and am considering it still. But something always seems to get in the way. And besides, to declare my feelings would make things so unbearable, if she did not return the sentiment."

"Daniel," said Howard, so emphatically that Daniel jumped a little in surprise. "My dear boy. Be reasonable, would you? You have told me that you only intend to keep up the ruse until July, at which point you will end the engagement and Peggy, if I know her at all, will bury herself so deeply in her uncle's work that no one will see her for months. Whether or not you say anything about your feelings, there is an excellent chance that you are going to lose her forever, very soon. Would you not rather have the comfort of knowing that at the very least, you tried? Would you not rather not be forced to spend the next fifty years wondering how your life might have gone differently if you'd had the courage to speak up?"

"Take it from someone who knows," said Dugan. "Better a few weeks' pain and embarrassment than a lifetime of longing and regret."

Daniel could hardly respond for a few moments, so astonished was he by this new way of looking at the question. "Why?" he asked when he found this voice. "Why are you so concerned about mine and Peggy's connexion, or lack thereof?"

Howard glanced at Dugan, then back at Daniel. "Because she and Phillips and Barnes and this Irish rover here are the nearest thing I have to family. How far would you go to see your family happy?"

Daniel thought of all the things he had done in the last four months to keep his family safe and happy, and could not but smile a little.

"Precisely," said Howard.

"And you think I could make Peggy happy?"

"I think you already do."

In the silence that followed this statement, the three gentlemen heard voices coming up the front walk. It was the ladies returning from their visit, and Mrs. Bellefleur was deeply apologetic at their having accidentally left the gentlemen alone at the house.

"It is quite all right," Howard assured her, with a sidelong glance at Daniel. "We've been having what I hope will prove to be a very fruitful conversation."

They bid the Bellefleurs goodbye and returned to their carriage to make the trip to Stark Hall. Dugan dozed off in the carriage, and Miss Underwood monopolized Howard's conversation, for which Daniel was quite glad. He had a great deal to think about.

By the time they returned to Stark Hall, it was time to dress for dinner, which they were to take at the Allen home, Whitebridge Lodge, some three miles distant. Daniel dressed himself in his room, his mind still turning Howard's words over and over. The man had made an excellent point; if he spoke to Peggy of his true feelings, he might lose her. But if he said nothing, he would certainly lose her. His hands stilled as they did up the buttons on his waistcoat, and he found himself examining his reflection in the looking glass.

Average height, average build, average appearance, apart from the wooden contraption that had replaced most of his right leg. He had been honest with Miss Martinelli: his ears had always been source of dissatisfaction for him. But that aside, he knew he was not unattractive; he was not handsome enough to turn heads, but he was no Hephaestus.

He felt that way, though, compared to the Adonis that was Captain Steven Rogers. He had never seen Captain Rogers in person, but he had seen his likeness in the newspaper, and if that image had in any way resembled its subject, then the captain had been an exceedingly handsome man. And the captain had been from a prominent family, famously courteous and good-hearted, and truly heroic, proving himself in battle after battle and finally laying down his life for king and country. Daniel, by contrast, was a doctor's son who had been too stubborn to stop fighting after a cannonball carried away his leg. He was a good catch for the average young lady; he knew that. But it was difficult to compete with the memory of Captain Rogers.

His musings were interrupted by the sound of voices in the hall, and he hurriedly finished his dressing and joined the rest of the party. Along with Peggy, who looked far better rested than he felt, he found himself in a carriage with Howard, Miss Underwood, and her aunt. The journey to the Lodge took some forty minutes, which Daniel mostly spent dozing on Peggy's shoulder.

They were not the only guests present; the Samberlys were in attendance as well. The dinner was excellent; the food was superb and the company very good, for Mrs. Allen was a good-natured lady who was eager to see the best in everybody, and her husband very fond of his wife and kind. Rose Samberly, too, had that happy knack for making pleasant conversation with any body on any topic, a skill that came in handy when she had to smooth over something her husband had said.

Mr. Samberly's conversation was not without its merits, however; he was very interested in science, and spoke at length with Howard about William Herschel's work in astronomical spectrophotometry. Peggy, overhearing this, brought up the contributions to astronomy made by Herschel's sister Caroline, and the three had a long, happy conversation about advances in man's understanding of the cosmos.

When the gentlemen had rejoined the ladies in the sitting room after their port, Miss Underwood and Miss Martinelli were both prevailed upon to play songs on the pianoforte, and then the guests fell into conversation in small groups. After an hour spent in this fashion, Daniel found himself in need of a walk to stay awake; he was still suffering the ill effects of their late night the day before. Peggy had been pulled into a conversation with Mrs. Martinelli and Mrs. Allen about the fashions in Paris, so Daniel did not ask her to take a turn with him around the room. Instead he meandered to the side of Miss Martinelli, who still sat at the piano forte, softly playing snippets of songs that floated over the top of the conversations around them.

"You play very well," said he.

"I am sorry to constantly inflict my playing on everyone," she answered. "But I do so like to have music at an evening such as this, and when Miss Underwood does not feel up to it, I find the task falls to me."

"You will never hear me complain," said he. "I dearly love music as well, and am glad you undertake to provide it for us."

His companion began idly leafing through the pages of the folio that sat atop the pianoforte, and Daniel exclaimed as he recognized one of the songs. "The Soldier's Adieu!" cried he. "My mother often requests I sing that for her while my sister plays." He hesitated, a little embarrassed. "I always sing it as 'The Sailor's Adieu' instead; also my mother's doing."

Miss Martinelli looked up at him, surprised, and then, as he ought to have suspected she would do, she smiled mischievously and began to play the introduction.

"My declaration was not a statement of my desire to sing," said he.

"Too late, Captain," she smiled. She finished the introduction and raised her eyebrows at him expectantly, and when he did not start to sing, she simply started the introduction over again. "I will play this until you sing," she informed him.

Knowing the young lady, he had no doubt she would do exactly that. So, embarrassed, he joined in quietly when the music came around again.

"Adieu, adieu, my only life, my honour calls me from thee."

The other occupants looked up from their discussions and smiled appreciatively -- although Lieutenant Thompson and Mr. Samberly both ignored him, which he appreciated -- then went back to their conversations. Peggy, however, did not turn back to her group; she watched him unflinchingly, causing his whole face to grow warm with embarrassment.

"Remember thou'rt a sailor's wife,-- those tears but ill become thee."

On he went, alternately watching the printed music and sneaking glances at Peggy. Somewhere around the second verse, she stood from her seat and moved to the chair closest to the piano, still watching him earnestly, and he could not decide whether he were more embarrassed or pleased; to sing the words of a sailor to his steadfast and beloved wife, while Peggy watched him so closely, felt strangely intimate.

"I go assur'd, my life, adieu!
Though thundering cannons rattle, though murmuring carnage stalk in view,
When on the wings of thy true love, to heaven above thy fervent orisons are flown;
The tender prayer thou put'st up there
Shall call a guardian angel down, to watch me in the battle."

With that, the song blessedly finally ended, and the others applauded politely; Daniel was only too glad to step away from the pianoforte and away from the attention of the room. He hesitated, then took the seat next to Peggy; she took his hand in hers as Miss Martinelli winked at them both and left, clearly to give them a bit of privacy.

"That was beautifully performed," said she. "I had no idea of you singing so well; I heard you duet with Angie a few weeks ago, of course, but that was not so challenging a song as this one."

"My mother requests it often," he confessed. "So I know it well."

"And I enjoyed the change of lyrics."

"Mama's doing as well."

"Fitting, as you are a sailor."

"It does not fit you very well, though," he said without thinking, then mentally castigated himself when he saw the look of surprise on her face. The last thing he wanted to do was to give her cause to believe he did not think of her in terms of wives and marriage. "Because the song is about the wife waiting at home," he hastened to add. "You would be more inclined to be out on the battlefield yourself, I imagine."

She smiled, but it was small and a little sad, and her gaze fell down to their joined hands. "Except for when it mattered," said she.


Again that sad smile. "I was prepared to join the fighting at Waterloo, as I had done on occasion in other battles -- in disguise, you understand -- but my uncle forbade it; he knew how fierce a battle this would be, and felt unusually uneasy about my safety. So I . . ."

She trailed off, but Daniel found himself finishing, "So you were not with Captain Rogers when he died." He worried that she would resent this intrusion into her grief, but this was very unusual; she had not spoken to him of Waterloo often, and she almost never spoke of Captain Rogers. And as he thought it would distress her, he usually dared not address it.

As she spoke, however, she seemed calm. "Barnes said he took a bullet to the head, and went immediately. So my being there would have done little to ease his passing. But sometimes I wonder if somehow I could have prevented it, if my being there would have changed the outcome."

Again she cast her gaze down, and Daniel hesitated, then covered their joined hands with his free one. "My father always says that to wonder what might have been is a sure path to misery," said he. "You did not know that battle would have the terrible consequences that it did. I am certain you, and your uncle, and all the soldiers with Captain Rogers, did what you thought best, and you acted on the information you had at the time. You cannot punish yourself for not acting then on the knowledge you have now."

She looked up at him, her eyebrows raised in surprise, then leaned her cheek against his shoulder. "Thank you."

He hesitated, then covered their joined hands with his free one. "I am sorry for your loss," he said quietly. "I do not know that I have ever told you that."

"Thank you," she repeated.

"And I am sorry it still causes you grief."

"I mourned deeply for many months," admitted his companion. "Even now, sometimes the mention of it catches me off my guard, and I struggle to regain my composure. But beyond that, I am past it, I assure you."

"Oh?" he said in surprise, and something in his voice must have caught her attention, because she lifted her head to look him in the eyes.

"Yes, truly," said she, and indeed her expression and voice seemed certain and calm. "As Steve used to say, 'The dead gave their all so that the rest of us might live.' He would not like me to mourn forever, and I would not like to mourn forever either. I survived, and I intend to do something more with my life than live always in the past."

Daniel, surprised, little knew how to respond. "I suppose I thought you were still in mourning, although of course I've never seen you dressed in black. He --" He hesitated, and then pressed on. She seemed willing to discuss the subject, which did not often happen. "He was the love of your life, was he not?"

It was her turn to be surprised. "I loved him," she admitted after a moment. "He was good and kind and handsome, and if he had survived, perhaps we would have wed. But we never knew each other outside the context of war, never spent any time together like . . . like this." And she lifted their joined hands in illustration. "I do not know how things would have gone if we had returned to England and courted after the war. I assume it would have gone well, but who can truly say?"

"I thought -- the way the others talk about the two of you --"

"You mean the other agents?" She gave him a rueful smile. "They do have a tendency to define me by that relationship, but I have a life outside of that." She glanced down, and then back up at him, and Daniel marveled at her willingness to trust him with such personal, delicate feelings. "I miss him and I mourn him, in a different way to how I miss and mourn my other fallen fellow-soldiers. But he is a part of my past, and I decided, many months ago, that it was time to move into the future."

Daniel scarcely dared move, or even breathe. Part of him wished to declare then and there that he wished to be part of that future, if she would have him. But a larger part did not want such a declaration to be tinged with sadness and memories of Captain Rogers, and so he said nothing; he simply dared, after glancing around to see that no one was watching them, to free his hand from hers and place an arm around her shoulders, in what was as near as he had ever been allowed to embracing her. She smiled and laid her head against his shoulder again, and he, fearing that someone would look up and see the very intimate touch, returned his arm to where it had been, between them.

In time, Mr. Allen organized games of cards. Daniel and Peggy played a few rounds, but it soon became clear that Peggy, despite her nap, was still exhausted; she nearly dozed off twice. Mrs. Martinelli, watching with concerned eyes, declared that perhaps it was time to leave; it had grown late, and they still had a forty-minute drive ahead of them. The reactions from the other guests were mixed; most of the party was happy with this idea, being quite tired out from the entertainment the previous night, but Howard and Miss Underwood were in the middle of a hard-fought round of whist with the Allens, and not ready to leave just yet.

"Perhaps we could send one of the carriages now," Daniel suggested, "and the other when this game is done."

This idea was met with general approbation, and the partygoers began determining who would go in which carriage. Somehow it was decided that Daniel would join Howard, Miss Underwood and Aunt Elizabeth in the later carriage, and the others would take the earlier; it was not what he would have chosen, given the choice, but only six could fit in the coach.

"No," Peggy objected, "you must be as tired as any of us."

"Not at all," said he, more out of politeness than honesty. "I am quite all right. You go ahead and we'll be along soon enough."

So, making their goodbyes, the first carriage left, and Daniel was left with the Allens, the Samberlys, and the other members of the Stark Hall party. The whist players returned to their game, and Daniel and the Samberlys had a very pleasant conversation about London, where Mr. Samberly had lived before inheriting Eshercambe Abbey.

Aunt Elizabeth sat, as usual, a little apart from the rest, staring straight forward. Daniel could not help watching her, for there was something a little different about her. She seemed tired, occasionally yawning or wiping her eyes, and the fatigue seemed to have made her irritable. Perhaps that was too strong a conclusion to draw from a woman who so frequently showed no emotions whatsoever, but Daniel, watching the way her eyes occasionally flicked to where the whist players sat, could not but think that “irritable” seemed the perfect way to describe the tense way she sat and moved.

Daniel himself was far more tired than he let on, and it seemed like an eternity had passed before the whist game was finally over and the second carriage could leave, though in truth they had bid their hosts goodbye and were on the road only half an hour after the first carriage. It was quite late at that point, but the moonlight was bright and the coach made good time as it sped toward Stark Hall.

Daniel was in and out of sleep, so he was not entirely sure how much time had passed, but he estimated it had been twenty minutes since they left Whitebridge Lodge when a most unexpected accident occurred. The carriage was humming along smoothly when suddenly there was a jolt, as though they had hit a rock, and suddenly they were being jostled about violently and the carriage was slowing to a stop. Now wide awake, Daniel joined Howard in climbing out of the coach to see what the trouble was.

The trouble, it quickly became clear, was a badly damaged wheel that now sat at a very different angle to the other three wheels. Jackson, the driver, apologized profusely. "I don't know how it happened, sir," said he. "There was a shadowy patch on the road, and I suppose I got too close to the edge and hit that rock."

"Is it reparable?" Daniel asked.

"Afraid not, sir," said Jackson.

"We'll have to send someone on to the house," said Howard, looking irritable in the moonlight. "We're as close to Stark Hall as to any other houses at the moment. We can unhitch the horses, I suppose, and ride bareback."

"I'll go, sir," Jackson said.

Howard nodded. "I suppose we ought to send someone with you, just in case one rider gets hurt or lost in the dark." He glanced at Daniel. "I can ride harder than you can, given you're relatively new at this." He sighed. "Would you mind terribly being left here to guard the ladies? We shouldn't be gone more than a half-hour. And you can wait in the coach."

"Of course I don't mind," said Daniel, although he rather did. If he'd been allowed to go in the first group, he wouldn't be stuck in the dark for another half-hour, waiting for rescue. But there was nothing to do for it but tolerate it.

Howard went to inform the ladies of the plan, while Jackson unhitched the horses. Miss Underwood looked wide-eyed and pale in the moonlight, clearly nervous about being left in the dark. "Can we not come with you?" she asked. "What if we walked?"

Howard shook his head. "You could walk if you like, but you wouldn't make it to the house before we came back for you. You might as well stay here and save your fine slippers."

He bid the group goodbye and swung up onto the horse Jackson had led over to him. With a final wave, they were gone, and Daniel was left alone with Miss Underwood and her aunt. "You ladies can stay here in the coach, if you like," said he. "I'll keep watch out here."

In truth he was not very concerned about keeping watch; the roads were quite safe in the area, or so Howard had reassured them many times. But he little wanted to be trapped in a dark coach with Miss Underwood and Aunt Elizabeth, neither of whom he found to be desirable conversation partners, although for very different reasons. So he stood outside the carriage and waited while the ladies huddled inside.

But when ten minutes had passed, there was movement from inside the coach, and soon the ladies were standing on the road beside him. Aunt Elizabeth seemed even more tired and irritable than before, but her niece was smiling. "I grew tired of being the coach," Miss Underwood confessed. "At least out here we can see the stars."

He nodded in concession to her excellent point, and to his surprise and pleasure, she said nothing else for a time, clearly content to wait in silence like him. The night was warm, the breeze gentle, the stars bright. The road from Whitebridge Lodge to Stark Hall ran for much of its length alongside a ravine with a brook nestled in it; Daniel could hear the water burbling over the rocks some thirty feet below them, and the sound soothed him. Indeed, the sound of water, paired with the warm breeze against his skin, reminded him of being aboard a ship, which he found very pleasant indeed.

Miss Underwood seemed equally at ease, but the same could not be said for her aunt. She seemed quite on edge; at first Daniel thought it was simply the irritation that had clung to her all evening, but the more he watched her the more he thought she seemed a little jumpy, as though nervous. He could hardly blame her; ladies did not usually walk through the countryside at this time of night; it was not done, and often not safe, and he would not be at all surprised to learn she had never found herself in a comparable situation before. He could only imagine how much more on edge she would be were she able to hear the occasional rustling in the underbrush that indicated the passage of some small animal but that, to the untrained ear, could sound like something much more sinister.

They stood thus for another fifteen minutes or so; Daniel expected Howard's return at some point in the next five minutes. And then a number of very unexpected things occurred in rapid succession.

Directly behind Aunt Elizabeth, whose back was to the verge, there was a rustling in the underbrush, louder than any yet and growing louder, clearly indicating that the animal making it was moving toward them at a rapid pace. Aunt Elizabeth turned quickly toward the sound, leaving Daniel baffled; had that good lady just reacted to something she ought not be able to hear?

Before he could think too much about it, the source of the sound appeared: a large red fox, clearly out on its nightly hunt, shot out of the brush like a cannonball and toward Aunt Elizabeth's legs, catching itself just in time to not run into her. The lady screamed -- the first time Daniel had ever heard her make a sound -- and then very distinctly let out a string of harsh-edged words that Daniel was quite familiar with it after his travels around the world in the Royal Navy.

They were not at all polite, and they were most certainly in Russian.

Wide-eyed, he stared at Aunt Elizabeth, who seemed equally shocked at what had just poured so involuntarily from her mouth. Only Miss Underwood did not look shocked; she simply gave Daniel that wide-eyed, vapid smile that seemed to be her default. “Oh, Captain,” she said in that childish voice they'd all grown so accustomed to over the past weeks, “you weren't supposed to hear that.” And then she pulled back her arm and punched him, hard, across the face.

Daniel went down on his back; his leg and cane made it difficult for him to keep his balance at times, and a blow like that would have had any man reeling. He managed to keep hold of his cane, though, and forced himself into a sitting position, staring in horror at Miss Underwood, who was shouting something in Russian at her aunt. When she saw him sitting up, she pouted at him. “Oh, come now,” said she, as though he hadn't let her win at a game, “stay down. Don't make this harder than it has to be.”

And finally into his addled brain came the realization he should have come to the moment Aunt Elizabeth spoke Russian: Dorothea Underwood and Aunt Elizabeth were Russian anarchists. Dorothea Underwood, of all people, was the anarchist they had been searching for since February. What was most shocking of all was that it made a mad sort of sense; hadn't they suspected the anarchist would follow them to Kent? They just hadn't realized that she would be an invited houseguest.

He scrambled to his feet just in time to see Miss Underwood executing a graceful spinning kick that he only just managed to step out of the way of. She used the momentum of that kick to surge forward, another blow richocheting off his jaw, although this time he managed to keep his feet. His years of hand-to-hand training in the Navy finally came back to him, along with his weeks of training with Gentleman Jackson, and he managed to block the next few blows.

Two instincts competed for dominance in his head: self-preservation and the idea that a gentleman ought not to strike a lady. However, when one of her kicks caught him in the stomach, expelling the air from his lungs, he decided that Miss Underwood was no lady. He went on the offensive after that, and acquitted himself admirably for a few moments; she blocked his blows, but she was losing ground, forced to back up to defend herself. He was almost glad of it; he wanted to stop her, of course, but the thought of his fist actually striking a woman's face was quite distasteful to him, and he hoped that there was another way to gain the upper hand.

His personal code of ethics, however, quickly became a moot point as it became clear that she was a more skilled fighter than he. He was a passable boxer, though limited in his movements by his leg; he had to choose between using one arm, or using both arms but dropping his cane and therefore standing still. On the other hand, she fought like a dancer, executing graceful and deadly moves of which no Englishman could ever have conceived. Had he not been fighting for his life on what was undoubtedly the most surreal night of his life, he would have enjoyed watching her fight.

All the while the lady kept up a string of taunts and commentary, all delivered in that sickly sweet voice that he now recognized as entirely fake. Why could he have not recognized her deception sooner, at some point when he was not trapped alone in the dark, miles from help with a superior combatant clearly intent on kicking in his skull?

“I hope you don't think any less of me after this, Captain,” she said as she swung again at his head. “I know it is not very ladylike, but I find exertions like this serve wonderfully to help a girl keep her figure.”

“Who are you?” he demanded between gasping breaths.

“Why, I'm Dorothea Underwood!” she declared. “Or so you told Howard Stark. How very embarrassing for you when he's ruined and it's all because you introduced him to someone you oughn't have.”

Any hope Daniel had of overpowering his opponent vanished when she stepped forward, hooked her foot under the cane he had dropped on the ground, and it flying toward Aunt Elizabeth; that lady caught it very neatly, broke it in half over her knee, and sent it flying into the trees, where he heard it tumbling down the side of the ravine before landing with a splash in the brook. He was now unable to move more than a few halting steps.

“Hardly fair,” he said, trying to stay calm as he wiped away the blood trickling down into his eye. “Two against one. That's not according to Broughton's rules.” All the while he was thinking quickly, however; they were only steps from the edge of the ravine. If he might somehow distract her and send her tumbling over the edge . . .

“Come now,” she said. “A big strong sailor like you, unable to defend himself against two ladies? What would your dear Miss Carter say about that? She would not be very impressed with you.” She raised her fists and smiled at him. “I'll make you an offer: give up now and I'll make it quick and painless.”

Daniel, however, had a final trick up his sleeve, something that Gentleman Jackson had suggested to him as a final resort. He could not keep his balance much longer, so he lunged at her. The movement meant he would fall to the ground, but the force of the lunge, and the unexpected nature of it, were enough to get past Miss Underwood's defenses. He caught her square in the jaw and she fell like a tree. It was not over the edge of the ravine, as he had hoped, but knocking her on her back gave him time to use a nearby tree to get to his feet once again.

She was not down long, however, and when she faced him again, all pretense of the country miss was gone. Her expression was deadly, her eyes snapping fire. “Oh Captain,” she said in a low voice, “you shall regret that. And you shall die for nothing. For die you shall, and all you've managed to do is move our plans forward a little.” And then that sweet smile was back. “I'll tell dear Peggy goodbye for you.”

And while Daniel stood warily, waiting for her attack, a pair of strong arms clamped around him from behind, and a rag smelling of something sickly sweet covered his mouth. The smallest of inhalations caused his head to spin, and he forced himself to hold his breath. Aunt Elizabeth, for Aunt Elizabeth his attacker must be, must have been carrying some noxious chemical in her reticule.

He struggled against her vice-like grip, but the lady was surprisingly strong, and the absurd thought ran through his mind that he didn't mind dying but he couldn't bear dying at the hands of someone's maiden aunt. Almost immediately he realized the stupidity of such a thought; if these two were Russian anarchists who had been living in England in disguise, then it was likely that they were not truly niece and aunt, but trained operatives. There was less shame in dying at the hands of such a person, he supposed.

No matter who she was, she would not release him. He was nearly at the point of being forced to breathe in when his salvation came, in the form of the sound of hooves on the road. Howard was returning, finally. Aunt Elizabeth had heard it too, for her arms slackened in surprise, and Daniel took advantage of her moment of weakness to wriggle one of his arms free enough to bring his elbow up hard against the side of her head.

She stumbled back and released her grip on him, the cloth falling uselessly to the ground, but the damage was done; clearly he had breathed in enough of the chemical fumes because the world was spinning around him and he was finding it difficult to stay on his feet.

Miss Underwood turned to look at him, her eyes sharp, and unthinkingly he took a step back with his good leg. In his disorientation, however, he had lost track of where he was, and that one step was over the edge of the ravine. For a moment he teetered on the precipice, his arms wheeling madly in the air, and then he fell, tumbling and rolling he hardly knew how far down the side of the ravine until he hit something firm and stopped.

He lay gasping on the ground, looking up at the night sky and trying to get his breath back. Up above him and out of sight, he could hear a man's voice; it was Howard, and Miss Underwood was saying something back. Daniel's addled mental powers, diminished as they were by both the chemical he had inhaled and the beating he had taken, made all around him strange and unclear; it required a Herculean effort to understand the words. But he managed to make out enough: Miss Underwood was telling Howard that Dr. Bellefleur had happened along, being on his way to respond to a medical emergency, and as Captain Sousa had experience and knowledge in that area, he had gone along with him, and was not to expected home until the morning.

He tried next to call out to Howard, to tell him where he was or at least warn him away from Miss Underwood, but no sound would come out of his mouth; that fall had stolen his breath, and he could not get it back. He lay there uselessly a few more moments until he heard the sound of the coach creaking as passengers climbed into it, the door closing, the reins cracking, and the horses obediently clopping into motion.

The coach was leaving. He was alive, and his attacker was gone. But he was abandoned and injured, miles from help, and everyone back at Stark Hall was at the mercy of the anarchist, with no idea that she had been among them all along. He must do something. But he could not move.

He knew not how long he lay there, panting and disoriented, but in time he finally forced his way past the haze in his mind and attempted to take stock of his situation. He did not think any of his bones were broken, but that was more than he could say for his false leg; he had hit it against something during his fall, and feeling along its length confirmed what he had suspected: that it had splintered and bent and now had a new joint between the ankle and the knee. Between that and the loss of his cane, he would be unable to walk very far or very quickly.

Miss Underwood, or whatever her name really was, had meant to kill Daniel to keep him from telling her secret. The sensible thing to do, in her case, would be to return to Stark Hall, wait until the house was asleep, and then sneak back here and finish her task. What he ought to do, then, was make sure he was not waiting there when she returned.

He sat up with a groan and looked around himself, blessing the nearly-full moon for being so bright. He was nearly at the bottom of the ravine; he would struggle to climb the sides, and besides perhaps more dangers awaited him in that direction. However, he could follow the stream downstream to Stark Hall, or upstream to Whitebridge Lodge. On the whole he favored Whitebridge Lodge; he would of course prefer to get to Stark Hall sooner, but that was the direction he assumed Miss Underwood would assume he'd taken, and she might waste a great deal of time trying to track him from where he'd fallen back to the Hall. And the Allens would lend him a carriage to get to Stark Hall, he had no doubt.

His mind made up, he carefully made his way to the stream; walking in the ankle-deep water would hide his tracks and make it impossible to know which direction he had gone. A fallen branch he found would do for a cane. So, branch in hand, and gritting his teeth against the pain, he began to walk upstream.

His exertions were painful and yielded little fruit; he could walk but little and very awkwardly with his damaged false leg, for he could put little weight on it. And the fall and damage had twisted it so that it put a great deal of pressure on the straps that held the leg to what remained of his own; it was growing increasingly painful to keep the offending leg on.

He struggled along for an hour, until his clothing was soaked with sweat and his face was hot with exertion, and supposed he had perhaps gone three-quarters of a mile. Eventually, exhausted, he admitted he would have to give up his goal of reaching Whitebridge Lodge in one push; he could walk no further, with his bruised body and damaged leg and the wooziness that still lingered in his head from the chemical attack. Beyond all that, he was exhausted; he had been operating on insufficient sleep for two weeks now, and his fight and the current draining march had tired him even further.

Finally, when he had twice tipped over in his exhaustion and had to pull himself out of the water, he began looking around for a place to sleep for a time, and quickly found one: a fallen log with a hollow large enough to hide a man, with the hole facing upstream, the opposite direction to the one Miss Underwood might approach from. He made his way there and laid his trusty branch carefully in the underbrush. The stump of his leg remained very painful from the pull of the mangled wooden limb, and after a moment's thought, he removed his boots and trousers, unbuckled the broken leg, and redressed himself.

Then, exhausted and aching, but with his newly emancipated leg remnant tingling with the relief of being free of the false leg, he tucked himself into the hollow of the log and out of sight, and was immediately asleep.

. . . . . .


So that happened! In case you were curious, I'm picturing Dottie as good in a fight but not as good as her 1940s counterpart, who had been doing nothing but training since she was a small child; our Dottie has only been in this business as long as Ivchenko has, aka a few years, and so has only been training that long. That's why Daniel could keep up with her as long as he did.

Likeness in a newspaper: Newspapers of this period did indeed include illustrations on occasion, especially in the case of major events, but it was not particularly common, due to the difficulty of reproducing images and the taxes placed on illustrated newspapers. Illustrations in newspapers would not become commonplace until technological advances made it easier in the 1840s; before that you could find illustrations in broadsides and ladies' magazines.

William and Caroline Herschel: William was a British astronomer, born in Germany, who constructed telescopes and made many important astronomical discoveries; his 1781 discovery of Uranus, the first planet found in modern times, earned him the position of Court Astronomer under George III. A large number of places and objects, both on earth and in the sky, are named after him, including the Herschel Space Observatory, the largest space telescope of its kind. He died in 1822.

His sister Caroline was his assistant for many years; at first she only took notes, made copies of texts, and polished mirrors for him, but in time, he gave her a telescope of her own and she began making her own discoveries of comets; she also worked on several important catalogs of stars. After her brother was made Court Astronomer, she was paid £50 per year to act as his assistant, making her the first woman in England to be given a paid government position and the first to be paid for her contributions to science. She was named an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society and received their Gold Medal in 1828.

The Soldier's Adieu: A popular song of the time, written by Charles Dibdin. The detail about changing it to being about a sailor actually comes from our Miss Austen: a handwritten copy of the song appears in one of Jane Austen's many personal collections of sheet music (she was very fond of music, clearly); in it, she has crossed out the original line "Remember thou'rt a soldier's wife" and changed it to "a sailor's wife." I don't know if there was a particular reason for this, or if she just really liked sailors, although if you read Persuasion it's clear she definitely does really like sailors. Either way, it just seemed to fit Captain Sousa perfectly.

A rag smelling of something sickly sweet: I am imagining here that the rag was soaked in diethyl ether, which can be used to knock people out. Daniel would not have recognized the smell, however, for although the effects of ether had been known for centuries at this point, it would not occur to anyone to use it as an anesthetic until the 1840s (I am here simply supposing that Ivchenko, being very clever and a scientist himself, would have seen the combat uses for such a compound and sent some with his operatives). When poor Daniel had his leg amputated, the ship's doctor would have just gotten him very, very drunk and hoped that was enough to keep him from noticing his leg was being sawed off. One of many reasons that Daniel dislikes getting drunk now, and one of many reasons that I am so glad I live in modern times.

Chapter 24


Remember when I said this story would be about 25 chapters long? HA not even close. We're looking at a good 30 at this point.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

Daniel awoke the next morning, disoriented and sore, to sunlight on his face and birdsong surprisingly close by. He opened his eyes to find himself, against all reason, sleeping in a hollow log on a hillside near a stream. He blinked a few times, entirely baffled, and then the madness of the previous evening came rushing back to him. Miss Underwood and Aunt Elizabeth were the anarchists!

Even as he cautiously looked around to see that he was alone and then pulled himself out of his hiding place, he corrected himself. Aunt Elizabeth was Russian, clearly; perhaps that was why she had pretended to be deaf and unable to speak, to hide her accent. But although that lady must be in on the plot, he felt quite certain that Miss Underwood was the true mastermind -- that she was the anarchist to whom the original letter was addressed. Her behavior last night made him feel quite sure of it. Was she an Englishwoman who had been turned, or a Russian with a great skill for languages and accents? He tended to assume she too was Russian, for he remembered now that the Alien Office had been able to find no information about her all those weeks ago when they were investigating the Almack's guest lists.

Either he'd been wrong about her intent to return and kill him, or he'd been successful in his attempts to throw her off his scent; he was still alive, and immensely grateful to be so. He knew he must get to Stark Hall as soon as possible, and pray that nothing terrible had happened now that Miss Underwood's secret had been discovered. He did not expect to find the Russians there any longer; he hoped that he also did not find any scenes of violence that she had left upon her exit from the house. He decided that he must abandon the plan to walk upstream to Whitebridge Lodge; now that daylight was here, he thought he should take his chances on the road, and hope that someone happening by could drive him to Stark Hall.

His broken false leg still lay in the bushes where he had hidden it; he debated putting it back on, but ultimately decided against it; in its present state, it would aid his movement but very little, and the part of his leg where it attached was still quite tender and painful from last night. Far better to leave it off and allow the remnants of his leg to rest and heal. So he left the prosthetic where it was, still hidden in the greenery.

He found the stick that had acted as his crutch all last night and, leaning on it heavily where necessary, made his slow way hopping across the stream. Climbing up the side of the ravine was almost easier, in a way, for he gave up all pretenses of walking and simply crawled up the incline on his hands and knees.

Eventually he reached the top of the incline, and he lay there a moment, his eyes just peeking over the top, his body still hidden, ensuring that no one saw him; he had a sudden terrible mental image of finding Miss Underwood waiting for him, having led him to think he'd escaped her as a sort of cruel final jest. But the road was empty, and he allowed himself to collapse in relief for a long few moments.

Suddenly the silence was shattered by the sound of an approaching cart; it was a small vehicle, clearly, for he could hear only one horse. Daniel ducked back down in the brush, waiting to see the driver of the cart, and then a moment later he was crying out in relief, having seen a very familiar head of red hair.

“Miss Kirshenbaum!” he shouted. “Miss Kirshenbaum! Ana!”

The dressmaker brought the gig to a halt, looking around in surprise; when her gaze fell on Daniel, only his head visible over the edge of the ravine, she looked quite alarmed and flew from the cart to his side.

“Captain Sousa!” she exclaimed. “Are you all right? Have you been beset by ruffians?”

“Miss Kirshenbaum,” he said, nearly gasping with relief, “I need your help. Will you take me to Stark Hall without delay? It is a matter of the utmost urgency.”

“Of course,” said that good lady promptly. “Can you walk?”

He shook his head, and she without flinching took his arm to help him up over the edge of the ravine and to a standing position. “Come,” she said, draping one of his arms over her shoulders, “I will be your crutch.”

“Your dress,” he protested feebly, for his clothing was muddy and damp.

“Things can be replaced,” she said firmly. “People cannot.”

With her determined help, Daniel was able to climb up into the gig and collapse gratefully on the seat. Miss Kirshenbaum took the spot beside him. “Are you going to tell me what happened?” she demanded. “Are we in danger here in Richford?”

He shook his head. “Give me a moment to collect myself,” he requested, “but for now, know that you are quite safe.”

She hesitated, then nodded and cracked the reins over the horse's back. Off they went at a brisk pace; Daniel was amused, even through his pain and growing panic, to see that she was the same sort of bold horsewoman as Peggy.

Peggy. What if something had happened to her?

To distract himself from that kind of thought, he asked Miss Kirshenbaum where she had intended to go when she left home so early that morning.

“Chatham,” was her answer. “I have business with some of my suppliers at the port there, and if I am going to make that long drive, I always plan other errands and visits with friends. So I like to get a very early start.”

“What time is it?”

“Seven-thirty, I would imagine,” said she. “It was just after seven when I set out.”

“I hope very much that you will still be able to make Chatham in time to conduct your business once you have taken me to Stark Hall,” said he, fighting the urge to lean back and fall asleep; he knew he must stay alert in case they stumbled across the Russians on the road. “It is not very much out of the way, is it?”

“Not very much,” she agreed. “And certainly it is a detour I am willing to make when the guest of one of my friends comes crawling out the bushes, looking like he has lost a fight with a rockslide and as punishment been forced to sleep in a lake.” She hesitated. “Captain, are you going to tell me what happened? Is there a highwayman loose on the roads? Ought I not make my trip to Chatham? Need I warn my family and friends?”

Daniel shook his head, quickly determining what to tell the young lady. She deserved an explanation, and he didn't want her speculating and sharing those speculations with friends, with the result of throwing the whole village into a riotous panic. “You are entirely safe,” he assured her again. “My altercation was with someone who intended harm to Sir Howard -- someone who objected to his work for the Army. No one else was ever a target, and now that this person's true identity and motives have been revealed, I hope very much that she will have left the neighbourhood.” He hesitated. “Now that I think of it, perhaps it would be best if you put off your going to Chatham if possible, just in case this person is still on the roads.”

Miss Kirshenbaum's eyebrows raised at the use of the pronoun “she,” but she said nothing else until they were pulling up in front of Stark Hall. He meant to send her on her way, but before he could, she alighted from the carriage and moved around to help him down. He allowed it; no footman had yet appeared for him to lean on instead, as undoubtedly they were not prepared to receive guests so early in the morning.

“How do you feel, Captain?” Miss Kirshenbaum said as they moved slowly toward the front steps. “Lean more on me, if you need.”

Finally the door flew open and three footmen appeared, looking quite shocked. As they moved to his side, Daniel demanded, sotto voce, "Is everything here all right?"

The footmen looked surprised but answered in the affirmative.

He pointed to one of them. "Then get me Jarvis, then Miss Carter, then Sir Howard, then Barnes. Wake them if you must. Send them to the front hall.” Dugan he did not send for, as the man had second watch, and would still be hidden away in the vault room, provided he were not already dead. He winced and forced the thought from his mind.

The footman looked surprised at these instructions, but was clearly not willing to argue with a man who, if Miss Kirshenbaum's reaction was any indicator, looked rather battered. He ran off to his duties while the other two footmen, clearly seeing the situation with his leg required desperate measures, grasped their own and each other's wrists in order to form a square platform on which he could sit and be carried.

This took long enough, and the other footman was quick enough, that by the time they had reached the front hall, Miss Kirshenbaum trailing behind them, Jarvis was just walking in, looking impeccably dressed despite the early hour. “Miss Kirshenbaum!” he exclaimed, pleased, but then he spoke again, sounding more shocked. “Captain! What on earth has happened?”

“What we have feared,” Daniel said grimly. "It was Miss Underwood." Jarvis' eyes widened, but before he could say more, Daniel pressed on. “Everyone has been sent for; I have no doubt we will need you soon enough. But in the meantime, poor Miss Kirshenbaum here has had a terrible fright and quite the exertion, and I'm afraid I have ruined her lovely dress. Might you set her up with a cup of tea and a sponge for her clothes?”

One of the footmen who had carried him in had disappeared momentarily, only to return with a walking stick that he had very thoughtfully fetched. Daniel thanked him profusely and asked him and his companion, "Could you see to the lady's carriage?” They nodded and left.

Jarvis looked at the young lady and spoke, shy but willing, one arm gesturing toward the sitting room. “Miss Kirshenbaum?”

She was not to be so easily put off, however. “Are you sure you do not need any more help, Captain?”

“You have already done a great deal,” he assured her, as he most gratefully leant some of his weight onto the walking stick he had been given. “You may have saved my life. Now I just want to ensure that you are cared for and safe.”

She nodded uncertainly and allowed Jarvis to lead her from the room, just as Peggy, hastily dressed and with her hair down, appeared at the top of the stairs. “Daniel,” she breathed out on a whisper when her eyes fell on him, and ran down the stairs toward him. Perhaps he looked even worse than he had realized. Behind her, Howard appeared, his disheveled hair and banyan indicating that he had just awoken.

“Darling, you're hurt,” Peggy said as she reached him, her hands ghosting over the bruises visible on his face and the cut over his eye. “And your leg! What in the world has happened? What did you get into?”

Even her gentle ministrations were unable to distract him from the task at hand. Howard reached them then, and Daniel glanced around to ensure they would not be overheard. “The anarchist,” he said quietly. “It's Dorothea Underwood.”

His companions' reactions were precisely what he would have expected them to be. Peggy's eyes grew quite round in surprise, but it didn't not seem to occur to her to doubt him. “Dorothea Underwood?” she repeated, and then her eyes narrowed, and he could almost see her sifting through the evidence in favor of and against that conclusion.

Howard, by contrast, was both skeptical and amused. “Did you spend the night drinking?” he asked. “Dottie? Are you serious? She has a great deal of spirit, to be sure, but she's not exactly what you'd call clever. And she certainly isn't Russian.”

“Last night, in the woods,” Daniel replied, “her aunt, or whoever she is, was startled by a fox and swore in Russian. When your Dottie realized I'd overheard, she tried to kill me, and very nearly succeeded. I'm only alive because of a rather providential fall down a ravine, and your arrival at just the right moment.”

Howard stared, the color in face seeming to disappear as they watched. “Dottie?” he repeated.

“Where is she now?” Daniel demanded.

Peggy and Howard looked at each other. “You check her room,” Peggy commanded. “If she's not there, figure out where she went. Daniel and I will check the vault; come find us when you know something. And see if you can't find Barnes.”

Howard obediently raced up the stairs, and Peggy picked up Daniel's free arm to drape it over her shoulders and begin the walk to the study. It was extremely awkward for him, but between the walking stick on one side and Peggy's support on the other, he managed.

Her lips were pressed into a thin white line; she was angry, but not, it seemed, at him or the Russians. “I am so sorry, Daniel,” she said after a moment. “When they arrived back here last night and Miss Underwood gave that story about you running off to help Dr. Bellefleur, I thought it so odd that you would leave two ladies alone in the dark, not to mention abandoning your watch shift last night. If I had just questioned it aloud, and pressed Miss Underwood for details . . . You were out there all night?”

“I slept in a log,” he confirmed as they reached the study. “But if anyone deserves blame for this, it is I. I introduced her to all of you in the first place, and when the Alien Office flagged her as an unknown, I didn't even investigate her. I was so certain I knew what she was.”

“I am equally guilty of dismissing suspicion about her,” Peggy reminded him firmly.

"Who took my shift, as I was gone?"

"I did. I still felt guilty that you had to stay at the Allens' so late, so I volunteered."

They had reached the secret staircase then; it was too narrow to permit two abreast, so Daniel waved Peggy on and made his way down himself, by sitting on the stairs and sliding down one at a time -- not dignified, but this was not the moment to worry about dignity. When he reached the bottom, it was to find Peggy kneeling over a still and silent Dugan with a great red mark on his cheek; the door to the vault stood open. A candle burned on the table, melted nearly down to the holder.

"He breathes," said Peggy in tones of ultimate relief, as Daniel hopped uncomfortably down the last few steps. She handed the candle to him as he moved awkwardly into the vault. It was as impenetrably dark as it had been last time, but with the help of the candle, he managed to find what appeared to be the controls to activate Howard's self-lighting lanterns.

Lights flared up all around the vault, but Daniel's detailed examination yielded no useful observations; the room was empty of people and none of the objects seemed out of place. There were bare spots on the shelves, but there had been bare spots the last time he was in here; he had no way of knowing whether they had previously held anything that Miss Underwood had stolen.

He returned to Peggy's side to find Dugan stirring and moaning but not yet awake. In silence they sat together at their friend's side, waiting for the others. A minute later, footsteps on the stairs heralded the arrival of Howard and Barnes, carrying candles of their own so that the little anteroom was more brightly lit. "She's gone," Howard said, his face as serious as Daniel had ever seen it. "Her aunt too, if indeed that woman is her aunt." He seemed to catch sight of the open vault door then, and with a scowl he marched angrily inside.

Barnes took up the tale of their discoveries. "Their luggage and clothing are still here, although it's quite possible they took a few small things with them that we're not aware of. But I ran out to the stables; two horses and gear to match are missing. The stable hands all assumed that two of the guests took a morning ride, although they would have had to make a very early start; the stable has been occupied by servants since six."

Howard came out of the vault then, his expression grim. "Arsine," he said lowly. "Three canisters of arsine with specially modified spouts for widespread aerial dispersal, along with all my notes for recreating the gas. That is what they took."

Daniel glanced at the others, but they seemed as baffled as he. "What is arsine?" Barnes asked.

"A compound of arsenic," said the baronet, then further clarified, "A poisonous gas. A chemical weapon. Very lethal, in the right doses."

Peggy's mouth was pressed into a tight line. "Easy to transport, easy to use against many people at once."

"And I have been corresponding with a pair of scientists in Russia about my chemical weaponry research," Howard confirmed, frowning. "Although I think, after this, I am certainly going to stop writing to them."

"Can it be detected, once released?" asked Daniel.

Howard shook his head. "It is colorless, and if it reaches a high enough concentration to be smelled, it is already well past a lethal. And if someone inhales a lethal amount, there is little that can be done; they will die in four days, perhaps three. Four increasingly painful days, I might add."

"And you discovered this gas?" Barnes asked.

"I was building on the discoveries of a Swedish chemist called Scheele, who quite accidentally discovered it. I began investigating what he did not: its possible applications in warfare. I discovered a way to synthesize it quickly, in large quantities, and developed the new dispersal system. Ultimately I decided it would be dangerous for our military to carry around and use, for it is quite flammable."

"Of course you decided you ought to take this chemist's discovery and weaponize it," Peggy frowned.

He raised his hands in a placating gesture. "It was one of the inventions I had determined never to let the government get their hands on," said he, "especially after Maloyaroslavets. Chemical weaponry canbe a very effective way to wage warfare, but the cost in human pain and suffering . . . even in war, there are lines that ought not to be crossed. As the Russian army learned to their detriment, with da Vinci's compound."

"And yet you still developed it."

He shrugged. "I cannot help what ideas my mind conceives."

"But you can help what your hands create," she snapped.

Perhaps the argument would have gone on, had Dugan not finally awoken then. "Peg?" said he, looking around the room in confusion. Then his eyes, falling on the open vault door, widened in shock. "Peg! Miss Underwood -- I think she might be the anarchist!"

Daniel had to bite down on what would have been a very unkind and inappropriate laugh, as Peggy sighed. "Yes, you are quite right, Dugan. Come, let's get you up. Howard, you are certain nothing else was taken?"

"Positive," said he.

"Then let us get somewhere we can tend to Dugan and Daniel, and discuss what we know."

The group struggled upstairs, Daniel only making the ascent because both Peggy and Barnes assisted him. Though he assumed they would settle there in the study, Peggy instead led them down the hall to Daniel’s room. He was a little embarrassed to have four strangers in his chambers, especially when one of them was Peggy, but he quickly saw the wisdom in the idea when Peggy fetched the water jug and linen cloths from his table and soaked one of the cloths in the water. The study had no such provisions.

At least, he thought, the room was spotlessly clean, a habit he’d picked up in the Navy.

She pointed him to a pair of chairs by the table, and he obediently sat in one so she could take the other and dab at the dried blood on his face. Dugan took the third chair in the room, and Howard began examining his eyes; Daniel knew from watching his own father that the baronet was looking for signs of serious head injury. Barnes, without no chair available to him, sat on the bed.

"I suppose we start with you, darling," said Peggy. "Tell us precisely what happened."

So Daniel told the story of the previous night in as much detail as he could recall; fortunately, his companions were kind enough not to comment on his being bested by a slip of a girl and an elderly woman. "I believe she told you, Howard, that I went to assist Dr. Bellefleur?"

Howard nodded confirmation, his expression grim. "And I didn't even question it."

"I did, and did nothing," said Peggy flatly. "I believe that may be worse." She had finished wiping away the blood on his face and was now gently prodding at the cut over his eyebrow, a concerned expression on her face; Daniel found it very uncomfortable to have her face so close to his, and he hardly knew where to look, eventually settling on keeping his gaze on his hands in his lap.

"We came back here and Dottie went straight to her room," Howard said. "She must have stayed awake until we were asleep, so she could strike."

"She knew to wait until four, when I relieved Peggy," Dugan pointed out. "That would give her four hours to flee without someone discovering me. She must have been watching us all this time, making note of when the watches were."

He told his story then: that just minutes after he started his watch, she appeared on the stairs, looking quite surprised to find herself on a hidden staircase. "I hadn't even heard her on the stairs; she moves like a cat. She said she was just looking for a book, and somehow found the hidden door, and was curious as to where it went. I was suspicious, but before I could even say anything, she'd knocked me flat on my back. She stuck a rag over my face with some chemical on it, and I blacked out."

"Do you remember any other details?" Peggy pressed, turning to look at the major and leaving Daniel quite relieved to no longer be plagued with the question of where to direct his gaze.

Dugan furrowed his brow in thought. "She had a key with her; I don't know how she knew that's what the vault required, but perhaps she'd spied on us from the stairs in the past."

Howard frowned. "I kept the key in my dresser. I spend so little time in my room; it would not have been difficult for her to find a time to sneak in and search."

"Or Aunt Elizabeth," Daniel pointed out. "Think of how many times she stayed back when we all went out for social calls or the like. She could have had hours to search your chambers."

Peggy sat with a sigh next to Daniel and directed him to remove his coat. He blinked, and she smiled a little and pointed to a rip in his sleeve he hadn't even noticed, the edges of which were dark with blood. He obediently removed the article and rolled up his shirt sleeve, feeling a little embarrassed -- he did not think he'd ever had so much skin exposed in a woman's presence before -- and she set to examining the wound.

Jarvis entered then, with a small pot in his hand. “Arnica, for the bruises,” said he, handing the pot to Peggy. Daniel assumed he must have followed the sound of voices to find them. “Miss Kirshenbaum is currently seeing to her dress. Is there anything else that I might do?”

Peggy looked at him, and he recalled that they seemed to think of him as being medically knowledgeable. “My father always recommended a posset, with camomile, for pain,” he suggested.

Jarvis nodded and left, and Peggy turned back to Dugan. "Anything else?"

He was quiet a moment. "She said something," he remembered. "She was taunting me as she knocked me out with that chemical. She said . . . I ought to be grateful to her, because it was far better to be laying down there unconscious than to get caught up in what she has planned."

"What she has planned?" Barnes repeated, then demanded, "What does she have planned?"

Daniel and Peggy glanced at each other. “We have long assumed that the anarchist’s intent was to steal a weapon to be used in Russia,” said Peggy, “with a possible secondary motive of allowing Ivchenko to exact his revenge on Howard.”

“She did not kill Howard when she had the chance,” Dugan pointed out. “I told you how quiet she can be; she could have crept into his room last night and killed him without awakening the house, but she did not.”

Daniel’s brow furrowed as he remembered a detail from last night he had heretofore quite forgotten. “She told me Howard would be ruined. While we were fighting.”

“Ruined,” Peggy repeated thoughtfully. “Death is quick and only happens once. But if she left him alive and forced him to watch as she destroyed his life . . .”

“A more satisfying revenge,” Howard agreed grimly.

“She could use the arsine gas on British citizens,” suggested Daniel, “and make it clear that the gas was of Howard’s design. It would serve the dual purposes of testing the gas's efficacy and destroying Howard's life.”

“Oh no,” said Howard, and they looked at him to see that his face had gone a little white.

“What is it?” asked Dugan.

“I etched my name on those canisters,” was his somber reply. “I often do -- a small concession to vanity on my part. If she used the gas and then left the canisters where they are certain to be discovered, it would not be difficult for someone to test them and see that they had previously held a poisonous gas. It would appear that at best my negligence was responsible for the atrocity, and at worst that I had actually committed it.”

Peggy spoke. “We mustn’t rule out the possibility that she intends for the attack, and the discovery of the canisters, to take place in Russia, or indeed the possibility that, knowing we are now onto her, she has abandoned that portion of the plan and will simply flee to Russia while she still has a head start. Although she what she said to Dugan makes that a little less likely.”

“We are, I believe, but ten miles from Chatham,” said Daniel. “She could easily find a ship there to flee our shores. If so, she is likely already several hours at sea.”

“We should investigate both possibilities,” said Dugan. “Some of us can check the ports while the others look into a possible domestic attack. It is a lucky thing that she has a pretty face and those on the docks are likely to have noticed her.”

“So, a domestic attack,” said Peggy. “Howard, the amount of gas she stole:-- how much area could it cover? How much damage could it do?”

Howard considered. “The canisters are not large, but if dispersed from somewhere high, the gas will spread, then sink to the ground, as it is heavier than air. The three of them could cover perhaps a square mile, give or take, depending on winds. But the area where the concentration will be high enough to be lethal would be smaller than that."

Daniel let out a breath of relief; he had been imagining miles of carnage, a whole city wiped out.

“She’ll choose a large city, with a high population, to do the most damage,” said Dugan.

“And she’ll want to make a statement,” said Howard. “Somewhere that will draw international attention.”

Barnes voiced the thought that had occurred to all of them. “London.”

“A crowded street?” Howard guessed. “A theatre?”

Peggy looked at Daniel. “She told you that you had 'moved up her plans a little'; perhaps she is operating on a tight time frame, with a particular event in mind, and that is why she waited so long to make her move.”

Daniel was quite suddenly seized all over with the strangest sensation, as though he were falling from a great height; fear gripped his heart. “What day is today?”

“June 16,” said Barnes.

“Peggy,” said he, looking up at her with wide eyes, and understanding dawned in her expression.

“The opening of the Waterloo Bridge,” she guessed.

“All those people packed together,” said he. “Even half a square mile of lethal gas coverage could mean thousands of deaths -- tens of thousands.”

“Wellington will be there,” added Howard, looking as horrified as they. “And the Prince Regent.”

“My family will be there," Daniel said forcefully. He met Peggy's eyes and found it a strange comfort to see fear and anger and determination there; she would fight as hard to keep Kate and his parents alive as he.

"Fortunately we have two days," said Peggy. "We shall travel to London today -- this very moment -- to begin our search and inform the organizers that they must cancel the event."

"That may be easier said than done," Howard warned. "This has been planned for months, and people will have traveled great distances to attend. And all the evidence we have on our side is speculation and a few cryptic comments. I do not expect them to change their minds easily."

"Then I expect I will make them," Peggy said firmly.

Jarvis returned then with the drinks for Daniel and Dugan, who accepted them gratefully. "What is to be done?" said the valet deferentially. "I should like to volunteer my services. When I think that the anarchist was among us all the while, what danger we all were in without even realizing . . . it does not bear thinking of. I wish to be active and useful."

"Then join us," Howard said. "We are discussing how best to respond."

"We must divide our resources," Barnes reminded them. "Who shall go to Chatham, just in case she is fleeing the country?"

"I am going to London," answered Daniel immediately. "To warn my family not to attend."

Barnes spoke up. "And Peggy, you should be with Daniel."

"Agreed," said Peggy.

"I must go to London as well," added Howard. "If there's a chance she will use my invention, I should be there, as I know the most about it."

"Some of us must see to the ports," Dugan reminded them. "Chatham, for certain."

Barnes' expression was thoughtful. "Were I trying to be clever and evade capture," he mused, "I might choose an unexpected route back to Russia. Miss Underwood, realizing we are now onto her and that we would expect her to go to Chatham, might go to Ramsgate or Dover and find a ship there, or even a ferry to the Continent to travel overland. Perhaps we should go south as well."

"I think that very wise," said Peggy.

Howard frowned. "But it is such a distance from Ramsgate to Dover; they could not both be investigated in the same day."

"Then I shall go to Ramsgate," Dugan volunteered, "and Barnes to Dover; we can ride along the major roads, and stop on occasion to question potential witnesses, who may have seen a very pretty lady and an old woman gallop by. That leaves Chatham for Jarvis."

Jarvis looked surprised but a little pleased. "You would trust me with an arm of the investigation?"

"I do not like to put you in danger, Jarvis," said Peggy, "but I know you are reliable, and have seen a great deal of action against Napoleon." Quickly she instructed him on who to question and how to enlist the help of the customs officers; Dugan moved to the writing desk and began a letter for Jarvis to take, authorizing him to commandeer resources and men in the name of the Home Office.

"We all agree that if we find any evidence of her passage, we shall send an express to all the others -- the Home Office and the offices of the three ports in question," Peggy concluded. "That means each of you must stay in contact with said offices, to learn if any such express has arrived."

Jarvis took it all in with a serious expression. "And the other guests?" He directed his question to Howard. "Something must be said to the Martinellis and Lieutenant Thompson."

Howard looked thoughtful, but it was Daniel who came up with the solution. "We shall tell them that an accident has befallen Colonel Phillips. They shall not question the claim that his niece, her intended, his dear friend, and his employees rushed to his side."

Howard nodded his approval. "And Jarvis should be able to return to Stark Hall soon -- certainly by tomorrow. He can soothe any concerns and keep the guests entertained until we return or send word otherwise in a few days."

"You do know that I'm a valet, not a master of ceremonies," Jarvis muttered under his breath.

"I'm choosing to ignore that," said Howard. "Now, everyone, make what preparations are necessary, and I hope we can be on our way as soon as possible."

"I shall see to Miss Kirshenbaum," said Jarvis, and left.

"I'll break the sad news to the Martinellis," said Howard, following him. "I have a bit of a knack for lying."

"We should go change our clothing," Dugan said to Barnes, who followed him with a sigh, groaning "A whole day in the saddle."

Daniel and Peggy were left alone. "Do you feel any better?" she asked tenderly.

"A little, thank you," he said. It was indeed only a little, but he did not like to make her worry.

She sighed. "Darling, your leg," said she, and he glanced down; in the excitement of the last few minutes, he had quite forgotten that he had left his false leg beside a stream. All the embarrassment he should have been feeling for the last ten minutes at having Peggy and the others see him without his leg came rushing over him all at once.

"Irreparably damaged by the fall," said he, "and very painful to keep on after the damage it sustained. So I left it." He barrelled on, trying to distract himself from his embarrassment. "I am very fortunate," he pointed out. "If it had been my other leg that had been struck so, the bone would have broken, and I would have been quite unable to move to safety in that ravine. If Miss Underwood did indeed return to finish me off, I would have been helpless."

Something in Peggy's expression tightened, and then she reached over without looking and took his hand in hers. "I am glad that heaven favoured you last night," said she, her voice quiet, and squeezed his hand.

He scarcely knew how to reply, but she did not give him an opportunity. "Now," said she with forced cheer in her tone, "can you maneuver even without the false leg?" She released his hand and stood.

"No need," said he. "I brought a spare, in the trunk." He gestured and began to stand from his chair, but Peggy beat him to the punch; kneeling beside the trunk in question, she opened it and looked inside. Daniel was overwhelmingly glad that he'd unpacked most of his things on arrival; the thought of Peggy rifling through his underthings was unbearably embarrassing.

After a few moments she stood, with a cane in one hand and a spare leg in the other. "It is a lucky thing you decided to pack these," said she.

"I always knew that someday I would need spares," said he. "And now I am sorry that it took such a disaster for me to be proven correct." He was joking, to distract himself from the incredible discomfort that came from Peggy holding his false leg, examining with interest the straps used to hold it onto what remained of his thigh. He could scarcely have felt more exposed were he standing before her unclothed.

She looked up at that, distracted from her perusal of the leg. "This will not be a disaster," she said firmly. "We shall find Miss Underwood and stop her, and we shall convince the organizers to stop the bridge event before it even begins." So saying, she handed him the spare cane, which he set aside so he could accept the leg from her.

He looked at it a long moment, and unconsciously rubbed at the remains of his leg, which were still in a great deal of pain from last night. "We are to take a coach, are we not?" asked he.

Peggy nodded. "Howard and I may elect to ride, to keep an eye out along the path. But with the night you've had, we shan't force you to join us."

He hesitated. "I believe I shall leave the leg off for now, then," said he, still rubbing at the spot where the prosthetic would be attached. "I need to give this a little time to recover."

He could not quite meet her eyes, still a little embarrassed, and was surprised when she gently set her fingers under his chin to tilt his head up until he was looking at her. "How many times must I tell you," said she with a smile, her tone gentle, "that it doesn't bother me?"

He looked up at her, a small smile growing at the corner of his mouth. This was not the first time she had said such a thing, but it was the first time she had said it while confronted with the reality of it, and that made it seem much more real. "Then I will believe you," said he, and was surprised to find that he meant it.

She smiled back, then most unexpectedly set her hand comfortingly at the spot where his shoulder and neck met. "I am so glad you were not more seriously hurt," said she sincerely. "And I promise you, I will do everything in my power to keep your family safe."

"I know," replied he with equal sincerity, and she smiled and left, the door shutting quietly behind her.

. . . . . .


UGH just make out, you two.


Arsine: This is indeed a poisonous gas, with the properties described in this chapter, and was indeed first described by Karl Scheele in 1775. Its use as chemical weapon was proposed before World War II, and indeed R&D work was done to that end, but its flammability made it unsuitable for this purpose. Today, most arsine poisoning is accidental; it has certain industrial uses, and also can be accidentally made during other chemical processes. I am not a chemist; if any of you are and I have gotten something terribly wrong, I apologize.

Ethics of chemical warfare: Its use has always been a moral quandary; as early as 400 BC, the Manusmṛti, an important Hindu legal text, says that a king should not "strike with weapons [that are] poisoned," although it recommends that when he lays siege, that he "spoil [the foe's] grass, food, fuel, and water." The first international agreement banning chemical weapons, the Strasbourg Agreement, was a 1675 treaty signed by France and the Holy Roman Empire and created in response to the use of poisoned bullets. Europe continued to be basically against the idea for the next couple of centuries, so Howard’s response is a period-appropriate one; but then, despite the Hague Declaration of 1899 and the Hague Convention of 1907 both condemning chemical warfare, France employed tear gases during WWI, and then everyone else started using various gases, and, well, we all saw what a tragedy that turned into. Currently, the Chemical Weapons Convention, a 1997 treaty, prohibits the use and production of chemical weapons; 192 states worldwide have signed or acceded to it.

Arnica and camomile: Popular herbal remedies for pain. I have been reading from Cassell’s Household Guide, an advice manual from the 1880s (it is fascinating and I highly recommend you check it out at www.victorianlondon.org/cassells/cassells.htm, for it is both amusingly old-fashioned and next surprisingly intelligent, sensible, and sympathetic to its readers), and it recommends arnica for all manner of pains. Cassell's also recommends the "sedan-chair" hold that the footmen used to carry Daniel. Meanwhile, Culpeper’s The Complete Herbal (originally 1653, though the one I was viewing at archive.org/details/culpeperscomplet00culpuoft is a much later edition) feels that chamomile (alternate spelling: camomile) is good for essentially any ill and that “the flowers boiled in posset-drink […] expel all colds, aches and pains whatsoever.” A posset, in case you were unaware like I was, is a British hot drink involving milk, something to curdle it, and often spices or herbs.

Chapter 25


First off, if you haven't seen this, you absolutely must: Fremui has posted a drawing of Peggy and Daniel driving in Hyde Park and it is fan-freaking-tastic: http://fremui.tumblr.com/post/145324790411/thursdays-are-a-lady-of-value-day-thanks-to

Second off, a bit of bad news: I'm afraid that I am again going to be taking a break and not posting next week. We are basically up to the climax and I want to make sure I have all of it written before I post any farther, because everything needs to tie together, you know what I'm saying? But the plus side is, once it's all written I shouldn't have to take any more breaks in posting! Also now that I've outlined it, I'm refining my guess as to the length of this story and saying it will be more like 28 or 29 chapters.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

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When Peggy was gone, Daniel dressed himself in some of his sturdiest and most comfortable clothing, moving gingerly as he pulled the articles over bruised and battered flesh. He blessed Peggy for her reassurance that he need not ride today; it was eight hours to London, less if they pushed the horses and kept the coach light, and while a carriage ride was never the most comfortable of propositions, the road from Maidstone to London was good and he hoped it would give him time to rest and recover from his battering last night.

His empty trouser leg he folded carefully and then pinned up to keep it out of the way. Into a small travelling bag he packed a few articles of clothing, the pistol that Colonel Phillips him had given back in London, and the twin to the boot currently on his good leg; he would put it on when he put his false leg on, closer to London. The leg would not fit into the bag, but he did not mind carrying it, for only Peggy and Howard would see him carry it out to the coach.

And then, with one last glance around the room, and with his cane held tightly in his hand, he made his way to the front entry hall, where he realized he'd been foolish to suppose he could make it out to the coach without being seen.

For there he found Jarvis making his way to the front door, Miss Kirshenbaum on one arm and a large hamper on the other; he supposed that at least they had both already seen him without his leg on, so he did not feel too embarassed to be seen. "Food for your journey," the valet explained, "so you needn't rely on an inn for lunch."

"You are very thoughtful, Jarvis," Daniel smiled.

"As soon as I have deposited this in your coach, we will go to the stables; Miss Kirshenbaum would still like to go to Chatham, so I will accompany her there."

"Mr. Jarvis will protect me from any dangers on the road," smiled Miss Kirshenbaum, and Jarvis looked pleased. Then her sharp eyes took in the collection of objects in Daniel's arms. "But you must let me take those out to the coach for you! I am going there anyway." She took the bag and the false leg from Daniel before he could protest.

"I thought I would be a little embarrassed to have you see me this way, Miss Kirshenbaum," he said with a smile, "but you have now seen me looking like I 'slept in a lake,' dragged me out of a ditch and all but carried me to safety. I rather feel that after all that, there are no more secrets between us."

"Just so," laughed Miss Kirshenbaum, her fine eyes sparkling with amusem*nt. "And so I will dare to be very friendly." She stepped forward and clasped his free hand with hers. "Travel safely, Captain, and I hope you find the assailant you are looking for. And when you and Peggy are wed, come back to Richford and visit me, will you?"

"I promise," he said, and only realized after he had done so that in order to keep that promise, he would have to marry Peggy. He thought that was an obligation he would not mind fulfilling. "And thank you again for the rescue. I do not know what would have happened had you not come along when you did."

"Godspeed, Captain," Jarvis said, his face a little more serious now that the actual adventure was upon them.

"Godspeed, Jarvis," said Daniel, and shook the valet's hand.

As Jarvis and Miss Kirshenbaum exited the house, Dugan and Barnes appeared, dressed for riding and carrying satchels. Both shook Daniel's hand as well. "Travel well," Dugan said. "And let us hope that the next time I see you, Dorothea Underwood is locked up in the Tower."

To Barnes, Daniel said, "Thank you for everything. You are the best valet I've ever had."

The men shared a smile, and Barnes replied, "Be careful out there; I have high hopes that we shall see you around the Alien Office in the future . . . in one capacity or another."

Daniel had just worked out what he meant and started to feel embarrassed when Peggy appeared, dressed in an odd outfit: a rather masculine jacket over a waistcoat, both cut close to her trim waist, and boots peeking out from under a sturdy-looking skirt. When she saw Daniel looking, she smiled conspiratorially. "I have breeches on under this," she admitted. "Don't tell the patronesses of Almack's."

"Never fear," said he automatically. "I make a point of never telling them anything." He hesitated. "Why breeches?" he asked, before he realized the answer: -- "So that you may ride astride."

She nodded. "Have you ever ridden sidesaddle?" She demanded, her expression indicating exactly what she thought of the practice. "It is all fine and well for easy country jaunts, especially when you're trying not to shock the local gentry, but to ride all the way to London would be extremely unpleasant, both for myself and the horse."

She bid Dugan and Barnes a warm farewell and wished them luck, and the two men left the house.

"Where is Howard?" Peggy asked, ducking into the sitting room to get a look at the clock. "It is nearly nine in the morning. I should like to get on our way."

As if he had heard his name, Howard appeared at the top of the stairs, travelling bag in hand; to Daniel's surprise, he was closely followed by Miss Martinelli, her own travelling bag in hand.

"English," said the young lady determinedly as she followed Howard down the stairs, "I'm coming with you."

Peggy blinked in surprise, then scowled at Howard. "What did you do?"

Howard shrugged. "She overheard me telling her mother about our visit to poor old injured Colonel Phillips, and the next thing I knew she was crying and telling her mother what a dear friend the colonel had become and insisting that she go to London too. Mrs. Martinelli bought it and gave her permission to come with us."

Peggy's brows furrowed a moment. "I appreciate your concern for my uncle, Angie, but --"

"Don't be silly, I know your uncle's fine," said Miss Martinelli. "Something is wrong, and I want to help."

Peggy glanced at Daniel. "What makes you think that something is wrong? Beyond my uncle's injury."

Her friend gave her an amused smile. "I observe people, remember? You have been up to something since we've been in Kent, and perhaps even longer. You're a good actress, but I notice things. But I supposed that given your military and Home Office connexions, whatever you have been doing has been legitimate and important, so I never said anything. And then this morning, I woke up early and looked out my window to see the captain here, looking like he's lost a prizefight, being carried into the house by footmen. And then I heard Sir Howard and Captain Sousa's valet searching Miss Underwood's room together, and suddenly you're leaving to see your uncle? Something is wrong, and I want to help."

Daniel and Peggy stared at the young lady in surprise, and Howard shrugged. "This is your fault, Peggy, for befriending people who are too clever by half."

Peggy considered for a long moment, and then apparently decided to tell her friend the truth. "You are correct, my uncle's alleged accident is a ruse to get us to London," said she. "There is a Home Office matter of vital importance that we must see to without delay. But it is far safer for you here." She smiled a little. "I cannot see my only friend get hurt on my behalf."

But Miss Martinelli was not swayed. "Major Dugan and the captain's valet, who are clearly a part of this affair, have already left, so there are only three of you. I am an extra pair of eyes and hands, and if I may boast, I am a very good actress. I could be useful." She sighed. "I have spent my whole life being polite and well-behaved, as my mother requires. I would very much like, for once, to be useful."

Peggy hesitated; perhaps she found something to sympathize with in the young lady's desire to be more than what the ton said a young woman was allowed to be. In that silence, Howard spoke up. "I think we should take her along. She is, as she said, an extra pair of eyes and hands."

Daniel voiced his support for the idea. "We are going to need all the manpower we can muster when we reach London."

Peggy sighed. "Fine, I concede." She pointed her finger at her friend. "But you will follow my orders to the letter; if I tell you to run or hide or leave, you do it without delay."

Miss Martinelli nodded, looking pleased.

"And your first assignment is to keep an eye on Daniel in the coach, while Howard and I ride outside; he had a rather violent night, and he needs to rest and recuperate as much as possible on our ride to London. You will look after him."

"I'm not a child," said Daniel, though secretly pleased at her solicitousness.

"Done," said Miss Martinelli firmly.

"Then I'm coming too," came an unexpected voice, and they looked up the stairs to see that Lieutenant Thompson was standing on the landing; clearly he had overheard a great deal of the conversation. "I am also an extra pair of hands and eyes, and am very handy with a gun --"

"Fine," Peggy cut him off, exasperated. "Does anyone else want to volunteer? Perhaps we can bring along the whole household staff as well. Anyone? No? Then let us be off; we are wasting precious time."

She stalked off through the front door, and Howard grinned up at Thompson. "You have no idea what you volunteered for, do you?"

Thompson hesitated, then admitted, "No idea whatsoever."

"Don't worry, Daniel can fill you in on the way. You're in the carriage with him and Miss Martinelli."

They followed Peggy out the door to see that the stable hands had the travelling coach as well as two fine horses ready. The grooms secured all the luggage to the cart while Howard and Peggy mounted. Daniel watched as Peggy unbuttoned a clever hidden panel in her skirt, giving her more freedom and comfort in riding the horse astride.

"Is Miss Carter angry with me?" Thompson asked.

Daniel, who was staring with fascination at the sight of Peggy sitting atop her horse like a man, looking completely at ease, shrugged. "She's on edge in general, at the moment. But she only agreed to you coming along on this house party in the first place because she knew you'd be handy in a fight and good with a gun, if the need arose. Are you armed?"

Thompson showed him the pistol he carried, and Daniel nodded decisively. "Off we go, then."

Thompson handed Miss Martinelli up into the coach, who in turn helped Daniel in, with the lieutenant following close after. Miss Kirshenbaum had thoughtfully left his false leg inside the coach, so he could put it on while they yet travelled if needs be, and he carefully tucked it under the seat.

Miss Martinelli grabbed Thompson's sleeve and tugged him over to sit beside her. "You should lie down, Captain," she said. "I've been instructed to ensure that you rest, and even if I hadn't been, you do look like you have been through the wringer."

He felt it, to be honest, so after a moment, he followed her instruction; it was a little embarrassing to have Thompson see him so incapacitated, and to see him without his leg, but this was no time for personal vanity. The seat was wide and comfortable, allowing him to fit if he curled up, and he thought that as long as the rocking motion of the coach did not throw him from his seat, he might actually be able to sleep.

The coach rumbled into motion then, taking a brisk pace away from the house; even from his awkward vantage point, he could see through the window that Peggy was riding abreast with the coach, her stare fixed firmly ahead; but she glanced into the coach once, saw him lying on the seat, and smiled. No doubt Howard was nearby. They were on their way; they finally had intelligence to act on. And they had forty-eight hours to reach London, get the Waterloo Bridge opening canceled, and stop Miss Underwood. It would not be an easy task, but at least they finally had a plan.

After a few moments, Thompson spoke. "So why are we going to London?" he asked, and Daniel could not help but laugh.

He supposed that Peggy's allowing them to come along meant that they were to be given the details of the mission, so he told them about their search for the anarchist, and about their realization last night that she had been at Stark Hall all that time. He told them of how the discovery had forced her to move her plans up by a day, and they now found themselves operating on an accelerated time frame to stop her.

His companions were as shocked as he'd expected, but after a few exclamations of surprise, their expressions turned thoughtful as they considered this turn of events.

"So all this while, Miss Underwood's incessant flirting with Sir Howard was simply to ensure she could stay close to him," said Thompson with the satisfied tone of someone who has solved a difficult puzzle. "I have long wondered by she seemed so very taken with him; he is not that charming."

"Actually," said Miss Martinelli, "he rather is, when he wants to be." And Thompson scowled.

Daniel finished by explaining their suspicions about her next movements, and how several of their party had gone to check the ports while the current group travelled to London; there they would enlist the rest of the Alien Office to help investigate a possible attack at the opening of the Waterloo Bridge.

Thompson seemed to pale a little at that. "I have so many friends who will be in attendance at the Waterloo Bridge opening," said he. "And the sheer number of people who will be killed . . ." He trailed off as a look of determination entered his eyes, and Daniel finally conceded that Lieutenant Thompson might indeed be a valuable addition to their party. It also occurred to him that both the lieutenant and Miss Martinelli had insisted on being included on the expedition from London without understanding what the exhibition was for; they only knew that it was something for which help and manpower was needed, and they volunteered anyway. They were either very brave, or very foolhardy, or most likely both. It was yet another way in which they were a surprisingly well-matched pair.

They had more questions for Daniel, which he answered to the best of his ability, but as the morning wore on, the conversation slowed, then stopped altogether; Miss Martinelli and Lieutenant Thompson were soon gazing thoughtfully and quietly out of the windows. Soon after, the party found themselves on the main road between Maidstone and London, a far finer and smoother road than they had been on previously. With the ride now much more comfortable, and with the carriage silent -- save, of course, for the rumble of wheels and pounding of hooves outside -- Daniel finally found himself dropping off to sleep.

He scarcely knew how long he slept, although he did not sleep well, as he constantly drifted in and out of wakefulness. Usually he woke only for a moment, then drifted off again. During one of these moments of wakefulness, he heard his companions conversing quietly with each other; from what he heard of the conversation before they noticed him awake, it seemed that the lieutenant was expressing concern for Miss Martinelli's safety, to which the young lady retorted, "I would appreciate it if you would trust that I can take care of myself." Daniel had to smother a smile at that.

In the middle of the afternoon, the travelling party stopped at an inn to change the horses and eat. Miss Martinelli and Lieutenant Thompson climbed out of the coach, exclaiming their eagerness to stretch their legs, and Peggy took their place on the seat opposite Daniel, who was still sprawled across the seat, only half awake.

"How do you feel?" she asked, taking hold of his chin to tilt his face this way and that so that she might examine it carefully.

"A little better," said he, stretching his arms. "I slept for a good portion of the drive."

"I can see that," she smiled. "And I'm glad of it; you needed the sleep."

He nodded. "How are you enjoying the ride?"

She sighed. "I am glad I have ridden so much these past few weeks, for this is a stern test of my endurance; I do not know that I would have lasted if not for that extra practice."

Still half asleep, he reached out and grabbed her hand. "Luckily, you're the best rider I know."

He could hear the smile in her voice when she answered. "Thank you, darling. But you're in the Navy, recall; most of the riders you've seen have been Society fops and blushing maidens out for an afternoon trot in Hyde Park, so I do not know how much weight your opinion holds."

"Very little," he agreed.

"We hope to be moving again in just a few minutes," said she. "Would you like to join us outside? Or shall I bring food in here?"

Deciding that standing a few minutes would do him good, he forced himself into a sitting position and accepted Peggy's hand to help him down from the carriage. He saw a passing groom's eyes dart down to his missing leg and pinned up trousers, but he could not bring himself to care; everyone in his travelling party had already seen him with his leg off, and he cared about their opinions rather more than he did a stranger's. Actually, now that he thought of it, it was very unusual for him to be so unconcerned about being seen without his false leg; before this morning, only his family, a few servants, and a handful of fellow sailors had seen him this way, and now most of the Stark Hall party and half the staff had seen him. Perhaps this adventure was having a positive effect on his confidence.

Leaning on Peggy for support, he helped himself to bread and meats from the basket while Peggy outlined the next part of their plan. "We are only twelve miles from London," said she. "At this point, Howard and I shall split off from the coach, for if we push the horses hard we can arrive sooner than you shall. Howard will go to check his two vaults in Town, and I shall go to the Home Office to enlist my uncle's help. I hope we shall go straight to Sidmouth and gain his support in encouraging the suspension of the bridge opening, for the word of the Home Secretary would be a great help to the cause."

"And the rest of us?" asked Daniel, trying not to be distracted by how close he stood to Peggy, and how he'd had to pass his arm around her shoulders in order to use her as support -- to say nothing of the arm she had around his waist.

"I shall send Yauch, who speaks nearly fluent Russian, and a few other agents to investigate the areas where Russian immigrants congregate, just in case. And I shall ask you to investigate Miss Underwood's lodgings; she has been staying at a boarding house in Bloomsbury, and Howard tells me she did not give up the place when she left for Kent. They will mostly likely not be there, but perhaps some information can be gleaned from her rooms. Bring along some of the Alien Office agents, in case you do run into trouble; I'll leave word that you are in charge of the investigation, and are to be obeyed. Although with Yauch, Barnes, Dugan and myself gone, and with you arriving so late in the day, there will likely be few people around."

With this plan in place, the group finished eating and returned to their coach and horses to finish the ride into London. Daniel felt quite awake now and supposed he would not be able to sleep again, so he whiled away the two hour ride talking comfortably with Miss Martinelli about cheerful, inconsequential things. Lieutenant Thompson said little but watched all of this alertly, and it soon became clear that the man wanted to join the conversation but did not feel welcomed. So, reminding himself to be kind, he included the lieutenant in his next question, and Miss Martinelli did the same, and they all talked very happily together all the way to London.

It was all surprisingly pleasant, and Daniel was doubly grateful to see that neither of his companions ever thought to ask the question that logically followed the revelation of his working with the Alien Office: whether his connexion to Miss Carter was in some way related to his temporary position at the Office. Miss Martinelli would have been deeply disappointed if she'd realized the engagement was a ruse, and Lieutenant Thompson might have taken this information as permission to continue his pursuit of Peggy. Although perhaps this would not be the case, Daniel pondered as he watched the lieutenant watch Miss Martinelli; perhaps the transferral of his affections from Miss Carter to her friend was permanent. Either way, it mattered not, for apparently neither Miss Martinelli nor Lieutenant Thompson ever thought to question his and Peggy's cover story.

It was after five o'clock when the coach pulled up in front of the Home Office. Its occupants had spent the last few minutes watching the buildings grow taller and closer together as they moved nearer the center of the city; Daniel was both pleased to be home, near his family and on these familiar streets, and also a little sorry to have left the idyllic countryside behind. Miss Martinelli and Lieutenant Thompson exited the carriage and stood awkwardly together while Daniel drew the blinds and removed his trousers so that he might attach his false leg. The attachment site was still a little tender after last night's painful exertions, but all in all his physical state felt much improved -- and he was glad to be able to walk without leaning on anyone.

Leading his companions inside the Home Office, he found Dernier waiting, having received instructions from Peggy to wait for Daniel and assist him in investigating Miss Underwood's quarters. Daniel supposed he ought to take Miss Martinelli and Thompson along as well; they might be useful, and it certainly made little sense to leave them on Downing Street alone. So after they had quickly eaten a little and had a chance to stretch their legs, he led the whole group back out to Howard's travelling coach; the horses were not yet tired out, and the coach would make an excellent vehicle for such a reconnaissance mission, as it was fashionable enough but not marked with Howard's coat of arms, meaning it would not draw attention for being either too shabby or too fine. With a word or two with the driver, who gamely agreed to drive them to Bloomsbury, Daniel climbed into the coach and the others followed.

"Now," Daniel began, "we must plan what we will do when we reach the boarding house."

"I can climb into through a window," offered Dernier. "I did a bit of wall scaling on scouting missions on the Continent."

"We don't know which is her room," Thompson reminded him. "We shall have to go in and make the proprietor give us that information --"

"Or just ask to be let in," Miss Martinelli broke in.

The others looked at her, surprised.

"Do not forget," said she, "Miss Underwood has been living all this while under the guise of a Society belle. No one would think anything a bit amiss if I walked in and said I had invited Miss Underwood to join me at the theatre this evening and was there to fetch her. I pass for very respectable, if I may boast a little."

There was silence, and then Dernier said with a smile, "That could work," at the same moment that Thompson said with a frown, "That could be dangerous."

She frowned, but before she could fire off a retort to the lieutenant, Daniel spoke up, "And what will you do when the answer is that Miss Underwood has not been at her lodgings for several weeks?"

In answer, Miss Martinelli raised her eyebrows in deepest surprise and confusion. "Are you certain?" said she in a voice very unlike her own -- a voice that reminded him in a way of Miss Underwood's silly country ingenue act. "We planned this outing in May, but I had a note from her this very morning saying that she still planned on attending. How odd!" She hesitated, then said with a very charming smile, "Would you be kind enough to allow me to look at her room a moment? Perhaps she's left me a note."

All of this was done with such an air of sincerity and believability that Dernier grinned. "I am convinced."

"It could work," Daniel agreed.

"It could still be dangerous," Thompson pointed out.

"I'm sure it's fine," said Miss Martinelli. "She won't be there. She knows we're onto her and she knows that Sir Howard knows where she lodges. She won't be waiting for us. And once we know which room it is, if it appears there is anything worth investigating, we can send Dernier to scale the wall."

"Still," said the lieutenant, "I would feel better if you had help, in case Miss Underwood has gotten careless and co*cky and is there." He hesitated. "Let me come with you."

"Oh, come now --"

"You'll be more convincing as a respectable lady if you show up with a husband in tow," he pointed out. "They proprietor might find it strange that an unmarried young lady is wandering the streets of London in the evening. And for you, I will just be . . . a personal guard, if you like to think of it that way."

"I do like the idea of feeling as though I'm sufficiently important to warrant a personal guard," she admitted, then sighed. "Fine. You may come to shoot people, if necessary, and to make me look more respectable. But I will do the talking."

Even in the low light of a carriage at dusk, Daniel could see the expressions that came into Thompson's face: a bit of irritation, perhaps, at her insistence on taking lead, but relief that he would be allowed to protect her. "Agreed."

"I shall be Elizabeth Winstead, and you shall be my husband Robert, in Town for the Season from Shropshire."

"You are going to write our life history in order for us to spend five minutes interrogating a landlord?"

"You should hear about how you proposed to me," Miss Martinelli smiled. "It was killingly romantic. You should be quite proud of yourself."

He smiled a little at that. "I hope it made up for the time I trod on your dress during our first dance and ripped a flounce." He did not have her gift for making things convincing, and indeed seemed a little ill at ease joining her in her make-believe. But he was doing it to amuse her, a fact that made Daniel smile.

She sighed dramatically. "It took weeks for Mama to forgive you for that. She was convinced you'd done it on purpose."

In this flippant style of conversation they finished the drive to the address Howard had given them, eventually pulling up before a respectable but unfashionable boarding house on a respectable but unfashionable street. Miss Martinelli and Lieutenant Thompson exited the coach, still bantering comfortably. He held out his arm to her with the ease and familiarity bred by their time together in Kent, and she took it with a bright smile.

"Are those two romantically attached?" Dernier asked, watching from the shadows of the coach.

"They are not at the moment," Daniel said, "although the lieutenant would very much like to change that."

The supposed married couple climbed the stairs to the front door and entered, leaving Daniel sitting anxiously in the coach, hoping that he had not just sent two friends into a very dangerous situation. But soon enough they returned, their relaxed postures belying the seriousness of their task. Thompson said something to the driver that Daniel could not quite hear, and then the pair were climbing into the carriage.

"We did it," Miss Martinelli said, her expression ebullient. Daniel found it to be no real surprise that she should be so happy; she was being allowed to use her natural talents for acting, and for a purpose much more worthy than amusing a few Society guests of an evening. "And you'll never guess: she was here three hours ago."

"What?" Daniel sat up straighter as the carriage rumbled into motion. "You are quite certain?"

"Mrs. White, the proprietress, told us that Miss Underwood and her aunt were here about four o'clock this afternoon. They canceled the rest of their stay and moved all of their things out of their room."

"And you're certain it was them?"

She nodded. "Mrs. Fry described them to us: a pretty blonde young lady and her deaf aunt."

"This means we were right," said Daniel triumphantly. "We were correct in guessing that she would come to London. We must send expresses to Dugan and Barnes right away, and tell them to come back to Town."

"We did get to examine her room," said Thompson. "It was quite empty from what we could see, but I've instructed the driver to pull around the corner and stop, so that Dernier may examine the room, if he so chooses." And indeed, in that moment the coach came to a stop.

"Second floor, northwest corner," said Miss Martinelli helpfully. Dernier nodded and slipped out of the carriage without another word, leaving the other three to wait.

"That was very exciting," said Miss Martinelli, still smiling.

"She was very convincing," Thompson agreed with a smile. "I almost believed her."

Miss Martinelli inclined her head graciously, as though receiving the applause of an audience. "I think I have a knack for this spy business," said she. "I should ask Colonel Phillips for a job. Surely he can see the advantages of having more ladies at the Alien Office."

Thompson looked surprised at this, and Miss Martinelli apparently noticed. "Would that shock you, Lieutenant?" she asked defiantly. "If I became a spy? Or would you be more shocked at the thought of a lady who was employed?"

The lieutenant considered, then answered carefully. "It is unusual, certainly," said he. "But I suppose that if anyone could do it . . . you were very quick witted in there, when Mrs. White asked you what play we were to see."

It was not exactly an assurance that he would support the young lady, if she chose to pursue that path, but coming from Thompson, it was much more supportive than Daniel would have expected.

In ten minutes, Dernier returned to report that the room had been entirely cleaned out; no hint remained of the ladies who had once lodged there. They returned to the Home Office, Daniel anxious to report what he had learned to Peggy and to get expresses on their way to Barnes, Dugan and Jarvis. Miss Martinelli was equally agitated, although more out of excitement than nerves. Thompson, too, seemed a bit more energetic than normal; Daniel supposed they were both riding high on their first foray into the world of spycraft.

"You did very well," said he. "All three of you. We have uncovered a vital piece of information through your efforts."

His companions thanked him, and he fell into silence, gazing out the coach window and wondering where, out in that great huddling mass of buildings that was London, Miss Underwood might be hiding.

. . . . . .


Credit goes, as it so often does, to Annie+MacDonald, who gave me the ideas for Peggy's riding outfit.

Sidmouth: Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth, was prime minister from 1801-1804 and Home Secretary from 1812 to 1822. More on him next chapter.

On the subject of ladies riding horses astride, you all ought to read this fascinating article, Sidesaddles and Suffragettes: http://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2014/10/06/sidesaddles-suffragettes-fight-ride-vote/ It gives the history of sidesaddles, and then rather compellingly draws connections between the parallel movements to give women the right to vote and the right to ride astride. My favorite bit: a quote in a 1904 California newspaper from a "charming equestrienne" who states, "The ones who object to women riding astride are those who think a woman should ride to be seen and not for her own pleasure." A statement that is, sadly, still applicable today to many, many expectations placed on women.

Chapter 26


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

Of the three groups who reconvened at the Home Office that night, only Daniel's had anything of interest to report. Neither of Howard's vaults had been touched, or even approached, and Sidmouth had apparently left that very morning for Paris. "Which is a blow to our plans," said Colonel Phillips with a sigh. "For the Home Secretary is very concerned about the possibility of violence amongst the people and against the government, and has been a staunch supporter of the Alien Office in general, and our search for the anarchist in particular. I have no doubt he would have taken our side and helped us represent our cause to the Crown and to the Waterloo Bridge Company."

"And he cannot be reached before Wednesday?" Howard asked.

Peggy shook her head. "We do not have time to track him down, return him to London, and engage his assistance in making our case in time to send out word that the bridge opening is canceled. We shall simply have to go to the men in question without him."

"You have not gone already?" was Daniel's query.

Both niece and uncle looked annoyed. "Prinny and Wellington were both quite busy," said Colonel Phillips, "and the representatives of the bridge company that we met with say that such a decision cannot be made without the input of all the directors, so they shall attempt to gather as many as possible by tomorrow morning. We have a meeting tomorrow at ten o'clock with the necessary personnel from the government and the Waterloo Bridge Company." He hesitated. "We must be ready, though, to respond if they refuse to cancel the opening."

"I hope our news shall be some help in convincing them," said Daniel with a smile. "Miss Underwood was seen in London this very afternoon."

"Daniel, you are magnificent!" cried Peggy. "This is exactly what we need for tomorrow."

"I am indeed magnificent," Daniel smiled. "But the credit for this discovery must go to Miss Martinelli and Lieutenant Thompson, with assistance from Dernier."

All attention in the room turned to those three, who told the story of their visit to Bloomsbury with no small amount of pride.

"That was excellently executed indeed," said Colonel Phillips, with a glance at Miss Martinelli. "Very well done, young lady."

"We must send expresses to Kent," said Peggy, casting about the meeting room where they all sat, clearly looking for paper.

Daniel held up three letters. "I began these while we waited for you," said he. "One each for Dugan, Barnes and Jarvis. But you ought to look over them and tell me what else to add."

Peggy and Colonel Phillips obligingly came to look over his shoulder, while Howard, Miss Martinelli and Lieutenant Thompson fell into conversation and Dernier began talking to the other Alien Office agents gathered -- including Yauch, who had returned from his search with nothing to report.

"I assume we should ask them to return to London?" Daniel asked. "Barnes and Dugan, at least. But they are both 80 miles from London; by the time the letters reach them, and they return, it will likely be too late."

"Tell them to come as soon as possible," said the colonel decisively. "They can help with the aftermath, anyway, if there is any."

"And tell Jarvis to remain at Stark Hall and continue to keep Mr. and Mrs. Martinelli occupied," said Peggy. "Clearly their daughter and her would-be suitor know all my secrets now, but I suppose I can try to keep them from spreading any further."

Daniel accordingly finished and sealed the letters, and an agent by the name of Miller was dispatched to have them sent express to Dover, Ramsgate and Chatham.

"I suppose there is nothing now to do until tomorrow," said Colonel Phillips.

"I confess I am a little tired," said Daniel. "Eight hours in a coach makes for a most taxing day."

"Only imagine that you had been on a horse, like Peg and myself," said Howard, clearly having overheard the conversation. "I'm quite exhausted."

"And a little hungry, too, I would venture to guess," smiled Colonel Phillips. "I have sent a note to Simmons; there ought to be a late dinner waiting for us back in Cavendish Square Gardens." His niece looked as though she would like to object, and he spoke before she could. "I know you would like to be busy doing something," said he. "But there is nothing that can be done now, and surely to see you well fed and well rested in the best possible use of this time now available to us."

That decided it, and the occupants of the meeting room dispersed, the Alien Office agents to return to their homes for the night's rest, and the colonel, Peggy, Howard, Daniel, Miss Martinelli, and Thompson to the Phillips home to dine and recuperate. Howard was only too happy to volunteer his travelling coach for the purposes of transporting them there. The carriage ride was a quiet one, as the group seemed rather fatigued, the day's events finally catching up with them.

The Phillips cook had prepared them an excellent spread, though one not particularly elaborate, given the time constraints. The diners did not mind, however, being quite famished after a long day with little food. Little was said until the group wandered to the sitting room and sat most unceremoniously on the sofas. The whole evening, Daniel reflected, had resembled the least formal dinner party imaginable: no waiting on ceremony, no attempt at polite conversation, no withdrawing of the ladies while the gentlemen had their port, and now, no concern for social niceties in the evening's conversation. He sat on one sofa with Peggy on the one side of him and Howard on the other side; the baronet's head was tipped back and he appeared to be nearly asleep. On a nearby loveseat, Lieutenant Thompson looked close to dozing off, and Miss Martinelli, seated next to him, looked quite amused. And Colonel Phillips sat in his armchair and watched them all.

"Now," said he, "I have heard Peggy's narrative of the events that led to Miss Underwood's discovery, but I should like to hear them from you, Captain."

Daniel obligingly related the tale, and the colonel shook his head. "And no one suspected her before that moment?"

The others answered in the negative. Howard related to the group the extent of his relationship with the young lady, affirming that he had never suspected her ulterior motives; Daniel privately thought that he'd been rather too infatuated to be an objective observer, which had surely been the whole point of Miss Underwood's charade, but he did not bring it up, for surely this had already occurred to Colonel Phillips. And putting that aside, it was clear from a perfunctory observation of the baronet's face that he was severely chastising himself for his carelessness, and Daniel had no desire to add unnecessarily to the man's self-castigation.

Miss Martinelli and Lieutenant Thompson reported as well, scouring their memories for any behavior from the young lady that might have given any clue as to her real intentions, but in the end had little to report.

"Whoever she is," said Peggy, "she is very, very good. Best actress I've ever seen." Miss Martinelli nodded her fervent agreement.

Something appeared to occur to Colonel Phillips then. "I have had a letter from Niko," said he. "I'd quite forgotten in all the fuss, but I sent a letter yesterday to Stark Hall. It does not signify now, for we know the anarchist's identity, but from a conversation he'd overheard, Niko had reason to believe the anarchist was a serf belonging to Ivchenko. It occurs to me now that when researching the man, I learned that the Ivchenko family has a serf theatrical troupe that performs dramas and operas for the nobility. Perhaps, when he conceived of this mad plan to attack Howard, he pressed one of the family's serf's into his service -- a young lady who already had a knack for dissembling, accents and languages."

Silence followed this speculation. "I must say," Miss Martinelli said finally, "that almost makes me feel sympathy for Miss Underwood, or whatever her real name is."

"A little," Daniel agreed reluctantly.

"But she is fifteen hundred miles from Moscow," said Lieutenant Thompson. "He let her go all that distance away from him, with money in her pockets and the papers required to travel. She could have slipped away from him and from her old life at any moment, and instead she chose to follow his orders. She must be a true believer."

"Or Aunt Elizabeth is a true believer, sent to keep an eye on her," said Miss Martinelli.

Daniel shrugged. "I've seen Miss Underwood fight. I think she should have little trouble subduing the woman, should she so choose." His last word was interrupted by a yawn that he could not hide, and he glanced at the clock and was surprised to see it was only ten o'clock; his fatigue told him it must be much, much later.

"Bed, I think," said Peggy, standing from the sofa. "For you, at least. I've had Simmons prepare a guest bedroom." She glanced at the loveseat. "I've had her prepare all the guest bedrooms, actually. I assume, Angie and Daniel, that if you would both prefer to stay here and avoid questions from home; Angie, the servants will talk with your parents when they return, which you may be trying to avoid, given that you are in London under false pretenses. And Daniel, your family will keep you up all night with questions, especially given the state of your face, and you look ready to fall asleep at any moment."

"No guest bedroom for me?" Thompson asked.

Peggy rolled her eyes. "I know for a fact that you live alone, and you left your valet back in Kent. No one will notice you coming in or keep you up. But there is a third guest bedroom for you, if you like."

"I will return to St. James' Square," said Howard firmly. "Very fond of my own bed there. Terrible inconvenience, though, not having Jarvis to help me."

"Terrible," Daniel agreed.

Howard did not notice his sarcastic tone, and he took his leave of the group, promising to be back at Cavendish Square Gardens bright and early the next morning. The rest of the group retired to the guest bedrooms, and Daniel was very glad he'd thought to pack a few things before leaving Stark Hall -- a departure that felt as though it had been weeks ago and had in fact only occurred that very morning. He removed his leg and was immediately fast asleep.

As Daniel dressed himself the next morning, he caught sight of himself in the looking glass and was surprised by the battered visage that stared back at him. Across his torso, shoulders and face, bruises that had yesterday been a mild blue had darkened overnight to a vivid purple that was nearly black in some places. It was a startling aspect, and he was glad that his clothing covered most of it -- though it could do nothing for the bruises on his face or the cut over his brow. At least a deep and lengthy sleep had left him feeling much recovered.

His darkened bruises had not escaped the notice of at least one member of the party, he found, for when he went down to breakfast, Peggy, just finishing her meal with Howard by her side, caught sight of him and frowned.

"Bruises often look worse after a day or two," he said in an attempt to soothe the furrow from her brow.

She did not look appeased. "How do you feel?" she asked, stepping close and placing her fingers on his chin to gently tilt his face this way and that as she examined him.

Daniel held very still and hoped most fervently that she did not notice the way his pulse had picked up. Chaos and uncertainty had ruled their lives since Miss Underwood's dramatic revelation, and he had been so focused on what must be done to stop that lady, that he had scarcely given thought to any of his usual concerns. He had scarcely taken the time to feel uncomfortable about, though he certainly had noticed, Peggy's tender concern in the face of his vulnerability yesterday. And though he had certainly noticed how much she had touched him over the last twenty-four hours, he had not had the spare mental powers available to focus on how unexpected and pleasant it was.

But now that he felt well-rested and calm, or perhaps now that they were standing in her house, he suddenly felt shy under her touch and gaze. "I assure you," said he, "I am much improved, even if these bruises would appear to claim otherwise."

Colonel Phillips walked in then; he clearly took note of Peggy's proximity to Daniel, but said nothing. "We should be on our way," said he, with a glance at Howard.

"You are all three to attend this meeting?" Daniel asked.

Peggy nodded. "Howard and my uncle are both acquainted with many of the gentlemen in question. None of them are aware of my role at the Alien Office, and in order to maintain that secret -- and because the presence of a woman might not help them take the cause seriously -- I will attend simply as the colonel's niece. A pretty face to put the men at ease and remind them to behave civilly." She seemed a little unhappy at that, and Daniel wished, as he had often before, that her contributions to the greater good were not so often dismissed by the men around her.

Before he could express such a sentiment, however, the colonel spoke. "As soon as you and the others have breakfasted, get over to the Home Office and tell the agents who have come in to wait for us there. We shall return to the office, or send word, as soon as we have news."

The group took their leave, and Daniel was left to eat breakfast and to worry. Miss Martinelli and Thompson joined him not long after, and after a quick breakfast, the trio left the house and took a hackney cab to Downing Street. In the Home Office, Daniel relayed the colonel's message to the agents gathered there, and the whole lot settled into wait.

Yauch produced playing cards and started a game of loo in the parlor where Daniel had first met Colonel Phillips all those months ago; Miss Martinelli and Lieutenant Thompson were among those who joined the game. Daniel himself followed the group into the parlor but did not join the game, being too caught up in his own worried to focus on such a triviality. His companions all seemed certain that Peggy and her uncle would convince the organizers of the bridge opening to cancel or at least postpone, but Daniel found that the worry that had plagued him since yesterday grew in intensity until it could not be ignored: the bridge opening might go on despite the Alien Office's arguments. Thousands might die. His family might die.

And when Peggy, Howard, and Colonel Phillips arrived at the Home Office building, Daniel knew from their body language, before they had even had a chance to speak, that his fears had been entirely founded. "They will not cancel?" asked he, as the others stopped their card games and the agents who had been elsewhere began filing into the room.

Peggy tossed her bonnet on the sofa with a most unladylike huff. "Not all of the directors of the Waterloo Bridge Company are in London at the moment, and the others say they could not make such a decision without their input. Then too they say that their first responsibility is to their shareholders and bondholders and annuitants, and to delay the opening might negatively affect public perception of the bridge in the future, and if the public do not use the bridge and pay tolls then the shareholders won't receive a return on their investments."

"How much will it affect public perception of the bridge if innocent Londoners are poisoned on it?" Daniel muttered. From the look Peggy gave him, she heard him, and agreed.

"They feel certain the military can keep the attendants safe," explained Howard. "If indeed there is a threat from Leviathan, of which they are by no means convinced. Because they are idiots."

"But the representatives from the government?" Miss Martinelli asked. "What says the prince? And the duke?"

"Also idiots," muttered Howard.

"They too feel that our speculations on Miss Underwood's intentions are quite possibly unfounded," said the colonel. "If Leviathan's first aim is the eradication of the Russian government using the stolen gas, they argue, then surely Miss Underwood's wisest course of action would be to leave England as soon as possible, to make sure she manages to escape with the purloined gas. To launch an attack on English soil would only make her escape more difficult, for as soon as such an attack occurred, security and military presence would increase at all ports."

Thompson shrugged. "Those are reasonable arguments," said he. "Such an attack does defy conventional logic."

"Revenge often does," said Howard ominously.

"They also argued that it would be a grave error to move the opening of the bridge away from the eighteenth of June," said Peggy. "You know that this bridge is to be the most prominent memorial to the battle in London; the struggling economy has prevented money being set aside for much else. To hold the opening on a different day would, they claim, be disrespectful of Wellington, and of those who fought and died against Napoleon. Unless we can provide more proof of the attack, it will go forward."

The colonel spoke then. "But they have promised that the military will cooperate fully with any investigation the Home Office may undertake, and will provide resources and manpower where possible. But our investigations cannot interfere with the celebrations, and we are not to spread information about the possibility of an attack throughout London; they do not want a public panic marring the event."

"So what now?" asked Daniel.

"Now we go upstairs," said Colonel Phillips, "and make our plans."

In the Alien Office meeting room to which Daniel found he was becoming very accustomed, Colonel Phillips took down a large, rolled up map, but then hesitated, looking around the room. "This is possibly the most dangerous undertaking this office has ever been involved in," said he. "Guns and swords we understand, but this . . . this is something entirely new to us, and the danger it presents cannot be avoided by our usual means. To go out into that crowd, to be part of this investigation, is to put oneself in grave danger. If Miss Underwood successfully releases that gas, and you are on the ground, you will not be aware of it until it has already signed your death sentence. I will not send anyone in who does not understand the risks and accept them."

He looked around the room, at the sea of suddenly grave faces, and waited for a response. It was Yauch who spoke up first. "We knew the risks when we joined," said he. "And when we joined the Army. But we also knew the need, and that has not changed."

Dernier spoke up then. "And all the terrible things that could happen to us -- those things will happen to the innocent spectators tomorrow, people who have no notion of the danger that they're in."

"Our friends will be there," agreed Miller. "Our families."

"The soldiers and officers I fought alongside on the Continent," added Lieutenant Thompson. "The streets will be filled with men I spent years trying to keep alive. I can hardly abandon them now."

Peggy and Miss Martinelli, sitting on either side of the lieutenant, both looked surprised and impressed by his speech, and Daniel fancied he could see a bit of admiration in Miss Martinelli's gaze as she looked at Thompson.

"And you, Miss Martinelli?" the colonel asked. "You are the only person here who never served in the military. This is a risk to which you are entirely unaccustomed."

But the general spirit of conviction that had swelled the room had clearly touched Miss Martinelli, for she smiled with determination as she spoke: -- " 'If we are marked to die, we are enough to do our country loss; and if to live, the fewer men, the greater share of honour.' "

Lieutenant Thompson smiled a little at that. " 'We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.' " Miss Martinelli fixed him with a look of surprise and he shrugged. "Henry V is the only play I've ever enjoyed."

Everyone chuckled a little at that, and Colonel Phillips cast one last eye around the room, seeing all his agents nod their agreement to bear the risks that the enterprise presented. As he did so, Peggy caught Daniel's eye across the table, and he gave her a small smile; she responded with a nod.

Finally convinced as to his agents' acceptance of the assignment, the colonel unrolled a large map of London and pointed to the location of the new bridge. "What we know," said he, "is that because the gas sinks, in order to ensure the gas can spread as much as possible, she will most likely release it from somewhere higher than ground level. We will focus our attention on the buildings in the area, and only put a few men amongst the crowds on the ground."

"We know too that the prevailing winds come from the southwest," said Peggy, and pointed to the map; Daniel could see that just west of the bridge, the river took a sharp turn southward, making nearly a right angle. "So that leaves three areas to focus on: south of the river, here, where fortunately there are few buildings of noticeable height, only these few smokestacks. West of the river, here, where Whitehall stands; this is an area of some concern, for there are buildings here tall enough for her to use." She moved her finger one last time. "And Westminster. The bridge lacks the height she requires, but it is directly in the wind path she is likely to use, and she could use it to attack the crown prince, who will travel from Westminster to the new bridge by boat. And on either side of the river by Westminster Bridge we have Lambeth Palace and the Palace of Westminster, which are perhaps a little farther away from Waterloo Bridge than she might prefer to use, but both have the requisite height -- and if she wishes to make a statement, killing Londoners from atop the Palace of Westminster certainly makes one."

"But of course we will investigate all buildings, even those to the north and east," said Colonel Phillips. He began then to make assignments; that afternoon and evening, the Alien Office and the soldiers they'd been lent would search all buildings in the target area and then set up guard shifts. It was to be hoped that anyone who noticed their searches would assume that it was part of the general security for the event tomorrow.

Each agent was assigned a building or group of buildings and a contingent of soldiers. Yauch was assigned to supervise the agents covering Westminster, and as far upriver as Montagu House. Miss Martinelli and Lieutenant Thompson were assigned to work under him, and to lead one of the groups of soldiers searching the Palace of Westminster. They were they only Alien Office personnel assigned in a pair, as they had the least experience and could benefit from a partner. They would also join the crowds at the event itself to keep an eye on Prinny as he started his journey from Westminster to the new bridge by boat; "If you wear a fine dress, Miss Martinelli," said the colonel, "and stand on the arm of a smart-looking Lieutenant Thompson in his freshly-pressed regimentals, no one shall question for a moment that the two of you are anything but what you claim to be."

Daniel privately wondered if the colonel had placed the pair of them in Westminster as it was the place that seemed the least likely to be chosen as the spot to launch an attack; it would be crawling with soldiers, and as it was a half mile from Waterloo Bridge, Miss Underwood would likely not choose it, for she would not be releasing the gas in the thickest part of the crowd.

He personally thought it most likely the attack would come from Whitehall or the Strand, and perhaps the colonel agreed for he assigned Peggy, his most trusted agent, to head up defense in Whitehall, stretching from Montagu House to Adelphi Terrace on the Strand; Daniel and a handful of other agents were also assigned to Whitehall. Colonel Phillips himself would oversee the agents and soldiers at the bridge itself and along the Strand, with Howard nearby in case his expertise was needed.

Howard had another contribution to the operation. "I had a stockpile of these flares in my secret vault," said he, holding up two objects: cylindrical, about a foot long and as thick around as a man's wrist, one was wrapped in red paper, and the other in green. "Something I've been working on for signaling long distances -- like the smoke signals like the ancient Chinese used to use, but I've added chemicals so they release different colors of smoke, great thick columns that can be seen for miles. Just set it down like so somewhere up high, where it won't be disturbed, and light the wick."

"We'll use these to signal each other," said Colonel Phillips. "The red will mean you've found Miss Underwood and the canisters, and the green will mean you haven't found them but you need assistance. Don't light the green unless you are certain it's worth pulling people away from their posts."

"Remember," said Peggy, "three canisters have been stolen. We are not secure until all three have been recovered."

A knock at the door signaled the arrival of the promised soldiers, and the agents of the Alien Office set out to find the anarchist.

The plan was to do a sweep of the assigned buildings that afternoon, set up soldiers in an overnight watch, and then sweep the buildings again in the evening and then again in the morning before the event began. Accordingly, Peggy, Daniel, and the other agents assigned to Whitehall led their soldiers toward the buildings in question -- conveniently located within sight of Downing Street -- while the other agents who had to travel farther procured conveyances.

Daniel had been assigned Villiers Street and Buckingham Street, leaving him with the unenviable task of explaining to the occupants of those buildings why he needed to search them and then leave soldiers in the vicinity overnight, all without explaining about the anarchist, as his orders dictated. He set up several guards along each road, and then spent four hours with the other soldiers, scouring every room in every building, floor by floor. The last stop was the roof of 14 Buckingham Street, which he reminded himself to pay particular attention to, as it was the perfect place from which to launch an arsine attack: some four stories off the ground, just a stone's throw to the river and with a clear line of sight to Waterloo Bridge, almost directly to the east. A stiff breeze blew from the southwest, and he knew that arsine, released from the point, would head right to the thick of the crowds at Waterloo Bridge.

Glancing to his left, he saw Peggy emerge onto the roof of her building, which was of a similar height as his, and conduct the same examination he'd just done of his own rooftop. Then she said something to her soldiers, who nodded and took up positions around the roof; undoubtedly she'd ordered them to keep watch up here overnight. It was very wise, and he turned and did the same to the soldiers who'd assisted him with the search. They would be relieved in a few hours by a fresh set of soldiers; at least the government had taken the Alien Office's concerns seriously enough to provide all this manpower.

When he'd returned to ground level, he found Peggy waiting for him outside the door. "What now?" asked he.

"I assume you want to see to your family," said Peggy. "We've got time; we're not expected back at the Alien Office for another two hours."


"I'm coming," said she, as though stating a known and accepted fact.

"Peggy . . ."

"Daniel." Her tone was firm as iron, and any protest about how she was needed there at Whitehall died on his lips. "The soldiers can handle it now, and we'll be back at the Alien Office at eight o'clock and doing another sweep by nine. We can take an hour now to tell your family to avoid the opening."

He hesitated, then conceded defeat, and they found a hackney cab to take them to Berkeley Square. Daniel found himself feeling a little overwhelmed, both by the endless walking and stair climbing he'd done that afternoon, and by the enormity of the danger that faced them. The Alien Office, a few hundred soldiers, and a handful of educated guesses were all the stood in the way of Miss Underwood destroying hundreds of lives as payback for the deaths at Maloyaroslavets.

They rode in silence, Daniel resting his head in his hands and trying to surreptitiously rub at his temples, and after a time Peggy noticed. "Are you all right?" asked she.

"Fine," said he. "It has simply been a long . . . few months, actually, now that I think of it."

He was not looking at her, but he could hear the smile in her voice when she responded. "I confess that while I enjoy the action of the Alien Office, and the opportunities to serve my country, I do hope that things quieten down after this, for a little while, at least. I would enjoy attending the theatre or taking a carriage ride without constantly being on my guard."

He chuckled and they fell into a companionable silence, until Peggy spoke again. "Daniel," said she, "have you ever considered asking my uncle to make your position in the Alien Office permanent? You've done an excellent job, and if you truly intend to retire from the Navy and spend more time in London . . ."

Daniel did not answer, for in that moment they arrived at the house on Berkeley Square and the conversation was interrupted. Still, it made him smile to know that Peggy would be happy to have him around the Alien Office a while longer.

The Sousas were all in the drawing room when Daniel and Peggy arrived, and very surprised to see their son arrive unannounced on their doorstep. They were pleased, however, as was clear from their warm welcome, and no less pleased to see Peggy, whom Mrs. Sousa greeted with a warm smile and fervent clasping of hands.

"We were just about to go in to dinner," said that good lady. "You will join us, will you not, Peggy dear? For I'm sure we are all eager to hear about your time at Stark Hall."

"You are too kind, Maria," said Peggy, casting a glance at Daniel, "but I fear we have an urgent and serious errand, and only a brief window in which to complete it."

"This is all very somber," observed Dr. Sousa, glancing back and forth between his son and Peggy.

"I'm afraid it is, Pai," said Daniel. He moved as though to speak, and then hesitated, uncertain of what he could say without disclosing Peggy's secret occupation.

He needn't have worried, though, for Peggy, taking his hand in hers, squeezed it and spoke first, sparing him the confusion and discomfort. "We understand that you are to attend the opening of the bridge tomorrow, yes?"

The family nodded.

"We have come to ask you not to go," said Peggy without hesitation. "I know that seems a strange request, but I must tell you that, through my uncle's position at the Home Office, we have caught wind of a possible domestic attack at the event tomorrow."

"Oh dear," said Mrs. Sousa, looking worried.

"The Home Office knows of this," asked Kate, "and yet intends to allow the event to move forward?"

"The organizers of the event have refused to cancel it," explained Daniel. "They disagree with the Home Office about the likelihood of such an attack, and put their faith in the Army's ability to stop it, should it occur."

"Too much faith, I fear," muttered Peggy.

"But, Thomas," said Kate, her face paling. "Uncle Carrington. All of our friends and relations who will be at the event."

"I know," said Daniel, attempting to sound reassuring. "Everything possible is being done to ensure that nothing occurs, and the Home Office is hopeful that all shall be well. Our asking you to stay is simply our being particularly cautious."

"But the public does not know?" asked Dr. Sousa, looking disapproving at the possibility.

Daniel shook his head. "The information has not been widely spread, because the Home Office has been instructed not to allow any sort of panic to threaten the peace and safety of the city."

"But you came here," pointed out his father.

"We had to," said Peggy. She released Daniel's hand in favor of reaching out to Mrs. Sousa and Kate, who each took one of her hands. "I know this is all a bit strange, and I'm asking you to trust me with little concrete evidence. But I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you all." Her face was perfectly serious, and Daniel's pulse quickened a little to know she told the absolute truth.

Mrs. Sousa smiled. "I believe you would not ask this of us if you did not have genuine reason to be concerned. I will not attend, for you, my dearest daughter-in-law."

"And I too," said Dr. Sousa. "Of course I'm always happier to be at home with a book."

Only Kate still looked concerned. "May I inform Thomas of the danger?" asked she.

"Of course," answered Peggy. "Inform anyone you like; I think it disgraceful that the Waterloo Bridge Company is insisting on this being hushed up." She hesitated, then smiled. "But if it gets around to the Crown, don't tell them you heard it from us." And she smiled.

Kate hesitated, then nodded. "Then I shall stay home as well, and convince Thomas and his family to do the same. I trust you, dear brother, and of course my dear sister as well."

Peggy glanced at Daniel, just for a moment, with warmth in her eyes, and then smiled. "I shall rest better knowing you are all out of harm's way."

. . . . . .


Sidmouth: Phillips ain't just whistling Dixie in the very first paragraph; as Home Secretary, Sidmouth was indeed extremely worried about the possibility of revolutionary action taking place in the UK, although his concern was more about domestic unrest, with possible French Revolution influences, than he was about imaginary Russian anarchist groups. There was discontent among the people of the UK, spurred by the famine and unemployment that had been triggered by the Napoleonic Wars and exacerbated by the Corn Laws (remember those?); much of the government was worried that the people would take a leaf from the book of the French revolutionaries and, you know, revolt and kill all the aristocrats. So concerned was Sidmouth about cracking down on any such behavior that in February of 1817, he introduced a bill which passed in Parliament, temporarily suspending habeas corpus, a.k.a. basically allowing people to be detained illegally; it was repealed the next year. After rioting broke out at the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, Parliament passed the Six Acts—again, legislation introduced by Sidmouth—which made any large gatherings for radical purposes a treasonous act. They too were dropped a few years later.

Serf theaters: An odd tidbit of Russia history to which history maven Annie+MacDonald alerted me. Many noblemen in Russia owned serfs—in the 1857 census, 38% of the population were privately owned serfs, with another 38% being serfs who worked on state-owned land. The vast majority were agricultural laborers, but beginning in the mid-18th century, nobles found a new and unusual use for them: they would recruit those with musical or dramatic talent to form serf theaters, where their serfs put on plays, concerts, ballets and operas for the nobles and their friends. One estimate puts the number of serf theaters at 170 in the early 19th century. Perhaps the most fascinating story to come out of this is of Praskovia Kovalyova, a soprano in Nikolai Sheremetev's serf opera company. She became very popular and widely respected, until her owner, who was the richest man in Russia at the time, fell in love with her and eventually married her, resulting in, as you might imagine, terrible scandal. I'd say "You go Praskovia, you go marry that rich guy no matter what the snobs say" only she died not long after from complications of her pregnancy so it's not quite the triumphant ending one might have hoped for.

Waterloo Bridge: Starting in the early 19th century, the Strand Bridge Company found wealthy investors in order to build a toll bridge over the Thames, the idea being that the tolls paid by Londoners would go to pay the shareholders. In 1816, when the bridge was partially constructed, Parliament decided the bridge should be renamed the Waterloo Bridge (and the company was therefore renamed the Waterloo Bridge Company) and stand as London's great monument to the battle, as it was already clear that it was going to be an architectural masterpiece. The bridge, designed by Scottish engineer John Rennie, was one of the finest in Europe; the Italian sculptor Canova said that "it is worth going to England solely to see Rennie’s bridge." Unfortunately, being an architectural marvel didn't mean that people were willing to pay the tolls, especially when there were toll-free bridges not too far away, and the bridge never made the money that the Company hoped it would; it was not too many years before the tolls were not generating enough revenue to pay the lowest tier of shareholders. It was taken over in 1878 by the MBW to become a free, public bridge, only then water damage and problems with the foundations led to it being closed in the 1920s and rebuilt in the 1940s using mainly female labor (the men being at war, you understand), giving rise to its nickname, the Ladies' Bridge. The new bridge is, sadly, not half so pretty as Rennie's.

Palace of Westminster: You know it as the Houses of Parliament, although you probably wouldn't recognize it in 1817 because it was destroyed by fire in 1835 and rebuilt in the Gothic Revival style and in rather a different shape. Built in the 11th century, it served as a royal palace until 1512 when, after a fire in the royal residences area, it was turned over to Parliament as a meeting place. The king then moved his London residence to . . .

Whitehall: The Palace of Whitehall was originally York Place until Henry VIII ousted its owner, Cardinal Wolsey, from both his house and his position and took the house (but not the position). In its heyday it was the largest palace in Europe, with over 1500 rooms. It served as the royal residence from 1530 until it was mostly destroyed by fire in 1698; some repairs were made, but the royal family moved and the land was used for new residences and government buildings, though the area kept the name Whitehall. The buildings on the land formerly occupied by the palace remain, to this day, the center of British government.

Chapter 27


Many thanks, once again, go to Annie+MacDonald for an excellent suggestion that I ended up working into the story. You'll know it when you see it, I think, Annie. :)

Also, there's a tiny reference to Quo Vadis?, to remind us all that it is a fabulous fic and if you're not reading it you should be.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

Daniel awoke early the next morning at his parents' home on Berkeley Square. He had elected to sleep there last night for several reasons: he did so prefer his own bed, he needed a few things from the house, and since his parents knew he was back in London there was no reason to stay away. And although he, like Peggy, worried that his family would keep him up late with their questions, he was pleasantly surprised when they respected his claim that he had to be up quite early the next day and therefore needed to retire to his bed at an earlier hour than was his usual habit. So he had returned home after the second sweep of his assigned buildings and the meeting with Colonel Phillips and found no impediment to his immediately going to sleep, and had woken feeling refreshed and ready for what promised to be a strenuous day.

As per Colonel Phillips' instruction, he dressed himself for the day in his Navy uniform. "Shows proper respect to the Battle of Waterloo," the colonel had said, "and it might be useful should any of you find yourselves needing to assert your authority at any point."

It felt strange to put on the fine dress uniform; it had been so long since he'd been on ship, and even longer since he'd had to wear anything but the less formal undress uniform. He tied the black stock around his neck, rather than the usual white cravat, and fastened the gold buttons on his dark blue coat and smoothed down the gold-embroidered lapels. He dared to defy convention and wear trousers instead of breeches; it was not the most commonly done thing in the Navy, but nor was it unheard of, and he far preferred the trousers for the usual reason:-- namely the concealment of his false leg. Then, preparing for what could become a violent day, he tucked his sheathed seaman's knife down his boot, and tucked a small pistol into a pocket.

Then, tucking his bicorne hat under his arm, he examined the final result of his dressing in the looking glass. The man who looked back at him was one that Daniel hadn't seen in some time: Captain Daniel Sousa, hero of the Indomitable. He was surprised to find how unused he had become to that person. He did not regret a single moment of his service in the Navy, not even the loss of his leg, for he had done a great deal of good for his country and saved many lives. But that part of his life seemed so far away from him now, and he felt more strongly than ever that perhaps his naval service was a chapter of his life that had reached its end and ought to be closed.

Though he'd expected to be the first person in his family to wake that morning, he supposed he wasn't surprised to see his mother at the breakfast table; she had always been an early riser, and the family had spent a quiet evening in the night before.

When she saw her son enter, she smiled broadly. "Daniel, how very smart you look today! I have not seen you in your uniform in many months." But then she hesitated, and her smile dimmed, and understanding entered her expression. "You're going to the bridge opening, aren't you?" she asked.

Daniel hid a grimace. He would like to conceal the truth, to keep his mother from worrying, but she would see through it in a moment; the only possible reasons for him to wear his captain's uniform would be if he were going back to sea that very day, or if he were attending a military event or ceremony. He had rather hoped to slip away unnoticed this morning, for this very reason, but his mother's sleep schedule had conspired against him.

"I am helping Colonel Phillips with security," he said, as it was a perfectly reasonable explanation and had the advantage of being entirely true.

His mother nodded, clearly trying not to let her worry show. "You will be careful," said she, more command than question.

"Of course, Mama," he smiled.

"And ask Peggy to be careful as well," said she. "I am still absolutely depending on you marrying her, which you can hardly do if she is dead."

He blinked. "What makes you think Peggy will doing anything dangerous today?"

His mother gave him a look of fond amusem*nt. "I know my future daughter-in-law, dearest," said she. "And I know that if you and her uncle are in the thick of all this, she will be there right alongside you."

He did not want to give away Peggy's secrets, but he could not help smiling a little. "I will pass along your message, Mama," said he.

"Good," said his mother. "Now come eat; you undoubtedly have quite the day ahead of you."

He obediently filled his plate from the sideboard, and joined her at the table as she told him that she had written to their relations and friends, warning them of the potential danger of attending the bridge opening. "I do not know that the letters will reach their recipients in time to change any of their plans," said she, "or whether they will, as our own government has clearly not done, lend sufficient credence to the threat. But I will know that I tried. And you, in the meantime, will go out and make sure that nothing happens."

They were nearly finished eating when Kate rushed in, still in her dressing gown -- an unusual occurrence for her, indicating that something might be genuinely wrong. Her sharp eyes took in Daniel's uniform and, like her mother, she seemed to immediately understand the significance of his wearing it. "You're going to the bridge opening?" she demanded.

He nodded, wondering how much to explain, but she did not give him a chance. "I am glad, for you can keep an eye out for Thomas."

"Thomas?" Repeated Mrs. Sousa.

"Despite the warning I sent last night, Thomas's uncle Carrington still insists on going to the opening; he is certain that the government will not allow anything to happen," said she, gesturing with the letter clutched in her hand. "And Thomas is convinced by his uncle's arguments, and intends to accompany him." She took a step closer to her brother. "Daniel, we are to be married in two weeks. I cannot lose him. Does the Home Office have a plan to stop this attack?"

Daniel fought back the words that struggled to break free, the "Foolish Uncle Carrington" that would hardly help anyone. Instead he reached out and clasped Kate's hand. "The Home Office does indeed have a plan, with which I am assisting. And I will do everything in my power to keep Thomas safe."

So it was that he left Berkeley Square with a very heavy heart. He had always taken the threat of the anarchist very seriously, but now that the threat had become very specific, and the potential casualties included someone who was very nearly family, his feelings on the matter had taken a rather more somber turn.

In this mood he arrived at the Home Office, and found himself lost in a sea of red and scarlet coats; all the Alien Office Agents, Daniel excepted, had been involved in the Army in one capacity or another, and they too had followed Colonel Phillips' orders to arrive in uniform. He alone stood out in his Navy blue.

"Oh, you're here," said Miller, looking uncharacteristically formal in the red coat of an enlisted soldier, even if that coat was a little tattered with use. "Peggy was just looking for you. Peg! Captain's here!"

"Oh good," said Peggy's voice from the front sitting room, and she stepped into the foyer. And then she stopped at the sight of Daniel, her face quite blank with surprise. "Oh, Daniel! I've never seen you in your uniform before. You look . . . very well in it."

Miller turned away with a badly concealed smirk, and Daniel ignored it and stepped closer to Peggy. "In case we didn't have enough to worry about," said he, "my family still plans to stay home, but Thomas intends to attend the bridge opening."

Peggy frowned a little. "Thomas? Our Thomas?"

Daniel was not prepared for the way his stomach flipped pleasantly at her words. "Our Thomas," she'd said, as though they were already married and Thomas Featherstonehaugh was their brother-in-law. He forced the thought back into the compartment of his mind where he'd been storing many such thoughts recently, to be dealt with at a later date when he was no longer dealing with a Russian anarchist bent on murdering his countrymen.

"His uncle still wants to attend, having travelled here from Spain for the event," he confirmed, "and Thomas has been swayed by his uncle's reassurances that the government can handle the threat."

Peggy's expression firmed into one of determination. "Then we had better go out and handle the threat, hadn't we? I don't think wearing black would suit dear Kate at all."

Daniel smiled at her, feeling once again relieved that his family's health and happiness rested at least partially in her capable hands. He opened his mouth to thank her for it, and in that moment a voice spoke up behind him.

"Captain Sousa!" said Miss Martinelli, sounding delighted. "How very handsome you look in your uniform. It is truly a pity you do not wear it more often." She joined her friend Peggy, and Daniel could see that she had gone to every effort to look the part of the Society belle, as Colonel Phillips had ordered, with her golden hair carefully curled around her face. The light blue dress she was wearing looked familiar, though.

"The dress is Peggy's," said she, as though reading his mind. "I stayed at the Phillips' home again last night, so she had to lend me a few things. It took quite a bit of effort on her maid's part to get it to fit right!"

Daniel realized that the young lady spoke of the difference in her and her friend's physical builds, and, a little embarrassed, he quickly changed the subject. "It has been some time since last I wore this uniform," said he. "I was quite glad to find that it still fit."

"I assume you have not worn it since you were at sea," said Peggy. She herself was dressed in white, the color he knew she chose when she wanted to blend in, with a red spencer with gold trim and military-style embellishments, as though to echo the Army coats of the men around her.

"I have not."

"You should wear it more often," said Miss Martinelli. "But then most men look better in uniform, I think."

"I hope your admiration for the military uniform extends to the Army, Miss Martinelli." Lieutenant Thompson had quite unexpectedly joined them, looking impeccably turned out in his gleaming scarlet and gold coat, his hat tucked under his arm. The young lady did indeed admire the Army uniform, if a moment of surprised but approving examination was any indication. Daniel could hardly blame her; the lieutenant cut a very handsome figure in his regimentals.

She quickly recovered her composure. "You see?" she said conversationally to Peggy. "Most men do look better in uniform."

The lieutenant rolled his eyes but smiled.

Colonel Phillips called them all to attention then, and reiterated his instructions from yesterday. His expression was as grim as Daniel had ever seen it, and after reminding the agents one last time of the danger they faced and receiving their affirmation that they were aware of and accepted the danger, he gave them a few parting words.

"Hundreds of people have already gathered," said he. "And thousands more will follow. The potential death toll is astronomical." He went on to remind them of the seriousness of their task, for not only the attendants' lives were at stake, but also political stability in Europe, should Miss Underwood indeed escape with the gas and use it to destroy the Russian government. "Be vigilant, be safe, be valiant," said he. "And God go with you."

With that speech echoing in their ears, it was a somber group that collected their things and left the Home Office building. Many of the agents shook each other's hands as they left, and Colonel Phillips came up to personally say farewell to his niece and her three companions. Peggy received an embrace, an action which revealed to Daniel just how worried the colonel actually was, for he was not by nature a physically demonstrative person. Thompson and Miss Martinelli received firm handshakes, Miss Martinelli looking quite amused at the unexpected farewell, for a gentleman did not usually shake a lady's hand.

And to Daniel, Colonel Phillips gave a hearty handshake, with his other hand clapped firmly on his upper arm. "Stay alive," he requested. "I am looking forward to having you around for a long time yet."

Daniel supposed the colonel referred to the possibility of his working at the Alien Office in the future, until he glanced at Peggy and saw her blushing a little. And then his own face colored a little as well.

At the mouth of Downing Street, they bid farewell to Miss Martinelli and Lieutenant Thompson. Now that the moment of truth was upon them, the young lady seemed slightly nervous but still determined, and Daniel, watching the way that the lieutenant watched her, supposed that at least he could rest easy in knowing that Thompson would do everything in his power to keep Miss Martinelli safe.

As Daniel, Peggy, and Colonel Phillips walked up Whitehall toward the Strand, Daniel felt his heart sink at every step. Any hope he'd had that the event might not be well attended was destroyed at the sight of spectators streaming toward the bridge and toward the shore of the Thames; already hundreds of people were on the streets, and more would appear before the event actually started.

At the top of Buckingham Street, they bid farewell to the colonel, who embraced his niece one last time, and then found themselves alone. Peggy's expression was one of an intense determination and focus that Daniel had never seen before; he imagined that she had looked just the same way before she rode off into the fray at Waterloo.

"Be careful," Daniel told her. There was a great deal more he wished to tell her at that moment, about how brave and admirable she was and how knowing her had brightened the last four months of his life past anything he knew possible, and perhaps, were he brave enough to say it, that the dearest wish of his heart was to never again be parted from her, but this was not the time or the place, with the threat of the anarchist looming and spectators streaming to the shore every moment and with Peggy's expression one of steel.

But that implacable brow softened, just a moment, at his words, and she stepped forward to place one hand on his shoulder. "I will promise to be careful if you promise to do the same," said she. He smiled his agreement, and they parted ways.

Quickly Daniel found the officer over the soldiers he had been assigned, a gentleman called Grahn, who returned to Daniel's keeping the flares that the soldiers had kept with them on their watch. He reported that there had been no suspicious activity on either street all night, and the only people leaving or entering the buildings were the occupants.

Daniel thanked him for his vigilance, then took a moment to speak with Langley, the agent who had been assigned to the great water tower that stood by York Buildings; the tower would be extremely difficult to climb, but being the highest spot in the area would make it a tempting target for Miss Underwood. The agent, however, had nothing to report. Daniel then began the final sweep of the buildings before the event began. Again, nothing of interest surfaced, and stationing Grahn and his men once again in the street, Daniel climbed to the roof of the building to scan the skyline for columns of smoke from one of the other agents.

After the lengthy sweep of the buildings, it was now nearly time for the festivities to begin, and the crowds around below him had swelled beyond anything Daniel had ever seen, crowding the street and thronging the York Watergate. And they only increased in number as his gaze followed the shoreline upstream to the bridge itself, its white arches gleaming the sun, flags blowing in the merry breeze that might end up spelling doom before the day was out. At the bridge itself, the spectators appeared to be packed in so they could hardly move, a mix of ton and cits and working class and poor, dotted throughout with soldiers in vivid red. Out of every nearby building hung even more spectators: up on the roof, leaning out of windows, packing balconies so that Daniel rather worried about the possibility of a collapse. Down at the river itself, many people stood on the shores, willing to muddy their shoes and hems for the occasion, while the more clever and enterprising had clambered atop piles of crates to keep themselves clean. And the surface of the water was covered with more boats than Daniel, who had grown up watching the Thames, had ever seen gathered on that great river; some of the occupants wore the same Navy blue as Daniel. All were waving merrily to each other and cheering, enjoying the festive mood of the day.

And Daniel felt sick. He had imagined a few hundred people dying if the gas was released, but now, seeing the crowds gathered, he knew it would be worse than that. In the best possible scenario, the gas would sink to the level of the river and affect everyone in those boats and along the shoreline. But if some of the gas settled on the bridge . . . the death tolls would be unthinkable. He squeezed his eyes shut and sent a prayer heavenward that Colonel Phillips and the others assigned to the bridge itself were successful in guarding the area.

After a few minutes, movement on the building next to him caught his eye; Peggy too had made her way to the roof of her building. In her tight movements and serious expression, he read the same frustration and anxiety that plagued him. When she caught his eye, however, she managed a small smile.

From somewhere upstream, in the direction of Westminster, there came a cheer; Daniel supposed that the prince had appeared and was preparing to begin his boat journey toward Waterloo Bridge. The moment of truth had arrived; surely now was the opportune time for an attack. And yet still no green or red smoke filled the sky.

And for the first time, Daniel pondered that perhaps they had been wrong. Perhaps they had guessed the wrong moment of the attack, or perhaps Miss Underwood, knowing that her cover had been blown, had given up on the idea of a London attack and simply returned with all haste to Russia; perhaps her sighting in London was simply her gathering a few possessions before leaving the country. Or perhaps she was simply clever enough that all their precautions had been for nothing, and she was at this moment hidden away somewhere nearby and releasing the gas on the unsuspecting crowd.

He could not stop his spirits from falling at the thought, and, not wanting Peggy to see the change of his expression, he turned and paced away from the river and toward the Strand, examining the surrounding buildings and streets far below. One of the soldiers he'd sent up to the roof to patrol had made his way all the way to the far side of the block, and Daniel went to check in with him.

The soldier's gaze was fixed down the Strand, toward Charing Cross, and his expression was troubled.

"What is it?"

The soldier jumped. "Sir! I was just wondering if I should come find you, sir," said he. "Something odd is happening in St. James' Park."

Pulse quickening, Daniel looked where the soldier indicated and saw what had troubled the man so: far away down the Strand, past Charing Cross, and just visible, from Daniel's lofty viewpoint, over the top of the Admiralty buildings, a great white something sat in St. James' Park, spherical in shape and as tall as a house. He stared at it, baffled, until the word came to his mind: balloon. He had never seen one before, but he'd heard them described often enough; he knew that human ascents in such vehicles were popular entertainments at the courts of French kings, and that the French military had used them for airborne reconnaissance.

"Good work," he told the soldier, and made his way quickly back to the front of the building, where Peggy stood. "I think there's a balloon in St. James' Park," said he without preamble, calling loudly to be heard across the street and over the sounds of the crowd.

Peggy's expression said that she instantly understood the implications of that statement. "Upwind from the bridge," said she. "You don't think --"

"I do think," said he.

She nodded. "Meet me in the street."

With a few parting instructions to the patrol on the roof, Daniel made his way down to the street, where he gave Grahn his flares and left him with authority to act on his behalf, where patrolling and lighting the flares was concerned. This took so much time that when he reached the street, he found Peggy'd had time to commandeer a pair of horses.

"I had to mention my uncle's name a few times," she admitted when he looked quizzical.

With her help, he mounted his horse, silently thankful that his practice in Kent left him far more prepared for this outing than he would have been just a month previous. She mounted her own horse, and together they made their way through the crowds toward the Strand. Fortunately, on that thoroughfare the crowds of spectators stayed out of the way of the carriages and traffic was moving swiftly, or as swiftly as traffic ever moved on the Strand, and they made good time toward the park.

All the while he wondered if his pulling Peggy and himself away from their posts would prove to be unwise, were this aeronaut they sought in the park simply a pleasure-seeker, or perhaps the balloon a planned spectacle the Waterloo Bridge Company had hired for the opening of the bridge. But in all the discussions with the Company and the prince and the duke, no one had ever mentioned a balloon ascent, as far as he was aware.

The closer they got to St. James' Park, the more the crowds thinned, and soon they were able to let the horses run; Daniel was unused to the jarring motions of a horse at that speed, and he found himself slowly beginning to slip from his saddle. He blessed his good fortune when they moved past the last building and found themselves in the park, and they slowed their horses as they took in the balloon that stood in the middle of the park.

It looked even more massive now that they were closer to it, and Daniel could see that it was more oblong in shape than he'd thought, tapering at the bottom. Flung over the top of it was a great net, and the ropes at the bottom of this net were affixed to a large basket that dangled beneath the balloon, made of a sort of wicker, bowl-shaped and perhaps ten feet across. It floated some five feet off the ground, and would undoubtedly have floated higher if not for the four ropes that ran from the basket to the ground, anchoring the balloon. There was a slight figure in the basket, dressed in a finely cut men's coat and breeches, but when the person turned at the sound of the approaching horses, Daniel and Peggy saw her true identity: Dorothea Underwood. Daniel felt his shoulders sink in relief.

When the young lady saw her pursuers, her brow furrowed in an angry scowl, but almost immediately the expression disappeared under the vapid smile so often affected by their fellow houseguest. "Miss Carter! Captain Sousa! You two really are awfully clever, aren't you?"

And then she leaned forward over the edge of the basket, and her smile took on a hard, predatory edge. "Unfortunately for you, it's too late to do anything."

Inside the basket, she tugged on something they could not see. Immediately all four of the anchor ropes came loose, slithered over the edge of the basket, and fell to the ground. And the balloon began to ascend into the sky.

. . . . . .


The Opening of Waterloo Bridge: Two visual references, to get a sense of the scale of the event: Constable's famous and massive painting and a useful etching of the event.

Navy uniforms: I spent an absurd amount of time trying to figure out what pants a naval officer might wear with his uniform, because we know how much Daniel dislikes breeches. White breeches are clearly the most common in this period, but I did find a few paintings from the period showing captains in trousers and/or wearing navy blue or even gray pants instead of white. One possible reason for the discrepancy is that there was no standard issue uniform, just a series of regulations that an officer would use to have his own uniform made; these regulations were a bit more like guidelines than actual rules, and the officers would take a certain amount of liberties, often changing them a little to fit the fashions of the time.

Spencer: It was common for spencer jackets to have military-inspired embellishments; when you've been at war for 15 years, perhaps such a development is inevitable. The spencer Peggy is wearing comes from a picture from the Kyoto Costume Institute; I saw it and knew our Peg would love it. I found another one I loved even better here, but that one would have been a little on-the-nose at this point in their relationship. She'll have that one custom-made after the wedding, and amuse Daniel by claiming, "I simply wanted to match the splendor of my husband in his captain's uniform."

York Watergate: If you ever want to see how much building projects like the Thames Embankment have changed the river, search for the York Watergate on Google Maps and think about the fact that it used to jut out into the river.

York Buildings Water Tower: If you ever look at artwork of the Thames from this period, you might notice a rather unattractive massive wooden obelisk on the shore. This it the York Buildings water tower, which provided water to houses along the Strand. This tower (the first was destroyed by fire) was built in the 1690s; I'm not sure when it came down, but if you squint really hard at the Constable painting mentioned above, I think you can see it, so it was probably still standing in 1817.

Disclaimer: so there is not actually a line of unbroken buildings along Buckingham Street from the shore to the Strand; it is cut in half by a cross street. However, on the 1817 map I was looking at, that bit is right at the edge and crowded and hard to read, and I didn't realize this until it was too late and that cross street not existing had become a vital part of Daniel noticing the balloon. So I left the mistake in. Not my first historical inaccuracy, and probably not my last. :)

Chapter 28


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

Long experience in battle on the high seas spurred Daniel immediately into action where others might have hesitated; he urged his horse once again into a run, before even Peggy reacted. They had to stop Miss Underwood before the balloon rose out of reach, for if it did there would be no way to stop it.

His keen gaze caught sight of something that caused his shoulders once again to sag in relief: from the basket of the balloon hung a rope ladder of the sort he had climbed on a hundred ships in his time. It dangled to some ten feet below the basket and was therefore still in reach, but it would not remain so for long. There was no time to discuss strategy with Peggy, who was a short distance behind him. He would simply have to act quickly and hope she backed up his actions.

He guided the horse to directly beneath the balloon and carefully removed his false leg from the stirrup. Then with both hands he gripped the second-to-bottom rung of the ladder as it went by him, and allowed the ascent of the balloon to lift him out of the saddle and into the air.

It was a matter of only a little exertion to climb the ladder using only his upper body, going hand over hand until he was high enough to place his good leg on the lowest rung. After the loss of his leg and his promotion to captain, he'd had to relearn how to climb the rigging, relying mostly on his arms and using his good leg largely to support and brace himself. Such exercise had strengthened his arms greatly; and though it had been six months since he'd been up in the rigging of a ship, the constant use of the cane to support himself as he walked had kept his upper body strong.

Secure on the ladder, he glanced down and saw Peggy still on her horse; she had not arrived in time to follow him up, so he would have to bring the balloon down himself. At that moment, however, his biggest worry was Miss Underwood, who would undoubtedly cut the ladder if he did not get to the top of it soon.

He began to climb as quickly as he could manage, only to pause a moment later when gunshots began to ring out. Perhaps he had misjudged his foe's intent; perhaps she would simply shoot him. But quickly he saw that the gunshots had come from Peggy, who was pointing her gun toward the basket. The clever young lady was shooting at Miss Underwood, he realized, to buy him time and safety; the best case scenario was that she would put the anarchist out of commission, but even failing that, Miss Underwood would be so occupied with dodging bullets that she would be unable to lean out of the basket and shoot Daniel. Blessing his betrothed for her sharp mind and good aim -- for it was difficult to be accurate at such a distance, and in another person's hands, the gun could have gone astray and shot Daniel instead -- he began again to climb.

When he reached the basket itself, he peeked over the top of it to see where Miss Underwood was. She was crouched on the far side of the basket, so focused on trading shots with Miss Carter that she did not even turn around and notice him there; perhaps she'd assumed that Daniel, with only one leg, would not have reached the top of the ladder yet. Beside her feet lay three metal canisters, and Daniel remembered with some self-recrimination that he and Peggy had both left their flares with the soldiers and had no way to communicate their success with the others.

He took to examining the balloon, trying to understand its mechanism of flight. A metal frame rose up from the lip of the basket, attached in four places; it supported, some four feet off the floor in the center of the basket, a metal box in which a small fire burned. Directly above it, a hole gaped open at the point of the balloon's tapered portion. Daniel stared a moment, then understood. He'd been told, by people who'd observed balloon flights, that some were filled with lighter-than-air gases, while others were lifted by hot air, which rose skyward. He hadn't quite understood the explanation of the hot air balloon, having no visual reference, but now he saw it operated much like a ship. The great white balloon was like a sail, which caught the wind and propelled the ship forward. The "wind" in this scenario, such as it was, was the hot air rising from the fire in the box. Had he not seen, many times, that when paper burned, it released delicate bits of ash that floated on hot air currents, higher and higher until they drifted from view? This balloon appeared to operate on the same principle, only on a much larger scale: the hot air rose, filling the balloon, and took the whole contraption with it up into the skies.

It seemed to Daniel, then, that there were two ways to stop such a ship from moving: to destroy the sails, or to stop the wind. He had just started to climb the ladder again, with such intentions in mind, when suddenly Miss Underwood turned and saw him there, her expression flashing with anger.

"Peggy!" he shouted as he pulled himself up the last few rungs tumbled gracelessly over the side and into the basket. "Shoot the balloon!"

He'd worried she might not hear, for they were some twenty feet in the air at this point, but gunshots promptly filled the air as Daniel pulled himself to his feet. He attempted to reach for the gun in his pocket, but before he could Miss Underwood had crossed the basket and aimed a blow at his head, and he had to duck and spin out of her way. He'd left his cane back on his horse, but fortunately the sides of the basket gave him something to grip and brace himself on.

As he and Miss Underwood dodged each other's blows, Daniel counted nine gunshots -- between that and the shots exchanged with Miss Underwood, clearly Peggy had brought multiple guns -- but the balloon did not seem to be losing altitude; the bullet holes were simply not large enough to do the necessary damage. He would have to stop the hot air, then. And he would have to do it soon, for already the balloon had started to drift eastward, toward the edge of St. James' Park.

"I knew I should have looked harder for you that night," said Miss Underwood in tones of mild self-reproach. "We wouldn't be in this current mess if I'd just killed you."

"I appreciated it, though," said he, breathing hard from the exertion.

He'd been thinking a great deal about his last fight with Miss Underwood, trying to determine if there were anything he could have done differently to change the outcome, and had determined that if he fought her again, he would need to go on the offensive much more aggressively, to keep her busy blocking him and not allow her the time and space to get off one of her devastating blows. With this in mind, he launched himself at her, favoring speed over grace or power. And to his immense gratification, it worked; she was so busy defending herself that she scarcely had time to send any blows herself. And after a few moments, she left herself open in a moment of carelessness, and he managed to deal her a great blow to the face that made stumble back a few feet, almost to the other side of the basket.

In the moment that it took her to recover, he pulled the pistol from his pocket and took aim -- only to see that she too had taken advantage of the moment to produce a gun from somewhere. For a long, tense moment they stared at each other across the firebox. And then, in a moment of providential timing, a shot came from below -- Peggy's doing, no doubt -- and grazed Miss Underwood's shoulder. Though it seemed to do little damage, it sufficiently distracted the young lady that Daniel was able to drop his gun, take a step forward, reach up to grip the arms of the metal frame over his head, and swing his legs up to kick the firebox with as much force as he could muster.

With no idea of how strong the whole assembly was, he wasn't sure what his actions would accomplish, and so was very much surprised and pleased when the firebox, which as it transpired was only loosely attached to the frame, broke loose and went flying over the edge of the basket, quickly disappearing from sight as Daniel shouted a warning to those below.

But before it went, it gave one last gift to Daniel: a coal from the fire went flying sideways, arcing through the air to land on Miss Underwood's hand. The lady shouted and shook her hand, to remove the offending coal, leaving Daniel with another perfect opportunity to strike, while she was momentarily distracted.

Again he reached up to grip the arms of the metal frame and swung his legs forward, but this time he landed on the other side of the basket and used his forward momentum to propel himself toward Miss Underwood and land a blow to her jaw in just the way that Gentleman Jackson had taught him as a way to render someone unconscious. To his relief, for perhaps the first time ever he found the right spot, and Miss Underwood crumpled to the floor of the basket, leaving Daniel to reflect that six months ago, he would have been horrified at the prospect of someday hitting a woman in a way that would cause her to lose consciousness. Even now, knowing what she was and how many lives she intended to take, he felt a little strange about what he'd just done.

But there was no time for guilt; she might regain consciousness at any moment. He looked over the edge of the basket and saw, to his distress, that removing the firebox had not been sufficient to bring the balloon to the ground. They were descending, but impossibly slowly; clearly there was sufficient hot air in the balloon to keep it aloft for the time being. At this rate they would land somewhere on the Strand, which could only result in chaos and injury. Clearly more damage would need to be done to the balloon itself, to allow the hot air to escape.

He did not much like leaving the unconscious Miss Underwood alone with the canisters while he set about this task, but could see no alternatives; if he dropped the canisters to the ground below, they might burst open. All he could do was act quickly and hope she did not awaken. He did, however, take her gun and tuck it into his coat.

With his experience, it was the work of a moment to hoist himself up to the side of the balloon, using the net that hung over it and from which the basket hung. He glanced down once, seeing Peggy below, still mounted on her horse, gazing up at him; he had to look away, for while he was accustomed to being aloft in the rigging of a ship, somehow being forty feet up in the air and clinging to the side of a flying contraption was a vastly different and far more distressing experience.

Then, pulling the knife from his boot, he began to cut a large V shape into the balloon, that seeming to him to be the best way to make a large hole quickly. Then he climbed a little higher and repeated the process. The balloon's descent increased in speed as he made a third hole, and then a fourth. Down the balloon drifted, borne ever northeastward by the breeze, finally passing the eastern border of St. James' Park and bumping to the ground on the gravel expanse of Horse Guards Parade. Daniel, still up in the net over the balloon, hit the ground a moment later, his legs carefully positioned so as to avoid the pain of his stump impacting the false leg at such velocity. Still, the landing was hard enough to knock him to the ground.

Peggy galloped up on her horse only a moment later, her eyes full of concern, but Daniel immediately pointed her over to the remains of the balloon, which lay deflated and tattered on the ground; the way it had landed, the wicker basket where Miss Underwood still lay was mostly uncovered, but Daniel could not seen inside it. Peggy nodded, dismounted, and made her way to investigate the state of Miss Underwood and the canisters, a pistol held in one hand.

All was strangely calm and quiet, with the rumbling of traffic and the crowds a quiet background to the sound of Peggy's footsteps on the gravel. Daniel observed, every muscle tensed, as she approached. Her horse stood close enough by that he could grab the stirrups and pull himself to his feet, holding onto the saddle for balance; his own horse was still somewhere in the park somewhere, his cane still lashed uselessly to the saddle. Around the edges of the parade ground, a few curious onlookers watched the crashed balloon.

And then, when Peggy reached the basket, with a sudden burst of motion Miss Underwood emerged, hair and clothing disheveled, with a hard smile on her face and a strange gleam in her eye. In her arms she held one of the canisters, its nozzle pointed directed at Peggy.

Her intent was clear, and Daniel froze in horror. Fortunately, Peggy did not, and immediately she swung the arm she already had extended at Miss Underwood, striking the side of her head with the pistol. The young lady dropped the canister, which fell to the gravel at Peggy's feet; Daniel prayed fervently that their Russian foe had not opened the nozzle before pointing it at Peggy, for if she had, his beloved might already be exposed.

Miss Underwood recovered so quickly that she was able to grab the arm that had just struck her and, with a tidy move Daniel had never seen, divest it of its gun; a moment later, she had that gun pointed back at its owner. Daniel froze, but fortunately Miss Underwood clearly felt the need to speak before she pulled the trigger.

"Do you know, I've always hated you, Miss Carter." Despite the vitriol of her words, she maintained that vapid smile that was beginning to well and thoroughly frighten Daniel.

Even some twenty feet away, Daniel could see how fearlessly Peggy faced down that gun. "And why is that, Miss Underwood?"

"I used to be so jealous of girls like you," said the young lady; Daniel had to strain to hear her over the sounds from the nearby street. "Born rich and prominent, convinced that the random happenstance of your birth and parentage, both completely outside your control, means you deserve better than poor girls like me. Do you know what choices the world gives the daughter of a serf?"

"I am sorry for that," Peggy said, quite sincerely.

"And you're worse than all of them," Miss Underwood went on as though she hadn't heard, still with that smile on her face. "So proud of yourself for being so strong and independent, for the things you've accomplished when in truth you wouldn't have had any of the opportunities you did if not for your uncle. Another circ*mstance outside your control that you've chosen to be smug about."

Moving slowly, so as not to be noticed, Daniel drew his pistol and aimed with steady hands that belied the trembling everywhere else in his body. Then he hesitated; he knew the accuracy of that pistol, and saw how close the two women stood, and knew he was as likely to hit Peggy as he was to hit her foe.

"And the way men just fall over themselves over you; your stupidly noble captain would take a bullet for you. The men who show interest in a serf actress do not have romantic picnics and church bells in mind."

"Why are you doing this?" Peggy asked. "You're a serf back in Russia, but here you are, free in England, with money in your pocket and clearly the ability to pass for an Englishwoman. You could escape from that life."

She shook her head. "Not until Howard Stark, and the whole Russian government, has suffered for what they've done."

"You, like Ivchenko, blame Howard for the deaths at Maloyaroslavets?"

If her opponent was surprised at Peggy's knowledge of Leviathan, she did not show it. "Ivchenko does." For the first time, something softer than anger flitted across Miss Underwood's face, and almost immediately vanished. "If I help him, he has promised that when the Russian government is destroyed, serfdom will be abolished. My family, my kind, will be free."

"I am sorry for the difficult life that you have had."

"I don't particularly care about your apologies."

"But you were wrong about one thing," said Peggy, and Daniel was certain that she'd pitched her voice a little louder. "My stupidly noble captain knows something better to do with bullets than be hit by them." Daniel's brow furrowed, but he understood her words in the next moment, when Peggy suddenly dropped to the ground, taking herself out of the way so he'd have a clean shot at Miss Underwood. He took it without hesitation, and that young lady cried out in pain, dropping her gun and clutching her injured hand to her chest, leaving Daniel extremely pleased and extremely surprised that he'd made that shot.

Before Peggy could pick up the weapon, Miss Underwood launched herself at her, resulting in a brief tussle on the ground that took both ladies a short distance from the basket, the gun and the canisters. Peggy rolled to her feet and her opponent did the same, and so began perhaps the most impressive fistfight Daniel had ever seen, including those he'd seen in the war.

He saw now that Peggy's fight with those drunk sailors all those months ago had been nothing compared to what she was capable of; clearly she'd been holding back. Miss Underwood was as graceful and deadly as he remembered; now that he could see it as an observer, not a participant, Daniel found himself reminded of a demonstration he'd once seen of martial artistry of the Far East, and he wondered if Miss Underwood had been trained in one of those styles.

Peggy, on the other hand, was purely British in her solid but quick boxing skills. Daniel thought she'd do very well in a prizefight, for in the great tradition of prizefighters he'd seen, she clearly adopted a philosophy of "Anything goes" in her style; no part of the body was off-limits, and at one point she scooped up a handful of gravel from the ground and threw it in her opponents' face to distract her. Daniel stared, then smiled a little. It would not be allowed at Gentleman Jackson's establishment, but it was effective. And he could not blame Peggy for needing an edge. Though he could see that she'd once again wore breeches under her dress, the yards of fabric in her skirt were interfering with her movements; Miss Underwood, dressed as a man, had no such impediment.

After those first shocked few moments, Daniel was himself not entirely idle. He dared not fire another shot, for Peggy was too close to Miss Underwood, but he could certainly get the canisters to safety. Unfortunately, forced to hold onto the horse's saddle as he was in order to move, he was not making good time toward the canisters. So he was as pleased as he was baffled when he heard footsteps crunching swiftly toward him on the gravel and looked up to see Miss Martinelli running at full tilt toward the balloon, Lieutenant Thompson not far behind.

The young lady slowed down hardly at all as she scooped up the canister on the ground and the gun beside it, and looped around to run toward Daniel; all of it had happened so fast that he could not warn her to take care, and could only hope against hope that the canister was not opened and that Miss Martinelli had not just signed her own death sentence. The lieutenant arrived at the basket a moment later, but had to climb inside to find the canisters.

"Is the nozzle opened?" Daniel demanded as Miss Martinelli pounded toward him at an impressive speed, given that young ladies did not often run.

She shook her head as she pulled to a stop beside him. "The dial is still pointing to 'Closed,'" she said between gasping breaths; "I checked as I picked it up." And Daniel felt his legs nearly give out beneath him from relief.

"We heard the gunshots," she explained, glancing over at the balloon where Lieutenant Thompson was still out of sight in the basket. Her bonnet, long since blown back by her speed and now dangling down her back, rocked from side to side as she moved. "The prince's boat had left and we had little else to do, so we decided to investigate."

"I am eternally grateful that you did," was Daniel's reply. "Do you have your flares? We do not."

"Thompson has them," said she, and it was then that they both heard the unmistakable sound of a pistol being co*cked at close range.

They both turned slowly and saw the rather incongruous sight of Aunt Elizabeth, enormous and impressively proper in her dowdy dress and bonnet, pointing a gun at them. It made sense, Daniel supposed, that Miss Underwood would have left her accomplice on the ground to ensure that she made her ascent safely, but as the lady was on foot and had always been quite slow-moving, she had not been able to keep up with Daniel and Peggy on horseback. He cursed himself for not having noticed her in the park earlier, but then he had been rather preoccupied.

The woman said something in Russian; the tone in which it was delivered, and the accompanying smile, meant that Daniel did not need to delve into his knowledge of sailor's Russian to understand the general threatening meaning of it. He wondered if he had a prayer of pulling his gun from his pocket and taking a shot before she shot first.

And in that moment, a streak of scarlet and gold cannonballed into the august figure of Aunt Elizabeth, knocking her to the ground and giving Miss Martinelli a chance to dart in and retrieve the gun from her surprised hands.

"Captain!" called Lieutenant Thompson from where he knelt on Aunt Elizabeth's back. "Have you any rope?" The two canisters he'd collected lay on the ground beside them.

"No, but I've a knife," said Daniel, "if there's anything we can cut to make into a rope."

The lieutenant removed the satchel that hung over his shoulder, and used the offered knife to cut a piece of the strap and use it to tightly bind their assailant's hands behind her back. Miss Martinelli, in the meantime, removed the red flare from the satchel and began to situate it securely in the gravel.

"Your timing is impeccable," Daniel told them, knowing he owed them much more in the way of gratitude but feeling too overwhelmed to offer it properly at that moment. His attention was still on the fight happening over by the balloon, which seemed to show no signs of terminating.

They both smiled, and Lieutenant Thompson went over to light the flare, for Miss Martinelli clearly had no idea how to use the striker in the bag. In a moment, a thick column of red smoke was rising into the sky, and Lieutenant Thompson was cutting another piece of the satchel strap:-- to use on Miss Underwood, Daniel realized. He started making his way toward Peggy.

As he did, he heard his beloved's voice. "Do you see that?" she asked her assailant, and Daniel could see a trickle of blood at the corner of her mouth and her general posture of exhaustion. "The whole Alien Office and Army will be here soon. Surrender now. We'll see that you're treated fairly."

"Oh, Miss Carter," said Miss Underwood brightly, "I only pretend to be stupid."

Daniel could see Peggy steel herself as she launched herself again at Miss Underwood, and he quickened his pace, eager to offer his assistance to his exhausted Peggy, should she choose to avail herself of it.

But in the end his help was not needed, for after dodging a few swings Peggy suddenly darted forward and drove an elbow into Miss Underwood's abdomen; she must have found a particularly tender spot, for the young lady crumped, and Peggy took advantage of her lowered defenses to strike her in the jaw. Miss Underwood fell to the ground and did not stand back up, and a flash of blue scurried past Daniel: Miss Martinelli, coming with the cut satchel strap to help Peggy tie up their foe.

This they did in an instant, and then Peggy looked up at Daniel from where she knelt on Miss Underwood's back, shoulders heaving as she tried to catch her breath. Her hair was tousled, her bonnet long gone, her spencer ripped on one shoulder seam, her white dress dirtied past repair. Her expression showed exhaustion and relief and something else that he could not quite name and that made his pulse accelerate.

"We don't think any of the canisters were opened," came Thompson's voice from behind them, and Daniel realized with a start that he was actually reporting to Peggy -- quite a change for a man who'd once insolently called her Margaret. "And we apprehended Aunt Elizabeth." Daniel glanced back to see that he was leading the sullen-looking woman along, her hands still bound.

"Well done," said Peggy, looking around, her gaze ending up once again on Daniel. "Well done to all of you."

Miss Martinelli sidled up to Thompson, giving him a look that Daniel had never seen her direct at the lieutenant before. "John Thompson," said she, with a small smile. "Did you just attack an old woman for me?"

He looked a little embarrassed. "She was going to shoot you," he said stiffly, clearly uncomfortable with having struck a woman so. "She was dangerous."

"I did not mean to accuse, Lieutenant," said she. "I mean to thank you." And she reached out and took his free hand in hers, just for a moment. The contact was brief, but Daniel saw the pleased expression that crossed his face, in the moment before he hid it behind his usual look of lazy confidence; Daniel wondered if Miss Martinelli had seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight, diffused over his face, became him.

"Peggy!" came a shout from the direction of Charing Cross, and they turned to see Colonel Phillips and Howard Stark racing toward them, with a crowd of soldiers behind them.

"Ah, the cavalry arrives," said Peggy with a smile, looking once again at Daniel. "Just in time to miss everything."

Daniel laughed, a sound almost wild with relief, and then, quite without realizing what he was doing, finished the journey to Peggy, where he let go of his hold on the horse's saddle and held out a hand to his beloved. She took it and in one swift moment he pulled her to her feet and into his embrace; she went quite willingly into his arms and laid her head on his shoulder. The tabbies of the ton would be quite shocked to hear of such an embrace in such a public place. He could not think of anything about which he cared less at that moment.

. . . . . .


I feel a bit sorry for Dottie now. The good news is, serfdom in Russia will be abolished by Tsar Alexander II in 1861. The bad news is, Dottie will probably still be in jail at that point.

Hot air ballooning: Airborne lanterns have been used in military applications (and to celebrate the lost princess of Corona) since antiquity, and there is some evidence that balloons were used in China centuries ago. But the first documented balloon flights in Europe don't occur in the 18th century, in Portugal. For some reason the idea really caught on in Paris, with the first hydrogen balloon being launched in Paris in 1783; later that same year, the Montgolfier brothers achieved the first recorded flight of living creatures into the sky, sending a sheep, duck and rooster up from Versailles in a hot air balloon. (The Montgolfiers, who lent their name to a type of hot air balloon, came from a family who worked in paper, and I stole the idea of Daniel understanding hot air balloons from watching paper burn from them, as that's how they got the idea). Before 1783 ended the Montgolfiers had escalated to human flights, and the idea caught on all over the world, with both hydrogen and hot air balloons being popular. Balloons were used for aerial reconnaissance as early as the French revolution and as late as the 20th century, and they were also popular as entertainments, with aeronauts becoming popular spectacles across Europe and America. Designs of these balloons varied wildly; some resembled ours today, while some, like a delightful specimen I heard about from Annie+MacDonald (of course it was her doing, all my good ideas are her doing) look like birds, because I guess if you're going to fly you should look the part?

Chapter 29


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

Colonel Phillips went first to the still-unconscious Miss Underwood, checking her vital signs and her bonds and then assigning a group of soldiers to watch over her and alert him in case of her waking. Then he went to check on Aunt Elizabeth.

Howard went straight to the canisters, examining the nozzles on each, then shooting a glance at Peggy, who had just extricated herself from Daniel's embrace. "We don't believe they were deployed," said she in response to the question in that look, and Howard's whole bearing changed, as though he were Atlas, finally allowed to set down his burden.

"I known how much should be in each," said he. "When I am back at my laboratory, I can test to see if any of these contain less than they ought."

Colonel Phillips gave him permission to go, and sent Dernier and a handful of soldiers along for protection. Before he left, Howard approached the four heroes of the day to thank them each individually for their help. When he reached Peggy, however, he hesitated, and Daniel could not blame him, for her expression was serious.

"I know," he said. "The fact that my mind conceives of an idea does not mean that my hands must create it. I have learned that in the last few days. And I am sorry for the trouble my inventions have caused."

Her face softened. "I am glad things have turned out well."

"Only thanks to you," said he. "You're the best soldier in the whole Army, you know that, don't you?"

Pressing a kiss to her hand, he left with the canisters and his assigned protection; when he was out of earshot, Daniel leaned close to Peggy. "What do you think the odds are that he will stop building dangerous inventions?"

She sighed, her eyes still fixed on her friend's retreating form. "Very small."

Daniel caught a soldier's attention and sent him to find his horse, long since abandoned somewhere in St. James' Park; the horses needed to be returned to their owners, and Daniel was very much missing his cane. Peggy instructed the man to keep an eye out for her bonnet and Daniel's bicorne, which had blown off somewhere on their wild ride.

Colonel Phillips approached then, eyeing the four of them thoughtfully. "I should not be surprised," said he. "Of course Peg and Daniel here would carry the day, but you two . . ." Here he looked at Miss Martinelli and Lieutenant Thompson, who were busy shooting furtive glances at each other and pretending that they weren't. "You seem to have a knack for working your way into the thick of things. So what happened here?"

So Daniel told of noticing the balloon, and Peggy told of racing to the park, and Daniel told of the fight in the balloon -- noticing that Peggy watched him intently during that portion -- and Peggy told of the fight on the ground.

"I need to compliment you, by the way," said she, "on your quick response when I dropped to the ground, and that excellent shot you took; it is not easy to knock a gun from someone's hands."

"And I need to compliment you," said he, "on your quick thinking, and the hint you gave me just before you acted. You took a terrible risk, though; I still might have hit you, at that distance."

She raised an eyebrow. "And yet you took the shot anyway."

"You clearly wanted me to," he said, and she smiled warmly at him.

Lieutenant Thompson and Miss Martinelli spoke up then, of hearing the gunshots and following the sound to the crashed balloon, of realizing it must have been how Miss Underwood intended to disperse the gas, of snatching up the canisters, of the lieutenant taking down Aunt Elizabeth.

Colonel Phillips raised his eyebrows. "That was very dangerous," said he. "You did not know whether the canisters were opened at that point; you could have died."

The two glanced at each other, and some unspoken communication seemed to pass between them. "Better that I die than half the city," said Thompson.

"Anyway," said Miss Martinelli, "I held my breath until I was sure the nozzle was closed."

"Then I finally got the advantage over Miss Underwood," said Peggy, "and you arrived, and here we are."

Colonel Phillips looked around at all of them, and then he laughed. "Brave and clever," said he, looking back at Lieutenant Thompson and Miss Martinelli. "We could use people like you. Would you two ever consider joining the Alien Office?"

Lieutenant Thompson looked quite surprised; Miss Martinelli looked as though she'd just been offered the role of Lady Macbeth at the Drury Lane Theatre.

"Don't answer yet," said the colonel quickly. "You don't know yet quite what it would entail. But we'll talk more this afternoon; I need you at the Home Office, for debriefing. Would four o'clock suit you? To give us time to tidy up this mess?"

"It suits me, Colonel Phillips, sir," said Miss Martinelli chipperly, clearly already trying out her potential new role as Alien Office agent. "It gives me time to find food, which is excellent, for I am famished."

More Alien Office agents and soldiers had been appearing all the while, and Colonel Phillips turned aside to give them orders: some to investigate the manufacturers of the balloon and ascertain whether they had known what their vehicle would be used for, some to return to the bridge and keep watch over the event still in progress, some to begin cleaning up the site of the crash. The soldier returned with Daniel's horse and the lost hats, and Daniel gratefully took his cane as Peggy instructed the soldier and a companion to return the borrowed horses. Grahn appeared, along with soldiers who had been under Peggy's command, and returned the flares to them while Daniel and Peggy commended them thoroughly for their diligence.

"And what of these two?" Lieutenant Thompson asked, gesturing to Miss Underwood, who was finally stirring, and Aunt Elizabeth, who still glared at them all with such venom that Daniel half expected they would be turned to stone by that look.

"I will personally accompany them to their incarceration, with a large contingent of soldiers," said the colonel. "Speaking of which, where is Yauch? I shall need his Russian skills."

"I speak Russian," Peggy reminded him, but he shook his head.

"You, my best beloved niece, along with my almost-nephew, are to seek medical attention. Don't question my orders," he added, for she had moved as though to object. "The captain just fell from the sky in a half-destroyed balloon and I can see the blood on your face. I know you wish to be part of the rest of the investigation, and I shall not keep you from it, I assure you. But at this moment, you need to take care of yourselves; you have done more this morning than the rest of us combined, and I will assign these dull cleanup tasks to fresher agents. Go to Berkeley Square, take some rest and refreshment, and have Dr. Sousa take a look at you both. Promise?"

Daniel, still fighting back a smile at being called the colonel's nephew, nodded, and Peggy hesitated, then sighed and agreed.

"Excellent," said her uncle. "Be back at the Home Office by four o'clock as well, if you please." Then he smiled at her and Daniel, and when he spoke his voice was that of a loving relative, not a military commander. "I am very proud of you both." He glanced over at Miss Martinelli and Lieutenant Thompson. "I am very proud of you all. You have saved countless lives, both here and in Russia."

"Thank you, sir," said Lieutenant Thompson.

"Did either of you do any fighting or falling?"

The lieutenant and Miss Martinelli answered in the negative.

"Then I shan't press you to seek medical attention. But some rest and refreshment would undoubtedly be of some use to you."

"Go back to our house, if you like," said Peggy, "for I know that you are still avoiding home, Angie. The servants will be happy to look after you and feed you."

Lieutenant Thompson held out his arm to his companion them. "Miss Martinelli," said he formally, "will you allow me to find us a cab and accompany you back the Phillips home?"

She smiled. "Yes, I suppose I'll allow it." She embraced Peggy then, then shook Daniel's hand quite firmly; clearly she was quite enjoying her newfound acquaintance with handshaking.

"Thank you both," said Peggy. "Who knows what might have happened had you not shown up when you did?"

They watched the pair walk away, arm in arm, and suddenly Peggy spoke. "Oh! but I meant to tell Angie she might borrow another dress, should she want a fresh one. Excuse me." And she hurried toward her friend, leaving Colonel Phillips and Daniel alone.

"You know," said the colonel, "I don't know that I've ever officially offered you a position at the Alien Office. I've just assumed for so long that you'd stay that I never properly asked."

"I don't know that you have," smiled Daniel.


"I am . . . open to the suggestion. But allow me to think on it a little; it would involve resigning my commission, and I while I have certainly been considering it, I have not quite made up my mind yet."

"Understood," said the colonel. "The Navy would be far the less for losing you, but their loss would be my office's gain."

Daniel smiled his thanks, then found his gaze drawn to Peggy, who was talking to Miss Martinelli by that point.

Colonel Phillips followed his gaze, and when he spoke, there was a smile in his voice. "You know, Captain," said he, and Daniel turned to look at him, "I was just thinking, the anarchist is caught. You have reached the point where you and Peggy had agreed you could end your engagement. Indeed, you could speak to her about it right now."

Daniel blinked in surprise. He had forgotten -- he had not even thought -- he couldn't possibly --

"Don't look so horrified," said the colonel drily. "I don't actually expect you to do it."

Again Daniel was reduced to surprised and incoherent thought.

"My boy," said the colonel, barely holding back a smile, "can I tell you a secret?"

Daniel nodded dumbly.

"I thought your engagement scheme was absurd from the beginning, although now that I've seen what fruit it bore, I suppose I can't complain. The only reason I agreed to it in the first place was to give Peggy time to see what was right in front of her face."

Finally Daniel found his voice. "And what was right in front of her face?"

"My Peggy has always been very dismissive of the notion of marriage, claiming that being of use to her country was what she wanted. But I made that choice myself as a young man -- duty to the Crown over domestic bliss -- and while I have had a very happy life, especially after Peggy came into it, I have regretted that choice more than once. I didn't want her to dismiss the prospect of family life so glibly -- at least, not without considering the matter seriously first. So when she proposed to feign an attachment to a certain honorable gentleman who respected her like she deserved, one who made her quite happy and whom I knew she could love as much as he loved her, I hoped the false engagement would give her time to come to understand what those of us close to her could see was already taking root in her heart."

Daniel swallowed hard. "And what was taking root in her heart?"

The colonel simply smiled, then looked at someone behind him. "Ah, my dear niece, you've returned," he called. "I will entrust the captain here to your care and undertake the transportation of these two wrongdoers. I will see you both at four o'clock, yes? Until then."

"Daniel, you look quite startled," said Peggy as her uncle walked away. "Is everything quite all right?"

He forced his expression back under control. "I am quite all right," said he. He cast his mind about for a reason for his expression, and came up with the following:-- "Your uncle has offered me a position at the Alien Office."

"And that surprises you?" asked she as she gathered up the flares from the ground. "I've been more surprised that he hasn't asked already. I assume you will accept it?"

He hesitated. "I am very seriously considering it."

She smiled warmly at that, turning her head away from him in that way she had, as though she were unused to smiling so openly.

They went first to leave the flares at the Home Office, which was only a stone's throw away. He was only too happy to have Peggy take his arm, still remembering the fear of watching her stare down the barrel of a gun; if Miss Underwood had been less inclined toward monologues, that confrontation could have ended very badly. He shivered at the thought.

"Are you cold?"

He shook his. "Only glad we succeeded." Then, eager to change the subject, he spoke again. "So," said he, not quite ready to broach the subject that weighed most heavily on his mind, "do you think your friend and your cousin will accept the positions at the Alien Office?"

"I think Thompson will," said she. "He has what I would term 'a need to help others' when I am feeling charitable or 'a need to appear the hero' when I am feeling less kind. But Angie . . ."

"She seemed eager," finished Daniel, "but I wonder if her mother would allow her. Surely the position is at least as improper as acting on the stage."

"Precisely," said Peggy. "Although we would surely use her in the same capacity that we've used you -- to gather information at society gatherings -- and you were able to keep that from your family. So perhaps she need not tell her mother at all."

"And perhaps if she married someone sympathetic to her work . . ."

"Do you speak of Thompson?" asked Peggy.

"As one possibility. If he also joined the office, they could form quite the useful partnership."

She sighed. "I suppose I could be resigned to her marrying him; he has improved greatly over recent weeks. But I would not rest easy unless she insisted on a long courtship before becoming engaged, to ensure that his change of heart is not temporary."

Daniel nodded. "Although it helps that he was never bad, simply . . . misguided." He hesitated. "Then your friend would take the position Thompson had once wanted for you, as lady of Bell Hall. Would that be strange, to see her in your ancestral home?"

"Bell Hall has not been my home for twenty years," said she. "I hardly even remember it. My life is here."

She seemed to move closer to him at that pronouncement, and they fell silent as they reached the Home Office. Between the Alien Office agents busily cleaning up after the anarchists, and everyone else attached to the office still out at the bridge opening, the place was quite empty as they went in and deposited the flares in Colonel Phillips' office.

Peggy excused herself to wipe the blood from her face and change into a clean dress. Daniel waited in the sitting room, tapping his fingers nervously and secretly forming a desperate resolution. For he knew that for the rest of the day, their time would not be their own: his family fussing over them at home, then a debriefing of indeterminate length, and then Peggy and most likely himself as well would be swept up in the aftermath of the arrests. This would likely be the only time they would be together and alone for some time, so he knew that this was the moment if he wanted to speak the words that had been hammering against his rib cage since his conversation with her uncle.

And he found that he did want to speak to her. He wanted it most fervently.

So when they left the building, he cleared his throat. "Before we return home, would you walk with me in the park?" It was, perhaps, strange to walk together in a park in which they had only recently struggled so violently, but St. James' held a certain special significance to him, as the imagined location of their fictitious first proposal.

Peggy, agreeing readily enough, took his arm and let him lead her into the park. It was, fortunately, almost entirely empty, with so many of the inhabitants of London at the opening of the bridge; Daniel could only imagine what a sight the two of them were, both bruised, her hair still in some disarray, his uniform dirty. But that did not matter; what mattered was the way she held his arm, almost possessively, as though to keep him from being torn away from her. What mattered was her presence by his side, warm and solid and reassuring and, most importantly, not bleeding to death in the gravel of Horse Guards Parade. He fought back another shudder at the thought and pulled her even closer still.

Though he was certain that this was the right action, he still required a moment to gather his courage around him. He felt he had at least some reason to hope for her reciprocation of his feelings, but twenty-eight years of self-deprecating modesty, of being the foreign doctor's son, of being invited to his aunts' balls only out of charity, and, of late, being an object of curiosity and pity because of his leg, were not so easily discarded.

But on the other hand, he had the encouragement of her uncle, her friends, his whole family. He had the encouragement of her behavior toward him, the way she'd treated him so warmly these past weeks, even when it was not required for their ruse. He even had Miss Underwood to thank, for he remembered well that when their foe had stated that Daniel would step in front of a bullet for Peggy, the young lady in question had not reacted negatively the statement.

And all that aside, disregarding the arguments both for and against his actions, most importantly he had the words of Sir Howard Stark, spoken only three days before in a Richford garden, which still echoed through his mind on a frequent basis: "Whether or not you say anything about your feelings, there is an excellent chance that you are going to lose her forever, very soon." Howard had been right. And it was a risk worth taking.

Now was the moment for his resolution to be executed, and, while his courage was high, he said: "I had an interesting conversation with your uncle just now."


"He pointed out that with the capture of the anarchist, we have reached the end of the agreed-upon time frame for our engagement."

She stiffened at that. "I know," she said suddenly and a bit too loudly, before he could speak again, and then:-- "Yes, I have been thinking the same."

He was silent a moment, surprised and wondering at the meaning of her outburst. In that silence, he could nearly hear the cogs of her mind turning; as he pondered whether this changed his next sentence, she spoke before he could. "I had meant to bring that up myself, but was waiting for the opportune moment," she said, and then added most unexpectedly, her gaze fixed determinedly ahead and not at him, "You know that if you cry off, there will be a great scandal."

He hesitated for a startled moment, then said, "Yes, I know."

She continued in a very light tone. "It could reflect very badly on your family, which I know you are very much against. So if I should, perhaps, refuse to cry off, you would be required marry me just to preserve your honour." She hesitated. "Which might be in the best interests of national security, for it would be a great blow to break up such a wonderful team of agents."

Her words were teazing, and perhaps -- and he realized this with a great shock -- even coy. But her expression, when she finally turned to look at him, was entirely at odds with her tone: determined, even a little defiant, but touched with uncertainty.

He did not know who had stopped walking first, her or him, but she released his arm and stood before him, looking as though she found it quite difficult to meet his eye. He could only stare at her, his wits scattering like beads dropped in a box lid. Was Peggy truly speaking of the possibility of their marriage?

In the end, it was her uncertainty that convinced him, for he knew that Peggy, who rushed without question into battle and stood unblinking down the barrel of a gun, struggled with the more tender matters of life, and would be entirely uncomfortable showing such vulnerability;-- as uncomfortable as she seemed now. Of course she would approach it like a jest, when she'd always been more comfortable with actions than words.

He thought to teaze her a little in return, to put her at ease. So, his heart hammering so loudly that he was surprised she did not hear it, he answered. "You are correct, of course, but it seems to me that a marriage undertaken purely out of a sense of obligation could hardly be effective in producing personal happiness. Satisfaction, perhaps, for having done your duty, but little else."

Immediately the light in her eyes dimmed, so he pressed on. "What would you think if I proposed instead to marry you because I love you?"

She stared at him a long moment, eyes wide with surprise, and then, quite unexpectedly, she laughed -- a sound full of relief, much as he had laughed when he'd realized they'd finally triumphed over Miss Underwood. "Do you know, dearest," said she, her smile blinding in its radiance, "I think I like your idea far better than I do mine."

For a long moment all was silent as Daniel felt those words sink into his very bones, and then he too was laughing. "Do you, my darling? How very convenient, that we agree on this matter." His mind still half shock and disbelief, he found himself quite unintentionally lifting a hand to touch a curl of hair that had escaped from her bonnet.

Her eyes were still alight with joy but she seemed unable to find the words to speak. If she did not know what to say, he certainly knew what he wanted to hear, to put his last doubts to rest. "I don't mean to pry, but as I have just admitted why I want to marry you, it would put my mind at rest to hear, once and for all, why you wish to marry me."

"I suppose that is not unreasonable," said Peggy thoughtfully, a glint of amusem*nt in her eye. As she spoke, she lifted a hand to rest against the one he held against her cheek.

"It is, I must admit, something I have been wanting to hear for months."

That had genuinely surprised her, he could tell. "Months?"

"Months," he confirmed, and his smile turned bashful. "Peggy Carter, I believe I have loved you from the first day I met you. Nearly from the first moment of our acquaintance, when that unpleasant woman insulted Kate and me, and you gave her the most stunning setdown. I think I loved you then, although I did not put a name to it until much later."

"That was the moment?" she laughed, pulling their hands away from her face in favor of clasping them together and letting them hang between them. "When I was so impertinent to a stranger? That made you love me?"

"I did not see it as impertinence. Spirited, strong-willed, kind, clever and witty . . . that was how I saw you, and I admired you for those qualities. And so I have done ever since."

"I have not loved you as long," she admitted, looking down at her hands, as though she found the vulnerability required of this moment to be a little more than she was comfortable showing. "And certainly I was not aware of what I felt for you until only a few weeks ago." She took a deep breath, and met his eyes. "But I hope the more recent birth of my love does not convince you that it is any the less sincere. For I love you beyond what I thought myself capable of feeling for another person. I love you so ardently that, were my passion directed toward anyone less worthy, I would be almost frightened of it, to place myself so entirely in another person's hands. But I know you, Daniel Sousa, and I know my heart will be protected and treasured in your keeping."

His last doubt disappeared, and he forced down the sudden urge to cheer aloud. "Do I hold your heart in my hands?"

"My heart and all my hopes for the future." She smiled. "For we did start this conversation by talking of marriage, did we not? Is that offer still open to negotiation?"

Nearly giddy with relief, with the feeling of a burden he had carried for months dissolving in the June sunlight, Daniel took both of her hands in his. "A negotiation, is it? In that case, my terms are these: that I will be yours if you will be mine; that we spend the rest of our life at each other's sides, and that we agree to be the happiest couple that ever entered the marriage state. Please inform me whether those terms are acceptable to you."

Peggy feigned a thoughtful, serious look, then inclined her head respectfully. "The delegate from the Army agrees to the terms set forth by the representative from the Navy," said she, amusem*nt dancing in her eyes.

He smiled. "The representative from the Navy thanks the delegate from the Army for her prompt response on this matter," said he, as Peggy released his hands so she could extend one of hers for him to shake. This he did, then pulled the hand he was shaking to his lips so he could place a fervent kiss on her knuckles. "Do you mind if I tell you again that I love you?" he asked, his breath still ghosting over her knuckles. "For so long, I feared I would never get the chance, and I find I would now like to do it as much as possible."

"I will allow it," she smiled.

"Then I love you, with all the warmth and affection I possess."

"And I love you, my dearest," said she, her expression warm and her eyes suspiciously bright, "with every fiber of my body and soul." He kissed her hand again.

Surrounded as they were with that hazy glow that accompanies lovers, Daniel hardly noticed they had resumed their walk until they were already some distance down the path, Peggy clinging as closely to his arm as possible without crossing bounds of propriety. He knew they must go to his parents' soon to be looked over by the doctor, as they had promised to do, but there was so much to discuss first, before they allowed anyone to disturb their affectionate solitude.

Daniel told Peggy of how he had loved her for months, but had been constantly put off by his firm conviction that she still loved and mourned Captain Rogers and that she did not care for the institution of marriage. Peggy, in turn, spoke of her feelings over all those months: that at the time she proposed they fake their engagement, she thought only of how sorry she would be to lose her partner and dear friend, and did not allow herself to think of any more than that.

"Looking back, I see now that I felt for you far more than befit a mere friend or fellow agent, but I refused to acknowledge it at the time; you were right that I did not care for the institution of marriage, and I was not looking for a suitor. I convinced myself that I fought to keep you by my side simply for the sake of our investigation. Spending so much time with you as your intended simply confirmed what I had long known to be true of you: that you were a dear friend and a valuable colleague. That I came to genuinely love your family was an unforeseen benefit of our ruse."

"And when did you realize you felt more that this?"

"Oh!" said she, "I could not tell you the moment that I began to feel more, for I ignored my feelings for so long; I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun. But the moment that I finally admitted it to myself was at Astley's."

"Not usually a romantic outing," he laughed.

"Do you remember our conversation? I told you that you were important to me, and in that moment the truth of the matter struck me like lightning: I realized just how important you were. The revelation stunned me; it took me a few days to come to terms with it, and decide that I was open to the possibility of . . . you."

Daniel felt his face flush a little at that, even as a more somber feeling seized him. "So long ago?" he asked. "I could have spoken to you a month ago of my feelings and you would have returned them? What a tragic waste of time we could have spent happy together."

"I did not speak either," said she, "so you are not entirely to blame. When we made the plan to go to Kent, I determined that I would take advantage of our time together to descry whether you might return my feelings."

"And the result of your investigation?"

"It nearly ended before it began," she admitted, "for almost as soon as we arrived in Kent, you made the acquaintance of Miss Bellefleur. She seemed perfectly formed to suit you, with her demeanor and her background, and you two became close friends so much more quickly than you and I did. I thought I'd lost you to her."

"She is exactly what I would have chosen for myself," he admitted, "before you came into my life and changed all my plans. Since we met, you're all I've wanted."

And Peggy smiled. "Your subsequent behavior to that young lady did eventually make me doubt my assumptions about your feelings for her," said she, "but it was our conversation at the ball that taught me to hope again, when you said you hoped she would make a match with Mr. Jonquil, and I realized you had never loved her."

"Never," he agreed.

"And then we came back to London, and there was a moment -- I don't know if you recall -- when we'd finally tied up Miss Underwood, and I looked up and there you were, and I knew in that moment that I was yours, entirely. And I decided then and there that if you did not speak to me soon about the bond I knew you had to feel between us, I would have to be the one to speak to you. Although I suppose that would have looked rather forward."

"I would have welcomed it," he assured her. "But if you were so decided on that point, why were you so surprised just now when I broached the subject of our engagement?"

"Oh!" she laughed. "Only because I expected you to wait until we were not so battered and dirty. And then you were so quiet after that; I panicked, I suppose, thinking that perhaps I had misread the situtation, and spoke first. Do you mind, dearest, that this is twice now that I've proposed marriage to you, and not allowed you to take a turn?"

"As long as this is the result," said he, coming to a stop so he could face her and take her hands in his, "I find that I don't mind at all. All I want is to spend the rest of my life with you."

This time it was Peggy who rather boldly drew his hand to her lips to lay a kiss on his knuckles. "Then, my dearest captain, and soon to be my dearest husband, let us marry with all haste. For I feel just the same way."

Daniel could have walked through that park forever, spending the rest of his life among those verdant paths, now sacred to him for having witnessed the birth of his happiness. But Peggy soon reminded him that they were due back at the Home Office in only two hours, and if they were to be checked out by his father before returning to work, they would need to leave soon.

"Besides, I am keen to see your family again, knowing now that I have the hope of calling them mine forever as well. They are the only family I can remember having, my own uncle aside, and you cannot know the sorrow it has caused me to think of losing my connexion to them when you and I ended our engagement."

"And you cannot know how painful it has been for me to see how fond you all were of each other, and to imagine happy visits and dinners and Christmases with you and them and Thomas, and to feel that such fantasies were entirely out of my reach."

A hackney cab was quickly procured to take them to Berkeley Square; Peggy spent the entire ride curled up close to his side, quite shameless about showing her feelings for him now that their engagement was real and she no longer felt compelled to hide. At the Sousa home, the newly engaged couple was pleased to find to the whole family in the sitting room.

"Daniel!" exclaimed Mrs. Sousa on catching sight of him. "Peggy! Good heavens, are you two all right?"

Daniel looked down at his dirty uniform, at the bruise already darkening on Peggy's face, and laughed. "Quite all right, though in need of an examination from Pai to determine that we are no more injured than we think."

"Then all is well at the opening?" Kate demanded, looking anxious, as Dr. Sousa closed his book and began looking around the room, most likely for his medical bag.

"The threat has been taken care of, and no one is hurt, or even aware that anything was wrong," said Peggy. "Thomas should be entirely safe."

Kate's shoulders sagged in relief. "Thank you. Whatever it is that you two did, thank you."

"Anything for my best beloved sister," smiled Daniel.

Peggy glanced at Daniel with an expression he did not often see on her, as though she sought his approval. "And there is something else we would speak to you of."

She meant their marriage, he realized with a pleasant jolt. He did not think he would ever tire of remembering that Peggy Carter loved him; Peggy Carter intended to marry him. "Yes, we've been rather occupied these last weeks with Home Office business --"

"And the trip to Kent," his father reminded him, but then he paused, and shook his head. "The trip to Kent was Home Office business, wasn't it? How foolish of me."

Peggy glanced at Daniel, clearly surprised at the accuracy of Dr. Sousa's deduction, and he shrugged and smiled at her. "Like Howard said, it's your own fault for only befriending people who are too clever by half."

"Indeed," she smiled. "We've been occupied with Home Office business, but now that it is taken care of, we would very much like to set a date for our wedding. As soon as possible, if we may." She looked over at Daniel and her smile grew while he felt as though he were one of the balloons he'd recently become so closely acquainted with, about to fill with warmth and float right off the ground.

"Oh!" said Kate, "I have meant to speak to you of that; I was going to mention it in my next letter. The dowager Lady Featherstonehaugh, hearing of how either Daniel or I would miss the other's wedding because of our wedding tour, has come up with a suggestion of which both Thomas and I approve most heartily: why do we not marry on the same day? A double wedding, at St. George's. It would be lovely to share the day with you, brother mine, and then our friends needn't attend two Sousa weddings just a week or two apart."

Surprised, Daniel glanced at Peggy, whose delighted smile told him all he needed to know. "We would love to," said he. "I shall have to get a common license to be married so soon, but that will not be a problem."

"And if you're sure you shan't mind sharing your wedding day --"

Peggy's speech ended abruptly as Kate grasped her hand. "I have long wished to have a sister," said she. "And now that I have one, this seems the perfect way to cement our bond."

"July the second, then," said Mrs. Sousa, beaming in her happiness as she embraced Daniel, then Kate, then Peggy. "My children married on the same day! Only think of it, João. God has been very good to us."

"Indeed He has, dear Maria," smiled her husband, coming closer to join the knot of familial affection forming in his sitting room, with one hand on his son's shoulder and the other on his future daughter-in-law's.

Peggy smiled at him, and then Mrs. Sousa, and then Kate, and finally at Daniel -- a loving, affectionate smile he had dreamed of for months, finally his to cherish. "July second," she agreed. "I can scarcely wait until then."

. . . . . .


You guys have no idea how glad I am to get this chapter finally written. :)

Chapter 30: Epilogue


Guys. GUYS. I can't believe this is the last chapter! I am surprisingly sad to see it end, and I know that is in a large part because I have enjoyed so much interacting with you all in the comments. Thank you so much for coming along with me on this crazy ride and putting up with my history lectures in the end notes. You are all marvelous and I will think back fondly on our discussions of Georgian etiquette and when are these two idiots going to kiss. Seriously. Do that thing where you wrap your arms around your torso so that from behind it looks like you're being hugged, because if I were with you right now, I would hug you. Unless you prefer not to be touched. I respect that.

Also, as this my last chance to do so, I really pulled out the stops on referencing other works (not always intentionally; it's just habit now), and by my count there are references to no less than 11 different books and movies in this epilogue—12 if you count me accidentally plagiarizing from Magnolia Lane, my own fic—including direct quotes from the final chapters of each of Jane Austen's six major works. Prize for whoever spots the most! (Disclaimer: there is no prize. Maybe I'll write a limerick or something. Or a bonus scene of your choosing!)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

. . . . . .

Who can be in doubt of what followed? When any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverance to carry their point, and in the case of Daniel Sousa and Peggy Carter, there was neither want of fortune nor opposition at home to stand in the way of the match; indeed, their families' enthusiasm for the impending marriage was rivaled only by that of the happy couple themselves.

The two weeks before the wedding were filled with Alien Office business, namely the conclusion of the anarchist investigation. Miss Dorothea Underwood withstood interrogation with the same show of wide-eyed naivety which she always employed, and which she quite clearly used as a way to mock her captors. Unfortunately for that formidable young lady, her companion did not possess such steely nerves, and a week before the wedding, the woman they knew as Aunt Elizabeth -- whose name, they discovered, was indeed Yelizaveta -- confessed all in return for a promise of some clemency.

It was determined that after Daniel and Peggy had left on their wedding tour, Colonel Phillips, Major Dugan and Yauch would personally travel to Russia with Yelizaveta's signed confession and, with the supporting testimony of the ever-useful Niko, warn Tsar Alexander of the danger from Vanya Ivchenko and enlist the government's support in stopping the Leviathan threat once and for all. Yelizaveta and Miss Underwood, in the meantime, were to remain in British custody for the time being -- although, remaining true to his promise, Colonel Phillips saw to it that Yelizaveta was afforded certain luxuries during her incarceration.

Daniel was only too glad to see the end of the investigation, for it meant he did not have to see Miss Underwood again. When he confessed as much to Peggy, who'd done most of the interrogating, she agreed but looked thoughtful. "She is the most skilled operative I have ever seen, male or female," said she. "I am sorry she chose the side that made her our enemy. Imagine what good she could have done, had she been born in different circ*mstances."

Once the investigation was out of the way, Daniel and Peggy were free to focus on the future. Daniel accepted the colonel's offer of a position at the Alien Office, to the great pleasure of Barnes and Dugan. Those two, along with Howard Stark, had also been immensely pleased to hear of the approaching nuptials.

"You finally listened to my excellent advice," said Barnes, sounding smug, two days after the Waterloo Bridge opening.

"Your excellent advice?" repeated Dugan. "I think you'll find it was my excellent advice."

"You're both mistaken," said Howard, "for surely it was my words to Daniel that Sunday --"

"Just how many people have been pestering you to marry me?" Peggy asked Daniel.

He plastered a thoughtful look on his face and made a show of counting on his fingers, and she laughed and nudged him with her shoulder. "Truthfully, though," said he, "in answer to your question . . . nearly everyone I know."

"I'm glad you listened," she smiled, wrapping her hand more firmly around his arm.

"You two are so sweet together," said Howard. "It's a little much to watch, but I'm still happy for you."

"You made us watch you and Miss Underwood for weeks!" Daniel retorted. "You two were far worse than we've ever been."

"And she was an anarchist bent on slaughtering Londoners and framing you for it," Barnes pointed out reasonably. "That certainly makes it worse."

"Are you all going to resurrect that old spectre every time we argue?" Howard demanded, and Peggy and Barnes nodded solemnly while Dugan and Daniel laughed.

"Just try to avoid pursuing young ladies who secretly desire to destroy everything you stand for," Daniel recommended.

"Oh, absolutely," Howard assured them. "Maria is not an anarchist, I assure you."

"Maria?" Peggy demanded. "Who in the world is Maria? You were still in love with 'Dottie' less than a week ago!"

"Miss Maria Carbonell," said Howard with a besotted smile. "Italian. I am very fond of Italian women. Met her at a ball last night."

Peggy sighed. "Dugan --"

"Background check," Dugan agreed, over Howard's protests. "I'll see to it."

The true nature of Daniel and Peggy's romantic history was so well known throughout the Alien Office that it was only a matter of time before it reached the ears of the Office's two newest recruits, both of whom were quite surprised at the news.

"English!" exclaimed Miss Martinelli. "Captain! You've been lying to us all this while?"

Peggy looked a little embarrassed. "I do apologize, Angie. I did not like to lie to you, but it was part of our investigation --"

"Well done!" her friend exclaimed with an enthusiastic grin, while Peggy looked surprised. "You absolutely had me fooled! Perhaps you two should be on the stage."

"Truth be told," said Daniel, "it did not require a great deal of pretending from me to act as though I were in love with Peggy."

"You two are far too sweet to be real," declared Miss Martinelli firmly. "Lieutenant, why don't you ever say such sweet things to me?"

Lieutenant Thompson looked quite surprised and flustered at this, but he managed to respond in a teazing manner to match hers. "I'll work on it," he assured her drily. "Since you admire the captain's turn of phrase so, I'll enlist his help in arranging a list of such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, so as always to be prepared."

Miss Martinelli rolled her eyes at him, but Daniel fancied he saw a warmth in those eyes that had previously not been present when she looked at the lieutenant.

And as for the lieutenant himself, Daniel had wondered whether he would be upset to learn that the engagement that had taken Peggy away from him had been feigned. But if he was, there was nothing in his demeanour to suggest it; his partiality to Miss Martinelli appeared, for the moment, to still be fervent and sincere, and he showed no inclination to regret how things had transpired with his cousin.

The wedding planning went ahead for St. George's, Hanover Square. Though that church had always been their intention when their engagement was fake, Peggy and Daniel admitted to each other that, were it their decision alone, they would have preferred one of the smaller chapels in the parish. But they were both still determined to wed with Kate and Thomas, and the dowager Lady Featherstonehaugh would not hear of her son marrying anywhere but there.

That estimable lady retained her fondness for Daniel and Peggy, and invited them to join her, Thomas and Kate on a second outing to Astley's the week before the wedding. Daniel hesitated to accept the invitation until Peggy assured him that she did not worry about any recollections of Waterloo.

"And besides," said she, "I shall find it lovely to repeat the evening, this time knowing that you mean it when you hold my hand or say affectionate things to me."

"I always meant it when I held your hand or said affectionate things," Daniel reminded her.

"An excellent point. In that case, it shall be lovely to know how much I mean it, this time around."

And a very enjoyable evening it was. Daniel, knowing now that Astley's was the place where Peggy had first realized her feelings for him, found himself even fonder of the place than he had been previously, and as Peggy had said, it was lovely to hold her hand as the show unfolded before them, knowing that the way she leaned close to him had nothing to do with the Alien Office and everything to do with a desire to be near him. Really, this experience of being in love was much more pleasant than he would have given it credit for only a few months previous.

The dowager also invited the whole Sousa clan, along with Peggy and her uncle, to a fine dinner party the night before the wedding. It was a particularly appreciated gesture, for it allowed them all to spend one last quiet evening in each other's company. Both couples would leave immediately after the wedding on their respective wedding tours, and even when Daniel and Peggy had returned to London, Colonel Phillips would be in Russia for a few weeks or even months yet. So Daniel very much enjoyed these last moments together.

The colonel had become quite smug since hearing that the engagement had become real, and Daniel have been very accustomed to seeing the self-satisfied smile that appeared on the colonel's face whenever anyone commented on what a fortunate match it was.

"I flatter myself that I played an important role in promoting the match," he even went so far as to say at the Featherstonehaugh's dinner party. "For it was on my encouragement that Daniel proposed to Peggy."

Daniel was quite surprised at his future uncle's casual discussion of what had been kept secret -- until he remembered that the colonel's encouragement had also been part of the fictitious proposal story they had created for his family several months prior. He shot a look at the man, who returned a sardonic smirk.

"I'm sure they appreciate your help," smiled Mrs. Sousa.

"Of course we do, Uncle," said Peggy.

Colonel Phillips smiled. "But do not worry," he said to the happy couple a few minutes later, when the others would not overhear, "as long you name your eldest son after me, I will consider the debt repaid."

Daniel was a little discomfited, being unused to being teazed about children, but Peggy merely smiled. "I do not promise anything," said she, "but we will keep your request in mind." And Daniel, imagining a little dark-haired Chester Sousa, could not help smiling as well.

The wedding itself was simple but perfectly answered the wishes of the happy couples, who had no taste for finery or parade. The day was bright and clear, promising good travels as wedding tours were embarked on. St. George's, which Daniel had always found a bit underwhelming despite its lofty reputation, was filled with more guests than expected. The majority were relations of the Featherstonehaughs, but certain pews were filled with Sousa friends and relations, and still others with soldiers and operatives from Peggy's past and present occupations. The presence of Barnes, looking undeniably working class, was nearly the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back, in terms of the dowager's tolerance for Peggy's unusual background, and Daniel was forced once again to subtly remind that lady that he'd been a valiant soldier against Napoleon. The sight of the estimable Colonel Chester Phillips shaking the man's hand helped calm her disapproval as well.

The arrival of Sir Howard Stark, baronet, helped distract the dowager from her displeasure; she was in equal parts fascinated and horrified by the man, and the realization that Daniel and Peggy were on such intimate terms with the most notorious Corinthian in London left her very happily scandalized.

The entire Martinelli clan attended, accompanied by Lieutenant Thompson, and the general wedding mood seemed to affected Mrs. Martinelli, for she did not even attempt to disguise the looks she kept throwing at her daughter and the gentleman seated beside her. The guests were rounded out by a few locals who had made their way in uninvited, clearly curious about a pair of weddings involving a baronet, a war hero, and the ward of another war hero. Lady Featherstonehaugh, Daniel could not help thinking, looked a little pleased to know the event had attracted such attention.

For Daniel, however, his attention was entirely on his bride, looking resplendent in a fine silk dress of the palest gold, and the way she smiled at when she caught him looking over at her.

"Dearly beloved," began the clergyman, "we are gathered here in the sight of God . . ."

On Daniel's other side, Kate shifted a little, and Daniel glanced over and caught her eye. She beamed up at him, and through his mind ran a lifetime of memories with his beloved sister, from their time together at home to the letters she wrote to him so faithfully when he was away. This was a very excellent idea, this double wedding, for the only thing that could possibly have made him happier than marrying Peggy was marrying Peggy while his sister married her love as well.

". . . for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity."

On the ceremony ran, those familiar, cherished words bringing their usual comfort to Daniel, along with a new delight at knowing that these were promises that he and Peggy were making to each other. He remembered Kate, on the day that he first met Peggy, informing him that he was built for marriage, and that his heart was destined to cherish one person for the rest of her life. As usual, his dearest sister was entirely correct.

Before he knew it, he and Peggy had both said "I will," and then Peggy was vowing to love and honor him, her clear dark eyes showing absolute confidence and trust in him. Daniel was pleased that his hands barely shook at all as he placed the ring on her finger, vowing to wed her, worship her, and endow her with all his worldly goods.

It was all over more quickly than he'd expected, and suddenly he and Peggy were married, and Kate and Thomas too, and were leaving the church hand in hand to the sound of the pounding of his heart. Each couple had a carriage of their own to take to the wedding breakfast, and Daniel relished the feeling of climbing into a carriage without feeling ashamed of his leg, for his Peggy -- his own wife -- did not mind it.

The thought made him laugh as he sat beside Peggy in the carriage -- beside her, for she was his wife, and there were no more rules dictating when it was inappropriate for them to sit beside each other. She turned her radiant smile on him, and he felt certain his was no less bright.

"Mrs. Sousa," he smiled.

"Peggy Sousa," she agreed, winding her arms around his neck now that they were out of sight of all well-wishers and passersby. "I do rather like the sound of that."

"I think I love the sound of it," Daniel said, but no more than that was he able to say, for in the next moment Peggy's lips were on his and he was quite overwhelmed by the pleasure of his wife's kiss. And indeed, very little was said for the remainder of the drive.

After the breakfast, and heartfelt congratulations all around, the two happy couples left London for their wedding tours: Kate and Thomas to Bath, and Peggy and Daniel to the seaside resort of Sanditon. The reader can be in no doubt of the joy and felicity that accompanied both of the carriage departures; and, knowing the perfect love and affection that existed between the young Sousas and the young Featherstonehaughs, the reader will be pleased to hear that on returning to London, and determined to strike out on their own, the happy couples both took houses in Hanover Square, and found themselves, amidst so many other sources of happiness, near neighbours. (Among the merits of Kate and Daniel, let it not be ranked as the least considerable, that though siblings, and living within sight of each other, they could live without disagreement between themselves, or producing coolness between their spouses.)

At the Sousa house in Berkeley Square both couples were frequent visitors, and Dr. and Mrs. Sousa found all their parental expectationsfully answered in the perfect happiness of the two unions. Peggy and Thomas found themselves both quite able to love their in-laws even as well as they intended, and Daniel and Kate showed all affection and respect due to two such excellent parents. Nothing made Maria and João happier than to have their four children visit home.

The two couples often visited each other as well; Daniel found in Thomas a true and steady friend, and between Kate and Peggy, the attachment of the sisters was exactly what Daniel had hoped to see. In addition to frequent visits for tea and conversation, Peggy began teaching the new Lady Featherstonehaugh self-defense and fisticuffs, and reported with great delight to her husband that the young lady showed a natural aptitude for it.

In the meantime, the Sousas continued their work with the Alien Office, and very frequently found their evening entertainment choices dictated by the needs of that office. Neither minded, as neither particularly cared which social events they attended, or whether any were attended at all -- although they found themselves with no end of invitations, for it turned out that they were, against their own expectations, a very popular couple.

You have not quite forgotten Lieutenant Thompson and Miss Martinelli, have you, reader? They continued their work for the office as well, and the lieutenant seemed not to mind at all that Peggy had stepped into her uncle's place as head of the office while he was in Russia; the experience with Miss Underwood had made him see how competent a leader his cousin was. On the romance front there was little movement at present, which pleased Peggy, who wanted her friend to proceed with caution before dedicating herself to a man who had for so long been so proud and disdainful. But Miss Martinelli was not averse to giving little pieces of encouragement to the lieutenant, which pleased Daniel, who fancied he saw genuine change and improvement of the lieutenant's character and genuine affection in Miss Martinelli's smiles.

Colonel Phillips was away in Russia for longer than expected; the Russian government trusted the Alien Office's information, but rooting out Leviathan took longer than expected, and the three British agents elected to stay in Moscow and offer their assistance. The colonel wrote to his niece frequently, and although Daniel could see how she missed her uncle, she did not seem to wish herself in Russia with him.

"All told," she would tell him, "there is no place I'd rather be right now than in our home, my love."

And as their first few months together had seen them living in complete domestic felicity, he was inclined to agree. Ah! it was worth while; it was the great joy that they had expected, and countless little joys of which they had never dreamt. It was waking up beside Peggy; it was reading quietly together in the sitting room; it was the pleasure of always having a companion on social outings; it was all their little household jokes and phrases and catch words; it was the sound of Peggy's footsteps in the hall; it was stolen kisses in carriages. Most of all it was Peggy, every day with Peggy, smiling at him over the breakfast table and kissing him good night. How could they give that up to travel to Russia, so soon after securing this happiness for themselves?

So Colonel Phillips, Major Dugan and Yauch alone will visit Moscow in this lifetime; they alone will see St. Basil's Cathedral and help the government dismantle Leviathan. The rest of us must be contented with a fair, but a less arduous, goal: we return to Kent.

It was Howard's idea that the newly married Sousas return to Richford and take a house, as they had so often talked of doing; he was keen to have them as neighbours, and had learned from the Samberlys that Meadow Brook Hall had still not been let. When Peggy and Daniel expressed interest in the idea, Howard sent as his agent, to examine the house, Edwin Jarvis, newly appointed butler of Stark Hall.

The baronet had been sorry to lose Jarvis as his constant manservant, but the position had answered several needs quite perfectly: old Baddeley had decided to retire in the very same week that Jarvis had become engaged to Miss Ana Kirshenbaum. Promoting the valet to the vacant position meant that Jarvis could stay in Richford full time, so that Miss Kirshenbaum could be near her family and her shop. If the servants at Stark Hall thought it odd to have as their butler a former valet with a Jewish wife, they valued their jobs enough to keep quiet about it, for Sir Howard Stark was a lenient man but would not hear a word spoken against his faithful Jarvis and dear Ana.

Jarvis visited the house and sent word back to London that it was in excellent shape, with large, fine stables and a well-maintained park; he thought it would do perfectly for the Sousas. And as they, along with Howard, had come to trust his judgment implicitly, they determined to take the house the October after the wedding, just after the colonel finally returned from Russia.

They arrived at their new acquisition on a crisp, bright autumn day and were immediately taken with the house and pleased with their decision; it was a fine, big house on a gentle swell of land, and the housekeeper Jarvis had engaged for them swore that on very quiet nights, one could hear the sea. It was a handsome building in the classical style, and a previous owner's practical taste had led to furnishings and décor that were understated and comfortable, just as they would have desired; vases of fresh hothouse flowers, brought earlier that day by the new Mrs. Jarvis, added to the general effect. The grounds were stunning, and the stable large enough for the horses they needed for their carriages and for the mount that Daniel had promised to buy Peggy.

Jarvis had been quite right: the house was perfect. And it was theirs.

A dinner party was held in their honour the next evening at Stark Hall. Their friends from the neighbourhood were in attendance, namely the Allens, the Samberlys, the Bellefleurs, and Mr. Jonquil, the vicar. The Sousas were pleased to find those families just as kind-hearted and eager to see them as ever. Mrs. Allen declared it a very fine thing that Meadow Brook Hall was let at last, and to such good neighbours, and Mr. Allen invited them to Whitebridge Lodge for hunting.

The Samberlys were just as quick to extend invitations, and in Rose Samberly the Sousas found the intelligent, practical conversation they had been accustomed to in that lady. Her husband seemed to be improving, in terms of unguarded comments; he said hardly anything that provoked discomfort. He even made a very complimentary and kind comment about his wife, entirely off-hand and entirely sincere, and Daniel saw genuine affection fly into Mrs. Samberly's face. It gave him hope that the couple might one day find something resembling the wedded bliss that he and Peggy shared.

Dr. and Mrs. Bellefleur were as good-natured and kind as they had ever been, with the doctor particularly glad to have a fellow Navy man in the neighbourhood. Miss Violet Bellefleur congratulated Daniel and Peggy most sincerely on their wedding, and Daniel hoped that she might one day soon follow them to the altar, for she seemed to have finally succumbed to the quiet, steady nature and kind disposition of Mr. Jonquil, whom she allowed to monopolize a great deal of her conversation.

And Daniel watched it all with a growing conviction that their choice to come to Kent was a good one, even if they, like Howard, would only stay there intermittently; their work, and their families, were still in London, but Meadow Brook Hall would be a place where they could escape the bustle of city life on occasion, and meet with good friends, and where Peggy could finally keep her horses and ride to her heart's content.

Indeed, although Peggy had not yet chosen a mount of her own for Daniel to buy for her, she still insisted on taking him out for a ride on the day after the party, to explore the park. "You cannot tell me you are not up to the task," she reminded him with a laugh. "For I have seen you gallop through the streets of London, and climb from the horse's back into a hot air balloon. Surely a quick country jaunt is significantly easier than that."

In truth it did not take a great deal of persuasion to convince Daniel to join her; he was keen to see the extent of Meadow Brook Hall, and he was always pleased to ride with Peggy, for she loved the activity so. So with the help of the stable hands, who had been warned before the new master's arrival that Captain Sousa would require extra assistance in mounting, he joined Peggy on the ride.

"Beautiful, even this late in the year," Peggy declared as they reached the western boundary of the property. "I cannot wait to invite our friends and family to stay with us."

"It shall likely have to wait for next summer," Daniel reminded her. Neither Colonel Phillips nor Dr. Sousa could leave their professional obligations behind for a while yet, especially as they would be leaving come mid-December for Christmas at the Featherstonehaugh estate in Herefordshire; Kate and Thomas had invited the whole family, including Colonel Phillips. After that they were returning to London to do Alien Office work for the Season, and would therefore likely not return to Meadow Brook Hall -- except, perhaps, for a few very brief trips -- until the following June.

"Angie will be heartbroken," laughed Peggy.

"You could still invite her in November," Daniel pointed out, although reluctantly, for he was not eager to break the delicate enchantment of these halcyon days with Peggy in their first real home.

His wife's response, though delivered with a smile, was adamant. "No thank you," said she. "For though I am very fond of her, I am also enjoying spending all my time with my husband in our new home. I am not quite ready to relinquish you to the distraction of an interloper."

"I feel the same way," he admitted. "Have I told you today that I love you?"

She smiled brightly. "Only the once. I would not mind hearing it again."

"Then I love you, and count myself the luckiest man alive that you proposed marriage to me not once, but twice, so that I could be here with you, and have the hope of living with you for the rest of our lives."

He did not expect her to respond; three and a half months of marriage had taught him that he was the more openly sentimental and romantic of the two, and certainly the more verbally demonstrative; Peggy felt no less strongly than he, but was uncomfortable with flowery speeches, and more inclined to show her affection through acts than through words.

So he was surprised when she responded the way she did. "It astounds me to think," said she, looking out over the rolling hills, "that this time last year I did not know you, did not love you, and had no plans or expectations for my future but work with my uncle. Had a soothsayer employed his art to tell me where I would be today, I would have declared him a fraud."

"It is a change for the better, I hope?" He said it to teaze, and also because it never failed to warm his heart, to hear Peggy declare her love for him.

"A change for the best, my love," she corrected, with a smile on her lips and earnestness in her eyes. "For I did not know myself capable of such happiness, and the only part of the last year that I regret is that I did not recognize my love for you earlier, so that we might have had that extra month as husband and wife. I know we have many such months ahead of us, but no matter how many there are, it will never be as much time as I wish I could spend with you."

Daniel stared at her a moment, surprised, as he always was, at his wife's occasional poetical turn. And then he said quite earnestly, "Do you know, dearest, if I thought I could kiss you right now without falling off this horse, I would do it."

"I shall accept, in the kiss's stead, your assurance that you will pay your debt later," she grinned, and urged her horse into a gallop, leaving Daniel to hurry to catch up.

He did pay that debt later, as they walked together from the stables to the house; Daniel reflected that they were probably shocking the servants and the gardeners, as they made no attempt to find a private spot for their kiss, but he didn't much mind. If the servants had not yet learned that the new master and mistress were very affectionate, they would realize it soon enough.

With so much true merit and true love, and no want of fortune and friends, the happiness of Captain and Mrs. Sousa was as secure as earthly happiness can be. To find perfect happiness with a person to whom one only became engaged as part of an undercover spy operation is to do pretty well; especially when one partner in the deception had no interest in marriage and the other had despaired of meeting anyone he could really love among the ton. But find happiness they did, and I leave it to you, dear reader, to imagine how that happiness grew as Peggy and Daniel Sousa passed the rest of their lives in perfect domestic felicity.

. . . . . .


. . . . . .


In case you were curious, I considered having Peggy pregnant by the end but decided not to as our Miss Austen does not really mention future children in her epilogues. But rest assured that the absence of children is not a hint of some kind; I imagine that Peggy and Daniel have several dark-haired moppets, and Peggy teaches them to ride and fight while Daniel teaches them science and navigation and fills their heads with stories of the far corners of the world.

For the final time, history notes:

The wedding: Weddings were a much less extravagant affair in 1817 than they are now. Invitations and announcements were not sent out; those few guests who were invited were invited by letter, and after it was over, an announcement would be printed in the newspaper. The white wedding dress was popularized after Victoria was married in white in 1840; before that, brides simply wore the finest they could wrangle up, and the less affluent often didn't even bother getting a new dress made for the occasion. (However, since white was such a popular color for dresses in this period, many brides would have happened to wear white, just for different reasons than we do now.) The wedding itself was usually attended only by family and perhaps close friends of the bride and groom, although locals might wait outside the church to congratulate the happy couple; however, Annie+MacDonald showed me an 1841 book on London churches that claimed that, as St. George's Hanover Square was known for its "celebrity weddings," locals who did not know the couple would sometimes attend the ceremony just to get a look at the fine lords and ladies in their fine clothing (it also claimed, amusingly, that the interior of the church "disappoints expectation"). The bride might ask a few close female relatives or friends to attend her to the church, as Emma did for Harriet, but there was no row of bridesmaids in matching dresses at her side. The service was taken from the Book of Common Prayer. After the wedding, guests would go to the bride or groom's home for a nice meal. And that was basically it! No reception, no bouquet toss, no receiving line, no first dance. A lot lower stress than the modern wedding.

Also, here's a tidbit for you: St. George's Hanover Square was such a popular location for weddings that at its peak, in 1816, there were 1,063 weddings over the course of the year. So the Sousa children's weddings were likely not the only ones that happened that day at the church.

Peggysous's first kiss being at the wedding: likely or not likely? I'm going to say . . . not. Prior to writing this story, I usually tended to think of kissing in this period only being considered appropriate within the bonds of holy matrimony. But I recently found an 1811 etiquette guide, The Mirror of the Graces by a Lady of Distinction, that had the following to say on kissing: "Our parent; our brothers; our near kindred; our husband; our lover, ready to become our husband; our bosom's inmate, the friend of our heart's care; to them are exclusively consecrated the lips of delicacy." So that would make it sound like kissing our lover, ready to become our husband, is A-OK, though I assume you were expected to keep it pretty chaste. However, on the other hand, I had the example of the 1995 P&P, where they don't show any kissing until after the wedding (and I always think "Wow, no one has ever waited as long for a kiss as we all have just now"). Anyway, I decided to go more Austen-ish and put the kiss after the wedding. #sorrynotsorry

And now it's really over.

A Lady of Value - Eienvine (2024)
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