A very Jane Austen Christmas story; Part Twelve
A Very Jane Austen Christmas:
PART TWELVE- A GALLOP AND A LILT
The two men in top hats wove their way through endless city streets. Jane and Mr. Godwin surreptitiously crisscrossed behind them trying to maintain enough distance as to not be detected, but not so much distance that they lost their quarry.
At 9 a.m. they were in Covent Garden, covertly drinking Pekoe tea half-secreted behind a Doric column. At 10 a.m. they were jostling in a landaulette with a mad driver and a couple of wild horses, headed out of the city proper behind the top hat men’s transport. At 11 a.m. they were tucked into a shadowy corner of the Devil’s Punchbowl on the outskirts of Newmarket, tucking into roast beef and pigeon pie, all the while keeping an eye on the men in the window seat. By noon, Jane and Mr. Godwin were in leisurely pursuit, for the last leg, on foot. Jane unwrapped violet candies wrapped in papers while they strolled and read the mottos inside the little sweets.
“Fais qui doit, arrive qui pourra.” Jane read amused, “’Do your duty, come what may.’ That one’s rather apropos for the minute. What does yours say, Mr. Godwin”?
“Vise en espoir. Look forward in hope,” he grinned in his sideways way, “Also apropos”. Jane blushed and studied the candy. “Look there now! They’re turning into the next street!” He and Jane fell into step with a mob of people moving like running salmon toward a gate.
“What could it be?” Jane asked, “I do hope we aren’t walking into the lion’s den of a Roman amphitheater.”
“Indeed,” Mr. Godwin agreed, trying to look over the hats and bonnets of the crowd. “I hope we aren’t walking into an enclosure of stampeding elephants at the city zoo.”
“I hope we aren’t walking off a short pier into shark-infested waters,” Jane shivered.
Mr. Godwin nodded, “I hope we aren’t being shanghai’d aboard a pirate vessel and about to set sail to the edge of the earth.”
They might have gone on that way for hours, but they were fast approaching the gate. The two particular top hats were a ways ahead of them… but still in sight. The men passed through the gate with papers in their gloved hands. One of the men tucked a ticket into his jacket pocket and rubbed his hands vigorously. Jane and Mr. Godwin were third or fourth in line behind a sandwich board and finally able to read it:
Rugged Lark 50-1
Lady Grey 3-1
Golden Hoof 10-1
Lilting Lily 9-1
John’s Firecracker 15-1
Cousin Imogene 12-1
Jane looked quizzically. Mr. Godwin clapped a hand across his face. “Well, I’ll be damned!” he exclaimed, immediately apologizing to Jane.
“You sound like your brother,” she teased. ‘But I don’t understand. Is this a theatre or a pirate ship?”
“It’s a horse race.” He pointed at the board. “As luck has it there’s a horse called ‘Cousin Imogene’ running. What are the odds?” he asked rhetorically.
“Twelve to one,” Jane supplied, looking terribly disappointed.
“Well, look at it this way,” Mr. Godwin began, walking back for a carriage, “We had a lovely breakfast, and luncheon, and a wonderful adventure on a particularly pleasant day…”
“You’re quite right, Mr. Godwin. It was quite right of us to follow this lead. We could not reasonably do otherwise.” Jane sniffed. “And in truth, we could not have possibly known that a coincidence of this magnitude and monstrous stupidness would….” she nearly began to cry.
“Oh, there, now, Miss Austen. This is unfortunate, indeed. But have faith; this wild goose chase has no bearing whatever on the course or outcome of our investigation. We are, alas, no closer, but likewise we are no further away from a solution. And we have enjoyed some wonderful fare and wonderful views on our way back to the beginning.”
Jane sighed and thanked Mr. Godwin for his sensible commentary but remained quiet and deflated as they bumped along the cobbled back roads into town. “There!” Jane suddenly shouted in a most uncouth manner. “There!”
“Stop here, man!” Mr. Godwin commanded, searching for his billfold. He held his questions, so as not to slow the operation until they were in the street and ready to act. “Miss Austen, what have you seen?”
“I believe I have seen Cousin Imogene”! Jane was standing at the curbside scanning the crowd. She looked wildly up and down the street, again and again. “I feel certain it was her,” Jane’s voice broke. “I recognized a lilt in her walk that I’d forgotten. You see, when we were children, Cousin Imogene fell from an orchard ladder and henceforth walked with a slight but curious lilt.” Jane was still gazing desperately up the street. Time passed. Jane dared not move in one direction or the other for fear of making the wrong choice. Mr. Godwin allowed her infinite time to satisfy her mind rather than distracting her. Heavens knew he had already distracted her plenty by riding them out to a horse track.
“I’m afraid I’ve lost her,” Jane admitted.
“I rather think you’ve found her,” Mr. Godwin corrected. “We’ve simply misplaced her for the moment. Don’t you see… this is wonderful.”
Jane was tearful again. “This is wonderful,” she agreed, still looking over his shoulder.
It was beginning to snow. The street where they stood was a small lane lined with streetlamps. Rows of townhouses were interrupted by a peppering of small shopfronts with bow windows. Trade signs like a cut-out boot, a pair of spectacles, a mortar and pestle… lined the little lane. Someone collecting for a charity was ringing a bell. Women wrapped in paisleys shawls and men in frock coats darted in and out of doorways. The shop windows were decked with wreaths, toys, foil snowflakes, and colorful garlands. Brown paper packages tied up with strings, tucked under the arms of passersby, signaled that it was a popular shopping area. More trade was done within than by means of carts and barrows in the open street. It was, in short, a more genteel square than the one they’d begun on that very morning.
“We will find her, Jane,” Mr. Godwin assured.
Despite the exhausting stress and twists and turns of the day, Jane did not fail to notice Mr. Godwin’s use of her Christian name. “We will find her.”
“I will leave this in your capable hands,” he assured, “What say you we do tomorrow? You lay out the plan and I will be at your service.”
Jane finally ceased to windmill her head around and around and rather focused her attention on Mr. Godwin. “I have a couple of ideas,” she said.
Should Jane and Mr. Godwin:
A. Begin a door-to-door search of the shopfronts.
B. Come back at the same time the following day.