Bruce Alexander

Smuggler's Moon


In which Sir John receives a special assignment

It had been agreed that there was no need for Sir John Fielding to accompany Lady Fielding to the Post Coach House for her noon departure north to York. After all, he had his Bow Street court to convene at that same midday hour; and later in the day, he had an appointment to keep at the residence of the Lord Chief Justice. ”Something,” the magistrate had muttered to me, ”that will mean trouble for us, you may be sure of it.”

And so it was that Clarissa and I stood at the open door of the hackney coach as Sir John and his wife whispered their farewells and kissed in proper loving fashion. He then did accompany her to the hackney where we waited in attendance.

“I shall return, Jack,” said she, ”just as soon as Mama shows signs of a good recovery-or, on the other hand …” ”She will pull through, Kate, I’ve no doubt of it. Your mother is of hardy northern stock. No doubt she has a good ten years left in her.”

“I do hope you’re right,” said she with a sigh. ”We shall see.

With that, they kissed again. I pushed her portmanteau up to the driver. Sir John retreated unaided to the entrance of Number 4 Bow Street, as I gave Lady Fielding a hand up into the coach and followed her inside. Then were we underway. For the most part I remained silent as my mistress gave most of her attention to Clarissa, imparting to her directions, reminders, and all manner of encouragement for the days ahead. I came in for instruction only in the most general sort of way as we bounced along through the London streets.

She leveled a forefinger at me and said with great seriousness, ”Now, Jeremy, I shall ask you to offer Clarissa all the help that you can. I’ll not have reports of you two wrangling and fighting, shall I?”

“No, ma’am, certainly not.”

“I should hope not,” said she. ”Now, this will be a difficult time for all of us. Only if we remember to cooperate in all matters can we manage to pull through it. You do see that, don’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am, I certainly do.”

Once arrived at the Post Coach House, I hied off to purchase her ticket When I returned with it in hand, the coach to York had pulled up to its station, and Lady Fielding’s baggage was secured atop it. I handed the ticket to her as she looked about her anxiously.

“I had best claim my seat,” said she, ”else I shall find myself riding in the backward way. I must face front, or I shall grow sick, I know.” As she looked upon us, I saw tears glistening in her eyes. She dabbed at them with her kerchief. ”Do be good, children,” said she. ”And take good care of Jack, won’t you? See that he gets enough sleep-and you’ll help him dress, Jeremy? I can count on you?”

”Of course you can.”

“Then God bless you, both of you. Goodbye. I hate long farewells.”

With that, she turned and handed the ticket to the coachman, and he assisted her into its dark interior. Then did I step forward, and out of sight of Lady Fielding, I placed a shilling in his hand, as Sir John had instructed me.

“Your passenger is the dame of Sir John Fielding, magistrate of the Bow Street Court,” said I. ”He would greatly appreciate any courtesies or considerations that you may show her.” Then, most direct: ”What is your name, sir?”

Taken somewhat aback, the fellow could but blink in reply. But after a moment, he nodded and spoke his name. ”I am Henry Curtin,” said he.

“Very good, sir. I shall pass that on to Sir John. He does not forget those who offer him or his lady assistance.”

“You may be sure she will receive the best of care.”

“I’m sure she will, but …”

“Yes? But what?”

“But do not presume upon his generosity in matters before his court.”

“Oh, I would not think of it. And thank you, young sir.”

He tipped his hat to me, and I bowed in return. Taking Clarissa’s arm, I swept her from the coach yard. She, who had looked upon all that had passed with great interest, offered me a sly grin and a wink.

“So that is the way the world works, eh?” said she to me.

“Sir John thought it best,” said I.

“But did you not give that man license to commit murder-and a shilling to boot?”

“By no means!” said I, most indignant. ”Did you not hear me say that he was not to presume upon Sir John’s generosity?”

“Oh, I heard, but I wonder, did he understand the limits put upon him?”

“He had better, else he will be sorely disappointed.”

”Well then, what sort of preferment has he been offered?”

“Oh, how should I know? Chiefly misdemeanors, matters of sentencing, that sort of thing. Let us say, he comes before Sir John for public drunkenness, a common enough charge in Bow Street. He might then be sentenced leniently, perhaps have it suspended altogether.”

“What sort of justice is that?” She wailed it out so loud that all around us turned to stare.

I grasped her tighter at the elbow and moved her quickly through the crowd. And as we went, I whispered sharply to her.

“See here,” said I, ”you know and I know that Sir John is the most just of magistrates. He would handle it as it should be handled. Now, let us speak of it no more.”

“That-” She seemed about to offer an objection, yet she held it back: ”That suits me well, for Lady Kate has filled my head so full of instructions that I can scarce contain them all. If you will excuse my silence, I shall now attempt to review them all.”

Then did she go silent for a short space of time.


“Yes? What is it?”

“You may release my arm now.”

“What? Oh yes, of course.” I did as she bade me.

“And if we might slow our pace a little?”

That we did, settling into a comfortable walk which would no doubt get us back to Bow Street in plenty of time to continue the day.

Truth be told, reader, Clarissa had caught me out. Sir John had told me to give to the coachman a shilling and ask him to look after Lady Fielding. Nothing more. It pained me at that moment to admit, if only to myself, that the rest-asking the coachman’s name, the vague statement that Sir John did not forget favors done him-all of that had been my invention. Even at the moment all was said, I thought I had perhaps gone a bit too far-hence my warning that the coachman was not to presume upon Sir John’s generosity. Why had I done so? Even now, near thirty years after the fact, I can but guess the reason: I was at that time (my age was seventeen in that year of 1772) impatient for my life to begin; and, wishing to get on with it, I was inclined upon occasion to give the impression that I was both better situated and more powerful than I was. In this case, I realized that I had overstepped myself, and yet I had not a notion of how things might be put right. Thus was I quite resentful of Clarissa for calling all this to my attention. Though we were often at odds, and I was in this instance quite annoyed at her, I was nevertheless forced to concede that, with the added duties that had fallen upon her with Lady Fielding’s departure, she was right to withdraw from our contentious conversation and concentrate upon all that must be done upon her return.

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