by Pam Sears
The story continues.
|To Jasper’s surprise the look on Sylvia’s face was one of concern, not shock or fear and she nodded slightly at his revelation.
“I rather gathered this Thomas, as you call him, was no gentleman, Mr. Malcom.” She spoke softly but clearly, meeting his dark gaze with her own green one. “Jessica… Miss Hillman told me she behaved rather… badly… with the man in question. Nothing overly wicked but enough to have Society shun her if they found out. She said if she didn’t agree to marry him the… man in question said he would spread the rumor that she’d been – ahh – loose in her behavior with him. She felt an elopement would be easier to live down.”
She shuddered then and admitted “She… I believe he may have hit her. She was holding herself very stiffly when she visited, and flinched when I touched her shoulder, but she would not say so when I asked. She said she ran into her bedroom door.”
Jasper’s features became more and more grim as Sylvia spoke. “I see.” He growled quietly. He detested men who hurt or used women. He specialized within the Runners in chasing down men who hurt women in any way. And he was rather more than good at it.
“Is there anything else you can tell me, Miss Towery? Miss Hillman should not suffer due to this … this scoundrels’ behavior. I shall be making that very clear to him, I promise you.”
Sylvia’s eyes widened at the threat present in both Jasper’s words and eyes. He looked… she shivered slightly… dangerous.
She shook her head in distress. “You are already too late. Jessica told me Anthony, that is Thomas had a clergyman in his employ and was in possession of a special license. They were to be married the night they ran away. Oh, dear.” She put trembling fingers to her lips and blinked back tears.
Jasper resisted the urge to comfort her. She had known and not spoken sooner. He was disappointed. And he was irritated with himself that it mattered to him. He cleared his throat.
“Do you know the name of the clergyman? Or where he might be found?” He pressed.
Instead of answering right away Sylvia paused to consider her conversation with her friend, searching her memory. She nodded slightly. “I recall mention of a Talmann. I’m not certain he was the clergyman in question but his was the only other name mentioned.”
Before Jasper could reply there was a ruckus at the front door and, moments later, a disheveled Jessica burst into the room, pausing dramatically on the threshold. As a startled Sylvia took in the torn and filthy dress and limp blond hair of her unexpected visitor Jessica spotted her and raced across the room to throw herself into her arms.
“Oh, Sylvie! You have to help me! I have escaped Anthony and must hide. Please!” She wailed even as she sagged toward the floor, pulling Sylvia with her.
Sitting on the floor with her friend Sylvia wrapped her arms around her and rocked her. “Of course you are safe, love. Tell me what happened and let us protect you.” She soothed.
“Us?” Jessica pulled back and looked around. She saw Jasper and cringed before glancing back up at her friend nervously.
“No, love. He’s a Bow Street Runner. He has been looking for you at your father’s request. Let him help. I have absolute faith he will be able to protect you from, er, Anthony.”
Jessica shook her head with a great, gulping sob. “No one can protect me from him. He will ruin me!” She wailed.
Jasper crouched next to the women. “Tell me how you escaped, Miss Hillman. And where I might find this man.”
His tone was calm and reasonable and Jessica responded to it. “He told me if we did not marry he would ruin my reputation and no one would ever wish to marry me.” She began in a choked voice, tears thick in her words.
Jaspar noted the lack of real tears in her eyes and that the quaver in her voice sounded forced. He nodded for her to continue even as he saw the crafty look that slid through her eyes before she lowered them, clinging to Sylvia even tighter.
“I went with him, hoping to stop any scandal, and he said we would be married by Special License by a clergyman he knew. He drove us to a little church on the South Side.” She explained, even as she forced a sob from deep in her chest.
Sylvia cocked an eyebrow and glanced up at Jasper but he kept his gaze fixed on Jessica.
“Please, finish the story, Miss Hillman.” He urged.
Taking a deep breath as if to fortify herself she nodded. “Well, when we arrived at the little church it was all quite dark. No light in the windows or, it seemed, anyone in residence at all. Anthony checked with the neighbors but it seemed the clergyman had left earlier in the day with the police. Something about a visit to a prisoner?”
Jasper’s eyebrows rose and he couldn’t stop a glance at Sylvia who was biting her lip as if fighting a laugh. He cleared his throat. “Yes. And what happened next, Miss Hillman?”
His soothing tone and quiet concern brought Jessica’s eyes to him and he saw her give him a quick once-over, assessing both his person and his reaction to her tale so far. But Jasper had a better poker face than this spoiled young lady of Quality.
Jessica took the handkerchief Sylvia offered and dabbed carefully at her eyes, sniffling and offering a watery and slightly flirtatious smile at Jasper. Perhaps she would be able to get out of this with her reputation intact after all.