We left Maisie and her friends, way back in October, fidgeting and worrying about the Swarthy Gent due to call upon Maisie the following day. The story continues..
After a restless night during which Maisie was convinced she had no more than a few snatched minutes of sleep, she was awakened by Jackson with her morning tea and the morning newspaper.
Usually Maisie was content to lie abed and sip her tea while reading the newspaper, but this morning she had too much on her mind to settle. So she asked Jackson to pour her bath and having drunk the tea repaired to the bathroom to attend to her morning ablutions.
Dressed, she descended the stairs to breakfast. This over she decided to call her friends to confirm that they would be with her well before the appointed time for Fotheringham to call. They each assured her that they would and Juliet suggested that they have lunch together at a new tearoom that had recently opened in the area. Imogen agreed with this suggestion and so it was decided.
None of the three friends felt like shopping even for new hats and so they met at the tea room at the appointed time and it was a subdued trio who sat down to a light lunch.
Lunch over they retired to Maisie’s house to await the arrival of the guest. They were still worrying about him and the reason for his calling upon Maisie right up until the time of his arrival.
Promptly at 4pm the front door bell rang, followed by the tap-tap of Jackson’s feet on the tiled front entry. This then was followed by Jackson’s knock on the door of the drawing room. The gentleman had arrived and Maisie instructed Jackson to bring him in.
What a handsome fellow he was and how gallantly he greeted each of the ladies in turn. He appeared just a little surprised to see three ladies instead of the one he expected. However he quickly recovered his equilibrium.
Jackson was instructed to bring tea and while they waited for this they indulged in the usual small talk about the weather (very English), what friends they had in common but no talk about the depression or the recent stock market crash. Ladies did not discuss such disasters.
Tea arrived and when all had been served, Maisie decided to take charge of the meeting. She expressed her surprise at the intrusion into her life of a complete stranger and in her usual straight forward manner asked him what he wanted.
Thomas Anthony Winston Fotheringham, aka “Billy” Fotheringham was unused to being addressed in such a forthright way by a lady and spluttered into his tea cup. When he had recovered his breath he said that what he had to say should probably be told to the Countess of Waverley in private. “What nonsense” snapped Maisie. “Whatever you have to say may be said in front of these two ladies”.
“Well then,” countered Fotheringham “the truth of the matter is that I am the illegitimate brother of your husband, the Hon Reginald Benton-Smythe. His father had a liaison with a local woman in India and I am the result. ”
He went on to say that Major Thomas Fotheringham had been the old Earl’s batman and when the pregnancy was discovered, he accepted a large gratuity from the Earl in exchange for staying in India, marrying the pregnant woman and bringing up the boy as his own.
Can you imagine the looks that passed between the three ladies at this news? They were stunned; almost incoherent. “But that’s not possible” and “How could that be?” and “Reggie’s father would never do anything like that”.
Through all the spluttering and exclamations Billy Fotheringham sat unmoving with a small, sardonic smile playing around his mouth. He assured Maisie that he was indeed her brother-in-law and proposed to remain in London making the most of this family ties. Maisie was horrified. What could she do to stop Reggie being ruined and his father and their family name being dragged through the mud.
“Just what do you expect to get out of this preposterous tale?” she enquired in an imperious voice; the voice that had been known to shrivel lesser mortals in their shoes.
“Just what is mine by rights” was the reply. “And in case you are asking I can prove my claim. I have come into possession of a pack of letters sent by your father-in-law to my mother. And I have the deathbed confession of the man who I always thought was my father. These things are irrefutable and are available for inspection by you, your husband or any other reputable person you wish to name.”
“Are these papers in your possession now?” enquired Maisie.
“Would I be foolish enough to carry them around with me when London is full of footpads and pickpockets? No, they are in a safe place where only I can get ahold of them. So what do you want to do now? Do you want time to discuss it with your husband and father-in-law, or can we make a deal between us?”
The effrontery of the man quite took away Maisie’s breath. How was she going to deal with him and the fall out if his claims became known in Society? She would need some time to think and plan; perhaps consult Reggie; certainly consult Sir Charles (Juliet’s brother) and his friend Sir Hector Ryder, Head of the Metropolitan Police and maybe even the ailing Earl.
But time was certainly needed. She would put this scoundrel off for a couple of days to give Sir Charles and Sir Hector time to delve more deeply into this man’s past, although the thought of bringing the fellow’s claims to their attention horrified her.
“Well obviously I shall need some time to consider what you have told me this afternoon” she said. “And equally obviously I shall need to see the so-called proof of the relationship between you and my husband. So I suggest that you leave now and come back again in two days time, with some proof of your claim at which time I shall have an answer for you.”
With that, the swarthy gentleman picked up his Panama hat, gave each of the ladies a broad smile, thanked the Countess and took his leave.
A shocked silence remained in the drawing room after his departure.
To be continued….