I have just finished and sent off to the publisher the first book in the series of “The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy”. Here is an excerpt – the Prologue.
The Jack Flash Tavern, the Strand, London, England
31st March, 1802
A rain-racked Kit O’Malley squelched his way up the tavern’s narrow staircase, following the flickering light of the candle carried by the maid showing him to the back room where the meeting was to be held. This, he determined, might be an error. This could be a trap sprung by the agents of the Intelligence Bureau who were searching for him so assiduously. He could be about to step into a lion’s den, the lion’s invitation sweetened by an accompanying draft for fifty guineas. Inwardly Kit cursed himself for his greed but he needed the money: sedition was an expensive business.
‘This is the room, Sir,’ said the maid nodding in the direction of the door on the far side of the landing.
Kit pressed a penny into the girl’s hand and then waited while she slumped her way back down the stairs, taking the opportunity this gave to bring his thoughts and nerves to order. What did he have to fret on? He had five loyal and lusty lads downstairs keeping dick on things and ready to warn him if the traps put in an appearance and he had a pistol to hand. Taking a deep breath, he reached for the door’s handle and, adopting the demeanor of the feckless Pat that had served him so well during his time in England, pushed through into the room beyond.
The meanly furnished room was hardly better lit than the landing, the only illumination coming from the fire blazing in the hearth. The effect was strangely disturbing; as the firelight struggled over the walls, the room seemed to shiver and move, almost as though the place were alive. A man – young, blond, well-timbered and having the air of the army about him – sat at a table with a pewter mug, a bottle and a pistol set before him. He and Kit eyed each other for several silent seconds, their immediate and mutual animosity palpable.
Kit decided that to stand on ceremony would be a mistake. ‘How are yer blowing?’ he said in a jaunty manner emphasizing his brogue for all he was worth. ‘Kit O’Malley’s the name …’ Blondie made no reply. Kit tried again, ‘D’you mind if I take a place by the fire? It’s desperate drooky weather out there; I fecking near drowned what with the rain plumping down in staves and all. Me cacks are soaked through and I think there’s an icicle growing out o’me arsehole.’ Without waiting for a reply, he tossed his sodden coat and hat onto a chair, strode over to the fire and made an exaggerated pantomime of rubbing life back into his buttocks, all the while careful to ensure the pistol he had hidden under the flaps of his redingote remained out of sight.
Still Blondie remained silent, watching him with unblinking eyes. Kit nodded to the bottle on the table. ‘I’m after having a scoop o’ whatever you’re enjoying yerself. Something to warm me cockles would be grand.’ The man made no move to serve Kit. ‘So would you be “A Friend” who sent the note that summoned me here, ’cos if you are, boyo, you’ve been sadly misnamed.’
‘No. I sent the note.’
Kit started, cursing himself that he hadn’t realized there was a second man in the room and how easily he’d been foxed. But then, he supposed, that the voice came from an alcove swathed in shadows – this rendering the man doing the talking all but invisible ‒ made his error understandable … understandable but not forgivable. In his line of work mistakes were punished hard.
‘And who would you be?’
‘My true name is my business. My nom de guerre is General Chaos.’
‘General-fecking-Chaos!’ Kit laughed. ‘What sort of a name is that?
‘A very appropriate one, as you will discover.’
‘Well, if you’re General Chaos what does that make the blond dangler with the barking iron set in front of him and the sour look on his mug … Corporal Punishment?’
‘Have a care,’ snarled Blondie. ‘And keep a civil tongue in that empty Irish head of yours.’
Definitely English army, Kit determined; he had the same disdainful tone of voice all English officers had, as though they went through life with a dab of shite lodged permanently under each nostril. Puke though he undoubtedly was, the chances were he could handle himself and the pistol. He was one of whom to be wary … but not that wary. Time to show this bug the mettle of the man with whom he was dealing.
‘Bollocks,’ sneered Kit. ‘Don’t lose your dander with me, boyo, or you might lose yer fecking teeth as a consequence.’
An angry Blondie made to rise from his seat.
‘Enough!’ snapped the General. ‘I would be obliged to you, Mr O’Malley, if you would join me in a drink and consider a proposition I have for you.’ He used a foot to push out a chair set against the table at which he was seated and then poured Kit a bumper of brandy.
Kit did as he was asked, maneuvering the chair such that he could keep both the General and Blondie in view. He raised his mug. ‘Sláinte,’ he announced and then took a hefty sip. ‘That’s grand, that is,’ he said smacking his lips. ‘I needed to get some heat into me extremities. The old bald fella’s so cold he’s fit to drop off.’
The General ignored Kit’s banter. ‘If you are settled, Mr O’Malley, perhaps we could turn our attention to business.’ This was said in a careless enough manner but there was no denying the touch of iron in his voice. This was a man used to giving orders and having them obeyed.
‘Sure enough, General.’
‘I understand you are the leader of the United Irishmen active in the north of England.’
Now that was a straightener and no mistake, Kit having been cautious to a fault to ensure only a handful of trusty Wexford lads knew what he was about in England. The General was a sharp and then some … and, as a consequence, one of whom it was best to be wary. ‘Now why would I be admitting to that? How do I know you’re not one o’them Intelligence Bureau coves who’ve been giving those intent on liberating Ireland from the grasp of the English such a wonderment of grief?’
‘What if I am? Habeas corpus is no longer suspended―’
‘Habeas corpus,’ laughed Kit. ‘And what’s that when it’s at home? Innocent until proven an Irishman, that’s what. I’d better rely on me wits than English justice to avoid a stretching.’
‘I appreciate your concerns, Mr O’Malley, but if you truly wish to remove the English yoke from about the neck of Ireland you will listen to me and my proposition.’
Kit leaned back in his chair and considered this strange General Chaos. Masked by shadows he might be but that he was English was made obvious by his accent and his well-put-on suite of clothes signaled he had money.
‘I’m listening, General, but of a certainty I’d like to know what’s Ireland to an Englishman like you? All you jackeens have ever done is feasted on Ireland leaving the poor sods living there with only the broc … the scraps from your table. Why would you want to help us?’
‘Because in return you – and other similarly-minded Irishmen – will help me. You are quite right, Mr O’Malley, I care not a fig for Ireland but I offer you a chance to liberate your country and by doing so―’ The General stopped and took a swig from his own mug. ‘It is of no import to these discussions what will be my reward. Suffice it to say, I have undertaken a careful study of the attempts made by the Irish to free themselves of the English ‒ most especially the jumble that was the 1798 rebellion – and my conclusion is that they are incompetent revolutionaries.’
Kit felt his hackles rise. The English were always so fecking contemptuous of the Irish, but one day … ‘In what way?’ he asked, forcing himself to smile.
‘Where to begin? Firstly, your leaders have a disdain for secrecy bordering on the suicidal. It is impossible to plot a rebellion if your adversaries – the English – are kept informed of your intentions by leaders so enamored of their own self-importance that they are unable to keep their mouths shut.’
Uncomfortable though it was for Kit to acknowledge it, he knew what the General said was correct. He had been in Paris to witness the wrangling between Wolf Tone, Charles Teeling and Napper Tandy, vainglorious sots to a man and more intent on their own fame than the freedom of Ireland.
‘Fair doos,’ Kit admitted. ‘It is said the Rebellion of ’98 failed through mischance and misfortune but the truth of it is that we were led by dunties, feckless bastards who couldn’t take a shit without someone calling instructions to them through the door of the jakes. Worse, nary a one of ’em knew how to keep their gob shut, clucking around Dublin and Paris like dunghill cocks and poor mouthing one another in the process. You should know though, General, that I have learnt from their indiscretion. All my men have taken an oath of secrecy, each and every one of them has kissed the card.’ Kit gave the General a sly look. ‘But I have a notion, General, that secrecy is something in which you are skilled.’
‘Indeed, and this is why I think we will deal well together. And that brings me to the second cause of the failure of the Irish … the French. I understand your people see it as a condition precedent that any successful rebellion should coincide with an invasion of Ireland by the French.’
‘That is the truth of it, General. The leaders of the ’98 rebellion believed the country would only rise when the Frogs were seen marching on Dublin.’
‘But this is not your belief.’
‘No, Sir, for the simple reason I do not trust the Frogs. The Frogs may have issued their Edict of Fraternity and announced that all governments are their enemies and all people their friends but to my way of pondering, we Irish should keep Bonaparte at arm’s length. He’s a might too acquisitive for my taste. It is of little purpose us fighting and dying simply to exchange one master for another.’ Kit took another comforting sip of his brandy. ‘The other thought I have, is that the Frog army ain’t all it is cracked up to be. Conversations with their Generals are punctuated with too many “peut-êtres” to inspire confidence. The manner in which General Humbert fecked up when he landed his army in Killala back in ’98 is witness to the truth of that.’
The General dipped his head to signal his agreement this giving Kit a glimpse of his fine forehead. ‘Then you will be pleased to know my plans have it that you and your fellows will have nothing to do with the French. There will be no invasion of Ireland. Instead the French will invade England.’
‘Bollocks,’ sneered Kit, wondering for a moment if this General item took him for a clodhopper, too pudding-headed to know when he was being gulled. ‘England and France are at peace; the ink on the Treaty of Amiens is hardly dry.’
‘The peace will not last. Give it a year and the war will be resumed.’
‘And what if it is? Boney will never jump the ditch.’
‘Oh, Bonaparte is determined to have his army cross the Channel. I have placed my plans before him and he has agreed that to subjugate England an invasion is vital.’
Kit admitted himself impressed. For the General to have gained the attention of Bonaparte himself was something the Irish had never been able to do. They had always been fobbed off with deputies and nobodies, never getting to speak with the man himself.
‘So be in no doubt, Mr O’Malley,’ continued the General. ‘Bonaparte has seen my plans and has approved them. This time there will be no prevarication, none of your “peut-êtres”. He has charged Talleyrand with ensuring my Great Scheme is executed.’
‘Talleyrand, eh? Boney’s Foreign Minister? Well, he’s a big dog with a brass collar and no mistake. A fly fecker to boot. So what is this “Great Scheme” of yours, General?’
‘In August 1803 there will be a number of simultaneous actions designed to humble England, bring it under the power of France and by so doing free Ireland from England’s grasp. The first of these actions will be the invasion of England by the Armée d’Angleterre, an army two hundred thousand strong.’
‘The Royal Navy―’
‘The second action will be the mutiny of the Irish sailors in the Royal Navy. These constitute nearly half of the crews of English ships-of-the-line and, hence, at a stroke, the Royal Navy will be rendered impotent, unable to prevent the French invasion flotilla crossing the Channel.’
Kit nodded his understanding. The mutinies in Spithead and the Nore back in ’97 showed how vulnerable the Royal Navy was to insurrection.
‘The third action will be the assassination of King George and his Parliament.’ The General said this in such a careless manner that for an instant Kit thought he had misheard. ‘The English will be made leaderless at the very moment the French army is marching on London. The confusion this causes will be compounded by the Irish once again rising in rebellion. This, the fourth part of my plan, is designed to give the Irish their liberty … an Act of DisUnion, so to speak. I will be financing and sponsoring another rising in Ireland.’
Kit held his tongue, though this last statement filled him with nothing but dread. He had fought in the last shambles of a rebellion and had seen the terrible price paid by the people when it turned into a drunken, pillaging, revenge-riddled riot. Four years on, he doubted that much had altered for the better. All the best leaders from ’98 were gone: culled, executed, imprisoned, exiled or, like him, simply grown tired of the struggle. Now though, was not the time to voice his doubts.
‘All this will take a powerful amount of money and organization.’
‘Money we have aplenty and as for organization … you are my final recruit, Mr O’Malley. All the other players are in place. In August of next year, with one bold and decisive effort, success will be ours. I need you to execute the fifth and final part of my plan.’
‘You have a great deal of influence with the disgruntled weavers in the north of England, Mr O’Malley. It is your remarkable ability to ferment violent dissent that I wish to exploit.’
Kit took another – longer ‒ sip of his brandy, more dismayed than he cared to show that his frame-breaking and mill-burning exploits should be known to the General. The bastard was too well-informed by half.
‘I wish you to bring out the workers in revolt,’ the General went on. ‘I want the north of England set afire. Can you do that?’
‘Oh, I’m a dab hand at the dissenting business, General, and if it’s devilment you’re after then I’m your man. But …’
‘But what, Mr O’Malley?’
‘I hear what you say, General, but I must advise you that a tow-row like the one you’re talking of sponsoring will require a desperate number of guns and pikes and men to carry them. So the question, General, is do you have the tin to finance your scheme?’
The General reached to a stout leather bag standing on the floor next to his chair, and with some effort lifted it onto the table. He pushed it towards Kit. ‘This satchel contains two-hundred and fifty guineas, Mr O’Malley, and is a companion to the second bag still resting on the floor.’ This he tapped with the toe of a brightly-buffed hessian. ‘The bag also contains a note giving the address of a stockroom in Manchester holding enough pistols, pikes and cutlasses to equip an army.’
For a few seconds Kit was unable to speak as he struggled to comprehend what the General was saying. He had half come to the conclusion that he was being humbugged, that the General wasn’t quite the full shilling but such a lavish investment was attestation of his seriousness and then some.
‘Five hundred guineas? That’s a lash of blunt and no mistake, General. With that I will cause an uproar in the north of fearful proportions.’
‘Then we are agreed?’ and the General held out a hand.
Kit shook the hand, reassured by the strength of the General’s grip. ‘We are. Come August next year me and my boys will stand ready to sweat the English, have no fear on that score.’
‘I am sure of it. Just remember this, Kit O’Malley, I am not a man who tolerates failure.’
‘And I am not a man who is inclined to deliver it.’
The General was silent for a moment, then, ‘There may be one other service you might render me, Mr O’Malley.’
‘You have heard of Fitzwilliam Darcy?’
Kit laughed at the absurdity of the question. ‘Oh, I’ve heard of the fecker right enough. He was the bastard who banjaxed the Irish Rebellion of ’98.’
‘The word is that the English government is attempting to persuade Darcy to reassume control of the Intelligence Bureau.’
‘Not welcome news for you, General,’ said Kit with a dismal shake of his head. ‘Darcy is a cool hand with a multitude of touts at his beck and call, these forever ear-wigging on things best kept secret. Back in ’98 you couldn’t fart in Ireland without Darcy knowing of it.’
‘I recognize the danger posed by Darcy and have made arrangements to persuade him not to interfere with my schemes. He is recently married and that makes him vulnerable to pressure.’
Kit blinked at the news. From what he’d heard of Fitzwilliam Darcy there wasn’t a romantic bone in the bastard’s body. All he could think was that the woman who had melted the frost covering his heart was a rare beauty and the very devil between the sheets. ‘You should know, General, that I don’t make war on women.’
‘I appreciate your scruples, Mr O’Malley.’ Here the General waved a hand in Blondie’s direction, ‘Fortunately Mr … Smith does not share them. That is by-the-by. It is possible that the bullying to which I will make Darcy subject will persuade him to remain standing in the wings of history, but should he determine to move center-stage he will need to be deterred. He will need to be assassinated.’
‘Then I’m your man, General. I’d pay good money to put a ball through that fecker’s eye.’