Chapter Sixty-five

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"What do you mean she is not with you?" Mr. McAllister demanded upon not seeing Clara in the carriage for the second day in a row.

"I mean exactly what I said. She's worn out, Benjamin. Mentally, emotionally this has all been rather taxing on her. She wishes to rest so she is well enough for the ball. I think it wise, that she chose to do so."

Benjamin knew Clara seldom was ill. She's been through hell and back and never did he see her wane. Why now? What would have changed? She seemed to thrive when she was out at sea.

"I must find a way to see her."

Mr. Brummell's expression became stern. "You will do no such thing. Do you realize the lengths we have all gone through to keep this ruse going? And you'd have it compromised in seconds because of what? You have a feeling? You are unsettled? What of Clara and all she's been through. Certainly, her needs should come before your own."

"I have always put her needs before my own." Benjamin sighed and he slumped slightly in his chair, feeling worn out himself. "If I didn't, we would have never wed."

"You gave in, now what? The Queen has not released you like you hoped?"

"Once this ball is over, she will. The Queen will see the love Clara and I have for one another and she will release me to live my life, at last."

"You are banking a lot on this one event. Have you a plan if things don't work out as you expect?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, what is to happen to Clara if you are stuck working for the Crown. She will be in danger. You will be in danger. You will be right back to where you started over a year ago."

Benjamin ran his hand over his face, his fatigue compounding with this conversation as he had no answer.

"She deserves so much more," Mr. Brummell said.

Benjamin's eyes flashed with anger. "You think I don't know this. Everyone she meets. Everyone she comes in contact with, falls for her in one way or another. Perhaps it's simple admiration or a sea captain willing to go to war for her, and I'm left here thinking anyone of them would have been a better choice for her than me."

"But she chose you, Benji."

"I know, just as I know I don't deserve her."

"Deserve her you may not, but her heart is yours. You have a responsibility to her. You owe her the truth, Benjamin. The complete truth."

Benjamin knew Mr. Brummell was right, however he feared what that truth might bring. He had not been careful with her heart. Clara had given it to him freely, without care or concern for herself, she asked for so little in return. She wanted a family, but it would seem it was the one thing he could not afford to give her. He could not afford to lose her, yet if she knew the truth, he may lose her still.

"Have you your costume for the ball?" Mr. Brummell asked breaking into his revery.

"Yes, my mask will be the Green Man. And Clara?"

"Gold, and half butterfly. Her gown a deep blue with black lace trim. I ordered it myself."

"I thank you for that. I would hate to have to waste time searching the crowd for her. I want her back, Beau. This separation is worse than when she went to sea. Knowing she is but a few blocks from me and I am cannot visit her as I would wish, talk to her, embrace her. It's maddening."

"Your suffering will be over by the week's end. Just a few more days, Benji. You've come so far."

Benjamin nodded and they proceeded to talk about other things of lesser consequence until Benjamin knew he must move on. His thoughts drifted to Clara several times throughout the day. He hoped she was well.

Benjamin ducked down a back alley and he knocked three times on door of his informant. The door cracked open.

"You should not be here," the man grumbled.

"You said you had information for me. We can meet somewhere else if you would like but it must be tonight."

"I'll meet you at the docks, at seven, outside the Portside Tavern."

Benjamin nodded and left taking a different route home.

Later that evening he made it to the docks. This was a far seedier part of town. As he walked through the dim lit street's he could feel the presence of someone following him. If they made the mistake of showing themselves to him, it would be the last mistake they ever make.

His informant was leaning against the tavern wall. A lit cigar glowed in the night as he nervously puffed at it between his lips.

"You are trying my patience," Benjamin said upon reaching him.

"You have my money?"

"Information first." Benjamin took the affronting cigar out of the man's mouth and ground it into the earth with the heel of his boot.

"Those cost a pretty penny," the man complained.

"With what I pay you, you can afford a case if you wish it. Stop wasting my time." Benjamin was on edge; the man was stalling and that wasn't like him.

Two men came out of the Tavern their speech slurred from too much drink. One bumped into Benjamin knocking him off balance. Before Benjamin had time to react the man, swore at him and a fist flew towards his face which he easily blocked but his friend grabbed Benjamin pinning his arms behind him.

Two swift gut punches sucked the air from his lungs and would have brought him to his knees if it weren't for man holding him up.

Benjamin caught a glint of a knife in the other man's hand. He was set up, but by who and why? It was evident he was not expected to walk away from this fight.

He was however too highly trained to be taken out by a simple dagger. He stomped on the foot of the man who was holding him and the moment the man lifted his foot Benjamin shifted his balance to turn the man around just in time for the knife to slid into the man's body instead of his own.

The man howled in pain and crumpled to the ground. The other pulled the knife from his partners body and lunged for Benjamin again. Benjamin dodged and locked up the man's arm, breaking his wrist causing him to cry out and drop the knife. An upper cut to his jaw and the brute was laid out flat.

Then searing hot pain brought Benjamin to his knees. The man that was stabbed had gotten hold of the knife and sliced his sliced his calf. His informant came and struck him in the head with a club. Benjamin fought against the blackness that threatened to overcome him.

"Sorry mate, but they pay more," his informant said before dealing with another blow.

Benjamin collapsed, his last thought of was of Clara before his world went black. 

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