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    Mark Arbour
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Northern Exposure - 45. Chapter 45

Happy St. Patrick's Day (2021)

March 11, 1801

 

Stroganov Palace

 

St. Petersburg, Russia

 

 

 

“My lord, this package was just delivered for you,” the butler said to Granger. He handed Granger the sealed canvas packet that clearly contained correspondence. “I would be careful upon opening it, my lord, as the messenger was nothing more than a street urchin.”

“I appreciate your advice, but it seems to me that it only contains papers, and it is much too small for a bomb,” Granger said, trying not to roll his eyes at the man’s caution. “To ensure the safety of the household, I will nonetheless take it up to my room to open.”

“As Your Lordship wishes,” the butler said with evident disapproval. Granger ignored him and rushed, to the degree that was possible within the constraints of decorum, to his room. He strolled into the main room he shared with Daventry and sat at the desk there, pulling out the letter opener and working through the tight seals. Daventry was off visiting the Tsarina, which made Granger chuckle, but he appreciated the solitude to go through his mail.

Granger practiced his self-control by calmly organizing the mail without hurriedly opening and scanning his letters. He segregated Daventry’s mail, noting that he had several letters from Lords Grenville and Pitt, as well as a few that smelled of perfume. He put those back in the packet and sorted through the mail addressed to him, putting his letters in order, with the most recent communique from Caroline on top.

Dearest George,

 

I am told that it may be possible to communicate with you on a somewhat secure basis, but there is not much in the way of news for me to convey that would be damning if it were read by others. Let me hasten to assure you that we are all fine and healthy. Please convey to Lord Daventry that his son Robert is developing into a robust child, one that he will no doubt appreciate when he meets him. I continue to be thankful that you sent Freck home to us, for he has been such a wonder. The children adore him, and he has been kind enough to act as my escort to social and business functions. I had worried that would give the wags something to gossip about, but it seems that people have grown accustomed to him as part of our household, or perhaps they have other things to worry about.

 

It saddens me to tell you that my father died two weeks ago, and while that is devastating to me, it comes as a bit of a relief. His health had gotten so poor that he was quite miserable, and it was hard to see him in such tortuous pain. Parliament approved the conveyance of his title to Alexander, so he is now styled as Viscount Heathford. My father had originally insisted on inserting a clause requiring that Alexander change his last name to Haversham-Granger on assuming the title, but I was able to surreptitiously have that part of the arrangement removed. I felt that if Alexander wants to honor my father’s wishes and change his name, he will have that option and can make that decision himself.

 

My mother had taken no pains to pick up the management of their estates, and in any event, it has passed to us in trust for Alexander, and my mother is granted an income as well as residency in their London home and the country estate at Heathford. There are also provisions in there for me. I had begun taking the reins of their affairs a month ago, and it has now all but consumed me. If you will remember the decay and dilapidation we found when we acquired Brentwood, you will understand the challenge when you learn that most of his properties have been managed in a similar way. We are fortunate that we do not need the income they produce, because after they provide for my mother, the rest will be required for reinvestment into those estates. In any event, money will not be a problem, as my father has a sizeable bank deposit as well as extensive investments in ConSols. Knowing how penurious he was, I am sure that does not surprise you. At least now we can put his money to good use. I am to travel to Heathford in the upcoming days, and I suspect I will have much to do when I arrive.

 

Frederick and Davina are soon to be the parents of another child. Your mother is confident that this one will be another boy, while Davina’s mother says her instincts suggest it will be a girl. They have both been petty about their predictions such that it has created tension at social gatherings. I love your mother, but I do not understand why she thinks being disagreeable is something to be proud of.

 

When Valiant returned, I exerted extreme pressure on Lord Spencer to pay her off and did my best to help the men avoid the press, but I was not universally successful in that effort. As of this writing, I have not heard of subsequent posting of your officers, but Mr. Andrews, Dr. Jackson, and your clerk have graciously volunteered to help me with my mission to sort out my father’s affairs, and Lefavre has upset the kitchen staff as he has resumed his role as chef, much to our delight and their annoyance.

 

I do not know if you made it safely to St. Petersburg, and I have worried endlessly about you traveling through the frozen tundra in a hostile country. I pray that you are reading this in a lovely stateroom with a warm fire, and that the Russians have welcomed you as a brother. Your sojourn to Russia has not been publicly disclosed, nor has it been common knowledge amongst people beyond the cabinet. I think there is concern that if you and Daventry end up as hostages, it will put the government into a bind if your whereabouts are known. Valiant’s officers were admonished to mention it to no one. My suspicion is that the government will disavow any knowledge of your trek there and do nothing overt to save you if you should find yourself in peril. Know that I will do everything in my power to push them to do just the opposite of that, but I am concerned that I will not even be told if it is discovered you are in distress. I am confident that as long as Lord Spencer is part of the government, I will be kept aware, but if there is a change, I may be of limited help to you. I am so sorry George, but I pledge I will do my best.

 

I have taken an extreme liberty with your mail; one I am hoping you will forgive. You will find enclosed a letter from Bertie. I wanted you to have it, but having transited all the way from India, I did not want it to get lost. I therefore opened it and made a copy and have forwarded the original to you. I hope you will forgive my breach of your privacy and appreciate my motives, and I hope you will laugh as much as I did when I read it. I tried to make a decision on your other correspondence as to whose letters to forward and whose to retain. I trust you will approve of my decisions.

 

The King does not appear to be in any better shape, and it has caused much consternation with the government and jubilation with the opposition. I think Mr. Pitt is starting to realize that he cannot remain as premier no matter what happens. If the King recovers, he will demand the end of talk of Catholic Emancipation, and Pitt will be honor-bound to resign. If His Majesty is declared incapacitated and a regency is proclaimed, it is widely believed that the Prince of Wales will ask the opposition to form a new government. It has all led to much hand-wringing, as we are caught in this war with almost no allies, and all the politicians can do is argue amongst themselves.

 

I hope you will focus on staying safe and returning home as soon as possible, where we are all anxiously waiting to be reunited with you.

 

All my love,

 

Caroline.

 

Granger digested the news Caroline had conveyed to him. His first emotion was relief that his family was well, and that for the most part, his men had been able to get their pay and prize money and escape from the press, at least for a bit, so they could enjoy it. It was hard for him to feel anything but good riddance for his father-in-law and could only imagine the challenge that Caroline would have in front of her. He suspected most of their tenants lived in abodes not too different than that of the serfs here in Russia, although he certainly did not have a definitive idea of what the hovels here were actually like. His tenants would find themselves happy at having a better life, while those who were unproductive would find themselves dismayed at being turned out of their leases. Caroline had a kind but firm nature but was generally more heartless when it came to the sob stories of their tenants than Granger was. He hoped she was more merciful with those whom fate had damned to live on her father’s lands. It was so typical of the man to try and pin his name onto Alexander, and Granger felt it was his last attempt to take a slap at Granger from his grave. Good riddance indeed. There was much to think about in her letter, but he pushed that aside for now and picked up the next one.

He recognized Lord Spencer’s personal stationery and thought it odd that he used that instead of the official Admiralty paper.

Dear George,

 

Before I write any further, I must thank you for the book you sent home for me. I admit a fascination with tomes in general, but the rare copy you sent me was marvelous, a type I had not yet had a chance to view, much less possess. If you find similar items in your travels, please purchase them for me and I will repay you. It was a wonderful and thoughtful gift.

 

I was glad to see Valiant return, although saddened to learn you did not return with her. I want you to know that the cabinet fully approves of your course of action, and I find myself in the pleasurable position of pointing out that as with all the challenges I have thrown at you, you see the bigger scale of the problem and take the correct action to solve it.

 

The cabinet has kept your destination a secret, and we have leaked a story suggesting you were shipped out on another mission. I did not favor their decision, but I am bound to it as part of this government. As a friend, I feel compelled to tell you that by keeping your whereabouts a secret, the government cannot be blackmailed by Russia holding you hostage. I am sure you can decipher the results of that decision without me going into detail.

 

This government will not last much longer. It is only a matter of time before the collective pressures collide and force us all out of office. I am not sad about that, for I feel I have done the best I could, and His Majesty’s navy has had pronounced successes under my tenure. I may be limited in what I can do for you once I am out of power, but you have but to contact me and I will fully exert myself on your behalf. In the end, while I value your performance as one of His Majesty’s officers, I value our friendship even more.

 

Spencer.

 

By writing this letter on personal and not official stationery, Spencer was addressing him as a friend, not as his superior in the navy, nor as a fellow peer in the house of lords. That in and of itself made Granger smile, but the rest of his letter did not. He was making it clear to Granger that he and Daventry were expendable. If they did something wrong, they would be disavowed. If they got into trouble, there would be no rescue mission. The two of them were truly on their own and could only rely on surreptitious help from the government that had sent them here in the first place.

The next letter was from Lord Grenville, His Majesty’s Foreign Secretary. Grenville championed a strategy of continental engagement to bring down France and was the creator or co-creator of most of the coalitions against that country. He would probably feel real pain over Austria’s recent collapse, and that would be even more pronounced in cabinet meetings, where he would face Mr. Dundas with his knowing looks. Dundas, who had advocated that Britain should use her naval power to snap up the colonies and possessions of her European foes rather than entangle herself on the continent, would be smug that Grenville’s latest effort to unseat Bonaparte had failed.

Dear Granger,

 

I applaud your efforts to travel to St. Petersburg and help your confrere, Lord Daventry. That you took the correct course of action in that regard was no surprise to me, or to the others who know you.

 

Anything you can do to help repair our relationship with Russia would be appreciated. Working in harmony and in concert with His Imperial Majesty is undoubtedly one of our top priorities, as our two nations are natural allies.

 

Grenville.

 

It was a remarkably brief note. In the past, Grenville had written much more and had shared his thoughts more freely. Granger suspected this may be a reflection of the cabinet’s unwillingness to have too much to do with them, or it may be that he was concerned about his communiques being intercepted. Granger pushed those thoughts aside, as Daventry was much more closely tied to Grenville, so perhaps he got more fulsome instructions.

Granger smiled as he picked up the next letter, for it was from Cavendish.

Dearest George,

 

You probably have correspondence from others telling you of the happenings here in London, so I will not bore you by repeating them. As miserable as I was before leaving England, so now I am happy. I am enjoying your wonderful home and your bright and precocious children, and I am trying to be a support for your wife, who is much more of a sister to me than my actual siblings.

 

My father and I are on speaking terms, although our relationship is not entirely amiable. He is still frustrated with me for not choosing a bride, but now that I have staked out a position as a bachelor, I see no reason to go back into the potential nightmare that is the suitor’s market.

 

You’ve probably heard that the government is close to resignation, and you’ve probably been told that it is all a result of the issue of Catholic Emancipation. That is the standard formula designed to let this ministry off the hook, but it is not the complete answer. Mr. Pitt’s ill health is surely a factor in his plan to resign, but there are other failures that the cabinet would seek to avoid admitting: failure in war (Austria knocked out of the coalition, Prussia as unreliable as ever, and the Northern powers all hostile to us); failure with the economy, which is near collapse; failure with our food supply, with famine gripping much of the country and causing alarming levels of social unrest; and failure of the cabinet to work together, exposing the fact that there are irreconcilable divisions within itself. One must marvel at the stupidity that while all of this is going on, the continuing effort on enclosures in Scotland has riled up many of the Highland Clans. A friend of mine confided in me that we are unlikely to see any amphibious forays of the army onto European soil if only because we must keep the troops here to keep the populace under control.

 

I tell you these things not to discourage you, but to warn you that this government will be willing and able to offer you limited support. Should you get into a bind, or cause a controversy, with the exception of Spencer, they are more likely than not to consider you and Daventry as sacrificial lambs. That is just one more reason that makes me long for your return.

 

Freck

 

Granger knew there were dire predictions about the harvest, and he suspected there would be problems in some areas, but Cavendish made it sound like the uprisings were on a much broader scale. He wondered why Caroline did not mention these other factors and focused instead on the most obvious reason for this government to fall: Catholic Emancipation. And once again, he was confronted by the fact that it was obvious to all of his friends and relatives that he and Daventry were out on a limb here. This was one of those unenviable positions where if they were successful, their victory would be swept under the table. If they failed, they would be made the scapegoats of the entire rupture with Russia.

Granger was struggling not to be angry at Caroline for tampering with his correspondence from Bertie. It was irksome in the extreme for her to have taken such liberties, and even though her motives were pure and her logic sound, that did not, in Granger’s mind, justify such a breach of his privacy. He resolved to discuss it with her, should he ever escape from this frozen Russian hell he’d walked into, but in the meantime, he read the letter his older brother had sent him. He paused to note the top quality of the coroneted stationary and smiled at the pale shade of Bridgemont blue that Bertie had chosen.

Georgie,

 

Did you hear that I’m a baron now? Lord Blakeney is how I am now styled, with fancy stationery to match. I must say when I first heard of my promotion, I spent a good part of the day laughing. Who would have thought when I left England all those years ago under a disreputable cloud that I would now be exalted as an Irish peer operating under a disreputable cloud?

 

Lord Mornington would have me believe this is all his doing and implies that I am even more in his debt than he had previously imagined, but more astute political observers, most notably your wife, have informed me that the push came more from those in England. I am told that Father was the driving force behind it, and thus what I would have otherwise discarded as mere tommyrot, now takes on a more special meaning because of that.

 

Society here in Calcutta has taken note of my new status and has decided that it is time I had a bride, but I do so enjoy my harem, and wives are rarely broad-minded enough to tolerate such arrangements. So we shall see.

 

I do have some concerning news to convey to you. I have not heard from Chartley for some time, nor has he been in contact with the Company. The Chinese are most unreliable trading partners, and I heard rumors that there was considerable violence in the factories in Canton, especially with ours. I am hoping all of this is just unnecessary worry on my part, and I almost said nothing to you lest you let it unravel you, but in the end, I thought you should know. Should he reappear in Canton or Calcutta, I will make sure to dispatch a courier with news immediately.

 

You are far from me, but you are always in my thoughts.

 

Bertie.

 

Granger had laughed throughout most of the letter, but that had vanished as soon as he had mentioned Chartley. Granger had not had a communique from him in a long time, and had become rather irritated with the man as a result. It still bothered Granger that Chartley had given up their time together to run off to China at the behest of John Company, all but ruining what chances they had to further develop their relationship. He had relied on Chartley as his sage, and Chartley was the man who had saved him from the fever which had almost snatched the life from his body. Granger remembered their voyage from Amboyna to Calcutta, and how close they’d become, yet as soon as they’d arrived in that port, Chartley had tossed all that out the window to run off to China and make more money. As Granger ruminated over these thoughts, he became angrier and angrier with Chartley, only to jerk himself back to reality by Bertie’s letter. Bertie was basically telling Granger that Chartley was most likely dead at the hands of vicious Chinese traders, and the only thing to look forward to was confirmation of that fact, not his safe discovery. Granger wiped a tear from his eye, and was trying hard to think of something to distract himself when Daventry came strolling in.

“Good afternoon,” Granger said with a smirk, as he stood up to greet his friend.

“It is not,” Daventry grumbled. “Evidently the Tsar is furious with you.”

“Why?” Granger asked, concerned.

“For going to the Alexander Palace and cavorting with his son, who is quite possibly a rival for the throne,” Daventry said. “And for a letter to you that was supposedly intercepted.”

“Do you know what that letter said?” Granger asked with concern. “Or who sent it?”

“I do not,” Daventry said. “I will try to find out more.”

“Speaking of letters, we got mail,” Granger said. He handed Daventry the packet of letters he’d sorted through for him.

“How did you get these?” Daventry asked, even as he thumbed through them.

“A street urchin mysteriously deposited them at our doorstep,” Granger said with a grin, then leaned in so he could whisper in Daventry’s ear. “From the Swedish ambassador.” There was no need to risk having an Imperial spy overhear the source of their letters.

“I will have to read them and decide if they sound legitimate,” he said.

“Caroline told me that your son is doing quite well, and that he is shaping up to be as obnoxious as you are,” Granger joked.

“I would not imagine how he would turn out otherwise,” Daventry said with a rueful grin. “I shall have to squirrel away money to cover his costs for gambling and whoring.”

“Most definitely,” Granger said. “So the Tsarina was not pleasant?”

“She was irritated because the Tsar is in a fit, and she worries he will throw both of us in a dungeon and then I will not be able to service her carnal needs,” Daventry said.

“All of my letters from home suggest that we are on our own, and that if we do end up in a dungeon, Britain will not help us,” Granger said.

“They will not try to rescue two peers who are being held by an Oriental potentate?” Daventry asked, incredulous.

“Very few people know we are here, and the government plans to keep it that way,” Granger said. “When Valiant returned, it was leaked that I was sent off immediately on another ship. I would presume that the ship I commanded was not named and the mission was made to sound exotic, draped in secrecy.”

“We have friends who will exert themselves on our behalf,” Daventry asserted.

“We do, and Caroline has told me quite clearly that she will do just that, but she cited a large problem with that premise,” Granger said.

“Oh?” Daventry questioned.

“How would she, or anyone else, even know we were in trouble?” Granger asked.

Daventry began to think about that, and it was comical to see him pacing the floor of their sitting room, even as Granger poured himself a glass and took a seat. “They would not,” he finally concluded.

“If we are imprisoned, it is highly unlikely that our letters will be dispatched to England,” Granger said. “Even if we were able to get a friendly patron to send them back home, they would most likely be sent in the form of diplomatic communiques and would be intercepted by the government when they arrived.”

Daventry nodded. “They will leave us to suffer the consequences of our failures.”

“That was my conclusion,” Granger agreed. “There is another issue.”

“And what would that be?” Daventry asked.

“We really do not know what the government will look like should anything bad happen to us, but according to my letters, it will most likely be very different than it is now,” Granger said. “Any bad consequences that befall us could easily be blamed on the prior administration, and used to show their incredible incompetence.”

“If we die here in Russia, the new administration will point their fingers at Pitt, Grenville, and the rest of the cabinet,” Daventry said. “No one will suffer any consequences for our plight.”

“And since no one will suffer consequences, there is no reason for them to exert any effort on our behalf,” Granger said.

“What a lovely situation we find ourselves in,” Daventry said. “I wonder if we would not be wise to try and escape now, while we still have our freedom?”

“I think that depends on how confident you are that your plan will succeed, and whether or not you think it will prevail if you are gone,” Granger said.

“You could go and I could stay,” he suggested.

“If I did that, the Tsar would be apoplectic,” Granger said. “There is no way that I can think of that he would not take that anger out on you.”

“Possibly,” Daventry agreed, even though he knew Granger was right.

“So as it stands, if I must be a martyr, I will be a martyr,” Granger said, perhaps a big melodramatically.

“As will I,” Daventry agreed ruefully. “I will be so glad to be back home. While London is a snake pit, at least I know most of the evil reptiles.”

Granger chuckled. “From what Cavendish says, things are not good at home.”

“The war goes badly?” Daventry asked, concerned.

“I think Austria’s collapse is a huge blow to the war effort, and that would have caused this government to have problems even if it were not already on the ropes,” Granger said. “Cavendish spoke of dissention within the cabinet and suggested that the economy is on the verge of collapse.”

“Surely not,” Daventry said.

“Evidently the bad harvests have created famine, and that has caused uprisings around Britain,” Granger explained. “While this is hearsay, he wrote that a friend of his who works at the Horse Guards told him that even if they had a strategic place to deploy troops, they would not do it, because they are needed to keep the peace at home.”

“Pitt is already not in the best of health,” Daventry said sadly. “I wonder if his feeble body can withstand these challenges.”

“These challenges, and the multiple bottles of wine he consumes daily,” Granger said with a smile. “The issue of Catholic Emancipation, while very real, is being used as an honorable reason for Pitt and his cabinet to be tossed out, while there are other reasons that are probably even more compelling.”

“Well you have certainly taken a dark day and made it blacker,” Daventry said. “I think I will retire to my room and read my own letters. I will let you know what I discover.”

“I will be interested to see if your sources reach the same conclusions that mine do,” Granger said.

Daventry left the room, then two hours later he tracked Granger down in Granger’s bedroom to inform Granger that his own sources had confirmed all of their worst suspicions.

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Mark Arbour; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments

Excellent chapter! So glad the days are passing quick! Hopefully this will mean after the death of the Czar, George and Daventry can be on their way soon after. He needs to be at sea again. 

Thanks Mark

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Great chapter with a lot of information to digest. Granger and Daventry do seem to be in somewhat dire straits. Glad Carolina, Freck, and Spencer are watching out for their welfare, even if their ability to do so is limited. I've got a feeling Spencer's declaration of personal friendship is going to prove significant in our hero's (and Daventry's) escape from Russia. I just had a horrible thought that Daventry might not make it out. 

The news from home was very interesting. I believe Granger's younger son now outranks his older one who is only a Baron. (Although Granger will no doubt continue to be elevated in the peerage so that situation won't last). Freck is happily ensconced as a confirmed bachelor in the Granger household. Hercule has a new-found passion (and apparently skill) for cooking. Plus more on the origins of the Blakeney line of the family. 

Thanks! Can't wait for more. 

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Mark Arbor, it is always a joy to awake to the morning and find another chapter about Granger. Thanks for the writing. It is nice to hear from Caroline and the catch up with the family.

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Lord Arbor,
I'm a big fan of your stories and check for updates a lot.
Since I was unable to contact you directly, I am writing this question in the public comment.
Quote: ...and Hercule has upset the kitchen staff as he has resumed his role as chef, much to our delight and their annoyance.
Is Lefavre the chef or Hercule?
Please continue your great work and stay healthy.

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1 hour ago, Mushu said:

Lord Arbor,
I'm a big fan of your stories and check for updates a lot.
Since I was unable to contact you directly, I am writing this question in the public comment.
Quote: ...and Hercule has upset the kitchen staff as he has resumed his role as chef, much to our delight and their annoyance.
Is Lefavre the chef or Hercule?
Please continue your great work and stay healthy.

Well thank you for pointing that out.  Lefavre is. That’s confusing 

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I especially love that, even if we KNOW Granger will be at the Battle of Copenhagen, you write about his predicament so realistically, we're all wondering whether he won't spend his remaining days languishing in a Russian Gulag. 

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30 minutes ago, shyboy85 said:

I especially love that, even if we KNOW Granger will be at the Battle of Copenhagen, you write about his predicament so realistically, we're all wondering whether he won't spend his remaining days languishing in a Russian Gulag. 

Will he?

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22 hours ago, Mark Arbour said:

Well thank you for pointing that out.  Lefavre is. That’s confusing 

I tried but might have been too subtle. :rolleyes: 

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4 hours ago, impunity said:

I tried but might have been too subtle. :rolleyes: 

You did, and you were.  Thanks. 💕

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This is such an enjoyable ride through history.  Very eager to see what we know will happen in under 2 weeks and how this will affect our protagonist's fortunes.   

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At least they know the situation now, and Granger can try to come up with a solution, with Daventry's help.

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