The Continuing Adventures of Bom Transon, Chapter 11
“I say, old chap, jolly good shot!”
Bom, ears still ringing from the rifle blast, turned toward Lord Gillingham. He wasn’t entirely sure what his fellow on-again, off-again striver for the romantic attentions of Lady Mary had actually said; with upper-class Englishmen (whom, despite what it might look like, he was most definitely not trying to emulate) he tended to woolgather when they were talking and mentally insert words that seemed apropos.
Bom scowled, not bothering to hide his scorn for the oily toff who, like the presents Isis liked to leave on the footpath, seemed determined to remain stuck to the bottom of his shoe. “I didn’t hit anything,” he said. That was technically true, though there was an oak bough to their left flank that would think twice about making any sudden moves in future. This hunting stuff’s harder than it looks, Bom reflected glumly.
Nothing daunted, Lord G grinned and said, “You’ll get them next time, eh wot, pip pip!” Or something to that effect.
What a jackass, Bom thought smugly, settling his cap more firmly onto his head. Dublin would eat him alive in a day. Snapping his fingers at the small throng of servants trailing behind them, Bom handed over his rifle for reloading when one of the men sprang forward, tugging his forelock. “And make sure there aren’t blanks in it this time!” Bom said, earning a side eye from the rest of the loaders. He didn’t see it, as he was adjusting his socks and making sure his knee breeches hung evenly. Clothes made the man, after all. Now that he was well and truly on the market, he wanted to make sure he looked his best at all times. You never knew when a likely earl’s daughter might pop out from behind a tree. Bom wasn’t getting any younger, and surely not even the most ardent Sybil/Transon shipper could expect a man to go forever with his needs unmet. And if they did, they needed to get over it and face the reality that Sybil was gone.
Bom heaved a sigh at the thought of his spectral spouse. Relations between them had gone from bad to worse since she’d revealed her entanglement with that…that… corpsified Casanova, that Lothario of the underworld. Bom felt his blood pressure rising. Collins! Who would have thought a dead man could steal his dead wife out from under him? And now Sybil had demanded—demanded, as if a ghost had parental rights!—regular visitation with Sybbie! What if her new fancy man were to infect the child with his narrow view of socialism, what then?!?
The dulcet tones of his intended (though Lady Mary still hadn’t had the decency to accept any of his thrice-daily proposals) distracted Bom from his own troubles. “Oh, Tony,” she was saying, “I am glad you’ve come out with us. It’s so much pleasanter than some of our past hunts—you’ve no idea how provoking it is to have a shooting partner who wears the wrong tweeds or blackmails you with your own sexual history.”
“Quite right,” agreed Gillingham. “Only the worst kind of up-jumped cretin would wear walking tweeds to a shoot… or tattle on a fashionable young lady for engaging in an ill advised love affair with an ethnic Other.” There was an awkward silence while they both avoided looking at Bom, and then Lord G rather hurriedly lined up his shot. It went wide. There was an abrupt cry from the tree line, and a rustling as a woman appeared, struggling out of the underbrush. “Blimey,” said Gillingham weakly.
My new earl’s daughter! Bom exulted. His prayers—made to the Anglican God, naturally—had been answered! But the woman limping from the woods was obviously no aristocrat: she wore a hat that made her look like a disgruntled cherub and a dress that would have been tragic even if it weren’t marked with blood and dirt. Nevertheless, Bom couldn’t help but feel that he’d seen her somewhere before, perhaps even shared a canoodle.
“Are you all right?” cried Lord Gillingham in alarm.
“She’d better be,” said Mary. “I haven’t a clue when Dr Clarkson’s going to be written back in.”
“I’m fine!” answered the woman, waving a hand. “Merely a scratch… Oi! Bom! Fancy meeting you here!” Her sultry mouth curved in a cheeky, if strained, smile.
“Do you know this woman, Bom?” asked Mary in surprise, but before he could answer, the new addition to their party collapsed on the ground, bleeding copiously.
He studied her, eyes narrowing. “I don’t… think so.”
The woman’s eyes had fluttered closed in her pasty face, but now she half sat up, her emotional distress lending her strength. “Oh Bom, how can you say that?” she wailed. “After you promised to marry me?”
“Marry you?! I did no such thing! I don’t even remember whether I’ve met you, and I’ve certainly never had you over to the house.” He thought a minute. An uncomfortable memory was starting to pull at him… he could swear it involved that uppity under butler. “At least, not when anyone important was home.”
“You invited me to this hunt specifically so I could be introduced to your sister-in-law! Only when I showed up, you’d already set off, so I was trying to catch up.” One of the loaders had obligingly stepped in and tourniqueted the woman’s leg, and she was quickly regaining both color and vigor. “Look into my eyes and tell me you don’t know who I am.”
Bom focused on the woman’s shiny and somewhat bloodshot orbs, his brow wrinkling. “Hmmm…”
“Bom?” prompted Mary, with a sharp look at her brother in law/suitor. “Is what she says true?”
“You know me, Bom! Think! I’m your fiancee!”
“Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm….” Recollection finally broke through the fog. “Oh! I met you in the village!” Bom frowned. “You spilled something on me.”
“That’s right!” Goodness, she was excited. “That’s exactly right! I spilled my books on you! Just after you’d said you’d marry the first person who—”
“Susannah?” Bom ventured.
“Sarah, you twit!” The flower on the woman’s hat quivered in indignation, her gaping leg wound seemingly forgotten. “Sarah Bunting.”
“Well, whatever your name is,” Mary said briskly, “We’d better have you taken to the village hospital, doctor or no. It really wouldn’t do for you to die in our park.”
“And I daresay the hunt’s quite ruined anyway,” said Gillingham. “The pheasants will have been frightened away with all the commotion. Shall we?”
The servants wove together a litter out of their aprons and the straps from the ammunition bags, and the party made its way into the village. Once they saw Miss Bunting ensconced in a hospital bed, Bom went home to Downton; Sybil was meant to bring their daughter back up to the world of the living for her daily viewing in the drawing room, and he was damned if he was going to miss it and give his late wife and that dead man something to gossip about.
Sybil showed up right on time. “Papa!” Sybbie cried, running forward to embrace her father.
“Really?” Sybil said, her slightly see-through nose wrinkling. “She calls you Papa?”
Bom lifted his chin and thrust his shoulders back even more than they already were. “Of course. That’s how things are done here, after all. When in Rome, you know.”
“Mm,” replied Sybil, with a look that said this was definitely not what she would have wanted. “Bom, I’m worried about you. You’ve been a widower for a few years now and there’s absolutely no sign of a viable love interest. You can’t keep trifling with women who are cartoonishly evil or worse, strident. People are going to start getting impatient for there to be a new romantic male lead.”
Bom’s lips thinned to the point of disappearing. So that’s how it was to be. “As it happens,” he snapped, “I’m getting married.”
Sybil’s eyebrows jumped in twin arcs of astonishment on her lovely, practically transparent brow. “How lovely! Michael and I wish you the very best. When’s the wedding? And who’s the lucky woman?”
Bom scowled: his declaration had not had the desired effect. He ignored the second question in favor of the first. “As soon as possible,” he said.
“Then I suppose congratulations are in order.” Sybil fidgeted. “Well, I’d better go. Michael and I have a rally to go to, and there’s a party afterward…” she smiled a little. “Should be quite a time.”
“Have fun,” Bom bit out, but she had already disappeared. He stood for a moment on the carpet, his fists clenched and blood pounding in his temples. She just couldn’t wait to skip off to her hedonistic afterlife! Hadn’t even seemed the slightest bit jealous. Well, he’d show her. After depositing Sybbie in the nursery, Bom stomped down the stairs and into the garage, drove at speed into the village, and swept into the hospital. Before he could think too much about it, he stood before a certain hospital bed looking into the vaguely familiar face of his purported fiancee.
“Well, Sadie,” he announced, “Let’s call the vicar. It’s time we got married.”