By Estepheia and Marcee
Part 13 - Family Business
*I can't wait to tell Spike that I met his human persona, William the Blushy. I wish I had a photograph of him to take back. Not for myself, of course! Just so I can show Dawn the not-so-cool beginnings of her favorite vampire.*
She didn't notice it, but this was the first time in a very long while that a heartfelt smile was plastered across her face.
*Too bad, Charles found us when he did. I would have liked to ask him about his poetry.* She frowned at the memory of the lecture Charles had given her as he lead her out of the library. *`A lady is never alone with a gentleman for more than five minutes.' Blah blah!*
There was the sound of someone clearing her throat. "Huh?"
Mrs. Willoughby was looking at her disapprovingly. Buffy realized she was slouching. *A lady always keeps her knees together, but never crossed. Blah blah. I never said I was a `lady'* She stifled a sigh and struggled for a more dignified posture.
"Nice party," she said, unable to restrain herself. "I've seen corpses that were less stiff."
"Maeve!" Willoughby exclaimed.
"I'm sure it will be your last," Mrs. Willoughby said, looking perfectly amiable but sounding awfully catty. "I don't expect you will be graced with many more invitations."
*Great, cause I'd rather give myself paper cuts til i've bled to death before going to another party like that.* But she swallowed the remark, reminding herself once more that she didn't want to mess up Maeve's life. So she just exchanged a tiny smile with Charles.
They dropped Mrs. Willoughby and her son off at home and then drove on, into seedier parts of town. It was a long ride. The Watcher was deep in thought, watching her, while she peeked through the window at the passing streets, taking in the strange and unfamiliar sights of Victorian London.
Eventually, Willoughby cleared his throat to get her attention. "Please accept my apologies," he said, sincerely. "Obviously, it was still too early to expect you to blend into society, OUR society."
Buffy shrugged, fiddling absentmindedly with the strings of her purse. "It's okay, I admit I wasn't exactly trying very hard..."
"Even so," the Watcher continued. "I have read enough books on history to know that nothing is immutable, but deep down I always thought that the British Empire and its values would stand tall for a long time. But it seems a lot has changed... or rather, will change in the next hundred years."
"Apology accepted," Buffy said.
Willoughby nodded and Buffy thought the matter was closed, when the man asked: "So, pray tell me, is there something I should know about Mr. Crawford?"
It required great effort but Buffy managed to keep her features indifferent. *Gee, observant much?* She shook her head. "I think I noticed a certain resemblance to someone I know back home, and I was wondering if it was possible that they're related. It would be kinda nice to go home and tell my...my friend that I've met his great-great-great... ancestor-guy," she lied. "So," she continued. "Where are we going?"
"A place called Wapping. Director Hartford told me that the Council was informed about a feast to be held tonight at a local inn."
"A feast? But we've eaten already. Besides, I can't take another bite without popping this corset," Buffy said, but she knew that wasn't what he had meant.
"Unless I am not mistaken, you wouldn't enjoy the fare offered. Besides, we are not invited."
"Gee, Willoughby, are you actually suggesting we crash a party? There's hope for you yet!" She twirled one of her stakes. "So, how many vamps are we talking about?"
"Thirteen," Willoughby said.
"Is that all? Wow. I appreciate your confidence in me, but are you sure you want me to take them on all at once?" *In this dress?*
"We will try to catch them one by one on their way to the Inn."
* * * *
Mrs. Collier didn't normally receive visitors after dark. She was, therefore, quite surprised to hear insistent knocking on her front door. She peered through the window and saw two ladies and a gentleman standing in front of her house. Behind them a carriage stood waiting. She quickly shuffled towards the door and opened it.
"Oh Mr. Swift!" she exclaimed, executing a stiff curtsey. "I `aven't seen you in a long while, Sir."
"Indeed, it has been a few years," her visitor replied with a nod. He was a strong looking man, broad shouldered, and wore an air of authority.
"Oh, this must be Missus Swift, then," the old woman said, with regard to the beautiful blonde lady, whose pale skin looked like delicate porcelain. "I `eard so much about you. Yer `usband told me all about your charitable `eart and your love for the little `uns."
Mrs. Swift smiled distantly.
"This time I brought the whole family," Mr. Swift said with a strange smile. He gestured towards a thin, dark haired woman. "My ward, Miss Christian."
"It's a pleasure, Ma'm, Miss..." Mrs. Collier opened the door wider and stepped back. Mr. Swift took a step forward and removed his hat. "May we come in?"
"Course you can, sir," Mrs. Collier said. Her visitors crossed the threshold. "But we've gotta keep the voices down, or else the cubs are gonna start crying."
She lead them into a room sparsely furnished with an old sofa, a table and several chairs. There were few things of luxury to be seen. The only ornament was a cross hanging on one of the walls.
A few pleasantries were exchanged. Business was discussed. Mrs. Collier offered to make tea, but her distinguished guests declined politely, expressing their desire to see the sleeping children as soon as possible.
Mr. and Mrs. Swift followed the old woman into the back room. Here, the lingering smell of sour milk and excrement that had assaulted them from the moment they had walked through the door, became overwhelming. There were twelve cots, baskets and cradles, each containing a small bundle wrapped in shabby blankets. The infants were sucking on pacifiers made from cloth wrapped around sponges that were soaked in a mixture of alcohol and sugar.
"Look at all those pretty little dolls," Miss Christian said in a childlike voice. "Can I play with them?"
"Not now, Dru," Mr. Swift said firmly.
"Later," Mrs. Swift added.
The one he called Dru wandered whimsically around the small room, looking closely at each infant, smiling dreamily, humming a soothing lullaby.
Mrs. Swift looked at the sleeping infants, appearing absolutely delighted, even as she dabbed her nose with a scented handkerchief. She pointed at five babies, who smelled reasonably clean. "These," she said. "We'll take these. Jon?"
Mr. Swift nodded in assent.
"A good choice," Mrs. Collins hastened to say. "As you can see, they're all `ealthy an' strong, from good families, good breedin'."
In fact, all the children looked thin, but the visitors didn't mind.
Mr. Swift pulled out his wallet and paid the agreed amount without hesitation. Then the visitors picked up the babies they had chosen, the women each carrying two, Mr. Swift cradling one himself. They climbed into the carriage, where two large cozy baskets were waiting to accommodate the little ones.
"It's been a pleasure doing business with you, Mrs. Collins. Helping those in need is so rewarding. It always makes me feel like celebrating."
And with that the carriage drove off towards Wapping.
Continued in Part 14 - Keep in Touch
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Angelus's alias was suggested by Nmissi. If you want to check out it's significance, read this: