High Society: Part Five
The party was in full swing.
Everyone was there, from Miss Tobik to Arthur Munroe.
Mr. Jennings also noted that Judge Hog was there. Unfortunately for him, the Judge noticed Jennings before he could make a tactical retreat.
“Jennings!” the Judge said importantly as he marched over to the buffet. “I need to speak with you.”
“Ah, Judge Hog.” Jennings smiled. “I must say I am surprised to see you here.”
“Really?” the Moehog asked.
“Yes, after all, we’re both aware of the reality of Lady Cambridge’s charity work,” Jennings explained as he popped a mini sausage roll in his mouth. “I wouldn’t think you’d be very supportive.”
“Nothing can be proven,” the Judge answered. “And, until such time as it can, I must wait, and save face.”
“Mustn’t we all,” Jennings agreed.
“Don’t think you can deflect me like this! You know something about the National Neopian break in!” the Judge added.
“Only what I have read in the newspaper,” Jennings replied. “Mr. Kanrik of the Wealth Redistribution Front is certainly now a very rich man.”
“You’re involved,” the Judge growled. “I know it.”
“Perhaps you do. Nothing can be proven, though,” Jennings replied smugly. “And, until such time as it can be, you must wait, and save face.”
He turned and walked away, not giving the Judge the satisfaction of a reply.
“Jennings, old boy!” Arthur Munroe called. “We’ve made a breakthrough!”
“My olfactory senses concur, Mr. Munroe,” Jennings agreed as he made his way over to the undead Chomby. “You have moved on from the air fresheners?”
There was indeed less of an overpowering pine smell about the man.
“Of course, old boy,” Munroe replied. “You see, we contacted some wizards, and they’ve come up with this.”
Munroe took what appeared to be a small bottle of spray out of his pocket.
“We’ve been using old fashioned air fresheners all this time, but they just cover up the smell with a different one,” Munroe explained. “This one makes the smell go away all together! I smell like a breeze!”
“Intriguing, Mr. Munroe,” Jennings lied convincingly.
Across the room, someone was banging a spoon against a glass to get attention. The gathered guests all turned to see Lady Cambridge.
“My friends, thank you all for coming tonight!” she announced. “It really does mean a lot. Forty years ago when I was born in Meridell; who would have thought then that I would find such a new life in Neopia Central? I truly am blessed. Here’s to forty more years of good work!”
The guests all raised their glasses in a toast and clapped. When the hubbub died down, Mr. Jennings cleared his throat. He had the room’s attention; it was time to pounce.
“If I might make a small announcement of my own?” he called out. “I’m afraid I have some... rather disturbing news to share with you all.”
Hushed whispers immediately broke out between the guests.
“It has recently come to my attention that Lady Cambridge is not who she says she is,” he added.
The whispers intensified. Jennings opened his mouth to speak, but Cambridge cut across him.
“Mr. Jennings is indeed speaking the truth,” she announced. “My name is not Lady Cambridge; there is no such person by that name.”
Gasps came from the crowd.
“Floretta, why?” Miss Tobik asked.
“My real name is Juliet,” the Ixi added. “Forty years ago, a man came here from Meridell; he was a disgraced Lord, and many of those old enough in this room were robbed of their Neopoints by him. He was not a good man, and he paid for his crimes in due course. That man was Lord Hensley.”
Several of the older guests moved uncomfortably at the sound of the name.
“However, he was not the last of his line,” Cambridge continued. “He had a daughter, who was orphaned. Forty years later, that daughter has grown up, and stands before you now. In part, my reason for going into charity work is to try and right the wrongs that my father did to this city. This is what Mr. Jennings was going to tell you; I am sorry for withholding my identity for so long.”
When she finished speaking, she shot Jennings a smug look.
She knew full well that she had won. She may have been a liar, but she was still, in effect, a Lady. This was still where she belonged, and the people wouldn’t abandon her because of it.
Jennings merely smiled. “Actually, no. That’s not what I was going to say at all.”
“What?” Cambridge demanded, a sudden flicker of fear in her eyes.
“Whilst indeed, her name is not Lady Cambridge, she is also not called Juliet Hensley,” Jennings continued. “This, like most things about the Ixi that stands before us, is a carefully constructed lie, designed to catch our attention, and force us away from the truth.”
Jennings carefully stalked across the room.
“Forty years ago, a woman named Ethel Partridge lived in a street named Pike Alley, in the Docklands of this very city,” Jennings continued. “She was a poor woman, and doubtless to support the fifteen children in her house, she would also have been a thief. She died, not long after her fifteenth child was born. A sickness that washed through the slums took her, and supposedly all of her children. I would contest this information. I shall allege that the fifteenth child survived.”
“This is nonsense!” Cambridge shouted.
“That fifteenth child,” Jennings added, “one Harriet Partridge, according to the birth certificate I obtained from the records office yesterday, dragged herself from that building in the Docklands and swore that no matter what the cost, she would never end up like her mother. She decided, then and there, that she wanted to be on top in this city.”
“Lies!” Cambridge insisted.
“It took time, a lot of time, to construct the persona of Lady Cambridge, and to get the accent just right,” Jennings told the crowd. “But she managed it. The rumours of Lord Hensley’s daughter provided a convincing backup story, should anyone discover the lie that is Lady Cambridge. But you left clues, silly little clues.”
Jennings turned to the crowd. “Recently, the Women’s Institute bought a house in Pike Alley, the same house Harriet Partridge once lived in. It has been converted into a homeless shelter, which struck me as odd because as a building, it is functionally inadequate. There are many other houses nearby that are in better states of repair and have more space. Could it be that Harriet Partridge bought her old house as a statement?
“Certainly,” Jennings added. “It was a mistake to keep the original painting in the living room. The painting of your mother. Ah, but you haven’t opened your birthday present, Harriet!”
Jennings pointed to a rectangular present propped up by the wall next to Judge Hog.
“Judge, if you will do the honours?” Jennings asked.
The Moehog nodded, and unwrapped the painting. He held it high so that everyone could see. It was a picture of an Ixi, with several children in her arms, one of which was brown.
“I had it restored,” Jennings explained. “The poor thing had become quite grubby with decades of pollution. You will of course note the startlingly similar cheek bones between mother and daughter.”
Jennings watched the crowd with pleasure. It had been different when they thought she was just the daughter of a fallen Lord. At least then she would still have had station, she would have still belonged.
But this... she was poor, and that changed everything. Everyone knew there was a top and a bottom, and everyone knew that people from the bottom shouldn’t be allowed to lie their way to the top.
Jennings had completely ruined her reputation. If nothing else, she would soon lose all favour in the Hills.
But that wasn’t all...
“Spurred on by the discovery of Lady Cambridge’s true identity,” Jennings added, “I requested the accounts for the Women’s Institute from Miss Tobik.”
He produced a bundle of folded paper from inside his jacket and threw it dramatically to the floor.
“There are some surprising discrepancies,” Jennings explained. “Some of them point towards criminality.”
And that was all he needed to say. As far as everyone in the room was concerned, being poor was essentially the same as being a criminal. Lady Cambridge was finished.
Judge Hog moved forwards towards the Ixi.
“No!” she shouted with sudden contempt. “I’ll not go like Vargo or Might!”
She turned and ran, faster than Judge Hog could react to. The doors to the hall were already swinging as the Moehog turned.
But Jennings was faster; he was on her tail.
Cambridge burst out of her mansion at speed, and barely stopped to explain as she pushed the driver from the top of her carriage. She took the reins and the Whinnies shot off, the vehicle careering down the path.
Jennings wasn’t far behind, gaining a carriage of his own and giving chase.
Cambridge had a head start, and it seemed she was heading back into the city. Even late at night, there were lots of pedestrians and carriages on the roads, and while Cambridge was able to continue relatively well, Jennings had to contend with the confusion left in her wake, and gradually fell further behind.
Eventually, her carriage hit the cobblestones of the Docklands, and was lost in the smog.
But Jennings didn’t stop. It was almost as if he didn’t need to see her. He already knew exactly where she was going.
Not back to the house in Pike Alley. Cambridge was more practical than that. The Docklands existed in reality for one purpose.
To dock ships.
When Jennings arrived at the port, Cambridge was already casting off the rope from a small fishing trawler. The Krawk stood on the pier, silently watching as his enemy drifted away.
“I told you!” she screamed at him across the waves. “I’m not like Vargo and Might. I’m not going to stand and fight! I’m getting away! I’ll be back! You’re never safe! I’ll have my revenge!”
Jennings said nothing.
Cambridge disappeared inside the wheelhouse, and grasped the wheel, steadying the ship. She’d have to carve out a new life somewhere. Maybe Mystery Island?
A low cough interrupted her from her thoughts. A green Grarrl stepped out of the shadows.
“Mr. Black?” Cambridge questioned. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s funny, he knew that you’d run,” Black explained. “But he also knew exactly which boat you’d pick.”
Cambridge backed away slightly.
“You’re still working for him?” she asked.
“Of course,” Black replied. “It was all part of the plan.”
“You’d never harm a Lady,” she said, still backing away.
“That’s true,” Black considered, “But then, I hear you’re no Lady, Miss Partridge.”
The Grarrl advanced.
Back on the shore, Jennings continued to watch as the ship very quietly began to flounder against the waves. As the final part of the hull disappeared from view beneath the sea, a small row boat made its way back to shore. Jennings noticed with some satisfaction that the sole occupant was a green Grarrl.
Jennings took a small piece of paper out of his pocket. It was a list of four names.
1. Mr. Jonathan Entwhistle.
2. Mr. Seth Vargo.
3. Mr. Alfonso Might.
4. Lady Floretta Cambridge.
He very carefully crossed out the final one, and then rolled the paper up into a ball which he tossed over his shoulder.
He turned back to the city. His city, at last.
It was over; he had won.
With Cambridge gone, Miss Tobik would take over the Women’s Institute, restoring it back to the normal charity it once had been. The entire population of the Hills were now indebted to him for his help in revealing Cambridge’s criminality.
Now Jennings controlled the Docklands, the Business District, and the Hills.
He breathed in the polluted air of the city.
At last, he had it.