“Good evening sir,” Sir Arthur Hill said as he turned to exit the courtroom, taking his leave from the witness box.
“But you will miss the opportunity to avenge Lord Melville,” replied William.
Hill paused in his retreat, turned, and then walked as casually as he could muster to the lawyer’s bench.
“If you have the means, I would have you share it sir,” he said, not entirely hiding his eagerness.
“I will. But there is a price on it.”
Sir Arthur waited, and William let the anticipation grow, projecting an air of unconcerned confidence which belied any doubts he had over the outcome of this negotiation.
“This does promise to be entertaining,” Hill said finally, folding his arms across his chest and leaning back with a self-satisfied expression. “And pray, what price would that be?”
“Samuel,” William answered instantly. “The price is Samuel.”
Sir Arthur rolled his eyes. “You know I do not possess him. The boy was stolen from my house by my wayward wife. First the jewels, then this! And if you know her whereabouts, sir, if she hides under your protection, I will bring the law to bear against you as ruthlessly as I intend to do against her.” He punctuated each remark with a thrust of his cane.
“Then you will gain nothing while once again opening your private life to public scrutiny,” Will said calmly. “I know how rumors and scandal have dogged your every step these past months, as they have done mine. Only my reputation isn’t as dear to me as yours is to you. But then, I’ve never enjoyed much approval. I am not Sir Arthur Hill, MP, who was once Second Assistant Secretary to His Majesty’s Admiralty, and considered well-placed for even greater things. I once heard speculation you were soon to be made member of the Lords Commissioners, perhaps even one day, First Lord of the Admiralty.”
“But then you came along,” Hill spat with venom. “And destroyed all prospects.”
“What power have I over the appointments made by The Lords of the Admiralty?” William asked. “What am I but a fly in your ear? Your friendship and loyalty to Lord Melville should have been far more important to your prospects than any suspected partiality between myself and Lady Sarah. The Honorable Charles Fox is said to have accrued over a hundred thousand pounds of gambling debts in his youth, and his reputation with women is legendary, yet he is friends with the Prince of Wales and may yet become Prime Minister!”
Hill worked a knot in his jaw, gazing glumly at the jury bench.
“It was Melville’s treachery that wronged you. What I offer is a chance to revenge that wrong.”
“Very well,” Sir Arthur said, waving a lace-swathed hand dismissively, “she can keep him for now, and I will not send for the Magistrate if I am satisfied with what I hear.”
“No sir, that will not do. We’ll have no half measures here.”
“Then what would satisfy you?”
“A legally binding document relinquishing Samuel to the care of his mother. It would state that her child -- and any children she may bear in the future -- will remain in our custody, with all rights and responsibilities attendant.”
“‘Children she may bear?’ Do not tell me you have gotten my wife with yet another bastard?” He laughed mockingly, clearly intending it only as a jest.
Will fought back the urge to answer this, to boast that yes, as a matter of fact, Sarah was carrying their child. His own joy made him wish to tell the news to everyone he met, and knowing that that joy would be a grievance to Hill was all the more reason. To watch the smug grin slide of that hateful face would be a delight. But fight the urge he did. Sir Arthur still held the power over their future happiness, and antagonizing the man would accomplish nothing. Legally Sarah was still Hill’s wife, and her children were assumed in law to be property of the husband, regardless of their true father. If Sir Arthur were provoked and disposed to be vengeful (and whenever had he not been?), he could not only take Samuel back, but once the child was born, snatch away William’s own infant as soon as he pleased. The fate of their incipient family was at stake, and he would not jeopardize it by being drawn into a pointless squabble with this petty man.
“It is common knowledge that you have no interest in the child for his own sake,” he answered instead. “You believe him to be mine. Here at least is the opportunity to rid yourself of an unwanted burden that has been plaguing you for some time, while simultaneously profiting greatly in your political career. It is an opportunity surely not to be missed.”
Sir Arthur considered warily, his tongue flicking over his parted lips.
“You may think that Sarah has wronged you. That I have wronged you. And you are loathe to part with the one thing that will serve to punish us. But consider, sir, how much harm you you do your own happiness and reputation by persisting in this way. How well has it served you thus far to work to destroy us? And how has it enriched you to do the bidding of Lord Melville? What promises has he kept in exchange for your public sacrifice and loyalty? I would submit to you that he has advised you poorly, and done so in full knowledge of the consequences. His only concern was for himself. And once you were of no use to him, he discarded you.”
These facts sat uneasy with Sir Arthur, and he squirmed to hear them recounted.
“You were his creature. ‘Melville wills, Hill acts.’ He spoke those very words.”
“Enough sir, We’ll have no more of Melvilles’s malfeasance. I am well acquainted with it,” he muttered with vexation. “But you suggest that instead I ally myself with a man who stole my legacy, who dishonored my wife and polluted my family line!”
William knew it was fruitless to deny these charges, so he countered instead, “I do not suggest we become allies. Only that in this instance, we may serve both our purposes better by striking a bargain. A truce.”
Sir Arthur scoffed, but Will pressed on.
“I do not need you in this sir. With the evidence I possess, I could destroy Lord Melville myself. Taking great pleasure in doing so, believe me. And it would be the making of my career,” he added, the thought occurring suddenly.
Will laughed softly, only now realizing the full scope of Sarah’s discovery. “Uncovering a scandal of this magnitude...I would almost doubtlessly be offered King’s Counsel. Much in demand.” He stared unblinkingly at Hill. “Viewed in some quarters as a national hero. And my fortunes would consequently be so improved as to put me beyond even your means to destroy me.”
Arthur appeared more and more disgusted as this speech continued.
“You could have all that, but instead choose to have the boy. Yet you still deny he is yours. I think you’ve called your own bluff, sir,” he said, looking inordinately proud of himself.
Will ignored this. How could he explain that Sarah’s interests would always take precedent over personal ambition, to a man who had chosen, and would always choose, the opposite? Besides, it was not Will who discovered this evidence, though he was obliged to pretend it so. This was Sarah’s victory, and there was no question of what her prize would be. But it would help their position for William to seem to consider the alternative as equally pleasing.
“What say you? Will you have vengeance, or shall that pleasure lie with me? You must tell me now, as I shall soon have to notify the tailor to make preparations for a silk robe.”
Arthur’s eyes narrowed.
“Perhaps…” Will began, running his fingers along the judge’s gavel.
Hill leaned forward, and craned his neck as if straining to hear.
“For services to the realm...perhaps it would even bring a knighthood. ‘Sir William Garrow.’” William mused. “How well that sounds.”
This proved too much for Sir Arthur.
“When you speak of vengeance--”
“His political career finished. Impeachment. Utter disgrace.”
Hill licked his lips, and in the dim candlelight, a glint of avarice was reflected in his eyes.
William knew then. He would agree to it. A bargain had been struck.