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Ace of Schemes 1-3

October 20, 2017 11:07AM
The long-expected sequel to Valiant Viscount [aka The Pugilist Peer], in which Lucius Rokemere's cousin, Toby, aims to make his fortune, using his understanding of probability theory, by exploiting the idle rich gamblers of the ton. Meanwhile, Amy's best friend, Mary, is suffering the vicissitudes of having to work for a living, in a placement found for her by her father's spiteful wife. Add villains, princes and maidens in distress and stir well.
Sorry it's been such a hiatus. Real life has been ... difficult, and my health problems are not over. This is the unedited version because I have to pluck up courage to dive into my editor's comments, but I didn't feel it warranted being left any longer, and I am assured she did not find much to pick apart.


Chapter 1 Early July 1788

“No, Papa, my mind is quite made up,” said Toby Davenport. “I do not intend to use all of my share of the money I won for Lucius, but I would like to increase what I have. I have no intention of becoming a country parson; the calling is not for me. Moreover, whilst I could live adequately on the income from investing my winnings, I would rather live well.”
“Gambling is the best way to end up poor.”
“It is, Papa, if one gambles on pure chance and cannot use understanding of Fermat and Pascal’s theories on probability. Lucius described them as being ‘as good a pair of rogues to have along with one as any,’ and though they would probably be outraged at such a description, it has a degree of aptness. I was planning on playing whist and picquet mostly, so that I might count the cards. You know I can memorise all the cards which have been played, and win even with a poor hand against those who cannot.”
“Yes, and I recall how you took the bishop seven rubbers in an evening, and I’m not sure he’s forgiven me yet,” said Dr. Davenport.
Toby laughed.
“He should not have insisted on an evening of whist, then,” he was unrepentant. “But you saw how well I did, even when my hand was indifferent.”
His father sighed.
“Promise me you won’t be tempted to use it all just because of a good chance.”
“I shall not; I will invest half of it in the funds so I can’t touch it.”
“I have to say I never expected Lucius’ attempts to recoup what his father lost would ever work, by using pugilism to win it back.” said the Reverend.
“Lucius hung in there and did the hard work; but I wager if I’d not had my wits about me to calculate odds so fast we’d not have done as well, which is why he gave me ten percent of the take. And another ten percent to Uncle Michael for training him so well.”
“And then he married an heiress.”
“Oh, well, he married Amy for love,” said Toby. “Being an heiress was just the sugar on the cake as you might say.”
“Yes, indeed, and it is splendid to see our viscount so happy, and he is making the land productive once more. I am glad that the gamble of becoming a bare-knuckle fighter paid off; I am relieved you did not tell me at the time when you accepted the position of his secretary, for I would undoubtedly have urged you to beg him to reconsider. Dear me! How does the viscount feel about his secretary gadding off to London to gamble? Have you told him?”
Toby chuckled.
“He told me not to make any of the wild sort of bets I sometimes made on him, and to make sure I only bet what I could afford to lose, which was good advice which I had already intended following. With his wife’s fortune at his disposal as well, since I now have a very comfortable independence, he plans to employ someone impoverished who needs the job, and set about tracking down the young men ruined by that scoundrel, Jeffery Fonteneau, with a view to getting them initially to work as managers of such of their estates as he can buy up, and then if they do well, giving them back.”
“Uncommon generous of him.”
Toby shrugged.
“He can afford to be generous; money begets money, when you have it in surplus. He will continue building up the estate, first, of course, but when he is satisfied, he plans to do what he can for others. He also means to find work of some kind for pugilists injured too badly to continue to fight, because he knows what a hard business it is when you don’t have some money behind you to back up the winnings with side bets. We were fantastically lucky to come about so quickly and he knows it.”
“Well, well, he is a thoroughly decent young man,” approved the vicar. “I take it you plan to take lodgings in the city, or is Rokemere permitting you the use of the town house?”
“That overgrown pile in Grosvenor Square? I’d rattle around like a single pea left in a measuring tankard. I thought to rack up with Aunt Amabel while I look for lodgings. I might see if I can’t get rooms somewhere like John Street, or I might just stay in the Star and Garter in Pall Mall, it’s a good quiet inn. Or there’s Nerot’s Hotel in King Street, convenient for St James and all that goes on in town.”
“Will Lady Remington let you stay with her?”
“I should imagine so; she enjoys having company and she had great fun bringing out Amy, or I suppose I should now call her Lady Rokemere.”
“Be careful.”
“I shall, sir. I have a great regard for my own skin, and I have not been too proud to learn some of Lucius’ fighting tips in case I am to be rolled by mock mohocks, out to recoup the losses from any gaming house I manage to fleece a little bit,” said Toby, seriousness in his eyes though his tone was insouciant.
His father nodded.
The boy, or young man, really, was sensible and down to earth and did not shut his eyes to the likelihood of such treachery.

oOoOo

Toby knew his way about town, and he knew too that it was a wicked place. Before heading for London, he made enquiries and headed to the coast in his curricle. He headed for a small, unpretentious rooming house and knocked.
He lifted his hat to the landlady when she opened the door.
“I was looking for George Brunwin and his mother,” he said.
“You’re too late for his mother; she passed away last week,” said the landlady.
“Oh I am sorry,” said Toby. “I trust the sea air helped her?”
“Oh, yes, sir, she was ever so happy and her last months were much better, Mr. Brunwin said. Go right on through; he’s on the ground floor for his mother’s bath chair, I let them have the ground floor and moved into the basement myself. Sometimes you have to be flexible.”
“It’s what makes Britain the place it is, not a place of discontent like France,” said Toby. “A little give and take, some kindness from strangers.”
“Well, thank you, sir, one does as one can, and … well thank you very much!” as Toby pressed largesse into her hand.
George Brunwin opened the door to the knock.
“Yes?” He took in Toby’s attire and demeanour, and added, “Sir?”
Toby lifted his hat.
“My deepest sympathies about your mother,” he said.
“Thank you. Do you know her?”
“No, Brunwin, but I know you. My … associate, Luke Smith was much moved by your desire to see your mother somewhere peaceful and pleasant as she died.”
Brunwin’s face drained.
“I can’t pay that fifty guineas back yet,” he said.
“Oh, I beg your pardon, did you think I was here to demand that? I wasn’t, you know. I came to offer you a job, because even if you decide to go back to pugilism, it will take you time to get yourself fit again.”
“What kind of job?” Brunwin was still wary, but regained his colour. “I don’t do nothin’ disreputable.”
“I did the side betting for Luke,” said Toby. “I’ve a talent with numbers and he made enough that way to retire. Now I’ve a mind to use my skills as he used his, and gamble with cards and dice with other gentlemen, only I know I’m going to annoy people, especially if they are sharpers, when I take them. I want a valet who is capable of watching my back.”
“I don’t know nothin’ about valetin’,” said Brunwin.
“Not to worry, I’m capable of taking care of myself, on the whole,” said Toby. “I’ll just need my coats brushing, and clothes laid out, and I’m happy to have ordinary blacking on my boots as anything fancy. It’s the work that goes into polishing them that shows more than whether you use champagne or anything in the blacking. And I need someone to follow me home and help if I fall in with supposed mohocks.”
“Well, that I can do. What about training though?”
“I may not be as good as Luke, but I can give you something of a sparring partner, and pass on the training Uncle Michael gave him, if you want. Being fit and able to spar won’t do me any harm either.”
“Then you’ve a deal, sir.” Brunwin held out a hand, and Toby shook it, firmly.
“Excellent, and I’ll sponsor some fights for you as well when I’ve enriched myself to my heart’s content,” said Toby. “Unless of course you are happy enough in my employ that you prefer it to being a prize fighter. It don’t pay as well as prize fighting can, but it’s secure and safe and I understand there are good pickings to be had from vails as well as relatively high living. But I’ll let you make up your own mind on whether you prefer the easier path or the hard but potentially more profitable one, and if you go back into prize fighting, there will be a job waiting for you in some capacity when you retire. I love my mother very much, and I’d go to any lengths it would take to see her comfortable.”
“Squire, you’re a real gent. And I takes it kindly what you feel about your mother. Mine rallied real nice for a while here in Hove, and I was able to take her into Brighthelmstone to see the Prince of Wales come for a visit, and to look at that pavilion he’s having built, started last year. That look right odd if you ask me.”
“I believe His Highness was disappointed though,” said Toby. “I heard he wanted it more in the Indian style.”*
“Huh, well I don’t trust these Indians,” said Brunwin. “Ain’t you read in the papers how that Tippo Sultan fellow is smarming up to the French and going after a king what’s a British ally? No good will come of that and then we’ll be at war with India and them damned Frenchies.”
“I suspect the French will have their own problems soon enough,” said Toby. “The commentary I was reading in the paper was a comparison of Louis XVI to our own first Charles, in that seizing two members of one of their parliaments for daring to speak the truth he is making a rod for his own back; and I hear he’s exiled his parliament. It cannot end well.”
“Yerse, well, what do you expect of a country wot lets a queen interfere in politics? Our good Queen Charlotte wouldn’t dream of it, God bless her, and what’s more, I don’t even reckon that the Prince of Wales’s Mrs. Fitzherbert would do it, and she’s a ruddy Papist like the Frogs.”
“I wish the king would allow a special law to permit him to marry his Maria,” said Toby. “I know she’s Catholic, and a commoner, and of potentially unsavoury antecedents, but from all I’ve heard and seen, she has the instincts of a lady and behaves better than many of those born to high estate. However! It’s not our business. She is, of course, English, which makes a difference,” he added.
Brunwin nodded seriously.

oOoOo

Lady Remington raised a delicate eyebrow as she poured tea for Toby. He was no relative of hers by blood, but she was as fond of him as if he was her nephew. Toby’s mother was one of the numerous bastards of the first Lucius, Viscount Rokemere, known to his family and others as ‘Lucifer’. Toby was also a close friend of Amabel, Lady Remington’s actual nephew, the younger Lucius, who was the current viscount. It had been Toby’s skills, and clever calculations in betting, which had enabled his Cousin Lucius to recoup his family fortune by masquerading as a bare-knuckle fighter. **
“My dear boy, what’s the point in coming to town now? Everyone’s leaving for Brighthelmstone or the country.”
“I was hoping to find one or two hardened gamesters who don’t leave town,” said Toby.
Lady Remington frowned.
“There are some, of course. You mean you don’t especially want to get in with Prinny’s set of high rollers?”
“Not without a bit of practice, no,” said Toby, honestly.
“You might do worse than go to Marguerite Labellette’s house,” said Lady Remington.
“Why do I know that name?”
“She used to be the mistress of Jeffery, Baron Thorngate, whom Lucius forced to leave the country. He, Thorngate that is, set her up in her own house and she has chosen to turn it into a gambling den, which is more profitable than a brothel, as she holds the Bank of course.”
“Sensible woman.”
“Yes, and I heard she was having trouble with her accountant; my maid told me that the woman is illiterate and has to conduct business by proxy. If you go and suggest you’ll straighten out her accounts for her, she’ll introduce you to every gamester in town. Why am I helping you with this mad scheme when my poor sister’s husband lost the Rokemere fortune so poor Lucius had to become a prize fighter?”
“Because he was a gambler who felt the thrill of gambling. I feel no thrill in it at all, I just see it as cold, hard numbers,” said Toby. “And because I want to play with the numbers, but not jeopardise all my newly-won fortune.”
“Well, bear in mind that people have bet as much as Lucius got for his gruelling work on the turn of a single card,” said Lady Remington.
“I’m not an idiot, Aunt Amabel, and I won’t be talked into doing that,” said Toby. “I’ll stick strictly to playing the odds with dice and card games where the fall of cards is important.”
“If I hadn’t seen you play with both brilliance and utter indifference I would not have told you anything,” said Amabel. “I also watched you walk away after you were bested by one fellow when you had lost all you intended to lose; and you recouped it the next game you played, increased your winnings by a relatively small amount and walked away from that, too.”
“You’ve been watching me?”
“Old Lucifer was a gamester, like his son, my brother-in-law, but he was like you. He bet what he could afford to lose and no more and he cared more for the game than for the stake.”
“Yes, that’s it exactly,” said Toby. “I love the games, but to me, gambling makes it slower.”
“And that’s why there was such a large fortune for Lucius’s father to lose; old Lucifer, Lucius the first, I should say, felt the same way.”
“And Lucius gets bored with any card game, makes wild discards, and wins more often than he deserves purely because his more knowledgeable companions can’t believe anyone would play so recklessly,” laughed Toby. “Well, my mama was the get of old Lucifer Rokemere, and just because I look like my father doesn’t mean I haven’t inherited some of the traits of the old rapscallion.”
“And having that copious quantity of curly blond hair like a cherubim escaped from heaven won’t do you any harm either,” said Amabel. “Nobody will be able to believe that a young man who looks so innocent and childlike as you could possibly have any guile at all.”
“It is a most fortunate look,” agreed Toby.



Chapter 2

Toby took a deep breath, and strode purposefully up the steps of the town house where Marguerite Labellette held her gambling house. It was modest as some town houses went, and not in a fashionable part of town, being on Theobald Road, and definitely not built in the most modern style. However, it was well-kept looking, trim and unassuming.
The austere man who answered the door said,
“Good afternoon, sir. Madame is not receiving; the house is not open yet.”
“Oh, I’m not here to play, I have a business proposition for Miss Labellette. Would you take her my card and ask if she would see me? It’s about her accounts.”
“Very well, sir, please come in and I will see if the lady will see you.”
Toby was shown into a small salon, which was minimally furnished; a lacquered screen across the corner concealed three folding card tables and extra chairs, piled seat to seat. Toby presumed this room would form an overflow room. There was a cabinet matching the screen, which might be supposed to contain cards, dice, and probably a utensil for the comfort of those who did not wish to leave their play for any reason. The walls were decorated with Chinese panels of silk, framed with mouldings, and painted a neutral stone colour between. It was certainly a quiet, discreet and genteel seeming establishment.
The mistress of the house came in, a very attractive brunette with a fuller figure than Toby admired, but she had dressed to complement it. She had no need for any false padding, fore or aft, and carried herself as though she was well aware of this. Toby bowed.
“My aunt, Lady Remington, has a gossipy maid, and I understand you might be in need of an accountant who would accept a service of introductions in return for looking over your books,” he said. He explained scrupulously who he was, and that he felt a desire to make up for her loss of protector.
Marguerite Labellette, born Peggy Brewster, was startled to say the least. She regarded the young man before her, and reflected that he looked more like a schoolboy than anything else, and a particularly angelic schoolboy at that. His guinea-gold curls were free of powder, and were caught in a short queue at the nape of his neck. His morning coat was plain, in dark blue, but of the best quality superfine, and his satin smallclothes sported gold buckles, as did his shoes. No pinchbeck for this young gentleman! He had no need of a job, yet he was offering to work for her. He had looked at her full figure with appreciation, but with neither lewd desire, nor the adoration some of the younger visitors to her house had shown her. He had shown by his manner that he found her dark, artfully arranged curls, and soft white skin attractive, but without letting that appreciation extend beyond what was courteous. A most unusual young man. Marguerite found her voice.
“So … you feel some responsibility for my well-being as you and your cousin forced my lover to leave England so you offer me your services as an accountant? I will be honest, he had already given me my congé.”
“Oh, it’s not entirely altruistic,” said Toby. “I want introductions to gamers because I use mathematics when I play and I want to be rich. I shouldn’t attempt to go against the bank,” he bowed to her, “in any establishment, because the bank ultimately wins and I can prove why, mathematically.”
“You can? How splendid, but I pray you, don’t prove it to me, I have no knowledge of mathematics. And it is true that I have trouble with the books, my eyes are weak.”
“You know, if you can’t read, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s too bad that Thorngate never taught you though.”
“He tried; but it was a mutually frustrating experience and we gave up on it.”
“Then he goes up in my estimation for trying,” said Toby.
“If only he had not been obsessed with the Cockley girl he would not have been in trouble,” said Marguerite, with a moué.
“Oh, the fellow is a dark reflection of my cousin Lucius,” said Toby. “Self-reliant and proud of doing things his own way, but with fewer moral scruples. Do you want me to try to teach you to read?”
“Not really,” sighed Marguerite. “But I’ll gladly introduce you to gamers if you will sort out the mess of my accounting, I can figure, more or less, but I got lost.”
“As anyone might,” said Toby. “Figures are something I’m good at; you are plainly an excellent hostess or you would not run a successful gaming house. What you want in the long term is some impoverished gentlewoman who is well enough trained to be a governess but who would prefer to be a book-keeper to a kind lady and do all your paperwork and read out loud if you wanted.”
“From such, I might even bother to learn to read,” said Marguerite, much struck. “How much do they cost?”
“Around forty pounds a year, I think,” said Toby. “My Mama was expecting to be a governess, being old Lucifer Rokemere’s natural, but she met my Papa, who is vicar in the village, and they fell in love.”
“Doesn’t your Papa object to gambling?”
“No, he objects to people gambling with what they can’t afford to lose, which when it can cause real misery to those in poverty is a definite sin.”
Marguerite shuddered.
“I know,” she said, in a low, vicious voice. “I grew up in a low-class gambling den and pot-house, and Jeffery won me one night when my father was too drunk to know what he was doing. He’s been good to me, setting me up as an opera dancer because I longed to dance, and being my protector, so I did resent him getting driven abroad, but he set me up nicely, and he did train me to pass in any society.”
“I’m beginning to see there was more to him than I realised,” said Toby. “Well, when he returns, it’ll be no more said, but Amy had to be free of him for a while.”
“He’s not an angel, but then, who is?”
“True enough!”

oOoOo


Mary Heatherington sighed.
She had made sure that the plain, dark blue woollen gown she wore was not too low cut, and wore a fichu with it right up to her chin in any case, to make sure she looked enough like a governess. The petticoat was quite plain with scarcely any fullness, and there was neither an overskirt to it to sweep back in the current style, nor a peplum to the bodice to replace that, as some gowns now had. Her brown hair was severely plaited and confined in a coil on the back of her head, and she wore a modestly-size mobcap, secured with linen ties and no ribbon to adorn it. Nobody could take exception to her appearance as a drab, colourless creature, and Mary sighed again at the very concept of her drabness.
She had thought that her father loved her well enough; he had wanted her to be at home during the school holidays, after all, and dear Amy had said this must prove his affection. It did not, however, seem to be love that was strong enough to be prepared to annoy his wife.
It was a precarious business, being illegitimate. Mary knew that she had much to be grateful for in being acknowledged, even tacitly, and sent to school, but it was made patently clear to her that her father’s wife would not take on the responsibility for finding Mary a husband. Nor would she permit her to live with the family once she had finished at school. Mary had been told baldly that she would need to seek the position of governess, and would be provided with an allowance for suitable gowns and books accordingly. Her father whispered that he had arranged an annuity for her, which was recorded too in his will, but that it would not care for her very well, and Mary was on her way to London to be governess to a pair of infants hardly out of leading-strings, and likely to be working for that hopeful and growing family for the foreseeable future.
Of course dear Amy had said she could write any time if she needed help, but Amy was a newly-wedded wife, and would not want her marital bliss with her most valiant of viscounts disturbed.
It was too much to ask that she would be met at the posting inn. Mary sighed and hailed a hansom cab to take her to the address she had been given.

oOo

“You’re late.”
Her employer, Mrs. Carruthers, was a spare woman whose mouth looked like a rat trap, straight and uncompromising. Heavy lines from nose to chin marred what might have been a handsome face at one time. Her hair was still crisp and dark, in ruthlessly controlled waves in one of the new styles which did not rely on padding to build it up, but curled away from the forehead and down the sides of the face, after the French fashion. Her gown was almost as severe as Mary’s, featuring no flounces, but she plainly wore a false rump, and the plain puce overgown, matching the bodice, had a short train behind the puce and white striped petticoat. The colour of the gown brought out the high, angry colour in Mrs. Carruthers’ cheeks. The furnishings of the parlour in which Mary was received did nothing for the colouring of the Mistress of the House either, the walls being expensive and fashionable dark green, and the chairs upholstered in stripes of a puce which did not quite match Mrs. Carruther’s gown and pomona green, with much gilt in evidence on the woodwork.
Mary suppressed a sigh.
“The coach was run into a ditch and it took the post boys a while to get it back on the road,” she said.
“Well, I suppose that is hardly your fault. You will have to use the front door; you are scarcely a servant but don’t think you can put on airs about it. Now come and meet Jemima and Jenny. They are such sensitive little souls so of course I will not expect to hear of any corporal punishment for their high spirits. They can call you Heathy; I’m sure nobody wants to remember a long name like Heatheringham for a servant.”
Mary followed Mrs. Carruthers to the nursery with a singular lack of enthusiasm. High spirits might readily be translated as ill-disciplined brats, and she was not allowed the lightest of taps to reinforce reproving a child. And even her own identity was to be taken away with a truncated name. Oh this was going to be horrible! The nursery was almost at the top of the tall town house, with only the maidservants above it, and the two unprepossessing infants stared at her with what appeared to be more hostility than interest. The room was furnished with what appeared to be discarded furniture which had gone out of fashion, and the floor was bare of rugs, though the little girls were dressed, or overdressed, in fashionable gowns of striped chintz and embroidered muslin aprons which would never prevent any spill from going through the fine fabric. Mrs. Carruthers regarded her daughters with complaisance.
“Now darlings, here’s your new governess, and she’s going to teach you lots of things, so be good and mind what she tells you. Now Mama will leave you to get acquainted.”
The nursery maid looked frankly relieved to have someone else to take responsibility, and Mary quailed. She took the time to take off her pelisse and hang it up on a hook on the nursery door to give her time to observe her new charges.
The older of the two girls was about five, with dark ringlets. Mary thought they looked natural, which meant the child was lucky enough not to be made to sleep in curling rags. The younger one had brown hair which hung in rather sad ringlets. The poor child was not blessed with natural curls. Mary smiled at her.
She was rewarded with a pout.
The older one scowled when Mary turned a smile on her.
“My name is Miss Heatherington,” said Mary. “I expect you’ll want to call me ‘Heathy’ for short, and I don’t mind that. I know you are called Jemima and Jenny. Is Jenny a pet name for Jane, or Jenefer?” she asked.
Total silence from the girls.
“She’s Christened Jane, Miss,” said the nursery maid. “Her mother said when she saw her that she was such a plain jane, she had better have a plain name, but her father started calling her Jenny.”
“Dear me, what silly things mothers say at times when they have new babies,” said Mary. “How fortunate for Jenny that she’s no plain jane now with such pretty eyes.”
Jenny looked at her uncertainly.
“I have ringlets,” said Jemima.
“To be sure; and how lucky you are in some ways! Those of us with straight hair have to curl it for best, but on the other hand, straight hair doesn’t tangle and hurt when it’s combed.”
“Jemima makes a fuss,” said Jenny. “She screeches and screeches when Maggie brushes her hair.”
“There are disadvantages, bad things, about curls, as well as good things,” said Mary, gravely. She might just have a breakthrough with Jenny, at least. She smiled. “Well, now, why don’t you tell me what you’re interested in, and then we can see if we can work your lessons around your interests?” she said, brightly.
Jemima silently got up and kicked her.
Mary, though used to rough and tumble from brothers, was frankly astounded. However, she did not cry out; no girl with brothers ever cries out when hurt.
“Dear me, what a very ill-bred little girl you are, Jemima,” she said. “Perhaps Mama has the wrong little girl, and we should be looking on the streets for the real Jemima, and giving you to whatever ragamuffin taught you your manners.”
Jemima stared.
“Am not a wagamuffin!” she declared.
“Oh, I think you are,” said Mary, glad she had found a point of leverage. She had to find some kind of discipline. “You have a double, another little girl who looks like you, who is the real Jemima, because a lady like Jemima doesn’t ever kick anyone, and nobody would believe you could be Jemima if they knew.”
“I am the weal Jemima and I’m sowwy!” said Jemima, frantically.
“Well! If you are the real Jemima, where did you learn such nasty manners? I will be having to make sure you are a real lady to prove that you are Jemima,” said Mary. Frightening a little child went against the grain, but if she could control Jemima she could start to build up a rapport, and what the older girl did, so would the younger. She might have something of a rapport with Jenny, but sibling loyalty could erode that fast enough if she was not careful.
“Very well,” said Mary. “What things interest you?”
“Kittens,” said Jenny.
“Flowers,” said Jemima.
“Well, kittens are not going to be easy to use in lessons because they are only babies and get bored,” said Mary, who strongly suspected that her employer would be resistant towards the idea of pets. Moreover, until they were a bit better trained, her charges would not be good careful owners of pets, and it was not a good idea to risk animals in their care until they were nicer children. “However, Jenny, we can draw pictures of kittens, and I will help you write a story about them, so you can start to learn to read. Jemima, can you read?”
“It’s boring,” said Jemima, scowling.
“Perhaps you haven’t got very interesting books,” said Mary. “We must see if you find it more enjoyable with the books I have brought, like ‘Little tales for little folk’ by Mary Pelham, and ‘Cobwebs to catch flies,’ by Ellenor Fenn. And you shall draw the flowers you like and write a little bit about them.”
“It sounds too hard,” said Jemima.
“Oh, I’m sure you are clever enough to manage,” said Mary. “And I am here to help; that is the point of having a governess, so that she can help you to learn. Nobody expects you to know everything perfectly until you have learned, you know!”
“Mama does,” volunteered Jemima. “She wants us to show off our accomplishments.”
“Well, how happy she will be when you are able to show her your watercolours,” said Mary. “And of course we will work on playing the pianoforte, though it is a big instrument for little fingers.”
“And it makes my back ache,” said Jemima. “Mama makes me practise and sets Mayhew to watch me to be sure I do,” she added resentfully.
“Dear me, I am sorry your Mama is unable to sit with you to help you do so yourself,” said Mary. “Who is Mayhew?”
“The housekeeper,” said Jemima. “She don’t like us.”
“Perhaps you should practise being perfect little ladies towards her, so she is in the wrong if she complains,” said Mary, reflecting that it was a reprehensible way to teach them, but if there was already bad blood with the housekeeper, maybe the only reason they would obey.
Jemima giggled.
“Yes, that will really rile her,” she said.
Oh well, it was a start, thought Mary.
“And I will hold my hands to be like a chair back when you play in lessons with me so your back hurts less,” she said to Jemima.
“It isn’t humped, it isn’t it isn’t!” cried Jemima.
“Who said it was?”
Jemima pointed to the nursery maid, who shrugged.
“Well it is so,” she said. “I ain’t mentioned it to that old cat, Mayhew, she just complain that Miss Jemima droops on the pianoforte stool.”
“If it is, Jemima, you shall learn to carry yourself well, so that it doesn’t show,” said Mary. “I cannot think there is much to it, but if it is enough to make you uncomfortable sitting, why, you must strengthen your back with plenty of walking, and lifting weights. I know that is good to strengthen you,” she added. “It doesn’t mean you have to let it spoil your life.”
“Mama mustn’t know!” Jemima begged.
“I am sure it is too unimportant for me to mention to her,” said Mary. Jemima threw herself into Mary’s arms.




Chapter 3

Marguerite was delighted with her new accountant. He went through her accounts for the few months in which she had been trying to keep them. It took him some effort, but he unravelled all the muddles she had made, worked out her taxable resources for her and sorted out paying her taxes for a year, and made sure he got her a signed receipt. Most of what she was paying was for her arranging for her house to be a private club and paying a gambling tax, which Marguerite had neglected to apply for.
“You are foolish to neglect it,” said Toby, sternly. “If you don’t pay that one, and have the rules in place for your clients, who have to be members, they can flog you and pillory you, and it’s happened to women with titles, so you ain’t going to be exempt.”
“I didn’t even know I had to pay taxes for gambling,” said Marguerite. “I didn’t know I had to pay taxes on servants, either.”
“Well, I know exactly what taxes you have to pay, so don’t worry,” said Toby. “You don’t have to pay to keep a carriage any more, that was repealed not long ago, though you do need to pay one pound eight and ninepence for each horse. And the tax on gold and silver plate has also been repealed.”
“Mine’s Sheffield plated anyway,” said Marguerite.
“Yes, but you might end up with silver which is pledged by some of your clients,” said Toby. “However, it ain’t relevant and hasn’t been since I was a nipper scarce breeched, because Papa has one piece of plate and we dined on venison to celebrate not having to pay tax on it any more. The pound and five shillings each on your male servants, and ten bob each for your female servants, and one-and-nine on each of the windows is more germane, as is the land tax, on the value of the house. Male servants are taxed at the same rate however many you have up to eleven; female servants are at two-and-six until you have three when it makes a hefty jump. I take it you need all of them?”
“Yes, I need a personal maid and the four chamber maids, the customers leave an awful mess, and it must smell sweet and fresh every evening. And as for my male servants, well, the footmen are also bouncers in case of trouble. Drunken gentlemen can be a nuisance, at times! And I must have a cook and a … I don’t know what you’d call him, Prentice does duty as butler and housekeeper and does all my buying for me.”
“Comptroller of the household,” said Toby. “You should be paying him around thirty guineas a year if he does more than a butler.”
Marguerite nodded.
“I offered thirty pounds, he suggested guineas, and I agreed,” she said.
“Wise, a man who can handle a household is golden,” said Toby.
“The tax on female servants is ridiculous,” said Marguerite. “What about people who have children?”
“Oh, it’s been called worse than ridiculous in parliament,” said Toby. “Imputations have been made about Mr. Pitt’s manhood in forcing honest women out of work by making people unwilling to pay the tax, haven’t you seen the caricature where he is chasing a mop-maid down the hill from industry towards prostitution?”
“No, but it’s true. I made the choice to stay with Jeffery as his peculiar, and I never made a better choice, for he offered to get me lodgings and let me live my life as I chose. Well, I knew I didn’t have a respectable enough background for service, even if being a servant had suited me; and to my mind being a common street whore is even worse, more drudgery and the likelihood of disease. I’d scrub floors before I’d rub flesh like that. Some of the silly chits who go in for it hope to be high class courtesans like me, but it don’t happen, Mr. Davenport, or only to the lucky few. Even opera dancers can’t hope to get a really generous protector, let alone the poor little drabs on the streets. I know how lucky I am, and I’m only sorry I got greedy and gave Jeffery a dislike for me. If I’d played my cards better, I might have been Lady Thorngate,” she sighed.
Toby doubted that this was likely; very few men married their mistress, but there again, if she had made Thorngate comfortable, she might just have achieved another almost impossible coup.
“Well, what’s done is done,” said Toby. “I wager in the long run you will do very well as mistress of a gaming house, and maybe one of those who attend will wager his title, house and lands to you in marriage, and lose gracefully.”
Marguerite brightened. She was a simple and romantic girl at heart.
“Now that would be nice,” she said. “Though there are some I wouldn’t accept such a wager from; after all, what’s the point of a title if you have a cruel husband, and I’ve seen enough to know that they come from all walks of life, not just the lower classes.”
“True enough,” said Toby. “Have I made all clear to you?”
“Oh yes, thank you! And I will send you an invitation to play, and make sure I introduce you to all the gamesters I know. Are you sure you can handle yourself? You look ….” She sought for words.
“Innocent?” said Toby.
“Yes,” she agreed. “Like some young sprig ripe for plucking! And just because you know mathematics, I don’t want to hand someone who has been kind to me to a gull-catcher.” She paused, and then added, “There’s a Lord Mattlebere, and I don’t want to slander no one, but I cannot like him, and he smiles too much with his mouth while his eyes make calculations … there are other reasons I dislike him, but from your point of view, it is because he likes to play very young men and then persuade them to go to other houses with him.”
“He sounds a dashed loose screw; thanks for the warning. I tell you what, Miss Labellette, why don’t we play a rubber or two of piquet for penny points, and you can see how much of a gull I am to be caught.”
“Very well,” said Marguerite. “I am quite good at the game myself; I might not be able to read very well, but my memory is prodigious.”
“Good: I like a challenge,” said Toby.
Some hours later, Marguerite was forced to admit that Toby was no gull to be caught, and would do very well indeed.
“You’ll need to move fast to catch them,” she said. “Oh, and Mr. Davenport, some of them, not just Mattlebere, may invite you to certain gaming clubs to win back their losses. Such clubs are not as scrupulous as I am, and there is sharping and cheating which go on there. You may win at first, as bait, but they use marked decks and legerdemain, and if you do win, they may send someone after you to beat you up and take it back, under the guise of being footpads, or foists, pickpockets I should say, as their footmen to steal from your pocket as they help you on with your coat.” She frowned. “There are also high jinks, men with strong heads, who drink to make their pigeon match them drink for drink to fuddle them.”
“Many thanks. I will be careful. I’ve hired a pugilist as my man to follow me.”
Her face cleared.
“I’m glad to hear that. I should hate to be the means of your demise or maiming.”
“I shall not hold you responsible for anything that may happen to my detriment; and I’ll make sure that my cousin, Lucius, understands that too.”
“Thank you. I suppose you wouldn’t be looking for a lover?” her tone was a little wistful.
“I take that as a compliment, ma’am: but I have barely come of age and I am not yet looking for any female company,” said Toby.
“Ah well, perhaps in the future,” said Marguerite.
Toby smiled, and hoped the panic did not show in his eyes; and kissed her hand punctiliously before departing.

oOoOo

Mary had a chance to examine Jemima’s back when the little girls went to bed, and she went along, cheerfully explaining that it would be a good idea if she knew their bedtime ritual
“Will you tell us a story?” asked Jenny. “Miss Hartlepool told us stories until Jemima got rid of her.”
“Dear me, why would you get rid of a good story teller?” said Mary.
Jemima blushed.
“Because I could,” she said. “I put dead mice from the traps in her bed.”
“Well at least they were already dead and so were not frightened by such antics,” said Mary. “It would have been very cruel to live mice to do that.”
“Would you run away from dead mice in your bed?” asked Jemima.
“Dear me, of course not! What a silly goose poor Miss Hartlepool must have been! But then, I have four brothers, so I am quite accustomed to finding all manner of things in my bed, slippers, overshoes, and desk,” said Mary. “I was extremely angry with my youngest brother for putting a frog in my ink well, for who knows how much it might have been harmed, wallowing in ink!”
“Oh please tell us stories about your brothers!” said Jemima.
“Very well, I will help you with your nightrail while Betty helps Jenny with hers,” said Mary.
It was possible, whilst undressing Jemima, to see that the child’s spine had a slight scoliosis, but nothing that would cause her trouble if she maintained a good posture and exercised well.
Mary retired to her chill and cheerless room, where the chinaware was found to be chipped, though mercifully not cracked, the wardrobe a scant curtain hung across the corner where hooks had been attached to the wall, and the mattress hard and lumpy. There was no bedpost attached to the frame to beat it, and Mary resigned herself to an uncomfortable night. The thin blanket would not be adequate for the winter, though it did well enough in the heat of the summer, but Mary was not impressed, and wondered how much worse off were the servants.


Next day, Mary supervised Jemima at a piano lesson, while Jenny drew a frog covered in ink. Mary placed her hand at the point just below Jemima’s shoulder blades where the curve was greatest and Jemima gave a sigh of relief.
“Oh yes!” she said.
The housekeeper, Mayhew, came in.
“Oh. Ain’t you spending time with t’other?” she said.
“They can take turns,” said Mary.
“Round shouldered, that one’s getting to be,” said Mayhew, spitefully.
“I believe the stool is the wrong height for her,” said Mary, placidly. “Is there any old chair that has perhaps been discarded to which I may add height, or cut the legs as seems necessary? It is a shame that Miss Jemima cannot give her best because the stool does not adjust.”
“Well … there’s a few old chairs in the attic.”
“Excellent: come, Jemima, we shall make a foray to the attic to see what we can find to help you reach the keyboard more easily. Oh, and Mrs. Mayhew, I know the bedpost to beat my bed is missing, but I would expect the maids to use another bed post, or improvise. The mattress speaks for someone having been very slovenly in their attentions to it.”
Mrs. Mayhew’s cheeks burned.
“The mistress said there was no need to perform extra services for a governess.”
“Oh, quite, but then cleaning a room, making a bed and seeing to any fire in a governess’s room is scarcely under extra services, is it? After all, I’m sure you expect the servants to clean your room and make your bed, and part of that is to turn and beat the mattress.”
“Yes, Miss,” said Mrs. Mayhew. “I will see that it is done.”
“Thank you,” said Mary, with a smile.
When Mrs. Mayhew had gone, Jemima said, conspiratorially,
“I can reach the keyboard perfectly well.”
“Yes, but it does you no good if your playing is painful because you have no back rest. We shall find a good chair which is comfortable and I will have a chair mender adjust its height for the piano and that shall be your playing chair, to have an inch taken off the legs for every two inches you grow,” said Mary.
Jemima hugged her.
Maybe this position was not such a bad one after all; these poor little girls used malice as a weapon to substitute for the affection they seemed not to receive from their mother.
The search in the attic was riotous good fun for the children, and a chair was found with a caned seat and straight caned back which Mary laughing suggested looked as though it had been used by Oliver Cromwell or some other puritan. This led to a nice informal history lesson, and the chair turned out to be high enough to need no alteration at all
“Oh it is much more comfortable and not so hot either,” said Jemima.
“Good,” said Mary. “We had better do your exercises. Does your mother like you to play for her in the afternoon?”
“Sometimes,” said Jemima.

The children were sent for in the afternoon.
“And what did my darlings learn today?” asked Mrs. Cattermole.
The girls exchanged looks.
“King Charles the First wanted too much money and Parliament chased him off the throne but they didn’t ought to have cut off his head,” said Jemima.
“My goodness! Isn’t that a little advanced for them?” said Mrs. Cattermole, faintly.
“They are living through history in action, with the antics of Louis XVI in France,” said Mary. “I do not suppose the French would go as far as Cromwell and his Roundheads, but it will help them to understand current affairs, and to be able to converse about current affairs is a necessary accomplishment for a lady.”
“Oh! Do you think so?” she sounded doubtful.
“Yes, Ma’am, the head preceptress at the school I attended was insistent that we all read the newspaper, and discuss it over breakfast.”
She did not add, because she doubted that Mrs. Cattermole would appreciate it, that Miss Preston had also said, dryly, that it was easy enough to pretend not to understand, in order to turn the conversation, but impossible to pretend to understand what one did not comprehend. And whilst some men might like a pretty widgeon, such airs were better for being assumed since widgeons were good for nothing but to be served as a side dish.
“And what is Jemima going to play me?” asked Mrs. Cattermole.
“It is an air by Mr. Handel,” said Jemima, since Mary had carefully written out a simplified version of ‘Where ere you walk’ which did not require too much attention to the left hand. It would also sound very pretty played at her mother’s spinet. This had an ordinary chair, and Jemima was delighted that her back did not ache at the very thought of playing, because she was not tired out, as she had usually been after practising for that long, painful hour in the morning. She sat at the keyboard feeling happier than she had done for a long while when playing for her mother, and proceeded to work through the new air with Mary quietly counting time for her, and surreptitiously indicating changes of chords to play. There were a few wrong notes, as might be expected, but it went well.
“My goodness, Heathy, you appear to have wrought wonders,” said Mrs. Carruthers, amazed.
Mary smiled.
“The piano stool was not at the right height for her to practise properly, Ma’am, so I asked Mrs. Mayhew if we might have a plain chair from those which had been discarded in the attic. It has helped a great deal, for Jemima is able to practise more easily.”
“My goodness, and there was I wondering if you were a genius, Mayhew should have mentioned before that the stool was the wrong height,” said Mrs. Carruthers.
Mary bit her lip; she did not want her employer setting up bad blood between her and the housekeeper.
“Why, Ma’am, I doubt that the housekeeper recognised what the trouble was; she is unlikely to have had many music lessons or to have an Italian music master screeching in a selection of languages about the inadequacies of the furniture,” she said. “Miss Preston, catering as she did to children of all ages, had a seat that might be rotated to move the seat up and down, so I am used to the idea of changing the height for children of different heights.”
“Hhmph. An unnecessary extravagance in a private household.”
“Yes, Ma’am, but a chair already discarded might be altered every few years,” said Mary.
“Yes, well, I suppose so. Now play something pleasant for me, while my darlings sit with me,” said Mrs. Carruthers.
Mary chose to play Bach’s ‘In peace your sheep may graze’ which was not long, since she doubted that Mrs. Carruthers would put up with her darlings for long. She was right, and she was not the only one to be glad to be escaping back to the schoolroom.
“Mama is pleased with me; thank you,” said Jemima, gravely.
“I suspect she would have been pleased earlier if you little hellions hadn’t frightened off previous governesses before they could find out what was wrong,” said Mary, smiling to take away the sting of a word like ‘hellions’.
Jemima giggled, then looked serious.
“But none of them did find out what was wrong and you did right away,” she said.
Mary had to admit to herself that if she had a governess who insisted on making life painful by not realising a problem, she too might have felt like kicking any others, and putting mice in their beds.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Ace of Schemes 1-3

Sarah WaldockOctober 20, 2017 11:07AM

Re: Ace of Schemes 1-3

NickiOctober 23, 2017 04:14PM

Welcome back!

LilyOctober 22, 2017 07:13PM

Re: Jane Eyre

Sarah WaldockOctober 26, 2017 10:53AM

Re: Ace of Schemes 1-3

AlidaOctober 21, 2017 07:54AM

Re: Ace of Schemes 1-3

KarenteaOctober 20, 2017 06:38PM

Re: Many thanks! (nfm)

Sarah WaldockOctober 20, 2017 11:54PM

Re: Ace of Schemes 1-3

EmelynOctober 20, 2017 05:47PM

I'm so happy to see this!

Agnes BeatrixOctober 20, 2017 12:56PM

Re: I'm so happy to see this!

Sarah WaldockOctober 20, 2017 04:45PM

Re: I'm so happy to see this!

Agnes BeatrixOctober 21, 2017 09:39AM

Re: I'm so happy to see this!

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