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Ace of Schemes 4-6

October 26, 2017 10:54AM
thanks to all for your good wishes. I am hoping to get well, as some of you know I have M.E. and certain events which caused my husband a nervous breakdown have impacted badly on the health of both of us. Knowing that people wish us well is a lovely feeling and helpful towards our eventually crawling out of the Slough of Despond and making a painful pilgrimage towards better health.

Chapter 4

“Well, he’s certainly decorative, Marguerite, can he afford you?”
“Toby Davenport is well heeled enough, George,” said Marguerite, with a small smile.
George, Lord Mattlebere laughed.
“Well that won’t last if you permit him to meet people here,” he said. “I certainly won’t go gentle on him just because he’s your current toy.”
“Oh, I wasn’t going to ask you to do so, George,” said Marguerite. “I don’t have a very long attention span for anyone except Jeffery, so it’s of no moment to me.”
“You are a bitch at times,” said Mattlebere. His tone was not censorious.
Marguerite shrugged, concealing a smile as she noticed Mattlebere watching what a shrug did to her figure in the light muslin of the chemise à la reine that she wore.
“It’s a wicked world; everyone for himself,” she said. “I am not about to cry over a pigeon being plucked.”
Marguerite disliked Mattlebere, and hoped that Toby would pluck him thoroughly. She was an indolent sort of mistress, but she had put soothing salves onto the bruises of her well-pinched maidservants, and vailed them well to forget the gross behaviour of the likes of his lordship. And she did not permit any of her maids to be alone with any of her male visitors, for which protection, they were prepared to stay with her, and put up with bruises. Bruises were a far cry from more intrusive violation and the indignity of unwed motherhood. And the maids also had keys to their own doors, a courtesy not often extended to maids.
Marguerite was not entirely altruistic in this; she had no intention of having anyone levelling a charge against her of running a bawdy house, and her protection of her maids was proof against this. It had been one of the conditions of her ownership of the house that Jeffery had specified. Now she was properly licensed to run a gambling den, she was sufficiently legally virtuous that no jealous rival could inform against her, and she owed Toby a favour for discovering that she needed to pay this tax. However, she also remembered the indignities of living in her father’s gaming house, and though she had not lost her virtue until she gave herself willingly to Jeffery, she remembered what a nervous business it had been, and felt ready sympathy. Upper class men were no different in their cups to lower class ones.
For that matter, it was noticeable that as very few women attended Marguerite’s salons the behaviour of men away from their women tended to be much worse. Marguerite had seen men who would not dare break wind without permission of their domineering, Billingsgate-mouthed wives who were blustering bullies in her father’s house, and it amused her to wonder how many of the badly behaved gentlemen in her house had domineering wives or mothers. Probably most of them.
Marguerite smiled as she heard Toby arrive, and greet the footman who let him in.
“Evening, Fulger, how’s the cracked knuckle?”
“Much better for your tip of using horse linament on it after a soak in epsom salts, sir; much obliged to you.”
“It’s a distinct advantage to be acquainted with the likes of Dan Mendoza. And you need to take care of yourself to take care of the mistress.”
“Indeed sir! I won’t let anyone hurt our lovely lady!”
Toby strolled into the salon to make his bow, before lifting a hand of greeting to an acquaintance and going to join his table. Marguerite, near the door of the salon, heard Fulger say to the other footman on duty,
“That Mr. Davenport is a real gent, Ned, the genuine article. He’s courteous without being too familiar, and he takes an interest in them as serves him, but he knows his place and he don’t cross the line into being chummy.”
Marguerite smiled to hear Fulger’s careful plummy tones slip slightly at the end of his speech. He came from the gutter too.
It was Toby Davenport’s unfailing courtesy which also made Marguerite hope that he would prevail over the likes of Mattlebere. Nothing ruffled the young man’s good humour, and she noted that he thanked her servants, male or female, for little services. They fell over themselves to be of assistance to him, and Fulger’s comments explained why. That was what she sometimes struggled with; keeping the proper distance, without being unnaturally cold and top-lofty. Jeffery could manage it, when he wasn’t in a rage, but watching Toby was a real education. And Marguerite was a fast learner. She would swear that her comptroller of the household had thawed considerably since she had been applying what she had learned, dismissing him with a nod and a smile, but making it plain he was dismissed. As one of those footmen had said, servants like their masters to know their place.
Toby had joined the Honourable Mr. Theodore Mackie, a young Scot with a pleasantly ugly face, sooty locks so dark that his powder could not disguise how dark his hair was, and eyes of a startling shade of green.
“Evening, Poxy,” said Toby. Mr. Mackie did not take offence at this soubriquet which he had been given at school for his freckles. He was delighted to run into an old school acquaintance in Toby, and had been giving his friend the lowdown on everyone else in the club.
“Cherub, let me make you known to my friend, Mr. Cornelius Chipperfield; Corney, this is Toby Davenport, we were at school together. Don’t play piquet with him, he’s a mathematical genius.”
“Well I like that for the loyalty of an old friend to warn people off playing with me!” said Toby. “How do, Chipperfield.”
“Oh I’ll play, but now warned, only for penny points,” said Chipperfield. He was a good looking young man with an amiable, mobile face which showed every emotion on it, and he plainly fancied himself as a dandy since not only was his coat striped in pomona green and white, but so were his stockings, and his waistcoat was a lavish affair of rose pink silk with darker roses embroidered on it.
“Be fair, Cherub, he’s a friend of mine too,” said Mr. Mackie. “And I know how ruthless you can be! Sharked those upper form men when we were in the fourth good and proper, didn’t you?”
“I don’t like bullies,” said Toby. “And for your information I never sharked them, I took them quite fairly. I was just better than them. Mind, it taught me a thing or two about cardsharping and how people mark the cards with their nails. I just unmarked every card that fell into my hands by smoothing out the nail marks.”
Both the other young men laughed.
“No sharpers here,” said Mr. Chipperfield. “At least, not in this club; it’s why I’m here, Mistress Marguerite makes it a safe place. I wouldn’t speak for places some of the others go to.”
“Poxy mentioned Lord Mattlebere, Mr. Fontaine and Mr. Curren as people to beware of,” said Toby.
“By Jove yes!” agreed Chipperfield. “And Mattlebere has a nasty temper, too.”
Toby smiled seraphically.
“I don’t get mad. I get even,” he said.
Mackie laughed.
“And how!” he said. “Corney, we had a really unfair teacher, who was never ready to listen to excuses, and he caned Toby for something he hadn’t done, and it was as a vicious caning as I’ve ever seen. So you’ll never guess what Toby did.”
“No, I probably shan’t,” said Mr. Chipperfield, equably. “What did you do?”
Toby grinned.
“I bribed the servants to spike his evening beer with enough spirituous liquor to get him seriously fuddled, then we had a whip-round to hire two of the blowsiest whores we could find to come in to service him. It only took a word to the Bagwig to tell him we were scared of the noises coming from his room. He was fired forthwith; you can’t have a man who consorts with prostitutes when he is drunk teaching in a boys’ school, it lowers the tone of the place. And as he’d never have done anything like that, it was even sweeter, because I was flogged for supposed cheating and he ought to have known I’d never do that, and he did know, because I asked for it to go to the head. He wanted a scapegoat for someone who took an exam paper from his desk and he didn’t care who it was.”
“I’ll make sure not to irritate you,” grinned Chipperfield.
“Oh, a friend of Poxy’s isn’t likely to,” said Toby. “Why don’t we find a fourth and play a rubber or two of whist?”
Mr. Chipperfield waved to another young man, who was swiftly introduced as Barney Higgins. Mr. Higgins wore the conservative coat of a man associated with trade, but his waistcoat was a thing of beauty, being lilac dimity with much eyelet embroidery in self-colour, and daring lilac-striped stockings.
“Barney owns a few geese,” volunteered Chipperfield.
“My father is a butcher,” said Mr. Higgins, putting out his chin, somewhat pugnaciously. “He bought out some farms in Norfolk where the geese are raised, and pays managers to run them, because it’s a better profit. There’s nothing funny about geese, they’re jolly interesting creatures.”
“Better than a guard dog too, wasn’t it geese who saved Rome from a Gaulish attack?” said Toby.
“This is why he did better at school than me, he remembers rubbish like that,” said Mackie.
“They’re incredible guard animals,” said Higgins. “And they’re cleverer than dogs too, and can’t be bribed. And there’s more to caring for them than letting them stuff themselves on grass until they get fat, because from Lady Day on, until Michaelmas, they have to be plucked a little bit to keep them cool in summer, and that’s when you harvest the quill feathers too, for writing. And when they’re walked to London, you can’t put leather boots on them like you do to other livestock, because their feet would dry out and crack. You have to coat them with tar, and put a layer of sand on them too, to protect their feet.”
“Oh, like a tarpaulin in reverse,” said Toby.
“Don’t get him onto his wretched geese or we’ll talk of nothing else all night,” groaned Chipperfield.
“You brought up the subject, and Mr. Davenport made sensible comments,” said Higgins.
“Oh, I take an interest in all kinds of things,” said Toby. “Especially if they might be of use to my cousin Lucius, who’s a farmer.”
“His cousin Lucius is a viscount who takes more interest in his own lands than most,” said Mackie, dryly.
“He’s still a farmer,” said Toby.
Bickering cheerfully they played for odds which most of the other gamblers would have considered shockingly low, rendering the game flat, but Toby was delighted to find new friends who were, like him, generally more interested in the company and the play than the stakes.

It has to be said that few of the habitués of Marguerite’s house were not likely to have moved in the same social circles as those in which Toby had moved earlier in the year. Amabel Remington was a society hostess who might be expected to send invitations to, and receive acceptances from, such as the Duke of Devonshire and his lovely wife, Georgiana, and notorious mistress, Lady Elizabeth Foster. And it would not be wonderful if the Prince of Wales dropped in for a quarter of an hour, or even more. Toby, who liked the prince, was in two minds about withdrawing to Brighthelmstone with him if he could finagle an invitation, which would probably not be hard. The Prince had intimated that he would be happy to know Toby better, when they had met at Lucius’ last fight. The Carlton House set were notoriously ramshackle and played for frighteningly high stakes. It would be, for the son of a country vicar, an excellent social connection, but it held its risks. The prince was pleased to approve of Toby, both for supporting his cousin in his pugilist endeavours, and for bringing to his attention the cheating of Jeffery, Lord Thorngate, and Toby had little doubt that he could enter the Carlton House set without any difficulty.
It would also, he reflected, be useful to hold the vowels of those notorious gamblers who thought nothing of losing tens of thousands over a single game, and to do them a favour by being able to write off their vowels. And favours from the great and the good might be worth more than mere money.
Yes, he would join the prince in his little palace at the sea side when he had doubled his capital, and would only gamble with half of any winnings so whatever happened he was no worse off. And he would smile and tell them he had sworn an oath to his father, a doctor of divinity, that he would never write vowels. Toby promptly wrote a letter to his father in which he swore this oath so as not to be a liar.
Lady Amabel was not too demanding of Toby, but still expected him to dance attendance upon her from time to time, and Toby extracted her promise to invite Mr. Mackie to some of her soirées.
“I note you ain’t invited Chipperfield nor Higgins,” said the Honourable Theodore Mackie, glancing cynically about the glittering company.
“Do you really think I’d be doing them a favour throwing them in with this rarefied crowd?” asked Toby. “Once you make a few more acquaintances, there’ll be places less dripping with the rump of the ton which you’ll be invited to, where they won’t stand out. Chipperfield is hoping for a well-dowered young lady, I believe, and Higgins for a genteel one whose poverty will permit her to accept a butcher’s boy?”
“More or less,” said Mackie. “It’s ridiculous, though, they’re both decent types.”
“Never said they weren’t,” said Toby, “But I can smell impoverished curate’s son on Chipperfield, having been in his shoes, and the prejudice against trade of any kind is bad, never mind something involving the slaughtering of animals.”
“And Higgins won’t have anything to do with that side of it; his father says he’s soft.”
“It’ll tell in his favour with a woman, though,” said Toby. “Most women are pretty sentimental, though they eat a roast goose as happily as anyone.”
“Oh, women are odd creatures,” said Mackie. “I don’t have to hang out for a wealthy one, thank goodness, I have a comfortable competence, and I don’t play beyond my means, not like Corney, who worries me sometimes, he is hoping to win a fortune.”
“It ain’t going to happen with the lack of understanding he has of numbers,” said Toby. “He’s an idiot; he’ll only loose what little he has.”
“I wish you’d tell him that as well,” said Mackie. “He doesn’t listen to me.”
“I’ll watch him, and drop a word to the wise,” promised Toby.

Chapter 5

Toby reflected that there were not many people whom he met at Marguerite’s club who he could invite to soirées presided over by his aunt. Many, like Chipperfield, were sons of curates who had taken employment as clerks, or were those cits who were well enough off without being nabobs, like Higgins. Though some had titles, they would not be likely to be known to any of the Carlton House set, and certainly not to those society people welcome at Lady Remington’s entertainments. Amabel disapproved of the Carlton House set, and eschewed politics, which was just as well, since she leaned towards the Tory viewpoint, and Lucius and Toby were definitely Whigs. It was another point in common with the prince, who may have been a Whig to spite his father, but who was as useful in his own way to the cause of Charles James Fox and his party as Georgiana Cavendish of Devonshire was. Toby and Lucius were in favour of such radical notions as ending slavery, and social reform, and Lucius had made a maiden speech in Parliament opposing the taxation of female servants, for which Toby had done some of the research, and hence was knowledgeable about the subject, because it drove women to prostitution. Lucius had gone further, in urging the setting up of more charitable institutions to help women to escape prostitution, especially those forced into it by being raped or seduced and being left with an illegitimate child. It was a subject dear to the heart of Lucius’ mother-in-law, who was deeply involved in such a charitable institution, and Lucius had promised to raise the subject. That he could attach his familial interests to an attack on the unpopular tax had been something of a bonus, as he told Toby, when they had been discussing it, and Toby had happened to mention the tax the estate of Rokemere paid for the female servants. Lucius was never likely to make a politician, he was too straightforward, but having another viscount to support him was always useful to Fox.
Toby was reminded that Fox had also spoken out against the despotic behaviour of the French king when Mattlebere approached him with a conversational gambit the next time Toby attended Marguerite’s establishment.
“So, what do you think of the rioting in France?”
“I think maybe that Louis XVI should read English history,” said Toby.
“Indeed? Why is that?”
“The last king we had who behaved in so arrogant a fashion was Charles I; and we chopped his head off,” said Toby.
“Oh, a revolutionary, are you?”
“No; I personally think that a revolution would be disastrous for France, but I think it is inevitable if the king and the aristocracy do not move out of the middle ages and act in accordance with more modern monarchs and lords.”
“You’ve very positive views for one so young. Do you have positive views on gambling as well? I’ve not seen you at any of the tables, where there is serious play, yet.”
“I have nice enough manners to wait to be invited,” said Toby, tranquilly. “I am partial to a game of cards; I play with my father and some of the reverend gentlemen of his acquaintance,” he added. He did not point out that the bishop he had so comprehensively beaten was a hard-drinking whist fanatic who could probably hold his own with any of the Carlton House set.
“Well, then, my lad, I’m inviting you to join my table,” said Mattlebere. Toby, nothing loath, followed him over and was introduced to Mr. Lorimer, a weasel-faced individual, and Mr. Thorburne, who looked lugubrious enough to be a parson. Of the three, Mattlebere was the least physically unprepossessing, being darkly handsome, but with a distinct air of dissipation, and lines on his coarse skin indicating too many late nights by candlelight and not enough sunshine and exercise.
Toby played with an air of excessive concentration, and contrived to lose two rubbers and to win the third. He gave a beam of satisfaction.
“I believe I am getting into the swing of playing for such high stakes now,” he said. “It made me a little nervous at first, but it really is no different to playing for penny points.”
Mattlebere smiled kindly whilst hiding an internal glow of pleasure at so innocent a gull. In truth, even his table did not have excessive stakes, since Marguerite had prudently put a cap on how much might be wagered. She had no desire to have the bad publicity of a suicide on her hands! She preferred to cater to those at the edges of society, clerks and cits, who would come again and again for a taste of what they saw as the high life, and with whom she felt less uncomfortable than with true high society. Marguerite was shrewd enough to be aware that Mattlebere was something of a skirter, despite his title, in the same was as Jeffery had been. Indeed, she had met Mattlebere through her erstwhile protector, and found him useful. Mattlebere was to be watched, but his title and his reckless-seeming play was a draw to her house, and all who came were adult and should be able to take care of themselves. Marguerite was watching Toby a little anxiously as he played, but seeing his hesitant style, unlike when he had played her, she relaxed somewhat.
The fourth rubber should have gone all Mattlebere’s way, but somehow it was the cherubic-looking newcomer who was accruing all the tricks. He sat looking like a schoolboy whose essay had been praised by a master, up some five hundred guineas.
This was not how it was supposed to be.
“I must introduce you to players who are not averse to faster play than the fair Marguerite permits,” said Mattlebere.
“Oh, that will be fun,” said Toby, equably. “Goodness! Is all that my winnings?”
“Indeed it is; and the night is still young, what about a game of dice?”
“Not tonight, thank you; my aunt will wonder where I am,” said Toby. “I am looking for lodgings of my own, but I am staying with her in the meantime, and she thinks I am still scarcely breeched.”
Mattlebere made murmurs of sympathy which were not entirely spurious. The sooner this young man was separated from a doubtless worthy and puritan aunt the better!
“I’ll ask around and see what I can find,” he said.
“How kind! Many thanks, I would be grateful,” said Toby, smiling.

Toby was not a fool.
He sauntered out of Marguerite’s house, and nodded to Brunwin to join him.
“No trouble?” asked Brunwin, quietly.
“No, but I expect to be followed,” said Toby. “And I do not want a certain party to find out where my aunt lives. You and I are going visiting, to a dear old lady who used to live at Rokemere, and who came to nurse her daughter in London. Mrs. Wheldon is as deaf as a post and if anyone questions her, she won’t tell them a single useful thing because she won’t understand the questions. I have a letter from my father for her, which she will enjoy.”
“She can read?”
“She was in service, like her daughter, who died in childbed after her employer took advantage of her. And she used all her savings to buy a little house. The viscount is willing to pay good money for it if she wants to go back to her own village now she’s on her own. It’s one of the things I said I’d do while I was in London, and it means I can seem to be living somewhere most unfashionable if anyone does follow me.”
Brunwin nodded his head.
“I see.”
The old woman was pleased to see her old vicar’s son, and read the letter laboriously.
“Please tell Lord Rokemere that I would be glad to accept his offer,” she said. “There’s nobody here for me anymore. And to offer me his own carriage to ride back home in! He is all that is generous and kind.”
Toby smiled, and nodded.
There was no point elaborating on the point, his father had written everything down in the round hand of a man used to teaching children.
He accepted a cup of tea, and some biscuits, and managed to persuade Mrs. Wheldon to stay seated when he left so that he and Brunwin might slip out of the garden door and over the wall and thence to an alley between the back-to-back properties. They were rewarded by seeing the weasel-like figure of Mr. Lorimer heading purposefully back to the smarter end of town.
Toby was a fit young man, and Brunwin not as out of condition as he might have been, and they walked briskly across the metropolis to return to Lady Remington’s house.
“You could fit most of that old dear’s house into the vestibule here,” volunteered Brunwin.
“Yes, and she’ll be able to afford a decent size of cottage if she wants it back home,” said Toby. “Rokemere likes having a number of properties in different places and he’ll pay her over the odds for it citing rising house prices. She’s one of his own, and he doesn’t forget that. She did a good thing coming to her daughter, and that should be rewarded.”
“I like this lord of yours.”
Toby hesitated.
“Will you keep my secrets?”
“Yes, sir; you been more than fair with me.”
“You know Rokemere. Because he wanted to see his dependents looked after properly, when he found himself left destitute by his father, he pretended to be Luke Smith and became a pugilist. You were his first fight, but he could not bear to think of his mother sick and uncared for, and thus yours, which is why he wanted you to have half the pot. In his mind, that makes you someone he would look out for and care for, if need be. And he got all he needed by having me lay side bets.”
“Gawd!” said Brunwin.
“Yes, and if you breathe a word of it, I’ll flatten you, so help me,” said Toby.
“I believes you, squire,” said Brunwin, who had learned a healthy respect for Toby’s own boxing prowess! “I won’t blab, and it’s on account of me liking and respecting you more than fear of your left, swelp me if it ain’t.”
Toby nodded and clapped his man on the shoulder.


Mary felt as though she might be going to enjoy her place with the Cattermole girls more than she had feared. She disliked Mrs. Cattermole wholeheartedly; the woman demanded her daughters to show off in company and otherwise virtually ignored them. That she never lost the opportunity to slight Mary was, perhaps, to be expected of a woman of lesser education and low birth, but it still rankled. Mary was happier, however, to eat with the girls than with the family, where she was certain that she might expect barbed slights as a matter of course. That was made obvious by the comments to guests, expected to admire the children, along the lines of ‘the governess is moderately accomplished, and the girls find her adequate to their needs at the moment,’ and ‘Oh! No, the governess is nothing special, it is a treat to her to have such talented children to teach.’ Mary was sure she had seen several eyebrows raise at this comment, and her sensitive soul cringed, thinking that those present thought that if they were indeed talented, she was plainly unable to make the most of it. It did not occur to Mary, used to being put in her place by her father’s wife, that the eyebrows had been raised in appreciation of what a good governess she must be to have managed to get a moderately accomplished performance out of a child like Jemima, apostrophised by many as clumsy, wilful and disobedient. The fact that the governess could get any co-operation from the child was considered quite wonderful, never mind that her playing had improved out of all recognition.
Mary, however, had a sufficiently poor view of herself that she feared the worst, and instinctively shrank out of the way of others. When she met a good-looking young man in his late twenties, she did just that, as he was plainly familiar with the house. He had unpowdered dark hair pulled back roughly with a black ribbon, and plainly fancied himself in a pink and white striped jacket, white dimity vest embroidered with pink roses, yellow breeches and outrageously large clocks on his white silk stockings.
“Don’t draw back, my lovely,” he said, whipping out his quizzing glass to peer through it at Mary. “My, you are younger and prettier than usual; I believe you will have to pay toll of a kiss to pass me.”
“Then I will return upstairs and come down at another time,” said Mary. “Ow!” as he pinched her backside.
The sound of running feet was heard from above before Jemima hurtled into view and kicked the man soundly on the shins.
“You mustn’t hurt our Heathy!” cried Jemima. She kicked again, and the man cried out.
“You little virago!”
“Touch the child and I’ll push you downstairs,” said Mary, finding her courage in defence of another.
“Run, Heathy; he won’t touch me, I don’t have any dugs so I’m not interesting,” said Jemima, shocking Mary that this man should be so loose with his talk to the little girl. “Uncle James, if you don’t leave Heathy alone, I will tell Mama. And you know she said you were to behave.”
“Damn you, you brat,” snarled the man, “Fine; I’m going to my room.”
Mary took Jemima by the hand and retreated above stairs as the man went to a guest room.
“Who is he?” asked Mary.
“Uncle James is Mama’s brother,” said Jemima. “He dangles on Papa’s sleeve wasting his time and his blunt trying to be a gentleman and succeeding in being a Bartholomew Baby.”
“That sounds like something your father said,” said Mary.
“Yes, I heard him. He doesn’t like Uncle James much. Nor do I.”
“I can see why. Has he ever touched you in a way you don’t like?”
“He slapped me once but I can bite harder than he can slap.”
“Was it he who said about you not … not having any dugs and not being interesting?”
Jemima nodded.
“He said when I grew some I could sit on his lap. I don’t want to sit on his lap.”
“I should rather think not! Did you tell your Mama?”
Jemima nodded.
“She said he was joking. Do you think he was joking, Heathy?”
Mary regarded worried dark eyes.
“I don’t think he was joking, Jemima darling, and I think you should never, ever be alone with him.” She said.
“I do love you, Heathy; you treat me like a person, not like a baby,” said Jemima, hugging her.

Chapter 6

Toby was absent from Marguerite’s circle for a few days, since Lady Remington required his presence at her own soirée, and as an escort to a late fête champêtre held at Richmond by someone whose name Toby did not catch. It was a riverside setting, and there were richly decorated barges with tents on them for some privacy, and the food set out on one large barge, which Amabel regarded with disfavour through her quizzing glass.
“Stap me! Not much help to those who are sea-sick,” she declared.
Toby shrugged.
“I can fill you a plate and bring to you, if you feel under the weather on water,” he said. “I think it’s a lovely way to keep cool, myself, since even those barges which are moving about are crewed by what look like sailors, who get paid to do the sweating.”
“Well it would be, as it’s the Duke of Clarence’s affair, wouldn’t it?” snapped Amabel, waspishly.
“I don’t recall you saying who the host was,” said Toby, mildly. “Prinny likely to be here then?”
“I have no idea. Probably; I caught sight of that woman of his,” said Amabel.
“Poor Maria,” murmured Toby, under his breath. He felt it most unfair that the Prince of Wales should not be permitted to marry for love. But of course, Mrs. Fitzherbert was a Catholic, and that was unforgivable in the eyes of the royal family and parliament. “Shall I fill you a plate?” he asked.
“What nonsense! I am quite capable of going onto that contraption myself, without help,” said Amabel. “I just felt it tactless if there were people who felt queasy on boats.”
“Doubtless they will ask someone to bring them something on terra firma,” said Toby. He escorted Amabel to the barge full of comestibles and was told to circulate while she caught up with some old friend. Toby wandered off and walked almost into the Prince of Wales.
“Ah! Just the fellow! Is Rokemere here?” asked the prince. He was resplendent in a dress coat of purple and green stripes with a white dimity waistcoat and white satin smallclothes, and Toby had to work not to blink at the vision.
“Not so far as I am aware, highness; I think he’s at Rokemere now,” said Toby.
“Bother! I say, did you ever work out with him?”
“I am a useful boxer, sir,” said Toby, cautiously, “But if you want me to win a bet for you, not in these trousers. If I should bleed on them, my aunt would notice and she’d ring a peal over me.”
The Prince of Wales roared with laughter.
“Well, that’s direct!” he said. “You gauge my intention perfectly and to be honest you look so much like a schoolboy I might even win more, if you can stand up against my brother’s champion for five rounds.”
“A sailor, I’m thinking?” asked Toby.
“You’d be correct,” said the prince. “Big ox of a fellow.”
“The bigger they come, the harder they fall,” said Toby, phlegmatically. “I wouldn’t want to do it as a career, like Lucius did but the odd bout to oblige is something I’m happy with. I’ve been keeping up with the boxing; I’m planning on making my fortune with judicious gambling, because I understand probability theory and I have no doubt I’ll annoy enough sharpers to have footpads set on me.”
“My dear fellow! If you want to win a fortune, you should come to Brighthelmstone with me,” said the prince.
“I didn’t quite like to presume to ask,” said Toby. “And I know you are delaying because the papers said the incomparable Mrs. Fitzherbert has not retired to her house on the Steyne yet.”
“No, she hasn’t, but she will. I’ll send you an invitation.”
“Thank you sir. Was there somewhere I could change my smallclothes to meet this sailor?” Toby was dressed in lavender, with silver lace, which made him look even younger and more cherubic.
“Certainly, I’ll have some nankeen ones sent up. Come, it’s just downriver; more convenient to go by barge.”
Toby found himself in a barge with the prince and a number of his friends, and was the immediate butt of incredulous jokes that he was the prince’s champion. Toby was actually much touched that his highness was trusting of his own word on his skills gained in working out with Lucius, and was determined to win the bet for the prince.
Toby laughed.
“Oh, his highness knows I’m not likely to stand more than a couple of rounds against the likes of Mendoza, but I’m not about to let him down,” he said.
“We’ll clean up when Clarence’s chaps see him,” said one of the men with the prince.
“Yes, especially since you chickened out when you saw Clarence’s champion, and we all know how good you are in Mendoza’s saloon,” said another, in reply. “We have to trust you, sir, that you know how good he is.” He addressed the prince.
“I know how good his cousin is, and I know he’s stood against his cousin,” said Prince George. “Old Lucifer Rokemere spread his bastards wider than any of my brothers, and as well as being cousin to the current viscount, he’s cousin to Luke Smith, whom you might recall.”
“Stap me, that’s where I’ve seen the boy before,” said the dubious one. “Well, Smith was exceptional. Why did he retire?”
“He got married and his wife made him take what she called a regular job,” said Toby, gravely. “She was afraid of him getting killed, and as we split what we bet, he could afford to do so.”
“What’s he doing now?”
“Raising roses,” said Toby, with a straight face. “He bought a farm, which he runs, and does some horticulture on the side.”
“Stap me!”
“Well, he knew that he’d only have a limited time to do well as a bare knuckle fighter, and he chose to quit while he was ahead,” said Toby. The prince nodded.
“I think he was very wise,” he agreed.
Prince George knew perfectly well that Luke Smith was none other than Lucius, Viscount Rokemere, and kept that a secret even from his friends. He had won a packet on Lucius’ last fight, and moreover counted himself indebted to Lucius’ father for some service.
Toby recognised the sailor when they disembarked further down the river, and almost did a sailor’s jig in relief. He was the fellow, John Doyle, whom they had gone to watch fight Mendoza. The fight had been broken up by the militia, but it had been enough to get the man’s measure.
“Strong as an ox, no science. I’ve seen him fight,” Toby breathed to the prince. “So long as I can stop him landing one on my jaw or temple, I can win this one.”
Prince George slapped him on the shoulder.
“I’ll extend my wager, then,” he said.
“Keep some on me lasting the five rounds, just in case he gets a lucky blow, if I tire,” said Toby. “I lack Rokemere’s stamina.”
The prince nodded, impressed at Toby’s ability to dispassionately assess himself.
The bluff looking man who was talking to Doyle looked over at this moment and laughed.
“Is that the best you can do, Wales?” he asked.
“I’ll lay you an extra fifty thousand that he wins, Clarence,” said the prince, recklessly in Toby’s opinion.
“You’re on,” said Clarence.
“And five thousand from me on a win,” said Toby.
In for a penny, in for a pound.
“Well, as you’re plainly a gentleman, I accept,” said Clarence. “Anyone got the odds?”
The chance of collecting from a royal duke if he won might be slim, but maybe someone would see he got something for it. A flunkey brought a pair of nankeen trousers for Toby, who stripped off to his drawers, neatly folding his clothes. Doyle, clad as Toby had seen him before, in wide white duck trousers, striped stockings and pumps, also stripped to the waist to display his rippling tattoos. He still had a pigtail. Toby smirked savagely to himself. He had short curls because if he grew his hair, the curls were less innocent looking, and he could always wear a wig for formal occasions. Generally he powdered his locks and clipped a bag to appear as a bag wig to the longer curls at the back, and this he undid. It was a vulnerability of Mendoza’s, he thought, to keep his hair long because there were no prohibition against holding the hair in Broughton’s rules.
Toby stripped off his silk stockings. He could not fight in shoes with heels, and on the dry turf, silk would slip. He would have preferred pumps, but at short notice one did as one might. He discovered he had a duke as his second, one Lord Widburgh, and an earl as his bottle holder, a merry-faced man who introduced himself as Lawrence, Lord Fulfleet. Toby considered that Lucius would have enjoyed the irony. But it was as well Lucius was not here; he would have fought for the prince, but someone might have recognised his style as that of Luke Smith, and that would never do.
The side bets were going on all around, and Toby discovered it was six to one against him.
“I’ll make some bets on your behalf, shall I?” asked the Prince at the last minute.
“Nothing over ten thousand or I can’t cover it,” said Toby.
“Understood,” said Prince George. “By Jove, you’re a cool one.”
Toby chuckled.
“Well, I never expected to have this kind of entertainment as my aunt’s escort,” he said.

John Doyle was a brutal fighter, a true bruiser, and Toby took a nasty blow to the chest that he was only partly able to ride in the first round. However he was able to get in some swift, jabbing blows of his own. He took a knee when Doyle connected with his ear and made his head ring.
“Are you sure you’re up to this?” asked the earl as he plied the water bottle.
“Of course; that’s why I took a knee. My head’s cleared now,” said Toby. “I know how to fight tactically as well as with science.”
His water man nodded.
“Good,” he said. “Plenty of gaiety too, I see!”
Toby took the next round by the expedient of swinging Doyle round off balance by his pigtail and pounding his bladder, which took the big sailor to his knees. The odds on him dropped, but with luck the Prince of Wales was canny enough to have made most of his bets when Toby had knelt. Toby hurt in more places than he liked, but then, it was the same working out with Lucius, who did not hold back. And Doyle did not dodge frustratingly out of the way of his best blows like Lucius did. He was knocked over in the fourth, being caught wrong-footed, and ending the round, and retaliated in the fifth with a cross-buttock throw to down the big sailor, a move which brought a round of applause from Clarence’s supporters as well as those of Prince George.
He had won the initial conditions of the bet. Now he could get creative.
It certainly disconcerted Doyle when Toby used a quick dos-a-dos move to get out of the way of a blow, moving forward not back, and right round the other pugilist. It raised a laugh.
“Bow to the lady!” called Prince George, “And alleman back!”
Toby raised a hand, to acknowledge the sally, and then came in, fists thundering.
He felt the pain of a kidney hit come, but it was a glancing blow, not enough to take him down involuntarily, and he had one more hit in him.
And he managed to connect to Doyle’s chin, and somehow refuse to fall to his own knees until Doyle hit the ground.
There was a long silence and then a burst of applause as Doyle was counted over, and stayed down. Toby’s noble helpers gave him their arms to take him over to Prince George.
“Magnificent!” said the prince. “I’ll sort out your winnings and get them to you as soon as possible; I’ll collect from my brother on your behalf as well. I hedged carefully, and as far as I can gather you should be up by around seventy-five thousand guineas. I knew you’d win the bets to stay in for five rounds, so I covered them myself and put a heap on you to win after that first round. We have some delightfully reckless gamblers here today and I can actually pay my tailor. Good man, Louis Bazalgette, he just lately finished this jacket for me, and another in blue and white for Brighton. It’ll be a nice surprise for him,” he added, genially.
Toby reflected that he would not like to be the tailor to a royal duke or prince since their paying of bills was notoriously slow. Apparently they were better about debts of honour. His head was spinning more from the prince’s reckless gambling than from the blow to his ear!
“Thank you, sir,” he said. “It was a good fight, Doyle is lighter on his feet than you’d give him credit for, and if he learned science from Mendoza, he’d be unbeatable for he’s got the balance a sailor must have to handle standing on the deck of a ship in the sort of weather that turns it into something out of Astley’s.”
“Haha! You are a wit, as well,” said the prince. “Oh, my brother will see he has a good purse for doing his best, and so will I, he won’t lose out.”
“Thank you sir,” said Toby. “For me, it’s a bit of sport, for him being wounded could end his ability to earn.”
Prince George clapped him on the shoulder.
“Does you great credit to remember that,” he said. “Now, when you’ve dressed, you’d better check on your aunt; and both of you will dine with me tonight, of course, Clarence will be hosting a nice quiet dinner for fifty or so couples.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Toby, thinking that fifty or so couples was not his idea of a nice, quiet dinner. Aunt Amabel would grumble, of course, as she’d have to be civil to Maria Fitzherbert and any mistress the Duke of Clarence might have in residence, but she would not turn it down.
One did not turn down an invitation from the Prince of Wales. One only hoped he would persuade his royal brother not to talk too much about the afternoon’s affair in front of one’s aunt.

Lady Remington had only just missed Toby when he strolled onto the barge and helped himself to raised pie and some mixed pickles. He kissed her hand punctiliously as he came to sit by her.
“Delightfully cool on the water,” he said. “I’m as hungry as a hunter; I had to talk sporting talk with some people.”
“Well, well, I told you to go and mingle,” said Amabel. “When you’ve eaten we might call the coach.”
“We have a dinner invitation from the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Clarence,” said Toby, mildly. “I happened to know the answer to a question the prince needed answering which won him a bet, and he wants to thank me,” he added, as she looked sceptical.
“Oh, a bet,” she said. “Well! I don’t deny the dinners those young men throw are supposed to be exceptional, and it won’t do you any harm to make more contacts on the edge of their set, against whom you can afford to gamble, but I’d avoid the excesses of Prince Florizel and his friends if you can do so.”
“Yes, Aunt Amabel,” said Toby, aware of many more guineas in his as yet hypothetical pocket than he could have hoped to have won in town. And he would bank half, as he had said he would. There was, no reason not continue to take a few gamesters who were willing to pluck chickens, like that Mattlebere fellow as well. Toby had taken a dislike to Mattlebere.
Well, he had plenty of capital with which to play now, so long as he did not become overconfident.

Ace of Schemes 4-6

Sarah WaldockOctober 26, 2017 10:54AM

Re: Ace of Schemes 4-6

Agnes BeatrixOctober 27, 2017 01:34PM

Re: Ace of Schemes 4-6

Sarah WaldockOctober 27, 2017 01:56PM

Re: Ace of Schemes 4-6

KarenteaOctober 26, 2017 06:12PM

Re: Aghhh! thank you

Sarah WaldockOctober 26, 2017 06:31PM

Re: Lol! nfm

KarenteaOctober 27, 2017 01:42AM


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