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Ace of Schemes 13-15

November 08, 2017 05:18PM
My apologies for the delay! I've been having a fight with the medical profession and as they can't give me a good reason why dying younger is worse than living a half life like a zombie and catching everything that goes, I have come off the medication which I have discovered by research and experimentation has actually been exacerbating my ill health. Hoping that I may finally be on the mend. I'm using herbal alternatives and if it don't work, I'd as soon live fast, die young and leave more completed manuscripts.

Chapter 13

It was ruinously expensive being a friend of Prince George; not only was it more or less expected that one would have a new outfit every time one was seen, the play was outrageous in its level of betting. Toby felt quite unnerved at times, more in sympathy wit lh those who could not afford to lose, and who were not good enough or lucky enough to win, than on his own account. Discreetly handing back vowels was the only way he could ease his conscience, and though some of the company accepted with good grace, like the Duchess of Devonshire, the Duke of Widburgh went red in the face.
“Dammit, boy, I can’t accept ...”
Toby laid an earnest hand on his arm.
“Then do me a favour in introducing me to people I don’t know, Widburgh; and cover your vowels that way. Prinny is outrageously expensive to keep up with, and I’ve been very lucky in my play. It’s what friends do for each other; we are friends, aren’t we?”
Widburgh considered.
“Yes, Davenport, we are friends. I’ll never forget the look on that big ox of a sailor’s face when you took him apart. In the spirit of friendship, then, I’ll accept. Who do you want to know?”
Toby winked.
“Someone not above sharping, upon whom I can let loose my best mathematical skill.”
Widburgh laughed.
“Well, I know a man called Fontaine, and I suspect that he cheats, but I’ve never been able to catch him at it. If you can take him for a goodly amount, why, it will be another favour I owe you.”
“Cards or dice?”
“Cards: Faro.”
“A game of pure chance,” Toby frowned. “Then he is either marking the cards or he has the skills of legerdemain to shuffle the pack into the order he wants them in before it’s placed in the box. Not something I know how to do. And it almost has to be that method, as marking them has no meaning, as you cannot see them in the box. Give me some time, Widburgh. If I’m to sharp a sharper, I will need to play him at his own game, but I’d like a look at him.”
“Certainly. You mean you will cheat?”
“If I determine that he is cheating, plainly those are the rules he lives under, and he cannot complain,” said Toby.
“Demme!” said the duke. “Well, I can’t fault that logic!” Toby was wondering how to quietly distance himself from the Carlton House set; the hard drinking and late nights did not suit him. Helping out a friend was, however a priority.
In the meantime, he attended the soirée Mackie had invited him to, escorting Miss Jamesina Mackie. Miss Mackie was a vivacious damsel of some sixteen summers.
“I’ve been looking forward to coming out,” she confided. “Theo says I must not regard this as coming out, but more an opportunity to practice meeting people in public in a place which is a little more prestigious than Edinburgh. It is all very exciting!”
Toby laughed, cheerily.
“I am sure you will make an instant success when you do come out properly,” he said. “You have unusual looks which will draw every eye, if I may be pardoned for making a personal remark, since it is to the sister of an old school friend.”
Miss Mackie blushed becomingly. She had lustrous dark hair, like her brother, and the same startlingly green eyes, and pale skin, dusted with freckles on her nose.
“It is only these wretched freckles,” she said, mournfully.
“Miss Mackie, if my heart were not already taken, I am sure that I would fall madly in love with your freckles,” said Toby, hoping that he had not missed his guess that she was young enough for harmless and melodramatic flirtation. “They add great distinction and uniqueness to a face otherwise merely beautiful.”
Miss Mackie giggled and blushed, and employed her fan to cover her confusion.
“Oh, if your heart is taken, I cannot hope that my freckles will win you over,” she said. “Who is the lucky lady?”
“She is not yet here, in Brighthelmstone, Miss Mackie,” said Toby. “My aunt will be bringing her shortly.”
“And in the meantime, you must make do with me,” said Miss Mackie.
“Miss Mackie, when you have had time to make acquaintances, you will wonder why you had to make do with me,” said Toby. “Your brother said he trusted me not to seduce you, and I can see why he picked someone he trusted; you’re going to be the belle of the ball, and Mackie will run himself ragged threatening to run through all the young men who want to run off with you.”
Miss Mackie thought this hilarious, and had a fit of the giggles. Toby thought she would be quite a nice girl when she grew up, and found no hardship in being her esquire for the evening.
He had handed Miss Mackie back to her governess and brother to take home when he suddenly saw a young man who looked enough like Mary to make him guess that he was her brother.
Arthur Eves, Viscount Birkenhewe, had got himself into a hard gaming set which should not have been playing with a young man barely down from Oxford.
Toby narrowed his eyes.
Mattlebere was one of those playing, and he was winning.
Toby strolled over and stood opposite Mattlebere, making a show of not being in a position to see the faces of his cards.
“Lord Mattlebere holds two aces, and three jacks,” he said. “They are marked by his own method of marking on the backs of them. Would someone like to verify by looking at the faces?”
“How dare you!” Mattlebere was scarlet in the face.
“I dare because you are fleecing a cub who isn’t fast enough to recognise that you mark your cards. I never bothered to call you on it when we played because I could read them as well as you, so there was no unfair advantage. I watched you marking them.”
The whole room had fallen into silence.
“It’s a massive accusation to make,” the Earl of Flintshire spoke up.
“It’s a massive imposition on a young man new on the town,” said Toby. “Let the pot stand for the moment and spread out that deck face down and I’ll read them all for you one at a time, barring those not face cards which he does not bother to mark. I will show you the marks, my lord, and as I have only just arrived, and as I am sure this pack started out as a new pack, you know I cannot have marked the cards to accuse a man just because I dislike him.”
The earl switched the cards out of Mattlebere’s hands; Birkenhewe meekly handed his over, and the earl collected the talon, the pool of cards, from the table. He shuffled, and spread out the thirty-two cards used in the game, face down on the table.
“King, ace, nothing, nothing, ten, ace, nothing nothing ….” Toby read them off and the earl turned each face up in turn. Toby then showed him the minute fingernail markings on each.
“You have good eyes,” said the earl.
“I don’t like getting sharped,” said Toby.
They turned to Mattlebere.
“If they are marked, he found a way to do it himself,” spat Mattlebere.
“I believe I may have to meet you over that,” said Toby.
“Be damned if I will!” said Mattlebere. “I refute your claim!” and he stalked off.
“It would explain a lot if Mattlebere was a cheat,” said the Earl.
“Th … thank you for pointing it out,” said young Birkenhewe.
“Glad to do so,” said Toby. “Here, most of the gold on this table is yours, and if you won any it was only to get you to play more.” He scooped the pile of money which had been at Mattlebere’s elbow over to the young peer. “I’m courting your sister, you know, so permit me to treat you as a brother.”
“Mama said Mary had to work for her living,” said young Birkhewe.
“Well, she’s by way of being my aunt’s companion,” said Toby.
“Good; she’s too nice to have to be a governess,” said Birkehewe. “I say, I did wonder at such an awful run of bad luck, even when I thought I had good cards, but I would never have dared say anything, one is afraid of complaining in case an honest man thinks one is calling cheat.”
“I was able to prove it,” said Toby. “And though he hasn’t admitted to it, he’s ruined. You and I have an enemy there, but as he also tried to assault your sister, I’m not troubled by that. She was working as a secretary to a woman of the demi-monde, whose protection of her dependents is impeccable, I have to point out, and the fellow mistook how much Miss Labellette wishes to avoid her house being mistaken for anything low. She runs a gambling club,” he explained. Birkenhewe flushed.
“I’d be a hypocrite to complain about my sister working for someone doing that,” he said.
“Yes, and it was as a favour as much as for money,” said Toby. “It’s a long story; I’ll tell it to you one day but it involves the secrets of other people known to both Miss Heatherington and myself.”
“I don’t want to pry,” said Birkenhewe, hastily. “I am sure my sister would do all that is proper. And she’s now your aunt’s companion?”
“Yes; my aunt is Lady Remington. She is planning on bringing Miss Heatherington out properly next Season.”
“Mama said there was no need to do so,” said Birkenhewe, defensively.
“Well, of course, she isn’t Miss Heatherington’s mother,” said Toby. One could not tell a lad what one thought of his mother. It was not the done thing at all.
“No, and of course her own mother can’t,” said Birkenhewe.
“Indeed,” said Toby. “Now, young shaver, I suggest you leave Brighton and go home for the summer. It’s not a healthy place.”
“Oh, but I can’t!” Birkenhewe flushed. “I … I already owe people money. And if I don’t keep on playing I won’t be able to pay them.”
“Are you familiar, then, with probability theory, or able to memorise in your head every card that has been played, and work out the chances of where those you have not seen might be?” asked Toby.
Birkenhewe shook his head.
“No, sir, I never knew that was possible.”
“Then you won’t be likely to win enough to pay your debts; you’re only more likely to lose more. How much do you owe?”
Birkenhewe looked scared.
“Almost seven thousand pounds,” he whispered. “And I dare not tell Papa!”
“I’ll give you the money to pay it off,” said Toby, “And if you want to look on it as a loan, and pay me back at some point, I won’t dun you for it! You can take as long as you need to pay it off.”
“But …”
“Goats butt, my dear boy,” said Toby, airily. “And I want you out of the way of Mattlebere before he realises he can punish your sister for stabbing him in the wherewithal with a poker, could unfortunately, by hurting you. See, I’m quite honest about it. I care for her, and I don’t want her being hurt. Now will you take the money, pay off your debts and go home without playing a single more game?”
“I … yes, sir, I will.”
“Good. And call me Toby; if she’ll have me, I’ll be your brother before a year is gone.”
“Then I wish you will call me Arthur. Thank you, Toby.”


oOoOo

Mattlebere was furious. Once again he had been thwarted by that pup, Davenport! He was even more furious when he met up with his paramour, and Lady Trevett told him with a snap that the boy Birkenhewe had paid off all his vowels to her, and there were none to be bought, as he’d paid them all off.
“What?” Mattlebere stared. “But he told me he was hoping for a good win in order to pay off his other debts! There wouldn’t be enough, even though that damned Davenport restored his losses to him and what little I had on the table.”
Lady Trevett shrugged.
“I can’t help that, somehow, somewhere he got the money. And if you didn’t win so gleefully and obviously from the cubs they might not guess that you mark the cards.”
“I didn’t win at all from Davenport the first time I played against him, the snotty little bastard won from the word go, and how he noticed me marking cards by candlelight I don’t know.”
“Maybe he’s sold his soul to the devil or something,” the suggestion wasn’t really serious.
“He’d almost have to have done,” said Mattlebere, bitterly. “And how come he’s always there to be my Nemesis?”
“Your what?”
Mattlebere sighed.
“And this is why you will always be Betty Bounce, my dear, not Elizabeth, Lady Trevett; because you haven’t troubled to acquire any education. You should learn from Marguerite Labellette; she has no more idea than you do who Nemesis is, but at least she has the common sense to hide her ignorance and would coo that she needs a reminder about Nemesis, not say ‘what’ so rudely.”
“I don’t even want you talking to me about a low creature who runs a gaming house! At least I was born gentry, well, more or less. And I thought he was called Davenport, not Nemesis.”
Mattlebere sighed. He had better explain or the wretched woman was quite up to calling Davenport ‘Nemesis’ and blurting out that he had so named him.
“Nemesis was an Ancient Greek personification of retribution,” said Mattlebere.
“Well what has that got to do with us? They’re dead, aren’t they?”
“Betty, any educated person uses references to Greek mythology. Even women, who aren’t taught Greek, pick up the nuances of the broad mythology base.”
“I do wish you wouldn’t always use words I don’t understand,” she whined. “Are nuances Greek things too?”
“No, you lovely but ignorant little idiot, nuances are … are … suggestions.”
“Well why not just say so?”
“Because it’s not a direct translation and the English language is rich enough to be able to use precision, without needing to descend into speaking in a manner suitable for ‘A, Apple, B Bit it,’ which is disgraceful, as you learned to read as a child and, I strongly suspect, the fair Marguerite didn’t. You will always be laughed at behind people’s hands if you can’t manage to at least try to sound like a lady.”
“Well why don’t you go off and be with this Marguerite?” Lady Trevett huffed.
“Because she threw me out over mistaking Evesham’s daughter for a whore, we’ve been through this,” said Mattlebere, who had tried to get round Marguerite when Toby had withdrawn from London and had been told in the tones of Bermondsey that Mary had the right idea about where to put a poker and if he did not wish to repeat the experience, he would leave and never darken her door again. It was why he had suggested ruining Birkenhewe, in the expectation that he would fear to go to his father, and he might then be persuaded to enlist his sister to come to his aid; and Mattlebere would then suggest how she could pay off all her brother’s debts. Lady Trevett was jealous, of course, but Mattlebere had explained it as revenge. The degree of lust which burned in his loins for Mary and her demure air was not something he mentioned to his lover. He dreamed every night of debauching Mary, forcing her to his will, making her obey him in everything, making her beg for his caresses and even for his beatings. He had needed to go with a common prostitute in order to beat her half to death to assuage the desire he felt to split Mary’s perfect skin with his little whip. He dare not take his whip to Lady Trevett; he might be able to cuckold Sir Humphrey, but there were some things you could not do when sleeping with another man’s wife, and leaving marks was one of them. Besides, Mattlebere was not convinced that the one-time Betty Bounce might not recall her rough introduction to adult life and might well beat him back. Mattlebere liked to inflict pain but he was a coward about taking it; the vice anglais had never appealed to him. He could not understand why anyone should want to be given pain; women were different, they were there to be used, and made to do as they were told.
And Mary was now further away from him again because her damned brother had found the cabbage to pay off his debts.


Chapter 14

Arthur was profoundly grateful to Toby, and fully planned to repay him as soon as possible. Being a young man who had been brought up to be alive to his responsibilities, he proceeded to pay off all his debts, and refuse any more games, on the grounds that he did not have the funds. His mother had done her best to spoil him, but as her best efforts were rather haphazard, he was naturally a less frivolous youth than he might have been. Lady Evesham disliked the messier side of children, or anything which cost her effort. It was bad enough having to do the child bearing without having to do anything other than pose prettily with the heir for visitors, and demonstrate her devotion by feeding him sweetmeats. Since his nurse promptly confiscated most of the unsuitable treats when they were sent to the nursery, Arthur never realised how his affection was supposed to be bought by his doting mother, and gave his affection largely to his sensible nurse maid and then to his affable tutor.
Indeed, Arthur was wondering whether to return to his father, and confess all, explaining how he had budgeted his anticipated allowance to pay off the loan.
As it happened, he saw his sister’s arrival in town with Lady Remington just as he was thinking of leaving, and by luck they appeared to be lodging in the same street as he was. Arthur ran outside, almost forgetting his hat, in order to embrace Mary warmly.
“Arthur! Do leave me with some breath!” giggled Mary.
“Mary! Why are you embracing strange young men?” demanded Amabel.
Mary laughed.
“My brother is hardly strange, Aunt Amabel,” she said. “Have you never met him? This is Arthur Eves, Lord Birkenhewe, if you want his full title.”
Arthur found himself regarded through Lady Remington’s quizzing glass.
“Delighted, I’m sure,” she said.
“How-de-do, Lady Remington?” said Arthur. “Didn’t know we were related.”
“We ain’t, but I’ve adopted your sister as my niece,” said Lady Remington.
“She’s thriving on it, I’m not sure how it is but she looks much brighter,” said Arthur.
Mary, clad in an Indian chintz petticoat and matching jacket with peplum, and a big mob-cap with outsize ribbons, definitely looked better than a girl clad modestly as a governess.
“Fine feathers make a fine bird, Artie,” said Mary. “And this chintz is not only fine, it’s cool in summer, and washes easily.”
“By Jove! I wouldn’t mind a waistcoat in that stuff,” said Arthur, examining the cloth through his own quizzing glass. There were only three colours, the cream ground and a tangle of fantastic flowers and leaves printed in sage green and red, but it was very effective.
“Why, Artie, I will be delighted to make you one; there is some fabric over,” said Mary. “If you do not mind, Ma’am?”
“An excellent idea,” said Amabell. “And not so hot to wear as something with heavy embroidery.”
“I do like the prince’s dimity waists,” said Arthur. “But that’s damned pretty fabric, my dear! Are you coming to join Mr. Davenport?”
“Oh, do you know Mr. Davenport?” Mary’s face lit up and Arthur decided he must see Davenport and tell him there was not much chance his suit would fail.
“Lud, yes, actually I owe him a favour,” said Arthur. A favour sounded better to females than owing money, they got unreasonably dismal about money. “Saved me from a card sharp.”
“Oh, Mr. Davenport is very skilled at mathematics, he understands the work of Pascal and probability,” said Mary.
“Didn’t know you’d even heard of such things, sis,” said Arthur. “That explains a lot, though. Never was much good at mathematics. One of the things that would stop me getting my degree if it wasn’t for having a title.”
Mary stared.
“Do you mean they award degrees for substandard work just because you have a title?”
“Lud yes; how else would half the idiots who have degrees have them? Gives those with brains the chance to rise and ensures the rest of us get to meet chaps who can do the real work but without losing face,” said Arthur. “At least I go to most of the lectures and turn in work, which some chaps don’t.”
“If I had the opportunity to go to university and learn enough to earn a degree I would not squander it!” cried Mary.
“Now don’t be so unfeminine at me,” said Arthur, in lively horror.
“I wish I’d been born a boy,” said Mary. “Papa might have sent me to university and trained me to be your steward. Then I shouldn’t have had to have been a governess and be pawed by my employer’s horrid brother. ”
“You’d probably be good at it. Well, anyway, you ain’t a boy and just have to make the best of it. I say, what’s this about being pawed?”
Mary shrugged, and explained about the behaviour of James Black.
“Well, demme if I don’t knock him down,” said Arthur. “Unless Davenport does it first.”
“I haven’t told him about Black,” said Mary.
“Well, I might have a chance to knock the fellow down first, then,” said Arthur.
Arthur helped Mary and Lady Remington to settle into their apartment, and discovered that his sister planned to bathe in the sea and that her ladyship did not.
“I had planned on going back to Wiltshire to Papa,” he said, “But I can stay in Brighton for a while if you want an escort, when Davenport is having to dance attendance on the Prince of Wales.”
“I think you should go home, Arthur,” said Mary. “Papa will be pleased to see you.”
“That’s true,” said Arthur. He heaved a sigh. “And actually, Mary, I got into some real trouble with gambling, not just a sharp, and Toby Davenport saved my bacon. I think it would be a good idea not to have the temptation to gamble again.”
Mary kissed him on the cheek.
“Arthur, I am so proud of you for being so wise,” she said. Arthur flushed and looked pleased.
“Do you think it’s wise? I hoped it was, but I didn’t want you to think I was being yellow,” he said.
“I do think it’s wise, and I think it’s braver to make a decision to walk away than to let yourself be persuaded to do what other young men think you should,” said Mary. “There are some foolish young men, and I’m glad you aren’t one of them.”
“Thanks, Mary,” said Arthur, in relief. “Papa keeps telling me that I have a responsibility to the earldom, as his heir and for the first time, I am actually feeling it. I’d always thought he was fussing, but suddenly I was panicking that I was going to be a drain on the estate and I don’t want that. You don’t recoup the losses by hanging on and keeping playing, not unless you understand the mathematics of it like Toby does.”
Mary embraced him.
“I should start calling you ‘Birkenhewe’ because you really fit the title now,” she teased.
“Over my dead body, m’dear,” said Arthur. “Well, well! Too late to set out now, but I’ll bid you ladies adieu and I’ll be leaving first thing in the morning.”
“I wish you a good journey,” said Mary. “Thank you so much for helping us move in.”
“I’m so glad to have run into you, and to meet Lady Remington,” said Arthur, bowing as he took his leave.

oOoOo

Toby was humming happily to himself as he wandered over to the Marine Pavillion.
“Ah, Davenport!” Prince George was expansive. “Hear you’ve made another enemy?”
“Not at all, highness; I have just renewed the acquaintance of one who was already a close personal adversary,” said Toby.
“Close personal adversary? Ho ho, I like that,” the prince chuckled. “Cheating though … a man who will cheat at cards will stop at nothing.”
“I know,” said Toby. “I had a swordstick made for me when I first came to London, and as well as the cane acting as a scabbard, it’s shod with an iron ferrule and braced with decorative metal tracery so I can use it to parry an attack or even as a main gauche if I am set upon by bravos. My man is also a very skilful boxer.”
“Main gauche eh? I thought that skill had gone out of fashion.”
“My cousin took some lessons in fencing in Italy, and passed them on,” said Toby. “I’m not in his class, by any means, but though I have little in the way of style, elegance or panache, and a dozen other Italian words Angelo would tell you that I lack, I fancy I can handle any two brigands with ease, maybe three.”
“Good, I’m glad to hear it. I have asked a few of the garrison here keep an eye on you, but it’s not a formal request, and they do have their duties.”
“That’s very good of you, sir, and I appreciate it.” Toby was touched. “Mattlebere is a scoundrel, and he’s already tried to lay lewd hands on the lady I purpose to marry, if she’ll have me.”
“Rescued her, did you? Should think that would do your credit good!”
Toby laughed.
“I don’t say she wasn’t glad to see me, but she’d already routed him horse and foot by the expedient of a poker. She’s a capable lady.”
“Well, well, resourceful, capable and a poetess, I fear I shall lose you to her,” said the prince.
“Yes, sir, you probably will,” said Toby, candidly. “I left Lady Remington hustling her off to her country retreat, which is as luxurious as I could ever imagine but the highlight of the social scene is the scandal of whether or not the butcher lays part of his extensive belly on the scales when weighing out meat in order to give short measure, or whether the milliner uses inferior dyes on her ostrich feathers causing more than one young lady to suffer the indignity of a green face in the rain.”
“Dear me! The poor girl will be bored to tears!”
“Well I am hoping that when I retire there in a few weeks she will consider me welcome relief from tedium,” said Toby. “Aunt Amabel was certainly talking about a hunter’s ball come the Autumn but I should like to see Mary, er, Miss Heatherington, before then so that I have some chance of cutting out the local sprigs.”
“Ha, just spread the story of the poker, and they’ll all shab off in fear,” said the prince.
“Now that might even work, thank you, sir,” said Toby.
He spent some time with the prince and those of his friends who could also manage to rise before noon, and then strolled down to the Steyne.
He was amazed to see Lady Remington and Mary.
“Stap me! Aunt Amabel; Miss Heatherington!” he said, doffing his hat hurriedly. “Your servant! What are you … sorry, that sounded rude. What brings you to Brighthelmstone?”
“A carriage and four,” said Mary, with a straight face.
“No, really? I should have thought my aunt needed at least a coach and six,” said Toby, equally straight faced. “Plus a baggage train enough to supply the army in India.”
“Impudence,” said Lady Remington, chuckling. “No, we came in a carriage and four and another for the servants and baggage, which is to say, as we were travelling light, my dresser, that girl Marie, a footman and the coachman’s boy drove the second carriage with hired horses. I don’t keep eight, but you can’t deny it’s handy to have a second carriage.”
“I hope you pay your taxes accordingly,” said Toby, gravely.
“Probably; it’s why I employ a factor,” said Lady Remington. “The skill with figures came with Lucifer’s heritance, not my side of the family.”
“Are you subtly reminding me, ma’am, that I’m not actually your relative?” asked Toby.
Lady Remington fluttered her fan and managed to make it a contemptuous dismissal of such an idea.
“I prefer to choose my family,” she said. “And scurrilous old devil that he was, I always rather liked my sister’s father-in-law, for he never took offence when I was a green girl and accidentally called him ‘Lucifer’ to his face. Told me I had spirit, and I didn’t dare not call him Lucifer after that. And I’ve always liked his offspring and their families. There’s a charm of manner to the lot of you which isn’t studied, not like some rakes, who have ‘charming’ plastered over them so carefully you can smell the lard of it.”
“Did you just call me a rake, Aunt Amabel?” teased Toby.
“No, foolish boy; just pointing out that Lucifer was a rake because he had only to smile that sweet smile you all have to have women at his feet, and he was susceptible enough never to say no. Unlike those rakes who have to polish their seduction techniques.”
Mary giggled.
“Mattlebere hasn’t got any techniques or even false charm.”
“Oh he has, when he is trying to seduce someone he realises is a lady,” said Toby. “I understand perfectly, Aunt Amabel, he has a veneer of charm, not the charm of a pleasant personality, and he puts it on like he applies his patches, with great care as to the placement, and a hope that it won’t slip.”
“Exactly,” said Lady Remington.
“Oh, and Mr. Davenport, and talking of scoundrels, I wanted to thank you for getting my brother out of a scrape,” said Mary. “He didn’t go into details, but he said there was a card sharp.”
Toby frowned.
“And the card sharp was that same Mattlebere,” he said. “And as I exposed him in public he is going to be pretty well ostracised, and he won’t take that well. There have been those who would give him time of day for the sake of his old and respected title, who will shun him now, and he is likely to seek revenge. I don’t have to tell you, Miss Heatherington, not to go off with strange men who tell you I am in trouble, do I?”
“Not after Amy showed me how she deduced that the letter she received from Marguerite’s lover, whose name escapes me, was a hoax,” said Mary. “I fancy I didn’t cut my eye teeth yesterday! But perhaps as we are here, in the middle of the street and harder for anyone to eavesdrop on us, you might suggest a code word either of us might use if there is a real message.”
“By Jove, that’s sharp of you,” said Toby. “Well, now, Miss Heatherington, you are acquainted with mathematics, what we shall do is to write out the first four lines of Pascal’s triangle, with which I am sure you are acquainted.”
“I am, indeed, Mr. Davenport. An excellent idea, because to someone who is not acquainted with Pascal’s work it would be meaningless. I am sure it would be possible to develop a code further to indicate that one was writing under duress, for example, or had suspicions that one’s note was intercepted.”
“What fun!” said Toby.
“Surely you are not expecting such nonsense?” demanded Amabel. “Moreover, if you wrote to Mary, I should expect to see the letter, and I refuse to let you write to her in any kind of code.”
“No, ma’am,” said Toby. “I do find codes and cyphers very interesting however.”
“One could base a code on the triangle, in underlining one of the numbers to indicate that, say, every fourth word was to be read and the rest so much nonsense,” said Mary. “Say, ‘I need your help, for I am tied up and cannot come as soon to your soirée as Mattlebere suggested.’ Which would read ‘help, tied, come to Mattlebere.”
“Not half bad off the top of your head,” said Toby, impressed.
“What a load of nonsense you children do talk,” said Amabel.


Chapter 15

Toby had been given the address at which his aunt and Mary were staying; it took Lord Mattlebere longer to both discover that Mary was in Brighton and learn her direction. Had he not seen and recognised her stepping out with more confident steps than she had ever had before, on the Steyne, he would never have found out. Unfortunately he did see and recognise her.
Mary was stepping out, trailed by a footman and Marie, and was dressed in another Indian cotton petticoat and jacket. These were easier clothes to take on and off than a chemise a la reine as she planned to take to the waters. It took Mattlebere some time to realise where she was going as he followed discreetly behind. She entered the bathing carriage, with Marie to help her undress, the footman leaning against a wall, bored. It might be noted that Mattlebere did not recognise the maid, Marie, as his one-time maid and victim of rape, Hepzibah. A maid was just a maid. And Mary had made sure that Marie’s clothing did not show the slight bulge of her maid’s pregnant belly.
Mattlebere wondered how he might turn this situation to his advantage, and a slow, unpleasant smile slid across his face at a way in which he might make Mary Heatherington beholden to him. He went swiftly over to the footman.
“Her ladyship asked me to tell you to return home quickly; you are needed. I will escort Miss Heatherington home,” he said. The air of authority from an obvious gentleman made the footman pull himself upright, and with a quick ‘yessir’ he hurried off back to see what Lady Remington wanted.
The bathing carriages were like covered farm waggons, one entered at one end, and exited down steps at the other, having undressed and donned a bathing shift. There was a bathing assistant, and a horseman who was in charge of driving the contraption into the sea. Mattlebere approached the horseman, who was keeping the bored horses in hock deep water as the far end was in water deep enough to swim.
“Ten guineas if you take that thing right out of sight,” Mattlebere said.
“There’s a lady in the water, sir,” said the driver.
“I am desirous of showing her my swimming prowess,” said Mattlebere. It was the sort of lark that Prinny’s crowd might just pull, with intent of a most improper encounter with some lovely, and it was reasonable for the driver to suppose that the gentleman was courting the lady, who might not be averse to such high jinks.
The driver spat into the shallow part of the sea where the horses stoically waited, and went through the carriage. Mattlebere heard him say something, hopefully to the bathing assistant.
Shortly the man re-emerged and started to get the horses moving. He heard a yell from inside the carriage.
“What are you doing, you stupid man? My mistress is still in the sea!”
The maid was of no account, and Mattlebere tossed a clinking bag up to the driver.

oOoOo

Mary had politely but firmly declined aid from the bathing assistant, who, glad to stay dry had remained sitting on the steps of the machine until her driver had come through and said,
“You come up right now.”
And then the carriage began driving away, and Mary had to duck under water to avoid being hit by the canvas ‘tilt’ which extended out over the seaward end of the conveyance, to ensure some modesty for female swimmers.
Mary was shocked. However, she was, as she had told Amabel, a strong swimmer, and had no fears. The current, such as it was in still shallow waters, was from west to east, so Mary began a steady stroke towards the shore, heading to her left to counteract the current.
This was where Mattlebere made a serious miscalculation.
He had to wait long enough for the bathing machine to be well away, so there was a lone female in the water, and then he shouted,
“Don’t worry, Miss Heatherington! I’ll save you!” and kicking off his boots and taking off his coat, he ran into the waves and began swimming towards her.
Mary, aware of the current, having made enquiry beforehand, since she was more used to enclosed baths, seemed to be swimming directly to shore. Mattlebere, attempting to approach her directly, had the frustration of finding himself heading in the general direction of Kent. Mary, recognising his voice, if not the figure floundering in the waves, ignored him. There were plenty of bathing places where someone might help him to shore, and she had no intention of letting him come near to her. She felt the shore beneath her, and stood up, crossing her arms across her chest in agitation for being half-naked in public, especially for the way her shift became transparent. Marie had leaped out of the bathing machine and was running across to her mistress, with a towel.
“That wicked man took a bribe to drive away!” she cried, wrapping Mary in the towel. “I promised him that if he does not put it in the poor box, it will be Bow Street for him, for attempting the abduction of a minor!”
“Oh, very clever, Marie,” said Mary. “And it could be looked on that way, that he was an accessory. I wish to dress quickly and get away from here; I fear such an incident has quite given me a distaste for bathing.”
“Not as much as it has to Lord Mattlebere; it was him, you know, and he’s halfway down the beach, look,” said Marie.
Mattlebere was struggling back to shore, a distant figure.
“I hope his smallclothes shrink for the wetting and crush his ardour,” said Mary, viciously. Marie giggled. They got back into the bathing machine, both glaring at the driver and the bathing assistant as they passed them. Indeed the female assistant was berating the driver in such terms as made it apparent that they were married. Words like ‘stupid clunch’ and ‘losing our reputation’ came to the ears of the two women, who hoped that this meant that Mary might dress without further mishap.
Mary stepped sedately out of the front of the bathing machine.
“I fear you have forfeited a gratuity,” she said, gravely. “Don’t ever do that again.”
“No, ma’am,” said the chastened driver. One side of his face had finger marks on it; his good lady had not been best pleased.

oOoOo

“Reckon the lady didn’t need rescuing, squire,” said the fisherman who pulled the exhausted Mattlebere into his boat.
“Damn you,” said Mattlebere.
“It’s all the same to me, I can throw you back in if you start lipping at me,” shrugged the fisherman.
“I… I’m sorry, thank you,” growled Mattlebere, who might not be sorry but he was grateful for the help. He had a few sovereigns in his purse and handed them over.
“Well that is civil, squire,” said the fisherman.
Mattlebere still had the feeling that the man and his crew were laughing up their sleeves at him.
He was right.
They put him ashore before dissolving into gales of laughter and taking the story to spread in their local, whence some of his gratuity might be put to good effect.
The rest would make up for an interrupted fishing trip.

oOoOo

“Oh Mr. Davenport! I am glad to see you!” Mary was agitated, and glad to run into the tall figure of Toby. “Mattlebere just tried to drown me!”
“What? Tell me all about it, my darling!” Toby took both of Mary’s hands in his. She gave him a watery smile.
“Oh, Mr. Davenport, how very forward you are!” she said. As her tone was not disapproving in the least, Toby did not let go of her hands. “I went bathing. You know there are bathing carts?”
“Yes, stupid idea, why not just swim out from the beach like the men do?” said Toby. He moved to tuck Mary’s arm into his so he might escort her.
“Mr. Davenport! The men swim n…naked, and further up the beach, but a woman in a wet shift is exposed to all eyes!”
“There is that. I wouldn’t mind seeing you in a wet shift but I’d darken the daylights of any other fellow who laid eyes on you,” admitted Toby. “How did he come to try to drown you?”
“He paid the driver of the bathing cart to drive away,” said Mary. “Then he swam out, shouting that he would save me.”
“Damned cheek!” said Toby. “He might not have been trying to drown you, you know.”
“Well, what else would he be up to?”
“Apart from a good fondle of your almost naked body? Possibly he meant to put you in his debt. He seems to have something against your family, with his efforts against your brother.”
“Yes, I’m glad Arthur has gone home. Well if he meant to save me he should have ascertained how good a swimmer I am.”
“Most women ain’t,” said Toby. “You’re unusual. I gather you evaded his attempt?”
Mary giggled, a little hysterically.
“Yes, for I was compensating for the current, and he wasn’t, and he was being slowly but inexorably carried down the coast. I should think he’d not drown though. He must be a strong swimmer if he thought that he could rescue anyone forcibly, though why he’d think anyone would need rescuing in four foot of water is anyone’s guess.”
“Oh, I should think he’ll manage. And if not, well the lobsters will be happy for the treat,” said Toby. “Did you want me to find out if he was saved?”
“I’m not that bothered one way or the other,” said Mary. “Only I want to know what happened to my footman.”
“Yes, by Jove! I’d like to know what happened to your footman too, and isn’t that him hurrying towards you? Looks like Aunt Amabel’s livery.”
“It is. Jenkyns! Whatever were you thinking of, leaving me like that?”
The man looked woebegone, and wove his fingers in and out of themselves in agitation.
“Oh, Miss! The Mistress has already rung a peal over me and sent me back to find you, for being stupid and gullible! Only when the gent said my mistress had need of me, I thought it would be something quick and I could return before you finished bathing. I am sorry, I hope nothing untoward occurred.”
“Well, actually, yes it did,” said Mary. “I have no doubt it was the same ‘gentleman’ who told you lies who attempted to molest me, and I am not pleased.”
“Oh, gawd help us!” cried the footman.
“At the moment, I’m angry enough to think you might need divine intervention, but I suppose you cannot help having been taken in by a plausible rogue. Mr. Davenport is lending me escort back to my aunt’s lodging; pray fall in behind us with Marie.”
“Yes miss!”
Jenkyns was happy to fall in behind Mary until he discovered how thoroughly Marie, who had been very much frightened, intended to bend his ear on the matter. He endured a lecture in whispered shouting until they reached the austere house where Amabel and her charge were staying.
Amabel heard all about Mary’s experience in grim silence.
“That’s it; no more sea bathing,” she said.
“I’ll see if I can’t arrange for Miss Heatherington to bathe with Mrs. Fitzherbert,” said Toby. “You may be assured that she isn’t interrupted by lewd fellows when she is bathing!”
“Except the Prince of Wales?” asked Amabel, cynically.
“Devil a bit,” said Toby. “She bathes with the other ladies of his highness’ court and that’s a time of privacy for them. I don’t doubt you’ll hear gossip that makes your hair curl, Miss Heatherington, but you’d be safe.”
“Oh, well, I have always longed for curly hair,” Mary giggled. “Is it really so shocking?”
“Not having been a party to it, I don’t know, but I know some of the women can be … forthright,” said Toby.
“If Toby can arrange that, it will assuage your disappointment but be aware, dear Amy picked up some rather ripe language from them,” said Amabel. “They might some of them hold titles, but they ain’t all ladies if you ask me!”

oOoOo

The ladies surrounding the Prince of Wales were happy to invite the chosen lady of the favourite of the moment to join them, and if they bathed embarrassingly close to the prince and his party, at least the watchful eyes of the prince’s bodyguard kept anyone else well away. Toby firmly ducked one of the prince’s adherents who swore to swim around and see if he couldn’t catch a glimpse of the new lovely, was ducked back, and came to the conclusion that the Carlton House Set might as well be overgrown schoolboys from Eton. At least their prurient efforts were unlikely to be followed up by ungentlemanly behaviour, as the prince had his standards. However hard it might be to define them to anyone outside the set.
“I don’t believe you have any kind of agenda or side to you at all,” said Mrs. Fitzherbert, wonderingly, as Mary cheerfully helped her to brush her hair after bathing. Most of the ladies did not care to get their hair wet, but the outsize mob caps they wore did necessitate a good brushing of their locks. Marie rinsed the salt out of Mary’s hair, and brushed it out at home when it had dried, and Mary had a special bonnet lined with huckaback towelling to help her hair dry on the way home, courtesy of Marie’s nimble fingers in making a discreet lining from a towel, and concealing it.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t understand,” Mary answered Mrs. Fitzherbert.
“No, you probably do not. It’s rather nice,” said Mrs. Fitzherbert. “You are happy to run little errands, and perform little tasks without thinking of how it might bring you favours.”
“You have already done me a most tremendous favour in permitting me to bathe with you,” said Mary. “I am very grateful. And I always like to be useful.”
“You are a delightful girl, and I hope nobody ever takes away your nice natural manners and shows you how to be cynical,” sighed the older woman.
“Oh, I have my moments of cynicism; I’ve been a governess,” said Mary. “And however briefly I may have held that position it has taught me a great deal about the wickedness of the world.”
“There, child, a bit of knowledge of the world is probably a good thing; innocence and ignorance are not the same. But you’re not grasping, and it’s a breath of fresh air.”
“I don’t think I could ask favours like I’ve heard some of the women asking quite shamelessly,” said Mary. “I’d be embarrassed to do so. I do things for people because I want to, and I am glad that Mr. Davenport is well enough liked that you have accepted me for his sake.”
“And he doesn’t ask much either,” said Mrs. Fitzherbert. “George could probably arrange for him to be placed somewhere that a viscounty would be inevitable, but Mr. Davenport is pleased to make his own way, and I admire that. I think you make an admirable couple.”
Mary blushed.
“Nothing is settled or official yet,” she demurred.
“Heh, well, the pair of you smell of April and May to the rest of us,” Maria Fitzherbert patted Mary on the cheek. “And I wish you both the best. I also advise you both to stay well away from court, including George’s own court. Perhaps especially George’s court.”
“I have a feeling Mr. Davenport is looking forward to retiring to the country,” said Mary.
“Sensible man,” the prince’s mistress nodded approval. “There is something about this society which corrupts,” she sighed.
“But it is exciting for a short while,” said Mary.
“Oh, that I quite agree! If I had known what I know now when I first met the prince, I should perhaps have fled, but the die is cast, and I cannot bear to be apart from him.”
Mary gave the older woman a spontaneous embrace, which said what could not be put into words about the fragile position of a royal mistress.
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