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Ace of Schemes 16-18

November 11, 2017 07:35PM
thanks all for your good wishes, and for finding typos! I am starting to feel better than I have done for a long while, and I’m making haste slowly so as not to knock myself back. The herbs seem to be doing the trick, I’m on grapefruit, hibiscus tea and cinnamon and any other suggestions for blood pressure are greatfully accepted.

Chapter 16

It may be said that it had been in getting to know Marguerite that had made Mary more sensitive to Mrs. Fitzherbert’s position, and she wrote as much to Marguerite.
“I cannot believe I would have been so insensitive if we had not had so many cosy chats,” wrote Mary. “Mrs. F. is a lovely person, but I would not have found out if I had not known what a dear person you are, for I should have been nervous to even speak to her. But I have learned to abandon my prejudices and look at people for themselves, I hope. It is so unfair that society condemns people with slightly irregular relationships. There are people who are legitimate, highly born and thoroughly nasty, like Lord Mattlebere, and they are considered acceptable, at least, Mattlebere is no longer accepted in society since he tried to cheat at cards with my brother, which Mr. Davenport uncovered, and that he caused me potential peril, and Mr. Davenport says that he wanted to look a hero in my eyes. He must think me blind. I must tell you all about it ...” and Mary told Marguerite of her adventures. Marguerite smiled rather to herself to see how often the words ‘Mr. Davenport says...’ appeared.
Marguerite wrote back, and if her writing was not as well spelled as Mary’s, she was making an effort.
“My dear Mary,
I am glad to heer that you are safe. Mattlebere is bad news. Try not to be alone anywear or anytime, becors he don’t take failure light, and he will try and get back at you. He holds a grudje for a long time.
Your loving friend, Marguerite.”


oOoOo

Toby continued to dance attendance on his prince, squiring Mary to such events as he felt would not shock her too much. He suggested that she find a previous engagement to a masquerade ball; he knew that it was likely to become rather wild.
“Licentious behaviour,” said Amabel, disapprovingly.
“That, and worse,” said Toby. “I’m not sure I want to go, if I can wriggle out of it. Moreover, I’m trying to track down someone who will help me fulfil a promise.”
“Is it a secret, or can you tell us?” asked Mary.
“I ... no, I don’t think it’s a secret,” said Toby. “I know of a fellow who cheats at Faro, I presume by shuffling the cards in such a way that he knows how they are going to fall, since it’s pure chance. Can’t see the appeal in the game myself, but I have a friend who has lost a lot to this wretched fellow. And I’ve been trying to teach myself how to shuffle in this way and I’m making a mull of it. I need a reformed card sharp, I suppose. But I’m not sure how to go about finding one.”
“Why don’t you seek out someone who does card tricks on stage?” suggested Mary.
“Mary! You’re a genius!” said Toby, planting a kiss full on her mouth.
“Toby! Stop manhandling Miss Heatherington this minute!” said Amabel.
“Sorry, Miss Heatherington, sorry, Aunt Amabel,” said Toby.
“I’m not sorry, I rather liked it,” said Mary.
“Don’t be forward; he ain’t come up to scratch yet,” said Amabel.
“I was waiting for a way to extricate myself from Prinny’s company,” said Toby. “I’ve amassed a small fortune, but I still have certain obligations, like Widburgh’s problem.”
“I’m glad you’ve been so fortunate, you want to quit while you’re ahead?” asked Mary.
“It’s not fortune, my girl, it’s skill, and I want to quit before I go insane with boredom,” said Toby. “You see, having the advantage of understanding the way the cards and the dice fall means that I have a similar advantage to whoever holds the bank in a number of games,” he explained. “This is how any gaming house, even a strictly fair one like Marguerite’s, wins. Because ultimately, the odds are stacked in favour of the bank, and if the advantage is small, nobody minds. But it accrues steadily. I’ve been doing the same; accruing steadily. But because I haven’t beggared anyone in a night’s play, nobody minds me. In fact, I think some of them still think me an ingenuous young man whose wins are coincidence,” he laughed. “And once I’ve sorted out this cheating faro player, I can find a graceful way to bow out,” said Toby. “To be honest, I’m finding nightly card games devilishly dull, and there’s no conversation to speak of once the cards come out. And the dinners are too lavish for my liking. Would you mind if we live in the country when we are married?”
“You still havn’t asked me to marry you, sir,” said Mary, reproachfully.
“I havn’t? That’s remiss of me,” said Toby, dropping to one knee. “Dear ma’am, will you do me the honour to be my wife?”
“Most certainly I will … Toby,” said Mary, blushing.
“Good. What sort of betrothal token would you like?”
“I admired a cameo Mrs. Fitzherbert has, with her face and that of the prince on it,” said Mary. “I don’t know that I am bothered about it being portraits, but a cameo brooch in a heart-shaped setting would be nice.”
“And would take less time to acquire as well,” said Toby. “Why don’t you and Aunt Amabel go and stay with Lucius and Amy, and establish residence for three weeks while I extricate myself from the toils of the prince and his friends, and we can be married by my father as soon after the banns have been called as we might?”
“I should like that,” said Mary. “You had better tell his highness that you need to seek permission from my father, which will give you the opportunity to be out of town while you seek out a performer of perfect prestidigitation for the pursuance of the perfidy of ... er, sorry, ran out of alliteration for card sharp.
“I do love you,” said Toby.
Amabel cleared her throat.
“Inappropriate to get too amorous before you have Evesham’s permission,” she said. “Mind, if he’s got any sense he’ll say yes.”
“Whoever said Evesham had any sense?” said Toby. “He marries a besom, and treats his only daughter shabbily, where’s the sense in that?”
“He has been very generous to me,” said Mary.
“Generous? He’s educated you in a hole-in-the-corner way in a small seminary in Bath for curate’s daughters, and it’s only luck that you have as good a head preceptress as you have. He’s let you be at the beck and call of all over the holidays, if I read correctly between the lines, and he’s let his wife pack you off with malice aforethought to a gorgon of a female who could shatter glass at twenty paces with her voice and has the soul of an abbess, uh, sorry Aunt Amabel,” as that worthy drew out her lorgnette to intimidate him at that piece of vernacular.
“I ... I love my brothers and my father,” said Mary. “He ... he’s easily intimidated when all he wants is a quiet life.”
“Yes, if he’d been widowed, he’d have married your mother, who would doubtless have been a delightful stepmama to your brothers,” said Toby.
“Oh, they all run to her in trouble, not to their mother,” said Mary. “But how could you know?”
“My mother told me that you know a woman through knowing her mother, and I imagine that it works the other way round,” said Toby. “Of course there’s the influence of Miss Preston in there as well, but so warm a nature as yours, my dear, must come from a warm natured mother.”
“She is. And at least Papa put his foot down and said that Lady Evesham might not make her life difficult, or sack her, and I think that rankles with her ladyship too,” said Mary.
“More than likely; she knows who the real mistress of the house is, and it’s the housekeeper,” said Toby. “Of course, as your father hasn’t formally adopted you, he has no say in your future, and I can just ask your mother, but I’d as soon have his consent too. More certain in law, and more courteous. I’ll call on your mother while I’m there.”
“Thank you, Toby,” sad Mary.


oOoOo

Arthur Eves, Viscount Birkenhew, squared his shoulders and knocked on his father’s study door. At the permission to enter, he went in, and stood nervously in front of his father’s desk.
“What is it, Arti?” asked the earl.
“I ... I am not in trouble any longer, but I thought I ought to confess what I did, and let you know,” said Arthur. “I was a most dreadful fool, father, and but for a good friend in need, I should have been sunk.”
“I think you had better tell me it all,” said Evesham. “Sit down, boy; I’m not going to eat you. And if you are no longer in trouble, even if I am angry with what you have done, I’m also proud of your courage in coming to me.”
“Thank you sir; Toby, Mr. Davenport said you’d think more of me if I was totally honest,” said Arthur, naively. “And I knew he was right. I guess he has a rather decent pater as well, to know such things. And the beginning was only a small thing ...”
“Trouble usually begins with small things,” sighed Evesham.
Arthur spoke quietly, but firmly, not sparing himself as he explained how he had behaved foolishly, and had let himself be persuaded that he could recoup his losses.
“And at that I might not have lost so much had not the fellow been a ruddy cheat!” he said, angrily. “He was marking the cards, and Toby saw it, and read off the cards without turning them over. And Mattlebere has been pretty much ostracised by society, he don’t dare meet Toby, who’s supposed to be a famous swordsman, though he told me he’s nothing next to his cousin, Lord Rokemere.”
“A cousin of Rokemere’s eh? Well they’re ten a penny but if he’s on terms with Rokemere, not a bad friend to have,” said Evesham, who had been wondering who this Toby Davenport might be.
“Yes, and he knows m’sister through the viscountess and he wants to marry her,” said Arthur. “He said he’d wait until she was of age if he had to, and that I was to consider his help to be merely what any brother would do.”
“Bailed you out, did he?” said Evesham.
“Yes, and I’ve worked out a scheme with my allowance to pay him back, if you aren’t going to stop it for my foolishness,” said Arthur. “I know he’d make it a gift, but I wouldn’t want that hanging over me.”
“The first wise thing you’ve done in this affair,” said his father. “The second was in coming to me. How much do you owe Davenport?”
“Seven thousand,” said Arthur, in trepidation.
His father relaxed.
“That’s ... that’s not as bad as I had feared,” he said.
“He gave me the money I had lost to the cheat at that table or it would have been more,” said Arthur. “Said it was mine by right, and I wasn’t about to argue.”
“No, quite, and a fitting punishment to the fellow,” said Evesham. “Very well, I’ll go over your calculations with you; I think it’s quite a fitting punishment for you to pay back Mr. Davenport from your own monies and have to limit yourself for a while, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir, and I never was going to ask you to pay him, so please don’t think I would,” said Arthur.
“Don’t be so stiff-rumped,” said Evesham. “I know you’d come to me if it was a debt of honour that could not be paid any other way. Was there any way he suggested?”
“No, sir! Or ... he did mention that he believed that I have a very pretty sister. But surely ....” he looked aghast. “And Toby said that Mattlebere had already tried to assault her, and she saw him off with a poker until Toby arrived and knocked him down.”
“I see,” said Evesham. “Did he really think I would fail to protect her if this wretched card sharp suggested you put her up as a stake?”
Arthur shrugged.
“Well she had a pretty loathsome time with that Carruthers female, being pawed by the woman’s brother, whom I’m planning on knocking down at some point if Toby don’t do it first,” he said. “I asked her about it.”
“I am sure your mother would not send her to such a place on purpose,” said Evesham.
“Lud, sir, you don’t have to be careful on my account: I know fine well how spiteful Mama can be when she feels put out, and she hates Mary with a passion for existing and reminding her that you tolerate her, but love Mrs. Heatherington,” said Arthur.
Evesham sat back in his chair, stunned.
“Is my life so transparent?” he asked, bitterly.
“Well, I do live here,” said Arthur. “And m’brothers and I run to Heatherhoney, I mean, Mrs. Heatheringon, when we have problems because Mama wouldn’t want to be bothered with them. You are going to say Mary can marry Toby, aren’t you? He’s a great gun.”
“Is that just gratitude speaking?”
“Devil a bit, sir, he gave me a regular parson’s pi-jaw, but in the sort of way you can’t resent it. He’s making his fortune gambling because he understands mathematics, and he called me ‘dear boy’,” he said. “I don’t think he’s much older than me, but he’s seen more of the world.”
Evesham frowned.
“Not sure I want Mary to marry a gamester,” he said.
“Oh, he ain’t, sir; just staying in the game long enough to make his fortune,” said Arthur. “I don’t think he’s reckless.”
“Well, I will see, when he brings himself to ask my permission,” said Evesham.


Chapter 17

The Prince of Wales was nothing if not a romantic, and enthusiastically gave Toby permission to be absent long enough to ask for his lady’s hand in marriage. Toby did not mention that he had also set his man, Brunwin, to make enquiries about stage acts involving cards and shuffling tricks.
It so happened that as he was on his way out of town, Toby saw an itinerant street vendor, cutting likenesses of people out of black paper, attempting to sell them. Toby sat for his likeness.
“If I give you the address of a young lady, can you take a likeness of her without her knowing, and deliver it to a jeweller’s shop?” asked Toby.
“Certainly, milord,” said the silhouette-cutter.
“Good; there’s a little jewellers’ shop off the Steyne.
“I know it, milord.”
“Then I’ll pay you in advance to take her likeness and take it there,” said Toby. He took his own likeness to the jewellers’ to ascertain that they could use that, and the picture which would be brought to them to cut a cameo; and was ready to leave in a much better frame of mind, for having been able to find a means to make a personal love token rather than a generic one.
Toby made his way into the country, on the principle that Lord Evesham was rarely to be found far from his country seat.
Evesham’s seat was a gracious mansion built before the craze for the Palladian style took hold, but after the distinctive brickwork mansions of the Tudors. Built in the reign of Queen Anne, the brickwork mansion had an advanced central section, three windows wide, topped with a brick pediment, and with reticulated stonework around the arched windows. It extended at each side from the foremost part of it, rather than having wings reaching forward as in the Tudor style, and sprawled indolently across the countryside as though it were entitled to as much land as it wanted. The Evesham of the time had been close to the Duke of Marlborough before his fall from favour, and had doubtless managed to get more than his fair share of loot from Marlborough’s campaigns, thought Toby, cynically.
Toby rode towards the house, and a well-trained ostler came to greet him. Toby dismounted, and slipped the man an appropriate vail.
“I don’t know how long I’ll be, but she’ll want cooling, anyway,” he said. The ostler touched his cap and nodded. Toby advanced to the front door, wishing that his mouth was not so dry, and his heart hammering so painfully in his chest.
He gave his name to the forbidding butler, and was led straight away to a study, and announced.
“Arthur put in a word for me, I assume, sir, as you’re expecting me,” said Toby, bowing punctiliously.
“He says you want to marry Mary,” said the earl. “Be seated, and tell me why I should let my daughter marry a gamester.”
Toby took a seat, and regarded his host with interest. He saw a thin, almost ascetic man with the look of a scholar.
“Dear me,” said Toby. “Isn’t it a little late to be concerned about who she marries when she’s been living with a woman who threw her onto the street with all her baggage, and called her a whore for begging aid from a passer by she happened to know, to wit, me?”
“What?” Evesham was startled.
“When I came upon Miss Heatherington in London, she was sitting on her trunk fighting back tears because her employer had assumed she was being insolent to say it was a shame the children had not got the opportunity to see farm animals,” said Toby. “That same employer came out and started calling your daughter a whore for answering me when I greeted her and asked what the problem was. I ... got rid of her,” he added grimly, “and took Miss Heatherington to my aunt, Lady Remington, who had already met her when she was chaperoning the future Viscountess Rokemere, who is, as you might recall, a friend of your daughter.”
“I ... dear me, Amabel Remington made no mention of this,” said Evesham.
“No, I don’t suppose she did,” said Toby. “My aunt is of the opinion that if you have abrogated your responsibility for your daughter, you have lost the right to know where she is or what has happened. I, however, am of the opinion that you would not have permitted Mary to go to such a place if you had known what it was like.”
Evesham actually wrung his hands.
“I thought she had left voluntarily because of being pawed by her employer’s brother, that Arthur told me about!”
Toby’s eyes narrowed.
“I suppose she told Arthur not me because she did not think Arthur likely to stick three feet of steel into this fellow’s guts,” he said. “Whereas I confess that thought is very tempting.”
“Carruthers is a contact of mine; he is an importer,” said Evesham. “I will make it my business to make sure he has no contacts.”
“I suspect it’s his wife and her brother who are the ones at fault,” said Toby. “I’d find out more if I were you. If I were intemperate enough to blame the head of a household, I’d be blaming you for Mary’s miseries, wouldn’t I? And as she loves you dearly, I’d be wrong to do so.”
“I ... I know Marianne dislikes having my mistress’ daughter around, and I thought it would do her no harm to have some experience as a governess, I have left her provided for, if she does not want to live too extravagantly,” said Evesham.
Toby reflected in wry amusement that it was the place of the father to put the prospective son-in-law on the defensive, not the other way round.
“Well, if she plans to attend any functions held by Rokemere, she will have to put up with Mary being there as an honoured guest, as Amy’s friend as well as my wife. I purpose to marry Mary, even if I have to wait until she is of age. Though legally, as she’s not adopted, I could just ask her mother. But I thought it discourteous not to come to you, first, sir.”
“Er, yes, quite. But you are a gambler ...”
Toby held up a hand.
“I am temporarily using the skills of mathematics to advance my fortune through gambling. There is a difference. I approach it as a temporary vocation, not with the feverish need a gambler feels. I put away exactly half my fortune in the funds, and set out to gamble with the other half. Every time I reach a reasonable sum, I put half of it in the funds and use only what is left to continue. I have amassed several hundred thousand pounds. If I lost every game from now until I exhausted what I have set aside to gamble, I should have, at a conservative estimate, some £6000 a year to live on from the interest. I trust that is sufficient to keep your daughter in the state to which she would like to become accustomed?”
Evesham stared.
“It ... it is a princely income.”
Toby smiled.
“No, not really; the Prince of Wales probably spends that every month on his tailor alone,” he said. “But then, I was brought up to be careful with my money, and I wear my coats more than once, which Prinny only does with favourite outfits. But it would be more than sufficient to live in comfort, indeed, in luxury, since I have no urge to waste it on gambling having made enough for my needs as a suitor.”
“More than enough! Well, if you are indeed ready to give up gambling and settle down, I can have no objection, and must give you my blessing. You will permit me to pen a note to my daughter, and let her know she has my blessing?”
“Certainly, sir; and perhaps I might speak to her mother.”
“Yes; yes of course. Pray come to the blue salon, and I will ask her to join you.”

oOoOo


“Mrs. Heatherington; I would have been happy to wait upon you in the housekeeper’s room, rather than have you disturbed,” said Toby, doffing his hat, and bowing. “I came to ask your blessing on my suit of your daughter.”
“It’s up to the master,” said Mrs. Heatherington, flushing. She was still a handsome woman.
“I did ask him first, out of courtesy, but I don’t want you left out,” said Toby. “And if you wanted to come and live with us, as a guest, with your own suite of rooms, when I’ve found somewhere for us to live, then you would be welcome. I told Mary, Miss Heatherington, that to know the daughter is to know the mother, and I know I’d love to have you living with us.”
She flushed again.
“Edmund needs me,” she said.
Toby nodded.
“I understand,” he said, gravely. “You are a remarkable woman and I hope he appreciates you.”
“He does.”
“Then that must ameliorate a difficult position.”
“So long as I know that my girl is safe ....” her eyes searched his face, and she nodded, liking what she saw. “Cherish my Mary, sir; and if you ever hurt her, so help me, I will move heaven and earth to kill you.”
She did not expect to be embraced and kissed for that comment.
“I think I’m going to love my second Mama,” said Toby.

oOoOo

Brunwin met up with Toby at a pre-arranged inn.
“We’re in luck, squire,” he said. “I found a bloke, his name is Tommy Page, he shows people how thimble riggers do their business at fairs and he can make a pack of cards do everything except shine your boots and get supper.”
“He sounds an ingenious sort of man; where do we meet him?” asked Toby.
“Here; he’s in the neighbourhood, so we’re really in luck,” said Brunwin. “I bespoke the best rooms in the inn for us and him, and a private parlour, on account of how you ain’t going to be learning the business in an evening.”
“No, indeed; what’s his background?”
Brunwin snorted.
“Initially a pickpocket, as far as I can gather. I went to his show, see? He grew up on the streets but he was caught and adopted by a Quaker gent, and now he goes round showing people how to recognise cheating when they see it, and how to avoid getting their pockets picked. He’s a most ingenious dip, you don’t even see him at it when he demonstrates,” he added with reluctant admiration. “And to be honest, I was interested in that, too, because you see a lot of nips and foists at fighting bouts, when everyone is so interested in the fight they don’t notice being stripped of all their worldly goods.”
“I read in classical works that during gladiatorial contests, men could easily grope the women because they were so involved with the fights,” said Toby. “I always doubted that until I was going around with my cousin, and saw the fervid concentration on the faces of some of those in the audience, worse than spinsters listening to a hell-fire sermon.”
“Aye, and the women are the worst,” agreed Brunwin. “And they lose all their decorum; it ain’t for nothing that the custom is to have another pugilist or retired pugilist as your second, the ruddy women get downright lewd and a poor fighter can need protection.”
“I left that to Uncle Michael,” said Toby, “but I don’t doubt it! Well, I hope the show will help you advise your seconds how to handle thieves if you do decide to go back to the ring.”
“Not sure if I will, thinking on it, squire, if you’re happy with my services,” said Brunwin. “Keeping up by working out with you in the mornings is all very well, but I’m out of the scene, and I’m getting to like not being hurt. I had to give up a lot to nurse Ma, and now she’s dead, I don’t need the extra prizes. I eat well as your valet, and I have, generally, a decent place to sleep, and the wages pay for any extras I might want. I’m not greedy, and I have to say, I’m pretty content.”
“Really? Well that suits me well enough,” Toby was pleased. “We understand each other, and I’m not sure I could cope with some dentical fine valet who wants me to be poured into my coats and gets sniffy at me keeping up boxing and swordplay, and who would sniff at me wanting to talk to an entertainer about his craft.”
Brunwin nodded.
He had met a few of the valets to the Carlton House set and a stuck up bunch most of them were! Mr. Davenport didn’t want to be surrounded by a pack of fools like that!
The inn was a comfortable coaching inn, and Toby was quite satisfied with his room, which sported a comfortable bed and a well-beaten mattress of goose down, reminding Toby of his new friend Higgins, and his assertion that geese had to be plucked over the summer for their own comfort. The room was at the back, so not as subject to the noises of traffic, save when a carriage was brought through for folks to stay at the inn for more than a quick drink or hasty meal. The parlour, too, was adequate, not large, but nor was it stuffy, even in the summer heat. A window looked out to the east, shaded by a large apple tree at this time of year, and a fireplace on an inside wall promised cosiness on winter nights too. It was panelled, which also helped to keep the heat out in summer and in during the winter, and Toby thought that when he bought a house for himself and Mary, he would be swayed by this room in looking for something similar for his own sanctum.
Tom Page arrived in the parlour shortly before dinner was due to be served, and shook Toby’s hand.
“Mr. Davenport! Your man said you were hoping I could teach you certain tricks to catch out sharpers; I confess, I’m dubious, for it’s not something just anyone can learn. But I’m prepared to try if you’ll swear on the Bible that it is for the purposes of catching criminals only, and not to use for cheating others.”
“I’ll do that, willingly enough,” said Toby. “I might use it to entertain grandchildren when I have them, mind!”
“Oh, well, that goes without saying. You have children?”
“No, but I am engaged to be married!” said Toby, beaming.
Page frowned.
“I hope you won’t be risking too much, and putting your marriage in jeopardy with this endeavour, sir, if you forgive my presumption in mentioning it.”
“Oh, I don’t play with what I can’t afford to lose,” said Toby. “Gambling is a mug’s game, on the whole, I play by remembering the fall of cards and calculating the odds. Which is why I wouldn’t normally touch Faro, only a friend of mine has been burned by this fellow, and I don’t like people who shark my friends.”
“No, I quite understand that. In effect, what you want is to be able to win at Faro to put this fellow in his place?”
“That’s about the size of it.”
“Well, if you can calculate odds, this makes it easier. I can, perhaps, teach you to shuffle so that you know where the face cards are, if you are good at memorising, rather than putting the cards in order precisely, and then you can play the odds on the cards between the face cards.”
“That would do me nicely,” said Toby. “Having the edge that Fontaine has of knowing what’s coming up is all I ask, I can use human nature to push him with the rest. I suppose this seems like an odd request.”
“Not entirely, sir, no; I’ve been employed to go with young men about town before now, to frequent gaming hells with them, and turn the tables on card sharps. Of course, I’d prefer to see such dens of iniquity shut down, but vice is natural to human nature, and at least I may try to see as many people as possible warned of the baneful arts. Forewarned is forearmed.”
Toby chuckled.
“And sometimes it feels as though a few of the card sharps really do have four arms to be able to do all they do,” he said.



Chapter 18

Mrs. Carruthers did not read any part of the newspaper except the fashion column and the gossip, and she was becoming very frustrated. She was wondering why it was proving to be impossible to obtain another governess for her daughters. She had no idea that Lady Remington had requested her factor to take out advertisements in every publication in which there were generally advertisements for governesses, and to write to every employment agent. The advertisements were short and to the point, that any governess accepting employment with Mrs. Carruthers of Portpool lane would be subjected to insults of the worst kind. It was almost a piece of spite, but Amabel was not above a little spite when someone she was fond of had been hurt. And Amabel did not approve of Lady Evesham, and her choice of placement for her husband’s love child, and doing any crony of Lady Evesham an ill term seemed perfectly fair to Amabel.
It served an ill turn to Lady Evesham, had Amabel but known it.
Mrs. Carruthers, frustrated in her efforts to find a new governess, and missing Mary’s calm governance of the household, wrote to her patroness.

“My Lady,

I find myself embarrassed since that wretched Heatheringham girl took off, since my daughters have become inconsolable with grief in missing her, and I have not a moment’s peace with them, they are quite unmanageable. I pray you, tell her to return, and I will not make any issue of her abandoning me in my hour of need.”


Lady Evesham made a short, disgusted noise, and took the letter into her husband’s study.
“That wretched daughter of yours has walked out on her job, I suppose she’s written to you and is hanging on your sleeve? She has to learn to make her own way.”
Evesham had had enough and he jumped to his feet, lowering over his wife, who was suddenly very, very frightened.
“Madam, you sent my daughter to a household where her employer’s brother was permitted to try to lay lewd hands on her, and where she was abused by the vulgar creature she was forced to work for, simply because Mary is a lady and that Carruthers woman is not. She most certainly did not walk out! Yes, I know where she is, and she is currently employed as a companion to a real lady, and she is to be married soon. I gave my permission to her young man, and you’ll accept it, or stay at home if we ever visit Rokemere, where she is likely to be found. What is this nonsense?” He twitched the missive out of Lady Evesham’s suddenly nerveless grasp and read it, before tearing it across and back. “Lying besom! Really, Marianne, you should have more sense than to believe a creature like that, and more class than to send a tenderly reared girl to such a house! Carruthers is not someone who would eat at my table; and the witch he married is certainly not fit to have the care of my daughter!”
Evesham was unaware that he was roaring; the servants would have something to gossip about, and Arthur firmly gathered Thomas and John to take them fishing so that they would not hear what promised to be a protracted quarrel once their mother had found her voice.
As it happened, though Lady Evesham tried to gainsay her husband, the worm had finally turned, and she found herself banished to her suite, and expected to consider herself lucky not to be sent to one of the lesser properties her husband owned. She did, however, manage to wheedle out of her husband that Mary was staying with Lady Remington, in Brighthelmstone, and duly dispatched a spiteful little letter to Mary, sending a footman to make sure of finding the correct address. If she could make Mary feel uncomfortable and guilty, it would be something. Mary had never complained to her father of ill treatment, and Lady Evesham did not expect her to do so now. Indeed, it is probably that she would have considered a servant’s daughter insolent to do so, and that Mary might presume to do so would be, in Lady Evesham’s view, unthinkable.
She wrote,

“My dear Mary,
It was with great disappointment that I heard that your concept of duty was so inconstant as to leave poor Mrs. Carruthers and her two poor little girls. I am told that they are quite inconsolable. However, I cannot believe this nonsense that I have heard about you getting married, and to some connexion to the Rokemeres. It sounds extraordinary, and I assure you that if this young man is truly a member of that illustrious family, he is either playing a may game with you, and leading you on, or he has not been made aware of your true circumstances. Believe me, I shall be writing to Viscount Rokemere to let him know that you are nothing but the jumped-up child of a servant, and you will see how quickly your suitor turns away from you then!
If, however, you have not acted with the same loose morals of your mother, and are still left with any honour intact, I am sure that Mrs. Carruthers will take you back. I hope to hear from you within the week, or I shall also have to let Lady Remington know what kind of girl she is employing.
Your affectionate patroness,
Lady Evesham.”


The footman duly found the right address; it was a fair bet that asking another servant would be the best way to be directed to the right place, and the man had been given a sufficiently generous vail that he was willing to part with some of it. He left the letter with Jenkyns, and was disappointed not to be asked in for a drink by that worthy, who was now, in his own idiom, leery of any odd person or occurrence, in case there was an attempt to kidnap his mistress’ young charge again.
Jenkyns delivered the letter.
“I didn’t know the footman as brought it, miss, but he had the dirt of travel on his stockings, and if I was you, I’d not take no notice of it if it’s telling you to meet someone to learn something to your advantage, or anythink,” he said.
Mary vailed him discreetly.
“Thank you, Jenkyns, you are making up for being fooled once,” she said.
“Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” said Jenkyns.
“Indeed,” said Mary. “I’m pleased with your good care of me.”
It was a dismissal; Jenkyns did not know his place and was inclined to chatter if not handled firmly.
Mary recognised the seal, and made a face as she broke it. She read the letter in anger.
“Well, madam, you are mistaken,” she said out loud, and went to knock on Amabel’s boudoir door. Bid to enter, she wordlessly handed the letter to Amabel.
Amabel read the letter through twice.
“What a nasty little piece Marianne Foljambe always was as a girl; I see she has not improved with keeping,” she said. “Well, my dear, this insidious piece of attempted blackmail is not something you need to take any notice of. You will never go back to the Carruthers woman, who should be having trouble getting governesses right now, as I let people know what kind of woman she is.”
“Did you, Aunt Amabel? She doesn’t deserve governesses, but her girls are so vulnerable. I can’t bear to think of them being inconsolable.”
“Inconsolable my wig!” said Amabel. “What the wretched woman means is that they are uncontrollable brats and she wants some idiot go keep them out of her way.”
“Oh poor Jemima, poor Jenny!” cried Mary, distressed. “If she is driving them into bad behaviour again ... oh, what ought I to do?”
“Certainly not step back into that house again,” said Amabel. “Besides, what good will it do if you are only leaving again shortly to marry Toby? The old besom won’t let you have followers, and can you see Toby laying down for that?”
Mary giggled.
“No, he’d push his way in and kidnap me,” she said.
“Quite,” said Amabel. “Well, she said you had a week to write to her or she’d inform me who you were. I already know who you are, so that’s of no account at all, so you may legitimately mull this over and decide what to write to her when you are less angry. I suggest you have no contact at all with the Carruthers woman.”
“No; I have an idea, but only if Toby will agree,” said Mary. “I ... it is not uncommon to farm children out if they are difficult to care for. If she will farm them out to me, I can raise them, and send them to a day school perhaps when they are older”
“It’s a rod for your own back,” warned Amabel.
“Their uncle all but said that he was going to start ... interfering with them ... when they were a bit older,” said Mary.
“It shouldn’t be your problem.”
“Oh, but it is, Aunt Amabel,” said Mary. “You’ve lifted me back to being a lady; and therefore it becomes my duty to care for any who have been my dependents at any time.”
“Stap me!” said Amabel. “Well, when you put it in that light ... yes, admirable. And I know Toby wants his own house, but if you would consent to taking a wing of Remington Place, it might be amusing to have more young things about.”
“I don’t know, but we would certainly be frequent visitors,” said Mary. “I wish he will return; I want to know what Papa said, and what Toby will think about this letter. Do you think he will write?”
“A man? Write? Highly unlikely. As to the hell this wretched woman is trying to raise, he’ll take a demmed dim view of it, if you ask me,” said Amabel.
In her former opinion, Amabel was proven wrong. Toby’s brief, but neatly-penned letter arrived by the more conventional postal services.
“Brevity is the soul of wit,” laughed Mary. The note read,
“Darling Mary; your pater said yes, your mother also gives her blessing, take care, Toby.”

oOoOo


Toby was busy learning the intricacies of card tricks. Managing to glance at the deck when shuffling and memorise the cards in order was hard, but not as impossibly hard as shuffling them into a particular order. It was, as Page had said, a matter of training both the eye and the memory. And having paid Page a handsome sum for his initial training, Toby spent several days in the inn, shuffling, and repeating the cards from memory to the faithful Brunwin.
“Reckon you’ll do the job all right,” said Brunwin. “Can you do it with other people shuffling?”
“Not readily,” said Toby. “I only get a glimpse of the corners as they are fanned together. But I am learning so see very quickly, so maybe I’ll be at less of a disadvantage. I suppose we should return back to Brighthelmstone, or I’ll be in trouble for truancy.”
“Is the prince so much of a tyrant?”
“A gentle tyrant, yes,” said Toby. “One who is disappointed, and sulks if he doesn’t get his way rather than one who chops off your head, but to fall from his favour would not be good. I need to quietly distance myself, and then withdraw until he has forgotten me.”
“A nervous business, sir.”
“Yes, and not one I ever intended being involved with,” said Toby. “However, I could not pass up the opportunity to play with the high rollers of the Carlton House Set. And it has been a real experience, and a tale to tell when I am old. But wearing; very wearing.”
“How are you planning on getting out, sir?”
“Well, I am hoping to be permitted a honeymoon, and then to gently fade from memory.”
“It might work,” said Brunwin, dubiously.
“It’s my main chance of escape,” said Toby. “And if I can put Widburgh in my debt by trouncing this Fontaine, then he may help me fade out quietly. And if I use my wealth to buy a farm, I can claim I’ve a mind to try my hand at farming, and they will laugh at me, but understand.”
“Do you have any desire to try your hand at farming, sir?”
“Lud, no; boring occupation,” said Toby. “To be honest, I’m not sure what I do want to do, for I’ve always had to work, as Lucius’ secretary, and I’ve looked on this gambling venture as work, and now I’m rich, I’m at a loose end.”
“Not about to give it to the poor and start again?”
“Not on your life, I worked to be rich and I don’t plan to throw it up. Maybe I’ll take on some poor but clever boys and prepare them for university and sponsor them; that fellow Page put me in mind of it. Or maybe I’ll take up writing, and write a treatise on card playing.”
“I’m sure Miss Heatherington will find something for you to do,” said Brunwin.
“Ah, yes, and I intend to spend some time in uxorious bliss,” said Toby. “And we might travel; why not? Could you fancy that, Brunwin?”
“Dunno, sir; I ain’t never travelled, except to fights, and with you, and travelling with you is uncommonly more comfortable than going by farm cart.”
“Oh, if I took Mary to the continent, it would be in the most comfortable coaches i could find, for us and for our servants. It’s a sin to travel in comfort and expect those you wish to be alert to wait on you to have any less comfort.”
“I wager you’re the first gentleman to feel that way.”
“If so, it’s a worrying reflection on the moral fibre of my fellows,” said Toby.
Brunwin just smiled, reflecting that he was lucky to have a master who was more sweet natured than most, and more thoughtful.
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Ace of Schemes 16-18

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