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Ace of Schemes 19-21

November 15, 2017 11:40AM
Chapter 19

When Jenkyns announced,
“Mr. Davenport,” Mary jumped up and ran to Toby’s arms. Toby, thinking that this was a solicitation for a kiss, obliged, and Mary melted into his embrace, wondering only vaguely on how the turmoil of how a prolonged salute on the lips might have such a profound effect through her whole body, turning her knees to water and her belly to fire.
“My goodness, Mary, I hope you don’t kiss all chance visitors like that,” said Toby, to cover his own confusion.
“Of course I don’t, Toby!” Mary was indignant.
“I hope you got Evesham’s permission if you are going to kiss my charge that thoroughly,” said Amabel, severely. “You’ve shocked Jenkyns, and the potted palm in the corner is so embarrassed it’s wilting.”
“That’s because the chambermaid who comes with the house pours any drinks dregs into it,” said Mary. “Tea is harmless enough, but I don’t think it likes sherry.”
“Nor do I, so it’s in good company,” said Toby. “Marie told you?”
“Yes, I was concerned about the poor thing dying before we handed the house back,” said Mary. “Did I read your letter aright, that Papa give permission?”
“And his blessing and what’s more, so did your mother,” said Toby.
“Good, because I have a proposition to put to you,” said Mary.
“I’m not sure I like the martial look in your eyes when you say that, love,” Toby teased.
“Just read this, first,” said Mary, thrusting the letter from the Countess Evesham at him. Toby read with pursed lips.
“That’s blackmail; and that’s a crime,” he said.
“Yes, but I am worried about those two little girls,” said Mary.
“I’m not kidnapping anyone for you,” said Toby. “The law, quite properly, takes a dim view of the matter.”
“Oh, I know,” said Mary. “But what if I wrote that she might farm them out to me once I am a married woman? Would you have them in our house?”
“Mary, if it makes you happy, I’ll have any amount of waifs and strays; I rather foisted Marie and her brat onto you, after all. But if they go out of their way to annoy me, I will spank them.”
“Oh, that’s fair enough, though I’m inclined to think a loss of privileges and treats is more of a punishment myself,” said Mary.
“Well, you know them best,” said Toby. “Bit of a ready-made family, but we can have enough servants to help cope.”
“I won’t have them shuffled off to the nursery all the time except to be on display,” said Mary.
“Lud, no, you’ll want to spend time with them, and I daresay I can take them fishing and teach them to shoot,” said Toby. “And we only shuffle them off to get an evening to ourselves. I was wondering about taking in poor but clever boys, as it happens, so we can amuse ourselves with brats.”
“I thought we might move to Bath in a few years so they can go, each in turn, as day students to Miss Preston’s school,” said Mary.
“Admirable idea! Write to the old besom and let her think you might be persuaded, as a favour, to consider taking them as farmed out until they are grown up, and then they’ll be well enough trained to make their own decisions and run away if she treats them badly,” said Toby.
“Toby, you should not encourage them to run away from their mother!” said Amabel.
“No, but what about this uncle of theirs, I hear about from Evesham, who sounds a dashed loose screw?” said Toby. “You didn’t tell me about him.”
“No, I didn’t want you running him through and having to flee the country,” said Mary.
“Just what I said to Evesham,” said Toby. “You know me well, my dear. And I’m leaving him to Arthur because a brother has first prerogative.”
“Oh dear,” said Mary.
“Tush, m’dear, Arthur will mill him down, nothing fatal, but probably painful,” said Toby. “The boy must have learned some boxing at school but I wager that vulgar piece’s brother didn’t.”
“He has learned some boxing,” said Mary. “And passed on what he knows to the younger two, to keep them safe.”
“I like your brother,” said Toby. “Fine, write to the Carruthers female, and we’ll get married as soon as I’ve taken care of a little business for a friend of mine.”
“Toby! What about allowing Mary to have a Season?” scolded Amabel.
“She don’t need a season; she’s already got a husband, what does she need the marriage mart for?” asked Toby.
“The chance to flirt and flaunt her finery,” said Amabel.
Mary laughed and kissed Amabel on the cheek.
“Oh, dear Aunt Amabel! I know you want to dress me, but truly, I would rather marry Toby now, and we will come to town for the season, and help you entertain.”
“Will we? I mean, yes, of course we will,” said Toby. “Get Aunt Amabel to look at your letter before you send it, my dear, and make sure it’s condescending enough without being too condescending, or she might withhold the brats out of spite.”
“You are very sensible, Toby,” said Mary. “Oh dear, the one thing I regret over not going back is failing to see Arthur black the eyes of that James Black.”
“I’m sure he will describe it in tedious detail,” said Amabel, dryly.
“And I almost forgot!” Toby snapped his fingers. “I made a call to a certain jewellers today, my dear, on my way to visit.” He took a small box from his pocket.
Mary took it and opened it, and gasped.
“Why, it is our own likenesses after all!” she gasped. “How did you obtain a likeness of me?”
Toby chuckled.
“You must allow me some secrets my dear,” he said.
“It is beautiful, thank you!” Mary pinned the cameo to her breast, and kissed Toby on the cheek.

oOoOo


It took some thought for Mary to compose a letter to Mrs. Carruthers, in which she expressed cloyingly sweet regret that Mrs. Carruthers had changed her mind regarding the employment of one who had moved on both in occupation and in status, since Mary was betrothed to be married, with the full consent of her father, to a young gentleman of her acquaintance.
“It occurs to me, however,” wrote Mary, “That it is customary for those people who are unable to manage the care of certain of their children to pay to farm them out. I would be willing to consider taking Jemima and Jenny into my marital household as paying guests, where I would oversee their continuing education and development until they are ready to come out into society.”
She wrote separately to Mrs. Mayhew, having asked Toby if he had a housekeeper in mind, and offered her a job as soon as the quarter was finished and she could legitimately leave her current employ. The letter from Mrs. Mayhew arrived back first, accepting with alacrity, and a comment that she would rather work for a real lady like Miss Heatherington, who deserved to be going up in the world.
The letter from Mrs. Carruthers was delayed long enough for that person to have thrown a temper tantrum of a level both her daughters would be ashamed of, and to scrawl an intemperate letter that Heatherington had better collect the girls straight away, or lose the fee for them as she would farm them out somewhere else.
Mary showed this letter to Amabel in high alarm.
“Then we shall go into London, and bring them back here,” said Amabel. “I will handle that female while you get them packed and ready. Dear me, she doesn’t sound a fit person to own a puppy, never mind children, with her habit of tossing people into the street the moment she loses her cool. We’ll take your friend, Mrs. Mayhew too, I’m not happy with the housekeeper in the Brighthelmstone house anyway.”
“Dear Aunt Amabel, you are so positive,” said Mary. “I don’t need the money, of course, as she will realise when she sees me in my new finery, but I won’t let them down again.”
“No, my dear, and possession is nine tenths of the law,” said Amabel. “And if necessary I will petition to adopt them, and I doubt there will be much opposition to them being raised in estate that way.”
“In the normal way, it should be hard,” said Mary.
“Yes, my dear, but then, I wouldn’t normally take on a couple of cit brats if it wasn’t to oblige you and because you feel them worth training to be ladies,” said Amabel.
Mary pulled a rueful grimace; Aunt Amabel was too much of the aristocracy to realise that what Mary had meant was that it shouldn’t be possible for the upper ten thousand to ride roughshod over the commons and take their children if they fancied it just because they could. And she would probably never understand, because Aunt Amabel would not use such influence for bad reasons. Well, she would not complain as it was for Jemima and Jenny.

oOoOoOo

Toby meanwhile had kept the letter Mary had shown him; and mailed it to Lord Evesham, with a covering letter.

“My lord:
I enclose a letter from your wife to my affianced bride. You will note that this letter contains grounds for criminal prosecution, to wit, blackmail. I return it to you, however, instead of turning it over to Bow Street, since I feel that you will better enact punishment upon Lady Evesham as it will be distasteful to all involved to have her dragged through the courts. She should be extremely thankful that she has not written to my cousin, Lucius, regarding Mary’s birth as he can be intemperate of temper and is likely to turn up with a whip. Please make her understand that this spite will stop, or I will use every method I may to make sure that she will never be able to hold up her head in public again. It would only need a word to his highness, Prince George to effect this.
Your prospective son,
Toby Davenport.”


Evesham received the letter and read through both it and the enclosure as Lord Rokemere was announced.
It was plain that his lordship was furious.
“What does your wife think she is playing at?” hissed Lucius, Viscount Rokemere, furiously, slapping down a letter in Lady Evesham’s handwriting on the desk. “Has she forgotten that your daughter was at school with my wife, and that I am quite conversant with her irregularity of birth, even if I considered that it was any of my business to regulate whom my cousin marries?”
Evesham buried his head in his hands.
“My wife will be making a protracted visit to the continent,” he said. “She will have a small allowance and a reasonable household to live quietly there.”
“Good,” said Lucius. “I do not appreciate having my wife sent into hysterics, jeopardising the succession, because of her best friend being disrespected. If I don’t read of her leaving within the week, I shall be forced to take further action.”
“Oh, please don’t do that!” said Evesham. “I’ll send her to France. I should never have let her have any of the ordering of poor Mary’s life in the first place.”
“No,” said Lucius, who was better known for his honesty than his tact.

oOoOo


Had George, Lord Mattlebere known of Lady Evesham’s impotent fury when her husband laid down the law regarding her incipient relocation to foreign parts, he might have contrived to meet with her to plot against Toby Davenport and all his works. Mattlebere, however, was unaware that he might have had an ally in his desire to conquer the fair Mary and do Toby a bad turn, and was licking his wounds in a lodging house in Hove. Lady Trevett had dropped him like a hot cake the moment she discovered how much disgrace he was in for being caught red-handed cheating at cards. She had not realised how seriously this was regarded until she mentioned it, with a little tinkling laugh, to her husband.
“Drop him,” said ‘The Bull.’
“What are you talking about? He’s a lord, and it’s only a game.”
She gave a little scream as her husband took her by the arms, and gave her a little shake. It was not rough, but it was a reminder of how he had come by his nickname.
“It’s not ‘only a game,’ you stupid woman. The nobs take their gaming very seriously. Anyone caught cheating, however highly placed he may be, is out of society. Why, they’d forgive one of their own for murdering someone before they’d forgive card sharping!”
“Are you sure? It doesn’t seem very much to me.”
“I am totally sure!” Trevett roared. “I’ve been around these damned freaks of aristocrats long enough! He could @#$%& his mistress in public, shoot her husband and so long as he went away for a few months, they’d let him back into their ranks. But reneging on a gambling debt or cheating, that puts him below a beggar in the streets in their eyes. And you will do well to drop him, or so help me, I will be bringing out a criminal conversation suit with him as the co-respondent because I am not about to lose the place I’ve carved out for myself because you’re having a fling with a rogue.”
“I see, Humphrey; I’m sorry, I didn’t understand. Poor little me has trouble with the strange rules of these society people.” She used her lashes, and was relieved when her husband loosened his grip on her arms and kissed her tenderly.
“There, my flower, we shall weather it,” he said. “Just remember if anyone mentions that they thought he was a friend of yours, you open those big peepers of yours wide, with all the spurious innocence I know you can muster, and tell them that you would never maintain a friendship with a cheat and a scoundrel.”
“Sometimes I’m tired of keeping up with these aristos,” pouted his lady, more put out than she cared to admit that he knew that her ‘kitten eyes’ act was an act.
“Well, associating with a cheat ain’t going to do me any good in my business dealings either, my flower,” said Sir Humphrey. “Man’s a parasite, and I had to tell Cockley that I didn’t even know the fellow to speak of, only that you had set him up as your sizzy-bo because you found him decorative, which he ain’t, but Cockley accepted that and advised me to set you right.” He did not mention that Nathanial Cockley had also made a tart rejoinder that his own wife did not feel a need for a cicisbeo, having correctly interpreted what Trevett had been trying to say, and that if it was de rigeur in the ton he was glad not to be a part of it. Humphrey Trevett was actually somewhat in awe of Nathanial Cockley, who was happy to chat to aristocrats without seeming in the least bit put out or nervous, and who could manage to make a profitable deal without being spoken of with dislike by other parties involved.


Chapter 20

Mrs. Carruthers was agog at the fine coach and four which drew up outside her house, followed by a second coach of less splendour but no less capacity. She hastily pulled off her bonnet to assume a new hat which was only equalled in its à la modality by its ugliness. It was the latest thing from France, and was beribboned and covered in lace and artificial fruit and flowers, and one might be forgiven for assuming that someone had spilled a fruiterer’s market stall into a baby’s christening gown. Being unaware of how ugly her hat was, Mrs. Carruthers patted her puce silk morning gown complacently, twitching the yellow ribbons on its bodice that matched the yellow stripes of her petticoat. She was pleased by her appearance, and she hurried to the best salon to pick up some embroidery which Mary had left behind, to pretend that the delicate work was her own.
The butler announced,
“Lady Remington,” and gave Mrs. Carruthers time to rise and start gushing about the honour done to her humble self before he added, “Miss Heatherington.”
Mrs. Carruthers stared.
The modish young lady in a Chinese printed travelling gown was a far cry from the downtrodden governess she had tried to bully.
“What is this?” she snapped, waspishly.
“You were being honoured to receive me, and my companion,” said Amabel, with malicious amusement. “Mary shines so much more in her proper milieu, of course, rather than with a shopkeeper’s wife. We came to collect the girls since you wished them from your premises so precipitately.”
“I ... but I assumed Miss Heatherington was marrying some ne’er-do-well and would need the money,” said Mrs. Carruthers.
“I suggest you do not refer to my nephew in such terms again, especially as I’ve heard of your own brother,” said Amabel. “And if you thought she was marrying someone unsuitable for a lady of her class, then you should not have considered placing your daughters in the care of such. However, Mary has a fondness for them, and I’ll be prepared to take them as my wards until she has married my nephew, with a possible consideration to make the arrangement permanent with adoption. I have always wanted daughters,” she added.
Mrs. Carruthers changed colour several times. Her husband had wanted sons to carry on his business and she had refused to have any more children whilst having to deal with a pair of what she considered uncontrollable brats in the nursery and had told him to get a child on a mistress and adopt any boy. She was uncertain if he had taken her advice or not. But in truth, she could not handle the children, and the chance to say ‘my daughters, being raised in Lady Remington’s household, you know’ was very attractive.
The decision was taken out of her hands as the door burst open, and the girls dashed in. Jemima pulled up short, hardly recognising Mary for a moment, then she flung herself into Mary’s arms.
“Oh Heathy, we have missed you!” she sobbed. Jenny joined her sister, and Mary squatted down to embrace them both.
“Oh, my darlings, I’ve missed you,” she said. “Will you like to come and live with me?”
“Oh yes!” cried Jemima. “Mayhew has done her best, but she isn’t you.”
“Well, you are going to live with me until you are grown up at least,” said Mary, “and you shall call me Aunt Mary, and my husband, when I marry him, will be Uncle Toby, and you shall see three other uncles who are my brothers.” She glanced up at Mrs. Carruthers. “Has my brother called upon yours yet?” she asked.
“I ... why, I do not know, why should he?”
“Oh, Arthur is planning to give him what he calls some ‘home brewed’ for laying lewd hands on me,” said Mary. “You might wish to lay in some arnica ointment for Mr. Black’s inevitable bruises. Arthur might not box with Mendoza, but I believe he has a degree of what the men call ‘science’.”
“Preposterous!”
“Oh, I assure you, your brother’s preposterous behaviour was witnessed,” said Mary. “Well, such things are between men, and Mr. Black is very lucky that my brother claimed first right. You see, my fiancé has stood up with Mendoza, as many gentlemen do.”
Mrs. Carruthers paled and she sank back into her chair weakly, making the solecism of not inviting her guests to sit first. Amabel sat herself down in another chair without waiting to be asked, and turned to the still waiting butler.
“Tea, while Miss Heatherington makes sure the girls and their servants are ready to leave,” she said. “Which shouldn’t take long in such a household as this where I dare say you have no more than three or four servants for their needs.”
As there was only the nursery maid, Mrs. Carruthers ground her teeth.
Mary drew the little girls away above stairs, where it appeared that no preparations had been made for their departure as yet.
“Well, as your mother knew you were going to live with me, you’d think she’d at least have asked Mrs. Mayhew to help you pack,” she said.
“Mama said you’d keep us in wags and your husband would beat us but I didn’t believe that,” said Jemima. “You wouldn’t mawwy someone who would beat anyone and you sew too nicely to keep us in wags.”
Mary’s eyes blazed at this attempt to frighten the children, and she itched to slap Mrs. Carruthers.
“Don’t be cross with us, Heathy,” Jenny looked apprehensive. “I didn’t mean to be dirty, and I know I’m ugly but I do love you.”
“I’m not cross with you, darling,” said Mary. “And you know I think you are a pretty girl! I’m cross that your Mama should say anything so silly; to be sure, would she send her daughters to a house where they would be neglected and beaten?”
“Pwobably,” said Jemima. “She hates us; she says we’we unconwollable bwats and she’s been slapping us lots, especially when Jenny wet the bed.”
“I am going to do all I can to keep you for ever and ever,” said Mary, in a very tight voice. “And if it takes having you officially adopted by Aunt Amabel, well so be it. She loves little girls too.”
“She’s vewy grand,” said Jemima.
“And very kind too,” said Mary. “Oh, Mrs. Mayhew, how lovely to see you again!” she stepped forward to embrace the housekeeper.
“You didn’t ought to do that, madam,” said Mrs. Mayhew, severely.
“Mrs. Mayhew, if we don’t tell anyone, I’m sure we can manage to continue to be friends in private, and have many a pleasant coze in your sitting room, when Mr. Davenport and I have found a house that suits us,” said Mary. “I am the daughter of a housekeeper after all, even if my father is an earl. I know how to cross the boundary without losing face, and I’m sure you can manage it too.”
Mrs. Mayhew’s stiff countenance cracked into a smile.
“I did wonder if you were going to be starchy to overcome having been my equal for a while,” she said, “But even so it would be preferable to staying on here. That wretched woman has been abusing these poor little mites, what were just starting to have nice manners with you teaching them, and then she tries to spoil it! I’m all packed and I’ll forfeit my month’s money to be out of here, and Clare, their maid too.”
“You didn’t pack for them?”
“I didn’t dare, Miss. She said that you and whatever worthless ragamuffin you married could take them in the clothes they stood up in. I did get some things put in overnight bags, and hid them in my room,” she added.
“Oh, well done,” said Mary. “I wonder where she has got the idea that I should marry someone worthless?”
“Oh, Miss, it’s what your father’s wife writes to her, that she believes like Gospel,” said Mrs. Mayhew. “That and the thought that you ain’t got a dowry and so nobody with any class would take you, and that if you needed the money of having them farmed out, you must be on your uppers.”
“Dear me,” said Mary. “Well, my father’s wife is not well acquainted with verity, but then one cannot expect someone like Mrs. Carruthers to know that; the idea that I am marrying a man who has enough not to care if I have a dowry or not is apparently beyond her meagre imagination, and the idea that I should want the girls simply because I have come to love them dearly is also outside of her ability to reason.”
“Yes, Miss; especially the last, because she don’t care for them, and she’s their mother. Never wanted them in the first place. Now, you pack for Miss Jemima and I’ll pack for Miss Jenny; I had the boot boy bring trunks down from the attic as soon as I saw you arrive.”
“Mrs. Mayhew, you are a treasure,” said Mary.


It was not to be expected that Mrs. Carruthers would be happy to have all her expectations stood on their heads, but she was shrewder than the Countess Evesham, and was rapidly coming to the conclusion that having her daughters raised by obvious members of the ton would be advantageous. She extracted a promise from Amabel to be permitted to see her darling daughters from time to time, even though she failed to note that Amabel had been deliberately vague about how often this should be. Amabel fully intended to leave it up to the little girls how often they saw their Mama. Neither of them seemed especially aware that they even had a Papa, so presumably the man was not a frequent visitor to the nursery.
Mrs. Carruthers had just persuaded herself back to complacency when another visitor was announced.
“The Viscount Birkenhewe,” said the butler. He managed to maintain an immobile face, but it might be said that this was the most entertaining day he had ever had, and if he wasn’t mistaken, this viscount had a distinct look of Miss Heatherington.
Mrs. Carruthers missed the resemblance, probably because she had never looked at Mary as a person. She fluttered and twittered. She had no idea what might bring a viscount to her humble abode, and having no idea about how inheritance worked, did not associate her young visitor with the Earl of Evesham.
“If I may cut to the chase, Mrs. Carruthers, I want to know the direction of one Mr. James Black,” said Arthur.
“Why, what can you want with Jamie?” asked Mrs. Carruthers, then she looked at the pugnacious expression on the viscount’s face and the colour drained from her. “But ... you cannot be that girl’s brother!”
“Oh, but I am Mary’s brother,” said Arthur. “A very fond brother, I may say, we all adore our sister. And she’s my little sister, so I feel very protective towards her. And I don’t like my little sister being mauled by a lecherous little maw-worm spawned in some gutter along with his harpy of a sister.”
“Sir! You are insulting! My husband will not be happy!”
“Oh, if he’s around, I’ll be pleased to insult him as well,” said Arthur. “A stupid shopkeeper to marry a harpy and take on the liability of the afforementioned maw-worm.” Arthur was thoroughly enjoying himself. He could get away with being insulting to anyone in his position in life, but generally he was well-mannered and courteous to everyone, as he had been taught from the nursery by his sensible preceptors, and it was something of a guilty treat to be able to be as rude as he liked. Arthur was also angry with his mother, but felt that a chap could not really say all he felt to a mother, even if he had lost any illusions about her character long since, and Mrs. Carruthers made an excellent substitute.
Scarlet spots of mortification stood out on Mrs. Carruthers’ pale face. This rude boy was still a viscount, and there was no getting away from it; and there was also no getting away from the fact that he could tell his father to use another importer.
“If I give you my brother’s address, will you leave me alone?” she almost whispered, reaching for a pen to write it down.
“Certainly,” said Arthur, sneering at her abject cowardice. “I would have expected a little more sisterly protection of him, but there! I suppose people like you don’t have finer feelings. I wager my sister would not cave in to anyone threatening me. In fact,” he said, recalling that Mary was no shrinking violet, “She’d probably hit someone threatening her or her family with a poker.”
“A poker?”
“Well, stap me, you can’t expect a lady to carry a sword, can you?” said Arthur. And with this non-sequitor he took up the address, bowed punctiliously, and left.

James Black was not expecting a visitor either, and answered,
“Who wants to know?” when Arthur accosted him at the race meeting which he was attending. Arthur had obtained this direction from Black’s man of all work.
Arthur raised his hat.
“My name is Arthur Eves, Viscount Birkenhewe,” he said.
“Pleased to meet you, I’m sure.”
“You won’t be,” said Arthur. “You see, you insulted my sister.”
“I don’t believe I’ve ever met your sister.”
“Oh, you have. Her name is Miss Heatherington. She was looking after your nieces, and you put your damned filthy paws on her because you didn’t realise she was someone who had protection.”
“What, the governess? You’re joking.”
“I’m not joking,” said Arthur. “If you were a gentleman, I’d ask for satisfaction. As you are not, I’m going to beat you up.”
“I’d like to see you try, you little dandyprat .... Ooof!”
The mill was short and ugly, and neither had stripped properly for the occasion, but the smart side betting rapidly went in favour of the viscount. Toby would have smiled at some of his prospective brother-in-law’s amateurish moves, but Arthur did box at university, having done so through school, and was more than a match for a bully boy like Black. Black went down eventually for the last time with a black eye, broken nose and several cracked ribs.
“Don’t touch up unwilling girls, whatever class they are,” said Arthur. “I’m going to have an eye kept on you, and next time I have to hit you, I’ll take it seriously.”


Chapter 21

“Where am I likely to find Fontaine, old man?” asked Toby, having run the Duke of Widburgh to earth.
“Probably at a soirée held by Lady Wrexworth, tonight,” said Widburgh.
Toby raised an eyebrow. Lady Wrexworth might be more nearly described as a hanger-on of the prince, rather than one of the Carlton House set, per se. This was one Lady Wrexworth, a widow, who was held to be ‘entertaining,’ or as Toby, in one of his more puritanical fits of description, called ‘the Brighthelmstone job mare,’ since most people had ridden her.
“Please tell me you haven’t been her lover, Justin?” he asked Widburgh.
The duke flushed.
“I, er ... well she is damnably good in bed,” he said. “And she liked me; I lasted quite three weeks in her affections!”
“Are you insane? She’s been with more people than anyone not actually running a bawdy house. What if you catch something?”
“It’s not as bad as you think,” said Widburgh, hastily. “She always uses a condom made of the finest sheep guts, so no diseases can pass.”
“Huh,” said Toby. “Well, I suppose that’s something. I wouldn’t mind betting there’s a few cases of clap around the society we keep.”
“I expect you’re right, but please don’t look at me as though you were the parson and I was a schoolboy waiting to be flogged.”
“Was I? My apologies. Blame it on being reared as a parson’s son,” said Toby. Plainly it was more than time he sought a way out of the prince’s set, it was beginning to make him turn into a Calvinist in reaction to the bad behaviour he saw. And austerity was all well and good, but Toby had a lively fear of being too narrow minded.

Lady Wrexworth owned a house on the Steyne, which boasted a ballroom in the proper double cube proportions, where masked balls of the more frolicsome kind were held, with bedrooms available in which masks were the only anticipated apparel. Her soirées included such games as ‘turn the trencher’ and forfeits were of the kind that required kissing, or removal of a lady’s garter by a gentleman, or the sitting on a gentleman’s lap by a lady to sing a ditty. Normally Toby eschewed Lady Wrexworth and all her works with the same feeling that he combed his hair with a fine comb to avoid lice, but he went with Widburgh with the sole purpose of finding, and besting, Fontaine. He smiled vaguely at his hostess as she greeted him warmly, prompting her to ask Widburgh as Toby moved further in,
“He surely can’t be as angelic and unmoved by feminine pulchritude as he seems, can he, Justin?”
“You’d be surprised, Minerva,” said Widburgh. “Toby Davenport moves through our corrupt little society with a bemused smile, shedding vice from him as though he were armoured against it. I sometimes think he’s too good to live, but then he manages to say something sarcastic and I know he really is human. He’s certainly immune to being bribed because I’ve seen him smile at a blatant attempt and pass it off as if he hasn’t understood that he’s been made an outrageous offer. And I still don’t know if he merely failed to understand or if he just pretended to do so.”
“He really is too good to live. What will you wager I get him into my bed inside three weeks?”
“You won’t do it. He has a lady love who is all his life and adoration.”
“Ten thousand says you are wrong.”
“Well, I don’t mind an easy ten thousand,” said Widburgh.
“Don’t you dare warn him.”
“No, of course not.”

Toby was finding his bearings in the oppressively baroque decor. There were an excess of fat cherubs holding swags, but then, Toby reflected, to his taste one cherub constituted an excess. The proper name was putti, he recalled, an ugly name for ugly things, looking more like fat old gentlemen in loin cloths than babies. Mirrors abounded, and raised gilded swags and pillars. The gilding looked brassy in the candlelight, and if the effect was meant to be Versailles, Toby thought it came more to a cross between a performance at Covent Garden and a pawnbroker’s shop. The eye was dazzled by mirrors, candles and shining golden ornaments, and Toby wondered grimly how anyone escaped from such a place without a serious megrim. He found at last a salon which appeared to have eluded the gilding, and gave the impression of a nice, calm green. The walls were painted green below the dado rail, and dark green marble panels lay on pale green walls above. The marble was faux, of course, but the supposed panels were the only things sporting gilded frames, and in relative reticence. There were green baize covered tables for card playing.
“Thank goodness,” said Toby. “I thought I was going blind out there.”
The Duke of Devonshire was one of those in here, and he looked up and laughed.
“You haven’t seen her bedroom, I take it?”
“No, thank goodness, and I hope I never do, but I’d wager it was lilac and enough putti to lift the coffin of any poor man who died of eyestrain in there,” said Toby.
“Pity you hadn’t put money on it; it is lilac,” said the Duke.
“I’d have said it was mauve, myself,” said another.
“Lud, too many names for shades of purple,” Toby opined. “Sorry to disturb your peace by raising an argument, I’m just looking for a quiet game of cards.”
“Only the faro bank not full,” said Devonshire.
“Oh, well, faro will do me,” said Toby, quietly elated that he had not had to propose it.
He recognised Fontaine, whom Widburgh had previously pointed out to him. The man was not especially good looking, but made one think he was by having a ready smile and regular enough features not to be ugly. You would pass him in the street and not notice him, thought Toby. His clothes too were fashionable without being too fashionable, his stockings and coat both striped in an unexceptionable blue and white, and his smallclothes white, with a blue waistcoat. Toby mentally tipped his hat to the sharp; in a way, the man was doing as he, Toby, had done, not standing out in a crowd, winning quietly without anyone really noticing or finding him offensive.
Toby sat down at the table, nodding to a couple of men he knew vaguely, and a lady he knew as one of Mrs. Fitzherbert’s intimates.
Fontaine shuffled, and Toby had to hide a wide, internal smirk. The man was shuffling quite sloppily, and Toby had a view of enough of the cards to memorise them even when he wasn’t bank. It was a bad habit Tommy Page had warned him about, that in making sure you could see the cards you also could display them to anyone else. Toby had practised to avoid that fault, and of course he wasn’t trying to place the cards in any order when he shuffled, just to memorise them.
Now Fontaine was placing the cards in the Faro box, and Toby watched narrowly. Page had told him about boxes made in which a different pack had been hidden, in which the dealer knew the precise order already, and if that was the case, he might as well admit defeat, or demand to examine the box. However, if Fontaine was checking his cards, this was less likely.
The punters laid their bets. Toby bought some chips from Fontaine, and placed one of them on the queen symbol; if he had it aright, the queen of spades would be the third card.
The first card, known as the soda, was laid, the six of diamonds, neither winning nor losing, and there was a collective sigh from those who had laid their chips on the six-value. It reduced the chance of a six coming up, there being only three left to have a chance of being winning cards. Then the losing card came up, pushed up in the spring loaded box, an ace. A few people had placed chips on the ace, and they now became the property of the bank. The card which would win for the punters was now laid; and it was the queen. Fontaine paid out to Toby and to the nondescript man who had also placed his chips on the queen. Toby suddenly realised why Fontaine’s shuffling was sloppy; he relied on an accomplice to win on the third card.
It became easy at that point. If Faro was played completely fairly, the dealer only had a slight edge in what he won on the losing card, and the stakes stayed there until it turned up, or a punter withdrew a bet between turns. Toby did some counting in his head, and bet heavily on knave. Knowing he was lucky with cards, others followed him, and Toby was content to let that stand for several turns, betting modestly on other cards and securing modest wins. The accomplice was not touching the knave, and Toby nonchalantly coppered the bet, placing a copper token on the knave, as it was about to be drawn as a losing card. This meant that if the knave would normally be a losing cart, the punter laying the copper would win, not the bank. He got it on just before Fontaine drew the card, to that man’s horror and the consternation of his accomplice, who might have minimised the losses by also coppering the bet. Toby’s heavy bet on the knave had initially overjoyed Fontaine, but now he would have to pay out in equal measure to Toby and those who had copied him. The money in the bank was not enough; they were now working with Fontaine’s own money. And Toby had laid money on other cards he knew would win further through the pack, making sure they were not preceded by losers of the same value.
Fontaine played on in some desperation, until the count reached the last three cards. Because the play was recorded, it was known what the last three cards were and the bet was on the order in which they were drawn. Toby smiled beatifically at the nondescript man, and calculated aloud the odds on getting the order right, of the two of spades, the ten of clubs and the queen of hearts, suggesting different combinations, until, flustered, the little man bet on the wrong combination. Toby promptly bet on the two being followed by the queen and then the ten, and Fontaine was almost snarling as he paid out the four to one of Toby’s stake. And Toby had staked ten thousand pounds.
“You’ll take my vowels?” said Fontaine.
“I will take cash,” said Toby.
“Give me an hour to raise it,” said Fontaine.
“Certainly,” said Toby. “I’ll know where to find you if you don’t come back in an hour. After that; a word to the wise. I don’t like having my friends fleeced. I’m prepared to spend as much as it takes to learn the skills to even the score. And to pursue anyone who causes them grief. I think you might find somewhere on the continent more healthy.”
“Damn you,” said Fontaine.
“Other sharks have said as much but I am still able to enter a church without encountering a thunderbolt,” said Toby.
Fontaine would pay, even if he had to borrow from the few friends he had. To do otherwise was to place him even more beyond the pale than Mattlebere.

Toby allowed himself to be talked into a game of piquet with the Duke of Devonshire, whilst he waited for Fontaine to return with his money. The duchess ranged herself beside her husband, offering unwanted advice, and Toby gave a half smile and a shrug to the duke’s apologetic glance.
The gambler returned within the hour.
“Thank you,” said Toby, as Devonshire flirted with his wife to give them a little privacy. “I would not have bothered, had you not taken a particular friend of mine. I ... you use skill, not a rigged box, I won’t ask you to leave the country. Just stay away from Prinny’s set, please.”
Fontaine stared.
“You are generous,” he said. “You could have exposed me, and certainly forced me out of the country by threatening to do so.”
Toby shrugged. “I appreciate the skill of what you do. It’s not, to my mind, like deliberately marking cards. It requires the dedication of training your memory. I would like to wish you good luck.”
“Thank you; one must make a living where one might. And my memory is the only asset I have. If I want to save my estate and marry my sweetheart, I’m afraid I haven’t given much thought to worrying about other people.”
Toby took four thousand from the pile of soft and gave the rest back.
“I set out to ruin you. I was a sanctimonious little dandyprat to do so. This is what you had from my friend; I’ll take that and no more.”
“Why?” Fontaine stuttered.
“My cousin Lucius saved his estate in an equally daring way, and married his sweetheart. I’m sentimental,” said Toby.
“Then may you live a blessed life,” said Fontaine, in deep relief. He bowed to Toby, and strode across the room, standing aside to permit the entry of someone else before leaving.
The fulsome charms of Lady Wrexworth wafted into the gaming salon too, fluttering towards Toby in a welter of lilac muslin and silk, a gaudy, if rather solid, butterfly.
“Why, Mr. Davenport, you need a supporter, as Lord Devonshire has his wife to bring him luck,” she gushed.
“I’ll cash up now, if you don’t mind, my lord,” said Toby, finding his vision rather filled with ample bosoms cushioned on silver-shot lilac silk. . “I believe the allure of card playing has palled.”
“Why, yes, Mr. Davenport, I’m sure there are more amusing things to do,” cooed Lady Wrexworth.
“Yes, certainly,” said Toby. “By Jove, I know exactly what I want to do right now!” He rose and Lady Wrexham slid an arm into his.
“Are you going to tell me what it is, Toby? I may call you Toby?”
“Oh, rather,” said Toby. “After all that fug of people sweating over their games I think I’ll run all the way to the other end of Hove and back along the beach, and then there’s a little inn which does the best cod steaks in the world, and you can taste that the cod they serve has been swimming the same morning that it’s cooked.”
“Oh!” Lady Wrexworth was put out. “There are other forms of exercise which are as healthful as running, but much more fun.”
“Oh, I know, but if I have to find a chap to fence or box with, I may lose the urge,” said Toby. “Nice to have met you, ma’am; always so enchanting when older ladies enter into the spirit of fun of we younger folks, just like my Aunt Amabel, Lady Remington, you know.”
It has to be said that Lady Wrexworth might be found shortly thereafter to be having hysterics, and throwing things at her dresser accusing the unfortunate woman of making her mistress look old.

Lord Widburgh caught up with Toby in the fish restauraunt.
“Whatever did you say to Lady Wrexworth to put her into such a rage?” he asked.
“I called her an older woman,” said Toby. “The wretched creature was all over me like smallpox, I had to do something to get rid of her. I didn’t think she was the sort to take any notice of my being betrothed.
“No, most likely not,” he said. “After all, I know she knows; I told her.”
Toby eyed him suspiciously.
“There isn’t some kind of wager going on, is there?” he asked.
“Now, Davenport, my dear fellow, I promised I wouldn’t warn you,” said Widburgh. “I don’t need to; you’re unassailable.”
“Oh, for goodness sake!” said Toby. “Well, here’s the money you lost to Fontaine. I won it back, and I warned him to take his bad habits and his accomplice and go elsewhere.”
“So quickly? Why ... thank you!” Widburgh was incoherent in gratitude, and Toby waved it away.
“Always fun to learn something new,” he said, and firmly turned the subject to whether the combination of orange and blue stripes on a jacket were worse than purple and green.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Ace of Schemes 19-21

Sarah WaldockNovember 15, 2017 11:40AM

Re: Ace of Schemes 19-21

Agnes BeatrixNovember 16, 2017 07:32AM

Re: Ace of Schemes 19-21

KarenteaNovember 15, 2017 11:45PM



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