The previous night's gallivanting resulted in my back aching even worse in the morning. I awoke in a modest but well-appointed bedroom in the house of Professor Papagoras and his three students. None of these three young women had presented themselves the night before, when the Professor and I arrived at his cozy townhouse in Great Stokington, but I had great hopes of making their acquaintance that morning. Given the events of the preceding night, I was now quite cured of taking pleasure in society, be it country or town. A sensible man ought to find sufficient company in women.
Upon dressing, I somewhat gingerly made my way down to the dining room, where breakfast was being served. The invigorating scent of bacon and eggs helped ease the pain in my back, as did the presence of three lovely young ladies at table.
Papagoras, already seated and reading the Times, managed to stand as I entered. "Ah, your Lordship, good to see you up and about," he said.
"Adopting strays, are we?" said one of the young ladies, a darkly hued brunette, rather tartly.
The Professor chuckled nervously. "You must forgive Mademoiselle Magee, your Lordship, she has a tongue of acid."
"Not nearly acidic enough," she muttered into her teacup. One of the other young women, a rather attractive blonde, giggled.
"Allow me to introduce you, your Lordship," said Papagoras hastily. "These three charming young ladies are students I acquired in Ireland last year. They have come to Stokington with me to learn the ways of London society."
"A noble goal," I said. "One day I hope to learn them myself."
"Mademoiselle Margot Magee you have already met. This young lass," he said, gesturing to the blonde demimonde, "is Miss Louisa Anne Powers, of a most worthy family in Ulster. Finally," and here he motioned in the direction of the third woman, a most dowdy girl of plain features, "we have Miss Thomasina Thompson, also of Ulstershire."
"I greet you most wholeheartedly," I said, and bowed. "I am Dennis St. Michel, the Viscount of Stokington."
"Oh, a Viscount," said Miss Powers in a most charming Irish lilt. "How fascinating. You must be ever so important," she said, simpering.
"Oh, hush yourself," said Miss Magee. "One would think you've never seen a man before. Boy, actually."
"I fear Mademoiselle Margot has formed an unflattering portrait of me. Tragic, since we have just met," I said, seating myself.
"Unflattering, or accurate?" she asked, smiling nastily across the table.
Oh, good. I was looking for a challenge. And she was not bad looking either.
"More unflattering than accurate," I said.
"So somewhat accurate. Thank you for correcting me, sir. I shall remember it."
"And I am no boy. I have twenty years. How old are you, mademoiselle?" I asked. Miss Powers and Miss Thomasina gasped, but Miss Magee showed no discomfort.
"Old enough to know the difference between arrogance and experience, and you seem long on the former and short on the latter," she said.
"A touch, a touch," I laughed, touching my breast. "But I have experience enough, more experience than you might expect."
"Oh, no doubt," she said, delicately taking a bite of a muffin. "I dare say the brothels of Brighton are ringing with the tales of your exploits."
Papagoras embarrassedly harrumphed and gulped for air. "Miss Margot, you shall mind your tongue at table!" he managed to squeeze out.
"Oh, do not mind her, Professor," I said with a wicked grin. "Without a doubt, Miss Margot's only motive is jealousy. She is doubtless as pure as the driven snow, as caged and coddled as a mynah bird, without the imagination to enjoy life, a flaw so typical of her sex. No wonder she lambastes the more daring and dashing men around her."
"Be careful what you say, Lordship," Miss Magee said angrily. "I am no shrinking violet like Thomasina."
"Oh!" gasped Miss Thomasina, who blushed furiously.
A strange noise emanated from the Professor. At first I believed him to be choking, then with shock I realised it was laughter. The night before he had let out great cackles, but this was a deep chuckle, a belly laugh if I may be so crude.
Tears streamed down his face. "Oh! Oh oh! At last we have found a match for Miss Margot! You had best watch yourself, Miss Margot, this fellow will cut you down to size," he choked out, then collapsed into a paroxysm of mirth again.
"Yes, watch yourself, Miss Margot," I said sweetly. "Or would you prefer I do it for you?"
Miss Margot could only fume in silence, trying to find a truly cutting remark. Miss Powers and Miss Thomasina looked on silently, scandalised by the table talk and shocked by Miss Margot's defeat. At last the Professor's fit of merriment subsided, and with a final chuckle he said, "I like you, Lord Stokington. These young ladies have run me to rags, but with you on my side I dare say I can hold my own."
"You are too kind, Professor," I said, and took a bite of eggs.
"Do me a great favor," Papagoras said. "Stay on as my houseguest. I could use the amusement."
Carefully setting down my fork, I said, "Professor, I am honored. I could think of no better company than yourself."
"Good, good," he said, "then it is settled. You shall stay here, and act as my aide-de-lieutenant against these incorrigible harridans."
"Professor," gasped Miss Powers.
"Do not worry, Mademoiselle Powers," I said. "I think you will find I am a much kinder constable than the Professor," and winked at her.
"Oh yes, which shall free me to be the wicked constable," laughed Papagoras.
After finishing my breakfast, I turned to the Professor. "I must fetch my articles from the Duck and Deacon. I shall see you again at luncheon?"
"If you can tear him away from his mikroscope," said Miss Margot.
"No doubt I shall," I said, and stood. "Good morning to you all."
I quickly made my way out into the street after making the proper bows. Well, well, well! The Mademoiselle Margot was quite the fiery lady!
I vowed then and there to be the most able aide-de-lieutenant to the Professor's general, the most able soldier possible--and I would keep my swordsmanship in practice.
After all, a good swordsman should be able to take three opponents at once, shouldn't he?
The Life, Times, and Misadventures of Dennis St. Michel, Viscount of Stokington, Soldier, Gambler, Diplomat, Scoundrel, Notorious Rakehell, and Lord of Menacing House, in his Own Words.