The tea at Margaret's had been most refreshing, and I returned with a spring in my step to Great Stokington. I felt very lucky to have escaped intact from both Margaret and the Duchess, and this filled me with a profound sense of relief, but it soon faded. The joy of parting is nothing to the pain of meeting again, for the following night I must see her at Brutus's ball.
The details of the evening that followed were wholly pedestrian. I returned to the Duck and Deacon, took supper, and retired to bed, but not before sharing a few moments of ecstasy with Mildred. Since I had been ensconced at the inn for more than twenty-four hours, and showed no sign of dislodging, Madame Cooper left me alone. Show the slightest sign of vacillation and she will have you out the door, but cling like a barnacle and she will ignore you. Most people operate on the principle of doing as little as possible; make things difficult for them, and they will very often give you your way.
The following morning, I gave Mildred a solid boot out of bed, and then readied myself for the coming day. A quick shave, paying close attention to my lamb chops, then a brisk wash and I was ready to dress. Since I would be attending a ball that evening, I wore rather plain clothes, suitable perhaps for country sports or Polish royalty.
Unlike the previous day, the morning air was filled with a thick fog as I left the Duck and Deacon. A man could see no more than a dozen feet in front of him. I felt that this was perhaps ominous, but the important thing about omens is that they can be read any number of ways, so I decided the fog was ominous for my enemies and beneficial for me, and went about my day.
I went for a long walk in the country, then luncheoned with Joseph MacDonald. Over cold roast beef, I inquired as to this Captain John Brutus.
"A most bestial sort of fellow," sniffed Joseph. "He was in the Royal Navy, and the rumor is he was cashiered for brawling. He lives outside Little Stoke."
"Describe him to me."
Joseph frowned in thought. "Tall, dark hair. Ah yes! He wears a very thick beard, which tells you everything you need to know."
"Yes, never trust a man with a beard; he's most likely hiding something," I said.
"Still, I must inquire, Dennis; you have only been in Stokington two days. However did you wrangle an invitation?"
"I didn't," I said, taking a bite of buttered bread.
"Then how do you plan to get in?" Joseph asked, his brow furrowed in confusion.
"On the basis of my wits and charm." I flashed a smile. "They have never let me down yet."
"Oh, Dennis," Joseph groaned. "This Brutus, he's a very dangerous chap. I heard he killed a sailor in the South Seas over a woman. Be careful."
"I am always careful."
"You are always reckless, you mean."
"Still, you are absolutely right, Joe. I must take every precaution to ensure I shall not be turned away. Thank you for your pertinent advice."
Joe looked slightly mollified, but nearly choked on his roll when he heard my next words: "With that in mind, I need your horse."
He sputtered. "Flossy? Whatever do you need her for?"
"Well, I can't very well turn up on foot when every man jack will have a carriage, can I? It would be most improper."
"I cannot loan you my horse! You will return her with two broken legs, or perhaps not at all!"
"My dear Joseph, I am almost offended. Here I am, a bosom friend in his hour of need, and you begrudge me the use of your horse for but a single evening. Does not the Good Book preach charity? What would the vicar say?"
"I think he would say I would be wise not to loan you my horse!"
I heaved a great sigh. "Very well, Joe. No horse, then. Well, that changes a great deal. The saffron waistcoat is right out."
"Oh do excuse me, talking to myself. I was just thinking that I would be unable to wear my royal blue coat and saffron waistcoat with my buff breeches, as the road dust from a long walk would ruin them."
Joseph nodded. "A prudent notion."
"I imagine instead I shall have to wear the vermilion-and-green checked coat with the blue striped waistcoat." He began to squirm in his seat, listening to me describe this sartorial abomination.
"And the breeches would most definitely have to be the plum-colored ones. And perhaps the rose silk shirt..."
"Oh take the horse!" he burst out. "Anything to prevent you from committing such a crime against fashion."
"Why thank you, Joseph, you are most generous," I said, and smiled.
Clothes make the man, and sometimes they make the man a horseman.
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.