A chap needs a place to lay his head. This is a truth that none can deny, for a man who gets no sleep wastes away. My plans were not much in disarray due to my hasty exit from Menacing House, for I had not planned to visit that decrepit wreck at all. I had arrived on the poor man's private coach, the Royal Mail, earlier in the morning with the intention of attending Master Wilson's funeral, and then making a fast leg away. But the Lady Margaret, for all her dubious charms, had presented me with a golden opportunity to better myself. Now there is one thing that trumps a marquess, and that is a duke; admittedly, being married to a duchess does not make one a duke, but it is very nearly the same thing. With this in mind I decided to press my suit towards the Lady Margaret, which would require me to stay in Stokington. Therefore I needed some more permanent lodgings.
The long walk from Menacing House to Great Stokington gave me time to cool my head and abate the fury that the meeting with my father had aroused in me. I soon returned to my usual equanimity, and I even had a short chuckle as I approached the village.
The quaint hamlet glistened in the late afternoon sunlight, the rain having departed like a veil being lifted. It was a sight to gladden even the hardest heart, and I felt my spirits rise. Tomorrow is, after all, a new day, I thought. Why, perhaps this was the best thing. A clean break. A new start.
Having not intended to stay long in Stokington, I had left my meagre effects at the coachhouse. These I quickly gathered, and in the deepening gloom I made my way through the muddy streets to the local inn, the Duck and Deacon. Now of course I had no money, being dependent on my father for an allowance, so there was of course no chance of my renting a room. A word of advice at this point: never allow such things to discourage you. Be audacious, be bold, and you can do anything. It does not matter whether you are right or wrong, so long as you are definite.
With this in mind, I swept open the door and strode into the common room. A scene of raucous domesticity greeted me. Hens turned on spits above a broad hearth while dogs wrestled in a knotted, writhing heap. The wide wooden tables gleamed with a sheen of spilled beer, and in the air were the familiar tavern smells of alcohol, cooking meat, and sweat.
The usual crowd of farmers, artisans and laborers filled the room nearly to bursting, and the din was deafening. Here and there I saw the faces of the village's notables: Doctor Morgan, the Widow Worth, and Barrister Driver, the town clerk and solicitor. Only Driver met my eye, giving me a friendly nod. The Widow Worth merely glared at me; many a time I had shrugged off her meddlesome advice, usually to my benefit. Morgan was deep in conversation with his assistant Nicholas, perhaps too deep, if I am any judge of men.
But only one face I wished to see: that of Madame Cooper, the innkeeper. I found her quickly near the kitchen. A woman nearly as broad as she was tall, with a face as wizened as an old apple, she had run the inn for nearly as long as I had been alive, and her husband for as long before that. I came up behind her and gently tapped her on the shoulder. She turned, and with a startled shout, nearly launched a tray of buns into the rafters. "Lord Stokington, you nearly scared me half to death!"
"I do beg your pardon," I said with my best smile, "but when I spot a beautiful woman across a crowded room, I must make my way towards her, regardless of how many trays of buns I must upset."
"Oh, pooh, you rascal," she said, frowning, but a slight flush to her cheek suggested to me she was pleased. "You always were a silver-tongued flatterer."
"'Tis not flattery if it is true, madam, and as for tongues of silver, your majestic beauty and magnificent wisdom makes all such organs tarnished, leaving me flat-footed and slow-tongued," I said, and bowed deeply.
She tutted and smiled a little smile of embarrassment. "Now what brings you to the Duck an' Deacon, Lordship?"
"Would you believe me if I said the joys of your company?"
"No, I should bloody well not," she snorted with a laugh. "A rapscallion and a slippery Jim, that's you, Lordship. Iffen you told me the sun was up in the morning, I should check out the window afore I believed you."
"Well, then, let me say that I am here for the splendor of your ale," I said.
"That I shall believe," she said, and beckoned one of the serving girls towards us. The girl was a likely looking thing, with a pretty round face and a pretty round rump. "Fetch Lord Stokington a tankard of our finest, Mildred," said Madame Cooper. Mildred, the pretty serving girl, went to fetch the beer, granting me only a single backwards glance. Still, I have made do with much less.
"What brings you to Great Stokington, Lordship?" asked Madame Cooper. "I heard a rumor that you had a break with your father before you left for Oxford, so imagine my surprise, seeing you here."
"It is amazing what one hears, is it not?" I said, with a laugh. "No, I have returned to bury my old schoolmaster."
"Ah yes, the late Master Wilson. A tragedy, that."
"A man of a most gloomy and dreary countenance, but one who helped guide me to manhood, and to whom I owe a great debt. Tomorrow I must pay my respects to the Widow Wilson, and ensure her household is well arranged." I must do no such thing, but it sounded good.
'Oh, bless you, Lordship," said Madame Cooper. "I always knew you had a soft spot in your heart for Martha. Where is that girl?" she said, looking around in frustration. She gasped in startlement as Mildred popped up at her elbow. "Drat you girl, I should put a bell on you."
Handing me the tankard, she said, "Drink up, for Master Wilson."
"For Master Wilson," I murmured, and drank deeply. I quickly downed the thick brew, and smacked my lips in satisfaction. "That will put hair on your chest!"
"Aye, my thanks, Lordship."
"Now," I said, "I must make my way back to Menacing House, madam."
"Oh no," said Madame Cooper, aghast. "It is near four miles, it has fallen dark, and it has begun to rain again. Surely you cannot mean to walk back in the wet and the dark?"
"I must, Madame Cooper, for I have no lodgings in town."
"Then you must stay here for the night. My conscience won't permit me to let you go out in that weather. Stay. I insist."
"Well, if you insist," I said, with a grudging smile.
The bed in the room at the end of the hallway was barely wide enough to fit one person on it. Certainly two could not sleep side to side. Fortunately, Mildred and I found another way to fit on the bed.
See how easy that was?
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.