Dinner at the Professor’s was a most droll affair. Miss Louisa Anne made any number of foolish and idiotic remarks, and I took great delight in mercilessly and subtly mocking her. Now, many of you may decry me as being ungentlemanly, but for what other purpose are the stupid placed on earth, save to amuse the rest of us?
Besides, it was not as if she even noticed.
I, on the other hand, noticed that Mademoiselle Magee seemed rather down-at-heart, and did not take part in skewering Miss Louisa Anne. This supreme change in her demeanour gave me pause, causing me to wonder if perhaps the acid-tongued conversational duelist I had encountered previously was an aberration. I possess such a lack of adequate rivals that the loss of even a single one produced in me a gastric distress.
After dinner had concluded, I planned to retire to the library, where the Professor had informed me he had a first edition of Lawson’s A New Voyage to Carolina, which I had looked forward to reading. Stopping first at the sideboard and preparing myself a glass of port, I then made haste to the Professor’s fine book cellar.
Now I have earlier vouchsafed my dislike of my father’s library, but the corresponding room in the Professor’s townhouse could not be more different. It is light and airy, with several large windows, and much open space. The books are kept up properly, and remain obediently on the shelves. In short, it is a room where man demonstrates his prowess over the written word rather than vice versa.
Having prepared myself for what was for me an unusual occurrence--a quiet evening in--I was therefore somewhat startled to discover the library had already been claimed by the woman in black, Mademoiselle Magee.
As I entered, she looked up with a short jerk of her head. “Oh. ‘Tis you, the Professor’s errand boy,” she said, but her words lacked her usual malicious glee, and I sensed only irritation.
I prefer my opponents to be fighting fit rather than weakened by some distress, so I made a bow and said, “My apologies, Mademoiselle, I did not realise the room was occupied. I shall retire elsewhere.” In part I said this because I did not wish to seem churlish, but also because Mademoiselle Magee is rather…sharp and jagged, like a hedgehog, and that made her a rather challenging conquest indeed. I take second to no man in my admiration of the female portion of the species. Let the other men play their games of politics; give me a fine young kirtle and an afternoon free of distraction and I shall be a happy man. Ambition is but the toy which amuses our lighter hours--women are the serious business of life.
Beginning a decorous exit, I placed my hand on the knob when Mademoiselle Magee spoke.
“No. Hold a moment,” she said, in a musing voice.
“You require something, Mademoiselle?” I asked, turning. I hoped this would not take long, as my glass of port was getting rather lonely.
“Yes, there is a matter…but you could not possibly help,” she said with a dismissive snort.
“How can you know if you do not ask?” I said reasonably.
She eyed me sceptically. “Very well. Sit,” she commanded, pointing to a divan, “and drink your port, you foolish boy, you so obviously want to.”
“Very well, I shall,” I said, and drank deeply. “Now what is this matter?”
“First I must ask for your word that you will speak of this to no one,” she said in a mocking tone of voice. “Of course, you could not give your word, and even if you did it would mean nothing.”
“My word means nothing? All words mean something.”
“You are a rascal and a rakehell, a knave and a true villain, so of course if I ask for your word, you shall lie and in your most honeyed voice promise me you shall take whatever I tell you to the grave.”
“Oh, not to the grave, no.”
“You intend to divulge my secrets long before then?” she asked, cocking an eyebrow.
“Oh, no, I intend not to die.”
“You intend not to die?” she asked in disbelief.
“Indeed. I doubt God will have me, and the Devil seems the sort to trade a good pound for a bad ring, so I imagine it shan’t be too difficult to escape eternal hellfire, and then I shall be back to my highjinks and fun again,” I said casually.
Mademoiselle Magee surprised me: she laughed at this. “I find myself liking you in spite of me,” she said.
“It is my talent,” I said solemnly. “Promise me you shall take my secret to the grave?”
“No, no,” she said, still laughing. “If you shall not die, neither shall I. I shall live on, unchanging, until…until…until the twenty-first century and beyond!”
“As long as that? Why, the French will have conquered the world by then, and who would wish to live in a world where only French is spoken?”
“The French,” she said, and her laughing ceased, and she looked saddened. “’Twere not for the French, I should not be here.”
“Oh?” I said.
“My father fought at Minorca against the French, during the War of Seven Years. When Byng’s line failed, the garrison there fell back to Gibraltar. My mother--her name is Gabriella--was the girl who brought the water. It caused quite the scandal, when my father brought her back to Ireland with him.”
“I see,” I said, and took another drink of port.
“They married for love, you see.”
“While you intend to marry for money? Or land?”
“I do not intend to marry at all, and that is the problem!”
I raised my eyebrows at this. “Problem?”
She looked at me for a moment, and then said very seriously, “Do you solemnly swear to take this to the grave?”
I looked at her, and said equally seriously, “I shall do no such damn foolish thing.”
She gave me an appraising look, and then set her jaw. “Good. I should have thrown a book at you else you said otherwise.”
“Go on then.”
She rubbed her chin for a long moment, and then said, “When I was but a slip of a girl of sixteen, I made a dreadful mistake. A boy--a handsome, kind, wealthy boring boy--asked me to marry him, and I like a dolt said yes. He and I have been secretly engaged these last --well, why should I tell you how old I am?!” she said, giving me a disparaging look. “At any rate,” she continued, “When the Professor came to take me away from my flowers and make me a lady, the boy--Mills, is his name--had long since departed for other shores to seek his fortune, and I thought myself free of him. But now he has returned, and has recommenced whatever dull romantic intrigue he had planned before he left. He has asked me to marry him again, and he will not take no for an answer!”
I thought about this for a moment. “Have you considered faking your own death?” I asked. “It is surprisingly easy to do.”
She snorted. “I need a permanent solution, not some half-cocked scheme you run with a pair of roustabouts and a corpse taken from a fresh grave.”
“Why not simply call off the engagement?”
“I have my honour; I gave him my word,” Mademoiselle Magee said haughtily. Then she looked at me with something akin to inspiration. “But you on the other hand…”
“I, on the other hand?”
“…Are a scoundrel who has no honour. Think me a plan, Dennis, to escape this hateful matrimony, think me a plan.”
“And what shall you do for me?” I asked. “Not very much, while I can do many things for you--or to you,” I said, and leered at her.
“If you think such words shall put me off my feed, you coney-catching bastard, you do not know Margot Magee. The last thing I need is another suitor pressing his suit.”
“My suit is not the thing I wish to press. In fact, let us forget my suit--and you your gown, and get down to bare facts.”
She gave me a cool look. “If you assist me, I shall not give you a ‘no,’” she said finally.
“Then you shall give me a ‘yes’?”
“I did not say that, did I?”
“No you did not,” I said admiringly. “So it is to be a game then? To the victor go the…”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I could not think of anything salacious that rhymes with ‘spoils.’”
“Keep it that way,” she said. “Find me a way out of this engagement and you shall have your game, your Lordship.”
And with that, she swept from the room.
Now all I had to do was discover a way to extricate Mademoiselle Magee from her engagement. Without faking her death.
Boils, toils, roils…no, still nothing.
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.