My meeting with Walker having been most productive, I made my way through the teeming streets of London in a most congenial mood. At last I understood what Walker had been driving at; Dithers was a wealthy man, and it would almost be moral to relieve him of that wealth after what he had done in Africa. The difficulty would be in the doing of the thing.
I told Walker that I am no thief, and this is true; however, I have no great qualms about tricking a man out of his money. I give another man the opportunity to use his wits to defeat me, and if I defeat him and take his money, then that is that.
Lost in these thoughts, and with my mind clouded with visions of avarice, it took me nearly a quarter of an hour to notice I was being followed. Now, it is not uncommon to be followed in London, usually by a back-alley-man or a strumpet, but this one was unusually persistent. Once I realised I was being pursued, I made my way to the relatively deserted Spital Square. My pursuant, recognising that the sparseness of the crowd left him vulnerable to discovery, began running from building-corner to building-corner, taking every available cover. This I saw only through the corners of my eyes, and I was impressed by his ability to hide himself in an area lacking adequate hidey-holes.
At last I tired of this diversion, and watching him carefully, I waited until he had ducked behind a nearby barrel, and then hid myself behind a dray cart. As I expected, he, under the mistaken impression that I had moved on, dashed forward past the cart, and when he did so I seized him firmly, which took some doing, since from the moment I laid hands upon him he put up a titanic struggle.
"Oi, oi, lay off!" he shouted. I was holding in my arms a squirming boy of perhaps seven or eight years old, thin as a rail and with a startlingly thick head of lustrous black hair. The boy himself was heinously filthy, his clothes ragged and worn. Obviously a street urchin of some sort.
"Let go!" he cried.
"No, I don’t think I shall," I replied, distracted by the fact that, even as he made the most herculean effort to free himself, he had still managed to pick my pocket. I was impressed.
"I shall let you go if you tell me why you are following me, and not before," I informed the struggling child, and to my surprise he ceased moving immediately.
"Right, your Lordship, it’s a fair cop," he said, with surprising savoir-faire. I could not help but laugh. I put the child back on his feet, and when I released him I was mildly pleased that he did not immediately dash off.
The boy dusted himself off, looking for all the world like a society gentleman squaring himself away after a tumble from a horse. I smiled.
"What’s you want to know?" he asked.
"First, what’s your name, boy?"
"Gallant Gus," he said with some pride.
"'Gallant Gus?'" I replied with some scepticism.
He glared at me. "Augustus Aloysius Aethelbert Dallas, Esquire, at your service, sir," he said, and made a deep, mocking bow.
I guffawed; young Master Dallas was proving to be most entertaining. "Very well, Gus, why are you following me?"
"Bloke slipped me half a hog for it," he replied easily, as though this were a conversation he had every day.
"Do you spy on people often?"
"All the time," he said proudly, "and I ain't never been caught--save 'til your Grace, o' course."
"For whom do you spy?" I asked, curious.
"I spies on the Prince o' Wales, when he be in town, on account of Mister Pitt asks me to, but I do that one grattis."
"Means for free."
"I know what it means."
"Mister Pitt, he's a right nob, that one, so's I does it free 'cause he's the patron of my youth activities association."
I smiled. "You mean your street gang?"
"We's the sons of gentlemen, we is," he said, affronted. "Right honourable rude lads. Me da's a barrister."
"Really? And where is he now?"
"Workhouse," replied Gus carelessly.
"For whom else do you spy?" I asked.
"Well, Mademoiselle de Pompadour, her grandmum was a nugging dress over in Paree, you know?" he said. "She has me spy on Lady Hamilton, but she don't pay much, so I don't do it very often. Just a ha'penny a week, see."
"I see. You obviously move in rarefied circles, Master Dallas."
"What's 'rarefied' mean?"
"It means I have a business proposition for you."
Gus grinned. "You want me to spy for you? Not a problem, your Grace. But it'll cost."
"Sign of the crown a week."
"Five shillings? You, young sir, are greedy beyond your years. I shall give you sixpence a week, and for that you do as I say, and spy for no-one else."
"Good," I said. "Do you know Sir Julius Dithers?"
"Do I?" replied Gus. "That old fogram? Me mate Elmo was a boot-black boy at his Nibs' house, and he tried to snaffle some french cream from his Nibs' study, but he made a fox's paw of it and his Nibs caught him and put one of his hocks into young Elmo’s nutmegs, he did!" Gus managed a fairly decent indignation at this outrage done to his fellow sharper.
"So you would not mind doing Sir Julius a harm?"
"Not in the slightest, your Grace."
"Good. I want you to follow Sir Julius everywhere he goes, and I mean everywhere. Get some of your friends to help if you need to. I shall pay them also."
"Cor," said Gus, his eyes wide. "You’re not half generous, a real princox. But why all the hugger mugger? Is his Nibs a French spy? Is that the run?"
I laughed. "No, nothing like that. 'Tis a personal matter. Now, one last thing: Who has been spying on me?"
Gus looked thoughtful. "Don't know his name. Funny, that. But a right tall fellow, taller than you."
"Well, I’m not very tall."
"Taller than me," he said evenly.
"This tall man, did he have dark hair?" I asked, thinking of Walker.
"No, no. His 'air was kind of silvery, like thistle-down. He nicks me outside the Wandering Monk and says, 'You're a likely looking lad, how would you like to make a shilling?' I says 'No hazard, governor,' I says, and he says, 'There's a nobleman staying at the Tabard, young, with blonde 'air and he dresses real flash. Go and tell me what he does.' So I does it."
"Well, I do not know any gentlemen with thistle-down hair. And you do not know his name?"
"No, no. Right queer, me not getting his name. I guessen I forgot to ask. But a shilling's a shilling."
"Right. You work for me now, young Augustus, and don't you forget it. Oh, and Gus?"
"Yes, your Grace?"
"Give me back my pocketbook."
He handed it over most reluctantly. "Thank you. Run along now."
Gus flashed a cheeky grin, and dashed off into the swelling afternoon crowd. He looked like a competent boy, but then I only know two sorts of boys. Mealy boys and honest-faced boys. The latter of which steal every damn thing that is not nailed down the moment your back is turned, and young Gus looked to be this sort. Which was good for me, since I could use a young ding boy to do my dirty work.
Soon I would have some knowledge regarding Sir Julius, and knowledge, as they say, is power.
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.