I had been avoiding her for some days. Her voice is not like the lark’s but rather similar to the shrill cry of the starling, and while I eagerly anticipated joining her in the equanimitous and happy economic bonds of matrimony, I fled with some haste from the horrifying prospect of actually conversing with her. In my recent funk, my various plans stagnant, I honestly did not think I could play her false. O woe to the rapscallion brought low by merciless Saturn, whose merry despair drives out all glad tidings and brings only the renewed prospect of drink, debt, and untimely death!
The morning after my conversation with Mademoiselle Margot, the rains that had so plagued us with their inconstancy the previous week at last reached a consensus of action and moved into Stokington for good. A continuous downpour was what greeted me for the next several days whenever I should happen to glance out my window. This inclement weather restricted my activities such that I was nearly driven to the point of madness! There could be no riding, not even in the lanes, which had transformed themselves into a morass of mud, and most decidedly no hunting. The Honorable Joseph MacDonald and pere had evicted themselves from Little Stoke to Dawlish, where they at least could while away the hours at fish and at cards. This left me with no confederates.
Mademoiselle Margot and Miss Powers had contrived to make themselves scarce, spending several days at the house of a young friend. I was thus left in the company of Professor Papagoras and Miss Thompson, which is meek meat indeed to a man such as myself. The Professor and I spent many an hour playing a new card game which had been introduced to us by a friend, called by the amusing name of “rummie.” This new pastime was most engaging—for a day or two. Then we tired of it. Each of us retreated then to our private chambers—he to his study, I to the library—where we amused ourselves in our own fashion. I read any number of the Professor’s Malaspina and La Pérouse, as well as The Mysteries of Udolpho, a rather trifling work suitable perhaps for impressionably idiotic young women.
Miss Thompson, coincidentally, was everything I had hoped Mademoiselle Margot would not be. After three days in her company, I wrote to le Mademoiselle in words that would have shocked my chums at Eton and Oxford for their near proximity to begging, beseeching her to return to the Professor’s home and give me a duelist of words such that my rapier wit should not be dulled on the granite that comprised Miss Thompson’s skull. Her reply was brief and cold. She informed me in no uncertain terms that she was much engaged with the on-goings of a very charming young man whom she declined to name save that he was studying for the clergy and was a man of--and these are her words--"great virtue".
Some backcountry parson proclaims a sermon calling for temperance, love, and mercy, and he cannot beat the young ladies away even with a very large stick. Few women exhibit greater diversity, or, if we may so express it, greater antithesis of character than the native gentlewoman of England. In maidenhood, she is just, generous, hospitable, revengeful, superstitious, modest, and commonly chaste; in marriage, daring, boastful, cunning, ruthless, self-denying, and self-devoted. Still, life without them would be a vale of tears.
After several days of ever-increasing boredom, I had at last resolved that there was no resolution. I lay in my bed, dismal with the thought that all my schemes were for naught. This depressing thought stayed with me all through that long, dark night of the soul. I tossed and turned and slept very poorly indeed.
It so happened that the very next day, when my thoughts were at their lowest, that a letter arrived for me. Miss Thompson brought it to me as the Professor and I luncheoned on good braised beef. The envelope was plain vellum, but it seemed to be stained in certain random places by droplets of some strange rust colored liquid. I slit it open and removed the missive inside, which transpired to be most intriguing. I reproduce it below, to the best of my memory.
To His Excellency Dennis St. Michel, the Viscount Stokington,
Dear Sir, I apologise most heartily that our recent engagement should have come to such an unpropitious end, and hope that the Injuries you endured for the sake of the Partnership are by this time well-mended. Having said this, I have in recent times journeyed to the City of London where I have discovered a business Venture that, in light of your regrettable financial difficulties of which I had heard much in Stokington, you might possess some interest. If you have a desire to make quite a few sovereigns, and are amenable to a continued business interest with my person, I suggest you make haste to the City and meet me in a most elegant Salon in Spitalfields administered by two most worthy Negroes. These two men are in manner trite and given to platitudes, but in all other respects are highly couth, and if you inform the shorter of the two that you seek my company, he shall fetch me at once. May your Excellency continue in good health, and I remain your obedient servant.
C. Walker, Eqsuire
Most mysterious! Still, Mr. Walker struck me as a chancer, and by God, a fair chance is a fair wager, I say. Let us proceed to Londontown and see what is afoot there.