O what a happy man who finds himself young and in London! The rain-soaked brick and cobble of Piccadilly glistened in the afternoon sun, which had at long last shed its bashfulness and emerged from the all-encompassing clouds. Every surface and plane seemed to me to be aglow with light, and as I gazed out of the carriage I met each passerby with a cheery smile and brash bonhomie.
Hobbes was left well behind, and I had arrived in the greatest city in the world. London, city of lights! The rented carriage clattered through crowded streets, weaving between fruitsellers, natty lads, fullers, and mohocks. The din and sin of the city rose up in contrast to its exquisite charms. Prostitutes mingled with politicians and poets; for the man with money, all could be had. In short, a city in which I was a most natural denizen.
I quickly found lodgings at the Tabard; ‘tis truly amazing what one can do when one has money. I dined that evening on good chicken stew, and found blessed sleep. The fact that I was many miles from my enemy, who in his bedraggled state no doubt would, should he decide to come to London, cover the intervening distance on foot, made my slumber most restful.
In the morning, I awoke to birdsong. The rain had finally broken, and the sun had emerged permanently. A warmth of adventure and prospective excitement filled me as I dressed neatly in coat, breeches, and waistcoat. With watch and fob I presented the proper gentleman, and I decided to breakfast at a certain salon whose name I had been given in Spitalfields.
The streets were still somewhat muddy as I made my way through the tumultuous crowds of London. Hawkers offered me every treasure from the far corners of the world, exquisitely crafted the day prior in Bethnal Green. Doxies offered their wares with great generosity as I passed their shabby and worn doorways. At least twice young dimber-dambers tried to snake my coin-purse, but with a quick hand and a sharp cuff to the ear sent the pick-pockets on their way penniless. In all, a good morning, and I whistled as I came up to the salon recommended to me by Mr. Walker.
It was an oddly spare place, somehow lacking in detail and precision. How this was possible in a building I do not know, but the only proper way to describe its architecture was generic. I was greeted by a small, rotund Negro, his upper lip surmounted by a bristling mustache. The Negro appeared the very height of prosperity, his full stomach filling out the nondescript waistcoat he wore most elegantly.
"Good day, good day, good day!" he said, smiling.
"Good day," I replied. "I am the Viscount Stokington."
"Most pleased to meet you," he replied, with a slight but noticeable accent. "Most pleased!"
Nonplussed, I stumbled conversationally for a moment, then continued. "And your name is..."
The Negro continued to smile, but his eyes betrayed a hint of panic. "A name? I am the short one with the hair on his lip! My partner is the tall one with the hair on his chin! We are purveyors of beverages and gossip. Did you hear of the poet whose scandalous behavior has shocked the city? Or the nobleman who has gotten into trouble? Or the general who has won all the victories?"
Now I was truly lost for words. My confusion must have been evident, for he asked, "Have you come for our black beverage with flavor?"
"You mean coffee? I am sorry, but--A...a Mr. Walker told me to meet him here, for business?" I pleaded.
With this revelation, the tension seemed to ease from the little man. "Ah yes! The man who walks! Come this way."
I followed him to a small table, where he bade me sit, and soon I had a steaming cup of coffee. With, as the small Negro had promised, flavor.
A goodly hour passed, and I drank several cups of coffee from the ceramic pot the Negro had left before disappearing back in the kitchens. While my thirst was quenched, my host had neglected to provide me with anything in the way of sustenance, and I was soon famished. When next he emerged from the back rooms, I hailed him.
"Good sir, would it be possible for me to get a bun or even a profiterole?"
"You mean a confection made of pastry cut in half and filled with whipped cream?"
I hesitated. "Yes, precisely."
"Remember, sir, a king’s son is not nobler than his food," and with that he bustled off.
"What an odd person," I mused. "And what a bizarrely circumlocutious manner of speaking."
"You must forgive Monsieur H and his friend Monsieur J," boomed an unearthly voice from behind me. I turned and found myself presented with a tall man, draped in a porphyritic cloak. His burning eyes were shadowed by his furrowed brow. "You see, they come from a tribe in darkest Africa where it is considered the very worst luck to speak the proper name of something. They will not even speak their own names, and it took the devil’s own work for me to winkle them out of them."
"Mr. Walker," I said, with a smile. I rose and made a proper bow.
"I am glad you could come, and it is fitting that you should meet me here, where it is patently obvious that the Negro prospers when given the chance."
"Fitting how, my friend?"
"It was obvious to me when we met at Captain Brutus’ house that you were an adventurer and gambler and gentleman of fortune. I need such a man, with such skills, now."
"You flatter me."
"On the contrary," he replied, his voice deep with foreboding. "Even what talents you possess may not be up to the task. This is no mere parlor game. The fate of an entire continent is at stake!"
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.