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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Pocketbook

“So where, precisely, is he?”

Gus pointed. “Down in yon salon, your Lordship.”

I shaded my eyes with one hand. “And his horse?”

“Reined in out front and yonder,” said young Jase. “I seed it me own self. Right nice horse.”

“Good,” I said. “And you three know what to do?”

Gus, Jase, and Hil nodded soberly. The crowded street was thick with the usual fug of odors inconsiderable, and swarming with hawkers, thieves, and prostitutes. The old Tudor buildings leaned in from either side, blocking off the sky and turning the street into a tunnel. We loitered in the entrance to an alleyway, my three young skylarker friends slouching rudely against the rough stone walls.

“Remember,” I said to Gus, “‘tis very important that you do not outdistance me, but do not let him catch you.”


“There he be,” squeaked Hil, gesturing with one twig-thin arm.

“Here we go,” I said, and began to proceed down the street towards our quarry. He was a young man dressed elegantly in silk and brocade, his handsome face only slightly lined by war. If he was the worse for drink, he did not show it, but even at this distance I could tell he was less alert than he ought to be. His longish auburn hair fell into his eyes, and his demeanour was of a man with few cares in the world.

I reached his steed mere moments before he did, and as I passed the beast I deliberately stepped in one of its droppings, sacrificing an excellent boot for our cause. As he untied the horse, I called to him. “I say, you there!”

His head snapped up. “Who calls?”

“I do. I say, are you the owner of this infernal creature?” I asked, gesturing violently towards the horse.

His handsome face took on a pugnacious cast. “I am, sir. And what concern is it of yours?”

“This foul beast,” I said, my voice quivering with manufactured rage, “has defecated in the street, and befouled my boots. I suggest you exhibit some control over it.”

“Perhaps if you had watched your step, you should have avoided it,” he said nastily. I strode over to him and poked him in the chest with a finger.

“My boots are ruined. I would very much like to know who will pay for them!” My angry tones echoed through the stifling street, drawing looks from passersby.

At that signal, Gus and his two cronies came trotting ‘round the corner. The young man paid them no mind, but I kept watch on them out of the corner of my eye as they loped down the street like stripling wolves, neatly dodging skirts and weaving between sweating artisans.

As the young man summoned what was to be without doubt some cutting remark, Gus gracefully collided with him, squirming between us with ease as he jostled both of us. The young man staggered backwards, but caught himself. As he regained his balance, I said, “Are you all right, man?”

“Fine,” he said, dusting himself off.

“Why, I do believe that rascal picked your pocket,” I said.

The young man hastily patted his pockets. “By God, you’re right!”

“There he goes!” I shouted, and dashed off after Gus. The boy gave me a merry chase, as I was forced to dodge between hoi polloi who stared after me, startled. At last I caught him, when he had decided the chase was convincing enough. I made as if to box his ears, and he in turn emitted some most believable yelps. As we grappled, I said to him in a low voice, “Have you the pocketbook?”

“Got it, lordship,” he replied in an equally low tone. Finally, I seized him by the ear and loudly declaimed, “Hand it over, you thieving rapscallion.”

Making a great show of reluctance, he handed me the offending article. “‘Tis a fair cop, sir.”

I clipped him behind the ear and he dashed off. Panting slightly, I returned to the young man, who had apparently been loath to leave his horse unbound. “Here it is; the blighter gave me quite the chase for it.”

“My thanks, most humble and extensive,” he said, taking the pocketbook with great eagerness. He quickly opened it, and let out a dismayed cry. “‘Tis empty! I am undone!”

“The whoreson!” I swore fervently, causing the other man to gasp at my vulgarity. “He must have removed its contents before I apprehended him! What a blow!”

The young man clapped a hand to his forehead. “‘Twas nearly a hundred pounds! My captain shall have my head,” he moaned.

“Only a hundred?” I said.

“‘Only’ a hundred?” he scoffed. “That is nearly two years’ pay.”

I reached for my own pocketbook. “In truth, I am at fault, sir. Had I not raised a fuss over the trifling matter of a bit of dung, you should not have been distracted and allowed that rapscallion to rob you. Here, allow me to recompense you.”

“No, no,” he said, pushing my proffered bills away. “Had I not been so careless as to lash my horse to the post in the street, none of this would have happened. Keep your money.”

I placed a carefully composed look of extreme sobriety upon my face. “Sir, my honour will not permit me to allow you to go forth empty-handed. Man, mind yourself is the first commandment, and if you shan’t mind yourself, I must do it for you. Please take this.”

At last he relented, taking the bills with only the greatest of efforts. “Sir, you are too kind. To whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

I doffed my hat. “Dennis St. Michel, Viscount of Stokington, at your service,” I said, and made a bow.

“And I am Lieutenant Jasper Dithers, likewise at your service,” he replied.

“Hopefully those funds shall make your day a bit more pleasant.”

“Without doubt, my Lord. The gaming halls of London shall tremble with fear tonight!” he laughed.

“A sportsman, eh? My friends and I are planning a small soiree some nights hence; perhaps you would like to join us?”

“Oh no, I daren’t; I am afraid your company is too lofty for the likes of myself,” he protested.

“Nonsense,” I said heartily. “Thursday night, for certain. A small but cozy casino in Knightsbridge called Duke’s. Please, be there with my invitation.”

“Perhaps,” he said, smiling, but I could tell he would be there for certain. “Perhaps.”

“‘Til Thursday,” I said, and turning, strode back up the street. After I had turned the corner, I found Gus and Jase sitting atop a small dilapidated cassone that had mysteriously been deposited in the street.

“Well?” I said.

Gus shrugged. “Hil’s nipped back around to stick the mopusses back in the jemmy fellow’s saddlebag.”

“Good,” I said.

“Whyn’t we just keep it?” asked Jase.

“Because we are not thieves,” I said sternly. “Now come, let us away. Young Gus needs to be fitted for a suit.”

“A suit? Why?” he whined.

“It will all become apparent,” I said confidently, as I led the two boys away. The first encounter with the enemy had gone swimmingly. I optimistically hoped the second would as well. Well, as I would later learn, optimism is for fools and Irishmen. The first major kink in my plan was just around the corner.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Poet

Walker and I had quit London for the moment, traveling some sixty-odd miles to Suffolk, where there are more horses than men. Newmarket itself had a rustic, charming quality about it, and as we strode through the high street we carefully avoided the larger puddles. The streets were thronged with followers of the turf, each man clutching a folio of bills as though it were his own child. We passed two men, one tall, one short, both arguing inanely over their losses and how they would explain them to the tall one’s wife. Every variety of man under the sun roamed and caroused. It was a good day for the bet-takers.

“Our mutual friend Dithers’ banker is a fellow by the name of Battle-Crownes. Oliver Battle-Crownes,” said Walker.

“Describe him to me,” I said, neatly sidestepping a cart loaded with manure.

“Bald and brainless,” said Walker bluntly. “Full of vim, you know?”

“Right. Over-enthusiastic and under-cautious. I know the type.”

“A bit of a philanthropist, helping orphans, donating to all manner of charities.”

“A do-gooder.”

“Very much so. Does he figure well in your plan?” asked Walker.

“Indeed he does. Your information has been most helpful,” I said.

As we made our way to the track, the crowd seemed to congeal, the nattily dressed toffs hastily attempting to keep their distance from a raggedy figure. Unfortunately for myself, I was swept by the pull of the crowd into the beggar’s presence. A tattered and worn man, his eyes burned from some madness that welled from within. In his arms he clutched a ginger moggie of truly terrifying proportions, whose matted fur and scowling visage, coupled with its extreme heft, provided a nightmare worthy of Bosch.

“It speaks,” the beggar whispered. “The hellcat, he speaks, and of things man does not wot! Life is a hideous thing, truly!”

“Very good, sirrah,” I said, uncomfortable.

“Beware,” intoned the beggar in a voice most sepulchral and iron. “Beware the Great Old Ones! They come. Shuuulz! Berqlibr’thed! Al-Qap, the mad Arab! The Kid in Yellow! Beware! They come, from beyond the mortal veil, invading the world material and driving innocent men to Bedlam and beyond! The Brainless Hound of Infinite Spittle, who gnaws at the souls of the unwary, he comes. The beast-men of Raw-Li Ch’rrch come, bringing with them untold tides of despair. The tiger that walks as a man, he comes. Beware!”

Walker grasped my shoulder. “I daresay this fellow’s been touched by some imp or other. Come, let us leave this crackbrain, and be about our business.”

We eased away from the howling madman, who continued his tirade, at times raising the great feline in his arms for inspection by the crowd, but his words haunted me. The tiger that walks as a man. I remembered Lady Nimue’s words of warning: “‘Ware the tiger. ‘Ware the tiger.” Was I doomed to be forever haunted by the spectral stripes and phantom fangs of some unseen predator?

It was therefore with feelings of profound doom that I allowed Walker to guide me through the crowd, until at last we found our quarry, the elusive Mister Frazier, beneath a somewhat worn canopy, betting slips nearly covering the rickety table before him.

He was a tall, thin young man, his blonde hair knotted and unruly. His every motion suggested a man deep in unease, and for a brief, bewildering moment I thought it was my nemesis Hobbes. However, after a moment it became clear the resemblance was only co-incidental. He wore finely cut clothing, suggesting a young man of some means, but the fine lines on his face--and the dram of gin by his elbow--hinted at unpaid debts, at late-night visitations by creditors, at bankruptcy and forlorn hopes dashed. A well-built young woman sitting next to him, while somewhat plump, was sufficiently statuesque to delight the eye, but the cut of her gown and the cheapness of the fabric implied a certain mercenary aspect to their relationship.

“Mr. Frazier?” I asked. He looked up with eyes filled with dread, and I continued. “I come from our mutual friend Duke.”

With this remark his face turned ashy pale, but to his credit he held his ground, and merely nodded. “Do what thou must,” he said resignedly. “The barb may sting but a moment, but the shame of cowardice shall endure into eternity. I await thine killing blow.”

A poet. Typical. “Spare me your dramatics,” I said with as much sarcasm as I could muster. “I come to offer you a business proposal, not assassination, if that is not overly pedestrian for the likes of you.”

Frazier’s brow nearly met his hairline. “Who are you?”

“My name is Dennis St. Michel. I am the Viscount of Stokington.”

“Edwin Frazier, esquire,” he replied, standing and making a bow. “The young lady to my right is my esteemed muse and paramour, who rejoices in the name Miss Fredericka Ritz. She is the eternal and undying inspiration for every note I commit to paper.”

“Charmed,” I replied, and sketched a bow. “This is my partner Mr. Christopher Walker, of Africa.”

“How may I be of service?” asked Frazier.

Walker and I sat. “Mister Duke has apprised me as to the fact that you owe him nearly five thousand pounds.”

“Alas,” cried Frazier. “By equus and absinthe I am undone, my love of Lady Luck goes unrequited and the dice curse me at every throw.”

“I would like to offer you a chance to escape penury,” I said evenly. “I have need of a young man skilled in the arts of cards and you seem to match my requirements. I also need a young lady of Miss Ritz’s fashion; perhaps she would also like to assist us.”

“For what purpose, sir?”

“A small game concerning a gentleman of property but no morals.”

“A proper villain, then? Perhaps, perhaps. Do you possess any great chance of success?”

“I would put money on it,” I said, smiling.

Frazier grimaced. “As would have I, once. For most men--till by losing rendered sager--will back their own opinions by a wager.”

Walker glanced at me quickly. “If you follow, your debts shall be covered, and you shall away with a tidy sum. The part you play is but small.”

“And no great vice?” Frazier asked, and I could sense in his voice a weakening of resolve, a desire to escape his mean station by any methods offered to him. “No uncalled-for sin?”

“Can one sin ‘gainst a sinner?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. “Think, my friend. Enough money to pay off Mister Duke, and perhaps to put your young muse in finery fit for a demigoddess, rather than a demimonde.”

Frazier sighed, and buried his face in his hands. For long moments he was silent. Then at last, as though from a great distance, he said, “What is my part?”

“A gambler, a role for which I think you most well-suited. And one other, but that shall require you to work an honest day’s work.”

He let out a death-groan. “First you blackmail me into whatever shenanigan Mister Duke has planned, then you condemn me to the hell of…labour.”

“It is but light work,” I said hurriedly. “You shall sit behind a desk and move papers about, nothing more.”

With an obstinate expression he said, “It is the principle of the thing.”

“And besides,” I said, “‘Tis not Mister Duke’s play. ‘Tis my own.”

“Yours?” he said, startled.

“Indeed. Will you act?”

He sighed, but then extended his hand. “It seems I have but little choice.” We shook.

Arrangements were made to transport young Mister Frazier and his lady back to the city. As Walker and I proceeded by coach to the warm and welcoming bosom of that noble municipality, I explained to him the role our gambling friend was to play. I also elaborated on the Vital Matter of the Banker.

Now, to find a forger and all would be in readiness!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Window

The apple I was eating was very good, but to be entirely frank I was somewhat tired of waiting for young Gus and his confederates to arrive. The morning had dawned misty and cold, and I huddled in a corner off Cavendish Square. Sir Julius Dithers’ house was opposite.

At last, a sextet of small wraiths emerged from the fog. Led by Gus, the urchins quickly formed a semicircle around me.

“This is his Lordship,” said Gus proudly. “He’s a real nobleman, he is.” The other children looked on in apparent awe.

Gus made introductions. “These are me mates Hans and Fritz,” pointing to two shock-headed boys who looked about six, “and Jase,” a squinting, dirty boy of nine or ten with a lizard in his pocket, “and the Slug.” Gus made an airy gesture towards a brawny boy with an expression of extreme stupidity on his face.

“An’ this is me gel Hil,” he said with some pride, slinging an arm companionably around the shoulders of a tiny girl of perhaps five years, whose stringy blonde hair and narrow features did not completely disguise a quiet intelligence. “Just like the big lads down by the quays got thems gels, I gots my gel,” said Gus.

“Gus, do you even know what older boys do with their girls?” I asked, bemused.

He frowned, and thought for a long moment. “She would bake me cakes?” he said hopefully.

“Yes. Yes, that is exactly what she would do.”

I turned to the chit of a girl. “Hil, Gus tells me you can read.” She nodded solemnly. I handed her a small card. “Read this, please.”

She squinted at the writing, and in a halting voice, read off, “R-Reputation is an idle and most false imp-impositi-on.”

“Very good,” I said. “Now, Gus told you what to do?” She nodded. “Then sally forth and off you go then.” She trotted down the street, eyeing the wall in front of Sir Julius’ manse carefully. At last finding a spot that suited her, she shinnied up the wall, and was over the top in a twinkling.

The boy Gus had identified as ‘Slug’ sat down against the wall and pulled his cap over his eyes. “Waken me iffen she comes back,” he said.

Gus looked at him contemptuously. “Mayhaps you’d best stay awake, lest the constabulars come.”

“Mayhaps you’d best shut it, lest I thump thee,” Slug said, his tone resentful.

“Get up,” said Gus in a cold hard tone.

Slug slowly clambered to his feet, his bulk ponderous and massive compared to Gus’ small frame. “You be thinkin’ this youth activities association belongs to you, liken you was our Parly-man.”

“Hold now,” said one of the other boys, either Hans or Fritz, but it was too late. Slug lunged for Gus, but his Goliath-like size was of little use. Gus agilely dodged the blow the other boy aimed for his head, and neatly caught Slug in a headlock. “Say nuncle,” Gus gasped as Slug struggled.

Slug merely grunted, and so Gus wrenched his arms higher. “Say nuncle!”

Slug squealed in pain, but before he could relent, the boy Jase pointed, crying, “There she is!”

We turned, and could see Hil nimbly working her way across one of the high gables of the mansion. As we watched, she struck the sill of a window that could have been no more than one foot across with the butt of her hand. The miniscule window opened, and she snaked through, vanishing into the house.

“Success,” I said. “She is in Sir Julius’ house.” Behind me, Gus turned Slug loose. The larger boy grumbled resentfully and massaged his shoulders, but the rest of us ignored him.

The boys took turns pitching pennies while we waited. Fritz seemed to be winning; at the very least, he took tuppence apiece from Slug and his brother Hans. However, aside from Slug’s continued sullen glances at Gus, the boys made quite merry.

After a time, we heard a scrabbling noise above us. Hil appeared sitting atop the wall, her bare heels tapping against the granite, and with our help she quickly descended. She briskly dusted herself off.

“Well?” I asked.

“Jus’ like you said, lordship,” she squeaked. “All writ under ‘em on little shiny pages like Gus said.”

“And what did they say, Hil?”

She thought hard, remembering. “Carry-vaggie-o, Rubbens, Brooeg-hell, and de la Toor.”

“‘Tis what they said?”

“You know it, lordship.”

“And no-one saw you?” She shook her head. “Good work, Hil. Have a sweet,” I said, and handed her a paper-wrapped confection. With astonishing rapidity, she crammed it into her gaping mouth, and began chewing furiously as a rapturous expression appeared on her face.

As the urchins and I made our way down the street, the children one by one detached from the group and vanished into the growing crowd, until I was left alone. I felt some pity towards these youths, so innocent in their lawlessness. They would do anything for a shilling. I have been accused of many a crime, but destitution, my dear Sir, destitution - that is a sin.

Still, my young cohort had uncovered some useful information for me. But I would have to keep an eye on Slug, for I would have other jobs for them in the future, and could brook no serious rift in their party.

The Duke

Gus and I strolled down Knightsbridge in the early afternoon swell. “I must admit, I have never heard of this place,” I said.

“Never ‘eard of Duke’s?” said Gus, affronted. “Why, his Grace is one of the chief patrons of the youth activities associations.”

“If this is an opium den, I shall be very put out.”

“Nay, nay, ‘tis a five-shilling house, you know, a bawd.”

We turned into Dunesborough Lane. An ill-painted sign had been hastily nailed to the side of a dilapidated slum. DUKES, POORVAYERS oF JOY. The lintel was stained with something that may have been wine, but on the odds was probably not.

“Well, this is pretty,” I said.

Gus grinned. “‘Tis the best, lordship.”

I opened the door and we entered. I was surprised to find the interior to be most opulent, if somewhat decadent. Men, young and old, were gathered around the velvet, with whores of various quality clutching their arms as dice were cast upon the tables. The din was extraordinary given the early hour, and as Gus and I threaded our way through the crowd we were nearly deafened.

Accosting a steward, we were directed towards the rear of the structure after inquiring as to the operator. A nondescript door, seemingly out of place amid the luxury, was set into the rear wall of the great room. Beyond it lay the inner workings of the casino, the private salons where gentlemen might entertain young ladies at their leisure, and the cellars stocked full of liquors and ale. The steward went in ahead of us, bidding us take our ease at the door while he consulted with the owner. After a time, a doughty young Chinawoman emerged. “Mister Duke is busy now,” she said in careful English. “He will not see you.”

SEND THEM IN!” bellowed an inebriated voice from beyond the door.

“Mister Duke is very tired. He cannot see visitors,” said the Chinawoman hastily.


“One moment,” she said, and retreated to the gloomy recesses behind the door. There subsequently ensued an apparently strained conversation, with the low tones of the Chinawoman being punctuated by loud outbursts from the unseen Duke.

At last the Chinawoman returned. “Mister Duke has made a miraculous recovery. He will see you now.”

We followed her deep into the bowels of the casino, arriving at a private apartment adorned in the most shabby style. Seated behind a decrepit desk was an equally decrepit man. His frock coat was worn, and covered with burns, which came from the occasional rain of ash that issued from the pipe clenched betwixt his teeth. He had little hair, and what hair he possessed was white, and twisted and knotted from neglect. Affixed, apparently permanently, to his face were a pair of smoked glasses, and in his manner he was most nervous, constantly twitching and jerking as though beset by spirits. A lotus-eater, in short.

“Who are you and what do you seek?” he barked, nervously looking behind us, as if expecting intruders. “Be quick, and say your peace, for this is the hour and time the bat emerges from his darkened belfry and assaults the unwary.”

“May we sit?” I asked, gesturing to a pair of ratty, worn stools before the desk. Mister Duke agitatedly nodded his assent.

“I much admire your casino,” I said, by way of opening the conversation. “It seems most prosperous.”

“Prosperous?” snorted Duke. “Spare me your kind words. I plow a lonely furrow, my friend.”

“I am Dennis, Viscount of Stokington. If you have heard of me, I should not be much surprised, for I am well-known in the gaming establishments of this great city.”

Duke tapped out his pipe into a bowl with shaking hands. “Stokington, Stokington,” he mused. “Yes, I’ve heard the name.”

“I have a small business proposition for you, your Grace,” I said. “One of extraordinary profitability, one that will raise you up from this lowly station.”

“Shut your mouth, boy,” snarled Duke. “You only reveal your ignorance.”

He sighed, and suddenly seemed ancient, a grayed and mouldering presence in a tomb long since deserted. “I was a great man, once.”

With trembling hands he packed tobacco into his pipe and jerkily struck a match. “A great man, yes. With a great house and a beautiful, charming wife, and children who loved me. Then I went over the edge. Pushed, really. The edge...there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others--the living--are those who pushed their luck as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But I went over, was pushed over. Now I have nothing, save this casino.”

He puffed furiously on his pipe. “Damned Junius.”

I shifted in my seat. “Then perhaps this is your chance to regain some wealth.”

“What do you propose, then?” he asked tiredly.

“In a few days time, a gentleman will come to your casino accompanied by myself. When he does, I wish for you to ensure that he loses. Enormously.”

Duke eyed me through his smoked glasses. “And what profit do I warrant?”

“Keep his losses, for all I care.”

His eyebrows went up. “‘Keep the losses’? What profit do you warrant, then?”

“Satisfaction,” I said.

“Ah, a matter of honour,” he said wryly. He turned to Gus. “And do you approve of this course of action, young fellow whose name I do not possess?”

Gus squirmed. “Iffen his Lordship says it be good, then it be good. And my name, ‘tis Gus. Augustus.”

Duke looked hard at him. “Augustus. A fine name,” he said with some definiteness.

He turned to me. “I find your proposal most reasonable, although I must say I am affronted you would presume me to be the sort of man who cheats.”

“You own a casino.”

He glared at me momentarily. “Touché. However, before I undertake this for you, I wish you to undertake something for me.”

“And that would be?”

He shrugged. “A simple matter. A young musician, a gambler in my casino, has mounted debts to me that he has seen fit not to repay. This fellow is quite wealthy, and so I feel that it would be inopportune for anything…untoward to occur to him before he can settle accounts.”

“And I--”

“--will convince him to make full restitution.”

“I see. It sounds an easy matter. Where can I find him?”

“He has awayed to Newmarket, for the running. His name is Frazier.”

“Very well, I do a favour for you, and you do a favour for me. Most proper. I give you my most humble thanks for your assistance in this matter, Mister Duke.”

He nodded irritably, and with that as our signal to exit, young Gus and I made our adieus. We walked through muddy streets, and as we did so I reflected on Mister Duke’s decline of circumstances. Like a fine coat, the time when he fit had long since passed, and now he withered away in storage. Many a man prospers while another fails, both in the same field. I mentioned this to young Gus. The city had seen fit to provide me with a perfect example, and I pointed to two buildings facing each other across a busy street. One was well-built and well-appointed, the other dilapidated and decayed. “Look here,” I said.

Gus looked at me, baffled. “What?”

“Do you not see?” I huffed in frustration. “Read the signs.”

Gus peered at the two signs. He turned back to me in confusion.

“They both say ‘Baker’s’,” I explained patiently. “One is successful, the other a failure.” I frowned. “Can you not read?”

He bashfully looked at the ground. “Nay,” he whispered.

“Well, we shall have to remedy that,” I said briskly. “In the mean, are there any of your young associates who can read?”

The urchin thought for a moment, then brightened. “Me gel Hil, she knows her letters. Numbers, too.”

“Good, bring her along tomorrow. I have a job for her.”

I resolved at that moment that Gallant Augustus’s illiteracy should not go unmended. After all, reading maketh a full man, and if Gus were to grow to be a good sharper, he would need to be very full of it indeed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Debtor

It is impossible for a Scotsman to open his mouth without making some Englishman hate or despise him. I reflected on this as we dealt with the latest difficulty to our plan.

“Now listen carefully, your Majesty,” said Walker. “‘Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously. Moses he knowses his toeses aren’t roses, as Moses supposes his toeses to be.’”

“Moses s’poses his toeses is rrrroses, but Moses s’posen errrrrrrrroneously. Moses he ken that his toeses ain’t rrroses, as Moses s’poses his toeses to bein’,” brogued the Dauphin.

Walker sighed, and turned to me. “‘Tis hopeless. Utterly hopeless.”

“If I had a shilling for every time I had heard the words ‘hopeless, utterly hopeless’ before the successful completion of some scheme or other, I should be a very wealthy man,” I said. “Still, you do have a point. Why, I imagine I could turn young Gus from a ragamuffin into a proper gentleman before you can turn the Dauphin from a Scot into a proper Englishman.”

“Not a bet I would consider taking, your Lordship,” said Walker. He turned back to the Dauphin. I released a sigh, and then excused myself from the small room we had rented. Making my way down the stairs, I exited the slaphouse deep in the heart of Southwark, where refuse spilled into the streets and tired beggars clamoured for alms. To think, I was scant alleyways from my room at the Tabard.

Avoiding mud puddles, I walked with a slow and forlorn pace down the street, passing the looming bulk of Marshalsea. From their barred windows, the denizens of that awful place called out piteously, begging for release. In more normal times, I ignored such entreaties, but sunk in such despondent mire as I was, when a grey-topped old duffer called in stentorian tones to me from a ground-level window, I stopped.

“Your lordship!” he called. “Your lordship, clearly a man of probity and prosperity such as yourself could see fit to release me from my bonds!”

“What is your name, old relic?” I asked, for his face was deeply lined from years of suffering and neglect. Almost ecstatically, he reached through the bars to me.

“The Right Reverend William Dunn, is I. Billy Dunn, of the little chapel in Aldborough Hatch, ask any man there, they know me!”

“A man of the cloth?” I asked, intrigued. “What brings you to such mean estate?”

“Oh, alas, alas,” he wailed. “Is it not true that all men can be criminals, if tempted, but also that all men can be heroes, if inspired? Were that such an opportunity were given to me!”

“At your ease, fellow. What troubles you? Why have you alighted here? What business is it?”

“A fifty-pound business,” he sobbed. “A grave weakness, done only for reasons of strength. Strength, I tell you!”

“Go on,” I said.

“My rectory lacked for funds--what a tragedy befalls the church! But a young man of my acquaintance--of handsome and trustworthy visage, from a good family, and most reputable--told me of a horse race to be held outside the city. This horse race, he vouchsafed--most surely he did, in the kindest and most honest words--had already been decided, even before the horses had been run. He allowed that were I to place my coin upon a certain horse--a most high-spirited stallion by the name of Beadlebomm--I should win back ten times my original wager.”

I smiled sadly. “And this stallion came in last, and you lost everything.”

“Everything!” cried Dunn. “Fifty pounds of the church’s money, which was to go to the upkeep and maintenance of my parish, and some shillings of my own! O what misfortune! In time, the bill-collectors and the county sheriffs came for me--honourable men, every one of them, and I will hear not a word against them--and locked me away here in this prison. Why, oh why did my luck turn bad? Why could not my horse have won?”

“My friend,” I said, “you have been subject to a most unkind trick. This fellow told you that this horse would win, when in fact he knew it was certain to lose. You were marked to lose before you even placed your wager.”

Dunn’s face coloured a deep red. “That...scoundrel! How dare he? How dare he?”

“This gaol you reside in...comfortable, is it?” I said idly.

“Comfortable? Do not be foolish! I moulder away here, as a result of the unconscionable actions of an unscrupulous charlatan!”

“Truly, it is unfortunate that this fellow has escaped justice. If there were some way of punishing him, would you be amenable?”

His face screwed up tight, Dunn managed to snarl, “Impossible. He has ventured overseas, indeed, came and visited me prior to his departure!”

“Such men must not go unpunished.”

“No, no indeed! May God’s own fist fall upon them!” he thundered, and gripping the bars tightly, rattled them in their sockets.

“How inexpressibly fortuitous of you to say so,” I said, “For I have just such a rogue of my acquaintance that needs punishment.”

Dunn’s eyebrows shot up. “You say so?”

“Indeed,” I said. “A slaver, and a dealer in slaves.”


“Quite so. If I pay your debts, would you be willing to work with me to malign this fellow?”

His aged face set with determination, he nodded. “I am your man.”

“I shall return.”

I whistled cheerfully as I returned to the rented room to extort fifty pounds out of Walker. Dunn’s words had inspired some theological reflection in me. God provides, I decided, and God loves tricksters. Jacob, David, Solomon--noble men all, and men of my party. Now I had my old priest. Yes, I thought, God most certainly provides.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Siren

Pendant la fin du dix-huitième siècle, les magiciens de la rue et les magiciens sont devenus une vue de plus en plus commune dans les petites routes et les allées de Londres, grandement comme un contrecoup contre la marée montant de science d'Éclaircissement.

From the Fruhlinger Archives: Nimue, une sorcière de la rue de Londres (Alexandre Cabanel, Oil on Canvas, 1795)

The Election

Many of my New World correspondents have recently apprised me as to the fact that you Americans are having yet another of your experiments with Athenian democracy. Far be it for me to counsel you as to what course of action your young nation, having only just come into existence within the limits of my own lifetime, should take, but I believe it clear which of the two candidates is superior. Please, for the sake of your nation, the sake of the relations between our two great nations, elect the older man with greater experience, the military hero, the reformer of an old, corrupt party, the maverick.

Vote early, vote often, vote Harrison and Granger in '36.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Dauphin

“How do you suppose they get this filling in here?” asked Walker, holding aloft a fine gougére, as we luncheoned the next day.

“Some sort of guild secret, I imagine,” I replied. The meal was most fine, consisting of the crispest, driest claret I have ever tasted, well matched by broiled grouse atop a bed of sautéed potatoes. Finely minced carrots completed the gustatory repast, and as we finished the meal with delicious pastries and coffee, we discussed the various advances of our plans.

“On your Mister Mills, I have nothing,” he admitted.

I waved a hand carelessly. “Not to worry. I have a spy following him as we speak.”

“Then tell me how else you have fared these last few days.”

“I told you before we would need ten to succeed.”

“Ten with us, or without?”



“You believe we need one more?” I asked. He said nothing. “You believe we need one more.”

“Ten is good. Eleven is better.”

“Eleven it is. Now, I have one of our gamblers--a Mister Jones, of Mayfair--and one of the busty young wenches--Mademoiselle Blaze shall do nicely. As for the role of the young priest, a friend of mine shall play that part, and I can count on easily getting two young ragamuffins.”


“Three, then,” I said easily. “The problem remains: we still require a master forger, an elderly priest, a gentleman of distinguished and noble countenance, another buxom young maid, and a second gambler.”

“Difficult to find, difficult to mind,” said Walker. “I shall make every reasonable effort to--hello, what’s this?”

I turned, and discovered a most singular person had just entered the salon. The third quality I noticed about him was the length of his beard, which was slate-gray and quite luxurious, reaching nearly to the floor. The second quality I noticed about him was his hat, a tricorn of quite impressive scale. But the first quality I noticed about him was his height. He was quite the shortest man I had ever seen, the top of his head (insofar as it could be discerned under the hat) barely clearing the plane of the tables.

Dressed in clothing once fashionable, now faded, he bore a large package bound in paper and twine. Weaving his way, through the crowded salon, he gradually made his way to the side of an elegantly dressed toff. Once behind the dandy, he cleared his throat loudly, and the finely-dressed gentleman turned, knocking the package out of the short man’s hands and onto the ground, where it made the horridly tragic sound of broken glass.

Already I knew what would come next, and flashing a grin at Walker, I rose and eased through the throng, reaching the ill-fated pair just in time to hear the short man release a voluminous torrent of slurred Scots.

“Ye daft bugger, luik wat ye’s done to me packy!”

Looking mightily affronted, the gentleman sneered, “Perhaps if you had been more careful--”

“Perhaps y’d best be minding your manners, for ‘twas ye who spun and smashed me packy, ye great Southern bastard.” To the gentleman’s obvious discomfort, and my admiration, the short man had managed to bring tears to his eyes, and a steady stream of brine leaked down his cheeks to lose themselves in the lichenous tendrils of his beard.

“'Twas for me wifey,” he sobbed.

“Perhaps I can make some...restitution,” said the gentleman, quite apparently uncomfortable, and he reached for his billfold.

Time for me to intervene. I gracefully sidled next to the short man, and wrapping an arm around his shoulders (in actuality the crown of his hat, but you make hay with the straw you have), said, “My good sir, please put your coins away. In truth, only an impartial, third observer could discern that neither of you was at fault.”

“Neither of us?” said the elegant gentleman. Although I could not see his face, I could sense the short man glaring at me.

“No, and so you should not be responsible for this man’s package.”

“But who shall pay for me packy?” bawled the short man, recovering nicely.

“I shall,” I said gallantly, and the crowd of onlookers applauded. “Since I discovered the lack of culpability, it only seems proper for me to provide the recompense to this gentleman, whose package was to meet an end so untimely.”

“Wa-al, that’s very gen’rous o’ye...ver’ gen’rous,” the short man mumbled.

“'Twould be most vulgar for us to discuss the transaction here, in this fine establishment. Let us retire without, where we may more easily settle accounts.”

Skillfully guiding the short man outside, despite his carefully concealed struggles, I presented to the rest of the salon the beaming face of a Samaritan about to embark on a positive crusade of goodness. There was a smattering of applause as we exited, Walker trailing slightly behind us.

Once in the alleyway, things changed abruptly. I turned the short man loose with a shove, and as he struggled to regain his balance, I said, “Nice lark.”

“What?” he said, giving me a blank look. Drat. My mastery of the thieves’ cant would serve me little here.

“Job. Trick. Scheme. Whatever you may call it. You almost got away with it.”

“An’ I woulda, iffen yous fine bodrachs hadna interfered,” he said furiously.

“Just out of curiosity, what was in the package? A couple of smashed-up bottles?”

He glared at me, then in a tone most begrudging, said, “Auld window-pane I foun’ in the lane.”

“Excellent!” I said, grinning cheerily. “To whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

The short man drew himself up, creating a very small picture. “I, fer all ye ken, am the crown Doffin of France.”

“An excellent and, I am certain, quite truthful answer, with only two small difficulties that I can see. One: it is pronounced ‘Daw-fan’ and Two: the Dauphin of France is nine years old and imprisoned in France, whereas you appear to be a septuagenarian and are at liberty in London. Other than that, I believe you completely, your Majesty.”

A look of dawning comprehension creased the Dauphin’s face. “Yuir not callin’ yon sheriffs?”

“No, I think not.”

He reached into his coat and retrieved a small tin. “Name’s Smythe,” he said, inhaling a pinch of snuff.

“I once knew a man with a wooden leg named Smythe,” I said to Walker.

“What was the name of his other leg?”

“I don’t know, he never told me.” Turning back to the Dauphin, I said, “How long have you been practicing the fine art of swindle?”

“All me life, an’ compared ta me, yuir just a wee bairn.” Proud. Very proud.

“And the best you can manage is a simple broken-vase scheme?”

“Ach! See here now,” he began, but I cut him off.

“Can you sound more English?”

He stared at me, and then clearing his throat, said, “Indubitably, my good man. How does this sound?”

“Still fairly Scottish, but perhaps with practice...” I said, turning to Walker.

Walker looked sceptical. “Perhaps.”

“What are ye blithering about?” said the Dauphin in irritation.

I smiled. “Your Majesty, I would like to offer you an honest day’s pay for a dishonest day’s work.”


Later, I asked Gus about him. “Oh, he’s alright,” said Gus. “Nice old bloke.”

“He claims to be a king.”

“Well, that’s alright for you, ain’t it? All kings is mostly rapscallions anyway.”

True. Very true. Sometimes my young streetwise friend could be most astute. At any rate, another role in my drama had been filled. Perhaps this Dauphin could act the proper Englishman. As the man said, the play truly was the thing, for after all I had already caught a king.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Reverend

That afternoon I ventured out to Piccadilly. The elegant townhouse in front of me bespoke prosperity, the façade a testament to the days of ancient Athens brought forth to the modern era. It also had peonies.

I knocked smartly on the front door. After a few moments an addle-pated young man, whom I initially took to be a servant, opened the door. A thick shock of wavy ginger hair surmounted a visage of astonishingly banal stupidity. However, the cut of his clothing and the smartly turned-out shoes he wore argued against the servant theory.

I politely raised my hat. "Is the young Reverend Keane within?"

A look of dull incomprehension settled on the young man’s face. "Is he within what?"

"You must be Geoffrey," I said kindly. Keane had mentioned his brother, apparently the local idiot, several times.

"Must I?" he replied, seemingly puzzled.

From behind the fool a voice hailed. "Whatever is happening, Geoffrey?”"A round-faced young man, his blonde hair slicked back from his forehead and dressed in the manner of a parson, appeared from the next room. "I can hear all variety of commotion, and--Oh no!" he yelped, as he caught sight of me. To my utter astonishment, he turned on one heel and sprinted from the foyer. I grimaced ferociously, and laid chase.

"William Keane, get back here!" I bellowed as I passed through an elegantly appointed sitting room with all speed. Three matronly ladies watched with startled expressions as a young minister dashed through their tea, followed closely by a well-dressed young noble. As I passed these three worthies, I collided with a young auburn-haired lady seated upon an ottoman, who let out a loud squawk as I sent her and her knitting sprawling. "Pardon me, ladies," I gasped, and resumed the chase.

Through the hallway, down the stairs, through the kitchen, and out into the garden, where at last I was able to corner my prey. Keane had, through all our years at Eton and Oxford together, been a doughy sort of boy, and I easily overtook him in our steeplechase through his house.

As he sprinted across the lawn I tackled him from behind. We grappled, his conduct, in my opinion, most unbecoming a man of the cloth. He managed to land several heroic blows, but at last I seized hold of his wrist, and with his own fist managed to lay a punch on him that took all fight out of him. "Stop hitting yourself," I said, panting, as I rolled off him. Both of us lay on the cool grass, momentarily exhausted by our exertions.

"What the bloody hell was that about, Will?" I asked at last.

Indignant, he raised himself to a seated position. "Here I am, newly become a man of God, and you arrive, as smart and neat as you please, ready to embroil me in some half-baked school boy prank! No thank you."

"You owe me, you coward! Dashing off like that in the middle of my duel with Hobbes. Most dishonourable, most dishonourable indeed. What would your father think?"

Keane grumbled unhappily. "Bringing my father into this--not cricket, old man, not cricket at all."

"He’d be ashamed of you, running like a little girl--coincidentally, was that fine specimen of womanhood I knocked over in your parlor your sister?"

"Yes, and I’ll have you stay well away from her, thank you very much. Besides, she’s very religious, although I must admit her theology’s worse than her knitting."

I idly flicked some blades of grass from my breeches. "Now, to business."

Keane groaned. "God preserve me, what now?"

"In order to make good for the gross insult you delivered to my person when you fled so shamefully, I have need of your services in a little parlor game I am planning."

"You must have any number of scallywags at your beck and call. Why me?"

"Because you possess the necessary mettle, the necessary steel. It runs in your family," I said, flattering him shamelessly. "The Keane spirit seizes the prompt occasion, makes the thought start into instant action, and at once plans and performs, resolves and executes! That is the sort of man I need to help me, not some stick in the mud with his head up his arse."

"So...definitely not Geoffrey then."

We both laughed at that.

When our peals of merriment had at last ceased, I said, "You shan’t find it difficult, Will. Just be your usual earnest, priggish self."

Keane glared at me. "You say the sweetest words to me."

I stood, and held out my hand. Helping him to his feet, I said, “I have a young lady to whom I need you to minister. I imagine you have done it a hundred times before. The only difference this time shall be that you shall cleave closely to the script I have prepared for you.”

Keane eyed me critically. "You do not ever change, do you?"

"I would like to change, but I am wicked," I said. I clapped him on the shoulder. "I will let you know all the details."

I took my leave. With luck, the young reverend would not realise he was playing two roles at once. Now, to see what Walker had unearthed, and what high-jinks Mister Mills had committed of late!