“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.
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.