“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.
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.