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 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.