Authors: Vera Loy
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Copyright © 2013 L.V Lloyd
Soniador for the cover.
grey eyes summed up the situation ahead in one glance. A tall man in black
evening dress stood in the narrow street fending off what looked like two – no
three, footpads. His drawn sword was keeping them at bay for the present, but
for how much longer? Even as he stood there, two of the footpads started
working together to engage the sword with their sticks while the third angled
in to strike a blow at their victim. The watcher could hear the tall man
gasping for air as his sword flashed furiously trying to defend himself from
three sides at once.
reluctantly, the watcher realised he would have to go to the aid of the man
under attack. Moving quickly once he had reached that decision, he drew a
small silver pistol from his right hand coat pocket and levelled it carefully
at the nearest assailant. The sudden explosion startled all four men and the
nearest footpad clapped a hand to his arm, blood spurting between his fingers.
Four heads swivelled wildly seeking to discover the source of the attack and he
shouted excitedly “Quick after them Jack, we’ll see some sport tonight!” In a
flash, the would-be robbers deserted their prey and fled down the street.
watcher waited a minute then stepped out of the shadows and towards the other
man who stood still, holding his sword and breathing heavily.
thanks to you sir, whoever you are, and to your friend. That was a good shot
in poor light.” The only light in fact came from the moon and all that he
could see of his rescuer was a dark slight shape of medium height. His dress
however seemed that of a gentleman and his voice confirmed it.
my pleasure sir,” He bowed slightly, “Although as you see, I’m afraid I
invented my friend for the occasion!”
house is nearby. Perhaps you would permit me to offer you a drink? My name is
Carleton by the way, Richard Carleton,” the man in evening dress introduced
himself. He held out a hand and his rescuer shook it.
Francis,” he offered, a little hesitantly it seemed.
join me for a drink then?”
for a few minutes,” Carleton interrupted, heading off a refusal. “Or would it
not be convenient?” This last was said rather coolly and the younger man
realised that to decline the invitation would appear churlish.
you, that would be very pleasant,” he gave in gracefully.
fell into step beside the other man and seemed to be concentrating on keeping
his footing amongst the cobblestones. After several minutes silence, Carleton
inquired pleasantly, “Have you been in London long, Francis?”
only a week. I – I’ve been abroad.”
the Grand Tour?”
afraid not. I’ve spent the last three years living in Italy, and several years
in France before that.”
wondered whether it was just his imagination, but each answer from his
companion appeared to be carefully considered before being spoken – almost as
if he were making them up as he went along. However a few readily answered
questions about Rome and Florence soon proved he had certainly spent some time
in both places. Perhaps he was merely reserved. “And that is something I can
surely sympathise with,” Carleton thought wryly to himself.
minutes walk found them at the house he had rented for the Season in Grosvenor
Place and they went up the steps. The door was opened by an elderly butler and
Peter followed Carleton inside. He stood blinking in the bright light while
the butler removed his master’s coat.
some claret to the study will you Rawlings? This way,” he gestured, turning to
the other man. Seeing him properly for the first time, he saw that his
“rescuer” was much younger than he had supposed, surely not more than eighteen
or nineteen. He had fair hair, cropped short in the prevailing fashion, steady
grey eyes, a smooth skin browned by a foreign sun, and a firm, though slightly
rounded chin. He was dressed neatly, if not expensively, in dark blue coat and
pantaloons with a white cravat at his throat. He wore no jewellery except for
a signet ring on one slim hand.
on the other hand, saw a tall man of perhaps thirty with rather harsh features
under his dark curly hair. He was dressed, as he had noticed earlier, all in
black which accentuated the thinness of his build though, as his swordplay had
shown, it was the thinness of whipcord. It was also apparent that his host
belonged to a much higher level of society than himself. His coat was exquisitely
tailored and must have cost more than Peter had spent on clothes in his entire
the same moment, each became suddenly aware he was sizing up the other.
Peter’s lips twitched and he laughed. “I’m sorry sir,” he quickly apologised
and after a second Carleton smiled back.
he offered as Rawlings poured two glasses from the bottle and then set it down
on the study table.
you, sir” Peter took the claret and sipped it appreciatively.
as you saved my purse, if not my life tonight, I don’t think you need to call
you ... ” Peter looked a little self conscious.
at a loss for conversation, Carleton asked, “What was your favourite place in
Duomo, of course,” Peter mentioned the famous cathedral. “But to be honest, I
really enjoyed the art collections. There are so many masterpieces, the Uffizi
alone is simply marvellous.” His guest’s eyes had lit up with true
enthusiasm. His eyes went to the painting on the wall in front of him, surely
it was a Canaletto? “You are interested in Italian paintings yourself I see?”
confessed that he was, and also in Italian sculpture, and the two men talked
for over an hour. Carleton revealed at one stage that he had made the Grand
Tour himself some years ago but that his companion was more interested in sport
than art. “Well I enjoy sport as well of course but.. in Italy! My companion
couldn’t see any point at all in staring at a lot of dusty old portraits. Nor
could my father, which was why I was landed with someone so incompatible for my
a shame! Have you never thought of going back yourself then?” queried Peter.
especially when I get fed up with the Season and its endless gossip!”
laughed and took out his watch. “I’m sure I must have been here for ages.
Good heavens! It’s after one o’clock, I hope I haven’t outstayed my welcome.”
no means. I haven’t had such an interesting conversation for a long time.”
Carleton rose to his feet reluctantly. “Shall I see you at White’s?”
shook his head, exclusive London clubs were above his touch.
be happy to sponsor you if you’d care to join,” Carleton offered.
too good of you!” Peter looked up in surprise, Carleton knew next to nothing
about him. Then he realised that the offer had been made in part to repay him
for the assistance he had given that evening. “However, I don’t think I’ll be
mixing in such circles this visit – I- I’m not particularly plump in the pocket
at present,” he explained further with a touch of embarrassment.
see. Well the offer still stands, there’s no need to play the tables you
merely smiled and inclined his head.
that case, I’ll bid you good night,” replied Carleton a little stiffly. “Shall
I get you a hackney?”
thanks, it’s just a short walk.”
I ask where you are staying?”
hesitated a moment then named the Pelican, a modest inn some couple of miles
north. “I’m sorry, I don’t want to impose on you.”
made a noise which in a lesser man would have been called a snort and saw his
guest to the door. “Till later then”.
shook hands and Peter strode off into the night – so much for lying low in
London! Still he’d had no choice but to help Carleton and he’d enjoyed his
company very much. If things had been different they might have been good
would be waiting up for him – it was very late, perhaps he’d better take a cab
after all. He found one at the next corner, having just unloaded a passenger,
and soon he was rattling over the cobblestones at a brisk pace.
went thoughtfully up the stairs to his room. There was an odd air of secrecy
about Francis – apart from his taste in art, he knew nothing of him after their
conversation other than his name. What was his background? Where did he come
from? Was he even English for that matter? Despite the mystery he rather
thought he liked him.
short, thickset man with the unmistakeable air of an old family retainer was
waiting in his room when Peter opened the door. The single candle had burned
down to within an inch of the holder but the coals still glowed in the grate.
“Well and what have you been up to then?” growled the retainer, coming forward
to help him off with his coat.
scold John” protested Peter half smiling. “I’ve had such an adventure! I came
upon a man being attacked by three footpads and I had to lend a hand. And then
he wanted to thank me and we got talking and I forgot the time ...”
from soothing the servant this information only seemed to aggravate him
further. “Don’t tell me you went to this man’s lodgings? On your own? Who was
I did. Don’t worry I was quite safe. His name is Carleton, Richard Carleton –
have you heard anything about him?” Peter went behind a screen as he spoke and
draped his garments over the top as he took them off.
stayed in the centre of the room, glaring into the fire. “No, I can’t say ... no
wait a minute. I think the family has a place in Surrey. Don’t know where he
fits in though – but it’s not right, you visiting him at home, whoever he is!”
he protested, returning to his original theme. “And this ain’t seemly either,”
he muttered to himself as he gathered up the clothes ready for cleaning.
should be used to it now John – God knows I am!” came the slightly weary
voice. “I’m too tired to talk any more about it tonight – Good night, I’ll see
you in the morning.”
Miss Frances,” came the soft reply and then the door shut behind him.
sighed and stretched. God it was good to be out of that binding. Dressing as a
man had become harder as her body grew decidedly female. She fell into bed
with a final image of a pair of thoughtful brown eyes under unruly black hair
lingering in her dreams before she was soundly asleep.
had spent more of her twenty four years as a boy than as a girl. Her mother
had died before she could really remember her and since then, she and her
father had travelled throughout Europe, spending no more than a few years in
any one place. She knew Frances was her Christian name but she didn’t know her
surname – she had had at least a dozen different ones over the years and did
not know which, if any, was the name she had been born with. Henri Fayette
(Paris) or Giuseppe Monteverdi (Rome) had been quite simply an adventurer as
long as Frances could remember. He had lived by his wits and his skill at
cards. His fortunes however had fluctuated and many had been the time that it
had been safer for Frances to be a son rather than a daughter. Her education
had been as varied as the places she lived in. She could speak French and
Italian like a native, her German was not quite as good, but as well as these
permissibly feminine accomplishments she could shoot and fence and ride without
a side saddle.