Authors: Patricia Veryan
The day had been unseasonably chill for May, and late that
evening fog began to swirl about the streets and squares and parks of
London, muffling the sounds of the great city. In the hallowed portals
of White's lounge, however, all was jollity, for two friends had
encountered each other after a long separation. Their reunion was
boisterous and enthusiastic, and became more so when they were joined
by a third gentleman. Many amused glances came their way, glances not
untouched by admiration, for they presented an attractive picture.
Jocelyn Vaughan, who had fought with Wellington's peerless cavalry on
the Peninsula, was very much the light-hearted, devil-may-care
Corinthian; Valentine Montclair was of slighter frame, his rather drawn
sensitive face lacking the glow of health that marked Vaughan's, but
they both were judged very good-looking young men, and were as dark of
hair and eyes as the third member of their group was fair. Alain
Devenish lacked a few of the inches of his friends, but was so handsome
as to arouse immediate animosity in other men, and adoration in women,
which—combined with a rather volatile disposition—had caused his life
to be an eventful one.
Delighted by this unexpected meeting, and full of youthful
high spirits, they momentarily forgot their surroundings, their voices
rising until some of the members began to frown in their direction.
Devenish, his blue eyes alight with mischief, suggested in a stage
whisper that they adjourn to his rooms in Stratton Street.
rooms!" exclaimed Vaughan,
indignant. "They're mine, you rogue!"
"Are they?" As they left the lounge, Montclair glanced
curiously from one friend to the other. "Did you remove, Dev?"
"To Gloucestershire, old lad. Should've ridden up to see you
long before this. Moved over a year ago."
"Did you, by Jove! Then you married your fair Yolande and are
now—" Montclair paused. Devenish's handsome face had become very still,
and Vaughan's gaze held a warning.
"Might we perhaps be granted a little quiet, gentlemen?"
Admiral Peterson's bushy eyebrows bristled over the top of
"Whoops!" muttered Vaughan,
"Sorry, sir. We're leaving."
"Good," said the Admiral testily.
Devenish bowed his curly head and whispered, "Discretion being
the better part of valour…"
Grinning like mischievous schoolboys, the three friends
tiptoed to the cloakroom. They were putting on long caped coats and
taking up hats, canes, and gloves, when Devenish was hailed by another
acquaintance. Making no bones about the fact that he considered this
new arrival a good fellow but a regular windy wallets, Vaughan hurried
Montclair into the street.
"Oh, Lord," he grumbled, peering through the fog. "Only look
at this beastly stuff." And because he had noticed his old school
friend was not in good point, he said airily, "I'll call up a
There was no such vehicle in sight, however, and the porter
conveyed the information that they were scarcer than hens' teeth
"Oh come on, Joss," said Montclair impatiently. "Let's walk."
Having instructed the porter to tell Mr. Devenish to find a
jervey and pick them up along the way, Vaughan hailed a hovering link
boy, and they started off.
They had much to talk about, and despite the chill clammy air,
the moments passed pleasantly enough, the link boy trotting ahead of
them, his torch bobbing as he guided them unerringly along Piccadilly.
Laughing at one of Vaughan's questions, Montclair conveyed the
information that he was most definitely not in the petticoat line; and
Vaughan, when asked in turn, admitted he had not married the beauty
he'd been so enamoured of the last time Montclair had seen him.
"Felicity married Rich Saxon," he said with a sigh.
"What—that wild man?" Montclair grinned. "Poor Joss. But you
don't seem about to put a pistol to your head. Another lady?"
"Oh, any number, old fellow. I was mad for Alicia Wyckham for
a whole year. Really thought I'd found my once-and-forever. But—to say
truth, I begin to think I'm just not inclined to become a Benedick." He
gave Montclair a sly nudge and said laughingly, "They're
so deuced lovely, y'know."
"I see. And—er, Dev? I collect I put my foot in my mouth just
Vaughan sobered. "Yes, you did rather. I thought everyone knew
Yolande had jilted him. But, of course, you will persist in rusticating
out there in Gloucestershire all year round and likely hear nothing of
what goes on."
? You never mean it! He was
always mad for her!"
"Astonishing, ain't it? She married his cousin. Some Canadian
Surprised, Montclair exclaimed, "Not Craig Winters? I'll be
dashed! Dev and Craig visited me at Longhills a couple of years ago.
Winters is a fine fellow. Cannot touch Dev for looks, of course, but he
was at Waterloo, you know. A major with the Scots Greys. Still… Miss
Drummond and Dev had been betrothed forever. I fancy Dev called him
"No, as a matter of fact. Took it very hard, poor fellow, but
seems to be making a recover. Now—enough of all this chitchat. Tell me
of yourself. I—" They had turned into a silent and deserted Stratton
Street, and Vaughan grabbed Montclair's arm as his friend staggered,
and steadying him, peered at the pale face and said anxiously, "You all
right, old lad?"
"Perfectly… fine…" said Montclair, sounding breathless. "Must
have just… stumbled over… a paving stone or something."
Vaughan frowned into the night, but said only, "Oh. Still at
your music? I fancy you're a famous composer by this time?"
"I've a few things completed. My uncle, of course, throws up
his hands in horror at the thought of publication." Montclair gave a
contemptuous snort. "Bad
, he says."
"Good God, never say old Selby Trent still sponges off you?
What became of Lord Geoffrey? Ain't he come home yet?"
"No, my brother's off in India. Hasn't been in England since
Waterloo. I wish to God he'd come back so I could kick Trent and his—"
He bit off the words hurriedly.
"D'you mean to tell me," said Vaughan, horrified, "that Geoff
has abandoned you there with that nest of vipers while he cavorts off
to hunt tigers or whatever?"
Montclair chuckled. "Oh, Barbara's not a viper, Joss."
"True. But—your uncle… and Lady Trent… and
Vaughan shuddered. "Get rid of 'em, Val. That's my advice. Quick!"
His voice low-pitched and bitter now, Montclair said, "Do you
fancy I wouldn't have done so years ago, if it was possible? When my
mama appointed Sir Selby to administer the estates, it was so worded
that I can't kick the—I can't force him to leave Longhills without he
does something criminal, or until Geoff comes back to take control."
"But—my dear fellow! The man's a wart. No, really Val, I'm
sorry, but he is! And that aunt of yours scares me to death! Does Sir
Selby interfere much in running the estates? I'll lay odds he does, the
"My revered uncle," began Montclair grimly, "strives to—" He
was never to finish the remark.
The link boy whistled shrilly, then took to his heels.
They came out of the blackness like flying wraiths. Four of
them, with shabby caps drawn low over masked faces, dark coats with
collars turned high, and the diminishing glow from the link boy's torch
reflecting on the blue gleam of steel. With not an instant's hesitation
the two friends leapt to meet the attack. They were unarmed, but both
carried walking canes as was the fashion, and they wielded them as
though they held sabres, meeting slash with parry and swipe with
thrust, holding their own with the fierceness of desperation, until the
clip-clop of hooves echoed through the dimness. "Dev!" shouted Vaughan.
A moi!A moi
A distant voice roared, "Spring 'em! Over there!"
The end of Montclair's cane rammed into a large shape, drawing
forth a wheezing profanity. A gleam was flying at his throat, and he
whirled aside, feeling the razor-sharp steel brush his shoulder. His
left connected hard with a nose. A dark form reeled back, howling, but
another was there at once to take his place. Montclair ducked as a club
whistled at his head. It would have brained him had it landed squarely.
As it was, the night was scattered into a thousand crazily whirling
"I shall move!" Jocelyn Vaughan sat at the parlour table in
the flat he had taken over when Devenish left it, clutching his wrist
and watching Devenish bathe the gash over Montclair's right ear. "A
fine neighbourhood you chose for me, Dev!"
Devenish paused an instant. Montclair sat bowed forward, his
crossed arms on the table. His eyes were closed, his brows and lashes
startlingly dark against the deathly pallor of his face. Devenish
touched his shoulder very gently, and the dark eyes blinked open. The
amber flecks in them that were a fair reflection of his mood were
dulled, but the pale lips curved to a grin. "Jolly good… turn-up," he
said faintly, then propped his chin on the palm of one hand and closed
his eyes again.
Devenish exchanged a troubled glance with Vaughan. "I think
you'd best send the porter for an apothecary, Joss. Val caught a proper
"What, at this hour?" Montclair forced his head up. "Devil a
bit of it. I'm—perfectly fine. If you've a—drop of cognac perhaps…"
"Not after being popped on the noggin, old lad," said Vaughan.
"I've got the kettle on the hob. Have a cup of tea for you in a trice."
"Splendid…" Montclair realized they were both watching him
uneasily. His head hurt so badly he was half blinded, but he said,
"Look at you. A fine pair! Dev, you'll have a black eye for sure.
And—is your wrist broke, Joss?"
Devenish gave him a pad to hold against the cut and turned his
attention to Vaughan's damaged wrist. "They caught you properly," he
said, inspecting the vivid swelling that was already starting to purple.
"Dropped my cane," grumbled Vaughan. "And it was brand new,
and amber to boot!"
Devenish explored, and Vaughan cursed gaspingly. "Blasted
damned Mohocks! I thought London was free of that scum."
"I can't tell if any bones are broke, Joss. You'd as well have
an apothecary look at that in the morning. Did they get anything from
"Thanks to you—no," said Montclair.
"Nor from me." Vaughan rolled down his sleeve and muttered
thoughtfully, "Funny thing. When I went down, I took one of the
bastards with me. But the other fellow didn't attempt to take my purse.
He went straight to help his cronies. Odd behaviour for that breed."
"Jove, but that's right," said Devenish, drying his hands.
"When we drove up there were three of 'em having at you, Val."
"I'm only grateful you came when you did," sighed Montclair.
The kettle began to whistle and Vaughan came to his feet.
"Come on, Val. You can rack up here for the night. Use my man's room,
since he's off to Cardiff 'til Monday."
Montclair offered little argument, and stumbled away, having
said his good nights to the wavering shape he vaguely supposed was
When Vaughan came back into the cozy parlour carrying a
teapot, Devenish was stretched out in an armchair, his feet propped on
an occasional table. He opened one eye and asked drowsily, "You give
Val his tea?"
"He was asleep before I got him into bed." Vaughan waved the
teapot. "Want some?"
Devenish looked at him.
Vaughan grinned and went to fill two glasses at the sideboard.
Carrying one to Devenish with his left hand, he returned to claim his
own cognac, then sat on the littered sofa and stared at the fire. "How
long must we wait for the Runner? I thought you sent the jervey off
"Did. And I don't mean to wait all night, I can tell you."
After a minute he asked quietly, "What's the matter with him, Joss?"
Vaughan shook his head. "Don't know. Trent-itis, probably."
"Good Lord! Is he still playing host to that unlovely crew?
Where's his noble lordship? Womanizing in France still?"
"Geoff's in India, Val thinks. And he can't kick his uncle out
'til Lord Geoffrey Montclair comes home and claims his rights. Poor old
Val. Well—it's a big house, that's one thing."
Devenish grimaced. Longhills Manor was very large indeed, and
famed as being one of the loveliest of England's many lovely great
homes, but he said, "If it was Versailles it wouldn't be big enough. I
wonder he doesn't just leave."
"Can't do that, dear boy. His charming uncle would have a free
hand with the estate. Val may bury himself in his music and not know
half the time whether it's Monday or last Spring, but he loves
Longhills. He'll fight Selby Trent every step of the way before he'll
turn tail and run."
"As Geoff has done," said Devenish rather grimly. "Val's stuck
there with that loathsome crew, trying to protect estates he'll never
inherit, and damn near isolated into the bargain. No one in his right
mind would set foot under a roof with the Trents in residence!"
"Pity," nodded Vaughan. "Val should've been the heir."
Devenish smiled faintly. "He'd give you an argument on that
one. Don't want it. Besides, he thinks the sun rises and sets on his
Vaughan said, "Perhaps it's just the strain of all the
"No, it's more than that, Joss." Devenish frowned. "He's
definitely down-pin. Looks awful. Didn't you notice?"
"I noticed when he almost measured his length on the flagway.
Said he tripped over a loose stone or some such thing. Wasn't no loose
There was a brief silence. Devenish broke it. "They weren't
Mohocks, of course. They were after Val."