The Moonstone

Chapter 1 - Old Friends

 

@copyright Jean G. Hontz 2010

 

Adrian Blakesley, the future Earl of Avery, was not the sort of man to be intimidated by anyone. Yet here he stood, leaning on his walking stick, his hat askew, tapping his foot, and still reluctant to cross the street and approach the townhouse he was observing.

The Grand Parade along the river Avon was getting crowded, mostly couples walking arm in arm, although there were a few well-to-do families as well. Blakesley tore his attention away from the passing people and returned it to the townhouse.

The bustle about the place was not what was off-putting. No, it was more than that. Well, completely different from that. Truth was he couldn't abide the man whose townhouse it was. And yet here he stood, in answer to a perfunctory summons, no less. “Typical,” he muttered. And he'd answered it by making haste to Bath, to appear promptly on cue. Blast. Why had he? Probably, Blakesley answered himself, because the bloody fool would simply make his life miserable until he'd given in and agreed to participate in whatever convoluted, nefarious, and otherwise completely opaque plot the man was hatching.

Blakesley pursed his lips, his deeply set blue eyes narrowed and his rather theatrical eyebrows drew together. The Abbey bells rang the hour.

A wagon rumbled to a stop at the main door, and workmen flooded out of the house to begin unloading what looked like expensive and exotic rugs and boxed artwork, and wooden crates filled with something heavy. Lastly they unloaded some amazingly unVictorian, even one might say unEnglish, furniture.

Windows, both upstairs and down, were open and maids hung out of them, busily scrubbing away the accumulated grime of a decade’s neglect. The house had been closed up for that long, since about 1850 if he recalled correctly. And the bastard had been off somewhere or other for most of that time. Paris, or Vienna, Rome, Athens or ... or the gods alone knew where else he had a house. He probably had a seraglio somewhere in some gawd-awful Muslim country.

His summoner. however, would never be mistaken for a Persian, though. His hair was so light a blonde as to be almost white in the sunlight, and his eyes were so pale a blue they could look colorless in candlelight, or red in firelight. His skin was far too light as well. No, he’d hardly be able to deny his European heritage in the East. "Oh forgive me," Blakesley muttered to himself, "he's Greek." He looked no more Greek than Blakesley did.

But at least he, Blakesley, had been, for the most part, left alone for that decade. Well, except for the surprise visits to his daughter. Blakesley’s lips twitched at the thought. A flash of guilt dared flash through his thoughts, because he knew how much she looked forward to those visits, even if he hated them.

He forced his thoughts back to the present and then, looking around, remembered how much he hated Bath. All well-heeled and titled or social climbers hoping to marry a daughter off to some second or third son. Gossiping and flirting, just as they were now as they paraded along the river, eyeing him for one thing. He wondered just exactly what a man like Julian Vyse found of interest here. Besides the flirting, which, Blakesley supposed, was the main draw for him.

Even so, London made far more sense as a base of operations for anyone with Vyse’s credentials. It wasn't so... so. Well, at least Vyse had sense enough to live here, on the river in the old district near the Abbey and the Baths rather than on the other side of town in the appropriately named Circus where the worst of the social climbers tended to congregate.

Blakesley, as these thoughts raced through his mind, had stopped paying attention to his immediate surroundings so he was somewhat flustered to find a man he knew standing at his elbow. He held a sliver salver. On it sat a cut glass tumbler holding two fingers of an amber liquid. The man, impeccably dressed, nodded a proper etiquettely prescribed distance and held the tray out to Blakesley.

“Apologies for startling you, Mr Blakesley. Master Julian thought perhaps a drink might assist you in your decision as to whether to join him or not. He asked me to assure you he’d not hold it against you if you decided to forego the visit, as the house is in a bit of a tumble. He also offered to meet you at your club if you’d prefer it.”

Blakesley regarded the man. His name was Charles and he was Julian Vyse’s valet by title but served as far more than that, he well knew. Charles might always seem to be proper but Blakesley wasn't fooled. The valet was cheeky. And he carried himself like a military man, and looked the image of one, even down to the scar on his cheek that looked to have been the result of a close call with a knife or saber. Not just a servant. No, certainly not. And just how long had he been with Vyse, anyway?

“Charles, isn’t it?” Blakesley offered magnanimously.

Charles dipped his head in acknowledgement of the right of it.

Was that a hint of a smirk that Charles was not really hiding? No doubt he well knew Blakesley remembered his name perfectly.

Blakesley took the proffered drink and slugged it back in one gulp. He put the glass back on the tray. He should have known better. “I’m here,” Blakesley replied glowering at his surroundings, then at Charles, wishing it were Julian Vyse he were glaring at.

The wagon was finally unloaded and was pulling away from the front door when Charles took that moment of relative quiet as his cue to say, “This way then, sir, if you please. I’ll show you to Master Julian’s snuggery. I don’t believe you’ve been to Bath since we renovated following the last... unfortunate incident.” Charles set off clearly expecting Blakesley to follow.

Unfortunate incident. Nice way of putting it. In truth, the townhouse had exploded, its walls blown out, and the explosion had left several of the nearby buildings no more than rubble.

Blakesley fought back yet another irritated growl. Then, with a sigh, he surrendered to his fate.

 

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