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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Fallen Woman
of good family must, soon or late, descend to whoredom.
Miss Sarah Tolerance refuses to follow the path of the Fallen Women who have gone before her. She's a straight shooter, with her pistol as well as her wit, and her mind is as sharp as the blade of her sword.
Miss Tolerance is an Agent of Inquiry, a private investigator of sorts--the sole one of her kind in London, in this year of 1810 with mad King George III on the throne and Queen Charlotte acting as his Regent. Her aim was to trace lost trinkets, send wastrel husbands back to their wives, and occasionally provide protection to persons with more money than sense--but she is continually drawn into the plots of others.
Her newest case poses a puzzle unlike any she has faced before: who killed the Chevalier d'Aubigny? The French émigré was beaten to death in his own bed, found by his retainers the next morning, all the doors and windows of the house sealed tight. The murder is a classic locked-room mystery, but Miss Tolerance knows she can find the key.
As Miss Tolerance examines the situation and interviews witnesses and suspects, she realizes things are far more complicated than she originally suspected--for the Chevalier had more enemies than he had friends, and Miss Tolerance is hard pressed to find someone who didn't wish him dead. Her search for his killer takes her from the lowest brothels of the seedy London underworld, where men go to indulge their more aggressive desires, to the Royal Family and a Duke who must hide his perversions or risk the Throne.
Welcome to Miss Tolerance's Regency London, where nothing is what it seems and the only way to serve justice is to follow conscience rather than law.
About the Author
Madeleine E. Robins is certified as an actor combatant in rapier, quarterstaff, broadsword, and hand-to-hand fighting, and was a member of a troupe of actors who perform Shakespeare scenes with combat for high schools and Renaissance festivals.
Madeleine is a New Yorker by birth, training, and inclination, but recently relocated to San Francisco, where she now lives with her husband (Emmy Award-winning sound editor Danny Caccavo), and their two daughters. She authored the New York Times Notable Book The Stone War, several Regency romances, and many short stories. Petty Treason is her second novel to feature Miss Sarah Tolerance, Agent of Inquiry.
Read an Excerpt
It is one thing, and a quite considerable thing, to be a lady. A true lady is a person of virtue and beauty, of accomplishment and talent, of gentle birth and rigorous upbringing. She inspires love in her suitors and obedience in her servants, and knows how to hold housekeeping and bully the butcher and chandler so cleverly that those persons feel it their privilege to serve her. The suggestion of strife oppresses her, and her pleasures are the mildest and most delicate. Her honor is a possession prized above rubies, and even the gentlest breath of scandal damages it forever. If adventure offers itself she understands that her reputation is at stake, and wisely settles for tedium. Or so the theory goes.
A gentleman, however, is not contained by prudishness. His sex licenses him, even encourages him, to seek out adventure and prove himself. There is no woman too low, no bottle too deep, no horse too fast or play too high, but there are gentlemen willing to swive, drink, race or wager. It is customary for a young man to prowl the fleshpots of London before he marries, to exercise his appetites to the fullest and slake them so that he does not appall the sensibilities of the Fair Flower he ultimately takes to wife. And for most gentlemen that is exactly what happens: each finds his favored dissipationthe bottle, the bootmaker, the bookmaker orthe brotheland falls violently in love for a time. And the passion runs its course and the young man is then suited for matrimony. Or so the theory goes.
But there are some gentlemen who find that giving rein to their desires only leads to the increase of those desires; and a man who lives for pleasure, and for the pleasure of being more debauched, more drunken, more spendthrift, more heedless, than his peers, is called a Rake. Young men with more money than sense who aspire to something higher than mere Fashion strive to be as thoughtless and wasteful as they may, ruining themselves pell-mell at drink, venery and gaming. But the true Rake has something more of imagination than of spendthrift waste, and his motto might well be "Because I wish it." Many Rakes combine considerable address and genuine thoughtfulness for the welfare of their tenants and aged parents, but it is also true that where the gratification of their wishes is concerned, they can be merciless. To be that man or woman who stands between a Rake and his desireor as likely, comprises that desireis not an enviable thing.
Of course, as in every other field of human endeavor, some men have more natural talent as Rakes than others. For every true Rake in London in the year 1810 there were likely a dozen pretenders to the title. The Dueling Notices in the weekly Gazette were peopled with those wounded or killed in pursuit, either of vice or honor. Spunging houses and debtor's prisons were likewise occupied by those who had been stripped of their fortunes by improvident congress with Rakes. As for womenthose of both high and low estate were accosted with such regularity that it is surprising there were half the number of respectable females remaining in the nation. And the alleys and corners of gin-shops and taverns were lined with young inebriates whose ambitions outmatched their tolerance for drink.
Thus, Mr. Maurice Waldegreen, who was very drunk.
"Good God, I'm foxed!" he said thickly. "Cup-shot. Drunk as David's sow. No, drunker!" He giggled. "Drunk as ... drunk as what?"
"A hippogriff?" his companion suggested politely. They had only met that evening, but Mr. Waldegreen clearly regarded brevity of acquaintance as no bar to friendship. His arm flungheavily across his new friend's neck, he leaned down until their faces were but a few inches apart. His breath was very foul.
"What's a hippogriff?" he inquired, his head weaving back and forth.
"Perhaps I meant hippopotamus?" his friend suggested, shrugging to shift the weight of Mr. Waldegreen's arm from collar to shoulder.
Mr. Waldegreen considered, tilting his head. Alas, as slight as this motion was, it overset him. Mr. Waldegreen stumbled, falling forward until he encountered, with every evidence of surprise, a wall of grimy brick. They had emerged only a moment before from a wine-shop into the icy November night, but the chill was not exercising a sobering effect on Mr. Waldegreen.
"Drunk as a hippogriff!" he announced, and groped his way down the wall until he was sitting in the mud and cobbles. His coat, which must have recently been clean and well tended, was wrinkled and dirty. His neckcloth had come untied and was stippled with wine, demonstrating that Mr. Waldegreen was not one of those dandies for whom elegance was a bar to dissipation. He leaned back against the wall and squinted up at his new friend. "Damn, what are you doing all the way up there?"
"Wondering where my hackney coach is." Relieved of Mr. Waldegreen's weight, his companion stepped back a pace and straightened the collar of her coat.
A careful observerof whom there were none at that momentwould have discerned despite the darkness and her garbbreeches, boots, neatly tied neckcloth and a long, caped greatcoat from the Belgian tailor Gunnardthat Mr. Waldegreen's companion was young, female, and quite handsome. But Miss Sarah Tolerance had discovered that most people saw what they expected to see unless the truth of her sex was forced upon them. In more than three hours spent at Mr. Waldegreen's side, he had not focused his gaze upon her long enough to uncover her imposture. If their neighbors at the wine-shop they had just left had discerned her sex, none had seen fit to mention it. Miss Tolerance looked down at Waldegreen with amusement. "Are you comfortable, sir?"
"Aye, Frenchy, fine as frog hair," Mr. Waldegreen said. "Just aslight case of barrel fever is all. Don't know how, though. My father always said it wasn't possible to get drunk on Bordeaux"
"Your father perhaps never encountered Bordeaux that bad. And of course, much is possible to a man of dedicated purpose."
Waldegreen snickered. "Dedicated purpose! Z'all clear to me! My father never 'preciated my dedi-dedi" he belched loudly. "My dedi-cated purpose! Always wearing on about" He belched again and took his head in his hands, as if all the less pleasant aspects of his condition had suddenly threatened to visit themselves upon him.
Miss Tolerance regarded him with a mixture of sympathy and impatience.
"How am I to get you home," she muttered. It had been a long night, she had necessarily drunk enough wine to pretend to keep pace with Waldegreen, and the thought of now having to raise the man's unreliable person to its feet and move him along the alley to Fleet Street did not appeal to her. "If the hackney's gone, how the Devil am I going to find another in this neighborhood?"
Mr. Waldegreen vomited. Miss Tolerance jumped nimbly to avoid being caught by the flow, and after a moment offered her handkerchief to the young man. He mumbled a thank you and mopped at his face. "Drunk as a hippogriff, Frenchy. How is it you're not?"
"A naturally more abstemious character, Mr. Waldegreen." She refused the return of the besmirched handkerchief, but added its cost to a mental reckoning.
He shook his head. "Mustn't call me that. Poggy, that's what you call me. That's what everyone calls me. 'Cept milord father." Mr. Waldegreen was dearly descending into the morose stage of drunkenness. "Milord father don't call me at all if he can help it. A fierce disappointment I am to milord father. Dammit, m'mouth tastes like a stable. Haven't a sip of brandy, have you?"
Miss Tolerance regretted that she did not. "I think perhaps I ought to go look out a hackney coach, Poggy," she said. "You'll have the Devil of a head tomorrow." She regarded her charge for a moment longer, then looked up and down the empty length of thealleyway. They were some paces away from the wine-shop in which she had found him, and its door was shut tight against the cold. In the chill post-midnight it was unlikely that Waldegreen would be troubled by idle passersby. She went down the lane to the corner of Fleet Street.
Finding a hackney, even on this thoroughfare, proved to be as thankless a chore as she had expected. It was a full ten minutes before she reappeared at the corner with the bulk of a disreputable coach paused behind her on the street.
"All right, Poggy," she began. Then stopped, when she saw three men clustered around Mr. Waldegreen. Miss Tolerance prepared for the worstpushing her coat aside to free the hilt of her smallswordbut spoke with unruffled politeness. "It's kind of you to concern yourselves, but my friend will recover when I get him home, gentlemen."
The men turned to her, scowling. The man nearest Miss Tolerance appeared, by his attitude and appearance, to be the leader. He was short and extremely fat, his coat and breeches so tight that he gave the impression of being almost explosively compressed into his clothing. His several chins were forced up by the elaborate style of his neckcloth, and his face was shadowed by a small hat with a shallow, curled brim. The moon was not full, but there was some light from two torches flanking the door of the wine-shop from which Miss Tolerance and Mr. Waldegreen had lately emerged. She could see enough to know that the fat man meant her charge no good.
"Go away, boy." The fat man barely wasted a glance upon her. His voice was gravely, punctuated by audible wheezing. "This 'ere ain't none of your business."
She stepped forward. "I'm afraid I cannot do that, sir. I promised my friend's father I'd see him safely home."
"This 'ere ain't no business of yourn," the fat man said again. "Go 'ome."
Miss Tolerance continued to advance upon the group. The fat man's confederates, she saw, were trying to raise Mr. Waldegreen to his feet without success. Mr. Waldegreen, now unconscious, had apparently achieved a state of leaden pliancy which was defeatingtheir efforts. The fat man tugged upon the shoulder of the tough nearest him.
"Bob, take the boy," he growled. "Sid, you get that one up now."
Bob, taller than his master by a foot and well muscled, pivoted away from Mr. Waldegreen and reached for Miss Tolerance. His coat gaped open, displaying a brace of pistols tucked in his belt, but no sword. Miss Tolerance made a rapid decision that Bob should not be permitted to get either of the pistols into his hands; she stepped into the circle of the man's arm, grasped her sword, and by unsheathing it, drove the pommel up into Bob's jaw with considerable force.
Bob fell like a stone, toppling onto the fat man.
"Sid!" The fat man disentangled himself from Bob and bent, wheezing, for the pistols in his hireling's belt. He was halted by the point of Miss Tolerance's sword, pressed into the folds of his neckcloth against the meaty flesh of his throat. The fat man straightened up, staring at her.
At his master's call, Sid had dropped Mr. Waldegreen and turned, cudgel in hand.
"Don't try it!" Miss Tolerance cautioned the man. "I should dislike to get blood on your employer's linen."
There was a moment of silent communication between the fat man and Sid, at the end of which Sid dropped the cudgel and stood still.
"I think it is time you left," Miss Tolerance said after a moment. "You needn't worry. If this gentleman cooperates he will come to no harm. You, sir, kindly dismiss your hound," she added for the fat man's benefit.
Under the curly-brimmed hat she saw the fat man's eyes move from side to side, as if surveying his options. Miss Tolerance was forced to encourage him with the slight pressure of her sword against his throat.
"Go home, Sid," the man said at last, with no good grace. "Wait for me."
Sid needed no encouragement. He turned and ran as his master watched, scowling after him.
"Yellowback coward." He turned his gaze to Miss Tolerance. "Who are you, boy?" the fat man growled. "There's no need for swords, you know. I just need a word or two with your mate heremake it worth your while."
"No, sir, I really think not. My friend's in no case to speak with anyone, and his father, as I said, is already making it worth my while to see his son safe home."
Miss Tolerance relaxed her arm somewhat, dropping her sword's point an inch or so from the man's throat. The fat man looked down at Bob, who lay across his master's boots, unmoving; clearly he would have no help from that quarter.
"Well," Miss Tolerance said. "We shall each of us have a chore getting our companions to their right places tonight. Unless you like to leave your minions littering the street?"
Mr. Waldegreen, still on his back on the cobblestones, stirred and belched. Moving with remarkable speed, the fat man pushed Miss Tolerance's sword aside, reaching for the pistols in Bob's belt. Without hesitation Miss Tolerance grabbed for the man's neckcloth and pulled up and twisted, overbalancing the fat man so that he flipped beetle-like onto his back beside Mr. Waldegreen. She stood over him with her sword again touching his throat.
"Now, will you tell me what this word is that you were so eager to have with my friend? Perhaps I can assist you." Miss Tolerance's heart was pounding, but she managed a tone of polite command, rather like that of a governess.
Evidently the fat man had never had a governess. Her tone did not encourage him to cooperate. He looked upward, studying Miss Tolerance's form with an expression of disbelief. "Christ," he said at last, a long slow hiss. "You're a female." His eyes bulged and his voice bespake revulsion. "What kind of unnatural bitch are you to parade about in man's clothes?"
"A Fallen Woman with a chore to do," Miss Tolerance said mildly. Her point remained where it was. "These clothes are far more convenient for my purpose than a muslin gown and kid slippers would be."
The fat man shook his head. "Abomination, that's what it is. Whore! No, lower than a whore! Wearing men's clothes, fightinglike a man, standing the nat'ral order of things on its ear! And for the likes of him!"
"Do his likes make my dress worse, sir? I merely came to fetch him home from a several-days' absence and found you in the midst of what looked like a robbery. Or a kidnapping," Miss Tolerance suggested. "Butcould it be that you are Mr. Haskett?" Her tone of polite surprise was not meant to convince.
The fat man's eyes shifted from side to side, then down to the blade of the small sword in Miss Tolerance's hand. "I'm Haskett," the man said reluctantly. "What of it?"
"Then you are the gentleman who has been attempting to extort money from Lord Pethridge on his son's account."
"Extort!" Haskett's eyes shifted back and forth agitatedly. "Not I! I'm the wronged one here," he protested. His tone became theatrically grieved and his speech finically genteel. "My family honor at stake! The virtue of a lady! You can't know the sort of man you are protecting!" Still lying on his back, Mr. Haskett twitched a tear into his eye.
"What melodrama, Mr. Haskett! As good as Drury Lane! I have, I think, a very good understanding of what sort of man poor Poggy is"Miss Tolerance pushed gently at Waldegreen's foot with the toe of her boot. There was no response"and I have as good a notion of what sort of man you are. I have been instructed to tell you that my client will not prefer charges or exact reprisal, providing you cease your blackmail scheme and go away. It's a good offer; I should take it, were I you."
Mr. Haskett eyed Miss Tolerance and made one last attempt. "You're a woman, surely you have some loyalty to your sex. You should understand!"
"Understand the plight of a woman ruined! This scourer trifled with my sister, a sweet, good girl." Mr. Haskett warmed to his story. "Seduced her! Took her virtue and left her with naught to show for it but a broken heart. By rights the bastard should marry her. All I wanted was that he make provision for a woman he'd wronged." Haskett fixed Miss Tolerance with an oracular eye. "He'll wrong you in the end, missy."
Miss Tolerance laughed. "Will he? I should like to see him tryit. Do you imagine I've lost my heart to Mr. Waldegreen? I thank you for your concern, but I'm not in the business of losing my heart."
Haskett muttered a speculation upon the business that Miss Tolerance was in.
"Nor that business either," she said crisply. "I am hired to ask questions, find things, and occasionally protect someone with more money than sense"again Miss Tolerance tapped Mr. Waldegreen's foot with her own"from being victimized." Miss Tolerance gathered up the skirts of her greatcoat in her free hand and crouched down at Mr. Haskett's side, the blade of her sword now lying across his stomach.
"As for the ladyby my count, my friend is the seventh young man of good family from whom you have attempted to extort money on her. And as she is neither a virgin nor your sister, your grounds for complaint are few. A magistrate friend of mine tells me that, were the matter brought to a court of law, you and the young woman would be the queen's guests on a ship to the Antipodes."
Haskett's jowly face seemed to swell in the moonlight. More than ever he appeared on the verge of explosion. "The scandal!" he sputtered.
Miss Tolerance shook her head. "Scandal? A young man sows his oats with a woman several years older who has been the mistress of a gambler and whoremaster since she was fifteen. She approaches him in the lowest sort of gaming hell and convinces him it is an exchange of mutual pleasures with no cost to either. I have witnesses to their meeting, Mr. Haskett. I suggest the next time your mistress tries this trick, she do it somewhere less public. Now," she slid her blade up to rest at Haskett's throat, then leaned across him to take Bob's pistols. "If you are clear on this, may I suggest we both get our companions home?"
Haskett, outgunned, nodded. Miss Tolerance rose, slipped the pistols into the pocket of her greatcoat, and watched as the fat man got clumsily to his feet, wheezing louder than before. Haskett looked down at Bob without favor, shrugged, and walked away.
Miss Tolerance leaned down to deliver a sharp slap to Mr. Waldegreen. He stirred slightly. One eye opened and shut.
"Frenchy? Where the Devil are we?" His voice was sticky.
"Outside Remsen's and about to take a hackney back to Bourdon Street, Poggy," Miss Tolerance said encouragingly. "Do you think you might stand up now?"
Mr. Waldegreen was optimistic about his ability to do so; it took Miss Tolerance several minutes to get the young man to his feet and thence to the hired carriage, whose driver Miss Tolerance suspected had watched the altercation in the alley without inclination to help either side. At this hour and in this neighborhood, it was enough that the carriage had waited.
In Bourdon Street Lord Pethridge was waiting. He did not ask to speak to his son, who was in any case now insensible, but sent two footmen out to retrieve him from the carriage. Miss Tolerance he led into a small office. The chamber was rather more meagerly furnished than others she had seen: a desk, a chair, a second chair for the accommodation of visitors, a shelf of ledgers, a Bible, and one painting executed by an amateur hand upon a Biblical subjectnot, Miss Tolerance noted to herself, the parable of the prodigal son. It was a room designed to inspire little hope in a visitor expecting benevolence.
In her dealings with him, Miss Tolerance had identified Lord Pethridge as a closefisted man with a superior sense of his own consequence, embarrassed by the need to seek her help, and therefore unfailingly impolite. He did not sit now, nor did he invite Miss Tolerance to do so.
"Well? Aside from the bringing the boy home, have you accomplished anything?"
Miss Tolerance responded to his words and not his tone. "Indeed, sir, the matter is concluded. Mr. Haskett, as we had anticipated, did attempt to contact your son this evening. I told him all I had discovered about his scheme. This, I believe, brought him to a full sense of its futility. I doubt you shall hear from Mr. Haskett again."
Pethridge nodded and cleared his throat, which miserly comment Miss Tolerance translated as "Very good, well done!" He tooka key from his waistcoat pocket, unlocked a drawer in the desk, and drew from it a small coffer.
"Four days at three guineas a day?" Pethridge asked.
"And my expenses, my lord," Miss Tolerance said. "Totaling eight shillings fourpence. I can write you out an account of the monies spent if you like."
Lord Pethridge paused for a moment, caught, Miss Tolerance surmised, between the miser's wish for an exact accounting and the prude's wish to have the whole business done, and herself off his premises, with as much dispatch as possible.
"That won't be necessary," he said at last. Where Lord Pethridge's son was genially ill kempt, Lord Pethridge himself was a man so tightly controlled that his clothes appeared to be lacquered in place. Of the two, father and son, Miss Tolerance preferred the son. It was the father, however, who was her client, and she was polite.
"Thank you, sir," she said, as he pushed a pile of coins across the table. Pethridge, occupied in relocking the box and restoring it to its drawer, did not acknowledge her. When he looked up he appeared surprised to find her still there.
"If I might make a suggestion, sir? I think you ought to find some occupation for your son which is more useful than gambling and wenching."
"Occupation? He'll have occupation enough when he rises to the title and starts his way through my fortune! He clearly has no gift for responsibility."
Miss Tolerance put the coins in her pocketbook. "He's not likely to develop such a gift without practice, sir."
Pethridge did not deign to answer. Miss Tolerance took this as her dismissal, bowed, and started for the door. He stopped her.
"You'll speak of this to no one," he said, half command and half question.
Miss Tolerance smiled politely. "I should have very little custom if I could not promise discretion. I do not talk about my cases."
"Not ever? The whole world knows that you brought the Earl of Versellion to justice"
"That the whole world knows it, my lord, is not my doing. When a murderer comes before the court he cannot expect to do so privately."
"You believe him guilty, then?" For a moment Pethridge's icy demeanor slipped, revealing vulgar curiosity.
"'Tis not a matter of what I believe. I gave what I knew of the facts last month in court, under oath. Anything I merely believe is between me and my conscience. If you will pardon me, sir?"
Miss Tolerance bowed and left.
The hour was now very late. Miss Tolerance found that exertion and her meeting with Lord Pethridge had left her wide awake. She was reluctant to return to the silence of her home. She thought briefly of going to her club, Tarsio's, which at this hour was likely to be doing a brisk business. But she was still in her unconventional dress, and disliked to go to the club thus attired unless business was pressing. The management of Tarsio's was liberal in its views (as the only establishment of its sort to admit women as members, it had a need to be) and would not bar her from entry, but Miss Tolerance preferred not to advertise her affinity for men's garb. One never knew when the advantage of appearing to be something one was not would come in handy.
Not to Tarsio's, then. Miss Tolerance turned her steps toward Manchester Square and the brothel kept there by Mrs. Dorothea Brereton. It was a fogless nightrare for Novemberbut dark. The law required that a light be hung at every door, but the lanterns and torches provided only a yellow smear of light at the doorsteps and did nothing to penetrate to the street or illuminate the passersby. And despite the hour there were people on the streets; mindful of the sorts of people they would tend to be, Miss Tolerance kept her hand lightly on the hilt of her sword. No one troubled her, however. Streetwalkers eyed her hopefully, then shrugged when she passed them by; twice she was aware of rhythmic shadows coupling in doorways. She walked up Davies Street, turned onto Oxford, and was near to Duke Street when she heard a woman cry out.
Miss Tolerance paused. She heard the cry again, clearly one of pain or angerin any case, not something she was capable of ignoring. She turned to look down Oxford Street for the source of the voice.
A woman in an unseasonable muslin dress staggered out of an alley, pursued by a man. His clothes marked him as a gentleman; hersthe thin dress, cheap hat, and a limp, insufficient spencer jacketmarked her as a hedge-whore. Even in the dark, and at some yards' distance, Miss Tolerance could see that the woman's face was twisted in fear, and she moved forward to help. The womangirl, rather, Miss Tolerance thoughtbolted toward her.
"Please, sir! He'll kill me, sure!"
The whore reached Miss Tolerance and took cover behind her, cowering. One hand was cupped over her eye, and a smudged trickle of blood at her mouth explained her fear.
Her pursuer approached them at an easy pace; clearly he expected no trouble in reclaiming his prize. "Does the little bitch tell tales?" he called. His words were strongly accented but clear. French, Miss Tolerance thought. Not so often heard in London as the endless war with Bonaparte wore on. "I paid for what I have not yet received," the man said easily. "Come here, belle. We have business." He smiled broadly; his black brows knit downward, giving the smile a demonic character. Miss Tolerance's inclination to help the whore increased.
The girl was shaking her head. "I've changed me mind," she said. "You can have the coin back." She fumbled at a little purse hanging at her waist.
"But I have not changed mine," the man said, and made to reach around Miss Tolerance to take the girl's arm. Miss Tolerance shifted her stance and kept the girl away. The Frenchman did not like this: "Sir, this is nothing to do with you. If you do not wish to quarrel, I beg you will go your way."
"When I am certain the lady does not require my assistance, sir," Miss Tolerance said.
"The lady?" The man laughed. "The thing's a convenience, like a chamber pot."
Miss Tolerance set her teeth. "Find another pot to piss in, then."
Behind her the girl had managed to open her reticule and find the coin she sought. "Here! Take your money! There's some as like your kind of custom, but not me." She reached out her hand to return the money and the man's hand fastened upon her wrist.
"'Twill be a matter of a few minutes, belle," the man said, and pulled the girl toward him.
Miss Tolerance had her sword out of its sheath and laid flat upon the gentleman's wrist. "As the girl has returned your money I believe your business is concluded. You should let her go."
The man looked at the sword, then into Miss Tolerance's face. His eyes narrowed, but he let go, stepped back, and dusted his coat off. He murmured something in French and turned away.
Miss Tolerance replied in that language to his retreating back. The man stopped for a moment but did not look back. Then he walked on.
The whore sighed. "Thank you, sir. A thousand times. If I'd known he was a foreigner I'd never 'ave let him come near me." Her tone changed. "If you'll let me thank you proper-like, sir"
Amused, Miss Tolerance replied that that would not be necessary.
"No, really. No charge and all, sir. For the rescue."
"Go home," Miss Tolerance advised. "It's late, girl. Justgo home."
The girl looked confused. "Honest, sir. And I'm clean. For free, sir." She started to run her hand along Miss Tolerance's sleeve. Miss Tolerance stopped the hand with her own and pushed the girl away.
"Go home," she said again.
The girl took a few steps away, then turned back, puzzled.
"Was it what the foreigner said, sir? Did he say some lie about me?"
"About you? Not really. He said he did not understand the such a fuss over a blow or two to a whore."
"And what did you say, sir?"
Miss Tolerance smiled. "I said when someone fetches him a blow or two perhaps he'll understand it too."
The girl grinned. "I'll dream of that, then, sir. Not likely, though, is it?"
Miss Tolerance shook her head. "No, not likely. Good night." She turned toward Duke Street, grateful now that she was near home.
Torches burned at the large, fine house on the corner of Spanish Place in Manchester Square. When Miss Tolerance knocked, the door was opened at once.
"Miss Sarah! We'd not expected to see you this evening."
"Good evening, Keefe." Miss Tolerance entered the house blinking in the sudden light afforded by a chandelier and branches of candles liberally stationed around the front hall. It occurred to her, not for the first time, that a brothel such as Mrs. Brereton's must keep a chandler in business with the number of wax candles used there each week. "How is custom this evening?"
The footman considered. "Solid, but not bustling, miss. When the quality finish with their shooting parties up north and come back to town again, then we'll be on the hop."
"Passion is so seasonal a business?"
Keefe, who after nearly a decade at Mrs. Brereton's considered himself something of an authority upon the subject of brothels and their clientele, shook his head. "T'ain't the season, miss. It's the inconvenience. Not even the hottest buck's like to come two hundred miles from the shooting for his piece. He'll find a laundry maid or some obliging local girl to see to him until he comes back to London. And in course, them that stay in London at this time of year are not generally them that can afford a night at Mrs. Brereton's. Come December, when Parliament meets again, we'll see most of the government here."
"What a happy reflection upon the Nation." Miss Tolerance shrugged off her Gunnard coat but kept it draped over one arm rather than surrender it to Keefe. "Surely there must be some MPs who do not patronize this house?"
"Prigs," the footman said dismissively. "Chapel evangelicals."
There was a murmur of conversation from the front salon, and a laugh. Miss Tolerance raised an inquiring eyebrow.
"A couple of gentlemen haven't settled on their girls yet," Keefe said. "Not regulars. AndMrs. B isengaged."
Again Miss Tolerance raised her eyebrow. Mrs. Brereton, as owner and manageress of the operation, had only a few patrons and entertained infrequently.
"Marianne as well?" she asked.
Keefe nodded. "All that's in the salon is three girls: Emma, Chloe, and the new girl, Lizzie."
Miss Tolerance nodded. No one she wished to talk to. Fatigue, which had not touched her during her adventure on Oxford Street, suddenly came over her again.
"Perhaps I shall go down to the kitchen and beg a cup of soup before I go home."
"Cook will have kept something for you," Keefe suggested. It would have surprised Miss Tolerance to learn that she was something of a pet among the staff, one for whom favors large and small were often undertaken. It was not merely that she was liberal with her thanks, or that she gave generous tips whenever she was in funds; there was something about Miss Tolerance which commanded their imaginations. She was Mrs. Brereton's niece, and rented the tiny cottage which stood in the rear of the garden. She had the appearance and manner of a lady but had, like the women who worked above-stairs at Mrs. Brereton's, long ago lost her virtue and all the claims upon polite society to which it entitled her. Like the women above-stairs, she worked at all hours, and her work sometimes put her in peril. She had few friends and not even as much society as the whores, who when not employed spent their time in gossip and shopping.
"There was gooseberry tarts for the supper," Keefe said. "Tell Cook to put some out for you."
Miss Tolerance smiled. "Perhaps I shall." She stifled a yawn. "Or perhaps I shall forget my supper and go straight to sleep."
Keefe shook his head and looked as though he would offer advice, but did not.
"You think I should eat something, Keefe?"
"Miss Sarah, Cook would be hurt if you didn't take a little something, you being in the house and all."
"Ah, well. I must on no account ruffle Cook's feathers," Miss Tolerance agreed. She thanked Keefe for his care and set off for the kitchen in search of gooseberry tarts.
Copyright © 2004 by Madeleine E. Robins
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In 1810, A flustered Mr. Colcannon on the advice of a friend visits the only female Agent of Inquiry Sarah Tolerance who chose that profession over her other choice of whoring. Colcannon hires Sarah to discreetly investigate the murder of his brother-in-law, French aristocratic émigré Chevalier d¿Aubigny. The culprit beat the victim so brutally in his bed until he died and then some in a fancier part of London where homicides never occur...................... Sarah wearing her male garb and carrying her sword learns quickly that d¿Aubigny frequented brothels where he abused the Fallen as he also did his spouse. Sarah makes the rounds of the whorehouses, but quickly realizes that she stopped him from accosting a prostitute Anne the night he died. When Anne is arrested for homicide, as a POINT OF HONOR Sarah digs deeper because she is convinced the young woman is innocent. However, apparently half the city including his wife detested the French emigrant enough to want him dead................................... This excellent Regency mystery brings to life the decadence of the aristocracy and the limited choices women have. The who-done-it is terrific as Sarah is a delightful lead protagonist. The number of suspects ranges the social classes of London so that the audience struggles as to whether the killer is family, upper class outside of his in-laws, or a whore he abused. Fans of historical mysteries will enjoy sleuthing the streets of London along side the intrepid Sarah............................... Harriet Klausner