He found Mac Pherson in bed, snoring, night clothes half on the floor, dirty small-clothes scattered around, the smell of stale beer and a full chamber pot stifling.
Charles was amazed such a well-turned out man could come from this. He gently shook his shoulder.
Mac Pherson had once been a noted scholar of Latin and Greek, but he was too indolent to work at his studies very hard or at anything else. All languages came easily to him and he could converse in Greek, if he so chose. The small inheritance from his mother was soon gone and he lived from hand to mouth. He was never critical of others and so seemed to have endless friends and companions who paid for his wine.
Although Charles didn’t know it, Mac Pherson was willing to do almost anything for a friend. If he ever got in trouble, he would make friends with the hangman if it came to that and somehow talk him into supplying free ale.
Mac Pherson finally woke up and squinted up at Charles.
“Miggs, is that you? What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to talk to you.”
“Coffee. I need coffee, Miggs. And ale.”
Charles found his way across the room stumbling over clothes. As he started down the stairs, he met the slatternly landlady coming slowly up with a tray. There was a coffeepot and two cracked mugs.
“Oh, aye, I knows he needs his coffee. Black and ‘ot, he says. Black and ‘ot.” She kept coming.
Charles backed up and turned and opened the door to Mac Pherson’s room. “Is there a boy to go for some ale?”
“Aye. He’s been sent. I seen to it.”
“Good. Does anyone ever clean…”
“He don’t pay me for that. One meal a day and lots of ‘ot coffee. That’s what ‘e pays for.”
“I see.” Charles stood to the side of the room as the landlady plunked down the tray on Mac’s lap.
He yawned a prodigious yawn and said, “Thank you, Mrs. Devil. You’re a love.”
She muttered and left the room, taking the full chamber pot. The air lightened considerably.
“Is her name really Mrs. Devil?”
“Um, no.” mac poured and drank a cup of steaming coffee. “It’s something like Debelvois but that’s a mouthful for the people around here, so she’s Mrs. Devil.” He drank another cup full.
Charles watched in fascination. He didn’t think it was possible for anyone to drink liquid so hot.
He turned to the door as he heard loud footsteps coming up. A tiny boy appeared with a huge pot of ale. His shoes were too big for him, so he made the noise of a battalion.
“Here y’ are gov’nor. Fresh from the tap.”
“Tell me, Jeremy, that it is not full of foam.”
“No sir! Prattle knows as it’s for you, Mac.”
Mac took the pot and gave the boy a coin. They smiled at each other and Jeremy and his battalion took their way down the stairs.
Charles watched Mac down the ale in long, slow swallows. After he finished the ale, he paused and drank another cup of coffee.
“Where’s my manners! Here’s an extra cup. Have some coffee, Miggs.”
“No, thank you. I had plenty for breakfast.” Charles tried to find a place to sit down. Finally he swept off a chair and sat. he looked down guiltily at the clothes he’d just plopped on the floor and started to fold them.1!
“Leave ‘em! Leave ‘em! What brings you here so early, Miggs?”
Mac Pherson felt awake finally, and now that he was awake, there was room for a sense of unease about Miggs’ surprise visit.
Charles ahugged and didn’t meet Mac’s eye. “Mac, I need help. Everything will be just fine for me, if I were the Earl’s only son. Ailesworth doesn’t deserve the title! For God’s sake, he’sl in business! He ran away to the docks. He never showed his father any respect.” charels’ fists were clenched and an unhealthy red stained his face.
Mother of Mercy. It was what Mac had feared. Miggs feltentitled to the earldom since he’d been the gtood son. “Ailesworth is a hard man, I’ve heard. Took onthree footpads once. Or so I heard. Nobody crosses him. Terrible temper, too.”
Charles frowned. “What has that to do with anything. I’ve seen him fight too, as a boy. He loved fighting. It made Father…anyway, I’m not goingto fight him. I’m going to bloxw up his ship where he’s on it.”
Mac fell back against his bed. Oh, my God. Worse than he thought. Blow up a ship! The man must be mad. He sat up a bit and looked at Miggs, hoping to see a smile.
No, he was frowning and looked thunderous. Loked like Ailesworth in one of his bad moods, actually.
Mac lay down again. He must plan.
* * *
The day after the Countess arrived home from Dramlee Park, she sant for Carruthers.
Mr. Carruthers found the Countess sitting in front of the fire in her small moning room at the back of her town house on Mount Street. He desk was coveered with papers. He thought she looked tired and showed her age. She glanced up at him and extended her hand. She decided Carruthers was showin his years, but perhaps he was just tired.
“How do I fnd you today, my lady?” He looked intently at her.
“I’m well, Mr. Carruthers. Please be seated.” She waived to a Queen Anne chiar catty-corner to hers. He sat and continued to regard her.
“Would you like some tea?”
“No, my lady.” He paused. “If possible, I’d like some coffee.”
She smiled at him. She was pleased that he’d asked for something different–it made him more human. He hadn’t seen her smile in a long time. She looked younger and like the beautiful young woman she had once been. “Ring for Smithers.”
After the order for coffee had been given, Carruthers asked, “Have you news, my lady?”
She leaned forward. “I’ve discovered that Elizabeth is now a widow with the name of Esther Beryll. I do not know where she lives,but I understand it is somewhere in London. Viscount Grainger had heard of her through a friend of his.”
“That’s very good news, Countess!” He smiled at her. “Do you know anything more of her?”
“Yes. She married at sicteen. Lord Colebrook, the presen t Viscouunt’s father, emoved her from Dramlee Park when she was sixteen. There apparently was a fierce argument betwee Colebrook and my brother. Elizabeth, according to ther servants, was frightened before Lork Colebroook arrived. She wouldn’t tell them what was wrong, but I have my suspicicions. She was hiding in the nusery from her father for aat leadt a day.”
The Countess’ look was grim. “Carruthers, I cannot forgive myself for neglecting her. Anything could havve…” She closed her mouth and shook her head.
The arrival of the coffee interrupted them.
“How did she marry Beryll, and who ws he?” Carruthers was happy to have a fresh, hot cup of strong coffee.
“Beryll was Colebrook’s steward, a man of forty-five. He had been saving his money to buy a shop. A shop!” She shook her head at someone who could lower himself from being steward at a nobelman’s estate to keeping shop.
“Colebrook loaned him the money needed to buy a shop and Beryll took Elizabeth away after marrying her. Colbrook’s mother doesn’t know where he took her. Clearly sh’s had no interest in contacting any family since her marriage. Why should she?”
The countess sat back, frowning, her coffee forgotten.
“The few visits I paid to Dramlee park, my brother and his family were on their best behavious. I never liked henrietta or Julia but they at least showed proper manners when I was there. When I later heard rumors of my brother’s gaming and debauchery, I wrote hilm. Elizabeth must have been te or twelve at that time. He wrote me a placating letter saying the rumors were wild exaggerations.
“I paid a last visit after thos two girls were married. The house was starting to look shabby and outbuildings were going unpainted or whtewashed. I saw clearly the lines of dissipation on my brother’s face and worse on his wife’s. she was a viper!” the Countess rose and rubbed her palms together as she paced in front of the fireplace.
“I blame her for my brother’s disgrace. If he’d had a decent womanfor a wife, all would have been well. He was just weak.”
She sighed. “I spent time with Elizabeth then. She was so sweet, a lovely girl. I must find her now and attempt to makeup to her my neglect and the, the perfidy of her awful parents.”
Silence filled the room as the two thought of the past.
She turned to her slicitot. “Can you find Elizabeth?”
“I shall try. Now that we know she was married at Colebrook’s estate, I should be able to trace. Do you know where she went?”
“Shsrewsbury or Portsmouth. Perhaps. Bender and Jessom aren’t sure.”
Carruthers made some notes.
“On another subject, I have been informed that your son has not picked up his quarterly allotment at the solicitor’s office in Naples.”
She looked at him. “Should I, should we worry about him?”
No, let’s give it a little time. There might be many reasons shy he is late.”
“Yes.” She looked at him. She could think of no reasons why her son would be late to pick up his money. He could have made a killing on cards, perhaps. But previously he’d seemed to do nothing but lose. Even if he won, he lost it afterwards, she’d been told, a sthough he couldn’t bear being a winner.
“I’ll keep you informed if I hear from Beaumont.”
“As will I. About Elizabeth.”
* * *
“Ailesworth felt restless and irritable as he sat in his office. He knew it was becausd he hadn’t had a woman for a month. He couldn’t take any ordinary whore or any extraordinary courtesan. He wanted only Esther. This had never occurred to him before. In the past, one womanwas as good as anyother, as long as theyhad the requisite parts. He had simple needs. Now they had bec ome evern more simple: one special woman or no woman.
He was good at plannint, so he set himself to plan. The solution was simmple: get Mrs. Nelson out of the house for a few hours. Drum would do it. Take her to the theatre.
Excellent! He told his manager, Jarvis Hassam, he’d be gone for awhile and left. Hassam looked blank for a moment and then smiled. As he collected his papers, he know he’d have to go over all that he’d just told Ailesworth. He hadn’t heard a thing.
It was a woman, the Mrs. Beryll he’d heard Ailesworth and Lord Grainger talk aabout. Hassam was amused and pleased that Lord Ailesworth had found a woman he desired and who resisted him. Very good! Women usually fell into his lap, even when he didn’t want them to.
Hassam looked dark and exotic with his olive skin, almond shapped eyes and jet black hair. He was London born, however. His parents had excaped from Persia during some “religious cleansings” and had finally found England to be a place where they could practice Christianity and no one would beat them up. Hassam had grown up in a tough section of London, but he’d been an excellent student and found he could adopt new languages with east. He could speak like a perfect Mayfair gentleman, or like a Scotsman, an Irishman, a Derbyshire man and so on. He also spoke French, Italian, Persian and Spanish. Because of this facility, he was accepted nearly everywhere, despite his dark complexion.
He went back to work, still smiling ata picture of Ailesworth, distracted by a woman.
Drum agreed to take Mrs. Nelson to the theater–there was a Ben Jonson comedy people were talking about–but he wasn’t happy with it.
“Damn it, Ailesworth! She’ll think I’m wooing her.”
Ailesworth grinned. “No, she won’t. She’ll understand once she home again and sees Esther.”
Drum sighed. “Yes, yes. It’s certainly more uplifting than playing faro at Watier’s. At least I remember reading the play at Oxford and, if the language is incomprehensible, I can explain it to her.”
“Don’t be such a slumgudgion! Why do you think you need to explain it to her? She certainly seems like an educated women to me.’
Drum grinned. “You’re right. I hope she wears that goen again. If the play’s a borek I’ll have some gratifying scenery.’
Ailesworth grinned back at his friend and socked Drum on his shoulder. Drum tried not to gramace. God, the man was strong.
“Tonight?” asked Ailesworth.
“Yes. I’ll send a message now.”
* * *
when Drum arrived at Cargill Street that evening, in the carriage with his crest on it, his heart was heavy. Would Mrs. Nelson be flirtaion and bat her eyelashes at him? He kept thinking that he should have brought a chaperone.
After he’d settled her in her seat, she smiled at him, seated across from her. “You’re very kind, Lord Grainger, to do your friend a favor. As am I. Esther seemed concerned about my leaving tonight. I couldn’t tell if she was concerned over my reputation–going out alone with a titled rake–“ here her smile became a grin, or staying home with one.”
Drum returned her smile. “So you twigged Ailesworth’s stratagem. I’m not surprised.
“Will you enjoy the play, Mrs.Nelson?”
“Oh yes! Once I received your invitation today, I read The Alchemist. It’s great fun, although a bit crude.”
No blush,he noted. “You must be able to read with some speed.”
“My father saw that I read a great deal. He let me read all of Shakespear, except the bawdy parts.” She smiled faintly. “And then I’d sneak into his study and read those when he was out.. But Ben Jonson wasn’t part of his collection.”
The two settled back into their ride to the theatre with good humor and a feeling of ease.
* * *
ailesworth was in a hackney half a block away from the house on Cargill Street. When he
saw Drum and Mrs. Nelson leave, he waited a few minutes and then got out of the hackney and dismissed it.
Why was he so nervous? He’d seduced enough women, hadn’t he? But most of those were eager for him to take them. Esther was not.
He knocked. Esther answered the door. “My lord. What a surprise.”
She stpped back automatically and he came in and closed the door behind himself.
Slow and smooth. That was the way. “Mrs. Beryll. How are you this evening.”
“Fine.” She turned and led the way to the parlor. He followed and closed the door.
“Jessie’s in bed?”
“She’s visiting next door. The maid there.”
“You’re very good, Mrs. Beryll, to allow your maid free time for visiting.”
“Oh, the work’s done, dinner is over. There’s no reason to keep her in.” Eather nervousl pleasted her skir. She had to keep her defenses up.
“May I sit?” Ailesworth’s voice had deepened.
“Of course! Esther sat hurriedly on the settee, and as Eliesworth moved to sit beside her she realized her error. Ever since alma had received Lord Grainger’s invitation, she had been onedge, wondering if Aileswoth had a hand in it.
Now she knew. She really should…
“Esther,” the husky voice crooned as his hand came to her neck and his knuckles stroked
her creamy, solft skin.
She should speak, remind him he’d promised not to try to seduce her. But she could no longer think. His scent of warm make and fresh evergreens–the primeval forest, somehow–overwhelmed her. Her eyes went to his. Were they imploring him?
Ailesworth decided they were asking him to continue. He leaned forward and gently kissedher cheek. Like the finest satin. His arm went aroudn her and his other hand tilted her chin so he couod kiss her on the lips.
“Ailesworth,” she murmured.
“My sweet, my darling.”
Both arms went arounnd her and he pulled her closer. Hekissed her cheeks, her nost and finally her mouth. It was a gentle kiss at first, but then he gathered her tightly in one arm as his hand held her face captive. His tongue swet=pt over her lips. She gaspedd in surprise, which he noticed with pleasure as he dove into her mouth. Her husband must have been a fool.
He delicately sucked at her tongue and finally he felt her body go limp. He garhered her into his arms. He’d not let her go this time.
Esther was lost in a sea of feeling. His tongue in her mouth turned her into liquid gold. She had no wishes except to hold him closer. How glorious it was to feel a strong man’s arms around her, taking away the need to think and plan. As she had had to do for years.
His hand was on her breast. How gentle he was, not like jacob Beryll, who’d clutched her breast as though seeking a handle to her.
Ailesworth had lost track of time and place. Esthr’s breast was ,agmofocemt–sp spft–it fit in his hand. He released it to pull the sleeve of her gown down, so he could hold her naked breast. She smelled of violests–a faint, teasing fragrance. And of a happier time and place.
Esther slumped against his shoulder and breathed, “Ailesworth.” somehow she was on his lap and he was covering her face with his kisses again.
She smiled and kissed hiw neck. He jumped. She smiled wider and kissed him again under his chin and then under his ear.
“Esther,” he growled and pulledher face up so he could kiss her again, ruthlessly, sweeping her mouth with his tongue whichtasted of brandy. She shuddered and he felt like a king.
His thumb moved over her nipple and he could feel her body arching.
She pulled away, looking gorgeously disheveled and her sloe yes were wide. “Ailesworth! What…”
“Hush. We won’t go far tonight. Just enjoy it,” and his hand sought out her other breast. He watched his thumb brush her nipple and sthen sank his head to take it into his mouth.
She shreiked. It was only a mild little shriek since she was so startled.
Out in the hall, there was tentative knock on the door. “Ma’am?”
Ailesworth called out, “Your mistress is fine . Go to bed. Jessie.”
Before Esther had a chance to get riled up again, he sank his head to the other breast. She had started to climb back to sobriety but never made it. Her moans and cries were like celestial music to Ailesworh.
His hand went under her skirts and he stroked slowly up her leg until he reached her mons. First he cupped her, felt her heat and her wetness, then he slipped a finger into her. There was a convenient slit inher pantalettes.
She nearly came off his lap. “What are you doing?” she whispered.
“Oh, Esther, my darling. Tonight I’ll give you some pleasure.” He kissed her breasts again as his finger went in and out. “Just so you won’t forget me.”
She wanted to complain again but she couldn’t find words. Thenhis thumb found her little nub of pleasure and began circling it, occasionally touching it.
Her body began arching and she said, “Aiesworth, please, what is it, oh, please…”
He kissed her ravenously one more time and tshen his thumb began brushing her nub. “Now, Esther, now. Let go.”
She looked at him imploringly.
“Let go and let it take you.”
She did and let out a cry as spasms of pleasure filled her. They rolled through her body and she expired into ecstasy.
Ailesworth grinned. He held her close to him and loved the tremors that shook her. Soon he’d bee deep inside her when those tremors came. But not tonight.
By the time Esther came around, he’d straightened her skirts and covered her breasts after giving each one last kiss. He hel her gently, resting his head on her hair.
She found herself all tidied–except for her hair–and enfolded in hies lion’s embrace. How safe she felt! It was very distracting, that feeling. She had to fight it.
She began struggling. “Ailesworth! Let me go!”
He picked her up and put her back on the settee. He started to tidy her hair, but she said, “Don’t” and tried to tid it herself.
She patted it, sticking in hairpins as she came acorss them. For a minute he had a hungry look on his face. He wanted badly to see her hair down.
“Ailesworth, why did you…”
“And here I thought you might call me Garick,” he said mournfully.
“My name. No one calls me that except for my sisters and step-mama/”
“Oh.” She let out a sigh. “When I was little, I played by myself in the nursery.” Her face got a faraway look. “My nanny read me books about King Arthur and his knights. How I loved them.
“There was a knight and a dragon I could play with. I’d make up all kinds of stories and build castles and dragon I could play with. I’d make up all kinds of stories and build castles and dragon lairs with blocks. There was no maiden, no Guenevere, so I used one of my dolls. It must have looked strange, the doll so much larger than the knight, but it didn’t bother me.
“I named the knight, Garick.”
Ailesworth was unaware of his smile. He was not a man to smile sweetly. After all, he was called The Beast. But just then, he had the look of a gentle, sweet man.
Esther was beguiled. She stared at him until his face changed and she saw the strong, hard manhe also was.
She sighed again, sorry to see the vulnerability disappear. She got up, adjusting her dress. Her breasts felt tender.
“Lord Ailesworth. You promised not to seduce me.”
He got up and smiled down at her. Oh, how predatory he looked. “I promised not to try to seduce you. As you noticed, I succeeded.” His hand went out of its own volition and he gently touched her cheek with his knuckles.
“My lord! Stop it!” She moeved away. “I must ask you not to call again.”
“Oh, no, Esther. Don’t ask that, for I will come again. You and I have a future, sweetheart.”
“I will not be your mistress!”
He just smiled wider and gazed down at her. God, how he wanted her. If she’d ever let her eyes drift southward, toward his nether regiouns, she’d see how much. She seemed so innocent. What a sonundrum!
But enough for tonight. He’d leave and let her remember. Before he left though, he had to find out.
“Esther, did Beryll ever give you pleasure like that?”
He saw the answer in her eyes before she concealed it with self-riteous wrath. “Really, my lord! What occurred between me and my late husband is none of you business.”
“Of course. Forgive me.” He caught her hadn, kissed it and released it before she could remonstrate. “I’ll let myself out.”
“No, you won’t!”
He turned in surprise.
“My lord, you take too much on yourself here, giving Jessie orders, coming in and out as though you own the place.”
“Esther, if I only did. A small hidden treasure of a house with servants and warm carpets and coal fires.” he was observing her carefully and noticed a tiny flinch at “coal fires.” He was pleased. Another road to her heart.
Not heart,he chastised himself, body. It was her body he desiredd.
“Very good, Mrs. Beryll. I desire to be shown out.” His voice sank low and growled on the word, “desire.” Again he was pleased to see a tiny reaction to his renditionof the word. Growling seemed to work. He should do it more often.
She straightened her shoulders and opened the parlor door and led him to the front door. “Goodbye, Lord Ailesworth.’
“Good night, Mrs. Beryll.” As he went to step outside, he stole a quick kiss, his nose buried in her hair. That elusive scent again.
He wen out the door and as he turned to see her once again, the door slammed. He smiled. What a termagant she was when she was riled up. Very lofty, too.
Tomorrow he’d order a cartload of coal and make sure she accepted it.
* * *
alma came home after midnight. She’d had a delightful evening after sh’d assured Lord grainger that she knew his motivation for hr visit to the play.
She’d worn one of Esther’s dresses, takenin a bit, so she’d have somethingnew to wear. She didn’t miss Lord Grainger’s appreciative glances at her neckline. Unlikel Esther, Alma was pleased to show off her handsome bosom. Men staringat her did not discompose her at all.
Drum’s box wasn’t as crowded with visitors as their earlier visit. But the men were pleased to be with the lovely Mrs. Nelson again. She flirted lightly, paying no man any special attention. Drum found he was enjoying himself a great deal.
Alma found Esther in bed, her hands nervously fingering her worn sheets. After alma told Esther of her pleasant evening, there was a silence. Alma was about to ask Esther a question about her evening, whenEsther blurted out a question.
“Di Greene ever give you, did he use his finger…oh, Lord! How can I ask you! Never mind.” Esther’s eyes were on her blanket, a furious blush on her face.
“Did Josiah ever pleasure me?” Alma adked gently. “Yes, he did. He liked his pleasure and liked to give it too.” Alma cast her eyes down. “I miss it.”
“Oh,” breathed Esther. “I didn’t know. Jacob would be, would be rather quick.” She raised her eyes to Alma and continued, “At first, you know, he tried to be gentle but I was so nervous. I knew nothing of relations between menand women. I was amzed when he got up over me and started poking at me.
“I cried out, “What are you doing to me?
“He couldn’t believe I knew so little.he tried to explain it to me, but I was bewildered beyond reason. I thought men and women lived together side by side. I’d asked Jessom questions about puppies and kittens and where they came from, but she’d prim her lips and said that wasn’t spken of in a lady’s house.”
Esther sighed. “How odd I must have appeared to him. So innocent and confused. He tried to calm me and then said it was best be over and done with.
“It hur. A great deal. I never enjoyed it, you know. I had no idea such a thing as tonight’s pleasure existed. Jacob found a willing widow for a mistress. Then he left me alone. I was happy. I liked decorating our rooms. And leaning how to cook and clean.”
Esther smiled shyly at Alma and Alma saw the Duke’s daughter, freeed of all restraint, able to do what she enjoyed instead of being Lady Elizabeth.
“You never missed being a lady?”
“Lord, no! If it weren’t for Bender and Jessom, I’d also be wandering the Continent, looking for a new protector.”
Alma laughed. “I doubt it. You could never be that.”
Esther smiled and relaxed. “Well, my friend, my experienced friend., I believe it’s time I knew about what goes on between men and women. How else can I withstand Ailesworth’s advances? I’ll know what he’s up to and defend myself.” She looked hopefully at Alma.
Alma looked doubtdful. She remembered a night when she wasn’t interested in love-making. Josiah and held her and sooth her and before she knew what was what, he had mounted her and she was happily responding. Knowing wasn’t a defense.
She looked at Esther. Perhaps it was better that she have morwe knowledge. Alma began in a low voice with her eyes on her lap and a small blush on her throat.
Esther’s eyes widened when Alma described the intimate kisses a man could give a woman to pleasure her and she gasped when Alma told her she could return them in a similar manner.
“It sounds dreadful, but both are highly pleasuable. Do you want me to continue?”
Alma smiled a very small smile. It was like tutoring a child. “He’ll want to kiss you all over, every inch and, um, suckle at your breasts. He’ll want to enter you from behind.
“And tht’s enough for tonight.” She kissed Esther on the top of her head and left the room.
Esther slowly blew out her candle and lay down.if sh’d thought that more secual knowledge would aid her,she was wrong, at least for now. Her active mind began imagining Aielesworth doing thos things Alma had described. Her body grew hot andshe tentatively touched the nubbin Ailesworth had touched. Then she cupped herself and fel a wave of tender release flood her body.
As she drifted off to sleep, she realized she’d imagined Ailesworth making love to her with all his clothes on. She smiled and slept.
* * *
George Aurdly had discovered the name of Ailesworth’s other watcher. He also foundout that he frequented the Monkey’s Paw, so george himself sat at one of their not too dirty tables that night.
When Charles came in alone and sat at a table not far from the bar and exchanged greetings with a few of the menat the bar, George decided to watch awhile. People were always up to something and that something was often something profitable for him. He nursed his ale until a red-haired man strode in. Everyone seemed to come alive then. Miggs smiled and other at the bar joined Miggs and the new-comer at Miggs’ table. The red-haired man’s name seemed to be Mac something.
Miggs got up and went to the bar to buy a round. All settled happily and it seemed to George that they all waited on the Mac person to entertain them.
And it appeared that he did. George sipped his ale and observed them. Mac’s clothes were worn but he was dressed lilke a gentleman. He could see how Miggs was attracted to Mac, but what caused that Mac person to spendtime with Miggs?
Suddenly there was a roar of laughter from the table and George felt a spasmof something. Was it envy? Loneliness? Probably dilike, he decided.
He frowned into his empty tankard of ale. Suddenly he stood and went to the bar near Miggs’ table. He ordered an ale for himself and a round for the men at the table.
The landlord delivered the tankards and said, “Thanks to t’gentleman,” and nodded at George.
A chorus of thanks greeted him and Mac said, “Thankee, sir. Care to join us?”
And George replied, “Don’t mind if I do,” and found a place next to Miggs.
“George is the name. Glad to meet you all.”
Mac smiled and said, “Mac here, Chas there, and these villains,” and his hand swept the table, “are John, Jack, Joe and Mike.”
The roared and shoulted, “No, no! You’ve got them wrong again!”
George had to smile while Miggs laughed loudly. It was some kind of longstanding joke, obviouslly.
“That reminds me,” and Mac began on another story.
Althought the stories and laughter continued for the rest of the evening, Mac duddenly called a halt. It was only eleven but then george saw why when they all stood up. Miggs was unsteady on his legs. Mac took his arm and left the tavern. George slowly followed. The other menleft withloud goodbyes.
Mac and Miggs were heading for a cab stand. George walked along beside thm. When they reached the cabs, George sais, “hey, I’ll see him home. I’m done for the night myself. Ale makes me sleepy,” and he smiled, a slight cracking of his visage.
“Good man, George. He lives in Portman Square,” helpingMiggs into the cab. George followed and nodded goodnight to Mac, who saluted and sauntered away, swinging his heavy cane.