Authors: Hilary Gilman
|Pleasant Street Publications (2012)|
It is the year 1747 and the Earl of Debenham believes he has successfully concealed his part in the Rebellion which ended in disaster two years before. He has wealth, great possessions and is to marry the loveliest debutante of the season. But then, into the Earl’s well-ordered existence, comes Kit, child of a fellow rebel and now a homeless waif. Unwillingly, he takes the urchin under his protection, unaware that he will soon be involved in an intrigue that will take all his courage and ingenuity to unravel. The Earl finds that his guardianship is fraught with both danger and delight as he and his ward face a ruthless adversary intent on revealing their perilous secrets.
Dangerous Escapade was first published by Robert Hale Limited in 1979 as Dangerous Masquerade (re-titled to avoid confusion with the author’s Regency Masquerade series). It has been re-edited for this Kindle edition by the author.
Pleasant Street Publications
By the same author
The Cautious Heart
Gamble with Hearts
Tides of Fire
(as Hilary Lester)
Copyright © 1979 Hilary Gilman
Reissued in 2012 by Pleasant Street Publications
All rights reserved: No part of this publication may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without
permission in writing from the publisher.
First published in the United Kingdom by Robert Hale Ltd. 1979
This edition re-issued for Kindle by Hilary Gilman
said the Earl to himself, without heat. He stretched out a languid hand to
summon his manservant to him. Before the sound of the bell had died away, the
door opened, and there entered a discreet gentleman, soberly garbed, who had
served his Lordship for many years and who was regarded by the other servants
as a privileged person, deep in the confidence of his master.
drawled Lord Debenham in a bored voice. “It seems that we must be off on our
travels again, you and I.”
“Oh yes, my
Lord,” responded John woodenly.
“I very much
fear so, John, and though I hesitate to incommode you, I really must ask you to
be ready to set forth for Dover within the hour. We can reach the coast tonight
if we obtain fresh horses at Maidstone.”
“Very good, my
Lord,” bowed the servant and departed to make his preparations.
remained standing by the open window. He was a man of five-and-thirty, tall and
well-made, with excellent shoulders to set off his coat of mulberry broadcloth.
He wore his own dark hair unpowdered, and clubbed
with a black velvet ribbon. There was a premature hint of silver at his temples
and harsh lines around his mouth that had not been there two years before. He
was frowning, and in his hands he twisted a letter. It was very dirty and
extremely ill-written, inscribed upon a scrap of paper torn from the front of a
Bible. Much of it was illegible, and there were distressing signs that the
paper had been wept upon in the course of the writing.
The first few
lines were clear enough.
My dear friend,
I write to you in the knowledge that you will aid me if it is in your power to
. Here the writing deteriorated, but it was possible to make out
several disjointed phrases.
My child Kit
... in Paris … Maison Beauclare ... yr Kindness... Take my child ... everlasting
was almost unrecognizable, save for a rather pathetic attempt at a flourish at the
end. The substance of the message was unmistakable, however. Mr Clareville,
currently sojourning at his Majesty’s pleasure in Newgate Prison, had deposited
his only child in the
a notorious, if high-class, bawdy house, where the infant awaited his
collection by Lord Debenham. It seemed an odd choice of refuge for a child, but
doubtless the father had his reasons.
With a resigned
shrug, Lord Debenham sat down at his desk to write a note of apology to his
betrothed, the Lady Amelia Henshawe, couched in terms as ardent as the rather
temperate nature of his Lordship’s attachment to her merited.
matter having been attended to, nothing further remained for him than to don
his modish greatcoat and to mount the high-stepping bay held, with some
difficulty, by his groom.
It was a crisp
morning in early spring, and the roads, due to an unusually mild winter, were
very tolerable. The two men made good time cantering down the narrow lanes,
hedgerows just coming into bud at either side of them.
As dusk was
gathering, they came into sight of Dover and were soon clattering down the
cobbled streets, their tired mounts reviving as though they sensed the warm
stables and hot mash awaiting them.
The Earl halted
before a half-timbered hostelry and dismounted. Mine host, a spare man, came
bowing out of the inn, expressing himself honoured at Lord Debenham's visit.
“If your Honour
would just step inside, there is a good fire in the parlour, and supper shall
be served directly,” he said, bustling into the inn after his noble guest.
“I thank you,
Bolderwood. I should like to be undisturbed, if you please. John will wait upon
“Of course, my
Lord, as your Lordship says.” He opened the door to a small, wainscoted
apartment, satisfied himself that all was in readiness, applied the bellows to
the fire, and invited Debenham to enter.
“It is very
well. Supper as soon as may be.” With this, Lord Debenham settled himself into
a comfortable winged armchair by the fire, crossed his ankles, and was soon, to
all appearances, fast asleep.
As he lay
dozing, the door was quietly opened, and a tall figure slipped into the room. The
intruder moved silently across the apartment and stood regarding the somnolent
Earl, an expression of insolent amusement upon his rather saturnine countenance.
moments, he coughed raspingly in his throat and, as Debenham raised sleepy
eyelids, the gentleman assumed an expression of great geniality, saying: “Your pardon,
Sir, for this intrusion, but 'tis devilish cold weather and not a decent fire
to be had anywhere. I made sure you would not object to my sharing the parlour
for a little while, 'til I warm myself.”
The Earl did
not receive this speech in a manner that lent any colour to the stranger’s
conviction. However, he merely shrugged and waived his visitor vaguely towards
The man seated
himself in a chair opposite Debenham’s, very much at his ease, and began to
converse in the same bluff style. “A filthy night out there, my Lord. I will
own myself surprised if we may board the Calais Packet tomorrow or for some
days to come for that matter.”
me, Sir. I can only trust that you may be proved to be mistaken.”
business is of an urgent nature, my Lord,” suggested the stranger.
Mr ... er ...?”
Wellbeloved, at your service, Sir.”
Lord Debenham bowed.
“Hardly what one might describe as urgent, Mr Wellbeloved, but the prospect of
kicking my heels in this extremely uncomfortable inn for any length of time is
not one that I can support with any equanimity.''
“Oh come, Sir,
you are too severe. A very tolerable little place, I am sure,” replied Mr
Wellbeloved, showing his teeth in an ingratiating smile, “Although not to be
compared with the kind of place you are accustomed to, my lord Earl.”
Lord Debenham raised
an eyebrow at this familiarity, but he refrained from comment. His expression
lightened when John entered the apartment at that moment. Bestowing one of his
rare, attractive smiles upon the man, he said, “As you see, John, we have a
guest for supper. I am sure the landlord will be capable of accommodating my
“Of course, Sir,”
responded John calmly. “I shall lay an extra cover immediately.''
“Thank you.” Lord
Debenham, having decided that his duties as host had now been amply fulfilled,
closed his eyes once more, and silence reigned in the room, broken only by an
occasional soft snore.
watched his companion for some appreciable time before, having assured himself that
Lord Debenham really slept, he rose and trod stealthily across the room to
where Debenham's greatcoat was slung carelessly over a chair. Then, with practised
skill, he proceeded to rifle the pockets. He laid the coat down empty-handed, a
dissatisfied frown creasing his brow. Across the room, Lord Debenham stirred
slightly and, by the time he raised his weary gaze, Wellbeloved was again in
his chair, to all appearances as deeply asleep as his companion. The Earl regarded
his visitor with sleepy amusement, and a soundless chuckle shook his elegant
appeared, both gentlemen attacked it with a hearty appetite. Conversation was
of the most desultory kind, chiefly, indeed, consisting of Mr Wellbeloved's attentions
to the Earl. He was constantly helping him to the dishes before them and was
most officious in filling his Lordship’s glass. Yet it was noticeable that he
drank little himself. Lord Debenham's eyes glinted in secret amusement as he tossed
off glass after glass of the excellent wines provided by mine host.
The last covers
having been removed, the gentlemen were left to sample the landlord's brandy,
and Mr Wellbeloved was able to continue his gentle probing into the Earl's
urgent business abroad.
“I will tell
you truly, my Lord,” he said expansively as he leant back in his comfortable
armchair. “Nothing but the most urgent necessity would draw me from home on
such a night as this.”
responded Debenham with tepid interest.
errand is not a happy one. The death of a most beloved relation, Sir, has drawn
me hence, and a melancholy journey it is.”
“You are very
good, Sir,” bowed Wellbeloved. He waited hopefully, but it became obvious that
Lord Debenham had no intention of indulging in a gratifying exchange of
confidences. The wine with which he had been plied had had more than the effect
calculated, for instead of becoming confidential, the Earl merely displayed a
marked tendency to fall asleep before Wellbeloved’s exasperated gaze.
At last, he
rose and made his way carefully to the door.
“I bid you
goodnight, Mr Wellbeloved,” he said, the deep voice a little slurred.
He bowed and
withdrew. As the door closed behind him, he straightened and, with a firm tread,
made his way swiftly to his own apartment.
waiting for him inside, obviously suffering a good deal of anxiety.
“What did that
devil want with us, Sir?” he demanded urgently.
“So you did
recognize him, John. I wondered,” rejoined his Lordship, seating himself upon
the bed and holding forth one booted leg to the valet.
“Of course I
knew him!” answered John scornfully. “Yon's not a face you forget in a hurry.”
laughed shortly, “No, I think our friend has underestimated us, John; I really think
so. I am not so easily drawn.”
“D’ye think he
suspects ye, Sir?” questioned the servant anxiously.