Pride and Extreme Prejudice
With apologizes to Jane Austen and Ian Fleming.
Something that has been slowly fermenting, or perhaps I should say spoiling, in the background.
1. Breaking the Bank at Almack's.
His studied elegance, from the top of his carefully coiffed Brutus, to the height of his carefully starched collar, the intricate folds of his mathematical tie, the elegance of his knee smalls, and the gloss of his boots, drew a collective sigh from the débutantes at Almack's as the man entered. Their companions noted with envy the simple grace and naturalness of his elegance, which was inbred and not aided by padding or extraneous jewelry and fobs. Pausing only to flick some dust from the Mechlin lace adorning his cuffs, he viewed the crowd with a jaundiced eye, for beneath its veneer of elegance raw passions were brewing. Princess Esterházy, the hostess this week approached him and demanded his voucher, “Who sir, are you?”
“The name is Darcy, Fitzwilliam Darcy.”
He scanned the room, “Princess I'm looking for Mr. Wickham, a Mr. George Wickham.”
She nodded, “Third column on the right, knock five times.”
The band struck up 'The Scotsman' and the couples formed in the middle of the room. Darcy quietly moved down right side of the hall to the third column and knocked. A peephole opened, and a bloodshot eye gazed out.
“I'm here to see Mr. Wickham.”
The peephole slide back and a door opened behind the column. Darcy entered and disappeared into the room. The smoky depths of the room hid a dicing board in their dim recesses, and the shaking noise of the dice cups indicated an active game of hazard. In the far back of the room, a faro table held court.
“So Darcy,” Wickham began, “What brings you to London?”
“Oh George,” Lydia Bennett exclaimed, “It's that man again! What's he doing here?”
“Yes, Darcy, what brings you here?”
“I'm looking for someone.”
Wickham blanched, began to stammer his excuses.
“Not you. I'll deal with you and Lydia later. Who is that big punter over there.”
“The man with the eye patch?” A man was gambling over on the faro table, behind him stood a beautiful woman with a low cut dress in the filmy and clinging empire style. It was cut high enough to show her shapely ankles. She was wearing diamond earrings and an expensive broach that lay between her mounts of beauty. Darcy decided her acquaintance might be worth pursuit.
“Yes, him. Don't try to tell me it's Nelson.”
“That's D'Stang. Charles D'Stang the Count of le Mieux. He's an émigré, a refugee from the continent.”
“He's plunging deep isn't he?”
“He is supposed to have deep pockets. He's running the bank.”
“We'll see. Introduce me.”
Wickham nervously rose and escorted Darcy to the faro table. “Comte D'Stang, may I present Mr. Darcy.”
Without looking up the Comte growled, “If he's come to lose his money, have him sit. Otherwise, shut your mouth so we can get on with the game.”
“Sir.” Wickham nervously scraped and bowed.
Darcy joined the crowd at the table. Lydia walked over, “Can I bring you anything Mr. Darcy?”
“A glass of punch, rum, Demera sugar, a slice of lemon. Stirred, not shaken.”
“Place your bets, gentlemen.” D'Stang and Darcy along with the others at the table put their tokens on the table to indicate which card they were betting on. The dealer shuffled the deck and D'Stang cut the deck. The first card, the soda, was turned, then the losing card and finally the winning card for that turn. Neither Darcy's nor D'Stang's card were in the first turn, so they let their bets ride. The same result greeted the next turn. Darcy noted that the deck was an unusual pattern, and subtly marked. At the third turn he quietly put a copper on his bet. The first card of the turn was Darcy's choice. “Bad luck my friend,” D'Stang chortled as he prepared to take the money from the table. “Sorry to disappoint you, but I coppered my bet.” D'Stang stopped chortling and handed Darcy his winnings. “The night is young, I may yet lose.”
“You will, my friend, you will.”
Darcy thought about calling out D'Stang for playing faro with a marked deck. Although D'Stang was a noted swordsman Darcy was sure of his touch and had little to fear from a meeting on Doctors commons. D'Stang was, however, the point man for a criminal organization the F.S.C.K., or perhaps since he was French the S.F.C.P1. There was little use in killing him until Darcy had uncovered his contacts. The F.S.C.K. had its little greedy fingers in every pie worth the taking, from tainted 'bully beef' for the navy to running French Brandy from under Napoleon's nose. Selling the Crown's secrets to the French was just a small part of their business.
Glancing at the deck, Darcy placed counters on the ace, then coppered them.
“You play high, my friend. Are you sure?”
“Of course, it's the only thing that brings relief to this tedious game.”
The ace turned over at the next card. D'Stang growled as he passed Darcy more winnings, “One could swear you can read the cards.”
“Change the deck if you'd like. Can't be fairer than that. They're your cards, aren't they?.”
D'Stang quietly backed down, “No, we'll keep this deck.”
Darcy pocketed his winnings, they would make a useful supplement to help him carry on with the King's business. “Perhaps your companion would like something to drink?”
“A Madeira, straight.”
Darcy flagged one of the waiters, “For the lady, Miss?”
“Miss Morehouse, Sir.”
“For Miss Morehouse, a Madeira, straight.”
“It comes in a bottle, sir.”
“A bottle then.” Darcy negligently tossed him a counter. “I assume you can cash this.”
When the waiter returned with two glasses and a bottle, Darcy poured a glass for Miss Morehouse. “I prefer my punch, if you don't mind.”
They raised glasses, and saluted each other with a clink. She drained her glass, while Darcy sipped his. He poured another for her. Unfortunately, it would serve no purpose. Miss Morehouse sat in her seat. She was slumped and unconscious from the drugs in the wine. Darcy looked at her with disdain, and said, “I always thought Madeira was overrated.”
Darcy returned to the Faro table. D'stang gave him a quick doubletake, then asked if there were any more bets. Sardonically sipping his punch, Darcy let this one ride. The play confirmed that the marks on the cards were still there.
Reading the deck, Darcy put a large bet on seven then coppered it. D'stang blenched, but let it stand. The first card flipped was a seven, the seven of hearts. Darcy announced to the table as he swept up his winnings, “I guess I will be lucky in both cards and love.”
1Fraternal Society for Criminal Knowledge, in French, le Society Fraternelle de Connaissances Pénale.