Revenge is serious business.
Even though Molly and Miles don't live together anymore, they can't get closure. Various things keep getting in the way, such as highway robbery, piracy, slave trade, international spying, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and so forth. To top it off, Molly must take revenge on the man who has betrayed her, and his name isn't even Miles.
A number of thoughts crossed Miles Crawford’s mind.
Of all human feelings, jealousy must the easiest to provoke, he thought.
All you need to do is have a good time. That’s it. Just have a good time.
And if you wish to make everyone you know green with jealousy, just spend some time in bed with a good-looking girl. That’s right. As soon as folks find out, they’ll hate your guts.
2. IN THE STREET
Clearly that was the real reason – someone out there must have been jealous.
Wait a minute.
The real reason for what?
The real reason those four soldiers showed up at Miles Crawford’s door.
What four soldiers?
The ones who took down the door and yanked Miles out of bed without so much as introducing themselves first.
Was the girl still there?
What did she do? Did she scream? Did she blush? Did she say anything?
She sat up in bed, covering her pretty-looking rotund breasts with the sheet, and looking on.
Did she feel awkward, at least?
If she did, she didn’t show it.
Jealousy must have been the real reason. The official, i.e. horseshit, reason was . . . Get this. They supposedly arrested Miles in the name of the King . . . yes, that’s what they said! They said: “In the name of the King!” . . . they arrested him because . . . get this . . . because some three thousand miles away . . . a bunch of nameless thugs led by a failed brewer had tossed a quantity of perfectly good tea leaves overboard.
That’s right. Like it was supposed to be Miles’ fault, or something.
He didn’t put up any resistance. He just couldn’t be bothered. He was sleepy and tired and wanted to go back to bed. Morning was never his favorite time of day.
He asked them to allow him to take a piss, at least.
They told him to put on his shirt and boots. He had trouble finding either. They helped him! He managed to glance wistfully at the embers still glowing cozily in the fireplace – one last time before they shoved him outside.
Damp and chilly – it was one those disgusting London mornings no gentleman of good social standing would wish upon his worst enemy.
They demanded he face the cold limestone wall. He humored them, even though he needed to take a piss something awful now. They tied his hands behind his back.
He tried to reason with them. He said:
They ignored him. He tried again, raising his voice a little:
“Magna Carta. Hey!”
One of them winced and said disdainfully:
The ancient document was still in effect. It stipulated that not only the King and his henchmen could have privileges in Merry Olde England. Barons, it said, ought to have some rights as well.
“I mean, seriously. It wouldn’t have killed you jumping yodels to give me some notice. Where do you get off dragging me out of bed like that? Ouch! Quit pushing me.”
One of the soldiers, an educated fellow in his own right, pointed out that while the Magna Carta did in fact mention barons, it said nothing about earls. Miles Crawford was an earl. The document did not apply to him.
They dragged him through the streets as if he were some vulgar criminal, in plain sight, in front of pedestrians – they didn’t care. They tossed him into a dungeon. The door slammed. The bolt rattled into place.
Miles selected a corner at random and took a piss.
He curled up on the wooden bench and tried to sleep.
3. IN THE DUNGEON
Unbathed, unshaven, his face and ribs bruised, his knees bloody and hurting like hell, Miles spent three days in the dungeon. Twice a day guards escorted him to the interrogation chamber and brought him back an hour later. Water was available. Food was not. With neither books nor good wine to entertain him, and only rats for company, Miles found the place rather dull.
Benjamin Carlyle, the Secret Service’s pride and joy, dropped by.
Inclining his large head, puffing his fleshy cheeks, and staring at Miles with mock astonishment, he said in his booming voice:
“Gustave’s buttocks! Lord Crawford himself! Who would have thought!”
It is only polite for a gentleman to inquire after the woman with whom he has last had intimate relations. Miles asked:
“Is Carol all right?”
Benjamin boomed joyously:
“Don’t worry about Carol! We’ve been racking our brains for a month . . . I mean, everybody . . . the whole blasted office . . . trying to figure out who the blasted spy was! Word got out that the Americans are in on half our secrets! Everybody got nervous, all the way up to the blasted Prime Minister.”
“Yes. You know what, Crawford? From the beginning, I had a sneaking suspicion it was you.”
“I’m flattered. Mind telling me . . . “
“All spies have weaknesses, though. Eventually someone got the idea of sending a good-looking broad your way.”
Miles nodded, resigned.
Laughing obnoxiously, Carlyle bellowed:
“I hope you had a good time with her, Crawford! Seriously. Blast you, man, the slut’s the best we have. I wouldn’t mind poking her myself. Maybe I should become a spy. What do you think? Is it worth it?”
He laughed again. He bragged some more, mentioning that had it been up to him, he would have Miles broken on the wheel. He might still suggest this to the higher-ups.
He said he might drop by again sometime.
At last he left.
Three days later a different quartet of soldiers arrived to pick up Miles. He would have put up resistance had he not been completely drained. Mustering whatever still remained of his mental faculties, he made a fresh eloquent speech, promising the soldiers riches beyond their imagination if only they set him free in front of some tavern, and if one of them had a pound or two to lend him – perfection. Annoyingly, they ignored him.
4. BACK IN THE STREET
Again he found himself being dragged through the streets. The area reeked of equine and human excrement, rotten produce, and what not. Some pedestrians glanced indifferently at the shabby-looking prisoner and his red-coated, black-booted escort.
Soon they reached St. James’s Palace, of all places – the King’s official residence in those days. Some years ago, the King had purchased the much cozier Buckingham House where he now kept his family. St. James’s Palace, with its unfashionable crenellated towers, was still open for official business, though.
One of the guards at the entrance said:
“Whoa! Where are you dolts dragging that?” He pointed at Miles. “Surely you don’t expect to take him inside? Is this a joke?”
One of the soldiers produced a scroll. Unrolling it solemnly, he held it under the inquisitive sentinel’s nose. He said gravely:
“His Majesty’s personal orders.”
The flustered guard stepped aside.
St. James’s Palace was a notoriously cold place.
5. AT ST. JAMES’S PALACE
Not even the enormous size of the study’s windows could compensate for the lack of sunlight on a typical London afternoon. The candles on the massive desk were lit. An obsequious-looking servant whose boring name the King could not be bothered to recall announced the arrival of the prisoner. Picking up a large quill, George III, a tall, lean man of thirty-seven summers, started to make leisurely use of it by doodling on Lord Chamberlain’s memorandum concerning the possible consequences of a recent tax hike. He did not look up when the soldiers dragged in Miles (barefoot, his long undershirt in tatters, his hands tied behind his back).
One of the soldiers called softly:
“One moment, sir.”
Finishing the sketch – an exaggerated likeness, in profile, of his Versailles cousin – the King lay down the quill slowly and gave Miles a long appraising look.
Normally, Miles Crawford came across as a handsome man. Medium height, slender, with broad shoulders, longish russet hair, gray eyes, protruding cheekbones, resolute lips, Saxon nose, and somewhat bushy eyebrows a shade lighter than his hair. He was thirty-four, but acted younger.
Not today. He looked miserable today – hunched, his hair all tangled, his eyes weary, his left cheek featured a sizable yellowish bruise. The King said, not unkindly:
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Miles! Would you care to sit down?” He added coldly: ”Release him, gentlemen.”
They did so. The remnants of his strength leaving him, Miles sank to his knees. Coming over to him, the King said quietly:
“You don’t need to do that now, Miles.”
After making an effort to remain upright and failing, Miles fell over on one side. The King turned to the soldiers.
Bowing courteously, they withdrew.
George III pondered for a moment. Then, leaning on the edge of his desk, he picked up the memorandum again, and examined the sketch critically.
After attempting to roll over, Miles looked up in astonishment. The King observed:
“You don’t look well, Crawford.”
“Sire . . . ”
“All right, you’ve got my attention. Tell me what happened.”
Miles said with some difficulty:
“Sire, I’m about to faint, I’m afraid. Hope Your Majesty doesn’t mind.”
The King replied civilly:
“Not at all. Go ahead.”
“Thank you, Sire.”
Miles fainted. Picking up the bell from his desk, the King studied it with some disgust. He glanced at Miles again. He rang. Almost instantly, the servant re-entered the study.
The King said:
“See if there’s any pudding left from breakfast. While you’re at it, get some milk, too.”
Squatting beside Miles, George slapped him lightly on the cheek. Miles opened his eyes.
“Mind if I help you up?”
“That would be very thoughtful of you, Sire.”
As he lifted Miles to his feet, the King’s elbow touched the prisoner’s ribs.
“I’m sorry. What?”
“Do be more careful, Sire. I’m clearly not well. I’m bruised all over. Do you mind?”
“I’ll try to remember.”
He helped Miles to a chair. The servant returned carrying a tray.
The King said:
“Thank you, James.”
“It’s Alexander, Your Majesty.”
“I truly don’t give a shit. Get out.”
Finding an intricately designed silver spoon in one of his desk drawers, the King wiped it clean with a silk napkin. Pouring some milk into a cup, he brought it to Miles’ lips. Miles sipped.
“Thank you, Sire.”
“Don’t mention it, old chap.”
Standing beside Miles’ chair, the King picked up a lump of pudding with the spoon. He said:
Miles opened his mouth. The King deposited the pudding in it. Reaching over and scooping up more pudding, he said:
“So, do I get to hear about your adventures now, or should we wait till the trial?”
Chewing appreciatively, Miles said:
“Well. The Secret Service sent their agent, Sire . . . ”
“I already know that part. By the way, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
“You allowed a woman to trick you. Very unprofessional, that.”
“Well, that’s just a lot of horseshit, Sire, I assure you. She didn’t really . . . ”
“Don’t argue with your mouth full. Why did you become a spy, Crawford? What were you thinking?”
“I don’t know, Sire. It sort of just happened.”
“Doesn’t spying require being responsible?”
“It sure does.”
“Hardly your strong suit.”
“That’s true. Some milk, please, Sire?”
“What? Oh. Certainly.”
The King raised the cup to Miles’ lips. Miles sipped. The King resumed the feeding process.
“What happened, exactly? Did you go to them, or did they come to you?”
“They came to me.”
“Did they know what kind of person you were?”
“What do you mean, Sire?”
“Did they know you were indecisive, lazy, unreliable, flaky, flippant, whimsical, and so forth? In other words, worthless?”
“I’m not sure. No, I don’t expect they did, Sire.”
“What did they offer you for your so-called services?”
“Not much, actually. They said, you know what, you were born in the Colonies, your wife’s American . . . ”
“Are you married, Crawford?”
“You never told me.”
“It never came up.”
The spoon stopped in mid-air. The King prompted:
“Yes? Go on.”
“Well . . . They explained how their entire population was oppressed . . . or depressed . . . The farmers . . . ”
The King winced. He said:
“Nonsense. Farmers? Please. You neither care about nor indeed know anything about farmers.”
“Good point, Sire. Even though I do know a few of them personally . . . “
The King said pensively:
“They’re a heathen lot, those farmers.”
“Go on. Tell me what happened after you learned that the farmers were depressed.”
“They brought me to Thomas Jefferson’s house, Sire.”
The King grinned.
“You actually met Thomas Jefferson?”
“What’s he like?”
“He’s all right.”
“Mind describing him to me?”
“Uh . . . Jefferson?”
“Well . . . He’s a sharp dresser, for the Colonies. He knows his wine.”
This caused the King to raise his eyebrows.
“Tell me more. Milk?”
The King brought the cup to Miles’ lips. Some of the milk trickled down Miles’ chin. His Majesty wiped it off deftly with the napkin.
“What else do you wish to know, Sire?”
“Anything. Does he own African slaves?”
“Uh . . . I’m not sure. I don’t remember seeing any.”
“Irish? Any Irish slaves? Indentured servants, or whatever they’re called over there?”
“He might. I’m not sure.”
“That’s very American, isn’t it? Owning slaves and all?”
“Uh . . . I’ve never really thought about it. My uncle and aunt, they did not keep any. I had a governess. She was French. I don’t think she was a slave. Or maybe she was. I don’t know.”
For a moment the King appeared to be lost in thought. This worried Miles, who had noticed earlier that the talking and feeding seemed to be related somehow. Miles said:
“Sire? I’m still pretty hungry, I must admit.”
“How good is your French, Miles?”
“It’s pretty good, Sire.”
“I always thought you were spying for the Frogs. Somehow it never occurred to me you’d go over to the Colonists.”
“Sire . . . ”
“Even though they’re allies. The Frogs. Our allies. The Frog Prince . . . “ The King mumbled. “The regal locksmith across the Channel . . . He makes his own locks. Did you know that? A man’s allowed to have hobbies, but . . . locks? He turned his palace cellar into a workshop, imagine. Talk about giving monarchs a bad name. Padlocks, Suffolk latches, tumbler locks, warded locks, carpenter locks, plate latches, and on and on. Do you imagine those farmers, brewers, and slave owners out yonder would even remotely consider rebellion if it weren’t for the Frog’s gold? Do you?“
“Sire . . . “
“He’s only been king a year. One lousy year, imagine. He has a peanut-sized brain, and compounded in that peanut is the age-old loathing for this here island. This precious . . . how does it go? . . . this precious . . . uh . . . gem, or diamond, or some such . . . set in the silver sea.”
“Stone. This precious stone set in the silver sea.”
“I hate poetry.”
A fresh spoonful finally found its way to Miles’ mouth. Miles chewed, half-closing his eyes. The King winced the way an intelligent, reasonably advanced person does when he sees an ignorant glutton who is only interested in his food while the destiny of the Empire is at stake.
“Do you remember the name of the rebels’ agent who approached you first?”
“Uh . . . No, Sire.”
“Do you remember the day they approached you?”
“Not really. It must have been just before the vernal equinox, though. The leaves . . . “
“You don’t remember the exact date.”
“No, Sire. I have a very bad memory for these things. Names, dates, and all the rest of it, they just don’t stick, somehow.”
“I see. A spy who doesn’t remember names, nor dates. That’s just priceless.” After reflecting for a moment, the King asked suddenly:
“Does the name Gallic Faction mean anything to you?”
“I’m sorry, what kind of faction, Sire?”
“Gallic. Gallic Faction. You know. Gallic?”
Miles pondered. At last he said:
“It does sound vaguely familiar. I must have heard it before.”
The King scoffed. He said lucidly, pointedly:
”You know, Miles, it’s truly ironic that the course of history may have changed overnight – in your bed. I mean – look at you. What are you, Miles?”
“Yes, what am I, Sire? Do you mind . . . I’m still hungry . . . “
“You’re a loafer, a philanderer, and a drunk.”
The last epithet touched a nerve.
Miles frowned. He said:
“I’m not a drunk. That’s a lot of horseshit. I have no idea who’s been spreading those rumors about me, but . . . “
“This isn’t subject to debate.”
“It’s not fair, Sire . . . “
“Shut up! . . . As I was saying when you interrupted me . . . It’s pretty ironic. Isn’t it?”
Miles said testily:
“It must be since you say so, Sire.”
George III emptied the cup over Miles’ head. Setting the cup on the desk, he said:
“I don’t blame you, Miles. Politics, diplomacy, the destiny of the Empire – such concepts are much too abstract for you to take seriously. It’s a lot of horseshit, as you put it. It may be amusing enough to gab about at a soirée, perhaps, but actually pondering on it is just too damn tedious, isn’t it? A new comedy at the theatre, a new woman with a promising figure strutting across the ballroom – those are tangible things worthy of consideration. The rest is horseshit. Right, Miles? You’re an English peer, after all, not some Greek or German philosopher. The important thing is to have a good time, making people jealous. Am I right?”
“About jealousy? Yes, I agree with you there, Sire. People . . . “
“No, not about jealousy, you imbecile!”
“Why did you have to tell that stupid whore you were a spy, Miles? Were you trying to impress her?”
“Sire . . . “
“Never mind. I don’t want to hear it. Those Secret Service bunglers tell me you’re very good because you don’t leave a trail. As usual, they have no clue. In order to leave a trail you actually need to do something. You don’t do anything except amuse yourself, Crawford. Your employers, they think you’re a bungler. They don’t have a clue, either. You’re not a bungler. You’re a useless loafer.”
“Uh . . . “
Both refrained from speaking for a while. At last the King said:
“I’m rather fond of you, Miles. I’m going to miss you. Do you prefer to be shot or hanged?”
Miles cleared his throat. Picking up the napkin, the King wiped Miles’ head and face as best he could. He tossed the napkin on the floor.
Clearing his throat again, Miles said thoughtfully:
“Well, Sire . . . To be absolutely frank with you, I’d rather go on living.”
The King seemed to be lost in thought. Sounding sincerely apologetic, he said:
“I’m sorry I lost my temper earlier. Here, I missed a spot . . . let me get it off for you . . . there you go. My behavior’s been pretty odd these past few months. I’ve been very impulsive. Or so they tell me. What did you say?”
“I’d rather . . . ”
“Now do be sensible, Miles. It’s been officially established that you are, in fact, the rebels’ agent, albeit a worthless one. I don’t mind, goodness no, I mean, one should be free to choose one’s occupation, but really, my friend, you shouldn’t have gotten caught like that. That’s just embarrassing.”
Miles thought about this. He suggested:
“You could just let me slip away quietly, Sire. They could go ahead and announce I’ve been shot and all, and I’d just slink away into the night. How about that?”
For a while, the King seemed to be considering the possibility. Miles fidgeted on the chair apprehensively.
“Is she good-looking?”
“About average. She’s got a winning smile.”
“I see. She still lives in the Colonies?”
“That’s right, Sire.”
“You have a house there?”
“An estate, Sire.”
“If I allowed you to flee, you’d only rejoin the rebels.”
“I’m not sure I’d want to . . . “
The King went on:
“Even though you’re worthless, the mere fact of you getting back with the rebels would be a blemish on the reputation of the Secret Service. Can you understand that?”
“I’m not sure I’d want to join anyone at this juncture, Sire. I’ve had enough political games to last me a century.”
George picked up the bell. He said:
“I don’t know, Miles. I’m not sure I have a good feeling about this. You’d only embarrass yourself again.”
“I won’t, Sire. That’s a promise.”
The servant re-entered. The King told him to get the guards.
“Sire . . . “
The King shouted:
“Get the guards here, damn it! Why doesn’t anyone listen to me? Shit! Get the guards, you spineless chump!”
The servant bowed and left hastily.
The King went on:
“Well, you still have a couple of days till the trial. Why don’t you use the interval do some thinking? Just to pass the time? You really should.”
Two guards entered and bowed low to the King. His Majesty said:
“Take him back. No torturing, and let him have something to eat from time to time. Good afternoon, Miles.”