When First We Practice to Deceive
London, June 1757
The Society for the Appreciation of the English Beefsteak, a Gentlemen's Club
It was the sort of thing one hopes momentarily that one has not really seen--because life would be so much more convenient if one hadn't.
The thing was scarcely shocking in itself; Lord John Grey had seen worse, could see worse now, merely by stepping out of the Beefsteak into the street. The flower girl who'd sold him a bunch of violets on his way into the club had had a half-healed gash on the back of her hand, crusted and oozing. The doorman, a veteran of the Americas, had a livid tomahawk scar that ran from hairline to jaw, bisecting the socket of a blinded eye. By contrast, the sore on the Honorable Joseph Trevelyan's privy member was quite small. Almost discreet.
"Not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a door," Grey muttered to himself. "But it will suffice. Damn it."
He emerged from behind the Chinese screen, lifting the violets to his nose. Their sweetness was no match for the pungent scent that followed him from the piss-pots. It was early June, and the Beefsteak, like every other establishment in London, reeked of beer and asparagus-pee.
Trevelyan had left the privacy of the Chinese screen before Lord John, unaware of the latter's discovery. The Honorable Joseph stood across the dining room now, deep in conversation with Lord Hanley and Mr. Pitt, the very picture of taste and sober elegance. Shallow in the chest, Grey thought uncharitably--though the suit of puce superfine was beautifully tailored to flatter the man's slenderness. Spindle-shanked, too; Trevelyan shifted weight, and a shadow winked on his left leg, where the pad of the downy-calf he wore had shifted under a clocked silk stocking.
Lord John turned the posy critically in his hand, as though inspecting it for wilt, watching the man from beneath lowered lashes. He knew well enough how to look without appearing to do so. He wished he were not in the habit of such surreptitious inspection--if not, he wouldn't now be facing this dilemma.
The discovery that an acquaintance suffered from the French disease would normally be grounds for nothing more than distaste at worst, disinterested sympathy at best--along with a heartfelt gratitude that one was not oneself so afflicted. Unfortunately, the Honorable Joseph Trevelyan was not merely a club acquaintance; he was betrothed to Grey's cousin.
The steward murmured something at his elbow; by reflex, he handed the posy to the man and flicked a hand in dismissal.
"No, I shan't dine yet. Colonel Quarry will be joining me."
"Very good, my lord."
Trevelyan had rejoined his companions at a table across the room, his narrow face flushed with laughter at some jest by Pitt.
Grey couldn't stand there glowering at the man; he hesitated, unsure whether to go across to the smoking room to wait for Quarry, or perhaps down the hall to the library. In the event, though, he was prevented by the sudden entry of Malcolm Stubbs, lieutenant of his own regiment, who hailed him with pleased surprise.
"Major Grey! What brings you here, eh? Thought you was quite the fixture at White's. Got tired of the politicals, have you?"
Stubbs was aptly named, no taller than Grey himself, but roughly twice as wide, with a broad cherubic face, wide blue eyes, and a breezy manner that endeared him to his troops, if not always to his senior officers.
"Hallo, Stubbs." Grey smiled, despite his inner disquiet. Stubbs was a casual friend, though their paths seldom crossed outside of regimental business. "No, you confuse me with my brother Hal. I leave the whiggery-pokery up to him."
Stubbs went pink in the face, and made small snorting noises.
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