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«The Amorous Nightingale», Edward Marston

Edward Marston

Moll Davis performed the song (My Lodging is on the Cold Ground) so charmingly that, not long after, it raised her from a bed on the

Cold Ground, to a Bed Royal.

John Downes, Roscius Anglicanus

 

Chapter One

Christopher Redmayne found conversations with his elder brother rather trying at the best of times. When there was a mirror at hand, it was well nigh impossible to have a meaningful exchange with Henry for he was continually preening himself, adjusting his wig, fidgeting with his attire, experimenting with a series of facial expressions and generally ignoring the person or persons unfortunate enough to be in his presence at such a moment of total self-absorption. Though he found such behaviour extremely irritating, Christopher schooled himself to be patient.

'What manner of man is this Mr Hartwell?' he asked.

'Jasper?' said Henry dismissively. 'He's an arrant fool.'

'I thought that he was a friend of yours.'

'A mere acquaintance. I'd never list Jasper Hartwell among my intimates. It would damage my reputation.' He tried the wig at a slightly different angle and raised an inquisitive eyebrow. 'How does this look?'

'Fine,' said Christopher wearily. 'It looks fine.'

'Does it make me handsome and faintly satanic?'

'You look like Henry Redmayne and he is both of those things with many other distinctive traits besides. Could we put your appearance to one side for a moment and discuss this Mr Hartwell?'

'But appearance is everything, my dear brother.'

'I would dispute that.'

'Well, do not do so in front of Jasper,' warned his brother, striking a peevish note. 'In fact, I would advise you to dispute nothing in the presence of your potential client. Agree with everything he says, however vapid or inane. Jasper is all outward show. If you think that your dear brother leans a little towards vanity – a crime I readily confess – wait until you meet Jasper Hartwell. He puts me in the shade. Jasper makes Narcissus seem like a martyr to modesty.'

'What of his inner nature?'

'He doesn't have one.'

'He must, Henry.'

'Why?'

'Every man has a true centre to his being.'

'Jasper is the exception to the rule.'

Henry Redmayne decided that his waistcoat was not being displayed to the best advantage and fiddled with his coat for several minutes. Christopher suppressed a sigh and waited. They were in the hall of Henry's house in Bedford Street, preparing to leave for a visit to the theatre, a pleasurable occasion which also had a commercial purpose, since Christopher was to be introduced to someone who might well be interested in employing him as the architect to design his new London abode. The fact that he had to rely on his brother for the introduction brought a number of anxieties in its wake. When Henry turned his attention back to his wig, Christopher tried to probe for more detail.

'I hope that Mr Hartwell proves a more reliable client,' he said.

'Reliable?' echoed the other.

'Profoundly grateful as I am for your help, I have to admit that your introductions have not always borne fruit.'

'What do you mean?' returned Henry, rounding on him. 'Did I not secure a valuable commission for you from Sir Ambrose Northcott?'

'You did, indeed.'

'Was it not the start of your career as an aspiring architect?'

'Undoubtedly.'

'And were not your services generously rewarded?'

'They were, Henry. The fee was paid in full. Unfortunately, the house was never built so that all of my work went to waste.'

'Don't blame me, Christopher. How was I to know that Sir Ambrose would be unguarded enough to let himself be murdered? It was an unforeseen hazard. The point is that, out of the kindness of my filial heart, I presented you with a golden opportunity.' He gave a loud sniff. 'A modicum of thanks is in order, I fancy.'

'I have already said how deeply grateful I am, Henry. Grateful for the introductions to Sir Ambrose Northcott and, more recently, to that other friend, acquaintance, crony, drinking companion, associate, call him what you will, Lord Staines.'

'Fulke is part of my inner circle.'

'So I assumed.'

'A man on whom I pattern myself.'

'I deduced that from his air of dissipation.' '

Henry stiffened. 'Fulke Rowett, tenth Baron Staines, is a splendid fellow in every particular. Had circumstances been more propitious, he could have looked to be the next warden of the Cinque Ports. You can surely not complain about Lord Staines. You designed a beautiful house for him and it stands to this day as a worthy example of your talent.'

'The house was built,' agreed Christopher, 'but the architect's fee was never paid. Nor was that of the builder.'

'A temporary problem in raising finance,' said Henry airily. 'I'm sure that Fulke will soon rectify this situation.'

'Not while he is still on his Irish estates. For that is where he fled when we tried to seek payment. And we were two among many, Henry. The queue of his creditors would stretch from here to Land's End. Lord Staines may be a splendid fellow but he is also impulsive, extravagant, irresponsible and up to his neck in debt.'

'Even the best horse stumbles at times.'


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