Two minutes later she was outside and strolling along the street, apparently without a care in the world. If it were not for the fact that her errand was so serious, she would have been enjoying herself. She met no one she knew on the way to St James’s Street, so her disguise was not tested, but none of the strangers who passed her gave her a second glance, so she thought it must pass muster.
St James’s Street was busy. Several of the gentlemen’s clubs were situated there and patrons came and went, on foot and in cabs and carriages. The only women she saw were a couple of dubious characters.
She was stopped by the doorman when she attempted to enter White’s. ‘Members only, young man.’
‘I am looking for Captain Moore.’ She tried to deepen her voice. ‘I have an urgent message for him.’
She was told to wait while the captain was fetched. As she stood, wishing she had never come, several people passed her and eyed her with curiosity. From farther in the building she could hear men’s voices, shouts and laughter. And then she saw the captain coming towards her and her nerve almost deserted her.
‘You want me?’ he queried, stopping in front of her.
‘I don’t know you, do I? What’s your name?’
‘It doesn’t matter what my name is. I need to speak to you in private.’
‘Then, let us take a stroll.’ He led the way into the street. ‘Now, what is it that you have to tell me? I left a lucrative game and would return to it.’
‘Is Mr Cavenhurst with you?’
‘Cavenhurst? No, I have not seen him today at all.’
She breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Good. I believe he owes you a considerable amount.’
‘He does that. What has it to do with you?’
‘I am his friend. I come to ask you to give him more time to pay.’
‘He is a coward as well as a welsher, sending a stripling to plead for him.’ He paused and laughed. ‘Of course, you are no stripling, are you, Miss Cavenhurst?’ He reached out and pulled off her hat, making her hair cascade about her shoulders. ‘You make a lovely boy, my dear, but I would have to be half-blind to be deceived.’
‘It was the only way I could get near you.’ People were looking at them and smiling. She grabbed her hat from him and put it back on, pushing her hair up into it. It wouldn’t go back as well as it had when she’d had a mirror to help her, and strands of it escaped.
‘I am flattered.’
‘Don’t be. You knew Teddy could never resist a gamble—why did you encourage him?’
‘He needed no encouragement.’
She realised this was true. ‘You could have refused to play with him.’
‘What, and denied myself the pleasure of taking his money?’
‘He has no money.’
‘Now, that is a great shame, because I really need him to pay up.’
‘Give him more time.’
‘Why should I?’
‘It is the only way you are going to get it.’
‘Is that so?’ He smiled, revealing a broken tooth. ‘Now, I can think of an alternative. You are really stirring up my baser instincts dressed like that. I am wondering what it would be like to have a young lad in my bed who turns out not to be a lad after all. For that pleasure I might forgo the debt.’
‘You are disgusting!’
He shrugged. ‘Then, Teddy must find a way of paying me. Remind him, when you see him, that I charge interest by the day.’
She fled and made her way back to Mount Street, uncaring that more of her hair was escaping and her small strides were giving her away. Her mind was whirling. She had been right about Captain Moore when she’d first met him: he made her flesh creep. He must be depraved if he thought she would consider his suggestion. She went into the house by a side door and scuttled up to her room to change back into her own clothes. Teddy’s room was exactly as she had left it. She put his clothes back where she had found them and went to her room to sit on her bed with her head in her hands. Bessie found her there when she came to help her dress for supper.
‘What is the matter, Miss Sophie?’
‘Nothing. Have you seen anything of Teddy?’
‘Not since this morning. Why?’
‘I just wondered where he was.’
‘He’ll be back directly, I’ve no doubt. You are not engaged to go out tonight, are you?’
‘No, the Malthouses are coming.’
‘Then what about the pink sarcenet with the silk roses?’