Honor's Players - By Holly Newman
Gentlemen, content ye; I am resolved.
—Act I, Scene 4
The Honorable Viscount St. Ryne was in a foul mood. As he crossed the sidewalk to ascend the steps before his club in St. James’s, he glared balefully at fellow members seated at their leisure by the bow window embrasure overlooking the entrance, deriving cynical enjoyment from the unwritten rule dictated by Beau Brummell during his heyday that no member may recognize anyone walking in the street below. On entering he barely nodded to the porter, surprising that worthy for the Viscount could always be counted upon for good word. Of course it had been nigh on a year by his reckoning since his lordship had last crossed that threshold, he conceded as he consigned his lordship’s high-crowned beaver and greatcoat to a waiting footman. He shook his head sadly as he watched St. Ryne mount the stairs. In his experience dealing with the town bucks that frequented the club, such pronounced change in a gentleman could only be engendered by one of two things, money or a woman. He wondered what his lordship’s particular demon was.
St. Ryne continued up the stairs, oblivious to the speculation he aroused. Attaining the first floor landing, he started for the book room with long purposeful strides, checked, then swung back toward the card room. After ordering a bottle of port from a hovering waiter, he sank into a winged armchair in the far corner away from the general activity. Crossing one gleaming Hessian boot across the other, he leaned back in the chair and surveyed his surroundings. A few who chanced to see him raised a hand in greeting and would have come to his side had he deigned to recognize them. His thoughts were black and turned inward, and it was sometime before he could even assimilate his own presence in his favorite haunt.
He was still scowling when some moments later the waiter returned with his requested bottle of port and a cut crystal wineglass on a silver salver. An absent flick of his wrist dismissed the waiter as St. Ryne stared broodingly about the room, slowly willing the sharp claws of depression to release their hold. Though he had been away for nearly a year, nothing seemed to have changed. He wondered why he’d thought it would. Twirling the stem of his goblet idly between long, well-manicured fingers, he noted Farley in attendance with a new lamb for the fleecing and old Mannion already in his cups. His lips curling, St. Ryne silently saluted the latter with his wineglass. Sardonically, he thought in a short time he would be joining that worshiper of Bacchus. After the scene he had been through that day, it would be a blessed release. The Countess of Seaverness was a strong-willed woman; however, so was her son, a fact the Countess continually failed to understand. He acknowledged that his mother’s position as eldest in a numerous family had predisposed her to a domineering manner; however, he’d be damned if he was going to dance merrily to her piping. At thirty he was conscious of what was due his position despite his mother’s fears to the contrary.
St. Ryne shook his head, causing one dark lock to fall and curl across his brow. Taking a sip of port, he continued his perusal of the room. His brooding frown lifted slightly when he spied Freddy Shiperton. Freddy was a sad rattle yet just the sort to divert his mind. The Viscount’s frown descended again momentarily when he noted his companions. Freddy was in attendance with Carlton Tretherford, a veritable old rug merchant to St. Ryne’s mind, and Sir James Rudger Branstoke. St. Ryne did not know Branstoke all that well, though the man’s airs were decidedly too languid, certainly at odds with his Corinthian appearance. Those two men were not good company for Freddy, and it appeared they were embroiled in some altercation. Odd, for Freddy was one of the most likeable young bucks in town, hardly one for any disagreement. St. Ryne had known him all his life for their family estates in Wiltshire marched upon one another.
From his shadowed corner the Viscount watched them for a bit. Finally his curiosity overcame him, and he rose to saunter over to the mismatched party.
“No sense cutting each other up over La Belle Helene if none of us has access to her,” Freddy was saying affably, rocking back on his heels. Ever the town tulip, he was resplendent in yellow pantaloons and bottle-green