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The British Embassy, Geneva, The Hour Where Port Wine Is Agreeable.
T’was, as it often is, a Sunday afternoon. That happy day of repose following a week of odious work. My time had been equally divided betwixt the tasks of appeasing foreign dignitaries, by complimenting them on their political accomplishments and their pleasing complexions; and arranging for the immediate expiration of one Mr. Stubbs. I was content in the knowledge that I had succeeded in my tasks. The ambassador to france now fervently believed his brow to be elegant, and Mr Stubbs was, in all likelihood, deceased. Thus I dedicated this seventh day to my own diverting amusements. I had spent the morning attending church, enabling the enjoyment of an additional three hours of sleep during the sermons. Entirely refreshed from so lengthy a slumber I sat in the parlour with my wife Mary engaged in a charming game; gambling. Our wager, which of the ill featured footmen before us would dispatch t’other first.
“Ten to one the fellow with odious nose shall win, for he is not afeared of great peril.” Said I as I drew a handsome banknote from the pocket of my breeches.
“Nay sir!” Cried my wife with animated feeling, ” Like as not, his opponent with the sallow complexion shall prevail. For he has the advantage of stupidity!”
However the two servants had scarcely engaged in combat, indeed they had not yet drawn blood, afore the parlour door flew open and my gamble was impolitely interrupted by a gentleman of confusing proportions. He approached me at a pace that, with every footfall spoke of disastrous tidings and a severe lack of sleep. He was pursued into the room by my First footman who pushed him aside with zealous violence so that he might formally announce the gentleman.
“Lord Riddle,” Said the footman. “forgive so sudden an interruption, allow me to introduce Master Roberts , who was most insistent, despite it being a Sunday.” He glanced at our guest with admirable contempt and left the room.
“Spymaster Riddle,” Began Mr Roberts ” I have tidings of the most disastrous nature.” From the pocket of his waistcoat he produced a small and tightly furled roll of parchment and placed it in my hand. “This arrived by secure homing pigeon this very morn.”
“Mary” Said I addressing my wife, as I took the scroll. ” we are about to converse upon topics of a nature entirely unsuitable for feminine sensibilities, pray leave the room.”
She rose and, with a look of womanly vexation, left the room, taking with her the duelling footmen. I returned my glance to the parchment before me.
“Mr Roberts, this parchment is entirely sans writing.” I spoke in tones of bewilderment.
“Indeed, at present it is Sir, however if one …” With a movement of swift dexterity he revealed a small bottle concealed within his lace cuff. He promptly doused the parchment in its contents, a liquid so foul smelling that I was nigh on overwhelmed by the desire to throw myself through the French windows in order to escape it. Yet before so dramatic an impulse could be acted upon I noticed the parchment alter so very shockingly before my own eyes that I might not have known it. It was covered in writing, the hand so very elegant that I was certain it would contain declarations of ardent adoration. It did not.
Mr Stubbs is not yet so devoid of life as to be entirely dead. Mr Lethe has failed and fallen prey to folly. He has fled and we have little or no knowledge as to his whereabouts. He is as lost to us as a woman’s reputation when she elopes to Gretna Green!”
The paper had revealed its secrets and they had left me in a state of nervous apoplexy. Upon reading the note I knew instantaneously what I must do.
“Mr Roberts, we must away to London, we have not a moment to lose!” I summoned my carriage, donned a coat of a hue exactly calculated to express the urgency of so urgent a departure and departed in elegant haste.