Home > The Lord of the Highwaymen

The Lord of the Highwaymen
Author: Elizabeth Bramwell

Chapter One



I have long been a rover and I am a bold deceiver

And now I make me livin’ with me pistols and me rapier

Don’t know how much I’ve stolen, but ’twould make a pretty penny

And I almost lost it all to me darling sporting Jenny

Mush rim damma dur um da

One for the daddy-o

There’s whiskey in the jar

Darling Sporting Jenny

The Honourable William Haddington, the heir to Viscount Haddington, had not inherited any of his father’s natural charm and effortless grace. However, his handsome countenance often led people to believe the opposite.

It wasn’t that he was rude, or simple, or even possessed of poor manners. He was considered a genius among academic circles and had life offered a different path, could easily have become a prestigious figure at Oxford. He was unfailingly polite to everyone from the lowliest pauper to the king himself—and probably found the former much more comfortable to converse with, if truth be told—and no one could find fault with the style of his dress, even in these turbulent years of revolution.

It was more that William found most people, and women in particular, completely unfathomable. They said one thing while meaning something very different and spent a great deal of time talking about what other people spent their time on. Even though he had little to no interest in discussing the actions of people he barely knew, he occasionally offered an opinion.

Worse, still, was the peculiar habit of ladies in the Ton making such comments as “I am sure such a hat would never suit me,” or “don’t you think Miss Laird to be the most beautiful creature?” only to be upset when he answered in the affirmative. William could not understand why they often became angry when he agreed with their observations. Besides, he was far from an expert in such matters.

This led the most determined girls to conclude that William Haddington, despite his fortune, future title, and handsome countenance, was utterly devoid of wit and character.

This, as his four closest friends could attest, was not in the least bit true.

His valet had strong views on the topic as well.

“An excellent choice of costume, if you don’t mind me saying so, Mr. Haddington,” gushed his valet, Smith, as he brushed a tiny fleck of dust from the shoulder of William’s coat. “You will have the ladies falling at your feet!”

“Don’t terrify me, or I’ll refuse to go to the masquerade at all,” William replied as he finished his last glass of port. A pleasant warmth and sense of confidence, no doubt provided by the liquor, swirled for just a moment in his chest, but then he froze as an awful thought struck him. “Good, God, you don’t think they’ll expect me to be dashing, do you?”

“Well, you are dressed as a gentleman highwayman,” said the valet, examining his handiwork with pride. “I think a frock coat of claret was a touch of genius, if I do say so myself, and it shows to perfection over your shoulders.”

“You have outdone yourself, Smith,” he said before slipping on the black loo mask that covered the upper half of his face. He set the tricorne on top of his brown, unpowdered locks caught at the nape of his neck in a velvet ribbon, and studied the effect. “I confess that I was not sure about the hair but bow to your judgment on the matter.”

“A high pad, if you excuse my use of the vulgar tongue, would not powder and curl his hair, Mr. Haddington,” sniffed Smith, “for they are of a lower class. Besides, we wish to give you a roguish air this evening, as though you were a man who had no regard for the rules. It will dazzle and beguile the ladies, who shall all be desperate to secure your interest.”

William paused in the act of straightening the lace ruffs at his wrists and gave Smith a look. The valet heaved a deep sigh, his shoulders slumping in defeat.

“Very well—you can be a silent, mysterious highwayman instead, although I do not know why you fight it so. Women love the idea of a rogue, Mr. Haddington! What is it that they say? That a rogue redeemed makes for the best husband?”

William faked an expression of alarm. “So, not only must I act the rogue for the majority of the evening, I must then redeem my character by the end of it? Dash it, Smith, you know full well that I’m incapable of play-acting something so complex!”

“You very well know what I meant, Mr. Haddington,” replied the valet with a dignified sniff. “Now, I will summon a Sedan chair for you, and you will arrive at the Melbournes’ masquerade precisely an hour late for a perfectly timed entrance.”

“You will not summon me a chair, for I can easily walk to Whitehall from here.”

Smith paused in the act of tidying away the hairbrushes and shaving equipment. His eyes had grown wide at the horror of William’s announcement.

“Not summon a chair? But Mr. Haddington! Your shoes!” he gasped, looking meaningfully down at William’s gleaming black footwear with their oversized brass buckles.

William assumed an expression of brotherly commiseration.

“Cheer up, Smith,” he said, putting a hand onto the servant’s shoulder. “If I fail to cut a dash once again, now you can blame it on my stubborn insistence to walk instead of protecting the integrity of my costume.”

William pushed the unloaded pistol into the waistband of his trousers and picked up his swordstick, trying very hard not to laugh as the valet muttered dark omens to himself at the dresser.

He left the chamber with a careless instruction for his valet not to wait up for him, knowing full well that Smith doubted William’s ability to remove his own clothing without help.

The evening was beautiful and clear, with only the slightest chill to the soft breeze, declaring that it was still early in the Season. William strolled along, his heart beginning to beat faster now that he was finally on the way to the ball.

He could not get this wrong, for his entire future was at stake. It had seemed a perfectly simple plan when he’d first thought of the idea of using the masquerade to pursue a flirtation and set on the idea of a highwayman as the perfect character to assume for the evening. So much thought and preparation had been expended on ensuring that he looked the part, it only just occurred to him that he’d forgotten to prepare for the most important thing.

He slowed his pace, his heart hammering. Any courage provided by the port flew away, and he began to feel daft rather than brave.

“Blast it all. You’re a fool, William,” he muttered.

He had absolutely no idea how to pursue the flirtation once he arrived at the masquerade. In truth, he had no idea how to successfully pursue a flirtation at all.

Carriages clattered down the street, but William did not respond to any of the people who hailed “Sir Highwayman!” or “Good evening, royal scamp!” as they passed by. Sedan chair bearers, their faces red, grunted as they carried their burdens along the road.

It was not surprising that they all seemed to be heading in the same direction. The ball, hosted by the Melbournes at their newly acquired mansion in Whitehall, would naturally be filled by all the Ton who were aligned to the Whigs, with a smattering of Tories. There had been rumors that Her Grace, the Duchess of Devonshire, would be in attendance, and even William, who was ten years younger than Georgiana Cavendish and had not known her at the height of her social powers, was enchanted by her. He’d even managed to have a conversation with Her Grace about fossils once and thoroughly enjoyed it. Her presence meant that everyone who was anyone would be there, and the resulting crush would be talked of for weeks.

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