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Chance Encounter

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“It’s a devilish situation to find oneself in, you know,” opined Lord Sandy as he held his glass up to the light. The clear liquid glowed ruby red against the candle. “Of all the out of the way places to breakdown!”

He took a deep sniff of the wine, then a small sip which he carefully swirled round his mouth before swallowing. His eyebrows rose and he drank deeply, clearly savouring.

“Who would have believed I’d find such a mellow wine in this backwater inn?” Lord Sandy remarked. He flicked his handkerchief (beautifully patterned in puce, with lace trim) in a dismissive gesture at his surroundings, before he languidly held out his glass.

“We are on the south coast, Milord,” offered his valet, as he refilled the glass. “And mine host has the look of the sea in his face – not to mention that old injury to his hand.”

Lord Sandy shuddered at the memory of the crude hook the inn-keep wore strapped to his left arm, and lifted the delicate lace of his handerkerchief to his nose with a gesture of distaste before he flipped open his snuff box and carefully selected a pinch. He raised his wrist to his nose, sniffed, and promptly sneezed loudly, dabbing his nose with his handkerchief.

“I would hazard a guess he has connections with local smugglers, which would account for the quality of wine he can offer his guests,” explained the valet.

Lord Sandy drained his glass again, and this time reached across pick up the bottle himself, studying the label for a few seconds before he poured another glass which he finished quickly.

“Damn!” he exclaimed. “This bottle’s nearly finished. Deacon, go see if the innkeeper has any more.”

The valet bowed and turned to exit.

Lord Sandy called after him, “Oh! And see where that serving wench has got to with my meal! It’s deucedly dull here, waiting until for that blacksmith to fix the carriage wheel. If I must be stuck here, the least this place can do is provide something to keep body and soul together.” At the doorway the valet paused, bowed again, and left. Lord Sandy studied his boots for a few seconds, before he spied a card table in the corner. A quick search of its drawers revealed a somewhat grimy pack of cards and he amused himself for a while shuffling cards and laying them out in elaborate patterns. He fancied himself a bit of a dab hand at the whist table – not that he could play here, and especially not with this pack. He fingered a notch at one side of the Ace of Spades. It was obvious mine host did not run an honest table. But then what else could be expected of an old sea dog of an inn-keep with smuggling connections?

Bored with the cards, Lord Sandy threw them back in the drawer and went in search of his valet (tardy as always – he did not keep his mind on the job. Were it not so impossible to find good servants nowadays, he’d turn him off without a reference. Though...he did have a sneaking fondness for the man. After all, they had been together over a year now. If he could only feel confident the man wasn't betraying him behind his back...). Lord Sandy found no-one in the hallway and ventured outside.

Kneeling by his phaeton was a brawny young man with chestnut hair. Lord Sandy admired the view as he bent over, then moved round on his hands and knees as he fitted the repaired wheel. Very nice.... Eventually the young man straightened and turned around, initially surprised to see himself observed, quickly growing uncomfortable under Lord Sandy’s intent gaze, and glowering as he turned brick red. He shuffled his feet before he wiped a grimy hand on his leather apron and held it out.

“That’ll be two guineas, Milord,” the young man said.

“Dashed, if that’s not steep my man!” protested Lord Sandy.

The young man shrugged, “’Tis the price.”

“Milord?” Deacon appeared on Lord Sandy’s left, slightly behind.

“Pay the man,” Lord Sandy ordered his valet over his shoulder, as he swung himself up onto the driver’s seat and took up the reins.

“Where is my whip, man?” he said petulantly, as Deacon scrambled aboard. “Ah! There!” and with a flick they were off.

As his coach turned the corner by the village church, Lord Sandy looked back to catch a brief glimpse of wheelwright and inn-keeper sitting on the bench by the door of the tavern, tankards in hand, sharing a plate of food. Damned if that wasn't the meal he'd ordered and that blasted inn-keep had never delivered!