Chapter Twenty-Five, Part 1

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The functionary he was following led Toad into a small room with no windows that felt nearly as crowded as the cavernous hall where he had spent the night. In one corner, Blakeley stood stiffly to attention. Toad would leave off calling him "my father's guard dog" for the moment, as the man was his rescue. Opposite Blakeley, Piero leaned carelessly against a closed door. Seated at a table, Piero's brother, the Conte d'Alvieri, visiting from Florence, slouched in his chair, ankles crossed, and next to him was a man Toad had never met, probably the Consul General, who stood so rapidly, he nearly upset his chair, spine and facial expression straight as a plumb line. Toad spared a short nod for Piero, who smirked, and the conte, who raised one eyebrow in a way that reminded Toad of his father. The expression must arrive in the post when one ascended to a title of one's own.

"Blakeley," Toad began, as his father's man was the most likely to have made the arrangements, "you are a saint among men. Have you come to take me home?"

Blakeley's face, as always, showed no sign of disturbance; one situation was much like another, but instead of looking over Toad's shoulder, as he usually did, he made eye contact in a rather disconcerting manner. "We are here to see what can be done, my lord."

Toad cuffed Blakeley on the shoulder in an overly familiar gesture that unsettled the manservant as much as he had unsettled Toad. He turned to the one man he didn't know, who made a bow so low Toad knew he would be currying favour in the next breath. Toad made a reluctant and foreshortened bow. The Consul would want some sort of patronage for this endeavour, though he probably wouldn't say so outright. When he rose, stiff as a ramrod, Toad stifled a sigh; a stuffed shirt, too. He tempted Toad to put on the Duke of Wellbridge's most toplofty glare. But this humourless man was likely in the best position to see Toad released from this mess of his own making.

"You must be the Consul General. My mother and father told me to pay a call, but, er... I hadn't gotten to it yet." He had been trying to embarrass his mother by ignoring her constant exhortations to introduce himself to her diplomatic colleagues. "My apologies."

The man's mouth opened, then closed, and his face flushed. "Not the Consul, no. Un chargé d'affaires."

The man was no better than an assistant. The fact the consulate had sent anyone was promising, but Toad was a marquess. Heir to a powerful duke. And a baron in his own right. He shouldn't be fobbed off on a minor bureaucrat, surely. "When will he be arriving?"

At that, Blakeley broke in, and the flash in his eyes was as good as a slap: "Of course he is not the Consul, Lord Abersham. The Consul is asleep, and we need not wake him for such a distasteful matter as a drunken brawl. Mr. Penchley—Mr. Percival Penchley—" Blakeley said the name as though Toad should know it. "—is perfectly capable of extracting you from this situation himself."

With another half-bow, the man agreed. "Thank you for your confidence, Mr. Blakeley."

Turning to Toad, he added, "You may be sure, my lord," the man glanced over at the gendarme with a freezing cold stare, "I speak for the Consul in this matter. You may safely entrust yourself to me."

Toad looked over at Blakeley, whose unlikely glare forced a muttered apology from Toad's lips. "My apologies for the presumption and sincere thanks for your kindness, Mr. Penchley. I spoke rashly."

Piero snickered until the conte turned a dark gaze toward his brother. Penchley smiled. "I understand, my lord."

Turning to the gendarme, the consul's lackey demanded, "Take me to the man in charge, please." With a glance at Toad and a nod to Blakeley, he added, "I will see what might be done."

Toad paled. "It has been hours already. Can I not pay a fine and go home?"

"I shall expedite matters as much as I can. Mr. Blakeley, my lords."

As soon as the two men left, the sound of a lock turning after they closed the door, Piero pulled a flask from his pocket, and Toad gratefully took it. Blakeley's nostrils flared just slightly, but he said nothing.

"It is outrageous they would house a nobleman with the dregs off the street," the conte started, taking the flask when Toad passed it to him. "Blakeley has asked I allow this Penchley person to attempt your release, for reasons he has yet to adequately explain..."

Blakeley cleared his throat, "At the instruction of the duchess, my lords."

"Yes, yes... Abersham's mother and her influence... his mother should never be bothered by such infamy, Blakeley; you know it to be true. Regardless of your cheques, Abersham is your lord and master, not his mother or the dashed duke. Show some loyalty."

"I am not willing to defy the House of Wellbridge, my lord." Not for any consideration, Toad was well aware.

With a dismissive and disgusted wave at the servant, the conte turned back to Toad. "I can assure you, Abersham, I will not stand for this degradation of your noble name. Should this..." he waved toward the door through which Penchley had just left "...dogsbody be unable to secure your freedom, I shall arrange matters myself. Piero can go for the Consul, and I will simply explain the way of things to the gendarmes. You are a marquess, Abersham. How and why they think to keep you among the rabble, I cannot understand, and I am offended the Consul General is not attending to the matter himself."

Excellent. Someone who could speak for Toad in a way no one else in the room could. The conte pulled the flask back when his brother reached for it and handed it back to Toad. "You have had more than enough, Piero. It is a wonder you were not arrested with him, you wastrel." Piero leant back against the wall, scowling, but making no argument.

As if to forestall the quarrel brewing in the House of d'Alvieri, Blakeley held out a satchel. "My lord, I brought a suit of clothes. You will want to burn those you are wearing, I presume?"

Toad took the bag. "I think it likely you will take that path when called upon to save my favourite waistcoat and tails, but I shall leave it to your expert opinion." Stripping off his coat and shirt, he handed them to Blakeley, who held the torn, soiled items at arm's length with his nose wrinkled. "I thought you prided yourself on accepting the reality of every situation, Blakeley?"

"Then you will understand, my lord, how revolting I find your present grooming. I am afraid even the fresh clothes I have brought will require cleansing in the fires of Hell before they can be made presentable."

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