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Escapade by Naomi Rankin

Escapade by Naomi Rankin

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The same two ruffians came for him at last, and marched him out
of the cellar, up another flight of stairs and into a dingy parlour.
The earl was not surprised to see that night had fallen, for it
seemed an endless age he had been left in the cellar. He had but
little attention for wondering what o'clock it was, however, for
Black Billy was lounging in a chair before him, peeling an apple
with his pocket knife.

―I'll wager you'll not sneer at me now, Mr. Warwick,‖ Black Billy

Escapade by Naomi Rankin Page 162

said. The earl was silent. ―Cut him loose,‖ said the gang leader.

One of his followers again produced his knife, cut the ropes and
thrust the earl down onto one of the rickety stools with which the

room was provided. ―Out,‖ Black Billy commanded. The other

two thieves left the room.
The earl rubbed his lacerated wrists, wincing as he did so. Black
Billy munched on his apple, surveying his prisoner.

―Why don't you beg for your life, Mr. Warwick?‖ he said.
―I would not be still in possession of it, had you intended to murder
me,‖ the earl said, as coolly as he could. He had not eaten in fourand-
twenty hours, and was keenly aware of the smell of the apple.

―Perhaps you might enlighten me as to what you do intend.‖
―Well, I was going to have your throat cut,‖ Black Billy said. ―But

then I found out something that made me think I'd be better off
bleeding your pockets than your hide.‖
―And what was it you found out?‖ the earl enquired.
―Why, only that you took Dick Gamble to the docks to take ship to
Ireland.‖
―You have many pairs of eyes working for you,‖ the earl said.
―I do indeed.‖
―But, still, it seems like to me that your power does not extend
across the sea. Dick will be well vanished before you can set any

spies to work to trace him.‖
―Why, Mr. Warwick, it's no matter to me if Dick disappears. I

wanted him out of the way, but in Ireland or in Hell, it's all the
same to me. But, sure, the runners would prick up their ears if they

heard you was the one got Dick out of Newgate.‖

There was a moment's silence.
Escapade by Naomi Rankin Page 163

―So I'm to buy your discretion, I suppose,‖ the earl said.
―I thought you was a fly cove. That's it exactly.‖
―And what is the price?‖
―The first se'enight costs ten guineas. I don't know what the next
one costs. I'll have to inquire how fat your purse is.‖

The earl did not reply. He found the prospect of being blackmailed
for life not at all to his liking, but he could see no immediate
alternative. The tack he found most congenial, damning the

consequences and trusting to his superior credibility, was clearly
too risky. However unlikely they found it, and whatever countercharges
he laid against his accusers, it was most improbable that
the minions of the law would entirely refrain from investigating his
connection with Dick Gamble's escape, and not only his own
safety, but that of Amelia, Miss Smythe and Henry Newcombe lay
also in the balance.
The earl pondered so intently as to be at first unconscious of a
tumult in the lower part of the house. Not until there came a
clattering of footsteps on the stairway and shouts outside the door,
did he awaken to the fact that Black Billy had leaped to his feet,
cursing. The door was flung open and Rotherham, Newcombe and
Nell Kelly came crashing in, with one of the earl's own footmen
bringing up the rear.

―Hello, Henry,‖ the earl said calmly. ―Ah, Rotherham, et tu? Pray,

lower your pistols, gentlemen, I had rather not receive a ball by

accident.‖
―My lord, are you hurt?‖ Newcombe said.
―Not at all, sir. I fear you must have been more agitated than the
situation warranted.‖
―My lord, there's no need to dissemble,‖ Rotherham said, since

Escapade by Naomi Rankin Page 164

Henry Newcombe was apparently rendered speechless. ―We have

secured the whole house. The rogues have all run off or are under
your servants' guns, barring one poor wretch lying delirious in a

fever.‖
―I'll pay you back for this, you jade!‖ Black Billy said. Nell shrank

away from him.

―Oh, no, Billy, I think whatever the outcome of our negotiations, I
shall be compelled to take Mistress Nell off your hands,‖ the earl
said. ―It's you, Nell, I suppose, who summoned all these loyal
forces.‖
―I'm very glad to see you ain't been thrown in the river, sir,‖ Nell
said. ―Sure, I brought the gentlemen.‖
―Thank you, madam, on both counts,‖ the earl said.
―This is Black Billy, is it?‖ Rotherham said. ―Shall I rid the world
of his contaminating presence?‖
The earl looked shocked.

―Rotherham, you wouldn't murder a man in cold blood, only
because he is a bit of a rascal?‖ he said. Rotherham lowered the

point of his pistol.

―No, I suppose not,‖ he said. ―Although if we'd found you in any
way injured, it would be another matter.‖
―Sir, I am moved at your tenderness towards me,‖ said the earl.
―But you have grievously misjudged Mr. Thurl's motives.‖
―Let us call in the Watch, at least,‖ Rotherham persisted. ―You

cannot let him go unpunished.‖
―But I assure you, sir, I have no complaint to make against him,‖
the earl said. ―We were considering matters of business.‖ Then as
his friends continued sceptical, he said, ―In fact, Black Billy has an

Escapade by Naomi Rankin Page 165
informant who saw me with Dick by the river yesterday.‖
―Sure, it was you then that got poor Dick out of Newgate?‖ Nell

said admiringly.

―Out of Newgate!‖ Rotherham said. ―Who is Dick?‖
―My part in his escape was but a humble one, Mistress Nell,‖ the

earl said.
―Escape?‖ Rotherham said, now looking utterly bewildered.
―But you must perceive, Henry, that it is inconvenient that Black
Billy should be so well informed,‖ the earl said. ―I confess I have
not yet hit upon any tactic but to accede to his terms.‖
―My lord, I insist you explain,‖ Rotherham said. ―What is going
on here?‖
―My lord?‖ said Black Billy, as surprised as Rotherham, as it

dawned upon him that the phrase was not an expletive but a form
of address.

―Oh, sir, if once you pay Black Billy not to spill to the runners,
you'll never have done with him,‖ Nell said earnestly. ―I've seen

him before when he had someone in his clutches. I could tell you

stories would make your blood run cold.‖
―Uh, no need, Nell,‖ said the earl. ―Mr. Thurl, since my friends

have been at some pains to come for me, I think I would be remiss
not to accompany them now. I trust it will satisfy you if I give you
my word to return you an answer to your proposition within two

days from now?‖

Black Billy, assured he was in no danger of summary execution,
bowed his acquiescence with commendable aplomb.

―Very good, my lord,‖ he said.

Escapade by Naomi Rankin Page 166

―My lord?‖ said Nell, bewildered.
―Why, yes, Nell,‖ said the earl apologetically. ―I am afraid I have
hitherto met you under false pretences.‖
Nell did not quite catch his meaning, but the earl bowed her out of
the room before she could question him further. Newcombe and
Rotherham followed, the latter scowling fiercely at Black Billy and
flourishing his pistol suggestively.
They made their way through a warren of rooms, reassembling
their forces as they went. The earl was enlivened to discover that
his groom, a stable boy, both his footmen, all of his postilions and
his valet had been impressed into service for the occasion.
―I confess I never before considered how much of the makings of a
mob I had under my own roof,‖ he murmured to his friend.

Rotherham looked pained.
The earl came last of all to a miserable apartment, hardly larger
than the closet in which he had been first confined. The fever
victim lay twitching and muttering. The earl took the candle from
Nell's hand and leaned over him.

―Sulky,‖ he said. He looked up at Rotherham. ―We must carry this

poor fellow away to somewhere that he can receive some

assistance,‖ he said.
―My lord, consider the danger. We know not if his complaint be
contagious. He may die at any rate.‖
―Rotherham, I know this man, I have drunk to his brother's

memory with him. I cannot leave the wretch in this hovel, without
aid or comfort.‖ Two of his servants were summoned to carry the
delirious Sulky out of the house and into his lordship's carriage.

―Henry, do you take this poor fellow and Mistress Nell home, and
see them both installed with every possible comfort,‖ the earl said.
―A doctor for Sulky, and a brandy for Nell.‖

Escapade by Naomi Rankin Page 167

―Yes, my lord,‖ Newcombe said, too overwhelmed to protest.
―What is it you next intend?‖

A look of heartfelt urgency came over the earl's face.

―Dinner,‖ he said.

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