The Dark Discovery of Jack Dandy Page 2

His motor carriage was indeed waiting for him as he stepped down to the curb. It was a beautiful black-lacquered vehicle that gave him a sense of satisfaction every time he saw it. It looked out of place in front of his home. No one would guess that he lived in relative splendor given the condition of the outer shell of the building, but he preferred it that way. He’d once read that a person’s home was a reflection of his own self. Perhaps there was some truth to it, or perhaps it was all bollocks.

He opened the door and slipped into the carriage. The boiler was hot and the engine keen to go. Sometimes he had a hired driver to squire him about, but not today. Today had to be handled correctly. If he arrived in too much style he’d be seen as trying to outshine his “betters” but if he didn’t display enough style and breeding, he’d be dismissed as uncouth.

Normally, he’d chafe at such strict foolishness, but Jack had not amassed a fortune by letting pride get in his way.

London traffic was always a nightmare, and today was no different. The narrow streets, particularly in the East End, were congested with carriages—both horse driven and steam—velocycles zipping in and out, bicycles, omnibuses, pedestrians, livestock. The air was filled with the scents of flowers for sale by young girls, horse excrement, steam and sweat, and the vaguely damp “chamber pot” scent that could only belong to the East End after a rain.

He loved Whitechapel, despite its poverty and violence. Or perhaps he loved it because of those things. There was a desperation to life that didn’t exist in the West End. A desperation and a sharpness that brought everything into clear focus. You lived or you died—those were the only certainties—and the odds of each changed from moment to moment. That was what made life worth living, wasn’t it? The fact that it could end at any second.

Or maybe he simply hadn’t found anything, or anyone, to live for.

Maybe he should start reading Jane Austen novels so he’d know what young ladies really wanted in a man. Bollocks on that. His head was not going down that road. He was only thinking about it because Finley lived in Mayfair—at Griffin King’s fancy mansion. Self-pity and self-inflicted mental anguish was for poets and artists. Jack had neither the time nor the spleen for it.

And he knew himself well enough to know that part of Finley’s appeal was the fact that she was unavailable. A woman was never quite as attractive to him as she was when he knew he couldn’t have her—or would have to work for her favor. It was the conquest, because after that the shine soon wore off.

A horse-drawn cart cut him off at an intersection. Bloody idiot. Jack blasted the horn of his carriage at the driver as he swerved to avoid colliding with the cart and the dirty-faced children and adults in the back of it, who stared at him with a mix of hostility and vacancy.

The rest of the drive happened without incident and at a snail’s pace. He arrived a few seconds early for his appointment, however, which made him punctual but not overeager.

The gravel drive was equipped with a couple of automaton footmen for guests who were gauche or scandalous enough—which one you were obviously depended on the wealth and connection of your family—to drive their own vehicles. Jack steered his shiny pride and joy onto the special track, got out, and took a punch card spit out by the brass clockwork man standing sentry. There was a clunk followed by a grinding noise, and his carriage began to move along the track, guided and pushed by wheels that fit into the notches on the tires. Ingenious—and entirely pompous.

He slipped the punch card into his inside jacket pocket. Then he placed his hat on his head, straightened his coat and cuffs, and swung his walking stick. It was the ebony-handled one with a blade concealed inside. He never went anywhere without a weapon, and Mayfair would be no exception just because its inhabitants were from old, inbred families with more debt than sense.

Slowly, he climbed the steps, an odd fluttering in his gut. Nerves? Impossible. Nothing unsettled him. Nothing. It was merely digestion; he’d eaten several biscuits before leaving the house.

Jack raised his hand to pull the bell. A loud squawk burst from the wall near his ear. Years of Whitechapel noises—screams and the like—had made him almost impossible to frighten.

“Name and business, please” came a shrill voice that could only belong to a housekeeper of a certain age. Chuckling, Jack removed his hat and looked up. There, just about eye level, was a mirror. No doubt it revealed his countenance to the person on the other side of the door. Since that person was a woman, and a pinched-sounding one at that, he put on his most charming smile—not the flirty one, though. No, he used the one that made him look young, slightly self-deprecating and very, very sincere.

“Jack Dandy, missus. Here to see the master of the house.”

“Good gracious, don’t you know anything?” This wasn’t said with much sting; stung. “Use the servants’ entrance around back.”

Jack’s back straightened. By blood, he was this woman’s social superior. It was only that his father had no honor that made Jack a bastard. Had his father been a better man, Jack would have been raised in a house just as old and imposing as this.

Those were things he made himself remember when shame had him wanting to run off with his tail ‘twixt his legs.

“No,” he said, very calmly. He gazed directly into the glass—could almost imagine the woman’s slack jaw. “I will not go around to the servants’ entrance, for I am not a servant. I am an invited guest of your employer, and you can either open this bloody door or explain to him why the meeting he requested was delayed—by you.”

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