The scene: Sylvia, my heroine, has to go on a fox hunt to keep up appearances with her unwanted suitor, the infamous dandy, Giles Claybrook. But they find more than they are looking for in the woods...
“Onward!” Giles cried as he spurred his horse on at the head of the band of his companions, trying his best to look like a gallant leader of an army. Dressed the way he was in his somewhat military-style riding outfit made Sylvia think he looked like an arrogant dandy commander. She wrinkled her nose and followed on at the canter the other horses had taken. Hector wanted to run, but she held him back. Riding side-saddle, she would never be able to stay on if he ran.
Giles sounded his bugle again and Sylvia thought with grim humor that even if Kilroy and Jeffcoat were still in the woods, they would hear them coming from miles away. Between the yapping of the dogs and the shouting of the young men, Sylvia wondered at the fact that they thought they would find anything. All the foxes must surely have ran away long ago. And if any of them wished to do any fowling, they would surely be out of luck. Sylvia herself knew she would have a headache by the end of the trip from the din alone.
The dogs seemed to be on the scent of something. They barreled off through the underbrush, and the riders made their way after them, shouting out in excitement. Sylvia followed at the back, not wanting to get in the way if any of these idiots started shooting. She figured that she could handle a gun better than anyone here. Her father had taught her when she was only five years old.
“There’s the fox!” one of Giles friends cried, pointing ahead of them. “A red one!”
Giles blew his trumpet again and they headed off after the hounds again. The next minute, the dogs seemed to change their course and headed back onto the path.
“Where the devil are they going?” Richard asked in his drawling voice.
“The fox didn’t go over there!” said the man who had seen it before.
“Come on, there might be something else they found!” Giles said, blowing his bugle again and changing into the direction the dogs took.
They found them all gathered at the foot of a tree, jumping up on it and yapping fit to burst. The hunters and Sylvia turned their gaze upward and found a curious sight.
“Call your dogs off or I’ll shoot.”
Roster Scarcliff sat in the crook of the tree, one leg dangling nonchalantly and the other pulled up. He slouched against the trunk, one elbow resting on his drawn up knee while he clutched a half-eaten apple in his hand. His other hand held a pistol that was propped against the opposite arm, pointed lazily at Giles who was still in the lead.
“Stand and deliver,” Roster said almost mockingly and took the last bite of his apple, tossing the core so that it hit Richard in the side of the face, making him cry out in indignation.
“I say, sirrah!” Giles spat angrily, placing one hand on his hip and staring up at the highwayman. “What is a man dressed in somewhat gentlemanly clothes doing sitting in a tree?”
Roster shrugged but grinned with amusement. “Seemed like a good place to finish my breakfast especially with all the dogs around. But did you not hear me? Stand and deliver, I said.”
“Devil take me if I do!” Giles spat, but his defiant cry only met with the cocking of Roster’s pistol.
“My good sir,” he said, nodding his head. “If you please. Call off your dogs.”
Giles was speechless for a moment then he whistled to his dogs and they came away from the tree and settled on their haunches, waiting further orders. Roster leapt down with a fluid movement and doffed the hat from his head, bowing low so that the plume touched the ground.
“Now gentlemen, if you would all be so kind as to place all valuables into my hat, I will soon be on my way and leave you to your hunt.”
“I will not!” Giles said, but Roster’s sword was out now and the point was pricking the underside of the young man’s chin.
“I am a dangerous criminal, my friend,” Roster told him with a twinkle in his brown eye that was both amused and mischievous. “Now, if you would be so kind.”
Giles swallowed hard and the tip of Roster’s blade moved slightly on his throat. “Very well,” he spat and slowly reached into his pocket and drew out his gold pocket watch, placing it in the hat Roster held out to him.
“Come now, you have more than that,” Roster chided, pressing the sword tip harder.
Giles haughtily relinquished all he had on him of any worth, his pocket watch, what money he had in his pocket and his rings.
“I’ll get those back one day, thief,” he spat, his face reddening with anger.
“Oh, thief is a term almost medieval, we are called the romantic highwaymen now days,” Roster told him with a dashing smile as he went to his next victim. He was amused to see Richard with the quirt mark on his cheek and laughed at him.
“Have a brush with a brach this morning, man? Or was it the good lady’s quirt?”
“How dare you!” Richard spat at him raising his hand as if to slap Roster across the face, but the highwayman took his wrist and twisted painfully.
“That’s not a good idea,” he told him coldly. “Now hand over the valuables.”
“Who do you think you are to make so bold anyway!” Richard asked coldly as he angrily threw his belongings into Roster’s hat.
“Ah yes, I did not introduce myself because I thought that surely you would know me as the notorious highwayman, Shotbolt.” He said with a dashing grin and bowed again. “At your service.”
“I’ve never heard of you,” Giles told him haughtily.
“Never?!” Roster sputtered, stopping mid-bow. “Well who the deuce have you heard about then?”
“The Emerald Sword,” Giles said, looking meaningfully into the highwayman’s eyes. “Tell me, is it true that he is that traitor Allen’s son?”
Roster shrugged. “I do not betray my own with names, my friend,” he said and turned around, not giving Giles another chance to ask a question. He turned to Sylvia then and nodded his head to her.
“Will you rob me as well, Mr. Shotbolt?” she asked him, holding her head high. Wary, but ready, not sure what to think of this man who was always tangling with Kilroy.
“Though some might, I do not make a habit of robbing beautiful women,” Roster told her with his most charming smile and took her hand to kiss it, looking into her eyes meaningfully.
Sylvia smiled back at him and took her hand delicately from his.
“Do not let him charm you, dear Sylvia!” Giles commanded her. “His kind always try that, and the next moment, you’ll not have a pence left on you!”
“You should know by now, Mr Claybrook, that I do not let anyone charm me,” she said with dignity but turned back to Roster. “If you have all you came for, Mr. Shotbolt, I would suggest you leave. It would be best for all of us.”
“Well spoken, miss,” Roster told her, bowing again and putting his hat back on after he had transferred all the valuables into a small sack hidden under his coattail. He turned back to Giles. “It has been a pleasure, gentlemen,” he said mockingly. “Lady,” he nodded once more to Sylvia and then leapt over a bush and made his way through the woods with nearly silent steps.
“Well, our hunting day was ruined!” Giles spat angrily. “Who knows how many other rogues there are out here, and without anything to give them now, we shall all be dead before noon!”
“My stepfather has invited you to the mansion,” Sylvia told them, forcing the words from her lips with a smile, no less. But she was interested in the fact that Giles cared that the Emerald Sword might be Kilroy Allen. Perhaps she could find out more.
“Ah, dear Sylvia, you have saved the day!” Giles said with a smile on his face. “Let us off then back to your home and have some tea!”
Sylvia rode just behind Giles, but her eyes scanned the woods. She had no fear of Roster Scarcliff, but she had thought of something. And she wondered, as she put this new idea into action in her mind weather it would actually work.
Hope you enjoyed it! I'll be back soon with another post.