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Persuasion

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October 17th, 180-

The papers are full of news of my old school fellow, Horatio ‘Sicky Breath’ Nelson. Apparently he’s made himself irritating to the French again, sailing around in his little boat. God knows how he manages it. At school, all you had to do was shake his hand and he’d start retching.

Princess Caroline turned up this afternoon. Fortunately, Mr. Baldrick answered the door and she ran off again before the Prince could know anything about it. Presumably she was driven away by the smell.

 

November 23rd, 180-

Two weeks ago, the Prince requested that I invite Lord Nelson to a private audience. I enquired as to what the Prince wanted to discuss with Lord Nelson. He said that he just wanted a chat with the “great military genius of our age”. The great military genius of our age. In my opinion, a genius would have maybe made it this far with all his limbs intact. I’ve heard that the French have a game called ‘How Many Bits Can We Knock Off Nelson Before He Snuffs It’.

Nonetheless, what the Prince wants, I must provide. So I wrote a letter to England’s leading self publicist. Something along the lines of, “His Royal Highness the Prince Regent requests an audience… something something… You will have to carry the cost of all expenses… blah blah… The journey from Surrey to London isn’t very pleasant when you think about it… something… Don’t bother coming if you don’t feel like it. Yours, Edmund Blackadder, Secretary to the Prince Regent.”

A letter came back a week later, saying that Lord Nelson would be delighted to meet His Royal Highness. It was mercifully short and free of grovelling; although, just to make sure I was irritated in some way, he had signed it, “Nelson and Bronté”. Honestly. If you’re going to throw titles around, sign your letters either “Lord Nelson” or “Duke of Bronté”. What’s wrong with that? You could alternate them if you wanted to. But no, that’s not good enough for some people. Apparently Sicky Breath’s so important now, he’s two different people.

When I get my peerage I’m going to choose one title and keep to it.

In any case, today is the glorious day of Nelson’s visit. I let him in a half hour ago, hoping he wouldn’t recognise me. No such luck.

“Bladder!” he said, after he’d looked me over, “I saw your name on the letter and I thought, ‘Could it be?’ And, bless my soul, it is! I’d know that nose anywhere.”

“Nelson,” I said, coolly.

“You were the best friend I had, back at school,” he grinned, clapping me on the shoulder, “I’ll never forget the way you showed those bullies. You just stood back and ignored them, while they gripped me by the ankles and held me over the lavatory. You never joined in, not once. And then, kind soul that you were, you went to fetch Matron so that she could clear up the vomit.”

I’m glad he remembers all that because I certainly don’t.

“You really were a good chap. The only boy in school who didn’t dunk me. You wouldn’t stand for that. You were the silent, noble type.”

I think he was trying to be nice to me. However, I’m of the opinion that I was the silent type that had better things to do than drop annoying little prigs in a bowl full of Binky Jellicoe’s wee.

“I’m glad you remember me so fondly,” I said. I was lying. I don’t give a fig how he remembers me, but I wanted to hurry the awkward meeting toward a conclusion. I quickly added, “Now, if you would just follow Mr. Baldrick, the Prince will see you immediately. You know how to greet His Royal Highness, don’t you? Excellent. You’ll do fine.”

I gave Nelson a firm push in Baldrick’s direction and headed back to the kitchens. As I left, I could hear him raise his voice to say to me:

“It was very nice seeing you again, Blackadder. Perhaps I might talk to you further after I’ve seen the Prince?”

I ignored him.

At least he’ll be gone soon. The Prince will no longer be so excited he can’t sleep, at least until Christmas, and I won’t have to see any unwelcome faces from my childhood until my family finds out I’m actually still alive.

Six o’clock…

Nelson went to the great and extremely unwanted trouble of seeking me out. I had hoped that no one would notice me slipping out to Mrs. Miggins’ coffeehouse whilst the Prince and Lord Nelson were having their chat. But, of course, I wasn’t counting for the one day that Baldrick would show any awareness of the world around him.

Note to self: Cut out Baldrick’s tongue and hang it in his room cupboard as a constant warning.

Nelson caught sight of me as soon as he walked through the door.

“Ah! There you are, Bladder.”

“Yes,” I was forced to agree, “Here I am.”

Nelson smiled inanely and pulled up a chair opposite me.

“I’m quite desperate to talk to you.”

I could have told him that I was quite desperate for a mad, boat-hating Frenchman to run in with a sharp knife, just to save me from his tedious conversation. I didn’t.

“You see, I’m in a terrible bit of trouble. I don’t know what I can do. I was just about to lose my wits when I began to hope that the Edmund Blackadder who signed my letter from the Prince might be the same Edmund Blackadder I had known at school. I hoped that you could help me. After all, you were frightfully clever and cunning back then.”

I wouldn’t say I was touched that Sicky Breath esteemed me so highly, but I was certainly gratified.

“I mean, after the first three or four times you were dunked in the lav, you always found a way to worm out of it.”

My sense of satisfaction faded with as much rapidity as God ever insults me with. (If it wasn’t for that cunning of mine, I swear my life would be one long succession of fate flicking the vs at me.) I took a long drink of my coffee and hoped Nelson would make himself scarce. I would have made myself scarce but that was a bad idea. Five minutes earlier I’d seen a man I owe five pounds pass by the window. I was afraid he might be waiting for me at the door.

Nelson stopped talking to search for something in the pockets of his overcoat. When he finally found what he was looking for, he passed it to me, a small slip of paper, and fixed me with an earnest stare.

“It’s from Emma,” he explained as I unfolded the letter, “My dearest, most precious little woman. I had to leave for a few months at sea and when I returned home, she was gone. All she had left was this note. What do you think?”

I looked at the paper. It read, “My dearest Horatio, I am leaving you. Do not try to follow me.”

“I think,” I said, “She’s left you.”

Nelson looked astounded that the phrase “I’m leaving you” could possibly be misinterpreted as “I’m leaving you”.

“No!” he cried, “She would never do anything like that, not my Emmakins. Our love is a pure and eternal thing. It’s just not possible that she would leave me. Are you suggesting that she’s found another man?”

I was about to tell him that Lady Hamilton had probably found several other men by the time he had reached open sea but he was too much in a fit of passion to pay attention to me.

“Wemma is a bright and beautiful flower who knows nothing but goodness. She is the only person worth anything in this entire world. She must have been kidnapped. Or she is trying to protect me from some enemy by sacrificing herself. Or maybe she’s amnesiac and has been taken in by kindly nuns…”

“Nuns who wrote you a letter, in her handwriting, saying that she’d left you.”

“I’ve never trusted nuns!” Nelson sobbed, slamming a fist on the table.

I entreated him to calm down. People were beginning to stare.

“I’m sure none of those things have happened to Lady Hamilton,” I told him (which was true), “She’ll probably be back again by the time you get home.”

Nelson didn’t look very convinced by my attempt at comforting him. His eyes were welling up with tears.

“You have to help me find her, Blackadder.”

I thought that honesty was probably the best policy in the circumstances.

“No, I’m sorry,” I told him. Then I realised what I was saying. “Actually I’m not even sorry. Just no.”

Nelson nodded limply, his head already hung in defeat, “I suppose it’s a lot to ask,” he said, “But if you can’t do it, do you know any other clever sorts who might be able to?”

“It’s not a case of not being able to do it. I could have that woman back to you by Thursday lunchtime. It’s a case of not wanting to do it.”

“Well, would it change your mind if I offered you a reward for helping me?”

That changed matters. I am not completely blind when it comes to the prospect of moneymaking. For example, I wouldn’t stand Sicky Breath’s company if he paid me by the minute. However, all I’d have to do in this case would be to take a day or two off work and pop off to the country to find his wayward mistress. On top of which, any hero of England’s Navy must be loaded. If he was willing to pay me, I’d bet he’d be willing to pay a great deal. It was almost worth kidnapping Lady Hamilton myself and lengthening the work days a bit.

That, in short, is why I’m sitting in a post-coach bound for Portsmouth, trying to ignore Baldrick’s face directly opposite mine by writing in this diary.

Baldrick, simpleton that he is, was confused as to why we were going to Portsmouth. I pointed out that of all the places Lady Hamilton would run off to, it would probably be the place with the most sailors. I don’t think Baldrick understood but he decided to tag along anyway.

It was easier to convince the Prince to give me the time off. I told him that Lord Nelson, as an old school friend of mine, had requested my help in a secret mission. He loved that one. I might use it again.

There’s only one problem in this otherwise easy gig. When I said I could return Lady Hamilton to him by next Thursday, Lord Nelson took it all too literally. Now I have two days to get the job done.

 

November 24th, 180-

I had to threaten the coachman with the sharpest of my two shoe buckles, but we made it to Portsmouth over night. There was some whining from other passengers, who wanted to stop at the places they’d paid to go to, but they can bloody well pay for a coach back if it’s that important to them. They don’t have a cash reward on the line.

I dragged Baldrick out of the coach and sent him to look around the docks. Meanwhile, I headed to the first coffeehouse I could find to see if I could pick up any local gossip. I tried two or three more after that but I had no luck until, walking down an alleyway, I saw a woman swigging gin on her doorstep. The coffee shop tactic wasn’t working so I thought that I might as well try the local slatterns.

“Good woman,” I said, “Do you know of Lady Hamilton?”

She wrinkled her face - some people find thinking such a hard task. “Sounds posh,” she mused.

“Yes, quite posh. Also answers to the name of Emma…”

The slattern interrupted, crowing, “Oh! I knows a Emma Hamilton. In and out of Mrs. Gubbins’ place all the time these last few weeks. Mrs. G. runs a boarding house - that tall one at the end of the street.”

She grinned toothlessly at me as I set off down the road.

At the boarding house I had to interview my next slattern, the aforementioned Mrs. Gubbins. She was marginally cleaner than the last and had helpfully covered up her natural odour with an industrial-standard amount of rosewater.

“You want a room, sir?” she asked.

“No, no, madam. I believe an acquaintance of mine is staying here. Do you rent rooms to a Miss Hamilton?”

“Oh no, I mostly take in sailors. But I know the girl you’re talking about; she’s a cousin of one of my lads, Lieutenant Parkhurst. Always coming to visit, she is.”

This was better than I could have imagined. I seemed to have found Lady Hamilton and her paramour in one easy step. I could nab the girl as soon as she next turned up. Which seemed to be with a similar frequency to French aristocrats landing in Dover, claiming they felt like taking a very long holiday where the weather is damper and the locals are less likely to demand their heads on a stick.

“Is Lieutenant Parkhurst in?” I asked, feeling I should get on with the job as quickly as possible. To my continuing displeasure, Mrs. Gubbins answered:

“Not at present, sir. I don’t expect to see him for a long time now - he’s just got his commission. But he’ll come back. All my lads do.”

As glad as Mrs. Gubbins was of seeing Parkhurst return to her an older, wiser man, I’m not prepared to wait until the war with the French is over. I’ll have to find his ship, presuming it hasn’t already sailed. If it has, it’s good news in a way - one less obstacle in getting Lady Hamilton back to Sicky Breath. But, of course, if I have no way of finding Lieutenant Parkhurst, the search for Lady Hamilton will begin again. Not even the possibility of her returning to Nelson by herself is a good prospect. If that happens, I’ll lose my money.

So, this afternoon I am going to find Baldrick and then we are going to look for Lieutenant Parkhurst’s ship.

8 o’clock…

Baldrick and I managed to find Parkhurst’s ship after a little enquiring. An ancient thing called H.M.S. Perseverance that looks like it has persevered too long. If we only let the Lieutenant sail away in the thing, I don’t think he’d be back to bother us.

Of course, he wasn’t on the ship, was he? Obviously I can’t rely on fate to make anything easy for me, even though it would mean less hard work for both of us. No, instead, I got to go on an interminable tour with the First Lieutenant, Mr. Pullings, whilst pretending I was making an inspection of Portsmouth’s warships on behalf of Prince George. I managed to get through it, mostly by staring critically at cannons and saying, “Well done, the Prince would be very impressed with this rigging” every so often. Mr. Pullings seemed pleased, at least.

After a while, we came across a group of midshipmen. They were almost all, as midshipmen tend to be, insufferable, snotty teenagers. But standing tall amongst them there was an extremely pale, ginger haired, lanky fellow who must have been approaching thirty.

He was introduced to me as Mr. Percy, the ship’s longest serving midshipman.

“So, Mr. Percy,” I said, continuing my polite act, “Mr. Pullings tells me that you’ve been a midshipman on this vessel for the last twenty years.”

“Yes, sir,” said Mr. Percy, “Well, on and off.”

“On and off?”

“I was briefly demoted, sir.”

I paused to take this in.

“If I may ask, Mr. Percy, as a midshipman, what can you be demoted to?”

“Passenger, sir.”

“You were demoted. From a midshipman. To a passenger.”

Percy nodded sadly.

“It was considered for the best, sir,” he said.

I was about to move swiftly on, when the eternal midshipman caught me by the arm and said, “I have a cousin who’s a friend of the prince. Perhaps you know him? Lord Topper?”

I remembered the idiot he was talking about all too well. No surprise they were related.

“Yes, your cousin is a regular visitor at the Prince’s household. I’ll pass on your regards.”

Thankfully, this satisfied Mr. Percy enough to let me go. “I’ve always wanted to see London,” he said, wistfully.

“Well,” I said, “When you take your examination for lieutenant, be sure to visit”

“Thank you, sir!” gasped Mr. Percy, “I will, sir, I will!”

His enthusiasm didn’t worry me. I had little doubt that young Percy would be elected Archbishop before he was promoted in the Navy.

Before I moved on, I decided to take a chance by asking Mr. Percy whether he knew the new lieutenant, Parkhurst. It turned out that he did. And he knew that Parkhurst was a regular at Mrs. Berry’s coffeehouse. I immediately made my excuses to Mr. Pullings and the midshipmen, said a short farewell, grabbed Baldrick and headed back towards dry land.

When we turned up at Mrs. Berry’s, not only was Mr. Parkhurst there, but so was Lady Hamilton. But that wasn’t the only pleasant surprise. The young man that Mrs. Berry kindly pointed out to me was quite obviously only one of those things. Lieutenant Parkhurst was a young woman with cropped hair and a Naval officer’s uniform.

I held my tongue and pulled up a stool opposite Parkhurst and Lady Hamilton. At first they ignored me, so I cleared my throat and introduced myself.

“Mr. Parkhurst. Lady Hamilton. I am Edmund Blackadder, butler to the Prince of Wales, and I’ve been sent here by Lord Nelson.”

Lady Hamilton gave a start.

“Horatio? What does he want?”

“He wants you to return home, Lady Hamilton.”

Lady Hamilton appeared to consider this for a moment before saying, “Horatio’s a darling. I’m sorry I left him in the lurch like that, honestly. But tell him I can’t go back. I’m in love with another man.”

“That’s right,” put in Lieutenant Parkhurst, rather smugly to my mind.

“Ah, yes,” I said, turning on Parkhurst, “I’d like to talk to you, Lieutenant.”

Lady Hamilton protested but Parkhurst followed me, without fuss, to a quiet corner of the coffeehouse. I sat him down and leant conspiratorially towards him. Getting Parkhurst out of the way was going to be a piece of cake.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Par-”

“No - what’s your Christian name?”

Parkhurst, after a weighty pause, said, “Bob.”

“You’re a girl, Bob,” I said, “And your disguise is about as convincing as a muddy hamster stuck behind a magnifying glass and labelled ‘Alsatian’.”

“I’m not a girl!” Bob snorted.

“Yes, Bob, yes you are.”

She snorted again. I presume she was trying to show me that she found the entire thing ridiculous. We repeated this routine until I was just about ready to stab her. Fortunately, she gave in before I could find a knife. After that, it was a simple matter of blackmail.

I returned to Lady Hamilton’s table a happier, calmer man. ‘Bob’ fled from the building.

“Was that Parkhurst?” the lady asked, “Where’s he going? Why did he leave in such a hurry?”

I tried my best to sound consoling as I said, “I’m sorry to say that Lieutenant Parkhurst has left you. Will you let us accompany you back to London?”

“What do you mean he’s left me?”

“Lieutenant Parkhurst has, with much regret, decided that his career in the Navy must come before his personal relationships. He can’t be both a lover and a fighter.”

“Oh sod off. What did you say to him?”

I wasn’t expecting Lady Hamilton to take well to being abandoned. However, I had expected tears and hysterics. I hadn’t expected a long, foul-mouthed rebuke for having done something to drive ‘Bob’ Parkhurst off, followed by an obstinate refusal to leave Portsmouth at least until people started to talk sense.

I didn’t tell Lady Hamilton Parkhurst’s secret. It was the only leverage I had over him, after all, and you never know when you might need to blackmail someone again. Instead, I did a good job (in the circumstances) of pleading for the career of a promising young sailor, which could be jeopardised by an intense romantic connection. After a little work, she reluctantly decided that she’d like to see her Horatio after all.

I ended up leading Lady Hamilton and Baldrick like a funeral procession through the streets of Portsmouth. Lady Hamilton was downcast and morose for obvious reasons. God knows what was wrong with Baldrick; he was probably still sulking from when I’d sent him to check the hull of the Perseverance for excess limpets. Honestly, what does it matter if it’s November? It was all to the aid of verisimilitude.

On the way to the inn where we could catch the post-coach, we came across Mr. Percy, the midshipman. He hollered at us until we stopped to listen to him.

“Mr. Blackadder! You’ll never guess. The First Lieutenant sent me ashore to deliver a message to the harbourmaster but when I returned, the ship had sailed without me! I don’t know what could have happened…”

I, on the other hand, had a pretty good idea of what might have happened. I tried to wish Mr. Percy a good day but he was persistent.

“I thought, seeing as I haven’t got a position here anymore, I might come with you to see London.”

Lord knows I tried to put him off the idea, but here I am, with two idiots and a moody aristocrat, waiting for a coach. Then it’ll be hours stuck in a small wooden box with them, being jolted about and forced to engage in conversation. Is any amount of money worth all this?

Good thing I know the answer. Yes, yes it is.

 

November 25th, 180-

Again, we had to travel all night - and this driver wasn’t as quick as the first - but we arrived back in London before noon today. The timing was near perfect. Nelson would be at Mrs. Miggins’ in a half hour and all we had to do was to meet him there.

There was only one tiny, dachshund-sized dog turd in our newly tended pleasure garden. And that was the fact that Lady Hamilton was, in a fit of boneheaded romantic feeling, getting doubts about seeing the man she jilted so soon after being jilted herself.

When we arrived at Mrs. Miggins’ she told me, “Mr. Blackadder, I do want to see Horatio, but not yet. I need some time by myself, to think.”

I told her that she could think while we were waiting but she didn’t think that was good enough.

“Tell Horatio I’ll meet him in a few days’ time when I’ve gathered my thoughts.”

Well, I couldn’t let her have a few days. My money depended on her being reunited with Nelson considerably sooner. Perhaps I should have talked her into it gently, but I was getting impatient. I tried to take her by the elbow. That’s when she hit me on the jaw with a painful right hook and ran off down the street.

Baldrick and Mr. Percy helped me up but neither of them had the presence of mind to run after her. Not that ‘presence of mind’ is a condition I had any right to expect from Baldrick. And I’m pretty sure I now know Mr. Percy well enough to say the same about him.

I suddenly had no Lady Hamilton and it was only a quarter hour to noon. My first thought was that I should send Baldrick and Mr. Percy out to look for her. However, on the other side of the street, I saw Nelson talking to another gentleman. He’d turned up early.

I hurried Baldrick and Percy into Mrs. Miggins’.

“Baldrick,” I said, “We-”

“And Mr. Percy,” cut in Percy, smiling like an imbecile.

“What?”

“You didn’t mention me. I thought you might like to.”

“Mr. Percy, that was the furthest thing from my mind,” I assured him and quickly continued, “We have a very big problem. Lord Nelson is going to walk in here any moment now, expecting to see his beloved Emma Wemma. Unfortunately, we do not have Emma Wemma. What are we going to do?”

“I think we should say sorry and buy him a drink,” said Mr. Percy.

“Yes, yes. Baldrick, what do you think?”

I was obviously desperate. Or the imbecility of Percy had numbed my memory of what was very spuriously known as Baldrick’s brain.

“It’s a good thing you asked me, Mr. B,” said Baldrick, beaming with pride at the attention he’d been given, “As I have just come up with a very cunning plan.”

“And that is?”

“Well, it seems to me that there are quite a few women around. I was thinking that we could ask one of them to pretend to be Lady Hamilton.”

Baldrick’s plan brought me back to reality with a jolt and I had to stare long and hard at him before I could bring myself to speak.

“Baldrick, Lord Nelson has met Lady Hamilton before. He is in love with her.”

“Oh yeah. I s’pose I didn’t think of that.”

As world-beatingly inane as Baldrick’s plan was, it did give me an idea. I explained it to Baldrick and Percy. What we needed was a beautiful, charming woman to act very interested in Nelson. Not only would that distract Nelson but, if he were to find out that Lady Hamilton had run off with another man, he might be happier to overlook the matter. And therefore happier to keep to our deal. Meanwhile, Baldrick, Percy and I could find Lady Hamilton.

“What beautiful, charming women do we know?” I asked, rather doubtfully.

“Mrs. Miggins?” suggested Baldrick.

I quickly vetoed that one.

“I have a cousin called Clarissa. She’s very pretty,” said Mr. Percy.

“And is your cousin in this coffeehouse or the immediate area around it?”

“She lives in Budleigh Salterton,” Percy admitted glumly.

“Mr. Percy then,” suggested Baldrick.

For a moment, I wasn’t sure how best to break the news to him.

“Baldrick,” I said, slowly, “Mr. Percy is a man.”

Baldrick shrugged.

“We could make him look like a woman.”

Baldrick’s idea was clearly insane. Yet I couldn’t help thinking that Mr. Percy’s personality (i.e. being as wet as a mermaid’s nostril) made him the perfect puppet. Mrs. Miggins, no doubt, had a dress that we could put him into. You’d have to be certifiably mad or brainless to enjoy flirting with Mr. Percy in an ill-fitting frock, but I knew Nelson… Let’s face it, the man can command a fleet of ships but faced with something complicated, like a kettle or a pair of trousers, he probably struggles.

I seem to remember Percy protesting that it was a bad idea throughout all this. I just kept feeding him some rubbish about what a great favour he was doing for me and how thankful I’d be. With that and a good dose of shoving, Baldrick and I managed to get him up the stairs with Mrs. Miggins just before Nelson walked in.

“Blackadder!”

“Nelson.”

“What news of my beloved Emma? Is she here? Is she coming?”

I sat Nelson down with a good firm push on his shoulders and reassured him as gently as I could manage, “Lady Hamilton will be joining us shortly. Now, would you like anything to drink?”

“I can’t think about such things. I need to see my Emma.”

“Really?” I sighed. Nelson’s intensity was wearing thin.

“How about a pie?” Baldrick offered helpfully, “Real pigeon. I collect the dead ones up to give to Mrs. Miggins myself. Cockroaches too, sometimes.”

“Um, no thank you.”

He sat for a few moments without being able to talk further, just fidgeting and biting his remaining thumbnail. I was about to try reigniting the conversation when Percy appeared.

I leapt up to introduce him.

“Nelson, this is my sister…”

“I didn’t know you had a sister, Bladder,” said Nelson.

“Neither did I,” said Baldrick.

“Well I do. So shut up. This is my sister, Pearl.”

I shoved Percy in a seat. He put out his hand towards Nelson, who took it politely.

“It’s an honour to meet you,” said Percy in an extremely high-pitched voice. He might have been trying to sound feminine, but then again it might have been anxiety.

Nelson nodded briskly at Percy, before turning swiftly to me.

“Look, Blackadder, is Emma going to be long?”

Percy, who seemed to be taking his role very seriously, grabbed Nelson’s hand again. Nelson looked startled.

“Lord Nelson,” squeaked Percy, “I’d just like to say how much I admired your work during the Battle of the Nile.”

“Um, well, thank you,” said Nelson. For a moment I thought that Percy had ruined everything but then Nelson asked him, “Do you take an interest in Naval affairs?”

“Oh yes!”

That was all it took. A midshipman in a serving wench’s old dress had managed to charm a Vice Admiral. I suppose stranger things happen at sea…

They were just discussing the tactics used at the Battle of Copenhagen, and I was thinking about what a lucky, lucky day I was having, when Lady Hamilton walked in. I had been waiting for the right moment to leave Nelson and Percy chatting while I went to look for her. What I hadn’t been counting on was her coming back of her own accord. She did not look happy to see Nelson and Percy getting on so well. I dare say she had her reasons but she needn’t have taken it out on me.

“Mr. Blackadder,” Lady Hamilton hissed, “I seem to remember you saying that Lord Nelson was wasting away without me.”

She all but ignored Nelson. Instead, she focused on me, giving me a look that I had seen before, but not since I’d last kicked a sleeping Rottweiler.

She was furious. Nelson was mortified. I couldn’t see much chance of anyone paying me for any of this. I could only think of one sensible thing to do. I legged it.

With any luck, I should be arriving in Brighton within the hour. I’m sure I can convince the Prince that he was planning to visit his little holiday home there…