Rogue’s Holiday – Regan Walker

Robert Powell left the warmth of the Horse and Groom and stepped into the dusty cul-de-sac at the edge of London’s sprawl. Darkness hung thick in the cold night air, the nearly full moon its only redemption. Street lamps had yet to arrive on Cato Street. It was as if the world acknowledged nothing of importance ever happened here that would justify such an expense. A blast of wintry night air caused him to shiver. Slipping his hands into the pockets of his greatcoat, he gripped his pistols, still warm from the tavern. Tonight, they might save his life. Close by, the silhouettes of two men leaned against a building. Further on, another man raised his head from where he lingered in a recessed doorway. While Robbie could not discern their features, he knew who they were…Bow Street Runners, waiting for the trap to be sprung. The trap Robbie had planned. A month back, one chill evening, he had stopped into the White Lion for a pint. There, he witnessed a man named Arthur Thistlewood holding court. To his avid listeners gathered around him, Thistlewood loudly condemned the government for the massacre in Manchester the year before, the debacle the newspapers had dubbed “Peterloo”. Growls of assent from the patrons of the White Lion made Robbie hunch over his drink and attend more closely.

He and his twin brother had been on St Peter’s Field that day. The Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth, had dispatched them to Manchester to spy on the crowd gathered to hear the famous orator Henry Hunt speak about reform. The Terror in France might have ended years ago, but the government still had an unholy fear of riot and mobs, particularly those advocating change. Robbie could still see Hunt climbing onto the platform as the Manchester Yeomanry charged into the throng, sabers raised, cutting down hundreds of innocent men, women and children. “We shall have our revenge!” Thistlewood shouted, pounding his fist and splashing his ale. “This time it will be government blood that is spilled and government lives snuffed out!” The raw anger in the White Lion that night and the call to violence had alarmed Robbie. The next day, he reported to Lord Sidmouth what he had overheard. “If this is more than idle talk, Powell, these villains must be stopped. ’Tis treason!” “I have a plan…” Robbie began and laid out the trap he’d conceived. In the following weeks, Robbie followed Thistlewood and his band of conspirators to the empty stable on Cato Street where they began to stash muskets, bayonets, pistols, knives and swords, along with grenades, plentiful since the end of the war with Napoleon.

With great fanfare, The Times announced that the Cabinet dinners, canceled following the death of George III, were to be resumed. The conspirators were pleased. A dinner with all the Cabinet ministers gathered at Lord Harrowby’s provided the perfect opportunity for the revenge they sought. What they didn’t know was that the story in The Times was a fake, planted by Robbie, an irresistible bait to lure the conspirators to their demise. Standing watch on Cato Street, Robbie ran his fingers over his false mustache and beard. The damned things had itched him for weeks, but they were necessary to conceal his true identity. Even the slouch hat and the clothes that loosely embraced his body were not the gentleman’s attire he typically wore. He had resorted to the disguise after one of the men at the White Lion had engaged him in conversation that first night. Robbie studied the simple working folks coming and going in their lives of quiet routine. George Caylock at number two, home from his daily work, stood at his window, observing the happenings at the stable across the street.

Elizabeth Weston at number one had gone for a short walk with her little boy but now returned to stare at the men entering the stable. Richard Munday at number three left his rooms to indulge in a nightly pint at the Horse and Groom, tipping his hat to Robbie as he returned. None of them gave him a second glance. He had become a fixture in the tavern and on the street, a “distant relation” of the tavern owner who, for a sovereign, had been happy to cooperate. Halfway down the street, the door to the stable creaked open. A man with a candle exited to take up vigil. Shielding the flame with one hand, he granted entrance to other conspirators who arrived to slip inside. So, they gather. In the candle’s flickering light, Robbie recognized Arthur Thistlewood as one of those arriving. He was more the gentleman in appearance than the others, but his purpose just as low.

William Davidson, the educated man of color from Jamaica, stepped outside to stand guard beside the man holding the candle. Davidson carried a carbine but it was not his only weapon. At his belt was a pair of pistols and, at his side, a sword. Even in the dim light the shapes of the weapons were familiar. The residents of Cato Street continued to come and go as the night grew colder. Silently, Robbie willed them to get off the street. He wanted no innocents in the path of the violence to come. As the minutes ticked away, the activity on the street died down. Robbie darted a glance in the direction of Edgware Road. Where the devil are the Coldstream Guards? The Portman Street barracks were nearby, so why were they late? He could wait no longer, else he risked the conspirators leaving on their grisly mission.

Robbie lifted his hat, the signal to spring the trap. A lurking Bow Street officer crept away in the dark. A few minutes later, Constable George Ruthven strode into the street, the Bow Street patrol behind him in their long topcoats. The constable boldly walked to the stable door and shouted, “Take them!” A brief scuffle followed. The officers seized Davidson and his companion, grabbing their weapons before they could alert those inside. Ruthven yanked opened the door and stormed into the stable, the night patrol following on his heels. “We are officers!” he yelled. “Seize their arms!” Robbie shook his head, regretting their haste. His dismay soon proved well founded. A single shot cracked the night air.

Then repeated gunfire rattled the stable. The light he had glimpsed through the open door went out and the building reverberated with men’s shouts. Some of the conspirators fled out the stable door. The Bow Street Runners who had remained outside seized as many as they could. One tore free and ran toward Robbie, a pistol in one hand, a knife in the other. He fired the pistol at Robbie, but the shot went wide. Robbie rushed to grab him, knocking the knife away. The man cursed the government as Robbie seized his coat and, lifting his pistol from his pocket, pointed the barrel at the conspirator’s head. “The only government official you’ll be seeing tonight is the magistrate.” He kept the pistol pressed to the man’s temple as he forced him down the street and handed him over to the runners.

Shots and shouts continued to echo in the street. Robbie caught a few more escaping from the stable and delivered them to the runners. At the zenith of the skirmish, the Coldstream Guards finally arrived, their brass buttons and musket locks reflecting the moon’s pale light. Robbie crossed the street to Captain Fitzclarence. “Where have you been?” Fitzclarence’s voice bespoke his exasperation. “They sent us to the wrong end of John Street. We thought ’twas to fight a fire. We’re only here now because of the gunfire.” “’Tis a murderous plot against the government!” shouted Robbie, aghast at the poor communication. “Constable Ruthven and some of the Bow Street officers are inside.

Make haste but take care! The place is full of weapons.” “Surround the building!” Captain Fitzclarence ordered his men, who hurried to comply as the captain and his grenadiers rushed into the stable. Any resistance by those left inside would now be futile. Robbie only hoped the Coldstreamers and Bow Street officers did not shoot each other. Just then, Ruthven yelled, “Call for a doctor. Everything is under control, but we have a man shot!” The doctor was summoned. Satisfied the plan had worked, Robbie consulted with the runners and decided his job was completed. The trap had been sprung and a passel of sorry men, whose only purpose for living had withered to a drastic act of revenge, would pay with their lives. Save for their evil intent, he could almost pity them. Reform was needed and he was confident it would come, but not through violence and murder.

There would be no revolution in England as there had been in France. As he turned to leave, he glimpsed movement nearby. One last conspirator, who must have been hiding, was attempting to slip away. Robbie lifted his pistol and cracked the man on the head as he ran by. The man faltered but did not fall. Robbie grabbed him by the collar. “What’s your name?” “James” was the only reply and that more of a groan. “You will hang for what you have done,” said Robbie, and shuffled him off to the runners clustered at the far end of the street. The noise of the fracas faded behind him as he turned and walked to Oxford Street to hail a hackney that would take him to the Thames. His father had chosen the Adelphi Terrace south of Somerset House for their residence, expecting to sire a family of shipmasters, which he had.

As the horse’s hooves clattered over the street, Robbie’s gaze drifted out the window to the passing buildings cast in shadow by the street lamps. A wave of relief washed over him as he relaxed against the seat. He was done with subterfuge. The job before this had seen him shot on a snowy Scottish street, leaving him with a ragged scar from his left eye to the edge of his hair. He’d let his hair grow over the scar but the memory of his neardeath had not dimmed. And what of tonight? What if the man he’d collared had wielded that pistol and knife with skill? Instead of riding through London, he might be bleeding his life away in a dusty backwater. He breathed out a sigh. Tonight, he vowed, was his last work for the Crown. Leaning his head back, images of the life he’d abandoned months before flitted though his mind. He had missed his gentleman’s pursuits.

An excellent cognac and a game of brag at White’s. A round of fencing at Angelo’s with his uncle. An afternoon of boxing at Jackson’s. And women. Ah yes… After he filed his report on Cato Street, he might just indulge himself in a holiday. And, for that, he would visit Tattersall’s to purchase a new horse or maybe a matched pair for a new curricle. But why wait? Tonight was not too soon to resume his pleasurable pursuits. There might yet be time to enjoy the company of a woman who smelled of spring flowers instead of the backstreets of London. The carriage pulled up in front of his home and he told the driver, “Wait while I change. We’ve another stop to make.

” Willow House. He raced up the stairs, smiling all the way. Willow House was an exclusive bordello, the only one in London for which a man needed a recommendation from one of the gentlemen who were numbered among its clientele. Before his brother, Martin, had married, he had vouched for Robbie. The night was still young.

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