Sarah had played whist, loo, piquet, and quinze that her father had taught her, so she was familiar with the general meaning of the card value, and the different suits. Mrs. Kirby had brought her a deck of cards, and Sarah spent the previous evening reading the books she found in Lilly's office on gaming rules for cards and dice, then practicing with the cards. She found it easy to win by keeping track of the cards already played and what would be left in the deck. By the end of the evening she had a fairly good idea of the chances of winning, and how well Lilly's gaming room would profit in the percentage of wins at each table.
Now, as she went over the receipts from last night, Sarah noticed a definite pattern of percentage losses at each table, just the same as the previous night. She decided to mention it to Lilly and see if there was a simple explanation. Was it possible someone was very lucky as he walked from table to table during the night?
Putting the work aside for the moment, Sarah sat back in her chair and thought about Roger and Anne. She was completed stunned at the news when Mrs. Kirby told her this morning. Also, she was disappointed Roger did not say goodbye to her when they left, especially since he had shown such concern when he saw her here. Sarah had never considered the reason Roger was here that morning when she ran into him, she was just too happy to see him. Now she knew it had to be to visit the girls, because he had met Anne. Then she thought about his friend with the silver grey eyes. Had he been there to visit the girls with Roger? Sarah's thoughts turned to which of the girls he would have preferred, and how often did he come here. They were all so beautiful, friendly and each had a charming personality that would entice any man.
"Well, there is no point in thinking about him, he would never notice me, especially when the girls are so generous with their affections," she muttered, as she went back to checking the figures on the accounts.
Jason surveyed Sarah as she came into the buffet room. He liked the way she looked, especially the red hair and green eyes. She had a fresh untouched look about her, that made a man want to be the first to educate her. Maybe he ought to show her a little interest . . . enough to fluster her, so that she would pay less attention to the accounts. He had never had any trouble making women fall for him, and making fools of themselves. Besides, he would enjoy making her fall for him, as his eyes skimmed her figure.
Marcus sitting across from Jason, watched the speculative look he was giving Sarah. Having had that look himself many times involving various women, he knew what Jason was contemplating.
Marcus was tall, broad shouldered, and as handsome as the other employees. His dark eyes and black hair have won him a fair share of the females during his thirty-two years. He would have made an attempt to flirt with Sarah, if Lilly hadn't warned them off. But Jason had not been there that day Lilly had made the announcement.
"You better shelve that thought, Jason. Lilly had given us all a warning to lay off," Marcus said.
Startled, at being caught at what he was thinking, Jason's cheeks burned from guilt.
"I don't know what your talking about," he answered as he bowed his head over his plate to hide his flushed look.
"I think you do, and I am sure all of us had that same thought since we met her. But, as I said, Lilly does not want to see or hear of any flirting with Sarah. Since you weren't here at the time of the lecture, I thought it only fair to warn you," Marcus said, as he got up from the table and left the room.
Jason was incensed to think that anyone would tell him what to do when it came to women. He has always had any woman he set his mind on, and had never let anything or anyone interfere, even their husbands. He had fought his share of duels in the past and his skills with the sword and pistol have never let him down. He had been careful never to kill his opponent, for he did not want to be forced to flee to the continent. Glancing at Sarah, as she sat with Sally and Nicole, he listened to her light laughter as they carried on a conversation. Well, he was glad for the warning, at least he will be more careful when he made his approach to her.
Lilly stood by the table as Sarah spread out the sheets of paper for the past two nights, putting them in order so that it was easy to spot the discrepancy in the pattern.
"I wanted to show you this, just to make sure that I wasn't being overly cautious. Does it look all right to you?" Sarah asked.
Lilly stared at the figures, then checked the previous nights again. She and her husband and always been careful to hire honest dealers, but once in a while they would come across an employee that was tempted by greed. Nothing hurt the business more than to have one of the dealers caught at cheating. It invariably looked as intentionally contrived by the establishment, and not just the individual employee looking out for himself. A reputation for unscrupulous practices could force a business to close. She was disappointed to think that one of her employees would do this, for she felt that she had treated them fairly. She paid them well, and they would receive a pourboire from the customer when leaving the table.
"You have noticed this in only the last two nights, and there was nothing like this in the previous entries?" Lilly asked, amazed at this young woman's proficiency.
"Yes, I rechecked the previous figures, going back to the start of your business. The profits had continued to increase each night, including the past two nights, in spite of the discrepancy. When you look at the complete set of figures, you can see where at a certain hour of the evening at each table, there is a drop in the percentage. To me, it looks as if someone walked from table to table having a very lucky winning streak. But that hasn't happened before, because one table would take a drop when a customer was winning, not all of them. Usually if someone is winning, you would think he would stay at the same table, not to break his luck. At least, I believe that is what I would do if I happen to be winning," Sarah said.
"You seemed to have gained quite a bit of knowledge on gambling. I take it you have been reading the books I suggested?" Lilly asked.
"Yes, I spent all last night practicing with a deck of cards, Mrs. Kirby lent me," Sarah answered.
"Well, what I am going to do," Lilly mused, "is keep a better watch on the activities this evening, and tell Karl to be more alert in scrutinizing the customers. Our normal routine is to rotate the dealers. The dealers would play for two hours, then a dealer would break the first table, for a half-hour rest period. When he returned, he would break the dealer at the next table, and the rotation would continue through the evening. That way, the dealers are more alert by the constant change and frequent rest periods," Lilly explained.
"What was the first dealer doing at the start of the breaking?" Sarah asked somewhat confused trying to picture this.
"That person would organize the smaller tables, you know, in that area on the side that I pointed out to you. A dealer does not sit in on the private games, he only observes the action. Sometimes individuals would want a table to play against their friends, in a private game of whist, piquet or macao. Our person would make sure that the house would get a cut of the winnings for the use of these tables, and that the games are proceeding in an honest manner," Lilly said.
"Then that person is the one to start the rotation? So you think that this dealer, or perhaps another that he had relieved at the time of the rotation, would have a certain customer follow him to that same table?" Sarah queried as she tried to solve the problem. "Then he has a partner. Of course he would! In order to legitimize the loss from the house it would naturally go to a customer!" she exclaimed relieved it was solved.
Lilly nodded. She already knew what had happened, but it amused her to watch how studiously Sarah worked it out in her own mind. Hiring her for the job, was turning out to be a good thing.
"Is there a schedule as to who should be at each table at a certain time of the evening?" Sarah asked.
"No, the men decide that themselves as to which table they will begin the evening. It has been working well so far, as there have been no arguments. I don't think they really care which table they start, since all the tables do well," Lilly shrugged.
"I hope I am not causing anyone trouble. I never meant that to happen," Sarah said guiltily, thinking that she could not imagine which person would do this, or that she would wish them any harm.
"Do not worry about it. I appreciate your catching this so fast, and in only two days. Imagine what would have happened if I did not hire you, and had let these ledgers go, as I had been doing since Armand left. If one of our other customers sitting at the same table would have noticed it, he would have loudly declared our place dishonest, and that would have been the end of my business. Also, if this dealer had been a little more skillful, he could have caused other players at the table to lose, to offset the huge win of his accomplice. Then we would have never been the wiser," Lilly said grimly, before turning to leave.
Sarah stared at the door after Lilly left, and thought again, how much more interesting this job is, than managing her father's estate.
Just before the doors were opened for the evening's activities, Lilly and Karl stood by the doorway of the gaming room, and watched as the dealers took their places at the tables.
Lilly's eyes skimmed the room looking at each dealer in turn. Out of all of them, the only one she was sure was honest, was Jacques. He had worked at her husband's casino in France, and had always been loyal and trustworthy. She smiled as she watched him now, and although he was the oldest of the dealers, eight and thirty, she thought he was the handsomest of all, with his black hair touched in silver at the temples, and black flashing eyes that always seemed to be amused. When he had heard she was opening this establishment, he was the first to offer his assistance in setting it up. She had been happy to see him again and thankful for his help. Often she had wondered if he did not care for her more than just as his employer, for at times she would catch him watching her, but never had he made any overtures toward her.
"If any of them are dishonest, my bet would be on the new man, Jason. Especially since this began on the same night he started," said Karl in a low voice to Lilly.
"Your right, of course, but we cannot rule out that someone might have decided this would be a good time to try something, to throw the blame on the new person. After all, they may have been biding their time to see how our operation worked," Lilly answered.
Karl grumbled in agreement although his mind was set on Jason, for he did not like him.
"Well, at least we know Marcus is innocent, since he is only the bartender and has nothing to do with the games. I might have a talk with him tomorrow if we do not find anything out ourselves tonight. He could help us keep an eye on everyone, especially since he sees them more than we do," Lilly said.
"In the meantime, I'll scrutinize all the customers this evening and try to find out their names. We can check them out if necessary, to see if there is anything on them from other clubs," Karl suggested.
"Good idea, we have quite a few that are steady customers, and we do have a lot of credit vouchers signed by them. That should be a good start for investigating their backgrounds," Lilly answered, as she went to her office and Karl headed down the hallway to unlock the door.
"I would like to see Madame Monainge," Adam said, handing Karl his card as he stepped into the foyer.
Karl looked at the card, and then at the man. He remembered that this was the gentleman in the office with Sarah the other day, and he was with the man that had taken Anne away.
"Wait here, and I will tell her," Karl said gruffly, thinking that maybe this one wanted to take another girl away like his friend.
After getting Lilly's approval, Karl showed Adam into the office.
"Good evening, Lord Townsend. I assume you are here in answer to Sir Roger's request?" Lilly said smiling as the charming young man.
"Madame Monainge," he said bowing over her hand. "You are correct in your assumption."
"Please, sit down, would you care for some brandy?" she said going to the side cabinet.
"Thank you, Madame, I would appreciate it," Adam answered, feeling he will need it, for he did not know at all how he would proceed in this matter.
Handing him the glass of brandy, Lilly sat down at her desk, and waited expectantly to see what he would say. She certainly did not want him to convince Sarah to leave.
Adam cleared his throat, as it was obvious that she was expecting him to start the conversation, he obliged.
"Sir Roger is a very dear friend of mine, and although I am very happy for him in his marriage, I am going to miss him. Regarding Lady Sarah Prescott, Sir Roger has done me numerous favors in the past, and I am only too pleased to be able to reciprocate and honor his request in this matter . . . although it was quite an unusual one," he said. Lilly still sat silently looking at him, so he continued nervously.
"I had met Lady Sarah only one time, and that was here in your office the other day. She seemed like an amiable young innocent lady, which Sir Roger assures me she is, and this is the reason he was worried about her. Roger said that Sarah's father, the late Earl of Cranleigh and her mother, are deceased. She has no living relatives except a distant cousin who is now the new Earl of Cranleigh. It is obvious she needs to be looked after, considering her background, and I personally do not think she should be working in a gaming house. No offense intended to you, of course," he added hastily.
"Of course," Lilly murmured, then waited for him to continue, although this wasn't what she wanted to hear . . . that Sarah was indeed a member of the aristocracy, and a daughter of an Earl.
"I am not acquainted with the new Earl of Cranleigh, although I do know of his reputation," Adam continued, "He is a very arrogant, pompous man, with close ties high up in government, and it would be quite a scandal for his family, if it were known a relative worked here," Adam paused, taking a sip of the brandy to allow for some kind of comment from Lilly who just sat calmly, staring at him.
"Lord Townsend, I was unaware that Sarah was related to an Earl, for she did not mention it. Sarah only informed me that her parents were dead, and she had no place else to go. If what you say is true, then why wasn't that person around when Sarah's parents died, and why did he not offer to help her? Surely you would think even a cousin would be willing to see that his relative is not thrown out into the streets," Lilly said. Now that she knew Sarah was related to a peer of the realm, it made her angry that Sarah should have been treated so shabbily by him.
"I wish I knew the answer to that Madame, but unfortunately Sir Roger did not fill me in on the details of the family. What I do know, is that this young lady should have the opportunity to have a London Season, and meet suitably eligible gentlemen. If she stays here, and it becomes known, then I'm afraid her chances of a marriage to a member of the ton, would be lost," Adam said, but even as he said the words, the thought of her meeting or even marrying anyone did not appeal to him. What he really wanted, was the chance to take Sarah around town, to the balls, to dance with her, show her off at the opera, and ride in the park, without the interference of other men.
"What I think you should remember, Lord Townsend, Sarah is of the legal age to decide what she wants to do. We should let her make that decision. But let us say that she does decide on what you suggested, where would she stay? Apparently her relatives do not want her. Also, she came here without any money. How do you suppose she is to pay for servants, clothes, food, and this London Season you are talking about," Lilly asked.
"Well, of course, I would take care of that," he said, then realizing the impropriety of his suggestion, as Lilly raised an eyebrow, he added, "My parents, the Earl and Countess of Lyndmere are staying at our estate in Kensington, and I am sure she would be welcome to stay there."
"That is very kind of you, but as I said, it is Sarah's decision. And you best talk to your parents before you bring in a stray girl, they may not appreciate it. Especially since you seem to be quite an eligible catch yourself, and I am sure they have plans for your future," she said teasingly.
"My parents have had plans for my future for the past ten years, but I ignore them," he said smiling.
"You are right, though, it should be her decision. I'm sorry if I sounded a little pompous myself, but when I met her, she looked so vulnerable . . . so innocent," Adam flushed, he knew he was beginning to sound maudlin. He cleared his throat again. "Well, I will let you speak to her and then you can get in touch with me," he said in a firmer voice, putting down his glass as he rose from his chair.
"Thank you for coming in Lord Townsend. I will let Sarah know of your suggestion . . . I do think it would be a good idea if you would come by and perhaps visit her some afternoon. She might find it odd that a strange man is offering her his home . . . at his parent's house . . . without making an attempt to get acquainted with her," Lilly said, aware that this handsome, eligible bachelor, and the Earl of Lyndmere's heir, has more of an interest in Sarah than he seems to want to admit.
"Yes, I believe you're right. Do you think tomorrow afternoon would be convenient?" Adam asked, relieved to know that he was going to be able to see her again.
"Certainly, I will tell her to expect you. About five?" she suggested.
"That will be fine. Until tomorrow, good night, Madame," he said raising her hand to his lips, before leaving.
Karl was standing at the gaming area entrance when Lilly approached.
"I am going upstairs to talk to Sarah, then I will be in the observation room for a while if you look for me," Lilly said.
"That is a good idea. You'll have a better view from there. See the heavyset man sitting at the table Jason is working? He has been in every night these past three nights. Before that, he would come in maybe once a week since we first opened four months ago, and always lost heavily. But last night he paid off his credit vouchers, and tonight he seems to be winning again. His name is Sir Vincent Hargrave," Karl said.
"Well, if it turns out we do have someone dishonest, then I think I would rather it be Jason, since I know the others so well, and it would hurt too much to think they would do such a thing. But we cannot accuse anyone until we are positive," Lilly remarked before she headed for the stairs.
Lilly tapped lightly on Sarah's door, then after hearing a voice call "Come in, Mrs. Kirby," Lilly entered.
"I see you are expecting Mrs. Kirby with your dinner. I did not realize it was that time already," Lilly said as she crossed the room to the chair next to Sarah's by the fireplace. "I won't take much of your time. I just wanted to tell you that Lord Townsend came by to see me this evening. Do you remember him?" Lilly asked.
Sarah sat up straighter in her chair, her interest alert. "Yes, I met him the day he came into the office with Sir Roger. Did he ask about me?" Sarah said eagerly, then blushed thinking how forward that must sound.
Lilly laughed. "He did more then ask about you. He thinks it is his duty to look out for you . . . at the request of Sir Roger, of course. Sir Roger left a letter, specifically requesting Lord Townsend to see to your welfare," she said, aware of Sarah's apparent interest in the man. They would make a charming couple she mused.
"Look out for me? What do you mean?" Sarah asked, disheartened that his only interest in her was at a request of Roger's.
"It seems both Sir Roger and Lord Townsend is determined for you to leave here. Which I must acknowledge their concern, as you well remember I had the same concern when we first met. They feel it will not do your reputation any good to be associated with me," Lilly said sadly.
"But I told you! I do not care about that. I wanted to come to work for you, and besides this is the only job that I am qualified for, and it seems that no one else, except you, would hire a woman . . . or I should say trust a woman . . . to work on their account ledgers," Sarah answered, indignant that they would consider Lilly unfit to associate with, after all she has done to help her.
"What do they expect me to do? I have to earn a living."
"Lord Townsend thinks that you should have a London Season to meet suitable gentlemen for marriage. He is willing to take you to live with his parents, the Earl and Countess of Lyndmere in Kensington," Lilly said.
Sarah gasped. "To live with his parents?" she squeaked, almost choking on the words. "Whatever in the world would I do in a strange place living with an Earl and Countess I have never met?"
"Well, it would be improper for him to take you away from here and set you up in a place of your own. It would look like you were his mistress," Lilly explained, amused at Sarah's consternation.
"But I do not want to go away from here! I like it here. Everyone has been so nice to me, and I love my job. Unless of course, you want me to leave," she said lowering her eyes to hide her dismay at the thought that Lilly might want her to go.
"Don't be a widgeon, you know I want you to stay!" Lilly said reaching out and patting Sarah's arm. "It is just that I want to be sure you understand that you do have another option. He has been most kind to suggest this, and it is a great opportunity for you. After all, I understand you are Lady Sarah, the daughter of an Earl yourself, it is fitting that you should be in that environment. Although you are penniless, he is offering you the opportunity to live in his parents home, with all expenses paid, including buying you a new wardrobe and giving you a London Season!"
"Your right, of course, he is kind to make such a generous offer to help me, but I cannot picture myself being obligated to anyone like that, it wouldn't be right. I would be giving up my independence entirely, the same as if I were a lady's companion. As for the London season, well, I am two and twenty, and much too old for that," Sarah answered.
"Well, I told him he should have the opportunity to talk to you, so he will be here tomorrow at five," Lilly said.
"He is coming to see me?" Sarah asked in surprise.
"Naturally, how do you expect to get to know him if he does not see you? He is a very handsome man, Sarah," Lilly said with a smile.
Yes, he is handsome, Sarah thought, but I do not want to move to his parents home. Before she could give Lilly an appropriate answer, there was a knock on the door, and Mrs. Kirby came in with Sarah's supper tray.
"I have to get back downstairs, so enjoy your supper, and I will see you tomorrow," Lilly said, as she rose from the chair and left the room.
Across the hallway, in her private parlor, Lilly went to the other side of the room to the fireplace wall, where a tall double-door cabinet stood. She unlocked one of the doors and pushed on the side of the panel, then stepped back out of the way as the cabinet swung out to the side. Behind the cabinet, Lilly pressed another panel on the wall and a section opened revealing an entrance to a staircase. Taking a candle from atop the fireplace, she entered and descended the vertical spiral stairs to the next floor, instead of continuing down, she turned left into a short hallway then descended another four steps to a narrow room. Lilly put the candle on a shelf behind a metal screen, leaving only a dim glow of light in the room. On the wall she opened a small cabinet-size door. The view from this high observation area revealed the whole gaming floor. The observer was not detected, as the front of this observation booth was well hidden by the scrolled artwork carved on the wainscoting between the wall and ceiling in the gaming area.
Lilly surveyed the room, noting that Jason had rotated to the next
table from the one he had been at earlier in the evening. Also, Sir Vincent
was seated at the same table. As she watched, Sir Vincent won another hand
and raked in the chips. It does look like he is the one, Lilly thought.
wonder if Sir Vincent planned that Jason would get a job here? It is time
to do some investigating, and tomorrow I will have Jason followed, when
he leaves in the afternoon as he usually does. She left the observation
room and returned downstairs to consult with Karl and Marcus.
* * * *
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