He raised his head and peered at her over the top of his spectacles with a frown. “What have I done?”
Charlotte pointed to the man standing in the doorway. “Lord Bickershaw has your note of hand for this house. He claims he won it from you.”
“Oh. That.” Lord Atherton sighed. “Meant to tell you about that, my dear. I was testing my new mathematical theory–“
“By gambling?” she interrupted.
He rubbed his forehead as if trying to erase a bad memory. “I don’t know where I went wrong. Things were going splendidly all evening, then all of the sudden they took turn for the worse.”
“About the time Lord Bickershaw joined your table, was it?” she asked, with a glare toward the doorway. “Everyone knows he cheats.”
“How dare besmirch my honour,” Lord Bickershaw interrupted. “If you were a man I would call you out.”
“Don’t let my sex dissuade you. I must warn you however, I’m equally skilled with both pistol and rapier.”
“A little spitfire, aren’t you.” Lord Bickershaw looked her up and down. “Perhaps you’d care to make a wager of your own.”
“A wager. A game of cards. If you win, I’ll return your father’s note of hand.”
“And if you win?”
“Then I keep the house . . . and you along with it.”
Charlotte stifled a shudder. With his abundant facial hair and broad flat lips, Lord Bickershaw resembled an aging woolly rhinoceros. The workhouse was more appealing. She envisioned enticing him for a walk where he might accidentally topple into an active volcano. Too bad there were no volcanoes in Derbyshire. “Fine, a wager it is,” she agreed. “Let’s keep it simple. A single draw from the deck, high card wins.”
“As you wish.” Lord Bickershaw retrieved a deck of cards from his coat pocket, shuffled them, and placed the deck on the table.
Charlotte drew a card and turned it over. Eight of spades.
Lord Bickershaw flashed a sly smile and drew his own card. Ten of hearts. “Looks like I win,” he said with mock surprise.
“Not so fast. There appears to be a card poking out of your coat sleeve. I believe you cheated.”
His face turned a dull red colour. “How dare you accuse me?” he asked with a glare.
Charlotte remained calm. “Remove your coat and prove me wrong.”
The two stood locked in a battle of wills for several minutes. “I don’t have time for this nonsense,” he finally said as he turned toward the door, tossing the note of hand in her direction. “I find we don’t suit after all.”
“Well done, my dear. You certainly took care of that villain,” Lord Atherton said with admiration before returning to his pudding.
Charlotte sank into her chair and flashed a ghost of a smile. “Consider it my Christmas present to you.”
* * *
I hope you’ve enjoyed my contribution to this week’s short-story challenge. Challenge being the operative word. 500 words sounds like a lot, but it truly isn’t. This was fun and an excellent exercise in focusing and stripping a story down to the basics.
Happy holidays and happy reading to all.