Here’s an extract of my short novella, The Legend of Montpelier Hill, set in Georgian Ireland in 1739.
The way was woe to go up Montpelier Hill. It was lashing thunder and lighting with the rain, and the coach and horses had been battered a good beat. Mr Coniforth, along with his two guests, a Mr Wilberforce and Mr Sanderson, had been travelling a hard hour from Rathfarnham village and were cold and fed up beyond all measure. The Hunting Lodge – built some fourteen years earlier in 1725 by one William Conolly, former speaker in the Irish House of Commons and now dead – stood at the top of the hill overlooking Dublin City. Wilberforce and Sanderson, English gentlemen-gamblers themselves in name, had never been so far away from Dublin City. The frightful weather, along with the incessant singing of the coachman, Padraig, had made the trip almost unbearable.
In the Lodge waiting for them were Richard Parsons, 1st Earl of Rosse, Simon Luttrell, a gentleman of some standing and the artist James Worsdale.
“Not long now, sirs!” Padraig shouted down to the men. Padraig was soaked through but a hardy Irishman.
The coach came to a halt. Padraig got off. Another of the Earl’s servants was waiting for them with horses.
“It’s time to get out, gentlemen,” Padraig said.
Coniforth, Wilberforce and Sanderson wrapped up and got out of the coach.
“Oh, my heavens,” Wilberforce cried as the rain fell onto his cornice hat and swept against his face.
“Here are your mounts,” Padraig announced. “You’ll have to ride on horseback from here. It’s only a short way.
The three men got on their horses.
“Which way, man?” Sanderson asked.
“Follow me!” Padraig said, jumping on his own horse.
The four men continued up the hill. On and on they climbed, the Leinster rain torrential. Padraig in front, whistling some tune or other by the late and great Irish composer Turlough O’Carolan.
After a few minutes a light broke out through the trees.
“There it is!” Padraig shouted, pointing to the Lodge.
Coniforth knew the Earl through a very rich merchant, Patrick Montcrief, a trader from Waterford Town who had made his fortune in the export of wool. Montcrief, known in Dublin circles as a great card player and libertine, knew the 1st Earl of Rosse from the gambling table, and had recommended Coniforth a year earlier as a great player who would give the Earl a run for his money. The Earl, always a risk-taker, had been more than willing to allow Coniforth to show his skill at cards. When Montcrief had proposed yet another meeting between him and the Earl, Coniforth’s only condition was he would be allowed to come with two companions in tow, namely Wilberforce and Sanderson.
“I don’t like the look of this?” Sanderson said to Wilberforce, who was riding beside him.
“It will be fine,” Wilberforce answered.
“I don’t trust these Irish.”
Padraig led them on. The Lodge was now clearly visible. Its figure spectral and frightening, yet they needed shelter from the cold rain.
“Hurry up, sirs!” Padraig shouted once more, gaining pace for the last few hundred yards.
At the Lodge, the men could see a figure holding a lantern.
The party pulled up outside. Padraig got off his horse and approached the person with the lantern.
“Hurry inside, gentlemen!” Padraig said.
The person, who was in a fact a boy, called them off their mounts with a wave of his hand.
The boy led them in to the hall.
“Sean,” Padraig began, “see that Mr Coniforth and his two companions get dried off first before you see them through to the Master.”
“All right, sir,” Sean said.
Sean brought the three men into a small room behind the kitchen where they dried off. Padraig went back outside to stable the horses.
“I hope we’re not going to stay the night?” Sanderson said as he was drying his long hair, platted at the back which was the custom for such men of distinction.
“As long as I win some money we can stay the whole night,” Wilberforce answered with a smile.
“Now listen, gentlemen, the Earl’s a decent man, but he won’t tolerate cheating – you hear? Play fair and there’s a good chance you could win yourselves a small fortune tonight,” Coniforth warned.
“I hope so,” Wilberforce said sarcastically, “I haven’t come all this way to the wilds of this cursed country for anything else.”
After the men had dried and tidied themselves sufficiently, Sean led them to the parlour where the Earl and his companions were playing cards.
As they approached, they could hear loud laughter.
The three men looked at each other and gently laughed themselves.
Sean knocked on the door to the chamber. A voice called out ENTER. Sean opened the door and went inside, closing the door behind him.
“Why did he close the door?” Sanderson asked nervously.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” Coniforth answered.
But maybe Sanderson had something to worry about: he’d heard rumours about such goings-on in London: men of substance, usually aristocrats, had their crazy way with debauchery and alcohol. He was hoping this was not the same thing.
The door opened and out came Sean.
“You can go in, gentlemen.”
The three men walked in: Coniforth first followed by Sanderson and Wilberforce.
Before them, dressed like a dandy, was the 1st Earl of Rosse, Richard Parsons.
“Hello, gentlemen, it’s good to have your acquinatance on this soft night.” Parsons reached out his hand to Coniforth.
“The pleasure’s all mine again, My Lord,” Coniforth said.
Coniforth introduced his two guests to the Earl and to the Earl’s companions, Simon Luttrell and James Worsdale.
The round table had a dozen seats around it. On it were bottles of red wine and a huge silver chalice with a lid on it and a ladle sticking out. Next to it were drinking tankards, wine glasses and a pack of playing cards.
“Are you all up for a game of Faro, gentlemen?” the Earl asked.
“We are,” said Coniforth.
“And what would you like to drink – maybe some wine to begin with? It’s from Bordeaux – straight from the boat two days ago.”
“Gentlemen,” Coniforth said, turning to Wilberforce and Sanderson, “will wine suffice?”
The men agreed.
“Sean!” the Earl called out. A second later the servant appeared.
“Yes, My Lord?” Sean said, head bowed.
“Pour these gentlemen some wine – and when you’ve finished that, bring another few bottles from the cellar – it could be a long night.”
“Yes, My Lord.”
Sean poured the glasses on the table with wine from the bottle. He was about to open the door and leave.
“And Sean, has Padraig put the horses in the stable?”
“He’s doing it now, My Lord.”