The boy strolled up to the rather heavyset man standing outside the front door of the large building.
“Watcha Stan, can i go in?”
“Round the back, scamp, as usual!” the big man rumbled, scowling ferociously at the lad, who smiled back unconcerned.
“Thanks!” he cried and sprinted round the corner.
The man reached behind himself and rapped a complicated rhythm on the door. Deep within the house a light laugh could be heard.
“Ello lasses!” Tepic cheerfully called as he sauntered into the large and comfortable kitchen. On old armchairs and on other surfaces around the room lounged young ladies in various stages of undress being served refreshments by two even younger maids. Over the whole room ruled a matronly looking cook, large wooden spoon in hand ready to stir a pot or rap an errant girl.
“Tepic!” went up the cry from the room in general, with accents from around the world flavouring his name, and within seconds he was the centre of attention, hair being ruffled, hands being held and even a few daring strokes to his soft and luxuriant tail. There was only a certain amount of this a boy could endure, nice though it was to be liked, and after a short while he shook himself free and presented himself to the cook, Mrs Willobigh.
“Now then, Tepic lad, hast anything in yon bag of thyne for us this day?” she asked, voice deep and mellow.
“Yes, Mrs Willobigh,” the lad replied, pulling items from his bag and placing them carefully on the table. “some more vole furs, a jar of bee venom, some silk ribbons from the Orient, an a set of genuine Militia handcuffs…. can get yer the key fer next week, if we’s lucky..”
The girls cooed over the items, the brightly coloured ribbons being of special interest, with more than one being entwined in hair or tied into garters. Tepic was not quite sure what the eclectic collection would be used for, but Mrs Willobigh seemed quite happy with his offering. Now was the time to ask his favour.
“Mrs Willobigh…” he said, the question in his voice.
“Would you happen to have any of that smelly stuff going begging?”
“Perfume, tha means? The Gentlemen callers often brings some by as little presents for the girls, I’m sure we can spare thee some, though what mischief thee is up to with it I don’t want to know!” she said, chuckling to herself over the trouble young lads could get themselves into, “How much are thee needing?”
“errrrr….. as much an as many different sorts as you can spare, it’s to save the City from the Bear Gang!”
“Well, in that case…” Mrs Willobigh began, then called out her orders to one of the maids, “Gertie! Take young Master Tepic down to the scent room, and let him have as many of the doubles as he can carry. then show him out the side door and get back here quick, there’s work to be done!”
Gertie lead Tepic deeper into the house, by the darker back passages, until they reached a heavy door. She opened it reverently to reveal a large room filled with shelves. On each shelf were rows of bottles of all shapes and sizes, and on each bottle was a label, inscribed with a man’s name and a girl’s name. Some of the bottles had several labels, showing that the Gentlemen Callers had a rather limited knowledge of the varieties of perfume – after all, why open two bottles of the same scent, when by careful management a single one would fill all the needs of multiple girls and Callers…
The girl took him to the back of the room where the duplicates were stacked up. With much sighing and oohing over the wonderful scents in each bottle on her part, she helped him select ten of the most pungent and varied ones, including a lavender one and stacked them in a wicker basket. They then took the short route to the side door and she let him out into the alley, looking quickly left and right before giving him a daring peck on the cheek before darting back inside, slamming the door behind her.
“Girls!” Tepic though to himself as he scrubbed his cheek with his sleeve, they were always so…… soppy. Still, he had got the job done, and whistling happily to himself he carted the basket back to the Sneaky Vole.