Dear readers, tonight with me is an agent of the British crown, with a deceptively simple directive: end the magical potions crisis, by any means necessary. He’s here to tell us about how posing as a bodyguard and joining the beguiling potions expert on her continent-hopping expedition led to danger of both life and heart.
Ah, Ainsworth. Welcome. Please sit down.
Sir? It was my understanding that all reports were to be conducted in private. It appears we have an audience.
Indeed. Given the importance of this mission, Parliament has decreed that the information be made available to this carefully selected committee.
Now, please introduce yourself to these fine people.
Captain Henry Charles MacAlaster Ainsworth, intelligence officer, retired. My current title is that of Civilian Consultant to Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. You may also know me as Lord Henry, youngest son of George Ainsworth, Marchese di Murlo. Not that my father’s Italian title puts us anywhere but on the fringes of British aristocracy. His money on the other hand… well, I’m certain you understand.
Tell us a bit more of your background. Your childhood? Your family?
I don’t see how this is especially relevant to my report.
*an awkward pause ensues*
Very well. I grew up traveling often between Italy and England for my father’s business dealings, and Scotland where my mother’s family lives. My father stopped traveling when I was a teenager, and my brothers are happy to remain in Italy growing grapes, but I have never stopped craving travel and adventure. I live in London now, but my occupation takes me all over the world.
Ah, yes. About this occupation of yours. What exactly is a “Civilian Consultant?”
You wish me to be blunt? I’m a spy. What I once did in the army, I now do as a direct agent of the Crown. I sneak into places where I’m not supposed to be to gather intelligence. I’m particularly good at drawing maps from memory and I steal things probably more often than necessary. My sister, Emma, calls it a “disgraceful profession,” but I find it rather suits me.
Excellent. Now that our committee knows you, let us get down to the details of your latest mission. What was its purpose?
I’m certain you all noted the rising costs and lack of availability of the potions that fuel so many aspects of our lives. Our source for the magic serum that makes these potions potent was failing — we believe through foul play. Given the economic disaster certain to ensue if we couldn’t light our lamps, fuel our vehicles, and run our factories, I was sent to join an expert potion mixer on a search for potential new sources of serum.
Who is this expert potion maker? Anyone we have heard of?
I doubt you would know of her. Miss Elle Deschamps worked as a barmaid in Paris before she was hired for this job.
There’s no need to look so skeptical. I know it sounds ridiculous. I was to offer my services as a bodyguard and pose as her servant while she played the part of an upper-class woman. It could have been a disaster. But not with Elle. She is intelligent, hardworking, and astoundingly competent at her job. No one could have found a better expert for this task. She’s incredible.
You sound enamored of Miss Deschamps and address her rather intimately. Can we take this to mean that there is some sort of romantic attachment between the two of you?
*Henry blushes furiously*
That has no bearing whatsoever on our mission, and I have no intent to disclose the nature of our relationship. Just because retellings of this adventure of ours have used the term ‘romance novel’ does not mean that I need to go into detail about what is obviously a private matter. What Elle and I do is our own affair, and…
Dammit. Not ‘affair.’ Business. Our own business. Might we move on now?
Certainly. What did you think when you first met Miss Deschamps?
You aren’t going to drop this, are you? Fine. I’ll tell you. I was curious. She looked at me. Stared, even. Most people ignore me entirely, but she never did. She wanted to know all my secrets right from the start and that intrigued me. I told you I admired her intelligence.
Did you and Miss Deschamps run into any trouble during your mission?
Trouble? Certainly not. Spying is an entirely risk-free profession.
No need to roll your eyes, sir. I’m aware that no one appreciates my sarcasm.
The villains who perpetrated this potions crisis would stop at nothing to achieve their ends. What would they care if it cost the life of a lowly barmaid or an inconsequential ex-soldier? Elle and I faced frequent danger and needed to rely on one another to save our lives. And, no, I’m not going to tell you more about our romance.
What was the worst thing about this mission?
Mortal peril isn’t bad enough?
Please attempt to curb any further sarcasm, Captain Ainsworth. This report is being recorded for posterity.
Well, then, posterity has my deepest sympathies. This is what happens when you make my report a public affair. Spies are anti-social. We don’t do well interacting with other people.
The best thing about your mission. Tell us about that.
Obviously, the best thing about our mission was defeating our enemies and bringing an end to the crisis, thereby improving the lives of British citizens and people the world over.
I believe our committee would prefer to hear of your personal best experience during this mission. Could you tell us about that?
Not a chance in hell. Sir.
Let’s settle this right now. This committee doesn’t need to know that I was… *coughs awkwardly* Never mind.
Things that are off limits: Our secret teas and spy lessons. Midnight sneaking on the boat. Or the train. Or the woods. Anywhere. What we did or did not do while searching for potions by ourselves. Anything relating to romance, love, and/or… other matters. I hope I have made myself clear. I swear, you’re all as nosy as my family.
What of your other friends? That should be a safe topic. Did you and Miss Deschamps receive any assistance along your journey?
Indeed we did. We met several lovely people both in Egypt and in America. To each and every one of them I wish to say, “Thank you for your help and friendship. You all deserve more money than I paid you.”
I think we may wish to review your ‘discretionary spending,’ Captain Ainsworth. Have you any information on the enemies who caused you trouble?
Ah, yes. I have a list of names and the charges against them. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will say that for a supposed fact-finding mission we had far too many encounters with people who wanted us dead. In fact, I have some suggestions for improving our agent training regarding the recognition of enemies. Did you know, sir, that we men grossly underestimate the female population? It’s a damned travesty. Let me tell you—
Ahem. Perhaps that is best left for your private report. Let’s conclude with something more about yourself. Have you any relaxing pastimes? A favorite drink, perhaps?
Tea, of course! I love a good cup of tea. I’m most partial to a Darjeeling, especially the second flush harvest with its strong muscatel notes, but I will happily imbibe any quality black tea. Now as for those herbal tisanes that some people drink—which are never to be called “tea,” as they do not come from the Camellia sinensis plant—
Well, I’m afraid we’re out of time. Before you go, have you learned any secrets that might give us a hint of what to expect for future adventures?
I have, as a matter of fact. One of the people Elle and I encountered on this mission turned out to be surprisingly helpful in a sticky situation. I’ve done my best to help her out, in turn, and I think you will be pleased to discover that she is more than what she seems. More than that, I am not at liberty to say. Perhaps she will tell you herself, some day.
Catherine Stein started reading at age two and writing shortly thereafter. Now she writes sassy, sexy stories set during the Victorian and Edwardian eras and full of action, adventure, magic, and fantastic technologies. Catherine lives in Michigan with her husband and three rambunctious girls. She can often be found dressed in clothing that was purchased at a Renaissance Festival, drinking copious amounts of tea.
You can find Henry on the pages of How to Seduce a Spy.
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