The Trouble With Dukes(3)

By: Grace Burrowes

Anderson nodded, his gaze fixed on Hamish’s right hand. “You will receive correspondence, sir.”

Hamish’s hand hurt and his head was starting to throb. “Try being honest, man. I was in the army. I know all about correspondence. By correspondence, you mean a bloody snowstorm of paper, official documents, and sealed instruments.”

Hamish knew about death too, and about sorrow. The part of him hoping to marry Colin off in the next month—and Eddie and Ronnie too—grappled with the vast sorrow of homesickness, and the unease of remaining for even another day among the scented dandies and false smiles of polite society.

“Very good, Your Grace. Of course you’re right. A snowstorm, some of which will be from the College of Arms, some from your peers, some of condolence, all of which my office would be happy—”

Hamish waved Anderson to silence, and as if Hamish were one of those Hindoo snake pipers, the solicitor’s gaze followed the motion of his hand.

“The official documents can’t be helped,” Hamish said, “but letters of condolence needn’t concern anybody. You’re not to say a word,” he reminded Anderson. “Not a peep, not a yes-Your-Grace, not a hint of an insinuation is to pass your lips.”

Anderson was still nodding vigorously when Hamish shoved Colin through the door.

Though, of course, the news was all over Town by morning.

“My dear, you do not appear glad to see me,” Fletcher Pilkington purred. Sir Fletcher, rather.

Megan Windham ran her finger along the page she’d been staring at, as if the maunderings of Mr. Coleridge required every iota of her attention.

Then she pushed her spectacles halfway down her nose, the better to blink stupidly at her tormentor.

“Why, Sir Fletcher, I did not notice you.” Megan had smelled him, though. Attar of roses was not a subtle fragrance when applied in the quantities Sir Fletcher favored. “Good day, and how are you?”

She smiled agreeably. Better for Sir Fletcher to underestimate her, and better for her not to provoke him.

“I forget how blind you are,” he said, plucking Megan’s eyeglasses from her nose. “Perhaps if you read less, your vision would improve, hmm?”

Old fear lanced through Megan, an artifact from childhood instances of having her spectacles taken, sometimes held out of her reach, and sometimes hidden. On one occasion they’d been purposely bent by a bully in the church yard.

The bully was now a prosperous vicar, while Megan’s eyesight was no better than it had been in her childhood.

“My vision is adequate, under most circumstances. Today, I’m looking for a gift.” In fact, Megan was hiding from the madhouse that home had become in anticipation of the annual Windham ball. Mama and Aunt Esther were nigh crazed with determination to make this year’s affair the talk of the season, while all Megan wanted was peace and quiet.

“A gift for me?” Sir Fletcher mused. “Poetry isn’t to my taste, my dear, unless you’re considering translations of Sappho and Catullus.”

Naughty poems, in other words. Very naughty poems.

Megan blinked at him uncertainly, as if anything classical was beyond her comprehension. A first year Latin scholar could grasp the fundamental thrust, as it were, of Catullus’s more vulgar offerings, and Megan’s skill with Latin went well beyond the basics.

“I doubt Uncle Percy would enjoy such verse.” Uncle Percy was a duke and he took family affairs seriously. Mentioning His Grace might remind Sir Fletcher that Megan had allies.

Though even Uncle Percy couldn’t get her out of the contretemps she’d muddled into with Sir Fletcher.

“I wonder how soon Uncle Percy is prepared to welcome me into the family,” Sir Fletcher said, holding Megan’s spectacles up to the nearby window.

Don’t drop them, don’t drop them. Please, please do not drop my eyeglasses. She had an inferior pair in her reticule, but the explanations, pitying looks, and worst of all, Papa’s concerned silence, would be torture.

Sir Fletcher peered through the spectacles, which were tinted a smoky blue. “Good God, how do you see? Our children will be cross-eyed and afflicted with a permanent squint.”