Wherein the Duke, upon finding himself in Dun Street, opts for a Daring and Adventurous solution to his monetary embarrassment.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a duke attempting to avoid his guardian must be in possession of a Very Good Excuse.
“Oh hullo, Uncle,” Colin Darcy, Duke of Earl, stammered as he stepped into the drawing room (where he’d had good reason to believe his uncle was not present), “I was just going…um…hunting. Yes, hunting. For, well, foxes. Or possibly rabbits. Maybe pheasants.”
“Sit down,” Uncle Willoughby growled.
“Actually, I heard there was a wolf in the neighborhood,” Colin continued. “The tenants will undoubtedly expect me to take care of it.”
“There are no wolves in Shropshire,” his uncle snapped.
“We live in Shropshire?” Colin’s forehead furrowed appealingly. “I thought it was Kent.”
Uncle Willoughby waved a negligent hand. “Whatever. It’s time we had a talk, boy. Sit down.”
Colin’s heart fell. This was going to be another of those Talks, wherein Uncle Willoughby informed him of bad news that he, the duke, would be expected to do something about. But since he wasn’t really the duke yet in anything but name, he wouldn’t be able to do anything about it except worry. And he hated worrying.
“Really, Uncle,” he tried once more. “Is this truly necessary?”
His uncle merely raised an eyebrow, pointing steadfastly at the carved wooden chair in the corner. Of course, he’d chosen the most uncomfortable seat in the room. Sighing, Colin subsided against the sharp points of the Battle of Hastings engraved on the chair back.
His uncle clasped his hands behind his back and began to pace back and forth in front of him. “My boy, as you approach your majority, it’s time you understood some hard facts about your situation.”
Colin wondered how he could be a majority when there was only one of him, but he decided not to interrupt. Perhaps his uncle would reach whatever point he planned to make more quickly that way.
“To put it plainly,” Uncle Willoughby continued, “the estate is penniless.”
Colin frowned. Thinking always involved frowning. “No pennies, eh? What about the pounds? And the…er…shillings. And so forth.”
Uncle Willoughby paused, staring. He did that frequently when he talked to Colin, for some reason. “We. Have. No. Money,” he said slowly.
“Oh.” Colin blew out a breath. “Well, that’s a problem then, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” his uncle said between his teeth, “it’s a very definite problem. One which you, as duke, must take steps to solve.”
“Me? How am I to solve it? I mean, we can’t exactly sell anything, can we? The estate’s all entailed and what not.”
“You will solve it by the traditional way in which dukes have always solved money problems. You will marry a rich heiress.” Uncle Willoughby was back to growling again.
“A rich heiress?” Colin frowned again. “I’ll have to find one, won’t I? Suppose I’ll have to go to London for the Season. Don’t know any right off.”
“I’ve already found one for you.” His uncle resumed his pacing. “Lady Chastity Feelsgood of the Devonshire Feelsgoods. She’s rich as Croesus and she’s young enough to supply you with an heir. Everything you need in a wife.”
“But.” Colin frowned more ferociously. “But I don’t know her. I’ve never even seen her. Shouldn’t one at least meet one’s intended before agreeing to marry her?”
Uncle Willoughby gave an explosive snort. “Nonsense. You’re a duke, boy. Marriage is just another business transaction. You’ll meet Lady Chastity when you sign the marriage contract. Plenty of time for a conversation or two. Now go and tell that frog valet of yours to spruce up your courting clothes.”
Colin sighed. He was quite certain he owned nothing approaching courting clothes. Perhaps the mourning suit he’d worn to Great Aunt Sophonisba’s funeral would do.
Colin sprawled in a corner of the nursery, listening to the governess, Miss Fitzgerald, read to his ward, Ward. He wasn’t entirely sure what his connection was to Ward. When Miss Fitzgerald had suggested that most dukes had wards and that Ward was available for the position, he’d taken her up on it immediately. In reality, he wasn’t sure where Miss Fitzgerald had come from either. She’d simply appeared one day with Ward in tow. Thus he’d acquired the requisite ward and governess in a single fell swoop, as it were.
He was still trying to fulfill his duties as a duke, after all. Although marriage to a complete stranger seemed a bit extreme. Colin still treasured daydreams of perfect maidens swooning at his feet. Or perhaps imperfect maidens swooning elsewhere.
“So there you have it,” he’d explained glumly to Miss Fitzgerald and Ward. “I’m to be married to some local gel I’ve never met. Pots of money and all. Apparently, the estate’s up the River Tick and I’m to marry this female to set it back to rights.”
“How dreadful,” Miss Fitzgerald murmured. “But I’m sure you’ll do your duty with a firm heart, your grace.”
“How did the money disappear in the first place, if you don’t mind my asking, sir? Shouldn’t you be checking that out?”
Ward was a curious lad. Quite precocious. Always asking questions. Colin ignored him, as usual. If one listened to him, he only went on talking. “Do carry on, Miss Fitzgerald. Go on reading or whatever it is you’re doing with the nipper here.” He closed his eyes, cushioning his head in his hands, ruminating on his fate.
After a moment, Miss Fitzgerald’s soft voice broke through his reverie:
“Little is known about the early life of Blackbeard the Pirate. But his ship became the most fearsome scourge of the Caribbean. With his thick black beard, he had a most terrifying appearance; he is reported to have tied lit fuses in his flowing hair to frighten his enemies. Blackbeard used his alarming reputation instead of force to elicit booty from those he robbed. While he was a blackguard, there is no indication he harmed any of those he held for ransom after removing them from their ships.”
Colin sighed again. Pirates weren’t responsible for penniless estates. Pirates didn’t have to marry complete strangers. Pirates sailed around the Americas tying lit fuses to their hair. “Perhaps I should become a pirate. It sounds an interesting life.”
Miss Fitzgerald nodded vigorously. “Very interesting indeed, your grace, not to mention stimulating. Exciting. Exhilarating. And quite romantic.” She sighed as she stared out a nearby window at the rolling lawns of Netherloin, blinking away a furtive tear.
Ward frowned slightly, his hair flopping across his furrowed forehead. “I’m sure the experience wasn’t very exciting for the people Blackbeard kidnapped. And aren’t most pirates thieves and murderers? And wasn’t Blackbeard beheaded by the British fleet in his last engagement?”
“Simple misunderstandings, I’m sure,” Miss Fitzgerald said, patting Ward stoutly on the head.
“It seems to me that ninjas are much more admirable,” Ward continued, rubbing his head. “They protect the weak. And they’re fantastically skilled. And they have much more interesting weapons. Shurikens, for example. Star-shaped throwing devices.”
Colin was intrigued in spite of himself. “Ninjas?”
“Japanese warriors,” Ward said dreamily. “They specialize in unorthodox fighting methods. They’re masters of combat and espionage. Much more interesting than the average pirate, bludgeoning away.”
Miss Fitzgerald cleared her throat sharply. “Ward dear, I’m sure his grace is uninterested in heathen fighting methods. Pirates are, after all, English. And people who throw themselves on their own swords in times of distress are hardly to be emulated.”
“Ninjas don’t throw themselves on their own swords. That’s samurai.”
“Whoever it is,” Miss Fitzgerald said between her teeth, “the subject is closed.”
Ward gave her a narrow-eyed look but said nothing more.
“Miss Fitzgerald, you have convinced me.” Colin leaped to his feet. “I shall turn to piracy. Far better than marriage to a stranger, no matter how rich.”
“Have you ever sailed a ship before?” Ward asked.
“No, but it can’t be much different from driving a carriage. That’s dashed hard, I assure you.”
“And don’t you have responsibilities here—to your tenants and the people who work at Netherloin?” Ward continued.
Colin waved an impatient hand. “I’m sure they’ll manage. Meanwhile I’ll be on the high seas. Living the life of a swashbuckling buccaneer.” And avoiding marriage to the unknown Lady Chastity Feelsgood.
“But…” Ward began.
“Ward dear, I’m sure it’s time for your warm milk,” Miss Fitzgerald said quickly.
Ward grimaced. “If I stop talking, can I skip the milk?”
“We’ll see. Run along.”
“We shall miss you, your grace,” Miss Fitzgerald said, wiping away another tear.
“Can’t be helped, I’m afraid. I shall return when I attain my majority.” Colin still wasn’t sure what that meant, but it sounded grand. “Take care of the nipper. And watch out for my uncle.”
He opened the casement, ready to climb down the vines tangled on the walls of Netherloin, then, glimpsing the distance to the ground below, decided to use the stairs instead. “Farewell, Miss Fitzgerald.”
“Farewell, your grace.” Miss Fitzgerald waved her hanky appealingly as Colin strode from the room. He felt like buckling a few swashes already.
A Word to you, Our Dear and Gentle Readers: If you enjoyed this small offering, please do us the honor of returning to grace our humble blog with your presence one week hence, when we shall be delighted to bring to you the next installment of our little saga, which is to be entitled, Chapter Two: Pirate Vs. Ninja.
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Love's Savage Whiplash Chapter Two