Thursday, May 5, 2011

Love's Savage Whiplash, Part the First


Prologue: The Importance of Being Ornithological

In which a Disastrous Failure to Communicate occurs, resulting in a young Peer of the Realm suffering a Sudden and Egregious Change of Station.



Netherloin Park, seat of His Grace the Duke of Earl

Twenty years earlier…


Firth Darcy, the Ninth Duke of Earl was most decidedly not having a good day, even despite its being the fifth anniversary of that esteemed young gentleman's birth. At present, his grace could be found lying stretched fully out upon the floor of his bedchamber drumming his feet against the boards and loudly bemoaning his fate

Fate, in the person of his valet—and the loathsome flowered silk waistcoat that the duke had been given to understand must be put on, tout de suite, if he ever wished to be allowed to join his twin brother for tea—was unmoved by his grace’s distress. The duke's valet, a dour Frenchman who went by the name of Lumiere, was mostly deaf and possessed of very little English and was thus largely unmindful of the vulgar imprecations currently being flung at his head by his young charge. To be called a jingle-brained, chuckleheaded fatwit meant less than nothing to Monsieur Lumiere.

“I demand to know the reason for this bloody racket,” the duke’s uncle insisted, appearing at the doorway in a state of slight dĂ©shabillĂ©. As usual, his arrival exerted a strange effect on the duke’s pet parrot, Pemberley, a venerable, lavender coloured creature who’d been passed on to the current duke, along with his title, his valet, and several other sundry items, on the occasion of his father’s demise.

“Murderer! Murderer!” the bird repeated, squawking loudly. It was a call he gave only when in the presence of the duke’s uncle and guardian, the Honorable Mr. Willoughby Wickham the fourteenth, and only since the death (under somewhat mysterious circumstances) of Mr. Wickham’s sister and brother-in-law, the late duke and his lady.

Sadly, this most curious behaviour on the part of the bird had, as of yet, completely failed to excite the interest of any member of the duke’s household. Had it been otherwise, we might have had a far different story to tell.

Undeterred by the parrot’s outburst, and determined to be heard above the bedlam, Mr. Wickham bellowed louder. “Lumiere! What is the meaning of this noise?”

“Eet eez Monsieur le Duc,” Lumiere answered in measured tones, disdaining to raise his voice in so ill-bred a fashion. However, to illustrate his point, he did condescend to gesture at the boy, still lying prone on the floor, even though it seems impossible to imagine that his uncle could have missed either seeing or hearing him. “He eez refusing to stand up so that I may assist him in donning his new waistcoat.”

“Well, if he won’t stand up then pick him up off the floor yourself and put the bloody garment on him! I want my tea and I don’t wish to have it held up any longer.”

Tres bien,” Lumiere replied, sighing resignedly. Already he was envisioning the punishment his tender shins were sure to receive from the duke’s vicious little heels. “Eef you insist.”

“I do.” Confident that his orders would be obeyed forthwith, Mr. Wickham turned to leave the room, but the jeers and catcalls of the parrot, still ringing in his ears, brought him back again. “And, Lumiere, when you’ve finished here, do something with that duck!”

Qu'est-ce que c'est?” Lumiere replied in somewhat justifiable confusion. “Do something with le Duc?” While it was true the valet understood only a modicum of English, he certainly could tell the difference between a parrot and a duck. The latter was frequently delightful when served a l’orange. The former was, culinarily speaking, neither comme il faut nor a la mode.

Unfortunately, the honorable Mr. Wickham was a product of a first-rate public school education. As such, while he knew quite a bit about a variety of subjects—notably horse racing, ballroom dancing and how to cheat at cards—he knew next to nothing about most others, ornithology included. As far as he was concerned, one bird was much the same as the next; jolly good fun to hunt, but of no earthly use whatsoever otherwise. And certainly not the sort of thing one expected to find in a proper gentleman’s bedchamber.

“What more do you weesh me to do with heem?” Lumiere inquired, feeling very much ill-used. He had time off coming to him this afternoon, and plans involving one of the upstairs chambermaids, a carpet beater and a length of rope.

“Toss him in the river,” came the answer. “I dare say a nice swim is just the thing to put the creature in better humour. Just see that he’s removed from this house before the hour is out.”

Nom d’un nom d’un nom,” Lumiere muttered, as Frenchmen of his station were wont to do, though not a one of them could likely tell you what the expression was supposed to mean. “Toss le Duc into the river?”

All in all, it seemed a very odd request for the young man’s guardian to be making, but what could one expect of the English who were, after all, a savage and unmannered race. Perhaps the exercise was intended to effect an improvement on the duke’s moods? Lumiere supposed anything that would reduce the boy’s lamentable propensity for throwing tantrums was worth a try.

And so it was that the duke soon found himself bundled in his warmest clothes (in deference to the unseasonably cool weather) being dragged across the lawn by his manservant. The parrot accompanied them, flying overhead and inexplicably intoning in sepulchral tones, “Nevermore, nevermore.”

Bon voyage,” Lumiere called as he pushed the child into the swiftly moving water. He watched the duke’s progress from the riverbank until the boy’s head bobbed out of sight. “Enjoy your swim, mon petit. Take care you don’t catch cold.”

***

A short while later, a thoroughly waterlogged boy was pulled dripping from the river several miles from the duke’s estate. “Why, what have we here?” his rescuer, an obvious rakehell, exclaimed, as he crouched in the grass beside the small form. “Speak up. What were you doing in the water?”

The boy lay limply on the cold ground and gazed back at him in silence, too exhausted to speak, or perhaps too frightened; the man’s clothing and manner clearly marked him as a dangerous and nefarious highwayman.

“Do you not have a name then, boy?”

“Duke of Earl!” a large, lavender parrot called from the branch of an overhanging tree. “Duke, duke, duke of Earl.” But, as was usual, the bird was completely ignored.

“So, you’re a mute, are you?” The highwayman gazed thoughtfully at the boy, noting his clothing was of exceptionally good quality and cut. It should bring in a pretty penny when sold. “Oh, well, I suppose there’s no harm in that. Children should be seen and not heard in any event, so your silence does not signify in the slightest. I have not the patience to deal with rattle-pates and gabsters anyway. As it happens, I need a quiet, well-behaved servant boy to do my bidding. I imagine you’ll serve quite nicely in that regard. I shall call you Westley.”

“But my name’s not Westley,” the duke, for it was indeed he, exclaimed, finally finding his voice. “And if you please, sir, I’m not a servant, I’m a duke.”

The highwayman smirked, not believing the boy for an instant. “Are you really? How splendid!” Standing, he executed a deep bow. “I am, of course, honored to meet you, your Grace. But, as to the other matter, I’m afraid you’ve not much choice. I’ve saved your life, you see. Therefore, whatever you were before, you belong to me now. So, enough of this lazing about. Come along. We’ve a coach to rob.”

“You’re a highwayman, aren’t you?” the boy asked, exhibiting no small excitement as he, too, climbed to his feet. “Am I to be one too?”

“Indeed you are. For I am the Dread Highwayman Roberts and you, if you live long enough, may one day take my place.”

The boy fell silent for a moment as he turned the idea over in his head. “May I still keep the parrot?”

“What, that old thing?” The highwayman gazed critically at the bird, wondering what price it might bring in. “Does it have much life left in it?”

“I shouldn’t think so,” answered the duke. “It’s been in the family for ever so long. Ages, really.”

“And does it know to keep quiet when you tell it to?”

“Not hardly. He squawks all the time, particularly when my uncle’s about.”

The highwayman smiled. “Then it wouldn’t be a very good pet for a highwayman to keep, now would it? Besides, only pirates have parrots—everyone knows that. But if you’re a good lad and do as you’re told, perhaps I’ll get you a ferret one day. How’d you like that?”

The duke shrugged. “I don’t know. Never had a ferret.”

“Oh, they’re all the crack,” the highwayman promised. “Top of the trees, they are, and quite the height of fashion. Best of all, they never tell your secrets.”

***

As one might expect, the honorable Mr. Wickham was a good deal distressed when news of the duke’s disappearance and apparent demise was brought to his attention. Why, for the first half hour or so the gentleman was quite beyond the reach of consolation. His spirits were absolutely sunk in the very depths of despair; which state, it must be said, bore a very great resemblance to that achieved by dipping rather deeply into a bottle of gin.

After all, it was not just his nephew, and his position as conservator of the young man’s estate, that he stood to lose. Should his part in this regrettable tragedy ever come to light, he also risked the rather large annual stipend and the prestige that went with said position as well as, not inconsequentially, his life. His deliverance from the worst and most unpleasant of these consequences was due in no small part to his late sister’s efficiency in having presented her lord and master with both an heir and a spare at one stroke.

The duke’s twin brother, Colin by name, although he was possessed of a much more amiable temperament, bore a more than passing—indeed, some might even have termed it shocking—resemblance to his noble sibling. There was, in fact, only one sure method by which the brothers might be told apart and that was by way of the matching birthmarks they displayed on extremely sensitive portions of their anatomy (i.e., upon the left buttock cheek of one brother and the right cheek of the other).

It may also be worth noting that when the two boys stood side by side these curious and improbable marks lined up in such a fashion as seemed to present a very rude picture—that of two ducks engaged in illicit congress. Even more remarkable (although, of course, completely unrelated to our tale) is the fact that this very same image also appeared on the ducal crest.

Due to the boys’ tender age, they had not yet been presented at Court. It was, therefore, not widely known that the duchess had given birth to twins. Indeed, it would have been considered quite scandalous to even speak of such matters in polite society. And so, as Mr. Wickham was quick to perceive, in his nephew Colin he had the means to effect a most infamous switch without anyone’s ever being the wiser.

To be sure, the knowledge that he was, without doubt, behaving in an ungentlemanlike manner did cause Mr. Wickham a moment’s pause. But only the one moment, and then he was over it. Since his duplicity would serve, and quite neatly too, to save his aristocratic bacon (to say nothing of his neck!) he chose not to refine upon it overmuch.

And so begins our story.

***
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 One: The Duke takes a Powder.

Cordially,

The Naughty Nine

11 comments:

Ivelisse said...

LOVE IT!! I can't wait to see where this story goes, I am already cracking up. I have a specific liking to Dread Highwayman Roberts, but that could also be because of my biased opinion lol ;)

Ivelisse Roberts!!

Maria said...

Very good start! Can't wait to see what happens next...love the parrot!

Jean P said...

What a great excerpt, can't wait to see what transpires next. I was rather taken with the parrot!

Sherry said...

I loved it. I'm looking forward to seeing what you all come up with next. I also have a certain song going through my head now.

daydrmzzz said...

So loving it & can't wait to read it all!

Kelly Jamieson said...

And we're off! Yay! This is SO much fun!

Skylar Kade said...

I know this'll top even ZVCSWB!

Jen B. said...

Duke of Earl! HAHAHA! Can't wait till next week.

Pommawolf Emeraldwolfeyes said...

I can tell already I'm going to love this one...LOL
It's got my attention,and I'm ready to read the next one..*S*

Darcy

Denise said...

OMG, this promises to be a right improper romp! And that you have sub-divided the delectable Colin Firth in his regency best was inspired! Can't wait for the next installment, ladies!
Denise Golinowski

Cammie said...

Gadzooks!! I didn't realise you had started another one! Made my day. Plus I just bought ZVCSWB from amazon. Win Win!! :D