His Duchess Trapped in Silk – Patricia Haverton

Reuben Windsoar had never been fond of hard drink, for it clawed his throat and seared his eyes every time he drank it. This time was no exception. He made a motion with his hand to touch his forehead but then jumped in surprise as his brother’s letter suddenly appeared in front of him again. I… I didn’t even realize that I was still holding it. He groaned inwardly. That means I walked into the tavern with it, had my drinks, and walked out with it again. He shook his head in disbelief. Ah, well, it’s no matter. I’m sure the people here already thought I was a bit eccentric to begin with. Indeed, without realizing it, his left hand had been firmly clutching the letter in order to prevent the autumn wind from wresting it away from him. He scanned the lonely hill for a boulder or something where he could sit. He spotted a weathered, grey rock perched just four or five paces away from the cliff’s edge. Upon taking his position on it, Reuben read the letter once again: Lord Windsoar, Father has died. Mother and I believe it would be in our family’s best interests for you to return home. I apologize for what transpired between us before.

Please come as swiftly as possible. Your brother, Deepflayer Reuben lay flat on the boulder and gazed up at the sky. Out of the corner of his left eye, he could see the sun begin its slow descent to the horizon. The stars will be out soon. They shall keep me company. He shivered slightly as he felt the cold air rush over him. Closing his eyes, his mind traveled back to the argument four years ago, when Reuben was close to turning twenty years of age. With a thick woolen blanket draped around his shoulders, Reuben jumped up from the sitting room couch and bellowed at his older brother, “How exactly is this my fault, William?” Appalled, William raised his voice in return, “Why, if you had only listened to me, then you wouldn’t have been anywhere near that crash in the first place!” “Did I not alert you that the papers had warned of a snowstorm tonight? Did I not urge you, again and again, to take your dinner here instead? Yet you insisted on visiting that wretched tavern and almost getting yourself killed. And all for what? You don’t even drink!” While the roads were always bad in winter, the snowstorm that night had made traveling especially precarious. Due to the darkness and the storm around them, the driver of Reuben’s coach—poor Mr.

Neal—had not noticed a patch of ice on the corner of the street on their way home, thus resulting in their vehicle being turned onto its side. Fortunately, neither Reuben nor the driver were too badly injured. However, the incident enraged the then Duke of Deepflayer—Reuben’s father—so much that he dismissed Mr. Neal immediately in spite of Reuben’s protests. As if the heated argument with his father was not in itself dispiriting enough, it was promptly followed by a scold from his older brother, William. It also did not help that the guilt of Mr. Neal’s dismissal weighed upon Reuben’s heart—he had been quite fond of the man, who had served the family loyally for many years and always had a smile and a joke ready for Reuben. “I already told you!” Reuben yelled in frustration. “Lord Woolhurst and I had promised the tavern keeper that we would play our instruments to encourage even more aristocrats to visit the tavern. It’s a decent establishment owned by a hard-working and decent man.

” “And Lord Woolhurst and I saw fit to help him out! We had committed to helping him out for the next three days. And if my recollection serves me correctly, you and Father are always talking about how we must honor our promises.” “But not at the risk of our very lives, Reuben!” William roared. “And besides, no other aristocrats would be so reckless and heedless as you and Lord Woolhurst to venture out on a night like this!” “There were some,” Reuben replied defensively. “But that is beside the point! Even if there was no one there at all, what matters is that I kept my word!” William threw his hands up in exasperation. “It’s hopeless to even attempt with to speak to you! In all honesty, I shouldn’t be surprised. You’ve always been this way.” “You think and act as though you are invincible. But you are nothing of the sort. What you are is a disappointment to this family!” Even four years later, those words still stung whenever Reuben thought about them.

He could hardly recall anything that was said after that point in the argument. All he knew was that a few days later, he announced at breakfast that he had made the decision to travel the world. Only Mother had pleaded with him to change his mind. Father had only made a passing comment about how he believed traveling would do Reuben some good. “You’ll come back a wiser man,” Father had said with a stately nod. William had said nothing at all at the time, choosing instead to focus on finishing his breakfast. Unbeknownst to them, Reuben had spent the entire previous night preparing to leave. He was gone before luncheon. That breakfast four years ago was the last time he had seen his family. Only Mother— aware that Reuben was serious about traveling abroad—had kept in touch over the years, frantically sending him letters warning him of the War in Europe and the dire situation brought about by it.

He almost didn’t listen to her. In fact, he had made it all the way to the Port of Kenstone where he had intended to see if any sailors or captains were feeling friendly enough to take him along with them to France. But he soon changed his mind after hearing endless tales of suffering and bloodshed told by Frenchmen and Englishmen alike, who were all fleeing the violence either alone or with their wives and children in tow. And thus, Reuben turned on his heels and started heading up north through England, getting by on the little money he had brought with him. Every so often, whenever he felt like his coin purse was getting somewhat light, he would take his flute to the center of whatever town or village he found himself in that week and play whatever people requested. He had spent the past year exploring Scotland. And presently, he was lying on a rock on a hill in South Bridlar. The sun is almost gone now. He groaned as he slowly stood up from his place on the rock, taking great care not to fall forward in the process. He was still somewhat tipsy from the hard drink he had taken earlier in the afternoon when he read William’s letter for the first time.

He looked out at the rolling hills and yelled out his question, “Should I go home?” His own voice echoed back, “… go home?” He asked it again, “Yes. Is it time for me to go home now?” “… go home now,” said the echo. Reuben decided to heed the advice. After all, he had had worse ideas before. “W C H A P T E R 2 1st of May 1815 ake up, Darling. We’ll be arriving soon.” Emelia Goldstone felt a gentle tap on her shoulder. She slowly opened her eyes. “You should have let her sleep some more, Dear,” tutted Edward Goldstone, the Marquess of Cloudstream—Emelia’s father. Emelia flashed both her parents a small smile before pulling back the coach’s curtain.

“It’s quite all right, Father,” she quietly said as the coach drove past a group of young boys playing hopscotch on the street. In the meantime, Mother continued to adjust the pins in Emelia’s hair. “Yes, yes, quite all right. Besides, it takes a while for our eyes to look fresh and alert again after a nap, something that matters even more so on days like this.” Emelia gently grabbed her mother’s hands in her own. “I think my hair is all right now, Mother,” she grinned. Mother always fidgets when she’s nervous. Emelia gently squeezed her mother’s hands to reassure her. “It’s a pity that Evan’s summer holidays don’t start until July!” Mother sighed. Father let out a guilty cough.

“I concur, Dearest. But as you know, it would hardly be good form for me to ask the Duke to postpone the wedding by an entire month just so that Evan could attend it as well.” The family had had this same conversation many times before. Emelia had been promised to marry the Windsoar family’s eldest son for several years now. She had only met them once: last year, about one month after the Duke of Deepflayer passed away. She had barely exchanged any words with her betrothed—William Windsoar—at the time, for he was preoccupied with adjusting to his additional responsibilities as the new Duke of Deepflayer. When she was younger, Emelia would receive one or two letters addressed to her from William each year. In the year since the late Duke passed, she had received three—each one being more polite than the last. The letters did not tell her much about the man she was about to marry. All she could gather from them was that he was respectable and dutiful.

Most of her knowledge regarding the Windsoar family had come from her own parents— who would often speak about how the Windsoars had a long and honorable lineage, and how Emelia’s father had to fight tooth and nail until he prevailed over the other peers who wanted to arrange for their daughters to marry into the family. In order to keep them happy, Father usually went along with whatever the Windsoars planned. And when they wrote a few months ago to say that the clergy believed the 6th of June to be the best day to fix the wedding, Father could hardly say no. Mother had repeatedly expressed her sorrow that this date meant that Evan—Emelia’s ten-year-old brother—wouldn’t be able to attend. For her part, Emelia was sorrier about the fact that she probably would not get to see Evan until winter. I shall be living with my new family come next month. Emelia wasn’t afraid of getting married. Rather, she was pleased to be able to do her duty. She had often chanced upon scandalous accounts in the papers which detailed how couples who were madly in love would run away with each other, disappearing into the night to escape the disapproval of their relatives and friends. I suppose it would be nice for a lady to find herself betrothed to a man she truly loves.

But such things are not for everyone. My duty is to marry the Duke of Deepflayer, not love him. She stole a quick glance at her parents. Mother sat completely upright, wringing her hands together with nervousness. Father quietly hummed a tune—possibly as a way to conceal his own nervousness. But his leg bounced up and down and gave away his disquietude. They had already traveled a considerable distance from their countryside estate. However, there was still plenty of work ahead of them. As soon as they arrived at her fiancé’s estate, the wedding planning and preparations would begin immediately, and carry on for the next four or five weeks until the day of the wedding itself. All I have to do is see the wedding through.

That’s just what good ladies do. “Come in,” groaned William Windsoar, Duke of Deepflayer. Mr. Simplehide—the Windsoar family’s loyal butler—entered the room carrying a tray of various fruits, biscuits, and tea. “Pardon me, Your Grace. It is Her Grace’s wish that you eat something before Lord Cloudstream and his family arrive.” William rubbed the back of his neck. “Thank you, Simplehide. If you would be so kind as to pour me a cup of tea. And when you’re done, please tell Mother to stop worrying about me so.

” Mr. Simplehide obliged. Wearing a polite smile, he remarked, “At this rate, it would appear that Her Grace is more excited over the arrival of your fiancée than you are, Your Grace.” William let out an exasperated sigh. “I don’t exactly have much time to be excited. I was hoping to get as much work as possible done before their arrival so that I wouldn’t have too much to worry about all at once. But this is just hopeless!” The butler replied with only a sympathetic “Hm!” Rubbing his temples, William continued, “You knew my Father for decades, Simplehide. So, I shall put this question to you in the hopes that you will be able to tell me what my Father would have done if he were in my shoes.” “Presently, there are conflicting predictions going around regarding the War in Europe— with great implications for the Stock Exchange, as you can imagine. Some say the War might carry on for another five or so years, while others say that its end is near.

” Mr. Simplehide acknowledged these remarks with two swift nods. “Yes, Your Grace. Sometimes it feels as though even the papers are a bit confused as to what is really going on.” “Quite right. Due to the high levels of uncertainty, the price of consols is predicted to drop sharply within the next week or two.” “If the War drags on for a few more years, then having sold our shares of the consols would work out in our favor. On the other hand, if we sell and the War ends within the next year or so, then we will have lost out on the opportunity for a substantial increase in the value of our shares. If he were still here, what would my Father have done?” Mr. Simplehide carefully pondered this question before replying, “I believe the late Duke would have…” his tone began to sound unsure, “sold the shares, Your Grace.

After all, it is always better to be safe than sorry, correct?” William shook his head. “Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure that that is what he would have said? I know that Father was also eager to take carefully calculated risks. The question is whether this situation is one of them—” Before Mr. Simplehide could respond, there was another knock on the door. William sighed. I don’t have time for more interruptions! “Come in.” Oh, it’s only Reuben. “Good morning, Brother,” nodded the younger Windsoar politely. “Mother asked me to see if I could help you with anything so that you can focus on preparing to meet your betrothed.” William resumed rubbing his temples once more.

“In truth, Mother would be a great deal more helpful if she just let me be without all this nagging! It’s almost as if she wants to hire a nursemaid to take care of me again.” “I wouldn’t be half-surprised if she did just that. But you have to understand that she’s simply overjoyed for you, Brother—as am I, of course. But you appear to be distressed. Perhaps Mother was right in suggesting that I come to check on you after all,” Reuben grinned. William gestured to the chair in front of his desk. “Indeed, I was just telling Simplehide all about it. I presume you are aware of the recent developments in the Stock Exchange?” Reuben raised an eyebrow. “Yes?” “Then you are aware of the matter regarding the—” “Consol prices, but of course!” Reuben leaned forward. “Surely you plan to hold on to our family shares… right?” William sucked in a deep breath.

“But if I do so, we would be taking quite the risk.” With furrowed brows, Reuben replied, “Not necessarily. Even if consol share prices were to experience what we would call a ‘sharp’ drop for some time, the decrease in value would not be devastating or too terrible for us in the end. In my opinion, Brother, it would be wise to hold on to our shares for a while.” William couldn’t help but admit that Reuben’s points were quite strong. There seemed to be something rather persuasive and reassuring about the air of ease and confidence with which Reuben approached the matter. “You’re sure of this, Reuben?” “Absolutely, Brother. I believe this is what Father would have done.” William felt as though a large weight had been lifted. “Then I shall take your advice.

” With that, Reuben cheerily left his chair and took his place by the window, watching the gardeners water the flower beds—likely another last-minute idea of Mother’s. “With that taken care of, will you now please relax and at least attempt to enjoy today? Lord Cloudstream’s family is due any mo…” he stopped and turned to William. “Oh, they’re here.” William squinted and could just make out a coach nearing the house while the estate’s large main gate was being shut behind it. After a moment’s pause, the three men moved all at once. William downed the rest of his tea in one gulp while Mr. Simplehide took away the tray of food, which he then proceeded to hand to a maid in the hallway with instructions to return it to the kitchen. Reuben sprinted upstairs to alert and escort Mother. After taking his position in the entrance hall, William nodded to Mr. Simplehide, who then promptly descended the house’s front steps to greet their new house guests.

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