Taming the Wicked Duke – Lucy Langton

The day had been non remarkable, really. The Duke, William Somerton was riding that day, and his cousin Joffrey was speaking with him. The Duke was slightly annoyed about the conversation so far, which had reflected his father’s recent passing, and so he had tried to steer the conversation in another way to save himself the heartache of such words. In truth, he did not want to relive it all over again, either through talk or within his own mind. “Tell me more about the situation in Sussex. I heard that Earl Donnington was caught red-handed stealing from his own dear mother. She had been bedridden for months, is that true?” the Duke asked, knowing the gossip movement and flow was always something of much interest to his beloved cousin. Joffrey stopped his horse and turned inward, moving his foot out of the blackness of the stirrup for a moment to push his boot on a different way, as if he had a wound underneath it. “What have you done to yourself, man? The hunt is tomorrow at Somerview. We cannot have you nursing san injury,” said the Duke, becoming annoyed at watching Joffrey looking so frustrated with his foot. Joffrey looked up and then back down at his boot. “There’s a darn stone in there, and I must get it out before it drives me absolutely insane.” The Duke watched as Joffrey dismounted his horse and took off his awkward boot. His bay horse stood quietly, as if it understood the necessity of things, just as it should do. William noticed how big the animal was in height and depth, a massive stocky build and just over eighteen hands.

The animal had been trained by a brilliant trainer, a man called Thomas Whittaker, who had built a fortune from it, having learned the technique from his own intelligent father. “Now, what were we talking about, William?” asked Joffrey. He mounted his horse and turned him onto the path once again. “The Earl in Sussex, although I am already bored just thinking about it.” “Yes, oh the Earl, he did do everything you heard there. One story was so far-fetched, though, that it stated that he was also trying to end his mother’s life more quickly. That is not true, though. I know the man personally, and he is a scared little mouse I feel. His own kind uncle thankfully depleted the rumours and they are all living quite happily, apart from the rumours which always seem to be raised in whispers. I can imagine it would be quite a draining exercise for the Earl however, going over and over the same theme, knowing people are speaking ill of you.

” “I think the whole idea of speaking nonsense about another man at social events is ridiculous. I do not understand why people are always so happy to see another fail miserably, or to tarnish their good name. I think we should be discussing politics and other important issues relating to moving society forward,” said the Duke, matter of factly. “There has to be some rawness, some wildness to make our brains tick over, I agree. But it seems as though the ladies like to talk the most about it all, as if it’s a part of who they are, to know every breadth of what is going on with everyone. I find it quite unamicable but slightly endearing,” said Joffrey. “Do you? Gosh, I do not think I could bear a woman speaking like that on and on, as if it was a normal thing to do. I think I would rather marry my horse, to be frank,” said the Duke. “I think that is a ridiculous way of being, William. I mean to say, once you are all tied up and married, well, you can sway your wife to your own dear causes, unless she is high-spirited like Nancy Somerton.

I long to court her, but she seems to have many suitors. I hope to see her at Somerview tomorrow,” said Joffrey. “Hmm, Nancy Somerton. She is rather out of your league, don’t you think so?” the Duke asked, grinning wildly to tease his cousin. “For you, perhaps,” said Joffrey and then he laughed loudly too. “I shall race you back to the estate. I long to tell Nancy how you long for her. Do you really think she likes redheads?” asked the Duke, easily bringing his horse to a trot. “It is auburn, and I will beat you back. However, you owe me a slice of cake.

Remember?” asked Joffrey. “It depends; Mrs Parry has been a little off lately. That lemon meringue was utterly strange. I think the butler had a hand in it. He is losing his sensibilities and his mind of late.” Joffrey smiled before he picked up the pace to a canter. “It is only strange when you allow the liquor to mix with it my friend. You won’t want to add it in after dinner this evening. The butler is a breath of fresh air, giving you salt instead of sugar. It is your own fault for being an annoying master,” said Joffrey, and he laughed.

“The hunt is tomorrow, no drinking tonight.” “I shall do as I please,” said the Duke, now bringing Wilfred, his steed to a faster canter. *** “I shall not accept it,” said the Duke, speaking with his aged butler, Henry. “I am sorry, sir, I thought you might like some tea and pepper,” said Henry. “I shall go and change it for you. Would you like me to get your horse instead, sir?” The Duke was feeling impatient and was delighted when Henry was taken way by the interruption of Roger, the footman, so that Henry could do some errands without getting so confused about it all. He was usually already gone by this time after light tea, but the mix up with the sugar and pepper was a bit of a muddle, with Henry obviously having tried to place the condiments instead of the cook or other scullery maids in the kitchen. “I want a meeting called, Tabitha,” the Duke said loudly. “Get the other staff here as soon as possible. And for goodness sakes, remove the tea with pepper in it.

Dear old Henry has really got himself in a spot this day. Again!” Tabitha exited quickly, and the Duke could see that her pace was nearly at a run, and so he waited for the staff to assemble, and as he waited, he drank from his small gold flask, with just a hint of rum to settle his mood for the afternoon. It was a usual habit now, just a sip here or there, and a thing he had practiced as if it were a religion since his father’s passing a little over a month ago. He waited as the staff was fully ready and at attention, all standing still in front of him in the dining room. There were eighteen of them. He watched as Tabitha stepped forward. “Everyone is here except for Thomas and Henry, sir. Although, actually, no, umm … oh yes, Benjamin is still at the stables because he is attending to …” “Yes, yes, I know, Tabitha, thank you. Joffrey’s horse threw a shoe, so he took the chestnut, Bailey. I am well aware of the goings on in the household at this point in time.

I am calling you here as a matter of urgency really, so please be fully present with me as I speak,” said the Duke, quickening his words to get them out as fast as he could. The staff stood still, and he could see blinking only; they looked as though they were stunned mullets, having just been caught in a wild and vast sea, and the Duke was annoyed at it, because sometimes he felt as though the staff lacked any forward thinking, or enthusiasm to please him, like they seemed to with his father. “I need you to listen very clearly. The tasks of the household are not being done without quirks, and it is becoming exceptionally difficult for me to watch you all, whilst you are waiting for Henry’s leadership. I need you to know that you can achieve it without his input and guidance, which is faltering at present. And perhaps on a Wednesday when he is running his errands you may have a quick meeting to counteract the plans he has for you. His memory is failing, but I have not got the heart to let him go, and if need be, I will retire him soon. But please, continue as if you are following his instructions, but do your own task setting so that you may be prompt and so that the household feels as if it is not coming undone,” said the Duke, hoping his requests were not falling on deaf ears. The staff stayed quiet and then the housekeeper, Mrs May spoke, after placing her hand up. “If I may, sir, I want to tell you that Henry, Mr Gifford; well, he really is a kind man.

Sometimes his instructions are quite fruitful and other times they really make no sense at all. I propose that I give the instructions, if it is alright with you. And with the help of my housemaids, we might get the instructions to everyone more clearly. If that is sufficient for you, sir. I only propose myself because I have known Henry for nine years, and I already know what he is thinking, even when he cannot put the correctness to those words or actions forward as easily as he used to do.” “Excellent, yes certainly, that suits me just fine. My father used to run a tight ship here, and I wish to have it running nearly as smoothly, that is all. I expect my dinner to be served without milk instead of gravy, and perhaps some help might be given to Henry if he is struggling to know why he walked into the room. A simple reminder should suffice, and nothing unkempt or derogatory toward him. Mr Gifford has served two decades here, and I will not have him being made fun of, or feeling as if his role might be compromised, either.

A man needs to feel like he has a role, and we shall not take that dignity from him. God knows; a man with no dignity is like a bird without wings. Are we all absolutely clear on the matter at hand?” asked the Duke, watching the sea of faces seeming to be slightly more relaxed. There were nods around the room, and the sheep-type complacency was a little unsettling. He raised his voice to make a point, just to be certain they were all on his trajectory. “I will NOT, I repeat, WILL NOT have anyone laughing or judging that man. If he serves me salt in my tea, then I will scold you all for not being more competent to help him. I will not tolerate the nature of gossip about him either. It is fruitless and cruel, and a man deserves more than hushed words behind his back. So this evening, before you bed yourselves, please take the opportunity in prayer to ask God to give you the strength not to judge or taint yourselves by judging another, lest you be judged too.

Am I certainly, utterly clear about the matter?” he asked, hoping his raised voice had solidified his mood on the entire subject. “Yes, sir,” said Mrs May on behalf of the staff. “Thank you for being so open with us all, and if there is nothing more, I might suggest that I have a quick meeting now in the library, so that we may set our trajectory straight before Mr Gifford arrives home again.” “Yes, however, I want to add that I am trying to expand myself more fully in the community as well. On a social merit and standing. I need to be able to remain focused on that task so that I may gain popularity about topics related to many of the social issues facing the community, both here in London and more widely, perhaps even abroad. It is certainly important that my household backs me with its organised arrangement, and so that my mind can remain fully on my goals at hand and in the future. Mrs May, I leave it in your capable hands to speak with and arrange the staff without Mr Gifford’s knowledge of that fact. And if anything comes to pass that needs my input or jurisdiction, please come to me so that I may deal with it in the first instance, and before it gets out of hand in any capacity. I wish you all a good day.

” The Duke went to sip on his non-existent cup of tea and became amused that no one had thought to bring him another one. It was definitely an ironic state of affairs. His staff had been very confused for at least a period of three months, he recalled, perhaps four. It had been humorous at meal times to see which condiments had been given, and sometimes the salt had been exchanged for sugar, or gravy becoming wine. He and his father had laughed about it when the staff was not present. It had been a whirlwind of uncertainty and strange behaviours like yelling too, which Henry did every so often, making William jump slightly, especially if the day was quiet in nature. It was a symptom of old age so the doctor had said, and there was nothing to be done except true support and occasional reminders here and there, as required.

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