The Duke’s Predicament – Fenella J. Miller

Amanda, was revelling in her new position as the Duchess of Denchester, not because she was now elevated above most others in the country but because she was Richard’s beloved wife. She stood beside him looking out over the grounds of the Manor now almost unrecognisable with the marquees, trestles, bunting, flags and balloons put out for the garden party and the celebration of her sister’s wedding to Paul. ‘It’s hard to credit that there’s to be a second wedding here and so soon after ours. I just wish Mama thought herself well enough to attend and wasn’t remaining in her apartment with the door locked.’ Richard pulled her closer. ‘She’s the best person to judge when her fits of mania are about to start. The way we’ve arranged things she’ll be able to watch everything, apart from the ceremony itself, from her windows upstairs.’ ‘Have you noticed how both Doctor Peterson and Mr O’Riley are taking an interest in Miss Westley? It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Beth’s governess will soon depart to be the wife of one or the other.’ ‘I might be a man, sweetheart, but I am aware of such things. I’ve been making enquiries and have the names of several young ladies who could replace her if that were to be the case. Mrs Marchand, Paul’s mother, has proved to be a godsend. Having her here as companion to your mother has worked even better than I’d hoped.’ ‘We’ll all be related to each other in some strange way. Paul will become my brother-in-law and when my sister becomes his wife, she will be daughter to Mrs Marchand.’ ‘At least if Miss Westley marries either Patrick or the doctor then she’ll not be making her home under this roof.

Have you any preference as to which one she should choose?’ ‘I like both gentlemen and it’s clear that she’s torn between them. Let’s hope they don’t come to blows as I doubt that the doctor would be any match for Patrick. Being an ex-sergeant major makes him tougher and he’s certainly broader and taller.’ A flash of blue behind the largest marquee attracted her attention. It was Beth, her youngest sibling, and she’d escaped from Miss Westley again. Richard laughed and vaulted over the balustrade. ‘I’ll fetch her back, darling, why don’t you return to our apartment and change into your wedding finery? I’ll join you shortly.’ He ran easily, like the athletic gentleman he was, and she couldn’t take her eyes from him. How had she been so lucky as to marry him when he could have had anyone in the country for his bride? She didn’t doubt that he loved her, but sometimes he was distracted in her company as if he might possibly be regretting his choice. On her way to her apartment she walked around the reception rooms one final time and was satisfied that everything was in place.

The flower arrangements were perfect, not too formal, and the overwhelming scent of roses filled every chamber. She and Richard had been married in the family chapel a few weeks ago and although they had been intimate every night her monthly courses had still arrived on time – twice. Was it this that was causing her beloved husband to regret his decision? There was no one she could ask about such a delicate matter apart from perhaps Mrs Marchand, but she was no longer joining them downstairs since Mama was unwell again. Another constant worry were the changes she’d noticed in her younger sister – Dr Peterson had warned them that although Beth had the mental capacity of a small child, she was physically a woman and might well experience an interest in young gentlemen. The arrival of the three puppies had been a temporary distraction but every day now Beth evaded her governess and went in search of more interesting activities. Richard with a mixture of love and firmness was the only one able to persuade her sibling to behave appropriately. Obviously, there could be no happy outcome as Beth could never marry. She was a beautiful girl, an heiress, an aristocrat, but so damaged mentally being a wife and mother was out of the question. Richard had suggested appointing two bodyguards to escort her wherever she went. These would be as much to warn off potential predators as for Beth’s safety.

It was fortunate indeed that her sister didn’t go into company, remained safe at Radley Manor, but these past few days there’d been a constant toing and froing of workmen and naturally some of these were young men. There was no danger that anyone working for the family would take advantage of the situation but the more time Beth spent chasing after any young man the more likely it was that she could be enticed away by someone less scrupulous. The wedding ceremony was to be held in the ballroom as a special licence had been obtained. Sarah hadn’t wished to replicate her sister’s wedding by using the family chapel for a second time. New accommodations had been prepared for Sarah and her soon-to-be husband, Paul, and these were on the other side of the house so they could have their privacy. They could dine with the family but had their own reception rooms and personal staff so could remain apart if that’s what they desired. The happy couple were to leave after the garden party and ball for an extended wedding trip to the Lake District. She and Richard had only had two nights in his hunting lodge in Norfolk before he was called away to rescue Patrick who had been wrongly arrested as a deserter. Would he suggest they returned there and complete their honeymoon when the wedding was over? They scarcely had time to speak to each other during the day and at night there was little talking involved in their activities. Making love – as he had called this highly enjoyable activity – was something she eagerly anticipated but she did miss being able to spend time with him without the passion.

He was a duke, he had massive responsibilities to those in his demesne, to his family, to his many estates and businesses. Therefore, talking to his wife must appear of less importance than these other matters. She also had plenty to do. She was running a large household but it just wasn’t enough for her. Before their marriage – before his arrival last year – everything had been her concern and she missed being involved with the decision-making, the finances and so on. Richard was to be groomsman for Paul, so again he was more concerned in the wedding than she was. This time there were to be two dozen guests to witness the ceremony, an elaborate wedding breakfast would be served afterwards in the largest marquee, and then the grounds would be open to the villagers and neighbours for the garden party. After that there would be a ball indoors for their neighbours and family. Originally these had been planned to celebrate her wedding but now they were solely for Sarah and Paul. She didn’t resent this in any way as she loved her sister dearly but… but.

No time for repining. Today was a celebration for her sister and her new brother. If only her own night-time activity would result in a pregnancy, she would be content. * ‘Miss Westley, Miss Westley, why did I have to come in? I like it out there talking to the men getting things ready for the wedding.’ ‘Beth, his grace explained it to you. Young ladies do not go out and speak to workmen. It’s just not acceptable behaviour,’ Hannah said as she set out the watercolours hoping this would occupy her charge until it was time to change for the ceremony. ‘I want to get married like Sarah and Amanda. Are you going to get married? Are you going to marry Doctor Peterson or Mr O’Riley?’ ‘I’m not intending to marry anybody and I’ve certainly had no offers from either of those gentlemen.’ ‘Will they be here today? I prefer Mr O’Riley – if you don’t want to marry him do you think he will marry me instead?’ The duke overheard this last remark and exchanged a worried glance with her.

‘Nobody is going to marry you, sweetheart, don’t you remember we talked about this? You’ve got your puppy to look after and when there are babies you will be needed to help with them.’ ‘I don’t like dogs anymore. My puppy, Marigold, bit me and made my finger bleed. Silly Billy, Sarah’s puppy, tore my skirt and your Mouse doesn’t speak to me at all.’ ‘I see that you’re going to paint – are you going to paint that vase of summer flowers on the table?’ Beth pulled a face. ‘I don’t like flowers, they smell horrible.’ ‘Why don’t you paint a picture for your grandmama of the exciting things outside in the grounds? Did you know that I’ve arranged for an air balloon to visit? If you behave yourself I might allow you to go up in it.’ Lady Beth’s expression changed to sunny. ‘I am good, I am very good today. I’ll paint a lovely picture for Grandmama and then may I put on my new gown for the wedding?’ ‘As soon as you’ve finished your painting, you must wash your face and hands and then Jenny will help you dress.

Remember, you may have your hair put up today in a grown-up style. Isn’t that exciting?’ The duke smiled his thanks and walked away. Hannah was concerened Beth’s chatter about Patrick and the doctor had been overheard. If the girl had noticed the attention she was receiving from both of them then she was certain her employers must also have observed the same thing. Her cheeks flushed, not from pleasure but from embarrassment. It was flattering to have two personable gentlemen showing an interest but neither of them was of any consequence to her. If she ever married – which was highly unlikely – it would be to someone who could not only provide for her, who had a modest estate, an income not dependent on an employer’s whim, but a gentleman she could love. Patrick O’Riley was a good friend, she’d known him for more than a year, and he was certainly a handsome man, and just being with him made her heart beat a little faster. He was intelligent and kind, but if she married him, they would be forever tied to this family, and that wouldn’t be something she’d enjoy. Also, he was a soldier to his core despite having retired from the army.

The thought of sharing her bed with a man who’d killed for his living was abhorrent to her. Another count against him was the fact that he could still be arrested and forced to sign on for a further five years. That possibility loomed large in her thoughts. Doctor Peterson, on the other hand, was wealthy, had all the attributes she desired but for some reason he didn’t stir her senses in the same way that Patrick did. He wasn’t exactly handsome, but he was well-set-up, an excellent physician, and she knew if she gave him the slightest encouragement he would likely make her an offer. It was a conundrum and having Beth prattle on about both gentlemen didn’t help one jot. She must put this personal problem aside and concentrate on her duties. Her charge was as beautiful as her sister Sarah, with corn-coloured hair and bright blue eyes, and if one didn’t know she was impaired one would think she was a normal young lady. There had been an incident in London when an unscrupulous fortune hunter had mistaken her for her sister and his grace had been obliged to sort that out. Sarah’s reputation had almost been ruined but more worryingly it had given Beth a taste for adult pastimes.

‘That’s a beautiful painting, Beth, shall we leave it on the easel to dry and then we’ll get someone to frame it? It deserves to be on the wall. Why not give it to Lady Sarah and Mr Marchand as a wedding gift?’ The girl clapped her hands. ‘I will, I will. Now, Miss Westley, is it time to change into my new gown?’ ‘It is indeed, my dear. Look, your maid has come to collect you and help you dress. I must also do the same. I’m so looking forward to seeing Lady Sarah married and then we have the added excitement of a garden party.’ They no longer referred to the two girls who took care of Beth’s personal needs as nursemaids, although that’s what they were. Everything was being done that was feasible in order to treat her like an adult and not a six-year-old. Hannah didn’t have a personal maid although she did have a chambermaid assigned to her.

Therefore, she tended to herself. Not that she had a large wardrobe to select from – after all she was little more than a well-educated servant – but she did have a new gown that she’d sewn herself for this event and an evening gown for tonight. Her hair remained as it always was, a neat arrangement at the nape of her neck. However, as she had abundant curls a few of these were allowed to frame her face. Her gown was pale green with an emerald green sash and bugle beads around the neckline. Her best bonnet had been relined in matching material and the ribbons replaced with the same emerald green of her sash. As she was going to be tramping about outside she put on her boots which fortunately would be invisible beneath the hem of her dress. She checked that her reticule had handkerchiefs, a purse with some coins, some barley sugar twists and her fan, and then was ready to depart. Her chamber was on the same floor as Beth’s, the nursery floor, but it was a spacious room with its own sitting room and had a lovely view of the gardens. As she stepped out her charge also appeared looking charming in her sprigged muslin, her glorious golden curls neatly arranged and topped with a new chip straw bonnet.

‘You look pretty, Miss Westley. I’ve not seen that gown before.’ ‘Thank you for saying so, Beth, I appreciate the compliment. And you look lovely in your new ensemble. Are you going to take the matching parasol as it’s going to be hot in the gardens this afternoon?’ ‘I don’t like it, nasty, pokey thing. Will you carry it for me and hold it if I get hot?’ ‘No, a young lady takes care of these things herself. If you wish to leave it behind then so be it. Remember to hold up your skirts so you don’t tear the hem as we go downstairs.’ Beth was usually dressed in mid-calf length dresses with a pinafore as this was easier for her to manage. Only on special occasions did she appear as she was.

Obviously, all the staff were aware of the girl’s limitations, but there would be guests at the wedding breakfast and the garden party who could mistake her for an ordinary young lady and this was could be where the problems could start. She must be extra vigilant today. * Patrick had been sharing the Dower House with the bridegroom, but from today Paul would become one of the family and above his touch. There was less dust on every surface nowadays from the building works going on a few hundred yards away. Things had improved now the roof was on the new house for his grace and his wife. The building wouldn’t be completed for another year. ‘Patrick, how do I look? Hopefully not as terrified as I feel,’ Paul said as he made the final touches to his elaborate neckcloth. ‘Think of it as going into a battle, my friend, chin up and shoulders back.’ ‘That advice might be valuable if I’d had the experience that you have. As you very well know I resigned my commission before being involved in any fighting.

Which reminds me, isn’t it about time you heard from Horse Guards?’ ‘They’re not famous for their speedy decision-making. Your ensign will have reached Portugal and delivered the letters by now so I’m hopeful things will finally be resolved.’ Even to himself he sounded different nowadays – in order to pretend to be a gentleman he’d ironed out the Irish brogue, the profanities and cant that he’d used as a sergeant major, and now spoke like everyone else, but he hadn’t changed inside. He’d spent years wearing just his redcoat, and sometimes when he caught a glimpse of himself in a glass he scarcely recognised the fellow he’d become. The walnut juice he’d been dying his hair with had now gone and now his fiery red hair looked exactly the same as it had always done. ‘The carriage has arrived. We’d better go, the groom should always be there in advance of the bride, even I know that.’ ‘I’ve enjoyed living here with you, Patrick, and it’s going to be strange being part of the Denchester family.’ ‘You’re a toff, one of them, Paul, it comes naturally for you.’ It was three miles to Radley Manor and he decided then that he would walk home when the wedding celebrations were over.

He’d never ridden in a carriage by himself – he wasn’t a gentleman born and bred – and didn’t want to ape his betters. He chuckled at the absurdity of his thoughts as he would have to return to change into his evening rig for the ball tonight. The ballroom was decked out in flowers, banners and ribbons and there were rows of chairs facing a lectern at the front. There was an aisle between them through which the bride would walk on the arm of the duke and return beside her new husband. There was an orchestra tuning up at the back of the room and no doubt this would be playing for couples to dance at the ball this evening. He was hoping to claim Miss Westley for two dances. He scowled. That damned doctor would no doubt be hoping to do the same. He must put his wishes aside as he couldn’t offer her the kind of life she deserved. She would be better off as a doctor’s wife living in her own grand house – something he could never give her.

He wasn’t a sentimental sort of man but, since he’d met her last year, he’d viewed things differently. If he was honest with himself, he knew he’d pushed his Irish roots aside in order to impress her. The duke, he believed he could no longer refer to him as major as he’d done initially, was waiting to greet them looking every inch an aristocrat. It was hard to credit that two years ago they’d been fighting side by side in Portugal, both career soldiers, neither of them anticipating how their lives would change. ‘Are you ready, Paul, still time to change your mind,’ the duke said in jest. ‘No, sir, I’m eager to say my vows. I can’t tell you what a difference it makes having my mother living under the same roof and knowing that she’s happy again.’ ‘Mrs Marchand has made an enormous difference to our lives. Amanda and I are delighted to have her as part of the family. See – the ladies are arriving now.

’ He laughed. ‘Don’t look so terrified, not your bride. I’m to fetch her when everyone else is seated.’ Patrick turned. His eyes widened. Hannah looked quite stunning, every inch a lady, and so far out of his reach he accepted at last that it wasn’t to be. Then he grinned. All the ladies were wearing bonnets which looked decidedly odd when they were indoors. ‘Mr O’Riley, what has amused you about our arrival?’ Miss Westley said. He pointed to her hat and she returned his smile.

‘I know, ridiculous, but as the wedding breakfast is to be served in the marquee, which is technically outside, bonnets are de rigueur.’ ‘Lady Elizabeth, might I be permitted to compliment you on your gown?’ He’d expected her to clap, to spin around demonstrating how the skirts swirled about her ankles, but to his surprise she nodded and smiled as any girl would do. ‘Thank you, Mr O’Riley. I think that Miss Westley’s gown is pretty too, don’t you?’ ‘It is, my lady, I’m honoured to be in your company.’ The orchestra began to play something he recognised as Bach and he stepped aside to allow Paul to greet his mother.


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