The Travellers by J. Howard Shelley

His Grace Adolphus Gillespie Vernon Ware, (Gilly to his friends, Adolphus to his Cousin Gideon and Vernon by preference) Seventh Duke of Sale smiled and, clearly enjoying Mr. Liversedge’s loss of composure, added, suavely,
The Travellers
The Travellers by J. Howard Shelley
“And I made sure you would be pleased to see me. Tell me now; it must have been well over seven years? Are you well?” he enquired urbanely after smiling at mine host's discomfiture, “you look quite out of sorts.” Painfully and unpleasantly aware that he was now the object of significant and unwelcome curiosity Mr. Liversedge pulled himself together and with an effort bowed deeply to the Duke. In something close to his normal serene tone, he turned around to the liveried lackey standing behind him and requested a chair for his noble visitor. Before the lackey thus addressed could leap to his master’s bidding the Duke raised his hand to indicate that he had no need to be seated. “Mr. Liversedge and I are old friends and I would like very much to have a word with him in private. Perhaps there is a private room...?” “If Your Grace would come this way?” Mr. Liversedge’s response was rather hurried, almost as if he would be glad to remove himself and this unexpected visitor from the many speculative stares from the members. He bowed again and indicated that the Duke should precede him, clearly taking the view that, at least until he had time to compose himself, it might be better if he took himself away from their gaze. With none of his customary aplomb and little dignity, and to the astonishment of the other patrons, he ushered his noble guest towards the door into his private offices. Some two minutes later the Duke was seated in Mr. Liversedge’s private Library holding a fine cognac. “Well,” he said, “you appear to have put the money I gave you to very good use.” “As Your Grace says,” nodded Mr. Liversedge, by now restored to something approaching his normal equilibrium, “but if Your Grace will recall, on the last occasion we met I told you that I was a man of large ambition.” Mr. Liversedge cautiously regarded the Duke. Over the years, he had wondered what he would do if Sale came to The House, but he had always thought he would have received some warning. The reputation he had acquired, and carefully maintained, was simply a result of avid perusal of the society columns of a range of newspapers and a keen interest in gossip. As he knew that almost every noble visitor to his adopted city would want to visit his premises, it required little skill if he heard that a particular nobleman was intending to visit the city, to predict that individual would soon thereafter present himself at his door requesting admission. The possibility therefore that an English Duke, the possessor of one of the largest fortunes in England, might arrive without him having some warning of the event had simply never occurred to him. He knew that there were very few people left in England who now would remember him. His immediate family were all dead, as was the elderly gentleman whom he had served for a number of years as Valet. Although there were doubtless a few people who might recall young John Liversedge, the younger son of a blacksmith from a small village in Lincolnshire, the likelihood that they would cross his path was so remote that he disregarded it. The Duke however, was one of the very few people who could, if they wished to do so, destroy the position he had managed to create for himself. His surprise appearance therefore put Mr. Liversedge seriously out of sorts. The last time Mr. Liversedge had seen his noble visitor was at Cheyney, one of the Duke’s homes near Bristol. On that occasion, the Duke had told Mr. Liversedge that he should leave the country and had arranged for his Steward to pay him five thousand pounds to hasten him on his way. There had been an incident between Mr. Liversedge and the Duke which the latter had not wanted to become common knowledge. Mr. Liversedge had been paid the money to buy his silence and his absence. This was a very generous offer because Mr. Liversedge had kidnapped Sale and had then offered to arrange his disappearance if his Cousin Gideon, who was also his heir, would pay him a handsome sum. The incident could, Mr. Liversedge admitted sanguinely to himself, on the whole, not be said to reflect entirely favourably on him. Mr. Liversedge had taken the opportunity offered by the Duke’s largesse with both hands. He had left for France where he had opened a small establishment and then over the years his ambitions had grown with every success. He had now reached the pinnacle. He knew that his establishment was as good as might be found in any other major city in Europe and better than most. Unfortunately, his very success meant that he now had a great deal to lose and, try as he might, he could not quite keep the concern out of his normally impassive countenance. Were the Duke to decide expose him he would be lucky to escape arrest especially as there were those, jealous of his success and influence, who were looking for just such an excuse to close him down. He studied the Duke carefully. It was apparent that the intervening seven years since last their paths had crossed had been rather more kind to the older man than the younger. The change to what had then been a very youthful countenance would, he thought, have been clear to even the most casual observer. When Mr. Liversedge had last seen the Duke, at that time newly in love and about to come of age, he looked younger than his 24 years. Although now only thirty-one he looked closer to forty. His face was deeply lined and there was a record of pain and suffering etched on his every expression. This older Duke was a very serious man. True, he smiled occasionally and when he did it reached his eyes, but whereas before he was carefree, now even the most casual of observers could see that the Duke of Sale carried a great deal of reserve. His conversation was considered and thoughtful and lacked spontaneity; his gait was purposeful and he had a look of quiet determination which made Liversedge extremely wary. This was not a man to lightly cross! Mr. Liversedge was not homesick; Alsace had been far kinder to him than the country of his birth had ever been, but he kept up to date with news from England through talking to the many English visitors to The House and from the newspapers that he had arranged to be delivered on a regular basis. In view of his history, the ex-valet had maintained a particular interest in the Duke of Sale and he was thus able to guess with considerable accuracy, although he did not know all the details, what had wrought such a stark change. At the time Mr. Liversedge left England the Duke had just become engaged to the Lady Harriet Presteigne. The marriage ceremony had taken place a month or so later and it had been the match of the season. The couple, it was said, were made for each other. Although the engagement had been planned since both were in the schoolroom, each had had the good fortune to find, in the other, their soul mate. Lady Harriet was neither a great beauty nor a celebrated wit and prior to her marriage she had the reputation of being somewhat mouse-like, but she eminently suited the quiet and understated Duke of Sale. With the confidence that comes with being one of the most important peeresses in the realm and with the support of her husband she came into her own. Sale Park, His Grace’s principal seat located in the rolling countryside of the Midlands was transformed from a hidebound establishment, characterised by excessive formality, into a happy home. Even Lord Lionel Ware, for so long the Duke’s guardian, and the sternest critic of anything which he did not hesitate to stigmatise as ‘modern’ was obliged to own that Harriet’s taste was impeccable and the House better run than it had been since the death of the 6th Duke and his Duchess. It seemed that the happy marriage was soon to be blessed with a happy event. Only a few short months after the marriage had taken place her Grace announced within the family, that she was increasing. Sir Lionel proudly, if prematurely and optimistically, announced that Sale was to have an heir, her Grace quietly hoped for a boy and the Duke scandalised the whole household by proudly proclaiming that he wished for a daughter who might look like her Mama. On the seventeenth of October 1817 Harriet was brought to bed and the household waited expectantly. Less than two days later both Harriet and the baby – indeed a girl - were dead. Harriet held on long enough to apologise to her Lord for failing to present him with an heir. He told her not to be silly and stated that she would soon recover and there would be plenty of time for more children. She smiled and shook her head sadly and died in his arms a few minutes later. His Grace dealt with the funeral arrangements with a straight back and a forced smile; gentlemen of his order do not wear their heart on their sleeve. Only once did he come close to breaking down. Nettlebed, His Grace’s valet, chanced upon him as he changed for dinner. The Duke was sitting in his chair and staring into space with such a look of abject misery on his face that the gentleman’s gentleman, who had served his master since he was in short coats, involuntarily started “Oh Your Grace.” The Duke turned to him and asked in a voice his Valet had not heard since his master was twelve years old, “How are we going to manage, Nettlebed? What shall we do?” Nettlebed could only answer, because he knew that it what was needed “We shall get ready for dinner Your Grace.” Worse was yet to come. Some months later Gideon, the Duke’s cousin and his closest friend, was riding in the park when his horse was startled by the sound of a wheel coming off a passing Barouche containing two ladies. Always the dashing cavalry officer and far more concerned for the safety of the ladies unceremoniously tipped out onto the grass than his own, Gideon forgot to tend to his horse and was thrown. He would never ride again. His father, Lord Lionel Ware, the Duke’s guardian since birth and for so long the driving force in the family rushed to his son’s side but he was unable to deal with his son’s injuries and suffered a stroke. He recovered somewhat but he was never the same man; gone was the restless energy and determination, he was now happy to agree with any suggestion and to sit quietly in the sun with a book. He slept often during the day and became forgetful. He was always glad to see his nephew, but he was no longer able to advise or assist him with any matter concerning the estate. The Duke, only relatively recently of full age and now the head of the family, dealt with these new disasters efficiently and with a sad smile, but he felt the weight of his many responsibilities pressing down on him. A posthumous child; his father having died some months before his birth and his mother following her husband onward as a result of the effort of bringing her son into the world, the Duke was singularly ill equipped to deal with the sudden change in his life. He had been a sickly child and for some years, despite the effort of a small army of nurses, doctors and other staff hired to secure his health, there remained some real doubt as to whether he would survive sufficiently long to take command of his inheritance. He was protected from the smallest ill wind and his every whim was instantly attended to. He was not allowed to indulge in the rough and tumble of his peers in case he might take hurt. This might have, were it not for Lord Lionel’s abrasive personality, have turned him into a precocious spoiled child but his uncle was determined that he should be fully aware of his obligations. Fortunately, the Duke knew of and appreciated the services his many staff performed for him and he bore with his overprotective retainers with much more patience than would most boys his age. He was very sweet tempered never failing to acknowledge even the smallest service with a smile and quiet thanks. In contrast to his quiet and thoughtful ward, Lord Lionel was loud, bluff and much addicted to sport. It never occurred to his Lordship that the Duke’s failure to be assertive could largely be laid at his own door. On the few occasions The Duke had ventured to propose his own ideas Lord Lionel had told him forcefully that he had no idea what he was talking about and should be guided by his elders. Unfortunately, Lord Lionel’s dominant personality, coupled with his charge’s dislike of argument, meant that the Duke found it much easier simply to do as his Guardian advised. There was little change when he left school. He was sent on a grand tour with a man chosen by his uncle. He never could take to Captain Belper who was loud, not particularly cultured, over jovial and seemed to think that, given time, his young charge would come to enjoy those manly pursuits he himself enjoyed. The sole reason Lord Lionel had chosen the Captain was for his undoubted ability to protect the young Duke and Belper followed Lord Lionel’s strict instructions that he was to take no risks with the safety of the young Duke to the letter. He saw risks everywhere the Duke wanted to go and, as he had no appreciation of ancient Rome or Greece, he simply refused to allow his protégée to stop at what he saw as pointless ruins. The Duke therefore spent two miserable years travelling from one place to place to another, never seeing anything at all and in intimate company with a man he cordially detested. He had a season or two on the town before his marriage, but Lord Lionel again prescribed where he should go and whose balls he should attend. As Lord Lionel’s decisions were based solely on whether the company was such as would be in keeping with the dignity of the Duke of Sale he was bored most of the time. He was uncomfortable at many of the fashionable squeezes to which he was invited, and he had no taste for society gossip. He was only too well aware that, while he was much sought after as a dance partner, most of the ladies whom he dutifully led out onto the floor were concerned only with the contents of his wallet, and the size of his consequence. Not one of these very high bred ladies were remotely concerned with getting to know him. Had Harriet lived for two or three more years it is possible that the Duke would, by that stage, have developed enough self-confidence and a sufficiently secure sense of self-worth to have weathered the storm. However, unable to grieve for his beloved Harriet and their child and deprived of the support of his friend Gideon who, although putting a brave face on his physical limitations, had enough problems of his own, the Duke withdrew inside himself. With Lord Lionel no longer able to remind him of his obligations, cousins and various other relatives were firmly but politely rebuffed. A few hardy relatives and neighbours endeavoured to keep contact and, for a while, some succeeded. Even they, in the end, gave up. In less than a year the Duke of Sale found himself alone. This did not greatly bother the Duke since he found talking to people exhausting and he was therefore glad when the visitors stopped calling. The doors to the Duchess’s rooms were shut up and locked left, as the Duke had ordered wholly undisturbed and Sale Park became a mausoleum. Most of the House rest of was closed up under holland covers with only the Duke’s private rooms and the servants' quarters in regular use. Many of the staff were let go; with no visitors to cater for and an undemanding master there was nothing for them to do. Even the solitude of Sale Park afforded the Duke no respite, the lengthy corridors and large salons which he and Harriet had planned to renovate seemed to echo with so many shattered hopes. After a while the home he had known since boyhood started to become oppressive. Hoping to outrun his demons the Duke looked for accommodation elsewhere. A mean inn unfrequented by the ton, felt much more comfortable than his own houses haunted by the ghosts of his own past. By the time a year had passed after Harriet’s death he could bear neither Sale House in Curzon Street nor Sale Park. No matter where he looked, there were memories, bitter as gall, crowding in on him and reminding him of events he wanted to forget. Eventually, apart from a couple of rooms kept for the rare occasions his Grace remained overnight, both houses were completely closed, the furniture obscured by Holland covers and only minimum staff retained to keep the Duke’s rooms barely habitable. Sale Park was a great estate and the business of collecting the rents and managing the land continued, much as it ever had during the Duke’s minority with the loyal Scriven, his Grace’s steward, at the helm. Although the house developed a neglected feel, the gardens were still maintained albeit not to the same standard. There were fewer gardeners as there was no-one in residence to feed and in any event, there was little pleasure for the outdoor staff in exerting themselves. Their master was hardly ever at home and even when he was he appeared not to notice the neglect. The few staff left fondly remembered the days when they had played host to the local hunt or a shooting party. The most exciting event to happen there now was when a party of visitors applied to the housekeeper to see the house and grounds. Even these visitors slowly dwindled to nothing. Word soon reached the guidebooks that the whole house was under Holland covers and there was nothing to be seen. It was not long before Sale Park disappeared from the lists of recommended destinations. After the Duke made the (in his eyes) mistake of visiting Cheyney, the sizable property he owned near Bristol and had to endure the sympathy of his staff and tenants, he sent for his Steward. This worthy hurried to attend his master hopeful that he would be told something that would lift his spirit. He was disappointed. “Scriven, please arrange for all my houses with the exception of Sale House and Sale Park, to be made available for rent. The staff may remain, if the tenant wishes to hire them. Alternatively, they are to be given good references and six months' pay in lieu of notice.” “But... but Your Grace,” Scriven was horrified. “Do I need to repeat myself” said the Duke frostily, reminding Scriven strongly of the Duke’s late father “if you are not prepared to carry out my wishes, then you may, as an alternative, take your pension.” Further instructions followed over the next few months. The Duke, unable to face living at Sale Park and with nothing to occupy his mind recalled, somewhat tardily, that he had obligations to his properties across the country and to those who depended on his estates for their livelihood. His forefathers had managed their estates but none of them had ever taken as much direct interest as the current Duke did now. He threw himself into visiting his estates, long left to his agent’s management. He did not stay at any of his houses, although any one of them would have been pleased to welcome him, preferring instead to put up at posting houses or provincial inns. He liked the impersonal feel and the knowledge that no-one knew, or cared, about his history. Usually he used the name of Mr. Rufford (Baron Ware of Rufford being one of his lesser titles) to avoid, as he saw it, the excessive, and unjustified, deference and fawning afforded to the Duke of Sale. Much to Scriven’s dismay the Duke did not always like what he saw and demanded immediate and major changes. Scriven was to arrange for the demolition and replacement of certain cottages - they were not fit to occupy. Scriven was to put in hand certain drainage works. Scriven was to ensure that Sunday Schools were opened in the villages where the Duke had estates. Scriven was to ensure that a hundred and one other improvements or changes His Grace desired to be carried out, were put in hand immediately. It is too much to say that the Duke’s interest betokened his recovery but it did give him a purpose for a while. He slept but fitfully and the walls he had built around his heart were as impenetrable as ever, but the housing which his tenants occupied and the privation of many of the estate workers came as a shock to him and he resolved to improve matters. This personal involvement was regarded by his Steward as unwelcome and unnecessary; he had always assumed that his noble employer would allow him to continue in the same manner as had Lord Lionel during the Duke’s minority. Few members of the nobility interested themselves in the minutiae of estate management limiting themselves instead to considering and approving the accounts, spending the estate revenues and endorsing their Steward’s recommendations. To Scriven’s chagrin it rapidly became obvious that such an approach would not do for his Grace of Sale. Initially, Scriven protested the expense of the Duke’s suggested improvements and moreover repeatedly suggested that the matters in which the Duke was now interesting himself should be left to those he employed to see to them and who had always looked after his best interests. Believing that the Duke would not remember the instructions he had issues he quietly, but deliberately, omitted to deal with those matters with which he disagreed. As he was to find out this was a mistake. “Why did you not put in hand my instructions relating to new pig sties at my Stone estate?” the Duke demanded in arctic tones. “I have received a letter from Evans which tells me that, after I left you wrote to him to say that this work was not, after all required.” It had not occurred to Scriven that His Grace would write to his Bailiff enquiring as to the progress of the work, and he was therefore completely caught unawares. His immediate apology saved him, despite his many years of service, from immediate and ignominious dismissal and the Duke continued, “Very well. I accept your apology. Do not make the same mistake again. You may go.” A much chastened Scriven bowed himself out vowing to carry out his instructions to the letter in future. It says much about the affection and respect in which the Duke was held by his servants and retainers that never once did they criticise him. Most of them had known him since he was a boy and they understood only too well that his short temper and restless energy was his way of dealing with the series of tragedies which had befallen him. In private they shook their heads and worried but, as none of them could think of a solution, there the matter stood. Much to his surprise, Scriven rapidly discovered that his reservations about the works and changes the Duke had put in hand were misplaced. Contrary to his expectations, far from being expensive and pointless, the effect of works was to increase the Duke’s income and the initial expenditure was soon repaid many times over. The improved buildings commanded higher rents and the drained land grew more produce. The Duke’s Houses which, until recently, had all been kept open and staffed for the Duke’s sole use, generated significant rental income and the estate no longer had to bear the staff wages. Word spread that the Duke would not only ensure his tenants and workers were properly housed but would also ensure that their children received an education and his estates attracted the most skilled and hardworking people. Masters who were fair and looked after the welfare of their tenants were most unusual and therefore a person who could secure employment on one of the Duke’s estates was regarded as fortunate indeed. Yet the Duke learned that he could not, no matter hard he worked, forget his past. His quick intelligence allowed him to learn faster than his Steward could have possibly imagined and as the work became easier, it occupied his mind less. The memories he had tried so hard to block out intruded again. He received no pleasure from the increased income although his steward regularly presented accounts which testified to his success. He had no-one upon whom to spend his wealth. For himself, while he would have found it difficult to live on a very small income, his personal needs were few, and his personal expenditure fell to only a few hundred pounds a year out of an income of many thousands. The final break with the past came four years after Harriet died. Nettlebed, by now an old man, found that he could no longer keep up with the reckless pace the Duke set. Moreover, he had no desire to do so because, despite his devotion to his master, he had lost interest in serving him. The Duke no longer needed a valet as he rarely wore anything other than his riding clothes, never wore evening dress and did not dress for dinner. There was no pleasure or professional satisfaction in dressing a man who no longer cared how he presented himself to the world. To be sure, his clothes were always well made but the Duke no longer patronised the best tailors and had no interest in fashion. Comfort and practicality presented no challenge to a valet who had only a few years before prided himself in sending his master out dressed in the first stare of the mode. Then there was the constant packing and unpacking. Nettlebed was prepared for his master to move to London in the season and to make the occasional visit to stay with friends but constantly living out of a portmanteau had become a strain. Nettlebed liked living in the Duke’s houses but His Grace now lived mainly in inns and hotels and moved on every day or so. The elderly valet became visibly unhappy and, as the Duke was genuinely fond of him, in an attempt to ease the load on the elderly retainer, the Duke started leaving him behind. Although this was something of a relief, Nettlebed could not reconcile this with what he saw as his duty. The final blow was unthinkingly delivered by the Duke early in March 1821 when His Grace, on a rare visit to Sale Park announced that he was travelling to his estates near York and he would be away at least a month. Upon Nettlebed, with a heavy heart confirming that everything would be ready for the morrow he was informed that his services would not be required. The Duke’s next words were like a dagger to his heart, “I shall do very well, someone in the inn will see to me.” Upon his return Nettlebed sought, and was given, his release. The Duke treated his servants with much more respect than was commonly the case but the man who had looked after him for more than twenty years held a special place in his heart. He also knew perfectly well that he owed his valet a considerable debt of gratitude. Nettlebed understood the Duke better than any other person alive except, perhaps, Gideon and he had dragged him from the few boyhood scrapes he had been allowed to get into. Although he knew that his uncle loved him as well as he did his own son, the young Duke had stood in considerable awe of Lord Lionel. He had applied to Nettlebed on more than one occasion, for assistance and the valet had accepted responsibility for a significant number of the Duke’s misdemeanours thus deflecting the guardian’s anger onto himself. As a result, and in recognition of his long years of loyal service, the Duke chose, though he hated to do so, to remain at Sale Park so that he could see Nettlebed off on his journey into retirement as he left to live with his widowed sister in Kent. It was to be inferred that the Duke planned further changes to his establishment because Simpson, the Duke’s man of business together with Rigg, his Grace’s lawyer, arrived not more than an hour after Nettlebed had left Sale Park. These two gentlemen spent the whole afternoon closeted with their employer in his Grace’s study. The following morning Scriven also arrived. This was a sufficiently unusual circumstance that it created considerable speculation amongst the staff. As the Duke’s visitors were tight lipped, gave no clue as to what might be afoot, and no-one had the least idea as to what was planned, the imagination of the staff was allowed full reign. Rumours flew; some said that they had heard that the Duke was considering selling Sale Park, others speculated that a return to the glory days was planned. Not one of the suggestions was correct. All that was known was that, whatever it was that was afoot, it had generated a large number of letters which had to be taken to the post office and some of them had foreign addresses. There was however one who, had he a mind to, could have enlightened them. John Francis, a blunt, but largely taciturn Yorkshireman in his early forties, had commenced his employment as a footman in the Duke’s household a little over a year before His Grace’s marriage. He was thus, by the standards of the Sale household, a “new” member of staff, notwithstanding he had been in post more than four years. He regarded gaining employment in the Duke’s household as the greatest stroke of good fortune yet to befall him. The Duke paid excellent wages, he was a tolerant and unexacting employer and he treated his staff with a civility which Francis, in service since the age of twelve, had never before experienced. Francis’ father had been the head gardener at a large and well-appointed house occupied by a clergyman who was the second son of a local nobleman. As a result of the number of his appointments and the generosity of his deceased father, this gentleman was possessed of a larger income than was normal for the incumbent of a country parish. Despite his relative comfort, he took his responsibilities most seriously and set up a school for the children of the parish. The young Francis was an adept pupil and so impressed was this worthy by his student’s scholarship that, upon reaching the age of twelve when his father expected him to seek employment, the parson offered to take him into his own service on condition he continued his studies. Understandably, Francis’ father, fully aware of the opportunities an education could bring, readily consented. When Francis was just seventeen his employer died and, as the new incumbent lacked the income to retain such a large staff as had his predecessor, Francis perforce left the vicarage to seek employment elsewhere. He could read and write English and Latin and had, in addition a little French and Greek. He had had a successful career working a series of great houses and always impressing his employers with his abilities, commitment and discretion. In some houses the owners had discovered his learning and, on occasions as reward for his diligence had permitted the servant to Discreetly avail himself of the library. There had been opportunities for advancement too; on one occasion the elderly butler had told him frankly that, were he to apply himself, Francis would be almost certain to be offered the post of butler upon his retirement. He had considered it but, in the end had decided it was not for him and had moved on. Unlike his peers, he never took it upon himself to comment on the Duke’s activities or try to persuade his employer to follow a different course to that which he had chosen. Indeed, there had been times when the oppressive solicitude with which the household staff surrounded the Duke, together with the autocratic dictates of Lord Lionel had induced considerable sympathy. By the time he had been in the Duke’s employment for a month, Francis had decided Sale was so hedged about by well-meaning individuals it was hardly surprising he was blue-devilled and he refused to engage in any schemes or plans designed to further what The Duke’s staff considered to be the Duke’s best interests. Therefore, while the majority of the staff had fretted over their noble employer’s apparent inability to recover from the death of his wife and had expended considerable and ineffective energy in trying to persuade him that he should sit at home and let them look after him, Francis gave it as his view that the Duke had to exorcise his own demons and he should be left to do it in his own way. Initially, the Duke had thought that such unusual reticence among a member of his staff betokened indifference to his welfare. To a man cosseted by overprotective staff and relatives this came as a welcome change. A servant who did as he was asked purely on the basis of the generous wage the Duke paid and for no other motivation, made the Duke more comfortable with Francis than with almost anyone else. With his other servants and his family he was conscious of a need to explain and justify himself but, if he asked Francis to do something, the only response he received was a stolid ‘yes, Your Grace.” Over time it was brought in upon him that appearances were deceptive, Francis held him in the same affection as did all the other members of his household, but he chose to show it differently and as the footman maintained a respectful silence, an impassive countenance and kept his own counsel, in time, the Duke entrusted him with many of his private errands. Francis never disclosed the nature of his activities to any of the other servants. This was regarded as an irksome habit by his colleagues and akin to rank insubordination by the upper servants. It brought him into regular conflict the Duke’s Butler who fervently believed he needed to know all about the Duke’s business so that his Grace could be protected from himself. Upon meeting with a blank refusal to even discuss the matter, Francis’ superior complained to his master with a recommendation he be dismissed. How could a Butler be expected to run the household if the staff were keeping secrets from him? Herein the Butler had made a mistake. Although the Duke was generally the most easy-going and reasonable of employers and one who moreover allowed his personal staff a considerable amount of licence, he could, if provoked, cut up very stiff. “It is a pity” said His Grace in a tone which froze his Butler to the marrow, “that all the members of my household staff from the top” the Duke glanced pointedly in the upper servant’s direction “to the bottom, do not practice the same level of discretion as does Francis.” The Butler received the message; Francis would be staying and moreover, he enjoyed The Duke’s protection. Following this incident, the word spread through the house that Francis had ‘special’ status and this aroused considerable jealousy especially amongst the upper servants who did not regard a mere footman, especially once whose appointment was of such recent date, as anything remotely special. Furthermore, the fact that Francis could read and write in English and Latin and apparently enjoyed doing so, set him apart. In quiet moments, when most of the servants could be seen sitting out in the sun Francis would be found in a solitary corner reading a book conned from the Duke’s library. As only the upper servants could read and write, and then only in English, this evident scholarship was a little intimidating. The situation was not helped by Francis’ disinclination to engage in the gossip that was de rigueur in the servant’s quarters and therefore, while he was not actively disliked, Francis was regarded downstairs with some suspicion. He did not have the proper concern of a servant in the Duke’s household for the well-being of their employer. One day, provoked beyond endurance by a conversation over dinner in the servant’s hall in which it was concluded that they should all redouble their efforts to make the Duke feel better, he was heard to comment that his Grace’s servants would be of more assistance to his Grace by giving him a little peace and quiet rather than cosseting over him all the time. This was, perhaps, not the most tactful remark as each one of His Grace’s personal staff jealously guarded what they saw as their right to administer such cosseting and advice as they saw fit and the implied criticism from an individual they regarded as a menial was, decidedly, not well received. Henceforth the relationship between Francis and the upper servants became decidedly frosty. A very few minutes after Scriven, Rigg and Simpson left, the Duke sent for Francis. Pausing only to ensure that his livery was clean and un-creased, he silently entered His Grace’s study carefully closing the door behind him, “You sent for me Your Grace?” “I did. Can you ride?” asked the Duke bluntly. “Aye Your Grace, not like a gentleman, but yes, I can ride.” There were few things that put out the imperturbable Yorkshireman and he had been asked enough strange questions over the years to know to answer truthfully and wait to see what followed. “I am leaving the country tomorrow and I may not return for some time.” It was apparent the Duke was choosing his words carefully because it was some time before he continued. “I shall need a servant to travel with me. I do not need a valet, although I shall need some help with my baggage and my clothes. I do not need a groom although I shall need help with the horses. I will be travelling on horseback under the name of Mr. Rufford and I do not” he paused for emphasis “wish to take my household with me.” “Why, Your Grace?” Francis did not pretend to misunderstand, “I can understand that you want to travel and that you want to leave that lot of booberkins,” he jerked his head in the direction of the servants’ wing, “behind… but why just one servant, and why me?” His Grace blinked. He had never heard Francis string half so many words together and was a little surprised. He supposed however, as he proposing to spend a great deal of time in this man’s company, Francis deserved a reply. “A few years ago, I undertook a Grand Tour. To ensure my comfort,” The Duke’s lips curled into a sardonic smile, “Lord Lionel decided that I should be accompanied by a Priest, my valet, two grooms, a doctor, a coachman, two postilions, a footman and an agent. In addition, and to ensure my safety he also engaged,” a look of distaste crossed his face, “Captain Belper.” Francis had met the Captain and found him loud, ill-informed and encroaching. He smiled grimly for a second. “Just so,” his employer nodded and then continued. “As a direct result of all this solicitude, for nearly two years I put up in the best hotels in Europe. I saw all the sights from the inside of a carriage and never once did I talk to anyone other than the odd maître d’hôtel. I spent the whole time being transported from one place to another like an important work of art, but I didn’t do anything at all.” His Grace stood up and paced around the room. It seemed to Francis as if His Grace had forgotten his presence and was now talking to himself. “I am twenty-eight years old. For most of those twenty-eight years I have done what I was told. For the last four years, I have done nothing but work pointlessly trying to leave behind my past. I have never had to think for myself or indeed do anything for myself. The only thing I know I’m any good at is that I’m a fair shot, but even then, I have someone who insists on loading and cleaning my guns for me. I need to know who I am; and I can’t do it here where everything conspires to remind me what I am supposed to be.” While the Duke paused to draw breath, Francis considered what he had just heard. Most of it was, he thought, true and he agreed it would be good for his noble employer to manage his own life for a while. All that said the Duke was very hard on himself, he was considerably more accomplished than he gave himself credit for. The Duke looked up and met Francis’ eyes again. “I have arranged for money to be made available to me in a few European cities, I have given a power of Attorney to Scriven and Simpson so that they can manage the estate in my absence and I’m leaving tomorrow before breakfast. You do not have to come if you do not wish to do so ...” The Duke stopped mid-sentence as Francis turned towards the door. “Your Grace must excuse me. If I am to be ready to accompany you tomorrow, there is much to do today.” Chapter 2 The following day his Grace the Duke of Sale simply disappeared from the polite world. There were only four people, excepting his Grace, in the world who knew both who Mr Rufford was and where he was at any one time; three of those but inexactly from his Grace’s very infrequent letters. After a while, his absence was noticed and occasioned not a little comment. None of his neighbours could recall having seen him for several months. He did not appear in any of the various clubs of which he was a member. His various relatives denied any knowledge of him. There were those who wondered if he was dead; surely such an august person as a Duke could not disappear in England for very long without being seen by someone. Polite enquiries of the few remaining members of the Duke’s household were met with an equally polite response informing them that his Grace was not at home. After the initial interest had died down, a few of the more astute members of the haut ton, especially those who closely interested themselves in the management of their own estates noticed that the improvements to the properties which his Grace had already started continued on apace and it was obvious that someone must be authorising the expenditure and overseeing matters. Since no announcement as to the succession to the Dukedom had been posted in the Gazette and the Hon. Gideon Ware -his Grace’s heir - was still living in Lodgings in Clarges Street apparently unconcerned by his cousin’s disappearance, all the curious could do was conclude that his Grace must be somewhere and to shake their heads at the behaviour of the higher echelons of the nobility. After a year with no news the gossips moved on to the next scandal and His Grace, if he was mentioned at, all was simply referred to as “The Missing Duke.” There were a few unconfirmed reports that he had been sighted abroad. A scion of a noble house on his Grand tour claimed to have spotted him in Rome, sketching at the Coliseum. On close questioning, it appeared he was mistaken. Although the individual’s likeness to the Missing Duke was prodigious, when challenged, he responded in fluent Italian and apparently did not understand English. On another occasion, an English priest who had once been presented to the young Duke on a visit to Sale Park almost bumped into a gentleman bearing more than a passing likeness to His Grace on the steps of the Opera House in Milan. These tales were told and retold in polite circles, but they were not much attended to. No ambassador reported meeting the Duke, he was not seen at any of the royal houses in Europe, even though his rank would have permitted him entry, and he did not visit any of those places where English visitors abroad were known to meet. Why, it was pointedly asked, would Sale, one of the richest men in England, choose to travel incognito? Freed at last from the oppressive sympathy of his staff and family, and in the guise of an unknown and unimportant Englishman, the Duke at last started to relax and to think about who he was and what he wanted to do. He had always felt that he had never had the opportunity to make his own choices. Until he came of age at twenty-five most of his important decisions were made for him. Even his choice of bride, however well it had worked out for them both, was made by Lord Lionel. He had never been allowed to carry anything for himself or arrange his own meals. He did not saddle his own horses or clean and load his own guns and he relied on his valet to choose the clothes he was to wear. Neither had he been permitted to follow his own interests. Although his tutors reported their pupil had a fair turn for scholarship, Lord Lionel, a keen sportsman, regarded the suggestion that the suggestion that his nephew might become bookish with outright horror. The Duke of Sale, as the head of the noble house of Ware, should be a leader of men, a bruising rider to hounds, a country gentleman at Sale Park and a leader of society in town. Unfortunately, as his ward had been a sickly child, he had to make some compromises and therefore Lord Lionel had been unable to take him to the sporting events which his contemporaries considered part of their upbringing. Standing beside his impossibly handsome Cousin Gideon, resplendent in his cavalry uniform, the young Duke knew that this was what his guardian had hoped he would become. He would have been less than human if he had not felt inferior. On the other hand, he had not the smallest wish to join the army even had Lord Lionel permitted it. He had no interest at all in boxing and when his uncle had decided he was old enough and fit enough to go to Jackson’s saloon, his first visit was also his last. If the corinthian set held no attraction for him neither was he a dandy, or a gentleman farmer, agriculturalist, patron of the arts, gamester or court satellite. Any one of these occupations would have been entirely acceptable occupations for the Duke of Sale; he had the rank and wealth to join the Bow Window set, or any other set had he chosen to do so. He did not so choose, but it was unclear, even to him, what it was he did choose to do. Other than the few short days when he was twenty-four, during which he had encountered Mr. Liversedge, the Duke had never been able to escape his golden shackles. It was, he more than once remarked to himself, grossly unfair that, despite his riches, he probably had made fewer personal choices than the poorest of his tenants. “Who,” wondered the Duke to himself “am I really? Having dropped out of sight, the Duke threw himself into his new-found freedom. He read the classics that Lord Lionel had denied him as a child and discovered in himself a real talent for languages. He spent hours expertly drawing the monuments that, on his grand tour, Captain Belper had whisked him through in a few minutes. He studied with the best Italian fencing masters until he became an expert with a small sword. He discovered that he was perfectly able to look after himself and did not need an army of people to ensure his every comfort. He could bespeak his own room, he could pack and unpack his own clothes and he could cook his own food. To a man whose life had been so confined, successfully producing a meal for himself and Francis seemed like a major triumph. There was a change too in the relationship between master and servant. Without either ever quite crossing the line, Francis and the Duke rapidly developed a healthy respect for each other and their relationship became, if not quite friendship, then something very like it. Certainly, the many chance acquaintances they met on the road saw them only as two Englishmen enjoying travelling in Europe. It was only on the rare occasions that the Duke stayed at a quality Hotel that Francis resumed the role of valet and servant and the Duke as master and social superior. They had both started out with preconceptions. Francis had thought that though his master was, judging by his own experience and that of his cronies, amongst the most lenient and generous of employers. That did not prevent him believing that the Duke did not really care about his fellow man; such concern as he might have, was a practical response to the need to secure his own comfort. ‘How could,’ mused Francis ‘a man born to rank and privilege be expected to have any fellow feeling for those less fortunate? He was swiftly disabused. While the Duke might have been ignorant of the lives of the ordinary man, what he had learned troubled him greatly. The Duke was fully aware of the privilege to which, by an accident of birth, he had been entitled all his life, and while it was true that he had regarded the welfare of his tenants a matter of duty, this did not mean that he did not care about, or was blind to, the needs of his dependants. A fair man, Francis was quickly obliged to accept that many of the views he and his peers held about the nobility might not be right. The Duke for his part had inevitably absorbed some of the prejudices common amongst his order. Along with most of his acquaintance he considered that education was not reserved to the nobility because they were noble, but because the ordinary man lacked the interest in such matters and the ability to assimilate them. Had he ever given much thought to the subject he would have also advanced the view that, unless he was instructed to do something, the ordinary man would wait to be told what to do. Initiative and drive were virtues which were the exclusive province of the gentry. Therefore, while he knew that Francis could read –a skill owned by all his upper servants – the Duke thought that his servant would lack the motivation to expand his knowledge. He was to be surprised also. The fact that they were together all the time resulted in the Duke spending a great deal of time talking to his servant who slowly became less reticent and more prepared to advance his own opinion and to defend his view. The prominent Yorkshire burr slowly softened until he began to sound like a North Country squire. As he had none of the oppressive formality that characterised the speech of an upper servant the Duke remarked with a grin that, should he have a taste for fraud, he would have no problem passing himself off as a gentleman upon his return to England. Realising that he had been mistaken over Francis’ educational aspirations, the Duke also undertook to remedy some of the gaps in Francis’ knowledge. For all he was well read, the older man had no knowledge of many of the sights which they visited the Duke took it upon himself to teach Francis some of the geography and history behind the Classics. In the process, he learned just how much Francis had learned at the hands of a country parson and from his own reading. Discovering Francis’ real intelligence made him wonder how much potential there was in the people who worked for him and what they might be able to do, given the opportunity. Despite his prejudices the Duke had never been comfortable with the proposition that his birth and rank, in some way necessarily made him ‘better’ than remainder of the population. With the exception of his servants, who treated him with extreme deference, he had never spent any time with people other than his own order. His conversations with Francis, and the other travellers chance met on the road opened his eyes somewhat and he was forced to review many of his preconceptions. The two men talked about how a man from Yorkshire had entered his Grace’s service, about his life in England before his arrival at Sale Park and his ambitions for the future. The Duke was almost entirely ignorant of the lives of ordinary people as the life he had lived hitherto had never given him much cause for thought on the subject and he listened with great interest. All this information was stored away for the day when he should reassume his dignities back in England. He was stunned to discover he had not known the half of what his servants did after a chance remark led him to ask how Francis employed his time when he was not required by the Duke. At home Francis had always appeared within seconds of being sent for and the Duke had naturally assumed that all Francis did was await the summons and then carry out his master’s bidding. By the time they had been abroad for six months, the new pattern of the relationship was well established, and they had learned to anticipate and rely on each other. That reliance was tested when one evening the Duke and Francis were riding south on the way to Naples with the intention of proceeding thence to Sorrento. They had reached a small village which, as the battered sign on the outskirts proudly proclaimed, was called Arco Felice. Having stopped for a glass of wine in a small cantina the pair left the village in good spirits and after no more than half a mile entered a small wood. It was a warm day and this, taken with the relaxing glow caused by the wine they had consumed, meant that neither rider was paying much attention to the road. Suddenly a man stepped out in to the middle of the road and stood facing them as they approached. His purpose was not immediately clear and the Duke was about to wish him good day when this individual pulled an ancient, but nonetheless intimidating, musket from behind his back, pointed it in their direction and grinned menacingly. Seconds later he was flanked by four others effectively barring the road and wielding stout sticks. Two travellers on a lonely road must have seemed easy pickings but they were surprised to discover they were comprehensively outmatched. The leader made the mistake of allowing his victims to approach too close and he could not cover both men with his firearm. First honours went to Francis. He waited for the leader to point his gun at the Duke and then drove his spurs into his horse’s flanks. The startled horse leapt forward and, as Francis was by now less than ten yards away from the would-be highwaymen, he easily rode down the leader before he could re-orient his weapon and disarmed him with a well-placed kick. The Duke, who had been practicing singlestick with Francis (a distinguished proponent of the skill) was not far behind. Thirty seconds later, two of the Ruffians lay unconscious at their feet and the remaining three could be seen running away as fast as they could. After a whole year in Italy, the Duke travelled on to Greece and from there to Spain and Portugal. By the start of the third year he was on the move again, this time towards Vienna and Saltzburg and then on to northern Europe. He, had started to consider the future some months previously after passing by a large estate that was obviously in a poor state. Walls had collapsed, hedges needed trimming and drainage ditches were choked. The Duke mentioned the dilapidated state of the property to the landlord at the inn to which they had repaired for the night and was surprised to discover that its owner was extremely wealthy but had not, for many years invested any of that wealth in his land. The decay was due to poor husbandry. A pair of locals had heard the landlord's remark and came over to talk to the visitors. Over the next hour the Duke learned that the estate was the major employer in the district and the failure of the owner had not only resulted in reduced estate revenue for him, but unemployment and poverty in the population. After this the Duke kept an eye open and realised that this was a pattern which could be identified time and time again. Landowners, he concluded, had far wider obligations than just to their tenants. He had done his very best to ensure that matters were properly attended to in his absence, but he began to be concerned that his prolonged stay on the Continent was becoming a little self-indulgent and that he was neglecting his duties. It was time to think about returning home. The years abroad had allowed the Duke to develop his own ideas as to the person he was and should be, and he had been able to obtain a perspective upon the privileges and obligations attached to his position. He was thus a very different Duke from the one who had left home three years earlier. His estate would be run on different lines, he would ensure basic education for his tenants and dependants and while he was perfectly happy to allow his household staff to look after him it would now be on his own terms. The scars of the last seven years were still there, writ large on his face for anyone to see, but never again would he feel powerless to make his own way in life. The Duke was now his own man. The decision made, the only remaining issue was the timing and the manner of his return. By the time he strolled into Mr. Livesedge’s establishment in Strasbourg, his plans were laid. He had formed the intention of travelling to Le Havre by easy stages via Reims and either Amiens or Paris. First however, he had to reappear and provide the curious with an explanation of where he had been for the last three years. Society, he thought, might have some difficulty accepting the truth. Arriving in Strasbourg a week earlier, his Grace’s first action had been to visit the bank at which his man of business had arranged a draft. The bank had at first treated the stranger who entered and politely requested audience with the manager with some suspicion but upon the Duke revealing his identity the manager’s attitude changed and he was offered every facility. There were, as the Duke later observed wryly to Francis, certain advantages to worldly rank. After securing sufficient funds he then visited a tailor and ordered such raiment as was necessary for a gentleman appearing in society. Initially rather disdainful at the shabby appearance the Duke presented, the tailor became remarkably helpful when told precisely how much he would be paid for prompt delivery. As a direct consequence of the Duke’s open handedness, other patrons found that their orders were inexplicably delayed. His Grace then wrote to Simpson; My Dear Simpson, I shall soon be returning to England. Please ask Scriven to prepare Sale House in readiness. He may hire such staff as he considers necessary. Please inform him that he may look to see me by no later than the beginning of April. I should be grateful if you would arrange for current accounts to be available relating to the state of the funds and the performance of the estates. Yrs etc Sale. Finally, his Grace moved to the Hotel Alsace which was widely regarded as the best hotel in the city and therefore exactly the place where one might expect to find a visiting Duke. He booked a suite of rooms for an indeterminate period and resumed his identity. There was however, one matter he had yet to attend to. He sent for Francis, “We shall return to England in a few weeks,” he said to the man who had been his constant companion for the last three years. “So I apprehend Your Grace.” Francis had also changed his attire. Gone was the road stained travel breeches and loose coat and, in its place, he now wore a close fitting black suit which proclaimed to the initiated that he was the personal servant of a gentleman of consequence. With the formal clothes came a formal attitude; Francis had instantly reverted to the Duke’s formal title as soon as his master had informed him he proposed to resume it. “We do not travel as light, since you have purchased new raiment, and I regret I may need a day or so to arrange for appropriate carriage.” “I’m sure you will manage,” the Duke grinned. There would have been a time when the Duke would have apologised for putting his man to unnecessary trouble but three years of exposure to Francis’ dry northern sense of humour had left its mark. “When we return,” The Duke’s face became more serious, “you will need to decide as to your future.” He paused for thought. “When you first came away with me, I had no thoughts of remaining away for so long. You may have had other plans.” Perceiving that His Grace had not yet finished Francis held his peace. “When we return, if you wish it so, I shall pay you two years' wages together with the sum due to you at that point and I shall provide you with a reference. You will have no difficulty in securing other employment. If, as I can well understand, you have tired of attending to the caprice of others such as I, then I will assist you to set up in a trade or occupation.” His Grace took a breath, “I am hoping however,” his tone indicated that he was not indifferent to the course Francis chose to follow, “that you might decide to remain with me. The thought of having to get used to someone else is not an enticing prospect.” “Thank you, Your Grace,” replied Francis in his most formal tone but with a decided glint in his eye, “I endeavour to provide satisfaction.” The Duke, perceiving the glint, recalled a few of the occasions when Francis’ resourcefulness had extricated them both from a sticky situation, and laughed out loud. The matter was settled. Francis was remaining in the Duke’s service. That evening saw the Duke visiting The House. Mr. Liversedge, having rapidly reviewed what he knew about the Duke’s activities over the last few years ventured a guess. “Your Grace has been travelling in Europe and, as no-one has heard anything of you for about three years I presume you have been incognito?” The Duke bowed slightly inviting him to continue. “As you have ventured as far as my humble house, I also presume that you are ready to be recognised again and,” at this point he looked decidedly uneasy, “you have some scheme for which you require my help. How may I be of assistance?” “You may be easy, I have not come to expose you,” reassured the Duke “but I do need some assistance. Rumour has it that you know of every snippet of gossip before anyone else. I need you to broadcast my return and let it be known that I am back. You can tell whatever story you like but news of my residence in Strasbourg needs to arrive in England by the end of February. My residence in Alsace has been of some duration you understand?” Mr. Liversedge gave the Duke to understand that he was more than happy to assist his Grace and explained that there were, in The House at that very moment, two English gentlemen who had the immediate intention of returning to England. Perhaps his Grace knew my Lord Chepstow? His Grace thought he may have had the pleasure some years ago and so a few minutes later Mr. Liversedge presented the Duke to two gentlemen who had just finished a hand of Deep Basset. “My Lord, a fellow Englishman, who desires this introduction. Lord Chepstow, the Duke of Sale. You may know that his Grace is resident here.” The look of comical astonishment that crossed his Lordships’ face nearly caused the Duke to laugh out loud, but an hour later his lordship returned to his hotel in full possession of the Duke’s (entirely fictional) experience of living in Alsace. Upon arriving back in England, he was able to be the first to relate that the Missing Duke was not missing after all but was resident in Strasbourg and had formed the intention of returning to England in the very near future. The Duke did not intend to rush back to England and in any event; he wanted to ensure Lord Chepstow had sufficient time to give advance notice of his reappearance. He had not visited the Rhineland before and he decided to do so before embarking on the five-hundred-mile trip home. Once more he assumed the guise of the ordinary Mr. Rufford and set out, Francis in tow, to follow the Rhine northwards towards Frankfurt. After three days leisurely travelling they were approaching the town of Seltz when they were overtaken by a succession of impressive and very costly carriages drawn by some very high bred cattle. There was a high perch phaeton drawn by a black pair harnessed in tandem and expertly driven by a young man accompanied only by his tiger. There were five travelling coaches of various sizes and design, all accompanied by outriders, and two Landaus containing a number of very serious middle-aged gentlemen. Most impressive of all was a huge Berline, drawn by no less than six matched greys, and with the crest of its owner emblazoned on the doors. It was escorted by a group of grim faced mounted soldiers dressed in a uniform the Duke did not recognise. Judging by the number and size of the carriages that had passed, they were expecting Seltz to be a fashionable resort with many fine hotels and imposing private residences but upon arrival they were surprised to find that, while it was very pretty, the town was extremely small and there were, as far as they could see, no houses or hotels of sufficient consequence to provide the style of accommodation the passengers in the carriages would be likely to expect. Nor was there anywhere large enough to accommodate a dozen carriages and the horses that drew them. “That is most odd” remarked the Duke in a puzzled voice, “no less than a dozen carriages have passed us in the last hour, yet there is no sign of them. Where would you hide that enormous Berline, not to mention the six greys?” “Perhaps they passed on through,” grunted Francis in a tone that indicated he was far more interested in his dinner than the whereabouts of the missing carriage. The Duke laughed out loud at Francis’ lack of concern and, taking the very obvious hint, he rode on in the direction of a small inn where the Duke bespoke supper and beds for the night. Nonetheless the Duke’s curiosity had been piqued and, having eaten the splendid meal prepared by Monsieur Vallon, the French innkeeper, who had exerted himself mightily on behalf of his English guests, the Duke announced his intention to walk off the meal. He was determined to try to locate where all the carriages had gone and to find out what it was that could draw so many persons of quality to a sleepy town in provincial Alsace. Through long practice His Grace and Francis had easily fallen back into the habits they had acquired when travelling. One such habit related to the circumstances under which it was appropriate for the Duke to go out unaccompanied. In the early days of their sojourn in Italy the Duke sometimes attempted to set off on his own leaving Francis at whatever place passed for their lodgings. He did not bargain for his servant’s stern sense of duty and affection for his master. While Francis might deprecate the cosseting behaviour of the staff at Sale Park this did not, by any means, imply that he was prepared to condone a reckless attitude as to personal safety on the part of his employer. This solicitude initially grated mightily on the Duke who alternatively demanded his own way and threatened dire consequences if he did not get it. These treats had no discernible effect on his imperturbable henchman who just looked steadily at The Duke until he calmed down. Francis had rapidly concluded there was no point at all in arguing – actions spoke much louder than words. Thereafter, if the Duke was engaged with a party of friends of noble birth, Francis would simply bow slightly upon being informed his Grace would not need his services. On such occasions, grateful for the opportunity for some time to himself, he would usually disappear off to an inn where he could flirt with a local girl intrigued by the English visitor with deep pockets. On the other hand, if Francis concluded that His Grace’s plans entailed an unacceptable measure of risk then if the Duke did not take his servant with him willingly, Francis simply followed and pointedly ignored any instructions to the contrary. Once Francis had rescued the Duke from a very sticky situation of his own making at the same time nobly refraining from pointing out that he had suggested to the Duke in advance that his proposed course involved an inordinate level of risk, the Duke bowed to the inevitable. Moreover, and this the Duke realised only slowly, Francis never intruded where he was not needed. He might be talking easily with his master one minute and yet could fade inconspicuously into the background the next. There was therefore no reason not to take him and his personal safety decreed every reason why he should. By the time The Duke arrived in Seltz, he accepted, without question, that if he chose to explore a strange town at night then Francis would accompany him. As they ambled aimlessly along the deserted streets, keeping a look out for the possible destination for so many carriages the Duke exchanged a couple of remarks with Francis but after fifteen minutes or so, they had lapsed into companionable silence. There was no sign of any of the vehicles and the Duke concluded that Francis had been right, despite the fact that the carriages entered Seltz at dusk, they must have passed through without stopping. The Rhine valley in January is not noted for the clemency of its weather. It was bitterly cold, there were small piles of snow where it had been swept off the road and the visitors had to be careful to avoid slipping on patches of ice. The town appeared to hold little which might be of interest to the passing visitor and, as it had now been dark for over two hours, the streets were well-nigh deserted. Both men were warmly dressed but even so, after a further quarter of an hour’s vain search, they were rather chilled and had begun thinking of the warm fire and the even warmer punch the innkeeper had promised. Accepting, for that night at least, he would be unable to solve the puzzle, the Duke turned resolutely back in the direction of the inn. They had wandered into a residential area. Lining both sides of the street were close packed houses which gave the impression they were occupied by well-to-do professional people. Indeed, some of the houses bore a brass plaque by the door proclaiming that the occupant was a Doctor or a Lawyer or some other professional or wealthy tradesman. The Duke guessed that in the daylight the houses would be almost picturesque. Each had a small front garden that, this early in the year, was unadorned by any colour but which the Duke thought would look very pretty come spring. Despite the late hour, there were still a few where light streamed through an un-shuttered window or a half open door. The Duke remarked sardonically, as they were passing yet another such well-lit house, that it was clear Alsatians kept late hours and that local candle prices must be low but before Francis could reply they heard a clear voice coming from the house; “If you or any of your friends come one step closer I will run you through.” Chapter 3 For a fraction of a second the Duke wondered if this threat had been aimed at him and turned sharply in the direction of the voice. Francis had had the same thought as his staff, hitherto used as a long walking stick, was now at the ready to defend his master. Just as quickly the pair relaxed; there was no-one in sight. Hearing one person threaten to kill another is not an everyday experience and the words would have been sufficient to have prompted the Duke to investigate further, but there were however, several other facts about the short speech which rendered it even more out of the ordinary way. Firstly, the speaker was clearly female and she (whoever she was) had spoken in unaccented English proclaiming her status as, most definitely, a lady. Secondly, the words were spoken conversationally, almost as if the speaker was heartily bored of the individual whose extinction was apparently so imminent. Apart for the sarcastic emphasis on the word “friends” the whole phrase was delivered almost deadpan although slightly louder than was necessary. The Duke formed the view that the speaker wanted to be overheard. Oddly, the clear threat provoked no response, either the other party was terrified by this most self-possessed of females or he was considering his options. No self-respecting Englishman could have failed to take a hand in the affair but, in any case, the Duke’s curiosity was by this stage thoroughly aroused. The last place he expected to find an Englishwoman was in an obscure town in this part of the world. An English lady bent on terminating the existence of her unknown adversary might stand in need of some assistance but, whatever the circumstances, this was a person he wanted to meet. He examined the house more closely. As with all the properties in the street, there was a narrow garden separating the house from the cobbled street. A paved path ran from the street to the large front door which, upon closer inspection, was slightly ajar. To the right of the door was a large un-shuttered window and, while the drapes had been partly drawn, there was still a gap between them affording a view of a fire merrily burning in a large hearth below a substantial mantle adorned with a candelabra. Indicating to Francis to follow him, the Duke silently ran up the path to the house and, as he knew the brightness in the room would make it very difficult for anyone inside to see what was outside, he peered through the gap in the drapes into the room. Though large, the room was as unremarkable on the inside as was the house externally. There was an open door in the left-hand wall through which could be seen a narrow hall and the base of a stair. The Duke concluded that, if he were to enter the house by the front door, the stair would be immediately in front of him. The hearth was on the right-hand wall and in addition to the other sundry items of furniture to be expected in the parlour of a residence of this type there was a large wooden table standing in the middle of the floor. The room was occupied by two females and five men. One of the men, whose rich dress proclaimed the nobleman, faced the fire although he was not at that moment enjoying the warmth of it. In fact, he looked most uncomfortable. He was bending backwards over the table and he bore a most apprehensive look on his face. This was no doubt due to the short sword pressed into his throat with enough force to cause a rivulet of blood to trickle down his neck. The other end of the sword was in the hands of a well-dressed lady who stood with her back to the fire. Her expression showed that she was furiously, though coldly, angry. The Duke thought he had never previously seen such an expression on the face of a member of the fairer sex and was impressed by the control she displayed. She was supported by a second, but older female, dressed in the manner of an abigail, who was unsteadily pointing a heavy cocked pistol at four men standing on the opposite side of the table with their backs to the open door. Judging by the looks these men were casting in the direction of the man held at sword point, he was their leader and it was clear from their uncertain expressions that they were, for the moment, unsure of what they should do next. Nonetheless it was hard to see how this could have a happy outcome for the two women, they were outnumbered, the pistol could only account for one of their foes and the table and four men stood between them and the door. There had never been any doubt in Francis’ mind that the Duke, his chivalrous instincts aroused, would intervene on the lady’s behalf. Three years living off his wits had honed Sale's intellect and it had taken no more than a few seconds for the Duke to assess the scene and to form a plan. Having quickly removed his boots he drew his sword and glanced pointedly at Francis, an obvious challenge in his eyes. He was clearly expecting an argument. He then pointed emphatically towards the front door. Notwithstanding the obvious danger, Francis knew perfectly well that this was one occasion when his master had little choice but to assist and, picking up a large and heavy stone ornament from the front garden, he grinned broadly, and nodded in the direction of the window. The Duke carefully pushed open the front door and stepped silently into a hall. He was gratified to see that, as he had surmised, the stair to the second floor was in front of him and the open door to the room he had seen from the garden was set in the wall a few feet along the right-hand wall. A moment later, and unnoticed by the occupants, the Duke stepped into the doorway and leaned against the door post. “How may I be of service?” he asked conversationally. The four men who, until that moment had been standing with their backs to him, whipped round, but before they could take more than a step in his direction a large stone gargoyle came hurtling through the window closely followed by Francis. It was over in a matter of seconds. Taken by surprise and shocked by the sudden turn of events the four men stood no chance. Francis had accounted for two of them. One was lying on the floor unconscious having received a hard blow on the back of his head from the manservant's staff and the other lay on the floor groaning and holding his stomach, the result of a well-aimed kick. The Duke had given a good account of himself too. The third man had a broken and very bloody nose where the Dukes fist had accurately and powerfully landed, and the other had pulled up short in the process of drawing his sword when he realised the point of the Duke’s own weapon was only inches in front of his eyes. The other occupants of the room had remained where they stood. The abigail had allowed her pistol to drop with a sigh of relief when she saw they were rescued but the Lady had not, by so much as flicker of her eyelids, removed her concentration from the man at the end of her sword point. Wisely, this man had not moved a muscle either, doubtless concerned that, if he did so, the lady might be tempted to drive her sword point home. Assuring himself that the men had no fight left in them the Duke looked in the direction of the lady and repeated; “How may I be of service to you ma’am?” Without looking away from her captive the lady appeared to consider her position for a moment and then, slowly leaning slightly forward she forced the man to bend even further backwards to avoid being skewered. For a moment, the impassive expression on the man’s face flickered as he wondered if it was now time for him to meet his maker, but it seemed as if his adversary was just making a point because, taking a deep breath and still defiantly holding his gaze, she stepped abruptly back releasing her captive and allowed him to stand upright. Still looking at the man she produced a scabbard which until that moment she had been holding unnoticed in the folds of her dress and slid the sword into it. The Duke was impressed. He understood the practice required to be able to sheath a sword without looking at it. Where, he wondered, did she acquire such an unusual (at least for a lady) skill? The lady threw a look of withering scorn at the man, now carefully rubbing his neck trying to discover the extent of his injury and then finally turned towards The Duke. He was used to ladies demurely dropping their eyes when confronted by a strange man but this one met his gaze unflinchingly and apparently without any embarrassment frankly assessing what she saw. Meeting the lady’s steady regard, the Duke took the opportunity to consider her. He now saw that she was, not to put too fine a point upon it, tiny. The Duke was only slightly built and was thus used to having to look up to most men. Even some women were taller than he. The top of this lady’s head would only just reach his chin. He had never before met an adult so much shorter than he was. He wondered how old he was. Her size was misleading; it would have been easy to have mistaken her for a girl but there was something about her that proclaimed her as being in her early twenties. She had chestnut brown hair and brown eyes, a retroussé nose and a most determined chin. She wore a plain primrose muslin dress which admirably complemented her chestnut locks and clasped around her neck she wore a plain string of pearls. “Sir.” Francis thought it time to bring his master back to the task in hand, “our friend is considering making a bolt for it.” The unknown man had, while his captor had been distracted, begun edging down the table and was looking speculatively at the broken window. He stopped as he felt the point of the Duke’s sword in his back. “What would you like me to do with him?” asked the Duke. You may let him go – as long as he takes his dogs with him,” she waved scornfully at the men the Duke and Francis had vanquished. The intensity and depth of her voice was at variance with her doll-like appearance. She turned to the man “I trust Monsieur; you note that I am not unprotected. I shall of course tell my uncle of your treachery.” The Duke, pardonably surprised at this turn of events, dropped his sword and stepped away from the door. The man, apparently unaffected by what had happened, picked up his hat from a chair, mockingly swept a magnificent leg to the lady and in fluent French, instructed his men to pick up their unconscious comrade. He nodded politely to The Duke and Francis and turned once again to the lady still standing in front of the hearth. “I must accord you the honours for this engagement Mademoiselle. Au revoir.” Without a backward glance, he swept out of the House. He was followed unobtrusively a few seconds later by Francis. The Abigail who had been standing quietly in the corner with a deep look of satisfaction on her face coughed delicately and looked enquiringly at the Duke. Thus reminded of his manners, his Grace coloured a little: “Allow me to introduce myself” he bowed deeply, “Vernon Rufford at your service. My friend John Francis,” he nodded at the door, “is, I collect, making sure your visitors have truly decided that discretion is, at least on this occasion, the better part of valour. You were fortunate, my friend and I heard you as we walked past your door.” His introduction did not have quite the effect he expected. Upon giving his name the Lady’s brows drew together as if she was in deep thought. After a moment she repeated, “Rufford?” She sounded almost as if she was talking to herself. “Rufford? Her tone changed. It seemed as if she had managed to track down a wayward memory. “It is my belief” she said carefully, “that I am addressing the Duke of Sale. I recall,” she added more positively “Baron Rufford is one of the Duke’s minor titles. The lady looked at him clearly daring him to suggest she was wrong. There was little point in arguing with such a well-informed lady; “You found me out ma’am, but such matters are hardly of any consequence here and I wish you will tell me ...” The Duke stopped mid-sentence as the Lady swept a curtsey. Very surprised, he noted that the curtsey was perfectly executed but somewhat deeper that was strictly appropriate for his Ducal rank. Nonetheless it had been so long since anyone had performed such a courtesy to him that he was very uncomfortable. Quickly stepping around the table he grasped the little hand offered to him, kissed it and begged her to stand. As the Duke was, by this time, thoroughly confused, he was relieved at Francis’ return. He looked at his servant the obvious question on his face. “Gone” Francis said shortly, “but there were others waiting at the end of the street.” The meaningful look he shot at his master told the Duke much more than Francis’ words as he continued, “We need to go, it’s not safe here.” As the Duke indicated by a flick of his eyes that he should try to avoid alarming the ladies he hurriedly added, “If we leave now however, they won’t know where, or indeed if, we have gone.” He smiled grimly. “The lookout they left is er ... asleep.” Almost before he had finished speaking the Lady had looked at her Abigail who nodded and vanished into the hall almost instantly reappearing with two light cloaks, two bonnets and a large ermine muff. Meanwhile the lady securely drew the drapes and closed the shutters. Muttering that they had no time to bother with them she threw the bonnets and the muff into the fire. “Where are we going?” She asked bluntly. None of the ladies with whom the Duke had previously been acquainted, including his own Harriet, had ever been quite as efficient, composed and decisive as this one and, although it was extremely disconcerting, he could not but agree that, at least upon this occasion, it was appropriate and welcome. A display of sensibility could not, he felt, but impede their progress. Upon Francis confirming that the street was still clear, he waved the ladies through the front door. The whole incident from the time they had first heard the lady threatening the demise of her opponent, could not have lasted more than three or four minutes. The Duke watched as the lady securely locked the heavy door behind her and placed the key in her reticule. When he had confirmed they were ready he nodded at the Lady. “Follow me” he said briskly. Although the bright moon cast the front of the building they had just left into sharp relief but, in contrast, the other side of the street was deep in shadow. The Duke led them into the gloom and, with Francis taking up the rear, he started off in the direction of the inn as rapidly as he thought the ladies could manage. He noted with approval that they remained silent and although he could see that, hampered as they were by their petticoats, they could go no faster, they were keeping up. He was thinking quickly. The street they were on was undoubtedly the quickest route back to the inn and, if they were able to maintain their pace, he thought they would arrive back in less than fifteen minutes. On the other hand, it was a long straight street and, even in the shadows, if someone were to be searching for them, they would be relatively easy to spot. There would be little point in taking the straight road if they were overtaken before reaching their destination. He had little doubt that, without the element of surprise, they would stand little chance against a determined attack. After a very short time they reached a crossroads and the Duke paused and looked to left and right. Francis indicated that the men had turned to the left upon leaving the house. He had to choose. Turn right or straight on. He noticed that, less than fifty yards down the road to his right there was a narrow side street which appeared to run parallel to the road upon which they currently stood. This settled it; there was a risk they might become lost, but the Duke had an acute sense of direction and the risks of remaining on the main street were, in his view, simply too high. They turned right and a few seconds later rounded the corner and plunged down the side street. It was not a moment too soon. The night was still and sounds carried a long distance. A few seconds after they disappeared around the corner they heard the sound of a group of people apparently in a hurry, coming from behind them. The Duke drew the party into a deep shadow behind the corner of a wall where a house projected further into the street than its fellows and waited. For what seemed like an age the sound of pursuit became louder and then slowly it started to recede. The Duke let out the breath he had been unaware he was holding. Catching Francis’s eye, he indicated with a sharp jerk of his head that his man should investigate. Peering cautiously around the wall, the Duke watched his servant run noiselessly up to the corner they had just rounded and then, after checking to make sure he was unobserved he disappeared back the way they had come. They did not have long to wait. Francis returned in less than a minute. “It’s them” he said. “They have gone back to the house and they will have to break down the door. That will delay them.” The Duke heaved a sigh of relief, if they kept moving they should manage reach the inn well before anyone thought of looking for them there. Checking briefly to make sure the ladies were ready to move on and signalling to Francis to join him he set off once again. “What are we going to do when we get there?” The Duke whispered. “We may be safe but if our friends are desperate they might consider it worth mounting an assault on the inn.” “I have been thinking about that Your Grace,” replied Francis, “we cannot leave the town tonight, we do not have the means to do so, especially if we are to take the ladies with us.” He paused for a moment, “then again, before we do anything more the Lady will have to tell her story, or we could end up in a worse fix.” He stopped once again. The Duke did not interrupt, he had learned that, in situations like this his servant’s mind was every bit as quick as his own and he rarely put a foot wrong; if he had a plan then the Duke wanted to hear it. After a moment Francis continued pensively, “if we could somehow convince them we had already left ...” he petered out as if in thought. A moment later he had an idea. “The lady knows who you are, but a hundred to one our friend doesn’t, if he could just be made to think this was a pre-planned rescue mission...? Francis left the question hanging. The Duke weighed up this idea, there were a number of potential flaws, but he thought, with luck, it could be made to work. He turned to the lady. She was gamely keeping up, but the fast pace was starting to tell on her and she was starting to breath heavily. “Were you lodging in that house?” The lady looked at him but shook her head. She seemed to appreciate the need to give short concise answers. “No, Monsieur Hainaut, took me there by a trick. I have never been in this town before.” The Duke nodded thoughtfully, “How long ago did he take you?” “I do not know the time now, but I left my uncle’s protection about two o’clock.” “When would you have been missed?” A definite plan had by this stage formed in the Duke’s head. “Again, I do not know. Not, I think, much before six o’clock although Hainaut would not have known that. In any event if someone had sent for me it could have been much sooner.” “For our purposes, you will have been missed much earlier. Now” the Duke paused for a moment before continuing aloud to himself, “if only Vallon will help us.” It was about ten minutes later when they emerged cautiously from the end of the street and it seemed that fortune had favoured them. The rear of the inn was only a few yards to their left on the opposite side of the deserted road. The party crept unseen into the stable yard and the Duke heaved a sigh of relief. He turned to Francis. “Find a Carriage, steal one if you have to. Drive it as quickly and loudly as you can out of the Town. Make it sound like the devil himself is on your heels. There was a sign we passed on the way in this afternoon pointing towards a town called Hatten. Go that way. Once you are well outside town, hide the carriage so that it will not be found until daylight and leave the horses tethered. Leave this,” the Duke handed his man a number of banknotes, “on the seat and then return here as quickly as possible.” Francis grinned broadly and received one in answer from his employer. The pair were, somewhat perversely, enjoying themselves. They had pitted their wits against a variety of foes over the last three years and each time they had won. Even though, due to the need to keep the ladies safe, the stakes were somewhat higher than in the past, this was much more stimulating than riding aimlessly from town to town. Without a further word, he bowed politely to the ladies, nodded to his master and disappeared noiselessly into the night. The Duke turned to his companions and drew them once again into the deeper shadow. He noted that despite the fast pace he had set the ladies, who were not dressed for a night walk in Alsace in winter, were shivering and huddling together in the cold. He took off his coat and placed it round them both. “Wait here,” he whispered, “I shall be no longer than five minutes. Make no sound.” The lady nodded and pulled the coat around herself and the abigail. As he turned towards the inn she put out a hand to stop him for a minute. “Thank you, Your Grace, not only for myself and,” she turned to her abigail “Martha; but there is much more at stake here than you could possibly know.” “It is my pleasure,” responded the Duke, with a slight bow “and when we have disposed of your unwanted companion and his henchmen, you shall tell me how I may serve you further.” At this, the Duke turned on his heel, walked swiftly across the stable yard and, checking once more to make sure he was unobserved, he entered the inn. The rear door of the inn opened on to a narrow corridor which, at least for the moment, was deserted. Turning around he shot the bolt, locking the door so that no-one could enter behind him. He looked around to orient himself. Three doors opened off the corridor; one each to the left and right and one right in front of him. He thought that the door at the end probably opened into the front parlour. Laughter and conversation was coming from behind it and he recalled that there was indeed a door at the back of the parlour which was used only by the innkeeper. On the left, the door led into what appeared to be the innkeeper’s private rooms. Behind the door on the right a stone stair led down into what must be the cellar. Creeping silently along the corridor the Duke could see that the wood in one of the panels in the door was cracked and a shaft of cheerful candlelight shone through casting a flickering shadow on the floor. Peering through the crack he could see that Monsieur Vallon was talking with his other patrons. All the Duke could do now was wait; his plan would not succeed if he were seen by anyone else in the inn. Eventually the innkeeper excused himself. Upon opening the door, he was surprised but gratified to see his English guest behind it. “Monsieur, you have returned at a good hour, the punch is ready.” He faltered as he saw the Duke’s expression, and an expression of frank bewilderment crossed his face as the Duke put his finger across the innkeeper’s lips indicating he should be silent. His astonishment only grew as his English visitor all but dragged him into his own cellar. “Is there something wrong?” he said as soon as the Duke released his grip. “Vallon, I need your help,” The Duke said bluntly. “I suspect that very soon someone will come here and ask you if you have an English guest staying here. I need you to tell them that we returned to the inn and then left in a great hurry.” The innkeeper looked very disappointed, “You are leaving Monsieur” he asked, “but I thought ...” The Duke cut him off, “No, I am staying, but I need you to give it out to anyone who asks that I have left.” It was apparent that the poor innkeeper was hopelessly confused. He spread his hands out in a gesture which communicated, more clearly than any words could have done, that he did not understand. Sale hid his frustration; the innkeeper could not possibly be expected to assist without more explanation. He knew however, that he had very little time to make the man understand. “Listen my friend; my servant and I have just rescued an English lady and her maid from the clutches of one of your countrymen called, I believe, Monsieur Hainaut.” The innkeeper’s face immediately twisted into an expression of such distaste that the Duke was able to remark, “I see he is not unknown to you.” The innkeeper would have responded but the Duke held up his hand, “I need not tell you that this gentleman had no honourable intentions towards the lady.” The innkeeper’s expression darkened still further leading the Duke to believe that Monsieur Hainaut had something of a reputation for mistreating ladies. “My own family and friends can testify to Monsieur Hainaut’s lack of respect for female virtue,” the innkeeper’s tone carried not a trace of his previous affability, “If your English lady had the misfortune to tangle with him then, knowing what I know, I can readily believe she required rescuing. Alsatians do not take kindly to outsiders and even though I have been here nearly thirty-five years and am generally well accepted, there are those in the town who do not patronise this inn merely because I was born in Auvergne. Hainaut is not well accepted at all and I have to live with the knowledge that that crapaud is as French as I.” The Duke made up his mind at that moment that, whatever else happened, Monsieur Hainaut would pay dearly for his sins. Vallon stared at his guest, “What do you need?” “We have very little time,” said the Duke, relieved at being so quickly understood. “I have reason to believe Monsieur Hainaut will come looking for us and if he comes here I need you to tell him, or whoever comes on his behalf that we left in a great hurry travelling south. We left so suddenly that we did not even pay our bill. You may be properly indignant. My man is currently creating a diversion which will I hope, also help to convince them that we have gone. They must think we have already left because we cannot, in reality, do so tonight. I understand the lady has an uncle staying somewhere in the locality and tomorrow I will find this worthy and restore her to him but until then we need you to hide me, my man, and the Lady currently waiting in your stable with her maid.” At that moment, the sound of a carriage being driven much too fast for safety was heard passing along the road outside the inn. “I suspect I am in that carriage,” the Duke remarked with a smile. “I must think,” the landlord said almost to himself, “There is much to be done.” Having by now understood the urgency of the matter, the Landlord did not waste any further time in conversation. He looked at the Duke. “The Lady has a maid you say?” When the Duke nodded, he continued, “in that case she can stay with my sister. Fortunately, the door to her house opens onto the yard of this inn.” The landlord unbolted the back door and passed though. “If you will fetch the ladies and bring them over there.” He pointed to a neat green door set in the back wall of the yard and bustled off towards it. The Duke ran quickly across to where he had left the two ladies. The look of relief which crossed their faces when he reappeared told its own story. He held out his hand, “It is all arranged, you will stay with the innkeeper’s sister. Come with me.” The Ladies did not need to be told twice. A few seconds later they had crossed to the open door and were ushered inside by a stout motherly lady who was clearly more than happy to take them under her care. Pausing only to reassure the ladies that he would return as soon as it was safe to do so, the Duke turned and set off after the landlord’s rapidly departing back. They entered the inn once more from the stable yard but, instead of going into the saloon the landlord opened the door to his own rooms. “We can reach the bedrooms upstairs this way” he explained. “No-one will see you. You can sleep in my spare room. It is normally occupied by my brother but, although he does not yet know it, he is visiting our aunt in Schaffhouse-prèz-Seltz.” A few seconds later they had reached the two rooms which The Duke had bespoken only a few hours before. The landlord turned apologetically “Monsieur, I am sorry to ask it of you, but can you pack your own things while I collect up your man’s belongings.” The Duke did not bother with a reply but set to with a will collecting up his clothes and travelling gear and cramming everything haphazardly into his portmanteau. He could hear his companion performing the same task with Francis’ clothes in the room next door. Not more than five minutes later the rooms had been stripped. Even the most casual observer would have had no difficulty in concluding that the occupants had rapidly vacated them. Standing a minute later in the spare room in Vallon’s private quarters the Duke finally took stock. He had perforce accepted the landlord’s assistance but why had he required such little explanation? He looked up at the landlord who had no difficulty in reading the obvious question written large on the Duke’s face. “Monsieur Hainaut is well known in this area,” he explained. “His uncle, Vicomte Hainaut owns a large estate near Eberbach-Seltz. The uncle is childless and thus the nephew expects to inherit. Fortunately, he does not visit often but, when he does, let us say, a wise man locks up his daughter. Unfortunately, before his reputation was known, my sister’s child had the misfortune to cross his path and...” The landlord shrugged. The message was clear enough. “There have been others too. Monsieur,” Vallon accompanied the title with an expression of severe distaste, “Hainaut is not well liked here. If we could, we would do something about it but the Vicomte is a good man and he would find it very difficult to accept that his heir behaves in such a way. Who would believe us?” Vallon sighed impotently. “I think you will find, my good Vallon, that your friend has overextended himself on this occasion. The lady I rescued will certainly make a complaint and I will support it. I think you will find no-one will doubt my word.” The Duke could see that his words had given the innkeeper at least some hope of justice and continued, “The Ladies? Are they safe? “My sister will take good care of them.” Vallon replied firmly. “All I had to tell her was that they were running away from Monsieur Hainaut and it was enough.” He turned towards the door, “I need to return to my customers. I will let you know what happens.” Without another word he turned and left the room, closing the door behind him. Chapter 4 It was, by the Duke’s reckoning, nearly two hours later that Vallon returned with a bottle of wine and two glasses. To the Duke’s relief Francis, answering his employer’s questioning glance with a brief nod, returned with him. “You were right,” Vallon remarked as he poured his guests a glass of wine each, “one of Hainaut’s lackeys came in almost as soon as I went back downstairs.” The Landlord looked a little puzzled, “There is more to this than meets the eye. Hainaut’s behaviour makes no sense. My sister tells me that the lady you brought here is quite obviously of the English nobility. She speaks fluent French, her clothes are of good quality, she has a maid who travels with her and her manners clearly proclaim her status. Yet our friend appears very keen to find her. Surely, having lost her, he would want to avoid the scandal. Chasing her across France is dangerous and likely to attract attention. While society might forgive a liaison with the niece of an innkeeper, ruining the virtue of an English Lady would be unlikely to be forgotten. Wars have been started over less.” “I cannot shed any light upon the matter either.” The Duke was as much in the dark as his host, “The lady told me that there was more at stake here than even her reputation, but we had no time to discuss the matter further. Doubtless she will enlighten us as soon as we are secure from discovery. Is it yet safe?” “My sister,” replied the landlord in a tone which indicated that, as a mere male he had not been consulted over the matter, “has asked me to tell you that the ladies are exhausted and have retired to bed. If I know my sister, they will have had very little say in it. She told me that the lady asked her to tell you that, if you would be so kind as to attend them tomorrow morning an explanation will be forthcoming.” “I suppose” said the Duke having considered the matter, “That there is little we can do now in any event. I should however like to hear what you two have been doing.” He looked at Francis, “where did you find a carriage so quickly? I heard you careering out of the town only ten minutes after you left us.” “I was lucky,” Francis said, “not more than five minutes after I left you, I found a carriage with two fresh horses just standing outside a house. I .... ‘invited’ the driver to get down, and mindful of your instructions, stole the whole equipage.” “It belongs to the Doctor” interjected the landlord “I told him, when he came in raving that a pack of thieves had viciously assaulted his coachman and stolen his carriage, that an Englishman staying at my inn had left precipitately about the same time as the carriage was stolen. He has gone to tell the authorities. The story will seem much more credible if Hainaut hears it from more than one source. M’sieur le Docteur understood from his coachman that he stood no change against such an overwhelming force. He would be even less than happy if he knew that his servant had been overpowered by just one man.” The Landlord shrugged, “Claude’s priority has always been the preservation of his own skin. When Bonaparte was in charge it was always ‘vive la république’ now it is vive le roi!” Francis grinned at the Landlord’s strictures upon Claude’s courage and continued. “The Doctor has a fine pair of horses but I do not think they are used to being driven at a full gallop. It took them a while to settle and in the meantime, they kicked over every plant pot and sign in the street. I should think they raised the entire town. Once outside the town I dropped off the pace a little, the road is not good enough to risk driving at speed in the dark. Francis smiled, showing how much he had enjoyed himself, “I am afraid a couple of your neighbours are probably a little disturbed, M’sieur Vallon.” Neither the Duke nor Vallon thought he showed the slightest sign of regret. “Much to their distress, just after they had passed the turning for Hatten an unlit carriage driven at a lunatic pace came out of the dark in the opposite direction. As it passed their gig it grazed their wheels almost turning them into the ditch.” “It was Aubière,” Vallon remarked with a laugh. “Unfortunately for him he is rather nervous and very superstitious. If he hears a mouse behind the wainscot he is immediately convinced he is about to be murdered in his bed. He sees ghosts in every shadow, demons behind every tree and he is downstairs now, shaking like a leaf and trying to calm his nerves with the contents of a brandy bottle. The way he tells it, he was forced off the road by a ghostly carriage driven by a demon with red eyes and a huge whip.” The thought of the reticent Francis being cast as an evil spirit almost overset the Duke who had to bite on his glove to prevent a shout of laughter. Vallon concluded by adding, “apparently he thought this demonic apparition had come to drag him down to hell! Although,” he added ruminatively, “he has not yet told us what he had done to merit such a fate. He goes to confession at least three times a week.” Deeply appreciative of the vision of his supernatural antics it was a few moments before Francis could compose himself sufficiently to continue. “About five miles outside the town there is wood. I left the coach and tethered the horses there, but a way off the road. I do not think they will be found until morning. I was just about to write the note as instructed when a carriage passed along the road quickly, but not yet quickly enough as to amount to a chase. I think it was co-incidence. The message I left explained that the person who stole the doctor’s carriage did not want to bring their own vehicle into the town. If our friend is prepared to believe this note, then a planned rescue will seem more than credible. I explained therefore that we had stolen the carriage merely to get as far as the wood where we transferred to our own vehicle. As an enquiry will show that a carriage did in fact go down that road beyond the wood, if they follow it they will simply be chasing shadows.” “Are you sure you were not seen? The Duke asked. “I was not seen.” The Duke nodded, he had heard that tone from Francis before. If Francis said he had not been seen, then that was the end of it. The Landlord was a good deal amused by this story. He obviously derived considerable satisfaction at the thought of Hainaut and his men riding through the night to chase a ghost. He explained what had happened downstairs. “As I explained, one of Hainaut’s lackeys, a belette called Orsin, came into the parlour and asked, if there was an English gentleman staying at my inn. I asked why he wanted to know and he explained that his master had heard that one of his friends was here. I was properly affronted M’sieur. I was furious with Orsin and his master and I told him that Monsieur Hainaut should make sure his friends did not disappear from my inn without paying their bill. Orsin begged my pardon on behalf of his master but I would not let him leave until he understood the full extent of my injuries. I insisted he follow me to the rooms which the English visitors, to whom I had extended the hospitality of my house, had latterly and so precipitately vacated. He could see that the occupants had left in a hurry leaving their rooms in a mess which of course I should have to clear up. We then returned to my parlour where I demanded Monsieur Hainaut pay me for his guests' perfidy. They would not, I asserted, have come here at all without his master’s invitation. My loss was his master’s fault and I would have satisfaction. At this point Monsieur le Docteur returned to my inn with this intention of drowning his sorrows at the loss of his carriage. Like Aubière he is rather too much addicted to brandy. Upon hearing my woes, he gave it as his opinion that Monsieur Hainaut would also have to account to him for the loss of his carriage. And he also demanded payment from Orsin. When it became generally known that the Doctor’s carriage was missing, several of my customers said they saw it disappearing along the road to Hatten at full gallop and suggested that Monsieur Hainaut’s guest was a menace on the road. At this Aubière belatedly realised that what he had seen was not a creature from hell but a disreputable friend of Monsieur Hainaut driving a carriage at full gallop down a country road in the dark with little consideration for road users and furiously demanded an apology. What could Orsin do? He said that this behaviour did not sound like his master’s good friend Monsieur Danvers, although he admitted he could be a little wild and he promised faithfully to explain matters to his master. After many apologies and promises of recompense he was finally allowed to leave. Hainaut is not a kind master - I suspect he is on the way to Hatten now.” The Duke and Francis had enjoyed Vallon’s account immensely. He was, despite his spare frame, extremely strong from years of handling barrels and horses and it was not hard to imagine the landlord dragging the reluctant Orsin around his inn. Nonetheless, although grateful for his help, he was concerned that he might have exposed the amiable landlord to a risk of danger. This was dismissed with a Gallic shrug. “I do not fear him. I have many more friends in this town than him. En outré I have long waited for the opportunity to even the score with my Monsieur Hainaut and I think I might now have found it.” The innkeeper levered himself out of his chair and made for the door. “I shall leave you now, unless I miss my guess I suspect you may need your sleep.” He opened the door. “Oh Monsieur, I nearly forgot, you do not have to worry about your horses. My brother, who deals in horses now and then, has acquired two new splendid beasts which bear a remarkable resemblance to your mounts. He has stabled them here. He will be more than happy to sell them to me for next to nothing.” With that, mine host bowed himself out of the room. The Duke and Francis had occupied far less commodious accommodation than Vallon’s spare room over the last three years and they had little difficulty sleeping. As both men fell into the arms of Morpheus, their last waking thoughts were strangely similar. The Duke had a mental image of a tiny English lady competently wielding an epée and Francis thought of a quiet abigail brandishing a pistol. Neither the Duke nor Francis slept late the following day. Vallon presented them with a splendid breakfast and informed them that the ladies now residing with his sister would be ready to receive them at their convenience. He then added somewhat sardonically that this invitation held good so long as Monsieur Rufford’s convenience led him to present himself not a second earlier than ten o’clock. Some fifteen minutes after the appointed hour the two men crossed the stable yard and entered Vallon’s sister’s house. The Landlord had prevented the possibility of them being seen by the simple expedient of parking a delivery of wine across the gate into his yard thus obscuring the view of anyone who might happen to pass by at that moment. The lady of the house – Vallon had said his sister was called Madame Ricard - conducted them into a back room where the lady and the abigail that the Duke had encountered the previous evening were waiting. Madame would have left but the Duke prevented her, “Madame Ricard please stay. I have invited your brother to join us. I suspect we may need to batten yet further upon your good nature.” He strode over to Vallon’s sister, grasped her hands, smiled broadly and bowed a little. “Please allow me to thank you for your help, I am sure we have put you to great trouble and, whatever your brother says, I think we have exposed you to a real risk.” The Duke’s smile had won him many friends over the years and Madame Ricard was no more impervious than those upon whom it had been bestowed in the past. In addition, although he had chosen to hide his real identity, his manners proclaimed, if not his true rank, at least his status as a gentleman. Madame, whose family had been innkeepers for several generations still regularly helped her brother and she had the experience to recognise that her brother’s guest was no ordinary traveller. Blushed at the honour showed to her she dropped a curtsey, stammered out that it had been a pleasure to help an English lady and her maid to escape from that villainous cochon and confirmed that she would do whatever she could if it would help bring Monsieur Hainaut to justice. At that moment Vallon, entered and shut the door behind him. “I have just this moment left town to obtain supplies. You will appreciate that this might take some time. No-one will miss me.” The Duke looked around the room. It appeared that he had been appointed to lead the discussion. He thought for a moment and then looked at the lady sitting opposite. “I have asked Monsieur Vallon and his sister to be present because they may have useful information about our friend M’sieur Hainaut. Even if they do not, they have the same wish to see justice meted out to him full measure as do you.” “Madame Ricard,” the Lady acknowledged her host with a smile, “did me the honour of explaining what happened to her daughter. Even if they had no interest in this discussion I could not ask her to leave. I am deep in their debt.” “I am afraid my good Vallon,” The Duke smiled apologetically at his hosts, “that I have deceived you a little. As you will soon find out I am not the Monsieur Rufford you think me.” He then turned to the Lady, “how did you recognise me?” “I saw you once a few years ago on a visit to Sale Park. It was just before your wife died. You were pointed out to me by my uncle.” If the mention of his wife caused him any pain it was not obvious. What was apparent was his puzzlement. She sighed deeply. “I am afraid this may take some time.” She looked at the innkeeper and his sister. “This man is not Monsieur Rufford. He is the Duke of Sale, one of the wealthiest and respected men in England. Baron Ware of Rufford is one of his minor titles.” Madame Ricard and Vallon both drew in their breath sharply. It was Vallon who spoke, “I have been entertaining an English Duc in my humble inn and I knew nothing about it. Mon Dieu!” “I beg you will not publish that fact abroad for the moment” said the Duke, “it could be, to say the least, somewhat inconvenient. However, I promise I will visit you again one day and you can then tell all your neighbours.” Vallon sat back in his chair clearly enjoying a vision of being boasting that his small inn entertained quality. The Duke looked pointedly at the lady. “For the moment, I am intrigued to know how this lady knew who I am, for I am perfectly sure I have never met her before. I also admit,” he continued in a masterpiece of understatement, “to a certain curiosity over how and why she held Monsieur Hainaut sword point, and what in heaven she was doing alone in a small town in Alsace in the first place? Finally, I would like to know how I may restore her to her uncle.” It was an invitation to continue. To his surprise, the Lady, thus far one of the most composed member of her sex that he had yet met, was now looking very unsure of herself. He was just about to reassure her, but she forestalled him; “My name is Sarah Leighton. You know of my uncle, Viscount Borden, I think. He has a small estate that borders Sale Park. I have been resident at Borden in his care ever since I was seven years old. Before that I was in the care of his father.” The Duke’s was surprised. He was not intimately acquainted with the Viscount who was much older than he, but from the circumstance of Lord Lionel and Viscount Borden having been friends for years, he had met Miss Leighton’s uncle many times. As far as he was aware the Viscount had no living relatives, much less pretty female ones. He was just about to ask the questions revolving around in his head, but Miss Leighton rushed on as if trying to prevent him from interrupting. “As you know, my uncle and Lord Lionel were friends. When I was fourteen Lord Lionel was visiting Sale Park and my uncle was planning to drive over to see him. My brother had just left home to go to sea and I was lonely. I was also desperate to see your house and I pleaded with my uncle to let me visit. My uncle is very fond of me and so I was permitted to go. When everyone went outside, one of the maids showed me around the house. We were just passing one of the windows facing the south lawn when the maid stopped me and pointed you out. That is how I knew who you were, I had seen you before.” “But,” the Duke interjected unable to contain his curiosity any longer “as you say, I know your uncle well. Not perhaps as well as Lord Lionel, but well enough. I have visited Borden more than once. I have even dined there. Yet I had no idea he had a niece and nephew, much less a niece and nephew who lived with him. How comes this about? Why have we never been introduced? I can assure you,” he said in a tone loaded with meaning, “I should have remembered you.” The Duke was somewhat surprised to see a look of acute discomfort on Miss Leighton’s face. Seriously discomposed she looked searchingly at her maid who though also clearly concerned, shrugged, unable to advise her. “There is an explanation,” Miss Leighton said haltingly, “and I will provide it to you; or my uncle will. Indeed” she added somewhat cryptically, “as you are now aware of my existence you must be told.” She halted, looking again at her maid for assistance. “Miss Sarah,” Martha said in a low voice, “as you say he will need to be told.” She turned to the Duke, “But might I ask if for the moment you could restrain your curiosity.” She stopped for a moment and then almost to herself she added, “Oh dear, this is so awkward!” “Madam, Miss Leighton,” the Duke could not be proof against this appeal, “You have no obligation to explain anything to me whatsoever. I shall contain my curiosity, and if at some stage you consider it appropriate to explain matters I will listen. If not...” he paused, “Well if not, you may be assured of my discretion. “I thank you, Your Grace” The Duke’s unquestioning acceptance of her story gave Miss Leighton courage. “If I tell you that very few people are aware of my existence, that I do not go into society and that my circumstances are such that I am obliged to exercise the greatest discretion will that be sufficient explanation for the moment? When time allows I will tell you my full history.” “You may tell me, or you may choose not to tell me, Miss Leighton,” the Duke replied courteously, “Now, how may I assist you?” “I am grateful for your forbearance Sir.” Miss Leighton heaved a sigh of relief and appeared to settle somewhat at the reassurance. “We would be very grateful for your further assistance as there is a great deal at stake.” She paused a moment gathering her thoughts and then spoke more positively. “I need to explain what I am doing in Alsace. Since I turned seventeen I have usually travelled with my uncle as he is no longer comfortable leaving me alone at Borden. You will of course know that my uncle is intimate with the foreign secretary Mr. Canning, and as a result often travels abroad on diplomatic business. When he is working, I manage his paperwork and write his letters, acting if you will, as an unofficial private secretary. When we are at Borden I manage the household. My uncle is presently resident at the Chateaux owned by Monsieur Hainaut’s uncle in Eberbach-Seltz a few miles from here in attendance at a conference at the request of His Majesty King Louis XVIII.” The Duke’s head came up at that moment and he glanced across at Francis. One mystery had been solved. “On the way into town yesterday,” the Duke observed, “we were overtaken by a number of very expensive carriages. When we arrived at Seltz we were surprised to see no sign of any of them. I presume there is some sort of diplomatic conference at the Chateaux? What is it about?” “It is supposed” Miss Leighton’s voice was laden with heavy irony, “to be a secret conference but, as most of the delegates insisted on arriving in a manner to impress their fellows, the news that something is going on at Chateaux Hainaut must be all over Alsace by now.” “You are right mademoiselle,” Monsieur Vallon interrupted, “speculation is rife as to what is going on there; but that something is going on is common knowledge. We all knew the Vicomte was expecting visitors three weeks ago. His housekeeper has been hiring help and buying extra supplies.” He gave a shrug, “Keeping such things a secret in this area is almost impossible.” “If I had arranged the meeting it would have been a secret,” Miss Leighton remarked acidly. No-one doubted her word for a moment. “The purpose of the conference relates to the succession to the French throne. His Majesty is not a well man; his doctors have predicted that he is unlikely to see the year out. The heir to the throne is the King’s brother Charles, who is currently the Compte D’Artois. He is not as well liked as his father and indeed has expressed some views in certain quarters that have already made him enemies. Then of course there is the added problem that there are those who do not love the King at all and would like to see another republic.” “Not here in Alsace,” said Madame Ricard hotly, “Yes,” contradicted Miss Leighton shaking her head sadly, “even here in Alsace. This is a critical time for the throne of France and for the relationships between our two countries. The King knows full well, even if his brother does not, that Charles will need English support if he is to remain on the throne. This is more particularly true in the first few years of his reign as Charles has neither the friends nor yet the diplomatic skill the King possesses. He has not the connexions His Majesty built up while living abroad and, if he is to develop them, then he needs to do so now. As the King is no longer well enough to travel or to deal with the more demanding aspects of government he asked the Duke of Savoy, to arrange this conference and to speak on his behalf. You will probably know the late Queen was sister to the current Duke. For our part, the British government has no wish for another war and, if there were to be another revolution, the Earl of Liverpool thinks it unlikely that, after so many years of conflict the public would support a further expedition to France - or be prepared to pay the cost of it. At this point Miss Leighton paused for a moment allowing the Duke, who had listened to Miss Leighton with increasing amazement to collect his thoughts. English ladies did not commonly interest themselves in politics, regarding it as dull and the province of their husbands. This lady had apparently not only mastered the subject but was also conversant with the mind-bending intricacies of international diplomacy. He wondered for a moment if she was simply echoing the thoughts of her uncle, but he discounted the thought immediately. It was clear her understanding went deeper than that, she was able to extract the major issues from a very complex situation and present them so that others might understand them. “If there were no reason to believe that the succession was at risk then, in all probability, neither King Louis nor the Prime Minister nor even indeed King George would be unduly concerned,” Miss Leighton’s voice recalled the Duke’s attention to the matter at hand. “Charles could learn the role over time just as his predecessors did. There is a very real fear however that he may not be granted that time. There are rumours that those who supported Bonaparte are not as beaten as they might appear. The Corsican bandit is dead but there are plenty who would assume his mantle and they regard the forthcoming death of King Louis as an opportunity. The view of the foreign secretary is that the only reliable way of avoiding another war is to ensure a smooth transition of power from King Louis to his brother. My uncle is in France to represent His Majesty’s government and he has limited permission to enter treaties on His Majesty’s behalf. When the conference was first suggested there was some discussion as to a suitable location. Paris would have been far too public and my uncle was anxious, as far as possible, to avoid the King’s enemies guessing what was happening. Vicomte Hainaut has always been a loyal friend of the King and suggested his home as a suitably remote location.” “So, we have unwittingly stumbled into international politics.” The Duke commented thoughtfully. “I perceive,” he added “that Monsieur Hainaut has a different view on the wisdom or desirability of the succession to that of his uncle. He intended to use you as a weapon, not only against your uncle but against the peace between England and France.” “You are acute, Your Grace. That was indeed his intention. We have been staying with the Vicomte for nearly a week and I had frequently met Monsieur Hainaut. He can be charming when he chooses and, as there was little for me to do and he was not invited to attend the discussions, I had been spending some time in his company. Yesterday morning, my uncle told me that he would not need me until the evening and so when Monsieur Hainaut invited me to take a drive with him I agreed to do so. I walked foolishly into a trap. When I asked Monsieur when we would be turning back he told me that I would not be returning to my uncle’s protection. When I screamed Hainaut order his lackeys to overpower me and he pointed a pistol at Martha. He told me that if I did not remain quiet he would kill her.” The quiet fury that consumed her face at this convinced the Duke that this direct threat to her maid had affected her more than anything else. “Martha has been with me since I was a baby,” she explained, conscious that her anger had been evident, “and she has always looked out for me. I have no mother. For this threat,” she looked straight at the Duke “if for no other reason, I shall have him brought to justice.” The Duke did not doubt what she said for one second. “As you have surmised, it appears that the nephew is not as loyal to the King as is his uncle, although whether his actions result from any profound conviction I could not say. He told me that he would use me to force my uncle to refuse any help to the French King and his heir or, as he had not yet concluded which route would be the most effective, he would murder me and let it be known that the deed had been done on the orders of the King’s brother.” At this point Martha, who had until that point remained resolutely silent could no longer keep still, “Your Grace, Miss Sarah does not tell the whole story.” As her mistress tried to interrupt, she cut her short, “No Miss Sarah I will NOT be silent, his Grace has a right to know the fate that man had planned for you and what he therefore prevented.” She turned back to the Duke and continued, “That man told Miss Sarah that, as she would not be returning to her uncle whatever happened, he need have no concerns as to her treatment. He said she was ‘a taking little thing’ and that he would enjoy her later. He said he would give her to his lackeys afterwards. He laughed at ....” Vallon could take no more, clearly distressed by what he had heard, he leapt out of his chair and gave vent to an oath in vernacular French which made his sister cringe. Before she could remonstrate with him however he turned to Miss Leighton still obviously struggling to control his temper, “Mademoiselle,” the innkeeper spoke with great dignity, “on behalf of my town and my country please accept my apology that such a harm could have been contemplated against you.” He spluttered to a halt once again fighting for control. “Monsieur Vallon, this is not necessary ...” Miss Leighton hastened to reassure the innkeeper but he was in no mood to be so easily stopped. “No! No! No! Mademoiselle. It is most necessary. That the crime committed against you, and the one which Hainaut was planning to commit, was against a visitor who was here with the sole aim of preventing my country once more drifting into yet another war brings shame upon us all. If there is anything I, or indeed any of my friends, can do to put matters right you only have to ask.” Miss Leighton was clearly much moved by this outburst and rose from her chair to place her hand on his arm. “Vallon,” Miss Leighton said gently but looking him in the eye so that he could not but see that she meant every word. “I knew of course that the majority of your countrymen are brave, honourable and honest, but to have that confirmed in such a way means more than I can say. Your words give me more strength that you can imagine. Hainaut will face justice, I will see to it, as will the Duke. Unless I am gravely mistaken he will not only have to answer to me but also to you, your sister and your niece.” It was to be seen that Miss Leighton was now unable to tell her story in the impersonal tone she had used hitherto. Instead of returning to her seat she started to pace around the room. “He underestimated me” she continued fiercely but with a note of triumph in her voice. “When we arrived at the house where you found us, Hainaut and his men dragged us upstairs where he left us under the guard of one of his men. This lackey, no doubt emboldened by the licence afforded him by his master’s words and the half bottle of brandy he had drunk, tried to molest me. While his attention was diverted Martha hit him on the head with a vase. He went down like a stone and he may be there still. I care not. I took his sword and Martha his pistol and we attempted to escape. As I came down the stairs there were three men inside the front door and a further two, including Hainaut, in the corridor behind us. In order to keep them all in front of us, we were forced to back into the room in which you found me. Hainaut thought he could frighten me and assumed I could not defend myself. He found himself instead at sword point.” Seeing the Duke was about to interrupt with a question she added. “My brother had fencing lessons and afterwards he used to practice with me. I know how to handle a sword. But we had reached an impasse and he knew it. Although I had him at a disadvantage and he assured me repeatedly that he was not prepared to risk his skin,” her lips curled at the memory, “if I had killed him there would have been nothing to prevent his lackeys overpowering me. If I did not kill him, eventually I would have tired. He knew this and had settled down to wait matters out. Then I heard you talking in the street. I was never more glad to hear an English voice in my life and in the hope you would hear me I threatened our friend loudly.” Miss Leighton shrugged expressively, “now you know the whole story.” She paused and then asked, “Your Grace, you asked me how you might assist me. My uncle will be beside himself with worry by now I must return to him as soon as I can. You can assist me, France, and your own country, by restoring me to him.” “I have every intention” The Duke replied in as reassuring tones as he was able to articulate, “of doing so. Until you are within the Chateaux and back in the care of your uncle I think you are at risk. It may be that Hainaut, finding his scheme has failed, has decided that it is too dangerous to remain here. I think however he will still feel the odds favour him. He has friends and is in his own country and as far as he knows we are just four including two females. There is also a great deal we do not know. We do not know how persistent our friend is or whether he fell for our trick with the stolen carriage. There is a possibility he saw through the ruse or has found out the truth. We will need to be careful as there is still a possibility that they will be looking for you here. We shall ask our friend Monsieur Vallon,” he smiled in the innkeeper’s direction, “if he has any idea how this may be achieved. Judging by the inventiveness he has thus far displayed I imagine he has already conceived a plan. We shall see. You are a brave woman engaged in work of the highest importance and which if it fails, may lead to this county and our own becoming embroiled in yet another war. You have asked for our help and you shall receive it. Monsieur Vallon and I will now consider how best to gain admittance to the Chateaux without being seen.” Chapter 5 The three men pulled their chairs together and started to discuss their plans. She tried to concentrate on the conversation but while she could normally focus on such matters and recall almost perfectly everything that was said, on this occasion her mind drifted and eventually she gave up. The Duke led the discussion but both Francis and Vallon contributed fully. Miss Leighton saw that the Duke listened to both his companions with respect. He was obviously as comfortable in his servant’s company as he was in the company of the innkeeper and his sister. There were those, Sarah thought, who held themselves up much higher than His Grace; and with much less excuse. “Perhaps” she thought “he is of such high rank that he does not have to care about such matters. No one will criticise him for any choices he makes.” She immediately realised that this was unfair, if she had not recognised him he would not even have even claimed his title and yet she was sure he would still have done his best to help. A man ranked amongst the wealthiest in England but who chooses not to trade upon his wealth and power and who, without any hesitation, tries to render what assistance he can to others who need it, is not, she concluded, a man who takes his position for granted. She had not been entirely honest with the Duke. While she had seen him on the one occasion she described, she had also seen him on many other occasions before and since. On one occasion, although he did not appear to recall it, he had also seen her. The first occasion was as the result of the purest serendipity. Her uncle’s land bordered Sale Park and when she was a young girl, bored by her lessons, she often escaped from the school room and strayed over the walls to explore the larger estate. By accident one day she nearly ran into the Duke out shooting accompanied only by his dog. She managed to hide by diving behind a convenient bush but created such a noise that the Duke started over to investigate. Most fortunately the other occupants of the bush were a couple of partridge who took flight at her entry and he was distracted. By the time he had retrieved the birds, (he was, even at this age an excellent shot,) she had long gone. After she spied him a second time on one of his solitary walks, she started to look out for him and learned that the Duke was a creature of habit. She became adept at predicting where he was likely to be and when he was likely to be there. Her uncle was a frequent visitor to Sale Park to see his friend Lord Lionel and as she grew older she often went with him to visit the great house. The Viscount used to leave her with the housekeeper and she became well known to the kitchen staff who spoiled the little girl who lived such a secluded life. After a while she became a regular visitor and as she enjoyed helping the maids, many of which were little older than her, she learned her way round the house by the back stairs. On one such visit, while assisting the laundry maid to store some bed linen in a cupboard near the Duke’s bedchamber, she became so engrossed in the work that she failed to see the Duke distractedly walking along the corridor and knocking into him. He mortification only increased because, in her surprise, she fell onto the floor dropping a large pile of freshly ironed sheets. As it had been instilled into her that, on no account was she to be seen by the owner of the house, this circumstance caused her to burst into tears. Sarah had waited for the inevitable axe to fall wondering how she would explain this latest scrape to her uncle and she was thus very surprised when the Duke offered her a hand to help her up. She quickly perceived that because of her size he thought she was much younger than her real age. He told her that the accident was quite his fault and he would make sure that the housekeeper knew this. When she returned to the basement, having finished her task, she was astonished to discover that he had been as good as his word. The housekeeper had been instructed that the little laundry maid was not to be blamed for dropping the linen and that she was really too small in stature for that particular cupboard. The young Sarah Leighton fell in love at that moment. In the years that followed and in the seclusion of her own room, Sarah indulged the beatific dream of being loved in return. In her more prosaic moments Miss Leighton acknowledged that it was hopeless but her heart, which appeared to have a mind of its own, refused to accept this and leapt with joy at the mere mention of his name. It did not matter how often or severely Miss Leighton talked to herself, Sarah’s heart insisted that only the Duke would do. Although her heart absolutely refused to accept the impossibility of the relationship, her head knew better. There was little chance of her ever meeting the Duke socially and if they did meet he would never pay her any notice. Had it been ever suggested to her that chance would thrust her into close companionship with him the eminently practical Miss Leighton would never have believed it. By the time the Duke married, her walks into Sale Park had become much less frequent, the Duke did not predictably visit his old haunts, her uncle visited Sale Park less often as Lord Lionel was now to be found most of the time in town, and her age meant that her freedom was curtailed. What might have been acceptable in a tomboyish little girl was not acceptable in a young lady. On the rare occasions she went out, she had to be chaperoned. Miss Leighton had always known that her prospects of marrying the Duke were less than negligible and so when the forthcoming marriage to Lady Harriet was announced, fourteen-year-old Sarah tried hard not to be jealous, only crying herself to sleep for a few nights. The Duke of Sale was, by a considerable margin, the most important person for miles around and Sarah, in common with all Sale’s neighbours took a lively interest in what was going on at Sale Park. Directly or indirectly the estate provided employment for most of the men in the local villages and most of the local farmers were the Duke’s tenants. The house purchased meat from the local butcher, cloth from the Draper and tools from the blacksmith. The local tailors and dressmakers depended on orders for clothing for the Duke’s staff. Masons were employed in maintaining the walls and buildings in the home park and carpenters and joiners were regularly called up on to repair doors and windows. The Duke and his house was the centre of the local economy. The wellbeing of the Duke was thus an important consideration for the population and as the Duke’s staff liked to gossip and, while in their cups, to boast of their position to their less fortunate acquaintances, there was a ready audience. The stories eventually reached Sarah who had long ago concluded that he lived in a cotton wool prison. She resented, on his behalf, the limits no doubt motivated by kindness, which were placed on him. Even her brother had more freedom. When Harriet died, Sarah, by now nearly fifteen, only just managed to prevent herself running to Duke’s side. Twenty-two-year-old Miss Leighton was somewhat disgusted to discover she had as little control over the wayward and utterly impractical Sarah as she had at fourteen. From the instant he had walked in and rescued her the previous night, she had been on tenterhooks. At fourteen, Sarah had devised several hopelessly impractical schemes by which she would become a suitable bride for the Duke. At twenty-two, Miss Leighton knew that the reality was there never could be such a marriage. Over the last three years, while there had been no sign of the Duke, she had thought about him less, but she never once believed, in contrast to the doom monger’s prophesies, that he was dead or mad. She knew he was safe. Why she knew it she never paused to consider. On those occasions she did think about him, the practical Miss Leighton had been inclined to write off her feelings as a fantasy created by romantic Sarah’s youthful mind. It was therefore truly disconcerting to discover that, far from being the fantasy she had told herself it was, meeting the Duke in person only confirmed to Miss Leighton that which Sarah had known when she was younger, that she was deeply and (apparently) irrevocably in love with him. It was absolutely no use at all telling herself, as she did – constantly – that a person cannot fall in love with someone they have never really met when at the sound of his voice her heart leapt into her mouth. Miss Leighton was forced to conclude that logic simply did not come into it and that the only thing to be done was to ensure that the Duke did not guess her feelings. She resolved therefore, to devote her time to devising a strategy for persuading Sarah to adopt a more reasonable and prosaic attitude. Sarah then spent fully fifteen minutes observing the Duke out of the corner of her eye and contemplating a romantic vision of married bliss. She was brought out of her reverie by Vallon leaving the room. The Duke turned to her, “Subject to your approval, I think that it would be better if we did not try to smuggle you into the Chateaux. If Hainaut is still looking for you he may well by now have discovered that we did not leave town last night in which case, he will presume you will try to return to your uncle. Two ladies going to the Chateaux will create much more interest than three or four men. Francis and I will try to speak to your uncle and then return here to recover you.” “You will never pass the guards,” Miss Leighton asserted bluntly, “the King is concerned over assassination and security is very tight.” “We know, but we only need to get as far as the Chateaux. I will then reveal my identity and your uncle will vouch for me. I can tell him we have you safe and you can be escorted back here under guard.” Sale could see Miss Leighton was deeply sceptical and a little irritated because of her exclusion from the plan they had devised. He guessed that she did not like people assuming she did not want to be involved in such matters merely because she was a female. He took a deep breath, “I’m sorry, forgive me, I was treating you like one of those insipid females whose interests extend no further than their children and their stitchery. I should have known that a lady who can handle a sword as well as you would take umbrage at such cavalier treatment.” She was immediately disarmed, as much by the understanding which underpinned his words as by the words himself. Moreover, she was guiltily aware of her recent and very feminine daydream and acknowledged that, while she would never want to be treated as a beautiful but not very intelligent decorative object, with the right man at her side, children and stitchery could be a very attractive prospect. “Tell me your plan.” Her smile told him her moment of annoyance was over, “I can perhaps help.” “It is not much of a plan” he admitted. “Vallon has been asked to deliver wine and beer to the Chateaux today. Whatever is going on up there, it is thirsty work because this is the second delivery this week. The barrels are heavy and the steps into the cellar are steep. He must take extra hands with him to help. Today, two of the extra hands will be Francis and I. Vallon has gone to find some clothes appropriate to a labourer employed by an innkeeper for me. He will also bring my portmanteau. I shall dress à le Duc and then put the labourer’s clothes on top. Francis and I will gain entry to the building and I will demand audience with your uncle. He will recognise me.” The Duke paused for a minute and then asked sardonically, “It is a good plan, is it not?” “You know as well as I do that it is a ridiculous plan. There is so much that can go wrong ....” Miss Leighton was horrified, “the Guards carry muskets and have orders to shoot.” Suddenly she stopped, arrested by a peculiar expression on the Duke’s face. “You, wouldn’t” she asked suspiciously “be enjoying yourself?” “It’s a character flaw,” he admitted. “When I was growing up, no-one allowed me to take the slightest risk. I couldn’t go out if it was raining, I mustn’t try to put my mount to the big fences, even sliding down the banister of the Grand stair case at Sale Park was frowned upon in case I fell. I must be making up for all the scrapes I should have had as a boy.” Miss Leighton had been about to angrily retort that risking his neck in such a reckless fashion was nothing to be flippant about. Then she remembered, whooping with joy with several of the younger maids, as she slid down that same banister when the family was away from home and the upper servants out of sight. Suddenly, she understood how limited his life had been. Although she had always thought his lack of freedom restricting, she had never until that moment realised how miserable a boy growing up in the great house surrounded by anxious adults and never mixing with children of his own age would have been. She learned in that moment that there were more important things in life than a great title and wealth. Her anger promptly collapsed. “You will need to remove your disguise in the cellar.” Having decided to go along with the Duke’s plan her agile mind was quickly turning over the plan, finding the weak points and searching for solutions. “You will never gain access to the Chateaux dressed like a peasant. If Francis is to enter he will need to be dressed as befits a valet. As you will be carefully watched you will need a distraction to allow you to leave the cellar without being seen. The outside entrance to the cellar is on a corner facing out onto the stable yard, if you go around the corner there is a narrow passage leading to the servant’s entrance at the rear of the Chateaux. At the end of the passage there is a large black door. There will be guards stationed on the inside. The password is “Xerxes.” Once you are past the guards you will find yourself in a corridor. Follow it. Eventually you will find yourself in the great hall. You will then need to consider what to do; much will depend on whether there is a meeting in session at the time. You will know whether there is a meeting or not because the room in which the meetings take place will be directly opposite you. If the doors are shut and there are guards outside, then there is a meeting. If not, then my uncle could be anywhere. The most likely place is his room which is up the stair to your immediate left. When you reach the top of the stairs, turn left, his room is the third door on the right, mine is the fourth.” The Duke knew that Sarah had initially been quite angry, but something had happened to change her mood. He had seen the instant it changed although he was unable to identify what had provoked it. The more he learned about Miss Leighton the more curious he became. When she had applied her mind to the scheme they had cooked up together she had immediately identified the weak points and supplied workable solutions. If they had not consulted her, the Duke thought, it was very probable that they would have failed. “I can see, Miss Leighton, why it should be that your uncle keeps you as his secretary,” the Duke’s expression was deeply appreciative and too, there was genuine astonishment. “Not one in an hundred could have told me what I needed to know, so clearly and so concisely.” He turned to Francis, “you heard that Francis, you dress up too.” “Yes Your Grace.” Replied Francis in a voice which indicated he was accustomed by long practice to his master’s foibles. And you will of course have considered why a valet would be carrying a staff?” “The devil” muttered the Duke, “I hadn’t thought of that.” He looked quizzically at Sarah as if daring her to be at a loss. “Any suggestions Miss Leighton.” “Certainly,” came the dignified reply, “you only need to tie a brace or two of Rabbits and some pigeons over it and it will look as if you have been shooting. I am sure Vallon has these in his larder. As the kitchens are very inconveniently located at the opposite end of the Chateaux no-one will think twice at you crossing the hall with your game. Furthermore, no-one else at the conference other than, possibly, my uncle, would considering carrying their game themselves.” “Remind me never to challenge you to a game of chess,” said the Duke bowing deeply in the manner of a student to his master, “I should certainly lose. Are you never at a loss?” “My uncle will tell you that If there is a problem, then generally I can find a solution” Sarah replied, not without justifiable pride. Privately however, as she owned to herself, there was one problem to which as far as she could see, there was no realistic solution. What was she to do about the way she felt about Sale? She supposed that, if he were able to restore her to her uncle, he would at least be on his way and she would not have to meet him except occasionally when she was at her uncle’s house and the Duke was at Sale Park. She could not now disappear as he knew of her and she could not refuse to see him without being unpardonably rude, especially in view of his rescue of herself and Martha. She did not know what was worse, seeing him on rare occasions and being desperate to see him or being in his company all the time and dealing with the constant reminder of the impossibility of her situation. At that moment Vallon returned with the Duke’s portmanteaux and the information that they would be leaving in approximately half an hour. He was, until the plan was further explained, somewhat startled to be asked to procure some game but upon the necessity being explained to him he owned he did indeed have some freshly shot pigeons which he could provide as long, he added with a grin, as the Duke did not enquire too closely as to how he came to acquire them. The Duke retired to another room to change, and when he returned some twenty minutes later Sarah hardly recognised him. Gone was the nondescript traveller and in his place stood a wealthy gentleman of the first stare. He sported a black coat with cutaway tails in the latest style and so well fitting that no wrinkle showed on the cloth which, upon careful examination she saw was shot through with silver thread. He had a pair of biscuit coloured pantaloons which showed a well-muscled and proportioned leg and a pair of hessians polished till they gleamed. Underneath an ivory waistcoat he wore a silk shirt with moderate points and a cravat was expertly tied around his neck, secured with a diamond pin. Sale had not joined the dandy set, indeed his raiment was, if anything understated, but Sarah thought he looked he looked magnificent, and every inch the Duke. Judging by the admiring looks cast in his direction by Madame Ricard and Martha, they were of a similar opinion. The Duke had never been careless with his dress, but it was not a matter that ever consumed much of his time. Whenever he went into society he always dressed appropriately but he had never followed the extremes of fashion and, while he took a pride in his appearance when it was appropriate to do so, he was equally happy tramping around his estates in a shabby coat and warm breeches. Unlike the dandies who could spend hours at their toilet the Duke rarely took longer than half an hour to dress and then only if he was attending court or at Almacks. Ruefully aware that in a house owned by the sister of an innkeeper in an obscure town in eastern France he looked decidedly out of place he bowed mockingly to the ladies and asked, "Am I presentable?” Had he been susceptible to flattery the response would have been everything he desired but, in fact he felt somewhat conspicuous and a little embarrassed. His attention was however soon distracted by Miss Leighton who had absently drawn his sword which he had left on the table when he went to dress. “What do you think?” he asked indicating that he was referring to the weapon she held. “It is too heavy for me,” she replied taking his question seriously, “the foil is a better weapon for a lady than the epée as it is less heavy on the wrist. Nonetheless, this is a beautifully wrought blade and made ....” She examined it closely, “Ah! Yes! As I thought; made at the Real Fábrica de Espadas de Toledo?” She looked up at the Duke for confirmation and when he nodded she continued, “I thought so, I can see the mark here.” She pointed to the blade immediately adjacent to the hilt. “It was, I think, also specially made for you. It is a little shorter than I would have expected, the grip is of a smaller diameter and moreover,” she made a pass with it, “the balance is slightly different to the more standard pattern.” Having by now realised that Miss Leighton was, as measured by the standard of most young ladies of her age, more than a little out of the common way, he had expected an intelligent answer. He knew that she could handle a sword; he had seen her in action, but her answer was so extraordinary that for a few seconds he was unable to respond. Few men would have been able to reach that conclusion in so little time. How, he wondered was he to follow that? Fortunately, Miss Leighton was examining the gilded tracing delicately engraved onto the blade and did not see the effect his words had produced. After a few seconds Sarah straightened up, by which time the Duke had managed to school his expression into one of mere appreciation. Flipping the sword over she presented it, hilt resting on her forearm, in the manner of a second presenting a weapon to one of the parties in a duel. “All in all,” she grinned, “a very pretty weapon. I suspect you may need it today.” The Duke longed to know more, where did she get her extensive knowledge, and why had she bothered to accumulate it in the first place. Unfortunately, they did not have the time, and this was not the place. “Thank you,” the Duke said as he retrieved his sword and returned it to its scabbard, “I suspect I might.” At that moment Vallon reappeared and Francis, who had been standing in the corner observing the by-play between his master and Miss Leighton with evident interest, disappeared to also change his clothes. When he returned not five minutes later, splendidly, but soberly dressed as befitted a gentleman’s gentleman the Duke had already added an extra layer of loose fitting peasant’s clothing and, to complete his disguise he had added a soft felt hat with a wide brim. Francis copied his master and a few seconds later, two peasants stood where there had lately been a Duke and a superior servant. Vallon had backed his cart up to the door of his sister’s house and the Duke, pausing only to kiss Miss Leighton’s hand and to thank his hostess profusely, followed closely by Francis, leapt up onto the back of the cart which thereafter rolled out of the Yard and onto the street outside the inn. Chateaux Hainaut lay to the south west of the Village of Eberbach-Seltz about three miles from Seltz. The road ran gently uphill away from the Rhine and as the cart was heavily loaded, Vallon’s two horses, though sturdy beasts used to hard work, did not make rapid progress. In any event there were a few preparations to make. Vallon had told them he would pull up the left side of his cart in front of the cellar door and so Francis placed his staff, complete with three brace of pigeon on top of the barrels but out of sight on that side. In addition Vallon had not had time to explain to the fourth member of the team, one Étienne, what was to happen. The Duke had expressed concern at the inclusion of yet another person in their plan but Vallon pointed out that he could hardly create a diversion outside the cellar on his own if the Duke and Francis remained inside. In addition, he bluntly explained that unloading the cart was hard work and, while he had no doubt that the Duke and his man were willing to help, he had some reservations as to their ability to lift such heavy weights alone. Seeing the barrels on the cart for the first time The Duke was forced to accept that Vallon might be right. There were upwards of ten large barrels and several smaller casks to be moved and he had not the strength of the innkeeper or the bulk of his new assistant. Étienne was about as tall as the Duke who was, by most standards, only of medium height. There the similarity ended. Where the Duke was of slim build Étienne was stout. His arms were the diameter of the Duke’s legs and they were capped by enormous hands. Vallon told the Duke in a whisper that Étienne had won the weightlifting competition in Alsace for the last eighteen years. As to the question of adding another unknown member of the team, he and Vallon had been friends since they were boys. Étienne was absolutely trustworthy. After about half an hour the cart crossed over the road from Niederroedern to Wintzenbach and Vallon warned them to be careful from there on. No sooner had he spoke than about one hundred yards up the road two soldiers stepped out in front of them. They were holding muskets in a manner which, although they were not pointed at the cart and its occupants, made it plain they could soon be brought to bear and fired if necessary. One of them waved the cart down and enquired as to its destination. As Vallon drew his cart up to the soldiers, the Duke, who was covertly looking at them noted that they wore the same uniform as had the soldiers escorting the Berline that had passed them on the road to Seltz on the previous day. Upon being told that it was a delivery for the Chateaux the soldiers nodded. Vallon was expected. The two guards walked around the cart noting that in addition to the Driver and the load there were three peasants sitting on the back, legs dangling over the edge of the cart and staring vacuously back down the road. The day was sunny and notwithstanding the time of the year, the guards were hot in their thick overcoats and they were very bored. They had been told to expect a delivery of wine and beer and that is what they found. They could not see that there was any reason to enquire any further. The guards, none of whom were local, still naively believed that the conference was taking place in secret and the suggestion that anyone might try to sneak in to disrupt it seemed farcical. These men were members of the Garde du Corps du Roi the fanatically loyal, largely aristocratic and highly trained soldiers associated with the Maison du Roi whose job it was to guard the King and the Royal family. They were therefore somewhat unhappy with this assignment. As far as they were concerned the whole thing was a waste of time and they were more than a little indignant that they should have been ordered to guard what appeared to be nothing more than a house party at which the King was not even present. They waved the cart through without looking more closely at the load on the cart or searching the occupants. The Duke had thought that the guards at the gatehouse might have been a little more vigilant but his fears were misplaced, the search was even more cursory. Vallon was a frequent visitor to the Chateaux and he never failed to stop for a word with the lodge keeper who thus knew him well. Étienne was a local celebrity and regularly found employment whenever there was heavy work to be done. The lodge keeper vouched for this friend Vallon, and the cart was waved through. No-one paused to consider the identity of the other occupants of the cart. The Chateaux was a handsome edifice built some fifty years earlier by the current Vicomte’s grandfather. Before the cart reached the house Vallon turned down a side track towards the stables and into the yard outside the Cellar. As predicted there were further guards waiting for them but all they did was unlock the cellar door and stand back. These guards assumed that since the cart had already passed through two checks they could have little to fear. Unloading commenced; Vallon unlashed the barrels and rolled them to the edge of the cart, Étienne lifted them down and rolled them the short way to the door and The Duke and Francis who had run straight into the cellar as soon as the guards stood back racked them up taking turns in removing their peasant’s clothes while they did so. They only just managed it. The Duke knew that had there been any more he would not have been able to move them. He was fit and lithe, but he was unused to hard physical toil and the effort gave him a new respect for the physical strength of his host. When there was just one barrel left on the cart it was time to cause the diversion. Vallon jumped down from the bed of the cart on the side away from the cellar apparently with the intention of confirming with one of the Vicomte’s servants that the order was complete. At the same time, and with the apparent intention of unloading the one remaining barrel Étienne climbed up and grasped the cask with a massive paw tilting it slightly to roll it on its edge. An observer would have seen that he missed his grip, the barrel fell onto its side and rolled off the bed of the cart narrowly missing Vallon and smashing onto the ground at his feet soaking his legs with beer. Vallon roared in shock and started, at the top of his voice, to berate the hapless Étienne who apologised over and over. While the attention of the guards was distracted, the Duke and Francis slipped out of the cellar and, crouching to remain behind the cart they rounded the corner out of sight of the yard. They quickly reached the black door Miss Leighton had told them would be there and the Duke knocked on it in a confident fashion. It opened cautiously. “Xerxes” he said and as the guard opened the door wider he strode in past the Guard. “What is going on out there, Sir” asked the Guard in some concern at the noise coming from the direction of the stables. “Some fool of a drayman has dropped a barrel of beer on the ground” answered the Duke in tones of amusement. “His master is accusing him of attempted murder.” “I don’t mind the drayman” commented the guard, laughing at the image created by the Duke’s words, “the beer now - that is a tragedy.” Although the Duke spoke French fluently he did so with an English accent and the Guard placed his nationality immediately. This did not concern him, there were a number of English visitors at the Chateaux and although he had not previously met this Gentleman (and his clothes clearly proclaimed the status) it was a large Chateaux; he supposed there were any number of people who might enter it legitimately whom he had not yet seen, and in any case, he knew the password. He had formed a good opinion of the English guests who had passed his post over the last few days. He had observed they were much more courteous to him and his colleagues than the nobles from his own country and were, in addition, much more tolerant of the restrictions imposed by the necessary security. He therefore ventured to comment, nodding at the game slung over his servant’s staff that the gentleman had obviously enjoyed good sport and was pleased to note that his assessment of the Duke’s character had been correct. The Duke observed that he had rarely enjoyed a day’s shooting so much and he pressed a coin into the Guard’s hand. The Guard locked the door, and then turned to watch the Englishman and his servant disappearing along the corridor. ‘Definitely a gentleman’, he thought approvingly. “Is he following?” The Duke whispered at Francis. On seeing Francis shake his head he relaxed a little. They were inside now and with a little more luck they would soon be able to discharge their errand. A few yards further along the corridor and out of sight of the guard, a door opened into a store room which, judging by the dust coating the jars and bottles lining the shelves, was rarely used. They entered, quietly shut the door, and waited. They had agreed to wait a while before trying to confront Sarah’s uncle. If the plan went awry they wanted Vallon to be away. They had agreed that if the Guards noticed that the innkeeper had arrived with three hands and were leaving with only one he was to disclaim all prior knowledge of them and say he had hired them for a day’s work. In the event they need not have worried. The security was focused on preventing people entering the Chateaux; the guards were not interested in who might be leaving at all. So, when Vallon had finished shouting at Étienne he cleared up the wreckage of the ruined barrel, trenchantly requested, if he could manage to do so without falling over, that the clumsy oaf climb up on the cart and drove nonchalantly out of the Chateaux back towards Seltz. Once the empty cart had crossed the Wintzenbach road he reached into his bag, pulled out a bottle of wine, removed the cork and took a long pull. Handing the bottle to his friend they continued on the road back home in the best of good humours. The Duke remained in the store for longer than he had planned. Racking the barrels had taken a great deal more out of them both than they had anticipated and they needed to recuperate somewhat. After some fifteen minutes, Francis opened the door a crack and, after confirming that there was no-one in the corridor, they both stepped out. A minute later they walked out into the great hall. It took a few seconds for their eyes to become accustomed to the brightness of the room after the dimly lit corridor. Along the south wall there were four enormous windows and the sun streamed in through them. The room opposite was unoccupied, the doors were unguarded and, as it appeared that there was no meeting in session the Duke headed, as Miss Leighton had suggested, for the staircase. He had not reached the bottom stair when a voice he had heard only once before said, “I think not M’sieur” The Duke heard the hiss of a sword being drawn and was just in time to twist his head as the blade flashed by his cheek. Chapter 6 Hainaut’s face distorted into a snarl at having missed his target and he tried again but by this time the Duke had his own sword out and easily parried the second lunge. “Guards; à moi” Hainaut yelled, and he backed off keeping his guard up. He had only to wait. Within seconds guards started to appear. They easily overpowered Francis who gave no resistance but were reluctant to interfere with a swordfight between two gentlemen. Hainaut however, had no intention of duelling his opponent, he knew time was on his side and so he kept his guard up and his eyes on the Duke. In a very short time he and the Duke were surrounded. There was a roughly circular area of the floor in which the two men faced each other bordered by a solid wall of guards two deep. Suddenly Hainaut stood back out of sword range, put up his sword and mockingly saluted his opponent. “Will someone please shoot him,” he ordered in a bored tone. Initially this command met with no response other than a few shocked looks. The Duke was armed only with a sword and at his opponent disengaging he had also put up his sword and now in the process of returning it to its scabbard. They were the King’s guards; they were not only very highly trained but many of them came from noble families. They understood the code of honour and were, unless there was no choice, unwilling to shoot a man in cold blood. Furthermore, although they did not know who the stranger was, he was obviously a gentleman and the consequences of killing him in error would be very severe. Their experience was that, if an officer made a mistake he would try to lay the blame on his men. In any event, the request was pointless, there was no need to kill the stranger, he offered no resistance, he was outnumbered, and should he again choose to fight, he would be easily disarmed. Seeing the reluctance amongst the guards, Hainaut, losing patience, tried again. “Oh, for God’s sake just shoot the dog will you. Ten guineas to the man who does the deed.” Most of the guards were visibly shaken by this order. The Kings Guards did not shoot a gentleman who, as far as they could see, posed no risk to anyone and they certainly did not need to be bribed to do it. He would be arrested certainly, and the matter needed investigation but unless there was an obvious and current threat to a member of the King’s family it was not for them, or their officer, to be judge, jury and executioner. An assault on the King or his family, if that is indeed what this was, had to be brought before the King for judgement. Hainaut had only recently been appointed their commanding officer and it was not a popular appointment. He had some very strange views as to discipline and had been heard on more than one occasion to openly criticise his own men. He made no secret of the fact that he thought the code of honour they lived by to be outmoded and unnecessary. They did not consider him one of them and it was thus no surprise that they did not immediately leap to carry out the order. Only one man, a new recruit, moved to comply with the order. He was a rough, uncouth man with a loud laugh and a taste for strong liquor. He had arrived at the same time as their new commanding officer and as his comrades had seen him more than once in deep conversation with Hainaut he was widely regarded as the officer’s man. Like his master he was not well liked, his fellows considering that such a man should never have been allowed to wear the uniform of the Garde du Roi. This man had no scruples over shooting an unarmed man and seeing that no-one else would comply with Hainaut’s order he raised his musket and aimed. It was fortunate for the Duke that in the unfolding drama the Guards had become a little distracted. Francis seized the opportunity and, wrenching himself free from the guards who had been holding him he hurled himself forwards. The Guard fired and at the same instant Francis collided with him deflecting his aim. Half a second later and the Duke would have been killed instantly. At that range, a musketeer from the Garde du Corps du Roi; even a new recruit, does not miss. The force of the shot spun Duke round and violently threw him to the floor. There was a sickening crack as his head hit the stone floors and as he slipped into unconsciousness he saw Hainaut walking forward readying his sword for the Coup de Grace. The last thing he heard was a vaguely familiar voice. “What the Devil? My God! Sale!” The Duke’s next conscious thought was that his head hurt. He did not have time to reflect any more on this because immediately thereafter he felt a pain in his thigh as if someone was driving a hot poker into it. He thrashed wildly trying to get away, but he heard a volley of quick French which he was too confused to translate and he felt himself roughly held down. Something cool was placed on his head and as he muttered slurred thanks, he slipped back into a deep swoon. Afterwards when recalling the next few days all the Duke would say is that it was a blurred mixture of pain, semi-lucid daydreams, voices half heard from a distance reassuring him that he would be all right and a pair of cool and reassuring hands. He retained enough of these images so that when he finally woke he knew that a great deal of time had passed since the incident in the great hall. Looking around, he saw that he was lying in a large bed in an unfamiliar room. After noting that it was sumptuously decorated in the French Style and that it appeared to be night time, his next thought was that he was extremely thirsty. An attempt to drag himself upright failed when he discovered he did not have the strength to do so. The effort made his head swim and so he dropped back onto the pillow. “Confound it,” Even to his own ears his voice was little more than a croak, “I’m as weak as a kitten.” “Allow me Sir.” Said an unknown voice said in educated French. He found himself staring into the face of a middle-aged man whose clothes gave him away as an upper servant. The Duke was about to ask who he was when he was forestalled. “I am Gustave, Your Grace. I have the honour to be valet to Vicomte Hainaut.” In a moment, the Duke had been efficiently assisted into a more upright position and presented with a cool glass of water. After assuring himself that his patient was comfortable Gustave coolly bowed himself out of the room. “I shall inform my Lord that you are awake.” Even the small effort in sitting up was too much for the Duke’s depleted resources and he quickly again fell asleep. When he woke again sunlight streamed through the windows. He turned his head to find that Miss Leighton was sitting reading in a chair by the side of his bed. At the sound of his movement she looked up from her book. “Ah good, you are awake.” She observed calmly, “I thought you might rouse soon.” Miss Leighton looked across the bed and nodded, “Francis, if you would?” The Duke turned his head to see that Francis, who had been sitting on a chair on the other side of the bed was in the process of standing up. It was evident that he was pleased to see his master for he gave one of his rare smiles. “I am pleased to see Your Grace is looking better. If Your Grace would just lift your head.” Once again, the Duke was assisted to a sitting position, although on this occasion a pain shot through his leg and he winced. He looked at his servant with the obvious question in his eyes. “Your Grace has a large hole in your leg,” Francis said knowing his master would want to be told the truth. It is healing, but you lost a great deal of blood and you may limp for a while.” He smiled again. “The doctor thinks you will have no permanent damage.” The Duke heaved a sigh of relief and tried to compose his thoughts. He presumed he was still in the Chateaux and, since Miss Leighton was here it would appear that she was now safe. He tried to think back to what had happened and remembered that the last thing he saw was Hainaut coming toward him with the evident intention of running him through. “Hainaut?” he asked. “Gone,” replied Francis, “they are looking for him; so far with no result.” “I appreciate” interrupted Miss Leighton with some asperity, that his Grace may wish a full explanation of everything that has happened, but that must wait until he has regained his strength. So,” she enquired sweetly, “unless either of you has any objection, I propose to feed his Grace now. After which he will go back to sleep.” No objection having been voiced, she dismissed Francis, who went meekly, but not before throwing a grin at the Duke, and applied herself to the task in hand. Afterwards the Duke, as instructed, drifted thankfully back to sleep but not before he had identified the cool hands which he remembered over the last few days as belonging to Miss Leighton. “I wonder,” the Duke thought drowsily as he fell asleep, “how long she has been here.” The following day the Duke asked Francis this question as he was being shaved. Francis looked around before answering. “I’m not supposed to talk with you overmuch Your Grace. You nearly died, and you need to rest.” He could see his noble employer was about to give angry retort which he forestalled by hurriedly adding, “she has been with you most of the time since you have been here.” “She should not be put to such trouble,” the Duke commented irritably, “I shall do well with you and Gustave.” “Well Your Grace, I don’t know,” he grinned, “you can of course try to persuade her to leave your side. But I am doubtful of your success.” The Duke soon learned that Francis was right. Miss Leighton had no intention of ceding her position to another. She listened patiently as the Duke explained that he would manage very well and that while he was grateful for everything she had done he was sure she had better things to do with her time. Once she was satisfied that her patient had said his piece she smiled at him pityingly and carried on with what she had been doing as if he had not spoken at all. As the Duke lacked the strength to do anything more than verbally protest he had perforce to accept her assistance whether he wanted to or not. It was some days before the Duke was adjudged fit enough by the Doctor to be told the full story of everything that had happened since the events in the Great Hall. As he had recovered and remained awake for longer he became less and less patient. Having been wrapped in cotton wool almost up to the date of his marriage and having now escaped that suffocating atmosphere, he discovered that he now found it very difficult to re-adjust to a passive role. He did his best to be a compliant patient, but with every day it became more difficult to do as he was told without snapping at someone. His nurses, understanding his frustration, did allow him some visitors to alleviate the boredom and he received not only Viscount Borden who thanked him for his services to his niece, but also Vicomte Hainaut who apologised for the behaviour of his nephew whom, as he informed the Duke, he had now formally disinherited. Finally, the Duke was honoured by a visit from the Duke of Savoy who came to thank him on behalf of the King and his heir. Eventually however, the Duke’s patience snapped. He announced that unless he was brought up to date with events on the morrow, he would get out of bed, dress himself and interview everyone in person. Since Francis informed Miss Leighton that when the Duke decided finally to do something, no-one on earth could persuade him to act otherwise, they told him that the whole story would be set out for him the following morning. At eleven o’clock the Duke was sitting in a large comfortable armchair in the salon next to the room in which he had been recuperating. Behind him sat Francis. Miss Leighton sat next to the Duke with Martha in attendance and beside her sat Viscount Borden. Additional chairs were occupied by the Duke of Savoy, the new commanding officer of the Detachment of the Garde du Corps du Roi at the Chateaux, hastily despatched from Paris, together with the Guard who had admitted the Duke and Francis to the Chateaux. There was also Viscount Granville the British ambassador to the French Court and most surprising of all, the Duc D’Angoulême, eldest son of the heir to the French throne. The Duc explained apologetically that he was here in place of his father who would have been here himself. Upon the advice of those responsible for his security, he had decided to return to Paris as it was felt, in view of the risk to the succession, it was unsafe for him to now remain in Alsace. Once everyone was seated the Duke apologised for being unable to rise to greet his visitors. “Unfortunately, your highness,” he smiled at D’Angoulême, “I have discovered just this morning that I become very light headed if I stand. While a bow might be an expected courtesy I am afraid I should fall at your feet.” He smiled, “that would rather spoil the effect.” He looked around the room but now they were all assembled nobody seemed to want to open with their account and so, after a few moments, the Duke asked, “as it seems to have come to me to open matters, do you all know how I came to be embroiled in this?” It was apparent, from the shaking heads and blank faces that no one knew the whole story, and some knew only very little. The Duke knew, because she had told him so, that Miss Leighton had not yet told her story to anyone other than her uncle. Francis had explained that he had been interviewed at length by the Commander of the Guards and then by the Duc D’Angoulême but even they did not know everything, and they had instructed him to discuss the matter with no-one else. So, the Duke took a deep breath and recounted everything that had happened since his arrival in Seltz. Then Miss Leighton gave her account, explaining how she came to be abducted and what she had been told by Hainaut. The Commander of the Guards then asked the Duke if he would explain how he and Francis had breached the Chateaux security. He had conducted his own investigation, but he wanted to know how they had planned to gain entrance and what they had done once they were inside. “ I lost consciousness,” concluded the Duke “I heard someone, presumably you Borden” he looked across to Miss Leighton’s uncle, who nodded confirmation, “demand to know what was going on. As I recall you recognised me. The next thing I remember is waking up in there.” He nodded in the direction of the adjoining bedroom.” The room remained silent for a few seconds and then Viscount Granville, who had listened to the Duke with a deep frown on his face, coughed politely, “We are deep in debt to Your Grace and to you Miss Leighton and indeed, also, to you,” he looked pointedly at Martha and Francis who both coloured at the honour being accorded them. “You did not know the extent of the plot which you interrupted. We will tell you what has happened here over the last few days and then you shall help us decide what to do next.” Viscount Borden had been frantic with worry about his niece. He had discovered from talking to the Chateaux staff that she had gone out with Monsieur Hainaut soon after lunch and although he was somewhat irritated with Sarah for not returning before tea he was satisfied that she was in good hands. By ten o’clock he had become seriously concerned and had asked for, and obtained, permission to use the Guards to mount an unsuccessful search. The following morning, Hainaut returned to the Chateaux having ridden through the night on what was, although of course only he knew it, a fool’s errand. However, upon learning from her uncle that Miss Leighton was missing, he confirmed that Mademoiselle had taken a drive with him on the previous day but that he had restored her to the Chateaux by no later than three o’clock in the afternoon. As he had been engaged to dine with friends he had ridden straight out again where (he admitted rather ruefully) he drank rather too much wine and he had elected to remain there overnight. However, as he was very familiar with the country he engaged to ride out to see if he could find and sign of the lady. Although he left the Chateaux with the expressed intention of personally looking for the missing Miss Leighton, he did not go far. It appears he had concluded that she would, at some stage, try to return and that his best strategy was simply to wait for her to turn up. The Guard on the door through which the Duke had entered the Chateau, admitted Hainaut to the building not ten minutes after his Grace. This was later explained when one of the farm hands reported that he had seen M’sieur standing in a field which overlooked the stable yard. He though it strange, especially as M’sieur appeared to be trying to keep out of sight, but he knew better than to question the odd behaviour of the quality. Hainaut must have walked right past the Duke and Francis as they waited in the store room. Viscount Borden had heard Hainaut shout for the Guards as he was writing a note to the Ambassador explaining that, while his niece remained missing he could not concentrate on the business at hand. Hoping that she had returned he headed straight for the stairs. He heard the shot just as he turned the corner onto the gallery that ran around the main stair well. To say he was astonished at the scene that met his eyes as he descended the stair was understatement. Stretched on the floor was the Duke of Sale whom he recognised at once. Blood was already spilling onto the floor from a wound in his upper thigh and Hainaut was raising his sword with the apparent intent of driving it through the Duke’s heart. Francis had been recaptured and was struggling mightily to try to reach his master. The Duke owed his life to the quick thinking of the Guard to whom he had spoken at the door to the Chateaux. Even before the Viscount recognised the Duke, the Guard was more or less convinced that his Commanding Officer had made a mistake. The unknown Englishman was clearly a gentleman. When he heard the Viscount’s shout he knew where his duty lay. As Hainaut, moved to drive his sword into the Duke’s heart the Guard grasped Hainaut’s sword arm and deftly turned the blade just in time. Despite the Viscount’s clear statement that he recognised and could vouch for the Duke, Hainaut continued to insist that Sale was an assassin. At length, finding himself largely ignored, he turned furiously on the Guard who had intervened accusing him of being a traitor and informing him that his actions would result in the severest discipline. He then demanded the Guard’s companions arrest him and place him under close guard pending court martial. Viscount Borden was superintending the efforts to stop the Duke bleeding to death and had been pointedly ignoring Hainaut. At this however, the Viscount turned to Hainaut and snapped; “No Monsieur, if there is anyone who will be facing charges today it is you. I saw you move to kill an unconscious man. That is not defending your king – it is attempted murder. This man is no less a person than his Grace the Duke of Sale, my neighbour and one of the most important men in England. Even the most cursory of enquiries would have sufficed to have convinced you that he is no assassin but even if you had been right, killing him would not have provided us with the information we need. This,” he waved his hand in the direction of the prostrate Duke, “amounts to the grossest piece of incompetence I have ever seen and is an action totally unbefitting an officer of the Garde du Roi. I will take the matter up with your uncle and your commanding officer.” Having delivered himself of this stinging criticism the Viscount turned his attention back to the efforts being made to save the Duke. Hainaut had not yet finished. He arrogantly asserted that a visiting Englishman, especially a member of the minor nobility, was not responsible for the King’s safety. He was the lawful Commander of the guards in the district and he would take whatever steps he considered necessary. Finally, he demanded that the Duke, who he described as his prisoner, be handed over to him immediately. The Viscount turned and fixed Hainaut with an expression of such angry contempt that he stepped back as if slapped. Realising that he would receive no support from the other members of the nobility present or even from his own men, Hainaut turned on his heel and stalked out of the room without a further word. The Guards opened a path and let him go without comment, but it was plain from their expression that they shared, in a large measure, the Viscount’s opinion of the man. Once the Doctor had been fetched and a pad tied tightly over the Duke’s wound the Viscount ordered, subject of course to the approval of his Grace the Duke of Savoy who had now arrived on the scene, that Sale be moved to his own room. That approval graciously and emphatically given, the Viscount made it clear that no effort should be spared to save the Duke’s life. By the time they were ready to carry the unconscious Duke upstairs most of the delegates had congregated in the hall. After having a brief word with them the Duke of Savoy ordered that, save for four guards who were to stand guard outside The Viscount’s room, and the two who were still restraining Francis who were to follow him, the remainder were to return to their post. He remarked, somewhat acidly that perhaps from now on they would carry out their duties more efficiently. The group of delegates, together with Francis and his two guards then retired to the Duke’s suite. Not more than five minutes later, Francis’ guards ran down the stairs pell-mell shouting to their fellows to find their (by now) ex-Commanding officer. After a diligent search it became clear that he and the Guard who fired on the Duke were nowhere to be seen. It took nearly half an hour to confirm that he was not in the Chateaux. He had vanished without a trace. In the meantime, a large carriage bearing the crest of the Duchy of Savoy was hurriedly made ready. It set off at a fast pace accompanied by no less than ten, armed, alert and very angry guards. Less than a mile outside Seltz it caught up with an empty dray drawn by two tired horses and driven by two rather drunk, but happy men, who did not appear at all surprised or even concerned to be forced to stop at gunpoint. Upon confirming to the guards that yes, he was Vallon the innkeeper, the window of the chaise opened, and a middle-aged man leant out introducing himself as Miss Leighton’s uncle. Initially Vallon disclaimed all knowledge of any Miss Leighton but when the Gentleman in the carriage described to him precisely what Vallon had been doing the on the previous evening he was convinced and offered to direct the Viscount to his sister’s house. Seeing the ponderous pace of the dray horses the Viscount had other ideas and offered Vallon a space in the carriage. Less than ten minutes later Sarah was joyfully restored to her uncle. The Duke had remained unconscious for nearly five days during which time the only time he fully roused was when the Surgeon had removed the ball from his thigh. For two days as his fever mounted, the doctors feared the worst, but at around midnight on the third day the fever broke and despite the wound still occasionally bleeding it became clear that he would survive. Never had a patient had such care; he had been attended not only by Miss Leighton, who had, at times, to be ordered from the room by her uncle, but also by a succession of very superior man servants employed by the some of the highest nobility in France. It was also difficult to persuade Francis to move from his side and even Viscount Hainaut, mortified by the conduct of his young relative, had insisted on taking a turn. “It has been already said how deeply indebted we are to Your Grace and to you too Miss Leighton.” The Duke of Savoy nodded gratefully towards the two people who he had mentioned, but when they made to disclaim any obligation, he continued emphatically, “my brother in law has asked me to convey to you, Miss Leighton, on behalf of himself and his son, his mortification that you should have been abducted by a French Citizen who then compounded his crime by making a despicable and wholly unjustified threat to your honour. He begs me to tell you that if there is any service which he may be able to do in return you have but to ask. As for you, Your Grace, that your life should have been put at risk when you were engaged in protecting the niece of Viscount Borden, for many years a great friend to France, is also a matter of considerable embarrassment. His Majesty has asked me to tell you that the large estate of the late Marquise D’Aussonne, who chose the wrong side in the recent wars is vacant and is in the process of being transferred into your name. As of today, in addition to the ownership of the land you may use the title also. The Documents and letters patent relating to the estate and title will be forwarded to His Excellency the Ambassador to the Court of his Majesty King George in Paris as soon as they are ready. Furthermore, His Majesty begs you both will visit him at Versailles the next time you come to Paris and he will be honoured to receive you. He wishes me to tell you that he has issued orders that should you, at any time in the future, present yourself at court you will be immediately admitted into his presence or into the presence of whichever of his descendants then sits on the throne. You have done a great service for France and in the process have been seriously injured. France is deeply in your debt.” The Duke of Savoy had clearly prepared this speech, and he delivered it with great formality but having delivered it he smiled grimly and leant forward in his chair and continued, “Except for the people in this room no-one knows the full story, although there is of course a great deal of speculation. We must consider what should be done next. Without wishing to minimise the incident,” he looked apologetically at Miss Leighton and the Duke “it is nevertheless the case that without these deeply regrettable events we would not have known about the extent of the threat to my nephew. How should we use this information?” “Forgive me if I am going over old ground,” Sale spoke up pensively “but has anyone considered how deeply the Garde du Corps du Roi has been penetrated? Are we sure that Monsieur Hainaut and his ‘friend’ are the only rotten apples?” The faces opposite the Duke told their own story, they had not even considered the possibility that this might not be an isolated incident. “Ce n’est pas possible” the commander of the Guards muttered under his breath, angered by the Duke’s assertion of corruption in his beloved corps. He was somewhat overawed by the august company in which he now found himself and was aware that it would perhaps be unwise to object too strenuously, he was nonetheless determined, even if sotto voce, to voice his objection to the Duke’s suggestion. “But yes, Monsieur le Commandant, it is very possible,” responded Miss Leighton seriously and attracting the attention of the men who had, with one or two exceptions, considered her attendance as little more than a courtesy. “Have you had any desertions since Monsieur Hainaut’s departure?” “Why yes Mademoiselle.” The Commander replied in some surprise. He had briefly, and very tactfully, discussed her abduction with her since her arrival and she had made some well-considered suggestions to improve security at the Chateaux. He had quickly determined she was nobody’s fool. Nonetheless he had been surprised to see her at this meeting. This was man’s business. “How many?” “In addition to Monsieur Hainaut and the foul bricon who shot his Grace; four.” “I would venture to suggest that they departed after I returned to the Chateaux? Is that not the case?” “I do not know Mademoiselle. I did not arrive until after but perhaps,” The Commander looked over his shoulder at the guard standing behind him who nodded. “As you see. You surmise correctly.” “Hainaut had five lackeys with him when he took me. From his description, I believe that one of them was the man who left with Hainaut and I suspect, since they all appeared to be very friendly, the other four were your missing guards. We can confirm this later if you wish, I can describe them for you. If I am right, they remained after their master departed and only left when I reappeared since I was certain to see them sooner or later. So, my question to you is if there were five, then why not more?” “Planning a single assassination here makes no sense,” Vicomte Hainaut volunteered, fully aware that, no matter how loyal he had been in the past, his nephew’s treason had inevitably cast the light of suspicion upon him also. “My nephew” he looked pained at having to admit the relationship, “had succeeded in securing a position close to the King’s brother and might, in time have succeeded in killing him. Yet if we are to believe he yearns for the return of the republic, succeeding here would not, on its own, have achieved his aim. The only effect of an unsuccessful attempt on the life of the Compte D’Artois would have been a tightening of security and an immediate review of the King’s security arrangements. My nephew would be remorselessly hunted down, publicly tried and executed. The traitors would inevitably be found. However misguided my nephew might be, he is not at all stupid and he would know all this. The only sensible approach would be to strike against the King, his Family and his heirs, removing them all at the same time. This would require several attacks in separate places by different people. If this were to be achieved it might be sufficient to permit the return of the republic, but if there was but one viable King left alive the country would inevitably turn to him. If this is my nephew’s plan, then there must be more traitors.” The room fell silent as all those present took in what the Vicomte had said. His words had struck home, but confirmation came from a different, and unexpected, quarter. “If I may speak?” The Guard standing beside his commanding officer looked uncomfortable at attracting attention to himself and he wilted somewhat as the gaze of three Viscounts, two Dukes, a Duchess and his own commander snapped onto him. The Duc of Savoy came to his assistance; “Please do” said the Duc with a broad smile, “I suspect you may know as much about this as do any of us. But perhaps we may know your name?” “Corporal Pierre Guay, Your Grace” the man responded with a grateful look and a courteous bow, “I am the third son of Barrone Guay. He has a small estate near Reims.” “Guay eh?” interjected D’Angoulême, “I think I met your father a few years ago. So ... what can you tell us?” “I have but lately been posted to this company, prior to that I was stationed at Tolouse.” It was apparent that Guay was an educated man who had thought about what he wanted to say at some length. “It has seemed to me that from about eighteen months ago there were men admitted to the Garde du Corps du Roi who, in the past, would never have been considered. They were less educated, seemed to drink more and care less and I have heard them make comments about His Majesty which I consider a true Guard would never make. There was one occasion where a recruit so far crossed the line that I was moved to draw the matter to the attention of my lieutenant. I was surprised when nothing was done. Your Grace will have noticed” he smiled deprecatingly, “that I am somewhat older than most of my fellows and it had occurred to me that the attitudes and beliefs I hold may simply result from a failure on my part to recognise that times have changed. When I arrived here however, I discovered quite by chance, that the changes I had noticed had occurred elsewhere and I was not alone in my concerns. There is among the garrison here a guard whose prior posting was at Rouen. He also tells of falling standard of recruitment and poor behaviour going unpunished. He told me that at Rouen there was a Guard who had only recently arrived from Amiens. Once again, he told the same account. I can tell you that there has been a great deal of talk, especially amongst those Guards who have been defending the King for many years. We did not really consider it of great import, especially in view of the unconcern showed by our officers but in the light of what has happened here it has suddenly assumed a more sinister aspect.” At this he drew himself up proudly standing to attention, “I am sworn to protect the King and if I am wrong then I will apologise, but Your Grace, I believe if you wish to find if the guards have been penetrated then you need to speak to the Guards themselves.” Guay saluted sharply and sat down. “There will always be a place in the King’s Guards for a man like you Sergeant Guay,” It was the Duc D’Angoulême who spoke. As the son of the heir apparent he had the power to order any promotions in the Garde du Roi he considered appropriate. “As you say, it may just be the case that there has been a change in the way the guards have been recruited of late although, if this is the case, it is the first I have heard of it. We shall investigate.” The discussion then moved on to other more general subjects relating to the assistance which Britain might be able to render to the King and Sale’s attention started to wander. The Duke had found the meeting much more tiring than he had expected and he had no real interest in politics or diplomacy. He was just considering how he might tactfully retire when the problem was solved for him, “Gentlemen,” interrupted Miss Leighton, “today is the first that the Duke has been out of bed. He needs to rest. If you will excuse us I will see to it.” “Of course,” said the Duc of Savoy, “but we look forward to seeing Your Grace more often. You are doing famously.” Then courteously, but firmly, he led the delegates out of the room. After a good night’s sleep, Sale was allowed once more to rise from his bed and he even managed to stand for a minute before his shaking knees told him it was time to sit down. Francis saw to it that he swallowed his breakfast, seated him in a deep armchair and then admitted Miss Leighton accompanied by Martha. It was a fine day and the weak January sunshine streamed through the south-facing window. The Duke enjoyed Miss Leighton’s company, she was entertaining, very knowledgeable and was able to bring the Duke up to date with news from around Sale Park. His lands, she reported, were in very good heart. The improvements he had put in place were the toast of his tenants. The great house however; that was a different matter. It was now run by a skeleton staff and, if they were to be believed, the Duke would have to spend a great deal of money on it if he wanted to return it to the pre-eminence it enjoyed in his grandfather’s day. The Duke was surprised at how much this news affected him. When he had left England, he had no thought for Sale Park other than how much he wanted to get away from it. Now, remembering his youth spent on the estate, a host of fond memories clouded in on him. Sale Park was his home and, no matter what it took, he would restore it. He realised at that moment, whatever devils had been chasing him he had out-run them. Even though his duty demanded it, he finally wanted to go home The Duke’s enforced rest had afforded him much time to think and he had spent some time considering how and when to raise the matter which they had avoided in Madame Ricard’s house. His curiosity was still unsatisfied, and his mind was filling the gap with a series of increasingly improbable explanations. As he could think of no tactful way of approaching the subject, when the conversation finally lagged, he decided to put the matter to the touch. Chapter 7 “Miss Leighton,” he said, attracting her attention from the book she had opened on her knees. “You want to know why you have never heard of me before.” Miss Leighton had been expecting the question and it was not hard to see that he had been working up to the matter for some time. “If it is not too great an impertinence,” answered the Duke heaving a sigh of relief. “If you do not wish to tell me then please say so and on my honour, I swear I shall never broach the subject again.” “It is not an impertinence at all; under the circumstances I could hardly complain of any question you wished to ask of me. Even were that not the case, given that we are neighbours, you need to know something of my history. If you do not understand my situation it could cause a great deal of embarrassment to us both. If it helps you Sir, I have spoken to my uncle and he agrees that under the circumstances I have no choice but to explain matters. What do you want to know?” “What do I want to know?" asked the Duke rhetorically. "Why did I not know my nearest neighbour, the great friend of my uncle and guardian had a very pretty niece? What haven’t I met you? Do you ever go into society? If not, why not? Who was your father? Why do you keep house for your uncle and act as his secretary? How do you know one end of a sword from another? Why were you not introduced to me when you came to my home? What ...?" “Stop. Stop.” Interrupted Miss Leighton with a laugh. “I see I had better tell you all of my story. It does not cause me distress to do so but the matter is a little delicate and it is not easy to know where to start.” She paused for a moment and then looked straight at the Duke. “You perhaps knew that my uncle had an older brother?” “Vaguely” confirmed the Duke, “I believe he was a junior officer in the Navy and was killed in an engagement off Spain while I was still in short coats. “He was my father.” Miss Leighton looked up and noted the Duke’s surprise. “I did not know he ever married, much less had any children,” The Duke said slowly. Then he realised something, “You said you have a brother. How is it then that he is not...?” “Viscount Borden? You are of course right, in the ordinary course of matters my brother might have expected to have succeed to the title upon my grandfather’s death.” She shuddered to a halt at this point realising the Duke might leap to entirely the wrong conclusion. In view of her feelings for the Duke she did not think that she would be able to bear it if he turned from her in revulsion. There was nothing on his face other than polite interest however and this gave her the courage to continue. “You must understand that I have no memory at all of my parents, I was always in the care of my grandfather and, after his death, in that of my uncle. Therefore, I cannot confirm my story from my own experience. I can only tell you what I have been told by my uncle and my grandfather and, a little from what I have gleaned from odd things let drop by my uncle, the household staff and from Martha.” She paused again as if to collect her thoughts and then continued. “Shortly after his nineteenth birthday, my father eloped with a woman whose family derived a living from the mill trade. He knew my grandfather would not countenance the match and therefore they were married by special licence. There had never, as I understand it, been anything more than basic courtesy between my father and my grandfather. According to popular report my father considered my grandfather a cold man completely wholly lacking in any kindness. In turn, my grandfather told me that his eldest son was a worthless fribble with no proper sense of the filial duty he owed to his father and his name. I understand that, even before his son’s marriage, my Grandfather had little good to say about him. In order to obtain the special licence he required to marry my mother, my father swore an oath that he was of age and that he had the consent of my mother’s guardian. This was of course a lie. He then kept the marriage secret for nearly three years. This was not difficult, he was stationed in Portsmouth and his naval duties meant that he was only able to visit his father on infrequent occasions. Neither my mother nor my father were particularly bothered by this as they lived, and were happy to remain, in Portsmouth. My Grandfather kept his son on a beggarly allowance and therefore they were not wealthy but the allowance he did have when added to my father’s naval pay and the small income he inherited from his mother were sufficient for their needs. He knew, but did not particularly care, that my father would disapprove of the union, the secrecy was not motivated by shame or embarrassment, indeed his fellow officers knew he was married and apparently my mother was popular with them. He merely wanted to avoid a confrontation and to protect his wife and his daughter from his father’s temper. I was born after they had been married just over a year but as my father had not yet informed his father he was married he could hardly tell him that he had a granddaughter. After three years, my father was recalled to sea as war seemed likely. By this time my mother was once again pregnant and my father decided that it would now be sensible to inform his parent of the situation. He was concerned that he might be killed and anxious to make sure his father was aware of us and therefore my father wrote to inform my grandfather of his marriage. Perhaps he thought that, presented with a fait accompli, his father might in time come around to the situation. Predictably my grandfather wrote him a blistering reply. He refused to recognise, or sanction, such an unsatisfactory marriage and he told my father that my mother and their children would never, while he was alive, be permitted entry to Borden. While this was a blow to my Father he was not overly concerned; he could not see how his parent could avoid, in the end, having to recognise the marriage or his legitimate progeny. As soon as my Father set sail, my Grandfather seized the opportunity to end the (as he saw it) disastrous union. Taking advantage of my father’s extended absence and concerned that this next child might be a boy he contrived to have my parents’ marriage annulled on the grounds that my Father had lied to obtain the special licence. My Grandfather told me that he was assisted in his endeavours by my mother’s parents who saw an opportunity to restore their honour and an opportunity to end a union they too considered an embarrassment. As the special licence should never have been issued in the first place, the court agreed the marriage should be annulled and therefore, at law, treated as if it never was. My brother and I were rendered, at a stroke, illegitimate and neither sets of grandparents wanted anything to do with us.” At these words Miss Leighton saw that Sale finally understood her position. He looked shocked and shook his head, but instead of the pity (or worse, revulsion) that she feared, his expression showed nothing but admiration. Thus emboldened, she continued, “My grandfather’s lack of compassion did however, at least to some extent, come home to roost. Some weeks later, still in ignorance of his father’s actions, my father was killed in action and was subsequently buried at sea. His income and naval pay had perished with him and my mother received no widow’s payment because she was not legally married to my father at the time of his death. Her own family refused to take her back because she had married against their wishes and so, with nowhere else to go, she applied to my grandfather. She told him that unless he agreed to bring up his grandchildren she would make sure that what he had done became public knowledge. My grandfather was always used to hold himself as the highest of sticklers and the public comment and censure which must have accompanied the disclosure of the story was not something he could not contemplate. So he agreed, on conditions. He told my mother that he would ensure my brother and I were well taken care of but that she must agree to have no further contact with us. In addition, he offered her a large sum of money to disappear. I suppose she must have accepted because I do not know where my mother is now or if she is alive or dead. I suppose my brother and I ought to have taken our mother’s name as we did not have legitimate father but I have no idea who she was and in any case my grandfather would not hear of it. Having to deal with his son’s illegitimate children was bad enough, he would not have been able to accept them with a name other than his own at all.” Miss Leighton stopped taking at this point and it was apparent she was deep in thought. The Duke was just about to fill the silence when Miss Leighton looked up again. “My grandfather died when I was seven. He made sure that I knew my history and made it clear that “the pauper brats” were barely tolerated. Unsurprisingly I did not love him at all but he was at least as good as his word, I was well brought up. I was given a good education, I was fed and clothed and I was well protected. After our grandfather died our uncle assumed responsibility for us. He was much kinder than his father had been. He told me that he had always been fond of his elder brother. Although he has never said as much, I wonder if he thinks that he has come into a title which should never have been his. He has been particularly careful to ensure that I am protected from prying eyes and public censure. He taught my brother to fence and turned a blind eye when I joined in his lessons. He ensured that I did not have to dress like a poor relation. He has settled money on both of us so that when he dies we can be independent. He did not have to do any of these things. Unlike my grandfather, I am genuinely fond of my uncle and, as he is not married, my brother and I are his only family. I know that it genuinely grieves him that he cannot openly recognise us but, especially in his position, he cannot afford to create open scandal. When I was sixteen, my uncle’s secretary left without notice and I offered to help. I write very quickly and my words are legible. He never afterwards hired a replacement preferring to ask me to assist. Gradually I assumed control of his affairs and the last five years have been very interesting. The few people who are invited to Borden have become used to seeing me around and it no longer causes any comment that he has a female secretary. Nonetheless there are still occasions when my situation can be awkward and there are certain restrictions which apply to me as a result of my birth. Even a guardian as relaxed as my uncle could not foist his illegitimate niece on society and while he is prepared to acknowledge me privately, realistically, I will never make a good marriage.” Miss Leighton lapsed into silence. She had been under no compulsion to tell her story, but she knew quite well that the Duke would have asked her uncle about her history and it would have been difficult for the Viscount to refuse the request, especially when he had good reason to be grateful to him. A point-blank refusal would have appeared rude. At least she had told the story as she wanted it told. She knew her uncle was deeply sympathetic to her position and the last thing she wanted was to become an object of pity. “But was there no-one else who would be prepared to take you in where your history need not be discussed? Have you no other relatives? The situation is intolerable, you are forced to live the life of a recluse merely because one intolerant and spiteful old man could not accept that his son had made his own choice of bride.” The Duke appeared to take it personally that no-one appeared to have taken the necessary steps to ensure Miss Leighton’s wellbeing. “My uncle has of course considered alternatives but, realistically there is no-one else. My mother’s relatives cast my mother off when she married my father and as I do not know her maiden name I could not, in any event, find them. As for my father’s relatives, he had but one brother, my uncle, and he has never married. My Grandfather had a younger brother, but they argued when my Great Grandmother died and apart from one letter to my Great Grandfather from France confirming he was well we have heard nothing from him for more than 40 years.” Miss Leighton shrugged expressively, “so you see Your Grace, I am still my Grandfather’s prisoner even though he died thirteen years ago.” “But you are the legitimate child of your father who was the heir to the title.” objected the Duke. “I quite see that if the marriage was set aside your brother could not succeed to the Title on your grandfather’s death, but I fail to see why you should have to live in seclusion.” “Even had the marriage not been set aside,” Miss Leighton responded patiently, “I would not have been able to go into society. The daughter of a mill worker, however eligible her father might have been, would simply not have been received. You will allow, this is correct, will you not?” The Duke was forced into a reluctant nod of assent. “How then would you account for my brother failing to succeed to the title upon my Grandfather’s death? In order to justify it, the full story would have to be told. Do you think it would be believed?” Miss Leighton left the question hanging expecting the Duke to answer it himself. Accepting the challenge, the Duke thought about it. Would it be believed? Probably not, it was too fantastic. Few people would consider any grandfather would be so vengeful as to disinherit their own grandchildren and expel the children’s mother. So, he asked himself, what would they believe? Light dawned. “You are right” he admitted heavily, “People would say that your childless uncle was trying to foist the natural children of his brother onto society, presumably as a way of ensuring the title did not die with him.” He shook his head at his own stupidity, “Your grandfather has placed you, your brother and your uncle in an impossible situation, the truth would not be believed, and the obvious alternative story, leaves your uncle’s reputation in tatters and you ostracised.” He smiled wryly, “I am not usually quite so stupid, I assure you.” “The lie is much easier to believe than the truth,” shrugged Miss Leighton pragmatically. “My uncle does what he can. I am well cared for and I am permitted to follow my interests. I have as much freedom as is possible and consistent with the need to avoid exposing myself and my uncle to public censure. On the rare occasions that I have met any of my father’s friends, I am introduced as my father’s natural daughter. The story is easily believed; no-one would think that Viscount Borden would shirk his responsibilities. As my uncle’s acquaintances are discreet, the story has never become public. Here in France it is a different matter, no-one cares who I am and my uncle introduces me as his niece. Here I have more freedom and it was in the exercise of it that I agreed to drive out with Hainaut. I knew my uncle would not mind and of course I could not have guessed his intention. As to the future," Miss Leighton sighed but not with any great sense of regret, “I am used to the restriction life places upon me now,” she said wistfully,” and in truth I have a comfortable life and I live much better than many. It would be churlish to complain about that which cannot be changed. If you ask however, what it is that I would have most liked and will never have, then I think I would have enjoyed a London season.” Instinctively the Duke knew that platitudes or sympathy would not be well received but he had some difficulty thinking of an appropriate response. Before he could decide on a course he noticed that Martha had become very upset and was trying, not very successfully, to hide her tears. Still struggling to rise somewhat he offered her his handkerchief, “There is no need to worry, you know,” he said kindly, “your mistress is a very brave woman and no-one here will think the less of her for something so totally beyond her control.” “Thank you,” the abigail sniffed loudly into the Duke’s handkerchief. “Miss Sarah deals with her trials much better than I do.” Martha looked up her tears slowly turning to anger, “That man ....” She halted obviously looking for words which would express her feelings adequately, “That man ...?” The Duke invited her to continue and added, “I shouldn’t think you could shock me.” Martha gave a watery chuckle at this and looked straight at the Duke “I hesitate to speak ill of the dead but a more pompous, selfish, uncaring man I never met in my whole life. That he should treat his own son and his own grandchildren in that way. I hope his sins caught up with him after death in a way they never did in life.” “Well, I never, Martha,” Miss Leighton stared open mouthed at her abigail. “You have never said anything like that before. I never suspected you felt that strongly.” “Well, I never Miss Sarah,” Martha responded grimly, but with a trace of mockery, “Just because I have not spoken does not mean I have not thought about it. That man treated your father, you and your brother with a callousness almost beyond belief. Now seemed the right time to say what I thought.” The abigail’s look challenged her mistress to gainsay her words. Miss Leighton was obviously taken aback by the ferocity of Martha’s words and was, unusually, lost for words. She merely shook her head and smiled. Sale, whose views were wholly in accord with Martha’s on the subject of the deceased Viscount Borden was nevertheless puzzling over an oddity. Miss Leighton’s grandfather had been utterly ruthless in achieving his aims and had sacrificed the happiness of his own son and daughter in law and the rights and expectations of his grandchildren in the process. Of the three however, Miss Leighton’s mother was most deserving of pity. She was estranged from her own family, widowed, had her marriage dissolved, seen her children made illegitimate and watched their future taken away and, as a final insult, been excluded from their upbringing. Yet Martha did not apparently feel any anger on her behalf. Twice in quick succession she had stated that Miss Leighton’s grandfather had mistreated his own son and his own grandchildren. She did not mention Miss Leighton’s mother at all. Martha, concluded the Duke silently, knew more than she was saying. One day, he promised himself, he was going to find out what it was. “So you can see Sir,” Miss Leighton was speaking again, “Why you had to know my story. You might have come to Borden to see me otherwise or invited me to Sale Park. As I cannot go into society……" “I beg to differ, Miss Leighton,” asserted the Duke in a voice indicating barely suppressed anger. “When I return to Sale Park, something I have every intention of doing within the next few weeks, you will be invited to visit and I give you fair warning I shall be grossly offended if you refuse.” Miss Leighton’s jaw dropped as she saw that his anger was on her behalf. “When you arrive, you will be admitted through the front door with all the ceremony I can muster and you will be afforded all of the courtesy due to a brave and intelligent woman who I hope I may count amongst my friends.” He looked directly at Miss Leighton, “I trust I make myself clear?” In the following days, as the Duke slowly won back to health Miss Leighton wondered if the Duke had meant what he had said. There had been many occasions when promises made to her in ignorance of her position were quietly forgotten when the circumstances of her birth were made known. It was with genuine regret that her uncle had made it made it clear, from the time she was old enough to understand, that there were some circles that would always be closed to her. She remembered one occasion soon after her grandfather had died. The daughter of a visitor to Borden had become bored with the formality of the adult conversation and set off on her own to explore the house. The two girls had bumped into each other as Sarah was playing on her own her in an upstairs corridor in the servant’s wing. The two girls liked each other on sight and played happily together every day. Sarah had shown her guest the secret passages and the priest’s hole and her visitor had told her of London and Bath and the various noble homes to which she had been taken by her doting parents. Regrettably, one day her friend innocently asked her mother why her friend Sarah was not permitted to mix with the other guests. The parents were not aware of the Borden skeleton in the closet and, when they were informed of her identity, were much shocked that their well-bred daughter had been allowed to mix with a female of such low breeding and were barely mollified at an assurance that Sarah would be excluded from the house during any future visits. Sarah was firmly told that she must be more careful and on the rare occasions when children visited Borden thereafter, Sarah never left Martha’s side. After due consideration however, Sarah concluded that the Duke’s was probably entirely serious when he gave his promise. From what she had seen thus far, he did not appear to be a man who gave his word lightly and he would probably make good on it. He had given his word in full knowledge of her circumstances and the reality was that there was probably very little risk to him in doing so. There were few who would criticise the Duke, whatever he decided to do. That left the question as to how, if the invitation were made, she would respond to it. She would be strongly tempted to accept, but the potential consequences of doing so could be catastrophic for her and for her uncle. Miss Leighton shrugged inwardly. Never one to buy problems for the future she set the matter down as a bridge to be crossed, if, and when, she ever arrived at it. The Duke of Savoy’s prediction was proved correct. Once released from his bed, Sale’s recovery astounded everyone but Francis, who had previous experience of his master’s powers of recuperation. Then of course, three years in the Duke’s company gave him an understanding of the Duke’s determination and how little he liked being looked after. After two weeks, apart from a little stiffness which would work out in time, he was fully mobile again. As far as Francis’ experienced eye could see the Duke was back to his normal self. According to the letter the Duke had written to Scriven some weeks ago, Sale should have been making his preparations to leave for London but, as yet, there he had given no indication of a fixed date for his departure. Francis would have wondered at this, but he had a fair idea of the way the wind was blowing and he was not entirely surprised at the delay. He saw that the Duke and Miss Leighton were very comfortable in each other’s company and as the Duke improved, they spent much time walking around the gardens of the Chateau chaperoned, at a discreet distance by Martha. That each liked and admired the other was obvious. He wondered if the Duke knew what he was doing. He was not a man for idle flirtation and while he had the same needs as any man he had, as far as Francis knew, never kept a mistress or given any lady to suppose there was anything more in his conversation than simple courtesy. Even if his employer were to be serious, there could be no possibility of a marriage and he did not think, even if one was offered, that Miss Leighton would accept a carte blanche. Nevertheless, the extended stay at the Chateaux exactly suited Francis’s purposes too, and for an identical reason. He had been trying, with some limited success, to fix his interest with Martha. They had been Discreet and took very good care that neither the Duke nor Miss Leighton knew of the relationship although the budding romance was common knowledge in the servant’s hall. Francis had also been seen walking around the Chateaux grounds in the company of Miss Leighton’s maid and this had resulted, on both sides, in a certain amount of good natured ribbing. Their peers made sure they sat next to each other at meals as both were popular and their nascent romance was uncritically applauded by everyone. Had their well-wishers known it, neither Francis nor Martha took a particularly hopeful view of their case. The Duke would soon be going home, and no-one knew where Viscount Borden would be going next or if Miss Leighton would be travelling with him. Martha made it perfectly clear that she could not contemplate leaving her mistress’ service at the present time and she was wholly unable to say when she might be able to do so. Francis was in a similar position. While he did not want to leave the Duke’s service he was at least considering the possibility, but any decision had to wait until after their return to England. Francis considered himself duty bound to remain with the Duke until at least he had re-established himself in England. His genuine affection for his master would not, even at the cost of his own happiness, allow him to give notice before then. The immediate problem was solved for them in a wholly unexpected fashion some days later. One morning Viscount Borden came to see the Duke. He was obviously a troubled man and Sale formed the strong impression that he wanted to ask something but did not know where to begin. After ten minutes during which the Viscount said nothing at all but expended a great many words in doing it, the Duke decided it was time to intervene. “Whatever it is you came to say, you had better spit it out, Sir” he said with a smile which robbed his word of any offence. “I gather you have a favour to ask?” “It is my Sarah” blurted out the Viscount gratefully, “I need to arrange for her to go home and I cannot myself escort her.” He saw that he had not really explained himself well. “We have started to investigate the possible infiltration of the Garde du Corps du Roi and it appears that the fears our percipient friend Sergeant Guay expressed may be born out in fact. The matter is thus much more serious than we thought. Granville must now return to the Embassy in Paris and I am to go with him as D’Angoulême has asked that we go to Versailles to report to the King. I cannot take Sarah to Paris with me as the King cannot guarantee her safety and I cannot leave her all day in a hotel or in an ante room in Versailles. I need her to go home. She will not like it, but she is a sensible girl and she will understand. D’Angoulême will provide security on the journey but she needs an escort .... I heard you were returning to England...?” The Viscount stammered to a stop. “Stop! Stop! My dear Sir,” The Duke replied to the unspoken request. “I will be more than happy to escort her home. How could you think anything else? I am, after all, deeply indebted to her.” “You are too kind,” responded the Viscount with an unhappy but greatly relieved expression on his face. “I am very fond of Sarah as if she were my own daughter but .... well… if there was any other way I would not ask.” He sighed mightily “there are many ladies in society who have not half the talent of my Sarah and yet her quality is unlikely ever to be recognised. You will of course, understand that had I any other choice I would not have imposed upon you in this way. Her situation is of the most delicate and there are those who would refuse to even talk to her because of the circumstances of her birth.” He looked anxiously at the Duke as if seeking reassurance. “Sir,” The Duke made haste to dispel any concerns the Viscount might have had, “Miss Leighton is one of the bravest, most intelligent and loyal women it has ever been my pleasure to meet. Pray do not concern yourself with that which she lacks, which in the end is but a small thing, but celebrate that which she has. I shall ensure she is delivered, safely, and with respect and dignity, to any place in England that you wish.” That another could recognise his niece’s sterling qualities gave the Viscount much heart and he retired to his room somewhat happier and a flicker of optimism. ‘If the Duke of Sale were to sponsor her,' he thought,' there may be hope.’ There was much to do before the party could set out for England. The question of a suitable conveyance for Miss Leighton was solved by Vicomte Hainaut who insisted the Duke and his party use his own luxuriously appointed travelling chariot, notwithstanding that there was a significant chance it might never be restored to him. Under the circumstances, not only did he consider himself to be honour bound to render such assistance as he could, but he was anxious, despite reassurance from the Duc D’Angoulême that he was under no personal suspicion, to be seen to be enthusiastically doing what he could to assist in any way he could. He did not in any case believe the reassurance; he had been summoned to Paris with the Duc and he knew quite well that there were those who would hold him guilty if only by association. The likelihood of the loss of a travelling carriage was as naught when balanced against the possible loss of his head. A search of the locality produced a suitable second carriage which could be used by the servants and which, in addition, would suffice to carry the baggage and it was the work of a day or two to locate two sturdy teams to draw the vehicles. A detachment of eight soldiers from the Garde du Corps du Roi were to be attached to the party to ensure their security until they should depart France and the Duke was gratified to discover they were to be led by the newly promoted Sergeant Guay. The Duke had not yet had the opportunity to thank the Guard and he was anxious to further his acquaintance with the man he considered saved his life. Then of course there was the question of the Duke’s baggage which awaited his return in Strasbourg. Sale had already decided that he would not be returning to that city; instead he would travel due east through Reichshoffen and Wingen-Sur-Moder to reach the main Saverne to Saarbrüken Road at Sarre-Union. He therefore wrote to Mr. Liversedge: Mr. Liversedge, I am desolated to have to apply to you for assistance, although I give you my solemn assurance that this will be the final time. I am returning to England in a week or so and I need my baggage, (and that belonging to my Valet) currently stored at the Hotel Alsace to be sent on to me c/o Vicomte Hainaut, Chateaux Hainaut, Eberbach-Seltz. I have paid my bill in full at the Hotel and therefore you should have no difficulty in retrieving my property. My friend, His Grace the Duc D’Angoulême will call in at The House on his way to Paris to give you the name of the courier who is to be entrusted with my property and I trust you will by then be in position to comply with whatever arrangements he may have made on my behalf. Sincerely etc Sale. The Duke smiled to himself as he sealed the letter, anticipating the effect it would have on its intended recipient. He handed it to the Guard who had been directed by his hosts to deliver it knowing full well that a letter delivered by one of the King’s personal guards and informing Liversedge that no less a personage than the son of the heir apparent would call upon him with further instructions, would act powerfully on the gaming house owner. He would not hesitate to assist a man who could command the assistance of such exalted friends. He could not however, have anticipated that Liversedge would deliver his property himself. Early on the fourth day after he sent his letter the courier appointed by the Duc D’Angoulême arrived with the Duke’s baggage. Liversedge, not a hair out of place and as dignified as ever, stepped down from courier’s cart and looked around as if his arrival had been eagerly awaited. Once Liversedge had greeted the Vicomte, a previous patron of the house, he addressed the Duke. “I have brought your baggage, Your Grace. I could not reconcile it with my conscience to permit it to travel unescorted.” He gave the impression that, had he not attended to the matter personally the Duke's possessions would inevitably have gone astray. The Duke surveyed Mr. Liversedge suspiciously. He did not consider it likely that his visitor would have bestirred himself in such a fashion had there not been a good reason. “I am in your debt” began the Duke sardonically, “but I believe I must not detain you. You must be anxious to return to The House.” Mr. Liversedge, he decided, did not look at all anxious to return to Strasbourg. “Upon learning that Your Grace,” Mr. Liversedge stated in stentorian tones, “was planning on returning to England, I considered it my duty to assist Your Grace on the journey. I shall therefore take charge of your travel plans an act as your courier and Major Domo.” The Duke listened to this speech appreciatively and wondered why Mr. Liversedge would undertake this task as, not for one second did he believe that he would do so by choice. Moreover, he was not at all sure that he wanted the old rascal with them although his presence would certainly make the journey more interesting. “But I have an escort of the comprised of eight men of the Guard du Roi,” he murmured provocatively, “I shall be well protected. And is this a volunteer assignment, or do you expect to be paid?” “No doubt Your Grace will be more than adequately protected, but a Kings Guardsman, no matter how well qualified, cannot locate the best inn, secure the best rooms or parlour or bespeak the best service.” Not by a flicker did Mr. Liversedge indicate he was put out or that he was unsure of being engaged. “Neither will they remember to attend to all those little details which will ensure your comfort on the journey. As for payment” he added magnanimously, “I do not require it. Your Grace may decide, when we reach the end of our journey whether I have been of service and may, if Your Grace considers it appropriate, remunerate my service at that point.” “Cut line Liversedge,” stated the Duke in a tone which clearly demonstrated that he did not believe a word the man had spoken. “Has someone broken your bank? Are your creditors on your heels? “Sir!” replied Mr. Liversedge, looking cut to the quick, “I must request you not to say such things.” “Well what is it then? You are certainly not leaving from choice?” Mr. Liversedge adopted the demeanour of one who is used, however unfairly, to meeting with disbelief. “I must admit,” he replied “that your letter arrived at a most opportune moment. There is some, slight difficulty which makes it imperative to seek some other occupation elsewhere.” The Duke looked completely unmoved. “Just after Your Grace left Strasbourg, Mr. Liversedge continued reluctantly, “my life became much more difficult. Gambling has always been unofficially tolerated but recently there have been a few well-heeled gentlemen who do not know when to walk away from the tables and have thus have lost very large sums in my house. In certain quarters, I have been unfairly held to blame. Why I should be held responsible for another’s foolishness has never yet been explained, but the fact that it has been a foreigner who has been running the most successful gaming establishment in Alsace is, no doubt, an irritant. A little over a week ago I was informed, politely but firmly, that I should quickly wind up my affairs and leave. It was made clear to me that, if I chose not to go my hand would be forced, and,” for the first time he expression betrayed a flash of fear, “that the manner of the er... forcing would be most unpleasant.” Mr. Liversedge fingered his collar in an unconscious gesture. “I managed to sell the House”, he smiled thinly “there were no shortage of buyers. I have sent what I could back to England where I still have a bank but I am far from certain, even though I have complied with their unfair and misdirected request, that I am safe.” For the first time Mr. Liversedge, stared straight at the Duke and allowed some of his anxiety to show. “It occurred to me, that to travel with an English Duke who enjoys the King’s favour and escorted by a detachment of the Garde du Corps du Roi might afford me a little safety. If you allowed me to join you, you would not in the future have cause to regret it. I will make a very good Major-Domo.” The Duke actually felt sorry for Liversedge. In seven years, he had managed by sheer hard work and force of will to claw himself from nowhere to the owner of one of the most celebrated and genteel gambling houses in Europe. He had gained the respect of his many patrons and there had never been even the merest sniff of a scandal. Then a few individuals, whose skill or purses would not sustain them in the House, had decided he should be forced to leave. The Duke had little doubt that within a very few days of Mr. Liversedge’s disappearance The House would reopen under new management. Many men would have railed against the fates; Mr. Liversedge had rescued what he could and taken the first opportunity afforded him to move on. The Duke admitted to a grudging respect. “You may travel with us if you wish and you may leave at any time. I shall not pay you however. You received payment in advance seven years ago.” Mr. Liversedge had by now reassumed his normal persona and bowed impassively. “Please report to Sergeant Guay in respect of the travel arrangements.” And that was that. The Duke had acquired a Major Domo. Somewhat to the Duke’s surprise, Liversedge immediately showed the administrative flair which had held him in such good stead as the owner of a pre-eminent gaming house and assumed control of the arrangements for the Duke and Miss Leighton’s comfort. There were many small details which both the Duke and Francis had missed as a consequence of never having managed a journey with a substantial retinue over a long distance. Sergeant Guay, who of course had no knowledge of Liversedge’s colourful history, sought out the Duke the following day and was most complimentary over the changes and arrangements that had already been made following the engagement of the impressive manservant. Two days before they were due to leave, the Duke and Francis rode down into Seltz to see Vallon. The innkeeper’s credit locally was now enormous. Not only had he provided lodgings to an English Duke but he had assisted in the rescue of an English lady preventing her dishonour and he had taken a key role in preventing an attack on the King. More important even than that, at least in the minds of the townspeople, he had assisted in the downfall of the so reviled Monsieur Hainaut. Local men whose daughters, and in some cases wives, had attracted the unwelcome attention of this gentleman were revelling in the knowledge that Hainaut had received, in some measure at least, the justice which he deserved. He had not yet been apprehended, but when he was – and it seemed only a matter of time – he would have a large crowd at his trial. Vallon had accepted the praise of his peers with unwonted modesty, disclaiming any responsibility for recent events. He was, he said, only an innkeeper and, as it was his duty to do, he had rendered such assistance to his guests as had been requested of him. It was initially most gratifying to be so lauded by one’s neighbours, but the praise showered on him was now starting to wear a little thin and thus upon entering his inn, it was in no particularly good mood that the Duke found him. A young lad employed by Vallon had the misfortune to break a plate through carelessness and his employer was in the process of describing loudly, and in minute detail, his lack of credible ancestry, intelligence, ability and future career potential, when out of the corner of his eye he saw the Duke and Francis grinning widely at his tirade. Instantly forgotten, the young miscreant made good his escape thanking his favourite saint for a timely delivery from an undefined but certainly horrible fate. “Your Grace,” shouted Vallon, his arms spread wide in a gesture of welcome, “I have prayed to the Holy Virgin every day for your recovery. I went to the Chateaux to enquire after you and though they told me you were well, for some reason” he grinned broadly, “they would not admit me.” Without any ceremony, he swept a small group of his regular customers from his best table and invited the Duke and his man to sit down. He hurried back with a bottle of wine from which he tenderly withdrew the cork. “I have had this bottle of claret in my cellar for many years. I kept it for the day when I should think the occasion worthy. This” he stated as he expertly decanted the deep red contents, “is that day.” Generous libations were poured into glasses and Vallon raised his in salute “your good health.” The Duke and Francis responded in kind and when they tasted Vallon’s wine, they were even more appreciative, the Duke going as far as to say that he had never tasted better. The formalities having been completed The Duke became much more solemn. He indicated to his host he should sit down. “What now?” asked the innkeeper, surprised at the sudden change of mood. “I recall,” the Duke said diffidently “that you have a niece who was dishonoured by our friend Monsieur Hainaut” he put up his hand to indicate that he was not to be interrupted. “I would imagine, in a small town like this, and even though everyone knows that she was not at fault, this would cause her considerable difficulty and shame.” He looked directly at Vallon, “Am I not correct?” For once deciding that he should remain silent Vallon simply nodded sharply while staring intently at his visitor. “You have heard I am returning to England with Mademoiselle Leighton?” Vallon nodded again. “I have in mind to take a female with me to assist Martha in looking after Miss Leighton and, once in England, I will find her suitable and respectable employment in my house or upon my estate. If there was such a female in Seltz who might be desirous of making a new start where she was unknown, then this might be an opportunity to do so. There is even a reasonable prospect that a personable French girl might find herself a husband.” The Duke returned Vallon’s stare steadily, “I had thought that you might know of such a female.” "Your Grace,” began the innkeeper after a long silence “I ....I” and he got no further as big tears began rolling down his face. After a full minute during which the Duke sat in respectful silence while Vallon tried to regain control he finally said abruptly, “I need to speak to my sister.” Without saying any more, he rose and walked out of the parlour. It was fully fifteen minutes before Vallon returned with Madame Ricard. With them was a girl whom the Duke adjudged to number but nineteen or twenty years. She was strikingly pretty, even dressed in the simple clothes of an Alsatian girl, and the Duke could see what it was that might have attracted Hainaut’s unwanted attentions. Vallon’s niece smiled uncertainly as she dropped a hesitant curtsey and the Duke saw that she had about her an indefinable aura of sadness. Both Madame and her daughter were plainly mystified at being called so suddenly to the inn but Madame, upon seeing the Duke immediately smiled broadly and enquired after his health. The fact that he had been injured was clearly a matter of considerable local interest. Reassured as to the Duke’s well-being Madame then asked after Mademoiselle Leighton and Miss Martha and was informed of their impending return to England. Having seen to the courtesies, the Duke directed an enquiring look as Vallon who shook his head, “I thought Your Grace would want to discuss the matter with Véronique personally.” The Duke nodded, understanding immediately. Vallon had appreciated that the proposal was best coming from Sale directly as he would need to be satisfied that the choice was Véronique’s and not one made for her by her mother or uncle. He rose to stand in front of Mademoiselle Ricard and asked, “Do you speak English, Mademoiselle?” he asked. “Un peu seulement, Yourrrr Ggrrace.” Mademoiselle dropped another curtsey as she struggled with the English pronunciation and looked at her mother, who shrugged indicating that she was as much in the dark as her daughter. Her uncle merely smiled back blandly. “We will speak in French then.” the Duke effortlessly switched languages. “Your uncle and your Mama have left me deep in their debt. I would not offer to do anything for them in return as I have no doubt they would consider such an offer an insult.” The expressions on two faces left him in no doubt that he was correct. “However, I can perhaps repay them and help put right a wrong done to you at the same time. I am returning to England in two days. There is, at the Chateaux Hainaut, an English Lady by the name of Mademoiselle Leighton,” Véronique nodded to indicate she had heard of Sarah “who is also desirous of returning home. She cannot travel alone over such a long distance and her uncle has therefore asked me to escort her; a task which I am more than happy to undertake. Miss Leighton has a maid but as there will be thirteen men in the party she will need more than one female to assist her and to ensure propriety. In addition, I think it is very likely that she will receive much greater attention from French innkeepers if it is known there is one travelling with her who is French. Your uncle has suggested to me that you might be prepared to assist us. When I arrive at Le Havre, if you do not want to travel with us to England I shall arrange for you to be safely returned to your mother. If, however, you wish to remain with us you may come to England and I shall find employment for you either in my house or somewhere on my estate. I want to make it absolutely plain, if you do not care to leave your home then no-one will pressure you to accept my offer, but this may be an opportunity for you to start all over where you are unknown.” Véronique had listened courteously from the start of this rather long speech, but as she listened, and the Duke’s offer became clear, she had begun to smile. Initially the smile had contained a measure of disbelief as if she could not really believe that fortune had at last smiled upon her. As the Duke continued to outline his offer the smile became broader. When he finished an expression of such brilliance burst from her face that Sale was momentarily taken aback. “Oh yes Your Grace, please I would love to come to England to serve you and Mademoiselle”, and she turned to Madame and started talking very quickly and in such idiomatic French that the Duke rapidly became lost. Vallon came over to the Duke and said blandly, “She said yes!” Both men burst out laughing. Vallon continued in a low voice “it has been three years since last I saw that smile” he took the Duke’s hand and shook it so hard that Sale thought his teeth would fall out. “Thank you for returning my niece to us,” he said simply and then continued “but even so I am sad that she will now be leaving us again.” It was another hour before the Duke and Francis could leave the inn. There were many toasts to be drunk and the arrangements to be made for Véronique to join them. The Duke confirmed that Véronique would write to her mother regularly and, as he had every intention of regularly visiting France in the future, if she remained with him she would have the opportunity to go home occasionally. It was decided that Vallon would bring his niece up to the Chateaux the following afternoon so that she could be introduced to Miss Leighton but that she should then return home to spend her last night with her family. She would attend the Chateaux no later than ten o’clock the day after that. As the Duke finally left the inn he could still hear Mademoiselle Ricard excitedly planning and re-planning what she should take with her. “I wonder”, said the Duke to Francis as they rode back to the Chateaux, "if she will be as excitable as that the whole way to England." “We certainly won’t be bored on the road”, answered his man with a grin. “Not with Miss Ricard and Liversedge, although,” he added, hearing another shriek from behind him, “we may be deaf!” Chapter 8 Indeed, on the occasions when he recalled it in later years, boredom was not an emotion the Duke associated with the journey back to England. ‘Eventful,’ was the word he generally applied, although he was heard to also term it as ‘madcap’ and ‘unpredictable’. They had deliberately planned a leisurely journey; with such a large party a fast pace would have been difficult to manage. Truth to tell no-one could face the prospect of ten or twelve hours on the road every day, even in a coach as well sprung as the Vicomte’s. Then again, Sergeant Guay had to report to the commanding officer at each town they visited where there was a garrison of the King’s Musketeers or the Garde du Corps du Roi. Liversedge had exercised himself mightily on behalf of the Duke. Rather haphazardly the Duke had assumed that they would simply arrive at an inn every night and arrange for rooms. He had no concept of the packing and unpacking required each night, or how long it would take to load up two carriages and harness the horses and of course, never having had to consider such a matter before, it had never occurred to him that lodgings would be required for his retinue. Fortunately, Liversedge had dealt with all that. He had worked out just how far the party was likely to travel each day and for the first three days had already identified where they were to put up for the night. He had sent on ahead to book two rooms and a private parlour and sufficient accommodation for the Guards, two coachmen, himself, Francis, Martha and Véronique. He had also arranged stabling for fourteen horses and ensured that each hotel engaged sufficient extra staff, if he judged that the normal compliment was insufficient, to ensure the Duke and Miss Leighton a modicum of comfort. For the first few days of the journey the Duke could not sustain a whole day in the saddle and thus had no choice but to spend some of the time with Miss Leighton but as his fitness returned it was not long before he did not use the carriage at all. Having spent time with Francis in planning the journey Guay had already discovered that the manservant had none of the lofty notions usually associated with a Gentleman's gentleman. To his surprise Guay found that the easy-going manner and affable disposition extended to the Master also. Sale was not remotely high in the instep and complied instantly with any requests which were made for his safety and that of his party. Further, Miss Leighton was extremely gracious and not at all like the noble and often haughty ladies the King’s Guards were used to dealing with at court. Their general approval was confirmed when one of their number had an unfortunate contretemps with a boar spooking his horse causing him to be unceremoniously and painfully unseated in the middle of the road. Miss Leighton called for the carriage to be brought to an immediate stop and she and her maid descended, without a trace of embarrassment, to attend to his numerous cuts and bruises. After this incident, the troop came to the unanimous view that this was one of the best duties they had ever drawn. There were some early surprises too. For reasons no-one could fathom, Sergeant Guay and Liversedge had struck up an immediate friendship. At the end of a day’s travel, the party soon became accustomed to seeing the two men in deep conversation planning the next day’s journey or enjoying a private joke over a glass of wine. With the Duke or Miss Leighton, Liversedge never lost his pompous civility but it appeared that with Guay he could abandon his assumed persona and be himself. Guay remarked, in response to the Duke’s comment that they appeared to be getting on well, that he had always admired men whose skills set them apart from the ordinary. Had Liversedge chosen a military career instead of personal service, the Sergeant observed, his organisational skills and eye for detail would have quickly seen him rise up the ranks. This unexpected and unlikely friendship had real benefits for the efficient conduct of the journey. Between them Guay and Liversedge worked out the arrangements for the day’s travel, the Guards knew their assignments, the coachmen knew what time they had to harness the team and be ready to move off and the personal staff knew by what time the carriages needed to be packed. There was nothing left for the Duke and Miss Leighton to do. One morning Francis and Martha came into the breakfast parlour at the country inn where they had rested the previous night and informed Miss Leighton and the Duke that everything was ready for departure. “It appears, Miss Leighton, “said the Duke, not without irony, “that we are the only unmanageable element of the party.” “No, Your Grace,” retorted Francis availing himself of the licence permitted to a trusted retainer, and to Martha’s obvious amusement, “you only think you are unmanageable.” Liversedge appeared never to be at a loss. One afternoon, when the party had covered about half of the distance planned for the day, one of the wheels on the coach started to crack and the whole party had to stop as it was clear it would not last much longer. Liversedge asked Guay if he would mind sending one of his men to fetch the wheelwright. He produced from his pocket book the name and direction of the nearest wright together with the precise dimensions of the wheel. As a result, the party was on its way again within the hour. That evening the Duke asked him if he knew the country and, on being told that Liversedge had never visited the locality before, demanded to know how he knew the location of a wheelwright and the size of the wheel. Liversedge bowed slightly condescendingly and informed the Duke that he always enquired of the innkeeper where local craftsmen were along the route for the following day. As for the size of the wheel, he had furnished himself with that information before they left the Chateaux. Sergeant Guay knew how to organise his men. There were always no less than four guards in proximity to the Carriage and another Discreetly following the Duke. Two scouts were always sent ahead so that any possible obstacles were cleared before the party reached them. A further guard travelled behind to warn if they were followed. After a day or two the Duke observed that, despite their slow progress they were never overtaken by fellow road users which, given their relaxed pace of travel he found somewhat strange. Furthermore, they saw few vehicles travelling the other way. Guay explained that anyone who wanted to overtake them had to do so when they had stopped for the night and people coming in the other direction were ‘advised’ to pull well off the road until the party had passed. Guay observed blandly that a troop of the King’s Guards could be very persuasive. After that, the Duke and Francis derived considerable amusement from the long line of carriages and other vehicles that scurried past about fifteen minutes after they had arrived at that night’s inn. Francis observed dryly that none of them seemed particularly keen to stop and chat. Véronique was exhausting to watch. She smiled all the time and apparently had boundless energy. She was the last to bed and the first to rise and nothing was too much trouble for her. On the other hand, woe betide any chambermaid whose work did not reach Véronique’s exacting standards. When they arrived at the inn after their first day’s travel, she leapt lightly down from the baggage carriage and asked the owner of the establishment, who had come out to meet them, if he could ask one of his staff to show her to the rooms Mademoiselle and his Grace were to occupy for the night. She needed, she said, to check that all was in readiness. Confident in the standard of his accommodation he waved at a junior maid to show Véronique the way before he went forward wreathed in welcoming smiles to welcome his exalted guests. He was somewhat startled when Véronique returned not a minute later, overriding his somewhat flowery welcome, and informing his guests that, contrary to what they had been led to expect by this paresseux butor, their rooms were not ready. At this point the innkeeper, interrupted, “Mai non, je vous assure…” He got no further and his guests never were to learn what it was he was proposing to assure them because it became apparent that Véronique had a wholly unexpected side which, thus far, she had not shown. “Silence,” she hissed in a voice of penetrating fury accompanied by a look which, as the Duke later remarked in private to Miss Leighton, appeared to turn the poor man to stone. Satisfied that the innkeeper would not again try to challenge her, she reached into a capacious pocket concealed in the folds of her dress and pulled out an apron. “Your Grace, Mademoiselle”, she began with great dignity “as I was saying, your rooms are not yet ready. I would be grateful if you would please wait in this parlour for few minutes while I prepare them properly.” She then stalked out of the room demanding the innkeeper follow him and bring his staff with him. Some ten minutes later she returned with a satisfied look on her face and informed her employers that the rooms would in fact be ready in no more than twenty minutes. The innkeeper, by now completely cowed, nodded and confirmed that it was as Mademoiselle said and he apologised profoundly that his rooms had not been prepared to the standard his Guests had every right to expect. The Duke watched the man, for whom he now had a certain male sympathy, squirm as Véronique explained that she was ashamed of a fellow Frenchman who would put up his guests in rooms which had not been cleaned for months and in which even the filthiest pig would feel uncomfortable. For good measure, she added that, while she was now employed to ensure the comfort of her noble employers, she was an innkeeper’s niece, and she knew a dirty room when she saw it. “Phew,” said the Duke to Francis a few minutes later. “I hope she never becomes angry at me!” The rooms, when they were finally conducted up to them by the frankly terrified innkeeper, were impeccable. Not a mote of dust could be found on any surface and not a smear marred the glass in any window. The Linen was freshly ironed, the drapes newly laundered and the water on the washstand was at precisely the right temperature. Miss Leighton gracefully complimented the maid assigned by the innkeeper to carry out such tasks the English Lady might require, and was not surprised to hear that Véronique had made them re-clean the room and re-make the bed. It appeared however that the girl did not hold any rancour for this cavalier treatment as she had derived considerable amusement from watching Véronique berating her employer. From then on, the innkeeper, fearful of offending the virago that looked after the domestic arrangements for this party, referred to her, very warily as ‘Mademoiselle Véronique.’ It is over four hundred and fifty miles to Le Havre from Seltz. On the advice of the Duc D’Angoulême they had decided to avoid Paris and travel via Metz, Reims and then north of Paris through Amiens. This added at least two more days onto the journey as the roads were not as good and the route was longer. The Duke knew that he would not travel quickly, the size of the party, the occasionally derelict surface of the roads, the cumbersome nature of the vehicles they were using and the need to occasionally remain for a night or two in one place while Guay reported to the local garrison, all contributed to the slow rate of progress. Then there was the added problem of locating a suitable place to stop at night. If they stopped in a town, there were always inns large enough to accommodate the whole party, but many provincial inns were simply too small. As a result, they rarely travelled more than thirty miles in a day and there were some days when they managed less than twenty miles. The Duke had thought that he would become heartily bored travelling at such a ponderous pace but much to his surprise he did not. He discovered there was a certain satisfaction attached to being acknowledged as the most important person on the road. After a day or so Francis recommended to the Duke that he watch the innkeeper on their arrival. He did as was suggested and derived some considerable amusement from it. Firstly, the innkeeper, his faced wreathed in smiles, would hurry out to greet the party he had been told to expect, only to be faced with the imposing sight of eight mounted, grim faced, heavily armed, highly suspicious uniformed members of the King’s personal Guard. The speed at which the smile disappeared from mine host’s face was positively comical. It was at this point the innkeeper realised that the party was something out of the ordinary. Next, he would see an enormous travelling chariot followed by a second carriage piled high with baggage. Except at inns which regularly entertained the quality, his jaw would drop in astonishment. The guards would satisfy themselves that it was safe for the party to alight and the first person out of the carriage would be the imposing Mr. Liversedge whom any innkeeper inevitably and instantly recognised as his social superior. He was stately, and pompous, he never rushed and no angry word ever passed his lips. He could convey extreme displeasure just by lifting an eyebrow or a dismissive wave of his hand and he never recognised anyone he considered beneath him. When Sale challenged him on this lofty attitude he merely smiled and commented that ‘surely everyone ought to know their place’. Having got over the shock of these initial encounters, and by this time feeling a little out of sorts the innkeeper then had to deal with Véronique. She was devoted to her employers and always treated the Duke and Miss Leighton with the proper respect. She would chat unselfconsciously with the guards and with Martha or Francis with no difficulty and she showed herself to have a lively sense of humour. With everyone else she was completely unpredictable. One moment she could be affable, the next, utterly furious. On one occasion a farm cart pulled out of a field unexpectedly and passed too close to the carriage conveying Miss Leighton causing it to swerve. One of the Guards turned his horse, about to suggest that the Driver should be more careful but Véronique got there first. While it was still moving she leapt out of the carriage and fearlessly stood in front of the cart forcing it to stop. In a few well-chosen and highly idiomatic words she told him exactly what she thought of his driving and suggested the world would be a wholly better place if he was no longer in it. She then calmly climbed back in the carriage and, apparently genuinely puzzled, asked what the coachman was waiting for. The Guard later told the Duke that he hadn’t the heart to speak to the hapless carter after that. When the Duke and his retinue arrived at the inn which Liversedge had selected for the night, she would leap out of the second carriage an expression of deep suspicion apparent on her mobile face. Without any ceremony, she would demand to be shown the rooms which The Duke and her Mistress were to occupy. If the rooms met with her own high standards she would gracefully compliment the innkeeper and busy herself with settling Miss Leighton’s personal effects to maximise her comfort. If, on the other hand, she adjudged she rooms to be inadequate then the innkeeper could expect the next few minutes to be most uncomfortable. Venting her spleen on the unfortunate individual responsible she would reduce him, within seconds, to stammering incoherence. Once she was assured of his abject servility she would remorselessly hound him and all his staff while berating them in angry staccato French delivered with such speed and venom that by the time the rooms matched her exacting standards mine host had been reduced to a quivering wreck. On one occasion, she discovered the innkeeper had, in full knowledge that he was expecting noble guests, installed another traveller in his best room. Spluttering with rage and despite reassurances from the Duke and Miss Leighton that the second-best rooms in what was an enchanting country inn would be more than adequate, she demanded of the innkeeper how he would answer to the King for the rank discourtesy afforded to foreign visitors travelling under his protection. Highly amused by Véronique’s tirade the Guards decided to add to the poor man’s discomfiture by suggesting that the King would have to be told and he would be most unhappy. The innkeeper, by this time in a state of paralysed terror, was only rescued by the kind offices of his prior guest who, having overheard the landlord’s predicament, magnanimously offered to change rooms as long as he could stay for free. Never was an innkeeper happier to accommodate a non-paying guest. Then there was the company. Always easy with his fellow man the Duke regularly rode with the Guards, particularly with Guay, who as he had revealed back at the Chateaux, was of gentle, but not particularly affluent, birth. He discovered that Guay was the third son of an impoverished baron and his father, although deeply attached to all his children, was unable to do more than pass his small estate onto his elder son and provide very modest dowries for his two sisters. Guay had therefore always known he would have to make his way in the world and, as the life of a King’s Guard had suited him, he had always contrived to be tolerably comfortable. He had some little savings such that when, in the end, he decided to retire, he was confident he could support himself in reasonable style. His only personal extravagance was his books. Guay was an avid reader and, from the breadth of his conversation the Duke concluded that his taste in prose ran from Shakespeare to Plutarch and from Du Bellay to Byron. One day the Duke asked him what he would like to do at the end of his military career. Guay sighed, “At heart, I prefer country to town life,” he began. “If it were possible to find employment managing an estate. I think I should be good at it. I can manage people, I can read and write and I learn very quickly. But” he sighed again, “It is an impossible dream.” The Duke was unusually thoughtful for the rest of the day and, upon arriving at the inn that night he wrote a letter and left it with the landlord to post on the morrow. Finally, it was almost impossible to be bored around a lady with as quick and insightful mind as Sarah Leighton. This surprised him a little as his experience with the fairer sex to date had led him to believe that if a man wanted stimulating conversation he had to seek out his fellow man. The only female with whom he had significant conversation previously and who he had not found boring was Harriet. Even she was gentle and shy and hated loud voices and argument so much that if her husband disagreed with her she found some way of diverting the conversation to a less contentious topic. She had opinions, but she would never have dreamt of holding them out in competition with his and, if she did have to disagree, she always prefaced it with an apology. He understood why this was the case, Harriet’s mother, Lady Ampleforth, had been a formidable woman who ruled her house with a rod of iron. Not only would she brook no opposition, but she had drilled it into her daughter that she should never set herself up against her husband. That she never allowed her husband to advance his own opinions of course she did not pause to consider. Any glimmer of independence was ruthlessly suppressed. Harriet did not lack for intelligence and had learned to avoid any conflict with her mother either by agreeing with her opinions, however outrageous and unsupportable, or by simply disappearing. Brought up in such a house she would no more have considered disagreeing with her husband’s views than she would have considered trying to fly. He had tried to encourage his gentle wife to say what she thought but she found her ingrained habit of deference to those she perceived as in authority very difficult to break. They had been married some time before he discovered that some of the rooms were decorated in a fashion she cordially detested merely because he had suggested how the work should be done. “But Gilly,” she said when her shocked husband asked her why she had not insisted she had the right to be consulted on matters concerning her own house, “you know I dislike argument. I dare say I shall grow used to it and in any case, it would be wrong for me to tell you what to do.” The Duke wondered if he had met her now, whether he would have still married her. There was no doubt in his mind that she had been the right person for him at the time as her quiet and shy personality had then exactly suited him. He had not liked loud noises either and he lacked confidence. He now ruefully admitted to himself that he had been entirely too ready to allow others to do things for him that he was perfectly capable of doing for himself, simply because it was much easier to do so. He did not think he was that person any longer. The tragedies that came one on top of each other, the retirement of so many of his older retainers and the self-reliance he developed over the last three years had changed him profoundly and he was inclined to think that, while he would still have respected her, he would now have found her a little timid. In turn, he conceded that she would have found him a little loud and, possibly, too eccentric for her. Without any false modesty he knew that, before his marriage he was regarded as a substantial catch for a matchmaking mama seeking to suitably marry off her daughters. Presumably he would now be so regarded again even though he was a widower. Despite the lures cast out for him he had never found any lady, other that Harriet, for whom he felt the slightest tendre and he developed the habit of classifying those damsels who crossed his path into groups in his head which, had they known of this, would have grossly offended those ladies. There were those who were properly bored. The Duke, who thought that life should be enjoyed, could not understand this at all. With the insight into the world he had gained since Harriet had died he now regarded studied boredom with something approaching contempt. These ladies lived a life of privilege and, rather than complaining about how many parties they were forced to attend, he thought they should enjoy what they had. Then there were the ladies who looked down on those whom they considered of a lower rank as beneath their notice. He had never been able to see that there was anything particularly praiseworthy in high birth and found these ladies, all of whom were more than happy to unbend in his presence, to be singularly unpleasant. There were those who tittered artificially at the smallest and least funny of jokes and who seemed to think that the ability to hold an intelligent conversation was not only unnecessary but undesirable. The worst thing which could be said of them was to accuse them of being a bluestocking. Finally, there were ladies who were so painfully shy that it was impossible to have a conversation with them at all and, at the other end of the scale those that were overconfident and loud. With none of these females did he have the slightest affinity. He naturally did not consider that the females he had met at parties in London had little experience of the world. Kept in strict seclusion in the schoolroom under the control of governesses, or in a ladies’ seminary and then thrust into the ton by ambitious mothers who kept a very careful eye on them, they had very little scope to develop individual characters. What Sale saw, but failed to recognise, was a mirror of what their mothers thought was appropriate. Sarah Leighton had also lived in a type of seclusion, but she had no mother to guide her as to the conduct to be expected of a young lady in society. As she had been brought up with the knowledge that she would never go to any party where the upper ten thousand might expect to gather, she had never given much thought about them in any event. Her uncle recognised and respected her talents and despite the limitations imposed upon her by her birth she had managed to carve out a niche for herself. At home, she ran her uncle’s house. He was a bachelor and, at his age, most unlikely to marry. The house was well run and most economically and the estate had prospered under her stewardship. The distant cousin who was the heir to the estate would inherit a great deal more than had her uncle on her grandfather’s death. In her role as her uncle’s secretary she knew she also excelled. He always had the most up to date documents and she was astute enough in negotiations to work out the real agenda of all the parties was before anyone else. She knew that, together, they made a formidable team. That no-one, with the single exception of her uncle, understood how important she was to his success bothered her not a jot. She did not need the approval of others; success and the thanks of her uncle were all the praise necessary. The Duke knew that she was something out of the ordinary. The first time he saw her she was holding her abductor at bay at her sword point, and despite running half way across a strange town in the middle of the night and then being accommodated in provincial house owned by the sister of an innkeeper she had not once complained. She had explained the circumstances of her birth in a matter of fact fashion even though she must have known that but for the vindictive nature of her grandparent she would have been the sister of a Viscount, the possessor of a substantial portion and there was every chance she would have achieved an eligible marriage and, with it, the control of her own home. The first day on the road had been very hard for the Duke. No matter how determined he might be, he was still recovering from his injury and, apologising for not remaining to entertain Miss Leighton, he had little choice but to retire to bed early. The following evening, he was much fresher and asked Sarah if, once he had managed to change out of his travel clothes, she would do him the honour of dining with him. Assisted by Francis to change into suitable clothes, and in any event not a man to dally over his toilet, he presented himself in the private parlour some half an hour later to be met by Véronique. “Mademoiselle Leighton begs his Grace’s pardon," she said dropping a demure curtsey, "she will be with him in not more than ten minutes.” The Duke was much inclined to think that unlikely. He knew of few ladies who could ready themselves for dinner in less than an hour and he sat down on the settle by the window and resigned himself to a lengthy wait. Much to his surprise, after little more than five minutes had passed, the door opened and Miss Leighton entered. It was perhaps just as well that her host automatically responded to her curtsey, by bowing and perfunctorily kissing her hand as it gave the Duke a moment to steady himself. Miss Leighton, he thought, was simply breath-taking. Always pretty and well presented, tonight she had outdone herself. She wore a very simple slip of the palest primrose muslin with puff sleeves and lace flounces at the hem under an open robe of celestial blue crepe. It perfectly complimented her slim figure. Around her shoulders was draped a costly shawl of Norwich lace and her only Jewellery was double row of pearls and matching earrings. “Thank you so much,” she said. “I am not sure,” replied the Duke uncertainly, “what I have done to merit your thanks, but” he smiled broadly, “you are most welcome.” “My uncle bought me this dress some months ago,” she explained seriously, “in the hope that I might have the opportunity to wear it while I was in France. Unfortunately, for one reason or another the hoped-for opportunity never materialised. My thanks were for providing that opportunity.” “Then may I say,” replied the Duke with as much gallantry as he could muster, “that I consider myself privileged to be dazzled by what others have not seen.” After a moment’s pause he added, “And although I feel for my fellow man, their loss is my gain. May I take you to your seat?” In response to this outrageous compliment Miss Leighton blushed in a manner more akin to a girl at the beginning of her first season rather than that of a lady with more than twenty summers to her credit. It had not occurred to the Duke that she would be unused to receiving compliments and her reaction, more than anything else, made him realise how restricted her life must have been. True, she was comfortable and protected and was held in esteem by her uncle who was kind to her, but she had never been given the opportunity to be a girl. The simple enjoyment she displayed in wearing a becoming gown to dine with him told its own story. The Duke had Martha to thank for the vision which had confronted him. Although they had never spoken on the subject Martha had known for years that her mistress carried tender feelings for the Duke. She had decided that Sarah should at least enjoy the journey and the Duke’s company while it lasted. He was a gentleman and would never overstep the boundaries of propriety. When Sarah had moved to put on the ordinary dress that she would was accustomed to wear when she was at home on her own, Martha firmly directed her towards the primrose muslin and informing her that the Duke would certainly expect his guest to dress for dinner. In truth, even had the possibility of committing a solecism not been a sufficient prompt, Sarah had required little persuasion. As much as did Martha, Sarah knew perfectly well that anything more than a mild flirtation was impossible but, presented with the opportunity of spending time with the man for whom she had carried a torch for so many years, she decided to grasp it with both hands. Even so, just before she came to go downstairs, her courage had nearly failed her. Martha, realising her mistress was about to find an excuse to back out brought out the pearl set. They were the only item of jewellery which was hers, purchased by her uncle in lieu of a come out on her seventeenth birthday. Thus fortified, and as much as she had a practical outlook, she was still feminine enough to want to dress fashionably when the opportunity presented itself, the chance to shine for once was simply too great a temptation to be ignored. Both the Duke and Miss Leighton had sufficiently wide knowledge to converse without difficulty on a wide variety of safe subjects. Nonetheless after an hour had passed and emboldened, no doubt, by two glasses of excellent Sancerre, Sarah had sufficiently settled to be a little provocative. “Your Grace,” She said, “When we first met, I did not tell you the whole truth about the extent of our previous acquaintance. While I did see you on the occasion I described I had also seen you many times before that. Indeed, I actually bumped into you once.” “Oh?” The Duke looked a little wary. Experience had taught him that forgetting a meeting with a lady could have uncomfortable consequences. “Don’t worry,” Sarah continued, chuckling at his expression, “I don’t expect you to remember me, it was a long time ago and, for the most part, I took good care to keep out of sight.” The Duke studied her face for a moment, racking his brains to try to remember where he might ever have met her before and trying to work out where the conversation was going. Miss Leighton just continued to eat her Dinner, a most impish expression on her face. When it became clear she was not going to venture anything further he laid his knife upon his plate. “Miss Leighton,” he began with exaggerated formality “pray do tell me, when previously have I had the pleasure of your acquaintance.” Miss Leighton nearly choked on her meal. The tone of his enquiry would have been appropriate for a bored roué at a soiree in London but was completely out of place in a provincial inn at a location somewhere in northern France. “Why Your Grace” tittered Miss Leighton becoming, in an instant, one of those irritating females the Duke so despised, “I am mortified that you don’t recall it, I protest, take me back to my Mama.” Miss Leighton was, the Duke realised, a wickedly accurate mimic. “Ouch!” he said appreciatively, “you have just reminded me forcibly of two or three young ladies I have been trying, successfully to this point I might add, to forget. They appeared, on the rare occasions I stayed in London before my ‘disappearance’ three years ago, to have the most earnest desire to persuade me that it was my duty to remarry. Being the object of their affection was,” he stopped and deleted the words he was going to use and merely said “rather wearing. I hope,” he looked heavenward in an exaggerated attitude of prayer “that they might have found a substitute by now.” “I cannot imagine” Sarah assessed the Duke shrewdly, “why they might have thought that you would have found this kind of behaviour remotely attractive, in fact” she continued after a moment’s thought, “I cannot imagine that anyone would find it attractive.” “You would be surprised”, replied the Duke resuming his meal. “Unfortunately, not all the members of my sex display great er... discrimination when it comes to the fair sex and I number at least two good, and apparently very intelligent men amongst my acquaintance, who profess to think this behaviour very attractive. When I evinced no desire to pick up the handkerchiefs thrown so obviously in my direction, one of these gentlemen accused me of being entirely too nice in my selection of a wife. For good measure, he then asked me if I would mind diverting one of these ladies in his direction.” He shuddered, “there is, Miss Leighton, no making sense of individual taste. And now Ma’am, “The Duke shot her a humorous look, “please tell me when we met previously. You cannot divert me forever you know.” “Do you recall” Sarah asked after a substantial pause, “coming out of your room about eight or nine years ago and colliding with a laundry maid stocking the cupboard in the corridor? You were so kind as to take the time to ensure that your housekeeper, Mrs Bridgehouse, did not scold her?” “Vaguely,” the Duke trying to remember the incident. Suddenly his brow cleared “I remember, I didn’t see her and knocked her over. She burst into tears and I thought it would have been unreasonable for her to be punished for my clumsiness.” He looked up at Sarah, “What on earth has it to do with you?” She returned his gaze steadily for a few seconds until the truth of the matter suddenly occurred to him. “It was you!” he exclaimed, “But... but ... but why,” he stammered, hopelessly confused, “were you stocking the laundry cupboard in my house dressed as a maid?” “I love your house. I have been there many times. Your housekeeper let me run tame with the maids as long as I didn’t stop them working and kept out of your way. Your people were so kind to the little girl that my uncle brought with him when he came to visit his friend Lord Lionel Ware.” “What!” He thundered, justifiably incensed, “You came to my house as a guest and my people put you to work! Upon my word, when I get home someone will answer for this,” thundered the Duke furiously “how dare……” “No. No. No.” She had to raise her voice to interrupt him. “You misunderstood me. I rarely had the opportunity to leave Borden and so a visit to Sale Park was a high treat. I loved helping your staff. Your housekeeper was very kind to me. When someone had to go upstairs to make a bed or sweep the floor or lay a fire I begged to go with them.” She could see that the Duke was still very angry and not at all inclined to believe her. “I can assure you it is perfectly true. There was one of your laundry maids, Jenny, who was my particular friend. Indeed” she added reflectively, “she was probably my only friend. Whenever I could, I liked to go with her. The day you bumped into me we were taking the laundered linen back upstairs. Jenny had told me that I needed to finish before you left your room. She had a lively fear of coming upon you unexpectedly as second laundry maids are neither seen nor heard. I was so short that I had to really stretch to reach the top shelf and it took me longer than it should. When you knocked me over I cried because I was told I must keep out of the way and I thought my uncle would say I couldn’t go back.” A faraway look appeared in her eyes, “I wonder where Jenny is now? I haven’t seen her for years.” “I see”, said the Duke, by now calming down a little, “but why were you in my house in the first place and why did you have to spend your time downstairs? Why didn’t your uncle take you with him to meet Lord Lionel or me? Why would you enjoy doing something like storing linen?” He shook his head in exasperation, “It makes no sense.” At this point the Duke looked up at Sarah “I’m sorry, I’m sure it makes perfect sense to you, but, frankly, I can’t make neither head nor tail of it.” “I can see,” began Sarah slowly, “why it would seem odd to you, but it is part of my history and I suppose I am used to it. It all began because I used to see you out shooting occasionally.” Sarah felt uncomfortable with telling him the whole truth, so she compromised, “my uncle’s house is close to the border of Sale Park and I saw you when you were out shooting sometimes. I started to beg my uncle to take me with him when he went to visit Lord Lionel and, after I promised I would be discreet, he eventually gave in. He arranged for me to spend the day with Mrs. Bridgehouse and when he arrived he consigned me into her care. I loved it and your housekeeper seemed to take to me; I don’t think she had children of her own. When my uncle came for me a few hours later she said if he ever wanted to leave me with her again she would be more than happy to keep an eye on me. It became a regular thing. You know my uncle used to visit Lord Lionel often?” The Duke nodded, fascinated by the story, "My uncle used to leave me at the kitchen door when he arrived and retrieve me when he left. Your butler would let Mrs Bridgehouse know when my uncle called for his coat and she would make sure I was waiting for him.” “But why did your uncle not bring you into the main house? You would have been welcome.” “Would I? Really?” Sarah challenged him. “You would have been civil to me but you were still subject to Lord Lionel’s guardianship and, if half the tales told of him are true, he was a very high stickler indeed. Would he have been prepared to accept me upstairs?” The Duke did not need to say anything; she was right. His guardian was, in many ways, an admirable man and totally devoted to his nephew but he did have some very old-fashioned notions of what was, and was not, acceptable conduct. Sarah would not have been permitted upstairs. When she saw that Sale had accepted the truth she added, “even if Lord Lionel had been prepared to accept it, my uncle would not have been prepared to allow me upstairs. He is very fond of me, but he could not place his friend in a difficult situation or put me at risk of being shown the door.” “Did Lord Lionel know?” asked the Duke with a frown. “I assume so, he often walked around the house with my uncle to pick me up from the kitchen.” “Next time you visit Sale Park,” The Duke stated firmly, “As I have previously told you, you will enter through the front door and you will be treated with a great deal more respect than hitherto. My friends,” he placed considerable emphasis on the word, “are looked after in my house.” He rather spoiled the effect of his words by adding “You might still have to put the laundry away of course.” “I shall look forward to seeing the outside of your front door,” Sarah replied, “I saw the inside of it many times and even polished it once. Or at least,” she added conscientiously, “I polished the bottom part of it. I couldn’t reach even half way up. And you may be sure that I shall still visit the Kitchen and I might even, as I am perfectly sure you are unaware of it, show you the shortest way to the linen cupboard.” “I know Sale Park like the back of my hand,” the Duke stated flatly. He would have continued, but he perceived that her face wore a most mischievous expression. “How, “Sarah asked” would you get from your bedchamber to the family dining room?” “I may,” said the Duke, suddenly aware that he might be in dangerous waters, “live to regret this as it is entirely possible I am about to be the butt of a jest, but, as I am a gentleman I will answer.” Assuming portentous tones, which Miss Leighton had no trouble at all in recognising as a passable imitation of his former butler, the Duke intoned, “If, Ma’am you were to turn left out of his Grace’s bedchamber and walk for some distance along the passage you will find yourself upon the second-floor gallery which runs around the grand staircase. You should then turn right, and follow the wall, turning left and left again onto the Staircase descending two floors. At the bottom of the stair turn left and left again to pass underneath and behind the main stair. If you then take the right hand of the two doors in the wall facing you will find yourself in the Duchess’s Study. Go on through the Duchess’s Study, and then through The Duke’s study, the Library and the Drawing room to arrive at the Family Dining room.” Unnecessarily he added, “if you are looking for the State Dining Room you should continue through the short passage leading out of the family dining room.” “How far is it?” asked Miss Leighton. “A dashed long way,” replied the Duke feelingly, “by the time you reached it in the morning, you needed your breakfast even if you hadn’t when you started out.” “If,” began Miss Leighton, “instead of suggesting I turn left out of your bed chamber, you had directed me to turn right and then pass through the second door on my left, I would then have found myself on a small landing at the top of a narrow stone staircase, and probably facing a very frightened laundry maid. Having dealt with the laundry maid’s hysterics I might then have descended the stair arriving at the level of the first floor where I should find flight of stairs going down to the left and another to the right. There is a door in between which opens into the back of a store room on the guest corridor. You should then have advised me to take the stair to the right and opening the door at the bottom I would have found myself in the short passage between the Family and the State Dining rooms.” “Where does the left-hand stair go?” asked the Duke, fascinated, considerably astonished and playing for time. “There is small landing with a door that opens into the recess in the ballroom to the right of the fire place. The stair then continues on down ending just outside the Laundry.” “But why did my Great, Great Grandfather build a house such that the owners must walk miles to get anywhere and the servants can cover the same distance in a quarter of the time,” asked the Duke pondering how many times he had privately cursed the unfriendly layout of his ancestral home. “I asked that question myself once. Mrs Bridgehouse told me that it was because your ancestor wanted to make an impression and, at the same time, keep the servants out of the way. Therefore, you must use the Grand Stairway to go downstairs. If you have guests, you can walk majestically down the stairs to greet them. Your servants, except from one or two footmen, the butler, your housekeeper and your steward are banned from using it when the family is at home.” Sarah had given Sale a great deal to think about, it was not every day that you discover there had been a visitor in your home for years you didn’t know about or that there were other ways to get around your own home that you didn’t even know existed. He therefore deliberately turned the conversation onto more general matters. Under the guise of holding up his end of the conversation he covertly observed her. It was a shame, he thought, that she was denied access to the society that ought to have been hers by birth right. Society, he thought, would love her. Having watched her for nearly an hour he could find no fault. While not beautiful in the classical sense, she was extremely pretty, her taste in clothes was impeccable and she had, moreover, an infectious enthusiasm which stood out in stark contrast to the proper boredom affected by many of the young ladies that appeared in town season after season. Her manners were such that even the notoriously critical patronesses of Almack’s would have been impressed. He was personally acquainted with Mrs Drummond Burrell, generally regarded as the most intimidating patroness of that exclusive club and, while she had, when she chose to use it, the most acidic tongue and she detested stupidity, she would also not hesitate to give credit where it was due. He rather thought Mrs Drummond-Burrell would like Miss Leighton. She was intelligent and well read. She had a ready smile and a quiet dignity. He had no doubt that, but for the difficulty created by her birth, she would have rapidly become quite the rage. After dinner, they played Piquet for an hour until Miss Leighton, mindful of Sale’s recent injury, declared herself tired and withdrew to her bed chamber. Upon seeing the glow upon her mistress’s face Martha thought that it was worth all the effort to see her charge that happy if only for just that one night. Miss Leighton had a pragmatic and philosophical outlook. They were thrown together for at least two more weeks and until recently she had thought it unlikely she would ever meet and talk with the man Sarah loved. Now at least some of her dream had come true. There was no future for them, but there was a present, and the present included the one man with which she would have chosen to spend her time. And, wonder of wonders, that man looked at her with admiration and treated her as an equal. She would deal with the future when it arrived and for now she would enjoy the present. Sarah spent much more time looking out of the window during the day’s journey and it did not occur to her that this would attract any attention. Everyone knew that she had dined with the Duke on the previous evening and everyone could see the expression on her face every time he rode up to the carriage. Véronique thought it impossibly romantic, Martha knew her mistress had a sensible head on her shoulders and just hoped that she would have the strength to walk away with the time came. The Duke, out of consideration for her and a determination to keep his private business private, was much more circumspect. He esteemed and admired Miss Leighton and he considered her good company over dinner, but he was constrained by the fact that her uncle had entrusted her to his care. He would not forgive himself if he strayed over the line of what was acceptable. He had told her uncle he would protect her and return her safe to England and he had every intention of so doing. There was however, another reason for his caution. Since Harriet died he had built a fortress around his heart. He had finally managed to become comfortable in his own skin but it had taken a real effort and a great deal of time. The thought of loving and losing again was something he rather thought he would not be able to face and he had therefore, more or less, decided that he would never remarry. He had not been aware of a need for female companionship and the truth was that he did not really understand women. There was no absolute obligation upon him to remarry; the title would not die with him as there were cousins aplenty who would be only too glad to step into his shoes. If he did contract a further alliance then he had, somewhat cold bloodedly decided he would adopt the normal practice of persons of his rank and locate a lady of impeccable breeding, preferably the possessor of a substantial fortune and enter into a marriage de covenance. He would protect his bruised heart by selecting one of the bloodless females which would inevitably be thrown into his path over the course of a London season and with whom he had little in common. Following a sterile ceremony, he would give her a title together with access to his purse and after a decent time had passed she would dutifully present him with an heir. Somewhat ruefully he realised that Miss Leighton’s appearance had caused him to review this rather calculated view of his future. He had, more than once, recently tried to picture a lady at Sale Park and somehow, and no matter how hard he tried to avoid, it the lady always seemed to have Sarah’s features. This did present something of a problem. The Duke knew that much would be forgiven him as a result of his rank, but a union between himself and Miss Leighton was impossible. He would still be received; his rank would open almost every door, but she would never be welcome in town. Even if he was prepared to face down the critics, he thought it most unlikely that Miss Leighton would consent to the match and he knew perfectly well that Viscount Borden would be vehemently opposed to it. Never one for self-deception, he owned to himself that the fact he had thought about the issue told its own story. He could defer dealing with this action until he had escorted Miss Leighton to Borden but what the devil, he asked himself, was he going to do then. He had, he concluded after much thought, no idea at all. On the third evening after they had left the Chateaux and once they had both consumed another excellent dinner, Miss Leighton had an unusual request. “Would you fence with me?” she asked seriously, “My uncle would not mind, he knew that I joined in my brother’s lessons and he has even on occasions practiced with me himself. He tells me that I have some skill although,” she smiled coyly, “quite how much ‘some’ is, he did not say.” The Duke had wondered what it would be like to cross swords with a lady, but it was one thing to wonder about it as an abstract concept, and another entirely to actually do it. There was of course no risk to either party and he could see no reason per se why he should not comply with her request. Others would no doubt find it quite shocking. Could he compete on equal terms with a lady? Would he perhaps, out of consideration, allow her to win even if she lacked the skills to win on her own? No, he would not do that; he knew Miss Leighton would be insulted by this. But could he contemplate the possibility of losing? He was man enough to know that he would find it difficult to be beaten by a girl in a skill at which he knew he excelled. Suddenly he realised that it was the strangeness of the situation that was making him uncomfortable, not the competition. He had been shown up in the hunting field by superior lady riders and he did not object to this. He merely admired their skill. He had soundly beaten ladies at cards without any notion that to do so was ungallant. Even so it was such an unusual request that he was not entirely sure what to say. He therefore played for time. “Why do you like to fence? I know many men who cannot see the attraction and I have never before met a lady who numbered it among her accomplishments.” “Can you honestly see me doing embroidery or playing the pianoforte?” Sarah met his question head on. “And I might ask you the same question, why do you like to fence?” “There is a great deal I can see you doing in a house,” the Duke smiled broadly, “but to answer your first question no; I cannot see you sitting primly over your stitchery.” He turned to Martha, “did anyone ever try to teach her?” “Yes, Your Grace, I tried,” Martha winced theatrically “but only once. She had not the aptitude.” “What Martha is trying to say is that after less than ten minutes I threw the embroidery frame at her head.” Sarah laughed loudly, “I believe I said something to the effect that nothing would induce me to spend time learning such a useless occupation. I spent four days in my room for that episode. Martha, why have you stayed with me so long? I was a most unnatural child.” “I had my reasons Miss Sarah,” replied Martha primly, “although there have been times, such as when the embroidery frame bounced off my head, and afterwards, when I had to drag you howling with rage up to your room, when I have struggled to remember what they were.” “So, my Lord Duke,” Sarah, trying to keep a straight face, turned her attention back to Sale, “Why do you like to fence?” “I have never thought about it before.” The Duke was somewhat taken aback by the abrupt way that he had become the focus of the conversation. Being somewhat on the back foot, his reply lacked coherence and came out as a series of disjointed statements. “It is exercise of course, and then I like the competition. There is also the satisfaction in mastering a difficult skill. I like knowing that I can defend myself too.” The Duke steadied himself. He had been thinking while speaking and he had realised what it was about fencing that he found so attractive. “Fencing is a bit like dancing, it is elegant and contained and sometimes fast and sometimes cautious and sometimes, very occasionally, utterly beautiful. When you, or indeed, your opponent, executes a move that is about as perfect as it can be made to be, there is a real sense of satisfaction in the moment. You can almost never repeat it.” “And now you know,” said Sarah gently, “why I like to fence.” The Duke looked at Martha, the question in his face was patently obvious. As obvious, was the reluctance with which she nodded her approval. She did not like to see her mistress indulging an interest which to her mind was extremely unladylike but equally she knew the master approved providing she was discreet. The Duke signalled to Francis who helped move the table to one side and removed his shoes and coat. “Do you have a foil?” He asked, expecting to be answered in the negative. His eyes opened however when Sarah reached down behind a chair and retrieved her weapon which she had left there earlier. “Were you that certain I would agree?” he asked a little aggrieved at his apparent predictability. “No, but I hoped I might persuade you. I really wanted to see what I could do against you. You see, Martha has told me that Francis told her that you are accounted an expert. Christopher’s fencing master was good, but I don’t think he was an expert. I broke through too often.” As soon as the room was ready the Duke measured their foils off against each other, they were nearly of the same length and he tested the button on the point of each to make sure they were secure. He examined her weapon closely. It was well made, if not up to the quality of his Toledo steel blade and he concluded that it too had been made especially for its owner. The grip was extremely small in diameter and length and the blade was a little finer than would be usual. Foils were light weapons, but this one was the lightest he had ever felt. It would be ideally suited to a very small lady. Sarah whisked her foil into a Salute and made ready to take her guard. “What are you doing?” asked the Duke standing nonchalantly with the tip of his foil resting on the floor. “Are you proposing to fight a duel?” “Come on Your Grace,” Sarah was clearly excited, “No more talking, I want to cross my sword against yours.” In the corner of the room, Francis, having seen his master flash a brief warning glance in his direction, had imperceptibly straightened up. He took the Duke’s look to mean that he may need to intervene if matters took a dangerous turn. “No.” said the Duke bluntly. “If that is what you want then I shall have no part of it.” He turned away as if to put down his foil and Sarah, playfully lunged in his direction. Very quickly the Duke stepped sideways using his foil to deflect Sarah’s blade away from his body. Turning, he deftly disarmed her as she stumbled past him, a comical look of surprise on her face. When she recovered and looked at the Duke she was startled to see a very hard expression not untinged with anger on his face. “What did I do wrong?” Sarah looked genuinely perplexed. This obviously innocent question immediately caused the Duke’s face to relax somewhat as he reminded himself that this was not a young hothead with something to prove. It spoke volumes that she neither tried to justify her conduct nor blamed him for a mean trick. Either her previous tutor had not been very expert at all, or she had not been permitted to join in when he had discussed fencing etiquette and safety with her brother. Where a moment earlier therefore, he had been about to tell Sarah that he had changed his mind and was no longer prepared to fence with her, he decided to give her another chance. “Even with a button, a foil is a dangerous weapon. You can kill an opponent if you accidentally hit him in the eye,” he explained. “You cannot just lunge at me like that. If you want to practice fencing with me then we will practice; but we will do it according to my Rules. Is that agreed?” Miss Leighton had not heard the Duke talk in that particular tone before, but she was left with no doubt as to his meaning. If she did not agree then there would be no fencing. Sarah did not object to being spoken to in that firm tone in the least. In fact, she rather liked it. She thought a man should know where the line was drawn and not then allow anyone to cross it and she firmly believed he should know when and how to take command. Furthermore, she had a singular respect for the Duke and by this time she knew quite well that if he said something was important, then quite probably, it was. Hitherto she had thought that the Duke was a little too conformable and, as a result, people took advantage. She was delighted to discover therefore, that it was just that he picked his battles carefully; when it mattered he would stand his ground. “Of course! it is agreed. I did not think, and I am sorry. Please tell me what I did wrong.” This was sufficient to settle any lingering doubts the Duke might have had and he handed her back her weapon and stood off to one side. “Take your guard for me,” he instructed, “I want to look at it.” When she complied, he looked her for a couple of seconds and noted an approving nod from Francis before he said, “that is very good except,” and he stepped forward and rapped her sword close to the hilt. Much to her obvious chagrin the sword fell out of her hand and clattered to the floor. She picked it up and took her guard again, this time holding the foil much too tightly. This time the Duke when the Duke tapped the sword it did not move at all. “This is too stiff. If you hold your foil that tightly you will never bend your wrist. The trick is to grasp it tightly enough so that it cannot be knocked out of your hand but not yet so tight that you lose flexibility.” The Duke spent some time ensuring that her guard was just right and then on checking her footwork. Despite some minor errors, easily corrected, it was plain she had learned the basics very well. He then took his guard opposite her and they began to practice. Each was surprised with the other. Sarah immediately realised that the Duke surpassed her skill by a significant margin. The Duke’s obvious superiority gave her an idea of how much she yet had to learn. He was an excellent teacher and, although he would permit no lax technique, he was patient with her and never put her or himself at risk. Though she had no basis for comparison, he appeared to be teaching her as he would any pupil and making no allowance for her sex. The Duke, on the other hand, was surprised by the speed of her reactions and precision of eye. She listened well, learned rapidly and then practiced until she had mastered the point he was teaching. This level of concentration would, he concluded, result in rapid progress. Although the Duke had never tried to teach another his skill, she was an excellent pupil and he enjoyed working with her. She had some physical advantages too. The foil is not the weapon for a big man, he does better with the heavier sabre. The foil suits the smaller faster person and Miss Leighton’s compact build, meant that she was rarely off balance. True, she lacked reach but he she could react more quickly than a larger opponent and would thus be able to parry and counter very effectively. She lacked physical strength and easily became tired but even so, he thought that as she practiced she would grow fitter. Given time, the Duke considered, she might become truly accomplished. From that night on, and wherever it was possible to do so, they spent at least an hour at practice. Sarah rapidly improved. She was as good in defence as in attack and she had the expert fencer’s gift of being able to anticipate her opponent’s next move. Francis, although preferring his quarter staff, was himself no mean swordsman and he often nodded his approval at her progress, especially when the Duke introduced more advanced techniques. During one memorable session Sarah mastered the pasata soto and used it to such good effect that she almost broke through the Duke’s guard. “Miss Leighton, is coming along well,” Francis observed to the Duke over a tankard of blonde French ale after the Lady had retired to her bed chamber. “How good do you think she is?” The Duke asked. He had a great respect for servant’s opinion. “That depends what you mean Your Grace,” Francis answered after a moment’s considered pause. “In the practice room, she is already as good as most men and better than many. She is quick, knows when to defend and when to attack and she doesn’t wave her foil around pointlessly.” “But?” Prompted the Duke at the unspoken question. “Well Your Grace,” Francis answered, “it is one thing to use a sword when you know that your opponent is not trying to kill you and another entirely if you have to do it in earnest.” He left the point hanging there. The Duke had never considered this point. He had just been indulging Sarah and enjoying imparting his skill. However, the reason he had learned in the first place was so that he could, if the need arose defend himself. Duelling was technically illegal in England but, as long as the affair was conducted Discreetly, in accordance with the Code of Honour, and as long as no-one died, the authorities generally turned a blind eye. It was still therefore possible that he might need the skill to settle a dispute. It was impossible however, to see that Sarah would ever need to defend herself in this way and the thought that she might, sent a cold shiver down the Duke’s spine. “I hope,” Sale said as he cast a speaking glance at his companion “she is never placed in a position where she might need to find out if how skilled she really is.” Chapter 9 The following day the party arrived at Reims where the Duke had planned that they would stop for a few days to allow everyone to rest. There was a sizeable garrison of the Garde du Corps du Roi in the town and Guay had orders to fully brief the Commanding Officer. He was carrying dispatches but, in addition, he had been ordered to tell his superior officer everything that had happened in Alsace so that a similar investigation to that which had been carried out at Chateau Hainaut could be carried out in Reims also. He was already in possession of the names of three or four newly recruited Guards whose background or reported behaviour had made them suspect. In the end, they remained in the city for nearly two weeks. At the end of the second day of their sojourn the Duke received a request from a Captain Benoit, the garrison Commander to whom Guay had been ordered to report, that he attend the garrison headquarters as a matter of some urgency. On arrival, he presented himself and was immediately conducted by a menial to the office of the Captain who rose and walked to meet his visitor. “Your Grace, thank you for coming so quickly.” He spoke impeccable English. “I am afraid I have bad news, Sergeant Guay has been injured.” Benoit explained that Guay had volunteered to assist in questioning the Guards whose loyalty to the King had been questioned. In respect of the first two individuals on the list, the suspicions had proved to be utterly groundless. Each soldier had a record of erratic conduct but it was obvious that this was linked to immaturity and youthful high spirits. Their loyalty was unquestionable. Earlier that day he had been sent, together with a Lieutenant from the Garrison to speak the third individual on the list. Before he could even introduce himself, the Guardsman drew a sabre and slashed viciously at the sergeant with it. The Lieutenant had drawn his weapon just in time and had managed to deflect some of the force of the blow but nonetheless Guay had sustained an injury to his upper arm. He would not be able to travel for at least a week. The Duke’s immediate concern was for Guay but Benoit reassured him that although the cut was deep and there had been some bleeding it was nonetheless a clean wound. Sergeant Guay was with the surgeon who took a very hopeful view for a quick return to duty. Thus reassured, the Duke said they would await Guay’s recovery before setting out for Amiens. The Captain had yet more news. The Lieutenant had attacked the traitor and, after a brief but determined battle in which he had himself sustained an injury he had succeeded in dealing a blow which the Captain said would almost certainly amount to a fatal injury. The man had rapidly fallen unconscious but not before he revealed that he had been warned that the “English Duke” was on his way escorted by a detachment of Kings Guardsmen and that on arrival there would be an investigation. Benoit said that he had already sent an urgent message to the garrison Commanders in Metz, whereat Guay had reported a few days previously, and in Strasbourg that there was a traitor at one, or possibly both, of these locations. But Benoit had a further concern. If his arrival at Reims had been expected, then might it not be the case that an assault on either him or upon his party was planned? The Duke considered this seriously, he had pledged his word to Viscount Borden that he would escort his niece safely to England and clearly therefore her safety was a matter of grave concern especially in view of this disquieting news. After a few moments’ thought he asked the Captain; “Can you think of any reason that we would be attacked? We have no part in the dispute between the King and those who would prefer a republic, and the conference is now over. Hainaut sought to use his capture of Miss Leighton to force her uncle to assist him. That plan relied on the only people being aware of Miss Leighton’s capture being Hainaut and the Viscount and of course Miss Leighton herself.” The Duke continued, thinking aloud. “If it had become generally known that the Viscount had been compromised he would have simply been sent home. If we are captured or killed now, I cannot see how this would advance the republican cause at all. Your government would commence an immediate inquiry and the government of my country would not change its policy of support for the King. Indeed, taking a direct action against an English Duke and the English lady travelling under his protection might even be considered an act of war. Surely the last thing the republicans would want would be a pledge of military support from His Majesty from King George?” “You are of course right Your Grace,” accepted Benoit whose expression had relaxed considerably as the Duke spoke. “Attacking you now would appear to be, from their perspective, entirely counterproductive. Nonetheless I think while you remain in Reims it will be clear, to everyone, that you do so as a guest of the King.” When the Duke protested, Benoit continued with a charming if self-deprecating smile. “It will be my honour Your Grace. I suspect my superiors would not be forgiving,” his expression at this point indicated that this was a masterly understatement “if any harm were to come to you in my City.” Captain Benoit’s intervention resulted in a surprising missive being delivered the following morning to the Duke whilst he was still at breakfast with Miss Leighton. The Duke turned over the crisp letter noting that it bore an impressive seal he did not recognise. “I wonder who could be writing to me here?” The Duke looked at Sarah with a curious expression on his face and, as it was clear that Miss Leighton could shed no light on the mystery, shrugged, broke the seal and started to read; “His Gracious Majesty King Louis XVIII is pleased to invite His Grace the Duke of Sale, together with all members of his party to a reception and ball to be held in his honour at the Palais de Tau on the forthcoming Wednesday evening.” At this, Francis, who had been until that moment employed in serving breakfast and was now standing in the background, discreetly left the room. The Duke looked at Miss Leighton with a look of open astonishment. For a moment neither knew quite what to say. Eventually Sarah, whose face had suddenly assumed a most thoughtful expression, broke the silence, “May I see?” she asked. Without a word, the Duke handed the letter across the table. Having scanned the letter quickly and then re-read it thoughtfully a number of times her expression cleared, “Ah!” she said, “Now I understand.” “You will have to pardon me,” the Duke replied sardonically, “but what exactly is it, that you now understand.” “The King is not expected to last out the year. He is in Paris and not well enough to travel. I naturally wondered therefore, how he could invite you to a reception at the Palais De Tau in Reims a hundred miles away from Versailles. This letter gives us the answer, although you would have to know a little more about French politics and the traditions of succession than I suspect you do currently.” “Pardon my ignorance Ma’am,” Sale replied meekly, “pray enlighten me?” “It will be my pleasure” responded Miss Leighton primly, although there was a decided twinkle in her eye as she continued, “although the invitation is from the King,” she quickly scanned through the letter, “this letter goes on to say that you will be presented to the Compte D’Artois. Herein lies the clue. The King will not be there and the Compte, as the heir apparent, will stand in for him. By tradition the heir apparent resides at the Palais De Tau until he moves to Paris for the Coronation. This invitation is a tacit statement that the Compte D’Artois will soon be His Majesty Charles X of France. You have afforded the king to kill two birds with one stone.” “I realise that to someone whose knowledge of matters of state is as broad as yours I may appear to be a simpleton but while I hear your words I still do not understand your meaning.” Sale spread his hands out to emphasise he was all at sea. “Could you try again,” he pleaded, “but please be a little less cryptic.” “The King needed to demonstrate publicly that you are travelling under his protection but there is another reason for this ball; effectively you have provided the King with an opportunity to endorse the succession.” “Does this mean I have become enmeshed in politics?” The Duke asked in accents of foreboding, “Because I have to say, I have little interest in such matters and even less in international diplomacy.” “Oh well,” said Sarah brightly, “This may be an invitation to a ball, and if it is more than that, it is not often a person is called upon to represent their country at such an important function at such an important time in history. From what I have observed thus far, you will do famously.” “I thank you for your expression of confidence in my abilities Miss Leighton,” the Duke remarked sardonically, “but I am afraid much of the burden will fall on you.” The Duke assumed an air of innocence. “I shall need you to advise me what to say.” “But... But... I cannot go,” stammered Sarah, horror struck, as the full import of the Duke’s words went home. “I have never been to any functions like this. I sit in the background to watch and record. I... I would not know how to go on.” She cast around for an excuse to explain why she could not possibly attend a royal ball and suddenly her face cleared as a way out occurred to her, “In any case, I don’t have anything in my wardrobe remotely suitable to wear at court.” “Liversedge?” The Duke posed the obvious question to his Major Domo who had just unobtrusively entered the Room. “Yes, Your Grace,” answered Liversedge in his usual ponderous fashion. “On being informed of the contents of this letter by Your Grace’s valet and apprehending that neither Your Grace nor Miss Leighton have anything suitable to wear at court with you, I took the liberty of enquiring of the Maitre D’Hotel whether he could recommend a suitable tailor and dressmaker who might be available to produce suitable apparel at very short notice. As I had expected, he is a resourceful individual, word has been sent and I have been given to understand that these individuals will present themselves here in less than the hour. Since the invitation makes it clear you are here at the express wish, and under the protection, of the King, it seems likely they will exert themselves exceedingly.” “Liversedge,” asked the Duke in appreciative accents, “are you never at a loss?” “Very rarely, Your Grace,” came the reply as he bowed himself out. “Well that is settled then.” Said the Duke smugly. “I trust you have no more objections, Miss Leighton.” “None at all,” came the timid reply. It was borne in on the Duke over the next few days that, despite her initial, if reluctant, consent, Miss Leighton had not given up on finding an excuse for avoiding attendance at the reception. Having been measured by the modiste the Duke had commissioned she ventured to suggest that her dress could never be made fitted and finished in only five days. Liversedge, at his most bland, reassured her that the Duke had informed both the Dressmaker and the tailor who was to make his Grace’s clothes, that money was no object and that they could both hire as many staff as they considered necessary to complete the commissions on time. There would, he said, not be the smallest possibility that her dress would not be finished. Next Miss Leighton suggested that she might not be able to dance well enough for such an occasion. The Duke responded by hiring a dancing master to ensure they did not disgrace themselves. The Duke’s skills in the ballroom had become somewhat rusty of late and Sarah, who had only ever learned a few steps, knew her dancing would leave a great deal to be desired also. Once again Miss Leighton proved her mettle and the Dancing Master gave it as his opinion that Mademoiselle was so light on her feet she would be sought after as a partner and further opined that he had rarely had the privilege of instructing someone with such natural aptitude. Sarah then argued that, whatever the wording of the invitation, it could not have been the King’s intention to extend it to include her. Sale pointed out that the invitation expressly included his “party.” As the only person who might be supposed to be included in the ‘party’ was her, and the Compte D’Artois knew full well she was travelling under his protection it followed the invitation must include her. However, it was her Uncle who finally decided the matter. The day before the reception a letter arrived at the hotel, delivered by courier from Viscount Borden who was by now settled in Paris with the ambassador. He explained that, as much as he could have liked to have been there to escort her himself, it was impossible for him to leave Paris at this moment. Nonetheless, in view of the symbolic significance of a ball given by the heir apparent at the Palais De Tau it was important for a representative of the British Government to be present at this reception if only on an unofficial basis. He had written separately to the Duke to beg his assistance (the letter having been delivered by the same courier) but, while he had a great respect for his Grace, there was no denying that he had no knowledge of diplomatic matters. Sarah’s uncle begged her, in the strongest terms, to place her considerable knowledge and experience at the Duke’s disposal. He finished by stating that he knew he could rely on her and that, as no-one who would be at the ball could possibly know her history, she need have no concerns as to the warmth of her reception. Some ten minutes after she had received her letter the Duke gently knocked on her door and, after being bidden to enter, he looked around the door, his eyes brimming with laughter and waving his own letter. “Well now are you going to stop ...” he halted as Sarah turned a woebegone and tearstained face in his direction. “Good God,” he said urgently as he strode across the room to her. “Whatever is the matter?” It was quite a while before Sarah could compose herself. The Duke summoned Martha to her aid and tactfully turned his back while she dried her tears. After a few minutes, he heard a sniff as a nose was defiantly blown and he turned to face her. “I knew you didn’t want to go.” He began tentatively, smiling down at her with such compassion that she had some difficulty in stopping her tears returning, “But this is much more than a dislike of grand receptions. Please explain it to me?” “I’m terrified,” came the blunt answer. “I won’t know how to go on. I shall make a fool of myself and of you and people will laugh at me.” It was obvious the Duke still didn’t understand. While it was a grand occasion and especially since it would involve a formal presentation to the heir to the throne of France, he could see she might reasonably be a little nervous. He could, however, see no justification for her abject terror. This reaction was even more incongruous because Sarah was the most composed and capable female he had ever met, her manners were impeccable, and she had little apparent difficulty in conversing with people whatever their station in life. Yet, here she was apparently terrified at going to a ball. He looked across at Martha seeking an explanation and after a moment’s thought she nodded towards the door indicating they should speak outside the room. “Your Grace has been attending parties and social occasions all your life.” Martha didn’t waste any time in prevarication, “you know how to behave in such circumstances because you had Lord Lionel and your other relatives to take you and explain how to you how to go on. Miss Sarah has never been to any parties and,” at this point there was an odd inflection in her voice that the Duke noticed but could not place, “she does not have a mother or any other relatives to help her.” “Wait a minute,” said the Duke interrupting Miss Leighton’s maid, “you said she has never been to a party. But I thought she had been present when the Viscount ...” “Those were not parties.” Martha interjected gruffly. “There were a few, actually a very few, occasions when the Viscount had male guests at Borden Hall who knew about Miss Sarah’s situation. She sat at the dinner table with them and they discussed politics. After dinner, she retired. She has never danced with anyone except her uncle and her brother. She has never come down for dinner when The Viscount invited any ladies or there were any young men present. She has never gone into any society at all!" By way of emphasis, although by this time it was unnecessary, she added,” Not once! As she has always been told that she never would go into society, she has never even allowed herself to think about what she would do if she did.” “And now,” The Duke dropped his head into his hands in exasperation at his own lack of insight, “the first time she does go into society, it is at a state ball in a foreign country as a guest of honour and as a representative of the ambassador with a significant diplomatic responsibility.” Sale groaned loudly. “Belatedly Martha, I now understand. But what do we do? We have to go, to decline would be an insult to the King and his heir.” Martha’s reply surprised him. “Well, you both go of course.” At Sale’s questioning look she continued, “just because she is frightened to death, does not mean her fear is justified. She will do excellently.” So it was to be proved. The following morning the modiste, true to her word, delivered Sarah’s court dress. Upon hearing that her creation was to be worn at court by a young lady attending as the guest of the King not only for her debut but also her presentation, she had excelled herself. Such motivation did not only have its root in the possibility of incurring royal displeasure, but she had been quick to see that this represented a commercial opportunity. If she did not see a queue of ladies beating a path to her door when they learned who it was had made mademoiselle’s dress, she would be very surprised. Such an opportunity presented itself but infrequently and when it did one grasped it with both hands. She had therefore, exerted herself mightily. The fact that the Duke had paid half of the price before she had even commenced work with a promise of the balance upon delivery only gave her an additional spur. Scared she might be, but Sarah had the normal reaction of any young woman at the sight of the magnificent creation which the modiste presented to her. She would have been less than human if the prospect of presenting herself in a stunning outfit had held no appeal. It did much to steady her nerves. A further letter from her uncle explaining some of the issues which might be discussed during the evening also helped. Upon reading it she realised that there was nothing she could not have anticipated and, in any event, she knew that on political matters at least, she was on home ground. As she read on, she realised that this was not a briefing letter, rather an aide memoire to remind her some of the issues she might have forgotten. There were no explanations of what she should say or to whom she should say it. There were no warnings who she should avoid and who she should cultivate. Her uncle knew, and by his omission he was telling her he knew, that she did not require such guidance. The letter was therefore an implicit statement that he had every confidence that she could carry the thing off. As she had, on many occasions, heard him animadvert caustically upon the inability of some of the paid officials at the foreign office to grasp even the basic foundations of diplomacy, it was clear to her that her uncle had no reservations as to her performance. The party was due to leave the Hotel at about six o’clock to ensure they would arrive in time for dinner at the Palais at half past seven. Sarah was nearly ready when Véronique came into the room. “Ohhhhhh Mademoiselle,” she breathed upon catching sight of her mistress in all her finery. “Vous êtes tres, tres, belle.” As she continued to gaze in wonder it became apparent that she had completely forgotten the purpose for which she had entered her mistress’ room. She was recalled to the present by a cough from Martha who was somewhat irritated that her mistress should be interrupted at such a moment. In confusion, and with profuse apologies, Véronique passed over a small parcel she had been holding hidden in the folds of her skirt. The parcel bore her uncle’s handwriting. It had been addressed to the Duke with a request that it should be given to Miss Leighton shortly before they left for the Palais De Tau. Hesitantly Sarah opened the parcel. It contained a small box and a letter. She opened the letter first. My Dearest Niece, I know you will do well tonight but, as it is your debut, please remember to enjoy yourself as well. I asked his Grace to give you this box tonight so that you may wear the contents. They belonged to my mother and would, had I married, been passed to my bride. I have decided that they should now come to you. Your uncle The box when opened revealed a superb diamond set including circlet, necklace and bracelet. “Ohhhhh Mademoiselle” repeated Véronique as Martha retrieved the box from Miss Leighton’s suddenly trembling hand and commenced placing the Circlet in her hair. “You may leave Véronique” said Martha severely as she stood back to observe her handiwork. When the door had closed behind the reluctantly departing French girl Martha said in a passable imitation of Véronique’s girlish voice, “Ohhhhhhh Mademoiselle.” Both ladies then collapsed into a tension releasing fit of giggles. Miss Leighton came downstairs some half an hour later. The Duke was gazing out of the window deep in thought and did not hear her entry. “Will I do?” she asked softly The Duke spun around at the sound of her voice and Sarah was gratified to note that her appearance had much the same effect upon her escort for the evening as it had upon Véronique. His jaw dropped and for a moment he was stunned into silence as he gazed on the vision in embroidered white silk before him. From the top of her head, adorned with the Viscount’s diamond circlet, to the tip of the vivid green train over her robe, the Duke thought she embodied perfection. She looked taller and more stately, and it was hard to imagine that this was the same lady who was becoming so proficient with the foils. “Madam,” the Duke achieved, after a lengthy delay in which he was apparently incapable of speech, “I am not sure I know who you are, but whoever you may be, I am honoured.” As he bowed over Sarah’s hand with a flourish he became aware that his throat had become very dry, “I shall be the envy of every man present tonight.” Sarah, no more impervious to such attention than any other member of her sex, merely smiled, dropped a slight curtsey and allowed herself to be escorted out of the room. They travelled to the Palais de Tau in the richly decorated carriage the Compte D’Artois had sent for them and other than the odd inconsequential remark, little was said. Each appeared to be lost in their own thoughts. However, as the carriage swept underneath the huge stone arch which formed the entrance to the courtyard Sarah leaned across and grasped Sale’s hand. “Thank you,” she said. “Whatever happens tonight, and afterwards, Thank you.” Before the Duke could reply, the carriage door was flung open and the line of liveried footmen awaiting their arrival beside the door indicated where they should go. When they entered the reception room a minute or so later it was clear most of the dinner guests had already arrived. No crowd, however large, could mask the splendour of the Palais, for centuries the home of the Archbishops of Reims. It was, perhaps, not quite as large or sumptuous as the Palais De Versailles, but the Duke thought it in much better taste. He was still gazing around the room trying to take in the splendour of the place when he heard a chuckle from behind him. “I see you like my second home Your Grace?” Turning abruptly Sale saw that he was being observed by a richly dressed man who had a decided look of amusement on his face. “I hope, when I succeed to the shoes currently so competently occupied by my brother, people will concentrate on me and not on the decorations.” “Your highness,” Sale bowed deeply noting that Miss Leighton had curtseyed gracefully and to the proper depth. “If all your palaces are as magnificent as this one, you may indeed find your visitors somewhat distracted.” He straightened, “may I present Miss Leighton to your Highness. She is the niece of Viscount Borden who is currently with the King in Paris. I am escorting her home.” Like every other man present the Compte wore a long frock coat over a waistcoat and the breeches which were now standard evening dress for men, the excess of the previous century with its exotic wigs and bright colours now having been consigned to trunks and chests in the attics and storage rooms across Europe. It was therefore, much more difficult to distinguish rank simply by looking at the clothes a person wore. However, this man would have stood out in any crowd. He was a tall man with a stately bearing which proclaimed his belief in his right to rule. Although, to the casual observer, his dress was similar to the raiment of every other gentleman present, to the initiated, the richness of the cloth and quality of the cut, proclaimed access to the best tailors in France. No expense had been spared. If further evidence of the Compte’s royal rank were required it would be found in the profusion of orders, French and foreign, displayed upon his breast and the blue sash across his shoulder. “Ah yes, Miss Leighton,” the Compte D’Artois turned to the Duke’s companion bowing slightly in acknowledgement. “When one hears from such discriminating friends and relatives as the Duc De Savois, the Duc D’Angoulême and the British Ambassador, Viscount Granville, that there is a Lady who assists and advises Viscount Borden on matters of diplomacy, one is of course curious. International politics do not usually interest the fair sex. When one learns that this Lady’s advice is inevitably sound, her questions relevant and to the point and her understanding second to none one is consumed with a desire to meet this lady. When one does so and discovers,” his highness gazed appreciatively at Sarah and smiled broadly, “that the lady in question is ravissante, one is driven to demand the first Waltz.” D’Artois was well known as a flirt but the thought of the Compte who was already sixty-seven years old, a little overweight and dependent upon a cane, performing the Waltz, almost overset Sarah’s composure. “Your highness has put me in a very difficult position,” Sarah confidentially informed the Compte struggling to keep her expression under control. “His Grace of Sale” she indicated her escort, “has already claimed the first Waltz. Although you take precedence, and, if you insist, he will have to yield, he will not like it and as I am travelling back to my home under his protection I would be reluctant to offend him.” She leaned forward slightly, “Your Highness may not have heard” she whispered theatrically “the Duke of Sale has a volatile temper and he could make life very difficult for me in England. I must choose therefore between refusing you on the one hand, which clearly, I cannot do, and living in fear that his Grace will not forgive me. I beg you will not make me choose." His Highness was used to young ladies who were tongue tied in his presence or who simpered at the compliments he gave. This confident sally therefore took him aback for a moment, but as he had been briefed that the Duke’s defining characteristic amongst his set was his mild manners, courteous disposition and complete lack of temper, he roared with laughter. “It would be wrong of me to expose you to the Ducal foul temper,” he said thoughtfully once he had stopped laughing. “You shall however walk with me to dinner which, I observe is about to be served.” The Duke and Miss Leighton were seated next to each other at the King’s table but as it was apparent that the Compte D’Artois was much interested in what was happening in London, Sale had to explain that he had been travelling for three years and was very much out of date. Miss Leighton on the other hand was but lately come from England and would no doubt be able to answer any questions his Highness might have. The Compte had maintained a home in South Audley Street where he had lived with his Mistress for nine years, returning only briefly to France and then again after the defeat of Napoleon at the restoration of his brother to the throne. Although he had not gone into society a great deal or spent time cultivating allies, his prolonged sojourn in London meant that he had some familiarity with English affairs. He did not altogether believe the reports he had received relating to Miss Leighton’s abilities, none of the ladies of his acquaintance had the slightest interest in politics, but a chance remark relating to the relationship between His Majesty King George and the British Parliament caused him to rapidly revise that view. Before long the Compte’s countenance bore an expression of dawning respect. Half an hour later, during a lull in the conversation he turned to his friend Jules De Polignac and, shielding his face with his hand he muttered that the English Mademoiselle was extremely well informed. His Highness still fervently believed in the absolute and divine right of Kings at a time when other Monarchs across Europe were relinquishing more and more of their power to their Parliaments. Although his brother had co-operated easily with the French Parliament he did not intend, upon his succession to the throne, that parliament would tell him what to do. “I received a communication from my brother this morning,” the Compte advanced confidentially, in an attempt to draw Miss Leighton out further. “He is gratified by the assurance given to him, by your government, of Britain’s continuing support. He tells me that your ambassador has told him that the last thing your government wants to see is a republic in France.” His Highness looked politely at Miss Leighton. “I am sure,” Miss Leighton took up the offered opening, “that His Majesty King George, and his Prime Minister are of one mind in hoping, when the time comes, that the Chamber of Deputies will support your succession and thereafter that your Highness and your Highness’ government will be able to work together as well as has been the case with your brother.” “Indeed!” came the slightly thoughtful response, “I see no reason why it should not be so.” The remainder of the sumptuous banquet was occupied by small talk but when an hour later, the Ladies withdrew, the Compte turned to his friend, “De Polingac,” he asked, “did you hear the comment from the so shrewd Miss Leighton?” “I did your Highness,” he paused as if choosing his words very carefully, “If I understood her correctly and if, as I suspect, she hinted as to the British position, their support at the time of your succession is dependent upon your Highness working with parliament.” The Comte D’Artois did not reply immediately but turned and looked speculatively as footmen closed the door through which the ladies had left. “I think, my friend,” he said slowly “that for a few months, at least until my position is established, it might be politic if we give the impression that parliament and I can work together in harmony.” He turned and saw that the Duke of Sale was standing a few yards away engaged in polite conversation with an elderly Marquise. “Your Grace,” he called in a louder voice, “your Miss Leighton is an interesting Lady, her knowledge of politics would be impressive at her age, even were she a man.” “Regrettably, your Highness,” Sale replied with emphasis, “she is not my Miss Leighton although I stand considerably in her debt. My acquaintance with her is of very recent duration. Following the unfortunate contretemps involving Monsieur Hainaut she was of great assistance in nursing me back to health. This would of course have been sufficient for me to lend what assistance I could. There is however, another circumstance of which you will not be aware. Miss Leighton’s uncle, Viscount Borden, is my uncle’s oldest friend. When the Viscount told me that Miss Leighton required protection on the Journey back to England you will of course understand that I felt constrained to offer my assistance. But you are right, she is a remarkable woman, but for her bravery we may never have discovered that the King’s enemies were trying to infiltrate the Garde du Corps du Roi.” In the drawing room Miss Leighton found herself the centre of attention. This was a novel experience, more particularly because she was exclusively in feminine company. Hitherto, what limited social interaction she had experienced had been in small groups of men and she rapidly discovered that fending off questions from ladies was a much more challenging exercise than conversing with her Uncle’s friends. Women, she discovered, were much shrewder, especially when it came to picking up on small clues and were a great deal more difficult to avoid or distract. She was fielding, with some difficulty, a succession of questions about the Duke of Sale and her relationship with him. Did she not think he was very attractive? Yes, she supposed he was. Was he married? She believed he was a widower. Was he wealthy? She understood that he had considerable estates. How long had she known him? A few weeks. How was it she was travelling under his protection? Her uncle had requested him to escort her to England. Was her uncle trying to promote a match between them? She did not think so. Would she accept if he offered her marriage? It was just as well for Miss Leighton that the conversation moved on at this point to the latest on dits from Paris as she was starting to feel her back against the wall. While it was novel to be the centre of attention, and there was a certain feminine satisfaction in knowing that one was the object of speculation, it could become a little wearing to be constantly on one’s guard. She became drawn into a conversation regarding the difficulty one lady was having in persuading her husband, who had decided to remove his entire family to Vienna for the forthcoming season, not to do so. “We shall not go of course,” said the lady comfortably, “my dear husband has not yet discovered he does not really want to go yet.” Sarah thought this statement incomprehensible but apparently the other ladies understood perfectly. “Why not?” enquired a lady, barely keeping a straight face. “Because I haven’t told him yet!” came the blunt reply. “I love my husband dearly, but he does need to be managed.” “Very true,” remarked another “my husband also likes to think he makes the decisions in our home.” An unmarried girl who had been paying rapt attention to this conversation enquired timidly if this Lady’s husband did not make the decisions then who did? “Oh,” she replied gaily “of course my husband makes all the decisions; he just doesn’t know that first they were my decisions.” Sarah was just contemplating the thought that these ladies were all apparently managing their husband’s lives without those same husbands being aware of it, when she was surprised to be addressed in English, “Hello my dear,” she turned to find herself staring into the face of a lady, standing some ten feet away from her who she judged to be a few years older than herself. That this lady was of some importance was immediately obvious as everyone else around her stood back to allow the speaker to approach, “I am Marie Charlotte De Choiseul Praslin.” “Your Ladyship,” said Sarah curtseying deeply, “may I congratulate you on your forthcoming marriage?” “You are very well informed,” said the lady, her eyes widening with surprise, “Who told you?” Our betrothal has yet to be formally announced and,” she reappraised Sarah rapidly, “I do not think we have previously met. Although of course,” she added with an enquiring look, I had only one season before I married my late husband.” “We have never met, Ma’am, I have not, until very recently, gone into society. You may have met my uncle, Viscount Borden who, as you may know, is in Paris with the Ambassador, Viscount Granville. On occasions, I act in the role of unofficial secretary to him. When no less a person than the Duc De Polignac, close friend and confidant of the Compte D’Artois is betrothed, this is naturally the subject of considerable comment in diplomatic circles, particularly when the object of his affection happens to be an Englishwoman by birth.” Sometime later, when the gentlemen re-joined the ladies, Miss Leighton was gratified to see Madame seek out her fiancé and whisper something in his ear. As he immediately turned to look in her direction with a very surprised look on his face and then went to consult with the Compte, who also turned to look, she guessed that they had only now realised they were under much greater scrutiny than they had thought. Sarah had never expected to enjoy the ball, but to her considerable surprise, she had an evening of unmixed pleasure. From the moment the Duke of Sale led her out on his arm as the orchestra struck up for the first waltz, until the last chord of the last dance died away she never lacked a partner and, when she chose not to dance, she was the centre of admiring attention. As she twirled around the floor in the Duke’s arms the curious eyes that followed her energetic progress could see that she was an excellent dancer. It was not the waltz with the Duke that sealed her success however, but the next partner fortunate enough to lead her out onto the floor. The Compte D’Artois had instructed his son, the Duc D’Angoulême, to attend the reception to support him, should he require such support, and to lead Miss Leighton out for the second dance. The Duc, much more at home in the hunting field or at the gaming tables, generally found his state duties extremely boring, but nevertheless, and with little anticipation of enjoying himself, had reluctantly come to do his duty by his parent. Somewhat to his surprise, he enjoyed dancing with Miss Leighton exceedingly. As a result of the recent events at Chateaux Hainaut, he could already claim some acquaintance with her and had therefore some knowledge of her intellect and tact. When, the Duc, whose reluctance to appear at state occasions was well known, laughed out loud on no less than three occasions during the dance, it became clear that she would not lack partners for the evening. Where the son of the heir to the throne was pleased, few others would find fault. Indeed, not one of the gentlemen fortunate enough to lead her out found any reason to dispute D’Angoulême’s approbation. Those men who looked for partner with whom one could enjoy a good joke found their verbal sallies answered in kind. On the other hand, the gentleman who liked his ladies demure found nothing to criticise either. The view of the ladies and gentlemen was that she was more than passably good looking and had a certain something which set her apart from her fellows. For herself, Sarah discovered that her fears had been misplaced. The looks of frank appreciation bestowed on her gave her the confidence to relax and enjoy herself. The knowledge that Sale was in the room and keeping an eye on her also helped although at no stage did she find herself in need of his assistance. On one occasion two gentlemen were disputing good naturedly over who should lead her out for the next dance and, as it was apparent that neither was prepared to yield, she hailed the Duc D’Angoulême as he was passing and asked him how she should choose. “Choose neither, Ma’am,” advocated the Duc with a broad smile, “May I have the honour?” “The request of a prince cannot be ignored,” Miss Leighton said to the two Gentlemen who had lately been arguing over her as she laid her hand on the Duc’s arm. “Perhaps later then?” “It is useful,” Sarah ventured as the set formed, “numbering a royal Duke amongst one’s acquaintance. Perhaps we may meet again in Amiens?” “Perhaps, we shall” answered the Duc appreciatively and not remotely offended by this unusual honesty. “I must return to Paris tomorrow. When do you expect to arrive in Amiens?” “I hardly know, our travelling plans depend upon the Duke and he must wait upon the recovery of the Sergeant in charge of our escort. I understand he is not expected to be fit for some days yet. His Grace indicated that he expects to arrive in Amiens in about two weeks.” “Then Mademoiselle,” responded the Duc, “So shall I. My business in Paris with your uncle is not expected to detain me for more than another two or three days. I have estates near Amiens which I should have visited long since.” “Mon Dieu!” One of her disappointed suitors exclaimed to the other, “She is on better terms with D’Angoulême than is his father. What chance did we stand my friend?” When the dance came to an end and Miss Leighton had been handed to the young man who had claimed her hand to form the next set, the Duc D’Angoulême went searching for the Duke of Sale. After the usual exchange of pleasantries, the Duc remarked, “Miss Leighton is an exceptional woman.” He stopped for a moment but as Sale did not appear to feel the need to comment he sighed heavily, and continued, “I would like to further my acquaintance with her.” “Certainly, Your Highness, but forgive me, why?” There was more than a hint of steel behind the question. “Your Highness will understand,” he explained pointedly, “that I am responsible for her safety return to England.” “Calm your ruffled feathers my friend,” The Duc put a hand under Sale’s elbow and escorted him to a quieter corner of the room where they could talk and not be overheard. He sighed again. “My father did not fight with Wellington in Spain and, unlike my uncle the King, he did not spend his time in London making friends and alliances.” As it was common knowledge that the Compte D’Artois kept his mistress in South Audley Street and occupied much of his time in dancing attendance on this lady while his wife stayed in Edinburgh, the Duke of Sale had no difficulty in interpreting this statement. “Just so,” added the Duc when he saw the understanding in Sale’s face. “I have no love for the Court or its intrigues, but I understand, better I think than my father, how important British support is to us. He is inclined to take the view that, now Napoleon Bonaparte is dead there is none who can challenge his rule and that while it is always useful to have the support of your Government, he can do well without it. He and I disagree on this. I would seek counsel from the unusually well-informed Miss Leighton, but I must return to Paris tomorrow. She tells me you expect to be in Amiens in two weeks. Is this true? The Duke of Sale did not reply immediately. Before he gave too much information he wanted to consider whether this was a connexion that Miss Leighton would want to pursue, and even if it was, whether she ought to be allowed to pursue it. The Duc D’Angoulême, Sale knew, had a much better reputation than did his father. The Duke of Wellington regarded him as a sound soldier and general, and his courage had never been called into question. He had twice tried to travel to Russia to assist in the campaign against Napoleon there but had been rebuffed by the Tsar. Furthermore, although the union with his wife Marie Thérèse was childless, if kept a mistress he did so discreetly. Moreover, he had been straightforward in his approach and had sought permission from her escort. Providing ordinary care was taken for Miss Leighton’s safety, he thought that Viscount Borden would have little difficulty with a continued relationship and in any event, it behoved him to encourage a dialogue in his country’s national interest. Then too, refusing to meet with the Duc again might give rise to some difficulty, especially as he was dependent upon his continued goodwill for his military escort. “Your Highness will understand that we are constrained to await Sergeant Guay’s return to health. His commanding officer tells me that he should be fit enough to resume his duties in three or four days or possibly a little longer. We do not travel rapidly. I should think it will take about six or seven days to make the journey and we anticipate resting for one day at Saint-Quentin. We stop at Amiens for about three days while our escort reports to the garrison there.” “I am grateful Your Grace,” said the Duc, “I have business in Amiens and intend that I shall reach there in about ten days.” He handed the Duke a card “a message to this address will find me.” D’Angoulême was about to turn away when Sale halted him. “There is one small matter upon which you could provide some assistance if you would,” the Duke asked quietly, “is there somewhere we could talk in private?” “Assuredly,” came the reply “follow me. The only person that noticed as Sale and the Duc D’Angoulême slipped out of the room was Miss Leighton who did not mention the matter until they were in the carriage on the way back to their Hotel. “Where did you go with D’Angoulême?” She asked as soon as they had settled comfortably against the squabs. “Will you think me excessively rude if I excuse myself from answering your question?” The Duke replied apologetically. “I apologise for the secrecy, it does not relate to state business; it was more of a confidential and personal nature.” He had anticipated the question and had thought about how he would deal with it. The fact that he had disappeared for almost twenty minutes with a Royal Duke would not have escaped her notice. He had thought of fobbing her off by saying that all they were talking about was their future travel plans, but she would have known he was dissembling. Such a discussion would have lasted no more than a minute and could easily have been conducted in the ballroom. Privacy would not have been required. He had therefore decided that honesty was the best policy and having told her he was not proposing to divulge the nature of the conversation he awaited the expected attempts to persuade him to reveal the secret. “Of course I should not think you rude; you are entitled to your privacy” she stated bluntly. The Duke’s initial thought was that this was mere petulance or a feminine tactic to persuade him to be more open but as he looked at her in the limited light in the carriage he realised that she meant no more nor no less than her words. If he was unable or unwilling to discuss the conversation which had passed between herself and D’Angoulême then she was happy to accept his reticence without a comment. The Duke was put off balance by this. None of the other ladies of his experience, not even Harriet, would have accepted such a reply with equanimity. Without exception they would have tried, with varying degrees of subtlety to prise the information out of him. ‘How’ he asked himself ruefully, ‘is one supposed to deal with a lady, if none of the normal rules of engagement apply? Unaware of the Duke’s reaction to her words, Sarah’s only thoughts were mild surprise that he should consider her feelings in the matter in any way. Sarah had lived with secrets all her life and having been told that the matter was confidential she would not have dreamed of prying further. While her uncle had taken into his confidence on many matters, and she knew some very surprising things about great many people, there were some discussions from which she had always been excluded and some doors which would always be closed to her. If you live with secrets, you learn to respect secrecy. “In any event,” said the Duke in a teasing voice and filing away yet another piece of information about the unpredictable Miss Leighton, “I think there is a bigger story tonight. Miss Leighton, you have become, in one evening, une successe fou. There were many young men who begged me to introduce me to you and some I had to decline. There was not enough time or enough dances. You set the ball alight! “Do you really think so?” Sarah’s voice was almost shy. “There were so many accomplished and well born and beautiful young ladies there...” “And most of them,” interrupted the Duke laughing, “were more than a little put out at the foreign beauty who came in and eclipsed them all, particularly when the men could talk about nothing else but you.” “Oh No!” cried Miss Leighton, very distressed, "I wouldn’t want to put anyone out." “Ma’am,” said the Duke in a voice of exaggerated patience. “Enjoy your triumph. I can assure you that many of the older ladies and most of the men were considerably entertained at the sight of one or two young ladies, whose petulance is legendary, having to take a back seat. Monsieur Galarde, the father of one of those ladies introduced himself to me and went so far as to thank me for teaching his daughter a much-deserved lesson.” “I cannot but think, that if those same ladies and gentlemen knew that I was a fraud, the illegitimate daughter of a millworker, they would have had me thrown out,” Miss Leighton said pensively, and added sadly, "but I do thank Your Grace for taking me, I have never enjoyed anything so much and I shall have a memory of the one night when I felt like a princess.” “I beg to differ,” said his Grace hugely enjoying himself. “You will have more memories than that. I have been much gratified by the number of invitations I have received. I would no doubt be flattered if it were not for the fact that I have been, on every occasion, enjoined to ensure that I bring the beautiful Mademoiselle Leighton as well. We are engaged tomorrow, to join a party to drive out into the countryside to see where Champagne is made and thereafter, to enjoy a small nuncheon in some Chateau or other. In the evening, we shall have to choose between another ball held by some Contessa, whose name I cannot remember and a select house party at the residence of a Marquise.” It was, in fact, five days later when the Duke and his party departed Reims taking with them the good wishes of their new friends and many commands to return as soon as they could. It was the universally held view of the nobility of Reims and the surrounding area that the Duke of Sale was as pleasant a man as could be imagined; but the young lady travelling in her protection; what charm, what espièglerie! In an age when young ladies were properly bored, to find one whose enjoyment of every moment was so obvious was a refreshing change. With her impeccable manners, genuine modesty and extremely well-informed mind she had rapidly become la dernier cri. Even the young ladies, fully prepared to dislike her intensely, found that she was an entertaining companion. She could tell stories, albeit carefully redacted to remove the choicest morsels of scandal, of matters from which ladies were usually excused. She was thus interesting to talk to. Then again, she could neither draw, nor sew or play a musical instrument and stood in frank admiration of those ladies who possessed these skills. It was a chance remark that sealed the matter however. Sarah had been dancing with a young man generally held to be one of the most eligible bachelors in Reims. His frank appreciation of the charms of his partner was manifest; his laughter arousing some very ignoble and unchristian thoughts in more than a few of those ladies watching their progress. Upon returning to her seat one young lady, in the expectation of provoking blushes gaily suggested she had made a conquest. Much to her surprise Miss Leighton evinced utter disinterest. Such a reaction merited further investigation, especially since this particular young lady would have been far more receptive to the attention had it been showered upon her rather than the English visitor. Miss Leighton explained her lukewarm reaction by explaining there was a prior attachment. More than this she would not say but, as it became quickly obvious that, while she enjoyed the attention, she was not remotely interested in any of those gentlemen who paid court to her she was no longer regarded as competition. Not the most assiduous persuasion would make her reveal anything more about the object of her affection and, as she had a certain sadness about her, it was generally thought that her English uncle must have forbidden the match. A few suggested that the mystery lover could be the Duke, but it became known that their acquaintance was only of recent duration and Mademoiselle Leighton had let it slip that her affections had been engaged while she was still in the schoolroom. There was, in addition, nothing remotely lover-like in the Duke’s attitude. He was amused by her certainly, and they had been seen in deep conversation, but he made no claim on her time, and was perfectly happy to consign her to the chaperonage of a respectable lady or relinquish her hand to another man seeking a dance. Finally, although the Duke was a widower, he was still a young man and known to be fabulously wealthy. He would make an unexceptional bridegroom. No guardian, however high in the instep, could object to a match in that direction. “It will be very hard,” observed Sarah to Martha as they left the Outskirts of Reims behind “to return to my old life after this journey comes to an end.” Chapter 10 They fell easily into the routine of travel again and although Sarah missed the parties, the dancing and the conversation on matters other than politics, there was a certain comfort as well. In Reims, she had felt always on her guard and even when she was enjoying herself, there was always a lurking feeling that she would be exposed as a fraud. On the road, she had no such qualms. There was also a development which gave the journey a little added interest. When Sergeant Guay had reported as fit for duty that morning he greeted the Duke and Miss Leighton and confirmed that he was now fully recovered but, although his manners were as well-bred as ever it was apparent he was somewhat distracted. He kept turning as if he was looking for something. The Duke was about to ask if there was anything wrong, when Véronique appeared carrying some small item of Sarah’s luggage and, over her shoulder, berating one of the hotel porters in her idiomatic French. Upon seeing Guay however she stopped dead and smiled so broadly that no-one who saw it was in any doubt where her affections lay. Guay’s smile was equally broad and he started across to her. “Bienvenue Monsieur,” Véronique’s welcome was so provocative that it was apparent Guay was having some difficulty in retraining himself from taking her into his arms there and then. At that moment, Véronique noticed that everyone in the yard was watching them, she blushed bright red and scuttled off to the carriage as fast as she could to an accompaniment of kindly laughter. “Will it do?” The Duke asked Sarah. “I wouldn’t want her to be hurt again.” “I think so,” Sarah said thoughtfully, “but you will have to explain a bit of her history. Technically, it would be a mesalliance, but if you were to give her a small dowry I doubt his father would mind. A third son of an impoverished Baronne will not be able to look too high for a bride. At the inn that evening the Duke took Sergeant Guay aside and explained what he knew of Véronique’s history. Guay listened carefully, “Thank you for telling me all this Your Grace,” he stood to attention, his face mask-like, “Am I forbidden to pay my addresses Mademoiselle Ricard? Do you have an objection to the marriage?” The thought that Guay might think that he would intervene to prevent the marriage or even that he could, had never occurred to the Duke and he hastily reassured the sergeant. “No. No. You misunderstand me. I am not responsible for Véronique, you will have to apply to her mother or, possibly, her uncle. I am merely pointing out that, as the son of a gentleman, your father might not regard the match with a kindly eye. Also, if you do marry her, in view of the activities of Monsieur Hainaut you may have to be a little ... sensitive. For me, I like you both very much, and I hope you will be happy.” “I thought ...,” Guay’s face was the picture of relief. “I thought you might object and I had been prepared to be discharged. As for my father, he will like Veronique. My mother was of a similar background. Monsieur Hainaut now, that is a different matter,” he patted his sword, “one day I will hold him to account.” “There will be long queue waiting to do that!” The Duke retorted dryly. One evening the Duke gained another insight into Miss Leighton’s character. She had asked him curiously what had driven him to leave the country without a word to anyone. “I was trapped,” he replied. “My staff, all of whom had known me since I was in short coats, endeavoured to do as much as they could for me. None of my houses seemed remotely like a home. I didn’t know who I was or what I was capable of and there wasn’t anyone who I could talk to. Harriet was dead, Lord Lionel severely ill and Gideon injured. All these people were talking at me and ... and I suppose I ran away. Do you know, Francis was the only person who ever told me the unvarnished truth before you? “I should love your trap,” Sarah said meditatively, “either I am at home, where I see few people, or I am being hauled across Europe to assist my uncle and where the only thing I ever talk about is politics. I like politics, but I must admit that there are times when it does become a little tedious. “What would you like to do?” Asked the Duke fascinated by this insight. He had naturally supposed that she would have found being part of a life which very few ladies were even aware of and in which her intellect was valued, very interesting and rewarding. “I should like,” responded Sarah, fully aware, in the light of her regard for the Duke, that it behoved her to be very careful, “to marry, to be mistress of my own home, to have children and someday grandchildren.” She looked defiantly at the Duke, “did you think I was that different from the rest of my sex?” “So therefore,” said the Duke Slowly, “I would like the life you had, and you would have chosen mine.” He sat back in his chair. “Ironic, isn’t it? We always want what we cannot have.” They arrived at Saint-Quentin in good time, a fortunate circumstance as the garrison commander had received an order in advance of their arrival, requiring two of the Guards that had travelled all the way with them from Seltz to divert to a new posting at Soissons a day’s ride to the south. Guay was not happy about it, but he had his orders. A day after his men had left, the two replacements arrived, and the party continued on their way towards Amiens. The day’s travel was beset with delays, about midday, a peasant felling a tree had allowed it to fall across the road. Guay rode to the front of the party vented his feelings upon the individual whose carelessness resulted in a tree blocking the King’s highway when he could just as easily have felled it into his own field. Faced with the certain knowledge that it would take several hours to clear the tree from the road he made the decision to turn the party around and seek a detour around the obstruction. After re-joining the highway, they made good time but then came up behind a farmer driving a large herd of cattle to market at the nearest village. The herd was too large for them to pass and so the whole party was forced to proceed at a snail’s pace. To cap it all, once they had managed to pass the cattle, a cotter pin retaining one of the wheels on the carriage bearing the baggage and the servants sheared through causing the wheel to slide off the axle. They had a spare, but the entire carriage had to be unloaded before it could be lifted to replace the wheel. They had hitherto always arrived at their destination before nightfall, but the day’s journey had been longer than usual and, even though they had yet a distance to travel, night had already fallen. The road which had led them due west all day sloped down through a small village and then on towards a broad river. Crossing by way of a narrow bridge the road then sloped steeply up the hill on the west bank cutting through a thickly wooded area. The inn at which they planned to stay that night was now less a mile away and the travellers were starting to relax in anticipation of dinner. As the tired horses hauled the carriages up the slope a bright light appeared in the middle of the road a hundred or so yards ahead. Guay sent the two guardsmen who were riding in front to investigate. He rode to join Francis and the Duke at the rear. Pandemonium broke out! More bright lights appeared in the wood on either side of the road and shots were fired across the road causing the coachmen to pull up in an effort to control the frightened horses. The Guardsmen dismounted and surrounded the Carriage in which Miss Leighton was travelling and pointed their muskets into the darkness but, other than the bright lights un-sighting them, there was nothing to shoot at. Miss Leighton counted at least separate 10 voices demanding they lay down their arms and when one of the guards took aim at one of the lights. A shot sounded, and the man crumpled on the floor. “Put up your weapons!” Shouted Miss Leighton in a commanding voice as she opened the carriage door and stepped out, “you are outnumbered and cannot see your mark! I’ll have no more blood on my conscience.” Reluctantly, but realising the truth of what she had said the guards placed their weapons on the floor.” “May I commend you upon your admirable discretion,” said a smooth voice Miss Leighton well remembered. “There is little point in fighting if the result is a foregone conclusion.” Monsieur Hainaut stepped into the light and continued, “Mademoiselle Leighton,” he drawled as he bowed mockingly, “you cannot know how delighted I am to meet you once again.” “The pleasure is all yours,” said Miss Leighton, not mincing her words, “I apprehend then, that the fallen tree and the herd of cattle were all your doing?” Hainaut inclined his head in acknowledgement as Sarah continued “and the cotter pin? How did you manage?... Ah! The replacement guards. There were no orders!” “As always your quick intelligence has solved the puzzle.” Hainaut remarked, “it is a shame that you are a woman, as a man you would be famous but,” He shook his head sadly, “I regret I can see no purpose at all for a woman with a brain. Women should stick to embroidery and playing the harp and I understand you can do neither. But it is as you say. I arranged for the false orders, it was not difficult, it only required the payment of a small sum to a minor official in the garrison at Soissons. We waited for your Guards to leave and my men simply rode in. Not only did this allow me to slow you further but instead of eight you only had six escorts.” He looked at the corpse of the dead man, "alas, now five.” At this point one of the false guards stepped into the light and whispered in to Hainaut’s ear. It appeared to be good news, because he chuckled softly and turned back to Miss Leighton. “It appears I lied. You have only four escorts. Sergeant Guay, The Duke of Sale and his man have all fled as fast as they could back down the road in the direction of Reims. It is a pity,” he remarked shaking his head in mock sorrow, “It would have been most .... satisfying to renew my acquaintance with those gentlemen. Still, once cannot have everything.” Hainaut turned to walk away and raised his hand indicating his men should carry out their orders. As he did so the men hidden in the woods walked onto the road. Sarah saw at once that they looked more like local thieves than revolutionary soldiers and the germ of an idea occurred to her. She needed to play for more time. “Wait!” Sarah interrupted Hainaut as he walked in the direction of the woods skirting the road. He turned a questioning look in her direction, “I imagine I shall not enjoy the answer, but I would like to know what will become of us?” “It is a fair question,” Hainaut allowed. “Ten minutes after you passed through the Village on the other side of the river a wagon followed you. I would anticipate it will arrive here soon. Anything of value which you are carrying will be loaded into it and will, I imagine be divided between my friends.” He waved in the direction of the wood. “I do not know what they will do with your companions; I would imagine they would not want any survivors...,” He shrugged leaving the point unanswered, “But that is not my problem. Now you on the other hand, you are not my problem either, but still I choose to invest some time in dealing with you.” His unpleasant sneer left her in no doubt as to exactly how he was planning to spend his time. “In any event, tomorrow it will become apparent that there was a robbery on this road, a guard was shot defending you and the remainder kidnapped and disposed of elsewhere.” “Did you tell your friends what they were doing in holding up this party?” Miss Leighton asked in a patently false tone of polite enquiry. “Do they understand that it is one thing to hold up a coach and another thing entirely to attack a coach guarded by the Garde du Corps du Roi and travelling under the King’s protection?” She increased the volume of her voice imperceptibly to ensure she was heard, “the King will take it as personal insult. Your friends will be ruthlessly hunted down.” “How would he know who we are?” a voice growled from the darkness. The shaft had gone home. “There cannot be many footpads in this area.” Any competent tracker will work out that there were many of you. Some of you are probably known in the local villages. A coin here and there and someone will tell the King’s men what they need to know. Have any of you any idea what is going on here? Whatever happens to me and my friends, in twenty-four hours the King’s men will be here. They will search every house for miles and they will not be gentle.” “You didn’t say anything about attacking a carriage protected by the King,” Sarah heard an accusatory voice say. “You just said a couple of carriages and a few servants. You said easy pickings. I’m not putting my head in a noose for a few coins. I’m off.” Judging by the muttering coming from the wood and the crashing sounds moving away, Hainaut had just lost a sizeable portion of his force. “All the more for us,” growled one of the remainder as he wrenched open the door of the second carriage. A small and decidedly feminine boot lashed out through the opening catching him hard on the chin and he sank to the floor unconscious. A second later Véronique launched herself out of the door. Within moments one man was screaming in agony attempting to claw what appeared to be face powder out of his eyes and another was disabled on the floor groaning mightily and clutching his groin. She was quickly overpowered but by this time Hainaut was thoroughly irritated. He strode over to her and grasping her chin in a vice like grip turned he face to the light. “Oh,” he said in a bored tone, “it is you. I have no interest in revisiting places I have already been.” At this Véronique spat in his face. Hainaut stood stunned for a moment and then very deliberately he pulled his pistol from his belt, grasped the barrel in his hand and raising his hand he prepared to bring the butt down on her head. “Ah, Monsieur Hainaut,” A soft voice came from the direction of the coach. Hainaut snapped around in time to see Liversedge alighting from the coach. He appeared to have all the time in the world. Having successfully distracted Hainaut he continued, “When you visited my establishment ....” he paused and coughed politely, “I beg your pardon, when you still had the funds to visit my establishment and still paid your debts of honour, you were wont to act like a gentleman. You appeared to choose…,” he paused again and looked around with an expression of acute disdain on his face and then continued, “yes, you appeared to choose your friends with greater discrimination.” “Who ...?” Hainaut peered at the man. Recognising him eventually he asked “Mon Dieu. Liversedge! What are you doing here?” “I might” said Liversedge having lost none of his stately manner. “ask the same of you. But that would require me to display an interest in a man who has forgotten his obligations to society and his respect for the fairer sex. I am intrigued however, how do you hope to further your cause in this way? If I understand your plan correctly, no-one is to know the truth of what happened here. You intend it will look like a robbery. I think it will look like a planned ambush. No highwayman in his right mind would attack carriages escorted by a detachment of the Garde du Corps du Roi. It would be tantamount to suicide and footpads do not, in any event, hunt in packs. Even if you could make this look like common highway robbery, your ruse in exchanging the guards will soon be discovered and with it any idea that the King might have had that this was a coincidence. It will look like what it is, a planned assault on the authority of the King.” Liversedge looked around at the men surrounding the two carriages and caught the eyes of as many as he could. He lifted a questioning eyebrow at one and shrugged at another. The message was clear; their earthly existence was now numbered in days. His words hit home and those men who had not left at Miss Leighton’s words were, by now, seriously worried. Liversedge spoke with such conviction and in any event, they could see that they had been deceived by Hainaut. Malevolent looks were cast in his direction suggesting that had they their chance they would make sure they evened the score. Others simply disappeared silently into the woods after their fellows. As every thief knows, there are some goods that are simply too hot to handle. Liversedge waited awhile for his words to sink in. By now more than half of the men who had joined in the original ambush had left and even those who remained were distracted and worried. Liversedge then turned to face Hainaut again directly. “I wish you will explain something to me Sir?” It was obvious the title was conferred with no sincerity. “It has occurred to me that the scheme to blackmail Viscount Borden will only work if he is the only one who knows Miss Leighton is in your power. Even if the King and the British Ambassador, do not know for certain that it is you who has her, will they not at least consider that it is possible that her disappearance can be laid at your door? While this is their suspicion will not Viscount Borden be compromised? Then again,” the Major Domo said after a few moment’s pause, “while I did not consider you a particularly intelligent card player I thought you of ordinary intelligence generally; I presume you must have some plan. “What? Did you really think this was about assisting the republican cause? That is history, the republicans did not come to my aid when I needed it and now I look after myself.” The two substitute Guards gave each other a speaking glance. It was apparent that revolution was their motive, even if it was not Monsieur Hainaut’s. If they got away, the word would soon go out that Hainaut was now a traitor to both sides. Oblivious to the black looks now directed towards him from all directions, Hainaut blithely continued, “this has absolutely nothing to do with Viscount Borden, old fool that he is,” he sneered contemptuously, rattled by the biting contempt evident in Liversedge’s tone, “this is about a woman who had the temerity to push a sword in my face and embarrass me in front of my men. This is about a woman who considers herself better than a man.” He looked around proudly in the manner of a man expecting applause. “Of course, I have no objection to furthering the republican cause in the process. I have no love for the puppet on the throne at Versailles who only rules with the permission of a foreign government. The knowledge that a party travelling under the protection of the King was so easily taken, will give those who long for a republic heart, and the fact that the victims were English will make it newsworthy. It will spread fear amongst travellers and attract attention. No one will laugh when my friends say ‘vive là république’ after this.” “Dear me!” Liversedge’s obviously feigned surprise, spoiled the effect somewhat.” So this is only about revenge? And upon a woman too. How er... ignoble of you. Well, I suppose if you are going to abandon your principles, then you might as well abandon them all en masse.” He chuckled, “So, I will summarise, and please, you must correct me if I have anything wrong, you have set up a highway robbery deceiving your accomplices and in doing so you have condemned them to almost certain death. The King will order them to be hunted down like dogs. In deceiving the two gentlemen posing as guards you have betrayed the Republican cause as well. You are indifferent to the possibility of mass murder in the name of robbery and you intend to commit an act of great brutality on a woman. All this because your pride was hurt. Well I must say ...” Hainaut did not get to hear what it was that Liversedge would have said because at that moment a large wagon lumbered into sight up the hill. “Well it has been so nice talking to you,” Hainaut nodded to Liversedge genially “but I really do have a prior appointment. You must excuse me.” And he turned back towards Sarah. “But Sir, “said the voice of the Duke of Sale suavely from the direction of the woods,” I protest. I am before you in the list.” Events then proceeded along a path which none of the assailants, so confident ten minutes previously, could possibly have anticipated. As everyone turned to the voice two loud reports shattered the night and two of the men opposite the second carriage fell on the floor already dead. From somewhere Liversedge had produced two pistols and had fired them with deadly effect. Simultaneously the driver of the carriage that had been approaching slowly up the hill whipped the horse into a gallop and as the equipage bore down on the scene a second figure, hitherto obscured by the driver leaned forward and fired once. Picking up another musket by his side he took aim and deliberately fired again. Each shot found its mark and two more men slumped to the floor. There was immediate chaos, the remaining guards who had previously laid down their arms, retrieved them and set upon their captors. More shots were fired, again with deadly accuracy from the woods and suddenly it was the ambushers who were now fighting for their lives. These were not trained men and as Hainaut had disappeared they now had no leader. It rapidly became every man for himself. If they had them, they fired their pistols wildly into the woods, and in the melee, they had no chance to re-load. Despite not knowing the number of their attackers, within a very few seconds their spirit broke and they dived into the woods fleeing pell-mell. The only two remaining were the two replacement guards who, backed against Miss Leighton’s carriage were, just, holding their fellows at bay. Suddenly there was a dull thud and one of them seemed to crumple to the floor. The reason was immediately apparent. He had been felled by Martha who had rendered him senseless by the simple expedient of leaning out of the carriage window and hitting him on the head with Sarah’s heavy Jewellery box. The distraction of seeing his comrade fall was sufficient to allow the remaining man to be disarmed and overpowered. The Duke strolled nonchalantly into the area around the two carriages, still brightly lit by the ambusher’s lanterns and surveyed the carnage. Eight men lay dead, three were injured, two were unconscious and the other held captive. Francis then appeared to his left and Guay to his right. Hainaut’s wagon had pulled up and to the surprise of their fellows disgorged the two Guards who had been despatched to Soissons from San-Quentin. Five men had routed a force of more than twice that number in less than a minute. “The men of the Garde du Corps du Roi” said Guay, surveying the scene with satisfaction, “do not miss.” He turned to the Duke, “And now?” he asked. “I doubt that they will return but perhaps...? The Duke looked back at Guay who divined his meaning instantly and within seconds ordered the detachment of Guards into the woods to give an alert in case their attackers were to regroup and mount an assault. “Where is Hainaut, asked Francis, “I did not see him head for the woods.” He peered into the Carriage and said more urgently, “Your Grace, Miss Leighton is ....” He got no further. “Here.” said Miss Leighton. Everyone turned to see where her voice had come from and saw Hainaut walking backwards slowly around the front of the team harnessed to the lead carriage followed at a distance by Miss Leighton. It was only when they had stepped fully into the halo of light cast by the torches that still flickered in the road that Hainaut’s strange method of progress was explained. Miss Leighton was holding him with her sword point pressed into his neck immediately under his chin. “Monsieur Hainaut here,” explained Sarah conversationally, “thought that, all things considered, he was de trop and attempted to make good his exit by crawling under the coach. Unable bear the loss of his stimulating company I stepped out of the other door and endeavoured to persuade him to stay. After due consideration, Monsieur Hainaut accepted the force of my argument and agreed, at least for the moment, to remain with us.” “Well Monsieur,” Francis observed jovially, “you make such a habit of standing in front of Miss Leighton’s sword, you must enjoy it.” He bowed deeply, “Please do not let me interrupt.” Hainaut had seen his object slip out of his grasp once more. He had again been bested by a woman and was now also an object of ridicule before the Duke and the men he had formerly commanded. The added fact that his humiliation was on display for the amusement of a group of servants reduced him to incandescent fury. "Give me a sword,” he stormed “and I will show anyone here how much I enjoy using it.” “What a splendid idea,” said Miss Leighton, a stony edge to her voice as she stepped back lowering her blade. “As he is our guest we are of course obliged to entertain him. Do please, Your Grace, accede to his request.” The effect of his words was electric. Francis’ glance flew to his master who looked initially shocked and then thoughtful. The remaining members of the party gasped. Hainaut was stunned. He knew he was a reasonable swordsman and he thought he stood a reasonable chance in a fight. However, not for one moment did he consider that Sarah would take up his challenge. The Duke came to a decision. Nodding to Francis and Liversedge to secure Hainaut he walked over to Sarah and stood between her and Hainaut so that the Frenchman could not see her face. “Are you sure?” He asked quietly so that Hainaut could not hear, at the same time looking searchingly into her eyes. She was about to nod vigorously and assert that she was ready for anything when the serious look on the Duke’s face gave her pause. This was not, she realised, something to be done lightly, in anger or on a whim. Did she really want to do it? After a moment’s consideration, she looked back at the Duke and nodded firmly. The Duke continued to search her face until he was satisfied that she was prepared and then said just as quietly, “he is strong but not, I think, light on his feet. You should defeat him with ease.” He waited to receive her nod of acknowledgement and then stood back. “Give him a sword,” he said grimly. Guay drew his own sword and handed it to the Duke. But he had a worried look on his face. “What better way for Véronique to see justice done?” said the Duke quietly, and then quieter still he added, “but make sure you stand ready.” He turned and faced Hainaut. “You may let him go.” Francis and Liversedge stood back releasing their prisoner who leaned forward shaking his arms angrily as if affronted anyone should lay hands on him. He took the sword the Duke offered to him and then turned to face Miss Leighton. “En Garde,” he shouted and, without saluting, he lunged forward savagely. For a second the Duke’s heart had been in his mouth. Had Sarah been caught out, she would have been seriously, if not mortally, injured but Hainaut had lunged at thin air. Sarah expertly side stepped and quickly turning on her heel, disarmed her opponent using the same trick that Sale had used on her a couple of weeks ago. However, she added her own embellishment; as Hainaut stumbled past she put her foot out tripping him. He fell, sprawled in the road. Unsurprisingly the onlookers roared with laughter. “Pray get up on your feet.” Sarah voice was positively glacial. “How dare you?” Hainaut dragged himself to his feet assisted by a not so gentle prod from the tip of Guay’s boot. “Behave like that again and I shall leave you to my companions to deal with. I presume you felt you could ignore etiquette on the grounds I am a female.” “Give me that sword,” Hainaut hissed furiously, “and I will show you how a man uses it. There will be no more childish tricks.” He neatly caught the weapon she threw in his direction, saluted with very bad grace and took his Guard. It was to be seen that Hainaut had realised, from the neat way he had been disarmed, that Miss Leighton was not precisely the amateur that he had expected. On this second occasion, he opened with a great deal of circumspection. When she casually parried his first tentative attacks with ease he became more careful still. His eyes narrowed as he tried to anticipate his opponent’s next move. He was disappointed. Miss Leighton just held her guard and waited for him to attack. He then tried a different approach, attacking furiously and attempting to fluster her into making an error. This did not work either, he found that he could not penetrate her guard and had succeeded only in getting himself out of breath. He was then to learn how much he had underestimated his opponent. Sarah commenced her own attack forcing him to defend himself but, whereas he had been extravagant, she was compact and used only the minimum amount of effort. Where he had lashed out wildly, she was precise and where he was haphazard she was studied and organised. She was conserving her energy at the same time making him expend his own. It was not long before Hainaut realised he was comprehensively outmatched. Sarah possessed a skill far in excess of his own. She seemed to be able to anticipate his moves with ease. When he expected resistance, he found thin air and when he did not, his sword was neatly deflected. Not long after that it occurred to him that she was deliberately playing with him, he was sure that there had been occasions when his guard had dropped and he had left himself open for her to strike. Why did she not finish it? As he was unable to break through her guard and as she had no apparent desire to bring an end to his humiliation all he could do was continue and hope she made a mistake. Suddenly he saw the opportunity he had been waiting for. Sarah’s guard was low and there was tempting target right above her heart. He lunged, confident of victory and putting his whole body-weight behind the attack. In less than a second, he expected to see his Sarah crumple on the end of his sword. But he had over-committed himself and he was now off balance, his own weight now carrying him forward with the reckless thrust. At the last possible moment Sara reacted. Dropping to one knee she lifted her own weapon so that his blade caught against her hilt and was forced upwards passing harmlessly over her head. At the same time, she flexed her wrist deliberately pointing her sword directly at his heart. He was about to impale himself on her sword using his own weight but as he had fully committed to his own move there was nothing he could do about it. Hainaut realised he had killed himself. He closed his eyes and felt the sword pierce his skin and then he fell forward onto the floor. Chapter 11 “That was absolument parfait.” The sound of Guay’s voice told Hainaut that he was not, contrary to his every expectation, dead. As he gathered his wits and started to pull himself upright the sword was wrenched out of his hand and he was forced to his knees facing his opponent. “I make you my compliments Mademoiselle,” Guay continued bowing deeply, “using your opponent’s lunge against him is a very difficult technique to master and to withdraw at precisely the right moment requires a skill few possess.” He turned to Hainaut. “You are fortunate indeed Monsieur, a lesser swordsman would have killed you. I tell you this in truth Monsieur, you did not stand a chance. You are alive, Monsieur Hainaut, because, and only because, Miss Leighton chose to spare you and not because of any skill you possess. She could have killed you many times over. Whatever happens to you after we hand you over to the authorities, you will have to live with the fact that you were bested by a woman. I wish you joy of your memories.” Guay looked contemptuously into Hainaut’s eyes. “Tie this up!” he said as he walked away. Sarah gazed at the broken man in front of her. She had made her point and done it well, but she felt no sense of triumph. She looked at the sword which she had just used to such effect and then without saying a word, drove it into the ground and climbed, without a word, into the carriage. The sword stood, a silent witness to the drama in which it had played such an important part, gently rocking to and fro. With the single exception of the dead Guard who was wrapped in his cloak by his sergeant with due respect, and placed, at the request of Mr. Liversedge, on the floor of the second carriage, the dead were unceremoniously thrown into the back of the cart and covered with a canvas sheet. The prisoners’ hands were bound behind them, those who could walk were tied together and lined up in the road and the injured lifted into the cart for the short journey to the inn. When Guay was satisfied that everything was secure he gave the order for the party to move. The Duke chose to ride with Sarah and Martha for the remaining mile or so of their journey. By the time they finally arrived tired, late and emotionally exhausted, the Duke had filled in the details of what had happened. The Duke and Guay had suspected something was planned for most of the day. The broken cotter pin on top of the other delays that day had settled it. Three delays on the same day was too great a coincidence. The quest was, what to do about it? Turning back seemed pointless and it had occurred to them that this was perhaps the plan. If this were the case, then they would be playing into their enemy’s hands. They had also discussed taking a different route, but the land was flat and the road they were on was straight and elevated above the surrounding fields. No ambush could be mounted here. The only place on the whole journey for an attack was in the cutting rising out of the river valley and this seemed too close to the villages on either side of the bridge to be likely. Furthermore, they had thought it was inconceivable that an attack would be mounted which eight highly trained soldiers of the Garde du Corps du Roi, a well-armed gentlemen and his equally well armed servant would be unable to see off without difficulty. The Duke ruefully admitted that this miscalculation had almost led to disaster. As soon as the carriages had entered the wood on the uphill climb away from the river they knew that this would be an excellent place for an ambush. When they were stopped they knew that if they stayed and fought they would almost certainly be killed. They decided to try to break out. “It was the hardest decision I ever made.” the Duke said his face reflecting how wretched he felt. “Leaving you unprotected like that. I felt such a coward. If there had been any other way I would have taken it.” “You did what you had to do.” Sarah reached out in the darkness and gently squeezed the Duke’s arm reassuringly. If Martha noticed the intimate gesture she did not comment. “No-one here thought that you had abandoned us. We all knew that you would need time to mount a rescue and we did what we could. Liversedge was marvellous.” “I know, I heard him. I will make a point of making sure he knows how grateful I am.” As soon as the attack started, the Duke and his two companions had turned and galloped as fast as they could back down the road. It was fortunate that Hainaut’s men were not properly trained in executing ambushes. If the road had been sealed all would have been lost. Two men made a perfunctory attempt to stand in their way, but they were no match for three men at full gallop and they had no choice but to leap out of the road. They were not followed, the ambushers were much more concerned with what booty they might collect from the carriages, than they were with chasing fleeing horsemen. As soon as they were out of sight, Guay and the Duke dismounted while Francis continued down the road with the remaining two horses making as much noise as possible. When he arrived at the bridge they had their first stroke of luck, the two Guards who had been replaced at Saint Quentin were coming the other way riding as hard as they could. Upon arriving at the garrison at Soissons they were told that no order had been sent out relieving them of duty or sending replacements and realising their companions might be in danger they had turned around and headed straight back. They had covered nearly sixty miles that day commandeering horses as and when they needed fresh mounts. As Francis was bringing them up to date, Hainaut’s cart commenced crossing the bridge towards them. The next stroke of luck was that the driver did not see them in the shadows until he was upon them and was thus considerably startled at seeing two uniformed Guards. Panicking, he volunteered an explanation for driving a cart, late at night, across a narrow bridge with no lights which was so patently ridiculous that when the three men started in his direction he simply jumped off the back of the cart and sprinted back across the river. It fell to Francis to explain to the Duke what had happened. Staying out of sight in the wood he followed the road back up towards where the carriages had stopped hoping his master would see him coming before Hainaut’s men. So it proved; and as soon as he heard there were reinforcements the Duke knew what to do. Francis was to tell the Guards to drive up the road in couple of minutes and he was to return along the other side of the road and set up as many pistols and firearms as he could all in slightly different locations. The aim was to convince Hainaut he was being attacked by more than three men. As soon as the Duke gave the signal he was to open fire. “You know what happened next,” the Duke said to Miss Leighton, “as result of what you said Hainaut and his cronies had already been reduced in number. We watched more than twenty of them simply walk away. Judging by what a few of them were saying, had Hainaut told them the truth about who they were attacking, they would never have agreed to become involved at all. Of those that were left, most were distracted and a number were very scared. When we started firing they were immediately convinced they were facing an overwhelming force. The fact that you were all either angry or, in Liversedge’s case, frankly contemptuous of their behaviour, made them think that you had all known from the start you were going to be rescued. Sarah again squeezed the Duke’s arm as the carriage rolled to a stop outside the welcoming front door of the inn. “We did know that we were going to be rescued.” She said softly, It was a subdued party that sat in the parlour at the provincial inn that evening. Guay had sent one of the Detachment back to Saint Quentin requesting that a company of Guards plus their officer come to his relief and two Guards were stationed in the stables to look after the prisoners. They would be changed at two hourly intervals during the night. The Duke however had insisted that everyone, including the servants and the Guards not engaged in guarding the prisoners should join him for the meal and a glass of wine. That night was not a night for standing on ceremony. After they had eaten the Duke called for silence. “Today I learned what friendship and loyalty means.” He said slowly as if searching for the right words. It was apparent that the words he sought would not come because he spread his arms and just added, “Thank you.” The exhaustion of the day was etched on the faces of the whole party but this simple speech seemed to strike exactly the right note because a few tired smiles appeared. Nobody seemed surprised when Liversdge stood to answer the Duke. “Your Grace,” he said with none of his usual oracular tones, “today we learned what friendship and loyalty means too.” In contrast to the sombre mood of the previous evening, the inn was a bustling place the following morning. The Duke had informed Guay that they would remain in the village until after they had buried their fallen comrade. The innkeeper, who was already, when the prisoners in his stables were taken into account, housing more people than his small inn could hold, had called for extra help from his neighbours. Upon being informed that it was likely a whole company of Kings Guardsmen would be there later within a day or so, he sent for more supplies too. The doctor, called to attend to the wounded, was busy cleaning sabre cuts and digging out musket balls. The local wheelwright, had been called to examine the two coaches and found two more areas of suspected sabotage. This caused the Duke to demand that a farrier be summoned to examine the horses. Sure enough, a couple had loose shoes. Guay observed to the Duke that they were lucky that only the cotter pins had broken. Sergeant Guay had commenced the investigation into the attack and already the flaws in Hainaut’s planning were showing. The ostler identified two of the bodies and one of the prisoners and said that he knew who owned the Cart and the horse which had been drawing it. Half an hour later a door was unceremoniously kicked in by two very angry Guards. They found the cart owner cowering in his cellar and he was unceremoniously and not very gently dragged back to the inn to be questioned. A local farmer passing along the road had reported that one of his neighbours had been boasting that he had been paid a large sum of money to drive his whole herd of cattle along a particular road at a particular time. A similar fate awaited this man although he was found to know nothing and was released, grateful to be still alive. Yet there was also a sad side to the goings on. About midday the wife of a farm labourer arrived at the inn and asked the innkeeper if he had seen her husband. As this individual was well known to frequent the tap room and often became so drunk that he did not return home until the following day, his failure to return home the previous day had not caused his spouse much concern. One of the Guards took her into the stables where the dead were laid out awaiting burial and she immediately identified one of them as her missing spouse. The story rapidly spread around the district and by four o’clock all but one of the dead and most of the prisoners had been identified. The Guards were kind to the women, although they were all escorted into the inn for questioning, none of them knew anything and they had to deal with the knowledge they were widows or that their husbands would, at the very least, be spending a very long time in prison As many more men than the number lying dead or in shackles in the stables had gone missing on the previous night, and their women-folk naturally were concerned to find out if they were among the dead, Sergeant Guay had, by this time, a long list of promising suspects. It takes a while for a man on horseback to cover the sixty miles between the Inn and Reims and Guay did not expect to be relieved in less than two days. It came as some surprise therefore that, a little after ten o’clock on the second day, a column of soldiers was seen breasting the hill that led away from the river. Sergeant Guay, was hastily summoned and, by the time his relief arrived, he stood at rigid attention in front of the inn together with three of the guards who could be spared from their duties. As the column approached, Guay saw that it was much larger than he had expected. In addition to two full companies of Guards there were Carriages designed for the transport of prisoners and a substantial baggage train. To his surprise, Captain Benoit was riding at the front of the column and it was to be inferred that he intended staying for at least a few days because he gave orders to make camp in the field next to the Inn. Benoit was not a happy man; he dismounted without a word of greeting and indicated that Guay he should follow him he strode into the inn and sat down in the parlour. “Report!” he demanded peremptorily. He listened in silence to Guay’s account of the events and to the results of the investigation so far. When Guay had finished, the Captain asked him a few questions to clarify the matters and then informed his subordinate he should hold himself ready to answer further questions but, for the moment, he should continue to pursue all lines of investigation. He then summoned the officers that he had brought with him, and brought them briefly up to date. He finished by informing them that they should render any or all assistance which Sergeant Guay might require. He then went to find the Duke who was supervising a full examination of the carriages, their tack and the horses. Upon seeing the Captain approach, he stood up and extended his hand in greeting. “You Sir,” said the Duke with a smile “are the most welcome sight I have seen for two days. How the devil did you get here so fast? We did not look for you until tomorrow at the earliest.” “After what I said to you in Reims Your Grace.” Benoit was clearly mortified as he took the hand the Duke offer to him. “I can only apologise.” He shook his head, “I have no idea how I shall explain it to my superiors.” “You may leave that to me.” Said the Duke firmly. “I am expecting to meet the Duc D’Angoulême at Amiens and I shall explain the situation. No one failed here, in fact we scored a spectacular victory.” “That you should have been attacked at all...” Benoit tailed off shaking his head. He then answered the Duke’s question. “I know about the substitute Guards. Your two guards changed horses at Saint Quentin on the way to catching you up. The lieutenant at that garrison, who is more than ordinarily acute sent an express dispatch to me at Reims and I immediately set out with two companies of men to follow you. We met Guay’s messenger on the road.” “Well, as I said, you are welcome sight. We are somewhat overstretched. Conducting a major criminal investigation, in a provincial French village, with only seven soldiers and two civilians is not an easy task.” He saw the Captain’s embarrassment and tried to alleviate it somewhat. “There was nothing you could have done to prevent the attack you know. There was no reason to suppose that Hainaut would be driven by such a desire for revenge that he would mount an attack on such a scale against a target with no strategic or military importance. Had you sent double the force with us, the outcome would have been the same but more of your men might have been killed as they tried to fight their way out. Twice now I have been indebted to the Garde du Corps du Roi for saving my life and, although I am not a soldier, it has been a privilege to ride and to fight with them. We were attacked by a vastly superior force in a well laid ambush. Your soldiers, two of whom had already ridden nearly sixty miles that day, together with a Lady, a valet, two maids, two coachmen, a major domo and an Englishman managed to repulse the attack although at the cost of the life of one very brave man. Your men should be honoured for their work. They took prisoners, interrogated them and obtained significant information which may well be of assistance in bringing those responsible to justice. Once again, I repeat my friend, you have no need to apologise or explain.” “Thank you, Your Grace,” Captain Benoit bowed deeply, grateful for his understanding, “your commendation will be passed on to my superiors. As for the dead man, Private Serruier will be buried tomorrow with full honours.” “Then we will not move on until the day after tomorrow. His friends will want to act as pall bearers and all the party will attend the funeral. Guay - the man deserves promotion by the way - has already arranged for a coffin and the local mayor has given permission for him to be buried where he fell. It will be my privilege to ensure that the grave of a brave man is marked by a suitable headstone and, as I understand he has a wife and a young family, Madame Serruier can expect a widow’s pension.” It was a sombre party that, the following day, retraced its steps the mile or so to where the road dipped down towards the river between the trees on either side. The coffin containing the body of Private Serruier was draped in the standard of the Garde du Corps du Roi and surmounted by his chapeau, his musket and his medals and was preceded only by a bareheaded Guay. Six of the seven surviving guards carried the coffin on their shoulders, in step at the slow march, the timing kept by the regular rat-tat of a single drum. The other marched, bayonet fixed, in escort. The Duke, mounted on horseback, followed behind and behind him Francis and Liversedge. In the rear marched two full companies of the dead man’s fellows. As they crested the slope and commenced down the incline the two gravediggers, having finished their work, retired to a respectful distance. The last time the Duke had passed this way the trees lining the road had seemed ominous and threatening, but in the daylight, he could now see it was a beautiful spot. Looking down towards the river there was a beautiful view of the opposite bank and the sun sparkled off the running water. The Duke thought that Serruier’s last resting pace was not a bad place to be. The service was short and poignant, the local priest conducted the service and the Captain gave the Eulogy. As the grave diggers started to backfill the grave the whole column filed past saluting their deceased comrade and began the march back to the inn leaving only the Duke and Sergeant Guay and a small detachment of alert guards at a discreet distance. Squatting down on his heels and placing his hand on the pile of fresh earth that marked Serruier’s final resting place, Sale silently promised him that he would ensure that his family would be properly cared for. That evening, the Duke noticed that Miss Leighton was unusually quiet. Ladies were not allowed to attend funerals and so they had had to say goodbye to their companion through the window of the inn. Sale knew that she mourned the loss of the Guard every bit as keenly as the other members of their party, but some sixth sense told him more than this was on her mind. He had asked Martha if she knew what it was but either she shared his ignorance or decided that he needed to find out for herself. “Sarah... I beg your pardon, Miss Leighton, will you not tell me what is troubling you.” “Really, it is nothing,” Sarah managed with a wan smile. I have just been thinking, so much has happened, it would have been astonishing if I did not become a little down.” The Duke could see through this attempt to put him off but, if she did not want to talk about it there was little he could do. “Madam,” the Duke bowed formally, “If there is anything I can do please believe you may command my assistance at any time. I apprehend however that, for the present, you need time alone.” The Duke had nearly reached the door when the dam broke. “How do you do it?” Sarah burst out. He turned quickly to see that she had tears rolling down her cheeks. “How do you stand face to face with another man and decide whether you will kill him or let him live? How does a man, faced with the knowledge of his likely death, still fight on? If you coldly and deliberately kill another, how do you live with it?” She walked across the room to stand in front of the Duke, searching into his eyes as if there she might find the answers she sought. Finding none she looked down, and continued, “I could have killed Hainaut a dozen times but, as much as I had the reason and the skills to do it, especially after what he did to Véronique, I discovered I could not be Judge, Jury and Executioner. If he had to die, it would not be by my hand. I had to defeat him without killing him.” She looked at the Duke again willing him to understand. “When I practiced fencing with my brother, and later with you, I didn’t realise what I was doing. It was about scoring points and improving my skills. I knew of course that a sword was a weapon but, I treated it as a toy. How could I possibly have been so stupid?” The disgust she directed at herself almost caused the Duke to intervene, but he thought that he should let her continue until she finished. “I used to daydream about fighting a duel, it all seemed so controlled and honourable and a little romantic. Of course, in my dreams I was always right and therefore I always won. The outcome was a dignified apology which I always accepted. It never occurred to me that I might one day find myself in a fight where there was a real chance I might die or kill. Fencing was just a harmless game spiced up a little by the fact that females do not usually do it. Facing Hainaut the other night was the first time I had ever really thought about what fencing is for. When I tripped him up, I was angry at his discourtesy, but he was trying to use his sword for the purpose for which it was designed. Why should he waste time on meaningless pleasantries? It was only when he tried to test my defence that I realised that it was not a game at all and that I had to find a way of defeating him without killing him and without being killed myself.” She shook her head passionately at what she saw as her own lack of insight. “I can have all the parries and passes, but I don’t have head for it. If you are not prepared to kill, then the whole skill is pointless. I have spent all this time wasting my time and yours. I should have learned to sew.” Sarah sat down, she had said what it was she had bottled up and, lost in her thoughts, she stared blankly into the fire. She did not even look up as the Duke excused himself and left the room. He was back in less than two minutes Guay in tow. “Sergeant Guay, do you like to fence,” the Duke asked conversationally, glancing in Sarah’s direction to indicate that this was for her benefit. Guay, never slow on the uptake, immediately followed the Duke’s lead. “Very much.” Replied Guay with enthusiasm, “in much the same way as I enjoy chess. It is about strategy, tactics and quick thinking. Unfortunately, I frequently find myself unable to locate an opponent whose skills match my own. There is little challenge in locking swords with someone who one knows one can beat. I would like to test my skills against yours one day.” “It is true, my skills are not thought to be contemptible,” agreed the Duke with a broad smile, “perhaps we could test our skills against each other now. I should warn you, with a sword in my hand I give no quarter.” “Neither do I,” said Guay sitting on the floor and removing his boots. Sarah had, by this time, looked up again. She was unsure of what was going on but knew that, whatever it was, it was being staged for her benefit. The banter between the two men continued as they moved the furniture. “Would you like me to find you a longer weapon,” offered Guay, “A small person such as yourself couldn’t get close with such a stunted blade.” “And would you like me to stand still for a minute, so that you will have a least a chance of finding me. A big oaf like you will be so slow I could eat my dinner while waiting for you lunge.” As soon as they took out their foils and fixed the buttons to their points however, the mood changed. Fencing was serious business and once the two men faced each other there was no place for laughter. It was apparent that they were evenly matched although they each had a style suited to their build. Guay was taller and stronger and had the longer reach, hence he tended to stand back. Sale was much more compact and faster, he could attack and retire before his partner had time to react. They practiced hard for nearly half an hour, sometimes Guay scoring points and sometimes the Duke. There were occasions when one man would stand back putting up his sword and demand to be shown the trick his opponent had just used. Miss Leighton could see that, however seriously they took their sport they were enjoying themselves immensely and learning from each other as they went. While she knew that her skills did not rank with the two men, she knew enough to be able to evaluate what she saw; these two men were masters of the art. She thought the Duke had the edge, but it was a close-run thing and eventually after one particularly lengthy tussle which Guay won Sarah finally interrupted. “As this seems designed to teach me something, I will ask. Please explain what is going on?” At this the Duke turned to Guay, “How many men have you killed my friend.” He received such a strange look that he continued, “I know you are a soldier and therefore killing is to some extent your business, but for now, humour me.” “I do not keep count Your Grace, as you say, my officers tell me who and where to kill and I do it. With a sword, I would think somewhere about twenty. With a musket, many more.” He shrugged, “in a battle it is very difficult to tell whose bullet it was that felled your enemy. “Do you enjoy it?” “No. never. Sometimes it is an unpleasant necessity but never enjoyable, I always try to arrest, disarm or wound in preference to killing if I can. In a battle, one can always take prisoners.” “Have you ever fought a duel? The Duke asked pointedly. Guay suddenly understood where the conversation was going and smiled at Sarah. “No, if I have personal dispute with anyone I use words, or, sometimes, the law. “Why do you enjoy fencing then? If you don’t enjoy killing and you would prefer not to duel; what is the point?” “For the same reason some people enjoy horse racing. It is about pitting your skill against another’s to see who is better. With fencing, even if you lose you win, because you learn something new.” “Would you still fence even if you weren’t a soldier?” “Fencing has nothing to do with my profession. That is like asking if I would still go fishing if there was no river near my home. Of course I would.” The two men put the room back into its usual order; Guay thanked the Duke courteously for the challenge, which he assured both the Duke and Miss Leighton, he had enjoyed immensely and returned to his duties. When he had left, the Duke looked at Sarah a question in his eyes. Sarah, nodded to indicate that she understood what the Duke had done but, other than exchanging a brief good night as she retired, she did not engage His Grace in further conversation. As the party was packing up to move on the following day, Sarah asked him to take a turn around the small orchard attached to the inn. It was obvious that some of the devils that had been plaguing her the previous night had been banished as she was much more her usual self. “Thank you for last night,” she said earnestly, “it was a help. Fencing has nothing to do with killing unless either you are a soldier, or you choose to fight. Unless I am defending my honour, I can always choose not to fight even if I choose to practice fencing. There was no need for me to have crossed swords with Hainaut. I chose to do so.” They walked on in companionable silence for a while until Sarah stopped him and turned to face him. “There is something else I have learned and I need to tell you what it is.” She took a deep breath as if to give herself a little courage and enough space to marshal her thoughts. “To understand me you have to know a little more about me than you do at present. As you know, my brother and I are, at least in the eyes of the law, illegitimate. He has an advantage however, while he may not be able to go into society he can at least can go out and take his place in the world. He is a sailor and, according to his Captain, a good one too. He has his friends. The limited life I have led, and must again lead once I return to England, does not apply to him. He will be able to marry and have children. My uncle makes him a good allowance in addition to his naval pay and he has settled a handsome sum on him as well. There are some limits on his life but not that many, and even fewer that cause him any concern.” “As a girl,” Miss Leighton continued after a short pause, “I spent much time wishing I was a boy so that I could escape the life that I had been told would be mine and see the world. There was little attraction in being told I would always be looked after and made comfortable. I wanted to see and do those thing that I read about. My tutors” she smiled a little ruefully, “had little success in teaching me to play the pianoforte or to draw or sew, and my uncle, pitying my situation, did not force the issue. I wanted to do what my brother could. So; I went out for long walks on my own, I played with my brother’s toy soldiers, I read his books and I learned how to fence. Well I have seen the world, a little, and I can fence. But I can now dance, and I have discovered I enjoy the company of other females, and I think, perhaps, I should now learn some of those other skills which I spurned in the school room. For more than twenty years I wished to be something I’m not and could never be, but for the first time I’m happy being what I am. I am going to work on being a lady”. “You may not be able to sew Ma’am,” said the Duke sincerely, but I have never met anyone better qualified to be endorsed as a lady. Should,” he patted his sword where it hung as his waist, “anyone have the temerity raise doubts on the subject within my hearing, although I also have never fought a duel, they shall soon be in receipt of my cartel.” By the time they returned to the inn the carriages were nearly packed and the Guards were receiving their final orders before mounting up. There was however, one last thing Miss Leighton wanted to do before setting off for Amiens. She went to talk to Hainaut. She found him shackled to the wall in the stables. It was clear that his guards had not treated him kindlysince his face was swollen and bruised; when his guard forced him to his feet to meet her, he could only put weight on one leg. It was not the injuries which pulled her up short however, it was the ill fitting, dirty and torn clothes that now hung off his body. Someone was determined to humiliate him and had decided no prisoner should dress à la mode; he was dressed like an unkempt peasant. “If,” she spoke quietly to the Guard “the treatment he is receiving is because of what this man did, and tried to do to me, then please treat him with respect. He was born a gentleman and he deserves, if only for the sake of his uncle the Vicomte, to be treated like one now. Please look after him well.” “For my part,” Captain Benoit had followed Sarah into the barn while she had been speaking, “he could rot.” At this Hainaut winced as if expecting to be beaten again. “It shall be as you say however, he will be well treated.” “Thank you, Captain,” acknowledged Miss Leighton with quiet dignity. She turned to Hainaut. “This is goodbye I think. But, before I return to my life, I want to thank you for teaching me something. You told me that you had no regard for me and could no purpose in a female who had chosen to interest herself in matters which you consider properly should be reserved to men. A brain in a female is thus without purpose – it is in effect wasted and possibly even an aberration. According to you, no Lady worthy of the title would properly interest herself in matters other than her embroidery and playing the harp. I do not say you are right, but you taught me that there is value in being a Lady and, indeed, there are some things better left to men. I thank you for that.” Hainaut watched Miss Leighton walk out of the stable door towards the open carriage door which waited to take her to whatever life might have in store for her. He might, following her intervention, be treated well from now on but he did not expect that his life would be of very long duration. Four days later the party arrived in Amiens, although in somewhat different style than the one in which they left Reims. They were escorted by a full company of the Garde du Corps du Roi and their baggage was now piled high on a cart. Liversedge and Véronique therefore travelled in relative comfort in the second carriage. There was another change for one of their number. As Captain Benoit prepared to return to Reims with the captives, he summoned Guay to attend him. As the Sergeant had already been told that a company was to accompany them to Amiens, he naturally assumed that one of the two lieutenants who had accompanied the Captain on the outward journey would complete the escort as his commanding officer. This would relieve him of significant responsibility, but it would also bring an end to the conversations with the Duke, his friend Mr. Liversedge and with his beloved Véronique. Much to his surprise, as he brought the parade to attention, Benoit handed Guay a scroll. “Welcome to your first command, Lieutenant Guay.” Grinning ear to ear, Benoit swung himself on his horse and then, as Guay stood stunned, still in the middle of the parade ground the Captain genially suggested he might like to move his men out. It was a popular promotion. Guay was a well-respected soldier and was trusted by those he led. Judging by the muttered comments from the ranks, his men would depend on him, should the unlikely necessity arise, to lead them out of hell. That evening, in the garden of the pretty inn which they were occupying for the night, and emboldened by his promotion, Guay asked Véronique to marry him. “You are aware, Lieutenant, of my family and my history are you not?” Véronique was, for once, extremely solemn. Upon Guay confirming that the Duke had told him what had happened and that none of it made the slightest difference to him whatsoever, Véronique gave her suitor to understand that she would in time like to marry him very much but, as he leapt to take her in his arms, she stood back holding him off and explained that she considered her first duty to be to Mademoiselle Leighton. She owed her a great deal and she would not leave her service until Mademoiselle no longer needed her. To the entreaties of her intended were added those of Miss Leighton and of Martha. On being informed by Sarah that she could do very well without her and that it was time to find her own happiness, Véronique replied that Mademoiselle needed her now more than ever. She knew where her duty lay, and it lay with Miss Leighton. Despite wishing the couple well Martha was torn. She had noticed that the irrepressible Véronique frequently made her Mistress smile. Having lived a cloistered existence for most of her life Martha could see that Sarah was starting to come out of herself. Véronique was the same age as her mistress and her youthful exuberance would be missed. But Martha had looked after her mistress since Sarah was a baby and she was not at all happy at the suggestion that she needed some help. In addition, she thought it a shame that a couple so obviously in love could not marry. But in any event Véronique unmoveable. She was of course sorry that her intended would have to wait but although she would, if he was prepared to wait for her, marry him eventually, now was not their time. In truth, Guay had some sympathy with Véronique’s position. In her place, he thought, he would have done exactly the same thing. He too considered that he was indebted to the Duke as he strongly suspected that it was as a result of his Grace’s intervention that he secured his promotion. In peacetime, promotion to a commissioned officer from within the ranks was most unusual, officers were generally those who could afford the purchase price and he had long since given up hope of promotion beyond the rank of Sergeant. Neither he nor his father would ever have been able to raise the necessary funds. Then there was the courtesy shown to him. The Duke had never treated him as a social inferior. When he had been injured, Sale had insisted that they would await his recovery in Reims before moving on. Guay therefore decided that he must also discharge his obligation to deliver the Duke to Le Havre before any change in his lifestyle could be contemplated. In any event, he had to seek the approval of her uncle and her mother and, although he was no longer dependent upon his father, if only as a filial courtesy, he would have to at least inform his sire of his plans. Then there was the issue of where they were to live. Since joining the Guards. he had always lived in billets but he could not continue to do so after he married, he would have to find a house. Therefore, he concluded, even without Véronique’s objection, they could not be married for a few months. Their entrance to the city of Amiens was something of an event. Benoit had sent ahead to warn his counterpart in the Amiens garrison that the Duke was arriving and that his orders had been to provide the Party with every facility. The Duc D’Angoulême had arrived some days previously from Paris and he had also given precise instructions to the commanding officer as to the courtesy which he expected would be extended towards the Duke and his party. This individual, who knew only that a party travelling under the protection of the King had been ambushed, was well aware that a further attack on the party would be considered an unforgivable lapse which would inevitably be laid at his door. He had decided that it would be a sensible precaution – not to mention an act of self-preservation, to ensure that the party was met as they entered the city and then, with a certain amount of ceremony, conducted to their hotel. If he wondered why an English Duke should be extended such courtesy in France, then he kept his thoughts to himself. As soon as the party turned onto the main road from Roye, the lookout that had been stationed there three days ago to watch for their approach saw them. There could only be one party coming along that road escorted by the Garde du Corps du Roi. By the time the party reached the Rue Charles Barni, a full military escort awaited them. The Lieutenant in charge of the escort could not have been much more than nineteen years old. He was very much on his dignity and Guay, with the eyes of experience assessed him as enjoying the first few weeks of command. This officer saluted Guay who, as was proper, was riding at the head of the party and then turned to the Duke who had ridden up to the front to find out why they had stopped. “I am Lieutenant D’Amont,” he said pompously and in a manner wholly incongruent with his youth. “I have the honour to convey the compliments of his Highness the Duc D’Angoulême to Your Grace. If you will please follow me?” The young officer obviously took his duties very seriously and upon receiving a gracious nod from the Duke wheeled his horse to take his position at the head of the escort. The entry into the city would have been acutely embarrassing for the Duke, who had a dislike of ceremony, had it not been for D’Amont. He appeared to like the sound of his own voice somewhat because he issued a great many orders most of which were completely unnecessary. “Move along! Watch that carriage! Keep straight on! You there, make way.” All this was delivered in a high nasal voice and each order emphasised by a pointless wave of his drawn sabre. Unused to such formality the Duke turned an amused grin in Guay’s direction. It was returned and Guay leaned across. “Ah…I was as enthusiastic as that once,” Guay said in an under-voice. “He will learn. I hope that sword is blunt though, he looks as if he might hack the head off his own horse!” The escort led them straight into the city via the Rue de Noyons, across the Place St Dennis and into the Rue des Trois Cailloux. They were to stay at the Hotel Cailloux. Having seen them to the door of the Hotel D’Amont dismounted. Facing the Duke first, he stood to attention once more, saluted yet again and handed him a small sheaf of letters. “His Highness the Duc D’Angoulême has asked me to tell you, if you are not too tired, he would be grateful if you would attend him tonight at La Citadelle. I shall leave two men to escort you.” The officer appeared to be somewhat anxious and the Duke wondered what he would do if it were to be the case that he was unavailable to the Duc tonight. Unwilling to put the matter to the test, he watched the young man relax considerably when informed that his Grace would be ready to depart within the hour. D’Amont turned to face Guay. “You,” the younger officer was on sure ground here and his officious arrogance showed once more, “are, as soon as you have seen your men settled, to attend the garrison commander.” The officer saluted smartly, performed an about turn and headed off with his men. Guay and the Duke managed to keep straight faces until the escort had disappeared around the corner and then burst out laughing. When Miss Leighton approached them and enquired as to the reason for this unseemly mirth they both stood to attention, saluted in an exaggerated manner in a passable imitation of D’Amont. They then marched into the Hotel ordering the wooden faced porter to open the door immediately and then to close it after they had all passed through. Chapter 12 Notwithstanding the way in which the orders were delivered to Guay, they were still orders. As soon as he had made the necessary arrangements for billeting his men, he changed into a clean uniform and repaired to the garrison commander. Upon being admitted to the commander’s office he saluted automatically and then his face cracked into a broad smile. “Sir! I did not know you were posted here!” Major Babinaux had been Guay’s Company Lieutenant some years before and each had developed a respect for each other’s talent and professionalism. “How long have you been here?” “Not long Lieutenant.” Babinaux’s smile was as broad as Guay’s. When last they had met, Guay had only just been promoted to Corporal on Babinaux’s recommendation. The Major came around his desk and shook his hand. “That promotion was long, long, overdue. If I had had my way you would have been promoted again when I got my Captaincy, but it was out of my hands. So, tell me, what did you think of young D’Armont?” “He was er... efficient!” commented Guay in a mock serious tone. “His salute was precise; his orders clear and his words myriad.” Although his tone was jocular, he made it plain that he had been distinctly unimpressed by the young Lieutenant. “I have seen poor officers before, but I don’t think I have ever seen a company on escort duty wishing they were elsewhere.” As escort duty was regarded as one of the easiest duties that a soldier in the Garde du Corps du Roi had to undertake, Babinaux had little difficulty in interpreting this remark. “Singular, isn’t he?” Babinaux gave a bark of laughter. “He is very efficient, knows the rule book backwards and he is a complete embarrassment to the Corps. As soon as I can find an excuse to do so, I will send him to a desk job where he cannot do any harm.” The senior officer, poured Guay a brandy and his face became serious. “Bad Business that, on the road. Hainaut’s nephew and a gang of cutthroats attacking a group travelling under the King’s protection,” he shook his head. "The Duc D’Angoulême was most unhappy;” Babineaux’s expression showed the magnitude of his understatement, “when he read the express that came in on that. He showed it to me and advanced some...intemperate... remarks. Benoit had carefully set out what the English Duke said, that the attack could not have been predicted and that your men were marvellous but even so, if anyone is found to blame; if there were any lapses ...” He left the sentence hanging and winced, “Heads will roll.” He sighed heavily. “You have some despatches for me?” Guay nodded and handed them over. “Do you know what is in them?” Again a nod. “You had better sit there until I have read them and then tell me everything you have been instructed to tell me.” Two hours later, during which Guay had described, in minute detail everything he knew, and a few things he had guessed, about what had happened in Seltz, at Reims and on the road, Babinaux sighed again. “So, as we know that two separate garrisons contained traitors, we have to work on the basis that there may be a larger problem with the King’s Guards than just one disenchanted nobleman and his cronies.” He groaned as the full import of the news became clear, "I will need to review all the men under my command and all of the civilians who work for the Guards to ensure that each one is totally loyal.” He looked at Guay who had a diffident expression on his face as if he was considering whether to say something. “Come on man, spit it out. If it is worth saying, and with you it nearly always is, then I want to hear it and if it isn’t ...well if it isn’t, we all make mistakes." “Well sir,” Guay began slowly, “Hainaut said that all he had to do to replace the two men from my detachment who were sent on that wild goose chase to Soissons, was to pay an official to prepare and seal the orders. So that means there is a dishonest official, and where there is one there is usually more ....” “Oh no!” Babinaux, slapped his hand to his head, “it also means that almost any order is now suspect unless given to you in person by the officer that issued it. Any changes, any new personnel which have resulted from those changes must also be suspect. Hainaut managed to divert two men from their assigned duty. In different circumstances when your men presented their orders to him the garrison commander at Soissons would have looked at their orders and just assumed that his copy had gone astray. Our friend also produced orders for two men who weren’t even guards which you accepted without question. I would have done too!” He shook his head at the implications of this realisation, “Mon Dieu!” he whispered almost to himself, “how are we to deal with that?” “Sir, almost all of the orders you have received must have been genuine and will be easy to check. As far as the traitors are concerned, we tracked some down at Reims very easily” Guay tried to reassure his superior but he was waved into silence. “Yes! Yes! I know all that. “Babinaux said testily. He looked up at Guay uneasily and appeared to make a decision. “Look my friend, as you know so much there is little point in keeping you in the dark, and anyway,” he shrugged “the rumour mill is already working. The truth is the Garde du Corps du Roi is under scrutiny as never before. The Compte D’Artois has been deeply suspicious of us ever since some companies deserted en masse to Napoleon in ’15. He has been saying, privately, that the entire corps may be disbanded when his brother dies and you can imagine how it looks to the Compte as more and more stories come out. It just proves to him that he is right to be concerned.” “But! That cannot be right.” Guay was horrified. “The public is behind us. Even if he were to be right and I do not believe he is, it would be a fatal move to disband us. Why should he pick on us; almost every corps had some desertions; Ney, took every man with him and ...” “Yes. Ney did,” interrupted Babineax. “But he was just a soldier with many men. We guard the King. We are supposed to be the most loyal, the most trustworthy and the most reliable and, as a result, we are allowed the privilege of personal access to the King. Most of the men and all the officers are drawn from the nobility and, subject to the orders we received from his Majesty, we have been allowed to run our own affairs. If we are not safe, then according to the Compte, not only are we incompetent, we have no purpose. But you are right,” he said hopefully, “We enjoy the confidence of the Duc D’Angoulême and he should have some influence over his father. Then too, the new King won’t make any changes immediately, he will want to secure his position; we may have some time – if he hasn’t already made up his mind.” When Guay returned to his billet, it was clear that the normally amiable Lieutenant had a great deal on his mind. After he replied to a friendly joke from one of his men with a staccato “What?” they decided that, at least for that evening, he was better left alone. The Duke, on the other hand, enjoyed a much more pleasant evening with the Duc D’Angoulême. Each had been impressed with the other when they had met in Reims, and although the Duke had been too young to fight in 1815, D’Angoulême, still at heart a soldier, had heard how this Englishman acquitted himself on the road and of his loyalty to his friends. Then there was the service he had already rendered the French Crown. He was more than happy to admit the Duke to the society of his intimates. After an exchange of greetings, the Duc said, “Both the King and my father have asked me to again apologise on their behalf that you were attacked while travelling in our country and to thank you for averting disaster.” “No apology is necessary,” Sale responded, repeating what he had said to Benoit with as much sincerity as he could muster. “What happened was unpredictable, no amount of planning could have prevented it. You would have needed to have sent a whole company out with us and even then,” the Duke shook his head, “I don’t know the outcome would have been any different. It was a well planned and executed ambush. Had Hainaut’s men been trained soldiers instead of a motley group of thieves, foot pads and farm workers the outcome would have been very different. As for averting disaster, we all take the Credit for that but Guay was superb.” “It is easy to see you are no politician,” grinned the Duc. “This is all about perception. If you had been killed then the whole country would – eventually – have known that travellers, guarded by the King’s own guards and thus travelling under the King’s protection had been ambushed and defeated by a group of common thieves. It would be known that those guards and that protection were insufficient to ensure the traveller’s safety. This would not, to put it mildly, leave a good impression or encourage people to have confidence in the government or His Majesty. It would have encouraged other criminals and malcontents to follow Hainaut’s example. As I am sure the very knowledgeable Miss Leighton has told you, given the problems my country has experienced over the last twenty years or so, the people want stability and safety. The continued rule of the King and after him, the succession to my father, depends to a very large extent on the confidence the people have in the government. If the people think that the government cannot protect them, then they will look elsewhere for that protection. Due to you, the story that will circulate, is that a party of eight King’s Guards assisted by a small number of civilians, not only survived a well laid ambush against overwhelming odds and with only one casualty, but also captured a traitor and assisted in the investigation and arrest of a number of criminals who had been operating in the area. As I said, you averted a disaster and it is not an understatement that my country is a safer place because of it. In view of the further service you have rendered to his Majesty, the King has instructed me to tell you that instead of the Marquise D’Aussonne – the title conferred upon you but a few weeks ago - you are now the Duc D’Aussonne and that the original land granted to you those few weeks ago has been considerably extended. I am told that the increased grant contains an extremely profitable winery. The papers will be delivered to your Embassy in Paris tomorrow.” Perceiving that Sale was about to protest that no reward was required the Duc D’Angoulême raised his hand. “There is no need to protest my modest friend, it is already done. Now, about the matter we discussed in Reims. I think I have a solution to your problem.” The Duke had been on horseback for so long that he had elected to walk back to the Hotel and, as a result, gave no warning of his return. Unlike many of the provincial inns in which they had stayed of late, the Hotel Cailloux was a handsome building, more than large enough to cater for the Duke, and his party, and still have rooms left for other guests. The Duke had hired the top floor of the Hotel and Liversedge had arranged it that Miss Leighton and the two maids would occupy the rooms to the left of the staircase and the Duke, himself and Francis would occupy the rooms on the right. Opening off the landing such that it could be conveniently accessed by both the gentlemen and the ladies there was a handsomely appointed private dining room and drawing room. In expectation that, by the hour of his return, any sane person would have betook himself off to his bed and with the courtesy and consideration he showed to even the most junior of his servants, he removed his shoes and entered the Drawing room in stockinged feet. He was most disconcerted to discover that Francis and Martha were not, as he had anticipated, abed, but were sitting side by side on a settee holding hands. Thus discovered, they both leaped to their feet, a comical expression of dismay on both faces. Having stood like naughty children caught in mischief for a few seconds, Martha gave a small cry and, her face in her hands covering her flaming cheeks, ran out of the room leaving Francis to explain himself. The Duke surveyed his man with a distinct twinkle in his eyes, as much because, in more than three years, this was the first time he had ever seen Francis remotely off balance as because of what he had seen. Realising that his man was somewhat lost for words and that he would need to start the conversation, he asked bluntly, “How long has this been going on? I haven’t seen a thing and I am reasonably certain, neither has Miss Leighton. If she has, then she has never mentioned the matter to me.” “Quite a while, Your Grace. We took to each other that first day in Seltz and we were together quite often when you were ill. Things ...well things developed. It has been difficult though. We had to be discreet.” “I cannot understand why there was the remotest need for you to display any such discretion. Unless there is something you have yet to tell me, you are both single; indeed, I am very pleased for you and I consider it likely that Miss Leighton will be of exactly the same mind People fall in love every day and both of you are free. Are congratulations in order?” “You have no objections Your Grace?” asked Francis warily, knowing his master would give him an honest answer. “I was concerned you might not think the relationship appropriate.” “I? Why should I object? If she will make you happy then you have my wholehearted endorsement. Although, if it were me," he added thoughtfully after a moment's pause, "I would contrive to marry the woman of my choice whether my employer thought it a good idea or not. My only reservation is a purely selfish one. Will you be leaving my service? If it helps, your lady will be most welcome in my house? So, Francis, as your master,” The Duke beamed to belie his words, “stop avoiding my question, have you asked Martha to marry you? Did she Accept? Can I come to the wedding? It occurred to the Duke that Francis was not looking as happy as might be expected. “Is there a problem?” he asked. “In a manner of speaking,” Francis replied. “It’s Miss Leighton.” “You don’t mean to tell she objects?” the Duke was considerably surprised. Francis shook his head. “Ah, she is in ignorance of the matter too, but Martha believes she will object.” He smiled, “Martha will know her mistress better than me but even so I really cannot see Miss Leighton demanding to know if your intentions are honourable. Having said that,” he grinned at the thought, “if she does decide to champion Martha’s honour you will have to be careful, she has some skill with that sword of hers.” “Your Grace misunderstands the matter,” Francis was still clearly distracted as he gave the Duke no answering smile. “Martha has told me believes her mistress would be only too happy for her. But she won’t tell Miss Leighton about us and has forbidden me to do so. She says that until she has seen her mistress creditably settled, she cannot even begin to consider the possibility of marriage.” “Ah! Martha considers that Miss Leighton should be kept in ignorance of the matter for her own protection. Don’t you think that this is Miss Leighton’s business?” “Yes, Your Grace, I do, and you may believe I have tried to persuade Martha of the case.” Francis’ normally cheerful face was despondent. “But she won’t hear of it.” “Well,” his Grace gave his servant a thoughtful look, “I don’t want to prejudge the issue, but it is just possible I may have an answer to your problem. We shall see.” Over the next few days the Citizens of Amiens proved every bit as hospitable as their countrymen in Reims. The modiste that had attended Miss Leighton in Reims had, according to the Duke’s instructions, made up a range of day and evening dresses and had sent them on to the Hotel to await their arrival and therefore, for the first time in her life, Sarah had a full wardrobe from which to choose. The week they spent in Amiens was, at least from Miss Leighton’s point of view, a whirlwind of gaiety, this time untrammelled by fear. The time spent in Reims had given her enough polish and experience to know what to expect and, free of the worry of making a faux pas she positively sparkled. From the first day to the last they lacked no invitations. The Duke was popular with the men, he was singularly modest and his travelling rendered him most entertaining to talk to. The ladies, thinking him a superior dancer and an attentive escort liked him no less. However, the Duke, for all his talents would have been soon forgotten, it was Miss Leighton who took the town by storm. Her undeniable good looks coupled with indefatigable energy and her intelligent conversation ensured her success. She conversed easily with everyone and could draw out the shyest of men. Some of her partners, hitherto dismissed as poor company, were discovered after ten minutes in Sarah’s company, to have hidden depths. She was equally comfortable with the older men and the ladies who considered her to be well informed but never coming. If asked for her opinion, then she would give it, and it was inevitably a well-reasoned point of view. If she was not asked, then she appeared to be quite happy to fade into the background and listen. Even the young ladies liked her. They saw Sarah’s frank enjoyment was attractive and much less hard work than maintaining an attitude of proper boredom and that it was possible, at the same time, to be modest and maidenly but also to hold opinions. More than one lady, rigorously schooled in the behaviour expected of unmarried ladies was moved to argue, ‘but Mama, Miss Leighton does not do that and I have heard you say how much you admire her.’ Only two segments of society found fault. The ladies whose beauty and accomplishments had, prior to Miss Leighton’s arrival, placed them as the most sought after in society, were consumed with jealousy at being so abruptly and comprehensively relegated into second place. Then there were some gentlemen who considered themselves as having superior understanding but in comparison to Miss Leighton merely looked prosy and ill informed. Both groups loudly and publicly labelled her as fast, too small and insipid. Neither group was attended to in the smallest way. On the last day before they left for Le Havre they were due to attend a ball as the guests of the Duc D’Angoulême. Miss Leighton was surprised when Sale told her that they had been granted the signal honour of an invitation to dine privately with His Highness beforehand. Dinner passed off uneventfully, the Duc and Miss Leighton discussing politics and Sale contributing when he thought he had something to say. After the covers had been removed. D’Angoulême asked Miss Leighton, “I wish you will follow me into the next room, I have someone I should like you to meet.” Not unnaturally, she was somewhat curious at this unusual request especially since it was clear from his expression that Sale had some idea of what to expect. But, receiving no hints from the gentlemen Sarah willingly followed the Duc through the door into the drawing room. The room was empty except for a very elderly man who Miss Leighton was perfectly sure she had never previously met. Nonetheless, he appeared to know her because, upon the party entering the room the occupant struggled, not without some difficulty, to his feet casting, at the same time a look of such anxiety in Sarah’s direction that it almost caused her to stop on the threshold. Seeing the elderly gentleman’s difficulty, Sale strode across to rest his hand on the gentleman’s shoulder. “No Mon Père, please stay seated. You should not tax yourself.” Sarah stared at the man for it seemed to her that there was something about him that was vaguely familiar, and then she noticed that a large tear was rolling down his face and she pulled a handkerchief from her reticule. “Sir please do not distress yourself,” she said as she offered him the handkerchief. “Whatever it is that is the matter, can be mended.” She saw that he was of medium build and although his face now bore the lines of age she could see that in his youth he would have been a very handsome man. He was extremely well dressed, although not in the most fashionable mode, but he had a good tailor, his coat was well cut and the cloth used was fine and rich. He carried a cane with a cunningly wrought silver handle, he wore a large gold signet ring and his Cravat, simply tied was secured by a pearl pin. He was neat but not affected and well-dressed but unobtrusively so. She thought that, while he was currently obviously anxious, this was a man who normally smiled easily and often. She was inexplicably drawn to him. “It is a very old wrong,” said the elderly gentleman still staring searchingly at her. That he was English was clear from his accent, but it seemed as if he struggled to find the words. Miss Leighton thought that he must have lived in France for a very long time. “There are some wrongs,” the elderly gentleman continued, “that cannot be put right no matter how much one might want to do so, and one cannot of course repair the past, but” a small smile showed on his face “on this occasion we might be able to mend the future.” He patted the chair by his side. “Sit down my dear, we have much to discuss, but first I apprehend His Highness has something for you.” “Indeed, I do.” The Duc D’Angoulême reached into his pocket and withdrew a letter. With a slight bow, he offered it to Sarah. She gave him a questioning look but was simply told “take it, it is yours.” She recognised her uncle’s handwriting immediately and although she was not expecting a letter from him she could not imagine that any letter could not be so out of the ordinary or urgent as to require delivery by the second in line to the French throne. Mystified, she broke the seal. My Dearest Niece, The Duc D’Angoulême has asked me to write this letter to assure you that what he is about to tell you is the truth. You may rely upon it. The account will be supported by the Ambassador to the court of His Majesty King Louis XVIII, by the foreign secretary and by His Majesty King George IV himself. As for those of my friends who are aware of your existence His Majesty King George has arranged for them to be spoken to privately. You may be assured of their discretion. Your life has not been that which I, or indeed my elder brother, your father, would have chosen for you but by the time I had succeeded to your grandfather’s estate the deed had already been done. I lacked the power or, perhaps the imagination to set matters right. I hope your life from now on is immeasurably better than it has been to date. Your uncle Etc Miss Leighton, looked up at the two gentlemen, deep concern showing in her face. “This letter appears to be saying goodbye. Why should he do that? Am I not going home?” “In a manner of speaking he was saying goodbye,” responded the Duke evasively, “although you will still see him on a regular basis and you will be going home.” Sale stared pensively into a candle flame for a moment and then continued, “I had given considerable thought to the most appropriate way of explaining matters to you but now we are here all my fine words have gone out of my head. What it comes down to is this; you do not, in future, have to live in seclusion.” At once he could see by her expression that a whole series of questions had flickered through her mind and he continued hurriedly. “We will answer all your questions soon, but perhaps the place to start would be to introduce you to the gentleman sitting next to you. Miss Sarah Leighton, may I have the pleasure of introducing the Honourable Rupert Leighton.” “Rupert Leighton.” Sarah’s expressive eyebrows snapped together in concentration at the introduction, as if trying to recall a distant memory. “I have heard the name before somewhere.” After a few seconds her expression cleared as she turned to the elderly man, “I believe Sir, that you are my Great Uncle.” The Gentleman had watched the expressions flit across Sarah’s face and he chuckled. “Both His Highness and his Grace had told me that you are considered extremely acute. I see they did not report falsely. Yes,” he nodded, “I am your Great Uncle Rupert and therefore your Grandfather’s younger brother. May I say,” he added with a charm and sincerity which endeared him to her immediately, “it is a great pleasure to meet you, more especially since, until a few days ago I did not even know you existed.” “Well I am very pleased to meet you,” Sarah said frankly, “and I shall take good care that having found you, I do not lose contact but,” she leant back and shot a penetrating look at the Duke, “I apprehend that Great Uncle Rupert’s appearance and that very odd letter you gave me are not unconnected. You perceive me agog with curiosity.” This drew a loud laugh from her new relative. “My mother would have liked you very much.” He commented approvingly, “I apprehend however that it falls to me to tell you a small part of the history of your family of which you may not be aware.” He looked at her with an expression that clearly demonstrated that however frail his body might be his mind was still keen. “You knew, did you not, that my brother and I quarrelled upon the death of our mother?” When she nodded he explained, “there was never any brotherly feeling between Arthur and I. Candidly, we detested each other. As I could tolerate my brother so little, I was rarely at home, spending most of my time with friends or my Mother’s relatives. In fairness to my brother, I was very expensive, having rather too great an addition to the faro table and to horse racing. There were also a few minor scandals from which it cost our father a considerable amount of money to extract me. As my brother did not gamble at all and appeared to regard women as little more than an expensive necessity to secure the succession, you can imagine that my lifestyle grated upon him mightily. Knowing it of course, merely drove me to greater excess. I delighted in irritating him. I saw him as a joyless, uncaring individual whose only interest was the acquisition and retention of money and the consequence which he believed came with it. In his turn he saw me as a wastrel. We were, looking back on it, probably both right. There was wrong on both sides. I returned home when I learned our mother was seriously ill and two days later she died. Arthur had, due to my father’s advancing years, been taking more and more of the responsibility for running the estate and as a result had discovered how much it was costing my father to fund my lifestyle. He knew that, while she was alive, my mother would have never allowed my brother or my father to rein me in and it no doubt rankled somewhat that even though he was the eldest, she lavished most of her love on me. Again, looking back, if he was jealous, he was justified. I was very, very, spoiled. He waited until after my mother’s funeral and then told me that he was no longer prepared to fund my wasteful habits, I could either return to the estate and assist him in its management, find gainful employment, or take the small sum he was prepared to offer me by way of severance and walk away. Furious, I took the money he offered and told him exactly what I thought of him. Fuelled by my righteous anger I left the country, anxious to put as much distance between us as I possibly could. It was a grand gesture, but not very sensible, and in retrospect merely served to show how much of a boy I still was. My money was soon exhausted, I had no idea how to practice economy and even if I had, I think I was still too angry to even consider the consequences of my own foolishness. In the end, I found myself destitute in the Loire Valley where, most reluctantly I might add, I found work in a vineyard. To my surprise I enjoyed the work so much that I stayed and, after a few years, found myself as the vineyard manager. By now I had outgrown the extravagance of my youth and I now understood the value of money. I saved every penny I had. When the owner died, his son having no interest in it, I bought the property. Since then I have steadily built up a sizable estate. My brother therefore did me a great favour when he cast me out. It was the making of me. I married, somewhat late in life to a lovely lady, the daughter of a local Barronne. We are very happy, but we have no children. I have never, since I left England, gone into society,” his face assumed a somewhat wistful expression, “I imagine the world has forgotten I even exist.” “The world may have forgotten Sir, but my uncle has not.” Sarah was quick to reassure him. “He has told me many times of your many kindnesses to him when he was a small boy. He described his own father as distant and uncaring and your visits to Borden House are among his happiest memories. I do not remember my father, but my uncle has told me how the three of you would, in late September, sneak into the Orchards at Sale Park. There was, apparently a particular pear tree...? “Yes, by Jove, there was,” the elderly gentleman’s voice became animated, “you could climb up an old beech tree outside the orchard and step onto the wall. The pear tree over-hung the wall from the inside and so from the top of the wall you could help yourself to the sweetest pears in the county. I wonder if it is still there?” “It is Sir, or at least it was when I left England three years ago.” The Duke’s lips twitched, “and you are right, they are the sweetest pears in the county. But I beg if you come to Sale Park again you will not try to climb the orchard wall.” “There is no chance of that Your Grace, these days I should have difficulty walking through the gate.” The older man laughed uproariously at the thought. The smile faded. “His Grace,” he indicated the Duke, “has told me a little of your history and it appears that Arthur and his son shared as little affection as did Arthur and me. He appears to have treated you and your brother,” he patted Sarah’s hand, “with a callousness I would not have believed.” “I was only seven when my Grandfather died and my brother five.” Sarah chose her words carefully so not to distress further this engaging old man. “It appeared to me that he was not deliberately callous, merely that he had a fixed notion of how things should be. His son should have married someone from his own world and should, before even discussing it with my mother, have sought his approval for the union. That he did neither, affronted my Grandfather’s notion of filial Duty. He would have never even considered marrying to disoblige his father...” “Whereas I would never have considered marrying to oblige anyone but myself,” interrupted her great uncle. “My dear, please don’t dress it up in clean linen for me. I may be old, but I can still deal with life’s slings and arrows. Because Arthur was angry with his own son he dissolved the marriage, cast out your mother, placed you and your brother in an impossible position, and ensured your uncle succeeded to the title. Rather than face the reality that he could not control everything, he was ready to cut off his nose to spite his face. If I understand matters correctly, the estate will pass, on your uncle’s death, to an obscure cousin descended from my grandfather’s youngest brother.” “He was perhaps a little rash in what he did,” Sarah found herself in the unusual position of defending her Grandfather, “and although he made sure my brother and I were well educated I do not think he ever really accepted us. He was not happy to see my uncle succeed to the title, I am told he took my Father’s death very hard. I think he still had hopes he could be creditably established in the world and provide an heir that he could recognise. I remember him all but ordering my uncle to marry and when my uncle refused .... well…. Borden was not a happy place to be for some weeks. It is all very well to say that it is the bed he made and it was for him to lie upon it, but it was never a comfortable bed and I never saw him happy. The punishment meted out to him for what he did to us, was visited back upon him in substantial measure.” Sarah paused at this point and looked shrewdly around the room. “While this discussion of my family history is of course most illuminating, I apprehend that that I am yet to be told why my Great uncle is here at all? Why he is here now? And whatever has to do with me? This letter,” she picked it up and waved it gently to and fro, “I have received from my uncle is of a singular, not to say cryptic, nature and if someone,” she looked pointedly at the Duke, “does not explain precisely what is happening here, I might have to resort to violence.” “My dear,” said her Great uncle, forestalling the Duke and looking at Sarah with a broad smile, “I have also been informed that, in addition to your intelligence, patience is not a virtue which you can command easily. I see that this also is true.” “I cannot imagine why,” Sarah riposted primly, “anyone would say such a thing. Now please, please! will someone tell me what is going on? “A little over a week ago,” Rupert explained, “a messenger from no less a person than his Majesty, the King of France, rode up to my house and enquired as to whether I was the brother of a deceased English gentleman known as Viscount Borden. You can only imagine my surprise, I had been living there openly for nearly forty years and no-one had ever noticed me before. I have no idea how they found me.” “I can tell you that,” interjected D’Angoulême. I asked at court if anyone knew of an Englishman called Leighton living in France. My friend the Compte De Varrains said that he knew of such a man who owned a large Vineyard near Saumur. Apparently elderly and somewhat reclusive, he had been living there for as long as any could remember. His preserves were, I was told, highly thought of. There could not be two such men in the whole of France.” “I am grateful to have the mystery solved. That I could be found merely by asking had not occurred to me,” the elderly man remarked with some irony. He turned back to Sarah. “The messenger gave me a letter from his Highness the Duc D’Angoulême.” He bowed to the Duc. This letter in turn enclosed a letter from the Duke of Sale which asked me if I might, in view of the many years of friendship between the houses of Ware and Leighton be prepared to perform some slight service for them on behalf of a lady who they told me was my Great Niece. As it had not occurred to me that I had any living close relatives, much less one who might require my assistance, I naturally told the messenger that I would come with him at once.” “That you should have been persuaded to travel all of that way in a hurry on my account.” Sarah was outraged and turned reproachful eyes on the Duke, “well shame on you Sir.” The Duke would have defended himself, but Sarah’s uncle prevented him. “I may be old” he admonished Sarah, “and I may not be as robust as I was, but I am perfectly capable of travelling a couple of hundred miles.” The Duke smiled to himself as he recognised, in the old man, Miss Leighton’s spirit and sense of purpose. “Had the request not been made I would have demanded to come in any event so I will thank you, young lady, if you do not attempt to make decisions on my behalf. As my transport was provided by the King I travelled in style and great comfort and could have made twice the distance. Upon my arrival in Paris I was received by the Duc D’Angoulême, a courtesy I had not expected especially as I had never visited court. His Highness explained your unhappy situation to me and informed me that France is under a not inconsiderable obligation to you. I would have been more than happy to have offered you my protection, but His Highness had explained to me that he and the Duke of Sale had formed a plan to establish you creditably and asked if I could help. Naturally I was more than happy to assist if I could, and as a result you became and are now, at least as far the world is concerned, my daughter.” For once Sarah was completely nonplussed. She looked from one of the men to the other and then back again, and apart from the fact they were all smiling at her broadly she was no more the wiser. “I may,” she began in the tone of one tested to her limit, “regret asking; you are plainly enjoying a joke at my expense, but for the sake of clarity why… and indeed how, am I to become the daughter of someone I met not ten minutes ago and who left England twenty years before I was born? “Oh, that will present no difficulty whatsoever,” the Duke answered blandly, “we introduce you as the Honourable Rupert’s daughter. Why? Because as the daughter of a respectable member of a respectable family you will, subject of course to the restrictions normally placed upon any young and unmarried female, be able to go where you want.” “But ...but this is nonsense”, Sarah stammered in bewilderment. “How do we rewrite history? How ...” She came to a halt as the Duke came across and held her hands staring at her intently with an expression she could not read but which left her slightly out of breath.” “Think about it.” he said, “I mean really think about it.” So, Sarah sat down and thought about it for some minutes while the three men watched with interest. Watching someone think would not normally have interested any of them, but on this occasion the expressions which crossed her face as she considered how her life would change if she became the daughter of a respectably married couple, afforded them considerable entertainment. One moment her brow would be furrowed as if she was in deep thought and the next, as she worked out a particular conundrum her face would clear. Her agile mind was also working through the difficulties in constructing an entirely fictitious history for herself. Having the bare bones was, however enough, she could fill in the gaps for herself. Then, without any warning, she looked up and started speaking. “My father married late in life to a younger woman. I presume Madame Leighton is younger than you Sir?” she asked. Upon receiving a nod from her great uncle, she continued, “this explains why my ‘father’ is so much older than me. He is an eccentric who lives a reclusive existence and receives no visitors from the nobility and my existence has thus, until recently, been unknown. Following repeated entreaties from me and possibly persuasion by my mother, my father has finally accepted that I would need to go into society. How else, my mother demanded, could her daughter expect to find a suitable husband? My father therefore contacted his nephew, an English Viscount who told him that, as he would soon be coming to France to assist the Foreign Secretary in discussions with His Majesty King Louis XVIII he would be only too happy to promote my interests and ensure I was admitted to the best circles in both Paris and London. My mother would of course accompany me to ensure the proprieties were observed and that I was adequately chaperoned. I call the Viscount ‘uncle’ as a courtesy even though in truth we are cousins; with such an age difference, it would be natural for me to call him ‘uncle’ even if he could not in fact lay claim to the title. Unfortunately, while I was living under my English uncle’s protection, but before my Debut had taken place, my uncle was required, by the Foreign Secretary to accompany the Ambassador to Alsace where something happened which meant that the planned debut in Paris had to be cancelled. This was an unanticipated difficulty which took up a great deal of my uncle’s time. I was naturally devastated. I should ordinarily have come out three or four years ago and it now seemed as if my debut would have to be delayed even further. I was convinced that by the time I was finally be presented I would already be an ape leader. Co-incidentally there was, travelling through Alsace at the time, an English Duke whose land bordered onto the Viscount’s acres and who thus had known the Viscount all his life. This Duke had explained that after a long sojourn abroad, he had formed the intention of returning home and my uncle proposed that I should travel to England under the Duke of Sale’s protection where I could be launched into the ton in the forthcoming London season. My uncle sought approval to this variation to the original plan from my father and, having secured it, I was delivered into the protection of the Duke impeccably chaperoned by my maid. The Duke had been invited to a series of entertainments in Reims and Amiens on the way home and my uncle thought that this would give me a good opportunity to acquire some experience and “town bronze” in advance. It had been arranged that my mother would meet me in Reims but unfortunately my elderly father fell ill, and she felt that she could not leave his side. What to do? I had no chaperon. News of the setback reached my uncle in Paris who begged the Duc D’Angoulême to intervene. He was concerned, particularly because my elderly father should have arranged my come out three years ago and, if my father were to die, it would be at least another year before I could come out of mourning by which time the prospects of me contracting a suitable marriage might well be slim. The Duc D’Angoulême rising nobly to the occasion singled me out at the first ball I attended thus making it impossible for anyone to query the propriety of what had happened. The Duc, whose dislike of court is well known, but no doubt constrained by a debt long owed to his friend Viscount Borden, performed the same service to me in Amiens. From Amiens, I shall return to England where, in the weeks before the season commences I shall make a little noise and so when I make my debut no-one will be surprised at my appearance. There will be vaguely remembered stories about a second son of a previous Viscount that went to live in France. No one will consider it remotely out of the ordinary way that, now his daughter is of marriageable age, he wishes to secure an eligible husband for her before he is gathered to his fathers. I am unclear as to whether my parents will in fact travel to England or whether a suitable female, perhaps Martha, will be found to lend me countenance. Some rumours may surface about an illegitimate daughter of someone or other, who has lived at Borden House all her life but as the stranger is attended by a maid who is clearly very French and is devoted to her mistress they clearly cannot be the same person. This will be supported by the Viscount’s friends confirming in public that they have never seen Miss Sarah Leighton before and did not even know of her existence and by the Duke of Sale, an unimpeachable source, confirming that he conveyed her, at the Viscount’s request all the way from Alsace. As to why the story is important, it contains enough verifiable truth in it to make it plausible and it allows me to go into society with my head held high.” Sarah paused and looked smugly at the awestruck expression on the faces of the three men. “Have I missed anything?” “Mon Dieu!” breathed D’Angoulême in frank admiration. “It took us days to work out that story and even then, we missed some really obvious points. When I become King,” he added, not without some sincerity, “I hope that you might consider becoming part of my court; I do not think I number amongst my advisors any as quick as you.” He shook his head and bowed deeply. “Madam, I make you my compliments. There is however, one further matter that I need to discuss with you. I should perhaps tell you that you are now a considerable heiress. Your father, having no other child has invested a considerable sum on your behalf in French funds which will bring in an income of about three thousand pounds a year.” You cannot of course obtain the money directly until you marry or come of age, but your father will no doubt provide you with such pin money as you may need.” At her shocked look he added. “Within these walls, this is a gift from the people of France in recognition of the service you have rendered to my country and in apology for the repeated threats to your person and honour which you have suffered as a result. It is given with my thanks and those of my father and my uncle His Majesty the King.” “I make you my compliments, Your Highness.” The Duke stood watching Sarah as she sat, open mouthed, unable to think of anything suitable to the occasion, “I have never yet had the privilege of seeing Miss Leighton deprived of speech. It was a feat I would have paid to watch.” Before she had the opportunity to respond to the Duke’s teasing and still reeling from the knowledge that she was a now a relatively wealthy woman her great uncle further added to her confusion. “The problem of what to do with my estate has been exercising my mind for some time. My wife is, apart from a few distant cousins who barely recall her existence, the last of her line. When I met your uncle in Paris .... “You met my uncle? When?” Sarah interrupted “You really must learn patience my dear.” The Honourable Rupert advised with a laugh. “Yes, I met him in Paris but a few days ago. He may be your uncle, but he is my nephew and I wanted very much to see him. He remembered me very well and I have to say I received a much warmer greeting from him than I expected and probably,” he added self-deprecatingly, “warmer than I deserved. I had always seen myself as the black sheep and I was most disconcerted, after all this time, to discover that, apart from in my late unlamented brother’s eyes, I was never any such thing.” He sighed, “if I had only known that twenty years ago.” His eyes assumed a faraway look as he contemplated what might have been. Returning to the present he added, “You should be aware, as he says in his letter, that your uncle is fully aware of, and supports, this scheme and I have to say that, at the knowledge that you might, at last, be able to take what he has always considered as your rightful place in the world he was quite overcome. He sends you his love.” He patted Sarah’s hand again. “But, you have side-tracked me. Ah yes, my estate. In addition to the income from His Majesty, upon my death you will inherit my estate subject only to the jointure left to my wife which, upon her death will be settled upon your daughters and if you have none, then to you.” At this the very composed Miss Leighton burst into tears and it was some considerable time before she could discipline herself sufficiently to speak. “Thank you all so much.” She began, but she got no further as she was overtaken by a further bout of sobs. After a further delay during which she ineffectually dabbed at her face she looked up smiling through her tears. “I’m so sorry, this is absurd, one shouldn’t cry at such times. I assure you mon Pere” she said recognising the relationship for the first time, “I am not usually so foolish.” At this she stood unsteadily and walked to stand before the Duc D’Angoulême, “Your highness, I thank you for taking so much trouble on my behalf. I shall never forget what you have done and, if there is ever anything I can do in return, please ask.” She sank into a deep curtsey. “It is not really for me to comment but, in my humble opinion, I think you will be a wonderful King.” She rose and went to stand before her Great Uncle, “Sir, I hope we have many years to become acquainted and, if you feel able to make the journey, I am sure my uncle and I would love to see you at Borden house” “Your uncle has already invited me and I am already making plans to go home.” The old man was plainly overcome at the knowledge that, at the precise time when her future changed for the better, one of her first thoughts was for him. “You know” he said reflectively, “I have lived in France for most of my life ,but I still call Borden Home.” He brightened and the smile returned, “and in any event, I must be in London for your presentation.” “Oh please, please, do come Sir” she begged, for once betraying her youth. “I should feel so much more comfortable if you could contrive to be there with me.” “You appear to be so comfortable with royalty,” D’Angoulême remarked deprecatingly indicating himself, “that I would have thought formal presentation to King George would almost past unnoticed.” “Oh no Your Highness.” Sarah breathed not realising she was being gently roasted. “Whoever would have thought that I would ever be formally presented to the King?” At this point she turned to the Duke who had been observing Sarah appreciatively. The shocks of the night meant that for once she forgot to keep the feelings she had kept hidden for so from her face. Her new father saw at once the position. “Well,” he thought, “so sits the winds in that quarter eh? It’s a good match and my nevvy has little but good to say about the man.” He looked carefully at the Duke and thought he saw an answer in his face. “His Grace is being careful. I agree, and think the better of him for it. He cannot declare himself until she is out of his protection. It’s a pity he is a widower though. I will need to speak to Borden.” “Your Grace,” Sarah’s voice recalled Rupert from his reverie, “you have always treated me with courtesy, but you did not have any obligation to me. I do not know why you should have put yourself out so, but I thank you from the bottom of my heart.” “You were a victim of injustice,” the Duke replied simply, “I have a passion for justice, but in any case, I did but little. His Highness has exerted himself more than I.” “And a passion for my great niece” thought Rupert, but he kept this to himself. The evening held one more shock for a young lady whose life had been turned upside down in less than half an hour. When Miss Leighton had composed herself and the three gentlemen had proposed a toast to her, Sarah turned to her new father and demanded saucily, “And when, Mon Père, do I meet my new Maman? “Why now, of course.” Rupert replied as if surprised at the question. “You will need her to chaperone you to the Ball. “At that moment, the faint sounds of the orchestra striking up filtered through to the room. “Unless I am gravely mistaken the ball has already started and we are now late. She would never have remained alone on my estate at such a time and has been wanting to meet you ever since I received the Duke of Sale’s letter. I would have had her with me, but she was unsure of her welcome and is waiting outside. “Oh no! Poor Lady. Left outside to twiddle her thumbs please fetch her.” The request came too late; Sale was already ushering a stout middle-aged lady with an enchanting smile into the room. Within seconds the two ladies were holding hands and in excited conversation conducted in a bewildering mixture of English and French. The gentlemen were quickly forgotten and Rupert, seeing that this could go on for some time, suggested that they should leave the new mother and daughter alone for a while. Completely un-noticed they slipped from the room. The Duke would, based on his previous experience of the fair sex, have laid a handsome sum on the suggestion that it would be a while before the ladies appeared. Once again Miss Leighton confounded him. He barely had time to reassure two young men that ‘la petite Anglaise’ would make her appearance in a while as she had only just been reunited with her mother, when the two ladies walked into the room. No-one, marvelled the Duke as he looked at them entering the room arm in arm and chattering away comfortably to each other, would have ever suspected the elder lady had only become mother to the younger, fifteen minutes previously. The ball was an unqualified success. So many people complimented Madame Leighton on her beautiful and talented daughter that she was quite overcome. She soon discovered how popular Sarah was; the young men wanted to dance with her as she was an excellent dancer and amusing to talk to, she affected no airs and was neither too shy nor coming. The ladies liked her too as she was modish without being ostentatious and was always ready to discuss fashion or the latest on dit. Those same ladies naturally did not suspect that she was bent on learning as much as she could about fashionable society and had discovered that gossip was an excellent source of information. Madame Leighton was, as she explained to her husband later on, much amused to hear how much her daughter resembled her and a number of young men, desperate to be presented went as far as to assert that the younger lady had clearly acquired her beauty, superior understanding, manners and joix de vivre from the elder. The explanation given for Madame Leighton’s previous inability to bring out her daughter was accepted without question. Her husband was clearly very old and although he did not currently appear to be ill, it was clear he was frail and moved slowly and with some difficulty. A few comments dropped in appropriate ears by the Duc D’Angoulême to the effect that the elderly man was a little reclusive but he was the uncle of the Viscount Borden who was currently assisting the British Ambassador at Versailles, put an end to any possible speculation. After the ball Miss Leighton was disconcerted to discover that Monsieur and Madame Leighton were to take up residence with the rest of the Duke’s party at the Hotel Cailloux. “But ma fille” pointed out Madame “where else would we stay but with our daughter? This was so unanswerable that Sarah raised no further comment. The Duke had warned Sarah in a whisper that while they were out Francis had briefed the rest of the party as to the change in her status. Monsieur’s man and Madame’s maid were already installed in the Hotel but not even by a flicker did Liversedge betray that anything out of the ordinary had occurred during the evening. The only potential difficulty was averted by Madame’s tact. Upon being introduced to Madame, Martha dropped a very precise curtsey but it was plain that she was having some difficulty dealing with the possibility that Madame might interfere. “Martha,” said Madame gently, “you do not have to be jealous of me. You have stood as mother to Sarah since she was a baby, is this something you think she will forget.” “Madame,” Martha dropped another curtsey, “I am sorry for being a little stiff. I was wrong and you are right, Miss Sarah would never forget anyone who did her a service.” The party departed on the final leg of their journey for Le Havre on the following day without Monsieur Leighton, who had left for his estates promising to follow his wife and ‘daughter’ to England by no later than the middle of May. As the Duke had already written to Scriven to tell him that his return to England would be delayed by three weeks or so, Sarah consoled herself with the thought that, although she already missed him, she would be reunited with the endearing old man in about eight weeks. Madame was remaining with the party and would return to England with her “daughter.” As the intention was to put the information about that the present Viscount’s uncle had reappeared and had the intention of ensuring his daughter received a proper reception by the ton it was imperative that the hitherto unknown daughter of the house of Borden should be seen to be properly chaperoned at all times. The Duke took the opportunity in a moment of calm during the packing to ask Sarah how she felt about being chaperoned. Expecting to be told that she regarded it somewhat in the light of a necessary evil, he was once again surprised by her considered reply. “I do not need a chaperon.” Miss Leighton asserted. “On the two occasions thus far when my honour has been at risk, it is hard to see how Maman (she had easily adopted the term the previous night and from then on never referred to her as anything else) could have prevented my dishonour. I have also managed very well at the functions I have attended without Maman although I would have, I think, been far less scared attending the reception at Reims if she had been there with me. I can see however that, whether I need a chaperon, I must be chaperoned and I do not see why so many ladies object to it. From what I have seen so far, I think I shall like it. Maman is excellent company, and has already pointed out one of two things that I have done without thinking that might attract unwelcome attention from a critical audience. Even if I did object, there is little point in bemoaning something that is. If there is one thing a knowledge of politics tells you it is that one must accept and deal with what life is and not what one might wish life to be.” After a moment’s thought she added with a smile, “I hardly think that Maman will rule me with a rod of iron and she cannot restrict my life more than that which it has been restricted thus far. For me at least, Chaperonage will amount to freedom.” The Duke wondered if he would ever be able to predict Miss Leighton’s response to a question. Her attitude to the necessity of having a chaperon in London, was reasonable and well thought out and so wholly different from every other young lady he had previously met that he was once again wrong footed. The normal rules apparently did not apply to Sarah Leighton. Occasionally, such as when she was begging her Uncle to come to London, she appeared much younger than her twenty-one years but minutes later she demonstrated the wisdom of a sage. She could demolish an unsupportable argument with a few well-chosen words but do it with such tact that no offence could be taken. In some areas, she had acquired knowledge of which a man twice her age would have been proud, yet she was still curiously innocent and trusting. There were two changes in the party that left Amiens on the last part of the journey to Le Havre. The first change was that the number of persons in the party had increased by the addition of Madame Leighton and her maid. The second change was that Lieutenant Guay had again been promoted. He was now Captain Guay. Major Babinaux, already predisposed to regard Guay as an excellent soldier and loyal member of the King’s guard, had been impressed by his analysis of the range of security issues facing the Corps. The minor official at Soissons had been arrested and brought to Amiens for questioning. This man had been genuinely surprised that this was an issue and frankly informed Guay and Babinaux that he had been accepting small amounts of money to execute documents for years. He knew of at least five other such officials who did the same and, as far as he was concerned, it had been unofficially, and even occasionally officially, tolerated. When told of the consequences of his preparation of the false documents, his horror was clearly genuine. It was clear he had no idea of the possible consequences of his actions. He was of course dismissed from the service, but as the Soissons garrison commanding officer admitted he knew of the practice and asserted that he had regarded him as an excellent official it was hard to argue that he should face serious punishment. When a hurriedly called meeting of all the local garrison commanders revealed that there were several who had adopted much the same approach the scope of the problem became clear. Guay had spent every waking hour while the party was settled at Amiens proposing new security procedures and following leads which might, and often did, lead to the discovery of traitors in the Garde Du Corps Du Roi. By the date Guay departed with the Duke to Le Havre, word was circulating that if you were not in full accord with the values of the Corps you were likely to be roused in the middle of the night with a fixed bayonet uncomfortably close to your nose and some difficult questions to answer. As a result, there had been a sharp jump in Guardsmen deserting their post or not returning from furlough. This was an extremely rare occurrence in the King’s Guards and it told its own story. One such desertion which caused no sadness at all, was that of Lieutenant D’Amont. He would have to be found of course and brought to justice, but his erstwhile Commanding officer admitted, without any remorse, that he was glad to see the back of him. The Major had tried to persuade Guay to remain with him at Amiens. He wanted to add such an intelligent, committed and trustworthy officer to his own staff. Guay thanked him for the compliment but explained that he was not really a desk officer, he much preferred to see the world from the back of his horse and begged to be permitted to continue his escort duty. He naturally did not mention that the lady he intended to marry travelled with the Duke. Babinaux knew, however good a staff officer he might be if the inclination took him, that Guay would never be happy soldiering from a desk for an extended period and reluctantly gave him his marching orders together with those for the small cadre of guards that had accompanied him from Seltz. The rest of the company that had been attached to the party since the ambush were ordered to return to Benoit in Rheims. These orders were placed in his hand, by Babinaux, a broad smile on his face together with the notice that in recognition of his further services to the Guards he had again been promoted. The Duke estimated that the final part of the Journey, a mere one hundred and ten miles, or so would take them no longer than three or four days. Had he been of a mind to hurry it could have been done easily in two days. The roads in this part of France were better surfaced, wider and far more frequently travelled than had been the case to date. The carriages could travel more quickly without causing undue discomfort to the passengers and the higher speed could be maintained for longer without causing stress to the horses. As they moved closer to the coast they met more and more English travellers. On the second day, they were hailed by no less than three people each claiming to know the Duke and all of them fully aware that he had been living in Strasbourg. Lord Chepstow had done his work well. He responded with proper civility but, after they had passed on, he admitted that he had had only the dimmest recollection of two of the travellers and in the case of the third, no recollection at all. On the third day out of Amiens, the weather, which, given the season, had been unusually kind through most of the journey, broke with a vengeance. Until that point they had made such good time that the Duke had the intention of pressing on to Le Havre and completing the journey that day, but a series of torrential thunderstorms turned the roads into rivers. The coachmen, the guards and the Duke himself all had excellent foul weather clothing but by three o’clock in the evening they were all soaked to the skin. The final straw occurred when a very loud thunderclap startled the horses of the carriage carrying Miss Leighton and Madame and very nearly overset it before the coachman could regain control. The Duke, realising that there was now little point in continuing, decided to stop at Yvetot some 30 miles from Le Havre with the intention, rain permitting, of completing the journey on the morrow. It was evident that, despite its proximity to the coast, the inn in the little town was not used to accommodating large parties of guests at short notice and they had insufficient rooms to cater for the whole party. The Guards had therefore to be billeted in an even smaller inn not far away, an arrangement which met with their approval because it meant that they could escape the attention of Guay for a few hours. By seven o’clock the rain had abated somewhat and, as the Carriages had been unloaded and the horses safely stabled, Francis confirmed with the Duke that he would not be required that evening and betook himself off to the inn whereat the guards were billeted to enjoy a tankard of French ale and good conversation with men of his own milieu. The following morning, the sun was once again shining although there were puddles everywhere bearing silent testimony to the ferocity of the rain the previous day. The roads were, however, passable and the party rose early, anxious to complete the remainder of the journey in good time. Once they were again on the road, Francis contrived to draw the Duke and Guay to the rear of the party. This was not in itself unusual as the three men, despite their different stations in life, often rode together but when Guay announced he would ride on up to the front Francis flashed him a speaking look and shook his head indicating in no uncertain manner he should remain where he was. Without making it obvious that this was deliberate they dropped about twenty yards behind the baggage cart, which, as it was neither well sprung not particularly well made, clattered and creaked at the smallest bump in the road. There was not the smallest chance of them being overheard. “I heard something last night that I think you ought to know about,” Francis said softly looking in the Duke’s direction but making it clear with his eyes that he was addressing the Frenchman. “I think you may have larger problems than you know. You know I was Jules and Pierre last night?” Guay nodded imperceptibly, “we always talk in English so that the locals leave us alone. There was a group of four men in the tap room who waved us over to join them. It would have been rude to refuse the invitation and anyway they told us they were off duty guards of the Garde du Corps du Roi stationed at le Havre and they had seen the uniforms as we arrived. Anyway, after an hour or so Jules and Pierre excused themselves and went to bed. I stayed to finish my drink and our Le Havre companions started talking amongst themselves in French. I suppose because we had been speaking English they supposed I could not speak or understand the language. I didn’t deliberately listen in but then one of them wondered if ‘the Englishman’s friends’ would be sympathetic. As you can imagine I pricked my ears up. One of their number said he thought Jules was a ‘possibility’ but not the other one. I was a bit confused at first because they kept on about how many Guards were on their side in various places. You may be interested to know that in their view the Paris garrison is totally loyal and there is no use them looking for support there. I thought they were all republicans but they all kept talking about the ‘new King. It took a while to figure it out, but they appear to think that if the Compte D’Artois succeeds King Louis he should speedily be deposed and replaced with someone called Louis Phillipe. They did not say who he is but I presume the name means something to you.” Again, Guay nodded and Francis continued. “You know what else? They are very upset at D’Armont’s discovery. Apparently, he is a leader of the local group supporting Louis Phillipe. One of them said that it came to something when a ‘patriot’ like D’Armont had to run for his life while a ‘puppet’ like Babniaux told good men what to do. I wanted to speak to you out of earshot of your men just in case there are any whose loyalty is in doubt.” Guay leaned across towards the Duke and laughed as if Francis had told a good joke. His words belied the expression. “Do you doubt their loyalty?” he asked. “No.” he said firmly, “I have never heard any indication that they are not completely loyal to the King. And they are absolutely loyal to you.” “Louis Phillipe eh?” Guay had appeared to relax a little at Francis’ reassurance. “I can tell you about him.” Guay’s tone displayed a marked lack of enthusiasm. “Since the Corsican bandit was sent to grass he has haunted court using his money as a passport. His mother was the heiress to the largest fortune in France. Money is not enough on its own of course, but his father was the Duc D’Orléans and he is thus a minor prince of the blood and, in fairness, he was a good soldier. It now appears in addition to money he has ambition too. I wonder if he has told his good friend the Compte D’Artois of his plans.” “We need the knowledgeable Miss Leighton to give us a view on this. If there is anyone who will know about Louis Phillipe it will be her.” An hour later the Duke relinquished his horse and climbed into the carriage occupied by Madame Leighton and her ‘daughter’. The guards noticed and exchanged knowing glances, completely misinterpreting his motive as the Duke had known they would. Inside Sarah was rapidly acquainted with the events of the previous evening. “Do you know anything about Phillipe D’Orléans?” the Duke asked. “My uncle has met him,” she answered slowly. “His father was a supporter of the revolution but it did not help him - he still went to the Guillotine. The view in London is that he is dangerous. He is certainly skilled in insinuating himself into court; despite his father’s treachery he is still well received and although my Uncle and the Ambassador have, as strongly as they can, warned King Louis and his brother of the risk he poses they do not believe it. They think the only threat to the succession is another popular revolution. There are those who consider Louis Phillipe as a better choice for King than Charles as they think he will be more easily controlled. He has openly opposed the King on more than one occasion and yet Charles regards him as good friend and confidante and will not hear a word against him even though Louis Phillipe would appear to have even less in common with him than with his elder brother. My uncle thinks he has an eye on the throne and he is seldom wrong. He thinks that Charles will be a unpopular King and Louis Phillipe is waiting in the wings for an opportunity to take over. If even part of the Garde du Corps du Roi support him, the results don’t bear thinking about. “I don’t understand, why would we care who was the King, a long as there was one?” The Duke asked. “Suppose supporters of Charles and Louis Phillipe started fighting each other, which side would we support?” Miss Leighton asked patiently knowing that the Duke’s grasp of international politics was rudimentary at best. “Wouldn’t we just leave them to fight it out? “With the opposition split and fighting amongst themselves, might not the republicans consider this an opportunity? They lost last time because the whole of Europe united against them seeing them as a common enemy but if there was doubt as to who the King should be ...?” “Then we couldn’t help at all even if Parliament were willing to do so.” The Duke slapped his forehead in frustration as light finally dawned. “We couldn’t assist Charles or Louis Phillipe in case we picked the wrong side.” Some minutes later the Duke remounted his horse and told Guay what Miss Leighton had told him. Guay fell silent for a long time clearly lost in his thoughts until eventually he heaved a sigh. “It seems that I shall have yet another story to tell in Le Havre. I can’t get away from it.” The party finally arrived at their Hotel in the Rue Jules Lescene in Le Havre about three o’clock and as usual Guay, once he had seen his charges safely installed, went to give his report to the Local Commanding Officer. Liversedge departed to the Captain de Port to see when it might be possible to procure sufficient berths for the crossing to England and the Duke went to enquire whether the Hotel had been holding any mail for him. He was gratified to find a significant pile of correspondence to which he applied himself. Madame and Mademoiselle Leighton took the opportunity to venture out into the town to buy some various knick-knacks including the wherewithal so that Mademoiselle could start to learn embroidery. “But my dear!” Madame had exclaimed when Sarah had shyly revealed the extent of her lack of the skills usually expected of a young lady. “This must absolutely be rectified. I shall teach you embroidery and when we reach England we shall see if you can be taught to play the Pianoforte a little.” Since, despite the reassurance she had received, Sarah still felt that her deficiencies made her somehow less of a woman she readily agreed to try and, determined to make a clean breast of the matter, but expecting the worst, she also explained her interest in politics and her skills with the foils. Madame surprised her. “Bien,” she stated approvingly, "and why should it be the case that only men understand what is going on in the world. We women can understand what is going on in the servant’s quarters. Politics is therefore trés simple. When you next take up your foils with the Duke, I should like to watch.” By the time they reached Le Havre the two ladies were fast friends. After two hours Liversedge returned to inform the Duke that a suitable packet was scheduled to leave the Bassin Du Roi for Southampton the day after tomorrow and he had taken the liberty of booking sufficient berths for the party. Upon his Grace graciously approving the arrangements the Major Domo immediately despatched a letter for carriage on the night crossing to Southampton bespeaking rooms at the Star Hotel and then went to inform the other servants of the travel plans. The Duke had been reviewing the correspondence he had received from England. There was a personal letter from his cousin Gideon demanding to know what the devil he had been doing for the last three years and, in the next sentence congratulating him for achieving his independence. There was however one piece of sad news. “I must inform you that my esteemed parent died a little over six months ago and I have now succeeded to his dignities,” the New Lord Ware wrote. “My father asked me, if ever I should see you again, to tell you that he was proud of you.” There were letters from Scriven and from Rigg. Scriven reassured his Grace that he would find Sale House staffed. “…knowing Your Grace’s views on economy I have engaged the very minimum and Your Grace can add to them as you see fit.” Scriven apologetically concluded his letter by saying that it was time to hand over his duties to a younger man and, as soon as suitable candidate could be found, he was planning to retire. The letter from his lawyer explained that Mr. Rigg had died soon after the Duke left the country. The letter was therefore written by his eldest son who had succeeded to his father’s business. He, courteously expressed the hope that he would be permitted to serve the Duke’s family for as many years as had his father and before that his grandfather, and explained that there were some papers relating to his Grace’s estates which required his signature and which he had taken the liberty of preparing on the Duke’s behalf. He would attend Sale House at the Duke’s earliest convenience upon his Grace’s return to London. There was a small pile of letters that bore French return addresses. The Duke left them until last. Reading them carefully he rose from the desk at which he had been seated, a deep look of satisfaction on his face. He had asked to be informed when Guay should return to the Hotel but when the normally cheerful Captain was admitted into the room he looked as if he carried the cares of the world upon his shoulders. “I do not know what has happened to overset your sprits, but I hope I may be able to restore them a little. I have a letter for you.” The Duke said handing Guay a folded sheet of paper. “I have not read it, but I do know what it says.” My Son, (the letter read;) I have received a number of very kind letters from the Duke of Sale (to which I have replied) explaining that he considers himself considerably in your debt and would like to offer you a position which he thinks would use your talents. He accepts that you have been of age for many years and he perfectly understands that you are your own master but he asks if I have any objections if you leave the army. I have assured him I have none whatsoever. If you are minded to accept the position the Duke proposes to offer you then you may do so with my good will. Had I the means I would have wished to see you creditably established in more stable employment years ago. He also gives me to understand that (at last!) you wish to take a wife. He has explained to me all the circumstances relating to your intended including that she is not of gentle birth and the other matter of which I shall not speak, and seeks, on your behalf, my permission to the Union. This is a matter for you my son. If she is indeed that girl described to me by his Grace, then I would think she will suit you very well. Please do not wait until you have the time to return home again to marry. Life is too short. Yours Affectionately, Your father. The letter did indeed lift Guay’s mood somewhat. While he had been certain of his parent’s approval of his proposed bride he had been wondering how he could obtain approval from his betrothed’s guardian, do his duty by the Duke and still fit in a visit to his own father. He therefore thanked the Duke for his intervention. There was however one matter which remained unexplained. “My Father’s letter mentioned a ‘position’? asked Guay looking deeply puzzled. “You will doubtless have a number of questions,” replied the Duke avoiding the question and I will answer them all, but first,” he produced another letter “you may wish to read this. It was written to me but concerns you more.” Your Grace, Thank you for your kind letters to my sister and I. We are happy to know that my niece is giving yourself and Miss Leighton satisfaction. As regards the other matter you may tell Sergeant Guay that we consent, gladly, to the marriage. A man recommended by you would not need anything more to render him acceptable to us. We should of course like her to be married in her own Church in Seltz but if this is not possible then we enclose her birth and confirmation records for the priest. We hope that one day you will find the time to visit us in Seltz once again. Vallon. It could be seen that the fact he did not have to ride across France to secure the permission of his intended’s guardians and his own parent’s approval, had further lightened his expression. He sat back and cocked an eyebrow at the Duke inviting him to explain what he was planning. It was, to say the least, irregular to seek approval for marriage on behalf of another. “I wrote to your father soon after leaving Seltz. I cannot be in England and France at the same time and though I intend spending more time in your country I shall need someone to look after things when I am elsewhere. You once told me that your ambition was to manage an estate. I have, as you know, recently acquired considerable estates in France and I wondered if you would consider acting as my Steward here. However, for you to do this you will need some training and I had considered asking Scriven, my Steward in England, if he could assist for a few months. Unfortunately, events have rather overtaken me somewhat. I had not, when I first wrote to your father anticipated your meteoric rise through the ranks. I can see however, that what might have been an attractive offer for a Sergeant may not seem so to a Captain, especially one who, at his present rate of advancement, will be a Commandant by Christmas.” Guay sighed heavily, obviously considering the Duke’s offer carefully. “I think,” he said, a most peculiar expression on his face, “I had better tell you what happened tonight.” Guay had delivered his despatches into the hands of the Le Havre garrison commander, one Lieutenant-Colonel Fabre, just as he had done in Reims and Amiens. This individual whom Guay had never met and knew only a little by reputation, read through the letters with, judging by the stormy expression on his somewhat aquiline features, acute disfavour. “Report,” demanded Fabre and Guay, conscious of the fact that this man was the highest ranked officer in eastern France, gave his report concisely, confining himself to the facts only. When he had finished the only reply he received was a bad tempered “Humph” as the man turned his back. After standing silently for a minute or so. The senior officer looked over his shoulder. “Have you seen D’Armont?” Guay confirmed that he had met him at Amiens but not since then. “Pity!” remarked Fabre, “if he comes here he will not be driven out. He’s young and he has a lot to learn, but if he thinks Louis-Phillipe will make a better King than D’Artois then I like him already.” Guay’s face assumed a mask like quality as Fabre continued. “I can’t abide the republicans, I’m a loyal officer in the Garde du Corps du Roi and I need a King on the throne of France, but there is nothing wrong with preferring a good soldier to that worthless, dictatorial, self-absorbed, old court card who is, regrettably, soon to be Charles X. Babinaux is an old woman. He should retire and stop clinging to an out of date Bourbon monarch who thinks his right to rule comes from God.” At this Guay felt he had to protest especially given Babinaux’s record on the battlefield but Fabre was unimpressed. “So what, that was nearly ten years ago. If you espouse the Compte D’Artois’ cause around here, you will not be well liked. Almost everyone has privately declared for Orléans and, when the opportunity arises, will do so publicly. However,” he raised a document which Guay recognised as official orders, “when that happens, you will not be here. You are ordered, once your charges have departed for England, to leave for Paris to assist with ‘security.’” Fabre re-read through the orders and finished offhandedly, “well it wouldn’t do for me, I’m a proper soldier, but, in a job like that ... Well let’s just say it won’t be long before I will be calling you Sir.” He waved at Guay indicating he should now leave as he turned to gaze out of the window again, “Dismissed!” he said. “What a pretentious fool!” remarked the Duke as Guay finished is account. “So, the day after tomorrow you go to Paris for your next assignment. How will you deal with Fabre’s disloyalty?” “Pretentious, he most certainly is, and rude too,” remarked Guay thoughtfully. “But I do not think he is a fool. If he says there are many Guards prepared to declare for Louis-Phillipe, then there probably are. In any event,” he appeared to pull himself together a little as he spoke more strongly, “it is no longer my problem, I have drawn my pay and resigned my commission.” Seeing the Duke open mouthed in astonishment he grinned and continued, “so Your Grace, if the offer you articulated to me not ten minutes since is still available for my acceptance then, with respect, I am your man.” “Welcome to my staff Monsieur Guay,” The Duke immediately held out his hand. “But tell me why?” “It was not a difficult decision,” Guay’s clear brown eyes looked back at him, “I have fought in two wars against my own countrymen, if Fabre is right then I might end up fighting my own friends. This would be very hard to do. As to the rest” he gave a Gallic shrug, I joined the Garde Du Corps Du Roi because I wanted to be a soldier not a clerk. It was time to go.” There were arrangements to be made. Guay went to break the news to his men and the Duke called for Liversedge and asked him if he thought the packet might be able to convey an extra person to England. “If you are referring to Monsieur Guay,” Liversedge asked in his usual unflappable tone, “I booked passage for him this morning as I apprehended he would be likely to travel with us Your Grace.” Will there be anything else.” In one quarter the news was greeted with unfettered joy. The Duke could tell exactly the moment when Véronique learned the news by the shrill shriek of happiness. “I apprehend that Miss Ricard has been informed that Monsieur Guay is to travel to England with us,” remarked Liversedge at that moment engaged in pouring the Duke a glass of brandy, “I will endeavour to persuade her to restrain herself.” The packet left for England as planned and, as the boat sailed out of the harbour, the Duke stood on the deck accompanied only by Francis and turned resolutely to face the English coast. In many ways, he was now ready to return but the thought of re-assuming the mantle of all those responsibilities from which he had fled more than three years before, was playing heavily on his mind. The two men stood in companionable silence as the French coast receded behind them until eventually Francis spoke. “It will be different this time Your Grace.” After a moment, the Duke nodded slowly and responded, “You are right. It will.” Chapter 13 The arrival of the Duke's party in Southampton caused something of a stir. That the ‘missing Duke’ was returning and had booked rooms was naturally a matter of some note and the news had spread through the district like wildfire after the message had arrived on the night packet. When the Duke disembarked, accompanied by his man, another man clearly of French origin, a very superior individual who was clearly his Butler or Major Domo, two ladies, their abigails, a very excitable French girl and a mountain of luggage there was quite a crowd assembled on the dock to watch. The superior gentleman had no difficulty commanding the attention of a small army of porters and suitable carriages to convey the party and the mountain of baggage the short distance to the Star and so the curious were not entertained for long. Once they were settled at the Hotel, Liversedge managed matters just as efficiently and the French girl commanded the respect of the Hotel staff by alternatively berating them in respect of minor defects in the standards she expected should be provided to her employer and working like a small whirlwind to make sure everything was as perfect as it could be. A letter awaited the Duke at the Hotel from Scriven, confirming once again that Sale House in London was ready to receive him, and the following day the party set out early for London having decided to stop for one night on the road. Having travelled in easy stages across France they saw no reason to change that habit merely because they were now in England. It was therefore about three o’clock on the second day that the whole party arrived at the Duke’s London residence. Standing before the doors of Sale House, the Duke looked up at the building which, prior to leaving England, he had grown to loathe. He was surprised to feel a sense of coming home and as not one of the servants awaiting him on the steps or inside the doors was known to him, there was no feeling, as there had been in the past, of the walls closing in on him. He saw, on entering the house, that although the whole building had been opened up and cleaned, it was no longer the fashionable residence it had been during his boyhood and he made a mental note to put the work in hand to modernise and redecorate as soon as it could be arranged. As for the ladies, Madame was impressed. Certainly, there was work to be done and it showed that the house had lacked an enthusiastic mistress for many years; but it was habitable and beautifully proportioned and clearly in a fashionable part of London. Miss Leighton had heard tell of the Duke’s London house on many occasions and to finally see it was a treat indeed. Veronique pulled out her apron and, having ascertained where the Duke and his guests were to sleep, went to inspect. She was pleasantly surprised. There was indeed work still to do, but her experienced eye could see that someone had polished the woodwork with beeswax and had taken the drapes down to remove the dust. She would have this house up to her exacting standards in a couple of days. She immediately commenced issuing instructions to the English servants to assist her and, although she trod very heavily on a number of sensitive toes, as she worked as hard as anyone and each request was accompanied by a dazzling smile, few held a grudge. There was much to do to make the Duke comfortable. Francis repaired to the Duke’s suite to attend upon the proper unpacking of the Duke’s Clothes. Martha and Madame’s maid commenced the not inconsiderable task of dealing with the Ladies’ apparel, Guay went for a walk and Liversedge sought out the Duke. He found his employer reading some letters in his study. “Well we are home, are we not?” said the Duke conversationally. “As Your Grace says,” came the bland response. The two men stared at each other for a few seconds and then the Duke realised that he would need to break the silence. “Neither of us are the same people we were seven years ago,” he observed with a sigh. “Had we known then that our fates were still entwined, I wonder if things would have turned out differently?” “Those years have taught me a valuable lesson,” Liversedge replied, “and I have Your Grace to thank for it. I thought the world owed me a living and now I know it owes me nothing. You gave me the start I needed but I could still have wasted it. I had to learn that we make our own way in life and that there is no excuse for not being your own man. “Curiously,” the Duke nodded his understanding, “I have also learned the same lesson. You can drift through life if you want to, but if you want to live, you have to make your own way not simply follow the path others have chosen. I apprehend then that this is goodbye. Where will you go?” “Your Grace will appreciate that I had always anticipated the possibility that I might need to return to England and I had made sure that my savings were properly invested.” For the first time Mr. Liversedge spoke to the Duke, if not as an equal, then no longer as a servant. I anticipate the sale price of The House in Strasbourg will also now be added to the total. By Your Grace’s standards I am not wealthy, but I am nevertheless beforehand with the world and I have been considering what to do next. I cannot see myself opening another gaming house. I have done that and there are certain risks attached to it which, as one becomes older, become less attractive. I think I shall buy a hotel.” “I think you would be very good at that,” commented the Duke. He continued, “Whatever debts there may have been between us have been paid in full measure. Your actions on the road outside Rheims and your efforts on behalf of myself and Miss Leighton were more than enough to discharge any obligation you might have had. You have nothing to fear from me.” Seeing that Liversedge had bent to pick up a portmanteau he had left by the door he added, “good luck my friend.” “Thank you, Your Grace, it has, once again, been a pleasure to be in your service.” Liversedge bowed and left the room. A few seconds later the front door closed behind him and the Duke watched him through the window walking, as stately as ever, along Curzon Street, until turning into Derby Street, he disappeared from view. London was still thin of company although those stalwarts who had no love for country living were already in residence. A substantial pile of calling cards awaited the Duke upon his return together with a few quite flattering invitations. Word that the house was open, and the Duke planning to return had spread and a number of the more ambitious Mamas with eligible daughters to marry off were already avariciously eying the Duke’s wealth and influence. Sale had planned to remain in London for a few days as there were some urgent matters of business which needed his attention but, before leaving France, he had agreed with Madame Leighton that, as soon as he had concluded it he would return to Sale Park conveying the ladies to Borden at the same time. Madame had written to Monsieur explaining the change of plan and requesting he join his wife and ‘daughter’ in the Midlands as soon as he could free himself from his estate in Saumur. It was a little further for him to travel but she knew how much her elderly spouse wanted to visit the home of his youth and she did not think he would object. When the whole family including, if his duties permitted it, the Viscount, had assembled at Borden they could then all travel to London together. The Viscount was clearly optimistic as to the possibility of his attendance as he had asked Madame to hire a suitable house for them all for the season as he did not maintain lodgings in London. On the infrequent occasions that it had been necessary for him to remain in the capital for more than a day or so, it had been his practice either to hire a small suite at a modest hotel or put up with his friend Mr. Canning. After dinner that evening the Duke who, upon reviewing the pile of correspondence which awaited him at Sale House now considered it would take rather longer than the week he had originally estimated to complete his business, asked the Ladies whether, in view of the longer than expected delay, they wanted to return to Borden immediately. Privately he thought that they would be better off returning home rather than kicking their heels in London but this was a matter for them. Both ladies indicated however that they were more than happy to remain in London for an extended visit as they needed to replenish depleted wardrobes and, as neither lady had been in London before, they were looking forward to seeing some of the sights. The following day, never one to incur unnecessary expense, he walked the short distance to Simpson’s offices. When his clerk announced the Duke, Simpson was so startled that he breathed in at the same time as drinking a glass of wine and it was some moments before he overcome the ensuing coughing fit. He could not conceive of any circumstance which might have provoked his noble client to seek him out in his dusty and cluttered offices. It was the first time that the Duke, or indeed any of the members of the nobility whom he served, had come to his offices in all his years of practice. Completely unconscious of the shock which he had delivered to Simpson’s constitution the Duke greeted his man of business like a long-lost friend and enquired after that worthy’s family and well-being. Upon being reassured, he produced the letters which Simpson had sent to him and politely enquired in what way he could be of service. Simpson saw that the manners and consideration which Sale had displayed ever since he had been breeched, had not deserted him during the years spent abroad; not one other of his other noble clients would have ever considered asking after his health. Even knowing the courtesy with which he dealt with those whom he employed, the suggestion that the Duke might be of service to him however, was such an unthinkable and novel concept that he had some difficulty forming a cogent reply. While he gathered his thoughts, he surveyed the Duke and pondered the changes he saw there. He had been one of the last of the staff to see him when he had left England, a pale, thin unhappy man not ready to take on the responsibilities which had been thrust upon him. This new Duke had put on a little weight and acquired a deep tan. He had a ready smile, a firm handshake and he had moreover, an air of assurance which he had not previously possessed. Simpson was nobody’s fool and he concluded that, whatever the Duke had been looking for on the continent, he had found it. The Sale estate, he decided, was in good hands. The man of business warmly welcomed his visitor back to England's shores and invited him to peruse the documents he had prepared for him. He was exceedingly glad to report that over the previous three years since he had last attended the Duke at Sale Park his holdings in the funds had increased significantly. In part, this was because of the greatly improved income from the estates (such improvement continuing to increase on a yearly basis) but it was also as a result of the frugal existence the Duke had been living since the death of the Duchess. The unused income had been put to good use and either invested in the funds, which Simpson was pleased to report were producing a most pleasing income or reinvested in land. Further acreage had been added to the estate and Simpson was able to report that the Sale Estate was now one of the largest, not to mention one of the most profitable, in England. Simpson, stunned the Duke by explaining that his income had increased to such extent over the last seven years that he was now one of the richest men in England able to rival the income of the Devonshire estate. In turn, the Duke was able to gratify Simpson by telling him that he was able to add, to the already large English estate, a sizeable property in France. Having reviewed the information, and gracefully approving the steps Simpson had taken in the Duke’s absence, the first matter of business was to review the power of attorney he had given his man of business. Having returned to England he now wished to retake the reigns of management and Simpson, satisfied that his employer was more than capable of handling them, was only too glad to hand them over. Over the next few days the Duke met with Scriven and the bailiffs and agents of each of the individual estates who could be spared or who worked within a reasonable distance of London. Those who lived further afield were asked to attend the Duke upon his arrival at Sale Park. There was little but good news to report. The issues that were raised were minor and easily settled and the Duke was gratified at the unanimous approval from all of his employees at the news that he was soon to take over the management of the estate business himself. Finally, he met with Mr. Rigg junior. The Duke was impressed by the enthusiasm with which this gentleman applied himself to his work and was pleased to confirm that he would continue to instruct the Firm of Rigg & Rigg. There were transactions which the Duke wanted to put in hand immediately, not least that he wanted to revoke the powers of attorney he had given three years previously. Enjoying a quiet drink with an envious crony in his club later that day, Mr Rigg was moved to comment that his client was one of the easiest of gentlemen to deal with and his understanding far above the average. Then there was the appointment of Household staff. Scriven had engaged sufficient staff to open the house and clean it but had not engaged a Butler or Housekeeper on the (correct) assumption that the Duke would want to confirm any such appointment himself. The Duke shocked his steward, who was still having difficulty adjusting to the idea that The Duke wished to be involved in matters which properly should be beneath his dignity, by informing Scriven that he would not only approve the appointments but would interview the candidates himself. Scriven did his best to persuade his master to at least allow him to be present but the Duke airily waved all his objections aside. He would not be saddled with servants who thought it their duty to protect their master from every ill wind. He thought himself a good judge of people and he had a very good idea of what he wanted. Scriven, did his best to persuade his employer to take a more realistic view of matter but his concerns were dismissed out of hand. How hard, the Duke asked, could it be to select the two people who were to be entrusted to run his house? Some fifteen minutes before the first candidates were due to arrive he realised that, while he might have a very good idea of the person he was looking for he had not the remotest idea as to the skills required. Less than thirty seconds after this revelation, Miss Leighton who was doggedly, if without much enthusiasm, applying herself to the task of acquiring some of the skills which her maid and Madame regarded as much more suitable to a young lady desirous of entering the fashionable world than fencing, was startled into dropping her embroidery by the Duke’s precipitate entry into the drawing room. “I need your help.” He begged. “Good God! Whatever is the matter?” She was considerably astonished by his distracted behaviour but when the matter was ruefully explained to her it was some time before she could speak without laughing. “I am having some difficulty,” she chuckled “seeing you interviewing a housekeeper, do you even know what a housekeeper does?” “Well of course I do!” he uttered outraged “she ....” and he suddenly realised he had no idea at all, “Er ... keeps house?” he finished lamely. “Exactly so!” she said trenchantly, trying valiantly and failing to keep a straight face. “You do not have the slightest idea.” At this point Francis came into the room, and Miss Leighton explained the Duke’s problem. “If I may make a suggestion Ma’am,” Francis said unsteadily. He too was trying to keep from laughing at the thought of the Duke interviewing the kind of superior individuals which Scriven would consider as suitable. “If you would be so kind as to interview for a Housekeeper I will assist the Duke in the search for a Butler. Two hours later neither post had been filled. Four Housekeepers and four Butlers had been interviewed without success. “A more humourless, hidebound, stiff-rumped, pompous, autocratic assemblage of persons it is impossible to imagine,” growled the Duke as the door closed behind the last butler. “There isn’t one of them I could live with.” Some ten minutes later Miss Leighton entered the room and, at the sight of the Duke’s gloomy countenance, broke into a gurgle of laughter, “Your Steward’s notion of what is due to your consequence is somewhat different from yours,” she said once more trying to keep a straight face.” The Duke’s face relaxed into a reluctant smile. “Oh dear,” she continued, “how could he have thought that they would suit you? Those housekeepers were all very well qualified and they would run your house well, but,” she grimaced, “I don’t think any of them know how to smile. One of them said that,” Miss Leighton coughed delicately and assumed a clipped dry nasal voice, “I should of course have to dismiss all of the under-servants I must be able to choose my own staff. I find it is most unwise to retain any remnants of the old regime. They cannot adapt to the change.” “Good God!” ejaculated the Duke, “and I thought the lot I had was bad. The worst I got was the one who explained that he was very happy at my Lord Salcombe’s establishment, but a Duke’s house was much superior. Apparently, the only factor that weighed with him was my elevated station. I asked him whether he would move on again if a Royal Duke needed a butler and he looked at me with such an expression of deep pity that I gather he thought I was rather simple. His rather portentous reply was, ‘of course Your Grace’.” There then followed a most undignified period of ten minutes, during which Miss Leighton and the Duke competed with each other to mimic the individuals which they had been interviewing. Since they became less able to control their laughter as the mimicry proceeded their efforts were not attended by any particular success. Francis, watching this behaviour, which would certainly have horrified the majority of the Duke’s acquaintance had they been privileged to see it, had long ago seen which way the wind was blowing and did not interfere merely waiting for a break in the persiflage. “If,” said loudly enough to attract attention and pausing slightly to make sure he had it, “Your Grace would leave the matter to me I am sure that I could locate two individuals who not only possess the desired competence but would also meet with Your Grace’s approval.” It was to be seen that The Duke and Miss Leighton had forgotten Francis’ presence and the slightly guilty look on both their faces, was relieved only when he grinned broadly showing that he had taken no offence. Realising that belittling servants in front of one of their fellows was a solecism which some might find hard to forgive, he strode over to his man and held out his hand. “I am sorry, Francis, that was uncalled for.” It was not the least of the Duke’s charm that he never gave himself unnecessary airs and the hand was grasped firmly. He was genuinely fond of the man who had been his constant companion for the last three years and knew that he owed Francis a great deal. “Your apology is unnecessary Your Grace, he said. “My opinion of the er ... gentlemen we have just interviewed is similar to yours. They appeared to think you would be working for them!” Choosing his words carefully, he continued, “Some employers choose to treat their servants with less than courtesy but that does not, in my view, entitle their upper servants to ape them. None of those men, and I apprehend,” he nodded respectfully at Miss Leighton, “none of those ladies would have done for you.” He paused and repeated, “Would you like me to try to find someone who might suit? His Grace gave Francis to understand that the suggestion was one to which he would lend his enthusiastic support and Francis bowed himself out of the room with the intention of executing his commission. “There are those who think holding your servants in high regard encourages them to become encroaching,” remarked the Duke thoughtfully looking at the door through which Francis had left the room, “but I rather think that there is no man alive I like better than John Francis. I wouldn’t say it to his face, he would be embarrassed and he still keeps what he considers to be an appropriate distance, but I have never had a better friend.” “I know what you mean,” replied Miss Leighton, looking up at him. “Martha, has always been there for me, she was the mother I never had.” On the second day after his return to London and after a lengthy time closeted with his man of business the Duke went in search of his cousin at the lodgings he still occupied in Albany. Lord Lionel had never considered it necessary to keep a house in London and his son had apparently decided to maintain this tradition. Upon knocking on the door, he was delighted to discover that Wragby, his cousin’s man, was still in Gideon’s employment. “Wragby! How are you,” he exclaimed as the door was opened, “is Lord Gideon in”? “Your Grace!” The smile on Wragby’s face clearly demonstrated how delighted he was to see the Duke. “May I say that it is good to see you in such good health after so long? Her ladyship will be pleased to meet you as well.” “Her Ladyship?” The Duke had not considered the possibility his cousin may have married and was therefore somewhat startled by the disclosure. Reeling from this discovery he was about to attempt an appropriate response when an ebullient voice from the inside the lodgings boomed out, “Is that my miserable snirp of a cousin who abandoned his family without a word? Bring him in at once!” At hearing his larger-than-life cousin’s semi-serious command, the Duke grinned at Wragby and muttered that there are some things that never changed. Wragby, who had always a liking for his master’s noble relative, permitted himself a small smile in answer and stood back to allow the Duke entry. His Cousin, until his fall, a Captain in the Life Guards, was, by any standards, a very large man. Broad of shoulder and well over six feet tall he dwarfed the much slighter Duke. Alone amongst his relatives he had never treated his cousin differently to any of his friends and had not sought to direct his life. The two men, so different, had always been fast friends and Gideon, much more robust than his smaller cousin had even been known to intervene on the Duke’s behalf with his formidable parent. The Duke was overjoyed to see that Gideon had made something of a recovery from the fall which had finished his Military career as he was standing upright albeit with the assistance of a cane. Gideon had no guile, he called the world as he saw it and his face, was at that moment, wreathed in a welcoming smile. The room held two other occupants. In a chair in the corner sat very pretty woman, somewhat younger than Gideon. She had an extremely apprehensive expression on her face and upon her lap she was holding a baby who the Duke adjudged had not yet reached the age of one year. The Duke walked over to his cousin, with a gleam in his eye and a patently assumed apologetic expression on his face. “Adolphus!” boomed his lordship, where the devil have you been? Three years and a couple of months without a word and all I could find out from Scriven was that you were out of the country, you had left instructions in respect of the estate, you had not said when you would return and no-one was to worry. A couple of months ago, the town was humming because that old woman Chepstow had put it all over town that you had been found, staff had been hired for Sale House and last week Scriven received a message that your return was imminent. Now you just turn up on my doorstep without no warning, doubtless demanding a glass of my best Claret, and without a word of explanation. What do you mean by it eh? Eh?” Then without warning, he enveloped his Cousin in a bear hug and said thickly, “damme! It’s good to see you.” After a few seconds’ more when he slapped the Duke so hard on the back he nearly winded his smaller cousin he continued. “Here, don’t stand on ceremony, may I present you to Lady Anne Ware and there, “he pointed at the baby, is the Honourable Albert, your heir.” The lady rose gracefully and, obviously unsure of her reception curtseyed to the Duke. “Your Grace,” she murmured. “It is a pleasure, Ma’am,” responded the Duke bowing over her hand, “but my graceless cousin is right, please do not stand on ceremony. Had I known that Gideon was considering matrimony, I would have returned immediately. Anyone who could bring about the improvement I see,” he waved at Gideon, and dodged as his cousin tried to catch him with his stick, “has my unreserved approbation.” The Duke spent the whole afternoon with his cousin who brought him up to date with the developments in his life. It transpired that Gideon had been driven out to Richmond to take the air two summers previously. Determined to try to achieve some independence and angrily dismissive of the dire warnings of his Doctors he had asked to be set on his feet so that he could try to walk. A few proud, but painful steps were followed by an ignominious fall and, unable to check himself, he rolled down a slope landing almost in the lap of a lady who was trying to catch a landscape in water colour. Ever the opportunist, Gideon had apologised profusely and explained, from his somewhat disadvantageous position, that the two people running pell-mell after him would soon restore him to a position from which he could more formally introduce himself. From that unpromising beginning romance had blossomed and six months later the couple had married. The Duke commiserated Gideon on the Death of his father who had survived long enough to see his eldest son married. As this was, following Gideon’s accident, something he had never thought to see, Lord Lionel had at least passed out of this world a happy man. Gideon had not been as badly hit by his father’s death as he expected, he had the support of his wife and moreover it had been hard to see the large vital man so reduced by his illness. In the end, Gideon’s assessment was that his father was happy to pass on. In turn, the Duke gave Gideon a (much expurgated) version of his travels abroad. The gossip that was all over town was that he had arrived in England with a lady in tow and Gideon informed him, at the same time admitting to being consumed with curiosity, that there were stories which suggested he had set up a mistress and, at the other extreme, proclaiming a marriage to a French peasant. “It is nothing of the sort of course, I was, at the request of her father, escorting Miss Leighton, her mother and three abigails, one of whom is very, very French, to England so that Miss Leighton can visit Borden in time to settle in and be back into town for the remainder of the season.” “Leighton!” Ejaculated Gideon. “Do you mean that Viscount Borden, the chap that was as thick as thieves with m’father, has a daughter?” His eyes narrowed, “but he never can he have ...?” “It’s not Borden’s daughter.” The Duke interrupted seeing which way Gideons’ mind was going. “You knew, did you not, that the current Viscount’s father had a younger brother with whom he quarrelled on the occasion of his Mother’s obsequies?” The Duke saw that Gideon understood immediately; the story was well known, at least to those who lived close to Borden House. “It appears that the rumours were right, Rupert Leighton did settle in France; in Saumur to be exact. He married very late in life and Miss Leighton is the only child of that marriage. She is therefore Viscount Borden’s cousin. Hearing that his nephew was in Paris with the foreign secretary, the Hon. Rupert asked him if he could provide such assistance as might be necessary to introduce his daughter to the ton. The Viscount was happy to oblige but then had to remain in France for longer than he anticipated. I met him in Alsace just as I was about to return home and, learning of my intention he asked me if I would deputise for him and escort Miss Leighton and her mother back to London, and thence, at my convenience to Borden. Given the friendship between your father and the Viscount, I could hardly refuse.” The Duke shrugged. “The truth is, I was facing a long journey home, I was heartily tired of my own company and I leapt at the chance. It was not an onerous task.” As the Duke had intended, Gideon, visiting his club that evening revealed that he had seen the missing Duke and explained the identity of the mystery Lady. As the Duke’s return was the most talked about on dit at that moment the story circulated very quickly and, if it became a little embellished in the telling it remained substantially as the Duke had told it to his cousin. The Duke had established Miss Leighton’s identity in such a way that no-one would ever think to challenge it. To ensure any lingering doubts there might have been were put to rest the Duke ensured that Miss Leighton was seen abroad regularly in his company. The Day after his visit to Gideon the Duke took up Miss and Madame Leighton in a visit to Hyde Park. Several prominent persons rode up to the Duke’s Barouche, newly furbished up with the Sale arms repainted on the doors and harnessed to bang up pair of matched chestnuts which the Duke had purchased just the previous day. Among the well-wishers was the Hon Rupert Byng, already known by the soubriquet of “Poodle” Byng, the soubriquet having been acquired as a result of his habit of driving everywhere with an extremely high bred canine at his side. The Hon. Mr. Byng had been a member of the Prince Regent’s set along with Mr. Brummel and therefore, now that the Regency had been ended on the death of George III, he had the ear of the King. “Your Grace,” he said, bowing slightly, “we had of course heard of your intended return, not only on account of the feverish activity at your house, but because His Majesty mentioned it a week or so ago.” The Duke introduced Miss Leighton to Mr. Byng who confessed that he had guessed her identity, He had, he explained, a conversation he had with Lord Ware at White’s the previous night and, after making a graceful bow to both ladies, he continued on his way. Every day thereafter the Duke spent some time in public with the two ladies and, freed of the formality and constraints enforced upon him while she travelled under his protection the Duke started to consider how to advance his own cause. Likewise, Sarah, seeing that the Duke was going out of his way to spend time in her company dropped some of the guards she had put around her heart. In this she was encouraged by Madame who had quickly learned where Sarah’s affection lay. Now that Sarah had been creditably established, to Madame’s way of thinking, there were no barriers standing in the way of such a patently advantageous match. In the meantime, Miss Leighton felt like she was living in a social whirlwind. She was out nearly every night. If there were no invitations, then there was the theatre or the opera. She wondered how, when the season was in full swing a person could be busier than she was now; it was difficult to see how she could fit in any more entertainments. She had made the acquaintance of no less than three of the patronesses of Almacks all of whom had promised vouchers to Madame upon her planned return to London. She also found herself the object of determined and, in some cases, flattering, pursuit by quite a number of young men, not all of whom were attracted by her fortune. The season was not yet even half over and the betting was that Miss Leighton, the new heiress, would take the ton by storm. There were other attractions in London beside the parties. A lady could stroll along Bond Street to visit many of the shops selling exquisite items of apparel to attract even the soberest young lady. Then of course there were the dressmakers and milliners, the delights of the Pantheon Bazaar and such places as Rundell and Bridge. Miss Leighton, reared in seclusion, found it difficult to walk away from a bargain even if she knew it was not something she wanted but she was resolute, just because she had money did not mean it had to be spent, but even so as she gazed into the shop windows at the delights on sale, there were occasions when she wished she was not quite so level headed. To make her happiness complete, the Duke encouraged her to spend some of her income upon herself and often, when his business did not require his attendance elsewhere he was more than happy to escort her and help her to do so. “Will you marry him my dear?” Madame asked bluntly one evening as Sarah bent over her embroidery ring. She had the satisfaction of seeing Sarah blush to the roots of her hair thus confirming, should confirmation be required, her previous conclusion. “I don’t know. I mean he hasn’t asked me Maman” stammered Sarah somewhat incoherently. “I’m sure he will not, he needs to make a good marriage.” “And why would a marriage to you not be a ‘good’ marriage?” enquired Madame indignantly. You come from a good family, you are a lady, and you are heiress.” “But but...” Sarah looked agonised. “He knows who I am. “He does,” agreed Madame ruthlessly, “but if there was ever a man who wouldn’t care for that, it is the Duke of Sale. He is much more concerned with pleasing himself than worrying about what is due to his title. So, young lady, I ask you again will you marry him?” “If he asks me,” said Miss Leighton meekly, “yes.” On the day following the outing to Hyde Park, Francis asked to see the Duke and Miss Leighton and explained that he thought he had found a suitable couple who might suit the Duke as butler and housekeeper. He asked that his employer look beyond the first impression when deciding whether to employ them. Mystified, the Duke agreed, asked Francis to bring them in and he went in search of Miss Leighton. He had a personal motive for ensuring that Sarah liked whoever it was he appointed. As soon as they came in the Duke could see what Francis had meant, this couple were down on their luck. It flashed through his mind that Francis thought the Duke might appoint them purely on the basis that he felt sorry for them. The thought was swiftly dismissed. Francis would never have put them forward for the Duke’s consideration, however indigent their situation, if he did not think they were worthy of consideration. So it proved, the story was sad but not uncommon. After twenty years’ loyal service they been turned off when their master had died. As the estate had been saddled with debts it had been sold and the deceased had no relatives so they were unable to produce a reference. They had exhausted their meagre savings and had sold almost everything they owned. Nonetheless, both Saddler and his wife had a quiet dignity the Duke respected, and they did not either give themselves airs or irritate him by being over obsequious. Moreover, Mrs Saddler explained that they were a couple and, poor or not, they would not be parted. If the Duke did not appoint them both then he appointed neither. When she answered the questions put to her by Miss Leighton confidently the Duke knew that he need look no further. The couple were engaged there and then and invited to take up their posts the following day. “How on earth do you know what a housekeeper has to do?” asked the Duke who still had difficulty with the breadth of Miss Leighton’s knowledge. “Most girls learn it from their mothers,” replied Sarah with disarming honesty. “I learned a little from our housekeeper at Borden although she never really accepted me.” She grimaced, “she was my Grandfather’s housekeeper and held his views I think. Since she retired, I have run the house. There was not much to do, we had almost no visitors and there is such a small staff but there was still a great deal I had to learn. Most of it comes from your own housekeeper, Mrs Bridgehouse. I spent many hours running tame in your house.” “The Saddlers will run Sale House,” The Duke commented, “I shall need to appoint staff for Sale Park. I hope you will be available to help me there too.” Miss Leighton glanced involuntarily at Sale and what she saw there, nearly took her breath away. ‘Maybe Madame was right’, she thought, seeing the intense look in his eyes. ‘Perhaps he might offer for me.’ Nothing more was said over the next few days, although the warm look was there in the Duke’s eyes every time he spoke to her. He did not declare himself but he neither did he give the lie to the course her thoughts were taking. He consulted her on anything relating to any of his houses, and she was cast into exquisite confusion when Mrs Saddler informed her that his Grace had given orders that any question relating to the smooth running of the household was to be directed to her. When he proposed redecorating Sale House, he accepted any comments she made without question. He gave instructions to his newly appointed groom that if Miss Leighton was to command his services then he was to render her every assistance including taking her wherever she wanted to go. Faced with the prospect of her impossible childhood dream coming true Sarah, discovered that as much as she loved the Duke, the prospect of becoming Duchess of Sale was quite terrifying. She would be mistress of, at the present count, no less than five great houses in England as Scriven had, upon learning of his employer’s return taken steps to recover possession of the most important of the Duke’s properties. If the Duke decided to recover all the properties currently rented out to tenants, then he had a total of eleven houses. Then there was an unknown number of houses in France which doubtless would need to be decorated and the Duke would need to decide which of them to make his principal seat in that country. She knew that, when she was a little girl running up and down the back stairs at Sale Park, there were over sixty people employed in that house alone and that was without taking into account the numerous gamekeepers, bailiffs, gardeners and grooms employed outdoors. For the first time, she really understood why the Duke might have needed to get away. One morning she voiced her fears to Martha as her maid was arranging her hair. Martha was distinctly unimpressed. “If, Miss, and I say again, if,” Martha said severely, “you were fortunate enough to receive an offer from his Grace, then I hope you would not refuse him for such a nonsensical reason as that. Do you love him?” Miss Leighton hastily reassured Martha on the point. “Then, I see no reason for being so missish. You are a sensible girl. His Grace would give you all the support you needed and in any case,” Martha smiled grimly, “how many servants do you suppose would have the temerity to challenge the Duchess of Sale.” Two days before he was due to escort Miss and Madame Leighton to Borden he invited the younger lady to take a turn in the park with him. Followed at a discreet distance by Madame and Francis the couple were permitted some private conversation. “Miss Leighton” opened the Duke in unusually formal tones. “I have, some time ago written to both Monsieur Leighton and Viscount Borden and I am hoping that a response will await me at Sale Park. May I, therefore, express the hope that you will be able to receive me at Borden House if I were to call.” “I am sure,” replied Miss Leighton, her heart hammering in her chest “that you will find us at home, that is. I do hope you will come and see me….us.” At this point Miss Leighton lapsed into a confused silence and, most uncharacteristically managed only monosyllabic answers until they returned to the Duke’s Barouche. The following day, The Duke had some last-minute business to transact at Simpson’s office before he started out on the last part of the Journey. Not ten minutes after he had left Sale House to visit his man of business, Saddler by now resplendent in brand new attire, announced Lord Gideon Ware. Miss Leighton was engaged with Madame in writing some letters and they both looked up as the tall man limped into the Drawing room leaning heavily on his stick and obviously trying to ignore the pain. “Lord Ware,” exclaimed Madame rising to meet their visitor, “I am Madame Leighton and this,” she indicated Miss Leighton who had also risen to acknowledge their visitor, “is my daughter Sarah. I understand his Grace may have mentioned us?” Gideon attempted a bow and apologised for his lack of manners, “It’s this dashed injury you know,” he nodded down at his cane. “I can get about - but, he smiled ruefully, "people go to sleep waiting for me”. “Please do be seated.” Madame begged. After Saddler had assisted his Lordship to lower himself, not without some difficulty, into a chair, it was a while before Gideon could continue the conversation. The pain he suffered was written on his face. When she was sure he was ready to continue the conversation Madame informed him regretfully, “you have just missed your cousin. He was going to visit his man of business and he said he may then go on to his club. My daughter and I do not expect to see him until tomorrow.” “I had hoped to see him, but will doubtless do so when he returns to town or, if not, at Sale at the end of the summer.” He smiled broadly,” but I came to pay my respects to you as well.” Madame smiled at politely at him and waited. “Oh, all right,” admitted Gideon frankly, “I was consumed with curiosity. I wanted to meet Sale’s new neighbours.” “And we wanted to see you,” Miss Leighton responded. “And for myself I wanted to meet the giant of a man of whom Sale speaks so fondly. He told me there were times when he was younger that you were the only person who neither expected anything from him nor tried to protect him from every ill wind. I see,” Sarah commented conversationally “that, at least in his physical description of you he spoke truly. I think,” she added, “that you are quite the tallest man I have ever seen. When you are as small as I, you become used to looking up at people, but I suspect a lengthy acquaintance with you would inevitably result in neck ache.” Lord Ware chuckled and informed the ladies that while he was in the Life Guards he was half a head taller than his fellows. Abruptly switching back to his desire to satisfy his avowed curiosity, Gideon asked Madame about her home in Saumur. As Miss Leighton was extremely well acquainted with all matters French and had taken the trouble to learn as much as she could about her assumed parents and their estate she had no difficulty contributing, but as the conversation lagged Sarah decided to change its direction. “How did your Lordship find the Duke after three years? Is he much changed? “Out of all recognition!” Lord Ware replied. “He is now the man I always knew he could have become if my father and all his devoted retainers would but leave him alone for a while.” He lapsed into silence for a second and then continued, “there is something else there too. He seems peaceful. After Harriet died ...” he trailed off and sighed. “I was very worried.” His expression brightened “but now, here he is, full of energy, determined to take control of matters and whatever demons were chasing him, well… he must have left them behind. I must confess it is somewhat hard to take in. He was never one for society parties and yet he is now talking about renovating Sale House for next season.” He looked around and muttered, “good thing too, the place is like a mausoleum. It hasn’t changed since my grandfather’s time. I suppose,” he continued reflectively, “he may be contemplating marriage again. He has a duty to set up his own nursery. I don’t want the title.” He laughed, “Lord! If it gets out that Sale is looking for a wife, the season will be very entertaining. It will drive the matchmaking mamas wild with anticipation. I’ll tell you what though, Ma’am,” he confided, “most of them will simply not do. Sale can look as high as he likes for bride, any sniff of a scandal, any lack of breeding and it don’t matter what they do, he won’t be interested. M’father made sure he knew what was due to the name.” Chapter 14 Lord Ware did not linger for much longer since, as he said, he feared that he would be interrupting the ladies as they made ready for the journey into the Midlands. Having thanked them for their hospitality, asked to be remembered to everyone at Sale Park and wishing them well on the journey north, he allowed himself to be assisted into his carriage and, with a wave, disappeared along the street. “I think,” Said Miss Leighton woodenly to Madame, I shall retire to my chamber. I have the headache.” “Will you my dear,” Madame answered, “perhaps I shall see you at dinner.” Madame was to be disappointed. Sarah did not come downstairs again that day and, when she appeared at breakfast on the following day looking very heavy eyed, she seemed disinclined to make conversation. After the Duke had spoken to her a couple of times and received only monosyllabic answers he gave up and talked to Madame instead. Madame disclosed that they had received Gideon in his absence on the previous day and that following his visit, Mademoiselle had retired with a headache, “I am not surprised Madame,” The Duke said sympathetically. “I like him very much, he is the best of fellows, but even I have to admit, to the uninitiated, a morsel of my cousin’s very bracing personality can constitute a surfeit.” Nothing more was said and, as soon as the table had been cleared the Duke and his party set off for the Midlands. It had previously been agreed that they would cover the distance, some one hundred and thirty miles or so, in two days, there being no reason for adopting the leisurely pace of the journey through France. The intention was to complete the journey by no later than mid-afternoon on the following day. The Duke thus had very little time to talk to the ladies. At the end of the first day they were too tired to do anything more than retire straight to bed and on the second they were under way again at a very early hour. If the Duke noticed that Miss Leighton was less than her usual robust self, he put this down to the pace of travel and the lingering effects of her headache from the last day in London. Upon speaking to Martha, he was told that he should not be concerned, it was doubtless the thought of arriving home after such a journey. At about two o’clock on the second day, the party arrived at the large gates of Sale Park which the elderly Lodge keeper, who had remained in post even though the house had been closed up, was overjoyed to throw open at the return of his master. As Borden was only a matter of five miles or so further by road (and a lot less as the crow flies) the Duke planned, after a brief stop, to escort Miss Leighton to Borden himself. While he was away, the servants could deal with the baggage, undertake such preparations as might be necessary to render a few bedrooms ready for occupation and to assess what work needed to be done first. To some extent, the house had already been prepared to receive the Duke although with little style. Mr. and Mrs Saddler remained in London but upon learning that the Duke intended to reopen Sale Park, Mr. Saddler, already making himself indispensable, had written to the caretaker and his wife informing them of the Duke’s imminent return. The house had been shut up for more than four years and had been little used for three years before that, but the grounds were still tended a little and there were sufficient staff still engaged, together with assorted wives, sons and daughters hastily summoned from the village, to make a start upon waking the house from its long sleep. Moreover, Mrs Bridgehouse, the Duke’s old housekeeper, a pensioner for some years, still lived nearby and was tempted by the thought of Sale Park once again becoming his Grace’s principal home into taking up the reins of management again if only for a short time. The Duke was surprised at the wave of emotion that rolled over him upon entering the great house. There was an immediate feeling of being ‘home’ and his familiarity with the surroundings immediately made him more comfortable than he had ever thought to be again in any of his houses. He was as delighted to see Mrs Bridgehouse as she was to see him and, if the house was still largely shrouded in Holland covers, well, that would soon be remedied. He introduced Madame to the elderly housekeeper and was just about to do the same for Miss Leighton when that lady spoke up for herself. “Can I get my apron Mrs. Bridgehouse?” She said, producing the first smile in three days and waiting expectantly for an answer. “I beg your pardon Miss?” The housekeeper’s reply was genuinely confused. Then, something in Sarah’s smile and the words she used touched a memory. “Miss Sarah!” she exclaimed, “well, look at you now. You came in the front door.” Mrs Bridgehouse glance summed up Sarah’s tiny, but beautifully dressed frame, and finished trenchantly, “and about time too.” Mrs Bridgehouse bustled exceedingly and in a very short time the party was served with tea and cakes. Meanwhile Véronique was taking the opportunity to view the Duke’s home and, while she was exceedingly impressed by its imposing grandeur, she kept clicking her teeth and shaking her head at the dirty windows, the undisturbed dust and the evidence of years of neglect. In common with most of the party, she had formed her own opinion as to the state of the relationship between her mistress and the Duke and, as she was fairly convinced it would not be long before Miss Leighton moved to Sale Park permanently, she decided that someone needed to take charge of setting things right. That someone would be her. Ebullient she was, but she neither lacked tact nor did she make the mistake of thinking that she knew anything like enough to run a great house like Sale Park. Cleaning a few rooms in an inn was one thing, dealing with walls covered with paintings, enormous chandeliers and ancient items of furniture was something else entirely. Making her way along the labyrinthine passages which led to the Kitchen she found Mrs Bridgehouse struggling with inadequate and inexperienced staff in a vain attempt to ensure, as she saw it, the minimum standard that the Duke of Sale had a right to expect. Having made determined efforts to learn English on the long journey, she introduced herself and very rapidly the two servants established a common bond. Veronique’s enthusiasm and obvious energy reminded Mrs Bridgehouse of herself when she had first come to the house many years ago and, despite her youth, she showed the knowledge of a much older woman. She was also kindly disposed to anyone who had gained the approval of the Duke as she was convinced that without proper care he would inevitably waste away. There was another matter, while she had enjoyed returning to her old duties she knew she could not resume them on a permanent basis. She no longer had the energy to do so. As she did not trust anyone else to oversee the work that she, as well as anyone, knew needed to be done she had been considering what to do. Véronique therefore seemed heaven sent. For her part Véronique had been taught to respect her elders and she quickly recognised the older woman’s superior knowledge and experience. When Mrs Bridgehouse talked of restoring Sale Park to its former glory, this was an ambition she could appreciate. When she sighed and said that in her day even the laundry cupboards had to be inspected once a week and woe betide the Laundry maid that had stacked the sheets untidily, Véronique recognised, in Mrs Bridgehouse, a woman who lived up to her own fanatical standards. Within ten minutes it had been agreed, providing the Duke approved, Véronique would remain at Sale Park and would, under the supervision of Mrs Bridgehouse, bring the house back to life. The Duke was therefore somewhat surprised when his housekeeper and Véronique asked to see him. He was even more surprised to hear the proposal as he knew how jealously Mrs Bridgehouse had guarded her role. But, despite his surprise, it was apparent that the two women were perfectly serious. He explained doubtfully that he would have to consult with Madame and Miss Leighton but here he encountered no objection either. Miss Leighton had been racking her brains to try to come up with a scheme to avoid taking Véronique to Borden. Where Mrs Bridgehouse was a delightful perfectionist, the Viscount’s Butler, a superior, curmudgeonly and self-important individual, would, having managed for years with Miss Leighton fulfilling the role of housekeeper, undoubtedly bitterly resent the younger woman. In her present state of mind, the outbreak of war in the servants quarters was not something she thought she could contemplate. As soon as Véronique was told she was to remain at Sale Park she produced her apron, trapped a hapless girl brought up from the Village to assist with whatever work might be required and started, under the approving eye of Mrs Bridgehouse, hounding her to start the formidable task of cleaning the whole house. Two hours later Miss Leighton returned home to Borden House in the company of Madame. Upon the carriage arriving at the front door they were greeted by the butler whose greeting suggested anything but enthusiasm at the return of Miss Leighton and the Viscount’s Aunt by marriage. Had he not been in service with the family for so many years, he might have found that his lack of courtesy resulted in him being turned off but he was secure and he knew it. He had received explicit instructions from his master by post and not by a flicker of his eye did he betray that he had ever met Miss Leighton before, though he had in fact known her almost from her cradle. The lengthy missive he had received some two weeks earlier from his employer explaining the situation, had warned him to ensure every member of the household understood the position. No-one, from the scullery maid to the Butler himself, was in any doubt that if the smallest morsel of gossip could be traced to the house, long service notwithstanding, the entire staff could expect to be dismissed without a character. The Duke remained long enough to see that the Ladies’ baggage was removed from the carriages and the ladies were safely installed at Borden House before leaving them with a promise to return as soon as he was able. In the event it was several days before the Duke found the time to make good on this promise. Although Sale Park had been closed as thoroughly and carefully as possible the years of neglect and inactivity had taken their toll. There were no horses in the Duke’s stable and his carriages needed repair or, in some cases, even replacement. A wheelwright had to be sent for together with a blacksmith. In the Duke’s youth, these individuals were permanently (and fully) employed upon the estate. Although the gardens had been tended, many of the paths were overgrown, some of the drainage on the south lawn had become blocked and the large wisteria on the south-east corner of the building had become so unruly that no light could filter through the windows behind it. Several trees close to the west wing were in a sorry state and needed either to be drastically reduced in size or in some cases cut down altogether as it was felt they might fall onto the house. Inside the house things were little better. Véronique quickly identified that there was work which needed to be carried out as a matter of urgency. Some of the servants' quarters had suffered because of a leaking roof and there were several broken window panes. There were loose and rotten floorboards in one of the passages. Doors had warped and did not fit. Locks were seized. Several of the chimneys were blocked. Many of the windows were ill fitting and let in the weather or were so distorted that they could not be opened. She set tradesmen, hurriedly summoned from miles around to work and within two days the whole house was a hive of activity echoing with the sounds of work in progress. Satisfied that the necessary repairs were underway, she turned her attention upon the interiors. She examined every room in turn with Mrs Bridgehouse. All the portraits of the Duke’s ancestors and the paintings that generations of the Duke’s family had collected had to be taken down and dusted. Several frames needed urgent repair. In many of the rooms the carpets, drapes and furnishings had been affected by damp or simply old age and a decision had to be made as to whether they were salvageable or should be thrown out. The Duke was everywhere taking an interest. Although he had to approve any expenditure, his interest went far beyond that. He sought explanations of any work which was identifies as required and then watched the tradesmen appointed to carry it out. He wanted to understand what needed to be done to restore his house and he wanted to be involved in it. He was interested in every repair and took note of each task that needed to be done to transfer a drab, ill lit musty room back to its former splendour even on occasions seeking instruction and lending a helping hand. The workmen and household staff found it strange at first, to see the Duke watching them work, or stripped to his shirt hauling on a heavy item of furniture or manhandling a painting but, after the initial discomfort of discovering that their noble employer was watching what they were doing, the staff became used to seeing him and answered his questions readily. It helped that he never forgot to thank them for their efforts on his behalf. The Duke realised, somewhat guiltily, that he had always taken the house he lived in for granted and had never really thought about the work involved in looking after him. He had no idea of the range of skills and knowledge required to keep the house in order. On the third day after his return he walked into the state dining room to discover that the cleaning effort had moved here. It was a vast room with an extremely high ceiling, richly painted and decorated and supported by heavily carved beams which stretched across the whole span of the room. Here again there was feverish activity. When he entered Véronique, having learned what was required from Mrs Bridgehouse was superintending the dismantling and cleaning of the three chandeliers which hung on long chains from the ceiling. He was initially stunned to discover that she expected this work alone would take no less than two days although having seen the number of individual pieces he then developed some doubt that the work could be done in even this time. Every picture had been removed from the walls, the carpets and drapes sent for cleaning and every surface was being scrubbed, dusted or polished. Even the State table which, as far as the Duke could remember had never been moved from its position in the centre of the floor had been dismantled and taken to a local cabinet maker for cleaning and minor repairs. The pace of work nearly led to disaster. Two men had been drafted in to clean the higher parts of the room, only reachable from very long ladders which the Duke saw were more commonly used in the orchards during harvest. The ladders had been leant up against the beams spanning the room. Suddenly there was a shout of warning, and everybody scattered as one of the heavy ladders slid majestically sideways and crashed to the floor. The workman who, until a few seconds earlier, had been standing on the top of it was now seen to be dangling from the beam with his legs waving aimlessly, and rather comically, twenty feet above the floor. He had, rather than move his ladder, leaned a little too far off it and had pushed it over. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to hold on to the beam he had been cleaning. The ladder was soon replaced and the shaken worker returned to the ground. Having satisfied himself that the man was unhurt, the Duke made his feelings plain. Thereafter everyone knew that speed was less important than safety. In the Kitchen, many of the cooking pots were found to have been damaged and the great range had rusted and needed to be completely dismantled. It was found, upon inspection to be damaged beyond repair as the huge copper which provided hot water had sprung a leak, in addition, there were large cracks in the cast iron shell. A replacement had to be ordered from the manufacturer in nearby Coalbrookdale and until it was delivered the house had to survive on food brought in from the inn in the Village. A great deal of the household linen had become damp and, as the mould stains could not be removed no matter how many times they were boiled they needed replacement. That which could be salvaged needed washing and for the first time in years the laundry had a full complement of staff. Repairs were underway in the brewery and it was thought it would not be long before the estate was producing its own ales again. Francis, in between managing the Duke’s wardrobe had taken one look in the gun room and commenced dismantling and cleaning the Duke’s guns. Some were found to be so corroded as to require the services of a gunsmith. The Duke’s silverware had been properly stored away and it had not become tarnished but even so it had lost some of its shine and all needed to be re-polished. Every single window in the house was dirty both inside and out. Cleaning them was a herculean task, not least because many of the windows on the ground floor were sixteen feet high. In the process of carrying out this work it was discovered that there were more windows on the outside of the building on the second floor than there were on the inside. The mystery was solved when, on breaking through an internal wall from what had been the bedchamber occupied by the current Duke’s great Grandfather, they discovered a boarded-up room. They concluded that the Duke’s ancestor had concluded that he needed a larger dressing room and had, many years previously, expanded into the suite of rooms next door. The part that he did not need he simply walled up leaving the contents, including furniture, some beautiful Coalport China and a couple of bookshelves containing ancient illuminated manuscripts, walled up inside. There was one matter which caused much comment below stairs. The Duke would agree to repairs, and cleaning and he agreed to the purchase of essential supplies but he would not allow any redecoration. No new carpets were to be purchased and if the drapes in a room were beyond repair then the room stood with no drapes. It was to be inferred that the Duke was shortly to be making a change in his situation as redecoration was the province of the lady of the house. This, not unnaturally cased some speculation. The suggestion that there might, after so many years, be a Duchess in residence at Sale Park was a matter of some interest for miles around. There were, among the staff those who could have enlightened the curious, but they held their own counsel. It was therefore more than a week after the Duke had returned home that he rode over to Borden House. He had of course sent over a note explaining that he had found rather more work than he had anticipated but in any event the Ladies were kept well up to date with developments. Francis endeavoured to spend some time every day with Martha and as some of the people occasionally employed at Borden were also now also busy at Sale and were anxious to talk about the changes the Duke had thus far wrought, the ladies received a fair impression of what had been happening. Upon arrival the Duke requested, and was granted, an audience alone with Miss Leighton. Sarah had been dreading the interview, but she knew that it would have to be faced sometime and she was never one to put off an unpleasant task. She had struggled with her conscience at length. Sarah cried that she could not give him up and with him her chance for happiness, but the prosaic and very sensible Miss Leighton stated firmly that she must. Romantic Sarah was thus ruthlessly caged while Miss Leighton considered how to deal with the Duke. Various options were considered and debated but, in the end, she decided that, as uncomfortable it might be to do so, Miss Leighton would tell the Duke the truth. It was thus a very composed Miss Leighton who greeted the Duke upon his arrival. She deliberately set her embroidery aside and invited him coolly to be seated. She then looked at him with a look of polite enquiry on her face. The Duke, not unnaturally, was rather put off his stride by this quelling civility and, as he was already somewhat nervous, he had some trouble bringing himself to the point. He had thought that the first time he had proposed marriage was awkward and nerve racking, but he realised that in fact it had not been so. His proposal to the Lady Harriet Presteigne had been planned and organised by Lord Lionel and Harriet’s father, Lord Ampleforth, and his answer had thus been a foregone conclusion. It was, concluded the Duke, much more difficult to propose to a lady with whom one was already very much in love, who was independently wealthy to boot and who, as far as he could see, had no special reason to accept him whatsoever. “Miss Leighton,” said his Grace rather weakly, “as you know I hold you in the greatest regard ...” he ground to a halt as he realised he was hardly sounding like a man madly in love with the lady in front of him. He was about to try again when Miss Leighton intervened. “Would it help?” she enquired in the tone of one asking after the state of the weather, “if I were to explain that I will not marry you. I have concluded, not without giving the matter considerable thought that, under the circumstances, a marriage would not be in the best interest of either of us.” Miss Leighton had prepared this short speech in her head and rehearsed it many times. In the confines of her bed chamber it sounded fine, but in the drawing room, even to her own ears she sounded pompous and uncaring. The stricken look on the Duke’s face confirmed it. “But Sarah,” he stood up and stepped forward as if to clasp her to him. As she stepped back to put a chair between them, a frigid look on her face, he caught himself up. “I beg your pardon, Miss Leighton,” he corrected “but why would it not be in our best interests?” He looked at her intently and realised that she was not as composed as she might appear. “Forgive me,” he said searching her face, "but I had thought you were not entirely indifferent to me, and,” he added as afterthought, “I’ll thank you for allowing me to decide what is in my best interests.” “No, not indifferent,” acknowledged Miss Leighton battling for control with Sarah who was, by this time, screaming to get out, “but nonetheless I cannot, will not, marry you.” “But my darling,” the Duke said and was rewarded with a flush which he could see his beloved was having difficulty controlling, “what has changed? Am I such a coxcomb that I am wrong to believe you would have accepted me had I asked in London?” “No,” Miss Leighton rallied her forces for what she hoped was for the last time. “Had you asked then. I would have accepted you gladly even though it would have been wrong for me to do so.” As the Duke opened his mouth to interrupt she forestalled him. “I do perhaps, owe you some explanation. It was Lord Gideon ....” “I will never forgive him,” the Duke stated grimly. “He has found his happiness how the devil dare he, interfere with mine?” “It was not deliberate; he said something that made me think. He said that the Duke of Sale may look as high as he likes for a wife but if there is any lack of breeding or a ‘sniff of scandal’ then, in his words, ‘it would not do.’ You must agree that there is more than a sniff of scandal and lack of breeding about me.” “But no-one would know,” said the Duke helplessly. “We would know,” Miss Leighton bluntly asserted. “It would eat at us like a canker. You would always know that you had made a deplorable misalliance and I, that I would never be good enough. And what if someone did find out? You would be a laughing stock and I should be shunned.” Seeing the Duke’s distress, she finally moved towards him and placed her hand on his arm. Looking up into his eyes Sarah stated, “I’m sorry my dear, I can’t do it to me and I won’t do it to you.” Chapter 15 The Duke pleaded and argued with her for another ten minutes, but she was resolute. They had, she repeated, no future together. Eventually Madame returned to the room and, seeing the distraught looks on the two faces determinedly escorted the Duke out of the room. Sale started upon the ride back to Sale Park despondently. He had gone to Borden with high hopes and had fully, and reasonably, expected to return having had his offer accepted. It was not, he thought, be much to ask that the lady he loved might not only love him back but would agree to marry him. He was inclined to be a little angry at first. 'How dare she,’ he thought, ‘throw insubstantial and absurd, obstacles in the way of our happiness?’ This thought did not long endure. He had too much respect for Miss Leighton’s insight and shrewdness and his natural honesty soon reasserted itself. How would he react, he asked himself, if, after they were married Miss Leighton’s unfortunate past was revealed? She was right, he concluded, he would be a laughing stock and he might be convicted at the bar of public opinion of deliberately foisting his low born bride onto society. How long, he wondered, would their love survive such public shame? He became more reflective. Before Harriet’s death he rarely had to solve any problems. Lord Lionel told him what he should do. If not Lord Lionel, then Scriven or another of the many servants that had attended him since birth. Nettlebed told him what to wear, his butler, told him what to drink and his groom told him what to ride. Any half-hearted attempts he made to exert his independence were met with an indulgent smile and he was then deftly manoeuvred into doing what someone else thought was right. By the age of twenty-four he wondered if in fact any of the ideas he had carried any merit at all. Yet he had now found, once he had decided to be his own master, that he did have good ideas, he could put them into practice and he had managed to succeed in nearly everything he chose to do. Most of his failures were down to lack of experience and not due to any lack of ability on his part. He knew that many of the changes he had initiated in his estates were worthwhile and often required making difficult choices but, as he observed to himself somewhat ruefully, the one thing that mattered to him above all else he could not accomplish. The Duke had, while wool gathering, allowed his horse to drop to a walk. He sat up so suddenly it caused the animal to shy, requiring him to spend a few seconds concentrating on avoiding being unseated. Having steadied his mount, he set off at brisk trot with a look of renewed determination on his face. He was a paltry fellow indeed. Here was something that really mattered, and he was giving up at the first fence. There must (because the alterative was too awful to contemplate) be something he could do. Arriving back at Sale Park he handed the reins of his horse to the waiting groom and strode into the reception hall. As the Duke had informed Francis whither he was going and both Francis and Guay had an interest in the outcome they had awaited his return with some anticipation. It was to be seen from the Duke’s expression that his mission had not prospered but the expression of grim determination told them that he was not yet resigned to his fate. “We” the Duke pointed at the two men, “have a problem.” With unusual candour, the Duke explained the position. Both Guay and Francis were fully aware of Miss Leighton’s unusual background but being men, they had some difficulty understanding her decision. Women, they agreed, were unfathomable creatures at best and their motives were obscure but, as matters stood, their minds could not immediately alight on a solution. If the impeccable parentage which had so recently been created for her would not persuade Miss Leighton that she was a fit bride for the Duke of Sale, then it was hard to see what would. Unless it was possible to rewrite history, the future did not look positive for any of their marital ambitions. Guay seeing his beloved bustling across the reception hall moved to intercept her and gave the bad news. Somewhat to his surprise and chagrin she showed no disappointment. “Why should she agree to marry now?” her expression made it clear that in her view the expectation that Miss Leighton would simply agree to marry the Duke and skip into happy matrimony was an unacceptable, but predictable, piece of masculine arrogance. “Miss Sarah has just begun to see the world. In any case,” she gave an expressive Gallic shrug, “she loves him. She will marry him when she is ready to do so.” Then giving her cavalier to understand she was much too busy to spend her time gossiping with him, and recommending that he return to learning about estate management, she turned her back and walked purposefully in the direction of the Kitchen. Miss Leighton had retired, exhausted, to her bedchamber after the Duke left Borden. She then allowed Sarah out of her solitary confinement to engage in a hearty bout of tears. She was certain she had done the right thing, but it was a bitter pill indeed to swallow. When the Duke knew nothing of her existence the young Sarah had dreamt of marrying him even though she knew that he would never notice her. Well, he had noticed her, and he loved her and for a few short weeks it seemed as if her impossible fantasy might actually come to pass. Then a few chance words brought her hopes crashing down to earth. However much she loved the Duke she could not live with the thought that, one day, he might regret marrying her. Better to hold on to the impossible dream than see his regard whither before her eyes. After an hour, Miss Leighton read herself a stern lecture, brushed her hair, put up her chin and went back downstairs determined to put childish dreams behind her and concentrate on some matters which the housekeeper wished to discuss. If Madame and Martha cast her concerned looks that evening, neither Lady felt up to discussing the events of the day. It said a great about the difference in the Duke brought about by the years abroad that although the work at Sale Park did not hold the same excitement for him now he would not be bringing the bride of his choice to his home, he never once considered leaving it unfinished. He saw the enthusiasm of his staff and the local community and he realised how much Sale Park meant to them all. Then again, he was surprised at his own sense of pride in the great house, it would, he vowed, be better than it had been since it was first built. There was however, something else. He knew Miss Leighton loved his house as much as did he and he had conceived of a plan to use it to ensure that she visited as often as possible. Miss Leighton had thought, having rejected his suit, she would see little if anything of the Duke. There seemed to be little opportunity unless they met socially in London or on the rare occasions when the Leighton family went to visit their neighbours. She was therefore surprised when, not long after breakfast on the following day, he rode up to their front door accompanied by Francis. Any thought that he may have returned with the intention of pressing his suit was dispelled by the Duke himself. Striding into the room with, as she saw it, an altogether too bright smile, he said warmly, “Good morning Miss Leighton, you need have no concerns, I shall not again mention the discussion we had yesterday again, but I fail to see why two friends should not meet as such whenever they choose.” Miss Leighton, conveniently forgetting that it was she who had refused him, thought sourly that such cheerfulness under the circumstances was wholly inappropriate. He should have been, as she was, utterly cast down. This display of open friendliness, not to speak of positive bonhomie, showed a distinct lack of sympathy for her tender feelings. However, before she could prepare a suitable set down, he leaned forward and said conspiratorially, “besides, Francis wanted to come to see Martha to see if he could persuade her to change her mind.” The set down Miss Leighton was about to utter, froze on her tongue. In addition to refusing the Duke she now realised, that in doing so, she had cut up the hopes of two other women of whom she was very fond. She was now feeling somewhat selfish and more than a little guilty. She had tried to explain her decision to Martha the previous evening and while the older woman had accepted everything her mistress said, it was easy to see that she was bitterly disappointed. What was worse, a decision made in the seclusion of her own bedroom seemed suddenly less obviously right when explained to Martha. She told her maid that just because she had chosen not to marry did not mean that Martha should change her plans but Martha was resolute, she would not desert her post until she had done her Duty and assigned her into the care of a suitable husband. Much to her disgust therefore, in the place of the stiff response with which she had fully intended to greet the Duke’s lack of sensitivity, all she could do was stammer, “Of c-course, I’m very glad to see you. Then, remembering her manners she added “will you not sit down?” “I have come with a plea for help,” the Duke said as he accepted her invitation. “The work at Sale Park comes on apace, Véronique is a wonder. I have never met anyone with such energy and eye for detail. She is everywhere. I honestly believe I have seen her in two places at once and she has organised the staff so well that the work goes like clockwork. But there are some things I must do for myself. I need help hiring servants; as much as I esteem Scriven, his notion of what is due to my consequence is somewhat different to mine. If I leave it to him I will have a butler that terrifies me, a man employed with the sole job of cleaning my guns and a groom of the chambers. I will have a priest, a footman to assist the Butler in opening the front door, a night porter, an assistant valet and as Scriven is apparently convinced that one cook cannot possible deal with both meat and sweetmeat at least three chefs.” Miss Leighton had some difficulty in preserving a dignified silence at his point and the Duke ruthlessly pressed home his advantage. “I jest not; when I was a boy getting up and going to breakfast required no less than seven servants. Three were required to assist me from my bed, to lay out my clothes and to dress me. One man had the job of informing the rest of the house that I was leaving my bedchamber, a footman escorted me to the breakfast table, another pulled out my chair and pushed it back in when I was seated and the final one served me my food. I often wondered if they thought that without an escort to the table they might lose me and I might be found starved and exhausted restlessly walking around the stables unable to find a way out.” The mental image thus created of a dazed Duke, utterly lost in his own house for the want of an escort to the breakfast table, finally broke down Miss Leighton’s barriers and she laughed out loud. “I wonder how many pointless jobs we could invent,” she asked rhetorically her sense of the ridiculous coming to the fore, “perhaps you could appoint someone to guard the cabbages.” “We had kitchen porters. The senior one had the unenviable job of keeping a record of what was in the kitchen stores. Presumably that included cabbages. The young couple then spent a quarter of an hour inventing ever more pointless jobs. After the relative merits of such individuals such as a duck counter, (to ensure that a reasonable population was maintained) a tree polisher (so that the ladies would not get stains upon their raiment should they brush against an oak) and a carpet straightener (to fix down the corners where they curled) had been discussed at length, their former relationship had been restored and the natural embarrassment which they might have expected to feel had been overcome. “There were two other reasons I came to see you,” said the Duke after they had finished laughing. I have no experience of decorating a house. It is not one of the matters which my uncle thought I might need to know. He assumed that, in common with my ancestors, there would be a Duchess who would make it her life’s work. There is no Duchess and the work cannot wait for there to be one, even I can see that some of the rooms need a great deal of attention.” He shook his head hopelessly. “I simply don’t know where to start. I have execrable taste, left up to me all the rooms would be the same colour and the great hall would be adorned with rows of doric columns. I want to entertain, but with so many of the rooms in a poor state I cannot do so.” Miss Leighton wondered, not without a pang of jealousy who was to be hostess but did not advance a comment. “Some of the rooms require new drapes, the furnishings need re-upholstering and we have had to throw away a number of carpets. I need your help.” “You said two reasons Sir?” said Miss Leighton suspiciously and playing for time. “I thought,” advanced the Duke with as bland an expression as he could muster, “if you were to assist me in the house, I could repay you by teaching you to ride.” The life Miss Leighton had led had never permitted her to learn to ride. She could not go beyond the borders of the small park that surrounded Borden House in case someone saw her and the Viscount, who was often from home, did not keep a large stable. There was certainly no suitable mount for a lady. The expense of purchasing a riding habit seemed unjustifiable when it was hard to see that she would ever need it and there was the added difficulty of attending for fittings. Matters now stood differently, there was no reason she could not go abroad and Miss Leighton was determined to be seen riding in the parks at the fashionable hour when she returned to London. In hopeful pursuance of that ambition and using the funds she now had at her command, she had purchased a habit during the brief stay in London. It now hung in her closet awaiting an opportunity to for her wear it. “Oh yes please,” At this offer Miss Leighton wholly forgot that she had resolved to hold the Duke at arm’s length and bestowed him such a smile that almost overset him, “When can we start?” she asked eagerly. “How soon can you change?” he replied. Some twenty minutes later when she came down stairs attired in her new riding habit, Martha in tow, her face had once more assumed a deeply suspicious expression. The groom had harnessed the only pair of carriage horses the Viscount possessed to the barouche, John Coachman was sitting on the box and Madame was sitting in it chatting affably to Francis who was astride his mount and holding the Duke’s horse. The Duke was awaiting Miss Leighton holding the bridle of a quiet but beautiful dun mare. “Where did that horse come from?” asked Miss Leighton with no preamble. “Do not, I pray, insult my intelligence by responding that it came from our stable as I am perfectly sure that you know what I mean.” “I chose him for you,” replied the Duke, who then continued mendaciously. “Your uncle wrote to ask me to procure a suitable mount for you so that you could commence riding as soon as you had procured a habit.” While she could see nothing in his face which suggested that he was not telling her the unvarnished truth she was not convinced. On the other hand, it was a beautiful day and she wanted to learn to ride very much. Whether she would have declined in the end no-one was ever to know because Madame leant over the door of the barouche and testily enquired whether Sarah was going to keep her and Martha (who had also taken her seat) waiting much longer. Profuse in her apologies she allowed herself to be thrown into the saddle. It was perhaps fortunate that she did not see the mischievous wink Madame threw at the Duke behind her back. Checking to see that the girth was tight and the stirrups the right length he led the mare over to his own mount and a minute or so later they passed through the gate of Borden onto the Road which led past the gates to Sale Park. Upon arrival at the Duke’s home some thirty-five minutes later the ladies were astonished at the progress which the Duke had already made. Véronique was sent for and after greeting the ladies with her usual enthusiasm they set off on a tour of the house. It was not long before, as the Duke ruefully recognised, he became utterly superfluous. Even had he wanted to contribute, he was out of his depth as the discussion revolved around the relative merits of the different fabrics available and the most fashionable colours. When the ladies spent five minutes trying to choose between two patterns, which to the Duke appeared completely identical, he gave up and wandered off. There was little that could be decided that day as Miss Leighton only had her riding habit with her, a protracted stay would require her to change to something a little more suitable. Having obtained a view of the task which faced them and after taking a little tea the ladies had perforce to return to Borden, with a firm promise to return the following day. The visit set the pattern for the next three weeks. The Duke would arrive at Borden at about ten o’clock and would escort the party to Sale Park. On arrival Miss Leighton would change out of her riding habit and the ladies would set to with pattern cards and fabric samples. It transpired that, unknown to even her mistress, Martha was very accomplished at drawing and once a scheme had been settled upon she would draw it so that the decorators could see what was required. Miss Leighton discovered in herself a hitherto unknown talent for decoration. No sooner had she proposed an idea for a room than her companions immediately endorsed the idea and wondered why they had not thought of it. Then there was the question of servants. Miss Leighton and Madame undertook the task of interviewing the upper-servants including the footmen, the cook and the more senior maids. Knowing the Duke’s views on very superior servants, some highly qualified individuals with excellent references were disappointed. A Mrs Rainley, somewhat to her own surprise, was appointed to under-housekeeper on the understanding that once Mrs Bridgehouse had retired again and Véronique had returned to France she would assume the full duties of housekeeper. The Butler, Reynolds, hired himself. No-one knew where he came from. One day he just appeared and assumed the role and as the Duke was away from home at the time it was two days before he was even challenged. On being asked to explain himself, he merely explained that he would work for nothing except his bed and board and, if his service commanded sufficient respect, he would be glad to be paid. Both the Duke and Miss Leighton admired the sheer cheek of the man and since, after a week it became clear that he was in fact extremely efficient, and after Francis had wholeheartedly endorsed his way with the under servants, he was told he could stay. His only response to this gratifying confirmation of his abilities was a courteous “Of course, Your Grace.” There was one particular appointment that Miss Leighton was delighted to be able to make. There were still a few people living locally who had been in service at Sale Park before the great house had closed down and, being available for work, they were keen to return. Naturally these people were interviewed first. In the course of interviewing for senior housemaids Sarah recognised one of the applicants; “Jenny,” She blurted out. “Ma’am?” Jenny replied, somewhat surprised at being thus addressed, not recognising in this elegant lady her former companion. “When you were here before,” asked Miss Leighton mischievously, did you ever slide down the banister of the grand staircase when you were polishing them?” “But Ma’am, how did you...?” Jenny, desperately wanting the post, was not quite sure what to say. “I only ask,” said Miss Leighton conversationally, “because that is what I did.” It occurred to Jenny at this point that there was something familiar about the lady interviewing her and she looked at her somewhat more closely. “Oh! My goodness, Miss Sarah...I mean Ma’am.” Deciding she had teased Jenny enough, Miss Leighton confirmed her identity and engaged her on the spot. Having done so the two women engaged in a series of most unladylike reminiscences, only interrupted when Véronique pointedly reminded her mistress that there were other staff to be interviewed. While there were staff available locally, there was nothing like the number required to run such as large a house as Sale Park. Francis and Guay were despatched to local towns to enquire if there were people there with the right skills who were available for work and it was thus not long thereafter that the house was fully staffed. There were changes afoot in the grounds as well. The head gardener was one of the few of the ‘old guard’ remaining at the park from the days before the Duke’s marriage. He had long since ceased cultivating anything more than a small piece of the kitchen garden. For a man whose pride and joy had been one of the best managed house and gardens in the country the last few years had been very difficult. Now rejuvenated, he had hired a small army of under-gardeners to dig over and plant the whole garden. The orangery and greenhouses were once again needed to produce exotic, early and winter fruit and cut flowers for the main house. The home farm which had almost ceased working altogether, now boasted a dairy maid and steps were being taken to repair the dairy in readiness to produce milk and cheese. The small flock of chickens which they had kept for the few eggs the house needed had grown considerably and the pond contained a handsome number of ducks and geese. Over the last few days the repairs to the sties and farrowing pens had been completed and a delivery of pigs to occupy them was expected any day. Miss Leighton made good on a promise she had made weeks ago and took the Duke around his home by the back stairs. He discovered, much to his surprise that there were many passages around his home that he had not known existed. On several occasions Miss Leighton challenged him to get from one place in the house to another faster than she could and each time he lost. There were however, according to the staff, some disadvantages to the owner of the house knowing about the back stairs. One never knew when one might meet one’s employer. One morning, late for breakfast the Duke decided to avail himself of the shorter route to the breakfast and met he one of the newly appointed chamber maids en route. Not aware of the Duke’s easy ways with his staff he scared the poor girl so much that she was useless until revived by Véronique employing the simple expedient of throwing a jug of water over her. At the beginning and end of every day Miss Leighton the Duke taught her to ride. She was an apt pupil with fine light hands and her small size meant that her mount did not tire easily, “Either I am a very good teacher, or you are an exceptional student,” the Duke said admiringly as they pulled up at Borden House having cantered for the last mile. “It will not be long before you will be teaching me.” “I have never enjoyed anything so much in my life,” Miss Leighton replied as she gave her hand to the Duke to help her dismount. “When will I be able to gallop?” At the end of three weeks all the constraint which had followed the Duke’s declaration had gone. While there were some topics of conversation which they carefully avoided there was so much else to talk about that this was never an issue. In one quarter however, this renewed closeness was received with a certain amount of suspicion and increasing concern. Madame, struggling to see how the situation could have a happy outcome, was moved to seek out and speak to the Duke on the issue. After a considerable search, she found him superintending the demolition of a very ugly and pointless ‘ruin’ which his Grandfather had constructed in slavish worship to the fashion for such things. Not proof against his charm she watched him as he stripped off his coat and joined in with the men hauling on the rope to pull down the main part of the structure. Some five minutes later she walked over to him as he picked himself off the ground where he had fallen when the ruin had finally collapsed. He was very dirty, and although not a large man he was quick and wiry and, Madame thought, fatally handsome. He was clearly enjoying himself very much. She waited while he thanked the men for their assistance and then walked purposefully over towards him. “Sale, I want to talk to you.” Madame had already a reputation for a commanding presence and few pithily delivered words. “What are you doing with Sarah?” Guiltily aware that his actions over the last few weeks or so could have led Madame to the conclusion that he was trifling with Miss Leighton, he explained that, before he left Sale Park, which it was his intention to do on the morrow, he wanted to be sure that he had recovered his position. “To what purpose pray?” demanded Madame, “she will not have you.” She was startled by the look of utter desperation which appeared on his face. “Madame,” he guided her away from the ongoing demolition work to a bench under a tree. “I understand why Miss Leighton feels we cannot marry and, if that is the end of the matter then so be it. But I cannot allow matter to rest until I am sure that every door is closed to me.” He gave Madame a twisted smile which showed just how important it was to him. “There is just one small hope, I cannot say more for the moment. If it does not prosper then I shall remain in London until the end of the season and I shall not hereafter press my suit upon Miss Leighton.” Madame was not displeased by this response. As she knew the depth of the feelings Miss Leighton carried for the Duke, if there was any possibility that a Union could be achieved she felt every avenue should be pursued. It would be a most advantageous match and one of which she was certain her husband and his nephew would approve. Except therefore, for telling him that she would hold him to his promise and wishing him good luck, she held her tongue. The Duke had not in fact been planning to leave quite yet but once Madame had made her feelings plain he decided that he had little choice but to bring matters forward. On the ride back to Borden that evening the Duke broke the news to Miss Leighton that there would perforce have to be a hiatus in her riding lessons as he would be leaving very early the following day on matters of business which could not be delayed. He was gratified to note the effect his announcement had on her. It was a nearly a minute before Miss Leighton was able to reply, keeping her face averted lest he should see the tears. “Of course, you have been at home for nearly three weeks and you have other estates you will need to see,” she said not entirely coherently, “are you likely to be away for long?” It was all the Duke could do not to take his love in his arms and promise never to go away but he reminded himself that if he was unable to solve their problem a little separation might, (although knowing his love’s strength of character, he thought it unlikely) change her mind. He held his peace therefore, merely inviting Sarah to treat his house as his own while he was away and confirming that, while he could not precisely define the length of his expected absence it was likely he would be away for at least two weeks. The following day, very early in the morning, two nondescript men mounted on sturdy but ordinary horses left Sale Park by a side entrance. No-one saw them leaving the Duke’s spacious grounds and, once on the road, they were only seen by a few tradesmen and farm workers, early risers all and who paid them no attention at all. Mr. Rufford and his travelling companion had reappeared and then immediately thereafter vanished. No-one was able, to give any clue as to the Duke’s whereabouts. To polite enquiries, Reynolds merely said that his Grace was away on business and had not said when he would return. Chapter 16 Had anyone been privileged to observe the Duke they would have been mystified by his behaviour. His travels took him to Portsmouth where he visited a number of churches and spent some time talking to retired naval officers living in and around the town. He also was to be found in the court looking through the voluminous records there and thereafter he visited a retired Judge living a few miles distant. It appears that he found whatever it was he had sought because upon returning from the Judge’s house he paid his shot and made instead for Lancashire where he again sought and obtained permission to view the birth and confirmation and marriage records held in the local parish churches. From there he returned to London for a few days. It appeared he was anxious not to attract attention because he did not take up residence at Sale Park, putting up instead at a small but comfortable hotel in an unfashionable district. His behaviour here too was inexplicable, as it involved a couple of visits to the home office, a trip out to Kent, some very specific instructions to a courier and a trip to Admiralty House. He then waited. After a week during which a surprising number of letters were delivered for his attention, he set out travelling north again and riding very hard. He arrived in York the following morning. That afternoon an elderly butler answering the door of a fine country residence clearly owned by a man of substance, was surprised to find, upon the door step, a young unassumingly dressed man and his rather older companion, both desirous of securing an interview with the occupants. The population around Sale Park, finding that the Duke’s return provided work for many families who had been struggling financially, noted with relief that it appeared that the Duke’s absence would not, on this occasion, be permanent. The work in the house continued to progress. Large amounts of fabric arrived so that the seamstresses could start making the new curtains and wall hangings. Some of the new carpets had arrived too, although laying them had to wait until the cleaning and decoration had been completed. The household staff started appearing outside the park proudly wearing their new livery and the grooms were heard to boast of the new cattle now in occupation at the Duke’s stables. Word then leaked out that invitations had been sent out for a house party at Sale Park. It was whispered that some of the invitations had been sent by courier as far as France. There was to be a ball and shooting and, judging by the orders for ale, meat and other provisions, the Duke intended entertaining on a lavish scale. There were few people still alive who could remember the last such party as there had been nothing like it during the current Duke’s lifetime. Mrs Bridgehouse, one of those who remembered when Sale Park played regular host to gatherings of the upper echelons of the nobility, had maids ransacking the storerooms for the best china service. It had been so long since it had seen the light of day that it had taken her several days to remember where it was. Véronique, by now viewed with a mixture of respect and awe by all the servants, not least because of her indefatigable energy, was driving the staff even harder to ensure all the bedchambers were ready to receive guests. Every day came more deliveries, one day saw the arrival of a quantity of table and bed linen, the next day an enormous cart arrived laden with candles. It seemed that there could not be room, even in a great house the size of Sale Park, to hold any more. The hard work produced results. Just two days before guests were due to start arriving the upper servants announced that they were ready. Mrs Bridgehouse noted that every bed chamber was made up in readiness to receive its occupant. The Butler confirmed that the cellar was once again stocked and, as he observed to the cook, he had never had the opportunity to care for such a distinguished assemblage of wines, brandies and ports. There was nothing there, he declared with simple pride, that he would not be proud to serve. The cook had prepared a menu for the first two days and had suggestions ready to discuss with the Duke, as soon as he should return, for the remainder of the week. Those supplies that would not perish had already been purchased and were stored safely under lock and key and the local butchers and fishmonger had received their orders. Every inch of the stables had been scrubbed and checked to make sure they were safe to house the high bred cattle that the guests were expected to bring. All the servants had received their instructions. The new Aubusson carpet had been laid in the State dining room, the Ducal plate had been removed from storage and polished so that it gleamed, and everyone waited with baited breath to see if the Duke himself would return. The day before the house party, Madame and Miss Leighton left for Sale Park about eleven o’clock. Although they did not now visit every day and they had now been absent for some days Véronique and Mrs Bridgehouse had both asked that they drive over to make sure they had forgotten nothing. Martha remained at Borden, the Duke was not at home and Madame would be more than adequate as chaperon. Martha had it in mind to use the time on her own to accomplish some small tasks to which she had been meaning to attend but for various reasons had been putting off. They had, in common with all the respectable families within a radius of Sale Park, received invitations although Miss Leighton had initially been inclined to decline until Madame had represented to her that she could not in all conscience do so. It was known they had travelled from France under the Duke’s protection and moreover, as they were neighbours it would present a very odd appearance if they did not accept. In addition, as Madame pointed out, they would meet in society and, Miss Leighton would have to face that prospect sometime. Better sooner than later. No sooner than the Leighton ladies had disappeared out of sight in the direction of Sale Park, but two mounted men, escorting an elderly, but richly appointed travelling carriage, turned into the drive from the other direction. The Viscount’s elderly butler did not at first recognise the plainly dressed men mounted on horseback and assumed they were outriders. As the carriage was perfectly unknown to him he enquired, with rather less than ordinary politeness, what he could do for the visitors. It was not until one of the men dismounted and approached him that he recognised the Duke, “Your G-Grace” he stammered. “I did not recognise you. I-I’m sorry but the ladies are not at home. “No doubt, had you recognised me,” the Duke was more than a little irritated by the man’s discourtesy and it showed as he continued frostily, “you would have extended the common courtesy which I am sure your master expects will be extended to even the most casual of his visitors.” Having successfully annihilated the butler and feeling somewhat better after venting his feelings he continued, “I am aware that the ladies are from home, I would like to speak to Miss Martha if you please.” Having given the Duke to understand that he would see if Miss Martha was receiving visitors the butler requested the Duke to wait in the Drawing room and tottered off to execute his orders. Meanwhile Francis had also dismounted and together with the Duke assisted a very elderly couple to alight from the carriage. It was to be seen that the gentleman, although dependent upon his stick, still stood tall and proud. He was very well dressed although according to a fashion now some fifteen years out of date. Sale's attention then turned to supporting the lady who, for some reason, was clearly much distressed. The Duke, familiar with Borden House, showed the couple into the drawing room where he begged them to be seated and awaited Martha’s pleasure. They did not have long to wait. They could hear footsteps hurrying towards them in the hall, at which the elderly couple sat up with a mixed expression of hope and excitement on their faces. A second later the door opened and Martha bustled into the room, “Your Grace, we did not expect ....” She stopped with a look of thunderstruck amazement upon her face as she saw the elderly lady and gentleman. “Mama?” she said stepping forward hesitantly “Papa” she cried. Without waiting a moment longer, she flung herself to her knees at the feet of the couple and hugged them. The Duke and Francis tactfully left the room. It was rather more than an hour before they deemed it sensible to return. Martha was sitting between the couple holding their hands as if she was concerned they might simply disappear. All three were smiling broadly. The elderly gentleman tried to stand, “No Sir,” said the Duke in a most respectful voice, “please do not rise.” "Your Grace,” the gentleman gratefully remaining seated, “my wife and I knew of course why we came with you, but we were, after all these years, very unsure of our reception. We cannot thank you enough. We had long since given up upon being reunited with our daughter.” Before the Duke could respond, Martha stood up and walked over to Francis. She took him by the arm and urged him forwards. “Mama. Papa. You have already met John. As soon as matters are settled I am going to marry him.” The elderly couple had been travelling in the company of the Duke and Francis for two days and therefore knew who he was. It was clear that, while the two men had been out of the room that Martha had explained to them the nature of her marital intentions as they were not remotely surprised by the introduction. Francis, on the other hand, was struck initially dumb. He had not explained to the couple that he had a personal interest in reunion and had only introduced himself as the Duke's manservant. He was therefore considerably embarrassed and concerned they might think him an upstart or criticise him for failing to seek their approval before paying his addresses to their daughter. He had prepared, with some trepidation, to explain himself to his intended parents in law. Although he had given some thought to when he would declare himself, now the time had come he found that it was a great deal more difficult to do in person than he had imagined it might be in his head. He explained, in slightly halting tones that when his affections had first been engaged there had seemed no difficulty. They were both single and their stations in life were similar. He had not known that Martha’s parents were alive, or he would of course have sought their permission. He would of course understand if Martha’s father might choose to forbid the match. Standing ramrod straight he waited for the axe to fall. However noble the sentiments, Martha was not prepared to accept Francis’ assessment of his eligibility and she cried out in protest but, as her father intervened giving Francis to understand that if it was his daughter’s wish to marry him then he would not stand in the couple’s way she was quickly silenced. The gentleman gave his view that he could hardly leave her in better hands. Francis had demonstrated that he was more than capable of protecting his daughter and judging by Martha’s descriptions of his behaviour over the last few weeks and months, Francis was a man of honour and integrity. An hour later Martha, now accompanied by her parents, climbed into their carriage and, once more accompanied by the Duke and Francis, set off for Sale Park. Initially, the junior footman who opened the door to them was inclined to blandly point out that the Duke was not at home and to pointedly request the unknown visitors with their non-descript escorts to leave the way they had come. It was not until the Duke, laughter in his voice, asked if he was not to be recognised or admitted to his own home that the horrified menial stuttered an apology and threw the doors wide. The Duke had become so comfortable as the ordinary Mr Rufford over the last three years and his unassuming demeanour, that even those most familiar with him did not recognise him at first. Reynolds was hurriedly summoned, and he made haste to welcome the Duke back to his ancestral home with a reassurance that everything was now in readiness for the party. The Duke, looking around appreciatively, requested him to convey to the staff his thanks for their hard work and gave him to understand that he was glad to be home. He requested that his guests be escorted into the best drawing room and asked if any other visitors had arrived. He was gratified to be told that Monsieur Leighton together with Viscount Borden had arrived the previous day. “I must change,” said the Duke heading purposefully in the direction of his bedchamber followed by Francis, “Could you ask Monsieur Leighton, Mademoiselle Leighton, Madame Leighton and Viscount Borden if they would be so kind as to wait for me with the other guests who arrived with me. I shall not be above fifteen minutes.” In fact, it was rather less than fifteen minutes before the Duke reappeared, accompanied by Francis and both more conventionally attired. No trace of Mr. Rufford and his travelling companion remained, as they had effortlessly assumed the mantle of master and servant. Coincidentally, Madame and Miss Leighton appeared in the hall at the same moment but from the other direction. Sarah had, of course, been warned that the Duke was here and seeking an audience with her, but nonetheless as the separation had sorely tested her resolution, the smile she bestowed upon the Duke spoke of her pleasure in seeing him again. She rather breathlessly explained to him they had been taking a turn around the garden and it had taken a footman some time to locate them. The Duke emboldened by the welcome he had received could not resist catching Sarah’s hands and smiling down at her. The love she saw there almost deprived her of the little breath she had left. Entering the drawing room, it was to be seen that Monsieur Leighton and the old gentleman the Duke had brought with him from York were already well acquainted although, judging by the reminiscent tone of the conversation, it had been many years since last they met. Viscount Borden was leaning against the mantelshelf making courteous conversation with the elderly lady. Miss Leighton looked curiously around the room. Most of the occupants were known to her, but she was surprised to see her maid, whom she had left but two hours ago left at Borden, sitting between a very elderly but expensively dressed couple who were quite unknown to her. Martha returned Sarah’s look steadily, and then indicated by glancing sideways at the Duke that she should direct any questions she might have to him. She was about ask the obvious question when she noticed that the room had fallen quiet and everyone was looking at the owner of Sale Park with an air of expectation. Realising that she would soon have an answer to her questions, she had she held her peace and sat down next to Madame. “I have a story to tell which touches you all.” The Duke began.” As you will shortly see, it covers a period of nearly sixty years and has taken quite a while to precisely understand it all. Doubtless if I miss anything out one of you will correct me. Even now there are some parts of this story which I do not know for certain, although I can guess what happened, and I hope where this is the case, you will fill in the details for me. Some of you will know part of this story, none of you know it all. I think you will enjoy it but I beg you will be patient as it may take some time for me to tell it.” He took a deep breath. “My story starts more than fifty years ago at Borden House. At that time, the current Viscount’s grandparents were still alive. The Viscount and Viscountess had two children, Arthur and his younger brother Rupert. Arthur was a very serious man, not well liked by his peers and with a reputation for extreme irascibility coupled with a tendency to censoriousness.” Both Monsieur Leighton and the Viscount nodded firmly at this assessment. “In due course Arthur married and, like his own mother before him, his wife presented him with two sons; Christopher, the elder and Edward.” He nodded in the direction of the Viscount. “Edward is the current Viscount Borden. Rupert was the antithesis of his older brother; he was well liked and possessed of a joix de vivre which made him his mother’s favourite. It was perhaps unfortunate, especially in the light of subsequent events, that she should have chosen to make that partiality as obvious as it inspired Arthur with profound jealousy. For those of you who have not met him may I present the Honourable Rupert Leighton?” The Duke waved his hand in the direction of Monsieur Leighton who smiled and gave a nod in response to the introduction. “Upon the death of their mother, the brothers quarrelled violently. Words that should have remained unsaid were said and Rupert, deciding that Borden no longer held a welcome for him decided to seek his fortune abroad. He had a good friend with whom he had gone to school and, on the night that he left home, his friend helped with the arrangements. That friend was called Horace Arterbury.” He pointed at the elderly gentleman sitting next to Martha, “This is he. Arthur had the greatest dislike of the scandal that would necessarily attach when the story of the quarrel and the subsequent disappearance of his younger brother became public knowledge. He probably suspected that society would say that he drove his brother from his home which of course was no more than the truth. Guessing that Rupert’s friend was somehow involved in his brother’s disappearance he tried to persuade the friend to say what he knew. "In his place, I think I should have chosen a less public location to confront Horace but doubtless he had his reasons. The middle of Bond Street soon after midday is about the least private place I can imagine. Arthur demanded, with less even than his usual courtesy that Horace tell him where his brother was. Unfortunately for him, not only did Horace remain loyal to his friend but in a few well-chosen words favoured Arthur with a reading of his character, a description of his barbarous behaviour to his mother and his brother and finished his speech by describing the certainty of his eventual arrival at an unpleasant and miserable end. Arthur was a laughing stock and Horace had made a bad enemy. "In time Arthur’s father died and Arthur, as is our custom, succeeded to the Viscountcy in his stead, inheriting not only the title but also of course the entailed estate. Arthur’s wife died within a few years of the birth of his youngest son and, left alone with his children, he consigned them into the care of a series of nurses and tutors who never seemed to meet with his exacting standards and whose tenure was thus of short duration. The older son was an exuberant lad, always up for a lark, whereas the younger was much more studious and serious but, withal, they held a genuine affection for each other. Christopher had always a desire to join the navy but his father, who considered the only suitable occupation for an eldest son was attending to the business of the estate, thought he should remain at home and do as convention and family custom demanded. There was little love lost between father and son and the former was frequently heard to animadvert forcefully on the shortcomings of the latter. As his eldest son was invariably cheerful he probably reminded his father of Rupert." "Christopher went to sea soon after his eighteenth birthday, having informed his father bluntly that if he would not purchase his commission, he would simply enlist. By this time what affection there may have been between the pair had been extinguished and all that remained was a vague notion of duty on either side. Faced with the inevitable, and unable to countenance his eldest son and heir serving in the ranks, the Viscount reluctantly and with very bad grace capitulated.” The Duke poised at this point and looked around the room to confirm he still held his audience. “Up to this point the story is familiar and will not have been controversial. From now on my story will deviate somewhat from that which you have all led to understand is the truth." Horace had also married. May I introduce Mrs Arterbury?” The Duke stepped over and courteously bowed over her hand. “They had but one child, a daughter, who, as I am led to believe, was possessed of considerable beauty. When she was seventeen and Christopher eighteen, purely by chance, they met at a county house party held here by my father, the sixth Duke. Mrs Bridgehouse who is still employed here and Nettlebed who was, for many years, my valet and whom I recently visited, have both told me how, for a few short weeks, the pair were inseparable. Unfortunately, Arthur found out about the budding romance and forbade his heir to associate with the child of the man who had so comprehensively humiliated him in public. Mr. and Mrs. Arterbury, seeing that the relationship had no future, refused to permit their daughter continued contact with Christopher. I understand that Mr. Arterbury expressed himself in somewhat more austere terms than, with the benefit of hindsight, was perhaps wise." "Desperate and convinced that their parents would do anything to separate them based on simple prejudice and a quarrel which occurred many years ago and to which they were not a party, the young couple eloped and were married in Portsmouth by special licence. As neither was of age and nor had they the consent of their guardians such a marriage involved a certain amount of deception." "The marriage was very happy. The young couple rapidly became favourites among the circle of young officers and their wives and the fact that they were estranged from their respective parents troubled them but little. Mrs Leighton- as she now was - did send one letter to her parents after a year to confirm that she was safe and happy, but she was concerned that they would track her down and take her back and after that ceased contact altogether. Such contact has only recently been re-established. Christopher was in occasional contact with his father, principally because he was fond of his younger brother and did not want to cut off contact completely, but as he was either at sea or in lodgings at Portsmouth his duty visits to his father were of necessity infrequent. Mr. and Mrs Arterbury missed their daughter and of course suspected what might have happened, but they had no idea where to look for her. They wrote to the Viscount who, in his conceit, did not believe his son would disobey him so profoundly and naturally refused to even discuss the matter. Faced with this refusal they had to accept that their chance of finding their child was extremely slim." "Christopher did not tell his father of the marriage for more than three years, by which time they had been blessed with the birth of a girl, Sarah, and Mrs Leighton was again expecting a happy event. It may be that, had it not been clear that Christopher would have to go to war, he would not even then have told his father of the marriage but as it seemed to him there was real risk of his being killed in action, he wanted to ensure his wife would be looked after. He would, as events unfolded, have been better to have said nothing, but he had not the gift of foresight and he could not have known the lengths to which his vengeful parent might go." "Arthur was furious at the news, he banned his son from the house and informed him that while he was alive neither his son nor the family whom he refused to recognise would ever be welcome at Borden. This did not bother Christopher overmuch and so he returned to Portsmouth and, a few weeks later went off to sea.” “His ire by then having cooled and seeing an opportunity, Arthur conceived of a plan. While his son was away and without telling his daughter in law, he would have the unlawful marriage set aside. There might soon be an heir and he could not countenance the offspring of such a union succeeding in due course to the Estate and polluting the name of Borden. Confident of victory he instructed his lawyers and asked the court to set aside the marriage." "At this point, the true version of events differs significantly from that which everyone in this room had believed. The marriage was not set aside. The Judge took a dislike to the Viscount and firmly told him that he was not prepared to render two children illegitimate merely because the means of their marriage was to be deprecated. Furthermore, he observed, as the marriage had undeniably been consummated it could not now be annulled. I understand that the Viscount made some derogatory comment about the Judge and was only persuaded to leave the court after being threatened with a sojourn in the cells for contempt.” He drew a paper out of his pocket. “I have here a sealed copy of the order of the court.” Seeing that the implications of this last piece of news was beginning to have its effect he asked for a few seconds more patience and continued, “Sadly Christopher was killed in action only a few days after his wife was delivered of a son although his bravery was mentioned in despatches." “Meanwhile the Viscount, notwithstanding the failure of his court action, told everyone that his suit had prospered, and the marriage had been set aside. As she knew no different, he even managed to convince Christopher’s widow who was still very young and now, on her own in the world, of the truth of his words. Who would, after all, check such a story?” “So,” Viscount Borden was first to speak and did so without rancour, “I never was the Viscount. My brother’s son was Viscount Borden from the hour of his birth.” The Duke nodded briefly but he was looking in a different direction. He shot a meaningful look at Sarah, a distinct question in his eyes and he waited. Sarah was sitting next to Madame with an arrested look on her face and clearly deep in concentration. It was however a few seconds before she put the facts together to come up with the correct conclusion. Abruptly standing up with her hand over her mouth she stared at the Duke, her question writ large on her face. Seeing him nod she turned to look at Martha sitting between Mrs and Mrs Arterbury her expression asking the same question. Martha smiled and also nodded, and for the first and only time in her life, Miss Leighton fainted. Chapter 17 Sarah awoke, to the pungent smell of sal volatile and with a rather dizzy recollection of listening to the Duke tell a story. She tried to sit up but was gently restrained as a very familiar voice recommended that she lie still for a while. As the room came back into focus she discovered she was lying on a couch, her head resting in Martha’s lap and attended by Madame and the elderly lady she had seen next to Martha earlier. Suddenly she remembered what had happened and her eyes flashed back to Martha. "Are you...?” she began but got no further as Martha placed her finger across Sarah’s lips. “Shhh.” She said gently. “And yes, I am your mother.” “I do not think,” said Sarah carefully after taking in this information and thinking about it for a minute, “that I can take many more shocks, but” she smiled confirming she had recovered her equilibrium somewhat, “I pause to observe that three months ago I was an orphan. Now I have two mothers one father and,” she glanced across at the elderly Mrs Arterbury, “also a grandmother and grandfather. I am also the Sister of a Viscount. That makes me the Honourable Sarah Leighton. At this rate by tomorrow I shall have been elevated to the peerage. I wonder, do I have Aunts? Cousins?” She determinedly sat up and fixing Martha with a broad, but nonetheless compelling smile, “you do realise, M ...Mother,” the word feeling uncomfortable on her tongue, “that the obvious question is, Why?” Martha thought about her reply for a while. “If you do not object my dear,” she said squeezing her daughter’s hand gently, “I think it would be a good idea if we asked the men to return and for the Duke to complete his story. He appears to have done so well thus far that, although I think I know most of what he will say, I would like to hear him say it.” “Yes. Yes,” Sarah’s response was enthusiastic. “Please call him in?” It was five minutes before the company was once again assembled. Sarah sat between her real mother and her adopted mother holding a hand of each. The Duke satisfied himself that Sarah was ready to continue. “As you have all of you gathered, the lady sitting there is the Honourable Sarah Leighton, sister to the real Viscount Borden. The Viscount was, when last heard of, in the West Indies but I have been told by Admiralty house that they will expedite his return home. The erstwhile Viscount will of course have to relinquish his title since he was never entitled to claim it, but his Majesty the King informs me that, in view of his services to the country over many years he will replace his old title with a new one. His Majesty,” he looked at the man who had until recently been the owner of Borden house, “asked me to tell you that you are, in no sense, responsible for what has happened here and that furthermore, the foreign secretary had already spoken to him about your years of faultless service to him, and his father. The letters patent are being prepared as we speak, you are to become Earl of Righton and Kinver.” Edward Leighton bowed deeply to the Duke, “I apprehend, Your Grace that I owe this to you ...” he got no further. “You owe this to your industry and commitment to your country and to nothing else,” flatly contradicted the Duke “and in my humble opinion, this honour is long overdue.” “It is,” agreed Sarah, “he has supported a number of foreign secretaries, has never put a foot wrong and, even by those who have no love for us, is trusted and respected.” Faced with this encomium, the newly created Earl had little to do but gracefully accept the congratulations of his friends and family, embrace his niece and sit down, a considerable look of embarrassment on his face. “To continue,” said the Duke when he had once again secured the attention of the room. “We have arrived at a point in my story where I can speculate, but do not know, what happened. Perhaps Mrs Leighton,” he politely indicated Martha giving her the correct title for the first time in many years, “you could tell us how you came to be employed as your own daughter’s maid and why you remained in that position after your father in law’s death?” Martha frowned, but as she had anticipated that she would be called upon to tell this part of her story she was not surprised. “Most of what I told Sarah was true,” she said, “following Christopher’s death I had only the small amount of money we had saved. Our friends helped us all they could, but a junior officer’s pay is little enough and they had their own families to feed. My own family, would not, as I thought,” she cast an apologetic look at her parents, “wish to know me after my clandestine marriage and therefore, and only as a last resort, I applied to my father in law. I believed that he would, whatever he thought of me, want to know his grandchildren. I was mistaken, he did not really want to know them at all. As you can imagine he only received me reluctantly and he looked on my children with acute disfavour. It was at this point he told me my marriage had been set aside and he produced a formal piece of paper in support of his version of events. I still have it somewhere. He was most persuasive. I often wondered what had, in the end, persuaded him to take my children and I could never arrive at a convincing explanation. You must understand that, until today I did not know that my marriage had not been set aside. I now think it was because he knew, even if I did not, that the marriage had not been annulled. I assume that he thought if he kept my children on the estate and brought them up to believe that they were little more than charity cases, the prospects of his deception ever coming to light were small. He could pass his title and estate on to his younger son, tell everyone with perfect truth that his eldest had died on duty and, as no-one knew we had ever married, his secret was safe." "Giving my children up was the hardest thing I ever did,” Martha cast an apologetic look at her daughter. “Your grandfather told me that he would take you, ensure you were clothed and fed and he would bring you up safely. Naturally, I wanted to remain with you but he said that he would not take you if I remained. He agreed however, that I could visit every six months to see you, as long as when I came I did not tell you I was your mother. I believe he thought that I would soon lose interest when my children did not remember me. He paid me a sum of money, not much, but enough to live on and informed me that, if ever I should seek out my parents, he would never pay me another penny and he would prevent me seeing my children ever again.” At this point a most impish expression crossed her face as she looked at her daughter. “Even at three years old you were a very naughty child. A year after I left you with your grandfather I arrived on my visit to see you. You had long forgotten who I was and of course your brother was too young to have any memory of me at all. You had just caused your nurse to leave your grandfather’s employ. I understand that as she departed down the drive she was heard to refer to you as a “hellion.” Certainly, when I arrived you were loudly causing havoc. Your grandfather was shouting at the top of his voice that someone should control you and various servants were trying to persuade you, unsuccessfully I might add, to quietly return to the nursery.” “Some things, muttered the Duke under his breath, “never change.” “Just so Your Grace,” replied Martha with a laugh. “It took me a matter of seconds to restore order. I picked you up and carried you, screaming all the way, back to the Nursery where I smacked you very hard. Your grandfather was so impressed by my skill and so relieved at the peace, that he offered me, subject to my agreement never to disclose who I was, the post as your nurse. When your Grandfather died I did think about revealing my identity to the new Viscount but the story seemed so fantastic that I was concerned I should not be believed. You were only seven and your brother five and I could not face the thought of being parted from you; so I remained quiet.” “You should have told me Martha,” the recently ennobled Earl of Righton and Kinver stated. “I knew what sort of man my father was and I would have believed you. I always thought you were far more committed to my niece and nephew than the nurses employed by those of my friends who have children. You never took any holidays, you never asked for a raise, you did not have a day off. Now,” he finished ruefully, “I know why.” “I did not know you then Sir,” said Martha automatically reverting to the mode of address she had used with him for years. “By the time I had realised that you would have listened to me it was too late; I had deceived you for too long. You asked how I dealt with my situation. It was not hard. Sarah’s Grandfather pretended we did not exist, you were rarely at home, I had nowhere else to go and I was with my children. I cannot say I was happy, but I was not unhappy either. I became used to my position. There were a few times when Sarah was younger that she gave me orders and I positively itched to tell her the truth, if only to see the look on her face but, by the time she was seventeen we were more friends than anything. In truth, I would do the same again.” At this point Monsieur Leighton stood up. “So, to summarise your story thus far; he began. There was a quarrel between my brother and I. As I was assisted in my departure from England by my friend Mr. Arterbury my brother decided to blight the happiness of his own child, his daughter in law and his own grandchildren. Consequent upon the Duke of Sale’s investigation my nephew’s wife has discovered that she always was married to my nephew and is thus the Dowager Viscountess of Borden and my great nephew is now restored to the position he should have held from his birth. My great niece has discovered that the lady she always thought of as her maid is in fact her mother and moreover that she has surviving maternal grandparents. Do I have that right?” he asked sardonically. Upon receiving a chorus of nodding heads he continued, “I apprehend however that there may yet be more shocks to come and, judging by the expression currently residing upon the face of my astoundingly acute great niece, she may have some idea what they are.” He looked at Sarah, “my dear, might I suggest you share your thoughts with us.” “There is something,” Sarah responded slowly,” in this story that does not ring true.” Sarah said with a very thoughtful expression on her face. “I have been trying to work out what it was. I believe I now have it.” “Pray enlighten us,” responded the Duke a look of polite enquiry coupled with a grin of anticipation on his face. “Your Grace told us that my mother and my father met at a party hosted by your father, the Sixth Duke.” Sarah said slowly, clearly still following the line of thought in her head. “I did not know your father, he died before you were born and you are older than I. However, from all I have heard of him he was every bit the stickler as was my grandfather although he was, by all accounts, a great deal kinder. He would no more have invited a mill owner to his house than he would a mill worker. She looked at Martha’s elderly parents who were looking at her with an expression of pride not unmixed with respect. “Sir, Ma’am, just who are you?” “The last Viscount told Sarah and Christopher that their mother was the child of mill owners,” Martha interrupted. “It was a shrewd decision which had the effect of discouraging them from seeking any more information. They were already low born; they would never want to be associated with the mill trade.” “I have managed to work out for myself that my mother never was the daughter of a mill owner,” Miss Leighton said impatiently. “I know who you are not, it is who you are that I need to know now.” “I told you, did I not, that it is very difficult to fool your granddaughter,” the Duke said to the elderly couple. “It is easy to see why she was such an asset to her uncle.” Sale turned to Sarah and reached for her hand. “Your mother is not Martha Leighton, she is Lady Marta Leighton the only child of the Earl and Countess of Stowe.” “B-b-b-b But that would mean,” Sarah stammered, reeling from yet another piece of life changing information. “That means,” said the Duke that you are the Honourable Sarah Leighton, sister of Viscount Borden and Granddaughter of the Earl of Stowe.” He paused for a few seconds to allow that to sink in before asking her, “can you take yet another shock?” he asked. For once Sarah was unable to think of anything to say and just looked up at him and nodded mutely. “Your grandfather has no living relatives of the male line to whom he can pass his estate and so when he dies the title will die with him. He tells me however that he intends to make his will in favour of your brother who therefore inherits the estates of both his grandfathers. I can tell you that your brother will have little difficulty reviving the Earldom and, if he chooses to do so, as the sister of an Earl you will become Lady Sarah Leighton. Furthermore, your grandmother tells me that when she married she was herself an heiress. Her fortune is settled on her daughter and as such will eventually come to you. When the gift from the French government and the estates belonging to your Uncle have been taken into account, you are now amongst the wealthiest heiresses in the country.” At that moment, he heard the door close quietly behind him. Turning his head, he saw that the spot where Francis was standing was now empty. He shot a look at Sarah’s mother who nodded gravely. “Yes, he said cryptically, we shall have to do something about that. “Your Grace,” this time it was Madame who spoke up. "How do you propose to deal with Sarah’s change in circumstances? We cannot, having spent some weeks in London introducing her as my daughter, now go back and say we were mistaken as to her parentage.” “Of course we cannot,” interrupted the Earl of Stowe, “she will have to remain, at least as far as the world is concerned, the child of my good friend Rupert Leighton and yourself. As far as my wife’s fortune is concerned, Sarah is an heiress in any event. The fact that she will receive a further large sum in the future will not even be noticed. We shall deal with Christopher simply by saying he was a lost heir and the victim of an unhappy misunderstanding. The man who had succeeded the Viscount with whom I was acquainted had no idea that his older brother had married and fathered a son before he died. His father had never discussed the matter with him other than to inform him that his older brother had perished at sea and that therefore he was now heir to the title. I will say that I knew about, and had forbidden, the marriage but my daughter eloped and cut off contact with me. After so many years I had assumed she was dead and I had no idea of the existence of a grandson. I assumed that that the man who had succeeded the Viscount knew all about the marriage and naturally, given the relationship between our two families I had never broached the matter." "The mistake came to light when my daughter, unable to bear the separation any longer came to see me. The quarrel had long since been forgotten and I welcomed her with open arms. She told me that the marriage had produced an heir, born posthumously, but who was nevertheless properly Viscount Borden. The current incumbent had no rights whatsoever to the title. She will explain that, cast adrift upon her husband’s death and convinced that I would never receive her she sought assistance from her father-in-law who agreed to provide financial assistance providing her location and identity and that of her son were never made known and providing she never made a claim against the estate. Her son would be provided for but only if his existence remained a secret. Upon hearing his story, I was consumed with rage and confronted the man who fraudulently called himself Viscount Borden and I demanded he recognise my daughter and the rightful Viscount immediately. I was surprised to discover that the entire story was completely new to him, he had no knowledge of his nephew as his father had told him nothing. When the story becomes public the world will vaguely remember a past scandal and the fact that the old Viscount was not well liked and no-one will look any further. The current Viscount will be generally lauded for his honesty although a few uncharitable people will say that it matters little to him anyway as he has just been granted an Earldom.” An hour later it was a thoughtful party that returned to Borden House. The Earl of Righton & Kinver had ridden on ahead to talk to his butler and housekeeper about the further changes that would take place. He did his work well. Not by a blink did the butler betray that Marta Leighton had been, until that morning Martha, Miss Sarah’s maid. There was a further addition to the Borden household. Before leaving Sale Park, Miss Leighton had, with the Duke’s permission sought out Jenny and offered her the post as her maid. Unsurprisingly Jenny had leapt at the opportunity and Miss Leighton was glad for the opportunity to assist the girl who had been for some years her only friend. The following day the whole party returned to Sale Park in preparation for the party. Sarah was allotted rooms next to Madame and Monsieur. Marta, making her first appearance in society for more than twenty years was next to the Earl and Countess. Throughout the day a steady succession of neighbours and acquaintances arrived and the many newly renovated guest rooms started to fill up. The Duke could number many prominent people amongst his circle and the fact that he had returned, reopened Sale Park and was arranging a house party was at the top of the list of on dits in the society newspapers. First to arrive was Lady Castlereagh, now a widow as her husband had died while the Duke had been on his travels. With her came my Lord and Lady Jersey. Although Sarah had never met either Lady Jersey or Lady Castlereagh she knew of them by reputation. There were few people whose approval was more necessary to social success than these ladies. Not only could they, on a whim deny her entry to Almacks but as the acknowledged leaders of society, they could blight a career if they indicated that they did not approve. Sarah was therefore a little surprised when Lady Jersey approached her and introduced herself. “We have not been introduced but unless I am mistaken, you are Miss Leighton. How do you do?” Sarah curtsied and confirmed that Lady Jersey was correct. “I thought so,” said this Lady. “I understood you had been here and as Lord Gideon, such a dear man, described you as very pretty and one of the smallest ladies he had ever seen it was hard to believe you could be anyone else.” Lady Jersey had been nicknamed ‘silence’ as a result of her continuous chatter, but Sarah, never one to accept another’s assessment at face value, thought she saw keen intelligence and a fierce determination behind the facade. “I am grateful for Lord Gideon’s recommendation but cannot allow him to be a judge,” Sarah said with a smile. “Almost anyone would be small when compared to his substantial bulk.” “So true my dear.” Lady Jersey abruptly changed the subject. “I understand you and your Mama travelled under Sale’s escort when you came to England,” Sarah nodded but remained silent “so where has he been these last three years?” “I understand, Your Ladyship, that he had been in Strasbourg before I met him but where he was before then I have no idea,” replied Sarah civilly. “Which means either you don’t know, or you won’t tell,” summed up the Lady succinctly and shooting an assessing look. Seeing that Sarah was not intimidated and would say nothing more she laughed appreciatively. “Oh! my dear,” Lady Jersey laughed, “you will do very well. Shall I provide vouchers for Almacks for you and your mama?” “Your Ladyship cannot surely expect a response to that question from me. That is a matter which will have to be decided between you and Maman. I am led to understand however that Mama may well have already secured Vouchers from Princess Esterhazy.” “I like the new heiress,” Lady Jersey observed to Lady Castlereagh in an aside over dinner that evening. She is no-one’s fool, doesn’t give herself airs but she is no retiring miss either. Who is she?” “You wouldn’t remember my dear,” responded her friend. “It happened before I was born, but my dear Robert’s father told me about it once. Sarah’s father,” Lady Castlereagh indicated Monsieur Leighton, “quarrelled with his elder brother and disappeared. It appears he has been living in France where he made his fortune. She is his daughter.” She lowered her voice, “have you heard that Edward Leighton may not be Viscount Borden after all?” She looked around before whispering, “it appears there is a lost heir and that lady,” she nodded towards Marta, “is his mother. She is Stowe’s daughter.” The Duke, covertly observing this exchange smiled to himself. Matters were going exactly as planned. So it proved, when the party broke up a little over a week later, the story, with a few embellishments, had been completely accepted. Lady Jersey was an inveterate gossip and it would not be long before everyone would know that there was a new Viscount Borden and how it came about. Madame and Monsieur had indicated that, while their plans were not fixed, they would remain in England, a guest at Borden, until at least the end of the summer. He wanted to meet the new Viscount, re-establish links with some of his old friends and, of course there was the question of his daughter’s come out and presentation at court. The Earl of Righton & Kinver was making plans for the building of a new house but would remain at Borden at least until the new Viscount came home. The size of Sarah’s inheritance grew every time it was discussed and as the precise location of Monsieur’s property in Saumur was unknown no-one was going to be gainsaid. Véronique had received three very generous (and flattering) offers of employment from the Duke’s guests impressed with her energy and attention to detail. She received one offer of marriage, from a very drunk Marquis, after she had found him wandering hopelessly lost in the servant’s wing. This she politely declined after restoring him to his valet. She also received another offer, much less flattering, from the son of one of the Duke’s guests, which she impolitely declined, and which led to a very public dressing down by an outraged father. Francis conspicuously avoided Marta and ducked any attempt by the Duke to raise the matter with him and the Duke did not, despite Miss Leighton’s conviction that he would, declare himself. On the morning that the last guests were due to leave Marta came to the Duke in his study. He looked up as she closed the door behind her. “Well Ma’am?” he asked. “I haven’t seen him in days.” Marta replied correctly interpreting his request as an enquiry as to the progress in the relationship between Marta and Francis. “He is avoiding me too,” remarked the Duke, “he is doing his duties as well as ever but he is becoming adept at slipping away.” The Duke sighed heavily, “You know what the problem is of course?” “He thinks he isn’t good enough for me and he doesn’t want to live off his wife’s money.” She frowned, “that is just stupid pride.” “You can’t blame him for not wanting to be dependent upon his wife.” said the Duke reasonably. “Are you sure your father won’t object to the marriage? “No,” She shook her head emphatically. “He would like to see me creditably established, but he won’t interfere. In any case, first there is Sarah.” “Ah yes,” responded the Duke with a definite gleam in his eye. “There is, as you say, Sarah.” Chapter 18 A week later Sarah Leighton was sitting in the drawing room at Borden trying hard to concentrate upon her embroidery at which, somewhat to her surprise, she was developing some skill. On this occasion however, her eyes were frequently drawn to the window through which a view of the drive could be seen. She did not see what it was she hoped to see and after an hour she gave up and set aside her work. “Mother, Maman, explain to me why he does not come?” She asked in a voice that showed she was genuinely perplexed. “My Dear,” responded Madame, “why should he?” “The bar to our marriage no longer exists. He made it go away.” Sarah said, surprised. “There is now no reason why we cannot marry.” “How do you suppose he felt when you refused him?” Marta asked gently without looking up from her work. “He offered you his heart and you threw it back at him because you were concerned he might regret marrying you because of who you are.” “But – but he understood, he told me so.” “Are you sure of that? Even as tolerant a man as the Duke of Sale has his pride. He offered for you in full knowledge of who you were. That was his choice to make and you wouldn’t have him. Now, because you discover you are as well born as he is you expect him to come back to you? He will not do it. You will have to go to him. You will have to take a risk.” The following day the Duke was up early to see one of his tenants. Returning at about eleven o’clock he was met by the intelligence that Miss Leighton, Mrs Leighton and Madame Leighton had arrived about half an hour ago to see him and awaited his pleasure in the Long Gallery. “I apologise for keeping you waiting……Good God!” As the Duke walked into the long gallery a minute or so later he experienced a sense of déjà vu. Miss Leighton had pinned Francis against the wall on the end of her foil and was looking at him fiercely. Martha and Madame, on the other side were sitting in the window apparently completely unsurprised at the bizarre scene in front of them. “Please excuse me Your Grace,” said Miss Leighton not looking away from Francis for a second. “I do need to speak to you, but first there is something I have to say to this person.” As she spoke she twitched the tip of her sword and Francis, still not entirely sure he wasn’t dreaming, flinched. “How dare you trifle with my mother’s affections?” she said steadily. “I assume your recent coldness arises out of some misguided belief you are not good enough for her. That is not your choice to make.” “It is quite alright dear,” Marta said serenely, “if John does not want to marry me then you will not force him to do so at the point of your sword.” “Not want to marry you,” said Francis eying Miss Leighton warily, “of course I want to marry you. But married to me you won’t be able to go to society parties. Society will reject you. I can support a wife, but I can’t give you a home with servants ...” “And when,” said Marta walking over to him and putting a hand on his arm, “have I ever given you to suppose that those are things I crave? I would not insult you by asking my parents to assist us but even so we shouldn’t be poor and I can work. In fact,” she smiled reassuringly, “I should prefer to work, I enjoy it far more than parties.” “Answer my Mother Sir.” Miss Leighton demanded, becoming impatient when Francis did not respond. Francis very deliberately reached up with his left hand and grasped Miss Leighton’s weapon, pushing it down and away from his chest, all the while holding Marta’s gaze, “Then, if,” he said reaching out and taking Marta’s hand “you will do me the honour of becoming my wife, I will spend my life making sure you never regret it.” After a few moments observing her Mother’s passionate response to Francis’ declaration with a look of deep satisfaction on her face, she turned to the Duke. “Francis did to my Mother that which I did to you. Neither of us were right.” She picked up a foil from the floor and tossed it towards him and watched him catch it. She was pleased to note that the Duke of Sale had an extremely wary expression on his face. He had not yet divined her purpose. Sliding a button on to her own weapon she walked into the middle of the room. “You need satisfaction. If you win, you can take whatever spoils you wish.” The Duke stared at her intently for a second, an intent look on his face, then he strode out to face her. “En Garde.” The couple saluted and then took their guard. The Duke tried to circle around his opponent but she immediately moved to close him off. The Duke smiled to himself, he had been trying to place Sarah so that she faced into the sun shining through the large windows. She was having none of it, clearly if he was to win then she would not make it easy for him. The Duke recalled when she had first asked him to teach her, he had wondered, if it was a real competition, would he be able to forget his opponent was a lady and do what was necessary to win. Although he had concluded he would be able to do so he realised that he had ignored one key factor. At stake on this occasion was the one thing he wanted more than anything in his life. He smiled wryly to himself, Miss Leighton’s foil stood in the way of his happiness. He had to win. He attacked and found that she was just doing enough to keep him at bay allowing him to expend his energy while she conserved hers. Again, the Duke agreed with her tactics, if the matter came down to who was the fittest he was bound to win. He slowed the pace down a little but keeping on the offensive and making her parry to the left and right watching her style. It was not long before he concluded he was unlikely to break through; she could defend against almost any attack he had. While she continued only to defend all he could hope was to wear her down. He was sure he would be able to do this in the end but winning because she could no longer lift her foil was hardly a glorious victory. Little by little and so slowly that he hoped she would not see what he was doing he made more ferocious and determined assaults knowing eventually she would have to riposte as the best defence to ensure he kept his distance. It was almost ten minutes before she responded by which time he had almost begun to believe that he would never provoke a response, as he came forward she neatly deflected his blade down and to the left and lunged believing his blade was bound to pass her by. The Duke took his chance, he lifted his arm directing her Lunge over his shoulder while rolling his wrist and bringing his weapon over the top of hers and pointing directly at her heart. Miss Leighton immediately dropped her weapon and saluted his victory, “Neatly done sir. Had I not seen it I would have never believed such a thing could be done.” “I count myself fortunate Ma’am that I had not the chance to give you more lessons. You fenced well, I could never have, except by force, broken your guard.” “I would, perhaps have kept you at it a little longer,” admitted Miss Leighton, “but I am not sure the outcome would have been any different.” She looked up proudly, staring him full in the face,” I trust you are satisfied, Sir?” “Not quite,” responded the Duke, stepping forward. Catching Sarah forcefully by the sword arm he pulled her into his arms kissing her ruthlessly. After a full minute during which Sarah dropped her sword and responded as enthusiastically as he might have wished, he stepped back, “Now I am satisfied,” he remarked. “Are you sure?” asked Sarah in wistful tones but with a mischievous expression on her face, “I’m quite happy to give you more of that type of satisfaction any time you wish.” “Imp,” said the Duke appreciatively drawing Sarah back into the curve of his arm “Mrs Leighton, Madame Leighton, I wish you will tell me to whom the devil I must apply in order to obtain permission to marry Miss Leighton, It seems to me, she has two Mothers, one Father, an Uncle, a Grandfather and a Brother.” “Please,” Marta, said with heavy emphasis, “please, just take her, and the sooner the better.” The Duke silenced the outraged expression which was just about to vent from his beloved’s lips in the manner men have been silencing their ladies for centuries. Looking approvingly in the Duke’s direction Mrs Leighton silently slipped out to the room indicating that her betrothed and Madame should follow. Much later. Sarah was heard to heave a deep sigh of satisfaction as the newly affianced couple sat together in the window. Snuggling deeper into the shoulder which presented itself as most convenient for a lady of limited inches she asked, “What do you like to be called? I will not call my husband ‘my Lord Duke’ or ‘Your Grace’ and while I shall certainly call you ‘Sir’ when I am out of temper with you, it is not a term of endearment.” “My cousin Gideon calls me Adolphus which makes me sound like relief lifted from Lord Elgin's marbles. Most of my family call me Gilly, which is friendlier but rather childish and reminds me forcibly of fish. If you insist I could learn to bear it from you. For the last few years I have been introducing myself as Vernon and I rather like it. If I have my choice, I think I should prefer this name over the other two. “Vernon, it is then.” Sarah said happily, “and, as it is my second name, you may call me Hortense ....” Chapter 19 About a week later, three couples were at ease in the Duke’s study. Guay had his arm around a radiant Véronique, who had, upon learning of the Duke’s engagement, finally agreed to her suitor’s proposal. Marta was sitting in a chair, while Francis stood behind his hand resting on her shoulder. Sarah and the Duke sat next to each other their fingers just touching. “We have to make plans,” The Duke said seriously. He turned to Marta, “notwithstanding your contentment at your forthcoming marriage to my valet, I am afraid this is not possible.” He held up his hand as Marta was about to interrupt, “you must see that my mother in law cannot marry my valet. Think of my privacy. A son in law is at a large enough disadvantage as it is.” “Very true,” commented Sarah, abjectly failing to keep a straight face. “Why, if we had cross words all I would have to do would be to complain to my mother and you could expect your most intimate secrets to be thrown in your face. Mother, it just won’t do.” “I am grateful for your support my love,” said the Duke, theatrically wincing at the mere thought of the scene laid out by his betrothed. “Therefore, I have a plan.” His face turned more serious, “the two men I trust more than any other are in this room with me now. Guay has already accepted my offer of the post of Steward of my estates in France. I hope that you, Francis will accept the same post in respect of my English estates.” The Duke looked enquiringly at Francis, who looked terrified at the prospect of so much responsibility. It was Martha who answered for him, “Thank you, Your Grace,” She said quietly, “he will be glad to accept.” “Both of you,” The Duke continued, having acknowledged Marta’s response with a decided nod, “will be supported by your wives who will, I suspect, make your jobs a great deal easier. Your wages will therefore reflect the contributions Véronique and Marta will both make. As to when this will happen, Scriven is to retire in eighteen months. By that time, you will both be ready. I do not believe however, that this is enough. I owe you both my life and I do not choose to make you dependent upon me or, in the future upon my children. You both need an estate of your own. I have already purchased Stainefold house to the south of Sale Park together with the small estate surrounding it. Mrs Leighton and Francis, this will be your home after you marry; it is close enough for you to visit your daughter whenever you wish. I shall locate a similar property adjacent to my estate in France for Véronique and Guay. Each year for the next ten years I shall give you one tenth of those Estates and so after ten years they will be yours. You may consider them, if you wish, partly a wedding present and partly a reward for past and future services. Both estates will generate an income sufficient for you to live comfortably. I would hope you would still want to manage my estates but you will not need to do so. This announcement, not unnaturally created great excitement as the import of the Duke’s words struck home. Guay would have an estate of his own to pass on to this children and Marta, after so many years, would finally have a house of her own to manage. Guay and Francis were almost overcome and Véronique and Marta burst into tears. “Mother,” Sarah attracted her mother’s attention when a measure of decorum had been restored, “I have no intention of being parted from you so soon after discovering you. So, I have a proposal. There are three weddings to plan. You and I will marry on the same day and we will honeymoon in France. We will all travel to Seltz so that Véronique can marry Guay attended by her own family. And then we shall all go onto Vernon’s new estate.” Sarah’s proposal having been endorsed by all those present the couples sought a little solitude prior to returning to their homes. Sarah, walked over to the Duke and looked up into his face. “You are a good man and I am a lucky woman, I am marrying the man I have loved all my life and I have discovered that he is much better than the fantasy I had created.” “All your life?” The Duke said considerably astonished. “Of course.” Sarah replied blandly” you are, after all, very eligible. You need not worry however, I’m not marrying you just because of your fortune. You have other qualities besides.” “I am so grateful for your approval,” the Duke remarked as a future husband should. “What other qualities?” “Well...” said Sarah as if giving the matter considerable thought. “You are a reasonable fencer, although given time I think I shall be better, you are not a bad dancer, you are kind to both my mothers, you ...” The Duke decided at this point to silence his beloved and kissed her. After a minute, he lifted his head and Sarah went on conversationally “you kiss quite nicely and...” “Oh no!” Cried the Duke, “what have I let myself in for.


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