“So tell me again, why am I going to Rosings?” Theophilus Darcy stretched his long legs across the floorboards of the traveling coach until his feet were not quite touching his brother’s impeccably polished boots.
Fitzwilliam Darcy grunted and shifted in his seat until his feet were free once more.
Theo grinned. So predictable. Why did he take so much pleasure in this?
Darcy clamped his jaws together and swallowed back his sharp words. Theo would not provoke him to intemperate speech, not today. Not again.
He drew a deep breath, savoring the fragrance of the newly refreshed leather upholstery. He would never admit it to his brother, but he delighted in the scent. Simple, elegant, and made to last, exactly as it should be.
“I asked you a question, Brother dear.” Theo tapped his boot against Darcy’s.
Darcy jumped. “Stop that. There is plenty of room in this coach without you crowding me.”
Theo chuckled and pulled back just enough that Darcy would have to concede he complied, but not an inch further. “So touchy. Always have been, as I remember. You never liked sharing a seat with me, even when we were children.” He tapped Darcy’s boot again.
How was it Theo never acted his age? Now six and twenty, he displayed less decorum than Bingley or even Georgiana. Would he never behave as a responsible gentleman ought? He was finally a barrister in his own standing now. How would he ever gain the confidence of the solicitors who would bring business his way when he continued to play the role of an ill-bred adolescent?
Darcy stared at the side glass. His brother’s refection stared back at him. Theo was a handsome fellow, with a ready smile and easy manner, much like Wickham’s. Darcy’s stomach churned. No wonder he found it so easy to make friends.
Theo’s reflection grinned as he twitched his eyebrows into the expression he knew most rankled Darcy’s nerves. Blast and botheration! Could a man not even enjoy the scenery on a long journey? This would be a long three days indeed.
“I ask you again, why am I going to Rosings?”
Darcy huffed and the side glass fogged. “Apparently, to punish me by making this trip as unpleasant as possible.”
Theo barked out a full-bellied laugh. “Oh, I have not even begun. If that is my purpose, then I must apply myself more whole-heartedly to the task.” He slid down in the seat and parked his feet on the squabs beside Darcy.
Now he was going to scuff the new seat covers! Darcy swept Theo’s feet off. Boot heels thudded on the floor boards. “Enough!”
“Then answer me.”
“We are going to Rosings because Aunt Catherine expects us. We have a duty to her as family. She requires assistance in instructing her Steward and land managers and relies upon Pemberley to provide such assistance.”
“That is why you are going. I—as you know—know next to nothing about estate management, and if she needs contracts drawn up, a broker for another mortgage or an arbitrator for her disputes with her local tradesmen, she requires a solicitor, not my services. There is simply no need for me to be here.”
“We have a family duty to call upon her.”
“You might. But I do not. Have you forgotten she cannot stand the sight of me?”
“Who is responsible for that?”
Theo rolled his eyes. “It is not my fault the Old Bat has no sense of humor.”
“Old Bat? That is how you refer to our aunt? Such disrespect—”
“You cannot tell me you have not thought the self-same thing. Just because you are too proud to admit to your baser feelings—”
“Proud? You consider self-control and good manners marks of pride? No wonder you cannot be permitted in polite company! You give offense—”
“I give offense?” Theo leaned forward and planted his elbows on his knees. He laced his fingers and balanced his chin on his hands. “No, you have it quite reversed, dear Brother. You are the one who gives offense wherever you go.”
Darcy’s eyes bulged, and he coughed back the ungentlemanly invectives.
“Why else would one Fitzwilliam Darcy keep company with one of the nouveau riche? Bingley is a jolly fellow, I grant you, but he is decidedly below you. Not only that, but apparently he is unable to control your offensive nature any better than the rest of us. I recall hearing that in Hertfordshire—”
“You are in no position to criticize my friends.” Darcy snorted. Hertfordshire was not a topic to be discussed with Theo. “Hypocrisy does not become you.”
“My friends look to me for insight and advice. Yours seek you for money.”
“That is not hypocrisy. I call it generosity, of which I have been the beneficiary in the past. I am only too happy to return the favor in equal measure. One never knows when one might be in need of a generous friend or three.”
Stubborn, foolish, maddening…would he never see? “Need I remind you, my friends never had me sent down from school?”
“Wickham and I—”
Darcy lifted his hand. “Stop. I have heard this far too many times. No more excuses. Why can you not accept responsibility for what you did and be grateful I was able to persuade the Governors to reinstate you? Without that—”
“Yes, yes, I know, Prince William.” Theo flourished his hand between them and bowed from his shoulders. “Without your timely intervention, your stellar reputation, and a generous quantity of your blunt, I would never have graduated. Without your pull and your support, I would never have attended those three years at the Inns of Court. You forget however that it was I who applied myself—”
“To socializing and revelry and cards—”
“With the most notable barristers at those dinners, who have in turn set me up with connections to solicitors—”
“With whom you would never have contact, except that I pay your Bloomsbury rent.”
“What do you want me to say? That I owe all my gentlemanly standing to you?”
“You mean to tell me you would rather I withdraw—”
“No, just acknowledge I could indeed have made my way without you.”
Darcy leaned back, arms crossed tightly over his chest. “And what exactly would you have done?”
“I could have done very well for myself in the army.”
“I suppose you could have scraped together the four hundred pounds for a commission in the infantry, but where would you come up with the money to rank up? Or would you be content to spend your life as a lowly Ensign?”
“Which would not have been nearly smart enough for you. Your pride could not tolerate the possibility that I might fail to distinguish myself. You had to dictate—”
“I have never dictated—”
“You dictated I accompany you to Rosings. You know I hate it there, and Aunt Catherine hates having me.”
Darcy grumbled deep in his throat.
“You do not trust me.”
If he clamped his teeth any harder, Darcy feared one might crack. Yet, if he did not, there was a very real risk he might finally speak his mind.
“What, no response?” Theo laughed, a coarse, derisive sound. “I must be correct. You always refuse to engage me when I am right.”
No, this cheap ploy to bait him into conversation was not going to work. Darcy turned to face the side glass, even if it meant he still stared into Theo’s smug reflection.
“You could have left me behind at Pemberley easily enough. Or have you forgotten I am quite used to keeping my own establishment? Georgiana and I would have been perfectly fine on our own at home, without you.”
“Not after Ramsgate.” Darcy muttered through clenched teeth.
“So that is what this is all about? I have already told you—”
“Yes, your Highness.” Theo bowed, this time touching his head to his knees.
Darcy rapped on the ceiling and jumped from the coach before it had stopped moving.
In just a few moments, his horse was readied and their journey resumed. At last, relief from Theo’s mindless droning and constant needling. He had been too much in Wickham’s company no doubt, and had picked up some of that rake’s worst traits.
At least that was finally at an end now. Not that Theo had much use for Wickham anymore, but still, the cad was safely away from the entire Darcy family and things were finally as they should be.
Now all Darcy had to do was forget one Elizabeth Bennet, and his world would once again be set completely to rights. He huffed out a heavy breath and resettled in his saddle. His horse shook his head and glanced back at him. Darcy clucked his tongue and his mount returned to his walk.
How did one young lady—one bewitching, maddening, enticing young lady—manage to discompose him so? She crept into his thoughts when he least expected. Each book he picked up, he wondered if she had read it and what her pert—or impertinent—opinions might be on it. Each trail he walked, he wondered if it would be to her liking. Each time he heard tell of an assembly or ball he cringed, remembering again his ungentlemanly words spoken in the hearing of a young woman who was well worth pleasing.
He cringed, those fateful words echoing again in his mind. …not handsome enough to tempt me… How could he have said something not only so ungracious, but so utterly and completely untrue? Surely those words would haunt him until his dying day.
Darcy had to get her out of his head. Time with his Aunt Catherine—and cousin, Anne—was just the tonic to do it. How could a woman like Anne exist in the same world that contained an Elizabeth Bennet? The two were unalike in every imaginable way.
Lady Catherine still expected him to marry Anne.
He gulped back the bitter tang coating his tongue, the same one he always tasted whenever his aunt brought up the topic of marriage. How would he disabuse her of the notion he would marry according to her will?
Perhaps he could recommend his brother as a fitting substitute. That would insure Theo a secure source of income if he failed as a barrister, which he might do simply to vex Darcy.
But Theo was right—Lady Catherine barely tolerated him and that only for Darcy and Georgiana’s sake. She could never accept him as a son. Blast and botheration.
A cold raindrop hit his nose. He glanced over his shoulder. Dark clouds gathered on the horizon, whipped together by a chill wind. The next posting station should be close, maybe a quarter of a mile off. Perhaps—
Thunder cracked. Heavy, cold drops pelted his face. Perhaps not.
It was two days before the rains ceased. Much as Darcy wished to escape his brother’s baiting, he had been obliged long before the next watering stop to return to the carriage, and the remainder of the first day’s journey passed much as it began. The ensuing four and twenty hours drew to a close at a coaching inn in Watford, and as the third and final day dawned, Darcy woke unrefreshed. Spending the night in Hertfordshire had not been conducive to sleep, and even when he had finally drifted into a restless slumber, his dreams were haunted by memories of the previous autumn and a pair of fine eyes.
Theo had made a late night of it, joining a card-playing group of young men at a table in the public bar, and Darcy had thrown him a warning look before retiring to his room. The flagons of ale lined up on the table did not auger well for his brother who was, in Darcy’s opinion, a little too fond of imbibing and then making rash decisions.
Though the rain clouds had gone, dispersed by a strong wind, the condition of the roads did not advocate riding, and thus they faced a third day of confinement within the carriage. With Darcy’s lack of proper sleep and Theo’s late night, neither was in a frame of mind to tolerate the other’s failings, and this soon led to the resumption of an old argument.
“Something preys upon your mind, Brother.” Theo raised a hand as Darcy began to shake his head. “I am a grown man of six and twenty; why will you not confide in me?”
“There is nothing to tell, and even if there were, I doubt you would be my confidante.”
Theo grunted. “No; being of royal blood, you consider yourself above the needs of the humble mortal and yourself the only counsel you require.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and fixed Darcy with a stare. “When are you going to get off your high horse and realize you can trust me?”
“How can I trust you?” Darcy blew out a frustrated breath. “Did you see through Wickham after the Cambridge debacle? No; then you are once more in collusion with him over the study of the law—and I use the word ‘study’ lightly.”
Theo’s normally genial countenance darkened and he sat back in his seat. “You cannot compare me to him. I completed my studies; I have a profession.”
Darcy ignored him. “Yet I foolishly placed Georgiana under your protection in Ramsgate.”
“Ramsgate was not my fault!”
“How can you absolve yourself so easily? When will you start to accept responsibility for your actions?”
“Because, I repeat, it was not my fault! I was not to blame at the time, and I am unlikely to lay claim to it several months later.”
“Yet you fell in with Wickham’s scheme.”
“I told you before, it was not by design, and I had no idea what he and that Younge woman had afoot. You should be thankful I was there. If I had not been, you probably would not have followed, and Georgiana would be lost to us.” Theo’s voice faltered, and Darcy observed his troubled countenance. No doubt his mind had travelled down a similar road to his own: it would not be the first sibling they had lost, though to different circumstances.
A heavy silence ensued which neither brother seemed inclined to break, each staring out of opposite windows. Eventually, the movement of the carriage was sufficient for Theo’s late night to catch up on him and he slept, and Darcy pulled out his watch. Georgiana and her companion should be on their way to Town now. He sighed as he tucked the fob away. He had not wanted to leave her when they set off for Kent and though the journey to London from Derbyshire was a long one, it was worth it to know his sister would be only a few hours’ ride away. With all that had happened, he could not face leaving her so far away. He glanced at his brother’s slumbering form and his expression darkened. Theo’s suggestion he remain at Pemberley with Georgiana was quite ridiculous in the circumstances.
He turned to stare out of the window, wishing to push Theo from his thoughts, but though he did not regret the cessation of their bickering, he now found his mind falling towards that which he would forget: Elizabeth Bennet.
Resignedly, Darcy stared at the passing countryside. They had skirted London now and were entering Kent, and with little persuasion, his mind flew back to the last time he had seen her—at the Netherfield ball.
It had been a night of mixed emotions: his determination to secure her hand for a set had not delivered the pleasurable half hour he had hoped, yet the antagonism stirred by their conversation had kept him enthralled. The behavior of her family throughout the evening—her elder sister excepted—soon followed upon this reflection and he sighed.
As if her immediate family did not present sufficient challenge, her more distant connections afforded likewise. What was the name of that peculiar man, her cousin? He was dashed if he could recall it, yet he could picture without hesitation his appalling dance with Elizabeth—the all-significant first set—and his constant shadowing of her throughout the evening.
Caroline Bingley had amused no one but herself during their journey to London over the likelihood of seeing Eliza Bennet wed to her cousin. Yet was she so far from the mark? The heir to her family estate… though his insides churned at the notion, Darcy could not deny its validity.
Within seconds, Elizabeth’s face was before him—chin slightly raised, lips almost pursed, as though struggling to contain a smile, her eyes full of intelligence and light. A familiar tight sensation grasped Darcy’s chest, and he closed his eyes. When? When would he ever forget her?
“Hey ho! What now?” With a start, Darcy looked over at Theo, who had awoken as the carriage drew to a precipitous halt. “Do we arrive so soon?”
Frowning, Darcy dropped the window, but before he could question the driver, a footman appeared at the door.
“’Tis the ford, Sir, swollen by the rains and impassable just now.” He waved a hand back down the lane. “There is an inn back along the way. I will enquire for another direction.”
Sitting back in his seat, Darcy glanced over at his brother, who had resumed his usual slumped position, his feet stretched out in front of him. Thankfully, he had not returned them to the squabs.
“Dash it.” Theo sighed dramatically. “And I was so anticipating our imminent arrival. Let us hope the diversion takes several days, hey Brother?”
“Aunt Catherine expects us to arrive today; if we do not, she will be displeased.”
“Surely the Old Bat cannot object to delays caused by the elements; they answer to none of us.” Theo turned to stare out of the window. “She will hardly be contemplating my arrival with any pleasure. She will bemoan the absence of the good Colonel, and I will be at the receiving end of her displeasure from dawn until dusk, as is her custom.” He threw a keen glance at his brother. “I am her whipping boy, you know, for I favor the wrong side of the family.”
Before Darcy could muster a response to this, the footman reappeared at the window. “I am sorry, Sir, the nearest bridge is a ten-mile detour. As the waters peaked some hours ago, the ford should be passable fairly soon. The innkeeper suggests you tarry a while.”
Theo snorted. “Aye, and we are likely not the first, nor the last, traveler the innkeeper has managed to turn into good business as a result of this storm!”
With little option, however, the coaching inn was where they were bound.
Theo, soon in possession of a flagon of ale, joined some local men near the hearth and took little time in settling down to enjoy their conversation, his open countenance and his ready smile more than overcoming the brevity of the acquaintance.
Unwilling to be witness to Theo charming yet another room full of strangers, Darcy walked into the inn’s dining room, picking up a newspaper as he went, and before long he was engrossed in its pages in a corner of the room. Yet his peace did not endure. Before long a party, hindered likewise by the swollen waters at the ford, came into the room to partake of a meal, and try though Darcy did to focus on the political news, their voices would intrude. With a frustrated sigh, he turned his attention to the financial reports but then his attention was caught by the mention of his aunt’s name.
Lowering the paper, he peered over it. A middle-aged couple, accompanied by an elderly lady with a wizened face, and a young lady of indiscriminate age, were sat to table partaking of their fare and freely discussing their business aloud.
“Aye, under her patronage at Hunsford parsonage.” The man continued. “Mr. Collins has done well for himself.”
Darcy frowned. That was it! Collins was the ridiculous cousin’s name. He turned back to his reading. There was little of interest for him in that person’s concerns.
“Indeed. There was much speculation when he brought home a wife,” added the lady. “And Mrs. Collins very kindly invited me and Sarah here to take tea with her. She showed us great courtesy, but then she was raised a gentleman’s daughter.”
Unable to prevent it, Darcy’s interest was stirred, and he slowly lowered the paper again.
The man nodded. “Aye, she is a good soul is Mrs. Collins. You do not see the like in this neighborhood often; the air of Hertfordshire must be agreeable, to breed such a fine woman!”
Darcy’s attention was fully caught as the sickening sense of doubt in his mind took firmer hold. Could it be? Had Caroline Bingley been correct after all? The uncomfortable lurching of his insides vied with the distaste in his mouth at such a conjecture. Yet it was not impossible…
“There you are!” Darcy started and dropped the paper into his lap as Theo appeared in the room. “The water has receded sufficiently; we may proceed. What joy!”
Theo’s intelligence was of interest to the party at the table, and they dropped any further conversation in favor of their repast, and Darcy had no choice but to follow his brother from the room.
Though Theo cast him a curious glance every now and again as their journey resumed, he refrained from speaking for some reason or other, and Darcy welcomed the respite. They had soon negotiated a careful crossing of the ford and before long they approached Hunsford and the lane leading to the entrance to Rosings Park.
He had never paid any mind to the modest parsonage before, but now it drew his gaze immediately. Before he could study it with any purpose, however, his eye was caught by the sight of the aforementioned Reverend Collins who hovered in the lane and, as the carriage passed him by, made several low sweeping bows in its general direction.
Darcy blinked rapidly; Theo was staring out of the other window, looking somewhat morose as they passed through the ornate gates, and he glanced back at the parsonage before it disappeared from view. The figure of a woman had emerged from the shadow of the doorway, unbeknownst to the parson who continued to bow as the coach faded into the distance.
Turning back, Darcy swallowed hard on the sudden constriction of his throat. It was impossible to say at this distance, but he had an awful suspicion he had just seen Elizabeth—at the home of his aunt’s parson, who had found himself a wife in Hertfordshire.
Lady Catherine’s greeting had been all Theo expected. The look of distaste she threw him as he entered the drawing room was sufficient to have him greet her as briefly as politeness allowed and throw himself into an armchair near the fireplace. As always, Darcy was her only object, and once she had learned of the call to duty preventing Colonel Fitzwilliam from making his annual visit, she seemed oblivious to anyone else’s presence.
The heat in the room was oppressive, with a roaring fire blazing at both ends and the lamps burning even though it was still several hours until dusk. As his aunt and brother talked, Theo slumped down in his seat. What with his late night, the long days in the carriage, the heat from the fire and the droning of his aunt’s voice, he knew he was set for oblivion before long.
Lady Catherine’s next words, however, quickened his interest. “I am led to believe you were in company with my parson last autumn, Darcy, when he visited Hertfordshire. Is it true, or did he take a liberty in implying it?”
Theo threw a quick glance at Darcy, quickly noting his drawn countenance. What was it with Hertfordshire? How frustrating he forgot to mention his curiosity to his sister in his recent letter to her; after all, she was the one who had first drawn his attention to something affecting their brother’s spirits since his return.
Conscious Darcy had thrown him a wary glance, Theo pretended a yawn and stretched out his booted feet, placing his arms behind his head as he wriggled down in his seat. He would feign interest in the fire but continue to listen.
“I am not certain I would say we were ‘in company’ precisely, though the man did have the gall to come and introduce himself.”
Lady Catherine narrowed her gaze. “Under what pretext?”
“He wished to assure me of your and my cousin’s good health when last he had seen you.”
With a nod, Lady Catherine sat back in her seat. “It was a little forward of him, I will grant you, but you cannot fault his purpose, Darcy. The Reverend Collins is a good man.”
Darcy inclined his head, and Theo shifted his position so that he had a better view of his brother’s countenance.
“Mr. Collins found himself a wife in Hertfordshire.”
“Er—indeed?” Darcy cleared his throat and tugged at his neck cloth as though its restriction caused him some discomfort, and Theo was torn between amusement at this and an avid curiosity over what caused such a reaction in his normally inscrutable brother.
In the meantime, his aunt seemed to have noticed Theo.
“I will thank you, Theophilus, for not lounging in such an ungainly fashion!” She turned back to Darcy and fixed him with a beady eye. “Yes—I expressly told him to. ‘Find a wife, Mr. Collins,’ says I before he departed for Hertfordshire ‘and a gentlewoman at that’. And of course he could not return until he did, though I understand it was not difficult. The neighborhood seemed to contain all too many single young women.”
Lady Catherine got to her feet. “It is a good match for her. Her father has visited of late, though he is now returned to Hertfordshire. Mrs. Collins seemed most attached to him.”
Darcy sank lower into his seat, his skin paling. “And he brought one of her sisters with him—a very sweet girl—along with a close friend of Mrs. Collins. They remain at the parsonage yet; you may meet with them at some point. I have condescended to have them dine here before now, and I may do so again.” She walked over to pick up her closed fan from a side table and turned about. “I was most put out to learn from Mrs. Collins she has also already made your acquaintance, Darcy. Is this true?”
Theo had lost interest by this point, but he looked up again as a small sound escaped his brother. Darcy seemed lost for words, but before he could conjecture any further, Theo let out an “Ouch” as his aunt rapped him hard on the shin with her fan.
“Sit up, Boy! You do your spine and the upholstery an equal disservice!”
She turned away and resumed her seat, and Theo rubbed his shin, his gaze still upon Darcy. If his brother’s skin paled any further, he would have to call for the apothecary. Before he could consider the matter further, however, a loud knock came upon the door and a servant entered.
“Excuse me, Ma’am,” he said, fetching up before Lady Catherine. “Your steward is here on urgent business that cannot be delayed.”
Lady Catherine rose majestically to her feet. “Send him in.” She turned to Darcy. “His timing is opportune; you can assist me with whatever it is.”
Robert Farrell entered the room, greeting Darcy as he did so, and came straight to the point.
“We have a dispute in the village, Ma’am, and it looks set to get out of hand. The notices over the enclosure of the south and west pastures were posted in the church porch but two days ago, and already Clayton is objecting. He is unlikely to muster sufficient support, but he is causing unrest. I fear there will be retribution.”
Darcy frowned. “What paperwork has he?”
“Nothing in writing, Sir; it was a gentleman’s agreement.”
His interest caught by the name, Theo got to his feet, walking over to join them. “I heard something of this at the inn; I may be able to assist.” He had spoken to the very tenant they referred to as he aired his grievances loudly to all who were prepared to listen.
Lady Catherine glared at him. “Of course you cannot assist! What do you know of Estate matters?”
Theo turned to Darcy. “This predicament was spoken of and why this Clayton felt obligated to obstruct. I think—”
Darcy threw him an exasperated look. “Idle gossip is not going to solve this matter. You would make better use of your time in perusing a book.” He turned away from him dismissively. “Come, Farrell, let us repair to the estate office to consider our options.”
Lady Catherine swept after them, and Theo glared at the door as it closed. He was genial by nature, but nothing could push him further than his brother treating him like he was of no value to the world. He would be damned if he would wait for them with nothing to do but twiddle his thumbs and kick his heels like a schoolboy.
He sprang to his feet and went over to the window. Clouds had gathered to blot out the weak Spring sunshine, and a squall of a shower was now sending water to stream down the glass. Even the weather, it seemed, was against him. There was no chance of going out.
He wondered over to his aunt’s escritoire. It was painted in the Oriental fashion, with Chinese dragons, intended, no doubt, to intimidate those sufficiently foolhardy to approach. Theo opened the desk and sat down, opening each of the small drawers and peeping into the corners. Perhaps he would unearth some terrible secret of his aunt’s. He found nothing of the least interest, however, beyond a few walnuts that could not be cracked.
Presently, he took out a sheet of paper. It gave off an unpleasant scent—a blend of dusty lavender and rotten oranges—perfume to his aunt, no doubt. Dipping a quill in ink, he began a sketch of his aunt with fangs and bat wings, then neatly labeled it ‘The Old Bat’. The sound of a movement outside the door led him to scrunch it up into a ball and throw it into the wastebasket.
Then, he recalled he owed his great friend, Montgomery Preston, a letter. Monty had just succeeded to his title, and Theo knew he was overdue in acknowledging it.
Dear Sir Montgomery,
No, no, that will never do. I am sorry, my friend, Baronet or no, I cannot call you anything but Monty.
My deepest condolences on the loss of your father. Though I know you have expected the unhappy event for quite some time, I know it is difficult to step into his place nonetheless. I watched my brother endure that transition and uniquely understand the weights you must feel right now.
In your last letter, you asked me to recommend a new solicitor in London since Lyman’s untimely demise. I have several men whom you might consider to take his place. I will introduce you when next I am in Town. Sadly, I cannot say precisely when that will be, as I have been condemned to visit my aunt at Rosings by Prince William himself.
Yes, I can hear you scolding me now for calling him that. But truly, when he slips into his haughty, overbearing Master-of-all-he-surveys manner, there is simply no other way to refer to him. He still refuses to leave Georgiana in my care. I cannot begin to tell you how that infuriates me. But you well know it, so I shall not waffle on about it.
Theo dipped his pen in the ink again and reflected on his brother’s brooding silence in the carriage. A great deal of it was, naturally, Prince William playing the older disapproving brother, but not all.
Something more than his usual irritation with me is troubling my brother, though, and I mean to get to the truth of it. To be entirely frank. I am worried about him. He has not been himself since his trip with Bingley, and I cannot make out why. Something happened in Hertfordshire, but what?
He does not gamble on anything—cards, horses or sport of any kind. He hardly drinks and would never meddle with anyone’s daughters. I can only imagine some business dealing went sour. If that is the case though, why the secrecy? If you hear anything in Town, you will let me know of course.
Theo paused and glanced over towards the window. The patter of rain against glass had ceased, and a patch of pale blue sky had reappeared, flanked by angry grey clouds. Could he risk going out? He longed more than anything to saddle Theseus and ride with the wind, but the horse had already trudged through some appalling muddy roads and deserved a rest. With a sigh, he returned his attention to his letter.
I have not forgotten about your dream of a matched team for your four-in-hand. I continue to look for such beasts as I am dragged through the countryside by His Highness. Are you really certain you wish to proceed? I know horses are your single indulgence, but still, you may wish to review your situation again before taking on such an expense.
He sealed the letter and strode over to fling open the window. The musty air of the room was making him irritable, he was quite certain. After days of being cooped up in a carriage with his brother, he was in desperate need of distraction. What use was the country if one did not have a chance to breathe the fresh air?
His mind made up, Theo went in search of the sour-faced butler.
“See that this letter is sent, will you?” he said as he handed it over, and, grabbing his hat and walking stick, he set out for a walk.