The Secrets of Bloxley Bottom, Episode 5: The Duke Consents

Lady Louisa usually welcomed Monty to her drawing room with enthusiasm. But today, when she had so much to discuss with the Duke of Wellington, she would have preferred to send Monty away. His visit would no doubt outlast that of the Duke. How very annoying. No pussy-footing. She’d get him straight to the point.
Lady Louisa gestured to Monty before turning to the Duke.  “Have a seat, Monty.  Duke, Mr. Twydall has a new shipment of items from the continent.”
Monty’s wide grin turned into a little cough. “Why yes, Lady Louisa. But perhaps the Duke is not interested in such trifles.” Monty cast a furrowed brow in Louisa’s direction, wondering at her bluntness. Not to say lack of tact.

“Hmmmph,” the Duke said. “Better talk of trifles these days than hear more about the nonsense coming from Westminster.”
“How true,” Monty said. He would never discuss politics with the Duke. “But you are a real connoisseur, and most of what I have are little more than bibelots.”
“I am sometimes on the lookout for things that might interest my friend Mrs. Charles Arbuthnot. She has exquisite taste.”
“Is she interested in fans? I have one said to have belonged to Madame du Barry. As well as a pearl necklace that was Madame Grassini’s, or so they say.”

Monty kept his gaze fixed on the Duke’s face, but the old fellow’s famous sang-froid had not dimmed upon hearing the name of this former mistress.

In the Dower House kitchen Billy Green arrived, after following Monty on foot.

“Now wot have you et today, boy?” Mrs. Cubbins put down her spoon, slapped a plate and a hunk of cheese on the table. She sliced a thick piece of crusty bread and set it on the plate beside a tub of butter. “Fresh churned this morning.”

“Sure is good, ma’am.” Billy spoke through a mouthful of bread.

“Yer can take some ‘ome. I made a few extra loaves this mornin’ fer the egg man, but he hain’t come today.”

It was a perfect day for Billy. A shilling in his pocket and a bundle full of bread and cheese.
In the Drawing Room, Lady Louisa had succeeded in sending Monty away with Anne, on the pretext of his helping her to fetch the tea tray. At first Monty had balked at the suggestion that he carry the tea tray. Wasn’t that what Hartley was for? It had taken a ferocious look from Lady Louisa before the penny had dropped and he’d realized that the fetching of tea was simply an excuse to be rid of them.
When the door closed behind them, Louisa all but pounced upon the Duke. “Arthur, we will not have much time to discuss this.”
“I must be leaving quite soon.”

“Please, not until I explain.”

“Why do I feel this is not something I want to hear?”

“I told you already — it concerns Captain Bradley-Smythe and Prudence.”

The Duke sighed. “Let’s be done with it, then.”

“You were saying a few weeks ago what promise the Captain had shown and that you felt he could certainly advance in his military career, most especially if he were to find himself a suitable wife. You did say you preferred your officers to be settled in their personal lives, did you not?”

“Perhaps I did. It’s something I believe, certainly, but if I had mentioned such a thing, I assure you, Louisa, it was mentioned in passing and not intended to prompt you to find him a wife!”

“But it would be the most perfect arrangement, Arthur. I dare say my very first arrangement in regards to Prudence sixteen years ago at Waterloo has worked out mighty well. You can’t dispute that.”

The Duke narrowed his eyes, “You mean my plan for Prudence, surely.”

Louisa sucked in her breath, “Well!”

The Duke and Louisa each sat rigidly with gazes locked, neither one prepared to give an inch on the question. The Duke, used to dealing with people who attempted to push him down various paths he had no intention of traveling, would have sat stone faced thusly for however long the matter required. However, after the space of two minutes and 23 seconds precisely, Louisa suddenly sat back and smiled at him, a sly look in her hazel eyes.

“Why don’t we agree to refer to past matters as having been a plan of our mutual devising and leave it at that?”

“As you wish.” The Duke allowed, relaxing the set of his shoulders. “In any case, Louisa, how could you possibly have shuffled your well used deck of matchmaking cards and come up with the pair of Prudence and Bradley-Smythe? You’ve never met Bradley-Smythe, for a start. He could be a one-eyed hunchback for all you know.”

“Impossible. You, Arthur, only allow pretty fellows into your inner circle. Good looks, after all, do wonders for a uniform.”

“Louisa! That is not  -. ”

“Now, when can you bring him to me so that I might take his measure?”

“Dashed if I know. Bradley-Smythe’s not a member of my inner circle. He’s been acting as a sort of aide to Fitzroy-Somerset as far his parliamentary work is concerned. You know Somerset’s got his hand in many pies.”

“Yes, however Lord Fitzroy-Somerset is off for two weeks in Scotland soon and I dare say that if you asked to have the Captain come to you at Walmer while Somerset was away, he would be more than happy to oblige.”

“Fitzroy’s going to Scotland?”

Louisa sighed, “Yes. His sister-in-law, the Duchess of Beaufort, wrote to me and happened to mention it. A line about his trip, nothing more.”

“Louisa, do you keep up a correspondence with everyone in the world? You know absolutely everything about everyone, blast it. “

“Not everyone, Arthur, only those people who matter and in whom I take an interest. Now, when can we arrange for the Captain to visit?”
“I cannot tell you this instant, Louisa. I am certain there are a few things on my calendar in the coming weeks that may keep me otherwise occupied.”

“What sort of things?” Louisa asked impatiently.
“Trifling things. The king, parliament, the war office, the Duchess of Kent, Egypt. Nothing of any weight in the face of your personal desires, I dare say.”
Louisa had the grace to nod her assent to the importance of these matters. The Duke sighed, “I shall check my diary soonest and send you a note as to when a visit from Captain Bradley-Smythe may be convenient.”
“Very well. And not a word to Anne about it as yet. I want to get a look at the Captain first in order make certain that he’d be suitable for Prudence.”
“Suitable? Suitable, indeed. Prudence would be a fortunate girl to land the likes of Bradley-Smythe as a husband.”
Louisa bristled, “May I remind you, Arthur, that Prudence possesses many sterling qualities in herself, and she enjoys something most young ladies cannot claim, that being our patronage. You and I have set the course for her life and we must do everything in our power to see that she is set up fine. As fine as we can manage between ourselves!”
“Waterloo has got alot to answer for, by God! If I had realized then the scope of your propensity for scheming and interfering in other people’s lives, I would never have gone into partnership with you in our plans for Prudence at the time! Why I allow myself to be so easily persuaded by you I shall never know.”

“You do not always allow yourself to be persuaded by me, Arthur. As you very well know.”
“I know no such thing! Name me a single instance of my not having bowed to your powers of persuasion. A single instance!”
Louisa picked up her teacup and took a long pull. She swallowed and smiled prettily at the Duke before answering, “The Duchess of Richmond’s ball.”