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Charles Audley

To His Grace the Duke of Ormonde | by hand, Tuesday April 12th

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Charles frowned direly at the mockingly blank paper laid out in front of him. Failed attempts lay scrunched up and scattered about. Charles considered himself an eloquent man, one possessed of a veritable arsenal of words he could deploy with verve and precision at a moment's notice. He was deeply unused to finding himself struggling to adequately express himself, and the failure rankled him. (Which of course merely made things worse.) He felt a strong need for a drink, but it was yet early in the day, and he had a notion that if he opened a bottle now he would not stopper it again. He instead allowed himself the indulgence of a put-upon sigh, and set back to work.

 

Quote

 

Your Grace,

I must first beg your indulgence for my imposition in writing to you without solicitation, but I trust that as a gentleman known to be direct and forthright you might look kindly upon another such. If I err in this, I can only offer my apologies.

I had the honour of making the acquaintance of your daughter, Lady Henrietta, at one of her Majesty's charity events this season past. I was struck, and indeed charmed, by her grace and wit, accompanied as they were by exemplary modesty. She is a credit to you and your lady wife, and seems to me to possess all the virtues a gentleman might wish in his spouse.

As your Grace has doubtless discerned, I write to you to raise the possibility of pressing my suit. I understand that you might be reluctant to enter into negotiations with an unknown quantity such as myself. This is entirely reasonable, and I consider myself entirely at your disposal should you require anything of me to assuage any doubts you may have as to my qualities or character.

Your servant,

Charles Audley, Earl of Chatham.

 

 

Charles considered the culmination of his efforts as the ink dried. Not his best work, but it was clear by now that he was unlikely to produce anything better. He sighed again and sealed the letter, before handing it to the waiting Wodehouse.

"What is the state of the cellar?" he asked, feeling thoroughly wrung out.

"There is still a bottle of that very good Armagnac we brought back from the continent with us," his manservant offered after a moment's consideration.

Charles nodded.

"Very well. Send that and a brace of quail along with the letter to Ormonde." He snorted. "And then perhaps you might join me in praying that my missive does not put his Grace in a killing mood."

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The Duke of Ormonde was answering his correspondence with his young son in attendance, who could not be more than twelve or thirteen. A boy had to learn early how such things were conducted. The morning had been somewhat uneventful. 

 

Well it HAD been somewhat uneventful.

 

Ossory's eye were half closed when he heard the sound of parchment smacking his father's desk and the wax stamp went rolling, or rather flying off the desk. 

 

Ormonde was a quick-tempered man, and a man who hated to be caught unaware. He counted himself master of his household, and this was rather surprising. 

 

"HEN!!!" he bellowed, rising from his desk.

 

Ossory's eyes went wide with glee. At least he was not the one in trouble this time.

 

Until his father noticed his glee. "Bring me your sister and your Lady mother and wipe that smirk from your face before a birching removes it for you," he grumped at the boy.

 

Then he sat down and actually finished reading the letter and then read it again, searching his memory for any and all mention of this Chatham. He had made friends in the Libertine crowd, the Duke knew, but not very much else was know about him. Henrietta would have to provide him the details. Until then, his judgement was that an earl was, at the very least, acceptable. 

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Henrietta followed her brother to their father’s study, wondering why he wanted to see her. She had been playing chess with Lizzie, who had been twiddling her thumbs waiting for her older sister to make her move. It had been a difficult play and she had secretly wished for more time to think. And it had come, just not in the form she had hoped it would.

 

“You’re in trouble, Nettie!” Lizzie had crowed. “What did you do to displease our lord father?”

 

Henrietta had just glared at her, but she wondered the same thing. It was rare for her father to send for her, but she knew that her behavior had been exemplary as it always was. She didn’t have to play at being quiet and modest. Those traits were integral parts of her personality. So what have I done?

 

Her heart skipped a beat as she neared the study. Had somebody seen her with Lord Chatham last week? Was he going to forbid her to see him?  Henrietta had been thinking about him a lot lately. It was hard to believe that once she had been deathly afraid of him and now she could hardly wait for their next meeting.

 

Taking a deep breath, she entered the room where her father was waiting. “Lord Father,” she greeted, dropping a perfect curtsy.

 

 

Elizabeth had covertly followed her sister, and when the door closed behind Henrietta, she leapt from the corner where she had been hiding and raced for the keyhole so she could eavesdrop.

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Ormonde raised a brow as his daughter entered. He was savvy enough to imagine that at least one other child was attempting to listen at the door. Ossory was rarely stealthy enough in his misbehavior. Last season he had been up a tree in the gardens at court. Had Henrietta been the one to get him that day? 

 

Not mentioning a letter at all, Ormonde said simply, "So, Henrietta, tell me about this Chatham fellow."

 

 

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Her father came straight to the point. For a few long moments, Henrietta couldn’t breathe and she feared that she might suffocate before she could answer. What would she say even if she lived long enough to speak again? Her heart pounded so loudly in her chest that she could hardly think at all. How had he found out? Had Lizzie told him about Lord Chatham? Or had he found out by more nefarious means?

 

Finally, she was able to inhale again. Unlike most young courtiers, Henrietta was not very adept at hiding her feelings. She knew that her surprise must show on her face. But that was a good thing, was it not? Any other reaction, like a smile or a guilty look, might have made her father suspicious.

 

“We met at the Queen’s charity event last season, where the ladies made donations to have a short conversation with a gentleman. Elizabeth’s donation was the highest, but she ran off and left me in her place. I was a bit afraid of Lord Chatham at first. He looks like a rogue with that eyepatch. But I discovered that he was quite intelligent and very well-read. He was very polite and respectful. We ran into each other again at the palace library last week and had a brief discussion before we went our separate ways. I find him easy to talk to and I confess I enjoy his company."

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The eyepatch.

 

He had not seen Henrietta falling for such roguishness. His other daughter, perhaps. Then again, women were never very predictable in the way of making decisions.

 

"I see. And do tell me how you discovered a man, who is rumored to keep company around libertines, is well-read? That is quite the compliment from you, daughter." Indeed, he oft wished his son had any such aptitude for books and learning. "One I do not think you would say of any roguish fellow." His daughter might sense he was not particularly irate by this point. He did not speak such long sentences when he was truly angry.

 

His lady wife looked somewhat alarmed at the libertine comment and gave a sidelong glance at her daughter.

 

Lady Ormonde had wished to make certain that Henrietta did not become the target of any of her husband's tempers, but now she was wondering if the sensible of her girls had lost her mind! 

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Perhaps I should not have said so much, Henrietta thought. At least her father didn’t seem angry at her revelation, merely curious. She already knew of Lord Chatham’s libertine tenancies. Their first encounter, which she could never reveal to either of her parents, had made that abundantly clear. But since then, he had redeemed himself in her eyes. Maybe when he was married, he would settle down.

 

Her heart skipped a beat as she realized the possible implications of her father’s questioning. They had spoken of marriage but she had figured that he would change his mind. Had he actually written to the Duke about her?

 

“I did think he was a rogue when Elizabeth left me with him. I wanted to flee but that would have been unseemly. We were supposed to ask each other three questions and then part ways. He greeted me with a reference to mythology and so I asked him if he liked to read. The rest of our questions and answers concerned the subjects we liked the most. I was quite surprised at how knowledgeable he was.”

 

She smiled shyly. “I guess it is true that you cannot judge a book by its cover.”

 

……

 

Out in the hallway, Elizabeth’s heart also skipped a beat as she peered through the keyhole. Had the prank she had played on Nettie last season gotten her sister into trouble? She had hoped that Nettie had done something wrong, but not because of her! Now she regretted that joke but there was no taking it back now.

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Ormonde's eyes narrowed some as he listened to his daughter, not quite expecting what she was saying. 

 

"You are fond of him?" he asked.

 

"I wonder, can one be a libertine and not a rogue? Enough of one to be known as one."

 

He lifted up the letter. "Fond enough to consider him a potential marriage?" Not that her feelings on the matter were of that much importance. However, of his daughters, she had some reasoning ability. This curiosity was worth hearing her thoughts. His daughters did need to marry someone. An earl was not something to dismiss lightly.

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Henrietta’s eyes widened. Yes, she was fond of Lord Chatham, but was it wise to admit it in front of her father?  Would he blow up at her if she did? She assumed that his comment about libertines and rogues to be rhetorical and so did not answer. In truth, the one-eyed Earl was both. She was smart enough to know that you couldn’t change a person into what you wanted them to be, and she accepted him as he was. His good traits far outweighed the bad. However, she did hope that if they married, he would be less likely to frolic with half-naked blondes in the labyrinth. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

 

Her eyes widened even more when the Duke held up a letter. He had done it! Lord Chatham truly wished to wed her! Henrietta was not like Lizzie, who cared about rank above all else. She would be perfectly content having no title at all if she had free reign to expand her mind. Lord Chatham offered her that as well as the title of Countess. Startled and secretly delighted, she hardly knew what to say. “I … I will marry whomever you … ummm.” Taking a deep breath, she looked up at her father. “Yes,” she said. “Lord Chatham values intelligence and knowledge as much as I do. We are a lot alike. If he meets with your approval, I believe he will be a good match for me.”

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Hmm

 

"Well, then I shall meet the man and see for myself what sort of gentleman has caused you to say so," Ormonde replied to his daughter, not committing to anything yet.

 

He waved a hand in dismissal, not offering to expound upon what the note actually said.

 

It was some time later that he sent Lord Chatham a short reply that he would receive him Wednesday evening.

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