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Charles Audley

Unto the Breach | Ormonde's, Early Evening Wed April 13th

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Charles liked to think that he was entirely immune to nerves. His composure was a matter of pride to him. More, even — it was a crucial part of his self-image, the fact that Charles Audley would stroll through fire and flood with unruffled glibness and a wry smile. There were times, though (on a clear day, as it were) where he would concede that he could at least see the distant vista of Nervousness and get an uncomfortably accurate lay of the land.

This was one of those times.

Oh, it was nonsensical on the face of it. Making a good impression on Ormonde and winning the man's permission to formally court Henrietta was important, but the attempt was unlikely to be dangerous. (Unless he made a truly impressive mess of things, of course.) He was almost certainly going to be unhurt by this, but... for the first time he could recall, Charles had to care about someone else's opinion of him. It left him feeling unaccustomedly vulnerable.

Besides, some things are terrible because you know you'll live through them.

Charles swallowed a smile. Who had told him that? His uncle, he fancied, but he could not be sure. It could have been Percy Kirke in Tangiers, now that he thought about...

He clucked his tongue in disgust. He was trying to distract himself, he realised, and that was unacceptable. He took a moment to summon up his best face — bold, forthright, and amiable, a cavalier, sporting gentleman, perhaps, but a gentleman nonetheless — and made a minute adjustment to the fit of his burgundy justacorps over grey waistcoat and breeches. Appearance settled, he dismounted the carriage and made his way to the front door with brisk, businesslike stride.

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The earl was expected and welcomed into the lavish house on St James, though not as spectacular as many on Pall Mall, and the servants brought him to a masculinely decorated parlor where the duke was standing by the fireplace with a glass of whiskey. 

 

He turned as his visitor was announced and gave the earl a friendly-enough nod. 

 

So this is the man that seeks Henrietta...and that Henrietta speaks so highly about...

 

It still baffled him. He would not have expected that girl to go for a militareque sort of peer, what with her mind and her books and her demeanor, but he conceded that women did not always make the most of sense. 

 

He waited for the gentleman to make his greetings before saying, "Well, Chatham, my daughter has spoken rather highly of you." He gave the man another look. "Whiskey?"

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He had not been shot, and Ormonde's nod seemed as amiable as could be expected, so Charles, inclining his own head in a deeper return of the Duke's nod, was tentatively willing to mark this down as a promising beginning.

"A pleasure, your Grace," he said, allowing the naturally brisk cadence of his speech to leak through. A louche drawl served very well most of the time but hardly seemed appropriate for this.

Besides, the Duke seems like he could well be the sort to scorn such as effeminacy.

Ormonde opened with a ranging shot, and Charles firmed up his assessment of the beginning as promising.

Now, to avoid queering the pitch and take advantage...

"Then I can only hope to prove her correct," he said, looking for a path that hit both respectful and confident. "She is quite a scholar, and has more nerve than most young ladies."

He inclined his head again in response to the other man's offer of whiskey.

"Please, your Grace."

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Ormonde was not particularly surprised to sense some of that military quickness of manner. This one was no practiced courtier, he did not think, but that did not matter altogether very much if the man had other merits as his daughter suggested. 

 

As a servant poured the drink and handed it to Chatham, the Duke raised a brow, allowed it to halt there for a moment, and then said, "I am not sure most men would find having a scholar for a daughter a compliment." He then allowed the tension to go, with a chuckle. Which was good for Chatham. "But, since it is you who seeks her company and delivers it as praise, I shall find it as a compliment." 

 

The Duke sipped his own drink and then added, "All Irish have nerve in spades. And not always in the best of ways."

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Charles swirled his whiskey gently, savouring the aroma, and raised his glass to Ormonde. There was a moment of almost-tension, as the Duke left his words hover ambiguously. Charles held his composure and sipped at his drink.

"Then I will thank your Grace for your understanding, as well as for your whiskey," he replied smoothly as Ormonde went on. "Personally, I have always admired accomplishment wherever I have found it, and never deemed it threatening when its possessor was a woman." He hesitated for a bare fraction of a moment before pressing on. "That has always seemed a sign of weakness to me."

I am a strong enough man to allow your daughter her passions was what he meant, but he could not very well come out and state that plainly.

I am being perilously blunt as is.

He smiled ruefully. 

"The former is certainly true in my experience," he agreed on the topic of the Irish and nerve. "I will confess, however, that until recently I would not have understood how it was possible to have nerve in any way that was not the best. Now that I am wholly responsible for my sisters... Well, the fresh perspective has changed my views somewhat."

Charles suspected the Duke was about to broach the topic of his libertine reputation, and the undesirability of such a thing in a prospective son-in-law, and wanted to prepare his defences.

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"Sisters and daughters will do that, I suppose," he answered, wryly.

 

Ormonde was not yet ready to delve into libertine ways, but that did not mean that he did not have several difficult question on the slate for Chatham.

 

"You are newer to London, Chatham. What are your ambitions? Do you have any family at court?" the Duke asked, bluntly. 

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This was not the line of questioning Charles had been expecting, though he would not say that it was much of an improvement.

But it is an improvement, however small.

A lightly edited version of the truth would mostly serve, he decided, if he could but present it properly.

"I have no relatives at court, no," he admitted, "and as for ambitions... my goals are the same as most men's, I imagine. I want to have the respect of my peers, useful and productive employment for my skills and energy, and to raise fine children and leave them a greater inheritance than mine. I have been occupied thus far with finding my feet and putting the affairs of the estate back in order after my father's passing. That is resolved now, and I can put my talents to more expansive ends. Those talents are largely martial in nature, and so, if we become involved in matters on the Continent, I expect I shall have many opportunities. If we remain aloof, my... prospects, I suppose is the best word, are more limited, but I could and would seek to purchase promotion and find an official posting. Something at the Tower, perhaps."

Mostly true, save for the bit about children, and the fact that Arthur was still very much an extant problem.

"I cannot offer a firmer, more detailed answer, your Grace, without knowing the course of the future."

Edited by Charles Audley

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