Where, oh where, is the Duke of Reddington? Since the 23-year-old Viscount Tisdale acceded to the dukedom upon the death of his father last month, he seems to have disappeared. A certain housemaid in the Half Moon Street residence of the volatile beauty known as La Fantasia (with whom, readers may recall, the viscount has for some time enjoyed an intimate acquaintance) informs the Tattler that the young duke returned to Town after the funeral only to quarrel violently with his inamorata, at last being driven from the beauty’s abode by means of vases, figurines, and sundry other bric-a-brac hurled at his head.
When questioned as to the duke’s whereabouts, Sir Ethan Brundy will only say that the duke is seeing to one of the several estates that came to the young man along with his ducal title. Pressed for particulars, he declined to specify which estate, claiming that the duke controls so many he cannot keep them all straight. Given that the late duke had sufficient confidence in Sir Ethan’s intelligence to name him executor of his will, we at the Tattler suspect his professed ignorance is, in fact, false modesty. Readers will remember that Sir Ethan is the brother-in-law of the young duke (having married the duke’s sister four years ago in what at that time was called the mésalliance of the century) as well as the political rival of Sir Valerian Wadsworth, both men currently standing for the same seat in the House of Commons.
Adding to the mystery, a young man fitting the duke’s description has been sighted in a Lancashire village near Manchester—specifically, at what was formerly the home of the late Mr. Henry Drinkard, now converted to a boardinghouse run by his widow and daughter, Daphne, the latter being a promising young poetess whose work the Tattler has had the honour to publish.
But what’s this? An examination of public records by one of our intrepid reporters indicates that none of the duke’s holdings are located in Lancashire; however, that northwestern county is the location of a thriving cotton mill owned by none other than Sir Ethan Brundy himself. Can it be that Sir Ethan knows more than he is telling? And where do Mrs. Drinkard and Miss Drinkard fit into the puzzle?
We are pleased to assure readers that our intrepid reporter is on the case, and we hope to have an answer very soon to the Mystery of the Disappearing Duke.
“Truth to tell, Ethan, I’m deuced glad you’re here” Theo confessed. “I’d be obliged to you if you can advance me something on my inheritance—just enough to tide me over until the will is probated, you know.”
Sir Ethan shook his head. “Much as I’d like to oblige you, I can’t.”
“You can’t? But—well, but dash it, Ethan! You’re the executor, aren’t you?”
“Aye, I am.”
“Theodore, all that means is that I’m charged with making sure the terms of your father’s will are carried out the way ’e intended—and that includes seeing to it that everything is done open and aboveboard.”
“But it’s my own money, dash it!” Theodore protested.
Sir Ethan nodded. “And you’ll get it, all in good time.”
“Good time for you, maybe!”
“Aye, and for you. After all, you’d not like it if I started doling out legacies to your father’s valet, or housekeeper, or butler, would you?”
“But the money’s rightfully theirs,” he added with a look of bland innocence in his brown eyes. “It says so in the will.”
“It’s not at all the same thing!”
“It is so far as the law is concerned. If I were to distribute so much as a farthing from your father’s estate before probate is granted, I’d open meself up to legal action.”
“But I would be the logical one to bring any such action against you, and it’s not like I’m going to prefer charges against you for giving my money to me!”
“You might not do so, but your father’s lawyer might,” his brother pointed out. “ ’e’d be within ’is rights, too. In fact, ’e might even consider it an obligation to ’is grace.”
“Crumpton is my lawyer now—and he’d do well to remember it!”
“Aye, that ’e is. And if you know ’e can’t be trusted to look out for your father’s interests, ’ow can you trust ’im to look after yours?” Seeing this observation had deprived his young relation of speech, Sir Ethan added gently, “What’s the matter, you young fool? Surely you ’aven’t got yourself rolled up within a se’ennight of in’eriting the title?”
“I’m not ‘rolled up,’ ” Theodore protested. “I’ve got plenty of money—or I will have, as soon as it comes into my possession.”
“Is it that little ladybird you’ve ’ad in keeping?”
“No—that is, not entirely, but—dash it, Ethan, she expected me to marry her! I may have been green, but I’m not such a flat as all that! And when she saw I couldn’t be persuaded, or seduced, or coerced into it—” He broke off, shuddering at the memory.
“Didn’t take it well, did she?” Sir Ethan observed knowingly.
Theodore gave him a rather sheepish grin. “Lord, you never saw such a shrew! It made me think that perhaps I’m well out of a bad business. But I couldn’t let it get about that she’d ditched me, so I went to Rundell and Bridge and bought her the most expensive thing they had.”
Sir Ethan, who had bestowed upon his wife more than one bauble from this establishment and thus had a very good idea of the prices to be found therein, gave a long, low whistle.
“And then,” Theodore continued, “I went to White’s and—well, I just wanted to forget about it, just for a little while—not just Fanny, but all of it: the dukedom, and the steward and his blasted ‘improvements,’ and the House of Lords, where I’ll no doubt be expected to take my seat, and—oh, you don’t understand!”
“Actually, I do,” said his brother with a faraway look in his eyes.
Theodore, intent on his own troubles, paid no heed to the interruption. “And I can’t let it get out that the Duke of Reddington don’t pay his debts, for we’ve had quite enough of that in the family already! But I don’t have to tell you that—God knows you shelled out enough blunt, towing Papa out of the River Tick.” At this recollection, a new possibility occurred to him. “I say, Ethan, I don’t suppose you would be willing to lend me the ready? Just until the will is probated, you know, and at any interest rate you care to name,” he added hastily, lest his brother-in-law balk at agreeing to this proposal.
Sir Ethan gave him an appraising look, and asked, “ ’ow much do you need?”
Theodore told him.
“You’ve managed to run through that much in less than a fortnight?” demanded his brother-in-law.
“No!” Theodore said, bristling. “That is, I’ll admit I’ve spent more than I should, but old Crumpton says the will could take months! A fellow has to have something to live on in the meantime.”
This figure, while high, seemed quite reasonable compared to the sum Theodore had felt necessary to sustain him for the few months it might take for the will to go through probate.
“All right, then,” pronounced Sir Ethan. “It’s yours.”
Theodore was moved to seize his brother’s hand and wring it gratefully. “I say, Ethan, you’re a great gun! You’ll have every penny of it back, I promise—and, as I said, at any rate of interest you care to name.”
Sir Ethan shook his head. “There’ll be no interest. As for paying me back, you don’t ’ave to do that—at least, not in pounds, shillings, and pence.”
This assurance left Theodore more than a little puzzled. “What do you want, then?”
“You’ll pay me back by working it off.” In case further explanation was needed, he added, “In the mill.”
About the Book
When 23-year-old Theodore becomes Duke of Reddington after his father dies, his new responsibilities are enough to send him off in a blind panic. Within days, he’s amassed a pile of debts, which his brother-in-law, mill owner Ethan Brundy, agrees to pay—provided Theo works in the mill until his father’s will is probated. In the meantime, Theo has a lot to learn about how the other half lives—and there’s no one better qualified to teach him than Daphne Drinkard, forced to take in boarders since the death of her father has left her and her mother penniless.
About the Author
Sheri Cobb South is the bestselling author of the John Pickett mysteries (now an award-winning audiobook series!) as well as Regency romances, including the critically acclaimed The Weaver Takes a Wife and its sequel The Desperate Duke, winner of the 2019 Colorado Authors League Award for Best Romance Novel.