Sunlight crept over the yonder moors, glowing through the tips of the treetops. The Duke of Wellington stood, glowering at the windowsill, his violin tipped against his neck. Again, he’d spent another chaotic night without sleep, humming his violin until his emotion made him play far too quickly, making the notes screech. When he finished one fifteen or twenty-minute song or another, he always paused, found that his cheeks were damp—although he didn’t remember crying.
He felt disconnected from that overzealous act: weeping. It was something other men did. Certainly not him, who’d spent the majority of his 20s as a soldier—his face stern, unafraid to peer out at the French armies with nostrils flared and posture straight.
But that hadn’t ensured that horrible things wouldn’t happen in his life. His wife: the love of the previous fifteen years of his life, had died nine months before. It had been nine months of aching loneliness. Nine months of sleepless nights, knowing that the warmth of her body wasn’t felt atop the mattress beside him; knowing that they’d snuck a shovel into the soil and dropped her body within. She wasn’t coming back.
And with that, another wave of emotion crashed into his chest, turning his lips downward. He slid his bow over and over the strings of the violin, causing it to screech wildly. Downstairs, at his large estate, he heard the servants and maids hustling about. He felt that they were little ants, trying to dart out of his angry step. If he were actually walking over them, he would crush them. And he knew he would feel nothing.
It was nearly six-thirty in the morning, which meant the children would rise very shortly, and the hustle and bustle of another sombre day in September would begin. He swept his violin into its case, snapping it closed, and rubbed his fingers together, blinking. He knew it was probably just because he’d been awake all night, but his eyesight felt inarticulate. It was as if he couldn’t quite see the fine lines around anything. Like everything was blurring into everything else.
“You really should get more sleep,” his doctor, Melrose, had explained to him several times since his wife’s passing. “The body toils when you’re not giving it enough rest. And how do you suppose you’re supposed to care for your children …”
At this, the Duke of Wellington had given the doctor a cruel look—peering down over his nose at the smaller, rat-like man. His tongue had burned with desire to say something whip-smart and cruel, as was the Duke’s custom when he felt most enraged. He didn’t need anyone else to care for his children. He needed only himself.
He’d promised his wife that he would see to their care, himself. That they wouldn’t have strange nannies darting in and out of the estate, dampening the connection the children had with their mother. The Duke felt that the children needed to remember their mother through his teachings, through his stories. Although, as of now, it had been nine months, and he still struggled to speak of her. Of his darling Marybeth.
They’d met when he’d been in his early 30s: a brash ex-soldier, who’d recently been injured in a battle in France. The injury had cast him back to England for recuperation. He’d struggled with a bum leg, limping through the woods alongside his father’s estate in Leeds. And one day, when the fog slipped deep within the trees, making him feel as though each breath was almost frosted, thick, he stumbled into a beautiful young woman—a young woman with electric green eyes, with blonde hair that curled down her chest (unwrapped, as she hadn’t assumed she would run into anyone that day, not that far in the woods). At once, she’d felt anxious, drawing her fingers through her hair. But the Duke, the stumbling soldier, made a soft joke to her, causing her to giggle in this way that seemed like their personal secret.
Marybeth and the Duke had walked together out of the woods, easing slowly from one path to the next. Marybeth’s fingers had graced along the edge of the Duke’s. Electricity had shot between them. But, at the edge of the woods, Marybeth pointed towards the far hilltop, where she said her father awaited. Her eyes had burned towards the Duke’s, almost expectant. Yet, her lips didn’t dare say the words that he so wanted her to say to him: come find me. Come be with me. Make me yours.
The Duke didn’t wait long to find her. Within weeks, he and Marybeth were courting—taking long walks along the wood’s edge, dining together with her parents, and his. The Duke was preparing to take over the operations for his father’s musical instrument shop—a grand, two-hundred-year-old affair that frequently provided instruments to the King and Queen, as well as all other royalty. The Duke sensed that Marybeth’s parents were pleased at the match. But regardless, he was head-over-heels, a man simmering with love.
He hadn’t imagined it would turn out this way. One wasn’t meant to assume that death would haunt your most beautiful memories. Even after four children, after prosperous years at the estate they’d lived in together (the one he, himself, now haunted each and every night, playing his violin).
He heard Christopher first. Christopher was the wildest of the pack—scampering up and down the halls, his feet stomping too loud for his eight-year-old weight. The Duke leaned heavily against the windowsill, wondering if he had the power to sit at the breakfast table with the four of them that morning. So often, as he gazed out over them—watching them nibble their biscuits, the crumbs falling to their plates, he felt unbearably sure that he would never be enough for them. He could never show the love they deserved. The love they’d lost, when their mother had passed. She’d been the more cheerful one. The one more apt to dot her finger against their cheeks, cackle as she poked fun at them. “Christopher, if you make that noise again, I swear I’ll lose my head!” Always, she’d scolded with a sense that nothing truly mattered. Like the five of them could get on, against the affront of the rest of the world.
Claudia followed. Claudia—bright and nearly twelve years old, with those golden locks that snaked down her back (so much like her mother’s). She darted down the hallway after Christopher, calling, “Christopher, you have to calm yourself! Jesus, you’ll wake Father.”
Always, she was worried about the Duke, trying to ensure that he didn’t fall into one of his “irritant” moods (as she so described it to others, when she thought she was outside of the Duke’s earshot). Claudia was, truth be told, probably his least favorite, the one that he most blamed when things went wrong. As the eldest, she was meant to uphold Lottie, Christopher, Max, and ensure they were safe, happy. And usually, when he blamed her for their defeat, he felt most anxious. He knew it was irresponsible to give her any sense that she’d done anything wrong.
He knew it fell on his shoulders. That he, Aldolphus Caldwell, was the reason that she felt unsafe, that she felt she was meant to ensure that her siblings were happy, content—not weeping into the middle of the night, or not getting any sleep at all (like their father).
But of course, much of her time involved straining to keep her father, the Duke of Wellington, smiling. Telling soft jokes, in that girlish voice of hers; ensuring that his room was kept clean and his violin shining. All this. Yet, still, the Duke continued to feel unloved, dark, volatile—on the fringe of a nervous breakdown, perhaps.
He didn’t imagine a time in which he would ever feel love again.
The Duke of Wellington walked towards the small basin in the side of the room, splashing water on his face. He scrubbed at his cheeks, digging his nails into his skin, and blinked towards the far wall. There she was—Lottie, calling out Claudia’s name. Asking for attention. But at four years old, wasn’t that warranted? She was his youngest, a dark brunette with another set of eyes just like her mother’s. Lottie was a far different breed than the other three—mischievous, whimsical. Since her mother had passed when she was only three, it was already clear that her memory of her was dwindling. It had never had time to fully flourish.
Then, there was Max. He was the second youngest, a quiet, anxious kid, who, the Duke knew, he saw himself in (often, this was the most dastardly thing about having children, he knew: seeing something in them that you hate in yourself). How nervous he, himself, had been when he’d been younger! How he’d been so frightened about the weight of the world. Now, Max peered out of large, black eyes, seemingly marvelling at how horrendously difficult it all would be for him. And the Duke wanted to affirm this knowledge. Yes: it would be difficult. Yes: Max wouldn’t feel safe, most of the time. He would have to grow accustomed to that. Especially in the wake of his mother’s passing.
The Duke dressed in a separate pair of pants, another shirt, wanting to make sure that his children didn’t know he’d been awake since the dinner before. He took a pause at the mirror, slashing his fingers across his eyebrows. “I don’t know what the hell you’re doing,” he marvelled at himself. “Just making it up as you go along.”
The Duke stepped into the hallway, adjusting his coat. He gripped the railing at the staircase, his feet falling heavily on the wood, making it creak. Down below, the marble floor stretched out from the foyer, towards the yonder ballroom. He hadn’t been inside the ballroom since his wife had passed, as the pair of them had spent many a night twirling over the floor, their feet flashing quickly to the tune of whatever music they could find. Usually, it was a servant, or a random maid, with a slight affinity for the violin or the guitar. Sometimes, the Duke himself would just play the violin or the piano, watching with a wide grin as his wife twirled around and around. There was such a freedom to that time.
Three of the four children were seated at the breakfast table, dressed in black. Lottie’s feet snuck back and forth beneath the table, while Max’s eyes were drawn to the empty, gleaming plate before him. Claudia looked up at him, expectant, her lips curved downward.
Only Christopher was absent.
“So, Claudia. You want to tell me where your brother is?” the Duke asked. His voice was much harsher than he’d expected it to be. It grated against Claudia, making her face grow tenser.
“Um. He was only just… I’m sorry, Father,” Claudia said. She leaped up from her chair, whirling towards the kitchen. As she rushed, the Duke could hear a tiny whimpering from her throat. Already, he’d cast his oldest daughter to tears. What kind of monster was he?
“Christopher! Come, now. Father’s here, and you can’t possibly think …” Claudia’s voice rang out from the kitchen.
“Christopher! Get your hand away from that pot this instant!” This, the voice of Sally Hodgins, the head maid of the house, echoed from hallway to hallway.
The Duke perched himself at the end of the table, crossing his firm arms across his chest. His head had begun to beat, a sign of a horrific coming headache. As he waited, Sally bolted into the room, her moderate-sized stomach quaking beneath her light pink dress and white apron. The woman’s 40-something face was rather frog-like, chubby, and it shook as she began to speak. In her hand, she gripped Christopher’s little arm with a ferocity that the Duke might have said was too great—had he the strength to protest what was happening in his house, at this time.
“You should have seen ’im, sir. With his hand around the ladle, already digging into the breakfast …” Sally said, clucking her tongue. “I’ll be, I know you didn’t raise these children to be this way. But I declare, if you don’t think they should go to some kind of boarding school …”
“That’s ridiculous, Sally, and you know it,” the Duke said. His voice was a jolt of reality. Max’s eyes burned deeper into the plate before him, seemingly far too frightened to peer up at his father. But the Duke didn’t have the current patience to eliminate his anger.
Sally’s lower lip bumbled slightly. But she righted her chin, unfurling her fingers from Christopher’s arm. “Well then, I suspect you might as well get yourself a new governess. As the one you hired just last week has taken off in the midst of the night.” She clucked her tongue again. “That’s the second one’s done this, you know.”
The Duke glared at Christopher, forcing him to take tiny steps towards the table and slip into his chair.
“Does anyone want to tell me why the governess decided to up and leave in the middle of the night? Claudia?” the Duke growled. “I don’t imagine that bright and shining girl I hired a few weeks back could have changed her mind so swiftly about wanting to help us out. Not without something major happening.”
As he spoke, the cook, a woman named Margaret Collins, ambled into the dining room with a gleaming, stone-coloured pot. She dropped it in the centre of the table and began to ladle out porridge, simmering with apples and cinnamon. She coated each of the children’s plates, her eyes cast downward. Christopher gripped his spoon, preparing to dive into the food the moment he was given the okay. Little force of nature.
“Christopher? Any idea why your governess decided to leave in the middle of the night?” the Duke asked, his voice dry.
“No, sir,” Christopher said.
“Claudia? Any clue?”
Claudia’s eyes traced over Christopher’s face, before dropping to the table. She knew better than to throw her brother into trouble, just to clear her name. “There might have been some issues, while you were at work yesterday.” Claudia sighed. “But I didn’t imagine it would be enough for her to leave.”
The Duke gripped his fork, stabbing it into the top of his oatmeal. It steamed towards his face. “Didn’t you lot like her? She was a fine woman.”
“A bit old,” Max piped up.
The Duke tilted his head at Max, surprised that he’d said anything. Max reached forward and dug into his oatmeal, clearly self-conscious. He snuck bits of it into his mouth, chewing far too quickly, like a rodent.
“A bit old?” the Duke demanded. “What the hell does that have to do with anything?”
“She couldn’t play with us,” Lottie said then. “Papa, she was SO old. She was a million years old.”
The Duke felt his stomach curdle with apprehension. Now, with yet another governess gone, he would have to drag his children to the musical instrument shop for the day. Perhaps they could rush around the back lot, get up to foolish games—anything to keep them away from the expensive instruments and the craftspeople who were working on them. The children peered up at him, expectant, their eyes almost glittering with promise. They knew, beyond anything that a result of their getting the governess to leave was that they could go with him to work. It had happened frequently at this rate. And always, it filled them with promise—knowing they could follow him, their last link to their mother. But it added to the Duke’s seemingly endless stress. In just a few months, he had a large shipment of instruments, to be brought to the King and Queen, in London. It was to be the first major shipment since his wife’s passing. He couldn’t possibly mess it up. Messing it up would mean that he was unhinged, a “lost cause” after the death of Marybeth. “Just another widower who couldn’t handle the loneliness.”
The carriage pulled up at the front of the estate mansion, with the driver, Montgomery, stationed at the top—a whip in-hand. He beamed down at the Duke, his eyes glazing over the four children, waiting expectantly. In front of him, two mighty stallions stood, huffing and flaring their nostrils. They would cart the Duke—and the rest of his family—all the way to the instrument shop.
“I suppose this means you’ve lost another governess?” Montgomery asked, his voice almost cockney in style, bouncy and agile. He certainly wasn’t from Leeds. Although, he’d been working for the Duke since he and Marybeth had married. He couldn’t imagine another stableman.
“I don’t think it’s something we’re terribly willing to discuss, Montgomery,” the Duke said, almost chuckling. But he held it back, guiding his children into place at the back of the carriage. The Duke ambled in after them, seating alongside Claudia. As he sat, he watched Christopher tug at little Lottie’s hair. “Christopher!” the Duke cried.
Christopher’s face lost its blood, appearing pale and frightened. But before the Duke could make another move, the stableman shot his whip across the horses, and they began to clop towards the centre of town. The ride was over twenty minutes—ambling them out of the deep countryside and into Leeds: a city lined with cobblestones, with bustling townspeople, with horse and buggies darting to and fro. As they entered, the Duke’s children pressed their noses out of the carriage openings, their eyes alight with promise. They loved the chaos, the colour of the city.
The Duke half-wondered if they’d only rid themselves of their governess for another day of pleasure in Leeds. He wouldn’t have put it beyond them, his munchkin children.
“Papa, look!” Lottie pointed her little white needle-like finger out the window, towards a woman wearing a grand, maroon gown, and a black cloak. Her chin was raised high, her hair pulled back into a gorgeous, fashionable up-do.
In fact, the Duke recognised the woman as someone he’d courted, for a brief time, prior to meeting Marybeth. As they crept along beside her, his dark eyes met with hers on the corner. She brought her chin upward, and they exchanged an almost soft greeting, despite how much time had passed. The Duke assumed that now the woman had a husband and probably many children. She looked fine and regal as if her husband conducted a great deal of business. How her mother had yearned for her to marry the Duke!
Yet, when he’d met Marybeth, he hadn’t been able to see another.
“She’s very beautiful,” Claudia said, eyeing the Duke.
“I’m quite sure I used to know her before,” the Duke offered. He blinked several times, wondering at the kind of life he and this woman might have had if he hadn’t met Marybeth. His children—these four chaotic demons, whom he loved with his entire beating heart—might never have existed.
And with a jolt, Montgomery forced the horses forward. The tyres of the carriage clucked over the cobblestones. Lottie drew back, placing her cheek on the Duke’s chest. “Papa, I’m glad she’s gone,” Lottie whispered, probably speaking of the governess.
The Duke felt sure that he would never get to the root of what had happened between his children and the governess. All he knew was: he had to push forward and find another one, as it wasn’t appropriate for him to bring his children to work every day. Not with this big approaching sale. Not as, it seemed, his company continued to lose money in the wake of his wife’s death.
When the Duke arrived at his business, the children scampered from the carriage. He walked after them, his boots falling into the mud and dredging it up against the cobblestones. Jeffrey, his assistant, appeared in the doorway. He was a rotund gentleman, his white and grey beard flickering around his thick neck. He held a ledger book in his arms and scowled down at the four children as they rushed towards him. His eyes searched the Duke’s for a moment, rueful.
“You know you can’t possibly get as much work as needs done with the children here,” Jeffrey said, almost reprimanding the Duke.
The Duke arched his back, forcing his chin higher. He glared down at Jeffrey. In the back of his skull, his headache was a constant shadow over everything. It was one of those headaches he felt sure he couldn’t escape with a simple lay-down.
He decided not to reprimand Jeffrey, as it felt too difficult—coming up with some sort of punishment. Instead, he decided to belittle him, ensure that he knew that, without the Duke, he would be out of a job. Just a meagre man, cast out. Jeffrey had never married and had been working as the Duke’s assistant for the previous three or four years. He’d been appropriately loyal. But, the Duke had noticed, Jeffrey had grown increasingly sloppy in taking stock of the dealings of the company—leading to some minor cash losses.
The Duke reached for the ledger book. His children scampered down the centre of the musical instrument store, their laughs echoing from wall to wall. Lottie nearly toppled into a massive harp before Claudia reached her little hand and yanked her back. The Duke blinked at the mad tornado of the four of them before turning his gaze back to the ledger. It was time to focus on the work. This was their livelihood.
The Duke strutted into his private office, with Jeffrey ambling up behind him. His finger traced over the dealings in the ledger, marvelling at the fact that they’d lost nearly two hundred pounds that month. How was that possible? They’d had a hefty dealing with a boarding school that had purchased quite a few harps for their orchestra. They’d also been contacted by the Duke of Earl, as well as several rich Lords in the Midlands, who’d enquired about their selection.
But as the Duke read over the ledger, he recognised that Jeffrey, himself, had made a miscalculation in his dealing with the Duke of Earl. It seemed that Jeffrey had given him an incredibly irresponsible amount of money back—leading to a loss of nearly one hundred and fifty pounds.
“Jeffrey. How is this possible?” the Duke asked, his voice gritty.
“What?” Jeffrey asked. His cheeks shook as he spoke, making him appear childish. “What are you talking about?”
“Jeffrey, it’s clear to me that you’ve made a massive mistake in your dealing with the Duke of Earl. You’ve cost the company a great deal of funds …”
Jeffrey’s cheeks grew bright pink. He blubbered again, trying to articulate his feelings. But the Duke rose up from his chair, towering over him. He felt another wave of anger. It felt impossible to see through this anger. It was bright red, making his eyes flash. “Jeffrey, if you think for a moment I won’t throw you out on the road, right this moment …”
“My Duke, I don’t suppose you think I did this on purpose, do you?” Jeffrey said. He stretched his fingers over his cheeks, dragging them downward. “You don’t think …”
Outside, an incredible crash resounded from wall to wall. The Duke bolted towards the door, rushing towards the collection of harps, pianos, cellos, and violins near the back of the shop. Another crash rang out, echoing wildly. It was the crash of strings falling into boards falling into keys. The Duke strutted more quickly. As he blinked, his eyes were filled with more and more red and black. It was the very colour of anger.
Behind him, Jeffrey skipped along, trying to keep him. “Oh, my goodness, Duke. It’s just horrible what your children do when they’re here,” he tittered, tossing the full blame upon the only humans the Duke loved in the world.
To this, the Duke balled his hands into fists. He wondered what kind of man he might have to be to spin back and blast those fists directly into Jeffrey’s skull.
When the Duke finally did reach the chaos, he was unsurprised to find Christopher in the centre of it all: with violins and cellos and even half a piano smashed around him, his body strewn back, and his eyes blinking up. Claudia was still poised next to him, her hand across her mouth. Lottie was nowhere to be found. Neither was Max.
“What the hell happened here?” the Duke cried. He felt his anger bubbling up from his stomach, like acid. He might vomit.
Christopher tried to pop up from the rubble, but the Duke rushed forward, placing his hand on Christopher’s shoulder. If they moved him carefully, perhaps they could spare some of the instruments. The Duke snarled down at his son—this kid he didn’t quite understand, the volatile and alive one—saying, “Why can’t you ever leave well enough alone, Christopher?”
“Father, it was my fault …” Claudia began from above. Large tears slid down her cheeks. She reached for Christopher’s other shoulder as if she might be able to tug him from the instruments.
But the Duke swatted her hand away. His brain swirled with anger. He spun back towards Jeffrey, who sneered at Christopher. “You’ve really made a mistake now,” he told Christopher. “Consider yourself all but shipped off to boarding school …”
This had been something the Duke had mentioned to Jeffrey in private: the concept of sending his children off since he struggled having all four of them, hopping from governess to governess, all on top of managing the musical instrument shop. But the fact that Jeffrey brought this up, as a kind of threat to his child, scalded the Duke. He shot back up from Christopher, preparing to howl at Jeffrey.
But as he moved to speak, he blinked, and then blinked again, feeling the world teeter around him. He felt like he was perched on the edge of it, unable to find his grip. And suddenly, he fell to his knees, crashing into a part of the busted-out piano. His body bolted back, and he lost consciousness—seeing only darkness; hearing nothing but another crash and bang of instruments, as Claudia, Christopher, and Jeffrey came to his aid.
When the Duke awoke, the world was dark.
He could feel his eyelashes blinking, could feel his eyes opening and closing. Yet, when he felt that they were fully open—his face stretched out wide to accommodate the sight he was normally accustomed to seeing—he saw nothing. He stuttered, his tongue searching over his teeth.
“Would someone please turn on the light?” he asked, marvelling at how weak he sounded.
“Duke, sir. The light is on. It’s only the middle of the day.” It was the voice of his doctor, a textured, grizzly voice, which reminded him of the week his wife had spent in bed prior to her death. He remembered that same voice telling the Duke he wasn’t sure Marybeth would make it.
That seemed like a lifetime ago.
The Duke didn’t have an answer to what the doctor told him now, just as he hadn’t had an answer then. He pressed his lips together, waiting. He heard another voice: this time, the voice of Jeffrey. “Doctor, what’s wrong with him?” he asked. “One moment, he was very much upright. And the next …”
“Duke, have you been getting enough sleep?” the doctor asked him, a question he surely knew the answer to. The Duke had confessed to the doctor that he’d been a victim of insomnia over the previous several months. That, since his wife’s passing, he hadn’t spent a single night—from dusk till dawn—in bed. Usually, he spent hardly more than an hour or two.
The Duke felt petrified. He shook his head, continuing to blink wildly—as if the blinking might lead to light. He imagined his blinking like rattling the shutters of a window, trying to open up the room to light during a winter’s day.
“I really can’t see,” the Duke heard himself say. He reached for his throat, feeling his vocal chords as they vibrated.
“My God. He’s gone blind,” Jeffrey stammered. “Doctor, what could have caused something like this?”
The Duke inhaled slowly, trying to calm his racing thoughts. He placed his hands over his ears to create a kind of cone, trying to decipher where he was, what was going on. In the distance, he could hear his children—Christopher, wildly screeching that something was all his fault. Claudia, trying to calm him.
“It’s not you. It wasn’t you …”
“I made him so terribly angry, Claudia. It’s like I can’t help it. I just …”
The smell of coffee, of stew, of the lavender that Marybeth had littered around the bottom of the wardrobe, assured the Duke that he’d arrived safely home, in the wake of his fall. He imagined Margaret at the kitchen stove, stirring up goulash—a recipe she’d taken from her German ancestors, which she frequently fed to him and the children. Marybeth hadn’t liked it much; had pushed the bowl to the side so that Christopher and Max could gobble it up, instead.
Perhaps he should have pushed her to eat, more. Perhaps she wouldn’t have fallen so ill. Gotten so thin …
“I’m sure it’ll come back,” the Duke said, his nostrils flared. “I’m sure it’s just a momentary lapse in sight. This sort of thing happens all the time …”
The door sprung open, the familiar, rusty door of his bedroom. He recognised the steps of Sally, the head maid. “Doctor, what is it?” she cried. “I came back from the market as soon as I heard…”
“It’s unexplainable at this time,” the doctor said, his voice firm and resolute. “Currently, we’re operating under the assumption that our dear Duke hasn’t been taking proper care of himself, in the wake of his wife’s death. As is to be expected, given he’s had the children, the affairs of the business …” The doctor trailed off. The Duke could hear him scrawling something with a pencil, perhaps making notes so he could remember what had happened later.
“His children have been absolutely unbearable, truth be told,” Sally said, her voice high-pitched. It caused another headache to begin to brew in the back of the Duke’s brain. He felt it like a kernel, or a seed. He groaned, tossing his head deeper into the pillow.
“You’re going to need help, Duke,” the doctor said, placing his hand on the Duke’s shoulder. It felt heavy, yet oddly affirming. The Duke realised that nobody had touched him in quite some time. Of course, he reasoned that someone had probably had to lift him into the carriage, take him back to the estate, carry him all the way back to his bed …
But he didn’t want to envision that. It made him feel so powerless, knowing that his children had seen him so weak.
“I will hire one more governess,” the Duke said with a sigh. “I will give the children one more chance. It’s required, now, as I’m very literally … disposed.”
“It’s a temporary problem, sir. Definitely temporary,” Jeffrey said. He sounded eager, his voice too bright, like a schoolchild’s. “I shouldn’t think you’ll be on your back for much longer. Right, Doctor?”
“It’s hard to know, Duke. I’ll recommend that you remain in bed for the rest of the day. Give your body what it truly needs—which, as you know by now, is rest. And after that, well. We’ll monitor the situation. All right?”
“I want to speak with my children,” the Duke said. He stretched his hands over his stomach, linking them. “I wish to speak with them, alone. Sally, could you please fetch them? And Doctor. Thank you for all you’ve done. Jeffrey …” he trailed off, hoping to make Jeffrey understand that he hadn’t forgotten that problematic ledger—and the fact that Jeffrey had lost them two-hundred pounds. Just because he was blind in both eyes and flat on his back, didn’t mean he wouldn’t continue to operate the business.
He wasn’t dead. Not yet.
He heard the light tappings of his children’s feet as they approached, guided by Sally. Sally slid through the door along with them, her footsteps much louder. But the Duke protested, making a flat wall with his hand. “Sally, now, please. You know what my request was. Why would you push it?”
“Yes, my Duke,” Sally said, turning from the room. She clipped the door closed behind her, leaving the four children to face their now-blind father.
Silence seemed heavy across the Duke’s chest. He heard a sniffle and couldn’t quite place it: was it from Lottie? Max? Christopher, who blamed himself?
“Father, what did the doctor say?” Claudia demanded, taking the first stand. From her voice, the Duke sensed that she was far off to the left in the room. He imagined her with her arm wrapped around Lottie, perhaps, rubbing her shoulders. Ensuring that she didn’t lose her mind with fear.
“Doctor says that I’m blind. Temporarily,” the Duke told them.
Christopher let out a slight wail before smacking his hand over his mouth and halting it. The Duke tried to turn his head directly towards that noise but could have been off; he wasn’t entirely sure. “Christopher, I don’t want anything like that out of you,” he said. “It’s a difficult enough road without you shrouding this room with blame on yourself.”
“Yes, sir,” Christopher said.
With a horrific jolt, the Duke felt frightened he might never see his children’s faces again. What if they grew into adults, had full faces and large hands, and he could never see them? What if his daughters grew to look like their mother—and he couldn’t be around to see them flourish?
“In the meantime, I will be hiring another governess,” the Duke continued. “And I want the four of you to promise that this time you will be on your best behaviour. We can’t have her escaping into the night, as I’m blind and incapacitated and simply unable to handle you. I haven’t been able to sleep in weeks.”
“I’ve heard you playing your violin at night,” Claudia whispered.
“Then you understand just how essential it is for me to get my rest, so that I can become well again.”
“Yes, Father.” All four of them said this together. Their voices created a kind of chord. The Duke turned his face towards the window, feeling the September warmth as it coasted in through the glass. He remembered just a year ago when Marybeth had still been alive. She’d carted little Lottie in on her hip, calling out to the Duke to come outside with the five of them—they were preparing to have a picnic. Didn’t he want to join?
On that day, he hadn’t joined. He’d remained inside with his violin, thinking that he could steal a few hours away from the children, from the chaos. Now, he ached to be together in that way—all six of them, preparing to take over the world. Somehow, it had felt that way when his wife had been around.
“You can’t know how sorry we are,” had been the ultimate refrain of the townspeople of Leeds and the surrounding estates dotted along the countryside. But now, he was blind, an invalid. And his children were so comically horrific that governesses escaped in the middle of the night for better lives elsewhere.
They hadn’t been so horrible, before. Or rather, it had been a comical thing: their tricks and tantrums had had elements of humour to them, making both him and Marybeth devolve into laughter.
What would come of his little family? That electricity that had shot between his and Marybeth’s fingers when he’d first encountered her in the woods: hadn’t it meant big things were coming their way? Hadn’t it meant that they were “chosen” for something more?
Perhaps it had meant nothing. Perhaps it was foolish to think that life was any breeding ground for everlasting love. He had to centre his mind, now: focus on the facts—that his children needed rearing and education, and that he needed to build back up the musical instrument store to protect it from ruin …
And now, of course, that he needed to see again.
“Run along, now,” he told his children. “I have much to think about, and much to do. Please, keep your noise levels down. And let me sleep.”
The children scampered off, with one of them (probably Claudia, although he couldn’t see to affirm this for certain) clipping the door closed behind them. The Duke felt the echoey emptiness of the great room around him, conscious that it felt so much bigger—like a weight upon his chest—when he had to lay there alone.
Perhaps this was precisely why he’d been unable to sleep for all this time. He couldn’t simply lie there, knowing that when he awoke, Marybeth wouldn’t be there, then, either. It was safer to live in consciousness.
And now, in some ways, it was safer to live blind. At least he couldn’t see the devastation on his children’s faces. At least, now, he couldn’t see the flickering, dark green eyes of both Claudia and Lottie—so like the eyes of his wife’s.
Blindness was a protective shell.
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The somber, terribly handsome Duke of Wellington struggles after the death of his beloved wife. His four whip-smart, difficult children run circles around him, and his musical instrument business slips through his fingers. He desperately needs help, life is unbearable without the love of his life. Soon, a terrible illness robs him of his sight too. He’s cast into darkness. Angrier than ever, he has guarded his heart forever from any emotion. Will he overcome his wife’s death or will he slowly drive himself to madness?
Marina Blackwater is the youngest daughter of a very poor family. When she’s sent to the Duke’s house as a last-ditch effort for the governess position, she doesn’t know what she’s up against as the children push her through every possible challenge. But when she gets to listen to the Duke playing his violin furiously, she gets butterflies in her stomach and she can’t find a way to resist his handsomeness and passion. How is Marina going to help the Duke soften his bitter heart?
Even in the midst of darkness, will the Duke see the light his caring governess has brought to his shadowy estate? Or will she be cast out, as well, leaving the Duke in continued darkness, never able to feel love for his music, or for his children ever again?
“A Governess in the Duke’s Darkness” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.