‘Do not question me lad,’ the duke’s tone of voice brooked no argument. ‘Am I not the head of this household?’
‘Yes sir,’ Benedict dragged out, reluctantly yielding to the authority of his parent.
‘Your grace,’ Natasha cleared her throat. ‘Pardon me for speaking frankly, but I fear your health to undertake such a tedious trip. ‘Can Ben---lord Benedict not attend to this urgent matter? Surely your health is more important, with the wedding so near,’ Natasha almost swallowed the last few words of her plea.
Benedict silently cringed, afraid his father was going to bite Natasha’s head off for daring to question, let alone attempt to speak to him so boldly. He was more than astonished when he saw a smile break out on his parent’s face.
‘Do you think I’m too old and should be gagged and tied up in the attic child?
‘No---your grace,’ Natasha squirmed. ‘I am just concerned about your health. If not lord Benedict, could not one of the senior grooms undertake the errand for you?’
‘I will be fine,’ the duke walked towards Natasha, ignoring his son standing only a few feet away from him.
‘Is this bird not wild? I’ve seen him about the estate, when I was out enjoying the sun.’
‘Yes your grace,' Natasha smiled, ‘he was very little, and injured his wing, when we found him.’
Natasha’s eyes nervously flew across the room to Benedict. He was still too annoyed at his father and offered her no support. The duke watched the play between his son and Natasha with interest. When Natasha did not substantiate, he probed further.
‘So this bird lives here on the estate? He feeds here?
‘Yes,’ Natasha reluctantly continued. ‘Lord Benedict made him a cage, but we---I mean I left it opened for him, to set him free, but he returned the very next day and he’s been here ever since.
‘Indeed?’ Natasha was so confused. She was not certain if she was being interrogated by Benedict or the duke. The both of them had the same annoying manner resembling a bored cat toying with a mouse.
‘Perhaps I may leave the room your grace that you and lord Benedict may have your discussion.’
‘What you’re hoping,’ the duke laughed, ‘is that perhaps Benedict may be able to take me to task when he does not have an audience.’
‘I am well able to speak in Miss Natasha’s presence father, for she is correct. You have been quite ill. It is foolish to attempt such a long journey, when you have barely recovered. Can this matter not wait a week or two?’
When you come back from your honeymoon Benedict?
‘I am fine son. I shall take two grooms with me. Do not be troubled about my health. I shall return in two days.’ Benedict was rather taken aback when his father unexpectedly embraced him. ‘Good day Miss Natasha,’ the duke exited the library.
‘Benedict stop him,’ Natasha ran to him, and placed an urgent hand on his arm.
‘I cannot challenge the duke Natasha. He is stubborn and single minded.’
‘Mmm,’ was all Natasha replied.
‘What is that supposed to mean?’
‘Like father like son,’ Natasha turned her back on Benedict and muttered under her breath.
Benedict groaned loudly, clasped his palm to his forehead, and strode out of the library.
The ducal home was a flurry of activity. It was five days to the wedding. The entire home was being spring cleaned, scrubbed and polished. The maids were running around helter skelter in an attempt to complete the unending chores. Carts were delivering tons of groceries; fruit, vegetable, champagne and wines to accommodate the expected additional requirements of the invited wedding guests. Additional chefs and staff were hired for the cooking and to bake pastries and h’orderves and serve refreshments to the continuous stream of guests that had already started arriving from afar.
The one morning pandemonium broke out in the kitchen. Natasha was called by the butler to intervene in the kitchen chaos as Michel, the head chef became untenable, after one of the new scullery maids fell and dropped the mixture destined for the wedding cake. The maid had scurried away in tears after the chef had delivered a litany of vulgar abuse at the poor maid.