Chapter Thirty Seven: Part 2

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I will, however, expect you to remain for the great turn he has done you by paying for your education, managing your properties and accounts while you have been away, and expecting higher standards than you ever would have imposed upon yourself.

Polite, civil, and grateful. Ha! "You may expect until Beelzebub ice skates in Hell, Your Grace."

Sighing, Toad mentally reversed himself. He would make an effort—for Sally's sake, he was forced to it—but he wasn't foolish enough to believe Wellbridge would participate. Toad would be polite and civil, Wellbridge would take it as weakness and attack, and eventually, Toad would be unable to restrain his temper and more chaos would ensue. And worse, his mother knew it and would risk the consequence. All the more reason to repair to his club for the duration of their stay. He needed to finalize plans for the shipping line more than he needed to partake in celebration and unpleasant family reunions.

We are both enormously pleased at your performance and high marks (you may believe it or not, but your father speaks of nothing else among his colleagues; I am assured by Haverford that the gentlemen at White's find his endless recitation of your accomplishments terribly dull).

Good. He hoped his father was so old and tired his conversation couldn't be borne. He hoped every floor speech in The Lords saw the Duke of Wellbridge thumbing through his notes and mumbling like a doddering old man. He hoped Wellbridge was left muttering to himself in White's all the livelong day. He hoped the whole of London thought his father no better than a madman.

However, Captain Hawley and I both agree, with your father's assent, there is still a gap between the level of education you have received and the knowledge you will require to profit from your inheritance from me, at least as sizable as the duchy, not entailed, and requiring closer management and a broader worldview to maintain.

As such, in the absence of any other adequate plan as you face your adulthood, I find myself forced to make decisions on your behalf and issue directives, upon which hinge the continued payment of your allowance. We have decided you will apprentice to a supercargo on a Seventh Sea ship upon your graduation, to combine more extended travel with practical lessons in buying, selling, and day-to-day management of the enterprise you will one day own. You will be expected to report to Calais no later than one month after your graduation, where you will receive further instruction from Captain Hawley or his emissary.

"Like hell I will, Your Grace. You and Captain Hawley may follow in my wake as I sink Seventh Sea into the depths of the Indian Ocean."

Perhaps you can make up the financial loss by some other means, but were I you, and wished to continue to live the life to which you are accustomed, I would make myself amenable to at least a year on Seventh Sea ships before you even consider returning to England.

"You can bloody well count on my ability to make up the financial loss." Not only did he have the money saved to invest in the new shipping line, he'd had occasion last time he was in Paris to relieve a cheat of his whist winnings using his mother's lessons in card sharping, so boasted another 200,000 francs tucked away, that he had planned to give over to Sally to refurbish Toadstone Hall.

You are a fortunate young man, whether you know it or not, to have two parents well-traveled enough to insist upon the same for you, and should be grateful your itinerary will be considerably broader than "the Courts of Europe."

It does not please me to be dictatorial, but you leave me no choice. Should you wish to discuss this further, you may lay out an alternative plan and make a case for it while we are in Paris.

I love you, my pigheaded darling, and always want only what is best for you, even—perhaps especially—when you believe me a tyrant.

With much love, your mother,

Bella Wellbridge

Toad tried to throw the letter across the room, but the pages just fluttered down to the end of his bed, so he followed it with his coffee cup against the hearth. The door opened a crack; Blakeley must have heard the china shatter against the wall.

"Get out! Get out and stay out! You're dismissed! For good!" Blakeley backed out.

The Dictatorial Duchess would be here in six weeks to send him away until Sally was well and truly married to some other man? Very well, but she could do it without Toad's help. No need to stand on ceremony. He could finish his classes with or without a public ritual, and he wasn't obligated to inform his parents of his location. He set aside his tray and got out of bed. Padding over to his dressing gown, he ran a hand through his tangled hair. I shouldn't have dismissed Blakeley.

To be fair, he probably hadn't. The man was probably waiting in the sitting room as though nothing had been said.

"Blakeley?"

The door to the sitting room opened.

"Say not a word to me until I give you leave, or I will see you ejected and change the locks, no matter who pays your salary."

Blakeley nodded silently.

"I require a bath and a bottle of wine. No, two bottles; I have hours yet to drink myself into a stupor. A walking suit, please, nothing fussy. Send word to the docks I am ill and will not be there this afternoon." He held up his hand. "Ah, ah. Not a word. Not even a question, which I would not answer, in any case, for fear my response wing its way back to my father by pigeon post. You pride yourself on anticipating my every need. You told me so yourself. Prove it."

Before he did anything else, he intended to make himself incredibly drunk and throw himself into a game of chance. Or five. He had been excessively responsible for months on end. He would be damned if he kept that up while his bloody parents reneged on their end of the bargain. He slammed the bedroom door in Blakeley's face.

Before he was fully dressed for his outing, however, a knock on the door revealed Piero, who had also taken his half day.

"I'm in the bedchamber, Piero," Toad called through the door before Blakely had to show himself again. As Toad tied his cravat, Piero entered.

"I've found a sailmaker for Phoenix Shipping. I've arranged to meet him in three quarters of an hour."

"That's excellent, Piero," Toad said, inserting a jet cravat pin. "Firthley will be delighted. But you will have to meet him without me. I have had enough of ships and shipyards, and will be taking the day to refresh myself."

With one arched brow, Piero asked, "What has your mother done now?"

"Why would you ask that?" The cufflink that matched the cravat pin caught on the watchchain before he could tuck it into his waistcoat pocket, so as soon as he had attached a fob, he took his jacket from Blakeley and pulled it on.

"Because if you intended to become sotted over Lady Sarah, you would be bemoaning women; were the problem your father, you would be ranting at the top of your voice. As you are complaining of ships and shipyards, it must be your mother who is thwarting you. What has she done?"

With as breezy and air as he could muster, Toad waved his hand. "It is irrelevant. I shall be sotted before the sun reaches its zenith."

Piero shook his head. "No. No, you won't. I will personally see you under the table next week. We will take our half-day in the evening, and I will make no appointments to get in the way. But today—and for the rest of the week—we have business to attend. I do not care if you tell me what the duchess has done to displease you, but I will not allow it to cost me money."

With a deep sigh, Toad took the pin out of his cravat and untied it. "You are right. Of course you are right. Let me change into work clothes, and we can repair to the docks to meet your sailmaker. And after that, I suppose no one was ever dismissed for coming to work early."

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