Chapter Forty-Three, Part 3

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Toad looked up and gestured to the seat, covering the letter with his right arm. "Have a seat, Captain. Presumably, you bring orders from my mother, with which I will not comply, and so you will deliver the message I will, therefore, see no more money or assistance from Missus Bella in future."

"Do better to button your lip, boy, and listen to what I tell you, 'afore you go put words in Missus Bella's mouth or mine."

"Of course." Toad gestured to the barmaid to bring Captain Hawley a drink as the captain shrugged off his coat and took a seat.

"Damned rock-headed devil, Harburn."

"So you have said before."

"But Harburn..." Hawley looked Toad in the eye. "Harburn suits, my lord. You never knowed Huntleigh, your ma's first husband, but I did. Missus Bella took from him that men of honor only accept tributes they earned themselves, and he been made a baron, then a bloody earl by earning the king money with his own hand. And Missus Bella's hand, too, no mistake. I seen her teach that to you, that a man works for what he has. 'Bout time you understood it."

"Why... Captain Hawley, I'm touched."

"No call for that. Just think you should know I 'spect you will make a good baron, Lord Harburn. Better baron than you was a marquess." Twisting his cap in his hand, he added, quietly, "Will be e'en better as a duke. Will be a fine duke one day, my lord."

"My... I just... Thank you, Captain Hawley. Thank you. I shall not hope to see my mother's heart so broken as she will be the day I ascend to the title."

"No, that is true. 'Twill take Missus Bella hard, when that day comes."

When the serving girl sidled into the vicinity, Toad asked her to bring Hawley a glass of gin and a replica of the meal that had been delivered to him: bread, cold meat, cheese, pate, and fruit, and then silently invoked the haughtiest ducal demeanor he could manage until she backed out of the room, reflexively curtseying.

"Thankee kindly, Your Lordship," Hawley offered, "and 'bout time you learned how to send them loose women away, 'stead of collecting 'em wherever you go. Now, I do have some messages from your mother, and I got things to say to you myself, so which do you want first?"

Toad shrugged. "May I choose good news or bad news instead?"

Hawley's brows turned down. "Your mother is still sendin' you messages and I'm still deliverin' 'em, nocky-boy, so where you're concerned, it's all good news."

Imbuing his tone with a bit more respect, but adding a smirk to his delivery, he replied, "Yes, Sir. Of course, Sir. What was I thinking?"

Narrowing his right eye, Hawley began, "Your mother says, and I agree, while it weren't the duke's right to deny you access to Seventh Sea, 'long as you are heading up a company in competition, he done the right thing, so that stands. No more using your mother's ships for your convenience. You got your own ships now; use them."

"I expected that."

"What you en't expecting is this, me boy: Missus Bella send me here with a ship to sell."

Toad straightened in his seat. "A ship? What ship?"

With a grin Toad had never seen on his face before, Hawley announced, "The ambassadors' ship, my lord. The family frigate. She suggested I sell to Firthley, but she is still out of charity with you, and I e'nt. And I have an idea you might want to hold it in your own name."

"My mother. Sent the family frigate."

"To be sold; yes, sir." Hawley cleared his throat and shifted his eyes just slightly, not quite looking Toad in the eye. "'Case you had need of a place to live with someone accustomed to a higher class of 'ccommodation than a cargo ship."

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