His Grace, Duke of In-Between
The library of No. 65 Belgrave Square glimmered with the same opulence that Miss Ellen Barrett had admired in the grand front hallway. The two side walls of the room were inset with tall bookcases of partially gilt mahogany, surmounted by grand pediments. The farthest wall, of cerulean, white and gilt plaster, was anchored by two long windows—draped in frothy sheer fabric beneath a medium blue silk damask. Between the two windows a pier mirror of gold in the Chinoiserie style reflected the huge, glittering rock crystal chandelier which hung in the middle of the room.
Appointed with masculine furnishings upholstered in boldly-striped silk of coral, cream and turquoise, the room was as warm and inviting as it was grand. As formal as the library was, it had, also, a casual air about it. Heavily framed landscape paintings had been suspended from the bookshelves and large portraits leaned at the rear of important-looking tables which were artfully cluttered with crystal paperweights, small bronzes and porcelain figurines. A multi-paneled screen of mother-of-pearl inlaid papier mache stood at the corner of the room, partly covering a bank of shelves and blocking what appeared to be a door to another chamber.
At first, as Dr. Robert Halifax ushered her into the room, Ellen was so overcome with admiration for the handsome decorations of the library, she didn’t notice that the room seemed to be empty. Only after a few seconds did she realize that the Duke was not evident. She took a deep breath and looked politely at Robert, not meeting his eyes.
Robert chuckled. “Your Grace, a Miss Ellen Barrett has come for an interview.”
“Oh!” A voice responded from a far corner of the room.
Ellen raised her eyebrows as a well-dressed man appeared from behind the papier mache screen. If the doctor could have been described as tremendously handsome, then, certainly, the Duke could have been so described as well. Yet, he was attractive in a different sort of way. While the doctor was graceful and polished, classically beautiful with his sky-blue eyes and dark hair, the Duke carried a more earthy, slightly rumpled, beauty.
His Grace grinned sheepishly at Ellen, still staying close to the screen from which he had emerged. Ellen studied him. His hair was a wavy mane of dark auburn which fell over his forehead. He had made an effort to tuck the fringe behind his ears, but his chestnut locks still remained charmingly unruly. The Duke’s clothes were as fine as the doctor’s, if not finer. He wore a dark rust-colored suit of velvet which matched his hair, a deep green waistcoat and a cravat of cream silk, anchored by a gold pin set with a ruddy stone which, queerly enough, shone with the same hue as his eyes which—like his tresses—weren’t entirely brown nor entirely red. They were wide eyes—almost too wide as if he were caught between a moment of surprise and a moment of joy. His eyebrows, too, were slightly raised as if in mid-thought.
In fact, Ellen thought in that awkward moment of silence, the gorgeous Duke seemed entirely like a man caught in the middle—forever in between two thoughts, two emotions, two reactions, two worlds. Even his smile—friendly, yet cautious--seemed to be frozen in the middle of two ideas.
“Hullo,” The Duke said quickly. He pressed his hands together before fiddling with a glittering diamond ring which he wore on his left index finger.
Ellen smiled at this simple greeting—not the typical salutation of an aristocrat of a rank as high as the Duke of Fallbridge.
“Your Grace,” Robert grinned at the Duke. “This is Ellen Barrett. Miss Barrett, this is His Grace, Julian, the Duke of Fallbridge.”
Ellen bowed her head, but did so in a way that enabled her to continue to watch the two men. Even at a distance, their affection for one another was palpable. Ellen could feel a sense of protection radiating from the doctor. She always had a way of knowing how other people felt. Her mother had the same instincts. Ellen exhaled, feeling comforted by the shared respect and love the two men seemed to feel for one another.
“Welcome, Miss Barrett.” The Duke continued. “Do please sit.” He gestured awkwardly toward an elegant armchair of carved walnut and that crisp, striped silk which she had admired upon entering the room.
“Such a lovely home, Your Grace.” Ellen began.
“Thank you.” The Duke replied simply.
His manner of speaking was not, at first, strange. He spoke with the same formal cadence peculiar to the nobility. Yet, Ellen noticed, it seemed forced as if the Duke was struggling to pronounce each word correctly. He appeared to be speaking with a voice that was not comfortable, not his own. Beneath each word, there was another word which wanted to come out—like a lid forced over a pot of boiling water. Yes, she thought to herself, he’s a man caught between two worlds.
“I have, Your Grace, Miss Barrett’s references.” The doctor said, walking to the Duke and guiding him toward a settee across from Ellen. The two men sat together, facing her.
“Have you read them, then?” The Duke asked his companion.
“I’ve glanced at them.” Robert smiled. “Perhaps Miss Barrett can tell us a bit about herself.”
“Certainly.” Ellen nodded. “I’ve spent the last ten years in the employ of the Baron of Lensdown.”
“And, why did you leave?” the doctor asked.
“The last of the children was married and I was no longer needed. That’s the tragedy of being a governess. After awhile, you become useless. However, I do so love children, and I’m still quite young. I would like to be able to be of some service to another child.”
“We got a boy. His name is Colin,” The Duke blurted out excitedly. “He’s a good boy, he is.” He paused, seeming to have caught himself saying something he hadn’t intended. He fixed his face in a serious expression. Lowering his eyebrows, and eyelids to conceal the jubilant expression which had overtaken his face, he added. “A fine boy. I adopted him whist we were abroad. I think you’ll find him most charming and obedient.”
Ellen smiled, charmed by this man—this powerful man, caught in a perennial state of confusion. “How old is Colin.”
“Here,” The Duke murmured, looking at his companion. Again, he caught himself. “How old is he, Dr. Halifax? Exactly?”
“He’ll be one year old in three weeks.” Robert responded.
“I see,” Ellen smiled. “What a lovely age.”
“Indeed,” the Duke nodded politely. Despite his restrained response, his eyes were wild with joy and excitement—as if he would much prefer to romp about the room over sitting there and talking with her.
“What sort of accommodations have you for the nursery?” Ellen asked.
“We have both day and night nurseries as well as a school room. However, we won’t be needing that for awhile, will we?” the doctor answered. “These are located on the third floor. There is an en suite room for the governess.”
“Perfect.” Ellen nodded.
“Do you like dogs?” The Duke interrupted.
“Dogs—do you like them?”
“I do.” Ellen chuckled despite herself. “Very much.”
“I’m glad to know it.” The Duke grinned widely. “We have a dog. He’s called Toby. He’s what’s called a terrier. He’s ever-so intelligent.”
Ellen tilted her head to one side, giggling slightly. “As a girl, I had several dogs. All terriers.”
“I like this one, chum,” The Duke tapped his companion’s shoulder.
“As do I, Your Grace.” Dr. Halifax nodded.
Being referred to as “Your Grace,” seemed to act as a reminder to the Duke who once again affected a manner more befitting an aristocrat.
He added, “Many of the governesses whom we have interviewed have appeared, to me, to be…” He sighed and looked to the doctor.
“I think His Grace is stating that we have been unimpressed with the over-serious, even military, nature of some of the others with whom we’ve spoken.”
“Yes,” The Duke nodded eagerly. “We are a…different sort of household.”
“I can see that, and, if you’ll pardon my frankness, Sir, I appreciate it. A child should be raised in a joyful home.”
“We are very joyful,” The doctor chuckled.
“Miss Barrett, I think we’ve seen all we need to. If you’d like to meet Colin, we’ll ring for Gamilla, our parlor maid. She’s been looking after Colin and would be pleased to introduce you to him and show you the quarters upstairs.”
“I’d like that.” Ellen responded.
“So, you want to work here?” The Duke asked, clapping his hands.
“If you’ll have me.”
The duke looked at his companion who nodded in agreement.
“Yes,” The Duke of Fallbridge said gaily.
“Well, then, yes, Your Grace, I would be honored.”
“Good!” The Duke grinned, leaping from the settee and hurrying over to the bell-pull.
Within seconds, it seemed, an African woman appeared from behind the screen from which the Duke had emerged. Ellen gathered that the hidden door led to a servants’ entrance.
Ellen had never seen an African before. She found the young woman to be quite pretty and knew immediately that they’d get on well.
“Miss Barrett, this is Gamilla, our parlor maid. Gamilla, Miss Barrett has agreed to begin as Colin’s governess.”
Gamilla nodded, smiling.
“Will you take her to Colin and, then, show her around the house a bit?”
“Yes, Sir.” Gamilla answered.
“When you’ve finished, bring her back here, please, and we’ll work out the particulars of the arrangement.”
Gamilla nodded. “Come with me, Miss, please.”
Ellen followed Gamilla who led her toward the main exit. As they walked out into the passage, Ellen could hear the Duke and the doctor talking.
“How’d I do, chum?” The Duke asked. “I know I slipped a bit, I did, but I think I got it right.”
“You did brilliantly, dear Punch.” the doctor responded.
“Coo!” The Duke whooped as the door closed behind Ellen and Gamilla. “I think she’ll be awful nice here.”
Once outside the library, Ellen and Gamilla exchanged glances.
“I reckon you got some questions,” Gamilla winked.
“Quite a few,” Ellen chuckled.
“They’re fine gents.” Gamilla said sincerely. “You’ll like it here.”
“I have a feeling that I will.” Ellen responded. “I suspect I’ll be here for a very long time.”
Did you miss Chapter 1 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read it here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 3.