Robert Donnelly, the thirty-year-old Earl of Donnelly, was seated at his desk staring out his library window across the splendid parkland of his estate. It was a blustery early March day, and there were small whitecaps on the lake embraced by walls of maple and beech forest on either side.
It is good. It is really good. Robert thought as he put his hand on The Adventures of Hudson Harding, his first work of fiction which he had just finished writing.
He let out a sigh of satisfaction and stood, walked over to the French doors leading out to the terrace, and watched the scuttling clouds cast fleeting shadows across the broad expanse of lawn and garden leading up to the lake.
Robert was a tall broad-shouldered man who one might mistake for a laborer with his wide chest and sturdy legs. But his face was refined and noble looking with his surprisingly handsome blue eyes and black, well-groomed hair. He dressed like the gentleman he was, and many in the county of Cambridgeshire were surprised he remained unmarried at his age with so many eligible young aristocratic maidens paraded before him by his older sister, Amelia, who lived with him at Balfour Hall—the family seat.
And while his sister was insistent on the need for a Donnelly male child, today Robert’s thoughts were on his first literary child. Any moment now he expected the arrival of his dear friend, Sir Cecil Hancock—perhaps the most renowned London publisher of quality fiction.
The estate’s wealth came from London income properties long held by the Earls of Donnelly. And Robert decided to review the statements from his agents in London who managed the properties while he awaited Sir Cecil’s arrival.
Shortly thereafter, there was a knock at the library door and Sithens, the Balfour Hall butler, entered.
“Your Lordship, Sir Cecil Hancock has just arrived and begs to be admitted.”
“Show him in, please,” Robert replied.
Sir Cecil was a man in his early sixties—red faced, balding, and looked as though he might be suffering from gout by the way he walked unsteadily and supported himself with a cane.
“Robert…” Sir Cecil, said breezily as he hobbled across the room and took hold of Robert’s hand. “It has been far too long. When were you last in London?”
“Several months at least.” He clapped Cecil on the shoulder and asked. “Whiskey? Sherry? Tea? What shall it be, old man?”
Cecil gave a nod. “Would not say no to a dram or two of your finest single malt.”
Robert turned to Sithens and nodded. “Make that two,” he instructed. Sithens went to the sideboard and prepared the drinks as Robert invited Cecil to sit with him by the fireplace where a cheerful fire was keeping the cold at bay.
“Now then, Robert, what is so pressing that I needed to take a day from my busy schedule to meet with you all the way up here in the wilds of Cambridge?
Robert laughed slightly. “I’ve written a cracking good book and I want you to publish it.”
Cecil seemed taken aback. “A book? What kind of a book?”
“After my travels to the Americas, I decided to write about my adventures. It’s a romantic adventure novel. Set in the American west and in the South American Amazon. I think you will find it to be a strapping good tale, my friend. How soon can you publish it?”
“Wait… wait… Is it a history of your travels or is it a novel?”
“You might say it’s a bit of both. My hero—not me—meets a charming lady and… well… it becomes a romance you see.”
Cecil was silent as he sipped his whiskey and digested what Robert had just told him. Finally, he looked up and said, “I am sincerely sorry, Robert, but it would be most unwise for you to publish such a work under your own name.”
“Why ever not?” Robert asked sternly as he stood and towered over Cecil.
Cecil seemed to be uncomfortable and shifted in his chair.
“Robert, you cannot be that naïve. Surely you know that other than scholarly works and sermons--and maybe, in a reach, a book of travel and exploration--a gentleman of your stature cannot conceivably publish a work of romance. There is a terrible stigma attached to anyone of your class stooping to the level of writing fiction. You would be laughed out of the House of Lords, not to mention ridiculed by the critics and press, and most likely excommunicated from the Church of England.
“Oh, Cecil, that cannot be. Certainly, you exaggerate,” Robert insisted.
“Well, maybe about excommunication. But I most certainly do not exaggerate about the rest. Remember the scandal that pursued from the publication of the Duke of Bedford’s ill-advised novel, The Trials of Cybil, several years ago?”
“Hmm. I might remember something like that.” Robert began to pace in front of the fire.
“I know it seems extreme and unfair, but what you want to do is just not done.”
Robert turned and faced Cecil. “But, certainly, in this progressive day and age of eighteen hundred and seventy-two, such conventions must be ripe for a challenge, do you not think?”
Cecil held out his glass to Sithens to be topped up. “I wish I could say otherwise, but, my dear friend, if I were to publish a novel under your name, I’m afraid you would find yourself severely shunned by most of your class. Not to mention scaring off potential brides. And I do not say that lightly.”
Sithens returned with the whiskey.
“And then there is how that might affect our publishing house. Not only would reviewers refuse to review my books, but I might well lose some of my most prestigious authors.”
“Then let me publish under an assumed name,” Robert suggested.
“I wish it were that easy, old friend. But if we were to publish under an unknown name, hardly any reviewers would look at the book, and the sales would be so small as to be almost negligible. And I am sure you do not want that.”
Robert began pacing again and took another whiskey.
“But certainly you do take on new unknown authors from time to time. Is that not true?”
“That is true, but often they have created a reputation by being published in magazines and journals and by giving public lectures and readings. They have a following long before we publish them.”
Robert went to his desk and picked up his manuscript, bringing it over to where Cecil was still seated.
“At least take a look at it… please. Perhaps if you like it enough, you might figure out a way to get around this absurd impediment.”
Cecil sighed as he took the manuscript.
“Very well, I will take a read of it… for the sake of our friendship.”
Robert had taken the train to London and was in the palatial offices of Hancock and Puntley House Publishers two weeks after his meeting with Cecil at Balfour.
Just yesterday he’d received a letter from Cecil.
My Dearest Friend, Robert,
I have had the opportunity to review your manuscript The Adventures of & etc. And I am very pleased to say that I find it to be a most extraordinary work, and am most anxious to discuss publishing possibilities with you at your earliest convenience.
Drop by my office when you are next in London and we can explore several ideas I have as to how we might surmount your particular problem.
Most Sincerely Yours,
Sir Cecil Hancock OBE
“Sir Cecil will see you now,” his secretary said as she stood and led Robert into his office.
“My, that was a prompt response to my letter,” Sir Cecil said, as he stood up from his desk and came to greet Robert.
“I did not want to waste any time. You know how anxious I am to see my book published and I wanted to hear your suggestions as to how we might get around my particular difficulty.”
“Of course.” Cecil indicated a chair by his desk where Robert stood but did not sit down immediately. He was far too anxious to sit just yet.
“So you are pleased with my literary effort?” Robert asked.
“I am, indeed. Very fine. Gripping and touching. I think there is a real possibility for a best seller.”
Robert beamed as he clutched his hat to his chest. “Then how might we do this—considering your previous reservations?”
Cecil seemed not to want to sit while Robert was standing. He held out his hand indicating Robert should sit, which he finally did.
“I have spoken to Puntley about your situation and we have come up with what might be a possible solution for you.”
“I am eager to hear.”
Cecil tapped a pencil on his desktop. “You know, historically, there was another fine gentleman like yourself who was in your exact same situation.”
“Yes, and who might that be?”
“The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford—Edward de Vere. It was said he was quite the scholar and well educated. He was well traveled, erudite, and widely read. It was known that he had a great interest in the theater and desperately wanted to write plays for Globe Theatre, but her Majesty Elizabeth absolutely forbid it, insisting it was inappropriate for a gentleman of his station. However, he was known at court under the name of Spear-shaker. And it has been widely speculated that he took on the name of Shakespeare and used that name to author what we know today as the Shakespeare plays and sonnets. There is no proof of this, but his situation should still stand as a model for your consideration.”
“Yes, now that you mention it, I believe I have heard the same story.”
“I do not know how amenable you might be to what I will propose, but I think it might be your best solution.”
“And that would be?”
“We have a number of lesser known authors on our books. Their works regularly sell, but not spectacularly. Our suggestion is that you approach several different authors that we will suggest and sound them out about being a surrogate author.”
“I am not sure I understand.”
“Find an author whose name you can publish your book under. They already have an audience and a following. And if your book is successful, they will benefit by having a new best seller, and you can get your work published and remain anonymous. Of course, you will need to make the arrangement worth their while.”
“And how might that work?” Robert asked, interested but still a little skeptical.
“Since you will be using their name, you will need to compensate them in some manner. My suggestion would be a generous percentage of the royalties you might make on the book’s sales.”
“I would have no problem with that idea. Money is not a concern for me. I have found I really love being an author and I want to write and publish more. So, I am looking to form a long-term relationship with this individual.”
“But there is one other consideration…” Cecil added.
“I feel quite certain the author you choose would wish to continue with their writing as well. There would need to be some sort of arrangement for that.”
“But what if our styles and content differ greatly?” Robert asked.
“That is certainly a consideration,” Cecil said thoughtfully. “We would need to give that some thought and come up with a solution. But first, we need to know if you think this arrangement might work for you?”
Robert stood and looked out Cecil’s office window at the street below with its hustle of carriages and bustle of pedestrians.
“Yes, I believe it might.” He turned and addressed Cecil once again. “Have you communicated this idea to any of the authors you will be suggesting?”
“We have not. Discretion seems to be the best strategy here if you wish to remain anonymous. Our thought was that you visit each candidate personally and make whatever arrangement you wish with the author you choose. It is imperative that your arrangement be as private as possible. Would you not agree?”
Robert sighed. “It all seems quite ridiculous to me that I even need to do this, but if it must be, then discretion is certainly called for.”
“Excellent,” Cecil said, rising from his desk. “I shall have a list of appropriate authors drawn up for you and will send it to you in the next couple of days.”
“And once agreements are concluded then you will move forward with publishing my book?”
“It will be our greatest pleasure. And I foresee a great success for all concerned.”
Diana Browning was visiting her mother’s art gallery which was attached to the front and side of their cottage style house on the corner of two streets near central Cambridge. It was time for morning tea, and Diana usually took a break from the cramped little desk in her bedroom dormer window where she wrote each morning.
Mother was at her easel working on another landscape of rural country England which sold so well to visitors of the university.
“Quaint country landscapes and college courtyards,” Diana sighed. “Why not try something different, Mother?”
“Because those are what sell, my dear. Is it time for tea already?” she asked as she plunged her brush into a jar of turpentine spirits. “My, how the morning has flown.”
“I shall put the kettle on. Come inside to the kitchen when you are ready.”
Mother stood up from her canvas stool and stood back to admire her painting. “Not too bad… I think it needs a steeple in the distance though, don’t you?”
“A steeple would be just splendid,” Diana said a little sarcastically.
Mother gave her a sour look. “Now, be nice to your dear old mother.”
“Mother, you are not old—just jaded.”
“You will send me to an early grave.”
“What in heaven’s name is an early grave? Is it a grave that gets up first thing in the morning?”
Mother waved her hand at Diana. “Now it is you who is being silly.”
They both laughed and linked arms and marched toward the kitchen, after putting a back in five minutes sign on the gallery door.
Mother and daughter looked like sisters—younger and older.
Diana was of medium height, with straight dark brown hair that she let flow down her back to her waist. At times, she piled it atop her head in a large bun or created a crown—often inserting small flowers from the garden. She was thin but not fragile, and perhaps her best features were her large brown eyes and her delicate mouth—which almost always had a welcoming smile.
Ann—Diana’s mother—looked just like her daughter, only a little shorter and a tiny bit stouter. And, as there were no other siblings, the two behaved as slightly naughty sisters who loved mischief and playfulness.
“I’ll have no cream but just lemon today in my tea,” Mother said as she set out the tea cups.
“Cream and honey for me, please. I want some of the honey from the comb we found while out walking in the Dailey’s field last September,” Diana said as the kettle came to a boil and she poured water into the teapot.
Mother opened a tin of ginger biscuits and sat at the kitchen table as Diana poured the tea.
“And how is the writing going this morning?” Mother asked.
“Well enough, but I have only just started the new book so I am still feeling my way to some extent.”
“I loved the way you used our banker, Mr. Cropper, as the villain in your last book. Poor old dolt never had a chance, did he?”
“Mother, it was just fiction. It was nothing personal.”
Mother laughed. “It seemed personal to me after he rejected your father’s request for a loan.”
“Perhaps a little personal, then,” Diana said with a sly smile.
“Did I hear the crunch of a ginger biscuit?” Father asked as he shuffled into the kitchen in his bathrobe and slippers.
“Are you still not dressed?” Mother exclaimed.
“I don’t have any tutorials until this afternoon,” he replied. He reached into the biscuit tin and took out a handful of biscuits.
Mother gently slapped his hand. “Just two, George.”
He dropped several but kept three.
“Would you like some tea, Father?” Diana asked.
“I would not say no,” he said, slipping into a chair at the table.
George Browning looked rumpled even in his bathrobe. He had a bald pate, but his ring of remaining grey hair shot out in all directions like he was caught in a crosswind. He constantly rubbed his pate with his hand as though he was attempting to polish it. He had droopy eyes from his years of reading in the poor light of musty libraries. And he kept a pair of eyeglasses that had either slipped to the end of his nose or were pushed up to his forehead where he could never find them.
Diana poured her father his cup of tea.
“I have not seen Adam lately,” Father said. “Has he not been coming around?”
“I believe he has been studying for some important exam or other. And I know he is still working hard on his dissertation,” Diana answered.
“He’s a good lad, your Adam. He’s a very promising scholar,” Father said.
“But he wants to go into his father’s publishing house. I do not believe he wants a university position.”
“Huh. That would be a shame.”
“Not for him.”
“So I suppose you like him because he will promise to publish your scribbles?” He dipped a ginger biscuit into his tea.
“Not at all. I am already published, as you well know, Father,” Diana said.
“Yes, that silly business. Romance and fluff and frills. Is that not so?”
“My many readers might disagree with you, Father,” Diana said sternly.
“What do they know? Layabouts or silly teenaged girls, I imagine.”
Diana stood up from the table and whisked her and his teacup away and took them to the sink and began washing them. She was angry at his narrowmindedness but refused to engage with him any further at the moment. She wanted to get back to work.
Mother, who preferred to stay out of these arguments between father and daughter stood, grabbed another biscuit, and stated, “It’s been a lot longer than five minutes and I must get back to the gallery. Ta ta, you two.” Then she left.
Diana saw Adam Hardy coming down the street toward their house. He was carrying a pink pastry box from Delaware’s Bakery—a favorite of her family’s. Adam usually brought something from the bakery when he was either feeling guilty about something or wanted to ask a favor.
Diana went to the front door of their house to greet him as he came through the front garden, just beginning to bloom with the first spring flowers.
“Adam, what did you bring us this time?” Diana asked as she accepted the bakery box from Adam.
“Something new,” he said with a big smile. “They have just started making the most delicious, individual custard tarts—just perfect for tea or breakfast.”
Adam was a handsome young man with dark red hair that he combed to the side. His green eyes were most appealing, and his freckled cheeks dimpled when he smiled, as he did often.
He wore large owlish metal rimmed glasses, which made him look like he was always just about to ask you a question. However, he tended to be a bit clumsy and would trip on even the most modest door sill.
“Come in. It’s been over a week since you stopped by,” Diana said as she ushered him into the parlor after taking the bakery box to the kitchen.
“Just a few more months until graduation, so I have been piling on the work to get it all done in time.”
“Please, take a chair by the fire. It’s still a bit nippy out.”
“I’m not interrupting your writing, am I?” he asked as he sat.
“Not at all. I am usually done for the day by lunchtime. I find I can only do so much creative writing without fading after four or five hours. Would you like some tea?”
“Not for me, thank you. I had some in digs before I came over.”
Diana sat opposite him and folded her hands in her lap.
“Have you spoken to your parents about the walking tour of Switzerland?” he asked enthusiastically.
“I have not, Adam. I have given it a lot of thought. And I know you are excited about such a trip, but I can’t, in all honesty, subscribe to such a venture. It just isn’t right for us to travel abroad together unchaperoned.”
“But we will be going as a group. There will be plenty of people around at all times,” he insisted.
“Yes, but they are all young people like us.”
“Certainly, there will be some older people too. It’s not just for youth.”
Diana stood up to emphasize her point. “I am truly sorry, Adam, but I just do not think it is advisable or wise. And besides, I am still in the early stages of my new novel and I would have to leave it for too long.”
Adam looked dejected and hung his head and stared at his folded hands.
“But might you reconsider if we were formally engaged?”
“Adam, we have discussed this. You are still a student and when you graduate you will be entering your father’s publishing house and you need to establish yourself. And you will be making only a modest salary, to begin with. I thought we had agreed to wait until you were a full editor.”
“Yes, I know.” He looked up at her. “But I am so passionate about you. You know how I feel and it seems like there is an ever- receding horizon when it comes to us being together.”
“Don’t make me be cross with you, Adam. You well know our mutual decisions.”
“Yes, Diana,” he said in a resigned but equally complaining voice.
Diana reached out to him. “Come, be a poppet and take me to tea at Carson and Bindell’s. You know how I love their scones.”
Adam pouted. “But I already brought you the lovely custard tarts.”
“Yes. And that was very sweet of you, but we’ll save those for tonight’s sweet for the whole family.”
“You are a terrible tyrant,” he said, as he stood and took her hand.
Diana carried two of Adam’s custard tarts wrapped in a towel to her neighbors two doors down—the spinster sisters, Abigale and Kitty Goodwin.
Kitty opened the door. “Oh, Abigale, look who’s here—it’s the adorable Miss Diana.”
Abigale called from inside the house, “I will put the kettle on.”
“Not necessary,” Diana said. “I can only stop a moment. I wanted to bring you these delicious looking tarts from Delaware’s Bakery.”
“Oh, my…” Kitty said, lifting the edge of the towel to examine the treat. “Come in for just a minute, though.”
Diana followed Kitty to their kitchen where she put the tarts onto a plate that Kitty offered.
Abigale came over and, after taking a quick peek at the tarts, put her hand on Diana’s arm and said, “Have you heard about Mabel Stephenson?”
“I don’t believe so,” Diana replied.
Abigale leaned in and whispered. “She has a growth.”
“Indeed, and the doctors are not sure what to think about it,” she added, nodding with a “you know” look.
Kitty added, “And she sat at this very table and swore it was nothing to be worried about, but how does one ever know such a thing? I ask you.”
Diana adored the two sisters but was less enchanted with their occasional gossip. She usually tried to divert the conversation when such matters came up.
“I noticed you have been working in your garden. Isn’t it a bit early to be planting annuals?” Diana asked.
“Oh, we always plant by the end of March. The house shades from the north wind and the boxwood hedge helps protect from the traffic on the street.” Kitty said, then leaned in and whispered, “Now don’t tell a soul, but after dark, we pop out into the road and sweep up the horse droppings. Just marvelous for the garden beds you know.”
Abigale came over and offered solicitously, “We were so sorry to hear about your dear father’s misfortune.”
This took Diana aback. “I am not sure to what you are referring.”
“Oh dear, Betsy Johnson said her husband at the bank told her that your father applied for a loan and it was denied.” Abigale patted Diana’s arm out of sympathy.
“Thank you for your concern, but that is not something I wish to discuss outside of the family.”
The sisters nodded. “We completely understand,” Kitty said.
“I best run along now. I am preparing dinner this evening, and I don’t want to keep the family waiting,” Diana said as she edged her way out the cottage door.
“Bye, dear, and thank you for the lovely tarts,” Abigale said waving good-bye.
Diana linked her arm with her father’s as they strolled up Northampton Street toward St. John ’s College where he was soon to have a tutorial. A chill breeze was at their back and she lifted up his coat collar around his neck.
“Thank you, dear. I sometimes do not know what I would do without you.”
“Well, you don’t have to Father.”
“I certainly will one day soon. I have seen how your young man looks at you. He has marriage on his mind. I can see that even with these poor old eyes of mine. It will not be long until he will be whisking you away to London and a totally new life.”
“But not quite yet, Father.”
They walked on in silence for a time until they came near the college entrance.
Diana squeezed her father’s arm and asked, “Father, what are you going to do since the bank denied you the loan? That was some time ago and you have not said.”
Father looked at his daughter. “Ah, my dear, that is naught to trouble your head with.”
“But maybe there would be something I could do to help,” she offered. “I have my royalties from the books. I, of course, contribute to the household expenses, but I pay no rent and I have some savings. I would be happy to help if I could.”
Father seemed to consider her offer. “That’s very kind of you, my dear, but I am afraid my needs far exceed even what you could possibly offer.”
“Then tell me, what is it you need, and why?”
“Not now, my pet. This is no time for that discussion. Suffice it to say that it is a serious matter and if you really want to know then I shall discuss it with you later.”
“Can you at least suggest what it is about?” she asked.
“I have not wanted to trouble you with all of this, as I believe you shall soon marry and my troubles will not touch your life any longer.”
“But your troubles shall always touch my life, for they are your troubles, and you are my dear father, whether I am close by or not.”
Father removed his arm. “It is time for my tutorial. If it really interests you then let’s discuss the matter in my study after supper. You mother will have her fire and her knitting to occupy her then.”
“Very well.” Diana watched her stooped father head off across the quadrangle toward his rooms and her heart swelled with sympathy for her dear parent.
Amelia Donnelly, Robert’s elder sister, tilted her head in front of the standing mirror in her bedroom. She had been going through her hats and discarding what she no longer cared for. The hat she was currently modeling was a maybe. One moment she liked it, and the next she detested it. She finally threw it on her bed—the maybe pile. But she noticed her rejection pile was much larger than her acceptance pile.
“Next,” she shouted out to her personal maid.
The poor girl brought out the last hat which Amelia immediately snatched from the girl’s hand and carefully placed atop her head. She studied it and sighed. Reject. She tossed it aside. And her only consolation was that she would now need to go hat shopping, which meant a trip to the London house, which she always enjoyed—especially when it involved spending Robert’s money.
She turned to her maid. “Get rid of all of those—but not to any of the servants. I do not want to see any of them parading around as though they were some sort of a duchess. Understand?”
“Yes, your ladyship.”
She pointed. “And those I am keeping. Put them away.”
She then turned to her maybe pile and studied them again. She picked up only one hat and dismissed the rest.
Amelia turned to, once again, study herself in the mirror. She took stock—looking for subtle changes. She pinched the bridge of her nose where there was a slight pain. It appeared to be nothing. She shook her head and let her long dark hair fall freely after removing the combs that held her hair in place. She was a tall woman with finely chiseled, aristocratic features, with a long lean nose and dark brown eyes. The set of her mouth generally fluctuated between neutral and harsh—with only the occasional smile which was quite pleasing when it rarely appeared. She was a strong woman, a determined woman—and she had plans.
She was seven years older than her brother and had taken care of his upbringing from the age of thirteen when their parents were lost on a scientific expedition in Africa. She was so used to managing his life she gave very little thought to how he might resent her continued interference in his affairs. But despite the fact that he was now the Earl of Donnelly, she still thought of herself as ruler and head of the family as she had a distinctive appetite for control.
Amelia knew that Robert would be at his desk this morning in the magnificent Balfour library—a room of such rococo beauty it had been written about in a number of architectural books and journals. A large fireplace dominated the center interior wall of the spacious room. It was tall enough for a man to stand in upright. The library’s vaulted ceiling was capped by a windowed dome that let in light to illuminate the painted gods and goddesses sporting amongst mythical animals and cherubs. And one entire wall alternated book shelves with tall windows overlooking the entrance-park to the estate.
“Robert, I do not know if you remember or not but we have guests coming up this weekend,” Amelia said as she stood firmly in front of his desk.
“Guests? Remind me again. Is this another one from your parade of tender maidens dragged onto the auction block to tempt the eligible but reluctant Earl?” he asked.
Amelia’s mouth was hard set. “It is Sir Benjamin Daniels, his lovely wife, Caroline and their most enchanting daughter, Charlene—a charming young lady of eighteen.”
“Then I am sure you will greatly enjoy their company. However, I shall not be here. I am going down to London on Friday for at least the entire weekend,” Robert said with a great deal of self-satisfaction.
Amelia’s nostrils flared, and her eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about? I asked you specifically several weeks ago if you were free this weekend and you assured me you were.”
Robert stared her down. “However, plans change, my darling sister. And I can quite assure you that I shall not be here.”
Amelia turned from him and began pacing. “Robert, Robert how can you be so negligent of your duty? You are thirty-years-old and still unmarried. You need an heir and, still, you thwart all my well-meaning efforts to find you a suitable bride.” She turned to face him again and accused. “I do not know why I bother. I really do not, when you care so little for my efforts on your behalf.”
She lowered her head and brought a handkerchief to her eyes while emitting a low whimper.
“Amelia, your eyes are as dry as a desert. Stop playacting. Remember I know all your tricks.”
Her head snapped up and she glowered at him. “And what exactly is so important that you must go to London this weekend?”
“I have not had the opportunity to tell you but Cecil is to publish my novel once I have made certain arrangements.”
She felt another blow. “What are you talking about? That piece of balderdash you have been working on is to be published? That is ridiculous. You know you cannot possibly publish such a piece of trash as the Earl of Donnelly. You would be laughed out of all proper society.”
“And that is exactly what the arrangements are for. I am to publish under another name. And Sir Cecil assures me the book will be a huge success. I am going down to London to meet with possible surrogate authors and hopefully find an eager and willing participant to stand as my front.”
“I swear you will hound me into an early grave,” Amelia wailed.
“I doubt that. You are as strong as a horse and as stubborn as a mule. I am quite certain you will be just fine. And by the way, I see I must remind you, once again, that I am now the head of this house and these estates. And I am more than entirely capable of finding a satisfactory wife by myself.”
Dexter Cabot lived in a three-story house that had been tastefully converted into single floor flats in the fashionable Bayswater section of London. The building, although with only three flats, maintained a concierge to welcome and screen guests and accept deliveries.
“May I help you sir?” the welcoming gentleman enquired.
“Earl of Donnelly to see Dexter Cabot.”
The concierge bowed and extended his hand toward the lift. “Yes, Milord, Mr. Cabot is expecting you. Top floor.”
He scurried over to the lift doors and invited Robert inside.
“Splendid morning, is it not, Milord?”
“Exceptional,” Robert muttered, anxious to get out of the slow moving box. He was not accustomed to using such a dubious contraption.
Finally, he was deposited on the top floor and rang the doorbell.
The door was flung open with a great deal of force and a red-faced, portly man greeted him.
“My lord. Welcome. What a great, but unexpected, pleasure to meet you,” he said, ushering Robert inside his pleasant flat.
“This way. My office where I write is such a terrible mess. Please, let us visit in the sitting-room if you please.”
Robert followed Dexter into a large room with tall windows overlooking the street that had a small strip of grass and trees running down the middle.
“Sherry? Whiskey? Or I can have the Misses put together a pot of tea. What’s your pleasure?” Dexter asked.
“Nothing for me. I am soon to have luncheon with Sir Cecil at his club. Want to keep a clear head for the business at hand.”
“As you like.”
He indicated an overstuffed chair for Robert to sit and he took a similar chair opposite.
“Now then,” Dexter began, “I was surprised but also intrigued by your letter. You say you are looking to publish, but cannot under your own name?”
“That is correct,” Robert answered, and proceeded to explain the situation to his fellow author.
When Robert had finished, Dexter rubbed his chin several times with his plump hand.
“Most interesting situation. However, I am not quite certain what you wish of me. How could I be of assistance?”
“I am looking for a surrogate whose name I can publish under. I am willing to offer a substantial portion of the royalties from the book, which Sir Cecil assures me will sell quite well.”
“But what about my writing? How could I continue if you are publishing under my name?”
“Cecil believes he can make other arrangements.”
“But my readers? I have a substantial group of loyal followers who would immediately identify a book written by another author as not being mine—it would not be what they expect from me.”
“I was thinking there might be a preface in the book explaining that you are going in a new direction with your writing.”
Dexter stood up and went over to a bookshelf. “You see these—the nine books that I have written? Each one a great labor of love. Each one a success, and I could show you the many admiring letters I get from my readers expressing the great pleasure and satisfaction they get from reading my humble offerings.”
“And that is why I am asking you to consider my offer—so that I might tap into that enthusiastic readership. And I will certainly make it worth your while financially. And you can still keep writing and publishing—only under another name.”
“But how will my readers find me?”
“I believe Sir Cecil can help with that.”
Dexter came back to his chair and sat, but didn’t say anything. However, he was clearly mulling the offer over in his mind.
Finally, he said, “I am sorry My Lord. I just do not think that is a proposition that will work for me. I must honestly say I am a trifle set in my ways at my age and do not feel that I want to basically start over again building a new readership. I am afraid I must decline your most interesting and generous offer.”
Robert stood. “Then I thank you for your time, Mr. Cabot. And I wish you all the very best with your new book.”
Sir Cecil was waiting at his table in the large open dining room of his club, the Athenaeum, as Robert approached him—a few minutes late.
“Scotch?” Cecil asked as Robert sat.
Robert nodded and Cecil held up two fingers to the waiter who knew what he wanted.
“How did it go with Cabot?”
“Disappointing, I am sad to say.”
“Ah… I thought as much. One of my least promising prospects for you.”
“Then why didn’t you say? Waste of a whole morning,” Robert said a bit testily.
“Because he has one of the largest readerships, and I thought if he went along, it would be a good base for you.”
The waiter brought the drinks.
“The Dover sole is especially good here today. Very fresh Stevens assures me,” Cecil suggested.
“With buttered potatoes and peas, if you please,” Robert instructed the waiter.
“I’ve sent your manuscript to the editors. Should have it back in a month or so. Hopefully, I can have galley proofs for you in another two or three.”
“Beastly slow process, is it not?” Robert complained.
Cecil wagged his head. “It is, but there is no rush. You do not have your surrogate author yet either. It will take some time to set up that whole process once you find the suitable candidate.”
Robert sighed, and took another swig of Scotch.”
“Who are you interviewing this afternoon?” Cecil asked.
“The second of the three names you gave me—Sir Reginald Burbidge.”
“Ah…” Sir Cecil said with a certain air of mystery.
“What does that Ah mean?”
Sir Cecil smiled. “He is a bit of a character, but a cracking good author, and a good prospect. He might be just what you are looking for.”
Robert’s afternoon appointment was with the author of the moderately successful Thornton Abbey by Sir Reginald Burbidge—a tale of ghosts, mystery, and intrigue.
Sir Reginald lived in a splendid crescent house in Mayfair. Robert was greeted at the door by a butler and shown into a comfortable parlor with a warming fire.
“Sir Reginald will be with you shortly, Milord.”
The room was stately but somewhat lacking feminine charm. There were many shelves of books and a suit of armor and crossed pikes behind a shield above the fireplace. Robert speculated that Sir Reginald was most likely a bachelor.
“Welcome,” a voice rang out and Robert turned from studying the weapons to see Sir Reginald coming toward him.
They shook hands and Sir Reginald offered Robert a chair by the fire where there was a table set with tea service.
Robert never remembered meeting a man so tall and thin. He had his thin wispy, mouse-colored hair parted in the middle, and his gaunt face was sporting more of a beak than a nose. It was large but not wide, with a hook and a slight twist as though it might have been broken at some time in the past. However, Sir Reginald had an intelligent and piercing gaze and Robert knew he was dealing with a man to be reckoned with.
“Are you ex-military?” Robert asked with a nod toward the weapons?
Sir Reginald laughed. “Oh, my good man, not at all. All of this rubbish is my father’s old swag. Fancied himself a mediaevalist. Collected all this rot to impress the ladies, don’t you know.”
“And what does your wife think about all of this? Certainly, she must wish for a softer touch to the décor.”
Sir Reginald gave a huffed laugh that was more like a bark and inclined his head to the side. “No wife. Not my cup of tea. My tastes run otherwise.”
“Now then, about your letter,” Sir Reginald continued, “Most intriguing proposition. Are you serious about such an offer?” Sir Reginald asked as he poured two cups of tea. “Milk? Sugar? Lemon?”
“Milk, no sugar.”
“As I like it too.”
“I most certainly am serious. I am not in a position where I can have my name attached to a publishing project of fiction and Sir Cecil suggested that you might be amenable to a project such as I outlined in my letter.”
“It certainly is worth a consideration.”
“Then you would be open to my proposal?”
“And what are you offering in exchange.”
“Fifty percent of the royalties. And Sir Cecil says he can continue to publish your work under another name—details to be worked out between the two of you.”
“Hmm,” Sir Reginald crooned as he cast his eyes toward the ceiling to contemplate the arrangement.
He took another sip of tea, then put the cup down and folded his hands in his lap. “Yes, I believe we might come to an arrangement.”
“Excellent,” Robert said smiling and leaning forward in his chair.
“Except I want five thousand pounds up front and a seventy-five percent cut of the royalties.”
Robert collapsed back into the chair, stunned.
“I am afraid that is out of the question,” he responded. “I might consider your request for seventy-five percent, but five thousand pounds is an outrageous request.”
Sir Reginald held his gaze and tilted his head to the side. “However, that is my request. And the only deal I will allow.”
Robert was speechless. Certainly, it was an offer he could afford, but not one he could accept. “Don’t you think that is rather excessive for not providing anything but your name?”
“Ah, but my name, my reputation, and my readers are all I have to offer—and they are exactly what you need.”
“Then I am afraid that I must decline,” Robert said, rising abruptly.
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