The Barley Mansion
A Year Later
All through London is was known as the Trifecta Scandal. When it was known that Lavinia Barley née Edge, the Duke of Barley’s former wife, had run off with her precious lover and that her husband had taken up with the governess, who was revealed to be a part of the peerage, the claws of the ‘genteel’ society had come out with a vengeance.
Rumors bred and spread among the ton like a fungus that got viler with every revolution. Some said that the Duke had put away his ill wife for spite when she could not give him any more children, while others said the wife had run off to show her adulterous husband that two could play the same game.
It was very few who knew the whole story but no matter how they tried to untangle the twisted vines of gossip, it only got worse until they stopped trying altogether.
“Caroline,” Moses sighed to his intended wife as she was at the bedroom’s window and looking out at the starry night. Their suite of rooms was on a storey above the one Moses had shared with Lavinia. “Why are you up this late?”
“I just…” she trailed off, “I am just going over that night when we nearly lost our beloved Josephine.”
Approaching her, Moses settled his hands on her hips. “But we did not. Think of that.”
Caroline rested her head on his chest, “But still…”
A kiss was pressed to her still coiffed crown, “Love, you need to rest, our wedding is in two days. What will you do when you look into the mirror and see black circles under your eyes?”
“I still cannot believe that we are getting married,” she whispered with a shake of her head. “It still feels like a dream…especially since the madhouse seven months ago.”
Seven months ago, the trial for the Baron of Rowe and his cohort the Earl of Crampton had rocked the city of London to its bones. The trial, sporting evidence for their crimes, Miss Orville’s murder, the murder of the late Baron of Rowe, Gregory Isaiah Russ, and the kidnapping of Lady Josephine Hayward by the now charged groom, had drawn spectators from as far as Scotland.
Caroline had been a key witness in both cases and her testimonies, even as barristers had drawn her over the coals, trying to discredit her by alluding that she was Moses’ mistress then stating it outright, were found to be in good standing. Caroline had held her ground with a poise that could only come from staunch self-control. No matter how they tried to twist and turn her story, every word she spoke matched the evidence presented. Even when they had gotten the coroner’s examination of her father’s remains.
Eventually, her testimonies, paired with the evidence gathered, and the confessions from the guilty parties had sent both men away to Newgate for life sentences. The newest heir of the Barony of Rowe did not expect either of those privileged men to live past a year in such a dismal, unhealthy place.
The madness from that trial had barely died when Moses had filed for divorce from Lavinia who was in absentia. The bill had dragged out for a while even as Lavinia’s confession was taken and the evidence proven. Thankfully, Sebastien’s paternity of Nicholas had been kept quiet.
However, since his mother was absent, the usual three trials and two years had been closed in under seven months. Scandalously quick for many who had wanted more meat for their gossip gullets.
Moses and Caroline had learned quickly enough to stay out of London if they did not have to be present. The sneers, whispers, and outright snubs they received, even after nine months, made it apparent that the rumor mill was still alive and they were still the centers of it.
As the months passed, Caroline was still subjected to the social cut and ill will as she was still seen by many as the seductress that had stolen a good man from his wife. Moses was seen as a bigamist and an adulterer by some but the Duke did not care who held him as such. The men close to him knew the truth of the matter and that was enough. The pushback from the peerage was substantial, but the two knew that with time it would fade. There was bound to be another scandal that would eclipse theirs, as that was the curse of the peerage.
“It is no longer a dream as we are about to get married,” Moses replied, “The invitations are sent out and the special license is already procured, we just need to fill in the lines.”
“Ah, a wedding at home.” Caroline smiled while tugging at Moses’ already straight lapels. “It will give those who have been watching us, a bunch of gossipmongers and hateful peons, another reason to gossip, will it not?”
The Duke grasped her hand and slipped his hand to the center of her back. “They will gossip even if we had the marriage at St. George’s, if God himself officiated, and the songs were sung by angels.” He spun her, “They would gossip if we ran off to Gretna or France or the Colonies, did not emerge for months, and showed up having being converted to puritans. There is no hope of escaping their flapping lips, no matter what we do.”
“Which, in, itself, is the sad state of this society,” Caroline sighed, “At least when we are wed, you will take control of my estate and leave me without the headache of it all.”
Her left hip was playfully slapped, “Which means that you are glad I am the one taking over your headache, impudent chit.”
Caroline ignored his glare, “It is one more asset, my love, one which we can happily hand over to our children.”
A soft look was leveled to her before a sly smile tugged his lips, “Does that mean you are willing to add more to our band of four?”
“Perhaps,” Caroline smiled coyly while pulling away and sauntering over to their bed, “I think Nicholas will do well with a brother.”
“Do you delight in trying my patience, my love?” Moses huffed as he disrobed, “We have been celibate from the day we met. Do you want to test my control?”
Scoffing, Caroline pushed him away. “We are already breaking tradition by sleeping in the same bed. You can muster some reserve for two days.”
The Duke was silent for a long moment before he turned to her, “Caroline, I feel I should be sorry…well, not sorry but repentant for putting you in such a perilous position. Many will see me as a married man taking advantage of an innocent, love-starved, dependent governess and hate me for it. We will be hated for years, my love but… I believe I am asking; do you regret it? So, do you regret loving me, knowing what we are going to face?”
The sudden turn of the air between them made Caroline dig deep inside her. “Moses, the moment you first kissed me I prepared for being hated. I knew that many would not understand or care to understand, but we have a connection that many will not. In years to come, people will read our story and shake their heads, thinking that I was a simpleton, seduced by a Duke, or that you were lured away by my evil wiles, but they will not know the pain, heartbreak and suffering we had to go through to reach this point. So, no, Moses, I do not regret loving you.”
The smallest garden of the mansion was budding with summer flowers and their soft fragrance. A line of petals lined the makeshift aisle. Two chairs wrapped in white silk were on either side of the aisle.
Caroline was sitting still as Verona, one of her bridesmaids, was fixing the last ornament to her coiffed hair. Her light blue dress was trimmed with fringing, satin swags, and bows. Her veil was a masterpiece of French lacework with tiny roses sewn into the soft translucent cloth.
“Oh, my stars,” Mrs. Willow, Caroline’s second bridesmaid cried from the doorway. “I am so happy for you, Miss Robins.”
“Soon to be the Duchess of Barley,” Verona said while adding the last pin. She then reached for the veil and lifted the tiara made of pear-cut diamonds and pearls and fastened it on her head. The veil flowed over her face and shoulders and she stood with a fluid motion.
“You are beautiful,” Mrs. Willow crooned while dabbing under her eyes. “Inside and out, luv. I cannot tell you how much change we’ve seen in His Grace since your engagement…No since you became a part of our family.”
Caroline’s blush was faint, as she took the compliment, “Thank you... Where is my flower girl?”
A blonde angel, clad in full white, came in the room and glided with ease over to her. Josephine was radiant and Caroline felt so proud that the little girl had rebounded so well from her kidnapping almost a year ago. The eight-year-old still had baby fat in her childish cheeks and resembled a cherub.
Resting her hand on the soft satin of the child’s dress, Caroline crouched down, carefully enough to not crush her dress. “Josephine, you are so pretty.”
“Merci.” The child whispered in soft French, “But you’re prettier, Mamère.”
Caroline smiled at the child’s conjugation of ma and mère. It was still strange but it was growing on her how the child had started calling her Mother months ago. She felt that, somehow, she had replaced Lavinia, but in truth, Lavinia had not been much of a mother at all.
“Where’s your brother, Josephine?” she asked her soon to be step-daughter.
“With Father,” Josephine replied, “He is bad at doing his cravat.”
Smiling, Caroline stood up and smoothed a hand over her dress. While running her hand over her stomach she felt the soft flutters of anticipation inside. Two years ago, she had never expected anything of the sort to happen to her as the Duke was married.
But now…she was dressed in a magnificent wedding dress that she knew she would only wear once. The love she felt for Moses, that was returned, was one she knew would be lasting a lifetime. She imagined seeing Josephine off to her coming-out party and seeing Nicholas graduating Eton. She relished the thought of handing down her dress to Josephine and seeing the young woman Nicholas would marry after coming from Oxford.
“The clergyman is here,” Verona said while peeking out the window. “I think it’s time.”
Gathering her skirts, Caroline swallowed her anxiety down and left the room with her bridesmaids in tow. She knew that Moses had invited his friend Lord Dalton, and also Lord Pennington, an old acquaintance from University.
She arrived at the garden to see the vicar in his priestly robes standing under a beautiful old magnolia tree that bloomed in June. A sole violinist started the music and Caroline saw her husband-to-be standing with his groomsman, clad in shirts of white silk, black cutaway jackets, black breeches, and silk stockings set off by black pumps. Lord Dalton’s waistcoat was dark blue while Moses’ was light, matching Caroline’s dress.
Josephine went first, scattering soft white rose petals on the way and Hinds, clad in his best dark outfit, matching the men above, walked her down the aisle. The older man had been overjoyed at being chosen to give her away and boasted about it for weeks. Now, she was clutching his arm while her eyes were pinned on Moses.
He is splendid. I cannot believe he is marrying me.
They stopped before the vicar and Hinds kissed her hand with the shine of tears in his eyes. “You are beautiful, my dear.”
“Welcome,” the priest addressed the gathering. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honorable estate. I require and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgment when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you knows any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it. For be ye well assured, that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God's Word doth allow are not joined together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful.”
Caroline felt the flutters in her stomach intensify, “If there be no impediments, Your Grace, Duke of Barley, please take Miss Russ’ hand.”
“Moses Eli, Duke of Barley, wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?”
Moses’ eyes had never left hers, “I will.”
Caroline felt as though a burst of light erupted in her chest. He had just pledged his life to her. The clergyman turned to her.
“Miss Caroline Elizabeth Russ, wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?”
Caroline tightened her grip, “I will.”
“Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?
“We do,” Both Mrs. Willow and Hinds chorused.
With a smile on his face the clergyman called, “The rings, please, and repeat after me.”
In sequence, the vows were repeated and then, Caroline’s glove was tugged off. The ring, a simple but magnificent band of shining gold with a delicate raised rose decoration set with small natural pearls, was placed on her finger.
“With this ring, I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
The world felt like it had come full circle and fate had decided to bless Caroline with happiness after all her years of pain and loneliness. The sun behind them glistened magnificently but not more than Moses’ glimmering eyes.
“Please, let us pray…”
Eight Months Later
The soft wind blowing in from the window gave Caroline a spate of relief as she lay in bed. Her hand ran over her rounded stomach as she was now seven and a half months with child. In the first five months, Caroline had been free to do whatever she wanted, walk, ride, and dance how she wanted. However, in her sixth month, the physician had given her an order for bed rest as he had noticed a slight weakness in her back.
She squirmed as she felt another kick in her midsection. Wincing, she pressed her hand to her side and massaged the sore spot. “I am convinced that you are a boy-child.”
A knock was at her door and Caroline looked up to see Nicholas standing there. The boy was nearing three-and-ten and had grown five inches in last year. He was off to Eton in the next week and Caroline mourned that she could not see him off.
“Nicholas, come in,” she said before wincing once more.
He lingered in the doorway with a faint reddish hue on his face. “That looks like it hurts.”
“It does, but that is what all women suffer when with child,” Caroline said, “Please, son, come in.”
Nicholas still faltered in the doorway before coming in. As he grew, it became more apparent that he was not Moses’ son but it was still not spoken of. She and Moses were holding onto their vow to not tell the boy about his true heritage.
The boy came closer until he stood by her bedside, looking lost. On a whim, Caroline took his hand and pressed it to her stomach where the baby had been kicking the last few moments. Nicholas nearly dragged his hand back and his eyes had gone wide like saucers.
“That is… disturbing,” Nicholas said with a low tone.
“Mayhap for now,” Caroline said with a genial smile, “But you will probably find it different when your wife is with child.”
Nicholas slowly took his hand away and Caroline could see his nervousness. “What is troubling you, Nicholas?”
“I wanted you to go with me to Eton next week, but you cannot,” Nicholas seemed to groan, “I really wanted you there…Mother, but…”
Caroline felt her heart go warm when he uttered that word. Mother was a rare acknowledgement from the boy who had lost his biological one. But knowing that she had filled the void as his step-mother, Caroline felt fulfilled. She had a special love for Nicholas as she knew what it felt to be an outcast even when one did not know why. Just as she knew why the boy was so melancholy, he felt…somewhat abandoned.
She took his hand, “Nicholas, listen to me. I will be with you no matter what happens. I will always be there for you. This child will be here in a few months and I will come and see you at Eton. Your brother or sister will look to you for friendship and mentorship. You will never be alone, Nicholas. I love you, I truly love you. Your Father, sister, and this babe will love you.”
Tears brimmed in the boy’s eyes, “Truly?”
“Truly,” Moses’ baritone added as the boy’s father came in and rested his hip on the bed’s edge, “You are not alone, Nicholas. I felt like an outsider when I went to Eton, too, but it will get better.”
A flitting of tongue wet his lips, “Mother said the same thing to me years ago, she said that she knew she was there for a purpose and nothing would stop her from getting to that purpose.”
He remembered! By God, he remembered.
“And you will be the same,” Moses said while looking quickly between his wife and his son. “I assure you, Nicholas.”
A trembling breath and a fleeting nod saw Nicholas through the door.
“That boy loves you,” Moses noted.
“Ugh,” Caroline groaned, “I hope he likes your son, too, as right now, I am doubleminded. This babe needs to be born and I swear, if I die in childbirth, I will haunt you for the rest of your living days.”
Moses only laughed and kissed her forehead, “I love you too, Caroline.”
Ten Years Later
“Daniel!” Caroline, who was sitting on a chaise-lounge, called to her nine-year-old son who seemed to not hear her as he darted to the door. “Daniel!”
“You should listen to our Mother, little brother.” Nicholas’ deep voice rang through the room as he entered, and his younger brother clung to his legs.
Looking at the boy who had left for Eton and the man who was now at Oxford, Caroline wondered where the time had gone. Nicholas was three-and-twenty and was on his way to becoming a wonderful barrister.
“You do not have much say here again, you know,” Josephine’s light voice sang from the other end of the room. The girl was now a finished adult of eight-and-ten, with a willowy figure, a head of flaxen hair, and a quick mind.
“Says the home-spun bluestocking,” Nicholas teased, “Tell me, Josephine, have you had your first kiss yet?”
“What is this I hear of kissing?” the Duke said while striding to meet his son who had just returned from a trip to Scotland. “Son, if you dare put such notions in my innocent daughter’s head, I will lop off yours.”
“Forgive me,” Nicholas sighed, “I had forgotten your profound overprotectiveness, Father.”
Snorting, Moses gasped his son’s shoulder. “So, my prodigal son has returned, eh?”
“I assume you are jesting but in case you are not. I remember that tale, but I do not fit the criteria. I have not spent your wealth nor have I deserted the family. But to play on your premise, if I was the prodigal son, I believe the father had a choice lamb killed and a feast beyond measure was prepared for his repentant son,” Nicholas returned, “I do not discern the smell of roasted lamb, Father or are you just having the animal butchered?”
Moses’ eyes were narrow, “Did Oxford teach you to be a jester or a barrister?”
Nicholas shrugged, “I have had some training, it is all levity after our exams father, or don’t you remember?”
Breaking away from his father’s hold, Nicholas went and kissed Caroline on her cheek. He then whispered in her ear, “If he is now a tyrant, Mother, I do know a few well-endowed widowers that won’t bat an eye.”
Caroline playfully slapped his cheek, “Watch your language, son.”
The man’s grin was unrepentant as he massaged his face, “What vitriol do you have against unrestrained wealth, Mother?”
She took her turn to eye him darkly while he grinned. Nonchalantly, Caroline then turned to Moses, “Moses, dear, do you recall when Nicholas was ten-and-nine and he was… mischievous? You drafted the letter to the British Army but, to our marvel, he got his head screwed on his shoulders so you did not have to send it off?”
“I do recall it,” Moses smiled, “In fact, the letter is still in my desk.”
“I think it is time to send it off, don’t you?” Caroline replied.
Moses’ smile was disconcerting. “Perhaps… Son, how do you think you would look in an officer cadet’s uniform?”
“Excuse me? What officer cadet’s uniform?” Nicholas’ voice boomed in panic.
Over his head, Caroline and Moses shared a conspiring look, before Moses clasped his hand on his son’s shoulder, “I am so glad that you have asked.”
Ah, before you go...
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