How To Find A Duke in Ten Days
A Regency novella trio with Grace Burrowes, Shana Galen, and Carolyn Jewel.
The various chapters of a priceless medieval manuscript, The Duke’s Book of Knowledge, have been the subject of legend and rumor for centuries. A group of London nobleman have promised their former professor that they’ll find the manuscript before the professor retires, and vindicate his faith in the Duke’s existence while rescuing a great literary work from obscurity. Each man becomes entangled with a lady in the course of his quest, and the objective shifts, from locating an ancient manuscript to also winning the lady’s heart—in just ten short days.
Enjoy An Excerpt
If you can read Magna Carta, association with the undersigned could be lucrative for you. Inquire at the Albion.
“How is a lady to inquire at the Albion,” Philomena Peebles muttered, “when that blighted bastion of male bloviations refuses to permit a female foot to cross its threshold? Have you seen my cutwork scissors?”
Jane Dobbs peered into the workbasket on Philomena’s lap. “How can you find anything in there? Use mine.” She passed over a tiny pair of scissors on a silver chain. “Why would you want to go to the Albion Club, other than for the obvious pleasure of shocking the dandiprats?”
Jane was twenty years Philomena’s senior, part companion, part poor relation on Mama’s side, and all friend. She’d joined the household shortly after Mama’s death, though nobody had explained exactly how she and Mama were related.
Philomena hadn’t cared then and didn’t care now.
She trimmed out the newspaper notice and passed it to Jane. “I can read Magna Carta and am in want of funds to finance my search.”
“You always turn up alliterative when you’re restless. Are you off to hunt for the Duke again?”
“Of course. All the evidence points to at least parts of the manuscript being right here in London, and Papa’s retirement banquet is a mere ten days away.”
As Papa’s amanuensis, Philomena had memorized every scrap of information known about The Duke’s Book of Knowledge, or the Liber Ducis de Scientia. Papa was considered the international expert on the manuscript, though being an expert on a book nobody had seen for two hundred years was a vexing contradiction. Some said Liber Ducis didn’t exist, and the good professor had been hoaxing his academic associates for years.
“If the Duke is here in London, what do you need funds for?” Jane asked, giving the notice back to Philomena.
“Research is costly. Everything from cab fare to bribes to the occasional male escort takes a toll on a lady’s exchequer.”
In Paris, a woman could walk the streets without fear of being either judged for her independence or attacked for her coin. London, self-proclaimed pinnacle of human civilization, was generally considered unsafe for a genteel lady on her own.
“It really is too bad that nice Tolerman fellow went off to Peru,” Jane said, threading her embroidery needle with gold silk. “He let you drag him all over creation and nary a word of protest. The poor man was quite devoted.”
“He’s off to Egypt, and he wanted to entice me away from Papa because I can transcribe notes in all the classical languages.” Beauford Tolerman had been a handy escort, until he’d confessed a violent passion for Philomena’s nose.
Not even her eyes—her nose, or in Beauford’s words, her pulchritudinous proboscis. She might have forgiven him his outburst, but then he’d tried to kiss the object of his ardor. Philomena had suggested to Professor Arbuthwhistle that Mr. Tolerman would make an excellent addition to the very next expedition to the pyramids.
Beyond the parlor door, a maid welcomed a caller. Visitors were frequent because Papa knew absolutely everybody who took an interest in ancient literature or philosophy, and many were paying calls to wish the professor a happy retirement.
For Papa, happy retirement was a contradiction in terms, hence Philomena’s determination to find the Duke, or at least the portion of the manuscript that dealt with secrets of the human heart.
The Duke knew all the answers, if Papa’s research had any validity. Page by page, the manuscript documented the most sophisticated thinking from all over the Renaissance world, grouped into four subjects: natural science, arcane medicine, fabled lands, and sentiments of the heart.
Philomena wished the entire manuscript would be found, but her personal objective was the treatise on human emotion, De Motibus Humanis. That tome was said to include recipes for tisanes for everything from grief, to jealousy, to melancholia. Perhaps she might find a potion that could help Papa attract a companion for his autumn years.
“Ladies, good day.” Seton Zoraster Avery, Earl of Ramsdale, bowed to the room at large.
Philomena slipped the little notice into her pocket. Ramsdale was skilled with modern languages and particularly skilled at using the English language to talk about himself. No need for his overly active mind to light upon a lowly newspaper advertisement.
Philomena rang for tea, schooled her expression to patience, and sent Jane a look: Please be gracious, for in the face of such unrelenting tedium when I have a duke to catch, that sacrifice is beyond me.
At least Ramsdale was interesting to behold—dark where the usual lord was fair, muscular rather than slim, and possessed of a voice Jane referred to as a bello basso—a beautiful bass. Philomena liked that about him.
And not much else.
Having dispensed with the tedium of a social call upon Professor Peebles’s household—the professor had literally stuck his head through the doorway, and that head had still worn a sleeping cap at midafternoon—Ramsdale sought out that haven of rational conversation and fine fellowship, the Albion Club. Its appearance was unprepossessing, the location just off St. James’s Street ideal.
And the quiet in the reading room was blessedly reliable.
This was a club for grown men, not raucous youths looking to make extravagant wagers or debate politics far into the night. The food was good, not merely expensive, and the service attentive rather than haughty. Ramsdale occasionally took rooms here rather than bide at his own town house, and thus nobody looked askance as he proceeded to the second floor and let himself into a familiar parlor.
“Good day, my lord,” said Pinckney, his valet and general factotum at this location. “Three more responses came while you were out. The first of the gentlemen is scheduled to arrive within the hour.”
Ramsdale turned so Pinckney could take his greatcoat. “That’s five altogether. Only five people in all of London, Oxford, and Cambridge can read medieval law Latin?”
For Ramsdale had advertised at the universities as well.
“Perhaps it’s the case that only five people who need coin can fulfill your request, my lord. But surely, from among a field of five, you’ll find one who’s acceptable.”
The Duke’s Book of Knowledge was reportedly written in plain, straightforward Latin, which owing to a lack of marching centurions or strutting gladiators, hadn’t changed much over recent centuries. The problem was not the long-sought Duke, but rather, Uncle Hephaestus’s will. Uncle had believed that medieval monks invented the crabbed, complicated law Latin to save on ink and parchment and that saving on ink and vellum remained a worthy goal.
Hence, he’d written his damned will in law Latin, and in the abbreviated version of the abomination still practiced by elderly clerks and particularly mean judges. Such was the incomprehensibility of that hand that, in the last century, it had been outlawed for court documents.
“Shall I ring for tea?” Pinckney asked.
Ramsdale had choked down two cups of gunpowder while maundering on in the Peebles’s parlor. He had no wish for more damned tea. Why did the ladies never contribute anything of substance to a conversation? They smiled and nodded and yes-my-lorded but never said anything?
“Order a tray with all the trimmings,” Ramsdale said. “If I’m to interview starving scholars, I’d best feed the poor devils.”
Then too, Pinckney would help himself to a biscuit and a sandwich or two, and nothing on the tray would go to waste. The footman and groom would see to that when supper was hours away.
The scholars, alas, proved a shabby lot. Two reeked of mildew, two could not fumble through a single sentence of Uncle’s codicil, and the fifth wanted a sponsor for yet another expedition to plunder the Nile.
Time was running out, and defeat was unacceptable.
“Have any more responses come?” Ramsdale asked when the Nile explorer had been sent on his way.
“Not a response per se,” Pinckney said, tidying tea cups and saucers onto a tray. “There is a gentleman below stairs who said he’d wait rather than make an appointment. Tidy young chap, relatively speaking.”
“Tidy and skinny, I’ve no doubt.”
The afternoon was gone and so was Ramsdale’s patience. “Send him up, but don’t bother with another tray. I doubt he’ll be staying long.”
Pinckney used a small brush to dust the crumbs from the table onto a linen serviette. “And will you be going out this evening, my lord?”
Ramsdale had been ruralizing in Berkshire for the past month, being a doting godfather to a friend’s infant daughter. Had a fine set of lungs on her, did his goddaughter.
“I might renew acquaintances around the corner,” he said. “If there’s anything to miss about Town, it’s the company of the ladies.” Though the women who dwelled at the odd St. James address didn’t consider themselves ladies.
Ramsdale had spent many a pleasant hour in their company, nonetheless. His favorite chess partner was a madam of no little repute, and he delighted in the linguistic variety her employees brought to an evening. French, Italian, and German were all to be heard in the main parlor, along with a smattering of more exotic languages.
Pinckney withdrew, and Ramsdale gathered up what passed for his patience as a slim young fellow was admitted by the footman.
“My lord.” The scholar bowed. He had a scraping, raspy voice. He also wore blue-tinted spectacles that must have made navigating after dark difficult, and in the dim light of the sconces, his countenance was very smooth.
Too smooth. “Have you a card?” Ramsdale asked.
The scholar’s clothes were loose—probably second- or third-hand castoffs—and his hair was queued back and tucked under his collar. He passed over a plain card.
Phillip Peebleshire. Ah, well, then.
“You look familiar,” Ramsdale said.
“We are not acquainted, my lord, though I have tutored younger sons from time to time.”
Probably true. “Well, have a seat, and lest you think to impress me with your vast qualifications, let’s begin by having you transcribe a few lines from this document.”
Of the two seats opposite Ramsdale’s desk, Peebleshire took the one farther from the candles. Ramsdale passed over Uncle Hephaestus’s first codicil—there were nine in total—and Mr. Peebleshire took out a quizzing glass.
“I have paper and pencil, or pen and ink if you prefer,” Ramsdale said.
“This codicil,” Peebleshire read slowly, “is made by me, the undersigned testator, Hephaestus George Louis Algernon Avery, being of sound mind and composed spirit, as witnessed in triplicate hereto, and does hereby revoke any previous codicils, but not my will, which document is dated—”
Ramsdale plucked the document from Peebleshire’s pale hands. “You can translate at sight?”
“The legal documents all tend to follow certain forms, my lord. The vocabulary is limited, until you reach the specific bequests and conditions of inheritance. A modern holographic will written in such arcane language is unusual, though.”
“My uncle was an unusual man.” Generous, vindictive, devious, and merry. In life, Ramsdale hadn’t known what to make of him. In death, Uncle had become purely vexatious.
Ramsdale repeated the exercise with the second codicil—the only one he himself had muddled through in full—and again, Peebleshire translated accurately at sight.
Bollocks. Ramsdale rose and took a candle from the branch on his desk. “What compensation do you seek for your services?”
Peebleshire named a sum per page—shrewd, that—as Ramsdale lit several more branches of candles around the room. The wages sought were substantial, but not exorbitant for a true scholar.
“How quickly can you complete the work?” Ramsdale asked.
“That depends on how much of it there is.”
Uncle’s will ran on for thirty pages, and the codicils for another sixty. As near as Ramsdale could fathom, seven of the codicils were rants against the established orders at Oxford and Cambridge, with much ink spilled on the reputation of one Professor Peebles.
“Nearly a hundred pages,” Ramsdale said, “and I also have correspondence Uncle wrote to various scholar friends. Can you translate French?”
“Of course, my lord.”
“German, Italian, Spanish?”
“German, and all of the romance languages, Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin. My Coptic is less reliable, and I am not confident of the Norse languages. I’m gaining proficiency in spoken Arabic, but the written language is a challenge.”
If that recitation were true, Ramsdale would have to admit to surprise. “Then you are clearly qualified to meet my needs,” he said, “but before we discuss the rest of the terms, I have one more question for you.”
Because Ramsdale had lit every blessed candle in the room, he could see his guest well. Peebleshire sat forward, apparently eager for the work.
“What is your question, sir?”
“How will I explain to your dear papa, that his darling offspring has taken to parading about London after dark in men’s clothing, Miss Peebles?”
Linguistic instruction for young ladies seldom included curse words, but Philomena’s father had educated her as if she’d been one of his university students, and thus she could wax profane in a dozen languages. In Ramsdale’s rented parlor, she remained outwardly composed, while mentally insulting his lordship’s antecedents in Low German.
In very Low German.
“If I’m to parade about London with anything approaching freedom or safety, I dare not wear a lady’s garb,” she said, rising.
Ramsdale stood across the room, looking broody—which he did well—and amused, which made Philomena uneasy.
Uneasier. While waiting downstairs, she’d almost risen to leave a hundred times. A hundred and one times, she’d reminded herself that Papa’s reputation hung in the balance, and if he was to have private students to keep his retirement comfortable, if his monographs were to receive a respectful reception, then finding the Duke—any part of the Duke—had become imperative.
“Come now, madam,” Ramsdale said, sauntering closer. “All you need to assure your safety is a common fashion accessory.”
“Firearms are noisy and unwieldy,” Philomena said. “Knives are messy and can easily be turned against one.”
Ramsdale peered down at her. “What a violent imagination you have. Merely drape an escort upon your arm and your troubles are solved. I will see you home, for example, and you’ll find we traverse the streets entirely undisturbed.”
His lordship smelled good, of leather and bayberry soap, and with his height and muscle, he’d doubtless scare off the footpads as easily as he attracted the ladies. Jane had intimated that Ramsdale had a reputation among the demimonde, suggesting his skills in the bedroom compensated for a lack of appeal in all other regards.
Thanks to the bawdy inclinations of the Greeks and Romans, Philomena’s literary grasp of amatory pursuits was well informed to an unladylike degree.
“Thank you, no,” Philomena said. “I will see myself home. Shall I take your uncle’s will with me?”
Ramsdale stepped away and began blowing out the candles he’d just lit. “You recognized the signature?”
“Your uncle accounted himself my father’s nemesis. I’ve seen that signature often enough. Every time Papa published an article regarding The Duke’s Book of Knowledge, Hephaestus contradicted him, usually with no evidence whatsoever.”
Ramsdale pinched out a flame with his bare fingers. “How does one prove a manuscript does not exist?”
Smoke wafted about him in the shadows, giving him a diabolical air—which he probably cultivated. His voice was a dark growl that carried even when he spoke softly.
“One cannot prove a book doesn’t exist,” Philomena said. “A brilliant scholar wouldn’t attempt that logical conundrum, which is why Hephaestus Avery, otherwise accounted an intelligent—if eccentric—man, must have been motivated by something other than a passion for the truth.”
Ramsdale’s gaze followed the smoke trailing upward. “They collaborated, you know, once upon a time. Traveled the Continent together. Co-authored a review of Parisian restaurants.”
Philomena sank back into her chair. “You’re daft. They hated each other.” And Papa would as soon eat shoe leather as he would breaded sole with truffle garnish.
“Which is why your father attended Uncle’s funeral? Why he helped draft the eulogy?”
Papa hadn’t told her that. He was often forgetful. “One can respect an opponent.”
“One can, but as a gentleman, I am also bound to respect you, madam, and that means you should not be alone with me, in my rooms, at a staid and respected gentleman’s club. Your presence risks my reputation and yours, so let’s continue this delightful argument while I walk you home.”
Philomena ought not to be alone with Ramsdale anywhere. He was an earl, and thus all but impervious to gossip, while she was the spinster daughter of an academic one step above obscurity.
“I’ve known you for ages,” she said. “Seen you wolfing down jam and bread in my father’s kitchen and watched him send you on your way with biscuits to hoard until your next tutoring session.”
The earl had been a quiet boy—a large, quiet boy. Ramsdale was not academic in the usual sense, but he’d had an ear for languages that had deserved advanced instruction. He’d been among many students whom Papa had taught over the years. They’d all been hungrier for food than for knowledge, and most of them had been easy to forget.
“And here I thought you never even noticed the boys coming and going from your papa’s study. I account myself flattered, Miss Peebles. Shall we be on our way?”
Not until Philomena had achieved her objective. “I can’t stop you from wandering where you will, my lord, but I am well qualified for the translation work you need. Do we have an agreement regarding your uncle’s will?”
Ramsdale leaned back against the desk, a mere two feet from where Philomena sat. She didn’t want to look up at him, and she certainly didn’t want to gaze at what was immediately in her line of sight.
“You want to see Uncle’s will because you’re afraid his testament discredits your father once and for all.”
Well, yes. Now that Philomena knew the daft old man had left such a lengthy will, she did want to read it.
“Don’t be ridiculous, my lord. I came here today not knowing who sought a translation of what document or for what purpose. You doubtless seek to support your uncle’s criticisms of my father’s work.”
Ramsdale settled into the chair beside hers. The furniture was dark and sturdy, like the man occupying it, and yet, the impression he made was one of leisure and grace.
“Your father was the only instructor who saw any potential in me, Miss Peebles, and the main reason I didn’t starve my first term. Why would I seek to impugn the reputation of a man I esteem? I’m more inclined to believe that you seek to discredit Hephaestus. He was a thorn in your papa’s side, and you want posthumous revenge on him for demanding proof of a text no living soul has seen.”
“We are back to the impossibility of proving something in the negative, my lord, for you ask me to establish what my motives are not. Your uncle has been gone these two years. I wish for him only the reward his Maker sees fit to bestow on him.”
Philomena rose rather than admit that bickering with Ramsdale was invigorating—debating with him, rather.
Ramsdale rose, yanked a bell-pull, and met Philomena at the door. He prevented her immediate departure by virtue of leaning upon the jamb.
“My preference for the Albion is well known,” he said. “You saw the advertisement I’ve been running in The Times, and in a flight of female intuition, the likes of which inspire sane men to tremble, considered that I, who have a known interest in languages, had placed the notice.”
Philomena put a hand on the door latch. “As far as I know, the owner of Ramsdale House dwells at that location. Perhaps the Albion is closer to your preferred entertainments, my lord, but that is no concern of mine. If we’re not to transact business, I’ll be on my way.”
He straightened as a servant brought in a greatcoat that could have made a tent for a family of six.
“Shall I wait up for you, my lord?”
“No need, Pinckney.”
The older man bowed and withdrew, his gaze barely brushing over Philomena.
The earl shrugged into his coat, one long arm at a time. When he drew the second sleeve up, he got one side of the collar tucked under itself.
“Hold still,” Philomena said. “You’ll go out in public looking half dressed, and your poor valet will have an apoplexy, and the next thing you know, you’ll be a caricature in shop windows with your breeches on backward and your watch fob dangling from your hat brim.”
She sorted out his coat, passed him the hat sitting on the sideboard and then a walking stick that weighed more than her father’s family Bible.
“I suppose you’ve had to develop managing tendencies,” Ramsdale said. “You have no mama, and the professor grows easily distracted. Shall we be on our way?”
He gestured toward the door, and had Philomena not been so desperate for coin, she might have let his polite suggestion see her right out into the corridor.
“I want the work, your lordship. I can bring that will home with me and start on the translation this very evening.”
“That is my only copy, Miss Peebles. Meaning no disrespect for your motives or your abilities, I’m not about to let it out of my sight.”
This was merely prudent, also deuced inconvenient. “Then I’ll simply wear my disguise, and nobody will be the—”
His lordship laughed, a booming, merry cascade of derision. “Your disguise didn’t fool me for two minutes, my dear. In broad daylight, it likely fooled no one.”
Philomena wanted to smack him. “I sat downstairs in the foyer for two hours, my lord. Nobody gave me a second glance.”
He tapped his hat onto his head, then paused before pulling on his gloves. “For two hours?”
“Perhaps longer, and may I say, the chairs are not as comfortable as they look.”
Too late, Philomena realized that he was no longer having a laugh at her wardrobe. He stared past her shoulder for a moment, and she could feel him parsing evidence and testing hypotheses.
“You will tutor my sister in French,” he said, “starting tomorrow at nine of the clock at Ramsdale House.”
“No earl’s daughter will be out of bed at that hour.”
“Precisely, but my uncle’s last will and testament will be available for your perusal in the library. My sister’s French is in want of polish, and she intends a trip to Paris later this year.”
Philomena did not see. His lordship was making it possible for her to translate a long document without risking any harm to her person or her reputation. He must be desperate to know what was hidden in the details of his uncle’s will.
The only other explanation—that he’d realized a woman who’d wait two hours for an appointment must be badly in need of—attributed to him both accurate intuition and a generous spirit.
Neither of which Lord Ramsdale possessed.
But he did make Philomena feel safer on London’s dark streets. That much, even she could admit.
End of Excerpt
How To Find A Duke in Ten Days is available in the following formats:
Grace Burrowes Publishing
October 3, 2017