A Gentleman Fallen on Hard Times
Book 1 in the The Lord Julian Mysteries series
Lord Julian Caldicott has come home from the war in ragged health and with a reputation in tatters. All he wants is to recuperate in private without bringing any further scandal on the family’s good name. His godmother inveigles him into serving as her escort to a rural house party, whereupon circumstances conspire to prevent Julian from resuming his reclusive existence.
Julian becomes the subject of rumors, lies, and whispers, and soon he’s faced with a choice: Wage one more battle for honor’s sake, or be branded a traitor to all that he holds dear. He will enlist unlikely allies, face old demons, and vex every other guest on the premises, but he will not stop until he’s brought a criminal to justice–or dies trying.
Enjoy An Excerpt
A Gentleman Fallen on Hard Times
The Lord Julian Mysteries—Book One
Society addresses me as Lord Julian Caldicott, though the title is more insult than courtesy. As that curious aristocratic oddity, the legitimate bastard, I bear no blood relation to Claudius, his late Grace of Sherbourne, from whom my honorific springs. Toward the end of Papa’s life, when he and I were both using canes as more than fashionable accessories, we got on tolerably well.
Not so in earlier years, though let it be said both parties as well as my mother had a hand in provoking our skirmishes.
Earlier in my convalescence, my right was prone to giving way at inopportune moments. The last such occasion saw me relying inelegantly on Miss Hyperia West’s good offices to preserve me from landing on my arse before half of Mayfair. Miss West, thank the heavenly intercessors, is stronger and more sensible than she appears.
My eyes are weak. My vision is adequate, but strong sunlight, London’s relentless coalsmoke, or simple fatigue can cause my eyes to sting and water. Tinted spectacles help, though they add to the eccentricity of my appearance. Then too, a man who has yet to obtain the thirtieth year of his age should not have snow-white hair. Such a fellow acquires entirely too much appeal for a certain variety of dowager.
My siblings know better than to pity me, and I know better than to assume sympathy is synonymous with understanding.
I hope they never comprehend how I came to be as I am.
The one faculty which wartime service, accidents of birth, and reckless behavior have not imperiled is my reasoning mind. I indulge my cognitive skills without limit and rely on them utterly despite marked failings in the memory department.
To my mother’s eternal despair, I have lost any prayer of numbering among polite society’s Eligibles, despite my ducal family, despite independent wealth, despite having served under Wellington for several years. I am of no interest to matchmakers, diamonds, originals, or other hopefuls patrolling the social Season.
Bachelors who envy me that status should reserve judgment until they too have been stricken from the rolls.
I was starting my day with a wonderfully naughty ancient Sumerian text involving agrarian metaphors and procreation when a female whom I’d known from my earliest childhood shattered my peace. Lady Ophelia Oliphant sailed into my study like a seventy-four gunner bearing down on the French line.
“Julian, do instruct your butler that his harrumphing and stodging are pointless. I call only when you are on the premises, and his posturing will not serve.”
“I am at home because you pounce at an indecently early hour, Godmama. Good morning to you.” I drew a blank page over my translation—Godmama could read upside and, I am convinced, with her eyes closed—and rose to kiss her ladyship’s proffered cheek. She smelled of bourbon roses and mischief, and in my youth, she’d been one of my favorite people.
Her ladyship had known considerable sorrow, burying two husbands, a son, and a daughter, the latter two in their early childhoods. She banished life’s woes with a determination I envied, except when she aimed her schemes at me. Since I’d returned from the battlefields, she’d left me mostly in peace, though the look in her gimlet blue eyes said my reprieve was at an end.
“You look like a death’s head on a mopstick, Julian, and your hair needs a trim. Young men today might as well be die-away school girls for all they primp, lisp, and sigh. Back in my day, men could wear the most elegant fashions and still comport themselves like men. You lot, with your scientific pugilism and Hungary water, make me bilious.”
“The only pugilism I engage in of late is verbal, dear lady, and never a drop of Hungary water has touched my manly person. Shall I ring for a tray or will you swan out the door before my poor stodging Harris can heed my summons?”
“You wish.” She settled onto the sofa, her presence a contrast to the masculine appointments and closed curtains of my study. Godmama had been a beauty to hear her tell it, and my mother—who would argue with the Almighty over the ideal order of the Commandments—did not contradict her. The former beauty still indulged in every fashionable extravagance her heart desired or her modistes suggested.
She donned pale silk when sprigged muslin would have done nicely, and she wore jewels during daylight hours. Her slippers, gloves, and reticules were exquisitely embroidered and usually all of a piece—today’s theme was roses and gold. No grand diva ever assembled her stage appearance as carefully as Godmama put herself together simply to disturb my peace on a Tuesday morning.
My mother muttered about Lady Ophelia’s extravagant style, but I was nobody to begrudge Godmama her crotchets. One copes with grief as best one can, as I, half of England, and much of the Continent, had occasion to know.
“Cease pacing about, dear boy.” Her ladyship patted the place beside her. “I come to you in my hour of need, and you must not disappoint me.”
I settled a good two feet away from her ladyship. I wasn’t keen on anybody making free with my person, and Godmama was extravagantly affectionate. I had a valet. Sterling tended to my clothing, and I tended to… me. I was working up to allowing him to trim my hair, but until that day an old-fashioned queue served well enough.
“I have disappointed you any number of times, my lady. I’m sure you’ll weather another blow if need be, stalwart that you are.”
Before I’d gone for a soldier, she would have countered with a witty retort about her fortitude being the result of the thankless job of godparenting me, but now she frowned, glanced at the clock, and held her silence.
“What brings you to my door, my lady?”
For all her imperiousness, Godmama could be bashful. One behalf of others, she blew at gale force on the least provocation. When it came to her own needs, she was the veriest zephyr, though I suspected the contrast was calculated.
“The Season is ending.”
I refrained from appending a heartfelt Thank God to her observation. “Will you join Mama for a respite by the sea?”
“Her Grace might find a respite by the sea. I find a lot of aging gossips. I’m off to Betty Longacre’s house party. Her oldest girl failed to snag a husband, so Betty is compelled to take extraordinary measures. The child goes on well enough, but she’s overshadowed by all those diamonds and heiresses and originals.”
Betty Longacre—Viscountess Longacre in point of fact—was about ten years my senior. That she had a daughter old enough to be presented came as an unpleasant shock. I wasn’t yet thirty, for God’s sake.
“What has any of this to do with me?” I asked. “I am firmly indifferent to the concept of matrimony, and even my mother has accepted that I will not be moved from that opinion.”
“You are an idiot. Your mother has other children to manage, and thus it falls to me to chide you for the error of your ways.”
I rose, a spike of disproportionate annoyance threatening to rob me of my manners. “Chide away,” I said, “but your efforts will be in vain. We both know that I am not fit for matrimony, much less fatherhood, and there’s an end to it.”
I expected Lady Ophelia to fly at me with eternal verities, settled law, and scriptural quotations, flung in any direction which contradicted my preference for bachelorhood. Godmama remained brooding on my favorite napping sofa, confirming that even she conceded my unfitness for family life.
Her relative meekness came as a disappointment and a relief.
“I ask nothing so tedious as matrimony of you,” she said.
“Perhaps you ask me to make up the numbers at this house party, to lend whatever cachet a ducal heir has to the gathering. Thank you, no.”
I managed to make the refusal diffident rather than rude, and now Lady Ophelia did rise, though she paced before the hearth in manner calculated to make my heart sink. This too was evidence of the damage done to me during the war, and of Lady Ophelia’s shrewdness. She’d noted my reluctance to sit near her, and I wished she hadn’t.
I was improving in many regards, though the pace of my recuperation was glacial.
“One does not wish to be insulting,” she said, “but I assisted Betty with the house party guest list. The numbers match quite well thank you, and if we allowed a ducal spare to lurk among the bachelors, the other fellows would all hang back, assuming you had the post position in hand. All I ask is that you escort me down Makepeace. Clara Cleary will be among the guests, and we were bosom bows once upon a naughty time. I have not seen Clara for eons.”
As best I recalled, the Longacre family seat was a reasonable day’s travel from Town in the direction of the Kentish coast.
“Since when did you need an escort, Godmama? Any highwayman who accosts your coach will get the worst of the encounter. You’ll scold him into submission and demand his horse for your troubles.” Or she’d brandish her peashooter at his baubles.
“You don’t get out much,” Lady Ophelia said, “so I forgive you for ignoring the fact that former soldiers are swarming the countryside. They can’t find honest work, many of them have come home to families incapable of supporting them in the shires, and the dratted Corn Laws have driven the cost of bread to the heavens. We all thought we wanted peace, but we didn’t plan for the reality. Thanks to the great and greedy men charged with ordering the nation’s fate, English highways are unsafe these days.”
During the Season, I did not get out socially at all if I could manage it, but I read the papers. I corresponded with my fellow former officers and the few who still held their commissions. I paid courtesy calls on the widows of my late comrades and the families of fallen subordinates.
I had a platoon of siblings, cousins, and in-laws who were very active in society, and who made their duty visits to me.
Godmama had a point. The peace following Waterloo was creating violent upheaval in Merry Olde England, for the reasons she alluded to. Napoleon had claimed to rule by conquest, and the British economy had thrived on war as well. Without the French threatening our southern coast, the great military appetite for everything—from canvas to cooking pots, wool to weapons, chickens to chaplains—had dried up in the course of a year.
Britain emerged victorious from two decades of war, appended to a century of war, only to find herself fantastically in debt and ruled by a buffoon. The populace that had made endless sacrifices in the name of patriotism was now deeply discontent for many of the same reasons that had fueled revolution in France.
The rich had grown very rich, while the poor had grown very numerous. The government’s response was to counter potential upheaval with real oppression, which of course contributed to greater unrest.
The Corsican was doubtless enjoying a good laugh over the whole business, while I… I did not bother my pretty head with national affairs, though I did bear an inconvenient fondness for my godmother.
I nonetheless could not trust her, other than to be her dear, demanding, devious self.
“I shall see you safely to Makepeace,” I said, “then take my leave of you. You can travel back to Town in company with some of the other guests who will doubtless return this direction.”
She pushed aside a curtain to let in a shaft of morning sun. Had she taken a knife to my eyes, the result would have been less painful.
“Your staff is remiss, Julian. These windows require a thorough scrubbing. If your windows are this filthy as summer approaches, I shudder to contemplate their condition in winter.”
I rooted about in my desk drawer for my blue tinted spectacles while all manner of profanity begged for expression.
“I shall pass your insult along to my housekeeper, Godmama. She will delight to know that you, she, Harris, Sterling, and my neighbors on all sides are in agreement.”
“The light hurts your eyes,” Lady Ophelia said. “That’s why you lurk like a prisoner in an oubliette, isn’t it? Your mother hasn’t said anything about you having vision problems.”
Because Mama did not know my eyesight was in any way impaired. Only my older brother knew, and as the ducal heir, Arthur had been begun consuming discretion before he first thrust a spoon into runny porridge. Arthur was the family strategist, also our patriarch though he was barely six years my senior.
“The physicians assure me the impairment to my eyes is temporary. I see well enough. Bright light is painful, though, hence the tinted spectacles.”
She bustled toward me and I steeled myself to endure a hug, but her ladyship merely patted my cheek with a gloved hand.
“Your secrets have always been safe with me, Julian. That hasn’t changed and it never will. We leave on Thursday, and I will hope for cloudy weather. We can keep the shades down, though you shall not smoke in my traveling coach.”
“I don’t smoke anywhere.”
She collected her reticule, scowled at my window, and scowled at me. “You used to smoke. All young men do.”
“I used to do a lot of things. I’ll be on your doorstep by eight of the clock.”
Thus did I embark on a journey that would involve far more than a jaunt to the Kentish countryside, and test far more than my ability to endure bright sunshine.
End of Excerpt
This book will begin shipping in Summer 2023
A Gentleman Fallen on Hard Times is available in the following formats:
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August 22, 2023
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A Gentleman Fallen on Hard Times is Book 1 in the The Lord Julian Mysteries series. The full series reading order is as follows:
Book 1: A Gentleman Fallen on Hard Times • Book 2: A Gentleman of Dubious Reputation •