The walk back was warmer – the morning was becoming noonish, and the winter sun was higher – but, then again, it might have been the brandy.
“You brew up a wicked batch of hooch, Duchess.”
“Is that the same stuff we had last night?”
“Basically, but that back there? That was pretty raw. The boys were having a laugh. They tapped a green barrel for your benefit.”
“But …?” Dreyfus shook his head and lifted his hand in question.
Emily laughed, “Oh! They have a nasty, cold job, and it’s night work, and … so when I’m around, I usually drop in at the end of their shift, and we have a toddy. Just a gesture. When they saw us — there are no secrets at Pyaridge — they thought it would be cute to make you sputter a bit.” Emily tilted her head, “Take it as a compliment. But,” Emily stopped and turned to Dreyfus, “Do you mind? Please don’t call me Duchess or Lady or … I get enough of that in public life, and people mostly get it wrong.”
“Certainly,” Dreyfus bobbed his head, “Milady.” And he smiled his half snarl twinkle smile, “Sorry, I couldn’t resist one last time.”
Emily gave him a mitten slap on the shoulder, and they started walking again.
“But I do have a question. Why are you Lady Perry-Turner and not Lady Weldon? I looked it up when Sydney told me who you actually were, and that’s what Burke’s said you’re supposed to be.”
“Oh, that.” Emily pointed to her left. “No, we’re going to the stables first. I want to see the horses and talk to Billie.”
“We’re not riding?” Dreyfus was sceptical and concerned.
Emily waved her left hand, “No, you’re off the hook – for today. Dawna and Billie will be back soon, so we’ll just wait for them and then go up to lunch.”
“Lunch? We just had breakfast.”
Emily smiled at him. “You’ll get the hang of country living eventually.”
“Probably not — but lead the way,” Dreyfus said, gesturing forward. “So what’s the story?”
Emily thought about it for a moment, as they walked. It was one thing to talk about stables and fox hunting; quite another to trot out the family laundry. But she never really hesitated. She had decided back in London that she wanted Sinclair on whatever terms, and if he wanted to know, she’d tell him. Her only real concern was that he might not be interested.
“It’s difficult to know where to start. Uh — my great-grandfather was David Turner, Sir David, actually. He made his money in shoes. He married my great-grandmother Vera, who was, by default, the Duchess. That goes back too far to explain. Let’s just say my family has Royal Letters Patent that can set aside primogeniture and allow women to inherit and hold the title suo jure – umm – that means – um,” Emily wagged her hands searching for the words, “In their own right. (That’s me, too, by the way.) But anyway, after the First World War, all the Perry men were dead; in fact, all the men were dead. A whole generation of local gentry simply vanished. So, in 1919, husbands were hard to come by, and great-grandma Vera needed one. But that’s another long story. Anyway, Sir David came back from the war with a wooden leg and the other foot on the social ladder. He was a poacher who wanted to be a gamekeeper. He also had a serious drug habit. The story goes that he used to sprinkle cocaine in his opium pipe and smoke it in the library after breakfast. Anyway, it was like at first sight — or, at least, not dislike — and he and Vera were married before the ink was dry on the peace treaty. However, Sir David refused to go to the altar unless ‘Turner’ was added to the family name. That’s how we came to be Perry-Turners. And, because he couldn’t be a Duke or even Lord Weldon, he insisted the designation be changed so he could style himself ‘Lord Perry-Turner’ instead of just plain old ‘Sir.’ The House of Lords wouldn’t help him out on that, so he took it to Buck House.”
Dreyfus’ look was the question.
“Buckingham Palace. And he was given a letter, signed by George V, that said he could have it any way he liked. It’s in the library if you want to see it. That’s why I can be called Lady Perry-Turner or Lady Weldon or Duchess or …”
“Just not by me.”
They had arrived at another set of white stone buildings, surrounded by white plank fencing — much smaller than the stables but built in the same style.
“This used to be the woodsheds, then the coal sheds. Then they were empty for years, so when we converted the stables, I moved the horses up here. Some people think it’s too close to the house, but some people think we shouldn’t keep horses at all.”
(Undoubtedly the bean-counting Ms. Miller.)
“That’s a pretty impressive story.” Dreyfus said, thinking he’d like to move Emily around the corner, out of sight of the house and kiss her.
“By all accounts, Sir David was a charming fellow — even if he was stoned most of the time.” But Emily was distracted, looking out over the grounds. Then she whistled. “Here’s Billie and Dawna with the dogs.”
Thwarted and feeling it, Dreyfus’ voice was a little blunt. “What do you want Billie for?”
Emily turned her head sharply. It was the woman from the photograph. Dreyfus had seen her before – clear, confident on the edge of severe. Lady Perry-Turner was not used to being questioned, and certainly not in the shadow of her own house. For a nanosecond … and then … it was Sinclair standing there – her Sinclair. She smiled.
“He’s going to help me shoot a badger.”
You can read more about Dreyfus and Emily’s Christmas adventure here.