His Lady To Honor Secret Chapter
Brussels, Low Countries, Friday, April 28, 1815
“The field marshall will see you now.”
Sir Philip Tradwick looked up from where he sat in the sparsely furnished anteroom of the Duke of Wellington’s temporary residence. He nodded to the army clerk. “Thank you.” Rising, he rolled his shoulders to loosen the stiffness that had settled in them. At last. For over an hour he’d been sitting in that dashed uncomfortable chair opposite the double doors that led to the duke’s study listening to His Grace and whomever else he had in there talking and laughing.
Tradwick softly sighed his frustration. There was an impending conflict and Tradwick, for one, was ready to get to work. Yet the gentlemen ensconced behind those doors sounded like they were having a drink at White’s, not living in anticipation of a run-in with Boney and his troops.
But he shouldn’t complain. He was in Brussels, ready to assist His Grace in the defeat of that bastard Bonaparte.
The order Tradwick had been given earlier that month from Secretary Lord Sidmouth at the Home Office had been clear. “Wellington needs numerical cryptographers,” Sidmouth had said, “and you’re the best. You didn’t get a first in maths at Cambridge for nothing. Besides, I trust you not to cock things up like Rainsford nearly did.”
In Tradwick’s humble opinion, his friend and fellow Beggars Club member, Nate Kinlan, Earl of Rainsford, had come nowhere near to cocking up anything. Rain had not only dispatched Captain Alastair Cressingham, a traitor who had aided Napoleon in his escape from Elba, but he’d also fallen in love with and married the man’s niece, Susannah, the sister of Ben Cressingham, their mutual friend and another Beggars Club chum.
At the same time Rain had been busy with Susannah’s uncle, news of Bonaparte’s escape had reached England. Tradwick had expected his services would be needed, but not that he would be requested by Wellington himself. He’d been chuffed when he’d received the summons. While the order from the duke had been excessively gratifying, Tradwick was a practical man. He thought it much more likely that he’d be attached to Lt. Col. Sir George Scovell, “The Cipher Officer.” Scovell had cracked many French codes while campaigning in Spain. Tradwick himself had worked for the man briefly years ago while in the Peninsula. Despite Scovell’s appointment as Welly’s new Assistant Quartermaster-General, Tradwick assumed The Cipher Officer would continue his cryptography work, and there was no better place for Tradwick and his sharp codebreaking skills.
Now, a month after Napoleon took Paris, Tradwick was finally in Brussels, eager to join in the efforts to quell Boney’s return.
“Sir?” The clerk raised his dark, caterpillar-like eyebrows and gestured to the partially opened door.
“Yes, of course.” Tradwick adjusted his shirt cuffs and came forward, his boots echoing on the parquet floor of the uncarpeted room. Taking a deep breath, he tapped twice on the door, then slid through the opening.
Field Marshall His Grace the Duke of Wellington sat semi-reclined in a wooden chair decorated with tufted armrests behind a small, ornate writing desk, his fingers threaded over his middle. Four other uniformed officers occupied the medium-sized room, a former library with books lining the floor-to-ceiling shelves that flanked each wall.
Two of the gentlemen sat on leather armchairs near the large bow window that overlooked the street, and the other two shared a dark green silk sofa positioned in front of an unlit marble fireplace. Their voices died as Tradwick entered.
Everyone but Welly rose. Although Tradwick eclipsed the tallest of them by half a head, all four men looked down on him in that decidedly aristocratic way that irked him. He quickly sketched a bow. “Your Grace.” He straightened, his gaze on the duke.
Wellington pushed himself out of his chair and came around the desk. “Sir Philip Tradwick. Welcome to Brussels. I am so pleased you’re here.” He smiled wide, his hawk-like nose protruding from his face, his expression friendly and genuine. To Tradwick’s surprise, the duke wasn’t wearing his uniform. Rather, he sported a dark blue hunting coat, a pale green waistcoat, black breeches, and mud-splattered boots. The duke extended his hand.
Tradwick shook it, his own lips barely curving in the corners. “Thank you, Your Grace. I was most gratified to receive your summons.”
Wellington made a wide sweep of the room with his arm. “Allow me to introduce you to my staff. They generally go where I go, and they know all that happens around here.”
The gentlemen erupted into a series of groans and chuckles.
Wellington gestured to a tall, half-balding man with thin sideburns. “Lt. Col. Lord FitzRoy Somerset, my military secretary.”
“My lord.” Tradwick bowed his head.
The secretary regarded him with hard eyes, but nodded. “Pleasure to meet you. Please call me Somerset.”
“And you may call me Tradwick.”
His Grace moved on to the man next to him. “Major General Sir Edward Barnes, my Adjutant-General.” Pointing to the men near the fireplace, he said, “The dashing gentleman to the left is Lt. Col. Charles Canning, and to the right is Lt. Col. Sir Alexander Gordon, my ADCs.”
The gentlemen exchanged polite, if not warm, pleasantries.
Somerset courtesy-smiled and inclined his head towards door. “Come along, men. No doubt His Grace requires privacy.”
The men all nodded to Tradwick, bowed to Wellington, and left the room, shutting the door firmly behind them.
“Please, sit down.” His Grace gestured to one of the leather chairs near the window, but walked to his desk.
Tradwick headed to the chairs, his body a jangle of nerves. He took a cleansing breath, refusing to let it show. There was no reason to be nervous. Excited, perhaps, but not nervous. For the longest time, Tradwick had been on the fringes of this battle against Boney. He knew he could handle whatever codebreaking challenges Wellington may present. Sidmouth had told Tradwick repeatedly there was no one better with numbers than him. Maintaining his typical stoic expression, Tradwick seated himself in the proffered chair and crossed a boot over his knee.
Wellington rifled through some papers on his desk, selected one, then ambled over and sank into the chair opposite Tradwick with a sigh.
“I’m sure Sidmouth has told you why I asked for you.” Wellington peered at Tradwick over the edge of the paper.
Tradwick nodded. “Yes, Your Grace. You need a numeric cryptographer. I assume that means working with Lt. Col. Scovell, and I must say, I’m quite eager to get started.”
“That is precisely where I intended to assign you.”
Tradwick cocked his head. “I beg your pardon, Your Grace? ‘Intended’?”
Wellington didn’t answer, and didn’t meet Tradwick’s eyes right away. A boulder the size of a cannonball slid south in Tradwick’s gut.
Gesturing to the paper in his hand, the duke said, “Something has come up and I find myself in need of a very trustworthy and circumspect individual to handle a sensitive and private personal assignment.”
Assignment? What the deuce could possibly be more important than defeating Boney? Tradwick cleared his throat. “What is it, Your Grace?”
The duke’s clear blue eyes met Tradwick’s and he held them. “Before I begin, let me tell you a little story.”
“Certainly, Your Grace.” Tradwick wrapped his fingers around one knee.
Wellington settled back into his chair and crossed his legs. “As you may know, I grew up in Ireland.”
Tradwick nodded. Hardly a soul who’d fought in Spain didn’t know about the duke’s past.
“One of my good childhood friends, Lionel Jenico—he’s the Earl of Fremanston—has a daughter, Catherine, whom I am godfather to.” His Grace paused and looked out the window, staring blankly at the pedestrian scene on the street before him. His voice took on a queer, detached tone. “Lionel’s wife was a lovely woman and he was quite devoted to her. She died when Catherine was very young. The poor man was never the same after. He married again, of course, for Catherine’s sake, but his new wife, Penelope, was not a very motherly sort.” He paused, still staring out the window.
Tradwick adjusted his position in the chair. Not knowing what else to say, he mumbled, “I see.”
The duke blinked and turned his attention back to Tradwick. “Yes, as I was saying, Penelope wasn’t the motherly sort. She took Catherine to London last year for her first season, and unfortunately, Catherine fell into trouble.”
“What sort of trouble?”
Wellington frowned. “She got with child.”
With child? Tradwick mentally cringed. He failed to understand why anyone would risk their reputation for a lark. It seemed to him that for every ten just-out-of-the-schoolroom misses, there was always one or two who craved sensuality over respectability, her reputation be damned. Tradwick cleared his throat. “And the, er, gentleman did not come up to scratch?”
The duke shook his head. “When Penelope learned of Catherine’s condition, she sent the girl away.”
Tradwick furrowed his brows. “Fremanston could not induce the man to marry her?”
“Fremanston didn’t know. Penelope, fearing scandal, arranged for Catherine to come to a convent here in the Low Countries to have the child. The arrangement was such that the child would be adopted out to a family in need, or would be raised and schooled in a trade, and Catherine would live out her life at the convent.” Wellington consulted the paper in his hand. “At the time of the incident, Penelope told Fremanston that Catherine had eloped to America. The news had devastated him, for he thought he’d never see his daughter again. He only learned the real reason for his daughter’s disappearance a month ago, after Penelope’s unexpected death. It seems her lady’s maid came forward with the truth after her passing.”
A sickening, swirling churn began to make eddies deep in Tradwick’s gut. Surely Wellington wasn’t going to ask him to find this man’s ruined daughter?
“I am asking you to find my goddaughter and return her to her father at Summerhill, Fremanston’s estate in County Meath.”
He was. Tradwick took a deep, cleansing breath to stifle his frustration. Damn it all. This was supposed to be his time. Everyone had said so. For years, he’d given of himself in service to England, going above and beyond whenever it had been required of him. Besides, this was the perfect opportunity for him to serve his country, and serve that bastard Napoleon a significant set-down. And if working within the duke’s orbit meant he might secure a promotion or two, well…that wasn’t a bad thing. After all, Sidmouth wouldn’t be alive forever, and working for Wellington was just the sort of exposure that could help elevate Tradwick to someday head up the Home Office. Besides, how was he supposed to escort a young woman without it looking inappropriate? Was she to play at being his wife? His mistress? What if someone recognized him and made the wrong assumption? Would he be forced to marry her?
Deciding on that tack as a likely reason to excuse him from the task, Tradwick said, “Your Grace, I’m honored that you would consider me, but how would I possibly travel with the girl without arousing comments or speculation about who she is?”
The duke’s eyes narrowed. “I do hope you mean, ‘How do I travel with her and protect her reputation?’”
Good Lord, now he was in danger of offending the duke. Yet Lady Catherine didn’t have a reputation worth protecting, at least as far as he could see. And what if she put her wanton tendencies on display? Tradwick had some experience with women like that. He could hardly be asked to keep her immoral behavior in check. However, to the duke he replied, “Of course, Your Grace.”
“I suggest you hire a girl to act as companion.”
Tradwick wanted to laugh. As if she’d be able to prevent milady from hawking her wares. What Tradwick really needed was a warden. Rubbing his palms on his breeches, Tradwick said in his most diplomatic voice, “Your Grace, I am sure there are many other men you know and trust more than me to complete this personal favor?”
Wellington frowned and cocked his head. “Are you refusing it?”
Careful, mate. “No, of course not. I do beg your pardon, but I merely question whether I am the most qualified person for this particular task.”
The duke frowned. “Do you wish to be in my good graces?”
Dammit. He’d gone too far. “Of course I would like to help, but—“
Tradwick didn’t know how to respond. How did one diplomatically say that he would rather escort three phlegmatic octogenarians across the entire continent of Europe or march with foot soldiers through a driving snowstorm in the Pyrenees than play nursemaid to a trollop of woman who couldn’t do something as simple as keep her knees together? Instead, he said nothing.
With a huff, His Grace rose, dropped the letter in his chair, and stalked over to a sideboard containing various crystal decanters of liquid. He poured two glasses full, snatched up the first, took a large swallow, then topped it off.
Wellington’s silence was unnerving, and Tradwick’s stomach clenched, like he was awaiting a guilty verdict for a crime he didn’t commit.
The duke stoppered the decanter with a jarring clink and returned to the chairs with drinks in hand. With an exaggerated smile, he gave one of the glasses to Tradwick, then situated himself on the arm of his chair.
Tradwick’s stomach clenched tighter, but he raised his glass silently in toast and took a sip. Wellington did the same. The burn of brandy warmed Tradwick’s throat, and he took another.
“I’ll be quite honest, Tradwick. I fully intended to assign you to Scovell. Sidmouth assures me there’s no one better at numbers or codebreaking, and I need men in the field who can get the job done.”
Tradwick almost breathed a sigh of relief. He opened his mouth to agree, but Wellington cut him off.
“However, I’ll be very blunt. Returning Catherine to her father is a priority for me. I owe the man a great debt, and this is the least I can do to repay it. However, I cannot spare any of my senior officers or ADCs for this task.” He drained his glass, set it on a nearby baize-covered dumbwaiter, and stood before Tradwick. “She’s my goddaughter. Clearly, she has made a mistake. But as I understand it from Fremanston”—he picked the letter up off the seat of the leather chair and gazed at it—“Catherine didn’t want to come here. Her stepmother forced her, never breathing a word about Catherine’s disgrace to him.” He met Tradwick’s eyes. “The man wants his daughter back. Will you do it?”
Tradwick held back a frustrated sigh. Did he have a choice? The deuce of it was that he either took this assignment, or he could kiss his position with Scovell and the Home Office, and likely anything else, goodbye. “Yes, Your Grace.” He rose and straightened his coat. “I will take care of it in a trice.” He extended his hand.
Wellington nodded and shook it, then strode over to the large, paper-strewn table near the doors, indicating for Tradwick to join him. The duke pulled out a large map and pointed to Brussels, then spread his fingers in a wide swath around it. “There are several convents in this area. The maid knew only that Catherine’s destination was Ostend, and the convent was located near Brussels. I’ve marked some of ones the locals have told me about,” he said, pointing to various Xs on the map, “but there may be more. You’re to find her, pay whatever debt is required to satisfy the obligation for taking her in, and return her immediately to Ireland. This letter should attest that you’re not simply absconding with the girl.” He dropped a sealed note on the table. “And this should be enough to cover her debt to the convent.” Wellington let a pouch of coins fall next to the letter with a clink. “If not, you have my permission to negotiate on my behalf. Mind your expenses, and I’ll see you’re repaid.” He cocked an eyebrow. “Is that clear?”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
Wellington patted him on the back genially, then strode over to his desk. “Somerset knows of your assignment. You can ask him for assistance. And I expect you to report your progress.”
Tradwick stared at the sack of coins on the table, his hands resolutely at his sides. “Yes, Your Grace.” He closed his eyes briefly, wishing the floor would open up and swallow him whole. If Old Nosey’s military secretary knew what he was doing, it wouldn’t be long before the other ADCs—hell, the whole army—did. Tradwick may be fulfilling a personal favor to the duke, but he knew that every other man on the planet would regard the assignment as a demotion.
“Where are you staying?” asked Wellington.
“La Rose Bleu.”
“Very well. Best get started. Inform Somerset when you’ve located her. If she’s unwell or has been maltreated in any way, I want to see her. Otherwise, you may proceed directly to Ireland.”
“Yes, Your Grace.” An uncomfortable thought occurred to Tradwick. “And if she’s still with child?” He nearly blanched at the thought of traveling with a woman ripe with the evidence of her ruination. It would be beyond the pale.
“She won’t be.” Wellington settled into his chair and pulled a sheaf of papers towards him, not meeting Tradwick’s eyes. “According to the maid, she should have had the child in January or February.”
Tradwick cleared his throat. “And the child?”
Wellington glanced up, looking at Tradwick like he had two heads. “It stays here, of course. That was the whole purpose of her coming to the Low Countries.”
Tradwick breathed a sigh of relief.
Wellington picked up his quill and dipped it in the ink pot. “We’re done here. You may go.”
Tradwick bowed deep at the waist. “Yes, Your Grace. Thank you, Your Grace.” He walked to the table, pocketed the letter and the pouch of coins, then made his way to the door.
Behind him, Wellington called out, “Perform this duty well and I won’t hesitate to put you on Scovell’s staff.”
And if you fail, you’ll be given guard duty at Newgate, ‘ol chap. Stopping mid-stride, Tradwick turned to face the duke. He gave another decorous bow and mumbled, “Thank you, Your Grace.” Thank you indeed. The more Tradwick thought about it, the more he regarded this ridiculous “task” as an insult. Gritting his teeth, he exited the room, closing the door firmly behind him.
“Well, well.” A deep voice brimming with mockery echoed across the anteroom. “Look who’s finally been invited to the gentlemen’s table.”