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The piles of papers from his various business interests that lay on his mahogany desk scattered across the surface and onto the floor as he tossed down the latest copy of the Scottish Monthly Gazette. An uncommon anger built within him and he could not resist picking the rag back up for just one more glance. Surely, he had misread the editorial. Surely, the writer had not used his name. Surely not.
Yet, upon examination, David Lansdale saw that his ire was in part well-deserved, for there on the second page, as part of the Gazette"s editorial essay, was not only his title, Earl of Treybourne, but also spurious remarks against the arguments made in his own essay the month before in the respectable Whiteleaf's Review.
David looked up to see his butler at the door of his study. "I did not want to be disturbed, Berkley."
"I understand, my lord," Berkley replied with a defer-ential bow, "but Lord Ellerton has come calling and shows no signs of being deterred in speaking to you."
He has most likely seen this, he said under his breath as he glanced at the newest issue of the Gazette. And, no matter how much his friend tried to offer commiseration, it always sounded like gloating.
"Then you must be a stronger deterrent, Berkley. I do not wish visitors at this time." Allowing his displeasure to show, he reiterated, "No visitors."
Berkley, the consummate butler, approached the mess of papers David had made of his desk and the surrounding area of floor, and bent to pick them up.
"Leave them, Berkley. It is more important that you keep everyone out...."
With a nod, Berkley left and quiet descended for a few moments as David gathered the strewn papers and put them on the desk. David turned his attention to the confusion of paperwork and began sorting it back into the neat piles it'd been in just moments ago. Lord Anthony Ellerton would be more pest than pestilence, but his company was simply not welcome at this moment. David would apologize later for the brush-off, later when he had handled this mess.
And after he prepared to face his father's wrath over this attack.
His stomach gripped as he thought about his father's reaction. The Marquess of Dursby was a dour, humorless man at best. He could only hope the marquess was in better spirits when he opened the copy. Or that he avoided reading the Whig-supporting publication completely. Now that was a thought. If his father kept to his regular Thursday schedule, he would most likely skip dinner at his club for a quiet night at home.
David sat down at his desk and placed the object of his displeasure in the drawer so he did not have to face it straight on. At least not until he had a plan to answer the questions and comments in A. J. Goodfellow's newest essay. He leaned over and held his head in his hands, knowing it was much too early in the morning for such a disastrous feeling.
The sounds of another arrival stopped him before he could wallow much longer. Heels clicking across the wood of the entryway coming closer to his study's door grabbed his attention. That kind of fuss, the kind of attention his staff was giving to whomever approached his door, could mean only one thing and it was not that Ellerton had successfully pressed his case for admission. David prayed in the moment before the door opened.
His prayer was not answered. "The Marquess of Dursby," Berkley called out as he stepped aside and allowed David's father to enter. With a bow, he pulled the door closed and a sense of impending doom spread through the room.
"Father," he said, standing at once and bowing. "I am surprised to see you this early in the day."
His father simply nodded, not deigning to answer the question implicit in his greeting. The door closed quietly; Berkley at his post.
"Would you care for something to eat or drink, sir?"
"I do not waste my time on such things when the fate of the nation is on the line."
"I would not say it is as grim as that, sir."
"And that, Treybourne, is most of your problem. The responsibility granted to you—"
"Forced on me, rather," David interrupted. In private he could admit that being the spokesman for the Tory party's position in this war of words had not been his choice.
He looked at the man who fathered him and marveled that in spite of their close resemblance in appearance—same brown hair cut shorter than current style would dictate, same chiseled angles in their faces, same pale blue eyes ringed in midnight blue—their personalities and approach to honor and family were completely different. And when serving as the target of his father's attempts to intimidate, he thanked the heavens above for the differences.
"A nobleman honors his word." The words were more demand than statement, more insult than declaration. The Marquess of Dursby did not look lightly on shirking one's duties, especially when the family honor was involved.
"And I will carry out what I have agreed to do, sir." David clenched his jaw and waited for his father's displeasure to be demonstrated. Never a man to waste time, the marquess seized the topic.
"You should have seen this rebuttal coming, Trey-bourne. Anyone with a modicum of education or experience in the oratory and debating arts would have known."
Crossing his arms, David stared off into the corner of his study while his father continued in his well-controlled diatribe over the latest Whigs' arguments and the insults leveled at the Tories through him.
"You are not paying attention, Treybourne, another of your weaknesses. How do you expect to quash this opponent and make it clear that his party is seeking that which will undermine the good of the nation?"
David did not answer immediately, for he was cognizant that his father would point out another fault of his—that of taking action without adequate thought and planning. Since no amount of arguments or evidence could sway the marquess once he adopted an opinion or position, David saved his efforts for when it would matter.
"What answer would you like from me, sir? If you do not feel that I can accomplish your aims, then give this honor to someone else in whom you have confidence."
This was not new ground for them. Every time his father berated him over this role as party spokesman, he asked to be relieved of it.
In truth, he only did it for the money it brought to him. And for what he could do with those funds. Activities that would have his father in palpitations if he knew the extent of them. Projects which were too important to let this animosity between father and son interfere.
"I will continue to honor our arrangement as long as you do—ten thousand pounds per annum for your own use, unquestioned, though I do wonder over what sordid uses they may be, in return for you using your persuasive abilities to convince those in Commons and in Lords who are in thrall to the Whigs of the error of their ways."
David swallowed deeply when he thought of losing the funds. He would not control the family's strong and still growing fortunes until he ascended to the marquessate, at his father's death, so he was still beholden to his father's whims and wishes and demands.
If there were some other way, he would have gone it long ago, but writing various essays and giving speeches as an MP from one of the Dursby pocket boroughs was the easiest legal way to get the blunt he needed. "I usually take a day or two to mull over the newest article before writing my own, sir," he offered as he turned back and met his father's steely gaze.
"Excellent," Dursby said. "Remember you can always call on my man Garwood if you need assistance."
He would never use Garwood for anything. "My thanks, sir."
Then, with but a curt nod to warn that his visit was at an end, the marquess turned and walked to the door. He cleared his throat and waited for Berkley to open it for him, and then the sound of his heels on the floor of the entryway told David of his hasty departure.
The entire encounter took less than ten minutes of his time, but he felt as though countless years had passed since his father's arrival. David relented on his own practice of avoiding spirits before midday and sought the decanter of brandy in the cabinet. Another regrettable lapse in control, but for now, David decided to fortify himself before his next battle...with the Scottish essayist known as A. J. Goodfellow.
A few hours later, when Berkley dared to encroach into the study to remind him of his dinner and evening engagements, David felt no closer to a suitable retort to the written assault contained in the magazine. Leaning back in his leather chair and rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands, he considered sending his regrets to Lord and Lady Appleton even at this late hour.
No, the ball this evening would be attended by those who would know not to mention the essay in polite company. Conversation would be filled with talk of horses, soirees and the latest on-dits of acceptable gossip and not the weightier topics of politics and economics. Though he knew he was the subject of much discussion among the best of English society, David also realized it was more about his income per annum and the titles he would assume at his father's death than the arguments in his essays.
Women controlled the ballrooms and gatherings of society and their interest was nothing so complicated as the latest bill in the Commons or Lords. Titles, wealth and lands were the yardstick of judgment and, with enough of those, most or all of a man's foibles could be overlooked. And he had enough of all of those.
So, as Earl of Treybourne, he would take refuge there for the night. Indeed, for once, he preferred the questionable and possibly foolhardy adventures in the ton's social schedule to facing an adversary more dangerous than any he'd faced before. That self-knowledge worried him more than his father's appearance here before eleven in the morning.