He supported his sister-in-law, as her maid disrobed her. Although he cared not to take a look, there was no avoiding the purple marks about her neck. These were handprints; someone tried to choke the Duchess. And from what he had understood tonight, his brother most certainly was responsible for this. Could it be Edward was so dishonourable? He had lived in a manner that distressed their parents and that Nicholas could neither understand nor condone. But to hurt his wife in such a manner was despicable.
His vows were to honour his wife: he had not done that much considering the number of dalliances and liaisons Nicholas heard about in the past four years. Despite living far from town gossip had reached him. He rarely hosted guests on Norwick estates but when he did, they took great pleasures in regaling him with his brother’s adventures. Not one of them ever considered how humiliating it must be for his wife; or rather they did but merely to comment on her inadequacy to keep her husband in check. It was something Nicholas knew from experience nobody ever could, not even their mother, the only person Edward had loved dearly beside himself. Not enough to abandon his rakish and gambling ways though.
And yet, his sister-in-law was pregnant; so Edward had visited the marital bed.
“Will you please hold her waist Your Grace so I may unbutton the dress?”
Lisane was efficient and in mere moments, Lucinda was out of her dress. He cast a quick glance only to notice another mark on her back, visible through the underdress. He looked back at her neck instead and asked what his sister-in-law prevented earlier.
“What happened to her Ladyship?”
The maid blushed furiously, all the while continuing to undress her mistress.
“There is nothing to fear from me Lisane.”
She still hesitated glancing at Lucinda, as if she feared she were betraying her. She sighed.
“His Grace was angry and… unfortunately her Ladyship was not quick enough to avoid him.” He found himself speechless. “It’s a blessing his violence did not kill the baby this time.”
Rage coursed through him. How could Edward do that? His voice was hoarse when he spoke again.
“Has it happened before?” Again the maid blushed, as if she had already spoken too much. “Lisane.” He insisted.
“Yes, Your Grace. I am not entirely sure anyone can explain but His Grace often was violent with her Ladyship. She seemed to incur his wrath more often than his gentleness.”
“I cannot say Your Grace. Only that I am quite certain her Ladyship tried her best to satisfy him. Can you please hold her at her shoulders Your Grace?”
He followed the young maid’s instructions. He could barely breathe. What had his brother done? He looked at his sister-in-law and wondered if maybe she had cried because she was relieved at his comments. He had always known his brother to be a rake; he had never imagined him to be a violent man. Edward was accomplished in sword fighting and pugilism; this much Nicholas had known. But he could never suspect his brother to use his wife as an unwilling sparring partner. Maybe Lucinda’s absence of tears at the funeral had nothing to do with her self-control but everything to do with the fact she abhorred her husband.
Presently he helped the maid to put Lucinda to bed after she had unpinned her hair. The dark red locks fell to her back hiding any mark that could have caught his attention. That was when he thought of what Lisane had said. His brother had caused Lucinda to lose a child, a potential heir. No wonder she had feared him when he stood close. What darkness could his sister-in-law hold deep inside. How long was it since she did not withhold her tears? What hole had his brother carved his her life? It was a good thing Edward was dead; he might have killed his brother anew for the pain he had caused the woman he was looking at now.
He turned; yes. Now they were done he must leave the room. It would be improper for him to stay.
“Do you mean to let her remain here your Grace?”
He faced the maid; she looked terrified but defiant none the less. As if she knew she was questioning him to protect her mistress even if it meant losing her position. And she knew he could ask her to leave. He was the Duke until such time as Lucinda’s child was born and it was a boy. He might have been angry but he was coming to understand that his brother’s staff cared more for the Duchess than they ever did for their rightful master. It had been obvious from the footman’s and butler’s attitude towards her. Within the confinement of propriety but a definite indication that he might lose his entire staff if he were to treat the Duchess badly.
“I do in fact.”
The maid smiled.
“Will you treat her kindly my Lord?”
He knew his gaze had turned severe from the slight gasp of the woman.
“I apologize your Grace. You will find we care a lot for her Ladyship. She… She would not tell you so but her life has been… In all honesty it has been very sad. She has treated all of us kindly but has not been the recipient of such kindness as she has given.”
He was very much tempted to tell Lisane what he said to Lucinda earlier that his brother was a bastard but he could not. It would not do.
“I intend to. She is my sister. I imagined my brother has also taken steps to ensure she is not destitute anyway.”
He saw the maid roll her eyes but it was so fast he did not comment.
“I… I imagine you are right your Grace. I trust the opening of his will tomorrow shall tell us how generous His Grace was.”
There was no sarcasm in the woman’s tone but it might as well have been dripping all around him. Apparently Edward had succeeded in alienating his entire household. He would have to speak with them all but he was willing to imagine they only stayed for Lucinda’s sake. In fact he should go speak with Jaspers since the man would not be here tomorrow. He might give him a few shillings that he might spend for his niece’s birthday.
In response to Linda G Hill stream of consciousness prompt ho-