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"Miss England?" Hal asked abruptly.
"Sometimes," William answered honestly. "But I don’t think about it much," he added, with less honesty.
"I do." His uncle s face looked relaxed, almost wistful in the fading light. "But you haven’t a wife there, or children. No establishment of your own, yet."
The sounds of the camp were still audible, but muted by the rhythm of the surf at their feet, the passage of the silent clouds above their heads.
The trouble with silence was that it allowed the thoughts in his head to take on a tiresome insistence, like the ticking of a clock in an empty room. Cinnamon’s company, disturbing as it occasionally was, had allowed him to escape them when he needed to.
"How does one go about renouncing a title?"
He hadn’t actually been intending to ask that just yet, and was surprised to hear the words emerge from his mouth. Uncle Hal, by contrast, didn’t seem surprised at all.
William glared down at his uncle, who was still looking imperturbably out to sea, the wind pulling strands of his dark hair from his queue.
"What do you mean, I can’t? Whose business is it whether I renounce my title or not?"
Uncle Hal looked at him with an affectionate impatience.
"I’m not speaking rhetorically, blockhead. I mean it literally. You can’t renounce a peerage. There’s no means set down in law or custom for doing it, ergo, it can’t be done."
"But you—" William stopped, baffled.
"No, I didn’t," his uncle said dryly. "If I could have at the time, I would have, but I couldn’t, so I didn’t. The most I could do is stop using the title of "Duke," and threaten to physically maim anyone who used it in reference or address to me. It took me several years to make it clear that I meant that," he added off-handedly.
"Really?" William asked cynically. "Who did you maim?"
He actually had supposed his uncle to be speaking rhetorically, and was taken aback when the once and present Duke furrowed his brow in the effort of recall.
"Oh… several scribblers—they’re like roaches, you know; crush one and the others all rush off into the shadows, but by the time you turn round, there are throngs of them back again, happily feasting on your carcass and spreading filth over your life."
"Anyone ever tell you that you have a way with words, uncle?"
"Yes," his uncle said briefly. "But beyond punching a few journalists, I called out George Washcourt—he’s the Marquess of Clermont now, but he wasn’t then—Herbert Villiers, Viscount Brunton, and a gentleman named Radcliffe. Oh, and a Colonel Phillips, of the 34th—cousin to Earl Wallenberg."
"Duels, do you mean? And did you fight them all?"
"Certainly. Well—not Villiers, because he caught a chill on the liver and died before I could, but otherwise… but that’s beside the point." Hal caught himself and shook his head to clear it. Evening was coming on, and the offshore breeze was brisk. He wrapped his cloak about his body and nodded toward the town.
"Let’s go. The tide’s coming in and I’m dining with Sir Henry in half an hour."
Originally posted on my official Facebook page on February 19, 2016.
This page last updated on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 at 7:17 p.m. (PT).