Blame It on Bath Page 0,1
trays and stoking the fires and bringing letters. She never minded it, and never told him not to come, or even not to run. Today the room was deserted. The duke opened the door to her bedroom and waved one hand, sending the servants within scurrying for the door. Then Father stepped back and let them come in.
Later, Gerard would wish he hadn’t done it. He thought perhaps, without that last, terrible view of her, he might have clung instead to some other, happier, memory of his mother. But as a child he had no idea, and he went into the room to see her lying on the bed, so altered from her normal self he could hardly recognize her. Her dark hair was pulled back from her face, which seemed to have sunk into her head. The covers had been stripped back from the bed, and she wore a stark white nightgown, which only made her skin look gray instead of its normal pink-and-white prettiness. A bundle of cloth was tucked into the crook of her arm. She didn’t look like she was sleeping.
Beside him Edward made a gasping, snuffling sound. The duke put his hand on Edward’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, lads,” he said again, very quietly. “You may go if you like.”
“Thank you, sir,” choked Charlie, before he turned and ran for the door. Edward sniffled, then dragged his sleeve across his face before he, too, went out without a word.
Gerard inched closer to his father. It looked a little like Mother, there on the bed, but not really. “Is she really dead?” He looked up to see his father’s slight nod. “Why did she die, Father?”
For a moment the duke was silent. He wore an odd expression, rather like the one Edward had the time he realized he’d broken his own new compass: distraught and guilty at the same time. Edward had even punched Charlie when Charlie pointed out it was his own fault. “It is God’s retribution,” said the duke at last, almost inaudibly. “She was too good for me.”
Gerard looked back at his mother. He thought she was perfect. He wanted to touch her face, on the chance it might wake her up, but didn’t dare. “Are we going to bury her behind the stable?” he asked sadly. “She won’t like that, Father.”
The duke sighed, then leaned down and scooped up Gerard in his arms. “No, son, we won’t put her there,” he murmured. “She’ll lie in the mausoleum by the chapel, and someday you’ll lay me there beside her, to keep her company.”
“I don’t want you to die. I don’t want her to die.”
“Neither do I,” said the duke, his voice bleak and hollow. “Neither do I.”
“What is that?” Gerard pointed at the bundle of cloth. He could see the family crest embroidered on it in silver thread.
“Your sister. She was born too early.”
“Oh.” He stared at the bundle, wide-eyed. “Did she die, too?”
Gerard put his head on his father’s shoulder. He started to put his thumb into his mouth out of habit, then remembered himself and folded his hand into a fist. “Will she stay with Mother?”
The duke’s grip on him tightened. “Yes. She’ll stay with Mother, and I’ll stay with you and your brothers.”
“Thank you, Father,” Gerard said softly. “I don’t want you to go away, too.”
“I won’t, lad,” whispered his father. “I promise.”
And Durham kept his word. He never married again, but oversaw his sons’ rearing personally, with as much demanding exactitude as he expended on everything else. Gerard recited Latin verbs and history lessons to his father until he knew them perfectly. He stood and confessed his misdeeds to his father, then took his punishment from the duke’s own hand. His father sat him on his first horse, and bought him his first commission, as a junior lieutenant of cavalry. A man must deserve responsibility, the duke said, declaring he wouldn’t buy a captaincy or a majority for a twenty-year-old boy so he could get himself and others killed. At the time Gerard seethed with impatience, but as he grew more experienced in the military, he acknowledged that his father was right. A lieutenant followed orders, hopefully learning from his superior officers before he, too, had the duty to order men into battle and the responsibility for leading them wisely. Too many majors and colonels, it became clear, had skipped the crucial step of learning, and the burden of command sat uneasily or lightly on them. It was yet another