A Duke by Any Other Name by Grace Burrowes
“Lady Althea Wentworth is, without doubt, the most vexatious, bothersome, pestilential female I have ever had the misfortune to encounter.” The hog sniffing at Nathaniel Rothmere’s boots prevented him from pacing, though the moment called for both pacing and profanity.
The sow was a mere four hundred pounds, a sylph compared to the rest of the herd rooting about in Nathaniel’s orchard; nonetheless, when she flopped to the grass, the ground shook.
“Have you, sir?” Everett Treegum asked with characteristic delicacy. “Encountered the lady, that is?”
“No.” Nor do I wish to.
Another swine, this one on the scale of a seventy-four-gun ship of the line, tucked in beside her herd-mate, and several others followed.
“They seem quite happy here,” Treegum observed. “Perhaps we ought simply to keep them.”
“Then Lady Althea will have an excuse to come around again, banging on the door, cutting up my peace, and disturbing the tranquility of my estate.”
Two more sows chose grassy napping places. Their march across the pastures had apparently tired them out, which was just too damned bad.
“Is it time for a Stinging Rebuke, sir?” Treegum asked, as a particularly grand specimen rubbed against him and nearly knocked the old fellow off his feet. Treegum was the Rothhaven estate steward. Swineherding was not among his many skills.
“I’ve already sent Lady Althea two Stinging Rebukes,” Nathaniel replied. “She probably has them displayed over her mantel like letters of marque and reprisal.” Nathaniel shoved at the hog milling before him, but he might as well have shoved at one of the boulders dotting his fields. “Her ladyship apparently longs to boast that she’s made the acquaintance of the master of Rothhaven Hall. I will gratify her wish, in the spirit of true gentlemanly consideration.”
“Mind you don’t give her a fright,” Treegum muttered, wading around the reclining swine to accompany Nathaniel to the gate. “We can’t have you responsible for any more swoons.”
“Yes, we can. If enough ladies swoon at the mere sight of me, then I will continue to enjoy the privacy due the neighborhood eccentric. I should have Granny Dewar curse me on market day. I’ll gallop past the village just as some foul weather moves in, and she can consign me to the devil.”
Treegum opened the gate, setting off a squeak loud enough to rouse the napping hogs. “Granny will want a fair bit of coin for a public curse, sir.”
“She’s partial to our elderberry cordial.” Nathaniel vaulted a crumbling length of wall one-handed. “Maybe we should leave the gate open.” The entire herd had settled on the grass and damned if the largest of the lot—a vast expanse of pink pork—didn’t appear to smile at him.
“They won’t find their way home, sir. Pigs like to wander, and sows that size go where they please.”
Running pigs through an orchard was an old Yorkshire custom, one usually reserved for autumn rather than the brisk, sunny days of early spring. The hogs consumed the dropped fruit, fertilized the soil, and with their rooting, helped the ground absorb water for the next growing season.
“Perhaps I should saddle up that fine beast on the end,” Nathaniel said, considering a quarter ton of livestock where livestock ought not to be. “Give the village something truly worth gossiping about.”
Treegum closed and latched the gate. “Hard to steer, though, sir, and you do so pride yourself on being an intimidating sort of eccentric.”
“Apparently not intimidating enough. Tell the kitchen I’ll be late for supper, and be sure the hogs of hell have a good supply of water. They will be thirsty after coming such a distance.”
Treegum drifted in the direction of the home farm, while Nathaniel turned for the stables. He preferred to serve as his own groom, and Elgin, the stablemaster, having been on nodding terms with the biblical patriarchs, did not object. He did, however, supervise Nathaniel, as he’d been doing for nearly a quarter century. The other stableboys referred to their supervisor as Elfin, and in all the time Nathaniel had known him, Elgin’s looks had remained true to that description.
“Fine day for a gallop,” Elgin remarked. “Please do avoid the field nearest the river, sir. Too damned boggy yet.”
“I’m paying a call. Wouldn’t do to arrive at her ladyship’s door with mud-spattered boots.”
Elgin took his pipe from between his teeth. “A social call?”
Nathaniel led Loki from his stall. “Shocking, I know.”
“A social call on a fe-male?”
Loki shied and snorted at nothing, then propped on his back legs and generally comported himself like a clodpate.
“Are you quite finished?” Nathaniel inquired of