The Jack of All Trades - M.A. Nichols



Spring 1805

The study did not boast a grand view of the grounds around Dewbourne, but trees and grass were a vast improvement to barracks and the press of the city. Not that Deal was bustling compared with London, Liverpool, or Manchester, but it was busier than this quiet corner of Sussex. That town was little more than a cesspool populated by soldiers and sailors who gave no attention to anything other than public houses, gambling, and all the other places bored men used to fill their time.

Lewis Finch took a deep breath, savoring the scent of the outdoors wafting through the open window; he could not pinpoint the exact odor, but it was a distinctive mixture of local flora and fauna that smelled like home. And infinitely preferable to the stench of stables and soldiers.

Finch shook himself free of that thought, shoving aside memories best left undisturbed, and focused on the greenery before him. There was no need to wallow in thoughts of Deal or the future that place provided when faced with such beauty.

Tugging at the bottom of his jacket, Finch adjusted his uniform. How were the light dragoons supposed to fight when restrained by this wretched thing? Fashion dictated a snug fit, but it did no good on the battlefield. Enemy soldiers wouldn’t surrender due to their awe over the fine cut of his jacket or the vast amount of silver braiding decorating it. And though ladies noted how brilliantly the rich blue and scarlet facing complemented his fair hair, the French had never expressed any appreciation.

Puffing out his cheeks, he turned away from the window. It wasn’t providing much solace at any rate, so Finch resigned himself to pacing. The heels of his polished boots alternately clicked and thudded as he passed from the hardwood floor onto the rug and back, his feet tracing a haphazard path around the study.

He needed to focus. If he was to explain himself properly, he needed his wits about him. Not that it would do much good, for his wits failed him in such moments. But Finch rehearsed the forthcoming discussion, lining out every argument succinctly.

Surely Father would see reason—

“It is good to see you, my boy,” said the gentleman in question as he strode in through the study door, shutting it behind him. With a bright smile, Father gave Finch a hearty handshake. “We hadn’t expected you to visit. You should’ve sent word.”

“It was rather unexpected, but this conversation could not be postponed any longer,” said Finch as his father motioned for him to take a seat.

“Your visit is rather precipitous, son, for I have wanted to speak with you about your future,” said Father, taking his own seat behind the behemoth expanse of polished wood that served as his desk. “It sounds as though the French are causing quite a stir on the Continent, and I would like to get everything settled before your regiment is sent abroad.”

Finch straightened as the pressure in his chest eased. His smile grew as he nodded. “That is the precise reason I wished to speak with you. I fear the army does not suit me.”

Giving a nod, Father leaned back into his armchair with a shake of his head. “I blame myself for your current predicament. I should’ve known you would not fare well as a soldier after your abysmal time at the Royal Naval Academy, but I had hoped the army would suit you better. After all, purchasing a commission in such a prestigious regiment could make up for any of your…” Father waved a hand, pausing before he settled on the proper word. “…deficiencies.”

Finch’s heart shriveled, though his passive expression remained fixed in place.

“You’ve caused me quite a bit of worry and frustration, my boy. All I have ever wanted is for you to establish yourself in a worthy career and achieve the level of prestige due a Finch, but all my effort have been for naught, as you do not excel in any area.”

Heat ran up Finch’s neck and along his face, and he gave a faint nod, hoping it might be enough to keep his father from treading down this familiar path.

“I do not understand why you struggle so. You are competent enough in various fields but cannot seem to master a single one in any meaningful manner,” mumbled Father, turning his gaze away from his son to stare sightlessly at the wall. Then with a chuckle, he added, “The Finch family’s jack of all trades.”

Finch’s words fled him, and