Would I Lie to the Duke - Eva Leigh
Eton College, 1797
“This is bollocks,” Noel Edwards, Lord Clair, muttered. “I shouldn’t even be here.”
He glanced at the four other E Block boys who, like him, had to spend the entire half holiday trapped in this infernal library as punishment for various misdeeds. Everyone sat at different tables scattered through the library, with sheets of foolscap spread in front of them.
Noel’s gaze met the glowering eyes of Theodore Curtis.
“What the hell are you looking at?” Curtis demanded.
“It makes sense that you’re stuck here,” Noel fired back. “Not so sure about him, though.” He jerked a thumb in the direction of Duncan McCameron, who leaned back in his chair with the perfect ease of an accomplished sportsman. “Or him,” Noel added, nodding at Sebastian Holloway. The tall, bespectacled boy looked at him with alarm, as if terrified to be singled out.
“What about me?” William Rowe’s voice was raspy, as if seldom used, and barely audible like it came from a great distance.
Noel turned his attention to Rowe. The pale, sharp-featured boy sat in the farthest corner of the library, either as a means of isolating himself or perhaps Rowe thought he might infect everyone with his peculiarity.
“I have no idea what you do with yourself all day,” Noel answered candidly.
“But I know what you do,” Rowe said with a strange little smile. “I know what everyone does. I’m a watcher. I watch everything.” He tapped his temple.
Well. With remarks like that, it was no wonder that everyone gave Rowe such a wide berth.
“What the deuce was Eddings thinking?” Noel grumbled. “Write an essay on who I believe myself to be? It’s perfectly obvious who I am.”
Curtis said with a sneer, “Oh, yes. We know. Everyone knows because you damn well shove it in our faces.” He pitched his voice into an exaggerated aristocratic accent, and flapped his hands in the air. “La, look at me, I’m a duke’s heir.”
“I don’t do that with my hands,” Noel shot back. “And that’s not how I talk.”
“Meaning’s the same, though, innit?” Curtis drawled, then he slipped back into the caricature of genteel pronunciation. “Be my friend, do. We’ll have all sorts of jolly fun. Good-time Clair, that’s me. Now, who’s up for a round of Who Loves Me Best?”
“Shut your goddamned gob.” Noel curled his hands into fists.
“Easy,” McCameron said, his voice rolling with a Scottish burr. “Curtis is only trying to rile you up.”
“He’s having me on,” Noel said. “Right? I’m not like that.” Of the boys being punished today, he and McCameron were the most alike, and though McCameron was merely an earl’s second son, his athletic ability had earned him tremendous popularity at school.
But when Noel looked pointedly at him, McCameron only shrugged.
“I see all sorts of things,” Rowe said in his crow’s voice. “Like the chap in the middle of a circus—getting folk to do whatever you like. Dancing horses and trained bears, all of ’em, performing at your command.”
Noel stared at the strange boy. “Just having a few laughs. No harm in that.”
“’Course not.” Rowe smiled eerily at him. “But you’re here, aren’t you? Because of what happened with Master Garlow.”
Scowling, Noel jutted out his chin. “The prank didn’t hurt anyone.”
It was harmless. All Noel had done was convince a group of boys to splash ink on the teacher’s garments in the clothespress whilst Noel distracted Garlow outside his rooms, using some nonsense questions about Latin verb declension.
When they’d been caught, it had come out that Noel had been the one to come up with the prank. The other boys had been flogged, but this special punishment had been given to Noel, who lost a half holiday to languish in this infernal library.
“Do you know how much togs cost, Clair?” McCameron asked.
Noel snorted, then— “I . . . don’t, in truth.”
“It’s at least three months’ wages.” This astonishing statement came from the usually timid Holloway. A flush stained Holloway’s cheeks, but he continued. “Master Garlow’s clothes were already threadbare—I, uh, noticed his cuffs and collars are frayed.”
“So it’s a benefit the beak has to buy new things,” Noel said, though uncertainty wound down his back. It was a new sensation, and he didn’t care for it. “A few months’ pay is a trifle.”
“When a man’s got almost nothing,” McCameron said, “every ha’penny matters. I know this—second son, remember?” He tapped his chest. “That’s why it’s the army for me.”
“Don’t bother with your prattle,” Curtis jeered at McCameron. “We’re nothing to him. He won’t remember a damned word we say. If