THE DEVIL'S DECEPTION
MANY YEARS LATER
“Mr. Grumble wants a peppermint stick, Grandpapa.”
Monty looked down at the long white snout of the greyhound resting on his knees.
“Are you sure it is Mr. Grumble and not you that want it Evie?” he said to the little girl wriggling in his lap.
She patted the top of the dog’s head. Mr. Grumble was the third greyhound his family had taken into their home. They loved the dogs, and were already planning to get another to keep Mr. Grumble, who Evie named because of the noises he makes, company.
“We could share as I am hungry,” Evie said.
“Not much longer now, sweetheart. The service is nearly finished.” Monty kissed her head.
To his right sat Iris, her shoulder pressed to his, and beyond her Patrick and Stewart, two of their sons. The air was frigid, and all were wrapped in thick coats, scarves, and gloves to ward off the chill inside the church.
Monty, Iris, and their family were here to mourn the loss of someone who had been a constant presence in their lives for years.
“They have brought their dogs and children,” a woman whispered from the pews across the aisle. Horror was clearly evident in the words.
The ‘they’ being discussed were, in fact, the entire Deville/Montgomery families and their dogs. They were seated in the first four pews to the right of the aisle in the church that the Duchess of Yardley had frequented her entire life.
“What is the world coming to when such behavior is acceptable?”
Monty was just about to say several harsh words to whoever owned that voice when Iris slipped her hand into his.
“Pay them no mind, my love. We know she wanted this,” Iris whispered. “Clearly they did not know the duchess like us.”
He squeezed her gloved fingers and then leaned in to kiss her cheek. Age had given his love a few more lines, but they’d only enhanced her beauty, as had the happiness that she usually wore. Happiness that Monty felt deep inside him. It filled his body and soul.
Even many years after their marriage, he was still awed he’d found Iris again, and that together they’d built a life filled with family and love. It wasn’t all roses and sunlight. They argued about plenty of things, and there were the moments of sadness like this one. But they always faced them together.
“Clearly, you are right, my sweet,” Monty said to Iris. “But there is still no excuse to pretend to whisper, and yet ensure the entire church hears,” he added, his eyes going to the coffin before them.
Two months ago, the Duchess of Yardly had been struck down with a chill, and steadily grown sicker. Four days ago, she’d passed away quietly in her sleep. To Monty, it was a miracle she’d lived as long as she had. He’d thought her old since he’d first met her. But she’d been a constant in their lives, and for all her crotchetiness, he would miss her.
A piece of paper had been handed to Dimity from the late duchess’s butler the day she passed. On it were written details of exactly how she wanted her funeral to play out.
It had begun with the words; I attended Lord Botherham’s funeral. It was horrid. I will not be buried in such a cold, emotionless way. I care little about what society thinks of me in death, as I didn’t in life, and as I will not be there to hear them gossiping. You will carry out my orders, Dimity. You are the daughter I have never had. Make sure those that made me laugh are in attendance.
After that, she had listed instructions that she wanted carried out today. Monty ticked off the first two in his head.
1. Children and dogs to attend.
2. Weeping and laughing are allowed.
Zach had snorted out a laugh just minutes ago at something Mary said to him, and Dimity was sniffing loudly while fighting back the tears. Gabe’s big arm was around her, and her children were watching over her too.
Studying the coffin, Monty struggled with the realization the Duchess of Yardly was inside. Quiet was not usually a word one associated with her. Fiery, and opinionated with a cutting wit. To think that her forceful personality was snuffed out made his throat feel tight.
“Did you see Geraint is here with his wife and two daughters,” Iris said.
“Geraint has a family?” Monty rose slightly in his seat and looked around him. “Where?”
“Of course, he has family,” Iris said. “I met them once at the duchess’s home.”
“And you never told me?” Monty found Geraint seated three rows behind him. The only change in the man was his hair. It was now completely silver. Beside him was a woman, presumably his wife, and next to her two young ladies.
“I’m sure I did,” Iris said.
“I knew,” Zach said from the pew in front, and next to Dimity.
“And me,” Gabe added.
“Perhaps you were not listening to your wife when she told you,” Nathan said.
“Very amusing,” Monty said, well-used to this kind of teasing from a Deville.
They all wore dark colors, but the Deville’s and Montgomery families wore bands of satin around their sleeves in hideous shades of anything from moldy green to bruised plum to pay tribute to the duchess. She truly excelled at wearing terrible colors.
“Dogs,” the woman who had spoken before whispered loudly. “Absolutely no respect is being shown to the duchess.”
Enough, Monty thought, rising with his granddaughter still in his arms. He found Lady Limpet seated with Lady Tippet. He knew it was one of them who had spoken as they were glaring across the aisle.
“Ladies,” Monty’s voice rose enough so they could hear. “It’s my hope than when that time comes to lay you both to rest, you will have just such an outpouring of love as what is being shown here today for the late duchess.”
They gaped at him.
“We are carrying out her wishes. This is not about either of you. I pray you remember that,” he snapped.
“Well said,” Gabe added loudly. “Now stop twittering and gossiping for a single day in your lives. It will make you both better people.”
“Amen,” Forrest muttered, shooting a frosty look at the women. Both had turned red and were open-mouthed.
“Grandmama!” Evie held out her arms to Ruby, who sat in front of them, and Monty handed the little girl to her.
Henry and Ella had fallen in love when they were old enough to understand their friendship meant a great deal more to them. Their union had simply strengthened the bonds between the two families. As far as Monty and Iris were concerned, having the Deville family in their son’s corner was an excellent thing.
Henry had blossomed with the love that surrounded him, as had Iris and Monty. He was still the quiet one, much like Forrest, but he was no longer timid or uncertain.
“Well now, perhaps as there are those outraged by us attending with dogs and children, we should further shock their sensibilities,” Zach said, rising to move past Dimity and into the aisle. He then pulled a book from his jacket.
“That was item ten on the list from the late duchess,” Iris whispered to Monty.
“Well, I’m not reading,” he said, and his wife gave him a pitying look. “I’m not.”
“You know resistance is futile,” Iris whispered.
“One wonders when you will except that, father,” Henry said from two rows ahead.
“He’s a slow learner,” Mary added.
“I think you will need to be the one to call next, Dimity,” Gabe said solemnly. “As the duchess is not here to do so.”
Dimity gulped, sniffed and then said, “she asked me to carry on as she lived in every way.”
“God save us all,” several of the family members muttered.
“Wonderful service Reverend Potter, our late duchess would have enjoyed it immensely,” Zach said, joining him. “If I may have the floor for a moment.” He then shook the man’s hand and urged him to move to the right.
Iris smothered her snort behind a black glove at the stunned expression on Reverend Potter’s face.
“It’s not like anything with this family has ever been normal.” Beside her, Theo spoke softly.
“Very true,” Iris whispered back.
Her husband held out his hand, and she took it. The man who had once hated to be touched now initiated it. He loved his children, grandchild, and family very much, and showed it daily.
Lord Plunge was now well and truly a distant memory. He never had waistcoats made in anything but somber colors and told her lavender was now, and forever would be, his least favorite color.
Society had taken time to adjust to the subtle changes that he’d shown them over the years. But it had been his marriage to her that really changed everything. They’d left London for a year, and upon their return, he set about convincing everyone, with the help of the Devilles, he was now Lord Montgomery.
Marriage and building a life together had been an adjustment for two people who were nursing the trauma of their past, but together they’d done it. She loved this man at her side with every inch of her heart, as she did the family they’d raised together.
“What?” He whispered the word into her ear.
She turned and his face was now inches from hers.
“I love you.”
His smiles had never been huge, but they were real, as was the one that tilted his lips now.
“As I love you, my sweet wife.”
“Today we are here to pay our respects to the Duchess of Yardly,” Zach said, drawing their eyes forward once more.
“Is he reading a poem, perhaps? That would be lovely and something the duchess would enjoy,” a male voice said.
“Clearly that is someone who doesn’t know, Zach, or the late duchess,” Nathan said.
“Our late Duchess of Awkward enjoyed many things in her lifetime,” Zach continued. “Annoying anyone who stepped into her path. Dressing with questionable style.”
A few gasped, but most laughed.
“However, what she loved was a literary salon. I saw her the week she passed, and she asked me to start one at her funeral. I’m here now to see her wishes are adhered to.”
“What is a literary salon?” the man now asked.
“Come now, Barty, have you been living under a rock?” another added. “Sit and watch, and if luck is on your side, you’ll read.”
Iris could hear the conversation, but not see who was speaking.
“Squire Bartholomew and his sister Mrs. Little,” Theo whispered, reading her mind, as he often did.
“Because of the occasion, I thought it fitting to read from the first book in the literary masterpieces that are the Captain Broadbent and Lady Nauticus novels.”
There was loud scoffing over the claims the books were in any way literary masterpieces.
“Do you know I don’t think I’ve read the first book,” Cambridge Sinclair said from across the aisle, where he and his family took up several rows. “I have to say I’m looking forward to this.”
“It’s a funeral!” Lady Tippet cried, clearly shocked.
“Perhaps it is best you leave if following the late duchess’s wishes is upsetting your delicate sensibilities, Lady Tippet,” Lord Sinclair said, which shut the woman up.
Zach opened the book and began to read. “The day was one of those that hadn’t quite made up its mind. The breeze was cool, and yet the sun warm. Dorothea—”
“Who?” Theo asked in a voice that Iris had not heard for many years.
“That will be enough from you, Plunge,” Gabe said.
“Was wandering along the port swinging her basket,” Zach continued. “Hulls creaked and rigging clanged, as around her people went about their business.”
“What port?” Cam demanded.
“Liverpool, now be quiet,” Zach answered him.
“You made that up,” Cam said.
“Lady Nauticus was born in Sheffield, which is not far from Liverpool,” Zach said.
“It’s hardly a stroll, Zach,” Cam protested. “She’d take at least—”
“But we digress,” Gabe cut him off before the men could discuss the issue of distance between Liverpool and Sheffield in more depth. "Continue, Zach.”
“Lady Nauticus heard a cry for help. Looking in the direction it came from, she found a porthole with a white handkerchief waving from it.”
“Next!” Dimity cried. Standing, she looked around at the people seated in the church. “The Duke of Raven.”
Theo snorted. “He hates this as much as me.”
The duke gave Dimity a mock glare as he made his way to where Zach stood. Taking the book, he then began. “’Help!’” A voice called again, and she was sure, coming from the window where she saw the handkerchief fluttering.”
He did not change his voices, just spoke in his deep, steady tone.
“Put more effort in,” the Duchess of Raven, his wife, heckled him.
His lips twitched, but he ignored her.
“Dropping her basket, Lady Nauticus ran to the gangway and climbed.”
“Next!” Dimity said. “Mary.”
Mary took the book from the duke, who headed back to his seat.
“Dorothea sprinted up the gangway and onto the ship, eager to find who was in danger. She was someone who liked to help others and could ignore no one in need.”
“Which would explain why her love remained true for that arrogant, petulant man child, Captain Broadbent,” Dimity said loudly.
“So true,” several of the women present agreed. The men stayed wisely silent.
“‘Ere! What are you doing?’” Mary said in a deep voice. “Ignoring the sailor who attempted to stop her, Lady Nauticus ran across the foredeck to a door and wrenched it open. She had sailed often as a child with her adventurous father before he was killed by an Echidna Gabonica in the Congo.”
“A what?” Ella asked.
“Snake,” Forrest said.
“Ah, that explains why she is a practical sort then,” Zach said. “Traveling with her father ensured that.”
“Whereas our hero was raised clinging to his mother’s skirts being spoon fed,” the Duchess of Raven said.
“Next!” Dimity called. “It will be Lord Raine.”
Gabe scowled at his wife.
“Clearly, he thought being married to her made him exempt,” Theo whispered. “Poor deluded fool.”
Gabe rose after a last glare, and made his way to Mary, where he took the book.
“Ascertaining which room the cry for help had come from, she knocked on the door,” he read.
“Wait,” Michael Deville said. “She ran on board a ship, past sailors, and stops at the door behind which she believes someone is in need of help?”
“She is nothing if not polite,” Ella said.
“’Those within are you well?’ She knocked on the door again,” Gabe said in a credible Dorothea. “’May I enter?’”
“Politeness only goes so far. What if whoever is inside has a swollen throat and can’t speak?” Beth asked.
“Or they are being held with a knife at their throat,” Ruby added.
“’Enter!’” Gabe snapped. “Lady Nauticus turned the handle and stepped inside to face her future.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Cambridge Sinclair said. “She can’t know he’s her future yet.”
“When you know, you know,” his sister, the Duchess of Raven, said.
“Very eloquent, my love,” her husband added.
“Next! Lord Montgomery.”
“You’ll pay for that,” Theo growled at Dimity, which had Iris laughing.
He then slid from the pew and walked to Gabe, who handed him the book. They exchanged a few words, and then Theo stood facing them. His handsome face was composed and showed nothing of what he was thinking, a trick he’d learned many years ago.
“’I am Lady Nauticus,’” she said to the man lying prostrate on the narrow cot. Rushing to his side, she dropped to her knees. “’How may I help you?’” She asked. “’I fear I am not long for this world,’” the man said in a pitiful voice.
Theo changed character voices with ease, and Iris guessed he’d had plenty of practice during his years as Lord Plunge. Looking at him up there, she wondered how others had not seen through him. Tall, handsome, and every inch the powerful nobleman he was.
“’I have a boil that needs lancing on my toe,’” the man said.
“Surely that is not how they met?” Ella demanded. “Could he not have had something less… less—”
“Real?” Henry asked.
The laughter in the church now was louder, and the somber mood was still there, but as the duchess had wanted, there was now also humor.
Ella shot Iris’s son an exasperated look. “Something more romantic. This is a novel about romance and love, surely?”
“Hi, Grandpapa!” Evie shrieked.
“Hello, Evie.” Theo waved to his granddaughter who was now standing on their son Patrick’s legs. “’Then I will see it done,’” Lady Nauticus said. “’But I fear you cannot sail for some time, as you must let it heal,’” Theo continued. “’Then if you will assist me, I will come to shore with you my dear lady.’”
A few sighs followed that.
“I will read now but not from the first book in the Captain Broadbent and Lady Nauticus series,” Dimity said. She accepted the large handkerchief Gabe handed her and then made her way to where Theo still stood.
Iris watched him hug her gently and thought her husband was indeed a wonderful kind soul.
“The Duchess of Yardly was my friend,” Dimity began. “We understood each other when we had no one else to do so.”
Those who knew Dimity’s story sniffed. Iris was one of them. Theo returned to his seat and took her hand in his.
“I loved her like a grandmother. Crotchety, opinionated, and fiercely loyal, she was a woman of strong convictions and did not suffer fools, of which she told me, there were plenty in society.”
Even with red-rimmed eyes and a pale face, Dimity was beautiful. Dressed in black, age had done little to diminish the personality and appearance of Lady Raine.
“Number eleven on her list of things she wanted for her funeral was me reading her favorite passage from Lucan, because, and I quote, ‘so the heathens in the room can understand what a true poet sounds like.’” That had everyone laughing loudly.
As Dimity read in her lovely voice, they listened and took a moment to remember the woman who had been many things to many people. She’d just finished when the door to the church opened, drawing all eyes.
Two of the King’s guards entered, followed seconds later by the monarch.
“Good Lord,” Zach whispered.
Dressed in black, he wore a velvet cape with gold braiding. Nodding as he walked down the aisle, the guests scrambled to their feet and bowed or curtseyed, shock evident on their faces. The monarch stopped before Dimity, took her hand and kissed it. He then walked to the coffin of the Duchess of Yardley and bent to kiss that.
He then left as fast as he’d come.
“Well,” Gabe said rising. “I think after that we should call a halt to proceedings, as I think the duchess would be most happy over what has transpired.”
No one disagreed.
Snow swirled in the frigid air around Monty as he raised his hand and knocked four times on the worn wooden door.
The summons had come two days after the Duchess of Yardly’s funeral. He was needed in his duty to Alexius, and had left a warm house and his family, to come here.
Opening the door, he entered. The room was full of Deville’s all cloaked like him. Geraint sat at the table. A single candle burned offering little light.
“Veritas scutum tibi erit,” Geraint said.
“Veritas scutum tibi erit,” Monty and the others replied.
“Speed things along, Geraint. It’s bloody freezing in here,” Zach muttered. He received an elbow in his side from Michael for his words.
“Two days ago we buried the Duchess of Yardly,” Geraint began.
“Your aunt,” Zach added.
“Her late husband, as you know, was a member of Alexius,” Geraint continued ignoring Zach.
They all nodded, wondering why he was discussing something they already knew.
Geraint cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable.
“Yes, well, she did not wish for his ring to be buried with her.”
“Finally,” Zach said smiling. “She has bequeathed it to me?”
Gabe rolled his eyes. It was a well-known fact the youngest Deville was not happy that his brother, as the eldest Deville, and Earl of Raine, wore one of the original ten rings forged from goblets said to be used by William the Conqueror in 1066.
“The duchess did in fact not leave it to any of you,” Geraint cleared his throat again.
“Well then who did she leave it too?” Nathan asked.
“As to that she wanted it to go to someone new. The person concerned found out this morning and should be along shortly,” Geraint said not meeting anyone’s eye.
“Are you unwell, Geraint?” Monty asked him. “You look pale.”
“I’m well, thank you, Lord Montgomery.”
A knock sounded on the door four times.
“I’ll get it,” Monty said before Geraint could rise. “If they are new, they may not know to enter.
Turning the old iron ring, he swung the door open. Seconds later he was smiling. Leaning forward Monty kissed a soft cheek. “My guess is he doesn’t know?”
She shook her head.
“Well come along then, let’s not keep them waiting any longer.”
Wiping the smile off his face Monty waved her before him and followed.
“No!” Gabe bellowed.
“Yes!” Mary cried.
“Dear lord,” Nathan said.
“Well now, it’s about time to my way of thinking,” Zach said smiling.
“Hello, Dimity,” Forrest said. “That cloak looks good on you.”
“I like the ring on the chain, it suits you also,” Michael added to annoy Zach.
“It is the Duchess of Yardley’s wish that Dimity wear her ring and be part of Alexius. She approached the King with her wishes before she passed, and he, after some robust discussion, agreed to acquiesce to her wishes. The ring will always be in the possession of a lady carrying the Countess of Raine’s blood from this day forth,” Geraint said in a tight voice.
Monty, who had been watching Gabe, saw the moment the shock fell from his face to be replaced by a smile.
“I’m really only here for the pies you all get after,” Dimity said.
Gabe got out of his seat and came to where she stood. He bowed before her. “Veritas scutum tibi erit, my love”.