My Lord John

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9780099476429: My Lord John

John, Duke of Bedford grew to manhood fighting for his father, Henry IV of England. A prince of the royal blood, loyal, strong, the greatest ally that his brother — the future Henry V — was to have. Filled with the clash of bitter rivalries and deadly power struggles, this is Georgette Heyer’s last and most ambitious novel.

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About the Author:

Author of over fifty books, Georgette Heyer is the best-known and best-loved of all historical novelists, making the Regency period her own. Her first novel, The Black Moth, published in 1921, was written at the age of fifteen to amuse her convalescent brother; her last was My Lord John. Although most famous for her historical novels, she also wrote eleven detective stories. Georgette Heyer died in 1974 at the age of seventy-one.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One

M. de Guyenne

1

The children had been sent to play in the herber with Kate Puncherdown. The damsel hired to serve the youngest of four nobly born imps was glad to escape from indoor tasks on a bright June day, but she thought it due to her dignity to tell Agnes Rokster that it did not lie within her duty to wait upon the Lord John. Agnes said: ‘I am sure it is never my lording who makes unease in the nursery! You may take him to oblige me.'

‘You may take him because you are bid!' said Johanna Waring.

‘Oh, well, to oblige you, Agnes !' said Kate.

Johanna resented this, and took an unthinking revenge. ‘And if I were you,' she said disastrously, ‘I would not let my lord Humfrey go a step without you hold his leading-strings, for he looks so baggingly, poor sweeting, that I dread to see him walk into a wall and break his sely nose!'

This was importable provocation. My lord Humfrey had an irregularity in his left eye, but to say that he squinted was a piece of wicked despite. My lord Humfrey he was not two years old was a child of singular promise: intelligent, well-grown, and (Kate said significantly) so lusty that he had never caused his mother to feel an hour's anxiety.

The rush of colour to Johanna's cheeks should have told Kate that it was needless for her to add: ‘What a pity that my lord Harry should be so sickly, and he the eldest!'

It was fortunate that the nursery-tower lay at some distance from the Countess of Derby's chamber, for the jangle of strife would not have pleased her. But the Lady Blanche's nurse, swaddling the infant in fresh bands; and Johanna Donnesmere, who had charge of my lord Thomas, listened to the quarrel with unshadowed enjoyment, for each knew herself to be unassailable. No one could find fault with the fair babe in Isobel Staines's lap; and no one could deny that of all the Lancaster brood my lord Thomas was the stoutest as he was the most well-visaged. From the day that he had come fighting into the world (so unlike the Lord Harry, who had had to be slapped before he would draw breath!) he had not suffered a day's illness. My lord Thomas's nurse had never been obliged to sit through a distressful night because a fond grandparent had stuffed her charge with marchpane. While my lord Harry retched and retched, my lord Thomas, more than a year his junior, slept soundly beside him, no more disturbed by a surfeit of doucets than by a tumble from his pony. The worst anyone could say of my lord Thomas was that his was not an influence for peace in the nurseries; and not the most jealous nurse could pretend that a hot temper and a determination to have his own way were characteristics to be regarded with anything but pride.

When everything that could possibly be said in disparagement of one boy of seven and one infant who had just learnt to walk out of leading-strings had been uttered, the quarrel ended, and Kate took the children into the garden, carrying Humfrey down the newel-stair, and giving John her hand to hold.

The inner court was flooded with sunshine, and seemed oven-hot after the cool of the castle. It was almost surrounded by buildings, so that there was not enough stir in the air even to ruffle Kate's coif. Most of these buildings were new, including those on the south side of the court, which housed the family. Indeed, neither the Chapel, situated towards the base-court to the east, nor the Great Hall, occupying most of the western side, were quite finished. Masons and dauberers were always at work; and the ninety-foot front of the Hall was still masked by a scaffolding. Behind this, the walls, like the rest of the castle, glowed pink in the sunlight. The old Hall had looked much like the Keep, which towered at the north-east angle of the court, and had been built hundreds of years before, when even kings' palaces were lit only by slit windows; but the new Hall was quite a different style of building, with an oriel, and four other windows with pointed arches and many lights. They were richly ornamented; and ever since the family had removed from Peterborough to Kenilworth the Countess's ladies had not ceased to complain that they could hear the ‘chip-chip' of the masons' hammers even in their dreams. The nurses were not behindhand with their grutchings. It was predicted that while the Lady Blanche lost her sleep the lordings would break their necks, clambering over the scaffolding, and losing their footholds. But the Lady Blanche slept through the worst of the hammering; and although the lordings fulfilled the expectations of those who knew them best by swarming all over the scaffolding, and driving every honest craftsman out of his five wits by the pertinacity of their questions, not one of them had yet been picked up lifeless in the court.

The lordings loved Kenilworth: loved it so much that throughout their lives it remained in their hearts a place of happiness, rosy-hued, and soaked in sunshine.

2

To reach the herber, which lay beyond the inner curtain wall, the little party had to pass the base of the Grand Staircase, which led up to the door into the Great Hall, traverse the kitchen courtyard, and go through a postern. It took time to accomplish the journey, since Kate allowed herself to be detained in the kitchen-court by a man-at-arms in the blue-and-white livery of the family; but the herber was reached at last, and my lord Humfrey set upon his feet. Too young to be interested in the disports of his brothers, he toddled off on some ploy of his own, and was soon happily engaged fast by the Swan Tower, a look-out built in the angle of the barbican. John paid no heed to his away-going, but squatted down with the toy he had found in the depths of a hutch in the nursery.

It was a fascinating toy, originally one of a pair, given to Thomas by Cousin Richard, the King: two puppets, clad in armour, each holding in one hand a sword and in the other a buckler. The limbs were jointed, and there were strings attached to them, so that if you learned to manipulate them cunningly the puppets could be made to fight, like real knights. Only God and the devil knew what Cousin Richard had paid for them, had said Bel sire, their grandfather, when he saw them. Fool-largesse, he called the gift; but perhaps that was because it had been bestowed on Thomas, rather than on Harry, or on John, who was his namesake, and his favourite grandson. Only one of the mammets had survived Thomas's rough handling, and that one had long outworn its novelry, and had been tossed into the hutch, to lie forgotten there until John discovered it.

It was hard for the fingers of a four-year-old to manipulate the mammet, but impatience was not one of John's failings. He set himself to master the toy; and Kate, seeing him thus absorbed, presently yielded to the becks of the man-at-arms, and left the curtilage. The children were quite safe: neither was old enough to climb the wall, and so tumble into the mere which lay at the foot of the castle mound; and if John took it into his head to explore the scaffolding round the Great Hall he would be obliged to pass through the kitchen-court on his way to it, and must so come under her eye again.

No such ambition crossed John's mind; he was engrossed with the puppet, and would have continued to struggle with the wayward movements of its limbs had he not been interrupted. Thomas, released from his lessons, came bounding across the greensward, pulled up short beside his brother, stared for a moment, and then exclaimed: ‘That's mine!'

A mulish look came into John's face. He clutched the mammet to his chest, but said nothing.

‘Give it to me!' ordered Thomas, stretching out his hand.

‘No!' said John.

This seemed to Thomas a monstrous thing. ‘Why, you buzzard, you you hell-puck!' he cried, borrowing from the vocabulary of those worshipful craftsmen at work on the Great Hall. ‘Give it to me at once!'

Abusion left John unmoved; but as Thomas snatched at the manikin he quickly laid it down behind him on the grass. Unlike Thomas, who would have torn it asunder in the struggle to get possession of it, he was determined that it should not be broken in the inevitable fight. The next instant both the noble lordings were locked in what bore all the appearance of a death-grip. Thomas was a year older than John, but John was the more powerfully built, able to hold his own for several minutes. In the end, Thomas would overpower him, but he had once succeeded in tripping Thomas, and although he had been too much surprised to take advantage of this triumph he hoped one day to do it again, and to follow it up in a suitable fashion.

Neither combatant was destined on this occasion to bring the other to the ground; they were wrenched suddenly apart, and found that their eldest brother, Harry, was between them. ‘Fliting again!' said Harry, in mimicry of Johanna Waring. ‘What's amiss?'

Thomas, always jealous of Harry, said, ‘Nothing to do with you!' and tried to close with John again.

Harry held him off. He was a slim boy, but surprisingly strong. ‘Stint!' he ordered. ‘I said, what's amiss?'

Thomas might resent Harry's assumption of authority, but he knew better than to provoke his anger. He said: ‘He stole my mannikin!'

Harry turned his eyes towards John. ‘I did not!' John declared, going very red in the face at such a knavish accusation.

‘What mannikin? Whose is it?' demanded Harry.

‘Mine!' shouted Thomas.

‘John?' said Harry, keeping his eyes on him.

Harry had very bright eyes, the colour of hazel-nuts. When he was pleased they were as soft as a dove's, but when anything angered him their expression would suddenly change, and then they more nearly resembled the eyes of the lions painted on Bel sire's shield. The smallest feeling of guilt made it impossible to meet their challenge. John did not attempt the feat. He began to dig a hole in the greensward with the toe of one foot, and kept his gaze lowered. ‘Well,' he said. ‘Well...'

He was almost felled to the ground by the buffet Harry dealt him. ‘Give it to Thomas!' Harry commanded.

He picked it up, and held it out rather blindly, since his eyes were watering. By the time he had blinked away this moisture Harry had gone, and Thomas, the mammet lying disregarded at his feet, was staring in astonishment towards the postern.

John eyed him, but without much fear of reprisals. Thomas fell out of his rages as quickly as he fell into them, and never bore malice. He turned to look at John, exclaiming, ‘He took my part!'

John sniffed. ‘You knew he would!'

‘No, I never thought it! Why did he?'

‘He knew it was your mannikin,' said John, manfully owning the truth.

‘But he likes you best!' said Thomas.

This put all thought of the puppet out of John's head. There was no one whom John loved as he loved Harry, but it had not occurred to him that a brother removed from him by such a span of time as three years could prefer him to Thomas. He said: ‘No, d-does he?'

‘No force! I was sure he would give the mammet to you!'

‘No,' said John. ‘It was yours.'

‘Well, if I liked anyone best I would take his part!' declared Thomas.

‘Harry wouldn't.'

‘He ought to!'

‘Not if it is wrong. Not Harry.'

‘Oh, wrong!' said Thomas. Tired of the discussion, he added: ‘Here, you may have the mammet! I don't want it!'

But when they looked for the mannikin it had vanished, because Humfrey, who had deserted his play to watch the fight between his brothers, had borne it off while they argued. By the time it occurred to them that he must have taken it, he had grown tired of a toy too intricate for him to manage, and had abandoned it in a bed of gillyflowers. When Thomas demanded to be shown where he had dropped it, his lip trembled, and he said piteously, ‘Kate!' which was one of the few words he knew.

‘I daresay he doesn't understand,' observed John.

‘Yes, he does,' said Thomas, giving Humfrey a shake. ‘Show me, Humfrey!'

Whether or not Humfrey understood what it was that Thomas wanted, he perfectly understood that Thomas was displeased with him, and he broke into lamentation. His cries brought Kate Puncherdown to his rescue, her kirtle caught up in both hands, and her coif askew. She snatched him up, calling him her pig's eye, her cinnamon, her honey-hive, and scolding Thomas for having hurt him.

‘What a little swineshead he is!' remarked Thomas. ‘I didn't hurt him!'

Kate wiped Humfrey's blubbered cheeks with the palm of her hand. He stopped crying, and suddenly chuckled. ‘Thomas!' he uttered.

Thomas knew that it was cunning, not fear, which had prompted Humfrey to set up a yell, but he was unresentful. No one could be angry with Humfrey for long. He said: ‘Oh, well! Make him show where he put the mammet, Kate!'

After some persuasion Humfrey pointed to the gillyflowers, but before his brothers had found the toy Kate said sharply: ‘Listen!'

They stood still, their heads jerked up.

‘In the base-court! Someone has arrived!' said Kate.

3

When my lord Derby was from home his castles were so quiet that the visits of such everyday folk as a pardoner, selling indulgences; a chapman, with knacks to tempt the maids; or a wainsman, with a load of merchandise sent from London, were events of interest. The children made for the postern as fast as their legs would carry them. Thomas reached it first, and darted through it to the kitchen-court. Kate, hampered by Humfrey on her arm, brought up the rear. Her ears had not deceived her: someone had certainly arrived at Kenilworth, and someone of more importance than a chapman or a pardoner. The castle, which had before drowsed in the sunshine, now seemed to be alive with expectancy. Kate saw Thomas, and, shifting Humfrey to sit astride her hip, called out to him, ‘Who is it, lording?'

‘A herald!' shouted Thomas.

‘Whose?' panted John.

Thomas was not sure. It was an important part of any young bachelor's education to learn to recognise at a glance the shield, the colours, and the badges of a gentle family, but it was not an easily-mastered lesson, and he was not six years old, after all. He said: ‘Well, I only saw him a hand-while. They have taken him in to Mother.'

‘Perhaps he has brought a letter from my lord,' said Kate, in the voice of one resigned to disappointment.

The lordings discarded this suggestion as unworthy. A herald would certainly be employed on such an errand, but it was more likely that this one had been sent to warn the Countess of the arrival of some distinguished visitor. A dizzy thought entered John's head, perhaps because Thomas's mannikin had brought Cousin Richard to his remembrance. ‘Do you think it is the King?'

Thomas stood spellbound for a moment. It was impossible that children of quick in-wit, living in a large household, should not have grasped from the clapping of servants that Cousin Richard was not universally held in high esteem, but in their eyes he was a magnificent personage, distributing largesse with a lavish hand, and indulging small cousins in a manner as gratifying to them as it was displeasant to their preceptors. He was said to hold exalted ideas of his state; but whenever the children had been in his company it had been with a conscience-stricken effort that they had remembered to say ‘Sire,' and ‘Pleaseth it your Majesty,' as they had been taught. Even Harry forgot the deference due to Cousin Richard when Cousin Richard called him his little nuthead, and played at kyle-pins with him, and pretended to hold him in awe, because (he said) he thought he must be the Henry of whom it was long ago prophesied that he would achieve such great...

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