It was what Duncan thought of as the evening lull—the women were finished shopping, and the daylight was too faded to show off one’s togs by promenading, yet it was too early to be out for a party or rout. The streets were mostly inhabited by darting messengers going between houses and servants out running errands and stopping to gossip along the way. It meant the three of them made an odd sight, odder even than they might have done. Edward kept gawking up at the buildings so that his steps listed this way and that, and Richard reached out regularly to redirect him without his seeming to notice.
“So,” Duncan said as they walked, for Richard’s silence was like a weight, “did you arrive recently in London?”
This suitably diverted Edward from his sightseeing. “Eight days ago,” he said. “We’ve come to find—”
“Edward,” his brother said, and the word was like a cut, sharp and stinging.
“Well, anyway,” Edward went on without missing a beat, “we’ve never been, you know. To London. Where are we going?”
“My townhouse is…” Duncan felt cornered into defending himself. “It’s not, you know, Grosvenor or Berkeley, but it’s still a good neighborhood. Why, where are you staying?”
“Papa had a house, took us ages to find it,” said Edward. “Don’t know where anything is in this place. There’s so much of it.”
“So much of… London?” Duncan asked.
“All these buildings and roads,” Edward said. “Not at all like home.”
Duncan had it on his lips to ask about their home, but they had reached his townhouse, and Wilkins already had the door open. “Lay places for two more for dinner, would you?” Duncan asked, and to his credit Wilkins managed to hide any surprise as he took away hats and coats and went to do as bid.
“We’ll just…” said Duncan, leading his guests out of the entry and into the drawing room. It was small and somewhat sparse, though the yellow walls made it cheerful. He’d left it all the same as he’d inherited it, never having the inclination to change anything. Seeing the old chairs and scratched table now through others’ eyes, however, Duncan realized it might appear shabby and outdated. At least a fire warmed the space.
But then seeing his guests’ faces, Duncan wondered. For the first time Richard’s flinty expression softened to something like curiosity as he gazed around at the room, and Edward had his palms pressed together, his face lit with ecstasy. “It’s so…” Edward began, but then apparently lost his words.
Wilkins returned with a bow and announced dinner was ready.
“Gentlemen,” said Duncan, “if you would follow me.” And he led them through the double doors and across to the dining room.
Like the drawing room, the dining space was nothing special, nor was it especially large. Duncan could have fit no more than a dozen guests at table, not that he’d ever tried to fit more than half that at any given time. More often he either ate alone in the library or, when craving company, in the kitchen with Davies, Wilkins, Mrs. Bentham and Bailey.
The places for the guests had been laid to either side of the head of the table to facilitate conversation. Richard took the seat to Duncan’s right, putting Edward on his left. Duncan noted the brothers’ manners were correct and not at all stiff; they clearly came from quality.
“You were saying,” Duncan said over the mutton, “that London is not at all like your home?”
“Do you live here all the time?” Edward asked.
Duncan shook his head. “Only when the servants get bored.”
Richard cocked his head, and his grey eyes gleamed with interest. “You would not choose London over the country?”
Duncan sat back and sighed. “I don’t know,” he said after a minute’s rumination. “I’ve never had to choose.”
“But if you did? Have to choose, that is?” Edward asked.
Duncan considered. “Dove Hill is where I grew up. And it is roomier. I think… Yes, I would say I am more attached to it than here.”
“You would choose the country,” said Richard.
Duncan nodded. “Yes, I daresay I would.”
Upon later reflection, it seemed to Duncan that Richard and Edward exchanged a meaningful look when he spoke those words. But hindsight is always clearer, as they say, particularly after one has been abducted.