This Duchess of Mine Page 53


“I’ve come for my son,” he said to her.

A flash of pain crossed Mrs. Jobber’s eyes. “You’re taking him?”

Of course she would have come to feel affection for the lad. Of course she would. It was what any reasonable parent would prefer. “If you would be so kind,” he said, bowing.

She stepped back, holding the door open, so Villiers left his footmen outside and followed her into the shadowy house. It smelled like flour and apples. “He’s just down for a nap,” she whispered.

“A nap?” By Villiers’s estimation, this child had to be twelve years old. He hadn’t napped at that age. Well, as far as he remembered.

“We’ll have to be quiet,” she said. “They all sleep together, of course.”

“Do you take in many children?”

“I’ve five at the moment, four girls and he. He’s a sweet one.” She stopped and turned, her arms crossed over her bosom. “Did someone tell you aught about the way I’m raising these children? Because it’s a lie. I never take more than five, and they have their own beds. They go to church of a Sunday, and wear a clean pinafore every other day. There’s no—”

“Absolutely not,” he said. But she seemed to be owed an explanation, though it irked him to do so. “I have decided to rear my son in my own house.”

“In your house?”

He allowed a flash of annoyance to cross his face, and then stated, “I shall rear my baseborn children under my own roof.”

“Goodness me,” she said, looking not the least afraid. “That does make me feel better about letting him go. I’ve come to love him.” She opened a door to a sitting room full of rather faded but clean furniture.

“If you’ll wait here, I’ll tiptoe in and bring him out. I’m afraid he’ll be a mite crotchety.”

“I am frequently crotchety,” Villiers observed, sitting down. “The boy wouldn’t be my son without the trait.”

The boy was not his son.

This child was as plump as a sofa, if sofas came in baby sizes. His eyes were like little dark currants peering out from all that fat. Villiers felt an instant dislike for him.

The baby apparently felt the same, given his bellows.

Villiers came to his feet. “I’m afraid there’s been some mistake,” he said to the woman, who was energetically patting the fat piglet and whispering things to it. “My son is twelve years old, and his name is Tobias.” It wasn’t a name he would have chosen, but it wasn’t terrible.

“What?”

He raised his voice over the child’s blubbering.

“My son is nine years old. Perhaps even ten,” he added, being rather uncertain about that matter himself.

She plumped into a chair, staring at him as if he’d shocked her to the bone. “You’re Juby’s da. You’re Juby’s da? I never knew more than that he was a gentleman. Templeton promised that.”

“A duke is a gentleman,” Villiers informed her, resisting the temptation to take out the sheet of foolscap in his pocket and consult it. “And my son’s name is definitely not Juby. It’s Tobias.”

“We all called him Juby.”

“Ah.” That was regrettable. It sounded like the name one might give to a racehorse who would almost win the Derby, but not quite. “Could you please call Tobias, and we shall be on our way?”

“He’s not here,” the woman said, still staring. “I do think I see some resemblance. He’s got a way about him and you have it too.”

“If you would be so kind as to call him?”

“He doesn’t live here anymore. Templeton said as how he had to go to school.” Her face darkened. “I don’t mind telling you that I don’t like your man Templeton.”

“Because he sent the boy to school?” Villiers inquired, wondering in the back of his mind why Templeton had provided this address, rather than that of the school.

“He would come here and look about the place as if he were a duke himself,” she said, scowling. She’d managed to get the little lump on her shoulder back to sleep. “And he never gave the slightest bit toward a name day present or anything of that nature. Not Twelfth Night either. And then one day he ups and takes Juby off to school, without as much as a by-your-leave.”

“I placed no limitations on the child’s support,” Villiers said. “I regret that Templeton did not interpret my instructions to include appropriate gifts.” He had never thought of such a thing himself. He made a mental note to have a generous amount sent to Mrs. Jobber on the morrow.

“I can see from the sight of you that you didn’t know of it,” she said resignedly, rocking back and forth to keep the babe asleep. “At least you’re here. There’s many a man never even touches his child in the whole of his life, you know. The babes go from my house to an apprenticeship, and that’s the end of it.”

“Could you give me the address of the school?” Villiers inquired. The fat baby was drooling on her shoulder, and he felt a strong urge to leave the premises.

“He took him to Grindel’s in Wapping,” the woman said. “I wouldn’t have chosen it myself. Not for Juby. He’s a smart one. He could be anything. You could have apprenticed him to a goldsmith, or even the rag-and-bone man, and he’d be mayor of London someday. That’s what we always teased him with. That he’ll be mayor of London, just like Dick Whittington.”

Villiers sighed inwardly. She followed him out, still talking of Juby. Just before the door he paused. “How many years had you the care of Tobias?”

“He was brought to me at just a few weeks,” she said promptly, “and Templeton took him from me two years ago. Horrid little thing he was as a babe, as thin as you can imagine.” She lovingly caressed the plump back she held. “Not like Edward here. Edward is the son of a baron, you know.” She drew herself up. “I take in only the best.”

“Were you adequately paid for your trouble?”

“Four guineas a month, just as I requested, and I thank you for that. Plus all doctor’s expenses, though Juby wasn’t one to get sick. Once I managed to get him plumped up, nothing stopped that boy.”

Villiers groaned inwardly. So he was looking for a junior-sized sofa who went by a dubious name.

“You’ll love Juby,” she said. “We miss him so. He made dolls for the girls, you know. Out of string and bits of wood. They were always hanging on him, begging for a story.”

Villiers had one thought in response to that information: Juby couldn’t be his son. Impossible.

“It’s an odd thing, you taking him in. Will he be in the stables? He does like horses.”

Naturally he would, with that nickname. “Madam,” Villiers said, “he will not be in the stables.”

“He won’t be good in the kitchens,” she prophesied.

“The cook will have a fit. That boy likes to eat.” She beamed proudly.

“I shall do my best to keep him fed.”

She put out a hand and touched his sleeve. Villiers froze. He greatly disliked being touched. “Will you let him visit me now and again? I’ve seen him only two or three times since Templeton took him to Grindel’s. He ran away once, but they took him back again. I do miss him.”

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