The Duke And I
The Duke And I
Author: Mjay
One

"You will become the English Duke's ward!" 

The words, spoken several hours ago, still rung in Jonathan’s ear. Master Nicholas had gone, and since then he’d strolled out into the garden, where he found it best to dwell on his thoughts. 

Of course, this would happen to them. He’d been expecting it ever since they heard the news, pitiful as it were. It was just like their parents to stroll off on a doomed voyage and leave their children behind to the mercy of the world. 

He would never forget the wail of despair from Cassandra when the letter arrived. A bit melodramatic, truth be told, but one could forgive her for being so suddenly struck by grief. 

The barrister certainly didn’t see things that way. 

“I don’t see what all the fuss is about, really,” he’d said with a pompous air which made Jonathan wish he could punch the soggy old man right across the face. “These things happen, of course,” he’d said. “As terrible as it is, one mustn’t dwell on them too much. And now, we must discuss the future. Important decisions have to be made after all.”

And then he proceeded to suggest an incredulous idea. Or rather, an incredulous requisition which both he and Cassandra would have to obey. 

“For heaven’s sake!” he’d sworn loudly upon hearing what the barrister had to say. “Move to England? Why, in the name of everything that is pure and holy, would we want to do that? Our parents just died.”

“Your parents are the ones who arranged all this in the case of an untimely death,” he’d said, a bit flustered. “Not that death at any time isn’t untimely of course.”

Gritting his teeth, Jonathan shook his head. "I refuse to be shipped off like some worthless piece of cargo to serve at the hands of some pompous English Duke I’ve never even heard of. I would rather die."

“While you may be able to go off on your own,” master Nicholas had said, “do you wish for your sister to suffer as well?”

Therein, lied his cause of distress. No matter how many times Jonathan turned his words over, taking them down to polish them before returning them to their rightful place, he couldn’t see a solution which would satisfy both he and his sister. 

She found him in the garden shortly afterwards, so engrossed in his thoughts that he didn’t hear her coming. 

“I brought you some tea,” she said once he spotted her, setting down a tray laden with two cups, a bowl of sugar, an old teapot he’d never quite liked and a plate of biscuits. A part of him felt she’d only thought about it because they’d spent the morning talking about England, where the English folk were known to offer tea as though it were the only reasonable choice of refreshment. 

“You’re not still thinking about that old gink, are you?” she asked, sitting on the grass beside him. Jonathan sat beside her solemnly, staring at the tea as though it had offended him. 

“John,” Cassandra said, placing a hand delicately on his knee, “forget about it. Really.”

“How can I?” he said sadly. “Father and Mother have left us in a mess. Why they even thought about moving to England in the first place baffles me.”

“It’s not their fault,” Cassy said, with a sadness in her voice which tugged at his heart. He thought of master Nicholas again, and he frowned because he found himself agreeing with him. 

"And what about your sister?” he’d asked. “Do you wish for her to suffer, too?" 

“I never said that,” Jonathan had insisted. 

“It’s what you’re implying,” Master Nicholas pressed his advantage when he saw the flicker of uncertainty on Jonathan's face. "Think about it! An extensive tour abroad, an excellent education, a title, all that wealth and position can offer, and it will be yours. Men would kill to have opportunities like this."

“Then let them,” Jonathan had said. “A life of English aristocracy is not for me.”

And he was right. The English were known for their pompous way of life, stringent rules of etiquette dictating their lives down to the letter. He couldn’t imagine himself in servitude to another man, Duke or otherwise. 

Cassandra noticed the discomfort on his face, and she offered him a biscuit to tease his playful side which she was so used to. Jonathan smiled at the gesture, and for a brief moment, all was well. 

They sat in silence, while the tree overhead swayed with the wind. Beside them were several fallen apples, most of them beginning to rot from being overripe. Jonathan had never liked the fruits, having eaten dozens of them in his childhood. The garden held two apple trees on either side, with a red maple in the middle which blocked most of the sky when one stood underneath it. 

“I wish mother’s will had never been found,” Cassandra said suddenly. Jonathan, who thought the matter was settled, for now, looked up at her. 

“I would have agreed to the suggestion if merely it were affording us both a comfortable life. But I cannot marry an old Duke I’ve never even met,” she said, turning to face the maple tree so he wouldn’t see her tears. 

“Cassy,” Jonathan said as he reached out and touched her cheek fondly, “I would never ask you to do that.”

In truth, he’d initially refused the plan merely because it was the right thing to do. But when master Nicholas said that Cassy was to be married off to the duke, that was when he put his foot down. 

Cassandra had done nothing but look mortified when the idea was presented, and so Jonathan had spoken in her stead. 

“Have you lost your mind?” he’d thundered. 

“There’s no need for that now,” master Nicholas had said with an air of irritation. “The Duke is a decent man, very powerful and respectable. He would make a decent husband for anyone, not just your sister. And while she remains his wife, you will serve as his ward until you come of age, and inherit the estate.”

“My sister will marry whomever she damn well chooses,” he’d said, loud enough to drive the point home. Cassandra had said nothing, barely even moving until Jonathan moved to her side and placed a hand on her shoulder. She held his hand then, leaning into his touch and allowing her tears to flow silently. 

“Cassy,” he said now as she refused to look at him, “I would never allow them to do that to you. I will not. If you will not marry the duke, then not even the Queen of England can say otherwise.”

“And what about you?” Cassy asked through the tears. “You heard master Nicholas. If you refuse to become the duke’s ward, then father and mother’s estate will be sold to taxes.”

“I don’t care,” he said stubbornly. “I don’t mind having to work for the rest of my life to care for you if that is what needs to be done.”

“Perhaps if mother had simply married an English man, then all these problems wouldn’t have risen,” Cassy said in a quiet voice. “I remember her once telling me that her father was displeased with the idea of her marrying a colonial, and that was why they were forced to leave England with father.”

"Then I’m sure he would definitely be upset that a colonial inherited his estates and title," Jonathan said with a chuckle, remembering the lengthy explanation the barrister had given earlier of the English system of inheritance.

Cassy was simmering with hurt, rage, and rejection even as Jonathan tried to comfort her. It seemed as if master Nicholas was right, and that there was precious little they could do about the whole situation. But she and Jonathan had never been separated in all their seventeen years, and it seemed cruel to separate them now, with their parents dead only for a few months. Her throat hurt with the pain of their dilemma, and she wondered if perhaps there wasn't another solution for her and her twin. Marriage to a man she’d never even met? She would rather remain a spinster for the rest of her life.

“You think he will return?” she asked. 

“Most likely,” Jonathan sighed. “He seems hellbent on this idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if he returned this evening to try and convince us both. But I’d rather be left to the mercies of the world, as he’d put it.”

When Cassy turned to look at him, however, and he saw the look in her eyes, he shot to his feet immediately, alarmed. 

“You cannot seriously be considering this, Cassy,” he said. “It’s madness. I refuse to have our lives dictated for us by some aristocratic dink, powerful Earl or otherwise.”

“But we have to think about it,” she said. “It’s a decent life, and you need not worry about food or shelter.”

“I can’t have you marrying him,” he insisted. “Not when you’ve never even met him. What if he turns out to be a hundred years old with nearly all his teeth fall out?”

“I’m not talking about myself,” she said. “I’m talking about you.”

“What about me?”

“You should go to England and be his ward,” she said. “It’s the only way you inherit the estate. All that wealth; it’d be a shame for it to be lost when mother wished so dearly for you to have it.”

"I don't care," Jonathan protested. "I'll be with you, and that'll be enough."

The rage on his face brought out the stark resemblance between them. Cassy had always found comfort in the fact that she could always count on Jonathan to be by her side through thick and thin. She liked to think that God had sent them to the world together for a reason; to watch each other’s back. Jonathan had always kept his own end of the bargain, ever since he’d learned to stick by her side. Perhaps it was time she returned the favour. 

The idea came so suddenly, with the gentle thud of a ripe apple falling from the tree. Cassy felt a hollowness spreading across her chest, and for a moment she was transported far from the scene, and Jonathan’s rage and argument meant nothing to her as the plan began to form in her head. It began as mere strands of thought, weaving in and out of each other until she began to see a clear picture in her head. There was a lot of polishing to do, but soon the plan began to take form, like a creation she’d brought up from scratch, tweaking any imperfections until it was just as she intended. 

“I’ll go,” she whispered into the wind. It took a while before Jonathan heard her clearly. 

“What?”

“I’ll go to England.”

“Were you not hearing what I said?” he asked, the expression on his face as though she’d gone mad. “You’re not about to throw your life away for my sake.”

“Don’t be silly, Jon,” she said. “You’d do the same for me, wouldn’t you?”

“That’s not the point,” he said stubbornly. 

“It has always been the point.” And then she told him her plan. At first, he listened reluctantly, arms folded across his chest with a stubborn look in his eyes. But as she explained it more, he began to see the sense in it. 

By the time she was done, even he, Jonathan Trenton, stubborn as he was, had to admit that it was a brilliant plan. 

*

Cassy stared defiantly into the cheval mirror. The scissors were held in one hand, while the dark, silky lengths of her freshly cut her were draped her the other. Gazing at her reflection now, even with the close-cropped curls which now crowned her head, she decided that she looked nothing like her brother. Where Jonathan was virile and long-limbed, she was more feminine and of average build. It didn’t help that he was taller than her by several inches and that his face was already beginning to darken with the faint appearance of a beard. She’d slipped into a pair of snug-fitting, buff-coloured trousers that used to belong to him a year ago. Even now, they still dropped over her heels. The white frilled shirt was baggy, and the colourful waistcoat hung past her slender waist.

"Maybe if I put on this coat," Cassy murmured and shrugged into her brother's large, unfitted coat with claw hammer tails. Fortunately, the intricate cravat and high collars of the shirt hid her more feminine attributes and kept her secret from being readily guessed. All in all, she finally decided as she paraded in front of the mirror, it was a passable imitation.

When she emerged from her room, Jonathan stared at her astonishingly, as though she’d take leave of her senses. 

“Don’t say a word,” she said upon the look on his face. 

“I still think it’s madness,” he said. 

“It’s going to work,” she insisted stubbornly, and her tone suggested to Jonathan that she was trying to will herself as well. 

She was to meet master Nicholas at Hampton Road docks, where she would board a ship to England. 

“Do I look convincing enough?” she asked cheerfully. 

“Not in the least,” Jonathan replied with a frown. “But I don’t think you’re about to change your mind regardless of what I say.”

“On that you’re right,” she said. An important detail had been overlooked, however; her footwear.

“These are the smallest I could find,” Jonathan presented a pair after she explained it to him. There was still a tad too big, and she was forced to stuff handkerchiefs into the toes to keep them from coming off completely. The final effect was a rather odd one when she hobbled from the house, afraid that she would lose a boot with each step.

“Write to me,” Jonathan said as he escorted her out and held her hands. “Whenever you can. I want to know that you’re safe and happy. Otherwise, I’ll march down to England myself and pluck you from his clutches.”

“I know you will,” she said with an uncertain smile. She tried not to cry. It was only when she finally got into a carriage and they rolled off into the distance, with Jonathan’s silhouette getting smaller and smaller until it disappeared, that she allowed herself to cry. 

It wouldn’t be easy. Of that she was certain. But she told herself that the plan would work. It had to. She’d gone over every fine detail over and over again until it was nearly perfect. Despite her sorry state, even she had to admit that it was a brilliant plan, and she was surprised that she’d managed to come up with it on her own. 

And the plan was this:

For the next five months, at least until both she and Jonathan’s eighteenth birthday, she would assume his identity and serve as the Duke of Eastland’s ward. When asked what happened to Cassandra, she was to insist that the young girl, so innocent and filled with tales of tragic love, had decided to elope with her lover upon hearing the news that she was to be married to the Duke. 

By doing so, Cassy would be able to remain under the safety of the Duke as Jonathan, while the former, should he decide to look for her, will be sent on a wild goose chase since the same person he would be looking for will be staying right under his nose. The real Jonathan was to sell off the house immediately and move to a different state, -Cassy suggested the south- until he grew into his majority. After that, legally, he would be entitled to his parent’s estate. And once those were transferred into his name, Cassandra would then reveal herself, and thus be able to refuse the Duke’s proposal since her brother’s inheritance would be in his hands already. 

As the carriage rolled on, Cassy began to imagine horrid scenes where she would be discovered by master Nicholas and he would drag her back to the house by the ear after embarrassing her on the dock. Or worse, that the duke would discover her himself and he would have her locked up in chains for the rest of her life. But she dispelled those thoughts quickly. So long as she didn’t go swimming with him, then there was no reason why she would ever get exposed. Besides, the duke had never laid his eyes on either her or Jonathan. As far as he knew, they could look like anyone. 

When they reached the dock finally, Cassy began to panic. When she saw master Nicholas standing impatiently, she almost asked the driver to turn around head back to the house. Steeling herself, however, she pushed the door open. 

"Where is your sister, lad?" Master Nicholas asked when she climbed clumsily out of the carriage. He was muffled in a green coat and scarf with only his eyes showing, as it was a blustery grey day.

Relief flooded over Cassy as she wordlessly handed him the small envelope with her own writing on it. The letter stated that she had departed early England, where she would meet up with Jonathan upon his arrival and that she thanked him for his kind assistance with her parent’s estate.

Nicholas gave a satisfied nod, grateful that at least the girl had been sensible. Hot-headed, impetuous young men, disheartened him. Now that Jonathan had decided to co-operate, even though the youth would not meet his eyes, he felt a sense of righteous accomplishment. What mattered now was getting the boy to England and fulfilling his obligation to the duke of Eastland. And getting back to a warm fire, he silently added with a shiver.

A short time later, Cassy stood on the deck of a heaving ship and stared out over the murky waters of the Atlantic, wondering if Jonathan was feeling the same lost emotions that she felt. Well, there was no going back now. She had begun her life as Jonathan Trenton, future earl of Levington and ward of the duke of Eastland. At least, for almost five months, she would be.

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