“There are some unpaid bills,” he observed.
“Only if the bill was absurd.”
“Perhaps I do not grasp the problem. The local candle-maker, for example, does not appear to have been paid in over a year.”
“A case in point. How on earth could we have used two hundred tallow candles? Acting as the guardian of your estate, I could not allow chicanery to continue. Either the servants are stealing candles, or the chandler is defrauding us. Either way, the bill remains unpaid until I am satisfied about the matter. Your father was very firm, very firm indeed, when it came to matters of thievery. He couldn’t abide a thief!”
“Of course not,” Simeon murmured. “Do you have any idea, Mother, why he didn’t pay the estate bills? There are a great number unanswered, from well before his death.”
“Only the thieves,” she said dismissively. “They charge us double, you know, because of the title. They think they can get away with robbery because the dukedom is so well respected.”
He doubted that. In fact, he had no doubt but that the majority of the people living around the duchy loathed the name, seeing that they had been defrauded of proper payments for years.
“And now…your apology.” She looked at him expectantly.
For the life of him, he didn’t know what he was supposed to apologize for.
He cleared his throat.
“You are just like your father!” she exclaimed. “I used to have to instruct him in the precise wording of this sort of thing as well. You have come to apologize for the dissolute manner by which you showed your lower limbs not only to myself, but to the household staff. The lower orders are highly susceptible.”
“Susceptible to what?”
“Immorality and vice, of course.”
“And my bare knees?”
“Your knees, Cosway, are not only unattractive but uninteresting. I am certain that the footmen would rather not see them, and neither would I.”
“And the immorality thereof?” Simeon enquired.
“To be unclothed before the lower orders, except in necessary situations, is to be avoided at all costs.”
“I apologize for my bare knees,” Simeon said obediently. “Your Grace, would you like me to take care of such correspondence as you are unable to manage?” He nodded toward the desk.
His mother raised an eyebrow. “Do I appear to be an invalid? No? Well, then, why on earth would I wish you to take care of my correspondence?”
“I merely thought—”
“Don’t,” his mother said magisterially. “There is rather too much thinking going on in this household. Honeydew has always been prone to thought, and I’m sure it’s bad for his digestion, as I’ve told him time and again.”
Poor Honeydew, Simeon thought. Probably spent a bit too much time thinking about how to pay bills. Guilt curdled his stomach. “Now you must forgive me,” he said, rising.
She shrieked. Simeon dropped back into his seat.
“You may not rise while I am seated,” she said, patting her chest. “Nor may you leave until I dismiss you.”
Simeon ground his teeth. “I must needs retire, Your Grace.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so?” She came to her feet nimbly enough. “You are dismissed.”
He bowed and left, feeling as angry—and as small—as a schoolboy.
February 24, 1784
The next morning the weather changed, and with it the odor in the house swelled and grew to a stench, the kind that reached out, grabbed a man’s breath, and took it away. It wasn’t that Simeon hadn’t smelled it—or worse—before. But he hadn’t expected to smell it in his own home.
He was literally staring down into a pile of shit. He dragged a hand through his hair and turned to Godfrey.
“What the hell is this?”
“The water closet?” Godfrey said.
“I see that.” He would have loved to summon up withering sarcasm, but he was too tired.
Godfrey leaned over and showing extreme bravery, peered down the hole. “Loathsome smell. I hate the water closets. The servants’ privy behind the kitchen gardens is much better.”
“So you’re telling me they’re all like this?”
“Yes. They’re always worse on damp days and it’s raining today. You should smell the house after ten days’ rain.”
“They’re not working,” Simeon said flatly. “Water closets are supposed to have water running through them. These need to be cleaned out.”
The concept had clearly never entered Godfrey’s mind. “I don’t think Honeydew would like one of the footmen to go down there,” he said. “They might never come back up. Do you know what we pay a footman?”
Simeon sighed. He knew precisely how much a footman should be paid for a year’s work—and the Cosway estate had been paying approximately half of that amount. “Footmen don’t do this sort of work. I believe iron-workers do.”
“Iron-workers?” Godfrey sounded puzzled, as well he might be. Clearly, no iron-worker had lifted a finger to the pipes in years.
“We need help.” He was going to have to postpone the wedding until the spring. Simeon raked his hand through his hair again. God knows what Isidore would make of that announcement. He could hardly tell her that his mother had become so tight-fisted that the water closets hadn’t been cleaned since the days of good Queen Bess.
“Do you suppose,” Godfrey said tentatively, “that we could possibly have a proper water closet? Do you remember the Oglethorpes in the next county? Rupert showed me their new water closet. It’s all marble. I mean, we couldn’t afford anything like that, but perhaps running water?”
Simeon backed out of the privy. “Godfrey, we can have the whole house kitted up in marble if you wish.”
Godfrey was at the stage where his legs were almost as long as the rest of him. He trotted along beside Simeon. “What do you mean?”
“We have a large, thriving estate,” he said, glancing at his little brother.
His eyes were round and his mouth was open. “Mother said we should never discuss the question of substance.”
“It’s not proper.”
“It’s not proper to have a house stink like a pigsty in summer,” Simeon said witheringly. He couldn’t criticize his mother to her face, nor yet to her child’s. But he could point out the facts. “This is an extremely profitable estate. My wanderings resulted in a second fortune. We can have running water piped into every room, though I wouldn’t know why we’d want to.”
Godfrey stumbled and almost fell over.
Simeon stopped. “Why aren’t you at Eton?” he said, something finally clicking in his brain.
“We can’t afford it,” Godfrey said. “I’ve been teaching myself since mother dismissed my tutor.”
Having left Godfrey wide-eyed at the idea that he would be attending Eton in the fall, Simeon walked back into the study and sat down. In front of him was a letter from a Mr. Pegg, requesting to be paid for the work he did between 1775 and 1780. Mr. Pegg had shoed the duke’s horses, as well as kept the carriages in good repair. And while the Peggs had long served the Dukes of Cosway, he was afraid that he would no longer be able to…