Looking in the mirror, he seemed more and more satisfied with aging. Aging has done him well and unlike most adults who looked worn out and tired, Benjamin looked pretty damn good for his age. Not like thirty-five was a bad age because it wasn't. He definitely was more mature now than his youth yet he had always been more mature than his brother.
Lady Catherine was having a ball at her summer home tonight and since she was the proprietor of "Miss Angelique's School For Women", girls from her school would be coming to the ball for their coming out. Young girls who were of age to marry and destined to become a wife to a man, but that's not what mattered. What mattered were the single inexperienced young ladies who would be attendance for their first major ball, who would crave the attention of men in attendance. Yes, meeting those fine young ladies would be the highlight of Benjamin McDaniel's night.
Benjamin did not desire marriage and everyone in the ton was aware of that. His stance on marriage was made apparent when his father died and left the dukedom to his eldest son. His mother encouraged finding an acceptable wife to produce more heirs to the dukedom and that was when Benjamin denied marriage, claiming it wasn't for him. He then left the task of producing heirs to James, his younger brother and his sister Sarah, although Sarah's children would have no claim to the dukedom unless James and Benjamin failed to provide heirs upon their death.
"Sir?" asked Benjamin's valet Stafford.
"Yes Stafford, fetch me that brown coat will you? Also, tell my brother I must have a word with him," said Benjamin.
"Yes Sir," replied Stafford before leaving and returning a moment later. "Your coat sir and Master James is on his way up sir."
"Thank you Stafford." Stafford helped Benjamin put on the coat than inspected him as was ritual and after agreeing with his master than the coat matched him well, was asked to fetch the carriage.
"Brother, you wanted to see me?" came a voice at the door.
"Yes James come here to my office!" called Benjamin. A moment later James' shaggy brown hair and brown eyes appeared at the door.
"Heavens, you look as if you have just risen. May I inquire as to last night's activities?" asked Benjamin.
James smiled and said, "Ben, you know me better than that."
"Which is precisely why I ask," replied Benjamin through smiling eyes.
"Billy Martin's aunt and cousin are in town. I was paying them a visit," James said.
"I see; well here is my problem. I was looking through these bills last night while you were calling upon William's family and found that mother has been making debts in every village she has chanced upon, and I am stuck with paying them."
"What do you want from me then, the lot falls to you brother," said James.
"Yes I understand that but when our father died he left our mother with only a certain amount of coin. Where then is she getting coin to spend in rentals throughout the county? And some of these charges are plain ridiculous!" said Benjamin, lifting up notes of paper for his brother to see.
"You think Sarah is giving money to mother?" James asked after reviewing the pages.
"I have no doubt about it. Where is Sarah getting the money from?" Benjamin asked.
"Ben, father left Sarah with an allowance of a several hundred pounds upon his death. No doubt she has been using it wisely to complete her schooling but I think she is giving some to mother as well."
"Well ask her about it. Lord only knows the girl doesn't talk to me anymore." said Benjamin.
"That could be because you threw her mother out and refused to give her money to put her up the night," suggested James.
"Perhaps I had good reason. Besides mother could have stayed with her lover if she wanted to. That is where she was spending her time the night our father died."
"Don't be so hard on the woman; Lord knows our father wasn't feeding mother's desires."
"Yes but I will always hold that woman responsible for my father's death," said Benjamin. James was about to comment further when a knock came at the door and Benjamin bid entrance.
"Sir, the carriage is ready," said Stafford.
"Thank you man, I will be there shortly."
Benjamin rose from his desk and said, "Are you not going to Lady Catherine's ball tonight?"
"Yes of course, Billy's relatives will be there. I have yet to get ready."
"Well hurry it up man and ask your darling sister if she will be riding with me or you tonight."
"I have a feeling you know the answer," said James.
"Very well then, see you there."
Stepping out of the carriage, he was quickly met by Lady Catherine and her daughter Diana.
"Benjamin, what a pleasure to have you here in our presence once again! I believe you've met my daughter Diana before. As you may know she has been away at my school learning on how to be appropriate wife, something you should have," she said.
"Lady Catherine, it is a pleasure to be here once again. And Miss Diana, as lovely as ever," he said bowing and kissing each woman on their hand.
"Pray, where are your brother and sister?" she asked.
"I fear they have not made it yet. Do not worry Lady Catherine; they shall be here soon to grace you with their presence as well."
Lady Catherine giggled, obviously swept off her feet, and said, "Oh my Benjamin McDaniel, you do any woman good."
Benjamin bowed announcing his leave and took off in search of some company.
Juliet smiled as the flock of wealthy and prestigious people passed her. At 18, this was her first major event since her parent's sent her to England's top ladies school which she spent five years of her life attending. Here she was in London, her first coming out where she was to be presented, hoping that the single men who were here tonight would be interested in her as a wife.
"Juliet, smile or no man will look your way," said Miss Emily Craven, a teacher from the school.
"Yes Miss Emily."
A young man with refined features asked for her hand and Juliet danced the waltz with him. He was friendly enough but she felt he was very cold in some respects and after dancing in his company five minutes, felt herself declining to dance the next with him.
"Look at all these single, good looking men Juliet!" exclaimed Patricia Clarke, a chum who had been in school with her.
"Patty quit acting like a chit or these men will never take you seriously," scolded Juliet.
"Jules, do you think what Miss Emily said about us possibly marrying a duke or councilmen could be true? Could it be real?" asked Patty.
"Well not when we act like little children Patty, now quit acting like a child and present yourself like a lady, as such we are!" said Juliet.
"You sound like Miss Emily," said Patricia.
The time came when Lady Catherine was to introduce her newest graduates and Juliet felt apprehension before her name was called. But when Lady Catherine called out Juliet Reinhart, she felt calm and walked down the stairs, smiling and looking into the crowds hoping to see her future husband's face somewhere.
"These young ladies will be here until the fall where they will return back to their proper homes distinguished and refined young ladies. And thank you all for coming to my ball!" announced Lady Catherine.
"That was so embarrassing," said Patricia.
"Yes, I do say it was embarrassing," said Diana.
"I thought it was exhilarating having all those people look at you knowing their attention was focused solely on you, it was wonderful," said Juliet.
"Darling, I think you will fit well as the wife of some prominent man, like a judge or something," said Patricia.
Juliet and Diana both laughed at their friend and Diana commented, "Have either of you met the McDaniel brothers? They are very good looking and very rich men. One of them, the oldest, is a duke whilst the younger brother is a marquis. It's wonderful!" exclaimed Diana.
"I have not had the pleasure of meeting either of them although I have met many gentlemen tonight," said Juliet.
"As have I, I think Frederick Coleman likes me. He danced three times with me," said Patricia.
"I know of him. A friend of my father's for many years now. He is a good man but has been married twice. Both of his wives died from illness. Well, his first, Mary, died in childbirth along with the child and the second died of some illness. It was very sad."
"Well how old is the man?" asked Juliet.
"Not very old at all, he married young. I believe he is eight and twenty," said Diana.
Patricia grinned from ear to ear, "I say not very old at all!"
"I see your eyes wandering. Have you set your sights on anyone?" asked James.
Benjamin chuckled then said, "Brother you are clearly mistaken, there is no one here whom interests me."
"I seriously doubt that," remarked James before they were joined by William Martin, Marquis of Levenshire.
"What conversation have I missed out on?" asked William.
"Nothing important old friend, just asking my brother what young lady he had deemed worth of marriage," teased James.
Benjamin ignored the jesting and William, after taking a sip from his wine said, "Well there are many lovely ladies here but I don't think any that I would marry. This whole duty of throwing a ball to meet ladies is all very depressing to me."
"Am I the only one who actually takes a minute or two to converse with one to see if there is one worthy female here?" asked James.
"You are young still James, of course you would," replied William.
Benjamin set down his wine and said, "What do you say we leave and visit one of those fine establishments in town, you know the ones that suit us men better than these little chits."
William smiled and agreed and after apprehension, James too agreed. Benjamin sought out Sarah and told her the men were leaving but the carriage would still be there for her should she need it. She simply walked away. Benjamin bid farewell to Lady Catherine and bid adieu' to her daughter Diana and as he turned to leave, he was met by the loveliest pair of blue eyes he had ever beheld.
"Oh I am so sorry, I beg your pardon," he said.
"I am so sorry Sir, I was not paying attention to where I was walking," uttered the beauty.
"Benjamin, this is one of my girls'. Juliet Reinhart, this is Benjamin McDaniel, the duke of Chesterby.
"Duke?" she whispered.
Benjamin smiled and said, "Miss Reinhart welcome to London. I hope your residence here is enjoyable. If you don't mind my brother is waiting. Goodbye."
Benjamin briskly walked away and Juliet stood quietly, forgetting all about her manners.
"Juliet, I introduce you to the duke of Chesterby and that is how you greet him?" scolded Lady Catherine.
"I am so sorry Lady Catherine, I was so shocked that I forgot," said Juliet.
"No need to worry Catherine, now that they have been introduced, Juliet may visit Benjamin without cause." commented Miss Emily. The thought put Lady Catherine's nerves to rest and the subject was not brought up again.
"What took you so long?" asked William.
"Lady Catherine was trying to match me with one of her girls," replied Benjamin.
"The lady drives me crazy sometimes, even though her husband sat on Parliament. She is not fit to be a lady," said William.
"Yes, she is kind of mousy isn't she?" asked James. His companions looked at him and he shrugged, "What? Just because I do not judge people as you do does not mean I don't have an opinion to share. Well damn it to be, I will show you chaps I am not a child anymore!" said James.
William alerted his driver to leave and soon the ball, Lady Catherine, Sarah and the blue- eyed beauty were fast behind him. A night at one of the whorehouses would quell all aching he felt since seeing the young beauty named Juliet.
The next morning Benjamin awoke with a headache. "Had too much to drink sir?" asked Stafford.
"You could say that. I want to go riding today. Fetch me my riding habit won't you Stafford?"
Stafford nodded and said, "Yes sir. The mistress came home late from the ball last night, would you like a word with her?"
Benjamin rinsed off his face with the water that was beside his bed and asked, "How late did my sister return home?"
"At about the morning hour sir, I would say two or three but the butler alerted me this morning when I woke up from my chamber. I know you asked him to keep an eye on the mistress and well, he told me to tell you sir."
"Yes that is fine. Fetch Damon won't you as well as my riding habit."
"Yes sir." A moment later Stafford returned with the habit and Damon.
"Damon what time would you say my sister arrived in the morning?" asked Benjamin as Stafford was helping him dress.
"Master, I would say about three this morning. I know it was because Jenny said she was preparing the bread at that time. And Sir, she was escorted."
Benjamin stopped and asked, "Escorted by whom?"
"Anthony Quills escorted her home sir. I watched them real close. Nothing physical but he did escort her to the door."
"What happened to the carriages I left at the ball for her?"
"They returned an hour or two before Mistress Sarah did sir."
Benjamin nodded and said, "Find Gabby and tell her to check upon my sister. I want a word with your mistress."
"Yes sir," said Damon before rushing out. "Where is my brother?" asked Benjamin.
"He left early this morning; he said he was going to visit William Martin today."
'Figures' said Benjamin inwardly and once his riding habit was on, he swiftly walked to his sister's bedroom. Gabby was just leaving when Benjamin arrived at the door.
"Master, she is not yet ready for you," she said.
"Is she dressed?" he asked.
"Yes sir but,"
"Then let me pass!" he said loudly.
"Yes sir," said Gabby before quickly leaving.
Sarah was sitting at her vanity, her maid behind her brushing her hair. "What do you want?" she asked rudely.
Benjamin looked to her maid and said, "Leave us!" which she quickly did.
Once the door behind her was closed Benjamin said, "What are the reports I'm hearing of you returning from the ball at three in the morning and in the company of Anthony Quills, the butcher's son?"
"Who was supposed to escort me after you and James left me for those whores of yours!" she responded.
"Watch your language sister and answer my question! Damn it, answer me now!"
"Anthony did escort me home but it was after I asked him. The only ones in attendance were Lady Catherine and her girls from her school. All others left. I waited for hours for you and finally Anthony and his father and mother showed up and I asked for an escort!"
"Weren't you notified that the carriage was available?" he asked his voice softer now.
"Yes I was but I was not about to leave without chaperon from a ball back home," she said.
"And you think riding unchaperoned back home with a male, an insignificant male of no ranking was any better?" he asked.
"I just wanted to get back home," she said coldly.
"Yes well, you are never to see that boy again lest you be titled the whore of Chesterby like your mother," he said.
"How dare you! You cannot control me Benji McDaniel and how dare you tell me such a thing. I am nothing like my mother!" she yelled.
"On the contrary sister, you are every bit like her and from today on you are on probation. When your friends come calling they will be dismissed until further notice!" he angrily said.
"I hate you! I hate you!" she yelled.
Benjamin looked at her grimly and said, "That may be so Sarah but I will protect this family the best way I can. Eventually I know you will understand," he said before leaving the bedroom. Sarah's maid was waiting outside the door and Benjamin told her, "You keep an eye on her and she sets foot out that door you will hear from me!"
Benjamin walked down the stairs to the foyer when Damon came after him. "Your horse is ready sir."
"Thank you Damon."
"Uh sir? There is a guest in the sitting room."
"A guest? Who?"
Upon entering the sitting room he knew exactly who it was. It was the little blue eyed beauty from the ball last evening.
"Miss, how may I help you?" he asked surprised.
"Sir, I am not sure if you remember me. I am Juliet Reinhart, from Lady Catherine's ball last night. I just came by to apologize."
"Whatever for?" he asked.
"Well you see, the purpose of the ball was to show that we have become young ladies and last night, I was so shocked that I did not properly place my manners where they should have been. I hope I am not intruding, I didn't want you think I was still some sort of child," she said.
"Miss Reinhart, I would never think of you as a child. And you have nothing to apologize for but if it makes you feel better, I accept your sincere apology."
"Thank you, Your Grace. Well, I will take my leave," she said getting up from the expensively furnished couch.
"No please do not trouble yourself. I was about to go riding, would you like to join me?" he asked.
"No, thank you kindly. Lady Catherine will be expecting me back now," said Juliet.
"So she knew you were coming?"
"No, I asked Miss Emily for permission to run an errand. The driver is still out front," she said.
"I see, well, perhaps another time then we could go riding? My back lawn is pretty extensive and runs clear back to the woods. It is quite an enjoyable ride."
"Perhaps Your Grace but I am not sure that would be appropriate."
"Indulge me please. Wouldn't it be so since you joined a school that would prepare you for male interaction? Lady Catherine would not be so severe as to not indulge," he said.
"I must go," she said quickly before escorting herself out to the foyer where Damon held open the door for her.
He watched the blue eyed beauty leave then made a mental note that after his riding this afternoon, he would pay a visit to Lady Catherine. Maybe she will allow Juliet to ride with him.