Today, I continue the story that Keisha Page, the Word Mistress, and I cowrote; a meeting between our two heroes. See Keisha’s blog for Part 3 from Alex’s perspective. Aldridge’s point of view follows.
Aldridge glared at them, and Alex said, “Go on, mind your business.”
How could Aldridge explain his difficulties to a man who thought divorce was just a matter of paperwork? He shrugged. “I’ll be the Duke of Haverford, when my father dies. My wife needs to be… can you imagine what the harpies of the ton would do to a woman who has… I should explain, Alex. I don’t know what things are like here in the 21st century, but in my world, women who sell their bodies are… reviled is the best word, I suppose.
“It’s hypocritical. I know only a handful of men who haven’t had a ladybird or two in their keeping. And many women of the highest ranks in the land take a lover once they’ve given their lord an heir.
“Nobody says a word, as long as they are discrete.”
Though Heaven help them if they were not. Men could bed as many women as they liked, but let a woman be seen to let a man under her skirts and her reputation was lost forever.
“But Becky… well, she has had a hard life, and I would never even consider exposing her to the kind of hatred and ridicule she’d get if she were my duchess, and people were to find out..” he trails off, and stares once more into his brandy.
“Not that I haven’t considered it…” But think as he might, he could not find a path that didn’t end in disaster.
Alex signalled the girl to bring Aldridge another brandy, and she responded quickly..
“Prostitution really isn’t legal here, but it happens,” Alex said. “Your Becky would probably be called an “escort,” today. Someone you spend time with in exchange for money. Legally, there’s not supposed to be sex involved. But we all know there is, and if it’s proven, both the man and the woman could go to jail. But other than a scandal if it’s a celebrity, it’s not really a huge deal. But I don’t think that most people take lovers today. We expect our spouses to be monogamous.”
Becky would expect her spouse to be monogamous. She was, in many ways, a conventional soul despite the life she’d been forced into. Could Aldridge be faithful to one woman? He’d never tried beyond the usual initial period of infatuation with a new lover. Other men managed, so it must be possible.
Alex was clearly bothered by Aldridge’s dilemma. “Surely, there’s something you could do. I mean, I don’t know who this ‘ton’ is but what could they possibly do? And don’t people step down from that royal stuff all the time? Some duke did it a long time ago, when he fell in love with a divorced woman. I guess it was pretty scandalous, but once the initial shock and surprise was over, I don’t think anyone really cared. People have other things to do with their lives. I mean, the Prince of England has been divorced, and remarried a divorced woman, and he’s still next in line to the throne. And no one even likes his current wife!”
Society had clearly changed greatly in 200 years. “My own prince would happily divorce, but he’d lose the throne if he did it, and he won’t risk that.”
Aldridge took several more mouthfuls of his stew, thinking about what Alex has said.
“In my world, women who sell their bodies can be imprisoned, but mostly only the poor unfortunates who work the streets are actually arrested. The brothels pay bribes to the constables to be left alone, and people like my Becky… no one would dare to accuse any woman that has me for her protector, you can be sure of that.”
“But a world where people marry for love and divorce is easy? Monogamy would work, I think.” Indeed, most of the time he was faithful to one lover at a time, even if the affair lasted a mere night. He raised his brandy glass to toast that kind of monogamy. “One woman at a time.”
“It’s like that here, too,” Alex confirmed. “Usually the women you see on the streets are drug addicts, or forced into prostitution. We have one state where it’s legal, and highly regulated. But mostly, no. I think what your Becky does would be looked at as no big deal.
“But I don’t understand why you can’t just go somewhere, where no one knows you, and begin life fresh with the woman you love. Surely, since you own multiple homes, money wouldn’t be an issue?”
Aldridge was rich, that was true, though the homes Alex spoke of belonged to the duchy. But he’d followed the investment advice of his cousin and half-brother and ignored that of his father. As a result, Aldridge was now buying the unentailed properties his father was selling whenever another gaming debt fell due. Technically, they belonged to Aldridge, but in his mind they were part of the duchy. Even without those properties, though, he would not be penniless.
“I do have some personal money that doesn’t belong to the duchy. There is merit in what you say. I couldn’t just disappear, of course. I will be duke whether I want to or not. But perhaps I could engineer my own death? I have a younger brother… “
No. It wouldn’t do. He could not leave the duchy to Jonathan. “But he’s a feckless fool, Alex. I love him, but…
“I’ve trained to be duke my whole life. His grace my father put me in charge of one of his estates when I was 21, and since then I’ve taken over more and more. I run it all now; the estates, the properties, the industries, the trading enterprises. His grace plays at politics, drinks with his cronies, and chases women young enough to be his daughters.”
“1000s of people depend on me for their livelihood; one could say their lives, if that doesn’t sound too dramatic. The duchy was in poor condition when I took over, but it hums along very nicely now.
“Can I abandon them just to take what I want?”
Alex was shaking his head, rejecting Aldridge’s argument.
“Aldridge, I’ve had some regrets in my life. To tell you the truth, I’ve done some very stupid things. But I’ll never regret a moment spent with Leslie. Not one single moment. If I had an opportunity to marry her, to be with her in a way that wouldn’t rip apart a family, I would jump on it.
“Can’t you hire a manager or something? Someone qualified to run the estate in your stead? Then your folks, those who depend on you for their livelihood, would be taken care of, and you would still have an estate for your children to inherit. I travel a lot, with the band, but I own a thriving business here, and I would never be able to do that without a great manager to take care of things when I’m gone. Surely, you could find someone who could manage things for you? Then, you could have your Becky.”
Aldridge shrugged off his melancholy with a visible effort. “I will think on it,” he promised. It would never work. This man from the future couldn’t understand. Aldridge had managers for all duchy’s enterprises, and he supposed he might be able to find someone he trusted enough to oversee them. But only the duke could represent the Grenfords at court and in The Lords. An absentee duke? Never. He couldn’t do it.
He changed the subject. “But what of you? 1800 miles, you said? I cannot imagine the rigours of such a journey. That is… why that’s four and a half times the distance between London and Edinburgh, and even the fastest mail coaches, travelling without stopping except for fresh horses, can’t do it in less than 2 days. A week is more likely; more if the weather is unkind. You must love her very much to make such a trip every few months.”