John Broddington is of an age. Yes, that age. He should be taking a wife. But he is taking care of his very infirm father. What's a young Victorian stud to do?
The morning sun on John's back felt like a lover's embrace. Or rather, like a small warm lover lying across the backs of his shoulders. Or perhaps a very warm lover leaning back against him and only touching him at the upper back.
It felt very warm, the sun on his back did. Beyond that, John could not imagine. Only guess. He had never had a lover, and so his comparison of a lover's warmth to the sun's warmth was purely speculative, and probably fanciful in the extreme.
And if he kept thinking along those lines, the only warmth he'd need concern himself with would be that occuring below his belt line. And that would make him either feel terribly uncomfortable or look terribly ridiculous, depending upon the tightness of his clothing.
Deciding not to risk either, he conjured up a picture of the vicar's wife and settled into the home stretch.
As he slowed his horse in the stable yard behind the estate, Broogs, the stableman, darted out from the carriagehouse and made a bee-line for him. John pulled up on the reins and turned the horse slightly to the left to avoid it being spooked by Broogs' inevitable charge. Broogs was direct in all things, subtle in none.
"Broogs," he said sharply as the stableman reached him. "How many times must I tell you not to come barreling at us like that when we enter the yard. You'll startle Ferdinand."
Broogs ducked his head. "Oh, I am sorry, sir. My wish to greet you with alacrity seems to override all else when I hear the hoofbeats come in."
"Yes, yes. I've heard it a dozen times already." He handed the reins to Broogs and dismounted. "A few extra seconds in the saddle will not inconvenience me in the least if it means the horse can remain calm without my intervention."
"Yes, sir. Of course, sir. I will remember that next time."
John dusted his hands and turned towards the house. "No, of course you won't," he muttered.
He could hear the clopping of Ferdinand's hooves towards the stables as he crossed the stableyard and moved into the courtyard at the back of the mansion. He ascended the few steps to the rear entrance and stepped into the back hall.
Jasper was waiting for him. "Will you be taking breakfast this morning, sir?"
John chuckled. "Jasper, have you ever known me not to take breakfast?"
"Indeed not, sir. But it would be remiss of me to presume."
John smiled. "Ah. Good man." He patted Jasper on the upper arm. "I shall freshen up and then return for an enormous morning meal." He turned towards the staircase.
Jasper looked puzzled. "Will you be requiring a larger than usual breakfast, sir?"
John stopped in his tracks. "Good Heavens, no. I simply meant that Cook always prepares an enormous breakfast and that I imagined today's would be no different."
Jasper bowed. "Very good, sir."
John ascended the stairs to the second floor and headed for his rooms. As he rounded the bannister at the top, he saw Mrs. Fetwick emerging from his father's bedroom.
"Good morning, Mrs. Fetwick. Does my father fare well this morning?"
The woman scowled at him. "He does not. And one would think you'd know better than to ask in such a chipper tone."
Mrs. Fetwick had been attached to the estate for such a long time that no one really seemed to know how old she was, or even how long it had been since her husband had died. It was this length of tenure, this indisputable seniority, that gave her free reign to run the house as she saw fit, and to question without reproach the comings, goings, and doings of its masters.
"I meant no flippancy, Mrs, Fetwick. I have simply come in from a lovely ride on a beautiful morning, and I am in an exceptionally bright mood."
She snorted. "Yes, well, give some of that to His Nibs in there." She cocked her head back towards the bedroom. "He can use all the brightness he can get."
As she shuffled off down the hall, John silently marvelled at her unswerving ablitity to suck the joy out of any situation, no matter the size or shape. He shook his head and continued in the other direction, towards his room.
He paused to glance at the door of his father's room. He thought about going in to see the old man, but his recollections of previous visits stalled him. One might have thought that infirmity would soften a man's outlook, but no such thing had occurred with Reginald Broddington. If anything, he'd become more demanding and irascible by the day.
Seeing his father was more of a duty for John than ever.
He moved off towards his room, wondering for the thousandth time what was to become of this family.