“Reginald, have you ever contemplated marriage?” Lord Geoffrey Darley inquired, while sprawling across a bench in the Cock and Crow on the London road.
“Whyever should I?” Completely taken aback, as if the question were one that he’d thought would never come under consideration, somewhat akin to asking whether a Turkish emperor wore corsets, Reginald Montague set down his mug. He gazed across the table at his friend with serious concern. “Your mother after you again?”
The younger man ignored the question. “A man ought to get married sometime, you know.”
Reginald snorted. Some men snort and look piggish. Reginald was not one of those men. Expensively if not elegantly turned out in doeskin pantaloons, linen cravat, and double-breasted green riding coat, he managed only to look haughty when emitting this inelegant noise. His dark hair was rakishly disheveled, not by design but by the force of the increasing wind they had stopped to avoid.
He crossed one Hessian-booted leg over the other as he scanned the occupants of the tavern. His attitude was such as to show that he did not expect a sensible reply to his challenge: “Give me one good reason why I should marry.”
Darley squirmed unhappily and pulled at his high, starched collar. The starch, which fashion’s arbiter Brummell insisted made a gentleman, left red weals on his neck, and he gazed enviously at Reginald’s unstarched but pristinely white linen.
Reginald had told Brummell he’d rather wear hemp than starch, and rather than being ostracized for his boldness, he was considered a top gallant. Darley was quite certain that if he had said such a thing, he would be scorned by all.
“Why, a man should marry to have children, I suppose.”
Reginald quirked an eyebrow. “Whatever for? I suppose if I were inclined to a nursery, Madelyn would agree for a small sum. It’s not as if I need an heir, after all. That’s Charley’s duty.”
Darley glumly sipped his ale. “A wife would see to your house and that sort of thing, keep things neat and orderly and keep the cooks from quitting, I suppose.”
Reginald was growing amused. “I have servants to keep things neat and orderly, and Jasper is most functional when it comes to keeping the servants in line.”
Darley ripped at his cravat until it loosened, then twisted his neck gingerly inside his collar. “Well, there’s entertaining, then. A man needs a wife at his side when he entertains. A good hostess can be very helpful.”
Reginald waved at a waitress to bring more ale. She had been keeping an interested eye on both of them since they walked in, so the service was excellent. He waited until she had departed with a saucy wink before answering Darley’s last nonsensity.
“Whyever would I entertain at home? There’s nothing of any interest there, and no one to talk to. A man only needs a good club for entertaining. He’s more likely to be entertained with good wine and good sense at his club in the company of other men than with listening to the simpering ineptitudes that typify polite conversation in the company of women.”
Darley gave it up. “And of course, you always have Madelyn if you need a woman in your bed. I only wish I were in your position.”
Reginald offered him a look of sympathy. “Being your father’s only son is a sad thing, but you’re not earl yet. Tell your mama you are looking for the perfect countess and will settle for no less.”
Darley didn’t look appeased. “That’s easy for you to say. Your mama has been gone these many years. You don’t know what it’s like to be harped at by the woman night and day. I have come to think that if I can find a gentle, quiet maid, I would be much better off under her care than at home.”
“Maybe so, but it has been my experience that the tenderest of maids can turn into dragons once harnessed by marriage. I would be wary, if I were you, Darley, or you could find yourself in worse suds than with your mama.”
Reginald drained his glass and reached for his hat. “It looks as if the sun’s back. I’ll be on my way then. Promised Charley I’d put in an appearance for the heir’s birthday. I’m so grateful for his existence that I’ll go to any lengths to please him. Don’t go getting yourself leg-shackled before I return.”
Darley merely looked more miserable as his gaze traveled longingly to the door. Upstairs, his mother and sister were adorning a private parlor. It had been mere chance that he’d found sympathetic company in the tap room. He lifted a mug in farewell and watched Reginald march out, a hale and hearty fellow with no cares in the world.
Maybe he would be as bold as Reginald if he had the other man’s height. At five-eight, Darley was merely average. Had he not been an earl’s son, he would go unnoticed by the larger portion of the females of his acquaintance. He was not so well set-up as Reginald—the padding in his coat was necessary. His dark coloring did not meet the popular taste, and he was quite certain his long thin nose had been compared to a quill point by more than one clever miss.
Of course, Reginald could not be called handsome in the traditional sense, either, but women seemed to flock to him anyway. It had to be his height and the breadth of his shoulders. Women liked to feel helpless and protected, and men of Reginald’s size always made them feel that way, Darley supposed. He gazed gloomily down at his knee-high boots. Perhaps he could have the heels extended.