Training the Duke (Suddenly a Duke Book 7)
An army officer who has returned to his childhood home . . .
An earl’s daughter forced to earn her own living . . .
Two damaged souls who find friendship . . . and love . . .
Lieutenant-General Cyrus Cressley’s head wound leaves him blind in one eye and unsuited to lead men into battle. Selling his commission, Cy returns to Melrose to find his father long dead and his distant brother, who is in poor health, the new Duke of Margate. Cy is given use of the hunting lodge on the estate, where he seeks to find his purpose in life after being forced from the military.
Lady Finola Honeyfield’s come-out was ruined when a cruel trick was played upon her, leaving her to trust no one but her dogs. She retreats to the country and becomes one of England’s premier trainers of English springer spaniels, having found a way to earn her keep, even as she is lost in loneliness.
Thanks to her Honeyfield spaniels, Finola has a chance meeting with Cy. Soon, a friendship springs up between them, with Cy even helping Finola train her current litter of pups. But these two keep secrets from one another and when Cy suddenly finds himself the Duke of Margate, Finola washes her hands of him.
Can Cy convince Finola they are meant to be together and forge a path as the Duke and Duchess of Margate—or will her mistrust of gentlemen of the ton keep them apart forever?
Release date: October 12, 2023
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing
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Training the Duke (Suddenly a Duke Book 7)
Lady Finola Honeyfield sat at her dressing table, staring at her image in the small mirror she held.
Would tonight be the night that Lord Crofton offered for her?
The Season would end soon. Couples were becoming engaged, left and right. She hoped she and the viscount might be one of them.
She had not drawn any suitors in her first Season, feeling much like a misfit. Her father, Lord Leppington, had passed when Finola was but eight years of age. Her mother had died giving birth to Finola, and it seemed her father had never forgiven his daughter for causing his wife’s death. He called her “the afterthought” because she was so much younger than her two older sisters, who were fifteen and seventeen years her senior.
When her father died, word was sent to her sisters in Scotland. They had wed twin brothers and remained in the remote Highlands, never returning to London after their marriages. Finola had stayed with the local, elderly clergyman and his wife, waiting for months for word from her sisters regarding her fate. When it came, the message said they simply did not want her. Even as a child, their words did not surprise her. Finola could not remember anything about her oldest sister and only had a vague impression of what the other one had looked like since she had left the Honeyfield household when Finola was barely three.
Still, it was a blow to her, not to be wanted.
The village had held a meeting to decide what to do with her. After all, she was from the nobility, the daughter of an earl. Yet the Earl of Leppington had no heirs neither far nor wide and the title had reverted to the crown upon his death. Finola had sat in the clergyman’s parlor as prominent citizens of the village had discussed what to do with her.
Finally, Sir Roscoe Banfield had spoken up, saying he would take her in.
She felt relief blanket the room, everyone present no longer obliged to be responsible for an eight-year-old orphan.
Finola had gone home that same afternoon with Sir Roscoe. He had neither wife nor children and told her he had no desire to wed. He loved his dogs more than people and told Finola he would teach her to do the same. Banny, as she had come to affectionately call him, had been right. Dogs never disappointed her as people had. The furry creatures became her companions and next to Banny, her closest friends.
Banny was known for training dogs, English springer spaniels, in particular. He would take them on as puppies, when they were three months or so, and teach them the basics of proper dog behavior before stepping things up and training them to be hunters. Banny had taught Finola everything he knew about training dogs and especially, hunters. She had thought it would be her life’s work until he had told her she needed to attend at least one Season in London, saying due to her rank, she should test the waters of the Marriage Mart and see if a life in Polite Society, married to a titled gentleman, might be for her.
Finola had accompanied Banny to town and since he had no residence there, they had stayed with a cousin of his, Lady Nance, a dowager countess. It was Lady Nance who sponsored Finola this Season and had prepared her to make her come-out. Lady Nance had a cold disposition and little interest in doing anything other than berating Finola, especially about her weight. She bemoaned the fact that Finola was rather plump. The dowager countess had said it was all well and good to carry a bit of weight after marriage, once a lady had given birth to one or more children, but she could not understand why Finola was so chubby at her age.
Because of this, Lady Nance severely rationed what Finola ate. She instructed at the midnight suppers held at balls that Finola was only to eat a handful of bites. At garden parties, she was to only drink tea and refrain from eating at all. The one time she had surreptitiously reached for a macaroon, Lady Nance had swatted Finola’s hand with a fan, causing those nearby to stifle their giggles.
She knew the servants felt sorry for her. One maid had even taken to bringing Finola something to eat when she came in from balls, helping her to undress as Finola hungrily wolfed down whatever she could. Afraid that Lady Nance would fire the maid, Finola had finally told the girl last week not to bring her anything else from the kitchens.
While Finola, for the most part, spent her time sitting with the wallflowers at events, somehow she had drawn the notice of the incredibly handsome Viscount Crofton. He cut quite a dashing figure, tall and blond, looking like an angel. She had no idea how or why she had claimed his attention, only that he had asked her to dance once several weeks ago. After that, he had not engaged her in any more dances at balls—but he always was pleasant and kind to her at social affairs. Eventually, he asked Finola to walk on the terrace with him after supper one night. When they reached the far corner, Lord Crofton had taken her hands in his and drew them up, pressing a fervent kiss upon her knuckles.
From that moment on, Finola loved him.
Three weeks ago, Lord Crofton had whispered in her ear at a garden party for her to meet him in the gazebo, and she had done so. He had told her how beautiful she looked that afternoon and kissed her cheek, causing her to go hot all over. Two weeks ago, the viscount had stopped her as she left the retiring room at a ball and pulled her into an alcove, where he had given her a chaste kiss on the lips. Her first. She had thought she would be swept away by emotion and her love for him. In reality, the kiss did not stir her in the slightest.
Last week, while both attended a card party, Lord Crofton had asked her to take a turn about the room with him and told her how ardently he admired her, causing her to feel flush all over.
Tonight, one of Lady Nance’s maids had brought a note to Finola’s room from the viscount. It asked her to meet him in the library this evening during Lord and Lady Turner’s ball. She just knew he was going to offer for her. Once more, she thanked the heavens for bringing such a handsome, kind angel into her life. They would have children and dogs and a wonderful life together.
Of course, she had said nothing to Banny or Lady Nance of this secret courtship, at Lord Crofton’s urging. He had shared with her that his family expected him to wed a woman with a large dowry. Finola’s was adequate but nothing what Lord Crofton said his family desired. Still, he pressed his suit with her, telling her to be patient. That explained why he never called on her or asked her to dance at the many balls she had attended.
It did not matter. She knew deep in her bones Lord Crofton was the man for her and only hoped she would receive an offer of marriage from him in the library tonight.
Going downstairs, she was surprised that Banny did not await her. She asked the butler if he had seen Sir Roscoe.
“Sir Roscoe is feeling ill, my lady. He will not be accompanying you and Lady Nance to the Turner ball.”
Knowing Lady Nance would not be downstairs for several more minutes, Finola went upstairs and knocked gently on Banny’s bedchamber door.
His valet answered the knock. “Ah, Lady Finola. Here to check on Sir Roscoe?”
“I am. Might I see him for a few moments before I leave for tonight’s ball?”
The servant nodded and left the bedchamber to give them privacy. Finola stepped to Banny’s bed and was surprised at how wan he appeared.
“I hear you are under the weather this evening.”
He shrugged. “Just a bit of indigestion, my dear, making me uncomfortable. I probably am tiring of the city and its rich food and look forward to returning to Belldale and breathing the clean country air again.” Banny paused and then asked, “Have any prospects caught your eye this Season?”
She decided to share with him about Lord Crofton. “Yes, Banny, there is one particular gentleman I favor. He has asked to speak privately with me tonight.”
“Do you hope for an offer of marriage from him?”
“Yes, I do. If he does ask for my hand, I will send him to see you in the morning to ask your permission since you are my guardian. You have been like a father to me these past ten years. I know you would look after my interests with Lord Crofton, especially in reviewing the marriage settlements.”
“I am happy you have found someone, Finola.” He smiled wryly. “Perhaps I am also a bit blue, knowing it means I will lose you.”
She placed her hand atop his. “You will never lose me, Banny. We are family. You will be a grandfather to our children.”
He returned her smile. “We are family, indeed, Finola.” Then he winced.
“Are you certain you are all right?” she asked quickly. “I am happy to summon a doctor.”
“It is nothing. Just the indigestion. I think I will lie here and read for a bit and then retire early. We can talk in the morning at breakfast, and you can tell me more about your young man and the outcome of tonight’s conversation.”
Finola kissed his cheek and bid him a good evening before returning downstairs to the foyer. Moments after she arrived, Lady Nance appeared, as well.
“Sir Roscoe is indisposed, my lady. He said we are to go ahead without him.”
Lady Nance’s face soured. “Well, that is most inconvenient.”
Finola shook her head. The woman had not even bothered to ask what was wrong or how Banny felt. All she thought about was herself.
They were silent in the carriage and then entered Lord and Lady Turner’s townhouse, joining the receiving line to greet their host and hostess. Once they stepped into the ballroom, Lady Nance went to join her friends, the dowagers who sat together and watched the dancers at each ball. Finola, in turn, moved to a section designated for wallflowers. Surprisingly, she had turned out to be a good dancer, thanks to the dance lessons she had received before the Season began. Occasionally, she was asked by a stray gentleman to dance, but for the most part, Finola sat on the sidelines at every ball, her dance card empty. She would go into supper with a few of her fellow wallflowers, but even after all these weeks, she did not know much about them for there was little conversation between them. It was as if their humiliation were great enough, and they did not bother to get to know one another.
The ball began, and she danced the second set, but the remainder of her programme remained blank. She watched Lord Crofton throughout the evening as he danced several numbers. He was such a graceful dancer. She could not wait for the time when they would dance openly in public as husband and wife.
When a break occurred before the supper dance, Finola left the ballroom, not bothering to excuse herself from those seated around her, doubting they would even miss her presence. She made her way to the library and entered it. A few minutes later, Viscount Crofton joined her, closing the door. She knew if anyone walked through that door and caught them together that she would be compromised. Excitement filled her. Perhaps that was the viscount’s plan—for them to be seen together and him to be a gentleman and offer for her. His family could not protest under those circumstances, Lord Crofton doing the right thing.
He placed his hands on her shoulders. “Thank you for meeting me here tonight, Lady Finola. I believe we have things to say to each other.”
He bent, his lips touching hers. Her heart quickened in anticipation. Then nothing. Frustration filled her. She should feel something when he kissed her—but she didn’t. She hoped after they wed that she would enjoy his kiss more.
Suddenly, he wasn’t kissing her at all. Instead, he forced her lips apart and thrust his tongue deeply into her mouth, causing her to gag. Finola struggled against him, but he only held her more tightly. She felt as if a foreign army invaded her and tried to take her by force. She pushed hard against his chest with her palms, trying to break the contact between them and the kiss itself.
He finally did so and looked down on her, a mocking light in his eyes.
“My lord?” she asked unsteadily, looking at the face of a stranger. Gone was the kind, solicitous gentleman. In his place was a stranger.
Lord Crofton slipped an arm about her waist, and his palm went to her breast. He squeezed it tightly, causing pain to fill her. She gasped. Then his fingers pinched her nipple so hard that tears sprang to her eyes.
His mouth returned to hers in a bruising kiss. Finola wasn’t enjoying this at all and struggled against him.
Once more, he broke the kiss, laughing.
“What do you think, my lady? Do you enjoy my kisses?”
Uncertainty ran through her, but she pasted a smile on and said, “Of course, my lord.”
“Do you think to kiss your future betrothed?”
Her heart leaped at his words. “I would, my lord. What are you saying?” she urged, hoping to hear the words which would make her his.
He dropped his hands from her and began laughing loudly. She stood there, unsure how to react.
“You may show yourselves, gentlemen,” he called.
Confused, Finola looked about the room as more laughter erupted. One gentleman stepped from behind the curtains. Another rose from behind a settee. Still a third stood from a chair he had sat in on the far side of the room.
And they all laughed loudly.
A sick feeling washed over her as Lord Crofton captured her wrist as she tried to flee the room.
“You must be wondering what is going on, Lady Finola. I will tell you. You are attending the final meeting of the Epsilon Club. For this Season, anyway.”
“Epsilon Club?” she echoed.
Though his features remained angelic, the words from his mouth were those of a devil.
“You see, my lady, Epsilon stands for Enticement. The Enticement Club. We are a group of rakes who choose one unsuspecting lady each Season and see how easy it is to fool her.”
“I d-don’t understand,” she stammered.
Crofton chuckled, his grip tightening painfully on her wrist. “We are rogues who toy with a girl making her come-out each year. We choose one who is pretty—but not too pretty. One lacking in confidence. We like young ladies who do not have many friends. The quiet ones with not many family members and lacking in social connections are simply perfect to dally with.”
Tears filled her eyes. She tried to pull away, but he held her in place. Finola cast her eyes to the floor, humiliation filling her.
“We make our pick a few weeks into the Season after we have mingled with the latest crop entering the Marriage Mart.”
She recalled having danced with the other three present, once each, and then they had never addressed her again.
“This was my year to play with our choice,” Lord Crofton continued. “To make a chubby wallflower feel special. We knew after our reconnaissance that you would have no one to confide in. That as I paid a bit of attention to you, you would believe my lies. That I would become everything to you as you convinced yourself someone like me would think to be with someone like you.”
Tears now poured down Finola’s cheeks. Lord Crofton took her chin in hand and forced it upward until she was gazing in his eyes.
“Did I make you feel special, my lady? Did you go home and kiss your pillow, pretending it was me? Were your dreams of me and a life you wished to lead as my viscountess?”
He roared with laughter. “Your dreams of love and marriage are now dashed, I’m afraid. You are not special. You are not wanted. You will never be loved. Yes, I enticed you into kissing me—and I reject you now, Finola Honeyfield.” His smile turned evil. “And there isn’t a soul you can speak to about it without damaging your reputation. That is, if you have anyone to talk to. We have watched you. You sit among your fellow wallflowers and speak not a word. Lady Nance chastises you at the drop of a hat. And Sir Roscoe may be old—but he is not foolish enough to challenge me to a duel.”
Viscount Crofton released her. “You believed the lies. You are yet another innocent fool whom the Epsilon Club has made a mockery of.”
She slapped him.
It startled him, but he laughed it off, as did his friends, and he said, “Be glad I didn’t truly ruin you, my lady. I could have, you know. You believed every lie. Every sweet nothing I murmured in your ear. You would have given me anything, including your virginity. I preferred to merely reject instead of ruin you. You are far too plump for any man to ever truly be interested in you—and that includes me and the members of the Epsilon Club.”
Laughing, Lord Crofton said, “Come along, gentlemen. We have dallied with and conquered yet another stupid cow.”
If Finola had one of her hounds present, she would sic the dog on this man until he was ripped apart. This despicable, cruel viscount. She didn’t, though, and held her tongue as Crofton and his fellow rakes left, one deliberately bumping into her and breaking into peals of laughter as they exited the library.
She ran to the door and locked it behind them, not wanting to chance anyone seeing her.
And then Finola wept.
Her sobs echoed through the empty room as she recalled every word, every touch, every glance Viscount Crofton had given her. She had been nothing but a game to them, a game in which men who were called gentlemen were anything but as they toyed with a young woman’s heart. He was right—she had no one to share her story with. Even if she did, she doubted anyone would believe her. Overweight, slightly pretty Finola Honeyfield an object of desire? One led along a garden path and then unceremoniously dumped.
Humiliation burned within her, even as her face and neck flamed with embarrassment.
Thank goodness the Season was nearing its end because she did not think she could go to many more events and see Lord Crofton and his cronies pass by, laughing at her. She had been a fool to think she might attract a decent gentleman and marry. Her hopes of having a family now fled. She would return with Banny to the countryside and bury herself in her work with him, training puppies and young dogs. Dogs were loyal and kind and loving, everything Finola now needed.
She dried her tears and sat in the library a while longer, composing herself, not knowing how much time had passed since she had left the Turners’ ballroom. Going to the library’s door, she threw the lock and stepped out, carefully looking in both directions. Seeing no one, she moved quickly along the corridor and heard the distant strains of music coming from the ballroom.
As she passed the retirement room, she ducked inside and remained behind one of the curtains for a long time. Finally, Finola emerged and lingered just outside the ballroom until the last dance came to a conclusion. Then she made her way to Lady Nance.
“There you are,” the dowager countess said. “I did not see you at supper. Don’t tell me you were off somewhere, sneaking food.”
“No, my lady,” she replied. “I would not do such a thing.”
They went to the carriage. Inside, Lady Nance said, “Another two engagements were announced tonight. You have yet to have a single suitor come calling on you, Lady Finola.”
“I doubt any will,” she said truthfully. “I am not what the gentlemen of London are looking for. I think it is time Sir Roscoe and I returned to Belldale.”
“I see.” The dowager countess studied her a moment. “Did something happen to you tonight?”
Her cheeks heated, but the carriage was dim and Lady Nance’s eyesight not the best.
“No, my lady. I simply have tired of the social scene in London. Sir Roscoe told me I should make my come-out and see if I enjoyed Polite Society. I have found it not to my taste at all. I prefer a quiet life in the country. If you do not mind, I think we will return home tomorrow. Sir Roscoe has mentioned how much he misses the country air.”
“Do as you see fit. Polite Society is not for everyone. Perhaps you will make a match in the country. Some squire, possibly.”
The carriage came to a halt, and a footman handed them down. As they entered the house, Lady Nance’s butler rushed toward them.
“My lady, I am afraid I have bad news to share with you. Sir Roscoe has passed.”
“Passed?” the dowager countess said, as if an inconvenience had occurred.
“Yes, my lady. When his valet readied him for bed, Sir Roscoe grew agitated and then clutched his heart. I sent for the doctor immediately, but by the time he arrived, Sir Roscoe was gone.” The butler finally glanced at Finola. “I am sorry, my lady.”
Finola grew dizzy and then faint. Darkness rushed up and overtook her. Even as she lost consciousness, all she could think of was she was alone.
Spain—1 January 1813
Lieutenant-General Cyrus Cressley slipped into the coat which Briggs, his batman, held out to him.
“Bertie should be here with your breakfast any moment now, Sir,” his batman told him.
Cy had never understood why some men brought their families to war. Yes, a handful of officers brought their wives, but for the most part, it was foot soldiers whose families accompanied them to the Peninsula. Briggs had brought along his wife and their eight-year-old son. These civilians lived in camps abutting those of the military and followed them whenever they went on the march.
Cy didn’t have to worry about a family. As a second son of the Duke of Margate, he had been destined from birth to go into military service, while his older brother would one day take the ducal title. Cy and Charles had never been close siblings. Charles was over ten years older than Cy and from what he had learned through the gossip of servants, their mother had a series of miscarriages and stillborn children in the decade between them. He supposed all those failed attempts at providing a spare to the heir had weakened his mother physically. The fact he had been brought to term and delivered healthy was what their cook had called a miracle.
Unfortunately, the Duchess of Margate had died shortly after birthing her second son.
His father was a cold man, with little interaction with either of his sons. Charles had been away at school when Cy was born, and Cy had very few memories of his brother because of that time spent apart. By the time he was ready to leave Melrose for school, Charles was starting university the same year. They had rarely been at Melrose at the same time over the years.
Charles preferred town and remained in London after graduation, doing whatever he did with his friends. Cy had completed public school and left for university at Cambridge, never seeing Charles once during those years and taking no trips home to East Sussex. A commission was purchased for Cy upon his graduation, and he had entered His Majesty’s army, eager to take on his military duties as an officer. Being a hard worker and very disciplined man, Cy quickly rose through the ranks. He felt serving his king was a privilege.
He had gained the respect of his fellow officers by being goal-oriented and focused. In strategy meetings, others complimented him on being able to get to the heart of a matter, even as he saw the big picture of things around him. He had become used to soldiers following him without question. He would be the first to admit he was a bit stubborn and domineering, but his efforts and experience helped him ascend the ranks with ease.
His reputation was spotless, and his men adored him since they knew he was a leader both on and off the battlefield. It was the rare officer of Cy’s rank who joined in the action, much less led soldiers against the enemy—yet Lieutenant-General Cyrus Cressley did this on a regular basis.
Fortunately, progress was finally being made in this Peninsular War. Joseph Bonaparte was on the run, especially after last year’s Battle of Salamanca. As a high-ranking officer, Cy was able to participate in the strategy session with Wellington and knew this spring would bring a turn of the tide in the favor of Britain and her allies.
In the meantime, drills were essential to keep the men’s skills at a high level, even on this first day of a new year.
“Good morning, Lieutenant-General,” Bertie Briggs said, as he entered the tent with a steaming bowl of stew in one hand and a half-loaf of bread in the other.
The boy set the meal on Cy’s makeshift desk.
“That’s a good lad, Bertie,” he told the boy. “Why don’t you go back and retrieve something to eat for your father and yourself?”
“I’ve already eaten, sir,” Briggs told him. “Bertie, you go back to your mum now. I’ll send for you if I need you.”
“Goodbye, Father. Goodbye, Lieutenant-General Cressley.”
Bertie left the tent, and Cy picked up the bowl of stew, stirring it and seeing the steam rise from it.
“More drills today?” the batman asked.
Cy chuckled as he took a bite. “Drills are the backbone of His Majesty’s army, Briggs. You know that. I hate the inactivity as much as the next man, but that is the nature of war. You know war is fought in months with favorable weather, while the rest of the time we hunker down and plot against our enemies.”
“After Ciudad Rodrigo, though, I see an eventual victory for us,” Briggs said.
“I do, as well,” he told the batman. “Take a few minutes for yourself. I will see you on the range.”
Cy finished his bowl of stew and then used the bread to mop up the juice left. He returned the wooden bowl to those men who pulled cooking duty as he made his way to the fields where drills were commencing. The soldiers constantly practiced marching, shooting, and bayoneting. He borrowed a bayonet from a private and sparred with a few soldiers, earning cheers from those around him. Cy had found a brotherhood in the army that he had never experienced in civilian life and was grateful he knew his place in the world and could put his leadership skills to good use for the crown.
He moved to where troops were practicing on the range with their rifles, slowly moving down the line as he observed. He stopped twice and demonstrated to a soldier how to better hold his weapon and what to focus on with his target.
Handing the rifle back to the private he borrowed it from, Cy then swept his bicorne from his head, using his forearm to wipe the sweat which had gathered along his brow. As he dragged his forearm across his forehead and his bicorne blocked his vision, he was suddenly knocked back, falling to the ground. Sitting there, stunned, he felt a throbbing just above his right eyebrow and realized he must have been shot. Hit by a stray practice round. He blinked as a trickle of blood dripped into his eye.
“Get back!” he heard Briggs shout.
The batman dropped to his knees next to Cy, the sound of material being ripped. “You’ll be fine, sir,” Briggs assured him as he wrapped cloth around Cy’s head.
He recognized the signs that he was going into shock but was still aware of all happening about him. Briggs instructed men to lift Cy from the ground.
“Quickly, boys,” Briggs encouraged. “But gently.”
He was carried from the practice field, knowing they headed for the surgeon’s tent. He hoped at least one of them would be on duty. Usually, during a battle, the tents were filled with wounded officers, crying out in anguish. Nothing came from his lips, however. It was as if he were frozen and unable to move or speak.
He sensed being placed on a table and heard Briggs shout Dr. Sheffley’s name. That was good news. Sheffley was one of the younger surgeons, more skilled than most, willing to take risks in order to save a man’s life.
But could Cy survive a shot to his head?
He listened as the doctor began unwinding the cloth around Cy’s head. Briggs explained the accident and how Cy’s bicorne had been in front of his face when the bullet pierced it.
“That may have been what saved our lieutenant-general,” the physical commented. “Slowing down the velocity. A chance of surviving a bullet to the head is less than five percent. None if the bullet enters from the side. But front on, being partially obstructed, such as this? We have a chance, Briggs, of saving Cressley’s life. I will operate immediately. Stay here.”
Cy felt himself being brought to a sitting position and a bottle placed to his lips. He was urged to drink from it and continued doing so, the taste of sweet Madeira being poured down him to numb the pain.
“It is Dr. Sheffley, Cressley,” he heard in his ear. “Drink as much of the wine as you can. The bullet is just above your right brow. Protruding, in fact. I will remove it now. Acting quickly is your best chance for survival.”
He tried to respond to the surgeon, but only a mumble emerged. He supposed he finished the Madeira because the bottle was removed from his lips, and he was lowered onto his back again. Someone stuck a stick into his mouth, and he understood it was for him to bite down upon when the pain flared.
Suddenly, his limbs were stretched out and then held down by others, no time being wasted to even tie him down. The surgeon’s knife cut into Cy’s forehead, and he locked his teeth around the stick, grunting in agony. A surge of blood seemed to pour from him. His eyes were closed, but he could feel Sheffley dig around and then remove the ball as pain poured through him.
“This is very good,” the surgeon said optimistically. “Very good, indeed.”
Cy sensed Sheffley leaning over him, but he was too tired and hurting too badly to open his eyes.
“Good news, Cressley. I was able to remove the bullet—and it was intact. No fragments at all. I doubt there are any skull fragments either. I saw no damaged bone. Those would have been more dangerous than bullet fragments. I will clean and wrap the wound. You are to rest now. You will make it, man. You will live.”
He drifted off, floating above the pain.
Cy awoke and felt the dull ache above his right eye. Reaching up a hand, he touched the bandages which wrapped around his head and extended over his eyes, going to the bridge of his nose and resting there.
“Ah, you are finally awake.”
He recognized Dr. Sheffley’s voice and relaxed.
“Will I live?” he asked weakly.
“Briggs and your men have been asking me that same question for the last two days, Lieutenant-General. I have complete confidence that you will make a full recovery. I have already examined and cleaned the wound twice. I will do so again now. As I do, I am going to ask you a few questions. Test your memory, so to speak.”
“All right,” he said, sitting up with the surgeon’s help.
“It’s me, sir,” Briggs said from nearby. “Everyone is asking about you. Don’t know where the stray bullet came from. Probably never will. If I ever find out who did shoot you, I will shoot him myself,” the batman promised.
Cy laughed weakly as Dr. Sheffley continued to unwind the bandages. Finally, he felt they were completely removed and opened his eyes. No, he was mistaken. There still must be bandages on them because it was dark.
Dr. Sheffley said, “All right. Let’s see if we can—”
“Why haven’t you removed all the bandages?” he demanded.
A slight hesitation occurred, and then the surgeon said, “I have, Cressley. Tell me what you see.”
Cy’s heart sank as he uttered one word. “Nothing.”
“Give me a moment,” Sheffley said.
He heard whispering going on. He sensed someone moving away and figured it to be Briggs. Then he knew Briggs had returned, holding a lantern. Cy smelled the oil and then felt the heat from the lantern, knowing it was being held directly in front of his face.
“I do not see the lantern,” he said dully. “I don’t see anything at all.”
“Don’t worry just yet,” Sheffley told him. “What could be occurring is temporary blindness. The force from the blow you received from the bullet could be pressing against your optic nerve. The bullet entered directly above your right brow. I am not worried about it yet.”
Cy couldn’t help but focus on the yet.
“I will test a few things,” the physician said.
Dr. Sheffley proceeded to ask him a serious of questions, which the surgeon said was testing Cy’s recall. He had no gaps, which Sheffley said was very good news.
The doctor then asked Cy to move various limbs. He lifted arms. Wiggled fingers on command. Twisted from side to side. Turned his head from left to right and then looked up and down as instructed.
“Your motor skills are intact,” the doctor said. “Once again, excellent news. Let me ask you a few different questions now to test your reasoning. Various parts of the brain control different aspects of thinking. I want to see if you can figure out the answers to what I ask.”
For the next few minutes, Sheffley peppered Cy with questions, all of which he answered without hesitation. Hope built within him.
“I see no problems in your thinking, Lieutenant-General. What I believe has occurred is that the pressure on this optic nerve has caused some swelling in your brain. It will require rest to restore it to normal.”
“You are telling me this blindness will be short-lived?” Cy asked.
“I am saying it is likely to be temporary, Cressley, but doctors are not God. We can only give you our best professional opinion, based upon our experiences. I am now going to rebandage your wound and will also cover your eyes. You will need to stay prone as much as possible for the next several days and hope that the bruising and swelling within your brain will subside.”
Cy sat numbly as Sheffley redressed his head wound, talking of how neat the stitches were and that the scar above Cy’s right eyebrow would be minimal. Sheffley even teased him that the ladies would find the scar attractive and that he would have a good story to tell when he attended parties, entertaining the civilians present.
But Cy was a man of war—and this war with Bonaparte would not be ending anytime soon. Even if Wellington managed to defeat the Little Corporal’s armies in Spain, most likely British troops would then move into France and other parts of Europe to support their allies there against Bonaparte.
He did as Dr. Sheffley required and remained flat on his back for a week, only rising occasionally to relieve himself. Briggs wanted to stay by his side constantly, but he sent the batman away, not wishing to talk to anyone. Instead, young Bertie Briggs came to keep him company. He sensed the boy’s presence, and every now and then, Bertie would pat Cy on the shoulder and tell him all would be fine.
When the week ended, Dr. Sheffley had Cy sit up and removed the bandages from his forehead and eyes. He opened his eyes and looked about the tent. He could see somewhat with his left eye, though things were a bit blurry. From his right eye, however, only dark shadows appeared, shapeless blots.
“How is your vision?” the surgeon asked, concern evident in his voice.
Cy told him what he was seeing, and Sheffley said, “It may still take time.”
He knew the British army didn’t have time to waste on officers who could not lead. Even if his sight returned, he had experienced blinding headaches this past week, ones which immobilized him. His gut—and heart—told Cy he would never be the man he had been, and it would be best to resign his commission and retire from the army.
“Could I go and see Major-General Parker?” he asked, a lump in his throat.
Quietly, Dr. Sheffley said, “I am sorry, Cressley. I do think it would be wise if you did.”
Briggs spoke up. “Let’s get you to your tent, sir. We’ll get you a shave and that unruly hair trimmed and then we’ll go see the major-general.”
Cy stood shakily, Briggs clasping one elbow and Bertie the other. They led him to his tent. He kept his eyes downcast the entire way there, not wanting to see the pity in the eyes of the men he passed. He laughed to himself, thinking he wouldn’t have been able to see it even if he had baldly looked each man they passed directly in the face.
He stood as Briggs and Bertie undressed and then washed him. Bertie fetched hot water and his batman shaved Cy and then snipped away at his hair. The pair redressed Cy in a fresh uniform.
“You look fit as a fiddle, sir,” the batman praised.
Yet Cy heard the false note in Briggs’ voice. He had become attuned to tone in a person’s voice this last week, his hearing picking up things it never had before and his brain catching the moods of others. Sharp hearing, though, would not replace the excellent eyesight he no longer possessed. Already, he had missed considerable time away from his men while they continued their training and drilling, as well as meetings with Wellington and his fellow officers. Soon, the army would be on the move again, ready to pour its heart and soul into battle once more.
With a heavy heart, Cy allowed Briggs and Bertie to lead him to his commanding officer’s tent. He met briefly with Parker, giving the major-general the bad news. Parker did not try to talk him out of resigning and even said he would help Cyrus in selling off the commission. He assured Cy that a small pension would also be awarded to him since he was no longer physically able to serve.
Once again, father and son led Cy to his tent, his left eye seeing a blur and his right next to nothing. No one spoke a word to him. In the silence as he passed, he sensed others’ sympathy. Pity. Restlessness. Shame poured through him, knowing he was no longer the man of action he had been and that he had let down his men. He would never pick up a sword again, nor would he lead others into battle.
The war would go on—without Lieutenant-General Cyrus Cressley.
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