Home > Twelfth Night (Lady Julia Grey #5.6)

Twelfth Night (Lady Julia Grey #5.6)
Deanna Raybourn

Chapter One

I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking.

—Othello, II, iii, 31

January 2, 1890

“Julia, I shall count to ten. If you aren’t thoroughly awake by then, I am going to dash the contents of this pitcher into your face, and I warn you, I’ve only just cracked the ice on the surface of it.”

My sister’s voice pierced the lovely morning hush of the bedchamber with all the delicacy of a gong. I reached out one finger to poke my husband’s naked shoulder.

“Brisbane. Portia is here.”

He heaved a sigh into the eiderdown. “You’re dreaming. Portia wouldn’t dare.”

“Wouldn’t I?” she asked. “And, Julia, this is the first time I’ve seen your husband entirely unclothed. May I offer my congratulations?”

With a violent oath, Brisbane flung himself under the bedclothes.

“Modest as a virgin, I see,” Portia remarked. “Julia, I’m still counting. Silently. I’ve reached seven. Are you awake yet?”

I flapped a hand at her but didn’t raise my head.

“Eight.”

Brisbane’s voice was muffled but distinct. “If you don’t leave this room, Portia, I will toss you out the nearest window. If memory serves, it’s forty feet down, and I won’t be gentle.”

Portia clucked her tongue. “How high will you count?”

“I won’t,” he told her flatly.

He sat up, bedclothes pooling about his waist, grim determination etched on his face.

Portia backed up swiftly. “Very well. But do hurry, both of you. You’re terribly late for the Revels rehearsal and two of our sisters have resorted to fisticuffs. Oddly, not the two you would think.”

I sat bolt upright, and Portia winced. “For God’s sake, Julia, have a little shame and put your breasts away.”

I scrabbled for a sheet, regarding her through gritted eyes. “We have four days to perfect the Revels for Twelfth Night, and it isn’t as though we’ve never done them before, is it? Thirty times in the last three centuries, Portia. I rather think the family have the hang of it.”

“But Brisbane has never played St. George before, and he is the centre-piece of the entire Revels. Now, get up and put on clothes, you disgusting hedonists, and come down at once. Father’s threatened to come himself if you aren’t there in a quarter of an hour.”

She turned on her heel and made for the door. “Oh, and there’s an abandoned baby in the stables. Father expects you to find out from whence it came.”

She slammed the door behind her, and I winced. “What day is it?”

Brisbane’s expression was thoughtful. “Second of January. Do you need the year, as well?” he asked sweetly.

I put out my tongue at him. “Surely I wasn’t that intoxicated.”

He snorted. “You started in on your brother’s punch on New Year’s Eve and carried on right through the first. No wonder you’re the worse for it today.”

I turned my head very slowly and blinked as he came in and out of focus. “When did you get a twin?”

His mouth curved into a smile. “Have a wash in cold water and some strong coffee with a big breakfast. You’ll feel right as rain.”

The notion of food made my stomach heave, but I did as he instructed, eating everything my maid, Morag, carried up on a tray. She helped me to wash and dress, slamming hairbrushes and powder boxes with unmistakable relish.

“Morag, you are a fiend from the bowels of hell,” I told her flatly.

She gave me a look of reproof. “And no lady drinks to excess.”

I opened my mouth to retort, but waved a hand at her instead. “Oh, God, I haven’t the strength to argue. Fine. I’m a disgrace. Just make me look presentable so the rest of the family do not suspect what wretched shape I’m in.”

She did her best, wrestling me into my corset and a pink morning gown that brought a little colour to my bilious cheeks. She rouged me lightly and stepped back. “It’s the best I can do with what I had to work with,” she remarked.

Brisbane, who had washed and dressed himself swiftly, was immaculate as ever, beautifully groomed, and had not a crease to be seen.

I shook my head, regretting it instantly. “It isn’t fair, you know.”

“What?” he asked, shooting his pristine cuffs.

“We drank the same amount, and yet you look fresh as a May morning, while I—”

“Look like something the cat sicked up,” Morag supplied helpfully.

Brisbane brushed a kiss to my cheek, pitching his voice low so that only I could hear. “You look ravishing. Which reminds me of what I intend to do later.”

I eluded his grasping hand but paused at the door. “Wait, did Portia say there was an abandoned baby in the stables?”

He furrowed his brow. “She might have done. Things were rather muffled once I pulled the eiderdown over my head.”

He slapped my bottom briskly. “On you go, before they send up a search party. I’ve thrown your sister out this morning. I’d rather not have to take on all of your brothers at once.”

Chapter Two

Thou met’st with things dying, I with things new born.

—The Winter’s Tale, III, iii, 112

The family had assembled upon Father’s orders in the stable yard, now clear of the Christmas frost, the sun almost balmy as it shone down on the stone court. I glanced about, feeling absurdly pleased. For the first time in a decade, we were all gathered for the Twelfth Night Revels. Most years the villagers in our little hamlet of Blessingstoke performed the play, but to mark the turning of each new decade, the family took its turn playing the parts. It followed the form of many mummers’ plays, with St. George and his battles against the Turkish Knight and the dragon forming the main bit of the action, the same as one might find in any Sussex village. But ours boasted a fine mechanical dragon requiring three men to operate as well as a script straight from the pen of Shakespeare himself. The result was that folk came from miles away, stuffed into wagons and perched on horseback, to see the spectacle. The years when the family performed were particularly rowdy, and it took all hands to the wheel to bring it off. The maids were put to work repairing costumes while footmen polished armour and boots, and the kitchens were busy from morning ’til night with the saffron-spiked aroma of Revel cakes baked to give by the dozen to the folk who came to celebrate with us. Father, ever a generous landowner, threw open the gates of Bellmont Abbey to any who cared to come, tenant or farmer, artisan or tradesman. He welcomed them all, and every time he took charge of the decade Revels, the affair saw some new addition. This year he put my brother Benedick to the task of creating a fireworks display to mark the resurrection of St. George after his death at the dragon’s scaly feet. It promised to be spectacular, and the fact that the rest of the men had been going around with Cheshire cat smiles meant there was another surprise or two as yet unguessed.

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