The Valet and the Stable Groom: M/M Regency Romance

The Valet and the Stable Groom
M/M Regency Romance
Katherine Marlowe
Part I
Chapter 1

T
he morning was a disaster
.

Clement Adair had risen with optimism, his spirits cheered by the sunny skies and the first spring leaves visible through the window of his cramped little room in the servants quarters. He had dressed in his usual dark gray suit, of expensive cloth and adequate tailoring, which had formerly belonged to his employer. It had been taken in to fit Clement's slimmer form, and the singeing along the coat tails was almost unnoticeable. Pleased, he ran his dark brown hands with their fastidiously trimmed nails along the seams.

Tying his crisp white cravat in place, he set forth to begin the familiar routine of his day, only to discover that nothing was where it should be.

His master’s suit remained unwashed and unpressed upon the laundry table, with soup stain upon the cuff. The delinquent laundress was nowhere to be found.

The breakfast tray for his employer had not been laid, nor had the tea water been heated, nor was there water in the kettle for heating. Clement feared the event of some sudden plague or exodus when the cook came bustling into the kitchen.

“Mrs. Adams,” Clement said, with an urgent tone of voice which he hoped communicated a hint of disappointment at her delinquency of duties combined with the conviction that she would resume normal breakfast service straightaway.

She stormed past him without the slightest notice. Checking the kettle, she uttered an expletive under her breath, and set herself to the operation of the kitchen pump.

Clement was of moderate height, and therefore thought himself not easily overlooked. He cleared his throat, loudly, and resumed his attempt at gentle reprimand. “Mrs. Adams.”

“Not now, Mr. Adair,” the cook scolded him.

Mrs. Adams had always been obliging and swift at any task required of her, and her daily breakfast trays had been always precisely to the expectation of Clement’s master, the Honourable Hildebert Devereux. Every morning Clement would lay out his master’s suit, fetch his master’s breakfast, and attend to his master’s toilette, and every morning the rest of the household completed their tasks as well-oiled gears in an efficient machine.

“See here, Mrs. Adams,” Clement said, beginning to lose his temper. He was somewhat appeased to see the newly-filled kettle being hung in its place over the kitchen fire. Tea water would surely be forthcoming. “What the devil could possibly be more important than the diligent pursuit of your duties? My master expects his
breakfast
…”

Mrs. Adams wheeled upon him, hands on her broad hips. “Her ladyship has just this morning been delivered of a baby boy. Your master will have to
wait
for his breakfast.”

Clement sputtered in shock. “Early! The babe has come early? But surely, we must send for the doctor…”

“Yes, as was done last night.”

“Delivered of a baby boy!” Clement repeated. “Why wasn’t I informed?”

Mrs. Adams huffed with laughter, which Clement thought was unnecessary. “What do you know about babies, Mr. Adair? It’s nothing to do with you.”

And then she swooped out of the kitchen the way she’d come, leaving the kettle to heat unattended over the fire.

Clement was offended and shocked to his core to discover that something had happened to set the entire household into an uproar, an occurrence which evidently drew even the laundress and the cook from the most basic performance of their duties, but which required absolutely nothing of him. They must have roused half the household to attend to the needs of Lady Devereux and her newborn baby, but no one had bothered to wake Lady Devereux’s brother-in-law’s personal valet, because his services simply hadn’t been required.

Lord and Lady Devereux’s breakfast would no doubt have remained the household’s highest priority. But if Lord Devereux’s younger brother, the Honourable Hildebert Devereux, were to be provided breakfast in this time of upheaval, it would have to be according to Clement’s own competence and determination.

Taking care to stay out of the way of the busy, hurried staff that bustled in and out on the errands of the Lord and Lady of the house, Clement located two eggs, a sausage, and some of yesterday’s bread, all of which he fried in a bit of butter to provide a simple, hearty repast for his employer. He arranged the meal upon its plate and arranged the plate upon its tray, along with the usual accoutrements of tea, jam, sugar, milk, teacup, saucer, and appropriate cutlery.

Satisfied that the disaster had been averted, Clement carried the tray upstairs, composing in his head a variety of wardrobe selections that would be appropriate for attending upon the birth of one’s older brother’s baby, and taking into consideration that the second best suit, which would have been the ideal choice, had the remaining soup stain upon the cuff and wrinkles in the trousers. He had just decided that Hildebert’s light gray morning suit would be ideal for the weather and the occasion when he reached his master’s door, stepped across the threshold, and discovered that the bedroom was empty.

Clement set the tray upon a side table and leant his arms upon it. “Oh, merciful heavens,” he muttered, marshalling his energies and drawing himself up to consider his plans anew.

Hildebert, younger brother to the Viscount Devereux, had evidently vacated his bedchamber unbreakfasted, unshaven, and presumably still clad in his sleeping garments, and now of whereabouts unknown. Clement felt a wave of terror at the thought of his master in such an ignoble state.

He left the breakfast upon the side table and stepped into the hall in search of his employer.

The first person he encountered was not Hildebert Devereux, but a presence almost as welcome.

“Letty!” Clement exclaimed, and stepped into her path.

Letitia Lockwood, lady’s maid to Hildebert’s wife, Mrs. Jane Devereux, stopped in the middle of the hall with a bemused smile, carrying what looked suspiciously like an empty breakfast tray. “Clement?”

“Letty,” Clement repeated, and took a deep breath to brace himself for his own appalling news. “I cannot find Hildebert.”

Letty giggled. “He’s breakfasting with his brother.”

Her light tone only made Clement feel all the more aghast at his own ignorance, and he opened and shut his mouth, at a loss for how he ought to proceed.

“Clement Adair! There you are. Mr. Adair!”

Both Clement and Letty leaned to the side to peer down the hall at the summons. It was no less a personage than Mr. Higgins, head butler, frowning at them both.

Letty ducked quietly away, leaving Clement alone to weather the situation.

“Mr. Adair,” said Mr. Higgins, in a sharply reprimanding tone. “Exactly what do you suppose you’ve been about?”

Clement opened his mouth to explain himself, then decided it would be more circumspect to refrain from excuses. “My duties, sir,” he replied, with chin high and spine straight.

“I don’t want to hear about it,” Mr. Higgins said. “Mr. Devereux requires you at once.”

“Of course,” Clement said, signalled by the
title—or relative lack thereof—that Mr. Higgins meant Hildebert, and not his lordship. Glancing back at his master’s bedroom door, which he had just vacated and which surely Hildebert could not have snuck past unseen, Clement cleared his throat uncertainly. “Ah. Where?”

“With his lordship! In his lordship’s breakfast room. Make haste, man!”

Mr. Higgins scowled at him with considerable disapproval. Clement made haste.

Unprepared and unarmed with any of the usual utensils of a good valet, Clement stepped through the door to the breakfast room.

His Lordship James, Viscount Devereux, and his brother the Honourable Hildebert Maynard looked up from a mostly depleted but very elegant breakfast spread of boiled eggs, breads and jams, beefsteaks, and a tray of kippers, and paused in their conversation to stare at Clement.

His first thought was of the embarrassing attempt at a breakfast which was now beginning to cool on a side table in Hildebert’s bedchamber. Clement flushed to the tips of his ears, thankful that his dark skin gave some aid in concealing his blush, and bowed.

“Clement!” Hildebert said, beaming happily upon his personal valet. “
There
you are. Good. Come and listen, will you? I’m going to need your help with preparations. We are going to be embarking upon an expedition to Make Something of Ourselves.”

This was said with great moment, and meant almost nothing to Clement. He looked between the brothers in confusion.

“Yes,” Hildebert confirmed to himself, returning his attention to his elder brother. “Explain it again, will you?”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Lord Devereux said, and sighed. “To be sure, I think it would be good for you if you
did
make something of yourself, Hildebert, or at the very least if you would take up a hobby. But all I’m saying, you see, is that now I have an
heir
.”

“Yes,” Hildebert said, nodding to show that he did perfectly understand the subtle implications of this, though the furrowing of his brow indicated that he might still be struggling to grasp the thrust of his brother’s point, which was evidently on at least its second repetition.

Neither of them was paying the slightest amount of attention to Clement, who continued to stand obediently in place.

“It’s time that I started taking my responsibilities seriously,” Lord Devereux continued. “I’m a father now, and a member of the peerage. We’re not bachelors any longer, Hildebert.”

“Of course,” Hildebert agreed, continuing to nod as though his head had been set upon a bobbing string.

“And you understand, don’t you, that it would hardly be seemly for you to remain in the household, married as you are, now that I have an heir?”

“It’s perfectly clear,” Hildebert said.

“As much of a pleasure as it is to have you around, my darling Hildebert!” Lord Devereux said.

“A delight!” Hildebert echoed.

“But I think it is high time—past time!—for you to properly establish your own household.” Lord Devereux paused to let that sink in. “Separate from mine.”

Hildebert’s smile flickered in alarmed confusion.


Separate
from yours?” he repeated.

“I pray you won’t be dramatic about this, Hildebert. You understand that I’m only acting in the interests of the respectability of my household. And yours! After all, it is hardly as though I am casting you out penniless. You own Gennerly House in your own right, after all, which is a very fine estate. I think it’s high time that you took personal oversight of the management of that estate, don’t you?”

“Personal oversight,” Hildebert repeated, lips pursed tightly.

Personal oversight
, Clement thought, his mind beginning to race ahead of itself to a new conclusion.

“The first thing to do is to establish a household of your own,” Lord Devereux said. “You’ll need a full staff, in addition to the few servants who have been maintaining Gennerly House in the meantime.”

He’ll need a butler
, Clement thought.

“I’ve given this some thought, you see, before now,” said his lordship. “And as any fool knows, the first thing that one must
always
do is secure the services of a competent butler, who may serve as the head of the household staff.”

Clement drew himself up to his full height, puffing his chest with pride.

“Indeed, I did think,” continued Lord Devereux, “that perhaps you might be spared the trouble of seeking out a new butler of the appropriate qualifications, for after all, we have right here a perfectly capable candidate…”

Lord Devereux extended his hand generously in Clement’s direction.

Mind reeling with delight and pride, Clement stepped forward and said, “It would be my absolute
pleasure
,” at the precise same moment as Lord Devereux finished with: “Mr. Midgley.”

Clement gaped, stiffened, and coughed.

The brothers regarded him in perplexed shock.

“To… to relay the news,” Clement stammered, in an effort to recover the situation, “to Mr. Midgley. Of… of his promotion.”

Lord Devereux grimaced.

Committing to the pretence that he had only ever intended to express his enthusiasm for Mr. Midgley’s good fortune, Clement bowed deeply. “I will inform him right away.”

Turning upon his heel without waiting to be dismissed, Clement fled.

M
r. Midgley
!

Of all the people whom Lord Devereux might have thought to recommend to the position, Clement could think of few less qualified than under-butler Midgley. Even Letty, despite her inexperience and her gender, would surely be a better selection than Mr. Midgley!

It was not, Clement allowed to himself, that Mr. Midgley was necessarily incompetent. It was simply that Mr. Midgley was an under-butler of a certain character, comfortably ensconced in his position and past the age at which an under-butler might reasonably entertain thoughts of advancement. On the other hand, a personal valet from a respectable household, particularly one who had demonstrated admirable depths of competence and ambition, might easily be promoted to the position of head butler in the establishment of a much smaller and more frugal household.

He would not allow himself to believe that Lord Devereux, or Hildebert, would slight him solely on the basis of his colour.

The shame and humiliation of the assumption he’d almost made made Clement’s face heat. Lord Devereux had gestured right at him! But, of course, Clement had been standing in front of the door, and Lord Devereux might easily have meant to indicate either Clement or door as representative of the Household Staff, and therefore of Mr. Midgley.

All the worse because Clement had now put himself into the position to inform Mr. Midgley of this new development. He could think of few tasks more miserable than of congratulating Mr. Midgley of the position that he himself had wanted.

Dragging his steps on the way down to the servants’ kitchen, Clement hoped for some disaster to cross his path, anything which would require his immediate attention and give him an excuse to never, ever deliver his news, not until the Devereux brothers had come to their senses. And yet he encountered no one along his route than maidservants and footmen going about their duties, busy with a dozen little tasks in attendance upon the newborn baby. None of which required the services of Hildebert’s personal valet.

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