The Priory had been abustle the past several days as Aubrey prepared to go to Cambridge. Nurse had originally been the main quartermaster of the expedition, but although Nurse was an excellent creature devoted to her charges, she would keep fussing at Aubrey until he was all out of temper.
After observing for a bit, Venetia felt the wisest course of action was to intervene. She had asked Damerel to do so, saying, “For you know she likes you better than me now, since you have twisted her ‘round your finger, you flatterer!”
Damerel had laughed at her and promised to intervene if everything went utterly pear-shaped, but at the moment he was deriving too much enjoyment from Nurse’s Biblical imprecations to do anything to stop them.
“Wretch!” Venetia exclaimed, but had to own that Nurse was outdoing herself.
As a rule, Nurse was ensconced at Undershaw taking care of the young heir and cosseting Lady Lanyon, but the prospect of Aubrey leaving had overset that worthy woman. She had descended on the Priory and had set the household at sixes and sevens trying to outfit Aubrey properly for going to Cambridge.
“She does realize that Cambridge is in England and not Egypt?” Damerel asked dryly.
Venetia sighed and said, “You know she does not believe that anyone can take care of Aubrey as well as she can, and I am rather afraid that she has forgotten that there are shops in Cambridge where one can buy necessities!”
“I daresay Lady Stanhope’s expedition was less well-equipped,” said Damerel.
Aubrey, of course, was not participating in any of this hubbub except to sort out books he wished to take. So far he had separated out several trunks-worth of books, but had not even glanced at the growing pile of clothes, toiletries, medicines, and sundry other items deemed necessary by Nurse. Venetia had tried to engage him in this task to no avail.
“At the very least, will you look over the clothes? For you know you cannot live naked in a barrel, my love!” said Venetia.
Damerel laughed and said he’d be happy to provide a lantern if Aubrey so desired.
Aubrey glanced up and said, “I imagine Nurse has already packed one.”
“Insolent pup!” exclaimed Damerel with a twinkle in his eyes.
Aubrey grinned at him and turned back to his books.
“I will leave you to your books, but you must promise me that you will come to dinner without them,” said Venetia.
Aubrey flapped his hand at her, which Venetia rightly took to mean that he had heard and would comply, but that to say anything else right now would run the risk of setting up his back.
After dinner, where Aubrey had appeared almost promptly and without a book, the three of them sat talking while sweetmeats were served.
“I need not ask if you are looking forward to Trinity,” Venetia said, “since you have talked of nothing else this past month, and I am well aware that you are enraptured at the prospect of being able to go to the library. However, I daresay they will not let you actually live in the library, so is there aught else you are looking forward to?”
Aubrey looked at her and said quizzically, “What else should I look forward to?”
Venetia replied, “I haven’t a clue, my dear, for I am quite sure that the majority of what goes on does not make it to the ears of us delicately-bred females.”
“Venetia!” Aubrey exclaimed in tones of mock horror, “surely you are not encouraging me to become involved in unsavory activities!” He turned to Damerel and said, “This must be your pernicious influence, Jasper, for I vow my sister would never have implied such things before she met you!”
Damerel laughed and said, “Now there is bit of humbug if ever I heard one and well you know it. And Venetia, my love, your ears are many delightful things, but delicate they are not!”
Venetia chuckled and turned back to Aubrey. “There are other things to life than books, you know.”
Aubrey shrugged and said, “Well, I do intend to take my horses with me, and Jasper has assured me there is some decent riding to be had.”
Venetia looked at him and said carefully, “Is there anything else you might look forward to?”
Aubrey looked away and retorted, “Not being near Nurse!”
Venetia wisely saw that as the end of that line of questioning, and calmly steered the conversation to discussion about the truly absurd quantity of items that Nurse was separating.
Later that evening, Damerel went looking for Aubrey and found him in the library, leafing through a pile of books. “Your sister means well,” he said abruptly.
Aubrey looked up startled and said, “Of course she does. More than that, she usually manages to do well, which is a damn sight better than most.”
Damerel laughed at that, and said, “Insolent pup! Not that I disagree with you, mind you. Your sister is remarkable.”
Yes, yes,” Aubrey said dismissively. “You really had better think so, since you married her. But what does that have to do with anything?” Damerel looked at him keenly and said nothing for a moment.
“It won’t be what you’re expecting,” Damerel said abruptly. Aubrey raised his eyebrows. “Cambridge.” Damerel sighed and sat down. “Brandy?” he offered.
Aubrey shook his head and looked at him quizzically. “This is unlike you, Jasper. Stop beating around the bush and tell me what you have come to tell me, or what Venetia has sent you to tell me.”
Damerel laughed a little, but his voice remained serious. “I had high expectations when I went up to university. I would not like to see you make some of the mistakes I did.”
Aubrey laughed, an almost painful sound. “Jasper, I know very well what I am and what I can expect. I do not think I will have the same opportunities for mistakes you did.” Aubrey looked at Damerel and his eyes softened. “My friend, you seem almost concerned for me,” he said lightly.
Damerel replied, “Oh no, not that! Why do you accuse me of such vile things?”
Aubrey chuckled, but his eyes remained on Damerel. “You are worried, perhaps, that I will expect to be welcomed with open arms by my peers, who will be like-minded men. Additionally, let me think… you are worried that I will be taken in by some scheming young woman, who will be kind to the cripple and I will then be overwhelmed by her charms?”
Damerel met his eyes and smiled briefly. “How could I have forgotten that bluntness is a Lanyon family trait?”
Aubrey grinned at that, and said “You need not worry, Jasper. I do not expect my peers to be any less condescending than the ones I have already met here. I do hope, however, that some of the scholarship students might be able to offer interesting conversation. As for the scheming young woman,” he continued, “I have spent my life being pitied by most females. I am not particularly interested in female company for those sorts of things.” Damerel looked up from his brandy glass at that, but made no comment.
After a minute, Damerel said, “Young pup, are you trying to reassure me?”
Aubrey asked, “Is it working?”
Damerel laughed and said, “Surprisingly, yes. You and your sister continually surprise me.” He paused, and then said roughly, “Before you go I want you to know that no matter what you do or what happens, you always have a home at the Priory.”
Aubrey looked surprised and replied, “But why wouldn’t I? I know that Venetia will always stand by me, and you will do whatever she desires.”
Damerel looked at him and said, “Not just for Venetia’s sake. For yours, Aubrey. Whatever scrapes you manage to get yourself into--no, don’t interrupt, I imagine you will find a way, you are not yet in your dotage!--come to me for help, for God’s sake! Don’t be a numbskull and try to go it alone!”
Aubrey laughed up at him, and said, “With Venetia for a sister and you for a brother, I cannot imagine I will be allowed to.”