“Frogmore always seems like it ought to be a house at Hogwarts.”
Will Lamb lowered his phone to look over the train car table at Victoria. They had already been on the train for the better part of two hours thanks to every delay known to man, but none of this deterred his partner from speaking.
“It sounds so undignified. ‘Oh, yes, His Royal Highness was buried at Frogmore.’ It seems like a swamp or the country estate of Kermit the Frog.”
“I suppose I hadn’t given it much thought.”
“So, which Hogwarts houses do you think they’d be in?”
“Did your mobile run out of battery?”
“The wifi is dodgy. Albert was a Hufflepuff, obviously. You’re the world’s foremost scholar on Lord Melbourne. What do you think?”
“I wouldn’t know one from the other.”
“I think Ravenclaw.”
He shrugged. “Fine.”
“You always do this on trains. And planes. Long motor journeys...”
“And you never stop talking.”
“Only because you never talk at all.” She crossed her arms. “I would think you would want to talk to me. After all, when we get to Windsor, you’ll be ushered off to the Royal Archives to take your notes on golden tablets as you get to look at the best papers in the world.”
Will put his phone down. “I tried to get you in, but you did yourself in with the whole the Queen was shagging Lord M bit.”
“She was shagging Lord M. That’s a matter of historical record.”
“Not while she was married to Albert.”
“Well, she was probably thinking about shagging Lord M while she was married to Albert. I know I would be.”
“And do you suppose she just wrote this in her diary? ‘Dear diary, I would much rather be shagging Lord M.’”
“’Dear Diary, Today Albert told me all about his plan to build a model dairy on the estate and I passed the whole time picturing Lord M bending me over my desk while we work on the dispatch boxes.’”
“You know, you have a highly overactive imagination for someone who means to be the world’s foremost scholar on Queen Victoria I.”
“Why, Professor Lamb, I always thought you enjoyed that I have a highly overactive imagination.”
A smile turned at the corner of his mouth. “So I do.”
“You don’t wonder?”
“About Melbourne’s shagging habits.”
“I can’t say that I do.”
“I do. His first wife was disgusted by him and she sent her ex-boyfriend her pubic hair. What the hell could he have been into?”
A woman leaned over. “There are children who can hear you-”
“I’ll have you know this is simply historical fact and I happen to be a professor, thank you.” Victoria turned her head away from the woman, miffing her in the process as Will scratched his forehead and avoided eye contact. “Oral? Probably, right? Could have been anal. Did he just like to cuddle? General opinion seems to lean towards spanking, but did he like to do the spanking or did he like to be spanked? The latter would make sense, given what we know...”
The train began to slow. Will looked out relieved to see that they were finally approaching the station at Windsor.
Victoria was in her own world. “Probably tied him to the bedposts and had her way with him...”
“The next time you wonder why you aren’t allowed in the Royal Archives, this is why.”
They gathered their things and checked into the small hotel in the village before heading up to the castle. The usual gatherings of tourists and school groups were there as Victoria and Will slowly made their way to the point where they would have to separate.
“Any final requests?,” Will asked as they stood outside the security checkpoint.
“Albert’s funeral preparations. Who sent for Lord M? That sort of thing.”
He nodded. “And what are you going to do?”
“I told you. I’ve got that friend who works at Brocket Hall. I’m going to ring her and see if I can’t get us in.”
“You’re mad. It’s almost summer, the Royal Family will be there.”
“Well, if it has to wait until the autumn, fine, but I’m still going to try it. Besides, it’s not as if I was planning to be there the same time as the Royal Family.”
“You could, you and Victoria V could have tea and you could bring up your theory that her great great gran fantasized about Lord Melbourne spanking her.”
“Don’t be stupid. It was the other way round.”
“Go and see Albert,” he said walking towards the entrance.
“I’m just saying she buried her mum out here, too. Didn’t like her much!”
Life after ruling the greatest nation on Earth was somewhat understandably more a letdown than a relief.
Life after Victoria was intolerable.
So he retired not just from politics but from the world. For someone who had been so entrenched it was strange to remove himself so, to avoid newspapers and gossip. He soon found that he did not know how many days passed, how many months passed.
The world could move on without him.
So if one day he heard a German prince had died while passing through the village at Hatfield, he tried to will it away because it would change nothing.
Melbourne entered the house from the back door. Powell, the butler, was waiting.
“What is it?”
“Sir Robert Peel is in the drawing room.”
Powell looked taken aback. “I doubt I would know, milord.”
He made his way into the drawing room where Sir Robert paced.
“To what do I owe the honor?”
Peel took a long while to answer for it seemed as if he were chewing on glass to make the words come.
“Her Majesty asked that I come.”
Of course she had. Melbourne did his best to disguise his reaction.
“She is unwell.”
“Then surely that is her husband’s domain.”
Peel looked as if he had been slapped. “Prince Albert is dead!”
Peel continued on his own rant. “She keeps to her bed, she won’t see anyone and won’t look at her box. I tell you, Melbourne, this government had been brought to a grinding halt.”
Peel grimaced. Melbourne had worked tirelessly to rid himself of any thoughts of government and the palace, all but disappearing from public life.
“Do you think if I had any other options I would be here? The Prince Consort has left no heirs, the only thing standing between us and rule by the King of Hanover is a twenty year old girl who may have lost her head.”
“And you’re so terribly concerned about that prospect? I remember once you welcomed it.”
“Do you really care so little, Melbourne?”
There it was. Peel had the winning hand because he knew Melbourne’s weakness.
That he did care.
Melbourne entered Buckingham Palace with a chill. The house was not the same as he had left it, glowing with the excitement of a new marriage. Now though it felt of death.
He passed the Duchess in the hallway and earned her glare. She stuck her nose up and marched off.
Well, some things hadn’t changed.
“Baroness, Her Majesty summoned me.”
“Yes, days ago. She’s in the Blue Stateroom.”
He made his way to where a footman waited and opened the door.
Victoria walked towards him, silently offering her hand as she always had. He took it to kiss her hand, but she didn’t take it away immediately. Melbourne tried not to look into her eyes on the chance that they might reveal what she was thinking and he certainly didn’t want her to know what he was thinking.
She finally removed her hand and walked towards the window. It was then that Melbourne took the chance of looking at her. How many months had it been? He had tried to persuade himself that she could not be nearly so lovely as she had been in his memory, but even clad in black.
She had worn black the day they met.
“Your Majesty, allow me to offer my deepest condolences on the death of the prince-”
Victoria snapped her head at him, blue eyes shooting daggers.
“How dare you.”
Melbourne did not know what to say. What had he done? “I’m sorry, ma’am, I-”
“That is the first thing you say to me?”
He furrowed his brow. “Forgive me, ma’am, but I only thought-”
“You only thought? That the first words I would want to hear out of your mouth are about my dead husband?”
“What would you have me say, ma’am?”
“It’s not a matter of what I would have you say, it’s a matter of what you would want to say and I certainly don’t think it’s what you wanted to say!”
“Perhaps I am not so free to say what I want to say, ma’am.”
“Then why don’t you just speak on the rooks?”
This was a doomed enterprise from the start, was it not? What had he been thinking by agreeing to this request?
“I should leave, ma’am.”
“Do you think I am free? Free to say how frankly I am just the tiniest bit relieved? Free to say how horrible that makes me feel because poor Albert didn’t deserve that. After all, his greatest crime was not being you and one can hardly blame him for it. I am not free, Lord M, I am meant to grieve and die and I have not done my duty and my coutry once again sits on the precipice.”
She stared at him. Seconds seemed to become hours.
“You are in mourning, ma’am-”
“No, not you, Lord M,” she cut him off. “You’re the only one who ever took me seriously.”
“I believe His Royal Highness took you seriously.”
“Please. Let’s not.”
“I believe you cared for him.”
“Well, perhaps not as much as I ought to have.”
They were silent. To answer or deny would be to skirt dangerously close to the very topic they needed to avoid.
“The Lord Chamberlain wants me to approve the funeral plans.” She looked up at him. “Will you help me?”
“I am as happy to serve you as ever.”
Will made his way back to the hotel. Victoria waved at him from the window of the hotel restaurant and he made his way to her, receiving the kiss on the lips she greeted him with. It attracted a certain amount of attention from the other patrons. He was used to it. They thought she was clearly too young and he was clearly too old.
“Haven’t ordered yet.” She put the menu in his hands. “So, did they do a cavity search when you left?”
“Not quite, but part of me likes suffering for my scholarship.”
“You like being searched in the toilet? Kinky.”
“Sir Robert Peel sent for Melbourne.”
“How do you know?”
“Victoria’s diary page.”
“You got into her diary?”
“Yes and shockingly not a mention of her BDSM fantasies about Melbourne... but then again her husband had just died.”
“Let me see. Please...”
Another look from the woman at the next table. Clearly she was expecting Will to pull out a piece of jewelry or a stack of money, but instead he pulled out a printed version of Queen Victoria’s diary page to hand it to his delighted girlfriend.
“I’ve got the download, too.”
“We’ll have to look at the Melbourne papers, too, to see what he says.”
“Has your friend gotten us into Brocket Hall?”
Victoria folded her arms. “Not quite...”
“So, no then?”
“I am working on it, but at least we’re certain of why he came.”
“What did you think? That he heard the prince was shot and decided ‘this is my chance.’”
“It was one theory.” She paused, face dropping in such a way as to alarm him. “Don’t look now.”
“Oh, God, it’s not Carrie, is it?”
“Hard to tell.” She smiled. “Professor Peele.”
Roberta Peele stopped at their table. “Professor Lamb. Doctor Kensington. I didn’t expect to see you two here.”
“Why not? I’m a fellow at Windsor, just the same as you.”
“But Doctor Kensington isn’t.”
Victoria smiled. “Not yet.”
“And how is your film going?”
She meant that to be a needle into Victoria’s side. She thought her history of Queen Victoria II was just a little too populist and not enough academic. It had made best seller lists and even landed Victoria a few spots on chat shows. Then unexpectedly a Hollywood producer offered her a ridiculous sum for the film rights. Will’s research on Melbourne might have been the gold standard for academia, but Victoria was popular and he was delighted for her.
Roberta was not.
“Still in preproduction,” said Victoria. “Felicity Jones is in talks to star in it. It’s all very exciting.”
“Felicity Jones. The Theory of Everything.”
“No, that was Stephen Hawking.”
“No, she was in the film. Star Wars. She was in the Star Wars movie.”
“I don’t really go to the cinema.”
“You don’t say.”
“What brings you here, Roberta?”
“Some new research for my latest work on Prince Albert.”
“I really thought you would have covered him by now,” said Victoria.
“And you?” Roberta turned to Will.
Victoria looked at him meaningfully.
“Victoria and I are working on something.”
“Is it a secret?”
“Yes,” said Victoria.
“Well, do let me know when the film comes out.”
Roberta walked away.
“I hate her,” Victoria hissed.
“She’s not so bad, she’s just lacking in imagination.”
“And joy... Compassion... Basic human kindness...”
“I will remind you that most historians agree that Albert and Victoria were basically happy and they did produce an heir.”
“Which is bollocks.”
“Which you can’t prove.”
“Which we will prove.”
“Right, questioning the legitimacy of the Royal Family. That always goes well,” he said picking the menu back up to reexamine it.
“I don’t see why it matters. No child of Albert’s was ever going to inherit anything by virtue of him. He was no closer to the British throne than Melbourne really.”
“Victoria, this whole process will go much more smoothly if you aren’t focusing on things that aren’t there.”
“Who says they’re not there?”
He sighed. “The historical record.”
“Well, I say the historical record,” she taunted, “is inaccurate or at the very least incomplete.”
“There are no smoking guns in history.”
She smiled. “Want to bet?”
“And what would we wager?”
“You’re that confident?”
“Sounds as if you’re not.”
“Fine, I accept your wager, but don’t pout when you lose.”
“Well, don’t pout when I win," Victoria grinned as they shook hands.
“A year of mourning.”
Melbourne looked up at her. They had worked through most of the details of the funeral procession with the Lord Chamberlain, all that was left for the rest of the guests to arrive. He had stayed to help her with some of the dispatches finding it only too easy to delve into politics even if it was Sir Robert Peel’s agenda.
“I am meant to mourn him for a year and we were not married one.”
She looked up at him suddenly. “Do you think me callous?”
“No, ma’am. It can be difficult when someone you care for dies with unfinished business.”
“Did you feel the same when your wife died?”
“I suppose I did.”
“Well, Albert never...” She looked away. “That I know of. Perhaps he would have in time.”
“Do you really think that?”
“No, but it makes it easier.”
“Have you eaten, ma’am?”
He watched her brow furrow in consternation.
“Lehzen brought me something on a tray this morning. I couldn’t finish it.”
“Then might I suggest you eat and retire early. There will be much to do in the morning.”
“And will you return in the morning?”
She smiled. He bowed his head and backed out of the room.
This was doomed.