“Sit down all of you, I am not finished.” Father glared and they all sat back down. “I have yet to make my point.”
“I thought he made any number of points,” Grace said in an aside to Simon beside her.
“Exactly what I hoped to avoid.” Mother sighed. “Very well then, go on.”
“I intend to,” Father said sharply, then turned to Cam. “Regardless of the fact that you are writing under a different name, this reporting of yours for that disreputable rag of a newspaper is scandalous and embarrassing and puts this family in the poorest of lights.” Father’s tone hardened. “You will resign your position at once.” Mother groaned. “Jonathon!”
Cam braced himself. This was it then. “No, Father. I’m afraid I can’t—I won’t—do anything of the sort.” He shook his head. “I still have a great deal to learn. With every word
I write I am honing my craft. There is no better teacher than experience.”
“I believe you’ve said that on more than one occasion, Father,” Spencer pointed out.
“Well, on this particular occasion, apparently I am wrong.”
Cam rose to his feet. “I am sorry, Father, but I am twenty-seven years of age. You have long bemoaned the fact that I was doing little more than drifting through my life. Now I have found my calling, my passion as it were, and there will indeed come a time when I give up my position and turn to the writing of novels, but not yet. If you cannot accept that”—Cam met his father’s gaze directly and squared his shoulders—“then I fear we are at an impasse.”
“Oh, sit down, Cameron, and stop being overly dramatic.” Father cast an annoyed glance at his wife. “He gets that from you, you know.”
“He gets all sorts of things from me,” she said sharply.
“But he gets his tendency to overact from you. Now, sit down, Cameron.”
“Obviously, I am not pleased, but neither am I surprised by your refusal. Therefore I have considered what my response would be should you decide to ignore my wishes.”
“Sounded more like a command to me,” Simon murmured.
“I am not about to disown you or exile you from the family or cut you off without a penny,” Father said. “While four sons may seem like a great many to those who have none, I am
not going to toss one aside for choosing his own path, even if I disagree with said path.” He paused. “I was not aware that you seem to have something of a plan for your life in place. In truth I had feared this was yet another thing you would try your hand at and then abandon.”
“I have at last found what I want to do with my life,” Cam said. “It is not a passing fancy.”
Father nodded. “Am I to take from what you’ve said that you do not intend to pursue this journalistic endeavor forever?”
“For a while but not forever,” Cam said cautiously.
“And then you intend to write books?”
Cam nodded. “I do.”
“And I shall be the first to purchase the first edition of your first book.” Thad studied him curiously. “Do you intend to be the next Charles Dickens then?”
“Are you going to write about orphans and poverty and war with heroes or heroines who die tragically in the end?” Grace asked.
“No.” Cam shook his head. “If I have learned nothing else thus far, my eyes have been opened to the fact that the world is often a dire and dreadful place beyond the gates of Roxborough Hall or the walls of fine London houses. I think what people need in this world, and what I want to do, is give them a respite from their daily troubles. I didn’t know this when I began, but now I realize I want to write about the oddities and absurdities of life. I want to make people laugh or at least bring a smile to their faces, if only for as long as it takes to read a book. No, I do not intend to follow in the footsteps of Dickens, although I deeply admire his work.” He drew a deep breath. “I would much rather follow in the footsteps of Mark Twain.”
“You want to be a humorist?” Surprise sounded in Simon’s voice. “Although I should have known. I’ve always found you most amusing.”
“Mr. Twain’s humor is delightful, but he is American and we have such excellent English writers,” Grace said. “Some of them extremely amusing. Why, Shakespeare wrote a number of fine comedies.”
“I don’t think he wishes to be Shakespeare, Grace,” Thad said with a smile.
“I like him. Twain that is.” Spencer nodded. “A great deal, really.”
“As do I.” Father studied Cam for a long moment, a slight smile lifting the corners of his lips. “But then you knew that, didn’t you?”
“Well, yes.” Cam distinctly recalled his father attending a banquet for the American during his visit to England when Cam was a boy.
“You do realize if you had confided in me as to your plans in the beginning, we could have avoided all this unpleasantness.”
Cam shifted uneasily in his chair. “Possibly.”
“I am still not happy with your position with the Messenger. If it were the Times perhaps but . . .” Father considered him for a long moment. “I shall make you a bargain, Cameron.” Father leaned toward him. “You want to write books, then write me a book. A book that proves to me this is indeed your future and not another lark you have embarked upon. I have been impressed with your writing thus far, but a brief article where the facts are laid out before you is a far cry from a work of fiction. Prove to me this is your passion. I shall give you, what?” He glanced at his mother. “A month?”
“At least two I would think.” Grandmother cast Cam an apologetic glance. “It doesn’t have to be long, you know.”
“And if I can’t?” Cam asked.
“If you can’t, you resign your position at the Messenger.” Father’s smile was decidedly smug.
“I see.” Cam thought for a moment. He had not yet tried to write a book. In truth, the very thought was daunting. Still, there was no reason why he couldn’t. And if he didn’t believe in himself, how could he expect anyone else, especially his father, to? “And when I do?”
Father grinned. “If you do, I shall not say another disparaging word about the Messenger, nor shall I insist you resign. Indeed, I shall willingly support your efforts in whatever way you wish.”
“Nor shall you throw this in his face should the rest of the world discover Cameron Fairchild is really Cameron Effington, son of the Duke of Roxborough,” Mother added.
“Should his work—how did you put it? ah yes—cast this family in the poorest of lights, bringing embarrassment and humiliation down upon us all.” Father hesitated, then sighed. “I will agree to that.”
“Very well then, Father.” Cam adopted his most confident tone. “You have yourself a wager.”
“Oh, I’m willing to wager on that myself.” Simon grinned.
“Simon Effington, you will not wager against your brother.” Mother huffed.
“I would never do that, Mother. Besides, I think he’ll pull it off.” Simon chuckled. “But I am willing to bet Father can’t keep up his end of the bargain.”
“Really?” Father’s brow rose. “And you are willing to put up your own money to back that up?”
“I’d be willing to wager, oh, ten pounds on it.” A wicked gleam shone in Simon’s eyes.
“As am I,” Thad added.
“I’m in.” Spencer nodded.
“What about you, Grace?” Father glanced at his daughter.
“Are you too so lacking in faith as to your father’s ability to abide by his word?”
“Oh, Father, I would never say such a thing.” Grace scoffed, then grinned. “But it does seem too good an opportunity to pass up.”
Grandmother nodded. “My thoughts exactly.”
“You too, Mother?”
“What about you, Fiona?” The duke looked at his wife. “Are you going to join the rest of my traitorous family?”
“Of course not, dear. I said I would not take sides. Besides”—Mother smiled—“I am already planning to do something completely frivolous with the money you shall collect from our children.”
“Thank you.” Father shook his head in a resigned manner.
“It’s so gratifying to know I have the confidence of my family.”
Cam glanced around the table and smiled. “That it is, Father, that it is.”
It was indeed good to know his family had faith in him even if their confidence might exceed his own.
Because, while any number of ideas were constantly simmering in his head, at the moment, he had absolutely no idea what he would write about.