I never knew my mother. She died within hours of my birth, in the stormy evening of September 12, 1763. By all accounts, Lady Catherine was a frail young woman, thin and sickly; it's a wonder she ever survived the birth of one son, let alone live to birth two. My father grieved for her almost deeply, because even though my parents' marriage was arranged between families, he had grown rather fond of his petite little wife. In later years I regretted her death a little. It's only natural, of course, for a child to want to know its mother. But even had she lived, I would have been raised by old Martha anyway, and I would have seen very little of her, so I did not feel the loss as deeply as you might expect. When I was eight years old, I found a portrait of her, done some two years before I was born. Both she and my older brother Julius were in the painting; my mother looked so happy. She must have been a beautiful lady.
My father named me Antony. I've always hated my name. I can't remember a time when I ever liked it. But my father liked it very much. Lord Matthew Dewhurst, Duke of Exeter, loved the Roman classical period with a passion he never showed his wife, and so he named his sons after notable Roman personages. I suppose I should be grateful he didn't name me Brutus. I've always felt that Antony was so stiff, so formal. It brings up images of stern schoolmasters with the whipping rod ready in their hand, watching your every movement, ready to strike at the first sign of error. As soon as I knew enough to form a nickname for myself, I insisted that my friends call me simply Tony. With my superiors, tutors, and schoolmasters, of course, I had no choice. It was always Antony to the stern teachers at boarding school. As a whole, boarding school was a shock to me, my first time away from the familiarities of home. It was at school that I first met Andrew.
In the autumn of 1775 I was sent away to school in Oxford. Having never been sent to boarding school before, I was understandably nervous and just a little homesick. So my first week was rather rough. The teachers were stern and exacting by nature; my tutors at home had never been so hard with me. I often slunk away from the school into the forest to be by myself, to think of home and wish I were there, even to shed a few tears where I was sure no one would see. One day, about a week after I arrived at Oxford, I saw another boy there, in the woods. He was sitting underneath a tree like I usually did, picking at the grass and fiddling with his cravat absentmindedly. There might have even been tear stains on his cheeks. In other words, he was obviously as homesick as I was.
"Hi," I said. He looked up guiltily, sure that I would tease him for crying. But I had no such intention.
"Hi." He stood up and brushed off his breeches. "Who are you?"
"I'm Tony Dewhurst. I was just wondering why you're here." I paused. "Do you miss your family too?"
"I guess so. I'm Andrew," he said, offering me his hand. "Andrew Ffoulkes."
We were drawn together by common hardship, both of us being new to the school and missing home, and so we became very good friends. He was a more timid sort than I, but he was also the more studious; he passed the classes easily, while I struggled with the schoolmaster on more than one occasion. Andrew and I were at Oxford for six years, six of the happiest years I remember. I had never before made a friend; Julius was far too much older than I, and besides, I hardly ever saw him when I was young. But Andrew was a true friend. These six happy years were sullied at the very end, in April of 1781, when I was seventeen and about to begin studying abroad.
Andrew and I were out in the fields, racing the horses. I had loved horses since childhood, and I learned to race them at Oxford. It became a sort of passion with me, and I was pretty good at it as well. Andrew was just as good, though, and he laughingly challenged me to a race that April afternoon. I have never in my life turned down a challenge. The bet was twenty guineas. It was, I believe, a rather close race; we rode alongside each other for a good stretch of the course. I pulled ahead at the very end, though, and won by the smallest of margins. As we led our horses back to the stables, talking and laughing, we were met by a servant.
"Master Antony," he said, "a letter for you. The runner said it was urgent."
I cringed at the sound of my despised first name, but took the letter anyway. "Thank you, John," I said, feeling some trepidation about the contents of the message. It couldn't be good news; good news isn't urgent. I opened the letter as Andrew stood off to the side.
I fear I have bad news for you. Last night, Father died in his sleep unexpectedly. You must come home at once. Arrangements have already been made with the head schoolmaster; you can leave without delay. I know this will be a great shock to you, but it is a shock to all of us as well.
I reeled. Father was dead? But he couldn't be; I hadn't been able to be by his side at the time of his death. I never had the chance to say goodbye.
"Andrew," I stammered, "I-I have to go home. My father-he died." I didn't know what else to do other than pack my things and leave. I rushed off to my room, and that very night I left Oxford. Only when I was in the carriage did I begin to cry.
I didn't return to Oxford until June. The loss of two months' work had put me behind Andrew more than I had anticipated. When I returned to my room, I found a note slid under the door.
I was hoping it wouldn't be like this, but I can't delay any longer. I have to leave school today. You've been a great friend to me, and I hope that someday in the future we will see each other again. Perhaps even on the Continent. Until then, I remain
P.S. Enclosed are the twenty guineas I owe you for that horse race.
It was dated the day before. We had just missed each other.
It hurt immensely to have missed saying goodbye to the two people I loved most in the course of only two months. I didn't finish school until that August, and the last two months of my Oxford life were as sad and dreary as those six years had been happy. I immediately left for Paris, to take my mind off the sorrow.
I can remember very little of my studies on the Continent. I studied in Paris for a year, in Vienna for a year and a half, and in Milan for a year. The entire experience was a blur of culture and society. If I could, I would have wished to stay in Paris a bit longer; the court of Louis XVI was brilliant, and the city enchanting. But for some strange reason I felt I should always be moving, always going somewhere. Perhaps I was running away. Away from what? I couldn't tell.
When I returned to England, I took up residence at my estate. That is, the estate my father had left me. Although the dukeship of Exeter had passed to Julius, I still retained a hereditary lordship, and my father had provided for me to have our family summer estate at Kensington. He had always been kind. It was March of 1785 when I began living at Saliston Hall, and the following month I began to move in Society, where I truly began to live my life again.
At the very first Society function I attended, I had not been there more than fifteen minutes when I spied a man leaning against the wall on the other side of the room. He seemed bored to the point of tears, watching the couples dance by. His whole demeanor seemed familiar to me, but I suppose the moment I realized his identity was when he began to fiddle with his cravat absentmindedly.
"Andrew!" I cried, not caring who heard. His head snapped up, searching for the source of the sound. By that time I was already crossing the room to where he was. Eventually he saw me, and disbelief mingled with confused recognition came over his face.
"Tony?" I laughed and shook his hand gleefully.
"Of course it's me! You still have that nervous habit of yours, don't you?" I said, gesturing to his tousled cravat. "Thank goodness for that. It's the only way I could have recognized you. You've changed quite a bit in three years, you know!" He laughed as well, clapping me on the back.
"I suppose I have. While you, Tony my friend, haven't changed a bit."
Ah, but I have, I thought. But this was not the time to delve into my personal griefs. I wouldn't have had time, anyway, because at that moment we were approached by two men.
"Andrew! There you are, friend. I was beginning to think we'd lost you in the crowd, what?" the first said. I looked at Andrew, puzzled. He smiled.
"Yes, yes, here I am. Tony, let me introduce you to these gentlemen." He turned to the man who had remained silent first. "This is Lord Timothy Hastings, and this," he said, indicating the first man, "is Sir Percy Blakeney. Friends, this is Lord Antony Dewhurst, a friend of mine from school days." I shot Andrew a look to kill. He should know better than to refer to me by my full first name.
"Please," I said, extending my hand to the two men, "call me Tony, gentlemen. It's so much more pleasant." We shook hands cordially.
"I met these two gentlemen in Paris last year," Andrew said to me. "Percy spent most of his life there, and has only just now returned to England."
"Yes," Percy laughed, "this young man was wandering down the Rue du Temple when I first saw him, hopelessly lost. He might have wandered into the Seine itself had I not set him straight." We all laughed, except for Andrew, who was turning red. I could just picture Andrew lost in the middle of Paris, too afraid to ask for directions. It was quite amazing; I had only known these two men for a few minutes, and already the four of us felt like old, close friends.
It would be six years before I would know just how close we all would be.