This story is based on characters created by Steven Rogers and James Mangold for the motion picture Kate & Leopold.
Glancing at him for only a moment, Otis sensed rather than saw the change occur. Something was very well, different with his Duke. The young man had, in the time needed to take the barest of breaths, altered - somehow.
It was not how he looked nor how he stood nor what he wore. Nothing quite so easily defined as that. Otis was quite sure no one else other than himself would have noticed. Of course, it was Otis' job to notice such things. The Duke of Albany had been his charge for nearly three decades now.
Always a challenge, service to the young Duke had been filled with a special brand of reward and heartbreak. The youngest in the Mountbatten line of succession to the Dukedom had been the most unwilling member of the aristocracy in modern memory. Certainly, the history of the Crown had been filled with unwilling successors both in and out of Buckingham Palace. Though far removed from any chance of real acquisition of power in England, the Duke of Albany stood in the official line of succession and therefore held an important place at Court and in stature among his fellow Englishmen. The Duke's public duties were taken seriously by everyone but himself and his responsibilities to the Crown were looked on as a pointless exercise in servility rather than a true service to England. The Duke often said that he felt decidedly like anything but a member of the Royal family.
Indeed, he was often treated like the least deserving member. His family did not understand the Duke's interest in science and invention. His mind required as much athletic rigor as his body did. This Duke had a restless brain, needing, indeed, demanding constant stimulation and challenge to prevent stagnation and despondency. Since adolescence the Duke had been prone to periods of severe and protracted melancholia. Extensive physical activity had been prescribed by physicians who refused to see that an idleness of mind was the cause of this young man's despair. His loneliness had been profound. His parents had died when the Duke was still very young and before any siblings had been produced. Left alone, the young heir had sought refuge in the massive libraries of which his father, the late Duke of Albany, had been so fond. Otis had spent many a late night searching the manor for the young Duke's latest hiding place where his Grace would invariably be found curled into some small crevice or nook with coat, candle, and book.
Chided to take his duties more seriously, the young Duke was chastised for fancying the ideas of men such as Mercer, Grove, Merrick, Goodyear, Dart, and Braille. Men who crafted ideas designed to make life better for the common man. Night after night the Duke would babble on and on about some new fascinating wonder he had read about - "You really must read about this new grain lifting device, Otis," the young man would enthuse, "it's really quite a marvel and so important. Do you know how much of an increased yield in grain can be gained by its' employ?" or "This fellow Morse has developed the most ingenious system for adequate communication known to man. By memorizing a simple system of dots and dashes, one can send and receive messages of any length and complexity with absolute accuracy!" or " and vulcanization of the rubber means that the fabric can better tolerate the extremes of heat and cold ." Otis understood little of the information but he intuited the importance of the process of discovery to his charge.
The young Duke learned early, and cruelly, that Otis was the only adult in his life who would tolerate such tirades of enthusiasm for anything other than for his official responsibilities. When melancholia took hold it rarely let go without a fight. And fight it the young Duke did. Taking the orders of the Court physicians to heart, he became proficient with any manner of weapon, excelled at horsemanship, proved an admirable pugilist, and developed into what the ladies of society viewed with open approval, bordering on esurience, a very handsome and eligible member of England's elite - yet another thing that brought the young man no joy and endless revulsion. The cloyingness of the female in search of a suitably distinguished mate was a well known, if distasteful, aspect of English society and something with which the current Duke of Albany had no patience.
Love was something of a myth for this Duke. He feared it as much as he revered the idea of it. His parents had loved each other. As a small child the Duke had witnessed, for all too short a time, the fruit of true affection. What remained after his parents' deaths was the feeling of incumbency his family extended in the void left by their absence. Passed from one cousin to another, then from one uncle to another in the vain attempt to provide the appropriate sense of responsibility and royal bearing required of a duke, the youngest Mountbatten learned that his upbringing was a matter of duty to the Crown not a matter of love for the child. Love, then, had been relegated to the realm of fairie-tale. The mere idea of courtship was odious to a young man who had grown weary of chastisements masquerading as false professions of affection. "Love," the Duke had once confessed to Otis, "is a lie."
So then, Otis had become the only constant in the Duke's life, serving his Grace as he had served the former Duke of Albany. For Otis, this duty that was a labor of devotion to the father was transformed into a service that was no less a labor of love and admiration for the son.
Despite the ups and downs of this young Duke, his Grace was a man of principle and honor. The Duke was honest to a fault. His mind was filled to overflowing with ideas of improving life, fulfilling his obligations as a Duke, and even, as much as he loathed the thought, taking a wife and perpetuating his family line. The fact that his uncle wished him to take a wife of means to help perpetuate his family's wealth was not lost on the young idealist.
The problem lay in the odd realization that, as much as the Duke professed that he did not believe in the reality of true love, he longed for it. His delay in taking a wife had been brought about by his unspoken, perhaps even unconscious, desire to find a woman he could truly love as his father had loved his mother. The Duke hoped for with his heart what his mind would not allow himself to even consider. His heart demanded that he give any woman he took as wife nothing but the truest of all emotion. No woman deserved less. He was, in every respect, a true English noble.
But delay and feeble hope were not acceptable to the Duke's family. The line of Mountbatten must be preserved. The Duke must marry and marry well. If the young man would not do so of his own free will, he would be forced to do so by the will of the Crown. The aristocracy must be maintained and the constancy of the line of succession safeguarded. The Duke must marry and produce an heir. The Duke must marry well and secure adequate wealth for posterity. The Duke had his duty. There was no room left for the dream of true love. Such romantic notions were for schoolboys, not grown men.
The trip to see Master Roebling and his bridge was an attempt to put the promise of endless unpleasantness as far back in the Duke's thoughts as was possible. Soon enough he would accept the demands of his family and choose a wife from among the wealthiest in New York society. He would begin a life of duty to her and take his promise to provide for her happiness as seriously as any man ever had. The nature of his character would not allow for anything less. If he could not have true love he would offer true devotion. Such a thing filled the young noble with dread. Otis understood that. Still, duty was duty and his Duke would not shy away from it.
As the powder exploded in the flash pan of the camera set up by the newspaper reporter determined to snap a photograph of the Duke of Albany for the next edition, Otis saw his charge flinch momentarily from the unexpected burst. The involuntary stiffening of the Duke's body seemed to be prolonged. The Duke seemed almost trapped by the flash and for several moments did not move at all.
When Otis at last realized that the Duke had not acknowledged even a single of the reporter's questions, he became concerned.
"Are you quite well, your Grace?"
The Duke did not immediately reply. He shook his head as if to clear away some fog. Turning to look about him, the Duke looked past Otis, rather than at him.
The Duke's mouth moved slowly. "Otis?" The name was uttered softly, almost tentatively.
"Yes, your Grace."
"Otis?" the Duke repeated, this time more forcefully.
"Yes, your Grace!"
What happened next is something that Otis did not think anyone else would believe or understand. When next the Duke of Albany looked into his face, Otis was certain he saw something there that he had never seen before. Wonder, fear, joy, and loss all at once vied for possession of the young man's features. The transformation was frightening to watch. At last an awed recognition seemed to win out and a small if tentative smile creased the Duke's face. "It is you" he said at last, a conviction filling his voice.
"Yes, your Grace."
Otis was certain there was a tear in the young man's eyes. It seemed that his Duke had returned from some far away journey and found himself standing on the green of the park by the river unexpectedly. Otis could not help but be concerned that the young man was falling ill.
"Are you well, sir?"
Again, as if delayed because of traveling some vast distance, the young man's reply finally found the way out of his mouth as he slowly nodded. "I believe so."
Otis hesitated a moment, trying to judge the accuracy of the reply. In every respect the Duke looked fit. His posture was straight, his color high from the crisp midday air, his eyes a clear hazel and given more depth by the sun's rays than could have normally been seen. Yet there was something very much changed in the Duke. Something Otis could not identify - something fundamental.
At last, the Duke seemed to come completely into the present again. Turning to the reporter who continued to pummel him with questions he said, "Pardon me," and began to move around the camera.
Otis followed quickly and made a point of keeping a closer pace than was his usual practice. He was not convinced the Duke was as well as he professed. The walk back to the house was made in silence. With each stride, Otis could sense the growing anxiety in his Duke. The last few hours of exploration and admiration of invention were over and the weight of the choices the Duke would make began to settle. Otis could literally feel his young charge take on the responsibility as he drew closer to his uncle's house.
There was resolution in the Duke's steps. There was also dissolution. The Duke of Albany was giving up his dreams and taking on his duties. Watching the transformation was heart-wrenching. What could he do to help his charge?
As they prepared for the evening, Otis offered his best advice. "I suggest we make the best of it."
With a bitterness Otis had not believed possible from the young man he had grown to admire and love, he listened to the Duke again assert with a certainty that unnerved him, "Love is a lie!"
Something had happened to the Duke today, out at the river's edge. Something or someone had ripped this young man's heart and soul from his body and returned it battered and bruised, bleeding from wounds too deep to see and too lasting to heal in sufficient time to keep him from becoming a person he was never meant to be.
A true testament to the young man's nobility was the absolute determination he possessed as he descended the staircase and entered the ballroom. The Duke of Albany had banished any bitterness from his visage and stood before the assembled guests a picture of the promise of England. The Duke's uncle had informed the young man of the wealthiest of the prospective brides among the assembly tonight. There was no hesitation in the Duke's manner. He would ask for the hand of a woman he did not love and make her the next Duchess of Albany. He would shoulder the responsibility of his position and take seriously his duty to his family and his country. She would never know the bitter taste the death of his dreams left in his soul. No one other than Otis would.
The commotion in the foyer was the only thing that had taken his attention away from the Duke since the party had started. As his uncle wished, the Duke of Albany had made his decision to ask for the hand of the wealthiest socialite present. He had showered her with attention and praise. He had resigned himself to his choice and had spent the evening dealing with his demons, making what peace he could with the shattered dreams of true happiness, now all but dead.
The young woman who stood insistent at the threshold was, on the outside at least, unremarkable. She was, as most of the young women that evening were, dressed to impress a young nobleman. It wasn't until Otis glanced into her face that he decided to take a closer look.
"Are you Otis?" she had asked him. In her face, Otis saw that self same simultaneous sense of wonder, fear, joy, and loss that had filled the Duke's that afternoon. Here, in the eyes of a complete stranger, was a similitude that defied explanation. There was a connection between this young woman and his Duke. Otis was certain of it. How else could she have known him? Otis was as sure that he had never met this lady before as he was certain of his own name.
"Yes, I'm Otis," he said.
Without immediately speaking, the young woman just stared up at him. With a vulnerability that defied convention, she stood there letting him see not just her but see into her. As moments stretched into uncomfortable silence, she was finally forced to speak. "I need to see the Duke," she told him.
Otis made his mind up immediately. "Of course," he said. "This way, please."
While everyone else stared on in a strained hush, Otis led what he now believed to be the last hope for his Duke's happiness toward the ballroom. He stepped up his pace and gave the young woman a gentle shove as they neared the outer reaches of the great room and the strains of the Duke's voice could be heard. Otis hoped he could get the young woman there in time. He prayed the Duke would see her.
He knew he had succeeded when he saw the wonder, fear, and joy flood back into the Duke's face. There it was.
Kate McKay. The Duke of Albany announced his betrothal to Kate McKay. The room fell into a shocked silence as the two young lovers neared one another.
Otis closed his eyes as he listened.
"I love you," she told the Duke.
"I love you," his Duke was saying, the honesty of the declaration evidenced in every word.
There! The dream had come to life again. What he was witnessing in his Duke was love - true love. Somehow, without anyone in this life knowing it, this man and this woman had met and fallen in love. It was a dream neither of them had let die easily. It was a dream no one should have to relinquish.
Opening his eyes, Otis motioned for the orchestra to begin to play. Now all that remained was to find out how all this had happened without Otis knowing. There was a tale that would be well worth the hearing.