The Hunt: Or How I Married the Earl of Edrington, the True and
Compleat Confessions of Electra, Countess Edrington, As Told to Her
Granddaughter, Lady Sarah Trusdiffe-Hupper
by Juliet

Prologue. Edrington House 1845

"It would do no good for me to say that butter wouldn't melt in my
mouth when it came to the Earl of Edrington. I was mad for him from
the very start. He was haughty and arrogant, unattainable, oh , just the
sort of challenge a headstrong young woman of twenty years thinks
she is equal to. And an arse on him that - Oh! For heaven's sake,
Sarah! Don't be such a turnip! You are positively scarlet! Drink your tea,
dear.You had best steel yourself, for I do intend to tell you everything -
Are you quite sure you're MY granddaughter? Were you Antony's child
and not Phaedra's I should wonder, the way that Diana carries on with
men - What was I saying? Oh , yes, it must have been all that time in
the saddle! My dear, it was like iron! You could bounce a coin off 'em!

"But, yes, unattainable. That was the thing you see, for in the day,
well, of course it is really no different now, while it is considered quite
acceptable for a man of title but little means to take to wife, say, a
merchant's daughter for her wordly goods, if necessary, it would most
definitely not do for a man of both means and title, and Edrington
was(and is) quite sufficiently rich. Why he could have aspired to the
daughter of a Duke, or indeed, even a Royal Princess, had there been
any to be had that a man could bear to take to bed without a sack over
its head!

My great-grandfather, you see, your great-great grandfather, Thomas
Edgerton ,(Extraordinary! That I should come to be called Electra
Eleanora Edgerton Edrington! ) Thomas was the founder of our family
fortune and he was nothing but a London shopkeeper! He was a great
frequenter of the coffee houses,however, Garroway's in particular,
where he liked to keep his eyes and ears open for an opportunity, and
that was how he managed to get in at the beginning of South Seas and
make him a prodigious sum from a very small investment indeed. And
then, whether by prudence or cleverness or more likely, dumb luck,
managed to get out of it again before "the bubble burst", as they say!
Well then, of course, he became quite popular with the gentry as one of
the few men about with money to lend .In the later course of which he
became quite unpopular for having the audacity to actually think to
collect upon the debts and the interest thereof!

So while my grandfather, and then my father were able to inherit the
means and the lifestyle of the gentry, moving the family out here to the
lovely country of Buckinghamshire, as well as keeping a substantial
household in London, it was said of us that the smell of the shop did
linger (although I do believe it was the lingering indebtedness of some
of those excellent families which did rankle most!)

And then, to make matters still worse, at least as concerned the
Edgertons and the Edringtons, was the example of my own mother,
who was a second cousin of the old Countess Dowager, dear
'Zander's mother, and your great-grandmother, who's father was the
Marquess of Edbury. My mother, Eloisa Eliza, and my father, Edmund,
fell madly in love and eloped, to the sheer delight of my grandfather,
and the sheer horror of Eloisa's father( who is also my grandfather, I
suppose, though I never knew him) who was not in fact a man of title
but who, as the nephew of a Marquess, held himself well above the
likes of us, nonetheless. He was to remark famously that he should
rather see his daughter "with a peddler's bag upon her back, provided
her husband was a gentleman, than to have her demean herself by
marrying a mere citizen." And of course,he disowned her completely,
the which did little but to injure his daughter's feelings, for my father
could have easily bought and sold the man thrice over.

So you see, the Edgertons, in three generations, while managing to
increase their fortunes financially, had done little to make their way in
society. And though society did not much care for us, in truth we did not
much care for it, for we, all of us ,are at heart country people. London
was for business; the country, and our beloved Chopping Bottom
House is our home. We are all very fond of the land and of animals and
sport. And on that first day, when my dear good friend Gussy took me
to hunt at Edrington, I had in mind nothing more than a good days sport
of the sort that Gussy and I were always keen to follow. And yet when I
laid eyes on HIM, why I did set my cap, right then and there, and - Oh,
Darling! There you are! Are you off to hunt? You're not going to wear
that coat, are you? Well, the button is missing! Do take it off and give it
to me. You should wear the black Melton, its far warmer. No, dear, I
shan't come today. My cold is not quite gone, and I should just like to
spend the morning by the fire. I am telling our dear Sarah about when
we were young, dearest! Kiss me, my love! There you go, have good
sport, and for Heaven's sake don't get yourself killed! Goodbye,
dear! - - There! Look there, Sarah! Look at your grandfather's arse!
Oh, my! The man is near seventy and still gives my heart a turn!
Now,what was I saying - ?

*****

Chapter 1. The Hunt.:Or, A Day of Good Sport, A Nest of Nettles, A
Sandwich Case and a Shoe

"August Fitzgibbon and I had been the very best of friends, well,
practically since birth, for Gussy's mother and mine had always been
friends, and they remained so after my mother's infamous marriage
and even after Gussy's mother became Baroness Fitzgibbon. As we
were both our parents' only children, we were virtually raised together
as brother and sister, our mothers were so often in each other's
company.It was thought that the Baronet was marvelously indulgent to
have allowed this to occur, but as his wife was quite beautiful and also
quite significantly younger than he, I believe he made a considered
concession in his own favor. At any rate I loved dear Gussy, and he
me, and we were quite inseparable for all our young days.

At twenty years of age, Gussy was a wonderfully handsome young
man, who very much took after his lovely mother. He was tall and
slender and very well made, with very dark hair and eyes. Some have
said that we could have passed for brother and sister, and though I'm
sure we did share a certain resemblance, I wonder if that was not
more the result of our being seen so constantly together, that we
began to grow alike, much the way that a man is sometimes said to
resemble his favorite dog or the dog he. In fact, I was somewhat fairer
in complexion, my hair more of a deep chestnut brown, where Gussy's
was quite nearly black, and my features, I always thought, though they
seemed to fall together in a pleasing assemblage, were rather
prominent on the whole. Everything about Gussy, however was in
perfect, classical proportion. Painters adored him, and he was in fact
painted many times throughout his life,and by some very famous
names indeed.

There were three things that darling Gussy chiefly loved in life,
(besides myself as I've said), and they were, in constantly shifting
order: new clothes, card playing, and foxhunting.( Of course, it did
come to pass that there was a fourth thing that he loved, as well, but
the affair of Gussy and Monsieur Le Vicomte de Pinque-Petit-Belle-
Fluere is a tale best left for another day!) For clothes and cards, then as
now, I couldn't have cared less, but I did share his love of hunting and
we would go out together every chance we could.

My sport was normally confined mostly to the countries of the local
farmer's and Squires, as you will know by now there was always that
issue of the inhospitality of the gentry to our family in general. I was not
unhappy in this as we did have some marvelous runs over deliciously
rough and tumble country and the somewhat more informal nature of
these gatherings did suit my taste, as I truly liked nothing better than
finishing a day's sport winded to the point of exhaustion and covered in
mud and brambles, and not infrequently, in blood. There were even
times when I could get by with kitting myself out in man's clothes, and
riding astride- the which is infinitely more satisfactory for galloping and
jumping than having to perch oneself prissily aside, covered in all sorts
of draperies which are good for nothing so much as to get caught on
every other thing and create a general hazard and nuisance!

Dear Gussy was my entre into the rarefied world of blood- horses
and marvelous packs of "scientifically" bred foxhounds , and the
cultivated landscapes of the titled families for whom foxhunting was a
passion upon which they could afford to lavish huge quantities of
money and attention. As the son of a Baronet he was subscribed to all
the best hunts, and as often as he could, he would bring me along as
his guest. As we grew to be of a certain age, I'm certain I was useful to
him too, as a buffer between him and the spouse hunting females and
their resourceful mothers and aunts, etc., who should have liked to
ensnare so beautiful and eligible(or so they thought) a young man as
he.

All this discussion of Gussy and our love of sport! You are letting me
lose track, Sarah! Never mind, it all goes to setting things up for my
story, you will see. One morning at Chopping Bottom, I was in the
Morning Room, drinking coffee and seeing to some letters or some
such thing, when I heard a great clattering in the drive. As the Morning
Room is southfacing, as is the house, I went and looked out the
window to see Gussy on horseback come galloping up to the front. I
smiled to see him, but did not run to greet him, as Gussy was
enormously popular with our servants and would no doubt be stopping
in the kitchen for his customary treat and a chat before making his way
to see me. I went on with my reading and was much surprised when
not a moment later he burst in on me, flushed and breathless.

"Pack your things, dearest, you're coming to stay at Ladyfair!" he
announced, marching into the room, trailed by poor William, the
footman, who was still trying to take his hat and cloak.

"Morning, Gussy, dear!" I exclaimed, smiling. "Why don't you let
William take your things and then you may explain to me why I am
coming to stay."

William gratefully accepted the proffered items and left us with a short
bow.

"Coffee?" I asked, walking to the little round table where the service
was set.

"Oh, yes, thanks! Any cakes?"

"A muffin."

"That'll do. Ta."

I settled him in a wing chair by the fire with his coffee and muffin and
set myself down opposite. I watched him slurp and chew.

"Well?" I asked.

"Oh, yes! ' Lectra, you must come and stay a few days! I've had the
most marvelous invitation to hunt - at Edrington! Do say yes!"

I know my very countenance must have lit at the thought. The estate
of the Earls of Edrington was famous in the home counties as the
penultimate hunt country. They had always had the finest hounds, the
best horseflesh, plentiful quarry"all of this we had heard, but neither
of us had ever seen. The current Lord Edrington was some eight years
our senior, and a Major in His Majesty's army and had been away
much of these years past, since the beginning of the war with France. I
had never laid eyes on the man, though Gussy knew him somewhat.

"Edrington is here?" I asked.

He nodded, stuffing the last of the muffin into his mouth. "Just back
from Egypt. Went out with Abercromby, who was killed at Alexandria, as
I'm sure you know. They finally sent the French packing, though. I
expect he's taking a well earned leave, celebrating the victory and what
have you. This is to be the first meet at Edrington in I don't know how
long. Everyone will be there"including US, my dove!"

I clapped my hands together in excitement, "Oh Gussy, darling,
thank you! Oh, I can't wait! What sort of hound?"

"Meynell's Tall.Lots of white.Great voice."

"How many?"

"Nineteen and a half, twenty and a half couple. Big, fast pack!"

"Oh, my!"

Well, we spent a very happy morning, discussing our anticipated
adventure, and eventually I did go find my mother to tell her of my plans,
and arranged to have my things sent over to Ladyfair. I changed into
riding clothes and had the grooms bring my wonderful James, and
Gussy and I hacked off to his home, Ladyfair, that very afternoon."

*****

 

"The first time I saw Edrington House was on that chilly October
morning when we rode over from Ladyfair, which was very nearly
adjacent to the Edrington estate. In all the years the house has stood,
unlike the houses of many other great families, Edrington has never
had its façade rebuilt in a new fashion, nor been added to in an
incongruous and modern manner, and so it stood, as it does today, a
great Gothic pile of buff-coloured stone, with its steeply gabled roofs,
its huge, twisting chimneys, its many arched windows and doorways. It
was a romantic, impressive edifice, and I liked it well from the very first,
not knowing that one day it would be my very own home where I would
live all these long, good years with a man I love more than life, and
where we would raise our six children.

The field met on the Great Lawn of the house, which had to
encompass a good three acres. I had never seen such a large field of
horses and riders, and all turned out impeccably, horses clipped and
braided and polished to a mirror sheen, in spite of the fact that it was
well past the time for them all to have grown their shaggy winter coats.
Conditions were perfect for scenting, it having rained two days before,
and a light frost covering the ground. The celebrated Meynell's hounds
milled about in excited circles in and around the legs of the horses of
the huntsman and his whippers-in, who sprinted about, whips cracking
in the clear, crisp air as they tried to contain the pack.

I grinned at Gussy as we trotted smartly, side by side, to join the
meet. I wore my most respectable habit,a good black broadcloth with
silk velvet facings on the coat and sleeves, a snowy linen stock at my
throat, pinned with a small diamond brooch, and a smart little black
tricorn hat adorned with three pheasant's tail-feathers. I rode my
favorite horse, James, a gift to me from my father on my eighteenth
birthday. He would be properly called a gray, but in truth he was the
colour of alabaster, pure white, with the lovely arched neck and prettily
dished face of his Arab sire. He was a stallion, never gelded, and so
was much excited by all the activity and the other horses, prancing and
snorting and flagging his tail.
"There's Edrington." Gussy said in a low voice, pointing only slightly
with his chin as a group of three gentlemen passed not twenty feet in
front of us.

There could be no mistake which of them was he. He was wearing
his regimental scarlet, the silver gorget on a black ribbon over his
stock. Lightcoloured breeches snug over well muscled thighs. Tall
black boots of heavy dragoon leather. He was riding that great red
warhorse of his, Apollo, and the horse must have thought they were
preparing for battle, for he was bounding forward in a highly collected
canter, his massive muscles bulging with tension, his chin curled
down onto his chest, flecked with white foam. As he passed in front of
me, Alexander turned his head and looked directly at me. I saw the
deep set, dark eyes, the straight nose and firm line of his mouth, all
softened somehow by the overall heart shape of his face. His months
under the Egyptian sun had browned his skin, and his hair, worn in a
long plait down his back, had bleached to a pale gold. For an instant,
our eyes met. He touched a hand to the brim of his hat and nodded,
unsmiling, then rode on.

I remember suddenly feeling a rush of heat to my face, and I may
have drawn a sharp breath.

"Electra." It was Gussy. He leaned forward in the saddle to look into
my face. "Are you quite allright? You look very flush."

I gave myself a little shake, looked at him and laughed, "Oh, Gussy!
Isn't this grand?!

The hunt was getting underway. The huntsman and whippers-in
began to move the pack out into the field, towards the coverts where
they were most likely to pick up a scent, or, if we were very fortunate,
flush the fox outright for chase. The field followed at a distance, slowly.
The wind being from the west, and this huntsman liking to draw
upwind, so as to draw the scent towards the hounds, we headed in
that direction for a larch wood, thick with a ground cover of thorn and
bramble.

I was excited about the hunt, but I also suddenly found myself rather
preoccupied with wanting to catch another glimpse of the Earl. This I
tried to do with the utmost discretion, for the last thing I wanted was for
Gussy to catch on and tease me without mercy, as I knew he would.
Therefore I was casting about with my eyes, trying to look as af I were
focused on the huntsman, rather than turning my head this way and
that. I mainly succeeded in giving myself a bit of a headache. Was he
riding behind?

It seemed no time at all before the first hound began to sing out, and
then was joined by others. "Huic! Huic, huic, get at 'im, Jupiter!" cried
one of the whips. Forgetting my momentary obsession I braced
against my pommels and stood in the stirrup to see, and then, yes! a
flash of red brush! And in an instant, the huntsman blew "Gone away!"
on his horn, and then we were off! The whole pack opened up in song,
a great crescendo of music, which to me is among the loveliest
sounds in the world. Oh, this was what I loved!

We galloped to the first hurdle, a low stone wall, and the pack poured
over it like water, and then the field, with no mishap, then up, up a long
slow hillside, and then down, at a screaming pace, a ditch at the
bottom, disguised by brush. James drew up short behind a balker,
then ducked 'round and popped over in rather unorthodox fashion,
causing me to laugh aloud as we galloped out the other side. Gussy
was beside me still, shouting something I couldn,t understand, but
from the grin on his face I imagined he was having the time of his life,
and was saying something to that effect.

It was one of the most exhilarating chases I can ever remember but
perhaps it merely stands out as such because everything about that
day is still so vivid in my imagination. At some point I lost Gussy, it
must have been when we came to the cornfield. The old, dead stalks
were still standing and the hunt split in two directions to go 'round on
the relatively narrow swaths that ran along the edges of the field.

The mown swath was bordered on one side by the cornfield and on
the other by an evil looking growth of stinging nettles, and just beyond
that, a low-lying area that had filled with water to form a sort of pond. I
got into trouble when another woman (to this day I know not who she
was, but I am grateful to her, nonetheless) on a great pig of a bay
mare, began to crowd me. Now as you know, when one is mounted on
a stallion, a male horse which is entire, and which retains his
masculine instincts, whether to fight other males, or to dominate and
subdue the females, it is the responsibility of the handler of the stallion
to exercise caution to see that others and their animals are unharmed.
And so I was forced to give way to this woman and her nasty horse,
which was sidling into James, squealing and wringing her tail. I like to
think he had better taste, but nonetheless I was compelled move off
into the dreaded nest of nettles!

Well, it was only a matter of moments before the brush of nettles on
the legs and belly of my delicate, thin-skinned Desert Beauty began to
take its effect and James began to pitch and plunge madly. I was
struggling to maintain my seat, the which is no easy thing when you
are perched upon a ridiculous side-saddle! I did not wish to end up in
the nettles myself so I decided to make for the water, hoping for a
cooling effect to soothe and calm my poor darling.

The pond was thankfully quite deep enough to cover my horse up to
his flanks and mercifully he settled almost immediately. Letting out a
long, deep breath, I looked up to see the last of the other riders
disappearing into a wood on the rise of the next hill. The cries of the
hounds were growing fainter. James was blowing quite hard, so I took
my ease, standing there, the end of my overskirt trailing in the water,
and the whole of me altogether rather wet from all the splashing.

When I thought sufficient time had elapsed to counteract the sting of
the nettles, we picked our way out and around the vicious weeds, and
started up the hill at a trot. Once in the wood, it was easy to see the
course the riders had taken, as a wide, well traveled path snaked
through the trees. The sun was rising higher, the day warming, and a
lovely golden light filtered down through the not-yet-bare trees and
dappled and danced on the path before me. I let James walk, and my
own thoughts wander, and tried to conjure again in my minds-eye that
face, Edrington,s face, by which I had been so taken.

Quite suddenly I felt a hesitation in my horse,s step. His head came
up, his ears pricking forward as he looked ahead. He made a little
whickering sound, of the type horses do when another horse is near. I
heard the other horse answer, and then I saw him coming toward us,
passing through the bands of light and shadow thrown by the tree
trunks, and yes, my dear, it was none other than His Lordship!

He was walking, leading his horse, and as they drew closer, I could
hear the tell-tale "clink-clink" of a very loose shoe each time the horse's left fore hit the
ground. My first thought(after the acknowledgement that my blood was
fair pounding in my ears) was to make a judgement regarding the
character of a man of privilege, who, rather than switching horses with
an underling, and carrying on with his sport,( as many in his position
would have done, sending the servant home with the discarded mount)
had chosen to take responsibility for it himself. This newly formed good
opinion of mine was no doubt to serve Alexander well as the morning's
events transpired, coloring my judgement of him as favourably as it did.

" Hulloa!" he greeted me as he approached, looking up at me and
squinting a little in the sunlight. "Are you lost?"

" No, my lord," I said, "My horse got into the stinging nettles."

" Ah. Bad luck. You have the advantage of me, Miss - ?"

" Edgerton." I replied. I thought I detected the merest lifting of an
eyebrow.

"I saw you on the lawn this morning, did I not? With Fitzgibbon, I
think."

" Yes, my lord."

He looked at me for a neverending moment. Then, "Would you have
something in your kit that I could use to remove this shoe?"

Now it was my turn to raise an eyebrow. A leader of men, unprepared
for so simple an emergency?

He seemed to read my thought. "Its as well that none of my regiment
are here to witness my shame. I left it to the grooms to see to my tack.
Were I still in the desert I should have expected to have been flayed
alive by nomadic tribeswomen by now. You're not the flaying sort, are
you?"

I had to laugh. "Perhaps when I see the woman who ran my horse
into the nettles!"

He smiled. Well, for Alexander, it was a smile. His repertoire of facial
expressions does not really extend as far as a full-toothed grin, as you
well know,dear. One becomes quite skilled over time to interpreting his
various smirks,eyebrow movements and facial twitchings.

"So you see I am quite helpless," he went on, placing his hand on
the small leather case that was buckled to the back of his saddle, "I
do, however have not one but two sandwiches, ham, and mm, beefs
tongue, I believe - oh, and a deck of cards, and a flask of quite
tolerable brandy."

I will confess, at this moment, I must have been staring at him quite
stupidly.

After a moment, " Well?"

" My lord?"

" Have you any tools? A knife, perhaps?"

"Oh! Yes, forgive me!" I reached behind me with one hand to
unbuckle my kit, but at that moment, Edrington's horse took a step
towards James, and James began to dance about a bit.

" Ho, James." I commanded. Alexander stepped forward, took hold of
the bridle with his left hand.

"Please. Allow me," he said. He reached up and placed his right
hand on my waist, to help me dismount. I put out my gloved hand, felt
with a little shock of pleasure, the rock hard muscle of his shoulder
through the thick woolen fabric of his coat. I leaned forward, and felt
myself lifted (by just his one hand!) and set lightly down. But then,
instead of releasing me and taking a gentlemanly step backward, he
actually dropped both hands down, locking them behind my waist, and
to my utter disbelief, actually jerked me forward into his arms. Our
bellies actually touched!
I looked up into his face in shock, and there I saw only for the briefest
instant,and for the very first time, that smirk, that arrogant, self-
possessed, infuriating half-smile of his! And then he did step, back,
looking for all the world as if positively nothing had happened!

Completely disconcerted, I quickly turned my back, and fell to
unbuckling my kit. I took out my little rasp and my folding knife and
handed them to him without a word.

" Ah. Just the thing. Thank you, Miss Edgerton."

" Electra." I said. What possessed me? It was most improper,
volunteering my first name like that.

" Truly?" he said, then, the smirk, "Morning becomes you, Electra."

I'm sure he thought he was very clever, making his little pun,
referencing the line from the Greek Tragedy from which my father took
my name. Morning, mourning. Oh, dear.

"That is a poor joke, my lord," I tried to frown, " And one I have in fact
heard before."
I suppose I thought by insulting him I might regain a little of the ground
lost to me because of the startling embrace and my embarrassment at
having blurted my proper name at him like some common - Well, I can
tell you it did me no good whatsoever, as he seemed to pay me
absolutely no mind, and he most certainly said nothing like, "You must
call me Alexander!" Come to think, I don't believe I have ever been so
invited, my dear, to this very day!

He removed his coat and draped it over his saddle, then took off his
hat and placed it on top. Apollo seemed to have no objection to being
used as a "clotheshorse." My lord then proceeded to turn back his shirt
cuffs, revealing browned, muscular forearms,with a light covering of
golden blonde hair. He turned his back to me and bent over to pick up
the horse's foot.( I see you smiling, Sarah, for now you know my
weakness!) He held the hoof between his knees and , using the rasp,
began to file off the clinches, the bent-over nailheads that hold the
shoe onto the foot.

I stood there, holding James by the bridle, feeling rather stupid and
useless for a moment, and still in something of a dither over what had
happened between us. What had happened? Forget it, silly, girl! I told
myself. I turned my attention to watching him work, and began to notice
in particular his rather interesting hair. It was already the fashion for
men to crop their hair (in imitation of the new French style! What an
amusing irony at the time! The mad rush to copy everything French! )
but Alexander still wore his quite long, brushed back and tightly plaited
with ribbons. I think it was not out of a lack of regard for fashion, nor
indeed a question of patriotism, but merely that it was most easily
controlled in this manner, for in its natural state it would exhibit a quite
amazing tendency to curl and kink. When at last he did cut it off, it had
to be cropped very close indeed for no amount of pomade and
combing could quell its exuberance! In the early years of our marriage I
used to love to take the ribbons out in bed, and with my fingers tease
the glorious golden mane out to its fullness. I would tell him he was my
own Botticelli angel. A rather naughty angel, come to that!

Now, there I go! Really my girl, you must do more to keep me on the
track of my narrative! If you wish to be a lady novelist, you must develop
a sense for this sort of thing. Now, I believe we were removing a shoe,
were we not?

Having removed the clinches, he then employed the knife to begin to
work out the remaining nails. Glancing over at me, he said, "Your
horse is lovely. Is he Arab?"

"Half, my lord. The Earl of Godolphin's line. Out of an Irish mare."

"He's a stud, I see. Have you any of his get?"

"We had four foals on the ground this spring."

"Excellent. Does he throw his like?"

"If not better."

"I've a couple of mares I could put to him, if you were willing."

If I - Oh, my, I'm afraid all of this talking of breeding was putting
uncomfortable images into my head! Once again I began to feel
somewhat flush.

The shoe was off. He straightened and stretched. "I like him well,"
he said, looking at James with an appreciative and appraising eye. "
What do you call him?"

"I call him James."

He snorted. "That's rather plain for such an exotic fellow. Why not
Abdullah? Mustapha? Saladin?"

"I like plain James."

He bent again and picking up the hoof once more, finished the job by
trimming off the last bit of torn, ragged horn, then smoothing it all out
with the rasp.

"There you are, good boy," he said, patting the massive neck. He
stuffed the shoe into his sandwich case, then crossed to me and
replaced the rasp and knife into my own kit. He went to James's head
and stroked the pink nose, "You know," he spoke to my horse in a low
tone, "The Mamelukes and Bedouins ride fine horses such as you into
battle and it is a sight! Their livery all inlaid with gold and jewels, and
the riders wear gilded helmets and egret feathers in their turbans. They
fight with the lance and pistol and scimitar, and are very fearsome and
brave - " then glancing back at me, he remarked dryly, "Of course, they
possess no knowledge whatever of modern cavalry tactics, apart from
the charge. Shall I give you a leg up?"

Thrown into confusion again! Though I am perfectly capable of
mounting unassisted, in cases like these it is customary for a
gentleman to make the offer, and for the lady to accept the courtesy. But
surely you must see how I was vexed, for I was not at all certain that he
would not attempt to take further liberties of me. To refuse to allow him
to place his hands on my person, would be to acknowledge that he
had already done so in an inappropriate manner, a fact which we
seemed to have made a silent pact NOT to acknowledge. All of this
further complicated by the little dichotomy that was playing out between
my head and my heart( there were perhaps other portions of my
anatomy involved as well) which said ,on the one hand ,that a self-
respecting young woman of good breeding and character must never
allow or invite a trespass of that kind. Somewhat concealed in the other
hand, as yet, was the bud of realization that I was already more than
half in love with the man and that in fact, there was nothing I desired
more than to have those trespassing hands upon my well-bred and
self-respecting person!

My dear, I really had no choice! "Yes, thank you, my lord." I said, and
turned,taking up the reins in one hand, and placing the other on the
cantle, bent my knee in anticipation of him cupping his hands under my
shin to boost me into the saddle. But no, damn him! He came right up
behind me, and pressing quite close, slid his arms around my waist
once more! I spun to face him, as best I could. I could not lower my
arms, he held me so close. I brought my hands down onto his
shoulders and tried to push, getting as much distance between us as
possible. Alexander Edrington was no pampered aristocrat. He was
very much a man of action, incredibly fit and strong. He held me easily,
in spite of my vain struggles.

"Sir!" I protested at last in frustration. He said nothing, his
expression was unreadable, and I was getting angry.

He merely raised an eyebrow. "I believe you are in a perilous
position, my dear." He said.

I tried to relax in his arms, "Sir, you must let me go," I said, sotto
voce, "Or you are not a gentleman."

"Perhaps not." He said coolly, "But I am in fact the Earl of Edrington."

I thought I knew what he implied by that remark, which was to say, that
he being who he was, and I being myself, it was true that he could
probably do as he liked with regard to me with little real concern for any
consequences.

Now, I have never had a satisfactory explanation or excuse to this day
as to why he should undertake to grab ahold of me as if I were some
camp-follower-Tavern-Betty-what-have-you, for you know, Sarah, as
well as I ,that your grandfather is a man of honour and restraint and of
the strictest self-comportment. Indeed if ever a man were to behave in
such fashion with any one of our girls, or with your Aunts Athena or
Portia, Alexander would have shot them where they stood, King or
commoner! Perhaps I flatter myself, but I can only imagine that his first
sight of me had done him a turn, as mine of him had me, and that for a
brief and historic moment, Alexander, Eighth Earl of Edrington had lost
his head!

(Editor's Note: How cool is that name? I wanna be Athena Edrington!
And Alexander Eighth Earl of Edrington! I am so on a roll with this
alliteration thing!)

But my dear, if any heroine of Greek tragedy ever had more need of a
deus ex machina than did I , Electra, at that moment I know not who
she might be. And suddenly there he was, in the person of my darling
Gussy, come cantering down the path, calling my name! I don't believe
he saw me in the Earl's arms, for the great bulk of Apollo stood
between us and him, and the Earl did release me then, although in no
kind of hurry.

"Electra?" Typical Gussy, to return from a day of hard sport with not a
hair out of place nor a spot on his linen, I observed. "What became of
you?" he looked with curiosity at Edrington, and then at me. He doffed
his hat, "Good day, my lord." He said.

"Fitzgibbon. It has been some years, has it not.?"

"Yes sir," Gussy smiled, "I was sixteen. We played cards and you
relieved me of a month's pocket money, as I recall."

"Ah, yes."

"And you've met Miss Edgerton, I see."

Edrington was wearing a somewhat inscrutable and bemused
expression, and fearing he might make some remark that would cause
me further embarrassment, I interjected quickly, "James and I got into
the nettles, Gussy, and he pitched a fit, and that's how I got behind, and
his Lordship's horse had pulled a shoe and I was able to assist
him - "

"You're rather wet, as well. Are you allright, then?" Gussy asked.

"Yes, perfectly," I lied.

His Lordship was pulling on his coat. "Yes, Miss Edgerton was most
helpful. Here, you must let me give you a leg up," he said, and this time
he popped me up into the saddle as if I weighed no more than a child.
Giving James a last pat, he turned and mounted his own horse.

"Please give some thought to my mares, if you would," he said to
me, as he put on his hat. And then to Gussy, "You must bring her to
supper tomorrow evening, Fitzgibbon. Mamah is giving one of her
'do's' We shall have a hand of cards."

"Thank you, my lord, with pleasure."

*****

We three had parted ways, His Lordship headed back to Edrington
House and the hunt breakfast, and Gussy and I breaking off for
Ladyfair, me pleading my wet costume as an excuse to get out of
attending the breakfast, my mind being in such a state of confusion
over all that had just happened.

"Why has His Lordship not yet married, do you think, Guss?" I
asked , nonchalantly, I thought.
Gussy, a born gossip if ever there was one, immediately warmed to
this topic. "Well, I expect he's not really that old, yet. And there is his
career, And the war of course. But, hold on - there was some talk in
London last year, or was it the year before? At any rate, apparently there
was a woman, American of all things! The wife of a Naval officer, I
believe. Couldn't have ended well I shouldn't think." Then he leaned in
towards me and asked, teasingly, "Why do you ask, dear? Got
someone in mind for him, have you?"

"Just making conversation, dear." I replied, and giving James a liitle
kick, cried, "Race me home!"

Chapter 2. Of A Package, A Poacher, and A Moments Peril;Of Paulette,
the Not-So-French-Maid, Of Posy(A Blackamoor) and A Pipe

I awakened next morning at Ladyfair, having slept fitfully, if indeed I
had slept at all with all of the confusion of thoughts( and
imaginings - oh!)which had been chasing 'round my brain the whole
night through. I lay there in the vast and commodious bed, head aching
and feeling altogether rather cross, remembering. Why had I not been
more assertive in my rebuff of the Earl's advances? What was it about
me which could inspire such outrageous behavior? What must he
think of me now, and why did I concern myself so with these questions
? The answers to all of these are surely obvious to you, my dear Sarah,
but at that time it was all a great and vexing muddle to me! Or, more to
the point, perhaps, I was not yet ready to confess to my own self my
true feelings!

I dragged myself up to a sitting position in bed, and immediately, as if
by the stroke of a conjurors wand, came two light raps upon the door of
the chamber, and a maid entered, carrying a silver tray upon which was
a lovely service in pink porcelain with two tall pots, one of coffee and
one chocolate. It was a remarkable feature of life at Ladyfair, this
seemingly magical efficiency. Everything here was ordered and tranquil
and lovely. The house itself was quite new, built in the neo-classical
style , all symmetry and perfect balance. The furnishings were in the
airy, baroque fashion of Louis Quatorze, the interiors awash in pale,
watery colours, dainty fabrics, glossy, pale wood and silver-gilt. It was
in marked contrast to my own home at Chopping Bottom, which was
really nothing more than an ancient, overgrown farmhouse, a big,
rambling, cozy warren of fairly small, low ceilinged chambers, heavily
timbered and not a square corner to be found. My family seemed to
have made up its mind long ago that we would not be bound by
pretension to fashion nor convention. Warm, welcoming rooms with
blazing hearths, wonderful food, plenty of books, happy family,
contented servants, were what counted for riches at Chopping Bottom.
But Ladyfair was just as much my home, I felt, and in truth I loved its
pristine serenity as much as I loved the cozy chaos of Chopping
Bottom. Indeed,when I became Countess Edrington, I strived to create
a home for my family that found a middle ground between these two: a
comfortable family home with an easy elegance about it. I do think we
achieved this to a great extent. That is, when were were at last able to
settle, no longer traipsing about Europe, babies and baggage in tow,
winning the war for Wellington! Alexander had finally had to put his foot
down. The children needed a home and to be educated and brought
into society. But once again, dear Sarah, you are letting me ramble!

The maid placed the tray on a little round table before the tall
windows, and began to pull back the pale green watered silk
draperies, tying them back with thick ropes of silver cord. Sunlight filled
the lovely chamber with its pale paneling of pickled oak. Someone
must have crept in earlier and lit the charcoal brazier in the fireplace, for
the room was already warming against the autumn chill

"Morning, Miss," said the pretty little maid, as she arranged the bed
hangings, plumped my pillows and served me a most welcome first
cup of coffee.

"Oh, good morning Nellie," my voice sounded rather thick, "Is the
family up and about?"

"Yes, miss. They are at breakfast."

"I think I'll join them, then. Is there hot water?" Silly question!

"Yes Miss, in your dressing room. Will you require my help to dress?"

"Thank you. Nellie, I can manage. That will be all I think." Nellie gave
a little curtsy and left, closing the door quietly behind her. I gulped down
the rest of my coffee,( which I could tell already was not going to sit well
in my churning stomach), threw back the covers and headed for the
little dressing room ,the door of which was cleverly concealed in the
wall paneling. Ugh! I felt so dreadful and looked it as well, I observed
as I inspected myself in the mirror. What I needed was a good gallop in
the fresh air to clear my head. With that in mind, I dressed in my
breeches and boots and a warm woolen waistcoat.( I could get away
with this at Ladyfair , although I am sure the Baronet in no way
approved. He could be rather stuffy and disagreeable, but he did love
his wife and son and deferred to them a great deal when it came to
putting up with the likes of me!)

I found the family at breakfast in the Morning Room. A large circular
table was set up before the tall French doors which led out to a formal
garden . Quite a few roses still bloomed, and an industrious gardener
was discreetly applying his secaturs to what already looked like
perfectly trimmed topiary creation.

Gussy, looking sleek and handsome in a new black topcoat and
dazzling white linen greeted me as I entered. "Morning, Miss 'Lectra.
Have a bad night, did you? You look like the very death!"

I frowned at him, taking my seat. The Baroness smiled and rose to
pour me some coffee, "What a dreadful thing to say, Gussy, dear! You
do look tired, Electra. Did you not sleep well? Was the room cold?" She
was such a lovely, graceful woman, tall like me, yet delicate, with a
pale, "English Rose" complexion and masses of dark, silky curls. I did
so admire her!

"No, ma'am, the room was lovely, as always. I just couldn't seem to
settle. Must have been all the excitement yesterday. The hunting at
Edrington was superb."

"In spite of the fact that you missed most of it!" Gussy snorted, "I
lost track of her after the fourth hurdle, found her later all alone in the
woods with - " I delivered him a sharp kick to the shin under the table.
The news that I had spent an indeterminate amount of time alone, in a
secluded location with a single man would be good, at the very least
for a very stern and disapproving look from the Baronet, and at worst,
for a full-blown lecture, the which I was decidedly not in the mood for!

"Ow!" Gussy mouthed the word silently, knitting his brow. Then,
changing the subject, "So, off for a ride this morning then are we?"

"Yes, please!" I sighed, "I think I should like nothing more!"

Then the Baronet spoke at last, without lifting his eyes from his
papers, "I shall be requiring August to attend me this morning, I'm
afraid. We have a meeting with my factor."

Gussy made a face, which of course his father did not see. "But
father, I have a guest. I mustn't be rude."

The old man laid down the papers, "I do admire your compulsion do
be a good host, August, but Miss Edgerton is no more a guest in this
house, than I or your mother or myself. She is a member of this family,"
I looked at him then, flattered and pleasantly surprised, but then I am
quite sure I heard him add, under his breath, "For better or worse," as
he went back to his reading.

"I suppose you're on your own then, ducks," Gussy said, trying to put
a good face on it.

"It's allright, Guss. You can see me home to Chopping Bottom later."
I said.

"Oh! No, no!" he was suddenly animated, "Have you forgotten? We've
been asked to supper at Edrington! I am going to beat the britches off
His Lordship at cards!"

What a thought! Oh, I could not help myself! But I shook my head, "
Oh, no, Gussy, I'm sure His Lordship was just - I mean surely he's
forgotten that he - "

"Mm-mm, no," Gussy got up quickly and went to the sideboard. He
picked up a piece of paper, a thick, creamy bond, folded in two, "He
sent a man over this morning with this, inviting us all. And this came for
you." He brought to the table a large bundle which apparently had
been sitting on the sideboard unnoticed by me. It was heavy, soft,
wrapped neatly in thick canvas fabric and tied with string. Another note
in the same rich paper, folded and sealed, was tucked under the
string.

"My goodness, whatever could it be?" whispered the Baroness. The
Baron seemed mildly interested as well. Edrington was sending me
gifts? Had he missed something? I'm sure those were his thoughts.

Dying to rip the thing open, but checking my impulse, I slowly slid the
note out from under the string. What was it? An apology? Good God,
not a billet-doux? No, surely that would have been delivered in secret.
What on earth was wrong with me? Such thoughts! I broke the seal
and read the note, written, dear Sarah, in your Grandfather's own fine
hand. It read:

My dear Miss Edgerton,

It is my wish that you will accept the enclosed as a token of
my sincere thanks in appreciation of your capable assistance of yesterday. It is
my hope as well that it may represent an advance upon the stud fees I will
settle with you for services of your excellent stallion, James. I assure you, I have
a keen interestin pursuing this matter of business and look forward to
agreeing upon its terms
I give you my highest regards,

Edrington

I will confess I was disappointed in this dry, formal missive. But what,
after all did I really expect? Gussy was handing me a bread knife with
which to cut the string. "Come on, 'Lectra, let's see it!"

Well, my dear, I don't mind telling you, my breath was fair taken away
by the contents of that package! At first it was difficult to tell what it was ,
but then as we began to pull out the various components and lay them
out on the table it was revealed to be a costume of livery, such as the
warriors of those desert tribes of which Alexander had whispered to
James ,would deck their horses. The headdress was of black leather,
and softer and more supple than any leather I had ever felt. It was
stitched with silver thread, and encrusted with medallions of silver and
what looked to be jewels (surely not!). An enormous white plume
decorated the crown piece of the bridle. The saddle cloth was of
softest, thickest wool, dyed deep black, sewn with more silver thread
and more "jewels" and hung with long, silken fringes.

"Ohh!" breathed the Baroness. I was speechless.

"God, this must be worth a fortune!" Gussy exclaimed. "Where'dyou
reckon he got it? Took it off a dead 'un I'll bet!"

"Gussy! That's terrible!" I said, "And surely the jewels are paste!
Look at the size of them!"

"Well - " began the Baroness. Susanna, Baroness Fitzgibbon, was
in fact the owner of a quite famous collection of jewels, and knew
whereof she spoke. "They are lovely - it is difficult to tell, dear, with
stones of this size, and the way they are cut is most unusual - but I'm
sure you are right, Electra, for that would be a rather - extravagant gift
for a man to give a young unmarried girl - " she was looking at me with
what I could only construe as a searching look, trying to read my face. I
looked down quickly at the wonderful thing, then began quickly to
bundle it all back into the canvas.

"Well, it was kind of him. I do think it pretty, if impractical. Will you
have someone put it with my things, my lady? I do want to get out for my
ride."

*****

Ladyfair magic was once more in evidence when I appeared at the
stable just as a groom was bringing out James, slick and polished,
and tacked up for a gentleman, not in the hated sidesaddle. I smiled at
the groom, Robert, and moved toward the mounting block. But then,
suddenly, I changed my mind.

"I think I will take Master Guss's horse instead today, Robert," I said.

"Miss?"

"I thought James looked a little sore when you brought him out. Did
you not notice?"

"No , Miss. I rubbed 'im down an' wrapped 'is legs meself last night,
Miss. "Es in fine fettle, 'e is!" Poor Robert!

I was insistent, "Of course he isn't! Just look at those windpuffs! Why
don't you turn him out in the little paddock for awhile and see if they
don't come down? There's a good man. Thank you, Robert."

The poor man was trying not to look at me as if I were completely
mad, but that was clearly what he was thinking as he led James away
and did as he was bid.

I set off not long after, mounted on Gussy's tall, dark bay hunter. I
trotted down the straight avenue of limes that led out to the back gates
of the estate. Once through the gates, I urged the horse into a gentle
canter, out past the orchards of apples and pears, past the little tenant
farms with their small holdings of sheep and cattle and neatly fenced
garden plots, on towards the open hills and fields.

Sarah, my dear, have you never set out on a walk somewhere,
headed for some familiar place, and become so lost in your thoughts
along the way, that having arrived at last at your destination, you
realized with some astonishment that you have positively no
recollection of the journey that brought you there? Indeed, that you
seemed to have found your way there quite unconsciously? I do believe
that is what happened to me that day, for imagine my surprise to find
myself once more in that very wooded area where I had been just the
day before! I do maintain that I had no intention of setting out a-purpose
for Edrington, but there I was, apparently at the far edge of the wood,
which seemed to comprise a great many acres. Of course I had not
come this far the day before, but I knew where I was nonetheless. Oh,
dear, I was trespassing and if I was caught at it? Oh, my dear, it was
unthinkable! I immediately turned my horse about, thinking to retrace
my steps. But just then I thought I heard a sound, the faintest jingling of
metal, of a horse's bridle? Then, yes, the sound of hooves. I slipped
quietly into the trees, trying to hide myself as best as possible, and
praying that my horse would not whinny to the others. I complimented
myself on not having taken James, for his dazzling white coat would
have never blended into the woods as did Gussy's bay. Did I say
complimented? No that would imply some deliberation on my part, and
I do not confess to that, young lady!

I waited, and by and by two horsemen came into view. They had with
them a dog, a big, rangy, dun-coloured animal of the type they call a
lurcher, which is used for running the deer. One of the horses was a
cob, black and heavy boned, with extravagantly feathered legs. And the
other - Can you guess? Indeed, it was that big, bold chestnut, Apollo.
Your grandfather would insist upon taking him everywhere. You would
think he did not have a stableful of other, perfectly suitable mounts.
Alexander would claim that the horse became morose and ill-
tempered if not worked daily, and Alexander, apparently was the only
one who could ride him. It was really rather sweet, their devotion to one
another. Apollo lived to a very great age and was eventually turned out
to pasture at Edrington. I remember well looking out to the fields and
seeing Alexander walking, head down and hands clasped behind his
back, and the old horse following behind. But let me continue.

His Lordship,the Earl of Edrington was sitting there on his horse, not
twenty yards from my hiding place! I was in a fix, I can tell you! My only
hope was to escape detection until they moved on, or if the worst were
to occur, to flee without being recognized. I watched and waited. Had I
not been in such a state of nervous agitation, this should have been a
most enjoyable activity, for then, as now, there is nothing I love half so
well as to sit and look at Alexander Edrington , especially when he is
unaware. Lord, he was so handsome! My dear, you have only to look at
the potrait over the stair to know how devastating he was as a young
man!

The other man was a gamekeeper, called Maddox, I learned later, of
course, and he was listening intently to what My Lord was saying.
Alexander was gesturing, pointing first to the wood, then sweeping his
arm before him, indicating the open fields. I could not hear his words.
He was not in any kind of uniform, dressed instead in fawn-coloured
breeches and brown boots,and a sleeveless coat of dark brown
leather over a pale grey , full-sleeved shirt of finest wool. The cut and
quality of his clothing marked him as a gentleman, in spite of its
humble utility. There was a hint of finery, however in the snowy
whiteness of his neckcloth and the gleam of silver buttons down the
front of the waistcoat, as well as two more at the back where it nipped
in to his narrow waist. His head was bare and his bright hair gleamed
in the sun. Quite a picture,and one I obviously remember in utmost
detail to this day!

I suppose it was inevitable that I should have been discovered, and
sure enough, my horse did make a sound, blowing through his nose.
The lurcher dog looked up, barked, and took after us, and as I wheeled
the horse and dug my heels into his flanks, I glanced quickly over my
shoulder to see Alexander urging Apollo into a gallop, with the
gamekeeper just behind him. The man had a pistol! Most likely it was
for the dispatching of animals that had been mortally wounded in the
hunt, but no doubt it would do nicely for the odd poacher as well!

Oh, my dear, I had to fly! I don't know which thought encouraged me
more, the idea of being shot for a poacher, or that of being recognized
and caught spying on His Lordship. I dared not look back a second
time, but kicked on to a flat out gallop, crashing through the
underbrush, tree limbs catching at my clothing and hair, the long plait
of which I had tucked down the back of my shirt so as to
disguise - well, rather, to keep it out of the way.

They were close on my heels for a time. I knew I could outrun the cob,
heavy as he was, with his short little legs, but Alexander, of course,
was a superb horseman, and might well be able to catch me by a little
luck and skill were I not careful. I could hear the heavy hoofbeats
pounding behind me, the ragged breathing of his horse. But, alas,
Apollo's superiority as a warhorse was owing much to his imposing
size and the heavy musculature which enabled him to perform intricate
maneuvers in battle. He was no match for Gussy's thoroughbred in an
all out race, and gradually he began to fall behind. As I raced toward
what I thought to be the property line of the estate, once more out in
open country, I allowed myself one more look back, and saw Edrington
pulling up at the edge of the wood. Relieved and utterly exhilarated, I
stood in my stirrups, threw back my head and laughed as we cantered
on home.

*****
Back at Ladyfair, it was nearly time for luncheon. I greeted Lady
Fitzgibbon on my way up the stairs to change. For the second time that
day she looked at me most curiously.

"My dear, perhaps you should have a bath and wash your hair after
luncheon. It seems to be all full of leaves and twigs! Whatever have you
been up to? I only hope it has time to dry before we see to your toilette
for this evening."

My hand flew to my head. There did indeed seem to be any number of
things stuck in there. "Oh, my lady," I said, "I really don't think I should
go. I didn't bring anything suitable to wear." Did I even own anything
suitable? I struggled to think. I lived, for the most part in day dresses
and riding clothes. I couldn't remember the last time I had worn a
proper gown.

"Nonsense. Of course you shall come. We are of a size, Paulette and
I shall find something for you to wear. Paulette can work miracles, you
will see!" With that she kissed my cheek and started back down the
stairs. I started back up, wondering if it would indeed take a "miracle" to
make me presentable for Edrington House.

Chapter 2 will continue -